The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays

How to Prevent Saudi Arabia from Getting Nuclear Weapons

Skeptics of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran warned that it could prompt a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. As they predicted, Saudi Arabia has been seeking assistance from the U.S. in obtaining civilian nuclear capabilities, while also speaking—in imitation of the Islamic Republic—of a “right” to enrich uranium, something it pledged not to do in a 2008 agreement with Washington. Were Riyadh to begin such enrichment, it could also produce the fuel necessary for nuclear weapons. Emily Landau and Shimon Stein warn of the dangers inherent in Saudi proliferation, and discuss how the U.S. and Israel should respond:

So long as the motivation to go nuclear remains strong, states are likely to find a way to develop [nuclear] capabilities, even if they have to pay a price for doing so. In Iran’s case, the major motivation for going nuclear is to enhance its hegemonic power in the Middle East. . . . But in the case of Saudi Arabia, if strong international powers . . . were to take a harsher stance toward Iran’s regional aggressions and missile developments and were to cooperate in order to improve the provisions of the [2015 nuclear deal], this would most likely have a direct and favorable impact on Saudi Arabia’s calculations about whether to develop nuclear capabilities.

A decision by the U.S. administration (or for that matter any other supplier) to allow Saudi Arabia to have enrichment capabilities will confront Israel with a dilemma.

On the one hand, it has been Israeli policy to do its utmost to deny any neighboring country with whom it does not have a peace treaty the means to acquire and develop a nuclear program. If Israel remains loyal to this approach, it should seek to deny Saudi Arabia enrichment capabilities. In practical terms this would imply making its opposition known in Washington.

On the other hand, given the “tactical alliance” with Saudi Arabia which has been primarily developed in response to the common Iranian threat, Israel could consider sacrificing its long-term interest in denying nuclear capabilities for the sake of its current interest in cultivating relations with the Saudis. Israel, [however], should support the traditional U.S. nonproliferation policies that allow states to have access to nuclear fuel for civilian purposes, while denying them the option to produce it themselves.

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More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Nuclear proliferation, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia