RSS

Author Archives: yishmaelgunzhard

¿Quién miente sobre la teoría crítica de la raza?

An American flag. Credit: In Green/Shutterstock.

por JONATHAN S. TOBIN

Los izquierdistas afirman que los opositores de la ideología no están diciendo la verdad. Pero este intento de acabar con la discusión no funcionará. Sus ideas antiliberales son contrarias a la libertad estadounidense y la seguridad judía.

Mientras los estadounidenses se preparan para celebrar el 245 aniversario de la fundación de su nación, muchas, si no la mayoría de las ideas que solían darse por sentado sobre lo que significaba el 4 de julio, están siendo atacadas. La mayoría de nosotros no nos dimos cuenta de esto hasta agosto de 2019, cuando The New York Times publicó el “Proyecto 1619”, una serie de ensayos destinados a impulsar una reevaluación no solo de la historia de Estados Unidos, sino también de cómo debe considerarse este país en la actualidad.

Aunque lleno de errores y distorsiones los cuales fueron señalados por algunos de los principales historiadores del país, quienes a su vez son políticos liberales después de su publicación inicial, fue alabado por las clases parlanchinas. Se le otorgó un dudoso premio Pulitzer por afirmar falazmente que el verdadero comienzo del país no fue 1776, sino en la fecha en que se introdujeron los esclavos africanos en América del Norte. Su objetivo era afirmar que el objetivo de la Revolución estadounidense era defender la esclavitud, no la libertad, y luego condenó a los Estados Unidos por ser una nación tan irremediablemente racista hoy como lo era entonces.

Sin embargo, no fue hasta el siguiente junio, cuando el país entró en pánico moral después de la muerte de George Floyd, que la influencia de esta equivocada distorsión del pasado se hizo realidad. Ahora, más de un año después de que la autora principal del proyecto, Nikole Hannah-Jones, abrazó con orgullo la noción de que los disturbios civiles que sacudieron a la nación deberían llamarse los “disturbios de 1619”, los estadounidenses acaban de comenzar un análisis de los fundamentos intelectuales y morales de este grave distorsión de su pasado, así como de la naturaleza del país en el que viven actualmente.

En su corazón están los conceptos de la teoría crítica de la raza (CRT) y la interseccionalidad, que fueron empujados a la corriente principal a medida que el movimiento Black Lives Matter pasó de los márgenes de la sociedad a la corriente principal. Nos enseñan a considerar la raza como la verdad que define nuestra existencia y no solo como uno de los muchos factores que explican quiénes somos y cómo vivimos.

Ambos conceptos tienen su origen en el ambiente de invernadero de la academia izquierdista, pero como tantas otras nociones tóxicas, no solo han migrado a la palestra pública. Con la ayuda de personas influyentes de la cultura pop, los principales medios de comunicación y los políticos que buscaban capitalizar la atmósfera política posterior a George Floyd se hicieron cargo en gran medida. Es el motor intelectual que impulsa las fuerzas de la cancelación de la cultura. Más que eso, sus seguidores han estado trabajando asiduamente para apoderarse de nuestro sistema de educación pública mediante la instalación de cursos y programas empapados en la ideología CRT, así como el revisionismo “1619” sobre la historia estadounidense.

Lo que es igualmente preocupante es que la creencia en CRT ha generado apoyo para la idea de “equidad” en lugar de igualdad como el principio rector de la ley y la justicia estadounidense. Esto esencialmente exige que el gobierno y otras instituciones se involucren en una discriminación racional contra aquellos considerados culpables del “privilegio de los blancos” con el fin de corregir los errores del pasado, independientemente de las circunstancias de los afectados por estas medidas.

Aunque retrasados, ​​y operando bajo la desventaja de la hostilidad de la mayoría de los medios, aquellos que buscan nadar contra corriente en este tema han comenzado a hacer oír su voz. Eso a su vez ha creado una reacción violenta de los partidarios de CRT que tiene como objetivo difamar a los oponentes de esta ideología como racistas, extremistas de derecha y, en un asombroso ejemplo de iluminación, oponentes de la libertad de expresión y la libertad académica. La ironía de quienes más han hecho para aplastar un debate abierto sobre estos temas, llamando a quienes están tratando de iniciar una discusión nacional sobre esto, se encuentra dispersa en los principales medios de comunicación como por ejemplo, el New York Times.

Pero, inevitablemente, ha surgido una versión específicamente judía de este intento para convencer a los estadounidenses de que una ideología antiliberal obsesionada con la raza en realidad está siendo falsamente caracterizada por sus oponentes. Una carta abierta publicada en The Forward, firmada por un grupo de rabinos y académicos quienes se autodenominan irónicamente “Judíos por el discurso abierto”, viene a ser el más reciente intento de este tipo para cerrar el debate sobre la CRT.

La presunción de la carta es que CRT no solo está siendo difamada por derechistas, sino que quienes la han criticado ignoran su verdadero significado. Afirma que los argumentos que enseña CRT – que fomenta la creencia de que la humanidad está dividida en opresores y víctimas, y que aquellos que son culpables de tener “privilegios blancos” deben ser forzados a reconocer sus pecados – están siendo retratados falsamente. Niegan que la CRT y la interseccionalidad condenan a todos aquellos así designados, y que los judíos y el Estado de Israel están especialmente en peligro por esto.

La carta afirma que los críticos de CRT hablan del tema en “términos simplistas” y que las nociones al respecto y la ideología interseccional que dan un permiso al antisemitismo están “desvinculadas” del “contenido real” de estos “conceptos de justicia social” aunque no cita un solo ejemplo concreto de tal caracterización errónea.

En otras palabras, estos intelectuales nos están diciendo que nos callemos y reconozcamos que somos demasiado tontos para entender las verdades de estos conceptos, aun cuando nuestros ojos y oídos nos dicen que son antiliberales y discriminatorios. Peor aún, la carta afirma que es particularmente vergonzoso que los judíos acepten el nuevo pensamiento grupal sobre la raza porque hiere los sentimientos de los judíos de color que están detrás del avance para aceptar la CRT como nuestra nueva religión civil nacional, sin importar la forma en que legitimen las difamaciones contra Israel,  sus partidarios y alimenten la violencia antisemita en nuestras calles. Ellos afirman que por hablar, los críticos están endureciendo nuestro discurso, y que deberíamos simplemente escuchar a nuestros mejores intelectuales en la academia y hacer lo que nos dicen.

La noción de que los críticos de CRT están malinterpretando es simplemente falsa. Lea el trabajo del ideólogo de BLM Ibram X. Kendi o el gurú de la “Fragilidad blanca” Robin DiAngelo o la plataforma de los diversos grupos de BLM, y verá que las personas que mienten sobre CRT y la interseccionalidad son sus apologistas liberales, tal como los firmantes de esa carta. Además, no es solo una mala idea sino que es inherentemente totalitaria y busca crear “listas de palabras opresivas” que  persiguen silenciar el libre discurso. Las omnipresentes sesiones de entrenamiento tienen todas las características de las sectas en el sentido de que cualquiera que cuestione su premisa sobre las razas se considera un hereje [racista] que debe ser apagado.

La CRT es mala para todos los estadounidenses, pero los judíos deberían ser particularmente conscientes de los peligros que presenta. Esto es especialmente cierto con destacados defensores políticos de la “equidad” y la interseccionalidad como lo es la representante Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) – convirtiéndose no solo en las voces más visibles que abogan por ideas antisemitas, sino también con un sello kosher de aprobación por parte del Partido Demócrata y judíos de izquierda y sus organizaciones.

El fin de semana del 4 de julio es un momento oportuno para comenzar un ajuste de cuentas moral sobre el papel que está jugando CRT en el fomento del antisemitismo. El Día de la Independencia debería recordarnos la forma en que el ala liberal de la libertad y la democracia estadounidenses ha jugado al dar a los judíos el refugio más libre y próspero en la historia de la Diáspora. La seguridad judía en este país está inextricablemente ligada a las ideas del excepcionalismo estadounidense que los defensores de la CRT están haciendo todo lo posible por derribar.

Lo que está en juego aquí es increíblemente alto, y por eso es imperativo que los judíos se unan al movimiento para detener la CRT y la interseccionalidad. Si los defensores de estos conceptos logran reemplazar la devoción por la igualdad por la equidad, será el final de una era de aceptación y éxito para la comunidad judía. No se debe permitir que eso suceda.

Jonathan S. Tobin es editor en jefe de JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Síguelo en Twitter en: @jonathans_tobin.

Según tomado de, Who’s lying about critical race theory? (jns.org)

Traducción por drigs, CEJSPR

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

President Rivlin Outlined Israel’s ‘Four Tribes,’ and Embraced a Fifth: Diaspora Jews.

by Rabbi Rick Jacobs

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, in April.
President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, in April. Credit: Emil Salman

I doubted whether a former Likud MK would include a Reform leader in his orbit. But the respect President Rivlin initially showed me personally has been extended to Jews across the denominational spectrum of Judaism.

For the past seven years I have been a proud member of what one might call President Reuven Rivlin’s “unity coalition.” If that doesn’t surprise you, it certainly surprised me. Before he took office, I doubted whether former Likud MK Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin would include a leader of the Reform movement in North America in his orbit of responsibility and relationship.

It didn’t begin that way. We first met on a scorching hot day in July 2014, before traveling to Modi’in to join tens of thousands of other mourners gathered in grief to lay to rest our three murdered Israeli teens – Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, of blessed memory. I had written an open letter to Rivlin in Haaretz, pleading with him to update his previous harsh public statements about Reform Judaism, but received no response.

Natan Sharansky intervened and set up a meeting with Rivlin at the Jewish Agency just days before he would become Israel’s 10th president. My goal was simple: to see if the president-elect could find it in his heart to embrace the 1.9 million Jews of the Reform movement as part of his wider constituency as Israel’s president.

In memory of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, I pleaded with the president-elect, “We must find a way to feel more connected and responsible for one another, no matter our beliefs or practices.”

Our meeting was warm and promising, but the real change came a week later, when I was back in New York. A profound shift had occurred as Rivlin called and addressed me in Hebrew as “Harav,” rabbi, the same title he used for respected Orthodox rabbis. He pledged as Israel’s new president to work closely with our movement in addressing the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people. Over the past seven years, he has fulfilled that pledge. The respect he initially showed me personally has been extended to Jews across the denominational spectrum of Judaism.

Since taking office, Rivlin’s leadership has been transformational. He has been a champion of unity among the Jewish people and a staunch defender of the rights of all citizens – especially the Arab citizens of Israel. Rivlin was the first Israeli president to attend the annual memorial ceremony at Kafr Qasem, the site of a massacre in 1956, when Israeli Border Police shot dead 49 Arab citizens of Israel. At the event, he expressed the profound values of Judaism and the Jewish state by offering heartfelt words of condolence and apology.

And he has worked to strengthen the deep relationship between Israel and the United States. In his 2015 White House meeting with President Barack Obama and this week’s meeting with President Joe Biden, all the world could see how comfortable Rivlin was discussing important issues of mutual concern with these leaders of Israel’s most important ally. He showed the same comfort when meeting with President Donald Trump in Israel. His unity coalition has included Republicans and Democrats, Orthodox and Reform Jews, Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel.

Perhaps his most historic speech took place at the Herzliya Conference in 2015, when Rivlin described what he termed the four tribes of modern Israel: secular Jews, religious Zionist Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs. In antiquity, it took enormous spiritual and political strength to hold the Twelve Tribes together. It has taken enormous strength for Rivlin to do the same with today’s fractious tribes.

As the bonds holding world Jewry and Israel were unraveling in the wake of the cancellation of the so-called Kotel agreement, the plan for creating a new space for egalitarian worship at the Western Wall, and the threat of a divisive conversion bill, Rivlin uttered words at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America that we had not heard previously: “The State of Israel was, and will always be, the home of every Jew; Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, secular, traditional, Ashkenazi, Sephardi. … The Jews of the Diaspora, especially in North America, are full partners.” In effect, he called us Israel’s “fifth tribe.” 

As we approach the Tisha B’Av fast day, which begins this year at sunset July 17 and ends 25 hours later, we recall the years before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. The period was riven by deep and destructive sectarian divisions. In particular, the Talmud teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed on account of sinat hinam – gratuitous hatred between Jews. We see that kind of factional hatred in today’s Israel. As recently as Tuesday, Haredi legislators in the Knesset spewed vitriol against my colleague, Labor Party MK Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi who previously served as the executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. Sadly, despite Rivlin’s leadership and the personal example he sets of derekh eretz – common decency and courtesy – sinat hinam is still a reality.

If we are to avoid the perils of sinat hinam, we must commit to being part of a unity coalition of the Jewish people. We need to model respectful debates and learn about the theology, diversity and traditions of each other’s communities. The same principles apply to those of us who are political liberals, when it comes to how we talk about and engage political conservatives in our synagogues and communities – and vice versa. I don’t long for some superficial “we are one” mantra that deliberately aims to overlook the substantive differences among our Jewish communities, but rather a more challenging exercise in communal leadership that honors and draws strength from our differences.

As the scourge of intolerance threatens to engulf so much of our Jewish and wider world, we desperately need leaders of conscience and conviction. I remain hopeful and confident based on his own long embrace of klal Israel – Jewish unity, or the community of Israel – that Rivlin’s mantle as a unifier will now be worn proudly by Israel’s next president, Isaac Herzog, but the responsibility of holding the tribes together is on all of our shoulders. We are blessed to have had such a leader in President Reuven Rivlin. As we celebrate his leadership over these past seven years, let’s commit to be permanent members of his unity coalition.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

As taken from, President Rivlin outlined Israel’s ‘four tribes,’ and embraced a fifth: Diaspora Jews – Opinion – Haaretz.com

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 1, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

¿Por qué la ley judía prohíbe las imágenes de índole religiosa?

Stars Sky Man Looking High Res Stock Images | Shutterstock
Rabino Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Creo que si un triángulo pudiera hablar, diría… que Dios es eminentemente triangular, mientras que un círculo diría que la naturaleza divina es eminentemente circular. Por lo tanto, cada uno atribuiría a Dios sus propios atributos, asumiría que es como Dios y consideraría que todo lo demás está mal formado.

—Baruch Spinoza

Pregunta para reflexionar

Spinoza (1632-1677) tiene mucha razón en esta observación. No solo los triángulos y círculos, sino también los seres humanos quienes solo pueden captar a Dios en términos de su propia naturaleza. En otras palabras, los humanos solo pueden hablar de Él en términos humanos. Sin embargo, esto no significa que, dado que no podemos hacer algo mejor que esto, y en consecuencia, utilizando descripciones simplistas y limitadas de Dios, se pueda concluir que Dios no existe.

Esto es similar a la electricidad o un átomo. Solo sabemos de la existencia de estos porque observamos sus consecuencias. Después de todo, los seres humanos nunca han visto electricidad ni un átomo. Cuando los científicos describen o enseñan sobre estos, utilizan modelos e imágenes en la pizarra o en la pantalla de la computadora. Sin embargo, estos son solo metáforas y símbolos.

El peligro del que habla Spinoza es cuando los seres humanos comienzan a creer que la imagen es “das ding an sich“, la misma “cosa en sí”. Esto es exactamente lo que la Torá tiene en mente cuando prohíbe hacer una imagen de Dios. No significa que no se me permita tener una imagen de Él, sino que no se me permite creer que la imagen sea real.

El gran rabino Cabalista Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570) elabora sobre esto:

Cuando tu mente concibe a Dios, no te permitas imaginar que realmente existe un Dios como tú lo has representado, porque si haces esto, tendrás una concepción corporal finita, Dios no lo quiera. En cambio, tu mente debería detenerse abiertamente en la afirmación de la existencia de Dios y luego debería retroceder. Hacer más que esto es permitir que la imaginación se refleje en Dios como Él mismo es, y tal reflexión seguramente resultará en limitaciones imaginativas y corporeas. Por tanto, hay que ponerle riendas al intelecto y no permitirle una gran libertad, sino afirmar la existencia de Dios y negar la posibilidad de comprenderlo. La mente debe correr “hacia” y “desde”; corriendo para afirmar la existencia de Dios y retrocediendo ante cualquier limitación, ya que la imaginación del hombre persigue su intelecto. (Elima Rabati 1:10, 4b).

Entonces, ¿qué hay de malo en que la Iglesia Católica utilice imágenes de mármol en sus catedrales? Sin duda, sus adoradores no creen que estas imágenes posean divinidad alguna; son solo metáforas. Si este es el caso, ¿por qué la ley judía prohíbe cualquier imagen de Moshé u otras figuras bíblicas en nuestras sinagogas? (¿Es este realmente el caso?)

¿Es posible que los católicos crean que estas imágenes realmente contienen la divinidad y, por lo tanto, poseen santidad? En otras palabras, ¿cuándo es la adoración de ídolos, que está totalmente prohibida por la ley judía, realmente considerada adoración de ídolos? ¿Es cuando la gente cree que hay más de un dios, o aun cuando uno cree en un solo Dios, pero cree que Él tiene una imagen corporal y que esta imagen es real? ¿Podemos convertir a Dios en un ídolo?

¿Es esta la razón por la que Moshé rompió las tablas de los Diez Mandamientos cuando vio a los israelitas adorar un becerro de oro recién creado, probablemente con la intención de ser una representación material de Dios, como ‘la cosa real’?  ¿Se preocupó Moshé de que los israelitas hicieran lo mismo con las tablas de piedra, adorándolas y declarándolas santas? ¿Entendió él que se relacionarían con las Tablas en lugar de con el texto de las tabletas?

¿Existe este peligro con el Muro Occidental en Jerusalén?

Según tomado de, Why does Jewish Law forbid religious images? – David Cardozo Academy

Traducción por: drigs, CEJSPR

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 30, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Why does Jewish Law forbid religious images?

Man Looking Up The Sky · Free Stock Photo

by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

I believe that if a triangle could speak, it would say… that God is eminently triangular, while a circle would say that the divine nature is eminently circular. Thus, each would ascribe to God its own attributes, would assume itself to be like God, and look on everything else as ill-shaped.
—Baruch Spinoza

Question to Ponder

Spinoza (1632- 1677) is quite correct in this observation. Not only triangles and circles, but human beings, too, can only grasp God in terms of their own nature. In other words, humans can only speak about Him in human terms. However, this does not mean that since we cannot do better than this, consequently using simplistic and limited descriptions of God, one can conclude that God does not exist.

This is similar to electricity or an atom. We only know of the existence of these because we observe their consequences. After all, human beings have never actually seen electricity or an atom. When scientists describe or teach about these, they use models and images on the blackboard or computer screen. However, these are but metaphors and symbols.

The danger Spinoza speaks of is when human beings start to believe that the image is “das ding an sich,” the very “thing-in-itself.” This is exactly what the Torah has in mind when it prohibits making an image of God. It does not mean that I am not allowed to have an image of Him, but that I am not allowed to believe that the image is the real thing.

The great Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570) elaborates on this:

When your mind conceives of God, do not permit yourself to imagine that there is really a God as depicted by you, for if you do this, you will have a finite corporeal conception, God forbid. Instead, your mind should openly dwell on the affirmation of God’s existence and then it should recoil. To do more than that is to allow the imagination to reflect upon God as He is Himself, and such a reflection is bound to result in imaginative limitations and corporeality. Therefore, one should put reins on one’s intellect and not allow it great freedom, but assert God’s existence and deny the possibility of comprehending Him. The mind should run ‘to’ and ‘from’ – running to affirm God’s existence and recoiling from any limitations, since man’s imagination pursues his intellect. (Elima Rabati 1:10, 4b).

What, then, is wrong with the Catholic Church using marble images in its cathedrals? No doubt its worshippers do not believe that these images possess any divinity; they are just metaphors. If this is the case, why does Jewish law forbid any image of Moshe or other biblical figures in our synagogues? (Is this indeed the case?)

Is it possible that Catholics believe these images actually hold divinity and thus possess sanctity? In other words, when is idol worship that is totally forbidden in Jewish law actually idol worship? Is it when people believe that there is more than one god, or even when one believes in only one God, but believes that He has a corporeal image and that this image is the real thing? Can one make God into an idol?

Is this the reason Moshe broke the tablets of the Ten Commandments? Seeing the Israelites worshipping a golden calf they had just created, likely intended as a material representation of God, as ‘the real thing,’ Moshe became concerned that the Israelites would do the same with the stone tablets, worshipping them and declaring them holy instead of relating solely to the text on the tablets?

Does this danger exist with the Western Wall in Jerusalem?

As taken from, Why does Jewish Law forbid religious images? – David Cardozo Academy

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 30, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Hallan en Israel una nueva especie humana desconocida.

Excavaciones en Israel

Vivió al menos hasta hace 130,000 años, han sido descubiertos en las excavaciones del yacimiento de Nesher Ramla, cerca de la ciudad de Ramala (Israel).

Los huesos de un humano primitivo, desconocido para la ciencia, que vivió al menos hasta hace 130,000 años, han sido descubiertos en las excavaciones del yacimiento de Nesher Ramla, cerca de la ciudad de Ramala (Israel). Al reconocer la similitud con otros especímenes de Homo arcaico de hace 400,000 años, encontrados en Israel y Eurasia, los investigadores han llegado a la conclusión de que estos fósiles representan una población única del Pleistoceno Medio, ahora identificada por primera vez.

Este descubrimiento, publicado en la revista ‘Science’ y en el que participa el español Juan Luis Arsuaga, catedrático de Paleontología de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), pone en entredicho la hipótesis predominante de que los neandertales se originaron en Europa, sugiriendo que al menos algunos de los antepasados de los neandertales procedían en realidad del Levante.

El nuevo hallazgo sugiere que dos tipos de grupos de Homo convivieron en el Levante durante más de 100.000 años (hace 200-100,000 años), compartiendo conocimientos y tecnologías de herramientas: los Nesher Ramla, que vivieron en la región desde hace unos 400,000 años, y los Homo sapiens que llegaron más tarde, hace unos 200,000 años.

El nuevo descubrimiento también da pistas sobre un misterio de la evolución humana, sobre cómo penetraron los genes del Homo sapiens en la población neandertal que presumiblemente había vivido en Europa mucho antes de la llegada del Homo sapiens. Los investigadores afirman que al menos algunos de los fósiles de Homo más tardíos encontrados anteriormente en Israel, como los desenterrados en las cuevas de Skhul y Qafzeh, no pertenecen a Homo sapiens arcaicos (tempranos), sino a grupos de linaje mixto de Homo sapiens y Nesher Ramla.

Investigadores de la Universidad de Tel Aviv y de la Universidad Hebrea de Jerusalén señalan que la morfología de los humanos de Nesher Ramla comparte rasgos tanto con los neandertales (especialmente los dientes y las mandíbulas) como con los Homo arcaicos (concretamente el cráneo). Al mismo tiempo, este tipo de Homo es muy diferente a los humanos modernos, ya que presenta una estructura craneal completamente diferente, no tiene barbilla y tiene dientes muy grandes.

Según los resultados del estudio, los investigadores creen que el tipo de Homo de Nesher Ramla es la población “fuente” a partir de la cual se desarrollaron la mayoría de los humanos del Pleistoceno Medio. Además, sugieren que este grupo es la llamada población “desaparecida” que se apareó con el Homo sapiens que llegó a la región hace unos 200,000 años, del que se tiene constancia por un estudio reciente sobre los fósiles encontrados en la cueva de Misliya.

En este importante descubrimiento han participado dos equipos de investigadores: uno de antropología de , la doctora Hila May y la doctora Rachel Sarig, y otro de arqueología, dirigido por el doctor.

El profesor Israel Hershkovitz, de la Universidad de Tel Aviv, resalta que “este descubrimiento de un nuevo tipo de Homo es de gran importancia científica. Nos permite dar un nuevo sentido a los fósiles humanos encontrados anteriormente, añadir otra pieza al rompecabezas de la evolución humana y comprender las migraciones de los humanos en el mundo antiguo. A pesar de haber vivido hace tanto tiempo, en el Pleistoceno medio tardío (hace 474,000-130,000 años), los Nesher Ramla pueden contarnos una historia fascinante, que revela mucho sobre la evolución y el modo de vida de sus descendientes”, asegura.

El importante fósil humano fue encontrado por el doctor Yossi Zaidner, del Instituto de Arqueología de la Universidad Hebrea de Jerusalén, durante unas excavaciones de salvamento en el yacimiento prehistórico de Nesher Ramla, en la zona minera de la fábrica de cemento de Nesher (propiedad de Len Blavatnik), cerca de la ciudad de Ramla.

Al excavar unos 8 metros, los excavadores encontraron grandes cantidades de huesos de animales, como caballos, gamos y uros, así como herramientas de piedra y huesos humanos. Un equipo internacional dirigido por los investigadores de Tel Aviv y Jerusalén identificó la morfología de los huesos como pertenecientes a un nuevo tipo de Homo, hasta ahora desconocido para la ciencia. Se trata del primer tipo de Homo que se define en Israel y, según la práctica habitual, se le dio el nombre del yacimiento donde se descubrió: el tipo de Homo de Nesher Ramla.

Zaidner resalta que “es un descubrimiento extraordinario. Nunca habíamos imaginado que, junto al Homo sapiens, el Homo arcaico vagara por la zona en una época tan tardía de la historia de la humanidad –asegura–. Los hallazgos arqueológicos asociados a los fósiles humanos demuestran que el ‘Homo de Nesher Ramla’ poseía tecnologías avanzadas de producción de herramientas de piedra y muy probablemente interactuó con los Homo sapiens locales”. La cultura, el modo de vida y el comportamiento del Homo de Nesher Ramla se analizan en un artículo complementario publicado también este jueves en la revista ‘Science’.

El profesor Hershkovitz añade que el descubrimiento del tipo de Homo de Nesher Ramla cuestiona la hipótesis predominante de que los neandertales se originaron en Europa. “Antes de estos nuevos descubrimientos, la mayoría de los investigadores creían que los neandertales eran una ‘historia europea’, en la que pequeños grupos de neandertales se vieron obligados a emigrar hacia el sur para escapar de los glaciares en expansión, y algunos llegaron a la Tierra de Israel hace unos 70,000 años”.

Añade que “los fósiles de Nesher Ramla nos hacen cuestionar esta teoría, sugiriendo que los ancestros de los neandertales europeos vivieron en el Levante hace ya 400,000 años, migrando repetidamente hacia el oeste, hacia Europa, y hacia el este, hacia Asia. De hecho, nuestros hallazgos implican que los famosos neandertales de Europa occidental son sólo los restos de una población mucho mayor que vivió aquí en el Levante, y no al revés”, apostilla.

Según la Hila May, de la Facultad de Medicina Sackler y el Centro Dan David de Investigación de la Evolución Humana y la Biohistoria y el Instituto de Antropología de la Familia Shmunis, situados en el Museo Steinhardt de la Universidad de Tel Aviv, a pesar de la ausencia de ADN en estos fósiles, los hallazgos de Nesher Ramla ofrecen una solución a un gran misterio en la evolución del Homo: cómo penetraron los genes del Homo sapiens en la población neandertal que presumiblemente vivía en Europa mucho antes de la llegada del Homo sapiens”.

“Los genetistas que han estudiado el ADN de los neandertales europeos han sugerido anteriormente la existencia de una población similar a la de los neandertales, a la que llamaron la “población perdida” o la “población X”, que se había apareado con el Homo sapiens hace más de 200,000 años”, recuerda, pero en el artículo de ‘Science’, los investigadores sugieren que el tipo de Homo Nesher Ramla podría representar a esta población, hasta ahora desaparecida del registro de fósiles humanos.

Además, los investigadores proponen que los humanos de Nesher Ramla no son los únicos de su tipo descubiertos en la región, y que algunos fósiles humanos encontrados anteriormente en Israel, que han desconcertado a los antropólogos durante años –como los fósiles de la cueva de Tabun (hace 160.000 años), la cueva de Zuttiyeh (250,000) y la cueva de Qesem (400,000)– pertenecen al mismo nuevo grupo humano ahora llamado tipo Homo de Nesher Ramla.

“La gente piensa en paradigmas –señala la doctora Rachel Sarig–. Por eso se ha intentado atribuir estos fósiles a grupos humanos conocidos como el Homo sapiens, el Homo erectus, el Homo heidelbergensis o los neandertales. Pero ahora decimos: No. Este es un grupo en sí mismo, con rasgos y características distintas”, asegura.

Según tomado de, Hallan en Israel una nueva especie humana desconocida (tribunasalamanca.com)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 27, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

The 37 years that are missing in the Torah

Encampment in the desert, with Mount Seir in the distance, Wady Arabah. Colored lithograph by Louis Haghe after David Roberts, 1849. (Wikimedia Commons)
Encampment in the desert, with Mount Seir in the distance, Wady Arabah. Colored lithograph by Louis Haghe after David Roberts, 1849. (Wikimedia Commons)

That insecure, hungry, and traumatic experience of wandering in the desert forged the Israelites into a responsible, self-governing nation (Hukat)

The fact that the Torah places two events in close proximity frequently leads to an illusory effect on the reader. For example, this week’s Torah portion of Hukat follows Parshat Korach, which was read last week, bolstering the distortion that the events that appear in Hukat happened immediately after those chronicled in Korach. In actuality, the narrative appearing in Hukat, which details the arrival of “the whole congregation to the desert of Tzin,” occurred 37 years after the events of Korach.

The opening five parshiyot in the Book of Numbers recount the first two years of the Jews’ sojourn in the desert. The narrative takes a sudden turn and deposits the reader 37 years later to the threshold of the Jews’ entry into the Land of Israel. What happened during those intervening years and why is the Torah silent about them?

The Torah’s reticence might be indicative of the icy relationship between God and the group that experienced the Egyptian redemption and Divine revelation at Sinai. Rashi points out that the expression “the whole congregation,” which appears in the parsha, refers to the new nation destined to enter the land of Israel after the previous generation perished in the desert. Since these added years are punishment for the colossal sin of the spies, the Torah omits mention of them.

Other biblical sources, however, provide a glimpse into the relationship between God and the people Israel during this period. Psalms presents God as declaring: “Forty years, I quarreled with a generation, and I said, ‘They are a people of erring hearts and they did not know My ways’” (95:10).

The mystery of the Torah’s omission of these 37 years is an indication of the nation’s continuous downward spiral away from the Divine. Even Moses had prophecy elude him during these years (Rashi on Deut. 2:17). Given that Moses merited prophecy solely in his capacity as leader of the Jewish nation, this is not surprising. When God is remote from His people, He has no need for Moses as His emissary to them or as a representative of the people. Thus did God also remain distant from His greatest prophet.

The Torah itself indicates that the experience of traveling in the desert was full of trials and afflictions:

“And you shall remember the entire way on which the Lord, your God, led you these 40 years in the desert, in order to afflict you to test you, And He afflicted you and let you go hungry, and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your forefathers know.” (Deut. 8:2)

Various commentators connect the suffering to the manna. The manna would spoil overnight and the desert sojourners did not have iron clad confidence that they would have food the following day, provided by God. The people’s reactions also suggest that, while the manna provided all the essential nutrients for human survival, they never felt fully satiated. Hunger and insecurity accompanied them for 37 years. They were wrong, however. Throughout the desert exile punishment and the people’s relative detachment from God, and He from them, He still miraculously provided them with adequate sustenance.

The biblical text goes on to describe how the clothing and the shoes worn in the desert did not disintegrate. The midrash further claims that the garments fit properly, even as the wearers grew; the clothing was simply laundered and pressed by the surrounding clouds, however that was manifest. (To the modern style-conscious reader, this might be the ultimate trauma: wearing the same garment for 37 years!)

Another difficulty the desert generation faced was the utter uncertainty of the itinerary. There was no advance notice as to whether the temporary stay would last days, weeks, months, or even years. The technical issues involved were frustrating and difficult. No one was sure whether to unpack and settle in or live out of their suitcases, as it were. Midrash Tanchuma identifies this uncertainty as part of the punishment, while Seforno maintains that people following God blindly without knowing where or for how long was praiseworthy, and that trust was the trait that made them worthy of redemption.

Rambam, in his seminal work of philosophy, The Guide of the Perplexed (III:24), explains that, in addition to the suffering of those bleak years, the people were given opportunities for growth, learning, development, and maturation. The difficulties they confronted and overcame in the desert prepared the nation to conquer and settle the land. It would have been impossible for the people to emerge from being a docile, ragtag band of slaves to become a large nation with military and national agendas had they not benefitted from the ripening provided by years of reflection, planning, and overcoming domestic and foreign challenges. The Israelites needed to evolve from a group of lowly slaves beholden to Egyptian taskmasters to become a free nation that would form an eternal and enduring covenant with God. It was in the silent barrenness of the desert that a nation is formed.

The Torah recounts how Moses ascended Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, where he ate no bread and drank no water (Deut. 9:9). The prophet uses similar terminology to describe the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert (Deut. 29:5). Thus, one can understand that the nation’s desert experience mirrored Moses’ time on Sinai, in that just as his rapport with God was singular and unlike that with any mortal, the Israelites also developed a unique connection to God, unlike that of any other nation.

The unusual punishment of wandering in the desert, hungry, insecure, and traumatized is what ultimately forged the Israelites into a responsible, self-governing nation. The Torah thus teaches a great deal about the nation and its experience specifically by NOT mentioning the 37 years of distress in the desert.

Haim Nachman Bialik, in his poem “Meitei Midbar,” allegorically describes how the Israelites desert sojourn foreshadowed Jewish history. Both are, at once, difficult, dotted with trials and pain, and yet, God is ever-present, albeit silent with a promising end result.

“Also, the terrible wilderness, the empty desert
Shall echo his call: ‘Israel, Arise and possess!’”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Chana Tannenbaum lectures at Bar Ilan University, Michlelet Herzog, and Matan. She has worked as a Jewish educator, in teaching and administration, for more than 30 years. She earned her doctorate at Yeshiva University, where she was also the recipient of the Baumel award, given to the most outstanding faculty member throughout Yeshiva University. Dr. Tannenbaum made aliyah with her family in 1997, moving to Nof Ayalon.

As taken from, The 37 years that are missing in the Torah | Chana Tannenbaum | The Blogs (timesofisrael.com)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 19, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Mizrahi Nation

Long shut out of the country’s story, Middle Eastern Jews now make up half of Israel’s population, influencing its culture in surprising ways. Who are they?

Yemenite Jews walking to Aden, the site of a transit camp, ahead of their emigration to Israel in 1949. Zoltan Kluger/Government Press Office.
Yemenite Jews walking to Aden, the site of a transit camp, ahead of their emigration to Israel in 1949. Zoltan Kluger/Government Press Office

The story of Israel, as most people know it, is well trod—perhaps even tiresome by now. It begins with anti-Semitism in Europe and passes through Theodor Herzl, the Zionist pioneers, the kibbutz, socialism, the Holocaust, and the 1948 War of Independence. In the early decades of the return to Zion and the new state, the image of the Israeli was of a blond pioneer tilling the fields shirtless, or of an audience listening to Haydn in one of the new concert halls. Israel might have been located, for historical reasons, in the Middle East, but the new country was an outpost of Europe. Its story was a story about Europe.

