Friday, May 01, 2009

Klinghoffer Says Torture Is Good for You

Re: Does the Torah Permit Torture?

Klinghoffer’s habitual fast and easy treatment of our rabbinic tradition is notorious. (See my chapter “Yes, But Is It Jewish?” in my recent book, co-authored with Larry Yudelson, How Would God REALLY Vote: A Jewish Rebuttal to David Klinghoffer's Conservative Polemic.) But while in the past he made the effort to at least cherry pick citations and malign the ideas of others into submission (his essay on drugs in the Torah can be fully enjoyed only under the influence of LSD) – in the case of defending torture his argument comes down to “This rabbi said so in the Jewish Week.”

So while normally all one has to do to show Klinghoffer’s erroneous reading of Jewish texts is go back to those texts and examine them, in this case there are no texts to examine, only the assumption supposedly put out by Rabbi Michael J. Broyde. It wasn’t easy finding the original article, the JW has removed it from its website for some reason. But I found an unauthorized copy on a Muslim blog – don’t ask…

Except that after reading Broyde’s article, it turns out that he, too, doesn’t use a lick of Torah to justify torture, other than to declare: “In a recent monograph published by the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College as well as a forthcoming chapter in an Orthodox Forum volume, I have shown that torture is permissible and consistent with halacha.”

So, the guy Klinghoffer relies on completely and singularly to justify torturing people – also relies on a guy, himself in this case. I’m not much of a scholar, but even I can see the bottle is full of snake oil after shaking it vigorously a couple of times.

Except that we do have excellent rabbinic sources on the sole point Klinghoffer says that Broyde says that he said someplace else, namely that since the person in our charge has already forfeited his or her life, we might as well waterboard the sucker.

Nahmanides on the first chapter of Genesis, puts together the two fundamental reasons why torture is prohibited by the Torah.

He cites the prohibition on eating the blood of a kosher animal saying that we are entitled to benefit from the carcass after the slaughter, but not from the soul, which dwells in the blood of the animal. Mind you, this is an animal that has forfeited its life, yet we may not abuse its soul.

Then he cites Bva Matzia 32b: “The prohibition on torturing animals is a Torah-level commandment.”

Are we really permitted to treat another human being worse than an animal? Have we lost all notion of what the term Image of God means in terms of respecting even a condemned man?

Rashi in his commentary on Sanhedrin 45a explains why we execute women fully dressed, saying that the humiliation of the condemned person is worse than death. We must offer them, therefore, a “fine death” (mitah yafah), which includes a quick, painless execution, and avoiding insult and degradation. This is in the case of a person convicted of a capital crime, not just an enemy combatant captured on the battlefield!

Klinghoffer’s eagerness to support the most vicious impulses of our political landscapers is the domain of himself and his therapist. But his insistence on soiling our rabbinic tradition with his dark desires must be refuted and condemned by sane people everywhere.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your post seems completely wrong. Rabbi Broyde is a pretty serious fellow and his article on torture is widely read. It can be found at: . That does not make Kinghofer correct, but to think that Broyde is telling you anything other than the mainstream rabbinic tradition is mistaken. Broyde himself notes many times that something can be permitted by Jewish law, but unwise, or even unethical. You really should read his article. Rabbi Bleich's article agrees with this approach too.

9:56 PM, May 02, 2009  
Blogger Yori Yanover said...

If you read the article (thanks to your URL I've now scanned it a second time, this time WITH the footnotes), you know that the entire reference to torture by Broyde is a footnote (#121 on p.33), in the context of what is permissible on the battlefield. I have two responses to that.

1. The basic argument Broyde makes is that torture is a useful means of gathering information, which we now hear from countless professional sources id simply false.

2. Broyde makes no effort to anchor his view in any direct citation. His argument is pure svara, a kal vachomer: Since Rav Kook permitted heroic SELF-sacrifice by individuals to save Jewish communities, then of course we should permit the acrifice of OTHERS. Broyde himself says this is not a smooth parallel.

6:13 AM, May 03, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your read of Broyde is mistaken on two levels. First, Rabbi Broyde has a general theory of war, which is that war is the suspension of Jewish law in general, when needed to win. That argument justifies torture. Broyde notes this with some clarity a second time in and then a third time in .

Second, you miss the basic thrust of his article. Ge is not speaking about what works, but what Jewish law permits. So when you say in point 1 is off point. When one asks "Does Jewish law permit open heart surgery" the answer is "yes". When one says "but this case of open heart surgery failed, so it is assur, now" the answer is "no." If torture does not work, then it should not be done, but that does not make it "Assur," any more than any other bad medical procedure.

9:18 AM, May 03, 2009  
Blogger Yori Yanover said...

Dear Anonymous --- The device Broyde uses is Hora'at sha'ah (temporary ruling), which can be used by any posek to suspend Jewish law, much like Piku'ach nefesh (risk to life). On such occasions the posek indeed has the authority to suspend the law -- and if you trust him, go ahead and take your chances. But you can't deduce from that a permission given by Jewish law to torture people. The opposite is true. By saying that he can temporarily suspend the law to permit torture, Broyde actually says that the original law prohibits torture and we require the device of suspension to get away with smacking war captives around.

Also, I think Broyde's attempt to hang his ruling on the sound advice of experts further shows that he, too, knows he's holding a sheretz in his hands and would like somebody in authority to help him with the package before the stink reaches beyond his own elbow.

Finally, in purely spiritual terms, we need to discuss the notion of the mitzvot as conduits to the Divine. The first and most fundamental verse in the Ten Commandments and, thus, in the whole Torah is "I am the Lord your God," but when Hillel is asked which is the most fundamental verse, he says: "Love your fellow man as you would yourself, I am God." In other words, we can only reach out to God by reaching out to our fellow man. The more often we suspend this essential truth, the farther we are driven from our Father in Heaven.

8:58 AM, May 07, 2009  
Blogger Ibrahimblogs said...

Your interpretation of Broyde is fallacious. Somehow,you have got it wrong. I would request you to go through it once again.

This is Ibrahim from Israeli Uncensored News

3:36 AM, September 30, 2010  

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