Wednesday, July 18th | 6 Av 5778

July 14, 2011 6:06 pm

The Butchering of 8-Year-Old Leibby Kletsky

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

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Posters were hung for the missing 8 year old Leibby Kletsky.

There are three reasons Hassidic Jews live together in tight-knit and often insular communities. The first is shared values. The second, a strong support network and security in numbers. And the third is a desire to filter out some of the corrosive elements of outside society from corrupting their children.

All three have been undermined by the brutal murder of Leibby Kletsky by Levi Aron. Where did Mr. Aron stem from? Yes, he dresses like an orthodox Jew. But one can only pray that he is mad. Because Judaism, as a religion, commands the highest sensitivity to all life and even inanimate objects. Moses was not permitted to smite the waters of the Nile or dust of Egypt because both had saved his life. Cruelty to animals is one of Judaism’s most severe sins. How could a man schooled in the Jewish tradition of the infinite value of life butcher a young boy?

As for a strong support network, one assumes that this is the reason Leibby’s parents agreed for him to walk home from camp. Noone can now imagine how their unspeakable pain is being now compounded by extreme and unjustified guilt. Why did the boy walk home? But that’s the whole point. Borough Park is a safe neighborhood. It’s the reason you choose to raise a family in a community surrounded by people who are never total strangers. They share your faith, your values, your way of life. So your kids are never in danger. When one family is in trouble, all come to the rescue, as was evidenced by the outpouring of help to find Leibby in the first place. Therefore, when Leibby got lost he walked over to someone who, though unrecognizable as an individual would have been very familiar to him as a member of his community, in other words bearded and with a yarmulke or a hat. Someone safe.

I have long argued that one of the factors that has led to the national child obesity epidemic is parents’ fears for their children’s safety, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children are no longer permitted to walk to school because parents’ don’t want them to bump into sickos. The net result is that they don’t get the exercise they need. But in the case of a child in a highly orthodox community the thinking would be that the child is safe because unzere, ‘our own people’ are around to help and protect.

But Levi Aron is not unzere. Not only is he not part of the religious Jewish family, he is not part of the human family. He is a beast of the field, a cold-blooded predator, devoid of any spark of God or hint of humanity. He is a man without a soul, a spiritless hominid.

Which leads to the most important question of all. In most cases where a child is abducted or brutally murdered by a predator, the child had already been a mark. A pedophile would have been at a playground or on a street corner studying a child who is then abducted. But in this case, a child became lost and he approached a man for directions who turns out to be a diabolical fiend. One can only hope and indeed assume that there aren’t that many crazed killers stalking Boro Park. So how could it be that the child ends up asking the one psychopath who just happened to be at his dentist to pay his bill? In other words, what was God thinking? We Jews believe in divine providence. Nothing happens by accident. So a child gets lost and the only person who is around for him to ask ends up being a schizoid killer?

Which brings me to my final point. I said the third reason why religious Jews live together is to protect their children from corrosive influences, to filter out elements of the popular culture and the media which are unhealthy for a child’s development. My God, given that’s the case, how do we make sense of a child being killed in a neighborhood set up to protect children?

We will never understand a mind like Levi Aron. Nor should we try. I just read that he is on suicide watch and wish he weren’t. If he killed himself it would be no great loss. He is not human anyway. But I wish I knew what celestial purpose could possibly have been filled by an innocent child innocently bumping into someone who would murder him.

The God who we Jews love and to whom we have been, and will continue to be, so tenaciously attached for thousands of years has a lot of explaining to do.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the Founder of This World: The Values Network the international best-selling author of 25 books, most recently, “Honoring the Child Spirit.” (Vanguard) Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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  • Henry Pryce

    “Cruelty to animals….judaisms most severe sin”…go on youtube u lying moron and punch in KOSHER SLAUGHTERHOUSE……

    • Eliyahu

      Kosher animals are killed quickly and painlessly. They are respected. An animals that is slaughtered and died in pain is not kosher. There are many rules to ensure that kosher animals are treated with dignity and respect.

  • Sally

    Gershon, most Christians already know that Jews don’t agree with their theology. But what Amanda was offering were her comfort, her prayers, her blessings. Can’t that be accepted with thanks rather than offering her a lesson in the logic/illogic of her religion?

  • Sarah

    Amanda, although we may not agree with your theology we thank you for your prayers and concern for Leibby and his family

  • I don’t think it does any good, beyond that of emotional release, to demean the murderer. Moreover, there is no basis for Rabbi Boteach’s assesment of the murderer (e.g. soul-less hominid) besides his own emotionally charged creative imagination. Of course, as a human, as a Jew, he was born with a Godly soul. The same sources that tell us this, also tell us that it can never be destroyed or vacated, only severely degraded, G-d forbid. If the victim was born innocent, then so was his murderer. So the scary question now becomes, how did a sweet, little baby grow up to be a murderer? In all extreme likelihood, he has a severe psychological/neurological disorder. That would mean he doesn’t have the tools normal people have to regulate thoughts and behaviour.
    Now, don’t get me wrong. I think this case highlights the extreme short-sightedness of the New York State legislature when they abolished the death penalty in 2007. And if the authorities and leading legal and ethics experts have a problem with executing the mentally ill, I would be honored to take time out of my day and alleviate the world of their presence myself. I won’t even charge a lot for my services. I’ll just ask if we can ask some matching patients on organ transplant waiting lists if they’d like dibs.
    But ask questions and study we must. What’s up with the parents? One child inter-marries (okay, fine. Even in frum circles, though rare, it happens), a second child commits suicide, and then this cream of the crop. That’s three-for-three. How far back does this go?
    If we are to heal, we must approach this as dispassionate doctors and scientists.

