Blame Jewish Terrorism on Nationalism, Not Judaism

We should not conflate the abhorrent murderers of the Dawabsheh family, those who celebrated their deaths at a wedding and the hilltop youth with all Jewish Orthodoxy.

A screenshot from wedding video shows attendees brandishing weapons and a Molotov cocktail.
Courtesy of Channel 2

There’s no way to know at this point whether methods employed by Israel’s Shin Bet security service to interrogate a young man arrested in connection with the notorious Duma arson crossed any legal or ethical lines. The 17-year-old and his lawyer and family claim that he has been tortured, but the Shin Bet vehemently denies that charge, and President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu have vouched for the security service’s professionalism and integrity.

One thing, though, is undeniable: The July 31 crime, in which a home belonging to the West Bank Dawabsheh family was set aflame, killing two young Arab parents and their 18-month-old toddler, was utterly abhorrent; and whatever procedures are legally available to Israeli police and other security personnel for obtaining information from suspected Arab terrorists should be available for the interrogation of suspected Jewish ones no less.

Utterly abhorrent as well was the spectacle of young Jews celebrating a wedding and seeming to incorporate in their revelry  it makes me cringe to even write the word – joy over the Duma murders. The outrage so widely registered in reaction to that horrific sentiment  and over the vandalism and violence perpetrated by those bent on exacting “price tags” from West Bank Arabs is well-earned.

As to Jewish terrorism itself, aside from its inherent evil, aside even from the heinous chillul Hashem, desecration of God’s name, it causes, it defames Klal Yisrael. Once it could be claimed, and backed up with facts, that Jews are different, that while our enemies exhibit blood lust and exult in violence, we do not. Thanks to the “Noar Hageva’ot” or “Hilltop Youth” and the group Lehava, such a claim can no longer be compellingly made. They may as well scrawl their ugly graffiti on the Kotel.

It’s unfortunate, though, that some politicians and pundits  including several writers in Haaretz  seem misguidedly intent on extending blame for Jewish terrorism across Orthodoxy, even to the Haredi community and its Torah educational system.

The absurdity of such a claim is flagrant to anyone truly familiar with the mainstream “Litvish” yeshiva and Hasidic worlds. Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the dean of Haredi leaders today, has declared that “the path of violence and revenge are not our ways and anyone who does such things threatens the lives of the Jewish people”; and Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen has stated boldly that “a person whose hands are stained with the blood of innocents is liable to the law of rodef,” a “pursuer” who can be executed to prevent him from acting again. American Haredim are across-the-board aghast at the actions of Jewish terrorist groups.

Ah, but the pundits have evidence to the contrary, proof of sinister pan-Orthodox sentiment: a song played at some Orthodox weddings, with lyrics borrowed from the account of the Biblical Samson’s prayer to be avenged of the Philistines. As the now-notorious video showed, there are indeed Jews who sing the song with ugly intent. But mainstream religious Zionist Jews and Haredim who dance to it at weddings no more intend the song as a cry for vengeance than a Frenchman heartily singing La Marseillaise pines to “soak our fields” with impure Prussian blood, or an American tearing up over his national anthem exults over how brave martyrs’ “blood has washed out [the] pollution” of the hated British.

The wedding celebrants are just dancing to the latest Jewish imitation of Western music, in order to bring happiness to the bride and groom. Unlike the revelers in the repulsive video, they neither brandish weapons nor harbor hatred. They’re just dancing to a rock beat.

The pundits know — or should — that the activities of Lehava and the Hilltop Youth are utterly alien to those who see Jewish security as lying in Torah study and acts of kindness, not in hallowing “kochi vi’otzem yadi” the “strength and power of my hand,” which the Torah considers the height of arrogance. The conviction that spiritual accomplishments are the path to personal and national redemption is the very sine qua non of the Haredi mindset. Revenge is the Lord’s.

That’s why one doesn’t see Jewish terrorists emerging from the yeshivot of Ponevezh, Mir or Brisk, or from the populaces of Mea She’arim or Bnei Brak.

No, the “theology” that is twisted to yield violence against innocent Arabs, it must be said, no matter how long the beards of the perpetrators or how large their kippot, is not Judaism but nationalism. When, before Israel’s founding, Haredi leaders warned of the dangers of materialistic Jewish nationalism, they were jeered and mocked. But in their minds they saw things that we are seeing with our eyes only now.

Jewish crimes against Arabs need to be prosecuted with the same zeal as Arab crimes against Jews. And Ortho-phobic columnists need to recognize that, as satisfying as it might be to point fingers at songs or dancers or “ultra-Orthodoxy,” none of those things is the problem. Ultra-nationalism is. 

Rabbi Avi Shafran is a columnist for the American edition of Hamodia and blogs at www.rabbiavishafran.com. He also serves as Agudath Israel of America's director of public affairs.