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Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Respectful Rebuke

This morning I read, with deep sadness, an op-ed written by Rabbi Benjamin Blech; a wise Rabbi and teacher for whom I have tremendous respect.

I speak from personal experience when I call Rabbi Blech 'wise', as he happens to be a former Rebbe of mine (I studied Talmud with him at Yeshiva University).  I can only hope that what follows is seen by him to be as respectful a rebuke as it is intended.

The op-ed in questions is entitled, "The insanity of treating terrorists".  In it, Rabbi Belch posits that terrorists, by their conduct, are not entitled to protection under the third Geneva convention, which codifies how prisoners of war are required to be treated after capture.

From this jumping off points, Rabbi Blech states that we [Israelis] are insane for providing medical treatment and hospitalization to wounded terrorists; routinely giving priority to the terrorists over their victims if the terrorist is more seriously wounded.

First of all, I once personally heard Rabbi Blech state that one of the things that separates us from the animals is our ability to appreciate that the world, and all that is in it, was created by G-d.  

When an animal is hungry and it sees food or water, it eats and drinks without hesitation.  

And when finished, the animal's full belly makes even the idea of taking time to be thankful preposterous.

Animals are the sum of their emotions and needs and can't comprehend a larger system from which their emotional and physical needs might be satisfied or denied.

We, on the other hand pause before taking our first bite or sip - no matter how hungry or thirsty we may be - to recite blessings thanking our Creator for being the ultimate source of all physical and spiritual sustenance.  

And when we finish with our snack or meal - no matter how sated and lazy we may feel - we again take time to offer thanks for all the good things with which we have been blessed.

That ability to consciously elevate ourselves above the animals, he said, is the very point of being a Jew.

Yet, in his op-ed, Rabbi Blech seems to be suggesting that in the case of our dealings with terrorists, we lower ourselves to their level.  Since they seem to have no moral or ethical code guiding their actions, neither should we.

He correctly suggests that a Jew would never receive humane treatment in Gaza after being wounded carrying out an attack there.  Heck, I'll go one better:  Even without carrying out an attack, a Jew in Gaza doing nothing but walking around admiring the scenery would be in mortal peril from most of the residents he/she encountered there.

But by the same token I wouldn't expect humane treatment from an animal.  if an ox happens to gore me while I'm out walking, that doesn't give me the right to be cruel to it.  Jewish law forbids cruelty to animals.  I am allowed to kill the ox (humanely) or leave it alive, as I choose.  But the animal's actions - specifically once it no longer poses a threat to me - do not set aside my obligations under Jewish law as to how I may and may not treat it.

How much more so when the 'animal' in questions is a human being; created in the very image of the One who created this framework of rules and obligations within which I live?  

I'm not saying we need to patch up the terrorists and set them free.  And I disagree with anyone who would suggest continuing such an insane 'catch and release' program with those who have vowed to kill us.  Although, that strays into a political, rather than a religious discussion... something I've decided not to indulge myself today.

But my central problem with Rabbi Blech's article goes far beyond his assertion that we should not treat wounded terrorists (or at very least, that we should only treat them at our convenience, after all the terrorist's victims have been treated; no matter how lightly).

No, my real disappointment is with his final paragraph where he summarizes his thesis as follows:

"Indeed, it is a nice thing for us to fulfill our mission as Jews and to be a light unto the nations. But in order to do so we need to survive. For that, we dare not say "we will be righteous even if it kills us" – for it might do just that."

With all due respect, Rabbi Blech, nothing about our mission as Jews is a 'nice thing' (i.e. something that should be done if possible, but not obligatory).  As Jews, every aspect of our behavior during every waking moment of our lives is divided between 'permissible' and 'forbidden'.  

What you are suggesting may not specifically fall into the 'forbidden' category under Jewish law (I'll bow to your superior knowledge of such things).  But it certainly would succeed in lowering us to the level of the 'animals' who don't know any better.  

And if we are willing to do that... what is the point of being a Jew?

Posted by David Bogner on October 22, 2015 | Permalink


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And this... this is why I am proud to be a Jew, and honored to be able to call you a friend.

Posted by: Elisson | Oct 22, 2015 3:27:47 PM

"Please don't misunderstand me. I am not making a case for withholding medical treatment from our enemies. We need to provide this care not for their sake but for ours – to retain our humanity and to prevent us from sinking to their barbaric level. But surely common sense ought to remind us that medical triage must also include a moral component. As politically incorrect as it seems at first blush, all lives are not equal. Jewish victims take precedence over Arab murderers. Those who come to kill us forfeit claim to comparable care and concern. To overcompensate when we treat terrorists at the expense of our own people in order to prove to the world our ethical superiority is more than sinful – it is suicidal."

"It was King Solomon, the wisest of all men, who summed it up in a pithy saying in the book of Ecclesiastes: “Do not be overly righteous.” "

I think these two statements are the crux of a very frustrated holy man and his main point. I can empathize with him. Jews are going out of their way to be fair and humanely treat those who are trying to obliterate them.

This makes me wonder why you would release anyone, who has committed an act of violence against you, after treating their wounds only to allow them to do it again? Maybe Israel should have a policy of no-returns would at least eventually lower the amount of attacks if only for the reason they are all in your custody.

In any event... I think the op-ed piece is a cry of frustration. A momentary lapse of reason that may have served him to relieve some internal stress, but perhaps best left unsaid. Although, I don't know him and you would be able to gauge that best.

Posted by: dmpawley | Oct 22, 2015 8:11:54 PM

I think the scenario he imagines, where a critically wounded terrorist receives care ahead of a critically wounded victim is not what the MDA rep is saying.

Posted by: Rich | Oct 26, 2015 6:59:22 PM

I think I disagree with you

Posted by: Mata Hari | Oct 28, 2015 5:06:46 PM

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