Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sheerit: a remnant of believers

As we all know and are getting more and more concerned for different reasons, there is a harsh baby boom competition that turns to an obsessing rush to birth babes on the Jewish side of Israel. There is a sort of fear, a feeling of threat that Jews may be overcome by the competition's generating abilities.

In this "birthing war", we feel on the top of the world and are tickled pink, orange, white and blue. This race is definitely not racist. It is not ethnic: we need babes to birth, more babes and get thousands home made inhabitants that should join the newcomers and all these birthrights & Co Unlimited. We are the State of the Jews, "der Judenstaat" that substantiates Theodore Benyamin Zvi Herzl's vision of the required creation a home refuge for the scattered exiled of worldwide Jewry. Is it a Jewish State?

This is a nuance that does not totally fit or outline what can be understood from Herlz’s German title of the book. Well, the in gathering relates to the Bney Israel (Israelites of Children of Israel), Bney Yaakov, Bney Berit (Children of the Covenant), Bney Yeshurun. Still the "nationality - le'om" usually shows that there are either "Yehudim - Jews" or - as the recent ad claims, nobody will ever take it from us. This usually implies that Yehudim are not the Children of Judah, but mainly "Jewish believers" even if the increasing number of the extant "Jewish" streams might be a bit confusing. Then, we have the "satellite border Jews".

Because, all things being equal, Aharon Barak, the former President of the Supreme Court, could not implement his goal to leave his post by sketching out some clear definition of "who is a Jew". Good, “Jewish” means that the mother is Jewish. This does not mean that her father was a Jew or that there was any understanding of what the realm of the Mitzvot is, or what Jewish faith induces for each Jewish soul.

In the former Soviet Union, a great number of men were "Jewish" according to the Soviet national structure and regulation in force. They became "alien" or "lo barur / not clear - lo rashum / not registered - lo le'om / without nationality" and finally "bebedikah / checked" and thus "like goyim / non-Jews". Indeed, the State of the Jews basically functions, at the present, upon the laws that affected the Jews up to the fourth maternal or paternal ancestors and deported or exterminated because of a presumed ancient Jewish lineage. The same is applicable in the Eastern countries that persecuted "any sort of Jews".

On the other hand, any Jew, living in any country outside Eretz Israel, normally enjoys the full right to return to the homeland; be immediately given all the documents and proof that he/she is duly a citizen if he/she does shows evidence that he/she has some Jewish background. The problem may be more complex for those who come from certain countries like Ethiopia or India. And there is a lot of uncertainty with regards to some individuals or groups who either obtain forged documents bought in messy conditions. Let's say this is a general problem for any new just born-again country.

On the other hand, there is no “born again” contest with regards to the Emunat Israel / Faith of Israel. The State of Israel is indeed considering itself as the refuge and native homeland for all Jews, believers or not. This has raised strong conflicts, but still, the Jewish Orthodox movement is responsible for assuming the present identity of Jewish faithful and belief patterns. These are fought by reformists, conservative, modern Orthodox i.a. and other streams mainly from the West and North America.

In Hebrew, “sheerit – remnant” is connected with the root “sh’er” = “preservation, existence, sustenance, bodily contact, flesh and blood/race as “sh’ereinu – our relatives (compared with Yid. “undzere kinder – our children”) in Tractate Shabbat 1c. Tanhumah Tol’dot 19 (Ed. Buber) refers to the Prophet: “Then the remnant of Jacob amidst many peoples (“sheerit Yaakov beqerev amim rabbim”), shall be like dew from the Lord… and among the Nations, the remnant of Jacob… shall be like a lion” (Micah 5:6[7.8]). Indeed, these verses relate to the well-known verse of Prophet Elijah: “Vehish’arti veIsrael, and I will preserve/ leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).

Now, we have to keep maintaining that this verse, as others from the Prophets, concerns the Jews as firstly being the community of Israel and not the Church of Christ. The supposedly post-exilic verse “Vehish’arti veqirbech am ‘ani vedal / and I will leave – keep the remnant in your midst of a poor and needy people (of Israel)” (Zephania 3:12) echoes Jeremiah’s verse of “the remnant of those who escaped deportation- to Babylon, the “sheerit Yehudah – remnant of Judah”” (Jeremiah 42: 15.19). It is important to constantly bear in mind that the “remnant of Jacob, Israel, Judah” are the meek and the Chassidim who clutched to the Commandments in times of slaughter and destruction (as the Maccabeans). They do continue to repeatedly teach the Sons of Israel in the context of a full rebuilding process.

Throughout history, the Gospel suggested, in Paul of Tarsus’ writings, that the Gentiles entered the Covenant. They entered the Covenant by the approval of the Jews as members of the Mashiah / Moshiah (Christos), not on the contrary. They were accepted under specific agreements proclaimed by Jacob/James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, a Hebrew Christian (Ch. 15, Acts of the Apostles). But progressively the Gentiles came to consider themselves as being the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), the fellow-citizens with God’s true people (Eph.2.11-22), having entered into the covenant of promise. This a tactic of replacement and usurpation: even though they are the branches of the true vine (John.15:1-6) and have been grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:17). As if God “wants all men to be saved and to come to know the truth”. (1Timothy 2:4), based on missionary power and exercise of might instead of releasing and free consented faith. They are the true ‘dispersion’ (James 1:1, 1 Peter1:1).

Ever since the first separation that forbade the Hebrew Christians to take part in Jewish services and banned them (“cherem”) from the Jewish communities, the Early Church lost its Jewish part of the Body and disappeared. The Churches and their splits steadfastly captured the Jews mainly by forced conversion and without real integration. It does not mean that Jews could never “move up” in Christian hierarchy. In most cases this had nothing to do with faith and Judaic-Christian “intra-faith” recognition.

Are the death and funeral of Cardinal J. M. Lustiger reigniting any kind of pending polemic? I tried to give some basic explanations in a general context in the previous blog “Zehut” (Aug 17). There is definitely no precedent to his situation, with the exception of Solomon Alexander Pollack who was bar mitzvahed and got appointed as first Anglican archbishop of Jerusalem in 1842. Again, Cardinal Lustiger was called to be a French and not a “Jewish” Bishop. True, he was very Jewish in many aspects, but definitely marked by the tragedy of the times.

It is true that the Churches envisioned for ages the existence of Israel as an odd remnant. Some Jews refused to be baptized during WWII because they did not want to adhere to a faith they might have not shared but could exert some attraction on them. They would not separate from “their people”. “Rarely in the past have conversions of the Jews to Christianity proven to be a courageous act of sacrifice”, declared the German Rabbi Leo Baeck. In that sense, Cardinal Lustiger’s life and Church service showed a real spirit of abandonment that bordered some sort of “irrationalities”. And he could experience that pretending to be a Jew and a Christian might appear as a kind of “sub-cultural stand”.

His views were those of the heads of the Roman Catholic Western Latin Rite French clergy. His question is not the same – thus seemingly parallel - as Father Daniel Rufeisen’s “requirement” to be recognized, by the State of Israel, as a Jew and member of the “lochamey haGettaot – Ghetto fighters” as he saved so many Jews from the Gestapo at Mir and imperiled his life as a Jew. The same is applicable for many other priests of Jewish descent (Fr. Alexander Glasberg, originally from the Ukraine). Both have trees as “Righteous among the Nations” and not in their quality of Jews. Fr. Daniel Rufeisen had strong ties with the Israeli survivors and he got the citizenship, still not as a Jew. Such requirements need time, patience and the consent of the Jews as a full-coherent community of faithful.

Thus, it may be useful for the emergence of a Judenstaat / State of the Jews (Israel) to interrogate Israeli society and authorities that are enabled to contest any Christian pretence. Are we called to be Israelis because our ancestors were either persecuted by the Christians, the Nazi apostates or the atheists? Because the tragedy for a great part of the converted Jews to Christianity is that they turned Christians during the time of the Shoah or, more recently of the “perestroika/fall of communism in the USSR”, while profound societal breaches were roaring inside of traditional Jewries.

Cardinal Lustiger’s epitaph: “Having become Christian by faith and baptism, I have remained Jewish. As did the Apostles” is only understandable in the context of France, full of contradictions toward Dreyfus, Leon Blum, deportation, denunciation and heroic resistance. It is both a courageous act and self-recognition, showing a lot of suffering. But a Jew is irreversibly born to fully proclaim the Resurrection (“mechayeh metim = Who resurrects the dead”). Then, the problem is that historically the Gentile Church did eat up and swallow Jewishness like praying mantis, leaving Judaism moving ahead on its own.

The House of Israel / Klal Israel always retained and developed her primacy of priesthood and service for the blessing of all the Nations. The “sheerit Israel” as it appears in the present in the State of Israel should also consider the possibility of positively considering the presence of Jews as Christian believers and full Israeli citizens, participating to the full, and without proselytizing, to Jewish life and being a full part of the local Church of Zion and Jerusalem. They are indeed numerous and often similarly rebuked by Jewish and Christian authorities alike. They did exist throughout centuries. Yes, Jesus was not born in a free State of the Jews; this does theologically (and not only politically) question the Church. Today, Israel is capable of contradicting the Christian world and breaking their historic monologue. Thus, Israel could have the wit to open the gates and benefit of the large experience of her Christian inhabitants.

Rabbi Gamaliel had asked Shmuel HaKatan to write the “Birkat malshinim – Benediction against the slanderers, minim (heretics)” around 100 CE. It concerned all sorts of Jewish heretics as we have them today in different ways. Very slowly and with much insight, Israel should open a dialogue with those that don’t teach the Jews but survived amidst hostility and despite it because the return to Zion gathers every soul as “They are the Bney Israel and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law (Torah), the worship (Avodah), and the promises…” (Romans 9:4).

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