Giving the President a Chance

 

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

There is a good reason why politics and religion may be compared to the mixture of meat and milk. Milk by itself is a very nutritious food. Meat by itself is also a source of protein and vitamins, yet when we mix the two together, they both become a forbidden mixture. Politics is a field of endeavor that has the potential to be beneficial for society. The same may be said about religion, yet the mixture of religion and politics has often produced many of the world’s most disastrous genocidal evils in human history. 

Rabbis must resist the temptation to speak ex-cathedra about policy opinions based upon current political trends. In the spirit of fearless inquiry, there is no reason why a rabbi and his congregants can’t have an honest difference of opinion regarding the political realities de jure. In any free society, people can have some dialectical tension. The appearance of unanimity has never been something desirable in Jewish history or law. 

The pursuit and process of questioning for the sake of veracity and relevance is not only desirable but necessary. Disputations, raucous debates, and the polyvalence of interpretation have animated Jewish intellectual discourse since the days of Late Antiquity. Jewish tradition also teaches us that it is not what people argue about that matters—it is how they argue and why they argue that matters. Arguing a point in any area should not be personalized to the point where friends become adversaries or enemies. Yet, quite often that is what occurs when people cannot respect to differ. 

With this thought in mind, I must take serious issue with Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, who is an Open Orthodox rabbi of Phoenix, Arizona. To show his disdain toward President Trump, he decided to change the ‘mat’bea shel Tefilah” (a rather unorthodox move that breaks with Orthodox tradition) regarding the traditional prayer that we say for the leaders of our country. 

Instead of using a generic prayer, the rabbi decided to reword the prayer: 

• We pray that the decrees from the Executive office do not harm the innocent. We pray that any policies that are meant to harm the vulnerable in prioritization of the powerful and privileged will be quashed. Should there be plans that will merely benefit the most privileged Americans, but not all of humankind and the planet we call home, may they fail. May our nation not consort or conspire with totalitarian despots but reaffirm our commitment to freedom and democracy. Grant us the strength to demonstrate spiritual resistance, to imbue our sinews with the highest integrity. Give us the wisdom and courage to do what’s right to protect the most powerless and defenseless in society.

I wonder whether all of his synagogue agrees with R. Yanklowitz, but if his congregation is anything like most other rabbis and synagogues, I suspect they probably differ on a variety of religious and political issues. 

He presumes that Jewish supporters of Trump represent an “embarrassment” to the Jewish people.” Not only is he insulting people of conscience who have a right to their own political views, his statement comes across as smug, self-righteous, and I dare say “fascist.” 

President Trump deserves a chance like any other president we have had before. During President Obama’s tenure, I found many of his views morally questionable—yet as my President, I did not speak disrespectfully of him. His position on Iran, for example, I felt represented a reckless endangerment of Israel and could lead to nuclear proliferation in the most dangerous part of the world—the Middle East. During the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran, President Obama failed to give a scintilla of support for the courageous Iranians who died defying the theocratic leadership of their country. Nor did he do anything to help recognize or prevent the genocide of Christians in territories held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

Granted, those statements are only one rabbi’s opinion—mine. Honestly, I do not expect my congregants to agree with me on all these matters—nor should they, if they feel certain positions violate their conscience. Frankly, having spirited discussions about the issues of our day ought to be celebrated and not condemned. Demonizing people who differ violates the tenor of Jewish history. As mentioned earlier, debates are nothing new in Jewish tradition. Perhaps R. Yanklowitz should spend more time reading the disagreements of other Rabbis in the Talmud. Their arguments were very animated—even raucous at times.  

On the other hand, some of President Trump’s ideas aren’t so bad. His recommendation about evicting hardened criminals and murderers who come from foreign countries is really a good idea. Turning away people from Muslim countries who idealize ISIS or the Muslim Brotherhood is also prudent given their movement’s involvement with Hamas and their vicious attacks against the Coptic Christians in Egypt. For Jews to welcome people who are hell bent upon their wholesale destruction of their enemies seems very shortsighted and foolish. 

President Trump’s ambition to destroy ISIS is off to a good start so far with today’s capture of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Trump’s desire to eradicate this terrorist organization is something every Jew—and “Open Orthodox” rabbi ought to applaud and support. A President who wants to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is another thing every Jew ought to celebrate. Wanting to defang Iran is yet another policy Jews ought to welcome.

The President has a demanding job and instead for praying for his failure, he should be praying for his success. If Bernie Sanders and even Chuck Schumer can agree with Trump at times, maybe R. Yanklowitz can reconsider his position too.  

Trump’s Missed Opportunity…

Image result for pictures of president trump inauguration

 

This past Friday, the world witnessed a peaceful transition of power in our country. Indeed, it is the kind of event we ought to be celebrating regardless how we may feel about the new President being elected.

In North Korea, Muslim theocracies, and in other totalitarian regimes, the citizenry can only dream of having an open democratic election. The clergy certainly added a rich evangelical flavor to the program, as church choirs that might have made a number of people of other faiths feel awkward.

Many colleagues of mine do not feel comfortable when a minister invokes “…In Christ’s name, let us say ‘Amen’” and I would imagine that Muslims probably felt uncomfortable not seeing an Imam add his prayers in Allah’s name. A Buddhist, Hindu minister might have given a broader appeal to the event.

It is true, many Evangelical Christians helped to propel Candidate Trump to victory, and in all probability, President Trump is appealing to his religious base. I think it is also a sign that he plans to move the country in a more traditional religious direction where it will no longer be politically incorrect to wish somebody in December, “Have a Merry Christmas…”

In many ways, I think the politically correct culture (a.k.a. PCC) is responsible for the ascent of President Trump. Political correctness reigned supreme for the past eight years and a sleeping giant arose in this past election that finally proclaimed, “Enough already!” Whether you like it or not, President Trump is President Obama’s legacy.
Still, regardless of our political orientation, I do think President Trump deserves a chance. As Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said in his invocation, “All of us should pray for [Trump’s] great success, because his great success means our great success.” I am certain that many liberal-minded Jews probably felt Hier was endorsing Trump was wrong. Still, we need to see how he is going to govern. Many conservatives had to accept the results of Obama’s election results, and that is how a democracy works in our country.

Hope springs eternal—even in politics.

Nevertheless, I wonder: Why didn’t any Muslim Imam or spokesperson participate in the preliminary prayers? It is true, some members of CAIR objected to Reverend  Franklin Graham, who has a been an outspoken critic of militant Islam. Perhaps a number of Imams might have been asked, but they refused. To some degree, I can understand their reluctance.

Now it is true that in the National Prayer Service that took place soon afterwards on January 21, Imam Mohamed Magid took his place among other faith groups at Washington National Cathedral at a service in honor of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.  His credentials are impressive. Magid is the executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center and former executive director of Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

But as the respected Clarion Project noted, of all the Muslims to speak at this event, Magid (a nice Jewish name!) was the wrong Muslim to offer his prayers. As Meira Svirski observed:

  • In September 2014, Magid endorsed a letter opposing the Islamic State terrorist group’s tactics, but endorsed sharia governance’s brutal hudud punishments, the recreation of a caliphate and the Islamist doctrine of gradualism. The letter also implied that journalists that are viewed as dishonest are acceptable targets for violence.  Declassified FBI memos reveal that ISNA was identified as a Brotherhood front as early as 1987. A 1988 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood document states ISNA is part of the “apparatus of the Brotherhood.”  A 1991 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood document, which says “its work in America is a kind of brand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within,” lists ISNA as the first of “our organizations and the organizations of our friends.”

And just in case you may not know, the Muslim Brotherhood is an international terrorist group that is the creator of HAMAS and has murdered thousands of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

Simply put: President Trump made a strategic error and chose the wrong Muslim.

As a far better alternative, he might have chosen Dr. Zudhi Jasser who has advocated a separation of mosque and state and spoken against the ideology of “political Islam” or Islamism. Jasser has written for prominent newspapers such as The Dallas Morning News, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Times.

Better still, Dr. Tawfik Hamid is an author from Egypt. He used to be a member of the militant  “JI” (al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya of Egypt) with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri who later became the second in command of Al-Qaeda. After being radicalized in the JI (approximately thirty-five years ago), he had an awakening of his human conscience, recognized the threat of Radical Islam, and started to teach modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. He is famous for saying, “By faith I am a Muslim; by spirit, I am a Christian; by heart, I am a Jew, but above all, I am a human being.”

Dr. Tawfik Hamid is also a personal friend of mine on Facebook. We briefly spoke about the omission, and I asked him what he thought of my observation that this was a missed opportunity. He wrote back to me:

  • MLS: Hi there, I think President Trump made a mistake not asking you or Zudi Yasser  to give the benediction. It would have made a very powerful statement to the world. The world needs to hear that there are champions of Islam who wish to see democratic change where civil rights and democratic principles are respected.
  • Do you have any thoughts on this?
  • TH: I agree with you…fully!
  • MLS: I hope Trump welcomes President Al-Sisi to speak to him about the changes he is trying to make in Egypt. He has called for a Muslim Reformation
  • TH: I hope too! I believe a lot of things will happen….I pray for President Trump to lead the US and the World to the better…He is a great man and Al-Sisi is also a great person….Many thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.

Imagine how the Muslim world would have responded… This might have been one of Trump’s finest moments, but it was not meant to be—at least for now.

Although this was a missed opportunity, I believe when President Al-Sisi comes to the United States to speak with President Trump, this meeting could set in motion the Muslim Reformation that Muslims really need. The world is counting on President Trump to help shepherd the world in this positive direction.

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista, California.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com



[1] http://www.clarionproject.org/analysis/trump-chooses-wrong-imam-natl-prayer-service

[2] http://www.mzuhdijasser.com/about/

[3] http://www.tawfikhamid.com/

The Provocative Imagery of Chagall’s “White Crucifixion”

Image result

 

 

This past Shabbat, at Temple Beth Shalom we had a most remarkable discussion on the famous Russian painter, Marc Chagall, as we discussed his various paintings of Jesus’s crucifixion. A panel consisting of Dr. David Strom, Dr. Tzvi Sax, and Rabbi Dr. Michael Leo Samuel explored the history of several of Chagall’s painting, most famously, the painting he made in 1938, “White Crucifixion.”

Chagall did something that no artist before or after him—he portrayed Jesus as a martyr of the Jewish people, and it was this picture that drew considerable attention to the anti-Semitism that occurred in Russia and in Germany in the 1930s.

Instead of Jesus wearing the traditional loincloth, he is wearing a prayer shawl; instead of the traditional Christian depiction of Jesus’ crown of thorns, Jesus wears part of a tallit gadol draping over his forehead. In the place of the patriarchs and angels surrounding Jesus, Chagall portrays images of the pogroms and Nazis, pillaging and burning Jewish communities. Images of Jews attempting to flee their native countries of oppression by boat also stand out in the White Crucifixion. Mothers comforting frightened children, and other images strike the eye with no less visceral power. In the painting’s center, a peasant wears a German placard that says, “Ich bin Jude” (“I am a Jew”).

The entire picture cannot help but make Jews and Christians uncomfortable looking at this graphic work of art. If a picture can say more than a thousand words, Chagall’s painting of the “White Crucifixion” can say more than almost thousand years of history. Interestingly, Pope Francis considers this particular painting one of his favorites. The unusual juxtaposition of Christian and Jewish images provokes the imagination as good art often does.

Religious art, in particular, also needs to be viewed as a kind of visual midrash. Words are as Ludwig Wittgenstein explains, consists of mental pictures of reality. By themselves, pictures do not carry meaning, but they transmit meaning depending how they appear in clusters in accordance with a specific context. Still, mental pictures can convey one sense of visual meaning to the mind, but the actual pictures of an artist convey a much more powerful depiction of the reality the artist wishes to re-present to his audience.

As I looked at this painting, I wondered: How might a fundamentalist, Catholic or Protestant person, or theologian look at this picture? Our ability to step outside our skin is vital if we are to grasp the inner world of Christians, some of whom, blame Jewish suffering on the sins of our ancestors.

One of Protestantism’s most illustrious thinkers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer became famous for saying on the night of Kristallnacht, “If the synagogues are set on fire today, it will be the churches that will be burned tomorrow.” Yet, who could imagine that the same man would say to one of his colleagues, “that the Nazis were merely giving what was owed to the Jews. After all, “they nailed the Redeemer of the world to the cross,” they had been forced to bear an eternal curse through a long history of suffering, one that would end only “in the conversion of Israel to Christ.”[1] Bonhoeffer’s shocking remark about the Jews did not end there. In another statement, he added:

  • The Church of Christ has never lost sight of the thought that the “chosen people” who nailed the redeemer of the world to the cross must bear the curse for its action through a long history of suffering…. But the history of the suffering of this people, loved and punished by God, stands under the sign of the final homecoming of Israel [the Jews] to its God. And this homecoming happens in the conversion of Israel to Christ…. The conversion of Israel, that is to be the end of the people’s period of suffering. From here the Christian Church sees the history of the people of Israel with trembling as God’s own, free, fearful way with his people, because God is not yet finished with it. Each new attempt to solve “the Jewish question” comes to naught . . .[2]

There can be no doubt that a number of Christians feel that all the persecution of the Jews are the direct result of their rejection of Jesus as “the Messiah,” “a Savior,” and as the incarnational “Son of God.” When Jews look at this Chagall’s painting of the “White Crucifixion” it is not at all difficult to see how some Christians believe this painting reflects the history of the persecuted Jew for rejecting Jesus.

Yes, Chagall’s picture disturbs some Jews for that reason.

Personally, I think any Christian who accepts this interpretation of Chagall’s work has misunderstood the genius of this controversial painting. Let me propose an alternative view that some of you may find challenging. In the Parable of the Final Judgment (Mat. 25:35-40) we find a compelling moral teaching, especially if we strip the text of the Early Church’s redaction of Jesus’ words:

  • For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

By persecuting Jesus’ own brethren—the Jews—Jesus has taught the future generations of Christians who identify with his teachings the following lesson. Murdering the Jewish people is not only a moral crime punishable by God, it is also as though they have murdered their own savior—Jesus himself! In fact, for every Jew who suffers because Christian anti-Semitism, Jesus, too, suffers for he has witnessed the absolute perversion of everything moral that he ever taught.

Christian missionaries throughout history love to cite the following famous passage from Isaiah, when attempting to demonstrate that Jesus is the figure that Isaiah envisioned in his section on the “Suffering Servant of God.”

  • He was despised, shunned by men, A man of suffering, familiar with disease. As one who hid his face from us, He was despised, we held him of no account. Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, Our suffering that he endured. We accounted him plagued, Smitten and afflicted by God; But he was wounded because of our sins, Crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, And by his bruises we were healed. (Isa 53:3-5 TNK)

Yet, as the 12th century medieval exegete and philosopher Abraham Ibn Ezra so perceptively observed, the real interpretation is not about Jesus, the suffering servant epitomizes none other than the Jewish people, who have acted as God’s Messiah to the world. While many peoples and faiths claim to be “chosen,” none have endured the pain and suffering of the Jewish people who have suffered discrimination, persecution, and finally genocide for being God’s witness to the world.

So there you have it. Jesus never lived to fulfill the expectations that Jews have hoped from the Messiah. Yet, he like so many people who came before him and after him, Jesus shared a common history in one invaluable respect: Jesus died as a martyr of his people, and for that reason alone, he is worthy of respect for his sacrifice.

In retrospect, I feel very proud that our little synagogue here in Chula Vista, CA., was able to offer one of the most unique programs I have experienced in all my 42 years in the rabbinate.

Return of the Brownshirts–the Face of Leftist Fascism

Protesters opposed to Donald Trump took to the streets of Miami on Friday. (Francisco Alvarado for The Washington Post)

 

Rudy Giuliani pointed out in an interview, anytime protesters block streets, as we have seen, it is only a matter of time before somebody dies because an ambulance cannot get to a hospital. If people want to protest, it must be done peacefully and on the sidewalks—and never the streets.

Yet, many arrests have taken place and the violence is expanding. The Los Angeles Times writes that the police union criticized Mayor Eric Garcetti’s support of the demonstrators. The head of the Police Union, Craig Lally summed up the problem, “When officers are being physically assaulted, when property is being vandalized, those are words of encouragement to those who intend on breaking the law.”[3]

Still and all, the essential questions I originally raised remain unanswered. Why are our leaders not condemning the violence and vandalism?

As I mentioned earlier, in Jewish tradition, it is sinful to be silent in the face of a crime,  “Whence do we know that if a man sees his neighbor drowning, mauled by beasts, or attacked by robbers, he is bound to save him? From the verse, ‘You shall not stand by the blood of your neighbor’ (Lev. 19:16).

Bernie Sanders’ remarks are undeniably real and demonstrates why Bernie Sanders is a mensch. Of all the political leaders on the Left, only he showed the moral courage to say what needed to be spoken. Sanders said one day after protesters brawled with supporters of Donald Trump outside of a rally in nearby San Jose, “Violence is absolutely and totally unacceptable…If people are thinking about violence, please do not tell anybody you are a Bernie Sanders supporter, because those are not the supporters that I want.”[4]

Surprisingly, President Obama and Hillary Clinton have yet to condemn this violence. For a man who is concerned about preserving his moral legacy as a leader, I find Obama’s moral cowardice troubling. As a rabbi, I find it equally troubling that so many of my colleagues have not condemned the rioting, though they condemn Trump’s hateful rhetoric…”

Is there a hidden orchestrator encouraging the violence? In other words, who is prodding the violence? Reuters points out that the billionaire financier George Soros and other backed organizations are fermenting this trouble.[5] Incidentally, Move On.org, Working Families, the Advancement Project are all supported by George Soros.

According to the Washington Times (an important newspaper)  the Working Groups made this statement after Trump’s victory:

  • “Today has been a day of mourning for many of us as his toxic blend of bigotry, racism, sexism and xenophobia pose a very real threat to communities across the country and world. But we will not be defeated,” read a message from Working Families advertising the vigil. “All across the nation, people are gathering tonight to affirm to ourselves and one another that despite the outcome of this election, we will not give up.”[6]

So speaketh the resistance…. But resistance cannot take the law in its own hands–regardless how noble its followers believe there cause happens to be.

While many people are not happy with the election results, in a democracy there will always be spirited controversies and lots of dialectical tension. Let us hope that the clash of ideas remains exactly that—a clash of ideas. Our leaders should not tolerate violence or the abrogation of the rule of law, nor should we ignore it when it takes place.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/11/17/facebook-fake-news-writer-i-think-donald-trump-is-in-the-white-house-because-of-me/?tid=sm_tw Kudos go to Todd Wallach, who brought this to my attention. Note the ABC News URL ends in .co, not .com.

[2] It is not listed on the Snopes fake news sites, http://www.snopes.com/2016/01/14/fake-news-sites/ See also http://review.easycounter.com/usherald.com-report

[3] http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-police-union-protest-complaints-20161114-story.html

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/06/03/sanders-condemns-violence-at-trumps-san-jose-rally/

[5] https://www.rt.com/usa/366579-soros-orgs-driving-trump-protests/See http://dailycaller.com/2016/10/18/exposed-dem-operative-who-oversaw-trump-rally-agitators-visited-white-house-342-times/#ixzz4Q8rAmls3

[6] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/nov/9/dc-mourns-candlelight-vigil-hug-after-trump-win/

Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria Vol. 5 on Deuteronomy–Book Review by Rabbi Israel Drazin

 

Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria: A First Century Jewish Philosopher
Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel has made a significant contribution to philosophy in general and Philo of Alexandria in particular. Samuel knows Judaism well and is an expert on the first-century philosopher Philo. This is his fifth very informative volume on the pioneer philosopher Philo. With this book, he has completed his collection of Philo’s ideas on all five books on the Pentateuch.

His series on Philo is a much needed contribution to the understanding of the Bible. Samuel drew Philo’s ideas from the wealth of this philosopher’s exegetical comments and arranged them according to biblical verses. He gives readers a very readable translation of Philo’s own words and adds extensive easy to read explanatory notes, which frequently include opinions about the subject being discussed from modern scholars, the writings of rabbis in rabbinical literature, Christian theology, Greek, Roman, Jewish, and non-Jewish philosophers and historians such as Plato, Aristotle, Maimonides, and Josephus. As a result, readers get a multi-dimensional understanding of the biblical text.
He includes an informative sixteen-page introduction to Philo’s life and thought, about the book of Deuteronomy, a general discussion of how Philo treats this fifth book, the structure of Philo’s Special Laws, thoughts on when Judaism began to actively proselytize, the Jewish temple of Onias vs. the temple in Jerusalem, and much else. Who was Philo?
Philo (about 20 BCE to about 50 CE) of Alexandria, Egypt, is one of Judaism’s great philosophers. The noted scholar Harry Wolfson wrote in his book Philo that Philo was the first Jewish philosopher who “contributed anything new” to Jewish-Greek philosophy.

Philo’s philosophy is based in large part on the somewhat mystical opinions of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (about 428 to about 348 BCE). About forty books that Philo wrote still exist. His books are, in essence, a collection of intelligent sermons and commentaries in which he explains the Bible very frequently from an allegorical perspective.

Philo was convinced that the Bible should be understood on two levels. The first level contains its literal or plain meaning: words mean what they say. The second is an underlying or allegorical layer, which requires alert intelligent readers go beyond the obvious and delve deeper into the text. Philo used allegory to interpret virtually everything in Scripture, including names, dates, numbers, and events. Philo’s opinion of allegory was that although parts of the Torah are not literally true, they should be understood metaphorically or allegorically, and they transmit truth by these methods, often truths that can be applied to other situations.
In this book, for example, commenting upon the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), Philo explains why the last command prohibiting coveting is the most grievous and harmful passion to oneself and others. Samuel tells us of the numerous scriptural references that support Philo’s point: David’s covetous desire of Bathsheba, Ahab’s of Naboth’s vineyard, the prophet Elisha’s servant Gehazi who desired a handsome reward for Elisha’s healing of Naaman, and more; and Samuel compares these biblical teaching with the Greek myth of Tantalus, gives the teaching of Ecclesiastes, Maimonides, Abraham ibn Ezra, and much more, all on this one issue.
Samuel tells us about Philo’s explanations of the divine names, how the Greeks handled divine names, how the Jews copied the Greeks in translating God’s names in the Bible, the discussion on the subject by the scholar Harry A. Wolfson, and more.

He informs readers about the Greek Historian Hecataeus who visited and wrote about the Temple of Jerusalem around the fourth century BCE. We read also the understanding of Philo, Maimonides, Josephus, and others opposing augury (divination); and Samuel includes a fascinating story about a Jew Mosollamos who proved that augury does not work. Samuel tells Philo’s explanation on how Moses could have written about his death and compares Philo’s idea to the one in the Talmud. He explains why the order of the Ten Commandments is different in the Greek translation called Septuagint and in Philo than in the Hebrew Bible. He gives the metaphorical interpretations of the Shema in Philo, Rashbam, ibn Ezra, and biblical scholarship.
These few examples show the scholarship contained in Samuel’s book, scholarship presented in easy-to-read English, information that will fascinate and inform Samuel’s readers.

From election’s dissonance, perhaps comes a pathway

483208412-real-estate-tycoon-donald-trump-flashes-the-thumbs-up

 

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — After everything that has been said and done, this election will probably be remembered as one of the most acrimonious elections, full of mudslinging, accusations of improprieties, and personal attacks that our country has ever seen.

