Television on your wedding night?
President Obama, after saying that building a mosque at Ground Zero fit our "commitment to religious freedom," backtracked, saying he wasn't commenting on the 'wisdom' of building it so close to 'hallowed ground.'
A Fox News poll showed that while 61 percent of Americans believe that Cordoba House has a constitutional right to build near Ground Zero, 64 percent believe it is not appropriate to do so.
Does Obama's hedging show a lack of ethical convictions? Does Hamas' endorsement change the debate? What is behind public opposition to the site? Can you believe in religious freedom but not believe the mosque is appropriate?
As the rabbi of a campus organization, I am often asked by students about the flexibility of Jewish law. Is it ever, for example, permissible to watch television on the Sabbath? To that question, the answer is simple. It is never permissible to turn on a television set from sundown Friday until nightfall Saturday during the holy Sabbath when Jews replicate G-d's day of rest after six days of creation. This law emanates from the prohibition of operating electrical devices on the Sabbath, as interpreted by modern rabbinical Scholars for a complex number of reasons.
Now, it would be technically legal for a Jew to turn a TV set on before Sabbath and leave it on during the day of rest, though to do so, especially with the intention of catching the ball game, would certainly be to disregard the spirit of the day of rest and spiritual reflection. And finally, there are things in life that are permissible but not advisable. For example, there is no law in Judaism or any other religion against watching television on your wedding night, but would you?
Muslims, like any other group, have the constitutional right to build a house of worship wherever zoning makes it legal to do so. That right is sacrosanct in a liberal society, especially one based on the founding principle of religious freedom that guides our great country.
However, Cordoba House, the planned multi-purpose house of worship just blocks away from Ground Zero in Manhattan, raises a different set of questions; not of constitutional rights or enshrined liberties but of empathy, decency and genuine recognition of an American tragedy and the feelings of non-Muslims. However couched in outreach and interfaith niceties, building an Islamic prayer center near Ground Zero is an act of Islamic triumphalism no less than the adding of minarets to the The Hagia Sophia (the former Cathedral of Constantinople), or erecting the Dome of the Rock intentionally over the ruins of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
If moderate Muslims reject the teachings that inspired 9/11 and honestly believe that True Islam was hijacked along with the doomed airplanes, then let them devote the vast amounts of money and energy required for Cordoba's construction to that cause. They can start by spending the earmarked 100 million dollars on counter-terror education and setting up a fund for the tens of thousands of victims of Jihadi terror around the world. Another start towards this truly mindful and sympathetic effort would be to widely publish moderate interpretations of the very verses quoted regularly in the thousands of Jihadi attacks that have occurred since 9/11 in New York, 7/7 in London and the bombing of Spanish trains, to mention only a few of the larger mass murders.
The very name Cordoba comes from the capitol of the Andalusian Caliphate where, despite romantic notions to the contrary, Jews and Christians lived as legally defined second class citizens, "dhimmi."
No one would accept, for example, the premise that Muslims should live as "dhimmi" in the West or in Israel where followers of Islam are rightly given full and equal rights of law. So why is the name of a place where non-Muslims were not able to repair their own houses of worship, to name just one imposed restriction of dhimmitude, being paraded as an emblem of tolerance?
President Obama recently declared the effort Constitutional while reserving comment on its wisdom. I would tell anyone getting married that their wedding night should be reserved for more important things than watching Seinfeld.
August 20, 2010; 8:53 AM ET
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