from Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, 1999.
PRIME MINISTER YITZHAK RABIN was murdered for religious reasons. The murderer and his sympathizers were and still are convinced that the killing was dictated by God and was therefore a commandment of Judaism. Comprehensive surveys, published in the Hebrew press, of people in religious neighborhoods and especially religious settlements indicated great sympathy for the murder. The polarization of approval and disapproval in the Israeli Jewish community over the killing of the prime minister of the Jewish state has increased since the time of the murder. Many Israeli Jews, significant numbers of Jews living outside Israel and most non-Jews do not possess sufficient knowledge of Jewish history and religion to put this kind of an assassination into its proper context. In this chapter we shall attempt to provide the historical-religious background necessary for an understanding of the Rabin assassination.
Jewish history has been replete with religious civil wars or rebellions accompanied by civil wars in which horrifying assassinations were committed. The Great Rebellion (AD 66-73) of Jews against the Romans that culminated in the destruction of the Second Temple and in mass suicide in Masada is exemplary. The defenders of Masada were, as many present-day visitors to the Masada site are seemingly unaware, a band of assassins called Sikarikin, a name taken from the word for a short sword that group members hid under their robes and used to kill their Jewish opponents in crowds of people. In the Talmud the word means terrorists or robbers and is applied only to Jews. Neither Masada nor this particular group are mentioned in the Talmud or in any part of the traditional writing preserved by Jews. Actually the Sikarikin were an ancient Jewish analogue to modern-day terrorists. Their suicide activity resembled the terrorist behavior of the suicide bombers who are so abhorred in the state of Israel. The Sikarikin escaped to Masada not from the Romans but from their Jewish brethren. Shortly after the rebellion against the Romans began, the Roman army that was advancing to Jerusalem was initially defeated and had to withdraw. The Sikarikin attempted forcefully to establish their leader, Menahem, as absolute king. The Jews of Jerusalem then attacked and defeated the Sikarikin in the temple itself, killing most of them including Menahem. The remaining Sikarikin escaped to Masada where they stayed during the rebellion; they did not fight the Romans but instead robbed neighboring Jewish villages. Three years after the Sikarikin defeat, the Roman army, commanded by Titus, approached Jerusalem for the final onslaught. (Titus' chief of staff, Tiberius Julius Alexander, was a Jew, the nephew of the great philosopher, Philo.) Jerusalem was divided into three parts; each part was under the command of a different leader; the leaders had already been fighting with one another for two years. The Roman Empire at that time was then concerned about a civil war. One of the leaders, Eliezer the Priest, commanded the Temple and used it as his stronghold. On Passover eve in the year AD 70, another rebel leader, Yohanan of Gush Halav, utilized brilliant strategy to overcome Eliezer. He dressed his soldiers as pious pilgrims who seemed to be coming to the temple for the Passover sacrifice. After being admitted to the temple by the gullible Eliezer without a body search, they, after guessing correctly that Eliezer and his men would not carry arms in a place so holy, pulled out their swords and slaughtered all their opponents. The well-known Masada terrorists became Jewish and Israeli national heroes, as did the Jerusalem Jews who killed most of the Sikarikin. Yohanan of Gush Halav also became a national hero, but Eliezer the Priest, perhaps because he was killed by Jews, was completely forgotten. In these and in many similar incidents in Jewish history, killing was allegedly committed for the greater glory of God. Yigal Amir, Rabin's assassin, made such an allegation.
The violence between Jews did not end with the loss of Jewish independence and the ceasing of Jewish rebellions. (The last Jewish rebellion occurred in AD 614.) From the Middle Ages until the advent of the modern state, Jewish communities enjoyed a great degree of autonomy. The rabbis who headed and had the authority in these communities were most often able to persecute Jews mercilessly. The rabbis persecuted Jews who committed religious sins and even more harshly persecuted Jews who informed upon other Jews to non-Jews or in other ways harmed Jewish interests. The rabbis generally tolerated violence committed by some Jews against other Jews, especially against women, so long as the Jewish religion and their own interests were not harmed. The relevancy of this aspect of Jewish history to the Rabin murder is obvious. The assassin, Yigal Amir, is a talmudic scholar who was trained in a yeshiva that inculcated its students to believe that this violence committed by rabbis over a lengthy time period was in accordance with God's word.
Long before Rabin's assassination, scholarly studies of Jewish history, written in Hebrew, recorded the violence mentioned above. The assassination aroused so much public interest in this topic that the Hebrew press published numerous articles either written by or resulting from interviews with distinguished Israeli scholars. Rami Rosen's November 15, 1996 Haaretz Magazine article, titled "History of a Denial," is an excellent and representative example. Although Rosen interviewed several distinguished historians, he relied primarily upon the views of Professor Yisrael Bartal, the head of the department of Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Bartal began his statement:
Zionism has described the diaspora Jews as weak people who desire peace and abhor every form of violence. It is astonishing to discover that orthodox Jews are also providing similar descriptions. They describe past Jewish society as one not interested in anything other than the Halacha and the fulfillment of the commandments. The entire Jewish literature produced in eastern Europe, however, teaches us that the reverse is true. Even in the nineteenth century the descriptions of how Jews lived are filled with violent battles that often took place in the synagogues, of Jews beating other Jews in the streets or spitting on them, of the frequent cases of pulling out of beards and of numbers of murders.
Citing the authorities interviewed, Rosen explained that many murders were committed for religious reasons. It was usual in some Hassidic circles until the last quarter of the nineteenth century to attack and often to murder Jews who had reform religious tendencies, even if small ones. These Hassidic Jews also attacked one another because of frequent quarrels between different holy rabbis over spheres of influence, money and prestige. After having learned the opinions of the best Israeli scholars, Rosen asked:
Were Yigal Amir, Baruch Goldstein, Yonah Avrushmi [who threw a hand grenade into a Peace Now demonstration, killing one and wounding a few people] and Ami Poper [who killed seven innocent Palestinian workers and was adopted as a great hero by extremists] parts of the Jewish tradition? Is it only by chance that Baruch Goldstein massacred his victims on the Purim holiday?
Rosen answered his own question:
A check of main facts of the [Jewish] historiography of the last 1500 years shows that the picture is different from the one previously shown to us. It includes massacres of Christians [by Jews]; mock repetitions of the crucifixion of Jesus that usually took place on Purim; cruel murders within the family; liquidation of informers, often done for religious reasons by secret rabbinical courts, which issued a sentence of "pursuer" and appointed secret executioners; assassinations of adulterous women in synagogues and/or the cutting of their [the women's] noses by command of the rabbis.
Rosen included in his long article many well-documented cases of massacres of Christians and mock repetitions of the crucifixion of Jesus on Purim, most of which occurred either in the late ancient period or in the Middle Ages. (Some isolated cases occurred in sixteenth-century Poland.) From the eleventh century until the nineteenth century, Ashkenazi Jews were more violent and fanatical than were the Oriental Jews, although the fanaticism of the Spanish Jews during both Muslim and Christian rule was exceptional. Jewish historians have not yet determined the causes of those differences. The influence of Christian fanaticism on the Jews may have been a cause. The Jews who lived in Spain may have been influenced by the fact that Muslim Spain was more fanatical than the rest of the Muslim world.
The violence perpetrated against women for centuries and other aspects of internal group violence influenced the developing character of traditional Jewish society. This character set the contextual framework for Rabin's assassination. Citing a few case examples here may further understanding of this character. Rabbi Simha Asars book, The Punishments After the Talmud Was Finalized: Materials for the History of Hebrew Law Jerusalem, 1922) is a marvelous source of information. Rabbi Asaf, who subsequently became a professor at the Hebrew University and in 1948 was one of the first nine judges of the Israeli Supreme Court, was a distinguished scholar and a religious Jew. Convinced that a Jewish state would be established, he wrote his book in order to show that a sufficient number of legal cases existed in the history of punishments inflicted by Jewish religious courts to provide precedents.
Although some variances in halachic interpretation and in practice existed, violence against women, as defined in any reasonable and modern way, 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, Rabenu1 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. Enlightened Hebrew press commentators at the time humorously noted that the rain did not fall even after women had been punished. In places where more modern attitudes prevailed, however, Spanish and Portuguese Jews desisted from these ancestral customs. Asaf quotes the elders of the Portuguese Jewish community in Hamburg in the late seventeenth century who, although having publicly accused members of their community of having intimate relations with non-Jewish women, expressed their regret that they could not punish them. Asaf pointed to the reason: "In every such case they must get permission from the town judges" (p. 95). The Jewish community, Asaf wrote, could only inflict religious sanctions, such as telling two brothers that they could not enter the synagogue until they had dismissed a notorious servant from their home (p. 97).
The Jewish rabbinical authorities in some eastern parts of Europe could inflict somewhat tougher punishments. These punishments, however, were less severe than those that had been imposed in Spain. The heads of the Jewish community in Prague decided in 1612 that all Jewish prostitutes had to leave the town by a certain date or be branded after that date with a hot iron (Asaf, p. 114). The prostitutes' main offence was that they were seen drinking non-kosher wine with some unnamed notables of the community. The most tolerant communities were those in Italy who, as Asaf recorded, gave full encouragement to the prostitutes, because they saved "bachelors and fools from the worse sins of adultery or of cohabitation with non-Jewish women."
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.
Jewish autonomy before the rise of the modern nation state allowed rabbis to engage in a wide spectrum of persecution, of which violence against women was but one category. The rabbis employed various types of violence against Jews who committed religious or other sins. Jewish fundamentalists, wanting to revive a situation that existed before the hated modern influences allegedly corrupted the Jews, emphasized this violence. The centrality of violence in the Halacha played an important role in the development of Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Judaism historically had a double system of law. There was, on the one side, a more normal system of law, but there was, on the other side, been a more arbitrary system of law employed in emergencies. These emergency situations most often occurred when rabbis had great communal power. The rabbis, alleging that heresy and infidelity were at dangerously high levels, often suspended the normal system of laws, at least in the area of guarding the beliefs of the community, and used emergency powers to avert God's wrath. A relevant example for our study concerns the death penalty. In the normal system of law, the halachic application of the death punishment against a Jew was almost impossible to carry out, as opposed to its much easier application against a non-Jew. Even inflicting less severe punishment against Jews, such as thirtynine 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. The paradigmatic 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 10-11), 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).
The last verse refers again to men who "frequent a strange woman", that is, a prostitute. The commentators explained that this passage meant that a truly repentant idolatrous Jew is accepted by the Jewish community, but a heretic is not accepted. A heretic who wants to repent, however, may do it alone. The main reason for this difference is seemingly that an idolatrous Jew, including one who converts to Christianity, accepts another religious discipline, while a heretic follows his own views and is thereby considered to be more dangerous. In chapter 10, rule 1 of Laws of Idolatry, Maimonides, after explaining the extermination of the ancient Canaanites and again asserting that no Jews should be killed, said: "All this applies to the seven [Canaanite] nations, but Jewish informers and heretics should be exterminated by one's own hand and put into hell, because they cause trouble to Jews by removing their hearts from being true to the Lord, like Tzadok, and Beitos [the alleged founders of the Sadducean sect] and their pupils. Let the name of the wicked perish. " In his next rule Maimonides asserted that non-Jews should not be healed by Jews except when danger of non-Jewish enmity exists. In his Fundamental Laws of Torah, the first treatise of his codex, chapter 6, rule 8, Maimonides, after explaining that Jews are forbidden to burn or otherwise to destroy the holy script and that they may not even damage any Hebrew writing in which one of the seven sacred names of God is written, ruled:
If a Torah scroll was written by a Jewish heretic, it should be burned, together with all its sacred names [of God], because the heretic does not believe in the holiness of God and could not write it for God but must have thought that it is like other books. Therefore, given this view, God is not sanctified [by it] and it is a commandment to burn it [the scroll] so that no memory is left of the heretics or to their deeds. But, a Torah scroll written by a non-Jew should be put away with the other holy books that deteriorated or were written by non-Jews.3
Although he did not instruct Jews to burn heretical books, Maimonides probably based the above passage upon many directives issued by talmudic sages since about AD 100. These directives called for the burning of books by heretics. Indeed, talmudic sages even boasted at times about burning such books themselves. Halachic codes did not so instruct, but rabbinical responsa frequently called for and Jewish history is replete with examples of Jews burning Jewish books. Together with burial of books in cemeteries, this reached a high point in the eighteenth century. Although minimized in many apologetic histories of Jews, especially in works written in English, the burning and the burial in cemeteries of books in the history of Judaism was far more intense than in the histories of either Christianity or Islam.
Traditional Judaism also forbade independent thoughts. In his Laws of Idolatry, chapter 2, rule 3, Maimonides, after explaining that a Jew should not think about idolatry, continued:
And it is not only forbidden to think about idolatry but [about] any thought that may cause a Jew to doubt one principle of the Jewish religion. [The Jew] is warned not to bring it to his consciousness. We shall not think in that direction, and we shall not allow ourselves to be drawn into meditations of the heart, because human understanding is limited, and not every opinion is directed to the real truth. If a Jew, therefore, allows himself to follow his [independent] thoughts, he will surely destroy the world because of insufficient understanding. How? He may sometimes be seduced to idolatry and sometimes think about the uniqueness of the Lord, sometimes that he exists and other times that he does not; [he may] investigate what is above [in the sky] and what is below [under earth], what is before [the world was created] and what is after [the end of the world]. He may think about whether or not prophecy is true; he may think about whether or not the Torah was given by God. Because such people do not know the [true] logic to be used in order to reach the real truth, they become heretics. It is about that issue that the Torah warned us. As it is written: "And that you seek not after your own heart and after your own eyes that you are using to prostitute yourselves" (Numbers 16:39). [This verse is included in the third passage of "Kry'at Sh'ma," one of the most sacred Jewish prayers that is said daily in the morning and in the evening.] This means that every Jew is forbidden to allow himself to follow his own insufficient knowledge and to imagine that his own thoughts are capable of reaching the truth. The sages have said: "after your own heart" means heresy; "after your own eyes" means prostitution. This prohibition, even though the sin causes a Jew to lose paradise, does not carry the penalty of flogging [because flogging is inflicted only in cases of deeds].
Such prohibitions of any independent thinking (which some Haredim apply to some of Maimonides' own writings) were common in post-talmudic Judaism and have persisted to date in part of Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Judaism totally prohibited independent thinking about issues discussed freely by St. Augustine regardless of whatever answers he put forward. Indeed, such issues are almost never mentioned today by Orthodox Jewish scholars.4 Many theological problems freely discussed by Thomas Aquinas5 were and remain unthinkable in traditional Judaism. (Traditional Judaism today includes not only Orthodox but much of Conservative Judaism as well.) Amazingly, many people, especially in English-speaking countries, still attribute to post-talmudic Judaism the intellectual distinction achieved in numerous countries by many Jews in the past 150 years. This delusion has contributed to the spread of fundamentalist Judaism. In reality, the contrary has been the case. Most of the Jews who attained intellectual distinction were influenced by rebellion against this type of totalitarian system; they negated some of its major tenets.
In addition to advocating that heretics be killed, whenever possible, by employing one method or another, traditional Judaism directed that heretics while still alive should under all possible circumstances be treated in a worse manner than non-Jews or Jews who converted to another religion. One socially important example of such directed treatment is the burial of the heretic's corpse, together with the ceremonies to be observed by the family after the burial. Whereas traditional Judaism permits and sometimes even obliges Jews to bury most Jewish sinners, it strictly prohibits Jews to bury Jewish heretics and/or a few types of Jewish sinners. Tractate Trumot of the Palestinian Talmud, chapter 8, halacha 3, discusses a Jewish butcher in the town of Tzipori in Galilee who sold non-kosher meat. This butcher fell from a roof and was killed. Rabbi Hanina Bar Hama, a sage in the early third century AD, encouraged the Jews of the town to let their dogs eat the corpse. Such behavior was usually not feasible; hence, later authorities were more moderate. Maimonides and later rabbis were content with prohibiting the family of the heretic to mourn his death and ordering the family to rejoice. Maimonides clearly put this in his Laws of Mourning, chapter 1, rule 10:
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.
Most Jews rigorously followed this rule of Maimonides until the beginning of Jewish modernization; some orthodox Jews follow this rule to date.6 In the small towns of eastern Europe in the nineteenth century, Jews devised another custom of humiliating burial of heretics and other Jewish sinners. This custom, often mentioned in the contemporary Hebrew and Yiddish literature, was called "ass burial." It was derived from the biblical verse, Jeremiah 22: 19, where the prophet predicts that King Yohoiakim of Judah "will be buried as an ass." This custom had three general components. First, members of the Jewish burial society, called the Holy Society and consisting of the fiercest zealots of the town, would first beat the heretic's corpse. Then the corpse would thereafter be put on a cart filled with dung and was in that condition paraded through the town. Finally, the corpse would be buried beyond the fence of the graveyard without religious rites. The two expressions, "ass burial" and "beyond the fence" became proverbial terms in Hebrew and Yiddish and are still used to denote social ostracism. The famous Jewish writer, Peretz Smolenskin (1840-85), wrote a Hebrew novel, titled Ass Burial, which is still read. In his novel Smolenskin told the story of a young Jew in a Russian small town who, because of a petty quarrel with the chief of the Jewish burial society, was declared a heretic. The Jewish congregation hired an assassin who murdered the heretic. The heretic was buried in an ass burial. Smolenskin was the father of the naturalistic style in Hebrew literature. His novels were based upon a close observation of Jewish life as it was in his time.
Learned authorities often disagreed on the definition of heretic. Talmudic sages enumerated several kinds of heretics who were called by different names. The Talmud emphasized one type of heretic, called "apikoros" apparently named after followers of the Greek philosopher, Epicurus. In Tractate Sanhedrin, page 99b of the Talmud, the Apikoros were designated as all Jews who were disrespectful to rabbis. One talmudic sage asserted that a Jew who was disrespectful to another Jew in the presence of a rabbi was a heretic. Rabbi Menahem Ha'Meiri, in commenting upon the above passage, said that a Jew who called a rabbi by his name without using the honorific title was a heretic. The prevalent opinion until the twentieth century was that Jews who were disrespectful to rabbis were not heretics but were only "like heretics." Real heretics were those who denied the validity of the Talmud as religious authority. This definition did not lessen the punishment of heretics and other sinners, when feasible to employ under emergency laws. This definition lessened the duty, imposed by the Talmud, of separating many Jews who paid taxes from the congregation. In the first half of the twentieth century, two famous rabbis, Rabbi Hazon Ish and Rabbi Kook the elder both ruled that laws regarding heretics "do not apply because visible miracles do not occur." To what extent the Hazon Ish-Kook opinion is followed today is difficult to determine. At this point in our discussion, nevertheless, the focus is upon pre-modern times.
Our survey of punishments, inflicted under emergency Jewish laws upon Jewish heretics and other sinners, begins with pronouncements 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 acknowledging 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.
In Spain, whether under Muslim or Christian rule, Jewish autonomy and the consequent punishment of Jewish sinners were most developed and punishments were recorded in the largest number of cases. On page 62, Asaf quoted Rabbi Samuel the Prince,7 who died in 1046: "Spanish Jews were always free of heresy, except in a few villages near the Christian land where suspicion exists of some heretics being harbored in secret. Our predecessors have flogged a part of [those] Jews who deserved to be flogged, and they have died from flogging." Rabbi Ha'i, as previously mentioned, insisted that the Jew being flogged must acknowledge the justice of his sentence and repent. Refusal to repent, Ha'i and many other rabbinical authorities made clear, compelled more flogging even until death. Spain may have become "free of heresy" at least partially because previous heretics were flogged to death. Rabbi Samuel's boast was confirmed to some extent, according to Asaf on page 63, by the story of the Jewish philosopher and historian, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Daud who, in his book Shalshelet Ha'kabalah (Chain of Tradition), told how the Karaites, when they began to spread, were humiliated and expelled from all the towns of Castile except for one.8 Somewhat later, after Rabbi Daud's death, Maimonides moderated the flogging punishment. In his commentary on the Mishnah, Tractate Khulin, quoted by Asaf on page 64, Maimonides maintained that Jews who committed sins which would normally result in the death penalty should "now only be flogged and excommunicated but their excommunication should never be removed."
The Jewish 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.
Our final example from Spain is a summary of the responsa of Rabbi Yehuda, the son of Rabenu Asher. This responsa, quoted by Asaf on page 77, is important not only because it documents the use of violence but also because it describes the normal procedure in emergency cases of halachic decision making in cases brought before the rabbinical court. The elaborate display of reasoning in Jewish emergency law, differing totally from Halacha, is well illustrated in this responsa.
A cornerstone of the normal halachic procedure, based upon the Bible and employed in all cases brought before the rabbinical court, is that, in the absence of written documents that are used only in civil cases, every judgment must be based upon the testimony of two or more male Jewish witnesses. The testimony of each of the two witnesses must be exactly the same as determined in direct interrogation. In the illustrative example presented in his responsa, Rabbi Yehuda cited a case of a Jew who beat another Jew so severely that, as a consequence of this, the latter died. Two witnesses, Moshe and Avraham (family names not given), saw the beating. Two other witnesses, Yoseph and Yitzhak, saw only the beginning of the beating; they then left and thereafter returned to see the beaten man lying on the ground with blood pouring from his head. After giving thanks to God for "inspiring the kings of the earth to give Jews the power to judge [their offenders] as we are judging now," Rabbi Yehuda explained how the principles of current Jewish law that are not all according to Halacha have to be applied in the case under consideration. Rabbi Yehuda, as quoted by Asaf, decided:
If only the testimony of Moshe and Avraham is found to be valid, the offender should be executed. If only one of their testimonies is found to be valid together with finding the testimony of either Yoseph or Yitzhak to be valid, the offender's hands should be cut off. If the testimony of either Moshe or Avraham is found to be valid but the testimony of both Yoseph and Yitzhak is found to be invalid, the offender's right hand should be cut off. If the testimony of both Moshe and Avraham is found to be invalid but the testimony of both Yoseph and Yitzhak is found to be valid, the offender's left hand should be cut off. If all the testimonies are found to be invalid, the offender should be exiled from the city because the fact that he killed [the victim] became notorious.
In other European countries, Jewish autonomy and thus its consequences were less powerful than in Spain. Perhaps this was because the other states, in spite of their feudal nature, were stronger than the Spanish kingdoms before the latter part of the fifteenth century. In England, where royal power was especially strong and where Jews settled only after England's conquest by William I, there were, so far as we know, no cases of rabbis' flogging or otherwise punishing Jews for religious offenses. In continental Europe, where Jewish autonomy depended more on the feudal lords than on the king or emperor, however, there were significant numbers of cases. In fourteenth-century Germany, for example, the famous rabbi, Yosef Weil, according to Asaf on page 102, recorded in his book of responsa that Rabbi Shimon from Braunschweig asked him whether it was permitted to put out the eyes of a Jew who violated the Sabbath and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Rabbi Weil answered that it was permitted and referred to talmudic evidence for his permission. In another case, reported by Asaf on page 104, the famous Rabenu Tam who lived in northern France in the twelfth century ordered that in the case of a Jew who beat another Jew the punishment should be the cutting off of the offender's hand rather than the usual punishment of flogging. Asaf recorded on page 103 that another rabbi had seen his father inflicting the punishment of flogging. Flogging was used in general in Germany as a punishment for lesser religious sins; the cutting of limbs was rare. The use of flogging even diminished with the passage of time; fines, excommunications and obligatory fasts were used by German Jews as almost the only punishments.
In the countries east of Germany, especially in Poland and after 1569 in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth where Jewish autonomy was extensive, punishments inflicted by rabbis almost equalled those inflicted in Spain. Every Jewish community had its own prison and stocks, called "kuneh" in Yiddish, that were placed in the entrances to major synagogues. The stocks consisted of iron bars to secure the sinner's arms, compelling him to stand facing entering members of the congregation who would spit at him, slap his face and/or take other physical action against him. Flogging was freely practiced in the synagogue, usually during the reading of the law in the midst of the morning prayer. Asaf reported on page 122 that the famous sixteenth-century rabbi, Shlomo Luria, assured his questioners that a well-flogged sinner would not sin again and that the number of stripes in flogging should be determined by the court according to what is decided as fitting the sin. In serious cases the inflicted penalties were mutilation and death. A generation after Rabbi Shlomo Luria, another famous rabbi, Maharam (our teacher Rabbi Meir) of Lublin, according to Asaf on page 123, wrote about a case of a Jewish murderer caught by Polish authorities. Maharam insisted that such an offender should be executed by the rabbinical or Polish authorities. Maharam warned the rabbis against substituting mutilation for execution:
I recall what occurred when I was young, in the time of Rabbi Shekhna R.I.P. In his time there was a most wicked Jew; the great rabbi permitted [the community] to put out his eyes and cut off his tongue. After having this done to him, he converted to Christianity, married a non-Jewish woman and had children. He and his [family members] were always enemies of the Jews.
In the seventeenth century, mutilation as a punishment, instead of death or flogging, tended to disappear among Jews of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Expulsion from the town appeared as a new punishment. The autonomous Jewish community of a given town could determine which Jews would reside in the town. The privilege of residence was usually granted automatically only to the children of the old residents, their wives and the rabbis. All other Jews had to apply to the community authorities and receive, often after a payment and/or for a limited time, their residence rights. One of the cruellest punishments that a Jewish congregation could inflict, therefore, was expulsion, because an expelled Jew would have great difficulty acquiring residence rights elsewhere. This punishment, nevertheless, was increasingly employed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When Russia, Prussia and Austria thereafter divided Poland, these three conquering powers limited the autonomy of Jewish communities and forbade them to expel their members from towns. The expulsions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were often immediate, regardless of the time of year, and were many times used as a weapon in religious disputes, such as the quarrel between the Hassids and their opponents, the Mitnagdim. The Union of Jewish Congregations in Lithuania, according to Asaf on page 127, ordered immediate expulsion from the town in addition to physical and financial punishment for any Jew who "behaved with contempt toward the rabbi." In another rule, cited by Asaf on pages 127 and 128, the Union ordered congregations to expel Jews who had previously been expelled from another town. The expelled Jews were usually compelled to sign a document, similar to the one quoted by Asaf on page 132, from the city of Krakow, stating that if they stay in the town for even one night they must accept any punishment imposed upon them by the community leaders, including "mutilation of ear or nose or of other places." In another case, cited by Asaf, a young Jew, who was expelled from Krakow for having taken part in a theft committed in the house of a notable, was sentenced to be flogged in front of the door to the synagogue; the youth additionally had to sign a declaration that if found again in Krakow he knew that "his two ears would be cut off, in addition [to his receiving] other punishments." The kuneh or stock was also used in this period as punishment especially for heretics but also for sinners who committed minor offences. In 1772, when the leaders of the Jewish community of Vilna began their struggle against the Hassidic movement, they first punished the Hassids in their town. Before the eve of the Sabbath prayer all Hassidic writings were burned near the kuneh so that the congregation members would see the ashes when they came to the synagogue. Before the burning the chief Hassid of Vilna, Meir Issar, was flogged privately in the "hall of the community." Following the flogging, Issar had to confess his sin, strictly following the formula prepared by the rabbinic court, in the synagogue during morning Sabbath prayers. He was then imprisoned for one week in the castle of Vilna. The chief rabbinic authority at that time, Haga'on Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, additionally wanted to put Issar in the kuneh, but the community leaders, apparently because Issar's family was important, refused. This story, mentioned by Asaf on page 139, was included in the detailed, Hebrew-language histories of this period.9
The story of Meir Issar is a typical example of persecution by Jewish authorities in eastern Europe of a Jewish religious dissident at the end of the eighteenth century. Fanaticism, religious disputes interposed with excommunications, burning of or sometimes burial in cemeteries of books and popular riots against heretics and dissenters characterized many European Jewish communities throughout most of the eighteenth century, with the exception of those in England and Holland. Towards the end of the century the zealotry decreased, first in Germany and Italy and then in the larger towns of eastern Europe; it continued during much of the nineteenth century among the bulk of the Jewish population in eastern Europe who lived in smaller towns. The great majority of Jewish immigrants to the United States, Britain and a few other places in the nineteenth century, having come from areas in which religious persecution of Jews by other Jews had been widely practiced for a long time, suddenly arrived in countries in which such persecution could not, at least not to nearly the same extent, be carried out.10 The wish of many eighteenth-century Jews to persecute was seemingly greater than their actual ability to do so. An incident in the history of the Frankist heresy, which erupted in Poland in 1756 and continued for some years thereafter, provides a good example. When leaders of the autonomous Jewish community in Poland learned of this heresy, one of them, Rabbi Baruch from Greece, wrote a long letter to his friend in Germany and one of the greatest rabbis of that generation, Rabbi Ya'akov Emden.11 In his letter Rabbi Baruch described the proceedings and aims of the main council of Jewish autonomy held in September, 1756, in Konstantinov. The council was called the "committee of four lands," a name which referred to the four main Polish provinces. Rabbi Baruch reported details of the heresy and wrote that the committee of four lands decided "to bring the matter before the great Lord who rules over their [the Christian] faith, the Pope in Rome" and to struggle against the heresy. Rabbi Baruch wrote further that the committee asked "the help of [Polish] bishops so that the cursed ones would be condemned to be burned at the stake." Meir Balaban, the distinguished historian of Polish Jewry, remarked that the wish to see hundreds of "the cursed ones" bummed at the stake by the Christian authorities, who at that very time were persecuting Polish Jews, indicated the depth of the hatred of the heretics felt by the Jewish leadership.12 The committee's attempt failed. Rabbi Baruch went so far as to try to involve his patron, the powerful Minister Bruhl who was the favorite of the Polish King August III in this matter. Rabbi Baruch wanted Bruhl to arrange an interview for him with the papal nuncio in Warsaw. The Pope of that time period, Benedict XVIII, would almost certainly not have agreed to have a mass burning, but the heretics anyway obtained the help of powerful bishops and magnates and even of Countess Bruhl, the wife of the minister. The result was that the Jewish leaders could not, as they wanted to, pursue the persecution.
