Massive tree planting program may save planet

August 25, 2019 / Leave a Comment

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — It might surprise most people to know that ecological themes form an important part of the Torah and Tanakh.

For example:

Genesis begins with an important ecological truth: “The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Gen. 2:15).

When the Holy Blessed One created the first man, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, ‘Behold My works, how beautiful and commendable they are! All that I have created, for your sake I created it. Pay heed that you do not corrupt and destroy My world. For if you spoil her, there will be nobody to repair her after you. -Eccles. Rabbah 7:20

This Midrashic interpretation highlights the importance of stewardship, not only for the Garden of Eden, but for our taking care of the earth, God’s garden. By taking care of the primordial garden, Adam learns to recognize that all of life is God’s unique design, endowed with spirit, consciousness, and intelligence. Adam’s respect for Creation makes him realize that the human species is a part of the great web of life, which he must nurture for the world to be self-sustaining and productive. Indeed, the degradation of the environment damages the original balance that Adam and his progeny must maintain. Through toil, Adam would realize how all of Creation depends on the Divine as the source of life for its sustenance and continued existence.

Understanding the implications of Adam’s stewardship is vital for our contemporary society.  The science of ecology has shown how ecosystems of the world are delicately balanced; should human beings ruin them through abusive acts (ecocide), future generations will have to endure the consequences. Through work and stewardship, humankind comes to emulate God’s own work and creativity as Imitatio Dei (imitation of God). It was the divine intent from the beginning for humankind to elevate and ennoble itself by work, and elevate Creation to the realm of the spirit, leading all Creation in song and joyous exaltation of the Divine. Note that God intended to make Adam not a “master” over the Garden of Eden, but its caretaker and steward. Once Adam forgets that he is only a steward of the garden, the boundaries established by the Creator became unclear and ultimately violated.

The midrashic writers expressed a profound intuition—one that still resonates with wisdom—even today. Chief Seattle, in a meeting that took place in 1854 with the “The Great White Chief” in Washington, is purported to have replied:

  • “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap, which courses through the trees, carries the memory and experience of my people.
  • The white man’s dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful Earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the Earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle—these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and the man, all belong to the same family.
  • The rivers are our brothers for they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes and feed our children. … The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath ‑ the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. Teach your children what we have taught our children that the Earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know—the Earth does not belong to man—man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are interconnected like the blood, which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth—befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not weave the web of life—he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Back to the present:

We have all seen or heard about the news in Brazil, as the Amazon Rain Forest has gone up in flames. The Amazon Rain Forest is purported to provide 20% of the world’s oxygen—a necessary ingredient for our planetary survival.

The Brazilian government has tried to exploit the Amazon forest for decades, but recently industrialists have promoted a policy of deforesting their country. On Friday, the governments of the international community exerted pressure on the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, who decided to mobilize his military to contain the blazes.

As a chorus of condemnation intensified, Brazil braced for the prospect of punitive measures that could severely damage an economy that is already sputtering after a brutal recession. The country’s populist besieged president faces a withering reckoning–especially at the polls, come next election.

Regardless what position people have concerning global warming, I for one believe that we ought to err on the side of caution. But I do not believe that we ought to spend trillions of dollars to prevent it by a degree or two.

Consider the Land of Israel.

What can we do about global warming? Mark Twain once wrote after touring the Holy Land in the 19th century that he was amazed at how desolate the land of Israel was. In a moment of inspiration, Twain said that the people who care for the land will someday make it bloom once more.

Israel to this day has planted over 200 million trees in forests and woodlands covering some 300,000 acres.  Tese trees provide Israelis with a wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreation and appreciation of nature.

The Israeli people have made the desert bloom.  In addition, Israel has developed the most effective water-management systems and a sustained prosperous economy even under relatively harsh climatic conditions.  It has prevented the overexploitation of natural resources, which otherwise would have driven the land toward desolation, producing severe land degradation, erosion, and salination.

Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has embraced issues of sustainable land management and has adopted public policies designed to restore, develop, and manage its natural resources. Outside of Israel, about 240 million trees have been planted, particularly in the Mediterranean and semi-arid regions. Regulations have been introduced to control grazing and ensure effective water management. Due to these activities, Israel is one of the few countries in the world that has more trees now than it had a century ago.

Now why is Israel’s example so important? Replanting the planet with billions of trees all over the globe will not only beautify our world, it will contribute dramatically toward the absorption of carbon emissions. According to some studies, we need not knock down cities or takie over farms or natural grasslands. Reforested pieces could add up to new tree cover totaling just about the area of the United States, researchers report in the July 5 Science.

Can we do better? Of course. Israel’s example has demonstrated just how effective such an approach can be.  This approach can contain greenhouse gases. It is a method that will not destroy our society. Combined with other common-sense measures, we can ensure the world will be a beautiful place for future generations.

  • One day Honi was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked, “How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?” The man replied: “Seventy years.” Honi asked him: “Old man! Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied: “I found already grown carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted those for me so I too plant these for my children” (BT Ta’anit 23b).

We owe the future a beautiful earth.

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

Remembering Frederick Douglass on the 4th of July

Image result for picture of frederick douglass

This past week, the American flag became a focal point as we celebrated the Fourth of July. The Wall Street Journal reported how NIKE was forced to recall a show that featured the “Betsy Ross” flag on the back of the shoe. Collin Kaepernick who signed a multi-million-dollar sponsorship with NIKE was upset that NIKE featured the flag, which he regarded as “offensive” because of its connection to an era of slavery. The flag could be construed as a symbol of approval for slavery, white nationalism, and white supremacy.[1]

Embarrassed, NIKE withdrew the shoe.

What a pity, I was looking forward to purchasing the shoe!

The Democratic candidates Julian Castro and Beto Rourke defended Kaepernick’s position.

It is a pity NIKE did not sort this potential problem out in the designing stage. They probably will lose many customers over this late decision.

On the morning of the Fourth of July, Kaepernick tweeted a quotation from one of the greatest black leaders of the Civil Rights era, Frederick Douglass. Douglass was in many respects like the Martin Luther King of his time. He was a brilliant orator; he was a moral voice of our great nation’s conscience., Kaepernick’s message read, “‘What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? This Fourth of July is yours, not mine…There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloodier than are the people of these United States at this very hour.’”

The speech is riveting, and in it, Douglass spoke about the growing pains of the nation; he expressed optimism that our country would grow from its bitter experiences with slavery. He mentioned how the institution of slavery challenged the sacred Bill of Rights and the moral teachings of the Constitution.

Unfortunately, Kaepernick cherry-picked the parts of the speech that reflected his personal animus toward our country’s history.

 I later wrote about this in my blog and I was surprised to see that Sen. Ted Cruz mentioned some of the same points I raised. Cruz noted:

  • You quote a mighty and historic speech by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, but, without context, many modern readers will misunderstand. Two critical points: This speech was given in 1852, before the Civil War, when the abomination of slavery still existed. Thanks to Douglass and so many other heroes, we ended that grotesque evil and have made enormous strides to protecting the civil rights of everybody.
  • Douglass was not anti-American; he was, rightly and passionately, anti-slavery. Indeed, he concluded the speech as follows: “Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably, work the downfall of slavery. ‘The arm of the Lord is not shortened,’ and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from ‘the Declaration of Independence,’ the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.”

The Civil War took place between 1861-1865. Over 600,000 soldiers died so that slavery would disappear from our country forever. It is a pity Kaepernick never acknowledged this fact. Douglass knew that in time our country would learn valuable lessons about the evils of this institution.

But there was also something important that Cruz left out that could have made his point stronger. The citation comes from Douglass’s writings that reflects mightily about his magnanimous personality. I mentioned this letter in a Yom Kippur sermon I gave in 2017.

In a letter from Frederick Douglass to his former master, he wrote on September 3rd, 1849:

  • I shall no longer regard you as an enemy to freedom, nor to myself — but shall hail you as a friend to both. — Before doing so, however, I have one reasonable request to make of you, with which you will, I hope, comply. It is thus: That you make your conversion to anti-slavery known to the world, by precept as well as example.
  • It would be truly an interesting and a glorious spectacle to see master and slave, hand in hand, laboring together for the overthrow of American slavery. I am sure that such an example would tell with thrilling effect upon the public mind of this section. We have already had the example of slaves and slaveholders side by side battling for freedom; but we yet lack a master working by the side of his former slave on the anti-slavery platform.
  • You have it in your power to supply this deficiency; and if you can bring yourself to do so, you will attain a larger degree of happiness for yourself, and will confer a greater blessing on the cause of freedom, than you have already done by the generous act of emancipating your own slaves.
  • With the example before me, I shall not despair of yet having the pleasure of giving you the right hand of fellowship on the anti-slavery platform.[2]

In his age, Frederick Douglass was the closest thing to a modern biblical prophet who chastised a nation that had forgotten about its ethical obligations to promote, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of its citizens.

Our country has come a long way in eradicating many—if not most—of the indecencies that led to slavery.

I will just conclude with an excerpt from a speech Douglass gave at the end of the war. His words remain today just as prophetic as they always have been.

  • Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also.
  • All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot- box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! [Applause.] If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone,—your interference is doing him a positive injury. Gen. Banks’ “preparation” is of a piece with this attempt to prop up the Negro. Let him fall if he cannot stand alone! If the Negro cannot live by the line of eternal justice, so beautifully pictured to you in the illustration used by Mr. Phillips, the fault will not be yours, it will be his who made the Negro, and established that line for his government.
  •  [Applause.] Let him live or die by that. If you will only untie his hands, and give him a chance, I think he will live. He will work as readily for himself as the white man. A great many delusions have been swept away by this war. One was, that the Negro would not work; he has proved his ability to work. Another was, that the Negro would not fight; that he possessed only the most sheepish attributes of humanity; was a perfect lamb, or an “Uncle Tom;” disposed to take off his coat whenever required, fold his hands, and be whipped by anybody who wanted to whip him. But the war has proved that there is a great deal of human nature in the Negro, and that “he will fight,” as Mr. Quincy, our President, said, in earlier days than these, “when there is reasonable probability of his whipping anybody.” [Laughter and applause.][3]

To Collin Kaepernick, I would say that you of all people have benefited from the sacrifices many great people of our society have made during the Civil War and after the Civil War. Instead of invoking the sins of the past as though our whole country is mired in the Original Sin of slavery, remember what Douglass said that every person must stand or fall on his own merits or failings.

Invoking hatred toward our country only serves to keep the wounds of the past forever fresh.

The men who died in the Civil War deserve to be remembered why they died and why their ultimate sacrifice created a new era of possibility for everyone in our great nation.


[1] https://www.dailywire.com/news/49067/nike-pulls-american-flag-sneaker-after-complaint-emily-zanotti

[2] The Frederick Douglass Papers: 1842-1852, pp. 391-392.

[3] http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/africam/afspfdat.html

Corry Booker’s Jewish Problem

Why Jews should distrust Cory Booker

Posted on 30 June 2019.

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Cory Booker

CHULA VISTA, California — One of the Democratic candidates running for President is Cory Booker, the former Newark mayor who later was elected to the U.S. Senate. Booker has had a long relationship with the Jewish community. He once headed  Jewish student societies while a student at the University at Oxford and at Yale. He has close ties with pro-Israel groups.

This is a man who has given a sermon on the weekly parsha.

Once Jeffrey Goldberg retold a conversation between Booker and his daughter, who was then preparing for her bat mitzvah. He asked her, “What’s your parasha?” The young girl replied that it was “Parshat Vayera” from Genesis. Without missing a beat, Booker gave a drasha on the lessons we can learn from Abraham trying to save the two sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

When I first heard this story, I began paying attention to Booker.

I wanted to know more about him.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was once a good friend of his. How did he describe Booker? He said that the man is “Possessed of an insatiable spiritual curiosity utterly unexpected from a star who has risen through the rough-and-tumble of Jersey politics, Cory is a man permanently in search of inspiration, to both discover and dispense it.”

Booker appealed to many Jews, then something bad happened. In his quest to be a popular politician, he made the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. In fact, he reminds me of Paul the Apostle, who in a rare moment of honesty, admitted his aim in winning souls for Christ:

Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win over those under the Law. To those outside the Law I became like one outside the Law—though I am not outside God’s law but within the law of Christ—to win over those outside the Law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.[1]

Paul and Al Davis both believed in winning—regardless of what it took; the former owner of the Oakland Raiders became famous when he said, “Just win Baby.” I suspect that Cory Booker probably has a similar philosophy.

And in politics, the rule of political expediency is the only enduring life philosophy that matters

This means a good politician must sometimes make a deal with the devil himself.

But a man of principle and moral courage must never succumb to that temptation. Booker forgot that even Satan tempted Jesus, but he failed. That’s how a moral person deals with evil people. Just say, “NO!”

Boteach’s incisive words are worth quoting:

But then came the Iran nuclear agreement and Cory’s support of it and the beginning of a downward spiral in his support for Israel that undermined much of our friendship and the Jewish community’s admiration for him. Nearly every time I attend a public event, people walk over to me and ask, “Why did Cory oppose the Taylor Force Act – which stops the funding of Palestinian terrorists – in Senate committee?” “Why did Cory condemn the moving of the American Embassy to Jerusalem?” And, “Why did Cory take a picture with BDS leaders who demand the removal of Israel’s wall that prevents suicide bombings?”[2]

Booker’s loyalty to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party does not consider Israel an important ally; the power elite of the DNC expects Booker to tow the party line—even if it means going against the Jewish community; even if means going against the State of Israel.

Booker supported the Obama deal with Iran, despite Iran’s promise to wipe Israel off the map. And while I want to condemn Booker for a lack of courage, the Jewish Democrats who supported Obama’s dangerous gambit are even more guilty than Booker.

And as if these political compromises were not bad enough, Booker announced he was willing to meet with the infamous anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan—the leader of the Nation of Islam.

Perhaps Booker has forgotten about Farrakhan’s admiration of Hitler.

Perhaps Booker has forgotten about Farrakhan’s Jewish “Termite Problem.”

Farrakhan has called Jews “satanic” on several occasions; he praised Hitler as a “great man.” He believes that the Jews are out to “control” the world. He believes the Jews are responsible for the transatlantic slave trade.

Farrakhan is a fountain of anti-Semitism.

William J. H. Boetcker once wrote, “A man is judged by the company he keeps, and a company is judged by the men it keeps, and the people of Democratic nations are judged by the type and caliber of officers they elect.”

Cory Booker, I wish to offer these personal words of admonition: Your behavior has proven that you are a politically expedient man—a real politician.

Meeting with the enemies of the Jewish people, and state-sponsored terrorist governments against Israel has shown why you should never be elected to any office, much less the Presidency.

*

[1] 1 Corinthians 9:19–24.

[2] https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/No-Holds-Barred-Cory-Booker-refuses-to-condemn-Farrakhan-or-Iran-at-ADL-summit-574097

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

Slips of the Tongue?

Some of the most embarrassing mistakes that occur in human communication, happen when people experience an unfortunate “slip of the tongue.” The words come out differently than what we consciously intend for them to mean.

Sigmund Freud was a remarkable man whose interests spanned across the psychological spectrum—often touching upon the areas of communication and humor. Freud stressed that the “slip of the tongue” may seem inadvertent, and yet, it can reveal much about the speaker’s unconscious thought or attitude. To the attentive listener, “a slip of the tongue” may reveal more what is in the actual heart of the speaker, which the speaker might under normal circumstances, consciously try to avoid disclosing.

While Freud believed most “slips of the tongue” are usually sexual in nature because they reveal deeply repressed desires from a person’s subconscious. Jung concurred and added that slips of the

slips of the tongue, as well as slips of the pen reveal the presence of hidden psychic material just beneath the surface of everyday language.

And while our language is full of such expressions, and the awkwardness of these expressions. I recall reading a biblical commentary where the author accidentally wrote “martial strife” instead of “marital strife,” the slip up produced a measure of amusement among the readers—who thought “martial strife” was a call to arms!

The reason I mentioned this is because in the news today when Representative Rashida Tlaib made a comment about the Holocaust and its impact upon her: “There’s always kind of a calming feeling I tell folks when I think of the Holocaust . . .”

Let us read the rest of the citation in its entirety:

  • “There’s always kind of a calming feeling I tell folks when I think of the Holocaust and the fact that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports. And just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time. And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away and it was forced on them.

How could Rashid mention “Holocaust” and, “calming feeling” in the same sentence? Had Trump made that statement, the entire Congress would crucify him in the press.

Let us briefly put the “slip of the tongue” statement aside and for argument’s sake—let us give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she did not mean for her words to come out the way they did. After all, English is not her native language. For now, let us forget about that unfortunate remark.

Anyone listening to her might be inclined to think the Palestinians acted in a perfectly loving manner toward the Jewish settlers of Palestine. Historically, virtually never the case. The Palestinian leadership was under the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the influential leader of the Arabs in Palestine. During the war, he moved to Germany and met Adolf Hitler, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Heinrich Himmler. He met with other Nazi leaders in an attempt to coordinate Nazi and Arab policies in the Middle East. The following is a record of a conversation between the Fuhrer and al-Husseini in the Presence of Reich Foreign Minister and Minister Grobba in Berlin.  The Mufti used his charisma to popular appeal to Arab countries to enlist in German effort to defeat the West. Sharing a mutual antipathy for the Jewish people, the English, and the Communists—the Mufti worked to create an Arab Legion to help the Nazis in the Balkans.

The Nazis and the Islamo-Jihadists shared a common vision of the world—a world without Jews. Nazi war criminals often found refuge in the Arab countries where they became celebrities and had the status of rock stars.

The real problem with Talib’s statement is that the Arabs in Palestine (later to be referred to after the 1967 war as “Palestinians” completely supported Hitler’s attempt to rid the world of Jews. Not only did the Arabs in Palestine support the German extermination of Jews, but they also violently resisted the creation of a Jewish state.

Even before the Holocaust, the Arabs of Palestine did not get along well with the Jewish settlers;

  • There was a massacre that occurred in Jerusalem, 1920.
  • Jews were massacred in Hebron in 1929
  • Another massacre took place in Safed in 1929.
  • In Jaffa, 1921,
  • Tiberias, 1938

Since the birth of Israel, there has been a relentless campaign of terror aimed at the most vulnerable members of the Jewish community. Many of the people Rashid admires are people who have killed the elderly, women, and children. One of those persons is the Palestinian activist Abbas Hamidah, a Palestinian who is one of Hezbollah’s staunchest defenders.  He posed  with Talaib at her swearing-in ceremony after she won the election in Detroit.

In December 2015, Hamideh called convicted terrorist Samir Kuntar a “legendary Hezbollah martyr,” days after he was killed in an explosion in Damascus. Among the victims Kuntar killed was a young four-year old girl named Elinat, whose skull he smashed on beach rocks.

Rashid’s admiration for Louis Farrakhan, as seen in an op-ed she had written in a paper, and her defense of her fellow freshman representative Ilhan Omar’s (D., Minn.) anti-Semitic remarks — after last week’s comments.

Yes, Rashida’s friends are the kind of people Hitler would be proud to have on his team. In addition, we must forget how Tlaib tweeted to her colleague. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), about Jews “buying Congress,” and promoted the notion that “supporters of Israel were guilty of dual loyalty”. These are classical anti-Semitic tropes.

And it is for this reason I do not believe Tlaib’s claim that her family helped save Jews during the Holocaust, I am inclined to doubt her authenticity. The reason is simple. When she first ran in Michigan for office, she had numerous interactions with the Jewish community. Why did she not mention this biographical information about herself when she was soliciting their support for her candidacy?

Now it is true that there were Muslims in the Balkans and in Morocco who helped saved the Jews of their communities—but this was not the case in Palestine. No amount of wishful thinking can alter the fact that the Arab population remained determined to keep the Jews out of Palestine.

For all the reasons mentioned above, Talib’s statements ought to be viewed with skepticism. This is not the first time anti-Semites like her have tried to deceive the Jewish community.

Afterthoughts of the Chabad Poway Shooting

I’m in trouble!

Sometimes, wisdom tales of the past have a way of speaking to us in the present. And although we often think of ourselves a product of the present, in reality, our personal narrative is inextricably connected to those who have preceded us from the past. This especially true when observing Jewish history. By the same token, future generations of Jews will be profoundly affected by the choices we make as Jews today.

Toward the end of the second century C.E., the great Talmudic sage, Rabbi Akiba, lived under the harsh yoke of Roman oppression. Notwithstanding the dangers Jews faced, he boldly defied the Roman ban on studying and publicly teaching Torah.  He once used the following parable about a fox to explain why he did so:

A hungry fox once trotted alongside a river teeming with fish. As the fish darted back and forth, the fox came up with a subterfuge to win the fishes’ attention. The fox exclaimed, “What’s going on?” he called to the fish. “The fisherman is coming with his nets!” came a garbled reply. “I’ve got an idea!” the crafty fox hollered. “Leap out of the water and join me on the riverbank. There are no nets here.”  “You’re not so bright, are you?” came the scornful reply.  “If we remain here, we may or may not get caught.  But if we leave the water, we will die!” Rabbi Akiba said, “The Romans may or may not take my life, but I cannot abandon the Torah, much like a fish cannot give up living in the water.”

But doing nothing is no longer an option.

Verily, every battle against the reality of evil is not limited to just the physical plane we occupy. There is also a spiritual battle that we must engage in. Specifically, if we allow our enemies to frighten us from attending the synagogue, then we have given them a victory they do not deserve. Judaism cannot survive, much less thrive, in such a fearful environment. The first-century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria offers us this tidbit of advice, “Cowardice a disease. It poses a far graver threat since it affects not only the body but also destroys the faculties of the soul, unless God heals the person of this condition, for with God all things are possible to Him.”

As I thought about the misery, we have seen this past year, where many Jews have suffered for the crime of being Jewish, it is important to keep in mind this recent shooting occurred in the week of Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Memorial Day. And although the face of anti-Semites has changed, their dark character reveals that much of the “civilized” world has not learned any wisdom from one of the darkest periods of human and Jewish history. Even here in the United States, according to the Pew Reports, a third of the American population is not sure whether the Holocaust ever occurred. We have also witnessed a resurgence of hatred in Poland, Germany, the Ukraine, in Russia.[1]

From a theological perspective, the legion of attacks against the Jews raises a question that I am certain many of us have wondered about:  What does it mean to be God’s “Chosen People”? My grandfather, Moshe Samuel, on the way to the crematoria said to my father, “God, if we are Your “Chosen People, then why don’t you choose somebody else for a change?” In moments of great evil, even the most pious can sometimes experience doubt about their faith. Sholem Aleichem also had Tevye express this same question in Fiddler on the Roof.

I believe that as Jews we have a moral purpose to teach the nations of the world about ethical monotheism—i.e., the belief that we must treat each person with the dignity that each person deserves. But Judaism is also more than just a religion of ethics—even if its ethical monotheism. It is a spiritual way of life that summons us to live with dignity, inspires us to sanctify the most ordinary of relationships—toward each other, toward our environment, toward the world; our faith summons us to be hopeful, and courageous when it comes to sticking together during rough times.

This time of the year, let us honor Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s courageous sacrifice by keeping strong the synagogue institution she so deeply loved. Our condolences go out to and her family, to Rabbi Goldstein, and to all those who were directly affected by the attack.

As Jews we have walked this way before in our history. As of this moment, remember each of us is making Jewish history.

What will our legacy be as the future generations of Jews read about our experiences and how we reacted? Will we be remembered for the strength we exuded in standing together as previous generations have done?

The answer is up to each and every one of you.

I encourage each Jewish person to make this Shabbat a Shabbat where we celebrate our Judaism—even as we travel through the Valley of Darkness, knowing full well, that God is with us.

How would MLK respond to the Poway shooting?

Image result for image of martin luther king

One of my congregants posed an interesting question that we ought to consider asking: What would Rev Martin Luther King Jr. have said about the Poway synagogue shooting? It is an important question—not just for members of the Jewish community, but also for the African-American community as well.

Throughout his life, King proved to be a close friend of the Jewish community. He often noted the similarities existing between Jews and African-Americans. Both groups experienced hatred, prejudice, attacks from those wishing to harm them; both peoples worked together to overcome that hatred.

In this short article, I will briefly touch on some of my favorite quotes Martin Luther King Jr concerning what it is the Jewish and non-Jewish community is up against. Simply put, we are fighting for the soul of our nation. Many of King’s quotes highlight the warm feelings he felt for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

King proved to be a relentless foe against anti-Semitism and racism. He observed that the Hitler archetype is alive and well—even in the United States.

  • There are Hitlers loose in America today, both in high and low places… As the tensions and bewilderment of economic problems become more severe, history(‘s) scapegoats, the Jews, will be joined by new scapegoats, the Negroes. The Hitlers will seek to divert people’s minds and turn their frustration and anger to the helpless, to the outnumbered. Then whether the Negro and Jew shall live in peace will depend upon how firmly they resist, how effectively they reach the minds of the decent Americans to halt this deadly diversion….[1] 

“Some have bombed the homes and churches of Negroes; and in recent acts of inhuman barbarity, some have bombed your synagogues — indeed, right here in Florida.”[2] Three months later, on Oct. 12, 1958, The Temple in Midtown Atlanta was bombed. When I came across this news, I was surprised to see that targeting synagogues is by no means a new phenomenon; it has happened before—many times, in fact.

Because of the Jewish advocacy for civil rights, between November 1957, and October 1958, there were bombings and attempted bombings in seven Jewish communities in the South. North Carolina had two such incidents; there were two more in Florida, and one in Tennessee and Georgia (where Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple sustained almost $200,000 in damages in the last of the 11-month rash of attacks). Alabama synagogues were also targeted—particularly, Temple Beth-El of Birmingham’s was a bombing target on April 28, 1958. Fortunately, weather conditions fizzled the fuse—one minute before it would have detonated. Experts said the explosion would have killed scores of people. The bomb itself was said to be three times more powerful than the one that would kill four young black girls at 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. It could have demolished not only the synagogue, by also several nearby structures.[3]

King respected the danger the Jewish community put itself in for championing civil rights. At the Rabbinical Assembly Convention of 1968, King observed, “Probably more than any other ethnic group, the Jewish community has been sympathetic and has stood as an ally to the Negro in his struggle for justice.”

On October 27, 1967, at a Civil Rights rally in Boston, King boldly said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”

When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”

In 1958, King spoke to the American Jewish Committee, and pointed out, “My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.”

King loved to write about the Israelites experience in Egypt and its moral message for the African-American individual. For me, one of King’s most memorable sermons he presented a sermon on the subject, “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore.” King’s comments vividly portray the flight of Hebrew slaves from Egypt: He observed,

  • Egypt symbolized evil in the form of humiliating oppression, ungodly exploitation, and crushing domination.” But then, the wonderful event occurred, and ‘when the Israelites looked back, all they could see was here and there a poor drowned body beaten upon the seashore.’ For the Israelites, this was a great moment… It was a joyous daybreak that had come to end the long night of their captivity . . . The meaning of this story is not found in the drowning of Egyptian soldiers, for no one should rejoice at the death or defeat of a human being. Rather, this story symbolizes the death of evil and of inhuman oppression and unjust exploitation.[4]

King observed, “We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.”

This last remark is what we need to remember when combatting anti-Semitism. Today, anti-Semitic attacks seem to becoming fashionable once more in our society. We need to root out the intolerance that is affecting our society. This approach offers the best medicine for the hatred we are witnessing in the world today, as Jews in the 21st century experience a resurging anti-Semitism.

Evil people will always exist, but we must do our part to thwart them.

On a personal note, Martin Luther King’s heroism inspired me to decide becoming a rabbi when I was barely fourteen years old.


[1] Cited from Marc Schneier, Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Jewish Community (Woodstock VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1999), p. 35.

[2] Martin Luther, Clayborne Carson (ed.), The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume IV: Symbol of the Movement, January 1957-December 1958 (Berkeley: University of California Press; First edition, 2000), p. 408.

[3] https://weldbham.com/blog/2012/09/19/54-sticks-of-dynamite-the-bomb-at-temple-beth-el/

[4] Martin Luther King, Jr, The Strength to Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1963; Pocketbook Edition, 1964), pp. 71-8

Was Jesus a Palestinian?

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Congresswoman Ilan Omar never ceases to surprise us with the countless inane claims she makes on a daily basis. In one of her more interesting canards, she claimed that “Jesus was a Palestinian.”

One might imagine that she will soon claim that the Israelites were also really Palestinians, and that the God gave Moses the Quran on Mount Sinai.

Her ignorance of the ancient history of Judea is mind-numbing.

We ought to ask the more obvious question. What inspired Omar to make this unusual claim about Jesus being a Palestinian? Just one day before Omar’s tweet appeared, a writer named Eric V. Copage wrote an article, “As a Black Child in Los Angeles, I Couldn’t Understand Why Jesus Had Blue Eyes,” he wondered: Why did Christian artists typically portray Jesus as though he had blue eyes? After all, he reasoned, “Jesus, born in Bethlehem, was most likely a Palestinian man with dark skin.”[1]

And while I might agree that the European depictions of Jesus as having blue eyes is doubtful, it is surprising that Copage assumed that Jesus was a “Palestinian.” The writer obviously is unfamiliar with ancient history.  The myth that “Jesus was a Palestinian” can be traced back to the days of Yasser Arafat, when his trusted Christian-Palestinian adviser Hanan Ashrawi made the outlandish claim.

The Christian scholar Michael Brown said something that I must agree with, “Let’s set the record straight. Jesus was a Galilean Jew, not a Palestinian Muslim. He celebrated Passover, not Ramadan, and he was called “Rabbi” not “Imam.” His followers were named Yaakov and Yochanan and Yehudah, not Muhammad and Abdullah and Khalid.”

Surprisingly, it took one week for the NYT to correct the record,

Frankly, I am surprised Copage and Omar did not also claim that “Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Palestinians.’”

It seems at first blush that Omar read Copage’s article and assumed the New York Times must be correct, and without a second thought, she published her tweet on the following day. Omar must have been perplexed by the reaction she received; might be probably more astonished by how the NYT would later print a retraction one week later after the original article appeared on April 26th, 2019. It read, “Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Jesus’s background. While he lived in an area that later came to be known as Palestine, Jesus was a Jew who was born in Bethlehem.”

There are many ways of viewing this story. So, in the spirit of Socratic dialogue and Freudian analysis, let us ask the obvious question: Why should the Times care? For one thing, it is commonly asserted among Palestinian “historians” that the Jews are not really indigenous to the Middle East, but are descendants of a European people are known as the “Khazars,” who lived in the 8th century in present-day Russia.

Admitting that the Jews have a legitimate history or claim on the Land of Israel that antedates the rise of Islam is something Palestinians do their best to avoid. In East Jerusalem, Muslims have done their best to destroy any archaeological remnants indicating the presence of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem dating back to the First Temple period.  

Most readers of the NYT, and most Jewish readers, in general, are unfamiliar with the real objective that Omar shares with her brethren from the Palestinian, Taliban, and ISIS movements—promotes the systematic destruction of ancient, non-Islamic civilizations.

  • In 2001, the Taliban in Afghanistan shocked the world when their armies blew up the gigantic, statues of Buddha, nearly 50 meters tall. Their justification? They regarded the statues as a violation of the prohibition in against the worship of idols. Protests by both the West and Afghans fell on deaf ears.
  • In the interest of brevity, let us examine several examples we have seen in the last two decades.  In 2015, ISIS singlehandedly destroyed the ancient Roman city of Palmyra in Syria.
  • In August 2015, ISIS destroyed a fifth-century Christian monastery in the Syrian town of Qaryatain, claiming that the monastery was “worshipped without God.”[2]
  • In 2013, more than, Palestinians orchestrated over 200 terror attacks at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, where the Jewish matriarch Rachel is said to be buried—119 of those attacks included the use of explosives at the sacred site.
  • In September 2015, Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus was also singled out by Palestinians for destruction—despite the fact, this area is governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is bound by the 1993 Oslo accords to apprehend terrorists and prevent attacks.

The ISIS is very proud of their achievements. In their films documenting the destruction of the Mosul Museum and Nineveh, their film begins with the following statement:

  • Oh Muslims, the remains that you see behind me are the idols of peoples of previous centuries, which were worshipped instead of Allah. The Assyrians, Akkadians, and others took for themselves gods of rain, of agriculture, and of war, and worshipped them along with Allah, and tried to appease them with all kinds of sacrifices… Since Allah commanded us to shatter and destroy these statues, idols, and remains, it is easy for us to obey, and we do not care [what people think], even if they are worth billions of dollars.[3]

More recently in France, the French Catholic community has been in a state of shock over the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral. However, we must not lose sight of the fact there have over 1,063 incidents of vandalism against 875 of France’s 42,258 churches since 2018.

he fire to the iconic church, however, may have raised awareness to a rash of vandalism to French churches. A total of 875 of France’s 42,258 churches were vandalized in 2018, with a small fire set to the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris in March, according to French police. Statues of Mother Mary have been discovered decapitated, another 129 churches had thefts on their property with still another 59 cemeteries vandalized.[4]

In summary, Jihadi Islam has a goal to eradicate the religious symbols and sacred places of all the peoples it considers “pagan” or “heretical.” It is an assault on history is no less evident in how Ilan Omar and her NYT cohorts misrepresent history. As a civilized people, we cannot stand by and say nothing while this attempt to destroy civilization—ancient and modern—continues on.

NOTES:


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/19/reader-center/jesus-images.html

[2] See “Islamic State Destroys Assyrian Christian Monastery in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 21, 2015.

[3] http://theconversation.com/erasing-history-why-islamic-state-is-blowing-up-ancient-artefacts-78667

[4] https://www.ibtimes.com/notre-dame-cathedral-fire-not-arson-875-french-churches-vandalized-2018-2785886

When Religion Turns Dark

“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”

― Christopher Hitchens

Every religion has a dark side past that civilization must never forget.

In Poland, over Easter, throngs of Poles burn a Jewish effigy. It was like a scene from the Holocaust, yet this happened just yesterday on April, 21, 2019.

For Holocaust survivors, this is a painful image to see again. Yet, not all Poles are anti-Semites. One Polish young man took a bullet from a Nazi and saved my father’s life. There will always be good people; there will always be bad people who do evil things.

Anti-Semitism is still one of the world’s foremost enduring social diseases. But today, we are no longer alone. The Christians are now experiencing the same kind of mistreatment that Jews have known for much of our history.

In the past, Christians in France burned handwritten volumes of the Talmud in the 14th century. During the Holocaust, the French handed Jews over to the Nazis so their country would be spared the horrors of war and be left alone. Perhaps there is a karmic element to history. Today, French Christians are observing their sacred faith be desecrated by a throng of Jihadists living among them who have no respect for the “pagan” Christian religious symbols or places of sacred worship.  

The month of April, 2019 has proven to be one of the violent on record.

Since the beginning of 2019, the Catholic churches in France are being targeted with arson attacks, vandalism, desecration of holy statues, and the destruction of the Eucharist. One of the most important French churches, second in importance to the Notre Dame, is the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, where the Da Vinci Code movie was filmed. This church as recently set on fire just after midday mass on Sunday, Le Parisien reports. Firefighters and police said the blaze was an arson attack.

For Catholics, the Virgin Mary is a very important symbol, but in February this year, they destroyed a 19th-century statue of the Virgin Mary. This was the first of three incidents that occurred at the St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles.

Then you have thousands of fundamentalist Muslims cheering the destruction of the Notre Dame on Twitter.[1]

Given the recent spate of attacks in France, Nigeria, Sri Lanka where over 290 people were killed, and other places, once again people are asking the obvious question: Why is this happening in the 21st century? Did we not learn anything from the Holocaust, or from other tragic human experiences? There is not a simple answer to these questions.

Maimonides and Hegel both agreed that history sometimes occurs in cycles. Human nature seldom changes; new circumstances arise that challenge how we will react. They say “there is no fool like an old fool,” and Santayana said, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Are we condemned to relive the Crusades? Are we retrogressing to a time when religious wars nearly destroyed civilization? Haven’t we learned anything from history?

Historically, every religion gone through its dark night of the soul where it allowed its fanatics to define the course of its history. Two thousand years ago, the zealots fought against the might of Rome expecting to achieve a new Maccabean-esque victory over the “forces of darkness.” Our ancestors learned the hard way that this method cannot work.

It can only create misery.

Christianity’s history is bloody. Protestants and Catholics fought each other from the 16th  to the early 18th century. Religion has seldom been a healing force in Europe and its secular culture today is largely due to the animus one Christian faith showed toward the other. In fact, Christianity throughout most of its history has perpetuated continuous violence toward the Jew, toward the Cathars, toward the Muslims, and toward each other.

Islam’s history is even more violent than the Christian history.

Jews are not the only people to have endured a genocide. Just ask the Hindus.

Every Hindu from India refers to a great genocide as the “Hindu Kush” (the “Hindu Slaughter) that occurred over an 800-year period starting from the year 1000. Marauding Muslim armies butchered hundreds of millions of Hindus; it is amazing India ever survived.

And in the 14th century, a Muslim conqueror from Uzbekistan named Timur the will always be best remembered for his gruesome military campaigns in which they have slaughtered tens of millions of people. He created an empire that stretched from parts of central China and Delhi, India, to the Mediterranean. In some of his battles against the Hindu “pagans”, he murdered over 100,000 in one battle alone. The Indus River flowed with blood for weeks. Never has the world seen a more genocidal army of fanatics than the hoards unleashed by Timur the Lame. 

The Bahmani Sultanate was a Muslim state of the Deccan in South India and one of the major medieval Indian kingdoms. Bahmanid Sultanate (1347–1425) in Southern India had an annual agenda of killing a minimum of 100,000 Hindus every year.

Yes, no religion can claim immunity from the diabolical forces that have infested its soul.

So, as a student of comparative religion I wonder: Are we destined to repeat the worse periods of human history? Humankind must learn to evolve—if it is to survive.

From a theological perspective, I believe God is never responsible for the evil that exists in the world—but we are. We cannot evade our responsibility.

So how do we put an end to the rash of religious hatred that we are witnessing in the world perpetuated by Islamic jihadis?

For one thing, Western society needs to emancipate itself from the childish belief in multiculturalism that has become one of the cornerstones of modern education. Not all societies are considered equal. Some are barbaric and have never learned to respect human rights, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, or the right for the individual to choose his or her own spiritual path.

Treating every retrograde culture or religion as if it were on even footing is foolish and dangerous. In our country, enabling pro-Sharia operatives such as Ilan Omar and Linda Sarsour will only promote a dysfunctional Islam that wishes to extend it hegemony over the Western world and civilization.

Secondly, western societies need to stop importing immigrants from Jihadi movements who have no respect for our culture or our social values. If someone wishes to live in the 8th century, it is best they remain in the countries they are presently residing.

For the Muslim community in particular, we must promote an Islamic Reformation movement—one that will bring healing to their communities. Sharia must never be enabled as a political or legal system—it damages and disrespects human dignity, as we see in the retrogressive regimes of Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other similar countries. Reformations are great for religions—they keep us honest and progressive.

People like M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., who is also the Founder and President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) and Co-Founder of the Muslim Reform Movement must be in the forefront our media programs.  Other progressive Muslims need to be more in the forefront preaching their message of an Islamic Reformation. It is an endeavor that is well worth investing and supporting. Encouraging Muslims of the Sufis and the Ahmadiyya movements to assume a prominent role in their communities could make a big difference.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to promote healthy expressions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity that celebrate the dignity and holiness of the divine image.

For the Christian communities of Poland and elsewhere, Christian leaders need to do a better job teaching their followers that each human being is responsible for his or her own behavior. We cannot condemn an entire people because of something one’s ancestor did or might have done. And for the record, the Romans crucified Jesus—not the Jews.

And lastly, for the Jewish community, we need to promote a greater separation between the State and synagogue in Israel itself. We cannot let zealotry dictate the next chapter of Jewish history.

As we prepare ourselves to observe Yom HaShoah, it behooves us to take note that the Jews are not the only people of history who have experienced genocide. Many other peoples across the globe have experienced it. Finally, we must do a better job informing the non-Jewish community the existential threat that the mullahs of Iran pose to Jews living in Israel, lest we allow another Holocaust to (God forbid) occur.

We must not abandon Israel in her time of need.

Book Review: In Good Faith: Questioning Religion & Atheism

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In Good Faith: Questioning Religion and Atheism Hardcover
by Scott A. Shay
640 pages
Publisher: Post Hill Press (2018)
ISBN-10: 1682617920

Often the greatest critics of religion offer us a series of criticism about the depth of our faith; they confront us with our hypocrisy. They challenge us to reexamine what it means to “believe.” As a young teenager, I remember hiding Raphael Patai’s book, “Hebrew Myths” in the library because I did not want this book to poison any reader’s mind, even though I thought the author may have “poisoned” my mind by forcing me to take a new look at the Bible and its ancient sources through the prism of myth.

After I read Scott Shay’s remarkable book, “In Good Faith: Understanding Religion and Atheism,” I discovered a fellow pilgrim who has thought very deeply about the meaning and the possibilities of religion. I should point out that Shay is the son of Holocaust survivor. Shay and I have that much in common; my father was also a survivor from Auschwitz. His father had developed (like my own), his own concept of God (p. xviii). Children of survivors often become philosophically or theologically obsessed with trying to make sense of the Big Picture, pertaining to God and the Holocaust.

I get it and I have the tee shirt to prove it!

Part I of his book began with a sushi dinner he had with a friend who was a non-believer. Sushi bars (I can personally attest to this fact!) is often a wonderful place for people to have a spirited dialogue about life, God, or just about anything! In this section Shay argues that without the religious dimension that pertains to God, why should Jews bother worrying about preserving a “Jewish identity”?

Shay might have considered the famous line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth about the purposeless nature of life, “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing”— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28).

Shay perceptively observed that many of his friends feel, “The Bible is just so primitive and obscure, it is no longer relevant to educated adults.” Shay added, “These people believe that the book Religion for Dummies should have been titled, Religion Is for Dummies.” (p. xvii)

After reading the introduction, I felt interested enough to read the rest of the book. In Good Faith: Understanding Religion and Atheism” is very well researched, and it covers a vast area of interesting interlocking topics, from the various scientific areas, quantum theory, relativity, and the new miracles of molecular genetics and so on.

To his credit, Shay shows a willingness to engage the modern atheistic writers in an honest and thoughtful manner. The list includes Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and (my personal favorite!) Christopher Hitchens. While Shay could agree with their critique of religious dysfunction, he differed with their carte blanche rejection of religion.

Shay believes it is not fair or accurate to blame monotheistic religions for the most violent crimes perpetrated in its name. According to Shay, the real enemy of society is idolatry. In the hands of an ancient shaman, the power of idolatry gave the ancients considerable power; this pattern can be seen in the long line of 20th and 21st century dictators, and Scott identifies these leaders as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Kim Jung-On.

In terms of freedom vs. determinism, Shay agrees with the writer Balshevis Singer, who said, “We have to believe in free will—we have no choice.” A world without such freedom would be undesirable. “Everyone would have to behave the same. There would be no need to teach children to be moral, no need to teach adults the path of justice” (p. 241).

Shay is correct—up to a point. I would only add that a Maimonidean approach to the problem reveals that idolatry often hides under the guise of “believing monotheists.” This point would have strengthened Shay’s overall thesis. And this point is more relevant because of the emergence of religious totalitarianism we have witnessed in many of the Muslim countries today (and in Israel today, I might add), who wish to destroy the separation of Mosque/Church/Synagogue and State. Maimonides more than anyone of his time, and probably afterward, understood the danger in monotheistic religions that promote retrograde images of God that reflect human depravity.

Shay does not deny the horrible record organized religion has in the history of human civilization in perpetuating human suffering. Yet, he counters that religion has also civilized humanity. He contends, the Torah limited the number of cases that could result in capital punishment—in fact, any court that executed a single person once in seventy years was considered a murderous court. Shay is correct. The nation’s religious leaders largely inspired the Abolition movement of the 19th century.

Yes, religion can be a healing force in the world. Shay’s book reminds me of an old Jewish story that has been told countless times over the years.

Once a rabbi had a discussion with a soap maker who did not believe in God. As they were strolling down the street, the freethinking soap maker asked the rabbi, “There is something I cannot understand. We have had religion for thousands of years. But everywhere you look there is evil, corruption, dishonesty, injustice, pain, hunger, and violence. Religion has not improved the world at all. In all earnest, please answer me: What good is it?” The rabbi listened and did not reply. They continued their walk. Eventually, they approached a playground where children, covered in dust, were playing in the dirt. The rabbi said, “There is something I don’t understand,” the rabbi said. “Look at those children. We have had soap for thousands of years, and yet those children are filthy. What good is soap?” The soap maker replied, “But rabbi, it isn’t fair to blame soap for these dirty children. Soap has to be used before it can accomplish its purpose.” The rabbi smiled and said, “Aha, aha! That’s exactly the point—you have to use religion if you want it to better the world.” 


This book is full of wonderful ideas that will make you rethink what it means to be a Jew who embraces faith in an age of unfaith such as ours.

It is a book well worth reading, discussing, and sharing with some friends.

The Democratic Party’s “Jewish Problem”

CHULA VISTA, California — Jewish tradition has long taught that the Hamans of the world accomplish more good than evil by uniting the Jewish people.  The Talmud relates, “The actions of Ahasuerus and Haman can be understood with a parable; … the sealing of Haman’s decree proved more effective than the forty-eight prophets” (BT Megillah 14a)

This observation is hardly surprising given the topsy-turvy world of the Jews who lived in ancient Persia.

As I thought about this remark, it occurred to me that there is a ray of truth to this ancient sentiment. Anti-Semitism has sometimes served to unite us as Jews in the face of enemies who seek to destroy us.

Historically, Anti-Semitism is not defined by any one political party; it is a social disease that transcends borders. It is making a comeback throughout Europe; it is making a comeback here in the United States.

Anti-Semitism functions a lot like a virus. A virus can remain dormant for decades or longer, and suddenly come alive when you least expect it.  If a virus manages to remain dormant, without replicating and without its host cell signaling that it’s infected, it is possible that it can live in the host indefinitely.

Anti-Semitism occurs in much the same way.

Most Jews remain surprised whenever we see it erupt; usually, we have come to expect such behavior from anti-Semites from the right; but recently, we are witnessing a resurgence of anti-Semitism from left—from the emerging new voices who will someday take over the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Is Nancy Pelosi concerned? I suspect she is. Perhaps she is terrified. And who could blame her? Several anti-Semitic voices can find a home in the Democratic Party ought to be alarming to any decent person.

And yet, the seeds of anti-Semitism are almost imperceptible. Who would imagine that a refugee from Somalia would turn the Democratic Party upside down on its head? But that is exactly what Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) managed to do in just a couple of months  since her election to office.

Ironically, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) owes a lot to the liberal Minnesota Jewish community; they took her at her word;  they blindly supported her. When she took part in a debate at the Beth El Synagogue in Minnesota, the local Jewish community asked her, “Where exactly do you stand on BDS?” She said at the time BDS was “not helping in getting that two-state solution. . .” Anyone listening might have thought she opposed it.

Surprise!

Little did they realize that Omar supported the BDS! Could this have made a difference in the election? Do the math. She could not have won without Jewish support.

The Jews of Minnesota did not expect to be so easily played by Omar’s bait-and-switch antics. Then again, her friend and confidant Louis Farrakhan has often claimed, “The Jews are stupid.” And while I agree with the substance of Farrakhan’s remark, I think Santayana put it more eloquently, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It’s also called, “Life 101,” Jewish history should have taught us to be less gullible when politicians solicit our political support.

We have only our own naivete to blame.

As Jews, we want to believe people possess an essentially good nature. Just as the philosopher Immanuel Kant failed to grasp the notion of radical evil, so have we as a people. In my opinion, this misplaced optimism has harmed our people throughout our history. When the Bolsheviks declared Russia a communist state, guess who paid the price with their lives?

Guess no further, the Jews who supported the Bolsheviks. The Jew has always been a convenient scapegoat.

When Omar accused us of dual loyalties, and accused us of financially controlling the world,  Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) with Linda Sarsour immediately came to Omar’s defense.  Tlaib participated in a major campaign fundraiser where she called the Jews “satanic”

How Farrakhan-esque!

A video appeared on the page of a Facebook group to which Tlaib belongs, but FB subsequently removed it. Nor is that the only example, according to a report on the conservative WND website.  Omar’s associates claimed, “The Jews aren’t actually from Israel.”  In one October 2017 post, one member accused Israeli settlers of training children ‘to terrorize Palestinian civilians.’ Other members of the group have added posts accusing Jews of controlling the media and perpetuating other anti-Semitic stereotypes,” according to The Daily Callerrevealed.[1]

But this same FB group also claimed that the Holocaust was a hoax and that the Jews invented a historical claim to Israel as a subterfuge in their effort to control the media. Abdel-qader posted the video on his personal Facebook page and on the wall of the Facebook group, “Palestinian American Congress.” [2]

A man is judged by the friends he keeps. We tell this truth to our children, it applies no less to adults.

When Omar claims in 2012, “Israel had hypnotized the world,” most of the Democrats in Congress realized this statement is morally indefensible. Instead of wanting to direct their attacks at Trump, more and more Democrats are starting to realize there is a fire in the Democratic party that is threatening to destroy the Jewish-Democratic alliance that has remained strong for decades—until now.

Displaying a penchant for making thoughtless remarks, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez  has gone on record for calling for an end to the United States’ special relationship with Israel.[3]

But what about Farrakhan?  Farrakhan also defended Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, saying that she has “nothing to apologize for” following an antisemitic Twitter storm in which she accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) of paying American politicians to be pro-Israel. He added, “Sweetheart, don’t do that,” Farrakhan said, referencing Omar’s apology. “Pardon me for calling you sweetheart, but you do have a sweet heart. You sure are using it to shake the government up, but you have nothing to apologize for.”[4]

But for all his mischief, Farrakhan is not a pretentious anti-Semite, unlike Sarsour or Omar.

And what about Senator Chuck Schumer? Schumer condemns Omar’s ‘wrong and hurtful’ words. He should have advised his friends on the other side of the Capitol building to remove her from any committee and throw her out of Congress.

And as for my liberal rabbinic associates whose numbers are legion, who have supported Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and others, we must say—it is time to act courageously on behalf of your people. It is time to identify with your people.

Omar is a repeat offender. The Democratic Party can ill-afford to tolerate someone who insinuated that American support for Israel is fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group.

Kudos to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s immediate and unqualified condemnation. But it cannot stop there.  Omar needs to be thrown off the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee..  Let us pray that Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, follows up on his comment that her remarks should not be “swept under the rug.”

As Jews, if we do not stand for ourselves, who else will stand for us?

NOTES

[1] https://www.wnd.com/2019/01/rashida-tlaib-in-group-which-calls-jews-satanic/

[2]ibid

[3] https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/433131-ocasio-cortez-fundraises-off-claim-that-aipac-is-coming-after-her-omar

[4] https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Farrakhan-defends-Omars-antisemitic-antics-attacks-wicked-Jews-581075