Silence is not an Option: Jews Ought to Support Construction of Muslim Community Center

by Rabbi Eric Yoffie
(from remarks made to the URJ Executive Committee)

yoffie-speech.jpgThe plan to build a community center and mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan has ignited a storm of controversy that has engulfed not only the religious world but all of America. As we gather here a few days after the 9th anniversary of 9/11, I would like to share with you a few thoughts about what this issue means to us as Reform Jews.

An interesting question for me from the very beginning of the crisis has been: Where are our people? Polls indicate that 70% of Americans oppose the building of the mosque at the current site. (I have no numbers on Canadians.) A poll of New Yorkers indicates that 40% of Jews in this city oppose the mosque.

On the one hand, many of our rabbis have spoken eloquently on this subject in their Rosh Hashanah sermons; others, I am certain, will address the issue on Yom Kippur. Overwhelmingly, these sermons have been supportive of the Cordoba House project. On the other hand, many of you in this room and other Reform leaders as well have told me that your fellow congregants are not necessarily in favor of building the mosque at the current site. It has been suggested to me that if a secret ballot were conducted in your synagogues, as many as half – if not more – of the members might oppose the mosque. You have confirmed that feelings run very deep on this issue, and you have suggested the Reform sentiment might be more divided than some suppose.

With these divisions in mind, let us see if we can move away from the heated emotions that have characterized the debate and let us analyze closely the various arguments being put forward.


When this issue exploded in the press, the Union convened two conference calls with the rabbis and presidents of our congregations in New York City and the surrounding area. We thought that we had fairly clear policy, but when local concerns are involved, it is always best to consult, if possible, with local leaders. A reasonably strong consensus emerged from those calls, expressing the view that this was an issue of religious freedom and it required our support. We issued a statement supporting the building of the community center/mosque at the current site, and noting that our commitment to religious freedom made such support essential.

It is natural that religious freedom should be our central concern. Jews have been denied religious freedom as we now understand it for most of our history. In the modern period, we have struggled to win that freedom in country after country. America was different because the free exercise of religion is guaranteed by the constitution, and barring a compelling state interest, it cannot be denied to Jews or to anyone else. Nonetheless, even here our rights have not come without struggle.

After World War II, when Jews moved out of urban areas, suburb after suburb attempted to prevent Jews from building synagogues within their borders. Appeals were made to zoning laws and land use laws as a means of keeping Jews out. But invoking constitutional guarantees, we fought these restrictions, and virtually everywhere, we won.

So of course we care deeply about religious freedom and the right of religious groups to build congregations in the places of their choosing. We know what religious freedom is about, and we do not deny others the rights that we have demanded for ourselves.

At this point, virtually everyone – even most of the opponents of the mosque – has conceded the constitutional argument. Yes, they acknowledge, the sponsors of the mosque have a legal right to build. The argument they make instead is that the sponsors of the community center/mosque have the right to build, but should not exercise that right.

Two primary reasons are given for this claim. The first is the need to be sensitive to the concerns of the victims’ families. The problem, of course, is that most of the families support the building of the mosque. Mayor Bloomberg of New York suggests they are virtually unanimous in that support.

But absent precise data, let us assume that some do not support it. We do not want to challenge these family members. We do not want to debate them. We do not want to do anything to intensify their pain. The ADL says they are entitled to their prejudices, and perhaps they are.

Nonetheless, while their personal pain needs to be understood and respected, they are not entitled to determine public policy. Public policy needs to be determined by what is legal and what is right, and by that alone. We need to say to the families: We can sympathize with your anger and understand your pain, but this is not a decision that you should make.

The second reason given for not building on the current site, even if the right to do so exists, is that Ground Zero is hallowed ground.

This is true, it seems to me. Ground Zero is a mass grave, the site of an atrocity – there is a sense in which it is a sacred place, for Americans and for others. One can reasonably argue that anything that detracts from the memory and the message of the site is out of place there, and that a place of worship – any place of worship – might do that.

With this in mind, the analogy that we have heard most frequently is the Auschwitz analogy. A convent of Carmelite nuns was planned for Auschwitz – in that area of the camp where most of those exterminated were not Jews. Nonetheless, Pope John Paul understood that the presence of a convent anywhere in Auschwitz would be offensive to Jews, and he instructed the nuns to move to a site outside the grounds. From this, many have concluded that the Cordoba House should be moved as well.

Yet in fact the lesson is exactly the opposite. The convent was initially to be on the grounds of Auschwitz, while the Cordoba House was never to be located at Ground Zero. The convent was moved off the grounds, but nearby; the mosque is near Ground Zero but not on the site. Just as there is nothing inappropriate about the convent being located close to Auschwitz, so there is nothing inappropriate about the community center/mosque being located close to Ground Zero. Some experts have suggested that the convent is now closer to Auschwitz than the Cordoba House will be to Ground Zero, but I have been unable to verify exact distances. Nonetheless, let me say this very bluntly: The Auschwitz example is being misused to appeal to the deep emotions that Jews appropriately have about the Holocaust in order to lead them to a mistaken conclusion about the mosque.

And the other problem with the hallowed ground argument is this: It is being made by those who don’t understand the Twin Towers area and don’t understand New York. We are talking about one of the busiest and most congested urban areas in the country – one in which this particular building would not normally attract any interest at all. It is two and a half blocks from Ground Zero and might as well be 100 miles from Ground Zero. As others have pointed out, retail stores, strip joints, office buildings, and other places of worship are to be found there, all part of the general frenzy that is downtown New York. That is why as this center has been discussed for the last year all parties – right, left, and center – were supportive and found no reason to oppose it.

In short, I find nothing compelling about those who argue that the right to build this mosque should not be exercised by those who are planning it. And in my view, none of these arguments makes any sense unless you hold that all Muslims are somehow to be held responsible for the actions of a few. That is really the claim here, acknowledged or not.

And by the way, I am not one who says that the perpetrators of the 9/11 atrocity were men who happened to be Muslims. This is too simple. They were adherents of a radical Muslim group; their ideas were shaped and their actions motivated by their understanding of Islam. We oppose their ideas, just as we oppose religious extremism in all forms, and we are committed to combating them.

But the point is that we do not tar all Muslims with the brush of extremism because extremist strands of Islam exist in their midst. To do so is to engage in the kind of stereotyping that has plagued us as Jews throughout our history, and that we reject, categorically and unequivocally.

There are several other points that need to be clarified.

It has been suggested in many circles that the battle over the mosque is simply another round in the culture wars between liberals and conservatives – and in these wars Reform Jews should be reluctant to reflexively side with one camp or the other. It is obviously true that more liberals than conservatives support Cordoba House, but that is far from the whole story. Mayor Bloomberg supports the mosque and he is an independent. Governor Christie of New Jersey supports the mosque and he is a conservative Republican. Congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian, said the following: “The justification to ban the mosque is no more rational than banning a soccer field in the same place because all the suicide bombers loved to play soccer.” Josh Barro, writing in the on-line edition of the conservative magazine National Review, argues the conservative case for the mosque. Conservatives, he said, believe that private property should be used as the owners see fit; they also believe that using arcane land use laws to oppose construction for private purposes is a misuse of government prerogatives. According to Barro, for conservatives “the proper question is not ‘Why here?’ but ‘Why not here’?”

And what of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf?

While I do not know him personally, he has worked with our Commission on Interreligious Affairs and with the RAC. He has addressed groups of Reform rabbis. He is a Sufi and a moderate by any definition. What is happening now is that many are searching through his 30-year activist history to find things he has said that could discredit him. And let me say clearly: he has said things that I oppose and find offensive. But if he is not a fitting partner for dialogue then there are no such partners. And I am distressed by those in the Jewish community who continue to believe that we should only talk to and approve for dialogue those who agree with us on every point and who have never made a problematic statement about Judaism or Israel. We don’t need dialogue with those people. We need it with people like Imam Rauf, who are reasonable, sensible, and courageous – even though, to be sure, we often don’t agree.

Finally, many of you have asked me about the role of ADL in this controversy.

ADL is an important organization that is vital to our future – an organization that we need to fight for Jewish rights and to oppose discrimination in all forms, against us and against others. Abe Foxman is an extraordinary and dedicated Jewish public servant, who has served our community with great distinction and to whom we are appropriately grateful. To suggest that ADL is somehow anti-Islam in its outlook is absurd.

But ADL made a very serious error here. At precisely the moment when the American people were teetering, torn between the clamoring voices of bigotry and the sensible voices of calm and reason, ADL entered the argument, urging understanding for those with prejudice in their hearts. It was surely not intentional, but the effect of their statement was to open the floodgates and lend weight and legitimacy to those whose primary concern was not Ground Zero or the victims’ families but, instead, inciting hatred against American Muslims. With all of its experience in the politics and the dynamics of bigotry, ADL should have seen this coming.

