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Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel
Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky
Published by
Pluto Press
ISBN 0745312810 

Virtually identified with Arab terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism is
anathema throughout the non- Muslim world. Virtually identified with
ignorance, superstition, intolerance and racism, Christian fundamentalism
is anathema to the cultural and intellectual elite in the United States. The
recent significant increase in its number of adherents, combined with its
widening political influence, nevertheless, make Christian fundamentalism
a real threat to democracy in the United States. Although possessing nearly
all the important social scientific properties of Islamic and Christian
fundamentalism, Jewish fundament alism is practically unknown outside of
Israel and certain sections of a few other places. When its existence is
acknowledged, its significance is minimized or limited to arcane religious
practices and quaint middle European dress, most often by those same
non- Israeli elite commentator s who see so uncompromisingly the evils
inherent in Jewish fundamentalism's Islamic and/or Christian cousins.
As student s of contemporary society and as Jews, one Israeli, one
American, with personal commitment s and attachment s to the Middle East,
we cannot help seeing Jewish fundamentalism in Israel as a major obstacle
to peace in the region. Nor can we help being dismayed by the dismissal of
the perniciousnes s of Jewish fundamentalism to peace and to its victims by
those who are otherwise knowledgeable and astute and so quick to point
out the violence inherent in other fundamentalist approaches to existence.
This book is a journey of understanding—often painful, often dreary, often
disturbing—for us as Jews who have a stake in Jewry . With our hearts and
minds we want Jews, together with other people, to recognize and strive
for the highest ideals, even as we fall short of them. We see these ideals as
central to the values of Western civilization and applicable throughout the
civilized world. We believe these values do not stand in the way of peace
anywhere. That a perversion of these values in the name of Jewish
fundamentalism stands as an impediment to peace, to the development of
Israeli democracy and even to civilized discourse outrages us, both as Jews
and as human beings. To identify and lessen, if not purge, this outrage, we
have written this book and undertaken this journey in the hope that it may
bring understanding to our readers as it has brought understanding to us.
Our assumption is that peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved until
the currents and cross - currents of contemporary life in the region are
understood. In this most historical and most religious area, unders tanding
entails an exploration of the past that continues to impinge upon the
attitudes, values, assumptions and behaviors of all the people of this
beautiful and troubled land. Jewish opposition in Israel to Jewish
fundamentalism greatly increased after a Jewish, fundament alist, religious
fanatic, Yigal Amir, who insisted that he was acting in accordance with
dictates in Judaism, shot and killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. That
numerous groups of religious Jews after the assassination suppor ted this
murder in the name of the "true" Jewish religion aroused interest in Israel
in past killings by Jews of other Jews who were alleged to be heretics or
sinners. In our book we cite present and past investigations by Israeli
scholars documenting that for centuries prior to the rise of the modern
nation state, Jews, believing they were acting in accordance with God's
word and thus preparing themselves for eternal paradise, punished or
killed heretics and/or religious sinners. Contemporary Jewish
fundamentalism is an attempt to revive a situation that often existed in
Jewish communi ties before the influence of modernity. The basic principles
of Jewish fundamentalism are the same as those found in other religions:
restoration and survival of the "pure" and pious religious communi ty that
presumably existed in the past.
In our book we describe in some detail the origins, ideologies, practices
and overall impact upon society of fundamentalism. We emphasize mostly
the messianic tendency, because we believe it to be the most influential
and dangerous. Jewish fundamentalists generally oppose extensions of
human freedoms, especially the freedom of expression, in Israel. In regard
to foreign policy, the National Religious Party, ruled by supponers of the
messianic tendency of Jewish fundamentalism, has continuously opposed
any and all withdrawals from territories conquered and occupied by Israel
since 1967. These fundamentalists opposed Israeli withdrawal from the
Sinai in 1978, just as twenty years later they continued to oppose any
withdrawal from the West Bank. These same Jews printed and distributed
atlases allegedly showing that the land of Israel, belonging only to the Jews
and requiring liberation, included the Sinai, Jordan, Lebanon, most of Syria
and Kuwait. Jewish fundamentalists have advocated the most
discriminative proposals against Palestinians. Not surprisingly, Baruch
Goldstein and Yigal Amir, the most sensational Jewish assassins of the
1990s, and most of their admirers have been Jewish fundamentalists of the
messianic tendency.
In the 1990s, Israeli sociologists and scholars in other academic fields have
focused more attention than ever before upon the social effects in Israeli
society of Jewish fundamentalists. The overwhelming opinion of these
scholars is that the adherents of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel are
hostile to democracy .The fundament alists oppose equality for all citizens,
especially non- Jews and Jewish "deviants" such as homosexuals. The great
majority of religious Jews in Israel, influenced by fundamentalists, share
these views to some extent. In a book review published on October 14,
1998, Baruch Kirnrnerling, a distinguished Israeli sociologist, citing
evidence from a study conducted by other scholars, commented:
The values of the [Jewish] religion, at least in its Orthodox and
nationalistic form that prevails in Israel, cannot be squared with
democratic values. No other variable—neither nationality, nor
attitudes about security, nor social or economic values, nor
ethnic descent and education—so influences the attitudes of
[Israeli] Jews against democratic values as does religiosity. [1]
Citing additional evidence, Kimmerling commented further that secular,
Israeli Jews who had acquired college or university education had the
greatest attachment to democratic values and that religious Jews who
studied in yeshivot (religious schools) most opposed democracy. It is clear
that fundamentalist antagonism to democratic values, as well as to most
aspects of secular culture and life style, is deeply instilled in Israel's
religious schools.
The documentation of fundament alist antagonism to the secular life style
of a majority of Israeli Jews is clear. The September 20, 1998, edition of
Yediot Ahronot, the largest circulation, Hebrew language, daily Israeli
newspaper, for example, contained a "cultural profile" survey of Israeli
Jewish society. The survey revealed that the major Israeli consumer s of
culture, who visit museums and attend concerts and the theater, had
finished high school and defined themselves as either secular or not
Orthodox (religious). The Israeli religious press and pronouncement s by
Israeli rabbis, condemning cultural activity, have confirmed the survey's
Jewish fundamentalists have displayed severe enmity against Jews who
adopt a different sexual life style. Many Israeli rabbis and the Israeli
religious political patties in the 1990s reacted sharply against the increased
visibility and power of the homosexual and lesbian communi ties in Israel.
According to the Halacha {Jewish religious law), homosexuality is
punishable by death by stoning, and, although the punishment is not clear,
lesbian relations are forbidden. The Israeli secular press emphasized in the
1990s some of the more outrageous rabbinical proposals for dealing with
homosexuals; these included a "compulsory healing treatment" and/or a
period of "education in a closed institution." Many rabbis, when
interviewed, indicated that they favored imposition of the death penalty
for Jewish homosexual men. (The rabbis tended to leave lesbians alone.) In
their televised election advertisement s, Israeli religious political parties
usually have emphasized that homosexual Jews constitute one of the
greatest dangers facing Israel. The religious parties have been successful in
their attempt s to eliminate in public school courses any mention of Hebrew
homosexual love poems, some of which contain beautiful Hebrew lyrics.
This censorship is evidence of fundamentalist influence.
Conflicts in Israeli society between adherents and opponent s of Jewish
fundamentalism rank among the most important issues in Israeli politics.
In this book we do not attempt to discuss all of these problems and/or
issues. Rather, we focus upon what we consider to be the most vital
problems and issues of Jewish fundamentalism.
Defenders of the "Jewish interest" often attack persons who write critically
about Jews and/or Judaism for not emphasizing in the same text positive
features that may have nothing or little to do with the substance under
focus. Some of these defenders, for example, attacked Seffi Rachlevsky
after the publication of his best - selling book, "Messiahs' Donkeys." In his
book, Rachlevsky correctly claimed that Rabbi Kook, the Elder, the revered
father of the messianic tendency of Jewish fundamentalism (who is
featured in our book), said "The difference between a Jewish soul and souls
of non- Jews—all of them in all different levels—is greater and deeper than
the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle." The
Rachlevsky detractors did not attempt to refute substantively the relevance
of the Kook quotation. Rather, they argued that Rabbi Kook said other
things and that Rachlevsky, by neglecting to mention them, had distorted
the teachings of Rabbi Kook. Rachlevsky pointed out that Rabbi Kook's
entire teaching was based upon the Lurianic Cabbala, the school of Jewish
mysticism that dominated Judaism from the late sixteenth to the early
nineteenth century. One of the basic tenants of the Lurianic Cabbala is the
absolute superiority of the Jewish soul and body over the non- Jewish soul
and body. According to the Lurianic Cabbala, the world was created solely
for the sake of Jews; the existence of non- Jews was subsidiary. If an
influential Christian bishop or Islamic scholar argued that the difference
between the superior souls of non- Jews and the inferior souls of Jews was
greater than the difference between the human soul and the souls of cattle,
he would incur the wrath of and be viewed as an anti - Semite by most
Jewish scholars regardless of whatever less meaningful, positive
statements he included. From this perspective the detractors of Rachlevsky
are hypocrites. That Rabbi Kook was a vegetarian and even respected the
rights of plants to the extent that he did not allow flowers or grass to be
cut for his own pleasure neither distracted from nor added anything to his
position regarding the comparison of the souls of Jews and non- Jews. That
Kook deprecated unnecessary Jewish brutality against non- Jews should
not minimize criticism of his expressed delight in the belief that the death
of millions of soldiers during World War One constituted a sign of the
approaching salvation of Jews and the coming of the Messiah.
The detractors of Rachlevsky and those who may level similar criticisms
against our book and us are not the only hypocrites in this area. Shelves of
bookshops in English- speaking and other countries groan under the weight
of books on Jewish mysticism in general and on Hassidism and the Lurianic
Cabbala more specifically. Many of the authors of these books are widely
regarded as famous scholars because of the minutiae of their scholarship.
The people who read only these books on these subjects, however, cannot
suspect that Jewish mysticism, the Lurianic Cabbala, Hassidism and the
teachings of Rabbi Kook contain basic ideas about Jewish superiority
comparable to the worst forms of anti - Semitism. The scholarly authors of
these books, for example Gershon Scholem, have willfully omitted
reference to such ideas. These authors are supreme hypocrites. They are
analogous to many authors of books on Stalin and Stalinism. Until recently,
people who read only the books written by Stalinists could not know about
Stalin's crimes and would have false notions of the Stalinists' regimes and
their real ideologies.
The fact is that certain Jews, some of whom wield political influence,
consider Jews to be superior to non- Jews and view the world as having
been created only or primarily for Jews. This belief in Jewish superiority is
most dangerous when held by Jews who love their children, are honest in
their relations with other Jews and perform, as do fundamentalists in all
religions, various acts of piety. This belief is less dangerous when held by
Jews who are not overwhelmingly concerned about religion and/or
corruption. A parallel worth citing here is that in a secular, totalitarian
system, a dedicated party worker or a convinced nationalist is usually more
dangerous and harmful than a corrupt member of the same ideological
Our final point in this preface is both personal and universal. As Jews, we
understand that our own grandparent s or great - grandparents probably
believed in at least some of the views described in our book. This same
statement may apply to other contemporary Jews. In the past many non-
Jews, as individuals and as members of groups, held anti - Semitic views,
which, especially when the circumstances were propitious, influenced the
behavior of others towards Jews. Similarly, in the past, slavery was
universally practiced and justified, the inferior status of women was a
global phenomenon and the belief that a country belonged to an individual
or family and was heritable was common. Jewish fundamentalists still
believe, as they have in the past, in a golden age when everything was, or
was going to be, perfect. This golden age is so much of a reality for them
that, when faced with issues of pernicious beliefs and practices, they take
refuge by invoking God's word, by falsely describing the past and by
condemning non- Jews for harboring feelings of superiority and having
contempt for Jews. The fundamentalists also justify their own belief in
Jewish superiority and their feeling of contempt for non- Jews; they seek to
reproduce the mythical golden age in which their views would dominate.
We have written this book in order to reveal the essential character of
Jewish fundamentalism and its adherents. This character threatens
democratic features of Israeli society. We believe that awareness is the
necessary first step in opposition. We realize that by criticizing Jewish
fundamentalism we are criticizing a part of the past that we love. We wish
that members of every human grouping would criticize their own past,
even before criticizing others. This, we further believe, would lead to a
better understanding between human groups and would be followed,
perhaps slowly and hesitantly, by better treatment of minorities. Most of
our book is concerned with basic beliefs and resultant policies in Israeli
Jewish society. We believe that a critique of Jewish fundamentalism, which
entails a critique of the Jewish past, can help Jews acquire more
understanding and improve their behavior towards Palestinians, especially
in the territories conquered in and occupied since 1967. We hope that our
critique will also motivate other people in the Middle East to engage in
criticism of their entire past in order to increase their knowledge of
themselves and improve their behavior towards others in the present. All
of this could constitute a major factor in bringing peace to the Middle East.
This is a political book about Jewish fundamentalism in Israel. It includes
some original scholarly research but is based to a great extent upon the
scholarly research of others. Hopefully, this book is analytical.
We have inserted in the text many and copious quotations from serious
articles that have appeared in the Israeli Hebrew press. The majority of
articulate Israeli Jews have learned about Jewish fundamentalism and some
of the reactions thereto during the past ten to fifteen years from these
articles. Some of these articles provided summaries of and analyses by
leading scholars who have researched in- depth aspects of Jewish
We have quoted and have usually explained texts from talmudic literature.
Such texts have been and still are often used in Israeli politics and often
quoted in the Israeli Hebrew press. We have concluded that in the usual
English translations of talmudic literature some of the most sensitive
passages are usually toned down or falsified—as a result, we have
ourselves translated all of the texts from talmudic literature that we have
quoted in the book. The quotations from the Bible, however, follow the
standard translations, sometimes in more modem English, except when
specifically noted otherwise.
We realize that we have presented a number of lengthy quotations. We
determined that this was necessary in order to explain our points
adequately. We believe the quotations deserve to be and should be read in
full. Instead of footnoting each quotation separately in the traditional
scholarly manner, we decided to mention in the text from where each
quotation was taken. Although this may at times appear to be a bit
redundant, it makes the flow of understanding easier.
Although our book deals primarily with recent development s in Jewish
fundamentalism, it is rooted in Jewish history. A brief overview of Jewish
history, especially for readers who may lack adequate knowledge thereof,
is necessary in order to provide the contextual framework for the subject
matter. Fundamentalists of all religions wish to restore society to the "good
old times" when the faith was allegedly pure and was practiced by
everyone. Fundamentalists believe that in the "good old times" all the evils
associated with modernity were absent, To gain an understanding of Jewish
fundamentalism, it is imperative to identify the historical period that
fundamentalists believe should be re- established. In order to do this, we
must specify the various periods of Jewish history.
Jewish history is usually divided into four major periods. The first is the
biblical period during which most of the Jewish Bible (Old Testament in the
Christian tradition) was written. Although its beginning time is uncertain,
this period lasted until about the fifth century BC. Judaism, at least in its
major characteristics, did not exist in this time period. The Hebrew word
"yehudim" ("Jews" in post - biblical Hebrew) and its cognates in the Jewish
Bible only denotes the inhabitants of the small kingdom of Judea and is
used to distinguish these inhabitants from all the other people, called
Israelites or "sons of Israel" or, rarely, "Hebrews." The Bible anyway is not
the book that primarily determines the practices and doctrines of
Orthodox Jews.1 The most fundamentalist Orthodox Jews are largely
ignorant of major parts of the Bible and know some parts only through
commentaries that distort meaning. Controversies, moreover, consumed
the biblical period. The majority of Israelites, including inhabitants of
Judea, practiced idolatry throughout much of this period. Only a minority
of Israelites followed those tendencies from which Judaism subsequently
arose. In short, Judaism, as it came to be known, did not exist during the
biblical period.
The second period of Jewish history, usually called the Second Temple
period, began in the fifth century BC and lasted until the destruction of the
Second Temple by the Romans in AD 70. This was the formative period of
Judaism with its subsequent characteristics. The term "Jews," which
denotes those people who followed the distinctive religion of Judaism and
the name Judea, which denotes the land wherein Jews lived, appeared in
this period. Near the end of this period, after Jews had conquered most of
Palestine, the Romans adopted the term "Judea" in describing Palestine.3
The two most important new Jewish characteristics that developed in this
period were Jewish exclusiveness and the resultant separation of Jews from
all other nations. For the first time the persons of other nations were
referred to by the collective name of gentiles.4 The second new
characteristic was based upon the assumpt ion that the Jews must follow
biblical law, that is, the true interpretation of the law. During most of this
period, however, disputes centering upon differing and rival
interpretations of the law occurred. At times, these disputes erupted into
civil wars. The long- lasting quarrel between the Pharisees and Saducees
was but one example of such disputes. Shortly after the beginning of this
period, Alexander the Great conquered Palestine. States influenced by
Hellenism ruled Palestine for almost a thousand years thereafter; even the
short - lived independent Jewish state of the Hasmonean dynasty was in
most essentials a type of Hellenistic state. Consequentially, Jewish society
and the Hebrew language, even though keeping their Jewish characteristics
were transformed by the influences of Hellenism. Hellenism influenced
even more deeply the Jewish diaspora in Mediterranean count ries. Jews in
those countries often spoke and prayed in Greek. Unfonunately most of the
Jewish literature in Greek, which was produced in this period, was
subsequently lost by the Jews; only that part preserved by various
Christian churches has remained.
Most historians date the beginning of the third period in AD 70 with the
destruction of the Second Temple. Other historians prefer to date the
beginning of the third period in AD 135, when the last major Jewish
rebellion against the Roman Empire ended. This period ended at different
times in different count ries with the onset of modernity and the rise of
modern nation states. Modernity began when Jews were granted rights as
citizens equal to those granted to non- Jews and consequently when their
autonomy, which entailed subjection to the rabbis, ended. This occurred in
the United States and France, for example, by the end of the eighteenth
century; this did not occur in Russia until 1917 or in Yemen until the
1950s. The Jewish rebellions against the Romans resulted in a permanent
loss of Jewish population in Palestine; the importance of the Jewish
diaspora thus increased. This change became fully operative in the fifth
century AD. Additionally, the failure of rebellions caused the Jews to lose
hope that the Temple would be rebuilt and that the animal sacrifices
performed in the Temple, previously the heart - center of the Jewish
religion, would be restored before the coming of the Messiah. The repeated
defeats caused most Jews to accommodate themselves to the ruling
authority of Rome and of other states in return for the limited autonomy
directed by the rabbis. Thus, in the Roman empire of the fourth century
AD, in a system created much earlier, all the Jews were in religious matters
subject to the Patriarch who had the power to punish them by flogging, by
levying fines for religious offenses and by imposing taxes. The dignitary
called Patriarch in Roman sources was called President ("Nassi" in Hebrew)
in Jewish sources. He presided over the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish
court, and in Palestine appointed court members and other religious
functionaries. The Patriarch, whose post was hereditary, held a high official
rank in the hierarchy of Roman state officials. A similar arrangement
simultaneously existed in Iraq where the top official was called the head of
the diaspora. Both the patriarch and the head of the diaspora claimed to
have been descended from the family of King David. The office of the
patriarch lapsed shortly after AD 429; the office of the head of the
diaspora lasted until about AD 1100. Both offices provided the framework
for models of Jewish autonomy. This autonomy, which persisted until the
modern era, and later repercus sions thereof, contributed to the rise of
Jewish fundamentalism. The great abundance of literature produced in the
third period, the longest in the entire course of Jewish history, was written
mostly in Hebrew but also in Aramaic, Greek, Arabic, Yiddish and other
languages. The major theme was religion; the minutiae of religious
observances were mainly emphasized. Poetry, philosophy and science,
predominantly of the Aristotelian variety, appeared at some times in some
places but were neither universal nor continuous. In many diaspora areas,
particularly in central Europe, the only literature produced until 1750 was
religious. From the perspective of Jewish fundamentalism the most
important occurrence in the third period was the growth of Jewish
mysticism, usually referred to by the name of Cabbala. Jewish mysticism
transformed Jewish beliefs without changing, except for a few details,
Jewish observance. Between 1550 and 1750, the great majority of Jews in
western Europe accepted the Cabbala and its set of beliefs. This was the
end of the third period of Jewish history, which immediately preceded the
rise of modern nation states and the beginning of modern influences.
Mysticism is still accepted by and constitutes a vital part of Jewish
fundamentalism, being especially important in the messianic variety. As
shown in our book, the ideology of the messianic variety of Jewish
fundamentalism is based upon the Cabbala. In spite of making occasional
references to the Bible, Jewish fundamentalists generally have consistently
pinpointed and described the last part of this third period as the golden
age that they wish to restore. It is important to note that, beyond the
spawning of Jewish fundamentalism, the wide circulation of religious
literature in this third period created a strong sense of Jewish unity, based
upon a common religion and the Hebrew language. (Almost all educated
Jews, regardless of what language they spoke, understood and employed
Hebrew as a written language for their religion.)
The fourth and modern period of Jewish history is the one in which we live.
It began at different times in different countries; many Israeli Jews passed
directly from pre- modern to modern times. As discussed in Chapter 3 of
our book, this phenomenon has been especially important for Oriental
Jews. Our book emphasizes that Jewish fundamentalism arose as a
reaction against the effects of modernity upon Jews. The influence of
Jewish fundamentalism upon the Israeli Jewish communi ty can only be
understood adequately within the context of the entire course of Jewish
Notes to introduction
1. Baruch Kimmerling, review of Yohanan Peres and Efraim Ya'ar
Yukhtman, Between Agreement and Dispute: Democracy and Peace in Israeli
Society (Jerusalem: The Israeli Institute for Democracy, 1998) in Hebrew.
Kimmerling carefully reviewed and analyzed the data, assembled between
1993 and 1995 by Peres and Yukhtman.
2. We explain this to some extent in this book. This is explained in greater
detail in Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion (London: Pluto Press,
3. The Romans actually adopted the term Judea by employing the form of
"provincia Judea" in describing Palestine, which in the Bible is called by
other names.
4. The Hebrew word for gentiles is "goyim," a word which, as used in the
Bible, simply means nations. The singular "goy" in the Bible was—and is—
applied to the Israelites themselves.
Chapter 1
Jewish Fundamentalism within Jewish Society
Almost every moderately sophisticated Israeli Jew knows the facts about
Israeli Jewish society that are described in this book. These facts, however,
are unknown to most interested Jews and non- Jews outside Israel who do
not know Hebrew and thus cannot read most of what Israeli Jews write
about themselves in Hebrew. These facts are rarely mentioned or are
described inaccurately in the enormous media coverage of Israel in the
United States and elsewhere. The major purpose of this book is to provide
those persons who do not read Hebrew with more unders tanding of one
important aspect of Israeli Jewish society.
This book pinpoints the political importance of Jewish fundamentalism in
Israel, a powerful state in and beyond the Middle East that wields great
influence in the United States. Jewish fundamentalism is here briefly
defined as the belief that Jewish Orthodoxy, which is based upon the
Babylonian Talmud, the rest of talmudic literature and halachic literature,
is still valid and will eternally remain valid. Jewish fundament alists believe
that the Bible itself is not authoritative unless interpreted correctly by
talmudic literature. Jewish fundamentalism exists not only in Israel but in
every country that has a sizeable Jewish community. In count ries other
than Israel, wherein Jews constitute a small minority of the total
population, the general importance of Jewish fundamentalism is limited
mainly to acquiring funding and garnering political suppor t for
fundamentalist adherents in Israel. Its importance in Israel is far greater,
because its adherents can and do influence the state in various ways. The
variety of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel is striking. Many
fundamentalists, for instance, want the temple rebuilt on the Temple
Mount in Jerusalem or at least want to keep the site, which is now a holy
Muslim praying place, empty of visitors. In the United States most
Christians would not identify with such a purpose, but in Israel a
significant number of Israeli Jews who are not fundamentalists identify
with and suppor t this and similar demands. Some varieties of Jewish
fundamentalism are clearly more dangerous than others. Jewish
fundamentalism is not only capable of influencing conventional Israeli
policies but could also substantially affect Israeli nuclear policies. The
same possible consequences of fundamentalism feared by many persons
for other countries could occur in Israel.
The significance of fundamentalism in Israel can only be understood within
the context of Israeli Jewish society and as part of the contribution of the
Jewish religion to societal internal divisions. Our consideration of this
broad topic begins by focusing upon the ways sophisticated observers
divide Israeli Jewish society politically and religiously. We then proceed to
the explanation of why Jewish fundamentalism influences in varying
degrees other Israeli Jews, thereby allowing fundamentalist Jews to wield
much greater political power in Israel than their percentage of the
population might appear to warrant.
The customary two- way division of Israeli Jewish society rests upon the
cornerstone recognition that as a group Israeli Jews are highly ideological.
This is best evidenced by their high percentage of voting, which usually
exceeds 80 per cent. In the May 1996 elections, over 95 per cent of the
better educated, richer, secular Jews and the religious Jews in all categories
of education and income voted. After discounting the large number of
Israeli Jews who live outside Israel (over 400,000), most of whom did not
vote, it can be safely assumed that almost every eligible voter in these two
crucial segments of the population voted. Most Israeli political observers
by now assume that Israeli Jews are divided into two categories: Israel A
and Israel B. Israel A, often referred to as the "left," is politically
represented by the Labor and Meretz Parties; Israel B, referred to as the
"right" or the "right and religious parties," is comprised of all the other
Jewish parties. Almost all of Israel A and a great majority of Israel B (the
exception being some of the fundamentalist Jews) strongly adhere to
Zionist ideology, which in brief, holds that all or at least the majority of
Jews should emigrate to Palestine, which as the Land of Israel, belongs to
all Jews and should be a Jewish state. A strong and increasing enmity
between these two segments of Israeli society nevertheless exists. There are
many reasons for this enmity. The reason relevant to this study is that
Israel B, including its secular members, is sympathetic to Jewish
fundamentalism while Israel A is not. It is apparent from studies of
election results over a long period of time that Israel B has consistently
obtained a numerical edge over Israel A. This is an indication that the
number of Jews influenced by Jewish fundamentalism is consistently
In his article "Religion, Nationalism and Democracy in Israel," published in
the Autumn 1994 issue of the periodical, Z'Manim (no. 50- 51), Professor
Baruch Kimmerling, a faculty member of Hebrew University's sociology
department, presented data pertaining to the religious division of Israeli
Jewish society. Citing numerous research studies, Kimmerling showed
conclusively that Israeli Jewish society is far more divided on religious
issues than is generally assumed outside of Israel, where belief in
generalizations, such as "common to all Jews," is challenged less than in
Israel. Quoting the data of a survey taken by the prestigious Gutman
Institute of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Kimmerling pointed out
that whereas 19 per cent of Israeli Jews said they prayed daily, another 19
per cent declared that they would not enter a synagogue under any
circums tances.1 Influenced by the Gutman Institute analysis and similar
studies, Kimmerling and other scholars have concluded that Israel A and
Israel B contain hard - core believers who hold diametrically opposed views
of the Jewish religion. This conclusion is almost certainly correct.
More generally, the attitude towards religion in Israeli Jewish society can be
divided into three parts. The religious Jews observe the commandment s of
the Jewish religion, as defined by Orthodox rabbis, many of whom
emphasize observance more than belief. (The number of Reform and/or
Conservative Jewish in Israel is small.) The traditional Jews keep some of
the more important commandment s while violating the more inconvenient
ones; they do honor the rabbis and the religion. The secularists may
occasionally enter a synagogue but respect neither the rabbis nor the
religious institutions. The line between traditional and secular Jews is often
vague, but the available studies indicate that 25 to 30 per cent of Israeli
Jews are secular, 50 to 55 per cent are traditional and about 20 per cent are
religious. Traditional Jews obviously belong to both the Israel A and Israel
B categories.
Israeli religious Jews are divided into two distinctly different groups. The
members of the religiously more extreme group are called Haredim. (The
singular word is Haredi or Hared.) The members of the religiously more
moderate group are called religious - national Jews. The religious - national
Jews are sometimes called "knitted skullcaps" because of their head
covering. Haredim usually wear black skullcaps that are never knitted, or
hats. The religious - national Jews otherwise usually dress in the more usual
Israeli fashion, while the Haredim almost always wear black clothes.
The Haredim are themselves divided into two parties. The first, Yahadut
Ha'Torah (Judaism of the Law) is the party of the Ashkenazi Haredim who
are of East European origin. Yahadut Ha'Torah itself is a coalition of two
factions. The second is Shas, the party of the Oriental Haredim who are of
Middle Eastern origin. (The differences between the two types of Haredim
will be more specifically discussed in Chapter 3.) The religious - national
Jews are organized in the National Religious Party (NRP). By analyzing the
1996 electoral vote and making some necessary adjustment s, we can
estimate the population percentages of these two groups of religious Jews.
In the 1996 election the Haredi parties together won 14 of the 120 total
Knesset seats. Shas won ten seats; Yahadut Ha' Torah won four. The NRP
won nine seats. Some Israeli Jews admittedly voted for Shas because of
talismans and amulets distributed by Shas that were supposedly valid only
after a "correct" vote. Some NRP members and sympathizers, moreover,
admittedly voted for secular right - wing parties. Everything considered, the
Haredim probably constitute 11 per cent of the Israeli population and 13.4
per cent of the Israeli Jews; the NRP adherents probably constitute 9 per
cent of the Israeli population and 11 per cent of the Israeli Jews.
The basic tenets of the two groups of religious Jews need some
introductory explanation. The word "hared" is a common Hebrew word
meaning "fearful." During early Jewish history, it meant "God- fearing" or
exceptionally devout. In the mid- nineteenth century it was adopted, first in
Germany and Hungary and later in other parts of the diaspora, as the name
of the party of religious Jews that opposed any modern innovation. The
Ashkenazi Haredim emerged as a backlash group opposed to the Jewish
enlightenment in general and especially to those Jews who refused to
accept the total authority of the rabbis and who introduced innovations
into the Jewish worship and life style. Seeing that almost all Jews accepted
these innovations, the Haredim reacted even more extremely and banned
every innovation. The Haredim to date have insisted upon the strictest
observance of the Halacha. An illustrative example of opposition to
innovation is the previously mentioned and still current black dress of the
Haredim; this was the dress fashion of Jews in Eastern Europe when the
Haredim formed themselves into a party. Before that time Jews dressed in
many different styles and were often indistinguishable in dress from their
neighbors. After a brief time, almost all Jews except for the Haredim again
dressed differently. The Halacha, moreover, does not enjoin Jews to dress
in black and/or to wear thick black coats and heavy fur caps during the hot
summer or at any other time. Yet, Haredim in Israel continue to do so in
opposition to innovation; they insist that dress be kept as it was in Europe
around 1850. All other considerations, including climatic ones, are
In contrast to the Haredim, the religious - nationalist Jews of the NRP made
their compromises with modernity at the beginning of the 1920s when the
split between the two large groupings in religious Judaism first appeared in
Palestine. This can be immediately observed in their dress, which, with the
exception of a small skullcap, is conventional. Even more importantly, this
is evident in their selective observance of the Halacha, for example, in their
rejection of many commandment s regarding women. NRP members do not
hesitate to admit women to positions of authority in many of their
organizations and in the political party itself. Before both the 1992 and
1996 elections the NRP published and distributed an advertisement,
containing photographs of various public figures including some women
suppor ting the party, and boasted more broadly on television of female
suppor t. Haredim did not and would not do this. Even when Haredim, who
ban television watching for themselves, decided to present some television
election programs directed to other Jews, they insisted that all participants
be male. During the 1992 campaign the editors of a Haredi weekly
consulted the rabbinical censor about whether or not to publish the abovementioned
NRP advertisement. The rabbinical censor ordered the paper to
publish the advertisement with all photographs of the NRP women blotted
out. The editors did what the censor ordered. Outraged, the NRP sued the
newspaper for libel and sought damages in Israeli secular courts,
disregarding the rulings of Haredi rabbis prohibiting using secular courts
to settle disputes among Jews.
The religious - nationalist Jewish compromises with modernity regarding
women are exceedingly complicated in many ways. The Halacha forbids
Jewish males to listen to women singing whether in a choir or solo
regardless of what is sung. This is stated directly in the halachic ruling that
a voice of a woman is adultery. This is interpreted by later halachic rulings
stipulating that the word "voice" here means a woman's singing not
speaking. This rule, originating in the Talmud, occurs in all codes of law. A
Jewish male who willingly listens to a woman's singing commits a sin
equivalent either to adultery or fornication. The great majority of NRP
faithful members, nevertheless, listen to women singing and thus commit
"adultery" routinely. Some of the most strict NRP members, especially
among the religious settlers in the West Bank, have not only puzzled over
this problem but at times have tried to solve the problem of how to adjust
by developing creative approaches. In the early 1990s some of the settlers
founded a new radio station, Arutz, or Channel, 7. For their station to
become successful and to appeal as broadly as possible to Israeli Jews, the
settlers understood that the songs of the fashionable singers of the day,
some of whom were women, would have to be broadcast. The rabbinical
censor, however, has refused to allow a breach of the Halacha whereby
male listeners would hear female singers and thus commit "adultery." After
further consultation with the censor, the settlers devised an acceptable
solution that is still being employed. Men sing the songs, made popular by
women; the male voices are then electronically changed to the female pitch
and are broadcast accordingly over Arutz 7. A part of the traditional public
is satisfied by this expedient, and the learned NRP rabbis insist that no
adultery is committed when men listen to the songs being sung. The
Haredim obviously have rejected and condemned this accommodation and
to date have refused to listen to Arutz 7. Even more importantly, the
Haredim, after increasing somewhat their political power in the 1988
elections, were able to impose their position in this regard upon the whole
state by forcing a change in the opening of the new Knesset session. The
opening ceremony previously began with the singing of "Hatikva," the
Israeli national anthem, by a mixed male- female choir. After the 1988
election, in deference to Haredi sensitivities, a male singer replaced the
mixed choir. After the 1992 election, won by Labor, an all- male choir of the
Military Rabbinate sang "Hatikva."
How can the Haredim, who altogether constitute only a small percentage of
Israel's Jewish population, at times, either alone or even with the help of
the NRP, impose their will upon the rest of society? The facile explanation
is that both the Labor and Likud parties kowtow to the Haredim for
political suppor t. This explanation is insufficient. The kowtowing
continued between 1984 and 1990 during the time that Labor and Likud
had formed a coalition. Currying favor from the Haredim for alignment
purposes was then politically unnecessary. The offered explanation,
furthermore, does not adequately take into account the special affinity of
all the religious parties, perceived since 1980 as fundamentalist, to Likud
and other secular right - wing parties. This affinity, especially between
Likud and the Haredi religious parties, based upon a shared world outlook,
is at the crux of Israeli politics. (This affinity is analogous to that existing
between Christian and Muslim fundamentalists and their secular right
parties.) The relatively simple case of the NRP illustrates this well. The NRP
recognizes, although does not always follow, the same halachic authorities
as do the Haredi parties. The NRP also adheres to the same ideals relating
to the Jewish past and, more importantly, to the future when Israel's
triumph over the non- Jews will allegedly be secure. The differences
between the NRP and the Haredim stem from the NRP's belief that
redemption has begun and will soon be completed by the imminent coming
of the Messiah. The Haredim do not share this belief. The NRP believes that
special circumstances at the beginning of redemption justify temporary
departures from the ideal that could help advance the process of
redemption. NRP suppor t in some situations for military service for
talmudic scholars is a relevant example here. These deviant NRP ideas have
been undermined since the 1970s by the expanding Haredi influence upon
increasing numbers of NRP followers who have resisted departures from
strict talmudic norms and have favored Haredi positions. This process has
been counter - balanced to some extent by the growth in prestige of the NRP
settlers who are esteemed as pioneers of messianism even though the
assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a messianist may have
momentarily increased Haredi prestige.
The religious influence upon the Israeli right - wing of Israel B is
attributable both to its militaristic character and its widely shared world
outlook. Secular and militaristic right - wing, Israeli Jews hold political
views and engage in rhetoric similar to that of religious Jews. For most
Likud followers, "Jewish blood" is the reason why Jews are in a different
category than non- Jews, including, of course, even those non- Jews who are
Israeli citizens and who serve in the Israeli army. For religious Jews, the
blood of non- Jews has no intrinsic value; for Likud, it has limited value.
Menachem Begin's masterful use of such rhetoric about Gentiles brought
him votes and popularity and thus constitutes a case in point. The
difference in this respect between Labor and Likud is rhetorical but is
nevertheless important in that it reveals part of a world outlook. In 1982,
for example, when the Israeli army occupied Beirut, Rabin representing
Labor, although advocating the same policies as favored by Sharon and
Likud, did not explain the Sabra and Shatila Camp massacres by stating, as
did Begin: "Gentiles kill Gentiles and blame the Jews." Even if Rabin had
himself been capable of saying this, he knew that most of his secular
suppor ters in Labor, who distinguish between Gentiles who hate Jews and
those who do not, would not have tolerated such a statement. They would
have repudiated such rhetoric as being both untrue and harmful.
Religious influence is evident in the right's general reverence for the Jewish
past and its insistence that Jews have an historic right to an expanded
Israel extending beyond its present borders. More than other secular
Israelis, members of the Israeli right insist upon Jewish uniqueness. During
many centuries of their existence, the great majority of Jews were similar
in some ways to the present - day Haredim. Thus, those Jews who today
revere the Jewish past as evidence of Jewish uniqueness respect to some
extent religious Jews as perpetuator s of that past. An essential part of the
right's emphasis upon uniqueness is its hatred of the concept of
"normality," that is, that Jews are similar to other people and have the
same desire for stability as do other nations. Some cultural affinities
between secular and religious Jews of the Israeli right are not primarily
ideological. Many Likud suppor ter s, whether Sephardic or Ashkenazi in
origin, are traditionalists; they view rabbis as glamorous figures and are
affected by childhood memories of the patriarchal family in which
education was dominated by the grandfather and the women "knew their
place." Although most pronounced in those of the religious vanguard, such
considerations also affect secular Jews of the right. The right often
exaggerates the beauty and superiority of the Jewish past, especially when
arguing for the preservation of Jewish uniqueness.
The religious and secular members of the right share fears as well as
beliefs. In an October 6, 1993, article, published in Haaretz, Israel's most
prestigious daily Hebrew- Ianguage newspaper, Doron Rosenblum, relying
upon varied sources, illustrated this by quoting pronouncement s of Likud
leaders that were designed to show Israelis the grave nature and risks of
the peace process and at the same time to continue the boasting that Likud
had initiated the process.
Rosenblum quoted the following statement by Likud Member of the
Knesset (MK) Uzi Landau, who after the 1996 elections was appointed
chairperson of the Knesset Committee for Defense and Foreign Affairs:
If Rabin's policies toward Syria are followed, one morning they
[Israeli Jews] will awaken to see columns of Syrian tanks descending
from the Golan Heights like herds of sheep ... The settlement s of the
Galilee will then be attacked by fire- power stronger than that used in
[the war of] 1973 ... Since the idea of extermination of Israelis
remains a topic in the Syrian consciousnes s ... any [Israeli]
withdrawal from the Golan Heights will only precipitate the moment
that the Syrian knife will approach the throat of every inhabitant of
the Galilee ... Syrian policies are fixed by a genetic code not subject to
rapid changes.
Apparently keeping to its double - standard approach, the Western media,
which would almost certainly have blasted any non- Jewish politician for
attributing Israeli policies to a Jewish genetic code not subject to rapid
changes, avoided commenting upon the Landau statement.
Rosenblum also quoted MK Benny Begin, a major Likud leader, who
expressed the fear that Syria would make a frontal attack upon Israel. This
fear is commonly expressed by members of most Israeli political parties.
What is characteristic of Israel B, however, is that, as Benny Begin
specifically declared, the aims of a Syrian invasion will be the same as "the
aims of Pogromists of Kishinev to cut Jewish throats."2 Begin added that
this time nuclear scientists would help in the Syrian venture. Comparing
the unarmed Jewish communi ty, a small minority in the Russian Empire,
with Israel and its army illustrates a common attitude to the Jewish past
held by the secular right - wing Israeli parties and the religious Jews. This
attitude takes no cognizance of historical development. Jews in whatever
condition are always the real or potential victims of Gentiles.
Rosenblum, who is a member of Israel A, perceived all such imagery as
incongruous. Observing that Landau regarded the Syrians as sheep, he
asked: "Can it be that he [Landau] means to say that we are wolves?"
Rosenblum then offered his analysis of why this rhetoric has nevertheless
been so persuasive:
The suspicion is long- standing that members of the national
camps [that is, the secular right] use power - mad rhetoric to cover
their subliminal existential fear of the entire world. This fear was not
dispelled in the slightest when the state of Israel was founded. Labor,
in spite of all its faults, has succeeded by whatever means to cast
aside such fear and replace it with a constructive and pragmatic
world outlook. Likud, which resumed its historical note with ease,
has not.
Those chauvinistic Jews who speak with utmos t confidence about Israel's
power and ability to impose its will upon the Middle East are most
susceptible to such fears. The same people who predict that a second
Holocaust will almost immediately occur if Israel makes any concession to
the Arabs also often state categorically that the Israeli army, if not
restrained by politicians, by Americans, or by leftist Jews, could conquer
Baghdad within one week. (Ariel Sharon actually made this claim a few
months before the outbreak of the October 1973 war.) The fear and the
self - confidence co- exist harmoniously. The belief in Jewish uniqueness
enhances this co- existence. Most foreign observers do not realize that a
sizeable segment of the Israeli Jewish public holds these chauvinistic views.
The schizophrenic blend of inordinate fears and exaggerated selfconfidence,
common to the Israeli secular right and religious Jews,
resembles ideas held by anti - Semites who usually view Jews as being at the
same time both powerful and easy to defeat. This is one of the reasons why
attitudes of Israeli right - wing individuals toward the Gentiles, especially
toward the Arabs, resemble so closely the attitudes of anti - Semites toward
the Jews.
The secular right and the religious Jews also share other fears. They fear
the West and its public opinion. They fear and condemn Jewish leftists, a
term sufficiently broad to include most Labor followers, for not being
sufficiently Jewish, for preferring Arabs to Jews and for living lives of
delusion. They view the left as dangerous because of its ability to attract
new recruits, especially from the ranks of the country's intellectual elite.
The issue of normalcy most divides the Israeli right from the left. The left
longs for normalcy and wants Jews to be a nation like all other nations.
The entire Israeli right, on the other hand, is united in its resentment of the
idea of normalcy and its belief, along the lines of the Jewish religion, that
Jews are exceptional - - different from other people and nations. Reverence
for the national past allegedly solidifies this uniqueness. Religious Jews
believe that God made the Jews unique; many of the secular right believe
that Jews are doomed to be unique by their past and have no free choice in
this matter.
Another, but somewhat less important, reason for the affinity between the
secular right and religious Jews is that the latter are capable of providing
"convincing" arguments for perpetual Jewish rule over the land of Israel
and for the denial of certain basic rights to the Palestinians. These
arguments are not only put in terms of national security but more
importantly in terms of the God- given right to these territories. The
secular Likud scholars and politicians are often far too alienated from the
Jewish past and Jewish values to talk competently, or indeed even to
understand properly, such matters. Only the religious can provide an indepth
rationale for Likud's policies, which are grounded not in short - term
strategic considerations but rather in the long history of the special
relationship between God and his chosen people.
Although far more intense among members of Israel B, these same
sentiments can be discerned among members of Israel A. This fact
provides the explanation for the political concessions made to the religious
parties. (Foreign observers have too often incorrectly attributed these
concessions merely to the size and/or the lobbying power of the religious
parties.) These sentiments have also affected Jewish historiography and
education. Since the late 1950s, and especially after the 1967 war, Israeli
Jewish historians, scholars in allied fields and popularizers, although
generally less dishonest in their writings than most of their diaspora
colleagues, have too often unduly beautified and romanticized past Jewish
societies and have carefully avoided normal criticism. This type of apologia
constituted a new trend. From the late nineteenth century until the midtwentieth
century, early Zionists and others in modern Jewish movements
were severely critical of many aspects of their own religious cultural
tradition and tried to change, in many cases even to destroy, parts of that
tradition. Since the late 1980s, some younger Israeli historians, perhaps
prompted by a growing polarization of Israeli Jewish society, have written
and published some critical works that have shaken to some extent the still
current apologetic trend.
The comparison of the world outlook and fears of the secular right with
those of the Haredim requires more explanation. Standard Haredic
perceptions of the world can only be understood as relics of pre- modern
times. Menachem Friedman, a Westernized observant Jew, a highly
regarded authority on the Haredim in both mandatory Palestine and the
state of Israel and a professor at the religious Bar- Ilan University, provided
an excellent description of these Haredic perceptions in a Davar article
published on November 4, 1988. Friedman wrote this article to explain the
electoral fiasco that developed from the unsuccessful attempt of some
candidates on the religious list of 1988 to advocate some moderation
regarding the treatment of Palestinians. Friedman explained:
The Haredi world is Judeocent ric. The essence of Haredi thought is the
notion of an abyss separating the Jews from the Gentiles. This is why any
coalition between Labor and Haredi doves is impossible. There actually is
no such thing as a Haredi dove. People who speak about the Haredi world
usually do not know how to read its signs. They do not understand that
world nor its prominent personalities. The distance between Haredi doves
and hawks is not great. Haredi doves and hawks share a common point of
departure. Both see the relationship between non- Jews and Jews as they
had seen them before Israel was established. They assume that non- Jews
and Jews are poles apart. Non- Jews want to kill and destroy the Jews; the
rightful differences between Jews should only be about how they should
react to the ever - present non- Jewish desire. Currently, these are two
alternative Haredi reactions to that common assumption. Rabbi Shach [the
spiritual leader of one of the two Haredi factions] says that since the non-
Jews hate us we need to keep quiet and refrain from provoking them by
not reminding them of our existence. The Lubovitcher Rebbe says that we
should be strong. [The Lubovitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson,
died in 1992.] Those are two alternative answers, both arising from the
common concept that a gap separates Jews from non- Jews. Rabbi Shach is
not a dove in the same sense as Shulamit Aloni [a former Meretz Party
leader] is a dove. Aloni is a dove, because she believes in a humanism that
emphasizes the fundament al equality of all human beings and nations and
the capability of different human beings and nations to communicate.
Rabbi Shach believes that communicating with non- Jews is not possible
and that they may only be able to forget that Jews exist. The Lubovitcher
Rebbe states that we should be strong in order to defend ourselves against
the non- Jews who always want to destroy us. [The difference between the
two leaders] can be illustrated by their respective attitudes toward the
peace [treaty] with Egypt. They both say that there is no peace and there
can never be one, because the Egyptians want to exterminate us. Rabbi
Shach, however, adds that we should try to minimize Jewish casualties] by
keeping quiet. The Lubovitcher Rebbe says that, because the peace does not
exist in any case, we should refuse to make any concessions. The Haredi
dove does not believe in any kind of peace, and, therefore, all the talk
about a narrow coalition, headed by Labor [and including Haredim] is
completely baseless.
Subsequent political development s in Israel, including the election of
Netanyahu in May 1996, have confirmed the truth of Professor Friedman's
analysis. From another Haredi perspective Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph, the
spiritual authority of the Shas Party, corroborated this article. Rabbi
Yoseph argued in a September 18, 1989 article in Yated Ne'eman that since
Israel is too weak to demolish all Christian churches in the Holy Land it is
also too weak to retain all the conquered territories. Using this reasoning,
Rabbi Yoseph advocated that Israel make territorial concessions in order to
avert a war in which Jewish lives will be lost. Rabbi Yoseph did not mention
Palestinians nor even their most rudimentary rights. The Haredi world view
is similar to the view held by the Israeli secular right. The world view of
Likud politicians, enthusiastically suppor ted by followers, is basically the
classic world view of religious Jews; it has undergone significant
secularization but has kept its essential qualities.
The alliance between the religious and secular parties of the right produced
the Netanyahu victory in the 1996 election. This alliance was forged in
spite of two deep political differences between the parties. The first
difference concerns democracy, especially as illustrated by the structure of
Israeli parties; the second difference revolves around Zionism.
All Israeli political parties except for the Haredi were and remain
structured along the lines of parties in Western countries, especially those
in the United States. Most of the Israeli parties, for example, introduced
primaries in order to choose their candidates for the Knesset elections. The
Haredi party structure, however, is different and peculiar, perhaps
analogous only to what has happened in Iran. All the Haredi parties have a
two- tier structure. The tier that is lower in importance includes the acting
politicians, who, even if they are ministers or Knesset members, humbly
profess in public that they are merely serving the party's rabbinical sage
councils whom they consult for directions before making any decisions.
None of the Haredi politicians of any one party accept direction from
rabbinical councils of other Haredi parties. The councils' deliberations are
kept secret; their decisions are not subject to any appeal since they are
regarded as divinely inspired. The council members are not elected either
by rabbis or lay people. If a council member dies, his successor is
appointed by the remaining members. The rabbinical members of Haredi
party councils, usually referred to by their followers as sages, make all
decisions and view with suspicion the usual party structure, because it is
viewed as innovative and modern. The modern political party structure,
including membership, branches, internal elections and a host of other
items that exist in the NRP, is totally absent in the Haredi parties. The
disagreement and sometimes even hatreds of one another by Haredi
parties stem from recognition of different rabbinical "sages" as final
authorities. The Haredi political structure has preserved a male monopoly.
To date, there have been no female Haredi politicians. Haredi disunity has
prevented more rapid Haredization of parts of Israeli society. Structure
similar to the Haredi was common in Jewish commmuni ties from the
second century of the common era until the abolition of Jewish communal
autonomy in modern nation states. The aim of Haredi practices has been
and still is to preserve the Jewish way of life as it existed prior to modern
times. Haredi parties, in their attempt to preserve an ancient Jewish
regime, have to date constituted a political backlash directed against the
tide of modernity that engulfed the NRP. The Haredi reaction, like many
others, is often disguised as a romantic desire to return to a past that was
allegedly happier and more emotionally secure for Jews than the modern
life with its doubts and uncertainties. The Haredi - indoctrinated
community strives to suppress all doubts of members and believes that
happines s is thus achieved.
The disagreement between Haredim and most other Israeli Jews over
Zionism is complex. The Haredim and the Zionists agree about the
centrally important Zionist principle that anti - Semitism is an eternal
quality common to all non- Jews and is different from xenophobia and/or
any hatred of other minorities. This view is, of course, similar to that held
of Jews by anti - Semites. (This similarity probably accounts for the political
contact between some Zionists, beginning with Herzl, and "moderate" anti -
Semites, who only wanted to rid their societies of Jews or limit the
numbers of Jews in their societies without killing them.) The views
concerning and the fears of anti - Semitism shared by the secular right and
the Haredim accord with this central principle of Zionism better than do
the views currently held by the left Labor and Meretz parties, which are
frequently accused by Likud of not being sufficiently Zionist.
