Sunday, 26 July 2015

Why I Could Never Be a Christian


What I am about to share with you is my own personal view. It is a truly sincere attempt on my part to convey a clear message, hopefully once and for all, to all those who relentlessly try to convince me that their belief and their messiah is the only truth, that they are wasting their time on me. It is also aimed at helping our fellow Jews reinstate their pride in who we are and how far we have come in the timeline of our Development as a Religion, a Culture and a Nation.
In an effort to tackle the above dilemma, I have written several articles addressing the threat posed to us, Jews and Am Yisrael, from Christian missionaries. I have called them the Eleventh Plague; I have accused them of spreading a virus called Jewish Spiritual Mutilation (JSM); I have compared them to Amalek who was targeting the weak among us and I have made every effort to expose their antics and devious ways aimed at stealing Jewish souls.
Their persistence annoys many. So I have decided to use a new approach to try and address my issues and grievance with them.
As a teacher, I would like to elucidate my view on the above issue from a psychological perspective, more precisely, a cognitive developmental angle. For that, I turn to one of the best researchers in that field; one I admire greatly, Jean Piaget.
Piaget was an influential experimenter and a leader in research in the field of developmental psychology and human intelligence. Through his work and after observing many children, Piaget concluded that the thinking process among children is considerably different than that of adults. That did not necessarily mean that children’s thought process is less intelligent than that of adults. It only meant that it was different. According to him, all children are born with a hereditarily determined mental structure which evolves as they grow older. He believed that all children undergo four stages of Cognitive Development. I will not burden the reader with all four stages, and will focus on only the two that are relevant to supporting my titular statement as to why I could never be a Christian.
The first one is Piaget’s third stage, the Concrete Operational stage. It spans the ages of seven to twelve. During this stage, children have the ability to develop a logical thought about an object only if they are able to manipulate it. They are unable yet to grasp its abstract aspect.
The Formal Operative stage is the fourth and last stage of Cognitive Development. It occurs from the age of twelve and above. Unlike in the Concrete Operational stage, the adolescent’s thoughts are able to be manipulated and there is no need for the concrete object to spin their process.
This is wherein rests, in my view, one of the most fundamental differences between Christianity and Judaism, one that separates them immensely. The concept of a god taking on a human form, attributes and physical manifestation is an example of what Piaget’s third stage of object manipulation refers to. It is one of the ways in which Christianity can come to grips with the concept of an abstract god, the G-d they borrowed from Judaism. Christianity, I believe, is at what Piaget would consider the Formal Operative stage whereas Judaism is already at the fourth and last stage of Cognitive Development.
Judaism, on the other hand, has never attempted to describe G-d in human terms. No one ever gave birth to Him. No one has ever seen Him. He never begot children, and He shares no human shape or features. He cannot be killed and hence need not be resurrected. Even when the Torah tells us that G-d created Man in His own image, it is clear to all that it refers to the spiritual facet and to our Moral compass. From a very early age, and the very first stage of our Cognitive Development both as individuals and as a nation, we, Abraham, his children, Moses, Am Yisrael and Jews, were and are expected to think in abstract terms when we try to understand the concept of our Jewish G-d. We listen to Him and His directives.  We accept His Torah unconditionally. We rebel against Him yet praise Him and thank Him at every single occasion. We have done all of this strictly because we were, are and forever will be at a higher cognitive level than other nations and religious groups. And it has not been easy at times.
Now, before anyone jumps down my throat, let me add this. It does not mean that Judaism is better than any other religion on this earth; it only means that we arrived at a more advanced stage in our Cognitive Evolvement earlier and have remained there. Others also have the capability of reaching it and may choose to aspire towards it while some may yet elect to remain where they are. I, as a Jew, am comfortable and content where our Jewish tradition, religion and our people are.
Why then would I, or we, Jews, want to change it by reverting to a previous stage?

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Sin’at Chinam, Selfish Hatred, - a Lesson for Jews first


According to tradition, the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were both destroyed on the Ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. The closer we get to this day of mourning the more we hear about the need to eradicate Sin’at Chinam and promote its antidote Ahavat Chinam, Selfless Love. We hear of the need to love humanity, for we are all G-d’s creatures. We witness calls for pluralism, the erosion of hatred and the need to uphold and encourage harmonious relationships with each other regardless of race, color or creed.
Before we go on with this noble message of Kumbaya, let us clarify a few conceptions and remove misconceptions.
Firstly, the term, the notion of Sinaat Chinam is associated with Jews and Am Yisrael only. It is our legacy and its lesson is directed primarily at our process of evolution as a nation.
It all started with a mistake, a mistake that took place two thousand years ago. There was a wealthy Jerusalemite who decided to host a party. He had a close friend by the name of Kamtza and an enemy by the name of Bar - Kamtza. As it was an important event, invitations were hand delivered by a messenger. Due to the similarities of the names of foe and friend, the confused messenger erroneously delivered the invitation to the wrong person.
Bar - Kamza must have regarded the invitation as a goodwill gesture by the host and was happy to receive it. He decided to respond in kind, put their past differences behind and showed up at the party.
When the host realized who his guest was, he became incensed. He ordered Bar - Kamza to leave the party. The latter pleaded with him and ever offered to cover the costs of the party. The host, however, clung to his hatred and refused. Some of those in attendance were the sages of the generation. None of them came to Bar- Kamza’s defense and, through their silence, even seemed to have sided with the host.
Consumed by pain, Bar - Kamza went to the Romans and told them that the Jews were planning a rebellion against them.  In an effort to crush such an effort, the Romans destroyed the Temple and banished the Jews from Eretz Yisrael.
To claim, as some do, that, he message of this sordid affair is a universal one, is one misconception. Unfortunately, it was a lesson aimed only at the Jewish people. It highlighted the lack of humanity of some Jews from their most learned scholars to their common ones, towards their fellow Jews first and foremost. Moreover, the only ones that paid dearly for that appalling experience were the Jewish people with two thousand years of exile laced with affliction and strife.
As in other periods in the history of Am Yisrael and the Jewish people, G-d put stumbling blocks on His people’s path. It was part of their ongoing refinement process which is aimed at abiding their special role in history, that of being a “Light to the Nations.”
It is initially only for us, Jews and members of Am Yisrael, to master the lesson of Kamza and Bar – Kamza, for that lesson was designed for and is directed only at us. It is our duty to show that we care enough about our fellow Jews first and make a positive difference in the lives of our own people. We must show sensitivity to their needs and treat them with dignity.
It is only after we have reached that level of holiness and purification that we can take that lesson outside and share it with the rest of the world.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

THe Gift of Vision

"Leadership is the capacity to turn a vision into reality.”  -  Warren Gamaliel Bennis
History has seen many visionary world leaders in various disciplines. It is their gift that has brought us this far.  For many of them, realizing and following their dreams was not easy.  Some had to overcome difficult dilemmas. Many selflessly sacrificed their personal freedom yet remained defiant and persistent in the pursuit of their vision. It is this desire to turn a vision into an encouraging reality that I was hoping would continue to ensure our unending survival and fertile permanence on this earth.
Our Jewish people have also been blessed with great visionaries. The Torah, our rich literary and cultural endowment and our difficult Jewish history have produced brilliant leaders who faced and rose up against the hardest of challenges because they possessed a dream, a vision that they were determined to turn into a reality. There is much we can learn from studying the lives of our great Biblical figures of men, women, prophets and sages.
Abraham is one of them. Born and reared in a polytheistic, idolatrous society, he was prepared to divorce himself from it and put his trust in a single, invisible and imperceptible G-d and abide by His directives without any questions.  He was ready to leave the comforts and luxuries of his life in Ur behind and  follow the vision that G-d had gifted him. Furthermore, he was ready to enter a Covenant with this a-physical G-d; a Covenant that would ensure the future and victory of his descendents. That necessitated being possessed of great vision.  
After him, Moses led a nation of former slaves through the extremely harsh conditions of the desert for forty years.  The people he guided never stopped complaining. They rebelled and repeatedly expressed a wish to go back to Egypt. Yet Moses had kept his gaze fixed on the vision of going to the Promised Land. He was determined to bring them to the only place where they could live in Peace, as a free people where they could weave the tapestry of their own destiny. He persisted and pleaded on their behalf even when he knew that he would not be joining them there.

We all draw  inspiration and learn much from such stories of great visionary leaders past and present. We follow, with much admiration, their strength of character as they struggle with leadership roles and situations while remaining focused on their goal and having no selfish interest other than the welfare of their people.
In recent years, as was confirmed to the world this week,  there has been one world leader who has not only been blessed with the gift of vision but has toiled hard to turn it into a reality. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister has been advocating against a nuclear Iran for many years. He has done it not only for the state of Israel and its people but the wellbeing of the entire free world as well.  Like a modern day Abraham and Moses, Mr. Netanyahu has stood firm in his steadfast warnings about the dangers facing humanity should it give in to Iran’s demands. He has appealed to the sense of reason of world leaders.  He has pleaded with them. He has done it despite ongoing efforts to belittle him both from within Israel and from without.  
Unfortunately, he has tried to share his clarity of vision with a world that suffers from the worst kind of blindness;the kind that has sight, but not one trace of vision.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Falling in Love with Eretz Yisrael


Have you ever been in love?

Do you recall the first time you got butterflies in your stomach merely thinking about that special one? Remember the first time your heart skipped a beat or when you felt that rush of adrenaline because you experienced someone who meant the world to you? Remember the welling in your eyes and growing lump in your throat at the sheer mention of the one that touched every fiber of your being?  How about wanting to give all of you, surrender yourself unconditionally to the one, that very special one, who wants nothing but your loyalty in return?                                                                          

Now, imagine reliving this feeling every single day of your life!

Eretz Yisrael, you do all of that to many. The warm feeling of your embracing brown earth always welcomes our tired bones. It refreshes them, soothes our hearts and ignites the spark of an ancient covenant signed with the blood of our forefathers. Your green pastures where our ancestors roamed call us to roll in them. Your flowing milk and honey are the elixir of our being, the fountain of eternal youth which revives our ancient, wandering souls
The Spirit of G-d that always hovers over you cloaks our essence. The silent melodious prayers of Jacob's angels please our soul's ears.

There are days when we fight. There are moments when we doubt each other. There occasions when we don't speak to one another and there are dreary days and years of long, forced absences that separate us.  Even during those times, however, our hearts never left you.  They plead with you from the niches of the Kotel, they echo from the highest mountains and the deepest valleys asking you to remember us, to pray for us and to bless us. They repeatedly vow:

"If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.  Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy."

אם אשכחך ירושלים תשכח ימיני תדבק לשוני לחיכי אם לא אזכרכי אם לא אעלה את ירושלים על ראש שמחתי

And then comes that one day when, like a forgiving merciful mother, you collect us back from all four corners of the world, cradle us like babies in your loving arms and make us fall in love with you over and over again.

To live you, to love you and to experience you, Eretz Yisrael, is utter bliss and the most exalted blessing of them all. For many of us, you are and forever will remain our first love.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Narrative as old a ploy as history itself

This article was written with Michal Dar-El.

I have been wrestling with the term “narrative” for sometimes, especially when it is used in the context of the Arab Muslim-Israeli conflict.  The articles I have written on the subject have stressed time and again the ambiguous and thus unreliable disposition of the term and how it has been used to advance someone’s agenda, political or otherwise. As it turns out, “narratives” and their use are not a new concept.
Two weeks ago, we  read the Torah portion Sh’lach L’cha (Numbers 13:1 – 15:31).  It recounts the story of the first set of spies that Moses sends to Eretz Yisrael shortly after the Israelites left Egypt.
The portion starts with G-d commanding and instructing Moses to choose scouts, one from each of the 12 tribes, to scout out the Land and its inhabitants as part of preparing its conquest. He instructs them to gather facts and bring back some of the fruit of the Land.  Some of the questions they seek answers for are the following:
“See what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not? And take pains to bring back some of the fruit of the land.”
After forty days of scouting the Land, the spies return and recount their experiences to Moses and the people:
“We came to the land you sent us to; it doe indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the Anakites there. Amalekites dwell in the Negeb region; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites inhabit the hill country; and Canaanites dwell by the Sea and along the Jordan….The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the Nephilim there — the Anakites are part of the Nephilim — and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”
The above description is an example of what a “narrative” is. As I pointed out in one of my previous articles on the subject, one of the meanings of the word “narrative” is “tale.”  To me, that implies something more befitting a bedtime story or legend, one that appeals to one’s fantasy, secret, and perhaps not so secret, wishes and dreams.  A narrative can be factual, embellished or a mere figment of one’s imagination. Most importantly, a narrative, when not factual, serves a set agenda.
The manner in which some of the spies describe the Land and the terms they use to do it mirrors their agenda which was their opposition, out of fear or other reasons, to entering and conquering the Land. Initially, they produce facts in the form of fruit that they brought back along and a cluster of grapes so large that it requires two men to carry it with a pole between them. These serve as proof that the Land is good.
Herein rests another facet of the deceitful nature of a “narrative” and the ploy of those that utilize it. A “narrative” usually starts with a fact, with a bit of truth in order to attract the listeners, convince them and gain their trust.  According to Rashi, the renowned Torah commentator, a lie that does not start with a pinch of truth will not survive for long.
כל דבר שקר שאין אומרים בו קצת אמת בתחלתו, אין מתקיים בסופוזבת חלב ודבש הוא
The spies’ non factual “narrative,” however, like any other such “narrative,” can be easily refuted. It soon becomes evident that some of their stories are colored by their interpretation of the reality that they encountered. For instance, they claim that the people there are “powerful” and they live in “fortified cities. Again, according to Rashi, and according to common sense, do powerful people need to live in fortified cities? Powerful people, according to him, should count on their strength and their might and not on walls to defend them.
Another myth and piece of disinformation that those opposed to entering the Land produce is that “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers.”  This, too, could easily be rebutted.  If the Land was indeed that bad then how come those inhabiting it were still around, let alone powerful, thriving and their Land plentiful?
Furthermore, the spies venture to imagine what the dwellers of the Land regard them as: “and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”  This is strictly a matter to speculations and interpretations as no facts are proffered to support it. Again, such a misleading and unfounded declaration constitutes a “narrative” and serves to support their recommendation to oppose entering the Land.
In Biblical times, unlike in modern times, “narratives,” as the story of the spies reveals to us, were considered a sin punishable by death.  Moses must intercede for the people so that G-d does not punish them nor destroys them.
Unfortunately, nowadays, “narratives,” especially those that pertain to the Arab/Muslim – Israeli conflict run rampant and unchecked, raising whole generations on lies, myths and deliberate misinformation. These include rewriting middle eastern history, denying Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided Capital of Israel, comparing the Jewish state to Apartheid South Africa and many others, all in a effort to serve an agenda aimed at delegitimizing Israel and the Zionist dream and bringing about the total demise of the only Home the Jewish people have ever had.

Friday, 10 July 2015

All - or - nothing - kind of love


There is a movie called “The Thin line between Love and Hate.” It calls to mind the phenomenon of “splitting,” a term generally associated with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) which, according to Dr. Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, “describes difficulty with the ability to hold opposing thoughts, feelings, or beliefs about oneself or others.

Neither does that movie nor is it the goal of this article to addresses or analyze that phenomenon. It belongs to a different realm and requires greater expertise. I will venture, however, to suggest that those whom this article is about display similar symptoms and behavioral traits to individuals with BPD.

This article, like other ones I have written before, tackles the ever growing and increasingly problematic missionary activity in Israel, the Homeland of the Jewish people. Before delving deeper into the issue, let me just add that it does not point at Christians as a whole. Many Christians are dear friends of Israel and the Jewish people and support them unconditionally.

Missionary Activity directed at Jews is nothing new. In recent years, though, the movement has become more aggressive and poses a serious problem and a threat to the Jewish people. More money is being funneled towards it, more activists are enlisted and the methodology employed to attract the disaffected and ill informed among Jews has become more sophisticated. Missionaries seem to stop at nothing and in many cases have become a pest and a nuisance to many. If it is to be stopped, one must understand the motivation of those trying to convert Jews, their methods, and what Jews can do to counter those efforts while becoming better informed about themselves their culture and history.

In order to remove any doubt about modern day missionary activities among Jews, both Roger and I agree that the modern Christian effort to convert Jews, unlike other eras in history, is not motivated by hate, or anti-Semitism.  It stems from care, interest and love.  When Jews respond with hostility to missionary efforts, Christians do not understand the reaction.  Christians are motivated by a belief that Christianity has Jewish roots. They sincerely, rightly or wrongly, believe that Jesus, their messiah, preached to and in the interest of Jews. Hence, for Jews not to believe in Jesus and reject him is a confusing concept for many Christians which can lead to the conclusion that either Christianity is wrong or the Jews are wrong and, therefore, need to be enlightened.
And this is where the above facet of BPD can be utilized and enlisted to try and understand missionary activity. In the mind of missionaries, Christianity could not be wrong. In their mind, the problem rests with the Jews. It is the missionaries’ “difficulty with the ability to hold opposing thoughts, feelings, or beliefs about….. others” which manifests itself in their ever mounting prosyletization efforts.

So, as long as there are motivated Christians, there is really nothing Jews can do to stop missionary efforts to proselytize them.  Typically, Jews have smiled, said “no thanks,” and in response to persistence, sometimes insulted Christians. As a result, Christian missionaries have developed more subtle and often deceitful tactics to influence Jews and to rob them of their spiritual Jewish identity.

It is up to us, Jews, to try and understand the roots, the underlying factors and cognitive dissonance that prompt such activities. It will assist us in our efforts to object to them, out root them and even ban them from our lives. It is important that we do it without alienating friends, well-wishers and allies against common enemies. Most importantly, it is what Jews should know and be educated about Christianity and Judaism which is the best means to inoculate our weak and vulnerable against missionary activities.