I'm living in Israel, which is supposed to be a Jewish state, and I'm surrounded by Arabs, Russian gentiles and other assorted non-Jews. They tell me the Arab birth rate continues to outstrip the Jewish rate--and the government continues to discourage large families. What should our attitude be towards the Arab population in Israel? How are we ever going to ensure that this place remains the Jewish homeland?
Just so happens that a fellow editor recently emailed me a dialogue between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rebbe of Sadigura, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman.
They touched on this topic, and to tell the truth, I myself was stunned by the Rebbe's straightforward answers. The meeting occurred almost 30 years ago, but is amazingly relevant right now.
In the course of their conversation, they spoke about the need to encourage Jews to have larger families. The Rebbe spoke of the irony of the situation. "The government spends $30,000 dollars to bring a family to Israel," he lamented, "while spending—I have no idea how much—to encourage small families and decrease the birth rate."
The first solution, the Rebbe said, was to increase the stipend to large families. The Sadigura Rebbe, however, was concerned that stipends for large families in Israel go to large Arab families as well. The Rebbe responded that discriminating solutions are simply not tenable and would be interpreted as racism. When the Sadigura Rebbe suggested that perhaps it would then be better not to provide family stipends at all, the Rebbe responded with a discussion of the Jewish obligation towards non-Jews under the "Laws of Noah." Basically, a Jew should do everything he can to prevent a non-Jewish mother from performing an abortion, and support her bringing more children into the world. And if the stipend will encourage large families among Arabs as well as among Jews—very nice. Human beings are meant to have children.
You have to read the transcript several times for it to sink in. I'll attempt to translate a few excerpts. But first, let me lay out some context:
There is a common ground of "The Laws of Noah" which establish the basis for harmony between all peoples and for a sustainable planet. The basics are already addressed at length by the sages of the Talmud and later redacted by the great codifier, Maimonides. All of these laws and guidelines, with their many branches and corollaries, are derived from the Tanach—principally from the Book of Genesis. As Jews, we are responsible to educate and encourage other people to stick to these laws. Especially if they are living in a land under Jewish dominion. And if they keep those laws, we have a responsibility to respond to their needs and attend to their welfare.
These laws include prohibitions against murder and abortion, as well as an imperative to bring children into the world.
Now for the excerpt, beginning with the Rebbe's reaction to the Sadigura Rebbe's suggestion to withhold family stipends (all citations in this article are my own translations from the published Hebrew transcript):
"All children of Noah are instructed that, 'the world was made to be inhabited.' They are also instructed not to murder. This is one of the seven mitzvahs incumbent on all of humanity. Consequently, it is also incumbent upon the Jew to encourage the non-Jew to fulfill those mitzvahs in which the children of Noah are obligated. I don't believe in an attitude of 'Let me die with the Philistines'—to withhold support from Jewish families just so that Arabs will also not receive it."
If so, what will be with demographics? The Rebbe replies :
"...since this is an approach based on the Code of Jewish Law, we need to rely on the Holy One, blessed be He. We can trust that things will work out. If we were deciding this on our own, in contradiction to the seven mitzvahs of the children of Noah, or if we were doing something irrelevant to those laws—then matters would be different."
"However, by Torah law a Jew has an obligation (when he has the capacity) not to permit a non-Jew's transgression of his mitzvahs. So when we are the governing party--as is the situation in Israel--it is forbidden for us to facilitate a possible abortion of an Arab child since this is one of their seven mitzvahs…"
Pondering this, it strikes me that the Rebbe is presenting a repetitive theme in halachah: The Torah provides us a certain degree of control over our world. When it comes to matters of those standing on the doorstep waiting to enter our world, however, the Torah tells us, "Hands off—this is G‑d's business and not yours."
So humanity as a whole is commanded to have children. We don't decide who can bring children into the world and who cannot. On the contrary, our job is to see to it that every human being, Jewish or otherwise, has whatever s/he needs to raise a family and that every fetus is granted the right to live. We do our job and we let G‑d take care of His.
You can read between the lines that the Sadigurer is struggling not to fall off his chair. The Rebbe is showing concern for those he considers an existential threat to Israel—and saying that this is Torah. The Sadigura Rebbe insists, "But it would seem this is a matter of self-defense. The situation in Israel today is very serious. The demographical situation is very threatening. It doesn't seem right to contribute to the problem."
The Rebbe responds by simply reiterating his position, "This does not release them from their obligation to keep their mitzvahs—and from the obligation of a Jew to ensure that the non-Jew will not transgress one of his seven mitzvahs."
If Israel is a Jewish state, then its attitude must be a Jewish attitude. A Jewish attitude is not determined by personal sensitivities, gut reactions or even pragmatic reasoning alone. All of these are of necessity focused around the individual or society making the determination. Quite simply, a human being—all the more so a society of human beings—is incapable of viewing any social situation objectively. Torah, on the other hand, presents us with the reasoning of He who formed all of humanity in His image and rules over all nations. The Jewish approach, therefore, is to look in the Torah and see what its instructs us.
Nevertheless, we are rarely capable of seeing past our own tendentious reasoning to perceive the message the Torah is giving us. We read into its words what our egos wish to read and find justification for whatever prejudices we started with. Fortunately, for that we have tzadikim, righteous men who transcend their own egos and see G‑d's truth shining in His Torah.
A person who sees the truth can't be fit into a little box of right wing or left wing, humanitarianism or authoritarianism, liberalism or conservatism or any other ism. He is neither a hawk nor a dove nor any other animal; he is a thinking human being who happens to have at his fingertips the all-encompassing wisdom of Torah to guide him. The Mishnah warns, "Be deliberate in judgment," and the sages explain, "Never assume you have seen this before. Judge each situation on its own merits." That's called wisdom—and wisdom is often surprising.
As if to prove this point, immediately after this interchange, when the Sadigurer asked the Rebbe for his opinion on surrendering the territories acquired by Israel in the Six Day War, the Rebbe firmly reiterated his long-standing position, "not to give back an inch." Is this the same man who a moment ago had no problem encouraging and even assisting Arab mothers to have more children? Yes—and his insistence is based on the very same reasoning: Surrendering territories in the current situation will endanger lives. Even speaking about it endangers lives. Jewish lives and Arab lives. It has nothing to do with whether these territories belong to us by right of conquest or heritage or any other such legalities. It certainly has nothing to do with party line. The first and foremost determinant is the protection of human life.
(See the articles at Land for "Peace" for more on this last point. For the humanitarian angle on this, Should I Pray for the Death of Terrorists?)
As we pray three times a day, may G‑d restore to us our leaders and advisors, our rebbes and our tzadikim, and may He alone rule over us, "with kindness and with compassion, with righteousness and with judgment." And may it be very soon, sooner than we can imagine.