Join our email list

Brothers and Brotherhood

Commemorating the 18th anniversary of Yizhak Rabin's assassination.
Image courtesy Jewish Federation of Canada
Image courtesy Jewish Federation of Canada
Rabbi Dr. Shraga Bar-On is the Vice President and Director of the Kogod Research Center for Contemporary Jewish Thought and the David Hartman Center for Intellectual Excellence in Jerusalem, and a lecturer of Talmud and Jewish Thought at Shalem College. At the David Hartman Center, he is responsible for the advanced training of aspiring public intellectuals through the Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis, the David Hartman postdoctoral fellowship, and the Maskilot fellowship for women pursuing their doctorate. His research in

Cain said to his brother Abel
And when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him
The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
And he Said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s Keeper?”
Then He said, “What have you done? Hark, your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground!”

From the first murder in human history to the assassination of our Prime-Minister, Yitzhak Rabin z”l, God shouts: “What have you done? Hark, your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground!” Unfortunately, not everyone hears this reprimand, not everyone feels those shouts or crying. Too many brothers answer impudently: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

There is a huge gap between being brothers and brotherhood. Being a brother is a fact of life – once you were born to the same parent you become a sibling. You don’t have to do anything in order to maintain it. Brotherhood is totally deferent – Brotherhood means heart-relations; Brotherhood embodies empathy and caring. Our tradition doesn’t know a lot about the Oedipus complex, but it’s full of Cain’s complex; it’s filled with stories of hatred and jealousy between siblings. Our tradition is eternal, but we tend to forget its message. We tend to ignore the Naturalistic-Fallacy, we tend to forget that Is does not mean ought. I can tell you, I was there.

Eighteen years ago I marched – bearing my torch – in that awful demonstration against the Oslo agreement. I was sure then, and by-the-way I’m still convinced – that it was a bad contract. But, I deeply regret my participation in that demonstration because of that brothers-hatred we felt. I did not know one who could imagine, then, that this process would end like this. But I must admit that until that night when Rabin, blessed be his memory, was murdered, none of my friends felt any respect, compassion or brotherhood in regard to Yizhak Rabin. We, literarily, hated him. And the other camp – it also needs to be said – hated us. At that time I was a teacher of eleventh graders – I had right-wing and left-wing students. After the assassination we took a bus to Jerusalem to light candles and to participate in Rabin’s mourning. We sat down in a corner, and then a group of young people came to us, shouting at us: “What are you doing here with your kippot? Aren’t you ashamed? You have murdered him!” This period was a spectacle of hatred.

Then came days of schism on the one hand and of recovery and of nurturing brotherhood on the other. On the poles the extremists remained and even become more extreme. I hope and pray that the awareness of those extremes will prevent the next catastrophe. But I and many friends of mine who belong to the endeavor which can be called now “the Jewish Renaissance” in Israel – from the right and the left – have learned an important lesson from those horrible days. We heard the call: “Hark, your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground!” and ever since we have followed this call.

We are fighting for brotherhood among brothers. Many new social initiatives were a direct or indirect result of Rabin’s murder. Encounter groups have developed, bringing together people of different backgrounds, religious and secular, from students of elementary schools and high-schools up to senior and influential public figures in Israel, so they can get to know each-other better, discussing their differences and sharing their concerns, accompanying each-other in times of sorrow and joy. We have found that our common Jewish heritage and our shared task to form Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State can bring us together. We have discovered that brothers can replace rivalry with brotherhood. Brotherhood is our common heritage from Rabin.

In Jewish tradition – when someone who has been ex-communicated is re-accepted to the community, we bless him: “You are our brother, you are our brother, you are our brother.” In many circles in which I’m active, I see brothers who continue to sharply disagree, who continue to dispute, but with empathy and understanding that it is not enough to be a sibling; we need brotherhood. I believe that we can and must translate this black chapter of our modern history to the message of brotherhood! It is our responsibility to keep our Jewish family united and safe.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

More on
Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics