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Religious Fundamentalism and Holy War: Judaism Is Not Immune

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2002

The September 11 terrorist attacks against the U.S. have, quite properly, focused attention upon the religious extremism which motivated the suicide bombers of al Qaeda. Religious schools in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and a number of other countries have confused religion and politics and have promoted a form of Islamic fundamentalism which sees those of other faiths and, in particular, the West, as eternal enemies.  

Within our own country, voices of militant Islam have also been heard. One imam, Fawaz Damra of the Cleveland Islamic Center, was video-taped speaking in 1991 to an Islamic Jihad fund―raiser in Chicago. He urged the audience to direct “a rifle at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation, and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jew.” Sheik Muhammad Al-Gamei’a, the former imam of the Islamic Cultural Center in New York, the largest mosque in Manhattan, said of the September 11 attacks that, “Muslims aren’t smart enough to carry something like (the attacks) off, only the Jews are capable of planning such an incident.” He also accused Jewish doctors in the U.S. of killing Muslim children: “Muslims do not feel safe even going to the hospitals, because some Jewish doctors in one of the hospitals poisoned sick Muslim children, who then died.”  

Sectarian Divide  

A sectarian divide in U.S. Islam is gaining more attention. Wahhabism, a strict form of Muslim Orthodoxy backed by Saudi Arabia’s wealth and its members’ missionary zeal, may have overshadowed alternative strands of Islam in the U.S., some observers charge. Others say Wahhabism, which is more likely to claim it is “true Islam” and expect other Muslims to conform, is merely part of the faith’s diversity.  

Azizah al-Hibri, a law professor at the University of Richmond, says: “The problem is that some ideas have more funding than others,” responding to the question of Saudi funding of Wahhabi schools, literature and religious teachers. “It has a strong presence, and that makes it an issue for people who are not Wahhabi. But it’s not a split in Islam. It is part of the marketplace of ideas.”  

Yet, those who speak of a “clash of cultures” between the West and the Islamic world tend to forget that religious fundamentalism comes in many forms, and can be found in many traditions. In recent years, Christian leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, have apologized for the brutality of the Crusades and of inquisitions which were committed in the name of religion.  

Religious Fundamentalism  

Within Judaism, as well, we have seen religious fundamentalism and extremism which has led, among other things, to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin because of his efforts to move toward peace with the Palestinians. In fact, the Muslim fundamentalists who murdered Egyptian President Anwar Sadat because of his reconciliation with Israel and the Jewish fundamentalists who launched a campaign against Yitzhak Rabin which led to his murder are mirror images of one another.  

Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, brought the largely unknown and unreported world of Israel’s religious extremists under public scrutiny. “These are true believers,” said Ehud Sprinzak, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a leading Israeli expert on the radical right. “They believe it was God, not so much the Israeli Army, but the hand of God that gave them back these lands in 1967. It was God sending a message that he was ready to redeem them. They have built a world of Torah, with Yeshivas, schools, religious lifestyle. Now this is committing a huge religious sin, a sin against god ...”  

In their study of the Rabin assassination, Murder in the Name of God: The Plot to Kill Yitzhak Rabin, Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman report that Yigal Amir believes “there is only one guideline for fixing the borders of the Land of Israel: the Divine Promise made to the Patriarch Abraham: ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’ (Genesis 15:17) Today these borders embrace most of the Middle East, from Egypt to Iraq ... zealots read this passage as God’s Will, and God’s Will must be obeyed, whatever the cost. No mortal has the right to settle for borders any narrower than these. Thus negotiating a peace settlement with Israel’s neighbors is unthinkable.”  

Baruch Goldstein  

Among those activists Amir holds in high esteem is Baruch Goldstein, the physician from the settlement of Kiryat Arba adjoining Hebron, who gunned down 29 Palestinians at morning prayer in the Cave of the Patriarchs on February 25, 1995. Among the ideologues Amir especially admires is Noam Livnat of the Od Yosef Chai (Joseph Still Lives) religious school in Nablus. The yeshiva’s patron, Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg, repeatedly expressed a doctrine of racism, declaring that “Jewish blood and Gentile blood are not the same.” He defended the act of one of the yeshiva’s students who opened fire indiscriminately on Arab laborers standing alongside a highway near Tel Aviv in 1993 and he subsequently lauded Baruch Goldstein for massacring Arabs in Hebron. Ginzburg explains that he differentiates between the murder of a Gentile and that of a Jew because the Torah places a “light prohibition” on the former and a “grave” one on the latter.  

The case of Goldstein highlights the connection between Jewish extremism in the U.S. and in Israel. Goldstein, a militant Zionist from New York, had been a member of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), founded in May, 1968 in New York City by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who urged his followers to emigrate to Israel and called for the removal of all Arabs from the West Bank. After the mass murder at Hebron, Goldstein was viewed as a hero by many of the Israeli settlers. At his funeral, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin declared that “one million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.” Shmuel Hacohen, a teacher in a Jerusalem college, said: “Baruch Goldstein was the greatest Jew alive, not in one way but in every way ... There are no innocent Arabs here ... He was no crazy ... Killing isn’t nice, but sometimes it is necessary.”  

Terrorist Activities  

The JDL has been carrying out terrorist activities within the U.S. for many years, and continues to do so at the present time. In January, two JDL members were indicted in Los Angeles on charges related to a suspected plot to blow up the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, the office of the Muslim Affairs Council in Los Angeles, and a district office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). JDL Chairman Irving Rubin and member Earl Krugel, if convicted, could face life imprisonment.  

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino, says that, “Rubin has never shied away from violent rhetoric against Arabs and Muslims. What surprises me is that it took this long for Rubin’s actions to match his violent rhetoric.”  

Rep. Issa, who is of Lebanese descent, said, “As you can imagine, this is shocking news to receive. Like most Americans, my hope is for a peaceful resolution to the Middle East conflict. Unfortunately, there are extremists on both sides who oppose a peaceful resolution, and instead choose violence.”  

The JDL’s history of violence is a long one. In 1985, Alex Odeh, western director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in Santa Ana, California was murdered. F.B.I. analysts at the time said “certain evidence” implicated former associates of Rubin who had since emigrated to Israel. Although Rubin has always denied involvement in that killing, he has said, “I have no tears for Mr. Odeh. He got exactly what he deserved.”  

FBI Informant  

In the current case, an unnamed JDL member who was approached to help in the planned attacks in Los Angeles, informed authorities of the plot. The informant, who claimed to have committee previous crimes for the JDL, including planting a bomb at a mosque, said he had been asked to help bomb Arab and Muslim buildings. The F.B.I. used wiretaps and recordings to tape conversations between the informant and Rubin and Krugel in which the two discussed their plans and motivations. In the wiretaps, Rubin and Krugel tell the informant that the bombings should strike buildings and not human targets because they “still had not heard the end of the Alex Odeh incident.” Odeh was killed in 1985 when a bomb exploded as he opened the door to his office. The previous night he had appeared on television defending the Palestine Liberation Organization.  

JDL has a long history of violence, both in the U.S. and Israel, and it and its offshoots have been influential in promoting religious extremism and violence in the occupied West Bank.  

In January 1972, the JDL attacked 83-year-old Jewish impresario Sol Hurok, who was completing preparations for the premiere of a Russian balalaika troupe. They bombed Hurok’s building in mid-town Manhattan and Iris Kones, a 27-year-old Jewish woman in the accounting department, was killed. The ostensible aim of the JDL campaign was to call attention to the 2.1 million Jews living in the Soviet Union. Author Donald Neff writes that, “Unknown to the public was the fact that the anti-Soviet actions were being orchestrated by several militant Israelis, including the Mossad spy agency; Yitzhak Shamir, later Israel’s prime minister, and Guelah Cohen, a leader of the extremist Tehiya Party and member of the Knesset. The Israelis persuaded Kahane to wage the anti-Soviet campaign. The goal was to strain U.S.-Soviet relations, calculating Moscow would ease the strain by allowing increased numbers of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel.”  

A 1985 F.B.I. study of terrorist acts in the U.S. since 1981 found 15 incidents initiated by the JDL. In a 1986 study of domestic terrorism, the U.S. Department of Energy concluded: “For more than a decade, the JDL has been one of the most active terrorist groups in the United States ... Since 1968, JDL operations have killed 7 person and wounded at least 22.”  

Kahane Moves to Israel  

Meir Kahane moved to Israel in 1971 and by 1984 was popular enough to win a seat in the Knesset under the banner of his Kach Party. He developed legislation for “The Prevention of Assimilation between Jews and Non-Jews and for the Sanctity of the Jewish People.” Among the provisions it demanded were separate beaches for Jews and non-Jews and an end to mixed summer camps and community centers. Kahane’s legislation declared that “Jews are forbidden to marry non-Jews ... mixed marriages will not be recognized even if recognized in the countries in which they were held ... Jews are forbidden to have sexual relations of any sort with non-Jews ... Transgressors will be punished with two years’ imprisonment.”  

A member of the Knesset from the Likud Party, Michael Eitan, likened Kahane’s proposed legislation to the anti-Semitic Nuremburg laws enacted in Nazi Germany in September 1935, the “Reich Citizenship Law” and the “Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor.”  

A new Jewish subculture of violence was rapidly growing in Israel. On April 27, 1984, another event shook the country. A plot was uncovered to blow up five buses full of Arab passengers during the rush hour. Within days, 27 suspected members of an anti-Arab terrorist group were arrested. Soon it was learned that suspects had been responsible for an unsolved 1980 terror bombing in which two West Bank Arab mayors were crippled and three others saved only because of a last-minute failure to booby-trap their cars. Several members of the group also admitted responsibility for numerous acts of anti-Arab terrorism, including a 1983 attack on the Islamic College in Hebron that killed three students and wounded 33.  

Militant Settler Movement  

The emergence of the militant Jewish settler movement Gush Emunim on the occupied West Bank slowly revealed a new philosophy of messianism and fundamentalism which fueled much of the terror. Traditionally, Jews believed that the messiah could come only through the single meta-historical appearance of an individual redeemer. Now, holy and redemptive status was given to the secular state of Israel. Israel’s victory in the 1967 war led many to believe they were living in a messianic age. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook became a leader of the fundamentalist movement. He defined the state of Israel as the Halakhic Kingdom of Israel, and the Kingdom of Israel as the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Every Jew living in Israel was holy.  

Ehud Sprinzak explains that “the single most important conclusion of the new theology had to do with Eretz Israel, the land of Israel.” In his book Brother Against Brother: Violence and Extremism in Israeli Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination, he writes: “The land ― every grain of its soil ― was declared holy in a fundamental sense. The conquered territories of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) had become inalienable and nonnegotiable, not as a result of political or security concern but because God had promised them to Abraham four thousand years earlier, and because the identity of the nation was shaped by this promise. Redemption could take place only in the context of greater Eretz Israel, and territorial withdrawal meant forfeiting redemption.”  

The most extreme reaction to the September 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt can be seen in the establishment of the “Jewish underground.” Originally, it was considered an ad hoc terror team whose purpose was to avenge terrorism by the P.L.O. But the chief aim on its initial agenda was blowing up what it called “the abomination” ― Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest shrines and believed to be located almost exactly on the site of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed nearly two thousand years ago.  

Dome of the Rock  

The idea of blowing up the Dome of the Rock was raised by two fundamentalist religious Zionists, Yeshua Ben Shoshan and Yehuda Etzion. They sought the restoration of the biblical Kingdom of Israel and the building of the Third Temple, both these goals necessitating destruction of the Dome of the Rock, In 1980, Etzion convened a secret meeting at which the operation was spelled out in great detail. The conspirators had the necessary technical expertise to carry out their plan. But they felt obliged to suspend it because they could not find a rabbi willing to bless their venture. It was only after the arrest of Etzion and other Jewish underground members in connection with the attempt to blow up the five Arab buses that the Dome of the Rock plot was discovered. Had it been effected, the consequences would have been catastrophic ― at the very least, a war between Israel and a Muslim world united in outrage.  

In what is perhaps the landmark example of Jewish terrorism in Israel, the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, all of the various ultra-nationalist elements and philosophies came into play. According to Ehud Sprinzak, Rabin’s assassination did not take place in a vacuum. Although Yigal Amir acted alone, his act should be viewed as the culmination of a process of delegitimation of the Israeli government by Israel’s ultra-nationalists. The 1993 Oslo Accords triggered the renewed radicalization of the right, but “the final countdown to the assassination had begun in the aftermath of the 1994 Hebron massacre.”  

When Rabin held office, the ultra-Orthodox weekly Hashavna was used by it publisher Asher Zuckerman to wage a vicious crusade against the prime minister. The magazine regularly called Rabin, “Kapo,” “an anti-Semite” and a “pathological liar.” The weekly, which is read by close to 20 percent of the ultra-orthodox community, published a symposium on the question of whether Rabin deserved to die and on the appropriate means of executing him. By the critical summer of 1995, Hashavna went so far as to charge that Rabin and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, were “leading the state and its citizens to annihilation and must be placed before a firing squad.”  

Religious Sanction to Murder  

A group of Orthodox rabbis gave religious sanction to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. These rabbis, both in Israel and abroad, revived two obsolete concepts ― din rodef (the duty to eliminate a Jew who imperils the life and property of another Jew) and din moser (the duty to eliminate a Jew who intends to turn in another Jew to non-Jewish authorities). By relinquishing rule over parts of the biblical Land of Israel to the Palestinian authorities, these rabbis argued, the head of the Israeli government had become a moser (informer, collaborator with Gentiles). They thus effectively declared Rabin a legitimate target for Jewish extremists.  

In a meeting with Samuel Hollander, Israel’s orthodox cabinet secretary who visited New York over the High Holy Days in 1995, a group of rabbis told the stunned official that his boss was a moser and rodef. Rabbi Abraham Hecht, the head of New York City’s large Sharei Zion synagogue, did not hesitate to say in public what many of his colleagues had been saying privately. In an interview with New York magazine (Oct. 9, 1995), he maintained that, “Rabin is not a Jew any longer ... According to Jewish law, any one person ... who wilfully, consciously, intentionally hands over human bodies or human property or the human wealth of the Jewish people to an alien people is guilty of the sin for which the penalty is death. And according to Maimonides ... it says very clearly, if a man kills him, he has done a good deed.”  

Radical Right Ceremony  

In 1995, the Purim holiday was an occasion for a special radical right ceremony, the anniversary of the Hebron massacre and the death of Baruch Goldstein. A Goldstein cult had emerged and his memory became the rallying point of the disbanded Kahane movement. A 550-page edited memorial, Baruch Hagever (Baruch, The Man: A Memorial Volume for Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the Saint, May God Avenge His Blood) was published. Edited by Michael Ben Horin, a Golan settler, the major theme of the book was conceived by Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg, head of the radical Tomb of Joseph yeshiva in Nablus. Goldstein, he believed, was not a criminal and mass murderer but a man of piety and deep religious conviction. Ginzburg wrote: “About the value of Israel’s life, it simply seems that the life of Israel is worth more than the life of the Gentile and even if the Gentile does not intend to hurt Israel it is permissible to hurt him in order to save Israel.” He called the Hebron massacre “a shining moment.”  

Yigal Amir, Rabin’s assassin, avidly read Baruch Hagever. He explained the assassination to his interrogators by saying that, “If not for a Halakhic ruling of din rodef, made against Rabin by a few rabbis I knew about, it would have been very difficult for me to murder. Such a murder must be backed up. If I did not get the backing and I had not been representing many more people, I would not have acted.”  

Amos Oz, Israel’s most celebrated writer, refers to his country’s extremists as “Hezbollah in a skullcap.” He says that Rabin’s death made him realize that “the real battle in the Middle East is no longer between Arabs and Jews but between fanatics of both faiths and the rest of the people in the Middle East who want to find some reasonable compromise.”  

Racist Incitement  

Critics in Israel are concerned about the fact that laws against racist incitement seem to be applied only to Arabs, and not to Jews. Recently, for example, the Knesset removed the parliamentary immunity of Arab lawmaker Azmi Bishara so that he could stand trail under the Anti-Terror Ordinance for expressing public support for Hezbollah. Yet, Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg, who published Baruch Hagever, justifying mass murder by Baruch Goldstein, remains free from prosecution.  

Israel’s criminal code includes the offense of racist incitement, punishable by five years’ imprisonment. Hebrew University Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, an expert on criminal law, has called Ginzburg’s treatise “the most dangerous racist publication in the Hebrew language in terms of its persuasive power for those for whom halakhic discourse is close to their heart.” Moreover, much of Ginzburg’s audience lives in the territories, among a large Palestinian population, where the danger of someone attempting to emulate Goldstein’s fulfillment of “five commandments” is “particularly great.”  

Yet, even after three editions of Baruch Hagever, Ginzburg has never been charged. Jerusalem attorneys David Schonberg and Moshe Frankfurter, believing the law against racial incitement must be enforced equally, have conducted a six year legal battle to force the attorney general to indict him. This has not happened.  

Double Standard  

Moshe Negbi, the legal commentator for Israel Radio and Israel T.V., declares: “Nothing could be more absurd than exempting Jews from the law against racist incitement, while charging an Arab with incitement to violence. Yet prima facie, that is what Israel’s attorney general, Elyskim Rubinstein, has done ― with the Supreme Court’s acquiescence ... When the intifada erupted, Chief Justice Aharon Barak promised in a public lecture that ‘precisely when the guns roar, we must ensure full and true equality for every individual.’ The impression of racist discrimination created by energetic enforcement of the law against an Arab politician who incites, alongside non-enforcement against Jews who incite, turns that grand promise into empty rhetoric.”  

There is too little understanding of the nature of the Jewish religious extremism which continues to be so much a part of Israel’s political life and, increasingly, of Jewish life in other countries. Professor Mark Juergensmeyer of the University of California, in his book Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, reports on a conversation he had with Yoel Lerner, an activist leader who served time in prison for his part in an attempt to blow up the Dome of the Rock:  

“Yoel Lerner ... believes in a form of messianic Zionism. In his view the prophesied Messiah will come to earth only after the temple is rebuilt and made ready for him ... the issue of the temple was not only a matter of cultural nostalgia but also one of pressing religious importance ... In Lerner’s view the redemption of the whole world depends upon the actions of Jews in creating the conditions necessary for messianic salvation ... He ... told me that there had been a great deal of discussion in the months before Rabin’s death about the religious justification for the political assassination ― or ‘execution’ as Lerner called it ― of Jewish leaders who were felt to be dangerously irresponsible and were de facto enemies of Judaism. Thus it was ‘no surprise’ to Lerner that someone like Yigal Amir was successful in killing Rabin. The only thing that puzzled him, he said, was that ‘no one had done it before.’”  

Fight Against Zealots  

Rabbi Uri Regev, director of Reform Judaism’s Religion Action Center, warns that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 should make clear the need to fight against both Israeli and Palestinian “zealots.”  

In a talk at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Cleveland shortly after Sept. 11, Regev accused the Israeli Orthodox establishment of limiting religious freedom by fighting any attempt to grant state recognition to Reform and Conservative conversions or weddings. He said that members of the Orthodox community had vandalized Reform and Conservative religious institutions.  

In his talk, Regev spoke out about the dangers of Islamic terrorism. He added, “In Israel we have our own religious extremists who feel they have the right to rule other people’s lives, spreading the venom of fundamentalism.”  

Regev asserted that some fervently Orthodox Jewish leaders in Israel have used hate-filled and violent language not only against non-Jews but against liberal and secular Jews and their institutions. He said he was particularly concerned about a Sept. 7 article in the Israeli edition of the Orthodox newspaper, Yated Ne-eman, which described Reform and Conservative Jews as “destroyers of religion,” “criminals,” and “enemies of God.”  

He also pointed to a sermon by one of Israel’s chief rabbis, Eliyahu Bakshi-Doren, given in 1996 in which he defended the violence of the biblical zealot Pinchas, and suggested that bloodshed in defense of Judaism is “like a doctor who spreads blood with his scalpel, but saves the patient.”  

Learn from Sept. 11  

Regev concluded: “We need to band together to fight religious zealots on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. If we don’t learn from the Sept. 11 loss of human lives, we haven’t learned anything.”  

Writing in Sh’ma, Reuven Firestone, professor of medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles and author of, among other works, Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism, declares: “Before dismissing the appalling behaviors of our Muslim cousins engaged in holy war, let us put our own house in order. Holy war has been revived among Israel the people and within Israel the state ... After the Mishnah, Jewish holy war ideas lay virtually dormant ... though they were discussed briefly by certain medieval thinkers and appear in some of our apocalyptic and messianic writings. But holy war has been revived in contemporary Israel, especially among ultranationalist Orthodox settlers in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and their many supporters. The war .. is defined by many religiously observant settlers and their supporters as a divine obligation to reclaim the whole of the Land of Israel as either a prelude to or actually part of the messianic awakening.”  

Dr. Firestone notes that: “As Jewish holy war has entered religious and political discourse in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so has the increase of Jewish atrocities in the name of a higher cause. It reached its peak in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s with the maiming and murdering of Muslim non-combatants by the Jewish Underground, the massacre of Muslims in prayer by Baruch Goldstein, and Yigal Amir’s assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Holy war ideas continue to inform the behavior of many religious settlers to this day.”  

Advocates of “Holy War”  

While thee has been much attention paid in recent days to the advocates of “holy war” within the Islamic community ― as well there should be ― insufficient attention has been paid to similar movements within Judaism, particularly by national Jewish organizations which have traditionally ignored the extremists within the Jewish community while doing their best to highlight the misdeeds of similar extremists in other communities.  

Reuven Firestone expresses the view that, “Holy war is a dangerous reality. We have now felt its sting. Let us, therefore, before we try vainly and patronizingly to intervene in the internal debates of another religious community, put our own house in order. We must neutralize if not eradicate the ugly and gravely dangerous revival of holy war within Judaism. The first step is to acknowledge its existence. The next is to engage in public discussion within our own community, especially among the spectrum of religious leaders, to mitigate the inherently self-destructive and ultimately immoral efforts to define our fighting with the Palestinians as a holy war.”  

Thus far, neither the leaders of the American Jewish community nor responsible officials in Israel have come to grips with the dangers posed by religious fundamentalism and its “holy war” component. Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman point out that in the wake of the Rabin assassination, Israeli society refused to properly confront the forces which brought it about. The commission headed by Meir Shamgar to investigate Rabin’s murder “held back from scrutinizing the factors responsible ... In effect, the report reduced the murder of a prime minister from a complex historical event to a simple lapse in security arrangements ... Justice Shamgar had taken a similarly restrictive approach to circumstances two years earlier when he had chaired the commission investigating Baruch Goldstein’s massacre ... In that instance too the panel confined itself to a strict elucidation of the facts and performance of the security personnel, rather than an examination of the religious, social and political conditions that had fueled the attack.”  

Problems Not Unique  

Sadly, the problems faced in Israel and within Judaism are not unique. Religious extremists have been brutally slaughtering their opponents “in the name of God” from the beginning of recorded history. It is the responsibility of men and women of good will of all faiths to fight the bigotry within their own religious communities. This is true for Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland ― for Hindus and Muslims in India and Pakistan ― for the different faiths in the Balkans ― and for those who have used the name of God as a cause for war and terror in the Middle East. Judaism is, as we have seen, not immune from such extremism.  

All of us, Jews, Christians and Muslims, must choose between elements of our religious traditions. The advocates of terror and “holy war” have selected primitive tribal exhortations as their mandate. This is, however, hardly representative of the highest moral and ethical teachings of each tradition, which are universal.  

Thomas Cahill, author of The Hinges of History series, which includes the best-selling The Gifts of the Jews, makes this point: “The bloodthirsty Judaism of the Book of Joshua, in which God commands the Israelites to put all Canaanites, even children, to the sword, is hardly the Judaism of today, except perhaps at the extreme end of its spectrum ― in the followers of someone like Meir Kahane or the religious fanatics who encouraged the assassination of the peacemaker Yitzhak Rabin. But in the same period as Joshua, or soon thereafter, Gideon builds an altar in the desert to replace the altar of Baal, the god of thunder and war, he calls the new altar ‘Peace Is the Name of God.’ And the Christianity of 13th century Europe ― a time of bloody crusades and inquisitions ... is very different from the Christianity of John XXIII, who wrote in his diary that ‘the whole world is my family.’”  

The time has come for those who speak in the name of Judaism to spend as much time in introspection, in isolating the extremist advocates of violence “in the name of God” in t heir midst, as in combating those with a similar mindset in other religious traditions. Thus far, there has been little willingness to engage in such soul-searching.  

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