27 November 2023

Does Torah ignore collateral damage?


Due to Google search idiosyncrasies, I have adjusted the spelling of certain words.

I am not a rabbi; I am a Christian studying the Bible. One of my frustrations is the modern tendency of Jews to claim righteousness from the law, but ignore some laws. (Christians do it, too, but I just read the Pentateuch.) I am OK with ignoring laws about ritual sacrifices, which the ancient Babylonians essentially ended with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, but let's explore what's left.

My local Gannett newspaper published an opinion piece by author/activist Julianna Margulies on November 26 entitled, "Silence is loud from my friends who aren't Jewish". In general, columnists supportive of Israel extol the righteousness of Judaism. Consider that Israel is a "Jewish state" established in 1948 and admitted to the United Nations in 1949. Leon Kass therefore opined in the Wall Street Journal on November 24 that Israel is committed to the Jewish principles of "the prophets' demands for justice and regard for the other, and ... the law's concern with holiness." Jews stand for "good against evil", and Kass presumably believes Israel is "good".

Back to Margulies, she wrote that modern Jews fear not only the current threat to Israel, but also antisemitism in America and worldwide. She added that nobody else (i.e., Gentiles, without using the word but referring to them as friends) understands Jews' fears; nobody else remembers the Holocaust like Jews do.

Modern Jewish columnists seem to think the phrase "never forget", used by Margulies in her column, was invented after the Holocaust. In fact, the phrase originates with a militaristic verse in Deuteronomy 25.19: "...you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; do not forget." Deuteronomy is not a reminder about the persecution of Jews; it is a reminder to maintain the struggle against "Amalek", metaphorically, the other. Kass tried to distract us, but he did not suggest when we should have redacted the nasty parts of Scripture. The Hebrews occupied the promised land by killing everyone previously living there, and the Palestinians make the ridiculous claim today that Israel should give it back.

Margulies, in claiming a unique indignation, has apparently forgotten about the plight of Afghans, half of whom are undernourished and whose girls are prohibited from an education. Margulies forgets the deplorable slaughter of the men of Russia and Ukraine and the criminal destruction of Ukrainian towns and infrastructure. She forgets the atrocities currently ravaging towns in the Darfur region of Sudan. She forgets that half of Gaza is now uninhabitable at the hands of the I$$$$$$ Defense Fource ideeff), and Margulies presumably blames Paaaaaaaaaa suffering on H@@@@ and believes I$$$$$ can pull the triggers but feel no guilt and deserve no consequences. Certainly, I$$$$$ fights in self defense after the October 7 H@@@@ massacres, but no one really believes this is an existential battle. When H@@@@ reaches Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, the tactical nukes will come out and the Paaaaaaaaaa race will no longer be able to sustain itself.

The Pentateuch is all about judgement, atonement and punishment. The ideeff is inflicting extreme collateral damage and casualties, and as a Jewish state, Jewish citizens of I$$$$$ must make a choice: claim righteousness from their study of the law and accept the consequences, or deny judgement and responsibility for their actions. They can't claim both. If God walks before Jews in this war, as in the Pentateuch, then God is responsible, not H@@@@, and consequences will be enforced. The Hebrews did not slaughter the Egyptian firstborns during Passover; God did that (Exodus 12:12). If the ideeff pulls the trigger in 2023, Torah can't ignore it.

17 November 2023

H@@@@, I$$$$$ and Righteousness

Due to Google search idiosyncrasies, I have adjusted the spelling of certain words.

On October 7, 2023, Paaaaaaaaaa terrorists associated with the H@@@@ movement crossed the border from the Gzzz strip into I$$$$$ and massacred or took hostage hundreds of I$$$$$$ kibbutz (settlement) residents. This is a progressive, Christian blog, but I am not about to thump you with how Jesus would react.

The I$$$$$$ Defense Fource (ideeff), has responded with weeks of heavy air, sea and ground attacks. In general, the Paaaaaaaaaaa oppose years of I$$$$$$ occupations and border blockages. I$$$$$ had previously endured frequent, random rocket attacks from Gzzz As I write this, the northern half of Gzzz is almost completely without clean water, food, decent shelter, electrical power, and communications systems including internet access. I$$$$$ claims with some evidence that H@@@@ operates from civilian facilities such as schools and hospitals, although H@@@@ denies this. I$$$$$ claims an existential crisis and that the ideeff is only acting in self defense when its bombardments kill or injure civilians used as H@@@@' shields. Indeed, thousands of civilians on both sides have been harmed. Visit your favorite news site or network for more info.

Consider the Pentateuch, i.e., the written version of the first five books of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). As translated into English (New Revised Standard Version), God delivers the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery and leads the people through the wilderness for forty years so that the people may settle in the promised land (promised by God in exchange for obedience, essentially the modern I$$$$$). As the Hebrews migrated, they laid waste to many kingdoms and cities.

In particular, Deuteronomy 20:16 - "But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive." Taken literally, God supports the people in various battles, but is particularly forceful when fighting for the promised lands. The promised lands are not some uninhabited Eden. In order to possess the promised lands, the Israelis must "blot out" the current residents.

Realistically, we may interpret much of this as having been written by the victor. The victor writes the history books. If the I$$$$$$$$$$ won, it must have been the will of God, right? Scripture, therefore, provides an epic tale that begins with God's promise of the final destination, while in fact there may be much dramatic license, and the texts may have been written after the victories. There is little independent, historical evidence of Exodus and the subsequent journeys.

I also point out Amalek, a king who plays a big part in Exodus 17. Verse 16 says, "The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." Most kings and lands come and go throughout the Pentateuch, but there are references to Amalek sprinkled around, to the extent that we may today consider Amalek a metaphorical struggle. The Pentateuch also refers several times to Canaanites, who can be loosely defined as people disliked by the ancient Jews and whose lands are in the same general area as Gzzz.

With support from historian John J. Collins, I suggest that the overarching desire of the I$$$$$$$ was to establish and maintain order. For example, the word of God may not have required a patriarchal society, regardless of the literal reading. It may instead be that the people of 3000 years ago found a way to establish order that involved patriarchy. Likewise, it is hardly likely that any Pentateuchal war resulted in the total annihilation of either side, no matter how strongly God demanded it, and the slaughter just makes the story work better, with a resulting pure, Jewish society.

When I read the Pentateuch, I feel like I am reading a news report from the H@@@@/I$$$$$ conflict. Disclaimer: the majority of Paaaaaaaaaaa are Muslims, but I have little familiarity with the Koran. Just the same, I feel like both sides are fighting a Biblical battle.

But, it's 2023. There is no justice achieved by a H@@@@ attack that captures and violates partiers at a music festival, etc., etc., etc. I suspect over the next few weeks, we will learn details of the H@@@@ incursion that are even more horrific than we have heard so far.

Again, it's 2023. How many babies can I$$$$$ kill to get to the H@@@@ cowards using the babies as shields, before the I$$$$$$$ can no longer claim they are just trying to keep order? How literally can the I$$$$$$$ recall the Torah before they are simply seen as bloodthirsty zealots?

Both sides have slipped off the moral high road. There is no justice or order or righteousness to be found in Gzzz today, no matter how much they follow the Biblical script.

14 November 2023

Imagining the transcendent spirit


I have been thinking more about the transcendence of the divine that manifests itself as the Holy Spirit. What is it that I felt in my head and heart as I recognized (in my previous post) the one spirit across different Bible narratives? I reflect on the notion of a "wind from God". In the case of Genesis 1 and creation, the wind is not a tropical breeze; it is a mighty wind keeping the void in check. Genesis does not refer to chaos, and indeed, NRSV rarely uses the word, so the wind must be keeping the chaos in check, right? I suppose there is not much to keep in check when there is only a "formless void", but there is "something". NRSV does NOT present creation as occurring ex nihilo (from nothing). When Genesis begins, the wind is already sweeping over the waters.

In any case, my impression of the transcendent spirit is not of a hurricane. I think what I feel is that the divine wind is what it needs to be at any given moment. For creation, it needs to be mighty and controlling. For the conception of Jesus in Luke 1, it needs to be a heavy, overshadowing atmosphere, even to the point of consciousness.

And for me? What is this spirit during a day in the life of me? When I am waking up to get ready for work, maybe a quick gust to jar me into activity. Later, when my lovely wife pulls some chocolate chip cookies out of the oven, it's a warm breeze that connects all the way back to her mother and my mother (who were saints, for sure).

Lord, let the wind blowing us be light and warm when we need comfort, and strong enough to push us to act when we discern a neighbor in need. Immanent and transcendent, now and forever, amen.

12 November 2023

The wind over the waters

A wind from God swept over the face of the waters...

For the last few years I had been a "mostly immanent" believer. Immanence refers to the nearness of the divine. In other words, being "mostly immanent" means to me that God is us, we are God, and we can look to God for micro-guidance as we plod through our days. On most days, this is fine. As I try to figure out my health insurance drug formulary, do I really need to know how creation happened 5 billion years ago (or, as some would estimate, 5000 years ago)? I'll save the "age of the earth" debate for some other time. For now, let's talk about transcendence.

My mostly-immanent self recently read Genesis 1 more carefully. The caption of my watery image above comes from Genesis 1:2. In my preferred Bible translation (NRSV), "wind from God" has a footnote for an alternate translation, which is, "spirit of God".

It occurred to me that this "spirit of God" makes many appearances in the Bible. For now, consider Luke 1:34-35: "Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I am a virgin?' The angel said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.'"

Aside from the fact that Mary just interrupted an angel of the Lord to explain the facts of life, we see that spirit again (this time called the Holy Spirit, but yeah, same spirit as in Genesis). The virgin birth narrative is a fulfillment of the creation narrative. This spirit is that of a transcendent God, existing beyond us and our universe. This is not to say that I need to define God as a supernatural being from a supernatural place called heaven, and indeed, there is no human who could know that it was a supernatural being that created the heavens and the earth. I don't have a succinct definition for a God that gives us both Genesis and Luke.

But, the recognition of the transcendence of God reminds me that my drug formulary is not a "micro" thing. The earth provided the raw materials and a whole lot of people worked out such a thing. Truly, now and forever, immanent and transcendent, amen.

The wind over the waters REVISITED

Back in my first blog post I noted that my NRSV translation of Genesis 1:2 provides an alternative translation for  "wind from God&qu...