Murder victim (illustration)
Murder victim (illustration)Flash 90

Does our society accept women's murders with equanimity?

This past week two women under the age of forty were murdered by their husbands, one in Holon and the other in Bat Yam. One of the murders was carried out in front of the couple's child.

Our Jewish hearts ache as we write these lines. The women's tears, mingled with their blood, surely rose up all the way to the Heavenly Court.

The sound that shakes the Heavens in response, however, does not seem to be solely because of those terrible murders. Acts as evil as murders of this type have always occurred at the fringes of society, including Jewish society during the time of the First and Second Temples and most certainly during the years of Exile. Anyone reading the verses in the book of Jeremiah, pages of the Talmud, Responsa Literature of the medieval sages Rashba and the Rosh, the halakhic world of the great decisors Maimonides and Rabbenu Tam, is familiar with equally serious questions about violent husbands, battered and murdered wives, thieves and murderers, those men who spill the blood of their fellow man. The phenomenon is not a new one, and both the earthly and Heavenly courts are well aware of that.

It is possible that the Heavenly Courts are occupied with a larger question, one characteristic of our generation as opposed to past eras - the silence of the sheep in the face of a predator's evil deeds. It is not the murder itself but our silence in the face of it that makes the heavens.resound.

The Torah commanded us to adhere to the highest level of moral societal norms. When a murder victim is found in a city, that city's elders must go down to a nearby stream, break the neck of a heifer in a symbolic rite and proclaim: "Our hands did not shed this bood."

This commandment is not meant solely to remind the elders of their responsibility for the dreadful situation and of the need for enhanced security, its main thrust is to draw attention to the event itself, to shock the public. The Torah expects society to mark this evil deed by bringing regular activities to a halt and bewailing its very occurrence. The Torah demands our awareness of evil's existence and the renouncing of murder without our having to feel personally guilty or responsible for it.

Even while we struggle for sovereignty in the Land of Israel, protest the vagaries of the legal system, and battle the corona virus, we must find time for the pain and horror of these murders.
Maimonides understood the "Law of the heifer" as part of the murder investigation, but Nahmanides saw it as a special offering to absolve the Jewish people from the sin of this murder.

Nahmanides saw raising the level of public consciousness concerning the murder as a way to achieve absolution. This means that media preoccupation with the murder is in itself absolution, because awareness is the root of tikkun and the source of the public's moral steadfastness.

What about our society today? Does violence against women appear on our public ethics balance sheet? Did any of us add a word or two about the murder of a woman by her husband to the prayer expressing remorse for our people's sins at the end of the morning service? Did our community talk about it? Did we bring it up in discussions with our youngsters?

Does G-d sit on His seat of judgment with the Heavenly judges in a semicircle, observing our society, witnessing how acts of murder pass us by without a murmur?

There are those who say that these events are rare in our midst, that our education is good, that Israeli society is healthy in comparison to other periods in history. That is quite correct. But that is exactly why the "Law of the heifer" is so relevant for us.

For the Mishnaic Sages said that when the number of murders rose, the "heifer rite" was abolished. The Talmud in Sota (47b) also says that the ceremony is only applicable in case of doubt. If there is a witness of any sort, the ceremony is not performed. It is specifically intended for a world of integrity in which murder is uncommon, a world where there is the danger that murder might be accepted with equanimity and society's responsibility avoided.

When murder abounds, media attention and the "heifer rite" are not enough. A more serious form of introspection is necessary. When a society is rife with murder, it does not help to arouse the media and perform ceremonies. In that case, a complete turnabout is needed and sometimes only total destruction of the state will work, as in the days of the First Temple.

We,however, are not living in a period where murderers stalk the streets of Israel. Our society behaves ethically on the whole, behooving us to pay attention to the Torah's call to abjure equanmity, to refrain from relying on the moral code most of us adhere to, and instead to stop everything and cry out for the murdered women, ensure the events do not pass us by without a heartfelt response.

The "Law of the heifer" is meant to be invoked in a properly constituted society where murder is not commonplace, and it is in that reality we must come to a halt and cry out. When the media report that a husband beat his wife to death, G-d expects us to stop and look within ourselves and our society, to proclaim to all that we cannot let this happen. Even while we struggle for sovereignty in the Land of Israel, protest the vagaries of the legal system, and battle the corona virus, we must find time for the pain and horror of these murders.

May G-d's Heavenly Court look down upon us with mercy, heed our cries at the unspeakable double murder of these unfortunate wives at the hands of their husbands.

Honored Heavenly Court, look at us, we are not complacent, it pains us deeply, and our protest is voiced here, publicly.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati studied in Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem and served as a rabbi in Efrat. He is a prolific and much-read writer on Torah issues and heads the "Derech Emunah" (Way of Torah) movement of young Israeli Orthodox rabbis.

Tramslated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Arutz Sheva Op-ed and Judaism editor.