Ya'aqov Shenkin

Moving to a New Future with a New Voice

Israeli and Palestinian Protestors Clash. Photo credit Ted Eytan/Courtesy of Bao Cali Today/CC BY-SA 2.0
Israeli and Palestinian Protestors Clash. (Ted Eytan/Courtesy of Bao Cali Today/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Since October 7th, few Jews have taken the time to address important and fundamental questions that face us currently, and which will await us following the war:

  • Could the massacres of 7th October have been prevented? If so, how? And what should that mean for our future conduct?
  • How should Jews interact with the international response being overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian, and in many cases dressed in large amounts of antisemitism?

Though initially written in the context of the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, and in reference to the PFLP rather than Hamas, it is the words of Former British Chief Rabbi, HaRav Lord Jakobovits ztz”l that I find most pertinent in answering these questions:

“Another dimension of the loss incurred by the abandonment of Jewish traditional values directly affects the very security of the State… …We should not have left it to gangs of murderous terrorists to draw the world’s attention to [the] stain on humanity [that is the plight of Palestinian refugees]. Had we cried out in protest against the intolerable degradation of hundreds of thousands of human beings inhumanly condemned to rot in wretched camps for a generation, had we aroused the world’s conscience over a tragedy of such magnitude, we might have prevented the growth of a monster organisation which has already destroyed so many innocent lives. Now, with the blessing of the world community, that problem threatens the very existence of Israel more acutely than the Arab armies ever did.” (Jakobovits, 1975)

When describing the modern situation, we must address the same factors present today as Rav Jakobovits identified in the 70s. If one measures by suffering, the plight of Gazans since 2008 has been an even greater “stain on humanity” than that of the conditions of Palestinians living in refugee camps within the Arab world in the 70s. Many had seen the desperate condition of Gaza’s civilians in the years leading up to 7th October. And the 7th October itself led many to research and discover it thereafter. Whilst indeed plagued with a serious problem of misinformation, the internet allowed many to find articles, photos and videos, of the very real suffering and destruction experienced in Gaza, and this has led many of them conclusively away from their sympathy towards Israel. The brutal treatment of the Gazans themselves has only emboldened Hamas in recent years and allowed the “growth of a monster of an organisation which has already destroyed so many innocent lives.”

Rav Jakobovits believed the issues of his time could have been solved with a “cry” of “protest.” And in truth, one can see it as a solution for the issues of our time too.

During my final years of secondary school, a rabbi whom I was (and certainly still feel) incredibly close with introduced me to a rabbinic figure whom he personally admired: HaRav Yehuda Leib Don Yahiya zy”a. In time, Rav Don Yahiya also came to shape my own Jewish perspectives and opinions when relating to the topic of Zionism in particular. In the opening pages of his sefer, Bikkurei Yehuda, Rav Don Yahiya explains the gemarah in Shabbath 77b, which says that the ‘mafgiyah’ instills fear into the lion. Rashi explains that the mafgiyah is a small animal with a loud voice, and Rav Don Yahiya expands on this explaining that just as the mafgiyah can instil fear into the mighty and violent lion with its powerful voice, the Jewish ability to challenge injustice in the world can not and should not be achieved via violence, but rather via protest. (Don Yahiya, 1933) Rav Jakobovits’ belief that a “cry of protest” towards actions undertaken to the detriment of world Jewry, including when undertaken by Israel, is not a weak or naïve capitulation to placate gentiles, but rather the most authentic expression of Jewish values.

Whilst a militaristic framework has existed amongst elements of Orthodox Jewry for millennia, they were each informed by specific cultural, social, historical and economic contexts. The militarism that requires examination today, both amongst Jews and Palestinians, finds its roots in the Israeli disengagement of Gaza in 2005.

The disengagement was enacted amidst the violence of the Second Intifada and decided upon with no negotiations with any Palestinian representative. Hamas capitalised on this context to push a narrative that Israel had been forced out by terrorist violence; a large Hamas banner read: “Four years of resistance beat ten years of negotiation.” A survey by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research claimed 40% of Palestinians believed this line – attributing the withdrawal to the attacks by Hamas and the PIJ. (Mitchell, 2013)

In Israel, however, the pull-out from Gaza was seen as an act committed by the ‘peacenik’ and anti-militarist camp. Thus, all subsequent negative consequences from the disengagement are seen as failures in a lack of militarism in the Israeli state or a violent response to Hamas’ terrorism in the Second Intifada. (Geist-Pinfold, 2023)

As such, both parties gained a stronger belief in the supposed merits of violence and militarism, which has continued to throw us further into the abyss of this conflict.

