The Anti-Eyal, Naftali, and Gil-ad

The mind reels from trying to wrap itself around the fact that fellow Jews could not only have murdered an innocent Arab teenager, but done so by sadistically setting him on fire.

But there is no longer any escaping the fact that the murderers of Mohammed Abu Kdheir were in all likelihood Jewish.

As she has done so frequently in recent weeks, Rachel Fraenkel, still in mourning for her son Naftali, spoke for the almost all Israelis in her message of condolence to Mohammed’s parents: “No mother should ever have to go through what we are going through, and we share the pain of Mohammed’s parents. . . . The shedding of innocent blood is in defiance of all morality, of the Torah, and is against the foundation of the lives of our boys and of all of us in this country.”

Magnifying the evil of the deed itself is the utter senselessness of it. The perpetrators have thrown their own lives away. If convicted, there is far less chance that they will ever be freed from prison than that the murderers of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach, if captured, will one day be released in another Gilad Schalit-type scenario.

And for what? One could at least understand how those living in an isolated areas and subject to repeated potentially lethal stonings by residents of a nearby village might contemplate burning down some of the village olive trees as a deterrent. But nothing connects Muhammad Abu Khdeir to murders of the three yeshiva students.

Far from deterring any further murders of Israeli boys, the killing of an Arab boy in retaliation only makes such murders more likely and endangers Jewish children. As Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman summed up the matter, the murderers of Muhammad Abu Kdheir are rodfim (pursuers) against the entire Jewish people. The Internet is already rife with warnings to parents not to leave their children unattended or allow them to play in the nearby forest lest they be kidnapped by Arabs bent on revenge.

BESIDES INCREASING the danger to Jews in Israel and around the world, the perpetrators destroyed one of those rare moments in which the contrast between us and our neighbors was clear to the entire world. And they distorted the Torah in the process. Revenge in the Torah is, with but one exception – when the blinded Shimshon’s brought down the Philistine temple on himself and those mocking him – consigned to G-d alone.

In his commentary on the Av HaRachamim prayer, Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes that Jews have throughout history been both the most persecuted and the least vengeful of people: “Our people have entrusted to G-d and G-d alone the task of avenging the blood of their murdered fathers and mothers, wives and children. This promise sustained them and kept them free of bitter and burning lust for vengeance against their oppressors and murderers.”

At the three funerals, and the joint ceremony that followed, the speakers dwelt only on the qualities of the kedoshim (the sanctified ones) and the magnitude of the loss represented by their premature deaths. There were no calls for revenge.

A visibly moved Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appropriately drew the contrast in his eulogy between “the society of the murderers gleefully celebrating the spilling of innocent blood” and our own: “They sanctify death; we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty; we sanctify mercy.” That cruelty is on full display today in Syria and Iraq, where Muslims do not just kill each other in the tens of thousands, but strive to do so in the most humiliating way fashion.

Our enemies taunt us that they will prevail because, “You love life, while we crave life.” They are right about our love of life. Israel today has the highest birthrate of any industrialized country in the world by a full child per woman, while birthrates in the Muslim world are plummeting at the fastest rate in recorded history.

But our enemies are wrong about the consequences of their death cult. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks recently stated, “[C]ultures that worship death die, while those that sanctify life live on.” Countries throughout the Middle East cannot feed their citizens. They produce nothing of marketable value. And were it not for oil, they would be poorer than the states of sub-Saharan Africa.

Israel meanwhile is at the cutting edge of every field of modern technology, science, and medicine, and brings greater benefit to the world per capita than any other country.

Even in the wake of the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, the contrast between those who sanctify life and those who sanctify war and death is easily made. The near universal reaction of Israelis to the murder has been deep revulsion. No one has passed around sweet candies or developed finger salutes celebrating the murder. No city square, school, or summer camp will be named after the murderers; they will not be hailed as martys by government leaders and held up as models by the official state media, and should they ever be released from prison they will not be greeted as national heroes by the president and prime minister.

Still the contrast between us and our enemies now must come with qualifications and footnotes, and we live in an era of sound bites.

BUT THE GREATEST DAMAGE done by the perpetrators has nothing to do with Israel’s image among the nations. Rather it has to do with what they stole from the Jewish people. They have robbed us of a precious moment of national unity. As we witnessed the nobility, strength, and faith of the Yifrach, Shaer and Fraenkel families during their eighteen-day vigil, I doubt there was a Jew in Israel who did not experience of surge of gratitude for the privilege of being born into the eternal Jewish people.

As the prime minister said in his eulogy, the entire country understood the source of the nobility of spirit and inner strength of the three families: “You taught us a lesson that we will not forget — lesson in faith and determination, in unity and sensitivity, in Judaism and humanity.”

To a group of little girls who approached her at the Western Wall to wish her well, Rachel Fraenkel gave a brief course in emunah peshuta (simple faith) that resounded around the country. She told them, “I want you to promise me that no matter what happens, you won’t be crushed or broken, that you don’t lose faith. We must remember Hashem is not our employee. He doesn’t always do as we wish.”

