A California Court Prevents a Yom Kippur Ritual

Oct. 27 2016

On the eve of Yom Kippur, a time-honored tradition, now preserved mainly by the ultra-Orthodox, is to perform kapparot, a ceremony in which a chicken is offered up as a sort of atonement offering and then slaughtered and its meat given to the poor. This year, United Poultry Concerns—which campaigns against cruelty to domestic fowl—sued the Chabad house of Irvine, CA for violating a statute prohibiting the “malicious” and “intentional” killing of an animal, and succeeded in obtaining a temporary restraining order from a federal judge, thus effectively preventing the performance of the ritual. Howard Slugh comments:

In their briefing, the plaintiffs lay out a vision in which private morality and individual conscience are replaced by a one-size-fits-all, government-mandated morality. . . . In their complaint, [they] caricature religious liberty as a matter of religious people asserting that “they are above the law and can conduct themselves as they wish because of their religious beliefs.” The plaintiffs’ objections are not limited to the realm of law. They object to Chabad’s desire to “determine for themselves what is . . . moral conduct.” They argue that only the legislature can determine “legal and moral behavior in the state of California.” The plaintiffs do not want to control only Chabad’s conduct. They want to control its conscience.

[They] describe the Jewish tradition as a “societal evil” and mock kapparot as “taking out vengeance on an innocent animal for one’s own shortcomings.” . . . The plaintiffs are no more subtle about the scope of their ambitions. They acknowledge that their lawsuit is merely “the first step” toward their “ultimate goal” of banning the religious ceremony nationwide. . . .

[Furthermore], the plaintiffs openly dismissed the importance of the fulfillment of [the] religious obligation as understood by Alter Tenenbaum, [the rabbi of the Chabad of Irvine]. United Poultry Concerns argued that “the relative harm to the defendants” in preventing them from exercising their religion was “minimal,” [because] not all Jews use live chickens for the ritual and that therefore doing so must be “completely optional” and a “mere preference.” They implied that Tenenbaum preferred to use live chickens because doing so was “more lucrative.” Whether [this] explanation of Jewish law is the only valid interpretation of Judaism—it is not—is beyond the point. Even if . . . a single, correct form of Judaism existed, American courts would be neither qualified nor constitutionally empowered to settle such doctrinal disputes. . . .

[T]he American notion of religious liberty has traditionally prohibited, and must continue to prohibit, judges from making such determinations in all but the most extreme of cases. . . . Defenders of religious liberty—and, in fact, of individual liberty—should stand united and refute the . . . argument that only the government can determine morality and that an individual’s understanding of his own conscience has “minimal” value.

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More about: Chabad, Freedom of Religion, Religion & Holidays, Yom Kippur


The Military Perils of Ceding Israeli Control of the West Bank

April 24 2019

In the years since the second intifada ended, no small number of retired high-ranking IDF officers and intelligence officials have argued that complete separation from the Palestinians is a strategic necessity for Israel. Gershon Hacohen, analyzing the geography, the changes in warfare—and Middle Eastern warfare in particular—since the 1990s, and recent history, argues that they are wrong:

The withdrawal of IDF forces from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state in these territories will constitute an existential threat to Israel. The absence of an Israeli military presence in the West Bank, especially along the Jordan River, will enable the creation of a terrorist entity, à la the Gaza Strip, a stone’s throw from the Israeli hinterland. This withdrawal will box Israel into indefensible borders, especially in light of the major changes in the nature of war in recent decades that have made the astounding achievements of 1967 impossible to replicate, not to mention the stark international response [that would follow Israel’s] takeover of a sovereign state.

The deployment of international forces in the West Bank will not, [contrary to what some have argued], ensure the demilitarization of the prospective Palestinian state, let alone prevent the entry of Arab forces into its territory (with or without its consent) and/or its transformation into a springboard for terrorist attacks against Israel. . . .

Israel [now] maintains control of some 60 percent of the West Bank’s territory, . . . which is mostly empty of Palestinian population but includes all of the West Bank’s Jewish communities and IDF bases, as well as main highways, vital topographic areas, and open spaces descending eastward to the Jordan Valley. The retention of this territory constitutes the absolute minimum required for the preservation of defensible borders and meets two conditions necessary for Israel’s security: the Jordan Valley buffer zone, without which it will be impossible to prevent the rapid arming of Palestinian terrorist groups throughout the West Bank; and control of intersecting transportation arteries, which, together with control of strategic topographical sites, enables rapid deployment of IDF forces deep inside Palestinian areas.

It is the surrender of such conditions in Gaza that has transformed the Strip into an ineradicable terrorist entity. Uprooting the West Bank’s Jewish communities will also make it difficult for the IDF to operate in the depth of the Palestinian state, especially if it is forced to fight simultaneously on a number of fronts, [since] simultaneous fighting in Gaza, which will be an integral part of the future Palestinian state, is a foregone conclusion.

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More about: Israeli grand strategy, Israeli Security, Palestinian statehood, West Bank