Two weeks ago in New York City, Rabbi Reuven Mann and Rabbi Yitz Greenburg delivered individual addresses to Columbia University collegiates and a communal body of Jews concerned to understand Orthodox Judaism’s position on “pluralism”. Rabbi Greenburg was the presenter of his “pluralistic Judaism”, and Rabbi Reuven Mann was invited to present a rejoinder.
Rabbi Greenburg defined “pluralism” in this context, as referring to the “equal recognition of one religionist, by another”. An example would be a Christian who equally recognizes Judaism, validating “multiple paths to God”, where both religions possess God’s inspiration and Divine Revelation. The question addressed by these two Rabbis, was whether Judaism equally recognizes Christianity’s claim of Divine origin.
Pluralism Supported: Rabbi Greenburg
Rabbi Yitz Greenburg presented first with his arguments: “Judaism must recognize that God inspired Christianity; that Christianity possesses praiseworthy tenets; and that Jews must treat Christians peaceably. I cannot accept that only a few million Jews live correctly, while the remainder of the world’s 6 billion will go to hell.” Rabbi Greenburg supported the merits of Christianity based on Christian care shelters in third world countries that attract successful businessmen to leave their riches, and care for their deformed infants. Such acts of kindness – he claimed – endorse Christianity as a Divine religion. He said he learned much from such acts of kindness, reforming him from his view of Christians as people with little to teach him, to a people with much to offer, and members of a “Divinely inspired” religion. Rabbi Greenburg said he also learned much from Christians during his interfaith dialogues and interactions over the years. He said, “It is garish and grotesque to feel one (read “a Jew”) has all the answers, and that others are wrong.” He cited some of today’s orthodox Jews who proliferate this sentiment that other religions are “sub-human”.
Rabbi Reuven Mann then commenced his position on pluralism. He started, citing the principle of “Vahave B’Sufa” (Num. 21:14) a cryptic reference to the love (“vahave” = love) experienced at the end of the Jews’ travels (“sufa” = end). Rabbi Mann equated that reference to the need for all debates to conclude as well in love, that no animosity should exist or remain after heated discussions. Torah discussions and studies demand that all egos be “checked at the door”, and are about searching for truth, not personalities. Rabbi Mann wished to preserve peaceable discussions, without compromising a search for the truth. He later praised Rabbi Greenburg’s willingness to openly present his views.
Rabbi Mann discussed the need to separate personal preferences and beliefs, from the search for truth. Thus, a falsehood spoken by a compassionate person is no truer, than a falsehood spoken by a liar. He went on to isolate the phenomena of “faith” in all religions outside Judaism. He described the manner in which faith is an automatic, a blindly accepted means where one assumes he is in line with a true system. But this, Rabbi Mann said, is baseless; as it is impossible to automatically know what God is, or if one is in line with His will, unless God communicates this. He explained how no other religion claims Divine Revelation, and therefore, all claims of possessing God’s word must be false.
Rabbi Mann commented on the absence in the world’s religions of any prescribed means to approach God. It is assumed by other religionists that any imagined means, might lead them to God. Such a religious creed is false, as are all other human imaginations. Now, due to the falsehood of this first mistake, other religions follow with another error: proselytizing. Rabbi Mann explained that Judaism does not proselytize others, as we have the truth, and observe the protection of each individual’s right to choose, all religionists included. Imposition is not the Jewish way. But other religions are insecure about their systems, since the truly know they have no basis or defense of their tenets, as all is based on blind faith. Thus, Judaism presents a threat, and religions like Christianity and Islam respond, resorting to Jihads and Crusades, where “triumph” is their barometer of veracity. Of course, this is foolish, as triumphs merely reflect military prowess, and not validity of religious positions.
Conversely, Abraham used intelligent arguments to help others. He was compassionate for all peoples, not viewing himself any greater, and serviced others by waiting on them, providing meals to wayfarers, and taking his precious time to educate them on true philosophical truths, while exposing the harms and fallacies of idolatry in a gentle manner. This is the way of Judaism. As Jeremiah states, “be wise and know Me.” (Jer. 9:23) God states that wisdom is the only path to Him…not imagined feelings, or crusades on innocents. Moses too followed Abraham’s methods, claiming the Jews would not believe him without proof. (Exod. 4:1) Therefore, God gave Moses miracles to convey that God did in fact select Moses. God endorsed Moses’ correct thinking, that intelligent proofs accompany all claims.
But miracles must be understood, and the miracles at Mount Sinai, more than all others. We do not follow miracles unless they prove a truth. For example, if someone was to create a miracle, resurrecting the Twin Towers and all who perished, simultaneously claiming the Holocaust never transpired, we would not agree with his historical revisionism, despite his fantastic miracle. So too, we would not give any credence to Jesus, had he performed any miracle, (which were never substantiated) while instructing man to violate God’s words. Miracles serve to validate a truth, but do not create impossibilities or endorse lies.
God’s revelation on Mount Sinai was, and remains, a phenomenon unique throughout all history. No time before or after has God created a mass revelation, giving man a religion. God’s very commands (Deut. 13:1) “The entire matter which I command to you, it shall you guard; do not add to it, and do not detract from it ” attest to God’s will to never inspire any other religion. So many Torah verses also repeat the idea of the eternal and exclusive nature of Torah.
No religion but Judaism possesses this claim of Divine Revelation before masses. And oddly enough, other religions retain this story in their books as a truth. But Sinai was not a miracle to validate something else, but a miracle to introduce a new truth: that God selected one people, and gave them one law, and He did so in plain sight of millions so as to survive all generations as an everlasting truth. Any other miracle performed by a charlatan, claiming any part of the Torah is false, by definition, is of no concern to us. A miracle cannot deny historical truths, and also, no miracles are recorded by other religions…they merely purport the words of the few, which are inconclusive. Sinai remains the exclusive event in world history where God gave a religion to man, and where that event, thousands of years later, remains proven. This is why Judaism is accepted as God’s true and only religion, and all others are imposters.
God’s Torah is eternal, and God said to never add or subtract to it. All Jewish prophets came only to admonish the Jews to observe the Torah, and never once altered a word.
Rabbi Mann concluded with his genuine concern for the current state of affairs of world Jewry. Jews favor “miracle workers”, amulets, and Rabbis’ blessings, and not God’s methods of wisdom and intelligent proofs taught by Abraham, Moses and all our prophets. Rabbi Mann was emphatic regarding the dire need for Judaism’s fundamental truths to regain optimum focus in schools. It is the absence of these tenets that allows for fallacies as “pluralism” to gain a foothold.
Commentary: My reaction is that many Jews do in fact view other religionists as lesser peoples. However, this is wrong, and is not the Torah’s position, as God wills all people exist with intelligence. The very institution of converts proves human equality, as does Talmud Sanhedrin 59a, which states that a Gentile who studies Torah is equal to a High Priest. But we must be clear: this is no way supports the view that other religions are Divinely inspired. Rabbi Greenburg cited Bilaam as “proof” that God inspires other religions. The clear rejection of his claim is that God’s prophecy to Bilaam was for the sake of praising Israel – not to give a new religion. To the contrary, many Torah sources emphatically disprove Rabbi Greenburg’s position.
Last week in Parshas Ki Tisa, Moses says the following (Exod. 33:16,17)
“And how will it be known that I have found favor in Your site [for] I and my people? Is it not in Your going with us, and in your distinguishing I and my people from all nations on the face of the Earth? And God said to Moses, ‘Also this matter of which you speak, I will do, for you have found favor in My eyes, and I know you by name’.”
Rashi: “Also this matter I will do: I will No longer rest My presence on the idolatrous nations. And the words of Bilaam were not through Divine inspiration.”
The facts are clear: Moses asks that God relate to the Jews exclusively, and God agrees. Rashi also refutes Rabbi Greenburg’s assumption that Bilaam evidenced God’s inspiration for other nations: Bilaam’s “quasi prophecy” was to praise God, Torah, and the Jews.
Before receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai, God tells Moses to tell the people this (Exod. 19:4-6):
“You have seen what I have done to Egypt and that I carried you on the wings of eagles, and I brought you to Me. And now, if you surely listen to My voice, and you guard My covenant, then you will be to Me a treasure over all peoples, for Mine is all the Earth. And you will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation: these are the words that you shall speak to the Children of Israel.”
Rashi explains these verses (Exod. 19:5):
“And you shall guard my covenant”: that I make with you on account of your abiding by My Torah.
“And you will be a treasure to Me from all other nations”: A beloved treasure, as a treasure room of kings, fine vessels and precious stones which kings store away. So too you will be to Me, a treasure from the rest of the nations. But do not say that you (Israel) alone are Mine, and that I have no others with you. [I, God, treasure all people.] However, what more do I have that My love for you is recognized? ‘For Mine is the entire Earth’, and they are before Me as nothing.”
Rashi teaches that Israel has nothing more than other nations, “do not say that you (Israel) alone are Mine, and that I have no others with you.” Meaning, all peoples are created equal. So wherefrom is Israel’s “treasured” status? The last part of verse 5 answers this: “For Mine is the entire Earth, and they are before Me as nothing.” “Mine is the entire Earth,” means all peoples are “created” equal. The Jew is treasured only by God’s despising the nations’ idolatry: “they are before Me as nothing” means due to their sin, the Jew is treasured by default…provided we observe God’s laws.
This was an essential lesson before the Jews received the Torah. The Jew sins philosophically, thinking he is better than others. For God did not create “Jew” and “Gentile”, rather, man and woman. All members of mankind share the same ancestors, Adam and Eve. How then can the Jew think he is better? Receiving the Torah on Sinai carried the prospect of the Jews’ haughtiness. These verses intended to correct the problem before it started. However, this only resolves the question as to whether one man is “designed” greater than another. The answer is we are all identical. But this cannot be confused with a completely separate issue: to whom God gave a religion. This latter question Rashi answered: “Also this matter I will do. I will No longer rest My presence on the idolatrous nations. And the words of Bilaam were not through Divine inspiration.” So we conclude: God created all men equal, but gave a religion to the Jews alone.
