In the postmortem of the recent Gaza war we have been bombarded with an assortment of insights, analyses, assessments and predictions. As we sift through these opinions, we stroke our chins, nod our heads, peer into the future and decide what to consider and what to dismiss.
However, what gets caught up in this mix of legitimate evaluation is the naive, alarming theology of the absurd. Rabbis of the far right declared that chareidi communities were left unscathed in the recent hostilities because of Torah study and Hashem’s protection.
In response to such claims, permit me to go back in time to the Saturday that preceded the first Gulf War. I was in Israel and invited to Shabbos lunch at an old friend’s home in Jerusalem. There were seven of us around the festive, white-clothed table and current events dictated the conversation. We spoke of President Bush, of Saddam Hussein, of Scuds and of Israel’s vulnerability.
Said my friend, a nouveau observant woman from the suburbs, “I am not worried at all. The Rebbe has said that Israel is the safest place on Earth and I believe him. In fact”, she continued, “the airspace over Israel is so kadosh that if any scuds are launched against us, they will simply be unable to penetrate our sacred airspace. The missiles will bounce back and fall into neighboring Arab lands.”
I was stunned by her assessment, but giving her the benefit of the doubt asked, “You are talking poetically, aren’t you? It’s not the holy airspace but the Patriot missile batteries that will repel any attack? That is what you meant, correct?”
My friend insisted, “No. Literally, Hashem is protecting our holy land and the scuds will bounce off Israeli airspace when they reach our borders”.
Shocked, I replied, “Esther Ruchel, we grew up together. We went to school together. You got 1600 on your SATs. You went to a top university and graduated summa cum laude. You know physics. You know chemistry. You know science. How can you believe what you’re saying? It is nonsense.”
With fiery eyes she glared back at me and declared harshly, “Shalom, you have no faith.”
“Esther Ruchel,” I quickly replied, “I do have faith. The difference between you and me is that my faith is responsible faith and your faith is irresponsible.”
There was silence at the table for a moment as the other guests stared at us. The awkward still was suddenly broken when the next course was served.
This was a defining moment for me when I came to understand the absolute rejection of reason, of reality by many in the zealous, religious right. With such folks, a reasoned dialogue is futile because two different languages are spoken. The intellectual flight shook me up for two reasons.
The first is that such individuals live and walk among us, yet think like aliens. The second is that such radicals believe with unswerving passion that they own and can define faith exclusively. It was once said correctly and alarmingly, “The person who believes the world is flat, believes it with greater fervor than I who believe the world is round.”
Esther Ruchel claimed I had no faith because I did not blindly buy into her belief of an inviolate airspace personally protected by God. Blind Faith was a great rock band but it is a perilous, naive theology. As human beings, the good Lord has given us brains along with souls. To dispense with one is to endanger the other.
To extrapolate from Esther Ruchel’s absurdist fantasy, we might claim with the same officious illogic that God will protect from injury the reckless driver, the skydiver without a parachute, the drunk who walks across the freeway. Why not? If the driver, the diver, the imbiber are all righteous, Torah true Jews, it all stands to reason in Esther Ruchaland that God will permit no harm to come to them.
When does this ridiculous journey of irresponsible faith end? It ends with responsible faith grounded in love of God, respect of nature and an acceptance of a world run by unalterable rules.
Scuds, Qassams, Fajr-5s did land in Israel with very little collateral damage. “God was looking out for us” is primitive, wishful thinking. “We were lucky”, is the truth.
BY RABBI SHALOM LEWIS / Special For The Atlanta Jewish Times
Rabbi Shalom Lewis is the senior rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim in East Cobb. He is currently on sabbatical in Israel.