Wednesday, August 24, 2022

 

Life is a supreme Jewish value. So much so that it’s customary to make charitable donations or monetary gifts in multiples of 18: the numerical value of the Hebrew word for life: chai. When we drink in celebration we say, “L’Chaim,” as popularized by the song from Fiddler on the Roof.

We Jews place life on a pedestal not only in times of celebration but in times of mourning too. Anglo-Jews from Britain and communities in the former Commonwealth, for example, are likely to conclude a condolence call with “I wish you long life.”

In Islam, on the other hand, life appears to take a backseat to death. The goriest murders, butchery, death, and suicide seem not to faze Muslims at all. Whereas Jews are preoccupied with life, the Muslim thinks more about death. In a 2004 op-ed, Aspiration not Desperation, Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook detailed the final words of a suicide bomber, describing her joy at the prospect of blowing herself to smithereens.

“I always wanted to be the first woman who sacrifices her life for Allah. My joy will be complete when my body parts fly in all directions.”

These are the words of female suicide terrorist Reem Reyashi, videotaped just before she killed four Israelis and herself two weeks ago in Gaza. What is surprising about this horrific statement is that she put a positive value on her dismemberment and death, distinct from her goal to kill others. She was driven by her aspiration to achieve what the Palestinians call “shahada,” death for Allah. She had two distinct goals: To kill and to be killed. These independent objectives, both positive in her mind, were goals greater than her obligations and emotional ties to her two children. This aspiration to die, which contradicts the basic human instinct for survival, is at the core of the suicide terrorism fervor.

Contrast this with the Jewish concept of dying “al Kidush Hashem,” in sanctification of God’s name. Every Holocaust victim, every Jewish terror victim, is considered to be a holy martyr. But Jews don’t strive for that holy eventuality—we don’t court death for the sake of martyrdom. Which is what all too many Muslims seem to do.

Most people can't stand the sight of blood, but blood doesn't seem to generate the same revulsion in Muslims. Take the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates what we Jews still call the Akedat Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac. The Muslim version, which of course postdates Jewish scripture substitutes “Ibrahim” for Abraham, and “Ismail” for Isaac. Jews remember the Akedah by reciting the story from the Torah before the congregation on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Muslims, on the other hand, celebrate their version of the story with mass slaughter of livestock. So many animals are killed on this holiday, that in 2016, the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh ran red with blood.

Dhaka, 2016


In The value of life in the Jewish tradition: Towards understanding Jewish bioethics, written in 2009, Professor Michael Barilan of the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, writes about protecting the ability of animals to procreate and bring new life and what we as humans are supposed to learn from this:

Judaism is possibly the only religion that prohibits all forms of castration. This taboo creates grave challenges to pet owners, modern animal farming and scientific research. However, when one becomes aware of the ubiquity of sterilization in the utilization of animals, one may also appreciate the subtle protest Judaism articulates against the mechanical exploitation of animals. The prohibition on sterilization of animals and humans underscores further the special regard in Judaism to the capacity to generate life. According to Sefer Ha’hinnukh, castration articulates a nihilistic attitude towards life. Contemporary scholarship on Judaism and human rights also interpret God’s admonition “Choose life!” as a call for hope and engagement in worldly life, not as a strict refusal to recognize situations in which loss of life is the more dignified and just course of action.

In regard to shedding blood, Barilan writes,

Ironically, the first prohibition on bloodshed is articulated in terms of the death penalty. “Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the Image of God made he man.”

The Torah does not tell us directly, “do not kill” the way God proscribed eating from the tree of knowledge. From the story on Cain and Abel we learn that this knowledge is self-evident; every person must recognize it naturally.

Many Muslims, apparently do not. There is ample evidence of the Muslim thirst for bloodshed.

As Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook documented in their aforementioned op-ed, “Palestinian society actively promotes the religious belief that their deity craves their deaths. Note the words of a popular music video directed at children, broadcast hundreds of times on PA TV, which depicts the earth thirsting for the blood of children: ‘How sweet is the fragrance of the shahids, how sweet is the scent of the earth, its thirst quenched by the gush of blood, flowing from the youthful body.’”

Life is so important to Jews that we are allowed to break just about any religious commandment in order to save the life of a human being. Look at that last sentence carefully. There is rabbinical consensus that we are commanded to breach Torah laws not only in order to save Jewish lives, but in order to save the life of any human being in peril.

In Jewish law, human life comes first. We understand how important a man’s life is—any man’s life—by the early mention of the concept in Scripture:

“And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him.” (Genesis 1:27)

Judaism is life-affirming. Islam, on the other hand, cares little for life, and instead embraces death with a whole heart. More from Marcus and Crook:

PA ideology rejects the value of ‘life’ that other societies hold supreme. As expressed by a senior historian, Professor Issam Sissalem, in a lecture on PA TV: “We are not afraid to die, and do not love life.”

This attitude was echoed by Nidal Malik Hasan in wrapping up a presentation he created for his fellow doctors, two years before he killed thirteen and wounded 29 at Fort Hood: “We love death more than you love life!”

According to the National Post, the sentence originates with “a 7th-century Muslim commander who threatened his enemies with the prospect of ‘an army of men that love death as you love life.’”

The Post then references a 2004 interview with Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah. Professor Richard Landes quotes the same interview in Lessons from Kafr Qana:

“We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.”

Landes, describing Muslim awareness of their own obsession with death, writes:

Even as they deplore it, Arab intellectuals acknowledge the depths of the problem: Wrote Tunisian intellectual Al-Afif Al-Akhdar:

“Why do expressions of tolerance, moderation, rationalism, compromise, and negotiation horrify us [Muslims], but [when we hear] fervent cries for vengeance, we all dance the war dance?… Why do other people love life, while we love death and violence, slaughter and suicide, and [even] call it heroism and martyrdom?”

In Death: a beautiful Gift for a believer (compiled by unknown), the author describes hating death as the provenance only of the “ignorant”:

Hatred towards death and love of the world is the outcome of an ignorant person's mind, who thinks that the happiness of this world is his prosperity and good fortune. The world beset with numerous troubles and anxieties is about to end in misery and does not enjoy eternity, perpetuity and sincerity. A poet has referred to this in the following words - “Do not give your heart to this world, for its example is of an unfaithful bride who has never loved you, even for a night.”

Unknown also writes:

[Hazrat Qasim], the son of [Imam Hasan Al-Mujtaba], when asked concerning death at Karbala, answered: “death to me is sweeter than honey.”

He continues (emphasis added):

Usually, most of the people are alarmed and fearful upon hearing the word `death', and to them, death appears dreadful and terrifying, whereas, according to the Islamic ideology, this terminology or this subject has a different appearance and can be perceived in a different way. Basically it can be said that those who fear death, consider it to be a negative entity.

According to this insight, death is an end of life and a moment of everlasting separation of man with his life. They believe that with death, the compounded substances of the body suffer a breakdown and return to nature and man too, is nothing except this very broken-down body. Hence, with death, everything ends with no hope remaining!

Indeed, with this view and insight, death is darker and more dreadful than every other thing and perhaps, no calamity, pain, sorrow and tragedy can be greater and more painful than the tragedy of death, because death would mean the burial of all the desires, hopes, longings and in short, the termination of all things for man - that man who loved life and eternity very dearly.

Anyway, Islam does not possess such a dark and fear-instilling view of death because according to the Islamic view, death is a positive entity.

The idea of death as a “positive entity” is informative, here--perhaps more than anything else. Jews and incalculable numbers of Muslims stand in diametric opposition to each other when it comes to our most essential and sacred beliefs.

But it is more than that, of course. It’s more than our differing views on life and death, but the gruesomeness of the Muslim culture of death, the horrifying bloodlust that accompanies those beliefs; the nature of the killings; and the lack of even the tiniest drop of the milk of human compassion when choosing their victims.



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