In one of the first responses from Israel’s Jewish religious leadership to the violent aftermath of the deaths of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar on Thursday issued a fervent plea to Jewish youths to trust in God and the country’s political leadership and avoid taking the law into their own hands.
Reaching out to “all our brothers, the people of Israel, the young among us,” Amar said, “I feel their pain. I feel the frustration. But we can’t lose our heads. There are soldiers, and policemen, and security forces, praise God. And we can rest assured that by the grace of God, they will take the correct and necessary steps” in response to the killing of the three Israeli students.
Amar was referring to a wave of violence that hit the capital in recent days following the news of the deaths of the three youths. As the funerals of the three were being held on Monday evening, Jewish youths rioted in Jerusalem, calling for violence and vengeance against Arabs. Some Arabs in the city were attacked by the rioters.
The following morning, the scorched body of a 16-year-old teen from Shuafat, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was found in the Jerusalem Forest, prompting riots and clashes with security forces in the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
Speaking to Israel Radio Thursday, Amar said calls for revenge were liable to “destroy our nation from within.”
He said any response or retaliation on Israel’s part would have to be carried out by state actors with “order, discretion, wisdom and good sense.” Anything else, he said, would be disastrous.
“The worst thing would be if everyone took the law and revenge into their own hands,” said Amar. “To jump up [and act] without leadership and without order would be unruliness.”
Amar strongly condemned the rioting and violence by Jewish youths. “Let us not become like that, and not close to that,” said Amar.
“There is a leadership in Israel, there is an army in Israel … we all have to trust [the government], woe be to us if we don’t. We can criticize, we can demand, but we have to trust in God and in our leadership.”
To the rioting youths, he said, “Let them also not forget that there is a ‘God who avenges’ when innocent blood is spilled,” he said, in a reference to a verse from the book of Deuteronomy.
“If you don’t let the leadership lead, when there is unruliness, nobody knows where it will end.”
He then called on “all the rabbis and all the students” to devote their time to “purity and holiness” and leave the political and military matters to the authorities.
He also said that although the news of the three students’ deaths was tragic, there was a silver lining.
“They were found without negotiations, without having to release such criminals, such murderers in exchange for them, and without causing the families and all the people of Israel even more pain,” he said.
“There is something good and merciful about the fact that at the end of the day, they were given a respectable burial, in a way that did not bring about more tragedy.”