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January 21, 2017 / 23 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘New Testament’

Dennis Prager, the Torah, and Me

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

The happiest part of my day, every day, is studying the Torah (chapter and verse) with Dennis Prager (audio available here).

He dedicates about an hour and a half to each chapter in the Torah, and reveals astonishing levels of depth and delight that are contained in each verse.

I thank God each day for His teachings (the Torah) and I thank God each day for His teacher (Dennis Prager).

But there is a danger.  Because I know that I have certain weaknesses.

Throughout my life, I have always been drawn to great speakers.  As a word-lover, I have to keep an eye on this predisposition, the same way a wine-lover must be careful about that second glass.

And so I ask myself: do I love Dennis Prager – the teacher, the speaker – or do I love the Torah that he teaches?

After much introspection, I can honestly say: it’s the Torah I love.

No offense to Dennis Prager, but the great Christian Pastor John Hagee (founder of Christians United For Israel (CUFI)) is a better speaker than Dennis Prager.  I have worked with Pastor John Hagee (writing for the CUFI magazine The Torch), I have attended his sermons in San Antonio, I have read his books, downloaded his podcasts, and watched his programs on TV.  Before I decided to become a Jew, I gave Christianity, and especially Pastor John Hagee, a fair hearing.  I even used the Old Testament of Pastor Hagee’s Prophesy Bible for some of my Torah studies (the translation is quite good).  I even flipped ahead and gave the New Testament a try.

But, even when spoken by the great Pastor John Hagee, the New Testament failed to resonate with me.  Unlike the Torah, which lit up every part of me.

The verdict is in:

I love the way you teach, Mr. Prager.  But I love the Torah that you teach even more.

Not a Jew -> Jew

Interfaith Medieval Artistic Collaborations Shed Light on Spanish Jewish-Christian Relations

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Uneasy Communion: Jews, Christians and the Altarpieces of Medieval Spain

Through May 30, 2010

Museum of Biblical Art

1865 Broadway at 61st Street, New York




In 1393, two years after the worst pogroms in Spanish history, the Jewish artist Abraham de Salinas accepted a commission to paint a New Testament-themed retablo, a work placed behind a church altar, for the cathedral of San Salvador. Another Jewish artist, the silversmith Bonaf?s Abenxueu (sometimes referred to as Bonaf?s Abenxueu), created the frame for the retablo. As Vivian B. Mann notes in her essay “Jews and Altarpieces in Medieval Spain,” part of the catalog for the current show at the Museum of Biblical Art, Saragossa, where the two artists lived, was one of two cities whose Jewish populations escaped the 1391 pogroms. But even if Abraham, Bonaf?s and their neighbors were safe, how could they be so callous as to accept commissions from representatives of the very church which had turned a blind eye on the massacre of their fellow Jews just one year after their aveilut had finished?

Mann does not explain how the two artists were able to sleep at night – it is beyond the scope of her essay – but she notes that Abraham de Salinas went on to paint two more retablos for another Saragossa church (San Felipe) and another retablo and an altarpiece for the church of La Puebla de Alborton. Mann’s point, and one of the great insights of “Uneasy Communion,” is that it was not unusual for Jewish artists living under the Crown of Aragon in the 14th and 15th centuries to work for churches. “That Abraham de Salinas was given the commissions just mentioned, including repeat commissions from the same churches, testifies both to the fact that he was esteemed as a painter, and that he was able to produce various Christological themes that satisfied his patrons,” writes Mann in the catalog.


Mann also argues that the MOBIA show takes advantage of an opportunity that historians of the Medieval period have missed. “None of the historians concerned with the nature of Jewish-Christian coexistence in the 14th and 15th centuries have analyzed the art of the period and the history of its production as a source for understanding relationships between Christians and Jews,” she writes, “or as evidence for knowledge of one another’s religion.”



Levi ben Isaac ben Caro. “Moreh Nevukhim” (Guide to the Perplexed) by Maimonides. Barcelona, 1348. Ink and gouache on vellum. 8 x 5 in. Det Kongelige Bibliotek, Copenhagen. Cod. Heb. XXXVII, fol. 114.


When that study is conducted, Mann suggests, not only does one find Jewish (and converso) artists working on Christian themes, but the reverse as well. Illuminations in Jewish manuscripts were often created by Christian artists, as was the case with a 1348 manuscript of Maimonides’ Moreh Nevukhim (Guide to the Perplexed). The Hebrew text was produced by the Jewish scribe Levi ben Isaac ben Caro, but the artist is identified as Ferrer Bassa (c. 1285 – 1348), a Christian. Bassa was chief artist of an atelier, or workshop, which was commissioned to create both Jewish and Christian art, including a 14th century altarpiece and a Byzantine depiction of the symbols of the four Evangelists.


