Friday, November 21, 2008

Merely Following Orders

You'll remember, of course (if not from personal experience) that the Nazi defendants at Nuremberg and later war-crime trials claimed they were merely following orders. In all the many thousands of such trials this line of defense was never accepted, but it did catch broad public attention.

Eichmann tried it, too, at his trial in Jerusalem. Quite strenuously, as a matter of fact.

A number of years prior to his trial (which took place in 1961) the Israeli courts had dealt with the matter with Israeli war criminals, most importantly the ones from the Kfar Kassem murders. The Supreme Court made the distinction between illegal orders and categorically illegal orders, the first being ones that soldiers must follow, the second being one that soldiers are forbidden to follow, and will be court-martialed if they do; the court also gave the helpful definition that what marks the categorically illegal orders is that a black flag flies above them. (I wrote more about this in Right to Exist).

Of course, as you'd expect, none of this happened in a vacuum, and actually the discussion began some 2,000 years earlier.

We're in Kiddushin these days, I remind you. The Gemara discusses various aspects of messengers fulfilling precepts. This started with the question if a man is allowed to betroth a woman via a messenger, who will bring her the contract or money required for the betrothal. Quite rapidly, however, the discussion broadens out to include the question if a man can tell someone else to transgress, and if so, who bears responsibility. The answer given on page 42 of Kiddushin is that this can't happen: ein shaliach le'dvar aveira: a man cannot be a courier for a transgression, but bears responsibility for whatever he does.

On the next page, 43a, the discussion becomes even more explicit, when a Braita (a Mishniac text, i.e. before the 3rd century) states that if a man sends another to kill someone, the responsibility is on the killer alone, not the initiator. Shamai the Elder, however (about 2,100 years ago) disagrees,and brings the story of the prophet Nathan who admonishes King David for having engineered the death in battle of Uriya, so as to marry her widow, Batsheva: Nathan sees this as murder, in spite of the fact that there were actually two other agents between King David and Uriya's death, Yoav the general, and the Amonites who actually did the killing, on the field of battle.

The Gemara then goes into a discussion about whether murder is the same as lesser transgressions, in a fascinating precedent for the 20th century distinction between illegal and categorically illegal. Except, of course, that the Sages see it from the opposite direction: the killers are clearly criminally responsible, the question is to what extent criminal responsibility can be ascribed to the initiators.

(By the way, if you've never read that book, Right to Exist, you ought to. Since I had to work with an editor, and it was published through a real publishing house, it's much more serious than a blog. Many people, including the reviewer of the New York Times, felt it to be a good book.

(Und wenn Sie es auf Deutsch lesen wollen, das geht auch.)

As I always mention, this thread began here.


Anonymous said...


I still say the best lessons come from knowing that extremists, two thousand years ago, turned the 2nd Temple into a fortress. And, they took on the Roman army. Eventually, God wasn't at the front of the battle. He was nowhere to be found. And, blood and guts flowed in the streets of Jerusalem. The fires started, in the eaves of the Temple, also spread. The windsw carried the fires all over town. And, many people perished.

You just can't teach extremists new tricks. Nor are they really willing to use history where you'd see an ENLIGHTENMENT.

To the contrary. And, this is really the puzzle.

Extremism in Europe was moderated. The Jews were easy targets for the peasantry. The terrible deaths weren't usually at the hands of marching armies.

And, in Poland? Well, that's an interesting story onto itself. In Poland, Jews migrating in ... Maybe, a total of 75 individuals; way back in time ... before the 1300's, I think. (England threw out its Jews at the end of the 1200's.) And, it was in Poland, actually, that Judaism grew in strength. And, in population.

It's also probably why the Haredi, to this day, dress in a 14th century Polish nobleman's outfits.

Back then, too, black was a hard color to come by! You had to be very rich! Again, this detail shows up, now, when we take black dyes for granted.

In Europe, especially because people gained access to books; education wasn't limited to religious matters. And, intellect thrived.