During those 18 days, we learned that it is better to live in a country where Jews love one another and look for the good in their fellow Jews than in one filled with scorn for all groups not exactly like our own. Not a single prayer service ended without the recitation of special Psalms on behalf of Eyal, Naftali and Gil-ad.

Nor did it escape our attention that the drama largely played out the weeks of the Torah readings of Shelach and Korach. The sins of the Jewish people recorded in those Torah reading hinted to what is in need of tikkun (repair). Shelach records the most damaging instance of lashon hara (derogatory speech) ever uttered – the Spies false report about the Chosen Land. Our Sages point to the need to build ourselves up at the expense of others as the driving force behind most lashon hara.

As both individuals and communities, we attempt to escape from confronting our own failings by turning our attention to the failings of others. We use those failings to salve our fragile egos. But how much happier would we all be if we directed our energies to repairing what needs repair in ourselves and our communities and focused on what is admirable and worthy of emulation in others.

Korach records the wages of internal dissension and strife. Of all the many sins of the Jewish people in the Desert, only Korach’s sowing of strife and disunity was punished immediately with him and his entire family being swallowed up by the earth without a trace, the Tolna Rebbe pointed out in his weekly drashah.

The Rebbe challenged his audience with a question that should pierce every heart: “Imagine if you were to see these three [missing] youths near you without the threat to their life hanging over their heads. How much would you love them? How close would you feel to them? Does it have to come to a life-threatening situation for a Jew’s heart to be open to another Jew?”

But our hearts were opened as we searched and prayed for the three yeshiva students and later as we collectively embraced their families in their grief and mourning. Breaking the spell of that precious moment of Jews clinging to one another is the hardest to forgive aspect of the heinous murder of an Arab teenager.

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6 Responses

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    Since the number of single Jewish females is always
    greater than the number of single Jewish males,
    the brutal murder of: Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar,
    and Eyal Yifrach by Arab Muslims will probably
    result in three Jewish girls never getting married
    and never having children.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    “BUT THE GREATEST DAMAGE done by the perpetrators has nothing to do with Israel’s image among the nations. Rather it has to do with what they stole from the Jewish people. They have robbed us of a precious moment of national unity. As we witnessed the nobility, strength, and faith of the Yifrach, Shaer and Fraenkel families during their eighteen-day vigil, I doubt there was a Jew in Israel who did not experience of surge of gratitude for the privilege of being born into the eternal Jewish people.”

    The perpetrators had no ability to steal our unity. We have the choice to keep it or give it away.

    “Breaking the spell of that precious moment of Jews clinging to one another is the hardest to forgive aspect of the heinous murder of an Arab teenager.”

    If this is only a momentary spell and not a strongly and widely held conviction, what is its true worth?

  3. lacosta says:

    as might have been predicted, the Other haredi magazine [not the one rJR writes for] has already tried to call for a quid quo pro—haredim stood up for DL’s in their time of need, now DL’s should submit to the haredi agenda vis a vis the israeli military…

  4. Nachum says:

    If one is truly consistent in one’s humanity, the “hardest to forgive aspect” of any murder is the taking of an innocent life. Nothing else comes close.

    Mr. Cohen: I have to protest your post in both terms of propriety as well as factuality. (In all human populations, slightly more men are born than women, as it happens- it’s a way of making up for the fact that more young men die in war and so on.)

  5. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    R. Yonasan, You said that there is no escaping the evidence that the murderer was Jewish. I’m sorry. Neither you nor I are privy to the internal material of the investigation. Since is is a security matter, probably many of the legal people also are not seeing much of it. I have seen mention that some of the suspects are minors and some are mentally unstable. I have also seen mention that they are semi-dropouts from the Sefardi hareidi community. That may be anti-hareidi propaganda, or it could be a true manifestation of a real social problem for which the hareidi community is not necessarily to blame. Young, mentally unstable kids could be easy material for manipulation by cynical forces with either criminal motivation or seeking to create just the provocation to blunt the edge of the correct righteous indignation of the people of Israel who have suffered this loss. The circumstances of this crime are very suspicious. If the young Arab was abducted in an Arab neighborhood, how was it that Jewish perpetrators were comfortable enough to enter such a neigborhood? I would not walk around in Shu’afat without fear of being attacked at such a sensitive time. The criminal world in Israel, theft, drug dealing and vice, has a very “good” track record in the field of Jewish-Arab cooperation. If these were recruits to a criminal gang, that would explain their ability to be present in such a place. If they were part of an extremely violent gang of Beitar Yerushalayim fans who hate Arabs, they would have been attacked on the street and mob violence would have ensued and they would have been torn limb from limb. Why was that Arab kid the victim? There is a persistent story going around that this was an “honor killing” with the participation or acquiescence of the family because of his abnormal behavior. The Jewish suspects could have had an involvement with drugs there. In short, we don’t know and we should be silent. It should be sufficient to condemn all violence without implying who did it until they get their day in court, if they ever do.

  6. c-l,c says:

    Mr. Cohen

    The “shidduch crisis” of that milieu is all in the other direction.

    Someone in authority in the West Bank claimed a few years ago,that they have 10,000 or so more males than females.

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