Culture

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Avraham explained his lying about his wife to Avimelech because “רק אין יראת אלקים במקום ×”×–×” והרגוני על דבר אשתי – There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.”

In 1936, after the Nazis had already risen to power, R. Elchanan Wasserman spoke at the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary, and asked why Avraham used the word “רק only”. That implies that the people of that place (Gerar) had other things but just not the fear of God. R. Wasserman explained that the people of Gerar were very cultured. They had literature, music and all the fine aspects of culture. But because they did not have the fear of God, they were liable to kill in cold blood a visitor.

The implication is two-fold and clear. In a timely message, R. Wasserman was criticizing the Nazi regime and suggesting that they were likely to kill people. (Incidentally, it is not surprising for an Eastern European rabbi living at the height of Stalin’s reign to suspect Gentiles of wanting to kill Jews. He was clearly correct.)

The second implication is that culture, when accompanied with fear of God, is not dangerous. It is the lack of the fear of God that is the problem, not the culture in itself. Surprising, coming from R. Wasserman? Yes. But there it is. Perhaps he tailored his message for the German-Jewish audience he was addressing.

(On this visit, see the Peninim Mi-Shulchan Gavoha, Gen. 20:11; Artscroll Reb Elchonon, p. 234; Marc Shapiro, Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy, pp. 150-151. Shapiro points out that R. Wasserman refused to visit Yeshiva University but agreed to lecture at the Hildesheimer Seminary.)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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