Head of Atheist Organization's Jerusalem Home Vandalized in Apparent Jewish Hate Crime

Star of David, biblical verses spray-painted, knife and threatening letter left at house of Prof. Yaakov Malkin, director of the International Institute for Humanistic Secular Judaism.

Prof. Yaakov Malkin's vandalized home in Jerusalem, Jan. 21, 2016.
Israel Police spokesperson

Vandals spray-painted graffiti at the home of Prof. Yaakov Malkin, director of Tmura, the International Institute for Humanistic Secular Judaism, in Jerusalem's German Colony Thursday morning. 

A Star of David and the phrases "Psalms 139: 21-24" and "Destruction of Amalek" were scrawled on the fence surrounding his home. A knife and an envelope containing a threatening letter were also found at the scene, reading "a Jew whose hands are bloody resides in your street. This Jew received a severe warning."

The letter to Malkin said, among other things, that "this is a warning for you to immediately end all atheist and heretic activity that you take part in or lead. You must absolutely and immediately stop your actions to dismiss and incite the people of Israel from their God."

"Should you continue your actions following this warning, know that you are yourself choosing to forsake your fate and future. Do not cross the line. This isn’t a futile warning, it is completely and absolutely serious, treat it as one. You will not receive another warning," it said.

Emil Salman

The letter was signed, "your brother who brings to you the word of God your creator and king, the father still waiting for your return to him." 

The police opened an investigation into the case.

Malkin, 89, is the chief editor of Free Judaism, a journal for cultural Judaism as a culture, which he founded in 1995. He is also the academic director of Tmura, an international institute for humanistic secular Judaism, which trains community leaders for secular communities and trains holders of graduate degrees to be secular rabbis.

Malkin is professor emeritus in the Faculty of Arts at Tel Aviv University. He is considered one of the local community of atheists' spiritual leaders, a prolific thinker who has written extensively on cultural and humanistic Judaism and ethic, including the book "Judaism Without God? Judaism as Culture and the Bible as Literature."

Prof. Yaakov Malkin's vandalized home in Jerusalem, Jan. 21, 2016.
Israel Police spokesperson

Malkin's daughter, Sivan Malkin Maas, a rabbi and dean at Tmura, recounted that about a year ago a similar event occurred against atheist activists in Tel Aviv in which graffiti was scrawled and a knife was left at the scene.

She said that the family hasn’t received threats in recent years and that it is unaware of people who are harassing them. However, she said that "last Yom Kippur, we published an article on the ways to mark Yom Kippur in a secular manner, and it made a very big impact. We are now engaged in activity relating to a secular Tu Bishvat. You never know what could wake these extremists."

"The word 'fear' isn’t one that I relate to, but there definitely is concern. We will continue to focus on positive Judaism," she added.

In a 2012 interview with Haaretz, Malkin said that “I am a second-generation atheist. My children, Prof. Irad Malkin, and Rabbi Sivan Maas, the dean of Tmura in Jerusalem, are just the same. My grandchildren, too. It’s a family tradition that began in Warsaw, where I was born and attended an atheistic school run by the Bund. When I came to Tel Aviv, at the age of 7, I received similar schooling in the education system of the Histadrut labor federation.

"Throughout my youth I was aware of religion as something foreign that belongs to an unfamiliar minority. My only exposure to religion was through my maternal grandfather, who was a Ger Hasid. My mother fled from religion while she was a university student. Not only was she an atheist, she was hostile to religion,” he said.

In Psalms 139:21-24, the verses read, "Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

The verses in Exodus 16:14-15 are "And when the layer of dew was gone up, behold upon the face of the wilderness a fine, scale-like thing, fine as the hoar-frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another: 'What is it?' – For they knew not what it was. And Moses said unto them: 'It is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat."

Alon Ten-Ami of Tel Aviv University, who has been working for many years about Bible, said that the graffiti's writers were mistaken in citing the chapter from Exodus, and that it should have been chapter 17and not 16. Indeed, the mitzvah of blotting out the memory of Amalek is mentioned in Exodus 17:14, "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.'

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, said in response that "the wave of fanaticism and religious violence will not deter all those working to nurture a pluralistic Judaism. The violent act only proves the urgent need to advance religious freedom and freedom of will in Israel." 

President of the Jewish People Policy Institue Avinoam Bar-Yosef called for a police investigation and the punishment of those involved.

"The legal authorities must instigate a deterring punishment in order to put an end to the evil spirit that supports such actions and simultaneously the Education Ministry must urgently adopt a educational plan that focuses on encouraging acceptance of others, patience and pluralism," said Bar-Yosef. "Attacks and attacks of this kind contradict Judaism and lead to rift with diaspora Jews."