Tag Archives: Israel

Walls and Bridge Maker (the Pontiff)

Walls and Bridge Maker (the Pontiff)

In One Photo, the Pope Does What Many World Leaders Haven’t Had the Guts For

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May 26, 2014 · 14:06

Little Old Wine


from “Christianity Today”

 The Bible Wine Tour
Two highly imaginative experts explore viticulture, the Bible, and Jesus’ taste in wines.
David Neff
[ posted 9/11/2013 9:23 AM ]
Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age

3 Stars - Good

Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age

Randall Heskett

Palgrave Macmillan

November 13, 2012




In January of 2011, archaeologists announced the discovery of the oldest known facility for producing grape wine. Working in a network of caves in Armenia, they found fermentation jars, a 15-gallon basin for treading grapes, and the remains of crushed grapes, leaves, and vines. They dated the site’s age at about 6,100 years. This is not the oldest evidence of grape wine—that would be the 7,400-year-old chemical residues recovered in the Zargos Mountains in Iran. The Armenian site, however, is the oldest known wine production facility.


Why mention this in Christianity Today? Because the “winery” was just about 60 miles from Mount Ararat, where, the Bible says, Noah’s ark landed and thus near where he planted the first vineyard. “After the flood, Noah began to cultivate the ground, and he planted a vineyard. One day he drank some wine he had made, and he became drunk and lay naked inside his tent” (Gen. 9:20-21, NLT).

In Divine Vintage, Hebrew Bible scholar (and former wine importer) Randall Heskett joins with oenologist (and president of the Institute of Masters of Wine) Joel Butler to trace the Bible’s “wine trail” from Mount Ararat in the north to Egypt in the south. They devote the first half of their book to the wine trail documented in the Bible and other ancient texts, awakening the reader to the significance that wine plays in the economy of the ancient world and in the religious and economic life of Israel. The wine trail in the book’s second half is literal rather than literary: the authors visit contemporary wineries in the lands of the Bible, providing a helpful guide for wine tourists in the Middle East.

The authors argue that wine is “a key protagonist for the evolution of society from rootless and nomadic to settled, spiritual, and cultured.” Wine, they say, “is the heart, soul, and body of Western civilization.” While they don’t quite prove that exalted status, they do link developments in ancient civilization to the evolution of viticulture. Wine also played a very important role, both theologically and culturally, in Israelite history. The authors have no time for the conservative Christian belief that in the Bible, wine is always a bane and never a blessing. (On the second page of the preface, they announce that they simply will not treat “all of the pointless claims that promote abstinence from alcohol or assertions that wine in the Bible was not fermented.”) Their ultimate, light-hearted goal is to answer the question WWWJD: What Wine Would Jesus Drink? The authors saved their answer for the end of the book—so I’ll save it for the end of this review.

In the Bible, wine appears far more frequently as a vehicle of God’s blessing than an occasion of human folly. When Noah planted a vineyard, it was an act of faith in God’s promises. So argues biblical scholar Peter Green (currently pursuing a PhD at Wheaton College). After the flood, the God who had just destroyed (or “de-created”) the earth promised to permanently establish regular agricultural seasons. “As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night” (Gen. 8:22, NLT). A vineyard requires at least three years to produce its first usable crop of wine grapes. Planting one means betting on a long run of the right kind of weather and climate conditions. So when Noah took up his role as a second Adam to cultivate the garden and populate the earth, he was demonstrating faith in God’s blessing.

Unfortunately, wine’s first appearance in Scripture is tainted by human failure. But its second act is an unmitigated story of blessing (Gen. 14:17-24). After Abram pursued enemy kings who had taken his nephew Lot captive, he paid a visit to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem (later known as Jerusalem), in order to thank God for his victory. Melchizedek brought Abram bread and wine, an act which Christian interpreters have seen as foreshadowing the Eucharist.

Abraham came from a beer culture, say Heskett and Butler. Because of Mesopotamia’s climate, wine had to be imported and was therefore a luxury item for the rich. But Canaan’s Mediterranean climate made wine an integral part of both Israelite and Canaanite culture. When the Mesopotamian migrant Abraham received wine from Melchizedek, he would have perceived it as a highly valued commodity. It thus served as a fitting precursor to the blessing Mechizedek was about to give.

An offering of wine (and food) similarly precedes Isaac’s blessing of Jacob in Genesis 27. Isaac, thinking he was blessing Esau, said: “From the dew of heaven and the richness of the earth, may God always give you abundant harvests of grain and bountiful new wine.”

Centuries later, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob moved back to Canaan, a “land flowing with milk and honey” that also a yielded plenteous grapes and abundant wine. In Numbers 13, the Promised Land is described as a well-watered place full of grape clusters so enormous that it took two Israelite spies to carry just one of them back to camp. This image came to epitomize Canaan’s agricultural richness.

Because abundance of wine signifies God’s blessing, it becomes a key element in the Bible’s vision of the good life. It is a divine gift that the Psalmist famously declares “maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15, KJV). When Proverbs personifies Wisdom (Prov. 8–9), it uses mixed wine (probably with spices) as an important part of the banquet that Wisdom has prepared for those who respond to her invitation. The “brash” woman Folly, by contrast, offers her guests “stolen water” to drink.

Isaiah 55 echoes Wisdom’s invitation in Proverbs. God offers covenant blessing with an invitation to the thirsty: “Is anyone thirsty? … Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free” (Isa. 55:1, NLT).

The prophets continue to use wine as a key symbol of God’s promised blessing for his people: “Look! I am sending you grain and new wine and olive oil, enough to satisfy your needs. You will no longer be an object of mockery among the surrounding nations” (Joel 2:19, NLT). “The threshing floors will again be piled high with grain, and the presses will overflow with new wine and olive oil” (Joel 2:24, NLT). “‘The time will come,’ says the Lord, ‘when the … grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested. Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel will drip with sweet wine! I will bring my exiled people of Israel back from distant lands, and they will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again. They will plant vineyards and gardens; they will eat their crops and drink their wine.'” (Amos 9:13-14, NLT).

The prevalence of winemaking is assumed in the Law of Moses: it is prescribed as an offering and commanded as an element of celebrations. In Deuteronomy 12, 14, and 26, God commands people to set aside a second tithe of their grain, wine, and oil in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of each seven-year cycle. They are to use this for a holy feast. If a person lives too far from Jerusalem to carry their produce to the party, they are instructed to convert it into money and then go to the Holy City and “buy any kind of food you want—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other alcoholic drink. Then feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and celebrate with your household” (14:26, NLT).

Of course, though the Bible’s fundamental image of wine is one of blessing, it also includes cautions about its use.

Since wine is at times a luxury, it features in the prophets’ condemnation of those who oppress the poor while enjoying dainty food and fine vintages (Amos 5-6). Proverbs warns judges and rulers to avoid habitual drinking, since the lives of others are in their hands (31:4-9). And wine is also a metaphor for God’s wrath, which stuns people and nations and makes them stagger as though they were drunk (see, for example, Ps. 60:3; Isa. 51:17; Jer. 25:16).

Heskett provides an easy-to-read survey of all these biblical materials—though he doesn’t actually deliver a theology of wine or of the vineyard. Unfortunately, he sometimes resorts to frivolous speculation. This is occasionally harmless, such as when he wonders aloud whether at the wedding feast in Cana Jesus might have turned water into white, rather than red, wine.

But in other contexts, his speculation panders to popular notions of the evolution of religions. For example, just after the Melchizedek blessing, Abram names Eshkol as one of the warrior chieftains who deserves a portion of the spoils of war for helping him rescue his nephew. The name Eshkol means “cluster” [of grapes]. Curiously, Heskett asserts that Eshkol is really the name of a wine god—as is ʾĒl ‘elyôn, the name of Melchizedek’s God. For these conjectures, he relies on Morton Smith, a biblical scholar who long ago established a reputation for imaginative reading between the lines. In this case, Smith argues from evidence that the Greek and Roman cults of Dionysus/Bacchus have their roots in Tyre, next door to Sidon (which Jesus visited) in what is now Lebanon. He then speculates that other wine gods must have preceded Dionysus in Palestine. Why not identify them with Eshkol and ʾĒl ‘elyôn? Why not? Those who have a biblical faith must certainly deal with the explicit record of Israelite syncretism, criticized openly by the prophets. But we don’t need to conflate YHWH with the assorted gods of ancient Canaan. Unfortunately, the degree of Smith’s speculation is not transparent to Heskett’s readers, and the paucity of the evidence is hidden from view.

The same evolutionary view of religion is evident when Heskett indulges in pop phenomenology to equate Christ and Dionysus. When Jesus claims to be the true vine of which his followers are the branches, he says, “Christ here evokes the portrayal of Dionysus as a living vine, his shoots flowing out, becoming Maenads (female worshipers … who were incited to religious frenzy) ….” Sigh.

In the book’s final section, Butler appears to take the lead from Heskett. (Butler: what a great name for a wine expert! The Anglo-Norman word originally meant the person in charge of the bottles.) The authors deliver a rare wine tour of contemporary Greece and the Middle East. Since the earliest winemaking facility was located in what is now Turkey, Butler and Heskett begin there and follow the stops on Paul’s third missionary journey. Many of these places were noted for their wine in the ancient world, but later Muslim prohibitions on alcohol largely restricted wine production to the non-Muslim population. Then the Armenian genocide (1915–18) and the Greco-Turkish War (1919–22) resulted in the near disappearance of the groups that knew how to make wine.

But Turkish winemaking has experienced a revival in the latter part of the 20th century thanks to secularist policies initiated by Kemal Ataturk, and Butler and Heskett assure us that vintners are now producing wines that are, variously, “well-structured [but] not too oaky,” “rich, fruity, and distinctive,” and with “fine texture and promise, with deep fruit and balanced oak.” There is plenty of that kind of writing because this is, after all, a wine book co-authored by a wine expert.

The listing of wines and wineries in Turkey, French-influenced Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Greece will help any thirsty traveler in the region connect with the best wine producers.

Worried that Israeli wines all taste like Manischewitz? Not anymore. On my own travels to Israel, I noticed real progress between the early 1990s and 2007. Boutique wines are now available that match some of the best small wineries in California, Washington, and Oregon for sheer interest.

Israeli wine production is plagued by one serious irony, Butler and Heskett note. To be sold in most grocery stores, wine must be kosher. Wine can only be certified kosher if all those who work to produce it are observant Jews. Observant Jews, however, must cease from work on the weekly Sabbath and a number of holidays. This means that vintners and their workers are unable to time their harvesting and other steps of winemaking with the precision that other makers of fine wines aim for. Not all Israeli wines are kosher, though, and some of the better wines need to be purchased directly from producers.

Beyond mere wine tourism, such as one might do on a visit to California or France, Butler and Heskett seek out wine producers who are trying to restore ancient winemaking techniques. One such vintner is the Shiluh-Süryani Sarabi vineyard in a Kurdish region of Turkey not far from the Syrian border. This area was settled by Syriac (Aramaic-speaking) Christians in the fourth century, and, while only 18,000 Syriac Christians live in Turkey today, about 3,000 are concentrated in this region. Today, this winery grows its grapes organically, crushes them in traditional stone gats, and ferments the wine for 45 to 60 days in large clay jars kept cool by being buried in the ground. Then, without any filtration or fining, the wine is bottled. This preserves the wine’s purity for sacramental use in the Syriac church.

The authors call these Syriac wines “truly biblical” because they are produced using ancient methods that are part of a wine-making tradition reaching back to biblical times. That brings us back to the question, What wine would Jesus (criticized by his opponents as a “winebibber”) drink?

Jesus seemed more than ready to break the ritual kosher rules, say Heskett and Butler, especially if fellowship would be impaired by ritual purity. That freed the authors to consider a wide variety of wines made according to ancient techniques. They finally settled on a traditionally made white wine from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, not exactly biblical, but definitely ancient. They describe the 2009 Pheasant’s Tears Rrkatsiteli as “deep yellow-gold” and having “saline-mushroom, floral-herb, and olive scents.” It has a “chewy finish that is more like a red wine’s.”

But what about a red wine? Jesus would be eating lamb, no? One of the authors’ suggestions is a traditionally made red from Sicily: the 2010 COS Pithos.

But really, was Jesus a wine snob? Or did he drink wine as a form of fellowship with those excluded from Jewish society? If the latter, Heskett and Butler are right to say on the very last page that Jesus would, as a guest of honor, be humble enough to drink whatever he was served.

David Neff is the former editor in chief of Christianity Today.

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September 14, 2013 · 10:57


Joshua Stanton.

Associate Director, Center for Global Judaism

.As a greenhorn rabbi, ordained only a matter of weeks ago, I find myself seeking out more experienced religious and non-profit leaders to figure out how they do what they do. While the moment of ordination was meaningful and moving, it did not (at least as far as I can tell!) endow me with new abilities as a leader. I have so much left to learn, especially about what it means to lead.

One of the more interesting pieces of advice I received from a veteran leader in the public sector was to reread Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” In Shakespeare’s depiction of the leader, King Henry, in contrast to other English rulers, spent many of his formative years out among the people, learning about their wants and needs. Rather than shying away from the public or isolating himself within the palace walls, Henry sought to connect with people and their concerns. Even when he assumed the mantel of leadership, he walked among his troops before a key battle to learn where their thoughts were. Henry was not afraid to hear their fears and pain, even when he was the object of their discontent. He sought out the feedback of the people out, both formally and informally, throughout his life.

Henry V’s example of leadership, though an imperfect analogue for clergy to be sure, evokes a lesson that does still very much apply: religious leaders need not only learn about the aches and pains of people, but must also be able to hear people’s criticism of them as leaders. This is, of course, no easy feat. It requires several interrelated skills, including the ability to receive another person’s criticism of you and discern what to do about it.

Interestingly, Shakespeare’s presentation of Henry V drew into sharp relief a figure that I usually associate more immediately with religious leadership: Moses. When reading this week’s Torah portion of Korah, I was struck by Moses’ strengths and limitations as a leader.

Adopted into the royal family of Egypt as an infant, Moses spent many of his formative years behind palace walls. Key moments in Moses’ growth took place as he left the safe confines of his childhood home and interacted with more and more people. His leadership journey began by witnessing the pain and suffering of the Israelite slaves, ultimately killing an abusive Egyptian taskmaster and fleeing into the wilderness (Exodus 2).

It was in the open air of Midian, far from the palace of his youth, that Moses learned to connect more deeply with other people (including his wife Zipporah) and with God. It was there that Moses was commissioned as a prophet and sent by God to lead the people of Israel to freedom.

Yet, I wonder if traces of Moses’ insular upbringing, living apart from most Egyptians — and for that matter from most Israelites — endured throughout his life. It is unclear to me that Moses spent significant time engaging in conversation with the members of his community, inviting them to share with him their hopes and fears, and their opinions of him as their leader. Even in initially playing the role of mediator in disputes large and small (see Exodus 18), Moses mostly heard from the Israelites in times of dispute or distress. What about the times in between?

This week’s Torah portion is named for the rebel who seemed to have seized upon this weakness, creating a disruptive place for himself in the gap between Moses and the community. Long after the glow of the exodus had passed, Korah led a rebellion of two hundred and fifty community representatives against Moses and Aaron. In challenging the Israelite leaders, he asked a stinging question: “Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” (Exodus 16:3).

Many commentators over the ages have questioned the validity of Korah’s remark, citing impure motivations for his rebellious ways; many have argued that Moses possessed at his core a desire to serve God and the people, while Korah and his fellow bandits were but power-hungry antagonists (see for example, the comments of the great modern exegete, Nehama Leibowitz, in her “Studies in Bemidbar”).

While the various criticisms leveled against Korah and his co-conspirators may be justified, I think it still important to ask if Moses allowed too much distance to grow between himself and his community. It is hard to criticize such a heroic figure given all that he did for God and for the Children of Israel, but it is important to scrutinize his actions (and inaction) if we are to maximize our learning.

Throughout his many years of leadership, Moses expressed frustration and even outrage when the Israelites complained or expressed grave fear. In fact, in next week’s Torah portion, his anger boils over in one of the most painful interactions with his community recorded in the Torah (Numbers 20). When the Israelites cry out for water at Meribah, Moses strikes a rock in a moment of rage, defying God’s command to bring forth water for the Israelites with a verbal invocation.

To be fair, Moses also demonstrated great compassion for the Israelites, including instances in which God grew so frustrated with the people that He threatened to wipe them out. In fact, there is a stunning example of this dynamic in our Torah portion.

In response to the rebellion and God’s punishment of Korah and the 250 rebels, the Israelites railed against Moses and Aaron saying, “You two have brought death upon the Lord’s people (Numbers 17:6). God responded to this latest outburst by telling Moses and Aaron to remove themselves from the midst of the community so that He could “annihilate them in an instant” (17:10). What did Moses do? He immediately instructed Aaron to take a fire pan in hand and make an expiation offering to God on behalf of the people (17:11). The result is that the prophet and high priest stopped the plague of death that God had unleashed against Israel.

Nonetheless, for all of his brilliance, for or all of his excellence, for all of the ways in which Moses will forever be the archetypical religious leader in the Jewish tradition, he was also imperfect. Among his challenges, it seems to me, was his limited ability to engage his community in conversation and to elicit their feedback before and between moments of crisis.

While Korah and his companions may well have been inspired by jealousy and ambition, we need to listen carefully to their critique of Moses and ask if it contains some elements of truth. Had the great prophet drifted too far from his community? Was this an ongoing issue?

What can we learn from the triumphs and missteps of this noble religious leader? A great deal, and perhaps as much from his moments of weakness as from his singular success.

ON Scripture — The Torah is a weekly Jewish scriptural commentary, produced in collaboration with Odyssey Networks and Hebrew College. Thought leaders from the United States and beyond offer their insights into the weekly Torah portion and contemporary social, political, and spiritual life.



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Eternity Envy

05/30/2013 15:55   By JONATHAN ROSENBLUM

I think most would concede that the haredi world is the largest repository of a heedless attachment to Torah, far removed from any worldly calculation.

Haredi demonstration against IDF enlistment legislation in Jerusalem, May 16, 2013
Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
In response to the Church of Scotland’s adoption of the “An Inheritance of Abraham?” report, a veritable potpourri of reasons for rejecting the Jewish claim of a historical connection to the Land of Israel, the ever brilliant David Goldman offers one of his startling aperçus: “The most successful Christian communities embrace the State of Israel, while the least successful abhor it.”
The Church of Scotland certainly falls into the latter category. Since 1956, the Church of Scotland has shed two-thirds of its members, and continues to lose them at a rate of 5 percent a year. (Ironically, in happier times for the Church of Scotland, it was a hotbed of Christian Zionism. A 19th-century Church of Scotland cleric coined the phrase, “A land without people for a people without a land.”) The same observation applies to the Church of England, another fast-fading religious establishment.
Less than 40% of Britons say they believe in God, and more British Muslims than British Christians attend weekly religious services.
Like the Church of Scotland, the Church of England has increasingly descended into mindless political correctness. Israel has often borne the brunt of that political correctness in the form of resolutions for disinvestment.
The religious energy in America has shifted dramatically from the old mainstream churches – Episcopalians and Presbyterians – towards evangelicals. Here too, Goldman’s observation holds up. Both the Episcopalians and Presbyterians have passed disinvestment resolutions in recent years (though the Presbyterians’ was subsequently rescinded). Meanwhile the evangelicals have proven to be the most stalwart supporters of Israel, often citing the biblical verse, “And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
(Genesis 12:3) GOLDMAN CONNECTS his observation about failing religions to another: anti-Semitism is correlated with declining national groups.
Europe’s most prominent anti-Semitic party at present is Hungary’s Jobbik Party, the thirdlargest in the country. And Hungary’s fertility rate today is a paltry 0.83 per woman, the lowest in Europe.
But fertility rates well below the replacement level characterize the entire continent. The UN projects, for instance, a Russian population of 115 million in 2050, an astounding 30 million fewer people than inhabited Russia in 2000. (In Scotland, the number of births per year is half of what it was in 1950, and the number of babies born to married couples one-fifth.) Meanwhile, Muslim birthrates remain high across Europe. Native Europeans, then, can already smell the death scent of their own self-extinction. And those intimations of their own national mortality put them in a foul mood towards the Jews.
Goldman quotes the German-Jewish thinker Franz Rosenzweig on the fear of impending death at the national level: “Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction… Indeed the love of the peoples for their own peoplehood is sweet and pregnant with presentiment of death… Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books; and their laws and customs have lost their living power.”
But why should those “presentiments” be taken out on the Jews or the Jewish state? Because the Jews are the exception to the otherwise universal rule of civilizational rise and fall. As Michael Wyschograd observes, “Israel is beyond the ‘laws’ of history. It is not subject to the rise and fall of other peoples and empires, a fact which causes angry philosophers of history (i.e. Arnold Toynbee) whose schemes Israel undermines to refer to it as a fossil.”
Only one people has shown itself immortal: the Jews. As Mark Twain observed in his famous essay “Concerning the Jews”: “The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” To see the Jews return to their ancient land, once more speaking their ancient tongue, and still observing their ancient law must be particularly grating to Europeans who can already foresee another people dwelling in their land, speaking a different language, and having sacked a once proud culture.
THE TWO Western countries most consistently supportive of Israel in the world today are the United States and Canada. The US is by far the most religious of the developed countries.
Two-fifths of Americans attend services weekly, and only 18% never worship. By contrast, more than half of Britons never attend church, and only one in eight does so weekly. That religiosity correlates highly with attitudes to Israel. Americans favor Israel over the Palestinians by nearly five to one, while Britons view Israel negatively by a ratio of nearly four to one.
The ruling Conservative Party in Canada has its political base in the country’s West, which is also the most religious section.
Birthrates and religion are closely linked, as Mary Eberstadt details in her new book, How the West Really Lost God. (Contrary to popular impression, religious affiliation also correlates positively with educational levels.) In the more religiously oriented urban complexes of America, the likelihood of a woman having children, measured in terms of the number of children under five to women of childbearing age, is 15%-30% higher. Those who believe in a beneficent deity, who created the world with a purpose and is bringing it towards that purpose, it would seem, want to be connected to that future through future generations.
Those who remain optimistic about the future have less cause to envy the people of Israel their eternity. Compared to Europeans, Americans have always been an optimistic people. As an old Russian adage has it, “A person who smiles a lot is either a fool or an American.” And it does not hurt that the most vital segment of the American and Canadian religious communities are those groups who see in Israel’s existence not a cause for envy but proof, as Goldman puts it, that the “God of the Bible is a God of kept promises.”
TWAIN ASKED: What is the secret of the Jews’ immortality? The Talmud likens our miraculous survival to that of a solitary sheep existing among 70 wolves.
Moses told Pharaoh, in the name of God, at their first meeting, “Beni bechori Yisrael – Israel is my son, my firstborn son.” The Talmud attributes those terms of endearment to the fact that Israel would in the future stand on Mount Sinai and utter the words “Na’aseh v’nishma – We will do, and [then] we will understand.” The Children of Israel were taken out of Egypt on account of their future acceptance of the Torah, and they are protected to this day by virtue of their connection to the Torah.
In that light we can understand our sages’ comment that Sinai is from the language of sina (hatred). Sinai is the source of our immortality, and that immortality causes the hatred of us.
“Na’aseh v’nishma” denotes not just the acceptance of Torah, but a particular form of acceptance – one made oblivious to all the rational calculations of the world. The Talmud relates that a Sadduccee once saw Rava learning Torah with such intensity that he did not even notice that he was sitting on his hands, which were dripping blood. The Sadducee charged Rava with being the member of an ama peziza – a heedless, uncalculating people – just like his ancestors, who accepted God’s commandments without first knowing what they were.
Rava acknowledged the charge, for in that reckless passion for Torah lies the secret of Jewish eternity. No Jewish community that has cut itself off from Torah observance and study has ever survived for long.
Passion for Torah learning is not a birthright.
It is not an automatic consequence of being born into a haredi home or of attending yeshiva.
But I think most would concede that the haredi world is the largest repository of a heedless attachment to Torah, far removed from any worldly calculation.
Can there be a greater national service – guaranteeing our national survival – than that performed by those who attain that level? ■
The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.
some comments on the above article:
  • Stewart Cutler That tweet shows an amazing lack of understanding of the complexity of Israel’s political and religious situation and its ‘relationship’ with both itself, its neighbours and the rest of the world.

