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biblical theology – Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Remembering Frederick Douglass on the 4th of July

Image result for picture of frederick douglass

This past week, the American flag became a focal point as we celebrated the Fourth of July. The Wall Street Journal reported how NIKE was forced to recall a show that featured the “Betsy Ross” flag on the back of the shoe. Collin Kaepernick who signed a multi-million-dollar sponsorship with NIKE was upset that NIKE featured the flag, which he regarded as “offensive” because of its connection to an era of slavery. The flag could be construed as a symbol of approval for slavery, white nationalism, and white supremacy.[1]

Embarrassed, NIKE withdrew the shoe.

What a pity, I was looking forward to purchasing the shoe!

The Democratic candidates Julian Castro and Beto Rourke defended Kaepernick’s position.

It is a pity NIKE did not sort this potential problem out in the designing stage. They probably will lose many customers over this late decision.

On the morning of the Fourth of July, Kaepernick tweeted a quotation from one of the greatest black leaders of the Civil Rights era, Frederick Douglass. Douglass was in many respects like the Martin Luther King of his time. He was a brilliant orator; he was a moral voice of our great nation’s conscience., Kaepernick’s message read, “‘What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? This Fourth of July is yours, not mine…There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloodier than are the people of these United States at this very hour.’”

The speech is riveting, and in it, Douglass spoke about the growing pains of the nation; he expressed optimism that our country would grow from its bitter experiences with slavery. He mentioned how the institution of slavery challenged the sacred Bill of Rights and the moral teachings of the Constitution.

Unfortunately, Kaepernick cherry-picked the parts of the speech that reflected his personal animus toward our country’s history.

 I later wrote about this in my blog and I was surprised to see that Sen. Ted Cruz mentioned some of the same points I raised. Cruz noted:

  • You quote a mighty and historic speech by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, but, without context, many modern readers will misunderstand. Two critical points: This speech was given in 1852, before the Civil War, when the abomination of slavery still existed. Thanks to Douglass and so many other heroes, we ended that grotesque evil and have made enormous strides to protecting the civil rights of everybody.
  • Douglass was not anti-American; he was, rightly and passionately, anti-slavery. Indeed, he concluded the speech as follows: “Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably, work the downfall of slavery. ‘The arm of the Lord is not shortened,’ and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from ‘the Declaration of Independence,’ the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.”

The Civil War took place between 1861-1865. Over 600,000 soldiers died so that slavery would disappear from our country forever. It is a pity Kaepernick never acknowledged this fact. Douglass knew that in time our country would learn valuable lessons about the evils of this institution.

But there was also something important that Cruz left out that could have made his point stronger. The citation comes from Douglass’s writings that reflects mightily about his magnanimous personality. I mentioned this letter in a Yom Kippur sermon I gave in 2017.

In a letter from Frederick Douglass to his former master, he wrote on September 3rd, 1849:

  • I shall no longer regard you as an enemy to freedom, nor to myself — but shall hail you as a friend to both. — Before doing so, however, I have one reasonable request to make of you, with which you will, I hope, comply. It is thus: That you make your conversion to anti-slavery known to the world, by precept as well as example.
  • It would be truly an interesting and a glorious spectacle to see master and slave, hand in hand, laboring together for the overthrow of American slavery. I am sure that such an example would tell with thrilling effect upon the public mind of this section. We have already had the example of slaves and slaveholders side by side battling for freedom; but we yet lack a master working by the side of his former slave on the anti-slavery platform.
  • You have it in your power to supply this deficiency; and if you can bring yourself to do so, you will attain a larger degree of happiness for yourself, and will confer a greater blessing on the cause of freedom, than you have already done by the generous act of emancipating your own slaves.
  • With the example before me, I shall not despair of yet having the pleasure of giving you the right hand of fellowship on the anti-slavery platform.[2]

In his age, Frederick Douglass was the closest thing to a modern biblical prophet who chastised a nation that had forgotten about its ethical obligations to promote, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of its citizens.

Our country has come a long way in eradicating many—if not most—of the indecencies that led to slavery.

I will just conclude with an excerpt from a speech Douglass gave at the end of the war. His words remain today just as prophetic as they always have been.

  • Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also.
  • All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot- box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! [Applause.] If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone,—your interference is doing him a positive injury. Gen. Banks’ “preparation” is of a piece with this attempt to prop up the Negro. Let him fall if he cannot stand alone! If the Negro cannot live by the line of eternal justice, so beautifully pictured to you in the illustration used by Mr. Phillips, the fault will not be yours, it will be his who made the Negro, and established that line for his government.
  •  [Applause.] Let him live or die by that. If you will only untie his hands, and give him a chance, I think he will live. He will work as readily for himself as the white man. A great many delusions have been swept away by this war. One was, that the Negro would not work; he has proved his ability to work. Another was, that the Negro would not fight; that he possessed only the most sheepish attributes of humanity; was a perfect lamb, or an “Uncle Tom;” disposed to take off his coat whenever required, fold his hands, and be whipped by anybody who wanted to whip him. But the war has proved that there is a great deal of human nature in the Negro, and that “he will fight,” as Mr. Quincy, our President, said, in earlier days than these, “when there is reasonable probability of his whipping anybody.” [Laughter and applause.][3]

To Collin Kaepernick, I would say that you of all people have benefited from the sacrifices many great people of our society have made during the Civil War and after the Civil War. Instead of invoking the sins of the past as though our whole country is mired in the Original Sin of slavery, remember what Douglass said that every person must stand or fall on his own merits or failings.

Invoking hatred toward our country only serves to keep the wounds of the past forever fresh.

The men who died in the Civil War deserve to be remembered why they died and why their ultimate sacrifice created a new era of possibility for everyone in our great nation.


[1] https://www.dailywire.com/news/49067/nike-pulls-american-flag-sneaker-after-complaint-emily-zanotti

[2] The Frederick Douglass Papers: 1842-1852, pp. 391-392.

[3] http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/africam/afspfdat.html

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Corry Booker’s Jewish Problem

Why Jews should distrust Cory Booker

Posted on 30 June 2019.

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Cory Booker

CHULA VISTA, California — One of the Democratic candidates running for President is Cory Booker, the former Newark mayor who later was elected to the U.S. Senate. Booker has had a long relationship with the Jewish community. He once headed  Jewish student societies while a student at the University at Oxford and at Yale. He has close ties with pro-Israel groups.

This is a man who has given a sermon on the weekly parsha.

Once Jeffrey Goldberg retold a conversation between Booker and his daughter, who was then preparing for her bat mitzvah. He asked her, “What’s your parasha?” The young girl replied that it was “Parshat Vayera” from Genesis. Without missing a beat, Booker gave a drasha on the lessons we can learn from Abraham trying to save the two sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

When I first heard this story, I began paying attention to Booker.

I wanted to know more about him.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was once a good friend of his. How did he describe Booker? He said that the man is “Possessed of an insatiable spiritual curiosity utterly unexpected from a star who has risen through the rough-and-tumble of Jersey politics, Cory is a man permanently in search of inspiration, to both discover and dispense it.”

Booker appealed to many Jews, then something bad happened. In his quest to be a popular politician, he made the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. In fact, he reminds me of Paul the Apostle, who in a rare moment of honesty, admitted his aim in winning souls for Christ:

Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win over those under the Law. To those outside the Law I became like one outside the Law—though I am not outside God’s law but within the law of Christ—to win over those outside the Law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.[1]

Paul and Al Davis both believed in winning—regardless of what it took; the former owner of the Oakland Raiders became famous when he said, “Just win Baby.” I suspect that Cory Booker probably has a similar philosophy.

And in politics, the rule of political expediency is the only enduring life philosophy that matters

This means a good politician must sometimes make a deal with the devil himself.

But a man of principle and moral courage must never succumb to that temptation. Booker forgot that even Satan tempted Jesus, but he failed. That’s how a moral person deals with evil people. Just say, “NO!”

Boteach’s incisive words are worth quoting:

But then came the Iran nuclear agreement and Cory’s support of it and the beginning of a downward spiral in his support for Israel that undermined much of our friendship and the Jewish community’s admiration for him. Nearly every time I attend a public event, people walk over to me and ask, “Why did Cory oppose the Taylor Force Act – which stops the funding of Palestinian terrorists – in Senate committee?” “Why did Cory condemn the moving of the American Embassy to Jerusalem?” And, “Why did Cory take a picture with BDS leaders who demand the removal of Israel’s wall that prevents suicide bombings?”[2]

Booker’s loyalty to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party does not consider Israel an important ally; the power elite of the DNC expects Booker to tow the party line—even if it means going against the Jewish community; even if means going against the State of Israel.

Booker supported the Obama deal with Iran, despite Iran’s promise to wipe Israel off the map. And while I want to condemn Booker for a lack of courage, the Jewish Democrats who supported Obama’s dangerous gambit are even more guilty than Booker.

And as if these political compromises were not bad enough, Booker announced he was willing to meet with the infamous anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan—the leader of the Nation of Islam.

Perhaps Booker has forgotten about Farrakhan’s admiration of Hitler.

