Thursday, September 23, 2004

A number of comments on my previous post argued that Israel is "losing its humanity" and such as a result of the "occupation". Such cliches are often used by enemies of Israel who wish to weaken Israel by holding it to a higher standard of "humanity" than they hold the rest of the world. Such people are best ignored. However, some of those who responded to my post struck me not as enemies but rather as sincerely concerned Jews. I owe them a response.

I believe that the coarseness that you attribute to Israelis (the existence of which I don't deny) is a consequence not of Israel's policies but rather of its situation. The very idea of Jewish sovereignty requires that Jews engage in activities which in Galus they could leave to the goyim. Fighting wars, tilling the soil, and competing for pretty much everything with Jews just as clever as you, leads to the development of a distinct skill set from that required in Galus.

I find it as grating as you do that Israeli men from about the age of two speak in lower octaves and high decibels than the ear was designed to process. And I detest the secular Zionist ideology that sought to uproot many of the noblest Jewish traits developed in Galus. But it is a fact of life that building a desolate area in a bad neighborhood into a secure and modern State both requires and produces a somewhat tougher Jew than you (and, to some extent, I) regard as ideal.

It is worth bearing in mind that this slight contempt for Jews not quite like us cuts both ways. I've now lived exactly half my life in Israel and every now and then I am surprised by the sudden realization of how much I've changed without noticing. When I visit places like the Upper West Side, where I grew up, I find many of the men to be a mirror image of the macho Israeli: whining, self-indulgent sissies. It may not look that way to you because you hold up what you're used to as the norm from which all others are measured. But don't confuse what seems normal to you with the Universal Ideal Jew. (An amusingly extreme version of this phenomenon is Danny Boyarin's Unheroic Conduct which argues that, by rabbinic Judaism's own standards, "sissies" are the ideal Jews. In his parallel universe, being an Arafat-hugging homosexual goes beyond "not that there's anything wrong with that"; it's actually the epitome of frumkeit. Whatever.)

Now, perhaps your objection is to certain Israeli policies. Let's get specific. Should Israeli soldiers not check baby carriages, ambulances, wheel chairs for explosives? Should the Shabak not barge into houses to arrest terrorists preparing attacks? I don't know of any unpleasant measures used by Israel which do not directly or indirectly save innocent lives. If you do, please enlighten me.

Perhaps you believe that simply turning tail and abandoning the areas captured in 1967 will somehow render these tactics unnecessary. There is no basis for that whatsoever. Whether or not withdrawal is worthwhile for other reasons, the Arabs will continue to use terror and other tactics to try to liquidate us and we will need to use all the same tactics to defend ourselves.

One of you argued from ve-asisa hayashar vehatov that we have not done right by the Arabs. I must be candid with you. Only an am ha-aretz argues from psukim and only a moral shvitzer demands that others be kind to those who wish to murder them. I don't believe this is the proper forum for a halachic discussion of the proper attitude towards non-Jews with whom one is at war. The main sources are all capably analyzed in Responsa Bnei Banim, Part 3, Chapters 40-42.

I have the uneasy feeling that some of you don't actually know any soldiers who are waging the war we are now in and you form your impressions of them by what you read in the newspapers. And perhaps -- here I'm being harsh -- you are not so much offering carefully thought-out moral judgements as giving expression to the angst you feel when being judged by your non-Jewish or assimilated Jewish colleagues who get their information from the newspapers. I can only say this: betoch ami ani yoshev. I have been retired from the army but the soldiers whom you judge from afar are my friends and neighbors and their children. Each of them wrestles -- with wisdom and sensitivity -- with the difficult moral dilemmas presented by the intermingling of non-combatants with combatants. Each and every one of them makes me proud.

If anybody shows signs of moral insensitivity, it is those who sit at a comfortable distance from the battlefield and presume to pass judgement.


Blogger Adam Ragil said...

Morning Ben.

Leon Weiseltier has something to say to you in the current New Republic. If you can't get it, let me know, and I'll email it to you.

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You did not address: u'vacharta et hachayim

If it's dangerous to live in the territories, the Torah wants you to leave. Choose life. Kivush ha'aretz is not a harag v'al ya'avor. If we agree, and I think we can agree, that the settlers lives are endangered, the choice is clear: Choose life. Move
Love, the moral shvitzer.

Oh, and Rabbi, I wasn't arguing from a posuk. I was using the posuk to illustrate my point, and my point is Jews should not be using any of the elaborate justifications you present in your last two arguments.

Had the Jews treated the nation they conquered in 1967 with respect and tolerance and presented them with opportunities to improve their lives, all this could have been avoided. Instead they got greedy and cocky. A land grab began, malicious and reeking hubris; no one worried too much about the darkies. The result: A greek tragedy. The gods always punish hubris.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

It can't be kind, but I'd like to see what Wieseltier wrote. I couldn't find it online.

Perhaps we should all move to Denmark. I'll deal with this another time.


5:04 PM  
Blogger Adam Ragil said...


Sent it to you via email.

Anyone else can find it here (I think)

I don't think he's especially unkind....


5:17 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

It is easy to sit in Los Angeles and offer a critique of activities far away. And it is easy to sit in Israel and offer a critique of others who are not in Israel, especially when you assume that they do not know anything about the situation.

