Center Field: Rabbis not supporting the war against Hamas are acting irresponsibly

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The Jerusalem Post 13.03.2024


Center Field: Rabbis not supporting the war against Hamas are acting irresponsibly


Jewish history resounds with noble leaders taking responsibility. God teaches Cain, “You are your brother’s keeper.” Moses says “Hineni,” here I am. Esther says “If I’m to perish, I shall perish,” while outing herself to Ahasuerus as a responsible Jew. And, every day, in Gaza, up North, and throughout Israel, officers and soldiers yell “Acharai,” follow me, taking achrayut, “responsibility,” to defend us – and Western civilization.


By contrast, Bibi bleated: “If they had grabbed me by my coat lapels and said, ‘Look, there’s going to be a terrible disaster,’ I promise you that I would have handled it.” That’s how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the increasingly in-artful dodger, dodged responsibility for the 2021 Meron stampede that killed 45 celebrants.


Days later, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef  was equally dishonorable in championing ultra-Orthodox draft dodging. Speaking for “all the ultra-Orthodox” – insulting many who have served heroically and given generously, since October 7, he whined: “If you force us to go to the army, we’ll all move abroad .” Despite all his yeshiva time – without military distractions – this Rav Yosef missed the Talmudic teaching that “All of Israel is responsible for one another.”

These rabbis  clearly only read half of Isaiah 58:7. While urging “Clothe the naked,” God warns: “Don’t ignore your own flesh and blood.”


Grandiosely characterizing the petition as “an opportunity to save life, the primary duty in the Jewish tradition,” one rabbi earned gold medals in shortsightedness and self-righteousness. 


October 7 confirmed that calling for ceasefires prematurely, as many of these “religious leaders” also did in 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2021, is peace-posturing and not peace-seeking. 


Against evil enemies like Hamas and Hezbollah, well-timed, well-fought wars are more likely to yield lasting peace. Had Israel hit Hamas harder, earlier, thousands of Israelis – and Palestinians – would be alive today.


Similarly, how dare Rabbi Jill Jacobs, whose organization T’ruah spearheaded the petition, allege that Israel “was not concerned about collateral damage to Palestinian civilians.” 


It’s the new blood libel. The carnage is heartbreaking but the dilemmas are complex – and terrifying. And yes, Israel must take some responsibility for better managing the Gaza chaos.


But judge us in context. 


America never provided humanitarian aid mid-war to enemies who attacked it. 


Israel’s low ratio of one-or-two civilians killed for each Hamas terrorist killed, amid excruciatingly difficult urban warfare, proves the IDF minimizes “collateral damage” more effectively than other democratic armies, including America’s.


With un-Jewish rabbis like that, it’s not surprising to see Jonathan Glazer use his Oscar win off a Holocaust-related film, The Zone of Interest, to “refute” his “Jewishness” – whatever that means – while blaming the “occupation” for everything.


The American rabbis acting dishonorably 

Meanwhile, across the ocean and the political aisle, 600 American Jewish rabbis and cantors made dodgy, irresponsible statements urging Joe Biden to bully Israel into a ceasefire. Most of their letter unfairly castigated Israel from their well-paid perches 6,000 miles away from Hamas – and Hezbollah, whose aggression they chose to simply overlook. Accusing Israel of going down the path of “never-ending war,” was a “Happy Ramadan” gift to Yahya Sinwar and Hassan Nasrallah, who benefit most from Biden-Bibi tensions. 


Most disgraceful is the letter’s sloppy phrase about “continuing fighting along the Lebanon border.” Implying that “fighting” simply erupted legitimizes Hezbollah’s one-sided, immoral assault on civilians.


Shirking is easy. You create a simplified world. Netanyahu and his dwindling corps of groupies never have to ask “How did we mismanage Meron or Gaza?” Instead, they smear all critics as political assassins.


Yosef and his devotees offer daily seminars in free-loading, demanding more subsidies while ducking the basic responsibilities of self-defense – which could begin by organizing the 66,000 draft-age yeshiva boys into civil defense squads.


And because political extremists parallel one another in their self-righteousness, America’s remote-control moralists fling holier-than-thou, long-distance, thunderbolts of judgment, endangering our kids, and us, soldiers and civilians, so that they can feel better in Brooklyn Heights.


I don’t envy these shirkers, draft-dodgers, and blame-Israel-firsters. I cast my lot with the Israeli mainstream – supported by most Jews and many democracy-lovers worldwide. Together, we mourn heroes like Amishar Ben-David, a 43-year-old Commando Brigade commander and father of five, killed last week. 


Our smug rabbis might only see this martyr as a “right-wing settler,” from the “extremist” settlement Eli, and a cousin of the controversial Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.


I, however, hail him as a hero and mensch. This high-school teacher donated his kidney to a stranger last year – beaming that day “like a groom at his wedding.” Ben-David, the 18th genuine justice warrior to fall from Eli’s legendary pre-military academy, died so that we can live safely. I regret not meeting him – and the hundreds of others we have lost, Left and Right, religious and non-religious.


These positive and negative role models demonstrate why Judaism makes responsibility a keystone value achrayut echoes the word “aher,” other. Leaders who are unresponsive to others and who don’t respect their rivals, create cultures of irresponsibility and demonization. If you’re only focused on your supporters and your political survival, your soul shrinks, your vision narrows – and the catastrophes start accumulating.


Meanwhile, the sanctimonious 600 and ultra-evaders let others take bullets for them, literally.


We don’t raise our kids to die. But we do raise them to live purposeful, meaningful, and responsible lives, intertwined with those “aher” – and responsive to them. Because they are willing to die for others, for us, they also know how to live and love and dance and win.


A Distinguished Scholar in North American History at McGill University currently living in Jerusalem, Gil Troy is an award-winning American presidential historian and a leading Zionist activist. He is, most recently, the editor of the new three-volume set, “Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings,” the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People ( www.theljp.org )  . Two years ago he co-authored with Natan Sharansky Never Alone: Prison, Politics and  My People,  was published by PublicAffairs of Hachette. Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of  The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist. 




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