Deuteronomy 11:26 to 16:17
Moses worries that the people will stray from the Eternal and worship other gods. Today, the problem of intermarriage and a fear of a declining Jewish population still exists. While Moses suggests death to the unfaithful, we must look for more civil solutions.
The following words begin Moses’ Third Discourse to the people before they enter the Promised Land. “See, this day I set before you blessing or curse: blessing if you obey the commandments of the Eternal your God that I enjoin this day: and curses, if you do not obey the commandments of the Eternal your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced.” (Deut. 11:26-28) Moses proceeds to present the laws the people are to follow. The statement of the law continues through the next two parshot… to chapter 26.
The laws are generally grouped into two categories … Ritual and Ethical. The Israelites are told ….. “These are the laws and rules that you must carefully observe in the land that the Eternal, God of your ancestors, is giving you to possess, as long as you live on earth.” (Deut. 12:1) “Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you: neither add to it nor take away from it.” (Deut. 13:1)
However, Moses is worried that when the people enter the new land they will be tempted by other gods. He is worried that they may intermarry, leave the path of the Eternal, and begin to worship the gods of their spouses. Moses gives the people instructions telling them what to do when they come in contact with other gods. “You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods…. Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site. Do not worship the Eternal your God in like manner, but look only to the site that the Eternal your God will choose….” (Duet. 12:2-4)
Moses also tells the Israelites what to do if a prophet or dream-diviner suggests they follow another god… even if the signs or forecasts of this person come to pass. They should not follow his words. The people are told only to follow the laws of the Eternal. “As for the prophet or dream-diviner, such a one shall be put to death for having urged disloyalty to the Eternal your God…” (Deut. 13:6)
But Moses goes further in this matter: “If your brother, your own mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your closest friend, entices you in secret, saying, ‘Come let us worship other gods; – whom neither your not your ancestors have experienced – from the gods of the peoples around you… do not assent or give heed to any of them. Show no pity or compassion and do not cover up the matter: but take that person’s life… Stone that person to death for having sought to make you stray from the Eternal your God…” (Deut. 13:7-11)
Then Moses instructs the people on what to do if they hear of a town that has been subverted to worship another god. (applies towns that are in the land that the Eternal has given the Israelites) “You shall investigate and inquire and interrogate thoroughly. If it is true, the fact is established – that abhorrent thing was perpetrated in your midst – put the inhabitants of that town to the sword and put its cattle to the sword. Doom it and all that is in it to destruction: gather all its spoil into the open square, and burn the town and all its spoil … it shall remain an everlasting ruin, never to be rebuilt.” (Deut. 13:13-17)
No one today would suggest such a violent remedy for those who stray from following the Eternal. Maybe Moses feared that the Israelites would, upon entering the land, see success and attribute to the local people and their beliefs. He felt drastic actions were needed to assure the survival of a people who followed the Eternal.
However, an examination of contemporary Reform Judaism finds that many still worry about the future of our faith. No one is suggesting that we should follow the instructions of Moses. But, there is much discussion as to what should be done.
Today, many Jews are non-affiliated with organized congregations. Many Reform Jews see the idea of “informed choice” regarding Jewish practices meaning an approval to do nothing. Neither of these groups are transferring Jewish culture to their children. Many of the 2nd generation are intermarrying and raising their children with little or no Jewish education. The question then arises … why this 2nd generation or the 3rd generation should remain within the Jewish community. Without a Jewish education, a choice to worship another god … one that is worshiped by a majority of his community … can become a more common decision.
Solutions to this problem are proposed in a recent paper, Reforming Reform Judaism; An Insider’s Loving Critique and a New Vision for the 21st Century (Working Paper) by Rabbi Leon A. Morris, (Vice President for Israel programs at Shalom Hartman Institute- North America. He lives in Jerusalem)
Rabbi Morris, suggests that Reform Judaism look to past traditions, scholars, and traditions. While a basic principle of the Reform movement is “informed choice,” past teachings are still important and must be conveyed to people. These ideas still carry much that applies to today’s world… They can present solutions to many of today’s personal, local, and international problems. Rabbi Morris suggests that the movement select specific themes, teachings, and laws. In effect, form a new Reform Halakhah*. Then preach these ideas … Halakhah … to the community as central to the Reform Jewish movement … something that can define the objectives of Reform Judaism. The teaching of these ideas can be done from the pulpit, our schools, and – most importantly – reaching out to the community using the new communication channels of the 21st century.
Then, by doing Jewish acts, studying Jewish texts, living the Jewish calendar, and looking for ways to deepen and extend the Jewish experience to both individuals and communities … we can create a stronger, more durable, Jewish population that will help create a new, deeply involved Jewish community that will not be tempted to leave the ways of the Eternal for other gods.
* Definition of Halakhah: The rules, ordinances, customs, and traditions that the Jewish people choose to live by.