Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who Decides What is Judaism?

I received an email yesterday that I thought I would share with you. Rather than print the entire letter, I am highlighting the key points accompanied by my response.

1. Judaism should not be influenced by outside values and beliefs, and should stem only from God and Torah. The assumption you are making, namely that Judaism is somehow separate from the values and beliefs of the people who shaped it, is, in my opinion, false. Of course traditional Judaism claims that it comes from a transcendent source outside humanity, but history makes it clear that Judaism has changed over time, and that the changes came as the beliefs and values of Jews changed.

To site just a few examples: The use of capital punishment is rampant in the Hebrew Bible, yet anathema to the rabbis. So they changed Judaism to make the implementation of capital punishment impossible. Kosher is another example. While the Torah does lay the groundwork for a uniquely Jewish diet, the rabbis expanded this far beyond the Torah’s proscriptions. The same can be said for Shabbat and other holy day traditions as well.

Regarding more metaphysical matters, it is well established in academic circles that biblical Jews had no sense of a heaven and hell, and that it this was introduced into Judaism by those Jews who learned of it during their exile in Babylonia. The Pharisees made belief in the world to come central to their teachings, something their priestly opponents rejected as foreign.

Looking at Judaism in our own day, the role of women in Jewish life has greatly expanded not because Torah demanded it, but because the Women’s Movement became part of the mindset of most Jews and they demanded it.

To say that Judaism avoids change is false. To ignore the role the Jewish people play in changing their religion is to ignore how civilizations grow and survive. If priestly Judaism did not evolve into rabbinic Judaism there would be no Judaism at all. The fact that the rabbis insisted that they were simply applying the Oral Torah given to Moses alongside the Written Torah was a slick marketing move, but has no legitimacy outside the rabbis themselves—hence the rejection of the rabbinic innovations by their priestly competitors prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.

2. How can we ensure that in a hundred years or more there will still be Judaism or Jews if by that time we allow our morals and beliefs to eradicate all vestiges of what makes Judaism what it truly is and not some cheap, unsatisfying, self-help program?
 Your phrasing begs the question “what Judaism truly is,” but I understand and even share your concern. What will keep Judaism recognizably Jewish? Some would say that the only thing that keeps Judaism Jewish is that a people who call themselves Jews insist that it is. From a sociological viewpoint this may be true. I would like to add another element: Torah.

I think that any Judaism not linked to a creative reading of Torah is doomed. But as our rabbis have shown over the past 2000 years Torah can be read in many different ways to yield many different meanings and insights. Torah is a living document and must be read with deep creativity and imagination to uncover the layers of meaning needed in each generation. So what will make Judaism of the future authentic, the same thing that made the Judaisms of the past authentic: Torah and the Jews.

3. Liberal Judaism is fake Judaism that threatens to destroy authentic Judaism. The real challenge to Orthodoxy and tradition isn’t liberal Judaisms, but the rise of the sovereign self. With the coming of the modern period and now with postmodernism the individual (especially in the United States) is seen as supreme. It is becoming more and more difficult to subsume the individual into the group. We are encouraged to think for ourselves, to make moral and ethical decisions based on our individual consciences, etc. Community is more and more difficult to maintain. Can a Judaism that hopes to reach out to such highly individualized people impose law, or does it have to take another path?

It is too soon to answer this question, but the trend seems to be against halacha/Jewish law among nonOrthodox Jews. Even Conservative Jews pick and choose among the halachot, and often do so based on values that come from the secular world.

While I have no doubt that Orthodoxy will survive, it seems to do so only through greater and greater isolation from modernity. Orthodox Judaism will not (thankfully) go away, but it may (sadly) go the way of the Amish. We may admire their faith, but they are largely irrelevant to the lives of the most people.

This is my fear: that Judaism becomes irrelevant to Jews. Given that most Jews (90% if I am not mistaken) have rejected Orthodoxy, it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that Orthodoxy is irrelevant to most Jews. But, if you are correct (and you may be) that the Judaism that is immerging in a weak, self-indulgent, self-help program more geared to Jerry Springer than the Prophets we Jews are in trouble.

4. Liberal rabbis are fake rabbis who bastardize Judaism. I can only assume that “real rabbis” are Orthodox rabbis. Yet there are some Orthodox rabbis that other Orthodox rabbis consider equally fake. So how are we to decide who is the real rabbi?

If I am reading you correctly, the only real rabbi is one who rejects all change. If that is true, there are no real rabbis. Rabbinic Judaism was a radical departure from Priestly Judaism. Hillel and Akiva, to mention just two rabbis, were agents of change. And the Rambam (Moses Maimonides) even more so! The difference between these sages and some of today’s rabbis is that they insisted they were not doing what they were doing: making changes, and, in the case of Maimonides, applying the wisdom of non-Jewish cultures (Aristotelian to be specific) to Judaism. Today’s rabbinic creatives are more honest in their borrowings.

But, I too, have to cop to the notion of “fake rabbis.” There are rabbis, or people who call themselves rabbis, whom I would call “fake.” I make this distinction based on snobbishness: did they attend a yeshiva or seminary? Do they know and use Torah, Talmud, Zohar, Tanya in shaping their teachings? Are they rooted in Jewish history, tradition, and literature? No matter how innovative a rabbi may be, if they are linked strongly to these things I consider them authentic, even if I disagree with them. But if they are not so linked, I, too, fall into the trap of name-calling.

To opt for name calling as a first line of defense, however, suggests a weakness in your own argument. What could have been a fine discussion among thoughtful Jews becomes a silly spat between eight-year-olds. The only way we will know what impact rabbis (fake and otherwise) will have on Judaism is to wait and see. I imagine that if you shift your passion from attacking Jews to enriching Judaism, your Judaism will thrive. At least I hope so. In the end, as it has been throughout Jewish history, it is the Jews who will decide. They will determine what is Jewish, who is Jewish, who is a rabbi, etc.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Shivas Not So Regal

Shiva’s penis is shrinking. At least this is the worry of many Hindus.

Of concern is a giant stalagmite in the Amarnath cave in Kashmir, some 12,729 feet above sea level. The cave is one of Hinduism’s most holy sites because the phallus-shaped icicle within it is thought to be a representation of Lord Shiva, the God of Destruction and Regeneration, who, along with Brahma the Creator and Vishnu the Preserver, makes up the Hindu Trinity.

Sure, I know what some of you are thinking: What God in his right mind would choose to appear as a stalagmite? And I know that the True God always prefers to appear in pizzas and grilled cheese sandwiches. But we ought not to be so dismissive other people’s superstitions, even when they are so blatantly false. A stalagmite phallus, please! Every one knows God prefers dairy product incarnations. But you have to admire the faith of the Hindu.

When God appears in a grilled cheese sandwich it is usually in a person’s home where friends and family can worship the Lactose Lord with relative ease. Where is the challenge, the true test of faith? With Shiva in Kashmir, on the other hand, the faithful have to climb over two miles straight up to gaze upon the Rock of Salvation. Now that is a show of faith!

But I am missing the point. While it is great that 50,000 Hindu pilgrims have visited Shiva over the past two weeks, it is the melting of the Lord that is troubling.

Like other phalluses, the size of Shiva’s grows and shrinks over time. The Hindus believe, however, that a shrinking Shiva denotes the God’s displeasure. This too is common to most phalluses, they shrink when they are not pleasured, but while most men worship their own phallus, the fact that millions and millions of people worship this particular phallus may mean something. If numbers matter, the penis of Shiva overshadows the pizza of Christ any way you slice it.

But, once again, I am off track. What matters is that global warming is destroying the Destroyer! This is bad news. Without Shiva there is no death, and without death, life on this planet will eventually suffocate itself. If death dies, life is doomed!

The solution, however, is not to send millions of pilgrims to worship the far away phallus. On the contrary, all their body heat and prayers will make the cave even warmer and melt Shiva even faster. Pilgrims go home!

We have got to cool the planet, or at least the state of Kashmir, and cool it now. If anyone knows how to contact Al Gore, please do so now. God is melting!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Brain

According to the National Weather Service there is a 20% chance it might rain here tonight. Do you know that means? A lot of people don’t.

A recent study of college students by the University of Washington in Seattle shows that many completely misunderstand the notion of “probability-of-precipitation.” Some imagine that if there is a 20% chance of rain, that means that 20% of their town will get rain and 80% won’t. Others understand it to mean that it will rain 20% of the day. Can we be that dumb?

To find out, I walked out among my neighbors and townsfolk and asked them to explain the meaning of today’s forecast. Here are just some of the answers I received:

“It means that there is a 20% chance that God is going to flood the earth tonight.”

“It means that 20% of the people want it to rain tonight.”

“It means that the weather girl only looked at 20% of the map.”

“It means that only 20% of the town will get wet.”

“It means that you are a dumb Jew-bastard who has yet to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and who has a 100% chance of going to Hell.”

OK, I made the last one up. Well, no, I didn’t make it up exactly, I simply transposed it from another conversation to this conversation about weather. The prior conversation was about whether or not I was going to Hell, so you can see how easy it was for me to make the leap from one conversation to another. Homonyms are our friends.

The Seattle study found that if the weather forecaster added the probability of no rain along with the probability of rain, people understood things better. So if you say to someone, there is a 20% chance that it will rain tonight and an 80% chance that it won’t, chances are the person will understand what you are saying. So I tried that and got this:

“Do I have a choice? If I do, I’ll take the 20% ‘cause we need the rain. If I don’t I’ll take the 80%.”

Now you may be as confused about the weather as the people in my survey, so let me make it simple. On any given day there is always a 50/50 chance it will rain. It will either rain or it won’t rain. On or off, that’s all there is to it. It will rain or it won’t. It will snow or it won’t. We’ll be hit by an asteroid or we won’t. Jesus will return today or he won’t. It is always 50/50. That’s why I buy lottery tickets: I always have a one in two chance of winning whether or not it raiins.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Conversion Competition

On Sunday (June 21, 2009) I wrote about Catholic efforts to convert Jews (Choosing the Chosen). On Monday I received a private email from a rabbi saying I was taking the matter too lightly. I agree. Converting a person from one faith to another is no laughing matter. So here are a few suggestions on the more serious side.

We ought to have reality shows featuring people of different faiths being pitched to by people of other faiths. On one show, Big Bother, proselytizers would race around a city knocking on doors trying to convert people to their way of believing. On another show, I’m a Celebrity Destined for Hell, Get Me Out of Here, famous clergy would proselytize famous Scientologists. A third show, Amazing Grace, would feature missionary teams proselytizing indigenous peoples in remote parts of Africa, Australia, or Utah.

Reality shows are only the beginning. Religions seeking converts need an all out effort at product placement. Ironically, Judaism, which has little interest in proselytizing, has a leg up on the competition with the FBI hero of the hit show Numbers going to see his rabbi for spiritual direction, and the hot Israeli Mossad agent working with NCIS on NCIS. I wonder how much the Elders of Zion spent on those gigs?

Advertising will also be important. Mormons, for example, can offer converts that cool protective underwear that claims to be God’s own brand of Kevlar®. Judaism and Islam also offer distinctive clothing: caps for men, and headscarves for women. Judaism also has the option of dressing like a 17th century Polish nobleman or noblewoman if you buy the Hasidic package, while the Muslims could counter with the burkha.

Food might be another area of competition. Christianity can promote pork over and against Judaism and Islam’s pig-free diet the way Hebrew National promotes its kosher hot dogs over nonkosher brands. Catholics can offer something unique in that they alone eat the actual flesh and blood of God. Forget trans-fat, how about transubstantiation!

Potential converts looking for value might prefer Christianity’s Three Gods for the price of one, but Hinduism and its 330 million Gods will be hard to beat on that score.

Maybe the kind of eternal life in heaven a religion offers could separate it from the pack. Hindus and Buddhists might lose out on this score since they insist on reincarnation (at worst) and the extinction of the separate self (at best), but maybe not. Jewish heaven is (for those few Jews who still believe in heaven) eternal bible study with God. Christian heaven is the endless singing of the same hymn. And Islamic heaven is an unending feast of culinary and sexual delights. Of course reading the same book, singing the same song, and eating the same food for all eternity can get pretty boring after the first few millennia. And even sex gets old. So maybe this isn’t such a good area for competition.

Anyway, I like the idea of out and out conversion campaign among the world’s religions. I think this would invite creativity, and force theologians to come up with some cool new slogans. John 3:16 is so yesterday. And it will put an end to believers killing nonbelievers since this drains the market for new converts.

In the end, though, I think Catholics will win. As the competition heats up the Church will bring back dispensations and, rather then sell them as they did in the Middle Ages, they will offer dispensational packages to people who convert and get others to convert as well. When it comes right down to it, it is hard to compete with a Get Out of Hell Free card.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Choosing the Chosen

In 1986 Pope John Paul II insisted that God’s covenant with the Jews (hereafter referred to as “the Only People on the Entire Planet God Chose to be His Special Bud”s) was “irrevocable.” In other words, just because a few of us helped the Romans knock off God’s son doesn’t mean that all of us are for all time on the Almighty’s Shit List.

In 2002 U.S. Catholic bishops issued a statement claiming that while it was true that the Only People on the Entire Planet God Chose to be His Special Buds (hereafter referred to as “the Jews”) had their own eternal relationship with God and would not be the target of Catholic conversion efforts, the Church would still welcome Jews who wished to become Catholics.

Seven years later, in response to challenges that earlier statements implied that there was a separate way to salvation outside the Church, i.e. Judaism, the Bishops issued yet another statement claiming that while God doesn’t “regret” His having chosen the Jews, He does want to make clear that this covenant is, in the words of Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, CT, “fulfilled in Jesus.”

This is an outrage! Catholics affirming that Jesus trumps the Chosen? How dare they! I mean what if we Jews insisted that God chose us exclusively? What if we said that all those books that Catholics claim are the word of God are just the delusional rants of Jewish authors capitalizing on a first century trend in messianic fiction? What if we claimed that God had no son, and that virgins don’t get pregnant? Wouldn’t Catholics be outraged? Wait, hold on a minute…. Well I’ll be damned, we DO claim those things!

OK, then, forget that. It’s not as if the Church is singling out the Jews. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Pagans, Indigenous Religions, not to mention those pesky Protestants all have to become Catholic to win salvation. Why? Because there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church! At least according to the Catholic Church.

Personally, I have no problem with this. Being Catholic is tough, and if convincing yourself that only Catholics get saved helps keep you on track, then go for it. I know lots of Jews who, if they no longer believed Jews are God’s Chosen, would have opted out long ago. And I’m no different. If I thought my butt looked better in Lucky jeans I’d switch brands in a heartbeat.

I don’t worry about Catholics, Southern Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witness trying to convert Jews or anyone else. Nor does it bother me if some Jews choose not to be chosen and join a rival faith. And when I hear rabbis complain about this I cannot help but think that if they shifted their efforts from protecting Jews from hearing the claims of rival religions into making Judaism more compelling they wouldn’t have to worry so much.

After all what Jew would want to convert to a faith where only the senior honchos get to wear yarmulkas, and then are limited to wearing only those red or white satin ones that probably have the words “I Survived Benny Kravitz’ Bar Mitzvah” printed inside them?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The (Il)logic of Faith

Never underestimate the power of religious logic. In the May issue of Christianity Today Gregory and Christopher Fung explore the deeper meaning of Harvard Medical School’s ten-year, $2.4 million prayer study.

Called Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP), the study divided 1,802 people into three groups: Group A knew they were being prayed for, Group B was being prayed for but was unsure if that were the case, and Group C was not being prayed for and, like group B, were not told if they were or were not being prayed for.

Here are the conclusions of the study: Group A (those who knew they were being prayed for) suffered more post-operative complications than those in the two other groups, while Group C (those not prayed for) suffered the least. In other words being prayed for when ill is actually hazardous to your health.

You might think that this would lead people to stop praying over the sick, but that would be too logical. According to the Fungs, STEP “actually supports the Christian worldview… God seems to have granted favor without regard to either the quantity or even the quality of the prayers… True to his character, God appears inclined to heal and bless as many as possible. It is as if he can barely restrain himself—though he often does—from supernaturally intervening and disrupting the nature of the universe to care for those he loves, whether they acknowledge it or not.”

You have to love the Fungs. They seem to be saying that since God caused most of the people who were prayed for in the study to suffer more than those who were not prayed over proves that God can barely restrain himself from healing people. This makes no sense whatsoever, but it does demonstrate why religion will never disappear: its capacity to fool itself is endless.

Now, I’m not saying prayer doesn’t work. According to STEP it seems to work, but only in reverse: pray for those you hate and they will be more likely to suffer. What impresses me is how the Fungs turned the study inside out in order to protect their theology. This is why religion and science are fundamentally incompatible. Science (at least at theoretically) values evidence over theory, while religion values theory over evidence.

The Fungs go on to say “our obsession with whether prayer works is the wrong question. We know prayer works. The real question is, are we prepared for God’s answer?”

Yes, STEP proves that prayer works: it causes more suffering, not less. And the answer to the question “are we prepared for God’s answer” must be “no.” STEP proves that the people prayed for did worse than those not prayed for. This doesn’t show that God loves everyone equally, it shows that God loves those who leave him alone. Are we ready for that answer? I doubt it.

The Fungs’ conclusion is that “STEP encourages us to believe that God is eager to answer our prayers….” Did they read the study? STEP encourages us to believe just the opposite!

I love this! Their logic is so absent, their conclusion so vacuous, that it almost makes sense! But it is bullshit!

The only part of the Fungs’ article I found wise was their reminder that Jesus told us to pray only that God’s will be done. If God is Reality, as I understand God to be, then such a prayer is an affirmation of radical acceptance of what is, and that cannot be bad. Too bad the Fungs couldn’t stick with Jesus.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Make Big Money With Small Ideas

Want to make big money in a down economy? I’ve got the solution.

People need low cost distractions from the stresses of everyday life, and what is a better distraction than a truly great attraction? Tourism is the key to success, but it has to be unique, and very affordable. And it has to be something you can set up in a few hours for very little money. So here is my idea: I’m going to incorporate “The Smallest “Blank” in the World Museum” and set it up as a franchise. For a mere $100 I will help you identify the perfect “The Smallest ‘Blank’ in the World Museum” for your area of the country.

The key to keeping costs low is to make sure that the smallest whatever is in fact invisible. For example: “The Smallest Ball of String in the World Museum” is a perfect roadside attraction you can build in your own apartment or backyard. Imagine, tourists walk into YOUR museum, plunk down $5 per person (kids under 12 months enter free) and walk into the “Amazing Global Info Center.” Here they are shown photographs of all kinds of string and introduced to the age-old argument between string, twine, thread, yarn, and rope as to which is the most authentic. The most authentic what is up to you. Be creative.

After being educated in the intricacies of string, visitors are ushered into a small booth similar to a mall photo booth where the world’s smallest ball of string is on display. Make the display attractive and inviting. What is in the display? Nothing. The smallest ball of string is so small no one can see it even with the aid of microscopes. You can even invite people to look at the ball of string through microscopes to prove that it is too small to be seen with such devices.

Of course someone will complain that there is nothing there, but that is where I come in. What you get for your $100 is a box containing a certificate of authorization proving that you are now the sole owner the World’s Smallest Whatever. This certificate will authenticate what it is you are showcasing, and that should shut up the most vocal critic.

To encourage buzz and word of mouth advertising I suggest you give each visitor a piece of the string from the ball in a special envelope with the name of YOUR museum printed on it.

Here are just some of the wonderful World’s Smallest Museum ideas I am waiting to offer you: “The Smallest Man in the World Museum,” “The Smallest Woman in the World Museum,” “The Smallest Dinosaur in the World Museum,” “The Smallest Forrest in the World Museum,” “The Smallest Bank Account in the World Museum.”

And this is only the beginning. Imagine the “The Smallest “Blank” in the Galaxy Museum” featuring all kinds of alien worlds and species. It can’t miss.

So what are you waiting for? Send me your check for $100 (no, not the world’s smallest $100 check, a normal sized check), and I will schedule a conference call with you, me, and the world’s smallest consulting team (you can’t hear them, but I can, so don’t worry that you are wasting your money; they will assure you this is a wise investment), and we will find the perfect “The Smallest “Blank” in the World Museum” for you and your community. Remember, there can only be one “The Smallest “Blank” in the World Museum” in any given subject so send your money in early to maximize your choice of museum options.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Marquees de Sad

I love church marquees, those enigmatic sayings that are supposed to draw us to Jesus by the power of their cleverness. But sometimes the signs are so clever that I can’t understand them.

Case in point: I’m driving to a retreat center in Connecticut this past weekend and I see a church sign that reads, “Jesus. What if He never left?” OK, let’s think about that for a moment.

If Jesus never left, his body would remain in the tomb, and the resurrection would be pure fiction. Without the resurrection there is no proof of Jesus’ divinity. Without Jesus as God Christian salvation is impossible and Christianity is a sham. Why would you want to put that on the marquee of your church?

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe if Jesus never left the resurrection could still have happened but not the ascension to heaven. OK, let’s see: Jesus dies on the cross and is placed in the tomb of Joseph of Aramethea. Three days latter he is resurrected. He spends the next forty days wandering around but, since he never leaves, he never gets to sit at the right hand of the Father. Instead he’s just shuffling around the planet like a character in the Ghost Whisperer. If this is true, Christianity is still in trouble because now its God is exiled to earth for all eternity. This is the story of the Marvel comic book hero Silver Surfer, not the Suffering Servant. And, if Jesus is stuck here on earth, then the Second Coming is impossible since the First Coming never ends. But what is Christianity without the Return of Jesus? Nothing. So, again, why put this on your church sign?

Of course the sign may not refer to Jesus Christ at all. It could be an oblique reference to illegal aliens coming to Connecticut from Mexico: “Jesus. What if he never left (Mexico)? Who would cut our lawns?” A pro-immigration message like that might fly in New England, so maybe that was the point of the marquee.

Just to be thorough I tried different versions of this sign suitable to other faiths to see if they would yield any better insights. For example, a Jewish version of this sign might read, “Moses. What if we never left?” Well, if Moses never left Egypt the Jews would still be slaves, the bush would never have burned, Passover would never have happened and there would be no Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. So that doesn’t work.

How about a Buddhist version: “Prince Siddhartha. What if he never left?” OK, if Siddhartha never left home he would never have become the Buddha, Tibet would have stayed with the Bon religion and Jewish Buddhists would have had to find another religion to join.

If Mohammad never left we’d lack his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem to heaven and back. If Krishna never left Arjuna would not have gone to war with his cousins and we’d have no Bhagavad-Gita. If Lao Tzu never left he’d never have written the Tao Te Ching. None of these are good things.

No, this church sign doesn’t work in any religion. It seems to me that all the founders have to leave or the religions don’t happen. So what was the sign writer thinking? Honestly, I haven’t a clue. So this one is up to you. Best answer wins a year of free drinks at your local Starbucks, but only if you can convince them to do this.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Putting the BAD in Chabad

Responding to the question, “How should Jews treat their Arab neighbors?” in the May/June issue of Moment Magazine, beloved Chabad Rabbi Manis Friedman wrote, “I don’t believe in western morality, i.e. don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it [western morality] is immoral… The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle)… Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations….”

What kind of Judaism is this? It is Torah-True Judaism. What kind of morality is this? It is Bronze Age Torah morality. Of course you might argue that this isn’t Judaism at all, or that it is Judaism at its worst, and you might insist that anyone who takes such talk seriously and judges Jews and Judaism by Rabbi Manis’ standard is an Anti-Semite, but, honestly, Rabbi Manis is a well respected cleric, and Chabad is a powerful Jewish movement with centers in every major city (and many minor ones) around the world. So his Judaism is as Jewish as mine. Maybe more so, as I reject any Jewish value that fails to echo the best of western morality as articulated in the Humanist Manifestoes and the Declaration of Universal Human Rights.

What I find most interesting is that Rabbi Manis’ morality is the same as that of his Muslim counterparts. They too reject western morality, believe in killing innocent men, women, and children (they might spare the cattle), take pride in blowing up holy sites (especially those of rival Muslims), and use religious holy days (especially those of rival Muslims) for some of their most violent attacks. The only difference between Rabbi Manis and radical Muslim clerics is that the latter are willing to murder their fellow Muslims while Rabbi Manis is not yet calling for the murder of his fellow Jews. But give him time.

What do we say in response to this? If Rabbi Manis were a Muslim cleric we would demand his universal condemnation by the Muslim leadership, and if we didn’t get it we would use that as proof that Muslims are hate-mongers and Islam is evil. So can we expect universal condemnation of Rabbi Manis by Jewish leaders? Of course not. In fact his teaching was published without comment in one of the most respected of American Jewish magazines. His ideas were given as much credence as those of any of the other rabbis asked to respond to the question. While we Jews get all worked up because the Pope didn’t use the word “murder” when talking about the Shoah (Holocaust; he used “killing”), we won’t break a sweat over Rabbi Manis and his blood-soaked Torah. So why should we expect Muslims to act differently?

The truth is the future lies with Rabbi Manis and his Muslim and Christian counterparts. And this may not be a bad thing. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim extremists have more in common with one another then with their more “western” colleagues, and they might do a better job negotiating peace. Their willingness of slaughter every man, woman, and child (they will have to come to some agreement over cattle) may allow them to end the bloodshed with some version of divinely sanctioned Mutually Assured Destruction. In other words they will be forced into inaction because they know that any action will trigger the end of all them.

Of course, once they have ended the fighting between themselves, they will turn their attention more fully to the heretics within their respective religions. Ain’t peace a glorious thing?