Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sabbah Botches It

It seems that news agencies are reporting that Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch rejects Israel's Jewish identity and according to Reuters:

Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch criticised Israel on Wednesday for insisting Palestinians recognise it as a Jewish state and said God made the Holy Land for Muslims and Christians too. Michel Sabbah, the Holy Land's Roman Catholic leader, said in his annual Christmas message that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had unleashed "forces of evil" across the Middle East and it was up to Israel to make a relaunched peace process work.

...Sabbah said he was concerned about Israeli demands, rebuffed by the Palestinians, that Israel be recognised as a Jewish state because that would discriminate against Muslims and Christians. "God made this land for all three of us, so a suitable state is one who can adapt itself to the vocation of this land," said Sabbah, who was born in Nazareth, a town where Christians believe Jesus was raised and which is now part of Israel. If it's Jewish, it's not Muslim or Christian...If there's a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against," Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah told reporters at the annual press conference he holds in Jerusalem before the Christian holiday...Sabbah said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews. "This land cannot be exclusive for anyone," he said. [And see this news report, as well]

Well, this is a bit of a problem. Instead of lashing out at the persons or the culture or the political framework which is killing Christians, raping their women, torching their churches and causing them to exit their homes - the Palestine Authority, if my intention was not clear (see here and here and better, here) - Sabbah not only ignores the harsh reality he is seen to be covering up but also illustrates a quite vicious theological interpretation which I am the many non-Jewish readers of this blog do not share.

First of all, as any theologian knows, there is a difference between the "Land" as intrinsically being geographically sacred, whether to Judaism, Christianity or Islam, and as to what degree, and the "State" which is but a political framework. Whereas Christianity may separate the two (""Render unto Cesar the things that are Caesar; and to God, the things that are God’s" - Mark 12:17), we Jews do not. But that intrinsic character does not mean absolute exclusion.

Christians and Muslims have not be ghettoized in Israel as Jews were in Europe and the Arab Middle East. Pogroms and Farhud were the lot of the Jews but not of Arabs here. [further reading]

But secondly, the Bible assure mankind that there will be an era of redemption. Here's Isaiah, Chapter 2:

2 It shall happen in the latter days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be raised above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. 3 Many peoples shall go and say, "Come, let's go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; And he will teach us of his ways, And we will walk in his paths. For out of Zion the law shall go forth, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations, And will decide concerning many peoples; And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning-hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war any more.

Can Sabbah presume to stand in the way of Biblical prophecy? Is he negating the scriptual word? There will be nations and peoples and no one is forced to become Jewish. But the ultimate message there is that G-d, as the Divine presence and motivating force, will be recognized by all. And that is why the Jews need to be sovereign in the Land of Israel. Not to exclude but to permit all the nations and beliefs to benefit from the spiritual, moral and cultural advantages that the Jews have highlighted throughout their history.

Of course, if the land is Jewish it is not Christian or Muslim. Jesus knew that when he came, as a worshipper, to the Temple. The Islamic Haddith sought to identify Muhammed with Jerusalem although the Quran and the historical record attest otherwise. But I don't seek to extend Jewishness to Mecca where no non-Muslim can be in nor to Rome from where Sabbah's authority stems.

Isaiah speaks not of war but of peace. Would that other religious leaders learn that simple message that we Jews know.

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