Monday, February 9, 2009

For whom the bells ring

One of the most striking lectures given during the 6th Jerusalem Conference was the interview of Prof. Bernard Lewis who dedicated his life to in-depth analysis and insights about Islam in the history of Europe and with regards to the Middle East. He closed the Jerusalem Conference 5769-2009 having a dialog with Dan Diker.

To begin with, it should be noted that Prof. Lewis started his lecture by quoting St. John of Capistrano, the notorious Franciscan preacher, soldier, crusader, anti-all-heresy monk. Pope Calixtus III allowed him – the monk was seventy years old – to lead a crusade against Mehmed II who had tried to seize Rome and Vienna, after the fall of Constantinople. The Franciscan friar was rather known for his very abrupt theological positions and he had severely attacked the Hussites.

B. Lewis said that the saint had commented a very peculiar and significant point in the life of the Jewish communities. His words dealt with the behavior of the Jews as individuals and community members. He reminded the audience that, in the opinion of Giovanni di Capistrano, the Jews committed a constant mistake of appraisal throughout the ages by pretending that every Gentile nation may have access to God through their special ways that differ from Judaism. He mentioned the Christians and the Muslims, usually considered as believing in the One God. It is interesting to find such a statement in the words of a Franciscan monk, i.e. a member of the Catholic Church at a time of great anti-Semitism. The Franciscan saint was quite “obsessed” by the purity of faith, true orthodoxy in the sense of obedience to the Catholic Church, pretty much assaulting the faithful of heretic denominations and sects. He had led a crusade.

In contrast, in a much milder way, Cervantes had a similar view: he wrote that he had decided to choose Judaism, the Jewish philosophy and ethical way of living. His “Don Quixote de la Mancha” is definitely a book showing his commitment with the Jewish prophetic movement that should never be considered as a mere form of utopia or dreamy day-nightmare.

Judaism should never be reduced to some ethnic, nationalistic, DNA and specific cultural topic or prejudice. It should be noted that the core of Judaism is very close to the fundamentals of the “creed” of the Churches. Judaism does focus on “one, holy (mikdash\מקדש, orthodox (emunah shlemah, emet\אמונה שלמה.אמת ) and catholic (klal, klalit\כלל.כללית) and apostolic (shlichut\שליחות)” community. Progressive split and schism, estrangement and hate, alterity and revision of the meaning of the words in a context of general competition between the Jewish and Christian communities led to incapacity to refer to words that are indeed in force in Christendom and Judaism. Such are the fundamentals of Jewishness that stumbled through history against the stone of those who permanently endeavored to supersede some unexplainable sort of “birthright”.

Judaism is not racial; it has nothing to do with maternal birth, blood analysis or exceptional skills. It relies on a series of continuous gracious and freely given blessings that change both flesh and souls. These blessings have been protected by overtime memorizing capacities. This situation is thus totally free, and calls to a constant service for the sake of the Holy Name and all humankind. Indeed, the Klal Israel/ gathers in the Jews first (Paul of Tarsus) then the Greeks (Gentiles) and s this carries out this move into the future till the eschaton. “Klal\כלל” means “totality” and sums up the two words “orthodox = authentic faith” and “catholic = kath’olon = open to the fulfillment, plerome, plenitude”. This is a call, i.e. a real vocation given in this world to specific humans serving gracious unexpected rules or commandments: it is the Kahal = called community [QHL\קהל = the sound of the Voice/Qol\קול]. “Klal\כלל = totality” in the sense of a “wedding plenitude as stated on the sixth day of the creation: “Vayichulu\ויכולו = (heaven and earth) were achieved on the sixth day = KOL\קול / is comparable to the “kallah\כלה/ = bride” who longs after being connected with the bridegroom.

The topic is then dealing with an ongoing sort of monologue between the monotheist faithful: who is correct, authentic, exact, true and the one chosen and beloved of God. The question is rather childlike if not even “churlish”. It maybe the most developed spiritual if not theological subject. It is discussed as if some answer could be proved or approved and sealed in this world. Then who is truly responsible for the breaches that affected humankind on their mental and divine path?

Prof. B. Lewis exposed an opinion that is rather spread; he had the privilege to among the very first scholars to determine the matter with clear-cut historic documents and insightful envisioning of our situation at the present and in the future.

Dr. Daniel Sibony, Prof. Maxime Rodinson and, to some extent Lawrence of Arabia himself were aware of the tremendous cultural and theological influence of Islam in Europe, the Middle-East and Asia. At this point, things are often mistaken or misinterpreted. It maybe the consequence of some mental slips or of spiritual negation of current evidences.

To begin with, the Church was born out of Judaism and Judaism does not require any Christian influence, confirmation or assessment. Judaism exists and has always developed into different groups; I am rather reluctant to speak of “sects”. But the word is often correct because some specific groups did cut themselves from a large Jewish original root: “sect” = “sectus = cut, separated”, which is the situation of the Karaites [Qora’im\קוראים], many of the Shabbateans who do not acknowledge the Talmud-Mishnah. The Early Christian church was some sort of a self-ruled Jewish group. This endured until the Jews, with seemingly much reluctant, finally introduced the Birkat Minim\ברכת מינים. It is today the Birkat Malshinim\ברכת מלשינים (Benediction against the heretics) and many siddurim have removed the “blessing” against the Minim who supposedly were the Christians. The Council of Nicaea took a rather decisional position by obliging the Church not to celebrate the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the same date as Pesach/Passover, on Nisan 14th.

There was a special aspect that should be taken into consideration for a correct understanding of Christian historic development. Christian faith – along with the related conflicts that showed from the very beginning of the movement – underscores the apostolic preaching of the Kingdom of God to the entire creation, which is the major element of initial Judaism. “Proselytism” is not understood accordingly. Today, it is an embattled concept about how Judaism and Christianity split and clashed over the ages. The “shlichut/שליחות “ implicitly sustains the proclamation of God’s reign through some commandments as the Noahide commandments for the non-Jews and the Mitzvot for the Jews. Indeed, every soul depends on the existence of these Mitzvot. They surpass individual consciousness. It is possible to say that the Mitzvot do exist whatever way humankind accepts, rejects or selects them for their use or misuse. They are also deeply present in Christianity since Jesus said he came to “fulfill and not to abolish the Law” and they abide the Muslim theology that focuses on the Mahdi, the mirrored character of some messiah with the expectancy of Messenger Muhammad.

We do forget in the present that the ongoing battle in the Middle-East firstly developed all over Europe, Asia and expanded to all parts of the world. It is the initial combat – an apocalyptic one – in which Islam and Christianity are facing each other . They are tempted to eradicate, convert, capture and overcome the other party(ies). Interestingly, the Jews are not fundamentally concerned by this very harsh conflict. We can dream of very sweet and peaceful collaboration between monotheists. It merely remains a dream or a way not to be able to cope with reality. Compromises are then more convenient and strangely mild.

Today's developments are not only political wars and contests. It is a sort of duplicate of the Gog and Magog eschatological war that leads Islam to some profound move in order to conquer again or seize what they lost in the course of the past centuries. Islam has tried to take over all of Europe. It had North Africa and canceled the power of Christianity there. Islam was stopped in the South of France in the 8th century. It turned to Italy, Malta, Cyprus and the Balkan. Turkey used to be the cradle of Christianity. It became Muslim and spread with the reign of the Ottoman empire that only collapsed in 1918. The Ottoman regime always threatened Vienna. This has deeply imprinted the local memory of the Central and East-European nations. Someway, they remained faithful to Christian faith. In the West, Catholicism and Protestantism split from the Eastern "deir Rum" = Eastern [Roman empire] Church. Since the first conquests of Islam in the 6th and 8th centuries till the Crusades, Western Christianity faced Islam. The Muslims consider they have reached the true fulfillment of spiritual history. This theological and spiritual combat started and it continues at the present, whatever political situations concerned .

Just as ancient gods and goddesses were involved in harsh heavenly fights and quarrels, the humans continue to argue and kill each other in the name of some deity or the One God alike; but this corresponds to mirroring projections of in-depth pagan tendencies or taboos. In the prologue to the Book of Job, it is written how God and Satan pass an agreement about how to test Job’s faith without touching the integrity of his soul. God and Satan do fight just as the Yetzer haTov/good evil faces Yetzer HaRa/the Bad evil. But this is a divine fight. We cannot mirror such a fight in this world except if we comprehend that we may test each other though we have no right to act in such a manner.

When Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem persuaded Sultan Omar that he could not destroy the Holy Sepulcher, he saved the Christian world in a way that seemingly got swept out of all Christendom’s memory and records. Since 638 AD., when he obtained this agreement that sealed the survival of Christianity in the place of its birth (in the Resurrection of the Lord), Middle-Eastern Christianity feels in danger and is much aware in its memory that the Churches face Islam, often with much aggressiveness, cruelty on both sides… and competition. True, it does not mean at all that Jesus and Muhammad would in vivo and in vitro support such disputes.

Islam has conquered immense territories in the West and around the Mediterranean Sea. They would have like to seize Rome as they had taken over Constantinople. Right now, visitors in Istanbul will hardly be told about the fact that Turkey was among the cradle areas of Judaism and Christianity. There are certain places in Cappadocia and Smyrna and other places where Christianity does exist or survive. Nothing to be compared with the prestigious and highly appraised faculties of theology that have been closed (Chalki). Patriarc h Bartholomaios, who is the first patriarch among the others (primus inter pares) in the Eastern Orthodox Church faces terrible difficulties in accomplishing his spiritual task locally and at an international level. I just mention the issue that is a real concern and shows how Christendom has been weakening since the fall of the Ottoman empire.

Since the early centuries of Islam and their inner splits between Sunnites and Shiites, the Sunni had ruled over the majority of the Muslim countries, even if the local faithful belonged and still refer to the tradition of the Sha’ih as it is the case in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran.

Islam is of great interest because it only reaches at the present its 15th century of existence in a context in which history and memory constitute the major part of the background of the “Umma – (world) community (of the believers). The split happened in 632 when Muhammad passed away. The Sunni party focused on the lineage inside of the Prophet’s family (blood line). Intriguingly, the same problem did show for the succession of the Judeo-Christian community of Jerusalem: how was it possible to maintain the management of the Christian community in the hands of Jesus’ family (St. Jacob/James, first bishop of Jerusalem and his successors till 135 to some extent)? Christianity chose external leadership by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The Sunnites ruled till the fourth caliphate. Some believers preferred to recognize Ali who was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law. Ali’s son Hussein was assassinated in 656 as a consequence of harsh conflicts between Sunnites and Shiites. The child considered as having disappeared, being hidden and having the privilege of being the “invisible mahdi” who will come back by the time of the final revelation. In 874, the 11th imam’s son was told to have disappeared, opening a era of contest with the Sunni. The collapse of the Ottoman empire provoked a profound spiritual upraise and deny of the Sunnite among the Shiites of Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. Basically, Jordan and Palestine are Sunnites and occasionally require the assistance of the Shiites of Iran or Egypt. The “Muslim Brotherhood / Al Ikhwan al Muslimun” progress step by step in their opposition to “corrupted Sunni system”. Things are definitely not easy to understand. For example, Osama Bin Laden is a Sunni opponent; or him, the fall of the Muslim caliphate in 1920 is viewed as a real catastrophe for Islam and the revelation of the hidden Mahdi.

Contests and spiritual competition are fundamental in all the disputes that affect the theological life of the monotheist communities in the Middle-East and the Semitic society. The Arab world will never deny they are definitely rooted and linked to Abraham and Ishmael, which created a specific close relationship and adversity among the Arabs and the Jews. The main issue is either to reply upon blood and flesh, i.e. about generation through generation or to confide in the principles of faith as the Sunnites did and continue to do.

Curiously, this attitude is at the very heart of some authentic Semitic way of training and envisioning the realm of faith. It is also present in the Jewish tradition till now. This is one of the major problems raised by the repose of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe. He died without descent. As time passes, nobody was elected to lead the Chassidic movement; some member of the Chabad would consider that he was moshiach/the messiah and somehow is kept hidden and alive by the Divine Providence. Until now, the Jewish movement has avoided creating a real split inside of the very dynamic group.

Subsequently, it should be underscored that Christianity is still facing at the present the deep conflicting eschatological project as detailed by the Sha’ih. This is true everywhere in the world. The Arab culture spread through Islam till Indonesia and Philippines and also in Africa. Harsh battles are conducted in these areas by the heirs of the Muslim movements inherited from the time of the caliphs.

In the meanwhile, Christianity views its task as announcing the redemption and salvation acquired in the resurrection of Jesus Christ to all the nations, from Jerusalem and the cities of Galilee as stated in the Gospel. It opposes Judaism in all the territories of the dispersion; nonetheless, the synagogues allowed the apostles to preach the Risen Lord as Paul of Tarsus did. This never occurred between Christendom and Islam who always have been in serious competition. Islam had a golden age in Spain and with the assistance of Jewish scholars; they saved the Greek and Latin heritage of the Antiquity.

On the other hand, till the present day, Christianity is facing Islam and, in return, Islam is confronting Christianity. In Iraq and Iran, the ancient Semitic Assyrian and Syrian Orthodox Churches could maintain their influence and culture mainly through the bloodline and family “dynasties of priests and bishops”. It is quite probable as many European Church scholars noted (Fr. Christophe Dumont, Istina) that Christianity could survive in the Middle-East by a double and parallel system: the existence of a married clergy, i.e. the bloodline generational transmission of faith accompanying the monastic presence (Greeks and Franciscans as the guardians of the Holy Land).

The 11th century Great Schism (1054) is in fact a consequence of transfer of spiritual matters “resolved” through taking over by force actions within the framework of the split of the Roman empire. It continued into the Holy Germanic empire. The Western crusades aimed at overcome poverty and unemployment in the West. They also strived to seize and abate the Jews and their properties. The terrible point – still pending in the Eastern Orthodox conscience – is the way the Western Church people attacked and plundered the most venerable and ancient patriarchates of Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem. Whatever status, Jerusalem will remain forever the Mother of all the Churches. There, the Savior was born, resurrected and delivered his message of peace and unity. Words that in the Semitic tongues include “fulfillment, plenitude and ransom for the multitude”.

Indeed, the Churches have always been compelled to face Islam, in a real context of spiritual and proselytism competition. The colonial presence did not help in that sense. St. Francisco of Assisi was among the very few men of God who acted with faith in order to create connection, love and “peace in a natural context””. Europe had no “Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem” who succeeded in convincing the Sultan to spare the Holy Sepulcher, i.e. saved the Christian presence in Jerusalem. It is still in force in the present.

There are historical flashes. Islam is trying again a new conquest of the infidels that had failed in the past. In the course of history, Islam also spread through the links provided by the colonial systems. It is normally present in the whole of Europe and does not need to capture Vienna, Germany, France, Great-Britain and America. It also developed along with the ancient Church route from the Persian Plateau to Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Bengla Desh, down to Malaysia and Indonesia then up again to Asian islands. It could also rely upon the Turkish-speaking countries of Central Asia till Mongolia and the Philippine islands. Timur/Tamerlan destroyed the extraordinary Assyrian and Manchu Aramaic-Syrian-speaking communities that grew in the south of India. They split there through the opposition of the Western and Oriental Churches and patriarchates.

Interestingly, the Turkish government that protests against any action conducted by Patriarch Bartholomaios – noticeably his encounter with Pope Benedict XVI – recently consented for the ordination of new bishops of the Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Churches in the region of the Tur Abdin, one of the first Christian settlements in history.

The point is that Christianity and Islam have been always carrying out a sort of open conflict, with some times of apparent pauses. The Churches have undoubtedly developed their capacities to discussing with the Ottoman empire, i.e. with the Muslim caliphs. This knowhow is of great significance for the present and the future development of the Christian-Muslim relationships.

On the other hand, all sorts of opinions have developed with regards to the relationships between Judaism and Christianity. The so-called “Ahl al Kitab/ People of the Book” Muslim respectful attitude was initiated without specific recognition of the Jewish and Christian faiths. This is a point that should be defined with more insights. It appears that the Muslims determined the “People of the Book” as those nations whose beliefs rely upon specific Sacred Books or Scriptures: Baghavat Gita for the Hindu, for example, Tao King for the Buddhist tradition or the Avesta for the Persian culture. It implicitly includes the Bible and the New Testament. It does not mean that Islam acknowledges their value in-depths. Even if the Quran and the Hadith are based on strong Christian and Jewish influence, there is no evidence that Islam would accept the pertinence of the related roots of their Scriptures.

Today, Christianity continues to face Islam. This has significantly increased over the past 30 years and can be felt in the West Bank, Bethlehem and also in Galilean towns. Still, it is true that Islam in the Holy Land has always been “soft”. It is a region of transit, has always been and there is some evidence born of historic experience that this can only continue to develop in that peculiar way.

The great event was seemingly not noted by the creation of the United Nations proclamation of the partition of Palestine under British mandate into two states, i.e. Israel as the Jewish national home and Palestine for the Arabs in November 1947. The real problem strongly showed in 1967, when Israel took over a large territory from the Golan, West Bank, Gaza and Sinai. Israel also took over the whole of Jerusalem and there are prospects to enlarge the settlement s in the neighboring areas as Abu Dis, the Mount of Olives and other religiously relevant places.

Coming back to Israel (Galilee) after 1967, a newly ordained Greek Catholic (Melkite) priest stated that at this point, the Arab world could not deny the existence of a Jewish State. It had been real and growing since 1948. Fr. Emile Shufani concluded that the Arab society, in particular the Arab Christians – should recognize the Jewish reality. In a book recently published in French by an Israeli journalist of French origin, Catherine Dupeyron (“Chrétiens de Terre Sainte – Disparition ou mutation”, Ed. Albin Michel), Fr. E. Shufani explained with much insights the present situation of the Christians in the Holy Land.

He underscored that, contrary to the previous Christian way of living under the Ottoman and British rule, the Palestinian Christian Arabs are broken down into different and separate areas, without sharing the same spiritual needs and societal existence. It should be noted that the Jordanian Greek Orthodox or other Christians are definitely autonomous and free, with a real Arab Church culture.

Fr. Shufani told that it is not evident to link the Christians living in Galilee, the Center of Israel, the South Negev, Gaza and those of the West Bank, Judea-Samaria and Jordan. These developed into very “specific” entities within each Church. Interestingly, the Jews feel the same problem of connection between the related regions of Galilee, Jerusalem, the Center/Merkaz, Galilee and the South Negev.
1967 created an unexpected new situation. It placed all the Christian sites, among them the holiest ones (as the Holy Sepulcher or Anastasis) under the “control, rule” of the Jews, i.e. the Israeli State. The contest is very severe about Jerusalem, but it is extending to all of the Palestinian territories, the Arab regions as a whole. Therefore, we do assist to the sprouting of Churches in Israel. It was definitely unthinkable for traditions that had lived under the Islamic Ottoman rule for centuries and had gotten used to come to some sorts of agreements with the Muslims.

It also means that the Churches cannot freely find their ways in an authentic dialog with the Jews and with the Israeli administration. Theological preventions and terrible à-priori’s remain in force and will hardly be overcome before decades; I would presume it may take some centuries. There are and can be “good relationships”. It is doubtful that these reflections are conducted with mutual sharing of faith experience. The Christians cannot measure or are scared to get aware of the terrible burden of the past between Jews and most of the Christian Churches. This is a simple matter. It is itchy, a terribly itching issue. Jews and Christians must try to approach each other with much patience and be ready to hear and patiently overcome full nonsense on both sides. At least, speech can heal. This task can only be conveyed with a total sense of sacrifice. There is no other way but faith that allows some new processing of the problems.

The Christian world was used to have their Jews. They dwelt in all of the Christian communities. Then, we see something new: in their approach to the Christians, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Mizrachim (Orientals; Yemen, Arab societies) abandon this traditional pattern of Jewish identity. They are either Western or Eastern Jews, both influenced by their local non-Jewish heritage. Israeli society mixes these “niches” into a new “Israeli” body and identity. This is not known to the Churches that did not anticipate such a reversing hapax - new revival of Jewishness. The Holy Land is a place of very strong and tied-up traditions. Newness of this nature is on the verge of what is bearable, not only for the Christians and the Muslims but also for some Jews and other nations with different creeds. Thus, the Churches had their Jews and they still have them to some extent. Therefore, they are barely likely to be the Christians of a new Israeli, Jewish-ruled State and society.

There are different manners in making such statements. Either it is a sort of useless revenge of Jewishness over the non-Jews; it would be in total contradiction with the spirit of the Mitzvot and the loving sense of hospitality shown by Abraham “in the heat of day” when he welcomed everybody under his open tent. Dates, camel milk or mint tea and some bread and salt are the best ailment. Still, it is a fascinating challenge, facing rejection and exclusion.

Israel does exist for everybody. But it hardly fits at the moment with the prophetic and eschatological envisioning of present Islam and Christianity. The wonderful bells of the Holy Sepulcher call to the prayer. They have rung since the days of old. At 5 am., in the morning, when the bell rings for the Divine Liturgy at the Great Orthodox monastery of Jerusalem, the muezzin starts praying and covers the singing voice of the bell. This has been the spiritual challenge for the authentic faith in the past centuries: the mosque of Omar opposite the preserved Church of the Holy Tomb (Taphos; Naos = Temple).

The Christians can hardly update at the moment to the point that the Shabbat Mitzvot is again applicant to the Old City. Suddenly, the Jewish principles are in force and somehow influence the daily life and societal connections of Christendom. The State of Israel has a strong law defending the “liberty of speech and conscience/religion” (art. 140-77). This seems to remain a bit “unthinkable”. The Churches have now to discuss with the Muslims in various areas, also in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Some Emirates appear to be rather tolerant because of the presence of a lot of Christian expatriates (Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, …).

In Palestine, the Churches have also to face the laws of the Shari’a that governs daily Muslim life and the tempo of the Arab population. In many places, the Christian Arabs have to fight with much wisdom and century-long experience in order to survive in some sharp Muslim tendencies. It is often kept in silence and not enough known abroad.

This places the Churches in a new and delicate situation. The local Churches had come to some agreement with the Ottoman administration. It was also rather difficult by the time of the British empire. The Greek Orthodox patriarchate was daily visited by British officers who checked the situation of the patriarchate, the money, the assets and the properties. For centuries, life has been terribly perilous for the Greek Orthodox monks. At the present, the Eastern Orthodox Church are also challenged in the way they are or not capable to get united and supportive to each other.

The Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem faces an unbelievable situation. In a time of war, he has to sustain the relationships with all the faithful and confide that they can be lay and clergy people of faith. The political ties let him play something very similar to what Daniel Rossing (Israeli specialist of religious affairs) has called a chess game in six dimensions. This requires a lot of energy and creativity based on the experience of the Church throughout ages of deep suffering.

Christians have to gather and find some sort of true unity. This is not the case at the moment. Times have changed and we are not in the century when the European monarchs who all belonged to the same bloodline could draw the map of their mutual influence in specific areas. In that sense, we are still living in a colonial structure of mind.

Intriguingly, Jews and Arabs can discover each other as truly linked by common roots. Some remarkable relationships were established after moments of terror and murders. In 1967, some Arab family returned to Jewish families the land their parents had legally acquired (Gilo and Beyt Jala). By the time of the Independence war, some Arabs had killed Israeli settlers of German origin. The Jewish father had pardoned them and the two families had decided to work together for reconciliation. They play an essential role in the encounter between the two people.

Some 12 years ago, the former Soviet newcomers had some difficulties in meeting with the Arabs. The situation is interesting because many Palestinian Arabs went to the university in the Soviet Union and had learnt the Russian language. At the present, the immigrants (rapatrianty) of Russian culture would not learn Arabic. On the contrary, their children do understand that Israel exists as a full part of the Arab world. It is thus important for the young Israelis to get into contact with the Arab culture and people, even if this can be dangerous or quite uncertain at the moment. In the next 200 years, things will evolve and we have to build up and strengthen the points of connectedness.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

February 3/January 21, 2009 - 9 deShvat 5769 - ט' דשבט תשס"ט

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