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    Just about right – Bo

    January 14th, 2018

    The Israelites are groaning under the pressure of enslavement. Ten plagues have to hit Egypt before the slavery can come to an end.

    The tenth plague is the slaying of the first-born. Moses announces when it will take place – “about midnight” (Ex. 11:4).

    We wonder why he isn’t more precise. “About midnight”? Why not “at midnight”? Indeed, why “midnight” at all – why not some other time, morning, afternoon or evening?

    The word “about” might indicate that human calculations of time are rarely 100% and the Egyptian magicians, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out, might think they knew exactly when midnight had arrived and if the plague did not befall Egypt at davka that moment they might mock the Israelite God when all that had happened was that they were slightly off in their calculations.

    When the Torah writes that at the time of Creation God worked on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2), it is reporting a human perception; God Himself does not make a mistake and knows precisely when the sixth day ends and the seventh commences.

    There is a deeper question – why link the tenth plague to midnight at all?

    It may be something to do with the nature of the plague. The slaying of the first-born was not just to show that Egypt was not as invincible as might have been thought, but to mark the beginning of a new era, the recognition that HaShem is in charge of the world and the old age was over.

    In that sense the right time for the plague was on the cusp of the two eras, the Pharaoh era and the HaShem era: “Thus shall you know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 7:17).


    Defining darkness – Bo

    January 14th, 2018

    The plague of darkness, Doré’s English Bible, 1866

    How do we define darkness – scientifically or ethically?

    The Torah takes the second option: “There was thick darkness… and no-one could see his fellow” (Ex. 10:22-23).

    Even if a person can physically see, they can be smitten with metaphorical darkness when they look at or through a person and can’t see that they are a fellow human being.

    Not everyone is lovable, not everyone is pleasant, not everyone is very brotherly or sisterly. But when the Torah tells you to love your fellow (Lev. 19:18) it doesn’t qualify the command by saying, “Provided they are nice to you, provided they have a smile, provided they make themselves friendly”.

    The Yiddish saying about Jews is that every Jewish person has a pintele Yid, a drop of Jewishness, even if it doesn’t seem to be so. Broaden the saying and apply it to every human being. They all have a pintele Mensch, a drop of humanity.

    The beginning of Mishnah B’rachot says that you know it is dawn when you can see the face of a fellow human being.

    “See” is both a physical and a metaphorical concept.


    Fallen rabbis – Ask the Rabbi

    January 14th, 2018

    Q. If a rabbi has lost his credibility do we still follow his rulings?

    A. Rabbi Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University recently gave a serious analysis of the problem, concluding by basically saying “No”.

    He pointed out that Malachi 2:7 as expounded by the sages requires a rabbi to be beyond reproach and be the personification of Torah values. If he has been shown to have violated rabbinic standards there is no obligation to follow his rulings unless (which is difficult to ascertain) they pre-dated his wrongful conduct.

    The example is the teachings of Elisha ben Abuya who turned away from Torah observance and belief and became a heretic known as Acher, “the other person”.

    What a tragedy it is if such problems arise.


    Humpty Dumpty & the new words

    January 14th, 2018

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared on the Arutz Sheva website on 13 January 2018.

    Language has come a cropper.

    Humpty Dumpty blithely says, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to.”

    Today Humptyism has come alive.

    Just think of words in today’s vocabulary like freedom, love, justice, truth and peace. Each has had its meaning so twisted that even Humpty would hardly recognise it.

    FREEDOM

    The process started with “liberation”. A student group once boasted, “We liberated a case of beer”.

    Next to change was “freedom”. People claimed to be freedom fighters – how inspiring, how exciting – but after gaining their freedom they tyrannised others.

    People wanted to be free to breathe the air, but now there were new forms of pollution.

    PEACE

    People dream of quick-fix peace which says, divide a territory into two and hey-presto you have peace! Sheer imagination!

    Wars begin in the minds of men. So does peace. Conflicts do not suddenly disappear with signed papers and photo opportunities but when both sides co-operate on practical issues and find they’re both better off. Small steps gradually add up to peace without fanfares.

    Two-State solutions are not the answer.

    LOVE

    Love is the deepest of emotions. It commits you with your whole being.

    But somehow the word has moved out of the norm. A love-child is now a child born out of wedlock.

    The implication is that when married couple have a child, it’s not a love child. The implication is that the parents aren’t bound by love: whatever their intimacy is, it isn’t love. If they produce a child some other adjective applies, but not “Love”. Strange.

    JUSTICE

    Society depends on everyone having a place and rights. The legal system is there is protect this principle.

    But “I want justice!” doesn’t necessarily mean “I want to be treated fairly in the balance of things!” It means “I want what’s good for me and if you get hurt in the process, go fight for yourself!”

    That’s not justice: it’s selfishness.

    TRUTH

    Alternative facts aren’t a new invention. They started in Adam’s time. Each side had a different version of the facts. Varying influences were at work.

    It’s a problem when neither side has the nerve to find the real truth and to stick to it even if it works to their detriment. The problem gets worse when a person deliberately twists the truth.

    BOYS & GIRLS

    Once upon a time roughly half the population were boys and half were girls, but these days you can’t say, “Boys will be boys”. Some boys believe that deep down they are girls and vice-versa.

    Sometimes it’s just play-acting as in old-time pantomimes. Sometimes it’s a genuine problem.

    Why do old-time norms have to be discarded? Why must society invent new standards?

    MARRIAGE

    Isn’t it interesting how people who want other kinds of relationships keep using “marriage” terminology?

    Believers in traditional marriage still maintain that the traditional definitions are the best, providing a balance between male and female, a safe sense of commitment, the setting for continuity of the human species.

    GOD

    With the coming of modernity, man believed that no-one needed God any more. Then, as Robert Gordis says, “First God was everything and man was nothing. Now man was everything and God was nothing. Suddenly man discovered that he could do everything, but he himself was nothing. Now God is nothing and man is nothing”.

    God has been reduced to a swear-word – and the world may not survive.

    MARTYRDOM

    There’s a new kid on the block – “martyrdom”. Real martyrs sacrificed their lives, but the new martyrdom is a swooping sword that mows down its victims indiscriminately.

    That’s not martyrdom, it’s murder: not sacrifice but sadism.

    Some “martyrs” do it for a heavenly handout. The new martyrs claim to be acting for God. Can’t they say, “We all have our own God, and if I love my God surely you have the same right to love yours”?

    True belief comes from conviction, not compulsion – from faith, not force. Some of the Holocaust perpetrators rang church bells on Sunday and sang hymns. In theory they professed love of God – but love of God’s children? They don’t seem to have asked themselves how, since Jesus was Jewish, they could kill him in every murder of a Jew.

    Words keep changing for the worse. Humpty Dumpty might tell us to eat our words.


    There is no ‘Judeo-Christian’ tradition

    January 9th, 2018

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 9 January, 2018.

    The Jerusalem Post editorial on January 7 spoke of the “Judeo-Christian tradition.” That fabled tradition does not exist, nor does the “Judeo-Christian ethic.”

    Though sharing a common origin in the Hebrew Scriptures, the two faiths read the scriptural texts differently. They believe in God, but view Him through different lenses. They each have a story, but they are not the same. They each have a concept of man, but they are not the same. They are both ethical religions, but with separate ideas of man’s nature, salvation and destiny.

    For Christianity, Jesus is central; in Judaism he does not figure even though he was a Jew. Christianity, says Leo Baeck, prefers the “finished statement” of dogma: Judaism, the “unending process of thought.” Judaism and Christianity both claim to be true, but they have rival versions of the truth. There are commonalities, but so many differences.

    Arthur A Cohen argues in The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition that the Judeo-Christian ethic is a myth produced by “Christian guilt and Jewish neurasthenia,” to obscure the fact that Christians and Jews are “theological enemies… living in the same street as neighbours.”

    But is sharing the street what Cohen calls “reconciliation of contradiction, the dissolution of paradox,” or mere politeness, propriety and political correctness? Are we merely, in Cohen’s words, “inundated institutions making common cause before a world that regards them as hopelessly irrelevant and meaningless”?

    Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik does not talk of enemies but strangers. Jew and Christian cannot always grasp what goes on in the other’s head. Martin Buber says the Jew thinks the “daring” Christian believes the unbelievable; the Christian says the “obdurate” Jew cannot see the truth. Soloveitchik says all faiths are brothers in facing social problems, while theologically they are strangers: “The great encounter between God and man,” he says, “is a wholly personal affair incomprehensible to the outsider.”

    Leo Baeck says that all religions face similar questions, but phrase the questions, and answers, differently. Christianity is a “romantic” religion in a world of feelings where “rules are suspended.” Judaism is a “classical” religion which focuses on “reality with its commandment, and the profound seriousness of the tasks of our life.” Buber says Christianity freezes God in one position. Our task is not to diminish or damn the other, but to allow them to be themselves, so that “each of the partners, even when standing in opposition to the other, heeds, affirms and confirms the opponent as an existing other.”

    Abraham Joshua Heschel says the issue is not what happens when I die, but what I do while I am alive. When asked, “What about the salvation of your soul?” he did not understand. For him the issue was not his soul, but his task: “What mitzvah can I do next?” We Jews have all been told, “You’ll end up in hell!” Our answer never varied: “We Jews have been to hell – on earth – and have come back. Our stress is this world: the next one is God’s concern.”

    Claiming there was a Judeo-Christian tradition did not save religion or the world. The Holocaust brought civilisation to its knees. Franz Grillparzer said, “Man moved from humanism to nationalism, from nationalism to barbarism.”

    Man no longer had enough faith in God to overcome the forces of evil. The supposed believers rang the sanctuary bells in the interests of self-preservation, hoping to keep the fiends from shattering the church windows as they had done to the synagogues. They said the Jews deserved their punishment. Did anyone think that their Jesus was himself a Jew, and in destroying his people they were destroying their own Christianity? Could religion of a higher and nobler kind have saved the situation? It might at least have saved its own soul.

    Today’s religion is fierce and fanatic, facing you down if you mildly beg to differ. It is aggressive, triumphant, bullying, bent on world domination. It’s not Christianity, which is in a post-Christian phase of disintegration. Nor is it Judaism: these days Judaism tends to look inward and rarely looks at global problems. Christianity half-heartedly mounts its missions but does not expect much success. Judaism is suspicious of Christians after so much persecution and is often uncomfortable in the marketplace of ideas. Both faiths are ill at ease in relation to Islam, and Islam reciprocates: all three feel under siege.

    In the West, formal adherence to religious institutions is declining. Few have genuine piety and spirituality, hearts and minds more than bells and smells. The brave people who try to combine piety and worldly engagement are too limited in scope, too lacking in spiritual muscle, too polite and genteel to make a difference. They have chats and drink tea together, but if religion hits the news it is neither sweet nor loving, but a strident voice with a contorted face. Religions do not speak reasonably but shout at each other.

    Religions all claim to be owners of truth, but if each one has the truth, then none can give way. When former British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks said in his book, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilisations, that there is truth in all religions, some rabbis accused him of heresy, insisting that it is Judaism which is truth. A new edition softened the language and spoke of wisdom in other religions. This reduced the heat, but it did not solve the problem. Either my religion is true or there is no reason to adhere to it.

    If my truth is not consonant with yours, we have deadlock. If all religions are equally true, we are speaking illogicalities. If black is blue and blue is black, then color makes no sense. If apples are oranges and oranges are apples, then fruit needs to be redefined. There is a Jewish tradition and there is a Christian tradition. The question is not whether they can combine but whether they can work together.



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    new-testament-people-a-rabbis-notesNEW TESTAMENT PEOPLE: A RABBI’S NOTES

    Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book discusses some 98 themes in the New Testament and Christianity and shows how Jesus and the early Christians can only be understood against a Jewish background. Rabbi Apple never resiles from his own faith and commitment, but sees the book as a contribution to dialogue.

    The softcover and ebook editions are available from Amazon, AuthorHouse, The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping), and elsewhere online.