Bintel Blog

Why Is a Chabad Rabbi Advocating Violence?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share

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.”

Shmuel Fri. Jun 5, 2009

This article is twisted. No matter how many times a person explains themselves the wolves and vultures will always spin it to keep the blood flowing.

Geoffrey Sun. Jun 7, 2009

These remarks are a classic chillul ha-shem. The rabbi is rightly scrambling to smooth things over, but he has nakedly shown what too many in the Jewish community try to ignore - that there are those in CHaBaD whose thinking mirrors Hamas. I've spent enough time around Chabadniks to know that some of them harbor racist and medieval ideas which they declare "Torah", while the majority of others tolerate these ideas. Luckily, unlike Hamas, CHaBaD does not have a military wing, but armed individuals, like Baruch Goldstain, have acted upon these evil impulses. The more firmly the Jewish community marginalizes such people, the better off all of us will be. Friedman needs a taste of herem for a while.

Jerry Miller Tue. Jun 9, 2009

This article is so misleading. The Rabbi clarified his remarks and stated clearly that he did not advocate random killing of civilians. He stated clearly that he was talking about how to fight a war. We have tried the other way for 60 years; we have had our Chamberlain's and now we have Obama.

How ironic that the secularists believe the messiah has come already and we can lay down our arms, and the ultra-orthodox "messianic" chabadnik has to be the one to remind them that that the wolf is not yet ready to lie with the lamb...

Karen Thu. Jun 11, 2009

The antisemites will take something spoken by one Jew & make him or her a spokesperson for the Jewish people (or substitute your favorite group - Chabad in this case). Apparently Cohen doesn't mind joining them & doing the same. Rabbi Friedman has a right to his opinion & a right to speak for himself. Cohen does not have a right to turn him into the spokesperson for the "Chabad point of view." That is shameful.

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.