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The Heart of the Matter

Its seems patently obvious to me that colonialism is something that must be resisted, in practice and in theory, by anyone truly concerned with human rights and human dignity. The act of any nation entering into lands, not previously lived in by the peoples of those nations, and claiming them as their own and in the process dispossessing those who  previously lived there, is obviously reprehensible. We know this by the simple fact that we would not like this being done to us. Rabbi Hillel (1st century BC) tells us that

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah.”

And Jesus reminds us that:

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

I can’t think of anyone who would not cry “injustice” if they were to be dispossessed from the land they had chosen to live in by people from another land.

Colonialism is not mere immigration. It is the act of taking for yourself that which is not yours. It is theft. It is an act of theft that verges on the act of murder as it places people’s very existence at risk.

While those who protest against asylum seekers coming to this country stir up fear in our community, they are very often the ones who say they cannot understand why some Aboriginals want to burn the Australian flag. They can’t understand why Aboriginals are upset over the history of land theft, dispossession and murder that they suffered at the hands of British colonialism. A history not properly acknowledged by vast numbers of Australians of non-Aboriginal heritage. These non-Aboriginal people would have no problem with the idea of burning the Japanese flag if Australia had been conquered and colonised by Japan during World War 2.

Apparently Aboriginal Australians should be thankful that they were colonised by the British rather than some “barbaric” nation.

Well, I guess a woman who gets raped by someone wearing a condom is possibly better off than a woman who has been raped by someone not “civilised” enough to use a prophylactic, but that is really not the point.

Some slave owners in America’s southern states did not abuse their slaves as others did but that is not the point either. The immorality and evil that slavery was and is, is not reduced by the fact that some slave owners were more humane than others.

 Just imagine if an allegedly repentant rapist entreated his victim to forgive him and “get over it”, based on an argument that he deserves to be forgiven since he used a condom unlike other barbarians!  One would be forgiven for thinking  that this type of argument is not made in a true spirit of repentance and reconciliation.

As Christians, we recognise that the Gospel is a Gospel of reconciliation, not colonisation. If we seek reconciliation with others we will have no time for arguments like the ones used to justify British colonialism by non-Aboriginal Australians.

Christians recognise that God has reconciled us to Himself and hence we seek to live in reconciliation with others. This is the primary role of Christians in the world.

While others are first or even second, to go to or call for war, Christians should be the last, if ever, to do such things. When Christian Zionists are the first to call for war, we know that something is deeply wrong. If we have a theology that tells us that a certain people group are simply beyond reason and deserve nothing but destruction, we have entirely missed the very essence of the Gospel.

Christian Zionist dogma, proclaiming that Arabs, be they Muslim or otherwise, are in such a state of reprobation that we should not even attempt to try and see things from their perspective, is demonic heresy. Such mean spirited self righteousness betrays attitudes not inspired by the mercy of God to sinners.

And invoking images of the Nazis every time we speak of reconciliation with those who have deep grievances with the west is likewise dishonest and not in keeping with the Gospel of Christ.

Our mission as peace makers, not just peace lovers, is not abrogated by our eschatology. If it is, then our eschatology is wrong, not our mission of reconciliation. If the cause of reconciliation suffers the temporary setback of war, then we can only let this unfortunate occurrence inspire us to greater efforts in the future. Negativity and fatalism concerning the hope for a better future is not a fruit of the spirit.

Even many Christians, who are critical of the state of Israel, still go off on a tangent when discussing the rights of Palestinians and usually it concerns some idea about prophecy, the end times and the Zionist states roll in all of this.

My point is that such arguments are irrelevant when talking about our commitment to human rights, dignity and equality for Arabs and Jews. I would not remotely care if anyone could prove to me, beyond doubt, that the Zionist State of Israel is an unambiguous portent of the return of Christ. The belief that Israel is such a portent does not affect in the slightest whether or not we should be pursuing the cause of justice, peace, and equality for all in the Holy Land.

Jesus calls us to be ready for His return by ensuring that we are doing what we are called to upon his return. What we are called to do does not depend on how close we think we are to His return. Claims that Christs return is near should not affect our view of our neighbour and how we treat him. We would not want others to treat us poorly based on their understanding of prophecy or destiny and so we should not do that to them.


A Chosen People.

A non religious person asked me the other day,” if the Jewish people are a chosen people, what are they chosen to do?” A pretty good question. One that doesn’t have any particular answer from a secular Zionist perspective, but, then again, Zionism never bought into that stuff about Jews being the chosen people of God. If you listen to Christian Zionists, the only thing Jewish people are chosen for is to hurry up and ethnically cleanse Palestine of Arabs so that the rapture can occur and the non-Christian world can finally get whats coming to it! And about time too…Hallelujah!

Two thousand years of the teachings of Torah Judaism give quite a different picture. Orthodox Judaism teaches that being Jewish historically, up until about 1860, was always about being willing to accept the “yoke” of the Torah. That is, being Jewish was a religious identity. An identity that was intimately tied to a person’s ethics, a person’s responsibility to God and humanity. John Hagee’s version of Jewishness is more about an entitlement to real estate than ethics towards the vulnerable and “despised” in society. Rabbi Hillel (1st century BC), when asked what was the essence of the Torah, said “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah.” Christian Zionism…far more Zionist than Christian, simply has no understanding of what Jewishness is even remotely about.

The Torah teaches Jewish people that just as God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to “Let My People Go!”, so God tells Benjamin Netanyahu to not keep the Palestinians captive in their own land. Ex 22:21 “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.”

God does not love His chosen people in such a manner that banishes all boundaries, giving license to whatever avarice and self righteousness the Jewish people may wish to indulge in. His covenant with the Jewish people in the Land of Israel has never been revoked. It is because of God’s love for His chosen that He resists the Zionist state of Israel. To endorse the Zionist Government would require a reversal of His very character. Something all Christians say can never happen.

If there ever was a people whose religious heritage should cause them to side with those suffering under the rod of oppression, it should be the Jewish people. If ever there was a people who should never be guilty of oppressing a people living with them in their land, it is the Jewish people. This is why anyone with eyes and ears can see why Boaz Evron said…”Zionism is indeed the negation of Judaism”

It is because the Jewish people are God’s chosen people that God is saying to them, of the Palestinian people, “Let My People Go!” The oppressed of the world are God’s chosen people too, the warnings of the Torah are ignored at our peril. The Jewish people are chosen, chosen to be responsible, not to be free from responsibility toward the Palestinian Arabs who live amongst them.

Craig Nielsen

The Three Oaths of the Talmud

The Christian Zionist understanding of the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Palestine, as revealed in the Old Testament scriptures, is superficial at best and heresy at the worst. The Bible most emphatically does not teach that the Jewish people have an absolute entitlement to the land of Palestine by virtue of their ancestry to Abraham alone. The conditionality of their possession of the land, explicitly referred to in the Pentateuch, tells us that the Jewish people are aliens in the land of Palestine: – tenants of the God whose land it is. Without living up to the ethical conditions of their tenancy, Israel faces expulsion from the land God promised them, until finally, by grace alone, they can return legitimately.

As well as this testimony from the common heritage of the Old Testament, there is the witness of the Talmud. The Talmud is the collection of commentaries of the Mishna, which draws upon its conclusions in the formulation of Jewish law. It is in this Holy Jewish writing (Kesubos 111a) that we find further illumination to the relationship of the Holy land to God’s chosen people.

Professor Yakov M. Rabkin of Montreal University in Canada relates the section of the Talmud in question.

The Talmud relates the three oaths sworn on the eve of the dispersal of what remained of the people of Israel to the four corners of the earth; not to return en masse and in organized fashion to the Land of Israel; not to rebel against the nations; and that the nations do not subjugate Israel exceedingly (2006, p. 71).

Jewish tradition informs us that God made the Rabbis take these solemn oaths at the dispersal of the Jewish people from Israel in 130 A.D. The people were to not return “as a wall” to the land. It has been interpreted by many Rabbis and Jewish scholars that this return could not be a return to the land either by forceful or peaceful means. The logic behind this stems from the combined meaning of the first and second oaths. A taking of the land by force would by necessity rebel against the nations since those dispossessed by the returning Jewish masses would obviously be driven to wrath for the harm done to them. If the first oath only prohibited a return by force, then the second oath not to rebel against the nations would seem to make the first oath redundant. The first oath would still make sense in light of the second if the prohibition to enter the land was referring to any effort at all to reclaim the land of Israel by the Jewish people.

At the heart of the oaths is the belief that to usher in the final Messianic age of peace is an act of God, by grace alone. Just as Christians have believed for two centuries that salvation is wrought sola gratia, so the vast majority of Jewish rabbis have taught that no human effort is either necessary or permissible in the consummation of the redemption of creation by God. They taught that the Messiah must come first and then the Jews would return to the land in a miraculous fashion, bringing in a world wide age of peace and service to God such that no injustice or dispossession of the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine would occur.

The claim that the State of Israel is responsible for the violence between Jew and Arab in the Middle East is met with counter claims of anti-Semitism by Zionists and their supporters. Yet a simple study of history reveals that Jew and Arab have a long history of cooperation and tolerance between each other in the land of Palestine and the Middle East in general. Anti-Semitism was never the force in the Arab world that it was, and still is, in Europe.

The traditions of Judaism have never portrayed the Jewish people as “eternal victims” of what we call anti-Semitism. The lessons of the enslavement of the Hebrews by the Egyptians and the attempted genocide of the Children of Israel by Pharaoh are echoed in the Torah time and time again. These lessons can be summed up by the simple statement: Do not oppress those different to you for you were once oppressed yourselves. In other words; see to it that oppression of the vulnerable never occurs – to anyone. This lesson of the Torah, put even more succinctly by Rabbi Hillel, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others.” stands in stark contrast to the lessons that Zionism has taken from the Holocaust: See to it that oppression never happens again – to us. If others need to be oppressed so that we can be free, then so be it. We have an entitlement to do so because we are Jewish and no one else has a right to tell us differently. All criticism of our sense of entitlement is proof of the anti-Semitic nature of the nations.

Jewish tradition recognises that Jewish people have a responsibility not to provoke the nations to wrath and hence bring anti-Semitism upon themselves. This does not imply that all anti-Semitism has been provoked or that even when provoked it is justified, but that the Jewish people are not without responsibility in how the nations deal with them. They are not the hapless, eternal victims of a world that hates them.

Zionists today are not slow to point out that the Arab world is, and always has been, intensely anti-Semitic. One wonders why a secular Zionism would seek refuge from European anti-Semitism by creating a Zionist state in the middle of an anti-Jewish Arab world. Were the early Zionists naive?  Would they not have known that the Arab world would reject their efforts to create a Zionist state in their midst just as fervently as the Germans would have rejected the creation of a Jewish state in the middle of Germany? If Zionists knew that the Arab world would reject the creation of their homeland, would they not have been prepared to take it by force right from the beginning? Would they not have been ready to act with violence to counter this anti-Semitism right from the start? Indeed, would intelligent Zionist leaders (knowing the absolute nature of Arab hatred for Jews) have discerned the need to act in a pre-emptive fashion so as to guarantee the initial success of their venture to form a Zionist state? In 1967 Israeli leaders acted in a pre-emptive manner to destroy the Egyptian Air force, delivering victory to the Zionist State before a single Arab had attacked Israel.

Logic tells us that the Zionists took the land of Palestine by force. How else would they expect to create a homeland for themselves in a land they continually demand has always been inhabited by Arabs who hate Jews for no reason?  Or perhaps Arabs have not always been at odds with the Jewish people and this fact was exploited by the Zionists in order to push their way into Palestine, blaming the hatred that they stirred up in the Arabs by the dispossession they suffered in their homeland not on the injustice of this act but on the same insanity that overtook Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s.

It is difficult to imagine how the Zionists have not trampled on the oaths of the Talmud as much as they have trampled on the rights of the Palestinian people. When you trample on the vulnerable and the powerless, you trample on the Torah. Those secular Jews who stand up for equality and justice for the indigenous people of Palestine show their Jewishness far more than a thousand Jews who say they believe in God yet oppress the alien among them.

Craig Nielsen


Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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March 2023