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...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    JNS.org – Less than five months after leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to its sixth European basketball title, David Blatt, now the head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, routed his former team in an exhibition game on Sunday, with the Cavaliers dominating Maccabi 107-80 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The 20,562 fans in attendance witnessed Lebron James’s first appearance in a Cavaliers uniform since he left the club in free agency for the Miami Heat four years ago. [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish New York Giants Guard Plans to Fast on Yom Kippur

    Jewish New York Giants Guard Plans to Fast on Yom Kippur

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz said on Wednesday that he will not eat anything between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday in observation of Yom Kippur, ESPN reported. “If I was playing, I wouldn’t fast, because I’ve got to be able to fuel myself to play,” said the Jewish athlete, who is on short-term leave due to a toe injury. “But it’s not that tough, really. I’ll eat dinner at 5:00 Friday, then I’ll go to services and I’ll just [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.