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March 5, 2024- 25 Adar 5784

03/04/2024 01:55:51 PM


Judaism is revealed religion: the Torah is understood as having come directly from God, heard by the assembled at Mount Sinai, Moses through the wilderness years, and prophets until Malachi ca 300 bce. Modern scholarship aside for the moment, the tradition of written law and oral law, each contained in what Moses heard in those 40-day stays on the mountaintop, served to sustain Jewish life, unity and faith into modernity.

There was early note taken of problems with the revealed text. Words crop up that are anachronistic, grammatical irregularities were early noted, and duplication of storylines or sections militated against an academic acceptance of the traditional account long before ‘critical theory’ divided the text into at least four sources. Commonly referred to a J, E, P and D—those use Jahweh or Elohim to describe God, those representing the Priestly point of view and the distinctive style of Deuteronomy. Of course, it remains ‘theory’…and the authors are hidden.

Revelation might appear to be the opposite of hiding, though philosophy would say that in every revelation there is a hiding. The mystery remains in that which is eliminated by fixing some elements. The connection between revelation and faith is strong in Judaism, and equally or even more so in Christianity and Islam. Both the starting point and the faith differs among the ‘peoples of the Book’.

Judaism still focuses on the original text of TaNaCh, but for many has moved beyond those sacred documents. Implicit in the context and the details of Jewish scripture are the ways that God recedes into the background, while guidelines for human behavior in very practical matters emerge and even take precedence. Belief in God is traditional, but it is concepts like derech eretz — common courtesy — that dominate expectations for public life.

One result of this peculiar tilt to Judaism is a reduced discussion of theology, of characteristics of God, or eschatology—the end game. We operate in the here and now, influenced by the long record of events and taught by the countless generations of our tradition. We address God both through prayer and, often, through God deeds, the 613 mitzvot that define Jewish life.

Parts of the ancient Jewish understanding do carry over into both Christianity and Islam. Public Christian worship took much from the ritual of the Temple, incorporating it into a sacred service of sacrifice through which salvation could be secured. The altar, the priest, and the consecration of the Host are directly traceable to ancient Jewish practice. 

Islam took up different concerns, which perhaps illustrate the customs of ancient desert peoples. Their dietary rules (Hallal) and concerns with ritual purity parallel Jewish practice. The Quran, Islamic scripture, remains more central to daily life, along with centuries of interpretation. Studying the text is a religious duty, Sura by Sura, reciting the words the Mohammad acquired through revelation.

With all that we share, it remains remarkable that these three versions of monotheistic faith are so often at odds. And as we enter the month of March and hold out hope for a cessation of hostilities among Moslem, Christians and Jews, there is much that is sacred to each group in the coming weeks. Christians are in the midst of their sacred season of Lent, with its somber and restrictive traditions leading to the origin HolyWeek and Easter celebrations. 

Judaism—during the added month of Adar Bet in 5784– observes the Feast of Esther, Purim, ever one month before Pesach. While Adar is a joyous time, Pesach has more somber overtones. Lengthy preparations, clearing of all leavened goods, and preparation for the days of leaven-free eating are a challenge.

Islam, whose calendar is strictly based on the sighting of the crescent moon, will be observing, too: beginning Sunday evening, March 9, the month of Ramadan is central to daily life. Traditional observers will rise early to eat, then fast until sunset. Festive daily feasts mark the days whose origin is in the revelation of the Quran to Mohammed. This is the Islamic origin story, the beginning of a monotheistic, non-representational faith tradition. During its first century, Islam was powered by its progressive spirit from Saudi Arabia, across North Africa, and across the Iberian Peninsula. 

There is an added piece at the end of the calendar month of March. In 1948, the war known to Israel as the War of Independence began soon after the UN resolution on the partition of Palestine (November 29, 1947), but it was the events late in March, which saw massive flight by Palestinian Arabs, that acquired the name Nakia — catastrophe — that retains the bitter disappointment of the people whose descendants still lack a nation of their own.

Since October 7, 2023, the warfare rages again. The freeing of captured Israelis is first priority. For Israelis, restoration of calm and quiet is the goal.  Peace can yet be achieved. The details are the hardest part.

I started this essay after the news offered hope of a timely finish for agreement. I am saddened that we are not there yet. A blessed Eid, a peaceful one, is needed for all.

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784