This phenomenon, in fact, is the most troubling aspect of the crisis: Most of what we’ve witnessed in recent weeks has nothing whatever to do with location-specific issues related to the World Trade Center site. Most of what we’ve witnessed is an orgy of hatred against Muslims and a concerted effort to exclude a group of our fellow citizens from our neighborhoods and to limit their ability to worship as they choose in America. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not suggesting in any way that everyone who is uncomfortable about the mosque is a bigot; that is surely not the case, and that is why I have responded to the arguments, one by one. But when we listen to the public debate, it is too often true that the voices of bigotry are setting the tone.

As Reform Jews, we need to oppose this bigotry with all of our might. We need to affirm that we will not tolerate efforts to keep Muslims out of our neighborhoods – because we know better than anyone that everywhere is somebody’s neighborhood. If we were silent here, a century of work for interfaith relations would be for naught. If we were silent here, we would be casting aside those fundamental values of tolerance, compassion, understanding, and religious freedom that we have affirmed again and again from our earliest days as Reform Jews.

I am proud to say, however, that we in the Reform Movement have not been silent, and our rabbis and congregations have not been silent. I am proud as well that most of the Jewish community has not been silent either. As Jews, we sympathize with the victims of terror, and we fight religious fanaticism wherever it is found, but we remember, now and always, both the lessons of our own history and what this great country is all about.

Editor’s note: Please visit our Resource Page on Muslim-Jewish Relations for links to the many resources we have available on this subject.


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Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

About Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie is president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism. He speaks and writes frequently about Israel, religious life, social justice, and other topics of interest to the Jewish community. Read his full bio and writings on the URJ website.

59 Responses to “Silence is not an Option: Jews Ought to Support Construction of Muslim Community Center”

  1. avatar

    Thank you, Rabbi Yoffie, for this thorough, strong, and well-reasoned piece. It makes me proud to be a part of our movement.

  2. avatar

    A very strong statement, Rabbi Yoffie. I agree 100%. Thank you for saying it.

  3. avatar

    Bravo. Yasher koach!!

  4. avatar

    Being someone who was using the Auschwitz example as to why I felt it might be more respectful to build elsewhere, I stand corrected. This was all stated perfectly and I agree completely. Above all, we need to uphold religious freedom.

  5. avatar

    Thanks for a well-reasoned and eloquent statement.
    My only point of departure is with regard to the ADL. That organization is presumed by many in the press and the general public to speak for liberal American Jews – perhaps even more than URJ. We therefore all have a stake in the consequences of its positions. Under Mr. Foxman’s direction it has become an embarrassment to our community, first with the denial of the Armenian genocide, and now with this.
    Mr. Foxman has served our community and country well, and accomplished a great deal. He needs now to retire, with all appropriate honors, rather than allow his declining judgment to further besmirch the reputation of Jewish Americans and of a great institution.

  6. avatar

    The FBI has released data showing that attacks on Jews in America are ten times more frequent than those against Muslims. I applaud Rabbi Yoffie for keeping this quiet because attacks against Muslims are far more series human rights violations than attacks against Jews. I would also appreciate it if Rabbi Yoffie would demand that the FBI delete these inflammatory reports in the future. Thank you.

  7. avatar

    I am surprised and disappointed that Rabbi Yoffie in his article defending the building of Islamic Cultural Center near the site of 9/11 in New York neglected to consider an argument that is of grave concern to me and many of my friends, both Jews and Gentiles. The building of a Cultural Center in such proximity to the 9/11 site will undoubtedly be exploited by the radical Muslim extremists as a sign of victory over our country. While Rabbi Yoffie continues to debate the issues of religious rights, I can easily envision propaganda pieces being addressed to the young and impressionable Muslim men stating – “Where the Twin Towers once stood, now stands an Islamic Center – Continue the Conquest!”
    Elena Khesina

  8. avatar

    It is voices such as yours that is so needed in this debate as so many others; balanced with courage to point out the hidden agendas that too often dominate our conversations.
    As a Roman Catholic, I am sadden, however, by the silence of our leadership. How much more were their voice heard as well.

  9. avatar

    As a muslim visiting this page I would like to thank you personally Rabbi for powerful words. I would also like to reply to my sister in humanity Elena. I completely understand your fear, and it is indeed a good point to think about. However, if you allow me please to tell you. That knowing that Imam Faisal is a sufi, the moderate, spiritual branch of Islam. As a practicing sufi myself, I can assure you that the radicals would NOT consider Park51 as a victory to them, simply because many of them do not even view sufis as muslims altogether..
    At most they will see the center as an over americanization of islam spectacle, and not a religious center.
    Sufi muslims in America generally are not “liked” by radicals. I have personally experienced their hatred towards sufism first hand.
    Ali Hussain
    Shalom .. Salam 😉

  10. avatar

    Thank you so much for this – I could not have said it better!!!
    Peace be with you!

  11. avatar

    Thank you, Rabbi Yoffie, for such a cogent and principled stand.
    This issue seems to me a defining moment for Muslim Americans as well as for America itself. It is also an opportunity for people of faith to stand together, knowing as we do how easy it is to tar religion today. Our ranks continue to splinter and our critics are more strident than ever.
    With respect,
    PS. I should add that there are in fact good reasons for the Park51 sponsors to move the project. Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, taught us that an imam should not lead prayer in a congregation where he is not welcome. The Quran itself teaches us: “Do not revile those they call on beside God in case they, in their hostility and ignorance, revile God.” The problem in this case, however, is the precedent set by a retreat. How far from Ground Zero is far enough?
    My hope is that the Imam Feisal, Sharif El-Gamal and their interlocuters are able to identity win-win opportunities that actually advance the conversation rather than simply ending it.

  12. avatar

    This is a great and well-written piece on the subject. It would be great if we all, Muslims, Jews, and Christians could get along well with each other.

  13. avatar

    Without trying to be a spoiler here, has the URJ said anything about the imam’s total silence since Hamas started to fire more rockets into Israel since the peace talks began? Where is our Movement’s insistence that the moderate iman say something dissociating himself from Islamic terror? It isn’t there. And since it isn’t there, many of us feel that he is being disingenuous about his moderation. This issue has morphed into less of an issue about the rights or propriety to build a mosque and more about the reality of what Islamic leaders really believe about mutual respect, security and peace. Add to that the imam’s wife almost directly threatening Islamic terror against Americans if their demands are not met and the questions still abound. Where is our Union in this?

  14. avatar
    Rev. Howard L. Hunt, UCC Reply September 16, 2010 at 11:58 am

    I agree with the first comment I read on this article, that Rabbi Yoffie addresses all the arguments in a straightforward and reasonable manner. He is right in all he says, especially that the voices of bigotry and hatred are setting the tone. This is wrong. Not only Jews, but other Christian groups and racial or ethnic groups have faced that hatred and bigotry. If America is to be America, religious freedom MUST apply to all citizens. I sympathize whole-heartedly with the families of the victims, but, and the Rabbi says, they are not the ones to make this decision. If we back down to the voices of the fanatical people who scream against this community center/mosque, we will lose all that we have worked so hard to gain and build.

  15. avatar

    The location of this mosque is an affront to all Americans. It has nothing to do with legalities or religious freedom — it has to do with respect and dignity. There is no respect when Muslims want to build a shrine over Americans murdered by Muslims. Even the name, Cordoba House, has an odious meaning. The unanswered questions about this project don’t go away: Where is the money coming from? Why in this location, of all places? I cannot imagine American Reform Jews attempting anything so inflammatory and galvanizing. And look how the controversy is used to make those opposing it look like bigots.
    Rabbi Yoffe, your conciliatory arguments(along with so many of your colleagues in the Reform Rabbbinate)are no longer relevant to many of us in the Jewish mainstream.

