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October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘slavery’

From Slavery to Freedom

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Another Passover has begun. The echoes of “Once we were slaves and now we are free” and “Next year in Jerusalem” resound briefly and then fade into the background noise of everyday life. We can board a plane tomorrow and fly off to Jerusalem. Some of us are already there now. But will that make us free?

Since Egypt we have become slaves again, lived under the rule of iron-fisted tyrants and forgotten what the very idea of freedom means. And that will likely happen again and again until the age ends. What is this freedom that we gained with the fall of a Pharaoh and the last sight of his pyramids and armies?

Freedom, like slavery, is as much a state of mind as a state of being. It is possible to be legally free, yet to have no freedom of action whatsoever. And it is possible to be legally a slave and yet to be free in defiance of those restrictions. External coercion alone does not make a man free or slave, it is the degradation of mind that makes a man a slave.

What is a slave? A slave is complicit in his own oppression. His slavery has become his natural state and he looks to his master, not to free him, but to command him. Had the Jews of Egypt merely been restrained by physical coercion, it would have been enough to directly and immediately smash the power of the Egyptian state. But their slavery was mental. They moaned not at the fact of slavery, but at the extremity of it. When their taskmasters complained to Pharaoh, it was not of slavery, but of not being given the straw with which to build the bricks.

The worst slavery is of the most insidious kind. It leaves the slave able to think and act, but not as a free man. It leaves him with cunning, but not courage. He is able to use force, but only to bring other slaves into line. And most hideously, this state of affairs seems moral and natural to him. This is his freedom.

The true slave has come to love big brother, to worship at the foot of the system that oppresses him. It is this twisted love that must be torn out of him. It is this idolatry of the whip before which he kneels, this panting to know who his superior and who his inferiors are, this love of a vast order that allows him to be lost in its wonders, to gaze in awe at the empire of tomorrow which builds its own tombs today, that must be broken. These are his gods and he must kill them within himself to be free.

The Exodus is not the story of the emergence of free men who were enslaved, but the slow painful process by which slaves became a nation of free men, a long troubled journey which has not yet ended. That is why we celebrate Passover, not as an event of the past, but as of a road that we still travel, a long journey from slavery to freedom.

Having escaped from Pharaoh, they built a glittering calf, and having left the desert behind, they sought out a king. Every idol and tyrant was another token of slavery, a desire to put one’s ear up against the doorpost and become slaves for life. The idols have changed, but their meaning has not. There is still the pursuit of the master, the master of international law, of a global state, the gods of the superstate who rule over the present and the future and dispose of the lives of men.

This Ain’t Torah

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Harassment and exploitation (not only in the area of sex) are expressions of abuse of power. This must be the common denominator to jealousy, lust, and ambition, which, according to the Mishna “remove man from the world.”

The most serious aspect of the Rabbi Motti Elon scandal is the fact that it emanated from a cult, defaming Judaism and the Torah itself, God forbid. I’ve been watching and hearing criticism of the path of the Torah – because of this news item about a sect that’s following its charismatic leader whose every word and action are subject to their adoration.

The phenomena of such unworthy leaders are typical of almost every such cult.

The despicable acts of indecency are not the problem here, they’re merely the symptoms. The problem is the cult, its mentality and dynamics.

We must make it clear that a cult not only does not represent the Torah and its followers – it is absolutely anti-Torah. It is wrong, detestable, despicable and an abomination.

Now we must admit a few unpleasant facts:

This kind of cult is typical of our generation, very in and new-age.

The fact that someone’s guru hasn’t yet made an appearance as a defendant on the nightly news does not mean the guru phenomenon is kosher.

The entire Jewish culture, starting with the Bible and going all the way to the latest commentators, repeats time and again the value of freedom. Our tradition demands of us to remain free, slaves only to the Eternal who is above all humans – and it absolutely forbids us to go back to being slaves of slaves.

The most despicable person is the slave whose master pierced his ear after he had said “I love my master” – choosing a love for flesh and blood over love of the Divine.

Not forced slavery, but rather willful slavery, the conscious choosing of subjugation, is the most repulsive level of the anti-Jewish existence.

That’s what every cult does, it may even be the most profound definition of what’s wrong with every cult.

We’ve seen these phenomena in the town of Migdal, in northern Israel, where Rabbi Motti Elon ruled over his cult of admirers.

There were times when I liked Rabbi Motti Elon very much, especially his classes. I still think he is one of the most gifted men of our generation. But I recall how surprised I was when I first saw the ads that were plastered in the streets of Jerusalem, inviting people to his “tish.”

Tish? This Zionist Yeke (German Jew) is having a tish?

Since that time, I’ve kept my distance.

I won’t claim to have presaged that these “tishes” would eventually turn into a cult, including the embarrassing and revolting charges of which Elon has just been convicted, but in my primitive kishkes (guts) I already felt that it’s all gone to his head, or turned his head – I won’t even attempt to psychoanalyze the man.

Naturally, I was told back then that I’m full of it, because a tish is connected to Chassidism, and Chassidism is Yidishkeit, and Yidishkeit can’t be bad.

But I happen to believe that Yidishkeit is Freedom, and freedom is very, very good, and anything that opposes freedom is not Judaism and not Torah, and is very, very bad.

I don’t have the energy to start a debate over Chassidism, but I must say that our generation has turned our glorious tradition into a complete fruit salad, served with pitiful, new-age whining, doused in pseudo-spiritual dressing, replete with hollow poses of Kabbala-like mysticism, self-worship, and heaping portions of slavery to charismatic charlatans.

After all, the self-deprecating before the leader is the other side of the coin of narcissism and self-centeredness, and both sides mean bondage, heresy and lowly paganism.

Instead of Tikun Olam through the kingdom of spirit and morality, the new age post-modernist is cynically employing “spiritual” slogans to usurp the world for his own needs, his dubious jealousy, lust, and ambition.

Rabbi Motti Elon does not concern me. But I am losing sleep over the innocent youths who choose slavery and blindness over an open gaze and freedom.

But what bothers me even more is the fact that thousands of television viewers today think that this anti-Judaism is our—and their—heritage.

Please speak up and tell them it’s not so.

Can Islam Be Reformed?

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Originally published at Daniel Pipes.

Commentary requested an internet supplement for this article and I chose the key passage on the Medieval Synthesis from my 1983 book, In the Path of God; Islam and Political Power. To read it, click here.

Islam currently represents a backward, aggressive, and violent force. Must it remain this way, or can it be reformed and become moderate, modern, and good-neighborly? Can Islamic authorities formulate an understanding of their religion that grants full rights to women and non-Muslims as well as freedom of conscience to Muslims, that accepts the basic principles of modern finance and jurisprudence, and that does not seek to impose Sharia law or establish a caliphate?

A growing body of analysts believe that no, the Muslim faith cannot do these things, that these features are inherent to Islam and immutably part of its makeup. Asked if she agrees with my formulation that “radical Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution,” the writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali replied, “He’s wrong. Sorry about that.” She and I stand in the same trench, fighting for the same goals and against the same opponents, but we disagree on this vital point.

My argument has two parts. First, the essentialist position of many analysts is wrong; and second, a reformed Islam can emerge.

Arguing Against Essentialism

Rumi (1207-73), a leading mystic of Islam.

Rumi (1207-73), a leading mystic of Islam.

To state that Islam can never change is to assert that the Koran and Hadith, which constitute the religion’s core, must always be understood in the same way. But to articulate this position is to reveal its error, for nothing human abides forever. Everything, including the reading of sacred texts, changes over time. Everything has a history. And everything has a future that will be unlike its past.

Only by failing to account for human nature and by ignoring more than a millennium of actual changes in the Koran’s interpretation can one claim that the Koran has been understood identically over time. Changes have applied in such matters as jihad, slavery, usury, the principle of “no compulsion in religion,” and the role of women. Moreover, the many important interpreters of Islam over the past 1,400 years—ash-Shafi’i, al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiya, Rumi, Shah Waliullah, and Ruhollah Khomeini come to mind—disagreed deeply among themselves about the content of the message of Islam.

However central the Koran and Hadith may be, they are not the totality of the Muslim experience; the accumulated experience of Muslim peoples from Morocco to Indonesia and beyond matters no less. To dwell on Islam’s scriptures is akin to interpreting the United States solely through the lens of the Constitution; ignoring the country’s history would lead to a distorted understanding.

Put differently, medieval Muslim civilization excelled and today’s Muslims lag behind in nearly every index of achievement. But if things can get worse, they can also get better. Likewise, in my own career, I witnessed Islamism rise from minimal beginnings when I entered the field in 1969 to the great powers it enjoys today; if Islamism can thus grow, it can also decline.

How might that happen?

The Medieval Synthesis

Shah Waliullah (1703-62) a leading thinker of Indian Islam.

Shah Waliullah (1703-62) a leading thinker of Indian Islam.

Key to Islam’s role in public life is Sharia and the many untenable demands it makes on Muslims. Running a government with the minimal taxes permitted by Sharia has proved to be unsustainable; and how can one run a financial system without charging interest? A penal system that requires four men to view an adulterous act in flagrante delicto is impractical. Sharia’s prohibition on warfare against fellow Muslims is impossible for all to live up to; indeed, roughly three-quarters of all warfare waged by Muslims has been directed against other Muslims. Likewise, the insistence on perpetual jihad against non-Muslims demands too much.

To get around these and other unrealistic demands, premodern Muslims developed certain legal fig leaves that allowed for the relaxation of Islamic provisions without directly violating them. Jurists came up with hiyal (tricks) and other means by which the letter of the law could be fulfilled while negating its spirit. For example, various mechanisms were developed to live in harmony with non-Muslim states. There is also the double sale (bai al-inah) of an item, which permits the purchaser to pay a disguised form of interest. Wars against fellow Muslims were renamed jihad.

Belittling Tormentors Allows us to Be Free

Friday, April 5th, 2013

A friend from New Jersey, who lived through Hurricane Sandy, as did I, called and asked me why God did not send a similar storm against Egypt and Pharaoh. “One plague and that would have done it,” he said. “The Egyptians would have been begging to let the Jews go. So why did God insist on ten?”

I answered him that there are two kinds of freedom. Political freedom and psychological freedom, freedom of the body and freedom of the mind. If God’s intention was to simply liberate the Jews from the slavery of Egypt, He could indeed have sent a single catastrophic event against them, like a hurricane, a tornado, a tsunami. It worked against Japan when two devastating atomic bombs brought the Japanese to unconditional surrender.

But even as the Jews were liberated by an external event, they would have remained mentally enslaved.

Here’s why.

Slavery is an institution that is maintained through fear. The slave dreads his master and therefore does his bidding. The German philosopher Hegel said, in essence, that way back at the dawn of history everyone was equal. But one day, two primordial combatants had a fight. As they struggled over whatever the issue was – a cave, a woman, a hunt – one of the combatants became fearful of the other and in that moment the relationship of master and slave was born.

But God’s intention was that no man should have any master except God alone. That’s why there are so many exhortations in the Bible to live boldly and cast away all fear, as I detailed in my book Face Your Fear.

And it’s not just a physical master that we should not fear. The woman who goes on a date cannot fear being judged by the man whom she will meet. If she does she’ll be nervous, betray insecurity, and surrender to a physical side of the relationship that might impede the development of true intimacy. A wife cannot fear her husband. That’s what leads women to remain in abusive relationships. A man cannot fear his boss. If he does, he will allow himself to be exploited and abused and his job will become a form of slavery.

Overcoming fear is the only road to true equality and liberty.

One of the most effective methods to triumph over fear is to cease mentally aggrandizing the object of your fear. The Israelites looked at the Egyptians as supermen. They had built the ancient world’s most glorious civilization. They won wars and established a vast empire. They beat the Jews mercilessly and dominated them completely. So God’s plan in sending the plagues was to humanize the Egyptians in Jewish eyes so such a degree that the fear would disappear. In order for the Jews to be liberated not just politically and externally but mentally and psychologically, the Jews had to see the big and strong Egyptians become utterly helpless, vulnerable, and powerless.

In this context, we can begin to understand the ten plagues and their order. First, God attacks the Egyptians water supply by turning the Nile river into blood. There is nothing quite so feeble as a man who is desperate just for a drink of water. Extreme thirst becomes all consuming and demonstrates our total dependency on something that is usually abundant and economical. But even this the Egyptians could not provide for themselves.

Next, the plague of frogs had the robust and resilient Egyptians freaking out over reptiles. Like an elephant that’s afraid of a mouse, Egyptian might was exposed as a fraud.

After that came the plague of lice, with the Egyptians taskmasters who once seemed so mighty itching uncontrollably and being utterly humbled by a tiny insect. Next, wild beasts roamed through the land and the Egyptians ran scared like frightened children.

You get the picture. The story culminates with the Egyptians being afraid even of the dark, like small kids, and then, the last plague, confronting the fear of death, that which reminds us all of our vulnerability and mortality. Through this process, the Jews saw the Egyptians for what they were. Just another group of petrified humans who had gained dominion over another people by being vicious bullies. But there were easily bullied themselves.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/america-rabbi-shmuley-boteach/belittling-tormentors-allows-us-to-be-free/2013/04/05/

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