Thursday, February 28, 2008

Livnot: a call to build

Thursday Jan 31, 2008

How can we define a "community"? As the assembly of grownups assuming their mature adulthood, maybe later than some decades ago? Or some Banot/barey mitzvot (respectively for girls and boys,12 and 13 years-old) that could exercise their full religious duties, found a family and lead a congregation? It sounds a bit dreamy, but youths can sometimes raise their parents (Malachi 3:24: "to turn... the hearts of the children to their fathers"). A great number of newcomers are thus assisted if not taught the Israeli way of living by late teens who give them a click of Hebrew and a touch of administrative know-how. Still, it is difficult to consider them as self-sufficient or being totally responsible for themselves and others.

We are used to consider that a community is led by heads. Synagogues have rabbis, churches rely upon clergy. Both traditions refer to "semichah - ordination" - "chirotonia - laying of the hands" in Greek that is in force in most Christian traditions; with "new breaches" in some Jewish and Christian denominations which decided to ordain women (mainly Conservative, Reformed for the Jews and Episcopal / Protestant movements for the Christians).

Still, should communities restrictedly mirror some of their strong-minded heads! Let's say that we firstly envisage communities as a gathering of grownups, some of them having many young families and children, other more elderly people. A "kehilah - community" reflects a wide spectrum that ranges from kindergarten to elderly home companionship. In some cases, people would not stand the presence of children or get nuts with them. Women? They have their space, not always so opaque to others.

We rarely envision our community of faith and prayer as a living body mainly composed of former or future babies and, as a rule, as a process of birth. In Israel, there is no civil regulation of the legal wedding system to have babies in a secular way. Except if you go on a short journey to Cyprus or some other countries, some few embassies. But this has raised a lot of problems for the "chilonim - seculars". Well, Jerusalem Teddy Kollek was openly an apikoros (sort of secular Jew with questions), a son of the former Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Jewry. He was still a Jew, a character he received by birth.

I mainly speak now about how we cope with what is considered as "a birthright" - Israel is the State where any Jew may come, settle, be assisted to arrive, get full rights and duties before even having got to what the Israeli society presupposes today in its diversity. They are entitled to "return" to Israel because of their specific ties with Eretz Yisrael and the way the State can accept them as legally members of this community.

During World War II, as the Jewish community in Palestine was going through hellish times, there was a strict obedience to the rules and laws governing the a common attitude of all those who wanted to reach the independence of a Jewish State. Indeed, from Rav Kook to any "non-believing Jew", they all focused on unity of action. Some groups (e.g. Stern) were disapproved in their ways and called to maintain a spirit of unity. It appears that, at the present, the same factors seem to show, in particular among some teen female settlers who would disobey the rule of the civil Israel law. The question is thus whether their action can be considered as positive, coherent or if it is not parallel to the acts of disobedience during the war. Is or can a multi-fragmented society get to the awareness of oneness. Building requires unity. Israel face the paradox of building beyond societal standards.

It is written: "God created man (et haadam) in His Image (betzalmo), in the Image of God He created him; male and female ("zachar uneqavah") He created them"(Bereishit 1:27). But usual translations are wrong by definition. We could argue that this concerns one "adam" prototype composed of two vital elements, maleness and femaleness. This is linked to an incarnating process that fashions a body and substantiates the human developments. "Ki Atah qanita chliyoti – You created/acquired my kidneys (conscience)" - Tesukeni bebeten immi - You fashioned me in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:14). Then what about "zachar uneqavah – male and female"? Good, "humankind" has "males and females". We live in a very unisex society (clothes, accessories, behaviors), sometimes on the verge of androgyny. Curiously the recent TV series dealing with the lives of hospital physicians, show more and more cases of "undetermined" sexual identity at birth. We might be either confused or driven toward some "abnormal defects". There is this very ancient daily prayer that sounds firstly a bit special but is indeed very down-to-earth if not even hard-boiled: "Blessed are You, Lord of the Universe…/ Who fashioned man with wisdom (chochmah) and many neqavim/openings (mouth, nostrils) and chalulim/cavities (stomach, brains) within him (Shacharit).As often in Semitic tongues, each word is repeated to underscore the importance of this human structure. "Zachar" (after the root seemingly underwent a change in the middle letter /ch/) means "to remember, recall". "Zechrut" = male genitals (Talmud Sanhedrin 10:28d, Avodah Zara 44a), but also a "fructifying system, germ for plants, eggs" (Talmud Shabbat 7:9d). Memory and germinating factors mix up to produce life. Not only memory, but human decisions, brains, heart, feelings cause a man to look for a woman not only to "speak with" but to create a community", sort of joint-venture at times. "Neqavah" determines "women as openings, orifices" as in "in the cavity (neqava) wherein the pearl is seated" (Talmud Shabbat 90a).

There we have something that may often put aside in defining our communities. Man - as any animal or plant - but with the specification of making use of brains, will, conscience is the only creature to enjoy the same capacities as God to "fashion humans by birthing" and thus building families, tribes, communities that repeat what they were told: generations generate history open to the future of living bodies and souls. This is why the Halachah requires that every male give life by "clinging to his wife/woman - davaq bishto (Bereishit 2;24) - not the opposite. Males are the depositaries of a seminal memory that allows fashioning, shaping and creating other human beings. This is an exceptional, totally sacred and natural capacity and, to begin with, the mark of a human identity. God said it was not good for him to be alone (Gen.2:18). Thus, Eve (Chavah) repairs this loneliness as "ezer kenegdo - helper facing Adam" and flowing out God's imprints of male memory in shaping embryos, babies till they birth.

This is why men must observe the bound-to-time Mitzvot/Commandments while women are seemingly not time-bound (a few exceptions are mentioned in Talmud Qiddushin 33b). Women are naturally bound to time because of their machzor (menstrual cycle and time of fecundity). Say that women are living throughout their life with the showing and disappearance of a fruitful physical and mental (thus also spiritual) calendar. This agenda basically corresponds, per days, to the lunar Jewish month.

We can then give whatever explanations about the fact that the character of being a Jew is transmitted by the mother. It has a very special meaning: "You drew me from the womb, made me secure at my mother's breast. I became Your charge at birth; from my mother's womb, You are my God" (Psalm 22:10-11).

Being a Jew is a call in utero. Every human being is fashioned according to God's image and likeness. Before being delivered to this world, a Jew is already a child of God's Israel. On the other hand, no human being was born a Christian. Whatever origin, Christianity implies to be baptized. Interestingly, in case of emergency, every human - whatever backgrounds or beliefs - can perform a baptism. But no one was ever born a Christian. This is a problem for some nations that often consider they would have gotten some privileges because of their specific Christian backgrounds. Some Christian communities disappeared (North Africa, Arabia, Tibet, China, Mongolia).

On the other hand, sacredness has to be preserved and respected as the mark of God. This call in utero is unique and can somehow be compared to the Temple and the Shechinah (God's Presence). Indeed, the community of Israel starts before birth. Medical monitoring from the earliest days of conception allows at the present another positive attitude towards what a community is and our responsibility.

Quoting the Jewish tradition about the Shechinah, Paul of Tarsus said: "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy". (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

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