The brilliant French political thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) wrote to Ernest de Chabrol on June 9th, 1831, the following famous words, “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.”
It is an unfortunate fact that the best candidates don’t always run for office.
Neither candidate  has the statesmanship of an Abraham Lincoln, or the personal moral integrity of a Mother Teresa, or a Martin Luther King Jr. But such people are not running for office.
For better or for worse, Donald Trump is our new president. In a democratic republic such as ours, the voice and choice of the people is inviolate. I listened to the post-election speeches given by Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. Here is some of what they had to say:
  • Trump said in his acceptance speech, “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats, and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all Americans, and this is so important to me.
  • Hillary Clinton said, “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.” Clinton, who was composed and dignified even as she admitted how painful her defeat was in her first public comments on the result of the election.
Most interestingly, President Obama’s remarks, in my opinion, were especially apropos, and maybe offered the best wisdom to leave us with:
  • You know, the path that this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back ….The point though is that we all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens, because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world. That’s how we’ve expanded the rights of our founding to reach all of our citizens. It’s how we have come this far.
In a democracy, unanimity is not always desirable. If it were really the goal, what incentive would there be for new interpretive ideas? Conversely, dissent is not necessarily indicative of a communications breakdown. Dissent can be beneficial, and often leads to new discoveries and ideas. Moreover, dissent ensures that there will be some sort of accountability on the part of the originator.
Our American political system demands there be dialectical tension. No leader has the right to rule by fiat, but when we differ with the ruling status quo, there must be elasticity and a willingness to compromise, to “make the deal” as Trump is fond of saying.
The issue of Obamacare is an excellent case in point. Bright minds—regardless of one’s political proclivity—can and must reach a new consensus. Obviously, there will be bitter arguments, but this kind of dialectical tension is necessary to ensure the strength and vitality of the American democracy. To Obama’s credit, he pushed us toward a nationalized health insurance plan, but the real work on improving this plan is now in our hands.
If Trump’s new ideas lead to a dramatic reduction of our national debt, and if his plans to bring jobs back to the United States proves successful, or if his New Deal proves to be helpful in helping the black inner cities, we might realize that many of our fears were unfounded. Bringing back factories jobs will lead to a revitalization of cities like Detroit and other cities that look like ghost towns since our jobs have vanished.
Thomas Sowell is a conservative has been critical of both candidates, but his remark on Trump’s “New Deal” with the African-American community is surprising. He writes:
  • Who would have thought that Donald Trump, of all people, would be addressing the fact that the black community suffers the most from a breakdown of law and order? But sanity on racial issues is sufficiently rare that it must be welcomed, from whatever source it comes…
In addition, if Trump’s populist movement leads to term limits for all members of Congress, and the banishment of lobbyists, we will rid the country of one of the most serious problems that undermine our faith in Congress. Most of us—regardless of political affiliation—would love to see that occur.|

 In terms of foreign policy, giving support to old but recently chastised countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Israel can only make our country and Western world stronger in its battle against Radical Islam. Trump will not tolerate the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the godfather of Hamas. Their access to the White House will be a thing of the past.

Iran, Algeria, and numerous other Jihadist countries will be returned to the list of pariah nations who threaten the world with their vision of religious dystopia.
Trump often has been described as a Democrat in Republican clothing. I predict that Trump will create a feasible pathway for Hispanic integration, a Reaganesque amnesty program, while getting rid of the drug cartel criminals from Mexico that threaten the stability of the United States and Mexico.
Walls surrounding a country’s border are common in most countries around the world. Even Mexico has walls protecting its border, and in an age of terror, it is very prudent to err on the side of caution. The world at this time of its history is not ready for a borderless society, as globalists would like to see.
Every government has a “social contract” with the populace to act morally and ethically in how they treat the people.
Let us pray that President Trump will not squander the good will he has at this juncture in time.
In short, we need to give the new President-elect the benefit of the doubt. 

*
Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via

The Downfall of Abimelech and Hillary Clinton

Image result for Abimelech in Judges death images

 

The Book of Judges speaks of a time of great social chaos in the generations leading to the formation of the ancient Israelite monarchy. The author of Judges bluntly says, “In those days there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). Although we view each of the judges in a favorable light, there is one judge in particular, whose ruthless will to power stands apart from all the rest.

His name was Abimelech, the son Gideon and his Canaanite concubine (Judg. 8:31). His father Gideon was a remarkable leader, respected by everyone. The people even offered him the opportunity to become monarch, and like George Washington would later do after him, he refused.

But Abimelech was different—different indeed! After the death of his father, Abimelech (with his mothers’ help) killed his seventy brothers by hiring thugs to execute his closest of kin. Only Gideon’s youngest son, Jotham, survived, but the people of Shechem made Abimelech King of their community (Judg. 9:1-6). After a peaceful reign of three years, the author of Judges pointed out that God did not allow Abimelech’s numerous crimes to go unpunished. Autocratic dictators like Abimelech will always attract men like himself, who will do anything to quench their bloodlust for power.

Abimelech’s men split from him and pledged fealty to a man named Gaal, and asked him to take over as their leader, while Abimelech was absent. Fortunately for Abimelech, his commanded Zebu managed to repell the revolt against Abimelech’s authority.  Meanwhile, in another nearby battle where Abimelech and his men were attempting to conquer the city of Thezbez, something totally unexpected happened.

  • Abimelech came up to the castle and attacked it. As he approached the entrance to the castle to set fire to it, a woman threw a millstone down on his head and fractured his skull. He called hurriedly to his young armor-bearer and said, ‘Draw your sword and dispatch me, or men will say of me: A woman killed him.’ So the young man ran him through and he died  (Judg. 9:52–55).

The Book of Judges often loves to show how God ironically  shapes the events that unfold in its stories and historical narratives. In ancient times, the millstone was used to grind corn. This ordinary household kitchen appliance was not unlike today’s toaster.  Abimelech realizes the humiliation he has endured, “What could be worse than be killed in battle by a woman?” So he does his best to save face, and he orders one of his own men to kill him. Nevertheless, his downfall is preserved in Israel’s sacred memory.

Abimelech’s political ambitions remind me much of Hillary Clinton’s political will to power. Often described as a Teflon politician, fewer people in modern American history have been able to dodge as many pitfalls and scandals like Hillary Clinton. Her willingness to use any means to obtain political power is reminiscent of Abimelech. Mysteriously, many of her critics and potential adversaries miraculously died before they could bring her any political harm.

Like the robot from the first Terminator movie, Hillary Clinton is relentless. This past week alone, we learn how CNN fired Donna Brazile, the interim Democratic National Committee chairwoman for allegedly sharing questions with the Clinton campaign before a debate and a town hall during the Democratic primary, and has accepted her resignation. CNN said they felt “completely uncomfortable” with hacked emails showing that former contributor. Despite the countless scandals listed in the WikiLeaks, nothing seems to deter her.[1]

Readers should not forget how Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was fired as the head of the DNC  because she and her cronies sabotaged the Sanders campaign[2]. After the Wikileaks exposed her, she resigned immediately afterward. Within a day, Clinton hires Wasserman-Schultz was hired to work in her campaign. Rarely do we see in society such unethical behavior rewarded, unless your name happens to be Hillary Clinton. If Hillary is willing to resort to foul play and sabotage the congenial Bernie Sanders, what do you thing she would do to her enemy Donald Trump?

