An Orthodox Jewish View of the Israel-Hamas Conflict
Foreign Policy Brief #98 | By: Ester Avisror | November 6, 2023
Photo taken from: nytimes.com
International news outlets are now inundated by coverage of one conflict – the Hamas-Israel war since the terror attacks of Hamas on Israeli soil on October 7, 2023. The roots of the conflict go back to long-held, seemingly intractable opposing views held by (some not all) Israelis and (some not all) Palestinians.
The following is one such view, that speaks pessimistically for many within Israel’s growing religious Jewish demographic. It justifies Israel’s military incursion into Gaza in terms of Old Testament religious values. It matches Hamas’s use of Islam to justify the extinction of Jews with the use of old Testament scripture to justify whatever it takes to “exterminate” Hamas. Here is an edited version of a conversation with an Israeli orthodox rabbi.
Rabbi Shimon Levi, age 57, is a biblical scholar, Jewish arbitrator, mohel, marriage officiator, a certified kosher butcher, and community rabbi. He has performed many Orthodox Jewish conversions during the past 25 years of his career. His view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is translated from Hebrew to English as follows, “The conflict has always been and will always be”. Citing Jewish legal tradition and exegesis, Rabbi Levi explains: “Esau [in reference to various anti-Jewish peoples] hates Jacob. And why was the Bible given on Mount Sinai? In order to teach that there is human hatred toward Israel, As Hamas described their “holy war” for global Jewish genocide within their founding covenant, Rabbi Levi describes Israel’s conflict with Hamas in terms of cosmic, spiritual hatred across generations.
He states that Israel’s retaliation towards Hamas is undoubtedly justified on the basis of Jewish principles of defense, as written in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 72:1), “If someone is coming to kill you, hurry to kill him first”. Moreover, Rabbi Levi affirms, “After all, these people [Hamas] were each born [and indoctrinated] to become a “shahid” (‘martyr’ in Arabic) – a child that grows up to kill every Jew and die in consequence, in order to be sent to ‘the Garden of Eden’ [as interpreted by Hamas’s extremist Islamic leaders]. This is their claimed divine commandment. Therefore, Israel’s retaliation is definitely justified. [These people] are called the ‘Seed of Amalek’”.
In increasing instances, some figures in Israeli society have controversially invoked the biblical term for “Amalek” in reference to Hamas – a people mentioned in the Bible that repeatedly molested and sought to exterminate the ancient Israelites in the exodus from Egypt, until they were exterminated under divine sanction by the Israelites instead. However, Rabbi Levi makes the clarification between destroying Hamas and protecting Gazan civilians. He emphasizes that humanitarian needs for Palestinians must be addressed with close supervision by Israel, and/or partnering states, since anything delivered to the Gaza Strip, including water, gas, and medicine are forcibly seized by Hamas – hence, explaining the suffering of most Gazan civilians. “Once this war is over, whatever will be determined, will be determined. Gaza needs to be under the control of another leadership, not Hamas, because people suffer at the hands of these terrorists”.
In his view, the conflict will not severely impact Israel, nor will anything influence Israel to swerve from its mission to destroy Hamas. “This nation [Israel] will always be strong God-willing – everything will be alright”.
Rabbi Levi also stresses that overall Jewish resolve is unwavering on ousting Hamas, not merely short-term humanitarian demands, “Rabbis from all different denominations say, no one is declaring that we need to pursue this [cause] in a ‘good’ way; instead, we need to pursue this [cause] in the strongest way that there is, and to totally exterminate [Hamas’s] culture of death completely, by elevating the culture of life!” Rabbi Levi concludes his views by stating, that Hamas committed atrocities more unabashedly brutal than the Nazis committed in the Holocaust. “The Nazis tried to hide their crimes – here Hamas did not hide anything. In their own helmets they were filming what they did – we cannot begin to describe all that they did – they did terrible, inhuman things!”.