This past summer, a Palestinian family of three from a village called Duma was killed by a group of right wing Israeli extremists who threw a fire bomb into the Arab family’s home while they were asleep. One of the victims was an infant. The Israeli government and rabbinate condemned the act. Six weeks ago, a group of friends of those right wing radicals held up a photo of the murdered baby at a Jewish wedding celebration in Jerusalem and violently raised knives, guns, and a firebomb as if celebrating the infant’s death. It was a form of intimidation that, fortunately, the government and rabbinate condemned again.
A friend of mine wrote a blog about these two incidents suggesting that there’s a culture of intolerance in the right wing settler movement that is inciting this kind of violence. The extremists believe that the State of Israel should be exclusively a state of the Jews. The best way to achieve that goal is not through some negotiation or separation but by the expulsion of Arabs and perhaps through killing them.
In response to the blog, a Jewish reader cautioned my friend and said that one shouldn’t think that it is only the culture of the right wing extremists–and perhaps even their rabbis–that is fomenting this violence. Our Tanach, which is the inheritance of all Jews, seems to encourage this kind of violence. The reader cited Psalm 137.9 which states “Happy is the one who seizes your infants (yours being the Babylonians’ infants) and dashes them against the rocks.”
This Psalm is one that TanenbaumCHAT students know well because they study the first part of it in Grade 9 Jewish history. However, usually the last verse, verse 9, is glossed over or omitted. Instead, we focus only on the first verses which give a glimpse into the trauma felt by the Jews after the destruction of the first Temple. The Psalm famously states “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept…If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning.”
My friend asked me if we, at TanenbaumCHAT, would ever teach verse 9. Is it educationally sound to expose our students to a verse that seems to encourage revenge in a most cruel way against our enemies. If we show our students this verse, will they be more likely to close the Tanach because it is ostensibly preaching intolerance, vengeance, and cruelty? Or are they more likely to open it because the entire Tanach is our heritage, not just the parts that resonate with our modern moral sensibilities? How will students who are confronted with this verse make sense of it? Bottom line, is this appropriate to teach to high school students?