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July 5, 2011
The Jewish Ayatollahs
By Uri Avnery
Source: Gush Shalom
THE ARCHBISHOP of New York announces that any Catholic who rents out an
apartment to a Jew commits a mortal sin and runs the risk of
A protestant priest in Berlin decrees that a Christian who employs a Jew will
be banished from his parish.
Impossible? Indeed. Except in Israel – in reverse, of course.
The rabbi of Safed, a government employee, has decreed that it is strictly
forbidden to let apartments to Arabs – including the Arab students at the
local medical school. Twenty other town rabbis – whose salaries are paid by
the taxpayers, mostly secular, including Arab citizens - have publicly
supported this edict.
A group of Israeli intellectuals lodged a complaint with the Attorney General,
arguing that this is a case of criminal incitement. The Attorney General
promised to investigate the matter with all due haste. That was half a year
ago. “Due haste” has not yet produced a decision.
The same goes for another group of rabbis, who prohibited employing Goyim.
(In ancient Hebrew, “Goy” just meant a people, any people. In the Bible, the
Israelites were called a “holy Goy”. But in the last centuries, the term has
come to mean non-Jews, with a decidedly derogatory undertone.)
THIS WEEK, Israel was in uproar. The turmoil was caused by the arrest of
Rabbi Dov Lior.
The affair goes back to a book released more than a year ago by Rabbi
Yitzhak Shapira. Shapira is, perhaps, the most extreme inhabitant of Yitzhar,
which is perhaps the most extreme settlement in the West Bank. Its members
are frequently accused of carrying out pogroms in the nearby Palestinian
villages, generally in “retaliation” for army actions against structures that
have been built without official consent.
The book, called Torat ha-Melekh (“the Teaching of the King”) deals with the
killing of Goyim. It says that in peacetime, Goyim should generally not be
killed – not because of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” which,
according to the book, applies to Jews only, but because of God’s command
after the Deluge (Genesis 9:6): “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall
his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man.” This applies to all
Goyim who fulfill some basic commandments.
However, the situation is totally different in wartime. And according to the
rabbis, Israel has been at war since its foundation, and probably will be for
In war, in every place where the presence of a Goy endangers a Jew, it is
permitted to kill him, even though he be a righteous goy who bears no
responsibility for the situation. It is permitted – indeed, recommended – to
kill not only enemy fighters, but also those who “support” or “encourage”
them. It is permitted to kill enemy civilians if this is helpful for the conduct of
(Intentionally or not, this is reflected in the tactics employed by our army in
the “Cast Lead” operation: to protect the life of a single Israeli soldier, it is
permissible to kill as many Palestinians as necessary. The result: some 1300
dead Palestinians, half of them non-combatants, as against five soldiers
killed by hostile action. Six more were killed by “friendly fire”.)
What really set off a storm was a passage in the book that says that it is
permitted to kill children, when it is clear that once they grow up, they can be
It is customary for a book by a rabbi interpreting Jewish law to bear the
endorsement – called haskama (“agreement”) – of other prominent rabbis.
This particular masterpiece bore the “haskama” of four prominent rabbis.
One of them is Dov Lior.
RABBI LIOR (the name can be translated as “I have the light” or “the light has
been given to me”) stands out as one of the most extreme rabbis in the West
Bank settlements – no mean achievement in a territory that is abundantly
stocked with extreme rabbis, most of whom would be called fascist in any
other country. He is the rabbi of Kiryat Arba, the settlement on the fringes of
Hebron that cultivates the teachings of Meir Kahane and that produced the
mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein.
Lior is also the chief of a Hesder yeshiva, a religious school affiliated with
the army, whose pupils combine their studies (purely religious) with
privileged army service.
When the book – now in its third printing – first appeared, there was an
uproar. No rabbi protested, though quite a number discounted its religious
argumentation. The Orthodox distanced themselves, if only on the ground
that it violated the religious rule that forbids “provoking the Goyim”.
Following public demand, the Attorney General started a criminal
investigation against the author and the four signatories of the “haskama”.
They were called in for questioning, and most did appear and protested that
they had had no time to read the book.
