“Their weapons are tools of lawlessness. Let not my soul be included in their council and let not my being be counted in their assembly. When angry they slay a man, and when pleased they maim an ox. Cursed be their anger so fierce, and their wrath so relentless.” (Gen 49:6-7)
Two weeks ago a group of Jewish vigilantes rampaged through Huwara, murdering an innocent Arab and torching tens of Arab homes and cars after a Palestinian terrorist murdered two Israeli youths. The commander of the IDF’s Central Command, Major General Yehuda Fox, described the action as a “pogrom” — no different from the violence wreaked against innocent Jews in centuries past by czarist forces and cossacks. It is hard to disagree with General Fox’s description.
Shockingly, during their violent rioting the youths stopped to recite Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer sanctifying God. Jews need to ask themselves: What God were they praying to? What were they “sanctifying”?
Rabbinic tradition understands God as an “ohev tsedekah u’mishpat” and a “ba’al hesed” — the God who loves justice and law, the master of compassion and lovingkindness. The God of Israel is not an idol like the bloodthirsty Moloch, who was appeased only by the murderous sacrifice of children. The God of Israel created all humans in Tselem Elokim, His divine image that makes human life precious and insists that murder is prohibited — especially from “religious” motives.
The great 13th-century talmudic authority, Menahem ha-Meiri, taught that idolatry is any religion that does not require moral restraints of its worshipers. The tell-tale signs of idolatry are murder, robbery, lawlessness, and wildness. If so, the Jews who rampaged through Huwara are idolaters. They worship violence, vengeance, and vulgarity, not the God of Israel, and we must not be deceived by their kippot, tsitsiyot, or other “religious” externals. These zealots are not pious protestors, but hate-filled extremists driven by their demonic rage. They respect no authority — neither the Torah, nor halakhah, nor Israeli law, nor the demands of morality.
Their Kaddish was not sanctification but its very opposite: Hilul ha-Shem — literally an emptying out of God. It was unabashed profanity of what is truly holy.
A few days after Huwara, masked Jewish radicals destroyed Palestinian saplings and olive trees and hurled stones at the village of Burin, near Nablus. One of the Huwara rioters announced that he wanted to create a “balance of terror,” while a government minister stated that “we should wipe out Huwara.” Have we become the very terrorists who the truly religious in Israel detest?
According to the Talmud it was idolatry and murder that caused the destruction of the Temple and the first Jewish commonwealth in the 6th century BCE. When we rationalize the current Jewish violence for political convenience, we encourage future violence. Its poison will inevitably spread to the heart of Israel and turn against Israelis themselves, as it did against Yitzhak Rabin. Such is the logic of zealotry, whose lawlessness knows no rational or moral limits. Will this abominable violence become, God forbid, the undoing of our third Jewish commonwealth?
The talmudic rabbis also taught that those who do not protest evil become complicit in that evil and are held responsible. Sadly, there was little public rabbinic condemnation of the Huwara murder. Have the national-religious rabbis been so seduced by their attachment to Eretz Yisrael that they are willing to allow its soil to be defiled by innocent blood and overlook this cardinal sin? We all have the religious, moral, and national obligation to root out this evil from our midst, to use the Torah’s language.
During this past Purim season we were reminded of the commandment to destroy Amalek. Hasidic masters taught that Amalek is not only the enemy outside, but is also the evil that lurks inside of each of us. Some of us have become Amalek, and mercilessly attack the innocent and the weak. Our religious duty is to eliminate this evil and restore the God of justice and law to His rightful place in Israeli society today. We do this not merely for God, but no less for Israel’s own social, moral, and spiritual survival.
Thankfully, we Israels have an army whose job it is to protect us and bring the terrorists who act against us to justice. There is no need for lawless Jewish vigilantes.
Above all, let us not be counted in the assembly of idolaters.