Judaism and Other Religions-Why don't we missionize?
Ruminations about Dec 25
Here is the link to the Dec 25 Shabbat Service. Discussion starts at 1:36 into the video
Here is the link to the Dec 25 Shabbat Service. Discussion starts at 1:36 into the video
I started the discussion with an aside on how many Christmas songs were written by Jews. Here is a short video clip ( which I could not put up at the time) which summarizes it:
We take note that we are a minority in a Christian civilization, just as we have been a minority in Muslim civilizations. When things go well, we are happy with our neighbors of all faiths.
In Europe, it would have been unthinkable for a Jew to set foot in a church, other than to convert, and I am sure that in the Islamic world, that too would have been unthinkable. That is one element of the Western enlightenment that told strong roots here, for sure.
As I said, through most of history, that wasn’t the case.Too often though, things don’t go well.
My father’s comment on what to answer when Christian’s ask him what Jews think of Jesus. His answer- why ask? We Jews live among many religions? Do we need to answer what we think of Mohammed, or what we think of Buddha. It’s not a Jewish issue!
So- maybe turn the tables- what do we think of our neighbors, of other religions.
Or, since we have the original word of God, certainly as we saw it, why did we not do as our two cognate religions do:
Constantine- In Hoc Signo, Vinca -In this sign, you call conquer( The vision of a sword in heaven, shaped like the Christian cross)
In Islam, the division of the world into Dar Al Islam-the world of Peace( inside Islam)- or “ Dar al Harb” the World of the Sword ( those refusing to accept Islam).
We, too, had a period of militant missionizing- but very short lived- shortly after the time of the Maccabees- John Hyrcanus a) destroyed capital of the Samaritans b) conquered Idumea and forcibly converted them. There was a presumption that perhaps also the pagan populations of Galilee were forcibly converted, which gave rise to anti-Semitic claims that Jesus was never born a Jew. However, that seems to be inaccurate and Galileans were, to the most part, transplanted Judeans.
Very short lived, indeed. And restricted to lands that were historically part of ancient Israel. Some other later exceptions-when pagan kingdoms converted to Judaism and then engaged in expansionist wars-like the early Jewish kingdom of Yemen a century before Mohammed.
However, we were, during the Greek & Roman periods, active missionizers-
So, the Christian Scripture has, in the words of Jesus, this condemnation:
“Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves! ( Matthew)
Jewish population in Roman Empire estimated 10%, about 7 million- some by birth, but many by conversion.
Growth stopped by 1) 2 disastrous wars against Rome 2) Intensive restrictions and repression of Jews after Constantine, as expressed in Justinian code .
Nevertheless, we weren’t fully committed to making the whole world Jewish- although some one did write a song and a movie ” When your in Love, the Whole World is Jewish”. Maybe that’s why we didn’t need to.
We eventually went beyond not actively seeking, to actively pushing away:
Keep in mind, under both Christianity and Islam, to convert to Judaism was essentially, to welcome suicide. The convert would have to escape to be protected from execution and the community that helped him convert would be in trouble.
Jewish reluctance to accept Christian converts to Judaism was grounded in Christian laws that prohibited apostasy; such laws punished apostates and those who converted them with death. Rabbi Mosheh Isserles noted in one of his glosses in the Shulḥan ‘arukh that “in these lands [Poland] . . . it is forbidden to convert non-Jews” (Yoreh de‘ah 267:4). The Magdeburg law, which served as the legal framework of Polish cities, and, after 1658, legislation enacted by the Sejm both demanded death penalties for apostasy from Catholicism.
Still operative in many Moslem countries till today. In Pakistan,for instance.
Non-Muslims are forbidden to convert Muslims to another religion, a crime punishable by law. [Pakistan: Struggle for Human Rights, (Hong Kong/Singapore: Christian Conference of Asia - International Affairs, 1986),
p. 105.] For Muslims themselves, conversion is reportedly dangerous and may be punished under section 295A of the Pakistan Penal Code which imposes up to two years imprisonment for outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizen. [Rights of Religious and Other Minorities (Pakistan), (Geneva: International Commission of Jurists, 1987), p. 9.] https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ab541c.html
But- even before these codes and elgal restrictions, we were also of a split in opinion:
Common Rabbinic dictum:
כספחת קשין גרים לישראל …
Based on Nidah 13b
Converts are as painful for Israel as scabs…
1) They don’t learn enough and don’t live up to their commitments to mitzvot or
This would have been elicited by the sense that , under the Roman prosecutions, those who had converted in good times, ran away when things got tough. Furthermore, many of the half-way Jews, or pagans influenced by Jews, fell in to the Christian camp as it expanded.
On the other hand- always an other hand--
2) On that same quote, about scabs:The opposite, they are so devoted, it makes those born Jews look bad in comparison.
This would have been supported by the realization that major teachers of Judaism were Ben Bag Bag and Ben Hehe as well as the author of Aramaic Targum Onkelos, also identified as Aquila, author of a Greek translation. All converts.
תנו רבנן נעמן גר תושב היה נבוזר אדן גר צדק היה מבני בניו של סיסרא למדו תורה בירושלים מבני בניו של סנחריב לימדו תורה ברבים ומאן נינהו שמעיה ואבטליון
מבני בניו של המן למדו תורה בבני ברק ואף מבני בניו של אותו רשע
The descendants of the great enemies of Israel became students and teachers of Torah- Sisera,Nebuzaradan, Haman, and even Nebuchadnezzar. Sancherib was the ancestor of the two great teachers, Shamayah and Avtalyon.Rabbi Akiba also reported to be descendant of a convert.
Not an unusual thought- the Jewish Museum of Berlin has in its archives, a folder, of some 300 cases of Germans who converted to Judaism after the Holocaust. My father was the officiating Rabbi.This was sent to me just this week!
But we did not take an active role in outreach- yad mekarev veyad docheh- One hand pulls in, and one hand pushes out.
Story of the pagan who comes to Hillel and Shammai:
Al regel achat- on one leg( regel-leg-regulus-Latin-rule) Shabbat 31 a
שׁוּב מַעֲשֶׂה בְּגוֹי אֶחָד שֶׁבָּא לִפְנֵי שַׁמַּאי. אָמַר לוֹ: גַּיְּירֵנִי עַל מְנָת שֶׁתְּלַמְּדֵנִי כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָּהּ כְּשֶׁאֲנִי עוֹמֵד עַל רֶגֶל אַחַת! דְּחָפוֹ בְּאַמַּת הַבִּנְיָן שֶׁבְּיָדוֹ. בָּא לִפְנֵי הִלֵּל, גַּיְירֵיהּ. אָמַר לוֹ: דַּעֲלָךְ סְנֵי לְחַבְרָךְ לָא תַּעֲבֵיד — זוֹ הִיא כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָּהּ, וְאִידַּךְ פֵּירוּשַׁהּ הוּא, זִיל גְּמוֹר.
This is, of course, a variation of the Golden Rule, something in use in Jewish sources well before the time of Jesus.
The strictness of Shammai drove him away, the patience of Hillel brought him close.
Still we ask the question- do we actively go out and push for proselytes?
My cousin’s daughter, you may recall, spoke to us on a recorded interview, on Yom Kippur, on the need to bring in more people.
But again. If we do bring in people from the outside, it is by social influence or connection or acquaintance, and not through coercion, whether political or through application of pressure. Even now, in US, where anyine can switch to any or no religion, we don’t push our way in, knocking on doors, leaving pamphlets, like Jehovahs Witnesses, or Mormons, or The American Board of Missions to the Jews or Jews for Jesus.
Instead, we get Chabadniks knocking ONLY on Jewish doors.
Why our reluctance.
