Monday, January 23, 2017

Let’s Take A Collective Spiritual Breath Filled With Faith and Consider What It Means to Be a Person of Observance

Last night I listened to an interview with Omar Saif Ghobash about his book Letters to a Young Muslim regarding his perspective on what it means to be a good, observant Muslim and what our children and youth have to understand about that goal in a time and context in which there are many messages that would not extol the value of moderation and in fact would convey the notion hat the only way to be a good Muslim is to be the strictest Muslim possible, whatever that may mean. Does this include obliterating the notion that everyone else who is not a Muslim does not have a right to believe and live as Muslims do? No, clearly no, says Ghobash, who teaches that being Muslim is not antithetical to being human but reinforces and is reinforced by it.

In a review written on this book by Aymann Ismail, the following is stated by a self-identified devout Muslim:

…whenever news breaks of a terrorist assault on a church in the name of Islam. I understand how alien and unfriendly Christianity can feel to young Muslims. When an entire generation of Muslims is getting inundated with anti-Muslim imagery while being taught only rules and not given the tools to actually study and interpret the Quran, it leaves many young Muslims vulnerable to terrorist groups with evil political goals. This is an uncomfortable truth mostly deflected within Muslim communities. It’s easy to say that monsters don’t and shouldn’t represent us, but what are Muslims doing to protect their children from radicalism?

Simultaneously, within the last few days I read a piece by a wonderful Rabbi whom I have come to know in my work around inclusion of all members of the Orthodox community and for whom I have come to have great respect. Rabbi Haim Ovadia, recently wrote in his own daily blog that his concern with increasing degrees of strict levels of adherence to Jewish law that go beyond the parameters of law as it has come down to us, may regrettably lead us to the point where we have less and less Jews who are observing more and more laws. In my own daily learning of Gemara, I have recently come across the following reference from the Yerushalmi (9:1) “’Is what the Torah prohibits not enough for you, that you seek to amend new prohibitions for yourself?” We learn clearly in Devarim/Deuteronomy 12:32, “Do not add to and do not subtract from the words of the Torah.” Further we are taught that the virtuous and humble Jews would avoid making such additional restrictions, while those with ulterior motives were more quick to do so. Clearly, there is an important message in these individual sources and in their interfacing in the past few days.

At the same time, it is hard to look at the news these days without being confronted by the Christian Right (Alt-Right?) and their attempts to once again exclude so many people in this country – from rights to their bodies, from safety in the public square and from basic rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (fulfillment?) that are the hallmark guarantees of what it means to be an American.

There were millions of people, those very Americans, who have been protesting and have been gathering peacefully (in mostly all cases) to remind all of us that to be a person observant of any faith and ideology DOES NOT mean exclusion of others, vilification of those with whom we do not agree, or increasing the level of strict adherence to whatever we hold as true because …. well, because we decide to or listen to those who decide to.

I have always been a firm believer in the texts that define who we are, whether those foundational texts that are recorded for our benefit are the Tanach (Jewish source) the Holy Bible – Old and New Testament (Christian source) or the Koran (Muslim source). These texts remind us to do as the Prophet Micah instructs and “walk humbly with our G-d” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” [VaYikra/Leviticus] and to “not oppress” ANY vulnerable party, an instruction repeated 36 times in the Five Books of the Torah. That is all about who we are as OBSERVANT MEMBERS of our chosen communities. So, as we settle in to this next chapter of American history and the fears many of us share about our world, let those millions of people who have stood up for these fundamental truths now take action. We are taught that “it is not for you to do all of the work that needs to be done, but do not stop from doing your part.” [Avot 2:21] Only then will we all show that spiritual motivation and the value of faith truly are behind who we are as people of observance, regardless of which path that observance takes.


  1. I've become too accustomed to searching for the "like" button.

    I think it is in Jeremiah (I should go and look it up) where he admonishes the people for going against Gd's statutes because they turned their backs on the widows and the orphans. Maybe that is the crux of all observance. We need to ask ourselves, how are we serving the other as we observe each mitzvah, instead of making one act mutually exclusive of the other.

    I write this as I'm girding my loins. Yeesh!

  2. Very powerful and well said. I'm reminded of the late Rabbi Micky Rosen who used to talk about how hard it is to be passionate about being moderate in its own right and as a counter force to the passion of the extremists - here you have found a way. Sunnie, can I copy it and forward it?

  3. Absolutely, hope all is well Caroline. Love to the family.