Haredi ideology nevertheless clashes with Zionism on certain other
principles. Two major examples are the Zionist aims to concentrate all
Jews, or as many as possible, in and to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.
These aims or dogmas contradict the Haredi interpretations of the Talmud
and talmudic commentaries. Because of the perceived contradiction,
Haredim have consistently proclaimed, and still proclaim, their strong
opposition to Zionism; they claim that the state of Israel is merely another
diaspora for Jews, and they avoid using Zionist symbols. Every Israeli
political party other than the Haredi, including the NRP, end or begin their
conventions with the singing of "Hatikva," the Israeli national and the world
Zionist movement anthem; the Haredi parties and organizations do not do
this but instead recite Jewish prayers. The media often condemns the
Haredim for not singing "Hatikva" on official occasions. At all international
Zionist conventions held in Israel only the Israeli flag is displayed. At
Haredi conventions held in Israel all flags of the nation states from which
delegates came, including Israel, are displayed in alphabetical order.
The Haredi objection to Zionism is based upon the contradiction between
classical Judaism, of which the Haredim are the continuator s, and Zionism.
Numerous Zionist historians have unfortunately obfuscated the issues
here. Some detailed explanation is therefore necessary. In a famous
talmudic passage in Tractate Ketubot, page 111, which is echoed in other
parts of the Talmud, God is said to have imposed three oaths on the Jews.
Two of these oaths that clearly contradict Zionist tenets are: 1) Jews should
not rebel against non- Jews, and 2) as a group should not massively
emigrate to Palestine before the coming of the Messiah. (The third oath, not
discussed here, enjoins the Jews not to pray too strongly for the coming of
the Messiah, so as not to bring him before his appointed time.) During the
course of post - talmudic Jewish history, rabbis extensively discussed the
three oaths. Of major concern in this discussion was the question of
whether or not specific Jewish emigration to Palestine was part of the
forbidden massive emigration. During the past 1,500 years, the great
majority of traditional Judaism's most important rabbis interpreted the
three oaths and the continued existence of the Jews in exile as religious
obligations intended to expiate the Jewish sins that caused God to exile
In recent years, a number of Israeli Jewish scholars, who in general have
developed a more honest Jewish historiography, have focused upon the
essence of rabbinical interpretations of the three oaths. In his highly
regarded scholarly book, Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious
Radicalism (published in Hebrew in Israel in 1993), Aviezer Ravitzky, for
example, provided a good summary of rabbinical interpretations of the
three oaths from the fifth century AD (or CE- - Common Era). In his analysis
Ravitzky noted that in the ninth century Rabbi Shmuel, son of Hosha'ana,
an important leader of Palestinian Jewry, in a poetic prayer quoted the
following as God's words. "I took the oath of my people not to rebel against
Christians and Muslims, told them to be silent until I myself will overturn
them as I did in Sodom." In the thirteenth century during the time that
some rabbis and poets emigrated to Palestine for religious reasons,3
Ravitzky continued, other rabbis in many parts of the world quoted the
three oaths theory to warn against the spread of this potentially dangerous
phenomenon. Rabbi Eliezer, son of Moshe, the spiritual leader of a Jewish
congregation in Wurtzburg, Germany, in the thirteenth century warned
Jews who wrongly emigrated to Palestine that God would punish them with
death. At about the same time, Rabbi Ezra of Gerona, Spain, a famous
cabbalist, wrote that a Jew emigrating to Palestine forsakes God who is
only present in the diaspora, where a majority of Jews live, and not in
Palestine. In his book Ravitzky stressed that similar and even more extreme
views continued to be expressed until the nineteenth century. The
celebrated German rabbi, Yehonathan Eibshutz, wrote in the mideighteenth
century that massive immigration of Jews to Palestine, even
with the consent of all the nations of the world, was prohibited before the
coming of the Messiah. In the early nineteenth century, Moses Mendelsohn
and other suppor ters of the Jewish Enlightenment, as well as their
opponent s such as Rabbi Rafael Hirsch, the father of modern orthodoxy in
Germany, agreed and continued to derive this prohibition from the three
oaths. Hirsch wrote in 1837 that God had commanded Jews "never to
establish a state of their own by their own efforts." Rabbis in Central
Europe were even more extreme. In 1837, the same year that Hirsch
prohibited Jews from declaring a Jewish state, an earthquake in northern
Palestine killed a majority of the inhabitants of Safad, of which many were
Jews, some of whom had recently immigrated. Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, a
leading Hungarian rabbi, attributed the earthquake to God's displeasure
with excessive Jewish emigration to Palestine. Teitelbaum stated: "It is not
God's will that we should go to the land of Israel by our own efforts and
will." Rabbi Moshe Nachmanides, who died in 1270, was the one
exceptional Jewish leader who opined that Jews should not only emigrate
to but should also conquer the land of Israel. Other important rabbis of
that time and for many centuries thereafter ignored or strongly disagreed
with the view of Nachmanides.
In the 1970s, seven centuries after his death, Nachmanides became the
patron saint of the NRP and the Gush Emunim settlers. NRP rabbis also
have claimed that the three oaths do not apply in messianic times and that,
although the Messiah has not yet appeared, a cosmic process called the
beginning of redemption has begun. During this period some of the
previous religious laws should allegedly be disregarded; others should be
changed. Thus, the dispute between the NRP and the Haredim has centered
upon the issue of whether Jews are living in normal times or in the period
of the beginning of redemption. Having made some political gains and
becoming more self- confident after the 1988 national election, the
Haredim strengthened their principled opposition to Zionism and to the
NRP. In 1989, the two most important Haredi rabbis, Rabbi Shach and
Rabbi Yoseph, held an anti - Zionist convention in Bnei Brak, Israel. Their
speeches, devoted to expressions of principled opposition to Zionism and
the beginning of redemption doctrine, were published in the Haredi
newspaper, Yated Ne'eman, on September 18, 1989. The two rabbis from an
halachic perspective also addressed the vital Israeli political issue of
whether some areas of the land of Israel should be given to non- Jews, that
is, to Palestinians. They refuted the NRP and Gush Emunim view that in
accordance with the beginning of redemption no land of Israel should be
given to non- Jews. Rabbi Yoseph and Shach argued that Jews still live in
normal times when visible help of God cannot always be expected to save
Jewish lives.
Rabbi Yoseph, renowned for his halachic erudition, presented in- depth
analysis and correctly noted that Rabbi Shach here agreed fully with him.
Rabbi Yoseph began by disagreeing with the NRP and Gush Emunim rabbis
who argued that the beginning of redemptit1n and God's commandment to
conquer the land of Israel were more important than the saving of Jewish
lives that would be lost in the war of conquest. Rabbi Yoseph
acknowledged that in messianic times Jews would be more powerful than
non- Jews and would then be obligated to conquer the land of Israel, to
expel all non- Jews and to destroy the idolatrous Christian churches. Rabbi
Yoseph, however, asserted that the messianic time of redemption had not
yet arrived. He wrote:
The Jews are not in fact more powerful than the non- Jews and are
unable to expel the non- Jews from the land of Israel because the
Jews fear the non- Jews ... God's commandment is then not valid ...
Even non- Jews who are idolaters live among us with no possibility of
their being expelled or even moved. The Israeli government is
obligated by international law to guard the Christian churches in the
land of Israel, even though those churches are definitely places of
idolatry and cult practice. This is so in spite of the fact that we are
commanded by our [religious] law to destroy all idolatry and its
servants until we uproot it from all parts of our land and any areas
that we are able to conquer ... Surely, this fact continues to weaken
the religious meaning of the Israeli army's conquests [in 1967].
The quotation cited above illustrates well a part of Israel's realpolitik.
Before the 1996 election, both Peres and Netanyahu regarded Rabbi Yoseph
as an important political figure and often courted him openly. This was
done in spite of Yoseph's publicly declared doctrine that Jews, when
sufficiently powerful, have a religious obligation to expel all non- Jews
from the country and destroy all Christian churches. Leftists and most
peace advocates in Israel lauded Yoseph and Shach for agreeing to
withdrawal from the occupied territories but neglected to mention and
actually suppressed the major thrust of the Yoseph and Shach position. For
the most part the Western media avoided reporting the most essential
points of the Yoseph speech. The reality here is that the Yoseph- Shach
view constitutes one part of the hawkish heart of Israeli politics.
In his speech Rabbi Yoseph also acknowledged the halachic prohibition of
selling real estate to non- Jews in the land of Israel, but he limited this
prohibition to a time when doing so would not cause the loss of Jewish life.
In the same manner he dealt with the issue of whether Jews should trust
only in the hope of God's help or should take their own precautions against
danger or war. Yoseph contended that this issue is analogous to the
question of whether a Jew who is ill on Yom Kippur should be given food
to save his or her life. In the latter case, according to Rabbi Yoseph, the Jew
who is ill should be given food even if the medical experts disagree with
one another about the danger to life that would exist if the fast were
observed. Following this line of reasoning, Rabbi Yoseph opined that, even
if the military experts disagreed with one another as to whether withdrawal
from the territories would avert war, the government should order
withdrawal. Rabbi Yoseph, not influenced by the trusting- in- God
argument, pointed out that Jews had been killed in previous wars and that
the miraculous coming of the Messiah establishing God's rule over the
world would occur without the loss of a single Jewish life. Rabbi Yoseph
also noted that the state of Israel is filled with Jewish sinners who provoke
God. He quoted numerous rabbinical authorities who agreed with him that
the three oaths were still valid.
Rabbi Yoseph's view did not interest Rabin, Peres or Netanyahu. His
dazzling display of erudition, occupying three large pages of small print,
moreover, did not convince a single NRP rabbi. Rabbis Yoseph and Shach,
who a bit later became enemies, continued to oppose Zionism and the
beginning of redemption doctrine; they continued to advocate their variety
of Jewish fundamentalism and to command the allegiance in 1996 of
fourteen members of the 120- member Knesset. Rabbi Shach, who is more
extreme in his opposition to Zionism than is Rabbi Yoseph, prohibited the
Knesset members of his political party, Yahadut Ha'Torah, from becoming
ministers in Netanyahu's Zionist government. Shach, however, ordered his
party's Knesset members to suppor t the Netanyahu government.
Netanyahu rewarded Yahadut Ha'Torah by creatively giving it control of the
ministry of housing. Netanyahu made himself the housing minister and
signed almost blindly anything submitted by Deputy Minister Ravitz of the
Yahadut Ha'Torah Party. This procedure was obviously employed to
obviate the necessity of Yahadut Ha'Torah's formally joining a Zionist
government while nevertheless enjoying its benefits. Contrary to Rabbi
Shach, Rabbi Yoseph ordered members of his party to become ministers in
the Netanyahu government. These facts illustrated the political importance
of Rabbis Yoseph's and Shach's views.
Rabbi Yoseph's clearly expressed views on the territories not only reflect
the Haredi view but also clearly resemble a great part of the actual foreign
policy of the state of Israel. Rabbi Yoseph has argued that Jews have a
religious duty to expel all Christians from the state of Israel only if doing
so would not endanger Jewish life. Rabbi Yoseph has postulated that any
Jewish concessions to non- Jews in the state of Israel has to be based solely
upon the consideration of whether denial thereof could prove harmful for
Jews. Rabbi Yoseph would almost certainly have favored a permanent
occupation of all the territories if he were convinced that this would not
provoke Arabs to harm Jews. Israeli governmental leaders with almost full
suppor t of Israeli Jews believed after the June 1967 war that the Arabs
were incapable of harming Israel and therefore refused to make any
concessions. Only after suffering grievous losses in the October 1973 war,
and fearing another war, did the government of the state of Israel, again
with almost the full suppor t of Israeli Jews, agreed to return the Sinai to
Egypt. In 1983, even after the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, the Israeli
leaders contemplated permanent occupation of one- third of Lebanon and
domination of the remaining two- thirds. Sharon concluded a peace treaty,
based upon those terms, with the then puppet Lebanese government. The
guerilla warfare, conducted by the Lebanese in 1984 and 1985, which
resulted in consistent Israeli casualties, caused the Israeli leaders to
abandon those plans and to retreat. Israeli foreign policy, although usually
conceived and conducted by secular Jews, has to date displayed an essence
derived in part from the Jewish religious past. Indeed, the Zionist
movement, which underwent a partial secularization, also kept many basic
Jewish religious principles. Rabbi Yoseph, Ben- Gurion, Sharon and all
major Israeli politicians share a common ground in policy advocacy.
Notes to Chapter 1
1. Some Israeli Jews refuse to enter a synagogue as a principled protest
against the Jewish religion; this phenomenon is rarely found in non- Israeli
Jewish communi ties but can be compared to the attitude of some radicals
to Christianity, for example, in France.
2. The Kishinev pogrom in 1903 in the Ukraine section of the Russian
Empire was the first major pogrom in eastern Europe after a lapse of many
3. The religious reasons centered upon the fulfillment of religious
observance. Common to almost all pious Jews who emigrated to Palestine
in pre- Zionist times was the belief that all religious observances connected
with agriculture could not be fulfilled outside of but rather only in the land
of Israel. Wanting to fulfill as many commandment s as possible, therefore,
these Jews thus emigrated to Palestine.
Chapter 2
The Rise of the Haredim in Israel
Although expanding steadily from the early 1970s, Jewish religious
fundamentalism in Israel attracted relatively little interest in the dominant
secularly oriented Israeli society until 1988. Members of the various Haredi
sects, generally self- contained in residentially segregated areas of Israeli
cities, led lives absorbed by concerns and preoccupations that appeared
exotic at best to outsiders. Although some members of these sects clashed
sharply over specific issues with the secular part of Israeli society and at
those times acquired a bit of public attention, they were mostly ignored.
The sensational Haredi political success in the Israeli parliamentary
elections of 1988, predicted by none of the professional pollsters,
surprised many people. Because of their continued political successes in
succeeding elections through the 1990s, the Haredim put themselves into a
position at various times to be able to dictate to the Israeli secular
The Haredi political successes not only caused many Israeli Jews to look
more closely at and to be more concerned with the Haredim but also
sparked increased attention abroad, especially in the United States. The
interest generated in the United States prompted the writing and
publication of many new books and articles in English that focused upon
the folkloristic aspects of the Haredim but unfortunately largely ignored
their basic ideology and world outlook. The following discussion will
attempt to analyze, particularly for those readers who are not literate in
Hebrew, the political importance of the Haredi upsurge. A crucial part of
this analysis is the acceptance of the well- documented proposition that an
understanding of the entire Israeli political right is to some extent
dependent upon an understanding of the basic elements of Haredi politics,
apart from the disagreement s, splits and reunification efforts of many
Haredi individuals and sects. The two major questions to be analyzed are:
1. How have the Haredi parties secured their political influence?
2. What organizational structure have the Haredi employed for
maximum political success?
Concern with education has provided the major answer to both questions.
The Haredi have on balance successfully educated their own children and
other Jewish children, over whom they have obtained custody, in a manner
guaranteeing maximum continuity. The Haredi have influenced many
Israeli Jews in addition to their own by acquiring direct authority over
several school networks and by indirectly influencing numbers of other
Throughout the twentieth century, the Haredim have attempted to
continue Jewish education as it had mostly existed in the diaspora before
the Enlightenment influenced Jewish society. The government s in the
countries in which the Haredim lived, however, have at times insisted upon
some modernized curricular content that was inconsistent with and in
opposition to what had previously been taught in Jewish schools. This was
the case in Israel until 1980. Since 1980, helped by generous Israeli
governmental subsidies, the Haredim have attempted with some success to
reimpose the earlier type of Jewish education and the earlier school
networking system in many poorer provincial Israeli towns and in slum
areas of larger Israeli cities. The Haredi goal has obviously been to
perpetuate their educational influence upon an increasing segment of
younger - generation Israelis.
Historically, Jewish schooling began with the heder for Jewish male
children aged three or four. (The heder, a word meaning "room" in Hebrew,
was the name of the traditional Jewish elementary school as it existed from
talmudic times in the earliest centuries of the Common Era until the
formation of the first modern nation- states at which time many Jews
strove to modify or abolish the heder.) The heder was previously for males
only. According to the Talmud and the Halacha, females do not need
education and are explicitly forbidden from some forms of study. Until
modern times, most Jewish women received no formal education and were
mostly illiterate. This stood in striking contrast to Jewish males. Faced with
government s of modern nation states and with many Jews themselves
reacting against and abolishing the exclusion of females from formal
education, the Haredim established special institutions to train, more
precisely to indoctrinate, young Haredi girls to accept and to agree to
inferior education. Heder education consists only of sacred, Jewish studies.
Secular subjects, including arithmetic, foreign languages, science, literature
and Hebrew grammar are excluded. Most of the Bible is included among
subjects not taught. After studying the Pentateuch with the help of a
commentary by Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki who died in 1099), the
student s proceed directly to study of the easier parts of the Talmud. After
studying about eight years, the less capable student s are sent to various
places to learn a craft, trade or some other occupation; the more capable
are admitted to an institution of higher learning called a yeshiva. (Yeshiva
in Hebrew means sitting or meeting.) Usually, several levels of "yeshivot"
(plural) exist. The weeding- out process of student s continues at each level.
Those students who are found to be less capable are directed to
moneymaking pursuits and somewhat later to involvement in religious
services as minor rabbis or as supervisors of religious kashrut rules in
restaurant s, hospitals, the army and other institutions. The more capable
student s proceed in their learning by going from one yeshiva level to
another. After graduating from the highest yeshiva and marrying, the best
of the student s spend their lives in an institution called a kollel (a term
derived from the word meaning "entire") and spend their time studying
only talmudic literature. A few of the most capable are later appointed to
high rabbinic positions or become heads of yeshivot or kollels.
As mentioned previously, traditional Jewish education, described above,
does not include any secular or humanistic studies. It is worth reemphasizing
that this exclusion of secular subjects includes not only
mathematics, all sciences and foreign languages but also Hebrew literature,
which includes poetry dealing with religious subjects, grammar and Jewish
history. It is thus no surprise that Hebrew religious poetry, even the
medieval masterpieces, are unknown to the Haredim. Only the sacred
studies (a pre- modern term in Judaism) are taught with the greatest
possible intensity. The sacred studies consist mostly of the Talmud and
some subsequent talmudic literature. At the highest yeshiva level, one out
of twelve to fourteen hours per day of sacred studies may be devoted to
the study of morality, which primarily consists of lurid descriptions of the
punishment, inflicted by God either in the life of this world or in hell, for
even the smallest deviations from religious commandment s. The teachings
of the biblical prophets, the books of Job and Ecclesiastes and numerous
other parts of the Bible are studied neither in the heders nor the yeshivot
and are therefore unknown to the Haredim. Except for the Pentateuch,
Haredim know only those parts of the Bible quoted in the Talmud and then
only within the context of talmudic interpretation. Haredim generally lack
knowledge of major parts of the Bible; this lack of knowledge constitutes
one source of the differences between the Haredim and some other
religious as well as most secular Israeli Jews. Yeshiva students are often
deprived of sleep. After reaching the age of sixteen, Yeshiva students
devote at least twelve to fourteen hours per day to study. The classes are
noisy, because the student s shout about what they are studying. Studying
in silence is considered to be a sin. Chaos is often the result in the
classroom; different student s often shout about different passages of
texts. Students may ask questions about the internal matters of what is
being studied but never about the assumptions upon which interpretations
are made or about the external world. Students are most often isolated
from the outside world, especially from the secular world. Students are
prohibited from contact with unbelievers. The teacher's authority is
extensive and almost absolute. The main teacher or the head of the yeshiva
usually will select the wives for student s.
The type of education described above has shaped human character. It also
inevitably has produced dissenters. The first Jewish dissenters from
Judaism in modern times rebelled against this type of education and
became principled opponent s of the religion that from their perspectives
tried to subject them to such totalitarian controls. Other individuals,
schooled in the Haredi tradition, have ultimately yielded to temptations of
modernity, such as watching television and attending movies. This usually
has resulted in a weakening of commitment to Haredi Judaism but seldom
to its renunciation. In Israel such persons have been and still are called
"traditional" or "Mesorati." These people have usually remained - - and still
are- - outwardly uncritical of what they learned; they have continued to
worship the charismatic rabbis without paying any price for renunciating
the prohibition of forbidden secular pleasures. Others who have strayed
but have not undergone self - emancipation have after a temporary break
returned to sacred studies to be again indoctrinated by their education.
The Haredim emphasize the sanctity and predominant importance of the
sacred studies; they believe that the virtue emanating from those engaged
in sacred studies is responsible for all good happenings for Jews. For that
reason those who engage in sacred studies are not required to make their
own livings, are granted numerous privileges and are exempted from
communal duties. All of this originated and became universal among Jews
in talmudic times. Living in autonomous communi ties, in which they
retained local rule, Jews could and did determine that individuals engaged
in sacred studies be exempted from paying taxes and from most other
obligations and burdens for which members of the communi ty were
responsible. Additionally, the disciples of the sages, those who reached a
specified high degree of proficiency in the sacred studies, were granted
special privileges in many areas of life over which the Jewish communi ty
had control. During talmudic times (c. AD 200- 500) in Iraq, for example,
the disciples of the sages, who also were merchants, were granted the
privilege of selling their merchandise before ordinary Jews were allowed to
do so in the markets of Jewish towns. That meant that these disciples of
the sages had no competition.
A burning issue in Jewish history, and in Israeli politics, is how rabbis and
rabbinical student s earn their livelihoods. In Israel the constantly
increasing burden of suppor t weighs heavily upon taxpayers, most of
whom are not religious. This has provoked and continues to provoke
resentment, especially when combined with the fact that a majority of
rabbinical student s do not have to serve in the army. Most Israeli religious
Jews, especially the Haredim, attempt to justify state suppor t and freedom
from army service by arguing that the Jews and the Jewish state of Israel
exist by virtue of their suppor t of talmudic study. Their suppor t is
supposedly responsible in turn for God's suppor t, which includes God's
allowing Israel to win its wars. This argument, similar to arguments made
by clergy of other religions and frequently emphasized in the Israeli media,
alleges that God's help not soldiers win wars. This argument specifies that
God provides other benefits as well. He, for example, grants good weather
because of rabbis and student s who spend most of their time studying
Talmud. Engaging in such study is the best way, better than reciting
prayers, giving charity or performing other good deeds, to gain entrance
into paradise. Those who engage in talmudic study make it possible for
themselves, their families, their financial suppor ters and, to some extent,
other Jews to enter paradise.
Direct financial suppor t of rabbis and students of Talmud is, nevertheless,
a relatively new innovation in Judaism. During the lengthy period of
Talmud composition, approximately 50 BC to AD 500, and for centuries
thereafter, rabbis and students received no salaries or any other forms of
financial suppor t for talmudic study. (Elementary teachers who taught
Bible to small children were paid.) Indeed, the Talmud itself prohibited
payments for talmudic study. Some talmudic sages were working- class
people who had well- known professions and earned their livelihoods from
their labors. The only form of financial reward that was allowed for a
talmudic sage was a recompense for not working. This can be illustrated by
a talmudic anecdote about one of the most important sages, Abaye, who
lived in Babylonia in the fourth century AD. Abaye was a farmer and
cultivated his farm by himself. If asked a question by someone while
working, he told the questioner: "Work on this irrigation canal for me while
I ponder your question." The last important rabbi who fully suppor ted such
behavior was Maimonides, who died in 1204. Maimonides' ruling in his
Learning Torah Laws (chapter 3, verse 10) is often quoted by secular,
Jewish Israelis:
Anyone supposing that he will engage in Torah [talmudic study]
and not engage in labor, thus taking his livelihood from charity,
should be considered a person who has extinguished the light of
religion, put Torah to shame, caused evil to himself and lost his
chance to enter paradise, since it is forbidden to make profit form
the sayings of Torah in this world. The sages said: "Everyone who
makes profit from the sayings of Torah loses his life." They [the
sages] have also ordered and said: "Do not make it [Torah] either a
crown in which to boast or an axe with which to work." And they [the
sages] have further ordered and said: "Love labor and hate the
rabbinate." All Torah not accompanied by labor will be nullified, and
the end of such a person [so engaged] will be that he will rob the
Many Israeli secular Jews use this statement of Maimonides to document
their contention that all rabbis, especially rabbis in Israel, are robbers.
Why for centuries have almost all religious Jews not paid attention to the
opinion of Maimonides, which is solidly based on many talmudic passages?
The answer is that religious Jews read any sacred text, including the
Talmud and the writings of Maimonides, only with the help of the most
sacred commentaries that become the accepted religious opinions.
Regarding the above- quoted passage of Maimonides, the most important,
subsequent commentary is "Kesef Mishne" ("an addition of silver"), written
by Rabbi Joseph Karo, who died in 1575. Karo, the author of Shulhan Aruch
which to date is the most authoritative compendium of the Halacha,
opposed the opinion of Maimonides on this issue. Almost all subsequent
rabbis accepted the opposing position of Karo. In the beginning of his
"Kesef Mishne," Karo mentioned that Maimonides in his commentary on
Mishne wrote at length against salaries of rabbis and presented a sizeable
list of talmudic rabbis who were laborers receiving no salaries for talmudic
studies. Karo wrote:
He, let his memory be blessed [Maimonides], brought the example
of Hillel, who was a wood- cutter while a talmudic student. This is
not proof. We must assume that he [Hillel] engaged in labor only at
the beginning of his studies. In his [Hillel's] time there were
thousands of talmudic student s; perhaps, they gave financial
suppor t only to the most famous among them.. .But how can we
assume that when Hillel became famous and was teaching the people
they did not give him financial suppor t?
Religious Jews in Israel use this form of reasoning, which without adequate
proof attributes customs of current rabbis to the hallowed past. Secular
Israeli Jews often have satirized such reasoning by telling a joke that is
known to almost every Israeli Jew. This joke is based upon the fact that,
although no halachic reference exists concerning an obligation of a male
Jew to wear a head covering, there is no other visible custom to which
religious Jews are universally so faithful. Indeed, the popular Hebrew
saying for a formerly religious male that became secular is "He took off his
skullcap." The joke centers upon a rabbi's being asked to provide the proof
for the obligation that male Jews must wear head coverings. The rabbi in
the joke answers: "The Bible says: 'And Abraham went' [to a certain place].
Can you imagine that he went without a head covering?" The joke's
ridiculing of the usual mode of rabbinic reasoning is obvious.
Karo argued that all famous sages, described in the Talmud itself as
laborers or craftsmen, must have been given financial suppor t. Karo
concluded by arguing that priests in the temple were paid for their work
and that, therefore, rabbis, who are equivalent to priests, should be paid.
Talmudic students should be paid, Karo maintained, because without
student s there would be no rabbis. "Those in control of the usual
expenditures [in Jewish congregations] should be compelled to pay the
rabbis," he stated. "The current custom is that all Jewish rabbis receive
their salaries from the Jewish] public." This was the general custom in the
sixteenth century, except in some distant communities such as Yemen. The
salaries of rabbis continually increased as did the occasions on which they
took fees from their captive public. Evidence of rabbinic corruption in
Jewish communi ties since the latter part of the seventeenth century is
abundant. The rabbinate's alliance with rich people in oppressing poor
people, especially in Ashkenazi communi ties, and the use of bribery and
other undue influence in the appointment s of rabbis are but two of the
many aspects of this corruption. Corrupt practices of many Israeli rabbis,
both Haredi and NRP, have been well- documented by the Israeli Hebrew
press and are widely known in Israel. This corruption is a continuation of a
long- term trend.
The granting of special privileges for pursuing sacred studies exists in
modem Israeli society. One of the most controversial issues in the State of
Israel has been, and continues to be, the deferment s from military service
for most student s and graduates of yeshivot. These student s and graduates
first receive a draft deferment on the basis of declarations from heads of
yeshivot. When their deferment s expire, the students or graduates are
either entirely exempted from army service or are inducted directly into
the army reserve forces after undergoing only brief and cursory recruit
training. They are disqualified from serving in any dangerous or even
unpleasant capacities. Their chances of being killed or wounded in wartime
are thus greatly reduced. Their deferment s mean that these students or
graduates do not have to serve in the army for the period of three years,
which is compulsory for all other Israeli Jewish males who are between the
ages of eighteen and twenty- one. In his analysis of this situation, Ehud
Asheri reported in his August 22, 1996 article, published in Haaretz, that at
that time 5 per cent of all Jewish males were so deferred.
The vehement passions aroused by and the debates over this issue have
antagonistically deepened the split between Israeli Jewish secularists and
the Haredim. Currently, many secular Jews complain, as they and others
have in the past, that the Haredim do not share equally with other Israeli
Jews the tasks and burdens imposed upon society. The Haredim argue, as
they continually have in the past, that such reasoning is fallacious.
Influenced by their education, the Haredim are convinced that all victories
as well as defeats of the Israeli army are due to God's intervention and that
without doubt God takes into consideration the numbers, progress in study
and commitment of those Jews who engage in talmudic study. The
Haredim cite numerous passages in the Talmud and in subsequent
talmudic literature that are emphatic on this point. Not only the privileged
student s and graduates of yeshivot but also traditional Israeli Jews suppor t
the Haredim and the cited sacred Jewish writings on this point.
The attitude of many secular Israeli Jews towards sacred studies and the
Talmud is the exact opposite of that held by the Haredim. Secularly
oriented parodies of the Talmud have remained popular and still abound
in Israeli society. Many of these parodies revolve around the Haredi
rationale underlying the deferment and exclusion from military service. In
December 1988, for example, during one of the recurrent disputations
about the deferment from service of yeshiva student s, the Haredim pointed
to the talmudic version of the biblical account of the victories of Yo'av, the
general of King David. The Haredim quoted the talmudic interpretation
that these victories were attributable to David's sacred studies, since in
their view Talmud in an oral form dated back to Moses and perhaps to
Abraham and was written later. Some secular writers responded publicly
that David rather remained at home and sent Yo'av to fight, because he was
occupied in committing adultery with Bathsheba and causing the death of
her husband, Uriah. One columnist in the Israeli press, certainly not
Haredi - oriented, opined that David was probably more keen about
studying Bathsheba's bodily curvature than he was about studying the
Talmud. Such debate has had, and continues to have, a bearing upon Israel
similar in some ways to the effect upon politics that similar debate had in
Christian Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. What many foreign
observers of Israeli Jewish society have not grasped is that, even with the
scientific and technological accomplishments in Israel, the Haredim and
most other Israeli Jewish fundamentalists live figuratively in a time period
that corresponds closely to European Christian societies many generations
ago. These fundamentalists have not made the quantum leap, as have
secular Israelis, into modern times. The tension between fundamentalist
and secular Israelis, therefore, stems mostly from the fact that these two
groups live in different time periods.
Haredim often propound theories even more extreme than those
mentioned previously. Many Haredi rabbis, for example, assert that the
Holocaust, including most particularly the deaths of one- and- a- half
million Jewish children, was a well- deserved divine punishment, not only
for all the sins of modernity and faith renunciation by many Jews, but also
for the decline of Talmudic study in Europe. The Haredim and their
traditional Jewish followers attribute the death of every Jew, including each
innocent child, not to natural causes but to direct action of God. The
Haredim believe that God punishes each Jew for his or her sins and
sometimes punishes the entire Jewish communi ty, including many who are
innocent, because of the sins commit ted by other Jews. In 1985, when
twenty- two children, twelve and thirteen years of age, were killed in the
town of Petah Tikva in a traffic accident involving their bus, Rabbi Yitzhak
Peretz, one of the heads of the Shas Party and the then Minister of the
Interior, stated in a television appearance that the children were victims,
because a movie house was allowed to remain open on the Sabbath eve.
Many members of the Hebrew press, predominantly representing secular
Jews, attacked Rabbi Peretz mercilessly for making this statement. The
Shas Party, nevertheless, in the next election did not lose but rather gained
votes in various places, including Petah Tikva. The Haredim held and
advocate similar beliefs about God's punishing and rewarding Jews in many
areas of life on the basis of Jews' either commit ting sins or following God's
In the late 1990s, the primary concern of the Haredim is to expand their
educational system, especially in poorer localities wherein they
successfully offer material inducements such as hot meals, The Haredim
strongly lobby the non- Haredi public schools with their propaganda. In
some places these lobbying efforts are successful. In other areas the fierce
opposition by parents who are educated and politically effective thwarts
the Haredi propaganda and lobbying efforts. Haredi influence is sometimes
extreme in specific places. In Netivot, one of the most religious towns in
Israel, for example, the Haredim have successfully opposed any public high
school, because it would be obligated to provide instruction in secular
subjects. Netivot is the only Jewish town in Israel without a high school.
In order to proselytize and to spread their superstitions, Haredim often
exploit the distress of people. Relatives of terminally ill hospital patients,
especially if they are traditional, are often approached by messengers of a
charismatic rabbi, who first reiterate that the doctors cannot help and then
suggest that the relatives buy some sacred water, consecrated by a certain
rabbi, and smear the patient with it. The messengers relate stories about
miracles that occur after the use of this sacred water, which is never
distributed without a non- returnable payment. The messengers, of course,
never mention the failure of sacred water miracles. The secular Hebrew
press at times will report on the failure of these miracles, especially when a
large amount of money is known to have been spent for the sacred water.
Such reporting, however, most often only deepens the chasm between
those who read and those who do not read but loathe the secular Hebrew
press. In their own press the Haredim not only attack the secular press but
also display their general hostility towards secular Israeli Jews. Until the
later part of the 1980s, most of the Israeli Jewish public paid little
attention to the Haredi press. Since then, general public attention has
increased considerably. Dov Albaum, one of Israel's foremost experts on
Haredi affairs, focused upon this point in two Hebrew- language articles,
one published in the August 30, 1996 issue of the newspaper, Yediot
Ahronot, the other published in the July- August issue of the bi- monthly
periodical, Ha'ain Hashvi'it (The Seventh Eye), which is published by the
Israeli Democracy Institute and is devoted to analyzing the Israeli press.
Albaum discussed the structure of the Haredi press in Yediot Ahronot and
then proceeded to a discussion in Ha'ain Hashvi'it of the Haredi attitude as
a whole towards secular Israeli Jews. According to Albaum, the violent
attacks in the Haredi press upon Aharon Barak, the president of the Israeli
Supreme Court, attracted increased public attention. The Haredi press
called Barak "the most dangerous enemy ever to face the Haredi public."
Albaum pointed out that the earlier Haredi press attacks upon the left -
wing kibbutzim, the Israeli army, the secular media and many other secular
institutions and figures aroused little general interest. The attack upon the
Supreme Court, long regarded as the holiest symbol of Israeli secular
democracy, piqued the interest of many secular Jews. The violent Haredi
press attacks upon Yitzhak Rabin, while he was prime minister, did not
have the same effect. Shortly before Rabin's assassination an article in one
of the most popular Haredi weekly publications, Ha'Shavua (The Week)
The day will come when the Jews will bring Rabin and Peres to the
defendant 's bench in court with the only two alternatives being the
noose or the insane asylum. This insane and evil pair have either
gone mad or are obvious traitors. Rabin and Peres have guaranteed
their place in the Jewish memory as evil Jews of the worst kind. They
resemble the apostates or the Jews who served the Nazis.
Reiterating that secular Jewish interest in Israel heightened after the attack
upon Barak and the Supreme Court, Albaum observed that increasing
numbers of secular Israelis are insulted when they read in the Haredi press
that their lives are garbage and their children are hallucinating, lifeless
drug addicts. Albaum explained:
Haredi journalists deliberately exaggerate all marginal phenomena
in secular society. They describe all murders, cases of alcoholism and
hard drug situations as characteristics of secular Jewish society. In
addition, they allege as facts incorrect statement s, engage in the
wildest forms of slander and often use the most derogatory
terminology. Their aim is to condemn absolutely the secular, Jewish
It is difficult to avoid considering such depiction as analogous to the Nazi
The structure of the Haredi press is significant. Albaum pinpointed as the
main Haredi ideological trendset ter Yated Ne'eman (Faithful Tent - Peg), the
official newspaper of the Degel Ha'Torah faction, headed and controlled by
Rabbi Shach. Albaum explained that Yated Ne'eman is strictly monitored by
a commit tee of five rabbis, all appointed by Rabbi Shach and headed by
Rabbi Natan Zohavsky. At least one of the commit tee's rabbis is in the
newspaper's office each evening except the Shabbat. Every word of every
article, advertisement and announcement must be approved for
publication by the rabbi(s) on duty. Certain words and expressions, such as
aids or television, are not allowed to be printed. The term "Red Cross,"
supposedly associated with Christianity, is especially prohibited from
Yated Ne'eman articles often ferociously attack rival Haredi factions. One
example is that all advertisement s about social events of the Shas Party,
which is despised by Rabbi Shach, are not allowed to be printed. The
importance of this prohibition was highlighted when, after an apparent lull
in the spiritual war between Rabbi Shach and Shas, one of the newspaper's
editors dared to publish an advertisement announcing the bar - mitzvah of
Aryeh Der'i's son. (Aryeh Der'i is a Member of the Knesset and an
important Shas leader.) Upon learning of this, Rabbi Shach strongly
reprimanded Rabbi Zochovsky, the head of the overseeing committee of
Spiritual censorship committees exist and monitor everything printed in
other Haredi newspaper s. Albaum asserted: "Freedom of the press is an
unknown concept in the Haredi press." Haredi editors, according to
Albaum, proclaim a different kind of freedom: "the right of our public not
to know certain things." The censoring rabbis decide what the public
should not know.
In reflecting the general Haredi attitude towards secular Jews, Haredi press
articles often present arguments reminiscent of anti - Semitic statement s
about all Jews. Albaum pointed to a February 1996 article, for example, in
which Israel Friedman reiterated the position that the land of Israel belongs
only to the Haredim and that secular Jews and Palestinians should leave it.
In addressing secular Jews, Friedman in his article stated: "Go away from
here ... We tell you this in a friendly manner. Go away. American crime will
easily absorb the criminal secular youth who are all enchanted by alcohol,
drugs and earrings. They are bloodsuckers who drink our blood. They dare
to live on land that belongs to us." In another article Albaum quoted
Nathan Ze'ev Grossman, the editor of Yated Ne'eman, as attributing the rise
of neo- Nazism in European countries "to the influence of the Rabin
government." Grossman described all kibbutzim as Nazi institutions and
proposed "to put them on trial according to the precedent of the
Nuremberg trials."
The Haredim demand that other Jews should, at least in public and
especially in regard to matters of symbolism, behave according to their
dictates. Haredi demands, often suppor ted by traditionalist Jews, so
frequently cause political scandals that they can be described as a staple of
Israeli politics. More Israeli government crises have occurred because of
religious scandals than for any other reasons. To further their political
interests, the Haredim insist upon employing certain symbols. This
insistence has played an important role in Israeli politics. Many Israeli
Jews, together with a much greater number of diaspora Jews, in deference
to what they believe is Jewish tradition and the commandment s of
Judaism, suppor t Haredi demands to keep and display symbols of religious
observance. Such suppor t has produced scandal. One particularly
illustrative scandal occurred in Autumn 1992 and occupied Israeli politics
for many months. During the time of this scandal, the Haredi Shas Party
threatened to leave the Rabin government, not because of Rabin's plans to
deal with the Palestinians nor because of possible concessions to the
Syrians but rather because the then Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni,
on a visit to Nazareth was photographed eating in a non- kosher, Arab
restaurant and thus violating the religious symbol of the ritual purity of
food. Only six months prior to the Aloni affair another scandal involving a
Member of the Knesset had occurred; MK Yael Rayan was photographed on
a Tel Aviv beach, dressed in a swimsuit and reading a book on Yom Kippur.
All the religious political parties then protested furiously against what they
termed this "profanation ofJudaism." After hearing traditionally religious
Labor Party Knesset members echo the same sentiments, Prime Minister
Rabin, who was not traditionally religious, reinforced the accusation.
During her tenure as minister of education, Shulamit Aloni made numerous
statements that were viewed as being in opposition to symbols in Judaism
and thus blasphemous; these statements resulted in scandals. One month
before arousing scandal by eating in an Arab restaurant, for example, Aloni
publicly acknowledged that the denial of the world's being created in six
days was a tenable hypothesis. She also publicly struck the controversial,
although hardly earth- shattering, position that the teaching ofJudaism in
the state's secular schools should be slightly changed. (She was content to
leave as it is the teaching of Judaism in the state's religious schools.) Aloni
caused even more furore when she publicly slighted some biblical figures.
Ranny Talmor, a respected Israeli journalist, rightly observed in her
October 14, 1992 article in the newspaper, Hadashot:
[Aloni] scarcely escaped Galileo's fate after he persisted in
maintaining that the earth moved around the sun. Some supposedly
enlightened, secular Jews whispered to one another: "Of course she is
right, but why does she need to say this in public?" The Jewish Grand
Inquisitors were delighted in their realization that they had scored
another victory against the weak- minded infidels.
The Jewish Inquisitors harassed Aloni even more after Rabin forced her to
apologize publicly in an open letter to Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph, the spiritual
head of the Shas Party. Yoel Markus, a well- known Israeli journalist,
reflected widely held opinion when he observed in his October 13, 1992
Haaretz article:
As is well known, each concession in such matters only encourages the
demand for more. This is why the abject surrender to Jewish religious
demands by members of the Labor and Meretz Parties makes us wonder.
Rabin has solemnly undertaken to check closely an intelligence report,
submitted to him by the National Religious Party [NRP], describing how
Aloni violated the Sabbath and ate non- kosher food in Israel and abroad.
The Chairman of the Labor Party faction in the Knesset [Elie Dayan]
publicly rebuked Aloni and Member of the Knesset Yael Dayan.
The NRP hired detectives to spy on ministers in order to discover what
transgressions of Jewish religious commandment s they commit ted. Such
spying continued while the Rabin and Peres government s were in power.
Rabin and Peres, while prime ministers, obtained all the findings of the
detectives and continually attempted to keep their ministers from
transgressing any religious laws in public.
In his Haaretz article, Yoel Markus articulated many fears, shared by a
sizeable segment of the Israeli Jewish public:
We can also expect demands that each minister and member of
the Knesset be accompanied by a kashrut inspector, who holds a
full- time job for this purpose and that similar inspectors be
appointed to insure that kashrut is observed in every neighborhood
and on every street in Israel. A demand may also be made to
establish vice squads, authorized to raid private homes in order to
ascertain whether kashrut is being observed and whether, God
forbid, a wife does not by chance have sex with her husband in the
period of impurity during and after the time of menst ruation [lasting
eight to fourteen days.]
Other Israeli journalists expressed similar fears and went further than did
Markus in their published articles. Some attacked not only the religious but
also the secular Jews who remained silent about the attacks upon them
and their behavior and who would allow continual efforts by religious
surveyors to brainwash systematically. Many Israeli Jews, whose opinions
were represented by certain journalists, saw the activities and actual
victories by religious factions as advancement s towards a full - scale Jewish
"Khomeinism" in Israel.
The discussion of the Aloni scandal continued for weeks in the Israeli press
and became increasingly political. Nahum Barnea wrote in his October 23,
1992 Yediot Ahronot article:
Rabin encouraged the torrents of anti - Aloni propaganda by
advancing the slogan "either Aloni or peace." What connection can
there be between Aloni's dietary preferences and peace ... On four
separate occasions Rabin summoned the leaders of Meretz (Aloni's
party] to his office in order to convey to them the complaints about
Aloni made by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of the Shas
In his October 23, 1992 Davar article, Amir Oren censured Rabin for being
subservient to Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph and for equating the rabbi's power to
be equal to that of Stalin's in his time. Oren opined that the Shas Party had
begun to fulfil in Israel a role analogous to that of the Shi'ites in Lebanon.
In Oren's view Israel, "far from being the only democracy in the Middle East
was imitating Lebanon and Iran, becoming in effect half a state of anarchy
and half a theocracy."
Amnon Abromovitz in his October 23, 1992 Maariv article put a somewhat
different spin on the Aloni scandal. He wrote: "The vicious use of Aloni as a
scapegoat by the religious Jews generated public suppor t for her. A
repelling stench of religious zeal, fundamentalism and sexism is emanating
from the harassment of Aloni." Abromovitz blamed Rabin for encouraging
this harassment, but he added that despite all her talk and non- kosher
eating, Aloni had granted religious institutions, especially those of the
Shas, more money than had any previous Minister of Education.
Abramovitz concluded: "Aloni may talk blasphemously about God, but she
has been foremost in generosity to those who believe in Him."
The leaders of the Labor Party and their non- traditionalist sympathizers
answered the above expressions of fear, especially after Oslo, by arguing
that concessions to the demands of the Haredim were necessary to ensure
backing for the peace process. This stock answer did not satisfy many
secular Israelis. What Markus concluded represented broad secular opinion:
The reason for Rabin's servility to Shas is supposed to be politics.
Labor experts in skullduggery assure us that the Shas Party may
leave the coalition if it finds it no longer able to withstand pressure
from the other Haredi circles ... The conclusion is that Labor must do
its best to placate them ...Politics is important, but freedom of
conscience and everyone's right to follow one's creed are even more
important. Jewish secularism is a creed. The crude hypocrisy, with
which the ministers fake religious devotions, leads nowhere but only
damages their government 's integrity. If Shas wants to leave Rabin's
coalition, it will do so by order of its rabbis. It will then not help if
Rabin puts on an Haredi garb and/or if Aloni shaves her head to
cover it with a coif. [The reference here is to a commandment of
traditional Judaism that a woman, before marrying, has to shave her
head and cover it with a coif. The Haredim attempt to enforce this
rule strictly. Many Jewish, religious women cut only some of their
hair and cover the remainder with wigs. Many secular, Jewish women
are enraged by this rule.]
By design, Haredi rabbis and politicians select secular women in politics as
the primary targets of their attacks, even though they could pinpoint
secular men as much, if not more, for transgressions of religious law. The
Haredim repeatedly refer to Jewish women, engaged in politics, as witches,
bitches or demons. Although a bit crude at times in the use of descriptive
language, the Haredim approach mirrors to a great extent traditional
Judaism's broadly based position regarding women. This position not only
restricts the rights of women but in many ways holds women in contempt.
Rule 8 in Chapter 3 of the Kitzur Shulhan Aruch (Abridgment of Shulhan
Aruch), an elementary textbook for Jews with little talmudic education, for
example, dictates: " A male should not walk between two females or two
dogs or two pigs. In the same manner the males should not allow a woman,
dog or pig to walk between them." All Haredi boys between the ages of ten
and twelve study and are required to observe this rule. (Few dogs and no
pigs can be found in Haredi neighborhoods.) Traditional Judaism also
prohibits women from playing even insignificant roles in politics and/or in
any public activities in which they may appear to be leading males. Women
are forbidden to drive buses or taxis; they can drive private cars only if no
males apart from those in their own families or other women are
passengers. These and many rules are followed in Haredi neighborhoods.
In these neighborhoods women who are "dressed immodes tly" are often
insulted and/or assaulted. Many traditionally religious Jewish males in
other than Haredi neighborhoods, who do not observe inconvenient
religious commandment s, take the lead of the Haredim in resenting and
opposing participation of women in politics. These traditionally religious
males regard such participation by women as a threat to their domination
of their own families.
The numerous misogynistic statement s in the Talmud and in talmudic
literature constitute a part of every Haredi male's sacred study. The
statement in Tractate Shabat, page 152b, defining a woman is exemplary:
"A woman is a sack full of excrement." The learned Talmudic Encyclopedia
(volume 2, pages 255- 7), written in modern Hebrew and thus
understandable to all educated Israeli Jews, devotes a section to the
"nature and behavior of women." In this section the proposition appears
that the urge for the sexual act is greater among men than among women.
The evidence presented for this is that men tend to hire women prostitutes
because their urge for sex is greater than the urge of women. For that
reason the Halacha punishes a wife who refuses to have sexual relations
with her husband much more severely than it punishes a husband who
refuses to have sexual relations with his wife. For the same reason a
prospective husband is obliged to see his wife- to- be before marrying her
but a prospective wife is not obligated to see her husband - to- be before
marriage. After seeing his prospective bride, moreover, the prospective
husband can send a messenger and conduct the marriage through the
messenger. Jewish folklore contains stories describing the utilization of
this procedure.
The halachic prohibition of teaching talmudic literature and/or the Bible to
women has been in the past and is currently still of great importance.
Studying "Torah Sheba'al Peh" (the oral law) is for the Halacha a supremely
important commandment. It is equivalent in importance to all the other
commandment s put together. (The law, according to belief, was given by
God orally to Moses and was handed down orally for many centuries before
being written.) This obligation, termed "Talmud Torah" or "learning the
Torah" is viewed as independent of time. Every pious male Jew is obligated
to devote a portion of all days and nights, including holidays and working
days, to this study. A basic talmudic rule frees women from positive
obligations that are dependent on special times and obliges women only
with positive obligations that are independent of time. Women, for
example, are obliged to keep the Sabbath and the holidays that last more
than twenty- four hours and are thus considered to be independent of
time. Women, on the other hand, are not obliged to hear the shofar (ram's
horn) blown on the New Year, which only takes a short time and is thus
considered to be dependent on time. (There are a few exceptions to this
rule.) A woman is permit ted to fulfill what she is not obliged to do; hence
she can choose to hear the ram's horn blown on the New Year. This rule
underlines the women's religious inferiority to men, since another talmudic
dictate is that a person who fulfills a commandment because he is obliged
to do so is greater and receives a greater reward from God than a person
who fulfills a commandment he is not obliged to fulfill. A Jewish woman
that comes to the synagogue on the New Year and hears the ram's horn
being blown, according to traditional Judaism, will receive a smaller reward
from God than a male who does the same, because she is not obliged to
hear whereas he is so obliged. Tractate Kiddushin (page 34a) of the
Talmud, however, ruled that women are not obliged to fulfill "Talmud
Torah," even though it is an obligation independent of time. This ruling is
part of Halacha. The rule was later amended to mean that women should
learn only the special obligations that they must keep to the extent that
they know what to do and what to avoid. The issue, therefore, arose: What
parts of sacred studies are women permit ted to learn or to be taught? The
talmudic answer to this question, based upon many quotations, was given
by Maimonides. In his work, Talmud Torah Laws (chapter 1, rule 13),
Maimonides wrote:
A woman who has studied Torah receives a reward [from God], but
it is an inferior one when compared to man's reward. This is because
she is not obligated [to do so], and everyone who does what he is not
obliged to do gets an inferior reward compared to [the reward given
to] one who does what he is commanded to do. The woman
nevertheless receives some reward. The sages commanded a father
not to teach his daughter Torah, because most woman never intend
to learn anything and will, because of the weak understanding,
convert the pronouncement s of Torah into nonsense. The sages said:
"Everyone who teaches his daughter Torah can be compared to one
who teaches her insipid matters." This rule, however, applies only to
talmudic studies. Although a woman should not be taught the Bible,
she, if taught, would not have been taught insipid matters.
A somewhat shortened version of this is given in the authoritative
compendium of the Halacha, Shulhan Aruch (Yorah Deah, rule 246,
paragraph 6). In modern times the Haredim have attempted to modify
those rules to some extent. They have taught and still do teach girls the
easier parts of the Talmud, in which arguments between the rabbis, that
are considered to be dangerous for the "weak female mind," do not occur.
Similarly, the Haredim have taught and do teach girls the Pentateuch but
reserve the highest level and most serious commentaries for the boys. The
Haredim maintain in their schools a strict separation of girls from boys
and do not allow the girls to observe boys playing in the schoolyard.
Many Israeli Jews, who in their youth received thorough talmudic
educations, have later in their lives reacted antagonistically against
Orthodox Judaism's depiction and treatment of women. Some of these
Jews in reaction have written articles that are often published in the Israeli
Hebrew press but are almost never translated into English. Kadid Leper, for
example, a well- known Israeli journalist who as a youth studied in a
yeshiva for years before becoming a secularist, wrote in his April 18, 1997
Hai'r article under the title "Woman is a sack full of excrement," the
Beatings, sexual brutality, cruelty, deprival of rights, use of a
woman as merely a sexual object; you can find all of this there [in the
Talmud] ... For two thousand years women had a well- defined place
in the Jewish religion [Orthodox Judaism]; this place is different from
what the rabbinical establishment describes; according to the
Halacha, the place of women is in the garbage heap together with
cattle and slaves. According to the Jewish religion [Orthodox
Judaism] a man buys for himself a slave woman for her entire life
simply by providing food and dress and granting to his wife the
sexual act.
This kind of published article, together with the many published reports of
rabbinical harassment of women, have not only firmed polarization in
Israeli Jewish society but have contributed significantly to the growing
secular enmity towards Haredim.
In many areas of Israeli Jewish society, the Haredim continue to maintain
their separateness and at the same time assert that other Jews accept
Haredi dicta. This is well illustrated by an example from the area of
medicine. In his December 25, 1995 Yediot Ahronot article, Dov Albaum
discussed the request submitted two weeks previously by the Haredim to
the Israeli Ministry of Health:
Rabbi Yehoshua Sheinberger, the head of the Medicine by Law
Organization, requested what seemed to be an innocent request that,
as a concession to the religious Jews, personal blood donations be
permitted. Previously, a person who donated a unit of blood for a
patient undergoing surgery received a document entitling the
recipient of the donation to one unit of blood from the general
reserves of the Blood Bank. This new request, if accepted, would
create a situation in which blood donors would be able to demand
that hospitals or first aid stations give their blood donations only to
specific recipients.
Rabbi Sheinberger, suppor ted by two other important rabbis, argued that
Haredim usually refuse to donate blood but might change their attitude if
this demand were accepted. Albaum in his article discussed the additional
motivation behind this request:
Beneath the surface there is a completely different problem that
led to the rabbis' approaching the [Israeli] Ministry of Health. Haredi
religious law authorities have in recent years dealt with the following
issue: "Is it permissible for a pious Jew to receive a blood transfusion
from non- Jews or from Jews who do not observe Jewish religious
laws?" Haredi rabbis fear that, receiving "tainted," secular blood, or
non- Jewish blood might cause a pious Jew to behave badly and even,
heaven forbid, harm his observance of the Jewish religious laws.
Several months before the above- mentioned request, Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph
addressed this problem at length in his new book, Questions and
Answers - - Statements: "Blood that comes from forbidden [that is, nonkosher]
foods may cause a negative effect upon its Jewish recipients. It
may produce bad qualities, such as cruelty and/or boldness ... Therefore, a
pious Jew, who does urgently need a transfusion and who faces no danger
in waiting to receive blood from a strictly religious Jew, should wait." Rabbi
Yoseph offered similar advice for those pious Jews needing organ
transplants; he advised them only to accept such donations from other
pious Jews. This dictate erupted into a serious dispute among rabbis in
Israel and astonished many secular Jews. In another published article,
Albaum reported that Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, a former chief rabbi of
Israel, disagreed with Rabbi Yoseph and stated: "When a secular Jew is
born, he is born with kosher blood and all the forbidden foods that he later
eats are dissolved and made marginal in his blood." In regard to non- Jews,
however, Rabbi Eliyahu mostly agreed with Rabbi Yoseph and held that
religious Jews should attempt to avoid blood donations from them. Rabbi
Eliyahu did not totally forbid blood donations for Jews from non- Jews. He
It is permitted at certain times that Jews receive blood, or in the
case of sucklings mother's milk, from non- Jews, in spite of the fact
that such blood is detrimental to their Jewish characteristics and
spirit. This is because blood is transferred slowly and is made
marginal in the cycling of Jewish blood in the body. Nevertheless,
when possible, a Jew should avoid receiving such blood.
Rabbi Sheinberger finally admitted that such rulings constituted the
primary reason for his request: "The Haredi communi ty has a problem in
this area. For the Haredim blood from a Jew who eats only kosher food is
preferable to blood from a Jew who does not observe dietary laws." Other
Haredi rabbis agreed. Rabbi Levy Yitzhak Halperin, the head of the
Scientific Religious Institute for Jewish Law Problems explained: "Blood
donations from non- Jews or from Jews who eat forbidden foods are a
problem. Jewish religious law holds that a Jewish child should preferably
not be breast fed by a non- Jewish woman because her milk consists of
forbidden food and contaminates the Jewish child." Such positions and
statements antagonized secular Jews and met great opposition from the
great majority of members of the Israeli medical profession.
In 1994 Rabbi Sheinberger ignited another controversy and created scandal
with a similar request, He met with senior physicians from the Israel
Transplants Association and discussed with them the Jewish religious
prohibition on organ donations. In Israel Haredi Jews refuse organ
transplants from their and/or their relatives' corpses. On this issue the
Haredi position influences many people for superstitious as well as
religious reasons. Organ transplant s in Israel are thus difficult to arrange.
Surgeons frequently request Haredi rabbis to appeal to their followers to
agree to organ transplant s from corpses of their relatives in order to save
lives. The surgeons' argument is based upon the Jewish religious law giving
priority to saving Jewish lives. In his discussion Rabbi Sheinberger put the
condition that only a Haredi rabbi could authorize such transplants. He
explained: "Jewish religious law states that it is forbidden to transplant
Jewish organs into either non- Jews or Jews who are not pious. It is obvious
that it is prohibited under any circumstances to transplant Jewish organs
into Arabs, all of whom hate Jews." Rabbi Sheinberger, when asked for his
definition of a Jew who is not pious, replied that a rabbi must determine
the status of every Jew. Sheinberger's request caused a huge commotion
and was rejected.
Many non- Haredi rabbis allow an organ of a non- Jew to be transplanted
into a body of a Jew in order to save the life of the Jew. They, however,
oppose the transplant of an organ from a Jew into the body of a non- Jew.
Some important rabbis go much further in discussing and ruling about
differences between Jews and non- Jews on medical matters. Rabbi Yitzhak
Ginsburgh, an influential member of the Habad movement and the head of
a yeshiva near Nablus, for instance, opined in an April 26, 1996 Jewish
Week article, reproduced in Haaretz that same day: "If every single cell in a
Jewish body entails divinity, and is thus part of God, then every strand of
DNA is a part of God. Therefore, something is special about Jewish DNA."
Rabbi Ginsburgh drew two conclusions from this statement: "If a Jew needs
a liver, can he take the liver of an innocent non- Jew to save him? The
Torah would probably permit that. Jewish life has an infinite value. There
is something more holy and unique about Jewish life than about non-
Jewish life." It is noteworthy that Rabbi Ginsburgh is one of the authors of
a book lauding Baruch Goldstein, the Patriarchs' Cave murderer. In that
book Ginsburgh contributed a chapter in which he wrote that a Jew's killing
non- Jews does not constitute murder according to the Jewish religion and
that killing of innocent Arabs for reasons of revenge is a Jewish virtue. No
influential Israeli rabbi has publicly opposed Ginsburgh's statements; most
Israeli politicians have remained silent; some Israeli politicians have openly
suppor ted him.
The Haredi demand to establish the Halacha as the law of the state of
Israel has in recent years received increased suppor t from the more pious
members of the NRP. Briefly summarized, the specifics of this demand are:
1. God's political authority must be formally and juridically
2. Ordained rabbis, God's certified agents, must be the decision
3. Rabbis must oversee all social institutions, adjudicate all issues
that arise, make final judgement s about all social services and censor
all printed, pictorial and sound matter.
4. Sabbath, other religious laws, physical separation of women from
men in public places and "modesty" in female conduct and dress
must be enforced by law.
5. Individuals must be obligated legally to report all noticed offenses
of others to rabbinical authorities.
The theocratic, totalitarian nature of the Haredi demand for the Halacha to
be the binding law of the State of Israel is obvious.
Chapter 3
The Two Main Haredi Groups
A brief consideration of the historical background should provide a basis
for understanding the differences between the two major Haredi groups:
the Ashkenazi and the Oriental, formerly called Sephardi. Throughout most
of their history, Jews lived scattered in different countries. Not
surprisingly, separate Jewish communities emerged, comprised of Jewish
residents of a single country, of a cluster of countries or sometimes of
different parts of a single country. Until about AD 1050 one particular
community existed as a Jewish center, recognized by other communi ties as
the authority for dictating rules and issuing instructions binding upon Jews
throughout the world. The last such center was the Jewish communi ty of
Iraq. After the collapse of the last center in Iraq, the differences between
Jewish communi ties deepened considerably. Different communi ties, for
example, although keeping and using some of the ancient prayers common
to all Jews, composed new prayers, used only in their own services. Even
the chanting of prayers in different communi ties changed and thus varied.
Religious rules of conduct in almost every conceivable area of life, to which
pious Jews adhered, also changed to some extent and varied from one
community to another.
The Ashkenazi community that emerged in northern France and western
Germany between the tenth and twelfth centuries became more innovative
and began to deviate more from previously established patterns than any
other communi ty with the possible exceptions of small communities in
remote countries, such as Georgia. The Ashkenazi divergences became
embedded and persisted. Until this day, for example, most pious
Ashkenazi Jews refuse to eat meat or any foods containing meat that are
prepared under supervision of non- Ashkenazi rabbis; pious members of
other Jewish communi ties are content with dietary supervision of rabbis
not belonging to their communi ty. Thus, a pious Sephardi Jew, visiting a
pious Ashkenazi Jew will eat food prepared by the latter, but a pious
Ashkenazi Jew visiting a Sephardi Jew will refuse to eat any foods
containing meat or often any food whatsoever. Ashkenazi exclusiveness is
evident in many other aspects of their religious conduct. Sephardi Jews, on
the other hand, developed as early as the twelfth century an exclusiveness
of their own, based upon the consideration that they were superior in some
ways to other Jews. The Spanish and Portuguese Jews, a part of Sephardi
Jewry, especially developed a pride in the supposed "purity of descent." (In
Hebrew Sephardi means Spanish.) Most of them not only refused to marry
but also often despised being together with Ashkenazi Jews. Moses
Maimonides, who lived until 1204 and was both a rabbi and the greatest
medieval Jewish philosopher, moralized in a testament addressed to his
Guard your soul by not looking into books composed by Ashkenazi
rabbis, who believe in the blessed Lord only when they eat beef
seasoned with vinegar and garlic. They believe that the vapor of
vinegar and the smoke of garlic will ascend to their nostrils and thus
make them understand that the blessed Lord is near to them ... You,
my son, should stay only in the pleasant company of our Sephardi
brothers, who are called the men of Andalusia [or southern Spain,
then ruled by the Muslims ] because only they have brains and are
Similar statements, in which members of a Jewish community express
feelings of their superiority over other Jews, abound in Jewish literature
and are common. Even as late as the 1960s older Sephardi rabbis and other
Jewish men in Jerusalem, when signing their names, would invariably add
the Hebrew initials meaning "pure Spanish." Ashkenazi exclusiveness, as it
developed and deepened over centuries, however, became more allencompas
sing and extreme than Sephardi exclusiveness.
The developing exclusiveness had geographical, social and political causes.
Prior to the formation of the Ashkenazi communi ty, almost all Jews lived
in the Mediterranean basin or in countries, such as Iraq, connected with the
basin by trade routes. In the tenth century most Mediterranean countries
were under either Muslim or Byzantine rule. The communications between
this region and the emerging feudal Europe were tenuous largely because
of the language barriers: Greek and Arabic, spoken on the one side, were
largely unknown in Western Christian areas, while Latin was largely
unknown in the Orient. Jews, who almost always spoke the language(s) of
the people among whom they lived, encountered the same communication
obstacle as did other people. The Ashkenazi communi ty, therefore, framed
its own life style without knowledge about or guidance from the older,
Jewish communi ties. The Ashkenazi Jewish life style developed within the
context of the emerging feudalism in Europe, which differed in many
crucial respects from other regimes in other areas in that time period. In
spreading eastward into the emerging states in central and eastern Europe,
the Ashkenazi communi ty solidified its cohesiveness and its identity: these
have persisted to date but in more pronounced forms among religious
rather than secular Ashkenazi Jews.
Expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1498, Sephardi Jews not
only settled in but also transformed other Jewish communi ties. In these
communities the new Sephardi immigrants tended to maintain an
exclusiveness and to remain aloof from other Jews. Having come from the
relatively developed society of the Spain of the Renaissance and having
settled in less developed countries, they soon became the wealthiest, best
educated and most politically connected Jews in Mediterranean countries.
The Sephardi Jews that settled in Saloniki (now in Greece but then part of
the Ottoman Empire) received privileges from the Ottoman Sultan, because
they manufactured the best cloth and provided textiles for the uniforms
worn by members of elite units of the Ottoman army. The Saloniki
Sephardi Jews kept this monopoly for 130 years, losing it only when more
modern textiles were imported from England and the Netherlands. Spanish
Jews mostly and Italian Jews to a lesser extent actually did most of the
creative work in all areas of medieval Jewish culture. Largely because of
their wealth and education, Sephardi Jews imposed their customs, language
and name upon Jewish communi ties in all the countries to which they
emigrated. One good illustration of this occurred in Jewish communities in
the Balkans and what is now Turkey. The Jews in these communi ties called
themselves "Romaniole," taken from the popular name of the Byzantine
Empire "Romania." They spoke Greek until about 1550 at which time,
influenced by the effects of the Sephardi immigration, began to call
themselves "Sephardi" and to speak Ladino, an ancient form of Spanish.
The fact is that no Sephardi communities existed other than those made up
of the immigrants from the Iberian Peninsula, their descendents or those
who assimilated themselves into Sephardi communi ties. European travelers
and some Ashkenazi Jews have referred, and still refer, mistakenly to all
non- Ashkenazi Jews as Sephardi. This is because the real Sephardi Jews
established a lasting hegemony over other Jewish communi ties. Many other
than Sephardi, non- Ashkenazi members of Jewish communi ties have more
correctly defined themselves not only as Jews but also as Iraqis,
Moroccans, Italians or another nationality.
Until the end of the seventeenth century, Ashkenazi Jews constituted a
small minority of world Jewry. Their cultural advancement trailed far
behind other Jewish communi ties, especially the Sephardi and Italian. Since
the eighteenth century, the populations of Mediterranean countries,
especially those in the Ottoman Empire, steadily declined economically and
demographically. This trend greatly affected Jewish communi ties of those
countries. Between 1700 and 1850, Jewish populations in these countries
steeply declined and became increasingly impoverished. The modes t
increase in Jewish population between 1850 and 1914 did not to a
significant extent offset the decline. From the beginning of the eighteenth
century the political and technological advancement s in Europe affected
the Ashkenazi communi ty. From the mid- eighteenth century the
Ashkenazi population began to increase rapidly; by 1800 Ashkenazi Jews
had become the majority of world Jewry; this increase and the majority
percentage accelerated in the nineteenth century. Jews living in the
European part of the Russian Empire, nearly all of them Ashkenazi,
proliferated sevenfold between 1795 and 1914. Ashkenazi Jews developed
a variety of innovations in Judaism, some of them secularist. By the first
half of the twentieth century, Ashkenazi Jews had surpassed the relatively
small, non- Ashkenazi minority in every major respect, including Talmudic
studies. The current split between religious Ashkenazi Jews and non-
Ashkenazi Jews stems from the fact that during the past two centuries, in
contrast to what had previously been the case, almost all rabbis of
distinction have been Ashkenazi. In non- Ashkenazi communi ties during
this time period the quality of talmudic study, of books published and even
of older books being reprinted has disastrously declined.
Until 1948, Zionism and the emigration of Jews to Palestine were
predominantly Ashkenazi inventions. Most religious Jews viewed Zionism
as being in opposition to Judaism; hence, only Jews emancipated from their
religious past could become Zionists. Even so, few Ashkenazi Jews
immigrated to Palestine because of Zionist convictions. The great majority
of those who immigrated did so only because their lives were so difficult in
their own count ries of origin. The great majority of Jews in Israel in 1948
were those who had immigrated to Palestine after the increase in anti -
Semitism in Europe after 1932 and especially after Hider came to power in
Germany. The number of non- Ashkenazi Jews in Israel at the time of the
state's creation was relatively small. For most Jews in non- Ashkenazi
communities, the religious influence, especially the messianic strain, was in
the 1950s and early 1960s still potent. Living standards in Israel in the
1950s, although below those throughout Europe, were superior to those in
most of the Arab Middle East. The Israeli government, therefore, could
easily persuade Jews from many countries, for example, Morocco, Yemen
and Bulgaria, to immigrate to Israel. The Israeli government induced Jewish
immigration from Iraq by bribing the government of Iraq to strip most Iraqi
Jews of their citizenship and to confiscate their property. By contrast, few
Jews immigrated to Israel from the more advanced count ries of the eastern
Mediterranean, such as Greece or Egypt. The majority of the Israeli Jewish
population shifted to the non- Ashkenazi. During the period from 1949 to
1965, Ashkenazi Jews in Israel declined to a minority that stabilized at
about 40 per cent of Israel's population. The substantial immigration of
Jews from the former Soviet Union thereafter increased the Ashkenazi
population to about 55 per cent. By virtue of their having come from more
advanced count ries, the bulk of Ashkenazi Jews were relatively modern in
outlook and secular.
The non- Ashkenazi Jews, increasingly referred to as "Orientals" instead of
"Sephardis," remained predominantly religious. Upon their arrival in Israel
many Oriental Jews and their children were put through a cultural
socialization directed by veteran Ashkenazi residents and advocated by
members of the Zionist Labor Party then in power. This socialization
included a considerable amount of coercive modernization and attempts to
secularize the young. The results of this coercion were mixed during most
of the first two decades of Israel's existence. The majority of Oriental Jews
remained traditionalists, meaning that these people ignored the more
exacting commandment s of Judaism, such as the ban of Sabbath travel, but
followed other commandment s, especially those dealing with synagogue
attendance. Even more importantly, it meant that they retained belief in the
magical powers of rabbis and "holy men." To date, only a few Oriental
politicians dare criticize a rabbi in public, even when the rabbi strongly
opposes or curses them. Ashkenazi Jews of all political views in contrast
criticize rabbis freely. Most Ashkenazi politicians despise any kowtowing to
rabbis. Almost all Oriental politicians, including the Black Panthers of the
early 1970s and the members of tiny Oriental peace movements, commonly
bow to and kiss the hands of rabbis in public.
The Ashkenazi religious minority, particularly its Haredi segment, has
resisted secularization of Oriental Jews. They have succeeded to some
extent, most particularly in persuading a minority to retain the strict
observance of Judaism's commandment s. They have established separate
religious schools and yeshivot for the Orientals and have admitted,
although in strictly controlled numbers, some of the most qualified
Oriental youngsters to their own schools and yeshivas. After the passage of
time, an Oriental Haredi elite group of rabbis and talmudic scholars
emerged in Israel. Almost without exception, Ashkenazi Haredi rabbis
trained members of this elite group.
By the beginning of the 1990s, the confrontation between the unbending
Haredi version of Ashkenazi exclusiveness and Oriental traditionalism,
which previously was potentially explosive, erupted. The Ashkenazi Haredi
movement insisted upon completely freezing the situation that existed in
central and eastern Europe around 1860. The Oriental Jews, trained by
Ashkenazi Haredi Jews, were forced to discard their traditional garb, wear
the black Ashkenazi clothing and learn and speak Yiddish. Yiddish was the
language of oral instruction in the Haredi yeshivot; Hebrew was reserved
for writing. The Oriental traditionalists were also forced to adopt the
Ashkenazi manner of praying, which differed in numerous ways from their
former method. Revered rabbis, who commanded authority and
encountered almost no opposition, imposed those radical changes. By
contrast, the various attempt s by the Labor movement to impose
modernizing constraints upon the Orientals in the 1950s sparked furious
opposition among the Oriental masses, who would often criticize
politicians but hardly ever criticize rabbis.
The Oriental students in Ashkenazi Haredi yeshivot, after years of docile
submission to demands and after being ordained as rabbis, were not
granted status equal to that of their fellow student s and rabbis. They have
continued to accept and even today seem to be content with their inferior
treatment. An excellent illustration of this is the inequality in intermarriage
with their Ashkenazi peers. All Jewish communi ties share the timehonored
custom that the head of the yeshiva arranges all marriages of
yeshiva students. He carefully picks the daughters of rich and pious Jews
as wives for student s. The better student s are matched with the daughters
of the wealthiest parents. (The head of the yeshiva also matches daughters
of rabbis with sons of the wealthiest parents.) Yeshiva student s have
selflessly complied with this matchmaking; resisting has been- - and still
is- - considered to be a grave sin. This practice was instituted so that
yeshiva students, who had no marketable skills, and their families would
be suppor ted. Students could continue their sacred studies, and the entire
suppor ting family would supposedly then be able to enter paradise. More
recently, yeshiva heads, when unable to find wealthy, prospective fathers -
in- law for student s, find prospective wives that are previously trained in
skilled professions suitable for Haredi women and are willing to suppor t
husbands engaged in "sacred studies." (Such suppor t will supposedly bring
the wives to paradise.) By being matchmaker s, yeshiva heads have most
often been able to control the livelihoods and thus the lives of yeshiva
student s and their families.
Ashkenazi Haredi Jews have never formally prohibited marriages with
pious Jews from other communi ties. Such marriages, nevertheless, often
have been- - and still are- - considered disgraces. Because of this, the heads
of Ashkenazi Haredi yeshivot adopted the custom, still followed, of
matching Oriental student s, however distinguished in their studies, with
either physically handicapped Ashkenazi brides or ones from poor
Not surprisingly, an unwritten rule developed whereby Oriental students,
however distinguished, would not be appointed to any responsible teaching
positions even in lower - rank yeshivot, attended solely by Oriental
student s. These teaching jobs were reserved for Ashkenazi rabbis, the
underlying assumption being that Oriental Jews were not yet sufficiently
mature to hold responsible religious positions. When Rabbi Shach, one of
the foremost Haredi leaders, explicitly reiterated this assumpt ion shortly
before the 1992 elections, he was denounced as being racist by many
Ashkenazi secular Jews; neither Oriental rabbis nor Oriental political
activists uttered one word of public criticism.
No Oriental initiative was responsible for the creation of the Haredi
political party, Shas. Rabbi Shach formed Shas before the 1988 elections,
because he, in his rivalry with other prominent Ashkenazi Haredi rabbis,
needed to have Knesset members that would be subservient only to him.
He, therefore, ordered those rabbis that were his students and retained
personal allegiance to him to form two new, separate, Haredi political
parties: Degel Ha'Tora (Banner of the Law) would be purely Ashkenazi; Shas
(an acronym for Sephardi List for Tradition) would be purely Oriental. After
the formation of both parties, the party leaders publicly regarded Rabbi
Shach as their highest spiritual authority and vowed to obey him
unconditionally. In order to make Shas also attractive to non- Haredi
Orientals, Shach handpicked a non- Haredi Oriental rabbi upon whom he
could rely- - Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph, the former chief rabbi of Israel - - to act
as the nominal party head. Shach, of course, retained authority. For Shach,
Yoseph's greatest virtue was that, after failing to win re- election as chief
rabbi due to the NRP's refusal to exert influence on his behalf, Yoseph
hated the NRP as fiercely as did Shach himself. As is well known in Israel,
hatred between secular Jews cannot match in intensity the mutual hatred
between diverse groups of religious Jews, especially in the quarrels
between rabbis representing those diverse groups. Shach had good reason
to expect that, because of his wish to retaliate against NRP rabbis, Yoseph
would remain loyal to him and be content with his subordinate role.
For a while everything worked as Shach had planned. The two parties,
controlled by Shach, obtained eight Knesset seats altogether in the 1988
elections; Degal Ha'Tora had two seats; Shas, six seats. The Haredi party,
Agudat Israel, against which Shach formed his parties, obtained only five
seats. Degel Ha'Tora and Shas preferred a Likud government and after the
1988 elections suppor ted Yitzhak Shamir as the prime minister. Their
suppor t may have been decisive. After 1990 Shamir would not have had a
Knesset majority without their suppor t. The self - demeaning attempt s by
the Labor Party leader, Shimon Peres, to reverse this situation failed. Peres
spent months attending lessons of Talmud, given in his home by Rabbi
Yoseph. Peres attempted unsuccessfully to be received by Rabbi Shach;
Shach received many petty secular politicians but not Peres. Peres made
repeated, public pronouncement s about how deeply he respected Judaism
in general and the Haredi rabbis in particular. Everything Peres attempted
was in vain. Shach and his rival Haredi rabbis did not bend in their suppor t
for Shamir. Yitzhak Rabin's victory over Peres for the leadership position in
the Labor Party primaries preceding the 1992 elections was largely due to
Labor's rank- and- file disillusionment with Peres' attempt s to ingratiate
himself with Haredi Jews and to win their suppor t. In spite of this
experience, Peres repeated the same attempts that resulted in the same
results in the 1996 elections.
The Haredi parties wielded political power after 1988, most especially in
the 1988- 90 period. Peres, still in the government after 1988, suppor ted
their demands; Shamir, while Prime Minister, was even more resolute with
suppor t. Haredi political success can best be measured by the amounts of
money the two Haredi parties were able to obtain from the state through
so- called "special money" grants, not subject to fiscal controls of the state.
These special money grants were made through a voluntary association,
formed to remain under the real control of a Haredi Knesset member or his
friends. The ministry of finance made grants from the state budget to such
associations, most often on the basis of flimsy purpose statement s and
with no control exerted over expenditures. The resultant corruption was
enormous, reaching a scale unprecedented in the entire history of the State
of Israel and finally causing the withdrawal of such special money grants.
The extensive corruption involved in the obtaining of this special money
did not necessarily mean that the money itself was used illicitly. Shas spent
most of this money to establish a network of institutions designed to exert
a lasting influence and to train cohorts of militants that in the future could
enable the party to maximize its control over its public. This network
consisted of a chain of educational institutions designed to revive
traditional Jewish education for boys with only sacred and not secular
subjects taught. (Shas largely ignored the education of girls.) Adult males
between the ages of 40 and 50 were encouraged to leave their professions
or give up their businesses in order to enroll in institutions and study
sacred subjects with guaranteed remuneration. The remuneration, that is,
salaries for studying, were admit tedly low, but numerous individuals
considered the life of study preferable to their persisting to do menial
work or to maintain decaying businesses. The recruits did more than study
Talmud. They were required to do political work for Shas. These recruits
soon constituted Shas' political cadre, which has been and remains
instrumental in turning Haredi neighborhoods into electoral constituencies
under almost any conceivable circums tances.
Informed Israeli political commentator s have recognized the public and
political impact of such Haredi political activity. In his June 26,1992 article
in Al- Hamishmar, Professor Gideon Doron, Rabin's major advisor on
strategy during the 1992 elections, explained after Rabin's victory why the
Labor Party refrained from canvassing votes in Shas - dominated
This is a party that keeps its public under continuous influence
during election and other times ... Shas' method is to turn electoral
outcomes into sources of monetary revenues and spend the money
obtained during the four years [between one election and another].
The method succeeds. True, they also use magic spells, amulets and
vows that greatly influence their public, but their role is secondary.
According to Doron, the best way to appeal to the Shas constituency is to
do so through those of the salaried elite whose role anyway is to keep the
constituency under control. Doron pointed out that, with the exception of
the previously mentioned elite, Shas' followers are essentially the same as
the "Oriental tradition - minded segment of Likud suppor ters." By acquiring
political power, Shas leaders, particularly Rabbi Yoseph, gained self -
confidence and began to seek emancipation from the tutelage of Ashkenazi
Haredi rabbis. In each Shas - dominated neighborhood, Rabbi Yoseph rather
than Rabbi Shach was acclaimed to be the greatest rabbi in the world. After
some years of continual adulation by the masses, Rabbi Yoseph almost
certainly came to believe that he no longer needed to be subordinate to
Rabbi Shach.
The split between Shas and Rabbi Shach came after the 1992 elections and
was sparked by a triviality. The split in reality was over the rival claims by
Shach and Yoseph to be regarded as the spiritual head of Shas. Rabin, when
forming his coalition, approached and accepted the demands of Shas.
Before signing an agreement, Shas asked Rabbi Shach for approval. Shach
refused, because, as discussed in another chapter, Shulamit Aloni was to be
named Minister of Education. Shach's newspaper, Yated Ne'eman,
editorialized that this appointment was worse than the killing of one
million children during the Holocaust. The reasoning employed here was
that the Nazis killed the children but did not prevent their souls from
going to paradise, whereas the appointment of Aloni could corrupt Jewish
souls and deprive them of paradise. Rabbi Yoseph and the Shas Party,
nevertheless, decided to risk the souls of Jewish children and joined
Rabin's government. Rabbi Shach and his followers reacted negatively in a
furious manner that persisted thereafter.
The confrontation between the two Haredi movements has been waged in
the magical area over the contest of spiritual authority. In keeping with
commonly held and magical Haredi beliefs, the Shas leaders' sin of
resisting Rabbi Shach's will could be punished by a few curses resulting in
either the deaths or sicknesses of those leaders and/or their family
members. The result would allegedly restore heavenly equilibrium. In order
to further this magical result, Rabbi Shach's suppor ter s resorted to
conduct previously employed in similar situations. They published fake
announcement s of deaths, hospitalizations and/or traffic accidents of Shas
leaders and then either notified the families accordingly by telephone or
sent ambulances to their homes. As noted above, internecine hatred
between religious Jews, and especially between Haredi rabbis, is often
virulent. The existence of such hatred has continually resulted in disunity
within ranks that limits Haredi political power. The methods of internecine
infighting have been so customarily employed within Haredi culture that,
unfortunately for Rabbi Shach's followers, the impact is severely limited. In
the domain of magic, moreover, Shas has on its side the great authority
and renowned miracle worker, Rabbi Kaduri, who announced that he would
shield all Shas leaders by casting cabbalistic spells. Rabbi Kaduri also
claimed that God revealed to him that harassment by other Haredi Jews
would qualify Shas leaders for the greatest Jewish virtue, sanctification of
the Lord's name through martyrdom.
In the contest of spiritual authorities, debate ensued over whether Rabbi
Yoseph 's spirituality was sufficiently great to validate his challenge to
Shach's rabbinical authority, especially in light of Yoseph 's former
allegiance to Shach. Following the debate all the Shas rabbis decided to
obey Rabbi Yoseph. Shas rabbis and followers then began to extol Rabbi
Yoseph as "the greatest rabbi of his generation," greater even than any
Ashkenazi rabbi. This honor had previously been awarded to Rabbi Shach.
Shas had won its independence. The Ashkenazi Haredi Jews thus could not
defeat but did sever all connections with Shas. No Ashkenazi rabbi
distanced himself from Shach's pronouncement s; some added even more
venom. The leader of the largest Hassidic sect, the Gur Hassids, reiterated
his previously expressed view that Israel lost the Yom Kippur War (of
October 1973) because a woman, Golda Meir, was prime minister. He
implied that Israel would lose its next war because of Shulamit Aloni.
Ashkenazi rabbis and their followers used weapons more hurtful than their
curses and pronouncement s. They desecrated Shas synagogues, usually
just before the beginning of the Sabbath, thus making it difficult to clean in
time without desecrating the Sabbath. Many Shas leaders, who had been
educated in Ashkenazi institutions and who continued to pray in
Ashkenazi synagogues, were harassed or beaten during the reciting of
prayers. One Shas leader, Rabbi Pinhassi, was spat upon and beaten in an
Ashkenazi synagogue in the Haredi town of Bnei Brak during a Sabbath
prayer session. Some children of Shas leaders were terribly abused. The
then Minister of the Interior, Yitzhak Der'i, had to remove his sons from an
Ashkenazi yeshiva after they were publicly humiliated. Der'i was repeatedly
harassed, often when attempting to pray in synagogues, by Shach 's
followers and by religious settlers. Shas followers fought back. On several
occasions they beat up those who had harassed Der'i; they also desecrated
Ashkenazi synagogues in retaliation. Shas retaliations ultimately served
their opponent's cause by escalating the conflict.
The split and conflict within Haredi ranks illustrate the religious
transformation of Oriental Jews. For over two decades many secular
Oriental groups were founded; they all failed to obtain the suppor t of the
populations they claimed to represent and, as a result, collapsed
ignominiously. Their failure can be attributed to their obstinate refusal to
recognize that the Oriental Jewish communities define themselves
primarily in religious terms. The Haredi Shas Party will in the foreseeable
future likely remain the sole Oriental political party in Israel. This
particular case study may help illustrate the nature of religious
transformation of a not fully modernized population.
Chapter 4
The National Religious Party and the Religious Settlers
The ideology of the NRP and Gush Emunim, the group of religious settlers
in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, is more innovative than the
ideology of Haredi Jews. Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Kook, who was the chief
rabbi of Palestine and a most prominent rabbinical suppor ter of Zionism,
devised this ideology in the early 1920s and developed it thereafter. Rabbi
Kook the elder, as he was called, was a prolific author. His followers
considered him to be divinely inspired. After his death in 1935 he achieved
the status of a saint in NRP circles. His son and successor as NRP leader,
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook the younger, who died in 1981 at the age of 91,
also achieved saintly status. Rabbi Kook the younger wrote no books and
did not achieve the talmudic competency of his father, but he possessed a
strongly charismatic personality and exerted great influence upon his
student s. He elaborated orally the political and social consequences of his
father's teachings. The rabbis who graduated from his yeshiva in
Jerusalem, Merkaz Harav, or Center of the Rabbi, and remained devoted
followers of his teaching established a Jewish sect with a well- defined
political plan. In early 1974, almost immediately after the shock of the
October 1973 war and a short time before the cease - fire agreement with
Syria was signed, Rabbi Kook's followers with their leader's blessing and
spiritual guidance founded Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful). The Gush
Emunim aims were to initiate new and to expand already existent Jewish
settlement s in the Occupied Territories. With the help of Shimon Peres,
who in the summer of 1974 became the Israeli defense minister and thus
the person in charge of the Occupied Territories, Gush Emunim in the
remarkably short time of a few years succeeded in changing Israeli
settlement policy. The Jewish settlements, which continue to spread
throughout the West Bank and to occupy a large chunk of the Gaza Strip,
provide testimony of and documentation for Gush Emunim 's influence
within Israeli society and upon Israeli governmental policies.
Gush Emunim 's success in changing Israeli settlement policy in the 1970s
is politically explicable. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan determined Israeli
settlement policy from the end of the 1967 war unti11974. He did not
allow the establishment of Jewish settlement s in the bulk of the territories.
The only exception he made was to allow a tiny group of Jewish settlers to
live near Hebron. Dayan wanted to envelop the densely inhabited parts of
these areas by creating a settlement zone in the almost uninhabited Jordan
Valley and northern Sinai (the Yamit area). In order to preserve the Israeli
alliance with the feudal notables who were in firm control of the villages
(although not of the larger towns), Dayan promised not to confiscate
village lands; he mostly kept his promise. Gush Emunim demons t rated its
strength by organizing enormous demonst rations in 1974 and 1975
opposing the Dayan promise. These demons t rations were also directed
against United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for backing the
Dayan policy. Peres, who became defense minister after Dayan in 1974 in
the first Rabin government (1974- 77), initiated a new policy which he
called "functional compromise" and for which he acquired Gush Emunim
suppor t. According to this policy all the land inside the West Bank and the
Gaza Strip that was not being used by the inhabitants could be confiscated
for the exclusive use of the Jews. Palestinian political leaders who accepted
this new policy arrangement would be offered absolute rule over
Palestinians. The government of the State of Israel would control only
certain essential functions in Palestinian areas.
Prime Minister Rabin at first opposed this policy. In 1975, Peres conspired
with Gush Emunim and planned strategy to combat Rabin's opposition.
Gush Emunim organized a mass rally in Sebastia, a disused railway station
near Nablus. Rabin forbade the demons tration, but Gush Emunim
demons t rator s succeeded in circumventing the army roadblocks and
assembled in Sebastia. During the period of the ensuing lengthy
negotiations Peres lent some suppor t to Gush Emunim. More
demons t rator s arrived on the scene. Finally, a compromise settlement that
favored Gush Emunim was reached. Gush Emunim members were allowed
to settle in what is now the flourishing settlement of Kedumim. Operating
in much the same manner, Gush Emunim in 1976 with the help of Peres
founded the settlement Ofra as a temporary work camp and the settlement
Shilo as a temporary archaeological camp. Gush Emunim also pursued
similar policies and initiated settlement beginnings in the Gaza Strip. The
Gush Emunim settlement s, agreed to by Peres in 1975 and 1976, still exist
and are flourishing. Following the 1977 election of Menachem Begin as
prime minister, a "holy alliance" of the religious Gush Emunim and
successive secular Ismeli government s occurred and has remained in place
to date.
Having achieved settlement policy successes, Gush Emunim rabbis cleverly
conducted a number of political intrigues and were able to achieve
domination of the NRP. From the mid- 1980s the NRP has followed the
ideological lead of Gush Emunim. After the death of Rabbi Kook the
younger, the spiritual leadership of Gush Emunim became centered in a
semi - secret rabbinical council, selected by mysterious criteria from among
the most outstanding disciples of Rabbi Kook. These rabbis have continued
to make policy decisions based upon their belief in certain innovative
elements of ideology not openly advocated or detailed but derived from
their distinct interpretation of Jewish mysticism, popularly known as
Cabbala. The writings of Rabbi Kook the elder serve as the sacred texts and
are perhaps intentionally even more obscure than other cabbalistic
writings. In- depth knowledge of talmudic and cabbalistic literature,
including modern interpretations of both, and special training are
prerequisites for unders tanding Kook's writings. The implications of
Kook's writings are theologically too innovative to allow for a popularized
presentation to an otherwise educated Jewish public. This is probably the
reason why so few analyses of the Gush Emunim ideology have appeared.
The one significant and learned analysis is an essay by Professor Uriel Tal,
published originally in Hebrew in Haaretz on September 26, 1984, and
published in English in The Jerusalem Quarterly (No.35, Spring 1985) under
the title: "Foundations of a Political Messianic Trend in Israel." The Tal
essay, although marred to some extent by sociological jargon and by some
analogies not well adapted to its theme, is the most valuable analysis to
date. Several relatively good studies in Hebrew of the more mundane
aspects of Gush Emunim have appeared as books. The one study in English
is Ian Lustick's book, For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in
Israel (1988). The initiative for the Lustick book was apparently connected
to Lustick's personal reaction to the Jonathan Pollard espionage affair1 and
began as a paper written for the United States Department of Defense. This
may explain the book's excessive concentration on the changing political
stances of Gush Emunim and its relative neglect of important parts of
ideology. Contrary to what the title suggests, the book contains little
description or explanation of Jewish fundamentalism. To some extent,
moreover, this book is apologetic; the more extreme aspects of Gush
Emunim dogmas and beliefs are not accurately revealed. Some of what is
missing in the Lustick book can fortunately be found in the chapter titled
"Nationalistic Judaism," in Yehoshafat Harkabi's book, Israel's Fateful Hour
(1988). The ensuing discussion of Gush Emunim ideas and politics will take
cognizance of the Lustick and Harkabi analyses but will rely more upon
Tal's study and other Hebrew writings.
The status of non- Jews in the Cabbala as compared to that in talmudic
literature is a good beginning point for discussion. Most of the many
Jewish authors that have written about the Cabbala in English, German and
French have either avoided this subject or have hidden its essence under
clouds of misleading generalizations. These authors, Gershon Scholem
being one of the most significant, have employed the trick of using words
such as "men," "human beings" and "cosmic" in order to imply incorrectly
that the Cabbala presents a path leading towards salvation for all human
beings. The actual fact is that cabbalistic texts, as opposed to talmudic
literature, emphasize salvation for only Jews. Many books dealing with the
Cabbala that are written in Hebrew, other than those written by Scholem,
present an honest description of salvation and other sensitive Jewish
issues. This point is well illustrated in studies of the latest and most
influential school of Cabbala, the Lurianic School, founded in the late
sixteenth century and named after its founding rabbi, Yitzhak Luria. The
ideas of Rabbi Luria greatly influenced the theology of Rabbi Kook the
elder and still underlie the ideologies of Gush Emunim and Hassidism.
Yesaiah Tishbi, an authority on the Cabbala who wrote in Hebrew,
explained in his scholarly work, The Theory of Evil and the (Satanic) Sphere
in Lurianic Cabbala (1942, reprinted in 1982): "It is plain that those
prospects and the scheme [of salvation] are intended only for Jews." Tishbi
cited Rabbi Hayim Vital, the chief interpreter of Rabbi Luria, who wrote in
his book, Gates of Holiness: "The Emanating Power, blessed be his name,
wanted there to be some people on this low earth that would embody the
four divine emanations. These people are the Jews, chosen to join together
the four divine worlds here below." Tishbi further cited Vital's writings in
emphasizing the Lurianic doctrine that non- Jews have satanic souls: "Souls
of non- Jews come entirely from the female part of the satanic sphere. For
this reason souls of non- Jews are called evil, not good, and are created
without [divine] knowledge." In his illuminating Hebrew- language book,
Rabbinate, Hassidism, Enlightenment: The History of Jewish Culture
Between the End of the Sixteenth and the Beginning of the Nineteenth
Century (1956), Ben- Zion Katz explained convincingly that the above
doctrines became part of Hassidism. Accurate descriptions of Lurianic
doctrines and their wide influence upon religious Jews can be found in
numerous other studies, written in Hebrew. In books and articles written in
other languages, and thus read by most interested non- Israeli Jews and
non- Jews, such descriptions and analyses are most often absent. The role
of Satan, whose earthly embodiment according to the Cabbala is every
non- Jew, has been minimized or not mentioned by authors who have not
written about the Cabbala in Hebrew. Such authors, therefore, have not
conveyed to readers accurate accounts of general NRP or its hard - core,
Gush Emunim politics.
A modern and influential expression of the attitudes derived above is
evident in the teachings and writings of the late "Lubovitcher Rebbe," Rabbi
Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who headed the Chabad movement and
wielded great influence among many religious Jews in Israel as well as in
the United States. Schneerson and his Lubovitch followers are Haredim;
nevertheless, they involved themselves in Israel's political life and shared
many concepts with Gush Emunim and the NRP. The ideas of Rabbi
Schneerson that appear below are taken from a book of his recorded
messages to followers in Israel, titled Gatherings of Conversations and
published in the Holy Land in 1965. During the subsequent three decades
of his life until his death, Rabbi Schneerson remained consistent; he did
not change any of the opinions. What Rabbi Scheerson taught either was or
immediately became official, Lubovitch, Hassidic belief.
Regarding the non- Jew the Lubovitcher Rebbe's views were clear even if a
bit disorderly: "In such a manner the Halacha, stipulated by the Talmud,
showed that a non- Jew should be punished by death if he kills an embryo,
even if the embryo is non- Jewish, while the Jew should not be, even if the
embryo is Jewish. As we [the talmudic sages] learn from Exodus 22:21,
beginning with the words 'and if any mischief will follow."' This quoted
verse is a part of a passage beginning in verse 21, describing what should
be done "if men strive and hurt a woman with child," thus damaging the
embryo. Verse 22, whose beginning is quoted by the Lubovitcher Rebbe,
says in full: "And if any mischief will follow, then you shall give soul for
soul." (Some English translations use the wording "life for life" instead of
"soul for soul.") The above stated difference in the punishment of a Jew
and a non- Jew for the same crime is common in the Talmud and Halacha.
The Lubovitcher Rebbe continued:
The difference between a Jewish and a non- Jewish person sterns from
the common expression: "Let us differentiate." Thus, we do not have a case
of profound change in which a person is merely on a superior level. Rather,
we have a case of "let us differentiate" between totally different species.
This is what needs to be said about the body: the body of a Jewish person
is of a totally different quality from the body of [members] of all nations of
the world ... The Old Rabbi [a pseudonym for one of the holy Lubovitch
rabbis] explained that the passage in Chapter 49 of Hatanya [the basic book
of Chabad]: "And you have chosen us" [the Jews] means specifically that the
Jewish body was chosen [by God], because a choice is thus made between
outwardly similar things. The Jewish body "looks as if it were in substance
similar to bodies of non- Jews," but the meaning ... is that the bodies only
seem to be similar in material substance, outward look and superficial
quality. The difference of the inner quality, however, is so great that the
bodies should be considered as completely different species. This is the
reason why the Talmud states that there is an halachic difference in
attitude about the bodies of non- Jews [as opposed to the bodies of Jews]"
"their bodies are in vain." ... An even greater difference exists in regard to
the soul. Two contrary types of soul exist, a non- Jewish soul comes from
three satanic spheres, while the Jewish soul stems from holiness. As has
been explained, an embryo is called a human being, because it has both
body and soul. Thus, the difference between a Jewish and a non- Jewish
embryo can be understood. There is also a difference in bodies. The body
of a Jewish embryo is on a higher level than is the body of a non- Jew. This
is expressed in the phrase "let us differentiate" about the body of a non-
Jew, which is a totally different kind. The same difference exists in regard
to the soul: the soul of a Jewish embryo is different than the soul of a non-
Jewish embryo. We therefore ask: Why should a non- Jew be punished if he
kills even a non- Jewish embryo while a Jew should not be punished even if
he kills a Jewish embryo? The answer can be unders tood by [considering]
the general difference between Jews and non- Jews: A Jew was not created
as a means for some [other] purpose; he himself is the purpose, since the
substance of all [divine] emanations was created only to serve the Jews."In
the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" [Genesis 1:1] means
that [the heavens and the earth] were created for the sake of the Jews, who
are called the "beginning." This means everything, all developments, all
discoveries, the creation, including the "heavens and the earthare vanity
compared to the Jews. The important things are the Jews, because they do
not exist for any [other] aim; they themselves are [the divine] aim."
After some additional cabbalistic explanation the Lubovitcher Rebbe
Following from what has already been said, it can be understood
why a non- Jew should be punished by death if he kills an embryo
and why a Jew should not be punished by death. The difference
between the embryo and a [baby that was] born is that the embryo is
not a self - contained reality but rather is subsidiary; either it is
subsidiary to its mother or to the reality created after birth when the
[divine] purpose of its creation is then fulfilled. In its present state
the purpose is still absent. A non- Jew's entire reality is only vanity. It
is written,"And the strangers shall stand and feed your flocks" [Isaiah
61:5]. The entire creation [of a non- Jew] exists only for the sake of
the Jews. Because of this a non- Jew should be punished with death if
he kills an embryo, while a Jew, whose existence is most important,
should not be punished with death because of something subsidiary.
We should not destroy an important thing for the sake of something
subsidiary. It is true that there is a prohibition against [hurting] an
embryo, because it is something that will be born in the future and in
a hidden form already exists. The death penalty should be implicated
only when visible matters are affected; as previously noted, the
embryo is merely of subsidiary importance.
Comments concerning and partial summaries of the above opinions have
appeared, but with insufficient emphasis in the Israeli Hebrew press. In
1965, when the above was published, the Lubovitcher Rebbe was allied in
Israel to the Labor Party; his movement had already acquired many
important benefits from the government then in power as well as previous
Israeli government s. The Lubovitchers, for example, had obtained
autonomy for their own education system within the context of religious
state education. In the mid- 1970s the Lubovitcher Rebbe decided that the
Labor Party was too moderate and thereafter shifted his movement 's
political suppor t sometimes to Likud and sometimes to a religious party.
Ariel Sharon was the Rebbe's favorite Israeli senior politician. Sharon in
turn praised the Rebbe publicly and delivered a moving speech about him
in the Knesset after the Rebbe's death. From the June 1967 war until his
death the Lubovitcher Rebbe always suppor ted Israeli wars and opposed
any retreat. In 1974 he strongly opposed the Israeli withdrawal from the
Suez area, conquered in the October 1973 war; he promised Israel divine
favors if it persisted in occupying that land. After his death thousands of
his Israeli followers, who continued to hold the views expressed in the
above quoted passage, played an important role in Netanyahu's election
victory by demons t rating at many cross - road junctions before election day;
they chanted the slogan: "Netanyahu is good for the Jews." Although
subsequently strongly criticizing Netanyahu for meeting with Arafat,
signing the Hebron agreement and agreeing to a second withdrawal, the
Rebbe's followers continued their overall preference for the Netanyahu
Among the religious settlers in the Occupied Territories the Chabad
Hassids constitute one of the most extreme groups. Baruch Goldstein, the
mass murderer of Palestinians, was one of them (Goldstein will be
discussed in Chapter 6.) Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, who wrote a chapter of a
book in praise of Goldstein and what he did, is another member of their
group. Ginsburgh is the former head of the Yoseph Tomb Yeshiva, located
on the outskirts of Nablus. Rabbi Ginsburgh, who originally came to Israel
from the United States and has good connection to the Lubovitcher
community in the United States, has often expressed his views in English in
American Jewish publications. The following appeared in an April 26, 1996
Jewish Week (New York) article that contained an interview with Rabbi
Regarded as one of the Lubovitcher sect's leading authorities on
Jewish mysticism, the St. Louis born rabbi, who also has a graduate
degree in mathematics, speaks freely of Jews' genetic- based,
spiritual superiority over non- Jews. It is a superiority that he asserts
invests Jewish life with greater value in the eyes of the Torah."If you
saw two people drowning, a Jew and a non- Jew, the Torah says you
save the Jewish life first," Rabbi Ginsburgh told the Jewish Week. "If
every simple cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, is a part of God,
then every strand of DNA is part of God. Therefore, something is
special about Jewish DNA." Later, Rabbi Ginsburgh asked rhetorically:
"If a Jew needs a liver, can you take the liver of an innocent non- Jew
passing by to save him? The Torah would probably permit that.
Jewish life has an infinite value," he explained."There is something
infinitely more holy and unique about Jewish life than non- Jewish
Changing the words "Jewish" to "German" or "Aryan" and "non- Jewish" to
"Jewish" turns the Ginsburgh position into the doctrine that made
Auschwitz possible in the past. To a considerable extent the German Nazi
success depended upon that ideology and upon its implications not being
widely known early. Disregarding even on a limited scale the potential
effects of messianic, Lubovitch and other ideologies could prove to be
The difference in the attitudes about non- Jews in the Halacha and the
Cabbala is well illustrated by the difference expressed specifically in regard
to non- Jews who have converted to Judaism. The Halacha, although
discriminating against them in some ways, treats converts as new Jews. The
Cabbala is unable to adopt this approach because of its emphasis upon the
cosmic difference between Jews and non- Jews. The Cabbala explains that
converts are really Jewish souls consigned firstly to non- Jewish bodies as
punishment s and later redeemed by conversion to Judaism either because
the punishment ended or because a holy man interceded. This explanation
is part of cabbalistic belief in metempsychosis, which is absent in the
Halacha. According to the Cabbala, a satanic soul cannot be transformed
into a divine soul by mere persuasion.
The ensuing discussion of Gush Emunim ideas and politics takes
cognizance of the Lustick and Harkabi studies but relies primarily upon
primary source material and upon analyses by Tal and other Hebrewlanguage
writers. Tal described and analyzed Gush Emunim principles by
quoting extensively from writings of Rabbi Yehuda Amital, an outstanding
Gush leader who was appointed minister without portfolio in the Israeli
government in November 1995, by then Prime Minister Peres and who
served in that capacity until June 1996. Peres described Amital as a
moderate. In explaining Amital's views, Tal relied heavily upon Amital's
published article,"On the significance of the Yom Kippur War [1973]. " To
illustrate Amital's emphasis upon spiritual yearning and the political -
messianic stream of thought, Tal quoted the following:
The war broke out against the background of the revival of the
kingdom of Israel, which in its metaphysical (not only symbolic)
status is evidence of the decline of the spirit of defilement in the
Western world ... The Gentiles are fighting for their mere survival as
Gentiles, as the ritually unclean. Iniquity is fighting its battle for
survival. It knows that in the wars of God there will not be a place for
Satan, for the spirit of defilement, or for the remains of Western
culture, the proponents of which are, as it were, secular Jews.
Tal further interpreted Amital's and thus Gush Emunim's basic views:
The modern secular world, according to this approach,"is
struggling for survival, and thus our war is directed against the
impurity of Western culture and against rationality as such." It
follows that the alien culture has to be eradicated because "all
foreignness draws us closer to the alien, and the alien causes
alienation, as is the position of those who still adhere to Western
culture and who attempt to fuse Judaism with rationalist empiricist
and democratic culture." According to Amital's approach, the Yom
Kippur War has to be comprehended in its messianic dimension: a
struggle against civilization in its entirety.
Tal proceeded in his discussion to ask Arnital, a multi - faceted, serious
question: "What is the point of all the affliction? Why do wars continue, if
the Messiah has already come and if the Kingdom of Israel has already
been established?" Arnital replied: "The war initiates the process of
purification, of refinement, the purifying and cleaning of the congregation
of Israel." Tal continued to discuss: "We thus learn that there is only one
explanation of the wars: they refine and purify the soul. As impurity is
removed, the soul of Israelby virtue of the warwill be refined. We have
already conquered the lands; all that now remains is to conquer impurity."
The followers of the two Rabbi Kooks have applied the above concepts to
all other Israeli wars. Rabbi Shmaryahu Arieli, for example, explained,
according to Tal, that the 1967 war was a "metaphysical transformation"
and that the Israeli conquests transferred land from the power of Satan to
the divine sphere. This supposedly proved that the "messianic era" had
arrived. Tal also quoted the teachings of Rabbi E. Hadaya: "[The conquests
of 1967] liberated the land from the other side [a polite name for Satan],
from a mystical force that embodies evil, defilement and moral corruption.
We [the Jews] are thus entering an era in which absolute sovereignty rules
over corporeality." Tal emphasized that these statement s constituted a
warning that any Israeli withdrawal from conquered areas would have
metaphysical consequences that could result in restoring to Satan
sovereignty over that land. Other Gush Emunim leaders directly and
indirectly expressed the same ideas in their public statement s and writings.
There can be little doubt that Gush Emunim has seriously affected Israeli
Jewish religious leaders and lay people. During the time of the Israeli
invasion of Lebanon, for example, the military rabbinate in Israel, clearly
influenced by the ideas of the two Rabbi Kooks, exhorted all Israeli soldiers
to follow in the footsteps of Joshua and to re- establish his divinely
ordained conquest of the land of Israel. This exhortation of conquest
included extermination of non- Jewish inhabitants. The military rabbinate
published a map of Lebanon in which the names of Lebanese towns had
been changed to the names of cities found in the Book of Joshua. Beirut,
for example, was changed to Be'erot. The map designated Lebanon as land
belonging to the ancient northern tribes of Israel, Asher and Naphtali. As
Tal wrote: "Israel's military presence in Lebanon confirmed the validity of
the Biblical promise in Deuteronomy 11:24: 'Every place on which the sole
of your foot treads shall be yours; our border shall be from the wilderness,
from the river Euphrates, to the western sea."' The followers of the two
Rabbis Kook viewed Lebanon as being delivered from the power of Satan
with its inhabitants being killed in the process. Such a view is not
exceptional; it has numerous ancient and modern parallels, both religious
and secular. The idea of a murderous purification of land from the evil and
defilement that provoke God is common. In her chapter,"The Rites of
Violence," in the book, Society and Culture in Early Modern France, Natalie
Z. Davis, for example, presented the same idea as being the rationalization
for the massacres perpetrated by France in the second half of the sixteenth
century. In his excellent book, The Pursuit of the Millennium, to cite
another example, Norman Cohn discussed Christian religious movements
that sought to bring about the millennium by the use of force resulting in
the deaths of many people.
Three interpretative and interrelated comment s about Tal's analysis of
Gush Emunim should be made. First, the rabbis, cited as authorities by
both Tal and the authors of this book, are not obscure or fringe rabbis but
are important Israeli figures. As previously noted, Shimon Peres, when
prime minister, regarded one of them, Rabbi Amital, as a moderate and
appointed him minister without portfolio. Second, Tal was able to
comprehend the real essence of what he termed the "political messianic
trend." His expertise in German Nazism, particularly in Nazi ideology and
its sources, almost certainly helped him in his study of Gush Emunim. (See
Tal's book in Hebrew, Political Theology and the Third Reich, Tel- Aviv
University Press, 1989.) The similarities between the Jewish political
messianic trend and German Nazism are glaring. The Gentiles are for the
messianists what the Jews were for the Nazis. The hatred for Western
culture with its rational and democratic elements is common to both
movements. Finally, the extreme chauvinism of the messianists is directed
towards all non- Jews. The 1973 Yom Kippur War, for instance, was in
Amital's view not directed against Egyptians, Syrians and/or all Arabs but
against all non- Jews. The war was thus directed against the great majority
of citizens of the United States, even though the United States aided Israel
in that war. This hatred of non- Jews is not new but, as already discussed,
is derived from a continuous Jewish cabbalistic tradition. Those Jewish
scholars who have attempted to hide this fact from non- Jews and even
from many Jews have not only done a disservice to scholarship; they have
aided the growth of this Jewish analogue to German Nazism.
The ideology of the Rabbis Kook is both eschatological and messianic. It
resembles in this respect prior Jewish religious doctrines as well as similar
trends in Christianity and Islam. This ideology assumes the imminent
coming of the Messiah and asserts that the Jews, aided by God, will
thereafter triumph over the non- Jews and rule over them forever. (This, it
is alleged, will be good for the non- Jews.) All current political
developments will either help bring this about sooner or will postpone it.
Jewish sins, most particularly lack of faith, can postpone the coming of the
Messiah. The delay, however, will not be of long duration, because even the
worst sins of the Jews cannot alter the course of redemption. Sins can
nevertheless increase the sufferings of Jews prior to the redemption. The
two world wars, the Holocaust and other calamitous events of modem
history are examples of punishment. The elder Rabbi Kook did not disguise
his joy over the loss of lives in World War I; he explained that loss of lives
was necessary "in order to begin to break Satan's Power." The followers of
the elder Rabbi Kook's pronouncement s often have detailed in depth such
explanations. Rabbi Dov Lior, one of the best - known rabbis of the
aforementioned Gush Emunim rabbinical council and the rabbi of Kiryat
Arba, for instance, argued that Israel's failure in its 1982 invasion of
Lebanon was due to the lack of faith manifested in the signing of the peace
treaty with Egypt and the returning of "the inheritance of our ancestors
[Sinai] to strangers." Lior also explained in an article about him, published
in the Hadashot Supplement of December 20, 1991, that the capture by the
Syrians of two Israeli diplomats stationed in Junieh, Lebanon, in May 1984,
was "a just punishment for the maltreatment in detention of our boys from
the Jewish underground." In the Hadashot article Lior added "I do not know
what sufferings can yet befall all the Jews" for this crime.
Explanations that may appear to the uninitiated to be outlandish and
bizarre are sometimes the most readily acceptable to Gush Emunim
followers. This is especially the case when these followers believe
redemption is near at hand. They believe that Satan, as described in the
Cabbala, is rational and well- versed in logic; they believe further that the
power of Satan and of his earthly manifestation, the non- Jews, can at
times only be broken by irrational action. Gush Emunim thus founded
settlement s on the exact days of United States Secretary of States James
Baker's recurrent arrivals in Israel not merely to demons t rate Gush
Emunim power but also as part of a mystical design to break the power of
Satan and its American incarnation. In the past, different Jewish religious
movements, for example, the movement of the false Messiah Shabtai Zvi in
1665 and 1666 and early Hassidism, had employed similar logic. Certain
Christian and Islamic movements also employed analogous logic at certain
Gush Emunim ideologues, especially Rabbi Kook the elder, not only derived
their ideas largely from Jewish tradition but were also innovative. How they
developed the Messiah concept is illustrative. The Bible anticipated only a
single Messiah. Jewish mysticism anticipated two Messiahs. According to
the Cabbala the two Messiahs will differ in character. The first Messiah, a
militant figure called "son of Joseph," will prepare the material
preconditions for redemption. The second Messiah will be a spiritual "son
of David" who will redeem the world by spectacular miracle- making. (Gush
Emunim followers believe that miracles occur at various times.) The
cabbalistic conception is that the two Messiahs will be individuals. Rabbi
Kook the elder altered this idea by anticipating and advocating that the
first Messiah will be a collective being. Kook identified his group of
followers as the collective "son of Joseph." Gush Emunim leaders, following
the teaching of Rabbi Kook the elder, continue to perceive their rabbis, and
perhaps all followers as well, as the collective incarnation of at least one
and perhaps two divinely ordained Messiahs. Gush Emunim members
believe that this idea should not be revealed to the uninitiated until the
right time. They believe further that their sect cannot err because of its
infallible divine guidance.
Rabbi Kook's second innovation concerned the relationship of the first
Messiah to ignorant non- believing Jews, both secular and religious. Rabbi
Kook derived this concept from the biblical prophecy that the Messiah
"bringing salvation" will be "riding upon an ass and upon a colt, the foal of
an ass" [Zechariah 9:9]. The Cabbala regarded this verse as evidence for two
Messiahs: one riding upon an ass and the other upon a colt. The question
here was: How could a collective Messiah ride upon a single ass? Kook
answered the question by identifying the ass with Jews who lacked wisdom
and correct faith. Kook postulated that the collective Messiah would ride
upon these Jews. This meant that the Messiah would exploit them for
material gains and would redeem them to the extent that they could be
redeemed. The idea of redemption through contact with a spiritually
potent personality has been a major theme common to all strands of
Jewish mysticism. It has been applied not only to humans and their sins
but also to animals and inanimate objects. In Israel this idea is still a part
of religious education. Popular books for religious children contain many
stories that allegedly illustrate this point. One of the most repeated stories
is about a virtuous wild duck that is caught, killed and made into a
succulent dish for a holy rabbi. This duck is considered to be redeemed by
its being eaten by the holy man. The Gush Emunim innovation here has
been to apply this not only to non- believing Jews who are redeemed by
following the collective Messiah but also to all conceivable material objects,
ranging from tanks to money. Everything can be redeemed if touched or
possessed by Jews, especially messianic Jews. Gush Emunim members
apply this doctrine to the conflict in the Holy Land. They argue that what
appears to be confiscation of Arab- owned land for subsequent settlement
by Jews is in reality not an act of stealing but one of sanctification. From
their perspective the land is redeemed by being transferred from the
satanic to the divine sphere. Gush Emunim, so its followers believe, is by
virtue of exclusive access to the total and only truth more important than
the remainder of the Jewish people. Gush Emunim rabbis utilize the
following analogy of the messianic ass: given its lowly status in the
hierarchy of beings, the ass must remain ignorant of the noble purpose of
its divinely inspired rider. This is the case in spite of the fact that the ass
surpas ses the rider in size and sheer power. The divine rider in this
analogy leads the ass toward its own salvation. Because of his noble
purpose the rider may have to kick the ass during the course of the
journey in order to make sure that the ass does not stray from the
ordained path. In the same way, the Gush Emunim rabbis assert, this one
messianic sect has to handle and lead the ass - like Jews, who have been
corrupted by satanic Western culture with its rationality and democracy
and who refuse to renounce their beastly habits and embrace the true faith.
To further the process, the use of force is permit ted whenever necessary.
The final innovation of Rabbi Kook the elder contributed most decisively to
the popularity and political influence of his early followers and
subsequently of Gush Emunim. During the period of redemption this
innovation affected the conduct of the elect in relation to worldly concerns
and contacts with other Jews and non- Jews. Rabbi Kook taught that the
elect should not stand aloof from the rest of the world, as Jews had often
done in the past. Realizing that other people were sinful and even satanic
in nature, the elect had to attempt to bridge the gap between themselves
and the others by actively involving themselves in society. Only by so doing
would the elect have any chance to sanctify others. The elect should
provide an example, exert influence politically and increasingly make
contact with other people. Since the 1920s this doctrine has greatly
influenced the behavior of those affiliated with the NRP. After being
established in 1974, Gush Emunim vigorously reasserted this doctrine in
spite of great resentment of the public. Unlike Orthodox Jews previously,
Rabbi Kook's followers began to dress like secular Jews and only
distinguished themselves outwardly by wearing skullcaps. To date they
have followed the Israeli secular clothing fashions of the 1950s. In their
schools they introduced portions of secular teaching into their curricula.
They permitted their people to enroll in Israeli secular universities. They
additionally established the religiously oriented Bar- Ilan University.
Although restricting the Bar- Ilan teaching staff to religious Jews, Gush
Emunim sought to expand the university's scope of instruction to include
all the usual academic disciplines. The Haredim have consistently resented
and viewed with abhorrence these pursuits of what they regard as
secularization. Rabbi Kook insisted that each Jew had a religious duty to
fight and to train to fight. NRP members have faithfully followed this
teaching. Many Gush Emunim members have been and still are officers of
the Israeli army's select units; their proportion in such units has
continually increased. Gush Emunim religious school students have gained
renown for their excellent combat qualities, their high motivation to fight,
their relatively high casualty rate during the Lebanon war and their
willingness to beat up Palestinians during the Intifada.
Gush Emunim has won broad public sympathy in Israeli Jewish society
because of its attitude towards army service. This contrasts sharply with
the societal antagonism directed against the Haredim for their dodging of
military service. The doctrine of sanctity, attributed by the two Rabbi
Kooks to almost every Zionist enterprise, contributed even more to the
widespread public sympathy for and suppor t of Gush Emunim. Tal
contrasted the religious Zionist outlook of Rabbi Kook the younger and
Gush Emunim with that of the secular left. Tal defined the secular left's
Zionist outlook as a "poetic, lyrical notion, according to which the return to
the soil, life within nature, the agricultural achievements, the secular
creativity [are essential parts]." The two Rabbi Kooks, while acknowledging
that the secular left's notion unwillingly served the coming of messianic
redemption, emphasized "the military victories upon holy soil and the
Jewish blood spilled on this soil." Rabbi Kook the younger, together with
other Gush Emunim leaders, went further, according to Tal, by defining
"the State of Israel as the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Israel as
the kingdom of heaven on earth." Followers of Rabbi Kook still refer to
Israel as the "earthly suppor t of the Lord's throne." Israel Harel, one of the
most important Gush Emunim leaders, used this expression to make a
political point in his weekly column in Haaretz on September 12,1996.
Quoting an early essay by Rabbi Kook the elder, Harel wrote that the State
of Israel was "the base of the Lord's throne in this world" and thus is and
should be completely different from states "considered by Locke, Rosseau
and others." For such people as Harel, total holiness envelops and justifies
everything Israel does within the context of divinely inspired guidance. Tal
wrote that from this vantage point "every action, every phenomenon,
including secularism will one day be engulfed by sacredness, by
redemption." It is not inconceivable that this type of sacredness could lead
to the exploding of nuclear bombs in order to end the power of Satan and
to establish "the base of the Lord's throne in this world."
In many respects Gush Emunim members and the majority of NRP
suppor ters have continued to resemble the early Zionist pioneers. This fact
has boosted their public image. They have helped to promote this image by
presenting themselves to the uninitiated as successors of the pioneers of
the 1920s and 1930s who are still cherished in the Jewish national memory
and lauded in Israeli education. As previously indicated, Gush Emunim
members, except for their miniscule skullcaps, continue consciously to
emulate the dress and mannerisms of the early pioneers. The almost
exclusively Ashhenazi background of both the early pioneers and the Gush
Emunim settlers help this emulation. All Gush Emunim rabbis are
Ashkenazi. The accepted Israeli standards of religious education, discussed
in Chapter 3, are largely responsible for the absence of Oriental Jews
among Gush Emunim rabbis. Although unwillingly to join, many Oriental
Jews have suppor ted and continue to suppor t Gush Emunim. The Likud
constituency has to date consistently suppor ted Gush Emunim. By
contrast, most members of the Labor Party suppor ted Gush Emunim until
the end of the 1970s but changed after Gush Emunim opposed the peace
treaty with Egypt and demanded that Lebanon be annexed ''as a part of the
heritage of our ancestors, the tribes of Asher, Naphtali and Zebulun." Gush
Emunim infuriated many Labor suppor ter s by continuing to advocate other
extreme hawkish policies and by fiercely opposing Sharon's 1982 alliance
with the Lebanese Falangists, who were Christians and therefore
considered to be idolaters. Gush Emunim's position in 1982 was that Jews
in their battles and conquests should only rely upon God's help. Any
alliances with non- Jews could incur God's wrath and lead to His
withholding help. Such ideas were, even for extreme Labor Party hawks,
Gush Emunim and NRP politics must be understood within the context of
ideology. The ideology makes clear what members of these groups wish to
accomplish. Books written in English have unfortunately failed to discuss
adequately this ideology. Lustick's book, For the Land and the Lord, which
discusses Gush Emunim's outward political behavior, is the prime example.
Lustick relied to a great extent upon the writings of Harold Fisch for his
analysis of Gush Emunim's political ideology. Fisch, a professor of English
literature who seemingly has only limited competence in the Talmud and
Cabbala, has mostly written for English- speaking readers and has primarily
concent rated upon Christian fundamentalists in the United States. Lustick
also relied somewhat upon the writings of Rabbi Menachem Kasher. Kasher
was a highly respected talmudic scholar who wrote in Hebrew and
influenced potential Gush Emunim initiates. His messianic tracts are wellknown
to many Gush Emunim and Yeshiva student s. Lustick only briefly
quoted Kasher twice and then obfuscated what he did quote. In our book
we have relied more upon what Kasher wrote and have additionally utilized
other Gush Emunim literature.
Gush Emunim activists live in a homogeneous West Bank society that they
control. This society is mostly protected against "contamination" by rival
detested ideologies, especially those that stem from Western culture and
have been to some extent influenced the secular part of Israeli Jewish
society. The possibility clearly exists that the Gush Emunim homogeneous
society and its NRP suppor ter s can increase their political power and
influence within Israeli society. The ideology of the two Rabbis Kook is the
determining force of NRP and Gush Emunim political action. The
fundamental political tenet of Gush Emunim is that the Jewish people are
unique. Gush Emunim members share this tenet with all Orthodox Jews,
but they interpret it somewhat differently. Lustick discussed this tenet by
focusing upon the Gush Emunim denial of one classical secular Zionist
theme. Lustick correctly pinpointed the two assumptions of this theme, the
first being that "Jewish life had been distorted on both the individual and
the collective levels by the abnormality of diaspora existence." Second, only
by undergoing a "process of normalization," by emigrating to Palestine and
by forming a Jewish state can Jews become a normal nation. Quoting Fisch,
Lustick stated that for Gush Emunim this classical idea "is the original
delusion of the secular Zionists." The Gush Emunim argument is that
secular Zionists measured that "normality" by applying non- Jewish
standards that are satanic. The secular Zionists focused upon certain
nations that they considered "normal" and asserted that the non- Jews in
these normal nations were more advanced than were most diaspora Jews.
Because of this, so argued the secular Zionists, Jews should try to emulate
those non- Jews by becoming a "normal" people in a "normal" nation state.
The Gush Emunim counter argument is: "Jews are not and cannot be a
normal people. Their eternal uniqueness ... [is] the result of the covenant
God made with them at Mount Sinai." Lustick further explained this Gush
Emunim position by quoting one of the group's leaders, Rabbi Aviner:
"'While God requires other normal nations to abide by abstract codes of
justice and righteousness, such laws do not apply to Jews."' Haredi rabbis
often cited this idea in their writings, but they strictly reserved its glaring
consequences for the yet - to- come messianic age. The Halacha suppor ts
this reservation by carefully distinguishing between two situations in
discussing codes of justice and righteousnes s. The Halacha permits Jews to
rob non- Jews in those locales wherein Jews are stronger than non- Jews.
The Halacha prohibits Jews from robbing non- Jews in those locales
wherein the non- Jews are stronger. Gush Emunim dispenses with such
traditional precautions by claiming that Jews, at least those in Israel and
the Occupied Territories, are already living in the beginning of the
messianic age.
Lustick failed to explain adequately the messianic age considerations and
the distinctions between Jews and non- Jews. Harkabi's treatment was
better. In discussing the halachic teaching and the Gush Emunim position
regarding murders, Harkabi explained that the murder of a Jew,
particularly when commit ted by a non- Jews, is in Jewish law the worst
possible crime. He then quoted the Gush Emunim leader, Rabbi Israel Ariel.
Relying upon the Code of Maimonides and the Halacha, Rabbi Ariel stated:
" A Jew who killed a non- Jew is exempt from human judgment and has not
violated the [religious] prohibition of murder." Harkabi noted further that
this should be remembered when "the demand is voiced that all non-
Jewish residents of the Jewish state be dealt with according to halachic
regulations." Gush Emunim rabbis have continually reiterated that Jews
who killed Arabs should not be punished. Gush Emunim members not only
help such Jews who are punished by Israel's secular courts but also refuse
to call those Jews "murderers." It logically follows that the religious settlers
and their followers emphasize the "shedding of Jewish blood" but show
little concern about the "shedding of non- Jewish blood." The Gush Emunim
influence on Israeli policies can be measured by the fact that the Israeli
government 's policy on this matter has clearly reflected the Gush Emunim
position. The Israeli government under both Labor and Likud leadership
has refused to free Palestinian prisoners "with Jewish blood on their hands"
but has not hesitated to free prisoners "with non- Jewish blood on their
Another practical consequence of such attitudes is Gush Emunim's impact
upon the conduct of the Israeli government in all matters concerning the
territories. Gush Emunim continues to encourage Israeli authorities to deal
cruelly with Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The refusals
of Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres and Netanyahu to advocate the evacuation
of even a single Jewish settlement is attributable primarily to the influence
of Gush Emunim. Gush Emunim's influence upon all Israeli government s
and political leaders of varying political persuasions has been significant.
The Gush Emunim attitude towards Palestinians, always referred to as
"Arabs living in Israel," is important. Lustick mostly avoided this subject.
Harkabi dealt with it honestly by extensively quoting the statements of
Rabbis Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Shlomo Aviner and Israel Ariel. Kook, Aviner and
Ariel viewed the Arabs living in Israel as thieves; they based their view
upon the premise that all land in Israel was and remained Jewish and that
all property found thereon thus belonged to Jews. Harkabi, who learned
this when doing the research for his book, expressed his shock: "I never
imagined that Israelis would so interpret the concept of historical right."
Harkabi listed in sub- chapters of his book the numerous applications and
extensions of this doctrine. He pointed out that for Gush Emunim the Sinai
and present - day Lebanon are parts of this Jewish land and must be
liberated by Israel. Rabbi Ariel published an atlas that designated all lands
that were Jewish and needed to be liberated. This included all areas west
and south of the Euphrates River extending through present - day Kuwait.
Harkabi quoted Rabbi Aviner: "We must live in this land even at the price of
war. Moreover, even if there is peace, we must instigate wars of liberation
in order to conquer it [the land]." It is not unreasonable to assume that
Gush Emunim, if it possessed the power and control, would use nuclear
weapons in warfare to attempt to achieve its purpose.
For Gush Emunim, as Harkabi made clear and Lustick indirectly confirmed,
the God- ordained inferiority of non- Jews living in the state of Israel
extends to categories other than life and property. Gush Emunim has
developed a foreign policy for the state of Israel to adopt. This policy
stipulates that Arab hostility towards the Jews is theological in nature and
is inherent. The conclusion drawn is that the Arab- Israeli conflict cannot
be resolved politically. This conclusion is suppor ted by Lustick's quoting
the prominent Gush Emunim leader and former Knesset member, Eliezer
Waldman: "'Arab hostility springs, like all anti - Semitism, from the world's
recalcitrance to be saved [by the Jews]"' (pp. 77- 9). Lustick also quoted
other Gush Emunim leaders who left no doubt about their refusal to enter
into political agreements with "present - day Jewish inhabitants of the land
who resist the establishment of Jewish sovereignty over its entirety. "
Lustick quoted Fisch who argued that Arab resistance could be attributed
to Arabs' seeking "to fulfill their collective death - wish." Gush Emunim
rabbis, politicians and ideological popularizers have routinely compared
Palestinians to the ancient Canaanites, whose extermination or expulsion
by the ancient Israelites was, according to the Bible, predestined by a divine
design. This genocidal theme of the Bible creates great sympathy for Gush
Emunim among many Christian fundamentalists who anticipate that the
end of the world will be marked by slaughters and devastation. Gush
Emunim has from its inception wanted to expel as many Palestinians as
possible. Palestinian terrorist acts allow Gush Emunim spokespeople to
disguise their real demand for total expulsion by arguing that expulsion is
warranted by "security needs."
Harkabi quoted the views of Mordechai Nisan, a lecturer at the Hebrew
University in Jerusalem, that were published in the August 1984 issue of
Kivunim, an official publication of the World Zionist Organization (pp.
151- 6). According to Nisan, who relied upon Maimonides, a non- Jew
permitted to reside in the land of Israel "must accept paying a tax and
suffering the humiliation of servitude." In keeping with a religious text of
Maimonides, Nisan, according to Harkabi, demanded that a non- Jew "be
held down and not [be allowed to] raise his head against Jews."
Paraphrasing Nisan further, Harkabi wrote: "Non- Jews must not be
appointed to any office or position of power over Jews. If they refuse to
live a life of inferiority, then this signals their rebellion and the
unavoidable necessity of Jewish warfare against their very presence in the
land of Israel." Such views about non- Jews, published in an official
publication of the World Zionist Organization, resemble Nazi argument s
about Jews. Harkabi commented: "I do not know how many Jews share his
[Nisan's] belief, but the publication of the article in a leading Zionist
periodical is a cause for grave concern."
The three following examples of other articles that appeared in Hebrewlanguage
newspapers provide additional analyses of NRP and Gush
Emunim attitudes. One of these articles deals with the most extreme group
within Gush Emunim, named Emunim (Being Faithful). Established after the
formation of the Rabin government in 1992, Emunim is led by Rabbi Benny
Alon, the son of retired Deputy President of the Israeli Supreme Court
Menahem Alon. Rabbi Alon, quoted by Nadav Shraggai in his September
18,1992 Haaretz article, stated:
The method of the mid- 1970s will no longer work under a government
whose moral profile is defined by the Meretz Party and whose members'
hearts and minds are filled with scorn for the entire land of Israel and for
Judaism. They not only want a Palestinian state without any Jews to be
established in the very midst of the land of Israel. They also want a secular
democratic state to replace the Jewish state of Israel. This government is
spiritually rotten.
Rabbi Alon then contrasted the 1992 government leaders with the Labor
leaders of the mid- 1980s and before, who "felt like warm- hearted Jews
feel" and were thus responsive to Gush Emunim's pressures. Alon
continued,"But you cannot apply the same methods with the likes of
[Meretz MK] Dedi Tzuker or [Meretz member] Moshe Ainirav who
coordinate their deeds with our enemies." In preparing his September 18,
1992 Maariv article, journalist Avi Raz questioned Alon further and
discovered Emunim's tactics: "Emunim wants to discredit Rabin [the then
prime minister] by forcing him to rely [for a Knesset majority] on the MKs
from the Arab parties and thus to destroy the legitimacy of his
government." Rabin and Peres made concessions but nevertheless insisted
upon expanding Jewish settlements. In his article Raz quoted Alon further:
From the spiritual point of view Rafael Eitan is wrong and should
be criticized when he justifies Jewish settlement s on the basis of
helping Israeli's security. Security considerations in favor of the
settlements are not the point. As I see it, politics rest upon
spirituality. A body politic needs a soul. Israel's security and even the
survival of the Jewish nation are no more than material dimensions
of the spiritual Jewish depth. When we say that we must prevent the
formation of a Palestinian state in order to save the Jewish state
from extinction, we are not talking about spiritual things.
As Raz observed: "Blessed with profound spirituality, Alon and his
associates go to the United States for five days in order to request
Christian fundamentalists to suppor t financially their activities." Alon and
his associates succeeded in acquiring some of this requested funding. As
Jewish fundamentalists who abominate non- Jews, they forged a spiritual
alliance with Christians who believe that suppor ting Jewish
fundamentalism is necessary to suppor t the second coming of Jesus. This
alliance has become a significant factor in both U.S.and Middle Eastern
The second example concerns the policies of Gush Emunim itself under the
Labor and Meretz government of the 1990s. In his October 5, 1992 Haaretz
article, Danny Rubinstein quoted Gush Emunim leaders who believed the
goal of Rabin's policies was "to destroy root and branch the [Jewish]
settlement s in the territories and all accomplishments of Zionism."
Rubinstein carefully distinguished between the secular Golan Heights
settlers and Gush Emunim. The Golan Heights settlers claimed that Rabin's
policies were mistaken, because peace with Syria could be reached on
Israeli terms. Gush Emunim claimed that "the Washington negotiations
[with the PLO] amount to nothing else than a dialogue of human beings
with a herd of ravenous wolves, aiming solely at turning the entire land of
Israel into the entire land of the Arabs." This does not mean that Gush
Emunim declined to take money for its own purposes from the government
that negotiated "with a herd of ravenous wolves."
In his October 14, 1992 Haaretz article, Nadav Shraggai discussed a
symposium, organized and underwritten by the ministry of religion in
conjunction with the ministry of education, headed by Shulamit Aloni. The
symposium' s theme was: "Is autonomy for resident aliens in the Holy Land
feasible?" Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the symposium's major speaker, explained:
"'Autonomy is tantamount to a denial of the Jewish religion."' According to
Goren, the Halacha considers the denial of Judaism to be the gravest
Jewish sin and enjoins pious Jews to kill those infidels who deny Judaism.
Rabbi Goren likened such infidels to those people who advocated
autonomy. This indicated that an attempt to assasinate Rabin would occur
for religious reasons. Goren argued further that Judaism prohibits
"granting any national rights to any group of foreigners in the land of
Israel." Goren also denied that a Palestinian nation existed. He asserted:
"Palestinians disappeared in the second century BC, and I have not heard of
their being resurrected." Goren reassured his audience that, undeterred by
widespread infidelities,"the process of redemption, already underway for
one hundred years, cannot be reversed when Divine Providence awaits us
all the time." Another symposium participant, Rabbi Aviner, concurred with
Goren that Judaism forbade granting even a small amount of autonomy to
the Palestinians. Rabbi Zalman Melamed, chairman of the Commit tee of the
Rabbis of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, made the same point even more
clearly: "No rabbinual authority disputes that it would be ideal if the land
of Israel were inhabited by only Jews." Rabbi Shlomo Min- Hahar extended
the argument to Muslims and Christians specifically by claiming: "The
entire Muslim world is money- grubbing, despicable and capable of
anything. All Christians without exception hate the Jews and look forward
to their deaths."
Israeli taxpayers, including Muslim and Christian Arabs, paid for this
symposium, during which rabbinical leaders delivered such arguments.
Prime Minister Rabin and the ministers of religion and education approved
and did not utter publicly negative criticism of any of the views expressed.
Rabin's approval might be understood as a part of his deliberate
encouragement of political programs at variance with what he claimed to
favor. Minister of Education Aloni's approval can be understood rationally
only as another manifestation of her weakness, carelessness and
foolishness. Both Rabin and Aloni visited Germany shortly before this
symposium and fiercely condemned publicly the "German hatred of
foreigners." They carefully avoided mentioning racist statement s and
recommendations made by rabbis in Israel about how foreigners should be
treated. They did not mention, let alone condemn, Rabbi Melamed's
advocacy of transfer, that is, the total expulsion of all non- Jews from the
land of Israel. Such mention might have complemented their denunciation
of German xenophobia.
The third example, also taken from the Hebrew press, stems from a book
of responsa, published in 1990. The book, Intifada Responses, written by
the important Gush Emunim rabbi, Shlomo Aviner, provides in plain
Hebrew halachic answers to the questions of what pious Jews should do to
Palestinians during situations that arise at times similar to the Intifada.
The book is divided into brief chapters that contain answers to questions.
The answers do not relate to Israeli law. Quotations from the first two
chapters (pp. 19- 22) illustrate the essence of the questions and answers
contained in this book. The first exemplary question in Chapter 1 is: "Is
there a difference between punishing an Arab child and an Arab adult for a
disturbance of our peace?" The answer begins by cautioning people not
conversant with the Halacha that comparisons should not be made
between Jewish and Gentile underage minors; "As is known, no Halachic
punishment s can be inflicted upon Jewish boys below the age of thirteen
and Jewish girls below the age of twelve ... Maimonides wrote that this rule
applied to Jews alone ... not to any non- Jews. Therefore, any non- Jews, no
matter what age, will have to pay for any crime committed." In providing
his answer, Rabbi Aviner proceeded to quote another ruling by Maimonides
that warned Jews not to punish a non- Jewish child who can be presumed
to be "short of wisdom." Aviner concluded that determining whether a
non- Jewish child is to be regarded as an adult depends upon whether that
child, even if younger than thirteen, has sufficient understanding.
According to what Aviner wrote in his book, any Jew is capable of judging
whether a non- Jewish child should in this sense be considered and
punished as an adult. The second exemplary question is: "What shall we do
if an Arab child intends to threaten a [Jewish] life?" Rabbi Aviner explained
that all prior responsa dealt only with the actual commissions of crimes by
non- Jewish children. He explained in this answer that if a non- Jewish child
intended to commit murder, for example, by throwing a stone at a passing
car, that the non- Jewish child should be considered a "persecutor of the
Jews" and should be killed. Citing Maimonides as his authority, Aviner
maintained that killing the non- Jewish child in this instance is necessary to
save Jewish life.
In the second chapter of his book Rabbi Aviner posed and answered a
single question; "Does the Halacha permit inflicting the death penalty upon
Arabs who throw stones?" His answer was that inflicting such a
punishment is not only permitted but is mandatory. This punishment,
moreover, is not reserved for stone throwers but can be invoked for other
reasons. Aviner asserted that a rabbinical court or a king of Israel "has the
power to punish anyone by death if it is believed that the world will
thereby be improved." The rabbinical court or king of Israel can
alternatively punish non- Jews and wicked Jews by beating them
mercilessly, by imprisoning them under the most severe conditions and/or
by inflicting upon them other extreme suffering. Gush Emunim
spokespeople have argued that this power of the rabbinical court and king
of Israel can devolve to the Israeli government, provided that government
abides by the correct religious rulings. The punishment s, mentioned here,
should be invoked if the authorities believe that such punishment will
deter other wicked people. Aviner made clear his preference was to invoke
the death penalty and/or severe flogging upon any non- Jew found guilty of
intending to throw stones at Jews.
The discussion in this chapter should distinguish qualitatively the Gush
Emunim- NRP form from the Haredi form of Jewish fundamentalism. The
greater potential danger clearly rests with the Gush Emunim and the NRP,
because their members have involved themselves in the state in order to
sanctify Israel.
Notes to chapter 4
1. Pollard, an American Jew very devoted to Israel, was in the 1980s a
highly placed employee of U.S.Naval Intelligence. He gave many intelligence
secrets (not only concerning Middle Eastern affairs) to Israel. He received a
severe prison sentence in the U.S. Many American and Israeli Jews, and
since the mid- 1990s also the Israeli government, have tried to persuade
the U.S.President to reduce his sentence or give him a pardon. However,
these attempt s have been unsuccessful, due to the strong opposition of
U.S.intelligence chiefs.
Chapter 5
The Nature of Gush Emunim Settlements
Media coverage of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories has
primarily focused upon effects on Palestinians and the threat posed to
peaceful resolution of conflict. From the prospective of Jewish
fundamentalism the religious settlement s should be viewed from three
standpoints: their standing as citadels of messianic ideology, their present
and potential influence upon Israeli society and their potential role as the
nuclei of the new society that messianic leaders want to build.
Such discussion must be preceded by two comments concerning the
settlement s, as viewed by Israeli society. The first comment is that a great
majority of Israeli citizens, represented by Knesset members, favor Israel's
retaining all settlements. In early 1999, at least 100 of the 120 Knesset
members, including all the Labor Party members, almost certainly suppor t
this position even though minor differences exist about the form of
retention. All Arab Knesset members oppose retaining the settlement s;
hence the percentage of Jewish Knesset members in favor is still even
greater than a mere counting might indicate. In Israeli Jewish society,
nevertheless, a sharp popular difference in point of view about settlement s
still exists. Some small groups on the left oppose all settlements. More
importantly, most Israeli Jews consider it normal that Jews live in some
settlement s but abnormal that Jews live in other settlements. This
distinction is usually ignored outside Israel, especially in the Arab world.
The majority of Israeli Jews regard living in settlement s in the "greater
Jerusalem" area as normal. "Greater Jerusalem" is an Israeli urban and
social term, not limited in meaning to the Green Line or to the municipal
borders of Jerusalem, as established during the 1967 annexation. Living in
"greater Jerusalem" means living in a place with bus connections adequate
for Jews to travel by public transpor tation to Jerusalem for shopping or
evening entertainment and to return home by midnight. In early 1999,
more than 250,000 Israeli Jews, about 5 per cent of the total Israeli
population, lived in "greater Jerusalem." The total population of all other
West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights settlement s is about 100,000.
These 100,000 are not solidly grouped in a small area, closely connected
with a big city, but are divided into many small settlement s. Ariel, the
largest West Bank settlement outside of "greater Jerusalem," for example,
has about 15,000 inhabitants; Kiryat Arba has less than 6000; many
settlement s have about 100 inhabitants. These numbers show that the
majority of Israeli Jews regard living in those settlements as abnormal and
refuse to settle there. In spite of the money expended and the other forms
of suppor t by Israeli government s for so long a time period, only a small
number of Jews have opted to live in settlements in the occupied territories
outside of "greater Jerusalem."
In the settlements outside of "greater Jerusalem" another distinction,
constantly made by the Israeli Jewish public, must be noted, Those
settlement s whose inhabitants are similar socially and politically to the
majority secular segment of Israeli Jewish society have been and still are
viewed differently than are those settlements whose inhabitants are mostly
or totally religious Jews. (As previously stated only 20 per cent of all Israeli
Jews are religious.) This is seen in Israeli election results, reported by the
media about every four years for each locality, including each settlement.
In the "greater Jerusalem" settlement s, the voting pattern does not differ
from the Jewish average behind the Green Line; in other secular
settlement s the pattern is almost the same with only a small tilt to the
right. The Labor and Meretz parties regularly receive good percentages of
the total vote. In the religious settlement s, on the other hand, the
inhabitants rarely even vote for Likud or other right - wing secular parties;
they vote instead for religious parties and quite often only for the NRP. In
Kiryat Arba in the 1992 elections, for example, the four largest secular
partiesLabor, Likud, Mereti and Tsometreceived altogether less than 5 per
cent of the vote. Nationally, those parties together received about 80 per
cent of the national vote. In the 1996 election the Likud vote in Kiryat Arba
rose to 24.4 per cent because of Netanyahu's promises; in the separate vote
for prime minister that year Netanyahu received 96.3 per cent and Peres
only 3.6 per cent. (In the national vote for prime minister that year
Netanyahu received 50.1 per cent and Peres 49.3 per cent.) Beit El B is a
typical smaller religious settlement in which Netanyahu received 99.6 per
cent of the prime minister's vote in 1996 to only 0.3 per cent for Peres. In
the Knesset election that same year in Beit El B, the NRP received 76.4 per
cent and Moledet, the most right - wing party represented in the Knesset,
with strong religious tendencies, received 14.5 per cent. Thus, NRP and
Moledet, the two parties that garnered together 11 of the 120 Knesset seats
or 9.1 per cent in 1996, received 90 per cent of the Beit El B vote. In
contrast, in the secular settlement, Alfey Menashe, Netanyahu received 71.5
per cent and Peres 28.4 per cent of the vote.
The most exposed and isolated settlement s are those inhabited by religious
settlers. Although largely ignored by the media outside of Israel, this is a
significant fact. In these exposed and isolated settlement s, only religious
messianic Jews are prepared to settle. To a greater extent, this has been the
major reason why all Israeli governments have suppor ted the religious
messianic settlement s regardless of how the inhabitants there have voted.
Netzarim, situated in the middle of the Gaza Strip, is a good example of
these settlements. To the north of Netzarim is Gaza City, to the south,
some of the largest refugee camps. Each conglomeration has about 200,000
inhabitants. In mid 1998, Netzarim had about 120 religious messianic
Jewish settler families. (At the time that the Oslo agreement was signed,
Netzarim had almost 60 families.) Some of the adult males living in
Netzarim spend most of their time studying Talmud. Near Netzarim is an
army base that guards a military road crossing the Gaza Strip from east to
west. This road, which according to the Oslo agreement is under exclusive
Israeli control, cuts the Gaza Strip into two parts. The army base is
strategic in controlling Gaza but is represented to the Israeli Jewish public
and to the outside world as necessary to protect the settlement of
Netzarim. Secular, traditional and/or Haredi Jews have not opted to settle
in Netzarim and have given no indications of settling there in the future.
Thus, the Israeli government, wishing to maintain the control of the road,
must depend upon the messianic settlers who are ideologically dedicated
to settle in such a place.
Settlements in the Occupied Territories can be correctly unders tood only
within the context of overall Israeli strategy. The basic concept, held since
1967 by both Labor and Likud with different degrees of hypocrisy, has
been to oppress Palestinians with maximum efficiency. Maximum efficiency
includes minimal number of Jewish forces to achieve the specific purpose.
The major idea is that well- trained Jewish soldiers should to the greatest
extent possible be reserved for any major war with one or more of the Arab
states. Soon after acquiring the Occupied Territories in June, 1967, the
Israeli government seriously considered the "Jordanian option." This idea
was that Jordanian forces would come to the West Bank to do the
necessary job for Israel. The government of Jordan, however, refused to
agree to this plan. Hence, the government of Israel then devised and
instituted the "village leagues," composed of local Palestinians who
effectively ruled the West Bank for some years with only slight suppor t of
the Israeli army. The Intifada broke the "village leagues." Both the
"Jordanian option" and the "village leagues" concepts were devised for the
same purpose as was the Oslo process in the 1990s. Prime Minister Rabin
clearly explained that this purpose was to have Palestinians ruled on
Israelis' behalf by their own people. This was to be accomplished without
interference from human right organizations and without Israeli legal
hindrances to the arbitrary will of the conquest regime. The Israeli army,
according to this thinking, would be free to concent rate upon its grand
military strategy.
Israeli strategy regarding the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the period
after Oslo was and still is based upon settlements being the foci of Israeli
military power. This strategy can best be described by considering the Gaza
Strip, where the geography is much clearer than in the West Bank. The Gaza
Strip, as clearly seen on published maps, is criss - crossed by military roads.
In keeping with the Cairo Accords, these military roads remain under
exclusive Israeli jurisdiction and are patrolled by the army, either jointly
with Palestinian police or separately. The Israeli army has the legal right to
close any section of these roads to Palestinian traffic, even if the section is
within an area ruled by the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli army uses this
right routinely either when a convoy on route to a settlement is passing or
when a decision is made to embarrass the Palestinian Authority. One of
these roads, the Gaza City bypassing road, traverses the length of the Strip,
carefully bypassing the main cities and refugee camps. Another military
road, joined to a strip of land, cuts off the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Other
roads traverse the Gaza Strip from the Israeli border on its east side to the
sea or to the Jewish settlement block (Qatit) on the west. One such road,
the Netzarim road, meets the Gaza City bypassing road at Netzarim, thus
rendering Netzarim a strategically important crossroad. Shortly after the
signing of the Oslo Accord, the Israeli Hebrew press reported that large
forces of the border guards and the army were stationed near Netzarim
where a new base had been constructed for them. The official status of
Netzarim allowed Israel to do this legally and to acquire the suppor t of
that part of the Israeli Jewish public that is more devoted to settlements
than to army bases. As the well- known commentator Nahum Bamea
quipped: "Had a Netzarim not existed, it would have been invented."
The overall effect of all these roads is that the Gaza Strip is sliced into
enclaves controlled by the bypassing roads. The role of the Jewish
settlement s in the Gaza Strip is to serve as pivots of the road grid. This is
devised to ensure more effectual perpetual Israel control. This new form of
control, labelled "control from the outside" by Rabin and other Labor
politicians, allows the army to dominate the Gaza Strip with only a minor
expenditure of forces. This is far preferable to the former situation in
which huge control presence had to be expended for direct patrolling of
cities and refugee camps of the Gaza Strip. The Hebrew press has
continually referred to the earlier form of control as the "control from the
inside" and has emphasized that it was less effective and required more
forces than the "control from the outside." Changing from inside to outside
control continues to depend upon the grid of roads which in turn depends
upon settlements such as Netzarim. As already stated but worth repeating,
only religious Jews who believe in messianic ideology have been willing to
establish and live in such settlements.
The situation in the West Bank, outside the greater Jerusalem, is
geographically more complicated than the Gaza Strip but is essentially
based upon the same principles of "control from the outside." This control
is centered upon a grid of roads whose foci are the settlement s. A few
settlement s were founded for sentimental reasons. Ariel Sharon, wanting to
provoke the United States Secretary of State James Baker during his visits
to Israel in 1991 and 1992, helped establish these few settlements. Small
groups of fundamentalist Jews, even more extreme than Gush Emuriim,
also helped establish these small settlement s. Although given prominent
media coverage, these settlement s remained relatively insignificant,
representing only a small propor tion of all the settlements. Settlements,
such as Kiryat Arba and the separate Jewish settlement in Hebron, have
been suppor ted by all Israeli governments primarily for strategic reasons.
Although at times creating smokescreens by making insulting comment s
about settlers, Prime Minister Rabin from the time of the Oslo agreement
until his death strengthened most of the settlement s, especially those in
the West Bank. Yossi Beilin, one of the chief architects of the Oslo
agreement, repeatedly reassured the Israeli public that the Labor
government had not abandoned the settlers. Beilin, as reported in Maariv
on September 27, 1995, rebutted accusations made by Likud members of
Their most ridiculous accusation is that we have abandoned the
settlers. The Oslo Accord was delayed for months to guarantee that
all the settlers would remain intact and that the settlers would have
maximum security. This entailed making an immense financial
investment in them. The situation in the settlements has never been
better than that created following the Oslo Accord.
Even more important is that the Labor government had an opportuni ty to
remove the Hebron settlers, or at least a part of them, in the period of
shock after Goldstein's massacre. The Labor government refrained from
doing so. In his August 18, 1995 Davar article, Daniel Ben- Simon revealed
the following about discussion of the issue in Prime Minister Rabin's office:
"The heads of all Israeli security services opposed the evacuation of
Hebron's settlers." Such opposition underlined the settlement s' strategic
importance and the dependence of both the Israeli government and army
upon the messianic settlers.
The messianic ideology, described in the prior chapter, and the many
pronouncement s of messianic rabbis and lay leaders show that the aim of
Gush Emunim, unlike the aim of Israeli governments, is not limited to the
strategic value of utilizing settlements to keep control of the Occupied
Territories. The more important aim of Gush Emunim leaders is to create
in their homogeneous settlement s models of a new society. They hope this
new society will spread until it finally absorbs the secular, traditional and
Haredi Jewish population of the state of Israel into the collective Jewish
identity that they envision. This identity will, they believe, be the religious,
ethnocent ric, anti - liberal and anti - universalist society ordered by God. In
attempting to conceptualize their plan, Gush Emunim leaders can tolerate
democracy only so long as it helps to create the divine Jewish kingdom.
They believe that any values not consistent with Jewish values, as
established by the Halacha and Cabbala, should be suppressed. Human and
civil rights, as well as the concept of statehood, should be established by a
specified divinely inspired group of rabbis. These views became more
widely acceptable in Israeli society, especially among NRP members, after
the October 1973 war. In that war secular Israeli militarism suffered a
defeat. The widely perceived failure of generals led to the formation of an
esoteric elite that supposedly derived its knowledge from a higher source
than mere strategic considerations. Some of the leading generals in that
war were regarded as hedonists who were careless with the military affairs
entrus ted to them; Gush Emunim rabbis and lay leaders appeared to many
Israeli Jews to be endowed with dedication, a sense of mission, moral
superiority, strict honesty in financial affairs and a sense of their own
certitude. This characterization, similar to that of Hamas leaders in
Palestinian society, continued thereafter. Gush Emunim leaders have
remained dedicated to their principles and are financially honest. In a
society pervaded by many kinds of corruption, this is most important.
Gush Emunim has been and still is endowed, moreover, with a territorial
base of its own, replete with dedicated followers who can expertly handle
weapons and execute military operations.
