The Hypernomian Revolution

The Jewish Political Praxis 

Before the advent of the modern state, Jewish communities were mostly ruled by rabbis who employed brutal methods as good as those employed by totalitarian regimes. The dearest wish of the current Good-hearted Jews is to restore this state of affairs.

The information in the Talmud itself about killing and punishing Jewish informers is scanty and is anecdotal in nature. Fear of Roman and Sassanid authorities was at least partially responsible for this. The same situation existed during the time of the Ge'onim of Iraq, who lived from about ad 750 to 1050 under the strong rule of the Abassid Caliphate. The responsa of the Ge'onim rarely deal only with informers and impose at most only religious penalties. Rabbi Paltoi, according to Asaf on page 49 of The Punishments, stated in the mid-ninth century that an informer is not only a Jew who actually informs but one who during a quarrel in public with another Jew says that he will inform. Paltoi, nevertheless, imposed the mild penalty of designating such a person "wicked" and thus incapable of giving either an oath or testimony. In Muslim Spain, after the dissolution of the strong Ummayad Caliphate in the early years of the eleventh century, the situation was different, and informers were frequently executed. In Alicena, a city mostly inhabited by Jews in the mid-eleventh century, Rabbi Yosef Halevi Ibn Ha'migash, a famous scholar, according to Asaf on page 63 of The Punishments, ordered Jews to stone an informer during the Ne'yila prayer on Yom Kippur, which that year fell on the Sabbath. Stoning is usually considered to be a severe violation of both Yom Kippur and the Sabbath. The Ne'yila prayer, moreover, said only once a year at the close of Yom Kippur, is probably the most holy prayer in the Jewish calendar.

The choice of that particular time must have been dictated by the need to explain to all Jews that the duty of killing a Jewish informer is more important than other religious considerations. Indeed, Maimonides wrote in his author- itative commentary to the Mishnah, as quoted by Asaf in The Punishments on page 63: "It happens every day in the west [Spain and North Africa] that informers who allegedly informed about money of the Jews are killed or are [themselves] informed against to non-Jews so that they [the Jewish informers] would be either killed or beaten by them [the non-Jews] or given to the wicked." This rule, widely quoted by later authorities, established an important precedent: informing is permitted, even enjoyed, when done by communal Jewish authorities in cases that they consider essential. Only individual Jews should be killed if they inform. 17

In another part of his commentary Maimonides said that the obligation to kill both informers and heretics is a tradition that is applied in all cities of the west. After the reconquest of most of Spain by the Christians, except for the kingdom of Grenada, killings of informers continued and actually intensified in the kingdoms of Granada, Castile and Aragon. The number of cases recorded in the Spanish responsa is very large. The following few examples are representative: Rabenu Asher, as quoted by Asaf in The Punishments on page 73, answered a question about a Jew who was a notorious informer; the rabbinical court investigated the case. Rabenu Asher answered that the killing of informers does not need witnesses but only the expression of opinion by other Jews that a given person is indeed an informer. "Had we needed to take testimony of witnesses before the accused," Rabenu Asher opined, "we would never be able to convict them [the informers] .

In another responsa, cited by Asaf on page 74, Rabenu Asher dealt with a Jew, called either Avraham or Alot. Some Jews had charged that he had informed several times. Rabenu Asher insisted for all to know that the informer could be punished even on Yom Kippur when it falls on the Sabbath; he said that this had occurred in Germany and France. Rabbi Yehuda, the son of Rabenu Asher, opined, according to Asaf on page 79 of The Punishments, "[In the case of a Jew who had been an informer for years] every one who kills him will be rewarded by God. A Jew who could kill the informer and did not can be punished for all that the informer did as if he did it himself." In another case Rabbi Yehuda explained that the Jews themselves should kill the informers lest non-Jewish judges would refuse to inflict death penalties for informing. In some cases Jewish congregations literally bought the life of an informer from the king and then executed him publicly. This occurred for instance, in Barcelona in April, 1279. Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, according to Asaf in The Punishments on pages 65 to 67, reported this in his responsa.

