- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

If you believe in miracles, you might consider that on the day that the paramount orthodox chief rabbi of Israel was saying that the 6 million victims of the Nazi Holocaust got what was coming to them, another orthodox Jew, Sen. Joseph Lieberman from Connecticut, was being nominated for vice president on the Democratic ticket. That Mr. Lieberman would repudiate such theological effrontery is a certainty.

Mr. Leiberman, an orthodox believer from childhood and yet a man of laudable liberality, contrasts sharply with Israeli Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, whose Saturday night sermon, spoken in the name of the divine, was an act of moral cruelty which cannot be understood, only condemned.

Rabbi Yosef, who heads Shas, Israel's biggest ultra-Orthodox political party, said, according to the Associated Press, in a Saturday night radio sermon broadcast from Israel worldwide, that the six million Jews men, women and children who perished in the Nazi Holocaust died because they were reincarnations of sinners. He has since tried to retract his sickening verdict with a new finding from on high: "Six million Jews, among them 1 million children … were killed by the wicked Nazis. All were holy and pure and complete saints," he told his followers in a second televised sermon.

In his first sermon, he said the six million genocide victims "were reincarnations of the souls of sinners, people who transgressed and did all sorts of things which should not be done. They had been reincarnated in order to atone." So Adolf Hitler was just a tool in the hands of Jehovah fulfilling sacred commands, eh?

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international center for Holocaust remembrance, said the rabbi absolved the perpetrators of the Holocaust of their responsibility.

"If those Jews deserved to die for past sins, why blame those who carried out the death sentence?" said Ephraim Zuroff, director of the group's Jerusalem office.

In Israel, there is a mountain top called Har Hazikaron, the Mount of Remembrance. On this mountain top is the "Yad Vashem," a memorial to the Jews who were killed by the Nazis. It carries at the entrance a passage from Isaiah (56:5): "And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial … an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." It carries this memorable passage by Abba Eban, Israeli statesman: "Yad Vashem is the monument of a nation's grief. It gives moving testimony to the unparalleled violence which afflicted the Jewish people at the hands of Nazi Germany, leaving a vast legacy in in its wake. Yad Vashem is therefore one of the most significant landmarks in the moral history of mankind. It merits the reverence and support of free people everywhere."

Rabbi Yosef's "explanation" of the Holocaust would be worrisome if he had the power to delegitimize Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and any other memorial to the victims of Nazi racism. Rabbi Yosef's "explanation" would also legitimize the rise of neo-Nazi skinheads since they would likely be punishing a new generation of reincarnated Jewish sinners. It would also legitimize the conviction of ten Iranian Jews for espionage since they, too, might be reincarnated sinners.

The most gruesome aspect of Rabbi Yosef's "explanation" is that more genocides and even homicides are possible since the world is full of sinners who will someday be "reincarnated" and exterminated as European Jewry was between 1939 and 1945. Was the young orthodox Jew fulfilling the will of God when he pumped bullets into Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's back? Is it fulfilling the will of Rabbi Yosef's god that conservative synagogues are being torched in Tel Aviv? Is it fulfilling the will of Rabbi Yosef's god that Israeli supreme court justices receive so many death threats from orthodox Jews that they must have round-the-clock police protection?

Even worse, if possible, is Rabbi Yosef's attack on Prime Minister Ehud Barak as a leader who has "no sense" because he is trying to achieve a permanent peace with the Palestinians who, said Rabbi Yosef, are "snakes."

The issue is not whether one agrees or disagrees with Mr. Barak's peace policies. The issue is whether Israel will survive as a theocracy under men like Rabbi Yosef or will continue as a secular democracy. What is the difference between Iran's theocratic dictatorship in which the Ayatollah Khamenei and his allies rule Iran with an iron Islamic hand and the would-be ambitions of Israeli religious parties, like Shas, and its temporal-spiritual ruler, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef?

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a Washington Times columnist.

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