On the murder of a young Palestinian and the innate value of individuals

Posted: July 7, 2014 in Because I love Judaism I can never be a pure rationalist, My moral code, On Compassion
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If you know me then you know that I am a huge supporter of Israel. I am deeply saddened by the recent murder of 3 Jewish teenagers in Israel. I have spoken up about that anger as best I can. I have also spoken out against the ridiculous conspiracy theories that invariably emerge from such tragedies. I stand up for the cause of Israel to the very best of my ability.

Now a young Palestinian boy has been murdered, supposedly in retribution for the 3 other murders. I’m sad to have to say this, but it’s necessary to speak out even when I will always stand by my position on Israel in general. Let me just say this: The murder of a Palestinian boy to avenge the earlier killings does not help the cause of Israel. It is vile; criminal; perhaps worse than the killings that came before it; and, perhaps more presciently, in no way even remotely condoned by Judaism.

Deuteronomy 32:35 specifically says: “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense…”. It does NOT say that vengeance is in the domain of we humans. In fact, in Leviticus 19:18 we are specifically taught that it is NOT for us to avenge, specifically:  “You shall not avenge” . Maimonides discusses this further in his code of Jewish law, saying: “Taking revenge is an extremely bad trait. A person should be accustomed to rise above his feelings about all worldly matters…” R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi says similar things in his code of Jewish law: “One should erase any feelings of revenge from one’s heart and never remind oneself of it.” Vengeance is prohibited by Jewish law.

Let’s say that you disagree with my simple quotations and still think the murder of 3 young Jews is worthy of revenge. Try this.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself when you were 14 years old. A group of people abduct you while you are minding your own business. You have not hurt them. They grab you and, in a way that no ethical system could possibly condone, set you on fire. As you are dying in excruciating pain your lungs are charred while you inhale the flames. Now, open your eyes and try to imagine any scenario in which those who abducted you would have been justified, ethically or morally, in bringing upon you such a horrific death. NO ONE could possibly be justified in doing that to you!!! NO ONE COULD POSSIBLY BE JUSTIFIED IN DOING THAT TO ANYONE!

This whole idea of taking revenge, especially this way, is completely abhorrent to me. If someone killed the kids who killed the other kids, I would still be disgusted; but at least I might understand. But this is far, far worse because a poor Palestinian youth was painfully and terrifyingly murdered just because he was young and Palestinian. THERE IS NO EXCUSE. There is NOTHING that permits this to be a viable act of retribution. This is part of a group-think mentality that ignores the innate value of the individual. It makes NO sense!

Israeli officials and the Israeli government have spoken out against this crime. They have already arrested 6 people. Today, I strongly urge the government of Israel to do what they say they will do and to bring these criminals to justice. Israel has all the right words; now I pray that they will take the right actions.

My friend and teacher, Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana said some things (as is always the case) better than I could. Rabbi Cahana said this:  “Israel is a nation of laws. Judaism is a people of law. Those who are responsible for this terrible murder must be brought to justice. And if it should be found that the murder of this young teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was perpetrated as an act of revenge – then we all bear the shame.” It may be hard to hear this, especially for me the individualist,  but Judaism is firmly grounded in communitarianism and for our people, Cahana is absolutely right.

Revenge is always wrong.

Hate crimes are always wrong.

Inflicting suffering on another individual is always wrong.

All we can do now is to work ever more diligently to stop this horrible violence. Jews murdering Palestinian children out of vengeance is utterly antithetical to Judaism. Something tells me that most Muslims would agree but would also condemn the horrible murders of Israelis that started it. Let us all mourn all of these deaths and may it be that Jews mourn the death of Abu Khdeir as deeply as they mourn the death of their own. Whatever one thinks God is, I hope that he or she does.



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