A Jew, named Vidalan de Porta, who belonged to a noble family, informed to King Pedro II of Aragon, who was also the Count of Catalonia. After being requested by the Jewish inhabitants of Catalonia, the king agreed (probably for a payment) to deliver him to the Jewish authorities of Barcelona, who had previously sentenced de Porta to death. Jews in Barcelona led him "to the street before the cemetery in Barcelona, and they opened the veins of both his arms. He bled to death." Three years after the execution, brothers of the victim protested against it. Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet defended the verdict by noting that such verdicts were often carried out in Aragon and Castile

The rabbis sentenced him not only to the usual confession but also to lie at the synagogue entrance so that congregation members could trample on him before praying to God. D'Acusta accepted the conditions and, after both confessing and being trampled upon, was duly forgiven. He, however, again came thereafter to have heretical views. Fearing another excommunication and something even worse than being trampled underfoot as a recurrent sinner, he committed suicide. A comparison between the fates of Spinoza and D'Acusta suggests two lessons for contemporary Jews who do not wish to submit to the tyranny often prevalent in Jewish orthodoxy: 1) An intellectual compromise with Jewish orthodoxy is no more possible than is an intellectual compromise with any other totalitarian system. 2) An apologetic approach to the Jewish past, which is in reality false beautification and falsification of one part of Jewish history and is intended to remove the horrors and persecutions that Jews suffered at the hands of their own authorities and rabbis, only increases the dangers of a developing Jewish "Khomeinism." In Israel such compromise increases the danger of a Jewish state that could become dominated by rabbis who will not hesitate to punish other Jews as did their revered predecessors when not prevented from doing so by an outside power

Our survey of punishments, inflicted under emergency Jewish laws upon Jewish heretics and other sinners, begins with pro- nouncements by the last Jewish rabbis whose authority was and still is universally acknowledged. These rabbis were the heads of yeshivot in Iraq until about 1050; they were named "Ge'onim." (In the singular each of them bore the name "Ga'on," which in Hebrew means "genius.") The Ge'onim left many responses to questions addressed to them from all parts of the Jewish world. These questions were concerned with how Jews, especially Jewish communities, should behave. In his previously mentioned book (1922), Rabbi Simha Asaf quoted a collection of such responses ordering that a Jew who violates the sabbath should be flogged and should have his hair shaved (p. 45). Rabbi Paltoi Ga'on, as noted by Asaf, in ad 858 answered the more difficult question: Should a Jew who sinned on either the Sabbath or a holiday be flogged on that sacred day if the danger exists that he may escape before the Sabbath or the holiday ended? Rabbi Paltoi answered by reminding his questioners that the congregation had a prison and that the sinner could be imprisoned on the Sabbath or on the holiday and then flogged afterwards. Rabbi Paltoi, nevertheless, after acknowledg- ing that the act of flogging violated the Sabbath in certain ways, concluded that the concern about the Sabbath or holiday violations should not prevent the flogging of Jewish sinners on the sacred day (Asaf, p. 48).

Rabbi Tzemach Ga'on, who lived after Rabbi Paltoi, was asked what to do with a Jewish priest who married a divorced woman, which as noted by Asaf is forbidden to priests (p. 52). Rabbi Tzemach Ga'on expressed the fear that such a sinner, if only flogged, would go to another place and during synagogue services would participate in the priest's blessing by stretching out over the heads of congregation members his hands with his fingers separated. Rabbi Tzemach Ga'on, therefore, ordered that the last joints of the priestly sinner's fingers should be cut off, thus identifying and making it impossible for the sinner to participate in the blessing. The last and most famous Ga'on, Rabbi Ha'i, who died in 1042, devoted a long response, cited by Asaf, to an explanation of how Jewish sinners were flogged during his time; he detailed, moreover, how they were specifically flogged by his court. He emphasized that the whip was made of hemp and for the worst sinners was especially thick. The sinner was bound "right hand to the right foot and left hand to the left foot." The one who flogged him stood near his head. The ceremony began with a reading of the appropriate biblical verses. After the flogging, the sinner stood naked with his dress in his hand and acknowledged the justice of his sentence. Finally, the court asked God to have mercy on him. In other responsa, cited by Asaf on pages 56 and 57, Rabbi Ha'i specified the sins for which Jews should be flogged. Cutting one's hair on the minor holidays, putting on shoes during the mourning periods and violating the Sabbath were three examples. Asaf pointed out further on pages 58 and 59 that other responsa in the eleventh century provided proofs that the Jews of Egypt flogged sinners in front of the doors of synagogues and that the rabbis of Italy, because of the general political chaos and much greater Jewish autonomy, could and did execute sinners. Asaf specifically recorded the numerous death sentences inflicted by the Babylonian rabbi, Abu Aharon, who immigrated to Italy; for example, Rabbi Abu Aharon sentenced an adulterer to be strangled and a man who committed incest with his mother-in-law to be burned. Asaf illustrated the wide parameters of flogging by reporting that another unnamed Italian rabbi stipulated that if a Jew living in a courtyard area with other Jews sold his flat to a non-Jew, he should be flogged.

The sins punished with the greatest cruelty, apart from informing which will be separately discussed below, were acts of disobedience to the will of and/or physical attacks upon rabbis. Such acts were not rare occurrences. Asaf on page 67 quoted the late thirteenth-century responsa of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, the famous rabbi of Barcelona. Rabbi ben Aderet endeavored to show that any rabbi can "together with the elders" sentence Jews who oppose the rabbi's authority and are "notorious for their wickedness", not only to flogging but to the more severe punishments of having their hands or feet cut off or of being killed. Many other rabbinic responsa dealt in detail with such severe punishments. Asaf reported on page 72 that the previously mentioned Rabenu Asher was angry with Rabbi Moshe of Valencia for ruling against a usual custom and thus Asher's own authority in a matter of sabbath observance. From Toledo, Asher wrote to Rabbi Yitzhak of Valencia and ordered him to condemn the offending Rabbi Moshe to death unless he (Rabbi Moshe) did not repent after being fined and excommunicated. Rabenu Asher also dealt with the financial aspect of inflicting the death penalty. In his responsa to "the holy community of Avila," as reported by Asaf on page 74, the execution of the wicked was compared to the building of city walls; executions supposedly defended the purity of Judaism just as the walls defended their physical safety. Thus, just as every Jew could be compelled to pay taxes for the upkeep of the walls, every Jew could be compelled to pay for the execution of the wicked Jews.

All who separate themselves from public custom [of the Jews], such as those who do not fulfil commandments and do not honor the holidays or do not frequent synagogues or houses of study but rather regard themselves free and [behave] like other nations, and heretics, converts and informers should not be mourned; when they die, their brothers and all other relatives should put on white garments, make banquets and rejoice, since those who hate the Lord, blessed be he, have perished

Laws of Mourning, 1,10

In his previously mentioned article, Rosen recorded research of new Jewish historians showing that Italian Jews copied the Renaissance custom according to which a husband or brother can kill his wife or sister with impunity if he suspects her of adultery. To remove the resultant blemish upon the honor of an insulted husband, Jews committed many of these murders in the synagogue during prayer in order to obtain publicity. A Jew, named Ovadia, from Spoleto, for instance, murdered his wife in the synagogue and, after explaining his reasons, received no punishment. The Italian authorities put Ovadia on trial and fined him, but the Jews did not believe he had done anything wrong. Soon thereafter, he remarried another Jewish woman. Brothers in other cases murdered suspected women. Referring to his research, Rosen cited one such case in Ferrara in the mid-sixteenth century. The murderer brother worked for a charity organization that was affiliated with the congregation; he was able to continue in his job after the murder. Rosen determined and reported that in such cases the rabbis usually did not react

Even inflicting less severe punishment against Jews, such as thirty- nine lashes, was difficult. The normal talmudic alternative to the death penalty for Jews who killed other Jews was release of the Jewish murderer without further punishment. The Talmud posits another alternative. This alternative, as described by Maimonides in his commentary. Laws of the Murderer and of Taking Precautions^ chapter 4, rule 8, is that Jewish murderers, absolved of the death punishment by a rabbinical court, could be "put into a small cell and given first only a small amount of bread and water until their intestines narrowed and then [fed] barley so that their bellies would burst because of the illness."

