The first part of this article is a political perspective on a recent event that took place at the Coffee Bean at Hillel at UCLA, written by Samuel Bressler.
An event that took place a few weeks ago is a wake-up call for the UCLA Jewish community about the inherent threat to our values by the followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. The fundamental belief held by Rabbi Kahane and his disciples is that Israel must be transformed into a theocratic state, and that Christians and Muslims be expelled from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Rabbi Kahane’s party, Kach, won one seat in the 1984 Knesset elections. During his time in Knesset, Rabbi Kahane advocated for bills barring sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews and setting up separate neighborhoods between Jews and Arabs. Whenever he spoke on the Knesset podium, all other parliamentarians, left and right alike, would leave the chamber in protest against the wanton brutality and racism espoused by Rabbi Kahane. Ultimately, Kach was banned under a new electoral law passed under a Likud government, and Rabbi Kahane himself was assassinated by an Arab gunman in Manhattan in 1990. For a time, the movement was then led by his son Benjamin, though his group, Kahane Chai (“Kahane lives” in Hebrew), was subsequently banned, and Benjamin was assassinated in a Palestinian ambush in 2000. Since then, the movement has been leaderless.
Many terrorist attacks and plots by extremist Jews can be traced back to Kahanist followers. For example, Kahane disciple Baruch Goldstein was the perpetrator of the 1994 Hebron Massacre when he gunned down and killed 30 Palestinians in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. In 1982, another Kahanist, Yoel Lerner, attempted to blow up the Dome of the Rock mosque on the Temple Mount. Recently, we honored the memory of Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated 20 years ago; his assassin, Yigal Amir, also had links to Kahanist groups. More recently, Kahanists were likely behind the firebombing of a Palestinian home earlier this year, where three died, including an infant. Indeed, one of Rabbi Kahane’s grandsons, Meir Ettinger, is the ringleader of this group and is being held in administrative detention as a material witness.
Even today, while Kahanist groups are banned in Israel and the United States alike, Kahanists still wield influence. For example, the radical right-wing group Lehava, who fight “assimilation,” and are known for harassing Arabs on the street, have Kahanist elements and sport a similar logo, a fist inscribed on a Star of David. Furthermore, in this year’s elections, only a few thousand votes kept Baruch Marzel, a well-known disciple of Kahane, from becoming a Knesset member on the Yachad ticket.
And this is why it is deeply disturbing that two Jewish UCLA students styling themselves as “Torah Jews for Israel” decided to invite an avowed Kahanist rabbi, Moshe Parry, to speak at the Hillel coffee bean. On his Facebook page, Rabbi Parry has, among other things, spoken out in support of the recent firebombing of the Dawabshe family earlier this year. He wrote, “We need a torah govt in israel doing the will of Hashem which is to throw all the arabs out…this and only this can save jewish lives and israel itself from destruction…” [sic] He also attacked the singer Matisyahu for abandoning Orthodoxy when Matisyahu was temporarily disinvited from a Spanish concert over BDS pressure. Rabbi Parry commented, “Serves him right… he abandons torah-true judaism to go play with all the lefties in hollywood and in the music industry… let him taste what jew-haters and israel haters these filthy goyim and even filthier self-loathing jews really all are!!!” [sic] He also referred to American rabbis who backed the Iran deal, including UCLA Hillel’s former director, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, as a “slime culture”.
Perhaps most chillingly, Rabbi Parry made his vision clear on his Facebook page, as he wrote, “The purpose of this video [of his appearance at UCLA] is to advertise our existence of course, but also to offer our services to jewish students on every campus in america and canada… we will be there for u if u need us to be and we will help u form a torah jews for israel chapter on your campus…“ [sic] Essentially, his goal is to create a renaissance of Kahanist activity on campuses throughout the continent.
Hillel’s current director, Rabbi Aaron Lerner, responded to a request for comment with, “On October 26th, two UCLA students invited Moshe Parry to speak with them. Hillel at UCLA had no role whatsoever in extending this invitation, and the use of our space to host him was contrary to our protocols and guidelines. We categorically reject terror in all its forms, irrespective of the ideology or excuses which breed such violence.” Ultimately, the Coffee Bean, where this event was originally scheduled to have taken place, is public property, and so any group is allowed to meet there, no matter how repulsive their ideology. However, we as UCLA students must be vigilant. According to one source present at the meeting, Rabbi Parry intends to return in the relatively near future, and we must be prepared for this eventuality.
“Torah Jews for Israel” did not respond to a request for comment. This group is neither an officially sanctioned UCLA student group, nor a recognized Hillel student organization.
The following is a religion-based perspective on Rabbi Kahane’s ideology written by Daniel Levine.
Rabbi Meir Kahane was an American-Israeli rabbi and politician, with extremist views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While I do not wish to go into his exact views, which are mentioned above, I do want to talk about where he derives his views from and why they are incorrect.
Today, in the year 2015, even the most religious of people must admit that with religion comes great danger. Ancient religious texts were written in completely different societies with completely different morals than we have today in America. When people hold fundamentalist beliefs that holy books are The Objective Truth for all time and that their laws are static, things can get nasty.
First off, I love the Torah. I believe that the Torah contains some of the greatest messages of all time, along with profound stories that allow us to reflect on ourselves and society. I believe that the Torah represents a quantum leap in morality in terms of its view on women, slaves, business ethics, and the value of human life. That said, the Torah contains many dangerous messages. The Torah talks about executing anyone who breaks the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14; 32:5; Numbers 15:32-36). The Torah talks about stoning a minor for stealing from his parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). How do we deal with these differences?
Some, like Rabbi Meir Kahane, believe that the Torah is static: whatever the Torah says must be done! To be honest, the Torah does talk about killing the nations living in Israel (unless they adopted very specific and complex laws) when Joshua was conquering the land. Does this make me view the Torah with any less respect? No. What else would you expect from a book produced in an ancient war-filled society? One may conclude that Rabbi Kahane may actually be correct according to the Torah’s standards. He and his followers bring in a plethora of verses supporting their opinions. One might think, who are we to argue with the text of the Torah?
Well, it’s a good thing that Judaism never really attached much value to the literal reading of the Torah. Already in the Talmudic age, rabbis reinterpreted many morally questionable verses to make them align closer to what they felt was morally okay at that time. They argued, for example, that the law about stoning a minor was never meant to be implemented. The case is actually a theoretical one to begin a conversation about how to deal with misbehavior, they say (Sanhedrin 71a). “The Jewish court never killed anyone,” (Makkot mishnah 1:10) some Rabbis claim, even though well over 20 verses in the Torah demand capital punishment for various sins.
Since the Torah has been written, scholars have realized that society evolves and the interpretation of the Torah must evolve at the same rate. The beauty of the Torah is that it forces us to face difficult moral questions and spend our lives debating and discussing how to better ourselves in this world. That is, as the Midrash states, the only reason why the Commandments were even given!
When people like Rabbi Kahane argue that the Torah demands killing and deporting foreigners, he is not only being unpragmatic, immoral, stupid and extreme, but he is also going against the thousands of years of the way Jews have read and interpreted the Torah.
While I do not think that many people will be enticed by Rabbi Kahane’s political solutions, I could see the cognitive dissonance that some Jews might have when reading his arguments and how they stem from primary Jewish sources. My advice to you: come to Hillel, grab a coffee, open a Talmud and see how rabbis throughout the last two thousand years have already answered your questions.