Perry Raphael Rank

Moral courage and the blessing of Abram the Hebrew

Whenever we face a moral issue, principles like honesty, fairness, respect, or kindness, help us answer what to do. Two people may come up with very different answers as to how to resolve an issue so it is important to understand how they arrived at their decision. In truth, the rationale behind the decision is as important, if not more than the actual decision itself. When it comes to evil, ethical debates can be quite spirited precisely because evil is so often dressed subtly. And that’s what makes the Israel-Hamas war different. On October 7, 2023, Hamas did not merely trespass a border, it crossed a line. Among the horrors of war is collateral damage, the harm caused to non-military facilities and far worse—non-combatants. But on October 7, Hamas’ aim was the specific destruction of non-military targets and the capture, rape, murder, and mutilation of civilians. That’s not war; that’s terror. There should be no question that the Hamas action of that day was unprovoked evil. And yet many people who ought to know better do question that. Excuses are already being made, rationalizations as to why such an attack was inevitable or even necessary. I am not alone in feeling that the battle for moral clarity has pitted the few against the many, with the many engaged in extraordinary acts of distorted logic and political fantasy. In the absence of an Isaiah or a Jeremiah to set the many straight, let me pick up the burden of pointing out the obvious, because for the many, the obvious apparently isn’t:

  1. Israel could live next door to a Palestinian state, just not one dedicated to its destruction. Hamas’ charter specifically points to the destruction of Israel as a principal objective. Hamas’ charter is the greatest obstacle to Palestinian statehood.
  2. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is no peace slogan. It’s a cheery chant that calls for the slaughter of Jews, and Israelis or Jews who hear it have reason for alarm. An Israeli government that does not take this slogan seriously is derelict in its duty to defend its people.
  3. The Hamas assault on Israel is graphically documented. Far from destroying evidence, Israel recovered body cam video that Hamas operatives recorded of the atrocities in progress. Hamas’ barbarism against Palestinians who oppose them is well-documented and the silence of the international community regarding this overt political oppression has given Hamas license to use terror on anyone it pleases. In other words, Hamas is as much a threat to Palestinians as it is to Israelis. The elimination of such an organization is warranted for everyone’s sake.
  4. Negotiating with a terrorist organization is direct recognition of its political legitimacy. To grant any legitimacy to a terrorist organization is morally indefensible.
  5. Calls for a ceasefire before Hamas is eliminated grants a victory to this terrorist organization which is morally indefensible.
  6. Because Hamas’ assault succeeded in terrorizing Israel, and because the death of innocent people was celebrated by many in Gaza and elsewhere, any objective short of disabling Hamas would be a dereliction of the Israeli government’s duty to protect and defend its people.
  7. The fact that an Israeli assault on Hamas pits a superior military force against a foe of unequal capability is not a moral problem. That fact should have figured into Hamas’ calculations about the advisability of an assault in the first place. Were Hamas beholden to its constituents as Israel is, it would never have initiated such an irrational and foolish action.
  8. An operation designed to rid the world of a terrorist organization should make every effort to minimize civilian casualties. Israel’s call to Gazans to evacuate areas marked for bombing may be imperfect, their choices for relocation limited as they are, but it is the right thing to do. The fact that Hamas has chosen to build its terrorist infrastructure below, above, and adjacent to hospitals, schools, mosques, churches, and residential neighborhoods, turn those areas into legitimate military targets. The United Nations’ silence on Hamas’ building projects, which placed thousands in harm’s way, was a moral dereliction of the first order.
  9. The attempt by Hamas to prevent civilians from leaving targeted areas is morally reprehensible, and part of a well-documented history of using its own citizens as human shields. There is no moral defense of human sacrifice. To the contrary, there is a moral obligation on those who can to put an end to such horrors.
  10. The institutions of higher learning that have offered pallid condemnation of Hamas’ brutal attack have done extraordinary damage to whatever moral authority they may have enjoyed. The academies have failed us.
  11. Hamas has had 13 years to improve the lot of the Gazans and instead, wasted those years, stolen millions in humanitarian aid, jeopardized lives, all on the unachievable, obsessive aim of destroying Israel. The organization has fueled hateful pedagogy about Jews and made martyrs of suicide bombers. Protests in support of Hamas are well-meaning events that doom Palestinians to more incompetent political leadership. Such passionate protests are profoundly misguided.
  12. Finally, the automatic linking of all liberation movements, that is intersectionality, is no more than an egregious suspension of critical thinking. Critical thinkers look for the differences and distinctiveness of groups, chafing at generalizations and railing against oversimplification. Not all liberation movements are worthy of our support and some liberation movements are not liberation movements at all. Hamas hasn’t liberated anyone. Those who would lionize wildly ineffective government keep people who deserve help, helpless.

A fugitive came to Abram the Hebrew (haivri)

who dwelt by Mamre the Amorite’s terebinths…(Genesis 14:13)

The rabbis were curious as to why Abram was referred to as “the Hebrew.” In Hebrew, the term refers to “a side” like the side of a river or the side of a valley. In fact, the Sages thought Abram was “the Hebrew” because he was from “the other side” of the Euphrates. Rabbi Yehudah, however, claimed that Abram was a Hebrew because the entire world was on one side, the side of idolatry, and Abram stood on the opposite side, alone (Genesis Rabbah 42:8).

What may be obvious to us is clearly not obvious to others. That we may be outnumbered does not constitute a flaw in our thinking or arguments. If the many stand on one side, it will take moral courage to stand on the other. Our ancestor, Abraham, stood boldly against idolatry. So do we, for we stand opposed to organizations, ideas, and tactics that, like idolatry, achieve nothing, don’t work, and cannot bring about salvation—for anyone. We are truly Abraham and Sarah’s children.

Some have said that it all feels like the 1930’s, the years of rampant antisemitism. It does, but there’s a difference. Back then, we knew how bad things were, we just didn’t know how bad things could get. Today, we know. We know that the world failed us back then, and so far, the lectures Israel has been subject to have not been encouraging. Some of us are scared, but some of us are really angry. For the angry among us, let’s channel that anger and speak reasoned truth to power. If we are the only one in the room or the home or the club or the field or the theater or the gym or the office or the company that can speak the moral truth, the truth is—

No one gets to murder Jewish babies.

No one gets to rape Jewish women.

No one gets to burn Jewish families alive.

No one gets to kidnap and hold hostage the elderly or toddlers or anyone else for that matter.

And no one who rationalizes this barbarism is qualified to give us any morality lectures.

Even if we are the only one speaking the truth, be clear and be firm, and Abraham our Father, the idol smasher, the Hebrew, will surely bless us from Heaven.

Dedicated to Omer Neutra

one of Midway Jewish Center’s finest,

a happy, loving, smart, principled, courageous, moral, young man,

now held hostage by Hamas.

About the Author
Rabbi Rank was a pulpit rabbi for over 40 years and is presently rabbi emeritus of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, Long Island. He served two other pulpits in Montclair and Springfield, NJ. He was the chair of the Rabbinic Advisory Committee for the Solomon Schechter School of West Orange, NJ and was a member of the Ethics Board of Oyster Bay, Long Island. He was president of the NJ Rabbinical Assembly and between the years 2004-2006, served as the president of the international Rabbinical Assembly. He is co-editor of Moreh Derekh, a life-cycle manual for rabbis and author of A Full-Figured Faith—The Expanding Effects of Doubt and Skepticism on an Evolving Jewish Faith.
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