Vengeance is the Lord's
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Am Echad Resources
March 22, 2002
The New York Times blew it again. Last October, the Times ran a gory
front-page photo of a young man with blood pouring down his face and a
bellowing Israeli policeman waving a billyclub immediately behind him. The
caption informed Times readers that the young man was a Palestinian who had
been beaten by the policeman on the Temple Mount.
Actually, the young man in question was Tuvia Grossman, a yeshiva student
from Chicago. He and two friends had been on the way to the Western Wall on
Erev Shabbos when their cab was stopped by a throng of Palestinian
teenagers. The three young me were dragged from the cab, and Grossman was
repeatedly smashed on the head with a large rock. Somehow he managed to
break free for a moment and reach the Israeli policeman pictured.
Recently, after a 16 kilogram, remote-controlled car bomb went off near
Jerusalem's historic Mirrer Yeshiva, with no one killed. Immediately after
the blast, the street filled with yeshiva students. The page three photo in
the Times was captioned: "Orthodox Jews chant anti-Arab slogans."
In fact, the yeshiva students filled the streets immediately after the blast
to sing and dance in celebration of the miracle that had taken place - the
usually-crowded vegetable store adjacent to the booby-trapped car was closed
at the time for afternoon prayers, a truck laden with highly flammable gas
cannisters had passed by just seconds before the blast. Ha'Aretz reported
that it was Kach supporters who chanted "Death to the Arabs," and that they
were confronted by the yeshiva students, who attempted to silence them.
The Times does not bear exclusive responsibility for the botched captions:
the photo of Tuvia Grossman came from the AP and that of the yeshiva
students singing and dancing with the twisted metal remnants of the
destroyed car came from Reuters. Yet even the most cursory glance at the
photos should have alerted the Times that the captions were seriously
The alleged photo of the Temple Mount showed a gas station clearly in the
background. Even the Barak government, which has turned a blind eye to
massive destruction of archaeological artifacts on the Temple Mount by the
Moslem Waqf, did not permit a gas station to be built there. And the photo
of the yeshiva students showed jubilant faces, not ones contorted in hatred
that one expects from a mob bent of revenge.
In both cases, the Times was misled by stereotypes that it has helped to
perpetuate. The first such stereotype is that of Israelis wantonly
brutalizing Arabs. The AP caption raised no eyebrows because it so neatly
dovetailed with the stereotype. Similarly the alleged photo of Orthodox
Jews chanting "Death to the Arabs" fit the Times' stereotype of fervently
Orthodox Jews as primitive fanatics.
Yet even a passing familiarity with classic Torah values, as well as the
traditional behavior of religious Jews would have known that the idea of
taking revenge against innocents to even the score is anathema from a Torah
viewpoint. Whenever the canonical Jewish writings speak of nekama, revenge,
positively, it is Divine vengeance, not that of men. That vengeance
redresses a situation that calls into question Divine justice in the world,
and it is uniquely the province of G-d.
In the Av Harachamin prayer, read after the Torah reading on Shabbos
morning, which commemorates our many martyrs over the ages, we beseech G-d
to "avenge the blood of his servants that has been shed." Rabbi Shimshon
Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the Siddur, emphasized the significance
that of G-d's promise that the blood of His people would not be forgotten:
"This promise sustained them and kept them free of bitter and burning lust
for vengeance against their oppressors and murderers, and it made them
strong enough to suppress every impulse of vengefulness. They left vengeance
to G-d and never lifted up their hands to avenge themselves or their own."
Sometimes violent responses are necessary for the purposes of deterrence.
Were Israel, for instance, not to respond to katyusha attacks by Hizbullah,
it would only encourage more such deadly attacks. The responses are
calibrated to encourage those with the power to restrain Hizbullah to do
But random violence against innocents for the purpose of evening the score
or beating up any Arabs found in the vicinity to exorcise anger, as Kach is
wont to do, is anathema to the Torah. The Times has wronged all Torah Jews
by suggesting otherwise.
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and other
newspapers, and serves as director of Am Echad's Israel office.]
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