On Orlando

Like all decent people, I feel sick from this dreadful weak in Florida. What intense blinding hatred could drive a person to such destructive cruelty? I cannot begin to imagine what it felt like inside Omar Mateen’s head and heart.

At this point, so many questions remain unanswered.  Was there any actual connection between this man and global jihad? Was it all his sick fantasy? Would that distinction even matter? Did this violence spring from inner demons regarding his own sexual desires? Was he mentally ill? Is every killer at least half-way mentally ill? Was Omar Mateen more like Adam Lanza (Newtown) and Dylan Klebold (Columbine), cases of tragically enabled insanity, or more like the diabolical politics of Osama bin Laden and Hamas? Perhaps it is impossible to untangle it all now or ever.

People tell me that rabbis have to speak out about such savagery, that it would be wrong to fail to address this. But what can one say? Righteous pronouncements seem facile, self-important and unworthy of the moment. Does anyone really need to hear that liberal rabbis are against slaughtering clubbers?

But mournful silence seems too weak, unworthy in its own way. So if I may share some thoughts from what I have heard and read this week.

1.     Jews have always been the American minority most subject to hate crimes. According to this article, the FBI says gay people recently took over that estimable title. Even acts of total insanity do not happen in a vacuum, but in the context of societies with their prejudices, hatreds and demonization of outsiders. I have never witnessed a comparably rapid social revolution in American life like the acceptance of gay people. From Stonewall to Roberts-Court-recognized marriage in less than 50 years. It has been an amazing affirmation of our society’s ability to appreciate difference and love. But so many people remain consumed by hatred of this particular difference and insist on continuing to discriminate and marginalize LGBT people. Let us stand in the breach against this rage, and stand for the dignity of all, even those whom one feels one cannot understand.

2.     Only fools would deny that Muslim communities world-wide have a serious problem with merciless terrorist violence, misogyny, ethnic hatred. Only miserable knaves would try to tar all Muslims with these accusations. Even amidst intense national conflicts, R. Hayim David HaLevi [d. 1998], chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, warned against treating all Palestinians, even those who opposed the state of Israel, as terrorists. The vast majority want to live their lives in peace, he said [Aseh Lekha Rav 2.4]. Most true. “I will draw them close by human cords, through thick ropes of love,” said Hoshea [11.4].   בחבלי אדם אמשכם בעבותות אהבה.

3.     Religion can make us hate. Let liberal Jews remind the world that faith can be deep, reverent, and traditional without being intolerant and exclusivist.

4.     “A case of danger to life is more severe than a ritual prohibition.”סכנתא חמירא מאיסורא. . How long will we permit the legal selling of assault weapons? To people not long ago on the FBI terrorism watch list? The Republican nominee claimed that the slaughter would have been lessened had only some clubbers been granted concealed-weapons permits and had their own firearms at their belts. Ummm …. What?! Ancient Halakhah certainly does not know how to evaluate modern gun control legislation. But it does say [Avodah Zarah 15b-16a], most sensibly, that it is forbidden to sell dangerous animals or weapons to those likely to re-sell them to criminals or likely to use them in publicly harmful ways. May we as a country absorb this minimally sensible lesson.