Saturday, September 6, 2008

Stones, children and ethics

Judaism is built upon strong foundations, large, big, enormous as the basic "avanim levanot\אבנים לבנות/ white stones" that can seen at the Western Wall. True, the visible stones are not the foundations: these can be slightly seen under the tunnel on the side for men and they are planted deep beneath the earth on the place. Heavy blocks were weighing up the Temple Mount. Weighty blocks of stone brought as living pieces to support and protect the Divine Presence.

"Even\אבן - stone" is curious in Hebrew. English comes from Old Norse "Steinr", cf. Germ. "Stein", Du. "Steen" used to describe rocks. The root is comparable with Sanskrit "Styayate - hard pieces of standing material that thicken, curdle", Gr. "Stear - fat". Lat. "Petrus - stone = Gr. Petros, Syriac Kaifa = head) refer to weight and strength. The same with Gr."Lithos" that generated "Lithium", used for energetic power. It is the name of a specific medicine used for curing depressive moods. Slavic "Kamen'/камень" is linked to "hammer" and corresponds to these energizing capacities. On the other hand, Slavic “Stena/стена” means “wall”, not necessarily made of stones.

Hebrew supposedly comes from the same concept of "power, strength”: "even\אבן” from “avar\אבר” (with an alef) : to be bent, thick, pressed" as: "throwing a (heavy) stones into a leather bottle has no effect because it is indigestible" (Pessahim 12b). Evarim/n\אברין = meat or "three meats as edible parts of an animal limb" (Shekalim 8, 3); "ever\אבר - male genital member" and tower of protection in a city (Hullin 101b, Sanhedrin 107a), just as in English Slang ("testicles")."The corpse was put on a closing immovable stone" (Niddah 69b) which is found in the Gospel with Lazarus' resurrection (John 11:39) and the removal of the stone of Jesus' tomb (John 20:1).

The Holy Ark was located on "Even shtiyah\אבו שתיה - foundation stone" in the Second Temple (Yoma 5, 3). This refers to a place of birth, for feeding newborn babes (the faithful) as "oven [linked to beyn\בין = between and banah\בנה = to construct]" which means "the passage or vagina through which the embryo goes out" as in "the place here the child comes to light" (Sota 11b; cf. Ex. Rabba 1). But “even\אבן” may also be compared to “holid ben/banim\הוליד בן-בנים – to birth sons” as in the psalm: “Im HaShem lo yivneh vayit\אם ה. לא יבנה בית – unless the Lord builds the house, those whose build it labor in vain” (Tehillim 127, 1).

John the Baptist has a very clear saying: “I tell you, God is able from these stones (avanim\אבנים), can raise children (banim\בנים) to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8).

Most memorials were made of stones, from the gigantic human form monolithic statues Easter of Island/Rapa Nui to the Stonehenge (Stone gallows) mystical circles in Great-Britain. They are similar to the Celtic “men/maen hir – long (high stone)” that point to the sky in Brittany or Wales. The “Dolmens” are rather flat large stones under which people were buried and also a place for banquets as most cemeteries and burial places are in most civilizations. Strangely enough, Mother Earth seems to eat up human limbs deposed in stone graves. In the wonderful Danish film "Babettes gæstebud - Babette's banquet", the French female chef cook delicious "quails in sarcophagus" ("Sarcophagus = flesh eater").

On the one hand, stones symbolize hospitality and conviviality. Interestingly, till the end of the Roman architectural style, churches were built with “flat” roofs, just like synagogues or mosques. Then, Gothic belfries showed the human pretence to reaching out to heaven. A kind of remake of the “Babel-like” dream to attain God.

"We are strong". Everywhere we go, we hear that we are strong, as Israeli society composed of many nations and various people coming from the whole world. The Jews are strong, the Muslims are strong. The Christians are strong. Our strength is exactly like these mythical soap series that nurture our TV screens.

In fact, we are segmented, fragmented, split and this contradicts the traditional Jewish and Christian patterns of faith vs secular life. On the one hand, we want to be fit, firm, slim, nice and credible, as those above stones, rock building and monuments. On the other hand, we are overfed and often fed up, chubby and meaty, full of oil and fat. Still we have the nerve to pretend that we can ascend to heaven by our own forces.

This is indeed a paradox: we would accept to belong to various Jewish streams as long as they don’t bother our own micro-stream. At this point, if a huge Passover Seder would be organized throughout the country, a unique Pesach Seder, very few of us would accept to share the account of the Aggadah, the order of the memorial Seder (cf. Y. Leibowicz). We would split about the way meals were cooked… and the spiritual meaning of such an event. We would exclude some non-Halachic Jews, all sorts of Christians. Thus, where would the Muslims and Baha’is find there place? Curiously, it seems that Judaism would face and overcome such a situation. The Christian Churches and sects are far too split and it is a challenging situation to be a true Christian believer in the Holy Land at the present. It has been a challenge from the very beginning of the Church.

It is a challenge to believe in God. On September 9th, we will commemorate the assassination of Fr. Aleksandr V. Men' [o. Александр В. Мень], one of the greatest spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was killed 18 years ago as he was on the way to serve the Divine Liturgy in the morning in his church of Novaya Derevnia/Новая Деревнья.

He was killed by a man who slayed his back with an ax. He was born into a Jewish family and had been baptized in the Orthodox Church. Jews and Catholic "heretics" were slaughtered that way in times of crisis. Fr. Aleksandr Men had a huge influence on the renewal of the the Russian Orthodox Church. This cannot be ignored or kept in some underground stand, in particular in Russia. The recent death of the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us, this year, of the powerful combat and sacrifice performed by some personalities.

Fr. Men's books are known everywhere in the world and he influenced theological reflection and training. His famous book "the Son of Man - Сын человеческий" underscored the power of faith and incarnation. It insists also on the importance of holiness and humanity. The Eastern Orthodox Church has developed a long tradition of honoring the Saints, those who modelled their lives on the Way of the Son of Man. The Russian and Ukrainian, Romanian, Georgian and other Orthodox Churches have canonized thousands of "new martyrs". They sanctified the whole of the 20th century marked by mass murders and extermination. Each day is consacred to the commemoration of the saints.

It will be a long way to get to freedom for all Oriental Churches. Fr. Aleksandr Men has a lot of "spiritual sons and daughters scattered throughout the former Soviet Union, in all countries and also in Israel. They show that loving-kindness and praying with love and prophetic insights can breach stones and birth new children of God. His heritage slowly grows beyond all power or might.

av Aleksandr

Photographs: Icon of late Fr. Alexandr Men. Many faithful hope that he will be canonized and recognized as a saint who offered his life for the Church and the Unity of the Church.

The Novaya Derevnya church, drawing by N.R.

One body and soul

It is en vogue to speak of changes. The weather does not seem to change or let's say it turns to customizing processes. In August 2007, just one year ago, I wrote in the Jerusalem Post blog: "Are we going through a normal and standardized summer time? This year, Hurricane Dean swayed the Martinique and the Guadalupe islands, Haiti, and licked with heavy storms the Dominican Republic, then turned to Yucatan and Veracruz in Mexico. It wipes from our memories or more accurately the images of our media the tremendously whirling hurricane Katrina that destroyed New Orleans and Louisiana, with billions and billions of damages and homeless".

This year, the process developed in the same areas, storms, floods and monsoon devastate wide regions of the planet. The conflicts move ahead to Caucasus, Georgia, Ossetia and Afghanistan. Pakistan is shaken, panics and terrorizes. Tonight, for the first time since 1915, the Turkish president visited Armenia because of a football match! We are in soccer, basketball and hockey moms. There are invariants: are we in "panem et circences - bread and circus" as in the good old time of Roman paganism?

Faith calls us to hope beyond any possible hope that the world moves ahead to pardon and redemption. Still, we should take care of our globe: the Earth and her creation is God's work that we had to respect and conquer. It means that we do not have the right to annihilate it. We are used to carnal and spiritual slaughtering of humans, animals and we damage the environment God entrusted us. This is why September 1st, being the first day of the new ecclesiastical and liturgical year in the Eastern Orthodox Church has been chosen by Patriarch Bartholomaios to celebrate and protect wildlife, nature and the world. This was also the target of the ending shmittah/release and resting year 5768 in Eretz Israel.

Indeed, the reading portion of the forthcoming week is taken from Devarim\דברים / Deuteronomy 21:10-25:9 in this Shabbat “Ki tetsei\כי תצא – (when) you go out (to war against your enemies)”. It deals with morals… Of course! All Mitzvot and the whole of the Written and Oral Laws have proposed deep reflection on ethics throughout the ages. They aim at teaching each generation how to behave with dignity and respect for others. It does not mean than we understand or even cope with the God’s Commandments. But they are our substantial green that allows us ruminating slowly like our dear milking cows (Tehillim 1:2, “uv’torato yehggeh yomam valeylah\ובתורתו יהגה יומם ולילה – and considers/ruminates His Torah day and night”).

Thus, what do people ruminate about? Sex. Well, there is a little problem. “Sex” does not exist in Hebrew. It may sound bizarre to some citizens. We are seemingly sinking into sex genital prolegomena to a correct know-how of our sexual relationships. In the reading portion, God prohibits rapes, women abduction in war times, transvestitism, prostitution, adultery, slander against women, mutilation of male genitalia. Nu, This really sounds “sexual”. Actually it might be! But we don’t use the exact word in Hebrew to discuss a matter that is at the heart of any existence.

Pedophilia is coming up in Israel. It was current in Ancient Greece for different reasons. Some years ago it created a national cultural and mental shock in Belgium, as also in France and within the Catholic Church in the United States, Ireland and other countries. Pope Benedict XVI asked the victims raped by some clergy people for forgiveness during the World Youth Convention in Australia. At least, he did it. This concerns in fact a spiritual attitude of pardon that concerns all denominations and our faith. This is not limited to gays.

“Sexus” comes from “secare – to divide, cut". Humans are divided in order to determine their qualities of males and females collectively. The parasha/reading portion is dealing with the problem of accepting or rejecting the “genital” identity of humans. The question has been the same since the Flood and Noah's survival. How the humans can enjoy intercourses with decency and control their impulses or taboos. Sex(us) is declined in the present in: heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual, same-sex, over-sexed and unisex. This has nothing to do with mechanics. And it is indeed a pity that modern religious teachers do not dare clearly and loudly instruct about the mental, physical and spiritual values of our limbs. Human beings cannot function as separate robots or golems. Our physical connection to ourselves and to others does mirror our personal purity or soul life. There is one specific aspect that should be taken into consideration. Faith allows us to act with decency without being obsessed by sin or guilt.

“Male and female are called to be one body and soul”, states the Talmud (Menachot 93a). This confirms the value of the first commandment, i.e. to quit father and mother and to “clutch” to a wife (Gen. 2:24). In Hebrew, “Min\מין = sex” and “Person (to the fullest)”. It also interrogates about our origin and destination (Avot 3:1): “Me’a’in\מאין = where from”, “min\מין = who, out of (where)”, “man, mah\מן-מה = what” clarifies the dignity of each human. This shows the fulfillment of how human beings are called to respect their members, bones and souls, brains, intellect, mind, conscience.

It is trendy to publicize sex as a “raw and wild instinct game". Hebrew shows why it cannot be reduced to mechanical or temporary exercises. Physical intercourse always involves creating, reinvigorating and stimulating sexual and emotional feelings. It leads to enhancing our spiritual lives. Bodies are not toys; intercourse means "sharing in the development of a connection". It may be difficult to find the correct way to such a level of relationships. They have nothing to do with robotic actions, fears or obsessing fancies.

“Love = Ahavah\אהבה = Gr. Agape” undoubtedly refers to Divine Light of creation ( = la’assot\לעשות, yatsar\יצר = to make, create, shape”). Again, Mishney Torah\משנה תורה – Deuteronomy hammers down how consciousness should abide our souls and never affect, harm or even damage other inmates, in particular women. One could think that this “wedding warnings and strict commandments” are a consequence of some women weakness. There is no evidence that women are weaker than men. The TaNaKH insists on the fact that woman was shaped in order to assist and even contradict maleness (“ezer kenegdo\עזר כנגדו = a helper against him (Adam) Bereishit 2:20). This maybe nothing new, but the newness is not in the repetition of prohibitive mitzvot. Newness consists in being more aware that any human would like or even prefer to test, taste what is wrong – then get wounded and fall.

In Israel, most women wear pants, men would get more feminized (ornaments, beauty products, unisex clothing). We look again toward own-sex groups that would turn to individual hedonism and loneliness. Sexual perversions or transgressions are universal; transvestitism can be initiatory (shamanism or Japanese "No" theater) as pedophilia is for the African Siwan people or the East Bay Papuans. They show up in ancient Jewish and Christianized cultures as symptoms of degenerative tendencies. These function like primary mental panicking impulses. There are more and more cases of incest which – beside any mitzvot system – is condemned by all human groups; with two amazing exceptions: Egyptian Pharaoh’s and the Mormons. This is definitely not some primitive depravation. It shows how humankind is at pain in eradicating the early commencement of human social life. It was a very fenced and tiny group network that could not reach to a self-controlled conscience. Each individual was driven by sudden and instant rages to have a hell and, eventually catch and kill. At this point, we are only at the dawn of humanity and spread the good tiding that God reigns over the universe.

Thus, it is said that we ought to save a fallen donkey or ox (Deut. 22:4), not to kill the mother of fledglings in a nest; and: “assita ma’aqah legagech\ועשית מעקה לגגך / to build a parapet for the roof of a new house: “otherwise you might have blood-guilt on your house if anyone should fall from it / ki yipol hanofel mimenu\כי יפול הנופל ממנו” (Deut. 22:8). Now, this commandment should be read in most cities of the country as regards the building of solid security parapets / ma’aqot\מעקות everywhere. This sounds a bit peculiar: is there on our roof a being who may fall and make us blood-guilty? The prayer of the Amidah (18 Benedictions) “Mechalkel\מכלכל” has it: “God sustains the living with loving-kindness, resurrects the dead with great mercy, somech noflim\סומך נופלים - supports the falling…”

There is no competition in faith. It is impossible to be jealous, hurtful or damage any single "blood and flesh". This is a terrible for the faithful, the hierarchs and the Communities. Centuries have passed: believers of all denominations and ethnic descent did often trap and wrap people with arrogance and disdain. As the blessing says, “God sustains and reinvigorates” all beings while we would love to trip someone up because casting down is such a pleasant game for whom cannot stand personal wounds.

In times of floods and hurricanes, people are often saved from their roofs. This would also mean that people are not only born to fall in catastrophic situations! This is the kind of hope beyond any hope that Jews have shown in times of great turbulence. We are like bouncing babes overwhelming that what good can prevail against jungle and hatred.

In August 79 CE, Mount Vesuvio lashed its stream of volcanic fire destroying Pompeii and Herculaneum that remained hidden for centuries. How come that the Arctic ice remove at the present the (skull)cap of the Earth?

av Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel

September 8, 2008 - ז דאלול תשס"ח

Photograph: "Galaxy".

Friday, September 5, 2008

Auf Wiederschauen, Pater Kurt Hruby

Fr. Kurt Hruby passed away on September 5th, 1992 - 16 years ago. He was born on May 27, 1921 into an Austrian mixed family. His mother, Rosa Kohn, was Jewish, of Slovak background and a famous rabbinical family. His father was a Roman Catholic of Viennese descent and a violonist. Kurt Hruby lived in the town of Krems an der Donau (Niederösterreich) where he went to school till his Matura (Baccalaureat).

When the Nazis came to power by the time of the Anschluß, the young man firstly tried to flee through Switzerland. The Swiss police brought him back to Austria. He succeeded to leave with some friends on board one of those then-along the Donau "Kohlenschiffe/coal ships" and finally reached Palestine. He studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and continued his training into Jewish tradition that he had received from his maternal grandparents. He got, from his early childhood, a perfect and real daily practice of Jewish praying and ways of living, habits, customs.

He was eager to get further into Judaism and made an attempt to work in a pionneering orthodox Jewish kibbutz (Sde Elijahu\שדה אליהו) located in the Jordan Valley.His path is remarkable in many aspects. He had been baptized in the Roman Catholic Latin Church and still lived among the religious newcomers of the kibbutz without being a bar mitzvah. Then, his excellent knowledge of French and other tongues allowed him to work for the France Presse News agency, then to switch to make his living as a cook in a restaurant. He remained a remarkable "Feinkoch", a real chef cooking delicious dishes and cakes. My children loved him not only because of his cooking competences. He loved children and we can feel that on the few photographs that we took by that time.

After the war, he decided after a lot of reflection and with much dedication to this sort of "impossible task" to become a priest in order to "repair" the frightful and weird estrangement that had led the Christian baptized European world to such a catastrophe as the Holocaust, the Shoah that is a "churban\חורבן" for the pious Jews. He could study at Leuven/Louvain in Belgium. He was ordained a priest by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Liege/Luik (1953). He then started to teach in different places, mainly in France (Sisters of Zion, the Institut Catholique and the Institut Oecumenique in Paris) and in Basel/Zurich.

We used to speak Yiddish. We met on a very Yiddish occasion: I was sent to him because I had translated the Divine Liturgy and Services into Yiddish and he helped me to correct the texts. He welcomed the work saying that it could be considered as a kind of "memorial"; he also underscored how close the Yiddish tongue and weltanschauung showed close connections with authentic and original Christian spirit. It was in the 70s: he gave me his Hebrew type-writer and many books in Christian prayers in Hebrew and Yiddish.

He spent his life paving the way with much and rare insights for the embetterment of the relations between Judaism and Christianity, considering that he had to be inside of the Church in order to convey this task. He was assigned (the first) representative of the French Conference of Bishops in charge of the relationship with Judaism. He also used to participate in the "Journees Liturgiques" and was lecturing at the Saint Sergius Eastern Orthodox Institute of theology. I tried to prolong these lectures for some years.

He was much appreciated for his unbelievable patience and goodness, deep sense of charity and loving-kindness. He was also pragmatic, having a profound experience of Judaism and knowing that he was just a link in a chain that would have to be set up in the long-term: "It will take centuries to repair centuries of mutual ignorance and estrangement". This is real and this is what we can see. No way and no place for fake games and theatral Jewish-Christian dreamy en vogue dialogues. This requires time, in-depth studies and teachings, knowledge of many traditions, a lot of humbleness.

L'"abbe Hruby" was exhausted by his many activities and constant trips to Zurich back and forth. He participated in some journals like "Judaica", "der Freund Israels" and wrote many articles for encyclopedies. He also translated from Yiddish into German the writings of the Breslover Rebbe that, to my knowledge, were never published. His lectures and the notes of his teachings were mostly scattered after his death. He published a lot of articles in the "Revue des Etudes Juives" and often wrote about the meaning of the synagogue for the Jewish life. He was also consulted about the non-utilization of the synagogue at Krems an der Donau. It had been used as a shelter/Logis for the refugees fleeing from the Sudetenland.The synagogue was finally destroyed.

One aspect should also be taken into consideration: he had some clue with the Slavs through his Yiddish and he was well aware of the terrible lacks of misunderstanding that had developed in the East. Still, he could appreciate the proximity of the chassidic traditions with the Oriental and Orthodox Churches. In this field everything is still like seeds sown in bloodsheds and that may come up for the coming generations.On the other hand, he was involved in helping the Arab Greek-Catholic Church and this is definitely a prophetic sign for the future of the relationships of the local Arab Church in Israel and Palestine.

He was a real "mentch\מענטש ", i.e. a good and very humane person as we say in Yiddish. He died on September 5, 1992 in Vulaines-sur-Seine in the vicinity of Troyes. He had some difficulties with sleeping and therefore used to explain that serving during the weekend in a dozen of provincial parishes in that area of France helped him cure this problem. It allowed him collecting a lot of Church information about the local beliefs and way of being Christians in post-Holocaust remote villages... not far from Rashi's vineyards.

I was present at his funeral with my children. Fr. Bernard Dupuy, then in charge of the relationships of the French Conference of Bishops with Judaism was present and Pastor T. Willi and B. Cunz of Zurich. Whatever, he was buried "incognito".

May he rest in the peace of the One God on his memorial day/yohrtzayt- יארצייט. זכרונו לברכה!
Вечная память!

av Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel
September 5, 2008 [closure of the Feast of the Dormition] - ד באלול תשס"ח

Photograph: (Eclipse 2008): I shall not die but account the deeds of the Lord\לא אמות כי אחיה ואספר מעשי יה.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Judgment or justice

The reading portion of the forthcoming week is taken in the Book of Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9: “Shoftim\שפטים – you shall appoint judges (said the Lord to Moses)\שפטים [ושטרים] תתן לך”. The process of “Mishney Torah\משנה תורה – repeatedly repeating the Torah” shows God knowing how much Moses looks with insights at the Israelites. He feels they hardly accept to observe the Mitzvot.

Jewish memory can easily be compared to some elephants whose trunks throw the stored memorized elements to the trash out of some odd boredom. We can be so lazy, on the verge of sloth, about learning the Mitzvot and then teaching them adequately.

We may have the impression that exerting judgment and being a decision-maker, a manager, sort of heading a ruling entity is a knock-out activity full of prestige and might. Most of the soap operas and serials would rely on recurring patterned events: wedding and divorce, lawsuits and court quibbling. Moses followed the advice given by his father-in-law, Jethro. He appointed “anshey chayil\אנשי חיל – men of value, discernment” and councils to resolve the problems. The Israelite community was lost in the wilderness. Moses humbly found how to avoid quarrels among the people.

He was the leader, heading the nation. As Jethro told him, he could not handle or govern everything. We do see in many countries how politicians or economists, of whatever profession can be driven to power; life-long presidents or Chief High Guides of the People. Sometimes the period would legally be reduced to four-five-seven years but there is a real thirst for might. These people of power do exist of course in the world of laws and regulations that vary in different countries. Interestingly, Moshe Rabbenu humbled himself. He listened to Jethro’s wisdom and assigned the first “judges or justices\שופטים ו שוטרים”. At this point, from the Sinai Revelation and Giving of the Torot\מתן תרתנו (Oral and Written Torah) onwards, the Israelites try to reach one essential goal, i.e. God's righteousness. This deveoped special abilities with regards to: Words (writing, reporters, journalists), Law (lawyers, justices, attorneys, judges), Health or language of the body & soul (physicians, surgeons, psychotherapists, therapists, nurses).

Legal matters cover all these activities because it may either cause terrible sufferings. They aim at delivering individuals and groups from serfdom. Legal [Mitzvot] rules make them feel and act freely. Thus, Law is at the heart of every Jewish prayer and non-Jews would even be astounded of the “legal aspect” of many Jewish demands made to the Lord: "You have favored us with the knowledge of Your Law” (on Shabbat, Berachot 33a).

It is striking that the Jews are submitted to a constant call. This consists in memorizing the earlier times of Moses’ decision for the Israelites. It appears in the benediction included in the Amidah\עמידה (18 Blessings): “Hashivah shofteynu kev’rishonah\השיבה שפטניו כבראשונה / Restore our judges (justices) as in prior times, veyoatseynu kev’techilah\וועצינו כבתחלה / and our counselors as of yore; remove from us sorrow and sighing (yagon veanachah\ויגון ואנחה) and reign Alone over us, Lord, with kindness and compassion, righteousness and justice (betsedek uvmishpat\בצדק ובמשפט) (during the ten days of penitence/slichot\סליחות = Melech HaMishpat\מלך המשפט – King of Judgment).

The first phrase is taken from Prophet Isaiah 1:26-27. This presupposes that these people of the Law could exert a compassionate legal authority allowing to remove sufferings, guilt and failures. The second part of the blessing suggests that the ancient appointment of the judges-advisors in the wilderness permitted a correct monitoring of the society. This was not the case when foreign dominions and judges were arbitrarily ruling over the Jewish nation, in particular the Romans by the time of the Second Temple. The Palestinian version of the benediction has “Ohev mishpat\אוהב משפט – Who loves judgment” instead of (Melech/King of judgment\מלך המשפט) as in Isaiah 61:8.

There is a strong connection between the Amidah blessings 9 to 11 about Redemption, the ingathering of the exiled and the restoration of the judges. Curiously enough, the demand was not introduced after but before the destruction of the Temple as explained in Talmud Sanhedrin 41a, seemingly written forty years before 70 C.E.

Are we really that legal-oriented? The State of Israel repeatedly insists that we live in a “medinah chukit\מדיה חוקית = state of legacy”. The police and the soldiers acting as policemen, but also all kinds of “courts\בתי משפט – batey hamishpat” or “beyt shalom\בית שלום – court of peace” for marital and penal disputes constitute a major part of the Israeli stand of justice. Or, at least there is a genuine and firm desire to resolve any societal or individual issue with righteousness.

People can of course be tricky and cheat each other. We are truly a friendly nation, rather spoiled like churlish children. Money… money… “kessef/massar oder gelt\כסף מעסר אודער געלט”.

Lawless rule can lose an spiritual meaning. We see at the present the highest legal bodies (the Supreme Court, then new Attorney General) embattled in upgrading the power of legacy. Now, there are also the rabbinic tribunals and the dayanim\דינים – rabbinical judges. This should be good provided that nobody is corrupt or twisty. The problem with the twist is that it hardly can be detected overtime. As we grow foxy, crooked, we insidiously leave and forget what is at the core of the Mitzvot and we are getting lost. Strange how at times we can get astonished or amused to get misled. True, Israeli society is going through rising hooliganism, opportunism, self-ruled and self-autonomous decisions taken with less and less respect for the State regulations.

Israel has often become for some people like the “shalosh arim\שלוש ערים – the three cities (of refuge)” determined in our reading portion of the week. These three cities existed in order to protect the “rotz’chim\רוצחים - murderers” who had killed or harmed somebody “by mistake”, unwillingly. By the time the mitzvah was decreed, it was evident that legality was respected. The mitzvah showed to be a very humane provision. It secured a murderer who had not intentionally killed or wounded somebody.

One of the formulas used for the ancient ordination of the rabbis is: “Yadin\ידין-ידין – yadin: you want to exercise judgment, you will judge / yattir- yattir\יתיר-יתיר: you want to deliver, release, make free – you will authorize / Yoreh – yoreh\יורה-יורה: you want to teach (the Laws), give birth to souls: you will open them so that they can reach their goals”. In Hebrew “Din, dinim\דין-דינים” often corresponds to what the Christians would call “grace, blessings”.

We forget that a judgment is not a punishment. It has a prophetic aspect that enables a society to comply with senseful rules. Thus, the moral commandments “You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery,…” are composed of very subtle points that most people trespass everyday. The question is how to correct public life and reinforce freedom, release and a spirit of prophecy! The problem is how to inject good will and teach the commandments with a joyous spirit.

Intriguingly, the Noahide Laws require the setting-up of a tribunal in every town. Justices, lawyers, shoterim\שוטרים-officers-policemen and women as the rabbis and pious people do have an immense preventive responsibility to bring forth the value of Laws.

Jesus said: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. (Matthew 6:19-20). The realm of the Mitzvot is far beyond any denomination, party, judgment. It calls to be cool, quietly cool and balanced.

av Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel

September 2, 2008 – ב באלול תשס"ח

Photograph: Heichal HaSefer, the Shrine of the Book\היכל הספר, Israel Museum, roof in the shape of the top of a scroll.{credit: Galit].

Sunday, August 31, 2008


The Eastern Orthodox Churches,
in particular the Church of Jerusalem, celebrate
the "Dormition of our Most Holy Lady
the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary" on the 28th of August that corresponds, in the Gregorian calendar to August 15th। The Roman Church calls
this feast the "Assumption of Mary".

There are different traditions with regard to the passing away of the Theotokos. She certainly died in Jerusalem, but there is much discretion about the exact place. This corresponds to the rather "backlaid" if not hidden presence of Mary, the Mother of Jesus throughout his ministry.

She is present at the wedding in Cana and introduces the "forthcoming hour" of Jesus. The Gospel reports that she was at the Golgotha when Jesus died on the Cross. The Master asked John to take her to his home and to welcome her as his own mother. In between, she apparently kept "silent". There is more than some pre-supposed Jewish female modesty.

The Oriental Churches show the importance of Mary. She is never alone. Joseph, Jesus' father, spent a life of total humbleness and most rarely appears in the Gospel. It does not mean that he was not important. Silence, humbleness and backlaidness are usually more significant iin the Jewish way of living by the time of Jesus.

"Panagia-panayia/panaghia/Παναγία = All Holy" is the adjective and name given to Mary in the Oriental Church. It is also the name of the engolpion/medallion only worn by the bishops. It shows the icon of the Virgin. This is a meaningful way to insist on the role of Mary: she is the Image/Icon of the Church.

Mary certainly died in Jerusalem, i.e. close to Mount Zion which is, because of the Upper Room, the location of the nascent Church. The Holy Fathers attested that the feast of the Dormition has been celebrated very early in Jerusalem. Pilgrims used to visit Mary's Tomb at Gethsemane; the other place of repose being on Mount Zion. There is definitely no evidence that the Mother of God passed away in Ephesus (cf. Catherine Emmerich's visions) or even in Constantinople.

We can be fascinated by the birth and origins of the Theotokos. It is much more intriguing to look into her passing away. All the titles given to Mary in the Christian traditions are based upon the creed of the Church, i.e. the resurrection of Jesus three days after he had been put on the stake. Mary and subsequently the Church are only alive, living and life-giving because the faithful are united in the original creed. God gave His only-begotten son through Mary.

Jesus took flesh from the Most Holy and Ever-Virgin Mary and he was both a human and Godly. Thus, the Dormition of Mary is a "Summer Pascha/Easter time". The Church celebrates her "falling asleep" as a major feast for the whole of the One Church. Her passing away is parallel to Jesus' resurrection as human and divine. The Church Fathers state that she was buried at Gethsemane, down the Mount of Olives that is the eschatological mountain for the Jewish tradition. But they also wrote that her body had remained uncorrupt. They also report that,after three days, the Virgin's body was taken to heaven. This was stated inter alia by the priest Timothy of Jerusalem in the 4-5th century: Jesus' Mother had to go through death in this world in order to enter Ever-lasting Life, following the resurrection of her son, true man and true God as said in a wonder liturgical sequence of the Assyrian Church (Gregory of Narsai).

This corresponds to the Jewish faith and tradition. Human beings do not die. They fall asleep. The Greek word is "koimesis/κοίμησις - falling asleep" and the root also exists in the Latin and English languages: "κοιμητήριον/coemeterium = cemetery" is the place where the departed "sleep", in the expectation of the final resurrection. Russian "Uspenie/Успение" underscores this state of "sleeping\спать" and the Russian Orthodox Church as all the Slavic, Georgian and Romanian traditions show a lot of respect towards this crucial Church summer feast. German "Friedhof", Danish "kierkegaard" insist on a place of "peace or "the area of the Church", which is somehow linked to the meaning of Gethsemane's orchard. Hebrew: "beyt 'almin\בית עלמין - " is connected with "olam haba\עולם הבא - the world to come". It also refers to a new kind of birthing.

"The Assumption of Mary, Mother of God" was defined by Pope Pius XII as a full dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in 1950, without the consent of the Oriental and the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine and ancient Churches. It alludes to the death of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos as being taken to heaven. It does not really refer with precision to her resurrection.

It should be noted that this "summer Pascha" of the Mother of Jesus is celebrated in the season of the year when the Ancient Semitic Assyrian and Syrian Orthodox Churches commemorate Prophet Elijah who will come to herald the coming of the Messiah (Judaism) and, for the Christian Churches, the Second Coming of Jesus in glory (compare Sukkot 52a-b). This is the "Qeytza\קצה - קיץ\harvesting time".

This means that the Church is "bodily" called to witness to the resurrection and preservation of God Who chose Mary to bear Jesus as human and divine Messiah. This is at the heart of the Christian creed and faith.

Now, in the Jewish tradition, the departed have fallen asleep. Enoch and Elijah did not die but were lifted to heaven. Nothing is said about Melkisedek and we don't know where Moses was really buried. On the other hand, the Jews venerate the patriarchs buried at the cave of Machpelah, Rachel's tomb, Joseph's tomb and many other holy graves. It is a custom to pray while facing the mount of Olives.

In Hebrew, it is possible to choose different clues for the words "dormition/assumption". The Latin Church would refer to "חג ההעלאה/hag ha'ala'ah - from "aliyah - to ascent (to heaven)". Today, people would speak of "aliyat Myriam leshmeymah - עליית מרים לשמימה". This aspect is not the one confessed by the Oriental traditions that insist on the "falling asleep/sleep-in" of Mary.

In Hebrew, "hirdim/הרדים" means "to put/send/ get to sleep". The root is "radam/רדם = to fall fast asleep". Thus, "If they have been fast asleep, at the end of the Passover/Pesach meal they dare not eat again" (Pessahim 10,8 (120b)). This quotation shows some similarities with Jesus' words. At the end of the Pesach meal, Jesus declared that he will not drink of the fruit of the vine till he will be in the Kingdom". The word means a "falling or get into sleeping". This means that Jesus, Mary and every human being have to fall asleep against their consent. This solely depends on God's will.

It is also written: "Jonah, in the anguish of his soul, was overcome and fell asleep and slept/נרדם וישן" (Tanhumah VaYikra 8). Adam, Abraham, Elijah, Jonah fell asleep and woke up receiving special blessings. Adam got Eve, Abraham envisioned the long history of his many descendants. Jonah "rose" back to the living from the belly of the big fish.

The dormition of the Theotokos closes down the process of death and opens up the cycle of resurrection. In Hebrew, the Benedictine Church of the Dormition on Mount Zion is called "Dormitziyon - דורמיציון" . It suggests a rather exact definition as the "falling asleep" proposed by the Latin root "dormire".

This means also something else: "dormition, falling asleep" implies that the resurrection of the Panaghia is invisibly perceived by the believers as a "sleep". The Christian faithful confess the resurrection of Jesus; they cannot see Him in this world in the shape of the Resurrected. This is comparable and does cope with the expectance of everlasting life expressed in the Jewish prayers. The Amidah\עמידה or the daily prayers of the 18 benedictions proclaims this blessing constantly and throughout the day: "Mechayeh metim\מחיה מתים = He Who reinvigorates, revives the dead".

The prayer continues: "You are mighty forever, my Lord; You resurrect the dead - You are powerful to save = אתה גיבור לעולם אדוני מחיה מתים אתה, רב להושיע: This is the second blessing that continues as follows: He(God) sustains the living with lovingkindness, resurrects the dead (traditional translation)... and fulfills His trust to those *Who sleep in the dust\ומקים אמונתו לישני עפר* (cf. the cave of the patriarchs at Machpelah, Hebron dust). Who is like You, mighty One! and who can be compared to You, King Who brings death and restores life, and causes delivrance (salvation) to spring forth = ממית ומחיה ומצמיח ישועה ".

Then, what do we do when we sleep, are falling asleep? Hebrew for "sleep" is "yashan\ישן" = to recover strength (cmp. ashan\אשן and chalam\חלם = to dream". The root also refers to "growing old, keeping and improving with age".
Resurrection is not a project put in ice! or on hold! It is a move from sleep to new portions of eternity.

I love to say "sheinah tovah\שנה טובה = have a good sleep" instead of the usual "laylah tov = good night".

שנה\sheinah also comes from the root "yashan = to sleep". It is said: "Three things must be prayed for: a good king (leader), a good year and a good dream" (Berachot 55a). The words 'year'-'sleep' have the same original root in Hebrew. It rolls forwards, scrolls life up till the end of times and eternity. The feast of the Dormition introduces into new times. We will go ahead, towards a new portion of our life.

The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates on September 1st [14, old style] the beginning of the Ecclesiastical/liturgical New Year. It shows how pregnant the Semitic roots are in the Church traditions, sometimes with little awareness of such parallels. This happens to be tomorrow in the West and 14 days later for the Church of Jerusalem and many other Christian Orthodox old style communities.

New Year Rosh HaShanah ראש השנה 5769 will start in 40 days. Tonight, the Jewish community welcomes the new month of Elul\אלול. Tonight and throughout the month, the shofar will be blown at every morning prayer. It is a month of penance and meditation in order to meet the new year with more insights, a pure heart and love. The Jewish communities are called to wake up and get aware that, God willing, dreams come true and sleep refreshes till into the world to come.

We are still in the time of the Dormition of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Emmanuel. The Jewish community enters the new month of Elul. In this year 1429, the Muslims have the Ramadan on that day.

"ווער האט געזאגט אז מיר זאלן שטערבן?/Ver hot gezogt az mhr zol'n shterb'n? - Who said we would die?" as people say in Yiddish.

God teaches how to live.

Av Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel
September 1st, 2008 - א באלול תשס"ח

Photographs: Uspenskyi sobor in Kyiv - Church of Dormition in Kiev.
Dormition of the Panaghia. This Cluny French design of the 10th c. was also written as icons in the Eastern Orthodox traditions. The Risen Lord welcomes his Mother, birthing her, by God's will, to the resurrection.