These collaborations yield fascinating details like Talmudic references in a New Testament-themed retablo which depicts St. John as the Jewish high priest on Yom Kippur. John, inappropriately wearing both the priestly costumes at once (the white and the gold garments), stands in the Holy of Holies and addresses an angel. Five other figures stand outside the Holy of Holies (though there is no curtain separating them from John, and one of them holds a golden chain which is attached to John’s leg).


This is no doubt, according to Mann, that this a reference to the Talmud in tractate Yoma, which states that during a period where unworthy men were buying the position of high priest (and being killed for their sins on Yom Kippur when they entered the Holy of Holies), the priests used to tie a rope or a chain to the high priest’s ankle so that if need be, his corpse could be pulled out without anyone else having to enter the Holy of Holies. (I see that Ari Zivotofsky, of Bar-Ilan University, has argued convincingly on the Orthodox Union website in “What’s the Truth About the Kohen Gadol’s Rope?” that the Talmud does not in fact recount this story and that it does not make sense for a variety of reasons. The reference comes instead from the Zohar, Rabbi Zivotofsky claims.)


Miguel Jimenez and Martin Bernat. “Saint Helena Interrogating Judas.” 1485-87.

Oil on panel. 77 x 45 x 5 in. Museo de Zragoza, Saragossa.

According to Mann, the figures looking out the windows in the background represent Jewish women, who were not represented much in Spanish art before the late 14th century.


Wherever the reference comes from, Mann sees this as indication that Jews, who were very familiar with Jewish texts, had a hand in forming or conceptualizing the image. Mann does not wonder whether there is an anti-Christian reference in the suggestion that John was potentially unworthy of the high priesthood and that his corpse might have had to be extracted by being dragged out. That, in my mind, is the only criticism of an otherwise fascinating and creative exhibition. It gets confusing to keep track of which artists identified as Jews and which were conversos. Surely converted Jews had different pictorial motives than Jews who still practiced Judaism, and although “Uneasy Communion” charts new territory in identifying otherwise unknown relationships between Jewish and Christian artists and patrons, I was very curious about the nature of those relationships.


For example, Mann sees Jewish hands in Gon?al Peris’ c. 1420 altarpiece, because the Jewish “doctors” confronting Jesus in the image hold books with true Hebrew letters. Mann suggests that Peris may have been connected with the de Levi atelier. A 1403-11 altarpiece by Pere Serra, Guerau Gener and Llu?s Borrass? shows true Hebrew in the depiction of the Ten Commandments in “A Disputation between Moses and Saint Peter,” which Thomas F. Glick discusses in his catalog essay in reference to interfaith debates like that of Nachmanides and Paulo Christiani. Mann, who says the image is probably a debate between the converso Petrus Alfonsi before (when he was named Moses) and after his conversion, notes that the 1403 altarpiece shows true Hebrew on the tablets, but the scroll which should bear Latin letters is empty.


Miguel Jimenez and Martin Bernat. Altarpiece. “The Prophets Malachi, Daniel and Ezekiel.” 1485-87. Oil on panel. 25 x 60 in. Museo de Zaragoza, Saragossa.


“Saint Peter’s empty scroll indicates the artist’s ignorance of Latin, but that he was knowledgeable about Hebrew is shown by the Commandments inscribed on Moses’ tablets,” Mann writes. Never mind that the Hebrew inscription, though mostly correctly formed (some of the letters are inconsistent, and the tracking seems to indicate the artist could not anticipate the proper spacing), does not properly fill the two tablets. The commandments read from right to left across both tablets, so that the rightmost tablet gets commandments one, three, five, seven and nine, while the even-numbered commandments appear on the left tablet. Would an artist who knew Hebrew inscribe the letters as such?


The 1420 altarpiece is even worse. If one looks closely enough at the Hebrew inscriptions in the books held by the “doctors,” the Jewish elders, the letters are indeed properly formed, but the inscriptions are gibberish. Some of the vowels improperly appear above rather than below the letters, and the artist has represented just a handful of different letters. Unless the inscription is a Kabbalistic chant with which I am not familiar, the inscription contains true Hebraic letters, but cannot be said to be truly Hebraic.


Clearly, there is more work to be done in discovering ow much the artists actually knew of Jewish scripture and the Hebrew language. But the curators at the Museum of Biblical Art (and Mann in particular) deserve a lot of praise for this thought-provoking and very original exhibition.


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.  He lives in Washington, D.C.

Menachem Wecker

Title: A Moral Reckoning, The Role Of The Catholic Church In The Holocaust And Its Unfulfilled Duty Of Repair

Wednesday, May 12th, 2004

Title: A Moral Reckoning, The Role Of The Catholic Church In The Holocaust And Its Unfulfilled Duty Of Repair
Author: Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York, N.Y.


When The Jewish Press reviewed the original (hardcover) edition of  “A Moral Reckoning” nearly two years ago, Daniel Goldhagen was already well-known for his first book, “Hitler’s
Willing Executioners”. His second book, “A Moral Reckoning”, engendered an unimaginably vitriolic response from the “defenders of the faith” whom Goldhagen chastised.

In light of the current popularity of Mel Gibson’s The Passion, as well as a newly updated edition of the book, we believe it worthwhile to take another look.

The paperback edition of A Moral Reckoning contains a new chapter and afterword not in the first edition. Much of our first review follows, with additional remarks:

Having grown up in America, together with many Irish and Italian Catholic friends, I never quite understood why my grandmother used to spit in the direction of a Catholic church
whenever she passed one on the street. After I read Daniel Goldhagen’s book, A Moral Reckoning, I am beginning to understand.

The short basis of the whole story is that Roman Catholicism and some Protestant denominations have taught their adherents a theory of supercessionism: that Jews cannot attain “grace” unless we submit to the acceptance of the worship of a Jewish carpenter as the “son” of G-d.

Many of us have never explored the canons of other religions and may be unaware of their teachings. Catholicism, which accepts our Bible only as their “Old Testament,” only adheres to
literal interpretations, vastly misconstruing many of the commandments and writings which have been explained and interpreted in the Oral Torah.

Even after the Shoah, Catholic schoolchildren were still being taught that the Jewish community of two millennia ago condemned Jesus of Nazareth to being crucified and killed by the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. According to Church teachings, they not only demanded his condemnation and eventual death but also accepted his blood on their own hands and on those of their still unborn children and their descendants. Aside from the
falseness of many of the details, this ignores the fact that the Torah, accepted by Christians as their “Old Testament,” explicitly exempts children from being blamed for the sins of their parents.

Goldhagen, who is also the author of Ordinary Germans and The Holocaust, places the primary responsibility for the Holocaust at the hands of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church for having created an atmosphere of intolerance toward Jews throughout Western history.

Not only has the Roman Catholic Church taught their adherents, and especially their young children, to hate and despise Jews; they promulgated special laws and rules that kept Jews
locked away in ghettos and treated them not even as second-class citizens, but as non-entities.

One of the first things that Goldhagen demands of the Church is admission of past errors as a first step toward remission.

Unfortunately, as A Moral Reckoning makes clear, so far the Church has an unfulfilled duty of repair. He says that there are some good people of the Church who would like to do the “right
things,” but that “politics” are preventing their efforts from coming to fruition.

He takes to task such halfhearted attempts to deal with their transgressions as “Vatican II,” and berates the Church for their steps toward at beatification and appointment to sainthood of
some of their luminaries such as Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) – to whom Goldhagen attributes primary responsibility for sins of omission during the Shoah.

The book is divided into four parts: Part One delineates the issues; Part Two describes the actions and inactions (the acts of commission and of omission); Part Three weighs the responsibility of the players (“agents”) and Part Four calls for material, political and moral restitution.

There continues a steady stream of Holocaust literature, well after more than half a century after the close of the event, including many apologias sponsored by the Roman Catholic
Church and others. Strangely, there are few apologists for the primary perpetrators – the Germans who spawned the Nazi government which wiped out more than one-third of our people. Anti-Semitic speech and actions are civil and criminal offenses in Germany, which has provided many millions of dollars in restitution to the Jewish people (basically in the form of payments of support to Israel).

Must we ask any less from the Roman Catholic Church? First – an abject admission of guilt and an authentic apology; then, restitution. Perhaps they could even give us back our Temple
Menorah and other objects that were stolen from Jerusalem, and which are reputed to currently reside in a Vatican warehouse.

In the paperback’s Afterword, Mr. Goldhagen describes some of his experiences after the publication of A Moral Reckoning, including attempts at interfaith dialogue with representatives and officials of the Catholic Church. He comes away very disappointed
that although he has found many people of good will, many prelates and Church fathers still maintain positions and anti-Semitic attitudes he considers to have been a basic cause of
the Shoah.

Basically, Goldhagen accuses the New Testament gospels of untruthful testimony. He notes that the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations have continued to rely on these
false testimonies to engender the continuation of prejudice and hate against the Jewish people. Whatever agenda the early Church fathers may have had in their attempts to gain supremacy
for the new Christian faith, that agenda should certainly be rescinded as dishonest in its implication of the entire Jewish people in the crucifixion, torture and death of Jesus.

Similar to our need to be able to reply to other false testimonies, such as The Protocols of The Elders of Zion (see Dismantling The Big Lie, Jacobs & Weitzman, 2003, Wiesenthal
Center, New York, NY), we need to be prepared to respond to the lies perpetrated by the gospels of the New Testament. It is unfortunate that when a Christian promises to tell “the Gospel truth” he or she is relying on a metaphor of truth based upon a falsehood.

Aharon Ben Anshel

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/title-a-moral-reckoning-the-role-of-the-catholic-church-in-the-holocaust-and-its-unfulfilled-duty-of-repair/2004/05/12/

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