The Board of Deputies’ appalling lack of clarity in response to the Kairos document

This is a guest post from Jonathan Hoffman

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has published “Zionism: A Communal Response.”

A response to what, precisely?

Its a response to the so-called Kairos document issued by a group of Palestinian Christian theologians in December 2009.

That document is far from even-handed. It speaks of ‘occupation’ without acknowledging the withdrawal from Gaza; fails to say that the separation fence has saved hundreds of lives because it has all but eliminated suicide bombers; wrongly suggests that Israel disregards international law; suggests that Israel is practising ‘collective punishment’; appears to sanction terror (“Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian”); and supports a boycott of Israeli goods. It portrays Israel’s creation as a response to Western guilt over the Holocaust, rather than as a legitimate expression of Jewish self-determination.  It even refers to Israeli occupation as “a sin against God.

CAMERA has noted that the Kairos document has many similarities with a memorandum issued by Arab Christians in 1967 entitled “What is Required of the Christian Faith Concerning the Palestine Problem.”

So the Board’s document knocks these tropes on the head, right?

Wrong.

Rabbi Wittenberg’s piece addresses the Holocaust point but none of the others.

Rabbi Bayfield doesn’t really attack any of the Kairos tropes.

Dan Rickman (who posts at the Guardian’s Comment is Free as “leftwingorthodoxjew”) says that the Kairos document was written out of “a feeling of pain and distress” and then fails to take it on. (He does note the unbroken history of Jewish life in the Holy Land).

Rabbi Danny Rich (who’s on the Board of Patrons of the far left site, JNews) also notes the historic links of the Jews with the Holy Land. He then outlines ten biblical principles. Incredibly he sees moral equivalence between the Israeli case and the Palestinian case:

“There is little evidence of these principles being applied on either side of the divide.”

Even more incredibly he seems prepared to give up the Jewish State:

“At one time a binational state might have been a possibility, but in the absence of support for it from the mainstream of either side partition seems to be the only viable option.”

This fits in with (and casts light on) his refusal to see the advocacy of “One State” as antisemitic.

It is utterly bewildering how he manages to square this with remaining as a Patron of the Zionist Federation. Surely in all conscience he should step down.

In its conception, choice of authors and execution, this is a document that should never have seen the light of day. That it did so once again underlines that UK’s Jewish leadership unbelievably still does not ‘get it’ when it comes to delegitimisation and vilification of Israel. Just what will it take?

I should add that I am a member of the Board of Deputies and indeed am on the International Division which should surely have seen this publication well before it saw the light of day. But it didn’t.

Falsely Equivocating Orthodox Judaism

Well Dan Rickman, CiF’s most recently anointed useful idiot, is at it again taking aim at orthodox Judaism.

The first point to take issue with on Dan Rickman’s piece, is in the sub-heading itself, namely, “fundamentalist currents have moved Orthodox Judaism in the UK to the right”.

This statement represents a failure to understand what is actually happening within British Jewry, namely that there has been an upsurge of interest in authentic Judaism amongst all sections of the community and across the age divide. The core beliefs expounded by orthodox Judaism have not changed, indeed, may not change.

This upsurge is the raison d’etre for Rickman’s article, and is at the core of his annoyance—he dislikes the return to orthodox values, and dresses this up using specious arguments.

A true definition of the word “fundamentalism” is given by one dictionary as “a strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles”, which is a good starting point from which to deconstruct Rickman’s tendentious article.

As no rational person could argue against the idea that it is  bad  to adhere strictly to principles which are inherently good, Rickman’s only way forward is to undermine the principles of orthodox Judaism themselves, in order to “prove” his point.

Here, he is on dangerous ground, for anyone with any knowledge at all of the genuine article, will immediately recognise the gross inaccuracies, mischievous assertions and indeed oft-repeated, hoary old chestnuts on which he bases his “argument”.

Let us examine some of these in more depth.

He states that orthodox Jewish “fundamentalists” essentially reject modernity and secular knowledge where it clashes with their beliefs, which are themselves based on a literalist approach to the sources (incluing Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith).

The whole point is that there is no contradiction between orthodoxy and modern scientific beliefs. Let him give but one example, but of course, he is very coy about specifics because he cannot.

The recent strictly orthodox Nobel prize winners in the science disciplines are testament to that. It is inconceivable that such people would compromise  scientific truths to accomodate their religious beliefs.

The statement that the vogue for the Intelligent Design theory has been incorporated into modern orthodox teaching is untrue, and certainly false that outreach organisations, like Aish, give seminars on it.

It has been rejected as scientifically wrong and rejected by orthodox scientific experts.

One powerful example of how orthodox rabbinic ruling has not only accomodated the most recent scientific advances as “kosher” but is actually in the forefront of liberal values, is in the realm of embryo research and cutting edge experimentation. It is deemed not only acceptable, but desirable, at a time when some atheists fear it who invoke the “slippery slope” argument.

When Rickman mentions Maimonides to try to win his case, he neglects to say that the latter, a distinguished physician of the day, himself wrestled with the apparent contradictions between the Aristotlean views and Judaism, but then held that these are dealt with by a thorough understanding of the texts, as opposed to just a superficial reading.

Neither does he mention the most important contribution that authentic Judaism bequeathed to the world, namely, that of the ethical values that make human beings into civilised beings, i.e. the laws governing the codes of behaviour that make life tolerable, indeed, even pleasant.

These values are not innate to human thinking, but had to be taught. The idea that Judaism is a fossilised faith stuck in a trough of hard-line, inflexible beliefs is the impression that Rickman wishes to foist upon his readers.

Even he must surely know that Judaism is based on the ancient tradition of the “oral law”. This means that the written law, ie. The Pentateuch, is never taken at face value, but rather viewed as a multi-dimensional expression of divine will. The Talmud, which is a commentary of the oral law, contains  volume upon volume of argument by earlier and later commentators, so that the laws we hold today are those decided by the majority of the qualified opinions of the day.

Indeed, in the tractate of Baba Kama in the Talmud, it explicitly states that it is forbidden to misrepresent Judaism, no matter how noble the intention.

The idea that orthodox Jewish “fundamentalists” essentially reject modernity and secular knowledge where it clashes with their beliefs is most obviously seen to be false is in the embodiment of the personality of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who is highly educated and widely respected both in the secular and Jewish worlds, and finds no conflict between them—just the contrary—each complements and enriches the other.

When Rickman says that Orthodox Jews continues to believe that the Torah was divinely ordained, and this is supposedly contrary to ‘evidence from modern Biblical scholarship’, he omits to say that such ‘proof’ is not exactly something one could demonstrate in a laboratory, and so will always remain questionable. In any case what harm is there if people believe that it was divinely ordained?

Finally, in his attempt to demonise orthodox Judaism as a backward, unforgiving creed, best relegated to history, he writes that

“fundamentalism encourages a totalitarian rather than a democratic mindset, which is characterised by rejection of enlightenment values, which is at the core of a wider challenge to western democratic society”.

In so doing, he wickedly draws a false equivalence between the “fundamentalism” of different faiths and creeds.

No-one could argue that, say, Buddhist fundamentalism could ever pose  a danger to anyone, which is what Rickman wishes to taint Judaism with, i.e. its  supposed threat to peace and civilised values. Let him ponder which “fundamentalism” is truly evil and a real threat to humanity, on the 8th. anniversary of 9/11, but we can wait a long time before he does, or before CiF would publish if he did.