Rabbis call for action, assistance to Syrians caught up in civil war

“Silence enabled the Holocaust to happen and words are prelude to action so we need to create a space for our moral outrage at what is happening in Syria.”

April 6, 2017 04:44
3 minute read.
Syria chemical attack

A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Syrian chemical weapons attack in Idlib this week has prompted an outcry from rabbis and rabbinical groups against the slaughter in the country calling for action to help alleviate the plight of Syrians caught up in the conflict.

This week the religious-Zionist rabbinical association Beit Hillel published a position paper discussing the possible obligations in Jewish law towards Syrian citizens and what action should be taken to helping non-Jews in such a crisis.

“Love of other people which motivates humans to share in the sorrow of others and to take upon themselves to help them is one of the values of the Torah,” wrote Rabbi Amit Kola, the author of Beit Hillel’s position paper.

“Saving life is compared to saving an entire world… Helping non-Jews by providing them with basic needs is an act of kindness and one of the pathways of the peace and Jewish law. In addition, participating in such efforts is also a sanctification of God’s name.”
Aftermath of suspected chemical gas attack in Idlib , Syria on April 4, 2017 (REUTERS)

The rabbi wrote that restrictions within Jewish law such as giving free gifts to non-Jews was not relevant to the discussion since the gifts could be considered as “the pathways of peace” and noted that such restrictions only apply to idol worshipers, which Syrians are not.

He also noted that although Jewish law gives preference for charity to relatives, Jewish law also requires one to prioritize charitable giving by whoever is most in need.

Beit Hillel chairman Rabbi Meir Nehorai said, “the pathways of the Torah are paths of peace and therefore it is not only permitted by a religious commandment to make this so…unfortunately, we are witness to mass killings in Syria and we must not ignore this terrible reality, but instead use the tools in our hands to prevent killing and genocide.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Doniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, called for concrete actions by the State of Israel to help prevent mass killings in Syria, as well as creating a dialogue of “social criticism” on the issue in Israeli society.

“Silence enabled the Holocaust to happen and words are prelude to action so we need to create a space for our moral outrage at what is happening in Syria,” said Hartman.

“We must be a voice of social criticism which needs to be heard not only when Jews are in danger but when there is a profound injustice anywhere in the world, to be be silent is to violate our mandate as Jews and the obligations of our tradition.”

He noted however that for such social criticism to be authentic, Israel needs to “celebrate” its own social critics, but argued that the country has been taking the opposite attitude to such views and has rejected social criticism directed at its policies and actions.

In the more practical realm, Hartman said that Israel as a country needs to embrace its regional superpower status economically and militarily, and consider actions to prevent mass murder in Syria.

“Our role in the world hasn't been worked out, we don’t think in those terms. We’re in 2017 living through a 1948 lens inserted of looking through the 1967 lens We’re not David anymore, we’re Goliath,” he said.

“We need to grow up into Zionism, taking our place in the world stage for these kinds of things…As a superpower we can protect Jews and fight injustice at the same time. Israel should be part of a coalition which does something, very possible militarily. Why should Israel not be part of enforcing a no-fly zone. Why do we only stop Hezbollah getting missiles, maybe we should also ensure that civilians aren’t gassed.”

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