The four rabbis murdered in Jerusalem were living Torah Scrolls.
Published: Saturday, November 22, 2014 6:23 PM
Their every word and deed revealed an ancient civilization and traditions filtered through the centuries. Their bodies were turned into fountains of blood by the delirium of Islamist murderers who shouted "Allahu Akbar". But to see them alive, shadows swaying, was to realize that those four learned men transmitted the plastic image of scenes from the Old Testament.
They each wanted to aspire to be a "talmid khakham", students of rabbis who preceded them, in the tradition of those pious scholars who founded a democratic theocracy and rebelled against the most formidable autocratic monarchy of the time, Egypt.
The four Israeli rabbis killed with a machete in the synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem, lived with an acute sense of the Jewish tragedy. The destruction of the Temple, the mass pogroms of Chmielnicki and the Holocaust were physically present in their lives.
They spoke of "mesirut nefesh", Hebrew for self-sacrifice. "The Lord chooses his children, we have to respect his wishes." This infinite compassion was the greatness of Rabbis Moshe Twersky, Aryeh Kupinsky, Kalman Levine and Avraham Shmuel Goldberg. They had a pale and elusive beauty, intensified by a spiritual contempt for fear. They wore long white beards and blue eyes bursting with curiosity.
Twersky was heir to two of the families who have contributed volumes to the glory of Orthodox Judaism. A life of study and prayer. His maternal grandfather, the great Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Jewish philosopher and rabbinic head of Yeshiva University, known simply as "the Rav", pressed Pope Paul VI to reinstate the condemnation of the charge of deicide during the writing of the Vatican encyclical on Judaism Nostra Aetate, which had disappeared from the draft under the pressure of the Arab eastern churches. The other grandfather, Rabbi Isadore Twersky, famous for his works on Maimonides, founded the Center of Jewish studies at Harvard.
At first glance, the Israeli world presents, sometimes almost exasperatingly, the character of the most advanced, unscrupulous Western societies. In Har Nof, however, and in the synagogue where the massacre took place, once finds the other Israel, the pious, humble, religious Israel, that can be found in the older ultra-Orthodox densely populated neighborhoods, in parts of Judea and Samaria and large neighborhoods of Jerusalem built after 1967.
In the hill of the massacre, Har Nof, literally the Hill of Vistas, lived Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who died a year ago, the phenomenal rabbi who had won the title of "Ma'or Yisrael", the Light of Israel.
The motto here is: "First the Torah, then the State".
The attack on the synagogue was a deja vu. forJerusalem, On August 19, 2003, Jerusalem's number 2 bus was filled with worshipers returning from the Western Wall when twenty-three Jewish passengers were killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. It was called "the bus of holiness." For many of the victims, going to the Kotel was a holiday, a source of immense joy.
The four rabbis wanted to "help sixteen million Jews in the world to reach contact with God and the commandments." The watchwords of Twersky were like those of Chabad: wisdom (chochmah), understanding (binah), and knowledge (Daath). Twersky and the others were in the world, but out of the world.
You see them everywhere in Jerusalem, they are always in good spirits, they turn to strangers with a smile, if they are Chabad, they immediately offer to fasten the phylacteries, coiling them around the arm with the agility of magicians.
They were the heroes of a world of simplicity, directness and prodigious familiarity with God; that same world that Marc Chagall revealed with his pictorial art. Education and social assistance were the priorities of these four Jews. The biographies of the four vibrated with the paradox of a proportion that dropped entirely in the reality of the human, the radical absence of abstraction, the continuous passage from earth to heaven, a sublimity tinged with humor.
The Torah scholars killed by Palestinian terrorists had all left lives of ease and assimilation in the outskirts of the West.
Levine was born in Kansas City, he was the son of a lawyer, and in Israel studied in the old hareidi neighborhood of Meah Shearim, which means "one hundred doors", a fortress where Jews live, sleep, work with the Bible and the Talmud under their eyes.
Rabbi Kupinsky was from Detroit, where he was well known in the city (his parents had taught at Wayne State University). Kupinsky had moved to Har Nof from his family's home in Kiryat Arba, the "City of Four", adjoining Hevron, the city of the Jewish Patriarchs, where Jewish life is behind a tall metal fence that runs all around the houses, the post office, the school. A place where war is not on television, but enters the low houses of white stone and is on the roads, in the pine forest, in the games for children. "Welcome to the Messiah," says the yellow banner that greets visitors at the entrance of the village-bunker. It was founded with the blessing of Labour, not the Likud. It was born with 18 inhabitants and 11 Bibles.
Rabbi Goldberg was a chemical engineer from Liverpool and a consultant for the hareidim, "the righteous", those who live in houses with only basic furniture. Goldberg had arrived in Israel in 1991, while the scuds of Saddam Hussein hit Tel Aviv, Iraq threatened to "burn half of Israel" and the Jews pulled out gas masks from the khaki box they had hidden in a corner of the house to exorcise it. Goldberg had left the idyllic hills of Golders Green, the middle class of Jewish London.
When Palestinian terrorists stormed the synagogue in Har Nof, the four rabbis had their eyes turned to the east praying towards the Old City of Jerusalem where once stood the Temple and the Holy Ark of the Covenant. They were killed wearing their phylacteries and prayer shawls, eyes still fixed on the siddur, the book of prayer. About to say a Psalm: "This is the gate of God and the righteous will enter it."
They were really the princes of Israel. The day after the massacre, the yeshiva of Bnei Torah on the western hill of Jerusalem, the blood of the martyrs, the kedoshim, was removed to be buried along their poor remains. But the day after dozens of Jews returned to the synagogue to thank God. So that God can smile down at His people again after that horrific day.
I bow before them.