Rabbi Reuven Mann
Rabbi, Rinat Yisrael, Plainview, NY
Earlier this month on Tuesday March 7, Yeshiva Chovavay Torah invited Rabbi Yitz Greenburg to speak about his controversial views regarding “Pluralism” and inter-faith relations. Also invited to speak was Rabbi Reuven Mann to represent a traditional Orthodox Jewish perspective on the themes addressed by Rabbi Greenburg. The following is a brief synopsis of Rabbi Mann’s speech by one of his students.
Chazal tell us that engaging in Torah study is like a pitched, no-holds-barred battle for the truth where it is not uncommon to see a two good friends arguing almost like complete strangers, and yet by the time they leave the Bais Medrash one way or the other they leave the best of friends. It is in that spirit that I wish to present the views of Rabbinical Judaism on tonight’s theme of “Pluralism” even when they may differ sharply from those of Rabbi Greenburg.
Rabbi Greenburg has criticized what he characterizes as “Absolutist” religious views as a non-Torah approach that leads to bigotry, denigration and as he correctly pointed out severe persecution of any and all who differ with one’s “Absolutist” views. I would however like to make a distinction between two different types of “Absolutist” views. The first is one of man-made religion, the other of Godly revelation. When one studies any of the many man-made religions one must be struck by the common need they seem to have to proselytize (whether with honey or vinegar) to the rest of the world – a triumphalism of sorts. They are all driven by a need to authenticate themselves by the approval of the masses to help substitute for their lack of any other kind of verification, like that which Judaism posses – that of verifiable mass revelation. For these religions it is indeed necessary to put down all others who do not conform to the truth they claim to have, as they are insecure themselves as to the veracity of their own faith.
Judaism on the other hand, as exemplified by our progenitor and forefather Abraham, shows us how one should in fact relate to others not convinced of the validity of the revelation at Sinai. Abraham went against his entire world, rejecting their idolatry for the One, true God. However it was not religious emotion or “faith” that drove our forefather to arrive at the most profound and world shattering discovery man has ever been privileged to unearth from the beautiful world around him. Rather, it was his rational faculty that guided Abraham through every stage of his investigation and led him to the idea of monotheism. It was only with this approach, that of mind over emotion, that Abraham could confidently, resolutely and with out a need for the approval of the masses, declare all other approaches as falsehoods. That said, it was Abraham – the “absolutist of absolutists” –who was also the paradigm of loving-kindness and respect for his fellow Man. Was it not Abraham who ran to the travelers outside his tent on the third day since his circumcision to offer them his hospitality? Was it not Abraham who displayed the utmost sensitivity when he offered his guests water to wash themselves before entering his tent (so that they should not bring in the dust on their feet which they worshiped) in an unconfrontational and respective manner? Yet this is the same Abraham who unabashedly declared all prevalent religions of his time false, and all its supposed prophets’ charlatans!
One must always use the mind as the final and sole arbiter in determining the correct religion. It was this approach, which Moses demonstrated at the burning bush when he asked God both what “name” (ideas about God) he should say sent him and for what “reason” (signs) the people should believe he was a true Prophet sent by God. Moses understood that even in the desperate plight as slaves in Egypt the Jews would require proof that he was a legitimate savior. What other world leader ever bothered with “proving” himself to such a desperate group of people?
We see further that this standard in no way limits itself to Jews, as the Torah tells us repeatedly through the signs and wonders preformed in Egypt the Egyptians (the world) would come to know God. And again in connection with the Golden Calf, Moses’ arguments to God to spare the people, concerned what “Egypt would say about God” by ascribing weakness to him, saying God could only take them out of Egypt but was not strong enough to bring them into the land of Israel. We see that the Torah is concerned that all mankind achieve a proper understanding of God, whether that ultimate objective is accomplished through the 613 Commandments or the 7 Noachide Laws: there is only one religious truth that applies to all people. This is clearly so, as all people were created in the “image” of God and partake of the same essence, the divine soul.
However as the Rambam points out in his Mishneh Torah (code of Jewish Law) in the section on the Fundamentals of Torah it was not through miracles that the Jews became convinced of the veracity of Moses’ prophecy, as miracles lend themselves to doubt and eventual rejection. Rather, it was only through the mass revelation at Mt. Sinai where the entire people heard the “voice” of God from amidst the fire. It was through this alone that the people believed forever and with out any doubt in God and his prophet Moses.
The Torah itself proclaims that it is eternal, i.e. that it will never be abrogated by any other law as it says, “It was revealed to us and our sons until forever to do all the words of this Torah (Deuteronomy 29:28).” In addition the Torah tells us that it is perfect and may not be altered in any way, either through addition or subtraction, as the pasuk tells us, “Every matter that I have commanded you about it to guard and do, you may not add upon it or subtract from it (Deuteronomy 13:1).” Even further, the Torah states that it is exclusive, that it is the only revelation that God will give to mankind, “It (the Torah) is not in heaven (Deuteronomy 30:12).”
Thus any claim that God wants to abolish replace or in any way alter the Torah with any other alternative system of law, is by definition contrary to the Torah and automatically false. Anyone bearing such a message and claiming to be a prophet is immediately rejected and denounced as a false prophet (and executed). It would not matter if that false prophet preformed even the most impressive miracles to verify his claim because miracles cannot authenticate that which we know to be false. The Torah itself tells us that it is entirely possible that a false prophet’s claim could be accompanied by miracles, “Do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of a dream, for HaShem your God is testing you to know whether you love HaShem your God with all your heart and all your soul (Deuteronomy 13:4).” In fact the Torah expressly states in the pasuk previously quoted that if such an event were to ever occur, where a false prophet preformed miracles in an attempt to authenticate himself, that this would be a test (“menaseh”) from God to see if we are secure in the foundations of our emunah (belief). For example, what if someone claimed that the Holocaust never occurred and to prove it, he told the world that he would return the World Trade Center towers to lower Manhattan – exactly as they were – with all of those killed, waiting to greet their loved one’s…and he performed that astounding miracle?! (This is entirely possible according to Torah, as Resurrection will occur). However, would such a miraculous demonstration cause anyone to doubt that Holocaust indeed occurred? Anyone who would accept something he knows to false because of the “miraculous”, would be in denial of a fundamental principle of Torah: miracles cannot disprove truths.
It is with this set of standards that the Torah-oriented man approaches all claims of Divine revelation – be they from a Jew or Gentile. It is with this set of standards that one can know with certainty that Christianity for example is surely false. For one, Jesus passed none of the requirements of a prophet (as mandated by Halacha, Jewish Law) let alone Messiah, be they his personal stature or even the signs by which we could verify his prophecy or Messianic candidacy (see Rambam in his section on Kings and the Fundamentals of Torah for these requirements). But the point of most significance is that even had Jesus met and passed every relevant test, the moment he abolished a single ordinance of the Law exposed him as the charlatan he was.
I would add further that when one also considers the claim that “Jesus was God Himself” or that “God could be killed” any rational person would know immediately that he is dealing with a charlatan. Nothing is more absurd or offensive to reason than the Christian notion of “deicide.” Our concept of God is that He the only true existence, He exists by nature and is the sole source of the existence of everything else. Thus says the Rambam (in the Fundamentals of Torah Ch.1) if we could imagine that He did not exist, then nothing else could exist. However, if everything else were to cease to exist He alone would exist, as everything else requires God. God however, is a completely independent existence.
Therefore the notion of “deicide,” of man “killing” God reflects a complete lack of any serious concept of the Creator of the universe, and is in fact the most perverse thought that could enter into the human mind. Yet the sheer absurdity of the “crime” did not prevent Christians from severely persecuting, to the point of mass murder, the Jews throughout history. I would ask the following to those Christians who posit this notion of deicide: “Did we kill God? Is He dead? If so, then there is no God and not much to argue about. Or if you prefer to say that God is still ‘alive’ and that we didn’t succeed in ‘killing’ Him, then it would seem only fair to reduce the charges against Jews to ‘attempted’ murder?”
The point being of course that one must conclude that Christianity and all other man-made religions are fabrications and falsehoods. However that does not mean that it is correct to denigrate or abuse those who have been duped by the biggest con in history. Rather, one should turn to the example of Abraham as we discussed earlier and treat all of mankind with dignity and respect. Man was after all created in “the image of his Creator,” and therefore demands respect as an extension of respect to God Himself. This does not mean however that one can compromise on that which matters most and refuse to call a lie a “lie”.
The approach of Torah is to live according to the Law that God gave to mankind at Mt. Sinai. Whether as a Jew, one observes his 613 Commandments, or as a Gentile, keeping at least their 7 Commandments (Gentiles may voluntarily accept upon themselves virtually all of the 613 if they so desire). All of mankind should use their free will and rational faculty (Tzelem Elokim, “image of God”) as the sole guide in their approach to serving their Creator. The ideal model for mankind is one where all of man-kind recognize, not as an article of faith but as a resolute point of conviction, the Oneness of God and observe His Law, the practice of which is to be dictated by God’s designated teachers. This is the national destiny that the Torah referred to at Mt. Sinai when God charged the people of Israel to become a “kingdom of priests and holy nation.” It is only then the Torah tells us that the world will say, “truly this is a wise and discerning nation.”