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October 11, 2002 - Image 40

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-10-11

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Whose Abraham?

New York City
ith the biblical Abraham's
life about to be collective-
ly recounted in coming
weekly Torah readings at
synagogues around the world, Avraham
Avinu ("our father Abraham," as tradi-
tional Jews refer to him) has become
the subject of a major newsweekly's
cover story and two bot3ks.
Time magazine's spin on the first
forefather of the Jewish people, in its
Sept. 30 issue, was that he "is beloved
by Jews, Christians and Muslims."
"Can this bond," the article's sub-
head asks, "stop them from hating one
Jews, of course, don't hate either
Christians or Muslims (though many
of us do have rather understandable
antagonism toward murderers and ter-
rorists, whatever their religion). But
what Time wishes to raise is the possi-
bility that an investigation of Abraham
might illuminate, perhaps even help
resolve, the ongoing strife in the
Middle East.
In that vein, David Van Biema, the
main author of the article, "The Legacy
of Abraham," begins on a hopeful note
— literally -- with an Arabic song, heard
on a New York cabbie's radio that ostensi-
bly pleads with Israel: "We have the same


Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public
affairs for Agudath Israel of America.
E-mail: shafran@amechad.com

father. Why do you treat us this way?"
Though a much more popular song
in Arab lands is "I Hate Israel," and
though the treatment of Israelis by
some of their Arab neighbors and citi-
zens has been considerably less than
familial, any sentiment of brotherly
love, however presented, is certainly
worth celebrating.
And so Abraham, the writer contin-
ues, should by all logic be "an inter-
faith superstar," a figure whose impor-
tance to Judaism, Christianity and
Islam might be expected to unite all
who profess those faiths.
Instead, though, as Van Biema con-
cedes, the reality is that Abraham's
name has been invoked primarily to
stake and promote particularistic
claims — claims to ethnic authentici-
ty, to land, to truth itself.
While Judaism regards Abraham as
the ancestor of the Jewish people and
the recipient on their behalf of divine
deed to the Holy Land, Roman
Catholicism includes his name in its
Mass, and Islam considers him the
first Muslim (who was commanded to
sacrifice not Isaac, but rather Ishmael,
in whom Arabs see their progenitor).
An Islamic religious leader is quoted
in Time as characterizing Jewish biblical
claims to the Holy Land as "pure lies."
Bruce Feiler, the bestselling author
of Walking the Bible, has weighed in
on the topic as well, with Abraham: A

Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths

fully and lovingly transmitted
from Jewish generation to
Jewish generation, unchanged
God: Abraham and the Birth of
and uncontested, before dif-
Monotheism, is due out in sev-
ferent versions of his life and
eral months.)
mission eventually came to be
Following Time's politically
offered by others.
correct lead, Feiler equates the
And so, in the midst of all
claims of various faiths to
the Abrahamania, we might
Abraham-, and asserts that each
do well to dwell a bit more
faith "performed reconstructive
Sp ecial
than usual on that fact — and
surgery" on its traditions in
Com mentary on our forefather, by paying
order to bolster its particular
particularly close attention to
narrative of the forefather.
the weekly Torah portions of
Now, we Jews are enjoined by
Lech Lecha, Vayeira and Chayei Sarah,
our religious heritage not to missionize,
which teach us about Avraham Avinu,
and to avoid disputations with mem-
and by studying traditional Jewish com-
bers of other faiths. At the same time,
mentaries (like those translated into
though, it is important that we reiterate
English and lucidly explicated in the
elements of our convictions to our-
Mesorah Chumash) on those
Like a fact that should be evident to
We don't know if, when the Christian
any careful reader of either the Time arti-
and Islamic versions of Abraham
cle or Feller's book, but whose import is
appeared, our ancestors were flattered
somehow glossed over by both.
or disturbed by the developments.
Abraham lived approximately 3,800
What we do know, though, is that
years ago. In other words, about 1,500
they simply continued — with deter-
years before the advent of Christianity,
mination, if without fanfare — to
and more than 2,000 years prior to
entrust their children with the tradi-
Mohammed's birth.
tion that their own ancestors had
Thus, the Jewish "version" of
received and transmitted, received and
Abraham — in which he is told by
transmitted, for thousands of years.
God that, through his son Isaac, he
We Jews today should politely
would father a people who will be
acknowledge with a smile all the con-
chosen to receive His law and inherit
temporary discussion of Avraham
the Holy Land — was the only one
Avinu, and proudly do precisely the
existent for many tens of hundreds of
same. El
years. During which time, it was care-

(A second book, David
Klinghoffer's The Discovery of

The Soul Of The Democrats?

t is no great insight to say that
satisfying key constituencies is
what politicians do for a living.
But though many political ani-
mals seem to often forget it, speaking
up for principle is often at least as
profitable as pandering.
And therein hangs the tale of the
most significant American Jewish
politician of this or any previous gen-
eration: the sainted junior senator
from Connecticut, Joseph I.
Lieberman's place in American and
Jewish history is already secure. He
earned his entry into the history
books when he was chosen as the
Democratic candidate for vice presi-
dent in 2000.

Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of

the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.
E-mail: jtobin@jewishexponent.com



As the first Jew to do so, Lieberman
became an authentic American Jewish
hero. That he achieved these heights
not by seeking to escape his Jewish
identity, but as a proud observant Jew,
made his choice all the more important.
Ironically, due to the confusion of
some Lieberman-worshipping Jewish
grandmothers in Florida who weren't
able to figure out how to vote for the
Democrats on a confusing "butterfly"
ballot, the senator was forced to settle
for a return to Congress, while Dick
Cheney got the chance to be the man
hiding in an undisclosed location for
much of the time since the Sept. 11
terror attacks.

Run For The Top

Since the election, Lieberman has
managed to fly slightly below the
national political radar screen. This
low profile has been helpful, as he has

presidential candidate, it would
used the time to plot and plan
be astonishing were he not
something few would have
thinking presidential thoughts.
thought possible two years ago:
It was Al Gore's choice of
a Lieberman candidacy for the
Lieberman and the way the
presidency, with a plausible
veep candidate conducted
chance of winning the
himself as a man of faith that
Democratic nomination.
revived the Democratic tick-
For those who say there is
JONA THAN et. The down side was that
plenty of time to ponder
tagging along behind Gore
whether "Holy Joe's" presidential
Sp ecial '
required Lieberman to kow-
dreams are more fantasy than
Corn mental), tow to Democratic con-
realpolitik, think again. The pri-
stituencies and to shed some
maries that will decide the 2004
of his centrist stands.
Democratic nomination are less
As a result, this erstwhile scold of
than 18 months away.
Hollywood immorality found himself
Those planning to challenge for the
backtracking to raise money from the
right to face George W. Bush in the
, entertainment industry, disavowing
big presidential dance must be poised
his support of vouchers to satisfy the
to run now. While Lieberman has sen-
teachers' unions and flip-flopping on
sibly avoided comment on a presiden-
affirmative action and Louis
tial run, his ambitions are no secret to
Farrakhan to pass muster with
anyone in Washington — or any-
where else for that matter.
Indeed, having done well as a vice
TOBIN on page 42

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