Torah For Today! This week: Pittsburgh

Torah For Today! This week: Pittsburgh

Rabbi Ariel Abel topical issue and delves into Jewish texts to find a religious response

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

Thousands of people gathered for a vigil in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood on Saturday night in honour of the victims
Thousands of people gathered for a vigil in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood on Saturday night in honour of the victims

Last Shabbat morning, Robert Bowers walked into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire on the congregation while it was at prayer. What does the Torah say about such a horrendous act?

The first murder occurred over jealousy between Cain and Abel, resulting in the “mark of Cain” singling out one of them for the rest of his life.

The first fratricide destroyed 25 percent of the then-existing world population. Only one person killed, but it was a massacre of one-quarter of those living and billions of future descendants.

The blood of the innocent is said to “cry out from the ground”, as we learn from the story of priest Zachariah ben Yehoyada, murdered during the reign of Yoash because he reprimanded the king and the princes of Judah. His blood bubbled in the courtyard of the Temple and did not calm and soak into the earth until the enemy general Nevuzaradan slaughtered the entire cadre of serving priesthood and the Sanhedrin.

The injustice in executing innocent lives, even with formal authority, stains both the perpetrator and the society in whose midst this happened.

Fanning flames of racial hatred is a protected phenomenon under the First Amendment. However, under Torah law, no-one has the right to threaten others with their lives.

Quite to the contrary: if someone threatens the life of another, it invites the mitzvah to defend oneself.

In the times of Esther and Mordechai, Haman’s troops were ready to attack Jews everywhere, and so even though they had not yet fired the first shot they had to be neutralised.

It is crucial that freedoms are not used to rob others of their safety or threaten their security.

May the memory of the Pittsburgh 11 be for a blessing. Am Yisrael Chai: The People of Israel lives!

  •   Rabbi Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to HM Armed Forces

Listen to this week’s episode of the Jewish Views Podcast, focusing on Pittsburgh:

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