“Epidemics befall the world if courts fail to disburse capital punishments according to the Torah.” Talmud, Pirkei Avot 5:8
It is so soothing to imagine God as a caring, grandfatherly, Santa Claus-like figure. That’s not true.
The Almighty presided over unimaginable horrors. He watched indifferently as medieval Europeans burned entire Jewish communities, as Ukrainians hacked pregnant Jewish women into pieces in the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, and as Germans and their Croat accomplices herded naked Jews into gas chambers decorated with Torah curtains from ransacked synagogues. The God of the Deluge and the Second World War is indeed immutable. After the Deluge, he promised not to destroy humanity again, and seemingly prevented the final annihilation of the Jews in 1944 (Europe), 1953 (the USSR), and 1967 (Israel), as well as the nuclear exchange between the USSR and USA. But short of total annihilation, he remains indifferent to unimaginable brutalities.
Are they unimaginable? They are historically standard. We want to live in a nice world, but the world isn’t nice. People set idyllic expectations and are surprised when God conforms to reality rather than utopia.
The next time you celebrate Purim, read the Scroll of Esther. We don’t celebrate deliverance from annihilation; it took place eleven months before the holiday. On the date of Purim, we feast to celebrate having had killed 75,000 civilians the previous day, explicitly including women and children, whom we deemed our enemies: no court sentence, no proof, no Red Cross.
Jewish morality is not theoretical. We don’t subscribe to idyllic nonsense which led Petrarch to compose lofty poems for Laura—and then visit brothels. Our morality is whatever the Bible calls moral: if cleansing the Land of Israel of its natives, exterminating the Amalek or other anti-Semitic civilians (Purim) is praised in the Bible, it is moral by definition. There are no values but what God said is valuable.
Who of the liberal reformist “rabbis” would imagine personally slaughtering a bull, dipping his fingers into a bowl of its blood, sprinkling the blood around, burning its butcher-shop-like parts into ashes, then slaughtering a goat and a sheep in the same manner, and so on? Yet, that is the holiest moment in the history of Jewish divine service, the consecration of the Tent of Meeting, really the first Temple. Why won’t they? Because they don’t believe in God and his commandments. In the framework of their Hellenistic ethics, our holiest sacrifices are barbaric cruelty. But that is the real Judaism; their sermons are not.
Mercy is the divine prerogative, and the Bible doesn’t even contain clear-cut examples of it. Jews are forbidden to forgive, as forgiveness encourages evildoers. In Jewish law, a witness must execute the offender, and capital sentences cannot be commuted. “When you go to war against your enemies…do not have pity upon them, just as they won’t have pity upon you.” And in Esther 9:5, Jews launched “slaughter and destruction” against local anti-Semites, punishing their hateful intent. Killing the enemy civilians down to babies is to be taken for granted in Judaism: Jewish lives are avenged to the fullest. There is no concept in the Bible of protecting enemy civilians during a war, except allowing them to flee.
The total disregard for enemy casualties is understandable; what’s more, Judaism has no qualms about mass killing of bad Jews. Pinchas killed a prominent Jew for intermarriage, and received eternal blessing for his descendants. Levites killed thousands of Jews after the golden calf incident, and received the divine blessing specifically for killing their brothers and neighbors. The Maccabees slaughtered liberal reform Jews who wanted to relax the orthodoxy and accept the benefits of Hellenic culture. On the other hand, nice liberal Jews did not want to upset their American neighbors during the Holocaust with violent protests over the US government’s refusal to bomb the death camps. And the nice liberal Dutch were so nice both to Jews and Germans that, contrary to the myth of salvation, three quarters of all Dutch Jews perished in the Holocaust.
The concept of pikuah nefesh prompted some ugly moral notions, such as the total prohibition of suicide. How does that square with Kiddush Hashem? Should the defenders of the Masada have allowed their wives and children to be sold into slavery instead of killing them? And if, as the enlightened rabbis of our time assert, cross-worshiping is not idol-worship, how come entire European Jewish communities risked their lives fighting the pogrom mobs and committed mass suicide when the fighting was futile—instead of just being baptized, as the Christian friars demanded of them?
Many Jews believe that the concept of pikuah nefesh, saving lives, is central to Judaism. Such a concept doesn’t even exist in Judaism; it is completely alien to our religion. Judaism is about sanctity, defined as divine service and observance of the commandments. Human life is simply irrelevant. Jews must, for example, violate the Sabbath when there is a danger to life not to save the life per se, but to continue living in order to observe many more Sabbaths. So we can break one Sabbath to observe many more Sabbaths. The permission—indeed the injunction—to break a Sabbath serves the purpose of Sabbath, not the purpose of life. If pikuah nefesh dictates that Jews can only give up their lives in order to abstain from idolatry, incest, and murder, how comes the Torah prescribes taking Jewish life for violating the Sabbath? Sabbath and many other commandments are valued above life.
Note how Judaism disburses capital punishments even for ostensibly trivial offenses such as homosexuality, Shabbat violations, or incest. Look at the greasy offerings in the Temple, where the priests acted like butchers in a slaughterhouse. Imagine the rivers of animal blood at the altar. That is Judaism, and that is how the rabbis understood it. They detailed capital punishments, specified the punishable offenses—increasing their number in the process—and prescribed horrible methods of execution. Commandments are not just above human life; human life is entirely irrelevant when we speak of the commandments.
Likewise, tikkun olam, repairing the world, has nothing to do with animal rights or the welfare state. It is the rabbinical idea of going an extra mile beyond the commandments, doing the commandments, and a bit more. It is about taking upon oneself still more obligations, making the strict commandments even stricter, not loosening them in favor of liberal notions. Tikkun Olam also means that the entire world will be forced to embrace Judaism.
There is no interfaith in Judaism. The sages prescribe burning and stoning for the interfaith. It is prohibited even to learn the Greek language, let alone the Hellenistic culture. Judaism proclaims havdala—isolation of Jews, “the people which dwells alone.” Stop screaming. It is not racism, but a desire to live in accordance with Jewish values. “You shall be holy as I am holy,” just as the Spirit of God hovered above the primordial waters and influenced them without touching them, so the Jews should influence the world without touching it.
Jews feel no respect toward other religions; in our prayers, we despise them, deride them, and thank God for being born different. Respect is only due to truthful things; Islam can only be respected if there is a truth in it. But if there is truth in Islam, we (Heaven forbid) should recognize that truth and become Muslims. Jews respect people of any decent beliefs for their merits as ethical people, good professionals, and so on—but we do not respect their beliefs.
Pagans were religiously tolerant; they just added another deity to their pantheon. Jews are different; that’s what the Maccabean war was about: we refused the religious pantheon of the ancient interfaith liberals. Jews believe we know the truth, which came down to us in unadulterated form as the divine word. It is a matter of Jewish belief that every other religion is false. Read what Shulhan Aruch says about Christianity; not a single rabbi—when they still were rabbis—spoke otherwise. There is a kernel of truth in geocentric astronomy; at least it recognizes that heavenly objects revolve. We do not, however, respect partially true hypotheses, but only true theories. Now, we do not seek to impose our views on anyone, but neither should anyone expect us to respect or study views that we consider false by default.
The above attitude applies not only to idolatry, but to avodah zara—any foreign worship. Islam, the most monotheistic non-Jewish religion, is not idolatry but a foreign worship, which is absolutely prohibited in the Land of Israel. God commanded us to slaughter foreign priests in our land even at their altars. We must break their altars, not allow them to deconstruct the Aqsa and re-assemble it in Jordan, which is also the Land of Israel.
There is no such thing as a mixed Jewish family. Intermarriage is the capital offense of apostasy, and Jews who intermarry are greeted with funeral prayer, not hupa ceremony. Note that taking a spouse of non-Jewish origin is not necessarily intermarriage. If such a spouse properly joins the Jewish people, and does not just receive a quickie conversion, he or she is as welcome as Onkelos or Ruth, the grandmother of King David. We want our children to be Jewish. We want the divine spark of Judaism for which the Jews ascended the stakes to continue until the Messiah comes. That is why intermarriage or any sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews is a crime.
That is not racism. Should the Jews say, “We would marry anyone but Slavs” that would be racism. But to say, “We will marry Jews only, no one else” is a question of isolating ourselves. Racism discriminates against particular nations; Jews don’t despise any people. The prohibition of intermarriage is a preference to Jews, not a discrimination against the entire world. When your wife cleans your house, but not your neighbor’s, that is not misanthropy. When you give charity to a Jewish cause, but not to an African cause, that’s not racism. When a girl wants to marry a black-haired rather than a blond boy, she is exercising her right of preference; she doesn’t discriminate against the blond. The refusal to marry anyone but a Jew is a religious issue, an obligation, and no rabbi would say otherwise.
This is Judaism, like it or not.