Behind the theology of Jewish Terror

The latest news article about the Jewish terrorist Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, a man who has allegedly murdered two people, not to mention, attempted three other murders and committed other acts of violence, has been arraigned in a Jerusalem court today.  “It was a pleasure and an honor to serve my God. I have no regret and no doubt that God is pleased.”

While the story is pretty exceptional, the ideology of Jewish terror is a grim reminder that we, as Jews, have plenty of work ahead in keeping our own spiritual house clean. In an age that is witnessing resurgence in anti-Semitism, it behooves us all as a religious community to be mindful of how we can generate anti-Semitism without the help of the neo-Nazis, skinheads, or Muslim extremists.

In a yesterday’s edition of the Ma’ariv Israeli newspaper, there is another  story that describes a Chabad “settler rabbi”[1] named Yitzchak Shapiro, who recently wrote a book named “The King’s Torah,” where he gives permission for Jews to kill gentiles who threaten Israel.  The book is quite radical and claims that one may even kill the righteous among the nations—regardless whether that person has sinned or may have violated one of the seven Noahide commandments. According to Shapira, any gentile who fails to observe even one of the Noahide precepts forfeits his life.  Beyond that, even babies and infants can be killed if they pose a threat to the Jewish people. Shapiro states:

‘It is permissible to kill the Righteous among Nations even if they are not responsible for the threatening situation,’ he wrote, adding: ‘If we kill a Gentile who has sinned or has violated one of the seven commandments – because we care about the commandments – there is nothing wrong with the murder . . .’ Rabbi Yitzchak Shapira Rabbi Shapira also determined that it is permissible to kill gentile babies “because their presence assists murder, and there is reason to harm children if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us … it is permissible to harm the children of a leader in order to stop him from acting evilly … we have seen in the Halakha that even babies of gentiles who do not violate the seven Noahide laws, there is cause to kill them because of the future threat that will be caused if they are raised to be wicked people like their parents.”

One might wonder: Did this particular rabbi express a viewpoint that is unique to him, or was he merely echoing an ideology that he had been indoctrinated from his faith-community? Among the Haredi and Chabad communities, it is customary to receive an endorsement from a prominent and respected rabbinic scholar who approves of his work. In this case here, Shapira received an endorsement from Rabbi Yitzchak Ginzburg, a leading Habad rabbi in Israel, better known for his books dealing with themes from the Kabbalah. Rabbi Ginzburg has a long history of supporting Jewish violence and was also instrumental in putting together a memorial book to Baruch Goldstein (who butchered Muslim worshipers many years ago in Kiryat Arba); he even contributed a chapter discussing Goldstein’s killings as a “Kiddush Hashem,” a “sanctification of God’s Name.”

I believe Rabbi Shapira’s opinions derives from the Lubavitcher belief that there exists an ontological distinction between the souls of Jews versus non-Jews. In chapter 2 of the Tanya, Sheneir Zalman of Liadi explains that only Jews are privy to the “holy soul,” while gentiles derive their souls from an inferior point of origin. It is not hard to see the conceptual leap Shapira made in assuming that the  innocent life of the righteous and pious among the nations is expendable.

Surprisingly, the Tanya’s  theological perspective bears an eerie resemblance to the Aryan philosophy of Hitler. As Jews, we have an ethical responsibility to condemn this pernicious teaching because every human soul is beloved to God, moreover, the death of a single human being is tantamount to the death of a world.

Indeed, a lesson from the Cain and Abel story ought to serve as a model lesson for how Judaism values the sanctity of human life—regardless what an individual’s faith happens to be.

Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground (Gen 4:10). In one of the most ancient translations of the Torah, the  Aramaic translation of Onkelos writes: קָל דַם זַרעֲיָן דַעֲתִידָן לְמִפַק מִן אֲחֻוך קָבְלָן קְדָמַי מִן אַרעָא – “What have you done? The voices of families who were destined to come from your brother are crying out before Me, from the earth.” This reading is possible because the Hebrew word דְּמֵי (demê = “bloods”) is written in the plural form rather than the singular. If translated literally, the passage would read “your brother’s bloods cry out to me.” The voices of yet unborn innocent blood cried out to God for justice.

The rabbis deduced from this verse a vital principle of ethics: Cain not only killed his brother, but he also killed his countless unborn descendants as well (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5). If seen in this way, the message is clear: All murderers are, in a sense, mass murderers, for not only do they rob the victim of his life, but they also steal the lives of their unborn descendants. The reverse is also true: One who saves one human life is considered to have saved an entire world. For not only does the rescuer save one’s person’s life, it is considered as if he or she saved the potential lives of the offspring and descendants that person will beget.

Every faith has its share of religious fanatics, and Judaism is no different in this respect from Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, or Hinduism; it behooves the good and responsible people of every faith, to hold its deviants accountable and do everything to promote peace and harmony among all of God’s children.

Latest follow up: November 17th, 2009

Evidently, the Ministry of Education has been sending substantial monies to Rabbi Shapira’s yeshiva for quite some time.

[1] One should not think that every “settler Rabbi” is like Rabbi Shapiro, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat could  probably also be technically a “settler rabbi,” as well as Rabbi Yehuda Amital of the Meimad (religious Labor) party, since his yeshiva (Har Etzion) is also located in the West Bank.

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