All across Israel, rabbis are being asked to make whatever sense can be made of the ongoing wave of Palestinian terror attacks. The violence shows no sign of letting up; Palestinians armed with knives and a gun killed at least three people and wounded many others in a series of attacks in Jerusalem and central Israel on Tuesday, which was declared a “day of rage” by Palestinian groups.
“It’s been a very sad day,” said Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the founding chief rabbi of Efrat, last Friday after paying shiva calls at four homes of terror victims.
“But I see these as the best of times and the worst of times. The best because for the first time in 2,000 years we can carve out our own destiny and future in our land, as we witness an ingathering of our exiles from all over the world. The worst because the Palestinians have started a mountain of lies that we are encroaching on the Al-Aqsa mosque. They’re starting a budding intifada in malevolent and treacherous ways, which Abbas fomented in his speech before the UN.”
Rabbi Berel Wein, historian, author, and rabbi of the Bet Knesset Hanassi congregation in Jerusalem, laid the blame for the current attacks in great part at the feet of the media.
“The violence against Jews has been going on for 100 years here, so the uptick is because of the news coverage – the terrorists win by publicity,” he said. “Television made ISIS.”
What does he recommend as a response to terror?
“You can’t live a hermetically sealed life, but you also have to try for the best security, at least until they finally make up their minds that Jews have a right to be here,” he said.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Kotel and the Holy Sites of Israel, argued that Israelis can’t run away in fear.
“Of course we hope that the attacks stop, and, at the very least, the security steps the government is taking will help avoid new problems,” he said.
Even with the increased violence, the Kotel and other significant Old City sites saw hundreds of thousands of visitors over the recent Sukkot holiday.
“It’s ironic and sad that, on Sukkot, when we pray for the safety and peace of all the nations, we are the victims of violence ourselves,” said Rabbi Rabinowitz, adding, “It’s important to be at the Kotel now, to pray for an end to the terror and show we aren’t intimidated.”
Rabbi Zev Shandalov, a popular teacher in Ma’ale Adumim and a former congregational rabbi in Chicago, agreed.
“Some rabbis say, ‘Stay the heck out of the Old City,’ but we can’t forsake it because God is not forsaking Jerusalem and He doesn’t want us to either. I tell people, ‘Look, practically, we don’t know any single location the terrorists are coming from so stopping them is next to impossible. So we need to daven that God gives the police and border patrol the skills and tools necessary to protect all of us, even as we ultimately realize it’s God protecting us.”
The synagogue itself is where that realization often takes root.
Congregants “are asking good questions but of course there are few good answers,” said Rabbi Yonatan Rosensweig of the Netzach Menashe synagogue in Beit Shemesh.
“The job of spiritual leader is not the political or security end of things – we leave that to our elected government – but it’s more common right now, when far too many bad things are happening to far too many good people, to hear, ‘What does all this mean theologically?’ ”