How do you punish murderers?

The news of the murder of the three kids is horrific. No qualifications, no rationalizations, nothing. The murder of children is one of the most horrific things imaginable. I found myself staring again at the pictures of the three boys, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, and all of them look like such sweet kids. That place in my stomach that twists when I allow myself, force myself or enable myself to internalize even a bit of the ugliness and wrongness contained within the violent deaths of others is twisting. May their memories be a blessing, and may their families find comfort. I cannot imagine what feelings of grief they must be feeling right now. I didn’t know the kids, nor do I know their families, and I feel angry.

This anger, grief and confusion lead me to a question that many are asking: How do you punish murderers?

The answer has to be something like this: You punish murderers with gentleness and justice. You avenge the deaths of children unfairly killed by doing all that is possible to prevent the deaths of more children who need not die. You force those who have killed to live with the devastating memory that they have killed. You allow space for collective grieving, for healing, for the lives of the dead to be remembered. You ask questions about what sort of things they liked to do, what music they listened to, what books they read.

You do not turn the murdered children’s holy memories into political poker chips in a sick game of ego and self-worship and viscousness. You do not speak as the so-called leaders of Israel are speaking right now, “They will pay,” snarls the Prime Minister. “Our war will grow!” screams the President. “I don’t know how many of them will be left alive” flexes the Foreign Minister. And you do not follow these false leaders in your actions, as a mob that gathered to terrorize an Arab pizza worker in Jerusalem minutes ago tried to do. Nor do you follow these false leaders in your words, as those on Facebook and Twitter who call for revenge, for death, to “make them pay” are doing. To feel pain now is real and it is right. The desire to inflict pain on others may also be real, but to act on or give voice to that desire is virulently wrong.

יהי זכרונם לברכה May their memories be a blessing.

May we all have the strength and courage not to allow their memories to be turned into a curse on the lives of others- like the young man at the pizza shop- as our “leaders” are encouraging us to do.

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For a model of forgiveness, of punishing (and gracing) a murderer with gentleness, please take the time to listen to these radio pieces in which Hector Black tells of forgiving the man who murdered his daughter.