Rabbi Haskel Lookstein (and Casablanca's Victor Laszlo) Join Fight Against Mosque -- And what if Rauf's name was Hagee?
09/02/2010 - 02:13
Jonathan Mark

With Rabbi Haskel Lookstein coming out agaInst the location of mosque at Ground Zero (see his sermon below), I'm reminded of nothing less than Victor Laszlo telling Bogart at the Casablanca airport, "Thanks. And welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win."

I was jusr wondering, for all the liberal talk about "religious freedom" for the mosque and Imam Rauf, if Rev. Hagee wanted to build (anywhere) a 13-story center for Evangelical Christian Zionists, do you think liberal rabbis and liberal journalists would support Hagee the way they are doing hoops for Rauf? Would liberal JCC leaders be advising him on fundraising and public relations, as for Rauf? Would Hagee and his church would be defended from all skeptics, or do liberal rabbis and Jewish leaders just roll over for Muslims who won't condemn Hamas?

Would liberal Jews ever call Hagee a "moderate," when he's more moderate than the mosque's imam by any measure? Substitute Hagee's name for Rauf and watch all the liberal Jewish suppport dry up. So much for the liberal claim that they must speak out for this mosque in the name of religious tolerance. There is no tolerance for Hagee; there is infatuation with Rauf.

Liberal Jews have a harder time with Christian Zionists than they do with an imam who speaks of a "one-state" solution and who, in a Helen Thomas moment, called Ashkenazi European Zionists the "invaders" of the Middle East.

Imagine how liberal rabbis and journalists would feverishly scrutinize the Evangelicals supporting Hagee's imaginary center the way they would never scrutinize the Islamic beliefs of this mosque.

Nothing Hagee can say could convince them. Nothing Rauf can say could dissuade them.

Does anyone have the guts to dare call Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a man who is respected as much as Victor Laszlo, a rabbi as respected as much as any rabbi in the United States, an "islamophobic bigot"? But to listen to the supporters of the Ground Zero mosque, all critics of the mosque's location are "islamophobes," "extremists" and "bigots."

Let's go over who must be an "extremist islamophobic bigot," according to supporters of the mosque:

Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader; Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic party; Gov. David Patterson, Democratic governor of New York; Abe Foxman of the ADL; and even Pres. Obama, who refused to endorse the Ground Zero site as appropriate.

How is it possible that all those leading Democrats agree more with Sarah Palin regarding the mosque than they do with the liberal rabbis who couldn't line up fast enough to pose with Mayor Bloomberg in front of the Statue of Liberty in support of the mosque?

As Time columnist Joe Klein, mosque supporter, put it, the anti-mosque position of Abe Foxman and the ADL is a "slightly potty geyser of toxic foolishness... intolerant know-nothings." Imagine the liberal uproar if Glenn Beck said something like that about a respected Jewish leader?.

So much for liberals demanding "civil discourse" in America. What we are seeing is an extension of the 2008 presidential campaign, in which there was no language too coarse, no mockery too inappropriate to use when discussing vice presidential candiate Sarah Palin. Now we see that there is no language too crude or uncivil with which to attack suporters of the mosque. We already see this coarse hyperbole used all the time by the left against "apartheid" Israel. The voters who made a black man president are now called "racists" if we disagree with him. This bullying has no bottom.

If this name-calling and intimidation is what passes for persuasion, we've become immune to it.

If the leaders on the mosque-side want to know why the longer this debate has lasted the more people are opposed to the idea of a mosque at Ground Zero (even two blocks away), with 71 percent of people now opposed according to the latest poll, the supporters of the mosque might want to examine their overall lack of respect -- their contempt -- toward anyone who disagrees.

What does it say about all these mosque-supporting rabbis and mayor when the more they talk and scold, the more the polls show a surge the other way? And now Rabbi Lookstein has joined the opposition, as well.

Perhaps Rabbi Haskel Lookstein can elevate and illuminate the debate, as he usually does.

Here's Rabbi Lookstein's sermon regarding the mosque, delivered on August 21. He asks, "I hope that it will be read in the constructive tone in which it was intended."

It just may be the most important sermon delived by anyone this year, or in recent years.

From this point on, all words are Rabbi Lookstein's from his sermon, "Of Mosques And Men."

"Our parsha this morning begins and ends with a discussion of war. But the subjects of the discussion in the beginning of the parsha and the end of the parsha are strikingly different.

"The war described at the beginning of the parsha opens with the words: “When you go forth to war against your enemies…” Rashi, based on the Talmud, comments: “The Torah refers here to an optional war.”

"There are optional wars, say, to add territory. These needed to be approved in ancient times by the Kohain Gadol who would consult the urim v’tumim and receive Divine guidance. In these wars there were exemptions like those presented in last week’s parsha; and there were leniencies like the case of the yefat to’ar, described in the opening of this week’s parsha.

"But at the end of the parsha today we find a different kind of war entirely, milchemet Amalek - the war against the arch enemy, Amalek, the epitome of the anti-Semite, the nation that swooped down upon us at our weakest moment and threatened to destroy us. This is a milchemet mitzvah – an obligatory war. Concerning this war there is a warning: Zachor: “Remember what Amalek tried to do to you on your way out of Egypt… you must totally obliterate Amalek from this earth; lo tishkach – do not forget”. Why is it necessary for the Torah to add the words lo tishkach – do not forget – when the passage began with the word zachor – remember? Why the redundancy?

"The Talmud explains that there is no redundancy here. Lo tishkach - do not forget – refers to a mental awareness – ba-lev (an intellectual memory). Zachor, on the other hand, means “Zachor b’peh – “remember aloud.” Articulate through speech the memory of Amalek’s enmity.

"There are actually two mitzvot about our struggle with Amalek. They are counted by Maimonides separately in his enumeration of the 613 commandments. The first is to remember by articulation through speech; the second is not to forget in one’s heart and mind. How do we fulfill these two mitzvot? Formally, or structurally, the articulation through speech about our war with Amalek is fulfilled by reading the closing words of our parsha on Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath before Purim. But there is also a kiyum ba-lev, an internalization element for this mitzvah. We are obligated to internalize what the threat of Amalek means and to keep that threat on our consciousness, and never forget it.

"An example of what it means to remember: In June 1942, the remaining Jews in the shtetl of Tarnow, a short distance from Krakow, were summoned by the Germans from their homes and told to come to the rinnik – the town square of Tarnow – in their bare feet. As they stood there helpless, 800 of their children were separated from them and marched off a short distance away, ushered into a shed and, within earshot of their parents, shot to death. Their bodies were then transferred to a mass grave at Zbilitovska Gura where they were buried. We stood at that mass grave a little over a month ago and saw a hand-made sign left by an Israeli. It read as follows: Ha-mitzvah lizkor – “It is our duty to remember; ha-zechut lo lishko’ach – it is our sacred privilege never to forget”.

"A second example of memory: The late, immortal Menachem Begin, in a closed door meeting with Levi Eshkol just days before the Six Day War, urged action on a hesitant Prime Minister: “We are going to war,” he said. When an enemy of our people says he intends to destroy us, the first thing we have to do is to believe him. People did not believe Hitler. The Arabs say they want to destroy us and so we must believe them. We must seize the initiative and destroy our enemies first.” This was a man who had internalized lo tishkach and who spoke up forcefully – b’peh – with his lips, because he remembered Amalek.

"If I can be permitted another rare political statement from this pulpit, we must never forget that we – as Jews, as Americans, and as lovers of freedom and democracy – are at war today against a contemporary Amalek, in the form of Ahmadinijad and a soon to be nuclear armed Iran, and against radical Islamist Jihadists who, in the name of Islam, are determined to destroy Israel, America and western civilization. We are not at war with Islam, but we are in a life and death struggle with radical Islamist Jihadists. We must remember this and we have to speak up clearly and loudly, zachor-b’peh; lo tishkach- balev.

"Certainly not every Muslim is a terror threat; but every terrorist since 9/11, and even for sometime before, has been a radical Islamist Jihadist. The murderous psychiatrist at Fort Hood, the Christmas bomber and the Times Square bomber were not just “extremists” or “radicals”, as the New York Times and our Attorney General consistently label them. They are Islamist Jihadists and it is important to identify them as such. Political correctness has no place when we confront the Amalek of today. They mean what they say – they are out to destroy Israel, America and Western civilization as we know it. We must take them at their word, and clearly identify them as our arch enemy. Zachor – b’peh!

"Now, a word about the Mosque adjacent to Ground Zero. This is not an issue of religious freedom. Houses of worship can be built anywhere the local zoning permits. It is an issue not of rights, but of what is right for Imam Rauf and his followers to do. To build a 13-story Mosque and Islamic Cultural Center adjacent to Ground Zero is an act of the grossest insensitivity to the families of 3,000 innocent victims who were murdered there nine years ago by Muslims who carried out their slaughter in the name of Islam and Allah. It is equally insensitive to all Americans whose lives have been changed irrevocably for the worse by the murderous acts of these religious fanatics, acting in the name of Islam.

"In yesterday’s Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer quoted a fellow columnist, Richard Cohen, at The Post, who wrote about the issue of sensitivity. Cohen concedes that putting up a Japanese Cultural Center at Pearl Harbor would be offensive but then dismisses the analogy to Ground Zero because 9/11 was merely “a rogue act, committed by twenty or so crazed Samurai.” Krauthammer, correctly, calls this statement obtuse. “These weren’t crazies”, he writes, “they were methodical focused steel-nerved operatives. Nor were they free lance rogues. They were the leading, and most successful, edge of a world-wide movement of radical Islamists with cells in every continent, with world-wide financial and theological support. . . Ground Zero is the site of the most lethal attack of that world-wide movement, which consists entirely of Muslims, acts in the name of Islam and is deeply embedded within the Islamic world. These are regrettable facts, but facts they are and that is why putting up a monument to Islam in this place is not just insensitive but provocative.”

"I do not want to impugn the motives of the planners of this Mosque, although things they have said and things they have avoided saying leave me uneasy; but if they want to build an Islamic 92nd Street Y or JCC by all means they should build it – anywhere but near Ground Zero.

"There is a wonderful billboard on the highway to Rishon L’tzion in Israel, warning drivers: “Al tihiyeh tzodeik, tihiyeh chacham. Don’t be right; be smart!” Someone should show this sign to Imam Rauf and his fellow planners and funders: Don’t be right; be smart!

"A final word in tribute to one man who fulfilled the mitzvah of Zachor – b’peh by speaking out courageously and clearly against a Ground Zero mosque. That man is Abe Foxman. Bravo, Abe! I know that you did not speak just for yourself but rather for the lay leadership of the ADL whom you consulted on this issue; but until you and the ADL spoke out a little over three weeks ago no one was saying a word about the mosque. I couldn’t believe the deafening silence in the face of such a provocative sacrilege. You spoke up and you received public flak from the American Jewish Committee and the JCRC of New York which put out statements disagreeing with you. But you, Abe, and the ADL were right, and because you spoke out, there is now a firestorm of criticism with 68% of Americans opposed to a Ground Zero mosque.

"God bless you, Abe. You fulfilled a great mitzvah – Zachor – b’peh; you remembered and you spoke out forcefully and you rendered a great service to all Americans, including the planners of that mosque. They may never be able to build it near Ground Zero, but they can build it in another location where, hopefully, it will be a contribution to interfaith peace and understanding."

