Comfort. Comfort and There is No Comfort

In the course of the last few hours two hate crimes have taken place in Israel, our Jewish Homeland. In the first, a man previously convicted of stabbing participants in a Gay Pride event has done it again, with the result of six injuries, some of them grave. In the second case, two men entered a home in a Palestinian village near Nablus, set fire to the inhabitants (one baby lies dead, and three family members are fighting for their lives) and sprayed the Hebrew word nekamah – revenge. It is reasonable to assume that the perpetrators were responding to the decision of the Supreme Court that property occupied by Jewish settlers had to be destroyed because it was built on private Palestinian land. The South African Association of Progressive Rabbis condemns these acts of unjustified violence and hatred.

This is meant to be the Sabbath of nechamah, comfort, which comes after the Ninth of Av in our liturgical calendar. It is meant to offer hope that even after gazing into the pit of destruction, some glimmer of hope may be found. And yet this Sabbath has been turned from a celebration of nechamah, a reflection on the healing powers of recovery, to one in which the dreadful price of nekamah, the dynamics of vengeance, are playing out in front of our eyes.

Destruction and then comfort – that is meant to be the narrative. Instead, we are faced with the chilling prospect of a cycle which leads from destruction to self-destruction; from mourning to arson; from inconsolable loss to uncontrollable hatred.

What are people of conscience to do in the face of unconscionable acts? How are we meant to respond to acts of depravity aimed to deflect us from the arc of redemption towards the spiral of vendetta? We don’t know if anything we do can hold back the momentum of murder. Extremists always trump moderates. But we do know that if there is any meaning to being part of the Jewish people, it is expressed by facing up and taking responsibility.

There is a symbolic aspect to this – we will have to express solidarity with victims in ways we may have shied away from in the past. The current situation may test our sense of who is on “our side”.

Along with expressions of solidarity, we believe we also have to delve into the ideology and identity which gives the stabbers and the burners a sense of legitimacy, a license to kill. Can we express and exemplify a Judaism of love and of life, one rooted in humanity and moderation?

The prospects for Israeli society are bleeding and charred this Shabbat. If we are to turn the perversity of nekamah into the possibility of nechamah, we will need to forge new alliances, find new resources, and refuse to abandon the arc of redemption. Can a Torah of reasonableness overcome an ideology of insanity? We should stake our lives on that proposition.

 Rabbi Adrian Michael Schell
on behalf of the rabbis of the South African Association of Progressive Rabbis

(This statement is based on a response by Rabbi Michael Marmur, PHD,
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem, Israel)