More Thoughts on Kavanaugh

As a person who enjoys going out to the theatre, I must admit, I have never seen the kind of theatre that we have witnessed over the last month or so regarding the Kavanaugh vs. Blassey-Ford case. There were a number of individuals whose moral courage deeply touched me as I watched and listened to the proceedings.

As I watched the drama unfold, I began wondering: What does Jewish tradition have to say about this particular quandary?

In terms of the biblical texts, we find:  “One witness alone shall not take the stand against a man in regard to any crime or any offense of which he may be guilty; a judicial fact shall be established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin.” (Deut.19: 15).

Today we now refer to this idea as “due process” and historically, this important legal principle dates back to the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1810-1750 B.C.E.). Claiming somebody did something wrong does not necessarily make the charge believable—at least not without concrete evidence or witnesses; collaborative evidence is essential for any allegation to carry weight. This principle applies in all cases involving capital punishment; it applies no less to financial disputes as well.

The concept of “mob justice” is hideous. Public opinion is not a court of justice. Judges must consider only the evidence—and not hearsay. This legal principle not only exists in the Constitution, the Magna Carta as well as the ancient Justinian Codes state the Latin maxim: ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

The Senate Judiciary Republicans hired Rachel Mitchell to question both Kavanaugh and Ford. At the end of her investigation Mitchell pointed out, “A ‘he said, she said’ case is incredibly difficult to prove,” But this case is even weaker than that.” Mitchell further argued that there were numerous inconsistencies in Ford’s recounting of the incident,  combined with Ford’s inability to remember “key details” from the night and the fact that none of the other attendees at the party in question corroborated Ford’s account.

In other words, the facts did not add up.

Although Mitchell offered no analysis of Kavanaugh’s testimony, she was more concerned with the strength of the charges, not the defense. And the reason for this is important—in our country, the accused does not have to prove whether he or she is innocent. The onus is upon the State to prove whether a person is guilty or innocent. The presumption of innocence is what differentiates our country from fascist regimes that insist that the accused has to prove his or her innocence.

Would anybody reading this article want this kind of justice for themselves, family, or friends?

As I watched men and women taking the streets in protest, demanding Kavanaugh be punished on the testimony of one person, I wondered: What has happened to our country?  Since when does anyone have to prove innocence?  Our legal principle is predicated upon the belief that the presumption of innocence is one of the most important foundations of a free society.

 

What would our Founding Fathers say about such a case?

Any child who takes a civics class knows the answer.

The presumption of innocence ought to be obvious to anyone who believes in the principles of American law. Yet, I felt dumbfounded by the legions of people willing to condemn without evidence. I wondered, how would any of us want to be in Kavanaugh’s shoes? I thought he would surely give up—especially with all the threats made to him and his family.

But the mob demanded blood.

Have you ever wondered what the McCarthy era was like? Look no further! Have you ever wondered what it was living in the Salem Witch Trials? Look no further. Think about the blood libels charges that Jews experienced during the medieval and modern era.

Senator Lindsey Graham surprised me and I must admit he almost sounded like an old-fashioned biblical prophet: “To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics,” he boomed during the questioning of Kavanaugh about allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford more than 30 years ago. (He has denied the accusation.) . . .“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics and if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy!” Graham said, his face contorted in anger.

Graham is correct.

From the Judaic perspective, one size does not fit all. Each case has to be based on the strength of the evidence and the merits of a charge. Without collaborative evidence, the presumption of guilt threatens to undermine the foundation of law that has governed our country since its inception.

Give Kavanaugh credit for remaining steadfast. Whether you agree with his philosophy of law or not, he stood his ground and refused to be intimidated.

At the conclusion of the Senate hearing, Senator Flake gave Kavanaugh some sage advice. Let the FBI do their work. Trump endorsed this course of action—and it was the only way to remove any lingering doubt concerning Kavanaugh’s ethics and character. Ultimately, the suggestion that the FBI look more deeply into this case proved to be the best course of action Kavanaugh could have wanted.

And what did the FBI discover? They met some interesting new people, including Ford’s former partner for six years,

The FBI investigated several other people; they explored other allegations that Kavanaugh acted inappropriately toward women by making unwanted sexual advances. One of the most damning pieces of evidence actually came from Ford’s ex-boyfriend who had a relationship with her from 1992-1998. In his letter, he contradicted Ford’s allegation that she had never helped anyone prepare for a polygraph examination. He pointed out how Ford helped a friend prepare for a polygraph test who had been preparing for a job interview with the FBI.[1]

He also claimed that Ford had no fear of flying (an observation that Mitchell also made). He also added that Christine had no problem living in a small apartment with one door and that she felt “unsafe” living anywhere without a second front door. He further said her voice sounded different from the one she used before the Senate.  Her boyfriend further pointed out that Ford lied about and then admitted to charging a credit card they used to share for about $600 of merchandise. Ford did not help her case by denying access to her therapist’s notes and other key materials. In fact, she greatly weakened her credibility. I suspect the credit card companies had physical evidence of his claim located in the microfiche.

The FBI could easily investigate this. They probably doubled-checked the case.

Did the Democrats orchestrate the entire ordeal to influence the November election?

What do you think? But consider the circumstantial evidence we have. Dianne Feinstein should have forwarded this information to the Senate committee to discuss the matter quietly. However, she chose a different path. Ford’s letter should never have been leaked to the press.

A good man’s reputation was smeared—and all for political capital.

New revelations continue to come out in the news. Ford’s best friend, Leland Ingham Keyser, a former classmate Keyser told the investigators that Monica McLean, a former FBI agent, and friend of Ford’s, urged her to substantiate Blassey-Ford’s accusation, but she refused. According to the WSJ, McLean’s lawyer denied his client tried to influence Keyser to change her account, calling it “absolutely false.” (Wall Street Journal (Oct. 5, 2018),[2]

But what if the WSJ charge against Ford’s best friend is true? Who is telling the truth? The FBI knows. Senator Grassley is correct in wanting the Senate to re-examine the claims of those accusing Kavanaugh. In fact, this is essential,

Consider the following passage:

“The two parties in the dispute shall appear before the LORD in the presence of the priests or judges in office at that time; and if after a thorough investigation the judges find that the witness is a false witness and has accused his kinsman falsely, you shall do to him as he planned to do to his kinsman. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst.” (Deut. 19:17–19).

Put in modern terms, if the FBI proves there was wrongdoing on the part of Kavanaugh’s accusers, then those making the accusations need to face charges of perjury and malicious wrongdoing. There must be justice.

MORE AFTERTHOUGHTS

Today I was surprised and moved by Senator Susan Collins’ speech that lasted for forty minutes. She said it best today, and if you have not heard her impassioned speech, then listen to it. It is well worth your time. In fact, every school civics class should have their students listen to this wonderful talk.

  • “Mr. President, I understand both viewpoints. And this debate is complicated further by the fact that the Senate confirmation process is not a trial. But certain fundamental legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence, and fairness do bear on my thinking, and I cannot abandon them. In evaluating any given claim of misconduct we will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness tempting though it may be. We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy. The presumption of innocence is relevant to the advice and consent function when an accusation departs from a nominee’s otherwise exemplary record. I worry that departing from this presumption could lead to a lack of public faith in the judiciary and would be hugely damaging to the confirmation process moving forward.”

If President Trump has another judge to appoint in the future, I believe it should be Judge Merrick Garland.  As a good friend of Judge Kavanaugh, they shared 85 cases together and he dissented from Judge Kavanaugh only once. Number two, it would heal the rift between Republicans and Democrats–albeit partially. I doubt there would be a smear job done on  Merrick Garland. Lastly, he is a humble man, and humility befits a judge of his caliber. What happened to him during the Obama Administration was unjust. He would also add a little more of a centrist character to the Supreme Court.

*


Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

[1] https://www.foxnews.com/politics/christine-blasey-ford-ex-boyfriend-says-she-helped-friend-prep-for-potential-polygraph-grassley-sounds-alarm

[2] [1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/friend-of-dr-ford-felt-pressure-to-revisit-statement-1538715152

 

Showdown in Washington DC

Image result for pictures of blasey and kavanagh

 

Most of us want to know what really happened between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford that took place at a party somewhere in Maryland during the early 1980s.

Neither you nor I have any information about what happened if anything.

And while I realize for many sexual assault victims, the story awakens past traumas of abuse, nevertheless, we are not the ones on trial. Keeping an open mind in matters of just is essential. Justice is not determined by public opinion but on the basis of evidence—and not hearsay.

This legal principle not only exists in the Constitution, the Magna Carta as well as the ancient Justinian Codes state the Latin maxim: ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

Antecedents to this principle exist in the Torah itself:

  • “One witness alone shall not take the stand against a man in regard to any crime or any offense of which he may be guilty; a judicial fact shall be established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses. One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin.” (Deut.19: 15).

This principle can even be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1810-1750 B.C.E.).

Whether you agree with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s “originalism” view of interpreting the Constitution, or not, we would all be wise to suspend judgment until we have the facts.

Why? Because the presumption of innocence is fundamental to our very system of law. Public lynch mobs ought to be a thing of the past, but judging by what I have heard from many of Blasey-Ford’s advocates is disturbing.

If she has evidence, the onus is upon her to prove. Asking for Kavanaugh not to be present in the room is outrageous. Our Constitution says the accused has the right to face his accuser. Actually, as most of you ought to know, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”

The onus is upon Blasey-Ford, it is not upon the accused. Asking for him not to have his attorney defend him is also inappropriate. Everyone is entitled to an attorney and everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Let’s be clear about that.

Now, I must admit, a part of me believes this entire ordeal has a political animus. Its goal: —to thwart President Trump’s attempt to appoint Judge Kavanaugh.

Usually, when a person commits a sexual assault against someone, there is usually a pattern. Just take a look at President Bill Clinton for an example, had a legion of women who said he assaulted them. Many of these cases eventually settled out of court. None of the 65 women who knew him in high school ever complained about him being inappropriate. Quite the opposite.  They attest, “We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect,” the letter read. “We strongly believe it is important to convey this information to the Committee at this time.”[1]

None of the women who have worked with Kavanaugh ever complained about his behavior either. His record has been squeaky clean.

Some more afterthoughts: Once you open the Genie’s bottle, getting it back inside may prove impossible; these political leaders will discover: Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. We already know about assault charges associated with Keith Ellison, who gave his wife a black eye, as well as other women in his past.

Ultimately, I also believe that Senator Feinstein’s Hail Mary pass may not bode well for many Democrats or certain Republicans. There is a slush-fund in Congress intended to pay off women who have been sexually exploited by our esteemed members of Congress, Once President Trump makes this information publically available, our national attention shall be directed at the real enemies of women’s rights—the charlatans who masquerade as supporters of women’s rights. Chucky Schumer has been accused as well. Joe Biden has plenty of skeletons to worry about too. I suspect some Republicans have something to fear.

My prediction: I believe Judge Kavanaugh will be vindicated.

As a Jew, I only wish Jewish representatives in Congress would not turn themselves into lightning rods that will only increase anti-Semitism in our great country. Next time someone wants to make an accusation against any prominent political figure, I hope that person’s name is Smith.

 

Article from the SD Jewishworld: Rabbi Samuel Introduces Philo to the Modern World

Rabbi Samuel introduces Philo to the modern world

 

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel and his 5-volume set on Philo’s Torah commentaries

CHULA VISTA, California  – The 1stCentury Jewish philosopher and religious scholar, Philo, was very familiar with the Torah, commenting here and there on different portions of the Five Books of Moses in writings that were spread over approximately 40 publications in the native Greek language that he spoke in his home of Alexandria, Egypt.

Growing up in a Reform Jewish home, Michael Leo Samuel had been a fan of Philo’s since his early teenage years. His passion for reading Jewish texts eventually led to Samuel being ordained through the Lubavitcher (Chabad) movement, and then going on to serve as a Hebrew school teacher and a pulpit rabbi in Modern Orthodox and Conservative congregations.  Recently, Samuel, who serves today as spiritual leader of Conservative Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista, has completed publication of a five-volume work, Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria,  in which he pulls together Philo’s thoughts about Jewish scripture from Philo’s many writings and puts them into sequential order, thus creating for the first time Philo’s comprehensive commentary on the Torah.  The books are available via Amazon.

To undertake this project, Samuel, who speaks Hebrew also taught himself Greek so he could read Philo in the original.  He also drew upon the thoughts of some of Judaism’s later, and perhaps better known, commentators like Rashi, Maimonides, Nachmanides, and Ibn Ezra to illustrate how Philo’s commentaries in some cases presaged the thoughts of these great commentators and in other instances contradicted them.

Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria relates in order Philo’s commentaries on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

In a wide-ranging interview, Samuel, who contributes occasional columns to San Diego Jewish World, discussed his books and the philosopher who inspired it.  He also is accepting invitations to discuss the book at synagogue, chavurah, and club gatherings.

He said that while living in First Century C.E. Alexandria, Philo faced two conflicting forces during his life.  On the positive side, Alexandria was a cosmopolitan port city which treasured learning, as was exemplified by its world-famous library.  On the other hand, many native Egyptians harbored anti-Semitic attitudes, making life in Alexandria a wary experience for Jews.  “One of the great pogroms in Alexandria that took place in the year 30 or so, resulted in the death of 50,000 people,” Samuel commented.  “It was the first modern pogrom of late antiquity.  Philo gives eye witness to how Jews were not even allowed to bury the dead, and the Roman prefect in Alexandria, Flaccus, was always trying to curry favor with the local anti-Semitic population.”

Nevertheless, Philo manage to enjoy some of what life had to offer.   “One of the things that I like about Philo was that he was an Alexandrian Jew, much like today we are American Jews,” said Samuel. “He would attend the gymnasium, watch wrestling matches. He would attend Olympic-style games.  He would go to horse races, and he had an interest in sports and would often draw some profound spiritual analogies about Jewish spirituality from sporting events that took place in his time.”

As a commentator, Philo was willing to opine on issues that continue to be controversial to the present day.  Abortion, homosexuality, and how Jews should treat other religions were among the subjects to which Philo gave deep thought.  Living in the pre-rabbinic era of Judaism, his commentaries often were in sharp contrast to those of later Jewish scholars, according to Samuel.

Whereas many later commentators took every word of the Torah literally, Philo was one of the first Jewish scholars to suggest that it must instead be understood as an allegory from which lessons may be learned, even if every word is not true.  In Philo’s view, according to Samuel, the Torah was given to the Jewish people at a time when they were not far removed from slavery.  Intellectually, they were like children, unable to understand complex rationales.  So, in the Torah, God warns the Jews of adverse consequences if they don’t follow His law, much like a parent warning a child, “Eat your dinner, or there will be no dessert.”

Philo differed with more recent commentators over the passage in Leviticus which describes as an “abomination” or an “abhorrence” the situation of a male lying with another male as with a woman.  Samuel said, “Philo explains that this is a statement that deals primarily with pedophilia and he gives many examples from Greek society how boys were often paraded around like women, under the tutelage of an older male adult.  He said this was what the Torah forbids; the reason that he said this was forbidden was a man has to be manly; to make a man womanly is degrading …. That approach might not fly in modern times, but his concern about the exploitation about children is definitely an important issue to bring up.”

Most rabbinical commentators in later periods did not address the problem of pedophilia at all, according to Samuel.  What little discussion there was seemed to wink at the problem, Samuel said.  “The rabbis (of the Talmud) did not have a concept of pedophilia, one of the shocking aspects of Talmudic history that frankly is very embarrassing,” he added.  “Philo stands head and shoulders above.”

On the issue of abortion, Philo definitely would have been on the “pro-life” side of the debate, rather than the “pro-choice” side, said Samuel.

“Philo had tremendous respect for prenatal life,” Samuel said. “He considered abortion to be immoral.  It is not clear whether he believed that life began at conception, but certainly in the last trimester of a fetus’s life, he said that the fetus is like a statue that has been prepared—only needs to be uncovered and exposed to the world.  Beautiful analogy.”

In contrast, others in the ancient world seemingly were unconcerned with the unborn babies.  “If a woman was accused of adultery, she would drink this potion that came from the earth of the sanctuary—and if she was guilty her stomach would explode,” Samuel said.  “So, if she were pregnant with another man’s child, she would die and the child would also.  That’s implied in Scripture,” Samuel said.

In some early rabbinic writings, he added, “If a woman is a murderess and is about to be condemned for that murder, but she is pregnant, the rabbis say you take a club and you smash her stomach even to the time till she is almost ready to deliver, to kill the baby.  Because the mother is so unhappy that the child is going to grow up without a parent; better for the child to die than to endorse such a sadness.  Rabbinic thinking!  If those rabbis had been familiar with Philo’s argument, he had turned that argument on its head.  He said, just as you are not allowed to slaughter a calf and its mother on the same day, this applies to animals, how much more so to human beings.  So, if you have a case where a woman is condemned, and she is about to give birth, you do not execute her with the child – that would be an act of murder.  That would be treating a human with less dignity than an animal with its young.  Therefore, you have to wait for the mother to give birth, nurse the child, and a later time execute the mother.”

Samuel added, “These discussions were really theoretical, the reason being that Rome did not allow Jews to practice the death penalty.”

Respect for all religions was a hallmark of Philo’s thinking, Samuel said.  “One of the laws in the Torah is that we are not allowed to curse God – and Philo understood this to mean not only are you not allowed to curse God; you are not allowed to curse the gods of other peoples.  Now when I was a yeshiva student many years ago, I remember how many of my friends in the Lubavitcher community would walk by a church and they would always spit on the sidewalk.  In fact, they spit whenever they mentioned idols in the Aleinu prayer, and even from the most Orthodox perspective that is considered a risqué and halachically scandalous behavior.  You don’t spit in a synagogue; it is considered inappropriate.”

Samuel’s first book was an outgrowth of his doctoral thesis at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.  The Lord is My Shepherd: The Theology of a Caring God was followed by five other books on diverse topics, and then this five-book series.  A workaholic, Samuel said he never lets a day go by without writing at least three pages and sometimes, if the juices are flowing, he might write 20.  He said that he has as many as 50 books in various stages of completion, with some of them likely to be published later this year or early in 2019.

Rabbi Israel Drazin, one of the most prolific writers on biblical topics with books to his credit about the Prophet Samuel, King David, King Solomon, Jonah, Amos, The Aramaic translation of the Bible known as the Targum Onkelos, and various other commentaries, has reviewed Rabbi Samuel’s work on Amazon, giving it a five-star rating.   “Until recently, it was Harry Wolfson’s 1962-1968 two-volume work Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that was considered the authoritative book on Philo of Alexandria, Egypt (ca. 20 BCE to about 50 CE),” Drazin wrote. “Today, because of the wealth of scholarly material contained in his five volumes and their presentation in a very readable manner, Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel’s books can now be considered the authoritative work on the great Greek Jewish philosopher.”

*
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via donald.harrison@sdjewishworld.com

 

Book Review on “The Israel Bible” **** (out of five)

 

The Israel Bible (Hebrew and English Edition) by Rabbi Tuly Weisz

Hardcover: 2212 pages

Publisher: Menorah Books; Bilingual edition (July 10, 2018)

Language: Hebrew, English

ISBN-10: 1940516803

Cost: $44.00

 

In today’s world, there are all sorts of different types of commentaries on the Scriptures on a variety of scriptural subjects.  Therefore, it was with great surprise I discovered this week a new Bible commentary known as, “The Israel Bible” that centers on the theme of Eretz Yisrael—the “Land of Israel” and its historical and religious relationship to the Jewish people. From the inside flap of his book, the author explains:

  • In the 70 years since the modern rebirth of the State of Israel, the Jewish State has been at the forefront of the world’s attention. Today, there are countless efforts to vilify the Jewish state. Yet, there is also an ever expanding movement of biblical Zionists who stand with the nation of Israel as an expression of their commitment to God’s eternal word. As we seek to understand the clash between these two conflicting ideologies and look to make sense of the modern world’s great interest in Israel, the need for The Israel Bible has never been as important.

This large opus is 2190 pages—the sheer size is massive! The author, Rabbi Tuly Weisz, is also the founder and CEO of Israel365. The Hebrew font is crisp looking; the author also uses the NJPS translation—a venerable work in itself.  I think the book certainly lives up to its name. This project has taken the author five years to complete.

When asked why he wrote the book, Weisz explained:

  • Today, there are countless efforts to vilify the Jewish state. Yet, there is also an ever-expanding movement of biblical Zionists who stand alongside the nation of Israel, as an expression of their commitment to God’s eternal word. As we seek to understand the clash between these two conflicting ideologies while seeking to make sense of the modern world’s great interest in Israel, the need for The Israel Bible has never been so timely or important.

This statement makes a very important point not only to Jews but also for Christians who tend to deny the Jewish people’s special relationship with her homeland. As a rabbi, I am sometimes surprised by the enthusiasm Christian Zionists feel for the Land of Israel and I wish more liberal-minded Jews felt the same, but unfortunately, the political agendas of the Left are moving further and further away from Israel. Many Jews who have supported liberal causes in the past find it difficult to associate Israel as a pariah state—on par with South Africa.

Rashi, commonly regarded as the greatest Jewish commentator, anticipated our modern problem. Rabbi Weisz mentions the famous passage Rashi articulated:

  • “In the beginning . . .”   Rabbi Isaac said, “The Torah need not begin with the precept, “This month shall be unto you …” (Exod. 12:2), which constitutes the first precept of the Torah. Why did the Torah begin with this particular verse? In order to convey the point, “You showed powerful deeds to your people by giving them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For when the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan].” They will reply, “The entire earth belongs to the Holy Blessed One; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once explained, “The fact the tiny State of Israel fought so many wars aimed at its destruction and survived is proof positive that God’s blessing of the Land to the Jewish people is no fortuitous happening.” I suggest the author include this thought in any future update of his book.

As we mentioned earlier, today there is a constant ideological war waged—not just on the battlefields, but in the media to delegitimize the State of Israel throughout much of the Western European world. This animus is evident in virtually every college campus in the United States. Jewish students often find themselves harassed and targeted for violence by groups who promote anti-Semitism. While anti-Zionism is not a focus of ANTIFA, a fair number of its members tend to be anti-Zionist as part of their far-left activism. Anti-Racist Action groups, he said, had taken part in anti-Zionist events in the past.

Israel gets it from all sides.

This tarnishing of Israel’s image is one of the reasons why I enjoyed reading R. Weisz’s fine book, which is written much in the manner of many modern day Christian Study Bibles, except for the fact he presents a very traditional Orthodox perspective on the text.

There are likable things about this book. It has a clean appearance and the text is easy to read. Many of the comments are poignant. In the Book of Leviticus, the author goes into considerable detail about the various precepts associated with the Land. In the passage regarding the biblical curses concerning the future of the land (Lev. 26:32), I enjoyed this exposition in particular:

  • “26:32: I will make the land desolate.” Though this verse is frightening, Nachmanides explains that it is actually a blessing in disguise. “I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle it will be appalled by it” implies that throughout the ages, no matter how many foreign empires occupy Israel, the land will not cooperate to bring forth its bounty. Indeed, in his book Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote about his visit to Palestine in the 1860’s: “A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action ….” Only when the Jewish People return to the Land of Israel does it give forth its blessing and return to its former glory. Today, thanks to the return of the indigenous Jewish population, Eretz Yisrael is once again thriving and prosperous (p. 317).

I was hoping he would mention this interpretation and he certainly did! In one interview, Weisz offered an interesting perspective on his target audience, “The Israel Bible is the only Bible that’s exclusively dedicated to the Land of Israel, the people of Israel and the God of Israel,” Weisz told CBN News.”[1]

  • “The Bible has had such a great impact on civilization; yet it’s also been the greatest source of friction and division between Jews and Christians, who both claim to love the Bible,” Weisz, director of Israel365, explained. “So now the vision of the Israel Bible is that we’re going to have the opportunity to use the Bible as a source of unity between Jews and Christians and everybody who loves the Bible.”

This would explain why the author did not expound the biblical passages in a more comprehensive manner; I suspect he wanted to present a distilled message drawn from the texts of Jewish tradition for a predominantly Christian community.

I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to gain an introduction to the Land of Israel according to classical Jewish sources.

Review by Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel, Author of Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria series

 

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NOTES:

[1] http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/israel/2018/july/this-is-the-bible-that-jesus-read-new-israel-bible-draws-christians-and-jews-alike

Rabbi Israel Drazin’s Book Review of Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria Vol III: Leviticus

 

***** Israel DrazinTop Contributor: Children’s Books
TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE
5.0 out of 5 starsVery significant and informative book
August 26, 2018

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel has made an enormous contribution to the understanding of the first significant Jewish philosopher and expositor of the Bible  in his book “Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria.” As I pointed out in my review of his volume on Exodus, Rabbi Samuel has produced an authoritative book.

Until recently, it was Harry Wolfson’s 1962-1968 two-volume work Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that was considered the authoritative book on Philo of Alexandria, Egypt (ca. 20 BCE to about 50 CE). Today, because of the wealth of scholarly material contained in his five volumes and their presentation in a very readable manner, Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel’s books can now be considered the authoritative work on the great Greek Jewish philosopher. This is the second [now third] book in his series.

Philo was the first Jewish philosopher who contributed something novel to Jewish-Greek philosophy. His philosophy incorporated the somewhat mystical views of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (about 428 to about 348 BCE). About forty books that he wrote still exist. They do not offer a systematic philosophy; they are, in essence, a collection of sermons.

“Philo was convinced that the Bible should be understood on two levels. The first level contains its literal or plain meaning; words mean what they say. The second, his contribution, is an underlying or allegorical layer, which requires that the alert more intelligent reader venture beyond the obvious and delve deeper into the text. Philo used allegory to interpret virtually everything in Scripture, including names, dates, numbers, and events.”

In this third volume of Rabbi Samuel’s five volumes on Philo, he has aided all people, Jews, and non-Jews, in their understanding of the Bible, by collecting the commentaries of Philo from Philo’s many sources and arranging them by subject matter in this volume according to the twenty-seven chapters in Leviticus. Rabbi Samuel tells us what Philo states and compares Philo’s views with what others say: other ancient and modern philosophers, ancient Greeks, the Talmuds, Midrashim, Zohar, and many others.

Among a wealth of fascinating material, we read about Philo’s condemnation of pedophilia, the spiritual significance of circumcision, the role of ritual and its effect on ethics, the meaning of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac (the Akedah), why salt was offered as a sacrifice, did Aaron have personal excellence, can a sinful priest function in the temple, the symbolism of kosher foods, the symbolism of circumcision, Philo’s defense of the Holy of Holies that he made when he met the Roman Caesar Caligula, the role of the high priest, why fast on Yom Kippur, why not marry sisters, what does it mean to love a neighbor, the prohibition against castrating animals, the meaning of the various holidays and the Sabbath, never reject wisdom, the concept of the equality of all men, how does forgiveness work, what is ethics, Philo’s thoughts on prenatal life.

Rabbi Israel Drazin’s Book Review of Rediscovering Philo of Alexandria Vol. II: Exodus

***** Israel DrazinTop Contributor: Children’s Books
TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE
5.0 out of 5 starsVery significant and informative book
August 26, 2018

Until recently, it was Harry Wolfson’s 1962-1968 two-volume work Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that was considered the authoritative book on Philo of Alexandria, Egypt (ca. 20 BCE to about 50 CE). Today, because of the wealth of scholarly material contained in his five volumes and their presentation in a very readable manner, Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel’s books can now be considered the authoritative work on the great Greek Jewish philosopher. This is the second [now third] book in his series.

Philo was the first Jewish philosopher who contributed something novel to Jewish-Greek philosophy. His philosophy incorporated the somewhat mystical views of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (about 428 to about 348 BCE). About forty books that he wrote still exist. They do not offer a systematic philosophy; they are, in essence, a collection of sermons.

“Philo was convinced that the Bible should be understood on two levels. The first level contains its literal or plain meaning; words mean what they say. The second, his contribution, is an underlying or allegorical layer, which requires that the alert more intelligent reader venture beyond the obvious and delve deeper into the text. Philo used allegory to interpret virtually everything in Scripture, including names, dates, numbers, and events.”

Rabbi Samuel has made a huge necessary contribution to the thinking and understanding of all people, Jews, and non-Jews, concerning the Bible, by collecting the commentaries of Philo from Philo’s many sources and arranging them in this volume according to the forty chapters in Exodus. Rabbi Samuel tells us what Philo states and compares Philo’s views with what others say: other ancient and modern philosophers, ancient Greeks, the Talmuds, Midrashim, Zohar, and many others.

Among much else, Rabbi Samuel discusses Philo’s views on telling the truth, how Philo, the rabbis, and Christians treated the issue that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, the different order of the Ten Commandments in the Greek translation the Septuagint, Philo’s thinking about the Ten Commandments and how it differs with the thinking of many people today, his view of the prohibition of not cooking meat and milk together, his remarkable views on sacrifices, and such subjects as “You shalt not let a witch live” (Exod. 22:18), where the Septuagint interprets the Hebrew machasheifa, “witch,” as “pharmakous,” from which the common English word “pharmacist” comes. Philo explained that the pharmacon was really a drug dealer in Late Antiquity. Rabbi Samuel reveals that Greco-Roman society had a drug culture–much like we have today – and Philo regarded drug-dealers as a serious threat to any civilized society.

Thoughts on Putin and Trump’s meeting in Helsinki– A Contrarian Point of View

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and suit

Some people may view this topic too incendiary to write about—I get it. Yet, it is an important issue—especially when we consider the high stakes that are at risk. My point of view is contrarian. Consider me a contrarian life-long Democrat who values truth and integrity above politics.

Admittedly, President Trump can be a lightning rod when it comes to some of the things that he says off the cuff. Yet, he has been surprisingly effective in the international arena. By “arena,” the images of the Roman Coliseum comes to mind. I thought President Obama or Bush had his detractors, but President Donald Trump is in a league of his own.

With this thought in mind, I would like to share some thoughts on the President’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, who in his own way, is every bit as complicated as our President.

Before Trump met with Putin, I could hear the naysayers say that having a summit with Putin was a bad idea. What could Trump gain from such a meeting? If he publicly confronts Putin about the Russians interfering in the American elections, then it is quite possible the critics of Trump would construe such a remark as an admission that he did not legitimately “win the election.” Conversely, if Trump did not publicly address the problem, then his critics would view him as weak—or worse argue that Trump is a puppet of Putin.

It reminds me of an old story—one, in fact, that is relevant to the holiday of Tisha’ b’Av

  • In Roman times, a Jew once walked in front of Emperor Hadrian and greeted him. The King asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am a Jew.” Hadrian exclaimed, “How dare a Jew to pass in front of Hadrian and greet him?” and he ordered his officers, “Off with his head!” Another Jew passed and, seeing what happened to the first man, did not greet him. Hadrian asked, “Who are you?” He answered, “A Jew.”
  • He exclaimed, “How dare a Jew pass in front of Hadrian without giving a greeting?” and again ordered his officers, “Off with his head!” His senators said, “We cannot understand your actions. He who greeted you was put to death, and he who did not greet you was put to death!”
  • Hadrian replied, “How dare you advise me on how I should execute those I hate?” And the Holy Spirit kept crying out, “You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause. You have seen all their malice, all their plots against me.” (Lam. 3:59-60).[1]

If you substitute “Democratic Party” (or even certain members of the Republican Party), and change “Jew” to “Trump,” you have an almost perfect parallel to the midrashic story mentioned above.

Arguably, Trump’s greatest criticisms come from two major groups: (1)  Those who hate Trump and who will criticize the President for anything he does. (2). Those few in the military and intelligence communities who are wholly bought and owned by the war industries, for it is in their financial interests to have the US and Russia armed to the teeth and at each other’s throats. Eisenhower warned us about the excesses of the American military complex.

One of the more objective Republican critics of President Trump is Rand Paul, whose fierce independence as a thinker and as a leader has challenged the President on numerous occasions in the past. He is sometimes known as the “the Republican who saved ObamaCare.” In an article he wrote for the Washington Post, his remarks on the Trump-Putin meeting impressed me as clear-headed and thought-provoking. Paul was supportive of both these men meeting. Paul further pointed out to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Trump’s legion of critics are motivated by a mutual animus they have for him. Comically, he even referred to the enemies of Trump as suffering from “a bit of Trump derangement syndrome.”

Now that was truly funny!

When Paul was asked by Blitzer “Who do you trust [on election meddling], the American intelligence community . . . or Putin?” Paul gave an interesting diplomatic answer, ““What I would say is that all power needs to have checks and balances, and I think our intelligence community has way too much power.”[2] . (This interview happened before Trump claimed Tuesday that he misspoke when he gave Putin the benefit of the doubt).” It is a pity Trump did not have Rand Paul coaching him. If I were him, I’d bring him along next time he meets with Putin.

Paul agrees with Trump that engaging pariah global powers is more productive than punishing them. This writer agrees with this objective. Shaming a world leader is a very dangerous thing to do—especially when it is guaranteed to escalate tensions and make a potential adversary. more hostile.

The world has become a very dangerous place over the last thirty years or more. The Iranian presence in Syria is so serious; a war between Israel and Iran is almost inevitable. The two most powerful leaders of the world have within their ability to take control of this dangerous situation.

The proliferation of nuclear technology is another serious problem that can engulf Western Civilization with destruction. Once again, the two leaders of the most powerful nuclear nations must establish a dialogue and address these issues. Remarkably, Trump’s diplomacy with China and North Korea has the potential of yielding positive fruit. Whether you hate Trump or not, at least give him credit for being innovative and bold—whereas leaders in the past, beginning with Clinton, Bush, and Obama and their underlings only appeased the North Korean dictators.

Give Trump credit for decimating the ranks of ISIS, who proved they are a presence that must be utterly defeated for world peace.

One of the most memorable lines Trump expressed—one that really ought to command our respect, “I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, than risk peace in pursuit of politics.” Once again, this statement comes from a man whose vision may help pave the way for a safer world for all of us to co-inhabit.

As my good Internet Indian friend, Imitz Mohummad, wrote to me, “These jerks want Trump to punch Putin in the nose and start a nuclear war with the other major nuclear force on Earth. I’m a patriot and a believer in a powerful America. I have also witnessed the body bags filled with the fruit of American youth when fat old saber rattlers play soldier. Trump was masterful in Helsinki. The Swamp Donkeys may scream but tonight the world is better off that these two men shook hands!”

Amen!

Postscript:

One of the most interesting remarks regarding the Russian meddling came from Putin who floated an offer for members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to “come and work” with Russian investigators and interrogate those individuals, whom Mueller recently indicted.  During the Monday press conference, Putin said Russia would allow the special counsel to “send an official request” to the Kremlin to question the 12 Russian intelligence officers who had been charged by Mueller with crimes related to election meddling just three days earlier. Moreover, there is an extradition policy that both the US and Russia have agreed to.

Trump’s reaction was cute, Putin “offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

Indeed it is.

But this is assuming that Mueller or his team take Putin up on his offer. I doubt it, much like the Roman senators could not persuade Hadrian to let go of his animus toward the Jews.

Lastly, and Putin also made an interesting counter-argument that should not be ignored. Putin accused U.S. officials of committing crimes against Russia and said his government would want to question them in return. Specifically, he mentioned an investor named Bill Browder, a  former high-level investor in Russia who has become one of Putin’s most oft-cited enemies for his role in lobbying for the U.S. sanctions bill known as the Magnitsky Act.

Putin countered that Browder’s associates sent $400 million in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 election.[3]

As always, follow the money trail. Corruption in American politics is a problem no honest American can ignore. Perhaps the inescapable moral comes from the famous proverb, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Do not criticize others if you have similar weaknesses yourself. None of us can afford the sin of self-righteousness.

[1] Lamentations Rabba 3:60,

[2] I would only like to add that the subject of election meddling by the Russians is a topic I would love to address at another time. Simply stated, strong nations do this when it affects a country’s political interest to do so. The Obama administration interfered in the Ukraine elections, which led to Russia’s predictable takeover of the area which holds Russia’s major naval base and sea outlet. The Obama administration interfered in the election of Israel. Lastly, The alleged Russian interference that occurred during the Obama administration did not elicit any criticism from our Commander in Chief, President Obama. The United States, like Russia, has a long history of interfering with elections elsewhere around the globe. See Ishaan Tharoor’s informative article on this subject in the Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/10/13/the-long-history-of-the-u-s-interfering-with-elections-elsewhere/?utm_term=.00572c6d89da.

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via Michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com 

 

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/16/putin-asked-special-counsel-to-come-and-work-with-russia-trump-says.html

Nature Reflects God’s Justice in the Animal Kingdom

Image result for lion pride

The story is a familiar one. Once a man went out for a walk through the forest. To his sudden surprise, he sees a grizzly bear chasing him. After the bear traps him, he prepares himself for his last rites, he says the Shema Prayer, and to his surprise he sees the bear praying with his eyes closed! But to his surprise, the bear is not reciting the Shema—he is instead saying the blessing, “HaMotzi lechem min ha’aretz!”

By now, most of you heard about how a pride of lions killed suspected poachers at a game reserve in Africa. A field guide found human remains the next day. “Clearly, the poachers had walked into a pride of six lions and some, if not all had been killed,” according to a Facebook post by Fox.

“They were armed with, amongst other things, a high powered rifle with a silencer, an ax, wire cutters and had food supplies for a number of days – all the hallmarks of a gang intent on killing a rhino and removing their horns,” said Fox.

I am reminded of an old medieval aphorism, “Man proposes, but God disposes”

Pious Jews recite Psalm 145:14-17 every day

The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
You give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
You, LORD, are just in all your ways,
faithful in all your works.

After the reading the news story from Africa, this passage took on new meaning for me. Yes, the ways of God are truly just. God not only provides His creatures with an appetizer, but also with main-course and dessert!

Jewish tradition has much to say about hunting.

  • Abbahu said: A man should always strive to identify with the persecuted than of the persecutors as there is none among the birds more persecuted than doves and pigeons, and yet Scripture made them [alone] eligible for the altar (Lev. 1:14).[1]

As Jews, we, in particular, have much to comiserate about whenever we see God’s endangered species being threatened. Anti-Semites, too, have often hunted Jews, throughout history. The Nazis paid a premium for capturing Jews—whether dead or alive.

In the Tanakh, God beckoned Noah to preserve the animal species. The Book of Leviticus tells us “You shall not slaughter an ox or a sheep on one and the same day with its young” (Lev. 22:28). Both Philo of Alexandria and Ramban believe the purpose of this prohibition aims to prevent the destruction of a species. In one famous midrashic text we read:

  • When the Holy Blessed One created the first man, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him, “Look at my handiwork, see how beautiful and excellent they are! Everything I have created, I created for you! Be careful that you do not corrupt and destroy My world, for if you corrupt it there is no one to repair it after you.[2]

One of the principle reasons why the Torah limited animals for human consumption that had two kosher characteristics (animals that have split hooves and chew their cud) is to preserve the animal species as a whole. Thus, the Torah imposed limitations upon the human appetite.

Rabbinic law reflects this disdain toward hunting.

  • “How can a man from Israel actively kill an animal for no need other than to fulfill his desire to spend his time hunting? We do not find that people in the Torah are hunters except with Nimrod and Esau. This is not the way of descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…”[3]

One 17th century noted,  “…It is certain that those who shoot arrows after birds and beasts for no purpose at all other than to learn archery, and kill animals for no reason, are destined to stand in judgment for it; for it is not the way of Israel, the holy congregation, to commit evil to any creature for no reason. . .  Killing an animal in order for the joy of pure sport is sheer cruelty “[4]

Anyone who goes to the San Diego Zoo might be surprised at a large number of endangered species that the zoo and other similar habitats are trying to preserve. Unfortunately, there are some people who will do anything to kill these species, for rhino horns are often used in Chinese medicine and their price is considered more valuable than gold.

In my conversation with some Orthodox rabbis, I was surprised to see a number of them argue that there is a place for “big game” centers provided the monies go to promote animal growth in African communities. While this may be true in theory, the corruption and lust for profit may prove to be counterproductive; aside from this, poachers will always try to find a way to circumvent existing laws.

Furthermore, popularizing these big-game trophies only serves to motivate other would be hunters who live for the thrill of the moment.

As Jews who love animals, we cannot stand idly by as malignant people attempt to depopulate the world of these magnificent creatures. Instead of justifying the barbarism of these hunters with contrived Halakhic arguments, we need to remember that God expects human beings and animals to live in a world peaceably with these rare creatures.

One of the great 20th century Jewish mystics, R. Abraham Isaac Kook expressed an ethical thought that people need to hear and consider today:

  • It goes against the clear emotions of the heart that a talmid hakham (Torah scholar), a spiritual man, should be permanently engaged in the taking of animals’ lives. Though shechitah (ritual slaughter)—and in general the consumption of animals—remains a necessity in this world, nevertheless, it would be fitting that this work performed by men who have not yet evolved to the level of refinement of feeling. However, those endowed with ethical sensitivity ought to serve as supervisors (pekidim) in order that the killing of the animals must not become a  barbaric act. Let there be a light that will enter into the heart of meat-eaters–a light that will someday illuminate the world. For those who truly understand the significance of kosher slaughtering, this light is truly contained in the laws of shehitah and tereifot (unfit animals), as is well known to us.[5]

[1] BT Bava Kama 93a

 

[2] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:20.

[3] Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, Shailos U’Teshuvot Noda B’Yehudah, Mehadurah Tinyana, Yoreh De’ah 10.

[4]  Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kaidanover, Kav HaYashar 83.

[5] Igrot Rayah, vol. I, p. 230.

Four Anti-Semitic Protestant Theologians

Image result for bonhoefferImage result for karl barthImage result for walter brueggemann

Jewish history knows only too well the dark side to the concept of corporate responsibility—especially with respect to the history of anti-Semitism and fascist totalitarian thought.  According to Mathew 27:24-25, there is a passage that has greatly contributed to Christian anti-Semitism:

  • When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.” And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”

Many modern Christian thinkers have rearticulated this attitude throughout the centuries–even today.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer became famous for saying on the night of Kristallnacht, “If the synagogues are set on fire today, it will be the churches that will be burned tomorrow.” Yet, who could imagine that the same man would say to one of his colleagues, “that the Nazis were merely giving what was owed to the Jews. After all, “they nailed the Redeemer of the world to the cross,” they had been forced to bear an eternal curse through a long history of suffering, one that would end only “in the conversion of Israel to Christ.”[1]

Here is one more example of Bonhoeffer’s animus against the Jews:

  • The Church of Christ has never lost sight of the thought that the “chosen people” who nailed the redeemer of the world to the cross must bear the curse for its action through a long history of suffering…. But the history of the suffering of this people–loved and punished by God, stands under the sign of the final homecoming of Israel [the Jews] to its God. And this homecoming happens in the conversion of Israel to Christ…. The conversion of Israel, that is to be the end of the people’s period of suffering. From here the Christian Church sees the history of the people of Israel with trembling as God’s own, free, fearful way with his people, because God is not yet finished with it. Each new attempt to solve “the Jewish question” comes to naught . . .[2]

Shades of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!

Before I came across this passage, I never realized that Bonhoeffer suffered from religious schizophrenia when it came to the Jews. Bonhoeffer did not regard the Jew as a brother in faith, worthy of ecumenical respect.  He felt no sympathy for the racial anti-Jewish laws passed by the Nazis throughout the lands they conquered, after all, the German government was just carrying out classical Christian doctrines that were in place since the days of the 3rd century, where the Early Church Fathers promoted nothing but hostility toward the Jew. Short of actually killing the Jew, everything was considered permitted—even hard labor. After all, the Jews must suffer for their crimes against the Savior!

Many years ago, my synagogue sponsored a short film on the life of Bonhoeffer and the producer of the film was there as part of the panel. I was curious why Bonhoeffer was never included among the righteous Gentiles in the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, but given his smug theological attitude concerning the Jews—it is not hard to figure out why.

Erasmus, the great Catholic humanist scholar said, “If it is Christian to hate Jews, then we are all good Christians”[1] Martin Luther and a host of medieval and modern Protestant scholars would agree.

Just ask Martin Niemöller.

Impressed by Bonhoeffer, Niemöller added his own rhetorical flourish to Bonhoeffer’s words:

  • The Church of Christ has never lost sight of the thought that the ‘Chosen People’ who nailed the redeemer of the world to the cross must bear the curse for its action through a long history of suffering.  The final return of the people of Israel can only take place through the conversion of Israel to Christ. . . .The gospel lesson for the day throws light upon the dark and sinister history of these people that can neither live nor die because it is under a curse which forbids it to do either.  Until the end of its days, the Jewish people must go its way under the burden which Jesus’ decree has laid upon it.

But wait a minute . . . wasn’t he the person who famously said, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because  I was not a Jew. Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me”?

Yep. But he was hardly alone in expressing his sentiment.

Like Karl Barth (as we will soon see), Niemöller did not shy away from making pejorative remarks about the Jewish converts he had in his church. Such baptized Christians, persecuted as Jews by the Nazis, due to their or their forefathers’ Jewish descent. In one sermon in 1935, he remarked, “What is the reason for [their] obvious punishment, which has lasted for thousands of years? Dear brethren, the reason is easily given: the Jews brought the Christ of God to the cross!”[2]

In defense of Niemöller, he wasn’t an irredeemable anti-Semite. After the war, he later expressed regret about his own anti-Semitism in an interview he had with a West German television station he said: “Dear Friend, I stand in front of you, but we cannot get together, for there is guilt between us. I have sinned and my people have sinned against thy people and against thyself . . . . Thus, whenever I chance to meet a Jew known to me before, then, as a Christian, I cannot but tell him . . .”[3] Perhaps his guilty conscience reminded him that someday he would have to answer before the Judge of the World and answer for his dastardly remarks about the Jews, God’s Chosen People, whom he so deeply scorned.

Next,, we will now examine the words of the famous Protestant theologian Karl Barth, who has often been described as “the greatest Christian theologian since Thomas Aquinas,” an epithet I would personally and strongly take issue with.

Karl Barth was also famous for his criticism of the Nazi regime. However, he too also subscribed to the idea that the Jew is a nothing more than a “Christ killer,” worthy of temporal and eternal torment for his audacious rejection of the Savior. Barth’s invective language about the synagogue is reminiscent of Martin Luther’s position. The Protestant scholar Chris Boesel carefully annotates the following Barthian references from his Church Dogmatics, Vol. 2.,  For him, he considers “The Synagogue” represents a “sectarian self-assertion”  by which the Jews attempt to “secure, defend, and preserve its existence against God.”  Barth calls this a  “perverse choice.” The Synagogue now witnesses “over against the witness of the Church,” rather than in unity with it. It is now a “typical expression   . . .  of man’s limitation and pain, of his transiency and the death to which is subject.” Synagogue Judaism is “the personification  of a half-venerable, half-gruesome relic, of a miraculously preserved antique, of human whimsicality. It must live among the nations the pattern of a historical life which has absolutely no future.” The Synagogue is “joyless,” persisting in a “cheerless chronology.” It is a “Synagogue of death,” constituting a “wretched testimony.”[4]

In the 1930s, he too charged the Jews with the death of Jesus – something they undertook not “in foolish over-haste” or misunderstanding, but, he asserted, as a “deliberate” act. Then, in 1942, from his base in Switzerland, in his theological work “Church Dogmatics,” Barth castigated Judaism as a “synagogue of death,” a “tragic, pitiable figure with covered eyes,” a religion characterized by “conceited lying,” and the “enemy of God.” If the church needed the Jews, he felt, it was only as a negative symbol, for they are a mirror of man’s rebellion against God, against which Christians must continually struggle.

Amazingly still, Barth—even after the Holocaust—still couldn’t get over his theological animus toward Judaism and Jews. In a letter he wrote to a close friend named,  Dr. Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt in 1967, Barth made a confession that is utterly amazing—especially in light of the Holocaust that took place over twenty years earlier. He writes:

  • I am decidedly not a philo-semite, in that in personal encounters with living Jews (even Jewish Christians) I have always, so long as I can remember, had to suppress a totally irrational aversion, naturally suppressing it at once on the basis of all my presuppositions, and concealing it totally in my statements, yet still having to suppress and conceal it. Pfui! is all that I can say to this in some sense allergic reaction of mine. But this is how it was and is. A good thing that this reprehensible instinct is totally alien to my sons and other better people than myself (including you). But it could have had a retrogressive effect on my doctrine of Israel.[5]

Barth’s animus toward the Jewish people is evident within the Presbyterian Church.

And last but certainly not least, Walter Brueggemann and a host of lesser thinkers and teachers have become decidedly anti-Zionist and consider the State of Israel an outlaw state. Brueggemann in particular shares a Barthian characteristic that is striking. In their theological works, both Barth and Brueggemann love speaking about Israel, “Biblical Israel” in the abstract—but never with reference to the Jew who follows the Torah that “Biblical Israel” embodies. One gets the impression that Brueggemann finds Judaism, Israel, and the modern Jew to be an annoyance. Jewish Israel is a concept he and other Protestants refuse to accept because of their theology of Supersessionism. Perhaps to  Brueggemann, the Jew is a nuisance–a theological anachronism.

What else could one expect from the house that Luther, Erasmus, Bonhoeffer, Niemöller, Barth, and Brueggemann built?

The fruits of the Protestant churches today and their hatred of Israel are bitter and worthy of oblivion.

If you read the famous “Parable about the Last Judgment” in Matthew 25:31-46, you will see that Jesus left a message in a bottle for the future theologians of the 20-21st century to reflect whenever they think about the Jewish people—Jesus’s own flesh and blood family:

  • “. . . for when I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did so to me.”

Next time Protestant theologians think about the Jewish people and everything we have gone through because of hateful theological supersessionism, they would be wise to remember this parable from their master and teacher.  Jesus’ humanity makes him a wonderful model for people to emulate themselves after—wouldn’t it be nice if his followers took his words more seriously? “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Mark 10:9)

If Barthian theologians have an issue with the Divine election of Israel, I think they ought to take it up with God Himself, and stop slandering God’s people at every opportunity.

[1] Charles Patterson, Anti-Semitism (New York: Walker and Company, 1982), 16.

[2]  Martin Niemöller, First Commandment, (London: Lutheran Church Publishing, 1937), pp. 243–250.

[3] Martin Niemöller Of Guilt and Hope (NY: Philosophical Library, 1947), 18.

[4] Chris Boesel , Risking Proclamation, Respecting Difference: Christian Faith, Imperialistic Discourse, and Abraham (Eugene, OR:  Wipf & Stock Publishers 2008), 107.

[5] Karl Barth, Jürgen Fangmeier and Hinrich Stoevesandt (ed.) Geoffrey W. Bromiy (transl. and ed.)  Karl Barth, Letters 1961-1968. (Edinburgh, T.&T. Clark, 1981) No. 260, pp. 261-263.

Two Kings Cannot Wear the Same Crown

 

Many people, including myself, have often wondered about the Russian strategy in Syria, now that the war is for the most part over.

We all know that Assad is no boy scout; we also know that the ISIS fighters, who swelled the ranks of the rebels—are genocidal maniacs driven by an evil vision of Jihad. Such people do not merely kill, they kill with chemical weapons, they burn people alive, crucify non-Muslim children, feed their kids to their captured parents—the list of atrocities almost makes Assad look like a human being.

It reminds me of the old story—perhaps you heard of it.

Once an outlaw lost his brother who died after trying to rob a bank in a gunfight. The outlaw’s surviving brother tells a minister, “You had better say some nice things about my brother, or else I’ll kill ya!” The minister asked, “What should I say about him?” The outlaw said, “Make him sound like a saint!” At the funeral, the minister said, “Clive was a bank-robber, a cattle-rustler, a rapist, a thief, a murderer—he was someone who would even steal candy from a baby. But, compared to his brother, Clive was a saint!”

While Assad has plenty of blood on his hands, his relationship with Israel has for the most part been relatively good. Israel prefers Assad to the leaders of ISIS or other Muslim fanatics. There are many Red-Army veterans living in Israel (see the picture)–in fact many Russians citizens.

The moral of the story is simply this: the devil you know is better than the one who is worse.  The fact that the Russians are in Syria is not necessarily a bad thing. Putin can bring considerable stability in Syria—maybe in time even put in someone who is better than Assad.

But what about the Iranians? Assad had no problem using Hezbollah and the Iranian military to help defeat the rebels. But Hezbollah’s motivation had little to do with their love of Assad or the Russians. Their ambitions are much more regional-minded. Sure, they hope to use Syria as a platform to attack Israel, but they also wish to surround the Saudis in their effort to take over Muslim holy sites—especially the city of Mecca, the Crown-Jewels of the Muslim world.

Iran’s bellicose ambitions are hardly subtle. Their tolerance for the Russians—a temporary inconvenience.

Israel, as you know, will not let Iran realize their ambitions. Already, the Israelis have destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian weaponry. Have you notice that the Russians, for the most part, have been relatively silent. Netanyahu has, from what it appears, a reasonably good relationship with Putin.

Of course, appearances are deceptive—, especially in the Middle East.

However, Putin does not want to see an Iranian-Israeli war in Syria. It simply is not in Russia’s interest. And the reason for this is because of a political principle that the Midrash has long taught: “Two kings cannot share the same crown.”

It’s sort of like, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

And that is the situation brewing in Syria today between the Iranians and the Russians. Just last night, Putin made the statement, “Foreign troops—including Iran and Hezbollah should depart Syria when the civil war ends.”

Of course, he might have included the Turkish troops, for as Erdogan is really the “third king” of our Midrash, whose ambition is to reestablish the Ottoman Empire.

Put in different terms, “Three kings cannot share the same crown.”

And how did the Iranians take Putin’s remark? The Islamic Republic responds, “no one can force Iran to do anything. Those who should leave Syria are the ones who entered it without consent. We will remain and keep supporting Syria so long as it needs our help,” he added, according to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV.

And with this revelation—something that I have personally observed for months—it ought to be clear that the Putin is prepared to give Netanyahu free reign to get rid of the Iranians as an occupying power.

Eventually, though, the political entropy between the Russians and the Iranians will manifest itself—sort of like spurned lovers.

As far as Assad goes, the Russians had better guard him closely, for eventually, the Iranians will try to replace him with a person of their own choosing.

I am betting the Russians and the Israelis will send the Iranians packing–especially as President keeps the pressure on the Iranians, who are rapidly becoming the pariah everyone hates.