  • Luz

    Dear All,

    I do not think that we should question God as Mr. Boteach encourages to do. I believe as he initially said: “There is a purpose in all of this situation” We should thank God for what we have and understand that we are not vulnerable of this tragedies. It does not matter how close we are as a community, religion or belief there is always an exemption to the rule.

    God shows us that man planning is worthless, that we should trust in him our family, life and soul. Understanding that we can plan for the future on earth , but we should plan for our trip to heaven.

    Dear brothers and sister, I just hope that the Lord bring consolation to this family and we should start forgetting the why’s and thank God for everything (the good and the bad) in our lives.

    God Bless you all!

  • David SUSA

    Obviously, and it’s a truism – God has a malignant side. He is EVERYTHING. That’s what monotheism means. That includes Evil. He is wicked as well as blessed. If you don’t understand that you don’t understand anything. An ALL GOOD God makes for an irreconcilable problem – the existence of Evil. Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam dealt with that by the creation of Satan, the Bad God. A duotheology. If you won’t have that, you have left, the obvious. As for the holocaust, we must compare it with earlier holocausts examined in the Torah and Tanach.

    • Steve

      I agree with your concept of monotheism in large measure, though I am not sure I would put it exactly in these terms, i.e., He is wicked as well as blessed. God told the prophet, He does (or He creates) both good and evil, a difficult concept for my Christian neighbors. It is God (not the devil or a “bad god”) who visits evil on nations and peoples. Nevertheless, I think Abraham’s words – pertaining to Sodom – still apply: “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

      • David SUSA

        Steve, I believe Abraham’s words were intended for us, not God. The idea that God got “jewed down” by the very first jew is amusing but I don’t think Abe was encouraging us to haggle, though, in extremis, all of us do. Anyway, I think the presumption was that God knew who Sodom’s righteous were – and they were neither 50 nor forty (how long did it go on?) nor even ten. I think the implication was that there were none. So if you will forgive the blasphemy I don’t think Abraham was in actuality talking to God and certainly the reverse is not true (God doesn’t “talk back”). Abraham was saying TO US, that for the sake of the (perhaps very few) righteous you cannot kill ALL. This is something the human race has still not learned – just listen your own fantasies upon hearing the news.

        • Steve

          David, I don’t know if you are Jewish. While I am not a religious Jew – I am not an observant Jew – I do believe in God. I also believe God (if you will) spoke to Israel’s ancient prophets, including our patriarchs, in the manner He spoke to His prophets. While I agree with your implication (there were none), but neither do you think Abraham was in actuality talking to God ‘and certainly the reverse is not true’. That is not my view, albeit I haven’t any evidence to present. It is simply my faith.

          There is also this concept of “collective responsibility” inherent in the Hebrew Bible; that is, if we are silent in the face of a great evil, we could get caught up in the fate or the judgment of a community or nation. Which is why silence in the face of evil is not a good option. But for Abraham’s intercession, that might have been his nephew’s fate.

          • David SUSA

            I thought it was obvious I was Jewish, by my humor if not my logic. As far as faith goes, while there is a better case to be made for the nonexistence of God than His existence, I believe. But I believe in the same way I believe in science – that is, the same rules applied 5 thousand years ago as those that apply today. Today if you say God speaks to you(rather than the reverse), you are either a charlatan or in need of psychiatric help; it was the same then. As far as Genesis goes, in Chapter 19, Lot gets spared, but to me it was because he was tested by the two angels (whom God sent to destroy Sodom) rather than he was one of the ten interceded for by Abraham (and only four were spared at any rate). I don’t believe that “collective responsibility” is the Jews’ burden alone – though not only have we been burdened by it for lo these many years, but are still.

  • Yosef Feldman

    We as believing Jews make a blessing when a tragedy occurs blessing G-d as the True Judge. I’m mindboggled why this tragedy is more unbelievable and needing explanation from a theological perspective than the more than a million children butchered in the Holocaust. We’ve coped with it as believers as we really don’t see the whole picture of this mainly, even to ourselves, positive life of this world, as G-d the creator of everything does and the very essence of life and death, pleasure and suffering of every one of us is beyond our scope of understanding and remains a mystery for us until the revelation of the Messianic era when we’ll then have a better understanding as mentioned in Yeshayah (Isaiah). Our only knowledge is what Torah has enlightened us with what we should know, understand and how to react. What we do see is the positive energy of unity and appreciation of life and family that has developed and should continue to develop further as a result of this tragedy…

  • Steve

    The implied question Rabbi Boteach poses in his final sentence may be an essential one – no doubt it is a common one – yet for me, over the years it has proven futile. I think the more important question is the following. What can we glean from this despicable, murderous act? Radio talk show host, Michael Savage (a man with which I often disagre) I think has the answer, at least for me: We double down in our efforts to protect that which God has given into our hands to protect.

  • L.A.Ganshorn

    I cannot accept that the killer was never involved in a criminal act before–that is a bit much for me. People had better talk or become complicitors in this horrible crime. I hurt for all of those who wonder ‘how’, ‘why’.Is it reasonable that this killer who said he ‘panicked’ had no other hidden and serious problems? I hope they all talk and the sooner the better. His wife (divorced) sounded and appeared frightened. Who else has been afraid of this person’s behaviour? Did he always ‘panic’ when someone asked for a little help? He seems to have been an unknown quantity. May the Lord God help those close to this crime.

  • Hinda in SF

    Rabbi Boteach is voicing a question, a cry out to Hashem! That is the same cry we have at other heinous acts done by “humanity” against other innocent and blameless individuals being tortured and killed and persecuted in evil, cruel and completely inhuman ways.

    While we know that there are millions of kedoshim in our history, we definitely can still have the question to our Gd – why? We cannot change the past, but we can change the next moment….We don’t accept! Does it mean we don’t have emuna shelaima? The job of changing this world does NOT just depend on GD. He put the world in the “heart of man.” we have the power to DAVEN with all our heart and soul to CHANGE Gd’s will for the world to REVEALED good!

    Either we believe that we are in a relationship with Hashem in which we can change the world – or we don’t. We can’t go back in the past and bring Leiby and the innocence of our children back. But we can go forward.

    We don’t accept the Golus, we don’t accept and “accept fate” and NOT PROTEST to the only One who can redeem us from Golus. Who can truly destroy the evil completely – obviously not us.

    There is a medrash in which a tzaddik is asked, How is it in the world? When he says OK – the Golus continues….

    When is enough, enough? and we cry out with an emes – rabbonim – leaders – the amcha – Moshiach NOW!

  • Amanda

    This whole situation is beyond horrible, beyond comprehension. As a mother of a little boy, I can’t imagine the pain or torment. I can’t explain why this happened, but I do know it was not God. God loves this little boy more than we do, more than his parents do. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be tortured and killed in our stead. He loves us that much. God did not want this little boy to die. Satan is completely behind the death of this beautiful, innocent child. Satan, and Levi Aron.

    In my mind, I ask why didn’t God help this little boy find his way home so he didn’t run into that savage beast? I just don’t know. But, I pray God’s perfect mercy, blessings, and love to pour out on the family of that precious boy. I wish I could give his mother a hug and try to speak some comfort to her. I truly love this family in Christ, and speak blessings over them in the Name of Jesus.

    I do not believe, as some have said, that this tragedy is God trying to get people’s attention somehow. That is awful and wrong. God is a loving Father. God is not a murderer. I know there is no direct answer for this. All we can do is pray for the family and pray for an answer.

    • Gershon

      I’ve never studied Christianity but if what you just wrote is what your religion believes, it makes no sense.

      I assume you believe God is perfect and I also assume you believe that one of God’s attributes is kindness. I also assume you believe that God is complete in His kindness. Well then He would be have to be kind to his own son too (as your religion believes He has a son. As you know Judaism doesn’t agree with that!) To divide God up in pieces and say He’s cruel to his son to be nice to others implies His kindness is not consistent, and hence God would not be perfect. That’s not the God I believe in.

  • Gershon

    Yes, God has a lot of explaining. The comforting thing in the midst of all this confusion, is our trust that He actually does have a good explanation.

  • Nechama

    I am surprised that as an orthodox Jewish rabbi you would question God. All of us at work – mostly non-Jews were absolutely devastated by this story – each detatil more horrific than the last. That he was a Jew just added an additional dimension of shock. But God allowed 6 million to die terrible deaths – how can you explain that? So much is going on around the world – famine, disease, terrorism, anti-Semitism – we mere mortals can never understand why God would allow these terrible things to happen. All we can do now is try to comfort the family and work harder to protect the children. Maybe that’s the blessing that will come from these terrible story.

    • Lazer


      Two wrongs don’t make it right. And yes,while we bless G-d in tradegies such as this just as we do when we see and feel His blessings, we are still allowed and actually expected to question Him for some of the horrific things that happen in life from Noah’s flood, to the destructions of the two Temples, to the pogroms and Holocaust, to Darfur and the latest Tsunamis, to the butchering of the Fogel family and now to what happened to Leibby.

      We as mortals accept his judgements, but we must ask Him and also look within ourselves and our communities to see how we as a community can better ourselves and earn His blessings.

      We yearn for the final redemption (Geulah) every day, we say it daily in our prayers, but we must all cry out together AD MOSAI? When will God take us and Himself out of this misery and world He created which is going to hell?