This has been reported in a few other places, no doubt you’ve seen it already. But for those who can read Hebrew, I want to make available the excerpts of the pamphlet which have caused (in some circles) righteous horror and (in disconcerting places) yawns of unsurprise.
IDF Chief Rabbi Avi Roznik Rontzki distributed a booklet to soldiers called Go Fight My Fight: A Daily Study Table for the Soldier and Commander in a Time of War, published for Operation Cast Lead. The text borrows the most war mongering traditions of Judaism — of which there seem to be plenty fodder, albeit a selective reading — and teachings from cheif fundamentalist Rabbi Shlomo Aviner. The purpose: “to fill them with yiddishkeit and a fighting spirit.”
Understatement. of. the year. Israeli groups Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence have called for Roznik’s Rontzki’s resignation, and rightfully so. Excerpted pages in JPG and translated quotes below the fold, with the resignation request to Ehud Barack.
It’s worth remembering when confronting this material that this is fringe Judaism, a tiny and ugly hole within which the worst of our people festers, the same ugliness that can be found in any people. But the problem is, this is our people. And I will work to end this type of Judaism the same as I will this type of Islam, Christianity, or anything else.
And for those who are upset that I post ugly material like this, I’ll explain why next post.
Select quotes, courtesy of Yesh Din and Breaking the Silence
“When you show mercy to a cruel enemy you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers.”
“[There is] a biblical ban on surrendering a single millimeter of it [the Land of Israel] to gentiles, though all sorts of impure distortions and foolishness of autonomy, enclaves and other national weaknesses. We will not abandon it to the hands of another nation, not a finger, not a nail of it.”
“The Palestinians claim they deserve a state here, when in reality there was never a Palestinian or Arab state within the borders of our country.” (Quote from Aviner.)
“A comparison [between Palestinians and the Biblical Philistines] is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land … They invaded the Land of Israel, a land that did not belong to them and claimed political ownership over our country … Today the problem is the same. The Palestinians claim they deserve a state here, when in reality there was never a Palestinian or Arab state within the borders of our country. Moreover, most of them are new and came here close to the time of the War of Independence.”
“When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers. ‘A la guerre comme a la guerre.’ ”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak
By fax 03-697-6218
Chief of Gen. Staff
Lieut. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi
By fax 03-569-8296
Re: My client Yesh Din — demand to dismiss Chief Military Rabbi Brig. Gen. Avi Rontzki
1. I am writing to you on behalf of my client, Yesh Din, a human rights organization acting to strengthen the rule of law and defend human rights in the territories occupied by the State of Israel.
2. My client recently received a booklet published by the Chief Military Rabbinate, the Jewish Awareness Department. The book was given to my client by members of Breaking the Silence, an organization of former soldiers working to bring credible and accurate information to the Israeli and international public regarding the security forces’ operations in the occupied territories and their treatment of the occupied civilians. According to the testimonies of soldiers provided to members of Breaking the Silence, representatives of the Chief Military Rabbinate distributed the booklet, as well as other written materials, to soldiers in the fighting units before they entered Gaza as part of Operation “Cast Lead.”
3. The booklet, entitled “Go fight my fight: a daily study table for the soldier and commander in a time of war,” is a collection of sermons, questions and answers, and concrete references to the fighting in the Gaza Strip. The booklet is arranged according to the yearly calendar, with a page devoted to each day. The editors of the booklet apparently thought fighting ought to last at least until February 10, and therefore the booklet contains sermons, questions and answers, and messages until that date.
4. The contents of the booklet include political messages on issues bitterly disputed in Israeli society, humiliating and degrading messages bordering on incitement to racism against the Palestinian people, as well as messages that can be interpreted as calls not to act according to the restrictions of the international laws of war.
5. For example, the booklet says the following:
Page 17 (our country):
“[…] But now the commandment of settling our land has come to bear again, as Nachmanides wrote in his comments on Maimonides’ Book of Commandments, Positive Commandments 4, where we are commanded not to abandon our land, not to leave one clump of its soil unsettled, and we are commanded not to leave it in the hands of any other nation but to keep it under our rule, so that our state be in this land, and this land shall be our state, and we shall leave no part of it in the hands of another. We are commanded by the Torah to build our state in it and forbidden by the Torah to give up even one millimeter of it to the Gentiles, in the form of any kind of impure and foolish distortions about autonomy, enclave or any other national weaknesses. We shall not leave it under the control of another people, not even one finger of it, not even a piece of a fingernail.”
Page 61 (is this the country our prophets prophesied?):
“We must be happy with every crumb of redemption. A nation is not born in one day. The Jewish people will not return to its land in one day, nor shall the whole nation fall in love with Judea and Samaria in one day nor in one day will all observe the Sabbath and eat kosher.”
Messages whose purpose is to create contempt towards the Palestinian people:
Page 37 (Philistines/Palestinians):
“Question: can the Palestinians of today be compared to the Philistines of the past? If so, can we learn from the military strategies of Samson and David for our times?
Answer: they can be compared because the Philistines of those days were not native to the land but invaded from a foreign country […] Just like we ascended from Egypt and returned to our land, so did the Philistines escape from Caphtor, from which they were expelled by the Casluhim […] They invaded the land of Israel, a land that was not theirs, and claimed political ownership of our land, as the Gaon of Vilna wrote: ‘The Philistines were very hostile to Israel and allowed them no government and rule.’
Today the problem is identical. The Palestinians claim they deserve a state here, whereas actually there never was here in the boundaries of our land a Palestinian or Arab state, besides the fact that most of them are newcomers who came close to the War of Independence.”
Page 45 (Israel: the heart of the nations):
“We do not want to make all of the nations become the same as the Israeli nation. But we want what is good for them according to their attributes.”
Messages that encourage cruelty in fighting:
Page 66 (self-sacrifice and caution against unnecessary danger):
“[…] As far as possible we must act from a distance in order to spare the lives of our soldiers. Of course we do not seek to spill the blood of the enemy but when there is no choice the blood of our soldiers comes before the blood of our enemies. He who has mercy on the cruel is thereby being cruel to the merciful. When you have mercy on a cruel enemy you are thereby showing cruelty to innocent and honest soldiers. It is a terrible immorality. These are not amusement park games where being a good sport means going easy. This is a war against murderers. And in war like in war.”
Page 67 (cruelty):
“If instead of fighting by the sword the sons of Judah could be taught to use bows and fight from a distance, that would be better. That would be a more sophisticated war in the sense that it would spare the lives of our dear soldiers and not necessarily by being merciful towards the evil enemy. To the contrary, sometimes from a distance the enemy can be obliterated more easily than from close up, with a sword and so on. Cruelty is a bad quality but it all depends when. The sages have said one must not be merciful towards the cruel.
Our master Rabbi Kook said real men of morals are not satisfied with preaching the good but fight against the evil (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 808). Therefore our holy forefathers sometimes fought cruelty against their enemies because that was the only way to fight against them (Igrot HaRe’iyah 1, p. 100). Maimonides repeats several times that one must not be enticed by the folly of the Gentiles who have mercy for the cruel (Guide for the Perplexed). That is the rule: cruelty is a bad attribute but when it is necessary it is a good attribute (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 428).”
6. It is hard to say which of the quotes cited above is the worst. They are all grave, they are all an exploitation by the Chief Military Rabbi of his status and the free access he has to the IDF soldiers, to preach a nationalist ideology and garner support for a particular political worldview.
7. The booklet is a collection of quotes from the books of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, one of the prominent spokesmen of religious Zionism and followers of the Greater Land of Israel, and the quotes relate to political issues surrounding/regarding the importance of settling the land of Israel and the prohibition against giving up its land.
8. As you know well, a basic principle of our legal and constitutional system is that the IDF is not allowed to be involved in politically controversial questions and that its officers are prohibited from expressing political positions. In this case, the Chief Military Rabbi, who is a settler from the settlement of Itamar, and until whose appointment as Chief Military Rabbi served as head of the yeshiva at Itamar, which the best of our knowledge is an illegal outpost called elevation point 664, has blatantly violated those basic principles and gravely exploited his status and powers.
9. Beyond the violation of the aforementioned principle of political neutrality, the booklet incites soldiers not to show mercy toward enemy civilians, and states that “when it is necessary [cruelty] is a good attribute.” That of course contradicts the basic principles of the laws of war and to the best of our judgment also contradicts the principles of Jewish morality in the name of which the Chief Military Rabbi is supposedly speaking.
10. My client’s position is that the actions of the Chief Military Rabbi stain the entire IDF and are so serious that there is no choice but to dismiss him from his office. Acquiescence by the IDF with a Chief Military Rabbinate that forces upon its soldiers an extreme right-wing discourse and messages that border on incitement to racism will compound the damage Rabbi Rontzki has already done.
11. Therefore, on behalf of my client, I ask you to order the immediate dismissal of the Chief Military Rabbi.
12. Likewise we also ask you to instruct all of the authorized parties in the Military Rabbinate to shelve the remaining copies of the booklet that is the subject of this letter and to immediately stop distributing any written material from the Rabbinate to soldiers, until there is a comprehensive probe into the publications of the “Jewish awareness department.”
13. I would appreciate your expedited action and response to my letter so that I may advise my client as to their legal options.
Michael Sfard, Attorney