Sunday, July 18, 2021

Do The Ends Justify The Means?

It's unfortunately very easy to get into the mood for Tisha B'Av this year. Aside from all the external threats to Israel and the Jewish People, and the rise and legitimization of antisemitism, there are also serious problems and dangers caused by Jews. There's the group of academic Judaic scholars who whitewash the threats posed by Hamas and others and condemn Israel's actions to defend its citizens. And here in Israel, the political internecine strife has reached disturbingly extreme levels. But before elaborating, I would like to first discuss the question of whether the ends justify the means.

Twenty-eight years ago, during a Yiddish shiur at my yeshiva gedolah in Manchester that I couldn't understand, the Rosh Yeshivah suddenly inserted the English phrase "the ends don't justify the means." This took me by surprise, because only the previous week it was parashas Toldos, in which Yaakov lies in order to get Eisav's brachos. I asked the Rosh Yeshivah about it and he explained that the means were not wrong, as Yaakov didn't lie; "truth" is whatever is the right thing to say, not whatever is accurate. Shortly afterwards I moved to a yeshivah in Israel, where the Rosh Yeshivah told me that of course Yaakov lied. He added that the ends do indeed justify the means, as we see from the principle that you can break Shabbos to save a life, and in the verse and principle Eis la'asos l'Hashem, heferu Torasecha.

This left me very perplexed. But after a lot of further thought and analysis, I realized that the entire concept is misleadingly phrased. It's more precise to phrase the question as "Does the attainment of high priorities justify overturning low priorities?" And the answer to that question is that in theory, absolutely, but in practice, it's often very difficult to implement, for several reasons.

First of all, if we're discussing mitzvot, then it's not necessarily obvious which things are a high priority and which are a low priority. As the Mishnah states, Be as careful with a lesser mitzvah as with a greater one, since we do not know the reward for each. How exactly does one weigh Shemirat Shabbat against Bein Adam LeChavero? 

Second, there could be all kinds of other priorities that one is not taking into account. In particular, the very act of overturning any priority is one with potentially very damaging consequences, because it has desensitized one to overturning priorities! Suppose one tells a lie for a noble purpose. This may sometimes indeed be  permissible and even obligatory, but it should not be overlooked that the cost is not a one-time act of dishonesty; it's a general weakening of one's commitment to the truth. This is not to say that it is necessarily wrong; it is just to stress that the cost-benefit analysis may not be as it first appears.

And then there's a third reason why it can be problematic to overturn low priorities for the sake of higher ones. Sometimes, achieving goals take on a significance which leads people to forget about the reasons why they were important to begin with. The pursuit of these goals leads to rationalizations in which a true evaluation of priorities gets shunted aside. This is something that is being tragically played out in Israel.

The Bibi Bloc, consisting of Likud, Smotrich's party and the charedim, proclaim that the Bennett-Lapid government is a "dangerous Leftist government which will harm Israel." They proclaimed that their single overriding goal to bring down the government. And because they defined "bringing down the government" rather than "protecting Israel's interests" as the goal, this became a way to rationalize causing all kinds of harm.

First, they voted against the Citizenship Law - the very law that Likud itself originally instituted for reasons of national security. They gleefully joined forces with the Arab Joint List to actively enable countless thousands of Palestinians to obtain Israeli citizenship (some of whom likely do so in order to make it easier to carry out terrorist attacks). For the sake of the goal of weakening a government that is harmful to national security, they harmed national security.

When I wrote about this a short while ago, some Bibi-fans claimed that this wasn't actually what happened; that the law which they opposed was a changed and harmful law. This happens not to be true. And another event last week proved beyond all doubt what is happening. 

When, God forbid, a woman is assaulted, any DNA from the attacker is held as evidence for three months, after which it is disposed of. The government proposed a bill to ensure that all samples would be stored permanently. This is particularly important because sometimes it can take a while for victims to summon the courage to come forwards. Such a bill is of obvious importance, and has absolutely no downside whatsoever. And yet it was voted against by all 51 members of the Bibi bloc.

There wasn't even any attempt to claim that there was any innate reason to vote against the bill. It was simply done because of a policy of opposing whatever the government proposes. In an interview, Likud MK Miki Zohar said “It is a pity that I had to oppose, it is a very important thing. But there is something more important than anything – that the State of Israel be led by people fit to do so.”

It is a tragic, insane situation. 51 MKs, representing right-wing and religious communities, vote against national security, against protecting women from rapists, all because it's more important to save Israel from a "dangerous" leadership! Is there no point at which it becomes apparent that the opposition are themselves the ones inflicting the actual harm?

(Sadly, this craziness is also beginning to affect the government coalition. In response to the Bibi bloc voting against government laws out of spite, some coalition members have decided to do the same to bills proposed by the opposition.)

There's nothing wrong with harshly criticizing and opposing those that you believe to be wrong, but it gets to a point where it becomes a matter of partisanship and tribalism rather than genuinely trying to fix society. Two thousand years ago, the Jewish State was destroyed because different groups of Jews were so obsessed with defeating other groups that they were driven to betray their own morality and harm their own cause. We need to put the brakes on this behavior.


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  1. ‘"truth" is whatever is the right thing to say, not whatever is accurate.’
    I was just about to respond to the differing ideas about prioritising truth but got completely blown away by what came next- “When, God forbid, a woman is assaulted, any DNA from the attacker is held as evidence for three months, after which it is disposed of. The government proposed a bill to ensure that all samples would be stored permanently. This is particularly important because sometimes it can take a while for victims to summon the courage to come forwards. Such a bill is of obvious importance, and has absolutely no downside whatsoever. And yet it was voted against by all 51 members of the Bibi bloc.”
    I cannot believe this is true and happening!
    Why are Israeli’s not all (except rapists) in the streets protesting about this?! This is national insanity! This is facilitating men to get away with rape! There are no consequences if you can remain unidentified for three months!
    Thankyou for raising this. Now, what exactly are you all in Israel going to do about it?

  2. Is this American politics being reflected in israel?

  3. In the evolutionary struggle the end justifies the means. Current political situation in Israel is a repetition of the familiar pattern if self-destruction that is in our genes. This is why the churban had happened and why we are where we are. We are seeing it with out own eyes. Yes, it's insanity, but it happens by other nations as well. You cannot change the genetic behaviour.

    1. I thought that the reason God gave us the Torah, was _precisely_ to change our "genetic behaviour":

      . . .We are supposed to be a kingdom of priests
      . . . and a holy people,

      . . . not a bunch of animals following our instincts.

    2. Genetic behaviour is what is also called the human nature and this cannot be changed. Communism, among many other ideologies, tried it, but failed. Torah is for the Jews and in it's entirety is unsuitable for other nations. It can educate, guide and be a factor in the evolutionary process of the Jewish nation and thus have an effect, or at least this is what I think.

  4. I get that this is an important issue, but if I was going to blog today it would be about how sad it is that a group of Jews decided - today of all days - to attack another group of Jews at the site of the walls of the Temple.

    Who doesn't get it yet? Who is so backward that they don't realize that we don't fight anymore about religion? We don't get violent over who's path to G-d is best. The Christians realized it decades ago. You don't see Catholics fighting Protestants in the UK or the USA any more. Why? Because both sides realized how stupid it is.
    We Israeli Jews condemn the intra-Islamic fighting. But how can we? Our own people are just as bad.

    The time has come for all religious leaders to condemn the hatred and the violence. If you want to disagree with Reform and Conservative Judaism then do it via a dignified debate. Don't do it by sending a bunch of hormonal teenagers to have a fight on your behalf.
    Don't get all hysterical that the world is going to end because Reform Jews hold a prayer service at an old wall.

    It's really time for Jews to end this stupid hatred of each other.
    Why are we not past this yet??

    1. Yes, also a tragically perfect example of what I wrote about. Totally warped priorities.

    2. You will notice of course that the common denominator of these out-of-hand protests is that they occur in a vaccum of מך אין לאררבה. The youth run the program, not the leaders.
      We need to promote a culture in which the youth understand that in matters pertaining to the public, they should listen to the leaders, the mature ones who truly feel the weight of the responsibility of their decision.

      I wonder which society that would be.

    3. Protestants and Catholics do not fight each other, cause they realize it's another religion. And there's no significant intermarriage.
      But charedim and MO do intermarry, and do recognize it's the same religion, they rely on each other for Kashrut, for chuppah and gitten, even for yeshiva (many MO in Brisk, Chevron, Mir, Kol Torah, even BMG in America, though few the other way around)

    4. מלך אין לארבה
      is the correct spelling

    5. For what it's worth, the youth were far-right settler types, not chareidim . . .

    6. That’s a recipe for disaster. This might be the end of Israel. That’s exactly what happened to Rome. Bibi is turning into a big fat baby. That’s stupid stuff. If your that evil to ruin your country you shouldn't be PM.

    7. @Zichron - the problem, I think, is that the leaders and educators and rabbis of these right-wing RZ wild violent kids are the ones that fed them all that 'the left is evil, reform is evil' garbage in the first place. The results were obvious. And now, as you point out, the adults are nowhere to be found. They don't dare take responsibility for what they created. They don't know how to put out the ideological fires they lit.
      Nor, I think, do they care. I think some of them see this juvenile delinquency as a good healthy expression of their values.

      @Weaver - yes I know. I never said Chareidim. But clearly the problem of extremist uncontrolled youth is one the RZ world is not tackling. And it must. The leaders must take responsibility for the way their youth is turning out.

    8. @Medinat HaYam
      Even if they do see each other as a different religion (which I'm not sure is the case), then fine. Let's try that here too. Tell all chareidi and religious zionist educators to stop spouting hatred of reform and conservative jews. Just let it go. They are different. We don't have to hate or fight them.

      I'd be more than happy if the whole issue just went off the table and we all adopted a live and let live attitude about it.

    9. A group of Jews came & occupied the section of the Kotel designated for egalitarian prayer before the egalitarian group had assembled, thus disabling their service. They did wrong. Despite reports to the contrary, no Jews were attacked.

    10. Once a Muslim was arguing with me about Jews visiting the Temple Mount--which infuriates a lot of Muslims. He asked, rhetorically, and what if non-Jews would visit your Western Wall?

      I answered: Right, non-Jews visit the Western Wall all the time. You can even find pictures of President Trump or President Obama at the Western Wall.

      But--an incident like not letting Conservative or Reform Jews do a service at their section of Kotel, sort of upends my argument.

    11. @Zvi, you are right as the video in this ynet page makes clear.

      It definitely moves the scales. I'd much rather civil disobedience to violent disobedience.
      It's still nasty and designed to cause trouble, but as long as violence is avoided, I'm a lot happier. Thank you for pointing this out.

    12. You very much can see Protestants fight Catholics in Norther Ireland, which is part of the UK. Petrol bombs are de rigeur, although it is regarded as unsporting to shoot firearms at anyone apart from the police.

    13. Here's a description from someone who was there. Very nicely written - worth reading. Even if it is very sad.

    14. Northern Ireland is probably the exception that proves the rule (new "prove" not original "prove" as in "test" which is what the phrase originally meant). The Wars of Religion throughout Europe finished in 1648. There has not been significant armed conflict on this issue for centuries. Ireland's issues are as much political as they are religious, but except for there, there is very little Catholic-Protestant fighting.

      (Yes, there is bigotry - remember what was said about Kennedy - he was the first Catholic President, and people were worried that the Pope was going to be dictating US policy...)

  5. Yet you understood the overriding value of forming a government as being more important than your right wing ideals. You need a good mirror, my friend

    1. You are as illogical as your Haredi upbringing would suggest.

      Right-wing ideals will absolutely destroy Israel. The only question is when, not if. For Israel to survive, it is essential that the government at least averages as centrist, though a true centrist government would be better.

      Bibi's position has always been to do what is best for Bibi. He would gladly see Israel die in nuclear fire as long as he was PM when it happened.

    2. You need to learn how to read better.
      I don't have the right wing ideals, but the blogmaster does. He gave up on his ideals.

      I have nothing to do with the right or the left in Israel, I don't understand the issues, and there is too much propaganda and wishful thinking, along with ideological facts (a contradiction in terms) to be able to actually have a concrete opinion.

    3. Avi don't be ridiculous. The Leftists are the one who will destroy Israel. Bibi is trying to save it.

    4. @Shmuel

      Do you also believe Trump won the 2020 election and that aliens built the pyramids in Egypt as landing pads for their spaceships?

      Bibi has never cared about anything other than Bibi. He is actively working to harm Israel now that he's in the Opposition because he believes that if he can't be PM, no one can. As there will be a PM as long as Israel exists, he has no choice but to destroy Israel.

    5. @Zichron Devorim

      I would say that you have to learn to write better. Your original comment makes no sense, and your clarification is anything but.

      There are no indications that RNS has given up on even one of his ideals in his support of a functioning coalition. I would ask that you list even one ideal that has been so compromised.

    6. You accused me of illogic, then proceeded to discuss why the right wing is wrong, establishing the idea in my mind that you thought you were arguing with me about some right wing politics, a position I never took.

    7. @Avi I do believe Trump won the 2020 election and I also think that the Egyptians did not build the pyramids. However, I don't believe it was aliens.

      I think Bibi only wants the good of country but granted, he is going about it in the wrong way. On the other hand, Lapid will ruin the country. He probably has no morals, ethics, and principles, typical marxist-atheist.

  6. how do we know that the haredi parties voted to be just contrary. it could be worse ---it could be to prevent future prosecution of frum rapists....

  7. This is a great read on how to do Tisha B'Av properly. That goes for all of us, behatted internet trolls included

    The gist is on the URL. If you think sinas chinom is what yenner is doing, you've been doing Tisha Bav wrong.

