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A rebbe owes an apology to terror victims
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A rebbe owes an apology to terror victims

I’ve never been impressed by those who claim to know the “real” reason behind some tragedy — usually something along the lines of the victim’s not having recently checked to make sure his or her mezuzas were still kosher. But the recent pronouncement by a prominent hasidic rebbe about who should be blamed for the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers is especially outrageous. And I’m taking it personally.

Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, leader of the Satmar hasidim in Kiryas Joel, NY, declared: “The parents are to blame. They caused their sons’ murder…. Who let them go there, among known murderers? Is there no place in the Land of Israel to live and study, only inside the animal cage?”

Given the Satmar group’s extreme positions — such as its fierce opposition to the existence of the State of Israel — some might dismiss the rebbe’s remark as representing the view of only a tiny fringe element. But sociologists estimate that the Satmar hasidim number more than 100,000; they are, in fact, the single largest hasidic sect in the world.

Numbers aside, Rabbi Teitelbaum was in fact voicing a sentiment not so different from what some others in the Jewish community have expressed: that the young victims brought the tragedy on themselves by hitchhiking or that their parents are to blame, either for allowing them to hitchhike or for sending them to study in a school in Gush Etzion, that is, in the West Bank. 

Every parent worries first and foremost about the safety of his or her children. No sane parents deliberately put their children in harm’s way. Every parent weighs the risk of sending a child to live in, study in, or visit a particular neighborhood. 

One may assume that Rabbi Teitelbaum, as a conscientious parent, is aware of the crime statistics in Brooklyn, which is the center of the Satmar community.

At the moment, Brooklyn is less safe than 62 percent of cities in the United States. There are six crimes per 1,000 residents of Brooklyn each year — well above the national median of 3.9. For all residents of New York City, the odds of becoming a victim of crime are one in 246. If you live in Brooklyn, it’s a lot higher: one in 167. Nationwide, 2.42 of every 1,000 people are victims of assault each year; in Brooklyn, it’s 3.41. 

The number of victims of robberies nationwide is 1.13 per 1,000; in Brooklyn, it’s more than double — 2.4. 

Even from the point of view of geography, the statistics should worry the Satmars: The national median of crimes per square mile is 39.3; for all of New York City, it’s 47. For Brooklyn, it’s 851.

Of course, it’s not all gloom and doom for Brooklynites. For example, the rate of motor vehicle theft in Brooklyn is less than half of the national figure, and the rate of burglary is about one third that of the rest of the nation. 

And that’s my point. All parents have to weigh a variety of factors in choosing where to live or where their children should study or visit. How many muggings or burglaries do you suppose take place annually in the Gush Etzion communities where the three teenage boys studied? What are the odds of being kidnapped by Arab terrorists? Obviously a lot lower than the odds of being assaulted in Brooklyn.

In deciding that their sons would study in Gush Etzion, the Frenkels, Shaars, and Yifrachs were not irresponsibly sending their children into a minefield. They were sending them into an area that is heavily protected by the Israeli army and where the chances of being harmed in a terrorist attack are extremely small. The only reason they appear larger is because they receive so much media attention — as they should. 

When my daughter Alisa, who was then a 20-year-old student at Brandeis University, decided to spend her junior year in Israel, my wife and I were naturally somewhat apprehensive. On the other hand, Israel and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had signed the Oslo Accords. The government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had assured the Israeli public and world Jewry that a new era had dawned, that the vast majority of the Palestinians were now moderate and peace-loving. Shimon Peres insisted that Israel was now living in “a new Middle East.”

Gush Katif, the bloc of Jewish communities in Gaza, was not considered to be some kind of dangerous no-man’s-land. This was long before Israel withdrew from Gaza, long before Hamas took over, long before the first rocket had been fired into Sderot. Israelis and Jews from around the world visited Gush Katif all the time, without incident. When Alisa mentioned that she was going there to spend a few days in the sun before Passover and that she was following my travel rules, we saw no reason for alarm — any more than Rabbi Teitelbaum feels alarm about his children spending a Shabbat in Brooklyn.

Rabbi Teitelbaum is fortunate that he has not experienced the pain of losing a child in a terrorist attack. He should count his blessings and remember that his first obligation, as a rabbi, as a Jew, is to feel the pain of his fellow Jews, not to exacerbate that pain with crude finger-pointing. He owes an apology to the families of every victim of Palestinian terrorism.

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