Love and hate in Teaneck

Love and hate in Teaneck

Thousands of Muslim men pray at the Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which fell this year on July 28. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky’s deleted blog post suggested relocating the mosque. Sliman Khader/Flash90

Writing a blog post in response to the bloody, brutal, and unprecedented murder of four Jews at prayer in Jerusalem and the Druze police officer who tried to protect them on November 18, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck has set off a firestorm.

Rabbi Pruzansky is a lawyer and a vivid writer whose political views are out of the mainstream. In “Dealing With Savages,” the post he put up last Friday and had taken down by Sunday, he urged collective punishment.

Rabbi Pruzansky’s blog is at Although this post has been removed it has been cached. The post was removed, he told the wire service JTA, in response to unspecified threats, not because he regretted anything he had written. “I don’t think I’m saying anything outlandish,” JTA reported Rabbi Pruzansky as saying.

“How does a human being (or two) walk into a synagogue and begin hacking at worshippers who are immersed in prayer, leaving behind a trail of blood, victims, grief and horror?” he wrote. “The question is misplaced because no ‘human being’ could do such a thing. It would have to be a beast in human form, a relic from primitive times before true humans became civilized. The Arab-Muslim animals that span the globe chopping, hacking and merrily decapitating – from Iraq to Jerusalem to New York to Oklahoma, and places in between and beyond – are a discredit even to the term ‘animal.’ Most animals are not that brutal.”

Israel must act to change this dynamic, he continued. “At a certain point, the unrestrained behavior of unruly animals becomes the fault of the zookeeper, not the animals.”

The way to deal with that, Rabbi Pruzansky said, must be based on the fact that “the Arabs who deal in the land of Israel are the enemy in that war and must be vanquished.”

There can be no two-state solution, he says. “Israel should make clear that a Palestinian state will never be created between the river and the sea. There will be no non-Jewish national entity tolerated.” To that end, terrorists’ dead bodies “will not be returned to their families but will be cremated, and perhaps the ashes buried with deceased pigs.” The houses of all relatives up to and including first cousins should be destroyed, and the people should be deported. If more than one terrorist comes from any one village, the village itself should be destroyed.

Rioters should be shot, and the “media barred from scenes of violence, cell service canceled and cameras confiscated, like in most war zones.”

Muslims should not be allowed on the Temple Mount, he wrote, and if possible, the “mosque and the dome can be uplifted intact and reset in Saudi Arabia, Syria or wherever it is wanted.”

Israeli Arabs on the whole would have to go – “If Israeli Arabs persist in their support of terror – now at a low level, but who can predict the future? – they should forfeit their citizenship and be returned to military rule as it was before 1966.” But, he continues, “Of course those who wish to stay and be peaceful, acknowledging the sovereignty of the Jewish people in the land of Israel, are welcome to stay. But an enemy is an enemy…”

These actions indeed would be draconian, Rabbi Pruzansky acknowledges, and the world, quick to judge Jews and slow to protect them, would react with disgust and rage. And, in fact, the short-term repercussions would be necessary. Still, Israelis must realize that their enemies – and all the murderous attacks come from the same larger enemy – “rides our buses, shops in our malls, drives on our roads and lives just two miles from us. The same enemy.”

(Rabbi Pruzansky lives in Teaneck, many commentators have pointed out, so his pronoun use here is perhaps less than entirely accurate.)

“Change the dynamic,” he concludes. “Change the terms of the debate. Change the rules of war. And change the outcome that the enemy now anticipates. Such will save Jewish lives, and even bring redemption.”

Reaction to the blog post was swift and strong; much of it was negative although some responses cheered Rabbi Pruzansky on.

On Monday night, in a new post he called “Clarification!” Rabbi Pruzansky tried to clear up what he called distortions. “Let me be absolutely clear,” he began. “The ‘savages’ referred to in ‘Dealing with Savages’ were terrorists such as those who perpetrated the horrific massacre in Har Nof last week.” But, he continued, “to extrapolate from that sentiment and apply it to all Arabs or all Muslims is repugnant to me, and a complete distortion of what I wrote and intended to write. To the extent that my words could be misinterpreted, I take full responsibility and regret the lack of clarity.”

Rabbi Pruzansky has been in the news frequently during these last few weeks. Three of his blog posts have attacked Gary Rosenblatt, the publisher of the Jewish Week, as resembling Julius Streicher, the publisher of the notorious Nazi propaganda rag “Die Sturmer.” Debate between his defenders and his detractors has been vocal and had barely died down when this one erupted.

Strikingly, Rabbi Pruzansky’s proposed solution to the situation goes far beyond what Israelis are proposing. As Uriel Heilman wrote in JTA, “Meanwhile, in Israel, officials across the political spectrum – from Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of the centrist Hatnua party to Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home party – have spoken out forcefully in recent days against the kind of collective punishment that Pruzansky seems to advocate. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week weighed in with a statement saying, “There can be no discrimination against Israeli-Arabs. We must not generalize about an entire public due to a small and violent minority. The vast majority of Israel’s Arab citizens are law abiding and whoever breaks the law, we will take determined and vigorous action against him.”

Shmuel Goldin is the rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood. Although he is a former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, he spoke not as its representative but simply for himself when he said, “While I understand and share the deep frustration with the events in the Middle East that moved Rabbi Pruzansky to write his words, his conclusion and recommendations do not represent my position. Nor, I believe, do they represent the position of most Orthodox rabbis, or of most people within the Orthodox community.”

Rabbi Pruzansky had been set to be one of the speakers at the Orthodox Union’s convention, set for December 26 through December 28 in Tarrytown, N.Y. In fact, his picture appeared on the ad that ran in last week’s Jewish Standard. But he now no longer will be at that convention, as this week’s ad shows. But we should not read anything into his absence, Rabbi Pruzansky said. “I backed out because I will be in Israel in December celebrating the birth of a grandchild and I didn’t want to want to go away,” he wrote. “It was completely my decision. Unilateral. No one at the OU or otherwise said a word to me.”

As striking as Rabbi Pruzansky’s words are, so too is the open letter sent last week by the widows and families of the four butchered rabbis.

This is what they wrote (as translated by Rabbi Pini Dunner):

“From the depth of our broken hearts and with tears over the murder of the holy victims, the heads of our families, we turn to our brothers and sisters, every Jew, wherever you are, and request that we all join together as one, to bring heavenly mercy upon us. Therefore, let us accept upon ourselves to increase our love and brotherhood with each other, between each of us, between different groups, and between different communities.

“We request that each person endeavors this Friday afternoon before Shabbat Parshat Toldot to sanctify this Shabbat (Erev Rosh Chodesh Kislev) as a day of causeless love, a day on which we all refrain from talking about our differences and grievances against others, and refrain from any slander or evil gossip.

“Through this may there be a great merit for the souls of the fathers of our families who were slaughtered for the sanctity of God.

“May God look down from above, and see our grief, and wipe away our tears, and proclaim ‘enough with the suffering!’, and may we merit to see the arrival of the Messiah, may it happen speedily in our days, Amen.

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