  8. This is what happened to Rome. It could be the end of Israel. The Likud cannot oppose everything the new government puts forward, especially it is if for the good of the country, for national security. On the other hand, the new government is equally a threat. The communist-Marxist Bennett-Lapid government is a "dangerous Leftist government" and could greatly weaken the country. On the other hand, Bibi cannot allow Palestinians to gain Israeli citizenship when he opposed this idea, creating the law to combat the idea in the first place. To shoot down such a law would lead to more Arab terrorist attacks.

    1. Communist Marxist? The same gvt thst wants to end subsidies for free childcare for non workers?

      The name calling is getting ridiculous.

    2. I was watching a millitary documentary mainly based on Josephus on the seige of Jerusalem and what impressed me was the following:-

      1) The Romans were willing to commit significant millitary resources in a multi year campaign to re-establish hegemony.

      2) They were specifically willing to take very heavy battle casualties of full Roman citizens in tenacious battles of attrition with locals on the edge of the empire. Loss exchange ratios were very unfavorable to the Romans until right at the end.

      3) The outclassed Jews resorted to tunnel warfare and were successful at it. Plus ca change etc.

      4) Even after the first two walls had been breached Jerusalem was a broken and divided city, with Yochanan of Gush Chalav holding the Antonina and Har Habayis in a tense daggers drawn relationship with Shimon of Giora holding the city.

    3. *Shimon ben Giora

  9. Two thousand years ago, the Jewish State was destroyed because different groups of Jews were so obsessed with defeating other groups that they were driven to betray their own morality and harm their own cause. Is not this was what Bennett did? Due to bling hatred toward Bibi coupled with desire to plant his lower back into PM seat, he betrayed his voters, broke all pre-election promises, brought islamists into the coalition, and accepted Lieberman's plan to destroy what remains of Jewish character of the state.

  10. "How exactly does one weigh Shemirat Shabbat against Bein Adam LeChavero?"

    This one is pretty easy. Shemiras Shabbos takes precedence unless it's a situation of pikuach nefesh. For example, if you have guests over and realize you didn't cook enough food, it is not permitted to cook, even though everybody will go hungry (practically speaking, if you live near other Jews, this won't be such a problem).

    Of course, there is no question that Shemiras Shabbos is much more important than improving the economy. This means if you can't find a job that will let you keep Shabbos, it's better to not work, and not contribute to the economy! Thankfully these days this is usually not such a practical issue.

    1. No argument on the halachic setup you put forth.

      But what about the "spirit of Shabbos" or a gezeirah d'rabbanan and we have a situation involving embarrassment or abandonment. Many things have actually been codified (such as how l'tzorech rabbim can trump a shvus or at least a shvus d'shvus), but there will always be new cases.

    2. Agreed, hilchos shabbos is very complicated. I guess I just picked the easiest case.

  11. Can I inquire what currently prevents the police from keeping the DNA for more than 3 months? The minister of "inner security" (i.e. police) is from anti-Bibi coalition, right? Why he can not simply issue an order to his officers? Why they need a law?
    It's first.
    Second. Since Torah demands from a rape victim to cry for help, I think the rape victim is heteby obliged to complain and demand the justice. If she does not, she commits a sin. (Of course, her action is understandable, so wgat? Every sin is understandable.)
    Why Bibists should care about some stupid/sinful women when the entire state is in danger? Do you know how many innocent women will be raped when the state will collapse? And this is the situation the Leftist gov't keeps bringing closer!

    1. Since Torah demands from a rape victim to cry for help

      No it doesn't. The Torah lays out some hypothetical scenarios in order to communicate principles by which real cases should be judged. The dynamics of rape are far more complex than portrayed in Devorim, and I would hope that modern Poskim would consider that if it ever became necessary.

    2. Since Torah demands from a rape victim to cry for help

      The Torah does not demand this. The Torah lays out hypothetical cases in order to communicate principles. One principle is that intercourse without protestation is assumed not to be rape.

      However, we now know a lot more about the dynamics of rape, and I hope no modern Posek will take the super-simplistic portrayal of Devorim literally when judging real cases.

      I think the rape victim is heteby obliged to complain and demand the justice.

      I literally thank Hashem you are in no position to create such obligations.

    3. Avi - you are translating Talmudic topics to modern law. אונס is not rape, at least not as understood by modern jurists. If a lady feels very uncomfortable refusing a man, and he has insisted after she protests, she would be considered raped, even if she does not fight back. However, that does not rise to the level of אונס, and in all likelihood she is forbidden to her husband.
      They are not the same concepts, and they do not serve the same purpose. Rape is not אונס and אונס is not rape.

  12. A more practical question involving Shemiras Shabbos is if one has a choice to support a school in Israel that takes secular kids and makes them chareidi, it is vastly preferable to support that school than to not support it, even though it will probably cause the kids to become less economically productive.


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