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?

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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

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.

TBS Memorial Service in Memory of the Tree of Life Synagogue Victims

Clergy, officials turn out for vigil at Beth Shalom

Posted on 03 November 2018.

Rabbi Samuel (center) with pastors and public officials at a memorial service for the 11 Jews slain in Pittsburgh at Shabbat services


By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — On Thursday night, Nov. 1, almost 140 gathered at Temple Beth Shalom to participate in a special ecumenical memorial service for those murdered in last week’s Shabbat service at the Tree of Life Synagogue, located in the Squirrel Hill Jewish area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a child. I recall going with my siblings to visit family and enjoy Kosher deli there.It is hard to believe this little Jewish community should become the target of anti-Semitic attacks.

 

Several ministers of the local churches participated at the Beth Shalom services, including: Pastor Paul Davis of the Chula Vista Presbyterian Church, Father Thomas Wilson of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Chula Vista, Pastor Victoria Freiheit of United Church of Christ of Chula Vista, Pastor Bryan Parceo, United Methodist Church of Chula Vista, Rev. Soliven Placido Fee, of Amazing Grace Church, and Pastor Iglesia Embajadores, Pentecostal Church of Chula Vista. In addition, almost the Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and her council representatives all came in a show of solidarity.

Famous ethical and inspirational remarks from Albert Schweitzer, Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Talmud, and Martin Buber peppered the services. Each of the clergy members shared  reflections on the tragedy.  Pastor Victoria Freiheit said, “I remember an America where we could talk to our neighbor over the back fence without getting angry if he disagreed with us. An America of mostly law-abiding citizens, where we can be civil with each other. No–more than civil–we can disagree and still be friends.”

Father Thomas Wilson said, “Pray for those who died in Pittsburgh, for those who were injured, for their family and friends. Pray for the Tree of Life congregation, and all congregations who have experienced gun violence and acts of bigotry. Pray for the first responders and the health care workers and all who are ministering to those affected by this shameful act.”

Pastor Iglesia Embajadores and Bryan Parceo each stressed the importance of Jews and Christians working together to create a better society where mutual acceptance is universal. Pastor Paul Davis pointed out the Pittsburgh shooting incident marks the most serious attack on the Jewish community since the inception of our country, but that such tragic events have occurred with terrible irregularity in the Christian churches and Muslim mosques. Rev. Fee said, “Declaring, ‘All Jews must die!” he revealed a heart that stands opposed to God’s heart. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says, “Woe to those who call evil good” (Isa. 5:20). The gunman said he was “going in,” believing his action was good; but it was a cowardly and graphic display of wickedness. We Americans uphold the victims, their families, and everyone affected by this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers. We know that their lives have been changed forever.”

The ministers all spoke eloquently. They also spoke the truth. The history of Jews living in Europe was always different, but not anymore.

As the organizer of the event, I decided to speak about the question God posed Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?”

After Cain kills his brother, he attempts to cover up his crime by burying him. But later that day, God confronted Cain with one of the most important questions found in the Scriptures: Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” The purpose of the question is not for informational purposes, but to stir Cain’s guilty conscience, “to prove his soul,” so that he might freely confess his crime and begin his long journey toward repentance. At first, Cain denies responsibility. He asks: Am I my brother’s keeper? Perhaps the most profound Christian interpretation of this question comes from the early 19th-century Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), where he writes about Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“I put it to the consciences of many silent Christians, who have never yet made known to others what God has made known to them—How can you be clear from guilt in this matter? Do not say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” for I shall have to give you a horrible answer if you do. I shall have to say, “No, Cain, you are not your brother’s keeper, but you are your brother’s killer.” If, by your effort you have not sought his good, by your neglect you have destroyed him.”

Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer used to cite the verse, “Where is Abel your brother?” whenever he engaged leaders of the Lutheran community to assist in rescuing the Jewish people from the Nazis. To his chagrin, he felt bitter over the bishops’ lack of nerve. Bonhoeffer often quoted the verse, “Who will speak up for those who are voiceless?” (Proverbs 31:8). Consequently, Bonhoeffer felt compelled by God to be the voice defending the Jews in Nazi Germany—a price he ultimately paid for with his life.

Today’s eleven victims also cry out for our country’s suffering. Their souls cry out for healing and justice. We must do a better job of limiting people’s accesses to dangerous military-style assault weapons—especially those who have a long history with mental illnesses

All the ministers pointed out each faith needs to do its part to promote a better understanding and acceptance of their neighbors. Indeed, the radicalism from the right and from the extreme left are both very dangerous. We must all work together if our great country is to grow and thrive.

One participant, Rachel Donsky, a member of Temple Beth Shalom, also spoke among after the clergy. She said, “We have reached a critical point in our human and spiritual evolution—the stakes are being raised. We are now being asked to look within ourselves for a deeper truth and a deeper understanding of that which has divided us and created a hurting and crying world. We are not faced with evil so we can endlessly suffer and be told we are victims; we are faced with evil so we can dig under the surface of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, to uncover and heal our common human pain, fear, and insecurity. The biggest mistake we make is to conclude that the threat to our existence is external and outside of our control- it is not. The darkness within us that allows us to commit violent atrocities must be brought to the light and healed . . .”

All the ministers and community participants pointed out all faiths need to do its part to promote a better understanding and acceptance of their neighbors. Acknowledging our ability to confront the inner demons we have as a nation requires courage, honesty, and faith—if there is to be community healing at the micro and macro level. Indeed, the radicalism from the right and from the extreme left are both very dangerous. We must all work together if our great country is to grow and thrive.

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

Anti-Semitism and its Discontents

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Anti-Semitism is one of the world’s most enduring social diseases that we as Jews have known throughout our history.

With the murder of eleven Jews at the Pittsburgh Etz Hayyim Synagogue, the Jewish community awoke from its slumber only to realize that anti-Semitism is still alive and well—here in in the United States. This attack was the largest anti-Semitic crime in recent American history.

I know Squirrel Hill very well, my father used to make us to the kosher delis back in the early sixties.

But no sooner did the attack occur, people in the media immediately began blaming the attack upon President Trump. While Trump’s mannerisms at times can be admittedly offensive, he cannot be blamed for the murders that occurred at the synagogue. As it turned out, the shooter actually hates Trump for having so many Jewish associates surrounding him.  He also accused him of being a “globalist.”

Robert Bowers is obviously demented.

Yet, the political divisions of our time have made it clear that we are reliving the Civil War. The bifurcation of our society is eating its heart. It is the gravest threat we have seen since the Civil War.

Take ANTIFA for an example; this group feels entitled to attack people with baseball bats, destroys livelihoods and property, just because a politician they do not like happens to be eating out with his or her family. Just ask Paul Welch, a Bernie Sanders supporter who paraded an American flag in protest to ANTIFA’s antics in Portland on Aug. 4, 2016.[1]

When leaders like Maxine Waters encourages people to “get in people’s faces” because they happen to be Republican is the mark of neo-fascism. All this contributes to the heightening of tensions that leads to the kind of anti-Semitic attacks against our people.

Encouraging people to commit acts of violence only serves to heighten violence—on both sides of the political spectrum. This kind of fanaticism only breeds the type of malevolence that exploded at the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Pittsburgh on Shabbat.

Like a virus, anti-Semitism travels across the continents,[2] and finds sympathetic voices here in the United States. As Jews, we have been asleep at the wheel for a long time and have not paid any attention to the rise of anti-Semitism among the “progressive” movements. We tend to think that most anti-Semitic rhetoric emanates from the political right, such as the KKK, the Neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other similar groups. However, the banal acceptance of anti-Semitism from the political left ought to be much more troubling for Jews who have long identified with the left.

Political extremism from the right and left are equally threatening.

As is often the case with anti-Semitism, we tend to react to the symptoms but fail to recognize the problem. Hate speech against Israel and Zionism has become an acceptable way of expressing hatred against the Jew. Jewish history has taught us that hate speech that is directed against the Jew almost inevitably leads to violence against the Jew. Not everyone is as honest and straightforward as Farrakhan when speaking about “the Jews,” but when today’s political left prefers being “anti-Zionist,” castigating Israel as the source for all the problems of the world and the Middle East.

On Facebook, pictures of Palestinians lynching Orthodox cladded Jews with pe’ot is considered “acceptable” free expression—despite on their crackdown on conservatives. Social media outlets are going to have to do a better job in curbing anti-Semitic websites—regardless of their point of origin.

THE WOMAN’S MARCH OF JANUARY 2018

This past January, one of the Women’s March co-directors, Tamika Mallory, attended the Nation of Islam Savior’s Day celebration, where Louis Farrakhan told the audience that “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and “the Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”

Mallory felt so elated by her photo-op with Farrakhan, she immediately Instagrammed it for all to see. When a news commentator asked her how she could stand proudly by Farrakhan, Mallory denounced anyone who dared to criticize her participation with him. Once again Linda Sarsour and Maxine Waters stood in solidarity with her. Farrakhan speaks of Jews as a “termite problem,” and we all know what any homeowner needs to do to get rid of termites. When the Woman’s March used a platform calling for the boycott of Israel, Linda Sarsour said, “Israelis need to be dehumanized.” Facebook continues to foster the atmosphere and ambiance that is contributing toward anti-Semitism.

Let me remind you that most Israelis happen to be Jews.

The Woman’s March displayed it contempt toward the Jew. Although they showed their solidarity with Louis Farrakhan, they did not extend that courtesy for the Anti-Defamation League. As one observer wrote:

  • The Women’s March has left Jewish women to bear the brunt of white supremacy and patriarchy without their partnership. When Jewish women lifted their voices and demanded to be included in the Women’s March Unity Principles, we were ignored. When we were standing outside the JCC frantically searching for our toddlers, they had nothing to say. When Blaze Bernstein was murdered by neo-Nazis, they were silent. Anti-Semitic incidents were up 57 percent from 2016 to 2017, the largest jump on record, but Mallory had nothing to say on that subject, either.[3]

Yes, the Left has mainstreamed anti-Semitism, and American Jews had better wake up—especially those who are in love with the Left.

We have also heard how Jews are “white” and have “skin privilege.” Anti-Semitism’s animus will always find a way to tar and feather the Jew in an unfavorable light. When Jews become demonized for being “white” and “privileged” this too contributes toward the culture of anti-Semitism.  Obviously, this canard emanates from people who know nothing about Jewish history, or for that matter, about the history of anti-Semitism in the United States.[4]

Blame it on the Identity Politics of our time—another unhealthy sign that threatens to produce more anti-Semitic attitudes.

In the United States, we have seen thousands of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish students or speakers, many of whom are supported by the professors and leaders of these universities. Wearing a Star of David is often an invitation for an anti-Semitic attack. Jewish students are hounded by the advocates of the BDS movement—by their professors and by their classmates.

The culture of anti-Semitism among the American left has been smoldering for quite some time. This is not to say there are not anti-Semitic elements of the political right. Unfortunately, political extremes present a mirrored image of the Other.

The situation has gotten to be so bad, rabbinic scholars are now permitting certain members of their communities to obtain a permit for concealed weapons.

I have met Jews in many communities who “pack heat” because of anti-Semitic attacks in the past. I suspect more synagogues will consider that option if these attacks do not abate.

NOTES:

[1] https://reason.com/blog/2018/08/21/antifa-portland-evan-welch-violence

[2] But bear in mind anti-Semitism is not bound by time or spatial considerations. Jews living in Europe have experienced countless attacks in France and Britain by radical Muslims who vent their hatred of Israel by attacking ordinary Jews or vandalizing their businesses. Some rabbis have urged Jews living in France not to publically wear a yarmulke for fear it might solicit an anti-Semitic reaction. In Britain, a country that has enabled and promoted anti-Semitism since the medieval era continues to spew their animus against the Jew. Jeremy Corbyn may not be a familiar name to most Jews, but this man is the head of the British Labor Party—one of the most important political parties of Britain. Corbyn donated money to Paul Eisen, a well-known Holocaust denier. In addition, he is a member of the anti-Semitic Facebook group, “Palestine Live,” which is also well known for its hatred toward Jews and Israel.

[3] https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/260428/tamika-mallory-stop-bringing-hate-into-the-womens-march

[4] https://forward.com/scribe/355864/anti-semitism-in-america-is-nothing-new-dont-deny-jewish-history-and-cultur/

Showdown in Washington DC

Image result for pictures of blasey and kavanagh

 

Most of us want to know what really happened between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford that took place at a party somewhere in Maryland during the early 1980s.

Neither you nor I have any information about what happened if anything.

And while I realize for many sexual assault victims, the story awakens past traumas of abuse, nevertheless, we are not the ones on trial. Keeping an open mind in matters of just is essential. Justice is not determined by public opinion but on the basis of evidence—and not hearsay.

This legal principle not only exists in the Constitution, the Magna Carta as well as the ancient Justinian Codes state the Latin maxim: ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

Antecedents to this principle exist in the Torah itself:

  • “One witness alone shall not take the stand against a man in regard to any crime or any offense of which he may be guilty; a judicial fact shall be established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin.” (Deut.19: 15).

This principle can even be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1810-1750 B.C.E.).

Whether you agree with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s “originalism” view of interpreting the Constitution, or not, we would all be wise to suspend judgment until we have the facts.

Why? Because the presumption of innocence is fundamental to our very system of law. Public lynch mobs ought to be a thing of the past, but judging by what I have heard from many of Blasey-Ford’s advocates is disturbing.

If she has evidence, the onus is upon her to prove. Asking for Kavanaugh not to be present in the room is outrageous. Our Constitution says the accused has the right to face his accuser. Actually, as most of you ought to know, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”

The onus is upon Blasey-Ford, it is not upon the accused. Asking for him not to have his attorney defend him is also inappropriate. Everyone is entitled to an attorney and everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Let’s be clear about that.

Now, I must admit, a part of me believes this entire ordeal has a political animus. Its goal: —to thwart President Trump’s attempt to appoint Judge Kavanaugh.

Usually, when a person commits a sexual assault against someone, there is usually a pattern. Just take a look at President Bill Clinton for an example, had a legion of women who said he assaulted them. Many of these cases eventually settled out of court. None of the 65 women who knew him in high school ever complained about him being inappropriate. Quite the opposite.  They attest, “We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect,” the letter read. “We strongly believe it is important to convey this information to the Committee at this time.”[1]

None of the women who have worked with Kavanaugh ever complained about his behavior either. His record has been squeaky clean.

Some more afterthoughts: Once you open the Genie’s bottle, getting it back inside may prove impossible; these political leaders will discover: Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. We already know about assault charges associated with Keith Ellison, who gave his wife a black eye, as well as other women in his past.

Ultimately, I also believe that Senator Feinstein’s Hail Mary pass may not bode well for many Democrats or certain Republicans. There is a slush-fund in Congress intended to pay off women who have been sexually exploited by our esteemed members of Congress, Once President Trump makes this information publically available, our national attention shall be directed at the real enemies of women’s rights—the charlatans who masquerade as supporters of women’s rights. Chucky Schumer has been accused as well. Joe Biden has plenty of skeletons to worry about too. I suspect some Republicans have something to fear.

My prediction: I believe Judge Kavanaugh will be vindicated.

As a Jew, I only wish Jewish representatives in Congress would not turn themselves into lightning rods that will only increase anti-Semitism in our great country. Next time someone wants to make an accusation against any prominent political figure, I hope that person’s name is Smith.

 

Article from the SD Jewishworld: Rabbi Samuel Introduces Philo to the Modern World

Rabbi Samuel introduces Philo to the modern world

 

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel and his 5-volume set on Philo’s Torah commentaries

CHULA VISTA, California  – The 1stCentury Jewish philosopher and religious scholar, Philo, was very familiar with the Torah, commenting here and there on different portions of the Five Books of Moses in writings that were spread over approximately 40 publications in the native Greek language that he spoke in his home of Alexandria, Egypt.

Growing up in a Reform Jewish home, Michael Leo Samuel had been a fan of Philo’s since his early teenage years. His passion for reading Jewish texts eventually led to Samuel being ordained through the Lubavitcher (Chabad) movement, and then going on to serve as a Hebrew school teacher and a pulpit rabbi in Modern Orthodox and Conservative congregations.  Recently, Samuel, who serves today as spiritual leader of Conservative Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista, has completed publication of a five-volume work, Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria,  in which he pulls together Philo’s thoughts about Jewish scripture from Philo’s many writings and puts them into sequential order, thus creating for the first time Philo’s comprehensive commentary on the Torah.  The books are available via Amazon.

To undertake this project, Samuel, who speaks Hebrew also taught himself Greek so he could read Philo in the original.  He also drew upon the thoughts of some of Judaism’s later, and perhaps better known, commentators like Rashi, Maimonides, Nachmanides, and Ibn Ezra to illustrate how Philo’s commentaries in some cases presaged the thoughts of these great commentators and in other instances contradicted them.

Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria relates in order Philo’s commentaries on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

In a wide-ranging interview, Samuel, who contributes occasional columns to San Diego Jewish World, discussed his books and the philosopher who inspired it.  He also is accepting invitations to discuss the book at synagogue, chavurah, and club gatherings.

He said that while living in First Century C.E. Alexandria, Philo faced two conflicting forces during his life.  On the positive side, Alexandria was a cosmopolitan port city which treasured learning, as was exemplified by its world-famous library.  On the other hand, many native Egyptians harbored anti-Semitic attitudes, making life in Alexandria a wary experience for Jews.  “One of the great pogroms in Alexandria that took place in the year 30 or so, resulted in the death of 50,000 people,” Samuel commented.  “It was the first modern pogrom of late antiquity.  Philo gives eye witness to how Jews were not even allowed to bury the dead, and the Roman prefect in Alexandria, Flaccus, was always trying to curry favor with the local anti-Semitic population.”

Nevertheless, Philo manage to enjoy some of what life had to offer.   “One of the things that I like about Philo was that he was an Alexandrian Jew, much like today we are American Jews,” said Samuel. “He would attend the gymnasium, watch wrestling matches. He would attend Olympic-style games.  He would go to horse races, and he had an interest in sports and would often draw some profound spiritual analogies about Jewish spirituality from sporting events that took place in his time.”

As a commentator, Philo was willing to opine on issues that continue to be controversial to the present day.  Abortion, homosexuality, and how Jews should treat other religions were among the subjects to which Philo gave deep thought.  Living in the pre-rabbinic era of Judaism, his commentaries often were in sharp contrast to those of later Jewish scholars, according to Samuel.

Whereas many later commentators took every word of the Torah literally, Philo was one of the first Jewish scholars to suggest that it must instead be understood as an allegory from which lessons may be learned, even if every word is not true.  In Philo’s view, according to Samuel, the Torah was given to the Jewish people at a time when they were not far removed from slavery.  Intellectually, they were like children, unable to understand complex rationales.  So, in the Torah, God warns the Jews of adverse consequences if they don’t follow His law, much like a parent warning a child, “Eat your dinner, or there will be no dessert.”

Philo differed with more recent commentators over the passage in Leviticus which describes as an “abomination” or an “abhorrence” the situation of a male lying with another male as with a woman.  Samuel said, “Philo explains that this is a statement that deals primarily with pedophilia and he gives many examples from Greek society how boys were often paraded around like women, under the tutelage of an older male adult.  He said this was what the Torah forbids; the reason that he said this was forbidden was a man has to be manly; to make a man womanly is degrading …. That approach might not fly in modern times, but his concern about the exploitation about children is definitely an important issue to bring up.”

Most rabbinical commentators in later periods did not address the problem of pedophilia at all, according to Samuel.  What little discussion there was seemed to wink at the problem, Samuel said.  “The rabbis (of the Talmud) did not have a concept of pedophilia, one of the shocking aspects of Talmudic history that frankly is very embarrassing,” he added.  “Philo stands head and shoulders above.”

On the issue of abortion, Philo definitely would have been on the “pro-life” side of the debate, rather than the “pro-choice” side, said Samuel.

“Philo had tremendous respect for prenatal life,” Samuel said. “He considered abortion to be immoral.  It is not clear whether he believed that life began at conception, but certainly in the last trimester of a fetus’s life, he said that the fetus is like a statue that has been prepared—only needs to be uncovered and exposed to the world.  Beautiful analogy.”

In contrast, others in the ancient world seemingly were unconcerned with the unborn babies.  “If a woman was accused of adultery, she would drink this potion that came from the earth of the sanctuary—and if she was guilty her stomach would explode,” Samuel said.  “So, if she were pregnant with another man’s child, she would die and the child would also.  That’s implied in Scripture,” Samuel said.

In some early rabbinic writings, he added, “If a woman is a murderess and is about to be condemned for that murder, but she is pregnant, the rabbis say you take a club and you smash her stomach even to the time till she is almost ready to deliver, to kill the baby.  Because the mother is so unhappy that the child is going to grow up without a parent; better for the child to die than to endorse such a sadness.  Rabbinic thinking!  If those rabbis had been familiar with Philo’s argument, he had turned that argument on its head.  He said, just as you are not allowed to slaughter a calf and its mother on the same day, this applies to animals, how much more so to human beings.  So, if you have a case where a woman is condemned, and she is about to give birth, you do not execute her with the child – that would be an act of murder.  That would be treating a human with less dignity than an animal with its young.  Therefore, you have to wait for the mother to give birth, nurse the child, and a later time execute the mother.”

Samuel added, “These discussions were really theoretical, the reason being that Rome did not allow Jews to practice the death penalty.”

Respect for all religions was a hallmark of Philo’s thinking, Samuel said.  “One of the laws in the Torah is that we are not allowed to curse God – and Philo understood this to mean not only are you not allowed to curse God; you are not allowed to curse the gods of other peoples.  Now when I was a yeshiva student many years ago, I remember how many of my friends in the Lubavitcher community would walk by a church and they would always spit on the sidewalk.  In fact, they spit whenever they mentioned idols in the Aleinu prayer, and even from the most Orthodox perspective that is considered a risqué and halachically scandalous behavior.  You don’t spit in a synagogue; it is considered inappropriate.”

Samuel’s first book was an outgrowth of his doctoral thesis at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.  The Lord is My Shepherd: The Theology of a Caring God was followed by five other books on diverse topics, and then this five-book series.  A workaholic, Samuel said he never lets a day go by without writing at least three pages and sometimes, if the juices are flowing, he might write 20.  He said that he has as many as 50 books in various stages of completion, with some of them likely to be published later this year or early in 2019.

Rabbi Israel Drazin, one of the most prolific writers on biblical topics with books to his credit about the Prophet Samuel, King David, King Solomon, Jonah, Amos, The Aramaic translation of the Bible known as the Targum Onkelos, and various other commentaries, has reviewed Rabbi Samuel’s work on Amazon, giving it a five-star rating.   “Until recently, it was Harry Wolfson’s 1962-1968 two-volume work Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that was considered the authoritative book on Philo of Alexandria, Egypt (ca. 20 BCE to about 50 CE),” Drazin wrote. “Today, because of the wealth of scholarly material contained in his five volumes and their presentation in a very readable manner, Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel’s books can now be considered the authoritative work on the great Greek Jewish philosopher.”

*
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via donald.harrison@sdjewishworld.com

 

Nature Reflects God’s Justice in the Animal Kingdom

Image result for lion pride

The story is a familiar one. Once a man went out for a walk through the forest. To his sudden surprise, he sees a grizzly bear chasing him. After the bear traps him, he prepares himself for his last rites, he says the Shema Prayer, and to his surprise he sees the bear praying with his eyes closed! But to his surprise, the bear is not reciting the Shema—he is instead saying the blessing, “HaMotzi lechem min ha’aretz!”

By now, most of you heard about how a pride of lions killed suspected poachers at a game reserve in Africa. A field guide found human remains the next day. “Clearly, the poachers had walked into a pride of six lions and some, if not all had been killed,” according to a Facebook post by Fox.

“They were armed with, amongst other things, a high powered rifle with a silencer, an ax, wire cutters and had food supplies for a number of days – all the hallmarks of a gang intent on killing a rhino and removing their horns,” said Fox.

I am reminded of an old medieval aphorism, “Man proposes, but God disposes”

Pious Jews recite Psalm 145:14-17 every day

The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
You give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
You, LORD, are just in all your ways,
faithful in all your works.

After the reading the news story from Africa, this passage took on new meaning for me. Yes, the ways of God are truly just. God not only provides His creatures with an appetizer, but also with main-course and dessert!

Jewish tradition has much to say about hunting.

  • Abbahu said: A man should always strive to identify with the persecuted than of the persecutors as there is none among the birds more persecuted than doves and pigeons, and yet Scripture made them [alone] eligible for the altar (Lev. 1:14).[1]

As Jews, we, in particular, have much to comiserate about whenever we see God’s endangered species being threatened. Anti-Semites, too, have often hunted Jews, throughout history. The Nazis paid a premium for capturing Jews—whether dead or alive.

In the Tanakh, God beckoned Noah to preserve the animal species. The Book of Leviticus tells us “You shall not slaughter an ox or a sheep on one and the same day with its young” (Lev. 22:28). Both Philo of Alexandria and Ramban believe the purpose of this prohibition aims to prevent the destruction of a species. In one famous midrashic text we read:

  • 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, “Look at my handiwork, see how beautiful and excellent they are! Everything I have created, I created for you! Be careful that you do not corrupt and destroy My world, for if you corrupt it there is no one to repair it after you.[2]

One of the principle reasons why the Torah limited animals for human consumption that had two kosher characteristics (animals that have split hooves and chew their cud) is to preserve the animal species as a whole. Thus, the Torah imposed limitations upon the human appetite.

Rabbinic law reflects this disdain toward hunting.

  • “How can a man from Israel actively kill an animal for no need other than to fulfill his desire to spend his time hunting? We do not find that people in the Torah are hunters except with Nimrod and Esau. This is not the way of descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…”[3]

One 17th century noted,  “…It is certain that those who shoot arrows after birds and beasts for no purpose at all other than to learn archery, and kill animals for no reason, are destined to stand in judgment for it; for it is not the way of Israel, the holy congregation, to commit evil to any creature for no reason. . .  Killing an animal in order for the joy of pure sport is sheer cruelty “[4]

Anyone who goes to the San Diego Zoo might be surprised at a large number of endangered species that the zoo and other similar habitats are trying to preserve. Unfortunately, there are some people who will do anything to kill these species, for rhino horns are often used in Chinese medicine and their price is considered more valuable than gold.

In my conversation with some Orthodox rabbis, I was surprised to see a number of them argue that there is a place for “big game” centers provided the monies go to promote animal growth in African communities. While this may be true in theory, the corruption and lust for profit may prove to be counterproductive; aside from this, poachers will always try to find a way to circumvent existing laws.

Furthermore, popularizing these big-game trophies only serves to motivate other would be hunters who live for the thrill of the moment.

As Jews who love animals, we cannot stand idly by as malignant people attempt to depopulate the world of these magnificent creatures. Instead of justifying the barbarism of these hunters with contrived Halakhic arguments, we need to remember that God expects human beings and animals to live in a world peaceably with these rare creatures.

One of the great 20th century Jewish mystics, R. Abraham Isaac Kook expressed an ethical thought that people need to hear and consider today:

  • It goes against the clear emotions of the heart that a talmid hakham (Torah scholar), a spiritual man, should be permanently engaged in the taking of animals’ lives. Though shechitah (ritual slaughter)—and in general the consumption of animals—remains a necessity in this world, nevertheless, it would be fitting that this work performed by men who have not yet evolved to the level of refinement of feeling. However, those endowed with ethical sensitivity ought to serve as supervisors (pekidim) in order that the killing of the animals must not become a  barbaric act. Let there be a light that will enter into the heart of meat-eaters–a light that will someday illuminate the world. For those who truly understand the significance of kosher slaughtering, this light is truly contained in the laws of shehitah and tereifot (unfit animals), as is well known to us.[5]

[1] BT Bava Kama 93a

 

[2] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:20.

