I imagine that most blogs and commentary articles in the Jewish world this week will concentrate on the tragic and difficult events that occurred in Israel with the firebomb murder of a Palestinian infant and the slashing attack by a religious fanatic upon participants at a parade in Jerusalem.
It certainly makes sense that these events should be written about and commented upon for they expose the dark fringes that exist in human society and point out to us again that though we may be the chosen people, in essence we in our society are no different than others.
The combination of political or ideological extremism, with religious or national fanaticism is a witches’ brew from which no good can ever come. There will be a great deal of ‘I told you so’ commentary regarding these events and there will also be the pious and partisan political comments from the leaders of our various factions. There is no need for me to echo their sentiments or to explain the underlying ills of our society, all of which are well known to us, though we are loath to admit their existence.
The truth of the matter is that the world is a violent place and societies harbor people who commit actions of violence. When combined with religious belief and/or ideological purity, acts of violence become holy and completely justified in the eyes of the perpetrators - and even considered necessary.
Violent behavior, somehow, has been the accepted norm in our society, Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and secular, for much of the past half-century. It has been condoned, if not even encouraged, by religious and political leaders who should know better. And in such an accepting society, violent people and violent acts flourish.
In this context, it must be stated that the value of human life has been denigrated over the past century. World War II consumed tens of millions of lives, most of which were those of innocent civilians. The purpose of winning the war at all costs overwhelmed the moral consideration of sparing human lives in the process.
Mass industrial murder such as the Holocaust and the Gulag became almost normal human behavior instead of being exceptional aberrations. The state of Israel has been forced to fight numerous wars in order to survive. Almost 60% to 70% percent of the Israeli population has served in the Army, knows and is equipped to fire weapons and is accustomed to violence, justified as that may be.
In the religious Jewish world, all of us know that over the past decades acts of violence against other Jews by small fringe groups of zealots occur on a regular basis. No one speaks about it and in reality no one takes any action against it either. But the spirit of violence is alive and well even among those who profess their loyalty to the Torah and to its values of harmony, tolerance and goodness from one to another.
Violence is somehow an accepted form of behavior against those who disagree and denigrate Jewish tradition and practice. The silence of the religious Jewish world over the past decades to this atmosphere of violence and antisocial behavior has been deafening and depressing. The events of last week only pour more fuel on this destructive fire that rages within our camp.
There is nothing new or original in the words that are being written here. As long as we are somehow satisfied with allowing violence to be an integral part of our religious community, these types of events will continue to occur. Simply because a Jew is observant of certain commandments of the Torah or wears visibly Jewish garb, it appears that that person’s antisocial and anti-Torah behavior is to be ignored.
This is a sure recipe for future tragedies that will undoubtedly occur. Though governmental action will undoubtedly follow it will probably be ineffective in the long run. Societal changes are needed and have to come from inside and not from the outside. Our spiritual and rabbinic leaders, our educators and schools, need to address this issue in a strong, continuous manner.
Of what value is all of our knowledge and seeming accomplishments if our society harbors within it murderers, violent people, sexual predators, thieves and charlatans? We are taught in Psalms and throughout the words of the great prophets of Israel as well, that peace and social harmony require constant attention and pursuit. Being passive in the face of our weaknesses certainly will not help to correct them. Again, nothing that I write here is new or original. But I do feel that it is important and vital.