Rabbi Berel Wein

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review / Oct. 28, 1999 / 18 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Rabin, a life by Josh Pollack
Imperfect solutions

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE COMMEMORATIONS of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin that take place over all of Israel at this time of the year are a sad reminder of the futility of ideology-driven violent solutions to difficult issues.

Our waning century is a weeping witness to assassinations that have brought untold grief to humanity. The First World War that cost millions of lives and destabilized Europe for many decades to come was a result of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife by a Serbian extremist. The purpose of the killing was to end Austrian dominance over Serbia. The result was the disappearance of an independent Serbia for most of this century. Any objective observer would certainly agree that assassinating Archduke Ferdinand was an imperfect solution to the political difficulties of Serbia.

Our century has witnessed other assassinations and attempted assassinations of public figures. The Armenian prime minister, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Ronald Reagan have all been shot at by assassins. Whatever the purposes of those assassins may have been, the common denominator in all of these incidents is that those purposes were never realized. The victims became martyrs or heroes, the shooters were judged either deranged or vicious bigoted killers. Their bullets were also imperfect solutions to the perceived wrongs that motivated their violent behavior.


Yigal Amir's murder of Yitzchak Rabin was the solution of a fanatical idealogue to a political problem. If the purpose of the killing was to arrest the Oslo peace process and prevent the transfer of Israeli-controlled territory to the Palestinians, then the killing was not only an immoral murder of an innocent man, it was a dismal political failure. In fact, the Netanyahu government that campaigned for office on a platform that was basically anti-Oslo, was hamstrung in implementing such a policy from its first days in office onward and was forever prevented from reversing Oslo because of the ghost of the martyred Rabin that continually hung over Netanyahu. So, ironically Amir contributed to the furtherance of policies that he was fanatically opposed to. Assassination is certainly an imperfect solution to political difficulties.

Idealism is a virtue and a necessity for the advancement of civilization. Judaism and all of Jewish life is built on the sacrifices and tenacity that only idealism can engender. But idealism, like almost all other virtues and positive human traits, requires self-discipline and common sense to control and channel it. Idealism uncontrolled easily descends into fanaticism. And fanaticism almost always finds a violent expression because fanatics are always frustrated and deeply wounded by an imperfect world that does not bend to their will and vision of human perfection. And they cannot tolerate different views or opinions. The idealism of faith that religion brings to humans is of little value if it is insensitive to the realities of the human condition and blind to the true consequences of fanatical behavior.

The Torah always warned us of the negative consequences of blind fanaticism. The Talmud assured us that there would always be different opinions and views amongst us --"just as no two people have the same appearance, so too no two people share the same opinions and ideas." Therefore, our idealism must always be tempered by realism and a sense of vision.

The idealistic and courageous Israelis who have populated the other-side-of the Green Line-parts of the Land of Israel over the past two decades are certainly possessed of idealism. They have made great sacrifices and achieved much. Yet, they have been demonized as being fanatics and as being an obstacle to peace. Their political opponents have defined them as being not idealists but rather as a violent threat to the ultimate welfare of the State of Israel.

Now, that the "older settlers" have agreed to the dismantling of certain outposts the chance of the "settlers" being viewed as idealists instead of fanatics may have been improved. However, the "dor hemshech," the next and younger generation of the"settlers," imbued with the heritage of idealism and love of the Land of Israel oppose any concession to reality.

And thus they run the risk of being tarred with the brush of fanaticism. If that happens, then no matter what their short term goals and achievements may be, in the long run, their behavior will prove to be counter-productive to their ultimate goals. Idealism that can degenerate into violent behavior is ultimately the enemy of the cause of those very idealists.

Our society is far too violent. Domestic, political and social violence is far too common. Most of this violence is not idealistically driven. Nevertheless, any violence creates a certain climate in society. Eventually we become accustomed and accepting of it and our condemnations of such violence is trite, formal and insincere. But in a society that accepts routine violence, traffic and road rage, that shouts and never speaks softly, that prides itself on not being service-oriented and is brazenly impolite, creates an atmosphere that is dangerous for idealists. A violent society justifies fanaticism for idealogues.

That is the dangerous ingredient for our society in this fateful and perilous time in Israel's history.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He resides in Jerusalem. You may contact Rabbi Wein by by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


10/21/99: 'Holy loafers'
10/07/99: Earthquakes --- 'natural' and otherwise
09/28/99: Beauty
09/17/99: Blessing the children
09/10/99: A good year

©1999, Rabbi Berel Wein