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Due to illness and work committments I have been unable to post on my blog for some months. My apologies for this. Hopefully I will, from now on, be able to post more regularly, particularly concernng my recent trip to the West Bank.
Quite possibly the most surreal experience of my life came during my recent stay in Jerusalem when I decided to go and visit one of the Rabbis from the staunchly anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewish organization known as Neturei Karta. While I am convinced that the anti-Zionist position taken by Neturei Karta is virtually identical to the mainstream Orthodox position on Zionism some 50 to 100 years ago, I am equally convinced that nowadays their viewpoints are very much in the minority.
What is extremely disturbing, is the virulent hatred for these Rabbis that is both harboured and promoted by Zionist Jews. I would be hard pressed to remember a case where such dreadful words of hatred and violence are spoken towards a people who basically want to be left alone to live in peace with all men…, Jew, Muslim, Arab and Chrisitian.
I visited the home of Rabbi Hirsch, a Neturei Karta Rabbi, who lives in the Orthodox suburb of Jerusalem known as Mea Shearim. Walking down the main street of this suburb is something that I will never forget. Every person, except myself, was wearing the traditional black clothing that is the standard ‘unifrom’ of the Orthodox. It was like walking into a time machine, into an age and a place more foreign to me than anything I could have ever imagined. Yet at the same time I felt perfectly safe, just as safe as I felt walking through any Arab part of Jerusalem at any time of the day or night. I spoke to a number of Orthodox Jews, all of them very friendly and helpful, some even willing to talk about Zionism and Israel and a few even reminding me gently that the views held by Neturei Karta represent a tiny minority!
While I was dressed appropriatley for the occassion and obvioulsy not a western looking female, or a tourist running around taking photos, I felt that my presence in Mea Shearim was quite easily tolerated. Wandering through the tiny, dimmly light neighbourhoods trying to find Rabbi Hirsch’s home was daunting and yet fascinating.
Having finally found the Rabbis house at about 11:00pm at night, the Rabbi warmly invited me in and I sat down with him and his family and started to talk about the issue that burns in the both of us, be it for probably different reasons.
After spending about two hours talking with this Rabbi and his family, I could not help but see a man, very passionate about his convictions, but mostly concerned with finding a way to live in peace with his fellow men and women. He believes a key to this is telling the world that Zionism is not Judaism. That the current problems in the region are not the cause of relgious conflict or bigotry, be it from Christians, Jews or Muslims. As Orthodox Jews who have lived throughout the world, they are used to being surrounded by peoples of other faiths and cultures.
No, the problem, in the Rabbis opinion, and in my opinion, lay fundamentally at the feet of a type of European colonialist ideology that is known as Zionism. This is obviously not to say that no fault can be found with Palestinian Arabs in their handling of the conflict. That would be ridiculous. But the roots of the conflict and the ongoing oppression of Palestinian Arabs can be found in the Zionists states unwillingness to give up on it’s colonialist project which the Rabbi and I find to be unjust and immoral.
I discovered no words of hatred from the mouth of the Rabbi who sees that, as an Orthodox Jew living in a Zionist state, he is a Jew in exile, living within an exile. He mourns the death of every Jew and Arab in the conflict and seeks to be reconciled with all his fellow men and women. No curses were reserved for his detractors nor does he somehow wish to see a return to the days of oppression of Jews in Europe.
As the night wore on, the more I could see how much I had in common with this man’s family. The more our common humanity, desire for peace, justice and reconciliation became obvious, the more pain I felt for these people who are treated in such a vile way by other Jews. How is it that those like myself can be labelled an anti-Semite even when I have plainly stated that I firmly believe in the rights of Jews to live every and anywhere in the world they wish in peace, justice and freedom, while those who cry out for the death of Neturei Karta Rabbis claiming that Neturei Karta do all they can to ensure another Holocaust, can do so without the slightest accusation of anti-Semitism, is unfathomable to me.
My visit to Mea Shearim, and the world of the Orthodox anti-Zionist Jewish people will stay with me for ever. Their warmth and hospitality was matched only by their passion for peace and justice in the Middle East. Though as a western Chrisitan I will always have disagreements with them from a theological perspective, and I realise that many people’s visit to Mea Shearim was not so enjoyable as mine, I will always consider the Rabbis of Neturei Karta to be basically a people on a mission of peace and reconcilliation, and as such, I call them brothers and sisters in the faith.
Some of the ideas that inspired me to create this blog, and write my book, come from the doctrines of Orthodox religious Jews who reject Zionism in the name of the Torah. The tradition in Orthodox Judaism that takes an anti-Zionist approach is not novel in our world, as is Zionism itself, but stretches back in time to the Oaths taken by the Rabbis, and recorded in the Talmud, around 130 AD according to Jewish tradition. The early advocates of Zionism found staunch resistance from the Orthodox community to say the least. Yosef Salmon tells us that;
It was the Zionist threat that offered the gravest danger, for it sought to rob the traditional community of its very birthright, both in the Diaspora and in Eretz Israel, the object of its messianic hopes. Zionism challenged all the aspects of traditional Judaism: in its proposal of a modern, national Jewish identity; in the subordination of traditional society to new life-styles; and in its attitude to religious concepts of Diaspora and redemption. The Zionist threat reached every Jewish community. It was unrelenting and uncompromising, and therefore it met with uncompromising opposition (cited in Rabkin, 2006, p. 2).
Israeli intellectual, Boaz Evron has stated:
“Zionism is indeed the negation of Judaism” (cited in Rabkin, 2006, p. 56).
Over the last six months, a number of Christian folk, both in support of this blog and against it, have made comments that challenge the more favourable view of Judaism that I hold to in this blog. According to them, Orthodox Judaism is ultimately guided by the Talmud, particularly the Babylonian Talmud, which they say, contains teachings that are reprehensible to all gentiles and Christians in particular. The Talmud’s teachings are held up as near satanic doctrines that all Christians should be made aware of. The Christians who have made these comments are sincere in their position and tell me that their conclusions have come from years of careful study. I have decided to post some comments made by one of the Rabbis of Neturei Karta, Rabbi Beck, concerning these claims about the Talmud. Jewish Rabbis are not naive to these criticisms in any way; having come across them on many occasions. If anyone would like to chase these comments up further, I would refer them to the Neturei Karta website, the link to them can be found under the Links heading down the left hand side of my blog.
I do not claim that criticism of the Talmud is always evidence of anti-Semitism (any more than I think criticism of the New Testament is necessarily evidence of Christaphobia) and I do not think it is so in the case of those fellow Christians who have commented on this blog. Nor do I claim to be an expert on this matter, but I do think the primary way to learn about Judaism is by first listening to its advocates directly.
An Orthodox Rabbi writes in defense of the Talmud.
When G-d gave us the Torah, He also gave us an explanation of its laws, to be transmitted orally from generation to generation. For example, the Torah prohibits work on the Sabbath, but does not say exactly what “work” means. G-d explained to Moses orally that it means carrying objects in the street, lighting fires, tying knots, slaughtering animals and so on. The Torah says to take the fruit of the goodly trees on Succoth, but does not say which fruit. Oral tradition explains that it is the ethrog or citron. If you think about it, most of the laws in the Torah are impossible to observe without more explanation.
These explanations were passed down from teacher to student for about 1500 years, until around the year 200 of the Common Era. At that time the Sages became afraid that the laws would be forgotten, and they decided to write them down. This written work was called the Mishnah, and is the backbone of the Talmud. Even this Mishnah was written in a concise style and left much room for oral explanation, which went on being passed down for another 300 years. At that time it was written down, again out of fear of being forgotten, as the Talmud. All of Jewish law today is based on the Talmud, and is kept by all observant Jews.
Countless passages in the Talmud, its commentaries and legal codes show the ideals of kindness and fairness to all of mankind aspired to and practiced by the Jewish people.
Unfortunately, some individuals in our time have accused the Talmud of advocating racism and unfair treatment of gentiles. They provide short quotations, invariably taken completely out of context, that seem to support their accusations.
In reply to these accusers, we can only remind people that the Talmud contains a vast amount of material; to cover it all takes the brightest scholars a lifetime of study. Although it does contain a small number of statements directed at gentiles, most of the Talmud consists of laws and sharply-stated ethical teachings directed at Jews. For every “anti-gentile” statement the critics can find, there are ten “anti-Jewish” statements. And just as the latter must be studied in context, so too the former.
One brief example: the Babylonian Talmud was written in Babylonia as its name indicates. Yet it contains the statement, “Whoever lives outside the Holy Land is as if he worshipped idols.”
The greatest proof that the Talmud does not advocate unfair treatment of gentiles is that ever since the Talmud was completed, the Jews who follow it have lived in exile among many gentile countries. In every place where they lived, they conducted their business affairs with the local gentiles with the utmost honesty and fairness.
Many of the quotations posted online by anti-Semites are half-true but are translated incorrectly or taken out of context. You can read a good refutation to most of these accusations at:
Below you will find quotations from the major codes of Talmudic law, exemplifying the Talmud’s positions on gentiles. The Code of Jewish Law, written about 500 years ago by a Palestinian rabbi named Rabbi Joseph Caro (1488-1575), is today the universally accepted codification of Talmudic law. Before that, the codes of Maimonides (1135-1204) were prevalent.
Jews are obligated to give charity to poor gentiles as well as poor Jews (Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah 251:1)
Jews must bury the dead of the gentiles, comfort their mourners and visit their sick. (Maimonides, Laws of Mourning 14:12)
The commandment of “visiting the sick” applies to sick gentiles as well as sick Jews. (Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah 335:9)
Anyone who steals even a minor amount violates the prohibition of [Leviticus 19:11] “You shall not steal” and is required to repay [the amount stolen] whether one steals from a Jew or a gentile. (Code of Jewish Law, Choshen Mishpat 348:2)
It is forbidden to rob or to cheat even a minor amount from either a Jew or a gentile. (Code of Jewish Law, Choshen Mishpat 359:1)
It is Biblically forbidden to steal even a minor amount; even a gentile – it is forbidden to steal from him or to cheat him. And if you stole from him or cheated him you must return the stolen money or object. (Maimonides, Laws of Stealing 1:2)
Maimonides of blessed memory wrote that if one lies in his measures and thereby overcharges even to an idolatrous gentile one violates a negative commandment and must return the money. Similarly, it is forbidden to mislead the gentiles in calculating prices as it says [Leviticus 25:50] “he shall make a reckoning with his purchaser” even if he is subjugated to your authority; even more so if the gentile is not subjugated to your authority, and it says [Deuteronomy 25:16] “For an abomination to the Lord, you G-d, are all who do this.” (Sefer HaChinuch, 259)
And similiarly, lies, tricks, subterfuges, cheatings, and circumventions of gentiles are forbidden. They said, “It is forbidden to deceive anyone, even an idolatrous gentile” and even more so when it can lead to the desecration of G-d’s name. For that is a great sin and imbues in a person bad traits. And regarding all these wicked actions, G-d explained that He will be disgusted with them and with those who perform them, as it says: (Deuteronomy 18:12) “For anyone who does these is an abomination of G-d.” (Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishnah, Keilim 12:7)
Returning Lost Objects
R. Chaninah told this story: Some rabbinic scholars bought one pile of wheat from some gentile soldiers. [The scholars] found in it a bundle of money and returned it to [the soldiers]. [The soldiers] said “Blessed is the G-d of the Jews.” (Jerusalem Talmud Bava Metzia 2:5 (7a))
Once, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach bought a donkey from an Arab. His students went and found a precious stone hanging around [the donkey’s] neck. Rabbi said to him [Proverbs 10:22] “It is the blessing of G-d that enriches.” R. Shimon ben Shetach said to him “I bought a donkey. I did not buy a precious stone.” He went and returned it to the Arab and the Arab said “Blessed is the G-d of Shimon ben Shetach.” (Midrash Devarim Rabbah 3:3)
R. Shmuel ben Sustrai went to Rome when the empress had lost her bracelet and he found it. A decree was proclaimed in the region that anyone who returned it within 30 days would be paid such and such; anyone who returned it after 30 days would be beheaded. He didn’t return it within 30 days but after 30 days. She said to him “Weren’t you in the region?” He replied “Yes.” She said to him “Didn’t you hear the proclamation?” He replied “Yes.” She said to him “What was it?” He replied “Whoever returns it within 30 days will receive such and such; whoever returns it after 30 days will be beheaded.” She said to him “And why didn’t you return it within 30 days?” He replied “So that you wouldn’t say that I did it because of fear of you; rather I did it out of fear of G-d.” She said to him “Blessed is the G-d of the Jews.” (Jerusalem Talmud Bava Metzia 2:5 (7a))
Talmud, Tractate Chullin 94a. Shmuel said: One may not deceive another person, even a non-Jew. This was not said explicitly by Shmuel, but was derived from the following story: Shmuel once crossed the river using a ferryboat. He told his servant to pay the ferryman. The servant gave the ferryman a non-kosher chicken, allowing the ferryman to assume that it was kosher.
The Talmudic commentator Rashi explains: Shmuel’s law explains why the Mishnah says that one may not give a non-Jew a piece of meat from which the sciatic nerve (forbidden to Jews) was not removed. The non-Jew might not notice this and may assume that the Jew is giving him valuable kosher meat. He will then feel gratitude toward the Jew, a gratitude based on a false premise.
This law is codified by Maimonides (Laws of Sale 18:3) and by the Code of Jewish Law (Choshen Mishpat 228:6).
In summary, Judaism exhorts Jews to give non-Jews fair treatment, and thereby to sanctify the name of G-d in the world by showing mankind that those who follow His laws are just and compassionate.
Rabbi E. Beck
Supporters of Zionism are supporters of Colonialism and deniers of Human Rights.
Israeli intellectual Boaz Evron summed up the relationship between Zionism and any Biblical understanding of Jewishness and their relationship to the land of Israel when he said:
“Zionism is indeed the negation of Judaism” .
Professor Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin of Ben-Gurion University is alleged to have once made the sarcastic comment, “Our claim to the land could be put in a nutshell: God does not exist, and He gave us this land.”
Trying to legitimize the colonialist and racist ideology that has dominated the lives of so many Jewish people in the last 100 years, by any type of Biblical means, is a contradiction in terms.
Uriel Zimmer, an Orthodox Jew and former United Nations reporter for several newspapers, states the ultimate goal of Zionism:
“The real aim of Zionism is the one stated innumerable times by the various Zionist thinkers and ideologists from its earliest conception until this day. From the essays of Achad Haam to the speeches of Ben Gurion, we can hear definitions of one goal, in various versions and phrases but with never-changing content: TO CHANGE THE IDENTITY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE!”
(Zimmer, 1961, p. 14)
Defections from the Zionist camp by some of the worlds greatest thinkers, like Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, have inevitably come when the real brutality of the Zionist colonialist project finally showed its true visage.
The famous mathematician and atheistic philosopher, Bertrand Russell, initially embraced Zionism. In 1943, Russell wrote, “The Role of the Jewish State in Creating a Better World”. Calling just before his death in 1970 for ‘an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in June 1967’, Russell, in a change of heart, particularly deplored the fate of the Palestinians:’ No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their country, how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment nobody else would tolerate?’ (Spokesman, no.2 (Nottingham: April 1970), excerpted in Ronald Clark, The Life of Bertrand Russell (New York: 1975, p. 638). (Finkelstein, 2003, p. 200) Second Edition
Anti- Zionist Orthodox Jewish Rabbis, like those from Neturei Karta and other theologically Orthodox Jews like Professor Yakov M. Rabkin of Montreal University, put the Christian supporters of Zionist Israel to shame when they reach beyond the tragedy of the Holocaust and the injustice of Arab terrorist attacks and proclaim with one voice:
“Its (State of Israel’s) cruel treatment of the Palestinian people is against the Creator’s imperative that we deal justly and kindly with all men. To all our Arab and Islamic brethren around the world, let the message go forth today, that your quarrel is not with the Jewish people, the people of the Torah. We stand with you in your suffering. We feel your pain. We are with you. Let there be no more innocent victims, neither Palestinian nor Jew. Let us pray that the Zionist state will, with God’s help, soon become a distant and dismal memory” (cited in Rabkin, 2006, p. 128).
Ruth Blau, wife of a Neturei Karta Rabbi, had this to say only a few days after the ‘67 war was won:
“If the Zionists had even an iota of common sense…,they would invite the Arab states to form, with them, a confederation that would embrace the Palestinians, who thus would recover their rights. Peace should be made when one is strong. Now they, (the Zionists), are strong. But they will not do it, because they are prideful, and will refuse to make the slightest concession. They prefer to put the lives of millions of Jews in jeopardy rather than ever see an Arab as president over such a confederation. By this spectacular, lightning war they imagine they have won. No one can deny that today they are at the height of their power. It is at this point that their downfall will begin. It will not be long before they witness all the problems their conquests will bring. The hatred of the Arabs will deepen, and they will seek revenge. The Zionists now have hundreds of thousands of enemies within their borders. All of us who live here are now in great danger “(cited in Rabkin, 2006, p.121).
No prohibitions exist in the Old Testament regarding the giving of portions of the land of Canaan to non-Jews. The land of Canaan was never meant to be at the disposal of the Jewish people, rather the Jewish people were meant to be at the disposal of God. The land was never theirs, it was always Gods, as revealed by numerous scriptures: King Solomon gave away cities in Galilee to the Phoenicians in order to gain produce he needed for the construction of the Temple.
“The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” (Lev 25:23)
“And I brought you into a plentiful land, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when you entered, you defiled My land, and made My heritage an abomination.” Jer 2:7
“And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double,because they have polluted My land with the carcasses of their detestable things, and have filled Mine inheritance with their abominations.” Jer 16:18
Scriptures detailing how God in fact has given portions of the land of Canaan to non-Jews are conveniently overlooked by Israels Christian cheer squad.
” Then we turned back and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea, as the LORD had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir. Then the LORD said to me, “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own.”” Deut 2:1-5
The region of Seir, is between Mt Horeb and Kadesh Barnea in the Negev. This region was given to the Edomites and the Israelites were forbidden to settle there or to try and expell them. Today’s Zionist government in Israel is trying to colonize the Negev by the forced expulsion of the indigenous Bedouin and is therefore in clear breach of this Biblical statue of God. Don’t hold your breathe waiting for Christian Zionists to demand the literal interpretation of those verses.
Later in the very same chapter of Deuteronomy we see God giving the Israelites further instructions as their wanderings brought them to the region of Moab.
“Then the LORD said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.”
… When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.” Deut 2:9,19
This huge piece of land was also off limits to the Israelites even though it sits within the boundaries of the land that God had promised to Abraham. Today, Amman, the capital of Jordan, is named after their ancestors. The point is that the Kingdom of Israel was always more universal than nationalistic.
Their is not one single verse in the Old or New Testaments of the Bible that can be used to justify the dispossession of even one Palestinian Arab. Christian supporters of the Zionist state of Israel can only do so if they either deny the atrocities of Zionist colonialism or justify them on racial grounds. Either way, the Bible is no friend to their twisted moral equations.
Rabkin, Y. (2006). A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism. Fernwood Publishing: Canada, Zed Books: London.
Zimmer, U. (1961). Torah-Judaism and the State of Israel. Jewish Post Publications, London, England.
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