Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Awaiting signs

In a week time, on March 3rd, 2009, the Jewish tradition celebrates the 7th of Adar 5769. It may be useful from time to time to recall what precise date we are or will be according to our socializing agendas. Judaism reminds the "petirat Moshe Rabbenu\פטירת משה רבנו = the death of Moses". By the way, it also the supposed date of his birth. It happens quite often that people would die, whatever age, but with a sort of chic to reach their birthday and pass away as if achieving a cycle. Moses is the matching personality between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In the Jewish tradition it is also a day dedicated to the study of the Scriptures. Moses was born in an unknown place on Adar 7, 2368 (1393 BCE) and died on his 120th birthday, i.e. Adar 7, 2488 (1273 BCE) somewhere on Mount Nebo facing the Land of Canaan. He died on a leap year and in a month that includes of lot of events for the spiritual life of the Jews. On the 1st of Adar, God had sent the 9th plague to Pharaoh and over Egypt in the shape of a thick darkness. Adar is the month of the Feast of Purim and the providential rescue of the Jews by Queen Esther in Persia. The first gate was built in the walls of Jerusalem and the construction of the Second Temple was also achieved in this month (3 Adar 3412 = 349 BCE).In a few days, we shall joyfully commemorate Purim (March 10, 09 - 13/14 Adar 5769). The account appears like a fairy tale and still it is more real than any virtual scenario. It might thus be useful to stop some seconds on the meaning of the Vidui\וידוי of confession of sins in the Jewish tradition and much in use as a specific sacrament of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches (and some other denominations).Indeed, (saint) Krikor of Narek (Naregatsi), is one of the most famous Armenian writers and theologians who wrote in a very Biblical style. Apart his wonderful "Song of the Songs" that echoes the Jewish text and midrashim, his "best" is without contest "The Book of Lamentations", interestingly published in Marseille (France) in 1673. It is a long and very insightful, profound reflection about spiritual development from penance to quietness. It is worth saying that the great Western Roman Church theologian saint Thomas of Aquinas paraphrased many parts of his long poem. In Hebrew, the "Vidui\וידוי – confession" is at least pronounced three times a day. It aims to cure, heal through the way of speech and soul remittance in God's hands as said "HaShem beyadech afkid ruchi\ה' דידך אפקיד רוחי / Lord into Your hands, I entrust my spirit/soul/life – padita oti HaShem El Emet\פדית ה\אותי ה' אל אמת / You redeem me, Lord of Truth"(Psalm 31:6-7). The following verse is intriguing: "I detest those who rely on empty folly ("Havley-shav\הבלי שוא" = empty minds driven to destruction) and trust in the Lord. In the Oriental Church, the night prayers include a demand of pardon.Judaism has developed special activities into very proficient professions of excellence as a full part of the impact exerted by the Written and Oral Laws on the Hebrew way to secure social welfare, well-being and wellness. Jews love when people feel healthy and comfy. Thus, the rabbinic tradition strongly defended and found ways to correct or reach some sort of balance, soul and body equilibrium and equanimity. Quite a challenge! Yes, Jews love to be physicians (to heal), assist and defend all kinds of victims (lawyers, advocates, judges) for the sake of Justice and Rights and, finally writers, journalists, reporters to inform the world about true events. They combat ignorance by means of written or oral words. This would prove, even in any secular society or choice of lifestyle, how Jewish traditions have engraved the spirit of the children of Israel throughout the ages for the benefit of theirs and the possible enemies. True, suffering, diseases, social defects show that faith, teaching and learning of God's projects have proven to be gigantic, mammoth and prodigious instruments of screwing the mysteries of life defects and unease that can be remedied by permanent research. At this point, Judaism has no price of excellence, but the example of Moses, the model of the displaced person and loser but he was awkward to speak, totally given to God's most unbelievable projects, ready to sacrifice his life and death for the sake of his people and all the humans. When somebody is sick, we wish in Hebrew: "refuah shlemah\רפואה שלמה – full, complete recovering, healing". "What needs to be remedied? It is a divine decree that may be averted by man's repentance"(Talmud Rosh HaShanah 17b, cf. Isaiah 4:10). It may be irreverent and sacrilegious, somehow calumnious to refer to sin or to a divine defect that people have to face waves of terrible diseases that take decades or centuries to be cured at the price of extreme sufferings. Faithful and clerics of all denominations maybe tempted to cite some Scriptures. They might also be so terrified that they stay put, speechless. There is still a link between the Vidu\וידוי and diseases. Some heavily sick persons may have insights about the real value of our days. "Whatever Jeremiah spoke and prophesied evil, Isaiah came and healed, i.e. restored" (Pessikta Rabbati 29/30). This "repair" belongs to the heart of Jewishness, with a touch of joy beyond any oy's. In Hebrew "asham\אשם = guilt", and was a special offering of atonement" and is linked with the root "satam\סתם = to lie in wait for, to bear a grudge against, persecute". Thus "sina'h s'tunah\שנאה סתונה = a hidden hatred". The Vidui (confession) starts with the word "ashmanu\אשמנו – we have sinned" that means that we might have twisted against ourselves or others a sort of hidden and broken hatred that requires the repair of "restoration". R. Nachman of Breslov suggested a wonderful "Tikun klali\תיקון כללי – total repair" set of prayers that combines some Tehillim/Psalms. Because we are imaging God Himself as "icons" who have been shaped in His Image and Likeness. It is a miracle to see how people can still be alive, beyond any explanation or rationalization.Rabbi Suziyah was a famous rabbi. He felt he was called to a great achievement for God's love in this world. So he went to his mashgiach\משגיח (say, counseling rabbi) and told him how he had the wonderful project to help any soul to get rid of their sins. He asked his rabbi to get him (with God's permission, of course) to see everybody's sins in order to heal them and save the souls. Good enough. He got it! And then, R. Suziyah could not sleep anymore. He could see all the sins everywhere, all the way, night and days. He arrived worn out, totally dead beat at his rabbi and told him to stop such a crazy hell of a vision. The rabbi answered he got what he had asked… No way to cancel such spiritual gifts. R. Suziyah suddenly humbled himself and said he would ask God to get him to go down to hell with the sinners and take up their sins in order to raise again and help them be released, delivered of such pains. This is far more difficult and thus the job of any good spiritual counselor. This is the living accomplishment of the Mitzvot. Yiddish is a digging-in scrutinizing tongue that reveals and may suggest some speech or psycho-analytic ways of healing. Is it the "Mume-lush'n\מאמע-לשן – mom-tongue" or the "language of women"? It conveys with insightful acumen a lot of words borrowed to more than 25 languages; it is puzzling like Esperanto, but deeply humane and heart-melting. Yiddish faces and grasps the haunting demons of sins and sickness, folly, madness. "Leytzim\לצים – the clowns, crazy demons yakking up for all the evil they do", "sheydim, dibbukim\שדים-דיבוקים – devils, demons", "chitzoynim\חיצונים – outlaws or spirits of impurity", "tzedreyte ruches\צעדרעטע רוחות – foolishly twisted poltergeists". These words and their related phrases seemingly show more senselessness and delirium than wisdom and equanimity. And still, they do bring us close to more reason and We should be very cautious in our way to use and not to misuse or abuse any soul with faith and the way God runs our lives. A century ago, it was usual to find in the Eastern European prayer-books these few words: "al-tehi shoteh – do not (use this prayer-book) to mislead anyone to craziness or make the fool of these prayers". It needs a lot of words to explain something that can reduce us to automatons. And this is frightful.It is true that a lot of people are attracted by irrationality. All sorts of soothsayers, sorcerers, witches practice in the country as in most parts of the world. Jews have experienced how to fight and overcome any fear or hindrances. It is definitely present in a kind of unutterable capacity to pardon and to heal. Jesus of Nazareth has walked throughout the country "healing all torments and diseases", expelling demons and possessed souls and bodies. This is the language of "signs – simeia in Greek (Heb. "simanim"/nissim - סימנים\ניסים)" that indeed maybe considered as miracles. There might be a reason for this steadfast combat against fear, fright, anguish: making everything new is God's night and day action. And numerous people – who would even say – are just haunted by what seems sealed. But "making things new" means that the world only starts, today and tomorrow. This should be positively challenged without mocking the heritage given by our traditions. "A thousand may fall at your left side, ten thousand at your right, it shall not reach you. Because you took the Lord – my refuge, the Most High – as your haven, no harm will befall you, no disease touch your tent" (Tehillim/Psalm 91:7-10). We ask for "refuah shlemah\רפןאה שלמה – total recovering"; can we all, as a society, ask for "emunah shlemah\אמונה שלמה – total faith/confidence" and accept whatever response.

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
February 24/11, 2009 – 30 deShvat 5769 - ל' דשבט תשס"ט

Yom Kippur Katan and the joyful Forgiveness Sunday

Usually, on the eve of New Month Day (Rosh Chodesh\ראש חודש), the Jews celebrate a service called "Yom Kippur katan\יום כיפור קטן - minor day of Atonement". This is why on this Shabbat Mishpatim, we could proceed to the "mevarchin hachodesh\מברכין החודש = blessing of the month (Adar). Thus noew month will birth on Tuesday/yom 3- יום ג' at 17.39 pm., 0 chelek shkiyah (part of sunset) 24.2/30 Shvat 5769. Yom Kippur katan will then take place on the eve of the day, on 23.2/29 Shvat at the end of the day, Jerusalem time. Different things could be discussed with regards to this "Yom Kippur katan/minor Day of Atonement". It is basically a day of fast at the beginning of the New Moon that inaugurates a new month in the Jewish tradition. At the present, the Jewish calendar is only based on the lunar cycle, as already discussed in others blogs (Bessorot tovot\בשורות טובות). The sun shines over the whole earth during a period of 12-13 or less hours and illuminates all the planet. It remains visible and never "disappears", contrary to the moon. Indeed, the moon revolves around the earth in more than 29 days and only reflects the light of the sun on earth. This generates this impression of birth, growth and disappearance of the small planet. The constant reappearance of the moon became a sign, for the Jews, of God's fidelity and eternal faithfulness towards humankind and the Jews in their difficult journey through history. Yom Kippur\יום כיפור – Day of Atonement is a unique day on which God can pardon each person, provided that humans are able to ask for forgiveness, whether their repenting act will or not be accepted by the offended people. But there is more: Yom Kippur is a day of full brightness. It is white as a very clear and wonderfully shining in the sky of Jerusalem and in particular in the Middle-East. It is indeed a joyous feast, full of hope and reconciliation between people that may disagree, come to argue and fight, make war or are not able for a while – sometimes quite a long period – to understand each other or to hurt, injure each other for a lot of obvious or irrational reasons. The white clothes worn on Yom Kippur\יום כיפור denote that, after sorrow and sins, transgressions and misconducts, God's brightness enlightens and elucidates the dark aspects of our lives. White clothes also exemplify that the survivors come back from the great temptation of being cut from God's project and perilous wanderings. Drug-addicted, drunkards are truly submitted to some trips that space out their lives and conscience (Apocalypse 7:14). It is interesting that we live in a system of "self-reflection", as if every human being could not look at himself by his own capacities and, e.g. needs a mirror. We are in a process of mirroring. In Hebrew, a "face\פנים" is a plural: "panim\פנים" because we have two "faces", one is frontal and the other back-sided. It is thus impossible to see them totally and as a twofold whole. The sun is much bigger than the moon and was created at the same time according to the Scripture to bring light toward or against the "choshech\חושך-חשך – darkness". Paul of Tarsus has a very traditional saying: "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror… at present, I know partially; then in the end I shall know fully, as I am fully known (by God). So faith, hope, love remain, but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:12). On Yom Kippur, the scapegoat was sent into the Gey hinnom\גיי הינום – valley of the Gehenna (which slopes down from Jerusalem toward Bethlehem as a sacrifice for the sins). The sacrifice that used to be in the Temple for Rosh Chodesh / New Month was also a he-goat (Hullin 60b). The explanation is curious: the moon is a smaller planet and indeed, on that day, a goat was offered as prescribed for the pardon of the sins. Interestingly, it should be noted that on the Sunday of the Judgment, the Eastern Orthodox Church presents the reading of Matthew 25:31-46 in which lambs and goats are put to the right and the left of the Lord. And it happens that "the assistance to the others, fellowmen" is tested: who saw the Lord hungry, thirsty, naked, in jail,...?" It appears that no one could ascertain anything. This shows that the parable uses the goats who indeed were sacrificed in the Temple and the other sent into the wilderness, down toward Bethlehem, in order to ransom the sins of Israel and of all the nations. This universal pardoning offering is not very conscious at the present. Thus, the Orthodox Church just read this text and it is a connection to the "Kippur - atonement" process. As concerns new months, the Kabbalistic school of Safed developed a fast, only in the 16th century, that includes a normal confession of sins. To begins with, it was strangely accompanied by "flagellation". It is not permitted to fast on New Month Day because on that day, we do certify that God has renewed the presence of the moon. Thus, the fast was observed on the day before. Today the ritual mainly consists in the recitation of various penitential psalms and, redundantly the 13 Middot/Attributes of Love ("The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing His kindness for a thousand generations and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin" (Shemot/Ex. 34:6-7). A request is also pronounced asking for healing and renewal: "Hashivenu HaShem aleinu venashuvah\השיבינו ה' אלינו ונשובה – come back to us, Lord, and we shall be renewed, pardoned" / "chadesh yameinu kekedem\חדש ימינו כקדם = renew our days as in the days of old". This maybe the most challenging part of our slow-to-move and slow-to-believe spiritual life. We are slow, uncertain, unwilling to think that God does renew all things and human beings everyday. Then the proclamation: "HaShem Hu Elokeinu\ה' הוא אלהינו– The Lord is our God" which is said 7 times as in Yom Kippur (8 times) and by the time of our passing away.It is said: "One who recites the benediction of the moon at the proper time is like the one who is received in audience by the Shechinah\שכינה in person" (Sanhedrin 42a). Indeed, the reappearance of the moon each month is comparable to birthing in the human female cycle and the sign of fertility, of trust, confidence and fidelity; it is the emblem of Israel; the community does understand and praises God for all the benefits that are given to mankind, such as fruits in their respective seasons". It also allows some measure of "time and delays as historic events". Indeed, the appealing part of the minor Day of Atonement is that Israel dug out a new slant of Judaism: fidelity of God through the cyclic birth, fullness and disappearance of the moon that shows how anything can be explained, understood because God can hear any word of penance. The word can be charged with more or less "burden of sins". In Russian "kaius\каюсть = I repent" does not include the loving-kindness or the move that includes Greek metanoia = to revolve one4s conscience some Christian Churches (e.g.: Eastern Orthodox and Catholics). We as in Hebrew "teshuvah\תשובה = to revolve, answer, renew, i.a.). Judaism doesn't know or feign to ignore that in the Temple people did confess and that rabbis hear oral confessions without any sacramental consequence or capacity to pardon. But Maimonides gives a good example of some formula that is still found somehow in the pattern of the "Ma'avor Yabok\מעבור יבוק – Passing the Yabok (when passing away)": "Anna HaShem chatati\אנא ה' חטאתי, I have intentionally sinned, I have sinned out of lust and emotion, and I have sinned unintentionally. I have done and I regret it, and I am ashamed of my deeds, and I shall never return to such a deed." The Christian Orthodox texts are very similar to the lists of sins printed in italics and, as the Roman Latin rite starts by "sin by speech – dibbur\דיבור". Now, Judaism proposes to read a confession of sins at least three times a day. It is a very insightful series of verbs in the past tense, in alphabetical order. "Vidui\וידוי – confession" as a prayer for pardon (Yoma 87b) refers "to point out, make known, acknowledge" (Pessahim 87b) as a duty, on Yom Kippur, to be accomplished by the High Priest and any Jew. The text of the Vidui is very difficult to translate into any tongue. It starts by a statement that is also widely unknown, i.e. that Jews do recognize to be sinners: "Our God and God of our forefathers… we are not so brazen and stubborn as to say… that we are righteous and have not sinned (chatanu\חטאנו) – indeed we and our forefathers have sinned. How? In the alphabetic order are mentioned the following transgressions and faults: "ashamnu\אשמנו"… striking the left side of the chest with the right hand/fist (introduced for long centuries into the main Christian rites) - guilt, betrayal, robbery, slander, (mental and physical) perversion, wickedness, ill-mindedness, will, (mental and physical) violence, false accusation, evil, scorn, persecution, stubbornness, deceit, forgery, corruption, abomination, leading others astray. Confession also deals with awareness or absence of consciousness, if not of conscience. Human speech, ideas, thoughts, acts are shaken or twisted with much "parasitic ideas = Yiddish: tsiges\ציגעס" that are beyond reasonable or balanced control.This Sunday, after the "Evening prayer", in every Eastern Orthodox Church, the clergy and the faithful will beg for mutual pardon. The Greek tradition underscores that the Great Fast (Lent) of 40 days starts joyously fasting and praying during this period that leads to the "Kalo Passkha – Good Easter". TIn fact, the Byzantine tradition insists on a long service that is intense and profound. After the readings, the clergy and the faithful face each other, kneel down and ask for forgiveness to each person, whatever rank, age or situation. This follows the words said by Jesus and that are directly inherited from the Order of Yom HaKippurim. Thus: "Therefore, if you bring your offer to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar and go first be reconciled with your brother" (Matthew 5:23-24), which is reminded all through the Liturgy: "Pardon and release of our sins (we ask to the Lord)". In a previous blog (Emunah), we saw that the essential Christian prayer "Our Father Who are in Heaven" follows the Kippur pattern: firstly, to pardon the others in order to receive God's forgiveness (Matthew 6:9-14). Greek is the only language in which the tenses do maintain that we ask to "pardon our trespasses/debts as we already have released and pardoned those who trespassed and have debts toward us". This is the authentic sequence as defined by the Order of Kippur, pardoning.This special service of Pardon Sunday is certainly rooted in Yom Kippur. It coincides this year with new month Adar that is dedicated to study of the Scriptures, the life and death of Moses. The Eastern Orthodox believers will focus on this atonement as paving the way to the Resurrection confessed by the Church.Peter-Kaipha had asked Jesus how many times one should pardon? Seven times? Jesus said: Not seven, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21) which corresponds to the measure/middah\מידה (full measure in the Temple), but basically to the sign of Cain (Gen. 4:24) protecting his descent, i.e. all of us.We often go through very special days. Incredibly irrational, made of faults, defects, misunderstandings. It may seem at times that faith is reduced to neigh because we swim in huge difficulties. I have a daughter who has a terrible handicap. The point in her disability is that she commits actions that she really does not intend. It is very special and shows in specific diseases. I met that for years visiting the people ho have brain diseases. They may say something and at the same time, before being operated, they are aware they utter words that are in total opposition to whta they intend in reality. In the case of my daughter, several levels show simultaneously. On the one hand a total absence of guilt and awareness that curiously is connected to a genetic defect and thereafter a sort of awareness that does not allow her to repent or regret anything. Even if she would regret, the guilt will never surface. This is the point in our conscience. Are we aware or not? Is there any feeling of guilt and true repent or simply a mere social attitude? Why do people avoid meeting during such a service, when the service is celebrated to the full and does "oblige" to a real move of asking for forgiveness. It is very difficult to fake bowing and kneeling in front of each person - friends, strangers and enemies at times. I mention my daughter because, though deeply affected by such a disease, she has a real spiritual life as also do those who are operated of such severe illness as brain tumors. Pardon, I often write about this matter, is the point of real conscience, awareness of who God is and who we are. Our world pathetically need love and true sympathy, loving-kindness, not just phrases with ordinary hopes. Such diseases also interrogate for another reason: human nature and existence is both "perfect and though requires a remedy, a repair" as the Rabbi Nachman of Uman magnificently wrote and proposed his Tikkun HaKlali. This year, and this is just a simple matter because we have been rescued from generation to generation from the worst plagues and horrors, but this year humankind is in profound crisis. The word is not negative in Grek. It recalls that somehow we are "in the pangs of birth" as Paul of Tarsus stated. They correspond to the "chevley hamashiah = חבלי המשיח ". The messiah shows whipping and "flagellating". This can be somehow similar to Jesus' throwing away the objects sold by the merchants in the Temple. Pardoning is a terrible tremendous challenge. We come to a person and cannot know what the reaction may be. I do not speak of the usual "forgive me" word that is more social than really felt in-depths. If we were to understand what pardon means, the "at-one-ment" of humankind would really show in full grandeur, glory! But pardon is the "soul" of spiritual life. It makes every word of confession something like precious stones, from the "viduy\וידוי " or Jewish daily confession to those words prayed in privacy and full secret to a priest, because, as beautifully shown in the Oriental tradition - both bow down and kneel down in front of the Most to raise again and bring freshness and release to all bonds.There is a terrible and "terrific" challenge in pardon and atonement: it cannot be an obligation. We have no right, nor even spiritual power, to compel any soul or human being to ask for forgiveness or to pardon any of us. Pardon surpasses any human reflection and thoughts. It is immaterial, it is not substantiated and still is it a profound part of who we are. We may spend our lives expecting to be forgiven or we would pardon immediately any trespass committed against us. The point is not our responsibility which is totally engaged. But who could be conscious and even as conscious as God is. This is why forgiveness is a major sign of redemption and God knows how to don it to our limbs and souls.

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
February 23/10, 2009 - 29 deShvat 5769 - כ"ט דשבט תשס"ט-

Luchot: delays facing idolatry

A lot of things are read this Shabbat Mishpatim\משפטים; according to the rules defined by the Shulchan Aruch (140, 1), it is also admitted to read another reading portion: "Ki Tissa\כי תשא - When you take (a census of the Israelite people)" (Shemot 30:11-34:35). Forty days ago, the Israelites were on the move to Mount Sinai. We already discussed the problem of faith, confidence, spleen and regret for having abandoned Egypt, slavery and the local onions. Finally, they agreed to “nishma’ vena’aseh\נשמע ונעשה – to do and to listen” to God’s words and commandments. Thus, they launched big building works, firstly with the construction of the Mishkan\משכן (Dwelling of the Shechinah\שכינה – the Divine Presence). The Israelites helped Aaron and his sons to be correctly clothed for the sacrifices and ensure their priestly functions. This was more a sort of fashion and accessories design. In this additional portion, the pure and neat divine design mitzvot/commandments ordered by God turn to a twofold design process: God in person engraved the Ten Divrot (Ten Paroles) on two tablets and handed them down to Moses. But Aaron, harassed by wild crowds, voraciously hungry for “worshiping”, had collected all the gold rings the people had brought from Egypt to melt them into a deity around which they started to have festive meals. They invoked the metallic egel-עגל/calf after having offered to him burnt-offerings. This fake-god fashion design ordered by the priest Aaron shows how people can easily go wild or mad when they lose a strong and authentic direction toward God. In Egypt as in the Sumerian civilization, men and women could be covered with rings, bracelets, necklaces of gold, silver, whatsoever. We have the same and some males and females can be totally pierced with such accessories. Haircut, fashion, piercing may be a must for some people raving up in light-flashing discotheques, maybe with one idol for the night. Many non-pierced groups with visionary mentors would also rage together around sculptures made of wood, precious stones or metals.This is more an instinctive belly-call as shown in the reading portion: festive meals, gluttony, offerings that can turn to be today rhythmically correct by using wildlife protection incenses, soul music and a soupcon of religiosity.We are on the way to Purim (on March 9-10) and indeed the question to know whether we might or not feel the presence of the absence of God. The question is pending: can we play the fool with God’ actions, be He present (HaMakom\המקום = the Omnipresent) or “Hester panim\הסתר פנים – hiding (His) Face)”. This weekly portion includes 22 times the word Panim\פנים (Face) as referring to God. After Purim, the main question is to envision God as the Only Giver. He may be present, absent, speak or keep silent: “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh\אהיה אשר אהיה – I shall be(come) the fulfillment of Who I am (becoming) as He stated to Moses (Ex. 3:14). But “egel\עגל – calf” has a lot of rabbinic backgrounds that are presuppose our desires for cults, absence of deity and slowness to seek God’s Face. It maybe hard at times to acknowledge we were shaped in His Image. “The day the Israelites made the golden calf in the desert was ominous to Israel” (Shabbat 1, 17). The Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the priestly clothes were God’s commandments. The gold rings boiled into a calf consisted in making a farce of what God had ordered. We face the same problem at the present. “Agal” means “to make round, circle” as the “agulah\עגולה = a round heap of debris”(Pessahim 8,36a) and “agalta\עגלתא” = “the head-star of the Ox (Taurus, Steer) (Berachot 58b) that still can be fixed by the “eglah\עגלה-א – red heifer” (Kiddushin 8a). In the meantime, Moses is urged by the living God to go down the mountain! Is there a kind of subtle divine jealousy? God had written His Words on the Tablets (Luchot\לוחות) and He had given them to Moses. And down the mount, Moses saw from afar this roaring knees-up with the calf of gold. The trustworthy Yehoshua accompanied Moses who shattered the Tablets. Is it possible? Two gods to be destroyed face to face. Because Moshe did break God Himself as he burst into fragments the Divine Luchot (tablets). And he ordered to burn the beast. On the one hand, God’s autograph was reduced to nil by the Prophet while the priest grilled up the last jewels brought from Egypt. They were gone with the wind, as the onions of the Nile. On the other hand, God could not accept to be beaten by molten deities. Again, He convokes Moses to the mount and gives him two new Tablets. Bringing them down to the Israelites, Moses could not see that his face was radiant “ki karen or panav alav\כי קרן עור פניו אליו” because he had spoken with God (Shemot 34:29.30). “Karen” has the same root as “keren\קרן – horn” or the trumpets that sound, echo and explode into rays, also with much light. He brought the two new Tablets, i.e. that God sparkles and mirrors His glory as Moses had approached Him. The fragments of the two Tablets were taken to the Land of Canaan in the Tabernacle. The word “luach\לוח” has multifold meanings. In Modern Hebrew, “luach haz’manim\לוח הזמנים = time-table, schedule”. There is an interesting saying: “The second Luchot/Tablets and the broken Luchot were both preserved in the ark, so don’t despise an old scholar when his memory forsakes him” (Berachot 9b, Bava Bathra 14a).Our memory may be affected by some troubles. It is very modern. Our daily life and various commitments exert a real pressure and often cause dramatic damages on our memories. Judaism is based on the fact that the Torah is the only genuine and reliable sign of the God’s Presence and Existence. Humans have destroyed documents. Moses shattered the Tablets. “Luach\לוח = agenda” and means that God was dating (it is indeed a love affair) in a very special way with the Israelites. It is difficult to line along with an agenda. Both sides cannot look at each other immediately. Then, Moses had disappeared for a very long time. So let’s go dating with the one we molt. It is much easier, “do-it-yourself”. And the calf might have the profile we want him to have. This is a major issue in our spiritual tendencies to bleat like sheep and goats flocking up with our pundits. This Tablet dating rendezvous that God progressively proposed to the Israelites is unique in history. The love affair may have been tragic at times. It still develops, beyond all ages, an unparalleled love and life affair. The “Luchot-לוחות/Tablets” were legible from both sides. It means that the Torah is open to all the universe as God truly is the “Melech Ha’olam\מלך העולם – King of the universe”. Except one letter in the Book of Jeremiah, the Torah has preciously been safeguarded over thousands of years. It is our privilege and mostly the responsibility of our generation that the children of Israel mass return to Eretz Israel. This is only a part of what the Jewish Traditions. From the date at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people were taught to abandoned everything and thus never to despair. This is a teaching shared for the sake of all human beings, without distinction. We lost the Land, our independence, the Temples. We have the Torah and how to be faithful to God’s Commandments. It is amazing that we still could not breed a “red heifer – parah adumah\פרה אדומה” also compared as a counter-poison to the golden calf. We live in a country where bank accounts are lodged in the weirdest tax havens of the world. Official services would only accept payments in cash to avoiding real bookkeeping. Nonetheless, the chetzi-shekel\חצי שקל (half-shekel) would allow the census of the adults and measure a collectivity, making each Jew a full partner to another one. At this point, there is more interrogations, if not confusion as simply shown, among many different examples, by the Gush Katif slogan (“a Jew does not expel a Jew”). I heard this year the tragic destiny of those people who produced fields, plants, work for Jews and Arabs. One mother came and witnessed this year at the Jerusalem Conference and it was really moving. When they had to pull out, my parishioners instinctively and spontaneously toured there to support them. It was not even a political move or reaction. It was a bit astounding to see Orthodox Christians and mixed couples - mostly from Soviet Union join rather religious Jews and claim that they also provided work for the local Arabs, today's Gazan assisted inhabitants. There are many organizations that try to help these settlers who are often in a difficult situation, unemployed and in a sort of Jobkatif\תעסוקטיף (a Facebook group). They do need prayers, food, societal support as any inhabitant of this land.We are called this year to look deep ito our actions and make no difference, try to help for the best of life and human dignity where we feel each of us can do best. It is a way to show more than sympathy and unify all blocks of our population. Some can help the Arabs, others would help the "Gushkatifnikim", others would provide what is missing in many ways and help correcting and healing the many wounds. This links us somehow with this additional reading portion.We have the Torah and we are born to recall and understand how and why God was destroyed in His writing and in the shape of a fake worthless golden calf. On the other hand, the Luchot/Tablets can hang around our necks, be engraved on rings: they are the legitimate mark of God’s Presence that can reach out to every Jew throughout the world and the betterment of ethics and maybe correct us in the many turbulences that affect our complex societal situation.The Christian Catholic Church shall enter into the time of Great Lent on coming Ash Wednesday for the Roman Latin Church; the Oriental Churches, in particular the Greek Melkite in Jerusalem, will start the Fast on Monday. The Eastern Orthodox Church will go on her way to the preparation of Great Lent: this week, we could eat all sorts of meals. From Sunday night, we shall abstain from meat on the first week and next week from dairy. In the end, we shall reach Easter on April 19 with some soups, onions and mushrooms. We love mushrooms in Israel and the production of mushrooms in the area of Jericho has been famous in the Middle-East for about 7,000 years. At the moment, it is "kosher" all throughout the year and "Great-Lenten" on several occasions during the Christian Orthodox year.This Sunday, for the Orthodox Church, is the "Last Judgment Sunday", something that is comparable to "Yom HaDin\יום הדין = the Day of Judgment". The reading is really a wonderful text: Matthew 25: 31-46. Jesus speak in a parable, i.e. a mashal\משל that traditionally includes open the way to many possibilities of various comments, explanations and interpretation. It should be noted, to begin with, that Easter, as Pesach, marks the first New Year period in the Jewish cycle. The second harvesting used to take place in Autumn and Rosh HaShanah followed by Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) continue to introduce into the second and real change of year. It is envisioning a sort of "end of time" period that is very trendy or, to be more exact, a time of eschaton, i.e. a time that brings us closer to a progressive revelation. Jesus says that when God will show at the end (of history or something very close to that) he will come with his angels and separate the sheep from the goats and put these to His right and those to His left. In fatc, the judgment sounds "blind or deaf"! To the blessed that are called to His right, he says: I was hungry, thirsty, naked, in jail - you provided me with everything. The blessed sheep can't even believe their ears! It is impossible, because we did nothing and you reward us? But Jesus answers that each time they did it for the smallest among them, they did a good action. And suddenly he turns to those who were on His left and declared the same: you did not see me hungry, thirsty, naked, in jail and you, you never came to help me in any way. So go to the Gey Hinnom\גיי הינום, the Valley that slopes down from the Temple to Bethlehem because you are doomed to everlasting fire. The Eastern Orthodox Church has gotten that from the Early Church in Jerusalem that her praying service is deeply rooted in the Yom HaKippurim-יום הכיפורים/Day of Atonement order of service. This is immediately felt by Jews and Christians when they can share. Interestingly, Great Lent commences in Jerusalem and all Orthodox Churches of Byzantine tradition by the Service of Forgiveness-Pardon on Sunday nigth before the beginning of Great Lent. The Church has no second and real New Year corresponding to the Autumnal Jewish feasts. They live in the eschatological time or "kairos" of "Pentecost - of after the giving of the Holy Spirit". The first judgment does not only target the humans. It is a way God is handling His creation. And the sheep are compared with the "paschal lambs" while the goats are close to the Atonement day goats that wer cast into the valley in order to atone the sins of Israel and all the Nations. In the parable, it is not possible to determine "who is who" and when things happen or may or will happen by shifts or forever. This only belongs to God. The sheep go to eternal life and benediction and the goats to everlasting "dira'on/דראון " as suggested by the Hebrew version of Yitzchak Salkinson, eminent Bible scholar and Talmudist and a Presbyterian pastor born to a Belorussian family in the 19th century. The word is usually translated as "punishment" and lines with the Greek version. The Talmudic word reminds the "cyclical row, range, turn, growth of generation: "Do the present generations grow any better?" Jesus gives a comment in his parable; is it fixed? We often thought and the Church did affirm that judgments are definite and certain. Then, there would be no history, no times to pass and days to be renewed. It is a sort of mental security, but God never ascertains things to be without appeal. Nobody can state that he belongs to the sheep or to the goats; let's say humbly being goats and then sheep? This is often what is shown in the congregations. The problem is that "judgment and punishment" do not mean in the context what we need to fix in order to rely on certainties. "Din\דין " means "to put on this and that side and eventually vice versa". It also means "article of a mitzvah" and "a blessing freely granted by God". This is why it is so dangerous to conclusively ascertain that God saves and saved these and not those; then, why do we await His coming in glory? This is also why during times of hardships it is so important to keep all gates widely open to any possibility. We forget things, but we fix our minds. We want to get out of our realm and still come back to our roots. This is why, this year, in a quaking and stumbling around international context, the true question remains how we can get free and make our societies feel more and more freedom. Freedom and release do not depend on our forces, power, might, intelligence, beauty or spirit. Release comes when we do not expect. This is the terrible misunderstanding that underlines this parable. It is uncomfortable to think that what we consider as a judgment is indeed an opening apocalysis/revelation. Hebrew uses the word "hitgalut\התגלות " that implies a link with "return to revelation, get back from dispersion, envisioning". The Feast of Pesach/Passover and Easter/Resurrection confirm that God realized different actions that led the human beings to full unity - whatever their personal or group relationships to the related events (exodus from Egypt and freedom from bondage - and freedom from this nature to get to eternal life and resurrection of the dead). This unity is not fully perceivable. It has been a constant element of the history of all humankind everywhere and in all times. This time of cycles, that seemingly comes and comes again from generation to generation has a goal: to allow each generation and those who are alive to reach some divine pardon and free release. It may sound bizarre in the present. Suddenly we shall wake up and find the Paroles are at work. This Shabbat is also the Shabbat Mevarchin\שבת מברכין of the upcoming month of Adar. Rosh Chodesh/רה"ח - Adar will take place on next Tuesday and Wednesday: it recall for all generations that Moses was born and died on Adar 7th (March 3, 2009), a day of overtime study and connecting insights.

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
February 20/7, 2009 - 26 deShvat 5769 - כ"ו דשבט תשס"ט

Monday, February 23, 2009

JPCA Jewish Affairs March 1, 2009 - 5 Adar 5769

Published February 2009

No. 78, 1 March 2009 / 5 Adar 5769

Christian Friends and Foes of Israel

Interview with David R. Parsons

  • The Holocaust initiated a major change in thinking about the Jewish people in numerous Christian circles. To many it was clear that centuries of Christian anti-Semitic teachings had paved the way for the mass murders by the Nazis and their supporters. These crimes alone, however, could not have shifted the theological thinking of many Christians to such a large extent. Many would still have seen the Shoah as yet another example that Jews are forever cursed.
  • It was the theological shock of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 that challenged the fundamental church teachings and doctrine concerning the Jewish people. For centuries, the Christian mainstream thought that the Jews, who were blamed for killing Christ, were cursed to endless wanderings. This is the key distinguishing factor between Christian friends and foes of Israel: whether or not one believes the Jews still have an abiding covenantal relationship with God.
  • Within the pro-Israeli Protestant camp there are two major theological schools. The first is covenantal Christian theology, which is based on the belief that God eternally keeps his covenantal promises. The second is dispensationalism, which says that Israel was temporarily replaced by the church but-at the end of days-Israel will once again be God's main redemptive agent in the world.
  • Replacement theology, also called supersessionism, is the main theology of Israel's Christian foes. It is based on the idea that God's unique relationship with the church is the replacement or the completion of the promises made to the Jewish people, and thus Israel's "election" no longer stands. Palestinian liberation theology uses Jesus as a historic role model, identifying with him as the "first Palestinian revolutionary." Thus, it justifies Palestinian violence against Israelis as acceptable acts of the oppressed against the oppressor.

"The Holocaust brought about a major change in thinking about the Jewish people in many Christian circles. It was a major moral shock for them that, in the heart of Christian Europe, a genocide had taken place that aimed to annihilate the Jews. To many, it was clear that centuries of Christian anti-Semitic teachings had paved the way for the mass murders by the Nazis and their supporters.

"These crimes alone, however, could not have shifted the theological thinking of many Christians to such a large extent. Many would still have said: ‘The Shoah is yet one more example that the Jews are forever cursed.'"

David R. Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, senior producer of the weekly radio program Front Page Jerusalem, and contributing editor of the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition. From 1991 to 1995 he served as general counsel for CIPAC, a Christian pro-Israeli lobby registered with Congress to advocate for strong U.S.-Israel relations.

A Theological Shock

Parsons observes: "It was the theological shock of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 that challenged fundamental church teachings and doctrine concerning the Jewish people. For centuries the Christian mainstream thought that the Jews, who were blamed for killing Christ, were cursed to endless wanderings. The concept was that they had been dispersed around the world, never to return to the Land of Israel or play an important role in God's redemptive plan for humanity. In short, with the birth of the church, the Jews had served their purpose once and for all.

"Then after World War II, rather suddenly Jewish sovereignty was restored in the Land of Israel. This development did not square with mainstream Christian doctrines. Thereupon several Christian churches, of which the large Catholic Church is a good example, gradually steered their institutions toward new attitudes concerning the Jewish people.

"However, there also remain Christians who have refused to change their doctrines to fit this new reality of a restored Israel. They would rather try to retool the facts to fit their classic theology of a rejected Israel. This is perhaps a little-known, but large motivating factor, for many pro-Palestinian Christians in the Western world. By attempting to reverse history they want to do away with Jewish sovereignty in the Land.

"In addition they would like to whittle Israel back to a bi-national state, Jews and Arabs, and three religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. This is an important source of the Christian involvement in the divestment campaigns, apartheid branding of Israel, and other anti-Israeli efforts. Although this activism has an underlying theological basis, it is also part of the wider ‘culture wars' between the Left and Right."

Christian Zionists

When asked to first analyze the various currents among Christian friends of Israel, Parsons replies that some of these supported the Zionist movement since its inception. "Theodore Herzl coined the term ‘Christian Zionists' at the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1898, in reference to such Christian figures as the Rev. William Hechler, the chaplain at the British embassy in Vienna, and the Swiss Protestant Jean Henri Dunant, who shared the first Nobel Peace Prize.

"Christian Zionism even predates the advent of political Zionism by decades if not centuries, as leading Christian ministers and politicians advocated the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland from the time of the Protestant Reformation. Its triumph was the Balfour Declaration, as six of the nine members of the British cabinet of David Lloyd George were professing Christian Zionists. The theological basis was their belief that the time had come for the Jews to return to their homeland. They also believed that Great Britain, with its worldwide empire, was uniquely positioned to help with the worldwide ingathering of the Jewish Diaspora. It was not only a matter of belief; great-power calculations also played a part in their attitudes.

"The roots of Christian Zionism start, however, with the Reformation. The Bible was put in the vernacular so that people could read it for themselves. They saw that God still loved the Jews. What they were reading did not accord with the teachings of the established churches, particularly Catholic doctrines.

"Today there are more Christian Zionists than ever. Many millions, all over the world, have a compelling love for Israel and the Jewish people. Eight thousand Christians came from nearly a hundred countries to participate in the recent celebration of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Among them were 1,500 Brazilians, but also people from Papua New Guinea and Fiji. None canceled despite the economic crisis, even if they were not well to do. Several hotels in Jerusalem have told us that they regularly refuse requests from other people to take over room reservations made by our Feast pilgrims for the Sukkot holiday, saying that ‘whatever happens here, we know the Christians will come.'"


"It is sometimes difficult to be a Christian Zionist, as even some Jewish and Israeli leaders claim we are no different from Christians in the past. There are many misrepresentations about us. One is that the Christian Zionist movement is a recent outgrowth of the Christian Right and has a variety of sinister motives. We even have fellow evangelical Christians who call us idolaters for worshipping secular Israel instead of Christ."

Parsons prefers to use the term "biblical Zionism" rather than "Christian Zionism," since it allows more room for Jewish and Christian agreement. He explains: "I am a Christian adherent to biblical Zionism, which can also have Jewish adherents. As a believer in the Bible and the God of the Bible, I believe that the Jewish people and the Land of Israel were both chosen for the purpose of world redemption. The modern restoration of the Jews to their ancient homeland is evidence of God being faithful to his covenantal promise to the patriarch Abraham to deliver the Land of Canaan as an everlasting possession to his descendants.

"All human beings are equal, but the Jews have a unique role in the world that we must respect. The worship of God, His word, His commandments, His covenants, and for us Christians, God's Messiah, were all delivered to us through the Jewish people. It is a biblical paradox that there is universality with God in that He loves all humanity, and at the same time also a particularity, or divine election. It is even the teaching of the New Testament that through the return of the Jewish exiles, God is still working out his plan of redemption for the whole world.

"As adherents of biblical Zionism, we support political Zionism, as the Jewish people need a homeland and safe haven, but we add the element of divine purpose. This sets us entirely apart from the anti-Israeli camp that believes the election of the Jewish people no longer stands. In their theology the Jews are now fair game for criticism and worse. This is the key distinguishing factor between Christian friends and foes of Israel-whether or not you believe the Jews still have an enduring covenantal relationship with God.

"Elements of covenantal theology can already be found in the writings of the early Church Fathers, including Irinaeus and Augustine. The reformer John Calvin was, however, the first to organize God's salvation concepts under this system of theology."

Perhaps 600 Million Protestant Evangelicals

Asked how many Christian Zionists there are, Parsons replies: "The Christian world comprises, to begin with, perhaps up to one billion Catholics. There are over 200 million Eastern Orthodox Christians and 200 million mainline Protestant parishioners.

"The Protestant evangelicals number perhaps as many as 600 million today-these are people who claim to have had a ‘born again' experience and who view the Bible as the inspired Word of God. The evangelical stream is the fastest-growing religious movement in the world. The Chinese government recently admitted that there as many as 120 million evangelical Christians in their country, more than the number of Communist Party members.

"These evangelicals generally tend to have a favorable view of Israel, and many are interested in exploring the Jewish roots of our faith. Time magazine recently called this effort to study our Hebraic roots one of the top ten trends in the world today. In a recent poll some 80 percent of U.S. Christians felt a moral obligation to stand with Israel. There are some anti-Israeli pockets among evangelicals but these remain small.

"Another great motivating factor is that we want to take responsibility for the bitter legacy of Christian anti-Semitism. Outside the United States much of our support base comes from Europe. We have strong branches in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries.

"These Christians are familiar with the history of the Crusades, the medieval expulsions of the Jews, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust. In the history of the evangelical Christian movement there are no instances of ‘convert or die' scenarios. Among those who now support Israel are people who have come out of churches that played major roles in Christian anti-Semitism. For them, supporting Israel is not a matter of guilt, but rather of taking responsibility for a bitter legacy and trying to remove the stain from the church's name.

"Within the pro-Israeli Protestant camp there are two major theological schools. The first is covenantal Christian theology, which, as noted, is based on the belief that God eternally keeps his covenantal promises made through Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. We believe the Hebrew prophets were servants of the covenants and tell us something about how God will keep his covenantal promises. The foundation of our pro-Israeli stance, however, is the Abrahamic covenant. The people in the Christian Embassy belong to this theological school."


"The other pro-Israeli Christian theology is dispensationalism. It is of more recent origin and focuses on prophetic passages in which Israel plays an important ‘end-time' role. Its origins can be traced to John Nelson Darby who was a preacher in the Plymouth Brethren Movement, which dates from the early 1800s. His ideas were later adopted by Cyrus Scofield in the United States, who published a popular reference Bible around 1900.

"Dispensationalism says that Israel was temporarily replaced by the church but-at the end of days-Israel will once again be the main redemptive agent for God in the world for a short season. This happens when the true church is ‘raptured' or caught up into heaven at the start of the seven-year Tribulation. Then, during this time of great turmoil on earth, two-thirds of the Jews in the Land of Israel will die and the other one-third, through their conversion, will bring back Christ.

"I believe this is based on erroneous interpretations of prophetic portions of the Bible, which contain passages that can be privately interpreted in many different ways. Still, it is a harmless belief system that Jews should not be too worried about. Even with these interpretations, most adherents of dispensationalism have a deep, abiding love for Israel. And it is not they who would be forcing Israel into some last, grand, convert-or-die scenario, since they would already be in heaven."

Israel's Foes

"Replacement theology, also called supersessionism, is the main theology of Israel's Christian foes. The terminology dates back to the seventeenth century but reflects an older view that was already espoused by some early church followers. It is based on the idea that God's unique relationship with the church is the replacement or the completion of the promises made to the Jewish people.

"Some of those who believe in replacement theology are uncomfortable with the terminology and instead speak of ‘fulfillment theology.' It means that God has fulfilled everything He had promised to the Jews, and the new covenant substitutes the Mosaic one. Under this covenant the church replaces Israel as God's main redemptive agent in the world.

"Various strands have been identified within replacement theology. One is ‘punitive supersessionism,' which simply says the Jews are cursed to endure endless wanderings because they killed Christ. Another variant is ‘economic supersessionism,' which has nothing to do with money but means that in God's economy the church has essentially replaced Israel in His plan on a practical level.

"Yet another trend is ‘structural supersessionism.' This marginalizes the Old Testament as no longer being normative for Christian thought. It can be considered a modern-day revival of Marcionism. Marcion was a second- century heretic who maintained that Christians should not care about the Hebrew Bible, but focus only on the New Testament.

"Marcion thought that if one accepted both testaments, one was serving a schizophrenic God. He saw the God of the Old Testament as one of vengeance and war, while the God of the New Testament revealed himself through Jesus as one of mercy and love."

Parsons adds that many in the Christian world fail to understand the biblical paradoxes concerning, on the one hand, God's universal love for all mankind and, on the other, His sovereign election, both of Jews and Christians. Many Christians have had difficulty with the similar biblical paradox of "free will" versus "predestination." But he notes that in Romans 11, the Apostle Paul says, "Behold the goodness and severity of God." Parsons observes that this passage embodies these two paradoxical traits within God's character and that the "trick" for those of faith is learning to live between them, even if many Christians do not succeed at this.

"The basic problem with replacement theology is that it denies God's immutable nature. Replacement theology charges that God is untrustworthy and can change His mind. If God indeed had changed His mind, the Jewish people would have been wiped out long ago, according to Malachi, Chapter 3. If the covenant with the Jewish people has been nullified, Christians must ask themselves what value the new covenant has for us. Our view is that one can add a covenant, but that does not necessarily nullify an existing one.

"Christian Zionists get demonized together with the Jews by some of the mainstream churches, which believe in replacement theology. We consider it an honor to stand with the Jews."

Liberation Theology

Parsons remarks: "Liberation theology is one more Christian theology that is hostile to Israel. It overstresses and overidentifies with the historic figure of Jesus-as opposed to the glorified Jesus post-resurrection-in order to address modern social grievances. It sees the historic Jesus as the earliest role model of a revolutionary fighting against oppression. In his case it was Roman oppression; now it is used to justify struggles against today's purported oppressors-the Israelis, for example.

"Liberation theology started in Latin America where certain Catholic priests were trying to address legitimate local social problems. Its discourse has Marxist overtones. This caused the Vatican to come out against certain aspects of liberation theology.

"This theology also has several prominent versions. ‘Black liberation theology' got much public attention during Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor of his church-Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago-is an adherent of it. The father of black liberation theology is the Rev. James Hal Cone, whom Wright considers his spiritual leader. Wright also hosted at his church a key proponent of Palestinian liberation theology, Rev. Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Center in Jerusalem.

"Liberation theology will use the teachings of Jesus to justify violence whenever someone undertakes it against a real or purported oppressor. In the case of blacks, that means the fight against slavery and segregation. When a liberation theologian speaks of ‘justice,' it is a very loaded term. It basically means ‘I want all my grievances resolved, and even then I am not satisfied because I am always the oppressed while the other is always the oppressor.' Ironically, this is much in line with what many Muslims think."

Palestinian Liberation Theology

"‘Palestinian liberation theology' bases itself on the suffering of the Palestinians under Israel. Adherents use Jesus as a historic role model, considering him the ‘first Palestinian revolutionary.' Thus they try to justify Palestinians blowing themselves up to kill the ‘oppressors.'

"No Christian theology can, however, preach violence, because Jesus in essence taught pacifism. He maintained that if one lives by the sword, one should be prepared to die by it. Jesus basically said ‘I didn't come to overthrow the Romans; my kingdom is not of this world.' Liberation theology sees a black-and-white world where the oppressed can get away with anything."

Parsons remarks, "I have seen so-called study missions from the World Council of Churches coming to Israel and using liberation-theology arguments to support the Palestinians. The international headquarters of the YMCA in Geneva sent a study mission at the height of the Second Intifada, which did the same. When reporters objected that they were somewhat biased, their spokeswoman's answer was: ‘Jesus taught us to root for the underdog.' This is a huge distortion of the message of the New Testament.

"Palestinian Christians are a small and dwindling, but highly symbolic community in the Palestinian territories. Some Christian clerics exploit that symbolic value to support Palestinian nationalism by distorting and denying the Jewishness of Jesus. By creating a Palestinian Jesus, they undermine the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith in order to serve the Palestinian narrative."

Edward Said and the Palestinian Jesus

"Prof. Edward Said, who taught Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University, often described Palestinian suffering under the Jews as ‘this endless Calvary, this constant crucifixion.' He thus deliberately drew upon classic Christian anti-Semitic motifs. Said's analogy was that Jesus suffered under the Romans and now the Palestinians were suffering under the Jews.

"Justus Weiner of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has exposed Said's biographical fallacy.[1] The Arab scholar falsely claimed that he had to leave Jerusalem because his family was expelled by Israel. In reality, he grew up in Cairo and was only an occasional visitor in Jerusalem.

"The Christian Embassy was located for some time in the house on Chile Square from which Said also falsely claimed to have been expelled. Once he hosted a BBC documentary and declared, ‘This is my beautiful old house from which I was kicked out. Now there is a rabid Christian Zionist organization there, headed by a South African.'

"Many enemies of Israel equate it with the Nazis. Said added that Israelis also are the successors of the Romans by oppressing Palestinians. The body of the Palestinians is now portrayed as the body of Christ, which is again being crucified in the same land. Thus traditional Christian anti-Semitic themes are used in the service of Palestinian nationalism. In this way Jesus has retroactively been made a Palestinian. Some scholars have noted that this cutting off of Christianity from its Jewish roots creates dangerous possibilities for infiltration by Islam, which has a tendency to backfill history.

"The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, based in Jerusalem and run by Palestinian Christians, held a conference in April 2005 specifically to attack Christian Zionism. After Said had passed away, their new main patron was South African Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu. He could not make the conference and so they approached the new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, but he declined. One of his spokesmen said he did not want to be identified with the ‘wrong voices.' Instead he sent them a pastoral letter setting forth his view of Israel still having some sort of enduring covenantal relationship with God as a ‘light to the nations'; a paradigm nation for knowing the blessing and the correction of God. It was an interesting attempt at defining Israel's enduring election by a liberal Protestant theologian, who has been critical of Israel as well."

The Catholic Church

"The Catholic Church at Vatican II repudiated replacement theology, which had been its official teaching for many centuries. Later, Pope John Paul II tried to further reconcile the breach between Jews and Catholics, visiting synagogues and making a pilgrimage to Israel, including a visit to the Western Wall and Yad VaShem.

"Under Pope John Paul II, Catholicism also defined anti-Semitism as a sin. He even went one step further and equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, thereby also rendering the former a sin by extension. If a Catholic says ‘I'm not an anti-Semite, just an anti-Zionist,' one can reply to him that ‘You are a sinner according to the definitions of your own church.'

"Pope John Paul II also called the Jews ‘our elder brothers.' However, I haven't seen the Catholic Church clearly spell out their view on the nature of the enduring covenantal relationship between God and Israel. Although the church, to some extent, now recognizes some sort of covenantal relationship, its theology on this point remains vague. I think this reticence has to do with the church's ‘high view' of itself as the sole agent for salvation in the world."

Parsons cautions that the theological battles over Israel among the churches will have to be fought out within the Christian world. When the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently rescinded its divestment resolution, it was former CIA director James Woolsey, a practicing Presbyterian himself, who was brought in by Jewish groups and effectively opposed it. "Jews can challenge Christian adversaries on the facts, on history, and so on. But Israel and world Jewry would be well advised to stay out of the theological debates among Christians, since some will not take Jews seriously because they do not accept the New Testament as scripture."

Interview by Manfred Gerstenfeld

* * *


[1] Justus Reid Weiner, "‘My Beautiful Old House' and Other Fabrications by Edward Said," Commentary, September 1999.

* * *

David R. Parsons currently serves as media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, senior producer of the weekly radio program Front Page Jerusalem, and contributing editor to the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition. In these roles he writes and speaks on an array of historical, strategic, political, and biblical subjects relating to Israel and the Middle East. Parsons holds BA (history, 1981) and JD (1986) degrees from Wake Forest University. From 1991 to 1995 he served as general counsel for CIPAC, a Christian pro-Israeli lobby registered with Congress to advocate on behalf of strong U.S.-Israeli relations.

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