November 21, 2014 admin

The ultimate desecration

There is no date on which we refer to ‘the God of life’ and ‘God who delights in life’ more than on Yom Kippur, the very day on which we contemplate our mortality, wear shroud-like white, and neither eat nor drink. Nothing can constitute a more powerful affirmation that we are here in this world to respect, nurture and reverence life, and that all life belongs to God.
The terrible murders in the brutal attack on worshippers saying shacharit, the daily morning prayers, at a synagogue in Har Nof in Jerusalem this Tuesday remind us of this fact: those men were only doing what every Jew, and every person of faith should do each day, – remind him- or her-self that we are servants of the God of life.
As Jonathan Freedland wrote, there is something particularly vile about killing in a synagogue, or in any place of prayer: ‘People of all faiths – and even of none – will find something especially appalling about this act of violence. Any place of worship is meant to be a sanctuary; that much is understood universally.’ Maybe the ‘is’ in the last sentence needs to be replaced by ‘should be’, a responsibility incumbent on all humanity.
Judaism regards any murder as the ultimate desecration, the destruction of God’s image as expressed in the irreplaceable sensitivity and potential of a unique human being, and the flooding of the hearts of those who love that person with pain, fear and grief. This is true whether the victim is Jew, Christian, Muslim, famous or known previously to none but family and friends. 
But close connections bring these murders nearer home. Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg had lived in Golders Green. Rabbi Moshe Twersky was the son of the great scholar Isidore Twersky whose course on Moderation and Extremism in the works of the great rationalists Aristotle, Maimonides and Aquinas, was attended in the final year he offered it by over 200 people. He was known for his capacity for intuitive silence.
These murders also remind me of the murder of my father’s uncle, Professor Alfred Freimann, a scholar in Jewish jurisprudence who was working on key constitutional committees for the State of Israel which was about to be born when he was killed in the infamous attack on the convoy of scholars on their way to the Hebrew University on Har Hatzofim in April 1948.
What makes the murders this week especially frightening is that we know that they come at a time of increasing tension and frustration, growing since the terrible summer, and experienced by both Palestinians and Israelis. In this atmosphere of fear, violence and intimidation, we must pray for wisdom and restraint, especially from all our leaders. As Simon Lichman wrote to me from Jerusalem this morning: ‘we are all in this struggle together, no matter where we have placed ourselves geographically, – a struggle to keep that voice of reason heard, that glimmer of doubt in the minds of those who find it difficult not to be turned to an out and out hatred that blinds them to the humanity in their opponents and/or enemies by the barbarous actions of these times.’ Our prayers are for the welfare of Israel, of all its people, and for peace.
But is there anything we can actually do? ‘I feel helpless’, one young woman wrote to me. ‘I wish there was something I could do’.
I wished I had better answers. Just as we must not be filled with hate towards anyone because of their faith or nationality, so we cannot afford to be foolish and naïve about the power of the angers at loose in our world. We must pray for wisdom, restraint and understanding, especially from all our leaders.
But what can we actually do? The only direction I can think of is to respond to every deed of violence and desecration with an act which enhances life. Whenever someone seeks to destroy another life, we should contribute to the preservation of life. Whenever someone tried to cause injury, we should give towards healing. Whenever a person is wilfully denigrated, we should act to uphold the universal dignity of the human spirit. Ample channels exist throughout the Jewish and the wider world to enable us to express such fundamental values.
This is the deepest teaching of our Judaism and of all faith, for God is present in all life.    

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