15 Av 5775

Dear Friends,

Jewish Tradition prescribes that one tears one’s clothing upon hearing of the death of one’s immediate seven relatives.[1]  It is meant to remind others that the heart has been torn in grief–a visceral symbol of the heartache and anguish one feels.

Heartache and anguish do not come close to what I felt when I read of the terrible act of violence that occurred early today in Israel.   This morning, the homes of two Palestinian families in a West Bank village were firebombed.  An 18-month old baby was burned to death, and the baby’s parents and four year old brother are fighting for their lives, having suffered burns over 70 to 90 percent of their bodies.  This horrific act was apparently carried out by Jewish extremists, which calls to mind the man who yesterday stabbed six people in Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade, seriously wounding several of them.

How is it that those who call themselves Jews can commit such unspeakable acts of violence?  How is it that they can carry out such violence as the supposed fulfillment of God’s will?  How can they so distort the sacred teachings of Jewish Tradition, particularly the commandment:  DO NOT MURDER?

I wish I could simply say that these acts are committed by people with mental illness-which I believe they are.  But unfortunately, their mental illness is shared by many extremists-not only in Israel, but in other parts of the region and world as well.  It is a mental illness that is further distorted by religious fanaticism, by intolerance and hatred for those who are different, for those whose very existence is experienced as a threat to their own.

Barely one month ago I walked through the streets of Bethlehem in the West Bank, and met with people who–just like the family whose house was firebombed–are b’nai Elohim:  children of God.  I walked down the streets of Jerusalem and brushed elbows with others-straight, gay, religious, secular, Jewish Israeli, Arab Israeli, and yes, even some religious fanatics-all of whom are also b’nai Elohim:  Children of G-od.  All lives matter; all life is sacred.

I also walked on what is left of the Temple mount, where the ancient Temple in Jerusalem once stood.  The Temple has been gone for almost two thousand years, destroyed in 70 CE.  The ancient rabbis said that it was destroyed because of sinat chinam-senseless hatred (Yoma 9b).  Senseless hatred that continues to this very day.

Tomorrow, the Shabbat following Tisha B’av, the day that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, we read from the writings of the prophet Isaiah.  His words begin, “Nachamu, nachamu ami.”  “Comfort, oh comfort my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1).  The prophet is said to have offered these words following the destruction of the first Temple, when the Jewish People were in exile in Babylonia.  Isaiah hoped to console his people with the promise that their exile would soon be over, and God would allow them to return to their land.

I am not so sure.  Until this senseless hatred ceases, we cannot hope to live peacefully in the land-Jew with Jew, Jew with Arab and Christian, Orthodox Jew with Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and secular Jew.

I will not, I cannot be comforted until that day arrives.

Until then, I will continue to do what I can to counter and ultimately end this senseless hatred.  I will do it because I know that Judaism is better than those who desecrate it and desecrate God’s Name.  I will do it because it I believe that there are far more decent, honorable, peace-loving and justice-pursuing Israelis than the few extremists who bring shame on the Jewish people.  I will do it because I believe that anything built on a foundation of senseless hatred will ultimately crumble, but a society that is built on the foundational belief that all are created b’tzelem elohim, that all people deserve to live in freedom and in dignity, safe from violence and hateful acts, will endure.

With prayers for justice and peace,

Rabbi Zari Weiss

[1] The seven immediate relatives are mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, spouse/partner.