Naftali Rothenberg: An Appropriate Jewish Response
The pain felt by the family and near environment of any murder victim is deep and traumatic. The murder of adolescents in an educational institution is horrifying. But a murder that takes place within the walls of the House of Study, the yeshiva, amplifies and extends the grief and suffering beyond the families that lost their dear ones and beyond the victims’ close surroundings. We immediately associate this slaughter with the picture that has become fixed in our minds, as Jews schooled in millennia of persecution: the bloodthirsty gentiles kill us as we stand in prayer in the synagogue and as we sit learning Gemara in the House of Study. In this old-new picture it is quite clear what symbolizes each side: we are symbolized by prayer and study; they are symbolized by the sword, the gun, and acts of violence. We sit in the tents of Shem and learn Torah, motivated by a moral drive, self-criticism, and a desire to repair the world. They engage in “Esau’s labor”, raining down the blood and fire of destruction on themselves and on us.
But as we delve deeper into our minds to agonize over this painfully sharp image of murder in the house of study, our field of view is blurred by other pictures that interfere with the age-old world order. A gang of Jewish fascists goes on the rampage in the neighborhood of the murderous terrorist; several hours later we are told, in the name of a leader of the Ultraorthodox Torah world, that yeshivot are forbidden to employee Arabs. At first sight these two Jewish reactions are quite unrelated: the band of neo-Kahanists is light-years removed from the Lithuanian world of Torah study; the person who informed the media of Rabbi Kanievsky’s opinion had no inkling that the riot and the ruling would be connected in the press and later in the public mind. The general public—both the sector that condemns these responses and the sector that sympathizes with them—perceives them as “religious Judaism’s reaction to the murder.” How do “religious Jews” react to the murder at the yeshiva? They take the law into their own hands and run amok in the neighborhood where the murder lived or cast collective guilt on all Arabs and call for dismissing them from their jobs and depriving them of their livelihood.
But we could also witness an appropriate Jewish response of another type, which rests on loyalty to the views of the Torah and halakhah, as recorded in the pages of the very books whose pages were perforated by the murderer’s bullets. We might hear that those of us who sit and learn in the House of Study adhere steadfastly to a moral position that begins by isolating violent murderers from all other human beings. We might hear that we clearly distinguish between the absolute majority of the Arab citizens of Israel and the violent murderers among them. As Jews we have a different language, which is not the language of force, a different language that is not based on violence. Continue Reading »