Empathy, Not Vengeance: A Rabbinical View on the Recent Violence in Israel/Palestine


Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar

Cross-posted with The Palestinian Talmud: Blog of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council


Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir

Like so many throughout the world, we grieve the loss of Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar – the three Israeli teens who were found murdered this week near their homes in Hevron. The loss of children through acts of violence strikes at the very core of our souls – we can only hope the outpouring of grief being exhibited throughout the world for these three young men is providing a measure of comfort to their parents and loved ones.

And just as fervently, we grieve for Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, murdered in an apparent “price tag” act of vengeance for the deaths of the three Israeli youths. We also note with sorrow that at least eight Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military during the weeks following the abduction of the three Israeli boys, including 10-year-old Ali al-Awour, 15-year-old Mohammad Dudeen and 22-year-old Mustafa Hosni Aslan. Ali died of wounds from an Israeli missile strike in northern Gaza; Mohammad was killed by a single live bullet in the village of Dura; Mustafa was killed by live bullets in Qalandiya refugee camp during clashes with an Israeli military raid.


Ali al-Awour

We are also not unmindful that, according to the Israeli human rights organization, B’tselem, over 1,384 Palestinian minors have been killed by the Israeli military since 2000. Indeed, as the Jewish Voice for Peace statement issued yesterday affirms, “we refuse to mourn only the deaths of Palestinians, or only the deaths of Israelis. But that does not mean we can ignore the enormous power difference between Israelis and Palestinians, or pretend it is just a ‘cycle of violence’ with no root cause or context. Each of these horrific incidents that harms both peoples happen in the context of an ongoing occupation, itself inherently a system of daily violence. And it is a system that by its very nature puts the lives, dignity, and human rights of all in jeopardy.”


Mohammad Dudeen

Just as we must understand the larger context of violence in which these acts occurred, we must also search our own souls to examine the ways in which we, as Jews, respond to our Jewish losses. We believe that too often, we use our grief as a barrier between our community and the outside world. We withdraw into our pain, holding tight to the conviction that the world ultimately believes “Jewish blood is cheap.”

And all too often, we use our grief as a kind of weapon to lash out at those around us. In this regard, we are deeply dismayed by the incitement of Israeli politicians and religious leaders against Palestinians, particularly Prime Minister Netanyahu’s public call for “vengeance.” It is impossible to separate this kind of incendiary rhetoric from the tragic violence perpetrated against Palestinians over the past few days.


Mustafa Hosni Aslan

We stand with the great sage Rabbi Ben Azzai, who famously taught that the concept of humanity being created in the divine image is the most central value of Torah. If we ultimately view all life as sacred, then empathy – not isolation or vengeance – is the most healing response of all. Let us affirm that our losses are all ultimately connected in deep and profound ways. Let us affirm that the loss of Jewish children is inseparable from the loss of innocent children everywhere who fall victim daily to hatred and violence. Let our grief inspire us to grieve no less for children who fall victim to violence the world over – whether in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Iraq, in the West Bank and Gaza – or in cities throughout our own country.

Let us redouble our resolve to create a world of safety and security for our children and for all who dwell on earth. And let us do what we must to make such a world a reality once and for all.

May the memories of all our fallen children be for a blessing.

Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Alissa Wise

Founders, Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council

7 thoughts on “Empathy, Not Vengeance: A Rabbinical View on the Recent Violence in Israel/Palestine

  1. Diane V. McLoughlin (@McLoughlinPost)

    #CNN News: On May 15, 2014, Palestinian youths were shot dead with live fire by #IDF contrary to preliminary public statements – CNN camera crew captured what really happened. These murders occurred almost a full month before three Israeli youths were kidnapped and murdered in the occupied West Bank. – #Israel #occupation http://edition.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/world/2014/05/22/pkg-watson-4a-west-bank-teens-shot.cnn.html

  2. 2skipper

    We are entering a phase I find disturbing in the middle east. We have a tragedy that has occurred in the Middle east and know another young boy killed. mourning these tragedies should bring people closer to wanting a just solution. all must morn and seek out those responsible for these actions and justice should be served, Instead the emotion of hate misunderstanding and the need for vengance is taking top billing. No people whether Israeli or PALESTINIAN can be served with a mob like violence. Hate will breed more hate until any lasting peace will ever be achieved, Instead of governments instilling this we hear a cal for more violence, for the sake of all involved I truky hope the passion of hate and intolerance will be replaced by a new need to bring hope to these people to live together in undrestanding and rights for all those involved.

  3. Robert Waxman

    Dear Rabbi Brant: You do not know me, but my daughter, Bonnie, traveled with you to Rwanda two years ago. She is a cousin of Kelsey and Katia Waxman. I am on your email list, though I confess, even though our religion does not require it, that I don’t read every posting. Bonnie’s sister, Jamie, is currently participating in the Muss High School in Israel Program. I am sympathetic to many things that you say, especially in this last posting, but I am not “there.” Usually, at this point, the discussion becomes more heated or insulting, but that is one of the things I truly bemoan, both here in this country and in Israel. I think both entities aspire to certain things, and because I love them both, I hold them accountable. I am also a realist, which presents a conflict with my last statement, which has an element of the aspirational. Human beings are messy, so why should we expect our politics to be any different. As wrong as Israel may be in certain instances, its neighbors do tend to be more wrong. That said, I impose the same logic as I do when my daughters do something wrong and then inveigh that their friends are even grater malefactors; I want my daughters and Israel to do right. I do not want a messy, disorganized response to the killings of the three young men. Innocents in the Palestinian community should not suffer, and all attempts should be made to avoid what others, not I, call collateral damage. After all, my collateral damage may be your funeral. There does need to be a swift response and capture of those responsible, and then a fair trial. As a Jew, and one who loves Israel, that is what I expect. Because I love Israel and want it to endure and prosper, I recognize that the status quo is simply untenable. Demographics, like climate change, present harsh facts that cannot be avoided. Beyond that, any society that lives in a siege bubble cannot help but suffer many costs over time, both social and economic. I wish I had a solution, but others wiser than I have tried and failed, usually during the final year of an American president’s term. I do hope, however, since I see a cool, but holding peace with Egypt, once Israel’s most intractable foe. I also draw hope from the cool peace in Northern Ireland, where mothers on both sides finally said “gnig,” or the Irish equivalent thereof. Israel and it’s neighbors don’t have to like each other, though that would be nice. They just have to stop killing each other. I have to conclude now because I want to display my flag for the 4th. You don’t want to get me started on how frustrating this country can be. I accept that we are imperfect, but what I cannot accept are those moments, too many recently, when we seem to step backward instead of moving forward toward something better. Happy 4th and an early Good Shabbos, Bob Waxman


    1. Dan webber

      Unfortunately …there is no way to satisfy the desires of two people’s for one place..Egypt..Jordan was easy..no real land dispute…even Ireland was possible…maybe opportunity was lost at the beginning ..but now is now..I am afraid that this may be impossible to sort out…Israel is to weak internationally to push the Arabs completely out…and the Arabs are to weak to even tie their shoes,let alone push Israel out…so on it goes..the Palestinians fight with their whole population ..children in the streets ..terrorists ..rockets from gaza…Israel with a modern army jets drones and tanks..it’s all madness..the Palestinians can’t win..just lose..ending up with a ruined economy living on charity..and innocents die….one idea..maybe the international friends of the Palestinian people could somehow convince them that this is all madness …tilting against windmills,so to speak…and help them see all this waste…call for a cease fire…calm things down..live the best one can peacefully…maybe then a more liberal Israeli gov can get into power ..then who knows..at least there would be a chance…

  4. John Kleinheksel

    Such wisdom . . . and compassion . . . for all the world’s suffering children. Thank you Alissa and Brian! JRK


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