Hard Lessons
Hard Lessons

The tragic murder of bank employees and a customer at Bank HaPoalim in Beersheba in May have sent a shock wave across the nation, but unfortunately it has hardly made a ripple. Now that several weeks have passed this tragedy has been effectively erased from the public memory. Now we have entered the period known in Jewish law as "The Three Weeks", a time of mourning for the loss of the Temple and the rich spiritual and moral life that was lost with it, this is an appropriate time to bring these murders back into the public consciousness.

Our Hope of 2000 Years

In the USA this shooting is probably no longer sufficiently “horrific” to make the top news headlines any more, but this is Israel – the land we hoped for over 2,000 years! The challenge facing Israelis is to understand why we have joined the list of nations hosting such violent criminals. No doubt some might be tempted to dismiss the murderer as a crazy man. After all, does not every society have its share of the criminal insane? True, we cannot know for sure what went through the murderer’s mind as he planned and executed his bloodthirsty revenge for a denied overdraft, but it does not seem to have been the act of someone who was suffering from mental illness. The insanity explanation has its attractions since it frees society of the need for painful introspection, but this convenient answer does not match the evidence.

Jews Never Murder

As anhistorian, I have read and researched extensively on most periods of Jewish history and I am hard put to find any parallels to what happened in Beersheba. Certainly there are records of Jewish murderers, but without exception their crimes were committed in the course of robbery or for political motives.

The last years of the Second Temple were notorious for the numbers of crimes of this nature. Even the Anti-Semitic Roman historian Tacitus wrote (in one of his attacks on the Jews) about how astonished he was that Jews never murder children. For most of the past millennium, Jews have been distinguished from the nations amongst whom they dwelt by an absence of murderers. Even today while hostile gentiles might associate Jews with financial crimes, they do not make this association with murder (with the sole exception of the pro-Palestinian slanders on the IDF, Settlers etc.)

We need to have our own "home-grown" murderers?

Unfortunately, some of the anti-religious proponents of a Jewish state saw the absence of criminals as one of the “abnormalities” of the Jewish people that needed to be solved for us to take our rightful place amongst the nations of the world. This approach is typified in the statement of Israel’s National Poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, “We will be a normal state only when we have the first Jewish prostitute, the first Hebrew thief, and the first Hebrew policeman.”

One might wonder if he would not add to his list “the first Jewish murderer?”  Sadly, the Beersheba murders were far from the first, the couple who murdered the young child in the North, the youths who murdered a taxi driver for "fun" and who knows how many other fiends could find their places in an Israeli Madam Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors. Something has gone terribly wrong with a society that can nurture such people. The fact that one incident of this kind could happen is clearly one too many.

What kind of state do we want to build?

Where lays the root of the mindless violence that has crept into our society? It is convenient to suggest that financial desperation caused by the Israeli government policies was a trigger for the Beersheba murder. Whatever you think of the financial polices of Mr.Netanyahu and Mr.Lapid, it is unfair to blame them for this particular evil act. The true answers are not as superficial.

The victims of the Beersheba massacre are as much victims of a failed social experiment as they are prey of a vicious murderer. The weakening of the spiritual foundations of the Jewish nation is the true culprit. The bonds between the Jewish People and the Jewish faith cement the basic morality of Jewish society. A century of abrasion at the hands of those who wished to remodel the Jewish people in the image of the European nation states, or according to the writings of Marx and Lenin, has cracked this social fabric. Seen in this context the Beersheba massacre indicates far this decay has penetrated into the Israeli body politic.

While the blood of these innocent victims cannot be placed on the heads of the government they do carry a heavy responsibility for future victims. Current plans to force students to leave full-time learning and serve in the army represents yet another attack on our Jewish foundations. Those who devote themselves seriously to pure Jewish studies cannot fail to absorb its central message of respect for others and the sanctity of human life. Teaching these students how to take life on an army shooting range transmits the opposite message. I am not paraphrasing the words of any famous rabbi, but someone whose life was very far from that of a religious person. Back in 1969 former Prime Minister Golda Meir commented "When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons." I wonder what she would say today when a successful IDF graduate turned his gun against fellow Jews!

The argument that security needs demands that every able-bodied man needs to serve in the IDF has a hollow ring. Prestigious military experts call for Israel to move over to a high-paid, professional army yet their words draw no mainstream political support. Sadly, one of the ultra-secular, left-wing Israeli idols realizes the true motive behind the politicians leading the "share the burden campaign. To paraphrase the words of Uri Avneri in the Ha’aretz newspaper, “the demand that the hareidi community sends its young people, the carriers of its traditions, to join the Israeli ‘goyim’, the pride of the Tel-Aviv pubs, is worse than asking them to eat pork! Their rabbis are correct to conclude that military service in such company will cause them to be lost to their communities.”

The home-grown terror in Beersheba should shake Israelis out of their complacency as their leaders prepare to pull the supports from under a Torah world that stands as the last obstacle between the Divine prophetic vision of Israel, and the state envisaged by secular Zionists like Bialik.