So Hebron settlers have poured turpentine on a soldier, desecrated Palestinian graves, and sprayed graffiti saying “Muhammad the pig” on a mosque, all because of a court decision that they stop occupying a house until a ruling on who owns it. We should be shocked, but only in half the meaning of the word: such behavior is horrifying, but not surprising. This is what Hebron settlers do.
Also deeply disturbing is the continued silence of moderate rabbis and religious Jews in the face of such behavior by people who claim that Judaism guides them. As I wrote recently in Ha’aretz, there are reasons for this silence – but they aren’t good enough. The article appeared only in Hebrew. For those who don’t read from right to left, here’s part of my critique:
One reason is that [religious moderates] recoil from the right’s politicization of religion. The reflexive response of the moderates is: They – the right – pull politics into the synagogues and schools, so we must not. Their rabbis express offensive political views. So our rabbis shouldn’t discuss public affairs. Anything connected to Arabs or territory is defined as politics. So talking about racism is off-limits… A teacher who would devote three class hours to condemning a student’s theft of his classmate’s cellphone won’t touch the “political” topic of setting up an outpost on privately owned Palestinian land, even if his students spend time there.
… But if we give up on applying religious ethics in the public sphere, we empty religion of its moral content. A religious response is imperative when leftwing activists are declared traitors, when settlements are built on private Palestinian property, or when discrimination against Arabs is justified in the name of “Jewish labor.” The right isn’t mistaken when it insists that religion has something to say about basic attitudes toward territory or toward the rights of non-Jews. It is mistaken in its understanding of what Judaism has to say on these matters.
…In the face of the right’s absolute certainty, liberals insist on the need for religious pluralism… It’s true that we need to restore the religious culture of respecting disagreement. But demanding open debate doesn’t erase one’s right, or obligation, to state one’s truth within that debate, as truth. When an educator rejects vengeance as a Jewish value, he should not sound as if he considers his position no more than one possible approach.
Besides all that, there’s plain old peer pressure: People would rather than stay quiet than risk upsetting friends, or losing students. But the result is that in the public realm, no one challenges the religious claims of the hooligans of Hebron. Silence desecrates faith.