A Henkin brother’s lament – and warning

Yagil Henkin, a Mida contributor, warns us to stop seeing his murdered brother and his wife as “terror” victims, as terror is merely a tool of the murderer.

Eitam and Naama Henkin, ob"m (of blessed memory)

I want to tell you a little bit about Eitam.

Eitam was a jester.

I know it’s surprising to say this at a funeral, and all the more so about a rabbi and scholar who was headed for greatness, but he was a jester—and that’s a good thing. If you want to be serious, you should also be able to make fun of yourself from time to time. A rabbi who doesn’t take himself too seriously is of great benefit to himself but also to others. The Torah warns us regarding a king “that his heart shall not be raised [above his brethren].” This is the trap that awaits the rabbi too, and the greater he is, the greater the trap. Eitam’s ability not to take himself too seriously, to make fun of himself and his world, was very important.

However, Eitam was also extremely serious. For years I insisted that in our family we have alternating generations: one generation of rabbis, then one of PhDs, and so on. Then came Eitam and ruined my joke since he decided to be both a rabbi and a PhD, and he excelled in both fields. He didn’t write in order to be promoted, but because he couldn’t stop writing; he had what to say and it was important for him to say it.

Moreover, Eitam had the intellectual and moral integrity that a serious rabbi must have. This is the integrity needed at the moment when the rabbi wishes to reach a particular (Halakhic) conclusion; and he knows that if he will manipulate the texts for his purposes, he can reach his desired conclusion, and perhaps even receive rounds of applause. But then, the small voice of his conscience intervenes and tells him, “But that isn’t the truth.” And since he knows the truth, he sticks to it. This isn’t easy, but that was Eitam’s integrity.

A scholar with integrity and humor. Eitam Henkin's scholarship page (https://eitamhenkin.wordpress.com/), screenshot
Rabbi Eitam Henkin’s scholarship page (https://eitamhenkin.wordpress.com/), screenshot

He was only thirty one when he was murdered; In his too few years he managed to write two major halakhic works and one historical work; if not for his murder, he would have added many more books in both fields. And when that would have happened, I would have had to deal not only with people correcting me when I say “Eitam” to call him instead “Rabbi Eitam,” but with people who would have directed me to call him “Harav HaGaon [The Great Rabbi] Professor Eitam.” If on top of that, we were to add that he also played guitar better than me, the situation would have been dire indeed. Well, I wish these would be my problems today and not what we have to deal with today.

I am sure during the shivah [The Jewish traditional mourning period of one week after the funeral] I will hear many stories about Eitam. Some will be familiar, some will sound familiar, and some will probably fit someone else (yes, media reporters, you who moved him to a different residence, gave him an additional two children, and recruited him retroactively to an elite army unit, I am speaking also about you). At a shivah you always tell the positive stories, minus a few embarrassing events like for example a fire following which Eitam was expelled from some high school.

But I don’t need the shiva to know that he was the most talented of us brothers, an extremely talented individual in general. He was full of knowledge but not full of himself. He was a phenomenal father and husband, who knew how to balance his family and his learning and his various occupations.

The Torah world lost one of the great rabbis and leaders of the next generation, and the academic world lost an excellent scholar. And I lost a brother, which you can imagine, isn’t less important for me.

However, this is not the only reason you all came here [today]. The many people who are here, and the reason we eulogize during the Succot holiday, as distinct from the usual Halakhic ruling, is that it was not “blind fate” which took the lives of Eitam and Naama. They are “Harugei Malchut,” the term used for those who died as part of the unceasing struggle of the Jewish people.

If you go to Mt. Herzl, you will discover that the first death from “hostile acts” buried there is Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Tzoref, who was murdered one hundred and sixty four years ago. This means, from the perspective of the State of Israel, that the national struggle of the Jewish people did not begin sixty seven years ago with the establishment of the State of Israel. Nor did the murderous acts against Jews commence with the 1948 Declaration of Independence. Those acts were the consequence of hostility to the notion of the Jews returning to their ancient homeland and living there as a people.

Jews being killed for our right to be here didn't start falling in 1948. Mt. Herzl Cemetery. Wikimedia
Jews being killed for our right to be here didn’t start falling in 1948. Mt. Herzl Cemetery. Wikimedia

Terrorism is simply the means, not the cause

Eitam and Naama became involuntary fighters in this struggle. Eitam and Naama are people slain by acts of hostility. They are not “terror victims.”

Do not call them “terror victims”, do not say that Israel has a war on terror.

Israel has no war on terror. There was never a war on terror, and never will be such war. Bernard Lewis, the great Middle-East scholar, once said regarding the US’s “Global War on Terror,” that to declare war on terror is comparable to imagining Churchill, in the dark days of 1940, declaring in his famous speech to parliament saying something along the lines of: “We are fighting against submarines and warplanes, against tanks, against bayonets, against guns and three inch mortars! We will fight them on the beaches…”

Technically this would have been correct. It would have also been complete nonsense. It was not the planes who fought the battle of Britain, but the pilots—British and German, and the nations— Britain and Germany—who sent them. Britain was fighting Nazi Germany, not planes and not submarines.

There is no such thing as a “terror of stones,” just like there is no “terror by individuals,” no “car terror,” nor is Jerusalem “plagued by stone throwing.” And similarly Eitam and Naama were not murdered—in contrast to a headline on a certain media site—by a passing car firing at them.

These are all methods. Not enemies. Terror is a tool. The one who uses terror is the enemy. Terror is the enemy’s tactic, knives and bullets—his weapons at hand. To say “We fight terror” is to say “We do not know who the enemy is; or we are not willing to define them as such.” In other words, “We have no strategy.”

Do not fight terror, fight those who dictate it. I don’t mean, God forbid, to call for acts of vengeance against innocents Arabs. I’m also not implying that we should give up on war ethics and the laws of war. My intention is that we should not pretend that there is no hostility, hatred, ideology, or agencies who manage terror. Nor should we pretend that there is no widespread support for terror. We should not forget that there is a religious and national conflict that has laid and continues to lay the foundation for terrorism.

We ourselves say, rightly, “We should not be like them.” Then why do we lie to ourselves and say that there are no “them,” that there is no enemy but only an abstract and faceless “terror”? If we are fighting “terror,” then who are those “them”?

Do not promise that our hands will reach the murderers. Behind those murderers there is a society which supports this kind of warfare. A society which supports targeting civilians, a society which supports finishing off a young couple. (Thanks to God their children were not hurt; but do not credit the murderers with “mercy.”) The murderers are the hangmen. But those who preach that ‘here is a Jew and therefore he deserves death,’—they will not be imprisoned. And those who today will give candies to children in order to celebrate the murder in cold blood of two more Jews, will pay no price.

לווית איתם ונעמה הנקין ז"ל. צילום: יונתן זינדל, פלאש90
Escorting the funeral of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, ob”m. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Eitam and Naama were not killed by “terror.” They are victims of an act of hostility. It was hostility behind the murder. Human beings driven by hatred went out to the road in order to murder Jews, and they succeeded. They took my brother from me and from my siblings; from Yishai they took his sister Naama; from my parents and from Naama’s parents they took their children; from the children—Matan, Nitzan, Neta and Itamar—they took their parents, they took the right to grow up in a family, with the experiences and memories of a warm, unified, and loving family. They took from you, who stand here, a talented and optimistic couple, who were destined to greatness. And they continue to take from everyone their sense of security. They were Arab murderers, backed by a too-large segment of Arab society, with far too little principled opposition to murder. An enemy. An enemy who utilizes Terror.

Do not degrade their memory by turning them into victims of a force of nature. Debate about policy, not about the murdered. Do not find justification and sympathy for murderers. Keep your empathy for the children who were left orphans, to the parents who were left bereft. And for the people of Israel, who still have a long way before being able to sit peacefully beneath their vines and fig trees.

There can be no compensation for our loss. It is a personal loss, an open hole which will never be filled. Most of you are not here because of it. You are here because, as the Babylonian Talmud says, “when permission is given to the destroyer to destroy, he does not distinguish between the righteous and the evil.” And how can he distinguish? The destroyer is so evil, he has no clue about what is good. He is evil to the bone, “and all of the thoughts of his heart are only evil all day,” what can he know about goodness? And he also does not care.

Eitam and Naama, few and good were the years of your life, but they did not reach those of your fathers in their homeland. Woe to a generation where parents are burying their children!

There is a verse from Isaiah that is customarily quoted in funerals: “He will swallow up death forever, and God will wipe away tears from all faces.” The conclusion of this verse is no less important, nationally and not just personally. Here is the full verse: “He will swallow up death forever, and God will wipe away tears from all faces; and He will remove his people’s shame from upon the entire earth, because God has spoken.”

And He will remove his people’s shame from upon the entire earth, because God has spoken!

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