Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Stowing the Cross

Maybe it’s because I live in a very secular community. Or maybe it’s because I am a Canadian, and therefore, being or making nice means coupling it with accommodation for anyone’s values or feelings. This is probably the closest we come to a defining national characteristic. Or maybe it’s because I am so use to reform rabbis leading the interfaith dialogue but I find myself standing in awe of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi who is currently in charge of the Kotel. Jerusalem Post:
Ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's May visit to Israel, the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, has said that it is not proper to come to the site wearing a cross. The pope wears a cross in all public appearances and is slated to visit the Western Wall on May 12 after a meeting with Muslim religious leaders at the Dome of the Rock. After the visit, which will include a meeting with Rabinovitch, the pope is slated to meet with Israel's two chief rabbis, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar.

"My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross," said Rabinovitch in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post Monday. "I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church."
I realize when Ann Coulter suggested that Christians were ‘perfected Jews’ most Christians objected to her choice of language and the chutzpah with which she was put forth the idea. But really people – Coulter had a point and she was standing on much firmer Christian theological ground than many of her Christian critics lead on. There was a lot of fuzzy theological wishy-washy mumbo-jumbo criticizing Ann Coulter’s position and thrown into the mix was a great lot of fast talkin’ from Christians who were trying to assure Jews it was okay for them to be Jews - in-the-Jesus-loves-you-anyway-kind-of-vein-even-if-you-are-wrong-about-the-whole-covenant-deal. Just forget about the nearly 2,000 years of forced conversions and prosecutions – m’okay?

I found it embarrassing to watch and read. My position is simply this; if you are a Christian and you follow the tenets of your beliefs – so be it. Skip with the apologies. One only need apologize if one is wrong and not for what believes is right. It goes without saying I believe you are wrong, but again, I won’t apologize for believing I am right. Although, I admit I find it embarrassing and enormously frustrating watching rabbis trying to reconcile and accommodate Christianity with Judaism in the public domain. To date, I have not read, met or heard one rabbi who can do it with any degree of intellectual honesty.

What I don’t fully comprehend is the rationale or purpose of the leader of a Christian church to come to one of the holiest sites in Judaism to pray. I can understand why a Jew does it, and I can understand why a Noahide would do it, and I can even understand why a Christian would be curious to visit and see the Kotel – if only for its historical significance. I readily admit the thought of a Christian praying at the Kotel brings out the same reaction in me that running into the Jews for Jesus crowd does – it sets my teeth to grate. You have to understand that bringing a set of beliefs which are in direct contradiction to the Torah and the Talmud and praying with those beliefs in your heart while literally standing at the bastion of Zion isn’t just insulting but offensive. It does no honour to either of us. So as to the cross – keep it for the Vatican and the throne of St. Peter’s. And to Rabbi Rabinovitch – Kol hakavod!


Comrade Tovya said...

I'm glad they intend to prevent him from wearing the cross at the Kotel. It's good to see them show some backbone and keep some principals.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

Isn't it though. In a way, its rather refreshing.

Comrade Tovya said...

Yes, highly refreshing. I just hope that the decision sticks, and it doesn't turn into some contraversy where the government backs down and allows him to anyway.

I guess we shall see...

GenX at 40 said...

Would it be the same if a Scots Presby like myself were to pray at such a spot that (as far as spots go) also holds strong spiritual importance for me given the whole cross Jerusalem connection? Forget dopey Coulter and her error that being a Christian is "perfected" anything (read Job on that... because Job speaks to Christians). And forget the Pope and all the (by definition not to mention practice) imperfect civic authority that goes along with that (see, I continue the protest).

But if a tenent of my belief is co-located with a tenant in yours geographically, does one of us trump the other here or there? You may say "yes" but could you say why "yes"? Would it still matter if you knew there was absolutely nothing wrong with a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church? I am not giving you the gears but while I get the idea of the Pope not being in that space as Pope, I don't understand how being there as a person of faith and a faith related to that place is at odds.

Happy to be admonished.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

Alan, well at least your glad to be admonished – this makes a pleasant change for me or us!.

And I am going to preface all my remarks from a position of orthodoxy. While belief, traditions and practices differ in the various streams of Judaism, and it can be argued that orthodoxy is not the only Jewish practice, there is no question from any stream of Judaism that orthodoxy is unquestionably a Jewish practice.

Actually, there is a great deal wrong with a Jew wearing tallit and donning tefillin (or phylacteries) in a church and it is expressively forbidden. In fact, orthodoxy dictates a Jew never enters a mosque, church or place of worship of any other religion - let alone to daven there.

Job speaks to Christians; well frankly, I don’t see it and think it a mite presumptuous to make that claim. The problem I have with discussing theology with Christians is one of language and resources. For example, most Christians will accept per say the validity of the Torah (in some regard) but reject outright the Oral law. Why that is I don’t fully understand since both were given at the Sinai and how Christians can understand and allegedly accept Torah without knowing the Oral law as well has always been a bit of a mystery to me – perhaps you can explain it.

Let me give you another example, there is no concept of ‘original sin’ in Judaism. It just does not exist unless it is the first sin an individual born into the world commits, but one of the hinges of Christianity is the concept of original sin and the need to be wiped clean from the taint of original sin. Where the Christians came up with that idea I have never really figured out – especially given the claim Christianity comes from Judaism. If anything, it appears to me Christianity cherry picks and/or perverts basic premises in Jewish belief.

Let me give you another example - ‘Satan’ in Christianity is an angel and angels are beings which work as celestial messengers from G-d. I trust, we are still on the same page but this is way we are going to differ. In Judaism the name ‘Satan’ comes from HaSatan and the root ‘S-T-N means ‘the Adversary’ but Christians interpret Satan as a disobedient rebellious angel who is an Adversary of G-d rather than the Adversary of Man. In fact, Jews believe Hashem created both good and evil and HaSatan is incapable of rebelling or disobedience against the will of G-d, furthermore, HaSatan plays the role of crown prosecutor for G-d and part of his role as the adversary of man is to offer temptation but he cannot make you sin – only your own inclination and the exercising your free will can make one do that - nor is there a celestial war between the forces of G-d (good) and Devil (evil) for your soul.

My point being, a religious observant Torah/Talmud schooled Jew cannot recognize his G-d in your most basic beliefs. It is far too alien, and yet you claim kinship. Now back to your original two part question and this is probably where I give offense (if I haven’t already). While I recognize Christian belief dictates Christianity sprang from Judaism, and Christians believe their worship the same god, Jewish orthodoxy does not. Does one tenet trump another? Yes it does and it comes down to a question of ownership. The original covenant expressively established Eretz Yisrael for Yisrael. The Kotel or western wall is the remnant of the Jewish Temple of Eretz Yisrael. It holds special religious significance for Jews but what holiness or innate religious significance is there for Christians to be found there within your beliefs?

Look, do you hear the Chief Rabbi of Israel demanding a place or standing on par with the Pope in the Vatican or St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Kingston?

Both are considered ‘holy’ places, devoted to the worshipping of a ‘god-type’ figure as a creator of the universe? I suspect the very idea would set many sets of teeth grating but a Jew or a Rabbi would never do it because one cannot find or recognize Hashem of the Jews within your beliefs.

I distinctly said I can understand why a Noahide would come to the Kotel to pray to Hashem but a Noahide is not a Christian, and yet, neither is he/she a Jew. Why a Noahide and not a Christian? Because a Noahide recognizes the same attributes and nature of G-d that Jews do. A Noahide accepts Torah and Talmud and does not try to supplement, change or twist the law. Maybe it would be easier to understand if I suggested a Hindu come and set up a shrine to pray to the Hindu Vishnu at the Kotel?

Despite Christian claims of kinship to the Jews, you might as well be a Hindu as it comes down to much the same kind of thing for a Jew – both are fruits while some are apples and the others oranges. And since the Kotel is an ancient Jewish holy place (and far more ancient than Christianity is) - is it right and proper for a Jew to allow worship in this place which is the anti-thesis of Judaism because you make a claim of spiritual kinship that is not recognized under Jewish law? As a Jew, do not Jews have the right to decide in their holy places what is right and proper according to their tenets and beliefs systems? Or is this one of those things every other religious group gets but Jews don’t? But what is far more interesting question to me - is why this need exists to lay claim kinship to the Jews and covet their holy places when most are content to live in ignorance of Jewish beliefs.

GenX at 40 said...

Happy to be no longer admonishing or admonished. You earned it. Your response is also very helpful. Here are my comments and also keep in mind I come from my particular point of view which is fairly distant from Papal Rome and also reflects me being a Minister's kid which means I played with Bible concordances as a child:

- what I meant about a Jew attending a church was from a Christian point of view. I have attended Jewish services, Catholic services and maybe a few others and would consider them all equally "not mine but fine". But I take your clarification from the Jewish perspective.
- the oral law is identified as accepted in the Gospels but what I call the Old Testament is clearly held in higher regard. Note also that this differs from Christian group to Christian group. We Scots Presbies are extremely close to the Old Testament and in no way, as I once heard, use "old" as a pejorative. The "new" testament is supposed to be a revelation of the fulfillment of the "old" so that there is a thematic continuity from creation to the present via the three persons of the one God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- so, as a result, that the Book of Job or any part of the Old Testament speaks to me is my old business and that of my sect of Christians. But I am actually very unclear as to the relationship between the Torah and the Old Testament and how close the texts are.
- original sin is again variable from sect to sect. It has weighed downs some parts of Calvinist protestantism while largely dismissed by US conservative evangelicals once they are "saved". And these changes not only are cherry picking of Judaism but also take from the cultural traditions of each sect. Scots are dour. Southern African Baptists are exuberant. Central American aboriginal Roman Catholics are extremely mystical. These things seep into the theology.
- I am not sure about angels. Angels and saints are very Catholic. Conversely, my clan McLeod has a tradition that we married into the elvish folk in the middle ages and, if I am honest, I see no reason not to believe it as part of my cultural tradition. "McLeod" was actually formed as a clan of Norwegians what move the the Islands of Scotland to avoid the demand to take on Christianity in around 1250. That all may sound silly and contradictory but Scots highlanders are very silly and contradictory. Satan, however, very much is and coping with him and the role of evil is what makes us dour. I think that your description of Satan's role is in line with a Scots Presbyterian point of view as God has not adversary. Satan is a pipsqueek except to the degree that giving into temptation give him/it traction. Russian theology has a similar view that you can see in Gogol's "Wedding Party" where a faithful Cossack makes Satan disappear by the use of a mirror.
- similarly heaven. Evangelicals have placed their flag on owning heaven. Scots Presbyies are most concerned with staying away from hell. Neither recognize purgatory of Dante and Catholic tradition.
- I don't know if I claim kinship so much as a common source and common God. It is entirely up to God to set up different expressions of being faithful to Himself. If Judaism cannot include that, that is fine with me and, of course, is entirely God's call as well.
- so it really does not matter that I have beliefs related to spots in Jerusalem if Judaism has no time for those beliefs. For Scots Presbies particularly, God is everywhere and we go around having personal epiphanies that are much more important that being in one place or another. For example, even as I type this I have a certain mojo moment of closeness but we are into that "accessing the other side" such and, for example, have absolutely no issue with pouring a drink on the ground to share a moment with the dead. I remember when I was in undergrad writing a paper on Dostoyevski that including the question of whether a Christian can pray for Satan. We are funny people.
- if the Pope or a rabbi demanded a place in and recognition by a Scots Presby meeting, the rabbi wins every time. Having had a quick look at Noahide on wikipedia, I would think that Scots Presbyterians are Noahides with additional stuff but would see other Christian sects as not necessarily so. Is that confusing? Could well be. Also, Hindus can be Christians as well in their understanding (according to my understanding) so I don't know if that works.
- so if Judaism cannot accept Christian pray at the western wall, I am fine with that as presence at the western wall is not fundamental to the effectiveness of Christian prayer. It is the equivalent of attending a still operating medieval cathedral - a place where others have been and still are interacting and expressing their faith.
- "do not Jews have the right to decide in their holy places what is right and proper"? Penultimately yes. Ultimately not. Job tells us that we do not understand all and I would expect something of that message is held in common. That being the case, we cannot be ultimately right and we certainly cannot, as the oaf Coulter suggests, be perfect.
- I don't think Christians get the right to define a holy place as far as I understand, though I realize that many do and many impose that upon Israel and Judaism and to a lesser extend areas of Islamic interest. But I do not hold the Vatican any more sacred ground than the backyard given the importance of the Holy Spirit. Yet if that is important to a Catholic or a Jewish tradition, I cannot myself say that that tradition is wrong.

Does that help? Excuse me if I have inadvertently been rude or dopey and do follow up. One of the things that gives me hope with discussing things with you is your ability to be plain as well as fulsome. And all that bloggy chippy stuff is so 2005.


Kateland, aka TZH said...

Alan, time is fleeting and I am busy which is why is takes me so long to response.

Well, that 3-1 combo is considered extremely problematic for Jews and smacks of heresy from a Jewish perspective. The first prayer a Jew is to learn is Shema which is also the last prayer a Jew is to say in this life. For the purposes of our discussion, I will just translate the first line in English because it’s most germane to my point. “Hear Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one.” Not 3, or two but one. Nor is any aspect of G-d’s nature divisible as the creator is absolutely unique in singularity. Nor does G-d have a physical body – ever - the whole notion of the G-dhood being made flesh is kind of creepy to a Jew and doesn’t seem quite rational. I’m sure Scot Presbies would make fine natural Noahides - if they dropped the Jesus-the-son and holy spirit bit and clinged to the Torah both written and oral.

When the revelation on the Sinai occurred and the torah was given it was considered complete and eternal for all of time. I was taught the Torah was applicable for all generations of humanity which is why only certain parts of the narratives were told. Think about it for a minute, why do we only know some of the details of lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs and not everything? I was taught that not every lesson they learned in the course of living out their daily lives was fully applicable to every generation to come, hence, if it was included it would no longer be a relevant eternal document for all of time. Now the oral torah Moses taught was meant to be a much more fluid form of knowledge but it was meant to be kept faithfully as the written and it was meant to compliment each other.

Secondly, without knowledge of the oral torah (Talmud) how do you reconcile the seeming contradictions in the written torah, or decide what is the correct method of interpreting anything - or fill in all kinds of various blanks spots? For example, earlier we touched briefly on the donning of tefillin. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes" — Devarim 6:8 and then again "You shall put these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall tie them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes" Devarim 11:18
So it is commanded in the written Torah but it is not spelled out how to make tefillin nor how exactly is it to be placed on the head or wrapped around the arm but it is in Oral Torah - in I believe Menachos 37b 0 but don't quote me on that one. I haven't the time to look it up. I mean, how else would you know what’s going on or what you are suppose to be doing? The reason for the fluidity of the oral Torah goes back to that whole concept of being eternal. As human knowledge expands one must meet the challenges such knowledge entails and still be faithful to the both the written and oral Torah. For example, electricity existed, but was not ‘discovered’ or have its power harnassed and shaped by the Hebrews present at the Sinai, but G-d knew one day it would come when it would be, and therefore, the oral Torah was given as a formula for meeting such challenges within the context of the mitzvots of the Torah. I suppose its not surprising Christians felt they needed another ‘testament’ to be a ‘revelation of fulfillment of the old’ as your only firing on half your spiritual cylinders.

As far as angels go, I think the minister’s son one should cast one’s mind back to who wrestled with Jacob and appeared in his dream going up and down the ladder. And long before Catholics, Jews had angels – just not as flashy and showy as the Catholic ones. I may be wrong but I can’t remember any encounter where Angels had swords and shields off the top of my head. There is an old Talmudic story I was told years ago whose imagery has always stuck with me. I can’t really remember how the story goes exactly but the central idea is each word of prayer spoken gets lovingly lifted up by one angel and passed on to another in an unbroken line until it reaches G-d.

Everyday Jewish life is mostly not centered on ‘the world to come’ per say and the emphasis is more on what you do today and what changes you need to make for the morrow. In fact, I suspect most Jews know very little about the ‘world to come’…this is getting into Jewish mysticism and quite frankly, a stellar command of not just written but oral Torah is needed - as well as reaching at least the 40th year of life – or at least this is the tradition. I think the idea is to make sure one has become more grounded in life experience before one is ready to go all esoteric without the risk of being far too flaky.

About prayer, Temple Mount and the Kotel. Let me start off by saying Jews do not believe G-d needs our prayers or even praise per say but we need to pray to establish our connection with God for our own sake and not his with us. I suppose it can be considered the difference between dialing local versus long distance. The more we converse with G-d, the closer we get rather than the closer he gets. We praise G-d because it is the proper etiquette of civilized discourse. I mean it just stands to reason if you want to ask for something from anyone it helps to start off the asking with a little bit of honey before you get to the demanding-whiny stage in. And sometimes, one just needs a moment to pause and reflect on how lucky we actually are by counting our blessing – personally I find it has great psychological value in doing this.

Now Jews would agree with you that G-d is literally everywhere but where it is easiest for man to establish a clear connection to G-d is at the Temple, and since the Temple no longer stands, the Kotel is the next best thing, and the beauty of the Kotel is that one doesn’t run the risks of inadvertently transgressing Jewish law by praying there. I am deliberately making this as simplistic as possible because there are a whole host of religious reasons why it is actually very difficult for a Jew to stand on the Temple Mount today and pray which has nothing much to do with the secular risk of being caught and jailed for doing so by the Israeli police.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the righteous of all nations have a portion in the ‘world to come’ (this is explicitly taught and emphasized in the Talmud) and furthermore, when the Temple is established again it is to be a place for all nations of the world to come to pray. It is just not a place where one brings various and sundry godhoods to pray to.

As to the question of accuracy from Christian renderings of the written Torah it has been my experience it is a kind of hit and miss affair. I mean just look at the different bibles used even among Christian groups, but even more so, it is easy to understand why there is such a difference in emphasis and interpretation as you are not using the oral Torah to guide you. Without studying the oral torah, you are going to have to trust me in this, but there are whole back stories and details your Christen ‘Old Testaments’ are missing. I also believe this is why there is view among some Christian groups that the G-d of the Christian ‘old testament’ bible is rather harsh and somewhat capricious by nature.

Speaking to this issue reminds me of another story. You probably are quite familiar with a story from the garden of Eden. G-d tells Adam he can eat all the fruit of the garden except for the fruit of one tree and warns Adam of the dire consequences of doing so as well as charging Adam with passing on his warning to Eve. So Adam passes along the warning. Eve, for whatever reason, (and there are many rabbinical answers on what caused Eve to rationalize it this way) reasoned if the fruit of this tree was so dangerous to eat it must be dangerous to touch as well. So when the serpent approaches Eve and asks why she does not eat the fruit of that tree, Eve replies if she merely touches the tree of the knowledge of good and evil she will die. So the serpent pushes her into the tree and she does not die and her whole reasoning structure collapses. I won’t go on as I am sure you are familiar to what comes next but the fact remains if Eve was faithful to the original narrative it would have been turned out differently. So the message one takes in orthodoxy is - one must not add or take away from the Torah but keep it faithfully.

GenX at 40 said...

Thanks for that - and your time. This is very interesting and sufficient proof that there should not be assumptions about the relationship between the two faiths, even with the connection. And you have made clear to me why from a Jewish perspective the visit of the Pope is so problematic. In fact, it also reminds me how much my family's and culture's experience was from the edge of western civilization, sort of like listening in on shortwave radio with really bad reception to a lecture on quantum physics. Bound to be a bit adrift.

Yet, one can (and should) only be true to what you know as your truth and if that means we have faerie folk in the clan, well, who am I to deny some of my cousins. Which should make angels (including the ones in the New Testament) and even the "3-in-1" not so problematic for me. And even though there is only one set of facts that add up to truth, it's likely that I don't really have the inside track or at least the stability of conformity or confirmation which is the good thing that orthodoxy really offers adherents.

If all this makes a good orthodox confused or concerned, I would think having a look at William Blake would help. Not that the angels in the trees will explain the US evangelicals or the Vatican but maybe the personal experience aspect of the unorthodox. That's it - you have got me thinking how utterly unorthodox the stuff I have to deal with really is.