Published by The Freeman Center
The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
Rambam re Atheists, Attrition and Wholeness
By Eugene Narrett, Ph.D
There are two categories of ‘those who betray Jews to gentiles’: one who betrays a fellow Jew to the gentiles so that they may kill or beat him; and one who gives his fellow Jew’s money to the gentiles or to a person who takes property and is, therefore, considered like a gentile. [Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 3:6, 12]
The above lines may bring to mind the expulsions of Jews from Gush Katif, the north Shomron towns and the pogrom at Amona. To those with longer memories or to students of history they will recall the Saison and the collaboration and complicity of the official “Zionists” (who still give a bad name to that austere term) with the British and their geopolitics of abetting the shoah. Near at hand, “one who betrays a fellow Jew to the gentiles so that they may beat and kill him” connotes the rocket barrages from Gaza since 2001, the undeclared “wars of attrition” that the Labor and now Kadima-Likud rulers of Israel never allow it to win or even suppress for very long. It also highlights their subservience to foreign kingdoms, especially America and Britain that to scholars like Rambam was a primary sign of the ruin of Judaism and harsh events that precede the restoration of royalty and integrity to Israel (Melachim 1:1, 5:1-5, 11-12; Hilchot Kokhavim 10:4-6; Hilchot Teshuvah 9:2; geula b’ita). “The normal pattern of the world” cannot pertain until Israel is sovereign and Torah complete ( “the oppression of the gentile kingdoms prevents Israel from fulfilling the mitzvoth properly” ibid).
There’s a fake war on, an up-tick in the attrition dialectic to which the nations have damned Israel. The politicians who rule Israel on behalf of the oligarchs, foreign and domestic, are making bold sounds about their determination to “defeat terror.” They are liars and harlots: were they men of truth (no women belong in these positions, Melachim 1:5) the attacks on Gush Katif would have been crushed seven years ago. These rulers and the establishment around them epitomize the “autocratic government” of which the sages warned us (Pirke Avot 2:3). Ever since the days of the Mandate, they desecrate the Name and despoil Israel, -- they cast fear upon the people for reasons other than the service of God (Teshuvah 3:13 and Melachim 1:7, “under no circumstance should a person who lacks the fear of God be appointed to any position in Israel”).
Their contempt for Judaism has been exposed for sixty years as profoundly impractical. Had they had wisdom and respect, they would have delegated sages to establish a court and “appoint a king to fight the wars of Hashem” (Melachim 1:2-3). There would have been a united front against the British publicly demanding massive aliyah; there would have been one hundred Altalena’s instead of one that was sunk, -- by these anti-Jews. The Gilead would have been regained in 1967 and the Lebanon in 1973 or ’82 if not before. An altar would have been built on a re-consecrated Temple Mount and by now the Beit HaMikdash would be standing, sending inspiration and hope throughout the world. Instead there are expulsions of Jews, groveling before enemies, death and terror brought upon the people instead of victory and peace and the ruin of the land, of Judaism and of the Almighty’s honor by the presence not only of worshippers of false gods but of their houses of worship in Eretz Yisrael, houses Israel must destroy (Kokhavim 4 and10).
Many mitzvot are abrogated by the secularists and their “religious party” fig leaves that have ruled Israel on behalf of the gentiles since the 1920s, doling out immigration quotas to Jews until the holocaust when there were almost no “certificates” to be had. These collaborators who betray Jews “have no portion in the world to come” and include “those who cast fear upon the people for reasons other than the service of God “(literally, “the heavenly Name,” Hashem, Teshuvah 3:13).
This discussion is presented as a bit of chinuch about which so much is heard in hopes that more will be done; as parliamentarians say, a “point of information” that may lead to perfected action and “the perfected community” in which we accept our “specific service assignment” to quote Ramchal.
Rambam’s Mishne Torah, enumerating the mitzvoth is particularly striking when one notes the full context, the extraordinary and distinctively Jewish leniency with which he, like chazal generally or Ramchal centuries later speaks of transgressors. In the previous section of this Halacha he has quoted the foundational verse, “all Israel have a share in the world to come” based in Isaiah 60:22 and repeated at the start of each section of Pirke Avot. Moreover, Rambam devotes most of Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4-5 to explaining how a single mitzvah tips a person’s balance toward righteousness and that, after death, when the form of the soul in its knowledge (Yesodei HaTorah 4:8-9) stands ‘naked’ before the Almighty “He does not count a sin that was committed only once or twice” such that the third sin, too “is forgiven because it is considered as a first sin for the first two were already forgiven.” Even “the fourth sin is thus considered as a first and is forgiven according to the same principle until all [sins] are concluded being weighed.” As far as our relation with the Creator goes, forgiveness and mercy characterize Judaism.
This regards the Divine, Eternal Justice of the Highest Wisdom, Rambam immediately notes, distinguishing it from what is owed for sins against the [Jewish] community, klal Israel. Citing Amos 2:6, “for the fourth I will not withhold it” [punishment] Rambam states that “reckoning begins with the fourth” sin in regard to transgressions against the entire nation. Given the summary review above, the fourth sin, indeed the four hundredth was committed decades ago and they have showered down in scores daily since the Labor regime seized total control of the State which was before it declared itself independent.
Lest anyone think that Rambam could be used to give a pass to those who keep the dialectic of attrition and Jewish subjugation going, he follows these loving leniencies, so evident in Iggeret HaShmad (see introduction to Yesodei HaTorah or Sefer HaMitzvoth) by detailed description of the Minnim, proselytizers, heretics and apostates and Epikorsin (followers of Epicurus) who deny the fundamentals of Torah – Hashem’s unity, love, and presence, etc., “cause the many to sin,” “betray Jews to gentiles” (supra), “worship stars or other intermediary individuals”; who “dispute the prophecy of Moshe,” “maintain that the Creator is not aware of the deeds of men,” negate the criteria for true prophecy (“neither add to it nor take away”) as distinguished from false prophets (Deuteronomy 13) or those who replaces or nullifies mitzvoth (Teshuvah 3:6-14).
All these sections of Mishne Torah resonate today. The “mainstream organizations” in America, -- the Reform Union, Labor, Bnei Brith, ADL, OU and others who publicly endorsed a “Palestinian” State, a “two-state solution” west of the Jordan in effect are in the category of those who say, “’what value do I have in clinging to Israel while they are debased and pursued. It’s better to cling to those [gentiles] who have the upper hand.’ Such a one is an apostate in regard to the entire Torah” (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:9, last paragraph). Moreover they are in the category of “those who betray Jews to gentiles” in that “they cast fear upon the people for reasons other than the service of God” (ibid 3:13). What a terrible message of despair and isolation they have sent to the Jews of Israel, especially those undergoing rocket barrages and those sent belatedly to fight to damp down the attrition.
So one notes the terrible consequences to body and soul when Israel is ruled by “deviant sorts” (Minnim), Epicureans and other defeatist apostates and those who stand by the blood of their Jewish brothers.
One might expect that in the laws of star and idol worship and how to deal with their servants Rambam would deal with intellectual and legal matters involving niceties of observance. The latter surely comes into play. But it is clear that the Rav is concerned in great measure with the integrity of Eretz Yisrael and of the Jews dwelling there. The chapters that follow treat largely of the dangers done to Israel and Jews by proselytizers and that the strictures against them and against cities or neighborhoods that follow them are meant to insure the survival of Eretz Yisrael. These are the laws of Ir HaNidchat, “proselytized” or “wayward cities” which must be dealt with by a court, Sanhedrin that the leading sages must establish (see previous essay on the potential of Rav Kook and others since to achieve these life and nation-saving mitzvoth).
The Sanhedrin must inquire as to the extent of the mesit (proselytizer against Torah) and musatot (proselytes) and decide the extent to which the city is to be destroyed. If a minority is culpable after having been formally warned to desist, they are executed after witnesses are heard and their property is destroyed. If a majority was led astray, the righteous are spared but their property, along with that of all those who rejected Torah and Hashem is destroyed and the apostates executed (Kokhavim 4:1-2, 5-15). The point is that this “serves as a warning against proselytizing” (4:1) and thus destroying the Source and Torah of Israel and, as a result, its national and individual integrity and life.
If a proselytizer does not heed a warning to desist, it is a positive commandment for the one he proselytizes to kill him (Kokhavim 4:4 on Deuteronomy 13:10) so that the innocent victim and target not share the iniquity and fate of the guilty. There is to be no ‘blaming the victim’ if Rambam can help it. Anyone who refrains from executing a false prophet violates a negative commandment” (Sefer HaMitzvoth 29 on Deuteronomy 18:22).
Still, Rambam’s insight that the integrity of Torah and unification of the Name are one with the integrity of the land is clear when he exempts the “cities of refuge” as well as Jerusalem from ever being destroyed because a majority of Jews there might be led astray. The foundations must be sustained; similarly, “a border city is never condemned as an Ir HaNidchat so that the gentiles will not enter and destroy Eretz Yisrael” (Kokhavim 4:4). For a similar set of practical and holy reasons “three cities bordering each other should not be condemned” because of the practical dangers involved. The land must remain integral and Jews must be redeemed when punishment risks gentile attack.
Contrast this with conditions in modern Israel; the betrayal of Jews, supra has its counterpart in a land pocked with the places of worship to other gods as well as to proselytizers. The Rambam places such great importance for all Israel in carrying out, via the Sanhedrin, the mitzvoth pertaining to Ir HaNidchat that he states that “anyone who administers the judgment of Ir HaNidchat is as if he offered a burnet whole offering, entirely for the sake of Hashem your God,” a great honor of the Temple Mount and rectification of the world (Kokhavim 4:16 re Deut 13:17).
The emphasis on being rooted and intact, shaleim in derekh Yehudi emerges in the reservations Rambam puts on what may be done with a city permeated by a majority of apostates and proselytizers. “It may never be rebuilt” (Kokhavim, 4:8). “It is permitted only to use it for gardens and orchards” (ibid), the glorious song of the earth; all its produce and goods are to be burnt “excluding produce still connected to its source of nurture [earth] and would have to be severed in order to be burnt” (ibid. 4:13). This resembles the prohibition against cutting down fruit trees when besieging an enemy city and reflects on the principle of roots and being rooted in maintaining Israel. It is precisely to safeguard these foundations that “we may not draw up a covenant with idolaters and establish peace with them that allows them to worship idols” (ibid. 10:1 on Deut 7:2, “do not be gracious to them”). Rather, to protect the vine, Israel, Rambam explains the mitzvah “to eradicate Jewish traitors, Minnim, epikorsin, and proselytizers…since they cause difficulty to the Jews and sway them from Hashem.” There are candidates aplenty now.
Just as these strictures, including the provisions of warning to enable teshuva, evidence, inquiry, witnesses and destruction are meant to protect Jews and Judaism so are they meant to protect the integrity of Eretz Yisrael without which none of these mitzvoth can be properly fulfilled (see Sefer HaMitzvoth). This pillar is explicated by Rambam at the conclusion of Kokhavim. It is a matter that is very near and urgent to us today.
It may be debatable whether the current time is “an era when Israel is in exile among the gentiles” as opposed to being primarily scattered to the four corners; but it is clear that it “is an era when the gentiles are in power” for there is no functional Sanhedrin and even though one has been constituted it has scarcely any impact on current events in Israel. Rather its main role so far is to attempt to coordinate the teaching of the Noahide laws to gentiles abroad. This is not trivial; for when Israel is sovereign it is only an observant Noahide (a ger toshav, a “resident alien”) who may visit the land.
However, despite Rambam’s great leniency regarding teshuva, when it comes to the integrity of Eretz Yisrael, the literal basis for the mitzvoth he sets up an iron wall. When “it comes to Jewish traitors, Minnim and apikorsim” and the amgushai (“sorcerers”) and idolatrous judges, gazirpatai discussed in Talmud “it is a mitzvah to kill them, not to love them or show them any favor”; one is commanded “not reduce hatred for them” for they undermine the entire Torah and desecrate Hashem (Kokhavim 10:2). This regards all idolaters, “those who pride themselves in other gods.” Even in an era when Israel is not sovereign and is mostly in exile “it is forbidden to sell them homes and fields in Eretz Yisrael” (ibid. 10:3). It was adherence to this honor and commandment that kept a Jewish majority in the Land till about 350 CE despite the loss of three wars, genocide, ruin of the land and mass enslavement. There is no other such enduring resistance (Amidah) in history and this makes the word “resistance” a particularly apt name for the main Jewish prayer service: faith, humility, national honor and profound strength drawn from witness to the Creator.
Rambam continues that, even in the time when Israel is not sovereign and/or is mostly scattered it is forbidden to rent idolaters more than two homes in any one area lest they constitute a neighborhood. And even though they may rent it is not for a dwelling but only as a warehouse lest they bring idols with them. The primacy of the land, its produce and the principle of rootedness again emerges in the prohibition against renting fields to them or selling a field of standing produce for future harvest (ibid. 10:3-4). Just as the land belongs to Hashem and He gave it to Jacob forever, so too its produce; and while one should provide charity for poor idolaters one should not act as if their holidays are true days of joy, “to wish him well,” etc (ibid 10:5).
So even given Israel’s de facto dependent status today it is forbidden to sell or allow idolaters to rent any land at all or to purchase buildings for residency. When “Israel is in power over them,” truly sovereign “it is forbidden [even] to allow an idolater among us” (ibid 10:6). If they want to ascend to Hashem’s holy House on Sukkot they will have to become ger toshavim, practice the laws of Noah and cleanse themselves of idolatry and their obsession to act as mesit spreading their demented and derivative “gospel.” Even the ger toshavim are to be accepted only when Israel is fully intact which Rambam indicates means it is practicing the Yovel (mitzvot 136-8) and redemption of each family’s landholding. This is the work of a king appointed by the court of seventy-one sages as described in Hilchot Melachim which enables destruction of those who come with open hostilities or decrees against Israel and then building of the Temple and ingathering of the exiles. The purpose of these mitzvoth regarding guarding the land are like those in Melachim explaining that gentiles must be taught the Noahide laws and must not observe or practice Torah as if they were Jews. In each case, Rambam indicates, the overall point is the same, that they should not acquire a foothold in the land and defile it or inhibit Israel’s practice of mitzvot; and that their study not lead them to elaborate a new religion for themselves as has happened with such ruinous results in tyranny, imperialism and madness (Melachim 10:9 and chapters 8-10; Kokhavim 12:11, Yesodei HaTorah 10:3, “a prophet will not come to add or withdraw a mitzvah or to found a new faith,” Melachim 11:4, etc).
Israel and Judaism are anti-imperial. The sages do not yearn for the return of a king and true sovereignty in order to acquire lands outside Eretz Yisrael or to rule over gentiles (Teshuvah 9:2): on the contrary, there is to be a clear distinction between the land of the Jews and the gentile nations (Numbers 23:9, Deut 11:21-9, 32:7, 33:25). The goodness of the Messianic Age is that “sovereignty will return to Israel” and, with this, the wholesome fulfillment of Torah and the attendant blessings that will fill the world whose “natural pattern” thus will be joyous not anxious, abundant not needy, true peace instead of wars of attrition called “peace processes” and “nation-building” (Hilchot Teshuvah 9:2, Melachim 11-12). Israel will rebuild itself as stipulated by Rambam and other greats and there will be grace instead of terror and horror; true peace and Yesod HaTiferet, a Dominion of Priests and a holy nation, a crown of splendor in the ‘hand’ of the Creator, the life energy of the chayyot streaming from the Holy House.
The editions of Rambam’s Mishne Torah used in compiling this essay are those published by Moznaim (Jerusalem) between 1987 and 1993 with translation and annotation by Rabbi’s Eliahu Touger and Shraga Silverstein.