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Matot

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Parashat Maatot

 

"And G-d spoke to Moses saying, 'Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites'…'Let man be picked out from among you for a campaign and let them fall upon Midian to wreck the Lord's vengeance on Midian'" (Number 31:1-3).

 

In the portion of Balak we wrote of the license to kill a Jew who has intercourse with a gentile woman in public, that one is permitted to kill him without a court of law and without witnesses and warning. We also wrote that one may not violate the Sabbath to save a non-Jew from death. In this portion we will deal with the laws of killing a gentile--not one who leaves a gentile to die on the Sabbath nor one who kills a gentile woman sleeping with a Jew, but the law of one who just out and out and kills a gentile.

 

This is the revenge Moses took on the Midianites: they killed all the male Midianites, even the babies, and even the women they killed, except for the small girls not yet ready to have intercourse with a man, those  under three years of age, as written, "Now, therefore, slay every male among the children and also slay every woman who has known a man carnally [Rashi: one who is fit for carnal relations]" (Numbers 31:17).

And why was revenge taken against the Midianites? Because they tempted the people of Israel to acts of debauchery and to the worship of Baal Peor. [Baal is one of the Canaanite gods and Baal Peor is also a god: according to Rashi on Numbers 25:3, it is called so "because they would uncover before it the end of the rectum and bring forth excrement; this is its worship."]

It is clear that the Midianites did not force the people of Israel to worship this god and did not force them to sleep with Midianite women, but this is why G-d's anger was aroused and why Moses commanded them to an orgy of killing, to the murder of women and children and infants (who certainly were not amongst those who did the tempting). Within the bloodbath they did not forget the Midianite girls, the young virgins whom they took captive, as written in Numbers 31:18, "But spare every young woman who had not had carnal relations with a man," and they made certain to give the priests and Levites a share of this miserable group of female and infant captives as a "levy for the Lord," as written: "And the number of human beings was 16,000, from which the Lord's levy was 32," Numbers 31:40. Were these things not written explicitly, it would be difficult to say them. We also do not know what the priests and Levites did with the young Midianite females.

We have seen that the abuse which the organization “Yad L’Achim” heaps upon missionary groups is nothing compared to what the Torah itself permits. Shivering should grip all who consider how those people would have acted had they not feared the police.

 

Yet not only the Midianites were they commanded to kill, but also all the seven nations living in the Land of Canaan at that time. As written in Sefer HaChinuch, commandment 528: "That we are adjured by a negative precept that we are not to allow [any] of the seven nations to live, in any location where we may find them and are able to kill them without any danger to ourselves. The seven nations are the Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, Hittites, Girgashites and Amorites…Now, although the truth is that King David killed out large numbers of them, until he almost eradicated them and made their memory perish, there yet remained some of them who became assimilated among the nations. Then whoever finds any of them is duty-bound to destroy them wherever they are." It would be enough for one religious arbiter or another to come and determine that this or that group of gentiles are descendants of the seven nations and he would not only give license to kill them, but it would be forbidden by Biblical prohibition to allow them to live! Whoever does not kill them, any time, any place, is violating a Biblical prohibition!

And if the questioner asks how this is possible--it is explicitly written in Deuteronomy 20:10, "When you approach a town to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace." There are two answers given: one, if they want peace the city becomes slaves and serve, as is written, "If it responds peaceably and lets you in, all the people present there shall serve you at forced labor." The other answer is that the peace demanded of these seven nations is to accept upon themselves the seven Noahide laws, as Nachmanides wrote on Deuteronomy 20:10, "If they repent, these seven nations should not be killed, and repentance is accepting upon themselves the seven laws about which the children of Noah are commanded."

According to these words it is already clear how the verse "Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace" is interpreted: accept the demands of the Torah and live as we will force you to, or we will kill, subjugate, and enslave you.