It may be instructive to compare the Frankist heresy incident with what Baruch Spinoza had to endure in Holland about a hundred years earlier. Because of the relatively tolerant and more modern Dutch regime, the Jewish community of Amsterdam could only excommunicate Spinoza. As much as members of that community desired to do so, they could not flog or kill Spinoza; they could not compel Spinoza to make public confession in the synagogue that he had sinned in his commentaries and statements about Judaism. The Jewish community could only excommunicate Spinoza and forbid him from attending the synagogue. A few years before Spinoza's excommunication, the Jewish community of Amsterdam excommunicated Uriel D' Acusta for similar reasons. D' Acusta, however, was not endowed with Spinoza's firmness and could not stand his exclusion from the synagogue and from Jewish community life. D' Acusta asked the rabbis to reinstate him. 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.
We have seen that formal and legal infliction of severe punishments depended upon the amount of Jewish autonomy that existed in specific places at specific times. Russia, Prussia and Austria, as previously noted, after their conquest of Poland, abolished Jewish autonomy and subjected Jews to the ordinary criminal law of their countries. As bad as that criminal law was, it was on balance better and more humane than the Jewish law as applied by the rabbis.13 Jewish communities that were suddenly deprived of their power to persecute heretics found it difficult to accustom themselves to a new situation. The relatively lax police supervision that existed in Tsarist Russia during most of the nineteenth century allowed Jewish authorities to persecute religious innovators through riots, which were similar to what were called "pogroms" when committed by non-Jews against Jews. Until 1881 in Russia, the number of riots by Jews against other Jews probably exceeded the number of pogroms by non-Jews against Jews. The previously persecuted Hassids were the major and worst persecutors; they were especially active against the emerging Hebrew press of that time that appeared before the rise of the Yiddish press. The Hebrew press antagonized the Hassids mainly by reporting and protesting against the religious persecution by rabbis and their followers. In order to avert persecution by Jewish rioters, most of the Hebrew papers were printed and issued in St. Petersburg or behind the Prussian border, where the police were strong and the small Jewish communities mostly consisted of educated individuals.
The history of Jews in Russia until 1881 includes a great deal of persecution of Jews by Jews. The two following typical examples, one major and one minor, are illustrative: The major example is taken from the long article by David Asaf,14 published in Zion (1994, number 4), the quarterly journal of the Israeli Historical Association. Asaf described the riot in Uman in the Ukraine, where one of the more famous Hassidic rabbis, Nahman of Braslaw, was buried and where his followers who came on pilgrimage to his tomb on the Jewish New Year were attacked and beaten year after year for decades by other Hassids. The annual beatings finally culminated in 1863 in an especially nasty attack by a coalition of Hassidic sects that was described by a contemporary Jewish writer in the Hebrew press of that time. The writer of the article noted the similarity between this Hassidic "pogrom " and those committed by the anti-Semites. He described how Hassids smashed the holy cupboard (Aron Ha'kodesh in Hebrew) where the scrolls of law were stored. The attacking Hassids considered the place to be heretical in and of itself; the alleged heretics were beaten and stoned; when they fainted, they were attacked again. The attackers used the occasion to beat the modernized Jews of the place as well, including women who wore what was considered to be immodest clothing. Fearful of other attacks, the Breslaw Hassids hired a company of Russian soldiers to defend themselves from other Hassids. The following year the collapse of the Hassidic coalition and another Jewish attack upon Jews in the town of Rzhishchev (south of Kiev) gave the Breslaw Hassids a temporary respite. The Rzhishchev riot erupted when a holy rabbi from another place had the temerity to visit Rzhishchev, where another holy rabbi resided, to collect money. As Asaf wrote in his article: "Of course, the Hassids of the local holy rabbi cursed and stoned the invader and he was almost killed." Many of the Hassids were wounded. The two holy rabbis then proclaimed that ritual slaughterers of each side were not kosher; each rabbi also proclaimed that the prayers of the other side were "an abomination to God." Scuffles ensured. The holy rabbi of Rzhishchev was denounced by his colleague as a forger of banknotes. A police investigation followed. Although the Breslaw Hassids attained a respite, they were, as Asaf showed, attacked periodically by other Hassids until 1914.
A minor example occurred in the town of Vyshegrad in 1886 and was recorded in the contemporary Hebrew press. Quoting research of new Jewish historians, Rosen in his previously cited article wrote:
Hassids of Vyshegrad were opposed to the new cantor [of the synagogue] because his clothes are clean and he puts rubber shoes over his ordinary shoes. They therefore rioted in the synagogue against this cantor and beat their opponents until blood flowed. The police came quickly to separate the two sides. The rabbi who incited the riot was then arrested by soldiers and brought to the government house to explain the riot. The actual rioters will be criminally prosecuted.
After 1881 the situation in Russia began to change and Jewish attacks upon Jews decreased for several apparent reasons. First, in 1881 the government instigated Russian and Ukrainian pogroms began, and mass emigration of Jews from Russia began. In addition police supervision was tightened under the regime of Alexander III, who ascended to the throne after revolutionaries assassinated his father, Alexander II. Attacks by Jews against Jews, although diminished, nevertheless continued in Russia until 1914.
In Polish areas ruled by Austrian police, supervision was stronger and therefore direct attacks by Jews against other Jews apparently ceased. Orthodox Jews employed some secret forms of religious persecution against modern Jews, who called themselves "maskilim" (enlightened). In extreme cases, Jewish servants of the maskilim were suborned to kill their employers or other methods of assassination were employed. In his article Rosen related:
Because of the approaching anniversary of Rabin's assassination, Professor Ze'ev Gris of the department of Jewish thought at Ben-Gurion University [in Be'er Sheva] sent us a story about what happened in Lemberg (now Lviv) in the nineteenth century. [In 1848 Lemberg was part of Austria.] A rabbi, named Avraham Cohen was assassinated by Jews for religious reasons. This was part of a confrontation between enlightened Jews, although relatively moderate since they kept the commandments, and the fanatical Hassids. An article about this was once published by the Hebrew press in Palestine in Davar one year after [the Labor leader] Arlozorov [was assassinated]. [The article] was severely attacked by the right wing Hebrew press of that time.
Rosen also quoted Professor Bartal who believed the attacks of the Hassids in the general confrontation to be the forerunner of the massacre committed by Baruch Goldstein. Bartal commented further that the maskilim usually only attacked the Hassids or other orthodox religious Jews by employing satire.15 Only if provoked beyond endurance, Bartal asserted, would the maskilim attack or defend themselves by using physical violence.
Rosen's account of the poisoning assassination of Rabbi Cohen, as taken from what Professor Gris wrote, is worth relating:
In Lemberg in the 1840s hundreds of maskilim, after looking for a rabbi to head their congregation, found Rabbi Avraham Cohen, who was the rabbi in the small Austrian town of Hohenmass. Avraham Cohen was born in Bohemia to a poor Jewish peddler, but he became highly educated. After finishing his Yeshiva studies and receiving the authorization to become a rabbi, he went to study at and earned a degree from Prague University. The historian, Dr Ze'ev Aharon Eshkoli, who researched the story of Rabbi Cohen, published his account in 1934; he wrote that Cohen was a moderate but as "one educated in the German style of those times he was considered a modernist." In 1844, Cohen was appointed rabbi of the Lemberg congregation of maskilim; two years later he was the rabbi of all maskilim in the district of Lemberg. In this role he tried to introduce changes in Jewish life, but he soon encountered furious opposition of "the religious fanatics," as Eshkoli defined them. Cohen, for example, initiated the opening of Jewish schools that would serve as alternates to yeshivot, and he attempted to abolish the tests of Jewish religious subjects that Orthodox rabbis imposed upon all young Jewish couples at their betrothal. Cohen's most important initiative, according to Eshkoli, was his attempt to abolish the taxes on kosher meat and sabbath candles, which Lemberg Jews paid to [Austrian] authorities. These taxes were burdensome for poor Jews but were sources of income for many Orthodox notables. The method [of taxation] was as follows: A rich Jew for a certain lump sum obtained from the authorities the right to impose the tax on the Jews, from whom he took a much greater sum supposedly for his efforts. Five tax gatherers, all very pious, headed the opposition to Cohen. Their leader was Rabbi Hertz Berenstein, who came from a noted rabbinical family; the second was Rabbi Tzvi Orenstein, the son of the former Orthodox rabbi of Lemberg. In 1846, Cohen sent a memorandum to the emperor [of Austria] pointing out the injustice involved in the gathering of those taxes. Because of his connection with the authorities, he was twice invited to talk with the emperor. The five tax gatherers also sent a memorandum pointing out that the tax gathering provides a livelihood for thousands of Jewish families. The Austrian authorities, nevertheless, accepted Cohen's request and abolished those taxes in March, 1848.
The abolition of those taxes may not primarily have been due to Cohen's request. The 1848 revolution, which began in Vienna as a reaction against Hapsburg absolutism, probably prompted the tax abolition. Austrian liberals viewed those taxes as discriminatory and opposed them; they were supported by the enlightened Jews. Orthodox Jews, especially their rabbis, were the firm allies of absolutism and reaction, not only in Austria but throughout Europe and the Middle East. Rosen continued his story about Rabbi Cohen's misfortune:
Whether for reasons of ideological opposition to Cohen or for economic reasons or for both, the five Jewish notables in 1848 began a total struggle against Rabbi Avraham Cohen. First, they put placards in the synagogues that incited Jews to spit in his face and stone him. When the persecution increased, Cohen's friends asked him to agree to his being guarded all the time; he refused, saying that he did not believe that Jews would kill him. The next step involved placards saying plainly that the "law of pursuer" [to be explained below] applies to Rabbi Cohen. [One placard said], for example: "He is one of those Jewish sinners for which the Talmud says their blood is permitted" (that is, every Jew can and should kill them). Another placard asked: "Will a Jew be found who will liberate us from the rabbi who destroys his congregation?" The fanatics first decided that the assassination would take place during Purim in 1848; they even cast lots to determine who would have the honor of murdering the rabbi, but their plans went awry. A month later during Passover of 1848 a crowd of Jews stoned Rabbi Cohen's home; only a large number of policemen saved him. On September 6, 1848, however, Avraham Bar-Pilpel, a Jewish assassin, successfully entered the rabbi's home unseen, went to the kitchen and put arsenic poison in the pot of soup that was cooking. Shortly thereafter, Rabbi Cohen and his family ate the soup; Rabbi Cohen and his little daughter died. The Hassids and their leaders did not attend the funeral; they celebrated. No Orthodox rabbi, moreover, uttered one word of condemnation, neither of murderous incitement before the murder nor of the murder itself. Many nationalistic Jews who were not Orthodox shared in being silent. The Jewish historian Graetz, author of the first history of the Jews, omitted this story from his history, which, by the way, [was published] later. Orthodox Jews took the murdered rabbi's corpse from the section of the notables of the cemetery and buried it in another section. Professor Ze'ev Gris says: "My conclusion is, and I am sorry for it, that there is nothing new in Judaism." The de-legitimization, incitement, writing on the wall and especially the silence of the rabbinical leadership of Galicia of those times--everything was exactly the same as it was before the assassination of Rabin.
Was the murder of Rabbi Avraham Cohen an exceptional case? In December, 1838, the governor of southwestern Russia, General Dimitri Gabrielovitch Bibikov, issued a circular to district governors under his authority. He asked them to look carefully into what was happening in the synagogues and in Jewish houses of study. "In those places," he wrote, "Very often something happens that leaves dead Jews in its wake. Such crimes are especially grave since they occur in places dedicated to prayer and study of religious principles. They also are characteristic of autonomous judgment by the rabbinical courts, executed by their false views about extermination of 'informers,' who reveal crimes of their co-religionists. The rabbis often succeed in obscuring the [official] investigation to such an extent that not only the identity of the assassins but even the identity of the victim remain unclear."
Many Israeli new historians believe that the forms of violence committed against both heretics and informers are intimately connected.
Two additional halachic laws are of special importance both generally and specifically when related to the Rabin assassination. These two laws, employed since talmudic times to kill Jews, were invoked by the assassin, Yigal Amir, as his justification for killing Prime Minister Rabin and are still emphasized by Jews who approved or have barely condemned that assassination. These are the "law of the pursuer" (din rodet) and the "law of the informer" (din moser).16 The first law commands every Jew to kill or to wound severely any Jew who is perceived as intending to kill another Jew. According to halachic commentaries, it is not necessary to see such a person pursuing a Jewish victim. It is enough if rabbinic authorities, or even competent scholars, announce that the law of the pursuer applies to such a person. The second law commands every Jew to kill or wound severely any Jew who, without a decision of a competent rabbinical authority, has informed non-Jews, especially non-Jewish authorities, about Jewish affairs or who has given them information about Jewish property or who has delivered Jewish persons or property to their rule or authority. Competent religious authorities are empowered to do, and at times have done, those things forbidden to other Jews in the second law. During the long period of incitement preceding the Rabin assassination, many Haredi and messianic writers applied these laws to Rabin and other Israeli leaders. The religious insiders based themselves on later developments in Halacha that came to include other categories of Jews who were defined as "those to whom the law of the pursuer" applied. Every Jew had a religious duty to kill those Jews who were so included. Historically, Jews in the diaspora followed this law whenever possible, until at least the advent of the modern state. In the Tsarist Empire Jews followed this law until well into the nineteenth century.
The land of Israel has been and still is considered by all religious Jews as being the exclusive property of the Jews. Granting Palestinians authority over any part of this land could be interpreted as informing. Some religious Jews interpreted the relations that developed between Rabin and the Palestinian Authority as causing harm to the Jewish settlers. In this sense, Rabin had informed. Influential rabbis, such as the Gush Emunin leader, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, publicly denounced as informers Rabin, some Labor and Meretz ministers and some Knesset members. Professor Asa Kasher of Tel-Aviv University, a widely respected person in Israel, tried to enlighten the public by writing a letter to the editor of Haaretz about the exact meaning of the term employed by Levinger and about the danger of assassination implied therein. His warnings were disregarded by everyone, including Rabin and the editors of Haaretz. Shabak, the branch of the Israeli secret police responsible for domestic affairs and the body responsible for guarding Rabin, also ignored the dangers implicit in a possible, and obviously probable, application to Rabin of the law of the informer. Shabak insisted until the actual happening that the danger of murder came only from Muslim extremists. Interestingly, by the end of August 1998, the Israeli media was filled with Shabak's warnings that Jewish religious fanatics intended to assassinate Netanyahu, Defense Minister Mordechai and other ministers because of their agreement in principle to Israeli withdrawal from an additional 13 per cent of the West Bank. These warnings were based upon the same fundamentalist logic that led to the assassination of Rabin; they indicated some of the danger posed by Jewish fundamentalism.
Rabin's murder followed logically from the religious premises of the 1984 Jewish underground. Members of the underground were then apprehended planting bombs under Arab buses near Jerusalem on a Friday. The bombs had timing devices so that they would explode after the Sabbath eve had commenced when under Jewish religious law, travel on a bus was prohibited and sinful. At that time, before the Intifada, many Israeli Jews rode in Arab buses. The only category of people not likely to use these buses when the bombs were due to explode were religious Jews. The pious members of the Jewish underground sought prior rabbinical approval for all their actions. Peres, Rabin and Shamir, acting together in accordance with the agreement that the national unity government then in power had devised, ordered the police to stop investigating the extremist rabbis. Not one rabbi opposed the religious reasoning that led to the planting of these bombs. The conclusion is inescapable that some rabbis approved and others did not oppose wanton killing of non-religious Jews, presumably because of their heretical opinions. Yediot Ahronot in its November 16, 1995, issue alleged that Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz proposed the planting of mines and explosive devices around settlements threatened with evacuation by the Israeli army. This proposal followed the same line of reasoning. When asked about the danger inherent to lives of Jewish soldiers in his proposal, Rabbi Rabinowitz answered: "If they obey the order to remove a Jewish settlement, then they are wicked Jews" and as such, he implied, they deserve death. This should be seen within the context of the twofold hatred of non-Jews and secular Jews that settlement rabbis had preached for some time.
