Monday, 16 January 2017

Same enemies, different ways


I'm restarting this blog , with a weekly column every Monday.


Isn't atheist/humanist/secularism, who as a group want to ban infant male circumcision and kosher food  a worse threat to Judaism than Islamist antisemitism or  the antisemitism of the  far right?

Goodness , what a question!

My reply would be to note that Judaism , the religion, philosophy and practices , have always , from time to time , been challenged and put down. Either intellectually or physically. Not all the time, but enough that Jews haven't become complacent by being the dominant theological , political or moral influence.

 Indeed sometimes it has been as scripture says : 'justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows'(Isaiah 59:9). At  the same time it is said we are to  Tzedek tzedek tirdof: 'Justice, justice shall you pursue' (Deuteronomy 16:20).

The Rambam identifies two classes of people who  threaten  Judaism and Jews  (writing freely critiquing Islam and Christianity ,  in an Islamic country and as court physician to Saladin), the emphasis is mine :

'Ever since the time of Revelation, every despot or slave that has attained to power, be he violent or ignoble, has made it his first aim and his final purpose to destroy our Torah and to vitiate our religion, by means of the sword, by violence, or by brute force, such as Amalek, Sisera, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Titus, Hadrian, may their bones be ground to dust, and others like them. This is one of the two classes which attempt to foil the Divine will.

The second class consists of the most intelligent and educated among the nations, such as the Syrians, Persians, and Greeks. These also endeavor to demolish our Torah and to vitiate it by means of arguments which they invent, and by means of controversies which they instituteThey seek to render the Torah  ineffectual and to wipe out every trace thereof by means of their polemical writings, just as the despots plan to do it with the sword.' (Epistle to Yemen)

 I am sure you can see the modern parallels here as asked in the question.  One  group wishes to harm Jews by killing us, the other tries to harm Jews by preventing us from being  Jewish in practice.  The method is about using pseudo  intellectual arguments, e.g. kosher is barbaric and infant male circumcision mutilation.  Similarly  ancient Greeks made such arguments. Yet Jews are still here. The ancient Greek civilization is gone. The pantheon is rubble. No one follows those gods anymore.  God's Temple is mostly rubble, but there are Jews still praying there. No one prays to Zeus.

Rambam, however,  reminds his readers - the epistle to the Yemen was to Yemenite Jews who were suffering persecution by an Islamic sect, who followed someone who claimed Mahdi or Messianic status -

'But neither the one nor the other shall succeed. We possess the divine assurance given to Isaiah concerning any tyrant that will wish to undermine our Torah  and to annihilate it by weapons of war, that the Lord will demolish them so that they will have no effect. This is only a metaphorical way of saying that his efforts will be of no avail, and that he will not accomplish his purpose. 

In like manner whenever a disputant shall attempt to demonstrate the falsity of our Torah, the Lord will shatter his arguments and prove them absurd untenable and ineffective. This divine promise is contained in the following verse, "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.(Isaiah 54:17)'

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