Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

Yom Kippur

October 3, 2014

This evening at sunset Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar began. Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the seventh month, Tishrei, of the Jewish calendar. This year that corresponds to October 3.  On this day Jews ask for forgiveness for the sins they have committed against God and their fellow men over the past year.  They fast for 25 hours on this day, starting about 20 minutes before sundown the previous day and continuing until evening of the day. Jews also attend Synagogue services for much of the day and there are five services in contrast to the usual three prayers on most days and four on Sabbaths. After the last service, they recite they Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”, and blow the Shofar.

Here is the Biblical description of the Day of Atonement.

1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering[a] and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat.[b]9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

23 “Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.

26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselvesand not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Lev 16:1-34)

Since the Temple was destroyed in 70, the ceremonies pertaining to the Most Holy Place cannot now be performed. Instead Jews remember the Temple ceremonies in the Avodah service. Orthodox and most Conservative Synagogues have a detailed recitation of the Temple Ceremony.

Here is a detailed description of the Yom Kippur Services.

So, G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

 

What’s In a Name

August 13, 2013

Here is another picture I saw on Facebook.

download

The sentiment here is that all of the various religions are essentially the same and therefore we shouldn’t fight over religious differences because they are not really very important. Well, we shouldn’t fight over religious differences not because they are unimportant, but because no one has ever discovered the truth or been convinced by people shouting past one another.

In a superficial sense, the sentiment expressed by this picture is true. Most of the great religions have rather similar expectations on how people ought to be behave. They all preach variations on statements like, “do not kill”, “do not steal”, “treat others as you would want to be treated”, and others. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. If right and wrong really exist and are not merely social conventions then you might expect people all over the world to have similar rules, even if they seldom follow them. As the apostle Paul stated,

14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.                (Romans 2:14-16)

Actually, religion is not really about morality. You can be a moral person of any faith or of no faith at all, if the law is truly written on human hearts. Religion is about approaching or coming to know God, again as Paul says,

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring. (Acts 17:22-28)

This is another way in which the sentiment expressed in the picture is superficially true. All of the great religions teach that there is something more than the material world that we sense. In most cases they teach that there is a god or gods or some divine principle that rules the universe and is the source of all goodness.

In the more profound sense, however, the sentiment that all religions are essentially the same is simply not true. Every religious tradition makes claims about the nature of the divine principle and these claims tend to be exclusive ones. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in one God, but Jews and Muslims are uncompromising monotheists with a simple view of God as One. The Christian view is more complicated involving three Persons in one Godhood, with one of the Persons becoming a man named Jesus. Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but deny his divinity. Jews reject both Jesus and Mohammed as prophets. Muslims also regard the Christians and Jews as having corrupted their holy texts while their Koran is the true Word of God. Many Hindus believe in many gods but also believe that the many are one universal spirit. Many Hindus believe otherwise as it it is a diverse religion. Buddhists are unconcerned about gods seeking to liberate themselves from the cycle of rebirth and suffering, but many Buddhists worship traditional deities. There are many other beliefs. They cannot all be true.

Do these differences matter? I think they do. If religion is a means of coming to know the creator of the universe, then we had better have accurate information about Him. If I decided to travel to California, I had better go west. If I go north or south or east, I’ll never get there. If I decide to fly to California, I’ll get there quickly. Driving will take a little longer. Walking would take a very long time, weeks or months, assuming I manage to get there at all. If I decide to go to Australia, I am going to have to fly in an airplane, or go by boat. I cannot drive or walk to Australia, no matter how much I might want to.  In like fashion, if I want to know about God, I should try to go in the right direction and take the right means of travel. Some might say that is doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere. Well, I could sincerely believe that I could get to Australia by walking north. I would be sincerely wrong and never reach Australia.

So, does God care what name we call Him? Perhaps not, but He does want us to know Him and He does want to save us from our own sins and bad decisions. If the Christian beliefs are correct, then God is good, infinitely good, and we humans are not. By our nature and our actions, we have estranged ourselves from God and there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves with him. Fortunately, He has provided a means by which we can be reconciled by the sacrifice of His Son. The problem with all the other religions as well as that vague sentiment that all religions are equal is that by following their precepts, we may come to believe that we can approach God and be saved by our own efforts, through rituals, good deeds and the like. God is infinitely good however, and He is not likely to be impressed by anything we do. As Isaiah wrote,

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; (Isaiah 64:6)

Or, to put it a little less dramatically, no matter how good we think we are, next to God we aren’t really very good at all. We cannot save ourselves. We have to trust in God to save us.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament

February 28, 2013

The New Testament was and is a fundamentally Jewish collection of documents. At the time when much of the New Testament was written, most observers still regarded the new religion of Christianity as a Jewish sect. Every book of the New Testament is traditionally attributed to a Jewish writer, with the exception of Luke, Paul’s Gentile companion. All of the major figures of the New Testament, Jesus, his disciples, Paul, were devout Jews, learned in the Jewish Scriptures. The entire New Testament is permeated with Jewish culture and history.

Unfortunately as the Christians and the Jews parted ways and began to have an often antagonistic relationship with each other, this Jewish element to the Christian scriptures came to be somewhat downplayed. It was never forgotten that Jesus and his disciples were Jews, but as the Christian Church became an entirely Gentile institution, the Jewish background to the Gospels were often underappreciated and misunderstood. Yet, without knowledge of this Jewish background to the New Testament, it is impossible to properly understand the context in which Jesus, Paul, and the earliest Church lived and worked. While years of archaeological and historic research have increased our knowledge of the time just before the destruction of the Second Temple, there is much more to learn about the world of the New Testament. A study of the post-Temple rabbinical writings could provide Christians with more insight of the intellectual world in which the early Christians lived and improving relations between the Christian and Jewish communities can allow us, Christians to ask the help of our Jewish brothers in seeking to understand our own scriptures.

For this reason, I was pleased and gratified to find the Jewish Annotated New Testament. I am not certain if this work is intended more to teach Jews about Christianity or Christians about Judaism, but I believe that followers of both faiths will get a lot out of it. The Jewish Annotated New Testament is, as the title implies, a translation of the New Testament with annotations of each by made by a Jewish scholar. There are brief essays located at various points in the text explaining concepts raised by the New Testament author in better detail while at the end of the New Testament there is a series of longer essays describing various matters of the historical and religious background of the New Testament. The tone of the annotations and essays is always respectful of Christian sensibilities. The editor, Amy-Jill Levine deserves a lot of credit for putting the whole thing together.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles. The scholarship leans a little more liberal than I would like. I realize that not being Christians, the writers are under no obligation to believe that the New Testament is historically accurate, and, as I have said, the tone is always respectful, yet I feel that they tend to accept too uncritically ideas about the “historical Jesus” or who the true authors of various books might really be. That is a personal quibble and someone less conservative than I am might feel this tendency is a benefit.

The second quibble is more serious and involves only the Kindle edition. Not all of the links to the notes work in the Kindle. The textual links and the links annotations at the beginning of chapters and books are especially unlikely to work. I hope that Amazon will be able to fix this problem as it does detract somewhat from the enjoyment of this book.

Jews in Europe

January 30, 2013

In his article in The Daily Beast, British writer Jonathan Freedland presents a more optimistic appraisal of the state of the Jews in Europe than is usually the case with America writers. He argues that anti-Semitism is not nearly as pervasive in Europe as Americans choose to believe.

My inbox is giving me a queasy sensation of déjà vu. It’s filling up with anguished claims that British schools are banning the teaching of Hebrew. As it happens, no such thing has occurred. The government has simply proposed that elementary schools be required to teach one of a list of seven officially recommended languages: French, Spanish, German, Italian, Mandarin, ancient Latin, or Greek. Hebrew is no more about to be banned than is Arabic or Russian. Jewish schools will still be able to teach Hebrew. It’s just that, if the move goes ahead, they’ll also have to teach French, Spanish, or one of the other approved seven languages.

The feeling of déjà vu arises because six years ago I received an email titled “In Memoriam.” It announced that British schools had banned the teaching of the Holocaust, lest Muslim pupils be offended. The email declared this to be “a frightening portent of the fear that is gripping the world and how easily each country is giving into it.” Spurred into action, the New York Post published a lament by Barry Rubin, denouncing “UK Schools’ Sickening Silence.”

Sickening it would indeed have been. Except not a word of the accusation was true. The teaching of the Holocaust was and remains compulsory in English schools. (Indeed, a long-running scheme in operation then and now ensures two seniors from every high school in the country visit Auschwitz on trips subsidized by the U.K. government.) The story was a fabrication, arising from a research study that had found—and criticized—a single teacher in a single English school who had avoided selecting the Shoah for specialist coursework because she suspected a resistance to the topic among some Muslim pupils. Government ministers condemned the action of that single teacher and reiterated that the subject was a mandatory part of the curriculum.

Forgive all the detail, but this is becoming a regular task for a British Jew: reassuring our American friends that, no, we are not living in a new dark age and, no, the lights are not going out all over Europe. We are getting used to the fact that U.S. Jews seem ready to believe the worst of this part of the world. In the two cases I’ve mentioned, many Americans were all too willing to accept that British Jews were about to become latter-day Marranos, driven underground by an anti-Semitic government and its jihadist allies, huddling together to teach their children about the Holocaust in Hebrew whispers.

He has a point. It is possible that the Muslim population of Europe does not have quite the numbers or power that we in America believe them to have, at least not yet. Still, it is hard to imagine that all of the reports of “Londonistan” or “Eurabia” are exaggerations. Freedland does allow that there is often harsh criticism of Israel throughout Europe, but that has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

Which brings us to another crucial distinction. Episodes that Americans see as evidence of growing European hostility to Jews are often understood by European Jews to be criticism of Israel—in fact, not even criticism of Israel itself, but rather of a specific strain of Israeli policy: what we might call the Greater Israel project of continuing and expanding settlement of the West Bank. When European governments either abstained or voted for the Palestinian upgrade to semi-statehood at the U.N. in November, plenty in Israel and the U.S. saw that as yet another example of age-old European hostility to the Jews. But very few Jews here saw it the same way. We understood it for what it was, an attempt by governments avowedly sympathetic to Israel’s right to security to revive the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their calculation might have been wrong, but it was not anti-Semitic. Yet one regular on the academic anti-Semitism studies circuit tells me that U.S. speakers repeatedly cite examples of anti-Israel discourse as if they were synonymous with instances of anti-Jewish racism. A scholar in his own right, he is infuriated that

his colleagues fail to make this critical distinction.

We can be certain anti-Semitism is not a factor since they hold Israel’s enemies to the same high standard as they do Israel. Oh wait…

More importantly, they fail to notice the intriguing paradox of European Jews’ current position—that there are dangers, but also great triumphs. Take Britain. Jews here can feel unease at the tenor of the national conversation on Israel—a newspaper cartoon here, a politician’s turn of phrase there—but they also enjoy a Jewish life that is in many ways richer than ever before. Limmud, the annual festival of Jewish learning that has gone global, began here, while Jewish Book Week has become London’s biggest literary festival. The Booker Prize for 2011 was won by a novel about Jews, The Finkler Question, written by a man who has chronicled the British-Jewish sensibility better than anyone, Howard Jacobson. British TV currently airs not one but two highly rated sitcoms depicting Jewish family life. Meanwhile, if the current polls hold till 2015, Britain’s next prime minister is set to be the first Jewish leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband—who repeatedly stresses the pride he takes in his Jewish roots. Not bad for a Jewish community that, according to the latest census, numbers just over 260,000, less than 0.5 percent of the British population.

 

This is why the Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Jewish racism, opens its report with an insistence that “British Jewry should be defined by its success and vibrancy rather than by anti-Semitism.” That is true of Britain but also beyond. Mark Gardner, director of communications for the CST, used to compare the European-Jewish situation to a glass that some will see as half full, others as half empty. Now he says, “There are two glasses, one half full, one half empty, and they stand side by side.” That sounds sufficiently nuanced to be correct. But don’t expect anyone to be putting that message in an email.

I am neither Jewish nor European, so I don’t really know whether Freedland, or those spreading scare stories tells a more accurate account. I do, however, have a strange feeling that an article like this could have been written in Weimar Germany.

Auschwitz concentration camp, arrival of Hunga...

It couldn’t happen again, could it? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Hanukkah

December 13, 2012

I have been criminally negligent in not mentioning that Hanukkah began last Saturday and will continue until this Sunday. The only excuse I have is that all of the holidays seem to have been passing by quickly this year. I wrote about Hanukkah last year and I think I will tell the story again. It is a story worth remembering, not just by Jews but by anyone who values religious freedom.

The history goes back to the time of Alexander the Great. He conquered the Persian Empire in one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history. Unfortunately, when he died in 323 BC, he left no provision for any successors and so his generals fought among themselves and eventually Alexander’s empire was divided among them. One of these successors was named Seleucus and he gained control of what is now Iran and Iraq. His kingdom is known to historians as the Seleucid Empire. This time is known as the Hellenistic Era.

Around 200 BC the Seleucids defeated the Egyptians and gained the territories of modern Syria and Israel. During this time the Jewish religion was tolerated and respected by the Ptolemies of Egypt. During this time, also, the Greek language and culture spread far and wide among the conquered peoples. Greek culture had become “cool” and everybody wanted to be a part of it. People who adopted Greek culture could be said to be “Hellenized” from Hellene, the Greek word for Greek. This caused no little consternation among the more traditional Jews. They were afraid that in the rush to embrace Greek culture, many Jews would fall into the worship of the Greek gods and so to idolatry. So, to some extent, the events which followed were as much a civil war as a war between the Jews and the Seleucids.

