Value-subtracted Judaism

Value-subtracted Judaism

If you are a born Jew who enjoys a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur afternoon, be not afraid. You are no less a Jew than the most observant among us.

If you are a non-Jew, be afraid. Be very afraid. We have the right (perhaps even the obligation) to kill you – and your infant children.

No, I have not lost my mind. Rather, there is something terribly wrong happening to Judaism in the 21st century.

Recently, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, who chairs the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue of the British Commonwealth, was quoted by the New York Times as saying that “having a ham sandwich on the afternoon of Yom Kippur doesn’t make you less Jewish.” His point was not to validate the ham-eating-on-Yom Kippur born Jew, but to invalidate the fully observant convert whose conversion is not one of which he approved.

I agree with matrilineal descent, so I cannot disagree that the ham-eater is Jewish, but I would never equate such a person with someone who is observant. I also accept the premise that not all conversions-non-Orthodox and Orthodox — are halachically legitimate. I find it incredible, however, that a person who lives an exemplary Jewish life, no matter how he or she was converted, can be tossed aside while the person who so blatantly spits in the face of everything we believe in is so fully embraced.

All the more incredible is how Schochet’s statement itself seems to spit in the face of Torah law. “Indeed,” says the Torah, “any person who does not practice self-denial throughout that day [Yom Kippur] shall be cut off from his kin; and whoever does any work throughout that day, I [God] will cause that person to perish from among his people.” (See Leviticus 23:29-30.)

It is no wonder, then, that The New York Times also quoted David Lightman, whom it described as an observant Jewish father whose wife’s conversion is not considered valid by Britain’s official Jewish establishment. “How dare they question our beliefs and our Jewishness?” he said. “I find it offensive….”

So should everyone, Orthodox as well as non-Orthodox.

The observance of mitzvot must never be so cavalierly tossed into the rubbish heap. If a person who is so blatantly contemptuous of Jewish law that he or she would eat an unquestionably treif piece of meat on Yom Kippur is not considered to be “less Jewish” than the truly observant, then either there is no need to be observant, or the people who believe this are morally and religiously bankrupt.

What makes this attitude even more repugnant is that observance is the prime qualification for a conversion to be accepted. See, for example, the ruling of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in his lgrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah, Vol. No 157. Regarding those who do not make such a commitment, Feinstein asked, “What use are such proselytes to the community of Israel?”

On the other hand, at least according to Schochet, the ham-on-Yom Kippur Jew presumably is of use to us.

Talking about people and beliefs that are morally and religiously bankrupt, let us now deal with the killing of non-Jews, infants included.

“There is an argument for killing the very young if it is clear that they will grow up to hurt us [Jews]. And in this situation the attack should be directed at them and not just indirectly while attacking adults.”

Never mind that God said, according to the Midrash, “I judge a man only on what he is now,” not what he may become tomorrow. (See Exodus Rabbah 3:2.)

It is also permissible to kill non-Jewish children who live in enemy territory because they can be used as human shields against their will. “[I]t is permitted to kill them because their very presence facilitates the killing [of Jews].”

These words – and many more, including an almost blanket permission to kill non-Jews who violate any one of the seven Noachide commandments – reportedly are contained in a new 230-page book, “Torat Hamelech: Dinei N’fashot Ben Yisrael L’amim” (“The Law of the King: Laws of Life and Death between Jews and the Nations”). The authors are Rabbis Yitzchak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur. Shapira, the principal author, is a follower of the radical Chabad rabbi Yitzchak Ginzberg, who distributed the book last Saturday night at an event he hosted in honor of IDF soldiers who defied orders to evacuate an illegal settlement.

Rabbi Chayim Navon, of the Har Etzion Yeshivah (considered a hotbed of leftist thought within the religious Zionist world), told the daily newspaper Maariv that anyone who holds such beliefs is “distorting the Torah and desecrating God’s Holy Name.” He added that “it is categorically forbidden to kill an innocent non-Jew” according to Jewish law.

For some reason, though, few voices have been raised thus far against the book, its authors, or those who support the views it expresses. As of Tuesday afternoon, there was nothing on the Websites of the Orthodox Union, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, or the Anti-Defamation League (included here because its Website has many condemnations of anti-Semitic Websites, many of which are having a field day with this book).

It even can be argued that the book’s views are moving ever closer to the mainstream. How else can one explain the comments last week of Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, the Israel Defense Forces’ recently appointed chief rabbi? Not only did he blanketly assert that it was forbidden for soldiers to “show mercy” toward the enemy in wartime, he praised the indiscriminate use of force:

“We all remember the beginning of the war, with a major attack of 80 planes bombing various places, and then artillery, mortar, and tank fire and so forth, as in war,” he said. “Everyone fought with all their heart and soul, and that includes bravery of course, but also fighting with all the resources one has – to fight as if to truly determine the mission.”

He added that we needed to “thank God that the people of Israel has united recently around the simple understanding of how it must fight.”

Thank God? The Midrash tells us that God was furious with His angels when they cheered the death of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. (See the Babylonian Talmud tractate Sanhedrin 39b.) It is necessary to kill the enemy and sometimes, as in Operation Cast Lead, it is necessary, and perhaps even mandatory, to use indiscriminate force – but “thank God” for that?

We are Jews, for heaven’s sake. What is happening to us?