Hayim Leiter
Rabbi, mohel, misader kiddushin, beit din member

A handshake and a smile

The International Judo Federation imposed an indefinite ban on Iran’s national Judo team until it ends its long-running boycott of Israel. The IJF’s disciplinary commission said the ban will stand “until the Iran Judo Federation gives strong guarantees and prove[s] that they will respect the IJF statutes [which includes bowing to an opponent] and accept that their athletes fight against Israeli athletes.” What’s mind-boggling here is while the majority of the world mishandles Israel’s detractors, of all things, the International Judo Federation gets it and there’s a good reason why.

When I was in middle school, I spent a year studying the art of Judo. I remember next to nothing about the experience. But like all martial arts there are a linty of rules. These rules are not just for safety but also for etiquette. A good example is the constant bowing. To an outsider, this may seem like a perfunctory act, but it is meant to instill respect for one’s teacher and even one’s opponent.

We Jews understand the value of bowing. Even in my days of yore, well before I became observant and an Orthodox rabbi, I knew that Jews don’t bow down to anything or anyone except God. So partaking in this ritual in my Judo class seemed a bit odd, but I did as I was told.

When the news of the ban broke I realized something. The IJF acted decisively with the Iranian team because it has rules of engagement and standards of practice. If you don’t abide by them then you’re out. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes rules in sporting competitions are arbitrary. Such as double dribbling in basketball. But that is not the case here. The respect for one’s teacher and opponent are part of an unbroken tradition dating back hundreds of years. And the respect for tradition is exactly why they ‘get it’.

The majority of the world, led by the left-wing US political parties, has all but lost its mind. The world used to have rules of engagement. Both the conservatives and liberals used to be able to identify right and wrong and if world leaders or countries crossed the line in the sand, we wouldn’t stand for it. They’d be out. But the left has bought the ‘underdog’ narrative of the alined Arab world, hook line, and sinker. Rules of engagement no longer apply. If you’ve somehow been (even fictitiously) maligned by a more powerful entity, then you deserve pity and a pass to carry out any atrocity you deem fit.

This empathy card is a deceptive tactic and the Torah warned against it in Parashat Mishpatim when it states:

לֹ֥א תַטֶּ֛ה מִשְׁפַּ֥ט אֶבְיֹנְךָ֖ בְּרִיבֽוֹ׃

You shall not subvert the rights of your needy in their disputes.

I’m not much for blindly quoting verses and pointing fingers. But this seems to be where the left is faltering and where the IJF is, unintentionally, shining a beacon of light unto the world. We are meant to judge all cases fairly, unequivocally. We are not meant to get wrapped up in the background story — just to look at the individual’s actions and discern if they’ve done right or wrong. And just as the IJF has done, we are meant to oust any country who breaks the rules. 

The same applies to the world stage. The new, radical left, led by Bernie Sanders and The Squad, would much rather dialogue with countries such as Iran and decry Israel, the only democracy in the region, to be the source of all problems. But the line in the sand has long since been crossed. Threatening the destruction of Israel and the United States (and all democracies worldwide) should be more than enough of a red flag. Our leaders, on all political sides, need to affirm that there are actions and behavior which won’t be tolerated. Iran and the radicalized Arab world are not interested in dialogue or playing by civil rules of engagement and the West needs to be unified in its stance against this. Thankfully we have the International Judo Federation to show us the way.

About the Author
Rav Hayim Leiter is a rabbi, mohel, wedding officiant, and member of a private Beit Din in Israel. He founded Magen HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Efrat with his wife and four children.