David A. Lyon
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The Pursuer Chooses Peace

In Oslo last week, someone had the chutzpah to change the meaning of an image showing Jews and Muslims together

A ring of Muslims standing around the exterior of a synagogue, anywhere, is usually a reason to sound the alarm. In Oslo, last week, a ring of Muslims stood around the city’s synagogue in a show of support for the Jewish community. Many comments have been written about it, including some exaggerated claims. There were not, in fact, over 1000 Muslims standing around the building, and physical obstacles prevented them from forming a complete circle. However, there were enough Muslim men and women to make their point.

When I looked at the picture on the Internet, I noticed something I simply haven’t seen in a long time on the news, the Internet, or anywhere else I’ve observed Jews and Muslims in one place. In Oslo, in front of the synagogue, the Muslim demonstrators weren’t facing the synagogue to pursue it; they were standing with their backs to it in order to defend it.

In Jewish law, a pursuer is a “rodef”. We first learn about the rodef in Torah, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow.” Talmud explains (San. 72a), “…If it is as clear to you as the sun that [the rodef’s] intentions toward you are not peaceful, then you may kill him, but if not, you may not kill him…” Rashi (11th c) teaches, “[Even] if someone intends to kill you, kill him first.” Maimonides (12th c) adds, “All Israel is commanded to save a person being pursued for his life, even if it means killing the pursuer.” The point isn’t to misuse the definition; rather, it’s to empower individuals whose lives are threatened. There is no martyrdom that we seek as Jews, and there is no life hereafter we prefer to life here and now; therefore, Torah and its teachings command Jews to save life by defending it.

Rockets bursting from Gaza towards Israel with the intention to destroy lives, indiscriminately, demand a swift and effective defense. The Iron Dome is Israels agent on the battlefield where human hands can’t reach into the sky or over land to stop the rodef. Even minor acts of terrorism, such as stabbing Jews in the streets of Jerusalem, prompt swift action to stop the “rodef” in his tracks.

In so many instances, images of Jews and Muslims show them pursing one another in desperate attempts to gain the upper hand and higher ground. But, in Oslo, last week, someone had the temerity, the chutzpah, to do the opposite. Rather than pursue Jews in their synagogue, they “did a 180”, as we say, and defended them. It didn’t go unnoticed by the world. The scene was unique as it was welcome. It provided news media new headlines and pundits new fodder for their talk shows.

More important, however, than the moment forever captured on the Internet, is the fact that for the first time since recent incidents of terrorism perpetrated by radicalized Muslims against an unprepared Europe and horrified Jewish victims, Jews and Muslims were facing the same direction. Now, I want to know, what will they pursue, together? If their intention is not to raise their hands against each other, then let them raise their hands together with Christians and fellow pursuers of peace to fight against radicalized terrorists who have confounded and misplaced our plans for peace in this blood-stained century.

A pursuer of peace, a Rodef Shalom, for which there are synagogues named, endears himself or herself to peoples of all faiths and to God, in whose image all of us, modern, civilized, men and women of various races, cultures, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, were created to repair a broken world and bequeath to our children the responsibility to refine it further in their day in peace.

About the Author
Rabbi Lyon is Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, Houston, Texas. Lyon can be heard on iHeartRadio's Podcast "Heart to Heart w/Rabbi David Lyon" on and iHeartMedia app. He is the author of the book "God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime" (Jewish Lights 2011), available at He is President-Elect of the CCAR (Central Conference of America Rabbis) Board of Trustees. He serves on the board of the Jewish Community Legacy Project (JCLP); and in Houston, Lyon serves on the board of the United Way of Greater Houston; advisory board of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston; and member of ADL's Coalition for Mutual Respect.
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