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October 2, 2014 / 8 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘ancient’

The Undivided Past

Friday, October 4th, 2013

There are several words used in the Bible to describe the Jewish people. At one stage we were simply tribal. Then we became an “Am”, a people, a “Goy”, a nation, a “Mamlacha”, a kingdom. Post-Biblically, if the gentiles called us Jews, Judeans, Israelites, Hebrews, Yids, or whatever, we used “Yisrael” as the name of choice, in the main, which meant a people, a culture, a religion, a relationship with God and a land, all of that in varying and amorphous degrees. We knew what it meant, even if others were confused or bemused. It takes one to know one.

Under pagan empires religion was not a factor, just loyalty to an overarching regime or royal family. If you were a serf it was loyalty to your lord and village. Neither the Persian, nor the Greek, nor the Roman Empires cared how you worshipped or behaved, so long as you professed loyalty to the empire. Then Christianity emerged as the religion of the Roman Empire and other religions were marginalized. Ironically the bloodiest battles were within Christianity, between one theological variation and another. The same thing happened under Islam. Ideals soon got perverted by politics and as today, Muslims of different sects killed more Muslims than all their enemies put together and doubled. Freud memorably described this internal divisiveness as “the narcissism of minor differences”.

In the West, most Jews that non-Jews encounter are not particularly committed to being Jewish. For Jews like a Soros or a Zuckerberg, it’s an accident of birth, a minor casual affiliation, like belonging to the Church of England. And this explains why most of those in the West who think about the matter reckon that the Jews are not really too concerned about having a land of their own and that it was only the accidental intervention of imperialist powers that explains the Jewish presence in the Middle East. It was a misjudged adventure. And really the Jews ought to pick up and leave and stop being nasty to the indigenous population.

It takes an objective observer to notice that for millennia Jews have shared a powerful core identity, even if in almost every situation except when they were given a choice, most Jews actually abandoned the community of Jews. But it took a determined minority within a minority to fight hard, relentlessly, and ultimately victoriously for its Jewish identity.

In his book The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences, David Cannadine writes:

“Egypt under the Pharaohs may have resembled a nation…but there was no accompanying sense of public culture or collective identity. As for the ancient Greeks, their limited pan Hellenic aspirations embodied in their shared language, Homeric epics and Olympic games foundered on the disputatious reality of their fiercely independent city-states. Similar objections have been made to claims that the Sumerians, the Persians, the Phoenicians, the Arameans, the Philistines, the Hittites and the Elamites were ancient nations, or that the Sinhalese, the Japanese or the Koreans might be so described during the first millennium of the common era. Only in the case of Israel does it seem plausible to discern a recognizable ancient nation with its precise though disputed territoriality, its ancient myths, its shared historical memories of the Exodus, the Conquest and wars with the Philistines, its strong sense of exceptionalism and providential destiny and its self-definition against a hostile “other” and its common laws and cultures. These were and are the essential themes in the unfinished history of the Jews this example has also furnished ever since a developed model of what it means to be a nation.” (p. 58)

Throughout exile we somehow did preserve a sense of belonging to a people, to a tradition, to a land, a sense of community, Klal Yisrael. This is why the problem of Israel in the Middle East, the Jewish problem, is so intractable. The overwhelming majority of Jews now living in Israel or the West Bank are committed to the notion of a Jewish people. It is not to be compared as ignorant opponents of Israel try, to a few British or white imperialists imposing themselves on a vast majority “other”. Some may try to delegitimize us by overturning a decision of the United Nations, but they cannot delegitimize or wish away the Jewish people.

Message from a Man in Black…to a Man of Hate

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

I love this video – posted to YouTube around 5 months ago… it’s a message from one Hassidic Jew (representing so many others) to a man of hate (and to so many like him). It was posted before the Jewish holiday of Purim…

Purim is the story of a Persian king, his right hand man who wanted to kill the Jews, a Jewish man and his niece, who becomes the queen. An evil plot… unraveled at the last moment, twisted around to destroy the one who created the plot. It is about justice in the end, but more, it is about the Jewish people and where we put our faith. It is why we defeated Haman, that ancient Persian… and why we will defeat his ancestors – the followers of Ahmadinejad… and today’s “moderate” Iranian president who joined his outgoing colleague just days ago in wishing Israel off the face of this world.

Ari Lesser – you’re great! I hope this video reaches around the world…



Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Oldest-Ever Graves Decorated with Flowers Found in Israel

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed 12,000-old Natufian society graves that are the oldest-ever proof that flowers were used for decorating graves.

The Natufian society is considered to be one of the first, if not the first, to reside in permanent villages instead of being nomadic, according to University of Haifa archaeologist Daniel Nadel. Carbon dating revealed that the graves were between 11,700 and 13,700 years old.

The graves were discovered in the nearby Mount Carmel area overlooking Haifa, with imprints of flowering plants, such as mint and sage, stamped into the dirt of the ancient graves.

“From [the Neanderthal] example until the Natufians,” a period spanning some 50,000 years, “there is not one example” of flowers decorating graves, Nadel and his team wrote in study published Monday in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

People may have been using flowers during the entire period, but “finding such flowers is very difficult” since they decay, Nadel added.

He based the importance of the use of flowers on evidence that indicates that the place of burial was dug out and that a thin veneer of mud, a form of primitive plaster, was used to cover the sides. Plants lined the bottom of the grave before bodies were buried, and scented flowers were likely chosen as much for their aromas as their appearance.

“There are hundreds of flowers on Mount Carmel during the spring, but only a small group provide very strong fragrances. It’s impossible that the Natufians didn’t recognize the smell,” Nadel explained.

Twenty-nine skeletons, all within a 160 square-foot area, were found several years ago, but meticulous research recently led Nadel to reach his conclusions. The impression from plant stems and flowers indicated that they may have been from sage and mint and other aromatic plants.

The researched were able to identify them under a scanning electron microscope.

Nadel estimated that the burial were very ceremonial because animal bones also were found in the cave cemetery.

“They didn’t just place the bodies inside the graves and leave,” he said. “We have to envision a colorful ceremony that maybe included dancing, singing, and eating. They may have hunted a few animals and had a big meal around the graves and then threw bones or meat inside.”

Like today, the grave flowers were intended both for those who died and for the survivors.

‘Extinct’ Frog in Israel Becomes a Unique ‘Living Fossil’

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

An ancient frog can now be added to Israel’s history. The “painted frog,” though to be extinct, turns out to be a descendant of a one million-old frog.

The first amphibian to have been officially declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been rediscovered in the north of Israel after some 60 years and turns out to be a unique “living fossil,” without close relatives among other living frogs.

The Hula painted frog was catalogued within the Discoglossus group when it was first discovered in the Hula Valley of Israel in the early 1940s. The frog was thought to have disappeared following the drying up of the HulaLake at the end of the 1950s, and was declared extinct by the IUCN in 1996. As a result, the opportunity to discover more about this species’ history, biology and ecology was thought to have disappeared.

However, a team of Israeli, German and French researchers now report in the scientific journal Nature Communications on an in-depth scientific analysis of this enigmatic amphibian.

Based on new genetic analyses of rediscovered individuals and the morphologic analyses of extant and fossil bones, the conclusion is that the Hula frog differs strongly from its other living relatives, the painted frogs from northern and western Africa.

Instead, the Hula frog is related to a genus of fossil frogs, Latonia, which were found over much of Europe dating back to prehistoric periods and has been considered extinct for about a million years,

The results imply that the Hula painted frog is not merely another rare species of frog, but is actually the sole representative of an ancient clade of frogs, a group with a single common ancestor.

Plans to re-flood parts of the HulaValley and restore the original swamp habitat are in place, which may allow expansion in population size and a secure future for the Hula painted frog.

The combined research effort that led to the revelation and analyses of the previously considered “extinct” frog was conducted by Rebecca Biton, a Ph.D. student of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, in cooperation with professors from the RuppinAcademicCenter, TelAvivUniversity, the Weizmann Institute of Science and other researchers from Israel, France and Germany.

Rare Discovery of 3,500-Year-Old Donkey in Israel

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Archaeologists north of Be’er Sheva have discovered the skeleton of a  3,500-year-old donkey, complete with a copper bridle in its mouth and saddle bags on its back.

The rare find led Israeli researchers to conclude that the donkey, estimated to be only four years at the time of its death, was sacrificed as part of a Bronze Age ritual at a time when donkeys enjoyed a respected status.

Donkeys are frequently mentioned in the Bible, with the most famous one being the “talking mule” of the non-Jew Balaam, who was paid by King Balak to curse Israel but ended up blessing the People of Israel as they stood on the edge of the desert before entering the Promised Land.

Donkeys were the beast of burden, were used on trade routes and were so important during the founding of ancient Egypt that skeletons of donkeys have been found in graves of pharaohs.

The skeleton that was found at an archaeological site near Kiryat Gat, located approximately 15 miles north of Be’er Sheva and 50 miles or so southeast of Tel Aviv, indicates that the young donkey was spared hard labor.

Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa, who headed the research team at the Tel Haror site, said that donkey was laid on its left side, with its limbs neatly bent. It probably was sacrificed, and the copper bridle bit probably was symbolic because the animal’s teeth showed that the bit was not used.

“The absence of any sign of bit wear on the lower premolars indicates that the animal was not ridden or driven with a bit for prolonged periods of time,” the researchers write in a paper published online this week in the online journal PLoS ONE. “Moreover, the young donkey was still in the process of shedding its teeth and permanent teeth were just erupting. Based on its age, the Haror donkey would probably have been too young to be a trained draught animal.”

The bit is  the only one from the Bronze Age to have been found in the mouth of hoofed mammals.

A sign that the donkey had been sacrificed in a rite was a pile of bones from sheep and goats that were found near the donkey’s carcass.

“The Tel Haror interment represents the only known example of a donkey within a ritual context that was symbolically harnessed with a horse bit and bearing saddlebags, and, thus, sheds important light on both the functional and symbolic role of equids in the Ancient Near East,” the research team wrote on PLosOne.

“The location, grouping, dimensions and symmetrical placement of the fittings, leads us to suggest that they represent the remains of fasteners for saddlebags that was composed of decayed organic material, such as leather,” they added.

Israel Cabinet Passes “Full Protection”

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

In light of the ongoing attacks on civilian areas near Gaza, and the advancement of aggression by terrorist elements against the 200,000 person-strong ancient biblical city and modern-day metropolis of Be’ersheva, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet issued the following statement through the Government Press Office:

“The Cabinet, today (Sunday, 28 October 2012), unanimously approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal on full protection for all communities 4.5-7 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, at a cost of NIS 270 million. The Cabinet also authorized the Prime Minister to decide, within 30 days, on the sources of financing without the need to submit the issue for Cabinet approval.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “This will provide security for residents of the south. We are doing this because attacks by rockets and missiles at shorter distances are much greater in the area around the Gaza Strip than at other distances. I think that this is what residents of the south have been hoping for, they have been calling for it for a long time.””

Reinvented by Israel

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

How does a mild mannered CPA from Far Rockaway, Queens grow a set of vocal cords of such power and presence that a once meek and put-upon bean counter is now a vital part of the burgeoning Jerusalem acapella scene?  Our friend has long since traded in his faded Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap for flowing white sharwall pants and an effortlessly hip Brixton Hooligan Herringbone Ivy hat. The only remaining testament to a life once endured is a set of weezer glasses, worn not so much as a statement but as an enduring tribute to one of rock ‘n’ roll’s seismic creative forces, Lubbock’s own Buddy Holly.

And what causes an environmental lawyer from Marin County to discard all her eco-friendly (or at least carbon neutral) possessions to hop a fume-belching El Al Boeing 747 flight with the goal of thoroughly amending her life’s trajectory? The decision to trade in her green Prius for the unique charms of life over the Green Line most assuredly left vegan friends and hot tub lounging parents with mouths agape and tongues a-wagging. Afterall, isn’t life without easy access to Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Cantonese and Korean restaurants but a cruel joke?

Perhaps it’s the pale-pink light bouncing off the Old City’s ancient walls on a typical Jerusalem summer’s evening that somehow catalyzes a reaction, diffusing all reason and refracting all rational thought. Maybe it’s quite literally all in the head, with the hundreds of billions of neurons and synapses – that had once operated firmly within the safe confines provided by calculating and comparing benefits and costs – beginning to fire off signals in all directions once exposed to images of Israeli soldiers, Jewish children and M-16 toting babes in bikinis.

Who knows? But the phenomenon of people hitting the ‘reset’ button, often to the profound befuddlement of those closest to them, is at least as old as the dirt that King Solomon walked on. The roots of the Hebrew phrase Meshaneh makom meshaneh mazal (“change your place, change your luck”) are even more ancient, perhaps going back to the biblical Abraham.

Abraham may well have been humanity’s first drop out, having abandoned home, country, family and religion for an uncertain fate in a faraway land that was only to be revealed to him by an unseen God at some undefined future date. And let’s not forget that old Abe was a virtual pensioner at the time God came a-calling. To top it off, Abraham, a strong Babylonian man of good stock, was married yet childless.

Leave behind the familiar sights and sounds of bustling Ur for… Canaan?

Now that’s confidence. For what greeted Abraham, his wife Sari and rest of his household upon arriving in Canaan was little more than a few confused sheep. A once vibrant urban society, Canaan had long since disintegrated into an utterly insignificant hodgepodge of far flung villages. In short, concerned friends and relatives may well have concluded that Abraham (or Abram) was perhaps in the midst of a mid-life crisis and would benefit from a Thorazine drip and some time off.

Abraham, however, was driven by an insatiable impulse, ignited by a divine spark. Today, Israel remains a catalyst for profound change. What draws Jews from Calgary to Johannesburg – born, bred and educated in lands with virtually no historical, linguistic, religious or cultural connection to Israel – to take the plunge?

Many rationalizations come to mind. However, behind the colorful Nefesh B’Nefesh ad campaigns, Talmudic quotations, Biblical justifications and historic bonds of memory, perhaps the reason that Jewish people are attracted to Israel is the prospect of finally reaching a state of inner calm. For the silky smooth suits provided by living in certain progressive, free and affluent gentile lands ultimately prevent us from wholly living in our Jewish skin.

Israel may not shine in the light of unprecedented prosperity. Israel may not be blessed with the safety provided by surrounding oceans or accommodating neighbors. In fact, life in Israel can often leave one in dire need of a Thorazine drip – and some time off.

However, the nation that essentially began as the vision of a solitary Babylonian today exudes unsurpassed warmth and a powerful ability to reinvent.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/reinvented-by-israel/2012/10/23/

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