By Rabbi Barry Silver Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor Boynton Beach, Fl.
March 26, 2016
Days after the attack in Brussels, the people of Belgium observed a moment of silence in memory of the dead and injured. While this is important, after that moment is over, we must not remain silent. Jews know all too well that silence always helps the oppressor and never the victim.
Unfortunately, the religious community has been mostly silent about such violence, and is often part of the problem. Historically, Christianity and Islam have a lot of blood on their hands, and neither religion appears anxious to look in the mirror to find out why.
In a democracy, some are guilty, but all are responsible. So too with religion. ISIL did not develop in “Isil”ation, but has a long religious history behind it stemming from the Torah and the Chosen People concept, with its corollary that God ordered the extermination of those who followed other gods.
When I have noted the violence in the Koran, many Jews smugly agree and applaud, but do not appreciate my observation that like so much else in Islam, the intolerance in the Koran was learned from the Torah. It takes a level of maturity beyond that of the fundamentalist mind to see the flaws in one’s own belief system. Paraphrasing a mythological rabbi concocted by Christians who they call by the anachronistic Roman name of Jesus, “Let he whose Bible is without violence, cast the first stone.” Some Jews claim that we were chosen to serve, not because we are better. While this is an improvement, it still has major flaws and has led some Jews to adopt the odious belief that because God holds us to a higher standard, he has punished the Jews for apostasy with the holocaust, just as he punished our ancestors with the Babylonian conquest. Such a barbaric view of God is contemptible and not worthy of reverence, but rather of fear and contempt.
Our synagogue recently conducted an interfaith dialogue in which a Muslim scholar responded to a person who said there was violence in the Koran by rebuking the questioner because he could not read the Koran in the original Arabic. This cop-out is designed to obfuscate reality. He also suggested that our response to ISIS should consist solely of loving one another and praying. Many passive religions also teach such pablum and are thus part of the problem. We Jews consider peace among our highest goals, and we say shalom, i.e. peace in Israel when we are coming and going. But we know that what stopped the Nazis and ended the holocaust was not a peace movement, but a powerful military and the intrepid valor of American and other soldiers.
In the early stages of humanity, we thought the universe revolved around our planet and that all life on Earth was put here for us. The male writers also conveniently taught that women were put on earth to serve man. Not satisfied with this exalted status for their planet, species, and gender, early humans also had the hubris to claim that their group was closer to God than all others. The Greeks believed they were favored by the Gods with greater culture, the Japanese with divine protection of their island and some Native Americans held that when God baked human beings in the oven, blacks were left in too long, whites were taken out too early, and they came out just right.
The Jewish variant of this childish conceit is the Chosen People concept, which has metastasized in lSIS who kill in the name of an imaginary God. Many Orthodox still justify the slaughter of non-Jews described at Purim and in the Torah as ordered by God.
Those of any religion who teach that God wrote their Bible, chose them, and commanded the death of non-believers are part of the problem. While it is true that Christians no longer kill those who are different today, and Jews perhaps never did, the Chosen People claim lends theological justification to ISIS.
The founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Mordechai Kaplan courageously rejected Chosen People status. The founders of Reform Judaism also repudiated this notion, but some have reclaimed it, or reinterpret it to say that we choose whether to seek godliness in our lives.
While some Jews are saddened by the loss of our favored status by a heavenly father, just as some children are sad to find out that their earthly parents are not perfect, and the tooth fairy is fiction, once they mature, modern Jews feel ennobled by the truth of the claim that Jews have achieved great heights and helped mankind by choosing to serve humanity, just like many others.
We should all be inspired by the words of Thomas Jefferson who said, “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.
With the maturity and humility to reject our status as God’s chosen, and to question the traditional notion of God as expressed in the Bible, and by choosing reason over blind faith, Jews can continue to serve as a light unto the nations in order to galvanize the religious community to lead the charge in defeating ISIS on the battlefield of ideas, just as we must unite governments to defeat them on the battlefield of war.