Abraham's Tent

A SMOTJ Web Magazine

Not in God’s Name by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Written from the perspective of a Jewish Rabbi, the following provides an insight into the parallels that one can find in the three great Abrahamic faiths, when dealing with the love of God and relationships between kindred faiths….a message of singular importance for those living in the Mideast. As presented in his book, Not in God’s Name by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the author develops a theme that suggests an understanding of and an alternative to the ongoing hatreds now so prevalent within that region. The whole book is invaluable in its overall analysis and is recommended to the student of this subject. A few short excerpts follow.


There was clearly a profound love between Abraham and God, and it is this that eventually inspired not only Jews but Christians and Muslims also, in their different ways, to see themselves as his heirs. But all who embrace Abraham must aspire to live like Abraham. Nothing could be more alien to the spirit of Abrahamic monotheism than what is happening today in the name of jihad. Barbarism and brutality, the embrace of terror and the murder of the innocent, the cold, cruel killing of those with whom you disagree, the pursuit of power in the name of empire, and the idea that you can impose truth by force: these are pagan ideas that have no place in the universe of Abraham or Abraham’s God. They constitute neither justice nor love. They are a desecration.

To be a child of Abraham is to be open to the divine presence wherever it reveals itself. The faith of Abraham’s children is told in a series of stories about how strangers turned out to be not what they seemed. Tamar is not a prostitute. Ruth is not an alien. Moses is not an Egyptian. Abraham’s three visitors are not mere men. Strangers can turn out to be angels. Pharaoh’s daughter may be a heroine. David, the inconsequential child, becomes the greatest of israel’s kings. The ethical imperative to emerge from such a faith is: search for the trace of God in the face of the Other. Never believe that God is defined by and confined to the people like you. God is larger than any nation, language, culture or creed. He lives within our group, but He also lives beyond.

'Because that which connects human thought and feeling with the infinite and all-surpassing Divine Light must (be refracted into) a multiplicity of colors, therefore every people and society must have a different spiritual way of life’. So said Rabbi Abraham Kook, first chief rabbi of pre-state Israel. ‘The righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come’, said the rabbis in the second century. Rabbi Akiva, the sage of the late first century, said ‘Beloved is every human person for he or she is in the image of God. Beloved is Israel (i.e. each Jew, for each of us is one of the children of God’. That is how Jews defined themselves in the past and do today. We feel ourselves close to God but we equally believe that God has a relationship with all humanity…

There are time when the (Jewish) Bible portrays Gentiles as conspicuously more religious than Jews.

-pgs 203-204

For almost the whole of their histories, Jews, Christians and Muslims have wrestled with the meanings of their scriptures, developing in the process elaboration hermeneutic and jurisprudential systems. Medieval Christianity had its four levels of interpretation: literal, allegorical, moral and eschatological. Islam has its fiqh, its four schools of Sunni jurisprudence and their Shia counterparts; its principles of taqleed, itjihad, and qiyas. Hard texts need interpreting; without it, they lead to violence. God has given us the mandate and the responsibility to do just that. We are guardians of His Word for the sake of His world.

That is why fundamentalism is so dangerous and so untraditional. It refers to many things in different contexts, but one of them is the tendency to read texts literally and apply them directly: to go strait from revelation to application without interpretation. In many religions, including Judaism, this is heretical. In most, it is schismatic. Internal battle have been fought over these issues in many faiths But the general conclusion at which most have arrived is that it needs great wisdom together with a deep grounding in tradition to know how to apply the word to the world.

One reason is, of course, that these are often very ancient texts, originally directed to times and conditions quite unlike ours. The war commands of Deuteronomy and the book of Joshua, for example, belong to a time when warfare was systemic, endemic and brutal. The massacre of populations was commonplace. Another reason is that we are dealing with sacred scripture, texts invested with the ultimate authority of God Himself. How do you take the word of eternity and apply it to the here-and-now? That is never simple and self-understood. That is why, for much of the biblical era, ancient Israel had its prophets who delivered, not the word of the Lord for all time - that had been done by Moses - but the word of the Lord for this time. There are things that may be justified in an age of prophecy that are wholly unjustifiable at other times.

-pgs 208-209

Excerpts from Not in God’s Name by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, 2015, Shocken Books, New York

Jeffrey Peter Agnes
LTC Thomas P. Curtis II
Contributing Editors
Rev. Michael P. Forbes
David D. Fautua
Readers are encouraged to write in letters to the editor with questions and observations at the following address: tent@smotj.org

Judaism is a monotheistic religion, with the Torah as its foundational text (part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible), and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Mishnah and the Talmud. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenantal relationship God established with the Children of Israel.

Islam is a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion articulated by the Qur'an, a book considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of God (Arabic: Allāh) and by the teachings and normative example (called the Sunnah and composed of hadith) of Muhammad (c. 570 BC – c. 8 June 632 AD), considered by them to be the last prophet of God.

Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and oral teachings of Jesus as presented in the New Testament. Most Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, fully divine and fully human, and the saviour of humanity whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament. Consequently, Christians refer to Jesus as "Christ" or the Messiah.