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The Ten Commandments in Alabama
Last uploaded : Wednesday 27th Aug 2003 at 22:41
Contributed by : The Editor


This CNN news piece accompanies the following editorial:


Those who attend synagogue on a regular basis or who have spent time in Israel -- be one secular, religious or of no faith -- will not feel any sort of disquiet at the sight of the Ten Commandments. Can anything be more stirring than that moment when everyone in shul rises to hear the Mosaic Code being recited at the special time of year in which that spot in the Torah is reached?

When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated one saw replicas of the Ten Commandments all over Israel, the most striking being the one placed at the spot where he was shot in Tel Aviv.

This is why I find it curious to watch the national controversy unfolding in Alabama, where Chief Justice Roy Moore has been suspended for placing a stone replica of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Justice building in Montgomery. Looking at it from an objective viewpoint, the set-up is aesthetically pleasing: the tablets are placed on a beautiful stone pedestal in front of a magnificent waterfall. The cascading fountain brings life to the Mosaic pronouncements.

Today, a hydraulic pump has been brought in to assist a crane in removing the tablets. Due to unprecedented condemnation of Justice Moore from his fellow Justices -- he is accused of violating the separation of church and state that is the foundation of American Constitutional democracy -- the tablets have been ordered removed from the rotunda.

Crowds of protestors have gathered all week, led by Christian Evangelical groups. What is amusing is the constant reporting of ?the intrusion of a Christian religious monument? when in fact it was the Jews who gave the world Moses. Conversely, what is wrong with accepting that the Mosaic Code is embraced by Christianity and other faiths? If we are to believe that God dictated these words to Moses on Mount Sinai -- or to Charlton Heston in the movie -- then the loud media circus about the ?offending tablets? is a bit painful to Jewish ears.

In the wake of the Jerusalem atrocity the concept of ?Thou Shalt Not Kill? is so apt. A group of religious Jews, all civilians, were making their way from the Western Wall back to their shul and were decimated by an Imam whose religion says it is fine to kill babies and pregnant women in the name of HIS God.

Infininitely less attention has been paid in the American media to the news of al Muhajiroun?s new website than has been given to the Ten Commandments controversy. Al Muhajiroun, who operate without impunity in Great Britain, have generated a new section on their website dedicated to the ?Magnificent Nineteen,? commemorating the 9/11 hijackers. They are not being asked by anyone to remove their site, but the Alabama Chief Justice is a villain. (I am pleased, however, that NBC News has made al Muhajiroun a top story.)

I do not see the Ten Commandments as a ?religious? text that violates the Constitution. It rises above any category and is the moral code for all civilised societies. When little Jamie Bulger was brutally tortured to death by a pair of young boys in England, the British Orthodox Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks was invited to speak on the prime time news. He said that if every person lived by the Mosaic Code society would be an eminently better place than it is.

American Jewish groups from all spectra have supported the move to have the tablets removed from the Justice building?s rotunda. The dedication to the concept of separation of church and state is a deeply-felt one in the United States. Perhaps I have spent too much time in Britain, where I have come to accept the Sovereign as the head of the Church of England; I am moved to tears when ?Jerusalem? is sung at the Last Night of the Proms. Such an anthem would not be acceptable in a similar American setting -- say, for example, the last night of the Tanglewood Festival.

What I do find disturbing is that children across America will have been led to believe in this past week of Ten Commandments hysteria that the great words are some sort of ?bad thing promoted by baddies.? The story has been reported in a crass manner and no network has looked at the historical context of the Code.

It is tragic that one of the greatest moments in human history has been reduced to a sensationalist story on ?LIVE TV.? In most Hollywood blockbusters thirty to a hundred people are annihilated in the spectacular opening sequences of films seen by young teenagers. (Thou shalt not kill?) In the opening sequence of ?Monster?s Ball? a sexual act is performed that a few years ago would never have been allowed in a mainstream film. (Thou shalt not..??)

I do not wish to choose sides in the Alabama Ten Commandments issue: as a Jew I am proud of the efforts my people have made to adhere to the Mosaic Code for 5,763 years and my reason for writing this article is to express my bemusement at the endless tapestry of contradictions that is the land of the Founding Fathers.

What would Ben Franklin have thought ?

Suggestions are invited.


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