Virtual Talmud

Either we have all become prophets or everyone has forgotten the third commandment.

Based on the Rev. Pat Robertson and Israel’s Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s prediction rate, I am inclined to think the latter. Repeatedly throughout the Bible we are told, Do not use God’s name in vain.

Yet, for religious people today, God has become a “shmatta” (a dirty cloth used to wipe up disasters and messes). All over the world God’s name is invoked to clean up that which is beyond our control.

Here are a spattering of some recent pronouncements made about God’s involvement in X, Y, and Z all said with the straightest face and with supreme certainty.

On Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s illness:

Bill Clinton: His illness “puts yet another obstacle in the path of the peacemakers,” Clinton said. “It’s almost as if God were testing them one more time to rise again, to keep on.”

Pat Robertson: “He was dividing God’s land, and I would say, ‘Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America,'” Robertson told viewers of his long-running television show, “The 700 Club.”

On Hurricane Katrina:

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: The founder and spiritual leader of Israel’s Shas party, declared, “The hurricane is God’s punishment on George Bush” for the Gaza pullout.

Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America: The hurricane was sent by God because New Orleans was a city given to holding events at which it was common to find “drunken homosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets and bars.” In a statement released by his group, Marcavage was quoted as saying, “We must not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long. May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits…This act of God destroyed a wicked city. New Orleans was a city that opened its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. May it never be the same.”

Al Qaeda: The hurricane in America was the “wrath of God…God attacked America and the prayers of the oppressed were answered.”

On the Holocaust:

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: History’s greatest mass murder was not “all for nothing,” said Yosef. The Jewish victims, he explained, were “the reincarnation of earlier souls who sinned [and who] returned … to atone for their sins.”

On 9/11:

Jerry Falwell blamed “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists and the gays and lesbians … the ACLU, People for the American Way” and groups “who have tried to secularize America… I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen… God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”

Although in most cases these comments sound at best pathetic and at worst abusive, I think they highlight people’s need to bring God into their lives to make sense out of their surroundings. In some sense it is very fair; people want more out of God than just some distant concept invoked vacuously at a prayer service.

Nonetheless, most of the time their words end up sounding more silly than substantive, more blasphemous than holy and more political than religious. There is just something about Rabbi Ovadiah and Bill Clinton that makes them …how should I say this…un-prophetic.

The rabbis in the Ethics of our Fathers (3:17) were right when they said, “seag le-chachmah shtikah”–“a fence for wisdom is silence.”

It a shame there is so much noise in this world.

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