An interview with Emunah Alon, the wife of Israeli right-wing parliament member Benny Alon, took place in March 2003 on the IDF radio channel. The interviewer asked her about certain rumors, saying that Yigal Amir had discussed Rabin’s murder with her husband before performing the act. Mrs. Alon explained how that specific discussion was about something else altogether: It was a halachic discussion – an academic conversation about a specific Biblical text (in this case, the portion of Pinchas in the Book of Numbers – a portion associated by some with the above mentioned “Din Rodef”).
The phenomenon of double meaning is a popular thing to rely on, often innocently. Religious preachers can and often do manipulate the text at will in this way. Many times it is accompanied by hinting that those who lack religious education are not qualified to properly understand the text. Is ‘thy hand shall be first upon him to put him to death’ so difficult to understand? Which word specifically is difficult to understand?
This phenomenon becomes annoying when many people are actually speaking the words without giving much attention to the semantics. Every Passover, millions of Jews read (aloud) the “Haggadah”. Many of them reach the paragraph that requests God to:
“Pour out thy wrath upon the nations that know thee not and upon the kingdoms that call not upon thy name … Pour out thy fury upon them, and may the kindling of thine anger overtake them. Pursue them with anger and destroy them from under God’s skies.”
Not too many of the celebrators really bother to pause and think about the real meaning of what they say. Most have never intended any major harm for other nations and kingdoms. They just say these words as part of the ceremony. Some may even know about the history of this paragraph, associated with the Crusades in the 12th century.
Religious leaders or scholars often attempt to soften such hard messages, explaining about the different contexts in which they originated, or about various ways to interpret the words. Others take a different approach – they do understand it literally, and even explain it as such to others (e.g., Abdullah el-Faisal and Ovadia Yosef), but they largely choose not to perform the associated acts themselves. Sometimes there is even a separation between what should be done according to the holy scripts vs. what should be done in reality. The Jewish religion explicitly talks about “Dina de-malchuta dina” – Aramaic for “The law of the land is the law” (which must be observed as long as it doesn’t conflict directly with the religious law). Thus creating a strange mixture of ancient and modern rules.
You can observe such a way of thought and conflict resolution in the “Shulchan Aruch” itself. When it discusses the killing of heretics, it elaborates:
“…He would act against them with cunning, causing their death. If he would see one of them falling into a well, and the ladder is in the well, first he would remove the ladder and say, ‘I must take my son down off the roof, and I’ll bring it back to you’, or some such thing.”
Peace loving in the Christian holy texts should not be taken for granted as well. Note what Jesus has to say when not too many people are around:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;” (Matthew, chapter 10, verses 34-35)
As expected, the softer interpretation of this passage talks about preaching for the preference of a religious path over certain aspects of family bonds.
Towards the end of the previous millennium the world learned about a new phenomenon: Islamic suicide bombers. As always, things started in and around the Holy Land and were quickly associated with religious justification. If you kill yourself for Allah, then seventy-two virgins will be waiting to serve you in heaven. That is, if you’re a male, of-course.
At first, the Muslim leaders were very much against female suicide bombers. The Koran forbade it. However, the beginning of the new millennium introduced several such heretic ladies in the Middle East. Left with no choice, the local Muslim religious leaders did what religious leaders do best: They bent the religious rules to suit their needs. Suddenly it was all right for a woman to be a suicide bomber, because there were also certain Muslim females who fought in Muhammad’s time. Female suicide bombers were promised, though, only a single lover in heaven. Sex discrimination seems to follow you long after you’re dead.
In mid-2003, the well-known Saudi Sheikh Nasser bin Hamd al-Fahad issued a Fatwah (a religious edict) legitimizing the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States. It was again based on his interpretation of Muhammad’s words.
It’s debatable whether religions actually kill, but undoubtedly many people have died because of religion.
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