Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I have no beef with those who argue President Obama did nothing wrong by sliding in a reference to Israel returning to the 1967 borders, albeit with land swaps, in his major address on the Arab pro-democracy movement at the State Department. To be sure, I believe it ruined the President’s otherwise impassioned insistence that America would support the Arab yearning to be free of its tyrannical dictators by inserting an inflammatory and highly controversial distraction that dominated the headlines. Still, the President is entitled to his view even as it remains to be seen if pressuring Israel will lead to a lasting peace. What I do have a problem with is the large number of commentators – the vast majority Jewish – who say that in defying Obama on the ’67 borders Netanyahu has provoked the President’s wrath and Israel will now suffer the consequences.
As an American I have a visceral distaste for anyone arguing that we ought to fear our government or our President. I do not live in Russia. I do not live in Syria. President Obama is nothing but the elected representative of the American people. He has absolutely no power other than that which we, the American people, grant him. He is not a king and he is not an emperor. He cannot pursue his grudges and he cannot avenge his personal honor. He is a servant of the people. The idea that Israel, as a sovereign nation and most trusted ally of the United States, ought to fear the American president for not kowtowing to his every foreign policy whim when it feels he is desperately wrong, is distasteful in the extreme.
Worse, it is an incalculable insult to President Obama. What these commentators are implying is that Obama is a man so petty and immature that as pay-back to Netanyahu and Israel for defying him he will throw both under a bus. I do not believe this about Obama. I believe him to be a mature and dignified leader even as I disagree with him profoundly on so many substantive issues of policy.
But there were some of America’s top writers arguing that Bibi had pissed off Obama and now Israel would pay. Leading the charge was Time magazine’s Joe Klein who titled his attack on Netanyahu, “Bibi Provokes Obama,” and ended his column with these words: “Given his congressional support, Netanyahu may be able to get away with playing so bold a hand — but it is inappropriate behavior for an American ally, and you can bet that Obama won’t forget it.” Won’t forget what? That an Israeli Prime Minister actually had the courage to tell an American President – finally! – that the sovereign State of Israel will not be pushed into compromising its security? And what is Klein suggesting Obama will now do. Retaliate against Israel and spitefully take the position of the Palestinians? Does he really believe Obama to be that frivolous? I most surely do not.
The Bibi-undermined-Israel’s-security-by-getting-on-Obama’s-bad-side argument continued with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic – normally one of my favorite writers – who titled his piece, “Dear Mr. Netanyahu, Please Don’t Speak to My President That Way.” Goldberg wrote, “And if President Obama doesn’t walk back the speech, what will Netanyahu do? Will he cut off Israeli military aid to the U.S.?” Perhaps Goldberg has confused the American political system with that, say, of Libya. Our President does not give any economic aid to Israel. It is the American people who, in their overwhelming support of the Middle East’s sole democracy, repeatedly elect leaders who share their pro-Israel posture and who in-turn vote to continue foreign aid to Israel. Whatever the tension between Bibi and Obama the American people are not now questioning why we give our must trusted ally $3 billion a year in military aid, but why we gave Pakistan, where Bin Laden was hiding, a total of $20.7 billion in aid from 2002 through fiscal 2011.
Goldberg continues: “Prime Minister Netanyahu needs the support of President Obama in order to confront the greatest danger Israel has ever faced: the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran. And yet he seems to go out of his way to alienate the President.” The inference is that by Netanyahu throwing what Goldberg called ‘a hissy fit,’ President Obama may withdraw his support for Israel on Iran. This is an unwarranted and unjust criticism of our President who knows darn well that a nuclear-armed Iran is as big a threat to the United States as it is to Israel. Last time I checked ‘The Great Satan’ label bandied about by the Iranians was a reference not to Israel but to America.
But the sentiment of Bibi’s foolishness in ‘provoking’ Obama was heard even in major Jewish publications. New York Jewish Week publisher Gary Rosenblatt, one of the most erudite and insightful of all writers on the Jewish scene, said, “This is more than a personal grudge match; it can affect strategic policy and the very future of the Jewish state. Israel, of course, has a lot more to lose here than the U.S., so the onus is on Bibi to make the relationship better…. Bibi has chosen confronting Obama rather than working at restoring their relationship. I hope it’s not a permanent mistake.”
I respectfully disagree. It was Obama who gratuitously threw in the provocative reference to Israel’s 1967 borders without, at the very least, calling on the Palestinians to withdraw the utterly unrealistic right of return. And it was Obama who was forced at AIPAC to dilute his ’67 border comment to the point of meaninglessness because he feared the wrath of American Jewry – one of his most important financial and electoral constituencies – rather than the other way around.
I mean no disrespect. But it seems to me it’s high time we reject the traditional court-Jew mentality that says that we must shimmy-up to powerful leaders in order to gain their protection. America does not support Israel because Jews are friendly or subservient. It does not respect Israel because it is polite or deferential. Rather, America, in its righteous, majestic might supports Israel because its cause is just. And any insinuation to the contrary is an insult both to our President and the American people.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is Founder of This World: The Values Network, which promotes universal Jewish values in the mainstream media. His most recent book is “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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May 26, 2011 | 11:02 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I’ve always thought of San Francisco as the very paragon of a live-and-let-live city. But it turns out if has a curious attachment to the male foreskin. This November, believe it or not, a measure will be on the ballot to ban circumcision for all males under the sage of 18, making it an offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. Talk about putting skin in the game.
When I lived in Western Europe for 11 years it was common to hear attacks on circumcision, which for a great many was an effective substitute for direct attacks on Jews. Whenever you want to demean an ethnic group you first infer that there is something not-quite-right about their sexuality as a form of humiliation. So it’s to be expected that those who have a problem with Jews make a habit of criticizing circumcision. But I have always wondered why, when it comes to sexual ethnic stereotypes designed to categorize groups, we Jews, as opposed to say, African-Americans, always get the short end of the stick.
Efforts to delegitimize circumcision as a barbaric act and make it illegal are de rigueur on the other side of the Atlantic. In August, 2006 a Finnish court ruled that a Muslim mother who had circumcised her four-year-old boy was guilty of an illegal assault, and in 2010 a Jewish couple in Finland were fined for causing bodily harm to their son when he was circumcised by a mohel from the UK. Leave it to the Finns to further their claims as catalysts for Middle-East peace by bringing together Muslims and Jews as common brothers in circumcision persecution.
Sweden has a reputation of being a pretty laid-back nation but it stiffens in the face of circumcision. In 2001 when it enacted a draconian law requiring a medical doctor or an anesthesia nurse to accompany a registered circumciser and for an anesthetic to be applied to a baby beforehand. Swedish Jews and Muslim banded together to object and the World Jewish Congress condemned the law as “the first legal restriction on Jewish religious practice in Europe since the Nazi era.”
But all these attempts to ban circumcision belie the medical facts. Circumcision has now been proven as the most effective means by which to stop the transmission of HIV-AIDS, with the British Medical Journal reporting that circumcised men are 8 times less likely to contract the infection. Circumcision removes what are called Langerhans cells that exist in the foreskin and which are susceptible to HIV. Langerhans cells have special receptors that may grant the virus access into the body.
Circumcision also significantly reduces the transmission of other STD’s like genital herpes and syphilis and also reduces the risk of urinary-tract infection. Men who are circumcised have 100 percent immunity from contracting penile cancer which, though rare, is best probably best avoided completely.
Male circumcision is also much healthier for women and significantly reduces the risk of cervical cancer by at least twenty percent, according to according to an article in the British Medical Journal of April 2002. Cancer of the cervix in women is due to the Human Papilloma Virus. It thrives under and on the foreskin from where it can be transmitted during intercourse.
So if the medical benefits of circumcision are so clear, why the effort to ban it? Simple. This is part of an ongoing fanatical secular assault that seeks to portray religion as a giant party-pooper, hell-bent on crushing any pleasure in sex and reducing copulation to nothing more a cold and sterile act of baby-making.
Hence, opponents of male circumcision are in the habit of comparing it to the horrors of female circumcision or clitoridectomy. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The latter involves the removal of the clitoris so as to deny a woman any form of sexual pleasure and is expressly condemned as an abomination by every major world religion. But the removal of the foreskin actually increases sexual sensitivity in the penis, or so I am told, as I have no actual experience with a foreskin.
The lie that religion frowns on sexual pleasure is widespread. In fact, deeply fulfilling, ecstatic, and orgasmic sex is a must in Jewish law which makes it a sin for a man to have sex with his wife without ensuring she climaxes first. Judaism insists that sex be accompanied by exhilaration and pleasure as a bonding experience that leads to emotional connection and intimacy.
Indeed, we Jews could teach even the highly sexually adventurous people of the Golden Gate City a thing or two about great sex, the proof of which is that we alone, among all the nations of the world, are still here after thousands of years, due to the fact that our circumcised ancestors have never stopped doing it.
Yes, when it comes to shout-out-loud, amazing, electrifying, unforgettable, take-me-to-the-moon-and-back sex, circumcised men are quite simply a cut above.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is author of the international best-sellers “Kosher Sex,” “Kosher Adultery,” and “The Kosher Sutra,” and will soon publish the series climax, “Kosher Ecstasy.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
May 25, 2011 | 5:27 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Halfway through Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Monday I was confronted by a moral dilemma. A woman protester two seats away from me had infiltrated the speech, pulled out a red anti-Israel flag, and started hurling curses about Israel. The elderly gentleman to my right, whom I had been talking to just before the speech started, pulled the flag out of her hands, cupped his hands over her mouth, and assisted in subduing her. Should I help?
The night before at AIPAC, Bibi’s speech had been disrupted seven times with multiple protesters making it almost impossible for him to continue. This follows an extensive effort on campuses worldwide for Israel-haters to make it all but impossible for any Israeli official to speak by heckling so repeatedly that the speech has to be abandoned. Clearly these efforts make a mockery of the entire principal of free speech. Now, a protester had infiltrated not just a college gathering but the inner sanctum, the very repository of American freedom and representative democracy, the United States House of Representatives. Her intention was to deny the democratically elected leader of the Israeli people the right to address the elected representatives of the American people. She could have vented her venom in any one of countless open forums, but she chose to deny Israel its voice.
Should I have participated in muting her? I had a split-second to decide.
Flashing through my mind as hands grabbed her from all sides were all the protesters against Israel that I had encountered in my eleven years as Rabbi at Oxford University. Twice we hosted Bibi at the University and twice hundreds of Palestinian students had been bused in from all over the UK to disrupt his speech. As I walked the chamber of the Oxford Union with Bibi at my side, hundreds of agitators thundered, “Netanyahu you should know, we support the PLO.” Wow, it even rhymed. Netanyahu left his police cordon and walked over to the protesters and invited them in, promising that they would be called on to ask questions. A significant number joined us and he responded patiently to their pointed barbs.
When Ariel Sharon was my guest a huge throng of protesters arrived, a significant number of whom were Jewish. They made no noise. Rather, caked in fake blood they pointed at Sharon silently as he walked into the Union. He made the same gesture, walking over to some of the protestors, while never letting go of his wife’s hand, and inviting them in to participate. Once again, many did and Sharon made sure to call on them during questions. The exchanges were hard-hitting but civil and all who witnessed it felt it had been a victory on both sides for free speech.
But all that has changed now. The Israel critics on campus have become Israel-haters, interested not in voicing any view but in delegitimizing Israel utterly and rendering it incapable of defending itself.
My mind now raced back to the heckler from Code Pink, who turned out to be Jewish, right in front of me in Congress. She was now horizontal as various gallery attendees attempted to neutralize her disruption. The Prime Minister had stopped his speech. Should I intervene before security could get there?
I decided not to. Firstly, it seemed to me that the Capitol police had plenty of contingencies for this kind of scenario and were far greater experts than me. Second, I could just imagine the headlines the next day: “Rabbi accosts protester in Congress.” Or worse. “Author of Kosher Sex grabs woman in US House.” “Rabbi Shmuley all over woman in spectator gallery”(OK, I jest about the last two but you get the picture). I decided that the image of a Rabbi participating in grabbing a protester, notwithstanding the circumstances, was exactly the kind of image these protesters wanted. They want to delegitimize the Jewish people in general and the State of Israel in particular. They want to perpetuate their lie that rather than Israel and Jews being people of benevolence and goodwill who have been forced to defend themselves against repeated attack, the Jews are now the aggressors.
So I stood as plain-clothed police immediately rushed in from every angle, grabbed the protestors, and pulled her right by me.
Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly recovered by mentioning that the idea of a protestor heckling in the Arab parliaments of Iran or Libya and surviving unharmed was impossible.
And it was ironically right there that the shared values of the United States and Israel and their special relationship became so evident. That one of the most powerful men in the Middle East can sit in front of the most powerful assembly on earth and be heckled and disrupted by a hate-filled agitator and simply make light of it as the woman was taken out of the chamber unharmed, spoke volumes about two incredible societies dedicated to the infinite worth of every human being, even a perceived enemy, and the infinite dignity of the human person to which both societies are committed. Even a person who would deny basic civility to Israel’s elected leader was still protected under the rule of law. She might be charged with an offense but she lived in a society that protected her rights.
In his brilliant and impassioned AIPAC speech House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Israel’s most able defender and greatest friend in the US government, made the point that it’s not the ’67 borders that separate the Palestinians and Israelis. Rather, the conflict is all about values, specifically the Palestinian’s’ growing culture of death versus the Israeli culture of life. The Palestinians name public squares after terrorists. Mothers ululate when their sons blow themselves up on buses, taking little children with them. They teach their children in kindergarten and schools that Jews are hook-nosed and wicked. But the government of Israel trades hundreds of killer terrorists just to bury their fallen soldiers with dignity, gives every Arab-Israeli citizen complete and full human rights, and has consistently traded massive amounts of land in the slim hope that the Palestinians will sincerely wish to make peace.
I am a Rabbi and a Jew that has forever fought Islamophobia and has repeatedly written and preached in front of tens of thousands of Jews and Christians that Islam is a great world religion that took Jews in when they were kicked out of Catholic Spain and Portugal. I am constantly inspired by everyday Muslims I meet in the US who observe Halal, fast on Ramadan, and take their religion seriously. So it is with great sadness that I am witnessing the growing emphasis on violence – especially against Jews – that is tragically becoming commonplace among far too many of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
The chance of peace ever taking hold in the Middle East is contingent on what Golda Meir once said, that Palestinians have to learn to love their children more than they hate Israelis.
Perhaps one day the female protestor who was dragged away in front of me will love the Arabs more than she hates Israel and if so, we’ll see her directing her real protest against Arab societies that participate in honor killings against young women, hang gays, and deny our Arab brothers and sisters the basic right to protest without fear of death.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 25 books and is currently establishing The National Center for Universal Jewish Values. His most recent book is “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
May 23, 2011 | 10:56 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
President Obama’s speech at AIPAC straddled the line of Jackie Mason standup. It turns out that when the President said last Thursday that Israel should return to its ’67 borders, it wasn’t exactly what he meant. Who said I was referring to 1967. I meant 1867. And even 1867, I didn’t mean CE, I meant BCE. And why did you assume I was talking about Israel’s border. I was talking about French Guyana’s borders.
This was the first time in my life that I ever felt sorry for Barack Obama, an incongruous sentiment for a man so talented and who also just happens to be the most powerful man in the world. Why did he elicit my sympathy? Because you could see in both his body language and utter absence of passion that he had been defeated. The president dithered, bobbed and weaved. He came into a room filled with 10,000 pro-Israel activists knowing that he blew it, not just with the American Jewish community but with history as well.
For months Arab democracy has been breaking out all over the world. President Obama had yet to give one major policy speech on this unprecedented uprising. Yet, when he finally chose to do so and thus recapture the traditional American President’s epitaph as ‘Leader of the Free World,’ he could not help but insert a highly inflammatory line about Israel that was immediately seized upon by the world’s media thereby extinguishing the speech’s other content. And even on the Israel front he was forced to so dilute the ’67 border statement that it became utterly meaningless.
“It was my reference to the 1967 lines—with mutually agreed swaps—that received the lion’s share of the attention… and since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means. By definition, it means that the parties themselves -– Israelis and Palestinians -– will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967… It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu could not have expressed it better.
So why did President Obama destroy his Arab democracy speech, not to mention further erode his already tenuous Jewish support, with a reference to the ’67 borders that he has now climbed down from? Here we have a president with the eloquence of Martin Luther King, Jr. but who has yet to make a single memorable speech as President aside from the moving and dignified words he offered the night Bin Laden was assassinated. Last Thursday at the State department was his chance. Why did he blow it?
The President’s explanation at AIPAC was that he had no idea that the ’67 borders line was going to be so inflammatory.
“My position has been misrepresented… If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance…. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.”
But the President’s claims to naiveté are ridiculous. To his detractors the President is many things. But he is no fool. He knew full well that being the first American President to publicly call for a return to the ’67 lines was a bomb waiting to detonate. As the New York Times reported, Netanyahu had already had a “furious” phone call with Hillary Clinton the morning of the speech when the Secretary of State phoned to inform the Prime Minister that the line would be included at the President’s insistence. Obama knew darn well that the demand to return to the pre-6-Day-War borders spoke directly to the Palestinian narrative of an expansionist, imperialist Israel hell-bent on swallowing up the land of a defenseless people who were peacefully growing olives and herding sheep when Israel suddenly and without provocation sent in its tanks in 1967 to expand the borders of a burgeoning empire.
So why did Obama say it? Why did he personally insist on including it?
I believe the answer to this question speaks directly to the growing mistrust that American Jewry, who gave the President 78% of its vote in 2008, has for Obama and why Democratic Jewish donor purses are closing.
Stated simply, this President has a strange obsession with Israel. Even when he’s talking about the unprecedented breakout of democracy across oppressive Arab regimes he still has to connect it to Israel. He could easily have given a stand-along speech about Israel and mentioned the ’67 lines there. But he believes to his core the oft-repeated falsehood that the secret to wide-ranging Middle East peace is a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and that Israeli intransigence is largely responsible for Arab anger and Middle East strife. And even as history proves him wrong and the Arabs start directing their anger against their real oppressors like Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt, Qaddafi of Libya, and Assad of Syria, President Obama still thinks that at its root the protests are against Netanyahu of Israel.
Every president wants to be historic and Obama has decided that a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict will define his presidency. If he pressures Israel enough to remove any military presence from the Jordan valley and return for the most part to its ’67 borders, not to mention exposing Netanyahu as a stiff-necked obstructionist, he will achieve what no President has before him.
Sadly, the President has forgotten that Jimmy Carter pulled off just that kind of breakthrough, brokering peace between Israel and Egypt, yet is still remembered as a failed President because he lost the larger battle of freedom to Islamists in Iran who initiated a war against the West, which we are still fighting, and established a prison for freedom-loving Muslims.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 25 books, including his recent work “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life,” and broadcasts widely on television and radio. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
May 20, 2011 | 10:57 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
President Obama’s advisors wanted him to get out in front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress on Monday. So they preempted Bibi’s own peace proposal by having Obama call for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, give or take a few land swaps.
There was one problem with the timing. It overlooked the fact that President Obama is addressing the largest gathering of AIPAC ever this coming Sunday, with 10,000 pro-Israel activists in attendance. It’ll be fun to see what happens. Here is Obama who just became the first president to ever call on Israel to return to the 1967 lines going in front, just three days later, of the largest annual gathering of Jews and Israel supporters. What were the President’s advisors thinking?
The President will no doubt be respectfully welcomed and the organizers have already asked the crowd not to boo. But the President’s speech will have zero credibility and he may as well not bother.
When he last addressed AIPAC in June 2008 Obama had clinched, just the night before, the Democratic nomination for President. I was in the audience and I heard him say the following words:
“There are those who would lay all the problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters as if the Israeli Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region. These voices blame the Middle East’s only democracy for the region’s extremism. They offer the false promise that abandoning a stalwart ally is somehow the path to strength. It is not; it has never been and it never will be.
“Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us; Israel has always faced these threats on the frontlines and I will bring to the White House an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.”
Hmmm. Unshakable commitment? How, Mr. President? By pressuring Israel to return to suicidal 1967 borders that would give it a girth of just 8 miles near Tel Aviv?
And how could Obama, on the one hand, condemn those who blame all the Middle East’s ills on Israel and on the other hand come dangerously close to advancing the same argument by making the highlight of his talk on the Middle East the call for Israel to transcend its stubbornness and agree to indefensible borders?
This speech at the State Department was supposed to be about the Arab pro-democracy movement. It was meant to convey American support for Arab freedom. Yet, true to Obama’s curious obsession with Israel, its most memorable line, and the one used as a headline by the world’s leading publications, was the change in American policy to pressure Israel back to the ’67 lines without demanding any similar concession from the Palestinians. Couldn’t the President have waited just a little bit before talking about Israel in the same speech as Mubarak, Assad, and Qaddafi? Could he not have devoted just a single speech – without Israel as a distraction – to the momentous and welcome changes in the Arab world in which hundreds of millions of people are tasting freedom for the first time?
In throwing in such an inflammatory demand of the Middle East’s sole democracy and a state that is just a crumb compared to the vast Arab lands that surround it, the President knew full well that his pressure on Israel would dominate the speech and feed the lie that Israeli intransigence is the cause of the turmoil in the Middle East.
What a shame the President gave this foolish speech. He was just beginning to win over many of his detractors by finally showing he had a backbone by killing Osama bin Laden in a daring raid and participating, if not leading, in the bombing of Qaddafi. The day before the speech he had enacted sanctions against Assad of Syria and held him accountable for slaughtering his people. It was a new Obama, standing up to tyranny, sounding the clarion call for freedom, warning tyrants they would face retribution. Now we’re back to the same old Obama, weak on dictators and tough on Israel.
On Assad the President’s remarks were positively stupefying. “The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way.” Huh? Assad? Transition to democracy? You’ve got to be kidding. It’ll be a cold day in hell before that murderer ever relinquishes power.
None of this is credible and the President knows it.
It was to be hoped that the American President would have come out to support the Arab spring as soon as it began. Instead we got Obama’s equivocations on Mubarak and then an endorsement of his departure only after he had been pushed out by the Egyptians. On Libya the President ceded leadership to the British and the French. On Syria he waited weeks before taking any action against Assad and then left the door open for him to remain President, even as he continues to slaughter his people.
How sad that now, months after the Arab uprisings began, when President Obama has finally decided to give a major policy speech supporting the Arab right to be free, he squandered the opportunity by yet again dumping on Israel.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network, is the international best-selling author of 25 books, most recently “Honoring the Child Spirit” and “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
May 16, 2011 | 11:07 am
Posted By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The bizarre burial of Osama bin Laden at sea – an action necessitated by our government’s need to accommodate Islamic law requiring that a Muslim be buried within 24 hours of death – raises urgent questions about the definition of faith in America. Can a mass murderer be said to be religious? Can there be religious ritual without religious values? And should Western governments participate in this definition of religion as something that is preached as opposed to practiced?
For years US government officials as well American Muslim leaders have been saying that Osama bin Laden is not a Muslim but a charlatan, a man who ostensibly lived in accordance with Islamic ritual but whose actions violated the Islamic prohibition against killing civilian non-combatants. At his death the Islam Society of North America released a statement noting, “The ideology of bin Laden is incompatible with Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.” A spokesperson for the Muslim Public Affairs Council echoed the sentiment. “He basically hijacked Islam and became a disgrace to Muslims.” Why then if bin Laden did not live as a Muslim did it our government rush to bury him as one?
This unfortunate endorsement by the United States of faith as a collection of spiritual ritual unattached to basic laws of morality feeds a growing perception of faith-based hypocrisy that is alienating large numbers from religious tradition.
Religious truth is notoriously difficult to gauge given the competing claims of the world’s great faiths. For Jews the deification of any man is an act of sacrilege yet the divinity of Jesus is central to Christian belief. Likewise, Christianity affirms that Christ is the sole path to salvation. Yet Islam insists that Muhammad was a prophet who lived after Jesus and paved a new and exclusive road to heaven. Religious truth, therefore, is established by a different criteria entirely, namely, its ability to shape and mold righteous character in its adherents.
As a Jew I do not believe that Joseph Smith discovered golden plates written in Reformed Egyptian in 1823 which he translated with seer stones. But having had extensive exposure to the strong families and charitable communities that the Mormon Church has built worldwide, I do believe that in Western New York where he claimed to have found the plates Smith encountered universal religious truths that were incorporated into Mormonism and which account for the high ethical standards of his followers. Conversely, when a religious figure devotes his life not to compassionate acts but to a blood-filled apocalypse it is either him or his religion which is fraudulent.
Bin Laden never walked in the footsteps of Muhammad but worshipped a god of his own making. While the Koran expressly prohibits the taking of an innocent life in the strongest terms – “We ordained for the children of Israel that if anyone slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole of mankind” (Sura 5:32) – bin Laden told Al Jazeera in 2001 that those who say “killing a child is not valid” in Islam “speak without any knowledge of Islamic law” because murdering a child may be done in vengeance. Bin Laden subscribed not to Islam but to Osamaism, a satanic faith of his own making where he devised the rules.
Indeed, Bin Laden and others who preach murder in the name of G-d are in no way analogous to the Pastor or Rabbi caught cheating with a congregant or the Priest found to be molesting a child, and not just because the taking of a life is more a more serious sin. For while the latter involves acts of religious inconsistency, however heinous, the former constitutes outright religious hypocrisy.
The difference is not merely semantic but cuts to the core of human nature. Few pastors believe that adultery is not a sin and few priests would argue that child molestation is a virtue. So why do so many religious people disgrace themselves by acting in contravention to basic morality? Because humans are fallible and selfish, weak and inconsistent, which is not to excuse their actions so much as to explain their failings. They mean what they preach but tragically cannot always live up to their own moral preaching.
The hypocrite, however, is he who professes a piety that he himself never believes in merely for public consumption. I was not surprised that the video trove captured by our Navy SEALs displayed bin Laden as a vain and shallow man obsessed with his celebrity and tinkering with his physical appearance. It confirmed the hypocrisy of a man who inveighed against Western corruption while enthusiastically embracing its emphasis on image to the exclusion of spiritual substance.
The same hypocrisy can be found in home-grown religious hate groups like Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church who, with their loathsome slogan ‘G-d Hates Fags’, protests the military funerals of fallen soldiers claiming that their death is the revenge of a G-d angered by America’s tolerance for homosexuality. Here is an ostensibly Christian Church whose very foundation – whatever it thinks of homosexuality – is in direct contravention of the Bible’s core teachings of reward and punishment: “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” (Ezekiel 18:20)
But notwithstanding the larger point of the difference between inconsistency and hypocrisy, the growing chasm between faith-based teachings, on the one hand, and theactions of the faithful on the other, is the greatest cancer afflicting modern religion and accounts for the popularity of the new high priests of atheism like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. They exploit the duplicity of religious ritual unaccompanied by religious values and use it to make a wider point, that religion is itself a control-motivated fraud and faith a money-making scam.
It was not Martin Luther who in 1517 was responsible for the Reformation but rather the crooked indulgences of a then-corrupt Church that had become religious without being spiritual, more interested in the soaring spires of St. Peter’s Cathedral than the moral elevation of its priests.
America is rapidly becoming a debtor nation of insatiable consumers whose unhealthy dependency on material objects for happiness three years ago collapsed down a $10 trillion economy. We are purveyors of an increasingly decadent culture whose exploitation of a fame-obsessed obsessed citizenry on television now passes for ‘reality’ and whose institutions of higher learning are often better known for drinking than for learning. We are in desperate need of the inspiration and moral realignment that only religion can impart. But it will not happen so long as we falsely define religion as a collection of empty ritual unaccompanied by moral behavior and values.
Shmuley Boteach, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ is the international best-selling author of 26 books including his most recent work, ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.