This past Friday, I was invited to the United Nations to speak at the Youth for Human Rights conference that was being held there.
I can honestly not think of anything more important— perhaps air, water, food, shelter and clothing? But maybe not.
I was very fascinated by the fact that, when I perused The United National Universal Declaration on Human Rights, that, unlike Judaism’s “declaration on human rights”, the Torah, it does not even reference the word “God”.
I’m not, as you may know, from reading these little blog-entries, not a big endorser of any particular terminology or lack of terminology. To me, whether you BELIEVE in God or not, is relatively unimportant. What IS important is that you ACT as though you believe in God. Righeousness.
That, for me, is the issue of human rights: RIGHTeousness.
You see, the United Nations did not declare human rights on the Order of God, but on the Order of some “Universal Declaration”. Universal? Who is this universal? It is certainly not every person and every nation in the world. Who is it? It is actually universal by a convention, or, rather, by an institution comprised of well-minded people.
Now, contrast this to the first three chapters of Genesis. Here, there is an individual– made in the image and likeness of God– that is created directly by some Being, that, by definition, is greater than any government, religion, or collectivity-of-human-beings. It is Beyond Universal, because it is Beyond the Universe.
Indeed, in the Hebrew formulation, even if we were on Alpha Centauri, having to contend with “natives” there, there would be no issue about it: we human beings, from the “third rock from the sun”, would have rights! We couldn’t be eaten!
Do you see the distinction?
It is critical.
It is fascinating, especially in the days of the Vienna Treaty, and the controversy over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, that Israel is not one of the nations that ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. There are three others, including North Korea, Pakistan and India.
It is also fascinating that Israel does not recognize the power of the Hague, the World Court.
Why? Again, cultism!
You see, to a Hebrew-cultured person, the “universal” is not the “divine”. It is simply a vote. If they vote incorrectly, they form a huge immorality, out of smaller immoralities. If they vote correctly, they will form a huge morality, out of smaller moralities.
“Universal” is morally neutral. It is a consensus. It is not anything nearing an absolute. It amplifies the good or amplifies the evil.
Whether on the scale of a Pharaoh of Egypt, a Roman Caesar, a Hitler, or a contemporary world global democratic-capitalism, “universal” is simply not our standard of “what’s right”. Indeed, our experience as Jews is that it is oftentimes the most universal of empires that turns out to be the most wrong, if not evil, and dissolves from history— leaving behind a tiny Israel, a David among Goliaths.
So how is Israel to trust the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the World Court, let alone the United Nations? It is not just that the world has so often turned against us. It is that world opinion does not define righteousness!
Let me say that again: World opinion does not define righteousness!!
Now, this would hardly stop me from participating at the United Nations, after all, as I said, a good cause, spread, makes a good cause even better, and bigger, and lending myself to this cause is, I believe, God’s Will.
Besides, cheap universalism is not so terrible. It brought the Modern State of Israel into existence. God bless the U.N. for what it does right!
But, then again—- I do remain a primitive theist, who adheres to the essential Truth of Torah—- that each individual is a creation of God, and therefore has rights “endowed by the Creator”, as the US. Declaration of Independence, which borrows the Jewish theological-construction, states.
I hold to a power greater than any so-called “universal”.
I dare you: Find me a better way to declare RIGHTS than using the word “God”. If you do, you will have to invent something that sounds even more ridiculous. But no matter, what is important is that rights arises from “SOMETHING BEYOND ANYTHING DEFINEABLE BY HUMANS”.
Now, this is the issue as we approach the Holy Days.
Before Whom do we repent. Before the World Court. The Court of Publlic Opinion.
Do we repent before the so-called “universal opinion” of Jews, pious, or not, secular or religious?
No. We repent before our Maker. We repent before the Supreme Something which, even if It/He/She doesn’t exist, we must assume It exists—- simply because, IN HUMILITY, we know that Supreme Something is not us, or anything fully-known to us.
Don’t believe in God? Great! But, be humble enough to admit it isn’t you. Or someone else. Or any institution. Or any government.
The issue is humility. The beginning of righteousness— and RIGHTS!
So, I’d like to say, what a lot of people in the world consider Israel’s arrogance is actual Israel’s humility, though most people cannot see it.
Why? Because they are following the common, “universal” viewpoint, that the greatest plurality of an opinion is universal. This is more Roman stuff. Spread the civilization, and define the truth in OUR image, not in the Image of God.
Anyway, it was a lovely conference. Children and young-adults from all over the world were participating, and it was truly– truly heartening– that these bright-eyed kids would be spreading The United Nations Declaration on Universal Human Rights.
It doesn’t mention God, but it is quite Godly.
As we approach Rosh Hashonah, please remember that.
It doesn’t make a difference if you believe in God. It does make a difference that you believe in what’s godly.
What’s that? Anything that doesn’t take a human idea and deifies it!
Non-idolatry is godly! What is “God”? I don’t know. I’ve never met “him”.
“Non-idolatry” is the ancient Jewish insight which, in an age of un-circumscribed if not un-circumcised, “universalism” (which is truly affecting all, including those in the “modern” state of Israel), is more needed than ever.
Can we hear its call? It is, no less, the call of the Shofar.
Blessings to you all.