Tuesday, May 18, 2010

R. Shlomo Riskin, Coercion and Ecumenicism
[I hope to work on this after Shavuot; this is an unedited compilation of my thoughts, not organized yet]

In a fund-raising CD he sent out Pesach 07 called "Pour Out Your Wrath on the Gentiles (Who Do Not Know You)", R. Shlomo Riskin interprets Rambam as believing that there is an obligation for Jews to seek the conversion of non-Jews to Judaism. Elsewhere, he presents (in a defense of his interfaith work with Evangelical Christians), the claim that Rambam mandates the coercion of non-Jews to keep Sheva Mitzvot;

Even Maimonides legislates that it is incumbent upon the Jewish people even to coerce the rest of the world if necessary to accept the Noahide laws (Mishneh Torah , Laws of Kings 8,10)

What is left out of his defense is the penalty on non-Jews (Rambam seems quite specific in speaking of Eretz Israel), who refuse to "convert"';

If one does not accept these commands, he should be executed.

As I said, R. Riskin in his CD defends the notion of a specific mission of Jews to seek the Conversion of non-Jews - not simply to accept converts. I also believe that, in seeking more than the acquiescence of non-Jews to Noachide Laws - with the not-insignificant threat of execution - his view (shared by others), can be understood as nothing less than seeking the destruction of non-Jews qua non-Jews in converting them to Judaism. If an obligatory "mission to the Goyim" motivates his engagement with Christians, I believe it is faulty on both religious and historical lines, and I hope in this post and in a later one to explain exactly how.

A not-dissimilar "Missionary" theology is also shared by Chabad, who see conversion of the Nations to the Noachide Laws as waging war against them (as propounded by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as indicated in Persico's "Chabad's Lost Messiah" piece). It seems suspicious enough to me that he bases his interfaith dialogue on a mandate that's backed up by capital punishment - but in understanding Rambam to believe we should go further than propounding Noachide Laws to non-Jews, R. Riskin essentially believes we should seek the destruction of non-Jewry as such; it is not possible to "kasher" non-Jews beyond the 'hashkaha' of the Noachide Laws without doing so - their national identity cannot be anything but as "Israel".

Historically, his is not merely claim that at various times, groups of Jews (not necessarily mainstream groups at that), took upon themselves to encourage or compel conversion of specific gentiles - which was the case, at times. His claim is that Rambam saw an obligation and that we accept this as normative - despite the difficulty of finding a clear mandate for such an epic demand in halacha.

As I'm sure he is not ignorant of the lack of an organized, stated mandate from what is authoritative for Judaism - but the only source for mandate left seems to be historical occurrences themselves - not even systematized and coordinated; sporadic episodes in history are precedent - but are not halacha (I might add that this is not even Conservative approach to history's capacity as authoritative - which demands that any historical mandate deriving from practice/belief be shown as systematic and widespread within Israel)?

This should sound familiar to those who have ever been pursued by missionaries, and should raise fears since such groups who failed at "wars of love" with hugs so often turned to compelling converts (Luther is a fine example). His dialogues with other religions indicate a predilection for engaging them as they're understood on his Jewish terms ("If I am I because you are you", etc), in complete disregard of their own self-definitions - again, something that should be familiar to Jews who've ever been pursued by missionaries. His original responses to accusations against him are quite open that Jews must be followers of "true religion" (itself of debated meaning), isn't enough - all others must be made "corrected", for their own good and by divine mandate - (granted in whatever a 'nice' missionary manner possible - no need for jihad or crusades per se), precisely as Jews, and that Sheva Mitzvot are literally deemed not sufficient for Gentiles. Gentiles qua Gentiles, are, effectively, in his theology to be destroyed and made "complete" as Jews;



Generally known as a liberal nationalist, he is not of a 'liberal' disposition or pluralist where it counts, pluralism for others who fulfill a status of at the very least being assisted and treated civily by Jews - he has, in significant ways, become indistinguishable from patronizing, chauvinistic evangelical Christians and seems utterly blinded to it by his secular messianic 'war' theology, the same way Aish and similar kiruv groups argue that we are in love with Judaism, and judaism is at war, and we are in a WAR of LOVE, where ALL is twice as fair.

His talk of coming "together" in a "joint" belief is clearly as subversive as many xtian missionaries who give jews money; there is no "coming together" where one clearly seeks and STATES, as he does, to utterly subvert and effectively destroy what makes other people "Other"; they are NOT to be engaged on their or our terms - they have no halachically valid terms or deeds, they have no REDEEMABLE reality in this world except as "not yet Jews". Do people hear this?...he says such that cannot be read any other way.

I can imagine, given his adherence to the mitzvah of Yishuv Israel and Aliyah, that our planet, rich in diversity of peoples and nations should be destroyed/converted, uprooted and move to Israel rendering the Aretz Israel (a very important mitzvah for Riskin), one big resort town and the rest of the worlds diverse ecosystems should be similarly destroyed/converted (no wait..."elevated"), to field after field of soy and other destructive annual crops, considering his vegetarian doctrines. I only half-jest.

R. Riskin neglects to mention, in citing Rambam on Sheva Mitzvot observance as his prooftext (observance which, again, he believes is only a stepping stone...), that anyone who does not accept Sheva Mitzvot is to be PUT TO DEATH (hilchot melachim u'milchamot 8:10).
Of course a very normative view held by many (if not most), is that we are not obligated to compel observance on the Noachide laws, annulling much of this (well-explicated by R. Michael Broyde here and elsewhere;
and also is the view that is expressed by some about xtianity and islam, but more recently by R. Steinsaltz - that many religions actually fulfill them indirectly;
...which is considered enough by Rambam according to a famous R. Kook, presented by R. Eugene Korn;
but in short translated here;


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