Tag Archives: idolatry

Are Christians and “Messianic Gentiles” Idolaters According to Judaism?

I’ve come across a very interesting Wiki called WikiNoah.org which bills itself as:

Everything worthwhile to know about the Bnei Noach movement. The Online Encyclopedia about the Noahide movement created by observant Noahides and Jews.

Since I’ve been writing a series of blog posts on a comparison between Noahides and those who call themselves “Messianic Gentiles” (and finding a lot of common ground between the two groups), I decided to take a closer look. The following got my attention:

Within Judaism it is a matter of debate whether all Christians should be considered Noahides.

While Christianity appears to conform to six of the seven Noahide laws, an informal comparison of the Nicene Creed and Noahide Law reveals that three major theological teachings may involve a violation of the Noahide prohibition against idolatry.

  • Equating Jesus with G-d
  • Equating the Holy Spirit with G-d
  • Jesus as Savior (in his proposed capacity as G-d)

However, these theological issues do not fit the classical Jewish definition of idolatry. This has caused disagreement among rabbinic authorities on the question of the permissibility of Christianity for non-Jews. (All authorities forbid Christianity for Jews).

Another consideration would be that even if Christians are considered at least partially observant Noahides, are they Chasidei Umos HaOlam or Chochmei Umos HaOlam? The former are considered to have a share in the world to come because they recognize Noahide Law as being revealed through mosaic (rabbinic) tradition, the latter are not considered to have a share in the world to come because they follow Noahide Law based on intellectual expediency.

In summary, classical idolatry has been clearly defined by Jewish Law. Christianity, however, has been defined as something less. The problem is defining how much less, and for what purposes.

-from Christianity and Noahide Law

rabbis talmud debateI realize I’m treading on somewhat thin ice, so to speak, because this is a single source, and Jewish opinion on any topic rarely is defined by a single source. Nevertheless, this also stands in sharp relief to some Jewish opinions I’ve recently read in the religious blogosphere stating that Christianity is unequivocally idolatrous.

Granted, there are multiple Rabbinic legal opinions on this topic.

Maimonides most definitely considered Christianity “avodah zarah” (loosely translated as “idolatry”), while Rabbenu Tam and his fellow Tosafists did not condemn Christianity as idolatry (all this can be found at the wiki page for the article from which I’m quoting so just click the link above). There are also many other Rabbinic views on Christianity.

For instance Rabbi Moses Rivkes who lived in Lithuania in the 17th century said:

The rabbis of the Talmud meant by the term ‘idolators’ the pagans who lived in their time, who worshipped the stars and the constellations and did not believe in the Exodus from Egypt and in the creation of the world out of nothing. But the nations under whose benevolent shadow we, the Jewish nation, are exiled and are dispersed among them, they do believe in the creation of the world out of nothing and the Exodus from Egypt and in the essentials of faith, and their whole intention is toward the Maker of heaven and earth, as other authorities have said . . . these nations do believe in all of this

Whereas Rabbi Israel Lipschutz (1782-1860) stated:

R. Elazar ben Azaryah said, “If there is no Torah there is no culture [derekh eretz]” – The word “Torah” here cannot be meant literally, since there are many ignorant people who have not learned it, and many pious among the gentiles who do not keep the Torah and yet are ethical and people of culture. Rather, the correct interpretation seems to me to be that every people has its own religion [dat Eloki] which comprises three foundational principles, [a] belief in a revealed Torah, [b] belief in [Divine] reward and punishment, and [c] belief in an afterlife (they disagree merely on the interpretation of these principles). These three principles are what are called here “Torah”.

While citing Rabbi Zevi Yehudah Kook (1891-1982):

Rabbi Zevi Yehudah Kook was a rabbi, leader of the Religious Zionist, Mizrachi movement in Israel, on the other hand resurrects many of the classic anti-Christian polemics with a vigor not seen for centuries. Among them: Christianity should be dismissed as an internal Jewish heresy; G-d the creator clearly cannot be a man; the Jewish G-d is alive whereas the Christian’s is dead. Christianity is the refuse of Israel, in line with the purported ancient Talmudic portrayals of Jesus as boiling in excrement.

Talmudic RabbisI say all this not to make a personal statement of whether or not Christianity is idolatry. I don’t believe it is. What I’m attempting to do is illustrate that the viewpoint on Christianity, whether or not it is idolatry, and if Christians, from a halachic perspective, can be considered Noahides, is highly complex, and there isn’t a uniform Jewish opinion on the matter that “settles” it once and for all.

A nice summary of this thought can be found on another WikiNoah page:

Some rabbis in the Talmud view Christianity as a form of idolatry prohibited not only to Jews, but to gentiles as well. Rabbis with these views did not claim that it was idolatry in the same sense as pagan idolatry in Biblical times, but that it relied on idolatrous forms of worship (i.e. to a Trinity of gods and to statues and saints) (see Hullin, 13b). Other rabbis disagreed, and did not hold it to be idolatry. The dispute continues to this day. (Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance, Oxford Univ. Press, 1961, Ch.10)

Of course, it would stand to reason that Messianic Jews do not view themselves nor the non-Jews in their midst as idolators, since although covenant status and religious praxis differs between Jews and Gentiles within the “Messianic” context, they both possess the same faith in Hashem, God of Israel, and loyalty and fealty to King Messiah.

And citing a 2007 ruling by the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah:

A recent ruling by the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah has ruled that it will not allow people from a Christian background to take the The Noahide Pledge if they believe that Jesus was Messiah. However they state that this is based on procedural and not halachic considerations. They state that another court may accept the Noahide pledge from such a person and it may be completely valid.

So while traditional Christians as well as “Messianic Gentiles,” would not be allowed to take The Noahide Pledge according to the Jerusalem Court, this is not a universal ruling, nor does it represent halachah, but rather legal procedure.

I’m obviously sidestepping Hashem’s point of view on the matter, but I’m not writing this to share what I believe God thinks about us. I just want to illustrate that Jewish opinion on Christians, Messianic Gentiles, and Noahides isn’t a “slam dunk” as some folks might have you believe.

Image: kishfanclub.info

In Messianic Days, the devoted disciples of Rav Yeshua will be supported and affirmed and all the difficulties we have in comprehending who we are relative to each other and to God will be swept away. I suspect we will all have our eyes opened one way or another. In the meantime, we do what we can to understand ourselves and the people around us, hopefully treating each other as people all made in Hashem’s image, regardless of how we may otherwise disagree.

Some of my blog posts in this series comparing Noahides and Gentiles devoted with our Rav within the context of Messianic Judaism have stimulated interesting discussion, both on this blogspot and on Facebook. I hope today’s “morning meditation” will help continue the conversation.

The Crazy Flavor in Religion

No, not all religions or all religious people “taste of crazy,” but the ones who do really stand out. Consider:

A well-known, though already controversial, Israeli rabbi recently released a video encouraging his followers that Messianic Jews sharing the Gospel deserve the “death penalty.”

-Israel Today Staff, October 25,2015
“Rabbi Threatens: Messianic Jewish Evangelists Deserve Death”
Israel Today

I found the link to the above-referenced news article at yesterday’s edition of the Rosh Pina Project. It’s a little bit terrifying that this Rabbi makes such public statements and teaches at a yeshiva. Unfortunately, his opinions can add fuel to how many Christians, at least covertly, feel about Jewish people and Judaism.

I don’t know how popular Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi’s opinions are, either here in America or in Israel. I hope he’s something of an “edge case” and doesn’t represent mainstream religious Jewish thought. Yes, I know that the idea of Jews “believing in Jesus” pretty much goes against what normative Judaism is able to accept, but the whole “death penalty” thing seems over the top.

Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi

While it would be easy to start saying bad things about the ultra-Orthodox or just Rabbis and Rabbinic authority in general, it’s important to remember that “loose cannons” can exist in just about any religious environment.

Steve Anderson, the anti-Semitic pastor of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, denies the Holocaust in a video he posted to YouTube last week, claiming that the millions of Jews who were gassed and burned in ovens simply died of hunger and disease due to forced labor and war.

-from “Anti-Semitic Pastor Steve Anderson Promotes Holocaust Denial”
blog.adl.org, June 1, 2015

We like to believe that “the Church” has come a long way since the “bad old days” when they used to torch volumes of Talmud, Torah scrolls, and burn the occasional synagogue to the ground. There’s even been some recent talk about a partnership between Christianity and Orthodox Judaism. But that doesn’t mean that all Christians and all Jews are on board with this.

Anderson goes on to say:

Anderson warns that the “real Holo­caust” for the Jews will occur if they don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah. He says, “The real burnt offer­ing is going to be when all of these Jews that don’t believe in Jesus Christ go to hell for eter­nity. That’s the oven that they ought to be wor­ried about.”

So this Baptist Pastor has his own idea of a “death sentence” for Jews who don’t accept Jesus, he just figures Jesus is going to be the executioner. I find this disturbing because this “burnt offering” he proposes, in his eyes, would include my Jewish wife. I’m glad his church in Tempe, Arizona is far away from here.

But while Anderson is “gunning” for all Jews who don’t believe in Jesus, Rabbi Mizrachi has a more specific target:

Mizrachi was referring specifically to Eitan Bar and Moti Vaknin, the Israeli Messianic Jews behind the One For Israel project that exists primarily to share the Gospel via the Internet.

In one of their more recent videos, Bar and Vaknin exposed several of Mizrachi’s false teachings regarding Yeshua and the promises about Messiah.

Mizrachi warned that “if they dare to speak up again, these two clowns, I will strike them down.”

Pastor Steve Anderson

That’s a pretty bold statement. I suppose Rabbi Mizrachi could have just been blowing smoke, but I think Bar and Vaknin took the threat seriously.

The irony in all this is that, even though Mizrachi and Anderson would consider each other mortal enemies, they have some things in common. They both believe they are sincerely serving God in calling for (in one way or another) the destruction of those they believe are opposed to God. They are both Holocaust deniers (amazingly enough), and they both aren’t afraid to go on record saying some pretty inflammatory things.

I suppose scary or crazy people can be in any religion, even as Rabbis and Pastors.

By the way, I found Anderson just by Googling “anti-semitic pastor” and his name was returned at the top of the list. I’m sure there are others, maybe many others, most of whom don’t publicly admit to their opinions. For all I know, there may be plenty of Rabbis who covertly agree with Mizrachi but for the sake of peace don’t give voice to their thoughts.

It’s enough to make you want to give up on religion altogether.

That’s why I have to believe that these two individuals are somewhat rare. I have to believe that most Rabbis and most Pastors don’t desire the destruction of Messianic Jews and non-believing Jews respectively.

But even if most or all of them did, that doesn’t change God. Some Christians like to say that “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” I completely disagree. Christianity in its various forms is just as much a tradition-driven religion as the numerous branches of Judaism. Where the relationship comes in, at least from my point of view, is between the individual and God.

I suppose I could say “between the community and God,” but the community isn’t responsible for your “walk” with the Almighty, you are. That people like Pastor Anderson call themselves “Christian” in no way obligates me to agree with any of their nonsensical notions.

waitIf I were stuck on the proverbial desert island with the means to survive in the long haul, and my only companion were God, I wouldn’t give men like Mizrachi and Anderson a second thought. I probably still shouldn’t. After all, I don’t depend on either of them for my ability to connect (or disconnect as the case may be) with Hashem.

And that’s the beauty of it. No matter how many religious “nutjobs” there are in the world, they don’t speak for me and they have exactly zero impact on what God thinks of Christians and Jews relative to Moshiach or anything else.

I can only hope and pray that God will protect anyone Mizrachi and Anderson have influence over.

Are Christians Idol Worshipers?

More to the point, by Christians worshiping Jesus as divine, does that automatically make Christians idol worshipers according to Judaism?

The Jewish criterion regarding idolatry – as it relates to non-Jews – is also subject to debate. The accepted ruling is that if a non-Jew believes in a single all-powerful God, even if he accepts other forces together with God (such as the Christian belief in the Trinity), it is not idolatry. (Note that this distinction only pertains to non-Jews.) However, any other type of belief in a deity independent of God is idolatry (Code of Jewish Law – Rema O.C. 156:1).

-from “Ask the Rabbi”

Granted, the various branches of Judaism would have other issues with the worship of Jesus as part of the Trinity, but it is only idol worship if we are assigning an inanimate object with directly being God.

I’m not going to address the whole idea of the Trinity or the divine nature of Yeshua, and how all that’s supposed to work and, for once, I’m not going to write a lengthy missive on the topic. I just wanted to clarify for those folks out there who have accused Christians of being idol worshipers, that according to Jewish thought based on the above-quoted passage, we/they certainly aren’t.

As far as “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30) is concerned, there are other ways to understand why no one comes to the Father except through the Son.

But as the Aish Rabbi above explains, this applies only to non-Jews. For Jewish disciples of Yeshua, I can only imagine things may be a little harder to understand.

Born Again Idol Worshipper

jesus-idolAs Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the great Kabbalist and philosopher living at the turn of the century put it, “There is faith that is actually denial, and there is denial that is actually faith.” When a person says that he believes in God, but in fact, that God he believes in is really a conceptual spiritual idol, an image of God that he has conjured up, then his faith is actually denial of truth, heresy. However, when a person professes atheism because he just can’t believe in some almighty king with a white flowing beard floating somewhere in outer space, in a sense he is expressing true faith, because there is no such God.

-Rabbi David Aaron
“Chapter One: Getting Rid of God,” pg 7
Seeing God: Ten Life-Changing Lessons of the Kabbalah

In Christian thinking, that human failure is inherent in human nature, one of the results of original sin, Adam’s rebellion against God’s will in the Garden of Eden as recorded in Genesis 3. That blemish is transmitted from one generation to another to all of humanity through the sexual act. Jesus’ vicarious death on the Cross then represents God’s gracious gift, which erases that original sin and grants salvation to the believer who accepts Jesus’ saving act.

But in Jewish sources, the very fact that the prophets urge the people of Israel to unblock their hearts, to open their eyes, to remove the obstacles that get in the way of their relation to God suggests that this obstacle is more a matter of will, not at all inherent epistemological obstacle to recognizing God’s presence in the world.

Any time we install a feature of creation and call it God, we are committing the sin of idolatry, the Jewish cardinal sin. It need not be a material object; it can be something much more abstract or elusive: a nation, history itself (as in Marxism), financial reward, or another human being.

-Rabbi Neil Gillman
“Introduction,” pp x-xi
The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians

It’s not really pleasant to be called an idol worshipper but that’s exactly what happened to me recently.

No, it wasn’t done in an unkind way and I understand the complete sincerity of the person involved and their desire to be “a light to the world,” so to speak, by encouraging me to reconsider what this person believes is a very bad decision on my part…worshipping a man as God.

I think it’s rather amazing that I checked out both Rabbi Aaron’s and Rabbi Gillman’s books from my local library a week or more ago, before I knew I’d be having this conversation with my friend. In reading their first chapters, they both seem to be speaking to the idea of worshipping idols, albeit from different directions. Rabbi Gillman’s book sounds somewhat like my friend in that it’s a Jewish person attempting to be a light to the nations by writing to Christians and letting us know how we’re not getting it right. We aren’t examining the Bible through the correct lens. There are just too many areas of the Tanakh (Old Testament) that either fail to speak of God becoming man and Messiah, or that directly speak against such a thing.

My friend and I have had these conversations before and while I try very hard to take his suggestions and information and examine them objectively, I continue to run headlong into my faith in Jesus as Messiah. I’ve been challenged to re-examine that faith against the Tanakh and seek my answers within its pages. Can we “prove” Jesus is the Messiah without touching the New Testament at all?

Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:24-27, 31-32 (NASB)

I suppose I just cheated because I’m quoting from the New Testament, but look at what’s being said. Jesus, using only Moses and the Prophets (which makes perfect sense as none of the New Testament writings existed during this time in history), “explained to them all the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

If I take that statement at face value, that means it’s possible to support having faith in Jesus as Messiah using only the Torah and the Prophets. Too bad Luke didn’t record what Jesus actually said. It would have made things a lot easier to investigate.

crossLately, I’ve been writing a lot to Christians in the church defending Messianic Judaism and the observance of the Torah mitzvot by believing Jews. I’ve spent almost no time at all directly addressing Jewish people who are religious but have no faith in Jesus, and who see worshipping Jesus as God as idolatry. Rabbi Aaron implied, based on the above-quoted passage of his book, that someone who doesn’t believe in a God that is not credible because He is quantifiable, physical, and definable, has more faith than a person who can point to Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Is worshipping Jesus worshipping an “image?” Is worshipping Jesus who lived a human life actually worshipping a man?

You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but you shall utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.

Exodus 23:24 (American King James Version)

So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female…

Deuteronomy 4:15-16 (NASB)

Those two verses don’t seem to have a direct bearing on the worship of God in corporeal, living form, since “images” and “graven images” address more manufactured items, like statues and such.

This all goes to the heart of how we Christians understand that Jesus was at once human and Divine. For most Jewish people, this does not compute. Rabbi Gillman’s book is written specifically to refute Christianity, although I’m certain with the best intentions.

When Christians try to explain their/our faith to most other groups, we rely a lot on the New Testament and we speak in all manner of “Christianese.” However, does this work very well with most Jewish people? The majority of Messianic Jewish people I know came into the movement by way of the church. Most of them became familiar with and invested in the Torah and a lived Jewish experience only later on. Faith in Jesus preceded a Jewish understanding of faith in Jesus.

Not being Jewish and not having that lived experience and education, I can only present the basis of my faith from a Christian/Gentile point of view.

A lot of Jewish people have a point in “defending” themselves against Christianity. Conversion and assimilation are considered a real threat to Jewish continuance forward in time. While I don’t believe that God would ever allow the extinction of the Jewish people and of Israel, Jewish people are still afraid. Further more, people like my friend and Rabbi Gillman authentically believe they are providing Gentile Christians a service in explaining how we are mistaken and how to correct our mistakes.

This is the sort of dialog that the church hasn’t done well at during the past twenty centuries or so. But if we can’t show from the Tanakh that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, what can we Gentiles in Christianity say to the Jewish people who challenge the validity of our faith and our identity in Christ?

When Your Soul Seeks Peace with God

There is no fight as bitter as a family fight. The bitterness and scars remain long after the incident that may have originally sparked it is long since gone and sometimes even forgotten. Many times the bitterness and hard feelings remain even in generations of descendants of the original antagonists, as though somehow genetically transmitted.

Yosef and his brothers reconcile in this week’s parsha. But the divisions within the Jewish people then and now are apparently never really healed and forgotten. The commentators point out that the rebellions against Moshe in the desert, that of Korach of the tribe of Levi and Zimri of the tribe of Shimon and Datan and Aviram of the tribe of Reuven, are all part of the residue – of the fallout of the tragedy of the disagreement of Yosef and his brothers.

