The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (II)

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

In The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel, Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein cites Rabbi Yoezer Ariel’s opinion that the Israeli government–but not the Israeli citizen–is permitted to target and kill civilians in order to incur a collective punishment on the enemy population.  Blidstein notes that this is accepted as the “moderate” opinion–and the mainstream one–in Religious Zionism.  It is moderate in relation to the more extreme view taken by the Jewish Underground, which permits individual Israeli citizens to take the law into their own hands.

Blidstein writes that Rabbi Yoezer Ariel’s view allowed

for the deliberate killing of citizens in times of war.  However, the term “at times of war” is itself critical.  According to Rabbi Ariel, war may only be conducted by “a king or by the public, whose authority is like that of a king,” a condition already hinted at in the words of Rabbi H. D. Halevi.  There is no state of war without such an authorized decision [from the king or its equivalent]; hence, “an individual may not declare war [on his own].”  Rabbi Ariel interprets Maimonides’s references to the event [of Dina] in a similar way.

Blidstein concludes:

On the whole, then, the thrust of [Rabbi Yoezer] Ariel’s article is pragmatic, not principled.  The killing of civilians is acceptable, provided it is initiated by sovereign authority, not by individuals taking the law (quite literally) in their own hands.

What is more disturbing is that the great Maimonides does not restrict this permission to the government; writes Blidstein:

Rabbi [Yoezer] Ariel admits that this approach is not shared by all the medieval authorities.  It does not reflect, for example, the Maimonidean attitude toward the subject; Maimonides allows–and even encourages–the individual to act. However, Ariel argues, the vast majority of the rishonim did not concur with this view, recognizing as legitimate such action only on the part of the state, and not the individual.  This is true even if study of the sources which he cites indicates a more complex study.

So, we have an accepted, minority view–held by Maimonides no less–that individuals (such as Israeli settlers) are permitted to kill civilians as a form of collective punishment.  Meanwhile, the so-called “moderate,” mainstream opinion is that this right rests with the Israeli state alone.  (Note, however, that Blidstein is hesitant to agree with Ariel’s claim that “the vast majority of the rishonim [the “classical” halakhic authorities] did not concur with this view,” arguing that the reality is much more “complex.”  What one can glean from this is that there were other rabbinical authorities of the past who permitted individual Jews to kill non-Jews, who can be quoted by the Jewish Underground types.)

It should also be pointed out in The Orthodox Forum’s annual book War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Rabbi Michael J. Broyde rejects Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s view that collective punishment (even against babies) is prohibited.  Indeed, Prof. Ya’akov Blidstein notes that Goren’s view was not taken seriously by other Religious Zionist rabbis because it “is not based upon Talmudic sources,” which “naturally weakens its halakhic impact and authority.”

Rabbi Shlomo Goren was the first Chief Rabbi of the IDF.  Although he had some very extreme views (such as calling it a “tragedy” that Jews did not “blow up” the Dome of the Rock Mosque and Al-Aqsa Mosque–a view held by the Jewish Underground), with regard to “collective punishment” he held the non-Talmudic view.

Yet, by Operation Cast Lead (the Gaza War) in 2009, the IDF rabbinate had shifted to the right.  The new Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Avichai Rontzki, issued statements in line with the majority view among Religious Zionists, commanding soldiers that “no mercy should be shown” to the enemy (the Gazan population).  An “IDF rabbinate publication” quoted the works of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner saying “When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers.”  To make it very clear that “the enemy” referred to here was the civilian population, the IDF publication likened the Palestinians to the Bible’s Philistines, who were exterminated to clear the land for the Jews.

When an Israeli human rights group cried foul at this IDF publication, the Israeli government scrambled to do damage control.  Naturally, their “investigation” claimed that the publication was distributed only in a few isolates places and had not been properly vetted.  Western news outlets reassured us that Rabbi Shlomo Aviner was just an “ultra-nationalist,” a fringe, radical element in Israel.

Yet, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is not some fringe, radical element in Israel.  Instead, he is a well-respected rabbi of Modern Orthodox Judaism in Israel.  As the Jerusalem Post notes, R. Aviner “is considered one of the spiritual leaders of the Religious Zionist movement.”  The Jewish Daily Forward calls him “one of the leading Religious Zionist rabbis.”  Ynetnews, the English website of Israel’s most-read newspaper, calls him ”one of Religious Zionism’s leading rabbis.”  Haaretz calls him “a leading Yesha rabbi” and “one of religious Zionism’s most influential rabbis.” Israel National News, part of Arutz Sheva (an Israeli media network aligned with Religious Zionism), calls Aviner “a well-respected rabbinical authority within much of the religious-Zionist sector.”

TorahMusings.com, an extremely popular blog supervised by Orthodox rabbis, says:

To place R. [Shlomo] Aviner into contemporary society, he is on the left wing of right wing Religious Zionists.

Left wing?  One can only imagine what the right wing is.  In other words, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is perfectly in the mainstream of Religious Zionism–nay, he is one of its “spiritual leaders.”

R. Aviner is well-respected in Orthodox circles.  He has written articles that appear on many mainstream Jewish and mainstream Orthodox Jewish websites, including The Jerusalem PostOrthodox Union website (ou.com), Israel Nation News, and TorahMusings.

Aside from this, of course, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is the rosh yeshiva (dean) of the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, a Religious Zionist Talmudic academy in Jerusalem that fundraisers in the United States.  It is the same institution where Rabbi Abraham Kook, the “main ideologue of modern religious Zionism,” sent his son to study.  Shlomo Aviner is also the Chief Rabbi of Beit El.  He can hardly be considered a fringe character.

Indeed, R. Shlomo Aviner moves in the same circles as the Modern Orthodox rabbis of The Orthodox Forum and the authors of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.  On TorahMusing’s website, we find that Rabbi Shlomo Aviner shared the same podium in New York state with none other than Rabbi Michael J. Broyde and Rabbi Norman Lamm.

Yet, when this controversy broke about the IDF’s chief rabbi using a publication with quotes from Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Israel’s defenders in the West tried to portray R. Aviner as some “ultra-nationalist” fringe lunatic.  Yet, this is clearly misleading.  One should hardly be surprised, considering that I have found virtually the exact same views in the book written by The Orthodox Forum, which is the combined work of Orthodox Jewish experts from around the world.  The only difference, of course, is that (1) R. Aviner’s wording is more direct and frank, whereas The Orthodox Forum says the same thing but in a more “sophisticated,” intellectual way; (2) Aviner was unfortunate enough to catch the media’s attention during the Gaza controversy.  It is the latter reason that forced Israeli apologists to throw him under the bus and take one for the team.

*  *  *  *  *

What then does Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the “left-wing” of the Religious Zionist right, argue?  He argues that “Purity of Arms” applies only to Jewish civilians.  He says on his very own website (emphasis added):

We are all for “Purity of Arms” and for saving citizen lives. But which civilians? Our civilians

Aviner concludes by saying: “They are guilty, we are not.”  He also extends “purity of arms” to Jewish soldiers (but not to Palestinian civilians).  In a question and answer section, Rabbi Aviner argues that “purity of arms” refers to protecting the lives of Jewish soldiers, not to Palestinians.  He warns: “Don’t tarnish the purity of arms with the blood of our own soldiers.”

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner writes:

The Mechilta (halachic midrash) says “The best of the non-Jews should be killed.”

He clarifies that “this statement refers to a time of war,” at which time “even a ‘pleasant’-seeming non-Jew is killed.”  He justifies carpet bombing civilian populations, saying “it is permissible according to the Halachah based on the law of ‘rodef.’”  The entire civilian population, including children and babies, acquires the title of “rodefim” and is thus licit to kill.

Where have we heard all this before?  In fact, it is the exact same argument heard in “the contemporary halakhic discussion in Israel.” Is it not misleading then to categorize Rabbi Shlomo Aviner’s views on this subject to be the rantings of some fringe “ultra-nationalist” extremist?  R. Aviner did not make this view out of thin air; rather, he points out that ”this is also the ruling of Ha-Rav Shaul Yisraeli in the book ‘Amud Ha-Yemini’ at the end of chap. 16.”  He is here citing the tract written by Rabbi Shaul Israeli, who justified the Qibya Massacre in 1953, in which two-thirds of the victims were women and children.   R. Israeli’s influential tract has been used to justify killing civilians from the early years following Israel’s birth all the way to the Gaza Massacre in 2008-2009.

Next: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #1 Civilians Are Really Combatants

As I documented in the previous article, the first way in which Jewish law justifies the targeting and killing of civilians is by classifying civilians as combatants if they indirectly take part in the war effort–even if by “mere words.”

But what about civilians who neither directly or indirectly participate in the war effort?  Surely they will be protected, right?

Not so.

Jewish law permits targeting civilians who “passively” support the war effort.  A “hostile civilian population” is guilty of “passive” support if they fail to root out the combatants/terrorists living in their midst.  If the city’s population does not do this, then they are all liable to be killed–including women, children, and babies.

In War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, the highly esteemed rabbi and professor Michael J. Broyde finds support for collective punishment in the Bible: on page 6, he cites the story of the Rape of Dina.  Dina is raped by a man named Shekhem, and the entire city of Shekhem is put to the sword for this crime.  (The rapist, Shekhem, has the same name as the city he lives in.)  Broyde quotes Maimonides as saying that “the inhabitants of Shekhem [the city] were liable to be killed since Shekhem [the person] stole [Dina], and the inhabitants saw and knew this and did nothing.”

Rabbi Broyde reflects on this story by saying:

Consequently, if one is in a situation where innocent people are being killed by terrorist acts that cannot be stopped by catching the perpetators themselves, and those terrorists are supported by a civilian population that passively protects them and does not condemn them, collective punishment might well be permitted by Jewish law.

Broyde permits the “collective punishment of vast segments of society for the active misconduct of the few.” In other words, civilian populations are “liable to be killed” if terrorists commit “active misconduct” and they [“the inhabitants”] “saw and knew this but did nothing.”  If the civilian population does “not condemn them [the terrorists],” then they [the civilians] can be killed.

Rabbi Broyde invokes the views of two of the most authoritative rabbinical authorities in Jewish history, Maimonides and Nahmanides.  Broyde notes: “Both share the basic approach of permitting collective punishment.” He writes on p.6: “Maimonides rules that…all members of society may be punished,” and on p.7 that Nahmanides would “permit regulations that include collective punishment.”

This view, justifying collective punishment, is promoted within the first few pages of the book War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.  Prof. David Shatz writes on p.xiv of the Introduction that “Jewish sources present a view of jus in bello [conduct of war] that is more permissive than many secular accounts,” and that Jewish law permits

imposing collective punishment on vast segments of an enemy society in response to the misconduct of a few, as could happen when terrorist perpetrators escape capture.

He goes on to say that “the Jewish polity may licitly embark on hostilities in a way that might involve causing civilian deaths.”  This allowance is beyond just collateral damage–which, under Jewish law, is a given–and encompasses civilian populations that are targeted as punishment for “passively” supporting terrorism.  This “passive” support is also to be understood differently than “indirectly” supporting terrorism (“material support”).  Passive support refers to mere inaction: if the PLO and the rest of the Palestinians cannot stop terrorists from firing rockets, then they are all guilty and can be killed via collective punishment–including women, children, and babies.

*  *  *  *  *

This view is supported by Torah MiTzion, the national and international Religious Zionist movement that promotes Torah study with service in the Israel Defense Forces, providing a “generation of Religious Zionism, balancing between safra v’sayfa (book and sword).” In an article entitled Jewish Law in Our Times, the legal adviser of the group asks rhetorically “Can Collective Punishment Against Fighters and Citizens Be Justified?”, a question which he answers in the affirmative, saying:

Whenever a battle is waged by one nation against another, there is no need to differentiate between one person and another, even if many members of that nation do not actually take part in the actual fighting.

The author goes on to say that “if we are faced with a situation defined as war, there is no obligation to differentiate between fighter and citizen.”  The principle of discrimination simply does not apply in times of war.  This is especially true “because the State of Israel has been in a perpetual state of (halachically defined) war ever since its inception.”  He then quotes the esteemed Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin) who said that a person is only punished for spilling blood

at a time when it is otherwise appropriate to act with brotherhood [peacetime]. But this is not the case during war, when it is a time to hate. Then it is a time to kill and there is no punishment whatsoever for so doing, because this is the way of the world.

*  *  *  *  *

As I discussed earlier, Rabbi Shaul Israeli’s “thoughtful article” is hearkened as “the starting point” for discussion of “war-related topics” in the Jewish religion; in it, R. Israeli uses a complex religio-legal argument to justify collective punishment.  He invokes the Jewish law of din rodef–the law of the pursuer–which basically says that if a person is chasing you trying to kill you, you can kill him first.  It stands to reason, therefore, that a bystander could also kill the rodef (pursuer) as well, in order to save your life.  In fact, it may even be considered obligatory to do so.  This religious law is used to justify killing civilians by transforming entire civilian populations into rodefim [pursuers].

In The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel, Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein notes the trend in halakhic circles to use “the definition of a hostile population as a rodef [pursuer], direct or indirect.”  Blidstein notes:

There is also a tendency in contemporary halakhah to categorize as rodef a population that is “supportive and encouraging” of hostile, murderous actions.

Once dutifully transformed into rodef, the entire civilian population becomes licit, or even mandatory, to kill.  This justification was given for the Qibya Massacre, in which 69 Palestinians were slaughtered (of which two-thirds were women and children).  Writes Blidstein:

In his essay, Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli argues that a group of civilians, such as the residents of Qibia, who were notorious for their support and encouragement of terrorist acts, are likewise to be treated as rodefim [pursuers].

He goes on to say:

Rabbi Yisraeli concludes from this that even those citizens who support and encourage acts of terror, for example, are considered rodefim, and one may deal with them in kind.  In so ruling, however, he has offered many people a very far-reaching justification for aggressive treatment of civilian populations…[He] is speaking of people who provide the murderer with support and encouragement, but do not take an active, directly conspiratorial part in the act itself.

He is also speaking of those who give “passive support” to terrorism, i.e. doing nothing other than happening to live in the same city as the terrorists.  Unless you actively hand over the terrorists or their names to the Israeli authorities, it is assumed that you are guilty–you are a rodef–as well.

*  *  *  *  *

Instead of protecting civilians from the killers, Jewish law seeks to protect the killers of civilians (by shielding them from prosecution). Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein entitles one sub-section of his article as “Protection of the Aggressor,” in which he discusses this disturbing issue.  Once the civilian population has been deemed rodefem, Jewish soldiers may kill them and are to be protected from all prosecution for doing so.  This is because the rodef–in this case the civilian population–is legally considered a “dead man” and their “blood is like water.”  Therefore, lethal force may be used, even when less than that may have sufficed. Writes Blidstein:

One who deliberately kills the rodef is in any event exempt from punishment by the court because the “pursuer” is defined as gavra katila–an individual who is already considered as if dead in a legal sense…

Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli follows a similar line in his article on the Qibia incident, but arrives at a more far-reaching conclusion, equating the license granted the bystander with that of the person threatened.  Not only is the bystander who kills the pursuer (when he could have used less lethal means) exempt from punishment; he is allowed to behave in such a manner ab initio [from the beginning]. “…When he [the rodef] has been warned and continues to pursue…there is no rule at all requiring one to take care to use non-lethal means, for then [spilling] his blood is permitted, and one may kill him by virtue of the rule, that his blood is like water.”

In times of war, Halakha accepts collective punishment as acceptable, even when applied to the “innocent child.”  Writes Prof. Blidstein:

Behavior in war, according to Rabbi [Ya’akov] Ariel, is based upon the collective identity of the members of the participating nations.  In this organic view, even the innocent child is an organ of the greater body of the nation.  Thus, one waging war against this body is allowed to harm the child as well, just as the fighting body may itself demand of all its organs that they devote themselves to the war effort.  This argument dismisses the question of the personal innocence of the one injured–on one side or the other–as irrelevant.

Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel reasoned:

Just as in a personal struggle…it is your right to protect yourself by striking the soft belly [of the aggressor]…so in war against the collective, you may strike those organs of the [enemy] nation that seem [appropriate] to you, in order to prevent a strike on the part of other organs.

The civilians of the enemy nation (including children and babies) become licit to kill, just as “the Biblical Simeon and Levi killed all of the inhabitants of Shechem (Gen. 34), including those who had nothing to do with the rape of Dinah.”

On p.24 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Rabbi Broyde writes of Rabbi Ariel:

War is the collective battle of societies, R. Ariel posits, and thus there are no innocent civilians, even babes in their mothers’ arms are to be killed, as harsh as that sounds. [96]

In footnote 96, Broyde gives his view, agreeing with the statement but limiting the right of killing “innocent civilians, even babes in their mothers’ arms” to the [Israeli] government.  Here is footnote 96, found on page 40:

96.  R. Yaakov Ariel, “Haganah Atzmit (ha-intifida ba-halakhah),” Tehumin 10:62-75 (1991).  He basis his view on the famous comments of the Maharal on the biblical incident of Shekhem, which defend the killing of the innocent civilians in that conflict along such a rationale.  R. Shlomo Goren, “Combat Morality and the Halakhah,” Crossroads 1:211-231 (1987) comes to the opposite conclusion.  See also the article of R. Yoezer Ariel (brother of Yaakov Ariel), who also reaches a different conclusion; R. Yoezer Ariel, “Ha’onashat Nokhrim,” Tehumin 5:350-363 (1979). In this writer’s view, R. Yoezer Ariel’s paper correctly distinguishes between individual and national goals in this matter.

As can be garnered from Broyde’s own words, R. Yoezer Ariel agrees with his brother R. Ya’akov Ariel in principle, permitting targeting and killing innocent civilians (including children and even babies).  He does, however, limit this right to the government (the Israeli state), not to individuals (such as Israeli settlers).  This is the most popular view among Religious Zionists: the Israeli state is allowed to impose collective punishment, targeting and killing “hostile civilian populations.”

Should we call these views representative of The Halakha (Jewish law), just as Zionist Islamophobes insist on categorizing one particular interpretation of Islamic law as The Sharia?  Should we smear all of Judaism because of such views, just as Zionist Islamophobes would smear all of Islam for the views of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Muslims?

Note: Page II of “Collective Punishment is Kosher” will be published within 24-72 hours…

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #1: Civilians Are Really Combatants

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

The first way in which Jewish law justifies targeting and killing civilians lies at the very heart of the issue.  The starting point of the just war theory (and international law) in regards to jus in bello (just conduct during war) revolves around the definition of combatant and civilian.  Jewish law (Halakha), as understood by mainstream Modern Orthodox Judaism in Israel, utilizes very different definitions for these two words.

International law, as enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, narrowly defines combatants as those who take direct part in hostilities of an armed conflict.  The T.M.C. Asser instituut in The Hague notes:

Article 3 [of the Fourth Geneva Convention] indicates that during non-international armed conflicts the persons who enjoy protection against the various forms of violence and infringement mentioned are ‘[p]ersons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause…’

Similarly, the following groups are protected under international law:

…medical officers, corpsmen, chaplains, contractors, civilian war correspondents and armed forces personnel who are unable to engage in combat because of wounds, sickness, shipwreck or capture (ie. POWs)…

In essence, “direct participation in hostilities” refers to using a weapon. This is the fundamental underpinning of international law with regard to distinction and protection of civilians.

Jewish law, on the other hand, deems anyone who indirectly ”participates” in the hostilities to be a combatant and therefore fair game.  Those who ”materially contribute to the war effort” can be licitly targeted and killed.  On p.xvii of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Prof. David Shatz writes:

[Rabbi Michael] Broyde also raises the issue of who is a combatant.  In his view, Halakha maintains that anyone who materially contributes to the war effort is a combatant and thus a fair target.

Based on this “definition,” the modern-day state of Israel takes a very expansive view of “combatant,” legitimizing the targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians.  We clearly see an example of the great latitude taken in this regard by modern-day Jewish religious authorities in the case of the Qibya Massacre.  Rabbi Shaul Israeli, considered  “one of the most important rabbis of the Religious Zionist school of thought,” penned one of the most influential monographs on this subject, entitled “The Qibia Incident in Light of Halakhah.”  In it, he legitimized indiscriminate violence against civilians.  This tract, as we shall see, has defined the Religious Zionist view towards the issue of distinction.

The esteemed rabbi and professor Michael J. Broyde writes on p.22 [note: all citations are from War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, unless otherwise indicated]:

Indeed, the earliest modern discussion of this topic was presented by R. Shaul Israeli in 1954 in response to the killing of civilians by Israel Defense Forces Unit 101 at Kibia (Qibya) in 1953.  R. Israeli argues that civilians who conspire to assist in the undertaking of military operations can be killed through the pursuer rationale, as they are materially aiding the murderers.

He continues:

Indeed, R. Israeli goes even further, and seems to adopt the view that those who simply extend support to terror–by encouraging acts of violence with mere words–can be labeled combatants as well. This is not, R. Israeli posits, any form of collective punishment, as only people who are guilty (whether of murder or conspiracy to commit murder) are actually being punished.

The reference to “the killing of civilians by Israel Defense Forces Unit 101 at Kibia (Qibya) in 1953″ refers to the Qibya Massacre, in which sixty-nine Arabs were slaughtered–of which two-thirds were women and children.  Prof. Avi Shlaim, a prominent Israeli historian at Oxford University, writes on p.91 of The Iron Wall:

[Acting defence minister Pinhas] Lavon’s order was executed by Unit 101, a small commando unit created in August to carry out special tasks. Unit 101 was commanded by an aggressive and ambitious young major named Ariel (“Arik”) Sharon.  Sharon’s order was to penetrate Qibya, blow up houses, and inflict heavy casualties on its inhabitants. The full and macabre story of what happened at Qibya was revealed only during the morning after the attack.  The village had been reduced to a pile of rubble: forty-five houses had been blown up, and sixty-nine civilians, two-thirds of them women and children, had been killed. Sharon and his men claimed that they believed that all the inhabitants had run away and that they had no idea that anyone was hiding inside the houses.  The UN observer who inspected the scene reached a different conclusion: ”One story was repeated time after time: the bullet splintered door, the body sprawled across the threshold, indicating that the inhabitants had been forced by heavy fire to stay inside until their homes were blown up over them.”

There are too many issues to comment on here.  There is the obvious inhumanity and depravity of the IDF–the Most Moral Army in the World™–firing upon civilians to keep them in their houses and then blowing up those houses on top of them.  Prof. Martin E. Marty writes on p.286 of Fundamentalisms Observed that, in the context of war, Halakha would indeed permit tactics “such as blowing up homes of parents of Arabs who harm Jews.”

What is truly amazing, however, is that this scenario–the Israelis blowing up and bulldozing Palestinian homes–is a pattern repeated throughout Israel’s short history.  All this was done to terrorize the Palestinian population, in order to get more Palestinians to flee their homes to make way for Israeli settlers.  This perfectly fits the quintessential definition of terrorism, yet all we ever hear about is Hamas this or Hamas that.

Then, there is the fact that the war criminal responsible for carrying out this massacre, Ariel Sharon, would later be elected Israel’s prime minister.  Such is the moral state of the modern day state of Israel–war criminals and terrorists are voted into power.  One continually hears about how evil the Palestinians are for voting in Hamas to power, while hearing almost nothing about how Israelis have routinely voted terrorists and war criminals into office.

Another interesting thing to comment on is that discussions of Ariel Sharon and Israel’s war crimes focus on events such as the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, in which Israel only played a support role.  It is my opinion that the focus on the Sabra and Shatila Massacre is a mechanism that deflects attention away from those massacres that were directly carried out by Israeli soldiers.  There are countless such instances, so why the emphasis on Sabra and Shatila?

In any case, it was following the Qibya Massacre that Rabbi Shaul Israeli published a monograph entitled “The Qibia Incident in Light of Halakhah,” which articulated the halakhist view towards the targeting and killing of “hostile civilian populations.”  It was reprinted with some expansions under the title “Military Actions for the Protection of the State” in chapter 16 of Amud ha’Yamini.  This work has had lasting influence in modern halakhic discussions in Israel, and came to form the majority view of the Religious Zionist movement, which is the dominant form of Orthodox Judaism in Israel.  On p.32 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Rabbi Michael Broyde refers to Rabbi Shaul Israeli’s article as a “thoughtful article” that is “the starting point” for such discussions. Commenting on a vast collection of Jewish articles on “war-related issues,” Broyde notes that “the overwhelming number of [them] agree with the starting point of R. Israeli.”

But perhaps we ought to look at a dissenting opinion to see what is contained in Rabbi Shaul’s tract.  Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein published an article entitled The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel in which he criticizes R. Israeli’s view, saying:

[Rabbi Shaul] Yisraeli develops a systematic and extensive discussion concerning the issue of the attitude to be taken toward a hostile civilian population that supports and encourages violent, murderous acts.

He notes that Rabbi Israeli legalized the killing of entire civilian populations “for their support and encouragement of terrorist acts,” instead of just those actually involved in terrorist acts. ”People who provide the murderer with support and encouragement, but do not take an active, directly conspiratorial part in the act itself” are licit to kill.  Therefore, “‘supportive and encouraging’ civilian population[s]” become “combatants” and can be killed en masse.

Prof. Blidstein notes that “the exact meaning of the terms ‘encourage’ and/or ‘support’” are left wide open.  That the state of Israel takes the widest possible meaning is apparent by the incident in which the view itself was first articulated by R. Israeli: in the Qibya Massacre, “two-thirds of them [were] women and children.”  How children and babies can be guilty of “encouragement and support” of terrorism and be licitly killed by the Israeli military is as much a mystery to me as the Canaanite or Amalekite children and babies being killed in the Bible for the “crime of idolatry.”

Blidstein concludes:

It seems to me that the general direction revealed here is quite clear.  Most of the authors surveyed read the halakhic sources in a manner that allows for extremely forceful action toward various Arab populations, whether these populations encourage and support hostile activity, or only have Arab ethnic identity.

He notes ruefully:

We have also encountered authors who attempted to limit this tendency, but these seem to be less than fully effective in their treatment, and are, within the school surveyed, in a minority.

Prof. Blidstein says his “general thesis” is

that there is a tendency in this school [Religious Zionism] to legitimate more aggressive activity against the civilian population, and to read rather narrowly those restrictions intended to limit and circumscribe such activity.

The fast and loose way in which Israel strips non-combatants of their protected civilian status is very disturbing.  Here, we have the justification of a brutal massacre of 69 civilians of which two-thirds were women and children–an act of state terrorism in its purest form–based on the claim that these were “civilians who conspire[d] to assist the undertaking of military operations”–those who supposedly “simply extend[ed] support to terror–by encourag[ing] acts of violence with mere words.”  In reality, however, there is no way to reasonably determine even this much, and it is simply assumed that the civilians “encouraged and supported” terrorism.

The truth is that the state of Israel routinely strips civilians of their protected status by claiming that they “materially contribute[d] to the war effort.”  This is a very easy charge to levy, requiring very little proof and certainly the issue of proof becomes moot when the civilians have already been killed.  It is especially convenient considering that most indigenous populations indirectly support resistance movements against the occupiers, and the Palestinians can hardly be expected to be different in this regard.

By this all-encompassing definition of combatant, the American women factory workers during World War II who produced parts for planes and tanks would be classified as “combatants” and become licit to kill.  By this definition, American journalists who wrote in support of the war against Nazi Germany would become “combatants” and become fair game.  The millions of American citizens who bought war bonds would similarly become “combatants.”  When we apply this standard to ourselves, it seems truly unthinkable, immoral, and evil.  But when we apply it to Palestinians, it becomes something acceptable.

*  *  *  *  *

To be fair, Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas.  Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith.  Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

One would hope that as a law professor and self-professed liberal Alan Dershowitz would adhere to international law by respecting the idea of distinction and protection of civilians.  Unfortunately, one would be quickly disabused of such a notion by reading Dershowitz’s writings.  He argues that the word civilian is “increasingly meaningless.”  Dr. Norman Finkelstein documents Dershowitz’s morally repugnant ideas on p.xvi of Beyond Chutzpah:

The main target of Dershowitz’s “reassessment of the laws of war” has been the fundamental distinction in the laws of armed conflict between civilians and combatants.  “The preservation of this sharp dichotomy,” Yoram Dinstein has written [a world-renowned expert on international law and the laws of war], “is the main bulwark against methods of barbarism in modern warfare.”  However, ridiculing what he deems the “increasingly meaningless word ‘civilian’” and asserting that, in the case of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, “‘civilianality’ is often a matter of degree, rather than a bright line,” Dershowitz proposes to replace the civilian-combatant dichotomy with a “continuum of civilianality”:

Near the most civilian end of this continuum are the pure innocents–babies, hostages and others completely uninvolved; at the more combatant end are civilians who willingly harbor terrorists, provide material resources and serve as human shields; in the middle are those who support the terrorists politically, or spiritually. [189]

[189] He goes so far as to suggest that combatants might deserve more solicitude than civilians in time of war, depending on “the precise nature of the civilian’s ‘civilianality.’” (Preemption, p.247)

Prof. Alan Dershowitz is but one voice in a pro-Israeli movement trying to “revise” international law in order to strip civilians of their protected status (more on this later).  By “revising” the definition of “civilian” to include those who provide “indirect” assistance to the war effort–or who “materially support” the war (even if by “mere words”)–these pro-Israeli defenders are taking a sledgehammer to international law.

One can imagine the absolute outrage if the shoe was on the other foot–if pro-Palestinian groups were justifying the targeting of Israeli civilians for their “material support” of the war effort and military occupation.  If, in the words of these Orthodox Jewish authors, “mere words” in support of the combatants stripped civilians of their protected status–or if, in the words of the “liberal, secular” Jewish law professor Alan Dershowitz, “politically[] or spiritually” supporting the war effort reduced one’s “civilianality”–then the majority of the Israeli population would no longer be considered purely civilian; in that case, wouldn’t Hamas or Hezbollah be legitimated in targeting and killing them?

But as Dr. Finkelstein notes on p.xvii, Dershowitz “imagines that this revision won’t apply to Israel because ‘the line between Israeli soldiers and civilians is relatively clear.’”  Finkelstein asks:

But is this true?  Israel has a civilian army, which means a mere call-up slip or phone call separates each adult Israeli male from a combatant.

As Finkelstein quips presciently on p.xviii, “it remains to consider Dershowitz’s own location on the continuum of civilianality.”  Wouldn’t being “Israel’s single most visible defender” constitute providing “material support” to Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinians?  Using the elusive and expansive word “material support” one is able to strip most civilians of their protected status.

During the Gaza War, in which Israel massacred scores of civilians, the Israelis used this “extended definition” of “combatant.”  Amos Guiora, who served as a military lawyer in Israel for 19 years, wrote:

Israel declared war on an organisation [Hamas], and by extension on all those involved in that organization – active and passive alike.

Prof. Alan Dershowitz is certainly correct about one thing: Israel’s apologists, from the Orthodox Jewish to secular sectors, have successfully rendered the word civilian “increasingly meaningless.”  By extending combatant status to civilians who “indirectly” contribute to the war effort, the Israeli state is able to justify killing civilians whenever it wants: wherever Israeli rockets land, there is a Palestinian terrorist.  Ergo, Israel never targets anyone but terrorists.

The principle of distinction and protection of civilians is the basis for war ethics under international law: could it be said then that Jewish law is fundamentally at odds with the just war theory?  Wouldn’t this be the conclusion our anti-Muslim Zionist opponents would arrive at if this were about Islam?

Next: The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Islamophobes like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller claim that Islam is more violent than other religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity.  To prove this, they argue that the Islamic holy book, the Islamic prophet, and the Islamic God are all uniquely violent–certainly more so than their Judeo-Christian counterparts.

We proved these claims completely bunk by showing the Bible to be far more violent than the Quran, the Biblical prophets to be far more violent than the Prophet Muhammad, and Yahweh of the Bible to be far more violent than Allah of the Quran.  (See parts 123456-i, 6-ii, 6-iii, 6-iv78, 9-i, and 9-ii of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.)

Instead of defending their initial claim (which they simply cannot), the Islamophobes quickly shift gears and rely on a fallback argument: they argue that “the Bible doesn’t actively exhort its believers to commit acts of violence, unlike the Quran.”  I refuted this argument in part 6 (see 6-i6-ii6-iii6-iv) in an article entitled The Bible’s Prescriptive, Open-Ended, and Universal Commandments to Wage Holy War and Enslave Infidels.

Once that argument goes to the wayside the Islamophobes then jump to their next fall back argument: “most Jews and Christians don’t take the Bible literally like Muslims do the Quran!”  I refuted this argument in part 7, showing that they do in fact understand the Bible very, very literally.

In a very predictable pattern, once this argument fails, the Islamophobes rely on yet another fall back argument, the famous cop-out “But That’s Just the Old Testament!”.  I’ve refuted this argument in part 8.

Once this fall back argument is refuted, Islamophobes once again do not defend it.  Instead, they move on to the next fall back argument:  they argue that “Jews and Christians simply don’t interpret their holy book in a violent manner, unlike Muslims.”  Writes Robert Spencer on p.31 of his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

This is Spencer’s preemptive parry to any counterattack whenever anyone (like myself) responds to his cherry-picking of Quranic verses by reciprocating and finding similar (and even worse) passages in the Bible. We are told that modern-day Jews and Christians simply don’t take those passages seriously any more, that they are merely symbolic or that they are dead letters.

Spencer et al. will then take a break from copying-and-pasting Quranic passages, and instead focus on “classical opinions” in the Islamic tradition, which they claim continue to be to this day the “orthodox, mainstream opinions according to the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence [madhaib].” By contrast, argues Spencer, classical and modern-day orthodox, mainstream interpretations of Judaism and Christianity have moved away from literal understandings of the Bible and opted for non-violent, peaceful understandings.

However, I will prove that this is not the case at all. The violent verses in the Bible helped formulate the “classical opinions” of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and continue to be held by “mainstream, orthodox” groups today.  In this article, we will examine the Jewish rabbinical tradition (both the “classical” and modern day situation); in a later article, we will grapple with the Christian side of things.

