This Shavuot, let the Torah bring peace, not persecution
On May 20, the Jewish world will observe the pilgrimage holiday of Shavuot, on which we celebrate God’s giving the Torah to the Jewish people.
This holiday is generally a time of joy; families decorate their homes with flowers, eat cheesecake and study the Bible. However, the stark reality is that ever since the Jews accepted God’s Torah and committed to “do and listen,” we have been persecuted for it.
The early Church fathers accused the Jews of deicide and heresy. They pronounced the people of Israel to be “outside of God,” thus condoning collective punishment and contempt for the Jews.
In the Middle Ages, Christian Crusaders waged religious wars across Europe on their way to Jerusalem, slaughtering Jews. During those times, Jews were barred from most occupations, prohibited from owning land and forced to pay discriminatory taxes.
In the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, Jews were systematically expelled from France and England, and then Spain and Portugal. During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther excoriated the Jews as “venomous beasts, vipers, disgusting scum” and even “the devil incarnate,” and told his followers “we are at fault in not slaying them.” The Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church confined the Jews to ghettos. In living memory, the Nazi regime tried to exterminate the Jews through calculated genocide.
Today, this virulent antisemitism continues, often clothed in anti-Israel sentiment. The current antisemitism still centers on religion: Those who are anti-Israel dispute the Torah decree that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people – even though many of them claim to believe in the “Old Testament.” THE BIBLICAL HISTORY of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel begins with Abraham when God tells him to leave his home for a new home in the land of Canaan (Genesis 12). The promise of this land to Abraham and his Jewish descendants is repeated at least another four times in the Book of Genesis alone.
This week’s bold move of the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is rooted in a biblical understanding that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. Yet because of antisemitism, Jews continue to be unsafe even in their homeland.
Israel is the target of constant death threats by Hamas – which is now violently rioting on the border – and Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran. Both terror organizations have repeatedly vowed to wipe the tiny Jewish state off the map and drive its residents into the sea. It is only for the strength of the Israel Defense Forces and the will of God that these terrorists have not succeeded.
Yet we cannot take a single day of Israel for granted.
Last month, “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling suggested that the world shoulder the burden of antisemitism alongside the Jews.
She tweeted that she sees her fellow citizens glossing over “the abuse of your fellow citizens by attacking another country’s government. [She asked] would your response to any other form of racism or bigotry be to squirm, deflect or justify?” Then, as she has Albus Dumbledore tell his students in the popular series, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”
The United States was founded by a small group of pilgrims who set sail from England in three cramped boats searching for a place where they could practice their religion freely. Their religion centered on the same Bible as the Jewish Bible.
The Jews established Israel with the hope of returning to the biblical homeland for which they had yearned in daily prayers since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. They now have a place where they, too, can practice their religion without persecution.
America fought eight years for independence and has not had its right to exist challenged since then. Israel began its fight for independence in 1948 and continues to struggle for its right to exist every day. THE BIBLE should be a source of unity for all three monotheistic faiths that claim it as the basis of their faith – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Let this Shavuot, the first one since American leaders faithfully declared the truth of God’s word as delivered on Mount Sinai at the embassy’s opening ceremony, be commemorated with a Torah that will bring peace to Israel and the world, as Jews always pray for – and not more persecution.
The writer practices law in Boston and is a member of the board of directors of American Friends of LIBI, which helps fund the IDF.