Rabbi Yoffie calls for dialogue with Muslims — but not Christian fundamentalists!

Rabbi Eric YoffieLast Friday, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the US, spoke (the full text of Rabbi Yoffie’s speech is here) at the convention of the Islamic Society of North America — the first leader of a major Jewish organization to agree to do so.

His remarks were mostly conciliatory in tone; he was outraged by the idea of profiling by police or antiterrorism agencies, fundamentalist Christian criticism of Islam, and the banning of headscarves in European public schools. And he said this:

The overwhelming majority of Jews reject violence by interpreting these [biblical] texts in a constructive way, but a tiny, extremist minority chooses destructive interpretations instead, finding in the sacred words a vengeful, hateful God. Especially disturbing is the fact that the moderate majority, at least some of the time, decides to cower in the face of the fanatic minority — perhaps because they seem more authentic, or appear to have greater faith and greater commitment. When this happens, my task as a rabbi is to rally that reasonable, often-silent majority and encourage them to assert the moderate principles that define their beliefs and Judaism’s highest ideals. My Christian and Muslim friends tell me that precisely the same dynamic operates in their traditions, and from what I can see, that is manifestly so. [my emphasis]

Here is how I understand this:

  • There are a very few violent Jewish extremists.

This is correct; they include the late Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir, Eden Natan-Zada, and a few others that Americans have not heard of.

  • In the event that the ‘silent majority’ of non-extremist Jews doesn’t condemn them strongly enough, Rabbi Yoffie and other Jewish leaders make sure that nobody thinks that they represent normative Judaism.
  • The situation is similar in the Christian and Muslim communities — although there may be a few more violent extremists there, an ‘alarming’ number — where the clergy does its best to discourage extremism and isolate extremists.

Well, that depends. In some places, for example, Britain and the Palestinian Authority, imams are in the forefront of encouraging violent extremism. Over there, normative Islam is radical Islam. But what about here in the US? In fact, many US mosques, financed by the Saudis and with Saudi-provided imams, do preach an extremist version of Islam.

Indeed, even ISNA, the group that Rabbi Yoffie is speaking to, has been accused of having a relationship to the extremist Muslim Brotherhood organization, and is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism funding case.

There is really no parallel in the Jewish or Christian communities. However, Rabbi Yoffie’s remarks seem to suggest that there is. He has spoken out strongly against Christian Fundamentalists whom he also sees as ‘fanatics’, although Christian terrorism (e.g., attacks on arbortionists) is relatively rare.

Rabbi Yoffie goes on to call for a dialogue between Jews and Muslims, “to strengthen and inspire one another as we fight the fanatics and work to promote the values of justice and love that are common to both our faiths”.

But ironically, Rabbi Yoffie has fought tooth and nail the attempts of Christian Zionists to establish a relationship with Jews (see my article, ‘Rabbi Yoffie and Pastor Hagee‘). Does he see Pastor Hagee as the same kind of ‘fanatic’ as Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman? One would almost think so.

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2 Responses to “Rabbi Yoffie calls for dialogue with Muslims — but not Christian fundamentalists!”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    If Yoffie had said he is seeking to dialogue with moderate Muslims and then gone on to find them, and speak with them this would be commendable.
    But instead he has found it necessary to do a little bending of reality and make Islam as a whole seem far more moderate than it in fact is. This is all a bit mendacious but in my feeling essentially harmless. It is worse that he insults gratuitously allies of Israel i.e. Christian supporters of Israel.
    All in all however my worries are more in the direction of Tehran than in the direction of Wilshire Boulevard.

  2. What is wrong with today’s Jews?
    A perspective of a moderate Muslim.

    When Muslims criticize Jews chances are it’s Islamists. You rarely see moderate (an I do mean real moderate, not Islamists like CAIR who claim to be moderate) Muslims saying unflattering things about the Jews. So, normally, when I see the Jews do dumb things i.e., supporting an Islamist congressional candidate because of partisanship (American Jewish World’s support for Keith Ellison) or providing utilities to a terrorist enclave (Gaza), I try to keep my mouth shut. For obvious reasons. But not this time.

    I thought I’ve seen everything: Cuban missile crisis, fall of Berlin wall, 9/11. Until recently, I thought that the father of modern terrorism getting awarded a Nobel Peace Prize was the most peculiar event in my lifetime. But a recent, largely unnoticed event, could take the cake in peculiarity contest.

    Read more: http://muslimsagainstsharia.blogspot.com/2008/01/what-is-wrong-with-todays-jews.html