Kill the men, rape the women

It doesn’t look too good for Rabbi Shapira’s plan to beat the swords of modern combat into the ploughshares of Yahweh-inspired warfare. Yesterday I wrote about his proposal for Torah-based practical combat; today I want to follow it up with a short paragraph from a book I’ve been reading intermittently for over a year. The book is called War in Human Civilization (OUP, 2006) by Azar Gat, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. Gat writes:

Warfare regularly involved stealing of women, who were then subjected to multiple rape, or taken for marriage, or both. Indeed, the story of Moses’ command to the Children of Israel to kill all the Midianites except for the virgin women who could be taken (Numbers 31. 17-18) typifies victors’ conduct throughout history: kill the men, rape the women, and take most of the young and beautiful as war trophies. If women could not be taken because of the enemy’s opposition, or because of domestic opposition at home, they would often be killed like the men and children, in order to decrease the numbers of the enemy.

Here, for the record, is Numbers 31. 17-18 (that’s part of the Torah for those unfamiliar with the term):

17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. 

18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

According to BBC, the King’s Torah (Shapira’s controversial book) “suggests that babies can justifiably be killed if it is clear they will grow up to pose a threat.” This would be perfectly coherent with Torah-regulated combat, as we saw above.

The Torah may have been a slight improvement over earlier codes of law like that of Hammurabi – itself perhaps rather innovative for its time for actually codifying laws – where the punishment for nearly everything is death, but it has long been surpassed by modern secular ideas of justice in every way.

The Torah, like the Gospels and the Qur’an, is a document produced in a certain time and place by humans very much of their time (no human has ever been of any other). As such, it’s a fascinating thing to study. But any proposal that modern values be abolished or subverted out of allegiance to this ancient anthology of Near Eastern literature should be met with jeers. As a thought experiment, imagine what life in your country might be like right now if ancient Babylonian law was suddenly put into practice.

If fire break out in a house, and some one who comes to put it out cast his eye upon the property of the owner of the house, and take the property of the master of the house, he shall be thrown into that self-same fire.

Now does that sound reasonable to you?

Torah-based practical combat

Sound like a guide to warfare based on the laws promulgated in the Torah? Well, that’s what it is. Rabbi Shapira explains:

“I think that people who read the plan will realize that what the Torah says is much more sincere than ‘purity of arms’ (IDF’s official doctrine of ethics). I think that calling it ‘purity of arms’ is a disgrace – it’s putting human life in risk.

“The Jews are wise people; they will come to their senses. The conscious and behavioral revolution will take place easily and pleasantly, and I hope we won’t have to experience difficult things for it to happen. We can’t go on acting like we’re acting today, because then the situation of the Jews here will be worse.”

This is a disgrace. “Jews” are not “wise people.” Individuals may have some modicum of wisdom, but no ethnic, national or religious grouping can be “wise.” Rabbi Shapira is a prime example of a Jew who is dangerously unwise, for example.

He doesn’t seem to realize that a “conscious and behavioral revolution” has already taken place in much of the world – and right there in Israel, too. That Israel practices an imperfect form of combat (often the IDF is chided for its “brutality”), yet doesn’t resort to fire-bombing wide swaths of enemy territory in order to cause maximum damage – a practice which would be rather simple given their technology – is itself an improvement over less moral ways of doing war. And it is definitely an improvement on the Torah.

…the rabbi strongly criticized Israel’s legal system and former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak. According to Shapira, Barak decided to confront the Torah with all his might…

As well he fucking should have. A supreme court bound by allegiance to the Torah would fast turn Israel into the most backward nation in the Middle East. As a Jew and a liberal Zionist, all I can say is: to hell with the Torah. Fuck it. Throw it in the garbage. Don’t base your life on its teachings, and don’t let it rule your courts of law. If Israel has any advantage over its neighbors, it is to be found in its (rocky) adherence secular principles, not in the factoid that “Jews are wise.”

* h/t Ophelia Benson.