But militarism and condoning violence is not a Jewish value at all. In a shiur given earlier this year, Mequbal HaRav Avraham Mordechai Gottlieb shlit”a, Rebbe of the Ashlag community in Kiryath Ye’arim and a main talmid of the great Rebbe Baruch Shalom Ashlag, harshly attacked military and violent response as an antidote to the conflict in a manner strongly echoing that of Rav Don Yahiya:

“We need to know that we are to blame for [terror attacks committed by Palestinians]. The Minister of Defence says he will flood the streets with soldiers and everything will be fine – but this is not a solution… …An idiot believes that solutions come with ‘mechanical’ solutions: building fences, [stationing] tanks in Jenin and Umm al-Fahm. But we will not solve anything like this… …the solution is to talk with each other… …our basic conduct needs to be talking with each other… You can bring me proofs [against this position] from here or there but what I am teaching is the opinion of the Qabbalah.” (Birkath Shalom, 2023)

Just as they are not Jewish values, neither is militarism or a propensity towards violence an inherent Palestinian attribute, despite what one may believe after digesting the dizzying spew of racism projected onto social media by far-right, right, and often supposedly centrist Zionists. In times where Israel has made a genuine effort towards peace, the Palestinian public are shown to generally oppose violence. In 1996, when optimism for peace was still high amongst the Palestinian populace, 70% of Palestinians opposed Hamas’ suicide bombing campaign and only 6% of Palestinians declared support for Hamas. (Byman, 2011) In 2023, when hope for the peace process is lost, support for the massacres of 7th October is as high as 72% and support for Hamas at 43% (PCPR, 2023) – a stark reversal of the situation in the 90s.

Much damage has been wrought to any Jewish-Palestinian dialogue in the last 20 years, and much of that damage has been concentrated in these past months. Indeed, amongst the conversations of “what next?” which have been compounding in recent days, many believe that at this point, dialogue is equivalent to suicide. But Hashem will always demand a Nahshon Ben Aminadav in situations like these: trailblazers who are willing to walk into a sea that every other Israelite believes will result in our drowning, because we know it to be the desire of Hashem.

Everyone is aware that a new reality lies ahead beyond the dust clouds of this war, but there is heavy debate over its direction. We have been presented with an opportunity to adopt the Jewish mode of being as the mafgiyah who cries in protest and does not resort to violence, instilling fear into the advocates of violence, and fulfill the will of Hashem that we be a unique and better nation. Or we may continue to follow the ways of nationalism, to fulfill the will of Herzl to be like “all other nations” in aspects both good and evil.

I understand that my pacifism is a marginal phenomenon amongst contemporary Orthodox Jewry. And yet the loneliness of my position does not deter me from my convictions. It is here again that I am reminded of two statements of the late Rav Lord Jakobovits:

“As heirs to the Hebrew Prophets and like them, we must be prepared to expose ourselves to the risk of loneliness, unpopularity and sometimes even derision. They, too, were often ignored and harassed by their contemporaries. Yet their work has remained immortal, and thanks to their reproof and consolation, we are alive whilst others have disappeared.” (Jakobovits, 1977) Conversely, “[Many] Rabbis [and Jewish leaders] will be indicted before the bar of heaven and history for Jewish national aberrations compounded by their silence”. (Jakobovits, 1984)

It is my sincere belief, that just as the wanton idolatry of first-Temple Israelites and Jews is a source of confusion and unrelatability for Jews of the present, and the religion of the prophets reigns supreme amongst Orthodox Jewry, the wanton militarism and nationalism of Jews of today will be a source of confusion and unrelatability for the messianic generation, as the will of Hashem, and the promised son of Yishai reigns upon all mankind.

References (in order of appearance):

Jakobovits, Immanuel. (1975) “To Be Equal or to Be Different: A Reassessment of Israel’s Role in the Contemporary Jewish Condition.” European Judaism: A Journal for the New Europe, vol. 10, no. 1. p.10

Don Yahiya, Yehuda Leib (1933). “Bikkurei Yehuda”

Mitchell, Thomas G. (2013). “Israel/Palestine and the politics of a Two-State solution” p.79

Geist-Pinfold, Robert. (2023) “Security, Terrorism, and Territorial Withdrawal: Critically Reassessing the Lessons of Israel’s “Unilateral Disengagement” from the Gaza Strip” Oxford Press, Introduction

Birkath Shalom – Teaching the Ways of the Qabbalah and Inner Work according to the Ashlag Method. (2023, 17th March). “Loving the Arabs | Rebbe Gottlieb” [Video]. YouTube.

Byman, Daniel. (2011). “A high price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism.” OUP USA. Chapter 6, Footnote 32

PCPR. (2023, 13th December). ‌Public Opinion Poll No (90)

Jakobovits, Immanuel. (1977). “The timely and the timeless: Jews, Judaism and Society in a Storm-tossed Decade.” Vallentine Mitchell. p.29

Jakobovits, Immanuel. (1984). “If Only My People…: Zionism in My Life” Weidenfeld & Nicolson 

About the Author
Ya'aqov Shenkin is a British-Israeli Jew residing in Jerusalem with a passion for Jewish history, Jewish politics and Torah knowledge.
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