Thursday, October 18, 2007

Haftarot: a world of additions

We entered the month of (mar)Cheshvan which is typically after-autumnal, sweeping old things and trash away from our environment and daily embarrassments of all sorts. The Gospel has it in the words of John the Baptist: "The ax lies now at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:9; Matthew 3:10). There was some snow a few days ago in Helsinki, around Karelia and Riga. In Finland, woods and lakes (Finnish Suomenmaa = country of the lakes) display immense landscapes with ever-green huge trees. You meet more trees than humans and humans are silent and nice as these arboreal plants: the one who studies the Torah is like a tree - hu ke'ets" that grows with harmony and experiences wisdom. And Psalm 1 adds: "shatul al-palgey mayim - (trans)planted in the middle of the waters". Would a tree survive if it were rooted directly in the midst of the waters? The allusion traces back to the Temple and the measures of waters that were overflowing, producing a surplus quantity of life and goods. At least, on Finland, trees are always very close to lakes and vice versa. Nature and humbleness may sometime be affected by the darkness or a forest environment that would totally cover and seize, restrict human breathing-in strangely by providing pure and more refreshing air.

For some days, anonymous believers as we should say in Israel gathered with some clergy in a Lutheran old country, previously Catholic and always steadily christened by the Eastern Orthodox Church. It was "obvious" for these people to hear the Eastern Orthodox Christian prayers in Hebrew along with the "legal" tongues of the "Republic, State or Riket (in Swedish)": Finnish, Swedish and some Russian, Romanian, Greek or other languages. The Finns are of course used to speak in Finnish whose origins are not precisely defined but definitely connected this part of Europe with the thinking ways of Hungarian, the Uighurs and Japanese. In the North, the Lapps add an all-Scandinavian touch of Sami and reindeer specificity. The nice aspect of the meeting was that Hebrew is absolutely "evident" for most Finnish believers. This is quite rare in the Churches. Therefore, this is a precious and valuable treasure that has nothing to do with any political statement. Good gracious, I guess God would make us feel full of shame - a shond - and real shame, if any soul would pretend that a speech is worthier than other parlances. What? God would not understand those we despise and cannot stand on a voluntarily irrational basis? Flemish vs French, Gaelic and Welsh vs English? Just as some people would run to dig out the mikveh (ritual pool) of Jesus of Nazareth, would we some day find the earthen DVD of Adam's family talks with the Lord, Eve and the snake. That would be such a poignant jerk! Some opine it was pure Aramaic...

At the end of the 19th and throughout the 20th century, the Jews of Finland spoke Yiddish and German, Swedish or Russian. How fascinating it is to jump through the clouds from a modern Finnish language (Amos Oz is a best there) to the official revival of Latvian and Lithuanian, among the most ancient languages of Europe along with Icelandic.

These days, the same questions were discussed: Do Jews have any place in the Churches? Let's put this in other words. Judaism is Jewish. Well, it may not be so evident at times and it is indeed possible to kid some new-old trends that undoubtedly consider themselves as some part of Jewishness. This is an interior affair issue of Jews quarreling with Jews. Long before the creation of the State of Israel, Hebrew Christians have been present in the Churches. This is also indisputable and patent. The Early Church of Jerusalem was entirely composed of Jews, very pious ones who used to go everyday to the Temple (Acts of the Apostles 2:46).

At the present, Jews do not exist as such in any historical Church and this is a very questionable historic factor. It is rather suspicious and intriguing that, during World War II, baptism has been considered as a possible way to be rescued from the peril of death in the concentration camps. A huge number of souls have perished as Hebrew Christians. Some of them, like Edith Stein for the Roman Catholic Church show the “borderline” situation of claims: a Christian martyr and a Jewish too? The Eastern Orthodox Churches have counted numerous Hebrew Christian martyrs during the Shoah. It is far too early for the Eastern Churches newly freed from communism and underscoring the ethnical aspect of their Christian faith to recognize to the full such martyrs as Christians and Jews or of Jewish descent. Still, there is one more problem. The “Church” corresponds to the “Qahal – the Great Assembly” as a one and unique body. Is this so visible and can we feel, taste that as the fulfillment of the commandment of love, in the mutual relationships of Jews and Gentiles? There might be a problem… The epistle of Paul of Tarsus to the Ephesians 2:14-21 firmly states that “from the two = Israel and the Nations, there is one body”. The whole of history has consisted in showing mutual drifting-away, estrangement, replacement attitudes founded on so-called theology and excluding the process of “oneness” and unity of humankind in the face of God and His likeness..

It is thus a spellbinding and mesmerizing challenge to study how Europe is at pains in trying to define in its legal Constitution the Christian roots of its existence. These fundamentals are not based on any power. The roots are like the trees, transplanted into various contexts that have nowhere been ethnically pure, clean, “DNA or blood test born again in the spirit”. The magnetism, exercised by this process of an ancient spiritual European Christian essential core, proceeds from faith, their capacities to say “amen” to God. Somehow, this corresponds to the “emunah shlemah – perfect faith” in Judaism. If we consider the individual and collective spiritual changes, Christianity took different aspects in Europe that is widely broken down into small denominations in the New World, weakening the essential meaning of “oneness”.

With regards to the Jews in the Churches, they mirror this estranging broken-down process of divergences, disunion and often abrupt ruptures. These breaches do exist in Judaism. Many current discussions about how to respect the Mitzvot come from the difficulty for a large number of Jews to resolve their own temptation of idolatry. This occurs in cultural contexts that do not refer to any principle of faith. Indeed, many Jews became members of historically separated Churches. It is an astounding and interesting cultural phenomenon. It also constitutes a paradox for the authentic unity of the Church.

The emergence of Israel does not allow multiplying the multi-faceted reasons that would lead some Christian denominations to back or reject Jewishness for mutual tactical advantages or convenience. Say that political options are deceitful and wrong on both sides. The heart of the problem resides in an efficient and trustworthy knowledge and respect of ways to combat idolatry. Curiously, idolatry shows both in the progressive decrease or absence of faith but also in renewed tendencies to ritual stiffness avoid too much understand of spiritual questioning.

This induces that we are on the move, en route to God and that true, respectful love, esteem and recognition are possible between Jews and the Christian Church. This has shown to be close to an “impossible challenge” and still a constant expectation, at least from the part of some Christians and some Jews.

During the past year, I tried to propose each week a special approach of the liturgical, i.e.
the Shabbat readings of the Torah and the Feasts with a positive and progressive view into the Christian tradition, mainly the Eastern Orthodox one. It allows starting from the “roots” and envisioning how the readings respond or interrogate our ethical way of living in Israeli society.

Since the most ancient times, the Jews have read “haftarah/ot – additional texts” written by the “Nevi’im – Prophets of Israel” who envisioned with much realism the future development of the Klal Israel as well as the relationship of the Nations to the living God. Traditionally, “haftarah” also means “a farewell address, goodbye toast party” (Gen. Rabbah 69). We are used to words like “hitpater – to leave, quit, dismiss” as concerns some politicians.

We live in a region that is inspirited at the source of the Prophets. Their texts have always been read by the traditional Churches. At the present, there are various customs but most denominations do insist on the words of the Prophets. The “haftarot – prophetic readings” (Megillah 30b) also pave the way to more spiritual flexibility.

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