Saturday, June 6, 2009

Church, State, Jesus, and Orthodox Judaism

Long before Max Weber argued that institutions of government are meaningless in the face of religious priorities, Jesus came to the same conclusion in far more poetic language (at least as he was cited in Matthew 22:21):

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

Wikipedia even provides us with the original Greek from Matthew's gospel:

Άπόδοτε οΰν τά Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καί τά τοΰ Θεοΰ τώ Θεώ.

Of course Jesus had a rather rocky relation with the rabbis of his day (all of whom were what we would now call Orthodox, since none of the "heretical," as Herman Wouk put it so charitably, divisions had yet been introduced). So it is not surprising that, Al Jazeera reported the following confrontation between religion and government that took place today in Jerusalem:

Ultra-Orthodox Jews have thrown stones and vegetables at Israeli police who replied with water canons at a protest against the opening of a car park in Jerusalem.

The clashes at the Israeli city hall building on Saturday broke out after the protesters complained that the opening contravened religious law by occurring on the Jewish Sabbath.

It is forbidden to drive or work on the Sabbath according to ancient religious law, and most public buildings are closed at that time.

The minority Orthodox Jews believe that the religious laws should be adhered to throughout Israel.

As we ponder the "unthinkable" question of whether or not a city like Jerusalem should be subjected to the authority of a secular government, it is worth remembering that extreme devotion to Judaism can follow that same path that we have seen extreme devotion to Islam take among the Taliban in Pakistan, not to mention anti-abortion Christians in the United States!

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