The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, April 1994, Vol. XXX, Number 9

Thirty innocent victims died in a massacre.  They were not Jews.  They were Arabs killed by a Jew. 

The Hebron disaster is one of the tragic moments in the history of Zionism and the Jewish state. Banukh Goldstein, a Jewish religious fanatic and a follower of Meir Kahane, choose to shoot into a crowd of Muslim worshipers in the name of God.  In his self-righteous ardor he imagined that he was doing the will of the Lord and saving the Jewish people.  In reality he committed a moral outrage and produced irreparable damage to the Jeiwsh people and the Jewish state. 

The image of the suffering Jew, the image of Schindler’s List, has been replaced by the image of the murdering Jew.  The peace process between Istaelis and Palestinians has been halted.  The moderate leadership of the Arab world has been discredited in the eyes of many Arabs who had initially supported the Rabin-Arafat initiative.  The forces of Arab extremism have been strengthened.  A fragile optimism has been replaced by a deep gloom.  Only people who love war in the Middle East can rejoice.  

The Hebron disaster has highlighted many powerful realities.  It demonstrated the fragility of the whole peace process.  It now hangs on a thread which may break at any moment.  It exposed the vulnerability of Jewish and Arab moderates to the schemes of small numbers of extremists.  Above all, it revealed the danger of Jewish religious extremism. 

For so long, our focus was on the danger of Arab extremism and Arab fundamentalists.  Terror was something that Arabs did.  The victims were Jews, innocent men, women and children assaulted by Arab fanatics.  Ever since l967 Palestinian terrorism provided the moral justification for the Jewish resistance to making any concessions.  We had the moral high ground.  Arabs alone were murders (sic). 

But that illusion has now been shattered.  Yes, there is Arab religious extremism.  But there is also Jewish religious extremism.  And it is just as dangerous to the Jewish people. 

Jewish religious extremism is very old.  It is as old as the Messianic movements which began in Judea over two thousand years ago  The Jewish Messianists believed that they were the chosen people of God, that all other people were sinners and doomed, that the final Judgment Day was imminent, that in the final battle all the wicked would be punished, that the power of God would sustain the small band of the saved against their enemies.  Like the author of Deuteronomy 7 they envisioned a world purified of non-believers.  Only violence against the chosen people is morally wrong.  Violence against infidels is exactly what they deserve.  There are dozens of quotations from both the Bible and the Talmud, which reflect this mind-set.  They are an embarrassment to the Jews.  We generally choose to ignore them.  Christian and Muslim fanatics are  eirs to this legacy. 

While, for many Jews, Jewish persecution and suffering provided an emotional foundation for a morality of compassion and empathy with the suffering of others, for others the pain of antisemitism only reinforced hatred of the outside word, paranoia and dream of vengeance.  In the tight world of ultra Orthodoxy these dreams were strengthened by religious faith.  The one positive side to this self-righteousness was that these people were never successful, after the destruction of the Jewish state, in achieving political power. 

For most of these people, Zionism was anathema.  In their eyes the Zionists were secular Jews who had rejected divine help and divine guidance and who were seeking to establish a Jewish state without the Torah as the constitution.  Zionists were worse than Gentile non-believers because they were Jews who had abandoned the true faith and who were seeking to lure vulnerable Jews away from their ancestral faith.  Until 1967 they wanted nothing at all to do with the state of Israel or the Zionist enterprise. 

But the Six Day War changed everything.  The easy victory of the Israelis and the capture of the sacred sites of historic Judaism, from the Western Wall to the Cave of Machpelah, seemed like a divine miracle.  Many extremists made a turnaround, embraced the Jewish state, and vowed to keep its sacred soil forever in Jewish hands. 

After 1967 the “believers” of Brooklyn began to leave Mecca and to immigrate to Israel  They were entirely different from the Zionist pioneers.  They were fiercely Orthodox, Messianic in their thinking, and contemptuous of a modern liberal secular state.  They did not want to settle in secular Israel.  They wanted to settle in their own tight communities,, preferably in the West Bank where they could be near the ancient shrine of the Jewish People.  Many found their way to Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall.  Others established their home near Shekhem (Neblus) or the Cave of Machpelah (Hebron).  They were indifferent to Arab hostility.  In a short while their initiative and courage would prod God to send his Messiah  The End of Days would come and the Jewish people would be glorified. 

Fanatic leaders like Rabbi Moshe Leinnger and fanatic movements like Gash Emunim arose and captured the imagination and devotion of the “believers.”  For those who are more extreme, the fiery words of Mier Kahane, calling for the expulsion of all Arabs from the Holy Land, were ˆsicˆ)welcomed. 

The Likud government of Menachim Begin and Yitshak Shamir paid for them to settle down in the midst of the Palestinians.  It gave them arms to defend themselves against attack and to intimidate their “enemies.”  Even though many of the leaders of the Likud were secular, they saw these religious extremists as allies in their determination to keep the West Bank. 

Secular Israelis and moderate religionists-discovered to their chagrin that there was now a determined minority of religious rightwingers who did not believe in a democratic and pluralistic state, who wanted to lead the nation into a murderous confrontation with the Palestinians.  Neither the intifada nor the possibility of a peace through compromise diminished their ardor.  All who were opposed to holding the West Bank through force were designated traitors 

In America these fanatics were supported by ambivalent American Jews, who felt guilty over their assimilation to Jewish culture and their unwillingness to immigrate to Israel.  Many American Jews who were neither religious nor Orthodox saw them as instruments of Jewish survival and determination.  The fanatics cultivated their ambivalence. 

What are we, the rational Jews who support a secular and democratic state, who embrace the historic Zionist vision, going to do about these extremists in our midst?  How are we, the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people, a majority which repudiates religious fanaticism going to deal with this embarrassing internal plague?  What must the government and people of Israel do with this group of self-appointed prophets of God? 

The Hebron massacre makes a strong response necessary. 

In America we need to publicly repudiate their message and resist their entry into positions of power and authority in our community. 

In Israel our Jewish brothers and sisters need to outlaw, restrain, remove and deport all those who advocate violence against the Arabs.  At the minimum they need to disarm Jewish settlers in the West Bank.  Let the Israeli army protect both Jews and Arabs. 

The future of Israel and the Jewish people is (sic) at stake.