[3] Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, Shailos U’Teshuvot Noda B’Yehudah, Mehadurah Tinyana, Yoreh De’ah 10.

[4]  Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaidanover, Kav HaYashar 83.

[5] Igrot Rayah, vol. I, p. 230.

Two Kings Cannot Wear the Same Crown

 

Many people, including myself, have often wondered about the Russian strategy in Syria, now that the war is for the most part over.

We all know that Assad is no boy scout; we also know that the ISIS fighters, who swelled the ranks of the rebels—are genocidal maniacs driven by an evil vision of Jihad. Such people do not merely kill, they kill with chemical weapons, they burn people alive, crucify non-Muslim children, feed their kids to their captured parents—the list of atrocities almost makes Assad look like a human being.

It reminds me of the old story—perhaps you heard of it.

Once an outlaw lost his brother who died after trying to rob a bank in a gunfight. The outlaw’s surviving brother tells a minister, “You had better say some nice things about my brother, or else I’ll kill ya!” The minister asked, “What should I say about him?” The outlaw said, “Make him sound like a saint!” At the funeral, the minister said, “Clive was a bank-robber, a cattle-rustler, a rapist, a thief, a murderer—he was someone who would even steal candy from a baby. But, compared to his brother, Clive was a saint!”

While Assad has plenty of blood on his hands, his relationship with Israel has for the most part been relatively good. Israel prefers Assad to the leaders of ISIS or other Muslim fanatics. There are many Red-Army veterans living in Israel (see the picture)–in fact many Russians citizens.

The moral of the story is simply this: the devil you know is better than the one who is worse.  The fact that the Russians are in Syria is not necessarily a bad thing. Putin can bring considerable stability in Syria—maybe in time even put in someone who is better than Assad.

But what about the Iranians? Assad had no problem using Hezbollah and the Iranian military to help defeat the rebels. But Hezbollah’s motivation had little to do with their love of Assad or the Russians. Their ambitions are much more regional-minded. Sure, they hope to use Syria as a platform to attack Israel, but they also wish to surround the Saudis in their effort to take over Muslim holy sites—especially the city of Mecca, the Crown-Jewels of the Muslim world.

Iran’s bellicose ambitions are hardly subtle. Their tolerance for the Russians—a temporary inconvenience.

Israel, as you know, will not let Iran realize their ambitions. Already, the Israelis have destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian weaponry. Have you notice that the Russians, for the most part, have been relatively silent. Netanyahu has, from what it appears, a reasonably good relationship with Putin.

Of course, appearances are deceptive—, especially in the Middle East.

However, Putin does not want to see an Iranian-Israeli war in Syria. It simply is not in Russia’s interest. And the reason for this is because of a political principle that the Midrash has long taught: “Two kings cannot share the same crown.”

It’s sort of like, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

And that is the situation brewing in Syria today between the Iranians and the Russians. Just last night, Putin made the statement, “Foreign troops—including Iran and Hezbollah should depart Syria when the civil war ends.”

Of course, he might have included the Turkish troops, for as Erdogan is really the “third king” of our Midrash, whose ambition is to reestablish the Ottoman Empire.

Put in different terms, “Three kings cannot share the same crown.”

And how did the Iranians take Putin’s remark? The Islamic Republic responds, “no one can force Iran to do anything. Those who should leave Syria are the ones who entered it without consent. We will remain and keep supporting Syria so long as it needs our help,” he added, according to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV.

And with this revelation—something that I have personally observed for months—it ought to be clear that the Putin is prepared to give Netanyahu free reign to get rid of the Iranians as an occupying power.

Eventually, though, the political entropy between the Russians and the Iranians will manifest itself—sort of like spurned lovers.

As far as Assad goes, the Russians had better guard him closely, for eventually, the Iranians will try to replace him with a person of their own choosing.

I am betting the Russians and the Israelis will send the Iranians packing–especially as President keeps the pressure on the Iranians, who are rapidly becoming the pariah everyone hates.