A different kind of terrorist atrocity hit Tel Aviv Saturday night. In Israel's most liberal and gay-friendly city, and also by some measures its largest, a gunman dressed in black entered the basement room of a gay and lesbian center where a support group of young people, ages 14-21, was meeting with facilitators. He pulled a pistol and opened fire. Nir Katz, 26, one of the facilitators, and Liz Troubishi, 17, were murdered. 15 others were injured, 10 hospitalized, 2 in critical condition. The gunman remains at large. A variety of articles provide more information at www.haaretz.com, including condemnations by both Netanyahu and Livni, leaders of the two largest political parties, and background that reveals this as a radical escalation of anti-gay violence here.
Most assume that the perpetrator acted with a religious motive. And indeed, the ultra-orthodox have become more actively hateful in recent years. What I find astonishing about this is that despite the widely interpreted biblical prohibition on male-male anal sex, Rabbinic Judaism actually contains a legal mechanism that would not just enable, but mandate acceptance of homosexuality. According to a principle called pikuah nefesh, any commandment, excluding prohibitions on murder, idolatry, and adultery, is superseded if a human life is potentially at stake. Given what we know about the relationship between the closet--self-imposed and as a function of overt social repression--and suicide and murder, it seems to me that this biblical prohibition, which does not even hold for all gays or for any lesbians, should be considered null and void.
Such a principle of reverence for human life, pikuah nefesh should guide the ethos of a state that calls itself "Jewish." Instead, it has been relegated to a parodic flexibility and inconsistency by those who claim to be the standard bearers of Torah Judaism. Steven Spielberg's holo-kitch flick, Schindler's List, at least popularized the Talmudic maxim that one who saves a single life is like one who has saved a universe entire. Following the concept that all humans are created in God's image found in the creations myths in Genesis, Rabbinic Judaism has always considered murder to be the gravest desecration of God's holy name.
Demonstrations have been announced. I would love to see hate crimes legislation brought to the floor of the Knesset, if only to force the leaders of religious parties to take public responsibility for the incitement that has destroyed the young lives of Nir Katz and Liz Troubishi and so hideously and blasphemously desecrated the holy name of the God they claim to represent.
Update [2009-8-4 2:45:9 by Strummerson]: No, they haven't caught the murderer yet. But this response from Yoel Marcus sums up much of what I tried to say here and places it effectively in both a historical and broader social context.
The bloodbath in a gay-lesbian club, shocking and upsetting though it was, is merely a part, or perhaps a result, of the general violence into which this country is descending. Hatred or intolerance for others' opinions leads to them dying by violence. There is a chilling similarity between what happened on Nahmani Street in Tel Aviv and what Yigal Amir did years ago.
For generations, Jews were considered a people that sanctified nonviolence in interhuman relations and lived by the the "law of the land." Our ancestors relied on God, but the modern-day Orthodox place less reliance on Him; they have fewer expectations of their prayers being answered. Instead - and it makes no difference whether we are talking about the Zionist ultra-Orthodox people from the illegal West Bank outposts or the non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox ones from the Mea She'arim outpost - they do exactly as they please. A time traveler from the past would ask himself: These are Jews? http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1105067.html