WHAT TOOLS DO WE USE? By Rabbi Baruch Cohon

Parsha Ki Tavo

          One of the definite duties Moses gives his people, to be done when they finally will cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land, is to build an altar.  This altar must be built of stone, and sacrifices will be offered on it.  Moses details how it should be built.  He does not say what tools to use in the construction, but he specifies what not to use.  “You shall build an altar to the Lord your G-d, an altar of stones; do not raise iron on them.” (Deut. 27:5)  Use unhewn stones, called sh’leymot – “complete” – not touched by a violent axe.  The Talmud explains that the altar promotes peace between Israel and G-d, and the word for peace is shalom from the same root as sh’leymot, so the unhewn stone symbolizes that peace.  But iron is what weapons of violence are made of.   Don’t mix them.

          Contrasted with some other leaders’ methods to achieve salvation, like Mohammed’s “sword of the prophet” or Torquemada’s “auto-da-fe”, this caution by Moses is remarkable.  Carried through the generations and translated into principles, we see it reflected in religious relations.  Judaism never practiced forcible conversion.  No stories of “convert or die.”  In fact, for most of Jewish history, no missionary activity at all.  From time to time, we hear suggestions that maybe we should actively seek new Jews, but we don’t.  Many seekers come to adopt Judaism and they are welcome, but there is no campaign to attract them and certainly no pressure on them to change their faith. Those who become Jewish do so voluntarily and only voluntarily. 

No axe on our altar.


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One Response to WHAT TOOLS DO WE USE? By Rabbi Baruch Cohon

  1. Charlotte Berkowitz says:

    WONDERFUL rabbinic insight.

    Thank you and shanah tovah,


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