The Views and Personal Opinions
of Joel Block
The Jewish New Year 5765 is almost upon us, and it is traditionally
a time for reflection. For obvious reasons, I have been thinking
a lot about religious fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism bases
itself on an uncompromising interpretation of the scriptural writings
of a given religion. In my view, religion must be based on three
pillars in order to meet the needs of humankind - holy writings,
the mind and the heart. In case of point, I would like to share
with you two stories that I heard from my grandmother concerning
her days as a young girl in the Ukraine. Since people were not really
up on record keeping in those days, I cannot provide dates, only
a timeframe the late 19th or early 20th century.
Grandma grew up in the small town of Ilintsi in the Ukraine. One
year, there was a terrible drought, and the people suffered from
hunger throughout the year. On the Shabbat before Yom Kippur, the
village rabbi, during his sermon, announced to the congregation
that they were NOT to fast during Yom Kippur, since, because of
the drought, they had already fasted enough during the year.
The second story concerns the Jews of the village, the son of the
local nobleman, the village priest, and the local nobleman. I should
say before going on that the relationship between the Jews and gentiles
of Ilintsi was rather good, considering the general state of things
in czarist Russia at that time.
It all started when the son of the local nobleman went into a Jewish-owned
store in the village and helped himself to some cigarettes. When
the storekeeper asked for payment, the reply came, Why should
I pay you? After the pogrom, you wont be alive to enjoy the
money. When word of this got around the village, a delegation
of Jews went to talk to the local priest, who was more enlightened
than many of his colleagues in the Russian Orthodox clergy of the
time. Upon hearing the story, the priest organized a procession
of villagers, which he led directly to the house of the nobleman.
When the procession reached the house, the nobleman came out to
see what the commotion was about. The priest then told him the story.
The nobleman listened patiently, and when the priest was done speaking,
he called his son out from the house. When his son came out the
nobleman slapped him hard in the face in front of the villagers,
made him pay for the cigarettes that he had taken, and announced
in no uncertain terms that there would be no pogrom in his village.
Both the rabbi and the priest were men who were well versed in
the scriptures of their respective religions. Both men also had
heads and hearts and used their religious knowledge for the general
good of the people, and not just for select groups.
Religion that bases itself only on uncompromising interpretation
of a book becomes perverted in ways that were previously unimaginable,
and we are only now beginning to understand. Heartless, mindless
faith never has, and never will, benefit anyone.
I wish you all a Shana Tova UMetuka (a Good and Sweet Year).
© Joel Block, 2004
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Joel Block is a long-time friend of Rabbi Cassorla and has lived
in Israel since 1968