In 1984, 20 members of an organisation known as the Jewish Underground went on trial for multiple acts of terrorism and violence over a four-year period, including a plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock and bomb attacks on Palestinian civilians. One such attack left two mayors of West Bank towns crippled for life. According to the testimony of the perpetrators, they were acting in the name of God, and with the blessing and sanction of their rabbi.
The rabbi in question, Dov Lior, is not only still around, he is the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba — drawing a salary from the public purse — and is a principal ‘spiritual leader’ of the Tekuma political movement, which ran on the Jewish Home ticket in the last two elections and currently has two members sitting in the Knesset.
Lior was one of the chief endorsers of the controversial 2009 book, Torat Hamelech, which offered rabbinic permission to kill the children of (undefined) enemies of the Jewish people, and he is on record saying that Baruch Goldstein, who shot dead 29 Arabs while they were praying in 1994, is “holier than the martyrs of the Holocaust”. He also responded to the signing of the Oslo Accords by pronouncing a din rodef on Yitzhak Rabin — essentially the halachic sanction for his murder.
We are talking about the Jewish equivalent of the Palestinian imams, all-too regularly caught on camera — indeed, broadcast on Palestinian Authority television — inciting the murder of Jews. And just because Israeli incitement is not fully and overtly supported by the mainstream political leadership as it is on the Palestinian side, doesn’t mean there’s room for smug complacency. Complacency is what has led us to the events of recent days.
The High Court ruled that two buildings in Beit El were illegally constructed on Palestinian-owned land and must be demolished, so 200 settlers hurl bricks and stones at Israeli policemen in response (and our Prime Minister announces 300 new homes there as compensation — not only diplomatically stupid but a criminally irresponsible “reward” for such behavior). Then came Jewish terrorism; an arson attack that burns a baby to death and — at the time of writing — leaves his family fighting for their lives.
The across-the-spectrum condemnation is important (and, by the way, a not insignificant contrast with the usual Palestinian Authority response to Palestinian terrorism), but President Ruby Rivlin has it right — we have not done enough to stop Jewish terrorism.
What are the actions the should follow the strong words? We should be going after the inciters. How is Rabbi Lior still paid a state salary when he should have faced trial for incitement to murder at least once if not more? How can it be that the Chief Rabbi of Tsfat, Shmuel Eliyahu, who was indicted for racial incitement, was last year a leading contender for the position of Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem?!
Naftali Bennett gave a suitably strongly-worded response to the attack. There’s no reason to doubt his sincerity, but he should be the first minister demanding that the Tekuma rabbis — whose vengeful and racist interpretations of halacha are underpinning the ideology of members of his own party — end their incitement. The national-religious camp that he heads needs to flush out the toxins polluting too many of its institutions.
Certain yeshivot and mechinot (pre-army academies) for example, must be investigated for what they are teaching their students. Rabbi Lior was not the only rabbi inciting against Rabin or praising Baruch Goldstein; he will not be the only rabbi justifying the unjustifiable in his response to recent events. A friend of mine who has just made aliya from the United States is just completing his short spell at a mechina before starting army service. The head of that particular institution used Tisha B’Av as an opportunity to call for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and the building of the Third Temple in its place. In other words, a man charged with preparing impressionable 18-year-olds for life in the Israel Defense Forces just last week encouraged them to commit an act of terrorism.
It feels like something of a departure from the main point to mention the other headline-grabbing act of Jewish fanaticism from the past couple of days: hatred against the Gay and Lesbian community in the Charedi world is not connected to a national, political struggle; and it is not incited by a few extremists, willfully and selectively interpreting the texts. But there is a parallel to be drawn nonetheless. There is a long-held and largely uncontested (within Orthodoxy) prohibition on homosexuality in the Jewish tradition, and in a democratic society, people have the absolute right to believe what they wish. However, that doesn’t absolve religious institutions from responsibility for how they teach these beliefs.
The man who stabbed six people at the Pride March was acting alone, but he came from a community where little effort is made to avoid the implication that the “abomination” referred to in Leviticus is not just the act, but the person. As with the anti-Arab bigotry propagated by hard-liners in the national-religious camp, the Charedi response to the reality of homosexuality in the modern world risks dehumanizing an entire community. And it’s not as if we Jews don’t know where that can lead.
The past few days prove that words matter. But our leaders must provide much more than just words in response.