“There are four primary causes of injury: the ox and the pit and the crop-destroying beast and fire.” Those are the opening words of Bava Kamma, the tractate of the Mishnah—the first authoritative compendium of rabbinic Jewish law—that deals with the laws of damages. The deeper meaning of the Mishnah is that there is one primary cause of injury: people living in proximity to one another.
Human proximity puts our property at risk: A neighbor’s dog could wreck your garden, a construction project poses a public danger, a backyard fire can burn out of control. You and your stuff would be safer kept away from others.
In the early hours of Sunday, a man threw three Molotov cocktails at the synagogue in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago’s North Side where I serve as director of religious engagement, a member of the clergy. He did not succeed in causing any damage. When we arrived for services on Sunday morning, some noticed broken bottles but hurried along with their day. Only later did our maintenance staff notice that the bottles were surrounded by puddles of oil and charred rags. We called the police and looked through our security footage; we realized we had been attacked.
These types of attacks are becoming common: Synagogues, mosques, and black churches around the country and the world have faced violence in the past few months. It’s easy to assume that the solution is to wall ourselves off, to draw apart. If, ultimately, other people pose the greatest threat to my person and my property, perhaps I should distance myself from them.