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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


Over the course of Sukkot and till this very moment as I write these words, Israel is experiencing a terrible wave of terror. There have been attacks not only in Jerusalem and Judea/Samaria but also in Yafo, Kriyat Gat, Petach Tikva and elsewhere. Tragically, innocent people have been maimed or far worse - murdered. The phenomena of terror is not unique to Israel. It has become a worldwide epidemic. Every continent seems to be suffering from some degree of terror. Here in the U.S. so far, we’ve been lucky that numerous attacks have been quietly foiled. However, since 9/11, the issue of security has never been the same. The very existence of the TSA is a significant example of how terror impacts each and every one of us.

Why is it that the decent nations of the world haven’t managed to successfully put an end to terror? I think that Dr. Yagil Henkin in his eulogy last week for his murdered brother and sister in-law, Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin ob”m, provided an important insight regarding the answer to this question.

Here is a translated excerpt from the eulogy:

Eitam and Naama are "Harugei Malchut," the term used for those who died as part of the unceasing struggle of the Jewish people. If you go to Mt. Herzl, you will discover that the first death from "hostile acts" buried there is Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Tzoref, who was murdered one hundred and sixty four years ago. This means, from the perspective of the State of Israel, that the national struggle of the Jewish people did not begin sixty seven years ago with the establishment of the State of Israel. Nor did the murderous acts against Jews commence with the 1948 Declaration of Independence. Those acts were the consequence of hostility to the notion of the Jews returning to their ancient homeland and living there as a people.

Eitam and Naama became involuntary fighters in this struggle. Eitam and Naama were slain as a result of hostility. They are not merely "terror victims."

Do not call them "terror victims", do not say that Israel has a war on terror.

Israel has no war on terror. There was never a war on terror, and never will be such war. Bernard Lewis, the great Middle-East scholar, once said (regarding the US's "Global War on Terror"), that to declare war on terror is comparable to imagining Churchill, in the dark days of 1940, declaring in his famous speech to parliament something along the lines of: "We are fighting against submarines and warplanes, against tanks, against bayonets, against guns and three inch mortars! We will fight them on the beaches..."

Technically this would have been correct. It would have also been complete nonsense. It was not the planes who fought the battle of Britain, but the pilots - British and German - and the nations - Britain and Germany - who sent them. Britain was fighting Nazi Germany, not planes and not submarines.

There is no such thing as "terror of stones," just like there is no "terror by individuals," no "car terror," nor is Jerusalem "plagued by stone throwing". And similarly, Eitam and Naama were not murdered (in contrast to a headline on a certain media site) - by a passing car firing at them.

These are all methods. Not enemies. Terror is a tool. The one who uses terror is the enemy. Terror is the enemy's tactic, knives and bullets - its weapons at hand. To say "We fight terror" is to say "We do not know who the enemy is; or we are not willing to define them as such." In other words, "We have no strategy."

Do not fight terror, fight those who dictate it. I don't mean, God forbid, to call for acts of vengeance against innocents Arabs. I'm also not implying that we should give up on war ethics and laws of war. My intention is that we should not pretend that there is no hostility, hatred, ideology, or agencies who manage terror. Nor should we pretend that there is no widespread support for terror. We should not forget that there is a religious and national conflict that has laid and continues to lay the foundation for terrorism.

We ourselves say, rightly, "We should not be like them." Then why do we lie to ourselves and say that there are no "them," that there is no enemy but only an abstract and faceless "terror?" If we are fighting "terror," then who are "them?" 

Do not promise that our hands will reach the murderers. Behind those murderers there is a society who supports this kind of warfare. A society which supports targeting civilians, a society which supports murdering a young innocent couple. The murderers are the hangmen. But those who preach that 'here is a Jew and therefore he deserves death' -they will not be imprisoned. And those who today will give candies to children in order to celebrate the murder in cold blood of two more Jews, will pay no price.

Eitam and Naama were not killed by "terror." They are victims of an act of hostility. It was hostility behind the murder. Human beings driven by hatred went out to the road in order to murder Jews, and they succeeded. They took from you, who stand here, a talented and optimistic couple, who were destined to greatness. And they continue to take from everyone the sense of security. They were Arab murderers, backed by a too-large segment of Arab society, with far too little principled opposition to murder. An enemy. An enemy who utilizes Terror.

Do not degrade their memory by turning them into victims of a force of nature. Debate about policy, not about the murdered. Do not find justification and sympathy for murderers. Keep your empathy for the children who were left orphans, to the parents who were left bereft. And for the people of Israel, who still have a long way before being able to sit peacefully beneath their vines and fig trees.

I think that Dr. Henkin makes a very important point. As long as the decent nations of the world are unwilling to confront evil when it is espoused and supported by sovereign countries, but rather pretend that “terror” is a problem in and of itself, humanity will continue to suffer in this struggle. A struggle that has claimed the lives of Eitam and Naama, and far too many others like them.