You may never have heard of Rabbi Shalom Lewis, spiritual leader of Etz Haim Congregation in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta. But on the second day of Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year, he delivered a long and fact filled sermon about the dangers of radical Islam which caused his 2,000 congregants to break tradition and give him a standing ovation.
His key point was highlighting the threat that he sees to everything the west holds dear by Muslim extremists who have captured the narrative and seem to have no humanitarian scruples about how to accomplish their goal of world domination.
Some excerpts from his address are instructive:
“They are all the same, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Al Shabab, Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and Iran.”
“The fury of the ultimate evil is upon us and we must act – not to contain it, not to degrade it, not to manage it and not to tolerate it, but to exterminate it utterly and absolutely.”
“We are dealing with a moral species that eats its own, kills it’s young and celebrates innocent death as homage to God. These Islamist criminals are unlike us in the most basic of ways and we have yet to accept and understand their total immersion in moral debauchery.”
Clearly, he understands the threat to mankind that this movement represents. Clearly he does not dismiss any single act as a random act not to be taken too seriously. Clearly he understands the Torah dictum that if someone comes to kill you, you have the right and obligation to kill him first. Clearly, he “gets” it while sadly, most of the leadership of the western world does not.
The reaction worldwide has been swift and critical. Iran English News grabbed onto this and announced that American rabbis have called for a war against Islam. Well, no surprise there. Whenever anyone anywhere makes a remark about Islam the entire Muslim world seems to go berserk.
But many of Rabbi Lewis’ colleagues were no less kind. Rabbi Jack Moline, a former Conservative pulpit rabbi who has known Lewis for years said Rabbi Lewis’ remarks were “not helpful.” Not helpful? As Rabbi Lewis points out in his remarks and later in his clarification, he was not calling for a war against Islam but rather one against the 5% of the world’s one billion Muslims who are radically inclined (by the way that’s 50 million flag waving, weapon carrying, angry people out to destroy western society….not a small number at all). And, of course, he indicates his disappointment in the other 95% who have been cowed into silence by fear of the 5%.
What the good Rabbi did on Rosh Hashonah was to put into words the concerns that many of us have about the lack of response to this threat on the part of the democratic world’s leaders. 70 years ago Churchill and Roosevelt understood the threat posed by the ideologies of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito and waged war to preserve our right to choose to live as we please. Today that right is threatened once again, not only in the Middle East, Africa and Southern Asia, but everywhere where freedom is threatened, where people are made to feel unsafe, where an individual’s public expression of his or her religion can be cause for experiencing bodily harm.
Etz Chaim Congregation can be proud of their Rabbi who did what Rabbis are supposed to do, identify threats to our society and urge that we act upon them. Doing anything less makes the title of Rabbi meaningless. Hopefully he will not be cowed by the criticism but will continue to do the work that his title demands. We should expect no less.