Thoughts on Another Tragedy

Yesterday, our worst fears were confirmed. The horrific death of an Arab boy, abducted, burned alive, and left it in the Jerusalem forest, was perpetrated by Jews, with six suspects hailing from Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, and Adam held in custody. I would like, if you don’t mind my French to call them bastards. Not just in the usual, perjorative sense. But based on a Rambam, Hilchos Matanot Aniyim, Perek 10, Halacha 2:

וכל מי שהוא אכזרי ואינו מרחם (ה)* יש לחוש ליחסו

Anyone who is cruel and non-merciful, we suspect his lineage

While the Rambam is talking about giving to the poor, I think I’m safe in assuming that “lighting an innocent teenager on fire” is not exactly merciful. Which leads me to doubt their lineage, and thus I am forced to assume that they are in fact, bastards. Or not really Jewish, as the Rambam goes on to say. I’d like to, but I can’t. I can’t say that our community bears no responsibility for this occurrence. Because we do. We’ve allowed racist, violent streams of Jewish thought a place at the table in our society. We tolerate people who preach that killing non-Jews is no sin, that Jews have “higher souls”, that Arabs are inhuman creatures solely out to destroy us. We don’t all subscribe to these beliefs, and a majority of us don’t. But we allow them a place at the table. You can find the works of Meir Kahane in most Jewish bookstores, even as only a minority would agree with his positions. We even sometimes allow ourselves to admire their resolve, their dedication to their country, to the Jewish people, all admirable traits, admittedly, but we allow ourselves to think their positives outweigh their negatives. That calling for the indiscriminate murder of innocents is excused by their other admirable traits. We have allowed such intellectual trends a place in our society. We should not be surprised that someone acted on it.

At this time, I think of one of the kinot of Tisha’a B’av, one I’ve always found to be incredibly interesting, Kinah 17. It starts off with a chop right to the jugular: “If women can eat their own children, woe is me”. Wow. But think about what that’s mourning. It’s not mourning what the Romans did to us, necessarily. It’s mourning what became of us, what became of our morality, our humanity, that we were sunk so low that women went ahead and overcame their natural, human desire to protect their children, and cooked and devoured them instead. The kinah jumps back and forth between things done by us, and things done to us, recounting people tied by their hair to speeding horses and children digging up their parents for food, all in the same vast, horrific tapestry of a people who are treated inhumanely acting inhuman. There are similar stories of the Holocaust. In a famous speech, Chaim Rumkowski, leader of the Lodz Ghetto, implored the Jews there to give up their children to meet the quota for deportations, pleading:

The ghetto has been struck a hard blow. They demand what is most dear to it – children and old people. I was not privileged to have a child of my own and therefore devoted my best years to children. I lived and breathed together with children. I never imagined that my own hands would be forced to make this sacrifice on the altar. In my old age I am forced to stretch out my hands and to beg: “Brothers and sisters, give
them to me! – Fathers and mothers, give me your children…” (Bitter weeping shakes the assembled public)… Yesterday, in the course of the day, I was given the order to send away more than 20,000 Jews from the ghetto, and if I did not – “we will do it ourselves.” The question arose: “Should we have accepted this and carried it out ourselves, or left it to others?” But as we were guided not by the thought: “how many will be lost?” but “how many can be saved?” we arrived at the conclusion – those closest to me at work, that is, and myself – that however difficult it was going to be, we must take upon ourselves the carrying out of this decree. I must carry out this difficult and bloody operation, I must cut off limbs in order to save the body! I must take away children, and if I do not, others too will be taken, God forbid…(terrible wailing).

In times of great stress and great trouble, humanity may be pushed aside by the need for survival, and people find themselves justifying the most horrific and inhuman things, based on their fear and their desire to survive at all costs. And that is worthy of mourning on Tisha’a B’av, that in our long exile, oppressed and persecuted at every turn, fighting for our survival, we have forgotten our humanity, our mercy, our kindness. That still today, with a state and an army and independence, we have yet to get that back, that there are people in our society so fearful and so terrorized by any threat they lose all sense of humanity in responding to it. That there are people who are willing to burn another human being alive, an innocent random teenager because they feel so threatened by Arabs, they abandon any natural sense of what is right and justifiable. I mourn the loss of life, an innocent life, taken senselessly. But I also mourn the loss of our soul, the loss of our Jewish moral compass, the loss of the kindness and compassion that is supposed to typify us, and I pray for the day that we find it once more.

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One Comment

  1. I don’t want to completely destroy your article, since the idea is in the right place, but I completely disagree with this statement..
    We’ve allowed racist, violent streams of Jewish thought a place at the table in our society. We tolerate people who preach that killing non-Jews is no sin, that Jews have “higher souls”, that Arabs are inhuman creatures solely out to destroy us.
    I could not insist more that there are few who tolerate this idealism, and as the aftermath of riots have shown, the national reaction to those who protested “death to the Arabs” (after the discovery of the bodies of the three boys who were murdered after being kidnapped in what would have likely been a long lasting torture for a terrorist-prisoner exchange) has been negative toward the protestors. So it seems most of Israel is on the sensible side.
    That being said, as for the six suspects, people are unfortunately vastly affected by their environment. Psychologically speaking, it’s impossible to say that someone immersed in a region of terrorism and hate isn’t affected by it, and repeated studies show that people will conform to a behavior exhibited by those around them. You write that we as Jews have allowed hate a seat at our table? I disagree. I say we as Jews have allowed our neighbors to bathe the Middle East in hate, tyranny, and terrorism long enough, and that after soaking in these putrid waters for decades, it looks like some Jews finally got too wet. This has gone on long enough, and it’s time, now, to do something about it. I blame the terrorists that this happened. I blame Hamas, I blame Hezbollah, and I blame every Palestinian who sits idle and let’s terrorism to continue going unchecked in their neighborhoods. I blame Arabs who hide and abed the murderers of Israelis. I do not blame Jews who react to decades of hate with hate. Is it unfortunate? YES! Do I condone it? NO! …
    But do I blame them?
    No. I don’t blame them for what they felt they had to do to show that Israel will not tolerate the continued abduction and murder of our own innocent children. Look at the last ten years (heck, look at the last 5 years!), how many Jewish families have been brutally massacred by terrorists without retaliation? I think it’s not a surprise that something like this happened, but a surprise that it took this long!!!!

    Reply

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