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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

December 4, 2015  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

God is great

By RABBI DAVID WEIZMAN Congregation Beth Shalom, Clearwater

Two days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, I saw a woman wearing a hijab in Chucky Cheese while attending a birthday party. Her two children were at her side as she bought tokens for the games there. I said to myself, “Are you really wearing that thing today?” Now that thought is coming from a guy who has organized and spoken on interfaith panels with Muslim community leaders, to raise awareness of Islam and its adherents. I am a guy who had his photo taken with Feisal Abdul Rauf, imam of the “Ground Zero Mosque,” a Sufi who has devoted his life to improving relations between Muslims and the West. So if I am thinking that about the hijab, maybe a few other people are as well. I wanted to ask that woman, “What does the phrase Allah Akbar mean to you?”

What did I just do in that thought process? I made all Muslims the same. We know that they are not, and that the majority of the victims of ISIS are Muslim themselves. It is those people who are seeking refuge from a civil war that has claimed more than 200,000 lives since 2011 and displaced more than 4 million. Many of these people are the victims of bombings from Bashar’s air force. So far, the U.S. has absorbed 0.0005 percent of those refugees. When the terrorists attack in the West, we suddenly feel very vulnerable, but still find it difficult to relate to the people who live like that every day.

The Torah teaches us to have compassion for others, to be kind to the stranger because we know what it’s like, (Deuteronomy 10:19). By now, we have all heard the stories recounted of Jewish refugees from Hitler, like those on the SS St Louis, which was turned away with 937 Jewish passengers. The parallel rhetoric of our politicians then and now is uncanny. It is human nature to fall prey to our own fears, but our tradition adjures us to temper those fears with rational measures of self-protection. Along with that sense of prudence we are still commanded to take responsibility for our fellow man, “Do not stand idly by the bloodshed of another” (Leviticus 19:16).

At times like these it is natural, also, to question the sense of responsibility that all Muslims have for the deplorable acts of ISIS terrorists. Some of our politicians are wary to use the term “Islamic Terrorist” for fear of alienating Muslims. Certainly, we do not want to play into the narrative and create a divide between Islam and the West. And we know that groups like ISIS are really politically motivated or imperialist. But it certainly looks like they are driven by some warped interpretation of their religion.

A couple years after 9/11, we held an inter- faith service at our synagogue. When a local imam offered a prayer from the podium, a refugee from Iraq who happens to be a physician, walked towards the speaker with his finger pointing. “I want to know why you clerics are not condemning this heresy from every pulpit” he shouted, “I don’t want to hear how Islam teaches peace!” The imam was speechless.

The day after Paris, Kash Ali’s tweet went viral: “I don’t understand why non-Muslims think we British Muslims can stop isis mate I can’t even get a text back from a girl I like and you expect me to stop a terrorist organization?”

Well Ali, many people would like to know, who will? “And if not now, when?” as Hillel asks in Pirke Avot.

In Judaism we embrace the concept of communal responsibility with a phrase from the Talmud, Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh BaZeh (Sota 37a), every Jew is responsible for one another. The principal is derived from a verse in Leviticus (26: 37), “vekashlu ish be-achiv,” “a man will stumble over his brother.” The Gemara in Shevuot (39a) explains that this means that he will stumble, “be-avon achiv,” that is- because of the sin of his fellow Jew. This is “areivut” the idea that one Jew is responsible for the sins of another Jew. So when some Jews torch an Arab home in the West Bank, every Jew around the world feels responsible for that crime. It’s not so much that the Israeli police arrest the criminals, but that World Jewry points a finger at that behavior and says, we don’t accept that, and in so doing, we reinforce the taboo against criminal behavior.

Now is the time to support the majority of Muslims around the world who are denouncing the terrorists who claim to be followers of Islam. There are some positive signs: The Indonesian Ulemas Council issued a statement saying, “it is not allowed (based the sharia) to support the ISIS, and it is clear that supporting ISIS is haram or prohibited.” But more needs to be said.

I like to remind myself of Anne Frank at times like this, who said while in the attic, “I still believe in the goodness of humanity.” I would hope that in every mosque on Friday morning and in every newspaper op-ed, and over every cup of coffee from Indonesia to Dearborn, MI, the peace loving Muslims are all talking about how they are responsible for one another, and responsible for the integrity of Islam itself, and arise to wipe out the evil from their midst.

Maybe on that day we can all proclaim, God is great.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press nor the Board of Rabbis.


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