The power of Gush Emunim increased significantly between 1974 and
1992. In addition to its own members it acquired a periphery of suppor ter s
with varying degrees of commitment. Perhaps its greatest achievement
after 1974 was its ability to influence Israeli Jewish culture and collective
identity during a period when ethnocent ric ideas rose to the fore in Israeli
society. Most of the political right wing, as well as many Labor Party
suppor ters, remained sympathetic to Gush Emunim so long as Palestinians
in the territories remained relatively docile. This situation lasted until the
outbreak of the Intifada in December 1987. Before the Intifada, many
Israeli Jews felt that the control of Palestinians from the inside was not too
costly and was bearable. Hence, many secular Israeli Jews felt that they
could afford to suppor t the Gush Emunim version of the conquest rather
than the Moshe Dayan version, which prevailed until 1974 and was based
upon cooperation with conservative Palestinian notables. Cooperation with
the traditional Palestinian notables made it unnecessary to keep large
Israeli forces inside the areas densely inhabited by Palestinians. Because
the notables were alienated by the settling and by the resultant
confiscation of land in those areas, "village leagues" were invented as a
substitute for the traditional forces. The Intifada showed that this prop
was only of temporary value. The settling of the Gaza Strip and the
remainder of the West Bank began in 1975 when Rabin for the first time
was prime minister and Peres was the defense minister in charge of the
territories. These two architects of the so- called peace process of the
1990s were largely responsible for one of the major factors preventing
The onslaught of the Intifada changed sentiment within Israeli Jewish
society. The Israeli government deployed more Israeli soldiers in the
territories. This caused many secular Israeli Jews to reconsider the costs
involved in occupying the territories. Many of these Jews concluded that
the cost was unwarranted. A new situation in Israeli society then developed
and continued thereafter. The coalition of messianists and their various
suppor ters, all ethnocentric to some extent, joined together and formed
one camp. The other camp consisted of a politically and socially
heterogeneous group of people, united in opposition to the type of Jewish
theocracy that they saw as the inevitable consequence of the continued
suppor t of Gush Emunim and its settlement s. The continuing Israeli
domination of the Occupied Territories, dictated to some extent by Gush
Emunim, developed into a major issue in the struggle between these two
Israeli Jewish camps.
The rapid organization of Gush Emunim settlers boosted the expansion
and power of religious settlements after 1974. The rabbis who became and
remained the dominant leaders of the Gush Emunim settlers in 1991,
organized themselves into the Association of Judea and Samaria Rabbis.
The group was founded after President Bush of the United States pressured
the Shamir government to participate in the Madrid Conference. Lay settler
leaders were afraid of what might develop at the Madrid Conference. As
Dov Albaum wrote in the January 7, 1994 issue of Yerushalaim: "The
rabbis, trusting in the divine promise, took advantage of that situation by
filling the leadership vacuum." The power of the rabbinical association
increased after the Oslo agreement. Albaum continued his analysis by
quoting Daniel Shilo, the rabbi of the Kedunim messianic settlement:
The Judea and Samaria rabbis are now solving the gravest problems the
religious settlers face when they begin to lose faith in the Jewish settlement
of Judea and Samaria, as ordered by God, to be an instrument of the Jewish
redemption. Jews who lack faith even begin to ponder whether the whole
idea of settlement in the territories might not be fundamentally wrong or
whether the process of divine redemption is not in its retrogression stage
or whether the Almighty is not trying to signal to us to halt the settling. In
such a time rabbis have the obligation to provide the answers. This is why
we rabbis have more power than any conceivable lay Gush Emunim
The rabbis used this power to emphasize that their followers were
obligated to have faith in them. This is often disguised as having faith in
Albaum further observed:
The Judea and Samaria rabbis are not satisfied with being vested only
with spiritual power. They began developing their own intelligence
network, which quickly became extensive, using information gathered from
religious or otherwise sympathetic officers of the Israeli army's high
command. General Moshe Bar- Kochba, a member of the General Staff who
recently died after retiring from the army, was named by the Judea and
Samaria rabbis as one of their major informants. Bar- Kochba allegedly
informed the rabbis regularly and in advance about the plans for army
operations in the territories. Upon learning about his actions, other officers
followed in his footsteps. Thereupon, the army command, in order to gain
access to the real leadership of the religious settlers, decided to regularize
those relations and to inform the rabbis officially about its operations. A
battalion commander, for example, did not hesitate to dress a local
settlement rabbi in army uniform, take him to a look- out post and identify
to him the undercover soldiers operating in local Arab villages. [The
commander hoped] that he would thus convince the Judea and Samaria
rabbis to stop blocking the major highways and thereby obstructing the
unit's movements. This was not an isolated instance. The heads of the
Judea and Samaria Settlement Council, comprised of religious laymen, now
confront a rabbinical council of what is effectively a kingdom of Judea,
which arose before their eyes. The council of laymen derives some
consolation from its solid connections with government agencies. Rabin,
whose top priority interest is to reach a dialogue with religious settlers,
keeps summoning the Judea and Samaria Council members for intimate
talks. He cannot have the same contact with the kingdom of Judea rabbis,
because they consider it demeaning to address a sinner like him. They also
know that the lay council members would not dare to make a major
decision without first obtaining their blessing.
The Oslo process shocked Gush Emunim rabbis and lay settlers. This
occurred in spite of the great material suppor t for settlement s that Gush
Emunim received in the 1990s from Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres and
Netanyahu. A few messianic rabbis offered explanations for the occurrence
of Oslo and attempted to console their flock about the process, but they
met with almost no success. Religious symbolism, especially appearing in
apocalyptic forms, blocked acceptance. The sight of Palestinians waving
their flags, the appearance of armed Palestinian police and the
proliferating symbols of the Palestinian Authority constituted visible
evidence for the failure of the messianic vision of quick redemption. This
in turn deepened the hatred of "Jewish traitors," whose treason allegedly
spoiled God's plan and influenced the majority of Jews to disregard the
divine command and to follow the traitors. This hatred, directed mostly at
Rabin and his ministers, was consistent with the Cabbala, which held that
the redemption of the Jews had almost occurred at various times only to
be prevented each time because a majority of the nation opted to follow a
heretic or a traitor. In Jewish history those who have most strongly
believed in the coming victory of redemption have also most strongly
harbored feelings of betrayal. After Oslo such people were mostly
concent rated in the religious settlements.
Hatred of Arabs and secular Jews has not been solely limited to members
of religious settlements. In his March 11, 1994 article, published in Shishi,
Nerri Horowitz focused upon another group of extremists, called
Hardelim.1 Horowitz analysed Hardelim's "twofold hatred of Arabs and
secular Jews" and presented documentation in the form of quotations from
their copious and abstruse literature, filled with cabbalistic references.
Although esoteric, the literature of the Hardelim has influenced a majority
of religious Jews. (A minority of religious Jews have opposed the Hardelim
Nadav Shraggai presented a more popular description of this "twofold
hatred" ideology in his February 18, 1994 Haaretz article. Shraggai pointed
to the renunciation by some religious settlers and other religious Jews of
the traditional prayer for the State of Israel, which was never accepted by
the Haredim but said by NRP followers on every sabbath and religious
holiday since 1948. Shraggai noted that some religious Jews who had
previously recognized the State of Israel as holy renounced this prayer and
the holiness of the state; they became convinced that the government and
therefore the state, in accepting Oslo, had "betrayed its sacred mission."
After concluding that Rabin and his ministers were traitors, the messianists
viewed as particularly offensive the following words of the prayer: "O, God,
radiate your light and truth upon Israel's leaders, ministers and advisers."
Shraggai correctly insisted that his analysis focused upon the relatively
moderate antagonists. These moderates contented themselves with intense
ideological debate but did not, as did the extremists, plan and engage in
murder and other violent acts. Shraggai wrote:
The personal, ideological and religious crisis in which the
national - religious Jewish communi ty in Israel has found itself,
generated doubts about the very foundations of religious Zionism:
namely its historic alliance with secular Zionism and its
wholehearted acceptance of the State of Israel. In the past that
alliance revolved around the perception that the secular State of
Israel was the first stage in the process of redemption. At present,
even the moderates question this assumption. These doubters do not
have much in common with radicals like the admittedly marginal
Yehuda Etzion of the Jewish Underground who opposes any Jewish
state that is not a monarchy ruled by the Davidic dynasty, or
Mordechai Karpel, the founder of the Jewish Nation Exists for
Eternity movement, which also wants to turn Israel into a theocratic
Shraggai noted that several influential rabbis, including Azri'el Ariel who
eulogized the assassin Goldstein, led the "moderates." Shraggai quoted
Rabbi Ariel:
The religious settlements were established not only to create facts on
the ground but also to affect the hearts and minds of the Jewish people.
We believed that, by encountering the holy parts of the land as if they were
alive, the hearts of the Jewish masses would be united with the heart of the
land. We envisaged the process as reconnecting the national Jewish
consciousness with its spiritual roots.
Rabbi Ariel further opined:
For a majority of Jews the settlements have failed to restore that
sacred linkage. The majority of Jews have renounced the Jewish
roots present in their souls, profaning themselves by [committing
the] sin of choosing the so- called "morality" of Westem culture
instead of their own moral values. In the state of that grave sin their
hearts have remained unaffected by the land of Israel ... We now have
to build the sacred and observant community from within. Let us
stop looking out. Let us stop to seek paths [that lead] to the hearts of
our sinning Jewish brethren. One day, those who have effectively
abandoned the Jewish religion will find their dreams shattered. They
will become afflicted by a sense of emptiness. After having faltered
on every path, they will come to seek us. Until then our role will
consist of raising a generation of the truly chosen and holy ones, a
generation capable of receiving Jewish repentant sinners with open
In presenting his argument, Rabbi Ariel did not mention Palestinians.
Although presumably realizing that Palestinians on all sides surround their
sacred and observant communi ties, Rabbi Ariel and others like him have
consistently considered irrelevant the existence of Palestinians; they have
concerned themselves with secular Jewish Zionists. Shraggai quoted Ariel:
"Historic Zionism has reached its end in bankruptcy ... The real Zionism,
the holy one with profound roots, exists only where the really religious
Jews are living; in the mountains of Judea and the valleys of Samaria. "
In his article Shraggai additionally quoted the articulate settlement rabbi,
Yair Dreyfus. Maintaining that Israel was committing spiritual apostasy by
making an agreement with the PLO, Rabbi Dreyfus argued further that the
finalization of that agreement would "mark the end of the Jewish- Zionist
era in the sacred history of the land of Israel." Dreyfus, as quoted by
Shraggai, continued:
Historians will record that the Jewish- Zionist era lasted from 1948
to 1993. It ended when most Jews had turned into Canaanites.
Hence, 1993 marks the beginning of the new Canaanite era ... in that
era of sin Jewish political thought, cultural - educational thought
included, will be polluted by a speedy Arabization. The Jewish left
will continue its treacherous practices of dismissing Jews from key
posts and replacing them with Arabs. This will be done in the
government, broadcasting authority, land authority, editorial boards
of newspaper s and boards of university directors. Every important
position will be filled by an Arab.
Although his predictions were not fulfilled after 1993, Rabbi Dreyfus has
remained steadfast in his belief about the new Canaanite era. For him
pollution apparently often resulted when Jews had contact with Gentiles.
Rabbi Dreyfus accused secular Jews of "wanting to create a new Israeli -
Canaanite personality and thus destroying authentic Judaism by blending it
with alien elements." He feared that this new personality would eliminate
Jewish- Zionist motivation. He accused the Meretz Party of blending
Communism into it and by this process polluting Zionism. This blend,
Dreyfus contended, "has begotten the seed for growth of a new Middle
Eastern ethnicity: the Canaanite - Palestinian pseudo - Jews." He concluded:
The true Jews, desirous to live as Jews, will have no choice but to
separate themselves in ghettos. The new, sinful Canaanite -
Palestinian state [Israel after Oslo] will soon be established upon the
ruins of the genuine Jewish- Zionist state. It will not be, as Israel was
expected to become by being true to the word of God, a foundation
of God's throne on earth. God may even make war against this
polluted throne of his. The Jews who lead us into that sin no longer
deserve any divine protection. We must fight those who separated
themselves from the true Israel. They have declared a war against us,
the bearers of the word of God. Our leadership will walk a Via
Dolorosa before it unders tands that we are commanded to resist the
state of Israel, not just its present government. Our cooperation with
its agencies can only be based upon a new covenant. Without it, we
are going to surrender supinely to a government of sin. Instead of
doing so, we shall pursue a merciless struggle against the Canaanite -
Palestinian entity.
By expressing his opinions openly and forcefully, Rabbi Dreyfus both
represented and influenced the thinking of most religious settlers before
and after the Rabin assassination. Notwithstanding the hostility to
Christianity existent in historical Judaism and religious Zionism, the
parallels here to specific Christian theological formulations are
For secular Israeli Jews, the most important NRP and religious settler issue
has revolved around the penetration of young NRP followers into the
combat and elite units of the army and its officer corps. For nearly twentyfive
years after the June 1967 war, this penetration on balance enhanced
the image and importance of the NRP in Israeli society; a kind of
partnership between the NRP and the secular majority emerged. The
initiation of the Oslo process, however, provoked some rethinking by many
secular Jews and raised some tough issues. The Rabin assassination
heightened apprehension of and aroused fears about the NRP's penetration
into the military. All of this occurred because of the strong military
character of Israeli Jewish society. This character developed not only
because Jewish males serve in the military for at least three years,2 but
also because they, after finishing their time of duty, continue serving as
reservists for one month each year until the age of fifty- four. The fact that
about one- half of all Israeli Jewish females serve in the military for at least
two years additionally contributes to the shaping of this character. Those
who serve in the combat and/or elite units or as pilots enjoy tremendous
social prestige when they leave the service and often are able to exert
political influence. The political weakness of religious parties, especially
the NRP, before 1967 was directly related to the relative absence of
religious soldiers in combat and elite units of the army. This situation
changed slowly after 1967. When Gush Emunim appeared in 1975, its lay
leaders and especially its rabbis began educating and inspiring young NRP
followers to adopt the military profession as a religious duty, to join the
combat and elite units of the army and to become officers. Young NRP
followers became dedicated, disciplined and efficient soldiers, ready, if
necessary, to sacrifice their lives for their country. The army high
command and a large segment of the Israeli Jewish population welcomed
this development with positive enthusiasm. The NRP thus earned public
appreciation, just as the kibbutz movement had done previously, because
of the excellent military performances of its young members.
The Oslo process initiated a change in the almost unqualified admiration
of Gush Emunim and the NRP. Fears arose that NRP followers in the army
might refuse to carry out government orders for Israeli withdrawals from
parts of the occupied territories and/or for the removal of one or more
Jewish settlements. The fears expanded following the Rabin assassination.
Even before the assassination, Baruch Kimmerling, in his April 6, 1994
Haaretz article, reflected a bit of the early apprehension and fear. He
discussed the increasing penetration of the Israeli army by religious zealots
and the powerful influence of the religious settlers upon units stationed in
the territories. Kimmerling concluded: "Now it is all important that the
army's command sees to it that every army unit is supervised. Perhaps
those officers and even entire units, which were for too long involved in
negotiations with the religious settlers and in protecting them and which
have in the process developed too much affinity with them, should be
instantly disbanded." Kimmerling regarded his recommenda t ion as only a
stop - gap solution. The army high command did not accept and most of
the attentive public ridiculed the recommendation at that time. Kimmerling
recognized that "in the long range" the problem that had arisen would be
insoluble without a deep change in society. He wrote: "On the one hand, it
is difficult to see how the army, having a significant number of officers
adhering to ideology of religious settlers, could evacuate a Jewish
settlement. On the other hand, I find it difficult to imagine how the Israeli
army could be ideologically purified."
Worth noting here are the two unique schemes devised for young NRP
followers in an organized fashion to serve in and penetrate the combat and
elite units. The first scheme was formulated as an arrangement, not
governed by law, between two independent parties: the Israeli defense
ministry and the rabbinical heads of the NRP's Hesder Yeshivot religious
schools. According to this arrangement, Hesder Yeshivot students receive a
special kind of draft service. They are not inducted into the army in the
normal way and thus do not serve continuously for three years in units
assigned by the army according to its needs. The regular army units almost
always consist of soldiers holding differing religious and secular views. The
Hesder Yeshivot student s instead are inducted into the army as a group
and serve in their own homogeneous companies, accompanied by their
rabbis who are responsible for and watch over the students' "religious
purity." They serve for eighteen months rather than for the full three years.
The eighteen- month period is not continuous but is rather divided into
three six- month periods. After each period of army service, the Hesder
Yeshivot students leave the army for a six- month period of talmudic study
in a yeshiva wherein the presumably negative influences of having met
secular Jewish soldiers are supposedly countered. The Hesder Yeshivot
soldiers continue to serve in reserve units under the usual conditions. The
political pressure exerted by Gush Emunim and the sympathy for its
members felt by army generals in the 1970s were partly responsible for
this special arrangement. The major reason for its continuation, however,
is the excellent military quality and record of Hesder Yeshivot students.
Their performance is far above the average of those in the Israeli army and
their dedication is even greater. Not only the generals but also other
soldiers hold this view. During the three years of the Lebanon War (1982-
85) and in the aftermath of fighting in the "security zone," for example,
Hesder Yeshivot student s continued fighting and winning even after a high
propor tion of Israeli soldiers had been wounded and killed. Soldiers in
Hesder Yeshivot units also distinguished themselves during the
suppression of the Intifada; they were noted for their cruelty to
Palestinians, which was from many perspectives much more severe than
the Israeli army average. The homogeneous composition of Hesder
Yeshivot companies of soldiers is another reason for the continuation of
the special arrangement. When the army commanding officers have wanted
to inflict especially cruel punishment upon Palestinians or others, they
have most often relied upon and used religious soldiers. In more ordinary
companies, consisting of soldiers holding varying political views, some
members might object to illegal cruelty and even inform media people of
its use. In Hesder Yeshivot units the religious soldiers, who are anyway
more cruel than most secular Jews, will not object to the orders.[3]
From 1996, when indications appeared that membership in the Hesder
Yeshivot had stopped increasing and may have begun to decrease, the
religious pre- military academy scheme became the chief means of
organized penetration by NRP suppor ter s into the Israeli army. By this
arrangement the young men, usually eighteen years of age, who enter
religious pre- military academies are given draft deferment s for one or one
and one- half years of study. Afterwards, they serve for three years in
ordinary combat or elite units. This is in contrast to serving, as do Hesder
Yeshivot students, in homogeneous companies or units. The teachers in
these academies are for the most part not rabbis but rather ex- officers
who possess some talmudic knowledge. Only a small amount of the
teaching is devoted to military subjects and training in hiking and
endurance. Most of the teaching and study time is devoted to those parts
of the Talmud and other religious literature that inculcate dedication to
the land of lsrael and to other values favored by Gush Emunim. The ascetic
pre- military academy life is attractive to religious youth who are often in
reaction against the hedonistic life style of secular Israeli youth. Since their
inception the pre- military academies have been situated in settlements in
the Occupied Territories. The army has from the beginning subsidized
these academies to some extent, but the major part of the suppor t money
has come from private donors. Most graduates of these pre- military
academies are well prepared and advance to the officer corps. Persuaded
that the Israeli army is sacred, those who come out of these academies
almost always serve their full three - year terms. Some serve for a much
longer time and become career officers.
After the Rabin assassination, many Israelis began to view the increasing
number of NRP followers in the army as a threat to the government and to
the Israeli regime as a whole. Ran Edelist summarized this concern well in
his September 13, 1996 article in the Hebrew- language newspaper
Yerushalaim, titled "First We Shall Conquer the Supreme Court and Then
the General Staff." The title of this article suggests the desire to penetrate
and conquer the most important institutions of the State of lsrael. In
discussing the general aims of the messianic religious right, of which the
religious settlers are the advance guard, Edelist wrote:
Their institutions have the stamina of a long- distance runner
since they believe in the eternal survival of the Jewish nation; in this
framework they prepared four approaches for the battle of the land
of Israel: settlement s, financial suppor t, education and promotion of
their men in the army to achieve domination of a future General
Staff. This is not a conspiracy but a cool estimate of a national
situation in their struggle for a future image of Israeli society and a
sophisticated use of an opportunistic government, enabling them to
fill their budgets. It is not a case of good and bad but a struggle
about the character of the State of Israel. The religious right wing
uses the legitimate approach of conquering positions of power of
which the General Staff is central. It may be said that since the
inception of Israel the secret slogan of Israeli politicians was "we
shall conquer first the security apparatus and then the Knesset and
government." Ben- Gurion did this when he pushed out Sharett and
Lavon. Golda Meir's slogan was "the party is everything," and since
her time the Labor party has ruled in the General Staff. This rule was
so absolute that Begin and Shamir, during the time that they were
prime ministers, did not succeed in shaking this and forming another
General Staff that would be influenced by their ideology.
Understanding Israeli politics, the religious settlers devised and evolved
their plan of penetrating the army, its officer corps and ultimately the
General Staff. As Edelist wrote:
The religious settlers understood that with the help of only party
politics and their ideology they would not get far and would not
achieve a State of lsrael in the borders promised by God. If they
therefore want to be represented in every place in which the
important decisions are made, especially in the army as a whole and
particularly in the General Staff, they must be represented in such
places. First the aim and then the means to achieve that end were
The Hesder Yeshivot and the religious pre- military academies became
those means.
Other Israeli political observers and commentator s seconded Edelist's
analysis. In his January 24, 1997 Haaretz article, titled "The Army of the
Lord," Yidan Miller, for example, described the views of Dr. Reuven Gal,
who served as the chief psychologist of the Israeli army between 1976 and
1982 and then became the director of the highly respected Karmel Institute
for Military and Social Research. Dr. Gal, according to Miller, summarized
the data about volunteering to serve in combat units from 1994 through
1996 and compared them with corresponding data of 1989. Dr. Gal
reported that whereas 60 per cent of secular youth in 1989 wanted to serve
in combat units, the average for the 1993 to 1996 period dropped to 48 per
cent. Most of that decline occurred in 1995 and 1996. The decline was
greatest in the secular kibbutzim, localities with large leftist majorities.
The drop was from 83 per cent in 1989 to 58 per cent in the 1993 to 1996
period. In comparison, among the religious youth the wish to volunteer to
combat units remained constant at about 80 per cent during the same
time. In religious kibbutzim, the figure went to 90 per cent. Before the Oslo
agreement a large majority of religious youth entering the army considered
a commander's order to be superior to any instruction from a rabbi. This
had changed by 1996. Citing Dr. Gal's summary, Miller wrote: "For a
significant part of them [the religious youth] instruction by a rabbi had an
equal and sometimes superior value than did an order from a commander."
Publication of such findings disturbed many secular Jews. They attempted
to acquire for their youth opportunities for army careers similar to those
afforded religious youth. They advocated the establishment of secular premilitary
academies. During the first two years of the Netanyahu
government, however, when the Oslo process stagnated, the numbers of
secular youth who volunteered to serve in combat units increased to a
point unparalleled since the 1970s. This adversely affected the attempted
penetration into the army of the messianic religious right. Comprising only
6 to 7 per cent of the Israeli Jewish population,4 the messianic religious
right depended for its penetration upon the absence of motivation of other
Jews to serve in combat units.
Following Netanyahu's election in 1996, two factors motivated more Israeli
Jewish youth to volunteer for combat units. The rising level of Arab
hostility to Israel and to its elected government constituted the first factor.
Some Arab leaders issued war threats. Most of Israel's Jewish youth
considered all of this unjustified and responded in the traditional Israeli
manner by advocating increased militarism. The second factor arose from
the perception that Netanyahu 's government was a new coalition of Jewish
minorities, which as never before in the history of the state has allowed
those previously excluded from important social opportuni ties and
advancements to succeed. For the first time in Israeli history the defense
minister and the chief of staff were Oriental Jews. The older, Labor -
sympathizing elite members of the army opposed those appointment s.
This most likely encouraged young Israeli Jewish males who were not from
Ashkenazi Labor - suppor ting families to seek careers as army officers.
Most of these and other such young men previously thought that they
would not be allowed to become career officers. Among the lower - income
class of Israeli Jews an army career with its relatively high salaries is
prestigious as well as economically attractive. Except for computer experts,
doctors and other highly educated specialists, the way to a good career is
to serve in a combat unit.
Ironically, the collapse of the detested Oslo process adversely affected the
religious settlers in their attempt to penetrate the Israeli army and in that
way to achieve a commanding influence over Israeli policies. During most
of the time that the Oslo process continued under the Rabin and Peres
government s, the religious settlers' chances of penetrating the army
increased. The religious settlers' chances of determining specific Israeli
policies decreased after Netanyahu and Likud came to power in 1996.
Perhaps, this development provides us with an example of what is
sometimes the fate of fanaticism: the fanatic group thrives when it
perceives itself to be in danger or threatened by other parts of its own
society. Conversely, when faced by a society that has become unified
against what is believed to be an outside threat, the fanatic group is less
able to penetrate major institutions such as the army and to influence
long- range policy.
Notes to Chapter 5
1. Hardelim is an acronym of two Hebrew words that translated into English are
and "mustardlike."
2. Some religious Jews acquire religious study deferments and are excused from
military service.
3. After the Rabin assassination, Hesder Yeshivot colleagues of the assassin,
Yigal Amir, told members of the press how Amir beat Palestinians in the worst
manner. They did not disguise the fact that all members of their unit beat
Palestinians more than did soldiers in regular units.
4. All NRP members do not adhere to the messianic religious rightwing
Chapter 6
The Real Significance of Baruch Goldstein
The story of the massacre committed by Baruch Goldstein in the Patriarchs'
Cave in Hebron on February 25, 1994, is well known. Goldstein entered the
Muslim prayer hall and shot worshippers mostly in their backs, killing 29,
including children, and wounding many more. In this chapter we shall not
describe that massacre; rather we shall focus upon Goldstein's career prior
to the massacre and upon the reactions of the Israeli government and
fundamentalist Jews to the massacre a short time after it occurred. This
should provide a vivid illustration of Jewish fundamentalism. We shall
extend our discussion of some details until the summer of 1998.
One important background fact about Goldstein exemplifies the influence
of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel: long before the massacre, Goldstein as
an army physician repeatedly breached army discipline by refusing to treat
Arabs, even those serving in the Israeli army. He was not punished, either
while in active or reserve service, for his refusal because of intervention in
his favor. Political commentator s discussed this story in the Hebrew press
even though not a single Israeli politician referred to it. This story deserves
detailed exploration in our analysis of Jewish fundamentalism.
In his March 1, 1994, Yediot Ahronot article, Arych Kizel, a regular Davar
correspondent, wrote that Goldstein, shortly after immigrating to Israel
and as a conscript assigned to an artillery battalion in Lebanon as a doctor,
refused to treat Gentiles. According to Kizel, Goldstein, after refusing to
treat a wounded Arab, declared: "I am not willing to treat any non- Jew. I
recognize as legitimate only two [religious] authorities: Maimonides and
Kahane." Kizel further reported:
Three Druze soldiers who served in Goldstein's battalion
approached their commander and asked for another doctor to be
stationed in their battalion, because they were afraid that Goldstein
would refuse to treat them in case they were wounded. Because of
their request Goldstein was reassigned to another battalion. He
continued to serve as a military doctor both in the conscript army
and in the reserves. After some years he was reassigned to the
regional Hebron brigade of the central command where he thereafter
served his reserve stint. Immediately after receiving this assignment,
he told his commander s that his religious faith would make it
impossible for him to treat wounded or ill Arabs; he asked to be
reassigned elsewhere. His request was granted, and he was
reassigned to a reserve unit serving in South Lebanon.
Amir Oren, who subsequently became the military correspondent of
Haaretz, provided the most complete story of Goldstein's relations with the
Israeli army and the entire Israeli political establishment in his March 4
Davar article. According to Oren, after the 1984 elections and the
subsequent formation of the national unity government, then Defense
Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then Chief of Staff General Moshe Levy learned
about Goldstein's refusal to treat non- Jews in Lebanon. Oren wrote:
When Goldstein's refusal to treat non- Jewish patients became
evident to his commander s, both the artillery corps and medical
corps commander s quite naturally wanted to court - martial him and
thus get rid of him. They took it for granted that this could be easily
done, because Goldstein had graduated only from the army's course
for medical officers. [Goldstein did not have combat officer training,
which is normally a prerequisite for admission to the course for
medical officers.] The two corps [commander s] also knew that
Goldstein, while attending the army's course for medical officers,
had become notorious as an anti - Arab extremist.
According to other Hebrew press reports, some of Goldstein's trainee
colleagues demanded that he be dismissed from the course; their demand
was refused. Oren related: "(Goldstein) was already then protected by
highly placed people in senior ministries. Those patrons requested that
Goldstein be allowed to serve in Kiryat Arba rather than in a combat
battalion." The situation then developed into "a bone of contention
between the commander of the army's medical corps and its chief rabbi."
Oren continued:
In the end the issue of what to do with an officer who openly
refused to obey orders by invoking Halacha has never been resolved,
even if that officer openly refused to provide medical help both to
Israeli soldiers and POWS. Can we avoid being stunned by the army's
failure to court - martial Goldstein? Why was no order to court -
martial him ever issued by the entire chain of the army command?
That chain of command included the commander of the northern
command, Reserve General Orri Or [a Labor MK and later in 1994 the
chairman of the Knesset Committee for Foreign and Defense Affairs],
and General Amos Yaron, who now is the commander of the
manpower department. Why did they refuse to decide without first
consulting the chief rabbi? The already embarrassed medical corps
[commanders] now [after the massacre] admit that they were scared
by publicity that might have propelled the religious parties and
religious settlers' lobbies to make things more of a mess than ever
before. The fear of publicity time after time prompted the army
commander s to give in to all kinds of Goldsteins, rather than to
denounce their views and court - martial them.
Many sources corroborated Oren's hinting that this Goldstein situation did
not constitute a unique case. The story told by Oren revealed the
pervasiveness of the religious parties' influence in the Israeli army. Jewish
orthodoxy's stance against non- Jews, as openly advocated by Goldstein's
idolized leader, Rabbi Meir Kahane, wasand still isan essential position held
by the major religious parties. As such, this stance has had a strong impact
upon the Israeli army. Had Rabin and the army commander s mentioned by
Oren, moreover, felt no affinity whatsoever with Kahane's and Goldstein's
views, they would not have given in to the religious parties with such
abandon and thus sacrificed all consideration of military discipline. Israeli
policies, directed towards Palestinians, other Middle East Arabs (perceived
by Zionists as non- Jews) and people of other nations, are only explainable
by assuming that they are based upon anti - Gentile feeling. The anti -
Gentile feeling is strongest among the most religious Jews but exists as
well in this secular milieu. This is the reason why support for Goldstein in
1984 and 1985 had a sequel in the excuses by many Israeli leaders for the
slaughter. These excuses were thinly disguised by mostly hypocritical
expressions of shock.
Goldstein's refusal to give proper medical treatment to non- Jews
continued after he was transferred to Kiryat Arba. In his February 27,1994
Yediot Ahronot article, Nahum Barnea wrote:
The senior Israeli army officer in the Hebron area told me about
his two encounter s with Baruch Goldstein. The second time he saw
him was in the company of Kach goons who were abusing President
Ezer Weisman during his visit to Kiryat Arba. The first time he
encountered Goldstein was after an Israeli soldier had wounded a
local Arab in his legs. The Arab was brought to an army clinic for
treatment, but Goldstein refused to treat him. Another army
physician had to be summoned to substitute for Goldstein. The
officer did not explain why Goldstein was thereafter not demoted in
rank but was rather allowed to keep performing his duties in the
reserves. Incidentally, his misconduct also constituted a violation of
the oath he had taken upon becoming a doctor, but for this the
Israeli army cannot be blamed.
Barnea made clear that the entire Israeli establishment, not just the army,
was responsible for the leniency granted to Goldstein for his misdeeds. The
leniency lasted until the massacre. Only after the massacre did the official
line change to shock, coupled with assertions that Goldstein had acted
alone. Thus, during the first three hours after the slaughter Rabin and his
retinue insisted either that Goldstein was a psychopath or that he was a
devoted doctor who happened to suffer a momentary derangement. Barnea
reported: "Within hours a whole edifice of rationalization was built,
according to which Goldstein had allegedly been under unbearable mental
pressure, because he had to attend so many wounded and dead [persons],
including Arabs." The men who propagated this lie knew that Goldstein had
refused to treat Arabs. Barnea continued: "Thus, the Arabs were made
guilty for what he could not avoid doing. The implication was that the
Arabs assaulted him rather than the other way around and that he really
acted for the benefit of the Arabs by letting them finally realize that Jewish
blood could not be shed with impunity." This brazen lie was maintained as
long as possible before being abandoned without apology. The propagation
of such a lie reveals the influence of Jewish fundamentalism upon the
secular parts of the Israeli establishment.
Goldstein represented Jewish fundamentalism in the extreme. Some of the
Gush Emunim leaders at the time of the massacre were only a bit less
extreme. Barnea compared Goldstein's attitude toward non- Jews with that
of Rabbi Levinger, the Gush Emunim leader whom he interviewed on the
day of the massacre:
Levinger was in a good mood; after arguing about how religious
settlers should respond to the massacre, he shortly before had won
the three hour debate at a session of the Kiryat Arba municipality.
The secretary of the Council of Judea, Samara and Gaza District, Uri
Ariel, [who became director of the prime minister's office in 1998]
proposed condemning the massacre. Levinger staked his authority
behind the proposal that the [Israeli] government should instead be
condemned [for putting Goldstein] under unbearable mental
pressure [propelling him to action].
In the discussion the terms "murder," "massacre" or "killing" were avoided;
instead the terms used were "deed," "event" or "occurrence." The reason is
that according to the Halacha the killing by a Jew of a non- Jew under any
circums tances is not regarded as murder. It may be prohibited for other
reasons, especially when it causes danger for Jews. In many cases the real
feelings about a Jew murdering non- Jews, expressed in Israel with
impunity, correspond to the law. Levinger told Barnea that the resolution
"expresses in passing" the sorrow about dead Arabs "even though it
emphasizes the responsibility of the government." When asked by Barnea
whether he felt sorry, Levinger answered: "I am sorry not only about dead
Arabs but also about dead flies."
Goldstein on principle had refused to treat non- Jews for many years
before the massacre. He worked as the municipal doctor of Kiryat Arba and
treated Arabs only when he could not avoid doing so. Barnea quoted one of
Goldstein's colleagues from the Kiryat Arba clinic who recalled that
"whenever Goldstein arrived at a traffic accident spot and recognized that
some of the injured were Arabs, he would attend to them but only until
another doctor arrived. Then, he would stop treating them. 'This was his
compromise between his doctor's oath and his ideology,' said his
The Halacha enjoins precisely the behavior of Goldstein's refusing to
attend non- Jews. The Halacha dictates that a pious Jewish doctor may
treat Gentiles when his refusal to do so might be reported to the
authorities and cause him or other Jews unpleasantnes s. There is reason to
believe that whenever doctors as pious as Goldstein were forced to treat
Arabs they behaved as did Goldstein. In his previously cited Yediot
Ahronot article, Arych Kizel added that the Israeli army found that
Goldstein's conduct did not require any disciplinary measures. A Maariv
correspondent wrote in his March 8, 1994 article that Goldstein's military
service record was sufficiently distinguished to earn him a ceremonial
promotion from the rank of captain to that of major. The president of
Israel would have officially awarded this promotion on April 14, 1994,
Israel's independence day. Only Goldstein's death, which occurred at the
time of the massacre, prevented what would have been a revealing
An even greater example ofJewish fundamentalism's influence upon the
secular part of the Israeli establishment can be detected in the official
arrangement of Goldstein's elaborate funeral at a time that the deliberate
character of the massacre could not be denied. The establishment was
affected by the fact, widely reported in the Hebrew press but given little
place in the foreign press, that within two days of the massacre the walls of
religious neighborhoods of west Jerusalem (and to a lesser extent of many
other religious neighborhoods) were covered by posters extolling
Goldstein's virtues and complaining that he did not manage to kill more
Arabs. Children of religious settlers who came to Jerusalem to demonst rate
sported buttons for months after the massacre that were inscribed: "Dr.
Goldstein cured Israel's ills." Numerous concerts of Jewish religious music
and other events often developed into demons t rations of tribute to
Goldstein. The Hebrew press reported these incidents of public tribute in
copious detail. No major politician protested against such celebrations.
President Weizman expressed more extravagantly than others his sorrow
for the massacre. Weizman, as reported by Uzi Benziman in his March 4,
1994 Haaretz article, was also engaged in lengthy and amiable negotiations
with Goldstein's family and Kach comrades concerning a suitably
honorable funeral for the murderer. Kiryat Arba settlers, many of whom
had already declared themselves in favor of the mass murder in radio and
television interviews and had lauded Goldstein as a martyr and holy man,
demanded that General Yatom, the commander responsible for the Hebron
area, allow the funeral cortege to parade through the city of Hebron, in
order to be viewed by the Arabs even though a curfew existed. Yatom did
not object outright to the demand but opposed it as something that could
cause disorder. Tzvi Katzover, the mayor of Kiryat Arba and one of the
most extreme leaders of the religious settlers, telephoned Weizman and
threatened that the settlers would make a pogrom of Arabs if their
demands were not met. Weizman responded by telephoning the chief of
staff and asking why the army opposed the demand of the settlers.
According to Benziman, Chief of Staff Barak answered: "The army was
afraid that Arabs would desecrate Goldstein's tomb and carry away his
corpse." In further negotiations involving Barak, Yatom, Rabin, Kach
leaders and Kiryat Arba settlers, Weizman assumed the consistent position,
as stated by Benziman, that "the army should pay respect to the desires
and sensibilities of the settlers and of the Goldstein family." Ultimately, the
negotiated decision was that a massively attended funeral cortege would
take place in Jerusalem and that the police would close some of the busiest
streets to the traffic in Goldstein's honor. Afterwards, the murderer would
be buried in Kiryat Arba along the continuation of Kahane Avenue.
According to Benziman, Kach leaders at first rejected this compromise.
General Yatom had to approach the Kach leaders in person and beg them
abjectly for their agreement, which he finally secured. Yatom also had to
obtain consent from the notorious Kiryat Arba rabbi, Dov Lior. As reported
in the March 4, 1994, issue of Yerushalaim Lior declared: "Since Goldstein
did what he did in God's own name, he is to be regarded as a righteous
man." Benziman explained the conduct of Weizman and his entourage: "
After the fact the officials of the presidential mansion justify those goings
on by the need to becalm the settlers' mood." After the funeral the army
provided a guard of honor for Goldstein's tomb. The tomb became a
pilgrimage site, not only for the religious settlers but also for delegations
of pious Jews from all Israeli cities.
The details of Goldstein's funeral as arranged through the office of
President Weizman are significant. The facts below were taken mostly from
the Ilana Baum and Tzvi Singer report, published in Yediot Ahronot on
February, 28 1994. The funeral's first installment took place in Jerusalem.
Among the estimated thousand mourners only a few were settlers from
Kiryat Arba. Baum and Singer noted: "Without having met Goldstein
personally, other mourners most of whom were Jerusalemites, were
enthusias tic admirers of his deed. Many more were Yeshiva student s. A
large group represented the Chabad Hassidic movement, another group
[consisted of anti - Zionist] Satmar Hassids." Other Hassidic movements
were also well represented. (Not mentioned in the English- language press,
Goldstein, a follower of Kahane, was also a follower of the Lubovitcher
rabbi.) Baum and Singer continued:
People awaiting the arrival of the corpse could be heard repeating:
"What a hero! A righteous person! He did it on behalf of all of us." As
usual in such encounters between religious Jews, all the participants
tuned into a single, collective personality, united by their burning
hatred of the Israeli media, the wicked Israeli government and, above
all else, of anyone who dared to speak against the murder.
Before the start of the procession well- known rabbis eulogized Goldstein
and commended the murder. Rabbi Israel Ariel, for example, said: "The
holy martyr, Baruch Goldstein, is from now on our intercessor in heaven.
Goldstein did not act as an individual; he heard the cry of the land of
Israel, which is being stolen from us day after day by the Muslims. He acted
to relieve that cry of the land!" Toward the end of his eulogy Rabbi Ariel
added: "The Jews will inherit the land not by any peace agreement but only
by shedding blood." Ben- Shoshan Yeshu'a, a Jewish underground member,
sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and amnestied after a few years
spent under luxurious hotel conditions, lauded Goldstein and praised his
action as an example for other Jews to follow.
Border guards, police and the secret police protected the funeral cortege.
Baum and Singer related:
An entire unit of border guards precede the cortege; they were
followed by young Kahane group members from Jerusalem who
continuously yelled: "death to the Arabs." While obviously intending
to find an Arab to kill, they could not spot one. Suddenly, a border
guard noticed an Arab approaching the cortege behind a low fence.
The border guard immediately jumped over the fence, stopped the
Arab and, using force, led him away to safety before anyone could
notice. He [the border guard] thus saved him [the Arab] from a
certain lynching.
Behind the young Kahane group members was a coffin, which was
surrounded by leaders of Kahane splinter groups, some of whom were
wanted by the police. (The police and the secret police claimed later that
they did not recognize these wanted leaders. The press correspondent s
easily recognized them.) Baum wrote:
Tiran Pollak, a Kahane group leader wanted by the police, granted
me an interview near the coffin. "Goldstein was not only righteous
and holy," he told me, "but also a martyr. Since he is a martyr, his
corpse will be buried without being washed, not in a shroud but in
his clothes. The honorable Dr. Goldstein has always refused to
provide medical help to Arabs. Even during the war for Galilee he
refused to treat any Arab, including those serving in the army.
General Gad Navon, the chief rabbi of the Israeli army, at that time
contacted Meir Kahane to ask him to persuade Baruch Goldstein of
blessed memory to treat the Arabs. Kahane, however, refused to do
so, because this would be against the Jewish religion." Suddenly the
crowd began yelling: "Death to the journalists." I looked around and
realized that I was the only journalist inside the crowd of mourners.
I clung to Tiran Pollak and begged him to "please protect me." I was
scared to death that the crowd might recognize me as a journalist.
Military guards transpor ted Goldstein's coffin to Kiryat Arba through
Palestinian villages. A second round of eulogies was delivered in the hall of
the Hesder Yeshiva Nir military institution by a motley of religious settlers,
including the aforementioned Rabbi Dov Lior. Lior said: "Goldstein was full
of love for fellow human beings. He dedicated himself to helping others."
The terms "human beings" and "others" in the Halacha refer solely to Jews.
Lior continued: "Goldstein could not continue to bear the humiliations and
shame nowadays inflicted upon us; this was why he took action for no
other reason than to sanctify the holy name of God."
Tohay Hakah reported in Yerushalaim on March 4,1994 upon another Lior
eulogy of Goldstein a few days after the funeral. He recalled that Lior
several years ago was excoriated in the press for recommending that
medical experiments be performed on the live bodies of Arab terrorists.
The outcry against this recommendation influenced the attorney general to
prevent the otherwise guaranteed election of Lior to the Supreme
Rabbinical Council of Israel. The attorney general, however, did not
interfere with Lior's current rabbinical duties. The press reported upon
other eulogies, delivered not only in religious settlements but in religious
neighborhoods of many Israeli towns during the days immediately
following the slaughter. The Hebrew press reportage of these eulogies
suggests that the most virulent lauding of Goldstein and the calling for
further massacres of Arabs occurred in the more homogeneous religious
The approval of Goldstein and his mass murder extended well beyond the
perimeters of the religious Jewish communi ty. Secular Israeli Jews,
especially many of the youth, praised Goldstein and his deed. That Israeli
youth were even more pleased by the massacre than were the adults is
well- documented. The concern here nevertheless will be with the adult
population, which in many ways is the most significant. According to Yuval
Katz, who wrote an article published in the March 4, 1994 issue of
Yerushalaim, it is not true that "with the exception of a few psychopaths,
the entire nation and its politicians included, has resolutely condemned Dr.
Goldstein, even though, luckily for us, all major television networks in the
world were last week still deluded by this untruth." Katz told how a
popular television entertainer, Rafi Reshef, who was not controlled as
tightly as the moderator s in sedate panels, "could this week announce the
findings of some reliable polls." Katz continued:
It is important that according to one poll about 50 per cent of
Kiryat Arba inhabitants approve of the massacre. More important is
another poll that showed that about 50 per cent of Israeli Jews are
more sympathetic toward the settlers after the massacre than they
were before the massacre. The most important poll established that
at least 50 per cent of Israeli Jews would approve of the massacre,
provided that it was not referred to as a massacre but rather as a
"Patriarch's Cave operation," a nice- sounding term already being
used by religious settlers.
Katz reported that the politicians and academics interviewed by Reshef
failed to grasp the significance of those findings. Attributing them to a
chance occurrence, they refused to comment upon them. He tended to
excuse them:
I presume that those busy public figures, along with everybody
else who this week exerted himself to speak in the name of the entire
nation simply did not have time to walk the streets in the last days.
Yet, with the exception of the wealthiest neighborhoods, people
could be seen smiling merrily when talking about the massacre. The
stock popular comment was: "Sure, Goldstein is to be blamed. He
could have escaped with ease and have done the same in four other
mosques, but he didn't."
The impression of many other Israelis corresponded to the Reshef findings.
People were rather evenly divided into two categories: in one category the
people were vociferous in cheering the slaughter; in the other category the
people mostly remained silent and condemned the massacre only if
encouraged to do so. Katz continued:
Therefore, this was the right time to draw finally the obvious
conclusion that we, the Jews, are not any more sensitive or merciful
than are the Gentiles. Many Jews have been programmed by the same
racist computer program that is shaping the majority of the world's
nations. We have to acknowledge that our supposed advancement in
progressive beliefs and democracy have failed to affect the archaic
forms of Jewish tribalism. Those who still delude themselves that
Jews might be different than [people of] other nations should now
know better. The spree of bullets from Goldstein's gun was for them
an occasion to learn something.
The wise comment s of Katz were not heeded in Israel except by a minority.
It may be that had more Israeli Jews paid attention and heeded the words
of Katz the murder of Yitzhak Rabin would have been averted. In the view
of this book's authors, the important difference between the real shock
caused by Rabin's murder and the lack of shock caused by Goldstein's
massacre lies in the fact that Goldstein's victims were non- Jews.
Although less direct than Katz, many other commentator s in the Israeli
Hebrew press have focused upon that part of the Israeli Jewish public who
were shocked by the rejoicing over the massacre of innocent people and
disturbed by the apologia offered by many politicians and public figures.
Some of those people who were shocked described the backers of and
apologists for Goldstein as "Nazis" or "Nazi- like." These same people, who
can be considered moderate hawks rather than Zionist doves, had before
the massacre reacted negatively to the use by a few Israeli Jewish critics of
such terminology in describing a part of the Israeli Jewish population.
These "moderate hawks" had habitually labelled many Arab organizations,
such as the Abu Nidal group and the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine, "Nazi" or "Nazi - like." They did not repudiate their views about
these Arab organizations; they merely concluded that some Jewish
individuals and organizations also merit being so labelled on equal terms
with some Arabs. The prestigious journalist, Teddy Preuss, reflected upon
all of this in a most severe but substantially representative manner in his
March 4, 1994 Davar article:
Compared to the giant - scale mass murderers of Auschwitz,
Goldstein was certainly a petty murderer. His recorded statement s
and those of his comrades, however, prove that they were perfectly
willing to exterminate at least two million Palestinians at an
opportune moment. This makes Dr Goldstein comparable to Dr
Mengele; the same holds true for anyone saying that he [or she]
would welcome more of such Purim holiday celebrations. [The
massacre occurred on that holiday.] Let us not devalue Goldstein by
comparing him with an inquisitor or a Muslim Jihad fighter.
Whenever an infidel was ready to convert to either Christianity or
Islam, an inquisitor or Muslim Jihad fighter would, as a rule, spare
his life. Goldstein and his admirers are not interested in converting
Arabs to Judaism. As their statements abundantly testify, they see
the Arabs as nothing more than disease - spreading rats, lice or other
loathsome creatures; this is exactly how the Nazis believed that the
Aryan race alone had laudable qualities that were inheritable but that
could become polluted by sheer contact with dirty and morbid Jews.
Kahane, who learned nothing from the Nuremberg Laws, had exactly
the same notions about the Arabs.
Really, Kahane had the same notions about non- Jews. Although less
scathing than Preuss, other Israeli commentator s suggested the same
In contrast to the above criticism were the even more numerous comment s
about the harm caused to Israeli Jews by the Goldstein massacre. The
lament in the February 28, 1994 Haaretz Economic Supplement, for
example, was headlined: "Goldstein's massacre caused distress on the Tel-
Aviv stock market." Other papers voiced similar sentiments. More
importantly, Shimon Peres and other senior dovish politicians presented a
typical political apologia in their criticism of the massacre, which they
delivered in a meeting of the Knesset Committee for Foreign and Defense
Affairs. Specific detail of this meeting is included below to illustrate the
real opinions of most Israeli politicians and their general disregard of a
major massacre of non- Jews except as it affected the interests of Israel
and its allies. A March 8, 1994 Haaretz article reported the discussion at
this meeting. Peres wasted no time expressing heartfelt shock about the
murdered Palestinians but spoke instead about the harm to Israel caused
by the "pictures of corpses that the entire world could watch." Peres did
not condemn the armed religious settlers for their public rejoicing and
shooting; he deplored the harm caused to Israel and to themselves by the
pictures of them. As quoted in Haaretz, Peres added: "The events in Hebron
also adversely affected the interests of President Mubarak and King
Hussein, and even more of the PLO and its leadership." Peres then went on
to say: "We have had Jewish Kibbutzim located in the midst of Arab
inhabited areas for 80 years, and I cannot recall a single instance of such a
slaughter nor of firing at Arab buses nor of maiming Arab mayors." At this
point in the discussion senior Likud politicians interpolated Peres. As
reported in Haaretz:
The first to interrupt Peres' speech was Sharon. "Kibbutzim are dear to
me no less than to you, but there have been many cases when somebody
from a kibbutz would go out to murder Arabs." Peres answered: "The two
cases are not comparable, because in the case under discussion the
murderer was suppor ted by a whole group of followers." Benny Begin
[answered]: "Why are you always talking in generalities?" Peres
[responded] : "I am not. I only maintain that in order to pursue the peace
process we need the PLO as a partner, and now this partnership is in straits
and we need to help the PLO." Sharon [answered]: "You mean that we
should help that murderer [Arafat]." Peres, angrily banging the table
[responded]: "And what about Egyptians with whom you, Likud, made
peace? Didn't Egyptians murder Jews? Really. What's the difference
between war and terrorism? Does it make any difference how 16,000 of our
soldiers were killed? Everywhere, states are making deals with terror
organizations." Netanyahu [spoke]: "No state exists that has made a deal
with an organization still committed to its destruction. The PLO has not
rescinded the Palestinian Covenant. You are dwelling upon the crime
committed in Hebron not in order to reassure people [Jews] living there but
in order to advance your plan to establish a Palestinian state." Peres
[answered]: "It is you and your plans that will lead to the formation of a
Palestinian state, because it is you, the Likud, that created the PLO in
Madrid. It is you who conceived the autonomy in the first place, contrary to
all our [previously pursued] aims." Netanyahu [stated]: "Autonomy is not
the same thing as state." Peres [continued]: "But it is Sharon who is first to
say that autonomy is bound to lead to a Palestinian state... I am not less
steadfas t than are you; this is why I have elaborated the most restrictive
possible interpretation of autonomy in Oslo, in relation to its territory,
power and authorities. This is why we are against international observers
and consent only to the temporary presence of representatives from the
countries contributing money. And regarding the Palestinian Covenant,
they have renounced it publicly, but they find it difficult to convene their
representative bodies to ratify this renunciation." Begin [answered]: "Let me
remind you that the PLO has not undertaken publicly to rescind the
Palestinian Covenant." Peres [answered] : "I don't give a damn about you
and/or your legalistic verbiage! Arafat said that he renounced the
Palestinian Covenant and for me Arafat is the PLO."
