I was pleased to see Manis Friedman representing the Chabad point of view in the “Ask the Rabbis” section of the current issue of Moment magazine – that is, until I read what he actually said to the question of how should Jews treat their Arab neighbors?
The rabbi, whose work I enjoyed since reading one of the earliest books about modesty and human dignity, “Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore: Reclaiming Modesty, Intimacy and Sexuality” in 1990, was the long-time dean of Bais Chana, a center for women’s learning in Minneapolis.
He always seemed like a gentle soul, his eyes twinkling above his bushy white beard, full of wisdom about what makes a successful marriage. I was happy to see him less than a year ago at a wedding in Crown Heights, in fact. But his response to Moment’s question belies a very un-gentle soul. He wrote:
In Moment, Rabbi Friedman wrote:
I don’t believe in western morality, i.e. don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it is immoral. The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle). The first Israeli prime minister who declares that he will follow the Old Testament will finally bring peace to the Middle East. First, the Arabs will stop using children as shields. Second, they will stop taking hostages knowing that we will not be intimidated. Third, with their holy sites destroyed, they will stop believing that G-d is on their side. Result: no civilian casualties, no children in the line of fire, no false sense of righteousness, in fact, no war. Zero tolerance for stone throwing, for rockets, for kidnapping will mean that the state has achieved sovereignty. Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations who suffer defeat because of a disastrous morality of human invention.
Reached in Crown Heights this week, where he has come to make a son’s wedding (one of his 14 children), he said that he is being misunderstood: “I’m suggesting that if we changed our policies and didn’t follow the Western value system that there would be no war and nobody would get hurt. That’s what I said,” he told The Sisterhood.
If, as I have learned from Rabbi Friedman and others, a primary goal of the study and observance of Torah is refinement of one’s soul and behavior, then clearly in this case, being Torah observant has failed profoundly.
For a contemporary rabbi — particularly one who holds himself out as a teacher and mentor — to espouse the view that the policy of the Jewish state should be that we “kill men, women and children (and cattle),” is grotesque.
In response to Friedman’s comments in Moment, Josh Nathan-Kazis, the editor of the excellent Jewish national student publication New Voices, writes this.
When I come across this sort of thing, I wonder at Chabad’s popularity among secular Jewish students. These aren’t just bad politics, they’re insane politics. At what point does the Chabad rabbi tell the prospective Ba’al Teshuva that he thinks that Israel should “destroy their holy sites”? Probably not at the first Shabbat dinner, right? Maybe after two Shabbat dinners, a “lunch and learn,” and a Birthright trip through Mayanot?”
Many, including Friedman, claim to represent “the timeless truths of Torah,” but it is a mistake to present any of its teachings as Rabbi Friedman claims to in his Moment response.
We extract the values, but none of us live as our mothers and fathers in the Bible did — not even Rabbi Friedman, in his black suit and fedora.
On his Web site, you can buy one of Friedman’s many teaching series on CD. This one is called “You Are What You Believe.”