The real question I find myself asking: What won’t she do to achieve her objectives?

Oct. 18th, two top Democratic strategists left the presidential campaign after explosive undercover videos showed them conversing about voter fraud and their roles in planting paid agitators at campaign events for Republican candidate Donald Trump. Robert Creamer, founder of Democracy Advocates and the husband of Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, both stepped down from the campaign Tuesday,[3]  one day after Scott Foval was fired from his post as national field director of Americans United for Change. Note that Creamer met with President Obama during 47 of those 342 visits, according to White House records. Creamer’s last visit was in June 2016.[4] Just in case you did not know, Creamer is a convicted felon.

If a man is judged by the company he keeps, what does that say about our President and Hillary Clinton? This is obviously embarrassing to the President and Hillary for good reason. What we see is a culture of corruption that is systemic and needs to be condemned by all people who believe in the integrity of our democratic elections.

Relentless, Hillary is so close to winning it all, she will not let anything get in her way. “Not now, not ever”

Then out of the blue, the ignominious Anthony Weiner, perhaps out a desire to either protect himself from Hillary’s fabled wrath; or out of a desire to get even with his wife Huma for divorcing him, produces over 650,000 emails that nobody expected existed. Whatever may have been on these files forced FBI Director James Comey to reopen the case given the gravity of the case against Hillary and her loyal legionaries.

But wait, there is still more!

The hacking group,  “Anonymous” promises they have many more new revelations that will keep our nation entranced as we watch the latest episodes of the Clinton Soap Opera, Season 2.

Does this story have the same irony as the biblical Abimelech story of Judges? Who would imagine that man named Weiner, a disgraced politician and suspected pedophile, might bring down the invincible Hillary Clinton. The story has an element of paradox, does it not?

What both stories illustrate is one important theological point worth remembering. God often uses weak and fallible people to achieve His purpose in punishing wayward and unethical and ruthless individuals. If Hillary indeed loses the election, Antony Weiner may well go down in history as the man who changed the course of American history.

You could even say, it is Hillarious.

Does God have a sense of humor? In both Yiddish and German, there is an old Jewish proverb, Der Mensch trachtet und Gott lacht. (דאָס עפּעלע פֿאַלט ניט ווײַט פֿון ביימעלע)”– Men plan and God laughs, or as the comedian, Woody Allen expressed it, “If you want to make God laugh tell him about your plans.” I personally prefer, “What man proposes, God disposes.”[5] This aphorism may well be a fitting epitaph for the political career of Hillary R. Clinton.



[1]  http://www.politico.com/blogs/on-media/2016/10/cnn-severs-ties-with-donna-brazile-230534#ixzz4OmUta1nY

[2] http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2016/07/debbie_wasserman_schultz_fired_as_dnc_chair_on_eve_of_philly_convention.html#ixzz4OmZfj5KI

[3] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/oct/18/undercover-video-shows-democrats-saying-they-hire-/

[4] http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/10/19/robert-creamer-okeefe-investigation-fame-visited-obamas-whitehouse-340-times/

[5] Thomas à Kempis,  The Imitation of Christ by the German cleric Thomas, Book I, chapter 19.

Zombies and the Fringes of Consciousness

 

Image result for pet cemetery

This past week, I enjoyed watching some of scary zombie movies on Hulu and Netflix; it’s a custom I have kept since I was a boy of seven or eight years old.

Halloween was always a fun time for me as a child. Watching scary movies still remains a ritual every time of this year.

Horror films often give us a rare opportunity to examine our deepest questions about the nature of our existence, of life and death, and life beyond death. To some degree, they force us to examine our deepest fears about the postmortem existence of our souls. When we die, is there any part of our soul that remains present in the body itself?

Horror writer Stephen King’s Pet Semetery, reminds me of a Kabbalistic teaching about the different manifestations of the soul. The highest level of the soul is identified as neshamah—the soul breath of God that gives us the capacity to wonder about our nature and inspires us to act humanely toward one another. The second level is ruach—the spirit realm that inspires within us a capacity to feel emotion and compassion toward all living beings.  And then there is nefesh—the lowest manifestation of life that we share with the vegetative kingdom. On this level, we exist only to physically survive and nothing more.

Stephen King’s movies illustrate what happens when human beings forget what it is that makes all of us “human.” According to this definition, a zombie is a being whose residual soul is bereft of all its humanity. It lives to consume; it consumes only to live.

By all accounts, it seems that the  life of a zombie is pretty simple and uncomplicated. So some of us might wonder: Are zombies merely mythical creatures? Do they or do they not exist? Could a zombie apocalypse really occur?

Inquiring minds really want to know…

While rabbis across the world may wonder, “Who Is a Jew?”—on this night of Halloween, I am going to pose the question: “Who Is a Zombie?” Are zombies “human,” or are they something “Other” than human? The question has profound implications not just in the sphere of science-fiction, philosophy, religion—but also in the area of medical ethics.

The 17th century philosopher Rene Descartes viewed animals as machine-like creatures, bereft of a soul. Every aspect of the animal could be explained in terms of its physical “mechanical” movements. Descartes even entertained the idea of a mechanical person what we could call today, a robotic being. How would one differentiate such a creature from the “real deal”? For one thing, the machine would never be able to spontaneously formulate sentences; its non-verbal behavior would also be limited. (Bear in mind that the rabbis arrived at a similar conclusion regarding the artificial being known as the “golem,” for it too was incapable of human speech.)

“So what is it that defines our humanity?” asks Descartes—it is the presence of the immaterial mind, the soul, which interacts between the brain and the other organs of the body.

But this raises an important question regarding the nature of “personhood,” (to use the more modern terminology). At what point does a human being, cease being “human”? If we apply Cartesian philosophy to our question, it might very well be when our brain ceases to function adequately.

Could this apply to zombies as well? (Not that they care very much about our deep philosophical deliberations!)

Of course, this begs the question: Do zombies really exist? Or, are they merely mythical creatures created out from Hollywood?

In general, many mythic stories of primitive peoples have some sort of basis in fact. This principle would apply to zombies as well.

Ever since I watched that great movie, “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” I have been fascinated with this question. Harvard botanist, E. Wade Davis and Dr. Lamarque Douyon, Canadian-trained head of the Psychiatric Center in Port-au-Prince, have been trying to establish the basis for zombies, and according to them—they do exist![2] By the way, the book is much better than the film!

Haiti is a remarkable country; much of the contemporary folklore concerning zombies originates in Haiti—but there are legends about zombies that really go back to ancient history. Davis narrates the following story:

On a brilliant day in the spring of 1980, a stranger arrived at L’Estère marketplace in Haiti’s fertile Artibonite Valley. The man’s gait was heavy, his eyes vacant. The peasants watched fearfully as he approached a local woman named Angelina Narcisse. She listened as he introduced himself, then screamed in horror—and recognition. The man had given the boyhood nickname of her deceased brother Clairvius Narcisse, a name that was known only to family members and had not been used since his funeral in 1962. This incident was witnessed by more than 200 people!!

Well, it looks like the zombie can speak—and respond to human questions!!

You might wonder, “What could possibly turn a person into a zombie?” I have other questions as well, like—where did this man eat for the past 18 years, McDonald’s take out? What kind of music groups do zombies listen to? The Grateful Dead? (Sorry for the pun!)

Well, in both the movie and in real life, there is a coma-inducing toxin that comes from the voodoo priest (known as “bocors”), which slows the human metabolism. The sources for this toxin “textrodotoxin,” come from: New World Toad (Bufo marinus), and the Japanese “Puffer Fish,” which is considered to be a delicacy in Japan—after the toxin has been removed. The chemicals of these ingredients can affect both the heart and the nervous system. In Japan, thousands of miles from Haiti, those people who have accidentally consumed the puffer fish toxin behave—well, a lot like zombies—Japanese zombies, I might add.

Godzilla, move over!!

Experiments on rats have proven that the drug can induce a trancelike state as well. So, what does this all mean?

For one thing, zombies do not have an appetite for eating human brains. But there is some scientific evidence that certain drugs can induce the famous zombie-like state. So, would a person be guilty if he killed a zombie, according to Jewish law? Based upon the evidence these two scientists have shown, a “zombie” still remains within the category of a human being. Kabbalists believe there is a residue of the soul that lingers in the body after death. Could this explanation apply to zombies?

BEYOND THE QUESTION ABOUT ZOMBIES . . .

 

However, there is one lingering question regarding the nature of a “person” that is still a difficult to ascertain. Would a person still be considered “human,” even if s/he is in a chronic vegetative state? The case of Terry Schiavo is an excellent example of someone whom the State declared as “clinically dead,” while the family who loved her claimed that she was still “alive,” and even allegedly, “responsive.”

About six months after her life-support was turned off, and while she was also starved by order of the court, Discover Magazine produced a fascinating article that made special mention about people like Terry Schiavo, who suffer from the chronic vegetative condition.

 

Here is one part of the Discover Magazine article that I thought was especially interesting.

 

  • In the 1970s, when intensive care dramatically improved the survival of brain-injured patients, doctors found that if the body can be kept alive, the brain usually shakes off a coma—a totally unresponsive, eyes-closed state—within two to four weeks. At that point some people simply wake up, although they may be delirious and impaired. Others graduate to an in-between zone that New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center neurologist Fred Plum labeled the “persistent vegetative state” in 1972. At the time, among these patients, it seemed as if only “vegetative” brain functions like breathing, waking, and blinking were working. The higher functions commonly associated with consciousness seemed to be lost.

 

  • The first vegetative patient Schiff saw, the victim of a stroke, had no sign of consciousness. But when he ran into her three years later at a rehab center, he was shocked to find her awake and capable of talking to him.

 

  • The patients, doctors found, usually had widespread brain damage, but two injured areas were especially noteworthy: the thin outer rind, called the cortex, and the thalamus, a pair of walnut-size lumps in the brain’s central core, along with the neural fibers that connect these regions. The two areas are normally in constant cross talk, filtering and analyzing sensory data and making continual adjustments to attention and alertness. Lacking this chatter, someone in a vegetative state seems to be awake but not aware. They might moan and shift around, but they do not look toward a loud hand clap or pull away from a pinch. Given a feeding tube and basic medical care, someone might stay in this condition from days to decades, potentially until death. [3]

 

Well, as science progresses, it is only a matter of time before it can finally resolve this ethical question regarding the chronic vegetative state. Questions regarding the quality of life–even if such person should be revived from the chronic vegetative state–needs to be ethically weighed and considered by the family. If the patient has no quality of life, it is possible that reviving such a person may only cause indefinite suffering. Would this be something desirable? There is a season for everything under the heavens . . . sometimes we need to let go of the people we love. The dignity of the patient is something we must also take into consideration.

Obviously, the border separating consciousness from death is a question worthy of a Solomon to answer. In one of the symposiums I organized and participated in, I argued that ultimately—we may know a lot about the human body, but we still know very little about the nature of consciousness–where it begins and where it truly ends.

Lastly, here’s a piece of trivia that will probably surprise you: Oddly, even some of the Italian rabbis of the 17th century saw nothing wrong with kids having a little bit of Halloween fun–but that is a topic for another time.

====================

Notes:

[1] R. Descartes, Discourse in Method, c. 5.

 

[2] Time Magazine, “Zombies: Do They Exist?” Oct 17, 1983,
www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,952208,00.html – Similarto Medicine: Zombies: Do They Exist? – TIME – Time Magazine

 

[3] Discover Magazine, Kat McGowan, “Rediscovering Consciousness in People Diagnosed as ‘Vegetative,’” March 2011; http://discovermagazine.com/2011/mar/09-turning-vegetables-back-into-humans/article_view?searchterm=Terri%20Schiavo&b_start:int=3

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 September 2013

 

A Rabbinic Commentary on Trump’s Tallit

Image result for trump wears Tallit image

 

This past weekend, Detroit pastor Bishop Wayne Jackson draped a tallit around Donald Trump’s shoulders at service. What was the Jewish reaction? Well, that takes us to the rest of the story that I am about to tell you.

Most Jews I know are probably confused about seeing Donald Trump wearing a tallit. Some of my congregants said, “He looks ridiculous!” Another said, “Non-Jews are not supposed to wear a tallit!” One old friend of mine from San Francisco reacted with righteous indignation: How dare these Christians co-opt our religious symbols and heritage!

One Conservative Rabbi, named Danya Rutenberg twittered: “You guys, a Jewish prayer shawl–a tallit–is a ritual garment. Meant to be worn only by Jews. This is the worst kind of appropriation,” Conservative Rabbi Danya Rutenberg wrote on Twitter. She also called the move “disrespectful” in subsequent tweets. “Yes, my people also suffer cultural appropriation,” Twitter user Andy Rivkin added.

Let us flip this question on its proverbial head: What if Bishop Jackson had given the tallit to Hillary, or Barak Hussein Obama to wear? Would our reaction as a community be the same? In all candor, Rabbi Rutenberg would probably qvell and wish Hillary or Obama a hearty, “Yashar Koach” with  raucous applause–especially if she were in the picture!

One question that most people haven’t asked yet is, “Why do some Christian evangelicals insist upon wearing a tallit in the first place?” Some Christian evangelical ministers I know have told me that they wear the tallit because Jesus wore a tallit in the first century during his ministry.

Interestingly, one of the oldest references to the wearing of tsitsit outside the Talmud or Midrashic literature can be found in the Book of Matthew, where Jesus criticized some of the Pharisees of his day, “They perform all their actions to be seen by men. They broaden their phylacteries; they wear outsize tassels” (Mat 23:5). Yet despite Jesus’s criticism of what he felt was a gaudy display of religious piety, Jesus wore tsitsit (Mat. 9:20). Evangelicals often feel that more of their people should try to practice the Judaism that Jesus practiced in his day, so that they may become more like him. A lot of evangelical ministers actually sound the shofar at the beginning of their services.

Frankly, that’s not a bad idea.

Their motivation in my view is not a sign of disrespect, but actually a sign of respect that we should all admire. Evangelicals believe that by blessing the people of Israel, they too will be blessed:

 Those that bless you I will bless,

those that curse you, I will execrate.

All the families on earth

will pray to be blessed as you are blessed.’

(Genesis 12:3).

The phenomenon of Christian Zionism has proven to be a tremendous source of moral and financial support for our brothers and sisters living in Israel. Orthodox rabbis like Shlomo Riskin heaps praise upon the Evangelical community every Christiams. Palestinian merchants too are glad to see these Christian pilgrims as well. During the war with Hezbollah, one of my Reform colleagues from Illinois felt deeply moved when he saw the number of Born-Again Christians and evangelicals travel to Israel in the middle of the war to assist the country any way they can.

Are they not infinitely superior to the self-righteous Presbyterians, Methodists, and  the United Church of Christ who often demonize the State of Israel in their weekly Sunday services?

Beyond that, in praise of the Evangelicals, I will go one-step further.

It is this writer’s opinion, if Christians wish to observe certain Jewish customs, they have every right to do so, moreover such a view is actually well-attested in traditional rabbinic sources.

Now some of you might be surprised to know that the Talmud speaks about Gentiles following Jewish traditions.

In one Talmudic passage, the King Arteban of Persia one day sent a gift to Rabbi Judah.  The gift was an exquisite and quite expensive pearl.  The king’s only request was that the rabbi send a gift in return that was of equal value.  Rabbi Judah sent the Persian king a mezuzah. King Arteban was displeased with the gift and came to confront the rabbi.  “What is this?  I sent you a priceless gift and you return this trifle?” The rabbi said, “Both objects are valuable, but they are very different.  You sent me something that I have to guard, while I sent you something that will guard you.”[1]

What kind of protection was Rabbi Judah alluding to? The divine Name Shaddai is written on the back of every mezuzah. Shaddai is an acronym “Shomer Dalatot Yisrael” “Guardian of the Doors of Israel” and not people like King Arteban!

One might wonder: What good is sending a mezuzah to a Gentile King who is not a member of the “Jewish tribe”? Yet, the Talmud seems to suggest that just because a non-Jew is not obligated to observe Jewish rituals, if he did observe Jewish rituals, he certainly receives a reward for doing so! Non-Jews are not necessarily excluded from observing Jewish traditions–contrary to Rabbi Rutenburg.

Maimonides makes a remarkable point in his Mishnah Torah, for he writes: We do not prevent a non-Jew who wishes to perform one of the Torah’s mitzvot in order to receive a reward for doing so—provided that he performs it properly.[2] Unfortunately, Maimonides was not always consistent in this regard, for Torah study is meant for Jews only—not non-Jews.[3] He also felt the same about non-Jews wishing to observe the Sabbath.[4] Despite some old rabbinic attitudes that prohibit non-Jews from studying Torah, in practice most rabbis will probably acknowledge that non-Jews (often along with their Jewish spouses) are certainly permitted to study Torah in a synagogue class.

In practice, most Jews are open-minded when it comes to inviting non-Jews to a Passover Seder, a Bar Mitzvah, or a Shabbat service. Even Chabad invites gentiles to light a menorah during Hanukkah!

Perhaps most importantly, how can perspective proselytes know how to observe the mitzvot if we do not grant them access to much of our sacred traditions?

In short, during the medieval world, positive and respectful Jewish-gentile relations were rarer than they are today. When Trump received the tallit from Bishop Wayne Jackson, instead of getting irritated, we should feel proud that Trump gladly donned the tallit. We should feel the same whenever anyone in the non-Jewish community wishes to show respect to our faith and heritage.  Sometimes in our zeal to be “self-righteous” we often demonstrate a lack of broad-mindedness and generosity of spirit.  Only God knows what is in the hearts of mortals, and we would be wise to recognize that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.

 


[1] JT Peah 1:1; 15d.

[2] MT Hilchot Melachim 10:10.

[3] BT Sanhedrin 59a. Cf. Tosfot on BT Hagigah 13a s.v. Ein.

[4] MT Hilchot Melachim 10:9.

Philo’s Commentary on Numbers & Deuteronomy will soon be released…

Yes, I have great news for everyone who has inquired when the last volumes of the Philo Torah commentary series will be released, the answer is hopefully within the next couple of weeks. In fact, I will also be releasing Philo’s Commentary on Deuteronomy, which I must confess is my favorite volume of the entire series. The rest of the Philo series from Genesis to Leviticus will soon be out as well, newly edited, along with brand new introductions and commentary selections, notes, and so on.

Here is what the new cover looks like: (Click below)