Sunday, 25 June 2017

Language and symbols – as unique as the culture that they reflect

This article was written jointly by Roger Froikin and Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks

Languages and symbols are the defining edges and the shapers of a culture and its members. They determine their views and perspectives.  They affect how they interpret their reality, how they decide during adulthood and what their values are in the subtlest of ways. 

Both are also harsh, sometimes, and for a reason.

Ever since early days, mankind has been using, borrowing and adopting symbols and terms of cultures alien to their own. In many case, such usage has helped bridge over differences and mend divides that human nature has erected. Cultures and groups have been willingly sharing ideas, inventions and moral codes, all for the benefits of the many.

What is repeatedly forgotten, however, is that most often in history, words, languages, meanings and symbols are adopted by the dominant cultural group in order to reflect its frame of reference, its world view. When these are, therefore, assumed and used by others, meanings are likely to be changed, often to the disadvantage of the smaller, less numerous and less powerful group that holds those cultural parameters. 

These practices among cultures have been so widespread that, in many instances, it almost seems to us that the game of sharing has turned into Chinese whispers. People are either using terms in the wrong context, or using them in the right one but mispronouncing them.

That could be, at most, funny and entertaining. But not always.

As a result of such misuse, and in an effort to keep original meanings intact, the smaller less powerful culture must make an extra effort to maintain its identity and those cultural artifacts in symbols and language as originally intended,

Moreover, in many cases, people do not only use symbols and terms of other cultures in the wrong context, mispronounce them, misapply them, and sometimes use them as objects of ridicule. In many cases, they also, and worst of all, claim them as their own while trying to convince others that those had always been theirs.

For instance, many of us have heard the famous saying “Love thy neigbour as thyself.” It is being referred to as a “Christian idiom” and has, regrettably, been unquestionably accepted as such.  Those, however, who are familiar with the original Hebrew/Jewish Scriptures would know that not only is this verse taken from the Torah, it was also misinterpreted when translated into Greek and from Greek into other languages.

It first appears in ויקרא   (VaYikra, Leviticus) 9:18. The original Hebrew states "ואהבת לרעך כמוך."  Which translates “You should love your friend as yourself.” Surely not every friend is our neighbour and not every neighbour is our friend. 

Another and more important example of change might be in the popular translations of the 10 Commandments. Some popular versions in the West, while claiming authenticity, actually edit out portions that might be inconvenient to non-Jewish cultures, and mistranslate others while leaving them with the beliefs that were never intended by the original. This does not stop some from claiming with religious fervor that their versions are the word of G-d.  The example that comes to mind is when about 5 years ago, the wife of an Evangelical minister spoke on radio claiming that she believed every word of the Bible because she had read and studied it in the “original English” and knows what G-d commands us to believe.

Unlike language, Symbols, sometimes carry even a deeper cultural meaning. 

For Jews, for instance, Jewish symbols, from the Magen David to the Talit to the symbolism of the care taken when lifting and using the Sefer Torah, all have special meaning that distinguish our traditions, our struggles, or resistance, our identity and, therefore, make them unique to us. 
When Gentiles adopt those symbols because they believe it brings them closer to their Christ, that changes the meaning of those symbols, and, to be blunt, though some Jews mistakenly interpret that as being pro-Jewish, most of us see that as some sort of parody that distorts that which those things mean to us. This is akin to the sentiment of a Christian being insulted when witnessing a Muslim using the symbol of the Cross in some play or another context in a manner which is remote from the intentions of it creators. 

These are just a couple of examples as to why and where harsher and more crisp guidelines need to be adopted and applied by members of the culture whose essence is being hijacked, mistranslated and sometimes misused. It happened in the past albeit in a manner which cannot be repeated or affected, let alone enforced in today’s world.  One example where such measures were used is ancient Rome. There, laws and fines were in place against efforts to usurp that which belonged and was limited to one group.

And before anyone jumps at our throat and puts words in our mouths, let us reiterate that we do not advocate such an approach. We are merely stating a historical fact where members of one group, in this case, Jews, seek to defend, and justifiably so,  that which belongs to them against efforts to appropriate its essence, spiritual and other.

Saturday, 10 June 2017


Shabbat is probably the most significant Jewish Holy Day in the Hebrew Calendar. The reason for its importance is twofold. The first is that it occurs fifty-two time a year. It was the first Holy Day marked and sanctified by G-d Himself when he created the Universe.
The second and no less weighty reason is that it is the sign of the Covenant made between G-d and Am Yisrael at Mount Sinai.
As we all know the Ten Commandments were given to Moses on that occasion. The third commandment addresses the tenet of Shabbat.

There are two sets of the Tem Commandments in the Torah. One, in the Book of Shemot (Exodus) 20:1-20, the other in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) 5:5-21.
The two sets are identical except for one difference, a difference of one word. It rests with the third commandment, the one dedicated to Shabbat. In the Book of Shemot, we are commended to “Remember” the Shabbat. In the Book of Devarim, we are commanded to “Observe” the Shabbat.
Incidentally, that is why we light TWO candles when we welcome Shabbat. One for the directive to “Remember.” The other for the one to “Observe.” Why, may you ask, is there one word that distinguishes between these two important sets of dictates?
This question has preoccupied me for a long time. I trust it has engaged the minds of many wiser and more learned scholars than myself.
As a Jew who is still in the process of educating myself about my own tradition, as one whose belief in the One G-d of Yisrael is growing deeper and deeper, I believe I have finally realized the reason.
It points, yet again, to the great wisdom and sensitivity of our Torah and the Jewish tradition that evolved out of it.
“Remembering” Shabbat does not require much hard work or great sacrifice. It can be done in the form of lighting candles, having a family dinner, reciting the blessings or singing Shabbat songs.
Observing Shabbat, however, is not as easy. Moving from the mundane matters of the week into the Holy and refined atmosphere of Shabbat requires a shift to a different frame of mind. One must not only cease from all physical activities forbidden by Torah and those decreed by our sages. One also needs to enter a higher and more sanctified Spiritual realm.
Self-Discipline is a key factor when one chooses to embark upon the decision to observe Shabbat. Temptations to break it are always strewn along the way. These are obstacles that avert our focus from the intended goal.
The journey between “Remembering” and “Observing” Shabbat requires maturity and, in my view, also a higher emotional intelligence level (unless, of course, one has been raised according to it from an early age).
But above all, it requires an immersion in Holiness (Kodesh קודש( because that is the very unique nature of Shabbat
I honestly believe that the Torah recognized the difference and what it takes to move from one to the other.
The Ten commandments were first given to Am Yisrael shortly after they came out of Egypt from the House of Bondage.
At that stage, they were not ready to follow the laws and adhere to them.
As slaves, one could not expect this multitude to act independently, become a free People overnight and practice Freedom of choice. They had to be coached into becoming a Nation, a Culture and a Civilization.
Moreover, wandering in the desert for forty years did not make life easy for Am Yisrael. In addition to the harsh surrounding conditions, they had to be taught the laws and the requirements. They had to be given the tools and be prepared to observe them. The old generation that still possessed the slave mentality had to die out and a new generation of free people needed guidance, advice and direction. They had to be cleansed, to be purged in order to reach that level of purity, physical and spiritual which Observing Shabbat requires of us. When they were getting closer to reaching their destination in the Book of Devarim, it was then that they were ready to move on to the next level of becoming an עם קדושים Am Kedoshim (a Holy Nation). It was time for them to move from the stage of “Remembering” to “Observing.”
It was, therefore, at that stage, I believe that the commandment regarding the Shabbat was altered.
Am Yisrael was finally ready to assume the role that G-d had destined for them. They were about to enter Eretz Yisrael and were expected to live, meet and fulfill the terms of the Covenant and reminded of it by adhering to its sign.
“The Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” It is through the Shabbat, through “Remembering” it and “Observing” it that G-d will continue to bless and sanctify Am Yisrael.
Shavua tov.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Moses nailed it!

The figure of Moses in the Torah is mostly remembered as the leader who took the Yisraelites out of Egypt

How many, though, are aware that he was also a Prophet?

A few days ago, I happened to read the Song of the Sea which Moses sang with the children of Yisrael after they crossed the Sea of Reeds. It was then that it dawned on me how his role as a Prophet was underestimated. The following verse from the song he sang struck me as so relevant to our times.

It describes the goal of an enemy, a threat to Am Yisrael and what it had wished to do to us.
אמר אויב: ארדוף אשיג אחלק שלל ......תמלאמו נפשי תורישמו ידי. (שמות ט"ו פס' ט')
“The enemy boasted, 'I will pursue, I will overtake them. I will divide the spoils; I will gorge my soul on them… .… hand shall inherit them.' (Exodus 15,9)

The ancient Egyptians may have been the subject of Moses's song. Today, however, it is not only those that wish to annihilate us that this verse is applicable to. Today, Jews have an enemy of a different kind, one that secretly weaves and stealthily preys upon Am Yisrael and the Jewish people with the aim of depriving us of our Jewish essence. They are the Christian missionaries. Their maneuvers are focused in the spiritual realm which poses no less of a danger than the one Moses was referring to in her song.