The above passage shows, among other things, that knowledge of Israeli
politics and more generally Jewish affairs can be best attained by using the
original sources of what Jews say among themselves.
The continuing process of Goldstein's elevation to the rank of saint by
groups of Israeli Jews and his worship as such began soon after the
massacre. In his February 28, 1994 Haaretz article, Shmnuel Rosner
recounted a sermon delivered on the Sabbath after the massacre by Rabbi
Goren, the former chief military rabbi and chief rabbi of Israel. Rosner
wrote: "Goren's conclusion was that next time an authorization would be
needed for a massacre. The authorization should come from the
community 'not from the [present] illegal government."' Rosner observed
that the audience liked Goren's sermon but would have preferred, as would
numerous other Israeli Jews, that the army rather than Goldstein had
committed the massacre.
In the days and weeks after the massacre, appreciation of Goldstein and his
deed spread throughout the Israeli religious communi ty and among its
suppor ters in the United States. The initial expressions of that appreciation
may be most significant, because they were spontaneous and because they
illustrated the influence, even beyond the messianic communi ty, of an
ideology that approved indiscriminate killing of Gentiles by Jews. Avirama
Golan described in her February 28, 1994 Haaretz article how news about
Goldstein on the day of the massacre became known in the overwhelmingly
Haredi city of Bnei Brak and how the next day a religious Jewish crowd
reacted with praise of Goldstein during a mass entertainment event. The
massacre occurred on Purim, the festival during which religious Jews are
merry and sometimes drink alcoholic beverages to the point of
drunkenness. Bnei Brak streets were filled to capacity by joyful celebrants
that day; a special security force, comprised of religious veterans of the
Israeli army's elite units, had been hired by the mayor to enforce order and
modesty. Golan described the response in the streets to the spreading news
of the massacre:
A hired security guard, with a huge gun in his belt, a black
skullcap on his head, and special insignia of "Bnei Brak Security
Team " on his chest, stared at a fundraising stall. Then he noticed his
pal across the street. "A Purim miracle, I'm telling you, Purim
miracle," he shouted at the top of his voice. "That holy man did
something great. 52 Arabs at one stroke." However, the fundraiser, a
slim yeshiva student, was skeptical. "That's just impossible," he said.
"Those must be just stories." But the people standing around
confirmed the news. "It was on the radio," they said. "Where?" "In the
Patriarchs' Cave in Hebron." The yeshiva student turned pale. "I don't
mind the Arabs, but it is us who will pay the price," he said. "What
are you talking about?" the security guard shouted, "It's a Purim
miracle. God has helped." People around the stall formed two groups:
on the one hand those who said that God Himself ordained a welldeserved
punishment of the Arabs; on the other, those who remained
silent throughout. The fundraiser went on writing receipts and
shaking his head. "Oh," he said, "nothing really happened." The Bnei
Brak functionary's wife said that dozens of visitors who, as is
customary on Purim, visited their home that morning, were shocked.
"By the murder?" somebody asked. "To tell you the truth, not exactly
by the murder. About what may now happen to the Jews."
Jumping to the evening of the next day, Golan continued: "Masses of
religious Jews were expected to come to Yad Eliahu Stadium [the biggest in
Israel] to be entertained by the famous religious jazz singer, Mordechai
Ben- David. For months before the massacre, this evening had been planned
as a demons tration intended to save the land of Israel from Rabin, Peres
and other Jewish infidels." All factions of the religious communi ty were
represented in the crowd. Golan again continued:
The first part of the evening passed quietly and even rather dully.
Only after the intermission, some minutes before the star of the
evening was to appear, the crowd went on a rampage. The master of
the ceremony called upon a Kiryat Arba resident to address the
crowd. He started by praising that "righteous and holy physician, Dr.
Goldstein, who rendered us a sacred service and got martyred in the
process." The speaker called upon the audience to mourn him. By
and large, the audience remained silent. Some applauded. Only a
single individual, wearing a small beard and a knitted skullcap, stood
up and yelled: "I disagree; that was a cold- blooded murder!" Instantly
he was physically assaulted. Many in the crowd yelled: "Kick the
infidel out of the hall!" The tempers calmed down only when Ben-
David finally appeared on the stage and began singing. Outside after
the performance some people reminisced that more Gentiles had
been killed by the Jews in Susa during the original Purim [75,000].
They, therefore, reasoned that this was the right time to kill a
comparable number of Gentiles in the holy land.
No wonder that Dov Halvertal, a member of the almost defunct faction of
the NRP doves, told Golan: "This Purim joy epitomizes the moral collapse
of religious Zionism... If religious Zionism does not undertake soul -
searching right now, I doubt if it will ever have another opportunity."
Subsequent developments showed that neither the religious Zionists nor
other factions within the Jewish religious community were or are in any
mood to engage in soul - searching. On the contrary, the appreciation of
Goldstein and the feeling that Jews have a right and duty to kill Gentiles
who live in the land of Israel are growing. In his March 23, 1994 Haaretz
article, Nadav Shraggai discussed the visit of a delegation of all Israeli
branches of the Bnei Akiva, the large youth movement affiliated with the
NRP, to Kiryat Arba and Hebron, which was then under a curfew selectively
applied to its Arab inhabitants. The purpose of this visit was to "encourage
Jewish settlers." Yossi Leibowitz, a settler leader from Hebron, as described
by Shraggai, "beaming with satisfaction visible in his face asked the
delegation: 'Have you already visited the tomb of holy Rabbi Doctor
Goldstein?'" The visitors rejected the suggestion but did not utter one word
of rebuke to the worshippers of the new saint. They then had to withstand
a flurry of abuse from their local Bnei Akiva comrades who argued that
their refusal to pay homage to Goldstein amounted to suppor t of the left.
Local rabbis affiliated with the NRP seconded the denunciation. Rabbi
Shimon Ben- Zion, a senior teacher in the local Hesder Yeshiva and hence a
state employee, delivered a eulogy of Goldstein and of what he called "his
act." He added: "[If the government] keeps bowing low to Arabs, all of
whom are murderers, [and if] the Jews fail to establish a firm rule over the
land of Israel [there will be] more Goldsteins." Most visitors made counter -
arguments; they were nevertheless influenced by their hosts' argument s;
they came to believe that their duty to suppor t the Jewish settlers in
Hebron was more important than any minor disagreement s about
Goldstein's sainthood.
Gabby Baron reported in the March 16, 1994 Yediot Ahronot:
Deputy Minister of Education Mikha Goldman was physically
assaulted yesterday after delivering a welcoming speech at a meeting
of Jerusalem's district teachers in the Binyaney Ha'umah hall in that
city. He managed to avoid being hurt. His speech infuriated dozens
of religious teachers, because he talked about his visit to Kiryat Arba
and the shock he experienced when finding how enthused the
religious school children were by the massacre in the Cave of the
Patriarchs. A virtual riot erupted in the hall, which was filled by
about 5000 Jerusalem district teachers, as soon as he spoke about it.
Dozens of religious teachers jumped onto the podium. A female
teacher who managed to reach it [the podium] picked up a flowerpot
from the speaker's table; she was ready to hurl it at him when at the
last moment she balked. All the religious teachers assembled in rage
in front of the podium and decried the deputy minister as "a fascist."
Goldman insisted upon continuing his speech. When he ended, he
had to leave the building under heavy guard, thanks to which the
pursuing teachers were unable to injure him.
Neither Education Minister Arnnon Rubinstein nor Prime Minister Rabin
uttered a single word in condemnation of the incident.
On April 5, 1994, Israeli radio reported that Rabbi Shimon Ben- Zion had
distributed a leaflet among the Kiryat Arba and Hebron settlers requesting
financial contributions for a book about "Saint Baruch Goldstein." On April
6, Yediot Ahronot published the text. The book refers to Goldstein as
"Rabbi Doctor Baruch Goldstein of blessed memory, let the Lord avenge his
blood." The Kiryat Arba municipal council backed the ideas of Ben- Zion. In
his April 5, 1994 Haaretz article, Arnnon Barzilay reported that two days
earlier Gush Emunim leaders, including Mayor Benny Katzover, had an
amicable talk with Prime Minister Rabin who apologized to them for his
past outburs t s against them and promised never to repeat them. (The
outburs ts anyway were intended for consumpt ion of the Israeli "doves,"
Arafat and the Western media.) The two sides agreed to cooperate closely
in the future. Thus, Rabin unders tandably found it ill- advised to say
anything about Rabbi Ben- Zion's idea.
About one year later the Kiryat Arba municipality obtained a permit from
the Civil Administration of the Occupied Territories to build a large and
sumptuous memorial on Goldstein's tomb, which has become a place of
pilgrimage. Thousands of Jews from all Israeli cities, and even more from
the United States and France, have come to light candles and pray for the
intercession of "holy saint and martyr," now in a special section of paradise
close to God and able to obtain for them various benefits, such as cures for
diseases from which they suffer, or to grant them male offspring. The
visitors have donated money for Goldstein's comrades. No Orthodox rabbi
has criticized this.
The well- publicized worship of the new saint has brought increasing
opposition from secular Jews. (The opposition of Palestinians, especially
those living in Hebron, to the hero- worship of Goldstein and to the
monument to this mass murderer are not within the scope of this book but
should be obvious.) After a long campaign in the press, Knesset members
passed a piece of legislation in May, 1998, that prohibited the building of
monument s for mass murderers and ordering removal of existing ones.
The Israeli army should have removed the monument immediately after
passage of the law in the Knesset. Instead army spokesmen announced that
negotiations over the Goldstein monument were on- going with Goldstein's
family and local rabbis.
The book in praise of Goldstein, titled Blessed the Male, was published in
1995 and sold in many editions. Most of the readers were from the
religious public. The book contained eulogies of Goldstein and halachic
justifications for the right of every Jew to kill non- Jews. Rabbi Yitzhak
Ginsburgh, the then head of the Kever Yosef (tomb of Joseph) Yeshiva,
located on the outskirts of Nablus, wrote one chapter of that book. The
essence of Rabbi Ginsburgh's views were presented in Chapter 4. His and
other such ideologies, even if expressed more cautiously, explain
Goldstein's massacre, the considerable suppor t Goldstein and later his
followers have received from religious Jews and the ambiguous attitude of
Israeli government s to this crime. Those people, especially Germans, who
were silent and did not condemn Nazi ideology before Hitler came to
power are also, at least in a moral sense, guilty for the terrible
consequences that followed. Similarly, those who are silent and do not
condemn Jewish Nazism, as exemplified by the ideologies of Goldstein and
Ginsburgh, especially if they are Jews, are guilty of the terrible
consequences that may yet develop as a result of their silence.
Chapter 7
The Religious Background of Rabin's Assassination
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered for religious reasons. The
murderer and his sympathizer s were and still are convinced that the killing
was dictated by God and was therefore a commandment of Judaism.
Comprehensive surveys, published in the Hebrew press, of people in
religious neighborhoods and especially religious settlements indicated
great sympathy for the murder. The polarization of approval and
disapproval in the Israeli Jewish communi ty over the killing of the prime
minister of the Jewish state has increased since the time of the murder.
Many Israeli Jews, significant numbers of Jews living outside Israel and
most non- Jews do not possess sufficient knowledge of Jewish history and
religion to put this kind of an assassination into its proper context. In this
chapter we shall attempt to provide the historical - religious background
necessary for an understanding of the Rabin assassination.
Jewish history has been replete with religious civil wars or rebellions
accompanied by civil wars in which horrifying assassinations were
committed. The Great Rebellion (AD 66- 73) of Jews against the Romans
that culminated in the destruction of the Second Temple and in mass
suicide in Masada is exemplary. The defenders of Masada were, as many
present - day visitors to the Masada site are seemingly unaware, a band of
assassins called Sikarikin, a name taken from the word for a short sword
that group members hid under their robes and used to kill their Jewish
opponent s in crowds of people. In the Talmud the word means terrorists
or robbers and is applied only to Jews. Neither Masada nor this particular
group are mentioned in the Talmud or in any part of the traditional writing
preserved by Jews. Actually the Sikarikin were an ancient Jewish analogue
to modern - day terrorists. Their suicide activity resembled the terrorist
behavior of the suicide bombers who are so abhorred in the state of Israel.
The Sikarikin escaped to Masada not from the Romans but from their
Jewish brethren. Shortly after the rebellion against the Romans began, the
Roman army that was advancing to Jerusalem was initially defeated and
had to withdraw. The Sikarikin attempted forcefully to establish their
leader, Menahem, as absolute king. The Jews of Jerusalem then attacked
and defeated the Sikarikin in the temple itself, killing most of them
including Menahem. The remaining Sikarikin escaped to Masada where they
stayed during the rebellion; they did not fight the Romans but instead
robbed neighboring Jewish villages. Three years after the Sikarikin defeat,
the Roman army, commanded by Titus, approached Jerusalem for the final
onslaught. (Titus' chief of staff, Tiberius Julius Alexander, was a Jew, the
nephew of the great philosopher, Philo.) Jerusalem was divided into three
parts; each part was under the command of a different leader; the leaders
had already been fighting with one another for two years. The Roman
Empire at that time was then concerned about a civil war. One of the
leaders, Eliezer the Priest, commanded the Temple and used it as his
stronghold. On Passover eve in the year AD 70, another rebel leader,
Yohanan of Gush Halav, utilized brilliant strategy to overcome Eliezer. He
dressed his soldiers as pious pilgrims who seemed to be coming to the
temple for the Passover sacrifice. After being admitted to the temple by the
gullible Eliezer without a body search, they, after guessing correctly that
Eliezer and his men would not carry arms in a place so holy, pulled out
their swords and slaughtered all their opponent s. The well- known Masada
terrorists became Jewish and Israeli national heroes, as did the Jerusalem
Jews who killed most of the Sikarikin. Yohanan of Gush Halav also became
a national hero, but Eliezer the Priest, perhaps because he was killed by
Jews, was completely forgotten. In these and in many similar incidents in
Jewish history, killing was allegedly committed for the greater glory of God.
Yigal Amir, Rabin's assassin, made such an allegation.
The violence between Jews did not end with the loss of Jewish
independence and the ceasing of Jewish rebellions. (The last Jewish
rebellion occurred in AD 614.) From the Middle Ages until the advent of the
modern state, Jewish communi ties enjoyed a great degree of autonomy.
The rabbis who headed and had the authority in these communities were
most often able to persecute Jews mercilessly. The rabbis persecuted Jews
who committed religious sins and even more harshly persecuted Jews who
informed upon other Jews to non- Jews or in other ways harmed Jewish
interests. The rabbis generally tolerated violence commit ted by some Jews
against other Jews, especially against women, so long as the Jewish religion
and their own interests were not harmed. The relevancy of this aspect of
Jewish history to the Rabin murder is obvious. The assassin, Yigal Amir, is
a talmudic scholar who was trained in a yeshiva that inculcated its
student s to believe that this violence committed by rabbis over a lengthy
time period was in accordance with God's word.
Long before Rabin's assassination, scholarly studies of Jewish history,
written in Hebrew, recorded the violence mentioned above. The
assassination aroused so much public interest in this topic that the Hebrew
press published numerous articles either written by or resulting from
interviews with distinguished Israeli scholars. Rami Rosen's November 15,
1996 Haaretz Magazine article, titled "History of a Denial," is an excellent
and representative example. Although Rosen interviewed several
distinguished historians, he relied primarily upon the views of Professor
Yisrael Bartal, the head of the department of Jewish history at the Hebrew
University in Jerusalem. Bartal began his statement:
Zionism has described the diaspora Jews as weak people who
desire peace and abhor every form of violence. It is astonishing to
discover that orthodox Jews are also providing similar descriptions.
They describe past Jewish society as one not interested in anything
other than the Halacha and the fulfillment of the commandment s.
The entire Jewish literature produced in eastern Europe, however,
teaches us that the reverse is true. Even in the nineteenth century the
descriptions of how Jews lived are filled with violent battles that
often took place in the synagogues, of Jews beating other Jews in the
streets or spitting on them, of the frequent cases of pulling out of
beards and of numbers of murders.
Citing the authorities interviewed, Rosen explained that many murders
were committed for religious reasons. It was usual in some Hassidic circles
until the last quarter of the nineteenth century to attack and often to
murder Jews who had reform religious tendencies, even if small ones.
These Hassidic Jews also attacked one another because of frequent
quarrels between different holy rabbis over spheres of influence, money
and prestige. After having learned the opinions of the best Israeli scholars,
Rosen asked:
Were Yigal Amir, Baruch Goldstein, Yonah Avrushmi [who threw a
hand grenade into a Peace Now demons t ration, killing one and
wounding a few people] and Ami Poper [who killed seven innocent
Palestinian workers and was adopted as a great hero by extremists]
parts of the Jewish tradition? Is it only by chance that Baruch
Goldstein massacred his victims on the Purim holiday?
Rosen answered his own question:
A check of main facts of the [Jewish] historiography of the last
1500 years shows that the picture is different from the one
previously shown to us. It includes massacres of Christians [by Jews];
mock repetitions of the crucifixion of Jesus that usually took place
on Purim; cruel murders within the family; liquidation of informers,
often done for religious reasons by secret rabbinical courts, which
issued a sentence of "pursuer" and appointed secret executioners;
assassinations of adulterous women in synagogues and/or the
cutting of their [the women's] noses by command of the rabbis.
Rosen included in his long article many well- documented cases of
massacres of Christians and mock repetitions of the crucifixion of Jesus on
Purim, most of which occurred either in the late ancient period or in the
Middle Ages. (Some isolated cases occurred in sixteenth - century Poland.)
From the eleventh century until the nineteenth century, Ashkenazi Jews
were more violent and fanatical than were the Oriental Jews, although the
fanaticism of the Spanish Jews during both Muslim and Christian rule was
exceptional. Jewish historians have not yet determined the causes of those
differences. The influence of Christian fanaticism on the Jews may have
been a cause. The Jews who lived in Spain may have been influenced by the
fact that Muslim Spain was more fanatical than the rest of the Muslim
The violence perpetrated against women for centuries and other aspects of
internal group violence influenced the developing character of traditional
Jewish society. This character set the contextual framework for Rabin's
assassination. Citing a few case examples here may further understanding
of this character. Rabbi Simha Asars book, The Punishment s After the
Talmud Was Finalized: Materials for the History of Hebrew Law Jerusalem,
1922) is a marvelous source of information. Rabbi Asaf, who subsequently
became a professor at the Hebrew University and in 1948 was one of the
first nine judges of the Israeli Supreme Court, was a distinguished scholar
and a religious Jew. Convinced that a Jewish state would be established, he
wrote his book in order to show that a sufficient number of legal cases
existed in the history of punishment s inflicted by Jewish religious courts to
provide precedents.
Although some variances in halachic interpretation and in practice existed,
violence against women, as defined in any reasonable and modern way, was
routinely practiced for centuries in most Jewish communi ties. Some rabbis
allowed the Jewish husband to beat his wife when she disobeyed him.
Other rabbis limited this "right" by requiring that, prior to the beating, a
rabbinical court, after considering the husband's complaint, had to issue an
order. Presumably as an extension of this husband's right, rabbinical courts
in Spain ordered the cruellest punishment for Jewish women suspected of
fornication, prostitution and adultery and a much lighter punishment for
Jewish male fornicators. In the early fourteenth century a local Jewish
notable asked the famous Spanish rabbi, Rabenu1 Asher, whether it was
correct punishment to cut the nose of a Jewish widow, made pregnant by a
Muslim. The notable added that, although the evidence itself was not
conclusive, the pregnancy was well- known in the city. Rabenu Asher
answered: "You have decided beautifully to cut her nose in order that those
committing adultery with her will find her ugly, but let this be done
suddenly so that she will not become an apostate [before her nose is cut]"
(Asaf, p. 69). In a case wherein a male fornicated with Muslim women,
Rabbi Yehuda, the son of Rabenu Asher, ordered only excommunication or
imprisonment (Asaf, p. 78). This same punishment was prescribed when
male Jews owned a Muslim female slave with whom other male Jews
fornicated. The rabbis regarded the commission of adultery of Jewish
women with Jewish men as less serious. In such a case one rabbi ordered
that the woman's hair be shorn and that she be officially excommunicated
in the synagogue in the presence of other women (Asaf, p. 87). The
Sephardic Jews of Jerusalem sheared women's hair as punishment for such
sexual sins still in the nineteenth century. In some recorded cases the
punishment was based upon the belief that the sexual sins of Jews,
especially those committed by women, prevented rain from falling. The
rabbis supposed that the rain would fall if Jewish women sinners were
punished. Enlightened Hebrew press commentator s at the time humorously
noted that the rain did not fall even after women had been punished. In
places where more modern attitudes prevailed, however, Spanish and
Portuguese Jews desisted from these ancestral customs. Asaf quotes the
elders of the Portuguese Jewish communi ty in Hamburg in the late
seventeenth century who, although having publicly accused members of
their communi ty of having intimate relations with non- Jewish women,
expressed their regret that they could not punish them. Asaf pointed to the
reason: "In every such case they must get permission from the town
judges" (p. 95). The Jewish communi ty, Asaf wrote, could only inflict
religious sanctions, such as telling two brothers that they could not enter
the synagogue until they had dismissed a notorious servant from their
home (p. 97).
The Jewish rabbinical authorities in some eastern parts of Europe could
inflict somewhat tougher punishment s. These punishment s, however, were
less severe than those that had been imposed in Spain. The heads of the
Jewish communi ty in Prague decided in 1612 that all Jewish prostitutes
had to leave the town by a certain date or be branded after that date with a
hot iron (Asaf, p. 114). The prostitutes' main offence was that they were
seen drinking non- kosher wine with some unnamed notables of the
community. The most tolerant communities were those in Italy who, as
Asaf recorded, gave full encouragement to the prostitutes, because they
saved "bachelors and fools from the worse sins of adultery or of
cohabitation with non- Jewish women."
In his previously mentioned article, Rosen recorded research of new Jewish
historians showing that Italian Jews copied the Renaissance custom
according to which a husband or brother can kill his wife or sister with
impunity if he suspects her of adultery. To remove the resultant blemish
upon the honor of an insulted husband, Jews committed many of these
murders in the synagogue during prayer in order to obtain publicity. A Jew,
named Ovadia, from Spoleto, for instance, murdered his wife in the
synagogue and, after explaining his reasons, received no punishment. The
Italian authorities put Ovadia on trial and fined him, but the Jews did not
believe he had done anything wrong. Soon thereafter, he remarried another
Jewish woman. Brothers in other cases murdered suspected women.
Referring to his research, Rosen cited one such case in Ferrara in the midsixteenth
century. The murderer brother worked for a charity organization
that was affiliated with the congregation; he was able to continue in his job
after the murder. Rosen determined and reported that in such cases the
rabbis usually did not react.
Jewish autonomy before the rise of the modern nation state allowed rabbis
to engage in a wide spectrum of persecution, of which violence against
women was but one category. The rabbis employed various types of
violence against Jews who commit ted religious or other sins. Jewish
fundamentalists, wanting to revive a situation that existed before the hated
modern influences allegedly corrupted the Jews, emphasized this violence.
The centrality of violence in the Halacha played an important role in the
development of Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Judaism historically had a
double system of law. There was, on the one side, a more normal system of
law, but there was, on the other side, been a more arbitrary system of law
employed in emergencies. These emergency situations most often occurred
when rabbis had great communal power. The rabbis, alleging that heresy
and infidelity were at dangerously high levels, often suspended the normal
system of laws, at least in the area of guarding the beliefs of the
community, and used emergency powers to avert God's wrath. A relevant
example for our study concerns the death penalty. In the normal system of
law, the halachic application of the death punishment against a Jew was
almost impossible to carry out, as opposed to its much easier application
against a non- Jew. Even inflicting less severe punishment against Jews,
such as thirtynine lashes, was difficult. The normal talmudic alternative to
the death penalty for Jews who killed other Jews was release of the Jewish
murderer without further punishment. The Talmud posits another
alternative. This alternative, as described by Maimonides in his
commentary, Laws of the Murderer and of Taking Precautions, chapter 4,
rule 8, is that Jewish murderers, absolved of the death punishment by a
rabbinical court, could be "put into a small cell and given first only a small
amount of bread and water until their intestines narrowed and then [fed]
barley so that their bellies would burst because of the illness."
Rabbinical judges experienced difficulty in inflicting punishment when
Jewish autonomy was limited by secular authorities. Only those rabbinical
judges who were appointed by what was called "laying of hands,"2 for
example, could at first inflict flogging limited to thirty- nine lashes. Rabbis
later devised a new more arbitrary way of inflicting punishment called
"stripes of rebellion." The new method, which could be used by any rabbi,
included harsher punishment s. The number of lashes, for example, was
unlimited. The cutting of limbs and unlimited imprisonment time were
added. After the talmudic period and following the declines of the Roman
and Sassanid Empires and of the Muslim caliphates, Jewish communities in
many places became more autonomous and thus the opportunities for
rabbis to impose more severe punishment s increased.
The Jewish religious authorities perpet rated most of the violence against
Jews who were considered to be heretics or religious dissenters. The
punishment s imposed had to be warranted by the Talmud, or at least by
interpretation of the Talmud. The Talmud was composed under the rule
and authority of two strong empires, the Roman and the Sassanid; both of
these empires limited the powers of Jewish autonomy much more than did
subsequent medieval regimes. Talmudic sages frequently complained that
under the rule of these two empires, they did not have the power to punish
Jewish criminals with death but rather only with flogging. The few cases in
which talmudic sages attempted to execute a Jewish criminal prompted
strict official investigations. One of these few cases, mentioned in the
Palestinian Talmud, concerned a Jewish prostitute in the third century who
was finally executed. Apparently because execution was so difficult to
enforce, the Talmud does not order a death punishment for Jewish heretics
but does enjoin pious Jews to kill them by employing subterfuges. The
major halachic codes, although emphasizing that the death punishment
should be inflicted only if execution was possible, contain such
prescription. The paradigmatic expression of this command in the codes
comes ironically under the section devoted to saving life. The question is
posed: What is a pious Jew to do when he sees a human being drowning in
the sea or having fallen into a well? The talmudic answer, still accepted by
traditional Judaism, is that the answer is dependent upon the category to
which the human being belongs. If the person is either a pious Jew or one
guilty of no more than ordinary offences, he should be saved. If the person
is a non- Jew or a Jew who is a "shepherd of sheep and goats," a category
that lapsed after talmudic times, he should neither be saved nor pushed
into the sea or well. If, however, the person is a Jewish heretic, he should
either be pushed down into the well or into the sea or; if the person is
already in the well or sea, he should not be rescued. This legal stipulation,
although mutilated by censorship in certain editions of the Talmud and
even more in most translations, appears in Tractate Avoda Zara (pp. 26ab).
Maimonides also explained this stipulation in three places: In the Laws
of Murderer and Preservation of Life, Maimonides contrasted the fate of
non- Jews with that of Jewish heretics. In the passages from Laws of of
Idolatry Maimonides only discussed Jewish heretics. In Laws of Murderer
and Preservation of Life (chapter 4, rules 10- 11), he wrote:
The [Jewish] heretics are those [Jews] who commit sins on
purpose; even one who eats meat not ritually slaughtered or who
dresses in a sha'atnez clothes (made of linen and wool woven
together) on purpose is called a heretic [as are] those [Jews] who
deny the Torah and prophecy. They should be killed. If he [a Jew] has
the power to kill them by the sword, he should do so. But if he has
not [the power to do so], he should behave so deceitfully to them
that death would ensue. How? If he [a Jew] sees one of them who has
fallen into a well and there is a ladder into the well, he [should] take
it away and say: "I need it [the ladder] to take my son down from the
roof," or [he should say] similar things. Deaths of non- Jews with
whom we are not at war and Jewish shepherds of sheep and goats
and similar people should not be caused, although it is forbidden to
save them if they are at the point of death. If, for example, one of
them is seen falling into the sea, he should not be rescued. As it is
written: "Neither shall you stand against the blood of your fellow"
(Leviticus 19: 16) but he [the non- Jew] is not your fellow.
In Laws of Idolatry, chapter 2, rule 5 Maimonides stated:
Jews who worship idolatrously are considered as non- Jews, in
contras t to Jews who have committed [another] sin punishable by
stoning; if he [a Jew] converted to idolatry he is considered to be a
denier of the entire Torah. [Jewish] heretics are also not considered
to be Jews in any respect. Their repentance should never be accepted.
As it is written: "None that go into her return again, neither [do] they
hold the paths of life" (Proverbs 2: 19). [This verse is actually a
reference to men who frequent "a strange woman," that is, a
prostitute.] In regard to the heretics who follow their own thoughts
and speak foolishly, it is forbidden to talk with or to answer them, as
we have said above [in the first section of the work] so that they may
ultimately contravene maliciously and proudly the most important
parts of the Jewish religion and say there is no sin [in doing this]. As
it is written: "Remove your way far from her and come not near the
door of her house." (Proverbs 5:8).
The last verse refers again to men who "frequent a strange woman", that is,
a prostitute. The commentator s explained that this passage meant that a
truly repentant idolatrous Jew is accepted by the Jewish communi ty, but a
heretic is not accepted. A heretic who wants to repent, however, may do it
alone. The main reason for this difference is seemingly that an idolatrous
Jew, including one who converts to Christianity, accepts another religious
discipline, while a heretic follows his own views and is thereby considered
to be more dangerous. In chapter 10, rule 1 of Laws of Idolatry,
Maimonides, after explaining the extermination of the ancient Canaanites
and again asserting that no Jews should be killed, said: "All this applies to
the seven [Canaanite] nations, but Jewish informers and heretics should be
exterminated by one's own hand and put into hell, because they cause
trouble to Jews by removing their hearts from being true to the Lord, like
Tzadok, and Beitos [the alleged founders of the Sadducean sect] and their
pupils. Let the name of the wicked perish. " In his next rule Maimonides
asserted that non- Jews should not be healed by Jews except when danger
of non- Jewish enmity exists. In his Fundamental Laws of Torah, the first
treatise of his codex, chapter 6, rule 8, Maimonides, after explaining that
Jews are forbidden to burn or otherwise to destroy the holy script and that
they may not even damage any Hebrew writing in which one of the seven
sacred names of God is written, ruled:
If a Torah scroll was written by a Jewish heretic, it should be
burned, together with all its sacred names [of God], because the
heretic does not believe in the holiness of God and could not write it
for God but must have thought that it is like other books. Therefore,
given this view, God is not sanctified [by it] and it is a commandment
to burn it [the scroll] so that no memory is left of the heretics or to
their deeds. But, a Torah scroll written by a non- Jew should be put
away with the other holy books that deteriorated or were written by
non- Jews.3
Although he did not instruct Jews to burn heretical books, Maimonides
probably based the above passage upon many directives issued by talmudic
sages since about AD 100. These directives called for the burning of books
by heretics. Indeed, talmudic sages even boasted at times about burning
such books themselves. Halachic codes did not so instruct, but rabbinical
responsa frequently called for and Jewish history is replete with examples
of Jews burning Jewish books. Together with burial of books in cemeteries,
this reached a high point in the eighteenth century. Although minimized in
many apologetic histories of Jews, especially in works written in English,
the burning and the burial in cemeteries of books in the history of Judaism
was far more intense than in the histories of either Christianity or Islam.
Traditional Judaism also forbade independent thoughts. In his Laws of
Idolatry, chapter 2, rule 3, Maimonides, after explaining that a Jew should
not think about idolatry, continued:
And it is not only forbidden to think about idolatry but [about]
any thought that may cause a Jew to doubt one principle of the
Jewish religion. [The Jew] is warned not to bring it to his
consciousnes s. We shall not think in that direction, and we shall not
allow ourselves to be drawn into meditations of the heart, because
human understanding is limited, and not every opinion is directed to
the real truth. If a Jew, therefore, allows himself to follow his
[independent] thoughts, he will surely destroy the world because of
insufficient unders tanding. How? He may sometimes be seduced to
idolatry and sometimes think about the uniquenes s of the Lord,
sometimes that he exists and other times that he does not; [he may]
investigate what is above [in the sky] and what is below [under earth],
what is before [the world was created] and what is after [the end of
the world]. He may think about whether or not prophecy is true; he
may think about whether or not the Torah was given by God. Because
such people do not know the [true] logic to be used in order to reach
the real truth, they become heretics. It is about that issue that the
Torah warned us. As it is written: "And that you seek not after your
own heart and after your own eyes that you are using to prostitute
yourselves" (Numbers 16:39). [This verse is included in the third
passage of "Kry'at Sh'ma," one of the most sacred Jewish prayers that
is said daily in the morning and in the evening.] This means that
every Jew is forbidden to allow himself to follow his own insufficient
knowledge and to imagine that his own thoughts are capable of
reaching the truth. The sages have said: "after your own heart" means
heresy; "after your own eyes" means prostitution. This prohibition,
even though the sin causes a Jew to lose paradise, does not carry the
penalty of flogging [because flogging is inflicted only in cases of
Such prohibitions of any independent thinking (which some Haredim apply
to some of Maimonides' own writings) were common in post - talmudic
Judaism and have persisted to date in part of Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox
Judaism totally prohibited independent thinking about issues discussed
freely by St. Augustine regardless of whatever answers he put forward.
Indeed, such issues are almost never mentioned today by Orthodox Jewish
scholars.4 Many theological problems freely discussed by Thomas
Aquinas5 were and remain unthinkable in traditional Judaism. (Traditional
Judaism today includes not only Orthodox but much of Conservative
Judaism as well.) Amazingly, many people, especially in English- speaking
countries, still attribute to post - talmudic Judaism the intellectual
distinction achieved in numerous countries by many Jews in the past 150
years. This delusion has contributed to the spread of fundamentalist
Judaism. In reality, the contrary has been the case. Most of the Jews who
attained intellectual distinction were influenced by rebellion against this
type of totalitarian system; they negated some of its major tenets.
In addition to advocating that heretics be killed, whenever possible, by
employing one method or another, traditional Judaism directed that
heretics while still alive should under all possible circums tances be treated
in a worse manner than non- Jews or Jews who converted to another
religion. One socially important example of such directed treatment is the
burial of the heretic's corpse, together with the ceremonies to be observed
by the family after the burial. Whereas traditional Judaism permits and
sometimes even obliges Jews to bury most Jewish sinners, it strictly
prohibits Jews to bury Jewish heretics and/or a few types of Jewish sinners.
Tractate Trumot of the Palestinian Talmud, chapter 8, halacha 3, discusses
a Jewish butcher in the town of Tzipori in Galilee who sold non- kosher
meat. This butcher fell from a roof and was killed. Rabbi Hanina Bar Hama,
a sage in the early third century AD, encouraged the Jews of the town to let
their dogs eat the corpse. Such behavior was usually not feasible; hence,
later authorities were more moderate. Maimonides and later rabbis were
content with prohibiting the family of the heretic to mourn his death and
ordering the family to rejoice. Maimonides clearly put this in his Laws of
Mourning, chapter 1, rule 10:
All who separate themselves from public custom [of the Jews],
such as those who do not fulfil commandment s and do not honor
the holidays or do not frequent synagogues or houses of study but
rather regard themselves free and [behave] like other nations, and
heretics, converts and informers should not be mourned; when they
die, their brothers and all other relatives should put on white
garments, make banquets and rejoice, since those who hate the Lord,
blessed be he, have perished.
Most Jews rigorously followed this rule of Maimonides until the beginning
of Jewish modernization; some orthodox Jews follow this rule to date.6 In
the small towns of eastern Europe in the nineteenth century, Jews devised
another custom of humiliating burial of heretics and other Jewish sinners.
This custom, often mentioned in the contemporary Hebrew and Yiddish
literature, was called "ass burial." It was derived from the biblical verse,
Jeremiah 22: 19, where the prophet predicts that King Yohoiakim of Judah
"will be buried as an ass." This custom had three general component s. First,
members of the Jewish burial society, called the Holy Society and
consisting of the fiercest zealots of the town, would first beat the heretic's
corpse. Then the corpse would thereafter be put on a cart filled with dung
and was in that condition paraded through the town. Finally, the corpse
would be buried beyond the fence of the graveyard without religious rites.
The two expressions, "ass burial" and "beyond the fence" became proverbial
terms in Hebrew and Yiddish and are still used to denote social ostracism.
The famous Jewish writer, Peretz Smolenskin (1840- 85), wrote a Hebrew
novel, titled Ass Burial, which is still read. In his novel Smolenskin told the
story of a young Jew in a Russian small town who, because of a petty
quarrel with the chief of the Jewish burial society, was declared a heretic.
The Jewish congregation hired an assassin who murdered the heretic. The
heretic was buried in an ass burial. Smolenskin was the father of the
naturalistic style in Hebrew literature. His novels were based upon a close
observation of Jewish life as it was in his time.
Learned authorities often disagreed on the definition of heretic. Talmudic
sages enumerated several kinds of heretics who were called by different
names. The Talmud emphasized one type of heretic, called "apikoros"
apparently named after followers of the Greek philosopher, Epicurus. In
Tractate Sanhedrin, page 99b of the Talmud, the Apikoros were designated
as all Jews who were disrespectful to rabbis. One talmudic sage asserted
that a Jew who was disrespectful to another Jew in the presence of a rabbi
was a heretic. Rabbi Menahem Ha'Meiri, in commenting upon the above
passage, said that a Jew who called a rabbi by his name without using the
honorific title was a heretic. The prevalent opinion until the twentieth
century was that Jews who were disrespectful to rabbis were not heretics
but were only "like heretics." Real heretics were those who denied the
validity of the Talmud as religious authority. This definition did not lessen
the punishment of heretics and other sinners, when feasible to employ
under emergency laws. This definition lessened the duty, imposed by the
Talmud, of separating many Jews who paid taxes from the congregation. In
the first half of the twentieth century, two famous rabbis, Rabbi Hazon Ish
and Rabbi Kook the elder both ruled that laws regarding heretics "do not
apply because visible miracles do not occur." To what extent the Hazon
Ish- Kook opinion is followed today is difficult to determine. At this point
in our discussion, nevertheless, the focus is upon pre- modern times.
Our survey of punishment s, inflicted under emergency Jewish laws upon
Jewish heretics and other sinners, begins with pronouncements by the last
Jewish rabbis whose authority was and still is universally acknowledged.
These rabbis were the heads of yeshivot in Iraq until about 1050; they were
named "Ge'onim." (In the singular each of them bore the name "Ga'on,"
which in Hebrew means "genius.") The Ge'onim left many responses to
questions addressed to them from all parts of the Jewish world. These
questions were concerned with how Jews, especially Jewish communi ties,
should behave. In his previously mentioned book (1922), Rabbi Simha Asaf
quoted a collection of such responses ordering that a Jew who violates the
sabbath should be flogged and should have his hair shaved (p. 45). Rabbi
Paltoi Ga'on, as noted by Asaf, in AD 858 answered the more difficult
question: Should a Jew who sinned on either the Sabbath or a holiday be
flogged on that sacred day if the danger exists that he may escape before
the Sabbath or the holiday ended? Rabbi Paltoi answered by reminding his
questioners that the congregation had a prison and that the sinner could
be imprisoned on the Sabbath or on the holiday and then flogged
afterwards. Rabbi Paltoi, nevertheless, after acknowledging that the act of
flogging violated the Sabbath in certain ways, concluded that the concern
about the Sabbath or holiday violations should not prevent the flogging of
Jewish sinners on the sacred day (Asaf, p. 48). Rabbi Tzemach Ga'on, who
lived after Rabbi Paltoi, was asked what to do with a Jewish priest who
married a divorced woman, which as noted by Asaf is forbidden to priests
(p. 52). Rabbi Tzemach Ga'on expressed the fear that such a sinner, if only
flogged, would go to another place and during synagogue services would
participate in the priest's blessing by stretching out over the heads of
congregation members his hands with his fingers separated. Rabbi
Tzemach Ga'on, therefore, ordered that the last joints of the priestly
sinner's fingers should be cut off, thus identifying and making it
impossible for the sinner to participate in the blessing. The last and most
famous Ga'on, Rabbi Ha'i, who died in 1042, devoted a long response, cited
by Asaf, to an explanation of how Jewish sinners were flogged during his
time; he detailed, moreover, how they were specifically flogged by his
court. He emphasized that the whip was made of hemp and for the worst
sinners was especially thick. The sinner was bound "right hand to the right
foot and left hand to the left foot. " The one who flogged him stood near
his head. The ceremony began with a reading of the appropriate biblical
verses. After the flogging, the sinner stood naked with his dress in his hand
and acknowledged the justice of his sentence. Finally, the court asked God
to have mercy on him. In other responsa, cited by Asaf on pages 56 and 57,
Rabbi Ha'i specified the sins for which Jews should be flogged. Cutting
one's hair on the minor holidays, putting on shoes during the mourning
periods and violating the Sabbath were three examples. Asaf pointed out
further on pages 58 and 59 that other responsa in the eleventh century
provided proofs that the Jews of Egypt flogged sinners in front of the
doors of synagogues and that the rabbis of Italy, because of the general
political chaos and much greater Jewish autonomy, could and did execute
sinners. Asaf specifically recorded the numerous death sentences inflicted
by the Babylonian rabbi, Abu Aharon, who immigrated to Italy; for example,
Rabbi Abu Aharon sentenced an adulterer to be strangled and a man who
committed incest with his mother - in- law to be burned. Asaf illustrated the
wide parameter s of flogging by reporting that another unnamed Italian
rabbi stipulated that if a Jew living in a courtyard area with other Jews sold
his flat to a non- Jew, he should be flogged.
In Spain, whether under Muslim or Christian rule, Jewish autonomy and the
consequent punishment of Jewish sinners were most developed and
punishment s were recorded in the largest number of cases. On page 62,
Asaf quoted Rabbi Samuel the Prince,7 who died in 1046: "Spanish Jews
were always free of heresy, except in a few villages near the Christian land
where suspicion exists of some heretics being harbored in secret. Our
predecessors have flogged a part of [those] Jews who deserved to be
flogged, and they have died from flogging." Rabbi Ha'i, as previously
mentioned, insisted that the Jew being flogged must acknowledge the
justice of his sentence and repent. Refusal to repent, Ha'i and many other
rabbinical authorities made clear, compelled more flogging even until
death. Spain may have become "free of heresy" at least partially because
previous heretics were flogged to death. Rabbi Samuel's boast was
confirmed to some extent, according to Asaf on page 63, by the story of
the Jewish philosopher and historian, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Daud who, in his
book Shalshelet Ha'kabalah (Chain of Tradition), told how the Karaites,
when they began to spread, were humiliated and expelled from all the
towns of Castile except for one.8 Somewhat later, after Rabbi Daud's death,
Maimonides moderated the flogging punishment. In his commentary on the
Mishnah, Tractate Khulin, quoted by Asaf on page 64, Maimonides
maintained that Jews who committed sins which would normally result in
the death penalty should "now only be flogged and excommunicated but
their excommunication should never be removed."
The Jewish sins punished with the greatest cruelty, apart from informing
which will be separately discussed below, were acts of disobedience to the
will of and/or physical attacks upon rabbis. Such acts were not rare
occurrences. Asaf on page 67 quoted the late thirteenth - century responsa
of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, the famous rabbi of Barcelona. Rabbi ben
Aderet endeavored to show that any rabbi can "together with the elders"
sentence Jews who oppose the rabbi's authority and are "notorious for
their wickedness", not only to flogging but to the more severe punishment s
of having their hands or feet cut off or of being killed. Many other rabbinic
responsa dealt in detail with such severe punishment s. Asaf reported on
page 72 that the previously mentioned Rabenu Asher was angry with Rabbi
Moshe of Valencia for ruling against a usual custom and thus Asher's own
authority in a matter of sabbath observance. From Toledo, Asher wrote to
Rabbi Yitzhak of Valencia and ordered him to condemn the offending
Rabbi Moshe to death unless he (Rabbi Moshe) did not repent after being
fined and excommunicated. Rabenu Asher also dealt with the financial
aspect of inflicting the death penalty. In his responsa to "the holy
community of Avila," as reported by Asaf on page 74, the execution of the
wicked was compared to the building of city walls; executions supposedly
defended the purity of Judaism just as the walls defended their physical
safety. Thus, just as every Jew could be compelled to pay taxes for the
upkeep of the walls, every Jew could be compelled to pay for the execution
of the wicked Jews.
Our final example from Spain is a summary of the responsa of Rabbi
Yehuda, the son of Rabenu Asher. This responsa, quoted by Asaf on page
77, is important not only because it document s the use of violence but also
because it describes the normal procedure in emergency cases of halachic
decision making in cases brought before the rabbinical court. The elaborate
display of reasoning in Jewish emergency law, differing totally from
Halacha, is well illustrated in this responsa.
A cornerstone of the normal halachic procedure, based upon the Bible and
employed in all cases brought before the rabbinical court, is that, in the
absence of written document s that are used only in civil cases, every
judgment must be based upon the testimony of two or more male Jewish
witnesses. The testimony of each of the two witnesses must be exactly the
same as determined in direct interrogation. In the illustrative example
presented in his responsa, Rabbi Yehuda cited a case of a Jew who beat
another Jew so severely that, as a consequence of this, the latter died. Two
witnesses, Moshe and Avraham (family names not given), saw the beating.
Two other witnesses, Yoseph and Yitzhak, saw only the beginning of the
beating; they then left and thereafter returned to see the beaten man lying
on the ground with blood pouring from his head. After giving thanks to
God for "inspiring the kings of the earth to give Jews the power to judge
[their offenders] as we are judging now," Rabbi Yehuda explained how the
principles of current Jewish law that are not all according to Halacha have
to be applied in the case under consideration. Rabbi Yehuda, as quoted by
Asaf, decided:
If only the testimony of Moshe and Avraham is found to be valid,
the offender should be executed. If only one of their testimonies is
found to be valid together with finding the testimony of either
Yoseph or Yitzhak to be valid, the offender's hands should be cut
off. If the testimony of either Moshe or Avraham is found to be valid
but the testimony of both Yoseph and Yitzhak is found to be invalid,
the offender's right hand should be cut off. If the testimony of both
Moshe and Avraham is found to be invalid but the testimony of both
Yoseph and Yitzhak is found to be valid, the offender's left hand
should be cut off. If all the testimonies are found to be invalid, the
offender should be exiled from the city because the fact that he
killed [the victim] became notorious.
In other European countries, Jewish autonomy and thus its consequences
were less powerful than in Spain. Perhaps this was because the other
states, in spite of their feudal nature, were stronger than the Spanish
kingdoms before the latter part of the fifteenth century. In England, where
royal power was especially strong and where Jews settled only after
England's conquest by William I, there were, so far as we know, no cases of
rabbis' flogging or otherwise punishing Jews for religious offenses. In
continental Europe, where Jewish autonomy depended more on the feudal
lords than on the king or emperor, however, there were significant
numbers of cases. In fourteenth - century Germany, for example, the
famous rabbi, Yosef Weil, according to Asaf on page 102, recorded in his
book of responsa that Rabbi Shimon from Braunschweig asked him
whether it was permit ted to put out the eyes of a Jew who violated the
Sabbath and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Rabbi Weil answered that
it was permitted and referred to talmudic evidence for his permission. In
another case, reported by Asaf on page 104, the famous Rabenu Tam who
lived in northern France in the twelfth century ordered that in the case of a
Jew who beat another Jew the punishment should be the cutting off of the
offender's hand rather than the usual punishment of flogging. Asaf
recorded on page 103 that another rabbi had seen his father inflicting the
punishment of flogging. Flogging was used in general in Germany as a
punishment for lesser religious sins; the cutting of limbs was rare. The use
of flogging even diminished with the passage of time; fines,
excommunications and obligatory fasts were used by German Jews as
almost the only punishment s.
In the countries east of Germany, especially in Poland and after 1569 in the
Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth where Jewish autonomy was extensive,
punishment s inflicted by rabbis almost equalled those inflicted in Spain.
Every Jewish communi ty had its own prison and stocks, called "kuneh" in
Yiddish, that were placed in the entrances to major synagogues. The stocks
consisted of iron bars to secure the sinner's arms, compelling him to stand
facing entering members of the congregation who would spit at him, slap
his face and/or take other physical action against him. Flogging was freely
practiced in the synagogue, usually during the reading of the law in the
midst of the morning prayer. Asaf reported on page 122 that the famous
sixteenth - century rabbi, Shlomo Luria, assured his questioners that a wellflogged
sinner would not sin again and that the number of stripes in
flogging should be determined by the court according to what is decided as
fitting the sin. In serious cases the inflicted penalties were mutilation and
death. A generation after Rabbi Shlomo Luria, another famous rabbi,
Maharam (our teacher Rabbi Meir) of Lublin, according to Asaf on page 123,
wrote about a case of a Jewish murderer caught by Polish authorities.
Maharam insisted that such an offender should be executed by the
rabbinical or Polish authorities. Maharam warned the rabbis against
substituting mutilation for execution:
I recall what occurred when I was young, in the time of Rabbi
Shekhna R.I.P. In his time there was a most wicked Jew; the great
rabbi permitted [the community] to put out his eyes and cut off his
tongue. After having this done to him, he converted to Christianity,
married a non- Jewish woman and had children. He and his [family
members] were always enemies of the Jews.
In the seventeenth century, mutilation as a punishment, instead of death or
flogging, tended to disappear among Jews of the Polish- Lithuanian
Commonwealth. Expulsion from the town appeared as a new punishment.
