The rankest heresy

The rankest heresy

I know who murdered Leiby Kletzky – an evil man named Levi Aron.

I know who did not murder Leiby Kletzky and played no role in the murder of this 8-year-old boy: God.

Normative Jewish belief supposedly accepts the concept of hashgachah, of Divine providence – that God is somehow responsible for every little thing that happens in His creation. I say “supposedly” because there are precious few texts from our Sages of Blessed Memory that support the concept without reservation. I believe with perfect faith that this is – and always has been – blasphemy of the highest order (which is why I do not accept that the overwhelming majority of talmudic sages harbored such a heretical belief).

KEEPING THE FAITH: One religious perspectIve on issues of the day If an “accomplice” must be found, then let the finger of associative guilt point to the insular nature of the community from which both murderer and victim come. According to news accounts, at least twice over the last couple of years, Aron reportedly tried to kidnap other children, including just a week before Kletzky’s murder.

If this is true – the information appeared in the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post and on his iPad application, The Daily, so veracity is naturally in question – then someone other than Levi Aron may have Kletzky’s blood on his/her/their/its hands. Either the community did not report Aron’s activities (which would make it complicit in the crime), or the New York Police Department ignored the complaints (which would make it an accomplice). The former scenario is more likely, given the community’s predilection for keeping the outside world out of its affairs (assuming, once again, that these Murdoch publications are reporting facts, not fantasy).

Personally, I see no advantage in playing the “blame game.” There are lessons to be learned from this incident and, it is hoped, those lessons will be learned – and those lessons extend far outside Borough Park or even the Jewish world.

This column is not about those lessons, however. My brief here is the blame being ascribed to God.

That there are people who point the finger at Him is nothing new. We have seen this happen countless times before. God, for example, was blamed for Hurricane Katrina (or perhaps I should say He was lauded for it). In the weeks following that horrific disaster, we heard claims from the Christian right that it was punishment of America for allowing abortions, or for extending rights to gays, or even for extending rights to women.

Some Jewish authorities insisted that God caused Katrina in order to punish President Bush for insisting that Israel had to evacuate Gaza. They even put together a timeline to prove it. Israel, it showed, completed its evacuations on August 23. The very next day, August 24, the “storm of our lifetime” debuted on radar screens as a tropical depression.

In the final days of 2004, more than 230,000 people lost their lives when an earthquake unleashed a series of devastating tsunamis onto South Asia. It was among the most devastating natural disasters in recorded history and, naturally, religious figures of many faiths – eastern, as well as western – were quick to yet again jump on the “God’s justice” bandwagon.

Among these authorities was Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. A Reuters news report quoted him as saying, “The world is being punished for wrongdoing.”

For Jewish theologians, license to finger-point at God is found in Exodus 21:13. Referring to an unintentional homicide, the verse uses the phrase “God delivers him into His hand.” An ArtScroll commentary provides what supposedly is the traditional understanding of the verse: “It is a fundamental principle of the Torah that events are not haphazard. Always there is the guiding hand of God.”

Proponents of this idea usually cite the following section from the Babylonian Talmud tractate Makkot 10b: “Of whom does the text [in Exodus] speak? Of two persons who had slain, one in error and the other with intent, with no witnesses present in either case. The Holy One, blessed be He, arranges for them both [to meet] at the same inn; the murderer sits under the ladder and the manslaughterer climbs down the ladder, loses his footing, and kills [the murderer].”

Consider this scenario in light of this piece of gemara: The person who is accidentally killed is an 8-year-old boy who was crossing the street when the brakes of a car failed and its driver could not stop in time. If we accept the gemara’s explanation, then we must believe that the 8-year-old killed someone deliberately and with malice (albeit perhaps he did so in an earlier existence). The driver whose brakes failed actually is guilty of an earlier manslaughter, but got away with it because there were no human witnesses. The lone witness to both homicides – God – thus saw to it that justice was done. “Always there is the guiding hand of God.”

It follows, then, that God arranged for the murder of Leiby Kletzky, for God only knows why.

Do you accept this? You should not have to. There are other discussions in the Talmud and elsewhere that reject such heresy.

The text in BT Makkot 10b, for example, is immediately challenged. “From the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings [it is clear that] a person is allowed to follow the road he chooses to travel.” The challengers then cite verses from each of the three sections of the Tanach in support of their cause.

In BT Avodah Zarah 54b, we are taught, “the world follows its natural course.” Some examples, follow. In one, a man sows stolen wheat. The “guiding hand of God” concept requires that the wheat will not grow, but it does, “because the world follows its natural course.”

Ironically, the same sage who was responsible for the statement in BT Makkot 10b, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, is cited here as supporting the opposite view: “The Holy One, blessed be He, declared, ‘It is not enough that the wicked put My coinage to vulgar use, but they trouble Me and compel Me to set My seal thereon!'” In other words, Resh Lakish is quoting God as saying, “I created a natural order for all things. The wicked use this natural order for their own ends and there is nothing I can do about it without bringing an end to that natural order.”

God played no role in the death of Leiby Kletzky. “A person is allowed to follow the road he chooses to travel,” and Levi Aron chose his. To say that God guided his hand is the rankest heresy.