True Morality From a Bereaved Mother

Rachel Fraenkel, whose son was murdered, doesn’t represent the belligerent rightist camp or the settlers who have created their own value system.

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Avi (C) and Rachelle (R) Fraenkel and their son (L), hold a reading close to the body of their son Naftali Frenkel, 16, (unseen) during his funeral service, July 1, 2014.
Rachel Fraenkel, right, at the funeral of her son Naftali. Credit: AFP
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

Rachel Fraenkel did not wait a moment. As soon as she discovered that an Arab youth had been abducted in East Jerusalem, and that his body had been found burned in the Jerusalem Forest, she released a statement. “If a young Arab really was murdered for nationalist reasons, this is a horrifying and shocking act,” she wrote. “There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder. There is no justification and no atonement for murder.”

It’s impossible to articulate a more moral point of view — one provided during the seven-day mourning period for her son Naftali, one of the three teens who were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is incapable of such an outlook. His morality and self-righteousness are for Jews only.

Nor did Fraenkel adhere to custom when she recited the Kaddish prayer for the dead in front of a crowd of thousands. After all, according to Orthodox Judaism, a woman is light-headed, her wisdom limited to cooking. She doesn't even count for the purpose of forming a prayer quorum. So what was she doing reciting the Kaddish? Still, Fraenkel recited it, and the chauvinist Chief Rabbinate panicked — but kept quiet.

Yes, Fraenkel is an exception. She doesn’t represent the belligerent rightist camp or the settlers who have created their own value system. For them the national interest stands above the private interest. For them the sanctity of the Land of Israel comes before the sanctity of life.

Once, 66 years ago during the War of Independence, the entire Jewish community in Israel thought that way. We were all ready to sacrifice our most precious possessions. In those days, too, we wept over our sons who fell, but more than that we were proud of their sacrifice.

Since then the country has split in two. One half is no longer willing to take part in the settlers’ march of folly, which is leading to a third destruction to follow the first two destructions of the Temple. These people are no longer willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of real estate. They’re the same people who seek a normal life of peace alongside their Arab neighbors, who also deserve a state of their own.

But there’s also the second half, which in the old days followed the philosophy of the moderate National Religious Party. That outfit was headed by people like Haim Moshe Shapira, Yosef Burg and Zerah Wahrhaftig — the responsible adults in the governments of Mapai, the forerunner to the Labor Party. They opposed adventurous retaliations and even had reservations about the Six-Day War. For them people were more important than the land. They observed the line from the Psalms: “seek peace, and pursue it.” They were genuine Jews.

But their successors turned things all the way around. The euphoria of occupying the territories got them dizzy and they became messianic Jews. From a moderate and responsible party, the National Religious Party turned into an extremist messianic sect that sees the Book of Joshua as a title deed for the West Bank.

Instead of Shapira, Burg and Wahrhaftig, we got the Gush Emunim settlement movement, Hanan Porat and Moshe Levinger — and now Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Housing Minister Uri Ariel. We got an alien Judaism that sanctifies the land rather than people — a blatantly non-Jewish approach.

For them everything is political. Even when three of their sons are kidnapped and later die, they cash in their deaths to rack up political achievements: more settlements, more budgets, another blow to Hamas, another blow to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, another entry into Gaza. Everything is fire, brimstone and columns of smoke.

They talk about national unity but they mean “our version of unity.” This is unity that will recognize every settlement as an integral part of the Land of Israel. Kfar Etzion is like Ra’anana, Yitzhar is like Rosh Pina. They want unity in which even the State of Tel Aviv finally recognizes the sacred truth: The State of the Land of Israel from the sea to the desert, without wasting words on nonsense such as a peace treaty and a New Middle East.

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