-Rabbi Berel Wein
“Right and Wrong”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayigash

“But Judaism, more than any other major religious tradition, does not see skeptics as second-class citizens. It would be difficult to imagine a committed Christian” (or in my thinking, many “Messianic Gentiles”) “for whom some faith statement about Jesus was not a central religious tenet, or a Muslim openly skeptical about Allah. In that regard, Judaism does not require faith statements as a sign of legitimacy. Judaism does not ask Jews to give up their questions or to deny their doubt. In Jewish spiritual life, faith is not the starting point of the journey. Uncertainty is not the enemy of religious and spiritual growth. Doubt is what fuels the journey.”

-Rabbi Daniel Gordis
“Judaism and Belief in God — Can the Skeptic Embark on the Journey” (pg 44)
God Was Not in the Fire

Sometimes I think I say the same things over and over, or at least periodically recycle various themes in my blogging. The chapter I’m quoting from in Rabbi Gordis’ book talks about the uncertainty we can experience in exploring our faith and Rabbi Wein talks about how family fights can cause the deepest wounds. If you include the “family of faith” and the “body of believers” in that group, then we who profess our faith in Jesus Christ and our trust in God also have the greatest capacity to injure and harm each other. No wonder it is said in Christianity that “the church is the only Army that shoots its own wounded.” In the “wounded” category, I include those individuals and groups who are judged to be involved in pagan idolatry…such as decorating pine trees at Christmas (oh the horror).

Yes, I thought this topic was a long dead horse we were all getting tired of beating but alas, it came up again on a recent blog of Derek Leman’s so once again, it’s “off to the races” of who’s right and who’s wrong in the religious blogosphere.

What kills me about all of this is the drop-dead certainty displayed by the religious pundits who are weighing in on the blog comments. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me because the nature of human beings is to pigeon hole and to index information, then to draw some sort of conclusions from what they’ve gathered, and finally to set those conclusions in cement. Once an opinion puts on the cloak of “absolute truth”, it starts being not just truth but fact.

That’s particularly true in Christianity and Islam, but not quite so in Judaism, according to the aforementioned book by Rabbi Gordis. For a Jew, it’s not required to come to absolute terms with faith and truth. Judaism doesn’t seek a solidified code carved in granite but rather the experience of touching the hem of the garment of God.

In focusing more on “relationship with God” than on “belief in God,” Judaism differs from other Western religious traditions. While some Christian communities urge their followers, “Believe, and you will be saved,” Judaism’s rough equivalent is “Search, and you will find meaning.” Jewish life certainly does not consider God unimportant; God is central to Jewish spirituality. But most of Jewish tradition decided long ago to focus not on essence, but on God’s presence; Judaism seeks not God’s truth, but His closeness. (pg 55)

Rabbi Gordis cites the beautiful poem Yedid Nefesh (Beloved of the Soul) written by Rabbi Eleazar Azikri in the 16th century. This poem can still be found in many Siddurim today and is sung to illustrate the desperate longing of a Jew to draw nearer to his God.

Beloved of the soul, Compassionate Father,
draw Your servant to Your Will;
then Your servant will hurry like a hart
to bow before Your majesty;
to him Your friendship will be sweeter
than the dripping of the honeycomb and any taste.

This, more than anything, is the goal and the passion of the observant Jew and where many non-Jews in the “Messianic” movement fail to grasp even the faintest glimmer of what it is to worship as a Jew. The passion for many of these non-Jewish “Messianics” as in the church, is to establish an absolute right and wrong between men, as if God were of secondary concern in the matter. As long as all of the “rules” are pounded out, then we let our relationship with God take care of itself.

For many Gentiles who have chosen to adhere themselves to the commandments, it’s as if the mitzvot have taken on a life of their own, independent of a relationship with God. Yedid Nefesh sings to the heart of God and beckons him as a lover beckons her companion, and love is the thread that binds them and their universe together. The mitzvot are the beginning of the relationship, allowing the construction of an “interface” that lets us meet with God, our beloved, on a common ground and permits us to give Him the “gifts” of our heart, not mere obedience to sterile and lifeless rules. Those commandments are not the relationship itself, and yet for the many who have come to “Torah awareness” but failed at “Torah understanding”, the rules are all they have.

I admit, there are some who never get past obeying God’s “checklist” as their only means of showing faith and devotion, but if the checklist becomes a god unto itself in their lives, is that not also idolatry? If you fail to show your fellow love and respect as God shows us love and respect, what have you learned and what is your “obedience” worth? The Talmud speaks of Jews who showed idol worshipers far more respect than what some believers show their brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ll offer a summary of what I previously chronicled to paint this picture.

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

Kidushin 32 contains descriptions of the manner in which our sages honored and respected the elderly. The passage specifically refers to elderly gentiles who were honored in various fashions by the sages.

In TY Baba Metzia there are a number of descriptions of sages going out of their way to return lost objects to gentiles (Elu Metziot).

Tosefta BK 10,8: “.. it is more grievous to steal from a gentile because of the desecration of G-d’s name ..”

Tosefta BM 2,11: “.. one who sees a lost donkey of an idol worshipper must take care of it exactly the way he takes care of the lost donkey of an Israelite ..”

At Avoda Zara 18a the Talmud relates the remarkable story of how a Roman guard of one of the sages who was brutally murdered by the Romans repented. It was made known to the sages that the guard and the sage were welcomed to the World to Come together.

At Hullin 7a there is a report of how the sage Pinchas ben Yair miraculously split a river in order to speed his way to carry out the commandment to redeem captives. He went out of his way to split the river again in order to allow a gentile who was accompanying his group to also cross the river to speed his way.

None of this says to emulate the ways of the idol worshiper, but to show him the compassion that God shows anyone made in His image. Would some of the “righteous” among those who speak against the practice of Christmas treat a neighbor who goes to church and puts up Christmas lights even half as graciously as the sages say a Jew must treat a pagan Gentile?

The lesson thus far shows that we cannot be absolutely sure of our understanding of God and His ways, though we do our best, and further, that even if we feel sure, this does not give us a license to batter those with whom we disagree. Nevertheless, referring back to some of the comments on Derek’s blog (and many other places in the blogosphere, including the latest commentary on Judah Himango’s blog), we see some very “non-Judaism” responses to the dread spectre of “paganoia”.

Rabbi Dixler’s commentary on Vayigash at Project Genesis further establishes my point.

Rather, concludes the Midrash, Joseph’s overriding concern was for his brother’s dignity. When they discovered that they had severely erred in their judgment of Joseph and his dreams, that they had put their father through 22 torturous years of mourning for naught, they would certainly not want to be in the public eye. Joseph selflessly risked his life for the sake of his brothers’ dignity.

It’s a powerful message to us. Our culture glorifies the embarrassment of others; recorded gaffes and insults to those in the public eye go viral on youtube, and biting one-line remarks make up a good portion of today’s humor. Magazines whose sole purpose is gossip — usually of the least complimentary kind — abound. Where has the respect for human dignity gone?

How many times have I tried to make this point in the last few weeks? How many blog posts have I written about a religious world with unbalanced priorities where we have all but forgotten about God in our zeal to expose people who put pine wreaths on their front doors (how dare they)? There is so much more I could say, but what would be the point. It’s as if my pleas for sanity and compassion are falling on deaf ears. If only those who profess faith and trust in the One God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and who claim to revere the teachings of the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, would actually behave as God would want them to behave. If only they actually did the things they were taught to do by the Master. If you want to impress anyone (though not me, because I am but dust and ashes), particularly God, feed the hungry, visit the sick, show compassion to the widow and the orphan. If you cherish those mitzvot above all else, you will be doing the will of God and serving the spirit of the companion of your soul.