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The "reaching out to Muslims" team.

Once again, with the recent terrorist attack in Paris, our President went into his professorial mode to point out our abysmal ignorance regarding Islam. As you know, President Obama never uses the phrase radical Islam to describe the now multitude of brutal murders committed by ISIS terrorists, asserting that Islam is a peaceful religion no matter the claims of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” to be fulfilling the directives of the Koran. To the contrary, our President assures us their actions are a perversion of the peace loving religion founded by Mohammed. And while many scholars of Islam have pointed out that both the Koran and the Hadith do provide source for the actions of ISIS, our President and self-appointed American theologian takes no mind. Perhaps a dose of American history and the experience of his predecessors in the office of commander-in-chief of the United States, may help him fully grasp the nature of the enemy now encountered by the nations of the world.

In the 18th century, Tripoli, along with the other Barbary Coast lands of Tunis, Morocco and Algiers challenged our new republic’s diplomacy by their piracy. The Barbary pirates, actually corsairs representing the lands of the Barbary Coast, had as their main objective capturing Christians, Jews and other non-believers for slavery and ransom. From the 16th to 19th century, these Muslim pirates captured an estimated 800,000 to 1.25 million people as slaves. The Europeans made peace with the Barbary States through treaties that required annual payments of tribute dubbed at times “annuities.” The merchant vessels of any country without such a treaty were at the mercy of these state-sponsored maritime marauders, including those of the United States.


In 1784 Congress appointed Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin as peace commissioners to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with the major states of Europe and the Mediterranean which included the states of the Barbary Coast. In 1786, Jefferson and Adams met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the representative of the “Dey”, the Regent, of Algiers and Tripoli to Britain. Jefferson and Adams asked him why the Muslims were hostile to the relatively young United States, which had done no harm to the Muslim people. The Dey’s response, as reported to Congress, was that “Islam was founded on the laws of their Prophet, that it was written in the Koran, that all nations who should not have knowledge of their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to paradise.”

Perhaps Rahman Adja had in mind these and similar verses found in the Koran:

98: 6-8 Those who disbelieve from among the People of the Book and the idolaters, will be in the fire of hell, abiding therein. They are the worst of creatures. Those who believe and do good, they are the best of creatures. Their reward is with their Lord: Gardens of perpetuity wherein rivers, abiding therein, forever flow. Allah is well pleased with them, and they are even pleased with Him. That is for him who fears his Lord.

8:12 When thy Lord revealed to the Angels: I am with you, so make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. So smite above the necks and smite every fingertip of them.

Shaykh al-Shanqeeti (1887-1973), a contemporary Muslim scholar wrote: “The reason for slavery is kufr (non-belief in Islam) and fighting against Allah and His Messenger. When Allah enables the Muslim mujaahideen who are offering their souls and their wealth, and fighting with all their strength and with what Allah has given them to make the word of Allah supreme over the kuffaar (disbeliever), then He makes them their property by means of slavery unless the ruler chooses to free them for nothing or for a ransom, if that serves the interests of the Muslims. Adwa’ al-Bayaan (3/387).

The leaders of the Barbary States were not radical Muslims. They were simply Muslims living in accordance with the moral and ethical principles of Islam as taught in the Koran and the Hadith. Ultimately under President Jefferson, the United States declared war on the “Barbary Pirates” and prevailed. Known as the first Barbary War, 1801-1805, this early victory of our fledgling Marine Corps is forever remembered in the Marine Corps Hymn, which begins, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…” The line “To the shores of Tripoli” references the First Barbary War and in particular the Battle of Derne in 1805 won by Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and his Marines.

As has been noted in recent reports in the press, ISIS, the Islamic State, has now embarked upon taking slaves of those captured during their terrorist actions, much as the Barbary Pirates did over 200 years ago in accord with the teachings of Islam as explained by Shaykh al-Shanqeeti.

On the Fox news program, The Kelly File (September 12, 2014), and on other news programs as well, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, leader of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a physician who formerly served in the American Armed Forces, refuted President Obama’s claim that “ISIS is not Islamic.” Stating the President does recognize the Islamic State of Iran, the Islamic State of Pakistan, the Islamic State of Saudi Arabia, each of which, as ISIS, imprisons and murders nonbelievers including Jews and Christians, treats women in a despicable manner etc. Dr. Jasser who, as a Muslim advocating for the reform of Islam, claimed when the President wrongly states that ISIS is not in accord with Islam, he is making it more difficult for reformers to have influence on Islam globally.

Why President Obama is so intransigent on this subject when the truth is so obvious, even from the experiences of those who served before him as President of the United States is unfathomable. One irrefutable fact remains, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Sun Tzu


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Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz is the rav of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation in Chicago. During his nearly five decades in the rabbinate he has led congregations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom and served as an officer, Executive Committee member and chair of the Legislative Committee of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.


  1. NO! hitler did not heed from history, after it is being said that he read Napoleon’s memoirs and attacked Russia. Then ended up in the middle of winter and soldiers died waiting for supplies to catch up with them. History repeats itself. This one tho i believe will be the end of history.

  2. Barak Obama is the the leader, thats why he insists on calling Islam a religion of peace. It’s time he opens his eyes to the TRUTH. It is a religion of SATAN- HATE-MURDER. The way they poison there childrens minds-Brainwash, by giving them a knife or even naming them knife, and then still be proud of them for what they have done. There are no virgins waiting for them what they believe. Only SATAN BURNING IN HELL with them all.

  3. We all have short memories. We forget how for over 800 years, Western Christian Europe "solved" its Jewish problem by banning the Jew; and how for 1200 years, Jews were allowed to live in relative peace under various Muslim rulers.

    The Rabbi would be well advised to read some of the writings of R Sachs, former Chief Rabbi of the British Empire.
    The militant and murderous version of Islam presently rearing its ugly head in Syria & Iraq is no more representative of Islam than the Crusades were of Christianity.

    It's very easy to print all sorts of anti-Obama rhetoric if you're willing to repeat the talking points of right-wing ideologues like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. It's a lot harder to apply the history and understanding of a true "ben Torah" to avoid conflating issues of religion with one's personal obsession with political leaders

  4. Philip Lefkowitz that "1400 year secret" was well kept when the King of Morocco prevented the French from turning over Jews for deportation in 1940.

    In the uncensored version of Rambam – Hilchot M'lachim Chapt 11 Halacha 7:
    וכל הדברים האלו של ישוע הנוצרי, ושל זה הישמעאלי שעמד אחריו–אינן אלא ליישר דרך למלך המשיח, ולתקן את העולם כולו לעבוד את ה' ביחד: שנאמר "כי אז אהפוך אל עמים, שפה ברורה, לקרוא כולם בשם ה', ולעובדו שכם אחד"

  5. Ch Hoffman That there are good folks among all people and all faiths throughout history is a wonderful fact of life. As regards your quote from the Rambam, I believe he,as other sages saw merit in the messages of both Christianity and Islam in so far as both accepted the Torah as G-d;s word and played a significant role in their respective spheres of influence in ridding the world of paganism toward the acceptance of monotheism. I do hope you're not inferring that the Rambam felt the hatred of Mohammed expressed over and over again in the Koran toward Jews and Christians and the suffering Jews and Christians endured over the years because of this hatred was necessary for the bringing of the Messiah. I would suggest you discuss this matter with your Rabbi, My article simply pointed out a fact of history. It was not an overview of Islam.

  6. Philip Lefkowitz your article quoted selective material which was intended to convey a political impression of Islam based on a very weak premise. The hatred of Jews in no more integral to Islam than the need to convert all Jews is inherent in Christianity or the need to destroy all worshipers of avoda zara is a part of rabbinic Judaism as is practiced to this day.

    your sole fault in this matter is dabbling in politics when your training is in rabbinics. in rabbinics, you've been trained to differentiate between sources and to recognize that there is plenty of nuance; when you go out of your "wheelhouse" and play politics, you're seduced by catch phrases which allow you to find justification for positions not otherwise valid. It's the difference between learning from a pasuk (exegesis) and forcing an interpretation into a pasuk (eisegesis)

  7. Ch Hoffman Please provide me with a better understanding of the concept of Dhimitude, slavery, and the relationship of Islam to nonbelievers from your understanding of the teachings of this faith. Suggesting that our President consider the experience of previous holders of his office in dealing with Islam. I don't believe is going outside of my "wheelhouse." Perhaps the difficulty you have found with this article and oother articles I have written is that Orthodox Judaism, in its view of life in today's America is more in step with the views of the Conservative than the Liberal.

  8. Philip Lefkowitz The President's predecessor, GW Bush, went out of his way to praise Islam as the "religion of peace" because he had strong relations with the Saudi oil family; so did his father.

    My only problem is the reflexive adherence to certain reactionary elements in politics by religious leaders; and I'm sililarly revolted when Cons & Ref rabbis reflexively view the world through the left's glasses – on issues which have no particular religious significance.

    If you are a pol – be a pol; if you're the Morah d'asrah of a community, be a ben Torah.

  9. Ch Hoffman "My only problem is the reflexive adherence to certain reactionary elements in politics by religious leaders; " My purpose in writing articles, as I have stated previously , is to provide a Torah true perspective on contemporary life issues which, I would suggest, is the role of the Jewish clergy. I am not, as it appears you assume, advocating for or endorsing the positions of the "reactionary" ,conservative or even the Republican. I am reflecting on issues of the day from the perspective of Orthodox Judaism and as I wrote previously, more often than not, that view is more in concert with a conservative rather than a liberal perspective Shabbat Shalom.
    P.S. I refuse to be "Father McKenzie writing,a sermon that no one will hear" resigning myself to burying my head in tombs of Sefarim as my sole role as a Moreh D'Assra – the authority in Jewish communal life..

  10. Herbert Portnoy what's worse, is someone who is so hell-bent to criticize, that he refuses to follow the facts.

    I have little regard for rabbis of any denomination spouting off on politics for any political position – whether it's reform rabbis who worship the leftist causes, conservative rabbis who play at PC, or orthodox rabbis who align themselves with the reactionaries of the republican party

    but then, you've formed your misinformed opinions and are certainly not in the mood to listen to reason

  11. Ch Hoffman I am sure you have learned ethics of the father's. , Pirkei Avos. What do the sages mean when they say regarding Torah, "turn it this way. turn it that way everything is in it." if not, that all human experience is to be guided by Torah truths. Government , or as you would have it , politics is part of that equation.

  12. Philip Lefkowitz And with respect to the quoted mishnah, I can thus say that the application of Torah to contemporary political life is thus rendered quite meaningless in as much as one can find solace, comfort, or support for virtually any political or economic position somewhere in Torah – which then means that there is no true "Torah answer" to a political question.

    Torah is to be learned for the sake of Torah – and not for the sake of politics; otherwise, the eisiges of reading into a pasuk or halacha that which would support one's external (non-Torah) position, perverts not only the position but the learning itself.

  13. Ch Hoffman Needless to say, you are entitled to your view of Torah, which frankly is quite bizarre. Torah comes from the word horoeh – to advise and guide. Are you denying that Torah has a specific message for us regarding such topics as euthanasia, interpersonal relationships, morality in general? Or is it your opinion that while Torah has such a message when the subject is a matter of pIublic discussion and societal action that message must be negated.

  14. Philip Lefkowitz I fully acknowledge that Torah has a lesson for all; the issue is, however, that in applying that lesson to issues beyond the personal, the agenda of the "user" takes over and then goes on "find a pasuk to support" – in an eisegesis manner rather than learn from Torah as exegisis. As stated previously, the fact that one can find a pasuk or a halacha which nominally "supports" a non-halakhic position has always been the case; however, in the absence of taking it in context, it is pretty hard to buy into random application of Torah to international affairs which are governed by societies entirely different than those in mishaic or talmudic times.

  15. Ch Hoffman And all this because I recounted an historic event in American history. involving a previous President. of the United States and the Muslim world for our President's consideration. Frankly, we have a very different view of the role of the Rabbi in Jewish and general society. As I have written in the past, even if I were to accept your view, I am, as a citizen of the United States, obligated by that citizenship , to speak to the issues of the day affecting our nation providing my perspective. I always enjoy our repartee.

  16. Ch Hoffman Are you actually suggesting I should put a disclaimer on my articles that I write this article as a citizen and not as an Orthodox Rabbi? Your opinion that "you are judged by conflicting standards, the reconciling of which is often impossible" is just that – your opinion period.

  17. Philip Lefkowitz To the contrary. You certainly can identify yourself as a rabbi; and subject to your congregation's approval, you can identify yourself as their rabbi. All I'm saying is that when one brings Torah into a political, social, economic, or other secualr argument, one had best be certain that the Torah he brings in isn't adversely affected by the context or environment in which it's being used. And that risk is most evident when one attempts to find either biblical analogies or dated rabbinic dicta to buttress a contemporary position.

  18. Philip Lefkowitz "dated rabbinic dicta" would include, for example, the prohibition of marrying a converted woman with whom the man had been living, the rabbinic theory being that it would shame him. This was declared as dated or anachronistic by R Moshe Feinstein who recongized that contemporary norms often render prior halachic decisions as "correct in their time" but no longer applicable.

    When commenting on political issues using Torah as one's sword of argument, one should make sure that his Torah is "up-to-date"

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