 

After all this it is no wonder that our rabbis, the halachic arbiters, explicitly write that what is written in the ten commandments, "Do not kill," applies only to a Jew and not to a gentile. This is brought by Maimonides in The Laws of a Murderer, chapter one, halacha one: "One who kills a person is violating a prohibition, for it says 'Do not kill.' If he kills before witnesses, he is killed with a sword." But this statement is restricted in chapter two, halacha 11, "First, one who kills a resident stranger [ger toshav] is not killed by the courts, as it says, 'And if a man deliberately kills his fellow.' [The Kesef Mishneh brings what the Mechiltah midrash says: 'his fellow, to exclude others.'] And there is no need to say that he is not killed for an idolater"! The Tur in Yoreh Deah 158 wrote, "When the Jews are on their land, a non-Jew who falls into a hole or a dangerous place--one who sees him does not have to help him up…in any case, they do not put him down the hole on their own." About this the Beit Yosef wrote: "It doesn't mean that it is forbidden to put him down, but it means that we are not commanded to put him down, even though he violates the seven Noahide laws. One who fulfills the seven laws, it is forbidden to put down." We learn from the laws that we wrote here that there are three levels of killing one who is not a Jew: One, if he is a Noahide gentile, fulfilling the seven laws--a Jew who kills him is not liable to death by the courts as he would be had he killed a Jew, but he is liable to death by the hands of Heaven. The second is a gentile who does not keep the seven Noahide laws (and we know of no gentile who keeps the seven Noahide laws) -- this one may be killed, but the Jews are not commanded to kill him. The third is an actual idolatrous gentile (as halacha considers all Christians): it is a commandment to kill him. The Rama, in Yoreh Deah 158, section one, writes: "And therefore one is allowed to try medicines on gentiles to see if they help." This is an explicit halachic license to perform medical experimentation by force on gentile slaves bought by Jews.

And even the chief rabbi of Israel, who gets his salary from the non-religious public (a public certainly shocked to read what we have written here) states his opinion explicitly and does not hide it. He publishes his responsa and is not ashamed to publicize it. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, in his book Yichaveh Daat, part two, section 14, deals with the question of a cohen who killed and therefore does not bless the congregation, but what of one who kills a gentile? During the discussion he unabashedly states: "It seems to me that what is said of a cohen who killed and therefore may not bless the congregation speaks of a cohen who has killed a Jew…to exclude the cohen who kills a gentile…and even though it is written that one should not cause gentiles to be killed…it does not mean that it is forbidden to kill them, only that it is not a commandment to cause them to be killed. And since, according to law, one is allowed to kill them, it is simple that one is not disqualified from blessing the congregation…"

And should you wonder how G-d fearing people write things like this, the answer is that it is precisely because they are G-d fearing they write this. One who believes that he is part of the Chosen People also believes that the whole world which G-d created was only created for the fulfillment of the Torah and commandments. He also believes that unless this is so the world will be destroyed, as written in Sefer HaEshkol, Rabbinical Laws: "The holy One, blessed be He, did not create his world except for His Torah and His nation Israel which occupies itself with the Torah, and the Torah is called truth and is the seal of the holy One, blessed be He, and any who occupies himself with it is upholding the world itself. For without the Torah the heavens and the earth would not be upheld, as is written, 'Were it not for My covenant, day and night, I would not have made the laws of heaven and earth'." It is no wonder that anyone who believes so also believes that the other creations, those who do not recognize Him who spoke and the world came to be and He who gave the Torah to the people of Israel, are not to be considered at all. Gentiles (and Jewish heretics), they and their existence and their happiness and their actions and their creations and their lives are worth nothing, "they are considered as animals." And if they do not fulfill our commandments, their judgment is all the same: to be removed from the world.

 

And the moral justification for all this? Let us see what is written in our portion: "to wreck the Lord's vengeance on Midian." Rashi comments: "one who stands against Israel is as one who stands against the Lord." There is no greater authorization than this to behave as a wild person and then claim that one is wrecking the Lord's vengeance.

 

Words of True Knowledge

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