The Children of Israel in the Qur’an — ii
By Rabbi Emeritus Allen S. Maller
Temple Akiba, Culver City, CA
Although many Christians claim the new covenant replaces the old covenant for all Jews, and Muslims say the Jewish covenant has expired for all Jews, faithful Jews continue to remain loyal to their spiritual relationship with God.
I believe wisdom dictates that we follow the Qur’an’s advice, “For every community We have appointed a whole system of worship which they are to observe. So do not let them draw you into disputes concerning this matter” (22:67).
The Qur’an relates this ongoing concern when Prophet Moses speaks to his people as follows: “O my people! Remember God’s favour upon you, for He appointed among you Prophets, and rulers, and He granted to you favours such as He had not granted to anyone else in the worlds” (5:20).
The principle that at least once, God makes a covenant with a whole people, and not just with those who were faithful believers, also helps me understand a powerful ayah where the Qur’an narrates that at Sinai, before Allah gave the Torah to the Children of Israel, He makes a covenant with them. Allah raises the mountain above the whole people saying, “Hold firmly to what We have given you (the Torah) and remember what is in it” (2:63).
This Jewish experience at Sinai is also referred to in the Oral Torah. When God offered all the newly freed slaves the Torah, a party of them hesitated. Most of our rabbis could not conceive that the Jewish people could hesitate when offered the opportunity to commit themselves to God.
But the Torah itself faithfully records the frequent mood swings and ambivalences felt by many of the Jewish people. God’s proposal of a covenant partnership was the most awesome offer they had ever received. If many people in the Western World today have a problem making a long term marriage commitment, what about people who had been slaves in Egypt only three months earlier.
Some of the Jewish People said “yes” right away. Others thought about it for many hours and then decided, but a few were still undecided. A small minority, mostly men, were afraid to commit. So would the fear of making a commitment by an ambivalent few, keep everyone else from accepting God’s proposal of a lifetime partnership?
Fortunately, according to Rabbi Avdimi, God came to the rescue: “The Holy One, blessed be He, lowered the [uprooted] mountain over them like a bucket, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, fine; but if not, there will be your grave” (Talmud Shabbat 88a). Sometimes, the ardour of the proposal makes all the difference.
This also explains the miracle of all Israel agreeing to the covenant. It may have been the only time in 4,000 years of Jewish history that all Jews agreed on something.
This may be one of the reasons why Musa is the only prophet whose book comes not from an angel, but directly from Allah. Individuals who hear a prophet may choose to believe or disbelieve, but in this case God Almighty makes “an offer that you can’t refuse,” so, as far as Judaism is concerned, everyone of the Children of Israel has to struggle, for all generations to come, with living up to the covenant their ancestors chose to enter into at Mount Sinai.
This concept of a chosen (by being pressed into) choosing people, can and among many ultra orthodox Jews has, lead to exaggerated and self-righteous feelings of pride. Thus, when the Qur’an (7:171) mentions in another place the same event, when the Mount was moved above the Children of Israel, this ayah is followed by a reminder in 7:172 that the children of Adam “were all made bear witness against their own souls: ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said ‘Yes, we do bear witness.’ God Almighty made a covenant with all individuals ‘lest [they] should say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘We were indeed unaware of this’”.
This reminder by the Qur’an that no religious community should be self-righteous is similar to that of prophet Amos who tells the Children of Israel, “Are you not like the Children of Ethiopia to me, O Children of Israel? says God. Did I not redeem Israel from Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7). Indeed, the Rabbis taught that God had made a prior covenant with Noah and all his decedents that applies to all humanity.
Thus, although the covenant God made was with the whole community of Israel, this community like all other religious communities, has various parties. Some people among them had [good] hearts like rocks that spring forth streams, while others only yield water when split, and others sink for fear of Allah (2:74). It is this last segment of the Children of Israel that Prophet Muhammad refers to when he rebukes the Children of Israel.
The Qur’an correctly understood doesn’t attack all of Israel. Every community, including the Muslim Ummah, contains groups of faithful believers and a party who disbelieve. This has always been true and sadly will remain true until the end of time when Judgment Day will occur. (Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com) (Concluded)