When addressing Yisrael’s enemies physical and spiritual with regards to Moses's song, I am particularly referring to the part where this verse mentions spoils, that which the enemy appropriates after it has triumphed. The Hebrew word for spoils is שלל (Shalal. Shin, Lamed, Lamed).

Our wise sages ((חז"ל suggest that this word is an acronym for מותיהם לשונם לבושםש, (Shmoteyhem, their names, Leshonam, their language, culture, Levusham, their garb).
Studying the manner in which the enemies of Yisrael operate, that is exactly how they go about their efforts to steal and destroy Jewish lives and souls.
They adopt our names, our titles.

Zionists, is one example of a name/title which belongs to Jews only (for various reasons which are listed in articles written by myself and others) is being usurped by various faiths while its members define it as they see fit. I have seen “Christian Zionists.” I have seen “Muslim Zionists.” I have even heard that there are some who suggest that Mohammad, since he claimed that Eretz Yisrael belongs to the Jews and since he came Before Herzl and his Political Zionism movement, is the original Zionist…..

The name “Palestine” is another example.

Though it was not Christian missionaries that adopted the name which was arbitrarily given to us and to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of the Jews, still the fact remains that someone else stole it from us and now tries to convince the world that this has been their homeland forever and a day.

As far as language is concerned, need I mention all the examples where Missionaries have given themselves and their organizations Hebrew terms, language in order to convince ignorant Jews that they are part of us and that one day we will all become one?

Let me start by mentioning a group called HaYovel. It is a clan of Christian Evangelicals who have joined hands with some Jewish enablers and moved to Eretz Yisrael where they have been given land. Though they claim that their sole purpose of coming to Yisrael is to help the farmers of Judea and Samaria with harvesting their crops, many of us suspect, based on their own words that there is more to it.

They adopted the name HaYovel (Hebrew for Jubilee) with the stated purpose to “share with them {Jews} a passion for the soon coming of the Jubilee in Yeshua, the messiah." 

A source called “Talmidei Yeshua Fellowship,” describes HaYovel on their FB page as: “a ministry that helps Israeli farmers farm and harvest their crops. As well as helping them work they also bring the gospel message to the farmers.”

It is not only our language that is being appropriated by those who wish to “pursue us, overtake us and divide spoils,” as Moses prophesied. It is also some of the symbols of our few millennia old and endowed culture that they have targeted.

Yerushalayim, Zion, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, the heart of the Jewish people has also been a subject to efforts by many to claim as their own. Islam has sanctified Yerushalayim for political rivalry reasons, according to Dr. Mordechai Kedar. Now, we also have Christian evangelicals claiming that Yerushalayim , rather, the “New Jerusalem” is where “Jesus Christ will reign for 1000 years and every knee will bow down to him.” (Pastor Hagee, March 2013).

Now if that is not usurpation, please enlighten me of what is.

How about all those evangelical Christians who observe Shabbat, or keep Kashroot?
We cannot tell anyone what to do or not do. However, it is important to note that Shabbat was given to Jews as a sign of the Covenant Am Yisrael made with G-d on Mount Sinai. Kashroot laws are part of the Torah which, again,  was given to Am Yisrael only (except for its moral code that was given to them AND to humanity).

Those who follow those laws, claim that they love us,  and insist that they are our friends. Friends respect that which belongs to friends and do not just take what belongs to them and claim it as their own. That is what enemies have done to each other throughout history with the spoils that they took after they had won the war.

Now we are getting to the last acronym of the Hebrew word Shallal (spoils). Targeting the garb.

I shudder each time I see a non-Jew wearing a tallit, a prayer shawl. The commandment to wear one was decreed for Jews only. It breaks my heart when I see non-Jews wear it and for the purpose of practicing Jewish customs which have been misconstrued by those who wear it either to deceive of to further their agenda of eventually removing the Jewish essence from Judaism towards their goal of making us “complete Jews.” They wear it, for instance, during  the “seder” which they conduct more as a commemoration of the last supper than the Exodus from Egypt.

“Look what they have done to my song ma,” is a song by Melanie from the early 70’s that comes into mind when I write these lines.

Unlike, Melanie’s song, however, the song of the Prophet Moses offers Hope for Am Yisrael. In verse 13, he says,
עד יעבור עמך ה‘, עד יעבר עם זו קנית, תבאמו ותטעמו בהר נחלתך.
(In your unfailing love, you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength, you will guide them to your holy dwelling).

Let our enemies be warned. We are the People of Eternity. The Eternal of Yisrael Shall Never Lie. We are named Yisrael for a reason. No matter what, we shall always prevail!

Shavua tov.