A Call for Calf Control (quick comment on Torah Portion “Ki Tisa”)

Make no mistake! The Golden Calf is alive and well and living in your community. And in mine!

We worship the Golden Calf each time we opt for what is easy and selfish over what is just and right.

This year, as we often do, we read the story of the Calf on the Shabbat following Purim. The stories teach similar lessons. In the Book of Esther Vashti was Queen of Persia, the most powerful country in the world. Yet when her husband ordered her to appear before his drunken friends, she chose dignity and self-respect over ease and luxury.

Esther made a similar choice when she put her life on the line to save our people. The Golden Calf lured both of these courageous women, but—in glorious examples for us today–they were able to resist.

Cherokee Wisdom

In a Cherokee legend a grandfather explains to his grandchild: “Two wolves fight within each person. One is selfish and greedy and the other is caring and kind.”

“Which one wins,” the child asked?

“The one that you feed,” his grandfather answered.

In Germany, of course, a ferocious wolf is the symbol of the horrors of the Nazi era. But wolves can also be kind, gentle and nurturing.

As once again we ponder the lessons of the Purim story and the account of the Golden Calf we, like Vashti and Esther, must choose between that which is real and enduring over that which is fleeting and vain. We can follow God’s path or that of the Golden Calf. Or as the Cherokee teach, we must decide which wolf we wish to feed.

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Skip & Debbi

Sometimes like manna from heaven undeserved gifts come our way. For me Skip and Debbi are such a gift.

Skip Conover and I were fraternity brothers at Hamilton College long ago, but we never were close. His remarkable career has taken him around the world many times over, and he has become a prolific author and blogger. He discovered my book and felt that he wanted to promote it on his website which focuses on the ideas of the world renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung.

Wait, there’s more!

But that’s just the beginning! He invited me to his home in Annapolis to make an audio edition of What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.” “But Skip,” I warned him, “I am about as computer ignorant as they come.”Fuchs-Cover photo

“Don’t worry” he answered.” I’ll walk you through in a day the process it took me three months to learn.”

He was better than his word. Not only did he walk me through the (for me) complex process of laying down the tracks, he vowed to get the time consuming sound-editing process finished before he leaves for his daughter’s wedding in Ireland next week.

“I am doing this,” he explained, “because I believe your book can be an important influence for good. It stems from Jung’s idea of the “collective unconscious.” Somebody might read it on the other side of the world—maybe an Islamic fundamentalist or an atheist—thinking he/she disagrees completely. But one of the things Jung taught is that when we read something, we subconsciously begin to think about it. Slowly, imperceptibly our thoughts begin to change.”

For me it happened quickly

I had to think about that one until his wife Debbi McGlauflin proved his words true. Only the process was not “Slowly imperceptibly” but rapid indeed. Debbi is an avid Buddhist who thinks deeply and writes beautifully. She gifted me with two of her poetry collections which I read on the plane home. One of the main ideas is that we take a huge step toward enlightenment by valuing others above ourselves and truly suppressing our ego.

“Are you kidding me,” I said to myself.  A healthy ego is a vital component of a healthy person. We don’t need ego suppression, we need good balance. I try to value people as myself but above myself? I don’t think so. “As Hillel famously said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, but if I am for myself alone, what am I … ?”

But by the time I reached home that evening, Debbi’s gift had taken on real value. Yes, I still believe in Hillel’s balance, but I had to acknowledge how frequently the “If I am not for myself, who will be for me” part of the formula weighed down my teeter totter. I began to see how a dash of Buddhist wisdom could be a very good thing indeed.

A week ago, I hardly knew Skip and had never heard of Debbi. Now like a gift from heaven their generosity and wisdom are making difference in the quality of my life.

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Unverdiente Ehre (German translation of “I Didn’t Deserve it”)

Was für ein emotionaler Höhenflug war das, als ich am Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles während unserer Ausbildung mit dem Preis für die beste Predigt in der College-Kapelle ausgezeichnet wurde. Lang ist das her! Meine Freude wurde etwas getrübt, als der Professor mir sagte: “Meiner Meinung nach hättest du dir den Preis mit Jerry Winston teilen sollen.”

“Aber an dem Tag, an dem ich gepredigt habe, waren Sie gar nicht da!”, antwortete ich, “Wie können Sie da entscheiden?”

“Ich habe deine Predigt gelesen und kann mir sehr gut vorstellen, wie sie geklungen hat.”

“Nein kannst du nicht!”, sagte ich zu mir selbst, sehr glücklich, dass ich den Preis gewonnen hatte … absolut!

Jerry Wilson war damals einzigartig, ein Mann in den Vierzigern, der sich nach einer erfolgreichen Karriere als Hollywood – Schreiber entschlossen hatte, Rabbi zu werden. Er war höflich und freundlich. Er lebt nicht mehr, aber ich werde ihn und seine Predigt nie vergessen.

Er thematisierte die Auseinandersetzung darüber, welche Kleidung ein Rabbi am Lesepult tragen sollte: Talar oder kein Talar, Tallit oder kein Tallit, Kippa oder barhäuptig? Geschickt verband er diese Diskussion mit dem Tora-Abschnitt dieser Woche Tetzaveh, der ausführlichen die Kleidung der Priester in alter Zeit beschreibt

Als er fertig war, trat er vor das Pult und sagte Worte, die ich nie vergessen werde:

“Wenn du dir Gedanken machst, was du für den Gottesdienst anziehen sollst, trag die Tora. Und wenn sie nicht ganz passt, macht nichts! Du wirst in sie hineinwachsen.”

Jerry, ich hoffe es gefällt dir zu erfahren, dass ich seit 45 Jahren versuche zu tun, was du gesagt hast. Und für’s Protokoll: Ich denke, du hättest den Prize bekommen sollen … absolut!

(Translation: Pastor Ursula Sieg)

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I Didn’t Deserve It

What a thrill it was for me to be awarded the prize for the “Best Sermon Preached in the College Chapel” during graduation exercises at Hebrew Union college in Los Angeles long ago. My joy was dampened just a bit when a professor shared with me, “I thought you and Jerry Winston should have shared the prize.”

“But you were not even there the day I spoke,” I answered. “How can you tell?”

“I read your sermon so I have a very good idea how it sounded.”

“No, you don’t,” I said to myself, very glad I had won the prize … outright.

Jerry Winston was unique in those days, a man in his forties who decided to be a rabbi after a successful career as a writer in Hollywood. He was gentle and kind. He is gone now, but I will never forget him or his sermon.

He addressed the then controversy about what rabbis should wear on the pulpit, robes or no robes, tallit, or no tallit, kipah or bare head? He skillfully tied the discussion to this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, containing elaborate descriptions of the garments worn by the ancient priests.

As he finished, he stepped in front of the pulpit and said words I’ll never forget:

“And if you are concerned about what you should wear on the pulpit, wear the Torah. And if it doesn’t quite fit, don’t worry. You’ll grow into it.”

Jerry, I hope it would please you to know that I have been trying to do what you said for 45 years. And just for the record, I think you should have won that prize … outright!

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Beschämt! Translation of “Mortified!” by Pastor Ursula Sieg

Die Tora-Lesung dieser Woche beschreibt detailliert die kunstvolle Kleidung unserer Priester alter Zeiten. Sie bringt mir eine lebendige Kindheitserinnerung vor Augen: Ich werde nie den Tag vergessen, als ich als Sechstklässler beschloss in Khaki – Hose und Turnschuhen zur Sonntagsschule in den Tempel zu gehen. Ich wäre nie auf die Idee gekommen, so auch am Schabbat in die Synagoge zu gehen. Trotzdem war meine Mutter entsetzt: “So kannst du nicht losgehen! “, bettelte sie, “Du siehst aus wie ein Lotterheini! Und was willst du dem Rabbi sagen, wenn er sich so sieht?”

“Mach dir keine Sorgen,der Rabbi wird mich nicht sehen, weil ich mich durch den Hintereingang reinschleiche.”

Mama entschied, dass diese Angelegenheit einen Krieg mit ihrem eigensinnigen Sohn nicht wert wäre. Als ich mich durch den Hintereingang in den Betsaal schlich, stand der Rabbi da: “Turnschuhe in der Synagoge”; bemerkte er unglücklich, “sehr schön!”

Natürlich schämte ich mich und überlegte ob meine Mutter Hellseherin geworden war.

Die Zeiten haben sich geändert, aber…

Seit diesem lang zurückliegenden Tag haben sich die Bekleidungsmaßstäbe sehr geändert. Jetzt kommen Kinder im Fußball Trikot, zerrissenen Jeans und T-Shirts. “Freu dich, dass sie überhaupt hier sind!”, ermahnen mich die Leute. Ich freu mich ja! Aber wundern tu ich mich doch:

Was wäre eine gute Idee um sich für die Synagoge ein klein wenig hübscher anzuziehen als sonst? Klar: Ordentliche Khaki – Hosen und Turnschuhe wie die, die ich damals trug, wäre grade richtig!

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Mortified! (A thought about Torah portion Tetzaveh)

This week’s Torah portion detailing the elaborate costumes worn by our ancient priests brings to mind a vivid childhood memory! I will never forget the day when I was in the sixth grade, and I wanted to wear khakis and sneakers to a service at the Temple. My mother was horrified.

“You can’t go like that,” she pleaded! “You look like a schlump (ragamuffin). And what are you going to say when the rabbi sees you!”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” I answered. “The rabbi is not going to see me because I will just slip in through the back entrance!”

Mom decided that this issue wasn’t worth an all out war with her headstrong son. As I was slipping in through the back stairs to the sanctuary there stood the rabbi.“Sneakers to temple,” he remarked, unhappily. “Very nice!”

I was mortified, of course, while wondering how my mother had become clairvoyant.

Times have changed, but …

There has been a sea change in standards of dress since that long ago day! Now kids come in their soccer uniforms, torn jeans and Tee shirts

“Be glad they are there at all,” people admonish. I am. But still I wonder …

Isn’t there something to be said for wearing something a little bit nicer to synagogue than what you wear the rest of the time? I think there is! Neat looking khakis and sneakers like those I wore that day long ago would be just fine!

All set for Shabbat Services!

All set for Shabbat Services!

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Purim für Erwachsene (Purim for Adults)

For my German readers, my dear friend, Pastor Ursula Sieg, Director of Church-School Relations in Northern Germany, with whom I have worked so closely, has graciously translated my essay on “The Adult Issues of Purim.” I hope you will find it meaningful and instructive. Thank you, Ursula, for this wonderful gift!

In den vierzig Jahren als Gemeinde-Rabbiner entwickelte sich Purim für mich vom einem netten Fest beinahe zu einem dritten Hohen Feiertag.

Wir lesen die Megillah Esther nicht mehr einfach um Esther zu bejubeln und Haman auszubuhen. Mittlerweile erwarten wir ausgefeilte Choreographien und sorgfältig eingeübte Purim-Spiele mit gewitzten Reimen gesungen zu Popsongs oder Showmusik. In der Gemeinde Beth Israel ist die clevere Lyrik von Pattie Weiss Levy legendär. Jede Gemeinde hat ihren eigenen Barden.

Wunderbar! Als Rabbiner freue ich mich über alles,, was die Beteiligung am Synagogenleben fördert und die Festfreude steigert. Um den Purim-Effekt voll zur Geltung kommen zu lassen, brauchen wir allerdings mehr als gute Musik, Rasseln, Kostüme, Karneval, Lärm und Fröhlichkeit. Wir müssen die Purim-Geschichte auf das Leben beziehen – sowohl als Kinder wie als Erwachsenen – weil sie bei näherem Hinsehen sehr lehrreich ist. Hier sind drei Beispiele:

Der Mut der Vasti

Wir sollten den Mut der Vasti bedenken, König Ahasveros’ erster Frau. Die Geschichte beginnt damit, dass der mächtigste Mann der Welt ihr befiehlt, ihre Schönheit vor seinen betrunkenen Freunden zur Schau zur stellen. Sie aber weigert sich. Sie muss natürlich für den weiteren Verlauf der Geschichte die Bühne verlassen. Aber wir sollten sie mit Standing Ovations hinausgeleiten.

Vasti ist ein wichtiges Beispiel für alle Frauen. Ihr Verhalten ist ein guter Ausgangspunkt für Diskussionen darüber, wie Frauen häufig behandelt werden, und wie sie darauf reagieren können. Vasti weigert sich, bloßes Sexobjekt zu sein, selbst wenn es sie den Thron kostet. Vasti ist ein herausragendes Beispiel einer Person, für die Berühmtheit und gesellschaftliche Stellung weniger wichtig sind als ihre Würde als Mensch.

Vorurteile

Eine lebenswichtige Lektion über Vorurteile wird uns mit der Weigerung Mordechais geschenkt, sich vor Haman zu verneigen. Haman ist verärgert, doch das Buch Esther berichtet: “… es war ihm nicht genug, nur Mordechai zu strafen, denn sie hatten ihm von Mordechais Volk erzählt.” (Esther 3,5). Nein! Wegen seines Ärgers über einen Mann trachtete Haman nach der Vernichtung aller Juden.

Gefühle gegenüber einer Person auf eine ganze Gruppe zu verallgemeinern, ist ein Beispiel aus dem Lehrbuch für Vorurteile. Traurigerweise wurde unser Volk durch die ganze Geschichte hindurch oftmals mit Vorurteilen wie im Buch Esther konfrontiert und in erschreckender Regelmäßigkeit tauchen sie wieder auf. Viele andere Gruppen werden auch mit Vorurteilen konfrontiert. Rassismus, Sexismus, Seniorenfeindlichkeit und Homophobie sind nur einige der typischen Vorurteile die der Welt heute zu schaffen machen. Die Purim-Geschichte bietet uns ein lebensnotwendiges Beispiel dieses Phänomens, das wir gewinnbringend diskutieren können.

Bestimmung des Menschen

Eine weitere lebenswichtige Lektion behandelt die Bestimmung des Menschen, den Sinn des Lebens. Als Mordechai Hamans Erlass las, der alle Juden zum Tode verurteilt, schickt er eine Nachricht an Esther, sie solle sich für ihr Volk einsetzen. Esther antwortete, dass sie sich nicht traut vor dem König zu erscheinen, weil er sie nicht gerufen hatte. Ungebeten beim König zu erscheinen, könnte das Leben kosten. Als er sie drängte hin zu gehen, stellt er Esther eine Frage, die wir uns auch stellen sollten: “Wer weiß, ob nicht wegen dieser Zeit in diese Position gekommen bist?” (Esther 4,14)

Mordechai fragt tatsächlich uns alle: Sind wir nur auf dieser Erde um Ärger zu vermeiden und das Leben zu genießen? Ist unser Komfort der vorrangige Zweck unseres Lebens? Die jüdische Tradition und das Buch Esther sagen: Nein! Esther hätte ihr Leben in Luxus genießen und das Elend ihres Volkes ignorieren können. Aber Mordechais Frage hat Esthers Gewissen genügend angestachelt, so dass sie alles riskierte um die Juden zu retten.

So wie Esther haben wir alle Momente im Leben, in denen es auf unser Tun und Lassen ankommt. Wir können diese Momente ergreifen oder uns von ihnen abwenden. Weil Esther ihre Angst überwindet und tut, was der Moment fordert, inspiriert sie uns alle.

Wenn wir also auf Purim zugehen, lasst uns mehr vorbereiten als Spaß, Spiele und tolle Musik. Den Mut der Vasti verkörpern, Vorurteile wahrnehmen und im entscheidenen Moment unsere Bestimmung erfüllen macht die Geschichte der Esther zu unserer Geschichte, eine Geschichte, die unsere jüdischen Seelen noch lange nach dem Fest bereichern kann.

(Rabbiner Stephen Lewis Fuchs ist der Autor des Buches “What is in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives. Er war President der Weltunion für progressives Judentum und Rabbiner an Congregation Beth Israel.)

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Beyond the Grogger: Adult Issues of Purim

During the 40 years that I served as a congregational rabbi, Purim evolved from a pleasant celebration into what has become almost a third High Holy Day.

Attendance has boomed as we no longer simply read the Megillah to cheer Esther and boo Haman. We have come to expect elaborately choreographed and carefully rehearsed Purim Spiels with clever lyrics sung to the tunes of popular songs or show tunes. At Congregation Beth Israel, Pattie Weiss Levy has become a legend for the clever lyrics she writes. Other communities have their bards as well!

How wonderful! As a rabbi I am all in favor of anything that increases involvement in synagogue life and multiplies the joy of our festival celebrations.

To maximize the “Purim effect” we can offer more than great music, groggers, costumes, carnivals, noise and merriment. We need to relate the Story of Purim to the lives of our congregants–both children and adults–because the Purim story has so much to teach us if we look at it closely. Here are three examples:

The Courage of Vashti

 We should ponder the courage of Vashti, King Ahasueras’ first wife. In the story, the world’s most powerful man commands her to display her beauty for his drunken friends, but she refuses. Of course in the story line Vashti must exit the stage for Esther to enter. But we should usher her off with a standing ovation.

Vashti is a worthy role model for every woman. Her actions provide a great jumping off point for a discussion about how women are often treated and how they can choose to respond. Vashti refused to simply be a sex object even at the price of her throne. Vashti is a wonderful example of one for whom popularity and position were less important than her dignity as a human being. Would that more of us had the courage to follow her example!

Prejudice

 A vital lesson about prejudice presents itself when Mordecai refuses to bow down before Haman. Haman is angry, but as the Book of Esther records: “…it was not enough for him to punish Mordecai alone, for they had told him the people of

Mordecai” (Esther 3:5). No, because of his anger at one man, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews.

Generalizing feelings about an individual to an entire group is a textbook example of prejudice. Sadly, the prejudice we see in the book of Esther has confronted our people many times throughout history and is rearing its ahead again with frightful frequency. It confronts many other groups as well. Racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia are just some of the types of prejudice that plague our world today. The Purim story provides a vivid example of this phenomenon that we can profitably discuss with groups of all ages.

Human Destiny

 A third vital lesson is about human destiny and the meaning of life. When Mordecai read Haman’s decree condemning the Jews of Persia to death, he sent a message to Esther to intercede for her people. Esther’s response was that she dared not enter the presence of the king because he had not summoned her. To go to the king unbidden would be to risk her very life.

When he urges her to go anyway, Mordecai asks Esther a question we should all ask ourselves: “Who knows if you have not come to your position for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Mordecai’s really asks us all: Are we on this earth just to avoid trouble and enjoy life? Is our own comfort the primary purpose of our existence? Jewish tradition and the Book of Esther say, “No.”

Esther could have lived out her life in luxury by ignoring the plight of our people. But Mordecai’s question pricked her conscience enough so that she risked everything in an effort to save the Jews.

Like Esther, we all have moments when our action or inaction will make a vital difference. We can seize these moments or turn away from them. By swallowing her fear and seizing her moment Esther inspires us all.

So as Purim approaches let us prepare for more than fun, games and great music. Modeling the courage of Vashti, recognizing prejudice and seizing our destiny at crucial moments make the Story of Esther our story, a story that can enrich our Jewish souls long after the celebration is over.

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Should Christians Convert Jews?

When I was 5 years old, my mother gave me a precious gift. I can still see that 78 rpm record, with its turquoise-blue label in the center spinning round and round on my little Victrola, playing over and over again songs entitled “Little Songs on Big Subjects.” One of my favorites was and is the one that went like this:

“I’m proud to be me, but I also see
You’re just as proud to be you.”

I have always been proud to be a Jew. I have always tried to respect the religions of others.

It was indescribably hurtful to Jews some years ago when the Southern Baptist Convention announced a concerted effort to bring Jews to belief in Jesus. In contrast, how proud I was to write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper expressing my support and my appreciation for two Southern Baptist ministers who disavowed publicly their movement’s attempt to convert Jews. These ministers bravely affirmed the legitimacy of religious diversity. They affirmed the legitimacy of different paths to the one, true God. Thankfully, many other Christian scholars have written in a similar vein.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, fundamentalist Christians talk of their unavoidable claim to follow the “Great Commission” of the 28th chapter of the book of Matthew and other passages in the New Testament to bring the word of Jesus to all the nations. But, according to my friend and my teacher, Prof. A.J. Levine, the “Gentile nations” is the reference in Matthew 28. The Greek word often translated as “nations” has a similar connotation to the Hebrew word goyim, which means all of the nations except the nation and the people of Israel. I commend these interpretations to evangelicals, and hope they will find their way to them.

People often ask me, “Why do Jews for Jesus campaigns cause you such pain? Why do you feel a need to respond so forcefully. I believe that attempts to bring Jews to Jesus is, at best, motivated by misguided love. One only need take a quick look at history and see the results–the inevitable results–of this so called love as it has played itself out over the centuries. In country after country after country, Christians have lovingly expressed their concern for our salvation and invited us to accept Jesus. Over and over and over again, when we refused that invitation, that love has turned to venom and hatred. Often it has led to expulsion and death.

The outstanding contemporary Jewish philosopher, Emil Fackenheim, of blessed memory,  put it this way. “The Holocaust was the culmination of a 2,000-year campaign by the Christian world against the Jews. It began early on with them telling us, `You cannot live here as Jews.’ And in country after country, they forced us to convert. Later the message became, `You cannot live here.’ And in country after country, they forced us to leave. Hitler’s message was, `You cannot live.’ And they exterminated one-third of our people.”

When a Jew accepts Jesus as his or her Messiah, he or she fulfills no biblical prophecy. When a Jew accepts Jesus as Messiah, he or she becomes a Christian and leaves the Jewish religious community. One cannot be both Jew and Christian at the same time. So it has been for more than 1,800 years, when our religions split and went their separate ways. So it remains today.
If one wishes to be a Christian, I hope that path brings him or her spiritual fulfillment. But he or she cannot be a Jew at the same time.

If the campaign to bring Jews to Jesus meets with its ultimate success, if it reaches its ultimate goal and every Jew becomes Christian, then the end result will indeed be as if Hitler had won the war. There will be no more Jews. That, in a nutshell, is why these campaigns cause such pain.

Four thousand years ago, Abram left the pagan world, along with his wife, Sarai, to teach of a single, good, caring God who wants us human beings to use our talents to create a just, caring, compassionate society. Christians call that justification by works, and they are absolutely 100 per cent correct. That is exactly what it is, and that is one of the fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity. We justify ourselves, not so much by what we believe, but by what we do. I understand and I respect fully that Christians see it differently, but I know how much good the world has derived because we Jews have insisted on following our unique and particular path to God.

My plea is that different faith traditions can live side by side in mutual respect and peace. Mutual respect precludes belittling the integrity of our religion as it is. If Jesus brings fulfillment and satisfaction and meaning in life to Christians, I say it again, I am happy for them. But Jesus plays no role, no role whatsoever in the religious thinking of the Jew.

Why? There are three major claims which Christians make for Jesus which Jews categorically reject:
1. That the martyr’s death that Jesus endured in any way effects atonement for the collective sins of humanity or the sins of the individual.
2. We reject the idea that God became or is likely to become incarnate in any human form, making any human being a suitable object for worship.
3. We reject that, as Paul contends in his epistles, the life and death of Jesus rendered the elaborate system of Jewish law and observances functionally useless. If you believe that any one of these claims is true, then you may be a Christian, but you are not a Jew.

By the time Jesus lived and died, Jewish messianic expectations were really quite clear. The Messiah our people expected would do four things, also on your sheet:
1. End the Roman oppression of the Jews.
2. Restore a descendant of King David over a reunited Land of Israel.
3. Bring about the miraculous return of the scattered exiles to the Land of Israel.
4. Inaugurate an endless era of peace and harmony in the world.

Put quite simply, Jesus did none of these things. Therefore, he cannot be the Jewish Messiah.
Bible-believing Christians often quote passage after passage in the Hebrew scriptures which they say point unmistakably to events and circumstances of Jesus’ life which the New Testament recounts. “How could this be,” they ask, “if Jesus were not the Messiah of whom the prophets spoke?”
“How can this be?” I answer. “It is very simple. The 18th-century preacher, Jacob Krantz, the famed Maggid (storyteller) of Dubnow in Poland, told a story which answers the question.

Once there was a man riding through the countryside in his wagon. He came upon a long barn, and on the side of the barn were several targets. Right smack in the middle of the bull’s eye in each and every target was an arrow.

The man stopped his carriage and said, “I must meet this person who shoots so perfectly every time.” So he stopped his carriage and found the owner of the barn. He asked him, “How is it that you never miss hitting the dead center of the bull’s eye every time you shoot your arrow?”
“It’s quite easy,” the man answered. “You see, first I shoot the arrow into the barn, and then I draw the target around it.”

How do New Testament writings show that Jesus’ life and actions comply with predictions in Hebrew scriptures? It’s easy. New Testament writers wrote their stories so that their accounts of Jesus’ life would match the prophetic passages which they knew so well from Hebrew scriptures.

A Jew for Jesus is every bit as much a contradiction in terms as a Christian Not for Christ. Make no mistake. Jews for Jesus and Messianic Judaism are big businesses backed by big money. They take out full-page ads in Newsweek, in Time, in The New York Times. They are on television almost every hour on every day of the week. There is a magazine called Charisma. In one issue, with a so-called Messianic Rabbi on the cover, they tell those who would lure Jews away from Judaism what to do and what not to do.

The article says, “Do be a friend. Create a sincere friendship first. Don’t just try to convert the Jewish people. Do say `Messiah.’ Don’t say `Christ.’ Do say `believer.’ Don’t say `Christian.’ Do say `New Covenant’ or `Old Covenant.’ Don’t say `New Testament’ or `Old Testament.’ Do say `congregation.’ Don’t say `church.’ Do say `completed’ or `fulfilled.’ Don’t say `saved’ or `born again.’ Do say `Messianic Jew.’ Don’t say `Christian.’ ”

It is a subtle and crafty and carefully contrived campaign to lure those Jews who don’t really know what it means to be Jewish into another religious faith. When I hear how Christians claim their tradition compels them to witness aggressively to Jews, out of their love for Jews, I think every time of the story of the Hasidic disciple who approached his rebbe and exclaimed, “Master, I love you!”
And the rebbe responded, “Do you know what hurts me?”
The disciple answered, “No, Rebbe, how can I know what hurts you?”
The Rebbe answered him, “If you do not know what hurts me, you cannot love me.”
For me, that is the bottom line. You cannot love me, you cannot truly be my friend, if you do not acknowledge what hurts me so deeply and desist from inflicting that pain.

One woman, in response to some newspaper articles in which I was quoted, wrote me a letter that said, “Rabbi, how can we not proclaim Jesus to you? If you had cancer, and I had the cure for cancer, would it not be an act of friendship and love for me to share my cure with you?”
With all due respect, I do not have, thank God, cancer! I have a faith which sustains me. I have a faith which I cherish. I have a faith which makes me a better person than I otherwise would be. I have a faith which is full and complete, and it is in no need of any cure or any outside savior.

If I wanted to put the argument in biblical terms, I would do it this way. Did God make a covenant with Abraham? Of course, God did. God promised the Jewish people protection, progeny, permanence as a people, and property, the Land of Israel. In return, God stipulated that we, the children of Israel, had to be a blessing in their lives. (Genesis 12:2) We have to walk in God’s ways and be worthy. (Genesis 17:1) We have to be teachers and examples of justice and righteousness. (Genesis 18:19).

Those were the terms of the covenant in the book of Genesis that God established with Abraham and us, Abraham’s descendants. Is that covenant irrevocable? Of course it is. Christian scripture says it over and over again. Is God a liar? Of course not. So I say to any Christian who would be my friend: We have our covenant with God. It is complete. It is irrevocable. God is not a liar. We have no need for Jesus. If you cannot respect our faith, then please simply leave us alone.

If we really understand the meaning of Abraham’s covenant, we understand too that the entire Christian metaphor of God sacrificing his son on a cross is antithetical to Jewish teaching. On Rosh Hashanah each year, we read of how God called Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him. At the crucial moment, though, God called to Abraham, “Stop! Do not lay your hand upon the boy, and do him no harm.” The lesson is that no true religion requires human sacrifice in its name. The lesson is that human sacrifice is abhorrent to the God we worship.

For Jews human sacrifice is in God’s eyes an unforgivable act. The gospel idea that God would sacrifice his son is antithetical to Jewish teaching from that day to this. It should surprise no one, therefore, that Jews do not accept Jesus as Christians do.

There was profound wisdom in the words of the song on the record my mother gave me so long ago: “I am proud to me, but I also see you’re just as proud to be you. It is just human nature, so why should I hate you for being as human as I? We’ll give as we give, if we live and let live, and we’ll both get along if we try.”

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A Life Changing Event

slfuchs:

It happened three years ago today!

Originally posted on FindingOurselvesInBiblicalNarratives:

A little over two years ago I was on my way from Fort Lauderdale to speak at Kabbalat Shabbat services at Temple Judea in Coral Gables, Florida, I suddenly realized that I was hearing nothing in my right ear. I thought it would pass. It did not, and it has not since.

The ear specialist had no explanation. He believes it is inner ear nerve damage and that it is permanent. An MRI showed a virus, but still there was no explanation. “Sudden complete hearing loss in one ear is unusual, ” the doctor explained, “but it is not unheard of.”

Life has been different ever since. Crowd noises are deafening. Large gatherings of people are no fun, and most of the time if I want to hear what someone says to me, I must look straight at their lips.

As I continue to adjust to the reality of having…

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