Rabbi Eli Perlman delivered this D’var Torah on Day 2 of Rosh Hashana – 5782
Almost every Tuesday afternoon, I send out an email with the subject: “Weekly news regarding anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel”. These communiques detail the increasing accounts of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities in the United States and around the world. They document and reference chants like “Jews will not replace us” and “Hitler did not go far enough” that are occurring on campuses of higher education from Harvard to Princeton to Rutgers to Stamford to USC to just about every major college and university. The calls to reject the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State increases each week.
Frankly, due to the emotions I feel from these, sending these emails is not easy, but not sending them is tantamount to living during 1933 through 1945 and not discussing what was going on with the Jews in Europe. Believe me, I would rather speak about almost anything other than anti-Semitism, but on this Rosh Hashanah, I feel that there has never been a more appropriate time to address this most uncomfortable topic. The thing is, today, I am going to challenge conventional thinking with the hope that we can work our way to getting a better understanding of the situation and ourselves.
While I am sure that many will not like some of the truths I am going to say, I am saying it because they need to be said. All I ask is that open minds prevail.
Not being the Pope, There are no expectations that I am infallible. In fact, for those who want proof, just ask my wife. She will willingly, or to be more accurate, she will gladly testify to my fallibility in the greatest detail. The point is, my role as a rabbi is not to sell a particular point of view, but rather to open everyone’s minds to look at all sides of the situation.
Let me begin with this hypothesis. While I do not believe this is true for all anti-Semites, many who hate us do so because they are jealous. In fact, as ironic as this sounds, many even respect us. Other anti-Semites, like the followers of Louis Farrakhan, do hate us. They claim that they are the true Israel and that we Jews are imposters, interlopers, frauds.
Most people I know have a healthy respect for Jews and are not anti-Semitic. The founders of this country prove this. They had a remarkable and overwhelmingly positive respect for the Jewish People. There was very little contempt for the Jew in colonial America. Perhaps today’s Congressional Squad and their followers should try to learn something from them.
To let you in on a little-known historical fact, Ben Franklin fought for the Great Seal of the United States to feature Moshe leading B’nai Yisrael through the Sea of Reeds instead of the bald eagle. Franklin compared Paro with King George, the Sea of Reeds with the Atlantic Ocean, and the revolutionaries with the new Israel.
Do I need to remind anyone what it says on The Liberty Bell? If you said, “Proclaim liberty thought-out the land to all the inhabitants thereof,” you get a gold star. Those words come right out of our Torah. How did these words find themselves on this great bell? It was because the Torah’s description of the Jubilee year was all about freeing the enslaved and releasing the poor from the shackles of poverty. The Torah teaches that everyone is entitled to land, life, and liberty. The founders of the United States of America were drawn-in to this novel idea.
Even our relationship between our Jewish people and the Catholic Church has gone from horrific to honorable. On November 13, 2019, Pope Francis, in his weekly radio address to the Catholic masses said: “The habit of persecuting Jews is beginning to be reborn. Brothers and sisters: this is neither human nor Christian; the Jews are our brothers and sisters and must not be persecuted! Understood?”
While things have gotten ok between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, things were not always this way. The early Catholic church respected our covenant with G*d, but even so, condemned us for not accepting their new faith and beliefs. They hated us, while at the same time, needed us for theological reasons.
As early as the 4th century, the Catholic church confirmed what we had stated for years; namely that G*d chose the Jewish people to uphold the Divine Covenant established through Moshe. However, in order to amplify their Christology, the church denied the place of the Jew in the religious world. They argued that, because the Jew rejected their new religious tenets, we had taken the off-ramp to the wrong path.
That is when the Catholic Apostolic church declared itself to be the New Israel. This is known as replacement theology and was the motivation behind the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. That Chapel mirrored the exact proportions of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as described in the TaNaCh, in the Jewish Bible. Rome replaced Yerushalayim as the center of G*d’s world. The church then renamed the TaNaCh as the Old Testament and the Christian Bible as the New Testament, to replace the need to follow the Mitzvot as detailed in the TaNaCh.
A similar form of replacement theology was adapted by Islam. They taught that their earliest ancestors came from Avraham. To prove this, there is an Islamic holiday called “Sacrifice Festival” that is celebrated on the 10th day of the last month of the Muslim year. During this festival, Muslims celebrate the willingness of Avraham to sacrifice his son Yishmael on Mount Moriah. On the 2nd Day of Rosh Hashanah, we read that it was not Yishmael, but Yitzchak.
To be precise, the Koran, which was written about 1,000 years after the TaNaCh, removes the name of the son of Avraham who was to be sacrificed. Muslims are taught that it was Yishmael, replacing Yitzchak as what was written in the Torah. Just as the Christian Bible replaces much of what the TaNaCh says with many well-documented inaccurate and deceitful translations, the Koran does this as well. This replacement of what the original TaNaCh says is how replacement theology works.
Today, the anti-Semite-in-chief, Louis Farrakhan, minister of the Nation of Islam, says that blacks are the true Hebrews, and that today’s Jews are imposters. This approach was lifted by him right out of Christology’s replacement theology playbook.
Desean Jackson, a wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams, and celebrity Nick Cannon both echoed Farrakhan’s belief. Jackson said that: “the white Jews knows that the (Blacks) are the real Children of Israel and to keep America’s secret, the Jews will blackmail America. They will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the (Blacks) know who they were. The white citizens of America will be terrified to know that all this time they’ve been mistreating and discriminating and lynching the Children of Israel.”
To be completely honest with ourselves, we Jews do have some responsibility here. There is no question that we have also practiced some fact replacement as well. What have we replaced? Think about it. If we close our eyes and imagine Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka, Yaakov and Leah and Rachel, and Miryam and Aharon and Moshe, we probably see them in our mind’s eye as having white, European skin. Just saying that out loud should show our replacement activity. Since they all came from northern Africa, Ethiopia, and Egypt, their skin had to be far from white.
Excuse the pun, but this whitewash has always bothered me. If the original Jews were black, why do we welcome new black Jews into our communities differently than the way we welcome new white ones? The fact is, there are many blacks who either claim to be Jews or would like to be, but do we open our welcoming arms to them? What makes us so uncomfortable about welcoming blacks? Are we racists? Are we xenophobes? Do feel today’s blacks are not good enough?
It does not stop here. How easy do we American Jews make it for anyone who is different, not just blacks, to convert to Judaism. True, Jewish Law says that if a non-Jew comes to us and wants to convert, we must reject them three times. If a non-white minority comes to convert, do we limit that rejection to three times? Do we send them away more forcefully than people who look more like we do?
Taking this further, when any minority, especially ones with dark skin come to attend Services with us, admit it… and I know it is very uncomfortable to face this truth, do we take notice? This is not necessarily because we are racists or bigots; but in some cases, it might be. I believe, in most cases, it is because we have faced the most severe bigotry during our entire existence, regardless of how hard we worked to fit in. When a person of color comes to join us, our minds question why people who have been targets of racism for hundreds of years would want to be with people who have been persecuted for thousands of years? I remember an interview with the proud Jewish Black entertainer, Sammy Davis Jr. when he said, “I’m a colored, Jewish, Puerto Rican. When I move into a neighborhood, I wipe it out.” We would see the rest of the Rat Pack double over in hysterical laughter when he would deliver that line. I did not laugh the, I do not laugh at it now.
There are many black Jews today. Even so, very few are welcome with the same open arms as those Jews of European decent. As a result of our modern Jewish history, it makes it is easy to distrust people who are different from us. The thing is, all the Jews through the Exodus from Mitzrayim were either black or brown. Not one of them were Caucasian; no, not even one. Even more interesting, those who portray Jesus and Mohamed as being lily white, also have it completely wrong.
This brings us back to the question, why do so many people hate us and, while at the same time, have a certain level of respect for us? Why do so many faiths and peoples admire our past so much that they base theirs on it and then declare themselves to be the “New Israel”.
I humbly believe that it is because we are a unique people with an amazing story of courage, faith, and defiance against oppression. We are chosen to bear witness to G*d in the face of doubt; goodness in the face of evil; strength in the face of weakness; and hope in the face of despair. We overcame powerful forces of evil, from Amalek, to Paro, to Russia, to Hitler, to Chamas, to Hezbollah. We showed more courage than anyone when it came to overthrowing tyranny.
Today, as we fight anti-Semitism, let us understand what it truly is. Some will say its roots lie in our success. That simply cannot be. Other religious communities are more successful than we are. Are they hated as much? Is it because we refuse to assimilate, to accept the norms of society? If yes, why are the Amish not hated like we are?
Maybe I am naïve, but I believe that some hate us because they see something powerful, something compelling, and something faithful in us. We are a unique People who have fought and won against the test of time. Christians and Muslims may disagree as to the divinity of their savior, but they know that for each to survive, they both must agree that we Jews are G*d’s chosen people. Why? If we are not, and they came from us, then their faith is baseless. So, even as some hate us, they have no choice but to respect us. Even as they try to undermine us with their replacement theology, to them, we have something that they cannot replace. That is why we must never cower, me must never waver, we must never falter; but we must become more open with our own perspectives about others. Remember, our Torah is very specific about how we are to deal with strangers.
Job 31:32: But no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler.
Proverbs 5:10: Let strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich the house of another.
Numbers: 19: 33-34: When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Mitzrayim: I am the Lord your G*d.
Exodus 23:9: You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in Mitzrayim.
Ezekiel 47:22-23: You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the sojourner resides, there you shall assign him his inheritance, declares the L*rd G*d.
While there are more examples, the point is clear. More importantly, none of these have been taken out of context.
Nobody is blameless for the causes of and rapid rise in anti-Semitism, but Israel lives and must continue to live. No, it is not because of all our accomplishments and contributions we have given to the world; it is because we are G*d’s Chosen People. We must be proud of who we are, but we must not be arrogant and unreasonably exclusive.
Let us proudly stand up and celebrate who we are by continuing to support our congregation, other Jewish organizations, and Israel, but remember that, without synagogues like ours, there would be no Jewish community. Charity begins at home. That is why we must remain proud, defiant, resolute, and faithful to ourselves and our congregation. Let us never shirk from our responsibilities.
L’Shana Tova and please, I beg all of you to be safe during these challenging times and that we should no-longer have to learn any additional Greek letters.