 

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While I strongly disagree with many things R. Lookstein says in this sermon, there is one thing that I find particularly troubling and I believe that all Jews -- regardless of their feelings about the mosque, or Imam Rauf, or Muslims in general -- should find equally troubling, namely: the way he uses the term Amalek. Throughout the sermon, R. Lookstein repeatedly invokes the laws concerning Amalek, that people whom Jews are obligated to "totally obliterate from this earth." The means for the obliteration of Amalek are neither rational argument nor military struggle in any ordinary sense. To fulfill the obligation of obliterating Amalek, Jews are obligated to "kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey" (1 Sam. 15:3). In a word, to fulfill the laws concerning Amalek means to commit genocide. By calling Imam Rauf and, by implication, all Muslims "Amalek," R. Lookstein is calling for a religiously-mandated genocidal war by Jews against Muslims. In doing so, he is not only an accessory to the violent hate crimes being committed against innocent Muslims with frightening regularity, but he also commits the gravest sin a Jew can commit: he makes a mockery of our people and of our Torah. R. Lookstein's sermon should be condemned for what it is. It is a cowardly call for a religiously-mandated genocidal war by Jews against Muslims that is the moral equivalent of the calls for jihad against Jews, Americans, and the West by Islamist clerics. It is a defilement of our holy Torah that does not befit a leader of R. Lookstein's stature. In a word, it is wrong.
I encourage all liberal Jews to find a shiksa and marry out. Now. Then change your Jewish-sounding name to something, say, Islamic-sounding. I want my grandchildren to never know the term "liberal Jew".
Jonathan: I basically agree with you and with Rabbi Lookstein that building the mosque near ground zero is insensitive and common sense dictates that it will have the opposite impact than the tolerance that its supporters had hoped. And while I think the analogy used by Abe Foxman and others of the convent near Aushwitz is appropriate--I would also wish that Foxman and Lookstein would also protest the Simon Weinsenthal Center's pompous plan to build a "Musuem of Tolerance" in Jerusalem's Old City--since it's both a waste of good money, unnecessary and will not foster tolerance. What I take issue with is, as usual, your inflamatory rhetoric. My instinct is--although my information is incomplete and based solely what I've read in the press--that the Iman isn't the hidden extremist that he's sometimes portrayed as being--but rather he's a well meaning and decent human being who has a well-documented history of working with people of different faiths. And, as a Sufi, he clearly represents the most tolerant branch of Islam--in its American reconstruction, perhaps something akin to the re-made and tolerant Hassidism as portrayed by Martin Buber. The real problem is different. This nice man is clearly over his head and through bad and naive advice and the absolutist statements of someone like Mayor Blumberg, he simply is lost and doesn't know what to do. He doesn't seem like the type who was made for this kind of controversy; and equally important -- but rarely talked about--he doesn't have anything like the skill or organizational experience to pull off an operation as costly and as complex as a Islamic 92nd Street Y. This well meaning man needs help from others to come up with some kind of face-saving compromise--since what's really unfortunate and sad here is the human dimension of the whole thing, a kind of "tragedy of good intentions" and unforseen consequences. So I'm afraid, Jonathan, that while I love and respect you, try to tone down the rhetoric and let's find someone who is skillful at mediation to come up with some kind of compromise which allow the Iman to go back to davening and learning another page of his Koran, hopefully with the Moslem equivalent of Rashi.
Mark is nasty and vicious and like Rush, blames everything on "the liberals." Then he quotes Lookstein's sermon to support himself. But Lookstein is wrong, too. Both are misguided bigots. They use the 9/11 incident to tar and feather all Muslims. This doesn't wash. If Park51 is ever built, there will be no effect on NY life. There will not be "terror centers" preaching destruction of America. Remember our own history and the resentments by gentiles against us when we sought to build synagogues or acquire cemetery plots. Nothing has changed except Jews are accepted now but Muslims are not. Thank God for the First Amendment which ought to give U.S. Muslims the same rights U.S. Jews enjoy today.
I read R. Lookstein's sermon earlier this week. While I disagree with his arguments, I was impressed, as always, with his thoughtful, careful, sensitive and erudite discussion of a controversial issue. Were all those opposing the cultural center/mosque as thoughtful (etc.) as R. Lookstein, the debate would be much more civilized. And included in those who are not is, unfortunately, Jonathan.

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