Religion’s Most Repellent Idea

January 15, 2013 2:22 am 0 comments

Moses pleading with the Israelites. Photo: wiki commons.

The most dangerous and offensive of all religious ideas is that innocent people suffer because of their sins. This notion, so easily abused, makes victims into criminals, denying them divine sympathy or human compassion.

We’ve heard it all before.

Why was there a holocaust? Because German Jewry assimilated and abandoned their faith. They desecrated the Sabbath. They adopted Germanic names. They married out. They wanted to be more German than the Germans. In the words of one of the greatest Jewish sages of prewar Poland, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, who was executed by a Nazi firing squad, “The fire which will burn our bodies will be the fire that restores the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, felt that the Holocaust was a punishment for secular Zionism. Jews can only return to Israel when God himself redeems them. Rabbi Menachem Hartom said the exact opposite. Jews were punished by God for being too comfortable in Germany and abandoning their attachment to Israel, their ancient homeland.

One Rabbi who lectured in my community not long ago said, before a crowd of hundreds of modern orthodox Jews who barely found his words objectionable, that one can see how lax Jews were in their observance in Germany from the women who were about to be gassed in Auschwitz. Pictures have them standing naked, after the SS removed their clothing, and they are not even trying to cover up in front of the German soldiers. Here was a Rabbi finding fault with Jewish women who were about to be murdered along with their children, which just goes to show that the belief that suffering results from sin can lead to shocking anti-Semitism.

Ideas like these are not only repulsive, they are factually inaccurate. The majority of Germany’s Jews, who supposedly incurred the divine wrath through sin, survived the holocaust. They knew who Hitler was and had a few years to try and get out. The people who did not know that Hitler was coming for them were the Hassidic Jews of Poland, with long side curls and beards, who had no idea that Hitler planned to invade Poland on 1 September, 1939. They were devout in the extreme. So what was their sin? And what of the 1.5 million dead children? What guilty were they?

Regardless, are these Rabbis seriously suggesting that because of assimilation, God decided to ghettoize, wrack with disease, gas, and ultimately cremate six million Jews? And if that’s true, is He a God worthy of prayer? And do we have any right to condemn six million people whom we did not know to murder in the assumption that they were so horrendously sinful that they and their children warranted extermination?

No. This theology is an abomination. It rejects the very name of the Jewish people, ‘He who wrestles with God.’ A Jew must struggle with God in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice.

What does Abraham do when God threatens to destroy Sodom and Gomorra, even though God had said, “Their sin so grievous.” Abraham thunders at the heavens: “Will the Judge of all the earth not Himself practice justice?” (Gen. 18:25).

The same is true of the prophet Moses. How does the great redeemer react when God threatens to destroy the children of Israel after the sin of the golden calf? Does he bow his head in submission before God’s declaration that the people are sinful and deserving of destruction?

No.

Moses, in one of the most haunting passages of the Bible and eloquent defenses of human life ever recorded, says to God, “Now, forgive their sin – but if not, blot me out, I pray you, of the Torah you have written.” (Ex. 32:32).

The Bible is clear: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (Deut. 29:29). God is in charge of the hidden things. Why does He allow humans to suffer unjustifiably? What goes on in secret behind the partition of heaven? Well, that is of no human concern. But the revealed things, this is our area of focus. A parent is mourning the death of a child. A woman is crying over the loss of her husband. Why did they die? As far as we are concerned, for no reason at all. In the revealed here and now, their suffering served no higher purpose. Suffering is not redemptive, it is not ennobling, it is not a blessing, and it teaches us nothing that we could not have learned by gentler means. It’s Christianity, rather than Judaism, that says that someone has to die in order for sin to be forgiven. We Jews reject any idea of human sacrifice.

Some cite the Talmud (Shabbat 55a): “No death without sin; no suffering without iniquity.” Or again: “If a man sees that he is afflicted with suffering, he should examine his deeds, as it is said, ‘Let us search and try our ways, and return unto the Lord’ (Lam. 3:40).” The Talmud adds: “Suffering is due to evil deeds or neglect of Torah study.” But all these pronouncements apply to our own suffering. If something bad happens to us we have the right to examine our actions. But our assumption of everyone else must be that they are righteous and their suffering is undeserved.

Any attempts to infuse suffering with rich meaning shows callous indifference to the heartache of fellow humans. Suffering does not leave us ennobled, empathic, or wiser. Rather, it leave us broken, morose, and bitter. And if I’m wrong and suffering is such a great teacher than why is it that any responsible parent would exert every effort to save their child from suffering?

As for the Rabbis who say that Jews are sinful and deserve to die, they make me miss the Lubavitcher Rebbe ever more. I can still close my eyes and see him, ever so clearly and well into his late eighties, pounding the table in public with all his might” “How long?” he would cry, “How long?” How long will Israeli soldiers die in defense of their homeland? Many more Jews will be dismembered by murderous bombs? Why has the Messiah not yet come? And how can anyone calling themselves a Rabbi have the chutzpah to ever justify the death of innocents?

Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley. This column is dedicated to the memory of Machla Debakarov, the mother of a close friend of Rabbi Shmuley’s.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Education Haredim and Bedouin: A Tale of Two Communities Transformed by Vocational Education

    Haredim and Bedouin: A Tale of Two Communities Transformed by Vocational Education

    JNS.org – Low enlistment rates in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). High rates of poverty. Communal resistance to traditional schooling. Difficulty finding employment or a lack of motivation to be employed. These conditions are shared by two sectors of the Israeli population that the casual observer likely wouldn’t group together: haredi Jews and Bedouin. Through its operation of schools for each population, however, the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network seeks to give haredim and Bedouin a brighter future in the Jewish [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that he has a major concern with: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds his captive. Tony, who is also an [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.