Vboteach, shmuley
Vboteach, shmuley

Struggling to come to grips with intra-community savagery

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

There are three reasons Chassidic Jews live together in tight-knit and often insular communities. The first is shared values. The second, a strong support network and security in numbers. And the third is a desire to filter out some of the corrosive elements of outside society from corrupting their children.

All three have been undermined by the brutal murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky of Brooklyn whose dismembered body parts were found in the freezer of Levi Aron. Aron, a 35-year-old hardware supply clerk, confessed to suffocating the boy with a bath towel, but pleaded not guilty to charges that he killed Leiby and dismembered him.

With thousands gathered on the streets of Brooklyn, the hearse that carried the coffin of murdered boy Leiby Kletzky leaves his funeral service July 13. photo/ap/mary altaffer

Where did Levi Aron stem from? Yes, he dresses like an Orthodox Jew. But one can only pray he is mad. Because Judaism, as a religion, commands the highest sensitivity to all life and even inanimate objects. Moses was not permitted to smite the waters of the Nile or dust of Egypt because both had saved his life. Cruelty to animals is one of Judaism’s most severe sins. How could a man schooled in the Jewish tradition of the infinite value of life allegedly butcher a boy into pieces?

As for a strong support network, one assumes that this is the reason Leiby’s parents agreed for him to walk home from day camp. No one can now imagine how their unspeakable pain is being now compounded by extreme and unjustified guilt. Why was the boy allowed to walk home alone, reportedly for the first time?

But that’s the whole point. Boro Park is a safe neighborhood. It’s the reason you choose to raise a family in a community surrounded by people who are never total strangers. They share your faith, your values, your way of life. So your kids are never in danger. When one family is in trouble, all come to the rescue, as was evidenced by the outpouring of help to find Leiby in the first place. Therefore, when Leiby got lost he walked over to someone who, though unrecognizable as an individual would have been very familiar to him as a member of his community – in other words, bearded and with a yarmulke or a hat. Someone safe.

I have long argued that one of the factors that has led to the national child obesity epidemic is parents’ fears for their children’s safety, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children are no longer permitted to walk to school because parents don’t want them to bump into sickos. The net result is that they don’t get the exercise they need.

But in the case of a child in a highly Orthodox community, the thinking would be that the child is safe because “unzere” (our own people) are around to help and protect.

But Levi Aron is not unzere. Not only is the confessed killer not part of the religious Jewish family, he is not part of the human family. He is a beast of the field, a cold-blooded predator, devoid of any spark of God or hint of humanity. He is a man without a soul, a spiritless hominid.

Which leads to the most important question of all. In most cases where a child is abducted or brutally murdered by a predator, the child had already been a mark. A pedophile would have been at a playground or on a street corner studying a child who is then abducted. But in this case, a child became lost and he approached a man for directions who turns out to be a diabolical fiend. One can only hope and indeed assume that there aren’t that many crazed killers stalking Boro Park.

So how could it be that the child ends up asking the one psychopath who just happened to be at his dentist to pay his bill? In other words, what was God thinking? We Jews believe in divine providence. Nothing happens by accident. So a child gets lost and the only person who is around for him to ask ends up being a schizoid killer?

Which brings me to my final point. I said the third reason why religious Jews live together is to protect their children from corrosive influences, to filter out elements of the popular culture and the media which are unhealthy for a child’s development. My God, given that that’s the case, how do we make sense of a child being killed in a neighborhood set up to protect children?

We will never understand a mind like Levi Aron. Nor should we try. I read that he was on suicide watch this week, and I wished he weren’t. If he killed himself it would be no great loss. He is not human anyway. But I wish I knew what celestial purpose could possibly have been filled by an innocent child innocently bumping into someone who would murder him.

The God whom we Jews love and to whom we have been, and will continue to be, so tenaciously attached for thousands of years has a lot of explaining to do.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of “Judaism for Everyone” and the founder of This World: The Value Network. He is @RabbiShmuley on Twitter.