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Resurrecting Jewish Prejucide Shames American Jewish History

Dennis Prager is at it again misguidedly mixing his politics with his misreading of our Jewish faith to declare that Representative Keith Ellison’s request to take his oath of office on the Koran is un-American, intellectually dishonest, and comparable to taking an oath upon Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He also suggests that it is not good for the Jews. Groups as diverse as the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, among others, dispute and decry Mr. Prager’s rant.

Mr. Prager, himself a kind of learned Jew and self-described student of Jewish history and literature, surely knows that the political, economic and social success of Jews has been based on our commitment to ensuring that America adhere to its openness to religions of all types without establishing by legal means or custom one religious practice or denomination over another. He knows that Jewish existence is America has been strengthened each time our American society has opened up more fully to our kind of religious life.

He should also understand that Americans – and American Jews particularly – take comfort in knowing that when our leaders to take their oath of office while holding onto the religious book (in what is essentially an unofficial public ceremony, of secondary importance to the official group swearing in), the sacred text is used to provoke their conscience to do what’s right, to uphold the promises articulated in the oath of office. For a committed Jew, as Prager knows, that book should be a Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures, not a Christian Bible (which includes the New Testament), because the former goads our conscience while the latter has no transcendent meaning for a Jew. Similarly, for a believing Muslim, that book is and should be the Koran.

To suggest that holding a Koran will lead to Islamic terrorism is akin to suggesting that holding the Christian New Testament will lead us back to Crusader murder and pillaging. It’s the misuse of a sacred text by some extremists, not the sacred text or the religion itself, which brings on to hateful violence.

We Jews have argued vigorously to remove religious tests of all kinds from our American political and judicial systems. We have fought rigorously against claims – blatant and implied – that our love for Israel leads us to a dual loyalty that makes our patriotism suspect. Remember, it was not too long ago that many Christian Americans would dispute Prager’s assumption that Jewish values are in concert with American values. We put that argument to bed decades ago. Let’s not resurrect it now for another American religious minority. Bad political ideas deserve to be buried quickly and publicly. To do so is good for the Jews and better for America.

Let the words of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of our Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, help bury Prager’s shameless rant: The criticism by Dennis Prager of Rep. Keith Ellison’s use of the Koran for taking the oath of office is irreconcilable with American law and ideals as well as Jewish values and interests. Or those of the Anti-Defamation League. Or those of the American Jewish Committee. Or those of countless Jewish bloggers like Jewschool. Of course, in the end, you decide!

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