Torah for Today: What does the Torah say about… Academic boycotts?

Torah for Today: What does the Torah say about… Academic boycotts?

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

By Rabbi Ariel AbelTorah-For-Today-300x206

In recent weeks, academics both in Britain and abroad have been pledging to boycott and divest from Israel. What’s the Torah’s view on this?

The rabbinic equivalent to boycott is a ban of excommunication. There are different levels of ban, beginning with nizuf, when a rabbi repudiates a member of the community for one day.

The range then extends to cherem, a community ban which is open-ended and may close only if the excommunicated person is forgiven or dies.

The Talmud relates that Joshua ben Perachia was dining in a hotel with his student, Jesus of Nazareth. At some point, Rabbi Joshua praised the hostess serving them, and Jesus misunderstood his teacher’s comment as an immodest commentary on her beauty.
Joshua was so enraged that he placed Jesus under the most severe ban: “They took out 400 shofars” and excommunicated Jesus from their company.

This means that no one could approach Jesus within a two-metre distance, nor could they converse or trade with him.

The result was spectacular; Jesus tried and failed repeatedly to regain the affection of his master.
As a result, he bitterly parted company with Pharisee scholarship and set up his own branch of Judaism, which has become the most populous religion in the world, Christianity.

Thus Christianity was born, with devastating consequences to this very day for Jews who have unfairly suffered blame and criticism, with its roots in the ban on a charismatic and gifted student.

Academic critics of Israel are in Joshua’s position; Israel in that of the Talmudic Jesus.

If academics, including left-wing Jews and Arabs, are to be classed as oppressing colonisers promoting apartheid and therefore shut out of the company of their peers, it will ultimately split the world of
academia down the middle.

Israelis, essentially a Middle Eastern people, will be divorced from their detractors in the West and will instead deepen associations with academics in countries such as China and south-east Asia.
Ultimately, Israel will thrive in new company, while the West will suffer a significant brain drain of some of its best thinkers and researchers.

Meanwhile, Israel is perhaps the only country in the Middle East that is proactively inclusive of academics or students, irrespective of religious or national background.

• Ariel Abel serves communities  in Lancashire and Merseyside

read more: