How Do We Pursue Peace? A Response to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

In his newsletter, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (who in his byline refers to himself as “America’s Rabbi”) has written an account of Rae Ablieah’s protest during Netanyahu’s speech in Congress on Tuesday.

Apparently Rabbi Shmuley was two seats away from her at the time and witnessed the entire episode. In his piece, he explained why he decided not to “intervene” during the incident.  He also made some rather colorful observations about the Israel-Palestine conflict, including:

It’s not the ’67 borders that separate the Palestinians and Israelis. Rather, the conflict is all about values, specifically the Palestinians’ growing culture of death versus the Israeli culture of life.

My good friend and colleague Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb wrote an awesome response to Rabbi Shmuley and agreed to let me post it here below:

Dear Shmuley,

Thank you for your Shabbat hospitality the other night. Your family is beautiful. I appreciate your wife’s efforts to feed us and make us welcome in your home. Your hosting of conversations that explore the dimensions of a variety of issues is representative of the finest in our tradition. Critical thinking is crucial to the work of peace. Therefore, I feel empowered to address the issues your raised in your newsletter, especially since I know Rae Abileah personally and she ended up in the hospital.

1)  She was not uttering curses. A curse is wishing for destruction or harm of another person or people. This was not the case. “End Occupation” is not a curse, it is a political statement. Great lovers of Israel including Jewish parents in the Bereaved Parent’s Circle support this position.

2) Whether you agree or disagree with her statement, Rae was physically assaulted which is against the law. “Do not envy a man of violence nor follow any of his ways.” “Do not follow the majority to do evil.” “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” “Do not seek revenge…”

Physical assault is a crime. Period. Interrupting a speech may not be well received but it is not physical assault.

3) By becoming a bystander and watching a physical assault without intervening and making an effort to stop the assault, you committed a sin of omission. You became a bystander.

4) By polarizing the conflict with your words in this newsletter, you are creating new enemies. The mitzvah is “to turn an enemy into a friend.” Our tradition asks religious leaders to rise above the fray and to stand against violence of any sort. That is why we are commanded to help an enemy before a friend in the question of relieving a donkey of his load. Or take the example of Aaron, running between two enemies to make friends.

As someone who has a following I urge you not to promote more hatred by creating a category of “Israel haters.”  Rather, seek to understand their concerns, open a dialogue, become a Rodef Shalom (“Pursuer of Peace”) and not someone who fuels feelings that violence and revenge are justified.

By making the deeply distorted and uneducated statement about “the Palestinian culture of death and the Israeli culture of life” you are contributing to hate mongering which is a violent act according to our tradition. You have obviously not been in Palestine, nor do you seem to know about the very widespread movement for nonviolence that has been part of the Palestinian struggle for freedom for several decades. Yes, there are forces of violence in Palestine, just as there are in Israel. How do we pursue peace?

The kind of advice and opinion that appears in this newsletter puts you outside the circle of traditional Jewish sensitivities and commitments to peacemaking. As people in leadership, we have a great responsibility to Torah as a path of peace. Just as you urge Rae to use her words wisely, I urge you to do the same. I would be happy to continue this discussion with you at your convenience.


Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

9 thoughts on “How Do We Pursue Peace? A Response to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

  1. Anne Ryan

    I am very grateful for the wise and generous thoughts of Rabbi Gottlieb.
    She represents her name well.

  2. Rx4pabulum

    Thank you. One just knows that Rabbi Gottlieb’s words are backed up by great wisdom. As are Rabbi Rosen’s words. You are both pursuers of Peace! And bravo to Rae Ablieah!!! Yet, one still feels a sense of despair in that the Israelis and Palestinians will always be trying to square the circle, so it is of utmost importance to see each other as properly human. We have to remember that we are all away from the worst of horrors and can not look at people as pawns in a game. Like Rabin said ” Just as there is a war of no choice, there is also a peace of no choice. Because there is no choice anymore. We have no choice, and they have no choice. And a peace of no choice should be pursued with the same determination ad creativity with which one goes to a war of no choice. Because there is no choice.”

  3. boris furman

    I am not a big fan of Rabbi Boteach. I do not agree with some of the views he expressed to which Rabbi Gottlieb is objecting. I just wish Rabbi Gottlieb would do a better job of modeling how to engage peacefully and respectfully with colleagues with whom you disagree.
    This is what she writes in Rabbi Boteach’s newsletter.
    “…you are contributing to hate mongering which is a violent act according to our tradition.”
    “By polarizing the conflict with your words in this newsletter, you are creating new enemies.”
    “The kind of advice and opinion that appears in this newsletter puts you outside the circle of traditional Jewish sensitivities and commitments to peacemaking.”
    Isn’t Rabbi Gottlieb doing to Rabbi Boteach just what she objects to in his comments? Why must we attack the person rather than challenge his opinions?

  4. Mary Hughes-Thompson

    The comment by Rabbi Shmuley-Boteach is so outrageously racist that one has to wonder what the reaction would be if a Palestinian Imam made a similar comment about Israelis.

    Imagine how ludicrous it would be if I said your criticism of me is not because I murdered your daughter but because I am beautiful and you are ugly.

  5. Kathleen O'Connor Wang

    I met Rae and it amazes me that she was attacked and abused when she spoke up against the head of state who promotes the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian lands , destruction of property and denial of human rights I am grateful for Rabbi Gottliebs words. Rabbi Shmuley-Boteach does not seem like a man of faith or a gentleman. If so how did he allow the assault on that young woman without going to her aid? His profession if not his faith should have compelled him to stop the brutality shown Rae. Israel threatens non violent protest as a matter of policy where ever they are but in the US?

  6. Kris

    Shout your message far and wide. Racism is one of the most dangerous tools used to manipulate people towards violence against others. Once you convince someone that a group is less than human, empathy is cut off and any action is justifiable.


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