This Is Why There Is War in the Mideast

The Jewish magazine Moment ran an article in its latest issue asking rabbis from a variety of Jewish sects how Israel can promote peace with its Arab neighbors (HT: Pharyngula). Most of the rabbis express fairly bland, liberal views about the importance of peace and tolerance, which are fine in themselves, although few of them offer any concrete suggestions as to what Israel might do differently.

However, one rabbi, Manis Friedman of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, was eager to make some specific proposals. Here are some of them:

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 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).

The first Israeli prime minister who declares that he will follow the Old Testament will finally bring peace to the Middle East.

The rabbi didn’t elaborate on which verses from the Old Testament he had in mind, but the context of his statement suggests he was thinking of ones like these:

“When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; and when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee, thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them.”

—Deuteronomy 7:1-2

“So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded.”

—Joshua 10:40

“And Amaziah strengthened himself, and led forth his people, and went to the valley of salt, and smote of the children of Seir ten thousand. And other ten thousand left alive did the children of Judah carry away captive, and brought them unto the top of the rock, and cast them down from the top of the rock, that they all were broken in pieces.”

—2 Chronicles 25:11-12

In case Rabbi Friedman or anyone else is confused, I’ll say it clearly: The behavior that these verses describe is called genocide. It is a war crime; it is the greatest evil known to humankind. I would think that the Jews, of all people, would understand this.

This attitude is why terrorism and bloodshed are ongoing in the Middle East, and why they will continue as long as people allow religion to guide their actions. Brutal, violent books like the Old Testament are, as Sam Harris put it, “a perpetual engine of extremism”. Although many liberal Jewish believers have reinterpreted and allegorized these stories until they’re scarcely recognizable, the violent texts are always there to be rediscovered by zealots who interpret them with the frightening simplicity that their context suggests. The Bible teaches clearly that it is God’s will that the Jews should control all the land promised to their ancestors, and that genocide is the appropriate way to rid that land of anyone else who makes a claim on it.

Of course, Friedman’s views are the mirror image of those on the other side who’ve waged war and committed acts of terrorism against Israel. His scorn for the principle “don’t kill civilians or children” mirrors the suicide bomber zealots who set off their explosives on buses, in nightclubs, or wherever else will cause the most deaths. His rejection of the idea “don’t destroy holy sites” accords with the fanatics who deliberately target buildings and places held sacred by other sects. What he calls the “Jewish way” of fighting a war is really the principle held by every fanatic who believes that outsiders are subhuman and that the righteous must bloodily cleanse them from the earth.

These competing fundamentalisms are why there is war in the Mideast and why there will continue to be war in the Mideast. Compromise and diplomacy are not to be thought of by those who firmly believe that they are carrying out God’s will. So long as both sides are anchored in the immovable certainty of faith, there’s little hope of ending the bloodshed and destruction.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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