The Sound of Silence

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.

9 thoughts on “The Sound of Silence”

  1. I believe Paul Berman had a similar view in his book Terror and Liberalism in that a virtue of tolerance of all viewpoints leaves an opening for extremists to drive through.

    I think of religion as an answer to the question: how should we live? Historically, it has also attempted to answer the question of why things are as they are. Since the advent of science these questions can be answered differently, but I don’t see how any religion can excuse itself from applicability to the everyday world for those who accept its premises.

  2. Do people write “Herziliyyah settlers assassinated Rabin?”. Of course not. I heard on the radio that an IDF spokesman said those who were supposedly doing the vandalism described above are not residents of Hevron/Kiryat Arba. You don’t know that they are. You just assume it.
    “We all know what THEY are like!”.

  3. In fact, the struggle to save “Beit HaShalom” in Hevron is damaged by those who would vandalize Arab property. The decision was made by the Kiryat Arba/Hevron people to passively resist the politicized decision by the Supreme Court to forcibly evacuate the building without even waiting for the decision of a lower court regarding the ownership question.
    Vandals who are breaking the law by damaging Arab property should be arrested, and it makes me wonder why we keep hearing these stories yet there are almost never any arrests. Why didn’t they arrest the turpentine thrower?

  4. Here is an excerpt from an article in Ha’aretz clarifying what I stated above…that it is against the interests of the Jews of Hevron for people to attack the Arabs there. The Jews live in day-t0-day contact and what relations to be a peaceful as possible. After years of no communication, contacts have been renewed between the Jews there and the Arab leadership.


    Most of the rioters were minors and we did not discern any adults inciting or directing them,” said a senior IDF officer. He added that most came from settlements in the northern West Bank and some were ejected from town on Thursday by leaders of Hebron’s Jewish community. Local settlers also cleaned up the graffiti, he said.

    Here is the link to the full article:

  5. People argue a lot about what constitutes “true” Judaism (or Islam, or whatever). Is it what’s written in the texts? Is it what is believed by most contemporary believers or religious leaders? And so on. Religious liberals like you want to argue that there is some understanding of Judaism that is sufficiently compatible with liberalism that the idea of a “religious liberal” is not a contradiction in terms; such a person is both authentically liberal and authentically religious. I disagree, but let’s assume that you are right. In this article, you go even further and claim, in effect, that *only* liberals are authentically religiously Jewish. For example, you say that “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.” Your motives in saying that are clearly good: you want religious liberals to offer a full-throated response when confronted with the really bad stuff. But do you seriously believe that, by any sensible definition of “true” Judaism, that revenge against the gentiles in not a Jewish value? Are the people who say that it is just plain wrong? It’s all over the texts and has been for thousands of years, it’s bought into by a huge number of contemporary Jews and rabbis, and so on. You can say that you interpret it differently, but I don’t understand how you can possibly say that it’s not religious Judaism.

  6. Did readers of this blog see the extensive article in the NY Times Friday about Hezbollah’s Mahdi Scouts?

    This group, apparently thriving and appearing much like the Boy Scouts of America in uniform and age, learns from a handbook with a chapter, “Facts About the Jews” in which, per the article, “Jews are cruel, corrupt, cowardly and deceitful, and they are killed the killers of prophets”

    I recall a comment on this blog recently that said most Arabs were not angry with Jews per se but with Israelis. If so, the leaders of the Mahdi Scouts would like that to change as they work with the next generation.

    How can liberal ideas find a voice in the madhouse? How do airstrikes from one side and homemade rockets from the other improve the outlook for the future? How can anyone step outside of the psychological warfare for a re-assessment of their position?

    Years ago Erich Fromm wrote Escape From Freedom in which he made the case that people do not long for freedom, rather they see it as an anxiety inducing burden and instead seek a template for life with a guide on what to do. With a blast of trumpets – enter ideology!

  7. Outside Israel, there is general agreement that the settlements (all of them, and thus all 480,000 settlers) are an illegal insertion into the West Bank (and Golan) which, like the wall, should be removed.

    Israel clearly takes a different view, namely, that Israel has sufficient sovereignty over the West Bank (and Golan) that it may place (or allow) settlements there, whatever the law others say the law is.

    And that is what some settlers seem to have done, with kerosene, with gravestones, and upon a mosque. they have said, we will do whatever we like, never mind the law (or decency and so forth).

    To me what these settlers did was criminal: acts taken in spite of law. What Israel does in allowing (and in fact supporting) settlements is criminal: acts taken in spite of law.

    What all persons are doing who know of this criminality and keep quiet about it — many Jews and Rabbis in Israel, some Jews and rabbis and some other people in the US, for example, is (in effect) to condone criminality and it falls far short of the standards of “righteous” (in the phrase “righteous gentile”, used of Germans who helped Jews during the Holocaust, attempting to save lives at the risk of their own lives). Here, no-one’s life is at risk. Although a few Palestinians in the occupied territories are killed from time to time, just as a few people of African ancestry were lynched in the US many years ago, we are not talking about genocide.

    But perhaps people could consider acting “righteously” (by opposing all the settlements and calling for the repatriation of all the settlers, for example) even though there is no genocide.

    It is a thought. I have thought it. You all can think it, too. “Yes you can.”

  8. I wonder what Avishai Raviv would say about htese events. They seem more like a Shin Bet provocation, just like the Sternhell thing

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