Guest Blog: No! Christians Should Not Convert Jews! By Pastor Ursula Sieg

Pastor Ursula Sieg, who arranged an coordinated every aspect of the ten weeks Vickie and I spent in Germany this past fall, has written a thoughtful, scholarly Christian response to my essay “Should Christians Convert Jews?” It is my privilege to share it with my readers.

No! Christians should not convert Jews!

That is the essence of the answer Rabbi Stephen Fuchs gave in his blog essay to his own question: “Should Christians Convert Jews?” He argues against Christians who are dedicated to convert every single Jew and whose methods are far beyond respect, politeness or fairness. I can understand his outrage and his effort to provide his Jewish readers good reasons and strength against these never- ending, annoying attempts to make them Christians.

Unfortunately, his arguments don’t touch just those particular Christian groups. They don’t have a different Jesus or a different Bible than other Christians all over the world. All Christians share Bible based faith in Jesus as the Christ (which is Greek for “Messiah.”). But we have many different interpretations.

I will try giving the same answer as Rabbi Fuchs does “No! Christians should not convert Jews!” But I base my response on my faith in Jesus Christ.

But before doing it, I need to address something quite important for me as a German Christan: Our responsibility for the Holocaust.

Christianity contributed to the Holocaust in Germany and Europe.

Werner Bergmann, Professor at Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung at Technische Universität Berlin describes the makeup of anti-Semitism before and during Nazi-time:

“The new dimension of antisemitism in contrast to the traditional religious animosity towards Jews, was in first instance not so much its racist orientation but the fact that this hostility assumed the form of a political or social movement. The reason for its emergence must be seen in the larger transformations taking place in 19th century Europe, in the social conflicts, economic upheavals, cultural dislocations and social-moral crises. antisemitism, therefore, was not caused by religious conflicts; on the contrary this new kind of hatred against Jews originated from the “great transformation,” the upheaval of the whole way of living in the formation of the industrial world. This transformation led to a “clash of economic mentalities,” and parts of the middle classes and of the peasant population adhered to the “moral economy” of the traditional world. Unable to grasp the new capitalist mentality, they accused the Jews of being responsible for this transformation. The religious tradition of animosity towards Jews in this context served as legitimacy for the new antisemitic rage. Moreover Catholic, Protestant as well as Orthodox clergyman, fearing the cultural upheaval, accused the Jews of being responsible for the social and political conflicts of the 19th Century. Paradoxically, in this way, the Christian Churches played an important part in the making of the new non religious and secular political movement of antisemitism.”

Werner Bergmann, Ulrich Wyrwa, The Making of Anti-Semitism as a Political Movement. Political History as

Cultural History (1879-1914), in “Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Journal of Fondazione CDEC”, n.3 July 2012 url: http://www.quest-cdecjournal.it/index.php?issue=3issue

Christian anti–Judaism was not the sole cause of the Holocaust, but it contributed to it.

During Nazi–time individual Christians rescued Jews, but the churches did not speak out against the persecution of Jews, not even the church-movements, which were against Hitler. After 1945 this failure gave the churches in Germany a huge shock and they started to eliminate anti–Jewish interpretations of the New Testament and anti-Judaism in current preaching and teaching.

The churches today also relate to Judaism and Jews in a totally new way. Most German churches are recognizing the covenant between Adonai and the Jewish people as ongoing and eternal. The church I belong to has it in its constitution:

Die Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche in Norddeutschland bezeugt die bleibende Treue Gottes zu seinem Volk Israel. Sie bleibt im Hören auf Gottes Weisung und in der Hoffnung auf die Vollendung der Gottesherrschaft mit ihm verbunden.

Translation: “The Protestant-Lutheran Church in North Germany affirms the continuing love of God for His people of Israel. It feels connected to it in listening to God’s teachings and in the hope for a fulfillment of God’s Rule.”

As a consequence our Church also rejects every Christian mission to Jews.

Our churches take very seriously the word Paul said regarding Israel: “For the gift and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Letter to the Romans 11,29). For Paul it is clear, that Jews need Jesus for salvation, but it remains God’s secret how it will happen (11,33-36). Paul’s “Mission to the Jews” is praying and being a good-as-possible missionary to the Gentiles. That is the Christian responsibility. It is up to us to bring the salvation that started with Abraham to the world. That is our responsibility. God has his own way for His people Israel. If and how it is related to Jesus is not up to us to decide or figure out, it is God’s secret. That is not our responsibility!

I am happy and grateful that God connected us to God’s covenant with Israel through Jesus and let us participate in their vital relation with God “by effecting atonement for the collective sins of humanity or the sins of the individual.”

In What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives, Rabbi Fuchs points out that the first chapters of the Bible teach about three societies: Eden, post-Eden, and post-flood. All three failed. The last two became violent in a way God would not endure. But God learned from the flood that punishment would not teach human beings anything. So God tried a completely different approach and chose Abraham, his family and people to be a good example. Good! Thanks be to God!

But what happened to the other tribes and nations? How did they survive their own violence? Rabbi Fuchs gives a hint in his chapter about the tower of Babel: “The wickedness of that generation was so great and their disregard of human life so extreme that if a brick fell from a scaffold, all work would stop until the brick was retrieved and placed back in the tower. If, however, a person fell from a scaffold, that was no big deal. They would simply plaster over the injured person and built him into the tower.”

Society needed a sacrifice

That’s what a society needed: a sacrifice. Human sacrifice is the foundation of pagan society. In South-India you can see at a house construction a puppet as tall as a man. It symbolizes the human sacrifice they don’t act out any more. And as a child I read in school a novel (“Schimmelreiter” from Theodor Storm) about the construction of a dike, a very important issue in our country between two oceans. They built a dog in it replacing a baby.

René Girard describes how that works (Easiest access: The Girard Reader. Ed. by. James G. Williams. New York: Crossroad. ISBN 0-8245-1634-6). To build something big, a house, a tower, a dike, a society, people need to be united. But they are not. Jealousy and desire drive them to conflict. There is always something to argue about, one thing which two or more persons or tribes claim to possess. They claim to be right, and the other is wrong and guilty. Both sides are responsible. They are quite similar, but they can’t see it. It is very, very difficult, it not impossible to settle the conflict through negotiations. Hate and violence have their own strong power. They are infectious. They rage out of control until somebody dies. Only blood ends the violence. The one way out of the annihilation is to kill one as a scapegoat. He, she or it is a person for whom nobody would claim revenge.

If a conflict is going to become violent the dynamic between the combatants selects the victim by chance, but everybody including the victim is unwittingly persuaded that the guilty one died. This death immediately ends the conflict and reconciles those who are fighting. In this moment they are able to create laws, taboos and rituals, and they are able to built something together. But the peace does not last forever. New arguments arise, and the society needs new sacrifices to create peace. Over the course of time they replace the real violence and the random sacrifice with a ritual play of violence and a ritual sacrifice with a person carefully chosen and sometimes elected and prepared for this role since birth. In further development they replace the human being with an animal. The sacrificial festivals provide peace as long as they match the structure of society. In processes of transformation the rituals lose power, and violence rises again until it finds a new scapegoat.

The fear the sacrifices create is also the starting point of oppression.

These societies are not just, and the people are not free. The violence is still there but banned and channeled. The original scapegoating and the later sacrifices are in fact murder, but nobody could see this. Those who act them out–the kings and priests–are in power and hold positions of honor.

I guess this his hard to understand for Jews because it it not a Jewish story. It is a pagan story. It is not what God wants for humanity, but it is better than the self-extermination of humanity. So God was patient with it, but thinking of a salvation by choosing one people to show what God really wants for humanity. The Torah teaches how to live without violence and in justice, love and compassion. But because this chosen people also knew jealousy and the desire to do evil, sacrifices are still needed, but not human beings! No murder!

A hallmark of Jewish thought is compassion for the victim. Adonai is the inventor of compassion. And the Bible stories reveal the truth about violence and scapegoating. As Stephen Fuchs writes in his book: “Very often the bible does not tell us how life should be, but how life is.” That is the reason the Bible is often so violent compared to other old stories. Other books hide the violence, but the Bible reveals it. Societies are based on murder, often on fratricide (Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus are the most famous ones.), but the Jewish people is founded on a attempted murder of a brother, that changed into a learning, rescuing, forgiveness and reconciliation process: Joseph and his brothers. (Quite interesting in this regard: Vanessa Avery, The Jewish Vaccine against Mimetic Desire. A Girardian Exploration of a Sabbath Ritual.)

God wanted the Jewish type of society and lifestyle to spread all over the world to free the people. But did that work? It did not. We, the nations did not listen or look to Israel for learning. Instead of emulation of Israel there was hatred toward her because Israel was so different and challenged the pagan societies based on murder. And we proud nations did not like somebody to teach us. There was (and is) not enough humility to say: Yes, we need Gods teaching though Israel!

Now it is going to become a Christian story:

God still wants a just and peaceful world, not only one just and peaceful people. And the world around Israel was drowning in violence. The Roman empire was highly violent. It was based on war and slavery. The Roman state- religion with it ́s public sacrifice was already too weak to ban greed and violence (Guy G. Stroumsa: The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations of Late Antiquity, Chicago University Press, 2009). There was an urgent need to bring the teaching of the Hebrew Bible to the nations. This is what Jesus achieved. He collected like a lens light traditions and teachings of the Hebrew Bible and reflected them into the world.

It is essential for Christianity that Jesus was based on the Hebrew Bible. There is no other salvation than that God shared with Abraham. There is no other liberation than the Exodus. Jesus opened a door to participate in God’s story with Israel. Jesus was deeply grounded in the Hebrew Bible. Yes, the authors of the Gospels created stories mirroring stories from their Hebrew Bible. But the very core was that Jesus himself read his Bible with the question: What is in it for me? He found the purpose of his life in the Bible. He asked: What teaches the Bible how God seeks to deliver the world from violence? How can I contribute to it?

With the answers and consequences he found he was in some ways close to the Pharisees. When he sent his disciples to teach the nations (Matthew 28), they did not start with something completely new, but with new interpretations of the old message of the Tanach.

What of Jesus’ death?

And his death? At that time Jewish society was highly afflicted by the Roman violence – as victims and as collaborators. Jesus became the scapegoat of their conflicts. Jesus was aware of the danger, but let it happen to cease all scapegoating, to end all exclusion and victimizing, to end all (ritual and non-ritual human and animal) sacrifice all over the world:

With his success and independence Jesus challenged those in power and the scapegoat- circle worked to stabilize their power once again. It looked perfect, but there was something different. Usually at the end everybody is sure that the killed person is guilty. Everybody is at peace with this death. And indeed all his friends escaped him or stood apart. It worked, but not perfectly. It could not work in a Jewish society. There were too many individuals dedicated to truth, and there was too much knowledge and feeling about righteousness. Some were not convinced of Jesus’ guilt. Jesus friends turned back to him. Empowered by Jesus resurrection and by Gods spirit they started to claim: Jesus was not guilty! That was the beginning of the worldwide destruction of the scapegoat-mechanism. People started to question it, to call it unjust und murder. For René Girard the story of The Passion is central (René Girard: I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001, p.153). It describes detailed the power play and the scapegoating-circle. This revelation destroys the scapegoating- circle because it only works in complete unconsciousness. Since it is revealed, it is losing power. But that is a long, still ongoing process.

In this way God is delivering us from the fear of dishonor, exclusion and death, the most efficient means of oppression. God again is delivering us from slavery to act out justice, love and compassion. The liberation from slavery, the connection to the Living God, which includes eternal live, and the gift of Torah – that Israel has long had — is now delivered to the nations.

We are all students!

That started a learning-process for the Gentiles that Israel has had for 4000 years. I think one of the biggest mistakes Christianity made is to think we are perfect: We got it! We have the truth! Jesus said very clear in Matthew 28: “So you must go and make disciples of all nations.” We became disciples. That is what we still are: students! Until the end of our lives and the end of this world we are nothing else but students. We are not judges over others faith or world-views. We all have to learn how to live without scapegoating. The world made huge progress in inclusion–that is currently a main agenda in the EU–and evolving systems to implement justice into the whole society and the whole world. But we still have huge and strong mechanisms of exclusion which are very often lethal.

Learning to live without scapegoating includes to not scapegoat Jews. If a society gets into trouble and seeks for a scapegoat Jews – when they were available–used to be the first choice. I believe it was Jesus’ deepest desire to replace his people in becoming scapegoats. Jews don’t want to be replaced by Jesus. We Christians must accept that. Nevertheless following Jesus does not allow us to say: Let them become scapegoats! Following Jesus necessitates standing against anti-Semitism. It means we Christians must stand with Jews in danger becoming society’s scapegoats and – in the worst case – to rescue Jews from persecution. Such actions are the only legitimate “Mission to Jews” – without any attempt of conversion.

Those who tried to rescue Jews during Nazi-time are our most important teachers. It was the biggest mistake in Christian history, to abuse the death of Jesus as a excuse or reason to cause or to join scapegoating Jews. We still have to unlearn it.

For me in daily life believing in Jesus means: Jesus replaces me if I am in danger to become others scapegoat. Being “in” Jesus ensures me that I am not guilty although everyone around points at me. That is for me the meaning of Joel 3,5 quoted in Romans 10,13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And Jesus replaces those who are going to become my scapegoat. Jesus teaching is – like the teachings of the Torah – to live in justice and mutual respect, in love and mutual support. But we fail.

The Power of Holy Communion

Being in need of a scapegoat to end our arguments and conflicts we ought to celebrate Holy Communion, in which Jesus serves as an everlasting scapegoat. Holy Communion has the signs of a sacrifice: slaughtered body and shed blood. And I very often felt: It enables me and others to end conflicts, to reconcile and live in peace.

One of my most treasured memories is of a Holy Communion we celebrated at a JCM – Conference (www.jcm-europe.org). This conference of Jews, Christians and Muslims takes place at Wuppertal each year for a whole week. The participants celebrated everything together: The Muslim Tariqa meeting at Thursday evening, the Friday prayer, the whole Shabbat and finally the Sunday service. It was the protestant turn to prepare the service and I had the honor to lead it and give the sermon (about Genesis 22). That was a big challenge. For the Holy Communion we served at the altar as clergies and deacons from three denominations and four countries: Latvia (Lutheran), Hungary (Reformed), Turkey (Assyrien), Germany (Lutheran). We invited everybody but made very clear, that celebrating Holy Communion means to unify with Jesus and to confess faith into Jesus.

An invitation

Of course the group standing apart was huge and I asked them if they could, while not believing in Jesus like Christians do (Muslims believe in Isa as one of the biggest prophets and many Jews honor Jesus as a good example) they could still praise God about our Christian connection with God through Jesus and express it by singing: “Bless the Lord my soul and bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord my soul who leads me into life.” (By Taizé-Community) during Holy Communion. They did! What a gift and blessing!

I would love for the world to be like this! Bad Segeberg, Germany, 2014-3-29

Six Women Made Passover Possible

I don’t think we need “Women’s Seders” (although I have no objection to them), nor do we need an orange on the Seder plate. What we need is to discuss at our Seders the heroism of these six women who made Passover possible.

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

Passover will soon be here, and sociologists tell us that more Jews will participate in some form of Passover Seder than will participate in any other religious event during the year!

