Who is your God?

The time for Muslim religious leaders to step up and condemn the bloodshed is now, writes Rabbi David Menahem.

A man puts up a curtain for the mourners tent for the terrorists.  (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
A man puts up a curtain for the mourners tent for the terrorists.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
An open letter to believers among the children of Isaac and Ishmael: Jerusalem, the city of God, is experiencing a frightening time. A true war is taking place, and innocent blood is being spilled on its streets and in its prayer houses. Cruelty and evil are rearing their ugly heads. Many people are asking: Who are these cruel people who carry such evil inside of them? What is going on inside their souls? And most importantly, who is their God? This war did not begin as a religious struggle, we must be clear about that. It is necessary to have two sides for such a war to be carried out. But our side is not fighting against Islam. On the contrary – we view Islam as a partner that can help us with Judaism’s true challenge: to teach of God’s love and desire for unity in the world.
Throughout history, Jewish sages honored Islam over all other religions. Maimonides ruled that Muslims are devoted to a single God that has no faults; Jewish law upholds this ruling until today.
This is a theological war. Both Jews and Muslims must internalize this point.
The distinction we must make now, though, is similar to what our Matriarch Rebekah experienced in the story that will be read from the Torah this Shabbat morning in every synagogue around the world: Rebekah was pregnant with twin boys, who were tussling inside her womb.
Our sages say that when she passed a Jewish house of prayer, Jacob would convulse and try to get out; when she passed a house of idol worship, Esau would twitch and attempt to exit.
Rebekah did not know she was bearing twins, and thus could not understand to which God the child belonged. Why does he yearn for both types of worship, she asked herself. So she asked God. Before she wanted to learn about who her child would be and what he would be like, first she wanted to know who his God was.
Likewise, this is the time for us to call out in a strong, loud voice to Muslim believers and ask them to decide: Who do you pray to – God or Satan? Who are God’s true believers? Those who purify their hearts and actions, or those who use knives? Who is the God of these murderers – the God of death or the God of life? I cannot help but make the following comparison: When Dr. Baruch Goldstein massacred Muslim worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron [in 1994], the rabbis condemned his actions loudly and clearly. When Jews killed Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, we stood up and shouted this was wrong.
From every rooftop and on the pages of every newspaper, we deplored this heinous murder. In our synagogues, not one member praised it or thought it was an act of heroism.
On the contrary, we view this abominable murder as an act of heresy against God, a God who gives life to his creations and commands us to preserve the sanctity of each and every person.
And you, the imams and the sheikhs: Do you believe in this same God? Why have you not made your voices heard? Isn’t there an explicit prohibition in the Koran to kill a man in a house of prayer? Why didn’t we hear your clear and unambiguous condemnation of the murder of eight boys in their yeshiva, Merkaz Harav, in Jerusalem? Why do you remain silent instead of denouncing the recent massacre in the Har Nof synagogue? The time has come for you, Muslim religious scholars, to take action. Do not let this opportunity pass you by: You must take a strong public stand against terrorism. You are the ones responsible for and capable of releasing the true believers from this burden. These acts of terror and murder that are being directed towards Jews denigrate Islam and its believers, and denigrate the Koran which praises the Torah of Israel. You must remember that we believe in a God that is the source of life and praises the desire for life.
Just as Muslims chant in a strong voice, “Ya hayyu, ya qayyum, la ilah ila anta” (Oh the living, oh the one who exists, no God exists other than you), so too do our sages have a famous saying, “Man does not sin unless a folly of the spirit has entered him.” Many sins have been committed under such circumstances.
So I call out to you: Empty your hearts of these follies, this hate and lust for murder.
Instead, fill your hearts with the spirit of God, and the love he has for all of us and the entire world.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
The writer is best known as a performer of Sephardi liturgical songs and for his interfaith work with Muslims.