There is a saying among Orthodox rabbis. The Shulkhan Arukh (which in reality has four main sections) is missing its fifth section – common sense.
That is not meant to be an attack on the Shulkhan Arukh itself – it is meant to be an attack against unskilled people who look something up in the Shulkhan Arukh and then incorrectly make decisions because they don't filter what they've read with common sense.
Liel Leibovitz, a writer for Tablet Magazine, has written an appalling piece on why it is wrong to call police to "snitch" or "rat out" criminals. It perfectly illustrates that rabbinic saying.
Leibovitz's piece is worthy of a PR hack working for a Mafia don or a gangsta rapper. It is antithetical to everything the Torah and Liberal society should stand for. It is appallingly ignorant. And it is entirely lacking in common sense.
Here is the key excerpt:
…Take, for example, the case of the rapper Cam’ron. A victim of violent crime—he was carjacked and shot at close range—he had refused to identify his shooter to the police. In 2007, he was interviewed by 60 Minutes and asked if he would consider calling the cops if he learned a serial killer had just settled in next door. Cam’ron’s reply—he said he would consider moving but would never dial 911—infuriated pundits and politicians, but it is, in fact, wholly aligned with what many consider to be the foundation for Western morality, Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative.
Kant’s idea, simply put, is a philosophical principle constructed of three maxims: a person acts morally if his or her behavior would be unconditionally right for anyone else in a similar situation; a person acts morally if he or she treats others not as means to an end but as ends in themselves; and a person acts morally if his or her actions can establish a universal law governing all other similar cases. In other words, we must follow what Kant called “pure practical reason” and pursue actions regardless of incentives but merely because these actions are right in and of themselves. In his interview, Cam’ron was saying more or less the same thing: Snitching was wrong, and even if he himself had much to gain in having his homicidal neighbor arrested, he would rather continue and adhere to the universal code.
Moses would most likely agree…
And so, clearly, does Leibovitz:
…Like Cam’ron, Moses understands that when people do what’s right for them rather than what is simply right, society slowly crumbles. It’s a principle all of us would do well to recall.
Why Tablet would publish this junk is beyond me.
So what does Leibovitz base his supposed approval by Moses for Cam'ron's amoral idiocy? This:
In this week’s parasha [section of the Torah read in synagogues], the future leader of the Israelites, rescued from death and raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter, is ambling around Egypt. Seeing an Egyptian man striking a fellow Israelite, Moses loses his cool and kills the assailant. The very next day, the parasha tells us, this happens: “He went out on the second day, and behold, two Hebrew men were quarreling, and he said to the wicked one, ‘Why are you going to strike your friend?’ And he retorted, ‘Who made you a man, a prince, and a judge over us? Do you plan to slay me as you have slain the Egyptian?’ Moses became frightened and said, ‘Indeed, the matter has become known!’ ”
This story, Rashi suggests, can be read on two different levels. Taken literally, it couldn’t be simpler: Breaking up the fight between the two Hebrews, Moses is warned not to intervene lest they inform the authorities of his slaying of the Egyptian man the day before. Fearful, Moses mutters that “the matter has become known,” the matter being his crime. But Rashi digs deeper: In saying “the matter has become known,” he argues, Moses really means that now he understands why the Israelites were condemned to slavery—the wicked Hebrew man beating his brother and threatening to snitch on Moses if he intervened is the embodiment of the moral failures that have propelled God to inflict such a severe punishment on His people.
That's right. Moses is walking along, sees an Egyptian – probably one of the taskmasters – beating an Israelite slave. He stops what one presumes Kant and Cam'ron both would agree is a crime by killing the taskmaster.
Could Moses have stopped the beating without killing the Egyptian? Should he have?
The Torah does not clarify. But the Torah views the enslavement of the Israelites as a crime akin to kidnapping, and views the Israelite's escape from Egypt as our seminal national foundation story engineered and carried out by God himself.
During that story, God kills many Egyptians, including innocent children. Could God have achieved the Exodus without resorting to so much killing? Yes, obviously he could – but he chose not to.
Moses did not walk down the street and shoot a random man. He did not rape and murder dozens of random women, or kill children in a drive by shooting.
Put more simply, a slave ratting out John Brown or the advancing Union army would be in violation of basic moral rules. It would be this type of informing Kant would likely have opposed.
But Cam'ron turning in a violent criminal, a carjacker or a serial killer, is something Kant, Moses and the Torah itself would wholeheartedly endorse.
Leibovitz's article is offensive, amoral, moronic and anti everything good and just. He should not be working for or be published by a publication that calls itself Jewish – or anywhere else, for that matter.
As for that mythical serial killer, let him move in next to Liebovitz, and let his choice of victim be a pseudo-intellectual magazine writer with a noticeably under-endowed faculty of common sense.
The entire Liebovitz article as a PDF file: