The Bible Says What? Moses said: ‘And you shall tear down their altars’

The Bible Says What? Moses said: ‘And you shall tear down their altars’

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner reflects on a controversial subject in the Torah

Our community prides itself on forming positive relationships with other faith communities in our society.

Jewish groups have long been at the forefront of interfaith understanding projects.

This makes it even more surprising to read the passage in Deuteronomy 12 in the Torah.

Moses is giving his final address to the people and makes clear that, when they enter the land, they should destroy all the places where other nations serve their gods; break down their altars and erase their name from the place.

It is startling to us to see such a commandment as we work today to build bridges with other faiths.

What we have to remember is the importance of context.

At the time of this commandment, Moses was not speaking about other faith communities in a peaceful society, but as enemies in a war.

The words are harsh, but reflect the need for positive relationships between faith groups to be built on mutual respect and understanding.

This is less a commandment and more a prophecy. If people see each other as at war, destruction will happen.

If different people meet each other looking for friendship, they then have a chance to find it.

The Jewish people were coming in for a fight. Today, if we can approach other communities not with hate but with love, we can build something together rather than destroy.

There are countless collaborations which prove the vital place interfaith work holds in our community.

They are a testament to how religious communities in the vast majority see each other as brothers and sisters, not enemies.

While that is the case, the destruction that the Torah speaks of will never happen.

Laura Janner-Klausner is senior rabbi to Reform Judaism

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