Monday, June 8, 2009

Klutz Kashe

This past issue of Moment Magazine’s (May/June, 2009) column “Ask the Rabbi” considered the question “How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors”. Frankly, the question was as ridiculous as its responses were, (although the Chabad response was the most entertaining) and I felt vindicated for having let my subscription lapse years ago.

Rabbi Winkler, the independent, must be watching too many Israeli films produced and directed by self hating Israeli’s (The Lemon Tree) and not investing enough time in understanding the texts which he quotes. It’s always convenient to pull out a quote from one of our prophets, because there has never been a time when one couldn’t reconcile a particular historical event with a quote confirming one position. Besides, it’s so rabbinic! Arguing that Israel falls short in treating it’s minorities in the spirit of the prophets is quite disingenuous. While I am not an apologist for those governmental ministries responsible for the minorities I would assume that our prophets would be extremely proud of our ethical standards and treatment of all our minorities. Had only we been treated as well at any time in our history (excluding our United States experience)! What galls me however is the sanctimonious and smug remark that we (Israel) “impose unjewish occidental models of government…” I wasn’t aware that Winkler had a monopoly on what constitutes a “Jewish” model, especially since he’s an “independent” (whatever that means). There are numerous models, many of them legitimate and which may not necessarily play into the Winkler design, but nevertheless legitimate. Quoting Ezekiel to suit his liberal leanings he conveniently avoids Pentateuchal intolerance as Rabbi Manis Friedman chooses to accept!

Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, a Humanist, is no better, choosing to identify with the broader human family, rather than his own people; blurring national boundaries and ethnic distinctions. On what planet is he living? As far as I can recall, the world I live in is host to a plethora of different peoples, nations and religions – all with competing interests. That has been the case as far back as recorded history goes and will probably continue in this format for the unforeseeable far distant future. Israel happens to be a Jewish state. Being a Jewish state and celebrating our uniqueness ought not be dehumanizing to others nor should it in any way diminish their unique national and ethnic qualities.

Naturally the Renewal approach is the haziest of all. Quoting Torah, renewal tries to point to love of neighbors by citing biblical relationships such as Isaac / Ishmael; Jacob / Essau etc. But in each of those cases according to our bible Isaac trumps Ishmael and Jacob trumps Essau. So what is he talking about?

The Reconstructionist, Rabbi Dodd’s declaration that Judaism’s key teaching is that all are “created in God’s image” is absolutely a revelation. From there he makes the quantum leap to an organization called “B’etzelem, the Israel human rights watchdog group, celebrating their accomplishments. What he is forgetting is that Israel’s first and foremost obligation is protecting its citizens in a world that has inverted the paradigm of morality. The UN commission on human rights is led by a gang of the most perverse violators of human rights. Yet Israel who conducts itself in an exemplary fashion in war and peace is pilloried by those same habituated violators of human rights. Because of Israel’s moral sensitivities, B’tzelem, whom Dodd elevates to the status of Torah M’sinai, is quite redundant.

As bad as these answers were Chabad’s was reprehensible, but what more can be expected from a fundamentalist approach to biblical text and religion. Reading those four short paragraphs of Rabbi Friedman I can understand those who have rejected religion as one of the greatest divisive forces known to civilized man. He manipulates biblical text to rationalize wholesale murder of man, woman and child (cattle too). With his approach there never will be an end to bloodshed. Manis Friedman has tried to wiggle out of what he said by doing a little backpedaling as was reported in the JTA after members of his own cult disavowed his comments. But I do believe that what he said initially was his intended remark. The Muslims in the Middle East well subscribe to his approach and have done exceedingly well in sustaining and cultivating intolerance murder and war.

The fact of the matter is there are no simple answers and they won’t be found on the pages of Moment Magazine and unfortunately can’t be found in Biblical text. While biblical text may be a means by which one can find a moral compass it is still text and subject to interpretation.

As evident here, anyone, regardless of training or persuasion can put their own political / social spin on the text interpreting the word of God to mean anything and everything and sometimes nothing. Asking a rabbi, regardless of persuasion a question as loaded and pregnant as the one asked in the current issue of Moment ought to be considered nothing more than a klutz kasha.