US Orthodox Response to Har Nof Massacre

The Orthodox community in the US has the ability to demand action when American citizens are murdered.

Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn, RZA


When American-born Orthodox rabbis are massacred by Palestinian Arab terrorists in a Jerusalem synagogue, one would expect at least American Orthodox leaders to respond vigorously. And the Orthodox Union this week did indeed issue a strongly worded statement condemning "incendiary rhetoric" and "demonization.” But contrary to what one might have thought, the statement was directed not at Palestinians but at Jews.

One Jew, in particular. A prominent Orthodox rabbi in Teaneck recently suggested, on his blog, that when multiple terrorists come from a particular Arab village, the Israeli army should evacuate its residents and undertake "the destruction of the village." Although the blog post has since been removed, it is not hard to understand why the OU would feel that it should repudiate the words of a colleague who would write such a thing. 

The law school faculty at Harvard probably felt the same way when their colleague, Prof. Alan Dershowitz, wrote in the Jerusalem Post on March 11, 2002, that if an Arab village is "used as a base for terrorist operations," then the Israeli army should give its residents 24 hours to leave, and then carry out "the destruction of [the] village."

Heinous acts of terrorism can drive otherwise sober-minded people to say things that they would otherwise not say. The Jerusalem synagogue massacre that provoked the New Jersey rabbi, like the wave of suicide bombings in 2002 that provoked Prof. Dershowitz, are emotionally devastating for any caring person, and even more so for American Jews who closely identify with Israel.

It is certainly understandable that an organization such as the Orthodox Union would make it clear that it rejects the principle of collective punishment. The fact that the Teaneck rabbi is the exception, while Palestinian political and religious inciters are the rule, does not change that. Nor does the fact that a similar proposal was once made by an outspoken liberal such as Prof. Dershowitz.

The larger question, however, is why the American Orthodox response to the Jerusalem massacre should be limited to a statement about the Teaneck rabbi, rather than be focused on more substantive political action initiatives.

The victims in the synagogue massacre, after all, have deep roots in the American Orthodox community, longtime relationships with prominent U.S. Orthodox institutions, and close friendships with many leading Orthodox figures in the United States. Not that one needs to know a victim personally in order to act--but the fact of these relationships naturally creates a greater sense of loss and outrage between American Orthodox Jews and these victims.

Rabbi Moshe Twersky was a graduate of the Maimonides School in Boston, one of the best-known day schools in the United States. He was the son of the founder of Harvard's Center for Jewish Studies (Rabbi Isadore Twersky) and grandson of the most revered leader of Modern Orthodoxy in America (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik). 

Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky attended the Akiva Hebrew Day School in Southfield, Michigan, and his family was active in the Young Israel of Oak Park.

Rabbi Kalman Ze'ev Levine studied at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles and at Aish HaTorah in that region.

And all three have siblings or children who are presently teachers or students at Orthodox institutions in the United States.

So what should American Orthodox Jews be doing in response to the killings? So far, most Orthodox responses have focused on the need to pray with more sincerity or to more carefully obey halakhic strictures. We suggest an additional avenue.

They should inundate the White House, the State Department, and their Members of Congress, demanding action:

  *  Punish the Killers:  The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the second largest faction of the PLO, claimed responsibility for the massacre. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is chairman of the PLO. The U.S. should demand that he expel the PFLP.

  *  Pursue the Accomplices:  The State Department offers rewards for information leading to the capture of terrorists who kill Americans abroad. They should offer rewards to help capture the organizers and financiers of the Jerusalem massacre.

  *  Help the Families:  The Israeli government should not have to pay the medical and related expenses for Americans killed or wounded by Palestinian terrorists. Those costs should be deducted from the $500-million the U.S. gives to the Palestinian Authority each year.

So by all means--repudiate the words of a few Jews who, in their grief, say extreme or irresponsible things. But then focus the Orthodox community's attention and energy on practical steps that can make a real difference.

There is a time for prayer, and there is a time for action. The time for action is now.