This blog was originally published on the Jerusalem Post Blog site June 29, 2011.
The past twenty four hours have, seemingly, brought into the limelight, Rav (Rabbi) Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Hebron-Kiryat Arba, and the rule of law. Rav Lior, almost two years ago, wrote an approbation to a Jewish legal treatise called Torat HaMechech, meaning ‘The King’s Torah.’ The book deals with relationships between Jews and non-Jews. The primary subject at hand is that of ‘Dinei Nefashot’ that being, when is bloodshed an option. When is it permissible to use force, even at the cost of a person’s life, in dealings between Jews and non-Jews.
This is no small matter. Jews have faced anti-Semitic persecution for two millennia, with tens and hundreds of thousands killed because they were Jews. Expulsions, burning at the stake, and other torture led to the horrific climax seventy years ago, with the Holocaust leaving between six to seven million Jews dead at the hands of the Nazis and their partners.
At present, the question still exists: when is it halachically (legal by Jewish-Torah law) permissible to kill?
These laws are not simple; to the contrary, they are infinitely complex. So much so, that Rav Lior writes, “I don’t think that there is any other work which collects all the subjects that belong to the realm this book deals with.”
Why is this so important? There are a number of reasons:
Torat HaMelech deals with situations of war. In the words of the authors, ‘It must be stressed that in our dealings with war in this book, we relate to war against enemies who are harming us only. Israel has been dealing with matters of war since the renewal of the state in 1948, and even before. Through the present day.
Rav Lior: “This is an area which is actual enough, especially during these days of Israel’s return to its land, the opinion of true Jewish halacha (Jewish legal ruling) relating to all the abnormal situations we face should be known, providing proper, true direction for occurrences and our dealings with them…”
The complexities of the issues can be exemplified by when comparing a ‘true Jewish legal opinion’ with that of ‘ethics experts.’ Rav Lior writes, “I saw, and was gladdened, seeing this wonderful creation, full of sources and opinions of subjects, beginning with the Talmud, via our Rabbis of centuries past, up to the most important Torah giants of recent generations. Between the lines it can be witnessed the tremendous amount of work and investment of the Rabbis (the authors) to learn these subjects…”
(It should be noted, that no where, in Rav Lior’s approbation, or in the book itself, are there instructions calling on anyone to randomly or otherwise, kill anyone.)
However, the significance of this work, and Rabbis Lior, Ginsburgh, Yosef approbations, are much deeper.
The question of ‘when to use deadly force’ did not begin with Torat HaMelech. This is an issue dealt with at the highest levels of Israeli government. The primary necessity to extract workable definitions can be found within the security forces, the IDF, the Israeli armed forces. Jews have always been thought of, not so much as warriors, rather as a merciful people. Where does mercy end; where does force begin; where does force transform into cruelty?
Of course, questions dealing with war ethics are nothing new. But, perhaps, the key word is: HOW - how are decisions concerning such ethical decisions taken? What is standard by which the decisions are made?
The so-called ‘expert’ on Israeli ethical conduct during war is one Professor Asa Kasher. He is the author of the IDF ethical code of conduct. Rather than trying to explain Kasher’s thought process and conclusions, it is preferable to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth: From ‘The Moralist’ by Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief David Horowitz, an interview with Asa Kasher, The Jerusalem Post, April 22, 2011 [
“Our responsibility is to maintain our moral standards. That’s a very important starting point because in matters of war it can sometimes get blurred. People are always talking about factors like international law, public opinion, the Western world – that is, outside factors that we’re supposed to match up to. No, I say we have to uphold our own standards.… The prime question, in these fields of morals and ethics, is what I see when I look in the mirror – not when I watch the BBC.When the enemy becomes more ruthless and harsher than it was in the past, then we have to protect ourselves in smarter and different ways, but still according to the standards that we have set for ourselves.
…the moral foundation of a democratic state is respect for human dignity. Human dignity must be respected in all circumstances. And to respect human dignity in all circumstances means, among other things, to be sensitive to human life in all circumstances. Not just the lives of the citizens of your state. Everybody.This applies even in our interactions with terrorists. I am respecting the terrorist’s dignity when I ask myself, “Do I have to kill him or can I stop him without killing him?”
I suggest reading the entire interview. The above-quotes speak for themselves. Each and every person can relate to Kasher’s opinions as they want. But the point so important here is not so much what he says; rather, what is the basis for his opinions, what are the pillars of his ideology? The answer is: Asa Kasher’s own philosophy of life and his interpretation of how a ‘democracy’ should act. His source is somewhere inside his head. That’s it.
But I ask, of what value is whatever Asa Kasher thinks! Why do his ideas have any more value than mine, or of anyone else? Very simply, I argue, they don’t.
This is exactly why Torah HaMelech is so valuable. It is not based upon what I think, or what Rav Lior thinks, or what Rav Yitzhak Shapira thinks. It is, as Rav Lior writes, founded upon the teachings of our Torah and our sages, beginning thousands of years ago, expounded upon over the centuries. It is not a ‘guide to killing goyim.’ It is a legal tractate explaining Jewish Torah law and ethics, and as I believe it, the word of G-d.
So why the witch hunt? Why did the police and the prosecutor’s office decide to snatch an almost eighty year old rabbi from his car in order to question him for an hour? Why did they refuse to sit with him in his office, as is done with many other public officials, when the need so arises?
Quite simply, Rav Dov Lior represents what authentic Judaism is all about. Rav Lior stands for Jewish pride, for Torah, for Eretz Yisrael. He refuses, as did Mordechai during the days of Haman, to bow down to evil and idolatry. Acquiescence to Kasher’s respect for the ‘dignity of terrorists’ is, I believe, idol worship, based upon false truths, false gods, which have no place in a true Jewish society.
Rav Lior has, for years, stood tall against the wickedness of corrupt, immoral ‘leaders’ who reject the Jewishness of Israel, preferring to relate to Israel as a ‘state with Jewish residents’ rather than a ‘Jewish state.’ This, leading to catastrophes as Yamit, Oslo, the Hebron Accords, the destruction of Gush Katif, and other such calamities. Rav Lior represents all which is good, all which is pure, which is G-dly, in direct contradiction with the ideologies and life styles of others, who see him as a threat to their very existence. For if he is right, and should his way succeed, their entire life structure would crumble, like a deck of cards.
This is why he is hounded, for his belief that our lives are in the hands of G-d, that G-d is not in the hands of man. That is what he fights for, this is what he will continue to fight for, and this is why, not only will he never give up or surrender, but all of us, his students, will too, follow in the footsteps of this righteous man, a giant amongst giants, who really and truly understands the meaning of the rule of law – the authentic law, the law of G-d, the law of our holy Torah.