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Show thanks to water and dust November 25, 2010

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Ethics, Religion.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach thinks that Jews who do not show immense gratitude towards Christians for donating money to Jewish and Israeli causes are not living up to Jewish values:

So great is the emphasis on appreciation in our religion that our greatest prophet, Moses, is commanded by G-d not to strike the Nile River and turn it into blood in the first plague against the Egyptians because that same river had saved his life when he was a baby. Later, in plague number three, G-d will again warn Moses against smiting the dust of Egypt and turning it into lice because the dust had saved his life when he had to bury the body of a murderous Egyptian taskmaster.

Imagine that. A man who speaks to G-d face to face is told he must show thanks to water and dust. But such is the extent to which Jewish values demands gratitude.

Imagination aside, what these absurd examples actually show is a severe case of misplaced priorities. After all, we are told that God did in fact turn the Nile into blood (killing all the fish and depriving the Egyptians of drinking water), and did smite all the Egyptians with lice — it’s just that the waving of the magic staff in these cases was done by Aaron instead of Moses. The entire bloody Exodus was merely Yahweh’s way of demonstrating his awesome superiority: “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. . . . And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth My hand upon Egypt” — including killing every Egyptian firstborn. According to Jewish values, then, showing gratitude to inanimate objects is far more important than the suffering of innocent people.

By the way, why does Boteach think evangelical Christians donate so much money to Israel?

To say they do this merely to convert us, or because gathering Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse, is to perpetrate a sacrilegious act of character assassination. Christians support Israel out of deep love and brotherhood. . . . I have traveled . . . on Christian relief missions to Zimbabwe, the poorest country on earth, and have listened as they have told me that their first commandment as Christians is to love and protect the Jewish people for no other reason other than G-d commanded it.

But doing something “for no other reason other than G-d commanded it” is nothing to be proud of (grammatically or morally). The corollary is that if you believed God wanted you to kill your neighbor for being gay, or kill your daughter for not being a virgin on her wedding night, you would do that too. This does not make you a moral person — it makes you a mindless slave, and a danger to us all.

Shmuley BoteachShmuley Boteach


1. Bob le Chef - February 2, 2013

Rabbi Boteach is a sophist and a fraudster. He has accused ethnic Jewish converts such as Michael Coren of antisemitism in a classic move among certain groups of Jews who like to exploit elements of their past to smear innocent people who are critical of their actions (it’s a bit like what Scientologists do when confronted, and yes, the comparison is real).

My only criticisms of your post is that you fail to understand God when you accuse him of doing something terrible when he “kills” all the firstborn. God isn’t one being among many demonstrating his higher place in the pantheon. He IS God (ehyeh aser ehyeh). That mysterious lack of a name that God gave Moses at the burning bush wasn’t just God’s way of screwing with Moses with a meaningless “deepity”. It establishes God as the ground of Being itself. So to say he was killing the firstborn fails to grasp Man’s place and destiny in the broader cosmic reality, as it were. Second, while Shmuley may be a manipulative fake, the quote on gratitude isn’t invalidated by Aaron’s actions. After all, it was Moses who was to show gratitude, not Aaron. And these are symbolic acts. The firstborn have nothing to do with the discussion on gratitude.

All things aside, Shmuley is a nasty character, a scheming, petty politician more than a religious figure. He routinely plays the neutral, levelheaded card, but hand waves and forces his fallacious axioms (on which his bogus conclusions rest) on others through disingenuous tactics.

Ezra Resnick - February 2, 2013

There is no evidence for the existence of any gods or for the divinity of the Bible, and I’m quite certain that the Exodus story never happened (just like the stories in the Book of Mormon and the works of L. Ron Hubbard). I was merely pointing out the silliness of Boteach’s attempt to learn the importance of gratitude by cherry-picking the Bible — a highly immoral text that we should not be getting our values from. I have no idea what you mean by “ground of Being” and “broader cosmic reality”, but I fail to see how the existence of a god would make the murder of children any less immoral.

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