News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Halakhah and Racism

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Halakhah and Racism

A stunning statement quoted from the Israeli Army's own manual came to light recently in an online Counter Punch article. The statement appears to support the view that Jewish religious law, Halakhah, endorses a view that not only is killing innocent Arab civilians justified, but that it is justified because Arabs are somehow lacking in unnamed human qualities. ...

According to Omar Bhargouti, quoting an Israeli pamphlet:

"When our forces come across civilians during a war or in hot pursuit or in a raid, so long as there is no certainty that those civilians are incapable of harming our forces, then according to the Halakhah they may and even should be killed Under no circumstances should an Arab be trusted, even if he makes an impression of being civilized In war, when our forces storm the enemy, they are allowed and even enjoined by the Halakhah to kill even good civilians, that is, civilians who are ostensibly good.
I was shocked when I read this passage. The statement is so nakedly straightforward in its assertion and so self-assured in its moral certitude.

I am nor familiar with the denominational affiliation of the Chaplain who wrote this statement. There are several main denomination within Judaism, not including Jews who identify themselves as purely secular and ethnic Jews. When it comes to formulating Jewish religious doctrines and rules, the denomination to which a Rabbit belongs will often determine the type of legal ruling that s/he produces for various circumstances and situations.

Wikipedia's article on Halakhah provides a useful overview of this subject. As can be seen from this article, determining which denominational branch the Rabbi who issued the above ruling is difficult to ascertain. My guess is that s/he was an Orthodox sectarian, one whose halakhic rulings will be more extreme--at least in terms of liberal sensibilities.

I am interested in learning the process of justification, along with the passages and texts that the ruling uses to come to its conclusion. If anyone has some insight on this, please leave your remarks in the comments area to this posting.

Having said all this, one must remain aware that the above ruling is only view among possible others that a Jewish rabbi could produce. While I have not seen any recent information of this kind from more religiously liberal Rabbis specifically related to this question of whether or not to kill innocent civilians, I have read a posting from a radical Rabbi on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon:
I am not a general nor a son of general. I do not claim military expertise. Perhaps the only way to wipe out Hizbullah is to destroy villages, uproot 500,000 people, kill more than three hundred people, the majority of whom it seems are civilians. It is not however generals to whom we look for moral guidance. The generals must have known that the civilians would be killed and uprooted. That Israel would, in the end, intentionally or not, kill innocent civilians, five year old girls and ninety year old men. The generals must have told the political leaders, who by rights should have said: There must be another way. We are stronger in our ability to figure out solutions which don’t involve killing innocent people.
I know that the Israeli invasion of Lebanon has wide support in Israel and in the US government. The questions about whether Israel's response to the capture of its soldiers by Hizbullah has been too brutal and disproportionate have made their way through various news cycles and is perhaps ready to vanish from newspaper and video screens.

As Rabbi Cohen's piece above points out above, however, the injustice of Israel's brutal attacks will not die so quickly. No doubt the injustice will continue to play out its vicious cycle of vengeance and recrimination for many years to come. But in recalling and invoking the great prophet Jeremiah's voice, Rabbi Cohen calls us never to forget that justice is and its cause is incumbent on all of us. And the ultimate justice may well mean not taking that eye for an eye, not taking that tooth for a tooth.

Such a prophetic voice repudiates all rulings that might make killing innocent civilians just, no matter their race or ethnicity.

Update 1 Israel Threatens to Level Lebanon:
Israel will destroy Lebanon's infrastructure if Hizbollah fires rockets at Tel Aviv as Hizbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah threatened on Thursday, a senior Israeli defence source told Channel One television.

"If Tel Aviv is attacked, Lebanese national infrastructure will be destroyed," the state-owned television station said, quoting a senior military source.
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