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Norwegian Injustice

Aug 25, 2012 at 05:53:31 PM

There's good news and bad news from the Norwegian justice system.

The good news is that terrorist mass murderer Anders Breivik has been pronounced guilty of the brutal bomb and gun rampage that left 77 people dead last year – mostly kids at summer camp.

The bad news is that Breivik has been sentenced to a grand total of 21 years in prison. His incarceration will be in a three-room cell with a TV, exercise room and Ikea-style furniture.

This is shocking.

Although the sentence can later be extended (21 years is the maximum sentence allowed by Norwegian law, except for war crimes and genocide), given the beastly, premeditated, cold-blooded nature of the crime, justice has clearly not been served.

So what were the folks in Norway thinking over there? Before we Tweet our outrage and move on to the next piece of news, perhaps we should look a bit deeper and try to understand what might be behind this Norwegian system.

I believe the reason for our adverse reaction is because the American penal system is based on "punishment": Commit a crime, and you will suffer. But in Norway and other "progressive" countries, the purpose of incarceration is geared more toward rehabilitation – treating the psychological dysfunction which spurred the crime.

As Max Fisher reports in The Atlantic

The pleasant-sounding experience of being in Norwegian prison isn't some sign of Scandinavian weakness or naïveté; it's precisely the point. A comfortable cell, clean and relaxing environment, and nice daily activities such as cooking classes are all meant to prepare the criminal for potentially difficult or painful internal reformation. Incarceration, in this thinking, is the treatment for whatever social or psychological disease led them to transgress. The criminals are not primarily wrongdoers to be punished, but broken people to be fixed...

Here's the tough thing about restorative justice: it works, as long as you don't consider retribution to be its own inherent good. Despite the lighter sentences, restorative justice systems seem to reduce crime, reduce the cost of imprisoning criminals, and reduce recidivism... Proponents, such as University of Oslo professor Thomas Mathiesen, say it's better for society overall because it isn't about "revenge, but sober, dignified treatment."

In this instance, Breivik is an unrepentant murderer, and although the system maintains hope that he will come to his senses and reform, if he doesn’t, the sentence will be extended and he will likely remain behind bars for a lifetime.

Although one case cannot be compared to another, it is interesting to note that this rehabilitation approach – as opposed to the punishment system that Americans are used to – is discussed in the Torah.

The Torah prescribes that when one commits an act of theft and cannot repay, he must become a servant to the one he victimized. Though at first glance this might sound oppressive, it is anything but. The Torah (Leviticus 25:43) declares: "Do not oppress him" – a directive to treat the thief with utmost dignity and respect. Specifically, the thief cannot be given any demeaning jobs, and the master must provide high-quality food and accommodations – to the extent that if only one portion of food or one pillow is available, it goes to the servant.

Hence the basis of the Jewish "rehabilitation" model: By placing the criminal into a family atmosphere, he is exposed to a healthy environment of caring and sharing. For a thief, who displayed a stunning lack of respect for others and their property, this is a powerful mode of rehabilitation.

Of course, details of the Jewish method differ widely from what is practiced in Norway today (the Torah example refers to theft, not mass murder), and there is no question we should be justifiably outraged at Breivik's light sentence and comfortable conditions.

So before you press the comment and express outrage that is condoning the Norwegian decision… No – we are not condoning it. We condemn the heinous crime, and we are outraged at the Norwegian system that is giving a mass murderer comfortable treatment. We are simply saying that we can learn something from all this. Let's appreciate that in the criminal justice system, there can be room for a lofty belief in the power of a human being to reform and rehabilitate.

Visitor Comments: 46

(30) Anonymous, August 30, 2012 7:04 PM


The problem with the Norway judicial system is that it does not in any way teach that there are dire consequences for ones actions. It is not that I believe in an eye for an eye. It is that this society has become so violent in murdering and terrorizing people. Why does this happen so frequently in the world? Because no one suffers dire consequences for murder or terrorism. Kids grow up getting away with things that they do not learn what happens when you do these things. They also play these horrendous violent games and yes when you play and you kill you do not understand what you are doing. The next day, you start all over again with the same players. Children become immuned and grow up and kill without remorse. That needs to be taught.

(29) Steve Skeete, August 29, 2012 3:32 AM

Rehabilitation, we all win?

Originally, there was the idea that to give someone a sentence of life imprisonment was more humane than giving them the death penalty. Later it was realized just how "cruel and unusual" life imprisonment was as well, Now, there is hardly a sentence of "life behind bars anywhere" in the "civlized" world since many cannot stomach the thought of executing murderers, nor fathom the idea of someone becoming old, feeble and senile and still living in a prison cell. So since both execution and life behind bars without parole were considered equally cruel "twenty-one years to life" became the new "rehabilitation" model. And what difference does it make if someone kills one person or seventy-seven? That person still needs to be rehabilitated and/or given the opportunity, in time, to rejoin polite society. Since very few people really want to die, and murderers do not mind living in "comfortable" cells, and since many no longer want to identify with "state sponsored" executions, "twenty-one years to life" is viewed as a win-win scenario.

(28) Rivka Deutsch, August 28, 2012 12:25 PM

You're way off base on this one!

First of all- you are comparing apples and oranges here. As you say - the Torah is referring to theft, not murder. So why bring it up when it is actually not relevant to this situation? Second - you assume you understand the Torah's reason for creating an "eved ivri" (jewish slave), but consider this. Only a thief who is too poor to pay the penalty becomes a slave. So what are you saying? That the Torah only wants to rehabilitate poor people? Rich people can continue to be delinquent so long as they can pay the penalty if caught? Obviously there is more to it than meets the eye..... I respect the fact that you have an opinion on this issue, but you can't bring in the Torah to back you up on this one, certainly not with the eved ivri argument.

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Vile Attack in Jerusalem

Aug 22, 2012 at 07:14:48 AM

Last Thursday night, some Jewish teens were hanging out in Jerusalem looking for trouble. Emotions escalated and they viciously beat some Arab boys, leaving one in critical condition.

I, as well as the entire State of Israel, am outraged. Rabbis, educators and politicians across the spectrum have denounced this vile act. A special police committee is investigating, arrests have been made, and those responsible will assuredly be punished to the full extent of the law.

The Jewish people pride ourselves in being different. Violence is not the Jewish way – especially not targeting someone due to their nationality. This troubling incident indicates that we are not doing a sufficient job educating our children in the ways of tolerance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forcefully declared:

"This is something that we cannot accept – not as Jews, not as Israelis. This is not our way; this goes against our way, and we condemn it in word and deed. We will quickly bring to justice those responsible for this reprehensible incident.

"We say as clearly as possible: The State of Israel is a democratic and enlightened state in which when we come across acts such as these, the entire state and all of its leaders come out together against such phenomena, and we will continue to do so. This is what makes us unique in the environment around us and this will continue to make us unique. I hope that one day our environment will change as well. But we will be persistent in our complete opposition to racism and violence."

On the flip side, the fact that all sectors of Israeli society have so strongly condemned this outrageous act shows that even in our errant moments, our moral compass remains acute.

As Ruthie Blum writes in Israel Hayom, a society is not judged by immorality in its midst, but rather by the response of its leaders, educators and the general public to it.

Blum compares the current crime to another lynch that took place in October 2000, when two Israelis took a wrong turn and ended up in Ramallah by accident. A mob of 1,000 Palestinians attacked – choking, stabbing, disemboweling, and setting the Israelis on fire. One of the murderers proudly stood at an open window and displayed his bloody hands to the cheering crowd. In the aftermath of the lynch, the Palestinian Authority made no arrests, and uttered no condemnations. (Indeed, Palestinian police helped facilitate in the lynching, and the Palestinian Authority's primary concern was to prevent video footage of the atrocity from getting into the hands of Western media outlets.)

This is no way justifies or excuses Jewish acts of violence. Yet can we see the difference?

Palestinian society today is rife with rhetoric that vilifies Jews and encourages murderous violence against them. Suicide bombers are elevated to the pinnacle of Palestinian society – lionized with poems and immortalized with dozens of schools, roads and sporting events named in the bombers' honor. In a popular Palestinian children's program, a Mickey Mouse look-alike calls on children to "annihilate the Jews" and "commit martyrdom." Ahlam Tamimi, the woman who helped carry out the gruesome Sbarro Pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem that killed 15 civilians and wounded 130, is treated like a rock star in the Arab world.

These are just a few of the thousands of examples.

To make matters worse, the Western media downplays it all: The New York Times characterized Palestinian calls to genocide as merely an "insult to Jews" ("Hamas's Insults to Jews Complicate Peace Effort," April 1, 2008). And the Christian Science Monitor quoted a Palestinian TV director that encouraging kids to jihad "isn't for teaching hate. It's for teaching children to think in the right way, to socialize them in our culture's way of life." ("Hamas's Approach to Jihad: Start 'em Young," August 20, 2007)

For peace to exist, all parties need to accept the idea of tolerant, peaceful coexistence. A sincere condemnation of violence is a crucial first step.

Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, August 23, 2012 11:49 AM

Excellent article

I appreciate the excellent comments you made regarding this tragic event. Our Jewish nation can hang its head in shame that some of our children are capable of doing such a thing. It truly saddens me to think of it.

(3) Sarah, August 22, 2012 8:23 PM

I agree but...

Dear Rabbi, This was beyond reprehensible for Jews and it is good that everyone is condemning it but how do we explain all the people who witnessed this tragedy and made absolutely no attempt to stop it? Sarah

(2) Anonymous, August 22, 2012 7:40 PM

possible background material

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Bulgaria Bus Attack

Jul 22, 2012 at 06:27:29 AM

The attack against Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria – six killed and 36 injured – was the worst suicide bomb attack in the European Union since the London transport bombings of July 2005.

Commentator Tom Gross notes the weak coverage of the tragedy by the Western media.

• AFP, the leading French news agency, downplayed the terrorists' intention by scare-quoting the word "attack" in its headline: "Three Dead in 'Attack' on Israelis at Bulgaria Airport."

• BBC News described the bombing as an "awful accident" (long after it was clear to all that this was a bomb attack, not an accident).

• Never to be outdone, the New York Times reported how "bellicose adversaries, Israel and Iran, have a long history of accusing each other of terrorist attacks." Apparently the Times regards the deliberate murder of Israelis on vacation, with the elimination of an Iranian scientist working to produce a nuclear bomb for an Iranian regime that has threatened to wipe Israel off the map.

Journalists have long tried to minimize Arab terror by taking the focus off the Israeli victims. Associated Press noted that "357 bystanders have been killed" by Palestinian suicide bombings (Jason Keyser, "Suicide Bombing on Jerusalem Bus, Seven Killed"), and the New York Times wrote that "a barrage of four Palestinian attacks killed nine bystanders" (James Bennet, "Israel Pulls Back From Peace Plan After 4 Attacks"). In common usage, a "bystander" is peripheral to the central event – e.g. a bystander injured in a bank robbery. By describing Israeli terror victims as "bystanders," the media obscures the basic fact that Israeli civilians are the intentional target of these bombers.

Meanwhile, Israel endures another round of funerals, mourning and rehabilitation.


Portable Bomb Shelters in Southern Israel

Jul 13, 2012 at 07:17:37 AM

The good folks at United With Israel have once again donated portable bomb shelters to the besieged southern Israel, this time to a kindergarten in Nitzan near Ashkelon.

United With Israel is an enormous pro-Israel network with nearly 1.2 million Facebook subscribers.

Over 12,000 Kassam rockets have been fired into southern Israel in recent years, deliberately targeting Israeli civilians, causing chaos, destruction and death. Nearly one million Israeli citizens are within striking range of Gaza. An entire generation of children has been traumatized by the terror of ongoing rocket attacks.

These state-of-the-art, free-standing shelters provide safety for Israeli citizens as they go about their daily lives. They are built to prevent the penetration of bullets, shrapnel and missile fragments and can withstand direct hits. While building underground shelters can take months, these prefab units take only a few weeks to build and can be delivered and deployed immediately.

Imagine hearing a frightening siren and having 15 seconds to run for cover. Although these shelters cannot provide Israeli communities with peace, they provide both safety and peace of mind.

Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Mirko, July 29, 2012 10:16 AM


I am realy totaly shocked!

(1) Batya Bernstein, July 19, 2012 8:34 AM

when 9/11 everybody was in shock!!!!!!!! ?

while we are suffering from hamas for years, why people do not ge it.....killing babys and school buses?... is time for the world to wake up.


The Palestinian Money Pit

Jun 8, 2012 at 08:19:58 AM

This week a Palestinian court in Ramallah sentenced Mohammed Rashid, the shadowy moneyman of Yasser Arafat, to 15 years in prison after convicting him of siphoning off $33.5 million of foreign donations.

In recent years, Palestinians have received billions of dollars of assistance – from the United States, European Union, United Nations (and an occasional token gift from Arab countries). Yet where has all this money gone? Where are all the Palestinian hospitals, schools, roads and bridges??

The answer is that the Palestinian Authority has taken billions of international aid dollars and squandered it on an array of guns, bombs and missiles, while lining the pockets of a successive stream of corrupt officials. Indeed, Yasser Arafat achieved the ignoble distinction of appearing on the Forbes' list of "Wealthiest Kings, Queens and Despots" – having embezzled hundreds of millions of international aid dollars from Palestinian coffers. (Arafat's widow, Suha, still receives a $22 million annual allowance from the PA, guaranteed for lifetime.)

This is not an Arafat-specific problem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is worth an estimated $100 million. Abbas's son Yasser – surprise! – enjoys a monopoly on the sale of U.S.-made cigarettes in the Palestinian areas, and owns an engineering company which got paid $1.89 million in U.S. taxpayer funds to build a sewage system in the West Bank town of Hebron.

Still other American funds go to finance terror activities. According to senior Palestinian security officer Abu Yousuf, American-run programs to train Palestinian security forces have been instrumental in the "success" of terror attacks: "I do not think that the operations of the Palestinian resistance would have been so successful, and would have killed more than one thousand Israelis since 2000, and defeated the Israelis in Gaza without these [American] trainings," he said.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee – has tried to put a hold on $150 million of U.S. aid to Palestinians until some accounting is given as to where the money goes: "The U.S. has given $3 billion in aid to the Palestinians in the last five years alone, and what do we have to show for it?" she said. "Now the administration is sending even more. Where is the accountability for U.S. taxpayer dollars?"

Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Mr. Cohen, February 22, 2017 2:23 AM

How Hunter Stuart Changed His Views on Israel

How a pro-Palestinian American reporter
changed his views on Israel and the conflict:

by Hunter Stuart, 2017 February 15

(4) arnnyc, June 11, 2012 8:25 AM

US aid to the PA

As the article has noted, despite demands from some Congressional members, the Obama Admin has sent billions to the PA with no accountability as to how & where these funds are spent. For 3 years, Obama has turned the back of his hand towards the Israeli government. Now as the election approaches, the administration claims to be the strongest pro-Israel administration in American history. A total joke meant to seek Jewish votes & contributions. Yes Hollywood liberals like Harvey Weinstein may knee jerk their support & dollars for Obama but it is time for the rest of American Jewry to wake up and admit that Obama is not a friend of Israel & has supported many in the Arab world which seeks its destruction (as it has not comndemend the Egyptian government for threatening to tear up Camp David nor threatened them with a reduction or denial of the over 2 billion dollars they receive in aid. The Administration has made no demands on the Palestinians to negotiate but demands endless Israeli concessions. Remember this before you contribute to his campaign or consider voting for him. After the election assume things will just be worse with the administration since it would no longer be facing re-election.

(3) Daniel, June 10, 2012 7:56 PM

Why on earth would the Palestinians want this to stop?

Peace and statehood would bring responsibility and accountability. Who in their right mind thinks that this is what these recipients want? Enough of saying, "the settlements are an obstacle to peace". Time for everyone to realize that while this cash river flows, peace prospects will be drowned.

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Dramatic Rescue of Sabena Flight 571

May 9, 2012 at 12:24:42 AM by:

Everyone remembers Israel's daring 1976 rescue of hostages at Entebbe. This week marks the 40th anniversary of another incredible rescue:

On May 8, 1972 a Boeing 707 operated by the Belgian national airline, Sabena, was hijacked by four Palestinian terrorists en route from Vienna to Tel Aviv. The plane landed at Lod (later Ben Gurion Airport) and the terrorists threatened to blow up the airplane with its passengers.

(For the British pilot, Reginald Levy, it was an especially bad day: His wife was aboard the plane, and he was celebrating his 50th birthday.)

Israeli commandos quickly moved into action. First, they snuck under the plane to deflate its tires and disable its hydraulic systems.

Then, the commandos donned white overalls and disguised themselves as airplane mechanics. Ostensibly coming to "help" repair the plane, they successfully reached the plane without raising suspicion. They then quickly removed the Boeing 707's emergency exit doors and stormed the plane.

Within minutes it was all over. Two hijackers were killed and two others ― both women ― were captured. All the passengers were rescued.

Two of the commandos, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, went on to become Prime Minister of Israel. Netanyahu's brother, Yonatan (Yoni), also wanted to participate in the operation, but was refused on the grounds that two brothers should not be in danger on the same day. As it turns out, Bibi was wounded during the rescue operation and had to be evacuated. "I saw Yoni running toward me," he recalls. "When he saw that I have a big hole on the side of my face, a wide smile appeared on his. 'You see, I told you, you shouldn't have gone'."

Yoni was killed four years later in the Entebbe raid.

This week, at an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Sabena rescue, Netanyahu put Israel's fight against terror into perspective: "Ultimately, no one will defend the Jews if the Jews do not protect themselves. This is the cardinal rule."

See the original Israeli television reports from 1972 (in Hebrew) - part one, part two.


Bin Laden’s Papers

May 6, 2012 at 03:59:14 AM

With the U.S. government releasing 175 pages of documents seized in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, two things caught my attention:

(1) Fatah, the governing faction of the Palestinian Authority (Abbas and Fayyad) offered money to al-Qaeda "towards the purchase and manufacture of weapons." Al-Qaeda records state that the Palestinian leadership "has offered us funds, purportedly to [support] jihad, but there is another reason, namely their fear of becoming targets of our swords."

Israel has long contended a Palestinian-Al Qaeda connection, and the media has long tried to deny it. When an al-Qaeda cell was discovered in Gaza, Palestinians claimed that the Israeli Mossad had set it up as a fake. BBC trumpeted the Palestinian version with this headline: "Israel 'Faked al-Qaeda Presence.'"

(2) Another amazing thing to emerge from the confiscated papers showed how bin Laden himself pondered the merits of working with the American media. Bin Laden singled out his affinity for CBS, which he concluded was "close to being unbiased." Another al-Qaeda operative praised the CBS program, 60 Minutes, for its "good reputation." has documented the bias of 60 Minutes against Israel. But in al-Qaeda's eyes, they're doing a fine job. How's that for a ringing endorsement?

Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Anonymous, May 6, 2012 9:11 PM

A lesson from Tanach here?

What caught my eye was bin Laden's perception that the Palestinian leadership was less interested in supporting his version of jihad than afraid of "becoming targets of our swords." Reminiscent of Melachim Beis/Kings II, when rulers of Israel and Judah falsely thought they could gain security by making alliances and sending tribute to nearby idolatrous nations. Didn't work then, doesn't work now -- for anybody.