The brilliant scholar and spiritual leader Hillel, who lived 100 years before the Christian era, summed up the central thrust of Judaism in his most famous pronouncement of Jewish values: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah (The first five books of the Old Testament), the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
Hillel’s admonition is central to Judaism. Hillel was such an astute observer of human relations that it seems to me to be a more realistic assessment of human nature than the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is something to aspire to, but Hillel’s admonition makes one think about consequences of bad actions in the real world.
With Hillel in mind, I read with horror that after Hamas gained control of the political reigns of the Gaza Strip, the government of Israel conducted a study in 2007 that determined that the daily caloric intake of a person living in Gaza needed to be 2,279 calories “in order to maintain the basic fabric of life” (“Israel Gaza blockade study calculated Palestinians’ calories, Reuters, October 17, 2012). It was not a far leap of the imagination to envision pictures of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto of World War II with Jews being starved and tortured by their Nazi captors! The Warsaw Ghetto and the Gaza Strip are not an exact analogy, but there are similarities. “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah, the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
As a species, we seem not to be able to implement Hillel’s admonition in any real sense. Atrocity follows on atrocity without any special focus on either a particular political or an economic system, or a racial or an ethnic group.
In the modern era, Turks slaughters Armenians, Jews suffer the terror of the Holocaust, the former Yugoslavia is transformed into a killing field, as is Cambodia, Darfur, and Rwanda. And there are plenty of attempted genocides to go around. Racism, tribal hatreds, economics, ethnocentrism, and a Machiavellian view of power fuel the fires of hatred and mass murder. The war in Vietnam is turned into a “noble cause” by a right-wing president in the United States! Atrocities are turned into displays of patriotism and history is revised!
Writing in The Jewish Daily Forward, Jay Michaelson (“When the Right is Right About the Left,” July 30, 2012) states, “Now, whatever the merits of a one-state solution as opposed to a two-state solution, surely activists and pundits should be clear about their ultimate views so that they may be understood. In my view, what is wrong with the Occupation is that it oppresses Palestinians, undermines Israel’s sustainability and contradicts Israel’s own democratic ideals. But that’s quite different from saying that the entire Israeli state is illegitimate. Yet, many times, left-wing critics of Israel pretend to speak out about this or that human rights abuse, while really, they have no vision for the future other than Israel not existing at all. I find myself supporting one cause (criticizing this latest abuse) when the real cause is actually something else (calling for the end of Israel).”
Michaelson’s argument is as old as the over four-decade occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Instead of holding true to the Jewish values of peace, fair play, and justice, he falls back on the argument that Left critics of Israel, vis-à-vis a Palestinian state, are all of the same ilk and bent on the destruction of Israel. Yes, there are a few on the Left who are myopic, but the desire for a free Palestinian state is anything but hateful or shortsighted. It is the simple wish of most Jews on the Left to stop doing unto neighbors what is abhorrent to them. Indeed, the vast majority of Jews on the Left find racism to be anathema to Judaism (including those with secular Jewish beliefs). The seemingly unending occupation of Palestinian land and people is of the same sort of hatred that drove fascists of past historical epochs and is so very hated by Jews of goodwill.
Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.