Interviewer: Yes I happen to have three called super gems called Rafaela [PHONIC], Jordanne [PHONIC] and Solomon and ranging from late twenties to 19 years old. Solomon is a freshman at NYU Stern School of Business, starting with segment 2 of our one-on-one. I want to ask Dr. Rubenstein if you encountered a forty year old son of a Holocaust survivor, 40 or 50 year old son and he said to you Dr. Rubenstein my father suffered so much and I’d like to have faith what can you tell me.
Dr. Rubenstein: There are a number of things you could tell him and that is you can look at faith from a point of view of whether you think it’s true or false, which is to turn it into a serious of propositions which you can judge or you can look at it from the point of view [inaudible 0:1:25.1] this is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob and your father was killed because he was part of that inheritance and you, the most constructive way in terms of your father, that you can go on, is to be sure that that remains your inheritance as well and that the question, the intellectual proposition is the least important aspect I think. It’s a question of community, solidarity, continuity of learning. When I see or when I think of my relationship to my community here, it’s my primary community. When I was in Tallahassee, Florida where I was for 25 years, I used to say of the congregation there that in Tallahassee every southern professor of religion must be a member of the church of his choice and since there was only one congregation in Tallahassee, it was the church of my choice, but I don’t feel that way about the congregation here. It is much more authentic. Authenticity means a great deal to me. That’s one of the things that I would say to the son of a Holocaust survivor. I would also tell him that if any one individual or group threatens to destroy, exterminate or harm Jews, belief that person. Don’t say that oh well they don’t mean it or well maybe we can make them more moderate if they get to know me better. They’re telling the truth and if I find one fault with too many members of the Jewish community and also too many Rabbis is that they refuse to believe what they are being promised. What they’re being promised is utter destruction. Now I’m a member of the Rabbinical Assembly of America, the conservative Rabbis group, although I haven’t practiced. 1970 is when I had my last relationship as a leader of a congregation, it’s 43 years. I’m still a member but I’m appalled by the way in which Rabbis make excuses and try to say that they don’t mean what they mean. I’ll tell you something else as President of my university, I was willing to hire Muslim professors who I believe were qualified for their work and would not create a problem. At the same time, I will not ever take part in a Muslim Jewish Christian dialogue. The reason is very simple, a fundamental tenant of Islam is that not only did the Jews and Christians get their interpretation of scripture wrong, they falsified their scripture because the real authentic scripture is the Koran which we know wasn’t written until at least 700 years after most of the Bible was completed and I’m not going to deal with people whose fundamental idea is that Jews and Christians falsify their scripture.
Interviewer: So let me tie the two pieces of this recent part of this conversation together. I want to focus on the theme that keeps coming up, the word authenticity, where you said that you articulate to the son of the Holocaust survivor, the authenticity of your faith, your authenticity of Judaism and that this 40 year said to you, Dr. Rubenstein could you please expound or expand on that theme on the authenticity of Judaism.
Dr. Rubenstein: I was shaped and formed by my parents, my grandparents, going back thousands of years and I am the result of their experiences and their wisdom. Now in the case of my father and my mother, they were not religious Jews at all. My mother who was a university graduate in 1920 fed us ham and bacon at home because she wanted to make sure we didn’t have Jewish neurosis of the kind of factice pseudo-freudism. I, there is a whole accumulation of wisdom and inheritance that I simply will not turn my back on. It’s fundamental responsibility especially since efforts have been made to destroy it, in the Holocaust and I am convinced that if the Muslims ever succeeded in destroying Israel [inaudible 0:08:43.3] under their breathes, must of the European leaders would say problem solved.
Interviewer: And does cyanide grind the authenticity of Judaism and to what extent does it ?
grind the authenticity of Judaism? How do you view cyanide?
Dr. Rubenstein: Well cyanide as a metaphor because obviously is crucial, but you have to understand that for me I view the Bible ,historically and critically, so do I see cyanide, let me give you an example. You know I’m critical of the whole idea of the covenant between God and Israel, they on the one hand, this is what really got me into the whole question of God and the Holocaust, because as you probably know I was in Berlin in 1961 at the time that the wall just went up and I was talking to this German clergyman who was not a Nazi, but he had his own protestant version of what happened in ancient times. He said, you know, he started out by saying,
Interviewer: [inaudible 0:10:19.7] acquiesced to the right, he wrote that the clergyman, out of respect responsible for the good or responsible for the bad,
Dr. Rubenstein: No he basically, he said that because his church was in East Berlin, he couldn’t get to it because he was in West Berlin, he said God is punishing us for what we did. But he started to go on and he said you know God punished the Jews at Auschwitz for their sins, to which I answered, I’d rather be an Atheist and believe in such a God and then he said to me, how can you say that and still be a Rabbi? I said I need one thing more than God to be a Rabbi. He said, what’s that, a few odd Jews and by your logic I would have none. Okay, but so that’s the issue of the covenant. Covenant you have it, I award your God and a zealous God, alright. Ten commandments are a covenant doctrine, I don’t want to go into the whole issue, the history of covenant, but it was basically a sovereignty treaty. Sovereignty treaty in which the superior sussren knowing that the King that’s under him since stars were ancestral Gods in those days did not have the same Gods. He got them to swear on their Gods if I am not loyal to you, I will let my God punish me and the essence of the thing. Basically what the ten commandments allowed, my cyanide allowed was people of different backgrounds to be united under one God. For example, the Bible speaks of the error of Rob, there was a mixed multitude. If you stop to think of who was present in the slave camps of Egypt, whoever they could collect and then Moses takes them out. They don’t all have the same God because they don’t have the same ancestors. So how is Moses going to find a way to put them into one cohesive group because if they’re not one cohesive group they’ll go into cyanide and they’ll be slaughtered. I am the law of thy God was taken me out of the land of Egypt, thou shalt have no other Gods before me. That says the whole thing. I have manifested myself in His stream. You may come from different backgrounds, different Gods, but the one experience you’ve had in common is [Inaudible 0:13:25.9] leaving is Egypt and then there is the absolute condition, you will have no other Gods before me and it’s at that point that Israelite monotheism and that makes a great deal of sense to me.
Interviewer: So would it be fair to say that there’s a heavy element of civilization of national group in the mix?
Dr. Rubenstein: Oh sure, sure, yeah. Memories.
Interviewer: With your permission,
Dr. Rubenstein: Sure.
Interviewer: I would view cyanide as that, I don’t think you can disagree with me, as an attempt to reach for the metaphysical heights in its own way through the prism of somehow cumulative consciousness and the best stab at that point at reach in to mitzvah, to carry mitzvah through the same ten commandments and I suspected has been the noblest and greatest endeavor to that effect all time, from my perspective.
Dr. Rubenstein: Here is, I tend to look at the text of the Bible historically and sociologically and for me when I read the verses of cyanide, I am the law of thy God who has taken me out of the land of Egypt. Thy shall have no other Gods before me. What’s the social context, why did this work, why was it revolutionary? Incidentally it worked for Christians, it worked for Muslims because in each case you’re able to unite disparate peoples with disparate Gods under a single God.
Interviewer: Fair enough.
Dr. Rubenstein: See and so you might say that one way of looking at this is from the old way the point of view of this representative of the highest possible expression of reality on the other hand when I tend to see this thing in terms of the fact that it enabled the unification of people who otherwise would not have been unified at a time when they needed unification.
Interviewer: Fair enough. As a part in question for this one on one, I pivot my metaphysics on the concept of potential that each one of us is a potential, that we’re a continuum of a God of potential, can you share the sum thoughts about some feelings about how that resonates with you?
Dr. Rubenstein: Obviously when I read your comments about I shall be what I shall be, most theologians and Biblical historians don’t know what to do with those verses and I think that what you did was too share that they’re fairly central and I think I said Amen to what you had to say so that it worked.
Interviewer: Fair enough.
Dr. Rubenstein: That’s all I can say right now, but it definitely did work.
Interviewer: I just want to say it’s been a fascinating, energizing one on one with you. You’re a very formidable individual in person and a [inaudible 0:17:43.2] and I look forward to the possibility of continuing our academic and personal relationship.