Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Jordan to Palestinians?

Tribes of Israel
image: wikimedia
How can a believing Jew suggest that a large portion of the Promised Land should be allocated as a country to non-Jewish people - the Palestinian Arabs?

From time to time I have noticed politicians from Ariel Sharon to lesser figures suggesting that the Palestinian population should be encouraged to move to Jordan and that it should be taken away from the Hashemites and given to the Palestinians.

After all it was Sir Winston Churchill from the winner side of First World War who divided the Filastin pashalik of the Ottoman Empire into Palestine and Trans-Jordan. Graciously the British agreed to rule the Palestinian Mandate and to allow some Jewish people to settle there according to the principles of the Balfour declaration.

Equally graciously Churchill -  with a puff of cigar smoke on the face of King Abdallah during a meeting in Augusta Victoria on Mount of Olives as it is told - moved the Hashemite family from Mecca to Amman. For reasons not so clear to me Churchill gave the entire Arabian peninsula to the family of Ibn Saud.

In order to solve the hundred year conflict between Palestinian Arabs and the Jewish State some Israeli politicians and activists have been suggesting - much to the dismay of King Hussein and his son King Abdallah II - to enforce now the First World War cut of the cake. The idea is to use Jordan as a racial as well as national boundary: Arabs to the East and Jews to the left of Jordan.

Biblical boundaries
The boundaries of the Promised Land in the Tanakh quite clearly suggest Brook of Egypt (Wadi el-Arish, not Nile) as the Southern boundary and places the Northern boundary somewhere from the region of Lebanon to the vicinity of Euphrates depending on the text. There is no Eastern border as the deadly Syro-Arabian desert that begins where the rains end is a natural boundary. Only modern technology has allowed the straight lines be drawn in the sand that we see today between Jordan and its Eastern neighbours Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Biblical history describes how half-tribe of Manasseh, and families from the Gad and Ruben tribes settled the fertile regions East of Jordan North of Moab to Ammon, Gilead and to the borders of the Aramean kings south of Bashan (Golan). Perhaps Yarmuk was seen as a natural border already then.

We do not know much about the eastern tribes after the period of Judges. The King of Moab, the Ammonites, Esau in Edom were eventually destroyed in the Assyrian invasion 723 BC and deported. That horrible military attack from the region of modern Iraq devastated ten of the twelve tribes of Jacob and the Northern Kingdom with its capital in Samaria was no more.

So I ask again, how can a believing Jewish person suggest that such a significant part of the Promised Land should be given as a state to non-Jewish people, the Palestinian Arabs?

As a temporary solution, perhaps?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Leonard Chess, Jews and African-Americans

Leonard Chess with future stars
Courtesy of Chess family archives. Vanity Fair

Cadillac Records (2008) written and directed by Darnell Martin is in many ways a remarkable movie and not just because of the stellar performance by Beyoncé. The movie tells the real story of the efforts of record company executive Leonard Chess (1917 - 1969) to promote a number of African-American musicians in Chicago. Many of them have since become world famous and recognized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"Chess was born Lejzor Czyz in a Jewish community in Motal, Poland (but now within Belarus). He and his brother Fiszel, sister Malka and mother followed their father to Chicago in 1928. The family name was changed to Chess, with Lejzor becoming Leonard and Fiszel becoming Philip." (wikipedia)

Jews and people with dark skin
On the dark side of the subject we must recognize that there is in Judaism an old stream of racism against "kushites", black people. Especially the Orthodox Jews have not found it easy to absorb the Ethiopian Falasha immigrants to Israel because of the colour of their skin.

Also, in the current 2012 presidential elections in the USA we can detect certain racial underpinnings among some of the Jewish Americans and Israelis which does not go undetected by the black American majority obviously supporting the re-election of Barak Obama whose family came to the states from Africa. (Or was forcibly brought...)

Breaking the ugly chains of racism
Against the background of racial tensions between Jews and African-Americans the life work of Leonard Chess is nothing short of amazing and a beacon of hope.

It is not at all exaggeration to say that the persistence, patience and visionary work of Chess was of fundamental importance in breaking the racism still deep in the white population of the US in the 1950'ies.

The phenomenal musical gift, hot rocking beats, unforgettable melodies and often heart touching performances of blues and R&B penetrated the world of the American white youth and no police could stop them from dancing.

This breaking of the ugly chains of racism is so well depicted in the film Cadillac Records that I wonder is there any better way for us to learn history then seeing it so well lived again by deeply committed actors?

Abraham's blessing
When God chose Abraham He made a most wonderful promise - the children of Abraham would be a blessing to the nations of the world.

And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time and said,
“By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice.”
Genesis 22:15-18 KJ21

And indeed, the Jewish people have been and are also today a blessing to the nations of the world.

Leonard Chess is a Jew who was in his role as promoter of gifted musicians crucial in changing the perception of African-Americans in the United States of America.

In showingn what they can achieve the heritage of Chess Records is a blessing for dark skinned people living in the States - and everywhere around the world - as music probably more than anything else has made white skinned people to realize what is going on.

Muddy Waters (1913 - 1983)
Image aintnothinbut

Last night I lost the best friend I have ever had
Used in one of the unforgettable moments in Cadillac Records when Muddy Waters finds Little Walter

Can blues get more blue than this?

Well, try Etta James I'd Rather Go Blind

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

At Ben Gurion Airport

Recently I returned to Israel from Europe and had some time to spend at Ben Gurion airport for the car picking me up was late. I stood by the bronze statue of David Ben-Gurion at the main entrance of the spacious arrival hall and wondered how extremely busy the airport was. Announcements about arrivals were flashing on the board and an endless stream of people flowed through the gates and doors.

Look at all those lonely people... arriving from so many different countries in Europe, USA, Canada, Latin America, Africa, Russia, Asia, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Micronesia, India, Canada ... different cultures, races, religions. Watching the crowd I told God of Israel "how could you possibly reach all these people with your message?"

I admit that it was rather stupid question for all I had to do was just to open your my eyes and look; these people are coming to Jerusalem from all the over the world. They have already been reached. Just think how many men in the world have the first name David, Dave, Daud or how many women are known as Mary or Miriam!

God has already reached the entire humanity through His chosen people - the method has worked. Admittedly it has taken its time from father Abraham on but now in 2012 the quota of gojjim, non-Jewish people, is approaching its predetermined limit and the time of the pagans is coming to end.

For the King of Israel has said
“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them that are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let them that are in the midst of it depart out, and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

But woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! For there shall be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations.

And Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
Luke 20:20-24 KJ21

Sunday, July 8, 2012

House of Dolls. Ka-Tzetnik 135633

Ka-Tzetnik 135633, House of Dolls (Simon and Schuster, 1955)
Paperback 224 pages Mayflower Books (1973)
It is said that many Jewish parents and teachers do not protect their young from stories that reflect the harsh events in the past and present such as the horrors during Expulsion from Spain. This directness and realism brings a strong element of strength and endurance to Jewish existence from young on.  Avarnu et par'o, na'avor gam et zeh... (We survived Pharaoh, we will survive also this). It is often in contrast with the softer protective cotton wrapping Western parents and schools try to give children censoring even some Biblical stories as too rough and violent.
The House of Dolls is a 1955 novella by Ka-tzetnik 135633. The novella describes "Joy Divisions", which were allegedly groups of Jewish women in the concentration camps during World War II who were kept for the sexual pleasure of Nazi soldiers.

The origin of Ka-tzetnik's story is not clear. Some say it is based on a diary kept by a young Jewish girl who was captured in Poland when she was fourteen years old and forced into sexual slavery in a Nazi labour camp. However, the diary itself has not been located or verified to exist. Others claim, and the author suggests as much in his later book Shivitti, that it is based on the actual history of Ka-tzetnik's younger sister (The House of Dolls is about the sister of Ka-tzetnik's protagonist, Harry Preleshnik). However, Ka-tzetnik did not have a sister in real life.
Having House of Dolls as recommended reading in high school curriculum in Israel fits this educational philosophy letting teenagers know how it really was. The approach certainly has its psychological merits in preparing for the adult life and giving personal strength.

Ka-Tzetnik 135633
The author of this totally unforgettable book, Yehiel Feiner (16 May 1909 – 17 July 2001), is better known as Ka-tzetnik 135633, which comes from comes from KZ Konzentrationslager.  He was for two years a prisoner in Auschwitz where the brothel existed.
In 1976, because of recurring nightmares and depression, he subjected himself to a form of psychedelic psychotherapy from Dr. Jan Bastiaans that included the use of LSD; the visions experienced during this therapy became the basis for his book, Shivitti.

The book's title is derived from David's Psalm 16, "תהילים טז: "שיויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד, more accurately translated in Acts 2:25: "I saw the Lord always before me", or "I was always beholding the Lord in my presence".

He died of cancer in Tel Aviv on 17 July 2001.
Fact or fiction?
There has been serious debate in Israel among historians whether the book is fact or fiction - or a mixture of the two. A general description of the conditions of imprisoned women in Auschwitz SS Female Overseers in Auschwitz provides background for understanding Ka-Tzetnik's book regardless of the accuracy of its contents.

For example, Na'ama Shik who is a researcher at Yad Vashem considers the book fictional. 
The Jerusalem Journal article yesterday, about the pornographic pocket books with Nazi themes that were circulated in Israel in the 1960s, misquoted Na’ama Shik, a researcher at Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, regarding the pocket book “Doll’s House,” about a Jewish woman serving in a notorious brothel called Block 24 in Auschwitz. She said the book — not Block 24 — was fictional.
New York Times 2007
 Author David Mikics has recently written about Ka-tzetnik in Tablet. A new read on Jewish life April 19, 2012
Of all the witnesses at the Eichmann trial, the event that gripped the Jewish world in 1961, he is the one the Israeli public would remember most vividly. Facing Eichmann in his glass booth, he spoke for a few minutes, in agonized, disconnected fashion, and then collapsed in a faint. A few minutes later he was carried off to a hospital, to be treated for a nervous breakdown.

His second book, House of Dolls (published in Israel in 1953) was a wild success and was translated into a dozen languages. House of Dolls is a meandering mess of a book; its real point is its explosive conclusion. In the last 50 pages, the hero’s sister Daniella becomes a prostitute in a women’s labor camp: She is forced to join the camp’s Freudenabteilung or “Joy Division,” which services German soldiers (yes, that’s where the pallid, death-obsessed British band got its name—from Ka-Tzetnik’s book). The girls selected for the Joy Division have Feld-Hure (military whore) tattooed between their breasts. (The tattooing really happened, although the brothel at Auschwitz was frequented only by Kapos and other privileged prisoners, not by the SS.) The girls suffer under an ardent and brutal lesbian boss named Elsa, who forces them to strip naked, then bends them over a chair and lashes them. [Actually they were clubbed to death in this position in front of the other inmates as a warning for them for getting three complaints from the clients...]
David Mikics
Read the entire article here 
David Mikics suggests that the House of Dolls does mix fact and fiction but exactly as such it is penetrating truthful description of the times.

I agree with Mikics and think this unpolished classic better than many more civilized Holocaust era books conveys the atmosphere of utter destruction of beauty and human life that was so rampant in Hitler's Third Reich. This is an unprecedented display of the banality of evil as it was called by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a  German theologian and himself a victim of Adolf Hitler.

The sad thing we realize from the enormous popularity of this novel is that it is not only the Nazis or "Germans" who are capable of imagining and realizing such horrific selfishness and enslaving others for their pleasure but we humans in general. The circumstances and Nazi ideology made it possible in Auschwitz but such acts of desire and death are also possible today if we do not prevent it. 

This haunted book by a haunted author is an unforgettable memorial to the Jewish women and to all women who were enslaved, humiliated and destroyed in Auschwitz Block 24 between 1942 and 1945.

Am Israel Hai
The pride of those Elsa's in Block 24 is no more - it is nothing but a cursed memory.

But the people of Israel live and prosper and "we passed also that..." Here is the Psalm 16 that the name of  Ka-Tzetnik's other book Shivitti refers to

A miktam of David.

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Israel's biggest problem - the God of Israel

Altneuland First Edition cover
image wikimedia
The Promise
Would it not be nice to have a blank check from your God - this is your Land, I have given it to you, go and possess it using whatever methods are needed! If God would also promise "I am with you, I will fight with you and give you victory and make you the greatest among the nations" it would not hurt! Not only for nationalistic and religious people but for all Israel such a blank check would be quite inspiring and motivating in taking the Holy Land back to its righteous owners after such a long absence of the landlord.

There is such a divine sentiment in the winds of today's Near East and heightened Messianic expectations in the air. The struggle of the Jewish state for her destiny is absorbing the attention of the entire world.

Rabbi Moshe Ben Mainonides
Who denies the Land denies God.
image wikimedia
There have been and there are learned respected rabbis who read the promises and commandments in the Torah, know their interpretations in the Talmud and every nuance in the writings of the greatest of Israel. They teach the sacred traditions to the children of modern day Exodus and Joshua.

There are politicians in the Knesset today who have the divine promises at their hearts and who are inspired by the prophets of the past in making the decisions today. The nation is divided between religious and secular camps that argue about most of the things most of the time but the process of conquest goes on regardless. International interventions only add fuel to the fire.

Western Wall and al-Aqsa Mosque - tough nut in modern politics
image wikimedia

Religion has carried the Jewish people through all these millennia and Judaism is among the oldest surviving religions among humanity. The Bible is inspiring and guiding young generations of Israel showing steady way forward and purpose in the midst of the confusing multitudes of opinions in today's world. One day the Temple of Jerusalem shall stand again, as the secular prophet Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, saw gasping his breath in Das Altneuland (1902). It is a truly noble cause to restore Judaism into its fullness with the Temple.

So where is the problem?

The problem is that the God of Israel is real. He is the only real God there is.
Land and behaviour
It is true that Torah contains the promise of the Land given by the Lord to father Abraham sojourning in the Land of Canaan. The command to take possession of the Land was given to Moses and Joshua and the Land was taken even we do not know all the details of how.

But the Promise and the Commandment (mitzva) are not all the Bible says about this matter. The fierce eyes of the God of Israel penetrate deep into the soul of His people and He does not like everything what He sees there from where deeds originally come.

One of the ways in which the Bible emphasizes the direct connection between the behaviour of the people of God and their security and prosperity in the Land is to describe how angered God allowed the enemies of Israel to become powerful.
In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.
Judges 2:14 NIV
That is a rather scary God with temper.

Examples from Biblical history
The generation that left Egypt in the midst of such miracles perished entirely in Sinai Desert and was not seen worthy to enter the Promised Land. Are you sure this generation with so much blood in hands is worthy of building the Temple?

The first King of Israel, Saul, was considered not fit to rule and God allowed him to be killed on the mountains of Gilboa in a desperate battle with the Philistines.Who is the King of Israel?

The legendary King David was seen by prophet Nathan committing horrific crime against a hero warrior Uriah. Watch the freedom of press - it hurts but does a good healthy job for the nation!

And the list goes on, from king to king, from judge to judge, from religious leaders to the simplest among the people, things get worse and worse in the eyes of the Holy of Israel.

In Deuteronomy 28 this fearsome God of Israel is in real bad mood and says through Moses something very nasty "I will enjoy doing bad to you". (Deut 28:63) That might be funny if we do not remember that every single one of those horrific threats has become true "and you become mad at what you see". (Deut 28:34) This is not an easy God to be chosen by.

After the return from Exile the people of Israel had learned some lessons and no more idols are found in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem that was filled with Ashtarte figurines before the Babylonians came. Words were not enough and prophet Jeremiah was thrown into prison hole as a traitor of the national cause. But his words became true and his persecutors perished.

No one can read the descriptions of the High Priests battling for power after the Maccabean wars without thinking "are these High Priests?" In horror we read also today about the wicked deeds of Alexander Janneus (King Yannai in Talmud) the founder of Masada. Being the people of the only real God there is does not automatically guarantee righteousness and justice. Beware of religious people!

At one point God Himself was walking on the streets of Jerusalem and we all know what happened to Him.

Sorry, but there is no blank check
The writings in the Bible are so enormously powerful because they are so truthful. The Jewish Scriptures contain such a penetrating and honest description of the people of God that no other ancient religious book about the rulers and their people comes even near. Truth.

The biggest problem of Israel today is the God of Israel. For that is where the bucket ends and the Land makes this relationship so acute.

His promises are wonderful, His rule of the history majestic, His judgements are deep indeed and His whip is more fearsome than any other whip in the Universe.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Moses, menstruation, homosexuality and G. T. Hobson

ואישׁ אשׁר־ישׁכב את־אשׁה דוה וגלה את־ערותה את־מקרה הערה והוא גלתה את־מקור דמיה ונכרתו שׁניהם מקרב עמם׃

“‘If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people"
Leviticus 20:18 NIV

G. Thomas Hobson (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO) has written a 74 page study to demonstrate that this kareth commandment does not mean death sentence but rather expulsion from the people of Israel.


The paper is not a theoretical study of the law on sexual purity in Leviticus but participation on the ongoing discussion on homosexuality. The basic hermeneutic idea is that there are several categories of punishments in the Old Testament and this distinction is critical for our Christian morals and ethics. So the "minor" sin of sleeping with a woman during her time of menstruation ("sickness" in King James Version) deserves only expulsion while homosexual act deserves death.

The distinction in the severity of the law is used to show the commandments in Torah that are still binding also in the New testament as "moral principles".

In contemporary ethical debate, it is common to hear commands from the Torah being indiscriminately lumped together: “The Torah forbids homosexual behavior, but it also forbids wearing mixed fabric, and eating leavened bread during Passover.” Those who make such an argument wish to construe all three of these Torah commands as being of equal seriousness.The first prohibition carries a death penalty, the second carries no explicit penalty, and the third calls for the offender to be “cut off from his/her people” (known in Judaism as the kareth penalty). Such a wholesale mixture of texts is not a legitimate way to characterize the intent of the Torah’s teaching, because it inappropriately ignores distinctions in Israelite law that are clearly signaled in the text itself.
Hobson op cit. p.1 

Hobson studies the concept of kareth carefully and provides a good bibliography on the subject. He reaches the following conclusions:

The conclusion of this paper is that kareth is an expression of relative mercy, which preserves the possibility of repentance. It also removes a source of ongoing moral contamination from the community that puts the community at risk. Kareth is the equivalent of a life sentence in a prison without bars.

The conclusion that kareth is a form of punitive expulsion makes more sense out of the data than the theory that kareth is a divine extermination curse, for which there is no evidence as a threatened penalty in the legal provisions of any ancient Near Eastern law code.
Hobson op cit p. 68 

Three themes in the study
We can notice in the above quotes at least three basic themes in Hobson's study
  1. There are different levels in the Law of Moses concerning sexual ethics and family relationships. Sex during menstruation - even between husband and wife - is forbidden on the threat of expulsion and not of death sentence. (While homosexual act is forbidden on the pain of death and this is confirmed in the New Testament. See the quote below).
  2. The commandment forbidding sex during menstruation represents "relative mercy". 
  3. Comparative study shows that sexual act during menstruation is not cause of death in any known law code from the ancient Near East
My counter theses are
  1. Sex during menstruation is forbidden on the pain of death because the man, even if he is the husband of the woman, reveals the source of blod. This commandment is not about sex but about blood, which is tabu.
  2. The law of Moses explicitly forbids "relative mercy" when it sentences to amputation of hand a woman who during a fight defends her husband and touches the genitals of his enemy.  (No pity - off with her hand!)  IMHO Hobson brings here "strange fire" from modern Western ethics to the furious Law of Moses beside which even the Islamic Sharia law pales in severity and which killed Christ. 
  3. Torah contains also many other prohibitions and commandments that do not have parallels in other codes of law known from the Near East. 

Interpretaing Laws of Moses according to Hobson 
A consistent Biblical ethic G. Thomas Hobson, Ph. D.
Hobson is a PCUSA pastor and adjunct professor at Morthland College in IL.

Hobson carefully explains the link between OT interpretation of the Law and the NT interpretation. Hobson writes, "In contemporary ethical debate, it is common to hear commands from the Bible being indiscriminately lumped together. We hear people say, “The Torah forbids homosexual behavior, but it also forbids wearing mixed fabric, and eating leavened bread during Passover. It’s all a hopeless jumble, useless as any reliable source of ethical guidance.”
Many are those who claim that the Bible teaches no consistent sexual ethic, but endorses polygamy, concubinage, prostitution, and even incest." He continues, "Every Torah command that carries a death penalty, is reaffirmed by the NT as a binding moral principle. The NT does not command us to execute incorrigible teenagers, but it does affirm the command, “Honor yourfather and mother.” Commands in the Torah that do not carry a death penalty, such as the kosher food laws, are not reaffirmed in the NT, and may be taken as commands that are just for Israel."
Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry: Theology matters (link)

The quote provides a key to Hobson's hermeneutics. He emphasizes that the Law of Moses contains lesser sins and sins that are dead serious. Every deadly sin in the Old Testament is confirmed in the New Testament as a "moral principle".  This hermeneutic key provides Hobson with a bridge from the Mosaic Law to the world of New Testament and thus to modern Christianity. Torah is in this way in force and universally valid also to non-Jewish people. We can therefore condemn homosexuality on the basis of the Bible which demands death to those who do homosexual acts. On the other hand, sleeping with a woman during her menstruation is a lesser sin that does not need to be regarded at all with the same severity in modern day Christian teaching.

Apostle Paul
The question of Torah was extremely important to Apostle Paul, himself a former Pharisee and student of the famed Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder. He himself had used the Laws of Moses to persecute and exterminate followers of the Nazarene - Cursed is anyone hanged on a tree!

In comparison to Paul, the hermeneutics of Hobson seems to me to be based on over-simplistic reading of the Torah, pragmatic rationalism and is mixed with an underlying agenda on sexual ethics and politics. Such an approach is not helpful in understanding the Word of God properly.

For the great message of the Bible to humanity, Jews, Greeks and pagans alike 

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth
Romans 10:4 KJV

"I beg to differ..."
The following blog post by ez duz it may help us better to understand the generic framework within which T.G. Hobson works with Jewish law and Christian ethics.

Just a few reflections from a quiet, middle-aged teacher and Gay activist who also posts comments on “The Huffington Post” under the same name. Monday, April 25, 2011
G Thomas Hobson: His Anti-Gay Rhetoric and Misuse of Ἀσέλγεια Relative to Jewish Mishna
ez duz it

Monday, June 4, 2012

Slavery back in the name of God!

In search of life in the fullest of Torah, to walk the Way of the King Derekh HaMelekh some people endorse not only the confiscation of land and property by various means from those non-Jews happening to live in the Promised Land but also the cutting down of enemy olive trees, burning enemy wheat fields a la Samson, population transfer and even the killing of enemies who are trying to prevent the fulfilment of God's laws. All this and more in the light of holy Torah which not only accepts but actually commands such things in the name of God.

But why be selective and choose from the corpus of the texts only those parts that are now politically and strategically convenient and fit current goals of conquering the Promised Land? For Torah endorses also many other things that modern society represented in the United Nations and non-Jewish nations with their often godless laws do not necessarily accept.

If it is acceptable to base the rules of engagement in the conquest of the Promised Land directly on Biblical laws and examples without two thousand years of rabbinical cushioning in oral tradition and Talmud it is acceptable with the same logic and hermeneutics also to apply other aspects of Biblical life, social order and habits, justice system and patterns of behaviour. For example death sentence, amputation of limbs, polygamy and also slavery.

Why not?

Death sentence
If a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you. Leviticus 20:14

And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire. Leviticus 21:9

Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. Genesis 38:24

He that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath. ... And Joshua ... took Achan ... and his sons, and his daughters ... And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire. Joshua 7:15, 24-25

Physical punishments including amputation of hand of the sexually offending woman, stoning to death, burning alive and other methods are not only accepted but actually commanded in the Torah. So it is not only shari'a of Islam but also the religious teaching of Judaism that can be used to authorize such actions by the law enforcement system.

That modern Israel has no death penalty is not because of the Torah which allows and commands death sentences in several cases, but for other reasons.

King Solomon loved, in addition to the daughter of Pharaoh, many foreign woman, Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had warned the Israelites. "You must not cohabit with them, nor they with you, for they will certainly turn your hearts to their gods". Solomon held fast to them in love. He had 700 official wives and 300 concubines.
1 Kings 11:1-3

Even the story of Creation is strictly monogamous the case of King Solomon and the Patriarchal narratives about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob demonstrate that Torah does allow man to have more then one wife. The Bible tells about Sarah who introduces an Egyptian slave woman to her husband in order to bring offspring and the touching story of Rachel and Lea has its worthy place among the finer pieces of world literature. Torah does not forbid the man (or even the woman) taking more than one wife. But this habit seems to have died out already in antiquity as the society changed. (As far as I know the Bible does not know Matriarchal society in which a woman would have more than one husband)

It continued among the tribes in the Arabian Peninsula where Muhammad limited the maximum number of wives to four. The champions of Islam, Ottoman sultans, became famous, however, by having harems that compete with that of King Solomon in the Bible who had 700 wives.

In the Ancient Near East, captives obtained through warfare were often compelled to become slaves, and this was seen by the law code of Deuteronomy as a legitimate form of enslavement, as long as Israelites were not among the victims (Deut 20:10-16); the Deuteronomic Code institutes the death penalty for the crime of kidnapping Israelites to enslave them. (Deut 24:7)

Yet the Israelites did not get involved in distant or large scale wars, and apparently capture was not a significant source of slaves. The Holiness Code of Leviticus explicitly allows participation in the slave trade, with non-Israelite residents who had been sold into slavery being regarded as a type of property that could be inherited. (Lev 19:33-34) Foreign residents were included in this permission, and were allowed to own Israelite slaves.

It was also possible to be born into slavery. If a male Israelite slave had been given a wife by his owner, then the wife and any children which had resulted from the union would remain the property of his former owner, according to the Covenant Code. However, the text does not specify the wife's nationality, and Baptist theologian John Gill (1697–1771), referenced Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (Jarchi) as holding that this refers to marriage to a Canaanite woman, as a concubine. 18th century theologian Adam Clarke stated that there was an Israelite law instructing that if an Israelite slave "had children by a Canannitish woman, those children must be considered as Canaanitish only, and might be sold and bought, and serve for ever."
Slavery in the Bible. wikipedia

The phenomenon of slavery is rather complex in the Bible and includes commandments and stories about enslavement, foreign and Israeli slaves, debt slavery, sexual and conjugal slavery, permanent slavery and freeing slaves.

So it is permissible according to the Torah to reintroduce slavery. It is not forbidden in the Mosaic Laws. On the contrary, God of Israel accepts slavery and the Torah gives specific commandments on how to treat slaves. Note also that Biblical slavery does not concern only prisoners of wars or people bought or captured from other countries but under certain circumstances also having slaves from the children of Abraham.

Accordingly, in a Jewish settlement living to the fullest of the Way of the King of Israel there could be Jewish men, women and children who are enslaved by their Jewish owners as was the case in the Iron Age and later. Torah gives specific orders, for example, in case the owner hits his slave so that he or she dies.

Famously, Koran does not forbid slavery and Islamic slave traders are an important part of East African history.

Few people remember, however, that also the New Testament accepts slavery. In fact, the King of Israel is said to have lowered Himself to the level of a slave. Apostle Paul sends a slave Onesimus who ran away back to his owner Filemon. The short letter to Filemon he sent with the runaway slave is very interesting in this sense.

Accordginly, the spread of the Kingdom of God did not mean the end of slavery. On the contrary, Justinian law code has important sections modifying and extending the Roman laws concerning slaves.

Christian Frenchmen, Britons and Americans were actively involved in the African slave trade that lasted well into the 19th century and was the cause for US civil war. True, Christians were crucial also in the end of trade slave in the western world, famously so Uncle Tom's Cabin. 

However, human trade and especially trade in women continues also in Europe and America with full force today despite of the efforts of United Nations and other international bodies to stop it.

Slavery back in the name of God!
The Bible does not forbid slavery and both the Old and New Testaments accept it as a fact of everyday life. God of Israel gave laws and commandments concerning slavery in ancient Israel. The example of Christ who took the form of a slave, everyone's servant, and the Letter to Filemon are powerful statements about slavery in the Roman period.

If the purpose of a group of people living together is to apply Derekh HaMelekh in its fullest, it is thus permissible under certain circumstances to kill non-Jewish enemies. It is also permissible, on the same logic and hermeneutics, to take foreign and even Israeli slaves to work in the house and in the fields with no other salary than the hope to avoid the master's whip.

Torah is very rich in content. Much therefore depends on the Rabbi of Israel who is interpreting its contents to the believers.

Let us not forget that the Book of Exodus is among the most inspiring stories about people getting freedom from bondage as it tells in unforgettable way about the people of Israel escaping from the harsh slavery under the whip of the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt.

"Go down, Moses, way down to Egypt land, tell ol', Pharaoh, to let my people go!"

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dinah and Shechem (Nablus)

Powerful book
The Bible is a very powerful and dynamic book with strong impact on the entire human race. It is not a peaceful and objective philosophical, religious study of matters of faith but pure fire just seeking for fuel to put into flames. (However, you can find also in the Web many comments on Genesis 34 that are considerably calmer then my text.)

So powerful that it was forbidden in the might Soviet Union.

The Land of Israel is a promise to the people of God but it is also a great challenge and even judgement vomiting evil doers out of it as the history of the Jewish people so dramatically demonstrates.

Jerusalem, the city of the Great King, the heart of Zionism from which the name of the national movement of modern day Jews is derived  is an epitome of all this.

God of Israel we encounter in the Bible is not something to be taken lightly or as self-evident. He is not a little idol sitting in the pocket of the Rabbis of Israel obeying their will. Nor is He something we Christians can control or boss around. But we all, Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, can pray for His grace.

The story of the sons of Jacob at Shechem is a good example of the dynamic and challenging nature of the holy Scriptures rather far from the quiet ponds of religious meditation and goodwill to all people we so often associate with true religion. The ancient massacre in Shechem is true religion in action and recorded in the sacred history - the deeds of the people of God of Israel, the only real God there is.

The events at Shechem told in Genesis take place long before the arrival of the Philistines from the Aegean region to the coast of Gaza. The story is set to the range of ancient Hebron called el-Khalil Friend (of God in Arabic. Archaeologists call this Middle and Late Bronze Age - third millennium before the birth of Jesus Christ. Despite of its great age the narrative in Genesis is curiously relevant today.

Shechem is located between Mt Garizzim and Mt Ebal that are holy to the Jews and to the Samaritans.  The city was renamed Neapolis by the Greeks and Arab ear transformed that to Nablus (cf. Tripoli(s), Tarabulus al-Gharb). Today it is among the largest Palestinian cities in the West Bank with a population of 126.000.

The story is not so much about conquering the promised land - these events came later after the Egyptian bondage - but rather about how to treat the people who happen to be living in the area promised by God to Abraham and his seed.

Rape and marriage proposal by a non-Israeli dignitary
Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.”
Gen 34:1-4 NIV

Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.
Gen 34:6-7 NIV

As you may know, a case of an Israeli Arab man allegedly raping an Israeli Jewish woman was in the front page news in Israel and the world during 2010.

An Arab man convicted in Israel of rape because he pretended he was a Jew when he had consensual sex with a Jewish woman has called the verdict racist. Sabbar Kashur, 30, was found guilty of "rape by deception" by the Israeli court and sentenced to 18 months in jail.
 (BBC news)

Thus, the sentiments we see in the Biblical story are very relevant today, as well. Technology and politics and society has changed but we human beings are the same.

Peace proposal to the sojourners in the Land
But Hamor said to them, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves.
You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.
Gen 34:8-10 NIV

Doesn't this sound so modern and relevant, two people living in a region and trying to figure out the relations between them. Definitely in Israeli settlements such tones and voices are highly relevant underpinnings today, almost five thousand years later.

I find this political, social, racial and religious relevance of the holy Bible truly amazing.

Justified deceit in the name of religious habits
Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor.
Gen 34:13 NIV

Raping a woman has been and continues to be a way to get her in marriage. Social values and the shame the woman brings to the family - never mind that she was innocent and the man forced himself on her despite of her screams - are very powerful motives in today's Near East and especially in the Arab Islamic culture.

In this situation the Biblical narrative simply tells that because of the evil deed the sons of Jacob behaved deceitfully. There is neither condemnation nor approval of such behaviour in the name of religion towards a trusting man. This is very human but also important to keep in mind as we are talking here about a sacred book at the heart of Judaism and Christianity. These stories do serve also as models of behaviour and guidance in similar situations.

It may be correct to say that such deceitful behaviour is considered "wise" by the people living in the Near East today - a smart way to act in a difficult and threatening situation. After all, Hamor is the son of the powerful ruler of the Shechem area. There must be thousand and one stories that illuminate similar wisdom in hard places in Oriental traditions and literature. Westerners with their ethics find this often rather baffling - a deceit is a deceit, is it not?

In this way, the deceitful snake in the Garden of Eden was most cunning (arum) among God's creatures and fooled even Eve.

והנחשׁ היה ערום מכל חית השׂדה
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? ”
Gen 3:1 NIV

Peace agreement depending on circumcision 

Adult circumcision in ancient Egypt
image Catholica

They said to them, “We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males.

Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves.
We’ll settle among you and become one people with you.
But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.”
Gen 34:14-17 NIV

Circumcision is here a significant sign of covenant for the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Hivvites are here invited to join the Abrahamic covenant in a very simple but powerful way. "We will settle among you and become one people with you" on this fundamentally religious foundation (to use modern terminology).

In today's Near East the meaning of circumcision is less pronounced as it is a tradition also among the Moslem population. The tradition may be more related to health and other issues and has no religious significance for the Muslim.

Agreement accepted - but with some rather material motives!
So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to the men of their city.  “These men are friendly toward us,” they said. “Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them.

We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. But the men will agree to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are. Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours?
So let us agree to their terms, and they will settle among us. ”
Gen 34:21-23 NIV

Material gain when people of Jacob living their nomadic lifestyle settle among the city dwellers, intermarry and bring their livestock near.

The massacre of Shechem
Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left.

The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.
Gen 34:25-29 NIV

Here "Jacob's sons Simeon and Levi" indicates the tribes that massacred the male citizens of Shechem and the rest of the tribes participated in the looting.

In my opinion the storyteller underlines that the killing and looting was related to the defiling of Dinah and that this makes it somehow acceptable. This notion is very true to modern Near Eastern cultures, as well. Anything goes between families and even tribes when a woman has been raped.

Note that this story has no ethnic cleansing a la Kosovo and is not related to the conquest of the Promised Land that took place hundreds of years later. It belongs to the Patriarchal era and reflects the values and manners current in the Bronze Age Near East.

Reaction of Jacob the Patriarch of the Tribes of Israel
Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”
But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute? ”
Gen 34:30-31 NIV

Patriarch Jacob - who himself was cunning and cheated his old father Isaac to get the blessing instead of Esau - takes the massacre of Shechem seriously but the concern is not "crimes against humanity" type ethics or the (later) Ten Commandments "thou shall not murder (rzh)".

Rather, father Jacob is concerned with the security of his own tribe sojourning among the now more hostile local inhabitants, Canaanites and Perizzites.

However, on his death bed father Jacob gave the two violent brothers a rather questionable "blessing"

Simeon and Levi are brothers—
    their swords are weapons of violence.
Let me not enter their council,
    let me not join their assembly,
for they have killed men in their anger
    and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.
Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
    and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
    and disperse them in Israel.

