The sight of Gazans rejoicing at the cold-blooded murder of eight yeshiva students who had not hurt anyone was particularly jolting for me. I am a religious man, and feel an immediate affinity with all who profess a love for God and strive to live a life of religious devotion. Meeting religious people of different faiths is always a great pleasure for me; I feel an immediate sense of kinship with them.
When I meet religious Muslims in the United States my feelings go beyond kinship, to sympathy. I realize that many Americans are suspicious of religious Muslims, viewing them as a fifth column. I therefore go out of my way to express my brotherhood to them. I want them to know that as a Jew and as an American, I stand with them in their desire to live a devout Islamic life.
What shakes me to my core is when some of my Muslim brothers and sisters rejoice at the deaths of innocent Jews, particularly those who are at prayer in their yeshiva. When Baruch Goldstein did the same thing, killing 29 innocent Arabs in a mosque, I told the press in England, where I was living at the time, that this religious Jew had committed an abomination before God, and that this killer had betrayed his Jewish faith in the most horrible way imaginable.
A few extremist Jewish acquaintances were aghast at my pronouncement. Their words caused me indescribable pain. I replied by asking them, "Have you been so scarred by the Arab-Israeli conflict that you have ceased to see the image of God in those innocent victims? Have you become so hardened by this conflict that you could somehow justify the taking of innocent lives at prayer?"
And to my Arab brothers and sisters, I ask the same question. I know many of you hate Israel. I know many of you believe that Israel is an occupying power. To be sure, I couldn't disagree more. Israel is a great bastion of democracy and humanity, the only place, aside from America-created Iraq, where Arabs actually vote in the Middle East. It is arguably the only country in the Middle East where Arab citizens can read the truth in a newspaper, can peacefully and fearlessly protest the government, and can petition impartial courts that very often take the Arab side against the Jewish side.
For argument's sake, even if you're right and Israel is a terrible place, does that justify the murder of boys studying Torah? Has your hatred of Israel reached a point where you can no longer see the image of God in a Jew? Have you been so scarred by the conflict that even as families mourn their dead children, you can dance in the streets with joy? And if you've come to that point, can you not see that your humanity has been compromised?
The vast majority of Muslims are kind and God-fearing. But why, then, do more Muslims not publicly condemn and repudiate these haters? Baruch Goldstein's actions were condemned in the strongest and most public terms by 98 percent of all the world's rabbis. Should we not be hearing the same from our Muslim counterparts when yeshiva boys are murdered in cold blood?
I realize, my Muslim brethren, that you have many innocent dead that you mourn as well. I know that when Israel strikes back against terrorists who hide behind civilians, many completely innocent men, women and children die. That is terrible, and I mourn those deaths with you. The instruments of war are imprecise. Were it that bullets would only take the lives of those devoted to the deaths of innocents instead of the innocents themselves. But does that justify the targeting of students?
The Jews were turned into soap and lampshades by the Germans. One million of our children were gassed to death. And still, even amid this atrocity, the Jews never retaliated by walking into German schools, and firing on teachers and students.
I believe the reason is that the Jewish community never wanted their humanity compromised by their oppressors. They did not wish to allow those who hated them to make their own hearts rancid. They wanted to remain moral, even if their assailants were not.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is an author and the host of a television program.