Deafening Silence

The Rabbis of Israel do not constitute a significant spiritual authority or source of inspiration for me, personally. However, I respect the fact that for many of us they are the go-to authority. Many Israelis consult their rabbi before making significant decisions such as marriage, having children, occupations, etc. Of course, there will always be some people who consult with rabbis about the “deeper” questions in life such as: how to correctly wipe your nose after sneezing on Shabbat.

Since we live in a democracy, each of us has the right to either accept or reject rabbinical authority; however we cannot deny its immense influence our culture and public opinion. Rabbinical rulings can be used as tools to advance peace and dignity or G-d forbid incitement and war. They have the power bring people together or to ignite flames of division and hatred. Unfortunately, the non-religious mainstream media in Israel has not yet realized the importance of using this tool with skill. Two months ago, several days before the violent outbreak of hatred against foreign workers in Israel, we celebrated the Passover, the holiday that commands us to remember that we too were strangers and slaves in Egypt. Not only is the issue of the respect for the stranger a central theme in Passover, these events were taking place during the counting of the Omer.

In my naivety, I was expecting to hear rabbis condemning these attacks and calling for introspection, reminding us that we were strangers once too and to instructing us to treat those living among us with respect. I was disappointed when I did not hear any rabbis using their authority to speak out against the violence and hate speech to calm the public. That is when I decided to write this Op-Ed titled “Deafening Silence”, with the intent of challenging the apparent indifference of the rabbinic community.

Out of fairness and a desire to present accurate facts, I decided to carry out a quick online research – the results were fascinating. To my surprise, I found many rulings, statements and publications by rabbis in Israel condemning hatred towards foreign workers and calling for them to be treated with respect. I found for example, the Head of the Petach Tikva Yeshiva, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, recommending hosting foreign workers in settlements as a way for individuals to “open up to the poor, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the temple, national duties, etc..”

Likewise, Rabbi Benny Lau, from the Ramban community in Jerusalem, argues that the government of Israel ought to be “tough on the outside and soft on the inside” – meaning that Israel should enforce its immigration laws, but at the same time take care of those who are currently in Israel because they are “a part of the human family”. I found these wonderful remarks from Rabbi Moshe Yehudai: “Being the majority in Israel, we cannot allow racist remarks to be made toward non-Jews, whether they are citizens, Palestinians, refugees and migrant workers; inflammatory statements find practical expression in riots and demonstrations the end result of which is unknown. Regretfully, those who take the most pride in the observation of their traditions ignore many of commandments of the Torah, contradicting them with their words and actions.” After reading the encouraging statements above, I noticed that the religious communities were not out in large numbers demonstrating against the foreign workers. This discovery made me wonder why the mainstream media has chosen not to report these examples of positive rabbinic opinions. Instead, there was so much media attention on the indictment against Rabbi Shapira for his book “Torah of the King”, in which he justifies violence against non-Jews in certain situations. Even within the religious community, it appears that this opinion is drastic and extreme. Why do the media only publish the dark side of rabbinical rulings? I see the decision not to publish the positive and helpful statements of the rabbis as an expression of bigotry and prejudice in and of itself. Indeed, this is the true “deafening silence”.

By the way, in my opinion the commandment to honor the stranger among us does not obligate us to grant residency to illegal immigrants. We should respect the rule of law and deport those who have infiltrated into Israel illegally. However, this commandment does obligate us to refrain from inciting hatred against anyone, but rather to be respectful, polite and allow the Police (and only the Police) to do their job.

About the Author
Calev Michael Myers is the Deputy President of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (IAJLJ) and serves as one of their Representatives before the UN in Geneva and New York. He is also a Senior Partner at Yehuda Raveh & Co. Law Offices (YR&Co.) and a member of the World Jewish Congress Jewish Diplomatic Corps (WJC JDCorps). The opinions expressed in Calev's blogs may not necessarily reflect the opinions of the IAJLJ, YR&Co or WJC JDCorps.