Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Putting the BAD in Chabad

Responding to the question, “How should Jews treat their Arab neighbors?” in the May/June issue of Moment Magazine, beloved Chabad Rabbi Manis Friedman wrote, “I don’t believe in western morality, i.e. don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it [western morality] is immoral… The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle)… Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations….”

What kind of Judaism is this? It is Torah-True Judaism. What kind of morality is this? It is Bronze Age Torah morality. Of course you might argue that this isn’t Judaism at all, or that it is Judaism at its worst, and you might insist that anyone who takes such talk seriously and judges Jews and Judaism by Rabbi Manis’ standard is an Anti-Semite, but, honestly, Rabbi Manis is a well respected cleric, and Chabad is a powerful Jewish movement with centers in every major city (and many minor ones) around the world. So his Judaism is as Jewish as mine. Maybe more so, as I reject any Jewish value that fails to echo the best of western morality as articulated in the Humanist Manifestoes and the Declaration of Universal Human Rights.

What I find most interesting is that Rabbi Manis’ morality is the same as that of his Muslim counterparts. They too reject western morality, believe in killing innocent men, women, and children (they might spare the cattle), take pride in blowing up holy sites (especially those of rival Muslims), and use religious holy days (especially those of rival Muslims) for some of their most violent attacks. The only difference between Rabbi Manis and radical Muslim clerics is that the latter are willing to murder their fellow Muslims while Rabbi Manis is not yet calling for the murder of his fellow Jews. But give him time.

What do we say in response to this? If Rabbi Manis were a Muslim cleric we would demand his universal condemnation by the Muslim leadership, and if we didn’t get it we would use that as proof that Muslims are hate-mongers and Islam is evil. So can we expect universal condemnation of Rabbi Manis by Jewish leaders? Of course not. In fact his teaching was published without comment in one of the most respected of American Jewish magazines. His ideas were given as much credence as those of any of the other rabbis asked to respond to the question. While we Jews get all worked up because the Pope didn’t use the word “murder” when talking about the Shoah (Holocaust; he used “killing”), we won’t break a sweat over Rabbi Manis and his blood-soaked Torah. So why should we expect Muslims to act differently?

The truth is the future lies with Rabbi Manis and his Muslim and Christian counterparts. And this may not be a bad thing. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim extremists have more in common with one another then with their more “western” colleagues, and they might do a better job negotiating peace. Their willingness of slaughter every man, woman, and child (they will have to come to some agreement over cattle) may allow them to end the bloodshed with some version of divinely sanctioned Mutually Assured Destruction. In other words they will be forced into inaction because they know that any action will trigger the end of all them.

Of course, once they have ended the fighting between themselves, they will turn their attention more fully to the heretics within their respective religions. Ain’t peace a glorious thing?


Unknown said...

Hum, I always thought the idea was to live as a light among nations that we should live by the example of our lives. This Rabbi thinks it means being more ruthless than anyone else? Wow.

Are you sure you didn't leave anything out Rami? [cough]

eashtov said...

Shalom Aron,

Here's the whole article. Scroll down to the last response for the one to which Rabbi Rami referred.



dtedac said...

Shalom to all,

If you look at momentmag.com now, you will see that the Rabbi responded to concerns about his message. He thought the question was more about the conduct of war rather than other things, as I understand him. Even with that caveat, I still don't agree with his ideas.

The Ask the Rabbis column is interesting. I read the other comments from a full range of Jewish traditions. It helps me get a sense of where they're coming from.


Unknown said...

Sorry, but you can't polish that turd in my mind. I can understand feeling like you've been misquoted, but I really don't see how his caveat changes anything essential about what he was originally quoted.