On The Expropriation of Jewish Law by Religious Zionism and What if they were Muslim?

We have received some backlash regarding Danios‘ series on “Jewish Law,” (Halakha)–not merely from the usual crowd of Islamophobes, but from some fans who think the articles are inflammatory.

The main criticisms regarding the articles have been that we #1: supposedly use the “same method as the Islamophobes” and thus are “stooping to their level;” #2: that we are “bashing” Judaism;  #3: this is not good for interfaith dialogue; and #4: the individuals we are citing as sources are “self-hating Jews” or “illegitimate.”

I disagree with this criticism for the following reasons:

The method of the Islamophobes is to: selectively quote/misquote, lie, essentialize, hate, foment bigotry, and push forward zany conspiracies in a process of dehumanization and otherization. We do none of the above.  We haven’t since the start of the site and we never will.

Danios’ disclaimer, Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is the Problem, more than sufficiently articulates the clear distinction we are making.  Judaism itself is not the problem.  Even the texts and scriptural sources are not necessarily the problem.  Rather, it is extremist minds reading and interpreting the texts that are the problem.

We are meeting the challenge put forth by Islamophobes, encapsulated by Robert Spencer, who claim Islam has a special and unique providence over religiously inspired and sanctioned violence against innocents; Spencer writes in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

These articles are a follow up to the previous series covering violence in the Bible.  That series received far less criticism than this present one, most likely because it was seen to take Christianity to task more than Judaism.  The added sensitivity to the Jewish community is understandable, considering the long history of violence, oppression, and hate Jews have had to face over the centuries.

We maintain such a sensitivity to Jewish history and struggle and do not intend this series to be employed as a blunt instrument that is used to bash one’s religious opponents over the head; in fact it can’t be!

Instead, the point is to instill a sense of religious humility in all of us.  Or, put in another more colloquial way, “don’t act like your s*** don’t stink.”

As Danios wrote:

I will be applying the same standards our opponents apply to the Islamic tradition to the Jewish one, to show that Judaism is equally vulnerable to such criticisms.  It is hoped that this exercise will encourage people of Judeo-Christian background to be more hesitant in vilifying and targeting Islam.  This is purely an exercise in thought, a what if scenario (what if we applied the same standards to your religion as you do onto others?) designed to be the antidote to religious and cultural arrogance.

By clarifying that this constitutes an “exercise in thought” one should know that I am not saying Judaism is XYZ because of ABC, but rather simply that if you insist on arguing that Islam is XYZ due to ABC then–based on your own logic–Judaism and Christianity are also XYZ because they too have ABC.  This is a what if? and an if-then argument.

These articles on Jewish law are just a more in-depth variation of the longstanding series, “What if they were Muslim?”. When one is confronted with the fact that one’s own belief system is equally prone and open to bellicose interpretations and that those interpretations do exist and have real world implications, it will give one pause. It will make one re-examine his or her own triumphalist attitude and should redirect his or her efforts positively.  At least, this is the goal.

Previously you may have put people of _____ religion down, but now upon reflection you realize, “I can’t because I stand condemned by the same logic.”

Our biggest regret here is that some really good-hearted folk might be offended, as Danios wrote:

Naturally, “bystanders” will be caught in the crossfire.  Good-hearted, fellow Jews may be offended by such an article series that takes such a critical look at Jewish law.  This is why I explained my absolute reluctance to go down this path in my opening disclaimer.  But, the constant barrage of Islamophobic polemics, encouraged by Israeli activists, convinces me that this is something unavoidable.  Thus it is so, that with a grudging heart, I proceed forth.

Some may be taken aback by the extensiveness of these pieces, but when tackling such an issue it is important to be both thorough and comprehensive. Would our readers expect anything less of LoonWatch and Danios,  known for their in-depth rebuttals?

In regards to interfaith dialogue it must be pointed out that what passes as “interfaith” at times is a superficial cliched kumbaya-hand-holding that covers up or ignores serious challenges. At some point, if we are true to ourselves the hard questions about bigotry, hate, and violence that proliferate through the various religions of the world must come up.

This is the difficult part of “interfaith dialogue” that has yet to be seriously grappled with: how do we deal with belligerent interpretations, how do we manage them, reconcile them while remaining in fidelity and authenticity with tradition; how do such interpretations stack up to ethics; is a complete reconstruction of religious thought necessary, etc.

All of this said, I would like to add that most readers and commenters understand the import and logic behind our articles.  Best-selling author Lesley Hazleton, one of our favorite Anti-Loons and a prolific writer on theology, tweeted:

Congrats to Danios @Loonwatchers: great thinking on hot-button topics of #Zionism, #Islamism, #antisemitism bit.ly/mTeecA

Gefilte, another one of our Jewish writers proffered this view when we solicited him for a comment about the series:

I periodically contribute to loonwatch. Like many Jews, it bothers me that extremists in the name of my religion have declared war not on terrorism but on mainstream Muslims. Loonwatch asked me if I was disturbed by the series on how Jewish law has been expropriated by Zionists to justify killing, torture, and collective punishment. I have to say, it’s a complicated question. In general, I don’t like anybody taking potshots at anyone else’s religion. After all, that’s primarily what loonwatch does every day.

But, to answer your question, I have to issue my own disclaimer. I don’t claim to speak for most Jews on this. None of us do, and I think that’s the most distressing thing about Zionism and the state of Israel, which pretends to speak in our name. You know the old joke: ask two Jews a question, get three (or more) opinions. We do tend to have an independent streak.

Religiously I’ll freely admit to being a “cafeteria Jew.” I don’t believe that anybody’s scripture (mine, yours, or the other guy’s) came directly from G-d, but I do believe they were inspired by that piece of our humanity that constantly seeks G-d. For me, the supernatural aspects of ancient religions should be updated. And I also find that rational thought augments faith. Even though evolution can be understood as a scientific principle, how amazing it is! Spinoza and Einstein had similar views too.

It’s not necessary to believe that Moses literally received the Torah on Sinai, or that Jesus was miraculously conceived by G-d, or that Allah whispered the exact words in the Qu’ran to Mohammad. It seems to me that G-d speaks to everyone, and sometimes particularly sensitive men and women hear his resonances better than others. We’ve called such people prophets.

Since the 19th century scholars have demonstrated that the Torah was pieced together from two different versions of an orally-transmitted Jewish law, liberally laced with history, stories, and legal claims by both Southern and Northern Kingdoms to the land of Israel. In with all this were moral stories. The “cafeteria Jew” in me gravitates to the moral lessons and the rich literature in the book. But, to be honest, the genocide, murder, duplicity, and some of the kinky sex in there seems more an artifact of human hands and less of divine inspiration.

It seems to me that Danios has merely pointed out that the Torah, like the Qu’ran, contains some passages that (were it a movie) should have some advanced R if not X rating. The Torah, like the Qu’ran and the New Testament, was written long before Amnesty International, the UN, or the Red Cross were founded, or multiculturalism was ever conceived. What did anyone do with those *other* people back then? Genocide, mass expulsions and slavery is the answer. No wonder the Tea Party loves the Old Testament so much. Some of them even want to bring back stoning. As Danios points out, zealots can find anything they want in the Torah, just as zealots can find anything they want in the Qu’ran.

So, to *finally* answer your question, am I offended? No, not really. These are essentially the same observations I’ve made over the years, and they merely raise the same questions that Hebrew school teachers occasionally have to scramble to answer. So, if the purpose is didactic, as opposed to hateful, what’s there to object to? Islamophobes make similar deconstructions of Islam, usually with less fidelity to its texts, but there the intent is to show how evil Muslims are. Or that their religion is inherently evil too. In your case, I think you make a clear and repeated distinction between our religion and the ding-dongs who have expropriated it.

I appreciate the disclaimer you’ve attached to each installment: “Why Religious Zionism, not Judaism, is the Problem.”

Gefilte goes on to suggest we mention that we are doing this series to show “how easy it is for fundamentalists to hijack ANY religion.” A fair point I’d say!

I’m not going to discuss the criticism regarding sources cited such as Norman Finkelstein, something that has been covered well enough by Danios. While this series may seem polarizing to some, it was necessary and consistent with what we are doing. “Keeping an eye on the Islamophobes” also means dissecting their arguments and ideas to reveal them for the frauds they are.

I wish every story we did was one about mutual understanding between faiths, good deeds done in unison, selflessness across religious divides, togetherness and harmony, but alas even though those are our favorite stories they are not the only reality.

******************

Lastly, upon revisiting the articles we will add an asterisk to every title next to the words “Jewish Law*” so as to make clearer that we are not essentializing Jewish Law or saying that it is defined solely by those who have expropriated it to justify violence toward the innocent.

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