Rabbi Eliyahu Stern published an article in the New York Times entitled “Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America.” Stern’s balanced article noted that the anti-Muslim demonization of Islam (and Islamic law) “is disturbingly reminiscent” of “19th-century Europe” Anti-Semitism.  Pamela Geller, an extremist Zionist Islamophobe, published an irate letter from David Yerushalmi (who she describes as the “leading legal mind on sharia in America and my lawfare attorney”), who huffed (emphasis added):

[T]he historical comparison between the response to sharia in this country and Europe’s objection to Jewish law centuries earlier is a result of poor scholarship and faulty logic.  Jewish law, certainly since the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth almost two thousand years ago, has had nothing to do with political power or the desire to effect dominion over another people.

To the contrary, the opposition to sharia is the fact that throughout the Muslim world, sharia is the call to an exclusive Islamic political power with hegemonic designs (see the two most prominent surveys cited here: http://mappingsharia.com/?page_id=425). The war doctrine of jihad is part and parcel of sharia.  It is alive and well as such throughout the Muslim world.

This is the same argument raised by Robert Spencer: Jewish law is peaceful and certainly does not call to violence or war like Islamic law does.

I will absolutely nuke this argument into oblivion.  (In the words of one of our readers: “Danios doesn’t make the mistake of bringing a knife to a gun fight–he brings a nuclear bomb.”)

*  *  *  *  *

One of the fundamental differences between the Islamic canon (Quran and hadiths) and the Bible is with regard to discrimination: the Islamic texts explicitly, categorically, and emphatically command soldiers to fight combatants on the battlefield only, and totally forbid targeting and killing innocent civilians (women, children, the elderly, the decrepit, etc.). On the other hand, the Bible is replete with verses in which God Himself commands the believers to target and kill innocent civilians. In fact, the God of the Bible becomes very upset with those of his followers who fail to complete acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

It is perhaps no big surprise then that one of the main ways in which the “classical” and so-called “orthodox, mainstream views” of the Islamic tradition differ from those in the Jewish tradition is with regard to discrimination: the Islamic tradition forbids its followers from targeting and killing civilians, whereas the Jewish counterpart permits it.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, convenor of the Orthodox Forum

Every year leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries from around the world–including “rashei yeshivah [deans of Talmudical academies], rabbis, educators and academicians from America and Israel”–flock to The Orthodox Forum to discuss “a single topic affecting the Jewish world.”  In 2004, the topic of choice was “War and Peace,” which was chosen due to “the United States’ involvement in Iraq” and “Israel’s ongoing war with terrorism” (quotes from p.xiii of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition).

After these influential experts discussed the issues surrounding “war and peace,” they published their discussion in the fourteenth volume of “the Orthodox Forum Series” in a book entitled War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.  As such, this book does not merely reflect the views of one or two Jewish authors.  Instead, it “brings together the thinking of a wide range of distinguished American and Israeli academicians and religious leaders from various disciplines, to shed light on the historical, philosophical, theological, legal and moral issues raised by military conflict and the search for peaceful resolution” (p.xi) with the goal of appreciating “the relevance of Jewish sources in approaching contemporary challenges” (p.xii).

[Note: Throughout this article series, readers should assume all emphasis is mine, unless otherwise indicated.  Also note that Rabbi is abbreviated to R., as is the accepted convention.]

Reading this very authoritative book, written by the brightest minds of Orthodox Judaism, I came to appreciate at least five major ways in which Halakha (Jewish law) permits shedding the blood of innocents–at least five major exceptions to the law of discrimination.

The reader should keep in mind that these five different exceptions have nothing to do with “collateral damage,” the incidental or unintended killing of civilians, which is generally accepted by international law (with some important caveats).  Instead, these five exceptions have to do with targeting and killing civilians.

I purposefully say “at least five different exceptions,” since there are most certainly more, which I shall discuss in future articles.  However, those other exceptions are debatable or held as minority opinions, such as the concept of targeted assassinations (debatable, I guess) and the idea that Palestinians should be exterminated because they are the modern-day Amalekites (a valid but minority “halakhic opinion”).  Instead, I will focus on views held by the majority of mainstream Orthodox Jewish rabbinical leadership.

*  *  *  *  *

In the United States, Judaism is split into three main sects: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox.  In Israel, however, Reform and Conservative Judaism do not exist in large numbers.  Instead, the battle lines are drawn between secular and Orthodox Jews.  According to The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 20% of Israeli Jews are secular, 25% are Orthodox (17% are Religious Zionists [Modern Orthodox Judaism] and 8% are Ultra-Orthodox [Haredi]), with the largest group of Israeli Jews (55%) falling under the rubric of “traditional.”

The views of “traditional Jews” towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem to fall in between the two major ideological groups: secular and Orthodox Jews.  For example, whereas “only” 36% of secular Israelis support “price tag” terrorism against Palestinians and a whopping majority of Orthodox Jews support such tactics (70% of Religious Zionists and 71% of Ultra-Orthodox Jews), just over half of traditional Jews (55%) condone terrorism against the Palestinians.

Orthodox Judaism is split between Modern Orthodox Judaism and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism).  In Israel, Modern Orthodox Judaism is dominated by Religious Zionism (alternatively called “national-religious”).  This sect is widely considered to be the “mainstream” of Orthodox Judaism in Israel.  It is this sect, therefore, that I will focus on in my article series.

One should not, however, be led to believe that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism is much better in this regard.  Although Agudat Yisrael (the original major political party that represented Ultra-Orthodox Jews) initially opposed the Zionist enterprise, this changed after the creation of the state of Israel.  These Ultra-Orthodox Jews saw the Israeli state as a means for “state enforcement of religious laws” and wanted “increased state financial support for their schools and for religious institutions” (quotes taken from the Zionism & Israel Center‘s official website).

Today, “though still non-Zionist, [these Ultra-Orthodox Jews] tend to favor perpetuation of the occupation and vote with the right against peace moves or negotiations.” Their right-wing attitudes towards Palestinians are reflected in the earlier statistic I cited, which showed that an overwhelming majority (71%) of Ultra-Orthodox Jews support price tag terrorism against Palestinians, which is almost exactly the same percentage of Religious Zionists (70%) who do.  Ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel has been heavily influenced by Zionism and Religious Zionism, especially in their hostile views towards the indigenous Palestinians.

However, because many Israelis feel that Ultra-Orthodox Jews are “extreme,” I will focus my discussion here on the more “mainstream” sect, Modern Orthodox Judaism.  (In a follow-up article, I will outline the Ultra-Orthodox view on such subjects in order to prove that there is an emerging “bipartisan” consensus on these issues within Orthodox Judaism in Israel.) For now, however, I will largely stick to the generally accepted views within Religious Zionism.

Therefore, in my article The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians–the title that will be used for the remaining article series–I will not focus on Yizhak Shapira’s book the King’s Torah.  Despite the fact that Modern Orthodox Judaism’s rabbis seemed to accept Shapira’s views “governing the killing of a non-Jew’ outlined in the book [as] a legitimate stance” and a valid “halachic opinion,” I will bypass all such discussion by focusing on majority views held by Religious Zionism and Modern Orthodox Judaism, not the more extreme Kahanist sect of Religious Zionism.

In so doing, I will show that these majority views are hardly less worrisome than Rabbi Shapira’s opinions expressed in the King’s Torah.  I will show that one need not look to settler rabbis, Kahanists, or Ultra-Orthodox Jews to find extremely warlike views.  The mainstream Modern Orthodox rabbinical leadership will suffice.  Worse yet, Israeli Jews–deeply religious Jews–are leading the fight against the concept of distinction, the fundamental aspect of the just war theory.  They are applying pressure to change international law and to abrogate the regulations of the Geneva Conventions, which they believe are “archaic” and inapplicable today.  Could it be said, using the emotive language of our opponents, that Judaism is waging war against the principle of distinction?

The purpose of this is to prove that if there are problems within the house of Islam (which there certainly are), let it be known that the house of Judaism is no different in this regard.  It would behoove us to remind ourselves of this before we point the accusatory finger at The Other.  Extremist Zionist Islamophobes like Pamela Geller–and their Christian comrades-in-arms like Robert Spencer–should take note.

Disclaimer: Before we get into it, please read my disclaimer, Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, is the Problem. (This is in addition to my earlier disclaimer, which you should also read):

Update:

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians;#1 Civilians Are Really Combatants

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (II)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)

Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem

This is my disclaimer to the series entitled Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Pro-Israeli pundits often argue that they have a problem with “Islamism,” which they define as the politicization of the religion of Islam.  Prof. Jeffrey Herf of the University of Maryland clarifies, for example, that he doesn’t have a problem with Islam but with “Islamism,” a religio-political ideology enjoining Muslims to reestablish the pan-Islamic Caliphate.

If pro-Israeli propagandists insist that “political Islam”–which they call Islamism–is the problem, then in a similar vein am I arguing that Religious Zionismnot Judaism, is the problem. It is the mixing of the political ideology Zionism with Judaism that I criticize.  I believe criticizing Judaism en toto would be Anti-Semitic.  Judaism, without the infusion of Zionism into it, is–in my opinion–a wonderful religion.  I believe it would be absolutely detestable to take my criticisms of Religious Zionism and use them to justify vilifying Judaism as a whole.

*  *  *  *  *

The dangers of falling into Anti-Semitism are very real.  Historically, Anti-Semitism has been a major problem, and it continues to be in some parts of the world today.  One of the primary ways in which Anti-Semites unfairly targeted Jews was to vilify Halakha, digging up intolerant views in the rabbinical tradition to smear Judaism with.

But herein lies an irony: many Zionist Jews are now joining Anti-Muslim Christians in vilifying the Islamic tradition in a very similar way.  Once Halakha was the target of bigots; today, it is Sharia.  Rabbi Eliyahu Stern has written an excellent article about this topic, entitled Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America.

I will be applying the same standards our opponents apply to the Islamic tradition to the Jewish one, to show that Judaism is equally vulnerable to such criticisms.  It is hoped that this exercise will encourage people of Judeo-Christian background to be more hesitant in vilifying and targeting Islam.  This is purely an exercise in thought, a what if scenario (what if we applied the same standards to your religion as you do onto others?) designed to be the antidote to religious and cultural arrogance.

By clarifying that this constitutes an “exercise in thought” one should know that I am not saying Judaism is XYZ because of ABC, but rather simply that if you insist on arguing that Islam is XYZ due to ABC then–based on your own logic–Judaism and Christianity are also XYZ because they too have ABC.  This is a what if? and an if-then argument.

*  *  *  *  *

This is not to say, however, that religion has nothing to do with the matter.  I am extremely critical of Religious Zionism, which has a very real and deleterious impact in world affairs.  Religious Zionists are now among the most influential voices in Israel’s hawkish right-wing, using religion to justify even more regressive policies towards the Palestinians.  Dr. Claudia Baumgart notes in Democracy, Diversity, and Conflict: Religious Zionism and Israeli Foreign Policy that Religious Zionism “started to play a major role” in Israeli foreign policy by the late 1960′s.  Today, its impact is absolutely pernicious.

Religious Zionism went even further than secular Zionism, declaring the settlement of Palestinian land–all of Palestine–a mitzvah, a religious obligation under Jewish law.  While it may be possible to convince secular Zionists of the need for a two-state solution, this is not possible with Religious Zionists who believe it is forbidden in their religion–nay, it is a blasphemy of the highest order and greatest magnitude–to cede even one inch of Eretz Israel to the Palestinians.  This is why Religious Zionism is a major impediment to peace in the region.