The autonomous Jewish community of a given town could determine which
Jews would reside in the town. The privilege of residence was usually
granted automatically only to the children of the old residents, their wives
and the rabbis. All other Jews had to apply to the communi ty authorities
and receive, often after a payment and/or for a limited time, their
residence rights. One of the cruellest punishment s that a Jewish
congregation could inflict, therefore, was expulsion, because an expelled
Jew would have great difficulty acquiring residence rights elsewhere. This
punishment, nevertheless, was increasingly employed in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries. When Russia, Prussia and Austria thereafter
divided Poland, these three conquering powers limited the autonomy of
Jewish communi ties and forbade them to expel their members from towns.
The expulsions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were often
immediate, regardless of the time of year, and were many times used as a
weapon in religious disputes, such as the quarrel between the Hassids and
their opponent s, the Mitnagdim. The Union of Jewish Congregations in
Lithuania, according to Asaf on page 127, ordered immediate expulsion
from the town in addition to physical and financial punishment for any
Jew who "behaved with contempt toward the rabbi." In another rule, cited
by Asaf on pages 127 and 128, the Union ordered congregations to expel
Jews who had previously been expelled from another town. The expelled
Jews were usually compelled to sign a document, similar to the one quoted
by Asaf on page 132, from the city of Krakow, stating that if they stay in
the town for even one night they must accept any punishment imposed
upon them by the communi ty leaders, including "mutilation of ear or nose
or of other places." In another case, cited by Asaf, a young Jew, who was
expelled from Krakow for having taken part in a theft committed in the
house of a notable, was sentenced to be flogged in front of the door to the
synagogue; the youth additionally had to sign a declaration that if found
again in Krakow he knew that "his two ears would be cut off, in addition [to
his receiving] other punishment s." The kuneh or stock was also used in this
period as punishment especially for heretics but also for sinners who
committed minor offences. In 1772, when the leaders of the Jewish
community of Vilna began their struggle against the Hassidic movement,
they first punished the Hassids in their town. Before the eve of the Sabbath
prayer all Hassidic writings were burned near the kuneh so that the
congregation members would see the ashes when they came to the
synagogue. Before the burning the chief Hassid of Vilna, Meir Issar, was
flogged privately in the "hall of the communi ty." Following the flogging,
Issar had to confess his sin, strictly following the formula prepared by the
rabbinic court, in the synagogue during morning Sabbath prayers. He was
then imprisoned for one week in the castle of Vilna. The chief rabbinic
authority at that time, Haga'on Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, additionally wanted
to put Issar in the kuneh, but the community leaders, apparently because
Issar's family was important, refused. This story, mentioned by Asaf on
page 139, was included in the detailed, Hebrew- language histories of this
The story of Meir Issar is a typical example of persecution by Jewish
authorities in eastern Europe of a Jewish religious dissident at the end of
the eighteenth century. Fanaticism, religious disputes interposed with
excommunications, burning of or sometimes burial in cemeteries of books
and popular riots against heretics and dissenters characterized many
European Jewish communi ties throughout most of the eighteenth century,
with the exception of those in England and Holland. Towards the end of
the century the zealotry decreased, first in Germany and Italy and then in
the larger towns of eastern Europe; it continued during much of the
nineteenth century among the bulk of the Jewish population in eastern
Europe who lived in smaller towns. The great majority of Jewish
immigrants to the United States, Britain and a few other places in the
nineteenth century, having come from areas in which religious persecution
of Jews by other Jews had been widely practiced for a long time, suddenly
arrived in countries in which such persecution could not, at least not to
nearly the same extent, be carried out.10 The wish of many eighteenth -
century Jews to persecute was seemingly greater than their actual ability to
do so. An incident in the history of the Frankist heresy, which erupted in
Poland in 1756 and continued for some years thereafter, provides a good
example. When leaders of the autonomous Jewish community in Poland
learned of this heresy, one of them, Rabbi Baruch from Greece, wrote a
long letter to his friend in Germany and one of the greatest rabbis of that
generation, Rabbi Ya'akov Emden.11 In his letter Rabbi Baruch described
the proceedings and aims of the main council of Jewish autonomy held in
September, 1756, in Konstantinov. The council was called the "commit tee
of four lands," a name which referred to the four main Polish provinces.
Rabbi Baruch reported details of the heresy and wrote that the committee
of four lands decided "to bring the matter before the great Lord who rules
over their [the Christian] faith, the Pope in Rome" and to struggle against
the heresy. Rabbi Baruch wrote further that the committee asked "the help
of [Polish] bishops so that the cursed ones would be condemned to be
burned at the stake." Meir Balaban, the distinguished historian of Polish
Jewry, remarked that the wish to see hundreds of "the cursed ones"
bummed at the stake by the Christian authorities, who at that very time
were persecuting Polish Jews, indicated the depth of the hatred of the
heretics felt by the Jewish leadership.12 The committee's attempt failed.
Rabbi Baruch went so far as to try to involve his patron, the powerful
Minister Bruhl who was the favorite of the Polish King August III in this
matter. Rabbi Baruch wanted Bruhl to arrange an interview for him with the
papal nuncio in Warsaw. The Pope of that time period, Benedict XVIII,
would almost certainly not have agreed to have a mass burning, but the
heretics anyway obtained the help of powerful bishops and magnates and
even of Countess Bruhl, the wife of the minister. The result was that the
Jewish leaders could not, as they wanted to, pursue the persecution.
It may be instructive to compare the Frankist heresy incident with what
Baruch Spinoza had to endure in Holland about a hundred years earlier.
Because of the relatively tolerant and more modern Dutch regime, the
Jewish communi ty of Amsterdam could only excommunicate Spinoza. As
much as members of that communi ty desired to do so, they could not flog
or kill Spinoza; they could not compel Spinoza to make public confession
in the synagogue that he had sinned in his commentaries and statements
about Judaism. The Jewish communi ty could only excommunicate Spinoza
and forbid him from attending the synagogue. A few years before Spinoza's
excommunication, the Jewish communi ty of Amsterdam excommunicated
Uriel D' Acusta for similar reasons. D' Acusta, however, was not endowed
with Spinoza's firmness and could not stand his exclusion from the
synagogue and from Jewish communi ty life. D' Acusta asked the rabbis to
reinstate him. The rabbis sentenced him not only to the usual confession
but also to lie at the synagogue entrance so that congregation members
could trample on him before praying to God. D' Acusta accepted the
conditions and, after both confessing and being trampled upon, was duly
forgiven. He, however, again came thereafter to have heretical views.
Fearing another excommunication and something even worse than being
trampled underfoot as a recurrent sinner, he committed suicide. A
comparison between the fates of Spinoza and D' Acusta suggests two
lessons for contemporary Jews who do not wish to submit to the tyranny
often prevalent in Jewish orthodoxy: 1) An intellectual compromise with
Jewish orthodoxy is no more possible than is an intellectual compromise
with any other totalitarian system, 2) An apologetic approach to the Jewish
past, which is in reality false beautification and falsification of one part of
Jewish history and is intended to remove the horrors and persecutions that
Jews suffered at the hands of their own authorities and rabbis, only
increases the dangers of a developing Jewish "Khomeinism." In Israel such
compromise increases the danger of a Jewish state that could become
dominated by rabbis who will not hesitate to punish other Jews as did their
revered predecessor s when not prevented from doing so by an outside
We have seen that formal and legal infliction of severe punishments
depended upon the amount of Jewish autonomy that existed in specific
places at specific times. Russia, Prussia and Austria, as previously noted,
after their conques t of Poland, abolished Jewish autonomy and subjected
Jews to the ordinary criminal law of their countries. As bad as that criminal
law was, it was on balance better and more humane than the Jewish law as
applied by the rabbis.13 Jewish communities that were suddenly deprived
of their power to persecute heretics found it difficult to accustom
themselves to a new situation. The relatively lax police supervision that
existed in Tsarist Russia during most of the nineteenth century allowed
Jewish authorities to persecute religious innovators through riots, which
were similar to what were called "pogroms" when committed by non- Jews
against Jews. Until 1881 in Russia, the number of riots by Jews against
other Jews probably exceeded the number of pogroms by non- Jews against
Jews. The previously persecuted Hassids were the major and worst
persecutor s; they were especially active against the emerging Hebrew press
of that time that appeared before the rise of the Yiddish press. The Hebrew
press antagonized the Hassids mainly by reporting and protesting against
the religious persecution by rabbis and their followers. In order to avert
persecution by Jewish rioters, most of the Hebrew papers were printed and
issued in St. Petersburg or behind the Prussian border, where the police
were strong and the small Jewish communi ties mostly consisted of
educated individuals.
The history of Jews in Russia until 1881 includes a great deal of
persecution of Jews by Jews. The two following typical examples, one
major and one minor, are illustrative: The major example is taken from the
long article by David Asaf,14 published in Zion (1994, number 4), the
quarterly journal of the Israeli Historical Association. Asaf described the
riot in Uman in the Ukraine, where one of the more famous Hassidic rabbis,
Nahman of Braslaw, was buried and where his followers who came on
pilgrimage to his tomb on the Jewish New Year were attacked and beaten
year after year for decades by other Hassids. The annual beatings finally
culminated in 1863 in an especially nasty attack by a coalition of Hassidic
sects that was described by a contemporary Jewish writer in the Hebrew
press of that time. The writer of the article noted the similarity between
this Hassidic "pogrom " and those committed by the anti - Semites. He
described how Hassids smashed the holy cupboard (Aron Ha'kodesh in
Hebrew) where the scrolls of law were stored. The attacking Hassids
considered the place to be heretical in and of itself; the alleged heretics
were beaten and stoned; when they fainted, they were attacked again. The
attackers used the occasion to beat the modernized Jews of the place as
well, including women who wore what was considered to be immodest
clothing. Fearful of other attacks, the Breslaw Hassids hired a company of
Russian soldiers to defend themselves from other Hassids. The following
year the collapse of the Hassidic coalition and another Jewish attack upon
Jews in the town of Rzhishchev (south of Kiev) gave the Breslaw Hassids a
temporary respite. The Rzhishchev riot erupted when a holy rabbi from
another place had the temerity to visit Rzhishchev, where another holy
rabbi resided, to collect money. As Asaf wrote in his article: "Of course, the
Hassids of the local holy rabbi cursed and stoned the invader and he was
almost killed." Many of the Hassids were wounded. The two holy rabbis
then proclaimed that ritual slaughterers of each side were not kosher; each
rabbi also proclaimed that the prayers of the other side were "an
abomination to God." Scuffles ensured. The holy rabbi of Rzhishchev was
denounced by his colleague as a forger of banknotes. A police investigation
followed. Although the Breslaw Hassids attained a respite, they were, as
Asaf showed, attacked periodically by other Hassids until 1914.
A minor example occurred in the town of Vyshegrad in 1886 and was
recorded in the contemporary Hebrew press. Quoting research of new
Jewish historians, Rosen in his previously cited article wrote:
Hassids of Vyshegrad were opposed to the new cantor [of the
synagogue] because his clothes are clean and he puts rubber shoes
over his ordinary shoes. They therefore rioted in the synagogue
against this cantor and beat their opponent s until blood flowed. The
police came quickly to separate the two sides. The rabbi who incited
the riot was then arrested by soldiers and brought to the government
house to explain the riot. The actual rioters will be criminally
After 1881 the situation in Russia began to change and Jewish attacks
upon Jews decreased for several apparent reasons. First, in 1881 the
government instigated Russian and Ukrainian pogroms began, and mass
emigration of Jews from Russia began. In addition police supervision was
tightened under the regime of Alexander III, who ascended to the throne
after revolutionaries assassinated his father, Alexander II. Attacks by Jews
against Jews, although diminished, nevertheless continued in Russia until
In Polish areas ruled by Austrian police, supervision was stronger and
therefore direct attacks by Jews against other Jews apparently ceased.
Orthodox Jews employed some secret forms of religious persecution
against modern Jews, who called themselves "maskilim" (enlightened). In
extreme cases, Jewish servants of the maskilim were suborned to kill their
employers or other methods of assassination were employed. In his article
Rosen related:
Because of the approaching anniversary of Rabin's assassination,
Professor Ze'ev Gris of the department of Jewish thought at Ben-
Gurion University [in Be'er Sheva] sent us a story about what
happened in Lemberg (now Lviv) in the nineteenth century. [In 1848
Lemberg was part of Austria.] A rabbi, named Avraham Cohen was
assassinated by Jews for religious reasons. This was part of a
confrontation between enlightened Jews, although relatively
moderate since they kept the commandment s, and the fanatical
Hassids. An article about this was once published by the Hebrew
press in Palestine in Davar one year after [the Labor leader]
Arlozorov [was assassinated]. [The article] was severely attacked by
the right wing Hebrew press of that time.
Rosen also quoted Professor Bartal who believed the attacks of the Hassids
in the general confrontation to be the forerunner of the massacre
committed by Baruch Goldstein. Bartal commented further that the
maskilim usually only attacked the Hassids or other orthodox religious
Jews by employing satire.15 Only if provoked beyond endurance, Bartal
asserted, would the maskilim attack or defend themselves by using
physical violence.
Rosen's account of the poisoning assassination of Rabbi Cohen, as taken
from what Professor Gris wrote, is worth relating:
In Lemberg in the 1840s hundreds of maskilim, after looking for a rabbi
to head their congregation, found Rabbi Avraham Cohen, who was the
rabbi in the small Austrian town of Hohenmas s. Avraham Cohen was born
in Bohemia to a poor Jewish peddler, but he became highly educated. After
finishing his Yeshiva studies and receiving the authorization to become a
rabbi, he went to study at and earned a degree from Prague University. The
historian, Dr Ze'ev Aharon Eshkoli, who researched the story of Rabbi
Cohen, published his account in 1934; he wrote that Cohen was a moderate
but as "one educated in the German style of those times he was considered
a modernist." In 1844, Cohen was appointed rabbi of the Lemberg
congregation of maskilim; two years later he was the rabbi of all maskilim
in the district of Lemberg. In this role he tried to introduce changes in
Jewish life, but he soon encountered furious opposition of "the religious
fanatics," as Eshkoli defined them. Cohen, for example, initiated the
opening of Jewish schools that would serve as alternates to yeshivot, and
he attempted to abolish the tests of Jewish religious subjects that
Orthodox rabbis imposed upon all young Jewish couples at their betrothal.
Cohen's most important initiative, according to Eshkoli, was his attempt to
abolish the taxes on kosher meat and sabbath candles, which Lemberg Jews
paid to [Austrian] authorities. These taxes were burdensome for poor Jews
but were sources of income for many Orthodox notables. The method [of
taxation] was as follows: A rich Jew for a certain lump sum obtained from
the authorities the right to impose the tax on the Jews, from whom he took
a much greater sum supposedly for his efforts. Five tax gatherers, all very
pious, headed the opposition to Cohen. Their leader was Rabbi Hertz
Berenstein, who came from a noted rabbinical family; the second was Rabbi
Tzvi Orenstein, the son of the former Orthodox rabbi of Lemberg. In 1846,
Cohen sent a memorandum to the emperor [of Austria] pointing out the
injustice involved in the gathering of those taxes. Because of his connection
with the authorities, he was twice invited to talk with the emperor. The five
tax gatherers also sent a memorandum pointing out that the tax gathering
provides a livelihood for thousands of Jewish families. The Austrian
authorities, nevertheless, accepted Cohen's request and abolished those
taxes in March, 1848.
The abolition of those taxes may not primarily have been due to Cohen's
request. The 1848 revolution, which began in Vienna as a reaction against
Hapsburg absolutism, probably prompted the tax abolition. Austrian
liberals viewed those taxes as discriminatory and opposed them; they were
suppor ted by the enlightened Jews. Orthodox Jews, especially their rabbis,
were the firm allies of absolutism and reaction, not only in Austria but
throughout Europe and the Middle East. Rosen continued his story about
Rabbi Cohen's misfortune:
Whether for reasons of ideological opposition to Cohen or for economic
reasons or for both, the five Jewish notables in 1848 began a total struggle
against Rabbi Avraham Cohen. First, they put placards in the synagogues
that incited Jews to spit in his face and stone him. When the persecution
increased, Cohen's friends asked him to agree to his being guarded all the
time; he refused, saying that he did not believe that Jews would kill him.
The next step involved placards saying plainly that the "law of pursuer" [to
be explained below] applies to Rabbi Cohen. [One placard said], for
example: "He is one of those Jewish sinners for which the Talmud says
their blood is permit ted" (that is, every Jew can and should kill them).
Another placard asked: "Will a Jew be found who will liberate us from the
rabbi who destroys his congregation?" The fanatics first decided that the
assassination would take place during Purim in 1848; they even cast lots to
determine who would have the honor of murdering the rabbi, but their
plans went awry. A month later during Passover of 1848 a crowd of Jews
stoned Rabbi Cohen's home; only a large number of policemen saved him.
On September 6, 1848, however, Avraham Bar- Pilpel, a Jewish assassin,
successfully entered the rabbi's home unseen, went to the kitchen and put
arsenic poison in the pot of soup that was cooking. Shortly thereafter,
Rabbi Cohen and his family ate the soup; Rabbi Cohen and his little
daughter died. The Hassids and their leaders did not attend the funeral;
they celebrated. No Orthodox rabbi, moreover, uttered one word of
condemnation, neither of murderous incitement before the murder nor of
the murder itself. Many nationalistic Jews who were not Orthodox shared
in being silent. The Jewish historian Graetz, author of the first history of
the Jews, omitted this story from his history, which, by the way, [was
published] later. Orthodox Jews took the murdered rabbi's corpse from the
section of the notables of the cemetery and buried it in another section.
Professor Ze'ev Gris says: "My conclusion is, and I am sorry for it, that
there is nothing new in Judaism." The de- legitimization, incitement, writing
on the wall and especially the silence of the rabbinical leadership of Galicia
of those times - - everything was exactly the same as it was before the
assassination of Rabin.
Was the murder of Rabbi Avraham Cohen an exceptional case? In
December, 1838, the governor of southwestern Russia, General Dimitri
Gabrielovitch Bibikov, issued a circular to district governors under his
authority. He asked them to look carefully into what was happening in the
synagogues and in Jewish houses of study. "In those places," he wrote,
"Very often something happens that leaves dead Jews in its wake. Such
crimes are especially grave since they occur in places dedicated to prayer
and study of religious principles. They also are characteristic of
autonomous judgment by the rabbinical courts, executed by their false
views about extermination of 'informers,' who reveal crimes of their coreligionists.
The rabbis often succeed in obscuring the [official]
investigation to such an extent that not only the identity of the assassins
but even the identity of the victim remain unclear."
Many Israeli new historians believe that the forms of violence committed
against both heretics and informers are intimately connected.
Two additional halachic laws are of special importance both generally and
specifically when related to the Rabin assassination. These two laws,
employed since talmudic times to kill Jews, were invoked by the assassin,
Yigal Amir, as his justification for killing Prime Minister Rabin and are still
emphasized by Jews who approved or have barely condemned that
assassination. These are the "law of the pursuer" (din rodet) and the "law of
the informer" (din moser).16 The first law commands every Jew to kill or to
wound severely any Jew who is perceived as intending to kill another Jew.
According to halachic commentaries, it is not necessary to see such a
person pursuing a Jewish victim. It is enough if rabbinic authorities, or
even competent scholars, announce that the law of the pursuer applies to
such a person. The second law commands every Jew to kill or wound
severely any Jew who, without a decision of a competent rabbinical
authority, has informed non- Jews, especially non- Jewish authorities, about
Jewish affairs or who has given them information about Jewish property or
who has delivered Jewish persons or property to their rule or authority.
Competent religious authorities are empowered to do, and at times have
done, those things forbidden to other Jews in the second law. During the
long period of incitement preceding the Rabin assassination, many Haredi
and messianic writers applied these laws to Rabin and other Israeli leaders.
The religious insiders based themselves on later development s in Halacha
that came to include other categories of Jews who were defined as "those
to whom the law of the pursuer" applied. Every Jew had a religious duty to
kill those Jews who were so included. Historically, Jews in the diaspora
followed this law whenever possible, until at least the advent of the
modern state. In the Tsarist Empire Jews followed this law until well into
the nineteenth century.
The land of Israel has been and still is considered by all religious Jews as
being the exclusive property of the Jews. Granting Palestinians authority
over any part of this land could be interpreted as informing. Some religious
Jews interpreted the relations that developed between Rabin and the
Palestinian Authority as causing harm to the Jewish settlers. In this sense,
Rabin had informed. Influential rabbis, such as the Gush Emunin leader,
Rabbi Moshe Levinger, publicly denounced as informers Rabin, some Labor
and Meretz ministers and some Knesset members. Professor Asa Kasher of
Tel- Aviv University, a widely respected person in Israel, tried to enlighten
the public by writing a letter to the editor of Haaretz about the exact
meaning of the term employed by Levinger and about the danger of
assassination implied therein. His warnings were disregarded by everyone,
including Rabin and the editors of Haaretz. Shabak, the branch of the
Israeli secret police responsible for domestic affairs and the body
responsible for guarding Rabin, also ignored the dangers implicit in a
possible, and obviously probable, application to Rabin of the law of the
informer. Shabak insisted until the actual happening that the danger of
murder came only from Muslim extremists. Interestingly, by the end of
August 1998, the Israeli media was filled with Shabak's warnings that
Jewish religious fanatics intended to assassinate Netanyahu, Defense
Minister Mordechai and other ministers because of their agreement in
principle to Israeli withdrawal from an additional 13 per cent of the West
Bank. These warnings were based upon the same fundamentalist logic that
led to the assassination of Rabin; they indicated some of the danger posed
by Jewish fundamentalism.
Rabin's murder followed logically from the religious premises of the 1984
Jewish underground. Members of the underground were then apprehended
planting bombs under Arab buses near Jerusalem on a Friday. The bombs
had timing devices so that they would explode after the Sabbath eve had
commenced when under Jewish religious law, travel on a bus was
prohibited and sinful. At that time, before the Intifada, many Israeli Jews
rode in Arab buses. The only category of people not likely to use these
buses when the bombs were due to explode were religious Jews. The pious
members of the Jewish underground sought prior rabbinical approval for
all their actions. Peres, Rabin and Shamir, acting together in accordance
with the agreement that the national unity government then in power had
devised, ordered the police to stop investigating the extremist rabbis. Not
one rabbi opposed the religious reasoning that led to the planting of these
bombs. The conclusion is inescapable that some rabbis approved and
others did not oppose wanton killing of non- religious Jews, presumably
because of their heretical opinions. Yediot Ahronot in its November 16,
1995, issue alleged that Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz proposed the planting of
mines and explosive devices around settlements threatened with
evacuation by the Israeli army. This proposal followed the same line of
reasoning. When asked about the danger inherent to lives of Jewish
soldiers in his proposal, Rabbi Rabinowitz answered: "If they obey the
order to remove a Jewish settlement, then they are wicked Jews" and as
such, he implied, they deserve death. This should be seen within the
context of the twofold hatred of non- Jews and secular Jews that
settlement rabbis had preached for some time.
The reason for the willful ignorance of this danger, shared by many Israeli
Jews, including Rabin himself, was in our view Jewish chauvinism, which is
so prevalent among Jews. The chauvinists falsify the history of their nation
in order to make it appear better than it really was. They also falsify the
current situation by claiming that their nation is the best. This claim, often
made by too many Jews, is especially dangerous when reinforced by a
combination of religious fanaticism and willful ignorance. Jewish
chauvinism is especially virulent, because the identification between Jewish
religion and Jewish nationality has prevailed for so long and still prevails
among many Jews. It should not be forgotten that democracy and the rule
of law were brought into Judaism from the outside. Before the advent of
the modem state, Jewish communi ties were mostly ruled by rabbis who
employed arbitrary and cruel methods as bad as those employed by
totalitarian regimes. The dearest wish of the current Jewish
fundamentalists is to restore this state of affairs.
The information in the Talmud itself about killing and punishing Jewish
informers is scanty and is anecdotal in nature. Fear of Roman and Sassanid
authorities was at least partially responsible for this. The same situation
existed during the time of the Ge'onim of Iraq, who lived from about AD
750 to 1050 under the strong rule of the Abassid Caliphate. The responsa
of the Ge'onim rarely deal only with informers and impose at most only
religious penalties. Rabbi Paltoi, according to Asaf on page 49 of The
Punishment s, stated in the mid- ninth century that an informer is not only
a Jew who actually informs but one who during a quarrel in public with
another Jew says that he will inform. Paltoi, nevertheless, imposed the mild
penalty of designating such a person "wicked" and thus incapable of giving
either an oath or testimony. In Muslim Spain, after the dissolution of the
strong Ummayad Caliphate in the early years of the eleventh century, the
situation was different, and informers were frequently executed. In Alicena,
a city mostly inhabited by Jews in the mid- eleventh century, Rabbi Yosef
Halevi Ibn Ha'migash, a famous scholar, according to Asaf on page 63 of
The Punishments, ordered Jews to stone an informer during the Ne'yila
prayer on Yom Kippur, which that year fell on the Sabbath. Stoning is
usually considered to be a severe violation of both Yom Kippur and the
Sabbath. The Ne'yila prayer, moreover, said only once a year at the close of
Yom Kippur, is probably the most holy prayer in the Jewish calendar. The
choice of that particular time must have been dictated by the need to
explain to all Jews that the duty of killing a Jewish informer is more
important than other religious considerations. Indeed, Maimonides wrote
in his authoritative commentary to the Mishnah, as quoted by Asaf in The
Punishment s on page 63: "It happens every day in the west [Spain and
North Africa] that informers who allegedly informed about money of the
Jews are killed or are [themselves] informed against to non- Jews so that
they [the Jewish informers] would be either killed or beaten by them [the
non- Jews] or given to the wicked." This rule, widely quoted by later
authorities, established an important precedent: informing is permitted,
even enjoyed, when done by communal Jewish authorities in cases that
they consider essential. Only individual Jews should be killed if they
In another part of his commentary Maimonides said that the obligation to
kill both informers and heretics is a tradition that is applied in all cities of
the west. After the reconquest of most of Spain by the Christians, except
for the kingdom of Grenada, killings of informers continued and actually
intensified in the kingdoms of Granada, Castile and Aragon. The number of
cases recorded in the Spanish responsa is very large. The following few
examples are representative: Rabenu Asher, as quoted by Asaf in The
Punishment s on page 73, answered a question about a Jew who was a
notorious informer; the rabbinical court investigated the case. Rabenu
Asher answered that the killing of informers does not need witnesses but
only the expression of opinion by other Jews that a given person is indeed
an informer. "Had we needed to take testimony of witnesses before the
accused," Rabenu Asher opined, "we would never be able to convict them
[the informers]." (This same reasoning was employed by the Inquisition, by
modern totalitarian states and by the Israeli conquest regime in the
territories occupied since 1967.) Rabenu Asher immigrated to Spain from
northern France when already a famous rabbi; he was probably familiar
with Ashkenazi customs as well as with those of Spanish Jews. Hence, he
could probably comment with knowledge and sophistication that common
practice in the diaspora was to punish with death an informer who
informed three times on the Jews or their money. This was necessary,
Rabenu Asher maintained, so that the number of informers among Jews
would not increase. After reflecting upon all of this a bit more, he
concluded that killing the informer as a punishment was a good deed. It
would emphasize that all the Lord's enemies should perish.
In another responsa, cited by Asaf on page 74, Rabenu Asher dealt with a
Jew, called either Avraham or Alot. Some Jews had charged that he had
informed several times. Rabenu Asher insisted for all to know that the
informer could be punished even on Yom Kippur when it falls on the
Sabbath; he said that this had occurred in Germany and France. Rabbi
Yehuda, the son of Rabenu Asher, opined, according to Asaf on page 79 of
The Punishments, "[In the case of a Jew who had been an informer for
years] every one who kills him will be rewarded by God. A Jew who could
kill the informer and did not can be punished for all that the informer did
as if he did it himself." In another case Rabbi Yehuda explained that the
Jews themselves should kill the informers lest non- Jewish judges would
refuse to inflict death penalties for informing. In some cases Jewish
congregations literally bought the life of an informer from the king and
then executed him publicly. This occurred for instance, in Barcelona in
April, 1279. Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, according to Asaf in The
Punishment s on pages 65 to 67, reported this in his responsa. A Jew,
named Vidalan de Porta, who belonged to a noble family, informed to King
Pedro II of Aragon, who was also the Count of Catalonia. After being
requested by the Jewish inhabitants of Catalonia, the king agreed (probably
for a payment) to deliver him to the Jewish authorities of Barcelona, who
had previously sentenced de Porta to death. Jews in Barcelona led him "to
the street before the cemetery in Barcelona, and they opened the veins of
both his arms. He bled to death." Three years after the execution, brothers
of the victim protes ted against it. Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet defended the
verdict by noting that such verdicts were often carried out in Aragon and
Castile. He also wrote to Germany seeking and receiving suppor t for the
verdict from the most important rabbi of that time, Meir of Rothenburg
(Maharam). The law of the informer is clearly apparent in an anonymous
Spanish responsa, important because it was quoted by the famous
sixteenth - century Polish rabbi, Shlomo Luria. This is cited by Asaf in The
Punishment s on pages 83 to 87: "He [the informer] is not only killed by
decision of the [rabbinic] court, but any Jew who himself is first to kill him
will be rewarded by God." This same statement appeared in numerous
rabbinical responsa.
Spanish Jews killed and/or mutilated informers as late as the fifteenth
century. Jews in other communi ties, especially in North Africa and
Portugal, who were influenced by Spanish Jews did likewise. Rabbi Shimon,
the,son of Rabbi Tzemach, who emigrated from Spain and went to Algiers
in the early fifteenth century wrote in a responsa, as reported by Asaf on
page 88 of The Punishments, about the sacred duty to kill an informer. In
another responsa, according to Asaf on page 89 of The Punishment s, Rabbi
Shimon recognized that killing was not always possible. He advised in such
cases that the informer should be branded on his brow or flogged but in
any case should have his name as an informer publicized in all
Information about the killing of reformers in early Ashkenazi communities
in northern France and Germany is sparse before and non- existent after
the thirteenth century. This was probably due to lesser Jewish autonomy
and to the stronger power of non- Jewish states. Rabenu Asher, as
previously mentioned, testified that in his time the killing of informers in
Germany was common. He presented little evidence. Rabenu Tam, one of
the chief rabbi of northern France, according to Asaf in The Punishments
on page 107, reported that an assembly of French rabbis, held in Troyes,
debated the problems "caused by the criminals of our nation," who either
secretly or openly informed, and by the Jews who brought their cases
against other Jews to non- Jewish judges, thereby flouting the exclusive
authority of rabbinical courts. The only explicit punishment inflicted upon
those criminals was excommunication, which included a prohibition
against speaking to them. The rabbis tempered the prohibition somewhat
by stating that those Jews who feared the anger of the king or the feudal
lords could speak to the excommunicated informers but could not use
such permission as merely an excuse to do so. Some rabbis said that an
obscure ancient rule against informers could in addition be inflected. In the
latter part of the thirteenth century, according to Asaf on page 107 of The
Punishment s, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg wrote that Jews could kill or
mutilate, by cutting out the tongue of an informer, who remained in a state
of permanent excommunication. In only a few known informer cases in
Germany in this time period were killing or mutilation inflicted. One such
case concerned an informer in Strasbourg in the early fourteenth century.
As reported by Asaf on page 108 of The Punishment s, Rabbi Samuel
Switzstat of Strasbourg sentenced an informer to death. The Jewish
community applied to a non- Jewish judge who ordered the informer to be
drowned in the Rhine. Some of the informer's friends then appealed to
some powerful feudal lords and through them to the emperor. The friends
testified in non- Jewish courts and gave signed testimony, apparently
written in Latin. They testified that Rabbi Shlitzstat sent a letter to the Jews
in which he said the informer should be killed. They also testified that he
collected money from the Strasbourg and nearby Jewish communi ties to
insure the drowning. The implication here was that the judge who gave the
order to drown was bribed. The result in this case was that Rabbi Shlitzstat
had to hide from the authorities for several years and thereafter escaped
from Germany to go to Iraq. He told the president of the Iraqi Jewish
community, David son of Hodaya, about the inequities of the Jews who had
persecuted him. David son of Hodaya then solemnly excommunicated the
offenders in writing. Rabbi Shlitzstat returned to Germany with the
excommunication order. What happened upon his return, that is, the end
of the story, is not known. From that time rabbinical sources reveal nothing
about killings but much about excommunication of informers.
Detailed information about Ashkenazi Jews in sixteenth - century Poland is
available. These Polish Jews, as previously indicated, enjoyed extensive
autonomy in the relatively weak Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Because of this, killings and other punishment s of Jewish informers, for
which evidence is abundant, were commonplace. Rabbi Shlomo Luria, as
Asaf made clear on page 122 of The Punishment s, stipulated that
informers should be killed. He added:
It is better to kill than to mutilate them, for example by cutting
out their tongues, so as to remove the evil from our midst. It is also
not only probable but nearly certain that a [mutilated] Jew would
convert and, in order to take revenge, would tell incorrect things
about Jews. I saw myself that by only mutilating them [the informers]
Jews have greatly suffered.
After the early seventeenth century, Polish rabbis and the Jewish
autonomous authorities tended to employ more cautious language when
writing about killing Jewish informers. In a case of a certain Jewish
informer who had been expelled from the town of Pinsk and from all
Lithuania but who appeared in Lubavitch, the Committee of Lithuanian
Jews in its ruling used the Hebrew phrase "hatarat dam" ("allowing the
shedding of blood"). Asaf on page 128 and 129 of The Punishment s
discussed this ruling. This phrase, which became common in such rulings
thereafter, was a bit less direct than an actual order to kill an informer. In
this same case the Committee of Lithuanian Jews, after ruling that Jews
who revealed Jewish secrets should be excommunicated even on Yom
Kippur, stipulated, as reported by Asaf:
In case of anybody who informs, even about Jewish money, and
certainly in cases of bodily harm, every Jew knows the law and
therefore there is no need to make any rules. We only are warning,
we order every Jew who sees or hears such action, whether it
concerns him or not, within three days to tell it to two notables of
the town who are not connected to the informer. Otherwise he [that
Jew who sees of hears such action] will be excommunicated himself,
and the punishment of the informer will be applied to him. The two
notables will then do what they should do. But if the informer is
powerful and for the time being they [the notables] cannot do
anything to him, the rabbis and notables will write his name in the
Chronicle [of the town] so that his [the informer's] sons will not be
circumcised, no one will marry his daughters and he will be excluded
from all sacred matters. The good chief rabbis will also keep watch
so that the verse "and when I shall avenge" [a verse occurring several
times in the Pentateuch that supposedly means that God's revenge
has been delayed but will come] would apply to him.
Again, the language employed is more cautious and indirect than a direct
order to kill an informer or a Jew who did not report an informer. The last
sentence of the ruling is especially relevant.
A second Polish example is found in the preserved chronicle of the Jewish
community in Krakow. This is discussed by Asaf on page 133 of The
Punishment s. This chronicle condemns Yisrael, son of Rabbi Aharon
Welitshker, for informing on the Jews in regard to financial matters,
robbing, using violence and committing religious offences that cannot be
written. The condemnation continued:
We, the notables of the communi ty and we the most honorable
[rabbinical court], let the Lord guard them, considered the honor of
his family and lessened his punishment. We therefore condemn him
only to be excommunicated in all the synagogues and be incapable of
either bearing testimony or swearing [in rabbinical court]. An iron
collar should be put on his neck. He must also give back what he
took by robbery, whether it was stolen from individuals or from
communi ties. His property should be confiscated wherever found.
Additionally, he was ordered expelled from the town; not one of his
descendents was ever allowed to live in that town. This tempered verdict
was issued in the spring of 1772.
The third Polish example is taken from the preface to a talmudic book,
Taharat Kodesh, published in 1733 and written by Rabbi Benyamin, son of
the important Polish religious leader, Rabbi Matattya. This book, to which
Asaf referred on page 133 of The Punishments, showed that informers
increased in number over a period of time, in spite of killings and other
ferocious punishment s meted out to them. Rabbi Benyamin bitterly
complained about the large number of Jewish informers in his time and
added that many Jews helped or flattered them. He asked Jews to avoid the
informers. His proposed remedy was "to allow their blood [to be shed] so
that we shall exterminate them totally." Rabbi Benyamin additionally
prohibited accepting money from them for charitable purposes. He added
that in an unspecified distant country the Jews had succeeded in
exterminating the informers and thereby were secure in spite of their
spending a goodly amount of money for their security. Rabbi Benyamin's
recommendations were not cautious. More importantly, the Tsarist police
investigations of the killing of Jewish informers and the many testimonies
of enlightened Jews in the nineteenth century show that the problem of
Jewish informers was not solved by these recommendations.
After the division of the Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth between Russia,
Austria and Prussia, finalized in 1795, and after the resultant abolition of
autonomy of Jewish communi ties by the three conquering powers, violence
inflicted by Jews, especially by Jewish authorities, on other Jews rapidly
declined. Violence virtually disappeared in the Prussian part of Poland and
remained at about the same level in the areas ruled by Russia. In the
Russian area, violence, when practiced however, was often secret. In the
area ruled by Austria (Galicia) the situation was a bit more complex; Jewish
violence such as assassinations of modernist rabbis occurred under certain
The different levels of inter - Jewish violence in the three parts of divided
Poland should be ascribed to the different levels of modern influences
after the division. The Jews in the Prussian part of Poland were in an
efficient absolutist monarchy, equipped with a good police and civil
administration that were greatly influenced by modernist tendencies. The
first partition of Poland occurred when Frederic II, the Great, the friend of
Voltaire and other French philosopher s of the age of the Enlightenment,
ruled Prussia. The influences of the Enlightenment, at least in the ranks of
Prussian administrator s, remained strong for at least a generation after the
death of Frederic II in 1786. Probably of equal importance was the fact that
the Jewish Enlightenment began in Prussia, which possessed even before
the partition of Poland a strong communi ty of enlightened Jews, centered
on Berlin, who at that time expressed themselves as much in Hebrew as in
German. These enlightened Jews could thus be immediately understood by
the majority of male Jews in areas annexed to Prussia.
The Jews in the Russian area of Poland were by contrast in a more
backward regime that had a weak and inefficient administration in spite of
the thin veneer of the Enlightenment provided by Catherine II, the Great.
Russia had also been a country without Jews for hundreds of years. The
first Jews allowed to live in the Tsarist Empire were the Jews who lived in
the annexed Polish territory. The notorious "Pale," the only area of Russia
where Jews, with a few exceptions, were allowed to live until 1917, was
simply the area of the Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth annexed to
Russia. The "old Russia" kept its "purity" of being forbidden to Jews.
Because of the absence of Jews, Russians, especially Russian Church
leaders, had a strong tradition of anti - Semitism. Anti - Semitism in Russia
in 1800 was worse than in any other country at that time. The Tsarist
regime, moreover, at the beginning of the Polish takeover introduced
special taxes on Jews, in force until 1905, as well as other discriminations
against Jews. The absence of large towns and cities, except for St.
Petersburg and Moscow which were forbidden to Jews, and the
undeveloped state of education enabled most Jews annexed to Russia to
continue their old customs, especially in the smaller communi ties, until the
1880s. The old customs included the persecution of heretics and the killing
of informers. Nevertheless, the small but growing group of enlightened
Jews found it easier to oppose these and other old customs under Russian
rule than under the conditions of Jewish autonomy in the Polish-
Lithuanian Commonwealth. Russian rule, even with its deficiencies,
afforded the enlightened Jews somewhat more protection than they
previously had, enabling them at least to testify about killings of informers.
The Jews in the territories annexed by Austria were in an intermediate
situation between Prussia and Russia. After 1848 and especially after 1867,
when Austria granted a limited form of constitution and other civil
liberties, the Jewish situation in Austria came to approximate more the
Prussian and after the unification of Germany in 1871, the German
model.18 Austria and the Hapsburg dynasty had strong anti - Semitic
tendencies that were prominent under Maria Theresa (1740- 80), who was
probably the most anti - Jewish ruler of eighteenth - century Europe and who
was responsible for the largest expulsion of Jews before the Nazi era: she
expelled about 70,000 Jews from Prague and other Bohemian towns in
1745. Maria Theresa had to reverse her decree and allow Jews to return
within a short time because of the strong protests of her allies, Britain and
Holland, upon whose subsidies she depended in the War of Austrian
Succession. Her successor, Joseph II, reversed her policies and in 1782
issued a decree granting limited, but still significant, rights to Jews. He did
this in the face of considerable opposition.19 After Joseph's death in 1790,
the two tendencies fluctuated until Emperor Franz Joseph decided to adopt
a pro- Jewish policy in 1867.
The new Israeli historians have presented evidence showing that until the
1880s the killings of Jewish informers by Jews in the Tsarist Empire were
numerous. In his article dealing with the new Israeli historians Rosen
quoted the writer, Shaul Ginzberg, who wrote in his autobiography that
during the nineteenth century hundreds of Jewish informers were drowned
in the Dnieper, the largest river flowing in the "Pale." These informers were
charged and convicted under the law of the informers simply because they
were suspected of informing the authorities about something. Rosen wrote:
"Like Avraham Cohen, some of them acted because of ideological reasons
such as the wish to bring the Jewish communi ty to a modern way of life."
Dr. David Asaf researched some of those affairs and said: "Some of the
informers were professionals who gave the authorities information about
tax concealment, but even in such cases, judging them by what amount s to
rabbinical martial courts and their execution by what amount s to lynching
help us to understand the conflict between the enlightened Jews and the
Orthodox, particularly the Hassids." As previously shown, a Jewish
informer was condemned to death in secret without being able to say
anything in his own defense. This mode of execution was employed for
hundreds of years until the recent time.20 Rosen asked Asaf if the Jewish
community regarded those informers as traitors. Asaf responded:
They were not so regarded by the enlightened Jews. More than
this, the enlightened Jews wanted the Jews to be citizens of the state.
This included in their view paying taxes and serving in the army.
Giving information to authorities was in many cases a necessary
thing in their view. If you compare the situation to the one existing
[in Israel) now [one year after the assassination of Rabin] then, with
some changes, the present conflict is similar to what went on then.
To show what was involved, Asaf recounted an affair he had researched
involving a famous Hassidic rabbi from the town of Rozin, Israel Friedman,
who was known as the "holy man of Rozin." Friedman as a major Hassidic
personage was important, because the Hassidic movement played a major
role in those assassinations. Asaf related, as reported by Rosen:
Friedman was one of the greatest Hassidic leaders. In Jewish
history books he is represented as a person of small scholarly
knowledge but also as a man of power who enjoyed the delights of
life. He was instrumental in the issuing of the law of the pursuer
against some informers from the town of Oshitz in the Podolia
district of the Ukraine. In February, 1836, a corpse of one of the
persons, Yitzhak Oxman, was found beneath blocks of ice on the
frozen river. The corpse was so mutilated, apparently as a result of
torture, that it was difficult to identify. Only some time thereafter,
when the corpse was taken out of its grave, were new witnesses able
to identify it. The corpse of the other murdered person, Shmuel
Schwatzman, disappeared. We now know that he was strangled while
praying in the synagogue. His corpse was cut into pieces and burned
in the oven that heated the community bath. Following a police
investigation, in which even Tsar Nicolai I was interested, it was
established that the Jews of the community where the murder was
committed, including relatives of the murdered persons, knew
perfectly well what had taken place and how it was carried out.
Everyone stayed silent either because of strong discipline or because
of fear. This case was one of the few in which a secret rabbinical
court, which issues unwritten verdicts of the law of the pursuer and
death punishment s, was discovered. Yosef Perl, one of the chiefs of
the enlightened Jews of Galicia, secretly supplied information to the
Russian authorities in order to bring about the conviction of Rabbi
Yisrael of Rozin.
Asaf, who also described other Hassidic murders, said that Perl, who hated
the Hassids, acted for reasons that he believed to be ideological. Rosen, in
interviewing the new historians, discovered that the various Hassids also
struggled violently with one another mainly because of economic interests.
He wrote: "Since the Hassids gave money to their holy men and some of the
latter adopted a nineteenth century way of life that rivalled the luxuries of
contemporary kings, they were interested in the places from which their
incomes came."
Pre- modern Judaism was characterized by many cases of inter - Jewish
violence, of which the few cases mentioned above are merely
representative. These few cases, however, are sufficient to show that Jewish
fundamentalism in Israel, both in its messianic and Haredi forms, is a
reversion to a situation that existed before the onset of modernization and
the loss of the type of Jewish autonomy with its arbitrary powers that
allowed killing or otherwise severely punishing informers. What occurred
in Jewish fundamentalism is not dissimilar to what occurred in other forms
of fundamentalism. Some innovations have been made, largely to disguise
true intent. The predominant wish ideologically is to return to the
supposedly "good times" when everything was seen and kept in proper
order. In the case of the Jewish messianic variety of fundamentalism, the
idea is to use modern methods to achieve the power to re- establish the
traditional way of life in an effectual manner. The dangers of Jewish
fundamentalism being established in Israel as at least part of the ruling
power are great. For non- Jews in the Middle East, the Arabs and especially
the Palestinians, the main danger is in and with the messianic variety of
Jewish fundamentalism. This is most apparent in the role of the Jewish
religious settlers in the Occupied Territories. For Israeli Jews who will not
accept the tenets of Jewish fundamentalism, however, all varieties are
dangerous. The Jewish fundament alist attitude towards heretics is much
worse than is the attitude towards non- Jews. This is analogous to the
situation in other religions. A contemporary example is the attitude of the
Iranian regime to Baha'ists, regarded as Muslim heretics, which is much
worse than the attitude towards Christians and Jews. Our firm belief is that
a fundamentalist Jewish regime, if it came to power in Israel, would treat
Israeli Jews who did not accept its tenets worse than it would treat
Palestinians. This book is an attempt to provide wider unders tanding of
Jewish fundamentalism and hopefully help avert the danger from
becoming a reality.
Notes to Chapter 7
1. "Rabenu" is the Hebrew word for "our rabbi." It was an honorary title
given only to a few of the most famous rabbis.
2. Before and during talmudic times, rabbis in the Holy Land who were
empowered to teach authoritatively and to serve as judges were appointed
by "laying of hands." A rabbi, already so appointed, laid his hands on the
head of a candidate and pronounced a sacred formula designed to transmit
a sacred power, supposedly derived from Moses although not mentioned in
the Bible. Rabbis in other countries never were given this form of
appointment. Even if diaspora rabbis came to the Holy Land and after a
long stay of study received the "laying of hands" appointment, they were
forbidden to transmit it to other diaspora rabbis not in the Holy Land. The
student s of diaspora rabbis, who themselves became rabbis but did not go
to the Holy Land, were, therefore, unable to judge in many matters under
the normal law. The last Palestinian rabbis with powers derived from
"laying of hands" seemingly disappeared in the tenth century without
leaving successors.
3. This rule, which was never abrogated, seemingly applies to Torah scrolls
used by Conservative and Reform rabbis. Many Orthodox rabbis in Israel
have proclaimed that Reform and Conservative rabbis are heretics. Some of
these Orthodox rabbis have publicly stated that Reform Jews are worse
than heretics.
4. One example of these freely discussed issues is: After the Great Flood,
how did animals who could not swim well and far reach islands in the
5. One example of such theological problems is: What is God by his very
nature incapable of doing?
6. Israel Shahak, one of the authors of this book, was present as a child in
Warsaw, Poland, in early 1939 at a funeral of a Jewish heretic, the second
cousin of his father. (He also heard this story confirmed by family
members later.) At the funeral the immediate family members, including
the father, put on the white garments that pious Jews wear on the holidays
and rejoiced. One of Shahak's friends who came from Alexandria, Egypt,
after hearing this story, recalled a similar Jewish funeral in Alexandria in
the early 1940s with the family dressed in white.
7. Rabbi Samuel the Prince was so called, because he was a minister and a
general in the kingdom of Granada.
8. The Karaites denied the authority of the Talmud and only accepted the
Bible. Rabbi Yoseph ben Faruj, who was made the head of the Jews in Spain
and given the title of Prince, expelled the Karaites.
9. A punishment considered to be similar to the kuneh was the putting of
an iron collar on the neck of a Jewish criminal. The criminal then would
have to walk or pace with this iron collar.
10. This important background is unfortunately not mentioned in the
major historical studies of the Jews in the United States or in other
countries to which Jews immigrated in the nineteenth centuty. The
background is likewise not mentioned in those romantic, apologetic works
that purpor t to describe the lives of first - generation Jewish immigrants.
Many characteristics of the Jews in the United States and elsewhere were
probably affected by this background.
11. This letter is described and partially quoted in Meir Balaban, The
History of the Frankist Movement (Tel- Aviv, 1934 in Hebrew, p. 128). The
letter was published in full in Rabbi Yaakov Emden's Sefer Hashimush, a
collection of documents about various heresies (part B, document B).
12. Ibid.
13. This important point is seldom acknowledged in the histories of Jews
written in English.
14. David Asaf should be distinguished from Rabbi Simha Asaf who wrote
The Punishments After the Talmud was Finalized: Materials for the History
of Hebrew Law Jerusalem, 1992).
15. Two most important sources should be consulted to gain an
understanding of these satires and the nature of the Hassidic movement
against which they were directed. The first source is Yitzhak Erter's satire,
Metempychosis (Gilgul Nefesh in Hebrew). Erter, who died in 1852, was
regarded as the best Hebrew satirist of his time; his works were widely read
and were republished again and again, the last time in 1996 in Israel. In his
satire, Ertel dealt with the Hassidic belief in metempsychosis and the help
given by holy rabbis to the soul as it passes from a human body to an
animal and then back again. The author meets a soul of a recently
deceased Jew that tells him about its seventeen changes of abode. In one of
those adventures, the soul inhabited a body of an intriguing zealot who
died of chagrin when one of his intrigues failed; the soul then passed into
the body of a fox with an especially beautiful and long tail. The tail caused
the fox to be noticed by fox hunters and killed. Because a blessing of a holy
rabbi was not said at the moment of death, however, the soul became a
disembodied ghost. A Hassid bought the fur made of the fox's tail and in
turn made it into a collar for a coat that he offered to his holy rabbi. A
miracle occurred when the holy rabbi put on the coat and the fur touched
his (the rabbi's) holy flesh. Erter wrote: "The fox's late soul was born again
in a body of another holy rabbi, a person as clever and deceitful as a fox. "
The second source is an earlier work, The Discoverer of Secrets (Megaleh
Temirin in Hebrew), published anonymously in 1819 by Yosef Perl, the
most enlightened Jew in Galicia at that time. The book purpor ts to consist
of letters written (in atrocious Hebrew, imitated from the bad style and
grammar common in Hassidic books) by one Hassid to another and
supposedly edited by another Hassid who found the letters and added
learned references from major Hassidic books for every absurdity piously
related by the correspondents. In Letter 150, one of the Hassids related
that his holy rabbi died and that his widow earned a great amount of
money by selling his garments to Hassids. Clothes of holy rabbis have
sacramental value and absolve even the greatest sins if worn. Putting on a
shirt of a holy rabbi; for example, absolves a person of the sin of murder,
while putting on a holy rabbi's trousers absolves a person of adultery. The
supposed editor of this book added several authentic references from
Hassidic books to substantiate this belief among Hassids of his time. Such
beliefs continue to be common among Hassids of today.
Unfortunately many of the books written specifically about Hassidism and
almost all general Jewish histories written in English do not mention such
16. "Moser," the Hebrew word for informer, is a terrible insult for Jews,
similar to the word "collaborator" for Palestinians.
17. This was feasible if the Jewish communi ty was united in facing a single
informer or heretic or even a few of them. Difficulty arose when the
community was split; each group then thought the other was heretical and
should be reported to the authorities. This happened often in Jewish
history. The consequences of such quarrels in which the non- Jewish
authorities became involved were sometimes localized but other times
spread to and disturbed Jewish communi ties in several countries. One such
controversy involved Maimonides, a most severe critic of heresy who in this
case was accused of being a heretic himself. Maimonides' position as a
doctor to Al- Abdal, the brother of Saladin and the governor of Egypt, and
as the supervisor of Egyptian Jews, prevented any significant Jewish
attacks upon him in Muslim countries. Some Iraqi rabbis, who presumably
enjoyed the patronage of the Khalif A- Nasir (1180- 1225), made cautious
accusations against him. Even after his death, Maimonides' position as
supervisor of Egyptian Jews, which was inherited by his descendant s for six
generations, greatly fortified his position in all Muslim countries. In
Christian Europe, however, Maimonides was repeatedly accused of being a
heretic. Rabbi Shlomo of Montpellier from southern France first made this
charge in the 1220s. Some rabbis and notables defended him; others
opposed him. The anti - Maimonidean faction informed the Christian
inquisitors, who were busy persecuting the Albigenses in southern France,
that the philosophical, as well as some halachic, writings of Maimonides
also offended Christianity. The inquisitors probably knew neither Hebrew
nor Arabic, the languages in which the supposedly offending books were
written, but they collected and burned some of them publicly. The pro-
Maimonidean faction appealed to feudal lords, who captured some of the
anti - Maimonidean Jews and delivered them to their Jewish enemies, who
punished them as informers by cutting out their tongues. The controversy,
nevertheless, continued until about 1300. This controversy probably still
exists. In spite of the enormous prestige Maimonides enjoys among
Orthodox Jews as the first codifier of the Halacha and as the leading
philosopher of Judaism, he remains suspect among the Haredim. Most
Haredi rabbis keep the philosophical writings of Maimonides away from
most of their pupils. Maimonides, in the opinion of some scholars and in
the view of this book's writers, was in some ways a heretic according to his
own definition of the term. The obscure writing of his philosophy makes
his heresies difficult for most readers to perceive. On this point, see Leo
Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, Chapters 2 and 3. Strauss
compared the style of writing employed by some writers under the
Communist regimes of the 1950s with the style employed by Maimonides
and other Jewish medieval thinkers. Both groups used a comparable style
to obscure some points from many readers because of fear of persecution
by zealots, while at the same time giving hints that could be unders tood by
sophisticated readers.
18. This situation, which endured until the rise of Nazism, made the Jews
of eastern Europe strong German sympathizer s and contributed tO the rise
of modern Polish anti - Semitism. Contrary to what Goldhagen has
propagated, Jews of eastern Europe, even during World War I, regarded the
Germans and the German occupying army as philo- Semitic. They had good
reasons for holding this view.
19. In addition to the standard works of Jewish history, see Ernst
Wangermann, The Austrian Achievement 1700- 1800 (London: Thames and
Hudson, 1973). Wangermann noted outburst s of anti - Semitic violence in
the period after the limited tolerance granted by Joseph II. He also noted
that a conservative member of the Council of State, critical of the Jews of
Vienna for beginning to dress in a modern way, remarked: "[The sight ot]
young Jewish men, contrary to all custom going in public dressed
indistinguishably from Christians... some even with swords at their sides
[presages dissolution of society]. " Cardinal Migazzi, the Archbishop of
Vienna and the leader of the Catholic Conservative Party, was one of the
people who most warned against any toleration for Jews. After the death of
Joseph II and at the request of some rabbis, the Austrian government
instituted strict censorship of Jewish books and prohibited the printing
and import of all books of the Cabbala. Eliezer Falklash, the rabbi of Prague
and the personal friend of the censor appointed to carry out this "holy
work," addressed a long responsa to the censor on this subject. Rabbi
Falklash in his responsa praised the order and applauded the Emperors
Leopold II and Francis II for upholding the purity of the Jewish religion. See
Shmuel Vertes, Enlightenment and False Messianic Tendencies: History of a
Struggle Jerusalem: Shmuel Vertes, 1998, in Hebrew).
20. This is unknown to many Jews living in English- speaking countries
because of censorship and apologetic writing that leaves out negative
aspects ofJewish history. In Israel today, the Hebrew press frequently
reports the use by Haredim of the law of the informer and the law of the
pursuer. On February 18, 1999, for example, Haaretz reported that Israeli
prosecutor s accused Yosef Prushinovsky, a Haredi Jew who lived in the Mea
She'arim quarter of Jerusalem and was on trial for swindling tens of
millions of dollars from Haredim around the world, of trying to intimidate
Haredi witnesses with these two laws. Prushinovsky allegedly threatened to
use these two laws against any Haredi witnesses who dared to testify
against him in Israeli secular courts. Many Haredi rabbis have held that
testifying in Israeli secular courts, in which Arabs can be judges,
constitutes informing to non- Jewish authorities. Haredi Jews, such as
Prushinovsky, are thus often able to commit crimes, usually swindling, with
legal impunity so long as they do it in their own community and do not
steal so much that their pious victims are influenced to commit a grave sin
in order to retrieve their money. The same situation is prevalent in some of
the Haredi Jewish communi ties in the United States, but the American
press rarely reports the cases or offers any halachic explanation.
Note on Bibliography and Related Matters
Serious books describing a social phenomenon usually contain a
bibliographical listing or essay, detailing and perhaps briefly discussing the
primary and secondary sources consulted by the authors. For some years
we have read a significant number of books in English and Hebrew that are
concerned with Judaism and the state of Israel. In our book we decided to
refer only minimally to those books in English; we relied primarily upon
the Israeli Hebrew press, basic Jewish religious (and in a few cases literary)
texts and some learned Hebrew articles, published in Israeli journals and
magazines. We identified these in our text. Our first reason for doing this
is that Hebrew sources are, with few exceptions, the most pertinent in
dealing with Jewish fundamentalism in Israel. We are nevertheless aware
that the number of books that focus on aspects of or background to our
topic, published in English and languages other than Hebrew, is large. We
wish to offer an explanation about why we did not cite, and most often
ignored, much of this voluminous literature.
We believe that the great majority of the books on Judaism and Israel,
published in English especially, falsify their subject matter. The
falsification is sometimes a result of explicit lying but is mostly the result
of omission of major facts that may create what the authors consider to be
an adverse view of their subjects. Many of the books that fit into this
category are comparable to much of the literature produced in totalitarian
systems, whether religious or secular and whether or not embodied in a
state. We do not deny that books on Israel and Judaism published in
English have value; they may, and often do, contain correct and valuable
information. Books about the USSR under Stalin or his successors written
by Stalinists, books about Iran written by followers of Khomeini, books on
Christian fundamentalism written by its adherents often contain correct
and valuable information. Many other analagous examples exist. What
usually makes such books unreliable are not so much the lies but rather
the purposeful omissions. Regarding Judaism and Israel, the omissions are
more blatant and numerous in books published in English outside of Israel
than they are in Israel's Hebrew literature. The omissions pertinent to our
subject of Jewish fundamentalism exist for the same apologetic reasons as
do the literary omissions in any totalitarian system. The information freely
available in Hebrew can and should be used to redress apologia by
omissions in English. The coverage in Hebrew of Jewish fundamentalism is
more complete and is not riddled with omissions, because, as our book
shows, Jewish fundamentalism poses an immediate threat to the beliefs
and style of life of a majority of Israeli Jews. Jewish fundamentalism, if it
increases in strength, could destroy Israeli democracy; this danger does not
exist in the diaspora where Jews, even when suppor ting the worst aspects
of Jewish fundamentalism, benefit from democracy and pluralism. In our
view the state of Israel has faults that have been and still are caused by the
nature of Zionism and by the open and hidden influences of Jewish
fundamentalism. To exchange the present reality of the state of Israel for a
Jewish fundamentalist state of either the Haredi or messianic variety would
create a far worse situation for Jews, Palestinians and perhaps the entire
Middle East. We believe that our book, based primarily upon Hebrew
sources, correctly points out this danger for the first time in English.
To document our above comment s, we shall present a short list of
important issues in Israel and in Jewish history of the diaspora before the
modern period, which are relevant for Jewish fundamentalism but are
nevertheless omitted from the literature in English about Israel and
Judaism. We shall first consider two issues, closely connected to Jewish
fundamentalism, that are not specifically mentioned in our book. We shall
thereafter present some issues that, although discussed in our book, are
not mentioned in the voluminous literature in English. During the Labor
Party primaries of the 1999 Israeli election campaigns, accusations
appeared in the Hebrew press claiming that fraud in the vote counts
occurred in Druze and Arab sectors of the party. The use of such
expressions should raise concern. Political parties in the United States and
Britain do not specify Jewish, non- Jewish or similar sectors. Readers of the
Israeli Hebrew press know that an Arab or Druze, that is, a non- Jew who is
an Israeli citizen, even if living in Tel- Aviv or Haifa, cannot belong to the
Labor Party branch of her or his neighborhood; that person must belong to
one of the two sectors that exist for Druze and Arabs respectively. Jews
cannot belong to one of those sectors. Consequently, an Arab living in Tel-
Aviv votes in the primaries of the Israeli Labor Party only as a member of
the Arab sector and not together with her or his neighbors. Other types of
sectors also exist, based upon social structure in the Labor Party. The
kibbutzim sector is one example. In these other sectors membership
fluctuates according to the natural movements of population, not
according to racist criteria. A kibbutz member of the Labor Party who
leaves the Kibbutz to settle in Tel- Aviv becomes a member of the party
branch of that person's new neighborhood; conversely, a Tel- Aviv member
of the Labor Party who joins a kibbutz automatically becomes a member of
the kibbutz sector. In contrast, an Arab member of the Labor Party remains
an Arab wherever that person lives, confined ethnically or more precisely
religiously. Such a proposal for the operation of political parties in the
United States or Great Britain would be quickly labeled and condemned
correctly as anti - Semitic. Such a proposal would be roundly discussed in
the press and in other literature concerned with the United States and/or
Great Britain. In the voluminous descriptions in English of Israel, this
phenomenon, although known in Israel, is almost never mentioned.
The probable reasons for the above omission are most likely the same as
those for other similar omissions. The first and most important probable
reason is that many Jews and those who sympathize with them wish to
avoid comparisons between what rights Jews as a minority in the diaspora
demand for themselves and what rights Jews deny to non- Jews in those
areas where Jews are a majority and wield the power. We believe that
Jewish fundamentalism justifies, explicitly and unconsciously as a believed
survival tactic, both the discrimination and its cover - up. As noted in our
book, Jewish fundamentalism in Israel influences most of society. Its
influence is especially significant in regard to the principles of Israeli state
policies, but its hidden and often clear - cut influence upon a majority of
Jews in the diaspora is strong. Two additional reasons in our view account
for omissions of vital facts in the English discussion of phenomena in
Israel that could be disturbing to many people. A hidden, and sometimes
not so hidden, assumption made in much of the English literature about
Judaism and about Israel as a Jewish state is that Jews are morally superior
to all other nations. This is the most important belief of Jewish
fundamentalists who condemn almost everything "not Jewish" mostly
because it is non- Jewish. Any discussion of the fact that many Jews, when
they are able, practice the same kind of discrimination against non- Jews
that some non- Jews practice against Jews could be detrimental to the
theory of Jewish moral superiority. Although we believe this is part of
racist theory, which we oppose, we understand that unfortunately human
beings, including Jews, often have xenophobic tendencies influenced by
historical circums tances. Thus, Jews can and should be viewed within the
same context as other human beings and should in this regard work to
eradicate Jewish xenophobia by exposing it in its present and past forms.
The second reason emanates from writers who are apologists for and from
other advocates of the Israeli political left. The Labor Party is Israel has
consistently practiced blatant racism. Likud, the most important party of
the Israeli right, has not practiced racism so severely and generally as has
the Labor Party. As opposed to the Labor Party situation, Arabs have been,
and still are, able to be members of Likud in their own neighborhood
branches. The idea that the Israeli right wing is in this particular case
better than the Labor Party is abhorrent to the dogmatists of and
apologists for the left just as in the 1930s the idea that many practices in
Great Britain were better than those of Stalin was abhorrent to fellow
travelers. The refuge in both cases was and is a consistent omission of
facts that do not fit into the dogma.
A similar case in point is kibbutz membership in Israel. The kibbutz is one
of the most admired, especially by leftist apologists, Israeli phenomena. It
is a fact, widely known and discussed in Israel, that only Jews can be
kibbutz members. Non- Jews who wish to become kibbutz members must
not only acquire the approval of the kibbutz members; they must, as a
condition of joining, convert to Judaism. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has
established conversion schools for non- Jews who wish to join kibbutzim.
One of the conditions for conversion to Judaism of women in this as in
other situations is that the female convert must be observed naked in a
purification bath by three rabbis. Some of the other conditions for
conversion of those non- Jews desirous of joining kibbutzim are lighter
than are conditions for other potential converts. The Israeli Hebrew press
has often focused upon the degree of difference in conversion procedures
and has also mentioned repeatedly that to date not one Palestinian has
become a kibbutz member. This specific, clearly influenced by Jewish
fundamentalism, is almost always omitted in English language books
published about and media coverage of Israel. We need not emphasize the
wide discussion that would ensue if a British or American institution
allowed Jews to become members only if they converted to Christianity.
Scholars and news media people who purpor t to describe Israel
authoritatively have, as previously indicated, systematically ignored by
omission critical phenomena, discussed in our book. Some examples of this
follow. In Chapter 1 of our book we mentioned that the concept of Jewish
blood bound together the Israeli secular right wing and religious Jews. This
concept, which deems the blood of a killed or wounded Jew to be infinitely
greater in value than the blood of a killed or wounded non- Jew, is of
supreme importance in Israeli politics. The Netanyahu government in 1998
refused, even when pushed by the United States government, to release
Palestinian prisoners who had killed Jews, whether they were soldiers
killed in a clash or civilians murdered in a terrorist attack. The Jewish
blood concept was the only possible reason. The same Netanyahu
government, as well as some previous Israeli government s, have not
objected to freeing Palestinian prisoners who had killed other Palestinians.
The Palestinians killed were usually presumed to be agents of the Israeli
secret police. The same situation has existed in regard to the Israeli
security zone in southern Lebanon and to the South Lebanese Anny. The
main reason for creating those entities, which have prevented a cease - fire
occurring between Israel and Lebanon, was the Israeli desire, influenced by
Jewish fundamentalism, to save "Jewish blood." A majority of Israeli Jews
have paid little attention to Lebanese, who have been killed, whether they
were members of the South Lebanese Army or simply inhabitants of this
zone. Bursts of anguish and even protests, on the other hand, have
accompanied almost every Jewish casualty. Israeli protesters demanding
that Israel leave Lebanon have mentioned only the Israeli casualties.
Usually, only those Israeli Jews who have openly opposed Jewish
fundamentalism in all its aspects, such as Israel Shahak, one of the authors
of this book, have mentioned the Lebanese casualties. The politically
important distinction between Jewish blood and non- Jewish blood is wellknown
to most Israelis but is ignored by almost all those who write about
Israel and its policies.
As also noted in Chapter 1, Rabbi Yoseph, who commands the
unquestioned allegiance of ten Shas members of the Knesset, argued in a
published article that Israel is not sufficiently strong to destroy Christian
churches on its territory and should therefore return some of the occupied
territory to the Palestinians. Otherwise, Rabbi Yoseph contended, Jews
might be killed in a war that could erupt. We pointed out that most writers
who discussed Rabbi Yoseph's alleged dovish leanings falsified by omitting
his reasons for advocating concessions. In addition to emphasizing Israeli
weakness, Rabbi Yoseph expressed willingness to command the
destruction of idolatrous, Christian churches if Israel and the Jews were
sufficiently strong to do this without serious damage to Jews. Rabbi
Yoseph thus illustrated the fierce and visible hatred of Christianity and
Christians so evident among fundament alist Jews and, to a lesser extent,
among many other Israeli Jews of the political right. Although
discrimination against and persecution of Jews in Christian count ries has
helped to persuade some secular Jews to accept this fundamentalist
attitude, it is not the sole explanation. Oriental Jewish rabbis, and to a
lesser extent their followers who came from Muslim countries wherein they
were generally not persecuted by Christians, have expressed more hate of
Christianity and its symbols than the fundamentalist European rabbis and
their followers who were persecuted by Christians. In dealing with political
factors in our book, we did not specify many of the often petty forms of
hatred of Christianity that are officially approved. One case in point is that
Israeli educational authorities removed the international plus sign from the
textbooks of elementary arithmetic used in the first grades of Israeli
schools. Allegedly, this plus sign, which is a cross, could religiously corrupt
little Jewish children. Instead of the offending cross, the authorities
substituted a capital "T." This substitution was made some years after
Israel became a state; the influence of Jewish fundamentalism was
responsible. If this substitution had been made by the Taliban in
Afghanistan, by the Iranian regime or by China during the cultural
revolution, it would probably have been discussed at length. In contrast,
this easily discoverable fact has been omitted in English- language articles
and books concerned with Israeli Jewish society and Judaism. This
omission is but one piece of the existent evidence that most books of this
genre are unreliable.
In Chapter 2 we pointed to specific acts of discrimination against and
abuse of women perpetrated by Jewish fundament alists. Seemingly
unimpressed by the Israeli Hebrew discussion of and the Israeli Jewish
feminist criticism of this discrimination and abuse, writers of Englishlanguage
books and articles about Israel have rarely mentioned this
phenomenon. They have not acknowledged that until modern times most
Jewish women were kept illiterate and denied education by command of
the rabbis. They and others have condemned abuses of women in Iran and
other count ries but have refused to specify the even more abusive acts
against women in Israel. Jewish feminists have instead celebrated in their
writings the few important Jewish women mentioned in the Bible and the
one woman mentioned in the Talmud, Bruria, the wife of the second -
century AD sage, Rabbi Meir. The diaspora Jewish feminists and other
English- language writers have neglected any reference to the disparaging
stories about women in talmudic literature; they have also failed to admit
that from the time of Bruria until the advent of modern influences upon
Jews in western Europe in the seventeenth century not one Jewish woman
was sufficiently important to be emphasized as a leading figure in Jewish
history. (This can be compared to the numerous women who became
leading figures in many areas, including religion, in Western Christendom
in the same time period, in spite of Christianity's well- known
discrimination against women.) The inescapable conclusion is that Englishlanguage
sources are unreliable, not only in the study of the Jewish
fundamentalist attitude towards women but also in the more general study
of the status of women in historical Judaism.
In discussing the topic of Jewish blood in Chapter 2, we quoted both the
previously mentioned Rabbi Yoseph and the former chief rabbi of Israel,
Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, both of whom ordered pious Jews not to accept
blood donations from non- Jews unless their lives were at risk. These two
eminent rabbis, as well as others inside and outside of Israel who agree
with this view did not invent this opinion. This and other similar opinions,
existent from the beginning of blood transfusions, are based upon a
talmudic prohibition that does not allow a non- Jewish nurse to breast feed
a Jewish child. The cited reason for this prohibition is that the milk from a
non- Jewish woman would have an adverse effect upon a Jewish child. In
Chapter 2 we quoted the discussion of the Jewish blood topic that was
published in 1995 not only in Israel's most widely read daily Hebrew
newspaper but in other Hebrew newspaper s as well. We can assume that
readers of this book who are not literate in Hebrew and who were not
previously told about such discussion in the Hebrew press would be
unaware of this prohibition of pious Jews accepting blood transfusions
from non- Jews and sometimes even from secular Jews. This prohibition is
not to be found in English- language articles or books about Judaism or
Israeli Jewish society. (Some fundamentalist Jews may discuss this topic
among themselves, but they limit that discussion to their own groupings
and do not write about it for publication in English.) It would be absurd to
suggest that in the last years of the twentieth century scholars, writers and
others from around the world would not discuss and attack an analogous
edict, issued by highest ranking Christian Church leaders, prohibiting
Christians from accepting blood transfusions from Jews. The prohibition is
not a secret; it has been openly discussed in the Israeli Hebrew press. This
is yet another example of distortion by omission, which makes Englishlanguage
coverage of various aspects of Israeli Jewish society unreliable.
In Chapter 3 we briefly discussed how followers of Rabbis Yoseph and
Shach attempted to use magic against one another. This occurred after the
struggle between these two leading rabbis became intense. The political
significance here transcended the Yoseph- Shach disputation; the alleged
use of magic is part of the deep division between Israel A and Israel B,
which are defined previously in both our text and glossary. Members of
Israel B, following some historic Jewish customs, believe in magic and
witchcraft; they often practice it themselves or follow directives
supposedly derived from it by rabbis and cabbalists. (Books in Hebrew
detailing instructions for spells and witchcraft recipes have been best
sellers in Israel for many years.) Individuals who are reputed to achieve
success by use of magic frequently obtain political power in Israel. Most
Israeli political pundits are agreed that one of the important reasons for
Netanyahu's victory in the 1996 election was the exclusive blessing he
received during the campaign from the cabbalist Rabbi Kaduri, and the firm
refusals of many Jewish magicians and cabbalists to bless Peres. (Only the
Hassidic Belzer rabbi said that he was neutral regarding Peres.) Rabbi
Kaduri has remained to date a widely reported, highly visible Hollywood
type star in the Israeli Hebrew press. He was at the center of media
attention when he descended below the surface of the sea in Eilat in a
device, usually used to allow tourists to see underwater sea life, and
supposedly instituted spells in order to avert an earthquake that was
predicted by scientists. He claimed to have diverted the earthquake from
Jews to non- Jews. Many Israeli Jews believed this claim, because the
predicted earthquake was light in Eilat but was much more severe in upper
Another example of the popularity in Israel of magic was evident in the
circums tances surrounding the 1999 trial in the District Court ofJerusalem
of a major Shas Party politician, Aryeh Der'i. Der'i was convicted and
sentenced for taking bribes in spite of tens of amulets hung on his body
and blessed by the most outstanding cabbalists, who additionally engaged
in other magic ceremonies on Der'i's behalf. At the same time of this trial a
scientific congress on the use of magic and witchcraft in Judaism was held
in Jerusalem. Tom Segev, a columnist for Haaretz and one of Israel's best
known authors, wrote that the use of magic by Jews was nothing new in
Judaism. In his March 26, 1999, Hebrew- language Haaretz article, Segev
transcribed a magical recipe found in a book, composed in talmudic times
(AD 200- 500) but still popular in the Diaspora in the eighteenth century.
This recipe, which was devised to confuse a judge and cause him to acquit
unjustly a person who used magic, called for the following: "Slaughter a
lion cub with a copper knife. Gather its blood; tear out its heart and put the
blood into it. Then, write the names of angels on the cub's face, and wipe
the names with three year - old wine. Mix the wine with the blood. Next,
take three heaps of perfume (names omitted). After purifying yourself,
stand before the planet Venus at night with the perfume and the blood,
which must be put on fire." This act would supposedly compel the
bewitched judge to acquit. Segev reported that the Israeli scientists
participating in this Congress believed magic to be "an inseparable part of
Judaismused in past intrigues involving rabbis." To suppor t this view, Segev
quoted a saying in the Palestinian Talmud attributing the large number of
High Priests during the Second Temple period to the fact that High Priests
often killed one another by using witchcraft. This opinion expressed in the
Palestinian Talmud is probably incorrect; the large number of High Priests
during this period should most likely be attributed to bribery and other
political actions of secular (mostly Jewish) authorities of time connected
with making appointment s. This opinion, which is not quoted in Englishlanguage
writings on Judaism, nevertheless indicates the wide use of
witchcraft by Jews' attempting to kill one another in this time period. The
typical picture, presented in English- language works, of the pious Jews of
the third period of Jewish history is on balance invalid. The picture of the
pious Jew of talmudic times, standing at night before a planet and
attempting to perform magic rites, is more accurate and can help us
understand the reality of Israeli Jewish society better than the fictional
description offered by apologists. The use of magic in everyday life is also
common in certain Jewish neighborhoods of New York, London, Paris and
other cities.
In spite of its obvious political importance and social significance, this
aspect of Judaism in modern times remains as widely unrepor ted in
English, and thus as unknown to those who do not read Hebrew, as the
past use of magic and witchcraft. In all known societies some individuals
have indulged, and still do indulge, in magic. The misguided attempt to
hide this past and present tendency, which is widespread in Israel, has
infested the English- language histories of the Jews. The substitution of
apologetics for historical fact renders these history texts at least unreliable
and perhaps unfit for study.
In Chapters 4 and 5 we dealt with the religious Jewish settlers in territories
occupied by Israel since 1967 and with Gush Emunim, the movement that
produced the settlers. Despite the attention given to the issues of Israeli
settlement s in the territories, English- language coverage has almost totally
neglected the two major considerations, without which proper
understanding of this overall topic is impossible. The first consideration is
that the urge to settle has been theologically motivated and is a
manifestation of Jewish fundamentalism. In discussions of the obligations
that people must obey in count ries ruled or influenced by Muslim
fundamentalists the religious reasons are highlighted. In most Englishlanguage
discussions of Jewish religious settlements, however, the religious
reasons are usually either totally missing or are replaced with biblical
quotations, uttered by the settlers. In our text we showed that the real
motivating factors for the religious settlers, some of whom have moved to
improbable sites, have minimal connections to the Bible. The real reasons
emanate instead from a special idea of Jewish fundamentalism. This idea
asserts that the messiah will arrive soon and postulates that the world is
already in the messianic age.
We began Chapter 4 by asserting that messianic ideology, as a radical part
of Jewish fundamentalism, is based upon the differences and opposition
between Jews and non- Jews rather than simply between Jews and Arabs (or
Muslims). Writers of English- language books, articles and book reviews
have rarely mentioned this basic tenet, the major exceptions being those
writers who have composed the invalid, out - of- context, virulent and
poisonous anti - Semitic literature. The published reviews of Yehoshafat
Harkabi's book, Israel's Fateful Hour, provide a good illustration of this
point. The original Hebrew edition of this book was first published in
Israel; the English edition was published thereafter in the United States in
1988. Harkabi's book received wide attention in the United States because
of its analysis of Israeli politics in the 1980s and its emphasis upon
differences between the Labor Party and Likud in foreign politics. In one
crucial chapter, from which we quoted and paraphrased in our text,
Harkabi analyzed some major issues of Jewish fundamentalism and
stressed the importance of messianic ideology within that context.
Harkabi's book was extensively reviewed in American publications, but only
one reviewer in a small circulation progressive publication referred to this
crucial chapter. The other reviewers in American publications avoided any
mention of this chapter and/or its substance. Reviewers in Israel
emphasized this chapter in their comment s. The difference in reviewing
between the United States and Israel is telling.
In maintaining that differences and opposition exist between Jews and
non- Jews, messianic ideology continues to be the primary motivating
factor for Gush Emunim and its major suppor ter, the National Religious
Party. Those who have written about Israeli Jewish society and about
Judaism but have avoided mention of this have distorted understanding.
The significance here is most striking when the broad suppor t, both direct
and indirect, for Gush Emunim is considered. About one- half of Israel's
Jewish population suppor t s Gush Emunim. The suppor t, especially
monetary, from Jews in the diaspora is also of great importance. Many
Orthodox and other Jews as well in New York City and elsewhere have been
and are encouraged to assist Gush Emunim by what they read in the largest
circulation American Jewish weekly newspaper, the Jewish Press. Published
in Brooklyn, the Jewish Press has been and continues to be an editorial
advocate of Gush Emunim, often presenting op- ed articles written by
leading Gush Emunim spokesmen. New York City and New York State
politicians regularly seek backing of the Jewish Press during electoral
campaigns. Not only have Jewish Press editorial writers advocated
messianic ideology; they have also expressed admiration of Yigal Amir, the
assassin of Yitzhak Rabin. The New York Times, which is read and probably
influences many American Jews, has published in- depth analyses of
Christian and Muslim fundamentalism but has refrained from presenting
similar articles describing Jewish fundamentalism or even advocacies
printed in the Jewish Press. Even so- called liberal American periodicals,
such as the Nation and the New York Review of Books, which have
published editorial comment s and articles upholding and advocating
Palestinian rights, have neglected to present analyses of Jewish
fundamentalism in their own country. Readers of these and most other
periodicals in the United States, and in other count ries as well, would not
know, unless they read books and articles published in Hebrew in Israel,
that Gush Emunim's goal is to build a "sacred society" whose nuclei are the
Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. It is insufficient, if not folly,
to advocate Palestinian rights without understanding and referring to the
principal cause of the denial of those rights: Jewish fundamentalism in
general and the messianic variety in particular.
The Goldstein massacre, discussed in Chapter 6, was inadequately covered
in the English press. That Israeli Jewish society was divided in its attitude
towards the massacre was evident in the Hebrew but not in the English
press and literature. Before the massacre, Goldstein's refusal as a doctor on
religious grounds to treat non- Jewish patients, including soldiers serving
with him in the army, was, although mentioned briefly, treated lightly in
the English coverage. Goldstein clearly derived his views from
fundamentalist interpretations of sacred Hebrew texts. The English
coverage indicated that he merely followed the teachings of Rabbi Meir
Kahane, a whipping boy of the American press. In reality, Goldstein's views
were more broadly based and centered in Jewish fundament alism. Having
immigrated to Israel as an adult, Goldstein, prior to his arrival in Israel,
had been influenced by the "Lubovitcher Rebbe" and his influential disciple,
Rabbi Ginsburgh. His attitude, moreover, was condoned by important,
Israeli politicians and the Minister of Defense. Articles in the Hebrew press,
to which we referred in our text, discussed these points in depth; the
English coverage avoided mention of much of this.
In Chapter 7 we showed how well- documented features of Jewish
fundamentalism during the past 800 years, the third and longest period of
Jewish history, have influenced and continue to influence contemporary
Jews in the state of Israel and in the diaspora as well. Both the popular and
more scholarly and renowned, standard Jewish histories, written in English,
omit most of these features. The historic features of Jewish
fundamentalism were manifest in the Rabin assassination and in the
reactions to it. Because of omission, distortion and lack of criticism of
Jewish fundamentalism, the English- language coverage could not and did
not put the Rabin assassination in the correct context and thus was
Important issues are involved here, all of which are omitted in the standard
Jewish histories. The first of these, well- known to serious student s of the
third period of Jewish history and especially to those who have knowledge
of Jewish religious law and Orthodoxy, is that, before being affected by
outside modern influences, Jewish society was not tolerant. On the
contrary, autonomous Jewish authorities persecuted deviants, perhaps
more than did Christian and Muslim authorities in their respective religions
and certainly more than did pagan, Buddhist and Hindu authorities. The
intolerant attitudes and activities, enshrined in the sacred texts of Jewish
fundamentalism in all its varieties, influenced the behavior and politics of
Jews, especially when they had autonomous power. To oppose the current
dangers posed by Jewish fundament alism, it is first necessary to expose its
historical basis. As we have repeatedly stated, most writers of books on
Judaism in English have not done this. Influenced by their heritage, many
Jews have unfortunately either remained indifferent to the oppression of
Palestinians in and by the State of Israel or have at times criticized acts of
oppression as posing possible danger to Jews. Some of these individuals,
for example, condemn the use of torture as being unconditionally
inhumane when used by states other than Israel, but they argue
pragmatically that its use by Israeli authorities is not in Israel's best
interest because of worldwide public opinion. Many of these same people
in the United States are zealous in advocating and fighting for the
separation of religion and state in their own country, but they react
differently in regard to Israel. They do not criticize, indeed they most often
suppor t, the Israeli Ministry of Religion, which is almost always controlled
by Jewish religious parties influenced by Jewish fundamentalism, for
allotting only 2 per cent of its budget to non- Jews when nearly 20 per cent
of Israel's citizenry consists of Muslims and Christians. Both in Israel and
in the diaspora the relatively few Jews who have attempted to defend non-
Jews against discrimination and oppression by Jews have been those who
have been influenced by modern theories of justice. The fact that the
majority of Jews do not protest against, but actually suppor t, Jewish
discrimination against non- Jews, especially in the Jewish state, indicates,
at least to some extent, the conscious and unconscious influence of Jewish
fundamentalism. We believe that attempt s to hide historical reality in
Judaism and Jewish societies were wrong when Jews were discriminated
against and persecuted in most count ries. By the end of the twentieth
century, when Jews have achieved greater power in many societies than any
minority group of comparable numbers and when a Jewish state with
nuclear weapons is protected by the United States, falsification by omission
of Jewish history is purely adverse and totally unacceptable. The nearly
total absence of discussion of the above intolerant aspects of the Jewish
past and present in English- language books caused us to dispense with a
traditional bibliographical listing or essay.
The issue of Jewish normalcy and the exceptions to it require examination.
Jews in many instances oppressed their own people as other people did.
During the same time period, for example, that rabbis ordered the hands of
Jewish offenders to be cut, Spanish judges, as well as judges in most
Christian and Muslim courts, did likewise. Rabbis ordered Jewish offenders
put into stocks in the Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth just as non-
Jewish authorities used the stock as a feature of regular punishment
throughout Europe and in the American colonies. The systematic killing of
informers, enjoined by eminent rabbis as a religious duty, has no parallel in
other societies. Killing of informers has nevertheless occurred and still
occurs in other societies and, as is the case in Sicilian society, is often well
known. Scholarly historical works, historical novels and the classical
literature in general of many countries and societies depict the sometimes -
employed punishment of killing informers. In contrary fashion, the major
Jewish historians who have written about the third period of Jewish
history, for example, Salo W. Baron, Simon Dubnow and Yitzhak Baer, have
omitted such references in their works. Other highly regarded Jewish
historians who have focused upon the Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth,
Christian Spain and Germany have done likewise. Numerous Israeli
scholars, who have written in Hebrew and from whom we quoted and
paraphrased in our text, have in contrast displayed more honesty in their
scholarship by including examples of the systematic killing by Jews of
Jewish informers. Consequently, those readers who are not literate in
Hebrew (or have not been told in detail about books in Hebrew about
Jewish history) must have distorted perceptions of this aspect of Jewish
history. This reflection solidified our resolve not to include a traditional
bibliographical listing or essay.
The distortions, largely by omission, in the English- language histories of
the third period of Jewish history are greater and more severe than are
those of the first and second periods. The reason for this is obvious.
Because Judaism and Jewish history are so important for the history and
theology of Christianity until and shortly after the time of Jesus, Christian
historians and biblical scholars, often critical in their writings, dealt with
Jewish history and Israelite society during the first two periods. The better
Jewish historians of those two periods have felt obligated to follow trends
established in scholarship in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; they
have engaged in critical discussion, even while complaining about what
they regarded as hostile tendencies of Christians who wrote about Jewish
history. Few Christian or Muslim scholars have been or are interested in
Jewish history between AD 70 and modern times, the third period.
Apologetic writing of Jewish history is not unique. Most national histories
include apologetic writings. The writing in English by Jews of Jewish history
has remained far more retarded than have the writings of other national
histories. A comparison that illustrates this point is the difference between
the development of historical writing by American historians of United
States history and the lack of development in the writing of Jewish history,
especially of the third period. In recent decades standard United States
history textbooks have included numerous negative features, previously
omitted, of past discrimination and oppression of African Americans,
Native Americans, women and other disadvantaged minority groups. As
previously reiterated, most books in English of Jewish history, especially of
the third period, continue to omit negative features of discrimination and
oppression of both Jews and non- Jews by Jews. The harmful effects of
these omissions remain.
We are finally troubled by the near unanimity in standard English- language
Jewish histories regarding issues involving "Jewish interest." Whereas the
Israeli new historians of the 1980s and 1990s have sparked fruitful debate
about basic issues not only of the past century in regard to Palestine but of
the entire course of Jewish history, previous historians who wrote in
English have omitted facts and disputations over interpretations of
sensitive items. Having already detailed much of this in our bibliographical
note, we, in attempting to illustrate our point, shall here present only one
additional example. The famous scholar Gershom Scholem, early in his
career raised an important intellectual issue about the nature of Judaism;
soon thereafter he, together with numerous other scholars, dropped it.
This issue then became virtually unknown to people who did not know
Hebrew. In his first book in English about Jewish mysticism, Major Trends
in Jewish Mysticism, based upon a previous set of lectures delivered in New
York City, first published in 1941 and reprinted many times, Scholem
questioned whether Jews who believed in Cabbala had preserved the belief
in monotheism that had been previously so characteristic of Judaism. In
his seventh lecture towards the end of section five of the book, Scholem,
after describing the process, which according to the Lurianic Cabbala takes
place by Jewish initiative within God, wrote: "To reconcile this process with
the monotheistic doctrine, which was dear to the Kabbalists as it was to
every Jew, became the task of the theorists of Kabbalistic theosoply.
Although they applied themselves bravely to it, it cannot be said that they
were completely successful." These two convoluted sentences implied that
the most popular form of Cabbala, still believed by many Jews in Israel and
in the diaspora, is not monotheistic. Actually, Scholem refrained from
mentioning that many Jewish opponent s of Cabbala, before it became
dominant around 1550 and during the Jewish Enlightenment, asked the
same question more clearly and expressed more sharply their opposition
to the predominant Lurianic form on the ground that it denied
monotheism. Since then, scholars who have written in English about
Judaism, including Scholem himself in later books, have not, with few
exceptions, questioned whether Judaism in all its forms and all times was
monotheistic and/or whether many pious Jews were believers in
monotheism. (Raphael Patai was one exception. In Chapters 5 to 8 of his
book, The Hebrew Goddess, published in 1967, Patai raised this question.
Israel Shahak, another exception, did likewise in his more recent book,
Jewish History, Jewish Religion.) The scholars who have written in English
about Judaism have, again with few exceptions, not considered in their
books the even more important question of whether Judaism throughout
its entire history has had fixed tenets.
We are aware that the books we have not put into a bibliography contain
useful data. We nevertheless believe that these books are guilty of
purposeful omission resulting in grave distortion and do not necessarily
deserve to be listed in a bibliography. These books anyway can be easily
found in other bibliographies. We append this note in lieu of a traditional
bibliography in protest against what too often happens in Jewish studies
outside Israel.
Glossary of Terms
Agudat Israel ("Association of Jews" in Hebrew): A former name of the
Askenazi Haredi party now called Yahadut Ha'Torah.
Aron Ha'kodesh ("Cupboard of the Holiness" in Hebrew): Place in
synagogue where the Scrolls of Law are stored, to be taken out only on
specific occasions. Regarded as the holiest place in the synagogue.
Ashkenazi ("German" in pre- modern Hebrew): A common name for Jews
whose ancestors lived in northern France, England, Germany, Poland,
Russia and other countries of central and eastern Europe.
Bar Mitzva ("capable of [fulfilling] commandment s" in Hebrew): A ceremony
usually accompanied by a feast, to celebrate the occasion when a Jewish
boy reaches the age of thirteen, is then obliged to fulfill all religious
commandment s and becomes capable of sinning. According to traditional
Judaism the father is responsible for all sins committed by sons below the
age of thirteen.
Black Panthers: In the context of this book this term refers to a small and
ephemeral, but highly publicized, organization of Oriental Jews in Israel
during the 1970s, which protested discrimination of Oriental Jews.
Bnei Brak: Israeli town near Tel Aviv, inhabited almost only by Haredim,
mainly Ashkenazi.
Border guards: A paramilitary unit of the Israeli police.
Cabbala ("The received [thing]" in Hebrew): The usual name for Jewish
mysticism; used especially for the Jewish mystical groups that have
developed since the eleventh century.
Davar ("Matter," in Hebrew): A Hebrew newspaper that ceased to appear in
the mid- 1990s.
Degel Ha'Torah ("Flag of the Torah" in Hebrew): A faction of Mitnagdim
within the party, Yahadut Ha'Torah.
Der'i, Aryeh: Chief politician of the Shas party, born in 1959. In April, 1999,
he was convicted for taking bribes and sentenced to four years of
imprisonment. The punishment was suspended pending his appeal.
(Knesset Link)
Ga'on ("genius " in Hebrew): Title of the two chief rabbis in Iraq from about
650 to 1050, each of whom was acknowledged by all Jews as the supreme
religious authority. In the last two hundred years also used in a vague
manner to designate (or to flatter) any important rabbi.
Ge'onim: Plural of Ga'on.
Goren, Rabbi Shlomo: An important Israeli rabbi. Appointed by Prime
Minister David Ben Gurion as the first Chief Rabbi of the Israeli army.
Subsequently a Chief Rabbi of Israel in the 1960s and 1970s.
Gush Emunim ("Block of Faithful" in Hebrew): The ideological and settling
messianic movement (see chapters four and five). Founded in early 1974.
Ha'ain Hashvi'it("the seventh eye" in Hebrew): Bimonthly issued by the
Israeli Institute for Democracy and devoted to media criticism.
Haaretz ("The land" in Hebrew): The most prestigious Hebrew newspaper,
read mainly by the elite.
Hadashot("News" in Hebrew): A radical Hebrew newspaper of the 1980s and
early 1990s.
Ha'ir("The town" in Hebrew): A Friday, widely read, Hebrew newspaper of
Tel Aviv and neighboring towns with radical tendencies.
Halacha ("Accepted" in Hebrew): The term as two meanings in Hebrew. 1.
The entire body of the Jewish religious law. 2. A single regulation of that
law. To avoid confusion in this book we used the term only in its first
meaning. Where it occurred in our Hebrew sources in the second meaning
(for example, in references in quotations to books codifying Jewish
religious law), it was translated as "rule."
Haredim ("Fearful" in the meaning "God- fearing" in Hebrew): Name of those
Jewish fundamentalists who refuse modern innovations. Haredi is the
singular form and is also an adverb.
Ha'Shavua("The week" in Hebrew): An extreme Haredi weekly.
Heder ("Room " in Hebrew) : Name for the pre- modern Jewish school
Hesder ("Arrangement" in Hebrew): Name for religious units in Israeli army
that serve by a special arrangement.
Israel A and Israel B: Popular Israeli terms designating the two parts of
Israeli Jewish society that often oppose each other: the former leaning to
the right and the second leaning to the left and less influenced by religion.
Karo, Rabbi Yoseph: 1488- 1575, the author of Shulhan Aruch,
commentaries on Maimonides and other religious works. Regarded as the
most important rabbinic authority of the sixteenth and seventeenth
Kashrut ("proper manner" in Hebrew): A set of rules governing the types of
food that religious Jews can eat according to the Halacha and the proper
manner of their preparation.
Kitzur Shulhan Aruch ("abridgment of Shulhan Aruch" in Hebrew): A
popular book containing the most necessary rules of Halacha, used in the
education of Haredi children and by the uneducated Haredim. Written by
rabbi Shlomo Gantzfried in early nineteenth century.
Kollel ("entire" or "inclusive" in Hebrew): An institution for the studying of
Talmud by adults who have finished their Yeshiva studies.
Kook, Rabbi Avracham Yitzhak Hacohen: 1865- 1935, also called and
referred to in this book as "Rabbi Kook the elder." After filling various
rabbinic posts he was the Chief Rabbi of Palestine 1920- 35. A prolific
author, many of whose works were posthumously edited from his notes.
The founder of the messianic ideology (chapters four and five). Held in
great regard by Gush Emunim followers and to some extent by all Zionists.
Kook, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Hacohen: 1890- 1982, a son of Rabbi Avraham
Yitzhak Kook. Called and referred to in this book as "Rabbi Kook the
younger." Took over the leadership of the adherents of messianic ideology
after the death of his father. All important Gush Emunim rabbis are his
student s.
Kosher: Yiddish expression used in Hebrew with ironic undertones to refer
to food, chosen and prepared according to rules of Kashrut. The proper
Hebrew word "Kasher" is used mainly in polite discourse.
Kuneh: A Yiddish word meaning a particular type of stocks used by Jews in
Eastern Europe. Adopted in Hebrew historical and religious works.
Labor: Proper name The Israeli Labor Party. The largest and also the oldest
Israeli left party.
Likud ("consolidation" in Hebrew): The largest Israeli right party.
Lurianic Cabbala: The most important branch of Cabbala since the early
seventeenth century. Founded by Rabbi Isaac Luria (1538- 72) and his
disciples, it has dominated all subsequent Jewish mysticism.
Maariv("eventide" in Hebrew): The Hebrew daily paper with the second
largest circulation.
Maimonides: Used in this book, following Hebrew usage, in two meanings:
1. Rabbi Moshe son of Maimon, called in European languages Maimonides,
1138- 1204, author of many books of commentary on the Halacha. Also,
the greatest philosopher of Judaism. 2. The largest codex of Halacha
composed by Maimonides; the proper name is "Mishneh Torah" ("second
rank Torah"). It includes all commandment s and beliefs of Jewish religious
law. It is divided into books that are in turn divided into tractates, entitled
according to the issues with which they deal; they tractates in turn are
divided into chapters and individual rules. In our references following the
Hebrew usage, only the tractate, chapter and the number of the rule are
Maskilim ("the enlightened ones" in Hebrew): Name adopted by the Jews
who introduced modern influences into Judaism in late eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries.
Mishnah ("repetition" in Hebrew): The basic and easier part of Talmud,
often studied by itself and equipped with special commentaries.
Mitnagdim ("opponents" in Hebrew): The most extreme right - wing party
now represented in the knesset.
National Religious Party: Often referred to by its acronym NRP. Represents
the fundamentalist Jews in Israel who are not Haredim.
Oriental Jews ("mizrahim" in Hebrew): Collective name used at present for
Israeli Jews who are not Ashkenazi.
Orthodox: In Israel and elsewhere, a common name for Jews who keep the
rules of Halacha, or at least most of them. Orthodoxy refers to the
behavior and practices of Orthodox Jews. (Contrary to Christianity,
Orthodox and orthodoxy in Judaism refer mostly to practices and not to
Palestinian Talmud (called incorrectly in Hebrew "Jerusalem Talmud"): The
less authoritative and extensive of the two Talmuds.
Pentateuch: The first five books of the Bible, believed to have been written
by Moses and regarded as more sacred than the rest of the Bible.
Purim: A lesser Jewish holiday that occurs about one month before
Passover. It has many features of the carnival but is also characterized by
increased hostility to non- Jews.
Rabenu ("our rabbi" in Hebrew): An unofficial title given to specially
important rabbis.
Rebbe ("rabbi" in Yiddish): Kept to this day by the holy men of Hassidic
sects as one of their titles. Used in Hebrew in this connotation.
Sages: The customary English translation of the Hebrew term "our wise
men of blessed memory." Used primarily to designate all rabbis mentioned
in the Talmud, but also to refer more vaguely to all past Orthodox rabbis.
Sephardi ("Spanish" in Hebrew): Until the late 1970s used in Israel instead
of the term, Oriental Jews.
Sha'atnez: A Hebrew word denoting the forbidden mixture of wool and flax
in a textile.
Shach, Rabbi Eliezer: 1898- , the spiritual leader of the Degel Ha'Torah
faction and one of the most influential rabbis in Israel.
Shas: The party of Oriental Jewish Haredim.
Shishi("Sixth" or "Friday" in Hebrew): Name of a defunct Hebrew weekly.
Shofar: Ram's horn used for sacred blowing during some synagogue
services and especially on the New Year.
Sholem, Professor Gershon: 1897- 1982, founder of the modern study of
Cabbala; wrote many authoritative books on Jewish mysticism.
Shulhan Aruch ("prepared table" in Hebrew): A summary of a longer work,
Bet Yoseph, by Rabbi Yoseph Karo but shorter than the Maimonides
version, because it omits many less important subjects. It is regarded as
authoritative by most Orthodox Jews. Usually the differences between the
Shulhan Aruch and the Maimonides version are minor.
Tal, Professor Uriel: Died in 1985. Professor of German history at Tel Aviv
University. [please see Foundations of a Political Messianic Trend in Israel
by Uriel Tal for an example of his workweb ed.]
Talmud ("study" in Hebrew): Although there are two Talmuds, Palestinian
and Babylonian, the term "Talmud" without qualification always refers to
the Babylonian Talmud, regarded as the most authoritative text by
Orthodox Jews. The Palestinian Talmud (much shorter and inferior in its
arrangement) enjoys only a supplementary authority. The basic part of
both Talmuds is the Mishnah, a collection of terse laws written in Hebrew.
The other part, called "Gemarah " consists of a discussion of those laws
mixed with many legends. The Gemarah is much longer than the Mishnah
and is written in both Aramaic and Hebrew. Both Talmuds are divided into
sixty tractates. The Babylonian Talmud is always printed in standard
editions with the same division of pages so that all references are to the
names of tractate and page numbers.
Torah Sheba'al Peh ("oral Torah" in Hebrew): Term used, especially by
Orthodox Jews, to refer to the sacred Jewish literature other than the Bible.
Tractate: A major division of the Talmud. Each tractate has a name, usually
roughly describing its main contents.
Tsomet ("junction" in Hebrew): Secular right - wing party headed by Reserve
General Raphael Eitan and allied with Likud. Tsomet has been politically
powerful in the early 1990s.
Yahadut Ha'Torah ("Judaism of the Torah" in Hebrew): Party of Ashkenazi
Haredim, comprised of two almost independent factions: one Degel
Ha'Torah and the other a coalition of Hassidic sects.
Yated Ne'eman("faithful tent peg" in Hebrew): Weekly of Degel Ha'Torah.
Yediot Ahronot("last news" in Hebrew): The Hebrew newspaper with by far
the largest circulation.
Yerushalaim("Jerusalem" in Hebrew): A Hebrew Friday paper published in
Jerusalem. Belongs to Yediot Ahronot.
Yeshiva ("sitting" or "meeting" in Hebrew): Institution for higher Talmudic
studies. The plural is Yeshivot.
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement in English): The most sacred day of the
Jewish religious calendar.
Yoseph, Rabbi Ovadia: The spiritual leader of the Shas party. [for some
interesting papers and photos Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph and his suppor ters,
please see these texts on the Shas Party.

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