After the Holocaust, the Jewish people have been self-perceived and perceived by others as being voices of moral authority. After all, we were victims, and we do everything we can to defend ourselves in every moral and ethical way ever since and we speak out on behalf of other victims. We did not seem to have among us, except in extremely rare instances, the kinds of people who would commit brutal racist acts of retaliation against innocents.
But words kill. Incitement kills, and three Jewish young adults were inspired by inflammatory rhetoric to abduct, beat and burn alive an Arab teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, in retaliation for the deaths of our three sweet boys, Yaakov, Gilad and Ayal.
That’s the moment we, as a Jewish people lost the moral high ground. But there are those among us, like Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, and the parents of those boys, who know that hate speech is criminal, and begged for an end to vengeance.
In a letter sent to the Abu Khdeir family, and signed by a number of rabbis from all stripes of Contemporary Orthodoxy, Rabbi Lichtenstein wrote that we are ashamed “down to the bottom that our people carried out such a vile and brutal murder. The prohibition of murder is a supreme moral imperative and applies to any person as a person, since each person is created in the image of God….We must avoid harming innocent people, and not, God forbid, be drawn into atrocities that have no moral or religious justification.
“By virtue of our role, we must act to repair the world and the ways of our people so that we can realize the vision of the prophets.”
The letter concluded with a plea to religious leaders and the public: “Join us and take responsibility to educate people about the preservation of innocent life, to calm tensions and create path of dialogue to life in brotherhood and peace.”