  • Irene Munro: I find it hard that the author holds up America as a moral paradigm. Obama supports abortion and this author gives fertility rates as a sign of blessing. Israel’s abortion record is not admirable  89% of third trimester abortion requests are approved in Israel – in many countries such late term abortions are totally illegal. in Israel a minor can legally have an abortion without having to notify the parents. There are better arguments to support the land issue and supporting Israel’s right to the land.
  • Maureen Jack What do I think?  It’s nonsense.  Desmond Tutu is just one Christian who is very critical of the actions of the state of Israel.

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The ‘Broad’ Living

Posted: 05/29/2013 2:55 pm


When Moses sent 12 scouts across the Jordan to tour the land (in Hebrew, “latur“), 10 of them came back scared by the “giants” they found there (Numbers 13:28-33). The spies’ panic spread among the Israelite people, resulting in 38 more years of desert wandering (Numbers 14).

The bilingual Hebrew-English pun of latur and “tour” helps us to understand the failure of the 10 spies: they acted as “tourists,” glancing here and there, making surface observations, but never gazing deeply, never connecting intimately with the land at which they glanced. Ironically, to this very day, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism uses as its symbol the picture of two ancient Israelites — from among the scouts Moses sent to the land of Canaan — carrying between them a gigantic cluster of grapes (based on the description in Numbers 13:23).

A version of this same word latur is also used in the final verses of this week’s reading in reference to the tzitzit (fringes) we are to tie on the edges of our four-cornered garments (Numbers 15:37-41). Here, too, the verb taturu is used to describe the danger of glancing or casting about and not seeing deeply — and thereby whoring (zonim) ourselves after trifles that we erect into false gods. Gazing at these fringes is supposed to teach us to look deeply into the world and to walk in God’s ways.

The rabbis assigned as the haftarah (prophetic selection) to be read with this Torah portion a report on the scouts whom Joshua sent into the land 38 years later, as the Israelites approach the city of Jericho, a high-walled Canaanite redoubt.

These scouts find themselves in the house of a woman named Rachav. Her name means “broad.” Think of Psalm 118:5: “From the narrow place I called out to God; God answered me with a broad, open space” (merchav, from the same root as rachav). And note that the Hebrew word maitzar (narrow) sounds like Mitzraim (Egypt), the narrow place of slavery from which the Israelites in our story have just recently been redeemed. It is a broad and open woman who opens the land to the scouts.

Rachav is specifically called a whore (zonah) in the opening line of this episode (Joshua 2:1). She lives on the edge, both figuratively and literally: for she entertains her guests in her home at the edge of the walled city of Jericho (Joshua 2:15). But there is something different about this zonah, different from the whoring (zonim) our Torah portion warns us against, when it tells us to gaze upon the fringes on the edges of our garments.

Rachav, the “Broad,” has heard of the great redemptive acts of the God of Israel, who turned a pariah people living on the edges of Egyptian society into a force for transforming history. She has opened her heart to YHWH and to the Israelite nation. Not only does she welcome the two spies into her home, but she also hides them from the king of Jericho and helps them escape to safety. This band of runaway slaves is now bringing their revolutionary vision to Canaan, facing a city famous for its walls. She expects the world to be turned upside down — or right-side up — again.

