Randy's Corner Deli Library

02 July 2008

No Fear : Meanderings of A Conundrum

No Fear: Meanderings of A Conundrum

I read an article on the "crisis" in Israel over the existence, as though they were rats or a virus, of so-called "Messianic Jews" and their "new techniques", as if its author were writing a guide for a trade show for sadomasochists. Its title: "Evangelizing the Jews: The New Techniques".

At first blush, shock. Then a hint of rage that they would dare ***t where I eat. Then I paused, no, stopped immediately, and I thought about Israel and her place in the world. If Israel is the Jewish nation, then we have absolutely nothing to worry about. It is quite easy to, as my mother used to say, react rather than respond. A reaction would be to, as some are suggesting in Israel, round the missionary "Jews" up and cart them en masse to the nearest international border (Which could be Gaza. Perhaps they can get the Muslims to convert to a Jewish-themed Christianity. That will blow the mind of any die-hard jihadist, especially if they then consider my hilarious conclusion).

Is this how we Jews treat other people? Do not respond "is this how they treat US?!". Lose the indignation. We are not judged, as Jews, on how others treat US, but rather how WE treat others. Recall Rav Hillel's admonishment to the one-legged potential convert who asked to know what the Torah stood for: "What you dislike, do not do to your friend. That is the basis of the Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn!" Then, as the story goes,

Another gentile who accepted only the Written Torah, came to convert. Shammai refused, so he went to Hillel. The first day, Hillel taught him the correct order of the Hebrew Alphabet. The next day he reversed the letters. The convert was confused:"But yesterday you said the opposite!?" Said Hillel: "You now see that the Written Word alone is insufficient. We need the Oral Tradition to explain G-d's Word." A third gentile wanted to convert so he could become the High Priest, and wear the Priestly garments. Shammai said no, but Hillel accepted him. After studying, he, the convert, realized that even David, the King of Israel, did not qualify as a cohen, not being a descendant of Aaron.

So, gentle reader, just what will "we" do? And by "we" I mean the government of the State of Israel, home of the Jews, not just Israelis. (As if I, an American, could have the audacity to think that I could actually do something.) We have to deal with the matter in a Jewish, Zionistic way. And I put the "Jewish" before the "Zionistic" intentionally. That is what I relate to more deeply than the artificial construct that is Israel.

It seems to me that if I had the levers to a Jewish political state, complete with an advanced and advancing military, I would be very, very careful about what decision I would make and when I took it. I would get experts to see what exactly the damage is that is now being caused, allegedly, by the presence of missionaries in and to the State of Israel. And I would find the oldest study I could and see what the long term effects exactly were, over time, of the missionary "Jews'" activities. This would serve the purpose of quantifying the societal impact -- not just in the Haredi areas of the country -- of the missionary "Jews'" activities. Israel, being Jewish, cannot be associated in any way with racism or, for that matter, restrictions that are based solely on beliefs. And based on the research and facts, I would craft a policy on this issue for the Jewish National homeland.

Given the notion that I have expressed before that Judaism without a religion ceases to exist, the State of Israel has a rational interest in seeing that the idea of Judaism is not inconsistent with antiracialism and against prejudice based on someone's beliefs. Entirely. As the home of the Jews, this becomes, in common parlance, a national security issue.

For the State of Israel, the most reasonable Jewish National thing to do is to set quotas on the number of "Messianic Jews" who, like Egyptians, are let into the country, but who are also accounted for, by and large, with the occasional terrorist slipping through, reminding us that hope is more powerful than man. And I am not speaking of a miniscule number. I am for open borders to some extent, though it's a good idea to keep criminals and such out.

If Judaism is in such fear of collapsing under the alleged weight of Christianity that we Jews could even contemplate for a second the mass roundup of people for their "race" or for what they believe, then there is no hope for Judaism. We will have become our own worst enemy: it is an admission that Judaism is lost. But it is not. Far from it. From a purely Darwinist perspective, nevermind concepts like fate or God, we will get what we deserve.

For me, being Jewish is a no-brainer. I was born into it. Where I am today religiously, like all of us to some extent or other, is a mash-up of all that we are: the nature as well as the nurture. I just do not understand any religion that asks its members to believe what Christianity asks them to.

First, it asks its adherents to -- and this is important because this is what saves Judaism -- believe in God. For an intelligent person, this alone is a major obstacle.

Second, it asks you to believe a whole lot of stuff that anyone with a reasonably functional brain that knows is demonstrably impossible. Mortal men and women (and those are the only ones I know) cannot come back from the dead, except in George Romero films. Humans do not, trust me on this, get pregnant via a "divine spirit" that is not attached to the end of the male sex organ. It does not happen.

In Judaism, it is idolatry -- and this is the third and biggest article of Christian impossibility for me: to think of a man (or a porcupine) as a God. Yet this is what Missionary Christians -- "Messianic Jews" -- ask us to believe. As Jews, we don't need Jesus to talk to God. (and just so my position is consistent, neither do we need Allah or Buddha or any other allegedly divine person to do so) We do not require a middle-man. The concept of God is difficult enough to grapple with. In Judaism, God has no form. He cannot be conclusively disproved in conception or execution. The mystery remains forever for Jews, until the Moshiach does figure out that she should show up.

(If, according to Evangelical Christian theology as espounsed by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and their ilk are correct, there is a male Jew walking around out here - and for all I know it could be me - who is the "Anti-Christ". So by induction, I conclude that if I am the Anti-Christ, then the Moshiach must be a woman. It could prove true that even if I am not the Anti-Christ, the moshiach could still be a .... nevermind. I'll report back after I've conclusively figured that detail out.)

It's true that I spent the seventh and eighth grades at the Hardey Preparatory School for Boys (the boys' school affiliated with the Order of the Sacred Heart, a French Catholic Order) so my brain is a little more used to contradiction than perhaps someone else might be who had a more or less religiously consistent upbringing. I spent my time at Hardey Prep in kind of a birthright ceremony, as if every day I had to go and feel and know that I was different. The ceremony included getting called "kike", "Christ Killer" and the rest. I got into the only fistfight I ever started when Joe called me "kike" and I could not walk away as I had before. But that was one guy: and looking back, he probably, in eighth grade, didn't have an idea of the impact of his words or of words generally upon another person. Maybe the shiner I delivered got him to see my point regardless. Maybe the guy is still a putz who I'd hit again if forced to.

But it is also true that I learned Leviticus with Sister Margaret Mary Munch for my Bar Mitzvah during the latter part of 1972 and well into 1973. When the other kids went to learn Catholic Doctrine, I was in the science lab with Sister Munch, learning Leviticus. The words my mother told me before she laid the news on my sister and I that we would not - not -- be attending the quite Orthodox Ida Crown Jewish Academy -- still stick in my mind. "Just remember that the guy up on the cross is Jewish". My mother would not be a hypocrite. She could have, however, learned a little more about moderation in passing on Judaism. There are ways, and, well, then there are ways.

The quite Orthodox family of my father must have been in utter horror at the knowledge that a Shiner son (alas, I was, before my son's birth, the only male descendant of one Mandel Shiner) was attending a Catholic school. I would have been as equally horrified today, but knowing my mother, it appears she knew exactly what she was doing on a long term basis, though perhaps, knowing her, I give her too much credit.

I did not get proselytized even once there. That's not part of the Catholic thing. It was mostly fear, guilt and mystery that enshrouded me -- I think it was the Scheninah responsible for the latter -- in the halls of a very dark, very wooden school. I was treated mainly with respect, apart from the (at least to my mother) "obviously anti-Semitic" football coach who would not put her son in the game. She did not accept that I wasn't that good. At football. Far from retreating into Christianity, I was kicked out of it like a picnic table in a hurricane.

But just as we are not to be judged on the basis of how others treat us, but rather how we treat others, it seems to me that if we look at the problem in a really Jewish way, we will laugh at Christians who have to get dressed up like (they envision) Jews, with all the familiar trappings - Ark, Torah (they are available for purchase), the whole megillahs - Esther and Ruth, and Chumashim straight from Artscroll Publishers, the last word in dogmatic Orthodoxy, after we ask ourselves the following question: Isn't it the Evangelicals that are on their way to Judaism, rather than the Jews on their way to becoming believers in a religion that offers its people instant salvation if only you give your soul to Jesus, a man?

I have not yet done the statistical research on this, but I did read an interesting item the other day which cited some statistics in this regard: after 25 or 30 years (i.e., from sometime in the 1970s) something like 70% of the "Messianic Jews" actually DO go on to get Orthodox conversions and lose the notion of Jesus. That statistic bolsters the notion that nobody needs to be afraid of anything as long as it is handled in a Jewish way. If a Jew is going to convert, he's going to convert. And that's just the way it is, to a point, which is why I think some reasonable restrictions as a matter of Jewish National policy given that Israel is the only place on earth that a Jew can go and feel safe, at least most of the time, considering that history will be repeated if not learned from and that while six million died in the Shoah, records were made to be broken. In the final analysis, there are far worse enemies for Israel and Jews than those that are already 3/4 the way to being Jews in the first place.

Randy Shiner

No comments: