Quite literally alone in a sea of Islam, one rabbi has found the beginnings of the prophesied reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael in the largest Muslim country in the world: Indonesia.
Rabbi Tovia Singer has had many jobs and titles, but perhaps the most impressive is that of the official rabbi of the world’s fourth largest country. That said, his congregation numbers less than 300, barely the size of an average American synagogue. His pulpit is Indonesia, a country with 17,000 islands and a population of 250 million, but no more than a handful of Jews.
“I came here for the hidden Jews,” Rabbi Singer explained to Breaking Israel News, “But have found an amazing world in which Muslims honor Jews.”
“What is happening here in Indonesia is the prophesied reunion of Ishmael and Isaac,” Rabbi Singer continued. He cited the verse in Genesis in which Ishmael and Isaac come together at Abraham’s funeral.
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the preeminent medieval French commentator on the Torah known by the acronym Rashi, interprets this verse to mean that Ishmael made peace with Isaac, allowing his younger half-brother to precede him at the funeral. Rabbi Singer notes that the Talmud in Baba Batra (16b) predicts that this will have implications for the end of days.
“Our sages tell us that Ishmael and Yitzchak will have a tenuous relationship,” said Rabbi Singer to Breaking Israel News. “But in the end of days they will come together as ‘banav’ (his sons). As Muslims, and despite not being Arabs, Indonesians consider themselves to be the Sons of Ishmael, and the prophecy can very well be speaking about them.”
Rabbi Singer says he is witnessing this prophecy and even taking part in the coming together of the sons of Isaac and Ishmael. He has set aside a room in his synagogue for Muslims to pray. One devout woman prays there every Shabbat and joins the Jewish congregation for the lesson the rabbi teaches after prayer.
“It will be religion and faith that draws us together,” the rabbi emphasized. “The Koran describes God sent Moses to lead the Jews into Israel identically to the Torah. They see Jews as a protected and the People of the Book, which is a big deal in Islam.”
Rabbi Singer also joins with Muslim organizations, distributing food to the poor. This essential mitzvah (commandment) is common to the two religions, who use the same word, tzedakah, for charity.
This idyllic situation has not always existed in Indonesia.
“From 1945 to 2001, Indonesia was very anti-Semitic and Judaism was not a recognized religion. Most of the Jews either left or they openly converted to Christianity,” said the rabbi. After major political changes leading to greater regional autonomy and decentralization within this vast nation, this situation changed dramatically. Rabbi Singer explained how he experiences this on a day-to-day basis.
“Today, you could walk around with tallis and tefillin and no one would even blink, “ said Rabbi Singer. “South-East Asians are not, by nature, anti-Semitic. The period of anti-Semitism was imposed and superficial. There are high government officials in our congregation. The Muslims take care of all our religious needs. They even allow us to bring in as much wine as we need, even though alcohol is banned by Islam.”
Rabbi Singer notes this situation is uncommon and exists in few Muslim countries. Despite a history of anti-Semitism, and being strongly Muslim, modern Indonesia is tolerant of Judaism, something many would consider a contradiction.
“I have been in many Arab countries, but in order to understand Indonesia, you have to abandon anything you thought you knew about the world of Islam,” the rabbi explained. Indonesia’s Muslims are generally moderate, he said, though very devout, with some regions choosing to live under Sharia law.
However, he added, “Of the 56 Muslim majority countries, Indonesia is by all accounts and all parameters, the most tolerant. Christmas is a nationally recognized holiday. That is unique in the Muslim world.”
The world of Ishmael appears in Indonesia differently than most Westerners envision Islam to be. Rabbi Singer sees this as something new that was predicted in the Bible.
“We have seen so many prophecies unfold right in front of our eyes precisely as written,” Rabbi Singer explained. “Therefore it is reasonable to say that it will be Hebron and the power of Abraham that will bring Ishmael and Isaac together, after a difficult period of being apart. The only solution is God, and perhaps we are seeing that solution unfold right here, in the world’s largest Islamic country.”