Letters: March 4, 2005
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Reader: I came to http://www.mesora.org because I have to give a 45-minute presentation on Judaism at a local hospital. For the purposes of my lecture, I wanted to be very practical and did not want to use reference materials. I found your site through a link on the US Navy web page. Since I teach university courses related to world religions, cultural anthropology and the like, I research Judaism on a regular basis. Also, I studied Hebrew at Congregation Ohev Shalom with Rabbi Adler in the late 1970s. Later, I studied under a renowned Hebrew language scholar at Emory University who translated sections of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Recently, I attended a series of lectures from the ”biblical” archeologist who discovered the silver scrolls that contain the Aaronic blessing. The text dates to the first Temple period. The implications are very exciting for those of us who are looking for reasons not to be minimalists! Finally, I was very happy when my brother and his family converted to Judaism 10 years ago. In fact, my sister-in-law edits the Jewish Newspaper for her region. As such, I should not be considered hostile to Judaism. I consider myself to be a friend of Jewry and contend with all colleagues who advocate a pro-Palestinian position.
However, I am quite disturbed by the arrogance and blatant hostility that I discovered on your site. Quite frankly, I am offended that you go out of your way to insult Christian believers. Surely, the Jewish Defense League and other Jewish organizations would not want others to do the same to Jewish believers. The Jewish people need friends if they are to survive in the modern world. In your listed links, I did not read any articles on Islam or Buddhism. Islam considers itself to be an Abrahamic religion and has a great deal to say about Judaism and its prophets. Everyone knows that many Jews actively combine (syncretism) their faith with aspects of other religions and New Age spirituality. Why not confront that? It is commonly stated that you can be a Jew and anything else except a Jewish Christian. Christianity is not your enemy. Atheism and secularism are. Ironically, most Jews have been strong advocates of the secular state and promoted it for obvious reasons. In due time, they have fallen victims to its seduction and have ceased to be observant. Marx, Freud, and Boaz are prime examples.
Interestingly, secularism is becoming a spent force in the West. Many post-modern Americans are searching for G-d and authentic spirituality. Even though they have Christian ancestors, most are not committed to a historical faith or a set of dogmas. As you know, many are turning to Judaism and alternative religions. Secularism has leveled the playing field in the West and no religion has a home field advantage. If you believe that G-d intended Judaism to be a universal faith and that the Creator wants the nations to conform to His will and that Judaism has a global message to share with all peoples (e.g., Psalm 96 or Exodus 19), you should find a positive way to tell your story. Attacking Christians only serves to make potential converts and Jewish sympathizers hostile to you and your religion.
I am not a theologian, but I could easily dismantle most of the diatribes that you hurled at Jesus and Christianity. You are not convincing. In your material, you have not tried to be objective, engaged in critical thinking or taken the counterpoint seriously. (It is clear that you hate Christianity and Christian missionaries.) Rather, you have written with a venom that causes others to respond with anger. Your material does not reflect well on you or on modern Judaism. In fact, your material is so inflammatory that it violates certain laws related to hate language. You do not speak for Judaism and you are not in the mainstream of American religious thought.
Bill Payne, Ph.D.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Bill, I understand that when I write against Christianity (not against Christians as you will see in my articles) that certain Christians will feel “attacked”. That is not my intent, and I make this clear. I have no “hate” towards Christians, or any other group. Just this week, I asked my Christian friend how his search for a kidney donor is going, and if I could announce his need on my Mesora website to excel his search.
You also will find that your assumption that I write against Christianity alone is false. See this week’s issue of the JewishTimes where a number of Rabbis joined me in condemning Judaism.com – a Jewish organization that is in violation of our Torah prohibition of idolatry through selling charm bracelets. We speak out just as loud towards Jews. See our site for articles, which unveil the fallacies in Islam, in Buddhism, and in Jewish groups. Our JewishTimes issue #146 addresses this. Please also see our JewishTimes (#149 and #150), and read them cover to cover: http://www.mesora.org/jewishtimes
I have made it sufficiently clear in my articles that as Jews, we owe it to other religions not to conceal arguments against your views simply to gain your support, or keep relations “friendly”. Rather, we must be honest and openly educate you on God’s words, which we received at Sinai. He desires the good for all peoples, and desires that all follow His one ‘book’. He desires the Jew to transmit His Bible to the world, explaining its reasoning. Jews are no better than Gentiles, and our concern for the Gentile is expressed equally to our concern for our own: that is through education with no mitigating factors.
If someone seeks the truth, he will be obligated to speak out, and I do this. If someone as yourself has an argument against something that I write, I wish to hear your points. If they are valid, I will certainly retract anything proven to be incorrect. I have done so before.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Reader: Finally, a rabbi that has the courage and wisdom to announce that Christianity and Jesus worship are idolatry. I’m converting from Catholicism after years of discomfort over that very issue, and this is the first time I’ve seen a rabbi admit what everyone else (at least in the Conservative movement) wants to gloss over: We are not like the rest of the world - we do not have the option of cozying up to the pagan gods and idols of the goyim - Hashem has called us to serve Him. Yes, we can have goy friends, but we are not to take on their practices and ways. That was the whole point of taking us out of Egypt. Please tell this loudly and forcefully to our fellow Jews.
Reader: I would like to ask you a question that I am having a problem with. In the Guide, it seems that the Rambam feels that an individual is born and learns the difference between good and bad from his environment. Granted, I believe that he would hold that even in the womb a child begins his learning. This is much like Immanuel Kant’s philosophy. However, in his laws of “Gifts of the Poor”, the Rambam states something extremely perplexing. The Rambam here states regarding one who is not charitable, that we may suspect his lineage (that he may not be of Abraham’s descent). I don’t understand how he could have made this statement. How can a good trait be based on genes? I understand that one who gives charity is ‘like’ Avraham, but surely there are others in this world that are large on charity and have no connection to Avraham (understanding that Avraham does not equal just Judaism). It would have sufficed to state what he stated in the beginning of the halacha (that one who gives charity is from the seed of Avraham). In this case I would be forced to say that ‘seed’ could mean ‘likeness to’. But he continued and stated what we stated before. Furthermore, it would be safe to assume that one who is charitable; we may suspect his lineage of being from Abraham’s descendents. I have a serious problem with this statement, as I understand it currently. What are your thoughts?
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Pinchas, the safest answer is the one, which assumes the least. Here, I suggest that one of “Abraham’s lineage” means one who adheres to Abraham’s ‘ways’. One, who shares a lineage, also identifies with the founder, with Abraham. I don’t think it rational to suggest there is a gene in Jews, which creates more charitable feelings. Nor do I suggest there is a gene in others, which makes them more hostile. Rather, a culture’s continued adherence to a system will foster certain beliefs, identifications and even character traits amongst its adherents. This shared ideology and character is that, to what Rambam refers.
Reader: Thank you very much for replying to my e-mails. I have another question, if I may? I can’t seem to understand the position of the Rambam specifically regarding the tsunami. It seems that in the piece of the Moreh that you quoted, he states:
“This evil may be part of the natural constitution of these persons, or may have developed subsequently in consequence of changes in the elements, e.g., through bad air, or thunderstorms or landslips.”
I find it easier to think along these lines while looking from the outside in (myself not affected physically by the tsunami). However, placing myself in a position whereby I was, G-d forbid, affected it now becomes much more difficult to understand. In the chapter on fast days the Rambam states in chapter 1,2-3 what seems to me the opposite. Here every individual must pray and repent for any trouble and must not say that it is “the way of the world” and “that their trouble is a matter of pure chance”. This thinking will only increase their troubles. “If, when I bring this trouble on you in order for you to repent, and you say that the trouble is accidental, then I will add to your trouble the fury appropriate to such an ‘accident’!”
How can I better understand these rather conflicting opinions? On the one hand science has it that nature shall act adversely in situations such as this (being that the earth is composed of these elements). But on the other hand, it is quite clear that anyone affected must understand that it was a punishment to him/her “as a consequence of his own evil deeds” (1,2).
Help! I’m perplexed...
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: As a Rabbi once taught, when God delivers tragedy (drought or wild beasts) or he delivers sufferings to the Jews as an ‘entire nation’, then it these three instances alone, we must address such cases as true punishments from God. This is a Torah obligation, as Maimonides states in 1:1 of his Laws of Taanis (Fasting). Thus, if it is a “Torah” obligation, then it only applies to those bound by Torah, i.e., Jews. Therefore, regarding tsunamis, which do not affect the Jewish nation, we are not at liberty to claim such acts as “acts of God.” The question would then be why God operates in this manner; where Jewish tragedies must be interpreted as God’s will, in contrast to other devastations which do not demand such interpretation.
Reader: Dear Rabbi, You wrote:
“What is an infant? How is it distinguished? I believe cherubs are to embody man who is not yet distorted; he does not yet follow the instinctual, primitive and idolatrous emotions. He is innocent. Keruvim portray man in his yet, uncorrupted state: a child. This is what the knowledge of Torah (housed under the Keruvim) target. Man should return to that state where his emotions have no affect on him.”
You write that man should return to a state where emotions have no effect on him, but is that really
what childhood is like? What happened to “man is evil from his youth.” I was thinking that children,
not been able to distinguish between good and evil, are rule by their emotions, the precise thing that
the Torah seeks to abolish from adults.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Yes, you are correct, and I was not clear. My good friend Matt Schneeweiss responded quite well in this week’s JewishTimes, the next letter.
Reader: Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim,
Would you please explain what you mean by the following statements: "I believe cherubs are to embody man who is not yet distorted; he does not yet follow the instinctual, primitive and idolatrous emotions. He is innocent . . . his emotions have no affect on him." It seems to me that the contrary is true - infants are entirely instinctual beings! Not only that, but the great psychologists tell us that all of the primitive and idolatrous are really just expressions of infantile tendencies. Also, could you clarify what you mean by the terms "not yet distorted" and "innocent"? A Rabbi once said, "the rest of the world looks at the infant as a symbol of pristine purity, but the Torah points to the infant and says, 'that being is pure yetzer hara!'" But I don't need to elaborate on my point, for the same idea has already been addressed by the King of Rational thought:
Youth (condensed version)
"Ah, the innocence of youth," I said wistfully . . .
"The innocence of youth," I said, coming back to the present. "You know. Kids are such innocent creatures. Look at them all, running around, having fun, not a care in the world."
"Innocent?" he asked. "Innocent of what?"
"Well, they haven't grown up enough to have been messed up by society. They're fresh. Unspoiled. You know. Like a baby right out of the womb."
He smiled. "You sound as if you think a baby is in a better state than an adult."
"A baby is. Well, sort of. I mean, uh, they haven't been-" I was stammering, and he just kept smiling. "Oh, you know!" I finally blurted out, unable to avoid smiling with him.
"Actually," he said, "I don't know. I agree that a baby right out of the womb may be fresh, but it's also helpless and ignorant. It has to learn virtually everything. How to walk, how to talk, how to eat,-"
"Don't forget potty training," I cut in. "I have some experience in such matters."
"That too," he replied. "And most important, a child has to be taught how to think. No baby fresh from the womb knows how to make proper analyses and conclusions or how to foresee consequences. A child has to be taught how to use its intellect."
He looked at me. "Our society, on the other hand, has it backwards. We look at children and think that they're clean and pure and pristine and that they somehow get worse or spoiled once they grow up. The truth is just the opposite. A baby is utterly helpless. Left to its own devices, it will operate strictly on its emotions and instincts, make dangerous - if not fatal - mistakes, and likely not survive. It needs adults, hopefully mature thinking adults, to carefully guide its development for many years. Longer than virtually any other mammal on the planet. 'The innocence of youth?' A more appropriate statement would be, 'the ignorance of youth'."
I did think of a possible explanation for your words. Perhaps by the term "innocent" you meant that an infant has not yet corrupted himself by allowing his emotions to overpower his intellect. In other words, the Torah is not against emotions, but rather, the Torah desires that man's intellect govern his emotions. The possession of emotions per se is not corruption - the emotions are just as much a part of our creation as our intellects. Rather, the true corruption is when man allows his instincts to overpower his rational faculty. While it is true that an infant does not fall prey to this corruption for intrinsic reasons (i.e. he has no intellect), an infant is, nevertheless, a symbol, which brings this idea to mind.
Thank you for your time,
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: I fully agree Matt, so thank you for YOUR time.