Rabbinical judges experienced difficulty in inflicting punishment when Jewish autonomy was limited by secular authorities. Only those rabbinical judges who were appointed by what was called "laying of hands," 2 for example, could at first inflict flogging limited to thirty-nine lashes. Rabbis later devised a new more arbitrary way of inflicting punishment called "stripes of rebellion." The new method, which could be used by any rabbi, included harsher punishments. The number of lashes, for example, was unlimited. The cutting of limbs and unlimited imprisonment time were added. After the talmudic period and following the declines of the Roman and Sassanid Empires and of the Muslim caliphates, Jewish communities in many places became more autonomous and thus the opportunities for rabbis to impose more severe punishments increased

The Jewish religious authorities perpetrated most of the violence against Jews who were considered to be heretics or religious dissenters. The punishments imposed had to be warranted by the Talmud, or at least by interpretation of the Talmud. The Talmud was composed under the rule and authority of two strong empires, the Roman and the Sassanid; both of these empires limited the powers of Jewish autonomy much more than did subsequent medieval regimes. Talmudic sages frequently complained that under the rule of these two empires, they did not have the power to punish Jewish criminals with death but rather only with flogging. The few cases in which talmudic sages attempted to execute a Jewish criminal prompted strict official investigations. One of these few cases, mentioned in the Palestinian Talmud, concerned a Jewish prostitute in the third century who was finally executed. Apparently because execution was so difficult to enforce, the Talmud does not order a death punishment for Jewish heretics but does enjoin pious Jews to kill them by employing subterfuges. The major halachic codes, although emphasizing that the death punishment should be inflicted only if execution was possible, contain such prescription. matic expression of this command in the codes comes ironically under the section devoted to saving life. The question is posed: What is a pious Jew to do when he sees a human being drowning in the sea or having fallen into a well? The talmudic answer, still accepted by traditional Judaism, is that the answer is dependent upon the category to which the human being belongs. If the person is either a pious Jew or one guilty of no more than ordinary offences, he should be saved. If the person is a non-Jew or a Jew who is a "shepherd of sheep and goats," a category that lapsed after talmudic times, he should neither be saved nor pushed into the sea or well. If, however, the person is a Jewish heretic, he should either be pushed down into the well or into the sea or; if the person is already in the well or sea, he should not be rescued. This legal stipulation, although mutilated by censorship in certain editions of the Talmud and even more in most translations, appears in Tractate Avoda Zara (pp. 26a-b). Maimonides also explained this stipulation in three places: In the Laws of Murderer and Preservation of Life> Maimonides contrasted the fate of non-Jews with that of Jewish heretics. In the passages from Laws of of Idolatry Maimonides only discussed Jewish heretics. In Laws of Murderer and Preservation of Life (chapter 4, rules 10-1 1), he wrote:

The [Jewish] heretics are those [Jews] who commit sins on purpose; even one who eats meat not ritually slaughtered or who dresses in a sha'atnez clothes (made of linen and wool woven together) on purpose is called a heretic [as are] those [Jews] who deny the Torah and prophecy. They should be killed. If he [a Jew] has the power to kill them by the sword, he should do so. But if he has not [the power to do so], he should behave so deceitfully to them that death would ensue. How? If he [a Jew] sees one of them who has fallen into a well and there is a ladder into the well, he [should] take it away and say: "I need it [the ladder] to take my son down from the roof," or [he should say] similar things. Deaths of non-Jews with whom we are not at war and Jewish shepherds of sheep and goats and similar people should not be caused, although it is forbidden to save them if they are at the point of death. If, for example, one of them is seen falling into the sea, he should not be rescued. As it is written: "Neither shall you stand against the blood of your fellow" (Leviticus 19:16) but he [the non-Jew] is not your fellow.

In Laws of Idolatry > chapter 2, rule 5 Maimonides stated:

Jews who worship idolatrously are considered as non-Jews, in contrast to Jews who have committed [another] sin punishable by stoning; if he [a Jew] converted to idolatry he is considered to be a denier of the entire Torah. [Jewish] heretics are also not considered to be Jews in any respect. Their repentance should never be accepted. As it is written: "None that go into her return again, neither [do] they hold the paths of life" {Proverbs 2:19). [This verse is actually a reference to men who frequent "a strange woman," that is, a prostitute.] In regard to the heretics who follow their own thoughts and speak foolishly, it is forbidden to talk with or to answer them, as we have said above [in the first section of the work] so that they may ultimately contravene maliciously and proudly the most important parts of the Jewish religion and say there is no sin [in doing this]. As it is written: "Remove your way far from her and come not near the door of her house." (Proverbs 5:8)
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Although some variances in halachic interpretation and in practice existed, violence against women was routinely practiced for centuries in most Jewish communities. Some rabbis allowed the Jewish husband to beat his wife when she disobeyed him. Other rabbis limited this "right" by requiring that, prior to the beating, a rabbinical court, after considering the husband's complaint, had to issue an order. Presumably as an extension of this husband's right, rabbinical courts in Spain ordered the cruellest punishment for Jewish women suspected of fornication, prostitution and adultery and a much lighter punishment for Jewish male fornicators. In the early fourteenth century a local Jewish notable asked the famous Spanish rabbi, Rabenu 1 Asher, whether it was correct punishment to cut the nose of a Jewish widow, made pregnant by a Muslim. The notable added that, although the evidence itself was not conclusive, the pregnancy was well-known in the city. Rabenu Asher answered: "You have decided beautifully to cut her nose in order that those committing adultery with her will find her ugly, but let this be done suddenly so that she will not become an apostate [before her nose is cut]" (Asaf, p. 69). In a case wherein a male fornicated with Muslim women, Rabbi Yehuda, the son of Rabenu Asher, ordered only excommunication or imprisonment (Asaf, p. 78). This same punishment was prescribed when male Jews owned a Muslim female slave with whom other male Jews fornicated. The rabbis regarded the commission of adultery of Jewish women with Jewish men as less serious. In such a case one rabbi ordered that the woman's hair be shorn and that she be officially excommunicated in the synagogue in the presence of other women (Asaf, p. 87).

The Sephardic Jews of Jerusalem sheared women's hair as punishment for such sexual sins still in the nineteenth century. In some recorded cases the punishment was based upon the belief that the sexual sins of Jews, especially those committed by women, prevented rain from falling. The rabbis supposed that the rain would fall if Jewish women sinners were punished.

Tal quoted the following:

The war broke out against the background of the revival of the kingdom of Israel, which in its metaphysical (not only symbolic) status is evidence of the decline of the spirit of defilement in the Western world . . . The Gentiles are fighting for their mere survival as Gentiles, as the ritually unclean. Iniquity is fighting its battle for survival. It knows that in the wars of God there will not be a place for Satan, for the spirit of defilement, or for the remains of Western culture, the proponents of which are, as it were, secular Jews.

Tal further interpreted Amital's and thus Gush Emunim's basic views:

The modern secular world, according to this approach, "is struggling for survival, and thus our war is directed against the impurity of Western culture and against rationality as such." It follows that the alien culture has to be eradicated because "all foreignness draws us closer to the alien, and the alien causes alienation, as is the position of those who still adhere to Western culture and who attempt to fuse Judaism with rationalist empiricist and democratic culture." According to Amital's approach, the Yom Kippur War has to be comprehended in its messianic dimension: a struggle against civilization in its entirety

Rabbi Ginsburgh:

Regarded as one of the Lubovitcher sect's leading authorities on Jewish mysticism, the St. Louis born rabbi, who also has a graduate degree in mathematics, speaks freely of Jews' genetic- based, spiritual superiority over non-Jews. It is a superiority that he asserts invests Jewish life with greater value in the eyes of the Torah. "If you saw two people drowning, a Jew and a non-Jew, the Torah says you save the Jewish life first," Rabbi Ginsburgh told the Jewish Week "If every simple cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, is a part of God, then every strand of DNA is part of God. Therefore, something is special about Jewish DNA." Later, Rabbi Ginsburgh asked rhetorically: "If a Jew needs a liver, can you take the liver of an innocent non-Jew passing by to save him? The Torah would probably permit that. Jewish life has an infinite value," he explained. "There is something infinitely more holy and unique about Jewish life than non- Jewish life."

Sins can nevertheless increase the sufferings of Jews prior to the redemption. The two world wars, the Holocaust and other calamitous events of modern history are examples of punishment. The elder Rabbi Kook did not disguise his joy over the loss of lives in World War I; he explained that loss of lives was necessary "in order to begin to break Satan's Power." The followers of the elder Rabbi Kook's pronouncements often have detailed in depth such explanations. Rabbi Dov Lior, one of the best-known rabbis of the aforementioned Gush Emunim rabbinical council and the rabbi of Kiryat Arba,