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Is Islam Anti-Judaism?

The Children of Israel Crossing the Jordan (il...

The Children of Israel Crossing the Jordan – illustration by Gustave Doré via Wikipedia

By Rabbi Allen S Maller

The Koran is the only book of revelation that includes within itself a theory of prophethood which includes other religions. There have always been (since the days of Adam) people inspired by Allah who urged their society to avoid destruction by turning away from its corrupt and unjust ways and  turning to the One God who created all humans. The Koran mentions 25 prophets by name (most of them known to non-Muslims too) and Muslims believe there were one hundred twenty four thousand others, whose names are now unknown.

Of the 25 mentioned by name in the Koran only five revealed books of sacred scripture, and only Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad revealed books of sacred scripture that are the bases for three religions that still flourish today.

According to the Koran, every nation in the world receives at least one prophet who speaks to it in its own language. However, one nation, the Children of Israel, has received a great many prophets. The Koran doesn’t explicitly tell us why so many prophets arose within the Children of Israel but a careful reading of the Koran reveals the answer.

This was what I learned from a profound and enlightening essay by Irfan Ahmad Kahn in a book entitled Jewish-Muslim Encounters edited by Charles Selengut (Paragon House 2001). The book is a collection of 11 papers given at a conference in Cordoba, Spain sponsored by the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace.

Almost all prophets, according to Kahn, are like Hud who was sent to Ad or Salih who was sent to Thamud to warn them of their impending destruction due to their corrupt and immoral ways and to call them to repentance. However, the prophets of the Children of Israel are somewhat different. First, Abraham is the only prophet we know of, whose two sons, Isma’il and Ishaq, are also prophets. Indeed, Abraham’s grandson Ya’qub and great grandson Yusuf are also prophets. Thus starting with Abraham Allah established a family dynasty of prophets.

English: English translation of hebrew version...

Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North – Wikipedia

With Joseph and his brothers (the tribes) the extended family became the 12 tribes of Israel or as they are usually called the Children of Israel/Ya’qub. The Children of Israel were blessed with many prophets inviting them to stay firm in their faith to God; this is expressed in various places in the Qur’an “When death approached Ya’qub, he said to his sons, ‘Who will (you) worship after I am gone?’ They answered, ‘We will worship your God, the God of our forefathers, Abraham, Ishmael, Issac, the One God. Unto Him we will surrender ourselves.’” (2:132)

Second, when Moses/Musa is sent by Allah he comes not primarily to warn or rebuke the Children of Israel (his own people) but he is sent “to Pharaoh” ( 20:24, 51:38, 73:15 and 79:17), “to Pharaoh and his chiefs” (al-mala) (7:103, 10:75, 11:97, 23:46, and 43:46) “to Pharaoh and his people” (27:12). Musa is sent to Pharaoh to warn him of the destruction that will fall on Egypt if he doesn’t stop setting himself up as a God and doesn’t let the Children of Israel go free. Musa comes to rebuke Pharaoh and to rescue the Children of Israel.

Only when the Jewish nation is free from Egyptian bondage do they receive the Torah from God, by the hand of Moses without any mediation of an angel. This very enlightening essay by Irfan Ahmad Kahn stimulated me as a Reform Rabbi to realize that the evidence from the Qur’an shows that Islam praises the unique place of the Children of Israel among other nations as opposed to the accusations of some who blame the Qur’an as being antagonistic toward Jews.

From Abraham’s descendants comes a religious community based not just on belief but also on family and tribal ties. Converts to Judaism, who usually marry into the Jewish community, are like adopted children. This is why Judaism, although it welcomes converts from any people, has never engaged in a determined large scale missionary enterprise.

The principle that God makes a covenant with a whole people and not just with the faithful believers helps me understand a powerful verse in the Koran. At Sinai, when Allah gives the Jewish People the Torah, He makes a covenant with the Children of Israel. Allah raises the mountain above the whole people saying, “Hold firmly to what We have given you (the Torah) and remember what is in it.” (2:63) The whole nation’s fate stands under the shadow of mount Sinai, and this explains the miracle of all Israel agreeing to the covenant. This may be the reason why Musa is the only prophet whose book comes not from an angel but directly from Allah.

Isaiah via Wikipedia

Isaiah via Wikipedia

Individuals who hear a prophet may choose to believe or disbelieve, but when God Himself makes ‘an offer that you can’t refuse’, everyone is in for all generations to come, and then has to struggle with living up to the deal. The many prophets that address the Children of Israel are teachers and guides more than rebukers because the covenant between God and the Umma of  b’nai Israel is for all generations.

Thus the covenant is not just for the community of the faithful; but for the whole community of Israel, which includes some whose hearts are like rocks that spring forth streams, while others only yield water when split, and others sink for fear of Allah.(2:74) It is this last segment of the Children of Israel that Prophet Muhammad refers to when he rebukes the Children of Israel.

The Koran correctly understood doesn’t attack all of Israel. Every community, including the Muslim umma contains groups of faithful believers and a party who disbelieve. All the prophets of Israel opposed the same kind of religious hypocrites in their day, as Prophet Muhammad did in his day.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:

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Are Non-Jews With Jewish Identities Welcome?

English: Map of the distribution of Jews in th...

Map of the distribution of Jews in the world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

The number of people who believe they are descendants of Jews is almost equal to the number of Jews who are counted in official international censuses, according to British historian Tudor Parfitt, an expert on Judaizing movements, who was a keynote speaker at a Jerusalem conference held at the Van Leer Institute according to HaAretz newspaper.

In many cases, Parfitt said, this voluntary affiliation with the Jewish people is a relatively new phenomenon. Members of these newly identified Jewish communities could be found in places as diverse as northeastern India, Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua, the jungles of South America and southern and central Africa.

The new identifiers also include millions of people, mainly in Latin America (primarily Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua), who see themselves as descendants of Jews forced to convert – also known as Conversos or Bnai Anusim – during the Spanish Inquisition more than 500 years ago.

Several experts addressing the conference noted that the rise of evangelical Christianity in Latin America in recent years, at the expense of Catholicism, has made it easier for these people to identify as Jews and to practice Judaism, because the Jewish People and Judaism play a big role within the messianic ideology they have heard about.

As they learn about Jewish practices they sometimes remember things their great grandparents did when they were children. “Once I started looking, there was never any question,” said Medina-Sandoval, a poet and writer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Jewish community, small synagogue and kosher k...

Jewish community, small synagogue and kosher kitchen in Wrocław (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She finally understood why she had an uncle who raised pigs but didn’t eat them; why her aunts put aside some dough as with the Sabbath challah bread; why she never really felt like she belonged in the Christian faith. Then she discovered she was Jewish.

Or at least her family had been Jewish, back in Spain, more than 500 years ago. Through her great grandfather’s journals and other genealogical research, she discovered her Jewish roots and eventually decided to return to the faith of her ancestors.

Then there are people like Blanca Carrasco, who grew up Catholic in Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. But by the time she reached her 20s, Catholic doctrines seemed lacking and she became an evangelical Protestant. It wasn’t until she was invited to a Passover Seder at a Messianic Center in El Paso that she really felt connected to God.

“We felt it was familiar—it felt like home,” she said about herself a

nd her husband, Cesar. “Right in that instance, our life changed. I needed to know more.” That led her to a decade at the El Paso Messianic Center, where the couple learned about Jewish history, holidays and Crypto-Jews.

“The `Anusim’ feel maybe there’s something Jewish in their family,” she said, using the Hebrew word for forced converts and their descendants.

Carrasco, 43, researched her family and found names like Espinoza, Israel, Salinas, and a great aunt who said her grandmother spoke Ladino, the hybrid Spanish-Hebrew dialect. Three years ago, Carrasco and her husband decided to leave the Messianic congregation; last year, they formally converted to Judaism in what they called a “return ceremony.”

Interior of the Amsterdam Synagogue: the bema ...

Interior of the Amsterdam Synagogue: the bema (or tebáh) is in the foreground, and the Hekhál (Ark) in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“People would tell us, `You don’t have to do it,’ but we just love it and want to learn and want to do it,”she said. “It doesn’t matter if you call it a conversion or a return. What matters is once you convert to Judaism, you’re going to come out a different person.”

Others, like Rabbi Stephen Leon of (Conservative) Congregation B’nai Zion in El Paso, see helping people like the Carrascos return to Judaism as a kind of divine mission.

“God said to me, `I cannot bring back the 6 million who were killed in the Holocaust. But there was another group before that who are alive in much larger numbers than Holocaust survivors because it’s been 500 years, generation after generation after generation. Their souls are still alive,” he said. “God told me, `You have to do something about it.’”

The big question is: will some people people in the established Jewish community reach out and encourage these Jewish identifiers to formally become Jewish; or will the Jewish community continue to avoid out reach to non-Jews?

Rabbi Maller’s web site is:

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Torah inside of the former Glockengasse synago...

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse synagogue in Cologne via Wikipedia

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

In the beginning of evolution life was lived without love, without friendship, without sex, and without self- consciousness. Of the four, sex was the first to appear.  It took more than one and a half billion years for single cell life forms on earth to reach the level of multicellular organisms and another 300-400 million years after that, for sexual reproduction to evolve.. Only with the evolution of birds and mammals more than three billion years after the beginnings of life, did parental love, mate paring, and friendship appear. It took more than three billion years from the beginning, for consciousness to develop, and self-consciousness has only blossomed in the last few seconds geologically speaking. While millions of species can live their entire lives without experiencing love, friendship, personal conscious trust and other forms of relationships, humans cannot. And we know it.

Relationships make up the core of our thoughts and activities. Family, friends, community and the love of God, nature and community, all provide us with our most important and meaningful human experiences.

Judaism is a religion based on the covenantal relationship between the People of Israel and the God of Israel. Parents can have many children that they love equally, but each relationship is unique to that child. God relates to humanity in many different religious ways, and only one of them is the Jewish way. Our relationship to God is not based on our own personal experience, although many Jews do have personal experiences of the Divine. The relationship of God and the Jewish People is based on the covenant (partnership agreement) formed at Mount Sinai, when God choose Israel to be his people, and Israel choose God to be their God. This relationship is not based on beliefs or even on faith, it is based on trust and faithfulness. Jews who are committed to the Jewish tradition and loyal the Jewish People are faithful Jews. ‘Good’ Jews are Jews who are trying to become better Jews by living lives filled with Torah and Mitsvot. This is why studying Torah and asking questions is so important for most Jews. This is why engaging in Mitsvot and doing good is more important than specific beliefs and prayers for most Jews.

Jewish religious thought is expressed clearly in a verse that is part of the introduction to the declaring of the Ten Commandments and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. “NOW IF YOU REALY LISTEN TO MY VOICE AND OBSERVE MY COVENANT, THEN OUT OF ALL PEOPLES YOU WILL BECOME MY SPECIAL POSSESSION, FOR THE WHOLE WORLD IS MINE. YOU WILL BE TO ME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION.”( Exodus 19:5-6) I will explicate each part of this crucial verse.

Listening to my voice means studying Torah. Observing my covenant means doing Mitsvot. In marriage feelings and actions are more important than words, yet words count. In Judaism learning and doing are more important than prayers, yet prayers count.
Beliefs are important but not as important as behavior. Most important of all is belonging to the covenantal Jewish community and participating in its ritual and moral life through both feeling and doing; a holy covenant of marriage. “THE PEOPLE ALL ANSWERED TOGETHER SAYING: WE DO! WE WILL LISTEN.” AND MOSES BROUGHT THIS ANSWER BACK TO THE LORD” (Exodus 19:8)

OUT OF ALL PEOPLES YOU: Other peoples will receive prophets and holy men but only Israel entered into a covenant with God as a whole nation “chiefs, elders, officers, wives, children, converts, from wood choppers to water carriers” (Deuteronomy 29:10-11) Is being chosen and special make you superior? No. A committed loving relationship results in more giving (Mitsvot), more receiving (Torah, Prophets and sages) greater expectations and thus more grief (because each cares very mush for the other). “For you alone have I cared among all the nations of the world, therefore I will castigate you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2) Jews are not THE chosen people; they are A chosen people, the first of several monotheistic religions. “Tell Pharaoh that these are the words of the Lord: Israel is my first born son.” (Exodus 4:22) In future centuries other nations may attach themselves to the One God of Moses and Israel, but not all nations are required to worship the s ame One God. “Each nation will walk in the name of its God,  and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)   Even in the Messianic Age other nations will be free to faithfully follow their own God, and the One God will bless all nations and peoples including  Israel’s old enemies Assyria and Egypt, referring to Egypt as ‘my people’ (Isaiah 19:24-5)

WILL BECOME MY SPECIAL POSSESSION: To become a special possession like a bride or a groom. A marriage is special because it is a mutual choice. We do not choose our parents, our siblings or our children, but we do choose a spouse. We choose and we are chosen. All the world’s religions can lead people to God but Judaism is special because it claims that God’s covenant with Israel includes sinners and unbelievers as well as believers and the pious. Unlike God’s covenant with Noah or with Abraham, the covenant at Sinai is with a whole people, even including those non-Jews who will someday enter the Jewish people as converts. All of us stood at Sinai. All of us choose, or can’t resist, being chosen. “The Lord has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth (at that time) to be his special possession.” (Deuteronomy12: 2) The prophet Amos adds, “You alone have I cared for among all the nations of the world.” (3:2) Therefor God holds Israel extra accountable, even though God does other things for other peoples “Did I not bring Israel out of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Aramaeans from Kir?” (9:7) The special part of the relationship is not due to excluding other future nations from any relationship with the God of Israel. What is special is God’s promise; “The Lord your God is a merciful god who will never fail you or destroy you, nor will God ever forget the covenant guaranteed by oath with your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 4:31) Since the Jewish people is still here, surviving all attempts to destroy it, God remains faithful to the Divine promise. No other nation or people in the western world still worships any of the gods that were worshiped in the days of Moses.

KINGDOM OF PRIESTS: This is why Jews have more religious duties than Christians, Muslims, Mormons or Baha’i. This is also why we struggle with God more. Doctors make the most difficult patients! They ask hard questions and as insiders they worry more and make greater demands. So too, with the Jewish people. We are stiff-necked; stubborn, proud and independent. But having made our choice to be chosen we become partners for life, and nothing can destroy our Divine relationship. Indeed, the more we are oppressed from outside because we are Jewish, the stronger we become inside our Jewishness and the greater becomes our commitment. Our Rabbis pointed out that (Psalm 135:4) which says, “For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel as his special treasure.” Could also be read as “For Jacob has chosen the Lord to be his own, Israel as His special treasure.” The Hebrew can be read both ways and thus represents the interactive mutuality of a covenantal living relationship. Without a husband there is no wife but without a wife there is no husband.

A HOLY NATION: The marriage covenant is a holy relationship. “You shall be holy because I, the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:1) God makes us holy by giving us Mitsvot. Thus the blessing Jews say when they are about to do a Mitsvah includes the phrase “asher kidshanu b’mitsvotav- who has made us holy through Mitsvot”. Mitsvot we do with love, especially the ritual ones, make us holy to God and Mitsvot we do with responsibility, especially the ethical ones, make God holy to us, “The holy God is made holy by righteousness.” (Isaiah 5:16 )

Rabbi Maller’s web site is