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August 09, 1985 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-08-09

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2 Friday„August 9, 1985




Death Penalty Dispute: Commentator's Opposition to Capital Punishment

Three teen-age Arabs, their minds
poisoned by hatred for Israel, are
charged with murdering two Jewish
teachers in their northern Israel
neighborhood. Immediately a demand
arose that Israeli institute the death
penalty for terrorists. Prominent mem-
bers of the Israel government were
among the endorsers of the proposal
which would negate an established pol-
icy to avoid it. The clamoring continues.
Inhuman atrocities suffered
everywhere have often aroused similar
demands to make the death penalty a
policy that has constantly been rejected
in Michigan.
It is reasonable to believe, on the
basis of Israeli and Michigan experi-
ences, that capital punishment will not
become the means for retribution in both
areas. In Israel, the execution of Adolf
Eichmann, arch Nazi criminal, remains

others from resorting to unspeakable
The established Jewish principles re-
ject endorsement of official, state-
approved murder as a countering means
of punishing crime. The very idea of
death as a penalty has been debated —
and rejected. It has never never gained
approval in Michigan. Governor Fred W.
Green vetoed such legislative action in
1929. It is this Commentator's anticipa-
tion that all future Governors will refuse
to abandon a policy that has set the
Michigan ideal as a highly principled
guideline for the entire nation. It is also
exempary for the State of Israel.
In an editorial on the subject in the
then Detroit Jewish Chronicle, when this
Commentator was its editor, in 1931, our
views were presented after a thorough
study of the painful subject. Your Com-
mentator retains the conclusions he

the only such penalty in the Jewish na-
tion's current history.
Michigan holds the longer record,
126 years, for rejection of proposals for
institution of the death penalty. Peti-
tions are constantly being circulated to
place capital punishment on this state's
ballots. If the established traditional
attitudes here are a basis for judgment,
the 126-year idealized sentiments may
never be abandoned.
Taking into account the repeated
terrorist acts against Israel, is it to be-
lieved that what three hate-invested
teens committed can be ended with the
death penalty threat? The very next
week after their crime was committed, a
suicide squad again resorted to terrorism
as a means of destroying the state and
nation they hate. Criminal acts continue
in Michigan. They horrify the civilized
everywhere. Will death for some deter

Sholem Asch And Christian Missionizing

Sholem Asch, who rated among the
most distinguished novelists of the 1930s
through the 1950s, is in the limelight
again with the republication of his trilogy
on Christianity. Carroll & Graff Pub-
lishers already issued the first volume The
Nazarene. The last, Mary, will appear in
the fall. Now the public's attention is again
riveted on The Apostle, in which Sholem
Asch depicted the life of St. Paul. •
The Apostle was received widely as
both a novel, history and biography when
it was first published in 1943. It was a
long-running best-seller. It also aroused
Now issued as an 800-page paperback,
the novel already has a previous record of
1,500,000 copies.
It deals with the early history of Chris-
tianity, while going into great length and
detail in describing the Apostle who was
the chief propagator and developer, if such
terms can be used, of Christianity.
It should be emphasized and accepted
for its realism and the remarkable descrip-
tions by the author of the major cities in
which Paul was involved, especially
Jerusalem, Rome, Antidch, Corinth and
Athens. Because Paul preached in these
among the many communities, these are
valuable aspects in The Apostle. Because
many aspects in the Roman Empire's
numerous roles are depicted here, added
significance thus is given to the Sholem
Asch trilogy with emphasis currently on
the life of Paul.
But there was a particular challenge
to Asch and his devotion to the Christian
theme that needs recalling in dealing with
the republished The Apostle.
Chaim Lieberman, who was among
the most prominent members of the Jewish
Daily Forward editorial staff, was Asch's
severest critic. He considered him a traitor
to Jewish tradition. He accused him of
being a missionary for Christianity among
While he praised Asch as an eminent
author who made notable contributions to
literature, he viewed the Asch trilogy on
Christianity as having "misrepresented,
distorted and degraded" Jews and
In one of his books, The Christianity of

Sholem Asch: An Appraisal from the
Jewish Viewpoint, which was published by

Philosophical Library in 1953, Lieberman
dealt with Asch's Nazarene, The Apostle
and Mary, as well as Moses, the treatment
of which by Asch also was criticized.
Dravang'upon historical references to
Paul, Asch's hero in The Apostle, to prove
Paul's enmity toward the Jews, and quot-


ing numerous condemnations of Paul and
his role in Christianity, Lieberman thus
assailed Asch:
Nevertheless, Sholem Asch
finds it possible to present this
half-repudiated, half-castout fig-
ure as the man who knew God best.
To the Jews, this great traducer
and destroyer of the Jewish reli-
gion is presented as a faithful and
pious Jew. Even as "the greatest
Jewish patriot" (Christian Herald,
Jan. 1944). Jewish patriot indeed!
When the Jews rejected his
obscure and gloomy doctrines,
Paul shook his raiment and said
unto them, "Your blood be upon
your own heads; I am clear. From
henceforth I will go unto the Gen-
tiles" (Acts xviii, 4-7).
It was in his lengthy review of Paulist
views that Lieberman went into great de-
tail to expose Paulism and to reject Asch's
role as a defender of Paul by stating:
Asch holds to his heart the man
who was the first enemy of the
Jews among the Christians, the
first Jewish informer among the
Gentiles, the first falsifier of
Judaism to the Gentile world, the
foe of Israel, and the foe of the To-
rah. When among Christians
everywhere in the world one hears
or reads that Jews are a materialis-
tic people devoid of spirit, a practi-
cal people devoid of soul, the
source is Paul. When in evil times
Christians drag forth our Scrolls of
the Law, dishonor them, rend them
and burn them, it is owing to Paul,
who taught them that the Torah is
the quintessence of sin, the
apotheosis of death.
Sholem Asch attempts to in-
sinuate Paul into the house of Is-
rael through the backdoor of the
English language, and at a time
when in more enlightened and dis-
criminating Christian circles Paul
is being politely but firmly bowed
out of house, church and faith. It is
one of the remarkable paradoxes
of all history that in one sense Paul
is Christianity entire, and in an-
other sense he is so clearly Chris-
tianity's angel of death, that the
demand has risen to dethrone him
from the high place in which for
many centuries he has ruled the
Christian Church.
Sholem Asch will unquestionably be
retained in Jewish literary ranks among
the moo noted literary masters. Neverthe-

Sholem Asch


less, the controversies created by his
Christologically-emphasized works cannot
be ignored.
Incidentally, Chaim Lieberman may
have been the most religiously-observant
member of the editorial staff of the For-
ward. As such, his adamant treatment of
Asch was especially understandable.

Asch's Opposition
To Circumcision Rite

While it is unrelated to the repub-
lished novels by Asch which have been
criticized as Christological, it is worth
indicating that Asch was involved in the
matter involving circumcision.
He shared the views of the early
leaders of Reform Judaism in Germany
who opposed the practice, calling it in-
human. That was the Sholem Asch opin-
While it is not overwhelming, the
anti-circumcision element is heard from
frequently. Noteworthy in recent weeks
has been correspondence on the subject
in the Jerusalem Post. One such letter
writer, from Hempstead, England, con-
ducts a campaign against circumcision
when an anesthetic is not used. He also
mildly opposed the ancient practice.
This addendum may be of more than
passing interest, both in relation to
Sholem Asch as well as circumcision.

reached 44 years ago and he wishes
share them again with his readers:

Capital Punishment

An Editorial by Philip Slomovitz in
the Detroit Jewish Chronicle,
March 27, 1931

By quoting Jewish law it is easi
possible to make out a case in fav
of capital punishment. The endorseme
given by many clergymen to the mov
ment for the introduction in the State
Michigan of the death penalty
punishment for crime suggests t
Shakespearean quotation: "The dev
quoth scripture for his purpose.
Preachers for the cause of the deat
penalty can point, for instance, to the b
blical "lex talionis," and in support
their proposal might quote: "An eye f
an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Or the
might say that the Bible makes dea
the wage of murder by quoting: "He wh
smites a man and kills him shall Buret
be put to death."
But humanitarians and the trul
religious must shudder at the ver
thought of the proposal. It was a sour
of deep disappointment and of amaz
ment to have read editorial opinions
our newspapers, and extracts from se
mons in Christian churches by ministe
speaking the word of God, advocatin
legalized murder in civilized society.
Rabbis in Israel have long ago, du
ing the Talmudical period, modified th
ancient laws of capital punishment an
have rejected the death penalty. It is di
ficult to think of a religious group, a
vocating the ethical teachings of whic
Jewry boasts, acting and believin
otherwise. And it is even more difficul
to understand how Christian preacher
of loving kindness and mercy permi
themselves to speak in support of inflic
ing death upon a human being, even
he has been found guilty of the mos
heinous of crimes.
There have been many interprets
tions of the so-called Jewish law of retal
iation, and if there are among the adv
cates of capital punishment those wh
refer to "lex talionis" in support of thei
views, we deem it an obligation to pom
out to them that as far as Jews are con
cerned the cruel death penalty was Ion
ago relegated to the realm of archeology
We need only quote the opinion of tw
great rabbis of old, Rabbi Akiba an
Rabbi Tarphon, who said: "If we ha
been members of the Beth Din then
would never have been a death sen
In the latter days of the Jewis
commonwealth, capital punishment wa
a rare occurrence, and a statement s i
be found in the Mishna stigmatizing con
court as "murderous" because it
demned to death more than one hums
being in seven years. Rabbi Eleazer be
Azariah, colleague of Rabbis Akiba an
Tarphon, went a step further and app ►
the same epithet to a court that execu
more than one person in 70 years.
The State of Michigan for a period o
close to eighty-five years eliminate
punishment by death for capital offenses
preferring to align itself with th
humane commonwealths who strive
cure rather than kill criminals. 0
numerous occasions the best citizens
this state have expressed their abhorr
ence of a return to the death penalty.
June 1929, Governor Fred W. Gres
chose to veto the measure. To revert
capital punishment
now would m ea
that we refuse to subscribe to principles
of socia l

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