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The Good Guys -- CHRONICLE Online/The WORD 04/04/24

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah


April 4, 2024

25 Adar II 5784

Parashat Shemini

Shabbat Hachodesh

It seems like only yesterday that I saw the movie “48 Hours” transform Eddie Murphy into a bona fide movie star. Although it was definitely a comedy, there was a pretty serious moment at the end. The bad guy of the movie, who had already killed a number of people, was holding Eddie Murphy in front of him with a gun up to his head. Nick Nolte, who was Eddie Murphy’s partner, came upon the scene with a gun of his own. Eddie Murphy calmly told Nick Nolte to shoot the bad guy, and Nick Nolte calmly did. Immediately afterwards, Eddie Murphy screamed out, “Are you crazy?!” (There might have been an expletive or two.)


It's been over 40 years since that movie came out and I remember it vividly.

On the one hand, Eddie Murphy was correct at the beginning of the scene: There’s no way to negotiate with a killer who has a gun up to your head. On the other hand, Eddie Murphy was also correct at the end of the scene: How can you shoot at a bad guy when one of the good guys could potentially get hurt?

I have never wavered in my opinion that Nick Nolte’s character was completely in the right. In any movie or TV show, when I see a bad guy holding a gun up to the head of a hostage, I root for one of the good guys to take the shot and end it—even if it puts a good guy at risk.  

And while it may seem simplistic, I bring this approach to my understanding of the current situation in Israel and Gaza. There is no doubt in my mind who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. It was Hamas that started this war on October 7 through their murders, rapes, and kidnappings. They are the ones holding hostages—now for over 180 days. They are the ones who have turned down proposed ceasefires time and time again. Israel has no choice but to go after Hamas even if it means going through their human shields— their fellow Palestinians, the hostages, and, yes, the NGO’s working in Gaza.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m using an Eddie Murphy movie to justify my position on Israel. But, that’s not exactly what I’m doing. I’m using that movie to help me explain a position that is rooted in Jewish law.

In the Talmud, we read the following: “One who pursues another to kill him; or pursues a male to sodomize him; or pursues a betrothed young woman to rape her; or pursues a woman who is forbidden to him by a prohibition...all these people are to be saved at the cost of the life of the transgressor (BT Sanhedrin 73a).” In other words, like Nick Nolte’s character, you’re supposed to take the shot. The rabbis explained that this is rooted in the biblical injunction, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor (Leviticus 19:16).” 

Israel cannot stand idly by the blood of the hostages. We know that some of the hostages being held by Hamas are already dead. We know that the women are being sexually abused. Israel is obligated to use all means at their disposal to save those who are still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Many people are using the tragic deaths of seven aid workers as a justification to call for Israel to stand down. Many of these same people called for Israel to stand down on October 8 before Israel had even secured its borders. While I also mourn the loss of those innocent lives, it does not mitigate Israel’s responsibility to save the lives of the hostages. People who are calling on Israel to unilaterally stop its operations in Gaza are simply ignoring history.

First of all, they are ignoring the history of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held by Hamas for FIVE YEARS before Hamas agreed to exchange him for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners including Yahya Sinwar the mastermind of October 7. If Israel withdraws from Gaza, how long will Hamas hold the remaining hostages? What price would Israel have to pay to get them out?

Secondly, people are ignoring the history of war. War is horrible even when everything goes right. It’s even worse when mistakes are made. In October 2015, the US military bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan killing 42 people including DWB doctors and volunteers. It was a horrible mistake, and 16 US military personnel were punished for their role in that mistake. However, investigators ultimately concluded that it was not a war crime. It was just an awful mistake.  

Israel is fighting a war on six fronts—Gaza, Lebanon, West Bank, Yemen, Syria, and Iran—with a citizen army. There are going to be mistakes. That does NOT make the Israeli army a band of war criminals. Quite the opposite, they are a bunch of good guys who have been put in a horrible situation by the bad guys who are the ones actually perpetrating war crimes every single day, starting on October 7.  

And I know exactly what I want the good guys to do.



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