Two weeks ago, I began my dvar Torah about religious fanaticism with a question for the community: “Did anyone watch the video of the beheading?” I was gratified that no one raised a hand, for a variety of reasons. Politically, we should not validate the vile propaganda campaign of Islamic State or any group committed to a program of hatred and murder. Religiously, James Foley died in a heinous manner, robbed of his dignity, and we need not add to his indignity.
So when we learned that Steven Sotloff, an American Jewish journalist with Israeli citizenship, suffered a similar fate at the hands of the IS barbarians, it was important that his dignity be considered, as another video could have gone viral. It was refreshing to learn that Silicon Valley firms worked to slow the spread of the latest video this week.
The religious basis for treating the dead with dignity is found in this week’s parshah, Ki-Tetzei. “If a man is guilty of a capital offense and is put to death, and you impale him on a stake, you must not let his corpse remain on the stake overnight, but must bury him the same day…” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Jewish tradition urges us to expedite burial whenever possible, noting that even one executed for a capital offense is to be buried with limited delay. How much the more so do we who aren’t subject to capital punishment deserve such dignified treatment!
But is dignity the only factor? In his book When a Jew Dies, Professor Samuel Heilman of Queens College refers frequently to our tradition of expeditious burial . We’ll explore some of the reasons he suggests for our tradition, and how these principles might serve as comfort to the Sotloff family and all who mourn the senseless killing of their son.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise