Rabbi Ingram. One of my non-Jewish work colleagues is bugging me about the Gaza incursion. He asks why Israel always seeks revenge against its enemies and is it part of our “eye for eye” philosophy? How should I best answer him? Cheers, Tony.
Jews are not permitted to seek revenge. (Lev. 19:18). Jews seek justice. Revenge involves human emotions which can overspill, and therefore cannot be squared with justice. The Hebrew word for revenge is nekama. Applied to G-D it means “retribution”. Li nakam ve-shileim says G-D. “Mine is retribution and requital!” (Deut 32:25). Only G-D is capable of applying or directing “payback” in exact and appropriate measures.
If we were to seek revenge against Hamas, we would storm Gaza and behead women and children, gouge out eyes from sockets and tear limb from limb. The IDF has never engaged in such atrocities and never will!
I deal extensively with the issue of “eye for eye”, in an essay An Eye For A Lie in my first book Fragments of the Hammer. This biblical phrase has never been taken literally as our Sinaitic oral tradition interprets it as meaning individualised judicial assessment of fair monetary compensation for a limb consonant with the severity and magnitude of the loss. No other interpretation can be equitable.
Tell your work colleague that we have no “eye for eye” philosophy and that any suggestion to the contrary – such as the portrayal of Shakespeare’s Jewish caricature Shylock (had Shakespeare ever even met a Jew? he died in 1616 and Jews were not readmitted to England until forty years later!) – is nothing but a false anti-Semitic stereotype.
Explain to your colleague calmly and dispassionately that the operation Israel is carrying out in Gaza presently has absolutely nothing to do with revenge, retaliation or, for that matter, punishment, collective or otherwise (as sections of the media mischievously suggest) but has to do only with self-preservation. As the late Golda Meir famously said “if the Arabs were to lay down their arms there would be no more war; if Israel was to lay down its weapons there would be no more Israel!”
The events of this past month have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the murderous terrorists of Hamas pose an existential threat to the life of every Jew in Israel (a vulnerable country less than one-third the size of Tasmania!) It is an imperative of pikuakh nefesh (the need to protect human life) that Hamas be eliminated. The world self-righteously preaches “proportionality” and “restraint” either because they harbour the sort of antisemitic stereotypes mentioned above or – more charitably – because they imagine Israel as so strong as to be invincible. What happened a fortnight ago ought to have taught them otherwise.
Help your colleague to understand that even in a just war, sadly innocent lives are lost. Had the Allies not been single-minded about winning WW2, had they instead shown “restraint”, the “thousand-year Reich” the Nazis boasted about would have become a reality. Most regretfully, the futures of the few (even captives) sometimes have to be risked for the maintenance of the many.
When Hamas is eliminated, not only Israeli Jews but all peace-loving Palestinian Arabs too will find their world a safer and better place! And one final thing to tell your colleague: If Hamas is totally wiped out but the hostages aren’t saved, there will be no dancing or singing in Israeli streets. If, on the other hand, Hamas isn’t yet totally eliminated but all the hostages are saved, there will be great rejoicing throughout the Jewish world.
Jews view the destruction of evil only as a means to preserve all that is good!