Yitzhak Rabin deserves his own fast day

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Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, moments before his assassination, singing a song of peace.
Credit: CNN

Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, moments before his assassination, singing a song of peace. Credit: CNN

Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, moments before his assassination, singing a song of peace. Credit: CNN

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, moments before his assassination, singing a song of peace.
Credit: CNN

Yitzhak Rabin, who served as the Prime Minister of Israel, and was one of Israel’s greatest statesmen, was assassinated exactly twenty years ago — on November 4, 1995 (or, according to the Hebrew calendar, yesterday).

Rabin was assassinated at a peace rally in Tel Aviv by a radical right wing Jew, Yigal Amir. Amir did so precisely because of the Prime Minister’s commitment to the peace process.

A “radical” suggestion: the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination should become a new Jewish observance — the fast of Rabin.

Let me take you back to one of Judaism’s most obscure holidays — Tzom Gedalia, the fast of Gedalia, which happens on the day after Rosh Ha Shanah. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t judge yourself too harshly; you are in good company.

In 586 BCE, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, conquered the kingdom of Judah. He killed or exiled most of its inhabitants. He deported many to Babylon, in what became known as the Babylonian Exile.

Nebuchadnezzar appointed a Judean, Gedalia, to be the governor of the now-Babylonian province of Judah.

Gedalia’s appointment did not sit well with a man named Yishmael, who was descended from the Judean royal family. On the third day of the seventh month of Tishrei, Yishmael led a group of Jews on a “state visit” to Gedalia. Gedalia received them cordially; in fact, he had been warned of his guests’ murderous intent, but he refused to believe it. He believed that the report was mere slander.

Yishmael murdered Gedalia, along with most of the Jews who had joined him, as well as many Babylonians. And then, two days later, they killed seventy pilgrims who were on their way to Jerusalem.

Hence, the fast of Gedalia — a day when we recall the murderous treachery of Jews against other Jews.

If we still mourn for the obscure Gedalia, then what about a great leader and a missionary of peace – who was killed by a radical Jew who could not tolerate the idea of peace with the Palestinians?

But, you ask: why should the anniversary of Rabin’s death merit a fast day? Don’t Jews fast when they need to atone for sin?

Well, come to think of it — yes.

While Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, is still in prison, his metaphorical gun has not stopped firing. Witness the ever-present temptation that still exists among groups of radical Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Among many other things:

  • They were responsible for the recent burning to death of the Dewabshe family on the West Bank, including their infant child.
  • They have been responsible for the torching of various churches in Israel, including those that are of major historical significance for Christians, such as the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
  • Most recently, a radical right wing settler attempted to stab Rabbi Arik Ascherman, head of Rabbis For Human Rights, as Ascherman was leading a protest against the destruction of olive trees on the West Bank.

Are all Jewish inhabitants of the West Bank afflicted with the fever of radicalism?

Hardly — despite what the media would have you believe. Many Jews who live in the settlements are there for the same reason that your parents moved to the suburbs — cheaper housing and more land.

Neither are the settlements or the occupation the cause of the barbaric and bloody stabbings that have been happening since the beginning of October — almost fifty attacks. You think that attacks on Jews in France, for example, are because of the occupation? Guess again. You can chalk those up to pure Jew-hatred. (Check out what Jew-hatred looks like — in Morocco.).

But, there is a sizable group of right wing settlers. Many do not believe in the legitimate government of the State of Israel. Many would love to topple the secular government, and to replace it with a new Jewish kingdom under the strict rule of halacha (Jewish law).

Jews should fast on the anniversary of Rabin’s death, because the bullets that killed the Prime Minister continue to enter the Jewish body politic. The militant rhetoric that killed the Prime Minister reminds us of the power of words. The ideology that killed the Prime Minister stains the Jewish people and the Jewish state, making peace that much more difficult to achieve.

The place where Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv has been renamed Rabin Square. There is a  piece of graffiti that adorns that spot.

Nirtzach al yedei ish loveish kippah.

Translation: “murdered by a man who wears a kippah.”

Was the author a secular Jew, sneering: “Look at what the Orthodox are capable of doing!”

Or: was it an Orthodox Jew, lamenting: “Look at what we Orthodox are capable of doing!”

I would like to believe that it was actually the second choice – a cry from the heart of an Orthodox Jew who is saying that this is not what we were supposed to be.

As Shlomo Artzi sang about Rabin: “Are there any other people around like that man, who was like the weeping willows?”

For the past 20 years, there have not been.

But we could use one — and quickly. And, let the record note — on both sides of this conflict.

Abbas as well as Bibi. Please.

  • Junebug

    Sad to remember. In my lifetime, nearly every leader who has publicly advocated for peace has been maligned and/or assassinated. War and hate continue unabated. YES, CHANGE PLEASE!!

  • Jack

    Rabin’s assassination was a tragedy and yes, Israel does have a real problem with the minority of settlers who have been radicalized on the Right.

    But to make Rabin, as some people do, into the greatest Israel since independence is a bit much. He was a good individual, yes, but so was Ben Gurion, so was Begin, so was Golda Meir, so were many, many Israeli leaders, starting but not ending with prime ministers.

    And even though the man who killed Rabin was a monster, the fact that he was the victimizer and Rabin the victim tells us nothing about the wisdom or lack thereof of Rabin’s belief in land for peace. To my mind, it is far from clear that this formula was or is a good or realistic one. Was it worth trying? Yes. Has it succeeded? With Jordan, yes. Egypt, yes, so far. The Palestinians? Not in the least.

  • Garson Abuita

    Apotheosis often follows assasination. John F. Kennedy wasn’t the greatest president ever, but look at what high esteem he is held today. Rabin gave his life in the pursuit of peace and for that he will always be remembered.
    One other takeaway: if you visit Rabin Square there is a diagram of where various people were standing during the event. It names various people but for the shooter simply says “murderer.” This is reflective of the Jewish belief in the power of remembering or forgetting someone’s name, and the aphorism “Yimach shemo” — may his name be erased. It’s something Americans should remember for the next school shooting when the media rush to proclaim the killer’s name everywhere.

  • Jack

    True on all counts. And to be fair, some in the media are trying to restrain themselves from mentioning the names of killers after such shootings. We should be doing what we can to encourage them to convince their colleagues to do likewise.