Sherwin 9-7-2012

Intolerance: A Rabbi Speaks to His Congregation

(Email letter to Congregation Beth Am in Longwood, Friday, September 7, 2012)

By Rabbi Rick Sherwin

Dear Friends:

A very small, yet highly significant article in yesterday’s Orlando Sentinel entitled “Jewish, Muslim Leaders Fight Bigotry in Europe” described a meeting of 70 European Jewish and Muslim leaders who pledged to show zero-tolerance to hate preachers of any faith, including their own. Their message is very clear: There is no room for religious intolerance anywhere in Europe.

The world has often seen lack of willingness for religious leaders to speak out against their own group when adherents perpetrate acts of violence. This gathering of imams, rabbis and community leaders represented 18 countries!

Jewish Tradition gives priority to the Torah’s admonition not to stand idly by in the face of evil. Israel has offered, and will continue to offer, zero-tolerance for any Jewish acts of violence based on religious zeal.

Last week, suspected Jewish right-wing extremists vandalized the Latrun Monastery outside Jerusalem. The vandals spray-painted in large orange letters words demeaning Jesus, along with other phrases, including the names of West Bank outposts being evacuated and destroyed by order of Israel’s Supreme Court. They also burned the wooden door at the monastery entrance.

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby immediately formed a special investigative unit to find the perpetrators. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commented, “Religious freedom . . . is fundamental in Israel.”

A group of right-wing activists expressed their outrage at the incident and immediately traveled to the monastery to clean off the graffiti, bringing flowers for the monks. Defense Minister Ehud Barak condemned the attack and issued a call to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), police and state prosecution to “tackle Jewish terrorism.”

Mauricio Balter, a Masorti rabbi representing the chief rabbinate in Israel, condemned the attack: “The vile act committed here under the cover of darkness was a despicable, contemptible, cowardly act. It was done by Jews, but the act was antithetical to Judaism. It was a racist, fundamentalist distortion claiming to be out of love for God, but hatred for human beings.

“Here, the monks serve God with modesty, hard work, and silence. Their study is their work, but they too bring forth bread from the earth, grow grapes and make wine. But the hate-filled criminals are blind. They do not see people standing in front of them, but rather slogans. In their zeal, they forget that all people are created in the Image of God . . . These extremists have strayed far off from our Jewish Heritage, even if they allegedly speak our language.”

As we prepare to enter the New Year, we pray that Isaiah’s vision will be fulfilled: “No one shall cause hurt or destruction anywhere on the earth, for the universal values of God shall cover the earth just as the waters cover the sea.”

May each of us have the strength to speak out against any intolerance that causes hurt or destruction. May we – as individuals and as a community – bring the world one step closer to the ideal through the path of mitzvot, the Jewish strategy for transforming the world from the way it is to the way it needs to be not just for the Jewish People, but for all humanity.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Rick

Rick Sherwin is rabbi at Congregation Beth Am in Longwood.