Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller and Karl Barth: A Tale of Three Anti-Semites — Part 2

Erasmus, the great Catholic humanist scholar said, “If it is Christian to hate Jews, then we are all good Christians”[1] Martin Luther and a host of medieval and modern Protestant scholars would agree.

Just ask Martin Niemoeller.

But wait a minute . . . wasn’t he the person who famously said:

  • First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because  I was not a Jew. Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Impressed by Bonhoeffer, Niemöller added his own rhetorical flourish to Bonhoeffer’s words:

  • 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.  The final return of the people of Israel can only take place through the conversion of Israel to Christ. . . .The gospel lesson for the day throws light upon the dark and sinister history of this people that can neither live nor die because it is under a curse which forbids it to do either.  Until the end of its days, the Jewish people must go its way under the burden which Jesus’ decree has laid upon it.

Like Karl Barth (as we will soon see), Niemöller did not shy away from making pejorative remarks about the Jewish converts he had in his church. Such baptized Christians, persecuted as Jews by the Nazis, due to their or their forefathers’ Jewish descent. In one sermon in 1935, he remarked, “What is the reason for [their] obvious punishment, which has lasted for thousands of years? Dear brethren, the reason is easily given: the Jews brought the Christ of God to the cross!”[2]

In defense of Niemöller, he wasn’t an irredeemable anti-Semite. After the war, he later expressed regret about his own anti-Semitism in an interview he had with a West German television station he said: “Dear Friend, I stand in front of you, but we cannot get together, for there is guilt between us. I have sinned and my people has sinned against thy people and against thyself . . . . Thus, whenever I chance to meet a Jew known to me before, then, as a Christian, I cannot but tell him . . .”[3] Perhaps his guilty conscience reminded him that someday he would have to answer before the Judge of the World and answer for his dastardly remarks about the Jews, God’s Chosen People, whom he so deeply scorned.

Last and certainly not least, we will now examine the words of the famous Protestant theologian Karl Barth, who has often been described as “the greatest Christian theologian since Thomas Aquinas,” an epithet I would personally and strongly take issue with.

Karl Barth was also famous for his criticism of the Nazi regime. However, he too also subscribed to the idea that the Jew is a nothing more than a “Christ killer,” worthy of temporal and eternal torment for his audacious rejection of the Savior. Barth’s invective language about the synagogue is reminiscent of Martin Luther’s position. The Protestant scholar Chris Boesel carefully annotates the following Barthian references from his Church Dogmatics, Vol. 2.,  For him, he considers “The Synagogue” represents a “sectarian self-assertion”  by which the Jews attempt to “secure, defend, and preserve its existence against God.”  Barth calls this a  “perverse choice.” The Synagogue now witnesses “over against the witness of the Church,” rather than in unity with it. It is now a “typical expression   . . .  of man’s limitation and pain, of his transiency and the death to which is subject.” Synagogue Judaism is “the personification  of a half-venerable, half-gruesome relic, of a miraculously preserved antique, of human whimsicality. It must live among the nations the pattern of a historical life which has absolutely no future.” The Synagogue is “joyless,” persisting in a “cheerless chronology.” It is a “Synagogue of death,” constituting a “wretched testimony.”[4]

In the 1930s, he too charged the Jews with the death of Jesus – something they undertook not “in foolish over-haste” or misunderstanding, but, he asserted, as a “deliberate” act. Then, in 1942, from his base in Switzerland, in his theological work “Church Dogmatics,” Barth castigated Judaism as a “synagogue of death,” a “tragic, pitiable figure with covered eyes,” a religion characterized by “conceited lying,” and the “enemy of God.” If the church needed the Jews, he felt, it was only as a negative symbol, for they are a mirror of man’s rebellion against God, against which Christians must continually struggle.

Amazingly still, Barth—even after the Holocaust—still couldn’t get over his theological animus toward Judaism and Jews. In a letter he wrote to a close friend named,  Dr. Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt in 1967, Barth made a confession that is utterly amazing—especially in light of the Holocaust that took place over twenty years earlier. He writes:

  • I am decidedly not a philosemite, in that in personal encounters with living Jews (even Jewish Christians) I have always, so long as I can remember, had to suppress a totally irrational aversion, naturally suppressing it at once on the basis of all my presuppositions, and concealing it totally in my statements, yet still having to suppress and conceal it. Pfui! is all that I can say to this in some sense allergic reaction of mine. But this is how it was and is. A good thing that this reprehensible instinct is totally alien to my sons and other better people than myself (including you). But it could have had a retrogressive effect on my doctrine of Israel.[5]

Barth’s animus toward the Jewish people is evident within the Presbyterian Church. Walter Brueggemann and a host of lesser thinkers and teachers have become decidedly anti-Zionist and consider Israel an outlaw state. Brueggemann in particular shares a Barthian characteristic that is striking. Barth and Brueggemann love speaking about Israel, “Biblical Israel” in the abstract—but never with reference to the Jew who follows the Torah that Biblical Israel embodies. One gets the impression that Brueggemann finds Judaism, Israel, and the modern Jew to be an annoyance. Jewish Israel is a concept he and other Protestants refuse to accept because of their theology of supersessionism.

What else could one expect from the house that Luther, Erasmus,  Bonhoeffer, Niemöller, Barth, and Brueggemann built?

The fruits of the Protestant churches today and their hatred of Israel are bitter and worthy of oblivion.

If you read the famous “Parable about the Last Judgment” in Matthew 25:31-46, you will see that Jesus left a message in a bottle for the future theologians of the 20-21st century to reflect whenever they think about the Jewish people—Jesus’s own flesh and blood family:

  • “. . . for when I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did so to me.”

Next time Protestant theologians think about the Jewish people and everything we have gone through because of hateful theological supersessionism, they would be wise to remember this parable from their master and teacher.  Jesus’ humanity makes him a wonderful model for people to emulate themselves after—wouldn’t it be nice if his followers took his words more seriously? “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Mark 10:9)

If Barthian theologians have an issue with the Divine election of Israel, I think they ought to take it up with God Himself, and stop slandering God’s people at every opportunity.

[1] Charles Patterson, Anti-Semitism (New York: Walker and Company, 1982), 16.


[2]  Martin Niemöller, First Commandment, (London: Lutheran Church Publishing, 1937), pp. 243–250.


[3] Martin Niemöller Of Guilt and Hope (NY: Philosophical Library, 1947), 18.

[4] Chris Boesel , Risking Proclamation, Respecting Difference: Christian Faith, Imperialistic Discourse, and Abraham (Eugene, OR:  Wipf & Stock Publishers 2008), 107.

[5] Karl Barth, Jürgen Fangmeier and Hinrich Stoevesandt (ed.) Geoffrey W. Bromiy (transl. and ed.)  Karl Barth, Letters 1961-1968. (Edinburgh, T.&T. Clark, 1981) No. 260, pp. 261-263.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller and Karl Barth: A Tale of Three Anti-Semites


Jesus once said:


  • ·                   “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them” (Mt 7:15–20).


  • ·                   What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.


  • §   NT James 2:14-17


Both of these statements contain a fundamental truth: faith by itself has little value unless it can mold and shape a person into an ethical human being. Although the Catholic Church has made a concerted effort to confront and challenge the church to respect Judaism and strive to cultivate better interfaith relations, the Protestant Church has demonstrated repeatedly that they still have a long way to go. 

In some ways, the hatred of the Jew is ancient centers on the concept of “chosenness,” or “divine election,” which gave rise to the doctrine of supersessionism, a.k.a., “replacement theology.” Since the days of the Early Church Fathers, the Jew has been branded by many of the most famous Christian thinkers  as, “Christ killers” worthy of any earthly retribution for failing to accept Jesus and the Church’s authority as the one sole means of heavenly reward. 

  • Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus called Messiah?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!”  But he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” They only shouted the louder, “Let him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.” And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified. (Mt. 27:22-26).

Mel Gibson especially loved this passage, which he highlights in his film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

Whenever one reads the anti-Israel emanating from many of the Protestant Churches today, one gets the distinct impression that we, as Jews, have been down this road before many times. Naturally, our Protestant churches love to distinguish between the Zionism and Judaism; however, in the years leading up to the Holocaust and the subsequent years that followed the Holocaust, leading Christian theologians made a distinction between the “symbolic” Jew and the “real Jews.” These thinkers had no trouble with the notion of a Jew as an abstraction, but dealing with “real” Jews proved to be irritable and unpleasant. 

When we think about some of the great people who defied Nazism during the Holocaust era, the names Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller and Karl Barth are synonymous with courage. Most Jews consider these men to be among the other great righteous Gentiles who stood up for human dignity. 

Yet, we would be deluding ourselves if we think that each of these men “liked” or “respected” the Jewish people.

True, 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]

Here is one more example of Bonhoeffer’s animus against the Jews:

  • 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]

Shades of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!

Before I came across this passage, I never realized that Bonhoeffer suffered from religious schizophrenia when it came to the Jews. Bonhoeffer did not regard the Jew as a brother in faith, worthy of ecumenical respect.  He felt no sympathy for the racial anti-Jewish laws passed by the Nazis throughout the lands they conquered, after all, the German government was just carrying out classical Christian doctrines that were in place since the days of the 3rd century, where the Early Church Fathers promoted nothing but hostility toward the Jew. Short of actually killing the Jew, everything was considered permitted—even hard labor. After all, the Jews must suffer for their crimes against the Savior!

Many years ago, my synagogue sponsored a short film on the life of Bonhoeffer and the producer of the film was there as part of the panel. I was curious why Bonhoeffer was never included among the righteous Gentiles in the Va’ad Ashem in Jerusalem, but given his smug theological attitude concerning the Jews—it is not hard to figure out why.

(Part 2 to follow)

[1] Anders Gerdmar Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism: German Biblical Interpretation and the Jews, from Herder and Semler to Kittel. (Boston: Brill, 2008), p. 396. 

[2] Matthew D. Hockenos, A Church Divided: German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004), 21.


Opening Up the Empathic Imagination


CHULA VISTA, California — The language of empathy is hardwired into the consciousness of many higher mammals.  Human beings share the capacity to experience empathy for others. Of course, human beings are different in one basic respect from the animal kingdom. Whereas empathy is something that is instinctual in the animal kingdom, human beings possess the unique ability to reprogram their psyche and deny their basic empathic feelings.

The hardened heart is a familiar metaphor in the Bible. Pharaoh, as we know, suffered from a hardened heart. The metaphor of the hardened heart describes how Pharaoh denied his humanity. The heart in the Bible represents the core of our personhood—the wellspring of our humanity. It takes an act of will to deny its tender feelings. Conversely, it takes an act of will to allow the feelings that make us human, come alive.

Remarkably, the face of human suffering does have the ability to make even hard-hearted people to open their hearts.

When we think about the challenges that face Israelis and Palestinians, the status quo is determined to maintain the current state of conflict. Indeed, nothing can be more threatening than someone who is willing to step outside of his or her platonic caves and behold a different reality—a world suffused with light and endless new possibilities.

A brave Palestinian professor named Professor Mohammed S. Dajani did something that most of us probably never thought was possible: He took about thirty students on a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

The West-bank professor upset the Al-Quds University administration; they denounced Dajani as a traitor and collaborator—accusations that usually inspire death threats and imprisonment. Like the man of Plato’s cave, he went beyond the cave’s walls and discovered an alternative world. Just as the man was later threatened by other cave-dwellers, so too Dajani now must face the wrath of his own people, whom he has dedicated himself to helping.

The German Research Foundation promoted and underwrote this educational project; it was part of a joint program on conflict resolution entitled, “Hearts of Flesh—Not Stone.” The Israeli students from Ben-Gurion University visited the Dheishe Refugee Camp in Bethlehem as part of the same project.

The term Hearts of Flesh—not Stone is a powerful name, obviously inspired by the famous biblical passage in the Book of Ezekiel:

  • I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

The Palestinian professor who led his students in conflict resolution on a historic visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau has responded to his critics, declaring that he will not be silenced and, if given the chance, he would do it again.

“The trip went well as planned,” Prof Dajani told the Jersulaem Post when he returned home. “It helped to explore what lessons would be learnt, and to instill commitment to alleviate human misery by not being a bystander.”

  • The students learnt a lot from this visit about human suffering,” he said. “The visit gave them an in-depth understanding of the various aspects of the Holocaust. They now have answers for those who deny the Holocaust. ‘I was there. I saw what happened. I walked on the ground where it happened.’ I find it difficult to understand why anyone would oppose such a visit since students learnt much more than they would sitting in a classroom.”
  • Such atrocities should not be repeated anywhere and for any reason,” he said. “They were committed by zealots and extremists and they can be prevented from happening in the future by spreading a culture of moderation, tolerance, and acceptance of the fact we do not need to be copies of each other to exist together and live with one another.”
  • “I will go to Ramallah, I will go to the university, I will put my photos of the visit on Facebook, and I do not regret for one second what I did. As a matter of fact, I will do it again if given the opportunity. I will not hide, I will not deny. I will not be silent. I will not remain a bystander even if the victims of the suffering I show empathy for are my occupiers. And this is my final statement on this issue.”

When we think about the cure for the world’s most intractable problems, the language of empathy offers us the most humane means through which we can heal the world of what ails it. Let us pray that the Palestinian students’ lives will someday give birth to a new Palestinian and Israeli reality. Political solutions devoid of humanity are condemned to fail; but if we learn to understand the language of suffering—perhaps we can triumph over our collective and individual despair and create a new tomorrow.

The Bonds of Compassion that Exists within Nature


Empathy is one of those fascinating qualities that human beings share with the animal world. What exactly is empathy? It’s the psychological capacity to relate to another person’s psychological frame of being. Empathy creates a psychological bridge between one sentient being and another. One of my early teachers taught me as a Kabbalistic insight that the Hebrew word regesh (“feeling”) is an anagram for gesher (“bridge”), for feelings are the bridge that connect one person to another.

Such qualities are not uniquely human. We share this quality with much of the animal world. A couple of weeks ago, a Connecticut photographer has captured a thrilling encounter between a baby baboon and a 350lb lioness in a game park in Botswana. According to the witnesses, the lioness killed a baboon’s mother. Suddenly, the infant baboon was looking into the eyes of a roaring predator.

Instead of gobbling the young baby baboon for a midday Happy-meal, it gently began to play with it; to stop its crying, the lioness began to nurse the small helpless creature. Such stories are far from being unique. In the annals of Roman legends, a she-wolf sucked the baby  twins Remus and Romulus, the founder of Rome.

Charles Darwin was one of the earliest observers of this shared type of social behavior:

  • Man and the higher animals, especially the Primates, have some few instincts in common. All have the same senses, emotions, intuitions and sensations – similar passions, affections and emotions, even the more complex ones, such as jealousy, suspicion, emulation, gratitude and magnanimity…they possess the same faculties of imitation, attention, deliberation, choice, memory, imagination, the association of ideas and reason, though in very different degrees.
  • Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well, or nearly as well developed, as in man.” [1]

One animal behaviorist writes:

  • In a different environmental setting, at the town of Tezpur, India, a troop of about a hundred rhesus monkeys brought traffic to a halt after a baby monkey was hit by a car. The monkeys encircled the injured infant, whose hind legs were crushed and who lay in the road unable to move, and blocked all traffic. A government official reported that the monkeys were angry, and a local shopkeeper said: “It was very emotional … Some of them massaged its legs. Finally, they left the scene carrying the injured baby with them.” In another incident, baboons in Saudi Arabia waited for three days on the side of a road to take revenge on a driver who had killed a member of their troop. The baboons lay in waiting and ambushed the driver after one baboon screamed when the driver passed by them. The angry baboons threw stones at the car and broke its windshield. Captive Diana monkeys have been observed engaging.[2]

Vivisectionists invariably never give names to animals before conducting their experiments  upon them. Such behavior is routine as it is deliberate. By denying animals a name, in effect, they are also denying them an identity. Beyond that, they are also denying them any kind of moral standing as sentient creatures.

Empathy is only one of the remarkable characteristics we share with the animal world. The emotional lives of animals are complex. Stories such as the examples mentioned above are legion. Every pet owner can easily attest to this reality.

Shakespeare’s famous quote from Shylock in his famous play, The Merchant of Venice, might just as easily be applied to the animal world as well:

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.[3]

Undoubtedly, we share more qualities with the animal world than many people are willing to acknowledge. The complex matrix of deep emotions that we see in many animals are evident in how they show glee and playfulness when playing, the feelings of grief, when bereaving, depression over the loss of a mate, child, or other friend.  Human beings can learn much from the “dumb” animals they claim to be “inferior.”” The Torah has numerous precepts governing our relationship with these magnificent creatures,[4] which rabbinical tradition elaborates upon.[5]

The Book of Proverbs probably says it best: Decent-minded people are good to their animals; the “good-hearted” bad people kick and abuse them (Prov. 12:10).

And the rest is commentary  . . . .

[1] Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, p. 515.

[2] Marc Bekoff, Minding Animals: Awareness, Emotions, and Heart (NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), p.103.

[3] The Merchant Of Venice Act 3, scene 1, 58–68.

[4] Lev. 19:19; 22:24; Deut. 22:10,23:25/

[5] Maimonides, MT Sechirut, 13:3; Shulḥan ‘Arukh, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 338; Shulḥan ‘Aruk, Yoreh De’ah, 16).

Brandeis University’s Moral Cowardice (revised)



One of the most important feminists fighting for women’s rights in the Islamic world is a woman named Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This remarkable woman was born in Somalia where she was raised as a Muslim. She spent her youth and young adulthood in Africa and Saudi Arabia. In 1992, her life took a radically new direction. She escaped from a forced marriage to a distant cousin and traveled to the Netherlands.

While she was there, she learned Dutch and worked as an interpreter in the abortion clinics and shelters for battered women. She went on to earn a college degree in political science.  The September 11 terrorist attacks convinced her she could no longer identify as a Muslim. Now she fights for Muslim women everywhere; she has been an ardent critic of Islamic extremism.

This past week, Brandeis University rescinded an invitation to confer an honorary doctorate degree because of her strident views of Islam as a religion. Ironically, as one think-tank named Fear Inc., observes, “One of Al Qaeda’s greatest recruitment and propaganda tools is the assertion that the West is at war with Islam and Muslims — an argument that is strengthened every day by those who suggest all Muslims are terrorists and all those practicing Islam are jeopardizing U.S. security.”

In one interview with she told Reason Magazine,  “There is no moderate Islam. … There are Muslims who are passive, who don’t all follow the rules of Islam, but there’s really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There’s nothing moderate about it.”

The Brandeis University leadership criticized her for not differentiating between Radical Islam and Moderate Islam. Given her experiences in the Muslim world, which forcibly removed her clitoris when she was a child, it is not hard to see why she feels the way she does.

The decision to withdraw the honorary degree completely surprised her. She wrote:

•        ” Yesterday Brandeis University decided to withdraw an honorary degree they were to confer upon me next month during their Commencement exercises. I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision. On the contrary, I was completely shocked when President Frederick Lawrence called me — just a few hours before issuing a public statement — to say that such a decision had been made.

•         “When Brandeis approached me with the offer of an honorary degree, I accepted partly because of the institution’s distinguished history; it was founded in 1948, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, as a co-educational, nonsectarian university at a time when many American universities still imposed rigid admission quotas on Jewish students. I assumed that Brandeis intended to honor me for my work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religious in origin. For over a decade, I have spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called ‘honor killings,’ and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating. Part of my work has been to question the role of Islam in legitimizing such abhorrent practices. So, I was not surprised when my usual critics, notably the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), protested against my being honored in this way.

•        ”What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis. Having spent many months planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement, the university yesterday announced that it could not “overlook certain of my past statements,” which it had not previously been aware of. Yet my critics have long specialized in selective quotation — lines from interviews taken out of context — designed to misrepresent me and my work. It is scarcely credible that Brandeis did not know this when they initially offered me the degree.[1]

While I can understand Brandeis University’s withdrawal of the honor, it seems to me that it was still wrong to do so for many reasons. For one thing, the time to do the research on her background was before Brandeis offered it to her in the first place. For a stellar educational institution like Brandeis University, the time for doing due diligence is before it decided to honor her—not after. Since this was not properly done, the ethical thing is to confer the honor and learn from this “mistake” for the future.

Secondly, this woman is a heroine despite her atheistic attitudes about religion. Her community work has brought to light some very ghastly problems that we in the West must confront the Muslim community with so that they will issue fatwas and take a stronger moral stand against these hideous practices. Shaming her before the entire world was cruel as it was unnecessary.

Secular Muslims, or, people who have renounced Islam as a religion, have every right to express an opinion that runs contrary to the guardians of CAIR. In the intellectual history of the West, we have seen many great figures of history, e.g., Voltaire, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud criticize religion for its many moral failures. If these men were alive today, would Brandeis University refuse to listen to their criticism of Islam (or any faith for that matter)? Who can forget Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses; his brilliant literary work earned him a death fatwa from Muslim fanatics.

If I were Rushdie, I sure would like to know: “Where are the Muslim moderates?”

If I were a Muslim woman being stoned to death in Iran after being raped, I would sure want to know, “Where are the Muslim moderates?”

Is Hirsi Ali correct about Moderate Islam being non-existent?  I, for one, hope she is wrong. I have known a number of outstanding moderate Muslim leaders with whom I have done many interfaith programs with over the years. Unfortunately, they have only a marginal presence in the news. This is not necessarily their fault; the media in our country prefers to portray the extremists more than the moderates.

The international Muslim community can only benefit from the critics who will not accept the blatant sexism that is harming women in their society. If women’s liberation is good for the West and its religions, it is especially important for the Muslim countries where women are terrorized on a daily basis.

Rushdie and other outspoken secular Arabs or former Muslims have every right to speak their truth. The leadership at Brandeis refuses to treat atheistic thinkers with a modicum of respect. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Ibn Warraq are among a few of the luminaries who mince no words about what is wrong with religion—especially as it pertains to today’s decadent form of Radical Islam.  While I do not agree with the atheistic belief system, I do believe atheists today offer a wonderful critique of what is wrong with organized religion today.

Is Hirsi Ali an extremist? Hardly, this woman has received international awards from numerous liberal and conservative organizations. Here is a partial list, as compiled from Wikipedia:

•         •         Denmark: awarded the Freedom Prize of Denmark’s Liberal Party (20 November 2004), “for her work to further freedom of speech and the rights of women.”

•         •         From the European Union: Voted European of the Year for 2006 by the European editors of Reader’s Digest magazine. At a ceremony in The Hague on 23 January, Hirsi Ali accepted this award from EU Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes.[118]

•         •          Belgium: awarded the Prize of Liberty by Nova Civitas, a classical liberal think tank in the Low Countries (January 2004).

•         •          Germany: She received the civilian prize Glas der Vernunft Kassel, Germany. The organization rewarded her with this prize for her courage in criticizing Islam (1 October 2006).

•         •          Netherlands: given the Harriet Freezerring Emancipation Prize by Cisca Dresselhuys, editor of the feminist magazine Opzij (25 February 2005).

•         •          Norway: awarded the annual European Bellwether Prize by the Norwegian think tank Human Rights Service. According to HRS, Hirsi Ali is “beyond a doubt, the leading European politician in the field of integration. (She is) a master at the art of mediating the most difficult issues with insurmountable courage, wisdom, reflectiveness, and clarity” (June 2005).

•         •         Sweden: awarded the annual Democracy Prize of the Swedish Liberal People’s Party “for her courageous work for democracy, human rights and women’s rights.” She received the prize at a ceremony at the Swedish Riksdag from the party leader Lars Leijonborg (29 August 2005)

•         •         United States: listed by Time Magazine amongst the 100 Most Influential Persons of the World. She was put in the category “Leaders & Revolutionaries” (18 April 2005).

•         •         United States: accepted the Moral Courage Award from the American Jewish Committee (4 May 2006).

•         United States: given the Goldwater Award for 2007 from the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, at a dinner attended by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Rep. John Shadegg (R-Arizona), and Steve Forbes (7 December 2007).

•         United States: Won the Richard Dawkins Prize (2008), by the Atheist Alliance International.

Contrary to what CAIR would like you to believe, Hirsi Ali is a champion respected by much of the Western world. Her goal of “defeating Islam” refers to those fanatics who have harmed and threatened innocent lives. She envisions a peaceful Islam but demands a full-scale reformation of the religion. Hirsi Ali has never advocated genocide or violence against Muslims. Her words pertain to the extremists and their enablers, such as CAIR, an organization that has long supported Hamas. Like many of today’s “New Atheists,” she believes religion is part of the problem and we need to break people of its spell. That means, among other things, getting people away from the literal words in the Koran.

Brandeis University owes this great woman an apology.

Noah Review: A New Interpretive Spin Worth Watching


This past week, I watched the new movie Noah with considerable interest. The newest book of my Genesis commentary deals largely with the story of Noah and the moral questions raised by the Noah narrative. Naturally, whether a person writes a script or a commentary on a biblical story, Aronofsky’s film is an excellent midrashic exposition of an old familiar biblical story. The meaning of “midrash” is interpretation. Whenever we interpret a biblical narrative or law, our interpretations say more about us—the readers—than it does about the text itself. This point certainly applies to the new Noah movie that features the actor Russell Crow as Noah.

The movie seemed to borrow ideas from the Book of Enoch, which speaks about the fallen angels who came down to earth. However, contrary to Aronofsky’s portrayal that the fallen angels wanted to help humankind, God had warned the angels to keep their distance because they would lose their spiritual innocence and become more corrupt than the mortals these angels criticized. In effect, these supernatural beings caused the rapid deterioration of early man.

Like Monday morning quarterbacking, it is easy to criticize a team for failing to make the correct play of a contested football game. Hindsight is typically 20/20. According to the Book of Enoch, the Watchers found the earth girls, well—seductive. They fathered children who were the Greek equivalent of the demigods, whom Zeus and the deities of Olympus decided to wipe out through a flood! Although the Watchers wanted to improve the earth, they only made it worse. [1]

This is one example of how Aronofsky veered from the ancient Judaic literature that was written about the Flood almost 2000 years ago. Much of Aronfsky’s narrative depicted the sons of Noah as not having wives when the flood occurs. However, the biblical narrator flatly says that Noah’s sons were married before the Flood had occurred. By denying this detail, Aronfsky completely rewrites the story of Noah in a manner that is radically different and disingenuous. The movie Noah in some ways reminded me a little of Braveheart, Prophecy,  Transformers, Psycho, and the “Binding of Isaac.”

One more detail, Aronofsky and Russell Crowe like showing the audience that Noah really knows how to fight! Aronofsky also portrays Noah as wearing black leather pants and jackets; not only is such an image of Noah inconsistent with the idea that he was a vegetarian, leather pants were  not invented until the 8th century B.C.E., by the Persians. Aronofsky probably did not want to show a bunch of men fighting in togas or flowing robes.  We can certainly forgive him for that minor inaccuracy.

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is a postmodern reformatting of the biblical narrative we all grew to know as children. Yet, despite some of these criticisms, there is much to admire about the film.

The dramatic portrayal of Cain and Abel and its cascading images throughout recorded history was visually effective. The biblical writer of Noah probably would have shared Aronofsky’s disdain for urbanization and man’s lust for power. Some critics think Aronofsky attributes the flood to man giving up his vegetarian diet. Yet, even the rabbis suggest that the Seven Noahide Laws included a precept not to act cruelly toward animals—which was most likely a reaction to the antediluvian behavior of that generation.

The psychological transformation of Aronofsky’s Noah is remarkable. According to the biblical story, God became fed up with humankind and its penchant for violence. This thought is not expressly evident in the movie for God never really “speaks” to Noah, but communicates to him through dream imagery and visions.[2]

Aronofsky portrays Noah as a man who hated humanity because of their wickedness. This would explain why he refuses to aid Ham’s girlfriend because of his contempt for humanity. Yet, he is prepared to sacrifice his daughter-in-law, and her two baby girls who miraculously are born forty days after the flood subsides! (Now that’s a real miracle!) After the flood, Noah comes to a strange realization that God does not want the world to have human beings because of their violent ways. Yes, Aronofsky’s Noah sounds more like the Christian theologian Augustine who believed that man is incurably evil and is incapable of redeeming himself. Interestingly enough, Aronofsky  demonstrates why Noah did not ask God to save humankind. The reason is simple: he despises what human beings have become! This interpretation is certainly consistent with the rabbinical view that criticizes Noah for his lack of human concern for his fellow beings.

When Noah came out of the ark, he opened his eyes and saw the whole world completely destroyed. He began crying for the world and said: “Master of the Universe! You are called Compassionate, but You have shown compassion for Your Creation?” The Holy Blessed One be He replied, “Foolish shepherd! . . . I lingered with you and spoke to you at length so that you would ask for mercy for the world! But, as soon as you heard that you would be safe in the ark, the evil of the world did not touch your heart. You built the ark and saved yourself. Now that the world has been destroyed, you dare open your mouth to utter questions and pleas?! [3]

This part of the film seemed as though Aronofsky had recreated the Binding of Isaac and it is only the humanity of his wife who shows him the error of his ways. Despite himself, Noah eventually comes to see that God desires that we as humans redeem and save the world around us.

Does this have ecological relevance for today? Of course it does. Christian evangelicals ought to embrace this aspect of the Noah story. Regardless whatever one may feel about Aronofsky’s Noah, the writer succeeded in portraying Noah as an ecological hero, for indeed, he is—he single-handedly saves the world and himself as well.

If God could choose an imperfect person like Noah to make a difference in bettering and improving the world,  then there may be hope for the rest of us who are reading his story. Noah is an entertaining film; despite my reservations on some of the details of the film, I will give it 4 stars!



[1] In Book 1 of  Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.E. – 17. C.E.) weaves an elaborate chain of tales pertaining to the creaturely and cosmic transformations. Like the thematic layout of Genesis, Ovid first begins his work narrating about the creation of the world, Ovid then transitions to how the council of gods decided to bring a great flood to destroy all life. There is a clear etiological purpose of both the biblical and the Metamorphoses narratives in defining how the present world has become what it is. In addition, both books contain numerous moral parables about the human condition. Ovid’s retelling of the Flood story differs in one very important respect from the Mesopotamian narratives. Like the Noah narrative, Ovid attributes the flood not to the gods’ caprice or insomnia, but to human corruption and evil.

[2] Parenthetically I must add that Maimonides probably would have  enjoyed this part of the film for he always maintained that God speaks to human beings through dream or visionary imagery.

[3] Zohar Hadash Noah, 29a

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