Jerusalem, June 10: Friedman, who today travels the country as a Chabad speaker, showed a less warm and cuddly side when he was asked how he thinks Jews should treat their Arab neighbors.
“The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle),” Friedman wrote in response to the question posed by Moment Magazine for its “Ask the Rabbis” feature.
Friedman argued that if Israel followed this wisdom, there would be “no civilian casualties, no children in the line of fire, no false sense of righteousness, in fact, no war.”
“I don’t believe in Western morality,” he wrote. “Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations who suffer defeat because of a disastrous morality of human invention.”
Friedman’s use of phrasing that might seem has generated a swift backlash. The editor of Moment, Nadine Epstein, said that since the piece was printed in the current issue they “have received many letters and e-mails in response to Rabbi Friedman’s comments – and almost none of them have been positive.”
Friedman quickly went into damage control. He released a statement to the Forward, through a Chabad spokesman, saying that his answer in Moment was “misleading” and that he does believe that “any neighbor of the Jewish people should be treated, as the Torah commands us, with respect and compassion.”
But Friedman’s words have generated a debate about whether there is a darker side to the cheery face that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement shows to the world in its friendly outreach to unaffiliated Jews. Mordecai Specktor, editor of the Jewish community newspaper in Friedman’s hometown, St. Paul. Minnesota, said: “The public face of Lubavitch is educational programs and promoting Yiddishkeit. But I do often hear this hard line that Friedman expresses here.”
“He sets things out in pretty stark terms, but I think this is what Lubavitchers believe, more or less,” said Specktor, who is also the publisher of the American Jewish World.
“They are not about loving the Arabs or a two-state solution or any of that stuff. They are fundamentalists. They are our fundamentalists.”
But, Foxman warned, Friedman’s views are not reflective of the Chabad rabbis he knows. “I am not shocked that there would be a rabbi who would have these views,” Foxman said, “but I am shocked that Moment would give up all editorial discretion and good sense to publish this as representative of Chabad.”
A few days after anger about the comment surfaced, Chabad headquarters released a statement saying that, “we vehemently disagree with any sentiment suggesting that Judaism allows for the wanton destruction of civilian life, even when at war.”
The statement added: “In keeping with Jewish law, it is the unequivocal position of Chabad-Lubavitch that all human life is G-d given, precious, and must be treated with respect, dignity and compassion.”
In Moment, Friedman’s comment is listed as the Chabad response to the question “How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?” after a number of answers from rabbis representing other Jewish streams, most of which state a conciliatory attitude toward Arabs.
Epstein said that Friedman was “brave” for stating his views so clearly.
“The American Jewish community doesn’t have the chance to hear opinions like this,” Epstein said, “not because they are rare, but because we don’t often ask Chabad and other similar groups what they think.”
The Chabad movement is generally known for its hawkish policies toward the Palestinians; the Chabad Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, rejected peace accords with the Palestinians. Rabbi Moshe Feller, the top Chabad rabbi in Minnesota, said that the rebbe taught that it is not a mitzvah to kill, but that Jews do have an obligation to act in self-defense.