William Hamilton


In the four years since the deadliest attack on Jews in US history – the murder of 11 Jews worshiping at a Pittsburgh synagogue – what has been learned? A lot, alas. 

Violent incidents of Jew-hatred have grown more common. A unique sadness and fear for us is that many pretend these incidents don’t even occur. We’re supposed to remain quiet and polite. And when good people do condemn and punish menacing incitement, this confirms the claims of the antisemite that Jews are all-powerful. 

A couple of lessons feel timely. First, making sense is not an interest of the antisemite. Every response will be confirming for them. The hater is a cherry-picker. Instead of rummaging around inside their heads or hearts, preventing their taking up arms needs to remain a top priority. 

Second, and more importantly, good people decrying hate is not a sign of Jewish influence. It’s a sign of goodness’s influence. It’s a leading indicator of decency. Through the lens of accountability, denouncers of hate aren’t puppets. They are principled people who insist that there is no place for hate. 

After the flood waters recede and Noah exits the Ark, this week’s portion of Torah finds God making a permanent pact with nature and with human nature. God determines to never again curse the ground because of human wickedness, “because the inclinations of humans are bad from their youth” (Gen. 9:21). It sounds like a concession. Even a resignation. Indeed, six of the seven universal Noahide Laws begin Thou Shalt Not (eg. curse God, commit thievery, murder). But another way to read “from their youth” is under-developed, primal, primitive. 

The sages build upon this reading. They tell of three biblical figures who witnessed their world built, destroyed, and rebuilt: Noah, Daniel (Jerusalem’s Temple), and Job (Rashi on Ez. 14:14). The arc of these events is not heavy with low expectations. Instead, it insists that rebuilding always gets the last word

There is an air of expectation hovering about us. May the haters be stopped. That is, until they can find better things to do. And, as we honor how these precious Pittsburgh shul-goers lived, may the next four years find more and more having a share in building something better. 

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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