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Misplaced Morality

Rabbi Berel Wein

As we attempt to deal with the pain and grief that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat and his minions have visited upon us over the past week, there are widespread calls for Israeli society generally, and its political and social leaders in particular, to rethink policies and beliefs that have been held almost sacred over the past decade.

I am unable to deal with all the ramifications of the mistaken, if well-intentioned (read naive) hopes and actions of the various Israeli governments over these past 10 years. But one thing is clear to : we are the victims of a terrible, self-destructive syndrome of misplaced moralities.

In our drive to "understand" and "appreciate" the position of the Arabs, in our extending unlimited credit to Arafat and his hypocrisies and lies, and in our determination to appear morally correct before the immoral Western world - especially Europe - we have brought upon ourselves a wave of death and sadness unmatched in Israel's history.

It is as though we were determined that on our gravestone, our epitaph would be: "They were morally correct!"

On that black Sunday this week after 26 Israelis were killed by Arafat's murderers in 12 hours, there was an interesting interview on Israeli television with retired IDF General Yossi Peled. Peled said something about relative and misplaced morality that I had not often heard expressed in this country over the past few years. He said: "I sympathize fully with the plight of the Palestinian children. But I am obligated, first and foremost to defend the lives of Israeli children. Let Arafat do something on behalf of the Palestinian children. My priority is the lives of the children of Israel."

Not only is that a practical, obvious and necessary statement, it is also a most moral statement. The tradition and Torah of Israel commands us to live, to survive and prosper. We have overcome all our enemies in history and remained the Eternal People because of our adherence to this simple rule of morality - "he who comes to destroy you should be destroyed first." All of the hand-wringing morality of Amnesty, of the EU and the UN, will serve us little if we are not alive. Morality has certain absolutes - red lines, if you will. The most basic one is survival, safety, security. Because we have not enforced that red line over the past decade, we have been essentially immoral and derelict as to our children's future.

In a world that views morality as a relative value and that has no clear permanent definition of the term, it is easy to understand why neo-Nazis parade in Berlin, the UN sponsors a day of "Palestine and Its Rights," the International Red Cross will not admit Magen David Adom to its membership rolls, and the "Peace Camp," though dwindling, still prattles on about negotiations and settlements.

Judaism has always viewed morality as an absolute value, a Godly-defined issue, as something that could not be compromised away to meet the whims of constantly changing social mores and intellectual flights of fancy. In the modern world, the Ten Commandments have been reduced to suggestions, comments and maybes. Is there, therefore, any wonder that so many social evils visit our schools, workplaces, homes and society?

I speak not of ritual observance of Torah (though in my opinion that is a key to a better Jewish society), but rather of the complete lack of true moral sensitivity and the false morality of equivalency and self-hate that infects our general society and certainly a great deal of our media.

In an article that appeared in The Jerusalem Post also on Black Sunday, it was reported that a group of "Jewish scholars" in America have unveiled a new Bible. Apparently, the basic premise of the new Bible is that the old one is packed full of lies and myths, and is irrelevant to modern society. As one of the spokespersons of the group so elegantly put it, "When the tradition asks us to do something that does offend us morally, [we claim] the right to challenge and if necessary change the tradition."

So there you have it. Each one of us is entitled to our own sense of morality. If that is true, then why is one bound to accept their new definition of morality over any other? Each of the great murderers of the past century - Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein - claimed that their actions were morally justified in the light of their newly arrived at definition of morality. The existence of Jews, counter-revolutionaries, wreckers, etc. offended their sense of morality. So they changed the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition to fit into their new morality.

I know that this is extreme, but changing and redefining accepted morality is a very slippery slope. With such an attitude as expressed in the article, it is difficult to see how we can ever hope to arrest the rate of assimilation and intermarriage that is currently ravaging the ranks of the American Jewish community.

Rabbi Berel Wein writes a weekly column for The Jerusalem Post, where this article originally appeared.



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