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‘For the Sin We Have Sinned Against You by Desecrating Your Name’

The teachers of those who set fire to mosques and uproot olive trees are desecrators of God and blasphemers against the Torah
Dr. Ariel Picard is a Research Fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute. He previously served as the Director of the Kogod Research Center for Contemporary Jewish Thought and the Educational Director of the Institute’s Be’eri program. Ariel has a PhD in philosophy from Bar-Ilan University and conducts research in contemporary Jewish law. He was ordained as a rabbi by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and formerly served as the rabbi of Kibbutz Shluchot. Ariel has published widely

Those who intentionally damage a holy house of worship are guilty of sacrilege; they desecrate the name of the God to whom people prayed there. There is no more grievous sin than Chillul HaShem. It is said in Tractate Yoma (86a) that if a man "has been guilty of the profanation of the Name of God, then penitence has no power to suspend punishment, nor the Day of Atonement to procure atonement." As Jews we are justly appalled when anti-Semites dare paint swastikas on synagogue walls or on Jewish gravestones. It offends, we feel, against all that we hold dear and sacred.
  • Click here to read a Hebrew version of this commentary.  
I do not know who was responsible for that abominable terror attack on the mosque at Tuba-Zangariyye. But their grandparents who suffered similar persecutions decades ago are surely turning in their graves in shame and sorrow.
When the villains are caught, they will in all likelihood be described as Asavim Shotim, nothing but bad weeds in the garden. Well, one should note that weeds do not grow far from water sources.
And so the teachers who have produced these brutes through their patronage and encouragement should be held to account. Educators would do well to remember that they must water their gardens, but also weed out the noxious plants which grow among the flowers.
As educators we must teach our students the desire to publicly consecrate the name of God. In Jewish tradition, Kidush HaShem is not manifested simply in the willingness to die in defense of our core values; it is also expressed in our day-to-day demeanor. Thus the Talmud describes in Tractate Yoma (ibid.) the difference between Kidush HaShem and Chillul HaShem: 
‘And thou shalt love the Lord thy God’ (Deut. 6, 5), i.e., that the Name of Heaven be beloved because of you. If someone studies Scripture and Mishnah, and attends on the disciples of the wise, is honest in business, and speaks pleasantly to persons, what do people then say concerning him? Happy the father who taught him Torah, happy the teacher who taught him Torah; woe unto people who have not studied the Torah; for this man has studied the Torah: Look, how fine his ways are, how righteous his deeds! Of him does Scripture say: ‘And He said unto me: Thou art My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ (Isa. 49, 3) But if someone studies Scripture and Mishnah, attends on the disciples of the wise, but is dishonest in business, and discourteous in his relations with people, what do people say about him? Woe unto him who studied the Torah, woe unto his father who taught him Torah; woe unto his teacher who taught him Torah! This man studied the Torah: Look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly his ways; of him Scripture says: In that men said of them: ‘These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of His land.’ (Ezek. 36, 20) 
A Jewish education which consecrates the name of God is that teaching which produces disciples whose deeds are righteous. The teachers of those who set fire to mosques and uproot olive trees are desecrators of God and blasphemers against the Torah.
On days like this I am reminded of my own venerable teacher, Rabbi Yehuda Amital z"l, who stood with a great crowd in front of Hechal Shlomo in Jerusalem on the eve of Yom Kippur, 1982, and lamented aloud following the Sabra and Shatila massacre, "For the sin which we have sinned against You by desecrating Your name."
Jews who torch mosques today will not hesitate to harm innocent babies tomorrow. We too must cry aloud and forewarn, and above all, root out from amongst us the distorters and desecrators of the Torah, who lead to such villainous acts.
Rabbi Dr. Ariel Picard is a member of the Executive Committee of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and Educational Director of  Institute’s Be’eri program.

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