October 27, 2023
As we approach Shabbat and mark three weeks since Hamas’ horrific attack on Israel, our hearts are heavy and our souls pained as Israel continues the excruciating task of burying the over 1400 people murdered by Hamas. With each day, more details emerge about the unspeakable violence perpetrated on October 7 against Israelis.
We are particularly distraught that more than 220 people, including babies, women, and the elderly, continue to be held as hostages by Hamas. The international community, including nation states and the UN, NGOs, faith leaders, and all people of goodwill, must universally and unequivocally call and work for the immediate release of all the hostages. Their kidnapping and ongoing detention is a heinous war crime. The families of the hostages feel keenly that the window to secure the safe release of their loved ones is closing, especially for the hostages who are severely wounded.
Even as we support Israel’s moral right to wage war against Hamas, we are a people who know that we must never be inured to the suffering of the innocent. We hold fast to the ideal that each of us is created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God, so we cannot ignore the tremendous toll this is taking on innocent civilians in Gaza. We mourn the deaths of innocent Palestinian civilians caught in the nightmare of Gaza. They too are victims of the brutal Hamas regime and the rising death toll pains us deeply.
We join in the call from President Biden and Secretary Blinken for Israel to implement a humanitarian pause to ensure that food, water, medicine, and other humanitarian aid can flow more quickly into Gaza. Likewise, the Reform movement joins them in a belief that a ceasefire at this moment would be a tragic mistake and a strategic advantage to Hamas in its quest to eliminate the Jewish state. We call on leaders in the region to act to ensure that Hamas will not siphon off the aid provided. Hospitals must be able to function. Families must not starve. And no innocent Palestinian child should suffer.
In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, Abraham assembles a small fighting force to rescue his nephew Lot, who has been taken hostage in the midst of a regional war. Right after the successful hostage rescue in Genesis 14 we read, “Al tira, Avram. Don’t be afraid Avram.” It is not clear what Abraham is afraid of; perhaps another attack on his family. But Genesis Rabbah, an ancient commentary, suggests his fear is that he might have killed an innocent person as he fought for Lot’s release. The lesson could not be clearer: Even in war, our Jewish tradition demands that we must never lose our moral bearings.
We are humbled by the extraordinarily complex life and death decisions that must be made each day by the Israeli government and military, sometimes having to choose only the least terrible option. We take heart in Ruach Tzahal, the IDF Code of Ethics, that informs how every IDF soldier seeks to wage war, including limiting civilian casualties as much as possible.
As we enter into Shabbat, we pray first and foremost for the safety and swift return of the hostages. And we pray that in the difficult days and weeks to come, and with the support of the U.S. and broader international community, Israel’s diplomatic, military, and political leaders will be guided by the finest ideals of our tradition and by the values laid out in Israel’s own Declaration of Independence.
Union for Reform Judaism
Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman (she/her)
Rabbi Rick Jacobs (he/him)
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Erica Asch (she/her)
Rabbi Hara E. Person (she/her)
American Conference of Cantors
Cantor Seth Warner (he/him)
Rachel Roth (she/her)
Chief Operating Officer