Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Discussion between a Friend and I

* This discussion is a segment of an e-mail between a friend and I. My friend was born a Protestant but later converted to Islam, and eventually found that he was more content with following a monotheistic spiritual tradition that functions on the truths found in all three monotheistic religions. In my e-mail I responded to only a few of his points, and perhaps I will post more of our conversations on this blog. The bold writing is his.



The Jews do not accept the Christian Bible, but the Christian accepts theirs and so any Bible you pick up has the Hebrew canon in it. The point is that Christians believe the Torah is null and void, and the Jews believe the Christians are insane for believing Jesus was the Messiah. Yet they behave as if they are the best of friends.

* We aren't at each others throats, but we don't act like we are best friends. 2,000 years of conflict teaches people how to get along, and when Islam came around (7th century) we've already had about 700 years of practice. There is a form of tolerance that we have learned towards each other, tolerance in the face of heavy theological disagreement. It's a pendulum, the ideal center of getting along is always missed by a little, sometimes it falls on one side and sometimes it falls on the other, but we reach some kind of average. For example, we've been quite content with drawing our own established lines of what it means to be a Jew and a Christian and not to fudge the theologies.

However, given the nature of Christianity, it always has the potential to want to cross over those lines and to make Judaism and Christianity seem like the same things, and for that reason, Judaism always has to have a steady response. When Jews get fed up with these attempts, it leads to spiritual warfare because we begin warding of Christianity, which involves showing why it's false. If Christianity wasn't in our face, then we would keep our ideas of its falsity to ourselves, but they when they bring their garbage to our front lawn and try to pull our kids over, we don't stay quiet. At other times, we realize that they are people that are trying to be G-dly in their own way, and as long as they understand that it's their way and can never be ours, then we'll let them be, and maybe even respect them. The result, a strange relationship between Jews and Christians, not always warm, but still unique. I myself periodically go from loathing Christianity to having a humble type of respect for it, and it goes back and forth in accordance with my personal experiences with Christians. With Muslims, for the time being, I either focus on Islam's potential, or I am severely discontented with it - that balance hasn't been found yet.

Muhammad was simply a messenger and a warner, just like Jesus was, although it is believed that Jesus is also the messenger anointed to return as Messiah, which makes sense to me being that Jesus is believed to be Messiah in the Muslim and Christian scripture, and the fact he is Jewish and lived according to the true Torah, will be the door for Jews to join in at that time. No other prophet can bridge all three "sons of Abraham" like that.

I see the logic, but I think that it's the vice versa. Rather than Jesus being a Jew opening up the way for us to accepting his messages, whatever they were, his being a Jew opens up the way for Christians (and maybe Muslims) to accepting the message of the Torah. As a Jew, I see Jesus as a small piece of what the Torah and Talmud are. The New Testament has him emphasizing certain points, lessons, and commandments from the Torah (such as love your neighbor), and it's fine when a Gentile decides to adhere to his teachings, but it's not fine when a Jew decides to do that because we are not free to pick or emphasize one mitzvah (commandment) over another, or in other words, we cannot take away from or add to the Torah, as the Torah itself says. Therefore, Jesus' words are not a New Testament at all, but a section of the Original Eternal Testament handed down to others. Also, this falls into the several-millennia old Jewish tradition of attempting to get others to see the truth of the Torah and G-d (as every great prophet did), and in that light, perhaps that is what Jesus was trying to do.

Now if we think about it, there is no reason for me to accept Jesus as anything, I don't even have any precedent to believe that he and he alone was saying these things. In fact, you can find many of the things that Jesus was saying in the Talmud, and since it would be false optimism (for Christians) to believe that somehow the compilers of the Talmud included Jesus' words because they agreed with them, it only makes sense that the stuff that he was saying was part of a pre-existent Jewish oral tradition that he just reiterated as well. So rather than highlighting Jesus as the source of those sayings, I should just go to the source, which is the Talmud, which is the oral tradition of the Torah, which came from the Source. These are realizations that don't necessarily affect Muslims.

Furthermore, Jesus' message and Jesus' death are theologically unrelated. If I concede that he said some things that made sense, it is still bizarre to believe that I have to believe in his death as atonement. If his words carry truth, does that mean that his death saved me from my sins? It is a bizarre idea and I'm fine living my life without it. So he was a sacrifice right? When a Jew brought a sacrifice, the animal never said anything of any import, the purpose of a sacrifice is the sacrifice, not the sounds (baaaah) that the animal makes. If Jesus wanted to change the world, he should have stayed alive and died an old man on his deathbed. Perhaps that is what Jesus preferred, afterall, he did cry out to G-d as he was being crucified wondering why He had forsaken him.

Another prophet can bridge all of us like that, and his name is Abraham, for one, then Moses, and then the prophets of the Prophets (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, etc, who all came with stark moral, spiritual, and ethical demands). In fact, one can say that neither Jesus nor Muhammad were saying anything new, which I am aware is a position that both Christians and Muslims are willing to accept, under the condition that people concede that Jesus and Muhammad are respectively to be singled out as unique chosen and final prophets. For example, in my mind, I can accept the message of Muhammad as valid and right, and not have to become a Muslim. But Islam doens't work that way; it's "engineered" in a way that I cannot accept only part of Muhammad's words, but I must accept all of them, and if I do that, then I have to concede that my tradition (which is not really my tradition afterall, but G-d's) has been wrong or somehow faulty all along and therefore necessitates my becoming a Muslim. In other words, the Muslim view is that a Jew theoretically can be a Muslim by believing in G-d, but a Jew can't really be a submitter because the Torah doesn't carry the recipe for submission.

Furthermore, a fallacy is introduced. The Torah is submission, but the Jews have not followed its path, so then they must turn to the Q'uran, which is an entirely illogical expectation. The prophets in the Tanakh were not saying, "Since ya'll can't keep the Torah, it's time to keep a new book," they were saying, "Ya'll have messed up keeping the Torah, so do yourselves a favor and show G-d some love and go back to keeping the Torah." No Jew in his right mind would follow after a person who says to keep something else other than the Torah, no matter how nice, spiritual, insightful, and eloquent he is; the Torah specifically says not to follow after someone that does not speak in the Name of G-d (the Torah) and that false prophets are tests that need to be passed. Christians have adopted this verse and concept and used it to keep themselves from their own false prophets, but can it be that the contextual intent of the verse was to prevent the Jews from following after false prophets, which they interpreted as Jesus, and maybe Muhammad?

If Christians and Muslims don't want us referring to Jesus and Muhammad as false prophets, then they need to realize that they have to stop insisting that we follow after them. We have our prophets and Christians and Muslims can have theirs, we are not convinced of the universality of those prophets with regards to us. There is, however, reason to believe that those prophets were sent to them, and I personally am content with that, as I know that many other Jews are as well. The problems arise when they expect us (and demonize us) when we don't accept their prophets.

In the end, I truly think that Islam is confused about its own position on the Torah; is it valid or is it not? Is it from G-d or is it not? Is it imperfect or is it just that the Jews are imperfect? Was it corrupted by Jews or did Muhammad simply want to create a new system to replace the old - self election? Can there exist a system where Jews live by the Torah and Muslims live by the Q'uran, and it just be left at that? These are theological wrinkles in the proverbial tablecloth that will have to be ironed out - and they are the cause par excellence for conflict between Jews and Muslims. Every single suicide (homicide) bombing, etc... is a result of this.

*Feel free to leave a comment!*


Anonymous said...


haKiruv said...

I think Christianity has run it's course and we're seeing it's downfall as the west recedes. I believe the same thing will happen to Islam and the world will degenerate from national entities into tribal ones. This will determine just which covenant will be in affect.