May 30, 2024
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Condemning the Stabbing in Jerusalem

Before I begin, I would like to warn you all that this is going to be a very heavy article, as I will be grappling with a very dark issue.

My heart nearly stopped when I heard yesterday (as of the date I am writing this) that a terrorist act occurred at a pride parade in Jerusalem. An ultra-Orthodox Jew named Yishai Shlissel stabbed six people, two of whom were severely wounded.

Yes, I called that event a “terrorist attack.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism as “The unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims… (now usually) [sic] such practices used by a clandestine or expatriate organization as a means of furthering its aims.” By this definition, Shlissel—who likely had his own aims and justifications in carrying out his act—was a terrorist. We don’t usually think of terrorists as being from our own people—usually we have bombers and shooters that aren’t Jewish. But now we have a prime example of a modern Jewish terrorist. It’s a terrifying thought.

What would drive Shlissel to do such a malicious act? Obviously I cannot get inside his head and would never want to, but to some extent I can come up with how he would possibly justify what he did. He’s an ultra-Orthodox Jew witnessing a gay pride parade in Jerusalem, the world’s holiest city. The Torah, in the plain sense of the verse, forbids homosexual intercourse. Perhaps this monster saw himself as a servant of God, carrying out His word and giving punishment to people he saw as “sinners.”

Which is completely and utterly wrong.

I know LGBTQ is a fraught and complicated issue in the Jewish community, and I am neither knowledgeable nor qualified enough to speak about it right now. What I can speak about is the fact that regardless of anyone’s beliefs, no one can speak for God. No one can say that he or she knows exactly what God wants or can do something against other people because they know that’s God’s desire. There are no modern prophets; God does not directly speak to any of us. We can try to follow what we believe He wants, and many of us find our own different paths. But taking it to the extreme that this person did, and attacking others because they are “going against God’s word”—if that was Shlissel’s justification—is completely erroneous, because no one can figure out anymore exactly what God wants and thus it is no one’s job to be His messenger in such an extreme way. (It’s like the comments made about Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago, when some people thought that the citizens of New Orleans were being punished for Mardis Gras. How in the world could anyone know that was the reason?!) We can disagree with what others do without needing to impose our beliefs on them, particularly in a day and age when “church and state” are separate. And without an authoritative Beit Din or Sanhedrin nowadays (as there was in Biblical and Mishnaic times), no other human being can punish another; only God can.

One fear that I have is that the Jewish community—especially the Orthodox community—will be hesitant to speak out about the stabbing and to condemn it as strongly as it should. After all, it involves a “pride parade” and many (certainly not all) Orthodox communities try to discuss anything LGBTQ as little as possible. (As I mentioned earlier, I am not qualified to delve further into that.) But I think that our communities need to strongly condemn these events and to yell out that this terrorist does not represent who we are, what we stand for and how we act. Forget that it was a pride parade; forget any personal or communal views on LGBTQ. Six people were attacked and nearly killed by a deranged man. A whole community in Israel has been plunged into fear. That is incredibly upsetting and wrong, and we need to speak out.

I don’t know how many ultra-Orthodox Jews will be reading this, but if any of you are, then my strong recommendations here apply to you as well. You need to show that Shlissel does not stand for all of you. You need to make it clear that regardless of how you feel about pride parades and the like, attacking other people is utterly wrong.

My fear is that if all the world hears from the Jewish communities—of every denomination—is silence or muffled statements, the world will see us the wrong way and think that we in some sense condone what Shlissel did. Let’s prove that to be false.

Oren Oppenheim, 17, is a rising senior (yes, he did survive junior year!) at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist and a journalist. He just finished the BIMA Arts program at Brandeis University, majoring in creative writing and minoring in animation. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.

By Oren Oppenheim

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