Category Archives: Chosen People

still crazy after all these years

Ki Tavo

Call me crazy, but I love it when I spot the first time a word is used in print, especially when it’s a Hebrew word in the Bible.  And I go Crazy-Eddie crazy when it’s a seminal word whose meaning and associations are closely associated with our people.

So what’s the word of the day? It’s Meshugah and it first appears in Deuteronomy 28.

In the original version of the Sermon on the Mount, Moses has half the tribes stand on one mountain; Gerizim, and the other half stand on an opposite mountain; Ebal, and details all the blessings the chosen people will receive if they obey the commandments. So far so good and so ends the similitude to the other Sermon on the Mount.  It’s in detailing all the curses that will befall the Jewish people for disobedience that Meshuga, the quintessential word for Jewish idiosynchronicity, even exceptionalism, gets it’s first mention.

But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee…. (28: 15)

The LORD will smite thee with madness, and with blindness, and with astonishment of heart. (28: 28) [see Strongs H7697]

 יַכְּכָה ה’, בְּשִׁגָּעוֹן וּבְעִוָּרוֹן; וּבְתִמְהוֹן, לֵבָב

The fruit of thy land, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed away:
so that thou shalt be mad for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see. (28: 33-4) [see Strongs H7696]

 וְהָיִיתָ, מְשֻׁגָּע, מִמַּרְאֵה עֵינֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר תִּרְאֶה

In it’s first instance, being meshugah is not a good thing.  It’s a curse and relates to the primal response one has when viewing something so abhorrent and hurtful that one loses one’s mind.

The word always retained this meaning as in Zachariah

And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will make Jerusalem a stone of burden for all the peoples; all that burden themselves with it shall be sore wounded; and all the nations of the earth shall be gathered together against it.
In that day, saith the LORD, I will smite every horse with bewilderment, and his rider with madness; and I will open Mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the peoples with blindness.  (Zechariah 12 3-4)

 בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא נְאֻם-יְהוָה, אַכֶּה כָל-סוּס בַּתִּמָּהוֹן, וְרֹכְבוֹ, בַּשִּׁגָּעוֹן

But madness also was used in conjunction with creative genius and vision.

First as a false prophet as in:

for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in the stocks and in the collar. (Jeremiah 29: 26)

 לְכָל-אִישׁ מְשֻׁגָּע וּמִתְנַבֵּא; וְנָתַתָּה אֹתוֹ אֶל-הַמַּהְפֶּכֶת, וְאֶל-הַצִּינֹק

And next as a prophet of truth to a false people – the man of spirit to a people without spirit:

The prophet is a fool, the man of the spirit is mad! For the multitude of thine iniquity, the enmity is great. (Hosea 9: 7)

 אֱוִיל הַנָּבִיא, מְשֻׁגָּע אִישׁ הָרוּחַ–עַל רֹב עֲו‍ֹנְךָ, וְרַבָּה מַשְׂטֵמָה

Ultimately, when the world becomes crazy, it is the crazy who speak the truth.

As it says in the Talmud (Baba Bathra 12b): Rabbi Johanan said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children.

But it is madness as a strategy that seems to have really resonated with our leaders and our people.. starting with David.

David is running away from King Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. David’s reputation precedes him and the servants of Achish  question: “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying: Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?”  David takes these words to heart and is fearful and plays the madman.

And he changed his demeanour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.
Then said Achish unto his servants: ‘Lo, when ye see a man that is mad, wherefore do ye bring him to me?
Do I lack madmen, that ye have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?’ (1 Samuel 21: 11-16)

 חֲסַר מְשֻׁגָּעִים, אָנִי, כִּי-הֲבֵאתֶם אֶת-זֶה, לְהִשְׁתַּגֵּעַ עָלָי; הֲזֶה, יָבוֹא אֶל-בֵּיתִי

And thus was born the Meshugenah Defense.

The word Meshugah is more well known as a Yiddish word than as a Hebrew word, because it was in exile and using the language of exile that we Jews really perfected craziness as a defense mechanism. Was it not meshugah to think that we could survive without a land or borders.  Was it not crazy to believe that one day we would be back in Jerusalem.  Jewish humor, at it’s core is a survival mechanism, and at its best, it reveals and helps us cope with the absurd.  Only a madman can believe in mankind after the atrocities of the Holocaust…

Thomas Friedman, cannot be accused of being an apologist for the State of Israel or the current Netanyahu government, but even he understands that in a world gone crazy, you are forced to act crazy.  In a recent column he characterized the recent Israel strategy in in Gaza:

No one here will explicitly say so, but one need only study this war to understand that Israel considers it central to its deterrence strategy that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah will “outcrazy us.” I don’t believe Israel was targeting Gaza civilians — I believe it tried to avoid them  — but, at the end of the day, it was not deterred by the prospect of substantial collateral civilian casualties. Hamas used Gaza’s civilians as war-crimes bait. And Israel did whatever was necessary to prove to Hamas, “You will not outcrazy us out of this region.” It was all ugly. This is not Scandinavia. (Thomas Freidman, Dear Guests; Revelations in the Gaza War).

What’s the lesson to all of this mushugas?  I suppose we need to always remember that one day’s curse is another day’s blessing.  We need to nurture and cultivate the life of our language and explore our cultural tics. And for the survival of the Jewish People and the good of the world, we Jews need to stay still crazy after all of these years.

2 Comments

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, social commentary, Zionism

you are not my boss

parshat shoftim

When the month of Elul arrives, the Jewish High Holidays are soon to follow, but what is so Jewish about these High Holidays (ימים נוראים lit. Days of Awe)?  Unlike the three pilgrimage holidays (שָׁלשׁ רְגָלִים ), Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur don’t celebrate the Exodus from Egypt or the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People.  Their only commonality shared by all Jewish holidays is that they are an adaptation of earlier Pagan holidays. Unlike Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot which were originally agricultural and harvest holidays, Rosh Hashanah is a deeply political holiday and it’s adaptation was not so much a transition as it was a radical paradigm shift.

As we shall see, the most important holiday celebrated in both Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia was the annual New Year rebirth, judgment and coronation of the King as god. So the best introduction to Judaism’s rendition of this king-making celebration is to understand Judaism’s love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with kingship.

When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein; and shalt say: ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me’;
thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, who is not thy brother.
Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses; forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you: ‘Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.’
Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites.
And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them;
that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left; to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel. Deuteronomy 17: 14-20)

 כִּי-תָבֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ, וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּה בָּהּ; וְאָמַרְתָּ, אָשִׂימָה עָלַי מֶלֶךְ, כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבֹתָי
שׂוֹם תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ:  מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ, תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ–לֹא תוּכַל לָתֵת עָלֶיךָ אִישׁ נָכְרִי, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-אָחִיךָ הוּא
רַק, לֹא-יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ סוּסִים, וְלֹא-יָשִׁיב אֶת-הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה, לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס; וַ ה’, אָמַר לָכֶם, לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה, עוֹד
וְלֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ נָשִׁים, וְלֹא יָסוּר לְבָבוֹ; וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב, לֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ מְאֹד
וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ, עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ–וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת-מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת, עַל-סֵפֶר, מִלִּפְנֵי, הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם
וְהָיְתָה עִמּוֹ, וְקָרָא בוֹ כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּיו–לְמַעַן יִלְמַד, לְיִרְאָה אֶת- ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹר אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, לַעֲשֹׂתָם
לְבִלְתִּי רוּם-לְבָבוֹ מֵאֶחָיו, וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן-הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול–לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל-מַמְלַכְתּוֹ הוּא וּבָנָיו, בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל

The institution of the monarchy was the ultimate divine concession to the shortcomings and shortsightedness of the chosen people.  This same sentiment is presented in the Book of Samuel (Samuel I 8: 4-22)

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah.
And they said unto him: ‘Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said: ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.
According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, in that they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit thou shalt earnestly forewarn them, and shalt declare unto them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.’
And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
And he said: ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots.
And he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots.
And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. …..
And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not answer you in that day.’
But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said: ‘Nay; but there shall be a king over us;

We should keep in mind that the appointment of a human King and the appointment of a human Messiah are one and the same.. both are a major concession to the lack of vision and faith by God’s flock.  Both a King and the Messiah are the anointed of God [1]

The monarchy was accepted, with legal restrictions and much of the prophetic tradition represents a check and balance on the monarchy [2]

Getting back the New Year’s Coronation Festival in the Ancient Near East, the Classical study was written by Henri Frankfort and called Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature and is available for download here.

Frankfort details how in Mesopotamia the festival of the new year lasted twelve days; it was a time of purification, of renewal of the vegetation. It was also a time of dramatic reenactments, the most important of which were the rites of the Sacred Marriage, and the recitation of the Sumerian creation epic, Enuma elish. It was at this time that the destinies of both gods and mankind were fixed, and the king began his reign on new year’s day.  (see)

One fascinating aspect of the Akitu involved a kind of ritual humiliation endured by the Babylonian king. This peculiar tradition saw the king brought before a statue of the god Marduk, stripped of his royal regalia and forced to swear that he had led the city with honor. A high priest would then slap the monarch and drag him by his ears in the hope of making him cry. If royal tears were shed, it was seen as a sign that Marduk was satisfied and had symbolically extended the king’s rule. Some historians have since argued that these political elements suggest the Akitu was used by the monarchy as a tool for reaffirming the king’s divine power over his people. (see)

Likewise in Ancient Egypt there was the Sed Festival held in the Fall hat celebrated the continued rule of a pharaoh. The ancient festival might, perhaps, have been instituted to replace a ritual of murdering a pharaoh who was unable to continue to rule effectively because of age or condition. … They primarily were held to rejuvenate the pharaoh’s strength and stamina while still sitting on the throne, celebrating the continued success of the pharaoh.   The Sed-festival developed into a royal jubilee intended to reinforce the pharaoh’s divine powers and religious leadership.

Writes Frankfort: “

The Egyptian calendar started with the first day of the first month of the Season of Inundation (1 Thoth), a day originally coinciding with the beginning of the rise of the Nile.  But four months later there was another new beginning: the inundation ended the Nile returned to its bed, and the new crops were sown.  The first day of the first month of the “Season of Coming Forth” (1 Tybi) was consequently celebrated as a rite de passage appropriate to a new beginning, although it was not the Calendrical New Year’s Day.  This “New Year’s Day” in autumn was presided over by a snake-demon called Nehebkau, a name which can be translated as “Bestower of Dignitaries” or as “Uniter of the Ka’s” (of Horus and Osiris), and we have , in both cases, an illusion to the definitive assumption of power by the new king.  … it was fitting that a king should be crowned to re-establish harmony between nature and society which had been shattered by the death of the previous ruler.  Hence it is said of Tuthmosis I, when he indicates the date for the coronation of Hatshepsut: “He knew that a coronation on New Year’s Day was good as the beginning of peaceful years.” (pp 103-4). [3]

This understanding of the context of the New Year’s Festival in the Ancient Near East, radically changes our understanding to the Jewish New Year holiday, Rosh Hashanah.  What Rosh Hashanah becomes is a radical statement of independence of all human rule.

On Rosh Hashanah we declare God King as a direct and vocal rejection of the widespread and widely known (at the time) traditions of making a human of blood and flesh… into a divine king.

Although God as king always enters into our prayers (e.g. Blessed are You King of the Universe…), it is on Rosh HaShanah that we have the focal point on Malchiot – Kingship, culminating at the end of the Neilah service where we end the service with the threefold repetition of “Praised is His name, whose glorious kingdom for ever and ever,” that recalls the threefold declaration: “The Lord is king (present), the Lord was king (past), and the Lord will be king (future).”

Ultimately, it is in our New Year’s Festival that we reject our people’s request for a human king (and a human anointed one) as we reject the rule of any human being and we declare God is King.  For a humanist… it doesn’t get any better, because the emphasis is not that God is King… but that no human can rule us.  We say to all tyrants and others attempting to form our opinions and curtail our actions and imagination… you are not my boss.

——————-

[1]

To-morrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be prince over My people Israel, and he shall save My people out of the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry is come unto Me.’ (Samuel I 9: 16)

 כָּעֵת מָחָר אֶשְׁלַח אֵלֶיךָ אִישׁ מֵאֶרֶץ בִּנְיָמִן, וּמְשַׁחְתּוֹ לְנָגִיד עַל-עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת-עַמִּי, מִיַּד פְּלִשְׁתִּים:  כִּי רָאִיתִי אֶת-עַמִּי, כִּי בָּאָה צַעֲקָתוֹ אֵלָי

And the spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man. Samuel I 10:6

וְצָלְחָה עָלֶיךָ רוּחַ ה’, וְהִתְנַבִּיתָ עִמָּם; וְנֶהְפַּכְתָּ, לְאִישׁ אַחֵר

[2]

As Frankfort, Wilson, and Jakobsen write in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay of Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (p348)  “A jealous concern for their traditional prerogatives was kept alive among the people by various agitators, notably the prophets.  Nathan’s rebuke of David, as Elijah’s of Ahab, was a direct denial of the assumptions of divine right and a bold affirmation of the principle that the king was amenable to the same standards of right, the same pervasive natural law as his humblest subject.  Here, too, it is apparent, was the principle basic to the entire attitude of the prophets and other progressive thinkers toward the monarchy: the king ruled, not by divine right, but under divinely imposed responsibility”

[3]

For further reading regarding Nisan and Tishrei as Kinmaking New Year’s festivals including actual Mesopotamian liturgy that has striking parallels to the Rosh Hashanah liturgy see Kingship and the Gods chapter 22 The New Year’s Festival pp 313-) here

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, divine birth, divine right, Religion, Torah, Uncategorized

a new jew

Parshat devarim

The book of Deuteronomy is  a summary, some would say re-interpretation of all that is before and preparation for all that lies ahead.  It is the beginning of a paradigm shift.

 ‘You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. (Deuteronomy 1:6)

 רַב לָכֶם שֶׁבֶת בָּהָר הַזֶּה

As if to say “move on”, it is time to shift from a group of freedom fighters and to join the family of nations.

The fact that this book was first written (“discovered”) in the middle of the reign of King Josiah (ruled 640 – 608 BCE)  [see Kings II, 22:10-) and embellished over time, makes it even more interesting as a record of a paradigm shift from Exodus/Revelation to Nationhood/Exile. [The First Temple was destroyed in 587 BCE, a mere 21 years after the reign of Josiah]

What is striking is how negatively it begins.

In verse 2 Moses points out that the journey that took more than 40 years should have been accomplished in eleven days! Rashi quoting the Sifrei paraphrases Moses: “See what you caused!”

In verse 9 Moses complains that ‘I cannot carry you alone.”

  לֹא-אוּכַל לְבַדִּי, שְׂאֵת אֶתְכֶם

And continues: “How can I bear your trouble, your burden, and your strife all by myself?”

  אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא, לְבַדִּי, טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם, וְרִיבְכֶם

The author of this intro to Deuteronomy and Jeremiah in his Book of Lamentations use this same word “how” אֵיכָה to lay blame on the Jewish People.

Moses proceeds to recount every divine intervention during the forty year wandering in terms of the overwhelming burden on him and the failings of the Jewish People… (appointing administrators and judges, sending the scouts, unsanctioned military operations).

Depending on whether this is Moses speaking or God… It really sounds like “bitter party of one” or “bitter party of ONE”, respectively.

No surprise that one interpretation given by the Sifrei for “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain” substitutes “bad” רע   for “long” רַב

רע הוא לכם ישיבתם בהר הזה

“It was bad for you to have dwelt at this mountain”

It’s almost as if Moses and the author of Deuteronomy have bought into the theory offered by latter day Christians and Moslems [1] that the Jews were given the myriad of commandments and prohibitions at Sinai as a punishment for their sins…. Not a reward for being the chosen people….

Following this deflating introduction, Moses (and the author(s) of Deuteronomy) begin to introduce another concept.. namely that if and when the nation of Israel loses a battle or is cast into exile it is because of it’s sins.

This self-pummeling, guilt-ridden and power-phobic aspproach to life and state-craft is the ultimate message of the upcoming fast-day of Tisha B’av and it’s text; Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations.. see for instance Lamentations 1:8:

Jerusalem hath grievously sinned, therefore she is become as one unclean; all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness; she herself also sigheth, and turneth backward.

חֵטְא חָטְאָה יְרוּשָׁלִַם, עַל-כֵּן לְנִידָה הָיָתָה; כָּל-מְכַבְּדֶיהָ הִזִּילוּהָ כִּי-רָאוּ עֶרְוָתָהּ, גַּם-הִיא נֶאֶנְחָה וַתָּשָׁב אָחוֹר

This perverse belief that failure shows the disapproval of God, especially when it comes to the use of power, appears first in Deuteronomyץ In the context of Jews of the Exodus generation who decided that they did not want to die in the desertץ  Unsanctioned by God, they began the conquest by attacking the Amorites.  It was not a successful campaign and they were chased and killed by the Amorites “as bees do”

So I spoke unto you, and ye hearkened not; but ye rebelled against the commandment of the LORD, and were presumptuous, and went up into the hill-country.
And the Amorites, that dwell in that hill-country, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and beat you down in Seir, even unto Hormah.
And ye returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD hearkened not to your voice, nor gave ear unto you.

Says Rashi: but the LORD hearkened not to your voice: As if possible [to say of God], you made His attribute of mercy as though it were cruel.

ולא שמע ה’ בקלכם כביכול עשיתם מדת רחמיו, כאלו אכזרי

Moses continues this rant to it’s logical conclusion in Deuteronomy 4: 23 and 26

Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which He made with you, and make you a graven image, even the likeness of any thing which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over the Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.

This “you sinned therefore the nations of the world punish you” might work for a Saturday morning sermon, but it is dangerous stuff for statecraft and for public consumption by your enemies.

Ruth Wisse in her book Jews and Power refers to this inward-looking response as a “long-range strategy of accommodation to defeat.” (p24).

“In a cyclical pattern, adjustment to exile reinforced the habits of self-accountability, which permitted adjustment to exile.”

Wisse goes on to argue that the rebirth of the State of Israel was made possible only by an implicit rejection of this type of self-accountability that leads a people to adjust to exile and persecution.

Liberal intellectuals, religiously motivated anti-Semites and even-anti Zionist Orthodox Jews who disproportionately criticize Israel for real and imagined injustices, share the same pernicious belief. That when Jews are attacked it is self-inflicted and when they defend themselves or take their destiny into their own hands they are somehow sinning by not accepting the punishment meted out  by a God…  Or in the non-theistic version, they sin against an idealized  liberal ethic by daring to live in a real world.  In either case the Jew who dares to stand in defence is an affront to their belief system.

In the irony of ironies, the source for this “accommodation to defeat” is itself, self-inflicted and appears for the first time in the Hebrew Bible itself.

We have dwelt long enough at that mountain… fortunately there is a New Jew.  The resilient citizens of modern-day Israel and the brave soldiers of the IDF represent a new generation of Jews who do not have a problem with defending themselves… and what is best in our religion and in liberalism.

Postscript –

This year more than most, I really have no desire to commemorate Tisha B’av [2], read Lamentations or sit on the ground wondering “how” אֵיכָה..

I will continue to do what I have been doing over the last few weeks of the current conflict between Israel and it’s enemies.  I’ll watch CNN and Israeli TV, read the news feed in concern and solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Israel… and I’ll stand proudly with Israel.

—————–

[1] See for example Quran sura IV:160 and will add other sources in due course…

[2] I also have no patience for anyone who says the the three weeks and Tisha B’av is an inauspicious time to defend oneself or engage in life threatening endeavors… we have dwelt long enough at that mountain too.  enough with the magical thinking…

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, Israel, Judaism, social commentary, Torah, Zionism

the first fashion statement

parshat korach

It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when clothing designers wouldn’t dare put a logo, let alone a product endorsement on clothing.  It’s all the fault of a French tennis star named René Lacoste, nicknamed “The Crocodile“ who, in the late 20’s developed a shirt that was more accommodating to movement.  According to the Smithsonian, Lacoste “had a logo of the reptile embroidered onto his blazer. It became his personal brand before there was such a thing.”

izod-rene-lacoste-crocodile-big

According to Wikopedia “One of the earliest examples of T-shirts with a logo or decoration can be found in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”. Three men attending to the Scarecrow at the Wash & Brushup Company in Emerald City are seen wearing green T-shirts with the word “Oz” printed on the fronts.”

dorothy-gets-cleaned-up-at-the-wash-and-brush-up-company-3

The rest, as they say, is fashion history.  Nowadays, every commercial and celebrity brand, let alone political position, hosts clothing that carry their graphic message.

The Biblical source for clothing with a message lies at the feet of a radical named Korach who made a political argument from an all blue prayer shawl. The impact of his fashion statement was so profound that an expression in Modern Hebrew was coined to describe someone who thinks too much of himself.

In modern Hebrew idiom, the sarcastic expression, “a completely blue tallit” (טלית שכולה תכלת) is widely used to refer to something that is ostensibly, but not really, absolutely pure, immaculate and virtuous. .. The phrase “more kosher than tzitzit” is a Yiddish metaphoric expression (כשר’ער ווי ציצית) with similar connotations but is not necessarily used in a sarcastic sense. It can refer, in the superlative, to something that is really so perfect and flawless as to be beyond all reproach or criticism. (see Wikipedia – Tallit)

Poor Korach.  He made a good argument to democratize religion, but instead of wining the debate he was forever remembered as the guy guilty of the fashion faux pas of wearing the blue tallit and who, in the words of Isaiah 65:5 (following the King James translation) strutted as though he was “holier than Thou”.

Here’s the backstory:

Numbers 15 ends with the commandment to all Hebrews to put fringes on any four-cornered garment

Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. (Numbers 15:38)

דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל-כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם, לְדֹרֹתָם; וְנָתְנוּ עַל-צִיצִת הַכָּנָף, פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת

Followed immediately with the narrative of the Korach Rebellion.

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up in face of Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’ (Numbers 16: 1-3)

  וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת–בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן

  וַיָּקֻמוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וַאֲנָשִׁים מִבְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם, נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה קְרִאֵי מוֹעֵד, אַנְשֵׁי-שֵׁם

וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב-לָכֶם–כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם ה ; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל ה

Writes Rashi:

What did he do? He went and assembled two hundred and fifty men, heads of Sanhedrin, most of them from the tribe of Reuben, his neighbors. ….. He dressed them with cloaks made entirely of blue wool. They came and stood before Moses and asked him, “Does a cloak made entirely of blue wool require fringes [’tzitzith’], or is it exempt?” He replied, “ It does require [fringes].” They began laughing at him [saying], “Is it possible that a cloak of another [colored] material, one string of blue wool exempts it [from the obligation of techeleth], and this one, which is made entirely of blue wool, should not exempt itself? – [Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2, Num. Rabbah 18:3]

מה עשה, עמד וכנס מאתים חמישים ראשי סנהדראות, רובן משבט ראובן שכיניוץ…. והלבישן טליתות שכולן תכלת. באו ועמדו לפני משה. אמרו לו טלית שכולה של תכלת חייבת בציצית או פטורה. אמר להם חייבת. התחילו לשחק עליו, אפשר טלית של מין אחר חוט אחד של תכלת פוטרה, זו שכולה תכלת לא תפטור את עצמה:

Notice , that Korach didn’t just make a hypothetical argument… he actually hired a tailor and put on a fashion show!

One could argue that the ultimate sin of Korach was that by making his fashion statement, he separated himself from the congregation.

Writes Rashi:

Korah… took: He took himself to one side to dissociate himself from the congregation, to contest the [appointment of Aaron to the] kehunah. This is what Onkelos means when he renders it וְאִתְפְּלֵג,“and he separated himself.” He separated himself from the congregation to persist in a dispute. Similarly, מה יקחך לבך, “Why does your heart take you away?” (Job 15:12) meaning, it removes you, to isolate you from others (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2).

ויקח קרח: לקח את עצמו לצד אחד להיות נחלק מתוך העדה לעורר על הכהונה, וזהו שתרגם אונקלוס ואתפלג נחלק משאר העדה להחזיק במחלוקת, וכן (איוב טו, יב) מה יקחך לבך, לוקח אותך להפליגך משאר בני אדם

But it’s also the way he did it.  Talk about wearing our religion on your sleeve, he exploited a ritual mitzvah to make a syncratic point…. Forget about the fact that the blue die techelet was a royal blue which had a price to match… these blue prayer shawls were ostentatious and elitist…  Come to think of it… Korach wasn’t making an argument for every plebian Jew, but rather for his caste…

But I digress… here’s the pet peeve that Korach raises …. The growing trend to imprint one’s eschatological beliefs on your kippah.

It used to be that if you had something to say, you’d get it imprinted on the inside of the kippah…. “Joey’s Bar Mitzvah”, “Harvey and Sheila’s wedding” … no big message here.

I don’t know if it was the Jews for Jesus who started this trend

jfor j shirts

But any observant Jew will admit that eschatology has hit the kippah industry in a big way.

First there was the Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman (Hebrew: נַ נַחְ נַחְמָ נַחְמָן מְאוּמַן‎) kippah.

4967_22_centimeter_black_knitted_na_nachman_breslov_kippah_with_tassel_view_1

The phrase is a Hebrew language name and song used by a subgroup of Breslover Hasidim colloquially known as the Na Nachs. The complete phrase is Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me’uman. It is a kabbalistic formula based on the four Hebrew letters of the name Nachman, referring to the founder of the Breslov movement, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.  The words come from an alledged “Letter from Heaven” from the Rebbe which reads:

my fire will burn until
Messiah is coming be strong and courageous
in your devotion
Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman

Most Breslover Hasidim do not use Na Nach Nachma (some groups actually oppose it) and not everyone believes it is an authentic writing from Rebbe Nachman. (see more: Wikipedia)

So while it is escatological, it is also divisive…..

Next came the kippot of those Chabad Hasidim who believe that the recently deceased Rebbe; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is the messiah. The Chabad “Yechi” yarmulkes have the slogan “yechi adonaynu moreynu v’rabbaynu melech hamoshiach l’olam va’ed,” “long live our master our teacher our rabbi king messiah forever and ever” embroidered or printed on them.

Chabad kippah

According to Wikipedia (I have left the links to the footnotes) “While some believe that he died but will return as the Messiah,[3] others believe that he is merely “hidden”. A very small minority believe that he has God-like powers,[4][5] or is the “creator”[6] while others negate the idea that he is the Messiah entirely. The prevalence of these views within the movement is disputed,[7][8][9][10][11] though very few will openly say that Schneerson cannot be the Messiah.[7]

Once again, this escatological kippah is divisive.

To prove the point, the IDF has recently ruled that it is prohibited for soldiers in uniform to wear a kippa with writing on it.

I believe that our prayer shawls should be nondescript in color and that our kippot should not advertise an end-of-days message.  But…. Following the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy, I am pleased to announce that Madlik has decided to offer it’s own eschatologically correct kippah to be known as the LoBa™ Kippah…. Stay tuned!

 

3 Comments

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, Fashion, Hebrew, Jewish jesus, Judaism, Religion, social commentary, Torah, Uncategorized

the jews have their jews and the catholics do too …

john cardinal o’connor

It’s official.  According to the New York Times, John Cardinal O’Connor, the Cardinal of New York for 16 years, was Jewish…. and his grandfather was a Rabbi.

As an avid student of religion, I recall Christmas Eve in 1995 turning on the TV to watch midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I was so blown away by Cardinal O’Connor’s sermon that I wrote the Archdiocese of New York for a copy.  I kept it all these years, and have not found it reproduced on the web or in Google books.

The Cardinal quotes Arthur Miller:

“Jew is only the name we give to the stranger, that agony we cannot feel, that death we look at like a cold abstraction.  Each man has his Jew, it is the other. And the Jews have their Jews.”

He (the Cardinal) writes of Jesus: “That Baby was a Jew. He might have been black or Japanese or Eskimo. To hate a Jew because he is a Jew is not an offense merely against political correctness. To hate a Jew, or a Black, or a Hispanic, or a Muslim or a homosexual, simply because he or she is such, is to hate God.”

I am pleased to present the complete sermon here. (to download the .pdf click here)

Cardinal OConnor Midnight Mass 25 December 1995-1

 

 

Cardinal OConnor Midnight Mass 25 December 1995-2Cardinal OConnor Midnight Mass 25 December 1995-3Cardinal OConnor Midnight Mass 25 December 1995-4

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Catholicism, Chosen People, divine birth, homosexuality, Jewish jesus, John Cardinal O'Connor, Religion, social commentary, Uncategorized

of mice and men, wives and land

Parshat Behar

It’s worth remembering that none of us can own the land. Agreements regarding the land don’t last forever. The plot of land our house is built on, the land defined by the borders of our country, mother earth itself, do not belong to us.  If they belong, they belong to a higher authority.

And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for ye are strangers and settlers with Me.
And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land. (Leviticus 25: 23-24)

  וְהָאָרֶץ, לֹא תִמָּכֵר לִצְמִתֻת–כִּי-לִי, הָאָרֶץ:  כִּי-גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים אַתֶּם, עִמָּדִי
וּבְכֹל, אֶרֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶם, גְּאֻלָּה, תִּתְּנוּ לָאָרֶץ

Baruch A. Levine writes in his commentary to Leviticus:

The God of Israel, to whom all land ultimately belongs, has granted the Land of Israel to His people, Israel, as an everlasting ‘ahuzzah, “holding.” In so doing, he has imposed on them certain conditions of tenure. Foremost among these is denial of the right to alienate land through its permanent conveyance to a purchaser – a right that is usually considered an intrinsic element of ownership. (page 270)

In the seven year Sabbatical cycle of shemita, all land is to be released to its original holder (ahaz), not to its original owner. Man cannot be an owner. No, we are all strangers in a strange land; we are all settlers.

So “holding” is by definition temporary. Resolving the age-old question: “buy or rent” the Bible seems to say: You can only rent… but maybe you can have an everlasting lease.

The word used in Leviticus 25:23 for “perpetuity” tsĕmiythuth is rare.  It only appears in one other place… verse 30, and also in reference to holding property.

According to Levine, we now know from Akkadian contracts that the term tsamit is very ancient and means “finally handed over [to his generations]”.  Writes Levine: “The repeated emphasis in our [Torah] legislation on computing the price of the land in terms of crop years also relates to the fact that in the Akkadian contract from Ugarit, property “finally handed over” is at the full price. Not so ‘ahuzah land.” (p.174).  Unlike Forever Land (tsamit), Ahuzah land is living land, land that is valued for what it produces, grows and nurtures. Forever Land (tsamit) is valued as property.

Forever Land (tsamit) also has a negative connotation associated with eternal death, not eternal life.  (Strongs Concordance H6783)

Tzemitut

The aramaic translation of  tsĕmiythuth is   לחלוטין  (Lechalutin) which is also a great word used in modern Hebrew to mean “absolutely” as in “Is he meshuga? Lechalutin – absolutely!  but it also can refer to absolute destruction as in:

 הפצצה מקיפה מעל אזור ספציפי במטרה לכתוש את האזור לחלוטין

The morbid nature of this sense of finality in tsamit-lechalutin comes out in Rabbinic literature as well. See Kohelet Rabba on Ecclesiastes 5:15:

“Just as man enters this world by final decision (bechalutin), so he leaves the this world by final decision.”

 הא היך מה דאתא בחליטין, כן ייזיל בחליטין

I recently saw Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men starring James Franco and Chris O’Dowd, so I can be forgiven if I make the connection between holding something too tightly and extinguishing it’s life force. It seems to me that the Hebrew Bible’s conception of land ownership understands that when we hold something too tight we can suck the life out of it.. whether we are a big oaf holding  a mouse, a puppy, a wife, or whether we hold onto a dream of owning the farm, or a homeland…  if we hold it too tight, we risk killing it.

Here’s the first comment by Rashi to the Torah:

Genesis 1.1 In the beginning Rabbis Isaac said: …. what is the reason that the Torah begins with Genesis [and not the first law]? … For if the nations of the world should say to Israel: “You are robbers, because you have seized by force the lands of the seven nations” [of Canaan], they [Israel] could say to them “The entire world belongs to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, He created it and gave it to whomever it was right in his eyes, Of His own will He gave it to them and His own will He took it from them and gave it to us.” (Yalkut, Exodus 12.2).

אמר רבי יצחק לא היה צריך להתחיל [את] התורה אלא (שמות יב ב) מהחודש הזה לכם, שהיא מצוה ראשונה שנצטוו [בה] ישראל, ומה טעם פתח בבראשית, משום (תהלים קיא ו) כח מעשיו הגיד לעמו לתת להם נחלת גוים, שאם יאמרו אומות העולם לישראל לסטים אתם, שכבשתם ארצות שבעה גוים, הם אומרים להם כל הארץ של הקב”ה היא, הוא בראה ונתנה לאשר ישר בעיניו, ברצונו נתנה להם וברצונו נטלה מהם ונתנה לנו:

Clearly Rashi’s primary point is that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews. It would be foolish to argue otherwise.  But his argument is nonetheless  intriguing. The land of Israel does not belong to the Jews because they were the original occupants. To the contrary, it’s as if Rashi, and by extension, the Torah is going out of it’s way  to showcase the fact that Abraham and his decedents, journeyed from another land and were settlers…. not belongers. We Jews are not natives when it comes to the land of Israel. It is not a matter of fate or destiny that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews, it is not written into the fabric of the universe…. it is a matter of historical contingency. God gave the land to the Jews to settle…. ” for the land is Mine; for ye are strangers and settlers with Me.”

How such a philosophy of limited ownership and temporal land claims plays out when it comes to peace talks is a rich area for discussion. It seems to me that if both parties think more in terms of temporary accommodations and less in terms of eternal claims, the chances of success will be higher and the possibility of suffocating that which each party holds dear… will be less.

mice-of-mice-and-men

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, social commentary, Torah

the gospel geniza – final

the afikomen and the hidden messiah

The Hagadah was written at exactly the same moment as were the gospels, a generation or two after the destruction of the temple and as a major split in theology and power was underway. Seen from this perspective, the divide between the Wise and Evil sons sets the context.

The wise one, what does he say? “What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which the Lord, our God, has commanded you?” You, in turn, shall instruct him in the laws of Passover, [up to] `one is not to eat any dessert after the Passover-lamb Afikomen.

wise son

The wicked one, what does he say? “What is this service to you?!” He says `to you,’ but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental. You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: “It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I left Egypt”; `for me’ – but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!”

evil son

If we ever had any doubts that in the hagaddah we are experiencing the institutionalization of sectarianism writ large.

Since when where any Jews left behind in Egypt?  In the Biblical account, the issue is always with the converse…. The Mixed Multitude as in Exodus 12:38.  The issue had always been that after the Ten Plagues and the Hebrew Slaves leaving with the riches of Egypt, there were opportunist hanger ons who joined the party.

And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.

וְגַם-עֵרֶב רַב, עָלָה אִתָּם, וְצֹאן וּבָקָר, מִקְנֶה כָּבֵד מְאֹד.

It is only with the rise of sects, especially the Christians, that we get the absurd concept, that there were not a few…. Actually there were a majority of Jews that didn’t want to be redeemed from Egypt.  As Rashi writes on Exodus 13:18

that one out of five (חִמִֹשָה) [Israelites] went out, and four fifths [lit., parts of the people] died during the three days of darkness [see Rashi on Exod. 10:22]. — [from Mechilta, Tanchuma, Beshallach 1]

דבר אחר חמושים אחד מחמשה יצאו, וארבעה חלקים מתו בשלשת ימי אפילה

The Evil son, scripted by the Haggadah, claims that now that (Jesus) the Messiah has come, these rites, laws and traditions… the whole story of the Exodus is meaningless.

As Israel Yuval writes: The expression” to dull his teeth” is mentioned in Genesis Rabbah in two contexts, both of them explicitly anti-Christian, and in both cases the expression indicates a complete rejection of the Christian claim. (Two Nations in your Womb, p 76) *

So what is the Jewish Counter-Claim?  This brings us to the question of what does the wise son mean when he references the Afikomen and the rule “do not eat or add anything after the Passover {sacrifice} Afikomen”?

So much of the seder has been popularized and dumbed down for the benefit of our children, that we could be forgiven if we think that holding the matzah high, breaking it in half, hiding it, searching for it and ultimately taking it as the last taste of the Seder ceremony were just so much children’s theatre. The truth is that as the Wise son says… the Afikomen is central to the service, to redemption and to the break with Christianity.

The breaking of the matzah, it’s hiding and ultimate discovery and last taste are part and parcel of the Seder and it’s order.

Kiddush – Wash – Greens – Break – Recite – Wash – Blessing on Bread – Blessing on Matzah – Bitter Herbs – Sandwich – Meal – Hidden Afikomen – Grace After Meal – Hallel – Conclude

seder order

The Seder begins very dramatically with the leader raising the matzoh and saying in the vernacular of 2nd and 3rd century Palestine:

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover. This year [we are] here; next year in the land of Israel. This year [we are] slaves; next year [we will be] free people.

ha lachma

Robert Eisler in 1925 and after him, David Daube in 1966 from Oxford said the obvious:  “This is the bread of Affliction” comes too close to Jesus’s statement at the Last Supper not to be linked:

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

“This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6: 50-51

… the lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me Corinthians 11: 23 – 25

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. Matthew 26:26

The authors of the haggadah and the participants in the seder through the middle ages were also certainly aware of the fact that this service, of eating “this bread” and “this wine” had become central to the daily rite of the Eucharist and Communion.

Clearly, some scribes felt uncomfortable with this concept of Transubstantiation, where the bread actually becomes something other than itself and changed the text to Ke’ha Lachma Anya.. this is “like” the bread of affliction. **

But for those who were willing to confront the clear parallel between the emphases on the Bread as something else… we have to admit that there clearly was an earlier shared tradition.  The question is what the Jewish version was?

While a lot of scholarship has been dedicated to this question and no final resolution has been achieved, it is clear to me that in the Rabbis version, not only has the Messiah not come, but… and this is the big “but”, even if and when he/she comes the liberation theology of the Exodus from Egypt will remain intact… nay … primary.

Ben Zoma explained it: “It is said, `That you may remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life;’ now `the days of your life’ refers to the days, [and the additional word] `all’ indicates the inclusion of the nights!” The sages, however, said: “`The days of your life’ refers to the present-day world; and `all’ indicates the inclusion of the days of Messiah.”

all the days of your life

 

This is where the evil son (the voice of a Christian) went astray… not only in believing that the Messiah had already come, but worse… in believing that as a result, we should dial back the Exodus from Egypt to irrelevance.

The Rabbis on the other hand, reacted to the Christian Claim of the arrival of the Messiah and the transubstantiation of the bread, into a new, and I believe, enlightened conception of the end-of-days.  In the Rabbinic view Egypt rules… the Exodus from Egypt never gets eclipsed or diluted into a metaphor.  Equally important, Israel and Jerusalem (where I write these words) can take on whatever allegorical meaning you wish, but the physical place never gets dislodged.

This IS the bread we ate in Egypt and… this year we are here and next year we are in the Land of Israel.

Both sects (Judaism and Christianity) shared the post-Temple transformation of The Pesach Sacrifice into the Matzah.  That is why the Matzoh bread became the focal point of their disagreement. For Christianity, the Bread became the body of Christ.  It was no longer the Bread of Affliction, but rather the body of the messiah, and just as Egypt became a metaphor, Jerusalem became an Idealized place.. the New Jerusalem.

According to Yuval:

The eating of the afikomen thus signifies the anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, according to the well know rule: “In Nissan we were redeemed, and in Nissan we shall be redeemed in the future.” In accordance with this rule, we may propose a new interpretation of the ancient halakhic prohibition “One does not conclude with an Afikomen following the Passover Sacrifice.” Assuming the messianic symbolism of eating the matzah, as suggested by Jesus’s speech at the Last Supper, this Rabbinic prohibition may have been intended to prevent a separation between eating the afikomen (symbolizing the anticipation of future Redemption) and eating the Passover offering (symbolizing the Exodus from Egypt). (p. 246)

The Rabbis have been burnt and so had Judaism.  The core response to the direction that Christianity has taken messianism, is for the rabbis (at least in the Hagaddah) to dial back their own messianism.

According to Eisler, Daube and Yuval, aphikomen comes from the Greek aphikomenos, that is, “the One who Comes”.  And what do we do with this “One that Comes”?  What do we do with the Messiah?  We bless him, break him, hide him, discover him (as if for the first time) and at the end-of-the day… at midnight…. We finish the seder ….. without him!  There is no Messiah after the Pesach.  The Exodus from Egypt and the return to the Physical land of Israel… is as good as it gets.

Nirtzah [cf Neilah] – the Seder is closed.

epilogue

 

 

dull teethke like

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, Israel, Jewish jesus, Judaism, Torah

the gospel geniza – part 3

the great sabbath – the great son, the great slaughter and the great polemic…

The Shabbat before Passover is widely referred to as Shabbat HaGadol, the Big or Great Shabbat. Surprisingly, no Jewish source refers to the Shabbat in this way before the year 1,000. The earliest reference to the Great Sabbath is actually in The New Testament (John 19:31) where the crucifixion occurs on the Friday before Passover which.. “was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a great Sabbath.” (The Greek word used is: megalē μεγάλη which means: large, great). In fact, in early Christianity, “The Great Sabbath” denoted the Sabbath before Easter.

The Machzor Vitry)., a 12th Century Jewish source claims that Jews call it the Great Shabbat, but they don’t know why because it is no greater than the other Shabbats. Rashi actually writes that the customary lengthy Shabbat HaGadol sermon makes this Shabbat drag. He suggests that this is why it is called Shabbat HaGadol – gadol in the sense of “long/protracted.” (if you’re a fan of my recent blog keep it short, enough said)

Leopold Zunz, the 19th century founder of Jewish Studies raised the possibility that the Jews had borrowed the term “Great Sabbath” from their Christian environment which makes little sense. What makes more sense, especially based on recent research by scholars such as Daniel Boyarin (The Jewish Gospels), is that Christian sources have preserved a common Jewish belief and custom which, once embraced by the Christian offshoot, was repressed within Judaism.

After close to 1,000 years, Shabbat Hagadol began to reemerge into Ashkenazi circles. “The uniqueness was expressed in the choice of a new Hafarah portion, Malachi 3, because of it’s fitting conclusion that anticipated the coming of Elijah and thereafter, “the great and terrible day of God.” Shabbat Hagadol thus took it’s place in Ashkenaz as a Sabbath equal to the four special Sabbaths designated in the Mishnah for the (prior) month of Adar.”

If you subscribe to the thesis offered in part 2 of this series, that there had originally been a 40 day period of preparation for the redemption in Nisan, then Shabbat Hagadol served the same function as Shabbat Shuvah before Yom Kippur… as an opportunity for Rabbi’s to preach an inspiring sermon.

Israel Yuval and others * argue that The Great Shabbat was originally a (2nd – 3rd century ce) Christian innovation and was only integrated into Judaism much later date and as a response to the Christian Holy Week also known as “Great Week”. Shabbat Hagadol as a polemic tool against Christianity is supported by the choice of prophetic readings and samples of sermons from medieval (especially Ashkenazic) sources. The focus is on the “great slaughter” and the “great son”.

The Haftora for Shabbat Hagadol is Malachi 3: 4-24 concluding with (23-24):

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the land with utter destruction.
הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם, אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא–לִפְנֵי, בּוֹא יוֹם יְהוָה, הַגָּדוֹל, וְהַנּוֹרָא.
וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב-אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים, וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל-אֲבוֹתָם–פֶּן-אָבוֹא, וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת-הָאָרֶץ חֵרֶם.

The point of the Haftorah (bedsides containing a reference to a Great Day) is that God will redeem the Jewish people and take vengeance upon their tormentors. **

But the polemics did not stop there.

The Jewish tradition addressed the Christian claim to be the younger brother (see part 1 of this series), with the counter claim that Rome was Edom in the Bible and that the progenitor of these Christian Edomites was the older or great brother Esau.

The Pesikta deRav Kehana ties the Shabbat Hagadol to the victory over the Great Brother…

And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder (lit. great) son, and said unto him: ‘My son’; and he said unto him: ‘Here am I.’ (Genesis 27:1)
וַיְהִי כִּי-זָקֵן יִצְחָק, וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-עֵשָׂו בְּנוֹ הַגָּדֹל, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו בְּנִי, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, הִנֵּנִי.
And Rebekah took the choicest garments of Esau her elder son (lit. great), which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son. (Genesis 27: 15)
וַתִּקַּח רִבְקָה אֶת-בִּגְדֵי עֵשָׂו בְּנָהּ הַגָּדֹל, הַחֲמֻדֹת, אֲשֶׁר אִתָּהּ, בַּבָּיִת; וַתַּלְבֵּשׁ אֶת-יַעֲקֹב, בְּנָהּ הַקָּטָן.

These two verses are referenced in the Pesikta de Rav Kahana in an explanation of Exodus 12:6 which deals with the preparations taken from the 10th of Nisan when a lamb is taken:

and ye shall keep it unto the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at dusk.
The Pesikta, was compiled by the 8th century is thought to be based on substantially older texts similar to Genesis Rabah. It identifies the lamb with Edom, who it claims, God will make “small”:

The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom: We have heard a message from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the nations: ‘Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle.’
Behold, I make thee small among the nations; thou art greatly despised.
חֲזוֹן, עֹבַדְיָה: כֹּה-אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה לֶאֱדוֹם, שְׁמוּעָה שָׁמַעְנוּ מֵאֵת יְהוָה וְצִיר בַּגּוֹיִם שֻׁלָּח–קוּמוּ וְנָקוּמָה עָלֶיהָ, לַמִּלְחָמָה.
הִנֵּה קָטֹן נְתַתִּיךָ, בַּגּוֹיִם: בָּזוּי אַתָּה, מְאֹד.

And will slaughter:
The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams; for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom.
חֶרֶב לַיהוָה מָלְאָה דָם, הֻדַּשְׁנָה מֵחֵלֶב, מִדַּם כָּרִים וְעַתּוּדִים, מֵחֵלֶב כִּלְיוֹת אֵילִים: כִּי זֶבַח לַיהוָה בְּבָצְרָה, וְטֶבַח גָּדוֹל בְּאֶרֶץ אֱדוֹם.

Can one assume that the author of this midrash was also aware that Jesus was thought to be “great” (Luke 1”32; Hebrews 1:3-4)

In any case, we can assume that when Shabbat Hagadol (re-)appeared in medieval times, it was used as a polemical tool against Christianity. Similar to the evolution of the removal of leaven, the emphasis for the week before Passover, including the Shabbat before Passover was changed from self reflection to retribution on our external enemies.. with an emphasis on the last plague, the smiting of the First Born (the Big son). (see Yuval p. 218 where he cites tosafot b. Shabbat 87b on connection between Shabbat Hagadol and the first born in Egypt). ***

Israel Yuval argues that Shabbat Hagadol did not exist in Judaism until medieval times. I side with Daniel Boyarin’s argument, that if the synoptic gospels refer to a Jewish Great Sabbath, it is unlikely that it was their innovation, they were certainly claiming an existing Jewish religious/cultural institution as their own.

So what was the nature of the original Jewish (Pre- Christian) Shabbat Hagadol?

According to a response from the thirteenth century a certain Menachem ben Yaakov writes that the Haftora read on this Shabbat was originally Jeremiah 7 (the Haftora we now read for parshat Tzav) but, says Menachem,  since that Haftora contains a rebuke by the prophet that God doesn’t want the Jewish People’s hypocritical sacrifices, it would be too insensitive to use this reading “on the day the they [the Jews] they slaughter the Passover sacrifice. (Yuval p. 223)

It is clear to me, that this is precisely the right Haftora to read when we celebrate the newly created Passover Seder…. after the destruction of the temple and without a Passover sacrifice.

It is also clear to me, that it became impossible to read this Haftora once the competition with Christianity began.   Jesus, after all modeled himself after Jeremiah when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the narrative of the Cleansing of the Temple.

But now that the competition is over… maybe we can read Jeremiah again… it’s powerful stuff for the Great Shabbat before Passover, and in my humble opinion, no one, said it better than Jeremiah.  Here’s a sampling… but you should open up a Bible and read it for yourself…

Have a Great Shabbat…..

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.
Trust ye not in lying words, saying: ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, are these.’
Nay, but if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute justice between a man and his neighbour;
if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt;
then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.
Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.
Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye have not known,
and come and stand before Me in this house, whereupon My name is called, and say: ‘We are delivered’, that ye may do all these abominations?
Is this house, whereupon My name is called, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it, saith the LORD……
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, Mine anger and My fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the land; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt-offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat ye flesh.
For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices;
but this thing I commanded them, saying: ‘Hearken unto My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people; and walk ye in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’
But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in their own counsels, even in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward,
even since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day; and though I have sent unto you all My servants the prophets, sending them daily betimes and often,

——————

* For a full treatment of the repression and reemergence of Shabbat hagadol see: Passover in the Middle Ages, Israel J. Yuval in Passover and Easter – Origin and History to Modern Times Vol 6 pp127 – 160 and The Great Sabbath and Lent: Jewish Origins? By Lawrence Hoffman Passover and Easter – Origin and History to Modern Times Vol 5 pp. 15 – 35.

** Not coincidentally, Malachi 3, 1 -3 is not included since it makes reference to a messenger, which Christians would take to mean; Jesus.
Behold, I send My messenger, and he shall clear the way before Me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to His temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in, behold, he cometh, saith the LORD of hosts….. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver; and there shall be they that shall offer unto the LORD offerings in righteousness.

*** here are the original sources quoted above:
Pesikta

 

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, Hebrew, Israel, Jewish jesus, Judaism, Sabbath, Shabbat, social commentary, Torah

the gospel geniza – part 2

removing leaven – preparing for the redemption

It is widely known that in Judaism there are actually two New Years.  The first month; Tishre, and the seventh month: Nisan. I

What is not as widely known is that there is a similar calendrical dialectic regarding when The Deliverance will arrive  in the time to come.

According to Rabbi Eliezer ‘In Nisan they were delivered’, as Scripture recounts. [but] ‘In Tishri they will be delivered in time to come’. This is learnt from the two occurrences of the word ‘horn’. It is written in one place, Blow the horn on the new moon, and it is written in another place, In that day a great horn shall be blown.

‘R. Joshua says, In Nisan they were delivered, [and] in Nisan they will be delivered in the time to come’. Whence do we know this? — Scripture calls [the Passover] ‘a night of watchings’, [which means], a night which has been continuously watched for from the six days of the creation. (Rosh HaShana 11b). II

Given the solemnity of Rosh Hashanah (the Tishre New Year), it is no surprise that preparations begin a month before at the beginning of Elul with the daily Selichot prayers and blowing of the ‘horn’.  The days of preparation and repentance culminate on Yom Kippur when the Shofar horn is blown one final time and the judgment has been sealed and the gates closed – Neilah.  All in all, there is a 40 day period between the beginning of Elul wherein the Jewish People prepare for the Day of Judgment, and according to Rabbi Eliezer for deliverance.

What is surprising is that there is not a similar 40 day period preceding Passover.

There seem to be artifacts for such a long preparation period in the four special Sabbaths (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh) which create a roughly 40 day preparation period to Passover. III But where is the sense of angst and spiritual growth, the repentance and increased sense of expectation and spiritual frenzy that one would expect to lead up to deliverance and that one finds in the Tishre parallel?

It’s not as if the Bible does not allude to such preparation.  There are probably more references to the removing leaven than there are to any other aspect of the holiday.

3 Thou shalt eat no leavened bread (חָמֵץ) on it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened (מַצּוֹת) bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for in haste didst thou come forth out of the land of Egypt; that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life.

4 And there shall be no leaven (שְׂאֹר) seen with thee in all they borders seven days; … (Deuteronomy 16: 1 – 4)

לֹא-תֹאכַל עָלָיו חָמֵץ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תֹּאכַל-עָלָיו מַצּוֹת לֶחֶם עֹנִי:  כִּי בְחִפָּזוֹן, יָצָאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם–לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת-יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ.

וְלֹא-יֵרָאֶה לְךָ שְׂאֹר בְּכָל-גְּבֻלְךָ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; וְלֹא-יָלִין מִן-הַבָּשָׂר, אֲשֶׁר תִּזְבַּח בָּעֶרֶב בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן–לַבֹּקֶר.

I would argue, that as a result of Christianity monopolizing the Passover deliverance narrative, Judaism dialed down both the preparations and build-up to Passover as well as the inherent messianistic overtones of the holiday. (see my previous post: the gospel geniza and Daniel Boyarin’s  Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity) IV

What was lost or at least de-emphasized from Judaism was the connection between removing leaven and cleaning one’s soul in preparation for redemption.

The New Testament mentions “the leaven of malice and wickedness”

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth. [Corinthians 5:8]

This view is shared by the ancients:

“Leaven itself comes from corruption, and corrupts the dough with which it is mixed . . . and in general, fermentation seems to be a kind of putrefaction” (Plutarch, Quaest. Rom. 109). Plutarch records that the Roman high priest (Flamen Dialis) was forbidden even to touch leaven (ibid.). To be sure, all of the above-cited references stem from late antiquity (Christian, rabbinic, and Hellenistic sources), but they undoubtedly reflect an older and universal regard of leaven as the arch-symbol of fermentation:’ deterioration, and death and, hence, taboo on the altar of blessing and life. [pp 188-9 Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary Anchor Bible, Vol. 3, Jacob Milgrom]

Listen to what (Pre-Christian) Philo of Alexandria (representing the Jewish Hellenistics) wrote:

Leaven is forbidden because of the rising which it produces. Here again we have a symbol of the truth, that none as he approaches the altar should be uplifted or puffed up by arrogance; rather gazing on the greatness of God, let him gain a perception of the weakness which belongs to the creature, even though he may be superior to others in prosperity; and having been thus led to the reasonable conclusion, let him reduce the overweening exaltation of his pride by laying low that pestilent enemy, conceit. …. For naked you came into the world, worthy sir, and naked will you again depart, and the span of time between your birth and death is a loan to you from God. During this span what can be meet for you to do but to study fellow-feeling and goodwill and equity and humanity and what else belongs to virtue, and to cast away the inequitable, unrighteous and unforgiving viciousness which turns man, naturally the most civilized of creatures, into a wild and ferocious animal! (Philo,The Special Laws, Book I, 293-295 quoted in The Passover Anthology, Philip Goodman).

It is surprising that the symbolism of the purging of leaven as a metaphor for introspection and repentance seems not to appear in the Haggada directly itself and is relegated (if at all) to the commentaries as meta-interpretation.  In fact, the removal, nullification and prohibition to own leaven is not mentioned during the Seder service at all… surprising since at least half of the effort in preparing a seder goes into making the home hametz-free! (“On all other nights we eat Hametz and matzo .. on this night we eat only matzoh” does not count.. since the emphasis is on commandment of eating matzoh, not clearing and nullifying hametz.)

If we enlarge our search for spring spiritual cleaning, beyond Christianity, we should note that Persians at the outset of the Iranian Norouz, (the Persian new year, which falls on the first day [Rosh Hodesh) of spring) continue the practice of “khooneh tekouni” which literally means “shaking the house”? Everything in the house is thoroughly cleaned, from the drapes to the furniture.

Back to the Christian geniza, we should note that Lent comes from the word length.. as in the longer days of spring. Instead of Ash Wednesday, the Eastern Church celebrates Clean Monday, otherwise known as Ash Monday. According to Wikipidia:

The common term for this day, “Clean Monday”, refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods. It is sometimes called “Ash Monday,” by analogy with Ash Wednesday (the day when the Western Churches begin Lent). …. Liturgically, Clean Monday—and thus Lent itself—begins on the preceding (Sunday) night, at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers, which culminates with the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness, at which all present will bow down before one another and ask forgiveness. In this way, the faithful begin Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. The entire first week of Great Lent is often referred to as “Clean Week,” and it is customary to go to Confession during this week, and to clean the house thoroughly.

The fact that so many other competing religions, especially Christianity, retained the spring-purification rites may explain why it’s symbolism became muted in Judaism.

But the New Testament preserves another sense of leaven, namely the polemical – vindictive tool of calling one’s enemy leaven.

“the leaven of the Pharisees,” which is “hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1; d. Mark 8:15).

It would seem that in Judaism, the inward-looking cleaning of sin in preparation for redemption was de-emphasized, just as the outward-looking cleaning of one’s enemies was emphasized.

“Sovereign of the Universe, it is well known to You that it is our will to do Your will. Who prevents us from doing so? The leavening agent in the dough (the evil inclination within us) and our subservience to the nations. May it be Your will to save us from these so that we can return to fulfilling Your commandments wholeheartedly.” Prayer of Rabbi Alexandrai (quoted by Milgrom ibid).

See also the kabalistic kavanah recited before the bedikat HaChametz (searching for the Leaven):

May it be Your will, Lord, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that just as I remove the chametz from my house and from my possession, so shall You remove all the extraneous forces. Remove the spirit of impurity from the earth, remove our evil inclination from us, and grant us a heart of flesh to serve You in truth. Make all the sitra achara, all the kelipot, and all wickedness be consumed in smoke, and remove the dominion of evil (Memshelet Zadon – Christians [?])  from the earth. Remove with a spirit of destruction and a spirit of judgment all that distress the Shechina, just as You destroyed Egypt and its idols in those days, at this time. Amen, Selah.

bedikat Hametz kavanah

As long as Christianity and Judaism were in conflict, I can understand why the month long  spiritual cleaning was relegated to the day before the holiday and does not appear in the Hagaddah. I can also understand the institutionalization of “a comprehensive religious ideology that sees vengeance as a central component in its messianic doctrine. (Yuval p. 123).

With the Christian embrace of Lent and Holy Week and the heightened levels of expectation, spiritual frenzy and expectations of rapture approaching their Pascha (Easter), we Jews de-emphasized our own versions of these same expectations for Passover.  We did this for philosophical but also practical reasons.  The Easter period was historically a dangerous one for the Jewish minority.

It seems to me that the only part of cleaning the leaven to survive in our Hagaddah was in the “Pour out your Wrath on the nations”.

Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not acknowledge You, and upon the kingdoms that do not call upon Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation. Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let the wrath of Your anger overtake them. Pursue them with anger, and destroy them from beneath the heavens of the Lord.

sephoch hamatcha

This is actually a high-point of the Seder dinner; when we open the door to welcome Elijah and before we drink the Fourth Cup which is traditionally the cup of redemption.  At this pivotal moment we beseech God to clean the world of our external enemies (leaven).

Now that the competition is over, it is time to replace the “pour out your wrath” and it’s emphasis on external polemics and vengeance, with a reference to the internal cleansing that must precede redemption.

In fact, a “Rabbi Shimon ben Yitzhak wrote a poem cursing the “evil impulse” that was stylistically similar to the curse against the Gentiles. This liturgical poem continues alphabetically; the verbs used to curse later on are “sweep him away, hurl him, compel him, banish him, sacrifice him” (see A. M. Haberman quoted in Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Isræl Jacob Yuval. Pp 123-4)

————-
In a private correspondence with Israel Yuval he writes:

“The English translation of my book omitted quotations from the piyyutim, because of the difficulties in their translation. As mentioned in footnote 91, the piyyut which curses the evil impulse was printed in Haberman’s edition p. 148 (קמח):
אווילי (=יצר הרע) המתעה מרגיז ומחטיא / בלעהו קלעהו ועוד בל יסטיא
געול המגאל ומטנף טהורים / דחהו מחהו מלבות והרהורים
הותל המהתל ומפתל ישרים / וכחהו שכחהו ולא יקמו אשרים
זבוב המארב במפתחי הלב / חנקהו נקהו ולב חדש תלבלב

Trans. Hillel ben Sasson:

Foolish (=evil impulse) who sets astray, aggravates and causes to sin \ swallow it (the evil impulse), tie it, so that it will not bedevil you,
drive away the one who’s impure [not sure ‘impure’ is precise but it’s close enough] and brings filth upon the pure\ reject him, erase him from hearts and thoughts
confuse the one who confuses and makes the straight ones crooked\ argue with him, forget him so that idols will not be erected
the insect who lurks in the doors of the heart \ suffocate him, cleanse him and a new heart you will cause to blossom

Hillel ben Sasson also suggests:
שפוך אהבתך, הוספה שנמצאה בכתב יד של הגדה לפסח מ-1521 המיוחסת לנכדו של רש”י

שפוך אהבתך על הגויים אשר ידעוך ועל ממלכות אשר בשמך קוראים בגלל חסדים שהם עושים עם זרע יעקב ומגינים על עמך ישראל מפני אוכליהם. יזכו לראות בסוכת בחיריך ולשמוח בשמחת גוייך.

Trans. GS

“Pour out Your Love” an addition that was found handwritten in a 1521 Passover Hagadah attributed to Rahi’s grandson:

“Pour out Your love on the nations that have known you and on the empires who call out in Your name, by the merit of the rightious that work with the seed of Jacob and protect them from those that would devour them. May they merit in the tabernacle of your Chosen and to rejoice in the joy of your people.”
————

As long as we’re re-introducing and re-emphasising the internal removal of leaven, let’s note that most haggadot, don’t start with kiddush, but rather retain the home ceremony of searching for the leaven… even though the search and nullification of leaven takes place before the onset of the holiday and holiday service.

The message is clear: The nullification of the leaven/decay is critical for the freedom that is to follow. Let’s use this text and a revised, internalized “pour out thy wrath” to discuss how we need to prepare for redemption, in whatever form we envision it…. by removing the leaven from our hearts, including the outdated religious ideology of redemption through polemic and vindication.

Leaven-Logo official-200

—————–

I Tishre, the first month in the Fall and Nisan the seventh month in the Spring.  Tishre, because the world was created in Tishre and Nisan because the Jewish people were created in Nisan and because the Bible in Exodus 12:2 says so “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.”

II See also Megillah 6b: Where Rabbi Gamaliel argues that in a leap year, Purim is celebrated on the 2nd Adar: “R. Simon b. Gamaliel again reasoned: Just as in most years [we think of] Adar as adjoining Nisan, so here [we keep the precepts] in the Adar which adjoins Nisan. …. The reason of R. Simon b. Gamaliel is that more weight is to be attached to bringing one period of redemption close to another.” Purim and Passover are times of future redemption.

III Or if one counts from Purim, a roughly 40 day period between Purim and the end of Nissan (which marks the end of when the deliverance will come).

IV In an ironic use of replacement theology, the Rabbis elevated an agricultural holiday (Shavuot) into a holiday of revelation (of the Torah) and similarly modified the 49 day Omer period between Passover and Shavuot, into a new period of purification and preparation.

end note –

Just as the Kol Nidre nullification of vows prior to the onset of Yom Kippur is forever connected to the service to follow, so too, the Kol Hamirah is critical to the seder to follow. Both nullification (Bitul) formulas are legal in form and in the Aramaic vernacular. Both are combined with an invitation for others to participate, and both are intrinsic to the holiness of the coming day. The ironic difference is that Kol Nidre is famous and Kol Hamirah is not… but that the nullification of Hametz is of biblical origin (and requires a blessing) while Kol Nidre is of unknown origin. Most unfortunatley, Kol Nidre has a soulful tune and Kol Hamira has none….

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, Jewish jesus, Judaism, Religion, social commentary, Torah

the gospel geniza

getting ready for passover

In the category of Jewish-Christian Dialogue, the award for the best back-handed compliment goes to Pope John Paul II who in 1986 went to a Rome synagogue to pray with the city’s Jewish community. Noting Christianity’s unique bond with Judaism, he said, “You are our beloved brothers … you are our elder brothers” in the faith of Abraham. (see: Catholic News). More recently, Pope Francis described the Jewish people as the “big brothers” of his Roman Catholic flock in words of solidarity marking the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Why a compliment? Because we Jews are raised with a conceit… that Christians cannot possibly understand their religion without understanding Judaism, the religion of Jesus. We may be a minority and have been oppressed, but when all is said and done, our religion preceded and gave birth to Christianity… the two popes exploited this conceit.

Why a backhanded compliment? For those familiar with the Hebrew Bible, you know that the God of the Jews favors the younger brother.. from Cain and Abel until King David and on….

and the elder shall serve the younger. (Genesis 25: 23)
וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר

For a complete analysis of the history of this birth-order election tug-of-war see the brilliant: Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Isræl Jacob Yuval.

Why the Award and why now? Now that Christianity and Judaism are getting along so well, we can both agree that neither religion can achieve self-awareness without understanding the other. Both religions can lose their conceits and sense of election and need to admit that they both do not have a well thought out theology which includes the other. *

As Daniel Boyarin argues in his book Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were created in the chaos formed by the loss of the temple and the Jewish Commonwealth in the first centuries of the Common Era. And…. it turns out, both “religions” increasingly defined themselves in counter distinction to the other.

For the purposes of the present discussion, what this means is that both faiths jettisoned beliefs held by the other. So in his more popular book, The Jewish Gospels, Boyarin argues that if the early Christians were looking to convince Jews of their authenticity, it would hardly make sense to cite unheard of concepts and novel ideas to prove that they were the true heir to the throne. If they claimed that Jesus was divinely born and/or needed to be sacrificed, Boyarin argues, that must have been the expectation of the general Jewish population of the day. Similarly, if early Christian Jews claimed that the Godhead had multiple manifestations, then this belief must have been resident among fellow Jews. And in his writings, Boyarin proves that these beliefs were in fact, held by Jews of the time.

As the break between the two religions grew over time, the border lines became less porous. Previously common beliefs, rituals and traditions were divvied up as in a zero sum game.

So the two Popes have my appreciation for reminding me of a once important thread in my tradition, the election of the younger brother, which we jettisoned at the border and had forgotten about to the point where most of us smile with appreciation when we’re referred to by the leader of the Catholic Church as the older brother.

The two Popes get my appreciation, because in our new world where hostilities have ceased and Jewish Christian dialog is fashionable, we Jews are now free to roam around the Gospels (and the rest of Christian scripture, liturgy and literature) to reclaim customs, traditions, rituals, expressions, beliefs and even polemics that we discarded and buried long ago in what I call the Gospel Geniza.

In my next post we’ll explore this treasure trove, hiding in plain sight, for Jewish artifacts that impact the Passover celebration.

Here are some entrées to whet your appetite:

Shabbat Hagadol – see John 19:31 (megalē μεγάλη which means: large, great)
Hametz – See Mark 8:15 “the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod” and the connection between purging leaven and repentance.
Afikomen – broken and hidden, a symbol of the messiah and a lost polemic

fish

* i.e Christians, especially Catholics, have not fully worked out how their older brother need not be rejected and replaced by the younger brother for their new testament (covenant) to be valid, and Jews have not expanded their rudimentary category of natural religion (Noachide Religion) to include other eschatological monotheistic religions such as Christianity which have valid but alternative conceptions of the Godhead and end-of-days.

2 Comments

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, divine birth, Hebrew, Jewish jesus, Judaism, Religion, resurrection, Sabbath, Shabbat, social commentary, Torah