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What Does Jewish Law Say about “Price Tag” Attacks Against Israeli Soldiers and Innocent Arabs? Responsa in a Moment: Volume 6, Issue No. 3, December 2011

Israeli Society
Modern Issues in Jewish Law
Responsa by David Golinkin

Question: During the past few years we have witnessed a worrisome phenomenon of “price tag” attacks in which religious Zionist teenagers attack innocent Arabs and deface Mosques as revenge for specific terror attacks or for Israeli government decisions about destroying illegal homes or settlements. Last week these attacks escalated: a large group of young people broke into a closed military zone, rioted on an army base, threw a stone at an IDF army officer and wounded him, and threw stones at innocent Arabs. They did all of this supposedly in the name of Judaism and according to the “religious” education which they had received. What do Jewish law and tradition have to say about this phenomenon on Israeli soldiers?


Jewish law and tradition are thoroughly opposed to attacks on Israeli soldiers and on innocent Arab civilians.

Many of these young people hate non-Jews in general and Arabs in particular. Talmudic literature does contain negative statements about non-Jews, but it also contains many statements such as the following:  “[Rabbi Akiva] used to say: Beloved is adam [=man]who was created in the image of God. Still greater was the love shown to him since he was created in the image of God, as it is written (Genesis 9:6) ‘in the image of God he made man‘” (Avot3:14). The plain meaning of this text is that all men (adam) were created in the image of God, not just Jews. “Therefore Adam was created alone to teach you that whoever destroys one soul is considered by scripture as if he had destroyed the entire world, and whoever sustains one soul is considered by scripture as if he had sustained the entire world” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5, according to the correct reading explained by Prof. E. E. Urbach, Tarbitz 40 [5731], pp. 268-284). This Mishnah does not distinguish between saving the life of a Jew and of a gentile.

Kiddush Hashem is the sanctification of God’s name and Hillul Hashem is the desecration of God’s name. They stem from the same verse in Leviticus (22:32):  “You shall not desecrate My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the people of Israel – I am the Lord who sanctifies you”.  This verse means that any good or holy act that a Jew does, sanctifies God’s name in the eyes of his Jewish and gentile neighbors, while any bad or profane act that a Jew does, desecrates God’s name in the eyes of the public.

A Talmudic passage which appears in Gittin 61a and elsewhere lists a series of rabbinic enactments mipnei darkei shalom, because of the ways of peace, including feeding non-Jews, visiting their sick, and burying their dead. The Mishnah (Gittin 5:8-9) lists a number of similar enactments. These sources do not relate to our specific topic, but stoning innocent Arabs is clearly a violation of this Talmudic principle.

There is a famous story in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) about a convert who came to Hillel and asked to convert on condition that Hillel would teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel replied: “what is hateful to you do not do to others, this is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary, go and learn”. For 1900 years, from the Destruction of the Second Temple until the twentieth century, Jews were discriminated against by non-Jews. Now, when we have our own sovereign State of Israel where we are the majority, we must follow the dictum of Hillel which he considered the most basic commandment in the Torah.

The Torah contains many mitzvot related to the Ger Toshav or resident alien (see D. Golinkin, Insight Israel: Jerusalem, 2003, pp. 85-89). While there is disagreement among rabbis as to whether these laws apply to non-Jews living in Israel today (see ibid.), the spirit of these Biblical and Rabbinic laws demands that we treat all non-Jews in Israel with respect for “you shall love him [the stranger] as yourself, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Similarly, it is forbidden for a Jew to attack or to throw stones at another Jew, how much the more so against IDF Israeli soldiers who were sent by the State of Israel to defend us.

First of all, it is forbidden for a Jew to raise his hand against another Jew. “And [Moses] went out on the next day and, behold, two Hebrews were fighting, so he said to the evil one: why do you strike your fellow!” (Exodus 2:13). “Resh Lakish said: a Jew who lifts his hand against his fellow, even if he does not hit him is called ‘evil one‘, as it is written ‘evil one: why do you strike your fellow!’ …even though he did not strike him, he is called ‘evil one’ ” (Sanhedrin 58b).

Furthermore, Jewish law prohibits a Jew from injuring his neighbor, and even if he hit his neighbor and did not injure him, he transgresses a negative commandment (Rambam, Hovel 5:1 and Sanhedrin 16:12; Shulhan Arukh Hoshen Mishpat 420:1-3).

In addition, it is clear from the Torah that a stone is capable of killing, even unintentionally (Numbers 35:22-23), sinners were frequently stoned to death, and, in the halakhah, a stone is considered a lethal weapon (Maimonides, Laws of Murder 3:12-13; 4:1; 6:6).

The young people who perpetrate these attacks believe that they are acting according to halakhah which takes precedence over the laws of the State of Israel and over government decisions. They are wrong. The democratic institutions of the State of Israel are not something to be “tolerated” outside of Jewish law. Rather, they are part and parcel of Jewish law  and living in accordance with its laws is as important as observing Shabbat and keeping kosher. There are three proofs of this assertion:

a) The Talmudic sage Samuel, who lived in third-century Babylonia, coined the phrase “dina d’malkhuta dina” – “the law of the land is the law” (Nedarim 28a and parallels), which meant that Jews must obey the laws of the countries in which they reside. But many rabbis state that this applies to a Jewish state as well. If so, Jewish law requires Jews to observe the secular laws of the State of Israel.

b) Throughout Jewish history, every Jewish kahal, or community, was governed democratically on the basis of a passage in the Talmud (Bava Batra 8b). The State of Israel is the modern equivalent of the kahal, and its democratic institutions must be treated with the same respect and authority as the medieval kahal.

c) Rabbis Abraham Isaac Kook, Shaul Yisraeli, and Hayyim David Halevy, three of the foremost religious Zionists of the twentieth century, have explained that, in our day, the democratically elected government and leaders of Israel have taken the place of the king and must be obeyed accordingly (Responsa  Mishpat Kohen, No. 144; Amud  Hayemini,   part I, nos. 7, 9; Aseh Lekha Rav, Vol. 7, No. 68).

Finally, this week we are celebrating the festival of Hanukkah which celebrates the victory of the Macabbees over the Greeks. However, according to II Macabbees (Chapters 4-6), the decrees of Antiochus were caused by senseless hatred between the leaders of the people who plotted incessantly against one another. As a result, Antiochus thought that the Jews were rebelling against him. He captured Jerusalem, killed 80,000 people, plundered the Temple, outlawed Judaism and defiled the Temple – all on account of senseless hatred and divisions among the Jewish people.

In conclusion, “religious” youths who attack Israeli soldiers and innocent Arabs and Mosques are transgressing all of the above Jewish laws and teachings. The IDF and the government must deal swiftly and severely with these phenomena and the religious Zionist community must do some serious soul-searching and change the education which is being given to these young people. And the sooner the better.

David Golinkin
Erev Hanukkah 5772

David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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