Deuteronomy (21:1) describes a ceremony that is performed in the event of
murder. If a murdered person is found lying in the field, and the killer is
unknown, the elders of the nearest town are commanded to come to the scene of
the crime and to declare “our hands did not spill this innocent
blood.” The public ceremony includes the decapitation of a
According to later rabbinic commentators, the rationale behind the
ceremony – including the gory killing of a calf – is aimed at sparking public
introspection and discourse over ultimate culpability. The elders’ declaration –
that their hands did not participate in the murder – is not to be taken
literally. They are not suspected of actually committing murder.
the leaders, together with all other members of the community, are asked to
reexamine their own behavior and determine whether in some way, whether directly
or indirectly, they contributed through words or deeds to an atmosphere that,in
some way made possible the unthinkable – the vicious murder of a human
After a weekend of tragic violence on our streets, our society is
in desperate need of a similar sort of soul-searching session.
We have an
obligation to ask ourselves how it is possible that a 36-year-old father of two
could be stabbed to death as his wife looked on in horror. His only “crime” was
to ask a group of teens to quiet down.
We must ask ourselves how it can
be that the young men who stabbed a 17-year-old man in a Rehovot park on
Saturday night could so coldly reject his very humanity. This weekend’s string
of homicides included incidents in Rishon Lezion, the Beduin town of Aruar and
Have we in some small way, through our words or deeds, helped
to create a society that is overly callous, violent and egotistical? Have we
contributed enough of our time, energy and abilities to helping confront the
kinds of phenomena that breed violence? As citizens in our towns do we
participate in neighborhood patrols and support the local police and
municipalities? As parents do we make sure we know what our teenage children are
doing when they are away from the house and do we enforce curfews?
schools foster mutual respect and the use of peaceful means to resolve
conflicts? Though it would be anachronistic to return to the biblical
“decapitated calf” ceremony, we should nevertheless borrow its central theme:
introspection that leads to positive action and societal change.
not the first time we have been collectively shocked by expressions of crude
brutality in our society. Special committees have been set up such as the
inter-ministerial committee against violence created in 2005 and headed by former
Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Shlomo Aharonishky. In 1988, our government founded the
Israel Anti-Drug Authority to fight drug and alcohol abuse, in part due to the
violent crime such abuse generates. Dozens of studies have been conducted
to determine the most effective ways of combating violence.
the field know what needs to be done. Energy and resources need to be channeled
into four areas: Prevention, education, enforcement and community
But so far this know-how has not been sufficiently applied.
That’s because there has not been a collective, concerted effort on all levels –
from our educational institutions and crime enforcers, to our community leaders
and municipalities – to fight violence.
In the Babylonian Talmud (Sotah
47), the rabbis taught that due to a sharp rise in the frequency of murders, the
“decapitated calf” ceremony was discontinued. Apparently, it had lost its
ability to shock people into introspection and soul-searching. People had grown
insensitive to the phenomenon of murder and could not be aroused to fight it.
Therefore, it no longer made sense to go through the motions of performing a
meaningless ceremony. Indeed, by inviting cynicism carrying on would have
probably done more harm than good.
Thankfully, we are all still appalled
by the horrific incidents that took place this weekend. We must learn to channel
this shock into a constructive, sustained, multi-pronged campaign to fight
violence – before indifference sets in.