Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hebrew in the Church: celebration in Jerusalem

It is evident that, in Israel, we live in a country, also in Jerusalem, where "dreams come true" and have to come true, in ways that are often unforeseeable. These are the famous words of Theodor Benyamin Ze'ev Herzl whose 150th anniversary of the birth is commemorated in the country. as readily mentioned on several occasions, some time ago we could celebrate the 153 anniversary of the birth of Eliezer Ben Yehudah in the Empire of Russia, in Belorussia and Lithuania, the reviver of the Modern Hebrew language. And this year we als could mention Schalom Aleichem, the famous Yiddish writer and Scholem Asch, whom I had met in the 80ies, one of the best Yiddish writers and special character inside of Judaism, on the verge of some Jewish understanding of Oriental Christianity as it was also the case for Marc Chagall.

"Ich habe einen Traum = I have a dream" does not exactly sound as it echoes in the Talmud Berachot 55b "chalom chalamti = חלום חלמתי ": I dreamt a dream and then the dream,( by a specific encounter between East European and Slavic and Jewish Talmudic spirits) allows to jump into impossible challenges because miracles are natural". Especially if they proceed of a call to implement and carry out actions that are "free", do not try to show off, certainly not our pride or arrogance. The revival of a language has a tremendous significance for all of human intellectual and human, psychological, religious, comportemental, selective choices and meaning of what we are intended to do.

As a young Jewish child, I have frequented Herzl, Eliezer Ben Yehudah (along with Joseph Trumpeldor and the Rav Kook, with whom it is supposed we had a connection via Rav Frenkel) since my early age. I met with Marc Chagall as a child for family connections and much later as a lecturer in Yiddish, just as it also happened with Scholem Asch who died at the outskirts of Judaism because of his tendencies to describe, from inside, a special Christian life in full parallel with the tradition Judaism he had known and depicted.

When I entered the Church, the first thing I did was to translate the Holy Prayers into Yiddish. There may be several reasons for this. The purpose was definitely not connected, as regards my position to any sort of proselytism among the Jews at whatever level or age; my inner experience of a profound and extant Judaism would never have accepted things like that. Christianity for the Jews must certainly not become or be proposed as a "Zulu Bushmen creed, faith or way to salvation and redemption". Similarly, it is somehow a bit ridiculous to prented, thos it is historically totally correct and extact, that the Jews are the "natives" of the Church. Indeed, the first disciples were Jewish; maybe things were a bit more somphisticated with regards to the faithful. But this "Zulu and Bushmen" compararison had been given to me by my colleague and senior professor of Yiddsh, a trained linguist, who as many Jews in the Universties, never would accept to convert to Christianity but had a sort of intense and interior understanding of the Gospel and Christendom. Hearing I got converted, he slapped me, which I considered as a norma lact. He then told me I should immediately join the "Judaism's regular "Salvation Army" and wear a hat. I got the Dollar many years afterwards.

He read the translations and found it was nice and rooted in Judaism. I mean that when we speak Yiddish, we do not speak any Indo-European dialect or language. The "Mume-laush'n" includes about 22 languages and dialects from Western and Eastern Europe, from Bavarian, Niederdeutsch, Slavic, Romanian, Turkish, Greek, French and even Breton, and so much more via Aramaic and Hebrew and the Semitic languages as a whole. But these are for sounds and lights, or appearance, let's say often true and false friends in terms of etymology and meanings. "Heint/היינט " apparently means "today" and indeed comes from German "Heute", but it basically refers to "today as eve of tomorrow", which has a liturgical "evening-morning" significance and roots and drives the day in other Weltanschauung than found or understood in the European cultural area... through not foreign at all.

The real reason why I translated the texts into Yiddish was firstly I made a sort of Memorail, though the Divine Liturgy and the Service always intend to be "memorials" in the Jewish and Christian traditions, which creates an immense spiritual connection between them that cannot weighed by some odd comparison system.

Yiddish had dropped into the terrible bloodsheds of War War II. We were many to think that it would survive due to its huge importance in the spiritual scope of Jewish world conception and analyzing the Talmud and the whole of the Oral and Written Traditions. But it was not that evident some 35 years ago. Today, things are clearer and Yiddish will survive and may even develop, indeed it might be difficult to continue on the tradition Kanaan (Poland and Eastern Europe) basis.

Secondly, I may have translated the texts of the Prayers because it was a way to understand their spiritual meaning in depths. I often quote this example of a young catechumen confided to my wife to be baptized. She was of a very well educated Afghan family and her sister, who did not convert but accept to be present to her baptism, used to talk with my wife. One thing, she would scarsely accept as a catechumen - though definitely a full "Christian believer" - was that God can pardon sins. The ingraved sense of Islam showed up at once. I asked a famous Orientalist to get a Persian version of the Gospel and I guess we even got a Pashto short version. She read it thoroughly and started to ask questions to my wife and very quickly got to the meaning of sin and forgiveness of sins in the Gospel and the Words of Jesus. There are things that need to be clarified in your own cultural mother tongue, other wise ideas can continue to hip hop the wrong way. This happens quite often with a lot of converts and should be carefully taken into consideration before approaching any Jewish soul.

I dedicate my life to Hebrew in the Church. This includes the language and the Jewish languages, but mainly the cultural approach, tradition, way of thinking, analyzing, considering the world and the environment, our contexts - even the Christian reality - as a consequence of the specific Jewish ever-extant and significant, pertinent, meaningful envisionings of faith and Divine realities. We have formed chains of generations of different clergy and teachers, professors who decided to get into such a "border line" position. This is why I had the great chance to be with Fr. Kurt Hruby and Mgr Georgyi Rochcau. Both introduced me to the realm of a limit situation and how to face it with faith, courage and confidence and some realism. But again, I could do that because they were the "historical" links of the chain that tracks back to the first centuries and wil anywayl be carried over in the future.

I have always believed in "Hebrew in the Church" and have composed at the demand of late Cardinal J.M. Lustiger a specific Oriental Euchology book ("The Sacrifice of Thanks giving") rooted in the Oriental Traditions and published for the use of special Judaeo-Christian groups in the Church (1989). I had the promise to come to Israel that I alwayas have considered as my only home country and serve here. It took some more time. But the direciton has always been trustful to the line governing unity through the In gathering of the Exiled in Eretz Israel, firstly, then by the in gathering of some intermingled gorups of various Western and Eastern rite tradition of the Church that, in Jerusalem only can be "Catholic and Orthodox = open to the plenitude/fulfillment-plerome" giving the sens of the "true faith, the authentic faith".

I also focused on a possible meaning of the Church that is not that common for the moment but should be studied in the forthcoming decades and generations, in particular in Israel. That the Klal Israel/כלל ישראל or "Great Assembly of the Fulfillment of the Communities of Israel" is extending to the world Nations and is on the way to move forward and not backward, ahead of the fulfillment of the Divine Community of Israel that invisibly and without much awareness from both sides incude the Church and the Jewish People as a wholeness and ONE and Unique achievement.

Thus, language plays an immense role in such a development. Language is the medium human beings have at their disposal to scrutizine and scan, survey, study, examine, detect, get insights about the whole of mental and invisible scopes of various realities that should never be framed or sterilized in dogmas. This confers a huge important to the ancient religious speeches, parlances, words and tongues. This has definitely marked our "tekufah/תקופה - era and civilization" as being the time of Sumerian civilization with regards to "Oneness of God and Divine Revelation".

All through my life I have studied the different meanings that link traumas and psychological damages (nezikin/נזיקין ) and spiritual "survival". This is an important feature. We often -especially in Israel - consider history as a series of fragmented events that are linked in a row of historically traceable facts. We do not feel how much our brains "are surviving" various fractions, splits and we are not entitled to judge who is first or last or why this happens here and not there . This is the for the moment invisible part or portion of our human development.

This is why the manifold layers that constitute our history are often scattered much wider into other splits because we do not consider the factor of memory or we change "election" into a stiff background; it is merely an "element for the future or "forthground"!

Most "Holy, sacred, divinely inspired" languages have shown a rare tendency to "become like fossiles or rigid, stiff, normalized, standardized according to sophisticated patterns. Some languages have disappeared, other are maintained articifially or along to another more vivid form of dialects. It is supposed that, in the monotheist world, languages have died out. Usually this (partly wrongly) refers to Latin, Sasncrit, Coptic, Gheez, Church Armenian, Syriac/some forms of Aramaic and others languages. This does not apply to Arabic or to Slavonic. Of course, Latin has ceased to be a colloquial tongue, but, normally, in the Church and in different countries in according to oppcupations, it can be used for writing or even sharing ideas: priests, Russian doctors, I often met with German lawyers woh had "fluent possible Latin". It happens to speak Ltin in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The case of Greek is very interesting because it is supposedly and until now the real language of the Gospel since we know that the Gospels were written in Greek. We did not find any comparable Syriac version. On the other hand, Aramaic texts seem to show a real Aramaic substract to the Greek, even if the text were written down much later.

The Greek parlance of the Bible and the Gospel is due to Jews. This is clear for the Septuagint. In the case of the Gospel and the Epistles or the Acts of the Apostles, the Greek New testament language is full of Semitism and errors with regards to the classical Greek grammatical rules. We cannot speak of a Judeo-Gospel Greek as there was a Judeo-Greek dialect at Corfu, for instance. On the other hand, it is quite possible that a lot of mental parameters induced in the Semitic Hebrew and Jewish speech entered the Greek Gospel tongue, juste as the Greek language did enter the language of the Talmud significantly.

Interestingly, Slavonic was created by Cyrill and Methodios from a Bulgarian or "Ukrainian-like" then rather Central if not Dalmatian slavic dialect and developed over the centuries of inculturation and Christendom into a real tongue. The language continues to vivdly nurture the faithful. It has a mental and cultural impact that show the line of civilization split that is persistent between Western and Eastern Christianity, but also, curiously enough, inside of European Judaic ways of thinking.

The Slavonic liturgical texts are basically - though definitely not always - a word-to-word copy of the originally proposed Greek version. One of the major difficulties for the Slavic faithful of the Orthodox Church at the present, in the context of more freedom, is to switch with precision and adequacy from the Old united Slavonic speech to God to the local languages. The Russian Church has been very careful in this process. It has always had over the past century, different personalities and individuals who sketched out how to produce a correct and suitable translation.

Many translators are thus drifted toward the Latin and Roman Catholic Church. Interestingly, the Russian version of the Credo" for the Catholic Latin rite is a duplicate from the Polish version and words. Per se, the thing maybe understood. It could be possible to propose a common Catholic/Orthodox Russian version resolving the Filioque as it always had been in the Ukraine, for example. In reality, each version does not only refer to a specific Church as such, but to a specific "mentality". This makes a huge difference.

The language is a living sign of life and life-giving. Thsi is why the traditional Church languages aim to preserve keep and maintain the unity among the faithful. It is a sort of spiritual care, based on fixed and vivid word of God. Hebrew has the same as in Sota 1,7 that states that God understands all languages but would prefer to be addressed in Hebrew. Beyond the mental aspect, we have to take into account the "divine-inspired" prospect that is a major factor.

I was recently asked by a Greek priest to teach him some Talmud. His explanation is very much at the heart of the whole problem of free prayer and attitude to God and some stiff aspects due to "preferred election". He explained that he was willing to learn the Talmud in order to understand how the jews think and proceed to think the way they do!

This should be respected as an attitude because we all behave, to some point, in the same way. He speaks current Hebrew. There is no reason for him not to understand the Hebrew he hears within the Israeli society. Still, he feels there is something more. I asked him why he wanted to learn Talmud and Talmudic Hebrew. He then said that "he wants to understand the way the Jews think because it is incumbent upon the Greeks, as having received in Greek the message of Jesus Christ, to get into the special way of reasoning of the Jews. And having gotten to the core to be able to "translate and explain" to them the reality of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Savior."

Such a discussion belongs to moments of grace: they allow to understand the profound estrangement procedure that does not only affect the Greeks. At least, it is honest and this attitude is more than current in the Slavic world today or the Orthodox way of trying to convert any soul. It has not disappeared at all from the Western and Roman Catholic Church and it cannot disappear because it is a tremendous mental and spiritual reflexive reaction. It put clear where the gaps are and remain "put".

In the case of Hebrew, the language we speak today in the State of Israel is of course a strongly Semitically grounded tongue or dialect. It is new. it has been chosen not to oblige to special directions. In the course of the decades, I could feel the important development of the speech and writing within the society. The case is considered as unique and is indeed because of the fact that it allows today to bridge together people of all possible backgrounds and personal biographies. This is definitely a special miracle with regards to Judaism as the Body of the Klal Israel. It suddenly woke up something that has always been kept alive (and this is the major point) and now germinates ahead of something that we hardly can anticipate. Both a theological an a colloquial language. When we participate to any public debate, it is interesting to note the strong connection between secular and spiritual speech, Old, Biblical, Talmudic Hebrew and the new "half-Slavic or East-European dialect of Hebrew origin" that is developing.

This is the second aspect of Hebrew today. Is it the Biblical tongue or something else? Prof. Wexley suggests that Hebrew has revived with strong Slavic and East-European and Yiddish influences. Eliezer Ben Yehudah as also those who decided to speak Hebrew came from the Yiddishland. There is no doubt that there is indeed an extraordinary interconnection that showed historically between this part of European multi-cultural and pluri-religious substracts. Indeed, Modern Hebrew sounds very often closer to some Yiddish-translated dialect with some spices of pan-Semitic inputs.

I have always been convinced of this very deep and meaningful connection that also could link Judaism and Christianity. Usually people can misunderstand. On the one hand, there are indeed, very important connections between Hesychasm and the Russian Byzantine Church. This is also to be felt in the Greek texts. But then we speak of a spiritual proximity between two different and separate religions. They are not only separated, they are estranged and they are framed by mutual ignorace and most often "long-distanced hatred systems".

But Yiddish is much more the possible linguistic link that could have allowed a sort of encounter between Judaism and Chrsitendom in these regions of the East. It failed. It remains that, even in its aversion toward Christianity, Yiddish has a lot of phrases, expressions, words, often also present in the Talmud or used to explain it, that are found in daily speech and normal linguistic use. Hebrew is too "hieratic" and "astray" from any appertaining. It is the language of the Jewish people and has always remained. Yiddish is the language the jews took among the Nations and combined with Talmud and their special spirit in order to include the world of Judaism in a reality that bridges the two people of the Jews and the Gentiles. This has a very powerful Church or spiritual and Israel Community aspect of plenitude.

It is not sure that the Churches are able to comprehend with such a dimension, and definitely not at the present in the State of Israel. On the other hand there is something more that may have a much deeper significance over the decades to come.

Towards the middle of the 19th century, most Churches have tried to convert all the "pagan" nations and the Jews. The Catholic Church got largely belated because of the importance of Latin that had erased local tongues and ecclesiastical rites. In 1841, the Russian Orthodox Synod of Moscow, i.e. previously to the reinstallation of the Patriarchate of Moscow by the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, accepted and blessed to celebrated the Divine Liturgy and the Service of the Russian Orthodox Church in both Hebrew and Russian. The text dated 1841, was due to Fr. D. Levinson who the nserved in Jerusalem. This is the text I have always used for the prayer for two major reasons.

To begin with, the text is and remains official and has been accepted by an official and large body of the Eastern Orthodox Church and seemingly also accepted by the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem at that time.

It makes more sense to use with slights updates an official text rather than darfting different translations. It is an act of faith in the Church "unity". Till new versions - maybe only one - could be accepted and blesssed by the official Church authorities.

There is more: 169 years ago, with a project of conversion of the Jews that is profoundly under question as such in the State of Israel for different reasons, Fr. Levinson could instinctively make use of the Talmudic and Rabbinical language to translate the liturgical texts of the Russian Orthodox Church. Bishop Salomon Alexander Pollack, the first Anglican bishop of Jerusalem in the same years (a former chasan, cantor), also used tradiitonal and Talmudic lexicon. It gives to their translation a sound an a spirit of authenticity and not of some odd "Zulu-like" pidgin essay of inculturation.

The other Western rite Churches are not in such a position. They mainly "refuse if not reject" the Oriental rites that were born from Jerusalem and the Middle-East. I have the text in Aramaic of the Liturgy of Mar Yaakov/Saint James in hebrew script that was used by the small first group of Roman Catholics around 1952. Mgr Eugène Tisserant had convinced Pope Pius X they should be allowed to pray in Hebrew. The Pope had then asked "if Hebrew is a liturgical language"? The cardinal had answered by a question: "Holy Father, in which language was it written on the Cross that Jesus is the king of the Jews?". The Pope admitted it was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek (John 19: 19) and subsequently decided to accept that the brothers could pray in teh Assyrian-Chaldean rite that is the closest to the Hebrew tradition. The community chose rather quickly to switch to the Western and Latin rite in common language.

Is Hebrew a liturgical language for Christianity? This is indeed a real question. It interrogates about how Christians can use Jewish terms to confess, explain, teach and discuss of the reality of the faith that has been condemned and rejected by the Jewish Community. This "excommunication" has not been cancelled or denied by the Jews and it is far too early to consider any possible and substantial change in this matter.

On the other hand, something special happens and continue to show in the new, recent and Modern State of Israel. The language, Hebrew, is riviving and getting reinvigorated. It tracks back to the most ancient times and makes it in a way that, evidently, questions the world. Which nation has ever pretended to be at home in a place their ancestors had left over two thousands years ago. Beyond any political views, this simply challenges our understanding of "belonging, being at home over time, inculturation, survival and development, apparent erasing and new sprouting".

But then, the Eastern Orthodox Church is placed in a special context as also the East-European societies. Hebrew has been used in the Orthodox Church before the birth of Eliezer Ben Yehudah and Theodore Herzl (who has not always been likely to support the use of Hebrew)!

When we served in Hebrew according to the blessed version at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Jerusalem on June 12th with the blessing of Patriarch Theophilos III and of the Russian ecclesiastical Moscow Patriarchate, it was the first time, at our common knowledge, that the text also "revived" with local Israeli choir members, in a living Hebrew spirit and bridging the Slavic cultures that are so intimately intertwined on this earth.

We have felt totally at home and not like guests. Fully welcome and more faithful had come, just because it was a Saturday and the opportunity to participate in the Divine Liturgy. There was a visible and very emotional feeling of doing something we could not even anticipate. We are not in a period of great theological or ecumenical dialogue. But here, this was not the point: everyone felt it was "normal", obvious".

It was normal to hear the main parts of the Liturgy in Hebrew and some slavonic litanies and prayers. It was norma lto read the Gospel in Hebrew and normal to hear some words of a sermon in Russia nand Hebrew. It was more a real moment of "One Church of Jerusalem". Just having a look at the faithful, it was obvious that they were intermingled, Jews, Hebrew Christians, Gentiles, former Soviets and others, certainly some people going to different places. But the place was simply there that morning.

What will be next? God gives in due time. But the point is that on that Saturday, the memory of the local Church of Jerusalem tracked back, beyond all acts of hatred, persecutions, pogroms, extermination, ignorance, slander, destruction, to the original text that preceeded the birth of Eliezer Ben Yehudah, the reviver of Modern Hebrew, himself being a man from this Slavic area.

It is important that memory could also be "revived" in a positive sense: we took from old and felt it is new.

Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

17 - 4 of June 2010 - 5 deTamuz 5770 / ה' דתמוז תש''ע


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

I just rediscovered your internet presence through an accidental connexion in FaceBook. You turned up as a potential "friend", someone whom I might already know. In tracking back, I discovered your new blogs, which I had never seen.

I just finished reading this long post, but it is excellent, and gives me at least the beginnings of an understanding of the situation in Israel, and your ideas about it.

I have featured your ministry on my blog today, and also provided links to some of your webpages in the sidebar.

I was very happy to find you again today. I hope you are well.

Amen Hallel said...

An excellent and lightful post that shows how is totally (totalitarst) absurdiity a somehow "antisionism" and antiudaism" growing back in Europe. More than ever, this continent has urgently to discover the "main bone" of its oriental part.
Ancient and organic division of occidental and oriental sacred spiritualities have mainly a wide part of all of our today's wars, and into the everlasting nationalists leanings for self folding and religious and cultural loneliness which build tomorrow's ignorance and institutional agressivity.

And front of more and more movements and organizations using hebrew and pseudo biblical arguments to legitimate disguised inter cultural hate in peace purpose and which try making Israel a "nobody international land", renewing a mutual compregension by sharing personal and comon roots is a "holy" way toward a "common unity without common uniformity".

Thank you for that!