In the middle of the Gaza campaign, one of my children, whose political views don't entirely mesh with mine, asked me the following question:
"Abba, I understand the people who justify our going to war in Gaza. But why don't they at least express pain at the lost of so much innocent life – loss for which we are responsible?"
I have no answer to that question. Or, rather, all the answers that come to me (the Israeli spin on the background to the war, the rocket fire in the South, the demonization of Hamas, etc.) don't really do justice to the question.
I have lived through many wars in Israel, and, like all Israelis, I am very familiar with the yorim u-vokhim (shoot first, then shed tears over the victims later) phenomenon.
But I think that this is the first war where virtually no regret has been expressed over the loss of civilian life – and I don't mean just by the chauvinistic center, but even by the so-called "left". Except for the few righteous in Sodom, and the sane voices I have been publishing, there has been nothing. If it weren't for Gideon Levy, our generation would have been swept away a long time ago.
The silence of the Orthodox, particularly, has been deafening. One young rabbi dared to venture that in war there are certain rules that must be observed. He didn't say that the IDF wasn't observing those rules, only that there are rules.
Wow, you mean there are rules of war… now that's a radical concept. I think most orthodox Jews will agree with the terrorist settler Haggai Segal, who says that the rabbinic phrase, "If somebody gets up to kill you, kill him first" should be changed to "If somebody gets up to kill you, destroy him and everything around him first."
Orthodox rabbis, not to mention the rank-and-file of baal-habatim, lay people, are quick to blame the Palestinians for the death of babies in Gaza. "It's their fault." "Better them than us." Mention "proportionality" to an orthodox Jew, and you get stares – I mean, does any orthodox Jew believe that the life of an Arab is worth the same as that of a Jew? If you can find a statement by one, let me know. And while you are at it, if you are orthodox and you will believe that they are of equal worth, let me know.
All right, so I don't expect much from orthodox rabbis and the rank-and-file. I never looked at them for moral guidance of this sort.
But what about the so-called religious doves? What about that moribund of religious organizations, Oz ve-Shalom/Netivot Shalom? Or the hesitant, Ziyyonut Datit Realit, "Realistic Religious Zionism," which burst onto the scene with so much fanfare a few years ago.
The one person who would have had some moral clarity, albeit from a liberal religious Zionist perspective, is Avi Ravitsky. But Avi was hit by a bus two years ago and is no condition to speak.
That leaves another Avi, Avi Sagi, of Bar Ilan. Don't expect much from him, although he may yet surprise. Rabbi Melchior? In the midst of an election campaign, don't expect much from him, either. Tzvia Greenberg, the so-called haredi leftwinger of Meretz? Not when it comes to Palestinians. Menachem Forman, the settlement rabbi with the weird ideas about sharing the land? He is still talking about peace, not justice. Uriel Simon? Nada. Mikky Rosen? Unfortunately, dead. Yeshayahu Leibowitz? Long dead.
Shammai Leibowitz, Avrum Burg (Is he still frum?) B. Michael. OK, that's three. Menachem Klein, and a few members of the Yedidya shul. Some orthodox academics. Anybody else?
No, for moral enlightenment we have to look at the younger generation of human rights activists who are either orthodox, or datlashim (formerly orthodox). I won't name names; you know who you are.
So here's my appeal. If you know of some orthodox Jews who are speaking out, if not in condemnation of Israel, at least with deep sympathy with the suffering of the Gazans, let me know. When I get ten men and women (you see, I will go for a conservative minyan) I will breathe easier for my generation.
On Shabbat we read about God's hardening Pharoah's heart. We Jews are Pharoah now. And the Palestinians are the Hebrews.
Thank God for the (mostly non-orthodox?) rabbis who are coming up with a statement condemning Israel's actions in Gaza, which will be up again Sunday night. See it here.