But I also know people who live in Judea and Samaria who will never know what it means to put on and IDF uniform and try and protect others for the good of Israel.

I don't know if that is the case with anyone posting on this thread, but I find that to be a weak position to argue from. It is like the younger brother who will anything to anyone because they know that big brother will protect them.

As for the current situation. I think that it is necessary and important to have checkpoints, to search homes and people as needed. But if you are going to do this you have to remember that you are working with human beings.

And even if you are incredibly polite, some of these people will hate you for the inconvenience you bring. But if you humiliate them and make them feel like a dog you invite more trouble.

The goyim haven't any reason to believe in Torah and it is foolishness to argue that. I have seen this used as justification for living in Efrat and Ariel or wherever.

And I don't think about this being what is fair. Fairness doesn't pay any attention to anyone and certainly Jewish people know that

From a practical standpoint the goal has to be to bring security without taking unnecessary risks. And the reality is that there are places in which Israel is stretching itself too thin.

If you live in a flood plain you consistently ask for trouble. Some battles can only be won at a high cost and I wonder if some people haven't the sechel, courtesy and self-respect for themselves and others to see that the actions of a few endanger the many.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Stop reading the LA Times and get yourself off of Harvey's email list.

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the LA Times is better than A7.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...


The LA Times used to have one of the finest sportswriter's in the world, Jim Murray. But if you think that I am espousing their POV on Israel you are either uninformed regarding their policy or I am doing a lousy job of expressing myself.

As far as I am concerned the Palestinians have little to no claim for a state. Their connections are tenuous at best. But I also know that this is not a viewpoint that can be expressed with the interest of receiving a practical response.

And when it comes to such an emotional issue it is sometimes useful and necessary for taking practical measures.

My son is 3.5. To him I am superman and it is inconceivable that I can not protect him from anything. He climbed up the bookcase and jumped off because he "knew" that I could jump over the couch, avoid the toy cars and his sister's car seat in time to catch him.

I know that this bookcase deal is dangerous so I have to stop it. I can let him do it until he falls and get's hurt, in which case I have to accept that he could be seriously hurt because I didn't do my job.

Or I can be proactive and help him to understand the potential problem he could be causing for himself. And to take this analogy further, if he get's hurt it could mean that the whole family has to drop what we are doing to go to the hospital.

Or I can take this a different route and try religious perspective. Hashem destroyed Sdom and Gemorrah in spite of the pleadings of Avraham Avinu. But we understand that if Avraham had argued to save the cities because there could be one good person there might have been a different outcome.

So, do we assume that all of the Aravim hate us and that they all wish that we were dead. Or do we go the other direction and say that there are many who do not and that if we worked at things we could find a way to build that group up and marginalize the terrorists. Simplistic yes, but the concept is not totally without merit.

Give people hope and a better life and many will not stand nor allow others to destroy it.

And beacause I am really too tired to think clealrly, I'll throw something else into the mix.

The Russians have a problem with the Chechens because they have beaten people to a point at which they either break or no longer care what happens.

Ultimately the Chechen terrorists are the reason those children died, but the lesson here is that you can push people far enough that they will retaliate in ways that shock you.

As it is the bombers don't discriminate who they kill, but I am not going to be surprised to see them up the ante and return to going wholesale after children.

Anyway, this is jumbled and rather incoherent so I am going to finish in a moment, but let me add a couple of things. Who is Harvey and what email list are you talking about?

1:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Only an am ha-aretz argues from psukim"

Yes, but whether this is chicken or egg is open to dispute.

7:36 AM  
Blogger jah said...

Ben, you make a number of good points. But the point you ignore is the one based on pragmaticism.
I cannot say categorically that it is more pragmatic to leave Gaza then to stay, but it does seem that shortening defensive lines, which is a valid military maneuver, would be a practical and positive result. I am not convinced that the Arabs will see it as weakness, although of course some will, but rather as a strategic retreat. Retreats are not always admissions of defeat.
As to the humanity argument, it is obvious to any interested and fair observer that the IDF has performed with remarkable restraint, especially under the circumstances.
But it does not matter whether or not the politicization of a subordinate population is based on faulty reason. The Palestinians have been politicized to believe that they are not allowed their true political rights. Israel can either grant them Israeli rights, which, even if they were to accept would render the State an apartheid state, which of course means its eventual downfall, or an automatic transition to a binational state in which Jews are a minority. Which automatically leads to its downfall.
Or israel can maintain the status quo. in which case, the violence escalates to the point where israel will really be left with no choic but to react in ways unacceptable to Israel or anyone else, for that matter, further alienating those in the Palestinian polity with whom we could make peace and leading eventually to full fledged war in which we are better armed, but outnumbered. And fighting againsr a population that has nothing to lose. Kind of like Vietnam.
Or we could disengage. Which sucks. But it may be the only practicable policy.

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think Ben just likes watching poor Palestenian mothers starve. I think he likes watching palestenian children being beaten, and being slaugted like sheep. Maybe for him this is a kapara for all the years it happened to Jews instead.
He's monsterous for denying this occurs. Monsterous.
Abdul Menachem Haron Nebi Mohamed

7:37 PM  
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6:14 PM  

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