September 14, 2019

Silence of the Libs: Is Security a Jewish Value?

Courtesy of JNS.org

About 10 hours after the horrible slaying of 17-year-old Rina Shnerb in a terror attack on Aug. 23, 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?

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] call 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.”

Progressives are very loud when they pounce on Israel for any violation of the human rights of Palestinians. But how about the human right of a Jew to not be killed by Palestinian terrorists?

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 cite 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 indeed noble, but what about “safety” for a strong, 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 to the absence of “security for the Jewish people” in their values statements? After all, they are very loud when they pounce on Israel for any violation of the human rights of Palestinians.

Security is connected to the highest Jewish value of them all — saving a life.

But how about the human right of a Jew to not be killed 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 — saving a life.

It is ironic that a Reform writer and activist, Jacob Kraus, had no problem spelling that out. Writing in 2016 on the website ReformJudaism.org on the balance between “civil liberties and national security,” Kraus led his piece with this Jewish principle:

“ ‘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’ (Maimonides Yad, Rotzeach 1:6). Maimonides’ instruction here echoes the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh (saving a life), an imperative that overrides nearly every commandment.”

The Jewish groups I mentioned embrace Jewish values like justice, equality and compassion, but why can’t they also embrace the Jewish value of protecting lives, including Jewish ones? Where was their outrage at the 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, which includes being responsible for our well-being and not just our sinning?

I want to give the groups the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was just an oversight that they will soon correct. In any case, may we all heed the words from Isaiah 58:1, featured 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.