Lower Than the Lowest: Torah Thoughts on the Manchester Bombing

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Pray for Manchester

As I write this, the world is still reeling from the cowardly attack by ISIS on the Manchester Arena, which left 22 dead, 59 wounded and dozens reportedly missing.

Terrorism is always cowardly. There are protocols to war. Soldiers have uniforms. Armies fight other armies and attack military targets. True, soldiers can violate the rules and commit war crimes but terrorists have no such rules to begin with. They dress in civilian clothes and target civilian non-combatants. They strike indiscriminately and may even kill those who support their cause as “collateral damage.” The way of terrorists is cowardly to begin with but the Manchester attack took things to an all-time low.

As cowardly as attacks in New York, Paris and Israel have been (to name just a few examples), the Manchester attack was worse because the terrorists targeted an Ariana Grande concert. I’m only passingly familiar with Ms. Grande’s music but I am aware that her fan base is largely composed of what we used to call “teenyboppers.” Ms. Grande has a critical mass of fans called “Arianators” – girls between the ages of eight and 18. The suicide bomber knew that the venue would be packed with teens, tweens and even younger children. And to him, attacking such a population was a desirable thing.

As bad as it is to target civilians indiscriminately, it’s far worse to target children. Unsurprisingly, we see this from the Torah. Specifically, we see it from the prohibitions against idol worship.

Idolatry is anathema in all its forms. God gives us so much, it’s a huge slap in the face to Him if people turn to idols. Imagine your dad giving you a new sports car for your 18th birthday. If you just take the keys and drive off without saying thank you, that’s ingratitude and it’s pretty rude. But if you run next door, throw your arms around the neighbor (who had nothing to do with the gift and is probably confused as to why you’re on his lawn), yelling “thankyouthankyouthankyou!” as loudly as you can, that’s overtly insulting to your father. When one worships idols, he not only ignores God, he attributes the goodness that God provides to carvings of wood and stone. It’s the supreme insult (or perhaps the Supreme insult).

Idolatry is a capital offense. In the time of the Sanhedrin, it could get one executed. Even today, it’s one of only three sins that one must give up his life rather than violate, alongside murder and incestuous relationships. You might think that it couldn’t get any worse than idolatry but it does: the service of Molech.

Leviticus 18:21 states, “Do not cause any of your children to pass (through fire) for Molech…,” Molech being the name of an idol whose service was practiced at the time when the Torah was given. While idolatry is generally prohibited, we are given an extra mitzvah specifically banning the service of Molech. As reprehensible as idolatry was in general, the service of Molech was even more heinous because it involved children.

In the service of Molech, the parent of a child would hand him or her over to the priests of the idol, who would hold the child in the idol’s face. They would then return the child to the parent, who would pass him or her through a large fire. The commentators differ as to whether the intention of this service was to sacrifice the child in the fire or merely to pass him through it unscathed. In either case, this is a terrible thing to do. (If someone nowadays passed their child through a fire, how long do you think it would before that person’s kids were taken away? It was no better an idea 3,500 years ago.)

Idolatry is a terrible thing – one who practices it deserves execution – but adding a child to the equation makes it what George Orwell called “double-plus ungood.” Whether the service of Molech involved child sacrifice or “merely” child endangerment, the one who practiced it somehow managed to fail as a human being even more than a rank-and-file idolator.

Which brings us back to the Manchester attack. Terrorists in general target innocent people. They’re murderers, plain and simple – the lowest of the low. But suicide bomber Salman Abedi and his accomplices managed to find a new depth to which they could sink. By targeting a venue they knew would be heavily populated with children, they took the worst thing one human being could do to another and made it worse.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.