Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Crime in the Caribbean: A spiritual problem, says Rabbi Tarlow

Published:Sunday | October 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Police on the scene where 48-year-old Stenneth Smith was killed in downtown Kingston last week. - Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer
Rabbi PeterTarlow - Contributed
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Dr Glenville Ashby, Contributor

Renowned scholar Rabbi Peter Tarlow is executive director of The Center for Hispanic-Jewish Relations at Texas A&M University. He is an expert in the area of tourism safety and the founder of Tourism & More Inc.

Tarlow offers a unique perspective on crime in the Caribbean, exploring this malaise primarily through a religio-spiritual prism. The following interview was conducted in July.

Can you give your over-riding opinion of the Caribbean during your travels in the region?

I have spent a great deal of time in Tobago and some time in Trinidad which, like most of the Caribbean, is a world in which good and evil live side by side.

The people are warm, just like the climate, but the country is marred by violence. There is passion, love, and fear mixed together. I have been working with numerous Caribbean nations. Some countries such as the Dominican Republic are working very hard to create a secure visitor experience.

The three negatives that many foreigners feel is that these lands are expensive; that customer service is often a challenge; and there is always the security issue.

On the positive side, these nations have wonderful cuisines, beautiful sceneries, and a deep culture. I am a fan of Trinidad's wonderful literature.

Because of the marginal status of Judaism in the Caribbean, maybe a synopsis of the faith will be helpful, especially the Kaballah.

Actually, the oldest functioning synagogue in the Americas is located in CuraƧao and the Mikveh Israel Synagogue is not only a major tourism treasure, but also a national treasure.

Judaism is the world's oldest monotheistic religion. Its two daughter religions, Christianity and Islam are related to Judaism, but there are some major differences. Judaism is a religion and culture based on the here and now. Jews are less interested in post-death than they are in pre-death.

Judaism is also a way of life based on what one does. Faith without godly actions (called mitzvot) in Judaism is almost meaningless. It is not what you believe, but what you do in life that matters. Many basic Jewish principles have also become part of our daughter religions.

Some of these are the Ten Commandments, the principle of loving your neighbour as yourself. In Judaism, the individual has his or her own relationship with God based on a sense of equality and action. When we make the world a better place, called in Hebrew 'Tikkun Ha'Olam', then we become God's partners in the ever-continuing act of creation.

Is crime a spiritual disease?

Crime is a denial that we are blessed and made in Tzelem Elohim or the likeness of God. To commit a crime is to deny God and His promise to us.

If the basis of crime is spiritual, how should our social and political leaders respond?

We need to return to basics. If we all lived by the Ten Commandments, the police would have very little to do. Crime is not an outcome of poverty. There are lots of honest, poor people in the world and lots of wealthy criminals. But without spiritual awareness, you experience major social problems. When we answer Cain's question: 'HaShomer achi anochi?' or 'Am I my brother's keeper?' in the affirmative, then crime stops. It is hard to understand the Bible in a foreign tongue, and a good place to start in lowering crime is by studying Hebrew.

Do you believe in ancestral and generational curses?

No. Each of us is made in God's image, and each of us needs to take responsibility for our own actions.

What about group karma?

Negativity brings on negativity and positive actions bring on positive actions. In Hebrew, one says: 'Mitzvah goreret mitzvah', or the result of a Godly deed is another Godly deed.

Do you think slavery has had a pernicious spiritual impact because wounds are still open with no closure in sight?

We have to remember but move on. Certainly, no people have suffered more in this world than Jews. But it does me no good to hold a grudge against the Christian world for over 2,000 years of horrors. I have to move on, to realise that today's Christians, white slave holders, and Germans are not responsible for past acts. No one has ever paid me reparations for 400 years of Jewish slavery in Egypt. It happened; it was horrible, and it is up to me to move on. I believe the same is true of other peoples who have suffered slavery. We must remember and honour our past but not become slaves to our past. That is the whole basis for Sefer Shemot, which is mistranslated as the Book of Exodus.

How effective is prayer? What are the mechanics involved that effect change?

To pray in Hebrew is l'hitpallel, meaning to fight with oneself or to judge oneself. Prayer is not about asking, but doing. It is not God's job to manipulate actions so that we become magicians. It is God's job to be with us in good and bad times and to give us the strength and wisdom to overcome adversity.

How can the Caribbean benefit from Jewish thought, worship, and culture?

Judaism is the pursuit of personal responsibility and wisdom. It demands that we be adults and think before we act. These are principles that will serve the Caribbean region well.

Any plans in the near future to visit the region in a religious capacity?

Only if invited. The Caribbean is special and is always in my prayers.

Dr Glenville Ashby is a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council Corp. Feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.