Iftar and Christmas Dinner

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

If one searches the word Iftar on the net, you will find that Chicago enjoys a special distinction. The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, of which I was formerly a Board member, sponsored Iftar in three Chicago Synagogues this year. What is Iftar?

The month of Ramadan is the most important month of the year for Muslims. They believe that G‑d increases the rewards for acts of worship and good deeds in Ramadan.

Muhammad is reputed to have said: “This month of yours (Ramadan) is unlike the other months. Surely, when it approaches you (begins), it does so with blessings and mercy and when it turns away from you (ends), it does so with forgiveness of sins. This is a month in which good deeds are multiplied and acts of goodness are accepted.”

Traditionally Muslims fast during the daylight hours of Ramadan as an act of purging sin and devotion to Islam. The reason for this is stated in the Koran.

“(It is) the month of Ramadan in which the Koran was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear proofs giving guidance, and the Criterion (for distinguishing right and wrong). So whoever of you witnesses this month, let him fast it.” Koran 2:185 “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint” Koran 2:183
This is not terribly dissimilar from our view of Ellul and the fast of Yom Kippur.

Each evening, after sunset, a special meal is eaten to break the fast. It is known in Arabic as Iftar. At the end of Ramadan the Iftar meal is a special occasion for rejoicing.

In its announcement of the Iftar event, which will be attended by Muslims and Jews, the flyer states it will be Kosher-Halal. If memory serves, I cannot recall any Synagogue or the JCUA a sponsoring Christmas dinner, a joyful occasion for Christians as they commemorate the birth of their Messiah.

During the last few years it has become evident that many Americans, our government included, seem to bend over backward to indulge Muslim America. In fact, as we saw in the Fort Hood massacre, our government was particularly careful to avoid any inference that the motivation of the murderer might find its roots in Islam although it is quite evident this is the case.

During the last decades, we Jews have witnessed an amazing change in Christendom. For centuries the accusation that the Jewish people, all Jewish people, past and present, were guilty of Deicide, was, in large measure, the key factor, in the suffering of European Jewry and served as a building block for the Holocaust. Beginning in the ‘60s with the Catholic Church, many Christian denominations have divested themselves of this horrible and false accusation with some Churches, even offering a formal apology to the Jewish People for the pain and anguish that was visited upon us because of the Christian affirmation of the crime of Deicide against us.

Today it would be almost impossible to find a Christian who would echo the statements of Martin Luther in his work On the Jews and their Lies.

The Jews are a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of G‑d, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” They are full of the “devil’s feces... which they wallow in like swine.” The synagogue is a “defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut....” Luther urges our synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis be forbidden to preach, Jewish homes be razed, and property and money confiscated. We should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection, and these “poisonous envenomed worms” should be “drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time.”

Considering Luther’s statements, you may recall that when the settlers in Gaza were forcibly removed from their homes by the Israeli Army, one of the first acts the local Muslim population undertook was to literally burn down the left behind Synagogues. Martin Luther would have been elated. In fact, Jews who were buried in Gaza were disinterred by the Jewish community and reburied in Israel, as there was a real concern that the Muslim population would desecrate their graves, as the Muslims may resonate with Luther’s words that the Jews are “poisonous envenomed worms.” Several years ago it was reported that the most popular series on Egyptian TV was the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The United States stopped subsidizing the publication of school books for the Palestinians as they were overflowing with anti-Semitic, not just anti-Israel, material.

Several months ago I had the occasion to welcome to my home an Imam who was part of a Muslim denomination touted as lovers of peace and respectful of all religious faiths. I asked the Imam to define the word Dhimmi. He explained that Dhimmis are “protected people” who live under the beneficence of Islam. I asked him, “Are Jews Dhimmis? “Yes,” he replied. Continuing, I asked, “Can Dhimmis hold sovereignty in Dar Al Islam, in the Middle East?” His reply was quick and to the point, “No.” “Then there cannot be a Jewish State in the Middle East according to Islam?” “That’s correct,” he replied. I mused, “Thank G‑d I live in the United States, as an equal citizen of society – a Dhimmi no more.” He was visibly annoyed and quickly found an excuse to leave.

This dialogue was a postscript to his explaining to me that his denomination has a large Mosque in a significant city in Israel and the Mayor of that city had visited the Mosque praising his denomination as people of peace who respect all faiths.

One wonders if those Muslims attending the Iftar dinner organized by this Jewish organization have, as a precursor to the kosher Iftar dinner in a Synagogue, disavowed the horrible stigma placed upon the Jew – Dhimmi – which, in history as the Deicide accusation in Europe, created untold pain and suffering for the Jews of the Levantine? No mention of this disavowal was included in the flyer. Yet, strikingly, Jews will be sponsoring this Muslim religious rite of the Iftar dinner in three synagogues in Chicago.

Unless I'm mistaken, no Jewish organization, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs included, in light of the tremendous advances in Christian-Jewish relationship, has yet to sponsor a Christmas dinner in a Synagogue.

I am concerned that some of my fellow Jews have turned a blind eye to the the Jewish relationship with Islam, both in terms of history and today. While in the past, the concern for our brothers and sisters in Israel was chiefly a result of Arab nationalism, clearly represented by Nasser of Egypt, today that concern is manifest by the ever-growing role Islamic fervor plays in the Middle East.

I am left wondering if this event, this celebration of Iftar in three synagogues in Chicago, is but another example of the trend in America to be overly indulgent of our fellow citizens of Muslim faith.