Gen 49:5-7 NIV

Well, the anti-Semites around the world can certainly use this very rough story to label the children of Abraham with all kinds of bad attributes and racial stamps.

But look who is talking.

I mean, what was so horrible in the (faked) Protocols of Zion - didn't the Nazis want exactly the same thing, to rule the world?

Or the massacre of the citizens and enslaving of the women and children of Shechem? How many stories we have in Islamic history even without looking at the conquest of Spain and the looting of France before Charlemagne stopped the horrible show?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

No pity! Off with her hand

Replica of a severed hand

“If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity."
Deut 25:11-12 NASB

Cut off her hand!

Show no pity!

Actualisation of Judges
Some of the many Israeli settlers are looking for the fullness of Biblical life in the Promised Land under the direction of the rabbis. In addition to peaceful activities for some this includes also the harassing of modern day Philistines in the style of Samson and for some even the destruction of Amalek according to the commandments in the Torah of the Most High as described in a recent book on the interpretation of Mosaic Laws.

Direct living by the Book represented in the controversial 2009 rabbinical text Torat Hamelech is adopting the ethics from the Iron Age without later modifications. It is a novelty in Judaism - a branch in the religion that has become possible with the birth of modern Israel and the reconquista of the Biblical heart-lands according to the commandment of God. Until that happened the books of Joshua and Judges were sacred history and theory during the long centuries in Diaspora with more symbolic than practical meaning. But now, suddenly, the Bible becomes actual also in its aspect of the Conquest of the Promised Land, human rights, activities of the settlers and army.

À la Samson burning of the "Philistine" wheat fields or cutting of ancient olive trees to uproot the hated Palestinians from the Promised Land is probably a matter of discussion among Israeli policy makers and army generals. However, the general atmosphere is lenient and understanding towards the perpetrators of Biblical deeds as the conquest of the entire Promised Land and Messianic hopes are in the rise. May the King of Israel arrive soon to the glorious rebuilt Jerusalem!

Interpretation of Mosaic law
Judaism is one of the most ancient of religions still alive today and there is a very long history of rabbinical interpretation of Mosaic laws. The teachings of the fathers were well known in Jesus time some 2000 years ago and there are several discussions on these interpretations in the New Testament. Oral law and the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmud similarly contain extensive discussions on the law in the Torah.

Fight not only against non-Jews or men
One would be wise not to forget that the fullness of living directly according to the Torah and skipping the softening interpretations of fathers also includes divine commands concerning the people of Israel deviating from the commandments. These Jews are no less enemies of the Chosen People as the Philistines and Amalek and must be dealt with harshly.

There is not only the genocidal "destroy Amalek" commandment in the Laws of Moses but also laws on the children of Israel that make the Shari'a laws of Islam look lenient. Unfortunately, many of these laws are aimed specifically against the women of Israel. We are afraid that some day - perhaps soon - also obedience to God's commands in this respect will again become a reality.

Rabbinical teaching is definitely called so that not every man takes directions from the Torah. Such advise is forthcoming in the case of killing of non-Jews who are trying to stop the fulfilling of God's commands. In such quarters of Torah obedient communities we may some day find a Jewish woman without her left or right hand.

Trial by order
Rabbinical softening and interpretation of the harsh Iron Age laws in the holy Bible is going on in many levels. People are not burned alive as commanded by God and stoning of adulterous women has ended among the people of Israel. The Sabbath laws and Kashrut laws are excellent examples of the rabbinical innovative ingenuity in translating Iron Age rulings to the atomic age so that God's will is obeyed.

To further emphasize the distance in time let us similarly strip the softening of criminal law by modern times and ethics. For example, only a few hundred years ago Europeans abandoned trial by order. It has been said that this was actually quite effective tool in delivering justice as the innocent was ready to take the dangerous test while the guilty one preferred to confess rather then to get painfully bodily harmed.

Why do the Europeans not reintroduce the ancient practice with roots in prehistoric societies and the laws of Hammurabi and Ur Nammu that predate Mosaic Laws by almost a millennium? Let the suspect prove his or her innocence by picking a piece of iron from boiling water by bare hand. If the person is not guilty the heat of the water will not harm the skin of the hand. Like the trial by order also the extracting of confession by torture was outlawed just a few hundred years ago. (Using reasonable force to extract a confession is still allowed in some countries today and illegal use of torture is widespread.)

Off with her hand
The law to cut off the hand of a woman trying to protect her husband in a fight is written in Deuteronomy which has over 2500 years old content. This particular fragment of civil law is of great historical interest as it dramatically sheds light on the sensitivity in ancient Israel towards sexual purity and the separation of men and women.

Would the God of Israel want literal adherence to this law today?

Amputation of the woman's hand could be done in a hospital under anaesthesia - unless, of course, this would be considered "pity" that is explicitly forbidden in this case.

Most religious Jews do accept the mountain of rulings by fathers, traditions, rabbinical modifications, clarifications and extensions and limitations of Mosaic law that is required by the changes of times. But there are people who prefer the pure word of the Bible as it is ... especially in situations where it suits their understanding of God's will towards them.

Burning wheat fields - Samson redivivus

Near Orif
Haaretz reported 28 May 2012

An Israeli settler shot and wounded a Palestinian man on Saturday in a clash that began when a group of settlers set fire to fields belonging to a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank, officials said.

Residents said about 25 settlers, some of them carrying guns, set fire to wheat fields in the village of Orif, which is near the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

Some villagers came out to extinguish the fire and clashed with the settlers, said Nablus official Kassan Daglas. Israeli soldiers then came to the scene and broke up the clashes.

The Palestinian was shot in the stomach, medical officials said, and taken to the hospital. Haaretz

Near Etam
The inspiration for the people of Ofir to set Palestinian farmer's fields into fire most likely comes from the Holy Bible. The book of Judges admiringly tells about the adventures of the mighty long-haired hero Samson teasing the sworn enemies of the tribes of Israel, the Philistines.

But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, “I will go in to my wife into the chamber.” But her father would not suffer him to go in.

And her father said, “I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her. Therefore I gave her to thy companion. Is not her younger sister fairer than she? Take her, I pray thee, instead of her.”

And Samson said concerning them, “Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure.”

And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails.

And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burned up both the shocks and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.

Then the Philistines said, “Who hath done this?” And they answered, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife and given her to his companion.” And the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire.

And Samson said unto them, “Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease”;

and he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter. And he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock of Etam.
Judges 15:1-8 KJ21

Near Ekron
Professor Trude Dothan has directed intensive archaeological excavations at Tel Miqne, the Biblical Ekron. Much have been learned from these and other excavations about the culture of the Philistines (Egyptian peleset) living from Late Bronze Age on at the Philistine coast. Even the name Goliath has recently been found inscribed in a potsherd. Modern scholars think that the Philistines arrived from the direction of the Aegean Sea during the tumultuous last centuries of the 2nd millennium before Christ.

Since the Philistines were not Arabs, who are also mentioned in the Bible as dwellers in the desert, why are the people of Palestine so called?

The decisive person was the famous Greek historian and geographer Herodotus (484 – 425 BC) who came during his travels also to the great harbour of Gaza and asked "what is this country called". He was told that it is the country of the Philistines. From this came the Greco-Roman name Palaestina for the entire area which survives in the Ottoman name of the pashalik of Filastin and the British Mandate period name Palestine separate from Eastern Palestine or Transjordan. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem

To the Hebrews
Jews and Christians share faith in Messiah even they understand Him differently. This fundamental unity is finely expressed in the first sentences of the Letter to the Hebrews showing the glory of the Messiah before the two faiths separated into different and often hostile religions.

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed Heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds, who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
Hebrews 1:1-5 KJ21

The mentioning of Jewish people often brings mind to human suffering and it is really an essential element of the experience of the People of God among the nations and with the God of Israel.

In Jerusalem there is an island of peace that reminds that also Christians suffer and that Messiah does not guarantee happy easy life without sickness, persecution, difficulties and even death. On the contrary, Christian believers have many stories that resemble those of Jewish believers.

One monument to the hidden blessing in suffering is the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, whose founders, Horatio and Anna Spafford, tragically lost four children to the ice cold waves of the North Atlantic in the wreck of the Ville Du Havre on 23 November 1873.

The American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem

A view from the American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem
Image wikimedia
The building was originally owned by Rabbah Daoud Amin Effendi al-Husseini, who lived there with his harem of four wives. Soon after his fourth marriage, al-Husseini died. In 1895, the building was sold to a group of messianic Christians who arrived in Jerusalem in 1881 and set up a commune. Their leader was Horatio Spafford, a lawyer from Chicago and his wife, Anna. In 1896, the Americans were joined by two groups of Swedish settlers. This Christian utopian society became known as the American Colony.

In 1902, a Jaffa hotelier named Ustinov (grandfather of the British actor Peter Ustinov) was looking for a place to put up guests visiting Jerusalem and asked the Spaffords to accommodate them. Soon after, the building was turned into a hotel.

Today the American Colony Hotel calls itself an oasis of neutrality in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is still owned by descendants of the Spaffords. A grandson, Horatio Vester, was the manager until he retired in 1980.  His wife, Valentine, lived in the hotel until her death in June 2008. Since 1980, the hotel has been run by a Swiss company. The effendi's original bedroom is called "Room One."

The American Colony Hotel home page is here.

The tragedy
Horatio Spafford (1828-1888)
Image wikimedia
Two years later, in 1873, Spafford decided his family should take a holiday somewhere in Europe, and chose England knowing that his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. He was delayed because of business, so he sent his family ahead: his wife and their four children, daughters eleven year old Anna “Annie”, nine year old Margaret Lee, five year old Elizabeth “Bessie”, and two year old Tanetta.

On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford's daughters. Anna Spafford survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning "Saved alone." Spafford then sailed to England, going over the location of his daughters' deaths. According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote "It Is Well with My Soul" on this journey.

Faith in Messiah
We might think that by imposing much suffering to His people generates deep mistrust and hatred of God among the Chosen People still patiently waiting for the King to come. But the contrary seems to be true.

Similarly, Messiah allows suffering to His believers who confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah, and this suffering strangely makes them to believe more and to love God more than before.

This is one of the mysteries of the shared Jewish and Christian experience with God.

The hymn written on board of the Ville du Havre is a living witness of the gentle touch of Messiah in the midst of the icy waves and tragic tribulations of life. Note that the fourth verse was added by his daughter who did not perish with her siblings.

All is well with my soul 
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain:) It is well (it is well),
with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

And Lord haste the day, when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
Horatio Spafford 1873

Monday, April 16, 2012

Parsec and the cosmic limits of the patience of God of Israel

Hipparcos satellite testing
Image: wikimedia

Hipparcos (an acronym for "High precision parallax collecting satellite") was a scientific mission of the European Space Agency (ESA), launched in 1989 and operated between 1989 and 1993. It was the first space experiment devoted to precision astrometry, the accurate measurement of the positions of celestial objects on the sky. This permits the accurate determination of proper motions and parallaxes of stars, allowing a determination of their distance and tangential velocity. When combined with radial velocity measurements from spectroscopy, this fixes all six quantities needed to determine the motion of the star.

The Hipparcos Catalogue, a high-precision catalogue of more than 100,000 stars, was published in 1997. The lower precision Tycho Catalogue of more than a million stars was published at the same time, while the enhanced Tycho-2 Catalogue of 2.5 million stars was published in 2000.

In the Book of Jeremiah there is a text of cosmic dimensions where God of Israel is thinking aloud something truly scary. He says - through prophet Jeremiah - that under certain conditions God may completely and finally abandon His chosen people Israel and they will never more be His nation.

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD,
I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name:

If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. 

Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD.
Jeremiah 31:33-37 KJ

The prophecy contains what must certainly looked like an impossible condition for the ancients assuring the people of Israel that they can break even this covenant - the writing of the law in their hearts - God will never abandon them.

Unfortunately, today heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out.

This makes this word of God of Israel through prophet Jeremiah both relevant and rather scary. Even God's patience has limits - measured in parsec. The Hippocrates and Gaia projects are currently on way to use space-based telescopes to measure as accurately as possible the heaven above.


Measuring the heaven above
image wikimedia
The parsec is equal to the length of the adjacent side of an imaginary right triangle in space. The two dimensions on which this triangle is based are the angle (which is defined as 1 arcsecond), and the opposite side (which is defined as 1 astronomical unit, which is the distance from the Earth to the Sun). Using these two measurements, along with the rules of trigonometry, the length of the adjacent side (the parsec) can be found.

One of the oldest methods for astronomers to calculate the distance to a star was to record the difference in angle between two measurements of the position of the star in the sky.

The first measurement was taken from the Earth on one side of the Sun, and the second was taken half a year later when the Earth was on the opposite side of the Sun. The distance between the two positions of the Earth for the measurements was known to be twice the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The difference in angle between the two measurements was known to be twice the parallax angle, which is formed by lines from the Sun and Earth to the star at the vertex. Then the distance to the star could be calculated using trigonometry.

The first successful direct measurements of an object at interstellar distances were undertaken by German astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel in 1838, who used this approach to calculate the distance of 61 Cygni.

The parallax method is the fundamental calibration step for distance determination in astrophysics; however, the accuracy of ground-based telescope measurements of parallax angle is limited to about 0.01 arcseconds, and thus to stars no more than 100 pc distant. This is because the Earth’s atmosphere limits the sharpness of a star's image.

Space-based telescopes are not limited by this effect and can accurately measure distances to objects beyond the limit of ground-based observations.

Between 1989 and 1993, the Hipparcos satellite, launched by the European Space Agency (ESA), measured parallaxes for about 100,000 stars with an astrometric precision of about 0.97 milliarcseconds, and obtained accurate measurements for stellar distances of stars up to 1,000 pc away.

NASA's FAME satellite was to have been launched in 2004, to measure parallaxes for about 40 million stars with sufficient precision to measure stellar distances of up to 2,000 pc. However, the mission's funding was withdrawn by NASA in January 2002.

