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May 25, 2015 / 7 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish History’

Was the Holocaust Punishment for Sin?

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

For so many people religion is practiced out of a sense superstition. Like a furry rabbit’s foot, it wards off evil spirits. Fulfilling the word of God keeps you from experiencing bad things. So what happens when you’re religious and those bad things happen anyway? It must be because you sinned.

I continue to be amazed at how many people see God as “the great blackmailer in the sky,” a term I first heard from the atheist Oxford philosopher Jonathan Glover in a debate I moderated between him and my friend Dennis Prager. God threatens us with death and suffering unless we follow His will. Insofar as I have recently published a full length book refuting this idea, both Biblically and logically, I will not here address it, other than to focus on the most insidious permutation thereof. And that is the belief that the Holocaust was punishment for Jewish sin.

No doubt you’ve heard this argument before. It’s straightforward and it goes like this. The Jews of Germany didn’t want to be Jewish any more. They wanted to be more German than the Germans. They changed their names. They assimilated. They married out. The reform movement, which started in Germany in about 1820, expunged all mention of Zion and Jerusalem from its prayer book. Germany and Berlin were the new promised land. In short, the Jews of Germany abandoned God. Worse, they thought they could get away with it. So God decided to teach them a lesson. Just try and forget Me. Here, have a few gas chambers. Let’s see how independent you feel when you’re incarcerated behind barbed wire? Let’s see how much you love Germany when they collectively slaughter your children.

I’ve heard many variations on this theme. One is that it wasn’t assimilation and attachment to Germany that brought the Holocaust, but the exact opposite. The Jews were punished for secular Zionism and an attempt to return to the ancient homeland without divine assistance. Another variation, which I heard just recently and supposedly exists on a tape from one of the great Jewish scholars of the 20th century, was that the only way the Jews would ever give up their deep, emotional attachment to the great Torah centers of Europe, like Lithuania, was to see their neighbors shoot their own parents.

Whatever the variation on this theme of the Holocaust as punishment, let’s be clear. These theories are ignorant, repulsive, and wrong. Ignorant because no human being knows the mind of God. Repulsive because they take six million innocent martyrs – including 1.5 million children – and turn them into culprits responsible for their own deaths. Wrong because they ignore the most basic fact of all, which is this: the majority of German Jews survived Hitler, even though, of course, huge numbers perished.

In 1933 there were 522,000 Jews living in the Reich. By 1939 and the start of the Second World War, 304,000 had emigrated. Beginning in January 1933, when Hitler came to office in a torch lit parade down Unter den Linden, the Jews of Germany knew that they were in the hands of a monster. Almost immediately Jews were beaten in the streets, their businesses boycotted, their Synagogues attacked. By September, 1935 the Nuremberg race laws were enacted. By November 1938 the horrors of Kristallnacht defined the growing Nazi tyranny. And throughout, the Jews of Germany tried to get out. They knew they were otherwise doomed. And while the nations of the world closed so many doors to them, the majority managed to escape.

The people who did not escape were, among so many other millions, the Hassidim and ultra-religious Jews of Poland who had no idea that Hitler had signed a secret pact with Stalin to partition Poland. They had no inkling of Hitler’s plan to invade via blitzkrieg on 1 September, 1939 and that they would be caught in his web.

Are we to believe that these Jews who were devout and pious, with deeply sounding Jewish names, who observed the minutiae of Jewish law pertaining to kosher and the Sabbath and prayed thrice daily for the Jewish return to Zion were punished with extinction while the “sinful” culprits of German Jewry mostly survived? And what of the more than one million children who were gassed and cremated who were utterly innocent of every sin?

History of Israel: Snow in the Summer

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Has it ever snowed in Israel in the summer?

Two people have reported snow in the month of Sivan (late May-early June), though in both cases, it was hearsay.

The first is Rabbi Moshe Basula (Moses ben Mordecai Bassola), who visited the ancient synagogues in Bar’am in the early 1500s and wrote as follows (translation mine):

On the lintel of the smaller entrance it is inscribed in Hebrew “May G-d give peace to this place and to all the places of Israel.” And I was told that on another stone which had fallen down was written “Don’t be surprised about snow in the month of Nissan, we’ve seen it in Sivan.”

The Hebrew inscription is unusual, as most inscriptions in Byzantine synagogues are in Aramaic. The synagogue was researched in the late 19th century, but by 1907 there was nothing left of its stones. The local Arab villagers had destroyed it completely and ransacked it for building materials. The “snow” inscription was never found. The lintel inscription is on display in the Louvre.

The synagogue entrance, circa 1882
The inscription

 

The second to report snow in the summer was Joseph (Yehoseph) Schwarz, the father of Jewish research of the land of Israel. In his book “Tevu’ot ha-Areẓ” (The Bounty of the Land, published in English as well), he says as follows (translation mine):

In 1844 it snowed a bit on the night and morning of April 11 (22 of Nissan) [… Schwarz then goes on to bring various examples of snowy years…]. In 1754 there was a lot of snow and it was very cold, and so 25 people died in the Galilee in Nazareth of the cold, and I heard from an old man that the snow continued that year until the month of Sivan [late May], and there was barely a minyan that year on Shavuot in the synagogue here in Jerusalem, because that night it snowed so much that barely anybody could go out for morning prayers.

Visit The Muqata.

The Deeper Meanings of Shavuot

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Based on the Jewish Sages.

1.   Shavuot (Pentecost) was, originally, an agricultural holiday, celebrating the first harvest/fruit by bringing offerings (Bikkurim-ביכורים) to the Temple in Jerusalem.  Following the destruction of the second Temple and the resulting exile in 70 AD – which raised the need to entrench Torah awareness in order to avoid spiritual and physical oblivion – Shavuot became a historical/religious holiday of the Torah.  The Torah played a key role in shaping the U.S. Constitution and the American culture, as well as the foundations of Western democracies.

Shavuot is celebrated by decorating homes and houses of worship with Land of Israel-related crops and flowers, demonstrating the 3,500 year old connection between the Land of Israel (pursued by Abraham), the Torah of Israel (transmitted by Moses) and the People of Israel (united by David).  Shavuot is the holiday of humility, as befits the Torah values, Moses (“the humblest of all human beings), the humble Sinai desert and Mt. Sinai, a modest, non-towering mountain.  Abraham, David and Moses are role models of humility and their Hebrew acronym (Adam – אדמ) means “human-being.”  Humility constitutes a prerequisite for studying the Torah, for constructive human relationships and a prerequisite to effective leadership.

Shavuot – a spiritual holiday – follows Passover – a national liberation holiday: from physical liberation (the Exodus) to spiritual liberation/enhancement (the Torah), in preparation for the return to the Homeland.

2. The holiday has 7 names: The fiftieth (חמישים), Harvest (קציר), Giving of the Torah (מתן תורה), Shavuot (שבועות), Offerings (ביכורים), Rally (עצרת) and Assembly (הקהל).  The Hebrew acronym of the seven names is “The Constitution of the Seven” – חקת שבעה.

Shavuot reflects the centrality of “seven” in Shavuot and Judaism.  The Hebrew root of Shavuot (שבועות) is the word/number Seven (שבע – Sheva), which is also the root of “vow” (שבועה – Shvuah), “satiation” (שובע – Sova) and “week” (שבוע Shavuah). Shavuot is celebrated 7 weeks following Passover. God employed 7 earthly attributes to create the universe (in addition to the 3 divine attributes).  The Sabbath is the 7th day of the Creation in a 7 day weekThe first Hebrew verse in Genesis consists of 7 words. The 7 beneficiaries of the Sabbath are: you, your son and daughter, your male and female servants, your livestock and the stranger.  God created 7 universes – the 7th hosts the pure souls, hence“Seventh Heaven.” There are 7 compartments of hell. There are 7 basic human traits, which individuals are supposed to resurrect/adopt in preparation for Shavuot. 7 key Jewish/universal leaders - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aharon, Joseph and David – are commemorated as distinguished guests (Ushpizin in Hebrew) during the Tabernacle holiday, representing the 7 qualities of the Torah7 generations passed from Abraham to Moses. There are 7 species of the Land of Israel (barley, wheat, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and date/honey. In Hebrew, number 7 represents multiplication (שבעתיים–Shivatayim.  Grooms and Brides are blessed times. There are 7 major Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Tabernacles, Chanukah, Purim, Passover and Shavuot); 7 directions (north, south, west, east, up, down, one’s inside); 7 continents and 7 oceans and major seas in the globe; 7 world wonders7 notes in a musical scale; 7 days of mourning over the deceased; 7 congregants read the Torah on each Sabbath; 7 Jewish Prophetesses (Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, Abigail, Choulda and Esther); 7 gates to the Temple in Jerusalem; 7 branches in the Temple’s Menorah; and 7 Noah Commandments.  Moses’ birth and death day was on the 7th day of Adar.  Jethro had 7 names and 7 daughtersJoshuaencircled Jericho 7 times before the wall tumbled-down.  Passover and Sukkot (Tabernacles) last for 7 days each. The Yom Kippur prayers are concluded by reciting “God is the King” 7 times.  Each Plague lasted for 7 days.  Jubilee follows seven 7-year cycles. According to Judaism, slaves are liberated, and the soil is not-cultivated, in the 7th year. Pentecost is celebrated on the 7th Sunday after Easter.

3.  Shavuot is celebrated 50 days following Passover, the holiday of liberty.  The Jubilee– the cornerstone of liberty and the source of the inscription on the Liberty Bell (Leviticus 25:10) – is celebrated every 50 years. Judaism highlights the constant challenge facing human beings: the choice between the 50 gates of wisdom (the Torah) and the corresponding 50 gates of impurity (Biblical Egypt).  The 50th gate of wisdom is the gate of deliverance.  The USA is composed of 50 states.

4.  Shavuot sheds light on the unique covenant between the Jewish State and the USA: Judeo-Christian Values.  These values impacted the world view of the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers and the US Constitution, Bill of Rights, Separation of Powers, Checks & Balances, the abolitionist movement, etc. John Locke wanted the 613 Laws of Moses to become the legal foundation of the new society established in America. Lincoln’s famous 1863 quote paraphrased a statement made by the 14th century British philosopher and translator of the Bible, John Wycliffe: “The Bible is a book of the people, by the people, for the people.”

5.  Shavuot is the second of the 3 Jewish Pilgrimages (Sukkot -Tabernacles, Passover and Shavuot – Pentecost), celebrated on the 6th day of the 3rd Jewish month, Sivan.  It highlights Jewish Unity, compared by King Solomon to “a three folds cord, which is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).  The Torah – the first of the 3 parts of the Jewish Bible – was granted to the Jewish People (which consists of 3 components: Priests, Levites and Israel), by Moses (the youngest of 3 children, brother of Aharon and Miriam), a successor to the 3 Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and to Seth, the 3rd son of Adam and Eve.  The Torah was forged in 3 mannersFire (commitment to principles), Water (lucidity and purity) and Desert (humility and faith-driven defiance of odds). The Torah is one of the 3 pillars of healthy human relationships, along with labor and gratitude/charity. The Torah is one of the 3 pillars of Judaism, along with the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.

Capitalism and the Jews

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Is there a connection between capitalism and the Jews, or is this just an anti-Semitic canard? In the second part of this week’s Goldstein on Gelt show, Douglas Goldstein meets Professor Jerry Z. Muller of the Catholic University of America, who answers this question and more when he discusses his new book “Capitalism and the Jews.”

Lag BaOmer: The Fire Burns

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

The circle of men whirls around the fire, hand in hand, hand catching hand, drawing in newcomers into the ring that races around and around in the growing darkness. A melody thumps through the speakers teetering unevenly with the bass, the sound is both old and new, a mix of the past and the present, like the participants in the dance, the traditional garments mixing with jeans and t-shirts until it is all a blur.

It is Lag BaOmer, an obscure holiday to most, even to those who come to the fires. The remnants of the Jewish Revolt against the might of the Roman Empire are remembered as days of deprivation in memory of the thousands of students dying in the war, until the thirty-third day of the Biblical Omer, part of the way between Passover and Shavuot, the day when Jerusalem was liberated.

Deprived of music for weeks, it rolls back in waves through speakers, from horns blown by children and a makeshift drum echoing an ancient celebration when men danced around fires and shot arrows into the air. The fires and bows have remained a part of Lag BaOmer, even when hardly anyone remembers the true reason for them.

The new Yom Yerushalayim, the day of the liberation of the city, is coming up soon,  but the old Yom Yerushalaim, came thousands of years ago and ten days before it on the calendar. Time is a wheel, and, like a circle, everything comes around again. Hands pulling on hands, years pulling on years, on and on like the orbits of planets and stars. The Divine Hand of God pulls us along, and we pull each other in the dance of life.

The circle speeds up, men racing faster and faster, the children left behind, as the flames sputter and night falls. The rebellion, although bravely fought, failed, and Jerusalem fell again, and then Betar. The joy of the celebration turned to ashes, but, even in the shadow of the empire, their spirit endured. The stories were changed a little, the rebellion encoded into a story of Rabbi Akiva, the pivotal scholarly figure in the war, and of his students who perished because they had not been able to get along with one another. The failure of unity had been the underlying reason for the Roman conquest and the Jewish defeats. It is the ancient lesson still unlearned that the circle of the dance teaches us.

The Bar Kochba revolt was not the last time that Jews fought to liberate their land. It was not the last time that the gates of Jerusalem were thrown open to a Jewish army. The liberation of Jerusalem in 1967 was the fulfillment of a struggle that had been going on for nearly two thousand years, as empires and caliphates had claimed the land, planted their spears and rifles over its barren hills, and enforced their laws upon it. And if Jerusalem falls again, if Masada falls again, if we fall into the fire, then we will rise out of it again, less in number, less in memory, but still a circle.

Fresh from battle, the soldiers danced around the flames. They had defeated the legions of Rome, without any special training and with poor equipment, they had beaten the greatest army in the world. They had survived the flames and in an explosion of joy, they raced around the celebratory fires, tasting the momentary immortality of battle. Their names are forgotten, lost to memory. Lag BaOmer is associated now with two of Rome’s scholarly opponents, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who passed on the teachings and traditions that kept the circle intact even in the fire.

Wars are won and lost all the time. No victory, however significant, endures forever. There is no immortality in the victories of the flesh, only in the triumphs of the spirit. For all our losses, this circle is a victory, an ancient celebration of a spiritual triumph kept secret in the face of the enemy. The circle of clasped hands reminds us that against the dead hand of history, we have a Living Hand that guides us even in our darkest hours, in the smoke and flame, in the ash and fire.

Jews are Indigenous to the Land of Israel

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

No people in the world today have an older claim to the Land of Israel than the Jewish people do. The Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites, and Philistines do not exist in today’s world.

According to the American archaeologist Eric Cline, writing in Jerusalem Besieged,

Historians and archaeologists have generally concluded that most if not all modern Palestinians are probably more closely related to the Arabs of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, and other countries than they are to the ancient Jebusites, Canaanites and Philistines.

He claims that all of the ancient inhabitants of the Land of Israel, except for the Jews, have been vanquished.

Nevertheless, Cline says that, “Few would seriously challenge the belief that most modern Jews are descended from the ancient Hebrews.” Cline is backed up by a study that was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

After doing a detailed study titled “Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry,” scientific research found that “Jews originated as a national and religious group in the Middle East during the second millennium BCE and have maintained continuous genetic, cultural, and religious traditions since that time, despite a series of Diasporas.” Thus, given this, it has been established that most Jews are descended from the ancient Israelites that have lived in the Land of Israel since antiquity.

One of the earliest archaeological proofs for the existence of the Jewish nation in the land of Israel can be found in Egypt, where a victory monument of Pharaoh Merneptah claims that the Egyptians defeated the Israelites in about the year 1207 BCE.

Inside the Israel Museum today, one can find an Aramaic inscription proving that the House of King David really existed. One can also witness within the Israel Museum a cuneiform inscription in which Assyrian King Sennacherib bragged about how he defeated the Kingdom of Judah. He proclaimed, “And Hezekiah, King of Judah, who did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to countless small villages in their vicinity. I besieged them and conquered them.” None of these archaeological relics would have existed if there weren’t an ancient Jewish kingdom within the Land of Israel.

Indeed, in 66 BCE, Israel had a population of 3 to 4 million souls, of whom 75 percent were Jewish. Jews remained the majority of the population up until 135 CE, when Roman persecutions transformed the Jews into a minority within their own country. From that point onward, the majority of the population in Israel would comprise of Hellenistic Christians.

By the seventh century, only 150,000 to 200,000 Jews continued to live in Eretz Yisrael. And by 1517, following the Black Plague and the Crusades, only 300,000 people lived in the Land of Israel, of whom 5,000 were Jews. For the first time in history, Muslims became the majority population within the country under Ottoman rule, although many more Muslims would migrate to the Holy Land throughout the Ottoman period up until the conclusion of the British Mandate. Most modern Palestinians are descended from these recent Muslim migrants. During Ottoman times, Jews continued to live in their ancestral homeland, although significantly reduced in size.

Since the Roman expulsion Jewish prayer liturgy has been filled with references of the yearning the Jewish people to return back to their ancient homeland, and for the past 2000 years the Jewish people have prayed at least three times a day to return from their exile.

In 1948 David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, expressed the Jewish peoples indigenous claim and connection to the Land of Israel when he read the Israeli Declaration of Independence in which it is stated:

ERETZ-ISRAEL (the Land of Israel) was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books. After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom. Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses.

The declaration then announced “the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel to be known as the State of Israel. … Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles.”

The Story of Israel’s Independence

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Scene 1

Enter the shackled. Enter the despondent, wretched souls. Enter the man and woman, boy and girl, deemed “menace to society,” destined to roam endlessly about. Number the stars upon their lapels and the Chai’s upon the chains that grace their necks. Note the fire in their eyes and the resilience in their hearts. See the laws they transcribed from the lips of Hashem, the bulwark of civilization.

Let the backdrop be constructed, the set pieces raised onstage. Livid and malevolent minor characters fill the void, the dark world of apathy and contempt. They seek redemption, to purge themselves from their nightmares and their guilty conscience. They would fly away if they had the means. But instead, they gather scapegoats and project their hate onto the usual suspects. These be our antagonists.

Scene 2

Enter the dreamer, the conceiver of a noble and ambitious project. Distraught over the subjugation of his people, he deems it necessary to act and to will the dream into being. There are no doubts in his mind, no second thoughts. He is sure of the task in front of him and the weight he must carry. The weight of millions alive and yet to be born. He is blessed with a burden, an obligation to freedom. He yearns for the soil, the earth that gave birth to his people.  That old-new land inspires the once and future kings and queens of Zion.

Our protagonists dash. Like lightning, they hurry across the stage. They ascend and journey to that land, that they read of in their Book, that land that they dreamed of in their slumber, that they trembled for, that they dared to desire in Godforsaken places, where evil men attempted to quench their spirit. “Next year,” they whispered. “Next year in Jerusalem.” They come and go in waves. They come by the thousands. But the dream is not yet fully realized.

Scene 3

Let the lights be dimmed and the sea of humanity be tossed and turned about. Let the audience wretch at the putrid stench of the bodies stacked miles high. Feel the flames of the ovens as the sparks hit your flesh. Hear these screams, these shrieks that will remain nameless, faceless. A grandmother here or there. A young boy cursed by his age. A Rabbi made to dig his own grave. A ravine from which they must all jump. Breathe in this air, this foul air. Let it consume your lungs. But avert not your eyes, for you must always remember this, this carnage, this culmination of libels and pogroms. Etch these souls onto your bones. See this and engrave these six million in your heart.

Look how our protagonists now command the world’s attention. See how the globe convulses at its crimes. Of apathy. Of evil. Of genocide. Yet, see how the longing for the land increases, how determination abounds. Let the new Exodus begin, the glorious journey to Zion. Let the ground bring forth its food and the towers be constructed. Let the ancient settlements spring forth anew and the first to Zion rejoice. Let humanity sing, and The City of Peace be painted in gold. For our protagonists have done it. They have triumphed.

Epilogue

This is for you. This is for you, oh man and woman, boy and girl. I can trace the laugh lines of your 65 years across your beautiful terrain. I know your worth and your virtue. They speak of you in paradise. Your spirit is infinite.

So take my hand and walk this land with me. For this is a production of epic proportions. This is Judah’s manifest destiny. This is the uncanny persistence of his youth, the anthem of his old. The memory of his fallen, the battle cry of his founders. The depth of his texts, the blast of his trumpet. This is the no more huddled, no more wretched. This is Judah’s voice, no longer whispered but bellowed. No longer stifled but liberated. So sing it, scream it, shout it until your lungs bursts, not of gas but of joy. Not of sorrow but of delight. Let Judah roar and his enemies quiver in fear and let the song of his people resound throughout the earth. Am Yisrael Chai.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/guest-blog/the-story-of-israels-independence/2013/04/19/

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