Aspects of Holocaust Theology: The Theology of Retribution–Part I

Despite being saved by Zionists and secular Jews, Satmar leader Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum pinpoints the chief cause of the Holocaust–on the Zionists!

Because of our sinfulness we have suffered greatly, suffering as bitter as wormwood, worse than any Israel has know since it became a people…In former times, whenever troubles befell Jacob, the matter was pondered and reasons sought–which sin had brought the troubles about–so that we could make amends and return to the Lord, may He be blessed…But in our generation one need not look far for the sin responsible for our calamity…The heretics have made all kinds of efforts to violate these oaths, to go up by force and to seize sovereignty and freedom by themselves, before the appointed time…[They] have lured the majority of the Jewish people into awful heresy, the like of which as not been seen since the world was created…And so it is no wonder that the Lord has lashed out in anger…And there were also righteous people who perished because of the iniquity of the sinners and corrupters, so great was the [divine] wrath.[1]

Rabbis Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, in 1939, also stated that the Nazi persecution of the Jews was the fault of non-Orthodox Jews.[2] Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch also believed that God punished the Jews for embracing assimilation. According to Rabbi Y.Y., there were two causes why the Holocaust occurred: (1) assimilation, as seen in the wholesale abandonment of Jewish ritual observance (2) Zionism. For the Rebbe of Lubavitch, it was inconceivable that God would work something so miraculous as return to the Land of Israel through secular people who not only failed to observe the traditions, but also scoffed at those who did. Schneersohn writes in his Likutei Dibburim:

“Question: Who is punishing the Jewish people, and why? And every individual must himself arrive at the real answer: The current predicament is the same as it has always been, in every instance in which the Jewish people “did evil in the eyes of G-d.” Each such case was followed by a famine or an epidemic or a wartime crisis — until the people returned to G-d and were saved…

Is it conceivable that people who desecrate Shabbos and eat treifos and so on will overpower (so to speak) the Will of G-d, Who constantly desires that Eretz Yisrael should be a land of Torah and mitzvos, and that Jews in all other lands too should observe Torah and mitzvos? Realize that life and death are in your hands. And we must all keep in mind that “the hearts of kings and states¬ men are in the Hand of G-d.” The Jewish people will be saved not by statesmen nor by presidents nor by kings, but by G-d’s Will, which will act only when we return in teshuvah. It is commonly observed that when a freethinker or even a G-dless individual stands at the bedside of a desperately ill husband or wife or beloved only child, and the doctors say that G-d alone can help, the latent Jewish spark is wakened and this individual too turns to H im in prayer. Jewry is a desperately ill patient in need of great mercy. No Jew in any country can be certain of his life, and of course not certain of his property. American millionaires and bankers and prosperous businessmen would do well to draw a lesson from the current state of the migrants: they,too, were once millionaires and bankers and prosperous businessmen . . .

Fellow Jews! Things are grim. This is the dense and gloomy darkness that precedes the dawning of Jewry’s sun, with a complete Redemption through our righteous Mashiach. In the meantime it is dark. The one ray of hope is teshuvah — observing Shabbos and the laws of Family Purity and the other practical obligations, and bringing up one’s children in kosher Talmud Torah schools and yeshivos. Fellow Jews! Vigilantly observe the laws of Family Purity, and Family Purity  will vigilantly watch over your children.“[3]

Back to the Future

Today, Haredi Orthodox (ultra-Orthodox rabbis) warn that a failure to follow Orthodox interpretations of religious law will cause God to send another Holocaust. In past years, Rabbi Eliezer Menachem Schach, one of the most prestigious leaders of the Lithuanian yeshiva Orthodoxy in Israel until his death in 2001, also made this claim on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War. He stated that there would be a new Holocaust in punishment for the abandonment of religion and “desecration” of Shabbat in Israel.

Shach’s perspective is not at all unique either among today’s Haredi community. On Aug, 6th, 2000,  Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,  the leader of Israel’s biggest ultra-Orthodox political party, said the six million Jews who perished in the Nazi Holocaust died because they were reincarnations of sinners in previous generations. Yosef called the Nazis “evil” and the victims “poor people,” but he concluded that the six million “were reincarnations of the souls of sinners, people who transgressed and did all sorts of things which should not be done. They had been reincarnated in order to atone.”

[1] Aviezer Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism (Chicago: UP Chicago, 1996), 124.

[2] See Responsa Achiezer, volume III, Vilna 1939, in the introduction. This is discussed in “Piety & Power: The World of Jewish Fundamentalism” by Orthodox author David Landau (1993, Hill & Wang).

[3] Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn and Uri Kaploun (trans.), Likkutei Dibburim Vol 5, (Brooklyn, NY: Kehot Publication Society, 2000), 317-325.

[4] Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheneersohn, Mada Ve’emuna,  (Kfar Chabad: Machon Lubavitc, 1980).

Jewish Theology after Auschwitz

The German philosopher Nietzsche poses a radical answer to the contemporary question: Is God dead? Nietzsche writes:

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!”

As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. ‘Have you lost him, then?’ said one. ‘Did he lose his way like a child?’ said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

“Where has God gone?” he cried. ‘I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers.”

In the 1960s, the “death of God” sparked considerable debate within Christian and Jewish theological circles. Its primary exponents were Thomas J. J. Altizer, William Hamilton, and Paul Van Buren. Despite the differences, these three agreed that a transcendent God is no longer a part of the contemporary human experience. Jewish thinkers approach the “death of God” theology with a variety of different responses.

Indeed, some Jewish thinkers led by Richard Rubenstein, contend that the horrors of Auschwitz and Hiroshima are proof enough that the traditional view of God as a Redeemer was not longer valid or religiously meaningful to the Post-Holocaust era, or as the common secular might say, “God has gone on vacation.” Richard Rubenstein claims that Auschwitz demonstrates human life has no essential value due to the lack of a transcendental purpose or process controlling the human condition. Ultimate meaning and purpose must derive from human beings and not from God. In effect, community has to take the place of God. Granted, religious precepts and rituals could still be maintained, but only as sociological and psychological props. Jews, as a result of the Holocaust, continue as a community but without the God of Judaism. Rubenstein’s view represents a broad segment of the secular Jewish intelligentsia. On the other hand, some Jewish scholars would argue differently, believing that the “death of God” theology points to a loss or absence of the Divine in our contemporary age. Jacob Neusner notes:

“I do not understand the question what the “God is dead” theologians are saying. It seems to me they may be saying two things. First, the experience of the sacred, or God, is no longer widely available; second, that experience is no longer available in classical ways. Both of these statements describe Jewish existence, and have for some time, though we prefer to phrase them differently. I think it is clear that God is hiding His face from the world. . . .We are no longer able to approach the gates of heaven, surely not open them with the keys that used to work. God is “dead” for many Jews. In the Jewish community, even the flame of the Yahrzeit candle long ago flickered out. In the synagogue, however, Jewry still keeps up the graveyard. I do not despair. We Jews have passed this way before.”[1]

Neusner’s evocative image of the “graveyard” is suggestive of numbness, death and detachment. This metaphor would certainly describe the spiritual life of many modern Jews. Neusner’s insightful words are revealing and may have antecedents in several rabbinic teachings that suggest that God has taken a leave of absence from the world. Some sages of the Talmud argued that the Divine Presence (a.k.a. the “Shekhinah”) has retreated to Heaven. In the words of the Midrash, “When the Temple was burned, the Holy One (blessed be He) cried and said:  I no longer have a seat upon earth. I shall remove my Shekhinah from there and ascend to my first habitation.”[2]

Emil Fackenheim, one of the leading post-Holocaust theologians of the 20th century, observes:

Each denomination of Judaism seemed to want to keep God out of its modern religious lives.  It allowed no room for a God dwelling beyond the world, yet entering into it to seek out man. He was an irrational incursion into a rational universe. At the same time, in its more congenial moods, modern thought gave substitute offerings to a deist “First Cause” or Cosmic Process outside man and unrelated to him, or an idealistic God-idea within him. Faced with this basic challenge, and these substitute offerings, orthodox and liberal Jewish theology both compromised. Orthodoxy held fast to the Jewish God, but confined His essential activity to a conveniently remote Biblical and Talmudic past, acting as though the sacred documents of the past could be exempted from modern criticism. Liberalism, for its part, wishing a present God, compromised the Jewish God Himself, now using the terms of Deism, then those of idealism, and in its still surviving forms the terms of a cosmic evolutionism.[3] Continue reading “Jewish Theology after Auschwitz”

Rabbi Triumphs over 2600 Rated Chess Program

I seldom defeat the stronger chess programs; I am usually lucky when I can draw against one of them. Rarely do I win, but in this game, I thought LChess 5.3 would at least draw me, but surprisingly, it misplayed the position–or perhaps my stonewalling technique really worked–chess programs prefer open positions because tactics are its strength–much despite my penchant for losing to these machines. Just in case you are wondering, I am a Chess Master rated around 2200.

[White “LCHESS”]
[Black “ms”]
[Result “0-1”]
[Opening “A31 English: Symmetrical, Benoni formation”]

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 c5 3. d4 b6 4. dxc5 bxc5 5. Bg5 Nc6 6. Bxf6 gxf6 7. Nc3 Bb7 8. e3 d6 9. Bd3 Bh6 10. Qb1 Na5 11. Be4 Qb6 12. Bxb7 Qxb7 13. b3 e6 14. Qd3 Ke7 15. O-O Nc6 16. a3 Rad8 17. Rfd1 f5 18. Nb5 Qb8 19. Rab1 Ne5 20. Nxe5 dxe5 21. Qe2 e4 22. Rxd8 Rxd8 23. Nc3 Bg7 24. Na4 Qc7 25. Rd1 Be5 26. h3 Rxd1+ 27. Qxd1 Qd6 28. Qxd6+ Kxd6 29. g3 h5 30. h4 Ba1 31. b4 cxb4 32. axb4 Kc6 33. b5+ Kb7 34. c5 Bf6 35. c6+ Kc7 36. Nc5 Be7 37. Nd7 Bb4 38. Nf6 Kb6 39. Ne8 Be7 40. c7 Kb7 41. Kg2 Kc8 42. Kf1 Kb7 43. Kg1 Kc8 44. Kh2 Kb7 45. b6 a5 46. Kh3 a4 47. Ng7 a3 48. Nxh5 a2 49. c8Q+ Kxc8 50. Kh2 a1Q 51. Nf4 Qf1 52. Nh3 Kb7 53. h5 Kxb6 54. h6 Kc5 55. h7 Bf6 56. h8R Bxh8 57. Nf4 Qxf2+ 58. Kh3 e5 59. Ng2 f4 60. exf4 exf4 61. Nxf4 Be5 62. Kg4 Bxf4 63. Kf5 e3 64. gxf4 e2 65. Ke4 e1Q+ 66. Kf5 Qed2 67. Kf6 Qdxf4+ 68. Ke7 Q2e3+ 69. Kd7 Qfd4+ 70. Kc8 Qe8+ 71. Kb7 Qdd7+ 72. Ka6 Qa8# 0-1

“Lady Wisdom–the Firstborn Daughter of Creation”

Sometime during the fifth or fourth century B.C.E., the Wisdom/Sophia tradition began to infiltrate Jewish religious sensibilities. At first it was introduced as a series of epigrams containing proverbial wisdom; however, in theological terms, the notion of Sophia came to personify God’s own wisdom. Over the centuries, this new concept influenced generations of Jewish thinkers and mystics—especially during the medieval period when Jewish thought renewed its historic love affair with Greek wisdom. Abraham Ibn Ezra (c. 1089–1164) asserts that the creation of heaven and earth is preceded by the mystical appearance of Wisdom who is sometimes called רֵאשִׁית (rë´šît = “beginning”) (See Prov. 3:19; Ps. 104:24).

Kabbalists would later view Wisdom as the seminal seed and geometric point from which all creation emanates.[1] Their ideas were indirectly shaped by the early Judaic and Hellenistic texts which conceived of Wisdom poetically as being the “firstborn daughter of God” and “Mother of Creation.” According to the Jewish mystical imagination, wisdom truly personifies the “thought” of God that is ever-present in the universe. In light of this reason, Wisdom is plainly presented here as the first of God’s creatures and as God’s collaborator in the creation of all that was yet to be created, and it is Her presence that now suffuses the entire created order. In the book of Proverbs, “Lady Wisdom” is portrayed as saying:

The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,

the first of his acts of long ago.

Ages ago I was set up,

at the first, before the beginning of the earth …

When he established the heavens,

I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep.

Prov. 8:22–27

A similar thought is also poetically expressed in the Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus):

Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people:

“Before the ages, in the beginning,

He created me,

and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.”