ESA's Gaia satellite, due to be launched in late 2012, is intended to measure one billion stellar distances to within 20 microarcseconds, producing errors of 10% in measurements as far as the Galactic Center, about 8,000 pc away in the constellation of Sagittarius.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Christian Philo-Semitism

Haredi Jews in Jerusalem

The words anti-Semite and its opposite philo-Semite are mostly used in reference to attitudes towards the Jews. This is not entirely accurate, however. For from a linguistic point of view Jews are not the only Semites; for example, Amharic is a Semitic language. Nor are Jews the only Semites in Biblical sense for besides Abram many other nations are derived from Noah's son Shem who with Ham and Japhet and their wives survived the Great Deluge in the ark (Genesis 10).

Unfortunately, there are anti-Semitic Arabs (against Jews) even Arabs themselves are Semites speaking a language very closely related to Hebrew. Even more unfortunately, there are gentile anti-Semites (against all Semites), such as white Christian Americans or some good citizens in Germany, France, Great Britain and elsewhere in the world who have racist grudges against all Semites in general.

But the two terms are so deeply rooted into languages associating them with Jews that anti-Semitism is synonymous to anti-Jewish.

There is a good but short article on the subject in wikipedia

Philo-Semitism or Judeophilia is an interest in, respect for, and appreciation of the Jewish people, their historical significance and the positive impacts of Judaism in the history of the western world, in particular, generally on the part of a gentile. Within the Jewish community it also includes the significance of Jewish culture and the love of everything Jewish.

The concept is not new, and has been avowed by thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, who described himself as a "anti-anti-Semite", but it has perhaps recently become a growing phenomenon. It is characterized (among other things) by an interest in Jewish culture and history, as well as increasing university enrollment by non-Jews in courses relating to Judaism (including Judaism, Hebrew and Jewish languages). A philosemite or Judeophile is a gentile who substantially subscribes to, or practices, any of the above. Philo-Semitism is not a unique phenomenon, and it is part of the larger phenomenon of Allophilia, admiration of foreign cultures (like anglophilia, francophilia, etc.).

Daniel Goldhagen, Harvard scholar and author of the controversial Hitler's Willing Executioners, argues that philosemites are often closet anti-Semites. His detractor Norman Finkelstein agrees. The thesis is that Jew haters feel a need to talk about Jews, and with anti-Semitism no longer being socially acceptable they must instead make exaggerated positive statements. Others reject philo-Semitism, as they feel it (like its apparent opposite anti-Semitism) implicitly gives a special status to Jews. This contradicts the traditional goal of Zionism to make Jewry "a nation among nations."
wikipedia (structure rearranged by me)

Christian Philo-Semitism
Love of Jewish people is rampant among many US Christian groups and less so among some other denominations and sects. Love and respect of modern Israel is not limited to religious people, either. The issue is today, of course, politically highly significant and this is known by those seeking leadership among the Republicans as well as Israeli leaders visiting the country. In Canada, Australia and New Zealand the political significance of Christian philo-Semitism is also noted.

European and Russian history with the Jewish people is exceptionally dark and there is currently anti-Semitic streams including both the Jews and the Muslims and - as the Toulouse murders show - between Semitic people themselves.

There are many deep motives for the Christians to love the Jewish people. Rabbis have some problem with the role Jews are giving in eschatology by some active friends of Israel. By building the Third Temple and otherwise helping things forward with Israel these Christians are preparing for the day Jesus Christ returns to Earth and destroys Devil and all Jews are converted to Him.

Such love of the Jewish people as actors in the Divine play that the Bible talks about is not really love. It may contain quite strong abhorrence of anything genuinely Jewish and blatant ignorance about Judaism in general.

Christ killers!
Anti-Semitism is essentially irrational and surrounds like a dark cloud Jews. The more Jews and the more prominent they are, the denser the cloud.

The shout during the progroms in Tsarist Russia is a good example of this irrational character of anti-Semitism  "Christ killers!"

For philo-Semites know from the Bible that salvation is from the Jews and that the Chosen People rejected their King according to the strange and deep plan of their God.

By letting the Romans execute Jesus of Nazareth the Jews became an integral part of the rise of Christianity. In other words, God used His people to do a favour to the Nations. But He has done it in such an awesome and amazing way that it has extracted quite a fearsome price on His own people ... to put it mildly.

Messiah loves the nations
It is not our love of Jesus that is important in philo-Semitism as it can also lead to unwanted phenomena.

It is the love Jesus Christ shows towards gentiles that is at the heart of genuine unselfish philo-Semitism.

When God's children realise how much God is giving to all the nations of the world through His people and the King of Israel this emerging understanding builds true and unselfish love both towards Jesus and the often so difficult and stubborn people of God.

Saint Paul to the Romans
As a former Pharisee, student of a famed Jewish rabbi and ardent persecutor of the Nazarenes Saint Paul was a true philo-Semite despite being so hated also today by his own people.

Nobody has put it better than he in Letter to the Romans

I say then: Have they stumbled that they should fall?

God forbid! But rather, through their fall salvation has come unto the Gentiles to provoke them to jealousy.

Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fullness?

For I speak to you Gentiles. 

Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my office, that by any means I may provoke to emulation those who are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
Romans 11:11-15 KJ21

Maybe you say "This is exactly what the American Christians are saying to Jews - that at the end of the days they will accept Jesus as the Messiah".

I say "Yes".

Maybe you say "Is this message from Paul then not hidden anti-Semitism?"

I say "No".

But life from the dead

Monday, March 19, 2012

Early Zionist concerns over a Jewish State

A History of Zionism, London 
Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1972 

"Walter Zeev Laqueur (born 26 May 1921) Walter Zeev Laqueur (born 26 May 1921) is an American historian and political commentator. He was born in Breslau, Germany (modern Wrocław, Poland), to a Jewish family. In 1938, Laqueur left Germany for the British Mandate of Palestine. His parents, who were unable to leave, became victims of the Holocaust. He lived in Israel 1938–53 and since then in the UK and US." (wikipedia)

I first read this very detailed work on the political Zionist movement in the Seventies. With almost thousand pages it is packed with information about people, their ideas and how their dream became reality in the birth of the Jewish State on 5 Iyar 1948. The book is quite readable and clearly a love affair to the author. It is a fundamental contribution to the research of the Zionist movement.

I remember from that reading long ago especially two critical views that were expressed on the suggestion by Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) how to solve the problem of prevalent anti-Semitism. After the Dreyfus affair 1894 Herzl was convinced that Jews cannot rely on the government in the country of their residence to defend them and that the best solution is to establish a state where they can defend themselves.

There was - and partly still is - general resistance against the idea of a secular state. Some religious Jews said that the Messiah will rebuild fallen House of David when He comes. It is not right for these Communists and Socialists of the early Yishuv to take such a holy and religious project in their own secular hands.

The concerns expressed by the people quoted by Walter Laqueur were more specific than this generic opposition from religious background. I think both notes are quite relevant also today after the Jewish State is already fait accompli.

(Unfortunately, I do not remember who said these things and where in the thick book the references are. Actually, who said so is here not as important as what was said.)

A rabbi wrote about Jews and state that since the Jewish people have not had a state of their own in the Diaspora they have also been spared from the sins of nations that do have a state.

Someone wrote that, contrary to what Herzl hoped, a Jewish State will not eliminate anti-Semitism. Instead, such an entity will simply just raise anti-Semitism to new heights on national and international level.