Rabbis and politicians should watch what they say
Rabbi Cherlow urges us to continue risking our lives by hitchhiking, Rabbi Lior blames the government for the kidnapping, and MK Zoabi defends terrorists. We act within a culture that believes violence will solve violence and we have a key role in this deadly and dismal belief.
A sticker that sticks to the soul
On my usual route from the office to the light rail station last week, I encountered a sticker with the slogan: "Modest girls prevent tragedies." Within today's current Israeli religious and political context, I immediately understood that someone is trying to place the responsibility for the tragedy of the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli youths by Hamas terrorists on mine and my friends' wardrobe.
The sticker did not parachute into the heart of Jerusalem from some distant star in space. The sticker is part of the public atmosphere of fear and worry under the cover of which leaders, more and less responsible, make painful and hurtful statements that it would have been better not to have been said.
The Talmudic Sage Rava already established the serious ethical principle according to which "one should not be judged for things said at moments of extreme pain and stress."
However, what correctly applies to private individuals does not apply to political leaders and those holding public office. Therefore it is appropriate to discuss what can be said and what is forbidden to say and perhaps specifically at moments of extreme pain and stress.
The pain and panic resulting from the kidnapping and murder of the three youths is all embracing. We demand that the responsibility for this crime be shared by all people, especially by those of this region.
Therefore, out of concern and respect for human life and God's image stamped into all of us, the responsibility falls on us to scrupulously clarify our speech and actions. These are again difficult days, days that test our love, our responsibility, and our humanity.
In such days we must guard our mouths, our hearts and our deeds.
Below are just a few of the things that should not have been thought and said. These are statements that should be retracted by those who made them, and all of us must pay attention not to let them be stumbling blocks for us.
'Because of your sins we were exiled from our land'
(Yom Kippur Liturgy)
To my dismay, this is not the first tragedy that causes rabbis to beat in the chests of others and blame their opponents with the responsibility for the tragedy. This time it was Rabbi Dov Lior who cast responsibility for the kidnappings on "the government's policy relating to the States' public image..." and, among other things, spoke of laws that damage "the family structure."
Likewise he blamed "the continual desire to hand over Israeli land to terrorists under the illusion that in so doing we will achieve peace."
It is human to look to assign blame after tragedies, but it is wrong for rabbis and leaders to fall into this sort of moral pit. The ethical choice of the rabbinic sages was to accept the responsibility on themselves for tragedies, and instead of this these leaders choose to place the blame on the conscience of others.
In doing so, leaders like Rabbi Dov Lior are exploiting the kidnapping tragedy to gain political capital. Furthermore, if the boys' abduction is a Divine punishment for my actions and those of my friends dealing in peace and human rights, then the kidnappers are transformed into agents of God's will. It is really not advisable to enter these sorts of religious places.
My heart is with the teens' parents. I often think about them with panic, with love, with a sense of intertwined fate and with sadness. Even Rabbi Dov Lior, whose words are like ballistae thrown at me, will not cause me to feel less pain or less responsible.
However, I do suspect that these types of statements will succeed at creating division. This event requires human solidarity and it is a shame that there are rabbis who try to damage this.
'The kidnappers are not terrorists'
Israeli Arab Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi explained her above statement by saying that "they are people who don't see any opening to change their reality and they are forced to utilize these methods until Israel sobers up a little."
This is a terrible statement and the connection between the three sentences that Zoabi said is regretful. I am a proponent of peaceful solutions and exactly because of that I am opposed to any and all violent actions. I am able to understand that many Palestinians do not see any opening to change the reality of their life, yet the usage of terrorism is a forbidden solution to despondency.
No person is "forced" to use violence; people choose to use violence. Who better than us knows that violence does not resolve violence. Even in the most dramatic moments it is forbidden for us and forbidden for them and forbidden for any person to use violence.
'I am sick of being a bleeding heart'
This comment was made by cardiac surgeon Dr. David "Dudi" Mishaly, when asked by Channel 10 News about the tension between his medical mission to heal children (specifically Arab children from Hebron) and his personal acquaintance with the families of the kidnapped children. Even harsher comments were made by his columnist wife, Yael Mishaly, in the same interview.
But being a "bleeding heart" is not a privilege. It's not an attractive option. This is the primary human purpose and simultaneously the loftiest trait. We came to the world in order to be sensitive. This is THE religious commandment and this commandment is not tested on quiet and peaceful days. Rather, it is tested specifically on days when the blood and the soul are storming.
