Purim and responding to the Itamar Massacre

  • Purim & Responding to the Itamar Massacre


The illogic of anti-Semitism.

by Sara Yoheved Rigler





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The juxtaposition of the two events was chilling.

On Friday morning, as usual, I went to buy flowers for my Shabbat table. Zusha, the flower vendor, who had moved to Israel from California thirty years ago, was visibly upset. As I picked out a bouquet of colorful anemones, he was eager to tell me what had happened. A Facebook friend of his, Kenny, had posted a video on his Facebook page. When Zusha watched it, he was shocked to see that it was blatantly anti-Semitic. Zusha posted a comment: “I am offended by this video.”

In response, Greg from England, a friend of Kenny, sent Zusha’s Facebook page a message that left Zusha aghast. A former love-and-peace hippie, Zusha insisted that I see it for myself. With trembling hands, he located the message on his cellphone and handed it to me. On the screen I read:

"ZUSHA - I AM TOTALLY OFFENDED BY THE JEWS' USE OF WHITE PHOSPHEROUS TO MURDER PALESTINE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN THE WEST BANK. you make me and a large proportion of the world feel sick at the mere sight of you. repulsive murdering money grabbing runt. there is a very good reason why the jews have been despised by all nations thru all of recorded history."

“Jews murdering Palestinian women and children in the West Bank?” Zusha asked. “What’s he talking about?”

My mind raced trying to make sense of Greg’s accusations. Does he mean Gaza, not the West Bank? Is he referring to Israel’s retaliation on Gaza two years ago, after Gaza fired thousands of rockets and missiles aimed at Israeli civilians? But not one woman or child died in Gaza as a result of the substance.

Jew-hatred is the cause, and the results are the absurd accusations that the Jews are guilty of this or that crime.

Suddenly my mind screeched to a halt. I realized that all efforts to make sense out of this Jew-hater’s canard missed the basic point: Causes A, B, and C do not result in Jew-hatred. Rather Jew-hatred is the cause, and the result is the distorted, often baseless, and even absurd accusations that the Jews are guilty of this or that crime.

Believing that Israelis deliberately murder Arab children is as absurd as the centuries-long accusation that Jews kill Christian children in order to drain their blood to bake matzah. Any thinking person who bothered to investigate the truth would know that the Torah forbids eating blood, and all kosher meat must go through a process of soaking and salting in order to remove the blood. Did Christians and Muslims from the Middle Ages through the 20th century really believe the blood libels, or did they merely use them as an excuse to incite killing rampages of their local Jews?

“How should I respond?” Zusha asked me plaintively.

I stared blankly at the screen. How should we respond to anti-Semitism? If someone alleged that we Jews had stolen the land of Israel from the Arabs, I could refute him with historical facts. But how do you disprove lies to people who disdain proofs as inconvenient roadblocks on their highway of hatred?


That very Shabbat night Arab terrorists broke into the home of the Fogel family in Itamar and savagely murdered the father Udi, the mother Ruth, 11-year-old Yoav, four-year-old Elad, and three-month-old Hadas. The victims were stabbed in the heart and their throats slit, almost decapitated.

The announcement of the massacre was greeted in Gaza by celebration and the distribution of sweets.

Although Judaism values the principle of “honoring the dead,” which would normally preclude showing the lurid photographs of the slaughtered children lying in their blood, the grandparents of the victims gave permission to release the photographs as evidence to the world of the brutal, deliberate murder of Jewish children by Arab terrorists. This was not a case of collateral damage during a military operation. Not a case of a child being caught in the crossfire of opposing gunmen. Not a case of bombarding a U.N. school that had been taken over by Hamas fighters. This was a case of an Arab man plunging his knife into the chest of a four-year-old boy and slitting the throat of a crying infant. And the photographs were the evidence.

The Israeli government released the photographs on Saturday night. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu demanded that the nations of the world condemn the murder of Jewish children as enthusiastically as they condemn every home that is built in the disputed territories.

The Prime Minister is, after all, a logical man. When Israel opened a tunnel running along the outside of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount as an archeological site revealing the Jewish presence going back 2500 years , the Arabs rioted, accusing Israel of tunneling under the mountain. During a press conference in which Prime Minister Netanyahu explained the logistics of the tunnel, a foreign journalist challenged, “The Arabs claim that the tunnel runs under the Mount.” Netanyahu, annoyed, responded, “The Arabs claim… This is not a subjective matter, where the Arabs can claim whatever they like. Come and walk through the tunnel. Anyone can see that the tunnel runs north-south along the periphery and does not go under the Mount.”

The Prime Minister and most of us Jews still do not realize that anti-Semitism and its modern incarnation anti-Zionism have nothing to do with logic, nothing to do with evidence, nothing to do with proving facts.

But we doggedly continue to respond to the accusations against us with facts and proofs:

  • The “occupied territories” are not the source of Arab hostility, because the P.L.O., with its charter calling for the destruction of the State of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel entered the territories.
  • The “settlements” are not the obstacle to peace, because when Israel uprooted all the settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005, the result, instead of peace, was a takeover by the Hamas terror organization that proceeded to use Gaza as a launching pad for rocket attacks into Israel proper.
  • The “Arab refugee problem,” in which Arabs were dispossessed of their homes and land by the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, was parallelled by the expulsion and dispossession of an equal number of Jews from the Arab countries where they had lived for centuries. While the fledging State of Israel absorbed these hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees, the Arab refugees were kept by Arab governments in squalid refugee camps, the world’s only “refugee population” that has maintained refugee status for three generations.

Yet the world ignores our facts and champions such myths as “Israeli apartheid.”


Nowhere is the illogic of anti-Semitism as clearly revealed as in the Purim story. Haman, the viceroy of King Ahashverosh, was infuriated by the refusal of one Jew—Mordechai—to bow down to him whenever he passed. Rather than execute that one Jew, Haman requested and received from the king permission to “destroy, kill, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women” on one day. Because Ahashverosh’s empire extended from India to Ethiopia and encompassed every single Jew then alive, the decree of genocide would have effectively obliterated the entire Jewish nation.

Up until the day the edict of genocide was made public, the other Jews castigated Mordechai for his stubborn refusal to bow to Haman. The Jews of Shushan, the capital, subscribed to the apparent cause-and-effect: Mordechai’s refusal to bow could cause trouble for them all. This is the classic paradigm of anti-Semitism, that the crime/refusal to conform/misconduct of Jews is the cause, and Jew hatred is the effect.

Purim is our paradigm for how to respond to murderous designs against us—to resolutely come closer to God and to each other.

But once it was revealed that all the Jews in the world were doomed to be murdered, a paradigm shift occurred. The Jews understood that their total annihilation was out of proportion to the simple refusal of Mordechai to bow to Haman. The hatred unleashed against them was illogical, senseless, irrational. Rather, something more profound and more cosmic was at play. Gripped by fear, Jews throughout the empire fasted, donned sackcloth, and called out to God.

According to the sages, the Jewish people accepted upon themselves the Torah twice in Jewish history. The first time was at Mt. Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt. The second time was at this point in the Purim story. It is axiomatic in Judaism that God runs the world. Our fear of national calamity should lead us not to craven submission to the demands of the Jew-hating nations, but rather to reconciliation with our God and our fellow Jews.

All the mitzvahs of Purim (sending foodstuffs to a neighbor, giving charity to the poor, congregating to hear Megillat Esther, and joining together for a festive meal) involve bonding with other Jews. This is the key to the salvation of Purim.

In the wake of the massacre in Itamar and the perverse failure of world governments and media to condemn such brutality against Jews, a ripple of fear can be felt here in Israel. I admit that reading Zusha’s cellphone screen, I felt an encroaching darkness. More and more 2011 resembles 1939. Purim is our paradigm for how to respond to murderous designs against us—to resolutely come closer to God and to each other.

Sara Yoheved Rigler will be giving workshops and Shabbatons in North America in May. To invite her to your community, please write to slewsi@aol.com.