David Lau, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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Israel’s Rabbis Condemn Murder of Arab Teen

‘This is not the way of the Torah,’ says Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau

Yair Rosenberg
July 07, 2014
David Lau, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In the wake of the brutal murder of Arab teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem, allegedly committed by Jewish extremists, Israeli politicians, pundits and even former terror victims have expressed their shock and outrage at the killing. And so have some of the Jewish state’s most prominent rabbis. At a meeting of the Chief Rabbinate Council yesterday, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau condemned the crime, saying bluntly, “This is not the way of the Torah.” Lau’s counterpart, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, planned a personal visit to the Khdeir family, where he said he wished “to fiercely denounce the outrageous murder that was perpetrated against the innocent young man.” The visit was cancelled due to security concerns over his safety, and so Yosef released a public statement calling his fellow clergy to account: “We as religious leaders need to lead forward with a conciliatory message in order to prevent continued pain and bereavement, so that no one else is harmed.”

Other rabbis have answered this call. Rabbi Amnon Bazak of Yeshivat Har Etzion–a school located where three Jewish teenagers were kidnapped and murdered earlier this month–wrote on Facebook that “It is incumbent upon the religious Zionist world to draw a clear red line, especially for the youth, and say: no more! The Torah of Israel and any understanding of the cruel murder of an innocent boy are an utter contradiction that cannot be countenanced in any way.” Noting that some had attempted to justify the killing, Bazak said that “the religious community must remove these individuals once and for all from the legitimate discourse.”

Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau of Beit Morasha and the Israel Democracy Institute also spoke out forcefully against the murder and called on Israelis to grapple with the hate that led to it. At an anti-racism rally, he made reference to how Khdeir was kidnapped while on his way home from prayers: “Now there is a Palestinian teenager who rose every morning to pray but now is no longer,” he said. “We should say his name in our prayers.” Later, in a Facebook post yesterday that has since garnered over 1,500 likes, Lau wrote that “the murder of the teen Muhammad obligates us all to search our souls and fast in penitence.”

Perhaps the most strident statement came from Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, one of the leading settler rabbis in the West Bank, who called for the Jewish killers of Khdeir to be subject to the death penalty. (Israel does not administer capital punishment, except in cases of Nazis and their collaborators.) “There is an obligation to give them the death penalty,” he told Israeli media, “in order to fulfill the [biblical] command of ‘you shall eradicate the evil from your midst.’”

At the same time, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics, which trains communal rabbis across the country, called on synagogue rabbis to emphasize to their congregations that “revenge has absolutely no place in Judaism and that there there is no such thing as murder in the name of God.”

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.