Ask the Rabbi: 08/10/2014

Ask the Rabbi: 08/10/2014

In this weeks ‘ask the rabbi’, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet deals with destiny and fleeing anti-Semitism. 

Rabbi Schochet

If you want to contribute a question to ‘ask the rabbi’, you can email

  • The Jewish position on Genocide

Dear Rabbi,

Israel’s critics claim it is guilty of “genocide” in Gaza. The question I have is: what’s the Jewish position on genocide?


Dear Hassim,

Back in 1944, a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder, including the destruction of the European Jews.

He formed the word by combining geno – from the Greek word for “race” – with -cide, derived from the Latin word for “killing”. I know of no example in Jewish history where we systematically sought to simply wipe out another nation.

When it came to the seven nations that were in Israel prior to the Jewish settlement in Biblical times, there was no categorical instruction to wipe out the nations. The first option was to grant them the opportunity to live peacefully and morally in the Israelites’ midst. If they rejected, they were given the option to leave. If they still resisted, well, then it was pistols at dawn. The other cited example is the Amalekites.

According to one school of thought, they too were given a get out option in the first instance. But even if we go with the more radical approach, this wasn’t a deliberate and systematic annihilation of a people. This was a people who were committed to the annihilation of the Jewish nation for no reason other than because they exist.

To that end, when someone simply despises your existence, it would be futile to allow them to exist, knowing that they will come after you if you don’t get to them first. A case in point is the one Amalekite who was spared by King Saul who later went on to have a descendent known as Haman.

Finally, for the liars and fabricators out there (are you one of them?) who misuse the word ‘genocide’ and insist that is what Israel is guilty of in the Gaza Strip, re-read the definition of the word and consider the extreme lengths Israel went to in protecting innocent civilians – including leaflet drops, texts and phone calls – and contrast that with the indiscriminate rocket launching that Hamas fired against Israel, targeting civilians everywhere.

Then consider who is really committed to genocide.

  •  Can you help me win prize?

Dear Rabbi,

My teacher posed a question in class asking why we don’t make an actual blessing on the mitzvah of repentance, as we might do on other mitzvot. He even offered a gift voucher for the best answer. I don’t know if your answer will appear in time before Sukkot, but if you could email me directly to help with my answer, that would be great.


Dear Shoshana,

OK, so to be clear, you are asking me to help you with work for which you are likely to win a prize, on the very theme of repentance. You do know, if you go with my answer and win the prize, you are going to have to repent! Some say we don’t make a blessing because we cannot fulfil the mitzvah in its entirety, as we are dependent on God to accept our repentance. (A bit like why we don’t make a blessing when giving charity, because we are dependent on the poor recipient without which we do not complete the mitzvah).

Of course, some might argue, and this may be why your teacher is asking the question, that we do effectively make a blessing in the Yom Kippur prayer service, declaring God as One who always accepts our repentance. Therefore, others contend that the reason we don’t make a blessing usually is because we don’t make a blessing on any mitzvah that has been achieved through sin. For example, if you are going to eat a ham sandwich, you wouldn’t make a blessing before and after.

Repentance is intrinsically linked to sin, without which you have no need to do it, hence you would also not recite a blessing on it. The problem with that answer is that in truth ‘teshuva’ in the strictest sense doesn’t mean repentance, but rather ‘returning unto God’. To that end, it is not limited to just iniquity, but really anyone at whatever level they can always aspire still higher. As such they do are doing teshuvah, albeit not through sin.

That then brings us to a third answer, namely that repentance is done in the heart and we don’t make blessings on things that are contingent on the heart – rather only for an action. I reckon if you are reading this information in time you’ll be cashing in.

You then have to make a choice of telling your teacher that you got help with the answer, or split the prize with me. I won’t tell if you don’t!

• Read Rabbi Schochet’s blog at or follow him on Twitter at @RabbiYYS

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