Israeli Organ Harvesting

The New "Blood Libel"?

Alison Weir
August 28-30, 2009

Related Videos:

Donald Bostrom Swedish Journalist on Israeli organ harvesting

Donald Bostrom: Israeli Govt needs to read about democracy

Brooklyn Rabbi Trafficking in Human Organs

Alison Weir on Organ Harvesting and Israel

Last week Sweden’s largest daily newspaper published an article containing shocking material: testimony and circumstantial evidence indicating that Israelis may have been harvesting internal organs from Palestinian prisoners without consent for many years.

Worse yet, some of the information reported in the article suggests that in some instances Palestinians may have been captured with this macabre purpose in mind.

In the article, “Our sons plundered for their organs,” veteran journalist Donald Bostrom writes that Palestinians “harbor strong suspicions against Israel for seizing young men and having them serve as the country’s organ reserve – a very serious accusation, with enough question marks to motivate the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to start an investigation about possible war crimes.”1

An army of Israeli officials and apologists immediately went into high gear, calling both Bostrom and the newspaper’s editors “anti-Semitic.” The Israeli foreign minister was reportedly “aghast” and termed it “a demonizing piece of blood libel.” An Israeli official called it “hate porn.”

For a longer, more thorough article on Israeli organ trafficking see this.

Commentary magazine wrote that the story was “merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of European funded and promoted anti-Israel hate.” Numerous people likened the article to the medieval “blood libel,” (widely refuted stories that Jews killed people to use their blood in religious rituals). Even some pro-Palestinian writers joined in the criticism, expressing skepticism.

The fact is, however, that substantiated evidence of public and private organ trafficking and theft, and allegations of worse, have been widely reported for many years. Given such context, the Swedish charges become far more plausible than might otherwise be the case and suggest that an investigation could well turn up significant information.

Below are a few examples of previous reports on this topic.

Israel’s first heart transplant

Israel’s very first, historic heart transplant used a heart removed from a living patient without consent or consulting his family.

In December 1968 a man named Avraham Sadegat (the New York Times seems to give his name as A Savgat)2 died two days after a stroke, even though his family had been told he was “doing well.”

After initially refusing to release his body, the Israeli hospital where he was being treated finally turned the man’s body over to his family. They discovered that his upper body was wrapped in bandages; an odd situation, they felt, for someone who had suffered a stroke.

When they removed the bandages, they discovered that the chest cavity was stuffed with bandages, and the heart was missing.

During this time, the headline-making Israeli heart transplant had occurred. After their initial shock, the man’s wife and brother began to put the two events together and demanded answers.

The hospital at first denied that Sadegat’s heart had been used in the headline-making transplant, but the family raised a media storm and eventually applied to three cabinet ministers. Finally, weeks later and after the family had signed a document promising not to sue, the hospital admitted that Sadagat’s heart had been used.

The hospital explained that it had abided by Israeli law, which allowed organs to be harvested without the family's consent.3 (The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime includes the extraction of organs in its definition of human exploitation.)

Indications that the removal of Sadagat’s heart was the actual cause of death went unaddressed.

Director of forensic medicine on missing organs

A 1990 article in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs entitled “Autopsies and Executions” by Mary Barrett reports on the grotesque killings of young Palestinians. It includes an interview with Dr. Hatem Abu Ghazaleh, the former chief health official for the West Bank under Jordanian administration and director of forensic medicine and autopsies.

Barrett asks him about “the widespread anxiety over organ thefts which has gripped Gaza and the West Bank since the intifada began in December of 1987.”

He responded:

"There are indications that for one reason or another, organs, especially eyes and kidneys, were removed from the bodies during the first year or year and a half. There were just too many reports by credible people for there to be nothing happening. If someone is shot in the head and comes home in a plastic bag without internal organs, what will people assume?”4

Mysterious Scottish death

In 1998 a Scot named Alisdair Sinclair died under questionable circumstances while in Israeli custody at Ben Gurion airport.

His family was informed of the death and, according to a report in J Weekly, “...told they had three weeks to come up with about $4,900 to fly Sinclair's corpse home. [Alisdair’s brother] says the Israelis seemed to be pushing a different option: burying Sinclair in a Christian cemetery in Israel, at a cost of about $1,300.”

The family scraped up the money, brought the body home, and had an autopsy performed at the University of Glasgow. It turned out that Alisdair’s heart and a tiny throat bone were missing. At this point the British Embassy filed a complaint with Israel.

The J report states:

“A heart said to be Sinclair's was subsequently repatriated to Britain, free of charge. James wanted the [Israeli] Forensic Institute to pay for a DNA test to confirm that this heart was indeed their brother's, but the Institute's director, Professor Jehuda Hiss refused, citing the prohibitive cost, estimated by some sources at $1,500.”

Despite repeated requests from the British Embassy for the Israeli pathologist's and police reports, Israeli officials refused to release either.5 6 7

Israeli government officials raise questions

Palestinian journalist Khalid Amayreh reports in an article in CCUN:

“In January, 2002, an Israeli cabinet minister tacitly admitted that organs taken from the bodies of Palestinian victims might have been used for transplants in Jewish patients without the knowledge of the Palestinian victims’ families.
“The minister, Nessim Dahan, said in response to a question by an Arab Knesset member that he couldn’t deny or confirm that organs of Palestinian youths and children killed by the Israeli army were taken out for transplants or scientific research.
“‘I couldn’t say for sure that something like that didn’t happen.’”

Amayreh writes that the Knesset member who posed the question said that he “had received ‘credible evidence proving that Israeli doctors at the forensic institute of Abu Kabir extracted such vital organs as the heart, kidneys, and liver from the bodies of Palestinian youth and children killed by the Israeli army in Gaza and the West Bank.”8

Israel’s chief pathologist removed from post for stealing body parts

For a number of years there were allegations that Israel’s leading pathologist was stealing body parts. In 2001 the Israeli national news service reported:

“... the parents of soldier Ze’ev Buzgallo who was killed in a Golan Heights military training accident, are filing a petition with the High Court of Justice calling for the immediate suspension of Dr. Yehuda Hiss and that criminal charges be filed against him. Hiss serves as the director of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute....According to the parents, the body of their son was used for medical experimentation without their consent, experiments authorized by Hiss.9

In 2002 the service reported:

“The revelation of illegally stored body parts in the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute has prompted MK Anat Maor, chairman of the Knesset Science Committee, to demand the immediate suspension of the director, Prof. Yehuda Hiss."

Alisdair Sinclair’s death had first alerted authorities to Hiss’s malfeasance in 1998, though nothing was done for years. The Forward reported:

“In 2001, an Israeli Health Ministry investigation found that Hiss had been involved for years in taking body parts, such as legs, ovaries and testicles, without family permission during autopsies, and selling them to medical schools for use in research and training. He was appointed chief pathologist in 1988. Hiss was never charged with any crime, but in 2004 he was forced to step down from running the state morgue, following years of complaints.”10

Harvesting kidneys from impoverished communities

According to the Economist, a kidney racket flourished in South Africa between 2001 and 2003. “Donors were recruited in Brazil, Israel and Romania with offers of $5,000-20,000 to visit Durban and forfeit a kidney. The 109 recipients, mainly Israelis, each paid up to $120,000 for a “transplant holiday”; they pretended they were relatives of the donors and that no cash changed hands.”11

In 2004 a legislative commission in Brazil reported, “At least 30 Brazilians have sold their kidneys to an international human organ trafficking ring for transplants performed in South Africa, with Israel providing most of the funding.”

According to an IPS report: “The recipients were mostly Israelis, who receive health insurance reimbursements of 70,000 to 80,000 dollars for life-saving medical procedures performed abroad.”

IPS reports:

The Brazilians were recruited in Brazil’s most impoverished neighbourhoods and were paid $10,000 per kidney, “but as ‘supply’ increased, the payments fell as low as 3,000 dollars.” The trafficking had been organized by a retired Israeli police officer, who said “he did not think he was committing a crime, given that the transaction is considered legal by his country's government.”

The Israeli embassy issued a statement denying any participation by the Israeli government in the illegal trade of human organs but said it did recognize that its citizens, in emergency cases, could undergo organ transplants in other countries, "in a legal manner, complying with international norms," and with the financial support of their medical insurance.

However, IPS reports that the commission chair termed the Israeli stance “at the very least ‘anti-ethical’, adding that trafficking can only take place on a major scale if there is a major source of financing, such as the Israeli health system.” He went on to state that the resources provided by the Israeli health system "were a determining factor" that allowed the network to function.12

Tel Aviv hospital head promotes organ trafficking

IPS goes on to report:

“Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who heads the Organs Watch project at the U.S. University of California, Berkeley, testified to the Pernambuco legislative commission that international trafficking of human organs began some 12 years ago, promoted by Zacki Shapira, former director of a hospital in Tel Aviv.
“Shapira performed more than 300 kidney transplants, sometimes accompanying his patients to other countries, such as Turkey. The recipients are very wealthy or have very good health insurance, and the ‘donors’ are very poor people from Eastern Europe, Philippines and other developing countries, said Scheper-Hughes, who specialises in medical anthropology.”

Israel prosecutes organ traffickers

In 2007 Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper reported that two men confessed to persuading “Arabs from the Galilee and central Israel who were developmentally challenged or mentally ill to agree to have a kidney removed for payment.” They then would refuse to pay them.

The paper reported that the two were part of a criminal ring that included an Israeli surgeon. According to the indictment, the surgeon sold the kidneys he harvested for between $125,000 and $135,000.13

Earlier that year another Israeli newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, reported that ten members of an Israeli organ smuggling ring targeting Ukrainians had been arrested.14

In still another 2007 story, the Jerusalem Post reported that “Professor Zaki Shapira, one of Israel's leading transplant surgeons, was arrested in Turkey on Thursday on suspicion of involvement in an organ trafficking ring. According to the report, the transplants were arranged in Turkey and took place at private hospitals in Istanbul.”15

Israeli organ trafficking comes to the U.S.?

In July of this year even US media reported on the arrest of Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, from Brooklyn, recently arrested by federal officials in a massive corruption sweep in New Jersey that netted mayors, government officials and a number of prominent rabbis. Bostrom opens his article with this incident.

According to the federal complaint, Rosenbaum, who has close ties to Israel, said that he had been involved in the illegal sale of kidneys for 10 years. A US Attorney explained: "His business was to entice vulnerable people to give up a kidney for $10,000 which he would turn around and sell for $160,000."16

This is reportedly the first case of international organ trafficking in the U.S.

University of California anthropologist and organ trade expert Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who informed the FBI about Rosenbaum seven years ago, says she heard reports that he had held donors at gunpoint to ensure they followed through on agreements to “donate” their organs.17

Israel’s organ donor problems

Israel has an extraordinarily small number of willing organ donors. According to the Israeli news service Ynet, “the percentage of organs donated among Jews is the lowest of all the ethnic groups... In western countries, some 30 per cent of the population have organ donor cards. In Israel, in contrast, four percent of the population holds such cards.18

“According to statistics from the Health Ministry’s website, in 2001, 88 Israelis died waiting for a transplant because of a lack of donor organs. In the same year, 180 Israelis were brain dead, and their organs could have been used for transplant, but only 80 of their relatives agreed to donate their organs.”

According to Ynet, the low incidence of donors is related to “religious reasons.” In 2006 there was an uproar when an Israeli hospital known for its compliance with Jewish law performed a transplant operation using an Israeli donor. The week before, “a similar incident occurred, but since the patient was not Jewish it passed silently.”19 20

The Swedish article reports that ‘Israel has repeatedly been under fire for its unethical ways of dealing with organs and transplants. France was among the countries that ceased organ collaboration with Israel in the 1990s. Jerusalem Post wrote that “the rest of the European countries are expected to follow France’s example shortly.”

“Half of the kidneys transplanted to Israelis since the beginning of the 2000s have been bought illegally from Turkey, Eastern Europe or Latin America. Israeli health authorities have full knowledge of this business but do nothing to stop it. At a conference in 2003 it was shown that Israel is the only western country with a medical profession that doesn’t condemn the illegal organ trade. The country takes no legal measures against doctors participating in the illegal business – on the contrary, chief medical officers of Israel’s big hospitals are involved in most of the illegal transplants, according to Dagens Nyheter (December 5, 2003).”

To fill this need former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then health minister of Israel, organized a big donor campaign in the summer of 1992, but while the number of donors skyrocketed, need still greatly surpassed supply.

Palestinian disappearances increase

Bostrom, who earlier wrote of all this in his 2001 book Inshallah,21 reports in his recent article:

“While the campaign was running, young Palestinian men started to disappear from villages in the West Bank and Gaza. After five days Israeli soldiers would bring them back dead, with their bodies ripped open.
“Talk of the bodies terrified the population of the occupied territories. There were rumors of a dramatic increase of young men disappearing, with ensuing nightly funerals of autopsied bodies.”
“I was in the area at the time, working on a book. On several occasions I was approached by UN staff concerned about the developments. The persons contacting me said that organ theft definitely occurred but that they were prevented from doing anything about it. On an assignment from a broadcasting network I then travelled around interviewing a great number of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza – meeting parents who told of how their sons had been deprived of organs before being killed.”

He describes the case of 19-year-old Bilal Achmed Ghanan, shot by Israeli forces invading his village.

“The first shot hit him in the chest. According to villagers who witnessed the incident he was subsequently shot with one bullet in each leg. Two soldiers then ran down from the carpentry workshop and shot Bilal once in the stomach. Finally, they grabbed him by his feet and dragged him up the twenty stone steps of the workshop stair... Israeli soldiers loading the badly wounded Bilal in a jeep and driving him to the outskirts of the village, where a military helicopter waited. The boy was flown to a destination unknown to his family.”

Five days later he was returned, “dead and wrapped up in green hospital fabric.” Bostrom reports that as the body was lowered into the grave, his chest was exposed and onlookers could see that he was stitched up from his stomach to his head. Bostrom writes that this was not the first time people had seen such a thing.

“The families in the West Bank and in Gaza felt that they knew exactly what had happened: “Our sons are used as involuntary organ donors,” relatives of Khaled from Nablus told me, as did the mother of Raed from Jenin and the uncles of Machmod and Nafes from Gaza, who had all disappeared for a number of days only to return at night, dead and autopsied.”

Why autopsies?

Bostrom describes the questions that families asked:

“Why are they keeping the bodies for up to five days before they let us bury them? What happened to the bodies during that time? Why are they performing autopsy, against our will, when the cause of death is obvious? Why are the bodies returned at night? Why is it done with a military escort? Why is the area closed off during the funeral? Why is the electricity interrupted?”

Israel’s answer was that all Palestinians who were killed were routinely autopsied. However, Bostrom points out that of the133 Palestinians who were killed that year, only 69 were autopsied.

He goes on to write:

“We know that Israel has a great need for organs, that there is a vast and illegal trade of organs which has been running for many years now, that the authorities are aware of it and that doctors in managing positions at the big hospitals participate, as well as civil servants at various levels. We also know that young Palestinian men disappeared, that they were brought back after five days, at night, under tremendous secrecy, stitched back together after having been cut from abdomen to chin.
“It’s time to bring clarity to this macabre business, to shed light on what is going on and what has taken place in the territories occupied by Israel since the Intifada began.”22

The new “Blood Libel”?

In scanning through the reaction to Bostrom’s report, one is struck by the multitude of charges that his article is a new version of the old anti-Semitic “blood libel.” Given that fact, it is interesting to examine a 2007 book by Israel’s preeminent expert on medieval Jewish history, and what happened to him.

The author is Bar-Ilan professor (and rabbi) Ariel Toaff, son of the former chief rabbi of Rome, a religious leader so famous that an Israeli journalist writes that Toaff’s father “is to Italian Jewry as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.” Ariel Toaff, himself, is considered “one of the greatest scholars in his field.”23 24

In February 2007 the Israeli and Italian media were abuzz (though most of the U.S. media somehow missed it) with news that Professor Toaff had written a book entitled "Pasque di Sangue" (“Blood Passovers”)25 containing evidence that there “was a factual basis for some of the medieval blood libels against the Jews.”

Based on 35 years of research, Toaff had concluded that there were at least a few, possibly many, real incidents.

In an interview with an Italian newspaper (the book was published in Italy), Toaff says:

“My research shows that in the Middle Ages, a group of fundamentalist Jews did not respect the biblical prohibition and used blood for healing. It is just one group of Jews, who belonged to the communities that suffered the severest persecution during the Crusades. From this trauma came a passion for revenge that in some cases led to responses, among them ritual murder of Christian children.”26 27

Professor Toaff was immediately attacked from all sides, including pressure orchestrated by Anti-Defamation League chairman Abe Foxman, but Toaff stood by his 35 years of research, announcing:

"I will not give up my devotion to the truth and academic freedom even if the world crucifies me... One shouldn't be afraid to tell the truth."

Before long, however, under relentless public and private pressure, Toaff had recanted, withdrawn his book, and promised to give all profits that had already accrued (the book had been flying off Italian bookshelves) to Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League. A year later he published a “revised version.”28

Donald Bostrom’s experience seems to be a repeat of what Professor Toaff endured: calumny, vituperation, and defamation. Bostrom has received death threats as well, perhaps an experience that Professor Toaff also shared.

If Israel is innocent of organ plundering accusations, or if its culpability is considerably less than Bostrom and others suggest, it should welcome honest investigations that would clear it of wrongdoing. Instead, the government and its advocates are working to suppress all debate and crush those whose questions and conclusions they find threatening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than responding to calls for an investigation, is demanding that the Swedish government abandon its commitment to a free press and condemn the article. The Israeli press office, apparently in retaliation and to prevent additional investigation, is refusing to give press credentials to reporters from the offending newspaper.

Just as in the case of the rampage against Jenin, the attack on the USS liberty, the massacre of Gaza, the crushing of Rachel Corrie, the torture of American citizens, and a multitude of other examples, Israel is using its considerable, worldwide resources to interfere with the investigative process.

It is difficult to conclude that it has nothing to hide.


  1. There are two English translations; this article uses the first:

    The original Swedish article in Aftonbladet can be viewed at
  2. New York Times, Feb. 3, 1969, p. 8, Column 6 (53 words)
    40 years after Israel's first transplant, donor's family says his heart was stolen By Dana Weiler-Polak, Haaretz Correspondent, Dec. 14, 2008
    Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 1990, Page 21, The Intifada: Autopsies and Executions
    October 30, 1998,Bizarre death of Scottish tourist involves suicide, missing heart by NETTY C. GROSS, Jerusalem Post Service
    The Forward, Illicit Body-Part Sales Present Widespread Problem, By Rebecca Dube, Aug. 26, 2009
    Masons, Muslims, Templars, Jews, Henry and Dolly.
    Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding, Khalid Amayreh, August 20, 2009
    Forward, Illicit Body-Part Sales Present Widespread Problem, By Rebecca Dube, August 26, 2009
    The Economist, Organ transplants: The gap between supply and demand, Oct. 9, 2008
  12. 12/
    BRAZIL: Poor Sell Organs to Trans-Atlantic Trafficking Ring
    By Mario Osava, IPS, Feb. 23, 2004
    Haaretz, Two Haifa men sentenced to jail for organ trafficking, By Fadi Eyadat, Dec. 18, 2007
    Police uncover illegal organ trade ring
    By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, July 23, 2007
    Israeli suspected of organ trafficking
    By Staff, May 1, 2007
    Sting rocks U.S. transplant industry, David Porter, Carla K. Johnson, ASSOCIATED PRESS, july 25, 2009
    U.S. Professor: I told FBI about kidney trafficking 7 years ago
    By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent, August, 3, 2009
    A mitzvah called organ donation, Efrat Shapira-Rosenberg, 10.6.07
    Orthodox in uproar over organ donation incident, Neta Sela, 06.22.06
    The Return of the Body Snatchers, By Israel Shamir

    Israeli writer Israel Shamir reports that some years ago “...a leading Chabad rabbi, Yitzhak Ginzburgh, gave his religious permission for a Jew to take a liver from a non-Jew even without his consent. He said that ‘a Jew is entitled to extract the liver from a goy if he needs it, for the life of a Jew is more valuable than the life of a goy, likewise the life of a goy is more valuable than the life of an animal.’

    See below to read the article in Jewish Week in which Ginsburgh said this.
    Haaretz. The Wayward Son, by Adi Schwartz, March 1, 2007
    Haaretz, Bar-Ilan to order professor to explain research behind blood libel book By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Service and The Associated Press, Feb 11, 2007
    Haaretz, Bar Ilan to order professor to explain research behind blood libel book, by Ofri Hani, Feb. 11, 2007.
  27. Earlier books containing related information on medieval and modern Judaism, some of it particularly relevant to discussions of organ extraction, as well as on the widespread suppression of such information, were published some years ago, also by an Israeli professor, Israel Shahak, of whom Noam Chomsky once wrote, “Shahak is an outstanding scholar, with remarkable insight and depth of knowledge. His work is informed and penetrating, a contribution of great value.” We encourage people to read these books in full: “Jewish History, Jewish Religion, The Weight of Three Thousand Years” and “Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel” coauthored by Professor Norton Mezvinsky.
    Haaretz, 'Historian recants theory that Jews killed Christian child in ritual murder,' By Adi Schwartz, Feb 24, 2008
    To see more Ha'aretz reporting on Toaff go here.

ADDENDUM: On September 1, 2009 a petition was organized:

The Jewish Week, April 26, 1996, pp. 12, 31.

Hero Or Racist? Are Jewish lives really more valuable than non-Jewish ones? Radical rabbi just freed from an Israeli prison thinks so.

Lawrence Cohler
Staff Writer

The triumphal cheers of some 500 Lubavitch chasidim shook the hall on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights Sunday night as a tall, white-haired rabbi basked in their toasts to his recent victory over the government of Israel’s effort to silence him.

A sea of men in black hats and women in long dresses hailed Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh from separate sides of the ballroom of the Oholei Menachem Yeshiva. And amid round wood tables stacked high with challah, herring and rounds of vodka, Rabbi Ginsburgh joined them heartily as glasses rose to his long life.

But ask Lubavitch leader Rabbi Shmuel Butman about Rabbi Ginsburgh’s view that the Torah would “probably permit” seizing an innocent non-Jew for a liver transplant to save the life of a Jew, and Rabbi Butman, who helped organize the welcome, politely demurs.

“That is a purely halachic question,” he says, using the Hebrew adjective for matters pertaining to traditional Jewish law. We don’t get into that.”

“In general, he’s a very pious individual,” said Rabbi Butman, director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. “And we’re sure he carries responsibility for what he says.”

Not everyone is so sanguine.

Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, a professor of philosophy at Yeshiva University and former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Zionist rabbinic body, noted, “Even the devil can quote Scripture.”

The government of Israel’s attempt to stifle Rabbi Ginsburgh’s teaching and lecturing to his followers – including some in the West Bank, where he is dean of a yeshiva in the Palestinian town of Nablus – crashed in failure late last month. After he was jailed for three weeks without charge or trial, a member of Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the government had insufficient evidence to justify holding Rabbi Ginsburgh under Israel’s administrative detention laws.

It marked the first time that administrative detention, which until recently has been applied overwhelmingly to Arabs, had ever been successfully challenged. And among many Lubavitchers, the government’s precedent-setting defeat was greeted as a miraculous, classically Judaic victory of the weak over the strong. It was this feeling, which makes daily news headlines a source of faith for so many of them, that permeated the hall Sunday night.

But Rabbi Ginsburgh, an intense but soft-spoken 52-year-old with a long white beard, looks far from the image of tousle-haired David facing the behemoth Goliath. At the same time, his quiet demeanor clashes sharply with the image of a dangerous, demagogic extremist of the sort that Israeli officials have invoked.

Still, no one doubts that his pronouncements and teachings have been controversial.

Regarded as one of the Lubavitch sect’s leading authorities on Jewish mysticism, the St. Louis-born rabbi, who also has a graduate degree in mathematics, speaks freely of Jews’ genetic-based spiritual superiority over non-Jews. It is a superiority that he asserts invests Jewish life with greater value in the eyes of Torah.

“If you have two people drowning, a Jew and a non-Jew, the Torah says you save the Jewish life first,” Rabbi Ginsburgh told The Jewish Week. ”If every single cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, is a part of God, then every strand of DNA is a part of God. Therefore, something is special about Jewish DNA.”

Later, Rabbi Ginsburgh asked rhetorically, “If a Jew needs a liver, can you take the liver of an innocent non-Jew passing by to save him? The Torah would probably permit that.

“Jewish life has infinite value,” explained. “There is something infinitely more holy and unique about Jewish life than non-Jewish life.”

Notwithstanding this, Rabbi Ginsburgh hastened to add that nothing in this view undermines the holiness of non-Jewish lives.

“Just the opposite,” he insisted. ”…Ultimately the light they recognize from Jews will make their lives more valuable. Jews are essentially a giver nation. And non-Jews are receivers.”

Rabbi Ginsburgh is also an ardent sympathizer of Baruch Goldstein, the Brooklyn-born physician who massacred 29 Palestinians at prayer in a Hebron mosque in February 1994. While stopping short of endorsing Goldstein’s act outright, Rabbi Ginsburgh described him unambivalently as “a Jew who gave up his life for his people.” In a recent book devoted to Goldstein he called the massacre “an act of bravery whose source was divine grace.”

Citing explicit instructions he says he received from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Ginsburgh has also strongly defended Jewish revenge attacks on Arabs, at least after-the-fact. Whether he would tell a Jew to engage in such a random attack beforehand “is a different story,” Rabbi Ginsburgh said. But after such an attack took place in response to an Arab provocation, “You can’t even hint it was a bad thing.”

Among other things, he explained, the jurisdiction of an Israeli court in such a case is illegitimate because “Legally, if a Jew does kill a non-Jew, he’s not called a murderer. He didn’t transgress the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not murder. This applies only to Jews killing Jews. Therefore [in a Jewish state], his punishment is given over to heaven” rather than to a secular court.

In 1989, Rabbi Ginsburgh was personally involved in the events that led to such a killing when he led a large group of his yeshiva students on an armed West Bank “walking tour” that slipped around Israeli Army restrictions and assertively through a Palestinian village. The tour ended in a melee that saw the rabbi stoned by angry villagers, the yeshiva boys rampaging through the village setting fires and vandalizing, and a 13-year-old Palestinian girl who was sitting in her house shot by one of the yeshiva tourists.

At the trial of the yeshiva boy charged with the killing, Rabbi Ginsburgh said bluntly, “The people of Israel must rise and declare in public that a Jew and goy are not, God forbid, the same. Any trial that assumes that Jews and goyim are equal is a travesty of justice.”

In an interview at The Jewish Week, Rabbi Ginsburgh delivered his comments in a soft, unassuming voice with no sign of bitterness or hate.

In fact, he said, one reason the court ultimately felt compelled to free him was because his most controversial statements came not as personal opinions but always as citations from scripture, Kabbalah or recognized rabbinic authority.

Rabbi Ginsburgh also defended many of his statements as more musings and reflections in a struggle towards conclusions, rather than conclusions themselves.

“Torah is a complex matter,” he said he told the judge, “especially Kabbalah. You must consider many factors.” But in the course of working through this, he said, there is “a thinking-aloud process.”

“Even when you understand there is a justification for doing certain things,” said Rabbi Ginsburgh, ”studying Kabbalah sweetens the mentality.” The process usually calms, rather than inflames, his students, Rabbi Ginsburgh said.

“In class I’m teaching them not to act on these things, not because they are wrong, but because our way to influence the situation is completely different. If they think the thing to do is to get up and act violently, I teach them that that’s wrong.”

But to Israeli authorities, Rabbi Ginsburgh’s citations and outloud thinking were the stuff of incitement. They viewed many of his talks as incendiary and tried – unsuccessfully – to stifle his lectures to his students in the Nablus yeshiva in particular.

Finally, just hours after the devastating suicide bombing in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Circle last March, amid a wrathful national mood, Rabbi Ginsburgh gave a Purim lecture on a long letter by the Lubavitcher Rebbe about “the mitzvahs of war for the sake of revenge and war for the sake of conquering the Land of Israel,” said Rabbi Ginsburgh.

“The rebbe explained that war for the sake of revenge was a much higher mitzvah,” said Rabbi Ginsburgh, recalling his talk to the crowd.

It was soon after this that Prime Minister Shimon Peres signed a 60-day administrative detention order against him “to prevent Rabbi Ginsburgh from continuing his incendiary preaching of revenge.”

The public outcry that followed came mostly from the right. But some civil libertarians also protested his jailings as beyond the pale, even for Israel’s administrative detention law. That law empowers the authorities to jail without charge individuals who threaten public security. But unlike most other detainees, they noted, Rabbi Ginsburgh was jailed explicitly for his speech rather than his acts.

Still, when the court finally ordered him released, citing insufficient evidence that his statements had incited or would incite anyone, many Lubavitchers had no doubt it was their effort that turned the tide.

Rabbi Ginsburgh himself told the Crown Heights audience Sunday night, “The most important thing I want to convey is that the claim against me is a claim against the Torah, a claim against chassidus, a claim against the Lubavitcher rebbe.”

But not everyone agrees with how Rabbi Ginsburgh uses these sources, of course.

“It’s the greatest tragedy to take isolated texts and use them without tradition,” Rabbi Wurzburger said. ”[Rabbi Meir] Kahane did this, too. You can always take statements out of context.”

Even within Lubavitch, there are critics: Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the former administrator of the rebbe’s secretariat and current head of the sect’s international operations, termed Rabbi Ginsburgh’s views, as related to him in a phone interview, ”totally outrageous.”

But Rabbi Moshe Greenberg, a professor of Bible at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, called for radically revising Jewish thinking about some Jewish texts on the grounds that scholars such as Rabbi Ginsburgh are far from aberrant in their use of them.

Rabbi Greenberg, who has written extensively about Jewish scriptural views on racism and ethnic chauvinism, said, “The sad thing is, these statements are in our books.”

“There’ll be a statement in Talmud… made in circumstances where it’s purely theoretical, because Jews then never had the power to do it,” he explained. And now, he said, “It’s carried over into circumstances where Jews have a state and are empowered. [These statements] are brought forward by people who themselves have no social responsibility and have not been elected to represent the Jewish people. But they’re called Torah scholars. And not having responsibility, they can say such things. Their self-confidence and self-righteousness is part of their total divorcement from consequences.”

But Rabbi Ginsburgh’s own thoughts were far from that this week. Preparing to go on to Los Angeles as part of the fund-raising tour his supporters had planned, he exulted that his bout with repression had gained him “thousands” of more listeners.

“Even my prosecutors got a lesson in chasidic thinking,” he said, smiling, ”because they had to study my thinking for their prosecution.”

Contributing editor Jon Kalish contributed to this article.

Larry Cohler is an award-winning journalist with stories cited in The New York Times, NPR, BBC, GPS with Fareed Zakaria and other media outlets.

Rabbi Ginsburgh lives with his wife and children in the Chassidic settlement of Kfar Chabad and teaches from Tel Aviv to West Bank settlements. His audiences include yeshiva students and academics, chassidim and businessmen, housewives and politicians. He has also gone on speaking tours around the world.

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