Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Two cheers for the Chief Rabbis

Let's commend Israel's chief rabbis for co-signing an anti-violence message that was placed on the front page of at least one newspaper. Other versions of the ad, including a Hebrew translation, appeared elsewhere.

While I appreciate the face-value sentiment - Stop beating up gays and Muslims! - its hard for me to take this at face-value. The Chief Rabbis are political creatures and they lead political bureaucracies. This wasn't done simply to remind everyone that -- guess what! - violence is wrong, and because the Chief Rabbis know that RW terrorists don't look to the Rabbanut for moral or religious guidance its unlikely that this ad was placed to discourage copy cats.

So what's this about? Imagine some rabbinic underling proposed this strategy to his bosses in a memo. What would he have listed as "benefits"? Here are two ideas. Perhaps you have some others.

1) Reclaim the moral high ground. Orthodox Judaism took a bad PR blow last week. A statement such as this, prominently placed, helps to scrub away the tarnish. Instead of focusing on Jewish terrorists, we can focus on the Rabbis and their noble, yet hackneyed, announcement.

Related: Conventional wisdom says that Muslim clerics "never" denounce violence. By putting their statement on the front page of a major newspaper, the Chief Rabbis have given us all an opportunity to restate this platitude. Hardly anyone I know is merely saying, "Look what the Chief Rabbis did." Instead, they are also saying "How come you never see Muslim leaders do that?"

2) Provide some cover for terrorist-supporting Rabbis. Orthodox Rabbis often perform a delicate dance. Even those who oppose violence (and tons of them do)  don't always  disagree with the Torah teachings that can sometimes lead to violence. While the Chief Rabbis certainly don't want Jews stabbing each other on the street, they also don't want preachers to stop reminding everyone that Judaism (as they interpret it) views homosexuality as immoral and destructive to the fiber of civilization. They want extra-judicial gay violence to stop, but they want the anti-gay ideas to survive, and would probably be okay with legal gay violence, such as gruesome executions for sodomists as the Torah demands.  A splashy statement like this makes it harder for speech police to target Rabbis, and helps to ensure that the anti-gay messaging can continue.

Note Below:

The Rabbis claim that "Violence is not the way of our holy Torah." While I fully support this statement, I feel I must point out that this is a re-interpretation. Once upon a time, violence was the way of the Torah, as the Midanites, Amalakites, or anyone sentenced to death by burning, beheading or stoning would be glad to remind you.  The Rabbis are either re-interpreting (which is fine) or mean to say "[Extrajudicial] violence is not the way of our holy Torah."

This second reading is probably the correct one. The Chiefs aren't going to get behind a Joshua-style war of extermination against civilians, but I feel confident stating that they don't oppose legal violence.

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