Attack on church was an attack on God

Published 12:36 am Wednesday, November 8, 2017

From a column by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, posted on

This is what you need to know about attacking a church, or a synagogue, or a mosque, or any other religious institution.

The entire purpose of a religious place is to be a sanctuary — a place in which people can be safe.

That was always its purpose, going back to biblical times.

The altar itself was the original “safe place.” According to Exodus 21: 13-14, as well as First Kings 1:50, a fugitive could escape into the ancient sanctuary, and grab onto the horns of the altar, and therefore escape vengeance.

That is the way that religious sanctuaries are supposed to work.

They are for people who seek communion with God, and with a religious community, and with a sacred text.

They are also for people who are escaping the often torturous burdens of the world. They enter those sanctuaries like the fugitives of biblical times, figuratively grasping onto the horns of the altar, trying to make sacred meaning out of their lives.

Except that did not happen Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

A gunman entered the First Baptist Church, and opened fire, and before he was finished, 26 people lay dead and numerous people were gravely injured. …

Let us be clear. An attack on a house of religion is not only an attack on the worshipers.

It is an attack on God.

Did anyone else notice the grim coincidence?

This week is the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass,” the anti-Jewish pogrom of Nov. 9-10, 1938, in which Jewish homes, synagogues, and synagogues in Germany, Austria, and parts of Czechoslovakia were reduced to broken glass.

Consider the savage glee with which Nazis destroyed those synagogues — along with their arks and Torah scrolls.

At the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., an exhibit of the material remnants of Kristallnacht features the Ark of the synagogue in Essen, Germany.

The Ark had been adorned with the traditional words: “Know before Whom you stand.” But Nazi thugs scratched those words off the Ark.

Imagine — they had ripped the Ark off the wall of the synagogue, thrown it into the street — and in the midst of the chaos that surrounded them, they actually took the time to find a tool, and to remove those words from their holy container.

Because, what were they saying?

“There is no one before Whom you stand, or before Whom we stand, or before Whom the world stands.”

It is as if they were saying that, of all the victims of that night, there would be an additional victim.


Make no mistake of it.

,,, You don’t have to rip a holy ark off of a synagogue to understand that any attack on a religious institution is, by its very nature, an attack on God.

Here’s the thing: once upon a time, in our mythic world, we might have imagined that God would protect us (and God) from such unmitigated evil.


That’s our job.

And we are doing a blisteringly horrific job at it.