Virtual Talmud

It has been said that if you say something often enough and emphatically enough, more and more people will believe it. Something that at first may seem obviously ridiculous with repetition becomes accepted fact. That is why Holocaust deniers are placing their works in college libraries so that future students will come to question the historical fact of the Holocaust. That is also why purveyors of hate are having a field day with an Internet that provides unlimited and immediate access to spread all different forms of hate, particularly anti-Semitism.
Though cloaked in modern technology, the problem of spreading lies about one group of people to stimulate hatred and violence against them is probably as old as human kind. It is a crucial element in the Book of Esther we will read next Thursday night on Purim. The story recounts how the evil vizier Haman sought to destroy all the Jews in the Persian Empire because he was insulted that the Jew Mordecai would not bow down to him. The Jews are saved when King Ahashverus’ queen, Esther, who had hidden her identity as a Jew and Mordecai’s relative, reveals she is Jewish and begs the king to save her life and the lives of her people.

It is a truism that the power of the Internet is to allow for the proliferation and dissemination of information without passing through central sources (newspapers, radio, TV) that would screen or block them. The advantages are obvious: repressive governments can be pressured by bloggers, writers and artists who are given a forum for bringing their work directly to viewers, and so forth. The danger, of course, of not having barriers to putting out information is that a lot of junk gets out there that a responsible central source (an editor, a journalist) might filter out or at least provide some perspective on. (“All the news that’s fit to print” is still an operative category: I may want untrammeled access to information, but I also want discerning people who are held to high standards of integrity to offer their honest opinions on which information is worth paying attention to).

The other night my friend, Jewish media guru Steven I. Weiss, asked me to go with him to hear Bernard Henri Levy’s State of World Jewry lecture at the 92nd street Y in Manhattan. Levy can be very entertaining and so I decided to join him for the lecture. Perhaps the most comical part of an otherwise serious presentation came when the French philosopher went on a rant about the transforming face of anti-Semitism. In the medieval period, Christians accused Jews of killing their God, then in the modern period enlightenment thinkers accused Jews of creating the God they wished to kill, then when race came in style, Jews were accused of originating from a deformed race. You get the point. Whatever was the idiom of the day, it eventually became a weapon to use against the Jews.

I share with the Beliefnet community a message I sent to my congregation last night:
The escalating violence in Israel has not escaped anybody’s notice over the past week, beginning with the killing of a Sderot resident by a Hamas-launched rocket, and continuing with responses and counter-responses that have caused great suffering and loss of life on all sides. Earlier today, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem opened fire in a famous yeshivah in Jerusalem, murdering eight and wounding nine more. As human beings, our heart breaks for the loss of innocent life on both sides of the conflict. As Jews, our heart breaks for the Land of Israel and the violence that threatens to overwhelm it. We mourn with the victims and add our prayers that peace will soon come to the land of Israel and all who live there.
May God spread out a shelter of peace over us, over all Israel, over all who dwell on earth, and over Jerusalem.

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