This story was a powerful one, and it has not changed much over the decades, certainly not in its English version. A recent example is Ari Shavit’s best-selling My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, in which the characters, with few exceptions, are the usual pioneers, Holocaust survivors, lovers of Europe spurned by Europe, devotees of classical music forced to become farmers and fighters, and their children and grandchildren: Ashkenazi Israelis like the author, and like me. Other actors are present onstage, but they are extras or props, not the stars. An earlier example of the form was Amos Elon’s richly told The Israelis: Founders and Sons (1971; reissued 1983), which purported to peer into the soul of the country but had scarcely a word to say about anyone not from Europe. Everyone knew who “the Israelis” really were.

A confluence of interests has endeared this same narrative to Israel’s enemies, who have used it to increasing effect. In Israel, goes one variant of the story, Arabs were made to pay the price of a European problem. A less benign variant posits that Israel is not a solution to anyone’s suffering but instead a colonialist European state imposed by empowered Westerners upon a native Middle Eastern population: that blond pioneer is less a victim rebuilding himself as a free man or an agent of progress than he is a white Rhodesian rancher.

It is 2014, and it should be clear to anyone on even passing terms with the actual country of Israel that all of this is absurd. Israel has existed for nearly seven decades and, like most things on earth, has turned into something that would have surprised the people who thought it up. Half of Israel’s Jews do not hail from Europe and are descendants of people who had little to do with Herzl, socialism, the kibbutz, or the Holocaust. These people require not the addition of a footnote, but a reframing of the story. Hard as this is for those of us whose minds were formed in the West, this means putting aside the European morality play that so many still see when they look at Israel, and instead viewing non-Europeans as main characters.

In what follows I will not try to offer anything resembling a comprehensive history but only trace an alternative way of seeing things and point out what this might yield by way of insight into the life of the country that exists today.

I’ll begin by introducing my friend Rafi Sutton.

1. Aleppo, 1947

Opposite Rafi’s apartment in a middle-class neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria, was a delicatessen owned by a Jewish family named Mizreb. This was in 1947. The deli sold canned foods imported from abroad, preserved meats, pickled cucumbers made by the proprietor’s mother, and French baguette sandwiches. The Jewish geography of Aleppo was ancient: Jews had been praying at their Great Synagogue since the 5th century C.E., and the first known evidence of Jews in the city is seven centuries older than that. The community thus predated not only Islam but also Christianity and the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews were the oldest of the city’s native sects.

Mizreb’s delicatessen was a new addition to the geography, but an important one, or at least so it seemed to Rafi. If a young Jewish man wanted to treat his girlfriend in those days, he took her to the deli and bought her a baguette sandwich and a drink. Rafi was not yet old enough to do such things himself but he was, in the manner of fifteen-year-olds, attentive to them.

On November 30, 1947, a Sunday, Rafi looked out at his street from between the slats of wooden shutters. The night before, he had listened on the family’s radio to the broadcast from the United Nations where delegates voted to partition Palestine into a state for Arabs and a state for Jews. Now Jewish stores were ablaze in Aleppo, and up the street were piles of Jewish books in flames; like the burning of books and smashing of glass nine years earlier, in colder cities, the smoke augured the end of a Jewish world. Bands of rioters incited by the press and the government roamed the neighborhood looking for Jewish homes and businesses. According to one contemporary report, the mob burned down 50 stores, 18 synagogues, five schools, the community’s orphanage, a youth club, and more than 150 homes. In the ancient Jewish quarter in the Old City, families huddled in basements, hid in the apartments of friendly Muslim or Christian neighbors, or—in the case of one boy I would interview as an elderly man decades later—jumped barefoot from a kitchen window ahead of a mob bursting through the front door and sprinted through the alleys to a chorus of Arabic jeers and breaking glass.

A group of rioters gathered outside the storefront of Mizreb’s deli. Rafi could tell by their worn slacks and shoes that they were from the provinces or the city’s poorer quarters. They smashed the storefront, and two of the marauders ran across the street with an enormous jar of Mizreb’s famous pickled cucumbers. Sitting on the steps of Rafi’s building, they began to fight over the jar, tugging it back and forth until finally it fell to the ground and shattered, spilling the contents on the ground. This would be one of Rafi’s indelible memories of that day, a fifteen-year-old’s view of the beginning of the end.

By the next day the community’s well-off families had fled. By the mid-1950s, of the 10,000 Jews in Aleppo in 1947, only 2,000 remained, mostly the poor. They were prisoners of the Syrian regime and its secret services, the mukhabarat.The Jews’ passports were stamped in red with the word mousawi, “Mosaic,” so that their movements could be more easily restricted. Travel between cities was forbidden except by special permission. Many university faculties were closed to Jews. In the early 1990s, when the remaining members of the community were finally allowed to leave, they did so immediately, shuttering the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, the oldest functioning house of Jewish prayer in the world.

By this time, Rafi was long gone. In 1949, two years after watching the riot through the shutters of his home, he escaped on a rickety boat that sailed from Lebanon and deposited him on a beach in the new state of Israel.

My first intimate exposure to this history came in the course of writing about the Aleppo Codex, a manuscript of the Hebrew Bible guarded in that city for six centuries. That led me to Rafi, who became a character in my book. Prior to our long conversations, which still occur regularly, I might have thought of Jews like him as Sephardim, meaning Jews of mainly Spanish descent—but Jewish Aleppo and other eastern communities existed not only before the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 but before they arrived there in the first place. Or I might have thought of them as Jews of the Islamic world, which is not inaccurate but conceals its own slight, since Jews were in places like Aleppo at least a millennium before the birth of Islam. Jews of the Arab world, then? True of most of them—except that Jews had been living in Arab countries long before those countries were Arab.

Let us call them, with apologies for the lack of geographical logic, Jews from the Middle East, stretching the term “Middle East” to include North Africa even though the “eastern” city of Casablanca is farther west than the “western” city of London. In the 1940s there were about 260,000 Jews living in Morocco, 140,000 in Algeria, 40,000 in Libya, 140,000 in Iraq, 80,000 in Egypt, 60,000 in Yemen, and many others in Arab countries and in non-Arab countries like Iran and Turkey. Most were Arabic-speaking, with minorities who spoke Persian, Kurdish, Turkish, and other languages.

In all, there were nearly a million Jews living throughout the Middle East only 70 years ago, members of one of the region’s ancient native religious communities. Beginning in the mid-20th century they were forcibly displaced en masse, never to see their homes again. Most of them became concentrated in one minute slice of the region. There they developed the ability to defend themselves and have thus survived and thrived, unlike every other religious minority in this part of the world.

In Israel they have become known collectively as Mizrahim, easterners, a generalization that incorporates people from vastly different countries and classes but sharing roots in the world of Islam and similar experiences after their arrival in Israel. (The other generalization is Ashkenazim, describing Jews from a multiplicity of backgrounds anywhere between Vilna and Vancouver.) At age seventeen, Rafi became one of these many hundreds of thousands. Joseph Intabi, the child who ran barefoot from his home in Aleppo’s old city, arrived in Israel at the same time. Batya Levi, the woman who lives in the apartment next to mine, arrived from Morocco. The parents or grandparents of half of the 20 families who live in our building in Jerusalem came from elsewhere in the Middle East. My brother-in-law’s family arrived from Oujda, on the Morocco-Algeria border, my sister-in-law’s family from Yarim, in the highlands of the Yemeni interior. Others came from hundreds of other cities, towns, and villages.

Today, these Jews and their descendants can be said to make up, according to the Israeli demographer Sergio DellaPergola, 50 percent of Israel’s total Jewish population of just over six million, although the numbers are becoming significantly blurred by the kind of mixing evident in my own family. Fifty percent: this means that in 2014 their story is, as much as any other, the story of Israel.

2. Jews and Judaism in the Middle East

A few brief details about the past will be helpful before we return to the present. If one grows up immersed in the story of Ashkenazi Jewry, one might believe that upon being exiled from Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the Jews appeared in places like Lodz and Vilna and then shortly thereafter on New York’s Lower East Side. In fact, 1,000 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, nine out of every ten Jews on earth still lived in the Middle East. By the 12th century, when the philosopher Moses Maimonides came to prominence in Cairo, Jews were taking root in Christian Europe, but the center was still very much in the Muslim-dominated Middle East. In this world, Jews were a second-class minority, afforded certain protections because they were monotheists but subject to a special tax and restrictions on housing and dress. The Muslim term for this status is dhimmi (now reportedly being resurrected and applied to Christians by the Islamist forces in control of parts of Syria).

It has become something of a cliché that the pre-modern Islamic world was a place of kindness toward Jews—if not, indeed, of convivencia (coexistence), the term adopted by some to characterize what is known as the Golden Age of medieval Spain. This is fantasy. There were periods of relative ease, and there were periods of tyranny and violence. Maimonides himself was forced to flee Muslim persecution in Spain and is thought by some scholars to have lived for a time as a Muslim to save his own life before arriving in the relative safety of Cairo and openly reverting to Judaism. He remained preoccupied all his life with shielding his co-religionists from the seduction of voluntary conversion, and the threat of forced conversion, to Islam.

Centuries later, Islam’s fortunes had fallen drastically, and yet an 18th-century traveler in Morocco could still describe the country’s Jews as “oppressed, miserable creatures, having neither the mouth to answer an Arab, nor the cheek to raise their head.” A visitor to Maimonides’ city in the 1820s and 1830s reported that Cairo’s Jews were “held in the utmost contempt and abhorrence by Muslims in general.”

By the 1800s, however, ideas of nationalism were beginning to change Europe, and they gradually began to affect the Middle East as well. In Europe these ideas led to the creation of political Zionism, which sought to protect Jews from the nationalism of others by giving them a national movement of their own. In the Middle East they led to the creation of Arab nationalism. Just as nationalism in places like Germany and France would come to exclude Jews, Arab nationalism did the same; and just as Jews in Europe would find their situation to be increasingly precarious, so did the Jews of the Middle East.

Because of poverty and uncertainty about the future, a Jewish exodus from the Middle East was under way by the time European Zionist pioneers began arriving in Palestine in earnest; by the 1920s there was already a thriving Aleppo Jewish diaspora in places like New York City and Manchester, England. As national movements grew in strength in Middle Eastern countries, the situation of Jews only worsened. Western-style hatreds became more evident. In 1925, a Lebanese Maronite priest translated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion into Arabic and the book found an enthusiastic audience that seems to have flagged little since then—I encountered it eight decades later in several respectable bookstores in Beirut.

All of this goes to say that the appearance of Zionism did not create the persecution of Jews in Muslim lands—a common claim that at best, in the words of the historian Norman Stillman, amounts to a “gross oversimplification.” (The infamous blood libel of Damascus, to take just one example, occurred in 1840.) Rather, Zionism exacerbated a growing precariousness that, like Zionism itself, was a result of the advent of modernity and the rise of nationalism, and that appeared atop an older and more stable kind of discrimination.

Zionism initially found relatively few adherents among Jews in Muslim lands. It was a European movement dominated by people who might have an ethnographic interest in eastern Jews but did not regard them seriously as political actors. Nevertheless, whatever their degree of involvement or lack of involvement in Zionism, Jews in Muslim countries increasingly found themselves the targets of popular discontent spurred on by elite opinion, and had to plead their loyalty to their Muslim compatriots. In one memorably abject example from 1929, a Jewish youth club placed an ad in a Damascus newspaper declaring:

Zionism was founded by the Jews in northern Europe, and the Jews of Damascus are totally estranged from it. It is for this reason that we have come to declare by the present note to our Arab fellow citizens and to the members of the press our attitude vis-à-vis the Zionist question, and we ask them to differentiate between the European Zionists and the Jews who have been living for centuries in these lands.

This would not save their community.

By 1941, with the founding of the state of Israel still only barely imaginable, anti-Jewish sentiment became linked to the pro-Nazi posture assumed across the Arab world, manifesting itself in increasingly extreme acts of violence against Jews. The most notable instance among many was a Muslim pogrom that year in Baghdad. Known as the Farhud, the riot killed an estimated 180 people and did much to seal the fate of the Jewish community of Babylon—one that, like the community in Aleppo, predated Islam, Christianity, and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. At the time, by some estimates, as many as a third of the residents of Baghdad were Jews. Most eventually escaped to Israel and made their new homes not all that far away from their old ones. Were there no borders, Baghdad would be a day’s drive from Jerusalem, and if one left Jerusalem early in the morning one could be in Aleppo by mid-afternoon.

These Jews were, in other words, members of a persecuted minority who re-established themselves as free people in the Middle East after their displacement from elsewhere in the Middle East. They now lived alongside new arrivals from Europe and alongside people like Mazal Sides, my wife’s grandmother, who grew up speaking Ladino in the old pre-Zionist Jewish community of Jerusalem, in a family with roots in Hebron. The families of the newly arrived Middle Eastern Jews were not native to Palestine. But then, neither were the families of all Arabs in Palestine. The decades leading up to 1948, peak years of Jewish immigration, saw Arab immigration as well, mainly for economic reasons and much of it undocumented. Some of the Arabs in Palestine in 1948 were natives of the same places as were some of the Jews, particularly Syria and Egypt; anyone around the Haifa port in the 1940s, for example, remembers the workers from Houran, an area in Syria. The point can be overdone, and has been the subject of debate in which numbers have often been used to bolster ideological claims, but it is safe to say that the question of who is native in the land and who is not is more complicated than might at first appear.

The name “Israeli” seems to denote something new, and that was the idea: “Israelis” were supposed to be an improved version of “Jews.” But the price paid for that aspirational title was to bolster the argument that Jews were newcomers in this part of the world. It is interesting in this respect that Israel’s enemies have found it difficult to get used to the term “Israelis,” and have generally preferred “Jews.” In his book Hezbollah: The Story from Within, the organization’s deputy secretary-general, Naim Qassem, makes clear that the Jews in Israel are the same ones mentioned repeatedly in the Quran. He cites numerous passages in support of his argument, including this one: “And we decreed for the Children of Israel in the scripture: Ye verily will work corruption in the earth twice, and ye will become great tyrants.” His point is that just as the Jews were once punished by being driven out of the land, so they will be defeated and driven out again. The Hamas charter similarly identifies the Jews of modern Israel with the Jews of Islamic tradition–that is, with the Jews whom Muslims have been meeting around the Middle East since the birth of Islam.

Jews are, and always have been, familiar characters in the Islamic world. In that world they were regarded as people who could usually be tolerated if they accepted the dominance of Muslims, but who lacked honor and could not fight. This is important if one is to understand the sense of humiliation in the Islamic world at being defeated militarily by Israel, a much sharper humiliation than being defeated, as Muslims were, by Christian armies. Being beaten by Jews is not like being beaten by the English or the Americans. It is, as we used to say in the schoolyard, like being beaten by a girl.

If you visit Cairo today, you can ask directions to an area downtown called the Jewish Quarter, a name it retains despite the disappearance of its Jews. In that quarter, several years ago, I found a man who knew the precise location of one of the Jews’ abandoned synagogues, which he remembered from its days of activity. I had a similar experience in the old mellah of Fez and in the Rif mountain town of Chefchaouen, homes to Moroccan Jewish communities that vanished in the relatively recent past. The flight of Jews from the Islamic world has been forgotten elsewhere, and even the descendants of the emigrants themselves do not, as a rule, think of themselves as refugees or ask for anyone’s pity. But reminders of this exodus, and of the absence of the Jews, are encountered daily by millions in Arab countries. They know who once lived in their cities and towns, why they left, what happened to their property, and where they are now.

Presenting Israelis as newcomers is not just an effective way to play on Western guilt over Europe’s supposed transplanting of its Jewish problem to the Middle East. It is a way to expunge the uncomfortable knowledge that “Israeli” is just a new name for old neighbors—and dangerous neighbors, because they have a legitimate grievance that they remember. It is clear to people from this part of the world that one does not forget such things. I believe this is one of the hidden gears of the Middle East conflict, one that remains invisible as long as one regards the history of the native Jews of the region merely as an exotic detail.

3. Becoming Israeli

What happened to the Jews of the Middle East once in Israel? Their arrival was generally unhappy. Not that any of the refugees who flooded the Jewish state after its founding, doubling its population in three years, were treated gently; the internment of immigrants in camps and their disinfection with DDT, for example, remembered as having been inflicted specifically on arrivals from the East, was in fact inflicted on everyone in the desperate chaos of those days. Similarly applied to all were generalizations about supposed national characteristics, though Jews from Arab countries were usually placed at the bottom of the list. If Romanians and Hungarians, as one official wrote, “have no pioneering spirit at all” and “expect a life of luxury,” the new arrivals from North Africa were primitives, “hot-tempered and unorganized.”

The state’s founders had wanted to save the Jews of Europe, but Israel had not been created in time to do that. Instead, it ended up saving the smaller but far older Jewish world of the Middle East, to which few of the founders had devoted much thought. They had not been expecting these strange people, who reminded them of a region few of them particularly cared for and which was at war with them. But the state needed citizens, workers, and soldiers, and besides, ingathering the exiles—all of the exiles—was seen as a mission of nearly religious import. The state went to immense lengths to absorb them.

The process was made more difficult by the contempt some European Jews felt for Jews from the East, and by the immense cultural gaps that divided the populations. Those gaps were not imaginary. Some of the newcomers did hail from places where standards of living could accurately be described as medieval—even if things were not much better in some parts of Europe, and even if many Middle Eastern immigrants came from places far more cosmopolitan than did many Europeans. One official was of the opinion that the immigrants from Arab countries displayed “mental regression” and “a faulty development of the ego.” “Perhaps these are not the Jews we would like to see coming here,” wrote another, “but we can hardly tell them not to come.” Saying that their absorption succeeded beyond reasonable expectations—as it unquestionably did—is not to deny that it could have been handled far better or that the country is still paying the price for mistakes it made all those many years ago.

And today? Ethnic lines are fading in places but are still very much present; social and economic gaps are narrowing slowly but have by no means closed. One recent study found that Mizrahi Jews occupy only 29 percent of managerial positions requiring a university degree, as opposed to 54 percent for Jews of European descent, and that a poor person in central Israel is three times as likely to be descended from immigrants from the Middle East as from Europe. Similar studies abound.

At present, most people who can claim to be victims of European male hegemony seem unable to resist the temptation, but it would be a mistake to limit discussion of Mizrahi Jews to that constricted, patronizing category. Rafi Sutton’s father Moshe, who escaped from Syria, reached Israel in 1950 at age eighty-five, and died several years later, felt neither humiliated nor angry but rather convinced he had lived to see redemption. He believed, Rafi says, that David Ben-Gurion was Moses. Like many Aleppo-born Jews I have interviewed, he did not see Zionism solely or even primarily as a modern construct but as the straightforward realization of liturgical passages like, “May our eyes see Your return to Zion in mercy,” recited in prayer thrice daily. Rafi himself, who became an army colonel and a case officer in the Mossad, insists he was never insulted and, when asked, would not list a single complaint. This would seem to be exceptional, but given the solid identification of today’s Mizrahi Jews with the cause of Zionism and the Jewish state, it is perhaps not as unusual as some might think.

The academy and the upper echelons of Israel’s political system tend to remain, largely and regrettably, the province of Jews of European descent. But the fabric of everyday life is otherwise. To draw an example from the world of pop culture: Israel’s music TV station, Channel 24, is dominated by the genre dubbed Mizrahi, a blend of Middle Eastern and Greek influences that has become the country’s signature musical style and whose fan base is by no means limited to Israelis of eastern descent. Most of it is dreadful, though no more so than popular music anywhere else, and it is markedly better-natured than much on offer from its American equivalents.

Aesthetically, many of the videos are not especially different from what one sees on Arabic music channels elsewhere in the region. Most of the songs are about romantic love, of course, but in this genre it is wholly permissible to devote earnest love songs to God or to your mother, two subjects that in the West are quite off-limits to pop singers (except in country music). This reflects the fact that personal and family ties in Israel operate largely according to Middle Eastern norms. If, in the modern West, loving one’s mother after age twelve or so is something you’re not supposed to be vocal about, in the culture of modern Israel things are the other way around: if you do not love your mother and phone her regularly, there is something wrong with you. Speaking loudly, affectionately, and respectfully to her on a cellphone in public at age thirty-five, far from contradicting a macho persona, is a necessary component of one.

Israel’s prevailing ideas of family, hospitality, friendship, and accepted degrees of warmth in normal personal interactions—as in the amount of male cheek-kissing in some of the military’s toughest combat units—share the same Middle Eastern origins. One can only be thankful that this is the case. Certain human qualities (like guilt, for example, and self-deprecating humor) that American Jews, being still linked to the world of Europe, consider to be intrinsically Jewish, are absent here.

Beyond mainstream pop, the country’s soundtrack is being altered by other Middle Eastern sounds as well. The rock singer Dudu Tassa released, to considerable acclaim, an album of songs by the great al-Quwaiti brothers of Iraq; the brothers were Jews and one of them, Daoud, was Tassa’s grandfather. The local indie music scene has recently produced Riff Cohen’s irrepressible North African-influenced music in French and Hebrew, and also the band Yemen Blues, whose exceptional sound is insufficiently hinted at in its name.

On the more classical end of the scale, ensembles like the New Jerusalem Orchestra and the Andalusian-Mediterranean Orchestra (whose musicians are as likely to hail from the former Soviet Union as from the Middle East) have become known for fusing Middle Eastern melodies with jazz and symphonic composition. A renaissance in the eastern Jewish liturgical tradition of piyyut, performed by such masters as the Moroccan-born Rabbi Haim Louk, has attracted pop singers like the mainstream rocker Barry Sakharov.

All this would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. At the root of the eastern music phenomenon is not an orientalist interest on the part of Europeans but a new willingness on all sides, including among formerly alienated “returnees” from the Mizrahi world itself, to explore and to integrate this part of the native culture of the citizens of Israel. And music is just one example of the process; similar instances can be found in areas of cultural and national life from literature and painting to cuisine and from religion to politics.

These last two, religion and politics, merit a brief discussion of their own.

4. The Mizrahi Influence Today

When it comes to the religious life of the country, a misfortune visited upon Israeli Judaism was the modern and Western idea that one is either “religious” or “secular,” a distinction that never existed in the Jewish communities of the East. There, Jews were bound to an inescapable but flexible amalgam called “tradition.” One could not leave tradition, but there was room for movement within it. In Rafi Sutton’s Aleppo, even the wives of chief rabbis did not cover their hair, and though most men were ritually observant, no one wore a skullcap or any other visible sign of Jewishness in public.

The fact that a sizable number of Israelis still cling to the idea that one is either “secular” or “religious” makes it difficult to perceive that much—perhaps most—of the country answers to neither definition. In a recent poll, 43 percent of Israeli Jews categorized themselves as “secular” and 32 percent as “traditional,” but, confusingly, fully 80 percent said they believed in God and 72 percent in the power of prayer, and 66 percent said they light candles on Friday night. Rafi, for one, does not observe most religious laws but was insulted when I suggested that he was “secular.” In a traditional eastern family in Israel, you might follow a Sabbath dinner on Friday night with a soccer game, or attend synagogue on Saturday morning and then go to the beach. Tradition is not something you must take or leave, but something in which you live to the best of your ability in different ways at different times.

The idea of a deep religious identity combined with a deep religious flexibility has yet to find coherent public expression in Israel. In politics, the primary representative of Middle Eastern Jews has instead been the Shas party, which has steered many away from the mainstream into an ersatz form of Eastern European ultra-Orthodoxy, and therefore also from productive work and service into a dead end of insularity and government handouts. Rafi believes Shas to be “the worst disaster ever to befall the Mizrahim.” In the last national election, a renegade Shas rabbi, Haim Amsalem, tried to start a new party with a relatively moderate platform. Insisting in a newspaper interview with me that stringent Jewish observance by no means contradicts joining the workforce or the army, he said that his views were inspired by those of his father, David Amsalem, a rabbi in Morocco and Algeria, and also reflected what he saw as the true teachings of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the most important Mizrahi religious figure of the last century.

Yosef himself, who died last year, was a complicated and often contradictory character who will be remembered both as a Jewish scholar of genius and considerable flexibility, and as the person responsible for the rise of Shas in Israeli politics. With Yosef’s blessing, Amsalem was excommunicated from the party, and though his splinter faction gained significant attention it failed to win enough votes to gain a seat in parliament. And yet the idea of “tradition” in the old eastern style remains widespread and is becoming influential in non-Mizrahi circles as well. Last summer, a journalist for the national-religious newspaper Makor Rishon noticed that many of her friends were texting on Shabbat, looked into the phenomenon, and discovered young Ashkenazi Israelis from modern-Orthodox homes who were looking to identify themselves as masorti, “traditional,” a term that in Hebrew refers specifically to the moderate style of Judaism practiced by many eastern Jews. “Maybe a new kind of observance is coming into being under our nose,” she wrote.

This is possible. In Israel, the liberal streams of Judaism familiar to Americans are seen as foreign and quite irrelevant, a result in part of the relatively small number of their adherents who have immigrated to Israel. But masorti in the eastern style is seen as an authentic Israeli identity, and its increased adoption may be another product of the creeping admiration for eastern Jews on the part of Israelis of European descent. “Cool” does not get measured in polls but is nonetheless worth noticing. If being Mizrahi was once uncool, that is no longer the case. A young man told me he would never call himself a Conservative or Reform Jew because he does not “speak with an American accent.” But he did not see why he had to suffer religious rigidity merely because his grandparents were from Europe, and so he identifies himself as masorti.

In politics, finally, with the notable exception of Shas, eastern Jews in Israel have not acted in concert as a bloc of voters any more than European Jews, and politicians of Middle Eastern descent are represented across the political spectrum. Still, it is accurate to say that most Mizrahi Jews have generally been stalwarts of the Right. This has been true since the era when the old Labor establishment tended to treat them with condescension while Menahem Begin’s Herut, the precursor to the Likud, did not. Their affinity for the Right also has much to do with personal memories of displacement by Muslims, and with a sense of the way things work in the Middle East. That sense tells you that words spoken by opponents are not important and promises not to be trusted, that you do not easily give up things that are yours, and that if you do, you should expect not a grateful and reconciled adversary but scorn and further exploitation.

To anyone convinced that Israel’s war with its neighbors will end in a reasonable compromise, such stubbornness must seem lamentable. If, however, one understands the conflict as a test of wills that will go on indefinitely, and in which Israelis are outnumbered by people of admirable persistence and patience, one develops a greater appreciation for those on one’s side who are unapologetically rooted in their own identity, have no illusions about their enemies, and are quite indisposed to giving up.

Taking Rafi Sutton as an example of this approach, I would describe his position as pessimistic without being ideologically inflexible. After the 1967 war, as an intelligence officer in Jerusalem, he believed that Yasir Arafat was threatened more by Arab governments than by Israel. Acting on this belief, he managed to open a channel to the Fatah chief through a middleman who assured Arafat that Rafi, “an Arab like us,” was someone with whom certain arrangements could be made. Arafat wanted to talk. But Rafi’s superiors, who did not want to lend legitimacy to a terrorist, vetoed the idea. Their thinking, Rafi says, was “typically Polish.” And yet, at the same time, he himself believes no Palestinian leader will ever sign a peace deal with Israel on any terms, for the simple reason that doing so would make him a traitor to the Palestinian cause—that cause being the destruction of Israel—and would be certain to get him assassinated like the first King Abdullah of Jordan or Anwar Sadat of Egypt. In Rafi’s view, the recent U.S. effort to engineer a quick peace deal is “idiotic,” because such a deal is impossible.

This skepticism is not an extreme position and has nothing to do with the messianism of the religious settlement movement, an Ashkenazi affair with which eastern Jews have always had a complicated relationship (and where they have not always been welcome). It has been vindicated in the eyes of most Israelis and is, I believe, the country’s dominant political sentiment at the moment.

5. The Next Phase of Israel’s National Existence

What does the future look like? Thanks to intermarriage between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews, and to the increasing openness of the Israeli mainstream to Mizrahi religious, political, and cultural norms, I believe it is fair to predict an accelerating erasure of the ethnic divide. But I do not want to exaggerate: that divide remains deeper than many Ashkenazi Israelis would like to think, and its disappearance is still many years away. Such things take time. In Aleppo, it was generations before the exiles from Spain after 1492 melded into one community with the city’s native Arabic-speaking Jews.

Working in Israel’s favor in this respect is the fact that Israeli society is strikingly fluid; dramatic and rapid change is possible here as it isn’t in more staid places. The challenge is to stop picking at the scabs of the past and to stop seeing the national project through the lens of old dividing lines: left vs. right, religious vs. secular, Ashkenazi vs. Mizrahi. Though the political system and many intellectuals have yet to catch up, most Israelis now exist somewhere in the middle. Instead of ignoring the reality, let alone bemoaning it in light of some imaginary past of khaki shorts and songs around the Palmah campfire, wise statesmen and thinkers should be considering how to forge, from all of our society’s constituent parts, the second phase of Israel’s national existence, the phase that comes after the expiry of the founding generation. Those constituent parts are, of course, a source not only of potential comity but of tension and fractiousness, so it is fair to question whether the necessary trick can be pulled off. Anyone considering what has been achieved over the past 66 years has reasonable grounds for optimism.

In Aleppo, Mizreb’s delicatessen is gone. Rafi’s old school and synagogue are gone. Jewish Aleppo is gone. Now much of the rest of Aleppo is gone as well. The Suttons, however, are alive and well: Rafi and his wife Rina, who hails from another Aleppo family, their three sons, all of whom are in Israel, and their eight grandchildren.

When Rafi and the other Jews of the Islamic world arrived here after 1948, they found themselves in what was still a European project. But if they joined the world of European Jews, the European Jews of Israel simultaneously, and unwittingly, joined theirs. The new identity known as “Israeli” is a product of that meeting. This is what is not noticed by many observers, even the knowledgeable among them—and even the Israelis among them—who, it sometimes appears, see one country out their window and then sit down and write about another country entirely. As a result, they are left with stale ideas and an out-of-date story that is increasingly useless in explaining the country as it exists right now. They miss the lively and potent fuel that drives the place, and they underestimate its resilience.

The construction of the state of Israel, in which Mizrahi Jews have been partners of numeric equality (if not other forms of equality) for over 66 years, provided the stateless Jews of the Middle East with self-determination in their native region and turned them from an endangered minority into half of a majority. Other religious minorities under Muslim rule—the Zoroastrians, Baha’i, and Christians come to mind—are in danger of extinction. Because the Jews have a country, they have been spared that fate and shielded from the savagery now unfolding in places like Aleppo, which would have made them one of its first targets had not an earlier and comparatively milder incarnation of the same savagery driven them out long ago. Whatever its faults, the country they helped build has given them, and the rest of us, a prosperous home, and within two or three generations has catapulted them far beyond the condition of the people they left behind.

The form that the Jewish presence in this region has taken—national sovereignty—is unprecedented. But if we place the story of the Jews of Islamic countries at the center rather than at the margins of our consciousness, we see that Israel represents a continuation of the past as much as it does a break with it. We Israelis are Jews in the Middle East. That we are free, safe from persecution, and in charge of ourselves—these things are new. But that we are here? There is nothing new about that at all.

As taken from, Mizrahi Nation » Mosaic (mosaicmagazine.com)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 14, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Abraham Joshua Heschel—a Major Jewish Prophet

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a spiritual radical. A new documentary shows  he's more timely than ever
Abraham Joshua Heschel

By Peter Eisenstadt 

“What manner of man is the prophet?,” asks Abraham Joshua Heschel, in the opening words of his 1962 masterwork The Prophets. Heschel tells us. The prophet has an acute sensitivity to evil. Acts that others might dismiss with a shrug, or explain away as the dog-eat-dog way of the world, incite the full fury of their indignation at what Heschel calls “the secret obscenity of sheer unfairness.” This the prophet feels fiercely, a sensitivity to evil that is a divine illness. They know that God has placed a burden on their shoulders, and thrust a coal into their mouths. The prophet feels the pathos of God, and becomes its vessel. The prophet is an iconoclast, a breaker of images, a seeker of holiness who has no patience or tolerance for its feigned imitations or facsimiles, an unwelcome guest in the Temple. The prophet decries evil and the pollution of the divine word, but is aware that to castigate only the wicked lets everyone else off the hook, and in Heschel’s famous words, “few are guilty, all are responsible.” All misdemeanors become felonies.  But in this refusal to accept gradations of accountability they are insisting on our linked fates, that God is less interested in the fate of individuals than our collectivities, our communities, cities, and nations. Prophets are bringers of both comfort and wrath. And so while prophets are not sentimental, they are compassionate, recognizing human shortcomings and limitations, and that because of this, our shared fate will never eliminate desperation and suffering. 

Abraham Joshua Heschel was in the English-speaking world, and in the Jewish world, the most influential writer on the Hebrew prophets of his time. It is probably an occupational hazard of writing about prophets to be considered one.  Shortly before Heschel’s death in 1972, in an interview with NBC reporter Carl Stern, he was asked “Well, are you a prophet?”  Like all true prophets, he answered in the negative, saying I won’t accept this praise.” What else can a prophet say?  If Carl Stern had interviewed Jeremiah or Isaiah, they no doubt would have evaded the question as well. A prophet with too much honor, who is too respected, who is only greeted and treated with reverence is a prophet whose prophetic edge has been dulled and blunted. They can only bring a butter knife to life’s sword fight. A prophet is judged by the enemies they have made. 

Let us take Abraham Joshua Heschel at his word. He was not a prophet. But he looked like a prophet, fitting in with the hirsute 60’s with his white mane of hair and flowing wispy beard. And he sounded like a prophet, mixing his war against political and spiritual complacency by speaking of God’s search for humanity and the radical amazement of finding this God, preaching a theology of passion and involvement. And like a prophet, wherever he turned his gaze he found God, and places suffering because of God’s absence. He found God in the Black Freedom Struggle, arms locked with Martin Luther King, Jr in the Selma voting rights march of 1965, which became one of the enduring iconic images of the era. He spoke out in defense of beleaguered Russian Jewry in the Soviet Union and against the American atrocity of the War in Vietnam. And he was a pioneer in interfaith outreach, perhaps most notably in his extended efforts during Vatican II to get the Roman Catholic Church to repudiate its two-thousand-year-old anti-Jewish dogmas. He believed that “no religion is an island” to quote the title of one of his most famous articles. So perhaps he wasn’t a prophet, but as he told Carl Stern, “it is arrogant enough to say that I am a descendant of the prophets, what is called a B’nai Nevi’im.” In the end, I don’t think Heschel cared what he was called. All he wanted was to be listened to, with the arrogance of someone who knew that he had something important to say, and with the humbling knowledge that at the same time, he was too frail, too imperfect, and too befuddled a messenger for God’s message. 

It is always a good time to think about, to read, and now to watch Abraham Joshua Heschel.  There is even a better reason now. There is a new film, just out from Journey Films, directed and produced by Martin Doblmeier, Spiritual Audacity: The Abraham Joshua Heschel Story.  It includes interview material with Heschel along with commentary from his daughter, Susannah Heschel, a leading scholar of Judaism in her own right, Michael Lerner, Shai Held, Cornell West and many others.  The film tells the story of his remarkable life.  Heschel was born in Warsaw in 1907. Both parents were descended from prominent Hasidic rebbes.  His immersion in Hasidic culture and learning is one of the keys to understanding Heschel. Perhaps my favorite among his books is A Passion for Truth (1973), a study of two Hasidic rebbes, the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, and Menahem Mendel of Kotzk (1787–1859), (along with having a substantial detour into the angst-filled religion of the Danish Protestant theologian of existential angst, Søren Kierkegaard [1813–1855]). For Heschel, if the Ba’al Shem Tov preached and practiced a religion of inclusion and of spiritual equality, the Kotzker rebbe and Kierkegaard were practitioners of a religion of nervous intensity and interiority, and despisers of any religion that smacked of self-satisfaction. Kierkegaard and the Kotzker rebbe, who spent the last twenty years of his life in seclusion, raise the question for Heschel of how to handle spiritual truths; whether to restrict them to a small circle of adepts and acolytes, and keep them pristine, or spread them more widely, and risk their adulteration.  Like most in the Hasidic tradition, he believed in the latter, while respecting the “passion for truth” that animated difficult, uncompromising religious seekers like the Kotzker rebbe. 

Heschel, a Hasidic prodigy, did not follow a traditional Hasidic path, and chose to study in an academic Gymnasium in Vilna, and then went to Berlin in 1927, participating in the remarkable but tragic efflorescence of Jewish studies in Weimar Germany.  Heschel shared, with writers such as Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, and Franz Rosenzweig, a rejection of both the staid rationality of classic Reform Judaism and the Haskalah, and the legalism of Orthodoxy, and instead focused on the importance of direct religious experience and the search to craft a new religious modernity. In Germany he published several books, the first edition of his study of the prophets, and short biographical studies of Maimonides and Isaac Abravanel (1437–1508). Heschel remained in Germany until 1938, serving the increasingly beleaguered Jewish community there, until he was expelled in 1938, and after a harrowing trip and confinement on the German-Polish border, returned to Warsaw.

However, Heschel, very afraid of the possibility of a German invasion, was eager to get out of Poland. In July 1939, six weeks before the Nazi invasion, he was able to leave for Britain, and then arrived in New York City in March 1940.  (His mother and sisters and other family members perished in the Holocaust. He dedicated The Prophets to “the martyrs of 1940–45”.) He spent the war years teaching at Hebrew Union College, which had arranged for him to come to the United States, for which he was forever grateful, but he did not find the religious atmosphere at the Reform seminary particularly congenial, and in 1946 he began teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary in upper Manhattan, the main seminary for the Conservative movement, where he would teach for the remainder of his career.  The theological outlook was closer to his own views, but he remained something of an outsider on the faculty, whose leading members focused on detailed “scientific” textual studies of the Talmud, and who often saw him as something of a lightweight, a dispenser of trite sermonic homilies, a writer of accessible books rather than dense articles in obscure scholarly journals.  In their dismissal of Heschel’s weightiness, they could not have been more wrong. Anyone reading his Hebrew language Torah min Hashamayim—translated as Heavenly Torah—could have no doubt about his Talmudic chops, but he rightly felt that he needed to write in a different style to reach American Jews (and Americans in general).

After he was settled in New York, his books came out in a torrent. He was one of a number of European emigres who arrived just as the war was breaking out who rapidly mastered a richly idiomatic American English, Jewish theology’s answer to Vladimir Nabokov. It was primarily his books in the late 1940s and 1950s that secured his American reputation; The Earth is the Lord’s (1949), his incredibly moving eulogy to his lost culture of eastern European Jewish culture, The Sabbath (1951), and what are probably his two most important influential books, Man is Not Alone (1951), and God in Search of Man (1955). Heschel’s best writing is aphoristic, a theology of insight and acute observation, approaching God not through definition and theological proposition but a metaphor. Although written at the height of the vogue of existentialism and much talk about the age of anxiety, Heschel’s books have often impressed me with their lack of hand-wringing about God’s distance from humanity. It is rather a celebration, of God, the Jewish people, and people in general, and the “radical amazement” of belief. Heschel does not make God difficult to find and if anything, he has little patience with unbelief. At times he seems to think that since God is so real and present to him, anyone who hasn’t found God just isn’t trying hard enough.

It is a minor paradox of sorts that if you read Heschel’s major works of the 1950s, I don’t think one would have predicted that in the 1960s Heschel would be best known as a social activist.  It is not that this dimension of Heschel’s thought is absent in his earlier work, but it was not its focus. Perhaps this is a reflection of the times. The 1950s was a decade in which there much discussion of a religious revival, in which Will Herberg’s triad, Protestant/Catholic/Jew became America’s official trinity. It is perhaps instructive to compare Heschel to a previous rabbinic celebrity, Joshua Loth Liebman (1901–1948), whose 1946 book, Peace of Mind, spent a year as #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It is a book that can be judged by its title, a call for the finding of a personal and collective postwar calm after the hurly-burly of global combat and catastrophe, its sonorous tones edging into complacency, being at ease in Zion. It is a celebration of the serenity that can come from a deep connection to God, but Heschel offers a prophetic serenity, a confidence in God’s message that leads outward, toward challenging unearned self-satisfaction, a serenity that is closest to God when the messenger is pissing off the right people.  

In this, Heschel was hardly alone.  He was part of a group of religious thinkers in mid-twentieth-century America, who differed in many ways, but shared a general outlook; liberal or radical in their politics, radical in their insistence on the direct experience of God; inspired by the promise of America, outraged by its failures. For Martin Doblmeier, the head of Journey films, and a longtime director of documentary films on religious subjects, this is the fourth film he has made in recent years on mid-century religious figures. The first film was An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story (2017), followed by Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story (2019), Revolution of the Heart: The Dorothy Day Story (2020), and now the film on Heschel.  (I should note in the interests of full disclosure that I was interviewed for the film on Thurman.) All of the films are available as CDs, and have been broadcast on PBS. The subjects of Doblmeier’s films make for quite a quartet: Two Protestants, one Catholic, one Jew; one African American, one woman; one immigrant; two pacifists; one Cold Warrior.  

They were each quite distinct in their lives and their religious thinking, and at the same time, their lives were often entwined, borrowing and sharing insights among them. Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) was a good friend of both Howard Thurman (1899-1981) and Heschel. Heschel and Thurman were both good friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. Dorothy Day (1898–1980) and Thurman were both pacifists, and worked closely with pacifist organizations and were close to the religious pacifist A.J. Muste (1885–1967), someone else who belongs in this little band of prophets. 

The four religious figures of Doblmeier’s films shared a rejection of the liberal theology of the early 20th century, which they felt was often a religion of complacence, both in matters spiritual and political. The oldest among them, Niebuhr, and the only white male Protestant among them, was the first to come to mainstream attention, especially with his blunderbuss of a book, Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) which criticized the Social Gospel for its focus on individual redemption as the basis of societal transformation, and for purveying a liberal theology that had forgotten the real meaning of sin. As Heschel, who came to know Niebuhr when they were teaching in adjacent upper West Side seminaries, wrote after Niebuhr’s passing: “He began his teaching at a time when religious thinking in America was shallow, insipid, impotent, bringing life and power to theology, to the understanding of the human situation.” Thurman, born poor and Black in Florida in 1899, by dint of intelligence, luck, and ambition, became a noted mystic and advocate of radical nonviolence.  His 1949 book, Jesus and the Disinherited, is the best book on American democracy that most people who write about American democracy have never read, and he was a major influence on King. Thurman and Niebuhr were friends from the mid-1920s on. In 1932, at a commencement ceremony at Thurman’s alma mater, Morehouse College, the historically Black college in Atlanta, Thurman delivered the benediction while Niebuhr delivered the main address, cautioning the graduates against “aping middle-class white life,” urging them to avoid “the rut of bourgeois existence.” He doubted whether “the majority group of white people will ever be unselfish” because “power makes selfishness.”  Rather than preaching platitudinous sermons, Black Christians needed to confront white supremacy, not with goodness but a religiously inspired realism about power.  Because he thought pacifism was just another high-minded effort by persons of goodwill to evade political reality, Niebuhr was a sharp critic of pacifism, and Niebuhr’s politics by the late 1930s was interventionist, strongly supporting the war effort. On the other hand, in 1936, his good friend Howard Thurman, his wife, Sue Bailey Thurman, and one other man became the first Black Americans to meet with Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement, and famed practitioner of radical nonviolence. Thurman had been a pacifist since the early 1920s. After their meeting, Gandhi gave Thurman and the others a benediction: “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of non-violence will be delivered to the world.” In the 1920s, Dorothy Day, the one-time Greenwich Village radical, wearying of the bohemian life, and looking for something more stable and substantial, joined the Catholic Church, and within a few years started the Catholic Worker movement, dedicated to the rights of labor, radical insurgency against capitalism, the practice of poverty, the caring for the poor and outcast, as well as the teachings of the church. During the Cold War and War in Vietnam, Day’s outspokenness won her a number of new admirers. 

Martin Doblmeier made these films because he felt that the cause of progressive religion has been neglected and largely forgotten by the mainstream media. As someone who has worked extensively on the life and works of Howard Thurman, I have found that the most common response to the statement: “I am writing a biography of Howard Thurman” is, “who?”   

In recent decades the focus on religion in the United States has been almost exclusively about the rise and aggressive exercise of political power by the religious right and evangelical Christianity. Progressive religion is now commonly reduced to an oddity, a contradiction in terms, milquetoast apologists for a religion of inclusion, or just RINOs, religious in name only. They are treated as the losers in the struggle for the soul of America, with the hard, unbending intolerance of the hard right as the smug and contemptuous victors. 

This is wrong on so many levels. First, the religious right has to be seen as a reaction against the success of progressive religion and its role in sparking the civil rights movement. As has so often happened in this country, the backlash, the reaction, was stronger than the initial action. And perhaps most importantly, religion is simply too important as a social glue to be abandoned to those who think the only role of religion is to exclude and anathemize, to create an exclusive club with God as the bouncer. Progressive religion, those who seek God’s presence as an inspiration for personal and public lives, is not finished. 

On the other hand, the future of progressive religion is uncertain. All four of the subjects of Doblmeier’s films have had their successors, students, and sedulous biographers, but they did not create self-perpetuating movements. (The exception is Dorothy Day. The Catholic Worker Movement still publishes the Catholic Worker, and it still runs over two hundred “houses of hospitality” in the United States and elsewhere. And she is the subject of an active, ongoing effort for her canonization, and the only one of the four likely to be declared, at some point, a saint.) The institutions of progressive religion continue to exist, but at times they feel like redoubts in a land controlled by their enemies. 

One final comment: It is no doubt unfair on my part, but it seems that in recent decades, that the progressive religious left has produced no one with the stature of a Niebuhr, a Heschel, a Thurman, a Day, or a King. Chalk this up to my ignorance, or my lack of distance and appreciation of the spiritual leaders of our own times. Or perhaps the progressive left has become more suspicious of charisma and charismatic leadership than it was sixty years ago. It is striking that in the fights against global warming, or in the Black Lives Matter movement, no single figure has emerged as a dominant leader, and this is not unintended.  Perhaps in our polarized times, we can no longer cross the divide between the secular and the sacred, with the ease of the subjects of Doblmeier’s films. All I can say is that whether or not we are all just epigones, there is much to learn from the glorious history of progressive religion in twentieth-century America, for inspiration, for consolation, and the occasional prophetic kick in the pants. 

Anyone needing an introduction, a refresher course on who they were, or to spend some time in conversation with four men and women who spent their lives walking with God, could do much worse than watching the films of Martin Doblmeier. And why not start with his latest release on that rabbi of rabbis, that rebbe of rebbes, Abraham Joshua Heschel.

