A controversial, racist book sparked a national uproar in Israel.
On another dry, sunny day in Jerusalem during the summer of 2010, I weaved through the crowds of tourists, baby-faced soldiers, and packs of Orthodox settlers milling around on Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall, and headed toward Pomeranz, a Jewish book emporium on Be’eri Street, a busy road a few blocks away.
As soon as I was inside the shop, a short, mild-mannered man greeted me in American-accented English. He was the owner, Michael Pomeranz, a former undercover narcotics agent and firefighter from New Jersey who had experienced a religious awakening and immigrated to Israel. When I inquired about the availability of a widely discussed book called Torat Ha’Melech, or the King’s Torah, a commotion immediately ensued.
“Are you sure you want it?” Pomeranz, asked me half-jokingly. A middle-aged coworker chortled from behind a shelf. “The Shabak [Israel’s internal security service] is going to want a word with you if you do,” he warned. When a few customers stopped browsing and began to stare in my direction, Pomeranz pointed to a security camera affixed to a wall. “See that?” he said. “It goes straight to the Shabak! [Shin Bet]”
Upon its publication in 2009, Torat Ha’Melech sparked a national uproar. The controversy began when the Israeli paper, Maariv, panned the book’s contents as “230 pages on the laws concerning the killing of non-Jews, a kind of guidebook for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew.” The description was absolutely accurate.
According to the authors, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and may have been killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” “If we kill a gentile who has violated one of the seven commandments [of Noah] . . . there is nothing wrong with the murder,” Shapira and Elitzur insisted. Citing Jewish law as his source (or at least a very selective interpretation of it) he declared, “There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”
Torat Ha’Melech was written as a guide for soldiers and army officers seeking rabbinical guidance on the rules of engagement. Drawing from a hodgepodge of rabbinical texts that seemed to support their genocidal views, Shapira and Elitzur urged a policy of ruthlessness toward non-Jews, insisting that the commandment against murder “refers only to a Jew who kills a Jew, and not to a Jew who kills a gentile, even if that gentile is one of the righteous among the nations.”
The rabbis went on to pronounce all civilians of the enemy population “rodef,”or villains who chase Jews and are therefore fair game for slaughtering. Shapira and Elitzur wrote, “Every citizen in the kingdom that is against us, who encourages the warriors or expresses satisfaction about their actions, is considered rodef and his killing is permissible.”
Shapira and Elitzur also justified the killing of Jewish dissidents. “A rodef is any person who weakens our kingdom by speech and so forth,” they wrote. Finally, the rabbis issued an extensive but crudely reasoned justification for the killing of innocent children, arguing that in order to defeat “the evil kingdom,” the rules of war “permit intentional hurting of babies and of innocent people, if this is necessary for the war against the evil people.” They added, “If hurting the children of an evil king will put great pressure on him that would prevent him from acting in an evil manner—they can be hurt.”
Shapira and Elitzur justified killing babies and small children on the grounds of satiating the national thirst for revenge. “Sometimes,” the rabbis wrote, “one does evil deeds that are meant to create a correct balance of fear, and a situation in which evil actions do not pay off . . . and in accordance with this calculus, the infants are not killed for their evil, but due to the fact that there is a general need of everyone to take revenge on the evil people, and the infants are the ones whose killing will satisfy this need.” More