In a famous Hasidic story, a rabbi asks his disciple: “My friend, do you love me?”
The disciple replies: “Of course, I love you!”
The rabbi asks: “Do you know what gives me pain?”
To which the disciple responds: “How can I know what gives you pain?”
To which the rabbi responds: “If you do not know what gives me pain, how can you say that you love me?”
I have always believed that the most genuine form of love is empathy – to know what gives the other joy, and pain.
In the last two weeks, in the wake of the most barbaric attacks on the Jewish people since the Holocaust, Jews have been asking their neighbors, friends and inter-religious partners: “Do you know what gives me pain?”
Some, sadly, have indicated that they do not know.
Others have shown that they do.
Today, I turn over this column to two veterans of the interfaith conversation to discuss shared pain and shared dreams. They discuss the recent statements by heads of Jerusalem churches, the Episcopal Church USA, Vatican officials, and the United Methodist Church regarding the war raging between Israel and Hamas.
First, Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn – former Executive Director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield CT and the former Academic Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Israel. He is the author of “Israel and the Nations: The Bible, the Rabbis, and Jewish-Gentile Relations.”
As someone who worked for decades toward the reconciliation of Christians and the Jewish people, I am deeply disappointed in the responses of those churches.
The failure to explicitly condemn Hamas’ savagery and to support Israel’s right to defend its citizens, however violent that justified defense must be, is a shocking abdication of moral leadership.
The massacre of Israelis on October 7 resulted from the careful planning and intentionally barbaric behavior of Hamas terrorists who butchered, beheaded, raped, burned, and kidnapped more than 1,100 Israeli civilians—and then publicly celebrated their savagery.
The slaughtered innocents were babies and grandparents; teenagers enjoying a music festival celebrating peace; pregnant women; tender young daughters and sons, as well as adult women and men. Hamas violently transgressed every law of God and humanity. It was unadulterated evil for all to see.
We all love peace and hate war. Yet, that is not enough. The urgent moral question for us is: What is the proper response to terrorists who are committed to murdering Israeli citizens and destroying the only Jewish state?
It cannot be merely to call for a cease fire, or a plea for the attacks and weaponry to cease, or some twisted false equivalence between Hamas’ violent paganism and the steps Israel needs to take to defend its citizens against Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction and to jihad against Jews.
Hamas’ founding charter stresses that “peaceful solutions are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement” and that “there is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad.”
The Hamas onslaught was not about occupation, as these church statements mistakenly allege. The Hamas charter calls for destroying the Jewish state within any borders whatsoever. Hamas’ murder of Israelis occurred in Israel proper, not in any occupied territory. For Hamas, it is not about Gaza or Ramallah. It’s about Tel Aviv.
Do church leaders think that Hamas will heed its call for “attacks and weaponry to cease”? Is that a serious response to Hamas’ carnage? Israelis have long understood that if its Arab enemies laid down its weapons there would be no war, but if Israel laid down its weapons there would be no Israel.
The church statements inch toward pacifism, which is an immoral privilege reserved for those who sit safely at home far from any existential threat. If we are pacifistic in the face of Hamas’ unrelenting evil, we will abandon God’s creation to the forces of death and destruction. Both the Jewish people and the Christianity survived the Nazi assault on them only because there were nations that were not pacifist. Those nations were committed to physically destroying that radical evil. They were morally responsible, and so must we be.
We still live in an unredeemed world, where, sadly and paradoxically, to celebrate life and enable it to thrive, at times we are morally obligated to “destroy the evil in our midst,” as Deuteronomy 24:7 insists. Only then will we merit seeing peace, justice and life flourish for all God’s children created in His Holy Image.
May the evil that is Hamas be destroyed soon, and may we see the blessing of peace hastily in our day.
A Christian response by Rev. Dr. Gerald McDermott, an Anglican theologian who teaches at Jerusalem Seminary and Reformed Episcopal Seminary. He is the author of “A New History of Redemption: The Work of Jesus the Messiah Through the Millennia.”
I agree with Rabbi Korn: If Christian leaders fail to condemn unambiguously the barbarism of Hamas, they will go down in history as having abdicated their moral leadership.
Thankfully, however, some Christian leaders have stepped up. Sixty leaders of evangelical institutions have “unequivocally” denounced Hamas’ indefensible atrocities” and “fully support Israel’s right and duty to defend itself against further attack.”
These evangelical leaders call on the Christian just war tradition, which condemns any attempt to exterminate a people or nation as an enormous moral evil.
This is precisely what Hamas has intended, ever since its founding. Article 7 of Hamas’ founding charter cites a saying of Muhammad: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, ‘Oh Muslims, Oh Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”
Hamas was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was inspired by Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948. The Mufti helped recruit Muslims for Nazi armies and was paid by Nazis to make radio broadcasts urging Muslims to kill Jews everywhere.
Hamas is modern-day Nazism. Just as Christians had the moral responsibility to condemn Nazism, they have the same duty to unequivocally denounce Hamas.
Jesus was not a pacifist. He told parables about a vineyard owner who put murderous “wretches to a miserable death” and a king who “destroyed murderers” who had killed his servants (Matt. 21:41; 22:7).
The New Testament portrays Jesus as one whose robe is dipped in blood, and from whose mouth comes a sword that slays the wicked (Rev. 19: 13, 21). The apostle Jude writes that it was Jesus who “destroyed those who did not believe,” the rebels against Moses in the wilderness (Jude 5).
Jesus proclaimed that he came not to abolish “Torah and the prophets” but to “fulfill” them. He helped explain “fulfill” by saying that every “iota” (the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet) and “horn” (the smallest stroke of the pen in Hebrew) will come to pass before “heaven and earth pass away.” Lest Christians think Jesus would have his followers pick and choose among parts of the Hebrew Bible, he insisted that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5: 17-19).
In other words, there is every indication that Jesus agreed with the writer of Ecclesiastes that “there is a time for war” (Ecc. 3:8). While he called his followers to love their enemies, this call does not contradict the need for Christians to support nations that defend themselves against enemies who would exterminate them.
We Christians need to recognize that radical Islam is at war with both Jews and Christians. In a recent video, a co-founder of Hamas proclaimed: “We are not talking about liberating our land alone…The entire 510 million square kilometers of Planet Earth will come under [a system] where there is no injustice, no oppression, no Zionism, no treacherous Christianity.”
To the extent that we fail to defend our “older brothers” (as Pope John Paul II called Jews), we risk our own destruction because our roots are inextricably intertwined. As Jesus said, “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22).
But we should not condemn Hamas merely for our own interests. We should support Israel today against her would-be destroyers because both morality and Christian faith demand it.
To return to the Hasidic story: These two theologians know what gives the other pain.
It is a start. It is a very necessary start.