In the year 175, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended the throne of the Seleucids. Unlike previous Hellenistic rulers he seemed to believe himself a god and was eager that everyone in his realm pay divine honors to the Greek gods. For most of the people in the Empire this was no great burden as a few more gods didn’t matter all that much. For all but the most Hellenized Jews, this was an impossible demand. There was only one God. When fighting broke out between Hellenized and traditional Jews, Antiochus sided with the Hellenized Jews and in 167 sent an army to capture Jerusalem and compel the worship of the Greek gods. A statue of Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple and the Jewish religion was banned.

This sparked a rebellion and a guerilla war which was led by a priest named Matthias and his five sons. The most prominent of these was Judas Maccabeus. Antiochus IV had many other problems, especially with the Persians to the east and the rising power of Rome to the west and could never spare the forces necessary to crush the revolt. By 165, the Maccabees were able to retake Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple of the defilement of the pagans.

According to legend, there was only enough oil to light the Menorah for one day, and yet miraculously, they were able to keep it lit for eight days, until more oil could be procured. These eight days became known as the Festival of Lights and to commemorate this victory and miracle, a nine branched menorah is lit. A more prosaic explanation for the origins of this holiday is that the first Hanukkah was a belated celebration of Sukkot.

There have been no shortage of rulers since the time of the Maccabees who have demanded their subjects worship them as gods. One would think this sort of nonsense would have ended with the rise of monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam but it hasn’t. Byzantine Emperors declared themselves the Vice-regent of God on Earth and the Thirteenth Apostle. The Caliphs called themselves the Shadow of Allah. If kings and emperors couldn’t be gods themselves, at least they could pretend to be God’s personal spokesman.

This habit has only gotten worse in our more secular age. No Pharaoh or Caesar of ancient times was ever a more jealous and demanding god as our modern Hitlers and Stalins. It is, as if, an age that no longer believes in the One God, is all the more willing to worship god-kings. Even in democratic countries there can be leader cults.

Here is your god O, Americans

However, the example of the Maccabees shows us that freedom is worth fighting for, even if there is not much hope of winning, and if we do not give up the fight, we might end up winning despite the odds.

Yom Kippur

September 26, 2012

 

English: High priest offering a sacrifice of a...

English: High priest offering a sacrifice of a goat, as on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; from Henry Davenport Northrop, “Treasures of the Bible,” published 1894 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement began yesterday at sundown. This is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. I wrote about this last year. Yom Kippur is a solemn day in which the Jews ask God to forgive their sins.

 

 

 

Rosh Hashanah

September 17, 2012

 

 

I have been negligent in not mentioning that Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, began at sundown yesterday. This year the holiday falls on September 16-18. I wrote about the origins of Rosh Hashanah last year here.

It is a little late but here is the shofar blowing.

 

Shana Tova everyone.

 

 

Plus Ca Change

January 20, 2012

It really is depressing to consider how things never seem to really change, despite all of the changes the world has been through over the past century. It never seems to be the good things that stay the same. Rather it seems that the worst in human nature is the most resistant to positive change no matter how hard we try. A case in point is this article in the Jerusalem Post by Aaron D. Rubinger concerning the resurgence of European antisemitism.

Over the course of 2 months, I visited Jewish communities in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium and the UK and interviewed dozens of Jewish leaders as well as “laymen” – both Jews and non-Jews. While attempting to determine the seriousness of contemporary European Anti-Semitism, I experienced what I would term “déjà Jew” – the peculiar sense that we, the members of Jewish people, are reliving an experience from the past; that we have somehow time-traveled and are now re-experiencing  occurrences that are all too familiar.

From the mid-1930s to early 1940s, Jews who recognized that they were no longer safe in Europe anxiously sought refuge abroad. Sylvain Zenouda, the co-founder and current vice president of the Bureau National de Vigilance Contre l”Antisèmitism—an organization which monitors and documents anti-Semitism in France—told me that educated young Jews in France with the financial means to do so have either fled the country or are making plans to flee. Again?

