Op-ed: the Orthodox Condemn Murder, Call for National Soul-searching

Jewish tradition tells us that one should experience inner trepidation on the eve of Yom Kippur, that period of soul-searching when one’s fate is in the hands of the Supreme Being.

Since the horrible moment when I learned of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, I have experienced that same anguish.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America’s position is clear and unequivocal: We felt shock and horror at the murder of Rabin. This reprehensible deed violates all principles of Torah and halachah, Jewish law, and constitutes a desecration of the name of the Almighty, “chillul haShem.” There is absolutely no way to justify such an act. It is unequivocally condemned by the Torah.

What is needed now is not finger pointing, but national soul-searching, “cheshbon hanefesh.” We must find the crossroads where we parted ways, where brothers ceased speaking the same language or appreciating common goals and principles.

The Orthodox community, far from monolithic, has always encouraged debate. Every reasoned shade of political opinion is welcome. At the last national convention of the Orthodox Union, our guest speakers, Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin and Ariel Sharon of Likud, represented both sides of Israel’s political spectrum. It is worthwhile to note that despite their diverse views, our 1,200 delegates listened respectfully to both presentations.

We have always supported the search for peace. Political discourse and understanding are the keystones of our existence. We joined Rabin at the White House in 1993 and in the Arava with King Hussein in 1994.

Along that road we grappled with many questions and concerns, raising them in face-to-face discussions with Israeli officials from the prime minister down. Our principle has always been never to attack the Israeli government or its leaders personally. Any dissent on our part has always been respectful, never yielding to extremism.

It was the Orthodox Union that issued repeated calls to lower the tone of the inflammatory rhetoric; to avoid a kulturkampf that would split our people.

In order to make peace with Egypt, the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered the withdrawal from Sinai. It was the Orthodox Union that called for unity.

More recently, we publicly condemned the statements of the Rabbi Hechts (who said Jewish law permitted the killing of the prime minister because he was willing to give away land). In personal discussions with the prime minister, we stressed that the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews are not in any way associated with such extremist and anti-Torah polemics.

This August, we wrote an open letter to Rabin acknowledging him as one who “valiantly defended our state” and “devoted [his] life to [its] security.”

In that letter, published in many American Anglo-Jewish newspapers, as well as in the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz in Israel, we lamented the “fractured nation” and endorsed President Ezer Weizman’s call for a healing process. “We plead with you,” we wrote, “to unite our nation to dialogue with all elements of Israeli society.”

Not one of those papers considered it newsworthy enough to comment on our effort to unite all segments of society.

Our call to CNN informing them of our effort was greeted with: “Call back when you are prepared to throw rocks.” Are only fringe elements of Orthodoxy worthy of coverage?

Indeed we have much to be proud of: * The leaders of Israel have repeatedly called for aliyah. The Orthodox responded well out of proportion of their numbers. * They called on young people to visit Israel. We have responded by sending our children for at least a year of study. * They called for tourism. There are few Orthodox Jews who have not visited, and many visit annually. * The leaders of world Jewry called for a battle against the 70 percent intermarriage rate. Less than 4 percent of Orthodox Day School students intermarry. * The most recent call is for “continuity”. A study of Jewish history will show that we would not exist today without our rabbis and teachers.

Perhaps we did not do all we could have done. Did we pressure the extremist rabbis in our midst? Have we allowed the inflammatory headlines and radical accusations of our Orthodox press to go unchallenged? Just last week I was personally attacked in a full-page “open letter” for refusing to promote civil disobedience in Israeli and for promoting the Jerusalem 3000 celebration.

Have we failed to drive home to our children that the observance of mitzvot requires sensitivity? That no one ever became a Sabbath observer by having stones thrown at his car? That we must rather continue to open our homes to our fellow Jews to showcase the beauty, warmth and spirituality of Shabbat?

Have we failed to insist on moderation and civility in public discourse and condemn the tiny, but vocal, minority who might actually condone murder without the knowledge and consent of their constituency?

There are enough challenges for all to confront. No one group is the sole repository of political wisdom, the vision of peace and security, or the only ones who have a claim to Eretz Yisrael. The cemeteries of Israel are filled with the remains of brave soldiers who knew no dogmas – just the love of the State of Israel and the people of Israel.

For the Jewish people to survive we must resolve to dialogue. Two days before the assassination, sitting with Gideon Meir, assistant to the foreign minister, we discussed methods to create fruitful and effective dialogue.

Responding to this terrible act we have: * Scheduled a memorial to Rabin on the 30th day of his passing, the “shloshim.” * Pledged to work with Acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres in an effort to bridge our “featured” nation. * Extended an offer to dialogue to all elements in the political arena. * Begun work on an educational curriculum stressing our responsibility to fellow human beings, “bayn adam lechavero.”

We reserve the right to continue to speak out in a responsible manner on issues of national an international importance. We will not refrain from responsible comment and redress.

The unity of the Jewish people remains our primary concern, above all else. We are prepared to look seriously at our shortcoming and take on added responsibility. We call on all the segments of the House of Israel to join us.

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