The horrific murder of 11 Jews in their house of worship on Shabbat reinforced several fundamental truths about Jewish life and this, presently dysfunctional, society.
Jews share a special bond with each other that is almost incomprehensible to outsiders. It is not simply a product of the relatively small number of Jews in the world, for, as G-d, said, we were meant to be “the smallest of all the nations.” It emerges from our history – of shared mission, shared suffering, shared fate, and shared destiny. All Jews feel to our core an attack on any one of us. The massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh, like the massacre of Jews by Arab terrorists in their synagogue in Yerushalayim several years ago, sends shock waves through our system. But even when a Jewish hiker disappears in Thailand, or a Jewish tourist is beaten in Berlin – both have occurred in the recent past – those stories become known to every Jew who follows the Jewish news. Our nation unites in prayer, resources are mustered to confront any danger or respond to any outrage, and we are on edge until the matter is resolved.
It is not only a Jewish mandate but also a truism: we have a long memory, going back to our forefathers, to Egypt and Amalek, to the two Jewish commonwealths, through the long exile that nears its end and climaxed with the Holocaust. We don’t forget. We shall never forget. And now the horrors of Pittsburgh are forever ingrained in the hearts of the Jewish people, long after the news cycle has moved on to the next event.
Secondly, these events underscore the innate bonds of Jews that transcend levels of religious observance. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and one who is a Jew according to Halacha cannot lose that status. Our grief is not diminished an iota because some of the murdered were not Orthodox. The Halacha is clear and unequivocal: a Jew who is murdered because he or she is a Jew is a kadosh, a holy martyr, who enjoys a place in Paradise next to the holiest martyrs in our too-often gory history of persecution. Those who from time to time assert for political reasons that the Torah world considers non-observant or less observant Jews as lesser Jews or not Jews at all have never been telling the truth. The pain we all feel now should forever put paid to that canard.
And now to this society’s inherent dysfunction. It has become almost impossible for events – good or bad – to be analyzed objectively by sober minds. Everything – but everything – is viewed these days by aggressive and fulminating politicians and professional activists through a partisan lens. It didn’t take long for even this massacre to become a ball of wax to be shaped by each one’s agenda. Curiously, everyone seems to be blamed except the perpetrator, who is almost let off the hook because he is deemed just a tool of…well, take your pick.
As I have heard it, and this is just a random sampling of commentary, the murderer’s problem was not diabolical Jew hatred but rather that he was anti-immigration, and so the immigration laws need to be relaxed. His problem was not his neo-Nazi ranting but the lack of effective gun control (as if a mass murderer would honor gun laws when he doesn’t respect the anti-homicide laws.) And of course, today’s staple: his problem is not Jews but President Trump whom he despises because he is too pro-Jewish but yet, paradoxically, mysteriously, also encouraged or enabled this deadly Jew hatred.
It has reached obsessive, irrational levels.
President Trump, judging by some of the more rabid elements of the media, is responsible for the Pittsburgh massacre of Jews, the pipe bombs sent to Democrats, the murder of Jamal Khashogghi, the migrants’ attempt to cross the southern border, Hurricane Florence, last year’s drought in California, terror in Israel because of his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, the absence of peace in the Middle East, the Syrian refugee crisis, and every other domestic and global problem. The only development for which Trump is not at all responsible, apparently, is the booming economy, for which his predecessor now claims exclusive credit.
This is what is called an obsession, an interpretation of events so skewed as to defy rationality. Four years ago, when the Jewish Community Center in Kansas City was attacked and four people were killed, no one sought to blame the then president. Sadly, hatred is a constant in life and exists regardless of the president or party in power. Jews know this all too well. There are Jew haters on the left and the right, Jew haters who vote for Republicans and Jew haters who vote for Democrats, Jew haters who are white and Jew haters who are black. Jew haters do not fit into a neat ideological package – except their lives are consumed by jealousy, failure, and hatred.
It is unseemly to exploit this tragedy for partisan ends, on either side. It is unseemly to exploit this sadistic act to promote the non-Orthodox, which is totally irrelevant to these events. It seems the only group that hasn’t pitched its cause is the pro-Aliya advocates, notwithstanding that argument would have the most substance.
I don’t believe that hatred has mushroomed in recent years but if there is one deleterious trend that needs to be arrested it is the increasing dominance of social media. That has enabled haters to better propagate their hate, to easily find fellow travelers, to plot, scheme, and then, in some sick way, to revel in the commission of their crimes and the notoriety these dastardly deeds engender. These tools – Twitter, Facebook, and the like, whatever few positive elements they might have – are now the vehicles that haters, nuts, the violent, and the disaffected all use to facilitate their evil. To me, at least, that is the big change in society that has made politics, life and social interactions so much more toxic, with often deadly consequences. They allow people without filters to spew venom, lashon hara, libel, lies and hatred without consequence, and the anonymity encourages and emboldens them. These tools are ubiquitous spiritual, moral and physical dangers.
It doesn’t have to be like that. Here’s one encouraging note: at the Congressional candidates forum I moderated last week (between challenger John McCann and incumbent Josh Gottheimer), McCann let slip this gem to the audience: “Whether I win or Josh wins, this district will be well represented.” How refreshing – especially because in the current climate it was so unexpected. I don’t think similar candor is heard anywhere else in the country.
