General Topics

Self Defense


Elliot Horowitz in his overview of Purim over the ages, Reckless Rites and the Legacy of Jewish Violence has a subtext. It is a quote from the English poet W.H. Auden “ Those to whom evil is done, Do evil in return.” And Purim he suggests is an example of this. He documents Christian and Jewish ( liberal and reform) disapproval of the unseemly rejoicing of the Jews on Purim for glorifying killing non-Jews over the centuries. As an example of how barbaric we were. Of course, they fail to mention that the Persians stated it. Just as it is today. Our enemies have always wanted to maintain a myth of barbarous Jewish crimes against innocents. Some religions may preach turning the other cheek but still react violently when they are attacked. We make no apologies for self-defense. Horowitz mentions eleven other local Purims that once celebrated our deliverance from obliteration.

But Horowitz is right that trauma indeed works reciprocally and begets violence and more trauma on both sides. However, not all violence is of the same nature.

I can think of no better example of reciprocal trauma than October the 7th. Supporters of the Palestinians claim that they have been and are being traumatized. And that may be true. But equally true is that so many delight in violence and continue to celebrate it. We too are traumatized, by the rape, torture, and unimaginable, intentional inhumanity! And we have been traumatized for thousands of years. It is not a matter of whose suffering is bigger or greater. Or who is telling the truth and who is lying and faking numbers and corpses? But recognizing that both sides could make peace if they wanted to and it is not a zero game, from the river to the sea. 

Our opponents will claim that we too have our violent individuals. We always have had exceptions who have acted violently against Jewish Law. But this does not mean there is equivalence. It is one thing for individual acts of violence by unbalanced or deranged individuals, who I excoriate, and another for whole societies encouraged to embrace and celebrate brutality. 

Social media is swamped with irrational hatred directed at Jews everywhere. Some claim that the Israelites who invaded Canaan invented genocide. That we are colonial invaders with no history or connection with the Land of Israel. History is now dead, and only politics determine the narrative. Some people will express horror at the Holocaust because that was when Jews were killed. But when Jews stand up and fight against their enemies all hell is unleashed against them. 

While Achashverosh gave us the right to self-defense, he did not order his soldiers to help us. As a result, we were left on our own to defend ourselves. The counter-decree enabling the Jews to defend themselves, kill their enemies, and seize their property, caused most Haman supporters to switch their allegiance. Nonetheless, a significant group of hard-core Jew-haters were ready to attack the Jews who killed 800 enemies in Shushan (on the 13th and 14th), and 75,000 in the rest of the Persian empire, only when the Persians attacked them first. And as the Megillah says they did not touch the spoils even if they were permitted to do so. It was a necessary act of self-defense. 

Sadly, but not surprisingly many Jews are guilty of betrayal. Perhaps to bolster their own insecurity. Not a few have criticized our ancestors for defending themselves. Indeed, at the end of the Megillah, it says quite clearly that although most Jews accepted the policies of Mordechai and Esther a minority did not!!! There are always bad apples. No society is perfect. Renegades and patsies who think they will be accepted and loved if they join the other side and reject their Jewish identity. 

We have always had those who claim to be Jewish but have not an ounce of loyalty to Judaism or the Jewish people.  Who refuse both nuance and history. Who will not consider the reluctance of the Arab world to step in with aid and peace forces? Or helping refugees? Or open their borders? Or insisting that hostages are released. They have the power to do it. If they do not and just blame Israel, that is pure hypocrisy.  No one told Hamas to brutalize its own people and then go on to brutalize the Israelis. For nearly a hundred years they have been encouraged by the UN and UNRWA to hate, murder, and terrorize instead of trying to build a viable peaceful State and a peaceful partner. And Hamas has been encouraged by almost every regime around the world and the Red Cross has done nothing for Jewish hostages. Rockets are still falling on civilian targets. Israel Defense Forces are having to try to avoid collateral damage in areas where every inch, every hospital, school, and refuge has been turned into a military stronghold and every civilian a human shield.

However upset and sad one may be about the deaths of our enemies ( and we should be) the end to this suffering lies as much in their hands as it does in ours. As Golda Meir said “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.” Both sides need to be saved from miscalculations.

It is unbelievable that even now so many beyond the conflict zone call for our elimination. It is an intellectual and political Inquisition. But we survived that too. As long as the stated idea of destroying Israel remains, we will not know peace. In the end, regardless of nuance, it is a matter of survival and loyalty. 

LeChayim.  Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim.