Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An End to Antagonism

Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (1713-1793)

It is already well known in all the places I have been that in most of my public sermons I strongly urge [the Jewish public] to be extremely solicitous concerning the honor of the nations of our time, in whose lands and societies we find refuge. It is obligatory for us to pray for the peace of the rulers, their ministers, and their armies and to pray for the peace of the country and its inhabitants. Heaven forefend that we show ingratitude for the benefit they have bestowed upon us, giving us sustenance and survival in the land.

In addition, I always declaim against theft and robbery and let it be known that there is no difference whatever in the prohibition of theft and robbery concerning the money of a Jew or the money of a non-Jew. [The author goes on to cite scholarly sources to support this statement.]

The nations among whom we dwell today believe in the fundamentals of religion; they believe in the creation of the world, in the prophecy of the prophets, and in all the miracles and wonders written in the Torah and the books of the prophets. Thus, it is plain and simple that that we are obligated to honor and esteem them.

Therefore I announce and proclaim that not just in this work, but in every place in any work that one finds a derogatory statement about akum (idolaters) or goyim (gentiles) or kutim (Cuthians) and similar euphemisms, one should not err by applying it to the nations of our time. One who explains them as such is mistaken and interprets them contrary to the view of the Torah. Rather, the intent was toward those ancient peoples who believed in [the divinity of] the stars and constellations, such as the Sabians mentioned by Maimonides in the Guide [of the Perplexed]. Those nations were heretics and sectarians because they do not acknowledge the creation of the world [by God], and who denied all the miracles and who denied prophecy. Therefore everyone should heed these words and take them to heart as a remembrance. (Teshuvos Noda B’Yehudah, “Hisnatzlus HaMechaber”)