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Judaism Versus Islam


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Judaism Versus Islam

By Prof. Paul Eidelberg

In Jewish law the individual cannot be sacrificed for the sake of society. Thus, in the Jerusalem Talmud we read: "If gentiles [surrounding Israel] demand, 'Surrender one of yourselves to us and we will kill him; otherwise we shall kill all of you,' they must all suffer death rather than surrender a single Israelite to them" (Terumot 8, 9). This means that the individual is of infinite value, that he stands on a par with the entire community, of the Jewish People.

Accordingly, and as the Late Rabbi Dr. Chaim Zimmerman has written, “Society is made to serve man, but man is not made to serve society …. When man starts serving society as an end, he loses his individuality and becomes subjected to the state. This is paganism.” According to Rabbi Zimmerman. The Jewish nation has only one purpose, and that is to benefit the individual and improve his level of intellectual-moral excellence.

In Judaism, not only is it forbidden to sacrifice a human being for society, it is also forbidden to sacrifice a human being for the sake of God, as we see in the negation of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. Such sacrifice is unadulterated paganism.

To the extent that Islam subordinates the individual to society or does not acknowledge the infinite worth of the individual, it conduces to the paganism exemplified by suicide bombers, whether they explode themselves in Jerusalem or in New York. Their saying “Allah is Great” only makes man as well as his creator pathetically small.

How different the Jewish view of man. Ponder these words of King David—conveying the most beautiful synthesis of humility and pride:

Lord, our Master ...
When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have established,
What is man's worth that You should be mindful of him? ...
Yet you have made him a little less than God.
You have crowned him with dignity and majesty.
You have made him the ruler of the works of Your hands.
You have put everything under his feet and control ...
Lord, our Master,
How powerful is Your Name and Glory in this world
(Psalm 8:4)

(This rendering is adapted from Chaim Zimmerman, Torah and Reason [Jerusalem: HED Press, 1979], pp. 160-161.)

Let us consider this verse very carefully. First, King David here employs two divine names, "Lord" and "God." The word "Lord" is the English translation of the Tetragrammaton, YHVH, the Ineffable Name, which Jews more familiarly and reverently render as HaShem (literally meaning "The Name"). As for the word "God," this is the English translation of the Hebrew word Elohim. Bearing this in mind, let us return to Psalm 8.

"When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars"—these words do not glorify nature (as in Greek philosophy) but the Creator of nature. Moreover, King David is not comparing man to the moon and the stars. When he declares to HaShem, "You have made man a little less than God (Elohim)," he thereby affirms that man is the most important essence in the universe; for having been created in the image of God, man possesses intellect and free will, the highest qualities in creation.

King David could therefore say: "You have endowed man with dignity and majesty. You have made him the ruler of the works of Your hands." But when he adds, "HaShem, our Master, how powerful is Your Name and glory in this world," we are here given to learn that the glory of the Creator is manifested through the intellect of man, hence of individual human beings.

It is pure paganism to sacrifice a human being to Allah. If Islam can be construed to permit such sacrifice, then it is diametrically opposed to the ethical monotheism of Judaism.

King David’s portrayal of man in Psalm 8 is an exaltation of human freedom, which stands in stark contrast to the determinism associated with Islam and the despotism of Islamic regimes.

I make this disturbing comparison because too many scholars and politicians have trivialized the nature of the conflict between Israel and its Arab-Islamic neighbors. The conflict is not a territorial one. It is not a political one—to be solved by introducing democracy in the Middle East. No, the conflict is a metaphysical and civilizational conflict, evidence to the contrary (like Turkey) notwithstanding.

Islam will have to undergo some sort of “Protestant Reformation.” Only then can democracy—if it is not of the vulgar secular variety—gain a solid foothold in Islamdom and benefit its oppressed people, so misguided that they gleefully celebrate the murder of innocent human beings.


from the July 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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