Was Jesus a Palestinian?

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Congresswoman Ilan Omar never ceases to surprise us with the countless inane claims she makes on a daily basis. In one of her more interesting canards, she claimed that “Jesus was a Palestinian.”

One might imagine that she will soon claim that the Israelites were also really Palestinians, and that the God gave Moses the Quran on Mount Sinai.

Her ignorance of the ancient history of Judea is mind-numbing.

We ought to ask the more obvious question. What inspired Omar to make this unusual claim about Jesus being a Palestinian? Just one day before Omar’s tweet appeared, a writer named Eric V. Copage wrote an article, “As a Black Child in Los Angeles, I Couldn’t Understand Why Jesus Had Blue Eyes,” he wondered: Why did Christian artists typically portray Jesus as though he had blue eyes? After all, he reasoned, “Jesus, born in Bethlehem, was most likely a Palestinian man with dark skin.”[1]

And while I might agree that the European depictions of Jesus as having blue eyes is doubtful, it is surprising that Copage assumed that Jesus was a “Palestinian.” The writer obviously is unfamiliar with ancient history.  The myth that “Jesus was a Palestinian” can be traced back to the days of Yasser Arafat, when his trusted Christian-Palestinian adviser Hanan Ashrawi made the outlandish claim.

The Christian scholar Michael Brown said something that I must agree with, “Let’s set the record straight. Jesus was a Galilean Jew, not a Palestinian Muslim. He celebrated Passover, not Ramadan, and he was called “Rabbi” not “Imam.” His followers were named Yaakov and Yochanan and Yehudah, not Muhammad and Abdullah and Khalid.”

Surprisingly, it took one week for the NYT to correct the record,

Frankly, I am surprised Copage and Omar did not also claim that “Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Palestinians.’”

It seems at first blush that Omar read Copage’s article and assumed the New York Times must be correct, and without a second thought, she published her tweet on the following day. Omar must have been perplexed by the reaction she received; might be probably more astonished by how the NYT would later print a retraction one week later after the original article appeared on April 26th, 2019. It read, “Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Jesus’s background. While he lived in an area that later came to be known as Palestine, Jesus was a Jew who was born in Bethlehem.”

There are many ways of viewing this story. So, in the spirit of Socratic dialogue and Freudian analysis, let us ask the obvious question: Why should the Times care? For one thing, it is commonly asserted among Palestinian “historians” that the Jews are not really indigenous to the Middle East, but are descendants of a European people are known as the “Khazars,” who lived in the 8th century in present-day Russia.

Admitting that the Jews have a legitimate history or claim on the Land of Israel that antedates the rise of Islam is something Palestinians do their best to avoid. In East Jerusalem, Muslims have done their best to destroy any archaeological remnants indicating the presence of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem dating back to the First Temple period.  

Most readers of the NYT, and most Jewish readers, in general, are unfamiliar with the real objective that Omar shares with her brethren from the Palestinian, Taliban, and ISIS movements—promotes the systematic destruction of ancient, non-Islamic civilizations.

  • In 2001, the Taliban in Afghanistan shocked the world when their armies blew up the gigantic, statues of Buddha, nearly 50 meters tall. Their justification? They regarded the statues as a violation of the prohibition in against the worship of idols. Protests by both the West and Afghans fell on deaf ears.
  • In the interest of brevity, let us examine several examples we have seen in the last two decades.  In 2015, ISIS singlehandedly destroyed the ancient Roman city of Palmyra in Syria.
  • In August 2015, ISIS destroyed a fifth-century Christian monastery in the Syrian town of Qaryatain, claiming that the monastery was “worshipped without God.”[2]
  • In 2013, more than, Palestinians orchestrated over 200 terror attacks at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, where the Jewish matriarch Rachel is said to be buried—119 of those attacks included the use of explosives at the sacred site.
  • In September 2015, Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus was also singled out by Palestinians for destruction—despite the fact, this area is governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is bound by the 1993 Oslo accords to apprehend terrorists and prevent attacks.

The ISIS is very proud of their achievements. In their films documenting the destruction of the Mosul Museum and Nineveh, their film begins with the following statement:

  • Oh Muslims, the remains that you see behind me are the idols of peoples of previous centuries, which were worshipped instead of Allah. The Assyrians, Akkadians, and others took for themselves gods of rain, of agriculture, and of war, and worshipped them along with Allah, and tried to appease them with all kinds of sacrifices… Since Allah commanded us to shatter and destroy these statues, idols, and remains, it is easy for us to obey, and we do not care [what people think], even if they are worth billions of dollars.[3]

More recently in France, the French Catholic community has been in a state of shock over the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral. However, we must not lose sight of the fact there have over 1,063 incidents of vandalism against 875 of France’s 42,258 churches since 2018.

he fire to the iconic church, however, may have raised awareness to a rash of vandalism to French churches. A total of 875 of France’s 42,258 churches were vandalized in 2018, with a small fire set to the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris in March, according to French police. Statues of Mother Mary have been discovered decapitated, another 129 churches had thefts on their property with still another 59 cemeteries vandalized.[4]

In summary, Jihadi Islam has a goal to eradicate the religious symbols and sacred places of all the peoples it considers “pagan” or “heretical.” It is an assault on history is no less evident in how Ilan Omar and her NYT cohorts misrepresent history. As a civilized people, we cannot stand by and say nothing while this attempt to destroy civilization—ancient and modern—continues on.

NOTES:


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/19/reader-center/jesus-images.html

[2] See “Islamic State Destroys Assyrian Christian Monastery in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 21, 2015.

[3] http://theconversation.com/erasing-history-why-islamic-state-is-blowing-up-ancient-artefacts-78667

[4] https://www.ibtimes.com/notre-dame-cathedral-fire-not-arson-875-french-churches-vandalized-2018-2785886

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.

Book Review: In Good Faith: Questioning Religion & Atheism

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In Good Faith: Questioning Religion and Atheism Hardcover
by Scott A. Shay
640 pages
Publisher: Post Hill Press (2018)
ISBN-10: 1682617920

Often the greatest critics of religion offer us a series of criticism about the depth of our faith; they confront us with our hypocrisy. They challenge us to reexamine what it means to “believe.” As a young teenager, I remember hiding Raphael Patai’s book, “Hebrew Myths” in the library because I did not want this book to poison any reader’s mind, even though I thought the author may have “poisoned” my mind by forcing me to take a new look at the Bible and its ancient sources through the prism of myth.

After I read Scott Shay’s remarkable book, “In Good Faith: Understanding Religion and Atheism,” I discovered a fellow pilgrim who has thought very deeply about the meaning and the possibilities of religion. I should point out that Shay is the son of Holocaust survivor. Shay and I have that much in common; my father was also a survivor from Auschwitz. His father had developed (like my own), his own concept of God (p. xviii). Children of survivors often become philosophically or theologically obsessed with trying to make sense of the Big Picture, pertaining to God and the Holocaust.

I get it and I have the tee shirt to prove it!

Part I of his book began with a sushi dinner he had with a friend who was a non-believer. Sushi bars (I can personally attest to this fact!) is often a wonderful place for people to have a spirited dialogue about life, God, or just about anything! In this section Shay argues that without the religious dimension that pertains to God, why should Jews bother worrying about preserving a “Jewish identity”?

Shay might have considered the famous line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth about the purposeless nature of life, “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing”— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28).

Shay perceptively observed that many of his friends feel, “The Bible is just so primitive and obscure, it is no longer relevant to educated adults.” Shay added, “These people believe that the book Religion for Dummies should have been titled, Religion Is for Dummies.” (p. xvii)

After reading the introduction, I felt interested enough to read the rest of the book. In Good Faith: Understanding Religion and Atheism” is very well researched, and it covers a vast area of interesting interlocking topics, from the various scientific areas, quantum theory, relativity, and the new miracles of molecular genetics and so on.

To his credit, Shay shows a willingness to engage the modern atheistic writers in an honest and thoughtful manner. The list includes Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and (my personal favorite!) Christopher Hitchens. While Shay could agree with their critique of religious dysfunction, he differed with their carte blanche rejection of religion.

Shay believes it is not fair or accurate to blame monotheistic religions for the most violent crimes perpetrated in its name. According to Shay, the real enemy of society is idolatry. In the hands of an ancient shaman, the power of idolatry gave the ancients considerable power; this pattern can be seen in the long line of 20th and 21st century dictators, and Scott identifies these leaders as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Kim Jung-On.

In terms of freedom vs. determinism, Shay agrees with the writer Balshevis Singer, who said, “We have to believe in free will—we have no choice.” A world without such freedom would be undesirable. “Everyone would have to behave the same. There would be no need to teach children to be moral, no need to teach adults the path of justice” (p. 241).

Shay is correct—up to a point. I would only add that a Maimonidean approach to the problem reveals that idolatry often hides under the guise of “believing monotheists.” This point would have strengthened Shay’s overall thesis. And this point is more relevant because of the emergence of religious totalitarianism we have witnessed in many of the Muslim countries today (and in Israel today, I might add), who wish to destroy the separation of Mosque/Church/Synagogue and State. Maimonides more than anyone of his time, and probably afterward, understood the danger in monotheistic religions that promote retrograde images of God that reflect human depravity.

Shay does not deny the horrible record organized religion has in the history of human civilization in perpetuating human suffering. Yet, he counters that religion has also civilized humanity. He contends, the Torah limited the number of cases that could result in capital punishment—in fact, any court that executed a single person once in seventy years was considered a murderous court. Shay is correct. The nation’s religious leaders largely inspired the Abolition movement of the 19th century.

Yes, religion can be a healing force in the world. Shay’s book reminds me of an old Jewish story that has been told countless times over the years.

Once a rabbi had a discussion with a soap maker who did not believe in God. As they were strolling down the street, the freethinking soap maker asked the rabbi, “There is something I cannot understand. We have had religion for thousands of years. But everywhere you look there is evil, corruption, dishonesty, injustice, pain, hunger, and violence. Religion has not improved the world at all. In all earnest, please answer me: What good is it?” The rabbi listened and did not reply. They continued their walk. Eventually, they approached a playground where children, covered in dust, were playing in the dirt. The rabbi said, “There is something I don’t understand,” the rabbi said. “Look at those children. We have had soap for thousands of years, and yet those children are filthy. What good is soap?” The soap maker replied, “But rabbi, it isn’t fair to blame soap for these dirty children. Soap has to be used before it can accomplish its purpose.” The rabbi smiled and said, “Aha, aha! That’s exactly the point—you have to use religion if you want it to better the world.” 


This book is full of wonderful ideas that will make you rethink what it means to be a Jew who embraces faith in an age of unfaith such as ours.

It is a book well worth reading, discussing, and sharing with some friends.

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

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

Lebron James and the Jews

The secret is out.

The Jews control the world!

We own the media!

Politicians do our bidding!

The Jews “control” Wall Street!

Have you heard about the old joke concerning two Jews who were dining at a Vienna café in the 1930s. One of them is reading the Yiddish newspaper, while the other one peruses the Der Stürmer, the Nazi propaganda newspaper. Watching a Jew read a Nazi newspaper definitely seemed odd.  His Jewish friends asked him the obvious question, “Why are you reading that Nazi rag?” The other Jew responds: “I used to read the Yiddish newspaper, and all it talked about was how Jews are suffering, being fired from their jobs, being subject to pogroms and starving. Now I read in the Nazi newspaper that we control the world. I prefer hearing about the good news!”

As you can see, the canard is an old one: “Jews control the banks. Jews control the world.” If Jews really controlled the bank or the world, I can almost guarantee you that no child would ever go to bed hungry. But the reality of this often heard cliché is not true.

This past Saturday, James decided to post a picture on his Instagram story where he quotes one of his favorite rappers, 21 Savage, whose lyrics of one of his songs says, “We been getting that Jewish money, Everything is Kosher.” 

When the media and the Jewish community heard about this remark, LeBron James felt embarrassed by the foolishness of his remarks.

No LeBron, not everything is “kosher.”

In any event, James felt so embarrassed that he apologized to his Jewish fans. Even the rapper 21 Savage apologized. Shortly afterward, Savage tweeted, “The Jewish people I know are very wise with there money so that’s why I said we been gettin’ Jewish money,’ 21″Savage tweets It is a pity James is so ignorant of how the Jews created the basketball industry. James’ millions would never have been possible were it not for “them Jews!”

Ok, I can accept their apology. 

Many years ago in Rock Island, my old congregation sponsored a historical documentary about the Jews and basketball—it is a fascinating topic. James might have a different attitude about Jews if he watched this presentation. James should take the time to learn how historically Jews contributed toward the integration of blacks in basketball at a time when nobody cared about their participation.

Someone should tell James about a man named Abraham Michael Saperstein who became the founder, owner and earliest coach of the Harlem Globetrotters. Saperstein proved to be a revolutionary figure in black basketball and baseball in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, at a time before basketball had become racially integrated. Under Saperstein’s coaching career, the early Harlem Trotters achieved an amazing 397 victories-32 losses record in their first three seasons. Saperstein paved the way for talented black players to enter the NBA. In addition, Saperstein became instrumental in help creating the American Negro Baseball League and was a key figure in opening the way for Blacks into other professional sports, helping them achieve racial integration.

It seems that LeBron never studied how the Jews welcomed black athletes in all the professional sports.

James probably does not know much about Boston Celtic legendary coach Arnold Jacob “Red” Auerbach, who was a Russian-Jewish immigrant who led the greatest basketball dynasty ever to play in the NBA. Auerbach led the Celtics to nine championships in ten years!  He redefined the game by introducing the fast break as an offensive weapon—a skill that James has mastered quite brilliantly at times. LeBron, this Jew introduced the first African American player named Chuck Cooper in 1950, as well as the first all-black starting team in 1964.

You know, I can forgive James for making an unwise remark about the Jews. I know many people who have sometimes made similar rash remarks. However, this is not the only odd comment he made that is insensitive.

  • In the NFL they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality,” James said, according to The Washington Post. “And it’s like, ‘This is my team. You do what the f— I tell y’all to do. Or we get rid of y’all.’”

LeBron admitted this was not the problem with the NBA.

Still, I wonder about the words he chose to express.

Really now, LeBron, I would hardly categorize a large group of football players who have made millions chasing a little ball down the field, “slaves.” You should show some gratitude and humility for the opportunities God has given you.

If I can offer any rabbinical advice to LeBron James, it would be this. The words we use to express ourselves say a lot about our moral character. Listen to Martin Luther King’s memorable sermon, “I Have a Dream,” where King famously said that a person’s character matters more than just the color of one’s skin:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

“The soul that is within me no man can degrade.”–Fredrick Douglas. 

Douglas taught our soul that defines who we are; our actions say more about our character and spirit than just the color of our skin. In the realm of spirit, which is the true source of our personal identity, it does not matter what color we happen to be.

Postscript: This is the first article of a three-part series I will be writing about Jews, Judaism and race relations. In the next article, I will be writing about Alice Walker’s recent interview with the New York Times. In the third piece, I will be speaking about Louis Farrakhan and his “Jewish Problem.” 

“Twas the night before Christmas . . .” The Origin & Significance of “Nittel Nacht”

Chabad Florida Tefillin Santa closeup 12-2013

This past week, a newspaper featured a picture of a Lubavitcher rabbi putting tefillon on Santa Claus. It reminded me of a story from Eli Plaut’s book, Kosher Christmas. Once mentions how an old Ukrainian Jewish immigrant dressed up as Santa Claus and spoke Yiddish. When speaking to Alan King, he quipped, “Men Mahk a leben,” which means, “A man has to make a living!” (p. 135).

Chabad and Christmas seem like an odd combination. Yet, Jewish history is full of unusual anecdotes and customs. Pious Jews have their own way of distinguishing Christmas from other days of the year, but not quite in the manner that you might think.

“December 25th is universally celebrated by non-Jews, as the birthday of that person upon whom a dominant non-Jewish religion was founded and who had the Halachic status as a Jew who lures other Jews to idol-worship. A spirit of impurity, therefore, prevails on that day. (Additionally, there was a period when members of that religion used to celebrate this eve by attacking Jews, which led to an enactment against keeping the Yeshivas open during the eve of Dec 25th).”

Note that Chabad never refers to Jesus by his proper name. Simply put, Chabad considers Jesus to be a non-person.

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950) explains concerning this Hassidic tradition of Christmas Eve, “It is our custom to refrain from studying Torah on Nittel Nacht until midnight. The reason, as the Previous Rebbe heard from his father, the Rebbe RaShaB (Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn, a.k.a., the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe), is so that one will not add spiritual vitality to that person [Jesus], and those who presently follow his views [i.e., Christians everywhere]. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (quotes his father in the popular Hayom Yom (Teves 17), ‘I am not fond of those students who begrudge these eight hours and cannot tear themselves away from Torah study!’” [1]

Incidentally, most ultra-Orthodox Jews, like the Lithuanian and Sephardic communities, disregard this custom; for them—the study of Torah is of primary importance. They continue their studies on Christmas Eve as well.

HOW ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND THE ORIGIN OF THIS CUSTOM?

To understand a Jewish custom, sometimes it pays to have the curiosity and determination of a Sherlock Holmes. Most of you reading this Hassidic instruction might be wondering: “What in the world are they talking about? Why should we finish Torah study before Christmas Eve?”

The answer is more complex than most of us realize.

The origin of Nittel Nacht in modern rabbinic literature is one of the more fascinating chapters of Jewish history and folklore. “Nittel ” actually comes from the Latin, “Natalis,” or, “Nativity Night.” It is truly ironic that 99% of all the Hassidic Jews who follow this observance, haven’t the foggiest idea that Nittel Nacht means, “Nativity Night.” It is also possible that Nittel Nacht may be a corruption of the Latin dies natalis, “birthday,” i.e., the “birthday” of Jesus.[2]

While Christmas is a joyful holiday for billions of people, historically, during the medieval era and the centuries that followed, Jews were forbidden to appear on streets and public places on the high Christian holidays under penalty of severe punishment; hence the schools and synagogues were closed on those days. [3] Young and old, who were compelled to remain at home, enjoyed themselves with a variety of games; consequently, the meaning of the word Nittel received the folk etymological explanation as being an abbreviation for “Nit Iden-Tore-Lernen” (“Jews must not study Torah”).

Of course, the time of Nittel Nacht will vary depending on whether one is a Greek Orthodox Christian or not, for they celebrate the holiday on January 6th. Some Hassidic Jews, Ilan mentions, will not study Torah on New Year’s Eve either for the same reason.

In the final analysis, is there a place for Nittel Nacht today? Emphatically, “NO!!!” Not unless you purposely set out to insult our Christian neighbors. While there are a number of customs that originated during the most depraved times of medieval history, when our people suffered from Christian persecution, it behooves us to let go of our medieval attitudes.

We need to change our attitude about our Christian neighbors. 

As modern Jews, it behooves us to cultivate a relationship with our Christian neighbors and friends based on the principle of mutual respect. Jewish leaders often insist that Christianity purge itself of its anti-Semitic attitudes and this is indeed necessary. In some ways, we need to start a process promoting reconciliation by doing the same. After all, we are no longer living in the 19th century. 

Reason dictates that the custom of not studying Torah on Christmas Eve ought to be discontinued by any person in promoting a healthier Jewish and Christian relationship.  But this cannot be done so long as we hold on to the old ideas that should have been discarded long ago in the dustbin of history. Simply put, we need to stop clinging on to the ghosts of Christmas past.

Today, even Orthodox Jews across the world and especially in the Land of Israel are beginning to explore interfaith dialogue for the first time in recent memory. We are no longer living in an age of religious polemics and religious intolerance. American society, for the most part, is definitely far more tolerant than the world our ancestors left long ago.

No religion is immune to the dangers of promoting religious prejudice; or as they say, “A pig with lipstick is still a pig.” Prejudice and intolerance should not be quietly accepted as if it is normal–because it is not! Unfortunately, the ghetto is more than just a historical space–-it is an unhealthy state of mind that we must leave behind.

When I think about this subject, the thought occurs to me that as rabbis, we need to preserve the embers of our ancestral faith—and not its ashes. Life is a series of rebirths. What you were yesterday is different from who you will be today or tomorrow. Abrahamic religions who identify with the patriarch Abraham need to find a better path that will promote peaceful relations. The only way to cure the problems we see today is for all of us to let go of the symbols and metaphors of religious hatred and intolerance that still unconsciously clings to members of our own faith communities.

I want to wish all of my Christian brothers and sisters a very Merry Christmas to you all!

 

=====

Notes:

[1] Anonymous, HaMaaseh Hu HaIkar (Brooklyn, NY: 2006), 10-11. I would also add that the Rabbis of Lubavitch have never referred to Jesus by name, but always through the pejorative designation of, “that man.” In biblical and rabbinic literature, to be without a name is to be condemned to virtual non-existence.

[2] Curiously, but erroneously, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson attempts to provide a Hebraic basis for the word’s etymology, “The word  nittel implies ‘lack,’ or possibly ‘suspended.’ In Latin, natal means  “born,” i.e.,  ‘the time of birth’” (Letter dated 9th Kislev 5735, printed in Likutei Sichos Vol.15,  554)

[3] The earliest Halachic reference of this custom dates back to R. Yair Chaim Bachrach (1638-1702) in his Mekor Chaim of the Chavat Yair OH:155

Review on the Siddur Avodat Halev (5*) — This is a Siddur you want to own!


Siddur Avodat HaLev (Hebrew and English Edition) Hardcover – August 20, 2018
by Rabbinical Council of America; Editor: Rabbi Basil Herring
1346 pages
Publisher: Koren Publishers Jerusalem; Bilingual edition 2018
Language: Hebrew, English
ISBN-10: 9653019368
ISBN-13: 978-9653019362
Price $24.73. Rating: 5*

The brand new Siddur Avodat Halev is a fabulous new commentary on the traditional siddur, but unlike most commentaries you have read, the writers of this project have incorporated many significant and thought-provoking articles on the theology and praxis of Jewish prayer.

Each page of the siddur contains short pithy remarks that remind me of the old Phillip Birnbaum Siddur and the Artscroll Siddur. The commentary features a brief digest of many of the halakhic perspectives and customs that govern Jewish prayer. It is not verbose, but actually quite succinct. While many commentaries intimidate the reader, the Siddur Avodat Halev’s does not.

Under Rabbi Basil Herring’s fine leadership, the siddur also traces many of the prayers to their scriptural origins—something many prayers after the Birnbaum Siddur neglected to do. In fact, I was curious to see how they explained the blessing, “Who forms light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates all things” (p. 90), and sure enough the same explanation Birnbaum gave in his siddur notes appears in the Siddur Avodat Halev. Giving credit to the Birnbaum Siddur would have been nice, but the explanation he gives is satisfying to a reader like myself who enjoys studying the history of what inspired  the ancient prayers.

Women’s participation in traditional prayer is always a hot-button subject. To the siddur’s credit, it tries to be more inclusive than other Orthodox siddurim of the past. For example, instead of using the traditional male-oriented language which invariably uses the male pronoun “he,” the siddur uses the more gender-inclusive pronoun, “one.” Or, in the Grace After Meals, it uses the expression, “esteemed companions” in place of “rabbotai,” “head of the house” instead of “master of the house.” It also mentions “With your permission, (my father and teacher,”/ “ my mother and my teacher” in the opening words of the Grace.

This is very appropriate, and it reminded me of the Scriptural passage, ‎ שְׁמַע בְּנִי מוּסַר אָבִיךָ וְאַל־תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ “Listen, my child, to your father’s instruction, do not reject the Torah (lit. instruction) of your mother” (Prov. 1:8), for our mothers do teach us Torah by their values and lessons we learn from the age of infancy onward. This verse would have made a terrific footnote for the siddur, and I would encourage adding this concept in a future edition.

The siddur also contains additional prayers such as those relating to the Holocaust, the State of Israel, and personal events such as thanksgiving and dedication of a home. In the original Artscroll Siddur, references to the Shoah and the State of Israel do not appear until Artscroll later partnered with the RCA in producing a more updated siddur.

In the Mi’Sheberech prayer that is said after one is called up to the Torah, the Siddur included the mentioning of the Matriarchs—this is the second Modern Orthodox Siddur I have seen in which the authors include this. The other siddur is the Nahalel Siddur. These changes represent a dramatic mind-shift in the Modern Orthodox community.

The old albatross of a prayer blessing God, “for not making me a woman” is still included; the same old tired apologetic exposition is used. I think this Siddur should have included the 15th-century Italian version of the prayer, “Blessed are You… .Who did not make me a man.” Not only would this have been a provocative change, but it would also stress that we ought to thank God for making us who we are. Better still, it would have really been terrific to say these blessings in the positive. Instead of defining ourselves by what we are NOT, we should take a positive approach and thank God for making us who we ARE. Thus, a man should say, “Blessed are You . . . for making me a man,” or “Blessed are You . . . for making me a woman,” and lastly, “Blessed are You for making me an Israelite.” This version completely sidesteps the usual awkward problems associated with these particular prayers.

While Siddur Avodat Halev has made great strides, sometimes it still operates within the confines of a medieval Procrustean bed, named after Procrustes, the bandit from Greek mythology who stretched or amputated the limbs of travelers to make them conform to the length of his bed. Rabbis need greater freedom to improve upon Jewish tradition and I pray that someday the Modern Orthodox movement will seriously change their overall thinking on this sensitive matter. No amount of apologetic explanations can justify the animus of a prayer that has offended Jewish women for many centuries.

Another piece of anachronistic history in the siddur is the section pertaining to the Kapporet prayer. Frankly, the old practice of Orthodox Jews swinging a frightened chicken over their heads on the eve of Yom Kippur seems antithetical in every way to the modern facelift the Siddur Avodat Halev wishes to make. And while the commentary points out its shortcomings, I think no explanation can sanitize the inappropriateness of this prayer—especially since the practice of the Kapporet more often than not violates the biblical prohibition of causing animals needless pain (tsar ba’alei chayim).

The authors should have included the Tefilah Zakah instead. It is a much more powerful prayer that captures the beauty of the High Holidays and its emphasis on forgiveness. This prayer actually appears in the siddur on pages 338-339. In Jewish liturgical history, the Tefilah Zakah is a part of the Yom Kippur liturgy, and in this prayer, a people enumerate and connect their various sins with various acts and ask for forgiveness. More significantly, people forgive any who have caused them pain or harmed them. R. Avraham Danzig (1748-1820) popularized this prayer in his famous Halakhic digest, Hayye Adam. It is definitely a better alternative to the Kapporet ritual.

Perhaps the most critical part of the Siddur Avodat Halev pertains to the attempt of its writers to explain the theology of Jewish prayer with a particular focus on the nature of Kavanah, or “intentionality.” And while the siddur does a fine job in examining the nature of Kavanah, it sheepishly avoids dealing with most perplexing questions of our age: What is the nature of a personal relationship with God? Is God “responsive” to our prayers? Does prayer truly have or evoke healing power? Nothing challenges the theological beliefs of a Jew—regardless of our denomination—more than prayer. Prayer calls into question all of our most fundamental beliefs in a “personal” God and this area poses tough questions for Modern Orthodox intellectuals and theologians alike, as well as their Conservative and Reform colleagues.

Hero’s Journey–Stan Lee & the Bible

Stan Lee Authentic Signed Spider-Man 16X20 Photo Marvel Comics PSA/DNA 9Stan Lee Marvel Comics Signed Photo Fridge Magnet 2.5 x 3.5Image result for Stan Lee images Sr. Doom

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.”

The Halakhic Controversy Regarding the Status of Turkey

 

turkey bird, caruncle, courtship, domestic turkey, galliformes, hen, meleagris gallopavo, poultry, red, turkey bird

The question of turkey’s status as a permitted bird is a topic that comes up every Thanksgiving holiday season. Nevertheless, many Orthodox Jews I personally know will never eat turkey since there is no tradition permitting it.

Clearly, the Torah does not mention turkey at all since it is native to North America. Based on the criteria the Mishnah provides, the turkey does possess all the kosher signs one would expect of a kosher bird.[1] However, the absence of having a tradition going back many generations is one reason why some pious observant Jews will not eat turkey. This is in accordance with the view expressed in the Shulchan Aruch that ruled, “no bird should be eaten unless there is a mesorah (tradition) that it is a kosher species.”[2]

The fact the Torah mentions only twenty-four species of birds implies that only those species are considered impure and unfit for consumption, but the majority of birds are considered permitted.  It was only in the 16th century the custom arose not to eat any bird that did not have a tradition permitting it. Since turkeys had already been eaten by Jews prior to that time and therefore the rabbis did not consider it “unkosher.”

Although the Torah did not state the specific tokens regarding fowl, the Sages ruled: “Any fowl which seizes is unclean.  Any fowl which has an extra talon [the hallux] and a craw and the skin of the stomach of which [can] be stripped off are clean.” R. Eleazar b. Sadoq says, “Any bird which parts its toes evenly two in front and two in the back is unclean” (Mishnah Hullin 3:6). It is significant the 4th century Amora named Amemar said, “The law is that every bird that has one characteristic [of cleanness] is clean, that is, if it does not seize prey.” Rashi notes the meaning of Amemar’s opinion is, so long as it does not seize prey and it has, in addition, one characteristic of cleanness it is clean. However, Tosafot (s.v. tuvu) takes the scholar literally; the fact that it does not seize prey is the only characteristic of cleanness that it need possess (BT Hullin 62a).

So how did turkey suddenly gain a kosher status?

Enquiring minds really want to know!

Some of the rabbis of the previous centuries identified the turkey as the הוֹדוּ תַּרְנְגוֹל “Indian chicken,” and thought the bird originated in India. Jews were not the only ones who thought this way. The French referred to turkey as poulet d’Inde (“Chicken from India”), as did the Polish, Ukrainian and Russian countries. It was assumed that the rabbis in India permitted it. However, this was an assumption that could never be proven since it was based on a false assumption: Turkeys did not exist in India!

But as erroneous as this view was, subsequent rabbis realized that people had already accepted it as a kosher bird—especially since it had all the kosher characteristics mentioned in the Mishnah.[3] But here is the real reason why turkeys ought to be permitted—from a scientific perspective, is because turkeys belong to the family of Phasianidae.

From the perspective of taxonomy, the Phasianidae includes a wide variety of birds that include pheasants, partridges, quail, chickens, pea-fowl, the wild turkey, and jungle-fowl. The red jungle-fowl (Gallus gallus), is actually primary progenitor of the domestic chicken. Even if Moses’ time did not specifically know about turkey, they were certainly familiar with quail and chicken, turkey, pheasants, peacocks—are only a few examples of birds that are part of the Phasianidae genus.

And for those Jews who worry about turkey, it is strange that nobody—not even in rabbinical times ever wondered as to why chicken was permitted. Chickens did not exist in Mosaic times! But once again, even if the rabbis did not know about the Phasianidae genus, they were most certainly familiar with quail and pheasant. Chickens are kissing cousins of these two birds.

Although pheasant does not appear in the Tanakh, rabbinic tradition[4] identified it with the שְׂלָו (selav) the Israelites had eaten mentioned in Exodus 16:13. The appearance of pheasant and quail are very similar.

The Romans enjoyed eating pheasant. According to one midrashic text, Emperor Hadrian was surprised to discover that pheasants existed in Judea in great supply.[5] The Tosefta mentions pheasants were bread together with peacocks, which is another member of the Phasianidae genus.[6] The Midrash mentions the pheasant as among those rare delicacies, the taste of which the manna could acquire should a person yearn for it.[7]

Historically, the chicken actually makes its first appearance in Israelite art in seals dating back from the late 8th century B.C.E.  Poultry and eggs probably did not become common before the 5th-6th-century B.C.E. Some scholars think King Solomon might have served chicken to his royal guests, for the word (barb-rîm = fattened fowl) may be related to the Arabic birbir, meaning, young chickens.  As a man of means, King Solomon certainly would have been able to import this delicacy.

The earliest drawing of a chicken is that of a rooster on a seal found at Tell en-Nasbeh, some 8 miles north of Jerusalem, which dates back to about 600 B.C.E.    The ancient Israelite diet might have consisted of beef, lamb, roebuck, gazelle, wild goat, and deer, quails, turtledoves, pigeons, partridges, geese, (possibly swans) and ducks—but no chickens! In Mosaic times, the chicken was completely unknown. Let us further add, that there is no Hebrew word for chicken, even the name, which later came to describe it, (tarnegol) is really a Sumerian loanword that Biblical Hebrew later adopted during the Persian period. It was at that time, the Jews began to eat chickens and eggs (2 Esd. 1:30).

Here is another piece of kashrut trivia most of you might be surprised to know. In rabbinical times, the Sages ate peacock as a delicacy. The Talmud records an interesting discussion pertaining to R. Yose the Galilean, who ate chicken with milk. On one occasion:  Levi visited the house of Joseph the fowler. They served him the head of a peacock cooked in milk.  Levi would not eat it. When he came before Rabbi, he said to him, “How come you didn’t excommunicate them?” He said to him, “It was the locale of R. Judah b. Beterah, and I thought, maybe he expounded for them the rule in accord with the position of R. Yose the Galilean.”[8]

Like the pheasant, chicken, and turkey, the peacock is also a member of the  Phasianidae mishpacha!

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NOTES:

[1] “Although the Torah did not state the specific tokens regarding fowl, the Sages ruled: “Any fowl which seizes is unclean.  Any fowl which has an extra talon [the hallux] and a craw, and the skin of the stomach of which [can] be stripped off is clean.” R. Eleazar b. Sadoq says, “Any bird which parts its toes evenly two in front and two in back is unclean” (Mishnah Hullin 3:6). It is significant the 4th century Amora named Amemar said, “The law is that every bird that has one characteristic [of cleanness] is clean, that is, if it does not seize prey.” Rashi notes the meaning of Amemar’s opinion is, so long as it does not seize prey and it has in addition one characteristic of cleanness it is clean. However, Tosafot (s.v. tuvu) takes the scholar literally; the fact that it does not seize prey is the only characteristic of cleanness that it need possess (BT Hullin 62a).

[2] Ari Z. Zivotofsky, “Is Turkey Kosher?” The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society , 35(Spring, 1998):79-110.

[3] See the Responsa Meishiv Davar YD:22 by R. Naftali Tzvi Berlin, a.k.a., Netziv.

[4] BT Yoma 75b mentions a tradition associated with R. Hanan b. Abba said: “There are four kinds of slaw [quails]: thrush, partridge, pheasant and quail proper.” Comp. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exodus 16:13. Cf. BT Kiddushin 31a.

[5] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 2:8.

[6] Tosefta Kilayim 1:7. The Tosefta considered the crossbreeding of these birds as violating the laws of Kilayim (forbidden mixtures), despite the fact that these birds belong to the same scientific genus. However, The Talmud mentions a rule known as the “hybridization principle.” This principle states that kosher species cannot mate with non-kosher species; hence, the fact that a suspect species can interbreed with a known kosher species confirms the kosher status of the unknown species (BT Bechorot 7a). This is a question I will address at another time.

[7] Num. Rabbah 7:4. מי שהיה מתאוה תרנגול או פסיון וכ׳ “whoever desired to eat chicken or pheasant, found the taste of it in the manna.”

[8] BT Shabbat 130a.