  16. avatar

    It would seem that any religion would be free to build a temple where funds and land-allow. Yet, I was somewhat surprised that it is seen in a positive light. I have known people from Iran and Iraq- Middle Eastern areas. It outwardly appeared to be a very positive experience-a pen friendship with a man from Pakistan living in Saudi Arabia. Through knowing their culture, I have witnessed more Godly behavior–not the usual flirtatiousness that sometimes happens, not the disinterest with the loss of a family member, interest in my health–so they were more caring than others to me. I am impressed with any serious believer in God, one that lives those beliefs. They described 911 as a Holy War, and self defense (I read we had attacked similar buildings in their land accidentally. Didn’t they ask “Why are you killing our poor people?)…. I’m wondering does “one nation under God” want to be a more religious society? Do we want to remove it from our pledge, our songs, from our coins? I’m a bit concerned about poverty here, too. I’m worried poor people die in apathy; and they need caseworkers helping them achieve the norm for the average American. I’m worried about the dating experiences here, even the language, the drugs and alcohol…and whether we can live side by side with a blend of Agnosticism, and mixed religion peacefully — with respect for each other. I hope we all can.
    I also hold fears about statements I’ve heard from Iran in the past, Social Democracy growing in the future. My pen pal wrote “many, many loves to you” once. I thought it was innocent and a language barrier problem. Now, I’m not sure. I’m worried for the welfare of my children and myself some.
    I just pray it will all work out safely, harmoniously…
    I’m in favor of a Jewish Reform territory in the USA to be built–a religious evacuation personally

  17. avatar

    I find Rabbi Yoffe’s comments on legal rights strangely reminiscent of the ridiculed performance of Tea Party Candidate Christine O’Donnell on the Bill Mahr show where she stated that the truth should always be told no matter what.
    During an interfaith dialog, a Minister of the Disciples of Christ offered the following to demonstrate that truth is situational. If a group of men asked him where the Rabbi was, and he believed they were out to do harm to the Rabbi, he would lie and state that he did not know where the Rabbi was. Imagine, a Minister of the Gospel stating that lying was right.
    Certainly, there is a legal right to exercise freedom of religion. However, in this instance, it is still not the right thing to do.
    A few years ago, Columbus Day parade in New York City, the expression of pride for Americans of Italian descent, coincided with Yom Kippur. The organizers of that parade had every legal right to lead their revelry right past the front of Temple Emanuel on Fifth Avenue. They put aside their “rights” in favor of sensitivity and common sense and rerouted their parade. An organizer of the parade stated how he wanted the people of the world to see how Americans respected one another.
    Truth and legal rights are situational. In this situation, building a Mosque in a particular location is beyond the letter of the law. No attempt to vilify those by whom the action is offensive as “fanatical people” is justified.

  18. avatar

    Thank you, Rabbi Yoffie. I’ve never been prouder to be a Reform Jew.

  19. avatar

    I think the article disregards the obvious truth – we as Jewish people face and perhaps religious freedoms should not be granted to any kind of religions.
    For sure I don’t think we as Jews should be cheering for a religion whose big part of followers either disrespect our religious freedom (by building Mosque on Jewish Temple for example) or wants us dead.
    I am not saying all of the Muslims are the same, of course there is a variety of different beliefs from mild to extreme.
    However, the situation is that Israel is surrounded by 220 million Muslims that don’t acknowledge its existence and have a specific agenda to put “Jews into the sea.” For me these 220 million Muslims, along with their hatred towards us that is expressed in thousands of innocent Jewish lives lost – should clearly say that sometimes religious freedoms can be disregarded.
    You can also look to more of North American example, Montreal and Toronto: where Muslims specifically build Mosques in Jewish neighborhoods just because they can.
    Overall it is just really hard for me to believe that this particular Mosque is totally different from all other ones that sent ships to our borders, rockets into our land and people to blow us up.
    I am actually ashamed for this Politically Correct approach. Rabis need to take the stand and tell it like it is, we earned the right – let Muslims stop Jihad (like Christians stopped Crusaders) for 50 years or so, and then we can talk about equal religious freedoms.

  20. avatar

    Thank you, Rabbi Yoffie.
    Your eloquent, thoughtful statement makes me so proud to have grown up as a Reform Jew.
    Od yavo shalom aleinu, od yavo shalom aleinu, od yavo shalom aleinu, v’al kulam.
    Salaam, aleinu v’al kol haolam, salaam, salaam.

  21. avatar

    Thank you for your wise understanding of prejudice and courage. Your contrast to ADL is important, powerful and wise. The most basic values that make America a supportive home for us Jews–we must stand up for them for others in times of controversy if they are to prove substantive. (And i am one who didn’t believe the Nazis should be allowed to march in Skokie. That was an intentional provocation of victims.) Your position deepens the path of understanding and tolerance in our world.

  22. avatar

    As a nonreligious person from a muslim background married to a Jewish man, I have spent the last 20 years as a teacher and friend correcting false, negative statements about the Jewish people.( and believe me there were many) I was really happy to see a religious person trying to explain and correct false impressions about Muslim people in general. At least it gives me hope that some religious people are sincere.

  23. avatar

    Rabbi Yoffie,
    We find common ground in the near universal affirmation that the owners of the site of the proposed Cordoba mosque have every right do what they want with their property. I disagree with your opinion that there is “nothing compelling about those who argue that the right to not be exercised by those who are planning it” You write that “many of our rabbi’s have spoken eloquently on the subject”…have any spoken eloquently against the mosque? You insist that this is a matter of religious freedom that should be our central concern. I think the issue has nothing to do with religious freedom. New York City already has over a hundred mosques. The issue is a matter of sensitity and make no mistake, it most assuredly is a political statement.
    Many muslims oppose the mosque on religious grounds. As Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canandian Congress explained “If a step taken by an individual causes disharmony then it is ‘fitna’. [The mosque} has caused so much pain…if there is opposition to a mosque on grounds of hatred I would be the first to confront it. But [at Ground Zero] it is a matter of sensitivity.” He explains that “A mosque such as this is actually a political structure that casts a shadow of a cemetery.” Certainly the proposed name is deliberatively provocative to those who know history and is meant to send a message. Cordoba was the seat of the Spanish caliphate. As Khudhayer Taher recently wrote “Choosing the name ‘Cordoba House’ for the mosque…was not coincidental or random or innocent. It bears within it significance and dreams of expansion and invasion of the other, striving to change his religion and subjugate him”. Clearly, this is not simply a matter of religous liberty.
    You decry “an orgy of hartred against Muslims” and opposition to the mosque is by implication “Islamaphobic”. I see no evidence of such an orgy. There are no burning mosques or mobs rampaging through the streets randomly beating Muslims. By contrast a member of my community in Seattle recently had to relocate, change her name and go underground after receiving a death fatwa. Her crime: proposing a ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ to show support for the censored creators of the South Park TV comedy. I am still awaiting the URJ’s strong condemnation of this egregious threat of freedom of our expression. When planes start destroying buildings, innocents are shot at the Jewish Federation in Seattle, when someone shoots up the El-Al counter at LAX, or someone places a car bomb in Times Square and others try to blow up planes, I think some element of caution may be justified. It is certainly not an irrational ‘phobia’.
    According to you, Imam Rauf is by definition “moderate”. However his words and writings would suggest otherwise. When interviewed on ’60 Minutes’ on September 30, 2001 the Imam stated that the United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” He is also firmly commited to Sharia (Islamic Law) as he outlines in his book “A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post 9-11”. Dawa, as the lead prosecutor of blind sheik who planned the first WTC bombing explains, is the “missionary work by which Islam is spread…The purpose of dawa, like the purpose of jihad, is to implement, spread and defend Sharia.” On a recent CNN interview, the Imam implied that not building the mosque would result in violence against Americans. By such implied threat, the Imam clearly views this as a political statement. Interesting the Imam thought differently when Christians in Malaysia started referring to G-d as Allah. (Why shouldn’t we, since we all pray to the same God?) When Malaysian churchs were firebombed in retaliation, the Imam did not speak out against this blatant ‘Christianophobia’. Instead he proclaimed “that using the Allah to mean the Christian God may be theologically and legally correct, but in the context of Malysia, it is socially provocative…you must find a way to convey your message without provoking this kind of response.”
    I pray that the Imam takes his own words to heart.

  24. avatar

    Mark Z: Your thoughts are well formulated and you make a compelling argument that absolutely made me reconsider my opinion and change it 180 degrees. Very rarely do I read something which offers an opposing view and actually makes me change my mind. Well said, and congratulations on having the courage to voice an opinion that goes contrary to the most,and without belittling those of us who initially did not see this point.

  25. avatar

    Thanks for having the courage to stand up for unity. Rabbi Aaron Mark Petuchowski of Temple Sholom in Chicago spoke to us as well and as he always does, spoke through his heart and reached ours. Both your and Rabbi Petuchowski’s message needs to be heard throughout our land. I do not understand why people can not applaud differences and instead find a need to fear them.

  26. avatar

    Jane D
    Thank you for the kind comments.

  27. avatar

    Mark Z: I also thank you for your comments. They express mine. I wish there were Jewish leaders in my area who held your perspective. I am a politically conservative Jew looking for a congregation and needless to say, I cannot align myself with Rabbi Yoffie’s or most other Rabbi’s in my area. What you said Rabbi, was very eloquent about being inclusive and tolerant but what you missed is the point that Mark Z made. I’m going to be copying and pasting his comments to my friends who are of all different faiths but of like minds.

  28. avatar

    Rebbi Yoffee, I couldn’t have said this better myself. Thank you for this thoughtful opinion piece.

  29. avatar

    Rabbi Yoffie’s comments were eloquent, but I don’t think that they reflect the majority of the members of Reform congregations. Unfortunately the leadership of the Reform movement makes statements in the name of the membership without taking any votes. It is not very democratic, neither is it American. As far as cooperating with Muslim organizations on this issue such as ISNA and CAIR which are also the sponsors of Muslim Student organizations involved in violent and vicious anti-Israel propaganda, boycott campaigns, demonstrations and vandalism on campuses (UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley and scores of others)the Reform leadership is completely wrong.

  30. avatar

    I agree with all of your argument but must raise an objection to your repeated reference to the Cordoba site as a mosque. It is a community center. Yes, there will be a room for Muslim prayer as well. But how is this building any different than our large JCCs or the Y’s that are so common in any metropolitan community? Except that it actually has plans for meeting rooms available to Jewish and Christian groups, along with a cooking trade school. If built as planned this building seems like it will be a blessing to the community.

  31. avatar

    As a United Methodist pastor, I find this writing to be well thought out and reasoned. The strength of our country stands on religious freedom, even though we need to respect the sensativities of others. I happen to agree with Rabbi Yoffie and hope that we can have more reasonable dialogue between all of the children of Abraham. Shalom.

  32. avatar

    I respectfully disagree. Abraham Foxman of the ADL says it all for me. I am not happy with Reform Judaism’s support of the Islamization of America.

  33. avatar

    To those who see the Cordoba House as a blessing, what do you think of Greg Gutfeld’s (a Cordoba House supporter) proposed gay bar next to the Cordoba House? The bar would serve non-alcoholic drinks to accommodate Islamic sensitivities. Do you support this ‘outreach’ to the Muslim gay community? Are you ‘homophobic’ if you don’t?
    Another more serious hypothetical to consider and mind you, I am in no way condoning violence. But just imagine that a group of Orthodox Jews hijacked an El-Al jet, flew it into the Temple Mount, and completely destroyed the Dome of the Rock, killing 3000 worshipers. Next, suppose a group of well meaning Reform Jews, desiring only to heal the Judeo-Islamic rift, proposed building a community center on Jewish owned land, 200 yards away from the destroyed mosque. Would the URJ support this? Would you? If not, why not?

  34. avatar

    Thank you very much, Rabbi Yoffie. I am a member of a Reform congregation, and I agree completely with your views.
    An additional point: In the September 20, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, Lawrence Wright wrote (p. 48): “The best ally in the struggle against violent Islam is moderate Islam. The unfounded attacks on the backers of Park51 [the proposed Islamic center] and others . . . give substance to the Al Qaeda argument that the U.S. is waging a war against Islam, rather than against the terrorists’ misshapen effigy of that religion.”

  35. avatar

    Thank you so much Rabbi Yoffie. Todah, though, doesn’t do justice, when I have read so many responders, jewish and non-jewish alike, who have showed utter lunacy who have completely disregarded the human decency of the issue, and have dragged their tormented world views into the fray, siting totally unrelated issues, like Israel, and gays, and making islamophobic comments that are nothing but vile for human decency, and religious freedom. Peace to all who carry an open mind and heart, religious, or not, and that aspire to carry the divine sparks of human compassion and justice to fruition, and bring greater respect and wholeness to our imperfect, hurting world. Tikkun olam starts with dialogue, not with ranting and hateful, fanatic argumentation. Salaam, shalom.

  36. avatar

    This controversy has brought out an ugly side of our communities but also a wonderful side, as exemplified by the remarks of Rabbi Yoffie and many other Jewish and civic leaders and citizens.
    Mark Z, there are a few things I don’t understand about your comments. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a Sufi leader who appears to have devoted his life to preaching and promoting nonviolence in Islam and working for interfaith dialogue and tolerance. He has worked for the FBI and the U.S. State Department, organizations not known for hiring and supporting terrorists. You seem to be saying that this appearance is entirely false, that he is trying to be deliberately provocative, to “send a message” about “dreams of expansion and invasion” and “subjugation.”
    What I don’t understand is how you arrive at this conclusion, and, more importantly, why you think those reading your comments should accept it? The Imam has a lifetime of work including abundant writings. Are we to believe that these are all lies, and that we should instead believe that you have discerned what is truly in his heart and disregard all his own statements about his intentions? If so, why? There are certainly liars in the world, but what evidence is there that he is one? I assume that if the Imam had ever publicly written or stated that he seeks provocation, expansion, invasion, or subjugation, you would have told us about it. So are we to understand that these are his secret agenda, and if so, is there any evidence to support this claim?
    Córdoba was the birthplace of Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish rabbis of all time. Far from being persecuted, he lived a long and productive life and became the physician to the royal family in Egypt. As you probably know he wrestled with many difficult theological and practical daily issues affecting his community, but persecution by the Muslim majority was not one of them. For Jews, Córdoba symbolizes the time when Jews lived and thrived without prejudice among a non-Jewish majority. How did it come to symbolize “dreams of expansion and invasion” and “subjugation”? I know these assertions have been repeated by many talk-radio show hosts, but is there any evidence of their truth, beyond the authority of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin?
    As you probably know, Imam Rauf has clarified exactly what he meant about American’s involvement with Osama bin Laden — which is the fact that Osama bin-Laden got his start through the CIA with U.S. taxpayer dollars. His point was simply that when we ourselves support extremists we don’t do ourselves any favors. Dawa, jihad, and shariah mean different things to different Muslims. If we support Muslims like Imam Rauf, we support peaceful rather than extremist visions of these precepts.
    Yes, there have been attacks on mosques and Muslims across the country, as have been widely reported in the news. A New York City cab driver’s throat was slit because he was a Muslim. Violence by Muslims is not a justification for these things and is not a reason to deny rights to Muslims. That would be bigotry. In America a person is innocent until proven guilty. That’s what separates us from countries that do not have democracy. If we change our policies because of fear of terrorists, we will be handing the terrorists a victory they could never achieve on their own.
    Far from being “insensitive,” the center’s organizers sought, and obtained, the support of numerous community groups and representatives, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Councilwoman Chin, Councilman Jackson, City Comptroller Liu, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, State Senator Squadron, U.S. Congressman Jerome Nadler, Governor David Paterson, J Street and, most recently, President Obama, among other officials and institutions.
    They obtained the support of the leadership of the Jewish Community Center (whose Executive Director, Rabbi Joy Levitt, appeared on ABC News with the project’s organizers in support of the center), the Collegiate Churches of New York, and September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, among many other groups. To start with, they obtained the unanimous support of Community Board 1, which is not easy to do. Community Board 1 represents the people of lower Manhattan. As Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said, “By voting to support this multi-faith cultural and community center, the Community Board sent a clear message that our city is one that promotes diversity and tolerance.”
    They even appeared on Fox News. In December, 2009, Laura Ingraham interviewed Daisy Khan, the wife of the project’s organizer, on “The O’Reilly Factor,” and gave the plans her blessing. “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it,” she said. “I like what you’re trying to do.”
    There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, approximately a fifth of the world’s population. Obviously few of them are devoted to violence against Americans or Jews. American Muslims have lived and worked in lower Manhattan for centuries, have served in NYPD and NYFD, lost their lives in the WTC attacks, and serve in our armed forces where they put their lives on the line daily to defend our country against those who would harm us. These Americans had nothing to do with perpetrating the WTC attacks. Those who refuse to acknowledge this simple fact, but prefer instead to paint all Muslims as enemies or terrorists, are guilty of bigotry. That is exactly the definition of bigotry – the refusal to relinquish prior prejudicial beliefs about persons based on their membership in a group, despite evidence to the contrary.
    According to your logic, Jews should certainly not be allowed to build synagogues in the West Bank, where an insane Jew gunned down scores of Muslims as they prayed in a mosque on Purim some years ago at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Osama bin Laden would like us to believe that he is a spokesman for Islam. Most Muslims would differ, but you would apparently like us to believe him. You are acting as his strongest supporter. He no more speaks for all Muslims than Baruch Goldstein speaks for all Jews. I certainly hope he (Goldstein) doesn’t speak for you.
    But more important than the needs and rights of Muslims, it is we — all Americans — that desperately strong voices in the Muslim world to speak out for tolerance, moderation, and nonviolence and against the voices of violence and extremism. No one needs voices like Imam Rauf’s more than we do. I’m sure that is why the U.S. State Department had him on a speaking tour in the Middle East.
    There is nothing we need at Ground Zero more than a center devoted to interfaith dialogue, understanding, and reconciliation.

