The true guardians of the city

ROME – December 1st, 2022 


On the occasion of the first SHIELD Project Workshop, at the Great Mosque of Rome on December 1st 2022, Rav Scialom Bahbout in his speech, highlighting the Shield’s first results on physical security of the worship infrastructures, has reminded the fundamental problem: educating the younger generations to respect human life.


Here you find the whole speech.


“I am here today in the presence of the project partners and the European Commission speaking in my capacity as president of CIRS, International Systemic Research Centre, but also as rabbi.

This is a time when terrorism uses many different strategies and technologies. So, the European Shield project is of fundamental importance. It is aimed at ensuring the safety of places where prayer and religious gatherings take place. The increase in terrorist attacks on Jewish synagogues and schools is well known. One could look at these events as something that concerns a small minority. However, movements that aspire to take power often start their action by attacking a minority and end up putting all of society at risk. Today it is mainly synagogues that are affected, but what about tomorrow?

It is a good idea to question not only what needs to be done to prevent acts of terrorism taking place now, but what society needs to do to tackle and solve these problems before they occur.

Today, of course, attention is focused on the attacks that occur or that, according to information gathered by the security services, are being organized: Society must be organized to fight them, but – in addition – we must look further ahead to create a better society, one where acts of terror naturally disappear.


Today the focus is on physical security and infrastructure. However, the fundamental problem – educating the younger generations to respect human life – remains.


The monotheistic religions have Abraham as their founding father. He was subjected to a tremendous test: to sacrifice his own son Isaac (Genesis ch. 22). Child sacrifice was widespread in the Canaanite world and the Bible repeatedly condemns it. Abraham’s decision to adhere to the Divine command is inexplicable: sacrificing children was one of the customs opposed by Biblical thought: from the Pentateuch to the prophets.


The contradiction is even greater because Abraham was expressly chosen as an example: “For I have chosen him to command his children and his family after him to follow the way of the Lord by doing justice and charity.” How could Abraham serve as a model for his descendants if he had obeyed the command given to him?


To explain the episode, Kierkegaard suggests that in this case there is a theological suspension of ethics. However, suspension of ethics is unacceptable since, in practice, it is used by fanatics to commit crimes in the name of God. That is all the more unacceptable in the context of the monotheistic religions inspired by Abraham, the first person to reject the idea of human sacrifice. The Inquisition and suicide bombers have acted and act in blatant contravention of Bible norms, against the teaching of Judaism and the universal laws dictated to Noah and the example of Abraham.


Abraham’s greatness was not so much the fact that he obeyed the order to sacrifice his son (something quite common in the Canaanite world of the time), but that he listened to the second message forbidding him to kill his son. Life does not belong to man. It is given for our temporary use, just as children do not belong to parents and no reason can justify killing them.


The work done so far by Shield is important because it highlights the crucial points and moments when the fragility of events requires careful attention. In addition, it requires the use of both personnel and technologies to prevent and, if necessary, fight those who use terror to impose their ideas. The results obtained so far are certainly impressive, but it is worth wondering about the plan the European Union must make to eradicate the scourge of terrorism. 

A possible answer comes from a parable in the Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi, Chaghigà, chap. 1 halakhà 7).


Rabbi Yudàn Nassi sent Rabbi Hiyà, Rav Assì and Rav Amì to visit the cities of the Land of Israel to see if there were Teachers who taught the Torah (the divine law) to children, but they found no Teacher. They said, “Take us to the Custodians of the city”. They took them to the Custodians who controlled the gates of the city. “And are these custodians? They destroy the city; who are the guardians? They are the Teachers and children who study, according to what is written (Psalm 127, 1),  “If the Lord does not collaborate in the building of a house, those who build it work in vain; if the Lord does not collaborate in the supervision of a city the guards will work in vain.”


This proposal may seem utopian, but the European Union also seemed utopian when it was first proposed after World War II. That’s why I think that the Union itself must adopt this project. It will not be utopian if the Union makes it its own.


Societies must be organized in order to have, first,  true Teachers who are an example to young people and preach to respect the life of every person, not hatred for their neighbour. The three monotheistic religions represented here under the umbrella of the European Union, must follow the teaching of Abraham to guide adults and children to reach its goal of “Zero terrorism.”


However, only education that starts in primary school – everywhere in Europe and elsewhere – is the real solution to winning the fight against terrorism. But for this purpose, religious leaders – all of them – must be ready to commit, without exception. If only one leader doesn’t adhere to this call it would invalidate the project.


In conclusion, we can say that Abraham was subjected to a manifold test where he was required to:

  1. recognize that he had no right to the life of Isaac. It was and remained a gift belonging to God alone, thus teaching that the Fear of God is not expressed by the elimination of human lives;
  2. affirm before the world that human life is an asset that cannot be sacrificed to God;
  3. show that he deserved to be chosen as leader of humanity, because he didn’t allow himself to be carried away by the thoughts and customs of his contemporaries, who accepted extinguishing human life and sacrificing it in the name of God.


Those who claim to be inspired by the figure of Abraham – primarily the three monotheistic religions, but also anyone else who so desires – shouldn’t be afraid to go against the tide. This is part of the teaching received from Abraham. He was willing to change his path, while the rest of the World remained anchored to the past.


Anyone today who wants to declare himself a pupil and son of Abraham must have the refusal to sacrifice Isaac as a reference point: ‘Akedà, means “binding.” This teaches us that we must bind ourselves to life and not to death, an ideal to never pursue.


Shield’s initial step for the solution of a common problem is therefore technological analysis and mutual understanding.


And therefore, instead of the propaganda of death, the priority of all religions, the tool of choice to reach their goals, must be the greatest respect for life.”

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