Benzion Sanders

The Shiur That Broke My Heart

Dear Rabbi Moshe Taragin,

I was at the lecture entitled “The Battle Between Judaism and Islam for Jerusalem” that you gave this past Sunday night at Bar Ilan. I heard about the lecture at the last minute and came specifically because you were giving it. These past few weeks have been particularly tense and tragic for all of us and I was hoping that you, a student of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l and Rav Yehuda Amital zt”l, two Torah giants whose works have been a source of great religious inspiration for myself and so many others, would be able to provide some religious inspiration to help us cope with these tragic times.

Instead you broke my heart.

Instead of providing inspiration you provided incitement. In a vast departure from the teachings of the late Roshei Yeshiva of Har Etzion, you presented the audience with a worldview in which, based on your interpretation of certain pesukim about Yishmael, the entire religion of Islam receives a para-halachic designation of ‘Ovdei Avodah Zarah’ with whom we are fated to fight an ideological/religious battle in order to fulfill our destiny as a nation.

This thesis essentially represents an unequivocal incorporation of historian Bernard Lewis’ controversial ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theory into your Torah worldview. Surprisingly, to support this thesis, which hinges more on a sophisticated and accurate understanding of Islam than anything else, Lewis was the only non-Torah source you cited during the lecture. To my great disappointment this attempt to weave a particularly intolerant political belief into the fabric of the pesukim in the Chumash is diametrically opposed to the teachings of your late Roshei Yeshiva who would have never made such gross generalizations about an entire religion or sanctify such dubious political theories by reading them into the Torah.

Only a few years ago, your late teacher Rav Lichtenstein and a group of other rabbis delivered new Korans to a mosque that had been burnt by Jewish terrorists. This act was a remarkable kiddush Hashem whose message was best expressed so beautifully in the words of your fellow Rav from Har Etzion who also participated in the delegation, Rav Shlomo Brin, who said: “This is not how we educated our children; Islam is not a hostile religion even if we have a dispute with some of its followers.” You however, boldly contest the Rambam’s position that Muslims are monotheists and declare that Muslims are all idolaters and worship “a god who covets blood and vengeance, who is hateful and full of bile”.

This portrayal of Islam as a hostile religion provides theological, if not halachic, ammunition for those very movements that support such attacks against Muslims whether you intend for it to or not. How could Rav Lichtenstein have participated in such an act of solidarity and go so far as to deliver new religious texts to a house of worship of a religion that according to you is essentially Avodah Zarah?

Your other late teacher Rav Amital helped found a political party that supported the pursuit of a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But you claim that this is not even a political conflict, not even a conflict against religious extremism rather, in your own words “a theological struggle between Judaism and Islam.” It’s one thing to disagree with Rav Amital zt”l’s political views, but it’s far different to contest Rav Amital’s very understanding that this conflict is political in nature as opposed to a “a faceoff between religions.” If Rav Amital thought that the conflict was between religions, how could he have believed that political agreements could have any bearing on the conflict even in theory?

Rav Taragin, I beseech of you to reevaluate your designation of Muslims as Ovdei Avodah Zarah. I beg you to reconsider the teachings of your Roshei Yeshiva. I truly believe that the message you delivered to the audience last week at Bar Ilan is not only false but dangerous.


Benzion Sanders

About the Author
Benzion Sanders is an American-Israeli student of Philosophy and the Middle East and a former IDF special forces soldier.
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