Germany became an intellectual center. Where money counted. And, so if you looked, you'd see a certain "turning up of their noses" in Germany, for Polish Jews. (Who lived in shtetls. And, remained so poor.)

Jews count their losses from WW2's concentration camps. But the death tolls actually affected all of Europe. Germany lost 50,000,000.

And, yes, Jews rescued from the camps, didn't want to "go home." Where everyone was recovering from war's damage. Some? Probably went to Russia. Others, to France. And, still others, the luckiest ones, to America. (I remember seeing friends with numbers tatoo'ed on their arms. And, parents, tattoo'ed, too.) But there was such assimilation! In America, when the brains were present, you could "pick a career" and go to university. Many chose this road.

You "have a right to exist," but the best rights come from being able to integrate with academia.

You'd think Israel also had this welcome out. But this is not so. For some reason schooling has become "unionized." And, a lot of the taxpayer funds end up in the pockets of the uber-religious.

So, that now, where it's obvious you can see the problem, you've got two extremist groups:

On one side the Palestinians.

And, on the Kottels. Where married men never see a day's worth of work. But they breed. So there are empty refrigerators in homes that have more than a dozen children. Sometimes? Almost as many as two dozen. (Some of the crowding is alleviated, when a kid grows away from the group, and gets tossed out into the street.) Still unable to work. Because there is no work ethic underpinning this lifestyle.

Just taking orders. Guess what. The religious nutters think that their rabbis are the only ones to make "big decisions." And, everybody else still lives as if there were no lessons from life that would have been worthy.

No. You can't ask Marx. Marx was a man who hated his own flesh. And, who thought "he should have been the Queen's son." But he popped out of the wrong uterus. Leave it to him, to cook up ways that a few monsters become the leaders. And, everybody else either follows, or ends up dead.

Up ahead, maybe? Sage will just be an "Herb." And, people will expect more from individuals. Including a lessening of "all that chanting."

Otherwise? Extremists in two groups. Marching towards death.

Yup. The Palestinians are also persona-non-grata among Arabs.

But they don't care.

Two groups dependent on charity; to pay bills.

And, the arabs have a head start, because the saud's still have cash to give.

Anonymous said...

I have purchased and read "Right To Exist". I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in understanding the Middle East conflict, and certainly anyone who feels any sense of connection to Israel. I feel it's an important piece of work that will always have a place on my bookshelf.

Anonymous said...


The book, RIGHT TO EXIST, won't solve the problem! In Israel today there are religious problems, stemming from extremism, that is only going to "repeat history."

Sure. We live in a hostile world. Have a Holocaust Museum doesn't solve that! If anything, it grew into a charity that raises money ... and then "forgets" to examine what really happened in Europe! Hitler's dead. Devastated cities have rebuilt. People have moved on.

Yes, Ben Gurion sensed that the time was ripening; and he made sure there would be enough arms for "his" Haganah to fight. (Bad news if you were Irgun. Worst knews if you were on the Altalena.) Politics just makes strange bedfellows.

Jerusalem, in 1948, was not in the mix! To get to Jerusalem took the blood of Jews, who could have easily been secular. And, "forgotten" by the State.

In other words? Ben Gurion liked the idea of limiting Judaism to the ultra orthodox. And, today? In Jerusalem you have Haredi sects (fighting now among each other!), who name themselves after the shtetls in Lituania, and Poland, where they still keep their customs of dress!

All that nonsense of women wearing wigs. Men having no idea about work. Breeders. With some convoluted idea that GOD, himself, is looking for a war! Oddly enough, no one is teaching the past. Where it was the extremists who managed to ignite the fires that got the Romans so angry ... we live in the "after life" of what happened. Rome fell. The barbarians claimed the light. Europe didn't advance. Did more than 500 years pass before there was even a glimmer of hope?

In Israel, you can't bypass the rabbis who stick their hands out. Who still don't even question sexually mutilating little boys. Why? (To prevent the spread of AIDS. As if some byproduct makes sense.) Instead of choice! You think Russians choose circumcision? No. They don't.

There's nothing rational left!

Even though in America most people who are Jewish don't have mothers wearing wigs. Don't go to temples were the males sit in the center; and women either sit to the sides. Or "up in the air." You think the men avert their eyes from porn?

You think the modern world just escapes?

Before Hitler rose to power; you saw Hertzl trying to get Jews to move out of Europe. And, Russia. Which was done by a trickle. In comparison to how many were later lost.

But Europe wasn't just committing crimes against Jews! The Europeans were also seeing their cities demolished. Lives ruined.

Where's there a museum to that?

Why was it that the first idea, given what entertained Ben-Gurion, was that the orthodox knew how to pull in large "cart fulls" of money. By begging.

Then, you come to Morris Talansky. A bum who made his own money, schnorring around temples in Long Island.

You want me to be surprised that Olmert, and Netanyahu, didn't know how generous it was to go out among the successful Jewish communities and raise dollars. (It wasn't as if you had to plant seeds, ya know. Ya just had to give speeches.)

Yes, Talansky supplied the ammunition for the police to use; to "get him." Still nothing sees the eyes of a judge. Or the ears of a jury.

This is what stinks.

And, it not only stinks from the head down, it leaves in place such a mess ... that one can only wonder how it will play out.

Now? In Hebron, the IDF is attacked. But they don't fight back! They paint over the insults the roused mob paints on walls against Palestinians. There is downplay when a soldier is attacked by turpintine thrown at his face.

Let me make one thing clear to you. All the memerization of ancient texts will not change one iota what raced out of Jewish hands!

And, up ahead?

I think the UN is capable of drawing border lines. And, pushing against extremists; while the IDF is made to look weak and useless. Doesn't mean the borders won't change!

Heck, among the Haredi are people with backgrounds that will let you know their shtetl stood in Poland. Oops. No. Because the borders changed. So you could be from Austia-Hungary. Didn't make a single difference IN the ghetto.

Oh, by the way, the cash register music ... of all that money ... so easy to beg and get? Changes with our downturn in our global economy.

Yes, ahead, there will be a price to pay.

No, Ben-Gurion didn't pay it. Unfortnately, the generations ahead inherit the terrible mistakes.

As if you can't look at America and see that, yes, there was survival. But it was built into a better system. Where the church is separated from the state. And, where your religious beliefs shouldn't matter.

George Washington didn't belong to a particular church. Didn't spout out about a particular branch of Christianity. The same is true for Lincoln.

In today's world words travel very quickly. Whatever is happening in Israel is viewed by friends and foes alike.

What's missing? Albert Einstein is dead, too.

Maybe, we've got to hope in what we do have. Rham Emanuel, a friend of Obama's, can explain things to Obama, a lot of extremists don't want to admit they know is the truth.

Ya know? Jerusalem just never grew. Two generations have passed since 1967. And, Jerusalem remains a backwater. (Secular people, who once provided a tax cushion, couldn't take the religious rules. So they left.) You currently have Haredi men who tell women to get off the bus! Just you wait.

Won't it be funny if the arabs make Jerusalem, ahead, thrive like Paris? You think they lack the talent? Well, the talent pool couldn't be worse. (Heck, that's where Olmert cut his teeth. Afraid of his own shadow, he gave the store away to the Haredi. As if there was no competition.)

It's been said that in February, when you have elections, that between Labor, Kadima, and Likud, you'll be lucky to see a prime minister bring in a government with 60 seats.)

The political world in Isael is corrupt and it's fractured.

Oh, and the Holocaust Museum? Grew on the money of Jewish Americans who suffered personal guilt. What happens when they die off?

What happens when a world economy can sit in the tank for a decade?

There was a time you were rich! Alas, for that time to roll around again, at least seven bad years need to pass.

You know, Hertzl learned that "Palestine already had a bride." The land wasn't empty then. And, whatever the dream, people need to wake up to reality.