April 9, 2022

Yevamot 23

In previous posts I have spoken about my method of learning and writing my thoughts on the daily daf, and though I always endeavour to share, explain or add further insight to a teaching in the daf – oftentimes by making references to various classical or more modern commentaries – I also, either explicitly or implicitly, either deliberately or unknowingly, share how I am feeling and my current soul-perspective within what I write each day.

But while there are times where I identify a teaching in the daf which I then go on to explore which thereby reveals something about myself, there are days when my feelings are so strong that they come with me when I learn; they are here, right with me, and for my writing to be true to who I am at that moment, they need to be given space in what I have to say.

I say this still shuddering from the terror attack last night in Bnei Brak where 5 men were murdered – which comes within a week of a terror attack in Beer Sheva where 2 men and 2 women people were murdered, and another attack three days ago in Hadera where a man and woman was murdered.

Unlike many previous attacks, the location and types of perpetrators of these attacks suggest that something has changed; there is greater variation in terms of those who have been radicalized to commit such terrible acts, and to be blunt, there is an air of fear in every city because – knowing what we now know about last night’s attack – we realise that if an attack by someone who should not have been able to get past border control and who, somehow, was able to get his hands on an M16 could happen in Bnei Brak, it can happen anywhere. (In fact, I just read a report that 2 people were just caught this morning in Kiryat Gat – a city 5 mins from my house where I, along with my wife and children, I spend time almost daily – suspiciously prowling around a kindergarten with knives on them.)

It was with all these feelings that I opened Massechet Yevamot today, and of course, since Yevamot speaks of how to perpetuate the memory of men who have died, and since 5 men were murdered last night, the parallels are striking. However, rather than dwelling on that point, I would like to discuss a verse in today’s daf (Yevamot 23) which, though cited in reference to the question of intermarriage and Jewish status, can be overlaid with a further interpretation which speaks of something much more heinous.

We are taught in Devarim 7:4 that they, ie. idolaters, ‘will turn your children away from walking after Me, and bring them to serve other gods’. However, a non-literal way to read this is to refer to ISIS, Hamas and other terror organisations who, through their radicalization efforts, can take vulnerable young men and women and turn them to become murderers, and having explained this verse in this way, I would like to share the powerful perspective of Rabbi Sacks from his ‘Not in God’s Name’:

‘No soul was ever saved by hate. No truth was ever proved by violence. No redemption was ever brought by holy war. No religion won the admiration of the world by its capacity to inflict suffering on its enemies. Despite the fact that these things have been endorsed in their time by sincere religious believers, they are a travesty of faith, and until we learn this, religion will remain one of the great threats to the peace of the world. The crimes of religion have one thing in common. They involve making God in our image instead of letting him remake us in his. The highest truth does not cast its mantle over our lowest instincts – the search for power, the urge for conquest, the use of religious language to spread the aura of sanctity over ignoble crimes. These are forms of imperialism, not faith. Terror is the epitome of idolatry. Its language is force, its principle to kill those with whom you disagree. That is the oldest and most primitive form of conflict resolution. It is the way of Cain. If anything is evil, terror is. In suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, the victims are chosen at random, arbitrarily and indiscriminately. Terrorists, writes Michael Walzer, ‘are like killers on a rampage, except that their rampage is not just expressive of rage or madness; the rage is purposeful and programmatic. It aims at a general vulnerability: Kill these people in order to terrify those.’ The victims of terror are not only the dead and injured, but the very values on which a free society is built: trust, security, civil liberty, tolerance, the willingness of countries to open their doors to asylum seekers, the gracious safety of public places. Religiously motivated terror desecrates and defames religion itself. It is sacrilege against God and the life he endowed with his image.’

ISIS, Hamas and other terrorist organisations are brainwashing and radicalizing young people to worship the idolatry of terror. And so, if we want terror to end, we must do what we can to stop the education towards violence and murder in the so-called name of God. 

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