Lior, the text of whose “haskama” testified to the fact that he had read the
book thoroughly, did not heed repeated summons to appear at the police
station. He ignored them openly and contemptuously. This week the police
reacted to the insult: they ambushed the rabbi on the “tunnel road” – a road
with several tunnels between Jerusalem and Hebron, reserved for Jews –
and arrested him. They did not handcuff him and put him in a police car, as
they normally would, but replaced his driver with a police officer, who drove
him straight to a police station. There he was politely questioned for an hour
and set free.
The news of the arrest spread like wildfire throughout the settlements.
Hundreds of the “Youth of the Hills” – groups of young settlers who carry out
pogroms and spit on the law – gathered at the entrance to Jerusalem, battled
with the police and cut the main road to the capital.
(I can’t really complain about that, because I was the first to do so. In 1965, I
was elected to the Knesset and Teddy Kollek was elected mayor of
Jerusalem. One of the first things he did was to pander to the Orthodox and
close whole neighborhoods on the Shabbat. One of the first things I did was
to call on my supporters to protest. We closed the entrance to Jerusalem for
some hours until we were forcibly removed.)
But closing roads and parading the released Lior triumphantly on their
shoulders was not the only thing the young fanatics did. They also tried to
storm the Supreme Court building. Why this building in particular? That t
requires some explanation.
THE ISRAELI right-wing, and especially the settlers and their rabbis, have
long lists of hate objects. Some of these have been published. I have the
honor of appearing on most. But the Supreme Court occupies a place high
up, if not at the very top.
Why? The court has not covered itself with glory when dealing with the
occupied territories. It has allowed the destruction of many Palestinian
homes as retaliation for “terrorist” acts, approved “moderate” torture,
assented to the “separation fence” (which was condemned by the
international court), and generally positioned itself as an arm of the
But in some cases, the law has not enabled the court to wriggle out of its
responsibilities. It has called for the demolition of “outposts” set up on
private Palestinian property. It has forbidden “targeted killing” if the person
could be arrested without risk, it has decreed that it is unlawful to prevent
an Arab citizen from living in a village on state-owned land, and so on.
Each such decision drew a howl of rage from the rightists. But there is a
deeper reason for the extreme antagonism.
UNLIKE MODERN Christianity, but very much like Islam, the Jewish religion is
not just a matter between Man and God, but also a matter between Man and
Man. It does not live in a quiet corner of public life. Religious law
encompasses all aspects of public and private life. Therefore, for a pious
Jew - or Muslim - the European idea of separation between state and religion
The Jewish Halakha, like the Islamic Shari’a, regulates every single aspect of
life. Whenever Jewish law clashes with Israeli law, which one should
prevail? The one enacted by the democratically elected Knesset, which can
be changed at any moment if the people want it, or the one handed down by
God on Mount Sinai for all time, that cannot ever be changed (at most can be
Religious fanatics in Israel insist that religious law stands above the secular
law (as in several Arab counties), and that the state courts have no
jurisdiction over the clerics in matters that concern religion (as in Iran).
When the Supreme Court ruled otherwise, the most respected Orthodox
rabbi easily mobilized 100 thousand protesters in Jerusalem. For years now,
religious cabinet ministers, law professors and politicians, as well as their
political supporters, have been busy chipping away at the integrity,
independence and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
This is the crux of the matter. The Attorney General considers a book calling
for the killing of innocent children an act of criminal incitement. The rabbis
and their supporters consider this an impertinent interference in a learned
religious debate. There can be no real compromise between these two views.
For Israelis, this is not just an academic question. The entire religious
community, with all its diverse factions, now belongs to the rightist, ultra-
nationalist camp (except for pitiful little outposts like Reform and
Conservative Jewry, who are the majority among American Jews).
Transforming Israel into a Halakha state means castrating the democratic
system and turning Israel into a second Iran governed by Jewish ayatollahs.
It will also make peace impossible for all time, since according to the rabbis
all of the Holy Land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River
belongs solely to the Jews, and giving the Goyim even an inch of it is a
mortal sin, punishable by death. For this sin, Yitzhak Rabin was executed by
the student of a religious university, a former settler.
Not the whole religious camp subscribes to the unrelenting extremism of
Rabbi Lior and his ilk. There are many other trends. But all of these keep
quiet. It is Lior, the rabbi who Possesses the Light, and his like-minded
colleagues, who chart the course.