Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Va-etchanan: “. . . ein od mil’vado”—On religious intolerance

“Atah horeit la-da-at ki HaShem hu haKelokim, ein od mil’vado.”
("To you it was shown, that you might know that HaShem, He is G-d, there is none else beside Him.” Deuteronomy, chapter 4, verse 35)

“Shema, Yisrael, HaShem kelokeinu, HaShem echad.”
("Hear, Israel, HaShem is our G-d, HaShem is one." Deuteronomy 6:4)

Two voices speak to us from last Shabbat’s parsha (weekly reading). The first says that there’s only one god, HaShem, period. The second says that HaShem is our god, and that he’s one. A long-ago rabbi of ours asserted that biblical Judaism was a henotheistic religion, meaning that our biblical ancestors believed that B’nai Yisrael had only one god, but that other peoples had other gods.

Obviously, monotheism won the battle against henotheism in Judaism. The results are not necessarily encouraging. If ours is the only god, then we can’t use wine that may have been used in the rituals of other religions—or hair [for making wigs] that may have been cut off as part of “idolatrous” worship. But if our Torah says that our god is the only god, what happens when another religion (or two) comes along and co-opts and reinterprets our Torah, claiming that their god is the only god? Judaism invented religious intolerance, and we Jews have been paying the price for centuries.


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