Yes, They Were Martyrs


Rarely do I feel a need to respond to a letter that is commenting about a given article or column. Yet, my blood boiled on a single sentence by Eva Zimmerman (Letters, Dec. 28), in her letter criticizing Rabbi Joshua Hammerman’s column, “Should Jews Turn the Other Cheek?”

My issue is with her statement: “He refers to the 11 people who were murdered as ‘Jewish martyrs who changed America.’ No, rabbi, they are not martyrs. They were simply Jews who like many of us were attending Shabbat services in their synagogue.”

Our mesorah, or tradition, makes clear that Jews who are killed “in the line of duty” are martyrs. The Av Harachamim, composed in response to the Crusades and recited weekly on Shabbat across many shuls, underscores this point: “The pious the righteous and the innocent; the holy communities who gave their lives to sanctify God’s name.”

For the victims of the Shoah, the Yizkor describes them as having died “Al Kiddush HaShem,” for sanctification of God’s name.

And likewise, the Yizkor for Israel’s bravest who died in battle, the liturgy describes them as Tehorim v’Giborim, the pure and the brave.

Were all the victims of the crusades, Holocaust and Israel’s wars firmly shomrei miztvot (religiously observant)? Of course not. However, they lived as Jews and, tragically, they died as Jews.

The Pittsburgh Eleven were not killed at a mall or movie theater. They were killed in a synagogue, sanctifying the Shabbat and praying to God. If that is not martyrdom and dying “al kiddush Hashem,” then I don’t know what is.

Passaic, N.J.