I don’t know how many 9/11s this is for Israel—one, or 10, or 20—but there’s one way in which it is exactly like 9/11, which is to say, the people of Israel are going to unite in the conviction that this attack must be avenged. Now, 21st century enlightened people don’t like the word “avenged.” It suggests a “dreaded cycle of violence” that supposedly never ends. Well, to hell with that.
When a Jew dies of natural causes, we say “may his memory be for a blessing.” But as COMMENTARY’s Meir Y. Soloveichik reminded us in the wake of the Tree of Life slaughter five years ago, when a Jew is murdered, we say something starker. We say Hashem Yikom Damam. We say: May God avenge their blood. As Solly wrote then: “When it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin….We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.”
Let’s think this through for a minute. Without some need for vengeance, what need is there for any form of punishment? Will the punishment bring back the 900 so far who were murdered? Will punishment sew up the wounds of the thousands of casualties? It will not. The best punishment can do is remove the culprit so that he will not act again. And while that is certainly not nothing, it is a peculiarly utilititarian aim—as though the problem with a person who kills or wounds is primarily his potential for creating future havoc. In this view, he has to be stopped, and if he is, then good things will happen for others whose lives he will not snuff out.
But that utilitarian view of punishment says nothing about the ongoing consequences that accompany the act of obliterating another God-given life. For, in a sense, having obliterated not only that life, the murderer obliterates the lives of everyone that person loved or who loved him. Those lives have, in a sense, been ended, too—or at least the life they would have lived had the murder not happened. Everything that takes place in the lives of those who have survived the killing of a loved one follows a new path, a new path they should not have had to take, a new life that is not the life they were meant to live.
So it is not enough to stop Hamas in its tracks and get it to stop doing what it’s doing, to go back into its hidey-hole and live to earn the propagandistic word-vomit support of Mehdi Hasan and Ilhan Omar. The blood of every Israeli who died (and was wounded) in these attacks must be avenged because not to do so is effectively to excuse the murders themselves in the most profound moral sense. Vengeance is an act of memory. It says the people avenged were of such value that their passing must make everything stop until that passing is commemorated in kind.
This is why the inevitable (and already sounded) calls for “restraint” in the face of the Simchat Torah pogrom are statements of moral and spiritual idiocy. Except to the extent that restraint is always warranted—if you drive 200 miles an hour on a switchback on your way to getting your vengeance, you will show a lack of restraint that will get you killed—there is no moral benefit to restraint per se. Should you act with restraint if an old woman is being beaten up on a subway car right next to you? Should you act with restraint when a tiny child is carrying a potful of boiling water? Of course not. Restraint itself isn’t a virtue. It is one of a variety of responses to immediate conditions that do not have the clearest solutions.
Israel should not restrain itself. It should extirpate the evil done to it and its people. It should avenge their blood. Sorry, milquetoasts. Go retreat into your comforting delusions. Amalek may soon come for you too.