Another terror attack. I wonder if here in Europe we are becoming as immune to these news as we are blind about the root motivation of them. I, personally, anticipate the same staged scene in the media’s response each time: 1. the attacker was a third generation immigrant (whereby proving that the current wave of illegal immigration does not directly lead to terrorism and the sole reason Ahmed was not integrated into society is because, by fault of his host country, he could not find a job in racist Spain so he had no choice but to resort to devising a plot of plowing into the crowd with a truck out of sheer boredom. If this attack had taken place in the UK, we would have identified him as an “Asian looking man”, connoting that it could very well be our dear neighbor Patel from next door, a hindu accountant from Delhi who has never even eaten a piece of meat in his life, so much respect he has for all life on Earth), 2. it has nothing to do with Islam, 3. we post solidarity messages on Facebook (with my favorite being #prayforthisandthat although none of these Europeans have ever uttered a prayer in their lives), 4. we need to work together to raise security measures (definitely not by treating the root cause but by banning cleaning supplies from supermarkets so as to prevent people from throwing acid into others’ faces in the street and banning driving and renting trucks would be a solution too), 5. blame the ult-right and perpetuate fear of potential “islamophobic”backlash beacuse in our twisted world the victims are the perpetrators and vicas versa, since Muslims have to be in perpetual victimhood, which is part of their strategic plan to take over the world one day.
This reminds me of a rather unpleasant conversation during a Shabbat meal. We had an older gentleman who was a baal teshuvah (a person who was not religious before but repented and returned to faith, that is, orthodox lifestyle). Sometimes these people become more fervent and self-righteous than those who were raised orthodox from birth. It was the first time in my life I had to face the sad reality that Islam as a religion had more respect in traditional Judaism than Christianity. The gentleman happened to say that “Islam is a kosher religion. I am not talking about how Muslims behave, that is a different story, but the creed itself is kosher.” Christianity, on the other hand, is bad to the core. As he was a violonist, he was discussing that he had to categorize classical music into two boxes: “permitted” and “forbidden”. Evil composers such as Handel, who wrote idolatrous oratorios dedicated to J. (the full name of Jesus is never pronounced at an Orthodox Jewish table) is off limits. I thought I was sitting at propaganda meeting in the 1950’s Russia and soon after that we were going to go outside and burn books. I got disturbed by the “Islam is good but Christians are our enemies” theory that I had to confront him: “Wait, by the same token, are you actually saying that Allah is the same as the G-d of Israel?” – “Yes, why not?” – he answered. I was in shock. I gave my rabbi a desperate look across the table in the deep conviction that he was going to correct this man but, to my utter bewilderment, he remained silent.
I know where this is coming from: the Rambam (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, a 12th century Jewish scholar). He redifined everything we are obligated to think about Judaism and the world, including Jewish-Muslim and Jewish-Christian relations. Although he believed that the religion of Islam was corrupted since it did not accept the Torah as a divine revelation from G-d, nevertheless it was monotheistic in its nature, which apparently renders it kosher. Christianity, on the other hand, was idolatrous since it taught the trinity, a concept greatly misunderstood by Jews until today. Christians, however, believed in the Torah so a Jew was allowed to engage in theological debates with them but was banned from entering their churches while allowed to worship in a mosque. Maimonides was born in Cordoba, Spain but escaped his country of origin during the abolishment of the dhimmi status by the Muslim Almohad tribes that ruled Spain at the time. A series of abuses against the Jews and Christians ensued which led to the choice of exile or forced conversion. He lived the rest of his life in Fez and Cairo, which were equally under Islamic rule, so we can clearly see that both the Crusades and the Islamic oppression had an influence on his life and thinking. I believe that part of his philosophy was rather reactionary than rooted in previous rabbinical opinion. Both the existence of the dhimmi status (the protection of non-Muslims in Muslim ruled areas in exchange for special taxes imposed and the acceptance of social inferiority) and the ending of it dispel the myth that the “Jews lived better under Islamic than Christian rule in the Medieval Period.” While it is true that at certain times the Muslims were less violent against the Jews and also allowed Jewish scholarship to flourish in some areas of the Middle-East, it was not for a long period and we would certainly have to discount the social humiliation that was prevalent for dhimmis if we wanted to believe this narrative.
I wonder how this man can believe that Islam is OK although Muslims behave badly. Aren’t our actions a direct result of what we believe in? Do terrorist acts not feed on the Quranic verses that incite voilence against unbelievers? One of the most disturbing comparions that are frequently drawn lately by the leftist media and used as a justification by Islamic commentators is that of the “violent verses” found in the Bible and the Quran. I often laugh at this because those who discuss this are not religious scholars and probably have no idea what the context in either book is, the word is clearly put into their mouths by propagandists. For those who are confronted with this argument and actually believe in the Bible, I suggest they point at the lives of Jesus and Mohammed rather than trying to vindicate certain Biblical verses. First of all, because we believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and the Quran is not. As the concept of witnessing is important to all three monotheistic religions, we give credit to the scriptures that were revealed in front of six hundred thousand people on Mount Sinai, the gospel message that was preached around the Holy Land candidly for three years, the crucifixion that was witnessed by hundreds followed by the reality of the resurrection that Jesus manifested by walking on Earth for forty days afterwards. We know our G-d, his nature and we are familiar with the way he cominucates with us. Our G-d speaks and acts according to the “that which is true is out in the open” rule. The “problematic” verses of violence in the Bible relate to a specific time and place when G-d ordained his people to terminate idolatry before they took hold of the land he had promised them. It was a one-time order (not timeless perpetual violence as Muhammed commanded) directed at taking over one region, Canaan (not the whole world as Muhammed commanded). While many tragedies have been committed against the Jews by Christians throughout history, none of these were directly ordered or condoned by Jesus himself. I wish my fellow Jews got over and moved on from the Crusades after eight hundred years. We still dwell on it! But if I kill a human being in a person’s name who has not instructed me to commit murder against anybody, this person is not responsible for what I do in his or her name. In Muhammed’s case, however, the actions of the Islamists are an imprint of Mumammed’s life which we can read about in the Quran and the Hadith.
In the synagogue the next morning, I receive no explanation to the root cause of terrorism but I am told we have invented the cure: do more mitzvot (good deeds). We all have to be more out there, says the rabbi. We have to get more men to lay tefillin, more women to light candles and all to give more tzeddakah (charity). Of course the first thing that occurs to my evangelically indoctrinated mind is “just how many will be enough?”. I look around the women’s section and my gaze lands on Mrs. Horowitz. I know she is a widower and her children are all grown up now. She receives a lot of help from the community but I wonder if I could give her a hand with the Sunday shopping. I ponder on the possible effects of my actions: if I help her one Sunday versus every Sunday, would that equal to preventing one terrorist attack versus several ones? If I throw in some tzedakkah (charity) as well by offering to pay for her shopping, perhaps I would save even more lives? Would my godly deeds penetrate the heart of this terrorist who, touched by my humanity, would miracously change his mind and not blow himelf up? Nonsense.
Judaism is the religion of the deed, not the creed, we say. This is where Christians usually jump in on the other side of the debate, shouting “not by works”; so we sit on what I call the “seesaw of hyper grace and hyper mitzvah”, the Jews on one side, the Christians on the other, swinging eternally and never being able to stop in the middle. Neither is right for both faith and deeds are equally important. What we often miss is that the emphasis on the mitzvot in Judaism has nothing to do with the salvation of the soul. Judaism teaches that the reward of the mitzvah is the mitzvah itself. Its cultural and religious meaning is based on the basic idea that it is more than just a Biblical and halakhic (rabbinic law) commandment of a set of rules of do’s and don’t’s, but a lifestyle where we commit to bettering ourselves and the world – tikkun haolam, heal the world. The mitzvot are not burdensome, as Christians believe (since they confuse the idea of laws with legalism), but a pleasure, a privilige and a channel through which we communicate with our Creator and the Creator communicates with the world. It is also something impossible to learn from textbooks, for one needs to be in the inner circle of the Jewish community to witness how it is implemented daily. Christians often try to explain everything with theology but overlook the fundamentals of Jewish life: the community. We don’t preach as much, we live. Family and community come before theology.
The Hebrew word mitzvah is linked to the Aramaic word tzavta, which means attachment, relationship, bond. The physical action of performing the miztvah unites us with G-d and reveals his light and presence in a dark world we live in. This subject is probably the broadest in the entire religion therefore it is impossible to fully explore within a few pages, however, the essential aspect we need to grasp is the influence the Kabbalistic and Chassidic philosophies have had on altering the Torah’s concepts. How could a good deed, completely disconnected from the acts of the terrorist in place, time and sphere of influence, affect his decision making? The answer is the endowment of the mitzvah with supernatural power. But that is the character and role of the Holy Spirit, you would say. Quite right. The “forefather” of the Holy Spirit was the Shechinah, the divine presence of G-d which dwelt in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. During the time Jesus was on Earth, He embodied G-d’s presence and after his ascension, He sent the Spirit to live within us. According to traditional Jewish thought, however, the Shechinah is exiled with the Jewish people to the diaspora. Until its full restoration in the Third Temple, it is broken and only fractions and sparks of it remain in a so-called voluntary captivity, locked up in our limited physical bodies. Stripped of its force in a world that, as they claim, would otherwise be unable to contain its full vigour, its spiritual power is shifted to the mitzvot.
What a lie they have constructed. G-d’s Spirit is G-d himself. Praise be to Hashem, neither is He deconstructed, nor broken; neither exiled nor transmuted, neither can He be robbed of part of his power, nor does He choose to give it up. Although “faith without works (mitzvot) is dead”, G-d is greater than us and can do greater things. His main channel of communication in this day and age is his Spirit, for without direct revelation and the conviction of the heart, the terrorist’s mind won’t change. It is only G-d’s Spirit that can truly and fundamentally change the heart and human nature. When we are “born of the Spirit”, we are also “clothed with the power of the Spirit”. It seems like we believe opposite things: traditional Judaism claims that the Spirit is constrained by the flesh while the mitzvot are bestowed with full strength. The truth is quite the contrary: we and our actions are limited but his Spirit is neither finite nor bound. “One thing G-d has spoken:…’Power belongs to you, G-d’ “. (Psalm 62)