Monthly Archives: September 2019

The Jews Aren’t to Blame for Jesus’ Death, a Bible Scholar Asserts

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If Prof. Israel Knohl is right, history books will require rewriting and Church sermons around the world will have to be rethought

In a small Jerusalem study bursting with books, an affable professor, cap on his head and white beard covering much of his face, has found the formula to end a centuries-old controversy. If he’s right, history books will require rewriting and sermons in churches around the world will have to be rethought. “It will have far-reaching implications for relations between Jews and Christians,” Israel Knohl tells me when we meet in his office at the Shalom Hartman Institute, in Jerusalem’s German Colony neighborhood.

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Bible scholar Knohl, 67, specializes in finding unconventional explanations for fateful issues and has no compunctions about angering his colleagues along the way. Earlier studies by the religiously observant holder of the Yehezkel Kaufmann Chair in Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have sparked furious debate, transcending the confines of academia. This time, the subject is more highly charged than ever: the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

In contrast to some of his colleagues – certainly in the such departments as Bible studies – Prof. Knohl has the ability to present his arguments clearly and concisely, in a way that every person can understand immediately, without unnecessary hairsplitting. That’s true of his new book, too.

In “The Messiah Controversy: Who Are the Jews Waiting For?” (Hebrew), he sheds new light on the trial of Jesus, who was sentenced to death by a Jewish court and executed by the Romans in 30 C.E. After billions of Christians were taught over many centuries that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, Knohl sets out to reexamine this convention.

“The notion that Jesus was put to death by ‘the Jewish people’ is fundamentally wrong. The great majority of the Jewish people did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, but espoused a messianic outlook that was basically similar to his,” he says, adding that today, “after centuries of enmity between Christendom and the Jewish people, which was wrongfully accused of bearing the guilt for Jesus’ crucifixion, surely the time has come to reexamine the events in their historical, religious and social context.”

What can be gleaned from such a reconsideration of events? To understand Knohl’s thesis we need to go back in time and reacquaint ourselves with the dramatic, multifaceted and fascinating disputes in the Hebrew Bible concerning the issue of the Messiah. A perusal of the Bible’s various books reveals two main trends. On the one hand, the Torah presents an anti-messianic stance, according to which the gulf between the divine and the human cannot be bridged. This approach rules out the possibility that a flesh-and-blood king will achieve a “quasi-divine” status, and supports a clear separation between the two realms. Accordingly, God cannot possibly have begotten a son, and eternal life cannot be attributed to a king or a messiah.

On the other hand, some of the Prophetic books and some of the individual Psalms do express a messianic approach, and attribute divine qualities to the king (whoever he may be) and portray him as the “son of God” – as sitting next to God in heaven and as possessing “divine” names.

Knohl: “The messianic idea, the belief in the existence of a king who is a lofty and exalted being with quasi-divine traits, occupies a very respectable place already in the Bible.”

Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, he maintains, constitute a “dramatic and decisive moment” in the history of the Jewish people and of Western culture as a whole. It is the moment at which the two approaches – the anti-messianic and the messianic – meet in an unavoidable collision, whose impact is still felt today.

Jesus was apparently born and raised in Nazareth. His name (Yeshua or Yeshu, in Hebrew) signified the anticipation of yeshua, salvation or redemption. As a young man, he was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, who similarly immersed thousands of people who flocked to him in order to confess their sins, repent and be purified. The New Testament relates that during his baptism, Jesus heard a voice saying, “Thou art my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased,” and the holy spirit descended on him like a dove.

“The Baptism of Christ,” Jose Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, 1895.

Subsequently, in a Nazareth synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus recites verses from the Book of Isaiah that begin, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me,” and tells the worshippers, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21). According to Knohl, in his deeds, Jesus “continued the messianic biblical tradition” and supported his words with references from the Hebrew Bible about the image of the Messiah.

Afterward, in Jerusalem on Passover, Jesus enters the Temple courtyard, chases away the buyers and sellers and the peddlers of doves (which were used for sacrifices), and overturns the tables of the money changers. This is an affront to ritual, which causes a tumult in the Temple and infuriates the priests.

Why was he not arrested immediately after this act?

Knohl: “Many among the Jewish people hoped he would prove himself to be the Messiah, who would redeem the people and restore its freedom. He enjoyed great public sympathy. The people were fond of him, cheered him on, supported and protected him.”

Thus Jesus was able to return to the Temple courtyard on a later occasion and to speak publicly. His principal argument was extreme: The Messiah, whose advent the people awaited, is not a descendant of David, as everyone believed until then. As such, Jesus solved the problem of his own lineage, as one who was not descended from the House of David and was a pretender to the messianic crown. In addition, he presented a new model of the Messiah: Whereas the disciples who followed him clung to the prevailing belief in a triumphant warrior Messiah and expected him to deliver the people from Roman rule, Jesus saw himself as a suffering, nonviolent, poor and weak Messiah.

This position would seem to be at odds with the general approach found in the Hebrew Bible, according to which God is above suffering, which is solely a human attribute. According to that description, it follows that if the Messiah is a quasi-divine figure, it wasn’t possible for him to suffer, as Jesus claimed. However, Knohl looked for and found evidence of divine suffering in other sources, and explains that, “The portrait of the divinity suffering with his people appeared in Jewish tradition before the birth of Christianity.”

In support of this thesis, the scholar cites Isaiah 63:9: “In all their afflictions he was afflicted.” The Hebrew text emends the word lo [spelled lamed aleph, meaning “not”] to lo [lamed vav, meaning “to him”], which is very significant in this context. According to the emended version – whose date is unknown – God is regretful, and shares in Israel’s suffering. For the first time, the image of a suffering God enters the Bible, a concept previously foreign to the biblical way of thought.

“Once the idea that God himself suffers and shares in the sorrow of his people was accepted, it became possible to attribute suffering to a messiah possessing divine status too,” Knohl observes.

‘Quasi-divine’ figure

After being arrested, Jesus is placed on trial. His judges were members of the priestly Sadducee sect, which controlled the courts at the time. When Jesus stood before them, he represented, in his deeds and words, the position of the Prophets and the psalmist, who awaited the arrival of a “quasi-divine” messiah. According to Knohl, this was the image shared by the majority of Jewish people during this period. However, it was Jesus’ misfortune that his judges, who condemned him to death, ruled out the possibility of the advent of a Messiah of this kind. The Sadducees were anti-messianic and objected in principle to the messianic idea. From their point of view, the notion that the Messiah was the son of God, as Jesus presented it, constituted an abomination of God’s name, punishable by death.

In other words, Jesus’ trial was actually an intra-Jewish matter?

“Yes. Jesus’ trial is not a moment of collision between the Jewish message and the Christian message. It is a conflict between two clearly intra-Jewish concepts.”

Jesus’ judges, Knohl emphasizes, did not faithfully represent the feelings of the people. “According to all the sources, the Sadducees, who sentenced him to death, represented only a minority of the Jewish people.” The majority of Jews in Jesus’ time actually supported the Pharisees, who agreed with Jesus that the Messiah would bear a “quasi-divine” status, he notes.

Like Jesus and his disciples, most of the people believed in the resurrection of the dead and the advent of a messiah bearing divine qualities. “It’s reasonable to assume that if Jesus had been judged by Pharisees, he would have been acquitted,” Knohl says. “It was not the Jewish people who tried him, but the leadership of a minority group.”

After he was sentenced to death, Jesus was handed over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who ordered his crucifixion. The execution was carried out by Roman soldiers. The Romans, for their part, saw Jesus as yet another in a series of messianic Jews who constituted a threat to their rule.

Orthodox Christians walking on the Via Dolorosa, in Jerusalem’s Old City. Olivier Fitoussi

About 30 years earlier, in 4 B.C.E., following the death of King Herod, an extensive rebellion against the Romans had broken out in the same place – the Temple courtyard – and at the same time of year: during Passover. “From their perspective, Jesus was the successor to the messianic leaders of that revolt,” Knohl says, which is the reason the Romans placed a sign reading “King of the Jews” atop the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Forty years after the Crucifixion, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and burned down the Temple. Many of the Sadduccees perished. Thus it was, in the year 70 C.E. – along with the destruction of the Second Temple – that the Sadducees disappeared from the historical stage. The leadership of the Jewish people fell into the hands of the heirs of the Pharisees, the Mishnaic sages.

Knohl: “It is safe to assume that these sages, and notably Rabbi Akiva, would not have sentenced Jesus to death for his messianic views, which were not so far from their own approach.” Yet, the tragic circumstances of history had Jesus living during the period in which the Sadducees controlled the Temple and became his judges.

“It would be a grievous error to cast the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jewish people collectively,” Knohl concludes. Furthermore, Rabbinic Judaism, which developed under the leadership of the sages after the Temple’s destruction, also accepted the belief in the resurrection of the dead and the advent of a superhuman messiah. In this sense, he says, “basic agreement exists between the messianic concepts of Jesus and the historic Jewish concept.”

This thesis has multiple implications that go beyond academic, theological and philosophical discourse. The hatred of the Jewish people harbored by Christian peoples is based primarily on belief in the Jews’ responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus.

“That is true, and we cannot ignore it. There will be no healing until this wound is opened. I suggest opening it, not covering it up. To declare courageously: Yes, there was a trial. But those who judged Jesus were a minority group, who disappeared from the Jewish map. You can’t just take what they did and use it to accuse the entire Jewish people. That is a terrible distortion.”

What happened that suddenly led you to this conclusion? Where have you been until now?

“The [assumption underlying] your question is the opposite of scientific. The role of science is to question the conventions and find new things. The question of why no one said this earlier destroys the foundation and the role of science: to think, to call into question, to turn over the stones and find new things.”

Prof. Aviad Kleinberg, director of the School of Historical Studies at Tel Aviv University, and an expert in the history of Christianity and Christian theology, takes issue with Knohl. “Prof. Knohl wants to exonerate the Jewish people of guilt in Jesus’ death. But Knohl arrived on the scene 54 years late,” Kleinberg says.

He is referring to the Vatican Council’s 1965 declaration, “Nostra Aetate,” which states, in part, “True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.”

According to Kleinberg, since that historic statement, “The Catholic Church has repeatedly dissociated itself from any accusation of the Jewish people for Jesus’ death. The Church has condemned anti-Semitism and expressed contrition for its part in the persecution of the Jews in the past.” Similarly, the hope voiced by Knohl that the figure of Jesus would be reexamined in its Jewish context, and that the resemblance between his views and those of the Pharisees would be recognized, has already been realized, Kleinberg maintains. “The new trend in research – including Catholic research – is to present Jesus as a Jew in every respect, who was not out to found a new religion and certainly did not wish to turn his back on his Jewish brethren,” he says.

Knohl, for his part, maintains that the Vatican Council’s declaration did not go into the details of Jesus’ trial or the internal disputes in Judaism on this question, as he does in his new book. He adds that he is familiar with the other studies which are trying “to return Jesus to Judaism,” but they devote little space to Jesus’ messianic side, and treat his claim to be the son of God metaphorically, he says. He, in contrast, emphasizes Jesus’ messianic conception in his research.

An angel and a mute rebbe

Israel Knohl was born in Jaffa in 1952. His parents, Dov and Shoshana, who immigrated to Palestine from Galician Poland in the 1930s, were among the founders of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, near Bethlehem. His father was one of the few who survived when the kibbutz was conquered by the Jordanians in the War of Independence, in 1948. The family moved to Jerusalem when Knohl was 8, and he has lived in the city ever since.

After doing army service in a combat unit, he studied Talmud at the Hebrew University but afterward switched to the Bible department, where he wrote his doctoral thesis and found his academic home. He retires this month. In the 1980s, he was among the founders of the Shalom Hartman Institute, a center of pluralistic Jewish education and thought, where he will continue to conduct research and teaches.

The Via Dolorosa, in Jerusalem’s Old City, 1950. Willem van de Poll

“I like to think out of the box,” he says. At the same time, he does not hesitate to retract his views if new details arise that cause him to question them. In 2007 and 2008, for example, he put forward a new and surprising interpretation for the inscription, called “Gabriel’s Revelation” (Hazon Gabriel), on a stone tablet from the Second Temple period. Experts were puzzled by the meaning of the inscription, which had been discovered in Jordan a few years earlier. Knohl maintained that the text depicts the angel Gabriel as resurrecting a messianic leader from the dead after three days. From this he inferred that the belief that the Messiah died and came back to life after three days – a central tenet of the Christian faith, and one that obviously differentiates it from Judaism – existed in Judaism even before the birth of Jesus.

“The Gabriel Revelation thus confirms my thesis that the belief in a slain and resurrected messiah existed prior to the messianic activity of Jesus,” Knohl wrote in Haaretz in 2007. He told The New York Times in 2008, “Resurrection after three days becomes a motif developed before Jesus, which runs contrary to nearly all scholarship. What happens in the New Testament was adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story.” He added, “His mission is that he has to be put to death by the Romans to suffer so his blood will be the sign for redemption to come. This is the sign of the son of Joseph. This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning.”

Against this background, Jesus should be seen as a national leader of the Jewish people, Knohl concluded at the time. If a Jewish tradition already existed, whereby a Messiah who suffers, dies and rises to life – we can understand that, “Jesus wanted to be captured by the Romans and killed by them, because he believes that in this way he will bring redemption to Israel,” Knohl said in a 2009 interview. “And when I speak about redemption, I speak about national redemption… [Jesus] wanted to be the king of the Jews, because he believed that after his blood will be shed, God will come from heaven, kill the enemies – the Romans – and redeem Israel.” Jesus, then, was “a very devoted and national Jew who wanted to sacrifice his life in order to redeem his people.” And, as he told The Times, “To shed blood is not for the sins of people but to bring redemption to Israel.”

It was in the wake of a different reading of one of the lines in the Gabriel Revelation inscription, as suggested by an American scholar, and in light of technical difficulties in deciphering the text, that Knohl announced in a 2008 article that he was revoking his earlier interpretation.

In his bestselling Hebrew-language book entitled “Where Are We From? The Genetic Code of the Bible,” published that same year, Knohl also offered a new reading of ancient texts. In the book he explains that the Jewish people sprang from different groups that brought with them diverse beliefs and rituals – a view that contradicts what is taught to most of those who pass through Israel’s school system. The book was widely discussed, and not only in academic circles. Prof. Yaacov Shavit, former head of the Jewish history department at Tel Aviv University, savaged the work in an article in Haaretz, writing that it rests on “flimsy foundations and imaginary connections,” and is characterized by “an abundance of fertile imagination, conjectures like castles in the air and leftovers of groundless theories.”

In a rebuttal published in the newspaper, Knohl asserted that Shavit’s words were not the stuff of a critical review, but rather “a crass attempt to shut people up by hurling garbage and nonsense.” He excoriated Shavit as “a historian of the modern era who is unfamiliar with the study of the Bible and its era,” adding, “A person needs a healthy dose of arrogance, effrontery and vulgarity to review a book that is not from his particular field of study and to hurl unbridled accusations at its author without grounding and proving even one of the accusations. As an outsider to the field, he is unable to address the substance but only to scream his head off. As the saying goes, ‘empty vessels make the greatest noise.’”

Knohl’s 2018 book “How the Bible Was Born” (Hebrew) also became a local best seller. In it the author conducts an industrious search for the historical core that underlies biblical accounts of the Jewish people’s origins. He concludes that the Bible is not a history book, but contains “seeds” of historical memory.

In that book he positions himself between two conflicting approaches. The first, traditional one believes fully and blindly in everything the Torah relates: from the emergence of the Jewish people, to the patriarchs, Joseph and the bondage in Egypt, and down to Moses and Joshua and the entry into the Land of Israel. It’s all true, in this telling, even if contemporary archaeology and other sources don’t confirm it.

The second approach is that of Bible scholars who maintain that all the stories in the Torah, from Genesis onward, are a total invention that doesn’t necessarily reflect any historical truth. Thus, for example, according to this approach, the Exodus from Egypt never happened.

For his part, Knohl thinks the stories of the Jewish people’s origins do not constitute historical truths but a literary compilation of myths, traditions and tales that had some sort of anchor in history and over hundreds of years were handed down orally. “Unlike the view of many scholars, my position is that the Torah story is not without historical value and historical context,” he writes. “The Torah is not out to teach us history, and therefore should not be judged like a history book. The important question is not whether the story happened or not, but what the story’s spiritual, religious meaning is. The Torah story provides us with an ‘Israelite mythology of the nation’s beginnings.’”

In his newest book, Knohl offers a survey of the disputes over the messianic idea and its roots, beginning with the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, and including the written texts discovered at Qumran, the views of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and even discussions of Maimonides and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

“Although the great majority of the Jewish people did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, they espoused a messianic concept that was fundamentally similar to Jesus’ messianic concept,” he tells me, placing Jesus back at center stage. “The messianic expectation was an operative, driving force throughout the 2,000 years of exile.”

It is in this connection that Knohl refers to Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who is a contemporary messianic figure. In 1992, almost nearly 90 years old, he suffered a stroke. Although he lost his power of speech permanently, when he recovered, he resumed his public appearances. His followers danced before him, singing, “Long live our master, our teacher and our rabbi, the Messiah forever and ever.”

Knohl: “The mute rabbi frequently encouraged the singing with gestures of his head and hand. The messianic fervor among his followers grew more intense.” Thus, the professor reasons, the Rebbe’s condition and suffering were interpreted in a messianic context. “His followers read his agonies as a sign of his messiah-hood.” Thus another link was added to the chain of images of the suffering Messiah.

Still, Messiah-hood is not solely a religious matter, the scholar asserts.

“Zionism, which was a secular movement, was nevertheless founded on the basis of the messianic expectation, which had existed among the Jewish people for thousands of years,” Knohl notes. “It cannot be understood without the background of the messianic expectation.”

So, if we like, we can add another suffering Messiah to the chain: Theodor Herzl.

By Ofer Aderet

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Posted by on September 28, 2019 in Uncategorized


Why Do Jews Drift Away From Judaism?

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by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

When I was a student at university in the late 1960s — the era of student protests, psychedelic drugs, and the Beatles meditating with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — a story went around. An American Jewish woman in her sixties traveled to northern India to see a celebrated guru. There were huge crowds waiting to see the holy man, but she pushed through, saying that she needed to see him urgently. Eventually, after weaving through the swaying crowds, she entered the tent and stood in the presence of the master himself. What she said that day has entered the realm of legend. She said, “Marvin, listen to your mother. Enough already. Come home.”

Starting in the ’60s, Jews made their way into many religions and cultures with one notable exception: their own. Yet Judaism has historically had its mystics and meditators, its poets and philosophers, its holy men and women, its visionaries and prophets. It has often seemed as if the longing we have for spiritual enlightenment is in direct proportion to its distance, its foreignness, its unfamiliarity. We prefer the far to the near.

Moses already foresaw this possibility:

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deut. 30:11–14)

Moses sensed prophetically that in the future Jews would say that to find inspiration we have to ascend to heaven or cross the sea. It is anywhere but here. So it was for much of Israel’s history during the First and Second Temple periods. First came the era in which the people were tempted by the gods of the people around them: the Canaanite Baal, the Moabite Chemosh, or Marduk and Astarte in Babylon. Later, in Second Temple times, they were attracted to Hellenism in its Greek or Roman forms. It is a strange phenomenon, best expressed in the memorable line of Groucho Marx: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

Jews have long had a tendency to fall in love with people who do not love them and pursue almost any spiritual path so long as it is not their own. But it is very debilitating.

When great minds leave Judaism, Judaism loses great minds. When those in search of spirituality go elsewhere, Jewish spirituality suffers. And this tends to happen in precisely the paradoxical way that Moses describes several times in Deuteronomy. It occurs in ages of affluence, not poverty; in eras of freedom, not slavery. When we seem to have little to thank God for, we thank God. When we have much to be grateful for, we forget.

The eras in which Jews worshiped idols or became Hellenized were Temple times when Jews lived in their land, enjoying either sovereignty or autonomy. The age in which, in Europe, they abandoned Judaism was the period of Emancipation, from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries, when for the first time they enjoyed civil rights.

The surrounding culture in most of these cases was hostile to Jews and Judaism. Yet Jews often preferred to adopt the culture that rejected them rather than embrace the one that was theirs by birth and inheritance, where they had the chance of feeling at home. The results were often tragic.

Becoming Baal worshipers did not lead to Israelites being welcomed by the Canaanites. Becoming Hellenized did not endear Jews to either the Greeks or the Romans. Abandoning Judaism in the 19th century did not end antisemitism; it inflamed it. Hence the power of Moses’ insistence: to find truth, beauty, and spirituality, you do not have to go elsewhere. “The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”

The result was that Jews enriched other cultures more than their own. Part of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is a Catholic mass. Irving Berlin, son of a chazzan, wrote “White Christmas.” Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of one of the first “enlightened” Jews, Moses Mendelssohn, composed church music and rehabilitated Bach’s long-neglected St Matthew Passion. Simone Weil, one of the deepest Christian thinkers of the 20th century — described by Albert Camus as “the only great spirit of our times” — was born to Jewish parents. So was Edith Stein, celebrated by the Catholic Church as a saint and martyr, but murdered in Auschwitz because to the Nazis she was a Jew. And so on.

Was it the failure of Europe to accept the Jewishness of Jews and Judaism? Was it Judaism’s failure to confront the challenge? The phenomenon is so complex it defies any simple explanation. But in the process, we lost great art, great intellect, and great spirits and minds.

