Category Archives: Jewish jesus

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

 

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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

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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

 

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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

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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….

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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.

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temples on the move

parshat pekudei

The Bible spends an inordinate amount of time prescribing, describing and cataloging the construction of the Tabernacle. You’re forgiven if you missed the punch-line:

33 ….. So Moses finished the work.
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
36 And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys.
37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up.

The climax is that after all the effort… the glory of God actually filled the place. Anti-climactic you say! Well, think of all the temples, synagogues, and shrines that are sterile and empty of all things divine and most things human. Think of all the building campaigns that drag on and on and when finally completed lose all sense of original and ultimate purpose and mission.

To put into perspective the accomplishment of receiving God’s glory into the Tabernacle, it’s a little known fact that there were many Jews who believed that the glory of God never favored the Second Temple with It’s presence. That’s right… the Western Wall of the 2nd Temple that pious Jews pray at, framed a temple that lacked its most basic requirement.. God’s glory.

When Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers, he was acting out a disdain shared by the majority of Jewish sects of time:

The second temple.. although authorized by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, was built by a gentile king and was never authenticated by an overt sign of divine favor. Second Isaiah, … is aware that some Jews do not approve of God’s plan (“Woe to him who strives with his maker, and earthen vessel with the potter! Does the clay say to him who fashions it, ‘What are you making’? Isaiah 45:9). The old men who had seen the first temple in its glory cried at the dedication of the second temple (Ezra 3:12) – apparently tears of sadness, as they contemplated the puny temple that was before them. In the second century B.C.E., the temple’s problematic status was revealed to all. The high priests were corrupted and the temple was profaned by a gentile monarch.… Herod the Great rebuilt the temple magnificently, but his detractors viewed him as a “half-Jew,” he completely debased the high priesthood, appointing men who had even less claim than the Maccabees to be legitimate successors of Aaron.

Shaye J. D. Cohen, Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University (quoted above) argues that it was the implicit false claims of the second temple that were primarily responsible for the emergence of sects such as the Essenes of Qumran and Dead Sea Scroll fame, the early Christians and even the Rabbinic Pharisees.  [From the Maccabees to the Mishnah by Shaye J. D. Cohen (Nov 1988) pages 131-132]

Today, in America, as Judaism confronts new challenges, we don’t expect the glory of God to grace our congregations, but we do look for validation by attendance. If in the first millennium, Jews left the temple because God’s glory was absent, in the second millennium we can register the absence of God’s glory when the Jews are missing.

As Solomon Schechter, the founder of The Jewish Theological Seminary and patriarch of the Conservative Movement said:

“Every generation,” the ancient Rabbis say, “which did not live to see the rebuilding of the Holy Temple must consider itself as if it had witnessed its destruction.” Similarly we say that every age which has not made some essential contribution to the erection of the Temple of Truth … is bound to look upon itself as if it had been instrumental in its demolition. For it is these fresh contributions and the opening of new sources, with the new currents they create, that keep the intellectual and the spiritual atmosphere in motion and impart to it life and vigor. But when, through mental inertia and moral sloth, these fresh sources are allowed to dry, stagnation and decay are sure to set in. The same things happen which came’ to pass when Israel’s sanctuary was consumed in fire. [Inaugural Address, delivered November 20, 1902, Seminary Addresses and other papers by Solomon Schechter, The Burning Book Press, 1959 p 18]

Boredom, not the glory of God, is what characterizes our modern day temples… as Jay Michaelson wrote recently in The Forward describing a friend’s choice of Synagogue:

Lifelong liberal, egalitarian Jews, my friend and his wife nonetheless chose the Orthodox synagogue. Perhaps surprisingly, she was more comfortable there than he was. Yes, my friend’s wife said, she resented being excluded from participation in ritual, but at least at the Orthodox synagogue, she had access to some meaningful prayer experience. The only thing egalitarian about the more liberal settings was that everyone was equally bored.

It seems to me that those of us who are in the shul business…. and there’s no business like shul business …. spend too much time discussing rituals, standards and ideology… as important as these issues might be.  Whether it is same-sex marriage, egalitarianism, musical instruments, microphones on the Sabbath or even mechitzot (separation of men and women). These are important items but they have no bearing on whether our sanctuaries are boring or inspired.

Perhaps it is the set standards  of Orthodox congregations, especially Chabad congregations which spares them the debate on these ritual issues and which permits them to focus on inspiration.  I know that my Orthodox friends may disagree, but I just can’t accept the premise that egalitarian seating and a microphone contributes to the sterility and boredom in many progressive synagogues.  We have to move beyond our standards and focus on that which engages and inspires us. (read Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer for more on this)

As a member of a Conservative Synagogue I worry about Shechter’s  “stagnation and decay” and take solace that Shechter’s movement gave birth to Havurah and Recontructionist Judaism.  At it’s core, the Conservative Movement, which today shows little movement, should be the petri dish for Jews to become more knowledgeable and for knowledgeable Jews to explore and create.  Most of all, the Conservative Movement needs to stop it’s incessant and pointless fixation with defining it’s place in the middle and instead provide an avenue for Jews to experiment and branch out.

As Scott Shays writes:

American Jewry needs the Conservative Movement to reinvent itself as a broad-spectrum association based on practice, not theology that encourages its members to reach achievable goals. Through these efforts, Conservative Jews will pioneer and illuminate the vastness of terrain between Reform and Orthodoxy.  Conservative Judaism can become the first “post-denominational” movement for Jews who feel disaffected from the way the traditional Movements are structured.  [Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry by Scott A. Shay, 2006 Devora Publishing pp 24 – 25]

At the end of the day, the message of the tabernacle; the first successful Jewish temple, was not so much that “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” The real battle cry of the tabernacle was that “whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward.”

The message of the Tabernacle is that our so-called “movements” should actually move! If your temple is not experimenting and taking risks to keep “the intellectual and the spiritual atmosphere in motion” it is failing you and the Jewish endeavor. If your congregation has talked about hosting an independent minyan but has flinched, if it’s only attempt to make the weekly reading of the Torah relevant is to switch to a triennial cycle .. then shame on it and you. If your shul is not moving forward, then it is moving backward and its time to imitate the Divine Glory and move .


Solomon Schechter

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God’s Crooked Red Line

Hoshana Rabbah

If you practice your Judaism only once a year, it’s probably shrewd to binge on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur… after all, it’s a matter of life and death….

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die… [Unetanah Tokef prayer]

It’s pretty clear that once the sun sets on Yom Kippur the gates are closed and all bets are off… after all the service is called Ne’ilah… as in “closing time”.

Everyone knows that Ne’ila is God’s ultimatum…. Except when it’s not…

Tradition holds that contrary to what you figured when you overpaid for those high holiday tickets, the “Gates of Repentance” remain open until Hoshanah Rabbah, which is more than a week latter and a free for all. [See: Hoshanah Rabbah as a Day of Judgment, Prof. Yosef Tavori, Bar Ilan University]

So, now your thinking that Hoshanah Rabbah is God’s Red Line… You have until Hoshanah Rabbah to repent… or else.

Except in a leap year… that is….

In a leap year, such as this year of 5774, when Rosh Hashanah falls before we’ve had a chance to put away our white (not-after-labor-Day) shoes and Hanukah coincides with Thanksgiving, we need to add a whole month (Adar II) to the calendar to get back in sync.

In such a year the Rabbis added two words to the Rosh Hodesh Musaf Prayer of the intervening months.  The words “Ulechaprat Pesha” which mean for the “forgivenenss of sin”.    There are many reasons suggested for the addition of these words, but they all have one thing in common.  The additional 13th month is a fashla…. a screw-up.  If we had a decent calender, it wouldn’t be possible to celebrate the Fall Harvest in the middle of the summer or the Spring rites of renewal in the middle of he winter.  By adding a month we apply a temporary fix, but who knows if we’re doing it right, who knows whether we’re eating pita when we should be eating matzah?  Is it our fault or is it God’s?  Who knows and who cares… we’re in this mess together. Maybe that’s why we get and give a little more sympathy and understanding during a leap year and add “Ulechaprat Pesha” until the Leap Month of Adar Sheni.  According to Rabbi Robert Tobin (in a private conversation) the addition of  “Ulechaprat Pesha” signifies that the gates of judgment are open for an additional six months.

In the meantime, if you have an opportunity to visit a traditional synagogue on Hoshana Rabbah morning you will experience a unique (* religio-magical pagan originating and surviving in Christianity) ritual and service where willows are rustled, smacked against the ground and Yom Kippur-like prayers are chanted, weekday cloths are worn, food is served and seats are free….

———————

* See:  Some Significant Antecedents of Christianity. By Julian Morgenstern

pagan willow beating

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