Monday, November 16, 2009

Banning Muslims and Jews from the US Military

[Note: Haveil Havalim is here!]

I am a big fan of the Treppenwitz blog; David Bogner often makes me laugh as well as think.

The other day he commented on Ed Koch's suggestion that Muslims in the US military be exempt from fighting wars against Muslim countries. An excerpt:

I don't see the value in allowing Muslims to serve in the U.S. military if the only place in the whole world that their expensive training can be utilized is along a 155 mile stretch of the 38th Parallel. And even there, with North Korea, Syria and Iran being all chummy... well you see the problem.

I hear his point (which is somewhat exaggerated, of course; there are a few US deployments that relate to conflicts involving non-Muslim entities). Still, it makes me uncomfortable. I am reminded of the Jewish response to Napoleon's sixth question to his Sanhedrin:

Question: Do Jews born in France, and treated by the laws as French citizens, consider France their country? Are they bound to defend it? Are they bound to obey the laws and to conform to the dispositions of the civil code?

And part of the Jewish response:
The love of the country is in the heart of Jews a sentiment so natural, so powerful, and so consonant to their religious opinions, that a French Jew considers himself in England, as among strangers, although he may be among Jews; and the case is the same with English Jews in France.
To such a pitch is this sentiment carried among them, that during the last war, French Jews have been seen fighting desperately against other Jews, the subjects of countries then at war with France.

(For the full text, go here.)

I believe many modern observant Jews would not follow this pseudo-Sanhedrin's formulation, in the absence of a direct threat. So should Jews be banned, publicly declared persona non grata, as well?

In truth, David does distinguish between Jews and Muslims. He notes that the US deploys a significant portion of its forces in conflicts involving Muslim countries, but does not currently deploy forces against Israel - and that even were such a thing to happen, that would still leave many other places a Jew could serve. According to this argument, the issue is not moral philosophy, but military utility; a Muslim will have few places to serve, a Jew will be able to serve more. The Jew would be the equivalent of a Catholic during a conflict against Vatican City; he could avoid this war, and still fight in others.

But I think this still misses a key point; the issue is fundamentally about morality.

I believe that what offends the American mind about Nidal Malik Hasan, even before the horror of his mass murder, is his distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim. Apparently, he is comfortable with the idea of going to war for the US to kill Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus or atheists, but he would not be comfortable killing Muslims. Loyalty to the US can justify killing anyone except a Muslim.

That Muslim/non-Muslim distinction is what brings about the call to exclude Muslims from the US military - the fear that they are Muslim first, and American second.

And in this regard, Jews may be no different - we might have difficulty shooting at a co-religionist over a territorial dispute, too. Therefore, an exclusion of Muslims must also lead to an exclusion of Jews. That's why this idea makes me uncomfortable; I'd rather see an exclusion from this war rather than an exclusion from the military.

One question, though: Why are Protestants and Catholics different in this regard?


  1. And what happened during WWI. What did the Jews of Europe do then. I have heard stories about soldiers who captured "enemy" soldiers by crying out that they needed to make a minyan.

    But I don't know if these tales are actually true.

  2. There are conflicting interests with more religious ideologies, but we encounter this in our own IDF, where more religious soldiers refused to partake in the disengagement... Rebbetzin's husband, can we blogroll each other please? please reply by e-mail...

  3. What do Catholics and Protestants do? Show me, please, a war or conflict in recent times that has been painted as a "Catholic" war or a "Protestant" war. The conflicts in the Middle East are ALWAYS painted according to the religious beliefs of the local combatants. Are we really fighting an "Iraqi" war, or is that war about making the world safe from "Radical Extremist Islamists"? Israel is a self-declared "Jewish" state. Why would the world think of it as anything but?

    The last time that someone painted a war in religious terms that involved Catholics or Protestants Phillip the Second was on the throne of Spain and Bloody Mary ruled in England, and that didn't end too well for the Catholics.

  4. ProfK, the British presence in the sectarian violence in Ireland?

  5. Jack-
    An interesting question; I have known Jews (now niftarim) who served in Germany's military in WWI.

    Feel free to email me from my profile.

    ProfK, R' Mordechai-
    As I see it, the issue is not the identity of the war, but the identity of the soldier. Muslim will not shoot Muslim, Jew will not shoot Jew, but Protestant will shoot Protestant; that's what I find interesting.

  6. I think it is worthwhile to understand how the Sanhedrin came to that answer. Jacob Katz deals with this in Chapter 15 in his book "Exclusiveness and tolerance: studies in Jewish-Gentile relations in medieval". The claim is that the Sanhedrin was comprised of many groups, one of those being deists, and the answers to the questions are compromises.

    I think it would also be important to see what is probably the traditional Jewish view to this question, as answered by Rav Yishmael HaCohen of Modina (sp?), author of the Zera Emet, who was unable to attend the conference (I think because of old age). In 1949, his answers were published in the journal Talpiot (I don't know which volume, but the same volume also contains the essay of R' Moshe Feinstein regarding mechitzot which was later included in Sanctity of the Synagogue). I haven't seen it in a couple years, but I do remember his answers being vastly different than those presented by the Sanhedrin, and not as apologetic to the spirit of the day, namely Enlightenment.

  7. Russell-
    Thanks for that information; true, the "Sanhedrin" was a fascinating group. I'll have to take a look at Katz when I get a chance; I never read Tolerance cover-to-cover. It's in my basement at the moment.

  8. Only Jews and Moslems are connected to territory. Catholics and Protesants aren't, unless you count the Vatican.

  9. Batya took the words out of my mouth. Protestants and Catholics are not taught that there is a "land" given by God for them to inhabit. Therefore, killing another Protestant or Catholic has nothing to do with territory. It has everything to do with ego and entitlement to things or space.

    The Rebbetzin's Husband, I was consulting at Chabad of North Fulton in Alpharetta, GA and shared your blog with Rabbi Minkowicz. It was your post Silly Rabbit, Shuls are for Kids from September 28, 2007, that caught my eye. During my time working with the Chabad, my focus was on assisting them in setting up their children's services with support from the parents. Your blog assisted me in bringing to them something else to consider!

  10. Hello Batya and Sidney,

    I hear, but I'm still stuck on the point that they have no problem shooting at people who share their religious beliefs. In other words: In the American Civil War, a Pennsylvanian Protestant had no problem shooting at a South Carolina Protestant.

    Sidney - Thanks for recommending my blog to R' Minkowicz! I'm glad you've found it useful.

  11. Well, my biggest problem is that they would shoot at someone who does not pose an imminent threat to their life. But, that is a whole other subject.

    Having been raised "Christian" there are many denominations which do not necessarily believe the same thing and then, there are ethnic differences that become an overwhelming factor in behavior. I went searching for a bit of information about the conflict and found the following:

    "Each Protestant group was "God's country"_God's favourite_and somehow or other was bound to come out on top without the bother of thinking out a scheme for its own conduct."

    And Wikipedia has a whole article on The Troubles which discusses the ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland. Even with all that reading it boggles my mind what there is such division, hatred, and ignorance between people in general, much less in that same "religious" sect. As I have seen there is no "loyalty" to "the cross" per se.

    I'm aware that this probably has not answered the original question, but it sure has given me a historical perspective I did not have prior to reading your blog.

  12. Thanks, Sidney. And your opening point is precisely where I see the problem: If shooting at others who are not a direct threat is moral, then why does that morality end with your co-religionist?