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Jewish “Fake News”
Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Jewish “Fake News”

5 common misconceptions about Jews and Judaism.


Jews have been around for thousands of years. Judaism is older by far than Christianity and Islam, the two other major religions of the world – both of which claim descent from our patriarch Abraham. You would think enough time has passed for us not to be misunderstood or to remain victims of the kind of “fake news” which distorts our faith, misrepresents our teachings and falsifies our beliefs.

Here are five common mistakes people make which need to be corrected:

1. Jews are a race

To speak of a Jewish race is to perpetuate a myth propagated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. In their fanatical quest to carry out a final solution, the total extermination of the entire Jewish people, the standard was “Jewish blood” going back countless generations. Even the smallest trace of Jewish ancestry was sufficient to warrant execution.

In fact, over the course of centuries and as a result of migrations around the globe, Jews developed a multitude of different physical characteristics because of their fusion with other racial blends wherever they lived. Although, unlike Christianity they never actively missionized, Jews readily accepted sincere converts into their fold. Ruth, born a Moabite who voluntarily chose to enter into the covenant, is not only a biblical hero but also – by way of blessing for her noble deed – the ancestress of King David. From David will eventually come forth the Messiah whose mission is to bring the entire world together as children of one God.

No one can change their race but people can and have, through the ages, chosen to share their lot with the Jewish people. Which means quite clearly that the Jews are not a race. They are people who share a religion whose ideal is to perfect the world and make all human kind worthy of God’s care and compassion.

2. Israeli and Jew are synonymous

Israel was always “the promised land” – in Jewish tradition the holiest place on earth. But Jews long ago learned that their faith transcends boundaries, that with Torah they could find spiritual fulfillment even when they were in exile.

Why, the rabbis asked, did God give the Ten Commandments in the desert of Sinai rather than in the holiest of all lands, Israel? So that, they explained, Jews would never be misled into thinking that the Torah is a Constitution meant only for the state of Israel or that God’s law is limited to a special place, no matter how holy and unique.

After 2000 years of separation, the Jews miraculously returned to the land promised them by the prophets. Calling the newly created state “Israel”, Jews became modern day Israelis. But in a remarkable display of universal brotherhood, Israel was created as a democracy. Citizenship is open to all. You don’t have to be Jewish to be an Israeli. There have been 77 past and present Israeli Arab members of the Knesset ever since the first Knesset elections in 1949 and one of Israel's Supreme Court judges is a Palestinian Arab.

So non-Jews can be Israelis. And Jews living outside of Israel are still Jews – as well as Israelis by way of their shared faith and heritage.

3. Jews believe in a God of law; Christians believe in a God of love

Christianity has long claimed that the difference between it and Judaism is that Christianity is a religion of love and Judaism is a religion of law. The comparison was meant to put Judaism in a less favorable light. Jews, however, accept this analysis not as criticism but rather as a compliment.

For Jews, a religion that stresses God’s love even for those who continue to sin too readily takes for granted that men and women can’t be better. It emphasizes humankind’s great faith in God but diminishes God’s faith in human kind. A God of law forces people to recognize that their blessings impose obligations, that privileges carry responsibilities and that obeying rules is the rent we pay for the gift of being allowed to live here on earth.

Jews recognize that God has two names. One of them, Adoshem, Hebrew for Lord, emphasizes God’s attribute of love. The other name, Elokim, Hebrew for God, stresses divine strictness and justice. For Judaism, the Lord our God is a God of love who forgives imperfect people even when they don’t get it 100 percent right – but at the same time he is a God of law who has enough confidence in us to believe we can live up to our responsibilities at least for a passing grade.

4. Jews believe in “an eye for an eye”

How can Jews claim to be kind and compassionate when their Torah teaches something as cruel as “an eye for an eye”? We teach our kids two wrongs don’t make a right – should we commit a barbaric act just because someone else did?

No, of course we shouldn’t, and put your mind at ease – in spite of this” fake news” the Torah doesn’t want us to either. Here is a perfect example of the need to understand the written law as interpreted by the oral law. The Talmud makes clear that the intent is to fine a person who put out another’s eye, to exact monetary retribution, not physical vengeance.

Why then does the text say “an eye for an eye”? For a simple reason: the Torah couldn’t possibly say “money for an eye” because that would suggest there is parity between them! Just imagine a very wealthy man who hates his neighbor. He looks at the Bible and sees “money for an eye.” He says to himself, “I can afford it,” and knocks out the other person’s eye.

The written law says “an eye for an eye” because as far as God is concerned, that’s what should be the law. If God based law on strict justice, when you take out somebody’s eye you ought to lose your own. But God won’t stoop to your level. The oral law teaches us how God tempers justice with mercy. Together the written and oral law manage to convey the duality of God’s response: the harsh sentence that should be carried out and the merciful judgment that is in fact the law.

5. Kosher food is food that’s blessed by a Rabbi

No, kosher food isn’t food that’s blessed by a Rabbi. That’s probably the first misconception people have. The second is that kosher means clean – which sometimes I can only wish were really so. Actually the word kosher in Hebrew means “fit” or “suitable by Jewish law.” It doesn’t have to be applied to food; it can refer to almost anything else as well. Immodest dress can be not strictly kosher and a man who steals from his employer is doing something that’s definitely not kosher. In the realm of food it’s what’s accepted a Jewish law as permissible. Hopefully it’s also clean, but what makes it kosher is that is prepared according to the dictates of the Highest Authority.

And interestingly enough, nowhere are we told that the laws of kashrut for food are based on matters of health and are meant to prevent disease and sickness. Instead, the Bible explicitly says these laws should be followed so that “you sanctify yourselves and be holy” (Lev. 11:44). We are to be concerned with what we eat not for the sake of our bodies but for the sake of our souls.

How can observing dietary laws make a person more holy? How does the way we eat affect the spirituality of our souls?

Perhaps the best answer is that the laws of kashrut impose the need for self-discipline. We all know how hard it is for people to stick to a diet. The dietary laws are even more demanding. To learn to control cravings, to say, “This I can eat and this I can’t because God said so”, is to become holy – because holiness means to learn how to conquer our own passions, so that we control them and they don’t control us.

The very first law God ever gave humankind had to do with food: “From all the trees of the garden you may surely eat, but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it” (Genesis 2:16 – 17). God didn’t give Adam and Eve a reason. Maybe that was the very meaning of the commandment. Do it even though you don’t understand it to prove you acknowledge that God has more knowledge than you. That’s why disobeying meant they ate of the “tree of knowledge” – they felt they knew better. To refrain from eating something just because God commanded it is to demonstrate that we will accept what he says even if we don’t know the reason. And that, too, makes us holy.

These five misconceptions hardly begin to summarize the many misconceptions about Jews and Judaism. At least they represent a good start and hopefully in the future I can add some more to the list. After all, the world does acknowledge we are the people of the book – and we surely should share the truth about ourselves and our faith.

July 1, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 19

(15) Donna Golder, August 20, 2017 5:36 PM

"Christians believe..."

The idea that "Christians believe" a thing is also a misconception. As a Catholic, I see that "most Catholics" know little about their own faith. In reading your article, I find similarities in our faiths that "most Christians" don't either understand or agree with. Growing up, our Dad always told us we could not leave the Catholic faith except to go to the Jewish faith because the Jewish faith was the only one with reasoning and seriousness. I don't agree, and Daddy was no scholar. I looks at Orthodox Christianity very similarly to how I view Catholicism. But hmy father was amazingly wise and would have loved to have been a scholar. I would have enjoyed discussing with him the fact that his family roots had changed to Catholicism from Judaism during the Inquisition in Catalan.

I am new to your site and came here to understand political points and moods of my Jewish friends who are very liberal/progressive. What I'm finding instead is that there is no real answer here to that question. Instead, I'm learning that to you holiness has to do with being set apart and reverence and love fit His sake alone, and obedience is a hallmark of fidelity.. I am enjoying this place very much! Thank you for your articles.

(14) Anonymous, July 7, 2017 12:05 AM

Suggestion for future article on More Jewish Fake News:

My older sister and I are both seniors. When she went to college in the 60s, her roommate was a gentile from the midwest, who asked to see my sister's horns! This roommate had never met a Jew before and believed we have horns. I wonder if that's still around... I understand that this "fake news" started with a mistranslation of the Hebrew word root K-R-N, which can mean ray or horn. This explains why Michelangelo sculpted Moshe (Moses) with horns. The Torah says Moshe's face shone (with rays of light) when he returned from speaking to HaShem.

(13) Anonymous, July 5, 2017 10:50 PM

Hebrews became Jews during Exodus when received Torah at Mt.

Semites were in the regions near Israel. Abraham, left that region and people, rejected idolatry and multiple G... theories of the pagans in those areas, and went to the land now known as Israel. From Abraham and his wife Sarah, came the son Isaac, of which descended Esau and Jacob . Abraham bought some land there. From Jacob, the Hebrew line continued. (Although Abraham is considered the first Hebrew/Jew.) Abraham, with the maid servant of his wife Sarah, came the son Ismael. Ismael and his mom were sent outside Israel, and from them came the people known as Arabs (people that way later on, after Christianity began, developed Islam). At some point, Jacob's name became "Israel". I think it was after his dream of ladder to G..., on the spot he laid, where The Temple was later built. Jacob had 12 sons ( 1 daughter); the son's became what are known as the 12 tribes (or families) of "Israel" (the person). By the time of Jacob, his family is known as Hebrews. Later they went to Egypt for food and work. That morphed into slavery of Hebrews and then exodus. On way back home (to now Israel), they choose to accept the commandments received from the mountain. That is THE moment they acquired a religion. Before that, they were just a biological family believing in 1 G.... They went on to the land of Israel, and the upper part was later separated somewhat, and called Judea. The people there, and of the area of Jerusalem were called Jews. They practiced religion, and were referred to as Jews (because of the land they lived in, not because of religion practiced). Like people in America called American's, in Judea, Jews. But Jews were known to all (then) as practicing a unique religion. "Hebrews" are biological family descended from Jacob. DNA shows most Jews descend from 4 women (probably Jacob's 4 wives). So Jews are Hebrews (connected to 1 biological family) that adopted the religion "Judaism". It's complicated. Not all descended from those Jews now practice Judaism.

(12) Hilel Salomon, July 5, 2017 11:56 AM

eye for an eye needs clarification

Generally, an excellent article, but I was not particularly satisfied with the "disclaimer" about the "eye for an eye" approach. Quite simply, this approach meant that the punishment should be commensurate with the crime. People were put to death for stealing a loaf of bread. Even today, drug users are imprisoned in the US, and punishments around the globe are often substantially more severe than the "crime" itself. It was, and is a humane and rational approach to crime and punishment.

(11) John Paul Moris, July 4, 2017 9:37 PM

Never do what we abhor

Misunderstandings are universal; who does not suffer them? Although a practicing Catholic, I am made sick at libels against the sons of Abraham. I know most by heart. Ironically, I find myself taking the side of modern Israel against the slanders of Leftist Jews. I have never and will never back down in the face of anti-Semitism or any slander against anyone.
This brings me to a point of contention that ought not to be so. I mean a grave libel which many Jews and others have come to accept as fact. I speak of Pope Pius XII. There is no space here to lay-out the devices behind the original libel against this man; it was a two-fold effort to defame the Church and to drive a wider wedge between her and the Jewish people. Can the Almighty wish such a thing? In my former work I collected or read thousands of documents extolling Pius XII; many hundreds of citations, commendations, and laudatory encomia from Jews contemporaneous with him, i.e., David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Albert Einstein, The Jewish Advocate, Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, and Rabbi Naftali Adler and Dr. Max Pereles, representatives of thousands of Jewish refugees interned at the Ferramonti concentration camp in southern Italy. Suffice it to say that the lie of “Hitler’s Pope” began in 1963 as an exercise in “creativity” by a Communist playwright and was afterwards seized upon by the dezinformatsia thugs at KGB headquarters at the dreaded Lubyanka in Moscow, and eagerly publicized by Western stooges.
In my attempt to refute “fake news,” I highly recommend to Jews and others “Pope Pius XII: architect for Peace,” by (Sister) Margherita Marchione, and “The Myth of Hitler’s Pope,” by Rabbi David G. Dalin. I also strongly urge the reading of, “Disinformation,” by Ion Mihai Pacepa and Ronald J. Rychlak,” with attention to “Seat 12,” Stalin’s original phase of a KGB disinformation task to discredit Pius XII as “Hitler’s Pope.”
May Heaven continue its protective hand over the Jewish people.

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