Much like how Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam is a problem (“Islamists” as some incorrectly say), so too is Religious Zionism a major problem.  I agree with Dr. Baumgart’s assessment that “religion is not an independent cause of conflict in and between states.  But it can be an important intervening variable…”  In other words, Religious Zionism did not independently and all by itself create the problem of Israeli oppression of Palestinians, but it certainly is one important causative factor among a myriad of others.

This is of course not much different than my view of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam.  Some critics may assume that I do not think Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam are part of the problem–that only American and Israeli foreign policy are to blame.  This is incorrect: I believe that terrorism is the result of a myriad of factors, and although American and Israeli neo-colonialism certainly tops the list, Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam plays an important role as well.

Criticism of Religious Zionism should not tarnish Judaism as a whole no more than criticism of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam should tarnish Islam as a whole.  One should stay clear of the bigotry that would compel oneself to smear an entire faith for the actions of a particular strand of a religion.

*  *  *  *  *

My need to criticize Religious Zionism is also founded on the link between Zionism and Islamophobia. Pro-Israeli apologists are often anti-Muslim; conversely, anti-Muslim bigots are almost invariably pro-Israeli. In fact, Islamophobes fanatically support the state of Israel, which they see as the embodiment of the Crusader state in the heartland of the infidel Muslim world.  Meanwhile, Israelis see the Islamophobes as useful to their cause against their Muslim foes.  Often, however, there is no distinction between the two: Zionist Islamophobes form a large chunk of the anti-Muslim camp.  Pamela Geller, an extremist Zionist Islamophobe, is a case in point.  In light of this, it is important to hold Religious Zionism to the same standard that these Zionists/Islamophobes so mirthfully apply to Islam.

*  *  *  *  *

One may quite reasonably criticize my choice of title, “The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians:” after all, it does not make it clear that I am herein criticizing the Halakha of Religious Zionists, not of all Jews.  This is acceptable criticism, which I agree with in principle.

However, remember that this article series is a “thought exercise:” the entire purpose is to show how Judaism and Christianity could not possibly live up to the high standards anti-Muslim Jews and Christians insist on applying to Islam.  Our Islamophobic opponents certainly do not differentiate between different interpretations of Sharia.  They take Radical and/or Ultra-Conservative interpretations of Islamic law as The Sharia.  Likewise, I will take the Orthodox Jewish interpretation of Halakha–as understood by “mainstream” Modern Orthodoxy–to be The Halakha.  Then, we will see how much anti-Muslim Jews and Christians like it.  How will Pamela Geller respond to holding her religious faith up to the same standards she insists upon for Islam?

*  *  *  *  *

Having said all of this, the primary reason I chose to speak about Halakha is that it is our opponents themselves who invoked the comparison between the supposedly peaceful Judeo-Christian tradition on the one hand and the supposedly warlike Islamic tradition on the other.  This argument–that the modern-day Judeo-Christian interpretations are overwhelmingly peaceful, whereas those of Islam are warlike–is raised by both the King and Queen of Islamophobia, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller.

Robert Spencer’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) invokes this comparison multiple times.  For example, he says on p.31:

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

Meanwhile, the Queen of Islamophobia published a letter by David Yerushalmi which said:

[T]he historical comparison between the response to sharia in this country and Europe’s objection to Jewish law centuries earlier is a result of poor scholarship and faulty logic.  Jewish law, certainly since the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth almost two thousand years ago, has had nothing to do with political power or the desire to effect dominion over another people.

To the contrary, the opposition to sharia is the fact that throughout the Muslim world, sharia is the call to an exclusive Islamic political power with hegemonic designs (see the two most prominent surveys cited here: http://mappingsharia.com/?page_id=425). The war doctrine of jihad is part and parcel of sharia.  It is alive and well as such throughout the Muslim world.

Therefore, I am left no choice but to compare Islamic understandings of religious law to their Jewish counterparts.  This comparison was foisted upon me by my opponents.  There is no way to disabuse the King and Queen of Islamophobia (and their loyal subjects) of their claims except to respond in the way I am.

Naturally, “bystanders” will be caught in the crossfire.  Good-hearted, fellow Jews may be offended by such an article series that takes such a critical look at Jewish law.  This is why I explained my absolute reluctance to go down this path in my opening disclaimer.  But, the constant barrage of Islamophobic polemics, encouraged by Israeli activists, convinces me that this is something unavoidable.  Thus it is so, that with a grudging heart, I proceed forth.

*  *  *  *  *

Update I:

It is true that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism within Israel is just as disquieting as Modern Orthodox Judaism (as I will show in a follow-up article). This is due to their unthinking acceptance of Zionist ideology.  On the other hand, those Ultra-Orthodox Jews who forcefully reject Zionism, such as the Neturei Karta, do not justify Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians.  Perhaps then it would be more appropriate to say that Zionism, not just Religious Zionism, is the problem.  Once again, however, it should be stressed that it is the mixing of a racist political ideology with religion that is to be condemned, not the religion itself.

Update II:

A reader who posts under the user name “Just Stopping By” gave some valid criticism in the comments section, arguing that it would be too broad a generalization to categorize all Religious Zionism as one way–that dissenting opinions do exist.  Admittedly, this article series does deal in some generalizations, but these are acceptable, I think, in the context of this being a “thought exercise.”  One could, for example, hardly expect Islamophobes to recognize that even in Ultra-Conservative Islam there exists nuance.

Having said that, it is fair criticism–especially in an article intended to be a disclaimer and explanation of my viewpoints–that I should recognize the existence of a spectrum of views in Religious Zionism, instead of viewing it as one rigid monolith.  This I readily admit, even though I of course disagree with Religious Zionism as a whole, just as I do Ultra-Conservative Islam.

Update III:

Two additional points need to be addressed here: the first is my choice to use Carlos Latuff’s artwork.  I was unfamiliar with him until I started searching for images to use in my article series, and realized that I’ve used one of his images in the past (without properly accrediting him).  My use of some of his cartoons should not be seen as an endorsement of his political views, which are not very clear to me.  One can only speculate what a cartoonist’s political views are based on his comics.  The images I chose are very applicable to the article series, and that is why I used them.  Nothing more, nothing less.  To give credit where credit is due, I do think Carlos Latuff is a very gifted artist and political cartoonist.

I have seen accusations against him by pro-Israeli apologists that he is an Anti-Semite.  These do not seem to be anything other than the typical Israeli tactic of accusing Israel’s critics of Anti-Semitism in order to vilify and silence them.  One critic claimed that Latuff uses images of “hook-nosed Jews.”  However, this seems baseless to me: notice the perfectly normal nose of the Israeli soldier below.  One could hardly expect a critic of Israel’s war crimes to portray IDF soldiers as anything but evil.  This hardly amounts to Anti-Semitism.  Would these pro-Israeli apologists desire political cartoonists to draw Israeli soldiers with roses coming out of their butts?

The second accusation I have seen against him is that his cartoons use the Star of David.  However, he explained to the Guardian:

Part of the supposed ‘evidence’ for my antisemitism is the fact that I’ve used the Star of David, which is a symbol of Judaism . . . But check all my artworks – you’ll find that the Star of David is never drawn alone. It’s always part of the Israeli flag. Yes, it’s a religious motif, but in Israel it has been applied to a state symbol; and it’s the institutions of the state – the politicians and the army – that I’m targeting. Including the flag of Israel in a cartoon is no more an attack on Judaism than including the flag of Turkey would be an attack on Islam.

The tactic of smearing critics of Israel with the “Anti-Semitic” slur is perfectly pictured by Latuff himself:

I do think some of Latuff’s comics may be over the top and are beyond my comfort level, such as this depiction of an Israeli soldier, which is not Anti-Semitic but just too hyperbolic for me.  One can understand that an artist might want to push the boundaries and invoke strong reactions from his work.  In any case, do I have to agree with every single one of a political cartoonist’s comics before I can reproduce any of them?

The other issue is my reliance on Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s work.  He is one of the world’s leading experts of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it thus seems obvious why I would draw on his writings.  Despite my deep respect for his scholarship and his person, I must however issue a clear disclaimer distancing myself from his equivocation in response to a question about Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians.  I categorically reject all attacks targeting civilians, no matter who does them.  After all, my entire article series is designed to point out the hypocrisy of anti-Muslim Jews and Christians who condemn Muslims for what they themselves endorse (i.e. the targeting and killing of civilians).  If I would condone such terror attacks, this would be another layer of hypocrisy.

Along these lines, I might as well also state my views on Hamas and Hezbollah, since pro-Israeli apologists and Islamophobes use this as a sort of litmus test to silence opposition (DO YOU CONDEMN HAMAS?  DO YOU?).  Let it be known then that I condemn and reject Hamas and Hezbollah.  Although I recognize the right of the Palestinian people to defend their land and resist occupation (to deny them this right while accepting the right of the occupying power to “defend itself” is the height of colonialist mentality), under no circumstances–none whatsoever–is one allowed to target and kill civilians.  Even if Hamas and Hezbollah were to categorically renounce such tactics (and back up their words with actions), I would still not support these groups, which–like the Israeli and Jewish groups I will discuss–hold extremist religious views.

This does not mean that I do not “understand” why some occupied Palestinians would resort to such tactics.  (One cannot say the same for Israelis, who are the occupiers.)  “Understand” here is to be understood in the sense that one “understands” why a criminal was led to a life of crime due to an abused childhood.  This “understanding” does not equate to condoning, accepting, or justifying.

The desire to support Hamas and Hezbollah is born out of emotionalism, not principled ethics.  Many Muslims feel the need to side with “the Muslim side,” just as many Jews feel compelled to support “the Jewish state.”  I do not support groups or states, but rather ethics and principles.  Groups and states will always let you down; ethics and principles won’t.

Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem

This is my disclaimer to the series entitled Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Pro-Israeli pundits often argue that they have a problem with “Islamism,” which they define as the politicization of the religion of Islam.  Prof. Jeffrey Herf of the University of Maryland clarifies, for example, that he doesn’t have a problem with Islam but with “Islamism,” a religio-political ideology enjoining Muslims to reestablish the pan-Islamic Caliphate.

If pro-Israeli propagandists insist that “political Islam”–which they call Islamism–is the problem, then in a similar vein am I arguing that Religious Zionismnot Judaism, is the problem. It is the mixing of the political ideology Zionism with Judaism that I criticize.  I believe criticizing Judaism en toto would be Anti-Semitic.  Judaism, without the infusion of Zionism into it, is–in my opinion–a wonderful religion.  I believe it would be absolutely detestable to take my criticisms of Religious Zionism and use them to justify vilifying Judaism as a whole.

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The dangers of falling into Anti-Semitism are very real.  Historically, Anti-Semitism has been a major problem, and it continues to be in some parts of the world today.  One of the primary ways in which Anti-Semites unfairly targeted Jews was to vilify Halakha, digging up intolerant views in the rabbinical tradition to smear Judaism with.

But herein lies an irony: many Zionist Jews are now joining Anti-Muslim Christians in vilifying the Islamic tradition in a very similar way.  Once Halakha was the target of bigots; today, it is Sharia.  Rabbi Eliyahu Stern has written an excellent article about this topic, entitled Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America.

I will be applying the same standards our opponents apply to the Islamic tradition to the Jewish one, to show that Judaism is equally vulnerable to such criticisms.  It is hoped that this exercise will encourage people of Judeo-Christian background to be more hesitant in vilifying and targeting Islam.  This is purely an exercise in thought, a what if scenario (what if we applied the same standards to your religion as you do onto others?) designed to be the antidote to religious and cultural arrogance.

By clarifying that this constitutes an “exercise in thought” one should know that I am not saying Judaism is XYZ because of ABC, but rather simply that if you insist on arguing that Islam is XYZ due to ABC then–based on your own logic–Judaism and Christianity are also XYZ because they too have ABC.  This is a what if? and an if-then argument.

*  *  *  *  *

This is not to say, however, that religion has nothing to do with the matter.  I am extremely critical of Religious Zionism, which has a very real and deleterious impact in world affairs.  Religious Zionists are now among the most influential voices in Israel’s hawkish right-wing, using religion to justify even more regressive policies towards the Palestinians.  Dr. Claudia Baumgart notes in Democracy, Diversity, and Conflict: Religious Zionism and Israeli Foreign Policy that Religious Zionism “started to play a major role” in Israeli foreign policy by the late 1960′s.  Today, its impact is absolutely pernicious.

Religious Zionism went even further than secular Zionism, declaring the settlement of Palestinian land–all of Palestine–a mitzvah, a religious obligation under Jewish law.  While it may be possible to convince secular Zionists of the need for a two-state solution, this is not possible with Religious Zionists who believe it is forbidden in their religion–nay, it is a blasphemy of the highest order and greatest magnitude–to cede even one inch of Eretz Israel to the Palestinians.  This is why Religious Zionism is a major impediment to peace in the region.

Much like how Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam is a problem (“Islamists” as some incorrectly say), so too is Religious Zionism a major problem.  I agree with Dr. Baumgart’s assessment that “religion is not an independent cause of conflict in and between states.  But it can be an important intervening variable…”  In other words, Religious Zionism did not independently and all by itself create the problem of Israeli oppression of Palestinians, but it certainly is one important causative factor among a myriad of others.

This is of course not much different than my view of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam.  Some critics may assume that I do not think Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam are part of the problem–that only American and Israeli foreign policy are to blame.  This is incorrect: I believe that terrorism is the result of a myriad of factors, and although American and Israeli neo-colonialism certainly tops the list, Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam plays an important role as well.

Criticism of Religious Zionism should not tarnish Judaism as a whole no more than criticism of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam should tarnish Islam as a whole.  One should stay clear of the bigotry that would compel oneself to smear an entire faith for the actions of a particular strand of a religion.

*  *  *  *  *

My need to criticize Religious Zionism is also founded on the link between Zionism and Islamophobia. Pro-Israeli apologists are often anti-Muslim; conversely, anti-Muslim bigots are almost invariably pro-Israeli. In fact, Islamophobes fanatically support the state of Israel, which they see as the embodiment of the Crusader state in the heartland of the infidel Muslim world.  Meanwhile, Israelis see the Islamophobes as useful to their cause against their Muslim foes.  Often, however, there is no distinction between the two: Zionist Islamophobes form a large chunk of the anti-Muslim camp.  Pamela Geller, an extremist Zionist Islamophobe, is a case in point.  In light of this, it is important to hold Religious Zionism to the same standard that these Zionists/Islamophobes so mirthfully apply to Islam.

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One may quite reasonably criticize my choice of title, “The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians:” after all, it does not make it clear that I am herein criticizing the Halakha of Religious Zionists, not of all Jews.  This is acceptable criticism, which I agree with in principle.

However, remember that this article series is a “thought exercise:” the entire purpose is to show how Judaism and Christianity could not possibly live up to the high standards anti-Muslim Jews and Christians insist on applying to Islam.  Our Islamophobic opponents certainly do not differentiate between different interpretations of Sharia.  They take Radical and/or Ultra-Conservative interpretations of Islamic law as The Sharia.  Likewise, I will take the Orthodox Jewish interpretation of Halakha–as understood by “mainstream” Modern Orthodoxy–to be The Halakha.  Then, we will see how much anti-Muslim Jews and Christians like it.  How will Pamela Geller respond to holding her religious faith up to the same standards she insists upon for Islam?

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Having said all of this, the primary reason I chose to speak about Halakha is that it is our opponents themselves who invoked the comparison between the supposedly peaceful Judeo-Christian tradition on the one hand and the supposedly warlike Islamic tradition on the other.  This argument–that the modern-day Judeo-Christian interpretations are overwhelmingly peaceful, whereas those of Islam are warlike–is raised by both the King and Queen of Islamophobia, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller.

Robert Spencer’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) invokes this comparison multiple times.  For example, he says on p.31:

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

Meanwhile, the Queen of Islamophobia published a letter by David Yerushalmi which said:

[T]he historical comparison between the response to sharia in this country and Europe’s objection to Jewish law centuries earlier is a result of poor scholarship and faulty logic.  Jewish law, certainly since the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth almost two thousand years ago, has had nothing to do with political power or the desire to effect dominion over another people.

To the contrary, the opposition to sharia is the fact that throughout the Muslim world, sharia is the call to an exclusive Islamic political power with hegemonic designs (see the two most prominent surveys cited here: http://mappingsharia.com/?page_id=425). The war doctrine of jihad is part and parcel of sharia.  It is alive and well as such throughout the Muslim world.

Therefore, I am left no choice but to compare Islamic understandings of religious law to their Jewish counterparts.  This comparison was foisted upon me by my opponents.  There is no way to disabuse the King and Queen of Islamophobia (and their loyal subjects) of their claims except to respond in the way I am.

Naturally, “bystanders” will be caught in the crossfire.  Good-hearted, fellow Jews may be offended by such an article series that takes such a critical look at Jewish law.  This is why I explained my absolute reluctance to go down this path in my opening disclaimer.  But, the constant barrage of Islamophobic polemics, encouraged by Israeli activists, convinces me that this is something unavoidable.  Thus it is so, that with a grudging heart, I proceed forth.

*  *  *  *  *

Update I:

It is true that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism within Israel is just as disquieting as Modern Orthodox Judaism (as I will show in a follow-up article). This is due to their unthinking acceptance of Zionist ideology.  On the other hand, those Ultra-Orthodox Jews who forcefully reject Zionism, such as the Neturei Karta, do not justify Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians.  Perhaps then it would be more appropriate to say that Zionism, not just Religious Zionism, is the problem.  Once again, however, it should be stressed that it is the mixing of a racist political ideology with religion that is to be condemned, not the religion itself.

Update II:

A reader who posts under the user name “Just Stopping By” gave some valid criticism in the comments section, arguing that it would be too broad a generalization to categorize all Religious Zionism as one way–that dissenting opinions do exist.  Admittedly, this article series does deal in some generalizations, but these are acceptable, I think, in the context of this being a “thought exercise.”  One could, for example, hardly expect Islamophobes to recognize that even in Ultra-Conservative Islam there exists nuance.

Having said that, it is fair criticism–especially in an article intended to be a disclaimer and explanation of my viewpoints–that I should recognize the existence of a spectrum of views in Religious Zionism, instead of viewing it as one rigid monolith.  This I readily admit, even though I of course disagree with Religious Zionism as a whole, just as I do Ultra-Conservative Islam.

Update III:

Two additional points need to be addressed here: the first is my choice to use Carlos Latuff’s artwork.  I was unfamiliar with him until I started searching for images to use in my article series, and realized that I’ve used one of his images in the past (without properly accrediting him).  My use of some of his cartoons should not be seen as an endorsement of his political views, which are not very clear to me.  One can only speculate what a cartoonist’s political views are based on his comics.  The images I chose are very applicable to the article series, and that is why I used them.  Nothing more, nothing less.  To give credit where credit is due, I do think Carlos Latuff is a very gifted artist and political cartoonist.

I have seen accusations against him by pro-Israeli apologists that he is an Anti-Semite.  These do not seem to be anything other than the typical Israeli tactic of accusing Israel’s critics of Anti-Semitism in order to vilify and silence them.  One critic claimed that Latuff uses images of “hook-nosed Jews.”  However, this seems baseless to me: notice the perfectly normal nose of the Israeli soldier below.  One could hardly expect a critic of Israel’s war crimes to portray IDF soldiers as anything but evil.  This hardly amounts to Anti-Semitism.  Would these pro-Israeli apologists desire political cartoonists to draw Israeli soldiers with roses coming out of their butts?

The second accusation I have seen against him is that his cartoons use the Star of David.  However, he explained to the Guardian:

Part of the supposed ‘evidence’ for my antisemitism is the fact that I’ve used the Star of David, which is a symbol of Judaism . . . But check all my artworks – you’ll find that the Star of David is never drawn alone. It’s always part of the Israeli flag. Yes, it’s a religious motif, but in Israel it has been applied to a state symbol; and it’s the institutions of the state – the politicians and the army – that I’m targeting. Including the flag of Israel in a cartoon is no more an attack on Judaism than including the flag of Turkey would be an attack on Islam.

The tactic of smearing critics of Israel with the “Anti-Semitic” slur is perfectly pictured by Latuff himself:

I do think some of Latuff’s comics may be over the top and are beyond my comfort level, such as this depiction of an Israeli soldier, which is not Anti-Semitic but just too hyperbolic for me.  One can understand that an artist might want to push the boundaries and invoke strong reactions from his work.  In any case, do I have to agree with every single one of a political cartoonist’s comics before I can reproduce any of them?

The other issue is my reliance on Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s work.  He is one of the world’s leading experts of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it thus seems obvious why I would draw on his writings.  Despite my deep respect for his scholarship and his person, I must however issue a clear disclaimer distancing myself from his equivocation in response to a question about Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians.  I categorically reject all attacks targeting civilians, no matter who does them.  After all, my entire article series is designed to point out the hypocrisy of anti-Muslim Jews and Christians who condemn Muslims for what they themselves endorse (i.e. the targeting and killing of civilians).  If I would condone such terror attacks, this would be another layer of hypocrisy.

Along these lines, I might as well also state my views on Hamas and Hezbollah, since pro-Israeli apologists and Islamophobes use this as a sort of litmus test to silence opposition (DO YOU CONDEMN HAMAS?  DO YOU?).  Let it be known then that I condemn and reject Hamas and Hezbollah.  Although I recognize the right of the Palestinian people to defend their land and resist occupation (to deny them this right while accepting the right of the occupying power to “defend itself” is the height of colonialist mentality), under no circumstances–none whatsoever–is one allowed to target and kill civilians.  Even if Hamas and Hezbollah were to categorically renounce such tactics (and back up their words with actions), I would still not support these groups, which–like the Israeli and Jewish groups I will discuss–hold extremist religious views.

This does not mean that I do not “understand” why some occupied Palestinians would resort to such tactics.  (One cannot say the same for Israelis, who are the occupiers.)  “Understand” here is to be understood in the sense that one “understands” why a criminal was led to a life of crime due to an abused childhood.  This “understanding” does not equate to condoning, accepting, or justifying.

The desire to support Hamas and Hezbollah is born out of emotionalism, not principled ethics.  Many Muslims feel the need to side with “the Muslim side,” just as many Jews feel compelled to support “the Jewish state.”  I do not support groups or states, but rather ethics and principles.  Groups and states will always let you down; ethics and principles won’t

Who was the Most Violent Prophet in History?

Who was the Most Violent Prophet in History?

This article is part 2 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer” here, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

Who was the most violent prophet in history?

