Emanuel Synagogue's response to the GLBT centre shootings in Tel Aviv, August 2009

This article appeared in Emanuel Synagogue's weekly bulletin in August 2009, written by Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins in relation to the Tel Aviv shooting.

A common theme runs strongly throughout the whole book of Devarim, especially in this parasha Ekev, which opens with the words, “And if you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the Lord your God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant the God made on oath with your fathers.”  This theme of reward for doing the right thing is brought home more fully at the end of the parasha, where the passage that has since become part of our liturgy as the second paragraph of the Shema (found as well in all mezuzot and tefillin) teaches that the reward for following the mitzvot is offset by hardship and punishment, the worst being exile from the land, for disregarding the mitzvot.  The most challenging question before all of us, is what does it mean then to ‘follow God’s mitzvot’; leading to a further question as to how can we reconcile the doctrine of reward and punishment with the harsh reality of a world in which we see innocent suffer?  The second question in a sense is easier to answer — for the doctrine of reward and punishment is stated in the plural, not singular.  Thus, because we exist in society, all of us face consequences even for actions we did not do.

The murders of Israelis this week who were targeted because of their sexual orientation heighten the urgency of these questions.  Before answering these questions I wish to quote from two statements, the first from the Masorti (Conservative) movement, whose leaders wrote, ‘We are saddened and outraged by the premeditated murder of Israelis who were targeted because of their sexual orientation.  This cowardly act of terrorism took place against innocent victims in a place of acceptance and support.  Israel is a model of forward-thinking society where the overwhelming majority of citizens support equal civil rights for all.  Unfortunately, some voices in that society seek to incite violence against the gay and lesbian community; they should be held to account.  We look forward to the time when voices of inclusion are proactive and universal and we are confident that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.’

The second comes from the World Union for Progressive Judaism, which ‘condemns the senseless attack on the Gay and Lesbian community in Tel Aviv. This mindless act of violence that has resulted in death and serious injury was an attack against all decent people in Israeli society. It is particularly painful as Israel has been a beacon throughout the world in providing a degree of equality and tolerance for members of the gay and lesbian community. The WUPJ supports the Prime Minister and President of Israel in their condemnation and calls on all political and religious leaders to express their revulsion by this attack against innocent young people.  The WUPJ and its affiliates stand strongly with the Gay and Lesbian community of Israel and together with our Israel affiliate, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, offer our condolences and sorrow to those who have lost a loved one.’

Orthodox religious leaders have also condemned the attacks, and we at Emanuel Synagogue endorse the above words in our printing them here and saying Kaddish for the two who were murdered this Shabbat.  However, all Jews, no matter what their affiliation, must recognize that bigotry against people because of their sexual orientation begins in the Torah, in the book of Leviticus, in its mitzvot against homosexual behavior.  Some might think that following the mitzvot of Torah requires us to maintain this negative attitude.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  All mitzvot of Torah have one overarching mitzvah that is also eminently clear throughout the Torah, especially again in the book of Devarim and the words we hear, from last week and this, in the teachings of the Shema.  Judaism begins and rests upon the principle that we must ‘Love, therefore, Adonai your God.’

We must always remember these principles when learning Torah and observing mitzvot.  It begins with love of God.  And God is All that IS, all of Existence and Being.  Thus, anything we have understood as a mitzvah that undermines or goes against the Love of Being, the Life Force itself, cannot be a mitzvah.  We have misunderstood an ancient teaching — or perhaps an ancient teaching is no longer correct, for our understanding of Being continues to evolve.  And perhaps, the more we practice this love of being and this love of life, the fewer harsh consequences there will be in the societies we must take responsibility for creating.