Thursday, August 17, 2006

No to the Other Cheek: A Reply to Moshe Tur-Paz

Moshe Tur Paz is your quintessential Meimad type. He's intelligent, principled, well educated, and dogmatically liberal. Not unexpectedly, he's the past-chairman of Ne'emane Torah va'Avodah. He's eloquent, soft-spoken (if one can judge from his writing style) and I am sure very spiritual. He can always be counted upon to rush to attack Right Wing Religious Fanatics and to demonstrate just how progressive and liberal (social-) democratic 'real' Judaism is.

Not infrequently, I find myself agreeing with him. However, all too often, he treats (religious) life as a 'zero-sum game.' On those (all too frequent) occasions, I experience an immediate case of emotional hives. I find his attempts to force the Torah into an ideological procrustean bed to be disingenuous (at best). I won't say what they are at worst.

Today's column is a case in point. He addresses the question of military ethics in the wake of the heavy casualties suffered by our forces, who were seeking to minimize casualies among civilians. Specifically, he is disturbed by the increasingly common complaint that we have adopted a Christian philosophy of 'turning the other cheek.' He rejects this summarily, offering that the concern for civilians is an integral part of the classic Israeli doctrine of 'tohar ha-nesheq' (lit. purity of arms'). In addition, he claims that anyone who claims that this is a Christian idea, knows nothing about Christianity. (I must admit it's odd hearing someone resort to an argument I often make.)

Well, as it happens, I happen to know something about Christianity, and something about military history, and something about Halakha. What I know leads me to think that Tur Paz has once again missed the point, bound as he is by his procrustean bed.

Despite what the article implies, there is all the difference in the world between deliberately targeting civilians and harming them unwillingly in the course of legitimate military action (especially when they are cynically used as human shields).

No self-respecting Jew (or human being) should target individual civilians per se. The problem arises when one has to weigh different considerations. Would Tur Paz not have bombed Dresden? Would he not have dropped the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima. I assume that he would not have. President Truman, however, had to decide whether he would sacrifice 100,000+ American soldiers in a land invasion or 100,000+ Japanese in an atomic bombing on a strategically significant city. No one should have to face such a decision. Truman, however, did and until his dying day was convinced that he made the right choice. This does not mean that he rejoiced over the horrific suffering of the Japanese. On the contrary, under his leadership, the United States rebuilt Japan and made it stronger economically than the US. [See the entries from his personal diary, here.]

Let's take a case closer to home.In January 1948, 35 members of the Palmach left Har Tuv (near Bet Shemesh) to reinforce the settlements of Gush Etzion. On the way, they encountered an elderly Arab shepherd. On moral grounds, they let him go. He then alerted the Arabs of Zuriff, Artas, Beit Fajar and Beit Omar that the Jews were sending reinforcements and supplies to the Gush. Arab irregulars streamed to the ascent to the Gush attacked the Palmachniks. They fought to their last bullet and were then slaughtered and castrated by the Arabs. With the supplies and men, it is possible that the Gush might not have fallen to the Arab Legion five months later. It is possible that the defenders of Kfar Etzion might not have been massacred.

Was the decision by the Lamed Heh Commander correct? According to Palmach commander Yitzhak Sadeh, saving that one life was worth the definite sacrifice of thirty-five others. Was it? War is an obscenity, that forces one to make obscene and less obscene decisions. Far be it from me to decide. There is, however, no room for procrustean beds in such circumstances.

No decent Israeli Jew celebrates the suffering of civilians of any type in the obscenity known as war. (Witness, per contra, the parties organized by Muslims after terror attacks.) I think we all subscribe to Golda Meir's remarks tha we can't forgive the Arabs for forcing us to kill. However, what Tur Paz is advocating is the idea that our blood is less red than that of our enemy. He implicitly suggests that we are bidden to die for the salvation of the morality of of the rest of the world.

For the information of Mr. Tur Paz, that is a distinctly Christian concept (though, possibly, based upon the ideas of Second Temple Era Jewish sectarians.) Rabbinic Judaism does not believe in vicarious salvation. As harsh as it seems, we are bidden to see to our own lives first, in as moral a fashion as possible. However, no one bids us to fall on our swords when the other side maneuvers us into impossible choices. Again, there is all the difference in the world between conscious targeting of civilians and the type of danger to which he refers. (I might add, that the reference to Rav Amital in the article is a bit distorted.) One might add that Islam, in its present incarnation (de minimis) cultivates a cult of death (Nasrallah says so openly). That puts us at a double disadvantage in our fight for moral survival here.

Neither neo-Quaker morality nor the horrific assertion that an enemy should die before a Jew is scratched (והמבין יבין ויזכור) are legitimate or credible Jewish positions. The lesson is to let the Torah speak for itself, irrespective of what other creeds may preach.

(I do agree, though, that the Christians do not accept 'Turn the Other Cheek.' Standard military strategy since the American Civil War, when the concept of 'total war' was invented by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, teaches that theonly way to win is by detroying the Home Front.)


Anonymous said...

Myobiter, instead of addressing the world at large with your reasoned response, why don't you address TurPaz directly?
Wouldn't that be a more efficacious use of energy?

Jeffrey said...

Not really. Not be a good debater (or panelist),I argue better in writing. Also, איך האב ניט קיין כח

Nachum said...

It really troubles me whenever someone links to that website of the Talmud. It's a viciously anti-Semitic site that cites the Talmud just to prove how "barbaric" the Jews are.

Jeffrey said...

You know, I never tookthe time to check it out. I've been too excited about having the Soncino Talmud on-line and Cut/Paste(able).

What do you suggest?