From a religious perspective, the Exodus from Egypt enabled all subsequent Jewish history to unfold. Without Passover we would still be slaves in Egypt! Moses, of course is God’s agent in the liberation and the story’s foremost hero. The Book of Exodus, however, makes it clear that the role women play in that event is crucial. Without the actions of no fewer than six women heroes, Moses never would have gotten so far as to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Without these six women the Exodus could not have taken place, and we would have no Passover to celebrate!

Shiphrah and Puah were humble midwives. Pharaoh ordered them to kill every baby boy that emerged from his…

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For My German Readers: Bring den Müll raus! (Kurzkommentar zum Tora-Abschnitt Tzav)

Der größte Hit der Coasters von 1958 „Yakety Yak“ beginnt: „Bring das Papier und den Müll raus…!“. Diese Liedzeile und der Song begannen in mir zu klingen, als ich Tora-Abschnitt für diese Woche bedachte: Tzav (Levitikus 6, 1-8 und 36).


Yakety Yak The Coasters

by oldiesdude8807

Aber in der Tora ist es kein geplagter Teenager, der den Müll rausbringen muss. Es ist der Priester höchstselbst. „Und er … soll die Asche hinaustragen aus dem Lager an eine reine Stätte.“ (Levitikus 6,4) Es ist als sagte der EwigEine: „Du hast die Unordnung angerichtet, nun machst du das auch sauber.“ Wenn wir gut zuhören, können wir in dieser Anweisung Gott zu uns sprechen hören. Die Anführer des Volkes glänzten nicht nur im Ruhm ihres Amtes. Sie mussten die dreckige Arbeit machen. Sie mussten die Asche wegputzen von den Feuern, die sie entzündet hatten.

Auch wir müssen unseren Müll wegräumen!

Wir entzünden auch etliche Feuer und hinterlassen Asche. Mit geliebten Menschen leisten wir uns feurigen Streit. Wenn die Flammen verloschen sind, müssen wir einem Weg finden, wie wir die Asche des Ärgers und der Ressentiments los werden, die unsere Beziehungen zerstören können, wenn wir es versäumen sie “aus dem Lager hinaus zu bringen”.

Die Coasters haben Recht
Auch wir müssen in Ordnung bringen, was wir angerichtet haben. Unsere Asche hinausragen bedeutet:
· Hör auf die Gefühle derer, die du verletzt hast
· Bitte um Verzeihung, wenn nötig vielleicht mit einem Tut-Mir-Leid-Geschenk.
· Sei entschlossen, zukünftig nicht so verletzend zu sein.
Das ist viel leichter gesagt als getan. Aber die Coasters haben recht: Nur die, die „den Müll raustragen“ werden auch „Samstag Nacht ausgehen“ (Natürlich nach dem Schabbat), und werden auch in Zukunft liebevolle Beziehungen pflegen können.

Translation: Pastor Ursula Sieg

Book Excerpt: The Meaning of Passover

As Passover approaches, I am pleased to share this excerpt from my book, “What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

To understand the Exodus narrative, we must view it as a war – a boxing match if you will –between gods. In one corner, we have the Egyptian god, Pharaoh. Pharaoh is like any pagan god. One worships him by glorifying him with monuments, pyramids, sphinxes, and garrison cities. If slaves are required in order to build these structures, so be it. If it is necessary to beat those slaves in order to keep them working, or even kill one or two occasionally to send a message, that is fine too. And if overpopulation becomes an issue (see the First Chapter of Exodus), simply throw their baby boys into the Nile.

In the other corner, though, we have the one true God of the Hebrew Bible, who created us in God’s image! God’s highest goal is that we create a just, caring, and compassionate society. God wants us to treat…

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Take Out the Trash (Quick Comment on Torah Portion “Tzav”)

The Coasters’ biggest all-time hit, “Yakety Yak (1958)  begins, “Take out the papers and the trash  …” The line and the song reverberate as I ponder this week’s Torah portion, Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36). But in the Torah it is not a beleaguered teenager who must “take out  … the trash.”  It is the priest himself. “And he shall … carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place (Leviticus 6:4).” It is as though the Eternal one were saying, “You made the mess, now you clean it up!” If we listen, we can hear God speaking to us in this instruction. The leaders of the people did not just bask in the glory of their office. They had to do the dirty work. They had to carry out the ashes of the fire that they created.

We must clean up our mess too

We too create a lot of fires and a lot of ashes. With those we love we have fiery arguments. When the flames die down, we must find a way to rid ourselves of the ashes of anger and resentment that can destroy our relationship if we fail to carry them “outside the camp.”

The Coasters were right

Taking out our ashes means

  • listening to the feelings of those we have hurt
  • apologizing when necessary—perhaps including an “I’m sorry” gift—
  • resolving not to cause such hurt in the future.

It is much easier said than done, but the Coasters were right. Only those who “take out … the trash” will enjoy going “out Saturday night (after Shabbat, of course),” and continuing to build a loving relationship in the future.

My Torah Portion Many Years later (Longer Comment on “Va-Yikrah”)

 When I studied the first Torah portion in Leviticus, Va-yikrah for my Bar Mitzvah long ago, it seemed void of contemporary meaning. How wrong I was!

Two Gems

The portion contains two gems I hold dear.

  • The first is familiar to us: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” If a person commits a sin, however unwittingly, he/s she is guilty and must take responsibility for his/her wrongdoing.” (Leviticus 5:17)
  •  The second by contrast promotes a three-thousand-year-old concept of justice that modern society is just beginning to employ. The common term for it is retributive justice, but I prefer to call it victim compensation.

If a person steals or gains something through oppression or extortion and then wishes to make up for it, he shall pay his fine, of course, but also: “He shall repay (to the victim) the principal and add a fifth part to it (Leviticus 5:24)” as compensation for the loss. How much better it is if people who commit economic crimes would make restitution and then some to their victims rather than simply go to prison and be a further economic burden to society.

Victim Compensation

Indeed the tradition was so enamored of the idea of victim compensation that they interpret the text to give the victim an even greater pay out than the Torah seems to mandate. The Torah says, “v’hamishitav yosef lo. He shall add a fifth part to it (Leviticus 5:24).” So, if I steal a hundred dollars, the Torah says that I should pay an additional a fifth, which would seem to mean 20 extra dollars, to my victim. Makes sense, but no: Our Sages mandated that the total payout by 125 dollars. Why? The fifth part” added to it would be not a fifth of the principal but a fifth part of the total sum paid by the offender (B. Baba Metzia 54A). The point is not the extra five bucks. The point is that the shapers of Jewish ethics wanted to reinforce just how important victim compensation is to a system in which God has called on us—beginning with Abraham–to do what is “just and right. (Genesis 18:19)”

What’s in It for Us Today?

in interpersonal relationships, these two lessons can have great meaning. Should we feel obligated to adhere only to the letter of the law or should we make diligent effort to avoid actions that cause another pain? Especially with those we claim to love we should be sensitive to things that will cause hurt.

Later in Leviticus we read, “You shall not curse the deaf nor put a stumbling block before the blind. (Leviticus 19:14).” This instruction goes beyond the literal. I have never seen a person shout curses at a deaf person or trip one who is blind. But oh how often are we guilty of exploiting other’s areas of vulnerability? We should not excuse ourselves by saying, “I didn’t know.” It is our job to know.

When we do–-as all of us have done—cause hurt, the portion teaches we have an obligation to set those things right. Both the Torah and the Sages clearly emphasized how important it is to try to compensate the one who suffers.

The “meaningless“ verses I read from Leviticus at age 13 now speak to my very soul. By taking these ancient teachings to heart we can be better people and build a more just caring and compassionate world than the one in which we now live.

For My German Readers: Translation of “From ‘Why’ to ‘Wonderful'”

Aus “Warum” wurde “Wundervoll”!

Als mir vor vielen Jahren der Tora -Abschnitt vorgelegt wurde, den ich für meine Bar Mitzwa studieren sollte – Leviticus 5, 17-26 – war ich sehr enttäuscht! “Welchen Sinn sollen diese alten Gesetze haben?” fragte ich mich. “Warum kann ich nicht so eine coole Geschichte bekommen wie meine Freunde?”

Jahre später habe ich begriffen, dass mein Tora-Abschnitt zwei wichtige Lehren für uns heute enthält:

  • Unkenntnis des Gesetzes ist keine Entschuldigung. (Levitikus 5:17),
  • Opfer eines Verbrechens müssen vom Täter entschädigt werden. (Levitikus 5,24).

Später habe ich herausgefunden, dass diese Entschädigung für die Rabbinen so wichtig war, dass sie die von der Tora verhängt 20% -Strafe auf 25% erhöhten (B. Baba Matzia 54a). WOW! Wie gut wäre es, wenn dieses Gesetz heute eingeführt würde. Stellt euch vor Bernhard Madoff müsste jedem seiner Opfer alles zurückgeben, was er erschwindelt hat, und noch 25% dazu!

Daraufhin habe ich mich gefragt: Wenn mein trockener Bar Mitzwa Abschnitt so aktuell und lehrreich ist, wie viel mehr können wir lernen, wenn wir die spannenden Geschichten der Tora auf unser Leben anwenden?

Im Rückblick erkenne ich, dass hier meine Berufswahl ihren Ausgangspunkt hatte. Mein wachsendes Interesse an den Geschichten der Tora bestärkte meine Entscheidung Rabbiner zu werden. Jahre nach meiner Ordination studierte ich vier Jahre in Teilzeit an der Vanderbilt Divinity School für meinen Dr. Ministri in Bibelauslegung. Nach zwanzig weiteren Jahren Tora-Studium entschloss ich mich, mein kleines Buch “What is in it for me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives” zu schreiben.

Ich wundere mich über die merkwürdigen Art, in der der Ewig-Eine handelt. Wenn ich einen “interessanteren” Tora-Abschnitt bekommen hätte, wäre vielleicht mein ganzes Leben anders verlaufen. Jetzt freue ich mich über jede Gelegenheit, die der Ewig-Eine mit gibt, die Ideen der Bibel mitzuteilen, die mein Leben verändert haben und die, glaube ich, dein Leben auch verändern können.

Translation: Pastorin Ursula Sieg

From “Why?” to “Wonderful!” (Quick comment on Torah portion Va-Yikrah)

When I was handed my Torah portion to study for my Bar Mitzvah—Leviticus 5:17-26—many years ago I was SO disappointed. “What possible meaning,” I wondered, “do these ancient laws have? Why couldn’t I get some of the cool stories that my friends got?”

Years later I realized my portion contained two vital teachings for today:

  • Ignorance of the law is no excuse. (Leviticus 5:17)
  • Victims of financial crimes must be compensated by the perpetrator. (Leviticus 5:24)

I later learned that such compensation was so important to the rabbis that they interpreted the 20% penalty mandated by the Torah into 25%. (B. Baba Metzia 54a) WOW! How great it could be if that law were applied today. Imagine Bernard Madoff having to pay each of his victims everything he swindled from them plus 25%.

I also began to ask: If my dull and dry and dull  Bar MItzvah portion could have so much to teach us today, how much more can we learn if we apply the Torah’s exciting stories to our lives?

Looking back I see that is where my career choice began

My growing interest in the meaning of the Torah’s stories contributed to my decision to become a rabbi. Years after my ordination I studied four years part-time at Vanderbilt Divinity School to earn a D. Min. in Biblical Interpretation. Twenty years of continuous study after completing that degree I decided to write my short book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.

 

I marvel at the strange ways the Eternal One works. If I had received a more “interesting” Torah portion, my whole life might have been different. Now I treasure every opportunity the Eternal One provides to share the ideas in Biblical stories that have changed my life and which can, I believe, change yours as well.

 

It’s Not Funny, Bill Cosby!

It's not funny, Bill!

It’s not funny, Bill!

It gives me no pleasure to write this. It’s wrong to kick a man when he’s down, but Bill Cosby is not down. He is up and bragging that his career is, “far from finished.”

But it should be!

Yes, I know he has not been “found guilty in a court of law,” but after hours of reading about him I find the evidence so compelling that I believe with all my heart:

Anyone who attends a Bill Cosby performance is complicit in his sins!

It is inconceivable to me that 39 women with their dignity to lose and nothing to gain would come forward with essentially the same story if there were no truth to it.

Sadly, Mr. Cosby has ratified the biblical image of his name.

The Hebrew root of Cosby is כזב. We can find it 47 times in the Hebrew Bible as a noun or a verb, and it connotes a liar or lying.

As a proper name, (כזבי) Cosby appears twice more (Numbers 25:15 and 18). Both times it refers to a Midianite woman who wantonly engages in sexual intercourse with an Israelite, “in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the people of Israel …  (Numbers 25:6)”

Like his biblical namesake, Bill Cosby is throwing his immorality in our faces. He has disgraced himself and his legacy.

The shame stains all of us, but we have a choice. We can be part of the problem or part of the solution. When one chooses at this juncture to support Bill Cosby in any way, he or she is definitely part of the problem.

For My German Readers: Wir dürfen das nicht zulassen! (Kurzkommentar zum Tora-Abschnitt Va-yakhel-Pekude)

Wir haben etwas weiter vorne im Buch Exodus gelesen, dass Mose in das Zelt der Begegnung ging, wo Gott mit ihm redete (Exodus 33.9). Am Ende des Buches Exodus allerdings lesen wir: “Mose konnte nicht in das Zelt der Begegnung, weil die Wolke auf ihm ruhte” (Exodus 40,35).

Professor Ellis Rivkin erklärt, dieser radikale Umschwung markiert die Machtübernahme über das jüdische Leben durch die Nachkommen Aarons, indem sie die erblich herrschende Klasse wurde und die völlige Kontrolle des jüdischen Lebens an sich riss: “Wenn ein Fremder sich naht, soll er sterben” (Nummeri 3,10).

Was lernen wir daraus?

Wir müssen die Wolke aus dem Zelt schubsen und Gottes Weisungen als für uns so zugänglich ansehen wie sie für Mose waren. Wir wollen nicht riskieren Priestern, Rabbineren oder Imanen absolute Autorität einzuräumen. Ja, wir wollten ihre Lehren respektieren und studieren. Aber unser eigenen Gewissen und das Bestreben, “zu tun, was Recht und gerecht ist”, wie Gott es Abraham aufträgt (Genesis 18,19).

Wie oft in der Geschichte haben Menschen Grausamkeiten begannen, einfach weil die herrschenden Autoritäten es ihnen sagten. Die Nazis konnten ihren Horror ausbreiten, nicht nur wegen böser Führer, sondern weil gute Menschen unhinterfragt Autoritäten gehorcht haben, die sie auf einen schrecklichen Weg treiben.

Gottes größte Geschenk an die Menschheit ist ein Verstand, den wir gebrauchen können um überlegt zu entscheiden, wie wir handeln werden. Wenn wir einer “Wolke” erlauben uns von Gottes Unterweisung fernzuhalten, verarmt unser Geist. Wenn wir stattdessen durch Studieren und ernsthafte Suche nach der aktuellen Botschaft der biblischer Weisung die Wolke aus der Stiftshütte hinausbefördern, können wir uns dem Bild Gottes annähern, als das wir geschaffen sind, und die Welt besser machen für unsere Kinder, Enkelkinder und zukünftige Generationen.

Translation: Pastorin Ursula Sieg