Perhaps Booker has forgotten about Farrakhan’s Jewish “Termite Problem.”

Farrakhan has called Jews “satanic” on several occasions; he praised Hitler as a “great man.” He believes that the Jews are out to “control” the world. He believes the Jews are responsible for the transatlantic slave trade.

Farrakhan is a fountain of anti-Semitism.

William J. H. Boetcker once wrote, “A man is judged by the company he keeps, and a company is judged by the men it keeps, and the people of Democratic nations are judged by the type and caliber of officers they elect.”

Cory Booker, I wish to offer these personal words of admonition: Your behavior has proven that you are a politically expedient man—a real politician.

Meeting with the enemies of the Jewish people, and state-sponsored terrorist governments against Israel has shown why you should never be elected to any office, much less the Presidency.

*

[1] 1 Corinthians 9:19–24.

[2] https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/No-Holds-Barred-Cory-Booker-refuses-to-condemn-Farrakhan-or-Iran-at-ADL-summit-574097

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

Posted in Uncategorized

When Religion Turns Dark

“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”

― Christopher Hitchens

Every religion has a dark side past that civilization must never forget.

In Poland, over Easter, throngs of Poles burn a Jewish effigy. It was like a scene from the Holocaust, yet this happened just yesterday on April, 21, 2019.

For Holocaust survivors, this is a painful image to see again. Yet, not all Poles are anti-Semites. One Polish young man took a bullet from a Nazi and saved my father’s life. There will always be good people; there will always be bad people who do evil things.

Anti-Semitism is still one of the world’s foremost enduring social diseases. But today, we are no longer alone. The Christians are now experiencing the same kind of mistreatment that Jews have known for much of our history.

In the past, Christians in France burned handwritten volumes of the Talmud in the 14th century. During the Holocaust, the French handed Jews over to the Nazis so their country would be spared the horrors of war and be left alone. Perhaps there is a karmic element to history. Today, French Christians are observing their sacred faith be desecrated by a throng of Jihadists living among them who have no respect for the “pagan” Christian religious symbols or places of sacred worship.  

The month of April, 2019 has proven to be one of the violent on record.

Since the beginning of 2019, the Catholic churches in France are being targeted with arson attacks, vandalism, desecration of holy statues, and the destruction of the Eucharist. One of the most important French churches, second in importance to the Notre Dame, is the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, where the Da Vinci Code movie was filmed. This church as recently set on fire just after midday mass on Sunday, Le Parisien reports. Firefighters and police said the blaze was an arson attack.

For Catholics, the Virgin Mary is a very important symbol, but in February this year, they destroyed a 19th-century statue of the Virgin Mary. This was the first of three incidents that occurred at the St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles.

Then you have thousands of fundamentalist Muslims cheering the destruction of the Notre Dame on Twitter.[1]

Given the recent spate of attacks in France, Nigeria, Sri Lanka where over 290 people were killed, and other places, once again people are asking the obvious question: Why is this happening in the 21st century? Did we not learn anything from the Holocaust, or from other tragic human experiences? There is not a simple answer to these questions.

Maimonides and Hegel both agreed that history sometimes occurs in cycles. Human nature seldom changes; new circumstances arise that challenge how we will react. They say “there is no fool like an old fool,” and Santayana said, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Are we condemned to relive the Crusades? Are we retrogressing to a time when religious wars nearly destroyed civilization? Haven’t we learned anything from history?

Historically, every religion gone through its dark night of the soul where it allowed its fanatics to define the course of its history. Two thousand years ago, the zealots fought against the might of Rome expecting to achieve a new Maccabean-esque victory over the “forces of darkness.” Our ancestors learned the hard way that this method cannot work.

It can only create misery.

Christianity’s history is bloody. Protestants and Catholics fought each other from the 16th  to the early 18th century. Religion has seldom been a healing force in Europe and its secular culture today is largely due to the animus one Christian faith showed toward the other. In fact, Christianity throughout most of its history has perpetuated continuous violence toward the Jew, toward the Cathars, toward the Muslims, and toward each other.

Islam’s history is even more violent than the Christian history.

Jews are not the only people to have endured a genocide. Just ask the Hindus.

Every Hindu from India refers to a great genocide as the “Hindu Kush” (the “Hindu Slaughter) that occurred over an 800-year period starting from the year 1000. Marauding Muslim armies butchered hundreds of millions of Hindus; it is amazing India ever survived.

And in the 14th century, a Muslim conqueror from Uzbekistan named Timur the will always be best remembered for his gruesome military campaigns in which they have slaughtered tens of millions of people. He created an empire that stretched from parts of central China and Delhi, India, to the Mediterranean. In some of his battles against the Hindu “pagans”, he murdered over 100,000 in one battle alone. The Indus River flowed with blood for weeks. Never has the world seen a more genocidal army of fanatics than the hoards unleashed by Timur the Lame. 

