Author’s Note: Dedicated to the memory of Shira Banki whose support of a friend put her ‘in harm’s way.’
‘It is the obligation of every Jew to keep his soul from punishment and stop this giant desecration of God’s name next Thursday” wrote Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-orthodox Jew, in a flyer he later distributed several weeks before he assaulted marchers with a knife at the 2015 Jerusalem Gay Rights Parade.
Apparently unsuccesful in attracting many followers, he became increasingly more desperate as the event date approached. No stranger to such matters as his 2005 police and prison record would attest, Schlissel was well aware he would have to act swiftly and decisively in defense of Torah and the sanctity of the holy city of Jerusalem.
He had previously told police that he was prepared to die for his cause and would kill if necessary after Israeli police arrested and charged him with three counts of assaulting marchers with a knife at the 2005 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. Tragically, proof of his capability to kill was provided when one of six stabbing victims of his 2015 assault, sixteen-year old high school student Shira Banki, who reportedly was in attendance at the latter event not for herself but in order to show support for a gay friend, succumbed to her wounds three days later.
The photographs taken of Schlissel while in police custody following his second arrest in 2015 show a man who, though defeated, remains assured that he chose the right path, who could not confess to the error of his ways because he had done no wrong.
Do such men ever wonder: ‘My God, what have I done?’ when they are no longer under public scrutiny? Or is it unlikely that they have any moral foundation at all upon which to make the kind of decisions that most people of similar cultural backgrounds would find agreeable?
To understand the kind of man Yishai Schlissel became, contrast him to the thousands upon thousands of other orthodox Jewish men of the same generation as he. Leading lives of devotion to family and God and for whom acts of violent intolerance would be anathema, we should pause to give thanks that so few Jewish men become ‘Yishai Schlissel(s).’
If only there had been one less the day of the 2015 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade.
At a time when individuals such as Schlissel try to foist their violent emotionally-driven (mis)understanding of Torah onto an Israel whose very existential right to live life as it sees fit within a framework of law is challenged and attacked daily by people who would gladly take part in its final destruction, when internal and external foes are breaching the ‘walls of Jerusalem’, one could argue that had Mr. Schlissel devoted himself with as much fervor to his country’s existential survival rather than pursuing his one-man crusade against homosexuals, he might be at home right now enjoying his life rather than in prison where he is currently wasting it.
The belief that homosexuality is a sin is not unlawful; after all, everyone should understand the impossibility of legislating morality. However, the belief that homosexuality is a sin which justifies the use of lethal force against gays is murder. The law does not ask for our shared belief in the morality underpinning the law, only that we accept it (when different from our own belief). The way we live with the difference, if there is one, should be benign in nature, giving rise to neither rancor nor civil unrest.
Genuine Jewish religiosity presupposes belief and trust in G-d that He will handle all matters within His province. He has no deputies or any need for them.
There was only one man determined to capture the attention of the world that fateful day. Unfortunately, he succeeded.
After Israeli police apprehended this man, they learned with some considerable embarassment that he was the very same Yishai Schlissel with whom they had spoken in 2005 and who had only recently been paroled from prison for his 2005 offense. Ten years later, not only had he become a repeat offender but a ‘copy cat’ of his own criminal past.
We often need to remind ourselves that, even if no more than the tiniest bit, some good must come from everything bad, evil or tragic. Perhaps Yishai Schlissel, your example will guide another young and troubled Jewish man back onto the ‘derech tov’-the ‘good path’ from which he too had previously fallen.