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Once Upon A Time

The Hebrew bible is not a book
it is a library.

The Hebrew bible is an anthology of books written over and extended period of time and contains many meanings written by different people in variously different times and circumstances responding to different issues and stimuli, some of it political and some of it social, philosophical and moral.

There is no one Judaism. Judaism isn't a race, it isn't a nationalism, it isn't even necessarily a religion. It is a combination, sometimes of many things, but it is primarily a philosophy with many different branches which are rooted in the tree of Judaism. One branch is Christianity. Another prominent well known branch is Islam; but within Judaism itself is a taxonomy of many variants, which are also different from each other.

Contrary to common belief, because most people have a perspective based on current events and think Arabs and Jews have always hated each other; that is simply not true. Jewish philosophy flourished under the Arabs from the fifth to the twelth century when Jewish philosophy was at it's glorious apex in Arab lands.

The many changes which took place within Judaism, including its consolidation after the first exile was a result of politics, not religion. Religion in those days was a force used to bind people together and much of the development of Judaism is based on political stories. To really understand the development of beliefs and practices in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, you must examine the past within the context of the time when events took place.

There is also a problem for anyone trying to reconstruct ancient Hebrew culture and Jewish religion on just the writings in the bible, There is no word for "religion" in the ancient Hebrew language. The Hebrew Bible is like the "Jewish library of congress" and contains conflicting perspectives because of the older writings and the more modern views as written and handed down orally. Those who settled on the final books had a decidedly monotheistic perspective some had an agnostic world view. There was even an atheistic perspective (and they would be right)- but that was not then nor even now the predominent view (nor was the rest of it). Therefore different perspectives are imposed where they are incongruous to the reality of those periods. Often the result is a deeply conflicted and ambiguous text.

There is NO ONE VIEW

One must always read the bible with the knowledge in mind that there is no monolithic view in the Hebrew Bible and in the larger cultural milleu in which it was processed. What it was and what it continues to be are allegory, parables, metaphors and cultural critique.

To read the bible correctly you must set aside some of your previously held suppositions. The bible is not a book, it is a LIBRARY. I'm not responsible for misreadings by Christians or Messianic Jews or anyone who tries to extrapolate a single meaning from the writing and oral law and history. There can never be a literal interpretation. That is not how they were written and passed on nor how they are intended to be read or understood.

In 586 BC, Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnessar II and Jews were taken captive to Babylon. These communities of Jews in both Babylon and in Egypt were once prisoners of war, many of whom became mercenaries, and many fell sway to local customs and beliefs. There were many divisions and priests went about establishing religious doctrine to consolidate their control.

There is a tremendous amount of material in this library which is called the Hebrew Bible (and the "Old Testament" by some - but never by the Jews). Narrow interpretations are too often purposely misinformed and intended to confuse if not undermine the true nature of the Hebrew bible. The fact being, this is an anthology of diverse work and written at different times. It is NOT an ideological monolith. The bible is a human reflection on the sublime, a rich tapestry of human experiences - much of it different and much of it included in the Hebrew bible and many books also not included by the final expositors - The genius of the Jewish ideal is to have included so much which is diverse in this biblical library - which describes the development of a culture.

Eccleseastes is my favorite. It talks of the futility of life. It scoffs at vanity. It scoffs at the idea of a here-after. It speaks of the cycles of life and futility to make anything more of it (than what it is). It is an existential text and as realistic as anything written today. It is a philosophical masterpiece.

The victory of Alexander the Great in 333 BC introduced new Greek ideas. People learned to speak Greek and with it they were invluenced by Greek philosophers. Then the Romans conquered Jerusalem and a new political presence began and new ideas. After the second dispersion, a Talmud was written, which are views on just about everything held by rabbis and discussion of those ideas. They are found in the Mishnah and the Gamora, which form the Talmud.

The Hebrews were many people; there were Hellenists and they were Zealots; and there were polytheists and monotheists.

There are many types or genres in the bible. There are narratives in the bible. There are all kinds of law germaine to a particular time and like Zen, there are cultic and ritual descriptions (texts), prescriptions how ceremonies are performed. (Laws were developed during different excilic times - and rabbinal responses to varying circumstances and conditions. There are prophetic writing and there is lyric poetry and love poetry (and there is sex (even porn) and a prose. There are proverbs and there are songs and psalms and lamentations and thanksgiving.

The book of Job is one of the finest writing, IMHO, in the library - and it does really emphasize the suffering of mankind because that is what life is really about - in a predatory world by and living among other predatory animals. Job challenges conventional religious piety and arrives at the bittersweet conclusion that there is no real justice in this world (or any other).

Jews were oppressed in many foreign lands, much as other minorities are today and have been in the past. There was the slanderous "blood libel", and "black plague", the "Inquisition", and the "Holocaust."

The Hebrew Bible is an anthology of diverse work, written at different times by different authors - and various and different points of view.

Proverbs, which is about retributive divine justice is a position that is challenged in the Book of Job which does not believe in the idea of justice - not in this world or any other world, which however does not relieve Job of the responsibility of righteous living.

The Hebrew Bible is about normal people it is not about saints. Even the heros in the biblical narratives are human.

Genesis is about the origin of things and wrestles with good and evil. And it deals with suffering and trys to paint a picture of a good and caring god. Leviticus and Numbers are the priestly texts and emphasize the sanctity of life and ideas of holiness and ethics - and purity but we are after-all just animals. There are odes to human reason in the bible and to learning in the Proverbs, the so called wisdom book of the Hebrew Bible.

The Psalms are individual writings about piety and love and worship. But you do not need to be religious to be Jewish. It is enough to just have a Jewish mother.

It is important as a Jew to humanize the characters in the Hebrew Bible, not to immortalize them. They are ordinary people, just like us - and not any more moral or less. The Hebrew Bible is not theological dogma; it is not a tract of laws which must be obeyed. Even the God of the Jews changes his mind in the Bible. These are just stories. Some of the stories conflict with each other because there are gaps and ambiguities depending on what and when various stories were written.

The Book of Job is at last clear understanding of reward and punishment, guilt and innocence. The name Job means "one who repents" but not for his sins - Job confesses to a new understanding of God. "I recant and relent, being but dust and ashes." The wicked and the righteous do not get what they deserve (but perhaps it would be better if they did). God is a God of nature after all. There is no Divine justice.

All who suffer are not sinful - and what is really a sin if that they should have to - There is no moral accountant... Job, as we all are, is merely "dust and ashes."

And the above interpretation is my interpretation alone. There will be many who would disagree with me as I would likely disagree with them. Fairy tales are often like that.

So, once upon a time - there was a king
by the name of David.

The Reformation and period of Enlightenment began a whole new era for Jews. The Enlightenment, built upon the Renaissance beginning with the English Revolution and ending with the French Revolution has been held responsible for much of what has become this unsettled, troubled modern age, denounced by the Romantics, accused of a superficial kind of rationalism and foolish optimism and it was a time of philosophies arguing with philosophies. But it was also a period which proclamed the possibility of egalitarianism and these ideas which continue even to this day has been endless polemics opposing enlightment as too utopian. From the Englightenment developed Hagel's theory of theses and anti-thesis, which led to the dialectical materialism of Marx and Nitzche's ideas about race superiority, which in turn, led to fascism.

But the complexity of history, ideas and men require greater respect and synthesis. The Enlightenment was divided by doctrine, experience, and temperament. It, at times, seems impossible that there can be just one single Englightenment or that it has been completed or perhaps that it has even begun. But after all, the Middle Ages were an age of ignorance and the Enlightenment was like a door which we could open and find the truth. The Enlightenment was not a single body of doctrine but many philosophies that built the Enlightenment and yet there was also a totality, a unifying spirit, a cultural climate, and a time of rebellion.

Philosophies don't always square with reality. Does one need to know how to hate before one can love? Voltaire thought so. Must there be destructive criticism before there can be enlightened construction? Is the dynamic of dialectical development first preceeded by criticism before progress? Were the rationalists too austere for the abstraction of truth discovered by the Romantics?

This coalition of philosophies, born of skeptics and political reformers from around the globe, was a discordant chorus of philosophers, but emergent also was a unified demand for human rights and dignity, a blossoming of ideas in the questt for liberty, freedom and emancipation.

A new morality was to transform the world. Kant said, "dare to know." He said to risk discovery, exercise the right knoowledge and criticism; accept the lonnliness and responsibility of emancipation no longer lorded over by some noble or devinely inspired patriarch or some holy priest.

The Enlightenment introduced disparate ideas. This Enlightenment gave us the will and the courage to be radicals. And if we wished we could be athiests and materialists. Free speech and humanitarianism emerged, not welcomed by everyone, but with caution and trepidation.

There were unending highly charged debates. Some called it unphilosophical philosophizing, pitting each philosophy against each other. It was a time of emotional fulmination and zeal.

We owe those philosophers a gratitude; we are much better off for having had the Enlightement, although some men's minds are still in the Dark Ages.

One response to the Englightenment was the reform tendency within Judaism. But one path was also one of reaction and orthodoxy - the torah true approach, and there was also the Hassidic approach, which was the ultra-orthodox path which chose living in isolation from the Gentile World. The Kabbalist approach chose mysticism, and there were some who chose atheism but retained certain ethnic or cultural strands as symbolic in their synthesis with Jewish philosophy. Judaism is multifaceted. All approaches are valid for Judaism in spite of the differences between them and the ongoing debate,

What is a Jew?

The synagogue is a Greek word which means "meeting place" and it was only after the first exile that the synagogues were established.

The New Year, which is Rosh Hashanah, means head of the year and the prayer states, "This is the day that the world was called into existence. On that day a shofar [a ram's horn] is blown to call our tribes together. The Day of Atonement is Yom Kipper, considered by religious Jews to be the holiest day of the year. On that day, there is prayer, fasting and public confession of sin.

Five days after the Day of Atonement [Yom Kipper], there is the Feast of Tabernacles, called Sukkot, which lasts a week. It is a harvest festival. Many Jewish festivals either hav a political orientation or an agricultural orientation.

Then comes the Rejoicing of the Law, the "Feast of Tabernacles", called Simchat Torah, a festival day which the reading of the Torah, which is the Hebrew Bible is completed; that is, the rading of the last portion, Deuteronomy, is completed in the synagogue and the reading of the first verses of Genesis begins. There is singing and dancing and the scrolls are carried around the synagogue.

When Christians are celebrating Christmas, Jews are celebrating Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, which commemorates the victory of Judas Maccabeus over the Syrians and the temple in Jerusalem is rededicated. In February or March, there is the celebration of Purim, which recalls the story of Esther. Purim means "lots" and refers to lots cast by Haman to chose the day on which to destroy all the Jews in the Persian Empire.

Passover coincides, more or less with Easter, and recalls the deliverance of Jews out of Egyptian bondage. It is also a Spring festival holiday and certainly had it's origin in pagan religion.

The Pentecost is a period of mourning following Passover associated with the failure of the Jewish revolt against Rome. The Jews call it Shavuot, and it is 50 days after the second day of Passover.

The Day of Mourning, which is called Tishah B'Av [July or August] is another day of rememberance of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD by the Romans and the destruction of the first temple by Nebuchanezzar in 586 BC.

Judaism, secular and religious, consists of many tendencies, influenced by Plato, Aristotle, and philosophers of the Enlightement, and all the many paths of branches are really foundations from the same trunk, and the credo of FREEDOM, that to the Jew, freedom means even more than religous or political independence. It is a mandate for the individual to shape his or her own destiny and that of society. It is an affirmation that, no matter how bleak the surroundings and the future apear, that PROGRESS is possible. There is an unquenchable hope that this world can be changed and the prophetic dream of peace can be realized.

Hank Roth

All Excerpts provided herein are pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine
for educational and discussion purposes per
Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, Copyright Law.

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Today is Thursday April 24, 2014





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