The Bahmani Sultanate was a Muslim state of the Deccan in South India and one of the major medieval Indian kingdoms. Bahmanid Sultanate (1347–1425) in Southern India had an annual agenda of killing a minimum of 100,000 Hindus every year.

Yes, no religion can claim immunity from the diabolical forces that have infested its soul.

So, as a student of comparative religion I wonder: Are we destined to repeat the worse periods of human history? Humankind must learn to evolve—if it is to survive.

From a theological perspective, I believe God is never responsible for the evil that exists in the world—but we are. We cannot evade our responsibility.

So how do we put an end to the rash of religious hatred that we are witnessing in the world perpetuated by Islamic jihadis?

For one thing, Western society needs to emancipate itself from the childish belief in multiculturalism that has become one of the cornerstones of modern education. Not all societies are considered equal. Some are barbaric and have never learned to respect human rights, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, or the right for the individual to choose his or her own spiritual path.

Treating every retrograde culture or religion as if it were on even footing is foolish and dangerous. In our country, enabling pro-Sharia operatives such as Ilan Omar and Linda Sarsour will only promote a dysfunctional Islam that wishes to extend it hegemony over the Western world and civilization.

Secondly, western societies need to stop importing immigrants from Jihadi movements who have no respect for our culture or our social values. If someone wishes to live in the 8th century, it is best they remain in the countries they are presently residing.

For the Muslim community in particular, we must promote an Islamic Reformation movement—one that will bring healing to their communities. Sharia must never be enabled as a political or legal system—it damages and disrespects human dignity, as we see in the retrogressive regimes of Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other similar countries. Reformations are great for religions—they keep us honest and progressive.

People like M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., who is also the Founder and President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) and Co-Founder of the Muslim Reform Movement must be in the forefront our media programs.  Other progressive Muslims need to be more in the forefront preaching their message of an Islamic Reformation. It is an endeavor that is well worth investing and supporting. Encouraging Muslims of the Sufis and the Ahmadiyya movements to assume a prominent role in their communities could make a big difference.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to promote healthy expressions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity that celebrate the dignity and holiness of the divine image.

For the Christian communities of Poland and elsewhere, Christian leaders need to do a better job teaching their followers that each human being is responsible for his or her own behavior. We cannot condemn an entire people because of something one’s ancestor did or might have done. And for the record, the Romans crucified Jesus—not the Jews.

And lastly, for the Jewish community, we need to promote a greater separation between the State and synagogue in Israel itself. We cannot let zealotry dictate the next chapter of Jewish history.

As we prepare ourselves to observe Yom HaShoah, it behooves us to take note that the Jews are not the only people of history who have experienced genocide. Many other peoples across the globe have experienced it. Finally, we must do a better job informing the non-Jewish community the existential threat that the mullahs of Iran pose to Jews living in Israel, lest we allow another Holocaust to (God forbid) occur.

We must not abandon Israel in her time of need.

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The Democratic Party’s “Jewish Problem”

CHULA VISTA, California — Jewish tradition has long taught that the Hamans of the world accomplish more good than evil by uniting the Jewish people.  The Talmud relates, “The actions of Ahasuerus and Haman can be understood with a parable; … the sealing of Haman’s decree proved more effective than the forty-eight prophets” (BT Megillah 14a)

This observation is hardly surprising given the topsy-turvy world of the Jews who lived in ancient Persia.

As I thought about this remark, it occurred to me that there is a ray of truth to this ancient sentiment. Anti-Semitism has sometimes served to unite us as Jews in the face of enemies who seek to destroy us.

Historically, Anti-Semitism is not defined by any one political party; it is a social disease that transcends borders. It is making a comeback throughout Europe; it is making a comeback here in the United States.

Anti-Semitism functions a lot like a virus. A virus can remain dormant for decades or longer, and suddenly come alive when you least expect it.  If a virus manages to remain dormant, without replicating and without its host cell signaling that it’s infected, it is possible that it can live in the host indefinitely.

Anti-Semitism occurs in much the same way.

Most Jews remain surprised whenever we see it erupt; usually, we have come to expect such behavior from anti-Semites from the right; but recently, we are witnessing a resurgence of anti-Semitism from left—from the emerging new voices who will someday take over the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Is Nancy Pelosi concerned? I suspect she is. Perhaps she is terrified. And who could blame her? Several anti-Semitic voices can find a home in the Democratic Party ought to be alarming to any decent person.

And yet, the seeds of anti-Semitism are almost imperceptible. Who would imagine that a refugee from Somalia would turn the Democratic Party upside down on its head? But that is exactly what Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) managed to do in just a couple of months  since her election to office.

Ironically, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) owes a lot to the liberal Minnesota Jewish community; they took her at her word;  they blindly supported her. When she took part in a debate at the Beth El Synagogue in Minnesota, the local Jewish community asked her, “Where exactly do you stand on BDS?” She said at the time BDS was “not helping in getting that two-state solution. . .” Anyone listening might have thought she opposed it.

Surprise!

Little did they realize that Omar supported the BDS! Could this have made a difference in the election? Do the math. She could not have won without Jewish support.

The Jews of Minnesota did not expect to be so easily played by Omar’s bait-and-switch antics. Then again, her friend and confidant Louis Farrakhan has often claimed, “The Jews are stupid.” And while I agree with the substance of Farrakhan’s remark, I think Santayana put it more eloquently, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It’s also called, “Life 101,” Jewish history should have taught us to be less gullible when politicians solicit our political support.

We have only our own naivete to blame.

As Jews, we want to believe people possess an essentially good nature. Just as the philosopher Immanuel Kant failed to grasp the notion of radical evil, so have we as a people. In my opinion, this misplaced optimism has harmed our people throughout our history. When the Bolsheviks declared Russia a communist state, guess who paid the price with their lives?

Guess no further, the Jews who supported the Bolsheviks. The Jew has always been a convenient scapegoat.

When Omar accused us of dual loyalties, and accused us of financially controlling the world,  Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) with Linda Sarsour immediately came to Omar’s defense.  Tlaib participated in a major campaign fundraiser where she called the Jews “satanic”

How Farrakhan-esque!

A video appeared on the page of a Facebook group to which Tlaib belongs, but FB subsequently removed it. Nor is that the only example, according to a report on the conservative WND website.  Omar’s associates claimed, “The Jews aren’t actually from Israel.”  In one October 2017 post, one member accused Israeli settlers of training children ‘to terrorize Palestinian civilians.’ Other members of the group have added posts accusing Jews of controlling the media and perpetuating other anti-Semitic stereotypes,” according to The Daily Callerrevealed.[1]

But this same FB group also claimed that the Holocaust was a hoax and that the Jews invented a historical claim to Israel as a subterfuge in their effort to control the media. Abdel-qader posted the video on his personal Facebook page and on the wall of the Facebook group, “Palestinian American Congress.” [2]

A man is judged by the friends he keeps. We tell this truth to our children, it applies no less to adults.

When Omar claims in 2012, “Israel had hypnotized the world,” most of the Democrats in Congress realized this statement is morally indefensible. Instead of wanting to direct their attacks at Trump, more and more Democrats are starting to realize there is a fire in the Democratic party that is threatening to destroy the Jewish-Democratic alliance that has remained strong for decades—until now.

Displaying a penchant for making thoughtless remarks, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez  has gone on record for calling for an end to the United States’ special relationship with Israel.[3]

But what about Farrakhan?  Farrakhan also defended Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, saying that she has “nothing to apologize for” following an antisemitic Twitter storm in which she accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) of paying American politicians to be pro-Israel. He added, “Sweetheart, don’t do that,” Farrakhan said, referencing Omar’s apology. “Pardon me for calling you sweetheart, but you do have a sweet heart. You sure are using it to shake the government up, but you have nothing to apologize for.”[4]

But for all his mischief, Farrakhan is not a pretentious anti-Semite, unlike Sarsour or Omar.

And what about Senator Chuck Schumer? Schumer condemns Omar’s ‘wrong and hurtful’ words. He should have advised his friends on the other side of the Capitol building to remove her from any committee and throw her out of Congress.

And as for my liberal rabbinic associates whose numbers are legion, who have supported Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and others, we must say—it is time to act courageously on behalf of your people. It is time to identify with your people.

Omar is a repeat offender. The Democratic Party can ill-afford to tolerate someone who insinuated that American support for Israel is fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group.

Kudos to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s immediate and unqualified condemnation. But it cannot stop there.  Omar needs to be thrown off the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee..  Let us pray that Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, follows up on his comment that her remarks should not be “swept under the rug.”

As Jews, if we do not stand for ourselves, who else will stand for us?

NOTES

[1] https://www.wnd.com/2019/01/rashida-tlaib-in-group-which-calls-jews-satanic/

[2]ibid

[3] https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/433131-ocasio-cortez-fundraises-off-claim-that-aipac-is-coming-after-her-omar

[4] https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Farrakhan-defends-Omars-antisemitic-antics-attacks-wicked-Jews-581075

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In reply to Alice Walker’s calumnies against Jews

ColorPurple.jpg

In reply to Alice Walker’s calumnies against Jews

-Second in a Series-

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — Most of us probably had a lot of respect and cheered for Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It is a story about the life of African-American women who lived in the South during the 1930s. Eventually, the book was adapted to  a film, it received eleven Academy Awards in 1985.

When the New York Times Book Review published a full-length interview with Alice Walker, the interviewer asked a very innocent question: “What books are on your nightstand?” Walker replied with four. One of the books she chose was David Icke’s And the Truth Shall Set You Free: The 21st Century Edition. Apparently, Icke is someone Walker admires.

For most Jews, David Icke is probably an unfamiliar name.

Icke is an English writer who has made a reputation for himself as a professional conspiracy theorist. Most Brits regard him as a genuine “eccentric.” Among his antics, Icke claimed to be a part of the Godhead (move over Jesus!) and in 1990, he claimed that the world would soon be destroyed by tidal waves, earthquakes. Icke’s name is also associated with Holocaust denial. He also believes shape-shifting reptilian creatures from a different dimension control the world.

Icke’s love of the later 19th century anti-Semitic book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has given rise to his belief that the Illuminati, Masons, Globalist Bankers, Rothschilds, Federal Reserve, and other “secret” societies, “control the world.” Although Icke denies being an anti-Semite, Icke considers “the Talmud to be among the world’s most racist works on the planet.” As if that were not enough, he accuses the Jews of being the primary force behind the American slave trade and contends the Jews control the KKK.  Louis Farrakhan and other black radicals have made similar allegations against the Jews.[1]

So how does Alice Walker feel about the Jews?

As recently as November 2017, Walker decided to write a poem on her blog, which she called, “It is Our Duty to Study the Talmud.” Like a true disciple of Icke, she walks goosesteps with her British mentor. Here are just a couple of choice selections from her blog:

Alice Walker writes:

It is our duty, I believe, to study the Talmud.
It is within this book that,
I believe, we will find answers
To some of the questions
That most perplex us.

Rabbi Samuel’s Response:  Yes, the Talmud is full of questions, but the Talmud never tries to close people’s minds, but seeks to expand it.  The Talmud is not an arcane book of escoteria, its focus is to help people discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Alice Walker continues:

Where to start?
You will find some information,
Slanted, unfortunately,
By Googling. For a more in depth study
I recommend starting with YouTube.
Simply follow the trail of “The Talmud”
as its poison belatedly winds its way
Into our collective consciousness . . .

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: Diatribes against the Talmud are nothing new in Jewish history. The Church burned the Talmud since the 13th century and beyond. The Nazi propagandists also loved attacking the Talmud.

Alice Walker writes:

Is Jesus boiling eternally in hot excrement,
For his “crime” of throwing the bankers
Out of the Temple? For loving, standing with,
And defending
The poor? Was his mother, Mary,
A whore?

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: Like LeBron James, Walker presumes the “Jews control all the money of the world.” I have already written about this in a previous article.

But what about Jesus? Does the Talmud claim that Jesus is boiling in a pot of excrement? This is an interesting question. Actually, there is an opinion that someone expressed in the Talmud that purports, Jesus is boiling in a pot of excrement.[2] The historian Peter Schaffer explains:

  • The most bizarre of all the Jesus stories is the one that tells how Jesus shares his place in the Netherworld with Titus and Balaam, the notorious archenemies of the Jewish people. Whereas Titus is punished for the destruction of the Temple by being burned to ashes, reassembled, and burned over and over again, and whereas Balaam is castigated by sitting in hot semen, Jesus’ fate consists of sitting forever in boiling excrement. This obscene story has occupied scholars for a long time, without any satisfactory solution. I will speculate that it is again the deliberate, and quite graphic, answer to a New Testament claim, this time Jesus’ promise that eating his flesh and drinking his blood guarantees eternal life to his followers. Understood this way, the story conveys an ironic message: not only did Jesus not rise from the dead, he is punished in hell forever; accordingly, his followers—the blossoming Church, which maintains to be the new Israel—are nothing but a bunch of fools, misled by a cunning deceiver.[3]

I would take a different approach from Schaffer. Oppressed people often resort to sarcasm to get back at a threatening foe. Historically, the Jews of Late Antiquity did not have a problem with Jesus per se, but they did have a problem with the Pauline recreation of Jesus that the Church authorities tried to force-feed the Jewish population. Jews were often under the penalty of death or incarceration if they converted a single Roman citizen. This lampooning of Jesus in the Talmud reflects a Jewish counterpunch at the Christian community of their time.

Nobody ever claimed the Talmud is a compendium of flawless wisdom and virtue. Unfortunately, there are some silly and inane comments found in its pages. Should it bother us? Simply put, people will sometimes say stupid things from time to time. You cannot blame the “Jews” for every odd thing a given rabbi may have said. Historically, you could say that the Talmud was the very first open-source precursor to the blog. While there is a lot of wisdom for the most part in the Talmud, there are some comments I wish the redactors never preserved.

Alice Walker continues:

Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only
That, but to enjoy it?
Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse?
Are young boys fair game for rape?
Must even the best of the Goyim (us, again) be killed?
Pause a moment and think what this could mean
Or already has meant
In our own lifetime.

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: The Talmud as with the Bible condemns slavery as an institution. The rabbis liberated slaves just to make a minyan! The Talmud says further that anyone who acquires a slave acquires for himself a master, since he must treat the slave better than he does himself. The Sages insisted that a slave must have a normal family life, no different from that of his master. As the Talmud states, “One who acquires a Hebrew slave acquires a master for himself” (BT Kiddushin 20a); Treating a slave as an equal (or even better) was never an easy task, but the Talmudic rules made it possible for the Jewish community to eventually ban slavery as an institution.

With respect to pedophilia, the Talmud never endorsed the sexual exploitation of minors. I think Walker is confusing Judaism with the other Semitic faith that encourages fifty-year-old men to marry seven-year-old girls, as Mohammed did with Isha. By the way, Ms. Walker, this practice still occurs even today among some Muslims throughout the Muslim world.[4]  Historically, Jewish law never sanctioned marrying young girls to grown adults.

Alice Walker writes:

You may find that as the cattle
We have begun to feel we are
We have an ancient history of oppression
Of which most of us have not been even vaguely
Aware. You will find that we, Goyim, sub-humans, animals

Rabbi Samuel’s Response: Nowhere in the Talmud does it say that “Goyim” are subhuman. The Talmud says, “Whoever destroys a single human life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world. [-Mishnah: Sanhedrin 4:5; JT 4:9, BT Sanhedrin 37a ] [1] Furthermore, the Talmud always stresses, “You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:16) – See BT Sanhedrin 73a, passim. Killing a Canaanite or any Gentile is a crime punishable by death.

Commentary: I doubt whether Alice Walker ever read a page of Talmud in her life. I think she is so woefully ignorant of the Talmud because in her heart she hates Jews. She ought to study the Ethics of the Fathers, or find a rabbi to teach her Talmud, as explained by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a man who arguably is the Rashi of our generation.

But wait, Alice Walker writes further:

 –The Palestinians of Gaza
The most obvious representatives of us
At the present time – are a cruel example of what may be done
With impunity, and without conscience . . .

One can easily gather that Ms. Walker loves the Palestinians of Gaza; one would think she considers them among the most virtuous of peoples. But in my opinion, her praise of them is surprising.

Ms. Walker has probably never been to a Palestinian summer camp in Gaza. If she did, I wonder what she would think of how they teach young children how to fire machine guns, crawl through tunnels, learn how to use rocket launchers, plant mines, participate in “Knife Camp,” where these youngsters learn how to stab anyone who is a Jew.[5]

What I am about to say may shock many of you. I write this as a child of a Holocaust survivor. My father and family survived the worse of the concentration camps. But even my father felt that the Palestinians of Gaza as well as some of the radicals living in the West Bank, had reached a level of human depravity that made the Nazis almost look civilized by comparison. Nazis never sacrificed their children to kill Jews; nor did they turn their children into human bombs just to kill Jews, or put rat-poison in suicide vests to maim as many Jews just for the love of God. Where else but in the Arab world would runaway Nazis be treated like rock-stars? Nazi Alois Brunner’s confirmed death in Damascus reveals an uncomfortable truth: Egypt and Syria have long ties to Nazi Germany and long provided sanctuary to fugitive war criminals.[6]

By the way, Ms. Walker, the Nazis hated blacks and would have preferred using them as slaves, to be discarded after finishing with them. The Muslim-Arab axis during WWII is something you should never forget. History has shown that the enemy of the Jew is no friend of the Negro.

Next time Ms. Walker wishes to mention the Talmud, I suggest she find a good mentor. She might be surprised at the wisdom it contains.

*
NOTES

[1] And Icke’s list goes on, and includes numerous reptilian shape-shifting alien conspiracies—which the Jews are a part of.

[2] BT Gittin 57a.

[3] Peter Schaffer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton, NJ: by Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 13.

[4] https://www.politico.eu/article/immigrants-migration-culture-integration-sweden-struggles-over-child-marriage/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/9500484/Alarm-as-hundreds-of-children-under-age-of-10-married-in-Iran.html

[5] https://www.algemeiner.com/2016/08/31/palestinian-summer-camps-where-kids-learn-to-kill-jews-constitute-child-abuse/ See also http://saudigazette.com.sa/article/49575/Gaza-children-play-war-in-Palestinian-summer-camp and https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3742455,00.html. Comp. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mariotti/what-we-got-wrong-about-n_b_10864118.html and

[6] https://www.thedailybeast.com/hitlers-henchmen-in-arabia

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Hero’s Journey–Stan Lee & the Bible

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Whenever we talk about the protagonists of the Bible, we must remember that every biblical actor’s character evolves in the course of a lifetime. What each person starts out differs from what each one ultimately becomes. In the latter half of Genesis, the ancient storyteller lavished considerable detail upon Jacob—who emerges as the most complex personality of Genesis. In the stories involving his interactions and experiences, we discover Jacob is the most morally challenged individual of all the biblical patriarchs.

Jacob’s journey begins with a series of tests that he will have to face and endure heroically.

Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, examines the hero archetype in ancient literature through Homer’s epic story—The Odyssey. He observed that heroes often undertake the most challenging tasks and place themselves in mortal danger to bring back, for themselves and their societies, both knowledge, and treasure.

According to Campbell, the Odyssey, ought to be seen as a metaphor for the various psychological hardships a true hero must learn to overcome.

Once Ulysses overcomes these hardships, the protagonist matures—achieving a more complete understanding of himself and his place in the world. As a result of successfully facing his ordeals, Ulysses ultimately returns home with a more definite sense of who he is. In the process, Ulysses emerges as a better king for his country of Ithaca; he is now a more attentive husband, a dedicated father, and loyal son.
As with virtually all hero myths, the hero must undergo a series of tests and tribulations that form the essence of his or her heroic journey.

Campbell’s concept of the heroic journey consists of three stages: separation or departure; the trials and victories of initiation; and the return and reintegration with society. The hero must prove his worth the caliber of his ideas and his character in a variety of dangerous ways that will test the limits of mortality.

As mentioned earlier, the hero descends into the underworld and has a close brush with the forces of death. He must also face mysterious and threatening adventures that lead to the wresting of a gift or prize from powerful and ominous powers. Each of these obstacles will serve as a rite of passage resulting in the spiritual transformation and individuation of the hero. The hero’s journey, when seen from this perspective, connotes a triumphant return from the realm of darkness and death to light and life—from unconsciousness to a state of pure consciousness.

Indeed, each of these characteristics occurs in the Jacob stories, as they do with Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and Moses. A true hero faces his mortality with uncommon courage.

In honor of Stan Lee, the creator of Marvel Comics, I would like to talk to you this evening about the heroic journeys that characterized his characters.

As a child I grew up on Marvel Comics; I had all the original issues; And although Superman and Batman remained everyone’s favorite, the Marvel heroes resembled Jacob—in that each of them had flaws in their own character that they had to conquer. For many decades, DC Comics portrayed their heroes as if they were like Greek gods—so perfect, they seemed totally unrealistic; young people could not possibly aspire to emulate.

It was only in the last fifty years, DC decided to rewrite their comics and portray their characters as having personality disorders. In one episode, Green Arrow’s partner, young Roy Harper was depicted as suffering from drug addiction. Comics started to focus on real-life issues— mostly because of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, his great assistant. Yet, in each of Stan Lee’s comic book characters, the protagonists learn to conquer their inner fears and insecurities. Even the Hulk—over time—comes to embrace his humanity.
.

“Who is mighty?” asks the Sages? He who learns to master his own nature.” My father used to say, “He who overcomes his passion for anger.”

Influenced by Jewish tradition, I think Stan Lee could relate to the fact that all the heroes and heroines of the biblical stories—from Adam to Job—must undergo a series of spiritual and psychological trials that will eventually facilitate a new sense of self and personal identity.

In Jewish thought, the creation of the cosmos from non-being, known as “nothing” is not just a theological construct—it is also a psychological process where we—as individuals must touch the nothingness of our being, as God creates us anew through our preservation and heroic vindication, as we experience the uncertainty of the “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Yet, the mark of a true hero is facing one’s own demons and monsters. For young people such as myself, comic books taught me to recognize that each true hero must conquer his own fears and insecurities—just as Jacob did in this week’s parsha.

Sun Tzu, in his Art of War, summed up the key to overcoming the obstacles we face—whether in the world of comics or for that matter in the real world:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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