" Thou comest to me with a sword and a spear and a shield, but I come to thee in the name of the L-rd of Hosts, the G-d of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast humiliated..." (I Samuel, 17:45-47)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Understanding" Shlomo Riskin

I missed an email on 12/31 from Shlomo Riskin's "Account Executive" (whatever that means). You see what happens when you don't check your email often enough? The email included Riskin's response to his latest public disgrace. I'm assuming the gentleman didn't read my follow-up post the day after his email which addressed the so-called retraction. See Shlomo Riskin Makes A Retraction: Again! Nor do I think he sat through my audio post The Rambam's Legacy-Part 1, or read the more recent Shlomo Riskin's Insane Statements. Below is the letter in it's entirety, with my own commentary following each paragraph in blue.

Below please find Rabbi Riskin’s response to the controversy surrounding his remarks in a recent YouTube video. It is my understanding that you have been involved in discussions about this video. I hope that this statement clarifies the intent behind Rabbi Riskin’s remarks for you.

DECEMBER 30, 2009

It has come to my attention that comments I made on the character of Jesus in a recent interview have been misunderstood. Allow me to clarify.

The filmed interview in question (given to a group of Christians) was edited carelessly and posted on YouTube by an organization that omitted a significant part of my message. The fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity, which I always emphasize in my talks with Christian groups, were completely absent from the edited version. In the segment of the film that was spliced out I made specific reference to the fact that Jews can never accept Jesus as the Messiah – anyone who does so is ipso facto not a Jew - and that for us every human being is a child of G-d (and not any one specific individual); no one single person can ever claim that unique status, which G-d bestowed upon all of humanity created in His image.

The Jewish Fist Commentary: Right from the start Riskin avoids the most important issues. 1) Why is he even speaking with people who see converting Jews to their faith as the most important task in their lives? 2) Why is he surprised that such people would omit and edit his words to further an insidious agenda? 3) How does he have the gall to engage in interfaith-dialogue with members of other faith communities, which his rebbe (Rav Soloveitchik) staunchly opposed?

Riskin's assertion that he always emphasizes the differences between the two faiths in his speeches, begs the real question. Why is he doing this at all? Furthermore, his explanation for why Jews can't accept "Jesus" as the Messiah (which he maintains was "spliced" out) is fundamentally inaccurate. He's still playing games with dangerous x-tian semantics that only gives them more material to distort. "Child-of G-d". Judaism's problem with this absurd and idolatrous notion is not that it contradicts the idea that we "are all children of G-d." Our problem is that the notion of a true "child of G-d" is the definition of idolatry. The real issue that gets lost in this jumble is Riskin's troubling need to engage in discussion with those who want to steal Jewish souls. A proper analysis of the man would surely expose the real driving force behind his actions. A man who has been influenced by Hellenistic notions of pluralism and humanism which are inherently at odds with Judaism.

I would certainly never praise the Christian representation in whose name Jews have been slaughtered and persecuted throughout the years. That was not my intention at all, and I regret putting myself in a position where my words could be manipulated. Indeed, my comments referred to Jesus the historical figure, the man who was not a “Christian,” who did not hate Jews but rather was himself a committed Jew. In order to emphasize this point to a Christian audience, I referred to him as “Rabbi” Jesus, the Jewish historical Jesus as many historians such as Professors Joseph Klausner and David Flusser have proven him to be. However, let me be clear: While I refer to Jesus poetically as “Rabbi” Jesus, he was not a rabbi in the classical sense of the term. It was used only to explain to a Christian audience the Jewish Jesus, and in hindsight, the term was an inappropriate one to use.

The Jewish Fist Commentary: More pseudo-history from Riskin. Whoever the true historical Jesus was (separate study in itself), he certainly wasn't a committed Jew. Riskin should read what Maimonides had to say about him. He was a heretic whose influence led to the slaughter of millions of Jews throughout history, and the loss of untold numbers of Jewish souls.

As far as his regrets go, Riskin regrets putting himself in the same position that he regretted the last time he made the exact same mistake, several months back. Evidently he learned nothing from the past. Nor does he seem to appreciate the responsibility that being a rabbi entails. These are not minor mistakes. These are gross incidents that betray a faulty understanding of the most rudimentary elements of Judaism.

Tragically, innumerable horrors were inflicted upon the Jewish people in his name. I always emphasize this point to Christian audiences and they always respond with great empathy and sincere pain. For me, one of the true signs of the unique period in which we are living is that for the first time in 2000 years, the Christian world has held out a hand of peace to the Jewish world. Even more: leading Catholics (notably Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II), important intellectual Protestants like Dr. Robert Jensen and Dr. Petra Heldt and virtually the entire Evangelical community worldwide have asked for our forgiveness, have made serious revisions in their theological positions, and are standing squarely behind the Jewish people in the State of Israel.

As an Orthodox rabbi, I deeply believe that there is a need for mutually-respectful dialogue between the Jewish and Christian worlds. This dialogue must express our common commitment to a G-d of love, pluralism and peace, but must at the same time never gloss over the very different faith commitments of our individual respective religious communities. Dialogue between Jews and Christians is especially crucial now for the political future of the nation of Israel as well as for the security of the free world in the face of the rapidly spreading Islamic Fundamentalism which is terrorizing humanity. Only the G-d of love and peace which we share with the Christian world can overcome the false G-d of Jihad and terrorist bombers. From a Jewish perspective it is clear that such dialogue can only be conducted in accordance with the principles of our Torah philosophy and the faith commitments which are the foundation of our sacred traditions.

Shlomo Riskin

The Jewish Fist Commentary: The x-tian world hasn't changed at all. Today the sword has been replaced with the olive branch of the evangelical x-tian. Now they are our "brothers", and they speak of a "shared heritage." A fictitious Judeao-x-tian ethic. There is no shared heritage with the worshipers of the dead Jew. There is no "god of love, pluralism, and peace." That's not the G-d of Israel. That's the golden calf of Heschel and Buber. Riskin may be searching in fear for an ally against the scourge of Islam or what he absurdly calls "Islamic Fundamentalism." We don't need any allies. We have The Almighty. If Riskin understood this, he'd be a very different man.

I don't want to hear any more excuses from this clown or his cronies. When he decides to repent properly and publicly, I'll be willing to listen to what he has to say. I'm not holding my breath, though. I'm just waiting for the next "misunderstanding" which will disgrace The Almighty's name and endanger the souls of more vulnerable Jews. And when it happens again (and it will), I'll be there to explode at him again, without any consideration for the modern-orthodox minions whose pluralistic feathers I am sure to ruffle.


  1. The true historical Jzesus is a myth formulated within decades of the death of the man Klausner has researched. Klausner is a reputable historian. Have you read his books? The only glaring error he makes is equating the man with the myth. Maimonides wrote concerning the myth, not the man. You are correct in absolutely separating Judaism from the idolatry that is Xtianity but I don't think you have separated the history from the myth.

  2. To Eliyahu: I think you raise a valid point. My understanding is that Maimonides used the term more as a symbol of the faith than the man or men who influenced the shaping of the mythology. My intention in citing his comments was to show the inherent tension and antagonism that Maimonides had for the faith that arose out of the "jesus" character (jesus the symbol), which is largely mythical and likely a composite of several personalities or perhaps a figure from an early period. (The numerous godmen myths of several ancient pagan faiths that were borrowed only strengthened the jesus mythology.) I specifically cited Maimonides because I know that as a student of Rav Soloveitchik, Riskin surely has an affinity for his philosophical and halachic perspective.

    But you are correct that I didn't separate the history from the myth, which wasn't my intention or primary focus, but which is certainly important from an historical perspective. In the interest of intellectual honesty I need to read Klausner, before I can comment on it. I owe it to myself to hear what he has to say. I appreciate your comments and look forward to hearing from you in the future.

  3. Shlomo Riskin cares only about the following things, listed in order of importance:

    1. Shlomo Riskin
    2. Shlomo Riskin's kavod
    3. Shlomo Riskin's wallet
    4. Efrat (when it's convenient)

  4. Great to hear from you.

    I agree with your list. and the exact order of "Riskin's Hierarchy of Values". The discerning reader will note that neither yahadut nor Halachah appears on the list. It's time for Riskin to be exposed and outed from the camp of all Torah committed Jews, whatever their particular affiliation.


What do you think? I'm interested in your comments.