Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quoted from Israel’s national poet, Hayim Nahman Bialik, in his statement Monday night responding to the discovery of the bodies of Israeli teenagers Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19.

The passage he chose came from a poem that Bialik penned shortly after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, in which dozens of Jews were murdered in what today is Moldova.

The line Netanyahu quoted — “Such vengeance for blood of babe and maiden hath yet to be wrought by Satan…” — is often interpreted today as promoting or heralding a fierce revenge for murder; at the time, though, Bialik, who spoke of a crisis of faith, wrote earlier in the same stanza, “cursed be he that shall say: avenge this!” His hope, the final lines of the poem indicate, was that the blood of the slaughtered, for which there was no fitting revenge, would seep into the earth and de-stabilize the very foundations of humanity.

Netanyahu’s statement, issued as he consulted with ministers and security chiefs about a response to the murders, began: “With great sorrow we discovered three bodies this evening, and all signs indicate that these are the bodies of our three kidnapped youth, Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali. They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals.

“On behalf of the whole nation of Israel, I would like to say to the families, to the mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters and brothers, our hearts bleed, the entire nation cries along with them. The boys will be brought for burial in Israel.”

Haim Nahman Bialik 1923

Hayim Nahman Bialik 1923

He then quoted from Bialik [in a translation by A.Z. Foreman] saying that “Such vengeance for blood of babe and maiden hath yet to be wrought by Satan…”

“Nor,” Netanyahu continued, “that of young, pure lads on their way home to meet their parents, who will not see them again. Hamas is responsible — and Hamas will pay. May the memory of the three boys be blessed.”