Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Do I think Jews are superior?
Perhaps it's gauche to write a post about comments on previous posts. On hugely popular sites, comment threads take on lives of their own, with adversarial discourse zinged between readers unafraid to be rude and bold, often hidden behind blogger monikers (like Northern Light...).
My blog, however, is...a very personal expression. When I got a comment from Jim Page thrashing me as arrogant and xenophobic, both of which I try very hard not to be, I was surprised. I answered. Then I received an encouraging response from a reader named Miriam that I want to respond to here, as I have more to say than merely the few words I'd put in a comment.
After Jim stridently suggested that the Mumbai atrocities were just another example of "religious fundamentalism" like "Witch hunts, Inquisitions, Mormon Indian killers, Zionist shock troops, and so on," Miriam noted that historic horrific behavior was not condoned by the God of the Bible or faithful adherents, who protested them.
Actually, there's plenty of God-commanded slaughter in the Bible. The difference is that God was specific in what He wanted--applied to only those particular peoples, at that time. And never again. There's nothing even remotely similar to ongoing "jihad" in the Bible.
Even though you could say the Crusades were murderous, and that each of the seven had complex aims, generally the medieval volunteers were spurred by religious fervor--to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims, or otherwise further the glory of Jesus and the God of the Bible. Thomas Madden in "The Crusades" suggests that they were defensive wars against Muslim aggressors. That doesn't excuse the massacre of Jews that occurred along the way, or forced conversions (by Christians or Muslims) on pain of death. But, the Crusades were never biblically mandated or suggested, and in the eight hundred years or so since then, the same religion that sprouted them (Roman Catholicism) has changed from a political force to a solely religious one, and condemns violence on behalf of faith.
Crusades were then; with Mumbai, we're talking here-and-now. Radical Islam is the only religion now that advocates killing off all its competition.
Miriam responded to Jim's claim that I'm "despicably xenophobic" for saying Jews (and Americans) stand out on the world stage.
She replies that Jews "aren't the Chosen People because they are better than everyone else (hence no reason for feeling 'superior'). Rather they are Chosen because God wills it so. Singled out for His blessings and singled out for the world's curses."
Well, I can't say God chose us for special blessings (pogroms, the holocaust, and multiple exiles belie that), but for special (added) responsibility. We seem to suffer when collectively we eschew or ignore the 613 mitzvot (commandments) we're charged to fulfill. We're supposed to try to understand rational purposes for the commandments, but do them simply out of subservience to God, even if we don't understand.
Many of the commandments are inconvenient, some majorly so. I did a post last Passover expressing my frustration with some of them...cleaning out all eensy vestiges of leavened products from my kitchen being right up there. You can say we who believe in God and think we get close to Him by abiding by all these rules are stupid. Or misguided. Or backward. But enduring endless persecution, discrimination and, even in America blessedly free from those, the burden of the obligations, surely could not give Jews any feelings of superiority.
Different question: Do I think my religion is superior to other religions? Sure. For me. Otherwise, why bother?
I'd guess Jim Page has the view that religion is at best worthless and at worst destructive. Not just that people can behave worthlessly and destructively, but that the actual basis of all religion is harmful.
But given the number of people who are inspired, uplifted, consoled and restrained from wrongdoing every single day by religion, you'd have to say that over all, the pursuit of it enriches life and provides a useful standard of behavior. If you balance the positive and negative effects of religion, the balance tips decisively toward the positive.
Back to the Mumbai murders at the Jewish outreach center, Chabad. I do think that Muslims have a particular hatred for Jews because of their conflicting belief about Ismael versus Isaac. Jews are not regular infidels, but ones who pervert what they believe to be the truth.
And Rabbi and Rivke Holtzberg of Mumbai were selected not simply because of anti-Semitism but in awareness that Jews have a world-wide significance beyond their numbers, a prominence that brings huge publicity and focus on the terrorists' acts. The bad guys wanted this.
No organization is more globally visible in its programs and education in Torah observance than Chabad. More than any other Jewish group, Chabad brings traditional piousness to out-of-the-way places, through the cheerful self-sacrifice of its emissaries (called "schluchim," Hebrew for "messengers"). This "encroachment" inflames extremist Muslims. So does the existence of Israel. They want to stomp out both.