Category Archives: Interfaith

The Old Testament is not my Bible

 

 

 

Torah is a living entity in my life and is an endless and forever Giving-Tree.

It is this imagery that captures me when we lift the Torah and say “Etz Chayim Hee LaMahazikim Ba” (It is a Tree of Life When You Hold It Close (my own translation).

On so many levels, the Torah informs me about how to live a life with more humility, with more honor towards others, with an appreciation for the Creator.

So, I have a visceral response when I hear the words describing the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament.

And really, until now, I did not really own up to how much this description bothers me.

Though I am offended, I realize most people do not take this as seriously as I do, or are even aware that when they use that term, a judgment has been made.

It is especially when fellow Jews use the term to describe our Bible that I can’t help but feel a little bit of my insides wince. Ouch.

I am not sure why Jews are comfortable saying this term.

For zillions, it seems perfectly fine to refer to the Hebrew Bible as “Old”.

According to Google’s first search results, “Old” means a. having lived for a long time; no longer young, or b. belonging only or chiefly to the past; former or previous. Some of the synonyms offered for this are: bygone, past, former, olden, of old, previous. 

Quite the opposite image of a living Torah. A Tree of Life does not wither, become bygone, or old.

When talking to Christian folks about religious matters, I tend to be forgiving, knowing that their entire faith rests on the “New” Testament, which for them, supplanted the old.

I choose not to correct their usage of the word, but in my references to Torah I use the term “Hebrew Bible”.

Even Dictionary.com offers this more honest explanation of the word “Old Testament”

1. the first of the two main divisions of the Christian Bible, comprising the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa. In the Vulgate translation all but two books of the Apocrypha are included in the Old Testament.
2. this testament considered as the complete Bible of the Jews.

But in truth, is it not obvious to any one of the Christian faith that saying “Old Testament” negates an entire belief system, while I am respectful of theirs? Does this come with the territory of being a minority? Do we need to always be on the defensive?

After all, what’s the big deal, you ask? Well, there are so many reasons why I find this term offensive.

  1. The term “old” is comparative and relative, that is, “old” compared to what?
  2. Who exactly is the arbiter here of what is “old” and what is “new”? Why do I need to accept someone else’s label?
  3. The word old, in Western cultures, holds negative associations (why use or buy something “old”, when “new” is young, improved and trendy?
  4. The term used by a people for their holy texts should be the one that others use as well. How is it acceptable that one faith decides to create their own term for my holy text, which by its very meaning, puts it aside, rejecting it as “old”.
  5. Can you think of any other example in Western culture where one faith’s holy text is renamed in this way? Is there a pejorative name that is used when referring to the Qur’an for example?
The world of Biblical scholarship, from what I understand, is moving away from employing this term. I’ve yet to see a huge difference.
I hope as Jews, we can be way ahead of that curve. I hope we can begin to assert ourselves and our heritage by using our name for our treasured teachings.

 

 

 


Purim and Personal Responsibility

This Purim, start a chain reaction against Hatred and Antisemitism

 

When did you need to step up or speak up in your life? Were there opportunities you missed? Hatred and Antisemitism begin with words…..we read this, in the Megillah, the scroll we read on Purim:

“There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them.” Esther 3:8 

That’s it. A people who are set apart, with different laws. Different practices. That’s enough to set things off. It’s reason enough it seems, to murder people.

“Accordingly, written instructions were dispatched by couriers to all the king’s provinces to destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on a single day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month—that is, the month of Adar—and to plunder their possessions.” Esther, 3:13 

So, if there is one thing you might want to commit to this Purim, in addition to four mitzvot of Purim, of hearing the Megillah, eating a festive meal, sharing gifts of food, giving food to the poor, it might be doing one small thing to helping get rid of Hate. How? It’s an overwhelming problem, but it can start by being kind to a stranger, speaking up when you see injustice, writing an op-ed about the hatred you see around you, donating to an organization committed to ending Hatred and Antisemitism, signing a petition, and taking your place as a person with the right to speak up.

“When the storm passes the wicked are gone, but the righteous are an everlasting foundation.” Proverbs 10:25 (edited for gender)

To see my source sheet with more questions and texts, click here and you’ll be taken to Sefaria.org


Why Be Jewish? Rabbi Sacks Responds With A Most Compelling Answer

This piece is so important to read in its entirety. Please go to the link below.

via Why Judaism? 


How We Undersell Zuckerberg and Jewish Teens

For Sale by Owner (film)

What are we selling? Why would Jewish teens buy?

This morning I read a piece by Reform Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan titled “We Failed Zuckerberg” about the movement’s failure to capture the facebook mogul’s attention in a meaningful way.

He referred to the fact that Zuckerberg does not seem to be living a committed Jewish life, though Mark celebrated a bar mitzvah and his parents are long-time members of a reform congregation.  (Okay, so was there any Jewish education post-Bar Mitzvah when teens are actually ready to grapple with questions of belief and practice?)

Kaplan mentioned that Reform theology might be to blame, as it is a bit vacuous, and the big miss by the movement is in failing to attract young adults, who do want a more rational and intellectual approach to Judaism.  It was a really well-written piece that encouraged some cheshbon-hanefesh (soul-searching) of the movement.

Yet, something in the piece troubled me.

With all the effort at pluralistic thinking and embracing others, the movement seems to have lost its guts.

Yes, guts to stand up for what might make a difference for Jewish continuity. My intention here is not to blame, but to challenge all of us to clarify for ourselves what our goals are in Jewish education. What exactly are we ‘selling’?

If it’s about a personal spiritual journey, with the goal of connecting to a Higher Entity than say so.  But if it’s about the continuation of the Jewish people, every movement needs to back that up with words, actions, programs and educational efforts that match that intention.

In short, what do you want your teens to live like in a few years? If it’s the Zuckerberg model Kaplan refers to, then continue as is. If not, then roll up your sleeves because there is a disconnect in what Kaplan writes:

“…. as a Reform rabbi, it would be hard for me to tell a congregant not to  date anyone who was not already Jewish (all bolded words, my emphasis). I would urge congregants to talk about  their commitment to Judaism with any potential romantic interest and make it  clear from the beginning that Judaism is an important and hopefully central part  of their life. But it is simply impractical to tell single people to restrict  their dating gaze to those who are of the Jewish faith. Even if we wanted to say  such a thing, the reality in our congregations would make such exhortations  antiquated and irrelevant.

Have we become membership machines? What would be the result of this ‘antiquated’ and ‘irrelevant’ request? Members may be insulted, get in a huff, feel that they may not be up to certain standards…and then leave. Really? Then we are selling ourselves short. It isn’t a zero sum game.

We need to straddle both camps, that of the committed and that of the embracing. It is possible. Hard, but possible.

Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan affirms this himself when he states that “many of the most devoted Reform Jews  are non-Jews who married Jews and embraced Judaism later, sometimes years or  even decades later.”

I believe we need to welcome Interfaith families. Yet, that doesn’t mean that we give up entirely on what we feel can be a change-maker for Jewish identity and continuity….staying and marrying Jewish and raising Jewish families.

Have we become so politically correct that our values are slipping?

We are underselling the intelligence of our Jewish teens if we think that our wishy-washiness will bring them closer to our point of view.

The opposite is true—-having the guts to say what we believe, and providing sound reasons for it (all we need to do is share some statistics to make the point), we can emerge from any discourse feeling proud that we stand for something.  If we have something of value to sell, then let’s sell it–proudly.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia