Last week, two orthodox, New York Rabbis – Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Rabbi Reuven Mann – presented to Columbia University students and concerned community members, opposing views on Judaism’s assessment of “Pluralism”: the view that God endorses and inspired plural religions, and not just Judaism. I attended this forum, and will offer my response next week in a special JewishTimes issue, featuring Rabbi Reuven Mann’s rejoinder to Rabbi Greenberg. Rabbi Mann’s sound reasoning, loyal to both the Torah verses and our foremost authorities like Maimonides, is required reading and will be next week’s feature article.
The concept of Pluralism suggests various paths to God, a dangerous position. As an introduction to next week’s issue on this theme, I refer to this week’s Parsha, specifically, the sin of the Gold Calf. What was that sin? What can we learn from it? And, could the Gold Calf rear its ugly head again in today’s modern culture and Jewish communities?
Upon the Jews miscount of a complete 40 days – Moses’ scheduled descent from Mt. Sinai – the Jews approached Aaron, asking him to “make for us gods that will go before us, for this Moses, the man, who took us out of Egypt, we know not what has happened to him.” (Exod. 32:1) In verse 4 after the Gold Calf’s creation, the Egyptians who joined the Jews in their mass exodus, told the Jews: “these are your gods Israel, which took you out of Egypt.” (Rashi, 32:4) Ramban comments, “No fool in the world would think that this gold that was in their ears (from which they crafted the calf) is the God that took them out of Egypt. Rather [they felt] some ‘force’ of this form [the Calf] is what took them out.” Ramban adds that the Jews did not think this Calf was God, but a replacement for Moses, as the verse above indicates. So if the Jews did not think the Gold Calf was God, what was their sin?
In his Mishneh Torah, Maimonides formulates Jewish laws with the height of precision, succinct and exact verbiage, and refined definitions. His opening chapters in Laws of Star Worship (idolatry) are essential to our discussion on Pluralism. Maimonides defines the “great error” of the original idol worshippers, who originated as star worshippers. Their mistake was in assuming that God’s designation of the stars as ‘governing the universe’ was an honor God bestowed upon the stars, which in fact earned them the right to be worshipped, praised, glorified and honored, since the stars minister before God. These star worshippers assumed this ‘greatness’. Maimonides states these worshippers thought they fulfilled God’s will with their idolatry, but Maimonides calls this “evil thought”. Maimonides is quite clear: these worshippers did not assume God not to exist, but rather, as he quotes from Jeremiah “Who does not fear You, King of the nations”. (Jeremiah, 10:7,8) But their error was in thinking such star worship to be God’s will. (ibid, 1:1)
In chapter 2, Maimonides makes a number of salient points when formulated laws concerning idolatry:
“The central command against idolatry is not to worship anything created.” (2:1)
“One must not go astray in the thoughts of his heart to serve these [idols, stars] that they should be an intermediary between you and God.” (2:1)
“And not only is idolatry prohibited to go astray after it in thought, but any thought that causes man to uproot a fundamental of the Torah, we are warned not to enter it into our hearts.” (2:3)
“Any Jewish heretic (apikores) is no longer Jewish in any measure, and is never received in his repentance, forever.” “And the heretics are those who go astray after their hearts’ thoughts in their foolish words that they state, until they violate the Torah’s fundamentals, despicably in spite with an outstretched hand, and they claim that they are not sinning. It is forbidden to speak with them and to respond upon them with any response at all.” (2:5)
“And anyone who admits to idolatry that it is truth, even though he does not worship [himself] he disgraces and scorns God’s honored and awesome name.” (2:6)
Heavy words? Yes, as it is a heavy crime, for which a heretic “cannot repent”, and causes others to forfeit their eternal souls as well. One we encounter such heretics in our course of teaching Torah, we must disengage, for one who admits of the truth of idolatry, blasphemes God’s name. It would then be our obligation to steer others away from hearing such heresy, as Maimonides does himself, with his very words here. “Not responding at all to them”, must then be understood as in-person “interfaith dialogue” with any idolater, or Jew, who accepts another religion, or another religion’s heresy. And as Maimonides teaches in with his very writings in this chapter, we must teach and write against heretics and heresy.
But whom did Maimonides define as a heretic?
“And the heretics are those who go astray after their hearts’ thoughts in their foolish words that they state, until they violate the Torah’s fundamentals, despicably in spite with an outstretched hand, and they claim that they are not sinning.”
Meaning, if any Jew says his heretical opinions are not sins – claiming his view represents the Torah – this person is a heretic, and no Jew is allowed to speak to him. And what would be a heretical position? Maimonides says that which “violates Torah’s fundamentals”. Finally, what is a Torah fundamental? Well, Maimonides has already classified his 13 Principles…one if which is that God is not akin to the physical world, and another, that the Torah is true. Therefore, any position that contradicts the Torah or claims that God is physical, is a violation of fundamentals, it defines one as a heretic, and prohibits any Jew from engaging with him or her in dialogue.
Christianity claims that God became man (Jesus). Christianity altered the Torah, claiming, “Jesus died for our sins”, which contradicts God, “Each man in his own sin will die” (Deut. 24:16) Christianity embodies these two heresies exactly. Now, if any Jew would suggest that from Jesus or Christianity represent truth, or worse, that this religion is inspired by God…such a person is a heretic. This must be clear to you: any Jew who claims Judaism accepts Jesus or Christianity, denies Torah fundamentals, and according to Maimonides, is a heretic.
It must be clear to our Gentile readers as well as our Jewish readers, that Judaism in no way accepts Jesus, Christianity or any other religion. This is not animosity towards a “people”, but a denial of dangerous notions that cause man to lose his one and only chance at life. Christianity had no revelation from God; yet, they lie to their adherents, and as Islam, they both wage crusades against non-believers, since reason and proofs are not on their side. It would be evil for anyone to remain silent, when he or she can redirect lost souls – Jew or Gentile – toward a life of truth. God gave one religion, and no proof exists to contradict this. It is also the Jews’ obligation not to seek approval from other religions, but conversely, to openly and honestly expose the falsehoods that exist in idolatrous religions, or religions that deviate from God’s only Judaic religion. To do otherwise is cruel to other peoples, who God created equally as He created Abraham’s descendants. The Noachide movement – and I know some special Noachides who far exceed many Jews in their perfection – is a grand display of thinking individuals who questioned their Christian roots, and realized “fallacy I have inherited from my forefathers”. (Maimonides’ Laws of Kings, 11:12) They studied Torah, and realized with thought and proofs, that only Judaism is of Divine Origin.
Those Jews who seek “Interfaith Dialogue” are hurting everyone involved. They hurt Christians, as they communicate acceptance for an idolatrous religion maintaining ludicrous postulates: “God is killed, He becomes man, and then changes His mind and alters His previous Torah”. And they hurt Jews, as their dialogue communicates a denial of clear, Torah fundamentals. These Jews will sell their souls, and sell out Judaism and God…all for what? Publicity? Acceptance? Money? Fame? What these corrupt, Jews-turned-heretics care for more, is human applause. But they forget that in a few years, they have to answer to God.
God’s Torah system demands that three commands never be violated, even when faced with death: adultery, murder, and idolatry. This teaches how far we must go to avert anything idolatrous. If anyone – Rabbis included – claim any recognition for idolatry, Jesus or Christianity, we must be careful not to let our fears, or their reputations cloud our knowledge of God’s words. We must not “fear man.” (Deut. 18:22) We must be concerned for others, and speak the truth with clarity and passion, explaining the evil and dangers involved, and never compromise that, which our minds tell us is false. It is then up to those listening to determine for themselves if they find truth in our words. And it is up to them to decide their actions. All we can do is educate…and we must.
The sin of the Gold Calf was one where man did not say the Calf was God, but they assumed this was “God’s will”, the identical sin Maimonides describes regarding the first star worshippers. When man assumes he knows God’s will for religious practice, man violates the prohibition of idolatry. Be it the Jews at Mt. Sinai, or a Rabbi today leading Jews astray to accept Jesus, (excusing Jesus as a “failed Messiah, and not a false one”), both violate idolatry; both claim, “there is no sin as I represent Judaism”, and both are classified as heretics, with whom dialogue is prohibited. Both are imposters.
Unfortunately, today, the Gold Calf is alive and well, cloaking itself as a Rabbi. It is therefore more vital than ever that Jewish educators incorporate Judaism’s fundamentals into their curriculums. For if a Rabbi can fall prey to other religions, certainly with no education of our fundamentals, our children will also succumb.
There exists only one “mankind”. Therefore, there can exist only one best lifestyle, meaning, one true religion, equally applicable to all cultures and nations. As we all descend from the same couple, Adam and Eve, we all are one mankind. Every single man and woman is identical, psychologically and metaphysically – despite race or nationality. Therefore, there are no grounds to suggest identical beings require divergent religions. God certainly did not say so, therefore, do not fear man.
I truly hope that more educators and Rabbis will be less fearful of human opinion than of God, taking pride in our heritage, and taking responsibility to speak out against blatant violations of our fundamentals in our Jewish communities. For it is lies that require the constant alliance of mans lips to exist, while truth needs no defense and can be readily seen, if taught. So speak the truth. Others will recognize it, for God’s world corroborates truth. Do not allow this generation to become Pluralists. We will continue next week.