My understanding of Torah commands me to distance myself from fanaticism of any stripe.
Like all decent human beings, I react with horror when fanatics stab six innocents, one of whom has died, at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem or firebomb a home and kill an innocent child in the Palestinian village of Duma.
Therefore we must – not only can but we must – reinterpret passages wherein God instructs our ancestors, “Your eye shall have no pity upon them! (Deuteronomy 7:16 ff)”
Such passages are an embarrassment. They give ammunition to anti-Semites who claim that the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of vengeance and violence.
Why, then, do these passages appear in our Bible?
They teach us to have zero tolerance for the social and religious practices of the ancient pagan world that included orgiastic rites and the horror of human sacrifice.
It was not an easy sell!
This week’s Torah portion, Eikev, reminds us that when was Moses gone a bit too long on Mount Sinai, the Israelites demanded Aaron make them a Golden Calf to worship (Deuteronomy 9:9ff).
These passages are the Bible’s way to teach that God makes a Covenant with us. God demands that we administer justice fairly, have special regard for the poor, the orphan and the widow, and treat the stranger with dignity and respect.
Only by doing these things do we glorify God.
Only by doing these things do we become “the light of nations (Isaiah 49:6),” the example God wants us to be for all the world.
No, God does not want us to wipe out anyone. But God emphatically demands that we distance ourselves from the way of life the Bible attributes to them.