To some extent the situation has changed both in Israel and in the Diaspora. There has been much new Jewish music and a revival of Jewish mysticism. There have been important Jewish writers and thinkers. But we still spiritually underachieve. The deepest roots of spirituality come from within: from within a culture, a tradition, a sensibility. They come from the syntax and semantics of the native language of the soul: “The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”

The beauty of Jewish spirituality is precisely that in Judaism God is close. You do not need to climb a mountain or enter an ashram to find the Divine Presence. It is there around the table at a Shabbat meal, in the light of the candles and the simple holiness of the Kiddush wine and the challot, in the praise of the Eishet Chayil and the blessing of children, in the peace of mind that comes when you leave the world to look after itself for a day while you celebrate the good things that come not from working but resting, not from buying but enjoying — the gifts you have had all along but did not have time to appreciate.

In Judaism, God is close. He is there in the poetry of the psalms, the greatest literature of the soul ever written. He is there listening in to our debates as we study a page of the Talmud or offer new interpretations of ancient texts. He is there in the joy of the festivals, the tears of Tisha B’Av, the echoes of the shofar of Rosh Hashanah, and the contrition of Yom Kippur. He is there in the very air of the land of Israel and the stones of Jerusalem, where the oldest of the old and the newest of the new mingle together like close friends.

God is near. That is the overwhelming feeling I get from a lifetime of engaging with the faith of our ancestors. Judaism needed no cathedrals, no monasteries, no abstruse theologies, no metaphysical ingenuities — beautiful though all these are — because for us God is the God of everyone and everywhere, who has time for each of us, and who meets us where we are, if we are willing to open our soul to Him.

I am a Rabbi. For many years I was a Chief Rabbi. But in the end I think it was we, the Rabbis, who did not do enough to help people open their doors, their minds, and their feelings to the Presence-beyond-the-universe-who-created-us-in-love that our ancestors knew so well and loved so much. We were afraid — of the intellectual challenges of an aggressively secular culture, of the social challenges of being in yet not entirely of the world, of the emotional challenge of finding Jews or Judaism or the State of Israel criticized and condemned. So we retreated behind a high wall, thinking that made us safe. High walls never make you safe; they only make you fearful. What makes you safe is confronting the challenges without fear and inspiring others to do likewise.

What Moses meant in those extraordinary words, “It is not in heaven … nor is it beyond the sea,” was: Kinderlach, your parents trembled when they heard the voice of God at Sinai. They were overwhelmed. They said: If we hear any more we will die. So God found ways in which you could meet Him without being overwhelmed. Yes, He is creator, sovereign, supreme power, first cause, mover of the planets and the stars. But He is also parent, partner, lover, friend. He is Shechinah, from shachen, meaning, the neighbor next door.

So thank Him every morning for the gift of life. Say the Shema twice daily for the gift of love. Join your voice to others in prayer so that His spirit may flow through you, giving you the strength and courage to change the world.

When you cannot see Him, it is because you are looking in the wrong direction. When He seems absent, He is there just behind you, but you have to turn to meet Him. Do not treat Him like a stranger. He loves you. He believes in you. He wants your success. To find Him you do not have to climb to heaven or cross the sea. His is the voice you hear in the silence of the soul. His is the light you see when you open your eyes to wonder. His is the hand you touch in the pit of despair. His is the breath that gives you life.

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Posted by on September 25, 2019 in Uncategorized


What Is the Most Important High Holidays Prayer?



Master of the Universe! We are entering that very special time when Noah opened the window of his ark (Genesis 8:6), a daring act of faith against the tragic reality of a collapsed world. “This is Yom Kippur,” our ancients taught us, “for the ark of Noah, she is Mother of Above, and the window of the ark is the Central Column through which the light of the Torah, the hidden light, is illuminated” (Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 39). Give us then the strength and the courage to fling open that window so that your light may shine more brilliantly, as when it shone through the window of Noah’s Ark when he dared to open it and envision Genesis in the face of Nemesis. Carry us across the chasm between what once was and what we hope can be. Grant us the wisdom and inspiration to do what we must here in the realm of the Created to empower the potency of the Divine Light so that it may shatter the impediments and illuminate the beauty of your Creation.

Rabbi Gershon Winkler
Walking Stick Foundation
Cedar Glen, CA


Humanistic Jews greet the High Holidays with optimism and purpose. For us, these are not days of dread and awe, but opportunities for renewal and rededication to bettering our own lives and the world around us. This year, we will have in our minds the death of Heather Heyer and the blatant display of racism, neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism in Charlottesville. We will be thinking of the lack of moral leadership coming from the White House, the stripping away of rights and voting access, and more.

To this end, on Rosh Hashanah we will say, “Where there are prejudice and hatred, let there be acceptance and love. Where there are tyranny and oppression, let there be freedom and justice. Where there are strife and discord, let there be harmony and peace.” And on Yom Kippur we will acknowledge that “we have acted wrongly by hardening our hearts, by shirking duty, by keeping the poor in the chains of poverty and turning a deaf ear to the cry of the oppressed, by failing to work for peace, by keeping silent in the face of injustice.”

But we will also take encouragement from each other and say, “May our hearts not despair of human good. May no trial, however severe, embitter our souls and destroy our trust. May we too find strength to meet adversity with quiet courage and unshaken will.”

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer
The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism
New York, NY


In many synagogues the last phrase before we start the Shacharit (morning) prayers on Shabbat is, “The King is enthroned on high in majesty.” On the High Holy Days, we also chant this phrase in the morning, but the music is quite grand—it is meant to stand out. The High Holy Days emphasize our need to crown God as king. We are reminding ourselves that not everything (and perhaps nothing) is in our power. As much as we think we can control what’s happening in our world, in our country, in our own lives, we must count on God. It doesn’t mean that we stop doing the hard work, but it does mean that we humble ourselves. The Unetaneh Tokef prayer, sung on Rosh Hashanah, also embraces God as Sovereign and takes it further. It tells us that God counts each of us as a shepherd counts his sheep. We all matter. Each one of us is seen, watched, judged and cared for. And there is a shepherd, there is a king, there is a Great Power, if we would only open our hearts.

Rabbi Elyssa Joy Austerklein
Beth El Congregation
Akron, Ohio


The mosticonic prayer is Unetaneh Tokef, which asks “who shall live and who shall die.” This piyut (pietistic poem) reaches every high note: the metaphorical book of remembrances, bearing our signature, signaling that we’re judged by our actions alone; the true and scary unknowns of the year ahead, such as “who’ll be humbled, and who uplifted”; and the clarity that though we’re not in control, three of our actions—repentance, prayer and righteousness—temper the severity of God’s (or fate’s) decree.

An especially insightful prayer is Hayom Harat Olam, said after the shofar is blown at the Rosh Hashanah Musaf (afternoon) service: “Today the world is conceived.” It’s a liturgical call to stay open to the pregnant possibilities in this world—to practice gratitude, transcend inertia and habits and see the possibilities around us. It insists that Creation itself matters, with our own existence utterly intertwined with the lives of all people and all species.

But the mostimportantprayer? Whatever moves you! What sends you out of shul, ready to make amends? Soothes the troubled soul? Punctures smugness to truly trouble us? Sticks in our heart and our kishkes, pushing us to be better people through next Rosh Hashanah? That’s the most important prayer.

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation
Bethesda, MD


Is the most important prayer the one that is most evocative of the holiday, such as Kol Nidre? Chanted on Yom Kippur evening, the Kol Nidre prayer asks God to absolve any oaths or vows we have made in the past year, effectively wiping the slate clean. Or is it the prayer most often repeated, such as Avinu Malkeinu? One of the oldest prayers in the High Holy Day prayer book, recited throughout the Ten Days of Repentance and during the morning and evening services, this prayer pleads to God for the year ahead. Or is the most important prayer the one most tied to our process of teshuvah (repentance)? As we recite the Vidui, the litany of confessions in the first person plural, on Yom Kippur, we stand together as a community of support, recognizing that while we may not have individually committed any one of these sins, we surely have done so collectively.

Any one of these prayers recited during this season could be considered the most important. But it doesn’t matter what I suggest. The better question is, “What is the most important prayer for you at this time and in this season?”

Rabbi Laura Novak Winer
Fresno, CA


I sense from the question that you are wondering whether there are particular High Holy Day prayers that bring light or meaning especially to these challenging political times. So many of us have little or no confidence in the president of the United States, and we worry that the very soul of this country is under siege.

The prayers that speak to these times and these issues are not unique to the High Holy Days but are recited each Shabbat morning. The prayer for our country, the prayer for Israel and the prayer for peace resonate more now than ever. Each of these prayers speaks to the important issues so many of us worry about. In addition, in the Conservative movement’s new siddur Lev Shalem, there is a beautiful prayer about the environment, which seems particularly meaningful now.

I think that the High Holy Day liturgy serves a different purpose. The High Holy Days are about individual reflection and introspection. As a result, the prayers that are especially important for one individual may not be especially relevant for another. While we come together as a community and recite much of the liturgy as one, the days are about our individual lives and personal relationships. The High Holy Days challenge us to ensure that our personal values are aligned with our behavior.

Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz
Temple Beth El
Springfield, MA


Sadly, most of the prayers we will say on the High Holy Days will be verbal exercises. They will have no effect on our heart. A friend once compared uttering these words to drinking distilled water, which goes through the system but leaves nothing behind.

The most important prayer, the prayer that brings a moment of ignition of the heart, is unpredictable in advance. From year to year, different prayers have touched me. A lot depends on your readiness to be inspired. One prayer has touched me more often than others. It is found at the end of the Neilah (closing) prayer of Yom Kippur in the traditional liturgy: “O Lord our God, out of love, You have given us this Yom Kippur to end it in forgiveness of all our sins in order that we cease all acts of exploitation or oppression and turn to You to fulfill your gracious laws with our whole heart.”

This passage reminds me that the amazing blessing of being forgiven for wrong behaviors is predicated on our desisting from ongoing acts that harm, exploit or oppress others. I always stop and review what acts I am doing that fit this description, and I promise myself to cease and desist. Some years, it works.

Rabbi Yitzhak Greenberg
Riverdale, NY


The single most important line of the prayers we say is in Neilah at the end of Yom Kippur. Near the end of the Amidah, we return once more to the Vidui, or confession, as we have done throughout the day, but this time it’s truncated. We say the one-paragraph alphabetical list of sins, the Ashamnu, but we leave out the long laundry list of failings that is usually included and replace it with one line, “L’maan nechdal me-oshek yadenu, which means, “so we may withdraw our hands from oshek.” The prayer book usually translates oshek as “oppression,” but rabbinically it can also be understood as “theft.” Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik says that after we spend the entire month of Elul repenting and ten days living on a spiritual high, after five repetitions of the Amidahand 25 hours of fasting, it all comes down to this one line: If we don’t recognize that life is not random, that we were given the gift of life with a set of expectations, we’re not just sinning, we are stealing life itself. When we fail in our commitment to God, our fellow man or ourselves, we essentially are misappropriating our very lives—not using them for the purpose for which they were given.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Loyola Law School
Los Angeles, CA


The most important prayer of Rosh Hashanah is: “May everything that was made know that you made it; may everything that was formed understand that you formed it, and may everyone with breath in his nostrils proclaim, ‘The Lord, G-d of Israel, is king.’”

Beseeching G-d for our needs is a big part of our daily prayers. Yet, on Rosh Hashanah, when the fate of our year hangs in the balance, our prayers are virtually silent on our own needs. Instead they focus on our allegiance to G-d. Why?

Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of mankind. On this day, Adam proclaimed G-d king of the universe and G-d accepted the title. Ever since, on this day, we too crown G-d. But though G-d asked nothing of Adam in return, He asks something of us. He will be our king, if we pledge our obedience. On Rosh Hashanah, we pledge our fidelity to G-d, and He, as our king, pledges to provide for our needs. We don’t need to pray for our needs on this day because G-d pledges to take care of them. Instead we pray for the greatest gift of all: The gift of a relationship with G-d.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Congregation Beth Tefilah
London, Ontario


Before blowing the shofar, the Sephardic custom is to chant the poem Oked VeHaneekad, by Rabbi Yehuda ben Shmuel ibn Abbas. It is a powerful and penetrating criticism of the Binding of Isaac, one that gives no answers and raises many questions. At the heart of the poem is a dialogue between Isaac and Abraham, in which the son tells his father to wrap the remnants of his ashes and take them home to Sarah. “Tell her,” he says, “this is Isaac’s fragrance.” Lest the reader think that Isaac glorifies the sacrifice, the author puts in his mouth these words “I feel for my mother! She will cry and mourn! How can I comfort her?” Isaac tells Abraham that whereas his own ordeal will end with his death on the altar, Abraham will have to live with the consequences. He asks his father if he has considered his actions, if he feels that his love of God is greater than his love for his wife and son and if he did right by not telling Sarah his true intentions. This call for balancing religious zeal with compassion, and for understanding that human emotions are part of God’s world, is one of the most important messages of the High Holidays.

Rabbi Haim Ovadia
Magen David Sephardic Congregation
Rockville, MD

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Posted by on September 24, 2019 in Uncategorized


This Is What You Need to Tell the Demons Inside You

By Elana Mizrahi

I know a woman, a woman so fragile and yet so strong. She spends nearly her entire day trying to stay afloat. She knows that she needs help. Deep down, there is a burning desire to live, not just to survive. And so, with each ounce of effort she can muster, she does it. She goes to therapy, she’s in treatment, and she comes to me for help as well.

I know with all herShe spends her days trying to stay afloat might that she tries to heal and to grow. It’s nonstop effort. I am so proud of her courage and will to invest in her life.

She came to me the other day, and I could sense that she felt low, really low. She has demons from the past that haunt her. As she describes it, like “a monster inside.” This monster tells her that she’s worthless, no good and tries to control her mind. It doesn’t allow her to eat, sleep or feel good inside.

It’s not that she was doing great (great is relative), but she was doing OK. Then something happened, what we call a “trigger.” The trigger became a festive meal for the monster that told her, “Don’t eat!” And now she can’t sleep. Which is a form not of living, but dying.

In the midst of our conversation, she murmured, “I am a failure. I will never get better.” I stopped her. “YOU are not. You had a setback. It’s normal. Yes, a setback is dangerous in your case, but you are aware of it. You reached out for help. Your actions show how much strength you have; you are so strong! It’s a new day. Today, we get up and move on.”

It could be that a person acts impulsively, impatiently, unhealthily, deceitfully, but they are not their act. It could be that a person has a disorder. But that’s only one part of them; it doesn’t define who they are. It describes what they have or feel. What challenges they might be dealing with and what strengths they were created with to overcome.

That means that even if someone stole, the moment they stop doing the act of stealing, they are not a thief. A person might have an addiction, but they certainly are not their addiction, and the moment they make a commitment to abstain and get help, if needed, they are on the way.

You are not a label, a letter or an addiction, but yes, you might have a tendency or a disorder. You might have a trait that says you need to be constantly working on or an addiction that needs constant vigilance and support. But you are a pure soul that is housed inside of a body with many, many traits, talents, and yes, some weaknesses.

Each morning, we say in our prayers, “G‑d the soul that You gave me is pure.” Each morning, we have to say this prayer anew to remind us that today is a new day, with new opportunities, opportunities to connect to our Creator. As long as a person lives, he or she has the chance to start anew.

Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, is right around the corner. We refer to this holy day as the Day of Judgement. Without a doubt, the month preceding this awesome holiday should be filled with self-reflection, introspection, self-judgment. You have to be aware of your mistakes, your weaknesses, your challenges in order to put the effort into working on them. We have to take responsibility for our thoughts, actions and behavior. But Rosh Hashanah is also the new year, a new beginning; it’s also referred to as the Day of Remembrance. We ask G‑d, “Please, remember our merits, the merits of our forefathers. Remember the sacrifices that they made.” We ask G‑d to remember, but so do we!

We have to rememberWe are inherently pure and good that we are inherently pure and good, and each day is a new day and a new opportunity. We have to remember that we are complex (in a good way!) and multifaceted. G‑d gave us the power to change negative behavior. We have to remember that a single act doesn’t define who we are and neither does a challenge; instead, we can use it to grow, and become stronger and better.

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Posted by on September 24, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Center of the Universe

by Menachem Feldman

Infants can be excused for assuming that they are the center of the universe. Everyone in the vicinity—mother, father, grandparents—seems to be doing nothing other than caring for the baby. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, adults respond to its calling.

As children begin to grow, developing from infant to child

Infants can be excused

to teenager to adult, they start to recognize that they are only one of seven billion people, that the entire human species—as well as the planet we inhabit—is but a speck in a solar system within a galaxy, which is completely insignificant compared to the vastness of the universe.

Yet, despite this knowledge, something inside of us protests. Something deep within the psyche of the individual insists that he or she is special and indispensable.

And that is a good thing.

Moses’ greatest fear as the Jewish people were about to enter Israel was that the Jew would no longer see himself as the center of the universe. He was afraid that once the Jews crossed the Jordan River, the individual would see himself as nothing more than one among millions; an individual citizen whose choices don’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things.

Moses understood that in order for a nation to survive, for it to maintain a high moral ground and live up to its calling as a light unto the nations, each individual must understand that the destiny of the nation is in his or her hands.1 The greatest threat to morality is if every individual believes that the purpose of creation, the mission of the Jewish people, and the fate of humanity is out of his or her control. The greatest assurance that people will make the correct choices in life is when each individual understands that G‑d looks to him or her as the center of the universe.

In the opening verses of this week’s Parshah, Moses creates a covenant with the people:

You are all standing this day before the L‑rd, your G‑d, the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp, both your woodcutters and your water drawers…2

Then, after speaking to them in the plural, Moses switches to the singular: order to establish you this day as His people, and that He will be your G‑d, as He spoke to you, and as He swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

The “you” in “in order to establish you this day as His people” is written in the singular. Moses is telling each and every Jew: You are not just one in a nation of millions. Don’t look to others to carry the Jewish heritage for you. You, personally and singularly, are G‑d’s nation, the center of His universe. He is looking to you to carry the torch.

1. See Alshich commentary on the beginning of Nitzavim.
2. Deuteronomy 29:9-10.

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Posted by on September 24, 2019 in Uncategorized


Tu Rab Ortodoxo Tiene Miedo que Descubras Esto

Diego Edelberg

Aclaración hecha por Diego Edelberg: el siguiente texto es una traducción de la siguiente publicación escrita por Yair Rosenberg. Todos los enlaces llevan a sitios en inglés pero los dejé por si alguno quiere expandir su lectura.

«Prácticamente todas las historias de la Torá son ahistóricas», declara un manifiesto publicado en el mes de julio en «Dada la información a la que tienen acceso los historiadores modernos», explica el ensayo, «es imposible considerar los relatos del éxodo masivo de Egipto, la experiencia en el desierto o la conquista coordinada, rápida y completa de toda la tierra de Canaán bajo Iehoshua como una crónica histórica». Según este ensayo, tanto lo acontecido en el Jardín del Edén, asi como el Diluvio de Noé nunca tuvieron lugar. Tambien considera que «Abraham y Sara son personajes folclóricos; de hecho, no son mis antepasados sanguíneos ​​ni los de nadie más».

Se podría esperar que tales sentimientos radicales presentes en este manifiesto hayan sido de un erudito académico, o tal vez un crítico de la religión fundamentalista. Pero el autor de este manifiesto es un rabino ortodoxo llamado Zev Farber. El ensayo, y gran parte del trabajo de, es un intento por parte de rabinos ortodoxos y profesores disidentes para conciliar los hallazgos de la erudición bíblica moderna con la creencia judía tradicional.

Este proyecto no es nuevo, pero ha perjudicado a los judíos estadounidenses de diferentes maneras. Dentro de las denominaciones liberales, mientras que algunos intelectuales y teólogos han lidiado con las preguntas planteadas por el campo de la crítica bíblica que considera la Torá como un trabajo compuesto de diferentes partes por el ser humano y producido a lo largo del tiempo (en lugar de simplemente revelado a Moisés por Dios en el Sinaí), los resultados de este saber rara vez se han filtrado a congregantes de las sinagogas ortodoxas y los estudiantes de seminarios, colegios y escuelas ortodoxas. Mientras tanto, dentro de la ortodoxia, los hallazgos de la academia a menudo han encontrado un rechazo absoluto.

A partir del escrito ell rabino David Steinberg, un ex rabino de la organización ultraortodoxa Aish HaTorah, y el profesor bíblico de Brandeis Marc Brettler, también judío ortodoxo, se propusieron desafiar este estado de cosas, provocando una importante controversia dentro de su propia comunidad.

El furor por un sitio web puede parecer un fenómeno claramente moderno. Pero, de hecho, esta disputa sobre la Biblia es solo la última encarnación de un debate muy antiguo que se remonta siglos en el pensamiento judío y llega al corazón de la autodefinición y creencia judía.

«El octavo principio de fe es que la Torá vino de Dios», segun escribió Maimónides hace más de 800 años en su exposición clásica de los 13 principios de la creencia judía. «Debemos creer que toda la Torá nos fue dada a través de Moisés, nuestro maestro, completa y directamente de Dios». En el siguiente principio, elaboró: «El noveno principio fundamental es la autenticidad de la Torá, es decir, que esta Torá fue transcrita precisamente de Dios y nadie más.»

