On the nature of interfaith relationships

Many years ago, the indisputable Rabbinic Doyen of Centrist Orthodoxy (call it Modern or Torah U’Maddah if you like), Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, issued clear rulings under which interdenominational activities must be underpinned. Note, unlike, more right-wing streams of Orthodoxy, Rav Soloveitchik, was not an extremist advocating zero contact. At the time, the Rav’s focus was on Xtianity, as this was the prevailing pressure in the USA. To think that his advice would not equally apply to other religions, such as Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism is a non sequitur.

Rav Soloveitchik stated (emphasis is mine):

1. “We are a totally independent faith community. We do not revolve as a satellite in any orbit.” Jews must not concede at all to the notion that their covenant with God has been superseded. This refusal should be recognised by all participants as an ongoing point of disagreement between the faith communities, not an issue to be ironed out by apologetics or revisionism.

2. “The logos, the word in which the multifarious religious experience is expressed does not lend itself to standardization or universalisation. The confrontation should occur not at a theological, but at a mundane human level. There, all of us speak the universal language of modern man.” Because the theological language of the respective faith communities expresses religious sensations too intimate to be comprehended by those of another faith, dialogue must remain in the realm of the “secular orders.”

3. “Non-interference is a conditio sine qua non for the furtherance of good-will and mutual respect.”No Jew must ever suggest changes or emendations to Christian rituals or texts, and the converse is a requirement as well.

4. Any response to Christian overtures that even hints toward a willingness to compromise the fundamental matters over which millions of Jewish martyrs were sacrificed is an affront to their memory. To willingly equivocate where they stood firm demonstrates utter insensitivity to the “sense of dignity, pride, and inner joy” that their memory ought to inspire.

With this in mind, let us examine a letter from Rabbi Ralph Genende (emphasis is mine) of Caulfield Shule as an Orthodox Rabbinic member and President of JCMA

To Our Muslim Sisters And Brothers

Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia Statement

11th July 2016

We watched with sadness and horror the tragic events of the last days of Ramadan and can’t imagine how difficult they were for you.

We know that there is wide consensus that these terrorist attacks are largely political and that Islam is being distorted and manipulated for political and ideological purposes.

The victims, the families and friends of the victims, are all in our prayers.

In Australia, we heard with pain the divisive and hurtful comments of Pauline Hanson about Islam and Muslims.

Know that we share in your sorrow and distress and that we stand with you in the struggle for love and compassion.  May they overcome bigotry and hatred and violence.

May the blessings of peace, Shalom, Salam speedily grace our planet.

Rabbi Ralph Genende

President JCMA on behalf of JCMA

I have a number of questions of Rabbi Genende.

  1. Does he accept Rav Soloveitchik’s principles as outlined above? If he does, I am comfortable with that. If he does not, I posit that he is acting outside the boundaries set by Rav Soloveitchik for the RCA. [ Yes, I am aware of revisionists from both sides (left/right) who want to strengthen or weaken what Rav Soloveitchik ruled, but I treat these as speculation of little substance]. We have what the Rav said explicitly. It is clear and unambiguous.
  2. If he accepts the Rav’s views, did he formally write the parameters to his colleagues through which dialogue could proceed, as enunciated by the Rav above. In particular, did he write words to the effect that“As Jews we will never concede at all to the notion that our covenant with God has been superseded by other religions and we formally seek your acknowledgement of this point before any dialogue can proceed. You may have your viewpoint, but I seek your explicit agreement that you acknowledge that we will never see our covenant as superseded by other religions, and there can be no apologetics or revisionism in this regard.”
  3. Can Rabbi Genende tell us whether he received condolence style letters of apology from his Muslim colleagues ever. If not, why might that be? If yes, surely, it is critical that he actually publish those letters. Such letters, more than Rabbi Genende’s letter, act as a counter balance to incitement.
  4. We experienced the recent murder of Rabbi Marks and the stabbing of the young girl Hallel Ariel about whom the State Department made no statement despite her being a US citizen, let alone a human being. I assume Rabbi Genende heard the brave tear-jerking speech at the grave by Hallel’s mother. Muslim men of the cloth, in such a forum, need to distance themselves from Arab politics, and issue unambiguous condemnation of cruel, disgustingly opportunistic cold-blooded murders. Surely, one basis of this group is that violence is to be condemned at all times, except if attacked in a war situation where one is defending oneself.
  5. If Rabbi Genende received no such letter of condolence from his Muslim friends of the cloth, then I see no reason for him to continue with letters of “Salaam”. What is the point? The only outcome from such things is  Queens Day honours for the committee for their tolerant platitudes and joint acts of breaking bread.
  6. I am not an expert on Pauline Hanson’s platform, however, a significant number of Australians voted for her viewpoint. In a democracy, this counts for votes in determining how we are governed. There is rhetoric and views from Hanson’s acolytes that are to be condemned. There are other statements that state the obvious, but neither the Labor Party or the Liberals would ever say those for fear of losing votes.  Whatever Hanson’s views are, I do not see it as the role of this committee via Rabbi Genende to make pronouncements about a political party unless Hanson’s party has a platform which is universally considered amoral. Rabbi Genende doesn’t mention which comments of Pauline Hanson he as our representative objects to, but I think that should be the focus and not Hanson herself. He should focus on what was said that is offensive, and if need be, condemn such statements where they offend common human decency. In a vacuum though, the letter simply reads as a political rejection of everything Hanson’s party stands for. It’s not the party per se. It is explicit policies, which may emanate from any party, including the Greens, that might be horribly objectionable to all three religions because they breach a basic covenant of morality. The issues, not the parties, should be the focus.
  7. I invite Rabbi Genende to publish letters initiated by either Xtian, Muslim or other colleagues in respect to violence against civilians in the wider world, including Israel. Paris anyone?
  8. I invite Rabbi Genende to ask his colleagues to openly condemn the current outrageous UNESCO proposal where they brazenly rewrite history, announcing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is an exclusive Muslim holy place which has no connection to the Jewish people or their religion whatsoever! Does Rabbi Genende not remind his co-religionists that this is blatant lying, and lying is a common mundane human act that all religions should condemn? It is precisely the type of pronouncement (from UNESCO) about which Rabbi Soloveitchik warned.Last week UNESCO adopted a resolution which refers to Israel as the “occupying power” in Jerusalem and on, what UNESCO calls, the al-Haram al-Shariff (Temple Mount). The Western Wall (Wailing Wall) that is today Judaism’s holiest site is referred to as “Al-Buraq Plaza” in the resolution.The UNESCO resolution claimed “Israel is planting Jewish fake graves! in other spaces of the Muslim cemeteries” near the Temple Mount and falsely accused Israel of “the continued conversion of many Islamic and Byzantine remains into the so-called Jewish ritual baths or into Jewish prayer places.”. Will Rabbi Genende’s committee distance themselves from such lies publicly? If not, why not? How does one sit on a committee with anyone who denies the Jewish foundation of Jerusalem?UNESCO especially mentioned the damage caused by Israeli Forces since Aug. 23 “to the gates and the windows of the so-called Qibli Mosque inside al-Aqsa Mosque.”. The organisation claimed that Israel doesn’t respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of al-Aqsa Mosque as “a Muslim Holy Site of worship and as an integral part of a World Cultural Heritage Site.” Rabbi Genende knows this is an abhorrent rewriting of history, or to use the words of Rav Soloveitchik,“Jews must not concede at all to the notion that their covenant with God has been superseded.”

    Given that this implicitly and explicitly concedes our covenant, let alone provable history, on what religious basis is Rabbi Genende continuing dialogue unless his co-religionists openly reject the notion in a letter initiated by them?

    Aug. 23 is the date that 67 Jews were murdered in Hebron in 1929 during riots that began after similar lies about a Jewish threat to al-Aqsa ignited the Arab street in British-ruled Palestine. Talmudic Geniuses from the Yeshiva in Hebron were among those murdered. Will Rabbi Genende not also focus on this parallel or does he confine himself to personhood statements of grief when one group of Muslims murders another group of Muslims?

    The UNESCO resolution doesn’t utter a word about the daily riots that already started on the Temple Mount in the summer of 2015 and continued into the autumn after the Palestinian Authority and Hamas spread false rumors that Israel intended to change the status quo on the mount. There is overwhelming video evidence of who started the fighting at the Temple Mount and of Muslims barricading themselves in the al-Aqsa mosque. Video evidence doesn’t count in a world of lies, and if men of the cloth don’t condemn such lies, why are we sitting with them on one table?

  9. One has to wonder: apart from appeasement in the name of “we are all one” what Rabbi Genende’s involvement on this committee actually achieves. I’d argue that sending all Victorian students to the holocaust centre achieves much more than such letters.

I also read the growing trend of experiencing the religious practices of other religions in moments of “unity”, with nice accompanying pictures (Rabbi Genende amongst them). I ask again, how is this consonant with Rav Soloveitchik’s ruling that things be restricted to secular orders. Rav Soloveitchik, effectively meant, looking after the poor, the needy, and Noachide-style edicts of having proper courts, order, etc.

I have no doubt that Rabbi Genende has the best intentions, but I believe that unless we see letters initiated by his co-religionists of this committee, then we are not getting a proper picture of what this committee does or what it hopes to achieve, and whether it achieves it or whether its terms of reference should be refined or changed.

I, for one, would have no regret in condemning  those Jews in Israel who burnt the Palestinian youth and criticising it as an act which is contrary to Halacha and normal moral law. Did Rabbi Genende write such a letter? We all know that  such Jews are minuscule in numbers, and that the Shin Bet is on their heads and tails, sometimes with justification and sometimes without. Jews act to quell violent radicalism.

Be under no illusion, Rabbi Genende. Even today, Xtians believe that all Jews should convert to Xtianity and Muslims believe that all Jews should convert to Islam. Under that factoid, it seems to me that confining activities to joint acts of the more secular, as enunciated by Rav Soloveitchik is the correct and only approach to take. Any more is platitudes that achieve very little.

The politics and policing of curbing incitement is the domain of politicians and the law, not a religious committee that ought to work together to foster those secular good acts that benefit society.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

1 thought on “On the nature of interfaith relationships”

  1. If someone uses words of other languages he has to be sure that he understands the meaning of the word. A dictionary is not enough.
    Now let us see; is Salam in Arabic the same as Shalom in Hebrew?
    I understand that „Salam“ is only between Muslims. I do not think that according to Islam there can be „Salam“ between a Moslem and a Gentile or a Jew. Therefore „Salam“ is not Peace as meant in the other languages. A moslem will not greet you (the non-beliver) with „Salam“, as against „Shalom“ which are used to greet anyone.
    Here are just a few examples of the greeting „Salam“ or „Salaam“:
    If a non-Muslim greets a Muslim by saying ‘Salaam’ he will not be rewarded in the Hereafter for this act. If a disbeliever greets you with Salaam, then you should limit your reply to saying: “Wa ‘Alaykum” and not the full response of Salaam.
    Allaah Knows best.
    Similarly it is not permissible to initiate a greeting such as Ahlan wa sahlan (welcome) and the like, because that is a kind of honouring them. But if they say something like that to us, then we should say something similar to them, because the greeting should be returned in like manner and each person should be given his due. It is well known that the Muslims are higher in status before Allaah, so they should not humiliate themselves in front of non-Muslims by greeting them first.
    In a program on Al-Jazeera Channel, Al-Shari’ah Wal-Hayah (Islamic Law and Life), dated Sunday May 9th 1999, Shaikh (scholar) Yusuf Al-Qaradawi noted that the concept of Dar Al-Harb (Abode of War) was introduced in the Fiqh Hanafi. Al-Imam (the legislator and scholar) Abu Hanifa divided the Muslim role into two categories: Dar Al-Islam (Abode of Islam) and Dar Al-Harb (Abode of War). He would refer to any non-Muslim domain as Dar Al-Kufr (Abode of Unbelief) or Dar Al-Harb even if there is no current war between them and the Muslims.
    For much of Islamic history, the preferred term used to describe non-Islamic societies has been dar al-Harb, emphasizing various Islamic countries‘ aspirations to conquer such territories and render them part of dar al-Islam.
    Does SALAM go together with Shalom?
    If you open a dictionary you might well find SALAM translated into English as PEACE. But it is peace only between Muslims, not between infidels and Muslims.
    Just to continue and point out what is meant by a statement or obligation made by a Muslim to a non-Muslim. Enclosing below part of an article from the internet: http://www.meforum.org/2066/war-and-peace-and-deceit-in-islam

    This was presented to Congress on February 12, 2009.
    I pointed out earlier the difference of greeting of Moslem by another Moslem, and a Moslem greeting an Infidel. The article below goes further, and I bring it to you as it is on the Internet.
    „The standard view has been that, since in the early years of Islam, Muhammad and his community were far outnumbered by the infidels and idolaters, a message of peace and coexistence was in order (sound familiar?). However, after he migrated to Medina and grew in military strength and numbers, the violent and intolerant verses were „revealed,“ inciting Muslims to go on the offensive — now that they were capable of doing so. According to this view, quite standard among the ulema, one can only conclude that the peaceful Meccan verses were ultimately a ruse to buy Islam time till it became sufficiently strong to implement its „true“ verses which demand conquest. Or, as traditionally understood and implemented by Muslims themselves, when the latter are weak and in a minority position, they should preach and behave according to the Meccan verses (peace and tolerance); when strong, they should go on the offensive, according to the Medinan verses (war and conquest). The vicissitudes of Islamic history are a testimony to this dichotomy.
    A Muslim colleague of mine once made this clear during a casual, though revealing, conversation. After expounding to him all those problematic doctrines that make it impossible for Muslims to peacefully coexist with infidels — Jihad, loyalty and enmity enjoying the right and forbidding the wrong — I pointedly asked him how and why he, as a Muslim, did not uphold them. He kept prevaricating, pointing to those other, abrogated verses of peace and tolerance. Assuming he was totally oblivious of such arcane doctrines as abrogation, I (rather triumphantly) began explaining to him the distinction between Meccan (tolerant) and Medinan (intolerant) verses, and how the latter abrogate the former. He simply smiled, saying, „I know; but I’m currently living in Mecca“ — that is, like his weak and outnumbered prophet living among an infidel majority in Mecca, he too, for survival’s sake, felt compelled to preach peace, tolerance, and coexistence to the infidel majority of America.“
    „The fact that Islam legitimizes deceit during war cannot be all that surprising; as the saying goes, all’s fair in love and war. Moreover, non-Muslim thinkers and philosophers, such as Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, and Hobbes, all justified deceit in war. The crucial difference, however, is that, according to all four recognized schools of Sunni jurisprudence, war against the infidel goes on in perpetuity — until „all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to Allah“ (Koran 8:39). In its entry on jihad, the definitive Encyclopaedia of Islam simply states:
    The duty of the jihad exists as long as the universal domination of Islam has not been attained. Peace with non-Muslim nations is, therefore, a provisional state of affairs only; the chance of circumstances alone can justify it temporarily. Furthermore there can be no question of genuine peace treaties with these nations; only truces, whose duration ought not, in principle, to exceed ten years, are authorized. But even such truces are precarious, inasmuch as they can, before they expire, be repudiated unilaterally should it appear more profitable for Islam to resume the conflict.
    The obligatory jihad is best expressed by Islam’s dichotomized worldview that pits Dar al-Islam (the „realm of submission,“ i.e., the Islamic world), against Dar al-Harb (the „realm of war,“ i.e., the non-Islamic world) until the former subsumes the latter. Internationally renowned Muslim historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) articulates this division thusly: „In the Muslim community, holy war [jihad] is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. The other religious groups [specifically Christianity and Judaism] did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense. … But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.“
    „This concept is highlighted by the fact that, based on the ten-year treaty of Hudaibiya (628), ratified between Muhammad and his Quraish opponents in Mecca, ten years is, theoretically, the maximum amount of time Muslims can be at peace with infidels. Based on Muhammad’s example of breaking the treaty after two years (by citing a Quraish infraction), the sole function of the „peace treaty“ (or hudna) is to buy weakened Muslims time to regroup before going on the offensive once more.
    After negotiating a peace treaty criticized by Muslims as conceding too much to Israel, former PLO leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat, speaking to Muslims in a mosque and off the record, justified his actions by saying, „I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraish in Mecca.“ In other words, like his prophet, the „moderate“ Arafat was giving his word only to annul it once „something else better“ came along — that is, once Palestinians became strong enough to renew the offensive.
    Most recently, a new Islamic group associated with Hamas called Jaysh al-Umma (Islam’s army) stated clearly, „Muslims all over the world are obliged to fight the Israelis and the infidels until only Islam rules the earth.“ Realizing their slip, they quickly clarified: „We say that the world will not live in peace as long as the blood of Muslims continues to be shed.“
    If Muslims are permitted to lie and feign loyalty, amiability, even affection to the infidel, simply to further their war efforts — what does one make of any Muslim overtures of peace, tolerance, or dialogue?
    If any nation closely follows Sharia — including, but not limited to, the division of the world into two perpetually warring halves, Islam and infidelity — it is Saudi Arabia, a.k.a. America’s „friend.“ According to Sharia, for instance, the Saudis will not allow the construction of a single church or synagogue on their land; Bibles are banned and burned; Christians engaged in any kind of missionary activity are arrested, tortured, and sometimes killed; Muslim converts to Christianity are put to death.“

    שבת שלום

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s