Most readers will immediately assume it was the Prophet Muhammad, thanks to a decades long wave of Islamophobia and a sustained campaign of anti-Muslim propaganda.   But here’s a tip: it wasn’t Muhammad.  Not by a long shot.  In fact, Moses had Muhammad beat by far.

But it wasn’t even Moses.  In fact, it was Joshua–a Jewish prophet of Israel.  Today, he is regarded by Jews as “a mighty warrior” of the faith, a victorious hero, and a righteous prophet after Moses:

Before he passed away, Moses was very disappointed that he couldn’t complete the ethnic cleansing of the land. He wanted to take part in the genocide of those living past the Jordan:

3:23 At that time I [Moses] pleaded with the Lord:

3:24 “O Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?

3:25 Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”

God rejected Moses’ plea and declared:

3:28 “But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.”

And so, the job of genocide was divinely passed on from Moses to his successor, Joshua.

Joshua sought to complete the task that Moses had left undone.  It is recorded in the most sacred Jewish holy book, the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament of Christianity), that God Himself commanded Joshua to finish the genocide of the natives living on the other side of the Jordan River:

Joshua 1:1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide:

1:2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.

1:3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.

1:4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west.

1:5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

1:6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.”

The city of Jericho stood between Joshua and the land he was to conquer.  As one city after another fell to the sword of Judaism, the people of Jericho feared for their fate.  Would they too be subjected to ethnic cleansing?

One of the natives of the city, a woman by the name of Rahab, was so fearful of the wild-eyed massacres that the God-chosen people were known for that she said:

Joshua 2:9 “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that your terror is fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are deathly afraid of you.

2:10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond the Jordan, unto Sihon and to Og, whom you utterly destroyed.

2:11 No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things.”

Rahab offered to hide Israelite spies, who were sent to engage in stealth jihad stealth herem. In exchange for her services, she begged the Israelites to spare her family from the brutal massacre that was sure to come after the conquest of her city.  Rahab implored:

2:12 “Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign

2:13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.”

The Israelites agreed, but warned her:

2:19 “If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible.”

In other words, every living thing in that city—except what was in her house—was to be utterly destroyed.  The entire city was to be smitten as a sacrifice to the Lord:

6:17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent.

As a footnote clarifies, “devoted” to the Lord means: “The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the LORD, often by totally destroying them.”

[The illustration at the top of this article is of the Battle of Jericho.  Readers will notice the Jewishshofars, ram horns used in times of war.  The Israelites sounded these shofars prior to invading the city and slaughtering all of its inhabitants.  It is in this context that the anti-Muslim protesters in Orange County used them against Muslim-Americans in that now famous video.]

To their credit, the Israelite invaders fulfilled their promise, sparing those in Rahab’s house. They did, however, kill everyone else, women and children included:

6:21 They devoted the city to the Lord and utterly destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

However, the silver, gold, bronze, and iron were taken as plunder:

6:19 But all the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord, and must go into his treasury.

And the city was razed to the ground:

6:24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house.

After “utterly destroying” Jericho, Joshua and the believers turned their attention to the city of Ai:

8:1 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the kings of Ai, his people, his city and his land.

8:2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.”

8:3 So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night

8:4 with these orders: “Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city…”

Joshua continued:

8:7 “You are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The Lord your God will give it into your hand.

8:8When you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do what your Lord has commanded. See to it! You have my orders.”

As per their orders from God and his prophet, the city was razed:

8:19 They entered the city and captured it and quickly set it on fire.

When the men of Ai fought back, they were decimated by Israel:

8:22 Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives.

After cutting down the soldiers, the Israelites entered the city to kill off all the civilians (twelve thousand men and women altogether):

8:24 When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and the in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it.

8:25 Twelve thousand men and women were put to death that day—all the people of Ai.

8:26 For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed all who lived in Ai.

8:27 But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the Lord had instructed Joshua.

8:28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day.

The king’s body was then mutilated:

8:29 [Joshua] impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate.

And then the believers built a triumphal mosque triumphal synagogue:

8:30 Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal, an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel.

Terror and fear of the genocidal wrath of the believers spread far and wide, just as the God of the Bible promised. One such people who were struck with dread were the people of Gibeon, who offered themselves up as slaves in exchange for their lives.  The Gibeonites said to Joshua:

9:24 “We feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this.”

The Gibeonites were permitted to live so long as they “left idolatry” and lived under the “yolk of servitude”. They were consigned to the curse of perpetual servitude and permitted only to be “woodcutters and water carriers”, which were considered “very low and mean employment”:

9:23 “You are now under a curse: You will never cease to serve as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.”

Joshua had thus destroyed Jericho and Ai, and neutralized Gibeon.  The neighboring five Amorite kingdoms became aware that the Israelites were headed for them next, and formed a coalition to defend themselves.  However, the Amorite coalition was soundly defeated by the Israelite army, and the five Amorite kings fled to a cave in Makkedah.  The Israelites captured the kings and Joshua had them humiliated and executed:

10:24 When they had brought these kings to Joshua, he summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders who had come with him, “Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.” So they came forward and placed their feet on their necks.

10:25 Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the Lord will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.”

10:26 Then Joshua struck and killed the kings and hung them on five trees, and they were left hanging on the trees until evening.

10:27 At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding.

The Israelite vengeance was also savaged upon Makkedah (the city where the five kings had fled to), which was ethnically cleansed:

10:28 That same day Joshua captured and destroyed the town of Makkedah. He killed everyone in it, including the king, leaving no survivors. He destroyed them all.

The Israelite army then did the same to the southern cities, putting all to the sword—men, women, and children. First, the city of Libnah:

10:30 The city [of Libnah] and everyone in it Joshua put to the sword. He left no survivors there.

Then Lachish:

10:32 The Lord handed Lachish over to Israel, and Joshua took it on the second day. The city and everyone in it he put to the sword, just as he had done to Libnah.

Then Eglon:

10:35 They captured [Eglon] that same day and put it to the sword and totally destroyed everyone in it, just as they had done to Lachish.

Then Hebron:

10:37 They took the city and put it to the sword, together with its king, its villages and everyone in it. They left no survivors. Just as at Eglon, they totally destroyed it and everyone in it.

Then Debir:

10:39 They took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors.

The killing was thorough and complete:

10:40 So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.

10:41 Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon.

10:42 All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the Lord,the God of Israel, fought for Israel.

After the decimation of the southern cities, the northern cities banded together to fight off Israel. The Israelites responded in the familiar way—killing every man, woman, and child:

11:11 The Israelites completely destroyed every living thing in the city, leaving no survivors. Not a single person was spared. And then Joshua burned the city.

11:12 Joshua slaughtered all the other kings and their people, completely destroying them, just as Moses, the servant of the LORD, had commanded.

11:13 But the Israelites did not burn any of the towns built on mounds except Hazor, which Joshua burned.

11:14 And the Israelites took all the plunder and livestock of the ravaged towns for themselves. But they killed all the people, leaving no survivors.

11:15 As the LORD had commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua. And Joshua did as he was told, carefully obeying all the commands that the LORD had given to Moses.

Joshua then utterly destroyed the Anakites:

11:21 During this period Joshua destroyed all the Anakites…He killed them all and completely destroyed their towns.

11:22 No Anakites were left in Israelite territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive.

11:23 So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel…

After all this death and destruction…

11:23 … Then the land had rest from war.

By this time, Joshua was on his deathbed and gave parting instructions to his people.  He promised them that they would drive out the survivors from amongst the vanquished nations and usurp their land:

23:1 Now it came to pass, a long time after the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua was old, advanced in age

23:2 And Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them: “I am old, advanced in age.

23:2 You have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the LORD your God is He who has fought for you.

23:4 See, I have divided to you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, as far as the Great Sea westward.

23:5 And the LORD your God will expel them from before you and drive them out of your sight. So you shall possess their land, as the LORD your God promised you.”

And so died Joshua, the most violent prophet in all of history.

Addendum I:

Aside from the sheer magnitude of Joshua’s killings, the major difference between Joshua and Muhammad is the issue of targeting civilians.  Joshua, like Moses, targeted and killed civilians–women, children, babies, and the infirm elderly.  The Bible states that Joshua “utterly destroyed with the sword every living thing in it–men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.”  (Joshua 6:21)  On the other hand, the Prophet Muhammad “forbade the killing of women and children.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.4, Book 52, #258)

Addendum II:

The historicity of the Biblical account–of Moses, Joshua, and the Exodus/Conquest–is discussedhere.

Addendum III:

My intention in writing this article is not to bash Judaism or Christianity, but rather to refute a common argument raised by Islamophobes. To fully understand why I wrote this article, make sure you’ve read this: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

Update I:

I cannot reiterate enough how much I really, really didn’t want to write this article because I know it could offend Jewish and Christian readers–but I simply do not see how I can convincingly refute theIslamophobic argument without doing it this way.

Warrior Prophet: Moses or Muhammad?

Warrior Prophet: Moses or Muhammad?

This article is part 1 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.

The video of anti-Muslim bigots jeering at mosque-goers in Orange County has now gone viral.  Amongst those who sponsored the hateful event were two extremist Zionist Jews, namely Pamela Geller and Rabbi David Eliezrie.  It was also sponsored by ACT! for America, a fervently pro-Israeli group with heavy Christian Zionist overtones.  The link between Zionism and Islamophobia is well-established.

As can be seen from the video, one of the principal ways these “Israeli-firsters”  try to hurt Muslims is by insulting Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.  In particular, they criticize Muhammad as being warlike and violent.  The fact that their religious founder was belligerent explains why Muslims today are, or so the argument goes.

Yet, Moses–the prophet of Judaism and the principal figure of the religion–was far more warlike and violent than Muhammad.  We know this from the Hebrew Bible, which is considered Judaism’s most sacred scripture and respected by Christians as the Old Testament.  (The Biblical verses we will examine will also show us why the Bible is far more violent than the Quran.)  Could the violent nature of Moses explain the belligerence of the modern day state of Israel and its supporters?

According to the Bible, a Jewish prophet by the name of Moses arose in Egypt.  He liberated his people from bondage, and together they fled Egypt to the “promised land.”  The promised land was a place called Canaan (Palestine). This journey from Egypt to Canaan was known as the Exodus.

It might help to glance at a map:

So the Hebrews fled Egypt and traveled to Canaan.

But they hit a small snag. There were already people living in Canaan. These natives are referred to in the Bible as “The Seven Nations.” (Not to be a stickler, but there were actually more than seven nations.) Here is what the tribes looked like before the Israelites arrived:

To resolve this dilemma, God ordered the Israelites to exterminate all the inhabitants of Canaan (men, women, and children) and to take their land. The God of the Bible commanded Moses and his followers:

Deuteronomy 20:17 You must utterly destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you.

The God of the Bible threatened the people of Palestine/Canaan with catastrophe (nakba):

Exodus 15:14 The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestine.

15: 15 Then, the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the might men of Moab, trembling shall take hold on them, all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.

15:16 Terror and dread shall fall on them; by the greatness of your arm they shall be as still as a stone; till your people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which you have purchased.

15:17 You shall bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance.

In other words, God “purchased” the land that the natives lived on, and He would give it as “inheritance” to the Israelite conquerors. It should be clear that the words “all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away” refers to genocide, a point which we will subsequently be made clearer.

The Aradites were one group of peoples that inhabited Canaan, the land which the God of Israel had promised the Israelites. The Israelites marched towards them:

Numbers 33:40 At that time the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev in the land of Canaan, heard that the people of Israel were approaching his land.

One Biblical commentary explains that the Aradite king “heard of the coming of the children of Israel, towards the land of Canaan, in order to possess it, and he came out and fought with them.” The king had some initial success:

21:1 He attacked the Israelites and captured some of them.

Ancient Israel responded with even more brutality than the modern day state of Israel does:

21:2 Then Israel made this vow to the LORD: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.”

21:3 The LORD heard the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites; then they utterly destroyed them and their cities. Thus the name of the place was called Hormah [Utter Destruction].

The word Hormah literally translates to “Ban”, because it means that there is a ban on all living things. As we shall see, the Israelites slaughtered men, women, children, cattle, sheep, donkeys, and anything that breathed. The word “Hormah” is often translated by Biblical commentators as “Utter Destruction.”

After annihilating the Aradites, Moses and the Israelites then turned their attention to the Amorites. The God of the Bible commanded the faithful to conquer the Amorite land of Heshbon:

Deuteronomy 2:24 Then the LORD said, “Now get moving! Cross the Arnon Gorge. Look, I will hand over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and I will give you his land. Attack him and begin to occupy the land.

2:25 This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”

The Israelites requested King Sihon to pass through his land. Sihon naturally refused, as he had heard reports of what the Israelites had done to his neighbors. When Sihon refused the request, the order was given to attack him:

2:30 But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the Lord your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands, as he has now done.

2:31 The Lord said to me, “See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his country over to you. Now begin to conquer and possess his land.”

Of course, every nation-state has a right to deny entry of foreigners into its territory. If, for example, the Iranian army requested permission to pass through Israel, would Iran have justification to attack Israel if the request was refused? King Sihon’s denial of the request is all the more reasonable when we consider that (1) the king knew that the Israelites were bent on conquering his land, and (2) the peoples of that region had “hear[d] reports of you [Israelites]” that made them “tremble and be in anguish.”

In any case, after furnishing themselves with a moral justification to invade Heshbon, Moses and the Israelites proceeded to kill the king of Heshbon and all his people:

2:33 The Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army.

2:34 At that time we took all his cities and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors.

2:35 But the livestock and the plunder from the towns we had captured we carried off for ourselves.

Multiple cities and their populations were completely annihilated:

2:36 From Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the city in the gorge, even as far as Gilead, not one city was too strong for us. The Lord our God gave us all of them.

King Sihon and his people, the Amorites of Heshbon, were ethnically cleansed. The Israelites then moved on to King Og and his people, the Amorites of Bashan. The God of the Bible commanded the Israelites to “do to him what you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites”, i.e. annihilate them:

Numbers 21:34 The LORD said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of Og, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites who reigned in Heshbon.”

21:35 So they killed him and his sons and all his people, until there was none left to him alive, and they possessed his land.

Moses and the Israelites then massacred the inhabitants of sixty different cities:

Deuteronomy 3:3 So the Lord our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors.

3:4 At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them—the whole region of Argob, Og’s kingdom in Bashan.

3:5 All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages.

3:6 We completely destroyed them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city—men, women and children.

3:7 But all the livestock and the plunder from their cities we carried off for ourselves.

In fact, the Bible repeatedly sanctions the genocide of natives:

20:16 In the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.

20:17 You must utterly destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you.

The next verse explains why “you must utterly destroy” them:

20:18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

The Bible advocates genocide of the adherents of other religions, due to the fear that the believers may convert. This becomes very clear when we consider the way Moses and the God of the Bible deal with the Mobaites and Midianites. Some women from the Moabites and Midianites partook in consensual sexual relations with Israelite men. After cohabitating with idolatrous women, the Israelite men were affected by the Moabite and Midianite religion and culture. Eventually, these men started worshiping Ba’al Pe’or, the local god of the Moabites and Midianites. This earned the Israelites the wrath of God:

Numbers 25:1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women,

25:2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods.

25:3 So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

God then sent a plague down upon the people of Israel, which was only lifted after one of the Israelites murdered a Midianite woman:

25:6 Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

25:7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand

25:8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them—through the Israelite and into the woman’s body. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped;

25:9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.

25:10 The Lord said to Moses,

25:11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them.

25:12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him.

25:13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

In verse 25:15, we learn that Cozbi was the name of the Midianite woman who was murdered. This “honor killing” placated God’s anger, and God blessed the killer and his descendants with “a covenant of lasting priesthood.” God did, however, command Moses and the Israelites to massacre the Midianites:

25:16 The Lord said to Moses,

25:17 “Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them,

25:18 because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of Peor.”

The above verse makes it clear why God commanded Moses and the Israelites to kill the Midianites: because of the “affair of Peor” (i.e. the idolatrous women having consensual sexual relations with the Israelite men and the subsequent idol worship) and Cozbi (the woman who had sexual relations with an Israelite man).

And so God commanded Moses to attack the Midianites:

31:1 The Lord said to Moses,

31:2 “Avenge the people of Israel of the Midianites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”

31:3 So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the Lord’s vengeance on them.

31:4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.”

And:

31:7 They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man.

31:8 Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.

31:9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder.

31:10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps.

31:11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals,

31:12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest…

The Jewish followers of Moses killed every man, and took the women and children as slaves. They then returned to Moses, but he became upset at them for not killing the women and children as well. Only the young virgins fit to be sex slaves were to be kept alive:

31: 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.

31:15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them.

31:16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people.

31:17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man,

31:18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

Then God discusses how to divide up the spoils of war:

31:25 The Lord said to Moses,

31:26: “You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured.

31:27 Divide the spoils between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community.

31:28 From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the Lord one out of every five hundred, whether persons, cattle, donkeys, sheep or goats.”

This last verse seems to justify human sacrifices to God “as tribute for the Lord.” The next few verses bear this out:

31:32 The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep,

31:33 72,000 cattle,

31:34 61,000 donkeys

31:35 and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.

31:36 The half share of those who fought in the battle was: 337,500 sheep,

31:37 of which the tribute for the Lord was 675;

31:38 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the Lord was 72;

31:39 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the Lord was 61;

31:40 16,000 people, of which the tribute for the Lord was 32.

As for the Moabites, they avoided the wrath of Israel for a short period of time before they were ultimately decimated. That task was carried out by David, one of Moses’ divinely chosen successors (and a prophet of Judaism in his own right). The faithful massacred two-thirds of the Moabites and took the remaining one-third as dhimmis perpetual serfs:

2 Samuel 8:2 David also conquered the land of Moab. He made the people lie down on the ground in a row, and he measured them off in groups with a length of rope. He measured off two groups to be executed for every one group to be spared. The Moabites who were spared became David’s subjects and paid him tribute money.

Some Biblical commentaries argue that two-thirds of the Moabite population was slaughtered while others argue that only the soldiers were. In any case, the Moabites were subjected to dhimmitudeperpetual serfdom and were forced to pay jizya tribute. But eventually the Moabites revolted against this tributary tax:

2 Kings 3:4 King Mesha of Moab was a sheep breeder. He used to pay the king of Israel an annual tribute of 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams.

3:5 But after Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.

The Israelites, with the blessing of Elisha (another Jewish prophet), mobilized three large armies to stamp out the rebellion. The people of Moab attempted to defend themselves:

3:21 Now all the Moabites had heard that the three armies had come to fight against them; so every man, young and old, who could bear arms was called up and stationed on the border.

The Moabites were vanquished and slaughtered:

3:24 The Israelites invaded the land and slaughtered the Moabites.

3:25 They destroyed the towns, and each man threw a stone on every good field until it was covered. They stopped up all the springs and cut down every good tree. Only [the fortress of] Kir Hareseth was left with its stones in place, but men armed with slings surrounded it and attacked it as well.

The Israelites then called off the siege with the result that a few Moabites survived. The Moabites were finally destroyed altogether in 2 Chronicles 20, although the actual narration is a bit difficult to follow.

The Biblical Moses was thus responsible for the massacre and genocide of several populations. These included the people of Arad, Heshbon (and her surrounding cities), Bashan (including at least sixty cities), and the Midianites. Before he passed away, Moses was very disappointed that he couldn’t complete the ethnic cleansing of the land. He wanted to take part in the genocide of those living past the Jordan:

3:23 At that time I [Moses] pleaded with the Lord:

3:24 “O Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?

3:25 Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”

God rejected Moses’ plea and declared:

3:28 “But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.”

And so, the job of genocide was divinely passed on from Moses to his successor, Joshua.

Addendum I:

The wars of Muhammad will be addressed in a subsequent part of the Understanding Jihad Series, which will directly refute chapter 1 (Muhammad: Prophet of War) of Robert Spencer’s book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).

However, it would be helpful to point out the most striking difference between Moses and Muhammad in this regard. Moses targeted and killed civilians–women, children, babies, and the infirm elderly.  Moses ordered his soldiers: “Kill all the boys[,] and kill every woman” (Numbers 31:17), an order which is an oft-repeated imperative in the Bible.  Meanwhile, Muhammad explicitly forbade targeting civilians on numerous occasions, saying:  “Do not kill an infirm old man, an infant, a child, or a woman.” (Sunan Abu Dawood, book 14, #2608)

Addendum II:

It could be argued that the life and wars of Moses are of questionable historicity, and that secular scholarship would doubt the accuracy of Jewish scriptural sources.  Yet, this argument is nullified by the fact that the life and wars of Muhammad are similarly subject to questionable historicity.  The primary sources of Muhammad’s life and wars come almost exclusively from the Islamic scriptural sources and tradition, namely “(1) casual allusions in the Qur’an and (2) oral traditions”.  More neutral non-Muslim sources from the seventh century are scant, and at most confirm the existence of Muhammad and very basic data.  Writes Professor Solomon Alexander Nigosian on p.6 of Islam: Its History, Teaching, and Practices:

The attempt to separate the historical from the unhistorical elements in the available sources has yielded few, if any, positive results regarding the figure of Muhammad or the role he played in Islam. The predicament faced by modern scholars is perhaps best stated by Harald Motzki:

At present, the study of Muhammad, the founder of the Muslim community, is obviously caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, it is not possible to write a historical biography of the Prophet without being accsued of using the sources uncritically, while on the other hand, when using the sources critically, it is simply not possible to write such a biography.

In order to construct narratives of Muhammad’s wars, one must rely on the Islamic scriptural sources and tradition (the same ones which Islamophobes use to criticize Islam).  It seems only reasonable and fair then to compare Muhammad with the Moses derived from the Jewish scriptural sources and tradition.  And in this light, Moses does not stack up well against Muhammad.

Addendum III:

Those who are familiar with my writing know very well that the intent here is not at all to “bash” Moses or Judaism, but rather to give the haters a taste of their own medicine in order that they realize the error in their ways.  In particular, the goal is to show that the absurd standard Islam is held to–or anything related to Islam (Muhammad, Allah, the Quran, Sharia, Muslims, Muslim-majority countries, etc.)–is unfair, a fact that becomes painfully obvious when applied in a similar way to a Jewish/Christian/ analogue.

Addendum IV:

Many of the counter-arguments raised by our opponents will be addressed in further editions of this series.  I initially had planned on releasing the entire Understanding Jihad Series as one mega-article.  Having realized that this would be well over one hundred pages long, I decided to heed the advice of LW readers who requested that my articles be split into parts so as to be easier to digest.  This decision comes with the regret that many of my responses to the trite counter-arguments I know the Islam-bashers are itching to use will be published at a later date.