Human RightsIsrael

Thou shalt not murder

itamar fogel family

If the terrorists who murdered the Fogel family of Itamar were hoping to shock the Israeli public, they certainly did.

If they were hoping to win the contest for who is more brutal, they won.  We concede.  As brutal as the Occupation is, it’s not as brutal as murdering babies in bed.

What the terrorist(s) did is unspeakably vile.  It violates not only “Western” mores against slaughtering civilians, it also violates the Koran which specifically forbids killing women and children.  It is hard for me to imagine such a level of depravity.

“But wait,” those who justify the actions of the terrorist(s) might say.  When Israel drops a bomb on a house to take out a military target and kills a baby sleeping in his crib, isn’t the baby just as dead?  What’s the difference?

The difference is intent.  The Torah commands “thou shalt not murder.”  It does not say “thou shalt not kill.”  Intent DOES make a difference in the eyes of both God and man.  The penalty for an unintentional sin is different than the penalty for an intentional sin.  The penalty for premeditated murder in the first degree is different than the penalty for manslaughter.

Why?  What difference does it make?  Isn’t a dead baby a dead baby?

I don’t mean to offend any of my atheist friends, so please pardon the expression, but I would say “only a godless atheist could say it makes no difference.”  Every religion I am familiar with has as one of its goals the perfection of man.  The improvement of our character traits. Religion tries to bring the Divine to earth, to bring Man up to Heaven, to connect us with the transcendent.  

War is horrible.  Innocent people, including babies, do get killed.  Yet one would have to be a caveman not to understand that there is a difference when a baby gets killed because he is in the same house with someone who is plotting murder and there is no way to stop him other than dropping a bomb on his head, and sneaking into someone’s house and slitting the throat of a four-month-old baby.

Dennis Prager says this barbaric act happened because the Muslims have done the same thing the Nazis did: completely dehumanize the “Jew.”  You can read his piece here.  So when the terrorist killed the baby, he didn’t even see the baby as a human baby, it was a “Jew,” removed from the context of “human.”  I more often than not disagree with Prager, but I have to allow as to how in this situation, he may be right.  Through all of the sectarian struggles in Iraq with Sunnis and Shiites blowing each other to hell with suicide bombs, I don’t recall reading about a single case where something as depraved as slitting the throats of babies was done.  The beheading thing is pretty gross, but it seems to have mostly been done to adults.

The aftermath of the murders has also been difficult to endure.  All the different sides seeking to exploit the murders for their own political and other causes.  My right-wing friends posting on Facebook “where’s the Muslim condemnation?”  My Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, responding by building 500 more houses in settlements, only to be upstaged by Eli Yishai who says we should build 1,000 houses in the Occupied Territories for each of the murdered family members.  I just received an email from Zaka, a worthy organization that works to see the bodies of those murdered in such attacks treated with respect that sought donations in the coarsest possible fashion.  Hard to believe, but they sent an email with a picture of a volunteer carrying out the body of one of the victims in a body bag in a solicitation for funds.  Is it just me, or are they totally missing the point of “kavod hamet,” respect for the dead? 

I find it interesting that I have read comments from those on the right claiming that those on the left justify the attacks and blame it on the Occupation; yet I have not actually seen any leftist organizations doing such a thing.  Some do condemn the Occupation at the same time that they condemn the murders, which is probably not a good thing since it detracts from the condemnation of the murders.  But it’s not the same as making excuses.

For those who are wondering where is the Muslim condemnation of the brutal murders, there has been plenty of it, but it doesn’t make such exciting news.  The Palestinian Prime Minister condemned it in strong terms.  The editor of The American Muslim wrote:

The recent murder of the Fogel family who were West Bank settlers, was a criminal act of the worst order. Whoever carried out this brutal murder needs to be found, tried, and if found guilty, executed.

There is no justification for such an act of brutality.

The American Muslim includes links to other voices of Palestinian condemnation; you can read it here.

I think of Queen Elizabeth’s calling the 40th year of her reign, 1992 “annus horribilus,” the horrible year.  This past week has been a horrible week. The brutal murder of the Fogel family, the tsunami in Japan with thousands killed and thousands more still missing, and nuclear reactors on the verge of meltdown.  One an act of man, one an act of God.  And on a personal level our house got burglarized, while we still feel “stung” by our car being stolen two months ago.  Anyone know how to say “horrible week” in Latin?

Let us please not make the coming week any worse by trying to exploit the deaths of the Fogel family for political or fund raising causes.  Let us mourn their deaths, and let us mourn for mankind that such barbarism still exists in the 21st century.  Let us mourn the deaths of those in Japan, and let us help them rebuild.

Rebbe Nachman taught that it is a great mitzvah (commandment) to serve God with great joy, always.  The Mishnah teaches “mishnichnas Adar marbim b’simchah,” when the month of Adar enters, joy increases.  This is one of those times when it is very difficult to serve God with joy.  The Jewish “springtime drinking holiday” of Purim is this weekend.  We are supposed to drink so much that we can’t tell the difference between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordechai.”  I’m wondering whether that’s such a good idea.  I also wonder whether it’s possible: I hope that good people the world over will recognize the difference between good and evil, no matter how much they have had to drink.

With all that depressing stuff going on, I promise to do my best not to be a wet blanket, and to be appreciative of my kids’ Purim costumes (one is Cupid, one is Barbie, and one is trying to frighten me by dressing as a pregnant bride).  

May the rest of the month of Adar bring better news…

Reb Barry

PS: at right you can see a picture I took of Itamar, where the Fogels lived and were

Itamar 1

 murdered.  It’s a view from the olive orchard between Itamar and the Palestinian village of Awarta; I’ve been there a few times with Rabbis for Human Rights, trying to keep the peace between the two communities.  It’s a lovely place; I pray for the residents on both sides of the valley, may their children not have to live with fear.

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

2 thoughts on “Thou shalt not murder

  • brina Peritz

    My nephew and wife and three children live in Itamar. They are shocked. Also at this time they are remembering his fathe ,My brother,at an unveiling.Many losses, even your own. I gather it is katherine who will be dressed as a pregnant women!! Good luck for the rest of ADAR2,and for the rest of the world.

  • Barry Leff

    Thanks to my scholar friends, I now know that the Romans did not have the concept of a “week,” hence there is no direct expression in Latin for horrible week. I’ve received a few suggestions, the one I like best is “septimana horribila,” septimana being ‘seven days.’ What will be better still, however, is the need to learn how to say ‘wonderful week’ in Latin! 🙂


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