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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.


At the moment, I’m having some trouble trying to organize my thoughts. The events of the past weeks have touched me quite deeply and I’m still processing all that transpired. Though most Israelis knew that the chances of finding Naftali Frankel, Gilad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach alive were slim, there remained a feeling that maybe, just maybe things would end positively. The national (and international) outpouring of concern for the boys created an amazing sense of unity that Israel hasn’t experienced in years. The manner and fashion in which the families conducted themselves was an inspiration to the entire nation as well as a Kiddush Hashem a sanctification of G-d.

The following excerpts from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s eulogy succinctly convey many of the thoughts that are on my mind:

"Over the past 18 days, the images of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were engraved on the hearts of all the people of Israel.

The citizens of Israel have come to know their faces, and although we regrettably did not have the privilege of meeting them as we had hoped and prayed, the magic of their smiles captivated us, as did their gentle spirit and youthful joy. Three gifted, innocent and upstanding boys were struck down by evil murderers who, with unspeakable cruelty and without batting an eye, violated the ancient decree: “Do not lay a hand on the boy.” (Genesis 22:12)

This day has spontaneously become a national day of mourning. The entire nation prayed for the boys’ return. The entire nation witnessed the noble spirit and inner strength of the parents, the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, the grandparents and the rest of the family. The nation immediately recognized the depth of your roots and your strength of spirit. You have taught us an unforgettable lesson – a lesson in faith and determination, unity and sensitivity, Judaism and humanity. The entire nation joined together and was again reminded of who we are, why we are here and, no less importantly, what great strengths we possess. The light you radiate shines even brighter in contrast to the horrific darkness of those who seek our destruction – despicable kidnappers of children, heinous murderers whose brothers rejoice at the spilling of innocent blood.

A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies. They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion. This is the secret of our strength; it is the foundation of our unity."

When it comes to a Jewish message that one can take away from this terrible tragedy, I find the perspective of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to be insightful:

"The single most striking thing about the Torah and Tanakh in general is its almost total silence on life after death. We believe in it profoundly. We believe in olam haba (the world to come), Gan Eden (paradise), and techiyat hametim (the resurrection of the dead). Yet Tanakh speaks about these things only sparingly and by allusion. Why so? Because too intense a focus on heaven is capable of justifying every kind of evil on earth. There was a time when Jews were burned at the stake, so their murderers said, in order to save their immortal souls. Every injustice on earth, every act of violence, even suicide bombings, can be theoretically defended on the grounds that true justice is reserved for life after death.

Against this Judaism protests with every sinew of its soul, every fiber of its faith. Life is sacred. Death defiles. God is the God of life to be found only by consecrating life. Even King David was told by God that he would not be permitted to build the Temple because dam larov shafachta, “you have shed much blood.” Judaism is supremely a religion of life. That is the logic of the Torah’s principle that those who have had even the slightest contact with death need purification before they may enter sacred space. The parah adumah, the rite of the red heifer, delivered this message in the most dramatic possible way. It said, in effect, that everything that lives – even a heifer that never bore the yoke, even red, the color of blood which is the symbol of life – may one day turn to ash, but that ash must be dissolved in the waters of life. God lives in life. God must never be associated with death.

Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were killed by people who believed in death. Too often in the past Jews were victims of people who practiced hate in the name of the God of love, cruelty in the name of the God of compassion, and murder in the name of the God of life. It is shocking to the very depths of humanity that this still continues to this day. Never was there a more pointed contrast than, on the one hand, these young men who dedicated their lives to study and to peace, and on the other the revelation that other young men, even from Europe, have become radicalized into violence in the name of God and are now committing murder in His name. That is the difference between a culture of life and one of death, and this has become the battle of our time, not only in Israel but in Syria, in Iraq, in Nigeria and elsewhere. Whole societies are being torn to shreds by people practicing violence in the name of God.

Against this we must never forget the simple truth that those who begin by practicing violence against their enemies end by committing it against their fellow believers. The verdict of history is that cultures that worship death, die, while those that sanctify life, live on. That is why Judaism survives while the great empires that sought its destruction were themselves destroyed”.