The slander of Rabbi Riskin based on the YouTube video in English * Rabbi Riskin took upon himself the sacred mission of bringing non-Jews closer to understanding the Jewish faith * When speaking with members of other religions, it is inconceivable to demean their religion * Rabbi Kook said we should not seek to destroy other religions, but elevate them * A story about Rabbi Yisrael from Salant illustrating how overhearing a conversation intended for a specific public can be misleading * The prohibition of accepting ‘lashon ha’ra’, and the duty to judge favorably * The proper attitude towards Christian supporters of Israel
Following my article in favor of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin shlita, I received a number of severely critical letters. The most hostile responses claimed that he is introducing heresy into Judaism, and encourages missionaries to seduce Jews to Christianity. The most moderate responder wrote: “I was shocked and embarrassed. I really admire you, Rabbi Melamed, and your books, etc … I simply think that you are unaware of Rabbi Riskin’s sympathetic views of Christianity and oto ha’ish (literally ‘that man’, or a euphemism for the Jewish founder of Christianity) … God have mercy … Rabbi, I suggest you have a look at the videos on YouTube where Rabbi Riskin speaks the praises of Christianity and oto ha’ish. The videos are in English. With this in mind, I’d be happy to understand how you could defend Rabbi Riskin.”
Since all the slanderers based their reactions on a certain video in which Rabbi Riskin speaks in English, I asked Rabbi Maor Cayam shlita, a rabbi in Yeshiva Har Bracha whose native tongue is English, to listen carefully to what Rabbi Riskin said, translate it word-for-word, and tell me what he thought.
“It should be pointed out that the section in question, which lasts for about eight minutes, was edited and censored from an hour-long conversation in which Rabbi Riskin familiarizes his Christian audience with the principles of Judaism, explicitly saying that any Jew who believes in Christianity betrays his own faith, and forfeits his portion in the world. At any rate, even in the edited version there were no expressions of support for Christianity, rather, he treats them with respect.
“Generally speaking, the impression I got from the conversation is that Rabbi Riskin is a fascinating and powerful speaker, who knows how to explain Jewish values even to the unacquainted. In this conversation, he attempts to familiarize Christians with the moral values in Judaism, in particular world peace, and share with them the criticism of violent Islam which threatens Israel and the entire world. In his speech he draws his Christian audience closer to a love of Israel and universal values, and attempts to build a common basis for advancement. He talks about the common values of vision, redemption, truth and love, paving the way to enable the People of Israel to be a light unto the nations.”
I will not quote from the transcript the sensitive points upon which Rabbi Riskin can be criticized, because the overall conclusion is clear: Out of absolute loyalty to the Jewish faith, Rabbi Riskin took on a sacred mission: to bring non-Jews closer to the principles of Judaism and to support the redemption process of the Ingathering of the Exiles, as expressed in the words of the Torah and the Prophets, and to elevate them from the typical Christian anti-Semitism which inflicted horrible disasters on the Jewish nation. True, there are definitely some rabbis who would prefer to phrase things differently, but this does not mean that Rabbi Riskin’s approach is inappropriate, and certainly there is no basis for making false accusations against him.
As well known, there is a vast difference in the manner in which one talks to religious Jews and those removed from Torah and mitzvoth – let alone, the right way to speak with Christians. In the same manner, Rabbi Kook once criticized a Torah scholar who wrote a booklet called ‘The Religion of Israel’ so as to explain Jewish faith in Japanese, that he erred by expressing disdain for ‘oto ha’ish’ and Muhammad. “It is impossible to offer supreme religious content to this nation by insulting the founders of [other] religions, whoever they may be. We must speak only about the holy, supreme advantage of God’s Torah, and the rejection will come of its own accord” (Igeret 557).
Rabbi Kook also wrote that in respect to other religions our objective is not to destroy them, but rather, to elevate and correct them. “It is not the goal of Israel’s light to uproot or destroy them, just as we do not aim for the general destruction of the world and all its nations, but rather their correction and elevation, the removal of their dross, and of themselves they will join the source of Israel, [where] dewdrops of light will flow over them. ‘And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his detestable things from between his teeth, and he, too, shall remain for our God’ (Zechariah 9:7). This applies even to idolatry, and therefore even more so to religions whose foundations are partly based on the light of Israel’s Torah” (Igeret 112).
The basic rule that emerges is that anyone who attempts to familiarize Christians with the light of Jewish faith must tip-toe through a minefield, so as on the one hand not to disgrace the positive aspects of their faith, but on the other hand, not to agree with opposing beliefs. Rabbi Riskin, in his rare talent, is one of the few people who function in this manner, and we should all be grateful to him for that. Those who slander him – their sins are too great to bear, and if someone has criticism about one method or another, he should respectfully present what, in his opinion, is a better approach.
It is worthwhile to illustrate this idea with a story about one of the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent Torah scholars), Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, of blessed memory, whose main effort was the founding of the Mussar movement in Lithuania, and later in life, was active in Western Europe. In his book on theMussar movement, Rabbi Dov Katz related the following story: When Rabbi Salanter settled in Memel, many residents of the city worked as merchants, most of whose business was connected with the local port, and would load and unload their merchandise on Shabbat as during the week. The first time Rabbi Salanter came to the synagogue where the merchants and port agents prayed to preach about Shabbat, he asked whether there were any Lithuanian Jews (who were strictly observant) among the worshippers. When informed that indeed there were, he refrained from preaching about Shabbat. The following Shabbat, when told there were no Lithuanian Jews present in the synagogue, Rabbi Yisrael began preaching about the importance of keeping Shabbat, until he reached the conclusion: “Handling the cargo that arrived to the port on Shabbat may be necessary, but writing is not.” The merchants accepted this, and agreed not to write on Shabbat. After a few weeks, Rabbi Yisrael delivered another sermon in the synagogue, and said: “Unloading goods on Shabbat may be necessary – but loading goods – certainly is unnecessary.” The merchants also agreed to this. In time, he spoke once again, and cautioned about unloading as well. Thus, he influenced the community step-by-step, until ultimately he brought about a major change (T’nuat HaMussar, Sect. 1, pg. 174).
Imagine if some thoughtless people were present in the Memel synagogue, and afterwards, went to different rabbis and innocently told them that they heard with their own ears how Rabbi Yisrael Salanter permitted blatant and public desecration of Shabbat, for indeed, he said: “Handling cargo on Shabbat may be necessary, but writing is not.” And if those rabbis were tempted to also believe them, they would have libeled him as a reformist, cautioned the public, and excommunicated him. Fortunately, that did not happen. Regrettably, however, this is the way many controversies start.
After all, in order to draw people nearer, one has to speak their language, preferring to talk about ideas they are able to grasp, while ignoring points that, in the meantime, they cannot accept. As our Sages said: “Just as there is a mitzvah to say that which will be heard, so there is a mitzvah to avoid saying that which will not be heard” (Yevamot 65b). Moreover – those drawing closer and their views deserve respect seeing as they do not stem from spite, and if the detractors had been born in their situation, who knows if they could have reached their level. Anyone who falsely accuses a rabbi involved in outreach – taking his words out of context, as if he supports desecration of Shabbat, etc. – transgresses a severe Torah prohibition. True, initially it is best to make sure that different audiences hear what is fitting for them. However, today the reality is that anything can be recorded and heard by all, and consequently, one should always consider who the speakers’ audience was, and judge his word’s accordingly.
It is a Torah prohibition to acceptlashon ha’ra (derogatory speech), as it is written: “Do not accept a false report” (Exodus 23:1), and our Sages said: “This is a warning to the recipient of lashon ha’ra” (Mekhilta d’R. Yishmael). The prohibition is to believe the derogatory things said about a particular person are correct, because, as proven by the video of Rav Riskin – upon examination, the malicious rumor turned out to be incorrect.
Our Sages also said that the punishment of one who acceptslashon ha’ra is equal to that of the person who spoke it (Pesachim 118 a), because on account of him, masters of lashon ha’ra are able to continue their sinful ways, arousing dissension and evil.
And if from the outset, the lashon ha’ra could have been interpreted in a positive way, as in the case of the video, nevertheless, one interpreted it in a negative way, he violates an additional Torah prohibition, as it is written: “Judge your people fairly” (Leviticus 19:15), and our Sages said: “Judge your neighbor favorably” [‘kaf zechut’](Shevu’ot 30a). And in regards to a God-fearing person who is known to be meticulous in the performance of mitzvot, the obligation to judge him favorably is even greater (Sha’arei Teshuva, 3:218; Chafetz Chaim, positive mitzvoth 3).
We cannot check every piece of information that comes to our attention, but based on past experience, it seems possible to determine that the vast majority of reports about people involved in drawing Christians closer to supporting Israel – are blatant lies.
Throughout history, anti-Semitic hatred of Christians towards Jews resulted in dreadful slander, incitement, blood libels, expulsions, extermination, campaigns of destruction, and the murder of entire communities. Until today, this hatred persists in most Christian organizations. Only recently, the Catholic Pope, who is considered relatively friendly towards Jews, acknowledged the rights of the Arab occupiers over Jerusalem, while ignoring our historical rights over the city, and ignoring the fact that the Arabs initiated all the wars against us. Likewise, we also hear about various churches organizing boycotts against Israel.
Precisely on this background should we view the upright choice of tens of millions of Christians, people of conscience and devotion to the Bible, who decided to support the Jews and the State of Israel. Not only that – many of them accept responsibility for the crimes of Christianity against the Jews, and seek to atone for them through volunteer work, donations, and political and public support worldwide – and this, even though they themselves were not involved in any crime against the Jewish people. Certainly, it is a mitzvah to appreciate, encourage, and draw them nearer.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:http://en.yhb.org.il/