Judaism’s call for peace

The across-the-board denunciation by Jewish religious leaders of the violent attack on a Muslim site is ample evidence that Judaism does indeed carry a strong message of peace.

Peres at Tuba Zangria 311 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Peres at Tuba Zangria 311
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Ideally, religion should and can be a force for peace. But this Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, a day devoted entirely to self-improvement and the striving for tikkun olam – was marred by sectarian violence.
More than 100 graves were vandalized in the Muslim cemetery of al-Kazakhana and at a nearby Christian cemetery in the Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa. Some of the graves were spray-painted with graffiti such as “Death to all Arabs,” while others were smashed. Jaffa residents said the vandalism took place Friday evening as the Yom Kippur holiday was beginning, though police suggested it might have taken place a day or two prior. In the ensuing protests staged by the Muslim and Christian residents of Jaffa, who were joined by dozens of sympathetic Jews, a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the roof of the Rabbi Meir Ba’al Ha’nes synagogue in Jaffa, causing damage but, thankfully, no injuries. On Wednesday, Jewish worshipers were shocked to discover that a holy site in Nablus believed to be the burial site of the biblical Joseph had been desecrated by swastikas and graffiti.
THIS LATEST flurry of violence focusing specifically on holy sites was sparked by last week’s despicable arson attack on a mosque in Tuba Zanghariya.
The desecration in Tuba Zanghariya was compounded by the fact that the Beduin village has a long history of cooperation and peaceful coexistence with Israel. In 1946, men from the al-Heib tribe in Tuba fought side by side with the Palmah to help secure Israeli independence. The village named its sports hall after Yitzhak Rabin. In October 2000, when Arab riots broke out in the Galilee, village leaders decided that Tuba Zanghariya’s residents would not take part. Today, there is a branch of the Acharay [After Me] Movement in the town, where one of the locals, a veteran of the Givati Infantry Brigade, works to increase the Beduin youths’ motivation to serve in combat units.
Religious extremism, often characterized by an unnerving, unshakable and irrational belief in the justness of the cause, coupled with a willingness to take action to do God’s will, distorts the perception of the devout. The recent spate of attacks on religious sites – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – is a case in point. All threaten to upset the delicate web of coexistence in such a potentially volatile region.
Admirably, numerous religious leaders have spoken out strongly against the violence, arguing rightly that it is a gross misrepresentation of the principles of religious faith.
Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger personally visited Tuba Zanghariya to denounce the attack as did neighboring Rosh Pina’s Rabbi Avraham Davidowitz, who is also head of the local pre-military yeshiva. Even Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed, who aroused controversy for calling on Jews not to rent or sell apartments to non-Jews, nevertheless denounced the act, though he questioned whether Jews had carried it out. In an editorial, the haredi daily Yated Ne’eman condemned the arsonists, though unfortunately the editorial board was carried away with religious fervor, arguing that Halacha dictated the arsonists could be killed to prevent them from endangering others.
The local Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements issued statements. And in an initiative organized by the New Israel Fund, more than a thousand rabbis from around the world representing all streams of Judaism signed a declaration denouncing the burning of the mosque in Tuba Zanghariya.
The across-the-board denunciation by Jewish religious leaders from all streams of the violent attack on a Muslim site is ample evidence that Judaism, while sometimes distorted and misrepresented, does indeed carry a strong message of peace.