  37. avatar

    Brian E,
    Thank you for your comments. I will try to respond.
    That the State Department sponsors junkets for Imam Rauf to go discuss Islam with Muslims says more about the State Department than Imam Rauf. By the way, where do I sign up for my expense paid trip to Israel to talk about Judaism? 😉
    For many people building the Cordoba House is provocative and if the Imam truly wants to build bridges, building them from a different site would be a good start.
    As to what the Imam believes, he has been remarkable consistent; the imposition of Sharia by peaceful means. I quote at length directly from his article at the Huffington Post (so it has to be true and not like ‘one of those talk-radio show hosts, or the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin’.) For reference, the post is dated April 24, 2009:
    “But it is important that we understand what is meant by Shariah law. Islamic law is about God’s law, and it is not that far from what we read in the Declaration of Independence about ‘the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.
    At the core of Shariah law are God’s commandments, revealed in the Old Testament and revised in the New Testament and the Quran…What Muslims want is to ensure that their secular laws are not in conflict with the Quran or the Hadith, the sayings of Muhammad.
    Where there is a conflict, it is not with Shariah law itself but more often with the way the penal code is sometimes applied. Some aspects of this penal code and its laws pertaining to women flow out of the cultural context. The religious imperative is about justice and fairness. If you strive for justice and fairness in the penal code, then you are in keeping with moral imperative of the Shariah…
    What Muslims want is a judiciary that ensures that the laws are not in conflict with the Quran and the Hadith. Just as the Constitution has gone through interpretations, so does Shariah law.”
    You are correct, Maimonides was BORN in Cordoba. He FLED Cordoba in 1148 rather than a) convert b) live as a second class citizen, dhimmi or c) face death for continuing to live as Jew.
    Yes there have been attacks on Muslims. According to the government who tracks ‘hate crimes’, they are far less common than ‘hate-crimes’ against the Jewish community. You cited the deranged, drunk who stabbed the cab driver in NYC. Did you know he volunteered at Intersections International, a group supporting the GZM and self-described as “A New York-based global initiative dedicated to promoting justice, reconciliation and peace across lines of faith, culture, ideology, race, class, national borders and other boundaries that divide humanity”?
    Reading your post, it seems to imply that I, and the majority of Americans who oppose the proposed location of the Cordoba House, do so out of bigotry and believe that all Muslims are terrorists. I wrote, nor believe such thing. I ask that that you assume my positive intent with the same deference you grant to Imam Rauf. Apparently, I failed to communicate regarding the Muslim gay bar and hypothetical community center near the Temple Mount; for you miss my point. Do these situations make you uncomfortable due to their lack of sensitivity and deference to Islam? If yes, then you understand why the majority of Americans do not support the GZM.

  38. avatar

    I am researching your site for a school project to learn about a different religion, since i am a traditional Jew and could not visit a non-jewish place of worship, i chose reform judaism. I’m afraid you have this issue all wrong. Perhaps there were Jews living in our homeland that were supportive of the muslims building a mosque on our destroyed temple, but i rather doubt it. Being a “good jew” is not about moral complacency and universal tolerance. It is about doing good and turning away from evil. Ground zero is effectively the wailing wall of america. Jews should be compassionate of gentiles but I am afraid you are being compassionate towards the wrong gentiles in this case. Jews who cheer on the building of this site are as misguided as americans who cheer on hamas as they shoot rockets into Israel. Those americans also believe they are rightfully standing up for justice and freedom… Feel free to write if you wish

  39. Larry Kaufman

    OK, so let’s grant for the sake of argument (and only for the sake of argument) that Ground Zero is the wailing wall of America, as Mr. Yonteff proposes. And let’s cede, again only for the sake of argument, Orthodox control of what is appropriate at the Wall. But then we note that activity is permitted a hop, skip and a jump away at Robinson’s Arch that is different from what is permitted at the Wall itself. Park51 is considerably further from Ground Zero than Robinson’s Arch is from the Wall.
    What I will not cede, though, even for the sake of argument, is the implication that a Reform synagogue is not a Jewish place of worship. It is regrettable that your branch of Judaism is so insecure that it forbids your exposure to alternate visions of doing good and turning away from evil, neither of which entails a particular liturgy or a particular lifestyle. If you truly learn about Reform Judaism, you will learn that it is not a different religion, but a different approach to understanding divrei elohim chayim.

  40. avatar

    Misnogid –
    The URJ admits, in slightly different and more nuanced words, that Reform is not the same religion as Torah observant Judaism. See for yourself:
    To be clear, that has nothing to do with the status of URJ members as Jews. Being a Jew and practicing Judaism are two very very different things.
    Basically, once a group of Jews departs from the idea that halacha (Jewish law as codified and passed down through the generations, most notably the Shulchan Aruch) is not binding – that group has excluded itself from Judaism, and is now practicing something else.
    My question is, why would any Reform person be offended at that distinction? Why would people who resonate with the ideas of URJ want to be tied to another group of Jews who view halacha as binding?

  41. Larry Kaufman

    @Former Reform Jew
    The article you cite by Rabbi Arian makes no assertion like that you claim it does, nor do I accept your assertion that rejection of the Shulchan Aruch is tantamount to rejecting Judaism.
    I happen to be one of those Reform Jews that is comfortable with the idea of Reform halacha, and in fact believe it is a more authentic Judaism than any approach that verges towards self-fossilization. Reform Jews accept the message of the Torah and the Prophets as binding, but our concentration on the moral and ethical aspects of that message in preference to centuries of ritual accretion does not require us to dissociate ourselves from those whose approach is different.
    I infer from your various comments on this blog that you left Reform Judaism because you wanted to bind yourself to something more ritually stringent. Are you now spending so much time with us, at least here in cyberspace, because you hope to convert us to your point of view, or because you are lonesome for the commitment to living Jewishly in the modern world that we represent?

  42. avatar

    I had a very positive and rich experience growing up as a very active Reform Jew. Way beyond Hebrew school, I did confirmation and post-confirmation learning at the Temple, attended and later worked at Reform summer camps, and most of all, had four fabulous years in an amazing (non-denom but de facto non-observant) high school youth group.
    By the time I started college, starting to keep shabbat and kashrut seemed like most logical step.
    I became observant not in spite of, but BECAUSE of the amazing personal positive Jewish identity that emerged from all of these experiences.
    Sadly, many of my Jewish friends did not have as full and fulfilling an experience. Those that suffered through a drab Hebrew school and checked out of Jewish education at the ripe old age of 13, have absolutely no reason to care about Jewish practice as adults.
    As I have written in other posts, I would love to see Reform Jews experience more of our beautiful traditions. There’s nothing in the Reform platform that is against building a sukkah, blowing a shofar, learning to read AND UNDERSTAND the Hebrew language fluently, and so much more.
    Some of the best conversations I have, on a regular basis, are with LEARNED Reform Jews. I’m talking about people who really know Tanach and Talmud, and can engage in discourse. Unfortunately, that level of scholarship is most often reserved for the clergy. Most Reform congregants see no reason to expend time and energy on learning the texts that shaped our ancestors lives for millenia.
    Most Reform leaders admit that there’s a problem. I hope to continue to read the excellent posts here, and contribute to a solution, to turn more of the Reform youth of today into active, learned Reform adults.

  43. Larry Kaufman

    @Former Reform Jew — you fail to distinguish between what Reform Judaism teaches and what some Reform Jews practice. I daresay the gap between the platform and the practice is smaller in Reform than it is in Conservative Judaism, and I have found much more learning among my lay Reform acquaintances than among those who are nominally Conservative.
    Unfortunately, the isolationism practiced by Orthodox Jews, even at the most liberal margin, precludes my having much acquaintanceship with that sector. (In some of my non-religious Jewish community activities, I get to see M O rabbis, but rarely lay people.)
    If, as you suggest, your objective is to raise the level of learning and activity among Reform youth, I would think you’d have a better chance of success working from within rather than from without. But then too, I would think you would be more effective defining yourself by what you are rather than by what you used to be.

  44. avatar

    “Former Reform” is what I AM. I still hum Debbie Friedman tunes in my head. I love a guitar-led group of Jews singing praises to G-d. I wonder why Bar Mitzvah gets don’t get $100 Israel Bonds anymore – everything about me, everything about who I am today spiritually, has its roots in Reform. I can’t work from “within”, as you say, because there is no room in Reform for a Jew who accepts the masoretic understanding of the Torah. G-d really exists. G-d actually gave the Torah to the Jewish people through Moses. (and Moses didn’t look anything like Charlton Heston).
    These truths, which guide every aspect of my life, preclude me from remaining Reform. Yet, I still have all of the positive memories, associations, and anecdotes that only Reform Jews truly understand.
    So, “Former Reform Jew” really is the best description of myself. It’s certainly more accurate than a Reform Jew calling him/herself “misnogid”. If anything, favoring spirituality over halacha would make you more closely aligned with who the “opposers” (mitnagdim) were opposing – the Chassidim.

  45. avatar

    Digressing from the issue of Park 51 completely….
    I find myself nodding along at both Misnogid and Former Reform Jew. I agree with Misnogid that the SA is not the eternal and inerrant source of halacha, and that halacha is a dynamic process to which we do a disservice by ossifying it. Some days, I too can make the argument that the most authentic manifestation of Judaism is in the Reform movement–that it does Torah u’mada better than MO even.
    But FRJ’s points about the lack of depth in Jewish knowledge and literacy ring true with me as well. Mostly, we assume that people will only join our congregations when they have children–it’s aberrant for single or childless Jews be involved with synagogue life. To commit oneself to advanced Jewish learning or even moderate observance is to separate oneself from the Reform community, and it ends up being lonely.
    Like FRJ, my formative Jewish experiences were largely in a Reform setting. I remain a member of and active participant in a Reform congregation. But I never call myself a Reform Jew. I think this is because the those with the clearest, strongest identities about what Reform Judaism is are often more concerned with being “Reform” than being Jewish.
    Had I emerged from a Jewish womb (and been a man,) I would have likely taken a similar path to FRJ. But it seems very unwise to pursue orthodox giyur with its present reputation for capriciousness and for imposing every newly imagined chumra on gerim. Or at least until Avi Weiss or David Hartman win over the orthodox world…
    In the meantime, there is nothing to do but chip away at the mountain range of our texts, and to try to balance that with Ahavat Yisrael and gimilut chassidim–all while not trying to take myself too seriously.

  46. avatar

    While I do not question the good motives of Rabbi Yoffie, he is nevertheless he is both incorrect and naïve. Simply stated, he and all Jews should be urging the Muslim community in the United States to move the Mosque, just as the Pope had the Carmel convent moved away from Auschwitz.
    Let me address a few items and make some critiques
    1) “The Mosque is not on ground zero.” Look who made Rabbi Yoffie the zoning commissioner on the boundaries of ground zero? What we do know is the building which purchased by the Mosque owners/developers was affected by 9-11. This is not in dispute. In fact the Burlington Coat factory doors were closed after 9-11 as there building was damaged. Perhaps if there was barbed wire around the World Trade Center, and only the WTC was affected perhaps such claim would be conclusive. But that’s making an assumption…simply stated we don’t know. What we do know is that the Twin towers were not the only buildings destroyed. Some building fell in the days following the attacks, others were damaged beyond repair, others damaged slightly. Burlington Coat Factory was one of those buildings.
    2) If we had a crystal ball and could affirmatively say this building would be a place which practiced peace and religious tolerance…perhaps…perhaps I could accept the project. Perhaps if the organizers were outspoken Muslims preaching tolerance of all faiths we would be more open to this idea. Perhaps, if the organizers took a stand against moderate Arab States like Saudi Arabia which ban a Christian from bringing a bible into the country (the bible would in fact be burned but thats for another day) perhaps this outspoken position would bring some credibility but this is NOT THE CASE. The organizer here is a Hamas Apologist! I have been to several planning board meetings, and one thing I have learned is what is presented and what actually happens are usually very different. I have no doubt that will be the case if this thing is built two blocks from ground zero.
    3) Rabbi Yoffie, words have meaning, and “Cordoba House” should have alerted the good Rabbi. Rabbi through twists and turns of rationalizations attempts in his speach to distinguish the Auschwitz situation. So I ask: let’s say instead of a convent inside the boundaries of Auschwitz, a building was built across the street, a Germanic/Nordic Cultural Center was built…would our reaction been any different? Get real! This is a rationalization. As Jews we rightfully did not want a Christian convent anywhere near this cemetery for Jews, despite the fact that many non-Jews also lost their lives here. I would also bet a quarter versus a Million Dollars that the intentions of the Church were far less sinister than the Cordoba House…this would be the easiest quarter I ever won.
    4) I invite the Rabbi to take off the rose petal glasses, and enter his study. A quick reading of Cordoba’s history will find that: a) it was the Caliphate of the Islamic empire A Caliphate is a Muslim center of dominance in lands outside of Mecca, basically it was a governing center of Muslim dominance during the end and beginning of the first and second millennium b) During that same period, the large Mosque in Cordoba Spain, was built not on open land, but directly on top of a Christian Church (Sound Familiar? – visit Jerusalem). The developers chose some interesting words…and have started to shy away from this word, but words have meaning…At least the Carmel Convent, built on sacred ground that was responsible for the deaths of Jews and non-Jews alike wasn’t called the Crusader Convent. Look you could argue Christians, Jews, and Muslims did live together in Cordoba, but make no mistake it’s not the bed of roses being portrayed by Rabbi Yoffie. Words have meaning, a point my grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor has made very clear to me. My grandmother died on September 11, 2008.
    5). Lastly, I find it ironic how the reform community has gone out of its way to support a faith which in this country has been hardly supportive of Jews. Muslims supporting our right to just exist is rare. Look this is not to say we shouldn’t rise above this, but we should not also act without some level of self-respect. What our the (Reform) community should do is urge the Cordoba developers to move the Mosque to an area less intrusive. To urge our Muslims cousins to acknowledge there is apprehension to this project by many and not without cause. Healing is about understanding pain, not excusing bad faith action on the part of Muslims in general. Americans are not against Muslims. Attacks against Muslims pale in comparison to those against Jews and other groups. This is remarkable considering the horrific attacks on 9-11, but a testament to the leadership of the nation (Yes President Bush) but mostly to the tolerance of the American people in general. Americans really don’t need to be lectured about tolerance. That has been demonstrated! In any other country there would have been a riot after this. Recent Polling and the statements of political leaders on both sides of the isle, from Obama to Palin, have stated they acknowledge the right of the Cordoba house to be built (not all agree on the sensitivity party). This was again echoed when a pastor decided to have a burn the Koran day, and event that had barely any co-tails, in a nation of 300 million people.
    The issue here is the insensitivity and intolerance of Muslims. Simply stated having a Mosque named after a city where Muslims dominated Christians does not belong in a spot that was affected by the attacks of 9-11. Like it or not, this attack which was made in the name of Islam, and if this is not really Islam, it is the Islam practiced by hundreds of millions across the world.
    Lastly, our support of the Mosque will have negative co-tails in the future. Next time an insensitive but entirely legal situation comes about we might not find much sympathy from our Christian friends…and for good reason.

  47. avatar

    Dear Rabbi Yoffie,
    I wanted to thank you for your words. I’m an American Muslim now living and working in London, and I also had the good fortune to be able to read Rabbi Sam Stahl’s sermon, of a similar nature. I met Rabbi Stahl during my time at the Chautauqua Institution working with the Abrahamic Program for Young Adults. I ask your help, and the help of your congregation, in pulling the rug from beneath the feet of those who claim to be ‘Muslims’ but are in fact completely misguided and simply using a bright flag for dirty politics. It’s only by standing together – Muslims and non-Muslims – to emphasize that this is NOT Islam – that we stand a chance of moving forward. Regarding Cordoba House – your words of wisdom mean a lot, and I feel fortunate that members of your Jewish community, our older brothers and sisters in faith, have spoken to calm the fires of Islamophobia. I think the Jewish notion of ‘Tikkun Olam,’ from what I understand of it, is one to emulate and one that resonates with the ethics I practice as a Muslim, and I pray that we, people of all faiths, can together reclaim our ground, solid ground, as compatriots, friends, and allies.
    With my very best regards and shalom,

  48. avatar

    RE these comments:
    * “The Mosque is not on ground zero.” Look who made Rabbi Yoffie the zoning commissioner on the boundaries of ground zero?”
    * “Rabbi through twists and turns of rationalizations attempts in his speach to distinguish the Auschwitz situation.”
    The author of these statements is certainly entitled to his opinion and, obviously, he can write whatever he wants. But the insulting and dismissive tone of these comments make it less likely that these comments will have as great an impact on thoughtful readers as comments made in the type of respectful tone used by the Rabbi.
    Saying that the “mosque is not on ground zero” is not just technically correct. It is true in spirit as well. If you are at ground zero you cannot see the space where the Muslim Center will be built. No matter how hard you look. No matter what floor you would be on. Because there are so many businesses in so many office buildings and retail establishments between Ground Zero and the Center’s location. For the Center to have any impact on anyone visiting the WTC area, the visitor would have to bring a picture of the Muslim Center and choose to stare at this picture or choose to conjure up the image in their head, because they will not be able to see the actual center while they are at Ground Zero.
    It simply is not in “anyone’s face” as it is being portrayed. If you start at Ground Zero and walk to the place where the center is to be built, you pass churches, delis, porn shops, Off Track Betting, lots of buildings, many quite large and tall. Once you got to the actual location of the Muslim Center, you would not even know what it was, unless you were really looking for it, because it is not being built to look like a mosque, (it is being built in the spirit of the JCC on the Upper Westside, which no one would take for a synagogue) and because this is Downtown Manhattan, with an incredibly dense population. It is surrounded by scores of other buildings and businesses.
    It seems absurd to complain about a Muslim Center, which will provide programs, activities and services for the community, including things like after school athletic programs for kids, cooking classes for adults and all types of cultural and entertainment programs for the community, claiming that its presence is disrespectful to those who died on September 11th, while having no problem with Christian houses of worship, porn shops, delis, OTB, restaurants and office buildings which house all types of businesses over which we have no control. And many of these other entities are directly in line of sight from Ground Zero.
    So the Muslim Center, which cannot be seen from the WTC, is the only entity being singled out as something that is inappropriate and offensive. No one has even complained about the strip club.
    The reason the Community Board and the mayor and others have spoken up for this particular group is because they have demonstrated that they are great neighbors. They have had a mosque twelve blocks from Ground Zero for more than twenty years. The vast majority of people who are truly affected by this new development, welcome it. For several years after 9/11, I supervised a not-for-profit that provided technical assistance to small businesses that were suffering as a result of the WTC tragedy. I worked with people in the neighborhood who were completely traumatized, some of whom both lived and worked there and lost absolutely everything because of the collapse. Some people simply have never been able to get over it, it was so horrific for them.
    THESE people, the people who are most affected by this, are thrilled to have new construction and activity in the area. This is not just neutral for them. This is really good for them. It is depressing and difficult for them to live in an area with barriers and abandoned building all around them. They cannot believe that people who have no idea of their daily lives, people from outside the area, are attempting to deny the local community a facility that they would like to have.
    If my relative got killed and their body was found on the subway tracks, I would feel horrible, but I would not expect anyone to consider shutting down the subway system for me out of respect for my grief, or expect anyone to shut down even one stop. There are living people, the people who work and have homes in the area, who have rights too.
    And the Rabbi was also correct in saying that this is not like the situation in Auschwitz. At Auschwitz we did not welcome all types of religious, business and residential development and exclude one particular group from joining the community. I doubt the imam would take issue with a request to move elsewhere if there were a consistent message that applied to one and all regarding development in the area. The fact is, there is no such policy. EVERYONE has been allowed to do whatever they want and he is the only one under attack, forced to rise to some unattainable level of perfection.
    And why should he have to rise to a higher standard than anyone else to build there? The community board actually had a history with him. He’s been there for decades. They made an informed decision when they gave him permission to build.
    Does any reasonable person really believe that Mayor Bloomberg and the Police Commissioner – who have access to all sorts of FBI and classified data – and all the other officials who stuck their necks out to support this group – would support this if there were even the slightest suspicion – among those who chose to be objective – regarding the imam’s loyalty or integrity? I’ve heard many of the brief quotes attributed to the imam and then later heard the same quotes in their broader context. There is no question that some of the shorter, edited soundbites were troubling, but when I heard larger portions of the interviews from which those clips were taken, it was clear that he is a reasonable person and the shorter clips only sounded strange because they were taken out of context. This does not mean that you or I would agree with everything he said, but there is room for respectful disagreement. He is an American who deserves all the rights we all do when we are born here. Only in his case, he has actually earned these rights.
    Lastly, it seems that others are projecting their own beliefs, thoughts and prejudices when interpreting the imam’s comments. I don’t know how one reaches the conclusion that the imam is making a threat because he says that certain conditions could trigger a terrorist attack. If a police officer tells you that under the following conditions – walking alone in Central Park at 4:00am – there is a possibility you will be assaulted and he suggests that you behave in a certain way in order to avoid being attacked, is the police officer threatening you or is he trying to caution you and protect you?
    If you start with the assumption that someone is up to no good, you will find it in whatever they say and do – you will find “evidence” to support your belief. I heard the same statement others did. In no way did it sound like a threat to me. I recognize that we can’t get in his head and be absolutely sure of his intentions. But we can try to be as objective and fair as possible.
    At what point does he pass the test? The fact is, for some people, there is no point at which he could pass the test and be thought of like everyone else. He’s been a good neighbor, at the request of government officials he assisted them in doing what was requested of him . . . What is he supposed to do to have his inalienable rights?

  49. avatar

    We need to understand what drives the Imam to be so persistent. If he were truly a bridge builder, he would gladly move the location and show compassion for those who who are hurt by this. Now he is claiming that violence will take place if the mosque is not built. Let’s be real about what this is. It is a victory mosque, plain and simple.
    I am disturbed by the amount of Jews who ignore the threats of radical Islam. Jews need to stand strong as the Zionists do and refuse to tolerate such attacks. Being only .02% of the world’s population, we need to stand strong.
    Masada shall not fall again!

  50. avatar

    I too agree with and appreciate Rabbi Yoffie’s statements. Having read the posts, I would just like to comment that this is about a house of worship being built legally in the United States. Where will the people of the world learn religious tolerance if not here? That anyone finds it objectionable or distasteful has nothing to do with support for a rule of law that guarantees equal rights to all. Making this discussion about anything else, however ‘reasonable’ is to miss the point of our way of life as codified in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. These rights trump all opinion and whenever usurped, threaten us all.

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    Perhaps the nubbins of the counter argument was best expressed above by Robert Bandes, who said, “There is no respect when Muslims want to build a shrine over Americans murdered by Muslims.”
    It will become immediately apparent that Robert has generalized from a group of fanatical individuals who proclaimed they were unleashing terrorism in the name of their religion to all adherents of that religion. Without knowing Robert personally, I can guess that he believes that all Muslims are secretively desiring to take over the world and force their religion on everyone else. He has a lot of support in the popular media who echo the same sentiment.
    Perhaps he thinks that individual people who have been living in North America for generations away from countries where their humanity counts for nothing and personal revenge is condoned by the courts under obsessive obedience to religious scripture rather than impartial justice would like a return to that world…in fact would like to turn the west upside down and convert it into the more backward parts of the middle east.
    This view considers all people of a particular religious group to be complete morons incapable of appreciating life in a democracy, and thus denies the humanity in every single adherent of a religion many convert to because they believe it preaches equality and living the civilized life and that other religions miss the first part about equality, and not because they want to take over the world.
    People convert to Judaism because they can’t believe in more than one aspect to God. People convert to Christianity because they believe they have souls that can be redeemed by their Messiah. People convert to Islam because they want to know they are held in the same amount of esteem in the eyes of Allah who through his prophet has transmitted a code of conduct that teaches tolerance and appreciation among all mankind;and have not twisted their scriptures to mean intolerance of other religions and/or a directive to supplant them all with Islam.
    Throughout history, every major religious group has become at one time or another a willful, killing persecutor of other religious groups ostensibly over wanting their own group to prevail, but in reality wanting to take over their enemies’ wealth. So far as I am aware, that hasn’t happened in North America since the European invasion concluded in the 1840’s, with perhaps the exception of the destruction of the David Coresh Branch Davidian sect in the latter part of the last century that proves the rule because of the degree of outrage it subsequently was recognized as representing against the precepts of religious freedom.
    We need to cherish and carefully protect the rights determined for us by visionaries whose chief concern was peaceful co-existence and the recognition of every person as someone with the same rights as everyone else if it is to persist. There are no exceptions to a rule seen as so important that it has become a basic law of our society.
    That just can’t be done when an entire group is unjustly painted with the same brush as a group of dedicated terrorists by people who don’t realize their generalizations are unjust and hurtful to a majority of those who share the painted tainted reputation.
    Jews need to be in the front lines of those resisting Islamic defamation because we know better than most where nonsense like that can lead. If you believe that North Americans can live in an equitable society while simultaneously tolerating bigotry as harmless and insignificant, consider the slime who cut a cabbie’s throat because of his religion, and remember that in any ten-block radius there are 50 people who think the same way about any given subject.
    Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, in charge of the establishment of the Cordoba house recreation center and mosque may not have openly declared his opposition to some rather blatant anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiment expressed elsewhere in the world, or protested the deadly action of fanatical terrorists against Jews, and that’s a personal character flaw he might address to calm the turbulence around the establishment of the Center in light of the amount of mud-slinging ammunition that has been stockpiled against him. As much as any American, he knows what he stands to lose by supporting the fanatical side of an argument in a society that thrives on the very equality and tolerance his religion promotes.

  52. avatar

    Ground Zero Mosque imam Rauf, and his wife , Daisy Khan, are well known “stealth jihadis”, preaching ecumenism to non Muslim audiences while advocating for sharia law to replace the US constitution when talking to Muslim audiences. The “in-their-own-words” research on this subject is enough to “sink a ship”.
    One place to look: Andrew McCarthy’s extensive writings on the subject available at National Review On Line. another: Zhudi Jasser’s writings on the web site American Islamic Forum For Democracy.
    Let’s not be “useful idiots”. Let’s see to it the the two-faced crowd, of which Rauf/Khan are a part, are exposed for what they are and delegitimized, so the truely ecumenical can be the ones building Islamic institutions in the United States.

  53. avatar

    It is not bigotry to take an apposing position that is different from the leader’s position. That is the problem. It is the leader who controls the agenda. It is not the people, just like I cannot change your agenda. I am opposed to the Islamic leaders agenda, not the people many of them who do not know better and even if they did cannot do anything about it just like I cannot change your agenda. So as the leader of the Reform Movement you should be speaking to the leaders of Islam, many of them hate the Jews as is indicated by what goes on in the Middle East and the United Nations. So instead of attacking Israel and calling all of us who disagree with you “idiots and bigots” would you please lecture the Islamic leaders around the world who are your peers. Try to get them to change there agenda of hatred and Jew phobia. That would be a worthwhile task and then I will support your agenda.

  54. avatar

    Thank you Rabbi Yoffie for posting such an eloquent article. Thank you also to all the voices of reason that have written replies. The tragedy of 9/11 tore at the core of our beautiful country and the world.
    The lives of so many innocents from all faiths, were taken by an act of unspeakable violence. Those responsible do not represent Islam, they do represent misguided and manipulated souls.
    Dialogue, as you suggest, is the only way to exchange ideas; that leads to greater understanding. Once we can understand each other, respect our differences then ‘fear’ is transformed into tolerance. Realizing that we are all interconnected; what hurts one hurts all.
    C. Wyler

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    While the posting of Mark State clearly supports the rights of law-abiding Muslims, it saddens me to see that so much misinformation has been presented regarding the Muslim leaders involved in this project through all forms of media, that even such an apparently open-minded person like Mark has come to believe some of the misleading statements and outright lies told about these very decent community members and leaders.
    The Imam, in fact, has fought quite bravely against radical Islamic behavior and he and Daisy Kahn have made many sacrifices to support moderate behavior in the Muslim community, all around the world.
    And I know, first hand, that they have reached out to Jews directly, because several of my family members have had direct contact with them. So I can say that any negative portrayal of them as being anything less than enthusiastically and vocally supportive of peace and inclusion is simply false.
    It is very telling that the local community board in Downtown Manhattan who would be most familiar with them and their behavior as neighbors, supported them without reservation, and the negative information about them is generated by people who have never met them or lived near them or had any direct contact with them at all. These myths are being pulled out of the air and spread without any factual foundation – and they really should stop.
    At the end of his post, Mark describes the Imam’s behavior in a manner that is contrary to the ACTUAL behavior of the Imam and then Mark attributes the behavior that the Imam never engaged in as “a personal character flaw he might address to calm the turbulence around the establishment of the Center in light of the amount of mud-slinging ammunition that has been stockpiled against him.”
    How ironic! It is the very mud-slinging that Mark refers to that has led Mark to believe these vicious rumors about the Imam and his wife. And when decent people like Mark repeat these unfounded claims, these false and harmful notions get reinforced.
    Most frustrating is the fact that, in essence, the victim is being blamed for being victimized. The Imam has been a good neighbor. Others have engaged in mud-slinging to defame him – something that is completely out of the Imam’s control. And now he is being judged and told what to do and how he should change his behavior to combat the completely underserved, unwarranted, and appalling attacks against him and his family.
    What an injustice!
    He hasn’t done anything wrong. So what is he supposed to do to “correct” the FACT that he has actively supported moderation among Muslims and fought against violence and intolerance? HE cannot control the fact that people do not write about his positive activities and instead print lies or highlight any mistake he might make. I’m sure he is not perfect, but all of us make mistakes and few of us would come out seeming perfect if we were living in a fishbowl and constantly scrutinized.
    However, there is overwhelming evidence that the Imam is a decent man who has done much good and does not deserve to be judged so harshly or with the kind of double standard that is being applied to him.
    We should expect more of ourselves before we make demands of him. We should be speaking out defending the unconscionable attacks against a religious leader trying to build a public service facility in his own community who is coming under attack by people who don’t even live there and in no way represent the best interests of those who would benefit from this service on a daily basis.
    And any rationale against the development of the Muslim Center that is based on some survey with claims regarding the number or percentage of people opposed to its development is irrelevant in this particular case. History is filled with situations in which the majority of a given population chose to engage in bigoted, sometimes cruel and horrifying, behavior, but the fact that lots of people believe something or engage in some activity does not present an ethical foundation for supporting the conclusions reached by those people.
    If the “majority” of people interviewed wanted to burn down the existing churches around the WTC or any synagogues that seemed too close for their comfort, would we then support that path of action?
    Many people use all sorts of false claims to support their misguided notions, such as incorrectly quoting phrases regarding majority rule. However, in our Republic, the majority does NOT always rule. In America, minorities are protected. This is one of the supremely beautiful aspects of our country and the laws that guide and govern us.
    As I said earlier, in the walk from Ground Zero to the location of where the Muslim Center would be, one passes Christian houses of worship, an Off Track Betting center, a strip club, delis, restaurants, retail outlets, office buildings and many other commercial establishments.
    There is only one way to explain why people from all across the country would come to Downtown Manhattan to single out and fiercely attack one not-for-profit entity, established by law abiding, productive Americans with a solid history in their neighborhood who – regardless of the lies told about them – have in fact spoken and behaved in a completely cooperative and neighborly manner for many years. Relative to all the massive skyscrapers adjacent to Ground Zero, this is truly just a speck that would not have even received much notice in Manhattan EXCEPT for the fact that prejudice and bigotry are enabling otherwise good people to make all types of irrational rationalizations, justifying their unjustifiable attacks on the Imam and his family.
    We are the ones with the character flaw. We must view all attacks on the Imam with a critical eye and, knowing that he is the subject of attack from so many corners, we must not accept these negative statements about him and his family so easily. And even if he is imperfect, we can show compassion – remembering the adage about people in glass houses and proverb about pots calling kettles black – and recall the overwhelming evidence of his good deeds and contributions to the community and to the country.
    We are the ones who must correct our own behavior, must stand up against injustice, remember the golden rule, and support decent people trying to lead good,constructive lives.

  56. avatar

    Israel was not built by the likes of you. Building a mosque near ground zero is offensive.

    It is intended as an offense.

    I am glad people of your ilk are not protecting Israel from its enemies. If that were the case, there would be no Israel. Neville Chamberlain would be proud.

  57. avatar

    Reading this three years after it was written I am extremely disappointed that Rabbi Yoffee has not corrected his errors in this editorial. I am disappointed in his ignorance about Islam and how Islam, specifically the Koran, views Judaism and Jews and other non-Muslims. This is unconscionable and irresponsible. I’m disappointed also in the way he appears to make a rational argument but ignores the facts of the situation. First, the proposed site of the mosque was not two blocks away from Ground Zero, it was a building damaged by the landing gear of one of the planes flown into the WTC. It is part of Ground Zero. Daisy Khan actually thought it was divine providence that led them to acquire that property because of its symbolic value. Second, despite his good intentions, the Rabbi is woefully ignorant (still) and arrogant in ignoring the pattern of building mosques on sites of jihad attacks and what that mosque would have represented to millions of Muslims around the world who take seriously their proscribed duty to spread Islam throughout the world. It most definitely would not have been seen as an act of reconciliation. In fact “The original Malaysian title for Imam Rauf’s book was ‘A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Da’wah From the Heart of America Post-9/11′. ”

  58. avatar

    The Koran tells us that Jews must walk beside a Muslim on a camel so as not to appear above him. So much for you naive view of life.

  59. avatar

    As a United Methodist pastor, I find this writing to be well thought out and reasoned. The strength of our country stands on religious freedom, even though we need to respect the sensativities of others. I happen to agree with Rabbi Yoffie and hope that we can have more reasonable dialogue between all of the children of Abraham. Shalom.

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