There is no policy difference that justifies mass murder. Differing views on immigration, abortion, the environment or tax policy will obviously not erupt into violence for normal people. Obviously, then, only evil people murder, and to associate their evil with a particular political cause or policy actually diminishes that evil, and in some macabre way can be seen to rationalize it. That must stop.
Jews are no strangers to targeted, hate-filled violence. Such has been our fate since the days of Abraham. But rather than lose ourselves in the poison of the moment and divide along party lines, we should use this crime as a catalyst for good deeds, to remind ourselves and the world of our mission and our mandate, why G-d founded our nation and why He has preserved us until today, and rededicate ourselves to His Torah and His morality and to popularize those ideas to a world that desperately needs them. And needs them now.
May the memories of the murdered be a blessing and inspiration to all Jews and good-hearted, decent people everywhere.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky has written another article:
“The Bonds of Family and Faith”.
As is usual with the writings of Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, every word is 100% true and every word is worthy of being read by Jews and many others.
May G*D grant him all good things, because he speaks knowledge and truth, in a world filled with ignorance and falsehood.
Just one humble suggestion: Rabbi Pruzansky should add one-line spaces between paragraphs, to make this valuable article easier to read.
Last but not least, I plan to quote this valuable article; the
writings of Rabbi Steven Pruzansky are often worthy of being quoted.
Time Magazine vs Truth:
Who are the Palestinians?
How Torah Can Defeat Terrorism:
Did Captain Kirk believe in negotiating with terrorists?
How to Pray for Tzahal-IDF:
Rambam Rejected Childless Messiah:
Was Daniel an Orthodox Jew?
More reasons why all good people should
STOP BUYING The New York Times:
The horror of this senseless attack is just too difficult to comprehend. How could anyone be so filled with hate, in such a beautiful world, created for all men?
There’s no good answer, except that is how it has been since creation – since Cain killed Hevel. Jews are not strangers to this. Anger, jealousy, hatred, ignorance, and lack of morals all contribute to these heinous crimes.
There is a good answer. Hashem has given us back our homeland and it is time for Jews to come home and be a nation that dwells alone. This massacre is Kristallnacht 2018. With such a horrendous wake-up call from Hashem you can’t just carry on with business as usual or get involved in American politics, stand together or whatever it is that you do.
As a community leader and a person of influence it is your responsibility to start organising community aliya, so that every American Jew can make aliya in the framework of a group of people who are committed to supporting each other in Israel and for making contacts with communities in Israel that will give them support too. (I mean social and emotional support, maybe logistical as appropriate).
This attack may be the pinnacle, or rather the debacle, but it is not an aberration, rather the worst in a long line of murders and physical attacks on Jews in America. The antisemities are already crawling out of the woodwork, soon they will be sprawling all over the place, from the extreme left, the extreme right, muslims, blacks, did i forget anyone.
Such has been our fate since the days of Abraham,
Only if it was forced upon us, but at least when we could we went down fighting. Avraham Avinu waged war against the kings, Shimon and Levy killed the whole of Shechem, Yehoshua, etc, etc.
we should use this crime as a catalyst for good deeds
Of course we should also do tshuva and good deeds, all of us, but this is not enough. Should that have been the response to Kristallnacht? This crime should be a catalyst for coming home to Eretz Yisrael and in the meantime getting every Jew (man and woman) trained to defend themselves.
I know that I am just an anonymous keyboard warrior. I can only hope and pray that the rabbi will take my words to heart.
In case it is not obvious from what I wrote, I wanted to add that my heart is breaking for all of these murdered Jews and their loved ones, and the foreboding I feel for American Jews is making me feel ill.
The American exile is the worst of all, because it is the galut of the mind. Most American Jews, including the religious don’t even understand that they are in exile, and a huge minority don’t even know that they are Jewish.
Pittsburgh Massacre – Jewish wake-up call, Rav Richter
Rabbi Pruzansky, please take what I am writing seriously and spread this message amongst all American Jews.
Berlin was not Jerusalem, neither is Pittsburgh, New York or Los Angeles.
The exile is over.
Baruch Dayan Haemet
Unfortunately, Josh Gottheimer is an outlier in what is an otherwise far-left Democratic Party. He’s one of the few Democrats that can be trusted on Israel, but that list isn’t very long.
If Israel is your #1 issue (as it is for me and many other Orthodox Jews), then there isn’t a choice next Tuesday: for Senate, Congressman, etc. it is imperative to vote Republican and ensure that Nancy Pelosi doesn’t become the Speaker of the House.
It really is terrible when people blame acts of hate-filled racism on Trump. Like here: https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/282092-nikki-haley-on-trump-i-know-what-that-rhetoric-can-do
(Though to your point about the JCC shooting – why would anyone have thought to blame Obama for that one? Wasn’t the perp a neo-nazi? Or was he motivated by his support of ACA?)
Who says she was right? Remember she did not support him in the 2016 election. I could explain how Obama could be blamed for the JCC or South Carolina shootings – but why? I reject the whole notion that mass killings are the responsibility of anyone but the mass killer.
Even after the Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre, Jews are still not granted Victim Status according to the rules of Political Correctness.
Jews will NEVER be granted Victim Status according to the rules of Political Correctness, regardless of how much they suffer.
According to the rules of Political Correctness, black lives matter, but Jewish lives never matter, and they never will matter – forever.