Spirituality & religion

Invoking God’s Name in Vain: a Personal Update from Israel

Sibaté Living in Israel has been especially depressing this past month. Kidnappings. Murders. Bombs. Sirens. Air strikes. Demonstrations. Threats of ground troops. I have sworn off Facebook for the moment, after seeing my news feed overrun by messages laced with judgment, fear, rage, self-righteousness, and more. Although my family and I live in a part of the country that so far has been beyond the range of rockets, I have been nudging my husband to clear-out our basement shelter, which doubles as his office/art studio/storage closet, just in case.

I have tried to cope with the news by burying myself in work and in the mundane, like cleaning up my inbox. Even there, though, there is no guarantee of refuge. An anonymous email from someone called “Jews for Morality” informed me several weeks ago, in all caps, that “GAYS IN ISRAEL CAUSED KIDNAPPING.” If Christians have had to endure the likes of the late Baptist Pastor Fred Phelps, we Jews have the opportunity to wring our hands over our own homo-bigot, Rabbi Yehuda Levin, who is quoted repeatedly in the email decrying the “homosexualization of the Holy Land.”

Rabbi Yehuda Levin

Rabbi Yehuda Levin (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

This is not the first time Rabbi Levin has blamed the LGBT community for natural disasters and human-made tragedies. According to Rabbi Levin’s YouTube videos, gays in the US military were responsible for the crushing 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Hurricane Sandy was brought about by…? You guessed it: the “homosexual agenda.” God sanctioned the 9/11 attacks, according to Rabbi Levin, as a punishment for New York City’s passage the year before of a domestic partnership law. (Never mind the fact that being a gay parent literally saved my life, since the only reason I did not report to work on the 85th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower on the morning of 9/11 was because I was home on parental leave caring for my newborn son.)

It is easy to dismiss sentiments like Rabbi Levin’s as reckless religious rhetoric. But words are powerful weapons in their own right.  One evening two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called for God to “avenge the blood” of the three recently-slain Israeli teens. By early the very next morning, the dead body of an innocent, kidnapped Arab teenager was found burned in a Jerusalem forest. Some apparently understood Netanyahu’s words as an inciteful license to play God, and a vengeful one at that.  Can anyone claim to be truly surprised?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo credit: AP)

I am slated to be ordained as a Reform Rabbi this November in Jerusalem. Despite my years of training, I sometimes still falter and feel helpless in the face of those who invoke the name of God, Torah and Judaism to justify violence and discrimination. In those moments, I do what I can to reclaim my own religion. I pray to my God, the God of compassion; I study my Torah, the Torah of social justice; and I practice my Judaism, the Judaism of equality and peace. I envision these prayers, studies and practices weaving themselves together with the prayers, studies and practices of other like-minded Jews and people of different faiths. And then, with as much fortitude as I can muster, I begin a new day. 

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  1. Thanks for your comment, Ilan, and for pointing this out. I’m not convinced that this makes a difference in terms of the correctness or incorrectness of Netanyahu’s choice of words. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with decrying violence. Or grieving such a tragic loss. Or saying that we cannot tolerate violence against our citizens. But for me, a politician like Netanyahu crosses the line when he publicly calls upon God to seek revenge in response to violence. Those are especially inciteful words. It no wonder to me that in less than 24 hours, people took the law into their own hands.

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