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Shlomo Lewis: Atlanta, 5771, might as well be 1935

Rabbi Shlomo Lewis

It finally found its way into my synagogue’s newsletter. Making its rounds on the internet is a sermon entitled “Ehr kumt” (Yiddish for “he’s coming”) given during last year’s Jewish High Holidays by Rabbi Shlomo J. Lewis of Atlanta’s Etz Chaim (Conservative) synagogue. The piece, also called by its admirers the “Sermon of the Century,” has been reproduced on all the usual Islamophobia hate sites, the Republican Jewish Committee’s web site, and its notoriety has increased due to commendations for Lewis by the Georgia legislature and the US House of Representatives. I won’t reproduce the almost 4000-word piece because it’s simply too long, but if you haven’t read it you will find it here.

Quite simply, it’s nothing but a piece of hate speech by a religious leader. Not only that, it’s a piece of dreck delivered at a pulpit by a rabbi on the first day of Rosh Hashanah — a day for introspection and self-examination, not high political theater.

I read and found the sermon very offensive, as I do any time a preacher, rabbi or imam takes to the pulpit to bludgeon his congregation with bigotry. It reminded me of an exchange with a Muslim neighbor who emailed me that “I want to tell you that the situation in the U.S. now is similar to that in Germany in 1935, where bigotry, hatred, lies, and wide-spread discrimination against a hunted minority were very common.” His deepest fears, true or only partially true, made me wonder what sort of ranting about Jews was common in German churches in 1935.

I thought about this while I re-read Rabbi Lewis’ sermon and it struck me as ironic that a Jew — a rabbi no less — would willingly play the part of religious Hetzer.

In the Germany of 1935, while there were certainly members of the clergy like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemoeller, or Karl Barth, who spoke out clearly and with almost as much passion as Jewish prophets themselves against the Nazi regime, for the most part the Pfarrer (pastors) of mainly the Evangelische (Lutheran) church (but also the Catholic church) practically tripped over themselves in embracing the new German culture war on Jews. Even the church itself was enlisted in the persecution. Susannah Heschel has documented this sad chapter of German religious history.

Rabbi Lewis reminds me of a pastor in some Pomeranian backwater who chose to deliver — not a homily on redemption and hope — but the most virulent, anti-Semitic diatribe he could think of on an Easter morning in 1935, using some of Lewis’ own themes and words to paint a portrait of Jewish evil. The pastor might have invoked passages from Martin Luther’s 1543 pamphlet, “Von den Jüden und ihren Lügen” (About the Jews and their Lies), as Lewis seems to take his from the world of Islamophobia.

On this holiest of days Lewis led with a martial theme:

“We are at war. We are at war with an enemy as savage, as voracious, as heartless as the Nazi.”

Ridiculing what he regards as present-day “moral relativism” and political correctness, Lewis’ prescription is to return to the imagined moral absolutes of an idealized World War II:

“Evil — ultimate, irreconcilable, evil threatened us and Roosevelt and Churchill had moral clarity and an exquisite understanding of what was at stake. It was not just the Sudetenland, not just Tubruk, not just Vienna, not just Casablanca. It was the entire planet.”

The evil that faces us, then, according to Lewis, is Amalek — the personification of evil and existential threat. Lewis then continues the story for which his sermon is named. It is the story of none other than the neo-fascist Revisionist Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky showing up at a synagogue in Kovno, Lithuania, and warning the city’s Jews of impending doom. Lewis embellishes the story to paint Jabotinsky as a prophet:

“When Jabotinsky came, he delivered the drash [sermon] on Shabbos morning and I can still hear his words burning in my ears. He climbed up to the shtender, [lectern] stared at us from the bima [pulpit], glared at us with eyes full of fire and cried out. ‘EHR KUMT. YIDN FARLAWST AYER SHTETL — He’s coming. Jews abandon your city.’ We thought we were safe in Lithuania from the Nazis, from Hitler. We had lived there, thrived for a thousand years but Jabotinsky was right — his warningprophetic. We got out but most did not. […] We are not in Lithuania. It is not the 1930s. There is no Luftwaffe overhead. No U-boats off the coast of long Island. No Panzer divisions on our borders. But make no mistake; we are under attack — our values, our tolerance, our freedom, our virtue, our land.

These last words are exactly the same ones our German pastor would have used in 1935: Unsere Freiheit, unsere Ehre, unsere Heimat. Lewis doesn’t even have any idea of how distastefully he has expropriated the same language used against Jews by Nazi collaborators.

At this point, the congregation is transfixed. Lewis is working the pulpit, reciting Prophet Jabotinsky’s words. But this time the villains are not Nazis or the mutable forms of Amalek — but Muslims. High Holidays be damned, Lewis is not in a forgiving mood. Muslims — all Muslims — are guilty by association. If they aren’t perpetrators, they’re mute enablers of evil:

“Today the enemy is radical Islam but it must be said sadly and reluctantly that there are unwitting, co-conspirators who strengthen the hands of the evil doers. Let me state that the overwhelming number of Muslims are good Muslims, fine human beings who want nothing more than a Jeep Cherokee in their driveway, a flat screen TV on their wall and a good education for their children, but these good Muslims have an obligation to destiny, to decency that thus far for the most part they have avoided. The Kulturkampf is not only external but internal as well. The good Muslims must sponsor rallies in Times Square, in Trafalgar Square, in the UN Plaza, on the Champs Elysee, in Mecca condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent. Thus far, they have not. The good Muslims must place ads in the NY Times. They must buy time on network TV, on cable stations, in the Jerusalem Post, in Le Monde, in Al Watan, on Al Jazeera condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent — thus far, they have not. Their silence allows the vicious to tarnish Islam and define it.”

Of course, the same could be said about his own congregation’s — most any Jewish congregation’s — silence on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but Lewis’ point is clear: there really are no good Muslims because even the “good” ones have thumbed their noses at their obligation to destiny and decency. And worse: they haven’t chosen sides properly in the Kulturkampf. For the remainder of his talk, Lewis doesn’t bother making a distinction between terrorists, Islamic radicals, Islamists, political Islamists, or just plain Muslims. His audience knows what he means.

But what Lewis is peddling is stronger than just Kulturkampf. It’s War of the Worlds or maybe an old-fashioned Evangelical Apocalypse:

“Let us understand that the radical Islamist assaults all over the globe are but skirmishes, fire fights, and vicious decoys. Christ and the anti-Christ. Gog U’Magog. The Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness; the bloody collision between civilization and depravity is on the border between Lebanon and Israel. It is on the Gaza Coast and in the Judean Hills of the West Bank. It is on the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv and on the cobblestoned mall of Ben Yehuda Street. It is in the underground schools of Sderot and on the bullet-proofed inner-city buses. It is in every school yard, hospital, nursery, classroom, park, theater — in every place of innocence and purity.”

As in many shuls, Lewis is playing to a crowd that sees Israel as a beleaguered Western force of good fighting forces of darkness and evil (translation: Muslims). The rest of Lewis’ rant is reserved for whining about Europeans, NGOs, the United Nations, the “liberal” media, and Christian Liberation Theology. For Lewis it’s not just about terrorism. It’s about the Muslim hordes knocking on the gates of Vienna while the liberal appeasers make tea for them.

Next, Lewis paints Islam as a disease to be eradicated:

“Let’s try an analogy. If someone contracted a life-threatening infection and we not only scolded them for using antibiotics but insisted that the bacteria had a right to infect their body and that perhaps, if we gave the invading infection an arm and a few toes, the bacteria would be satisfied and stop spreading. […] Anyone buy that medical advice? Well, folks, that’s our approach to the radical Islamist bacteria. It is amoral, has no conscience and will spread unless it is eradicated. — There is no negotiating. Appeasement is death.”

I found this disturbing and repugnant because, once again, my neighbor had a point. In 1935 German propaganda posters portrayed Jews as a bacteria.Yad Vashem has also documented a series of “educational” materials published at the time in Germany which included descriptions of Jews as:

“… foreigners threatening to displace the Germans from Germany. As hyenas strike disabled animals, Jews are portrayed as preying upon disadvantaged Germans/Christians. Other animals included in these comparisons are the chameleon (the great deceiver), the locust (the scourge of God) […] and the tapeworm (the parasite of humanity). Finally, Jews are compared to deadly bacteria, which threatens the existence of the human race. Just as deadly bacteria must be exterminated, so must the Jew.

Now concentration camps and crematoria hopefully weren’t in the back of the good rabbi’s mind when he talked of “eradicating” the Islamist bacteria. But what in God’s name was he thinking? I suspect, for Lewis and his right wing political message, God didn’t even enter the equation. This was not adrash. It was a political rant, an abuse of his position.

Lewis then moves on to a meditation on the story of an Afghan woman who was a victim of an “honor” disfigurement by a relative– something which unfortunately occurs in numerous developing, not just Muslim, countries. For Lewis, though, it’s all about Islam:

“If nothing else stirs us. If nothing else convinces us, let Bibi Aisha’s mutilated face be the face of Islamic radicalism. Let her face shake up even the most complacent and naive among us.”

Lewis then finishes with a rhetorical flourish, once again using the neo-fascist Jabotinsky’s words:

“A rabbi was once asked by his students….’Rebbi. Why are your sermons so stern?’ Replied the rabbi, ‘If a house is on fire and we chose not to wake up our children, for fear of disturbing their sleep, would that be love? Kinderlach, di hoyz brent.’ Children our house is on fire and I must arouse you from your slumber. […] My friends — the world is on fire and we must awake from our slumber. ‘HER KUMT.’”

This was the end of a pathetic performance that should never have taken place at a synagogue, much less the pulpit, and never on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. This was the kind of outrageous performance one expects from Glen Beck or David Duke.

On the same day, my rabbi, in contrast — also at a Conservative synagogue — talked about new beginnings. He cited stories, without embarrassing individuals, of people who had made enormous, positive changes in their lives over the course of the year. It was as inspiring and sweet as Lewis’ was repellant and hateful.

What now for Rabbi Lewis, flush with his 15 minutes of fame? He’s back at it again. His latest message to his congregation is again a long political piece you’ll just have to read to understand why the framers of the U.S. Constitution wanted separation of church and state. I sincerely hope Rabbi Lewis’ congregants don’t need him for spiritual matters pertaining to Judaism or for pastoral counseling. Because this is a guy truly obsessed with seeing evil in Muslims and too busy writing his political screeds.

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  • Uri

    Excellent sermon. It sounds like something Moses would deliver to the world if he were present now. The above critics are burying their heads in the sand. They are exactly the group that the Rabbi was talking about.

  • AJ

    Rafi,

    Yeah, I tried to implement Sharia, my Jihadist principles and Radical Islam for 20 years in the USA – I failed so I moved to Saudi Arabia.

  • Rafi

    I was born in Nazi Germany and my father saw the handwriting when he was jailed in 1933 for simply being Jewish. We all got out in time and later spent the war years either fighting the Nazis or working to rescue Jews where possible.

    Rabbi Shlomo Lewis is right on target with his warning. Problem is not Rabbi Lewis but with the rest of us not having the moral clarity and vision as did my parents and grand parents, not seeing that the ultimate goal of radical Islam is to destroy Israel as a Jewish state, destroy democracy and destroy western values and indeed western leaders.

    Are we as blind as the German people were in Nov. of 1932 when they voted in the Nazi Party even after reading Mein Kampf and hearing the dozens of hate rants of Adolf Hitler, may he continue to burn in Hell?

    And, in addition, many cling to the notion that the ones who accept Jihad and allow radical Islam to enter their societies are nothing more than tolerant human beings. No, no, no! Those who cling are more than stupid; they are the ones opening the door to evil which we all clearly see day in and day out all over the world.

    President Obama, as much as I admire his brilliance and athletic prowess, is on the top of my list of Americans who lack moral clarity. Radical Islam via the Islamic principles of Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb is committed to first “cleansing” Muslim countries of liberals, apostates and non-believers. The first allegience to Allah is to reconquer all those lands where Muslims dwell or once dwelled. This the wicked principle behind radical Islam’s quest to recapture Spain and destroy Jewish Israel. After the Muslim countries are reconquered and cleansed, Islamists must dedicate their lives in fighting to conquer and destroy the infidel countries and re-establishing them as Muslim countries under Sharia Law.

    Hey America, wake up! do you not see that yet. The fight to re-establish possession and honor of the 7th century, the fight that Mohammad fought. Read the Qur’an and the Hadith (about Mohammad’s life) and you’ll learn what radical Islamists wants. Read, read and stop thinking they want what we want. They don’t. They want to kill us. Democracy, Zionism, Liberalism, Free Choice, Christianity, Judaism, all religion and philosophies outside of Mohammad’s box are poison. They want to regain the glory of the 7th century. A radical Muslim must commit his life and fight to the death to end these poisonous ideas. Wake up America, stop thinking terrorists are freedom fighters or militants.

    When you hear the word “occupation” by these terrorists, they means Haifa and Beersheba taken over by the Jewish infidel. They mean the “reconquest” of all Palestine. “Islam will Rule the World” read the poster three bold towel heads displayed in Union Square. That’s what these guys believe in and feel.

    Why should we tolerate them. At this point why should we even debate them. When all options run out with Iran there is no more reason to feel we can negotiate anything with them. They are committed to bombing Tel Aviv and later New York and Washington.

    Shlomo Lewis has guts and a good understanding of what’s going on. As to whether he should have delivered this sermon in his synagogue on Rosh Hashana is another question. But I’m glad the sermon is appearing in lots of sites and papers.

  • Christian-friend

    @Stanley, Islam, like any other religion, is an organism: its purpose is to propagate and expand. You can’t deny that.

    @Elliot,can you repeat the first sentence more clearly?My English isn’t my first language (I’m Latino by the way, not an Arab, Not a Turk, not a Persian).

  • Elliott

    Today, two years later and with the 10-40 window ablaze from Morocco to Indonesia, perhaps loonwatch.com may wish to reconsider Rabbi Lewis’ warning. Perhaps he is not a paranoid, hate mongering loon portrayed here. Rather it is Loonwatch which history is showing to be akin another bird, the osterich, who in the presence of a clear and present danger puts its head in the sand.

  • Stanley

    I really think that most of the people commenting on this sermon are misunderstanding what the Rabbi was warning against.He was not saying that this is a war between Jews and Muslims, It’s a war between the civilized world and Islam. The 9/11 attack wasn’t aimed against Jews; it was aimed against the United States of America. I have read the Koran unlike probably anyone else who has commented (except the Muslims) and it IS the aim of Islam to Islamize the whole world. Would any Muslim care to deny this?

  • Michael Elwood

    ” If all the Muslims of the world were to have a Parade for Peace at the same time, buy time on all of the national and international media channels and repeat the line, ‘love your neighbor’ for a full 24 hours, they will would complain, ‘well, why didn’t they make it 25? And what did they mean by ‘neighbor?’ Just their Muslim neighbors, and not us ‘infidels’? TAQIYYA!!!'”

    LOL! That’s true.

  • Isa

    “How can these people makes demands that Muslims march in the streets against terrorism when Muslims have condemned terrorism consistently and repeatedly?”

    Because it’s just a claim they make, knowing that most people will believe them. If all the Muslims of the world were to have a Parade for Peace at the same time, buy time on all of the national and international media channels and repeat the line, “love your neighbor” for a full 24 hours, they will would complain, “well, why didn’t they make it 25? And what did they mean by ‘neighbor?’ Just their Muslim neighbors, and not us ‘infidels’? TAQIYYA!!!”

  • Mosizzle

    “The good Muslims must place ads in the NY Times. They must buy time on network TV, on cable stations, in the Jerusalem Post, in Le Monde, in Al Watan, on Al Jazeera condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent — thus far, they have not. Their silence allows the vicious to tarnish Islam and define it.”

    This point is a blatant lie (from CAIR’s website):

    “CAIR has consistently condemned terrorism. CAIR took out a paid advertisement in the Washington Post condemning 9-11 and terrorism in all its forms. CAIR produced TV/Radio Public Service Announcements in English, Arabic, and Urdu that stated in part that we reject anyone who commits acts of violence against innocent people in the name of Islam. CAIR’s “Not in the Name of Islam” online petition has been signed by almost 700,000 people.”

    There are many many many more ways that Muslims have spoken out against terrorism and they are too numerous to list. Perhaps the Rabbi should have done a quick Google search before he made his speech.

  • Danios

    I missed this article earlier. Just wanted to convey my high praises of it to the author. Excellent piece.

  • mindy1

    @Syed, I think that was a story here a week or so ago

  • Syed

    Another loon rabbi and respects for the 89 year old holocaust survivor who stood up against his bigotry.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11865711

  • DudeThisMakesNOSense

    Fun Facts:

    I don’t know what scholars this rabbi studied from, but in my understanding THE biggest Jewish scholar in history is Maimonides; born in Muslim Spain (Cordoba), Maimonides was a physician, rabbi, and philosopher. He wrote his book titled “The Guide for the Perplexed Soul” in Arabic using Hebrew script and is still very influential to this day in philosophy and Jewish theology.

    I just want to point out that Jews had it good in the Muslim world. Maimonides even acknowledged his Muslim influence in philosophy by such scholars as al-Farabi and Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and was the personal physician to the Sultan Salahu-Deen (who retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders).

    Its interesting that after Spain got completely taken over by the end of the 15th century in the “reconquista” (re-conquest), the Christians started to systematically exterminate the Jews and Muslims living there in an event called the Spanish Inquisition.

    This rabbi is clearly unlearned.

  • Garo

    In the picture accompanying the outstanding article written by Gefilte,I do see no Muslim Imam raising his in the air for the customary and ugly Nazi cry,”Hail Hitler”. But,I do see two Christian “Imams?” raising their hands in the air for the salutation of the Nazi tyrant. What does all of that mean?

    I can tell what it means:

    Human history has shown,time and time again,that the Jews,as a minority, were much much safer in the Islamic world that stretched once from Al=Andalus,(Spain),across Damascus and Baghdad,all the way to Indonesia,India and Mongolia. The Jews had experienced persecutions,pogroms and total social rejection and abuse at hands of the Christian world for centuries,culminating in the Holocaust which took place in the Christian West,not in the Islamic world.

    Therefore,all the talk about Judiu-Christian ethics/culture is just as phony as the political propaganda of HATRED preached by “Rabbi?” Shlomo Lewis from a pulpit of a Synagogue in Atlanta,Gorgia,U.S.A. Shame on Shlomo Lewis!

    In short,the genuine allies and friends of the Jews in this entropic and chaotic world are the Muslims/Arabs,inspite of the apparent current animosity created by the pernicious ideology of Zionism as its adherents reached the shores of Palestine in late 19th and early 20th century,from Russia and Eastern Europe.

    I may not see it in my life time but my children and grandchildren will: Jews and Muslims/Arabs will find a way to get out of their unnatural entrampment that Zionism,Balfour Declaration and Syks-Pico accord,created for both people. They deserve much better.

  • mindy1

    @Halalpork, if being tolerant of others is a bad thing what do you call good?

  • jihad bobs dad

    Hopper I take it you are a christian, lets add up the atrocities carried out in the name of Christ and the one carried out in the name of Allah over the past two hundred years to now, you know as well as I do that christianity would be proved to be much more murderous and barbaric, lets just take the Holocaust, SS men would murder all week and then attend the churches built near the camps, or maybe the mass rapes and murders carried in Bosnia by serbs who would be blessed by priests as they left to Murder, or may the sanctions imposed by two christian countries on Iraq killing 500,000 children in six years, or maybe the mass genocide in Rwanda where Priests and Nuns today are on trial at the Hague for urging and helping carry out Genocide, or maybe the treatment of Black slaves or maybe the genocide against the Native American all carried out with the blessing of the church, or maybe the Lords resistance army cutting hands of people refusing to follow their brand of christainity, or maybe the Vietnam war where chemical bombs where being dropped as churches in America blessed their brave troops, or maybe Korea where much the same took place etc etc etc, you seem to have found a fan in small sausage, great combination, small sausage and small brain!

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