The civilized world watched in horror as the radical jihadist group IS (Islamic State) released a video appearing to show the beheading of American photojournalist James Foley. In response, President Obama said this group “speaks for no religion…no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day.”
Of course, the IS ideology does claim to speak for religion; the I in IS makes that fairly clear. We can attempt to dismiss their mission of persecution and genocide, but we cannot dismiss the source of their ideology: religious texts of terror.
It’s natural for us to respond with revulsion when we read offensive passages in the sacred scriptures of other faith communities. But let’s be honest. The record of Jewish religious literature isn’t pure as snow. Just consult this week’s Torah portion, Re-eh, and how it mandates responding to idolatry. Chapter 13 of Deuteronomy is pretty clear. Idolatry is a capital crime, a display of rebellion against God, Israel’s sovereign. Incitement to idolatry, then, is a doubly heinous crime. The Torah addresses incitement by a prophet, by a close friend or relative, and finally the reported subversion of an entire town. Here’s a sample of the Torah’s instructions for dealing with such instigators:”Show him no pity or compassion, and do not shield him; but take his life”(13:9-10).
When we read passages such as these, and when we see gruesome violence perpetrated in the name of religion, God ends up on trial. All people of faith–all of us–are under the microscope.
I believe there are four ways to confront texts such as ourparshah presents. On Shabbat morning, we’ll explore these options and what they mean for Judaism in particular and religion in general.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise