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Ask the Rabbi - 290

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November 4, 2000 / 6 Cheshvan 5761; Issue #290

In Defense of Israel


Joel Davidson from New Jersey wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

One is allowed to harm or even kill an attacker in self-defense if necessary. However, isn't it also true that under no circumstances may one harm an innocent to protect himself (for example, if a man has a gun to your head and tells you to kill an innocent by-stander, you must allow yourself to be killed rather than kill the innocent)? This being the case, it seems problematic to engage in bombing raids and other military means, no matter how justified by self-defense, when there is a significant chance of harming innocents. I am referring to bombings where civilians may be harmed when the IDF goes after Hizbollah or other terrorists. I would appreciate any insight you could offer. Shalom.

Dear Joel,

Unfortunately, there are groups and nations who base their fighters and military equipment in civilian areas. This deters attacks from their enemies, and allows them to gain world-wide sympathy if a civilian does get hurt, especially a woman or child.

We see this today. Before West Bank Arabs shoot their automatic weapons at us, they send children and teenagers up ahead to stone us and to throw fire-bombs. The sympathy they gain if a child dies is worth more to them than the life of the child.

Similarly, the Arabs are using civilian homes as bases to fire their rifles at us. As of this writing, this is being done to attack places like Psagot and Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood.

Israeli policy has always been to warn civilians prior to a strike. If Israel shells terrorists hiding in a residential area, warnings are delivered first by loud speaker, leaflets, radio, and by alerting the town authorities and giving them time to warn the residents so the residents may evacuate.

If there are civilians who, after the warning, choose to stay, then they knowing become obstacles to our ability, and our right, to defend ourselves. In that sense they can be considered accomplices.

A parting thought: One of my teachers in Yeshiva told me that, although Golda Meir may not have been a particularly religious lady, she said one thing which rings particularly true of Torah ideology: She said: "We may be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our children; but we can not forgive them for making us kill their children."

Heavenly Humor


Coby's Daddy from Jerusalem wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

This question is from my 4-year old son, Coby, from the Old City of Jerusalem: "What makes G-d laugh?"

Dear Coby's Daddy,

Your four year old son is asking a very deep question! And, of course, the answer to him is that G-d laughs at stuff that's really funny.

As the old Yiddish rhyme goes: "Ah mentch tracht, und Gut lacht." This means, "Man plans, and G-d laughs."

More than just a stitch of folk wisdom, this idea is well-based in classical sources. "The One who dwells in the Heavens laughs," wrote David, King of Israel, regarding the Divine take on those who try to wipe out the Jewish People (Psalms 2). "G-d snickers at them" (Ibid.).

The futility of anti-Semitic plans to wipe us out is -- ultimately -- funny. People make plans, but G-d "laughs" when He knows that these plans will never materialize.

Now, G-d's essence is beyond comprehension. We, the created, can't understand the Creator. Still, the Torah talks about G-d in ways we can relate to, such as "G-d's Hand," "G-d's mouth," even though G-d doesn't have a hand or mouth in the physical sense. So too, G-d does not laugh as we know it.

But you can't invent something if you don't know what it does. To invent the light bulb and gramophone, Thomas Edison needed to know what sight and sound were. Therefore, G-d, who created everything including our capacity for humor, certainly "knows" a good joke when He hears one.

The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.


Re: G-D IS MY DENTIST (Ask the Rabbi #289):

I must tell you that I was immensely touched by your answer to "Name@Withheld in Brooklyn" concerning his question about all G-d's actions being for the good. The response you gave using the example of a child going to a dentist was inspirational and illuminating. I want to thank you for your dedication and for sharing your knowledge with us. I pray that G-d keeps you safe and out of harm's way.

Nosson Campos


I am a professor of criminal justice at a state university in Missouri. I have been a detective and have taught criminal investigation for a number of years. I was very impressed with the response that was given in the "Ask the Rabbi", issue #170, December 1997. This concerned the detective who was worried about using interrogation techniques that involved building up the trust of a suspect in order to get a confession. The response mirrors what I have been teaching students for the last 20 years. I had never thought about examining these techniques from a Scriptural context. Excellent work.

Roger L. Pennel, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Criminal Justice
Central Missouri State University, Warrensburg, MO

Written by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer, Rabbi Reuven Subar, Rabbi Mordecai Becher, Rabbi Baruch Rappaport, Rabbi Moshe Yossef and other Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.

General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow

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