Responding to a widely maligned and oft-quoted book holding a religious interpretation of Halachah which posits that Jews can kill non-Jews, Rabbi David Ben-Zazon has released a new booklet to offer "a more humane view" of the way Jewish law deals with non-Jews.
The Religious Kibbutz Movement and Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah, a religious-Zionist youth movement, co-produced a booklet entitled "Atah Bachartanu" ("You Chose Us") whose main intention is to "provide a purely Halachic version of how to relate to non-Jews, with no particular connection to Right or Left politics."
Initiators of the project hope to provide support for young religious Zionists, especially in light of the controversial "Torat Hamelech" ("The Way of the King") a book written by settlement Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur. "Torat Hamelech" describes Jewish law governing the treatment of gentiles, particularly in times of war. The book specifically describes situations in which innocent non-Jews, including children, may be killed. Although the authors of the book and their supporters were investigated for incitement to violence and connection to "price-tag" acts of violence against Arabs in Judea and Samaria, the case against the authors of the book was dropped.
Ben-Zazon and others in the modern Orthodox world say they are worried about the extremist-driven clashes between Jews and Arabs and foreign worker populations in Israel.
Ben-Zazon presents the Halachic principles to the question of the proper relationship between Jews and non-Jews in Israel. "Jews have an obligation towards non-Jews according to Torah sources, and there is a set of accepted ethical values," he said.
Judaism, Ben-Zazon says, views all people in a positive light because they are created in the image of God.
One must judge non-Jews based on their behavior, Ban-Zazon asserts. If a non-Jew accepts the seven commandments of the sons of Noah, which predate the Ten Commandments given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, then the non-Jew receives the status of "resident foreigner."
"Jews are then obligated to treat that person with respect and generosity, allowing the person to settle in the land of Israel. Even if the non-Jew does not accept these seven commandments, so long as there are no acts of war against Jews, then we are expected to relate peacefully and we are forbidden from murdering or causing the non-Jew's death," Ben-Zazon writes.
Ben-Zazon speaks directly about "Torat Hamelech" in his book. He writes that it is only appropriate that rabbis condemn the book because it is both "halachically and conceptually dangerous."
He fears that such a book may also have problematic consequences for Jews in the Diaspora.
Ben-Zazon also notes, "We should remember our own past as Jews who lived in other countries for many years. We must not adopt the same type of attitude that foreign countries had towards Jewish populations living among them, in Europe and other Diaspora countries where Jews experienced extreme anti-Semitism. We must not demean people because of their origin, the blood that flows in their veins, the shape of their noses and so on."
"Atah Bachartanu" also talks about issues with renting houses to Arabs or other non-Jews, something Safed's Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and 50 other rabbis instructed people not to do in his Rabbis' Letter. Ben-Zazon indicates that although according to Halachah it is permitted to rent homes to Arabs, nationalist considerations joined rabbis' Halachic considerations, motivating them to forbid rental to non-Jews. He contradicts this national need, saying that renting to non-Jews in Israel is permissible.
"Atah Bachartanu" is the fourth booklet in a series called "Self-help and Mutual Consideration Guidebook," started by the Religious Kibbutz Movement and Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah. The previous pamphlets dealt with the subjects of religious Zionism in Israel, modesty and mixed societies, and freedom and responsibility.