When Ritual Fringe Becomes Arterial Tourniquet

A wounded father’s simple, instinctive action to save his son’s life might hold the key to healing Israel’s national divide

| Topics: Terrorism, Judaism
Photo: Creative Commons

A terrorist bomb planted at a popular natural spring that killed 17-year-old Rina Shnerb on Friday is but the latest deadly event in the prolonged war against the Jewish state. Calling such incidents either “terror” or “heroic resistance” doesn’t alter the underlying and undeniable fact that Muslims are killing Jews for the “crime” of living in this Land.

Sadly, too many Israelis, to say nothing of observers from abroad, have been convinced by a well-crafted propaganda campaign that Israel rightly suffers the consequences of occupation. End the occupation of Palestine, say the naïve, and peace will come.

And yet, every now and then something happens that reminds us Israelis what these killings are really all about. Rina’s father, Rabbi Eitan Shnerb, who along with his son were also injured in the bombing, summoned the strength to tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a condolence call that “my only message is to further strengthen the Torah, the Land and the People of Israel … Rina is a martyr.”

Coming from a rabbi, this is a remarkably bold statement, considering that Jewish martyrdom is neither welcomed, nor common. It also has nothing whatsoever to do with Muslim martyrdom. To make but one obvious distinction, a Jew never becomes a martyr by claiming the lives of others.

By calling his daughter a martyr (harugat malchut), Rabbi Shnerb was referring to none others than the Ten Martyrs, who were killed by the Romans for refusing to obey the Empire’s edict outlawing Jewish religious activities such as circumcision, synagogue prayer and Torah study. The Ten Martyrs were executed for refusing to obey these laws, which were designed to put a quiet end to the Jewish people. One of those martyrs, Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion, was wrapped in a Torah scroll that was set on fire for daring to teach the Scriptures. His wife was then killed, and his daughter was raped. When R. Haninah’s disciples asked him why he didn’t simply comply with the Roman edict, he answered, “I do as my God commands me.” 

Following this analogy, Rina’s “crime” was her obedience to the divine command to “take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess” (Numbers 33:53). The Shnerbs and their 11 children, to clarify, reside in the poverty-stricken, crime-infested, Arab-dominated town of Lod, where very few Israeli Jews would willfully choose to live. But it was there that Rabbi Shnerb opened five charity centers to serve anyone in need, regardless of race or religion. According to the sages, obeying the command to possess the Land, Lod included, is akin to obeying the entire Torah. It is that important.

No less significant was Rabbi Eitan Shnerb’s efforts to save the life of his son, Dvir. Ignoring his own wounds, Rabbi Shnerb used his ritual fringes, or tassels (known in Hebrew as tzitzit), to stop the bleeding from his Dvir’s arm, and by so doing probably saved his life. Though he likely wasn’t thinking of it as such at the time, there could be nothing more symbolic than turning tzitzit into an arterial tourniquet. 

The ritual fringe with all that it stands for becoming a life-saving tourniquet points to the ultimate remedy for our national bleeding. Our leaders have frantically tried most other solutions, but continue to avoid perhaps the one thing that can save this nation before it bleeds out.

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