The reason for the willful ignorance of this danger, shared by many Israeli Jews, including Rabin himself, was in our view Jewish chauvinism, which is so prevalent among Jews. The chauvinists falsify the history of their nation in order to make it appear better than it really was. They also falsify the current situation by claiming that their nation is the best. This claim, often made by too many Jews, is especially dangerous when reinforced by a combination of religious fanaticism and willful ignorance. Jewish chauvinism is especially virulent, because the identification between Jewish religion and Jewish nationality has prevailed for so long and still prevails among many Jews. It should not be forgotten that democracy and the rule of law were brought into Judaism from the outside. Before the advent of the modem state, Jewish communities were mostly ruled by rabbis who employed arbitrary and cruel methods as bad as those employed by totalitarian regimes. The dearest wish of the current Jewish fundamentalists 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 authoritative 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]." (This same reasoning was employed by the Inquisition, by modern totalitarian states and by the Israeli conquest regime in the territories occupied since 1967.) Rabenu Asher immigrated to Spain from northern France when already a famous rabbi; he was probably familiar with Ashkenazi customs as well as with those of Spanish Jews. Hence, he could probably comment with knowledge and sophistication that common practice in the diaspora was to punish with death an informer who informed three times on the Jews or their money. This was necessary, Rabenu Asher maintained, so that the number of informers among Jews would not increase. After reflecting upon all of this a bit more, he concluded that killing the informer as a punishment was a good deed. It would emphasize that all the Lord's enemies should perish.
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. He also wrote to Germany seeking and receiving support for the verdict from the most important rabbi of that time, Meir of Rothenburg (Maharam). The law of the informer is clearly apparent in an anonymous Spanish responsa, important because it was quoted by the famous sixteenth-century Polish rabbi, Shlomo Luria. This is cited by Asaf in The Punishments on pages 83 to 87: "He [the informer] is not only killed by decision of the [rabbinic] court, but any Jew who himself is first to kill him will be rewarded by God." This same statement appeared in numerous rabbinical responsa.
Spanish Jews killed and/or mutilated informers as late as the fifteenth century. Jews in other communities, especially in North Africa and Portugal, who were influenced by Spanish Jews did likewise. Rabbi Shimon, the,son of Rabbi Tzemach, who emigrated from Spain and went to Algiers in the early fifteenth century wrote in a responsa, as reported by Asaf on page 88 of The Punishments, about the sacred duty to kill an informer. In another responsa, according to Asaf on page 89 of The Punishments, Rabbi Shimon recognized that killing was not always possible. He advised in such cases that the informer should be branded on his brow or flogged but in any case should have his name as an informer publicized in all communities.
Information about the killing of reformers in early Ashkenazi communities in northern France and Germany is sparse before and non-existent after the thirteenth century. This was probably due to lesser Jewish autonomy and to the stronger power of non-Jewish states. Rabenu Asher, as previously mentioned, testified that in his time the killing of informers in Germany was common. He presented little evidence. Rabenu Tam, one of the chief rabbi of northern France, according to Asaf in The Punishments on page 107, reported that an assembly of French rabbis, held in Troyes, debated the problems "caused by the criminals of our nation," who either secretly or openly informed, and by the Jews who brought their cases against other Jews to non-Jewish judges, thereby flouting the exclusive authority of rabbinical courts. The only explicit punishment inflicted upon those criminals was excommunication, which included a prohibition against speaking to them. The rabbis tempered the prohibition somewhat by stating that those Jews who feared the anger of the king or the feudal lords could speak to the excommunicated informers but could not use such permission as merely an excuse to do so. Some rabbis said that an obscure ancient rule against informers could in addition be inflected. In the latter part of the thirteenth century, according to Asaf on page 107 of The Punishments, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg wrote that Jews could kill or mutilate, by cutting out the tongue of an informer, who remained in a state of permanent excommunication. In only a few known informer cases in Germany in this time period were killing or mutilation inflicted. One such case concerned an informer in Strasbourg in the early fourteenth century. As reported by Asaf on page 108 of The Punishments, Rabbi Samuel Switzstat of Strasbourg sentenced an informer to death. The Jewish community applied to a non-Jewish judge who ordered the informer to be drowned in the Rhine. Some of the informer's friends then appealed to some powerful feudal lords and through them to the emperor. The friends testified in non-Jewish courts and gave signed testimony, apparently written in Latin. They testified that Rabbi Shlitzstat sent a letter to the Jews in which he said the informer should be killed. They also testified that he collected money from the Strasbourg and nearby Jewish communities to insure the drowning. The implication here was that the judge who gave the order to drown was bribed. The result in this case was that Rabbi Shlitzstat had to hide from the authorities for several years and thereafter escaped from Germany to go to Iraq. He told the president of the Iraqi Jewish community, David son of Hodaya, about the inequities of the Jews who had persecuted him. David son of Hodaya then solemnly excommunicated the offenders in writing. Rabbi Shlitzstat returned to Germany with the excommunication order. What happened upon his return, that is, the end of the story, is not known. From that time rabbinical sources reveal nothing about killings but much about excommunication of informers.
Detailed information about Ashkenazi Jews in sixteenth-century Poland is available. These Polish Jews, as previously indicated, enjoyed extensive autonomy in the relatively weak Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Because of this, killings and other punishments of Jewish informers, for which evidence is abundant, were commonplace. Rabbi Shlomo Luria, as Asaf made clear on page 122 of The Punishments, stipulated that informers should be killed. He added:
It is better to kill than to mutilate them, for example by cutting out their tongues, so as to remove the evil from our midst. It is also not only probable but nearly certain that a [mutilated] Jew would convert and, in order to take revenge, would tell incorrect things about Jews. I saw myself that by only mutilating them [the informers] Jews have greatly suffered.
After the early seventeenth century, Polish rabbis and the Jewish autonomous authorities tended to employ more cautious language when writing about killing Jewish informers. In a case of a certain Jewish informer who had been expelled from the town of Pinsk and from all Lithuania but who appeared in Lubavitch, the Committee of Lithuanian Jews in its ruling used the Hebrew phrase "hatarat dam" ("allowing the shedding of blood"). Asaf on page 128 and 129 of The Punishments discussed this ruling. This phrase, which became common in such rulings thereafter, was a bit less direct than an actual order to kill an informer. In this same case the Committee of Lithuanian Jews, after ruling that Jews who revealed Jewish secrets should be excommunicated even on Yom Kippur, stipulated, as reported by Asaf:
In case of anybody who informs, even about Jewish money, and certainly in cases of bodily harm, every Jew knows the law and therefore there is no need to make any rules. We only are warning, we order every Jew who sees or hears such action, whether it concerns him or not, within three days to tell it to two notables of the town who are not connected to the informer. Otherwise he [that Jew who sees of hears such action] will be excommunicated himself, and the punishment of the informer will be applied to him. The two notables will then do what they should do. But if the informer is powerful and for the time being they [the notables] cannot do anything to him, the rabbis and notables will write his name in the Chronicle [of the town] so that his [the informer's] sons will not be circumcised, no one will marry his daughters and he will be excluded from all sacred matters. The good chief rabbis will also keep watch so that the verse "and when I shall avenge" [a verse occurring several times in the Pentateuch that supposedly means that God's revenge has been delayed but will come] would apply to him.
Again, the language employed is more cautious and indirect than a direct order to kill an informer or a Jew who did not report an informer. The last sentence of the ruling is especially relevant.
A second Polish example is found in the preserved chronicle of the Jewish community in Krakow. This is discussed by Asaf on page 133 of The Punishments. This chronicle condemns Yisrael, son of Rabbi Aharon Welitshker, for informing on the Jews in regard to financial matters, robbing, using violence and committing religious offences that cannot be written. The condemnation continued:
We, the notables of the community and we the most honorable [rabbinical court], let the Lord guard them, considered the honor of his family and lessened his punishment. We therefore condemn him only to be excommunicated in all the synagogues and be incapable of either bearing testimony or swearing [in rabbinical court]. An iron collar should be put on his neck. He must also give back what he took by robbery, whether it was stolen from individuals or from communities. His property should be confiscated wherever found.
Additionally, he was ordered expelled from the town; not one of his descendents was ever allowed to live in that town. This tempered verdict was issued in the spring of 1772.
The third Polish example is taken from the preface to a talmudic book, Taharat Kodesh, published in 1733 and written by Rabbi Benyamin, son of the important Polish religious leader, Rabbi Matattya. This book, to which Asaf referred on page 133 of The Punishments, showed that informers increased in number over a period of time, in spite of killings and other ferocious punishments meted out to them. Rabbi Benyamin bitterly complained about the large number of Jewish informers in his time and added that many Jews helped or flattered them. He asked Jews to avoid the informers. His proposed remedy was "to allow their blood [to be shed] so that we shall exterminate them totally." Rabbi Benyamin additionally prohibited accepting money from them for charitable purposes. He added that in an unspecified distant country the Jews had succeeded in exterminating the informers and thereby were secure in spite of their spending a goodly amount of money for their security. Rabbi Benyamin's recommendations were not cautious. More importantly, the Tsarist police investigations of the killing of Jewish informers and the many testimonies of enlightened Jews in the nineteenth century show that the problem of Jewish informers was not solved by these recommendations.
After the division of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth between Russia, Austria and Prussia, finalized in 1795, and after the resultant abolition of autonomy of Jewish communities by the three conquering powers, violence inflicted by Jews, especially by Jewish authorities, on other Jews rapidly declined. Violence virtually disappeared in the Prussian part of Poland and remained at about the same level in the areas ruled by Russia. In the Russian area, violence, when practiced however, was often secret. In the area ruled by Austria (Galicia) the situation was a bit more complex; Jewish violence such as assassinations of modernist rabbis occurred under certain conditions.
The different levels of inter-Jewish violence in the three parts of divided Poland should be ascribed to the different levels of modern influences after the division. The Jews in the Prussian part of Poland were in an efficient absolutist monarchy, equipped with a good police and civil administration that were greatly influenced by modernist tendencies. The first partition of Poland occurred when Frederic II, the Great, the friend of Voltaire and other French philosophers of the age of the Enlightenment, ruled Prussia. The influences of the Enlightenment, at least in the ranks of Prussian administrators, remained strong for at least a generation after the death of Frederic II in 1786. Probably of equal importance was the fact that the Jewish Enlightenment began in Prussia, which possessed even before the partition of Poland a strong community of enlightened Jews, centered on Berlin, who at that time expressed themselves as much in Hebrew as in German. These enlightened Jews could thus be immediately understood by the majority of male Jews in areas annexed to Prussia.
The Jews in the Russian area of Poland were by contrast in a more backward regime that had a weak and inefficient administration in spite of the thin veneer of the Enlightenment provided by Catherine II, the Great. Russia had also been a country without Jews for hundreds of years. The first Jews allowed to live in the Tsarist Empire were the Jews who lived in the annexed Polish territory. The notorious "Pale," the only area of Russia where Jews, with a few exceptions, were allowed to live until 1917, was simply the area of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth annexed to Russia. The "old Russia" kept its "purity" of being forbidden to Jews. Because of the absence of Jews, Russians, especially Russian Church leaders, had a strong tradition of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism in Russia in 1800 was worse than in any other country at that time. The Tsarist regime, moreover, at the beginning of the Polish takeover introduced special taxes on Jews, in force until 1905, as well as other discriminations against Jews. The absence of large towns and cities, except for St. Petersburg and Moscow which were forbidden to Jews, and the undeveloped state of education enabled most Jews annexed to Russia to continue their old customs, especially in the smaller communities, until the 1880s. The old customs included the persecution of heretics and the killing of informers. Nevertheless, the small but growing group of enlightened Jews found it easier to oppose these and other old customs under Russian rule than under the conditions of Jewish autonomy in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Russian rule, even with its deficiencies, afforded the enlightened Jews somewhat more protection than they previously had, enabling them at least to testify about killings of informers.
The Jews in the territories annexed by Austria were in an intermediate situation between Prussia and Russia. After 1848 and especially after 1867, when Austria granted a limited form of constitution and other civil liberties, the Jewish situation in Austria came to approximate more the Prussian and after the unification of Germany in 1871, the German model.18 Austria and the Hapsburg dynasty had strong anti-Semitic tendencies that were prominent under Maria Theresa (1740-80), who was probably the most anti-Jewish ruler of eighteenth-century Europe and who was responsible for the largest expulsion of Jews before the Nazi era: she expelled about 70,000 Jews from Prague and other Bohemian towns in 1745. Maria Theresa had to reverse her decree and allow Jews to return within a short time because of the strong protests of her allies, Britain and Holland, upon whose subsidies she depended in the War of Austrian Succession. Her successor, Joseph II, reversed her policies and in 1782 issued a decree granting limited, but still significant, rights to Jews. He did this in the face of considerable opposition.19 After Joseph's death in 1790, the two tendencies fluctuated until Emperor Franz Joseph decided to adopt a pro-Jewish policy in 1867.
The new Israeli historians have presented evidence showing that until the 1880s the killings of Jewish informers by Jews in the Tsarist Empire were numerous. In his article dealing with the new Israeli historians Rosen quoted the writer, Shaul Ginzberg, who wrote in his autobiography that during the nineteenth century hundreds of Jewish informers were drowned in the Dnieper, the largest river flowing in the "Pale." These informers were charged and convicted under the law of the informers simply because they were suspected of informing the authorities about something. Rosen wrote: "Like Avraham Cohen, some of them acted because of ideological reasons such as the wish to bring the Jewish community to a modern way of life." Dr. David Asaf researched some of those affairs and said: "Some of the informers were professionals who gave the authorities information about tax concealment, but even in such cases, judging them by what amounts to rabbinical martial courts and their execution by what amounts to lynching help us to understand the conflict between the enlightened Jews and the Orthodox, particularly the Hassids." As previously shown, a Jewish informer was condemned to death in secret without being able to say anything in his own defense. This mode of execution was employed for hundreds of years until the recent time.20 Rosen asked Asaf if the Jewish community regarded those informers as traitors. Asaf responded:
They were not so regarded by the enlightened Jews. More than this, the enlightened Jews wanted the Jews to be citizens of the state. This included in their view paying taxes and serving in the army. Giving information to authorities was in many cases a necessary thing in their view. If you compare the situation to the one existing [in Israel) now [one year after the assassination of Rabin] then, with some changes, the present conflict is similar to what went on then.
To show what was involved, Asaf recounted an affair he had researched involving a famous Hassidic rabbi from the town of Rozin, Israel Friedman, who was known as the "holy man of Rozin." Friedman as a major Hassidic personage was important, because the Hassidic movement played a major role in those assassinations. Asaf related, as reported by Rosen:
Friedman was one of the greatest Hassidic leaders. In Jewish history books he is represented as a person of small scholarly knowledge but also as a man of power who enjoyed the delights of life. He was instrumental in the issuing of the law of the pursuer against some informers from the town of Oshitz in the Podolia district of the Ukraine. In February, 1836, a corpse of one of the persons, Yitzhak Oxman, was found beneath blocks of ice on the frozen river. The corpse was so mutilated, apparently as a result of torture, that it was difficult to identify. Only some time thereafter, when the corpse was taken out of its grave, were new witnesses able to identify it. The corpse of the other murdered person, Shmuel Schwatzman, disappeared. We now know that he was strangled while praying in the synagogue. His corpse was cut into pieces and burned in the oven that heated the community bath. Following a police investigation, in which even Tsar Nicolai I was interested, it was established that the Jews of the community where the murder was committed, including relatives of the murdered persons, knew perfectly well what had taken place and how it was carried out. Everyone stayed silent either because of strong discipline or because of fear. This case was one of the few in which a secret rabbinical court, which issues unwritten verdicts of the law of the pursuer and death punishments, was discovered. Yosef Perl, one of the chiefs of the enlightened Jews of Galicia, secretly supplied information to the Russian authorities in order to bring about the conviction of Rabbi Yisrael of Rozin.
Asaf, who also described other Hassidic murders, said that Perl, who hated the Hassids, acted for reasons that he believed to be ideological. Rosen, in interviewing the new historians, discovered that the various Hassids also struggled violently with one another mainly because of economic interests. He wrote: "Since the Hassids gave money to their holy men and some of the latter adopted a nineteenth century way of life that rivalled the luxuries of contemporary kings, they were interested in the places from which their incomes came."
Pre-modern Judaism was characterized by many cases of inter-Jewish violence, of which the few cases mentioned above are merely representative. These few cases, however, are sufficient to show that Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, both in its messianic and Haredi forms, is a reversion to a situation that existed before the onset of modernization and the loss of the type of Jewish autonomy with its arbitrary powers that allowed killing or otherwise severely punishing informers. What occurred in Jewish fundamentalism is not dissimilar to what occurred in other forms of fundamentalism. Some innovations have been made, largely to disguise true intent. The predominant wish ideologically is to return to the supposedly "good times" when everything was seen and kept in proper order. In the case of the Jewish messianic variety of fundamentalism, the idea is to use modern methods to achieve the power to re-establish the traditional way of life in an effectual manner. The dangers of Jewish fundamentalism being established in Israel as at least part of the ruling power are great. For non-Jews in the Middle East, the Arabs and especially the Palestinians, the main danger is in and with the messianic variety of Jewish fundamentalism. This is most apparent in the role of the Jewish religious settlers in the Occupied Territories. For Israeli Jews who will not accept the tenets of Jewish fundamentalism, however, all varieties are dangerous. The Jewish fundamentalist attitude towards heretics is much worse than is the attitude towards non-Jews. This is analogous to the situation in other religions. A contemporary example is the attitude of the Iranian regime to Baha'ists, regarded as Muslim heretics, which is much worse than the attitude towards Christians and Jews. Our firm belief is that a fundamentalist Jewish regime, if it came to power in Israel, would treat Israeli Jews who did not accept its tenets worse than it would treat Palestinians. This book is an attempt to provide wider understanding of Jewish fundamentalism and hopefully help avert the danger from becoming a reality.
1. "Rabenu" is the Hebrew word for "our rabbi." It was an honorary title given only to a few of the most famous rabbis.
2. Before and during talmudic times, rabbis in the Holy Land who were empowered to teach authoritatively and to serve as judges were appointed by "laying of hands." A rabbi, already so appointed, laid his hands on the head of a candidate and pronounced a sacred formula designed to transmit a sacred power, supposedly derived from Moses although not mentioned in the Bible. Rabbis in other countries never were given this form of appointment. Even if diaspora rabbis came to the Holy Land and after a long stay of study received the "laying of hands" appointment, they were forbidden to transmit it to other diaspora rabbis not in the Holy Land. The students of diaspora rabbis, who themselves became rabbis but did not go to the Holy Land, were, therefore, unable to judge in many matters under the normal law. The last Palestinian rabbis with powers derived from "laying of hands" seemingly disappeared in the tenth century without leaving successors.
3. This rule, which was never abrogated, seemingly applies to Torah scrolls used by Conservative and Reform rabbis. Many Orthodox rabbis in Israel have proclaimed that Reform and Conservative rabbis are heretics. Some of these Orthodox rabbis have publicly stated that Reform Jews are worse than heretics.
4. One example of these freely discussed issues is: After the Great Flood, how did animals who could not swim well and far reach islands in the Mediterranean?
5. One example of such theological problems is: What is God by his very nature incapable of doing?
6. Israel Shahak, one of the authors of this book, was present as a child in Warsaw, Poland, in early 1939 at a funeral of a Jewish heretic, the second cousin of his father. (He also heard this story confirmed by family members later.) At the funeral the immediate family members, including the father, put on the white garments that pious Jews wear on the holidays and rejoiced. One of Shahak's friends who came from Alexandria, Egypt, after hearing this story, recalled a similar Jewish funeral in Alexandria in the early 1940s with the family dressed in white.
7. Rabbi Samuel the Prince was so called, because he was a minister and a general in the kingdom of Granada.
8. The Karaites denied the authority of the Talmud and only accepted the Bible. Rabbi Yoseph ben Faruj, who was made the head of the Jews in Spain and given the title of Prince, expelled the Karaites.
9. A punishment considered to be similar to the kuneh was the putting of an iron collar on the neck of a Jewish criminal. The criminal then would have to walk or pace with this iron collar.
10. This important background is unfortunately not mentioned in the major historical studies of the Jews in the United States or in other countries to which Jews immigrated in the nineteenth centuty. The background is likewise not mentioned in those romantic, apologetic works that purport to describe the lives of first-generation Jewish immigrants. Many characteristics of the Jews in the United States and elsewhere were probably affected by this background.
11. This letter is described and partially quoted in Meir Balaban, The History of the Frankist Movement (Tel-Aviv, 1934 in Hebrew, p. 128). The letter was published in full in Rabbi Yaakov Emden's Sefer Hashimush, a collection of documents about various heresies (part B, document B).
13. This important point is seldom acknowledged in the histories of Jews written in English.
14. David Asaf should be distinguished from Rabbi Simha Asaf who wrote The Punishments After the Talmud was Finalized: Materials for the History of Hebrew Law Jerusalem, 1992).
15. Two most important sources should be consulted to gain an understanding of these satires and the nature of the Hassidic movement against which they were directed. The first source is Yitzhak Erter's satire, Metempychosis (Gilgul Nefesh in Hebrew). Erter, who died in 1852, was regarded as the best Hebrew satirist of his time; his works were widely read and were republished again and again, the last time in 1996 in Israel. In his satire, Ertel dealt with the Hassidic belief in metempsychosis and the help given by holy rabbis to the soul as it passes from a human body to an animal and then back again. The author meets a soul of a recently deceased Jew that tells him about its seventeen changes of abode. In one of those adventures, the soul inhabited a body of an intriguing zealot who died of chagrin when one of his intrigues failed; the soul then passed into the body of a fox with an especially beautiful and long tail. The tail caused the fox to be noticed by fox hunters and killed. Because a blessing of a holy rabbi was not said at the moment of death, however, the soul became a disembodied ghost. A Hassid bought the fur made of the fox's tail and in turn made it into a collar for a coat that he offered to his holy rabbi. A miracle occurred when the holy rabbi put on the coat and the fur touched his (the rabbi's) holy flesh. Erter wrote: "The fox's late soul was born again in a body of another holy rabbi, a person as clever and deceitful as a fox. "
The second source is an earlier work, The Discoverer of Secrets (Megaleh Temirin in Hebrew), published anonymously in 1819 by Yosef Perl, the most enlightened Jew in Galicia at that time. The book purports to consist of letters written (in atrocious Hebrew, imitated from the bad style and grammar common in Hassidic books) by one Hassid to another and supposedly edited by another Hassid who found the letters and added learned references from major Hassidic books for every absurdity piously related by the correspondents. In Letter 150, one of the Hassids related that his holy rabbi died and that his widow earned a great amount of money by selling his garments to Hassids. Clothes of holy rabbis have sacramental value and absolve even the greatest sins if worn. Putting on a shirt of a holy rabbi; for example, absolves a person of the sin of murder, while putting on a holy rabbi's trousers absolves a person of adultery. The supposed editor of this book added several authentic references from Hassidic books to substantiate this belief among Hassids of his time. Such beliefs continue to be common among Hassids of today.
Unfortunately many of the books written specifically about Hassidism and almost all general Jewish histories written in English do not mention such beliefs.
16. "Moser," the Hebrew word for informer, is a terrible insult for Jews, similar to the word "collaborator" for Palestinians.
17. This was feasible if the Jewish community was united in facing a single informer or heretic or even a few of them. Difficulty arose when the community was split; each group then thought the other was heretical and should be reported to the authorities. This happened often in Jewish history. The consequences of such quarrels in which the non-Jewish authorities became involved were sometimes localized but other times spread to and disturbed Jewish communities in several countries. One such controversy involved Maimonides, a most severe critic of heresy who in this case was accused of being a heretic himself. Maimonides' position as a doctor to Al-Abdal, the brother of Saladin and the governor of Egypt, and as the supervisor of Egyptian Jews, prevented any significant Jewish attacks upon him in Muslim countries. Some Iraqi rabbis, who presumably enjoyed the patronage of the Khalif A-Nasir (1180-1225), made cautious accusations against him. Even after his death, Maimonides' position as supervisor of Egyptian Jews, which was inherited by his descendants for six generations, greatly fortified his position in all Muslim countries. In Christian Europe, however, Maimonides was repeatedly accused of being a heretic. Rabbi Shlomo of Montpellier from southern France first made this charge in the 1220s. Some rabbis and notables defended him; others opposed him. The anti-Maimonidean faction informed the Christian inquisitors, who were busy persecuting the Albigenses in southern France, that the philosophical, as well as some halachic, writings of Maimonides also offended Christianity. The inquisitors probably knew neither Hebrew nor Arabic, the languages in which the supposedly offending books were written, but they collected and burned some of them publicly. The pro-Maimonidean faction appealed to feudal lords, who captured some of the anti-Maimonidean Jews and delivered them to their Jewish enemies, who punished them as informers by cutting out their tongues. The controversy, nevertheless, continued until about 1300. This controversy probably still exists. In spite of the enormous prestige Maimonides enjoys among Orthodox Jews as the first codifier of the Halacha and as the leading philosopher of Judaism, he remains suspect among the Haredim. Most Haredi rabbis keep the philosophical writings of Maimonides away from most of their pupils. Maimonides, in the opinion of some scholars and in the view of this book's writers, was in some ways a heretic according to his own definition of the term. The obscure writing of his philosophy makes his heresies difficult for most readers to perceive. On this point, see Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, Chapters 2 and 3. Strauss compared the style of writing employed by some writers under the Communist regimes of the 1950s with the style employed by Maimonides and other Jewish medieval thinkers. Both groups used a comparable style to obscure some points from many readers because of fear of persecution by zealots, while at the same time giving hints that could be understood by sophisticated readers.
18. This situation, which endured until the rise of Nazism, made the Jews of eastern Europe strong German sympathizers and contributed tO the rise of modern Polish anti-Semitism. Contrary to what Goldhagen has propagated, Jews of eastern Europe, even during World War I, regarded the Germans and the German occupying army as philo-Semitic. They had good reasons for holding this view.
19. In addition to the standard works of Jewish history, see Ernst Wangermann, The Austrian Achievement 1700-1800 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1973). Wangermann noted outbursts of anti-Semitic violence in the period after the limited tolerance granted by Joseph II. He also noted that a conservative member of the Council of State, critical of the Jews of Vienna for beginning to dress in a modern way, remarked: "[The sight ot] young Jewish men, contrary to all custom going in public dressed indistinguishably from Christians... some even with swords at their sides [presages dissolution of society]. " Cardinal Migazzi, the Archbishop of Vienna and the leader of the Catholic Conservative Party, was one of the people who most warned against any toleration for Jews. After the death of Joseph II and at the request of some rabbis, the Austrian government instituted strict censorship of Jewish books and prohibited the printing and import of all books of the Cabbala. Eliezer Falklash, the rabbi of Prague and the personal friend of the censor appointed to carry out this "holy work," addressed a long responsa to the censor on this subject. Rabbi Falklash in his responsa praised the order and applauded the Emperors Leopold II and Francis II for upholding the purity of the Jewish religion. See Shmuel Vertes, Enlightenment and False Messianic Tendencies: History of a Struggle Jerusalem: Shmuel Vertes, 1998, in Hebrew).
20. This is unknown to many Jews living in English-speaking countries because of censorship and apologetic writing that leaves out negative aspects ofJewish history. In Israel today, the Hebrew press frequently reports the use by Haredim of the law of the informer and the law of the pursuer. On February 18, 1999, for example, Haaretz reported that Israeli prosecutors accused Yosef Prushinovsky, a Haredi Jew who lived in the Mea She'arim quarter of Jerusalem and was on trial for swindling tens of millions of dollars from Haredim around the world, of trying to intimidate Haredi witnesses with these two laws. Prushinovsky allegedly threatened to use these two laws against any Haredi witnesses who dared to testify against him in Israeli secular courts. Many Haredi rabbis have held that testifying in Israeli secular courts, in which Arabs can be judges, constitutes informing to non-Jewish authorities. Haredi Jews, such as Prushinovsky, are thus often able to commit crimes, usually swindling, with legal impunity so long as they do it in their own community and do not steal so much that their pious victims are influenced to commit a grave sin in order to retrieve their money. The same situation is prevalent in some of the Haredi Jewish communities in the United States, but the American press rarely reports the cases or offers any halachic explanation.