Daniel Landes

Broken Moral Compass

Gaza stops your moral compass. Hamas’ concrete reinforced premeditation to kill Jews takes one’s breath away. They were not kidding when they promised us to open the gates of Hell to all who entered. What they did not tip us off about was that Gaza City was not only the dining room of the Devil’s minions, but that they offered home delivery tunneling to your kibbutz to offer pop-overs. Yum!

So our moral compass creaked southward as the nation followed a slow build-up, ceaseless airstrikes, incursion leading to destruction of the channels and neutralization of the rockets’ capacity to severely threaten Tel Aviv. The Jewish moral compass does not only work on the basis of gravitational magnetic pull and repulsion – we are attracted to finding a safe way out of this, as we are personally repelled by our enemies. European anti-Israeli protesters who talk of Hamas Heroism, which strikes us as an oxymoron that makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up. But the true mechanism of the Jewish moral compass is not some objective push and pull of laws of political “science”, as important as all that is. We are Jews so we have to use our brains, but at the same time we can’t keep telling ourselves that we are completely objective.

Actually Jewish moral compass really works on a passionate and engaged empathy. We place ourselves in the situation of another and inhabit their realm of choice and decision making. My moral compass is deficient in that living in Jerusalem I am not directly threatened, as much as my Abu Tur neighbors down the block engage in “spontaneous” semi-violent demonstrations, to demonstrate their allegiance. So first off, I need to think of all the soldiers in Gaza and on the border. My own compass is hardly objective – I say psalms for a few IDF combatants, especially Daniel my Kollel student lone soldier, who at the old age of 28 is called Saba (granddad) by his regiment. All I want is for him to come home safely and marry his brilliant, classy classmate girlfriend and become an Abba (dad)! I’d have IDF do anything to make that happen. Our soldiers were not ordered to strike a stake into the very heart of the Hamas Vampire, but they are not allowed to falter. Maimonides formulates it best that one who hesitates in war sheds the innocent blood of his fellow Israelites. This clear message comes down from the ages and has been internalized by the IDF.

Our moral compass next expands to all areas in the south that can’t live a meaningful life while constantly threatened. We would also eventually flee, as 300,000 have; and not all of them will return. Why should they stay unless they are protected? And we can put our moral compass to work in other areas of the country, as we think of our people.

You know the next degree on this navigation: the Palestinians – yes I didn’t say Palestinian People because this is not an objective or ideological statement: I refer to people with no capital ‘p’. What is our moral compass to make of them? When I say People with a capital ‘p’ I have no problem, for they brought this particular war in Gaza largely upon themselves (with yes the help of our own extremists and the ineptitude of our political leadership). The Palestinian People had options other than beating building materials into murder delivery systems. But when I speak about people lowercase, my moral compass just stops. What options and choices do they have? Do I expect them to rise up and depose their masters? Ridiculous. Would I in their place say anything, do anything to save my family? Of course I would. But they can’t do much.

Our compass once shaken into use swings wildly before it is ready to settle on doing “everything it takes” to stop Hamas. Of course it eventually will settle on that course again, as we have a natural proclivity to save our own lives. That is certainly a moral position, but it is not the only one. Before the compass settles we need to consider what it means to inhabit that space of innocents. That means a commitment that even before this is over to begin to fulfill Maimonides’ dictum to “call for peace before any war, defensive or optional.” And doing “everything it takes” to make peace, including banding with our tacit allies in this war – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, UAE and the PA for a solution that offers people (lower case) hope and a People (capital “P”) a future. Our Daniels won’t lead a normal life unless theirs have that chance. If not, then our hands will be wet with the blood of our own soldiers; our belief in the Deus ex Machina of the supposedly supremely magnetic Iron Dome and other technologies will be revealed as idolatrous, the “power of our own hands” will wither and our compass will permanently point Due South to our own moral Hell.

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Landes is founder and director of Yashrut, building civil discourse through a theology of integrity, justice, and tolerance. Yashrut includes a semikhah initiative as well as programs for rabbinic leaders.