If this is not clear enough, let us read one more verse (Deut. 4:6). Moses tells the Jews the following:
“And you shall guard the and do them (the Mitzvos) for they are your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations who will hear all these statutes and state, ‘Truly, what a wise and understanding people is the great nation!’. And what great nation has God close to them as our God, anytime we call to Him?”
Moses tells the Jews that they have a Torah system at which the other nations will marvel with astonishment. It is clear: the other nations do not possess a system with such perfectly reasonable statutes, nor do they have God so close to them. The fact that the other nations will be so impressed with our system and our God is because they are bereft of both.
After his presentation, during a brief question and answer session, I made two comments and asked one question to Rabbi Greenburg. I disagreed with Rabbi Greenburg that God would not destroy world population sparing only those who follow His Torah, and cited the Flood as proof that masses possess no inherent value, and that God kills Torah violators, regardless of numbers. Here, Rabbi Greenburg incorrectly projected his wishes onto reality, as we know historically, the truth is otherwise. Although Rabbi Greenburg’s forgiving nature and soft-spoken approach arouses some sympathy for other religions, such emotional sentiments are dangerous, and also caused the downfall of King Saul. God refused King Saul’s further reign due to that very sympathy for the evil king Agag, forerunner of Haman. Here as well, sympathy cannot decide God’s word...Torah alone is our guide.
Regarding whether Christian kindness is akin in any measure to God’s view in the Torah, Rabbi Reuven Mann later discussed that although visibly similar, Christian kindness must maintain a different and corrupt sense of kindness, since Christian kindness is framed by Christian values: their kindness might even extend to a murderer pleading for mercy. In such a case, Judaism would demand death for a bleeding terrorist, while we witness other religionists hospitalizing the Arafat’s of the world, showing mercy to child killers. Although Rabbi Greenburg’s argument for Christians who care for deformed children is highly charged with pitiful feelings, we cannot condone a system of kindness, which also medically treats killers. An evaluation of any system demands that all professed beliefs be evaluated, as a collective whole. Therefore, if any system harbors destructive kindness, then the entire system is corrupt. It is difficult for the masses – Jews included – to favor a colder, clearer justice, which generates guilt for feeling negativity toward a group who cares for deformed babies. However, honesty and a clear attachment to God’s morality is what God and reason demands. Therefore, our emotions must be ruled by our intelligence, and not the reverse. Many times, it is our feeling of guilt and subsequent reluctance to condemn a group, which causes so many poor and dangerous decisions. Israel’s current belief that it can make peace with our venomous enemy is a case and point.
After commenting, I requested of Rabbi Greenburg that he support his claim that Christianity was divinely inspired, as is Judaism. But he did not respond. Once during his delivery, he cited Bilaam as an indication that God gives a divine message to other peoples. But we have dismissed that reasoning already.
Not only did Rabbi Greenburg fail to make any case, but also his position is clearly heretical, for he denies the Torah fundamentals of God giving a religion to man only once, (Exod. 19:9; Deut. 5:19; Maimonides’ 8th & 9th Principles) and that we must not learn from the other religions (Deut. 18:9).
After Rabbi Mann’s presentation, loyal to Torah verses, and engaging sound reasoning, I am assured he reached others, as one of the students proved with his questions on Rabbi Greenburg’s claims, using Rabbi Mann’s proofs as support. I am enthused that Chachamim such as Rabbi Mann exist, sincere individuals concerned that Torah retains its pristine and unique message, synonymous with honesty, truth and wisdom. Rabbi Mann presented Judaism accurately and exactly, as he called it, an “absolutist” system, where pluralism is not possible, since truth is inherently singular.
Judaism and truth do not tolerate dilution, or any compromise whatsoever, as God demanded in His Torah that we not add to, or subtract from His words. No Talmudic Rabbi, Sage or orthodox leader ever claimed that we make any concessions in Torah, regardless of any consideration. Not one Jewish leader entertained pluralism as a Torah notion.
Rabbi Greenburg does not represent Judaism since he is at odds with our Fundamentals. It is worthwhile at this point to review Maimonides’ words, (Laws of Idolatry, chap II)
“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 heart’s 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)
For Rabbi Greenburg to claim he presents “Judaism”, simultaneously claiming “God inspired other religions” he commits the very crime of heresy outlined above by Maimonides, as he contradicts God’s many words in our precious Torah. I have also heard of other Rabbis following this sin, but thankfully, being forced to retract by the honest masses. It appears that such Rabbis succumb to the need for human approval by placating Christians, than living by honestly and defending truth and God’s word.
While Judaism teaches that all men are equal at birth, Judaism also teaches that any denial of truth be avoided. It must be clear: we do not argue on individual religionists, who live and die, but on false ideas. Christian and Muslim infants inculcated into those beliefs are not the issue, but it is religious doctrine that requires a careful analysis and refutation, so as to deflect their harm from all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike. As they possess no proof of Divine origin, these religions are lies, and no good can come from incorporating lies into one’s life. As Jews, we must teach Judaism and recognize when we are being taught that which is not Judaism, and condemn it outright, as Maimonides has done above.
Reason teaches that one religion alone can be true: there is only one mankind – there can be only one religion.