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Thought for the Day: When There Is No Religion, There Is Murder

I listen to news radio on my way to and from beis medrash in the morning.  I figure 10 minutes or so of news a day is not bitul torah.  I heard a distressing report this morning -- vandals decapitated statues and egged a nativity scene at a local church.  Now, it is certainly true that Christianity is avoda zara (Rambam, Hilchos Avoda Zara 9:4; also see Visiting a Church or Mosque for more sources and information), and avoda zara is one of the three crimes -- along with murder and adultery -- for which one must give his life rather than transgress.  However, we are currently living in diaspora without our Beis HaMikdash; may it be rebuilt soon and in our days.  That means that there is precious little divinity in the world today.  What, then should our stance, as Orthodox/Torah Jews, be to incidents such as this?

R' Yisroel Belsky was once visited by 11 cardinals.  (Long story... he had them visit him on the day of the siyum ha'shas so the beis medrash would be empty.)  One the questions they asked him was what our boys in yeshiva are taught about Christianity.  He replied that we have a K to K (kindergarten to kollel) program.  The boys come in about four and stay for elementary school, then yeshiva high school, then beis medrash and kollel.  All told, something around 20 years.  R' Belsky told the cardinals that he would be surprised if there were more than two minutes of discussion regarding Christianity over that time period.  Our focus in the yeshiva is to teach them to know the Torah and how to live their lives, not to put down or analyze other people's beliefs.

"However", he continued, "if you want to know how we as as a people feel about Christianity, I'll tell you an incident that occurred in Europe in the last century."  R' Baruch Ber needed to travel for some yeshiva business.  He took a talmid and rented a wagon.  As the wagon was leaving town, they passed a church.  R' Baruch Ber noticed that the wagon driver did not cross himself.  The rav asked the wagon driver to stop, told him that there had been a change of plans so they wouldn't need to go, after all.  He paid the driver for his time, then he and the talmid took their luggage off wagon and walked back to the yeshiva.  The talmid asked the rav what had changed.  The rav answered, "Nothing is changed; we still need to go.  Did you notice that the wagon driver didn't cross himself?  Where there is no religion, there is murder."

R' Belsky said the cardinals spontaneously stood and applauded.

As I have mentioned, one of my most difficult trials in becoming religious was ridding myself of the anti-religious attitudes I had from college.  Here's a chilling statistic from the National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics:  20% to 25% of women who attend college will be the victim of sexual abuse.  That's worse odds than playing Russian Roulette.

So what do I think when I hear about vandalism of a church?  When there is no religion, there is murder.


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