Jewish Documents & Statements
- Created: September 5, 2010
- Written by Scholars of the Jewish Theology Project of the Elijah Interfaith Institute
Recent weeks and months have brought to public attention the issue of Jewish attitudes to non-Jews, as these are found in some traditional sources and halakhah (Jewish religious law), particularly with reference to Rabbi Yitzchak Shapira’s book Torat Hamelekh. The great liberty with which the author dispenses with the life of non-Jews under various circumstances has become a scandal in the media, a subject for police investigation for incitement, a discussion item on antisemitic websites, and the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court of Israel. It has engendered heated discussion, most of which has focused on the right to teach Torah and to engage in discussion of halakhah, especially of a theoretical nature, unencumbered by external considerations and factors, such as police and state control. While these issues may be legitimate subjects for discussion, they conceal the main concerns raised by these teachings and their public reception. Many Rabbinical authorities have subsequently failed to condemn these teachings in theoretical and practical terms, leaving the impression that these are indeed appropriate contemporary Jewish attitudes to non-Jews.
For this reason, we, rabbis, teachers and scholars of Jewish studies of various disciplines, religious denominations and political perspectives, from different countries worldwide, have come together to express with a united voice our deep disdain for these extremist teachings, which are opposed to fundamental Jewish conceptions of the unity of humanity which all Jews affirm at this time of year on the High Holidays. We assert that the core issue they raise must be given priority in Jewish education and thought. Our view is that Jewish teaching involves more than merely citing texts, whether in or out of context. Teaching and the art of halakhic ruling always reflect a broader religious worldview, guided by core values. In our understanding, the creation of humanity in God’s image is the great principle, as our sages recognized.1 We believe this mandates full respect for the infinite value, equality and uniqueness of every human life, for it is created in the image of God. Our Torah’s ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.2 These and other great principles are the guidelines through which we interpret and teach our tradition.3
We are working together under the aegis of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, to bring to light teachings of Judaism that cohere to this worldview. Love of one's own group should not be equated with the hatred of others. Israel's calling is harmonious with the wellbeing of all humanity. We recognize that there are voices in our tradition that have lost sight of thise great principles, because of the unspeakable suffering that our people have undergone throughout history. It is, therefore, a contemporary educational and halakhic challenge to confront these extremist teachings, to contain them, and to dissent from them publicly, applying the methods of halakhah, classical interpretation and historical study.
We have been collaborating on a project of developing a contemporary Jewish approach to other religions, that would make our students and communities aware of the dangers inherent in such extremist views in our tradition, and that would inspire a broader view of Judaism, its ethical task and its vision for humanity.
Accordingly, we call upon rabbis and educators to take a clear stand against narrow views Jewish particularity, in favor of a broader vision of Judaism's relations to the other. Our scholars stand ready to debate the views under discussion. Our own critique of Torat Hamelekh will shortly be published on this website. We will also be publishing educational resources that provide an alternative view of the non-Jew in Judaism, that remind us that "The Lord is good to all, and His compassion extends to all His creatures."4
Mr Shraga Bar Or - Jerusalem
Rabbi Prof Jack Bemporad – New Jersey
Rabbi Dr Alan Brill – New York
Prof Yehuda Gellman – Beer Sheva
Rabbi Dr Alon Goshen-Gottstein - Jerusalem (Director, Elijah Interfaith Institute)
Rabbi Prof Arthur Green - Boston
Prof Gershon Greenberg – Washington DC
Rabbi Irving Greenberg – New York
Prof Raphi Jospe - Jerusalem
Rabbi Dr Menachem Kallus - Jerusalem
Rabbi Prof Reuven Kimelman - Boston
Prof Stanislaw Krajewski - Warsaw
Rabbi Prof Ruth Langer - Boston
Rabbi Dov Linzer – New York
Prof Alan Mittleman – New York
Prof Peter Ochs – Charlottesville, Virginia
Prof Jacob Joshua Ross - Jerusalem
Prof Tamar Ross - Jerusalem
Rabbi Prof Marc Saperstein - London
Rabbi Prof Marc B. Shapiro - Scranton, Pennsylvania
Prof Benjamin Sommer – New York
Prof Burton Visotzky – New York
Dr Debbie Weissman - Jerusalem
1. See Sifra Qedoshim 4; Mishnah Avot 3:14.
2. Proverbs 3:17.
3. We are painfully aware that such problematic theoretical teachings can easily become transformed into practical guidelines for action, as witnessed by horrifying acts such as the Hebron massacre by Goldstein in 1994. We also recall some tragic lessons of our history, and the actions of Israel’s enemies in the past century, applying a perverted logic that we should not replicate within Jewish teaching. For example, the right to kill children lest they grow up to threaten us was cited by Otto Ohlendorf of the German Army Einsatzgruppe C at his trial, to justify his unit's shooting of tens or hundreds of thousands of Jewish children among the more than million Jews murdered by the shooting squads in Eastern Europe in 1941-1942.
4. Psalm 145:9.