Question: How should the Jewish community respond to the chaos and brutality in Libya? On one hand, Gaddafi is murdering innocent people and we, of all people, should not be silent. On the other hand, many of those innocent people are from groups like Al Qaeda that actively seek to destroy Jews and Israel. Does our sense of human responsibility extend also to those who actively hate us?
How should the Jewish community respond to the chaos and brutality in Libya? On one hand, Gaddafi is murdering innocent people and we, of all people, should not be silent. On the other hand, many of those innocent people are from groups like Al Qaeda that actively seek to destroy Jews and Israel. Does our sense of human responsibility extend also to those who actively hate us?
The Torah tells us that we have an ethical responsibility to intervene if a person is in danger or being injured based upon the verse ‘do not stand by your brother’s blood.’ (Lev. 19:16) While this is speaking about the responsibility to defend another Jew, ethical behavior would enjoin us to help anyone who is in need based upon the teaching of ‘loving all created beings.’ (Ethics of the Fathers 1:12) We should note that this altruism is not obligated if you must endanger yourself to save the other person, in such a case it would be considered ‘midos chasidus’, saintly behavior to do so.
Our question is more complex when we consider whether we must defend those who actively hate us. If someone is out to kill you, the Talmud tells us that you should slay them first (Sanhedrin 72a). This is based on the Biblical sanction to kill an intruder who breaks into your house at night (Exodus 22:1). In the end of the Book of Esther, the Jews kill thousands of Persians who were out to kill them. (9:1-5) Thus one is morally sanctioned to kill terrorists in Gaza who are planning to launch an attack. So if one may kill someone who attacks you, one would then certainly not be obligated to defend them. So if Gaddafi is attacking Al Qaeda, whose mission is to destroy Israel and the West, one would certainly not stand up to defend them. We should note that even in this case, we are told that one should not rejoice over the downfall of one’s enemy (Proverbs 11:10). In a famous passage in the Talmud, we are told not to say Hallel, the prayers of praise on Passover because ‘the works of my hands are drowning in the sea, and you (want to) sing praises.’ (Talmud Sanhedrin 39b). Why is this? Because there is a realization that even though they are my enemies, they are still human beings created in the image of G-d. It should be noted that after the fact, one can be happy that the persons who are out to hurt you are no longer around to perpetrate their evil.
Where this question becomes more complex is the makeup of the population in a country such as Libya. While such evaluations perhaps must ultimately be left up to the political scientists, the question is to what extent are these rebels people who are out to kill Jews and attack Israel, or are they people who express anti-semitism and hatred of Israel as seems to be the case. So the question becomes what if the person is not actually attacking you, but is verbally threatening you? Here we may distinguish between an enemy, someone who hates you, and a pursuer who is actively trying to hurt you. It is not clear from Torah sources whether you are allowed to pre-emptively attack someone who only verbally threatens you. However neither would one be obligated to defend someone who is your enemy. This what happened in the Sabra and Shatila camps in 1982 when the Israeli army allowed the Christian Phlangists to attack the PLO who themselves had been attacking Israel and running terrorist raids killing Israeli civilians. This situation and the situation in Libya are complicated by an additional factor. When these altercations occur, they do not just occur between warring factions, but invariably civilians are also the victims. Sometimes they are the victims as a result of collateral damage, sometimes as a result of direct attacks against civilians, as happened in Sabra and Shatila. The question of civilian victims is an extremely complicated one, and cannot be covered in this answer. We can conclude and state that generally one would not be obligated to defend one’s enemy who is out to kill you, and perhaps even one’s enemy who has verbally threatened you. The response to Ghaddfi’s attacks on the Libyan rebels would depend on the makeup of that group.
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Question: How can I convince my parents to let me get married in a simple, outdoor ceremony, and not make a huge, fancy deal? My fiancee and I do not want to elope, but just see the whole hall/food/etc. thing as a huge waste of resources, especially in today's world. My parents (in addition to being very upper middle class and slaves to society) are very traditional, so some Jewish sources from a rabbi might help our case....
The Torah advocates beautifying moments and places that are associated with holy celebrations and mitzvoth. The walls of the Temple in Jerusalem were paneled with gold, and in fact there is a Biblical commandment, based upon the verse “This is my G-d and I will beautify Him” (Exodus 15:2), to spend up to 30% more than one normally would to beautify a mitzvah. (BT Baba Kama 9a). With that said, excessive displays of wealth or ostentatious behavior are against the values of the Torah. Modesty is a quality which is important to inculcate for its own sake, as the prophet Micah (6:8) enjoins us to ‘go (in life) with modesty’. The Rabbis of the Talmud also warned that excessive displays of wealth may arouse the resentment of non-Jews when we are living outside the land of Israel (Babylonian Talmud Taanit 10b). There is also an idea that after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem weddings should be toned down because our joy cannot be complete (BT Sotah 49b).
Lifecycle events are celebrations which families want to make special by enhancing, however this can also lead to excess, and this excess can put pressures upon those who cannot afford it. This often occurs with weddings, Bar and Bat mitzvah celebrations and funerals. Throughout different periods of history, the Rabbi made decrees, takanot, to curb excessive lavishness at these events. The best example of this, and the one that has perhaps been most successful was the decree to keep funerals simple. (BT Moed Katan 27a). The former practices of elaborate processions and costly sarcophagi were banned by force of takkanot so the ‘the poor should not be put to shame’. To this day the Jewish custom is to bury in a plain pine box and linen shrouds, and to have no flowers.
In the Middle Ages the Rabbis’ concern for societal pressure brought about what are referred to as the Sumptuary Laws, community decrees limiting the number of guests, the number of silver goblets, and the ostentatious jewelry.
In more recent times there has been an attempt in the orthodox community to institute takanot, communal decrees that create guidelines to limit the size and elaborate nature of celebrations. This includes limiting the number of guests, having a single musician instead of a whole band and limits and what is spent on the flowers. The Chasidic communities are much more successful because of the authority commanded by the ‘Rebbe’. In non-chasidic communities takanot were attempted but then dropped because people had difficulty adhering to them. Is it not ironic that we are more successful at keeping funerals modest than weddings? But then again, the person is not there to insist on what they want.
On a personal note, our wedding had 70 people, our closest family and friends, with a light buffet. The chupa was four people holding poles with a talit attached and we bought a video camera and gave it to a friend. His pre-YouTube amateur shoot was nice than most professional jobs, and people said it was such a nice wedding because the true spirit was not eclipsed by the trappings. Let’s get back to basics and try to really live with modesty according to our Jewish values. The Duties of the Heart says that a person who follows a spiritual path needs to have the strength of character to not just follow what everyone else is doing, and sometimes will be criticized for it, but in the end they will have the inner satisfaction of knowing they did the right thing.
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