(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel has a moral responsibility as a Jewish state to stop the bloodshed between Fatah and Hamas, although it must not endanger Israeli lives in doing so, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar said Tuesday.
"If the Torah commands us to prevent the suffering of animals, than how much more so are we obligated to protect human beings, the pinnacle of God's creation, from suffering and bloodshed," said Amar in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post.
"But we also have an obligation to place our own lives before the lives of others, as the rabbis taught us."
Amar quoted a story from the Babylonian Talmud that tells of two men stranded in the desert with water for only one. In such a situation, the man in possession of the water is not obligated to share because his own life takes precedence. So too, said Amar, in the case of intervening to stop internecine warfare in Gaza and the West Bank.
The chief rabbi's message of moral responsibility for our Palestinian neighbors contrasts sharply with opinions vocalized recently by Israelis who say it is good that Palestinian terrorists are killing each other and not Israelis.
Amar said that on this day, the 13th anniversary of the death of Lubavitcher Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson, it was timely to recall Schneerson's emphasis on teaching the Seven Noahide Laws to all gentiles, which includes a prohibition against bloodshed. According to Jewish tradition, God commanded Noah and all his descendents, which include all gentiles, to adhere to the seven laws.
"The residents of Gaza are also the sons of Noah," said Amar. "They, too, must abide by the Seven Noahide Laws."
In comparison to many Orthodox rabbis who tend to be hawkish on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and oppose territorial compromises, Amar has consistently expressed decidedly dovish views. He has been involved in numerous efforts to foster interfaith dialogue between Muslim and Jewish leaders in an effort to bring peace.
Amar's latest interfaith initiative is with Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle and Rabbi Menahem Fruman, a veteran interfaith activist and resident of the West Bank settlement Tekoa.
Amar said he sent letters to several Muslim spiritual leaders notifying them he was interested in jumpstarting the peace process. Amar explained to the clerics that according to Jewish law, parts of the land of Israel may be ceded to Palestinians in exchange for peace.
"Muslim spiritual leaders must be made aware of the position expressed for the past two decades by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who ruled that saving lives took precedence over holding onto parts of the land of Israel."
Although Jewish law permitted territorial compromise for peace, it by no means advocated radical pacifism, said Amar. Rather, Jewish law obligated the Jews of Israel to protect themselves in times of war.
"The Torah teaches that when our enemies attack us we must defend ourselves," said Amar. "Otherwise, we will lose our deterrent capabilities and our enemies will be emboldened to escalate hostilities. This is especially true in a border city like Sderot.
"Residents of a border town are permitted to desecrate Shabbat if need be, even if there is no imminent danger to human life... because border towns are the most vulnerable to assault. If they are not protected, the entire state in placed in danger," he explained.
Still, Amar rejected criticism leveled against the IDF by leading religious Zionist rabbis such as former Chief Sephardi Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Rabbi of Hebron-Kiryat Arba Dov Lior. Both Lior and Eliyahu have claimed that the IDF is not fighting aggressively enough to stop Kassam rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists.
"We must do our best to fight terrorists while trying to reduce as much as possible the number of casualties among Palestinian civilians. And that is precisely what the IDF is doing. We must trust our military experts to make the right decision."