This past Shabbos my family and I hosted Rabbi and Mrs. Nachman Holtzberg, parents of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, the head of Chabad in Mumbai who was brutally murdered with his wife, Rivkah. You’d think that a family whose son and daughter-in-law had been slaughtered by Islamic terrorists would feel hatred and a desire for revenge. But what this saintly father asked of our many guests was simply their participation in rebuilding Chabad of Mumbai so that his son’s selfless work would continue.
What a shame Christopher Hitchens did not join us. It might have dissuaded him from penning yet another ignorant and slanderous article about the murderous intent of Orthodox Jews. To read Hitchens these days is to be transported to an alternate universe where religious Jews are often terrorists inspired by racist Jewish ideology that is fomented by their rabbis. Of course, those who live in the real world and who never read about Orthodox Jews setting off bombs in Bali and Baghdad might be a trifle confused by Hitchens’ regular rants against Judaism.
You should be. Most of the time he is simply fabricating, like this famous quote from his 2007 book “God is Not Great”: “Dr. Baruch Goldstein â€¦ killed 27 worshippersâ€¦. While serving as a physician in the Israeli army he had announced that he would not treat non-Jewish patients, such as Israeli Arabs, especially on the Sabbath. As it happens, he was obeying rabbinic law in declining to do this, as many Israeli religious courts have confirmed.” For this particular blood libel against Jewish courts, Hitchens relied on a well-known hoax perpetrated by writer Israel Shahak and exposed as a fraud more than 40 years ago by Lord Immanuel Jakobovitz, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth. This is the same Israel Shahak who once accused Jews of worshipping Satan. When I challenged Hitchens about his use of a well-known forgery, and when he could not cite a single other religious court to have ever ruled that a non-Jewish life could not be saved on the Sabbath, he wrote to me and agreed to amend the item in the next edition of his book.
He did not.
Now he is at it again, only this time he’s outdone himself. Writing in the March 23 edition of Slate, Hitchens argued that the religious settlers in Israel are preparing for a future where “Torah verses will also be found that make it permissible to murder secular Jews as well as Arabs” as they all coalesce to make the west bank into an apocalyptic Jewish theocracy.
What makes Hitchens so sure that his vision of Jewish mass murder is just around the corner?
He cites three proofs. First, Baruch Goldstein, yet again. Second, Israel Defense Forces Chief Rabbi Avichai Rontzski, who “said that the main reason for a Jewish doctor to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath â€¦ is to avoid exposing diaspora Jews to hatred.” And third, the story in Numbers 31 of how Moses commanded the Jews to slaughter the Midianites. Of the story, Hitchens writes, “The nationalist rabbis who prepare Israeli soldiers for the mission seem to think that this book might be the word of God, in which case the only misinterpretation would be the failure to take it literally.”
Now the fact that Hitchens must fall back on Baruch Goldstein proves the very opposite of the point he is trying to make. Jewish religious terrorism is rare to non-existent. He must consistently use one lone attacker from 15 years ago as an example of Jewish terrorism. More important, Goldstein has become a symbol to Jews everywhere of evil and is almost universally regarded as an abomination to the Jewish faith.
By contrast, many of our Muslim brothers and sisters and many clerics have the tragic habit of elevating suicide bombers to the rank of religious martyrs. But any rabbi who was to praise a Jewish murderer would be fired from his post and banished from his community. The Torah is clear: “Thou may not murder” (Exodus 20) and “Thou shalt not take revenge” (Leviticus 19).
Second, no biblical story of massacre, which is a tale and not a law, could ever be used to override the most central prohibition of the Ten Commandments and biblical morality. Murder is the single greatest offense against the Creator of all life, and no Jew would ever use a biblical narrative of war or slaughter as something that ought to be emulated. In our time Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, both universally regarded as moral leaders and outstanding men, ordered the wholesale slaughter of non-combatants in the Second World War through the carpet-bombing of Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, and Tokyo. Truman would take it further by ordering the atomic holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How did men who are today regarded as righteous statesmen order such atrocities? They were of the opinion that only total war could end Nazi tyranny and Japanese imperial aggression. They did it in the name of saving life – which is, of course, not to excuse their actions but rather to understand them in the context of the mitigating circumstances of the time. I do not know why Moses would have ordered any such slaughter even in the context of war. But I do know that the same Bible that relates such a story also expressly forbids even the thought of such bloodshed ever being repeated.
Finally, the Talmud’s debate as to whether a non-Jewish life may be saved on the Sabbath took place at a time when the Jews were subject to brutal Roman oppression and the non-Jews in question where cruel Roman centurions. Should we violate our religion to save the life of those who oppress us? It is remarkable that even then the Rabbis of the Talmud answered in the affirmative, mipnei darkei hashalom, because of the ways of peace. But whereas Hitchens quotes a rabbi who translates this to mean “peace with our non-Jewish neighbors,” the Lubavitcher rebbe explained it to mean that “all of Judaism is about love and peace.”
How sad that Hitchens, a self-proclaimed truth-teller and child of George Orwell, has yet again ignored evidence clearly presented to him in pursuit of pre-existing prejudices.