“For from where the sun rises to where it sets, My name is honored among the nations,
and everywhere incense and pure oblation are offered to My name… said the Lord of Hosts.”
— Malachi 1:11
Is it so? Is this verse a description or a prescription? The prophet, like the psalmist who declares, “From where the sun (first) shines to where it sets, the Lord’s name is praised” (Psalms 113:1), is describing the universal praise of Israel’s God, who is “exalted above all the nations.” (Psalms 113:2) That is a surprising notion, given the uniqueness of Israelite monotheism. It must be meant as a challenge, a goal to be met.
One school of thought among the early rabbinic sages taught that the Torah was intended for all humankind. Jews are the bearers of a universal message about how best to live a human life and how best to order a human society. The Jewish people’s resurgent presence in China (and East Asia at large) presents an opportunity for us to bring the best of our heritage to nations where we are barely known. Were Jews to become widely known for honesty and reliability in business, for acts of kindness toward those (of any community) in need, for devotion to family and community, then we will have risen to Malachi’s challenge.
– Peretz Rodman
Is Torah a universal message or a particular one that resonates deeply through time and space? As a Jewish sojourner in China, my main task is to learn, not to teach — to understand other ways of being and doing, rather than to present myself or my people as a light unto others. To live in China is to accept my irrelevance and the irrelevance of Jewishness in such a large and old society — one patterned so differently than the one in which I grew up. But it is also to see clearly Torah’s value as a guide to life. Wherever we reside or travel, we are, in some sense, strangers in a strange land; the stories of our ancestors’ struggles inspire us in our struggle to make sense of the strangeness around us and to feel the strangeness of what we once thought familiar.
— Arthur Kroeber
Rather than Malachi’s words setting a goal for us to bring our tradition to the far ends of the earth, perhaps Malachi is telling us that God is already recognized throughout the world. God has many names and can manifest God’s self in many ways. Thus, Malachi calls us to humble ourselves. Our tradition and our God are not superior to the other gods that are worshiped, because they are, in fact, one and the same.
The closing lines of the Aleinu prayer come to mind: “And on that day, God will be One and God’s name will be One.” Could that be the day when all shall worship the God of Israel? Or, is that the day when all people realize that what each of us holds most sacred is only a facet of the much larger reality of the universe? Only the latter interpretation acknowledges the truth and validity of every experience of the sacred. When all people recognize the legitimacy of another’s perspective, then, and only then, might we have a day of peace.
— Jacqueline Mates-Muchin
For someone like me, raised as an atheist and now an agnostic, critical, and sensitive world traveler, religion is a very tough topic to discuss. Malachi’s words serve more as a description than a prescription.
If Judaism promotes a belief in one God, then this God is the only God — and the one that all people, across the globe, worship. Different religions interpret the “only one” God differently.
I agree with Rabbi Peretz Rodman that we are challenged to understand and appreciate societies and cultures that worship multiple gods (such as China in the past, and Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan at the present) or don’t worship any gods (China at the moment). But our verse also suggests that Torah is intended for all humankind — and I find that problematic. Is monotheism meant for all humankind? As a native Chinese, I want to know the answer to that question. Today, China is developing too fast and uprooting herself from her thousand-year traditions and beliefs. Will religion smooth the social transformation and reunite the lost souls?
— Peggy He Guan
Tell a Chinese cab driver that you’re “Youtai” — the local word for Jewish — and you’ll hear in response that Jews are “smart” and “good with money.” Chinese associate Jews with business success. In fact, I’ve seen several titles, such as Crack the Talmud: 101 Jewish Business Rules and Money-Making Stories of the Talmud in Chinese bookstores. Were such titles found in the grand bazaar of Istanbul, they would likely be sitting next to copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But, in China, such stereotypes derive from a place of deep admiration.
Rodman asks that we bring the best of our heritage to the nations of the world. Let’s take advantage of a superficial admiration of Jewish business acumen to advance a conversation between Chinese and Jews about mutual values, respect, and understanding. Though many places and issues require Jewish advocacy today, with one-fifth of the world’s population, China is surely a good place to start.
— Zev Nagel