Thursday, August 11th | 15 Av 5782

August 28, 2019 5:16 am

Silence on the Left: Isn’t Security a Jewish Value?

avatar by David Suissa /


A general view shows thousands of Jewish worshippers attending the priestly blessing on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City September 26, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad.

JNS.orgAbout 10 hours after the horrible murder of 17-year-old Rina Shnerb in a terror attack last Friday, I was curious to see the reaction of the Jewish community. There was widespread condemnation across mainstream and right-wing groups. Among progressive groups more focused on politics and policy, J Street and Americans for Peace Now unequivocally condemned the attack.

J Street tweeted: “We are heartbroken by this fatal attack near Dolev in the West Bank. Our thoughts are with the victim’s family, two of whom are still in serious condition. This violence must be condemned without equivocation.”

Americans for Peace Now tweeted: “We unequivocally condemn the heinous killing of 17-year-old Israeli Rina Shnerb in a terrorist bombing today in the West Bank, which also seriously injured her 19-year-old brother and father.”

But I saw no such statements from other progressive groups, such as T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), Rabbis for Human Rights, and The New Israel Fund. Two days later, still no reaction. How could that be? Why would they not condemn such a deliberate, depraved act of violence against Jews?

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So, I took a closer look at their websites to get a better sense of the Jewish values that animate their work.

T’ruah acts “on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people … [and calls] upon Jews to assert Jewish values by raising our voices and taking concrete steps to protect and expand human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The RAC aims to “organize communities to create a world overflowing with justice, compassion, and peace,” while adding that their work is “completely nonpartisan.”

Rabbis for Human Rights describes itself as “the rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, giving voice to the Jewish tradition of human rights,” including “the traditional Jewish responsibility for the safety and welfare of the stranger, the different and the weak, the convert, the widow and the orphan.”

The New Israel Fund is “working to build a stronger democracy in Israel, rooted in the values of equality, of inclusion, and of social justice.”

What I found odd with all these groups is that while they mention plenty of Jewish values, I didn’t see one mention of “security.” The closest was Rabbis for Human Rights, which mentions “safety” for “the stranger, the different and the weak, the convert, the widow and the orphan.”

That is certainly noble, but what about “safety” for a 17-year-old Jewish girl whose only crime was to go on a nature walk with her family?

Is it possible that the silence of these groups after the murder of Rina Shnerb was connected in some way to the absence of security in their values statements? After all, progressives have no problem pouncing on Israel at the first sign of a violation of the human rights of Palestinians.

But how about the human right of a Jew to not be murdered by Palestinian terrorists?

Maybe progressives see a value like “security” as too crude, too simplistic, too right-wing. In truth, they should know that security is connected to the highest Jewish value of them all: preserving life.

It is ironic that a progressive Reform writer and activist, Jacob Kraus, had no problem spelling that out. Writing in 2016 on the website on the balancing of “civil liberties and national security,” Kraus led with this Jewish principle on security: “When one pursues another with intent to kill … every Jew is commanded to save the intended victim, even at the cost of the pursuer’s life” (Mishneh Torah, Rotzeah uShmirat Nefesh 1:6). Maimonides’ instruction here echoes the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh (saving a life), an imperative that overrides nearly every commandment.

The four groups I mentioned promote and embody wonderful Jewish values, but why can’t they also promote and embody the primordial Jewish value of security and the sanctity of life? Where was their outrage at the Palestinian terror that took the life of Rina Shnerb?

Yes, Jews are supposed to care for the stranger, but aren’t we also supposed to be responsible for one another?

I want to give these groups the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was just an oversight. In any case, may we all heed the words of Isaiah, featured prominently on T’ruah’s home page: “Cry aloud; do not be silent. Lift up your voice like a shofar.”

The departed soul of Rina Shnerb deserves nothing less.

David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and Jewish Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] This article first appeared in the Jewish Journal.

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