A reporter from the Forward newspaper in New York City called yesterday with some questions about a short piece of writing by Rabbi Manis Friedman that appeared in the May-June edition of Moment magazine.
The white-bearded Lubavitch rabbi from St. Paul responded, along with rabbis from other Jewish streams, to the question, “How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?” The answers generally counseled against demonization and dehumanization of the Arabs, except for Friedman’s response, which began:Â
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).”¨”¨
Over four paragraphs, Friedman, who is the dean of the internationally renowned Bais Chana Women’s Institute in West St. Paul, argued that “theÂ first Israeli prime minister who declares that he will follow the Old Testament will finally bring peace to the Middle East.”
- Rabbi Manis Friedman: I don’t believe in western morality. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)
The celebrated author and lecturer from St. Paul continued:
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.
The first blog riposte I read was from Josh Nathan-Kazis, who just left his position as editor of New Voices magazine. He quoted the Friedman missive and commented: “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’reÂ insaneÂ 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?”
There also is a lively discussion of Friedman’s piece on FailedMessiah.com, which is the creation of Scott Rosenberg, a St. Paulite who once was part of the Chabad-Lubavitch faction in the Twin Cities. He is now definitely on the outs with them. Rosenberg wrote the other day:
I heard this exact logic from Manis Friedman himself several times during the the time I was Chabad. I also heard it from many other Chabad rabbis, and the Rebbe himself said something similar just after or during the Six Day War, I think, but had it expunged from the written record of his talks immediately after.
You’ll find the theology familiar — it comes directly from Rabbi Meir Kahane. It’s no surprise that among Kahane’s biggest supporters were Chabad hasidim.
Rabbi Friedman later amended his statement. On the Moment blog he averred that he had answered a “different question.”
I was only slightly surprised to see Friedman’s name on the “Chabad” contribution to the Moment feature. We have talked a number of times over the years; I have written a few stories about him for the Jewish World, usually to publicize a local lecture. Generally, I look askance at the right-wing political views of the Lubavitch rabbis around here. They know that I endorsed Keith Ellison (termed a mamzerÂ — “bastard” in Yiddish — by a local Lubavitch rabbi during a colloquy in my office) for Congress in 2006. He won election and became the first-ever Muslim to serve in the U.S. House. The social and political views of the Hasidim comport more or less with those of the hard-right evangelical Christians — those marching in the Sarah Palin/Rep. Michele Bachmann/Rush Limbaugh column.
However, Debra Nussbaum Cohen, writing on the Forward’s “Bintel Blog,” seemed shocked upon reading Friedman’s stark views on the Arab-Israeli conflict:
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 heÂ actually saidÂ to the question of how should Jews treat their Arab neighbors?
She continued today:
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.
The Lubavitch rabbis present a benign face in the local Jewish schools and shuls, with their hands-on shofar-making and matzo-baking workshops. On the other hand, their theology is of the fundamentalist stripe, and they are far less inclined than, say, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to give an inch, or a handful of soil, in the Israeli-Palestinian debacle. As I told the Forward yesterday, Rabbi Friedman more or less reflects the Chabad viewpoint. — Mordecai Specktor