80 years ago, our people were being verbally abused and brutally assaulted in public places. And now it seems to be happening all over again. Viviane Teitelbaum, a minister in the Brussels Regional Parliament, related an incident that occurred this past November involving a 13-year old Jewish girl in Brussels. The girl was brutally assaulted at her school, resulting in her hospitalization for multiple injuries including a concussion. The attackers were not members of the Third Reich’s SS, but a group of female Muslim students at the same school. The ringleader pronounced her to be a “filthy Jew!” Apparently, in the weeks prior to the attack, the girl’s father had approached the authorities and the school with complaints that there had been threats made by fellow classmates against his daughter.  Upon hearing that his concerns were simply brushed aside, I immediately thought of Yogi Berra’s famous gaff: “This is like déjà vu all over again!”

2 generations ago, some Jews sought to protect themselves by masquerading as Aryans. In an interview conducted in November, a Parisian mother related how the fear of being physically attacked by Muslim extremist thugs means that it is “not rare at all today” for French Jewish students to attempt to pass themselves off as Muslim – with some even going as far as to fast on Ramadan. One case in point was a Jewish girl of North African descent who for years was successful in this deception, until finally she was “exposed” when Muslim girls caught her eating matzah in the bathroom during Pesah. After her classmates beat her viciously, they invited their male Muslim friends to their school to participate in a gang rape.

Now, I know that most, if not all, of the attacks on Jews in Europe are by the growing numbers of Muslim immigrants. But, I also know perfectly well that if the authorities in France and elsewhere were seriously interested in stopping such incidents, they would be stopped. But that would take courage and it is a lot easier to look the other way.

 

The Jewish Annotated New Testament

December 3, 2011

Walter Russel Mead has been awaiting the arrival of the Jewish Annotated New Testament, which he has ordered from Amazon.com. This is a look at the New Testament by prominent Jewish scholars. As Mead puts it;

This is a book that any serious Christian student of the New Testament will want to consult; anytime a familiar text is read from an unfamiliar angle, new insights are likely to come.  More to the point, rabbinical Judaism and Christianity are the two great religious legacies of first century Palestine.  Learning to see Jesus through Jewish eyes is a way for Christians to encounter another side of the man we recognize as son of God and savior.

Considering that all but one of the authors of the books of the New Testament are believed to be Jews (Luke was the exception). and that Jesus and his disciples were all Jews, it is amazing that no one ever thought of doing a project like this before. Well, perhaps not since the mutual antagonism between these two great faiths has only declined this century with the lessening of anti-semitism among many Christians. As Mead points out, this process began with the Protestant Reformation and the reformers’ translation of the Bible into vernacular languages.

This began to change with the Reformation — although Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism helped embed some deeply destructive memes in German culture.  First and foremost, the translation of the whole Bible into the vernacular languages coupled with the invention of printing put the Jewish scriptures into the hands of ordinary Christians for the first time.  In Medieval Christian preaching and liturgy, the New Testament got more attention than the Old, the gospels got more than the epistles of Paul, and the Passion narratives got more attention than the rest of the gospel story.

 

The consequence was that most Christians spent most of their time with the parts of their Bible in which Jesus was engaged in theological controversy with Jewish religious leaders, or being handed over to the Romans for execution by a faction of the Jewish religious leadership of the day.  Every Sunday the liturgy of the Mass retold the story of the crucifixion; every year reached its religious climax with the intense focus on the sufferings of Christ in the last week of his life — arguing with Jews, and ultimately dying at the instigation of his (Jewish) enemies.

But as Christians encountered more of the Bible, this picture began to change.  Calvinists and others who believed in the literal and eternal truth of the Word of God came to believe that the promises God made to Abraham were still valid today: that the Jews still had a place in God’s plan, that the gift of the Holy Land to the physical descendants of Abraham remained valid, that Jews would return to that land before the end of history, and that God commanded the rest of mankind to bless and help Israel, rather than to curse and attack it.

More, acquaintance with the Old Testament exposed Christians to Jewish heroes of faith: to kings and prophets and warriors who walked with the God of Abraham and from whose teachings and experiences Christians had much to learn.  Where Calvinist, Anabaptist and Quaker influence was strong, Christian parents began to give their children names from the Jewish scriptures: Hannah, Caleb, Esther, Josiah, Ruth, Joshua, Ezekiel, Rebecca, Ezra, Nathaniel, Naomi, Seth and Sarah entered the English speaking world.

This includes the Puritans who settled New England. An archeologist of the future who examined cemeteries of seventeenth century Massachusetts might well come to believe that the colony was settled by Hebrews based on the names on the grave stones.

I think that I will get this book too, if it can be gotten for the Kindle. I have no idea what Jewish scholars might have to say about the New Testament but I am sure that their insights will be interesting and profitable. I would be especially interested in reading how the teachings of Jesus related to the various Jewish factions of his day.

 


%d bloggers like this: