(RNS) Yitzhak Rabin, who served as Israel’s prime minister and was one of her greatest statesmen, was assassinated 20 years ago — Nov. 4, 1995.
A right-wing Jew, Yigal Amir, killed Rabin at a peace rally 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 Hashanah. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t judge yourself too harshly; you are in good company.
In 586 B.C.E., the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, conquered the kingdom of Judah. He deported many Jews 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 led a group of Jews on a “state visit” to Gedalia.
Gedalia had been warned of his guests’ murderous intent, but he refused to believe it and received them graciously.
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 70 pilgrims who were on their way to Jerusalem.
Hence, the Fast of Gedalia — a day when Jews fast in mourning for 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 is still in prison, his metaphorical gun has not stopped firing. Witness the ever-present temptation that 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 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. Many Jews who live in the settlements are there for the same reason that many people moved to the suburbs: cheaper housing and more land.
Neither are the settlements nor the occupation the cause of the barbaric and bloody stabbings that have been happening since the beginning of October — almost 50 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.
But there is a sizable group of extremist 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. A piece of graffiti adorns that spot.
Nirtzach al yedei ish loveish kippah.
Translation: “murdered by a man who wears a kippah (or yarmulke).”
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 Israeli songwriter 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.
(Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.)
YS/MG END SALKIN