After all, we were the first recorded group in history to see a common source of humanity. It is the bible that traces all to one common ancestry-Adam. Concept of 7 Naochide laws
- A universal moral and spiritual code, - Tzadikei umot haolam yesh lahem helek bolam haba-
- The righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come.
So, we have a universalizing core—that core gave both Christianity and Islam its dynamic. If we possess what we consider to be true to all, we have an obligation to preach that truth. If I believe I have a vaccine for a pandemic- do I not have an obligation to vaccinate you? Even by force? To do less is to be immoral, in that perspective.
This is true not just of religion, but of all universal ethics- it drove Alexander to his great conquests, as a student of Aristotle. It drove Marxists to spread the faith, by the sword.
Unfortunately, universalist ideologues too often become universal destroyers.
Eric Hoffer on the True Believer:
All mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.( He meant Das Kapital and Mein Kampf, not the Bible or Koran).
Yes, we have a militant religion- especially at the start-
We are to enter the land of Canaan and take it by force. We are to cleanse it of its pagan inhabitants. But, except for the short , short period in which the Kingdom under David expanded deep into Syria, that land was restricted, very much to what is now the State of Israel with the West Bank-and not Gaza!
There was no imperative to take any other territory, and Milchemet Mitzvah was restricted to those wars essential to defend the land of Israel. We have no sense of “wakf” as in historic Islam, to say that whatever was once an Islamic land, remains forever Islamic, and must be regained by force.
Rather, the people of Israel are defined in the Torah “ mamlechet kohanim” a kingdom of priests, not of conquerors. Repeatedly, we are told that we were chosen, not because we were the mighty power, but precisely because we were the smallest of the peoples on earth.Deut 7:7-8
כִּ֣י עַ֤ם קָדוֹשׁ֙ אַתָּ֔ה לַיהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּךָ֞ בָּחַ֣ר ׀ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ לִהְי֥וֹת לוֹ֙ לְעַ֣ם סְגֻלָּ֔ה מִכֹּל֙ הָֽעַמִּ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָאֲדָמָֽה׃
לֹ֣א מֵֽרֻבְּכֶ֞ם מִכׇּל־הָֽעַמִּ֗ים חָשַׁ֧ק יְהֹוָ֛ה בָּכֶ֖ם וַיִּבְחַ֣ר בָּכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־אַתֶּ֥ם הַמְעַ֖ט מִכׇּל־הָעַמִּֽים׃
כִּי֩ מֵאַֽהֲבַ֨ת יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶתְכֶ֗ם וּמִשׇּׁמְר֤וֹ אֶת־הַשְּׁבֻעָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נִשְׁבַּע֙ לַאֲבֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם הוֹצִ֧יא יְהֹוָ֛ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם בְּיָ֣ד חֲזָקָ֑ה וַֽיִּפְדְּךָ֙ מִבֵּ֣ית עֲבָדִ֔ים מִיַּ֖ד פַּרְעֹ֥ה מֶֽלֶךְ־מִצְרָֽיִם׃
To what purpose this elevation:The Romans believed it was to” divda et impera.” Dive and conquer.
The European colonialist believed it was their obligation of “mission civilisatrice”, for the Japanese Imperialists, it was the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.”
That was never seen as the Jewish mission. Rather, in the words of the Prophet Micah, there would be a grand reconciliation of all nations, gathering in the Holy Mount of Jerusalem:
.In the days to come,
And the many
nations shall go and shall say:
Let us go up to the Mount of the LORD,
To the House of the God of Jacob;
That He may instruct us in His ways,
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For instruction shall come forth from Zion,
The word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Thus He will
judge among the many peoples,
And arbitrate for the multitude of nations,
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation;
They shall never again know war
But every man
Under his grapevine or fig tree
With no one to disturb him.
For it was the LORD of Hosts who spoke.
Though all the
Each in the names of its gods,
We will walk
In the name of the LORD our God
Forever and ever.
Micah 4 1-5