Pocos pensadores alcanzan la estatura intelectual de Maimónides en la tradición judía. Sus principios de fe generalmente se consideran canónicos. Pero los comentaristas reconocieron durante mucho tiempo numerosas dificultades en el texto de la Torá y se separaron de Maimónides al intentar explicarlas. Por ejemplo, el Talmud mismo registra una disputa sobre si Moisés realmente escribió los versos finales de la Torá que describen su muerte, o si fue su sucesor Iehoshua quien lo hizo. Algunos comentaristas bíblicos están de acuerdo con el último enfoque. Abraham ibn Ezra , el distinguido exegeta bíblico del siglo XII, fue más allá y argumentó que varios versículos de la Torá más allá de los últimos tenían que ser adiciones posteriores a Moisés. Debido a que estos versículos parecían estar escritos desde el punto de vista de alguien que vivio mucho tiempo después de los eventos que describen, razonó ibn Ezra, debieron haber sido agregados por un profeta posterior.

Aún más radical fue el rabino Yehuda he-Hasid, el principal jasídico alemán del siglo XIII . Este afirmó que autores posteriores habían insertado pasajes enteros en el Pentateuco (los primeros 5 libros de la Tora). La sugerencia fue tan escandalosa que algunos declararon que esas partes de los escritos de He-Hasid eran falsificaciones heréticas. La controversia puso de relieve una tensión entre dos dinamicas exegéticas: el deseo de preservar la noción maimonidiana de revelación, y el impulso de explicar las anomalías textuales de la Torá.

Otros acertijos en el texto también desconcertaron a los comentaristas tradicionales. Por ejemplo, Génesis comienza con dos historias aparentemente contradictorias de la creación del mundo y luego parece ofrecer dos relatos entrelazados del diluvio de Noé. El libro de Deuteronomio vuelve a contar la historia de la estancia de los israelitas en el desierto, pero a menudo se aparta de la narración bíblica anterior. Conscientes de estos y otros problemas, los intérpretes antiguos y medievales trabajaron para resolverlos dentro del marco tradicional de la autoría mosaica unificada, con solo desviaciones ocasionales como las anteriores [Para entender la diferencia central entre los intérpretes antiguos, medievales y modernos recomiendo leer mi publicación: «Las 4 Premisas de la Interpretación Judía Tradicional«]

Pero en el mundo académico alemán del siglo XIX, estas antiguas preguntas obtuvieron algunas nuevas y sorprendentes respuestas. Partiendo del trabajo anterior de Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza y contemporáneos más recientes, los eruditos protestantes como Karl Heinrich Graf y Julius Wellhausen ofrecieron una reinvención radical de los orígenes del Pentateuco. En su relato, la razón por la que la Torá parecía contener inserciones retrospectivas, contradicciones internas y narraciones duplicadas de historias y leyes se debió al hecho que fue producto de múltiples autores a lo largo del tiempo. En lugar del registro de una sola revelación en el Sinaí, los cinco libros de Moisés, afirmaron, se escribieron mucho después de la vida de su homónimo, si es que tal individuo existió, y luego se tejieron en un todo a partir de documentos dispares.

La primera respuesta de los eruditos judíos a esta «alta crítica » fue un gran rechazo. «Creemos que toda la Biblia es verdadera, santa y de origen divino», escribió el rabino David Tzvi Hoffmann, un destacado académico ortodoxo y director del Seminario Rabínico de Berlín, en 1905. «No debemos presumir que nos erigimos en críticos del autor de un texto bíblico o dudamos de la verdad de sus declaraciones o cuestionamos la exactitud de su enseñanza”. Para respaldar su argumento, Hoffmann escribió una refutación de dos volúmenes de la hipótesis de Graf-Wellhausen basándose en su vasto aprendizaje secular y religioso, así como todo un comentario bíblico dedicado significativamente a demostrar la naturaleza unitaria de la Torá.

Mientras que algunos pensadores Reformistas como Abraham Geiger y Leopold Zunz aceptaron las conclusiones de la academia alemana, los principales precursores del judaísmo Conservador como Zechariah Frankel no lo hicieron. Así, Louis Ginzberg , el principal talmudista del Seminario Teológico Judío Conservador (JTS), escribió brillantemente sobre la crítica de Hoffmann a la erudición bíblica alemana. «Hoffmann estaba preparado para recibir y dar la bienvenida a la luz más completa del nuevo aprendizaje», relató Ginzberg en sus memorias de 1928, «pero se negó a ser arrastrado por las ruedas de aquellos que harían de la obra de Dios un libro en parte mito, en parte leyenda deshonesta, fabricaciones deliberadas, que contiene historia que no es historia, y un código de leyes hecho mil años después de la época de Moisés».

Lo más famoso es que Solomon Schechter, el padre fundador del judaísmo Conservador en Estados Unidos, pronunció un apasionado discurso de 1903 titulado «Crítica superior: antisemitismo superior». Su dicho no fue tan solo un juego de palabras. «La Biblia es nuestra única razón de ser, y es precisamente esto lo que el antisemitismo superior está tratando de destruir, negando todas nuestras afirmaciones sobre el pasado y dejándonos sin esperanza para el futuro», declaró . «¿Puede alguna sección entre nosotros permitirse el lujo de admitir este antisemitismo imperialista y confesar…que hemos vivido con falsas pretensiones y hemos sido las peores vergüenzas del mundo?»

Schechter tenía un punto sobre los prejuicios. Muchos de los primeros críticos alemanes no eran académicos desinteresados que buscaban una reconstrucción puramente histórica de la historia judía y su texto central. Por el contrario, la erudición bíblica de los días de Hoffmann y Schechter estaba llena de concepciones antisemitas sobre los judíos y judaísmo. Los antiguos israelitas a menudo se retrataban como analfabetos, legalistas y atrasados, en marcado contraste con los cristianos ilustrados. El «Antiguo Testamento» fue visto como un precursor necesario pero anticuado del cristianismo en el mejor de los casos, y como un artefacto primitivo para ser despreciado y descartado en el peor de los casos. Como observó Schechter, al denigrar el pasado judío, esa erudición sirvió para justificar la denigración de los judíos en el presente (de manera reveladora, los estudiosos han encontrado afinidades entre este academicismo y la exégesis bíblica nazi posterior).

Gran parte de la élite académica judía se reunió en torno a Hoffmann y Schechter, rechazando las afirmaciones de la academia alemana. Pero con el tiempo, los críticos de la Biblia corrigieron sus teorías en respuesta a la crítica de Hoffmann de la sustancia académica y la crítica de Schechter de sus fundamentos ideológicos. Lento pero seguro, a lo largo de décadas, los propios judíos ingresaron al campo y comenzaron a moldearlo por su cuenta. La pregunta entonces fue: ¿Cómo debería responder el judaísmo moderno a esta concepción fundamental de su historia de origen?

Para la mayoría de los judíos ortodoxos, la respuesta fue clara: la crítica bíblica más elevada siguió siendo una gran herejía. La noción de que la Biblia no era la palabra directa de Dios a Moisés en el Sinaí contradecía siglos de autocomprensión judía. «Aceptar los hallazgos de la erudición bíblica representaría una desviación completa del pensamiento judío tradicional», escribió Ben Elton, un erudito de la Universidad de Nueva York, en respuesta al manifiesto de Farber en «Significa rechazar la actitud hacia la Torá sostenida por cada judío hasta Spinoza y cada judío tradicional desde entonces». El judaísmo, en esta construcción, es como un muro: intentar reemplazar los ladrillos cruciales en su base corre el riesgo de derrumbar todo el edificio que ha sido construido sobre él por generaciones de comentaristas bíblicos, talmudistas y halájistas. Después de todo, si la Torá en realidad no vino directamente de Dios, ¿por qué sus preceptos serían vinculantes?

Por esta razón, gran parte de la erudición bíblica moderna no se enseña en las instituciones ortodoxas. Aunque la crítica textual y la historia comparativa del antiguo Cercano Oriente a veces se incorporan al plan de estudios bíblico, la crítica más alta sigue siendo verboten (prohibida). «Ha sido un libro cerrado», dijo Shalom Holtz, profesor asociado de Biblia en la Yeshiva University. Por lo tanto, mientras que las teorías modernas de la autoría bíblica a veces están cubiertas en los cursos, las clases se imparten bajo el supuesto de que el texto de la Torá es un todo unificado. Y cuando se produce un compromiso poco frecuente con una crítica más alta, generalmente es en forma de refutación aprendida o acomodación selectiva.

Pero no todos los eruditos ortodoxos han aceptado esta postura. Un grupo persistente de disidentes distinguidos ha tratado de conciliar una explicación más naturalista de la revelación con la teología judía tradicional. Algunos, como el rabino italiano y el profesor de la Universidad Hebrea, Umberto Cassuto, y el ganador del Premio Israel David Weiss HaLivni, rechazaron ciertas conclusiones de la academia y formularon nociones alternativas de los orígenes históricos de la Torá. Chaim Tchernowitz , un notable rabino nacido en Rusia y profesor de Talmud, confió a Mordechai Kaplan que «niega…cualquier creencia en la Torá min ha-shamayim [el origen divino tradicional de la Torá]». Más recientemente, la académica feminista Tamar Ross ha postulado su propia teoría de la «revelación en desarrollo». Del mismo modo, dos de los principales eruditos bíblicos de Harvard de las últimas décadas, James Kugel y Jon Levenson, también son judíos ortodoxos. En muchos sentidos, es la consecuencia de esta particular contracultura ortodoxa.

Por otro lado, entre las denominaciones no ortodoxas, la sabiduría convencional es que los hallazgos de las críticas más altas ya han sido aceptados e incorporados a la teología del movimiento. Y, de hecho, el Seminario Teológico Judío Conservador (JTS), el Colegio de la Unión Hebrea Reformista (HUC), el Colegio Rabínico Reconstruccionista y varias escuelas pluralistas entrenan a sus aspirantes a rabinos en los rudimentos de la erudición bíblica moderna. Pero esta no es toda la historia.

Si bien algunos intelectuales y teólogos han escrito sobre estos temas, sus complejos tratados académicos no se han filtrado a los sus comunidades. «Es una desafortunada evasión», dijo el rabino Ron Stern del Templo Reformsta Stephen S. Wise en Los Ángeles, quien enseña homilética en el Hebrew Union College. “Estamos creando una discordancia muy extraña, ya que cuando enseñamos a nuestros estudiantes rabínicos en los seminarios conservadores y reformistas, y ​​otros seminarios progresivos, ciertamente les enseñamos las últimas tendencias en la erudición bíblica. Pero por alguna razón, la conexión que no se establece es cómo usar esas ideas para crear tomas significativas e inspiradoras de la Torá ”. Mientras que el jumash del movimiento Reformista, La Torá: un comentario moderno , incorpora las ideas de una crítica más alta, sus rabinos rara vez las utilizan. «Los rabinos creen que tienen que vivir en esta cosmovisión bifurcada«, continuó Stern, «donde cuando estamos en la bimah , presentamos una interpretación tradicional del texto, y mientras estamos en nuestras aulas, aprendemos una perspectiva contemporánea sobre el texto.«

Tal evasión académica ha dejado a muchos judíos no ortodoxos sin preparación para sus hallazgos, como descubrió el rabino David Wolpe en un Pesaj en 2001. Wolpe está clasificado como el rabino más popular de Estados Unidos por Newsweek, pero cuando le dijo a su congregación Conservadora que la erudición moderna pone en duda la historicidad del éxodo de Egipto, resultó ser uno de sus sermones más impopulares. Aunque muchos feligreses apoyaban a su rabino, sus palabras perturbaron a otros. La Dra. Laura Schlessinger condenó el sermón en su programa de radio emitido a nivel nacional, y el Templo Sinaí de Wolpe tuvo que establecer una línea telefónica adicional para atender la respuesta. Como lo expresó un columnista en ese momento, el incidente reveló que «los movimientos conservador, reconstruccionista y reformista deben hacer un mejor trabajo al explicarse, incluso a algunos de sus miembros«.

«Sufrimos de un déficit teológico», me dijo Wolpe. «Las personas en todas las categorías intelectuales pueden haber avanzado desde que tenían 10 años, pero nadie les ha dado un enfoque teológico de adultos«. En otras palabras, a pesar de las conclusiones de sus propios estudiosos, el movimiento conservador aún no ha exorcizado lo reconocido por el erudito bíblico Nahum Sarna como «El Fantasma de Schechter». Al reconocer este problema, Ismar Schorsch, chancelor de JTS de 1986 a 2006, dio el paso extraordinario de condenar al propio jumash de su movimiento, Etz Hayim , por su «ambivalencia hacia la erudición crítica» en su discurso de despedida.

En este vacío entró un grupo de eruditos mayoritariamente ortodoxos, encabezados por un rabino Haredi y un profesor bíblico Brandeis, que lanzaron Con él, Steinberg y Brettler esperaban llenar el vacío dejado por los tradicionalistas rechazadores y los modernistas agnósticos y ofrecer enfoques populares para reconciliar la erudición bíblica y la creencia judía.

«Realmente me encantaría que la educación judía se volviera más tolerante», me dijo Brettler, «y no establecer incorrectamente desde una perspectiva intelectual que toda observancia judía y ser judío de una manera fundamental depende de los puntos de vista tradicionales de la Biblia«. Con este fin, el sitio publica divrei Torá que utilizan la erudición moderna para iluminar la porción semanal de la Torá. Ofrece nueve enfoques para reconciliar las críticas más altas con la fe tradicional. Y publica confesionarios de eruditos bíblicos religiosos sobre sus propios viajes. Además, el sitio cubre otras áreas de la erudición moderna más allá de la autoría bíblica, aunque esa es claramente su principal preocupación.

Steinberg es un emprendedor notable por su esfuerzo. Un rabino ultraortodoxo británico educado en Manchester Yeshiva, Steinberg llegó a la erudición bíblica moderna por su cuenta, después de que no estaba satisfecho con las soluciones tradicionales a sus problemas. Al principio, tocó las puertas de eruditos y rabinos de todo el mundo, buscando respuestas. Encontró a muchos incapaces o poco dispuestos a responder las preguntas, y no solo en su propia comunidad ortodoxa.»La gente piensa: ‘Oh, Reformistas y Conservadores están abiertos a eso, no tienen problemas con eso’, y simplemente no es el caso», dijo.

Esta falta de un esfuerzo popular de base amplia para confrontar los hallazgos académicos condujo a la formación de «Muchas otras personas que son ortodoxas, que han estudiado la Biblia de cerca y quieren seguir siendo judíos firmemente comprometidos, han descubierto los mismos problemas y necesitan un recurso para ayudarlos a negociar el tema«, dijo Brettler. “Me hubiera encantado y a [Steinberg] le hubiera encantado que otra persona o una comunidad judía diferente lo hubiera considerado un problema. Ellos no.»

Los rabinos y los educadores están divididos sobre las perspectivas de la iniciativa. Como era de esperar, muchos intelectuales ortodoxos han refutado las afirmaciones hechas por Steinberg, Brettler y sus colaboradores, considerándolos más allá de la tradición. Algunos no están de acuerdo con sus argumentos, pero abogan por la inclusión de su perspectiva dentro del pensamiento ortodoxo. Otros han sido receptivos y pidieron más discusión.

Algunos que simpatizan con el sitio se preguntan si su enfoque popular podría ser contraproducente. «Lo que pueden descubrir es que en un intento de responder a los argumentos, van a crear más escépticos de los que responderán«, dijo Wolpe.

Brettler es más optimista. Después de haber impartido clases de educación de adultos en Boston durante años sobre estos temas, descubrió que el material a menudo puede resultar espiritualmente afirmativo. “Después de escucharme enseñar la Biblia críticamente, más y más personas van a shul regularmente, estudian la Torá regularmente, llegan a tiempo para la lectura de la Torá, simplemente porque tienen los antecedentes para entenderla de una manera que puedan relacionarse con ella honestamente«, dijo. «La noción de que esto es perjudicial para la identidad y la observancia judía puede ser cierta para algunas personas, pero creo que no es cierta como una generalización«.

En última instancia, dijo Holtz, no importa dónde se aborde la cuestión de los orígenes de la Torá, la erudición bíblica moderna no va a desaparecer y los judíos contemporáneos deben considerarla, incluso si las soluciones a los problemas que plantea a veces siguen siendo difíciles de alcanzar. Holtz no es ajeno a equilibrar los compromisos de fe y erudición, ya que estudió Biblia en Harvard y en la Universidad de Pensilvania antes de ocupar su puesto en la Yeshiva University del movimiento Ortodoxo. «Estoy bastante seguro de que las personas pueden vivir con preguntas«, dijo. “Ese es un gran paso para muchas personas. Pero creo que, al menos en mi caso, en mi propia experiencia personal, se vive con las preguntas, y la pregunta sobre este tema está ahí y es ineludible”.

Segun tomado de,

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Posted by on September 22, 2019 in Uncategorized


How You Can Deal with Pain

How You Can Deal with Pain
by Lauren Roth

Six things we all can do when faced with a painful situation

I see a lot of pain. I see children who don’t receive the love they deserve from their parents. I see husbands who have hurt their wives and wives who have hurt their husbands. I see people who are lonely. I see people who have been rejected.

Sometimes the situation that caused the pain can be reversed. Sometimes it cannot. But there are a few things we all can do when faced with a painful situation.

1. My mind is my temple.

I am the only one who can decide which thoughts stay in my mind and which don’t deserve to be there. Thoughts that make me feel small, thoughts that tell me I’m worthless, thoughts that tell me I’m a horrible person, thoughts that make me feel rage – those thoughts I do not allow to stay. Those thoughts I shake off and allow them to flutter away. Thoughts that make me stronger, better, wiser, kinder can stay.

If I think “I am unlovable,” that’s a thought which doesn’t deserve space in my head. Instead, I replace nasty thoughts with loving, kind, gentle ones. Like, “I will love others and so become lovable.”

2. My body is my temple.

Only substances and foods and items that are healthy and invigorating physically, spiritually and emotionally will I allow into my body. Junk food, drugs, self-harming behaviors – those don’t have a place in or on my body. My body is sacred. God gave it to me to take care of. It is the house for my soul, the vehicle to carry my spiritual, emotional self through this physical world. It is a temple and only good will go into it. That is my choice, and no one else’s. Whatever anyone else has done to me, I will never willingly choose to hurt my own body.

3. I will give goodness to others wherever I go.

I will be a force for good in my world. I will replace darkness with light, cruelty with kindness, anger with calmness and nurturing.

If we spew cruelty, rage, jealousy, fighting, hatred because of the bad things done to us, we are just perpetuating the cycle of negativity. If someone was always angry at us, we can remember how it felt and not do that to others. We can choose a better way than the wrongs that were done to us. If possible, we can even tell the people who are being unkind to us, “I won’t accept that behavior from you anymore. Go find someone else to be unkind to. Even better, please start behaving better. Please speak gently, be thoughtful, and treat me as a friend.” With some people, you will have to explain to them how a kind, gentle friend should behave and speak. Some people need to be taught, almost like a child (but without your being condescending). Some people truly never learned how to behave properly.

Let’s say your parent has just screamed at you for 10 minutes straight. You could calmly say: “When you speak to me that way, it really hurts my feelings. Instead, you could have said, ‘I would have preferred if you hadn’t done that.’ [And you model the tone of voice and the actions accompanying that line.] I’m always willing to have a conversation with you. I just will hear you much better if you treat me nicely and say it gently.”

There are a million different scenarios and a million different scripts to go with each of them, but the idea is this: if they yell, scream, hit, punch, punish, get angry, etc., you teach them calmly but firmly how to tell you in a different, better way. Sometimes they’ll soften; sometimes they won’t. But you will have done your part.

4. I will use my talents to help others and to give to others.

The act of giving fights loneliness and despair like no other force ever could. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Volunteer reading to kids at an orphanage, or playing ball with them, or supervising them on field trips. Go visit people at a residence for the elderly. Take care of people with special needs. When my sister was alive, some of her most doting caretakers were people who had been badly hurt, badly abused. They were giving to counter the darkness in their lives, and it fulfilled them tremendously.

5. I will ask for help when I need it.

People who are hurt love to withdraw and lick their wounds. The more we’re hurt, the more we withdraw. We see this most drastically in horribly abused people who develop split personality disorders to “fly away” from the pain. Instead of withdrawing, go seek help. A good therapist can help you heal. A mentor can, too. An AA sponsor. A good friend. Don’t try to white-knuckle your painful situations alone. Join a synagogue – and go once a week. Join a local JCC – and go once a week. Make a community for yourself. Make friends and talk to them. Don’t suffer alone. Being alone makes you feel worse.

Of course, you can take alone time. But it has to be balanced with connection to others, with friends, with therapy to help you heal.

6. I will discover beauty.

I didn’t realize that last month was national poetry month until I heard a poet being interviewed. He was from a poor inner city neighborhood where life is tough and rough and the streets are mean. He talked about finding beauty in words, and in the rhythms of life, even in the inner city. He had written a poem (which he read during the interview) about two friends who happened to meet at a run-down, dirty gas station, and hugged each other, while the teenaged gangsters walking by pretended to be cold and unfeeling and not to notice the love between the friends – but they looked back longingly as they passed by.

There is beauty to be found everywhere, we just have to be on the lookout for it. Food, trees, the sky, rocks, even a dandelion poking out of a crack in the sidewalk – these are all beautiful. And you can bring great works of art into your life, too, which help us all to recognize beauty: music, paintings, books, plays…. There is beauty everywhere. Bring some into your life.

Here’s a little exercise in bringing beauty into your life: go buy a $2 plant from home depot, cut a shoot from the plant, and put the end of it into an empty glass iced tea bottle, like a vase. Then put fresh water into the bottle. The water is beautiful. Notice it. The glass is beautiful. Notice it. The plant is beautiful. Notice it. Keep it on your windowsill to remind yourself that beauty is healing, and beauty is everywhere.

Others may cause you pain. They are wrong to do so. But you can make yourself strong despite what they do to you, or what they’ve done.

These are some of the things we can do to maintain and to rebuild our strong self.

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Posted by on September 21, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Three Types of Converts

King David and his descendant, the Mashiach, are the product of women converts…

From Gal Einai

Does Judaism encourage conversion? On the one hand, the sages say, “Converts are difficult to the Jewish People like sapachat (a skin ailment)[1].” On the other hand, our first Forefather was also the first convert and the father of all converts. In addition, many of Israel’s sages were converts or sons of converts. King David and his descendant, the Mashiach, are the product of women converts and it is even written that the arrival of Mashiach is contingent upon all potential converts joining the Nation of Israel.

There are different types of converts, who like the Jewish People, can be divided into Pious (Tzaddikim), Intermediary (Beinonim) and Wicked (Resha’im):

There are ‘Wicked’ converts who joined the Nation of Israel de facto, due to some material interest or pressure (assuming that conversion would be “the lesser of two evils” or some other erroneous belief). It is important to know that converts like these also have an affinity to the Nation of Israel and they hold within them a spark that belongs to the Jewish People.     The spark, however, is ‘weak’ and does not engender true change and rectification of the various facets of this convert’s personality. (The first example of this is the Erev Rav converts accepted by Moses at the exodus from Egypt, who displayed lack of faith in God throughout the journey).

The other side of the coin are the Pious converts: Righteous converts who are spiritually inspired by the Nation of Israel to join God’s Nation and to walk in His ways wholeheartedly and with true desire.

But there is another type of convert – the Intermediary.  The Torah teaches us the laws of the eshet yefat to’ar, (a “woman of beautiful form”). This is a female enemy captive of war to whom a soldier of Israel is attracted. The Torah demands many intricate preparations before the soldier can marry this woman. The beginning of this woman’s encounter with Judaism was coerced, in a time of war, when a righteous and self-sacrificing Jewish fighter identified her affinity to the Nation of Israel. Afterwards, an entire process is required in order to clarify if she can truly join the Nation of Israel or if she must remain a non-Jew. Ultimately, if the process of clarification is successfully completed – even though she cannot be compared to a righteous convert whose spirit was kindled of his own free will – this woman nonetheless becomes part of the Nation of Israel. One of her descendants can even become the Mashiach. [On the down side, if this union between the soldier and the eshet yefat toar is not properly clarified, it may produce a ben sorer umoreh (a Torah-defined rebellious son)].

The three types of converts, with the correct way of relating to each, parallel the three-part process of rectification taught by the Ba’al Shem Tov: Submission, Separation and Sweetening:

The Wicked converts are received by the Nation of Israel with Submission. They are coerced upon the Nation because of external pressure and the influence of the Exile (so much so that a spark can join the Nation of Israel even if it is the product of rape, God forbid).

The Intermediary converts are approached by the Nation of Israel with Separation, in an attempt to reach a true clarification of the suitability of the potential convert to actually join the Jewish Nation. (There are cases other than war in which the convert’s initial encounter with the Nation of Israel was not completely of free will, but was rather the expedient move to make).

The Pious converts generate complete Sweetening. Their entire personality changes and is inducted into holiness. They contribute to the Nation of Israel and elevate it.

It is specifically the process of Separation, which emphasizes the contrast between Israel and its enemies (such as in a time of war) that empowers us to identify sparks that have fallen captive in the impure husks, to draw them close and to clarify them. The true purpose of Separation is not to encourage the Nation of Israel to indifferently separate from the nations of the world. Rather, it is meant to enable the Nation of Israel to be the pure and holistic standard-bearer of God’s word in a manner that entices others to join it. The process of Separation is the clarification that equips the standard- bearers with the assertiveness and strength that they need to bring the nations of the world close to God.

[1] Yevamot 47A

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Posted by on September 20, 2019 in Uncategorized


A Nation of Storytellers

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Howard Gardner, professor of education and psychology at Harvard University, is one of the great minds of our time. He is best known for his theory of “multiple intelligences,” the idea that there is not one thing that can be measured and defined as intelligence but many different things – one dimension of the dignity of difference. He has also written many books on leadership and creativity, including one in particular, Leading Minds, that is important in understanding this week’s parsha.[1]

Gardner’s argument is that what makes a leader is the ability to tell a particular kind of story – one that explains ourselves to ourselves and gives power and resonance to a collective vision. So Churchill told the story of Britain’s indomitable courage in the fight for freedom. Gandhi spoke about the dignity of India and non-violent protest. Margaret Thatcher talked about the importance of the individual against an ever-encroaching State. Martin Luther King told of how a great nation is colour-blind. Stories give the group a shared identity and sense of purpose.

Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has also emphasised the importance of narrative to the moral life. “Man,” he writes, “is in his actions and practice as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal.” It is through narratives that we begin to learn who we are and how we are called on to behave. “Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words.”[2] To know who we are is in large part to understand of which story or stories we are a part.

The great questions – “Who are we?” “Why are we here?” “What is our task?” – are best answered by telling a story. As Barbara Hardy put it: “We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticise, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative.” This is fundamental to understanding why Torah is the kind of book it is: not a theological treatise or a metaphysical system but a series of interlinked stories extended over time, from Abraham and Sarah’s journey from Mesopotamia to Moses’ and the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. Judaism is less about truth as system than about truth as story. And we are part of that story. That is what it is to be a Jew.

A large part of what Moses is doing in the book of Devarim is retelling that story to the next generation, reminding them of what God had done for their parents and of some of the mistakes their parents had made. Moses, as well as being the great liberator, is the supreme storyteller. Yet what he does in parshat Ki Tavo extends way beyond this.

He tells the people that when they enter, conquer and settle the land, they must bring the first ripened fruits to the central sanctuary, the Temple, as a way of giving thanks to God. A Mishnah in Bikkurim[3] describes the joyous scene as people converged on Jerusalem from across the country, bringing their first-fruits to the accompaniment of music and celebration. Merely bringing the fruits, though, was not enough. Each person had to make a declaration. That declaration become one of the best known passages in the Torah because, though it was originally said on Shavuot, the festival of first-fruits, in post-biblical times it became a central element of the Haggadah on seder night:

My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt and lived there, few in number, there becoming a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians ill-treated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. (Deut. 26:5-8)

Here for the first time the retelling of the nation’s history becomes an obligation for every citizen of the nation. In this act, known as vidui bikkurim, “the confession made over first-fruits,” Jews were commanded, as it were, to become a nation of storytellers.

This is a remarkable development. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi tells us that, “Only in Israel and nowhere else is the injunction to remember felt as a religious imperative to an entire people.”[4] Time and again throughout Devarim comes the command to remember: “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt.” “Remember what Amalek did to you.” “Remember what God did to Miriam.” “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”

The vidui bikkurim is more than this. It is, compressed into the shortest possible space, the entire history of the nation in summary form. In a few short sentences we have here “the patriarchal origins in Mesopotamia, the emergence of the Hebrew nation in the midst of history rather than in mythic prehistory, slavery in Egypt and liberation therefrom, the climactic acquisition of the land of Israel, and throughout – the acknowledgement of God as lord of history.”[5]

We should note here an important nuance. Jews were the first people to find God in history. They were the first to think in historical terms – of time as an arena of change as opposed to cyclical time in which the seasons rotate, people are born and die, but nothing really changes. Jews were the first people to write history – many centuries before Herodotus and Thucydides, often wrongly described as the first historians. Yet biblical Hebrew has no word that means “history” (the closest equivalent is divrei hayamim, “chronicles”). Instead it uses the root zachor, meaning “memory.”

There is a fundamental difference between history and memory. History is “his story,”[6] an account of events that happened sometime else to someone else. Memory is “my story.” It is the past internalised and made part of my identity. That is what the Mishnah in Pesachim means when it says, “Each person must see themselves as if he (or she) personally went out of Egypt.”[7]

Throughout Devarim Moses warns the people – no less than fourteen times – not to forget. If they forget the past they will lose their identity and sense of direction and disaster will follow. Moreover, not only are the people commanded to remember, they are also commanded to hand that memory on to their children.

This entire phenomenon represents are remarkable cluster of ideas: about identity as a matter of collective memory; about the ritual retelling of the nation’s story; above all about the fact that every one of us is a guardian of that story and memory. It is not the leader alone, or some elite, who are trained to recall the past, but every one of us. This too is an aspect of the devolution and democratisation of leadership that we find throughout Judaism as a way of life. The great leaders tell the story of the group, but the greatest of leaders, Moses, taught the group to become a nation of storytellers.

You can still see the power of this idea today. As I point out in my book The Home We Build Together, if you visit the Presidential memorials in Washington you will see that each one carries an inscription taken from their words: Jefferson’s ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .’, Roosevelt’s ‘The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself’, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his second Inaugural, ‘With malice toward none; with charity for all . . .’ Each memorial tells a story.

London has no equivalent. It contains many memorials and statues, each with a brief inscription stating who it represents, but there are no speeches or quotations. There is no story. Even the memorial to Churchill, whose speeches rivalled Lincoln’s in power, carries only one word: Churchill.

America has a national story because it is a society based on the idea of covenant. Narrative is at the heart of covenantal politics because it locates national identity in a set of historic events. The memory of those events evokes the values for which those who came before us fought and of which we are the guardians.

A covenantal narrative is always inclusive, the property of all its citizens, newcomers as well as the home-born. It says to everyone, regardless of class or creed: this is who we are. It creates a sense of common identity that transcends other identities. That is why, for example, Martin Luther King was able to use it to such effect in some of his greatest speeches. He was telling his fellow African Americans to see themselves as an equal part of the nation. At the same time, he was telling white Americans to honour their commitment to the Declaration of Independence and its statement that ‘all men are created equal’.

England does not have the same kind of national narrative because it is based not on covenant but on hierarchy and tradition. England, writes Roger Scruton, “was not a nation or a creed or a language or a state but a home. Things at home don’t need an explanation. They are there because they are there.”[8] England, historically, was a class-based society in which there were ruling elites who governed on behalf of the nation as a whole. America, founded by Puritans who saw themselves as a new Israel bound by covenant, was not a society of rulers and ruled, but rather one of collective responsibility. Hence the phrase, central to American politics but never used in English politics: “We, the people.”

By making the Israelites a nation of storytellers, Moses helped turn them into a people bound by collective responsibility – to one another, to the past and future, and to God. By framing a narrative that successive generations would make their own and teach to their children, Moses turned Jews into a nation of leaders.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] Howard Gardner in collaboration with Emma Laskin, Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, New York, Basic Books, 2011.

[2] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.

[3] Mishnah Bikkurim ch. 3.

[4] Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zachor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, Schocken, 1989, 9.

[5] Yerushalmi, ibid., 12.

[6] This is a simple reminder not an etymology. Historia is a Greek word meaning inquiry. The same word comes to mean, in Latin, a narrative of past events.

[7] Mishnah Pesachim 10:5.

[8] Roger Scruton, England, an Elegy, Continuum, 2006,16.

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Posted by on September 18, 2019 in Uncategorized


Ask the Rabbis | Are There Things That Can’t Be Forgiven?

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The most unforgivable king in Jewish history was Menashe, son of Hezekiah, who led his kingdom into idolatry. As they carried him off to Babylon in chains, he desperately turned to God for forgiveness. But the angels blocked the heavens with heavy furniture and nailed in extra boards to prevent that mamzer’s plea from being heard. What did God do? While the angels were engaged in choir practice, He bored a tiny hole in the boarded-up heavenly floor so that He could hear Menashe’s plea (Midrash Devarim Rabbah 2:20).

But that’s God’s thing. For us mere mortals, it depends. If someone accidentally bumps a cart into you in the supermarket, you can forgive instantaneously. On the other hand, if someone bumps you with an SUV, you may not be so quick to forgive as they fit your legs, hip and nose with prosthetics—because you’re human, and you hope he loses all of his teeth except one, and that one has a toothache! However, if we do transcend our mortality and forgive the sins committed against us by others, “God in turn will dismiss our sins” (Talmud Bav’li, Rosh Hashanah 17a).

Rabbi Gershon Winkler
Jewish Chaplain, Patton State Hospital
Patton, CA


Few people have never been mistreated or hurt others. Jewish tradition makes demands of both parties. If we’ve hurt someone, we are required to seek rapprochement, prompted by sincere teshuvah, the recognition of our misdeeds, alongside our resolve not to re-offend. Conversely, when we’re hurt by someone who has sought forgiveness following genuine teshuvah, we are asked to forgive. In most human interactions this is the best path to reconciliation. Humanistic Jews recognize the wisdom of this. Whether through love, empathy or the knowledge that forgiveness is necessary for us to move on, we generally endorse efforts to extend it to others. We realize that the way to a better world is solely a human endeavor, one that must certainly include reconciliation.

But what about those who do not offer remorse, or whose misdeeds are simply too monstrous to forgive? Here, there are no clear answers—in Judaism or in Humanistic teachings. Even a belief that the world requires reconciliation cannot impose a duty to forgive. Ultimately, the decision must be left to individuals as we balance costs and benefits to ourselves and others.

Rabbi Jeffrey Falick
Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism
Farmington Hills, MI


It depends on what we mean by “forgive.” Jewish law deemed some acts so heinous that only death atoned, and then only with repentance (Yoma 86a; Hilchot Teshuvah 1:1). And even then, how can we absolve genocide, murder, sex crimes, child abuse and life-destroying lies?

But “forgiveness” isn’t absolution. We can “forgive” even if someone doesn’t deserve it—because we ourselves deserve the peace that can come by releasing pain and grudges. That’s forgiveness. It doesn’t absolve wrongs or withhold justice, but helps us live resiliently amid brokenness. It’s among our most powerful spiritual tools—and sometimes difficult to use.

Consider the 2015 Charleston church shooting—domestic terrorism targeting innocents. The triggerman confessed to wanting a race war. How does anyone “forgive” that? But the victims’ families found the inner power to forgive—not to inhibit justice, but to seek peace for themselves. Such forgiveness evokes grace—in Hebrew, chein, one of the Thirteen Attributes of God’s self-revelation to Moses after he shattered the first tablets on seeing the Golden Calf (Exodus 34:6). Grace can’t be deserved: It’s a spiritual gift we receive because we are. And this same God of chein was also a God of justice. We can forgive in that same way—in God’s grace, after the shattering, to seek peace.

Rabbi David Evan Markus
Temple Beth El
City Island, NY


Most forgiveness is partial. Our lives are lived on slippery slopes, in gray zones. Tradition posits a hypothetical rasha gamur, entirely evil person, and tzadik gamur, entirely righteous one—with 36 of the latter mythically roaming around. But the rest of us are in between—maybe perched right on the fulcrum, where our next altruistic or selfish act could tip the entire personal and cosmic scale. We’ve all done “unforgivable” things, and we’ve all been at least partially forgiven, with further chances to yet make good. Consider climate change: Carbon from the gas I burned driving to visit the sick endures in the atmosphere “even unto the third and fourth generation.” Endangered species, coastal dwellers and our own grandchildren can scarcely “forgive” us for our short-sighted emissions and slowness to change—yet every positive change measurably moves the needle, limits further suffering and bends the arc (slightly yet truly) back toward sustainability and justice. In short: Can we be fully forgiven for past sins? No, some damage done is permanent. Should we move forward, measuring our deeds, trying harder, doing better? Heck yes. That’s the gift of these coming holidays; Shanah Tovah.

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation
Bethesda, MD


Only a wronged person can grant forgiveness, so only he or she can answer. One might consider three questions. First: When wounded physically, spiritually, psychologically or materially by another, we must face the basic humanity of that person with all their faults, failings, prejudices and imperfections. Jewish tradition recognizes that we all have flaws and make mistakes. No matter how egregious the wrong, are we ready to see the wrongdoer’s humanity?

Second: Has justice been served? According to Jewish law, it is appropriate to ask for recompense from the wrongdoer. This may be as simple as a sincere apology, or it may involve facing legal or material consequences for one’s actions. We should not be cruel by withholding forgiveness from those who have made amends.

Third: how might forgiving or withholding forgiveness help me? The Talmud’s rabbis noted the social, emotional, spiritual or even health benefits of forgiveness; we should too. If we find ourselves wrapped in clouds of stress, resentment, anger or intolerance, then finding a way to move toward forgiveness would be to our benefit.

Rabbi Dr. Laura Novak Winer
Fresno, CA


Jewish tradition instructs us to forgive those who have wronged us if they make restitution and apologize. If they don’t, each individual has to decide the limits, if any, of forgiveness.

Eva Mozes Kor, who died in July at age 85, challenged me to think about this question. Kor was in Auschwitz and was among the 1,500 sets of twins upon whom the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele conducted horrific experiments. Kor publicly forgave those who had tortured her and all who had participated in the genocide. When I first learned of this, I was shocked that a survivor could forgive any Nazi, ever. I do not think one person could or should absolve all those who participated. And I do not like the public nature of Kor’s behavior. But I now recognize a certain wisdom in Kor’s action. One forgives not to ease the offender’s conscience but to let go of the anger and hurt. Never to forgive is ultimately to allow those who wronged us to continue hurting us. It hurts only the victim.

As for forgetting—we really can’t. There’s no delete button for the brain. We don’t forget the pain, we just learn to live with it.

Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz
Temple Beth El
Springfield, MA


I am very resistant to the idea of any sin being beyond forgiveness. I would like to think that given God’s loving nature and “compassion for all of God’s creatures” (Psalms 145:9) no bad action is beyond being overcome by God’s infinite goodness. However, in sins between one human being and another, the Talmud says that God won’t forgive unless/until the sinner regrets and repents, returns what was stolen or damaged and wins forgiveness from the victim. For murder, there can be no forgiveness, because the victim cannot be made whole or asked for forgiveness.

The Holocaust struck me as unforgivable, and for 50-plus years, I would never buy a German product nor set foot in Germany, lest my actions profit one of the perpetrators. In the late 1990s, I told myself that those who had carried out this monstrous crime were mostly gone, and children should not be punished for the (unforgiven) sins of their fathers (Deuteronomy 24:16). I relaxed my boycott and traveled to Germany for a conference on Jewish-Christian relations. It helped that the German government had taken responsibility for the Shoah and paid significant reparations (albeit no amount of money can make whole the losses). Germany had also become the most dependable, supportive ally of Israel in Europe out of a sense of accountability for Nazi crimes. This does not constitute forgiveness. But it paves the way for new generations to work together to prevent recurrences of the unforgivable sin.

Rabbi Yitzhak Greenberg
Riverdale, NY


The Talmud speaks lovingly about the power of forgiveness; it’s not mandatory, but almost. When people are asked, they should do the right thing and forgive. But there are two caveats. Forgiveness is not a pro forma declaration of “OK, you’re forgiven.” It means the person actually forgives—which is not so easy to do. Also, the Talmud says certain things do not demand forgiveness. After physical injury—some commentators extend this to emotional injury—it may still be admirable to forgive if asked, but the expectation is not there.

The Talmud says God Himself cannot forgive transgressions between people. If Reuven harms Shimon, and Reuven repents sincerely but doesn’t ask Shimon to forgive him, God cannot grant that forgiveness. In a famous incident recounted by Simon Wiesenthal in The Sunflower, Wiesenthal, a prisoner in the camps, was called to an infirmary where an SS officer lay dying. The officer wanted to confess and ask forgiveness for his crimes against Jews. In his last moments, he asked Wiesenthal to forgive him, as a surrogate for the Jewish people. Wiesenthal exited the room. He subsequently wrote that while he felt the urge to forgive, those who were actually in a position to forgive were not there, so he couldn’t do it.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Los Angeles, CA


There are! But they are not the same for everyone. One person might be unable to forgive parental apathy, but another might empathize with the apathetic parent. That latter person might not forgive a child who escaped from home, while the first one will forgive and embrace even his own child who did so.

If we search for an objective answer, we should first ask if regret was expressed. If not, forgiving is more like letting go of a grudge and forgiving oneself. If regret was expressed, we should ask: 1. Was the apology sincere? 2. Would others of my culture and upbringing consider the act an offense? (If the person committing the offense might see it differently, maybe there’s room for forgiveness.) If most people would agree it was an offense, and you feel it is unforgivable, then it should not be forgiven. I think most people would agree that crimes such as murder, rape, sexual assault or criminal negligence that caused irreparable damage to body or soul fall in this category. True, there are programs that bring together victims’ relatives and murderers, which reportedly provide some closure for the relatives and generate remorse. But the relatives can forgive only for what they have endured, not for what the victim has suffered. Finally, some crimes should not be forgiven, by individuals or society, to deter potential criminals.

Rabbi Haim Ovadia
Potomac, MD


“What is crooked will not be able to be straightened, and what is missing will not be able to be counted” (Ecclesiastes 1:15). Some misdeeds have severe, irreversible effects and are seemingly beyond forgiveness. At the same time, at the core of Judaism is forgiveness. We are taught to emulate G-d and forgive, just as G-d is all-forgiving.

How do we reconcile these apparently contradictory ideas? We sometimes find ourselves in situations where the betrayal and pain are so great that we are justified in not forgiving. At those times, we need to remember the saying that “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Forgiveness does more for the provider than the recipient. It does not magically make the pain go away, but it allows one to move past the hurt and begin healing. Not forgiving amplifies the consequences of a misdeed and perpetuates its negative effects. Better to forgive and move on to a brighter future than hold on to an unforgivable offense and be stuck in a dark past.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center of Glendale and the Foothill Communities
Glendale, CA

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Posted by on September 18, 2019 in Uncategorized