Where Are the Imams?

I know very little about Islamic theology. There is, therefore, no way for me to debate intelligently as to whether the underlying theology of radical Islam and ISIS is a falsification of Islamic belief or not. I have but one question: If it isn’t mainstream Islamic ideology, why haven’t we seen imams throughout the world declaring how these terrorists will burn in Gehinnom rather than be admitted to heaven?

L’havdil alfei havdalos, think how our community would react if radicalism were to enter our community. There is, in fact, precedent.

In the early 1970s, the Jewish community in the United States organized a campaign to pressure the Soviet Union to allow the Jewish citizens to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael. The campaign included political and economic pressure, public demonstrations and private petitions.

There was one group that took it to an extreme. They engaged in harassing, demonstrating against, and launching physical attacks against Soviet offices and personnel in New York. A group of individuals actually began shooting at Russian diplomats. The Soviet government newspaper, Izvestia, protested the repeated attacks and demanded better U.S. protection.

Since the Russians were convinced that the ones shooting at them were wearing yarmulkes, they decided to retaliate against all forms of religious observance in the Soviet Union. The first casualty was the matzos that the Agudah had been sending in each year before Pesach through Switzerland. Eight hundred packages of matzos were destroyed before they could be delivered to recipients in the Soviet Union.

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was dealing with the Russians on a number of issues at the time. He was aware of how upset the Soviets were about the shootings. He made contact with Rabbi Sherer, z”l, and requested a meeting with the Moetzes Gedolei ­HaTorah. Rabbi Sherer conferred with the Rabbanim. They instructed Rabbi Sherer to respond that instead of Kissinger’s coming to them, the Moetzes would like Rabbi Sherer to meet with Kissinger and transmit his request back to the Moetzes.

Rabbi Sherer met with Kissinger. He brought back a request that the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah issue a strong statement expressing that shooting at diplomats is not the Jewish way of dealing with such problems.

On May 10, 1976, a statement was issued and publicized stating that there are those who believe “that our Jewish brethren can be helped in their distress through violence and terror. … We herewith proclaim that such acts are contrary to halachah and that according to Torah Law they are to be viewed severely as grave prohibitions. We, therefore, declare that whoever follows their ways will suffer extreme retribution. …”

It was signed by Harav Moshe Feinstein, the Bluzhever Rebbe, the Novominsker Rebbe, Harav Yitzchok Hutner, Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, zichronom livrachah.

Subsequent to that pronouncement, the shootings stopped. When Rabbi Sherer spoke to the Russian ambassador on the issue of the matzos, Rabbi Sherer began to introduce himself and the Agudah. The ambassador’s response was, “We know of Agudath Israel and we know of your Council of Torah Sages.”

The Russians obviously credited the stopping of the shootings to this Moetzes statement.

In truth, this lesson of the responsibility of the religious leaders to take achrayus is something that I learned as a young boy in Yeshivas Ner Yisrael from Harav Shimon Schwab, zt”l. The bachurim used to walk to his home on Friday night and learn Maharal. During the time that refreshments were served after the shiur, he would share divrei Torah on the parashah. One Friday night he shared the following dvar Torah:

We are taught by the Midrash (See Rashi Bereishis 45:27) that the parashah of eglah arufah — the axed heifer — was the last lesson that Yaakov Avinu studied with his son Yosef before he was ignominiously taken down to Mitzrayim. The Midrash is bothered by the fact that, initially, Yaakov’s heart could not believe that Yosef was still alive (Bereishis 45:26). And yet the Torah tells us that when Yaakov saw the agalos (wagons) that Yosef had sent to transport him, Yaakov then did believe that Yosef was alive.

What was so special about the wagons that were sent that made him believe? The Midrash explains that Yosef sent him a sign that the last lesson that they learned was eglah arufah.

Rabbi Schwab asked, “Is this simply because the word agalah (wagon) has the same Hebrew letters as the word eglah (heifer)? They have two completely different meanings. How can we infer one from the other? Perhaps even more seriously, if you look at the previous pesukim you see that the idea of sending wagons was not Yosef’s but rather Pharaoh’s. It was Pharaoh who commanded Yosef (Bereishis 45:19) to take wagons from Mitzrayim to transport his family from Eretz Canaan. How, then, does the Midrash imply that this was the sign given by Yosef to his father?”

Harav Schwab brilliantly answered these questions by explaining the essence of the lesson of eglah arufah.

A corpse is found in the field and it is not known who killed him. An investigation follows and they cannot find the murderer. Who carries the responsibility? Is it the police, or perhaps the mayor and elected officials of the city?

The Torah teaches us that it is the elders of the community who have to leave their homes and come out to the field and say, “Our hands did not spill this blood” and, as Chazal explain, “We didn’t let the wayfarer out of the city without provisions.”

Unlike the nations of the world who idolize youth and physical strength, the Torah teaches us to respect age, experience and wisdom. This was the final lesson that Yaakov taught his son Yosef.

Now let us return to the parashah of Yosef.

Pharaoh instructs Yosef in truth to take wagons, but for what purpose? He commands him to take wagons “for your children and your wives” (Bereishis 45:19). Pharaoh understands that they cannot leave the old father alone so he adds, almost as an afterthought, “and transport your father and come.” Yaakov saw that Yosef, on the other hand, had sent the wagons to transport what he considered primary — “laseis oso — to carry him” — his aged father, Yaakov. Bringing the family was only secondary. This was the lesson that Yaakov had taught his son Yosef. “Va’techi ruach Yaakov avihem — and the spirit of Yaakov was revived.”

When the Torah is falsified, the Torah leaders take a stand.

If President Obama is correct when he says that these radical elements “account for only a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world — including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology,” let’s hear that from the imams.


The author can be reached at rabbisbloom@gmail.com