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February 2009


                       BY SY SCHECHTMAN  


As a very literate young teenager almost eons ago,  I have always maintained just a few glowing embers of that adolescent time of unrest and  growth.  One image is that of Fort Zinderneuf an outpost in the Sahara desert of the French Foreign Legion in pre World War One.   The legionaires  were usually    depicted as romantic  misfits  from all over and many   Arab French   confrontations occurred.   In one such instance the French commander, a brutal and sadistic but very effective sergeant, ordered every dead French soldier  propped up with rifle and full military regalia,  gun aimed at the ready.    With the remaining gradually dwindling  force running from post to post, and firing,  to make it appear that the battle was being won by the beleaguered and far outnumbered French troops. Ultimately this ruse worked and the Arabs retreated as the sound of the  relief bugle calls of the  rescuing reinforcements is heard.   I feel, somehow, a warming kinship with this as a  paradigm of the perception of the grossly over inflated Jewish  presence in the world.  The Jews are a bare two tenths of one percent   of  world population,   and most demographers of world wide historical trends  estimate that in the last two thousand years we have merely doubled our size---from about 6 or 7 million to about 15 million—while other major religions of the west  have increased  to multi millions of adherents, --Catholics, Protestants, Moslems most with  beginnings much later than  when monotheistic faith was first    proclaimed in Genesis 19, when God first spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  

         And there are only about six million Jews today in the United States, and most estimates of Jewish population  world wide two thousand years ago had a population of similar size.  But Jews now, as evidently in the Zinderneuf incident with the French and the Arabs in the story above, were so active and “ in your face”  that   many people thought they saw a horde of Jews when a mere small local multiplicity made them, at times, uneasy. I suspect that this is true with at least an other very successful minority group---the gay and lesbian minority.   Their somewhat unusual life   style and culture makes them relatively more newsworthy and perhaps more threatening. And thus the origins of anti Semitism, perhaps, many centuries ago. Indeed, at the time just before the Christian   era two millennia ago, the Jews were the most pesky   entity under Roman rule, on the verge of rebellion often because of their strange monotheistic, somewhat fanatic, obeisance their one God,  Adonai.   Indeed at that time almost the entire western civilized world—most of which was under Roman domination, was aware of the ultimate Roman struggle against the Jews at Masada in about 80AD. Christianity at that time was just an infant rumble of dissident Jews---Christ’s fellow Jewish companions. The fires of Anti Semitism today have been artfully fanned by the “Christ Killer” canard , too,  but down through the centuries most people had   perceptions  of a well financed, powerful subversive group  that was a potent threat to both rich and poor.  Indeed, Hitler had the Jew as both the vile communist (as in Soviet Boshevik Russia) and the vile capitalist money bags scheming to subvert the innocent pure Nordic Northern white human being,  especially the pure Nazi New German that Hitler was creating in his “thousand year Reich”.

         It is true that, scripturally speaking, the Jews came first. Before there had been a welter of deity, ranging from the glorious technicolor of Hindu pantheism down to the dualism of Persian Ahura Mazda   and Zorastrianism.  Then , with the marvelous concision of the unity of God ---ethical monotheism--embodying all the moral good possible, the Jews captured the high ground for                                                                                      mankind’s soul and imagination.  And his ultimate  salvation by doing the holy deeds prescribed (mitzvoth) in the holy scriptures.   First the Hebrew Testament (the “Old Testament”)

        Then the Gospels of Christ ----about 1200 years later, (the “New Testament”)  and about 600 years later, the Koran,  Muhammid’s Revelations of his holy discussions with God (Allah).    However, a prime sticking point is the core of this  revelation to the Jews in Exodus 19 “ Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed all the earth is mine but you shall be to Me  a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. 

         This declaration with distinct overtones  of Jewish chosiness and superiority  did not sit well with the “sister” religions of Christianity and Islam, whom the Jews preferred to definitely designate as “daughter”, later derived manifestations of the one true living God.  The primacy of the Jews, too, as those who were God’s first love,   was not a happy fact to either Christian or Muslim.  And hence the Gentile story of Christ’s genesis and fulfillment is the “New” testament, thus superceding the Jewish Mosaic revelation and Mohammid, about six hundred years later  is considered, by his followers, as the last  and most authentic   revelation of the One God –now Allah—to  humanity.    The Jewish Credo stops far short of either of the other two in salvation glory, being mostly an epic of the enduring beatitude of idyllic earthly  life in some mortal form when humanity is worthy. When brotherhood at last is universal and our behavior is just and righteous.   Thus the Messiah will appear, no immortal but perhaps another like Moses, who in his consummate holiness  spoke to God “almost face to face”,  and whose final resting place is still unknown.  Christ said “my kingdom is not of this world” and it was many eons before his devout followers gave up  on the fervent bliss that on his second coming he would  judge and glorify the righteous with eternal life.  This failure of return has been subsumed by the promise of eternal  heavenly bliss at the end of individual mortal life in most Christian sects.  In Islam,  as we know now for many of its followers---the Jihadists--- that  there is a firm eternity in place, but the means of attaining it has many non believers mystified if not horrified.

         Essentially Judaism preaches morality and that your eternal reward is a good mortal life. More or less, that virtue is its own reward. And attaining a good  name and  reputation.  And the loving memory of your progeny and community. And that your eternal soul returns to the bosom of God.  However, for most of humanity  this is not enough.  As we go through mortal life  we experience or witness many factors we can not control; death and /or debilitating disease or economic disaster, always being prime concerns.  Thus undue and inexplicable suffering  for even ostensibly virtuous people  can not be accepted without the ultimate release of post mortal being. Some form of delightful existence  after mortal death and the end game of suffering usually attached to this process, which in our limited dim earthly conception we call heaven, or “paradise”.  Where we will get our “eternal reward” for doing what we are sure were God’s true dictates on earth, transcending the ultimate, dreadful painful end play of losing one’s actual physical  life.

         For the Jew, however, whose history on earth has been almost constant persecution through pogrom, anti Semitism, and crushing holocaust,  where Nazi  outright slaughter killed about  a quarter of existing Jews worldwide in the extermination  camps in Germany, Poland and other sites in eastern Europe, there is a remarkable vacuum of options.  His enthusiasm for the future is confined to merely this mundane earthly planet. His long range plan is doing the eternal good in this life life only to merit      the good that must inevitably inhere to such conduct for his progeny on earth and innumerable  friends made in advancing the good cause of human growth and achievement.   An extension of virtue as its own reward, o the golden rule---Do unto others what they should do unto you.

         And for while, indeed, Jewish  History seemed on track  on this fruitful earthly  path.  In the great  biblical story of the Exodus Jews threw off the bondage of Egyptian slavery, and under Moses inspired leadership, with God’s direct help,  escaped to freedom.  There are then many tales of hardship and setbacks on the way across the desert,  and when they at one crucial point are reluctant  to cross the Jordan river into the Promised Land, doubtful of the wisdom and efficacy of the Lord’s command to do so,  God loses patience with this “stiff necked and unbelieving people”---for whom He has already performed countless miracles---and makes them wander in the desert for forty long years, until the next more faithful generation can accomplish their mission into the “land of milk and honey”.

         After another century or so of consolidation among the indigenous people,  and many Jewish folk heros such as Gideon, Debra. Samson, Jeptha,  who helped lead the people locally (Judges)  the Jewish 12 tribes in the land began to flourish.   Apparently a helpful power vacuum between  both North and South—a relatively weak Egypt and Mesopotamia—was in place, and forceful Jewish leaders arose to organize and unify the confederation of tribes into a small but strong nation; first to fight a new local threat, the invading Philistines from the west, led by King Saul, then by David who ruled for over 20 years and his son Solomon who ruled for 40 years in relative glory. Much of Israel gloried in Solomon’s reputed wisdom and literary skill. His name is appended to many the poetic and literary epics in the Hebrew Bible. Among his other credits (?) is that he is reputed to have had a harem of one thousand  wives and concubines.   Also Solomon was famous as a diplomat as well as a domestic lord. While his father King David was famous for being a warrior as well as a statesman, founding,  among other important thngs, the city of Jerusaleum,  his son Solomon was the consummate diplomat and peaceful leader;  he ruled for 40 years and needed no battles to enlarge his small “empire”.    Probably his harem like domestic situation contributed to the peaceful  enlargement of his regime through treaties and innumerable betrothal arrangements and the sin of many intermarriages.   Also we know, however, from references in the Bible, to the imposition  of forced labor and higher taxation to finance many of Solomon’s expansionary projects.  His elaborate temple in Jerusaleum was one of the”wonders” of the ancient world,  and he evidently had a navy for international commerce and a visit from the Queen of Sheba, an illustrious black African potentate who sought out Solomon for his famed wisdom and perhaps as a possible mate.  Ultimately, however,  there was internal rebellion and the kingdom split in two, and the relatively powerful Jewish empire, which received tribute financially and much respect from  contiguous tribes and municipal entities, became itself  two hostile entities divided against it’s own core Jewish interests.  The nNorthern Kingdom ---Samaria ---- was conquered in 721 BC by Assyria and in 586  Babylonia overcame the sSourthern Kingdom of Judah.  Both of these sad events contributed to nourished the growth large and everlasting source of the Jewish diaspora which flourished throughout the near east so much that by about the

year 300 BC the first translation of the Hebrew scriptures into a Greek dialect occurred---the Koine-- become  available as the Jews, scattered but not completely disaffected, still believed in their unique concept of the one omnipotent  God  who ruled the world and guided mankind.  Many such Jews still tithed their income though far away, sending back funds to the tiny rebuilt Temple in the postage size state of Judah.

           However, after the fabled but flawed  Solomonic reign followed by the antagonistic split Kingdoms, the gradual implosion of Jewish hegemony in the material world was underway.  There were respites and revivals, such as at the beginning of the so called Christian era, when a Jewish anti hero, Herod,  ruled in Israel and  cooperated with the oppressive Roman ruling legions.    Herod rebuilt Solomon’s ancient temple and also other impressive monuments, but he also levied heavy taxes and oppressive edicts on the backs of the Jews of Jerusalem, as Solomonm did late in his regime.   Jewish unrest simmered and erupted from time to time and Rome actually restructured its far flung legions to  concentrate on the fractious Jews of Palestine in about 70AD.  The final Jewish uprising was the famous siege of Masada, to quell the Jewish hero, Bar Kochba,   who at that time was hailed by the sainted  Rabbi Akiva as  the new Messiah.     The Jewish assault failed  and Roman patience was at an end.  The Second Temple was destroyed and the Jews dispersed world wide.   

         During this crucial time  a minuscule event happened

which in time        proved utterly very consequential.    The infant Christ was born  in Bethlehem and  a movement begun somewhat later in Jerusalem and beyond began claiming  that he was the Son of God and the new Messiah .  A holy immaculate conception for His mother Mary  and the logical successor to late Jewish  leader Moses and his followers.           (Moses a mortal  whose gravesite was never found and Christ whose body disappeared from his burial tomb after 3 days). By the time of the Roman wars with the Jews  this nascent movement was competeing  activelycompeting actively    with tradtionaltraditional  Jewry for adherents andadherents and  the fact that the Romans routedRomans routed the Jews after much effort around 13573 AD gave the gentile New Testament much validity as to “whose God was stronger.”   Indeed this new movement, initially a new Jewish offspring, branch was aided mightily by the conversion of  Paul----,  who as a previously a committed Jew, Saul,   , now awas definitely anti Christian.  Now Paul rallied the neutral, uncommtted , and  pagan  people outside of Israel people to this cause, claiming that the Mosaic code and the onerous ritual and prayer codes , and circumcision, were not necessary; by accepting Christ as the Saviour and only Son of God   personal salvation was assured.

         From the During the few hundred years  asas the Jewish decline began, from Solomon on,  and accelerated through the events of Jewish defeat and dispersal, the  great literary prophets of the Bible appeared, commenting and explicating   on the troubled path of the Jewish people, as the downward historical path accelerated.   It was never that God had broken His covenant with the Jews but that the Jews had “gone a whoring after other people’s gods”.   Thus idolatry, as with Solomon’s wives and Ahab’s Jezebel  and her the priests of Baal among the more notorious examples,  anbut d above all the ignoring oof  the ethical codes of justice and morality emphasized throughout the Hebrew Scriptures..  Isaiah’s famous cry to “bring me no more vain oblations”  and   Micah’s  “He has told you O Man what is good,  And what the Lord requires  of you:  Only to do justice, and to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your God; then will your name achieve wisdom”.   Orf the cries of Amos “I loathe, I spurn your festivals, I am not appeased by your  solemn assemblies. If you offer me burnt offerings—or your meal offerings---I will not accept them; I will pay no heed .to you gifts of fatlings.  Spare Me the sound of your hymns, and l

Let me not hear  the music of your lutes. But let justice well  up like  water, righteousness  like an  unfailing stream.” 

          It was man who had failed God, not the reverse. If humanity had but lived up to being  his brother’s keeper—of being just and humanetheir sad lot would improve.      The latter prophets---Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial, Amos,  Hosea, Micah, etc.-- held out this lifeline  from God to the Jews.  Now to the “saving remnant”  

  now all  in the diaspora.     The implosion of the Jews was seemingly complete, but a seemingly miraculous revival began.  Infinitely slowly but with the patient persistence of the  possessed, devoted , and even perhaps obsessed;   With no homeland, no central temple, no leader of any credibility, they still had the word of God in their holy Torah.  They  became traveling  missionaries throughout the large diaspora world with the   traditional toast  from deep in the hinterlands  “Next year in Jerusalem”.  God is also portrayed in exile, waiting in the wings, as it were, for his first loved people to return  to their mission to be “a nation of priests and a holy nation.

          But they now had strong local leaders and teacherstheir rabbis--,who lived and married and reared families alongside  the laity. No more off putting priesthood as a cold intermediary between man and God. Now weekly prayer and learning sessions in a growing number of synagogues,  In essence they were saying   Have Book, Will Travel if that is God’s will to spread the Holy Word.   And throughout the ensuing centuries they refined and improved their   understanding of God’s word with the elaboration of the Talmud, a multi volume   compendium of every aspect of daily living  with the Bible’s holy conduct regimen  as an essential guide  to righteous human living.

         So we have had  much implosion and exile and still tenacious persistence for over the last two thousand years, even unto the miracle of redeeming the fervent and seemingly idiotic, frenetic  diaspora chant  “next year in Jerusalem pledge.  

     But it as if we are now at intermission time   in the history of Israels’ rejuvenation, redemption, and somewhat questionable salvation..  We have lived successfully in Jerusalem for over half a century, living in the fabulous place of our storied and troubled ancient land.  Not, however, as welcome occupants whose  presence is safe and secure.  But actually as intruders who have claimed the land by  historic and biblical right.    And also   by the legal fiat of the United Nations  Partition   Plan which the Arab nations never agreed to. Most dubious is the  promise of the prophets  that God’s covenant was still in place and could be redeemed by the Jews righteous  conduct.  This has been almost completely obscured by the bereaved cries of the devout believers of the Death of God, the Eclipse of God, or that God is hiding His face to the continued two millennia long Jewish implosion in spite of the of all their persistence and  great contributions to universal well being. Almost literally they have been “the despised and rejected by Man as Christ was in his suffering. And now the level of anti Israel hatred is elevated by oil rich Iran, now on the threshold of nuclear bomb capability,  vowing the complete distruction of Israel.      Maimonides, in his great 13 principles of faith, stated as principle number 12, that “though he tarry” he believed with perfect faith and confidence in the coming of the Messiah.   

                  In a somewhat dubious more secular  way I believe in his coming too.   Prayerfully yet hopefully.   But humanity is most probably not yet ready to be their brothers and sisters  keepers   and protectors; to render unto others only what one would do to one self.   Probably now the only deterrent is some version of the Soviet American  MAD standoff---Mutually Armed

Deterrence.  To still carry a big stick but still speak somewhat softly.    And then, perhaps far down the line, some form of   intermariage and quasi  if not complete assimilation.  In the immortal words of Winston Churchill if at all possible, always “jaw, jaw, and not war, war.