Ha’azinu – 5771

12/09/2010 at 15:27 1 comment

“Fight Club”

Shabbat Ha’azinu

11 September 2010

Neil F. Blumofe

After Shabbat morning services today, a rabbinical colleague of mine, who leads a congregation on the West Coast, will be gathering in a public park with a contingent of interfaith leaders to read from the Koran, in protest of the planned “International Burn a Koran Day,” by Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida.  Whether or not this sad event in Florida will take place or another like it, sanctioned by Fred Phelps and the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kansas – an obnoxious organization — the fact that interfaith leaders elsewhere will be showing opposition to burning the sacred book of Islam by reading from the sacred book of Islam strikes me as a hollow and ultimately as a one-sided act.

Burning any books, especially those considered sacred, is deplorable and the fact that we are witness to this as potential acts of defiance on September 11, nine years after planned and executed acts of terror against civilians in our country, reveals how vital and necessary a meaningful, engaged, guileless and difficult dialogue about religion would be in our country and in our world.

I am often invited to speak about Judaism at neighborhood churches, sometimes on Sunday mornings during services and I often ponder how difficult it would be to reciprocate on a Shabbat morning.  There would have to be tremendous trust – not only of the speaker – so that the speaker doesn’t begin to proselytize or castigate, even unwittingly – too, there would have to be trust of the community and of me as leader that I would not be putting my community into an unintended, uncomfortable position of defense or of justification.

Jews who are looking to be interfaith partners are sometimes in a difficult position – it would be relatively easy for a Christian leader to read from the Torah, or the Hebrew Bible, and for a Muslim reader to read from the Torah or from the Christian Bible — Christianity and Islam were founded as supersessionist religions, past the closed canon of the Written Torah as a sacred document – replacements for God’s truest word — and to have a Jew read about new covenants that God has made with new people is difficult, at best.

Perhaps this act later today on the West Coast is just a show of solidarity, a symbolic act to impress upon the larger community that all faiths stand together in the face of hatred – that Jewish and Muslim leaders would stand as one if the Christian Bible were under assault, and of course for Christians and Muslims to stand alongside the Jews if the Torah were assailed and insulted and please God, if this were so.

Imagine what would happen here in Austin, instead of walking out of our sanctuary when Judea Pearl was speaking about the beheading death of his son Daniel in Pakistan in 2002 and putting forth that in his name – his beloved son – we all must work towards acts of loving kindness and appreciate the importance of the security of Israel, instead, a group that was present began to applaud and explore ways of helping and getting the word out and working towards these goals – imagine what would happen that after the Almahdi mosque in North Austin was vandalized and many Jews spontaneously organized and went to support the Muslim community – that instead of no one showing up when Congregation Kol haLev was defaced thereafter, there were crowds and crowds of folks who spoke out passionately against this act of vandalism against the Jews – and too, imagine the difference there would be that at a rally at the State Capitol urging peace in the opening days of the 2006 conflict in Gaza, a Muslim leader who was the face of interfaith relations – who had partnered with Rabbi Baker to attend each other’s places of worship – who often spoke with me at schools and other public gatherings – imagine the difference had he not, after years of collaboration with the Jewish community, unconditionally thundered against the inhumanity and the viciousness of the Israelis, giving no quarter and no consideration of the sensitivities of others in his company – a sour investment.  Why does the appearance of the Ambassador of Israel trigger an automatic protest, no matter what he says – calls made to meet about these topics, invitations proffered – so far, met with silence.

How do we move forward addressing the open wounds in our society?  How do we demonstrate leadership and generosity when it seems so hard to gather and speak honestly together?

As we looked at a few weeks ago, the case of the rebellious son, the Torah has some objectionable sections that have been discussed and thought about and struggled with for thousands of years – and the tussling of identity is important and long term opportunities to continue to grow and deepen our appreciation for tugging at and wrestling with our texts.  Imagine what it would be like if other religions admitted such questions, as well?  Rather than a fatwa issued because a cartoonist represented a particular prophet negatively – and rather than General Petraus, who is in charge of operations in Afghanistan, ask that the Koran burning be called off – and no less the President of the United States asking for calm, as well, because of the threats of recrimination, retribution and protest and an escalation of violence – can we not recognize that affronts to our sensibilities occur – and a hard line reaction does not have to be the expected result, which serves to frighten us into submission.

I am so proud of the give and take that defines Judaism – I appreciate the rich traditions of clarification and questions – and I would hope that this fluidity remains the standard, even in Israel – rather than an automatic reflex of intolerance.

I would not gather with priests and pastors and imams to publicly read from the Koran – if we were to make a public statement here in Austin – I would insist that my interfaith partners recognize that reading from another’s sacred book is a sacred act, even if only done for symbolic effect.  I would ask that we publicly affirm each other’s deepest and truest wants, even at the price of our own discomfort – do we just accept it as a given now that our Jewish community must invest so heavily in security – ihat we must stop for questioning on our way in for Rosh haShanah services — is that just the way the world is? Is unremitting Jewish apprehension and perhaps Jewish casualty just the paradigm that we are supposed to accept?  As the peace plan develops between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, is the potential wrenching of the Jewish soul – and even if we don’t agree — the forced movement of Jewish folks who believe that they have returned to the Torah’s promise of land worth its weight in a future security, or because humanity deems it so – is Jew uprooting Jew worth it to be accepted for a moment in the world’s eyes or for a particular peace?  Cannot entities that represent terror like Hamas — a government that does not recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel at all – can they not be condemned unequivocally and without reservation by the same people who protest when their books are threatened with burning?

I am willing to work towards such a compact – that will inspire all of us to support each other everyday, not only in such dire circumstances as a book burning.  We need to speak directly in repose and we need to speak often about all of the things we want and all of the things that we fear.  We are in a New Year and rather than make gestures that flare up and are forgotten, I am looking for transformation within and without  — within myself, my community and in this world, as, hopefully, not books, yet, as our world continues to burn.

Shabbat Shalom.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Ki Tavo — 5770 — The Chosen People Erev Rosh haShanah — 5771

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. threadzofblue  |  12/09/2010 at 18:02

    These are very powerful words that speak directly to the current imbalanced reality that seems to exist. Has “political correctness” now gone so far as to trample the rights of others as it seeks to protect the rights of some? It seems that way.

    I completely agree with your assessment of non-Muslims reading from the Koran. The way to honor the religions is to recognize the sacredness of certain acts, and to allow each religion to celebrate their own sacredness and respect the sacredness of the others.


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