Can Islam Solve Its Jewish Problem?

Jan. 25 2018

On December 8—the Friday following the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—three imams in the U.S. delivered virulently anti-Semitic sermons at their mosques. Ben Cohen comments on the Islamic texts cited in these sermons, the reactions to complaints about the sermons’ contents, and what hope there is for change in Muslim attitudes toward Jews:

On the one hand, . . . Islam regards the Jews as “enemies” of Muhammad’s prophecy; on the other, Islam realizes only too well that, without the existence of the Jews and their practices to begin with, there would have been no subsequent prophetic tradition and faith to follow. . . .

[Take, for instance,] the sermon delivered at the Islamic Center of Jersey City by Sheikh Aymen Elkasaby, who told those gathered for prayers that the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem was “under the feet of the apes and pigs”—a commonly expressed derogatory term for Jews, that is based upon a sura (chapter) in the Quran which claims that in his anger toward the Jews, God “made some as apes and swine.” . . .

In the aftermath of all three sermons, . . . I came across some reassuring signs that in America, [it’s possible to] deal with these issues with an honesty that is absent in much of Europe and certainly in the Middle East. . . . In the case of [the preacher who gave an anti-Semitic sermon at a Houston mosque], the Islamic Society of Greater Houston condemned him for making “inflammatory remarks about our Jewish community in a deeply disturbing tone.” . . .

In each of these cases, I spoke to Muslim leaders who expressed some degree of remorse or condemnation, and did not deny—as would often be the case in Europe—that such rhetoric is . . . an actual threat to the Jews living here, and therefore a potential threat to most precious norms and conventions of the nation at large. . . .

Nobody can pretend that these anti-Jewish texts, beliefs and traditions do not exist. But the experience of Jews with the Catholic Church during the last half-century—in which fundamental doctrines about the demonic nature of the Jews dating to the time of St. Paul have been dispensed with—suggests that there is very little in this world that is immovable.

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More about: American Muslims, Anti-Semitism, Islam, Muslim-Jewish relations, Religion & Holidays

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays