Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Thursday 24 July 2014

Why Jews Must Choose Their Interfaith Partners Wisely: A cautionary tale from Down Under

It used to be (I don't know whether it still is) the case that anyone who had a letter printed in Anglo-Jewry's newspaper of record, the Jewish Chronicle, would receive a few days later a missive through the post from a certain Anglican missionising organisation urging the recipient to pluck the blinkers from his/her eyes and embrace Christianity.  I can't recall which organisation sent these annoying missives, which were swiftly consigned to the wastepaper basket, but I suspect that it was the so-called London Jews' Society (or, to give it its full title, the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews), founded in the early nineteenth century and headquartered at a complex in the East End  named Palestine Place (pictured), where it conducted sundry initiatives for ensnaring Jewish souls, albeit without much success.  In time, following the substantial immigration to Britain of Jews from Eastern Europe after 1880, it was joined in its missionising efforts by the Bishop of Stepney's Fund, which gave similar offence to a people whose only desire was to be free of both persecution and harassment to worship the Deity in their own way.

For their part, Jews do not seek proselytes, and it's been in fact notoriously difficult, although plainly not impossible, to convert to Judaism in Britain and the Commonwealth, at any rate through the auspices of Batei Din (religious courts) having allegiance to the British Chief Rabbi.

In our own day we in Britain, Australia,  and other English-speaking lands have, of course, seen a plethora of ecumenical initiatives consequent upon the emergence of multi-faith societies, and an example of ecumenicism in action occurred in Australia today, when people and religious leaders of several faiths, including Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism, crowded into St Paul's Anglican Cathedral in Melbourne for a service to commemorate the victims if the Malaysian airliner so tragically and needlessly lost over the eastern Ukraine.

All participants were united, of course, in grief and outrage: they shared a common purpose.

Interfaith initatives of the type that saw in the 1940s and subsequent period the establishment in English-speaking lands of Councils of Christians and Jews, rested on mutual respect between the practitioners of the various religions, with no ulterior motive on the part of any.  This is for many people, and for many reasons, more easily said than done, especially in the case of creeds that defy modern notions of the just and the ethical.

Rabbi Chaim Ingram, of Sydney, a columnist in the Australian Jewish News, observes in a letter in the latest issue responding to a critic: 'if to live in 214" means vaunting politically correct dogma over human consideration and menschlikeit then I assure him I am quite happy living in biblical times'.  It is a statement unlikely to win him friends in the Progressive (i.e. Liberal or Reform) Jewish community, since Progressive Judaism holds that the Torah was revealed to man humankind not once and forever at Sinai, but gradually, over time, and that what was deemed appropriate in ancient times is not necessarily appropriate for our own.  Hence its commitment to the equality of women with men and its recent embrace of same-sex marriage.

And yet, what it deplores in what Rabbi Ingram terms "Torah-observant" Judaism it seemed to tolerate recently at an event in Melbourne, for the sake of "interfaith", apparently foolishly unaware that the Islamic group that it invited to a grand interfaith event is a proselytising organisation par excellence which (see here) exults at the conversion of each non-Muslim to Islam.

In other words, the Islamic group in question played the Progressive Jews for mugs, and the latter fell for it!

This "Open Letter To Interfaith Jews: Choose Your Partners Wisely" newly released by the team from Jews Down Under explains the situation and demands answers:

'Temple Beth Israel recently held a concert, billed as a “Sacred Music Concert”, “bringing together performers and communities from Melbourne’s Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Indigenous traditions”.

What the audience wasn’t told was that the second half of the concert would feature the Muslim call to prayer, and a recital of the 55th Surah of the Koran (describing how Muslim men will enjoy deflowering virgins in paradise) by Abdul Aziz al Mathkour and Brother Waseem Razvi of the Islamic research Education Academy (IREA)

The Australian Jewish News featured an article about the concert on page 8 of their 20 June edition – Music Bridges Faith Tradition – praising the concert and reporting the recitation of the Koranic verse with apparent approval. In addition, the concert was given extra prominence by a full page of colour pictures on page 12.

One would expect that at least some members of the community would feel strongly enough to write in to the Australian Jewish News expressing disquiet at this event. Yet it seems that Temple Beth’s presentation of a ‘Sacred’ concert, without forewarning that it would feature the Islamic Call to Prayer, plus an offensive Koranic verse, has elicited not a single response from the readers of the Australian Jewish News.Read more HERE including a video:

Maybe Jews have imbibed the message of the now retired Rabbi Fred Morgan, who, in an address to the Council of Christians and Jews (Vic) in 2009, recommended applying a non-judgmental approach to interfaith, 
“starting from the assumption that, when people say they believe something, as peculiar and uncongenial as I personally may find their belief, it is meaningful to them.” He berated the mainstream Jewish community for retaining “a ghetto mentality”, concerned only “about anti-Semitism, the integrity of the land of Israel and the inviolability of the State of Israel – all matters bearing on security and safety for Jews in Australia, Israel and world-wide.” and “never having moved beyond seeking security through interfaith engagement…” He cited the Gaza conflict, where “because some from the Christian and Muslim communities who are active in interfaith work were one-sidedly critical of Israel, the AJN published letters and articles questioning the value of interfaith dialogue”. Morgan concluded that this attitude revealed “the insularity of the Jewish world”.
Progressive Judaism Australia. If, according to the Progressive Jewish view, caring about Israel and innocent Jews being killed makes us insular, then many Jews are guilty as charged. Indeed, all who believe in human rights should care about the security of a sovereign state and the vicious assault on a vulnerable minority.

It’s hard to get a handle on this bizarre Progressive mindset. Is it now the case that to be left-of-centre in religious matters automatically means that Progressive Jews must be left-of-centre on issues involving the welfare and survival of Israel?

Surely not all Progressive Jews believe that?

Or have those of robust Zionist principles voted with their feet and left the movement?

Indeed, in the Australian Jewish News of 4 July, amid a slew of messages from local Jewish figures deploring the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenage boys, the one by the Executive Director of the Union for Progressive Judaism, Steve Denenberg, stood out for its mealy-mouthed politically-charged even-handedness; he even included a gratuitous reference to Muslims (though Christians were not similarly honoured), and in contrast to other message-writers, he studiously avoided condemning Islamic terrorism or Hamas by name, using instead the amorphous expression, “victims of blind hatred.”

We understand that TBI has received communications from individuals unhappy with the inclusion of the unannounced Muslim component of the concert, yet has, so far as we are aware, lacked the courtesy of replying to them to address their concerns.

During a recent Friday evening service, TBI’s current senior rabbi read out one email that criticised the participation in forthright terms, condemning it as an example of the “hate mail” received.

It is unfortunate that TBI has taken this dismissive, seemingly contemptuous, attitude: it leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth of those who are genuinely distressed at TBI’s naïvety in inviting to the concert the representatives of a group actively involved in the conversion of non-Muslims (more on that below) and who uttered a Surah expressing Islamic supremacy and which is insulting to the gender equality that TBI (which after all was founded by a woman!) has – at least until now – upheld.

We doubt that TBI, in a spirit of ecumenism, would tolerate an Orthodox Jewish leader reciting in its sanctuary the traditional prayer, viewed as abhorrent by Progressive Jews, thanking G-d “for not making me a woman”. Yet paradoxically, they have no qualms about allowing Muslims to recite an obscenely sexist Surah.

What is TBI’s explanation for the latter?

Were they aware or were they ignorant of what the man was going to recite?

In either case, surely they are not too proud to admit to making, in this instance, an error of judgment, and to acknowledge that there should be no repeat?

The Muslim group, IREA – part of an international dawah (converting non-Muslims to Islam) organization – was triumphant about its successful incursion into a Jewish sacred space. On its Facebook page there is a photo of Waseem Razvi and three colleagues en route to TBI for the concert; the photo is captioned “Dae’es [i.e. missionaries] from IREA heading for interfaith event at a SYNAGOGUE”

That caption implies that the quartet was not appearing at TBI in a spirit of honest interfaith dialogue, which emphasises there must be no attempt to convert,but for the purpose of proselytisation. Furthermore, there is this boast on the IREA’s Facebook page:

'Firstly we thank Allah swt for giving us the opportunity to represent Islam in a country like Australia where there are only 2% muslims. Secondly we thank and appreciate the invitation from Cantor Michael Laloum and his initiative to work with Muslim Community. We also would like to thank Rabbi Gersh [Lazarow] and the Jewish Temple Beth Israel for their warm welcome. We hope & pray the doors of communication and mutual understanding are always open in order to achieve & fulfil the purpose of our lives i.e. to be obedient to the One & Only Lord Allah swt. As Allah swt says in the Quran ‘Say: O people of the Book (Jews & Christians)! Let us come to Common Terms as between us & you…..’ {AL Quran 3:64}
Several things are perturbing about these words. Firstly, it would seem the Jews are being asked to agree to a mutual understanding that we both worship Allah, who of course is different from the G-d of the bible. In addition the words “Common Terms” are capitalised, implying that they have a particular meaning in Islamic dawah. Dr Mark Durie, an expert on Islam, gave a critique of this meaning.

The key points are summarised below:
A 2007 letter, “A Common Word Between Us and You” addressed to the Pope, and other Christian leaders throughout the world by 138 Muslim scholars, is an attempt to Islamicise Christian-Muslim dialogue: the ‘common word’ theme is associated with a declaration of war against the Byzantines, and is part of an anti-Christian polemic in the Qur’an.

The introductory summary to the letter concludes with the words ‘…in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, we as Muslims invite Christians to come together with us…’
This formal opening to the letter declares that A Common Word is a call (ada‘wa) for Christians to come to Allah’s way, i.e. to Islam.
The authors of A Common Word take pains to cite this verse, and point out that, according to this teaching, Muhammad’s message must be the same as the message of the Bible. So from the Islamic point of view, it is entirely legitimate to regard Muhammad’s message of monotheism as the foundational message of both Jesus Christ and Moses. To call Christians (and Jews) to accept Islamic monotheism is in fact to invite them back to their own religion, and to the faith of their own prophets.

This is the orthodox Islamic position on Christianity and Judaism, that they are derivatives of the Islam of Christ and Moses. The Qur’an presents it as the duty of Muslims to call Christians and Jews back to their original faith. Thus the ‘common ground’ shared by Islam and Christianity is Islam itself.
The theme verse for the whole letter, Sura 3:64 is most problematic.

Say: ‘O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah.’ If then they turn back, say ye: ‘Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to Allah’s Will).’
This hadith is included in the Book of Jihad because it illustrates Muhammad’s principle that, before attacking non-Muslims, it was necessary first to invite them to embrace Islam.

Durie concludes
“Although A Common Word is presented as an invitation, it contains a warning of devastating conflict if the invitation is rejected. This is reminiscent of Muhammad’s approach to da‘wa, and should be evaluated in the light of his example”.
In the light of this explanation by an acknowledged expert on Islam, it is clear Temple Beth Israel made a grave error in inviting representatives of an overt conversionist group to TBI to exemplify Islam to an audience which could hardly have expected that the billed event would have such sting in the tail”

We call on the organizers of the concert to find the courage to acknowledge their error, which has the potential to compromise not only them, but the wider Jewish community. Such acknowledgment could act as a salutary lesson to all of us not to rush into inviting conversionist, supremacist Islamic groups to appear on our premises, under the false guise of interfaith, whereby they are enabled to recite passages starkly at odds with Jewish ethics.

Incidentally, in a recent Press Release, the Islamic Council of Victoria (with whom IREA are affiliated) condemns Israel as the aggressors, failing to even mention the Hamas terrorist group’s constant attacks on Israeli citizens. Here are just some of the calumnies, which amount to a blood libel:
"The Islamic Council of Victoria is appalled and horrified at the wanton attack on the Palestinian people, homes and civil institutions. The loss of life, particularly those of children and unarmed civilians, is an indictment on the state of Israel and all nations that remain silent in the face of such abhorrent actions.
 The ICV draws attention to the fact that Israel is an illegal occupier of Palestinian land… that in recent days has been indiscriminately murdering Palestinians without any reasonable excuse or justification."
 In the light of this revelatory press release, can TBI in all conscience continue an interfaith "dialogue" with ICV and invite into their sanctuary those who harbour such hatred towards the Jewish State?'


  1. I have to wonder what the point of 'interfaith' is at all? It seems to be nothing more than dragging the Jews somewhere to apologize for something. Never does any Christian or Muslim or Moon Pagan 'interfaith' leader ever suggest there is anything they can learn or adopt from Judaism. It's always 100% the other way.

  2. there is also Byzantine historical context (not pretty) behind this "verse" of Quran; basically this whole "common" thing (and btw, that's not a disputed, imprecise translation) is presented as the one way out for us non-Muslims to have a degree of interaction w/the ummah -- thus you'll hear Obama and his emissaries use that buzzword quite a lot (Muslim Obama w/ the pope, interfaith advisor Joel Hunter w/ Iran, etc)

  3. Brian Goldfarb27 July 2014 at 22:03

    Just to comment on Rabbi Chaim Ingram: many years ago and for a few years only, he was our Rabbi while we sojourned in Leicester. He clearly had no appreciation of the needs of a small community and is, thus, probably better off spiritually in a large one in Sidney. However, his most egregious failure was, to my mind, the occasion when at the conclusion of an event in the Synagogue Communal Hall everyone but him sang Hatikvah. I know, because I turned and watched his lips not moving. He had no excuse, for the words of the Israeli National Anthem were directly in front of him on a very large tablet, high on the wall and in very large letters.

    I don't, of course, know what this means in relation to his ministry in Sidney, but I'd be interested to learn via these columns.

    1. I'm not a member of his Bondi congregation, Brian, so I have no firsthand knowledge of him. His is a combative persona in the correspondence pages of the Australian Jewish News, where he not infrequently jousts with readers who attack the opinions expressed in his column. I have, however, not paid enough attention to his column to know his views as far as Israel is concerned.


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