Gevald! My Rabbis Are Failing Me!

“When you are halachic decisors, teachers and rabbis,  you will need to know all of the halachic argumentation that we have said, but also to cry out this ‘Gevald’ that the previous generations did not yell… An arab woman, a mother of 9, was killed by a rock that crushed her skull thrown at her car, and this is not what is being discussed…What happened to this woman by someone from our community, something that we all should have torn our garments in mourning about- this is not being discussed!”

These powerful words were part of a lecture that should be required viewing for every aspiring rabbi, delivered by Rabbi Yaakov Medan, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, which I am proud to call my alma mater.

But before Rav Medan can expect any of his students, and I count myself among them, to act based on these words, he needs to ask himself if he, and the current generation of Torah leaders, are providing us with the necessary role modelling.

For the last 2 years, I have been searching for rabbinic leaders who would cry out ‘Gevald’ over the death of not one mother of 9, but of literally hundreds of thousands of innocent women, men and children, who have been killed by forces supported, armed, and trained by Israelis, working for Israeli companies, with licenses issued by the Israeli authorities. For the last 40 years, Israeli weapons have been sold, with the knowledge and approval of Israeli authorities, to South American dictators in the 70s and 80s, to the perpetrators of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 90s.


And while Israeli regulation has increased and improved in the last decade, this didn’t stop Israeli weapons from being sold to South Sudan and Myanmar (Burma) in recent years. In fact, while the leaders of these countries are under investigation for crimes against humanity and genocide by the international community, they enjoy a warm diplomatic embrace from our political leaders. At the very time that Burmese forces were involved in an operation which murdered tens of thousands, and caused more than 700,000 refugees, in an attempt to “cleanse” their territory of the Rohingya community, the Israeli Foreign Ministry signed an education agreement with the Burmese government, agreeing to teach only their version of the facts about the genocide they were committing.


Regular human rights atrocities are being committed by a unit in Cameroon known as the “Israeli unit” because they not only bear Israeli weapons, but have a long tradition of being trained by alumni of the elite Duvdevan unit. Young men who risked their lives to protect us in one of our most elite and selective units are offered tens of thousands of shekels a month to train soldiers who shoot babies in the head in cold blood.


The President of the Phillipines, Rodrigo Duterte, in a press conference with President Rivlin, proudly declared that he is interested in buying only Israeli weapons, because Israel does not limit him in their use like the United States and China do. Duterte is responsible for a “war on drugs” which has involved the murder of 15,000 civilians without trial in the last 2 years.

It is true that, with enough prodding, there have been a small number of rabbis who have been willing to have meetings about this, to write articles or Facebook posts condemning this, and calling it a great desecration of God’s name, to speak out and even to attend protests. Most have been too involved in what Rav Medan calls ‘pilpula de’oraita’, halachic sophistry, considering whether providing murderers with weapons is a rabbinic or torah prohibition, to what extent these prohibitions apply to non-Jews, and whether a Talmudic dispensation is available in any case in which these transactions in some way protect or help us.

But no one has been willing to cry ‘Gevald’. Not Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, Rav Shlomo Aviner, Rav Yaakov Ariel, or Rav Chayim Druckman, the ‘elders of the community’, who have all agreed, in writing or conversation, that this is a travesty. Not Rav Reem HaCohen, Rav Yoel bin Nun, Rav Yaakov Medan, Rav Moshe Lichtenstein, Rav Yuval Scherlow, or Rav Benny Lau. A month ago, in a political reality in which the Religious Zionist party was an influential force in the government, a real, concerted cry of ‘Gevald’ might very well have created the pressure necessary to pass a law that was on the table that would establish moral limits on weapons exports.

But while that political window has, tragically, closed, the responsibility to cry out remains. And I am waiting for my teachers to model it.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.