As taken from, Abraham Joshua Heschel—a Major Jewish Prophet | Tikkun

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 14, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

The Jewish Background of the Pentecostal Practice of Speaking in Tongues

Worshiper at the Church of the Lord Jesus in Jolo, West Virginia in 1996. ANDREW HOLBROOKE/Corbis via Getty Images.
Worshiper at the Church of the Lord Jesus in Jolo, West Virginia in 1996. ANDREW HOLBROOKE/Corbis via Getty Images.

According to the Talmud, when God handed down the commandments, he handed them down in every language at once.

Last week was Shavuot, and this past Sunday was the Christian holiday of Pentecost that is linked to Shavuot. The word Pentecost, which is often used to denote Shavuot itself, comes from Greek pentecoste“fiftieth” a reference to the commandment in the book of Leviticus to count seven weeks (shavu’ot) or 49 days from the second day of Passover and hold a “holy convocation” (mikra kodesh) on the 50th day. In Christianity, the 50 days ending with Pentecost are counted from Easter Sunday.

The English word “Pentecostal,” however, does not refer primarily to either the Jewish or the Christian holiday. Rather, it signifies any one of various Christian churches or denominations characterized by highly emotional prayer, ecstatic singing, dancing, and drumming, trance states, and what known as “speaking in tongues”—or to linguists, as “glossolalia” (from Greek glossa, tongue, and laleo, to talk or babble). Speaking in tongues is a practice that goes back to Chapter 2 of the New Testament book of Acts of the Apostles, which tells of the first Pentecost or Shavuot celebrated in Jerusalem by Jesus’ disciples, all Jews and Aramaic-speaking Jews from the Galilee, shortly after their teacher’s death. In the translation of the King James Version:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly, there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing, mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. . . . And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?

The English word “Pentecostal,” however, does not refer primarily to either the Jewish or the Christian holiday. Rather, it signifies any one of various Christian churches or denominations characterized by highly emotional prayer, ecstatic singing, dancing, and drumming, trance states, and what known as “speaking in tongues”—or to linguists, as “glossolalia” (from Greek glossa, tongue, and laleo, to talk or babble). Speaking in tongues is a practice that goes back to Chapter 2 of the New Testament book of Acts of the Apostles, which tells of the first Pentecost or Shavuot celebrated in Jerusalem by Jesus’ disciples, all Jews and Aramaic-speaking Jews from the Galilee, shortly after their teacher’s death. In the translation of the King James Version:

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly, there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing, mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. . . . And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?

The passage then relates how Jesus’ disciples spontaneously broke into comprehensible Persian, Phrygian, Coptic, Berber, Latin, Arabic, and still other languages, even though they themselves did not understand a word of what they were saying. When asked for an explanation of this, the group’s leader, Peter, is said by Acts to have quoted the verse from the prophet Joel, “And it shall come pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dram dreams.” The “last days,” Peter was saying, have arrived.

Yet in having Peter invoke a not terribly relevant biblical verse, Acts was, whether deliberately or not, overlooking the true background of what happened in Jerusalem. This was the rabbinic belief, of which Peter himself, an observant Jew, would surely have been aware, that when the Torah was given at Sinai—which was, according to Jewish tradition, on Shavuot—it was not just given in Hebrew. This belief was based on a midrashic interpretation of the plural noun kolot, “sounds” or “voices,” which, we are told by the book of Exodus, were heard amid the thunder and lightning that accompanied Sinai’s revelation. As stated by the talmudic tractate of P’saḥim:

Every commandment spoken from God’s mouth [mi-pi ha-g’vurah] was divided into 70 languages—so says the school of Rabbi Yishma’el, [who quoted the words of Jeremiah]: ‘As the hammer shatters the rock’—just as a hammer gives off many sparks [when striking a rock], so each commandment spoken by God was given in 70 languages.

“Seventy languages” is a rabbinic way of saying “all the languages of the world.” Clearly, this midrash is what lies behind the apostles’ alleged ability to speak all these languages at their Shavuot gathering (presumably, for holiday prayer) in Jerusalem; no less clearly, too, the “tongues of fire” and “sound from heaven of a rushing, mighty wind” are allusions to the lightning and thunder by which Sinai, according to the account in the book of Exodus, was enveloped. The Shavuot in Jerusalem, in other words, is seen by the New Testament as a symbolic restatement of the theophany at Sinai, one in which the new Christian gospel was revealed to the entire world as the Torah, according to the midrash, was at the time of the exodus.

True, such an interpretation can be challenged on chronological grounds. Acts of the Apostles was written in the 1st century CE, while the passage in P’saḥim dates to the 4th or 5th, and it can be claimed that its exegetical reading of Exodus was unknown hundreds of years earlier. Yet Rabbi Yishma’el, whose students are quoted by P’saḥim, lived in the early 2nd century and could well have been reflecting an even older exegetical tradition. Obviously, there is a connection between the midrash in P’saḥim and the story in Acts, and it is far more plausible to assume that the former influenced the latter than vice versa.

Although there is evidence of glossolalia being practiced in ancient pagan religions as a way of letting the divine speak through human throats, it has been primarily associated in history with Christianity—and not with all Christianity, either, because after early Christian times there is little indication of its existence until the Protestant Reformation, some denominations of which revived it until it became widespread among Pentecostals in the 20th century. In many Pentecostal churches, speaking in tongues or “the gift of tongues,” as it also is called, is considered an ultimate sign of divine grace. Those to whom it is granted are not viewed as engaged in an act of their own volition. They are thought to be possessed by the Spirit of God, which is speaking through them

Linguistic research on glossolalia, of which there has been a fair amount, shows that its involuntary nature is only partial. While those speaking in tongues can emit rapid-fire sequences of sounds that have all the intonations of actual speech and may sound remarkably like it, none has ever been recorded talking in a real language previously unknown to him; all true glossolalia is gibberish. Moreover, its speakers never utter sounds that do not already exist in the languages they do know; in creating what may seem on first hearing to be a genuinely unfamiliar tongue, they are drawing entirely on phonetic options that are familiar. And finally, the latest neuroscience has shown that the “languages” they converse in are not produced in the language centers of the brain but in a part of the left frontal lobe associated with willed activity and multitasking.

This is not to say that speakers in tongues are necessarily faking it, although many may be. Genuine trance states that manifest themselves in glossolalia are real. Yet those subjected to them are stringing together mere sounds that have no discernible vocabulary or grammatical structure. Once, many years ago, my then nine-month-old daughter astonished some dinner guests by delivering a lengthy lecture in baby talk that sounded for all the world as though she were talking in a language all her own. Poetically speaking, she may have been, but it was really just amazingly fluent babble. So no doubt were the Persian, Phrygian, Coptic, Berber, and Arabic spoken by Peter and his fellows in Jerusalem.

COLUMN PHILOLOGOS MAY 26 2021 About Philologos

Philologos, the renowned Jewish-language columnist, appears twice a month in Mosaic. Questions for him may be sent to his email address by clicking here.

As taken from, The Jewish Background of the Pentecostal Practice of Speaking in Tongues » Mosaic (mosaicmagazine.com)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 14, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Palestinians: The Battle to Steal Reconstruction Funds

Egypt has gone out of its way to help the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after the recent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas. But the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas only care about one thing: filling their own coffers with funds earmarked for suffering Palestinians. Pictured: An aid convoy of construction equipment and material provided by Egypt arrives in the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing on June 4, 2021. (Photo by Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images)

Last month, Egypt succeeded in its effort to achieve a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Since then, however, Egypt has been unable to secure an agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the reconstruction of buildings and homes that were destroyed during the 11-day Israel-Hamas conflict.

Egypt has gone out of its way to help the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after the recent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

First, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi pledged $500 million to contribute to the reconstruction effort. (Qatar has promised a similar sum to help rebuild the Gaza Strip).

Second, Egypt dispatched the head of its General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel, to the Gaza Strip and West Bank for talks with leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority about the reconstruction plan.

Third, Egypt sent dozens of bulldozers, cranes and engineers to the Gaza Strip as part of its effort to assist with the reconstruction.

Fourth, Egypt invited representatives of various Palestinian factions, including the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, to Cairo for talks on ways of helping the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who had lost their homes during the fighting with Israel. Egypt was also doubtless hoping that the faction leaders would finally reach agreement on ending the dispute between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction.

On June 10, the Egyptians informed the Palestinian factions of a decision to delay until further notice the meeting of the faction representatives that was supposed to take place in Cairo under the auspices of Egyptian General Intelligence Service officials. The last-minute decision to call off the meeting came after the representatives of the Palestinian factions had already arrived in Cairo.

The Egyptian move, according to reports in various Arab media outlets, came in light of a sharp dispute that erupted between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over which party would be responsible for the reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority says that it should be the only party in charge of the reconstruction and that all funds must be channeled through its government. Hamas, on the other hand, insists that the funds from the international community be sent directly to its coffers.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas, in short, are saying that they do not trust each other regarding the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been promised by Egypt and other countries to contribute to the reconstruction effort in the Gaza Strip.

“The Palestinian Authority cannot be trusted with the reconstruction funds, and it does not want to help the Gaza Strip,” said Palestinian political analyst Eyad al-Qarra. “The Palestinian Authority exists to suck the blood of the Palestinian people on the economic level, and it wants to benefit and revive its budget at the expense of the suffering of our people.”

Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official, said his party had informed the Egyptians that the reconstruction effort must be carried out under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority. Ahmed accused Hamas of waging a “media campaign” against the Palestinian Authority in a way that “harms national unity and ignores the role of the Palestinian Authority” in rebuilding the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have good reason to suspect each other. They have been at war with each other since 2007, when Hamas staged a violent coup against the Palestinian Authority and seized control of the Gaza Strip.

Both parties, in addition, have long been facing accusations (by Palestinians) of financial corruption and mishandling public funds.

The dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over the reconstruction money drew strong condemnations from several Palestinians and Arabs. They accused the two parties of prioritizing their own interests at the cost of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians and Arabs expressed fear that the controversy would discourage donors from helping the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

Some Palestinians launched a “popular campaign”, calling on the Gulf states not to give the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, money for the Gaza Strip reconstruction “due to the rampant corruption and looting of donation funds.”

“The sympathizers who are ready to donate are asking who will receive the reconstruction funds,” remarked Emirati political analyst Mohammed Yousef.

“They [the donors] do not trust Hamas, which is immersed in corruption and discrimination against the residents of the Gaza Strip. The residents know that most of the funds will end up in secret [bank] accounts of Hamas and its leaders and for carrying out smuggling activities. The Palestinian Authority, which is very corrupt, wants to be in charge of the reconstruction projects and its leaders want all the money.”

Saudi author Nora Shanar said she was opposed to giving money to the Iranian-backed Palestinian terrorist groups, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, in the Gaza Strip. The two groups, she added, “lead [Palestinian] youths to destruction on behalf of Iran.”

“The Palestinians must remove this Iranian occupation in Palestine so that they can live in peace. Muslims will not move to donate their money to them. The terrorist organizations want to deceive the Arabs and Muslims.”

The feud over the reconstruction funds further demonstrates Palestinian leaders’ utter indifference to the well-being of their people. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas leaders care about one thing: filling their own coffers with funds earmarked for suffering Palestinians. The fight also shows that the Biden administration’s renewed talk about a “two-state solution” is an illusion: the Palestinians cannot even agree on holding elections or rebuilding destroyed buildings for their own people.

Judging from the reactions of many Arab and Muslims social media users, it is highly unlikely that the Arab and Islamic countries will be willing to put their money into the hands of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. The Palestinians are again paying the price for the incompetence and corruption of their leaders.

The message the Arabs and Muslims are sending to the Biden administration and other Western donors: Stop showering money on corrupt and failed Palestinian leaders whose stock-in-trade is purloining international funds. The Palestinians do not need money as much as they need new leaders whose commitment to the welfare of their people outweighs their interest in their own pockets.

Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.

As taken from, Palestinians: The Battle to Steal Reconstruction Funds :: Gatestone Institute

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 14, 2021 in Uncategorized