As a father and as a researcher whose work aims to advance child welfare, I was sickened to my core last week when I saw images of Palestinian children doing the three-finger salute celebrating the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel.
In a podcast recorded shortly before the three bodies were found, Rabbi Moshe Taragin of Yeshivat Har Etzion, not far from the site of the kidnapping, had spoken of the rejoicing over the suffering of innocents by militant strains of Islam as not only a human crime, but a theological one. “God’s image … is being vandalized,” he declared.
The morning after the boys were buried, while putting on my tefillin, I realized that we Jews, too, have a hand ritual of three. As we wind the hand strap three times around our left middle finger—forming the first letter of one of God’s holy names, but also of the word shalom — we recite the words of Hosea [2:21-22]: “I will betroth you to Me for ever/I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, loving-kindness and compassion/I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.”
The message to Hamas and its allies, as I looked at the straps on my left hand, was: “Though you may hate us, for God’s sake stop your acts of inhumanity — or with God’s help, we will.”
Tragically, since I wrote these words it has become necessary to add a lament for a fourth senseless killing, that of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. The strong warning against revenge by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, whose yeshiva Gil-Ad and Naftali attended, does not deny the reality that vengeance has a certain place in Judaism (see the Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 33a). But that place is very carefully circumscribed. The key, as Rabbi Steinsaltz explains, is to understand vengeance as a prerogative of God, not of vigilantes. That Jews could stoop to the level of the Hamas murderers is the ultimate desecration of God’s name — and demands the most powerful response we can muster.
Let us dedicate our hands not to random vengeance, but to “righteousness and justice, loving-kindness and compassion.”