I do not think that in introducing Rahav as a key figure in Israelite history, the Torah is affirming sexual promiscuity or prostitution. What it is affirming is that this woman has learned from her experience living on the edge. Rachav knew this wisdom because she lived on the edge like the tzitzit — not only geographically, but socially. Open to visitors, open to a people living on the edge, open to the God of new possibilities.

In a surprising twist of events, it is this zonah who teaches us how to see the deep truth embodied in the practice of tzitzit: Do not go about life touring and whoring (zonim) after the false gods of giants, imposing walled structures or anything else that skews our vision of ultimate reality.

Rahav stands among various “outsider” and “transgressive” women in the Hebrew Bible who play a decisive, if unexpected, role in bringing healing and redemption to their people (Lot’s daughter, Tamar, Ruth, etc.). Most of biblical tradition is dominated by men and is strongly committed to “insiders” and boundaries.

Can we lift up the stories of these women in new ways? What can we learn from these “fringe” figures about the possibility of transformation and the different types of people who can act as agents of change?

The scouts brought calamity upon the people through their surface vision. Rahav offers us a counter-model. Can we follow her lead and learn to see more broadly and deeply? Are we still committed to the God of “fringiness,” the God who lives on edges? Can we peer through the walls of self-aggrandizement, the idols of distraction and the towers of fear to behold a God ready to turn the world upside down on behalf of a band of runaway slaves?

ON Scripture — The Torah is a weekly Jewish scriptural commentary, produced in collaboration with Odyssey Networks and Hebrew College. Thought leaders from the United States and beyond offer their insights into the weekly Torah portion and contemporary social, political, and spiritual life.


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May 31, 2013 · 11:52

Church of Scotland – Israel (update)

The Inheritance of Abraham? A report on the ‘promised land’

9 May 2013

The Church of Scotland and representatives of the Jewish Community in Scotland and the United Kingdom, held useful discussions facilitated by the Council of Christians and Jews this afternoon, Thursday 8 May. We agreed that the drafting of the report published by the Church and Society Council for discussion at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has given cause for concern and misunderstanding of its position and requires a new introduction to set the context for the report and give clarity about some of the language used.

In particular the Church of Scotland needs to be explicit about some things that are implicit policies of the Church:

  • There is no change in the Church of Scotland’s long held position of the right of Israel to exist.
  • The Church condemns all violence and acts of terrorism, where ever they happen in the world.
  • The concern of the Church about the injustices faced by the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories remain firm, but that concern should not be misunderstood as questioning the right of the State of Israel to exist.
  • That the Church condemns all things that create a culture of anti Semitism.

There is an equal sense of concern amongst both communities for justice and peace for all the people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Sitting round the table and listening to each other more deeply has created a real opportunity for both communities to better understand each other and that this report now becomes a catalyst for continued and growing conversation.

The two communities have agreed to work together both here and in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to continue what was a very positive dialogue.

Church and Society Council, Church of Scotland
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities
Board of Deputies of British Jews
Movement for Reform Judaism
Rabbis for Human Rights

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The Promised Land? Church of Scotland Report to the General Assembly, May 2013

Construction site at a Jewish settlement
  • The Israeli government has criticised the Church of Scotland over a report which questions the divine right of Jews to the land of Israel.

The report will be debated and voted on at the church’s general assembly later this month.

Israel’s ambassador to the UK said it was “truly hurtful” and could “mark a significant step backwards for the forces of tolerance and peace”.

The church said it was not denying Israel’s right to exist.

The 10-page discussion paper, entitled The Inheritance of Abraham? A report on the Promised Land, was compiled by the Kirk’s church and society council.

It stated there has been a widespread assumption by many Christians, as well as many Jewish people, that the Bible “supports an essentially Jewish state of Israel”.

Would the Jewish people today have a fairer claim to the land if they dealt justly with the Palestinians?”


But its authors said an “increasing number of difficulties and current Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians” had led to this viewpoint being questioned.

They wrote: “Possession of any land is clearly conditional. The question that arises is this: Would the Jewish people today have a fairer claim to the land if they dealt justly with the Palestinians?”

Biblical promises about the land of Israel were never intended to be taken literally, or as applying to a defined geographical territory, the report argued.

Instead, it said: “They are a way of speaking about how to live under God so that justice and peace reign, the weak and poor are protected, the stranger is included, and all have a share in the community and a contribution to make to it.

“The ‘promised land’ in the Bible is not a place, so much as a metaphor of how things ought to be among the people of God. This ‘promised land’ can be found – or built – anywhere.

“The desire of many in the state of Israel to acquire the land of Palestine for the Jewish people is wrong. The fact that the land is currently being taken by settlement expansion, the separation barrier, house clearance, theft and force makes it doubly wrong to seek biblical sanction for this.”

The report said that the enormity of the Holocaust “has often reinforced the belief that Israel is entitled to the land unconditionally.”

“There is guilt among Western Christianity about centuries of anti-Semitism that led to discrimination against the Jews, culminating in the total evil of the Holocaust,” it suggested.

Political boycotts

“There is also a belief among some Jewish people that they have a right to the land of Israel as compensation for the suffering of the Holocaust.”

While stopping short of calling for economic and political boycotts and sanctions against the state of Israel, as church leaders from South Africa did last year, the report said the issue “raises particular questions for the Church of Scotland as we seek to respond to the question: “What does the Lord require of you…?”

The paper will be voted on by delegates at the church’s general assembly in Edinburgh, which is due to begin on 18 May.

The Israeli ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, said: “This report not only plays into extremist political positions, but negates and belittles the deeply held Jewish attachment to the land of Israel in a way which is truly hurtful.

“If a document of this nature is adopted by the Church of Scotland it would mark a significant step backwards for the forces of tolerance and peace in our region.”

Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, described the report as an “outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for” and called on the Church of Scotland to withdraw it ahead of the general assembly.

If the church cannot build bridges, can it at least refrain from burning them?”

Ephraim BorowskiScottish Council of Jewish Communities


He added: “It reads like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism. It is biased, weak on sources, and contradictory. The picture it paints of both Judaism and Israel is barely even a caricature. The arrogance of telling the Jewish people how to interpret Jewish texts and Jewish theology is breathtaking.

“If the church cannot build bridges, can it at least refrain from burning them?”

Abraham H Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York, described the paper as “stunningly offensive”.

He said: “The paper’s blatant one-sided perspective falsely conflates the political state of Israel and the religious significance of the Land of Israel for both Jews and Christians. The selective citation of Biblical scripture in order to question Israel’s legitimacy is an affront to Jews around the world and to the State of Israel.”

And an editorial, the Jerusalem Post newspaper said the report would “shame the Church of Scotland”.

It claimed: “The church owes the Jewish people an apology for this incendiary text that is more fitting to the 13th Century than to this one”.

A spokesman for the Church of Scotland said it “has never and is not now denying Israel’s right to exist; on the contrary, it is questioning the policies that continue to keep peace a dream in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

He added: “This report is against the injustices levelled against the Palestinian people and how land is shared. It is also a reflection of the use or misuse of scripture to claim divine right to land by any group.

“The Church of Scotland is called to speak out against injustice. Whether people are being exploited by pay-day loan companies or through low wages and poor conditions, or because of benefit changes and actions of the powerful across the world, the Church of Scotland seeks to support just and peaceful solutions.

“With this in mind, the Church of Scotland will continue to work for freedom and justice for all who live in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

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Orthodox Jew (from “Huff Post Religion”)

Orthodox Jew Flies In Plane Covered In Huge Plastic Bag, Possibly To Avoid Cemetery Flyover (PHOTO)

Posted: 04/11/2013 6:55 pm EDT  |  Updated: 04/11/2013 9:36 pm EDT

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Orthodox Jew Plastic Bag

A picture of an Orthodox Jew encased in a giant plastic bag is causing some debate on the Internet this week, as commentators attempt to explain the man’s unusual travelling garb.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews adhere to a strict set of guidelines that include gender segregation in public. In fact, Haaretz reports that Israeli airline El Al has noticed an increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox men asking to switch seats to avoid sitting next to women. (One woman even sued the airlines for allegedly moving her to the back of a plane after ultra-Orthodox men refused to sit next to her.)

However, netizens were quick to point out that the “flying with women” explanation may not be entirely accurate.

“This has nothing to do with women,” user “thenewyorkgod” wrote. “He is a cohen,’ descendant from the high holy priests of the temple and they are not allowed to walk into or fly over a cemetery, which would render them impure.”

Indeed, there seems to be some precedent for holy men (alternately known as a Kohen or Cohen) attempting to travel in plastic bags to and from Israel.

In 2001, El Al Airlines decided not to allow ultra-Orthodox Jews of priestly descent to “hermetically seal themselves in plastic bags when flying over the Holon cemetery in order to avoid ritual impurity.”

El Al stated “flight safety considerations do not allow for passengers to board while covered in sealed plastic bags.”

Still, the paper reported that in 2002 a flight crew got into a heated dispute with anultra-Orthodox passenger who attempted to fly wrapped in plastic, according to Haaretz. The confrontation eventually led the pilot to turn the plane around.



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