A person who chooses to be a medical doctor takes upon himself the noble human task of saving life, and when he fulfills his purpose he is not doing anyone a favor. That is why he doesn't select who are his patients. Sometimes the moral mission of the doctor can be very heavy. Nevertheless he is not free to exempt himself from it.
The obligation to be a "bleeding heart," that is to say, ethical people, is our human duty and there is no other way. Furthermore, if we expect other people to behave fairly and responsibly with us, if we demand that every individual person be judged on the merits of his own actions, we must be a shining example of this behavior and not become children and isolated people held captive by the behavior of our leaders or terrorists.
Every time we consider ceasing to be "bleeding hearts," we are considering connecting to the worst in humanity.
'We will continue to hitchhike'
This was determined by Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, who explained that "the victory over terrorism is accomplished first and foremost by the fact that society does not surrender to it and does not disrupt its regular lifestyle. It continues on its path and projects that nothing will break it."
Additionally Rabbi Cherlow equates, and rightfully so, between the kidnapping victims and victims of rape, claiming that opposition to continuing the "hitchhiking culture" is paramount to blaming the victim.
God forbid blaming the victim. Absolutely not! Nobody is blaming these teenagers for the tragedy of their abduction. They were victims who had to be rescued and that is the sum total of their part in this tragedy. But just like I teach my daughter not to wander around alone in dark places, and just like I forbid her to speak with strangers, it is appropriate to forbid hitchhiking.
It seems to me that tragedies should alter our lifestyle, as saving life is more important than routine. The question of life in the territories is a difficult question which the debate on will apparently continue for some time, but the parental and communal responsibility lies beyond just this question.
From today until the day Israel has peace we will learn the lesson and without, God forbid, blaming anyone, we will cease hitchhiking, and the rabbis would do wisely to teach proactive safety to their students.
And of course I think that all the difficult statements that I noted here are legitimate statements in a democratic society, and I would not want any of them to be questioned by the police because of the harsh opinions they expressed.
So who is responsible?
The guilt falls of course on the kidnappers and those who dispatched them. And the responsibility? I deeply believe in the ethical worldview of the rabbinic sages that "because of our sins we were exiled from our land..." and the responsibility for the cycles of violence falls on all of us. Because I live in a region filled with violence and because I did not stop this violence - I too am responsible.
I do not view this as megalomaniac thinking. This is moral thinking. As long there is violence in my environment I supposed to act to end it. And until this violence does come to an end, then there is still more things to be done and I am still responsible.
We live inside a jungle thick with acts of violence and actions against them. We act within a culture that believes violence will solve violence and we have a very central role in this deadly and dismal belief. For more than a century we are working with the belief that "with blood and fire Judah fell and with blood and fire Judah will rise." This is still not working and, to my dismay, we still are not changing the narrative.
This world is me
Immediately after the visit of the kidnapped teens' mothers to the United Nations, the newspaper headlines shouted: "The World is silent." It is difficult and painful to see the picture of the mothers sharing their supplications with an apathetic world. We must maintain the picture of our mothers' suffering and raise it up from the storeroom of sad pictures every time our help is requested by other mothers of the world.
Children are kidnapped all over the world. Children are tortured and suffer all over the world from war and famine. The "silent world," unfortunately, includes us as well. What specifically hurts us is not done to our fellow man. It is our moral right to demand the world's assistance that is included in the moral obligation for all the children of the world. I hope it will help us and that we will take upon ourselves to no longer be part of the "silent world."
Waging war by the book
And in "Chukat," the weekly Torah portion, immediately after separating from Miriam and Aaron, we are presented with a mysterious book of war (Numbers 21:14): "Wherefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord: 'Vaheb in Suphah, and the valleys of Arnon.'"
What is the Book of the Wars of the Lord? And what does "Vaheb in Suphah" mean? No one really knows, and the commentators have a field day with it.
Following a Talmudic midrash, Rashi makes a play on words in the verse and offers a beautiful interpretation (Rashi on Kiddushin 39B): "A war waged by the book has love at its end."
This is the essence of wisdom from the beit midrash. While other nations waged war with weapons, we waged war with words and books. At the conclusion of the war of sages there is no bloodshed and therefore there is room for love. And hopefully all wars will in this way have love after them. It is in our hands.
And if you want to say that I am naïve, ask yourself where have 100 years of non-naïveté gotten us? And perhaps the time has come to reconsider naïveté.
Translated by Uzi Bar-Pinchas.
Click here to read this article in Hebrew.