However, the most shocking and offensive criticism came from Harvard University’s Sarah Roy. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, Roy observes that the fighting started on Chanukah and asks: “How am I to celebrate my Jewishness while Palestinians are being killed?”
She then goes on to ponder “whether the Jewish covenant with God is present or absent in the face of Jewish oppression of Palestinians? Is the Jewish ethical tradition still available to us? Is the promise of holiness – so central to our existence – now beyond our ability to reclaim?”
I don’t intend to defend Israel’s actions in Gaza—in my view they are self explanatory. What I would like to explain, however, is how a seemingly intelligent person such as Professor Sarah Roy could so badly misunderstand Judaism and its sense of ethics.
The answer comes from within Roy’s own writing. In a piece written in April 2007 about the Lebanon war she described growing up in a home where “Judaism was defined and practiced not so much as a religion but as a system of ethics and culture. God was present but not central.”
But Judaism is a religion and God is control to it. Taking those two elements away is to remove the foundation of Judaism. What the Torah says about an issue and the fact that the Tanach is packed full of war stories where God tells the Israelites to fight and kill is lost on Sarah Roy. Simply stated, what Roy describes as Judaism is her version of ethics and morals and has nothing to do with the real Judaism at all.
Keep your criticism to yourself
Sarah Roy writes that being Jewish means “bearing witness, raging against injustice and refusing silence. It means compassion, tolerance, and rescue. In the absence of these imperatives…we cease to be Jews.”
However, a deeper reading of Judaism shows that whilst Jews as a people have been defined by their capacity for compassion and tolerance of others, there are times when we are forbidden to act upon those feelings because such action would be destructive. The liberal culture which says “follow your heart and feelings no matter what” has caused destruction on multiple levels. The high divorce rate in the West can be ascribed to that prevailing, yet erroneous, attitude.
Maimonides, the great 11th century Jewish jurist and philosopher, declares that a wise person is one who is able to overcome emotions to act in an intellectually responsible manner. Judaism often sees free choice as the ability to choose between an emotional impulse and an intellectual imperative. Judaic commentators see the intellectual imperative as coming from the religion and the Torah. Hence, it is easy to see why without the Torah as an intellectual counterbalance pure compassion can take over in a destructive manner.
It is important to feel compassion for the residents of Gaza, but that feeling of concern and sympathy must not be confused with ethical and moral clarity. On the contrary, making a decision not to mount a defense against lethal terrorists based on a feeling of compassion is not only immoral and un-Jewish it is also idiotic and deeply irresponsible.
In this case, despite their intelligence, Sarah Roy and her ilk are unable to rise above their emotional impulses and their conclusions are therefore offensive, unethical and very dangerous. It is a waste of time trying to defend Israel’s actions to such people—their impulsiveness denies them the ability to understand the ethical and moral imperative for this type of action. However at a time when our brethren in the Holy Land are at war, all I ask of them is to stop abetting our enemies and keep their incessant criticisms to themselves.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish wisdom for Business Success