—Sir. 24:1–9

Both readings constitute an intrabiblical commentary on the original story of creation as depicted in Genesis. Wisdom acts as the foundation of the cosmos, and as the sole witness to God’s Creation of the world.  In the later Midrashim, the wisdom principle came to be redefined and personified as the Torah itself. “God looked into the Torah and created the world” (Gen. Rabbah 1:1).[2] Literary scholar Susan Handelman observes, “In the rabbinic imagination, the Torah is not an artifact of nature, a product of the universe; the universe, on the contrary, is the product of the Torah.”[3]

[1] The difference between the Hellenistic and the Kabbalistic view of Wisdom is that the former views Wisdom as a feminine principle, whereas the latter views it as essentially a masculine principle.
[2] The Jerusalem Targum paraphrases בְּרֵאשִׁית as בחכמה “With [or ‘In’] wisdom God created . . .” Compare this text with the Targum Neofiti’s interpretive rendering (מלקדמין בחכמה ברא דייי), while the Targum of Onkelos translates the opening salvo as בֲקַדמִין בְרָא יוי (“At first God created . . .”). Likewise the Midrash also alludes to this same theme: “God looked into the Torah and created the world” (Gen. Rabbah 1:1). Wisdom acts as the foundation of the cosmos, serving as the sole witness to God’s Creation of the world.

[3] Susan Handelman, Slayers of Moses, op. cit., 37.

“There’s a Cat in the Library!” William James and Albert Einstein’s spiritual insight

One of the best parables told by America’s greatest psychologist of the early 20th century, William James, who tells a story about a  cat that loved to hang out at the library. The cat knows all the comfortable places; he knows how to get in and get out; he knows how to identify all the individual nooks and crannies. To the cat, the library is familiar territory; it probably feels quite proud that it masters all that it surveys—except for one thing: the cat hasn’t a clue that the library is a place where readers expand their knowledge of the universe, or enjoy reading as a delightful pastime.

William James likens the materialistic scientist of his age (but the analogy would apply no less to many of the scientists of our present day as well), to the cat of our parable. James explains further, “‘Here is the universe,’ he says to himself. All of its phenomena are determined and defined by the laws of nature. There are no longer any mysteries or secrets; a few questions here and there may still remain unanswered, but ultimately we know what lies behind it all, because we know the fundamental laws of physics.” But not all humanistic scientists share this kind of attitude; there are those who view science as never-ending search, and who believe that the universe has a great many aspects of which we are still unaware, or which at least have not yet been formulated scientifically.”

James’ idea is thought-provoking. Yes, the universe is like a library full of knowledge and consciousness is the key to self-knowledge.  The mysteries that suffuse the universe–especially from a Maimonidean perspective–seems to strongly suggest us that the universe does not necessarily revolve around puny humanity. Of course many Jewish thinkers like Saadia Gaon and Nachmanides see the cosmos as an essentially anthropocentric enterprise, but personally, I find Maimonides’ attitude much more intriguing and realistic. Could there be parallel earths? Several scientists and quantum scholars seem to think this is a distinct possibility–even though there is no empirical evidence that this is so.

Einstein may have had James’ parable in mind when he wrote, “The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books – a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.”[2]

The human child may not have a real grasp of the library is either, but at least he realizes or senses that the library contains more information than he can possibly imagine. Unlike the cat, the human child realizes that each book tells a story—whether he understands that particular story may not be so clear to the young person at his age, but he knows that as his mastery of language and ideas improve, eventually he will be able to enjoy any book he desires to read. The cat, on the other hand, will always remain a cat.

Einstein’s advice for laypeople and commoners is especially relevant today:

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery–even if mixed with fear—that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our  minds—it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.” [3]

[1] Cited from Ephraim E. Urbach, Robert Brody, Moshe D. Herr, Collected Writings in Jewish Studies (Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magnes Press, 1999), 29.

[2]  Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions.

[2] Albert Einstein, The World as I See It (New York: Philosophical Library, 1934), 15.

Raoul Wallenberg: Sweden’s Greatest Hero

In the annals of modern European history, Raoul Wallenberg’s name is synonymous with courage.[1] As a Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg (1912-?) had all the right skills to save about 100,000 people from the Nazi death-camps. By the time Wallenberg arrived in Budapest, Adolf Eichmann managed to deport more than 400,000 Jews.

In 1944, Wallenberg decided to get involved in rescuing the Jews of Hungary by issuing “Schutz Passes,” which were fake identification passes that indicated the carrier of this pass was protected by the Swedish government. By the end of the war, he issued over 15,000 passes that saved 15,000 lives. One of his Wallenberg’s good friends, the future Congressman Tom Lantos, described the fearless way Wallenberg would confront the Nazis at the train-stations, as Jews awaited to be sent to their slaughter, “He bluffed his way through,” said Tom Lantos, while adding,  “He had no official authorization. His only authority was his own courage. Any officer could have shot him to death. But he feared nothing for himself and committed himself totally. It was as if his courage was enough to protect himself from everything.”

However, Wallenberg also knew that these passes could only have limited success, other interventions were necessary. So, Wallenberg conceived of a new plan, the “Swedish Safe Houses,” along with soup kitchens, food, medical supplies, and clothing which they offered safety for the Hungarian Jews, who were protected by the Swedish government. Tens of thousands of Jews were that way saved by Wallenberg, or by the embassies of neutral countries who finally decided to follow in Wallenberg’s footsteps.

Only 200,000 Jews remained within the capital. When Wallenberg learned how in December of 1944 that the Nazis were about to slaughter the 70,000 Jews living in the Budapest Central Ghetto, Wallenberg intervened by sending a stern message to General August Schmidthuber that he would personally hold him accountable and would see to it that he would be tried as a war criminal after Germany surrendered to the Allies. Wallenberg’s use of intimidation along with bribery managed to help him save over 100,000 lives. Even after Eichmann ordered the infamous death march where 20,000 out of 58,000 people died, Wallenberg managed to distribute food, blankets, and other important supplies.

The Nazis were careful not to violate his diplomatic immunity out of respect for the Swedish government. One would not think that he was necessarily the heroic type, just by looking at him. But he was capable of being calm and amiable when he needed to be, and also become aggressive and forceful when the occasion demanded it. Because of his impressive personality, Wallenberg managed to achieve his objectives with impunity.

Wallenberg lived a couple blocks away from the SS Headquarters and from Adolf Eichmann. At a dinner meeting, Wallenberg confronted Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Nazi’s “Final Solution” on a number of occasions and even said to him, “Look, face it, you’ve lost the war. Why not give it up now?” Eichmann replied, “I have unfinished business—the extermination of the Hungarian Jews.” And within the same breath, Eichmann threatened Wallenberg, “Don’t think you’re immune just because you’re a diplomat and a neutral!” After his dinner with Eichmann, a truck, days later, Wallenberg’s car was firebombed (some say, it was rammed), and when Wallenberg mentioned the incident to Eichmann, in person, Eichmann immediately apologized. But after Wallenberg left the office, Eichmann said, “I will try again!”

Indeed, by the end of the war, the Nazis decided to go after Wallenberg, but being the man of integrity he was, he refused to flee. He would reply, “To me there’s no other choice. I’ve accepted this assignment and I could never return to Stockholm without the knowledge that I’d done everything in human power to save as many Jews as possible.” Ultimately, he was arrested—not by the Nazis, but by the Russians who assumed that Wallenberg was an American spy, and is reported to have died in a Soviet prison or mental hospital. Many claim to have seen him in Siberian prisons as late as the 1960s.

[1] Thomas Streissguth, Raoul Wallenberg: Swedish Diplomat and Humanitarian (New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2001).

The Eternal Question: “Where art thou?” (Gen. 3:9)

In one of the most famous Hassidic stories of the 19th century, Martin Buber relates an anecdote about Rabbi Sheneir Zalman of Liadi, who was imprisoned on grounds of treason by the Russian government. In the exchange between the saintly rabbi and his interrogator, both of these men have a most remarkable encounter.

The old rabbi was once put in jail because the Mitnagdim (defenders of the status quo) had denounced his principles and way of living to the government. He was arrested and sent to St. Petersburg to stand trial for treason. The old rabbi stood accused of sending monies abroad to Israel, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, an enemy of Russia. As the very pious man stood in jail, he was very engrossed in meditation. He had hardly noticed the visitor, who happened to be a high-ranking official in the Russian government. He asked the Rebbe, “I have a question on the Bible, and would be most grateful to you if you could give me an adequate answer.”

The Rebbe said to him: “Ask whatever you would like, and with God’s help, I hope to be able to answer your problem.” “How are we to understand that God, the All-Knowing, said to Adam: ‘Where art thou?’ (after he ate the fruit and hid with Eve).” The Rebbe asked, “Do you believe that the Scriptures are eternal and forever relevant in any time and in any place?” The official said that he did.

The Rebbe replied: “The Torah tells us: ‘And God called to the Man [Adam]’ (Gen. 3:9). This teaches us that God speaks to every individual and asks him, ‘Where are you—i.e., where do you stand in relationship to this world?’ God has allotted each of us a certain number of days and years, each of which is to be utilized for the doing of good in relation to both God and humankind. Therefore, ask yourself: How many days have you lived already and how much good have you accomplished during that time? You, for instance, have lived already 46 years, how did you use your time?” The official was deeply amazed and thrilled by the fact that the Rebbe had guessed his right age and put his hand on the prisoner’s shoulder, while nervously exclaiming: “Bravo!”[1]

Martin Buber developed existential insights intimated by this question, “Where art thou?”  In mythic terms, God’s conversation occurs whenever human beings create the space to encounter and hear the Word of God unfold within the human heart. This broad theological message applies to all human beings of all ages.

In ancient times, the prophets and later the Essenes resided in the wilderness where they could be more receptive to God’s Presence. The Early Church Fathers built monasteries in the wilderness to help them develop their sense of the Sacred. In the 18th-19th centuries, R. Israel Eliezer, a.k.a., the Baal Shem Tov and his grandson, R.  Nachman of Bratzlav, along with others recommended that worshippers find God in the uninhabited areas apart from civilization. In the stillness of the forest or in the fields one can discover the Presence of God that reaches out and inspires the soul.

In terms of Israel’s development of faith, the wilderness experience taught the ancient Israelites that “human beings live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut. 9:4). The miracle of the manna taught the Israelites that God is capable of nourishing and guiding a people despite external circumstances and conditions. For the hungry and starving Israelites, the manna represented God’s mastery over the primordial forces of chaos—God’s ability to provide—even in the most hostile and uninhabitable environment. Manna could not be hoarded by the wealthy and used to exploit the impoverished members of society. There were no class distinctions; nobody had to qualify for sustenance. Each person was provided with exactly what s/he needed, not more or less (even Marx might have been impressed). Most importantly, the manna taught ancient Israel that sustenance came to the Israelites in marvelous and unexpected ways.  From hunger to fullness, from scarcity to abundance, Israel learned that her destiny is not dependent upon natural forces. Manna is God’s reminder that all food is God’s gift to the world—from the most extravagant banquet to the smallest portion of bread. Continue reading “The Eternal Question: “Where art thou?” (Gen. 3:9)”

A Pagan “Messiah”!? (Revised)

After Jerusalem fell and their Temple was destroyed, Israel’s faith in a nationalistic God who would unconditionally protect them also disintegrated. The Jews succumbed to what could be described as a nervous-breakdown. Their spiritual identity was inseparably linked to the Temple. Many lost their faith entirely during this traumatic period of time.

For many survivors, the “victorious” Babylonian gods seemed more appealing than the vanquished God of the Jews. Others became enamored with the new opportunities to become prosperous in a new land, as they quickly forgot about their spiritual heritage. Undoubtedly, among the faithful were others who expected a new king who would apocalyptically appear and restore the Temple along with its sacrifices. Others felt helpless and sad that the Jewish people were doomed to disappear like other nations of history.

Just as wandering in the wilderness served to restructure the spiritual development of the children of Israel, so too did Babylonian captivity. What emerged from this historical period was a restatement of an old paradigm—God can introduce something novel out of the chaos of destruction. The Babylonian exile thus served to help purge the Jewish people of their misconceptions, and renew their faith in God. However, before this moment of redemption was to occur, Israel had to first lose its parochial view of the universe, and choose to become the instruments of God’s plan of salvation. Norman Cohn, in his book on the origin of ancient eschatology, points out:

“The collapse of the kingdom of Judah, the capture of Jerusalem, the exile itself—these very things represented a victory of chaos over cosmos. Only a god who in the beginning had converted primordial chaos into the ordered world could reestablish such a world. But in that case YHWH could certainly do more than merely restore Israel to its former status. Second Isaiah was positive: the love which YHWH bore to his chosen people was about to be manifested in the most impressive manner conceivable. By an act as wondrous as its original creation, the world was about to be transformed—and   the people of Israel were about to be given a glorious position in the transformed world.”[1] Continue reading “A Pagan “Messiah”!? (Revised)”

Did the Israelites build the pyramids of Egypt?

Byline: Jan. 8th, 2010 — 4:00 PM

Josephus credits the Israelites with the building of the great pyramids of Egypt.  This belief is often reflected in the artwork of many of the Passover Haggada pictures:

“. . . .for they enjoined them to cut a great number of channels for the river, and to build walls for their cities and ramparts, that they might restrain the river, and hinder its waters from stagnating, upon its running over its own banks: they set them also to build pyramids, and by all this wore them out; and forced them to learn all sorts of mechanical arts, and to accustom themselves to hard labor. And four hundred years did they spend under these afflictions; for they strove one against the other which should get the mastery, the Egyptians desiring to destroy the Israelites by these labors, and the Israelites desiring to hold out to the end under them” (Antiquities, Book II, Chapter 9).

Contrary to Josephus, the Pyramid Age of Egypt was really built nearly at least 500 years before Abraham! The oldest pyramids date back to 3rd and 4th Dynasty. The apex of pyramid building was reached at the beginning of the fourth dynasty, the step pyramid, built by King Djoser (c. 2660 BCE.), is the earliest large stone building known to man.  The Great Pyramid at Giza, the work of Djoser’s  son Cheops (2600 BCE). Certainly by the time of the New Kingdom started, pyramids were no longer being constructed. The Torah makes it clear that the Israelites only built the storage cities, but nowhere is there any reference to the Israelites having built a single pyramid.

In Praise of Rabbi Eliezer Silver: One of the Greatest Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust Era

Byline: Jan. 8th, 4:00 PM

Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1882-1968) proved to be one the greatest rescuers of European Jewry during the Holocaust. He is credited with saving many thousands of Jewish lives. Early on in 1939, Silver was one of the founding fathers of the Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee), where Silver was appointed as its president. He was instrumental in rescuing the cream of European rabbinic leaders, who along with Rabbis Aaron Kotler, Abraham Kalmanowitz marched up Pennsylvanian Avenue on October 6, 1943.

While standing in front of the White House, the large Jewish entourage of over two hundred rabbis recited the Psalms and announced, “We pray and appeal to the Lord, blessed be He, that our most gracious President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, recognizing this momentous hour of history and responsibility that the Divine Presence has laid upon him, that he may save the remnant of the People of the Book, the People of Israel.”

Shortly afterward, the Jewish delegation met with Vice President Henry Wallace and a congressional delegation to make their case for European Jewry. Later, at the Lincoln Memorial, a special memorial prayer was said on behalf of the martyred Jews.  Finally, the five rabbis went to the White House to meet with the President, where the President made his famous backdoor exit rather than meeting with them. Although they did not meet with the President, the publicity of the march led to the eventual formulation of the War Refugees Board that opened the doorway to over 100,000 Jews. When one considers how many of these survivors went on to have children–not to mention grandchildren–Rabbi Silver really saved millions of lives!

After the event, Rabbi Silver succeeded in raising over $5,000,000 for the new immigrants and secured over 2,000 emergency visas for the Jewish refugees. Like Rabbi Michael Weissmandl, Rabbi Eliezer Silver utilized every means available to bribe officials in Europe and in Latin America, to help settle Jews in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Palestine.  Foreign diplomats provided the fake visas to help facilitate the rescue. He even attempted to trade concentration camp prisoners for cash and tractors, resulting in the release of hundreds of Jews from the Bergen Belsen concentration camps along with several others.

Rabbi Silver, driven by the biblical admonition against standing idly by a brother’s blood, made no apologies for violating the Trading with the Enemy Act. In one of his most famous letters, he writes:

We are ready to pay ransom for Jews and deliver them from concentration camps with the help of forged passports. We are prepared to violate many laws in order to save lives. We do not hesitate to deal with counterfeiters and passport thieves. We are ready to smuggle Jewish children over the borders, and to engage expert smugglers for this purpose, rogues whose profession this is. We are ready to smuggle money illegally into enemy territory in order to bribe those dregs of humanity, the killers of the Jewish people![1]

Even after the war was over, Rabbi Silver continued to help bring over refugees from more than eight European nations. In the end, he died penniless after using all of his monies to help pave the way for Jewish immigration to the United States and Israel, including those who were trying to flee from Communism.

[1] Amos Bunim, A Fire in His Soul: Irving M. Bunim, 1901-1980: The Man and His Impact on American Orthodox Jewry (New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1989), 136.