Most of us are familiar with the lyrics of the song Love and Marriage. When it comes to comparisons however, horses and carriages are not limited to dating and mating. Love and marriage is not the only duo that goes together like a horse and carriage. Religion and culture are also inextricably intertwined.
Following the most recent outbreak of Islamofascism in France last week, there are those who are bound to say that the actions of a handful murderous Moslams do not reflect what the Koran teaches. No stupider, meaningless drivel has ever been spoken. One would be hard pressed to come up with a monolithic answer as far as what does reflect the teachings of the Koran?
Most congregational rabbis are hopefully inured to the parroting of a similar meaningless truism regarding the Torah, in that chances are good to excellent that at one point in their rabbinate they were “blessed” with a congregant who never failed to squawk; that’s not what the Torah says. In my case, it was a guy by the name of Ike Feinshmecker who: a) who knew what the Torah said better than anyone else in the world, and b) was always right.
“ That’s not what the Torah or Gospel or Koran teaches” is the most ridiculous, meaningless statement ever. There are any number of verses in the Torah, the Gospel, and the Koran for which there is no one interpretation or meaning. Similarly there is any number of teachings in the Torah, the Gospel and the Koran that were never meant to be taken literally by any Jew, Christian or Moslem.
The Torah (Leviticus XXIV: 16) teaches that he who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. Based on that statement, Jews would best hold their tongues before they so smugly lash out against Islam. Yet, I’m not aware of any Jewish extremist, fundamentalist or just plain meshuggener who, armed with a Kalashnikov, bursts into the office of any blasphemer, and does HaShem’s bidding. The Gospel (Mark III: 29) teaches that he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal damnation. More than one G-d fearing Christian throughout the history in “understanding” this verse, has taken the Gospel into his own hands and seen to it that any “denier of Jesus” viz. Jew, suffer damnation and in many situations far worse, all in the name of heaven, of course. The Koran Surat Al-Ma’Idah (V:22) teaches that “the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and his messenger be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land”. And if that weren’t severe enough punishment, an even more severe punishment awaits them in the hereafter. What sort of punishment in the hereafter could top that which was done to those who wage war against Allah and his messenger is beyond me.
Many of the teachings of the Torah, the Gospel and the Koran are vacuous in and of themselves. In Judaism, it was during the Talmudic age when our rabbinic scholars adapted the teachings of the Torah to the world around them. Yet, to say that these rabbinic scholars weren’t products of culture is patently absurd. Furthermore, the practice of Judaism has been reflective of the culture in which Jews live from time immemorial. It’s only as of late, that there has been a push to regress to the romanticized Eastern European Shtetl by fellow Jews in any number of Jewish neighborhoods. Joseph Berger in his book The Pious Ones quotes Alex Rapaport a Brooklyn native who says “When I was a child, you used to see lots of people holding hands on the Shabbos- husband and wife-holding hands… now it’s unheard of. Any romance in public is halachically forbidden, even with one’s own wife. Even speaking with a woman on the street is kept to a minimum.”
Try as I might, I cannot come up with any changes in the Torah in this last generation.
With Islam however, it’s not a matter of strolling hand in hand. With Islam, there are unfortunately far too many instances where fanaticism has infected, infested and caused immeasurable harm, hurt and death to those of other faiths who mean Islam no harm. I’m not aware of any Jewish or Christian clergy preaching death to the Moslem from the pulpit, thereby providing any Islamofascist the slightest pretext to take up arms. But then again, Islamofascists do not need the slightest pretext for mayhem and murder. A misreading and contortion of the Koran on their part will do just fine.
The Vilner Gaon, a.k.a. Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer summed it up beautifully. Commenting on Deuteronomy XXXII: 2, the Vilner Gaon said the following: “The words of the Torah are like rain. Rain makes flowers beautiful and green lawns luscious; rain also makes weeds uglier, thorns thornier and thistles more unbearable.”
Perhaps the words of the Vilner Gaon ought to be passed along to every Rabbi, Priest, Preacher, Imam and Ike Feinshmecker, who has a monopoly on what the Torah says.