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Christians Against Coffee: What Will They Think of Next?

Christians Against Coffee: What Will They Think of Next?

Christians Against Coffee: What Will They Think of Next?

Yesterday the Huffington Post reported on a story in which an evangelical minister, David Barton, railed against Christians buying Starbucks coffee based on the sole idea that Starbucks spends some of their profits to support the civil rights of all people in the United States of America. In particular, this preacher was upset because Starbucks, according to him, refuses to support traditional marriage. Well, we all know what traditional (code for biblical) marriage means. After all, polygamy was the norm back in the day. So does this preacher support plural marriage? Or is he just against gay marriage? In either case, he is on the wrong side of the fence. To claim that a cup of coffee offends that which he represents as God is simply laughable on its face. Is it any wonder that this kind of preaching is unappealing to so many.

I don’t know about you, but I am personally offended by those who insist that their religious beliefs are superior to all other belief systems. While on my way home from Phoenix, we drove right by what is claimed as the largest cross in North America just to the East of Amarillo, Texas. For a small offering (not the cost of admission) one can drive off the road to a museum and chapel to engage in the praise of this monstrous cross by the side of the road. With between 39 and 41 million non-Christians (around 18% of the total population) in the United States and only about 40% of the total population of the United States claiming to be either evangelical or ‘born again’ Christians, one wonders just to whom the gigantic cross is playing.

As an atheist, I find there to be no evidence for the existence of a god or gods while I do find ample evidence that there is no god or gods floating around the universe. I have little difficulty writing about this rational decision yet I also do not wish to denigrate any who chose to adopt any particular mythology for their own personal comfort. I am not on a conversion rant. In fact, if there were ever credible evidence (not bible quotes or other self-serving writing) to the contrary, I would be rationally forced to accept the proposition that there is a god or gods that somehow run the universe for their own desires. All I am arguing is that the available evidence does not support such a proposition. What I find so offensive about true believers is their insistance that they have the true and correct answers and there must be no deviation from the rules they establish. There is a great line in a song I heard while on vacation that goes something like this…I met a preacher willing to explain the world according to him in return for my personal check. It is true-belief that is unwilling or unable to be open to the possibility of being altogether wrong; demanding that one believe as they or be burned at the stake or blown up while riding on a public bus.

What I am ranting against, I suppose, is the hypocrisy of true-belief, the hypocrisy born of ignorance fostered by turning a deaf ear to anything but that to which one is committed. It becomes unauthentic the very moment one chooses to act to force others to attend to the same beliefs to which the true-believer is committed for the benefit of the true-believer. Never mind that those forced to conform find the very act of conformity offensive. In the end, what do crosses and coffee have in common? Perhaps forced conformity is the bugaboo from which there is no recovery.

Ready for a Familiar Bed…The End of the Road, Almost!

Ready for a Familiar Bed...The End of the Road, Almost!

Ready for a Familiar Bed…The End of the Road, Almost!

Storms in Colorado mirroring, sort of, the deadly storms in Oklahoma, scratching items off my bucket list such as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and a dirt road adventure in a Prius yesterday that was exciting and even scary at times coupled with five days with a fifteen-year old grandson all makes me ready for my own bed…but not quite yet. As I write this (not when it actually gets posted) it is 98 degrees in Phoenix and I have taken refuge in our hotel room as my wife and grandson lounge around the pool baking in the shade. Somehow, placing myself in a warming oven doesn’t have significant appeal as I am about to enter my eighth decade on this earth. I much prefer the comfort of the room which is holding at a most comfortable 72 degrees.

We spent the better part of our last day in Phoenix at the Phoenix Science Center, a collection of science exhibits, a planetarium and a simply extraordinary exhibit exploring the genius of Leonardo DaVinci. We took in an I-Max 3-D film on the design and construction of the Boeing 787. While the film was interesting, it is always difficult to watch a movie in 3-D so for much of the film I simply closed my eyes. We also took in an informative, if not well narrated, sky show in the planetarium in which we were whisked to the very edges of the universe and back again all in under one hour. Had the live narrator said, “You guys,” one more time, however, I think I might have murdered her. With a good lunch in the museum in between all this adventure we spent nearly six hours exploring the exhibits, presentations and films on offer.

It is late afternoon now and I am relaxing in the hotel. Tonight we are going out to celebrate our grandson’s fifteenth birthday which seems to make him older than I could possibly imagine as well as my seventieth birthday which begs the question of how did I get this old this fast? With a good dinner and celebrations out of the way, Susan and I will get back on the road in the morning (about the time this post goes live) and start back home. With some planned and some unplanned stops along the way, we should arrive home exhausted sometime on Sunday or Monday…who knows. What I do know is that traveling is an important way to understand one’s roots and one’s priorities.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

On this trip, it became clearer to me than ever before that I have an ethical responsibility to work to repair our planet, to protect it from further commercially inspired harm, if not for myself, for my children, grandchildren and generations still not even being considered. Our planet is a fragile place, a place which evolved a delicate balance which is being disrupted by the greed of mankind. From strip mining to clear cutting forests, from depletion of eons old aquifers rather than engage in sustainable dry land farming to the despoiling of the lakes and oceans with garbage dumping and pollutants being washed into the water supply, we are at an environmental crossroads. It is not enough to delay solutions to the problems that we ourselves create. It is time to take ethical responsibility and say no to corporate polluters, to greedy mine owners, to those who would anger Mother Nature for their own immediate and personal gain, to those who allow themselves to be purchased by special interests while claiming to represent people. As Sugarland urges, “Stand up and use your voice.” It is good advice. It is time to stand up and be counted.

Natural Beauty, Humility and Stature: Thinking in Jewish 45

Natural Beauty, Humility and Stature: Thinking in Jewish 45

Natural Beauty, Humility and Stature: Thinking in Jewish 45

Last night at dinner our server, a delightful woman named Amy, and I got to talking about places to visit in order to take in the natural wonders of the Southwestern United States. I think the conversation began when Amy and my wife began comparing ski resorts but it quickly evolved to places we have been. We spoke of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Saguaro National Park when I mentioned that I had just checked off Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park from my bucket list. Amy then commented, “It surely makes you feel small, almost insignificant, when you see the beauty of this world. The time it took to carve these magnificent landscapes and the short time we are here to enjoy them.” The only thing she left out of her comment, but it was clearly on the tip of her tongue, was the God which obviously created these landscapes. I don’t mean to put words in her mouth, for she didn’t actually add the bit about God, but I was certain that she didn’t want to offend by making God a central character in the drama of nature.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

To a large extent, her restraint was refreshing. I have been in similar situations where my interlocutor was not so thoughtful nor so humble. More often than not, the fundamentalist Christian response to such a conversation about natural wonders includes the notion that the creator God made this beauty in order to humble mankind, to make us feel insignificant in order to understand the power of the creator. To that I generally respond, “Poppycock!” There is no reason to believe that there is a creator God because of the natural forces that shaped the wonders of our planet. In fact, there are geological explanations that trump the mystic late Bronze and early Iron Age mythologies, no matter whose mythologies one chooses to adapt.

While natural wonders tend to humble the viewer, one does not require a creator God in order to be humbled by the grandeur of the natural world. To the contrary, humility comes from the eons required for a small, rather insignificant, river to carve through layers of stone to create a canyon which one can stand in awe of. The geological forces required to converge to create the canyons and mountains that make us breathe a bit quicker as we stand in their glory (religious terminology need not be exclusive to religious belief) explain a great deal without removing the humbling effect of these natural wonders. Standing on the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, looking nearly straight down on to the Gunnison River some 2,000 feet below, hearing the rush of the water as it continues (albeit more slowly than ever because the dams upstream limit the flow of water through the canyon floor) to carve through layers of rock, is truly something to stand in awe of but not something to attribute to the whims of a creator God. Beauty need not be compromised by failing to understand the science contributing to the creation of these magnificent structures. Amen.

Caring for the Land…An Ethical Responsibility

Caring for the Land...An Ethical Responsibility

Caring for the Land…An Ethical Responsibility

Yesterday with my wife, son and grandson, I drove the Apache Trail from Globe to Apache Junction, Arizona. Beginning in Globe, where strip mining mountains to extract copper, strips the land of its natural beauty as well as destroying the eco-system which evolved to sustain plant and animal life over millions, perhaps billions of years. Driving into the canyon through which the Apache Trail runs, it quickly became obvious that the land here, with the exception of damming the river to create reservoir lakes and creating a road, remains wild and free.

Along the Apache Trail

Along the Apache Trail

Driving through this nearly pristine desert landscape, especially when compared to the rape of the land that results from strip mining, got me to thinking about an ethical responsibility for our stewardship of the only land we have to call home. The issue, it seems to me, is one in which we somehow have forgotten where food comes from (clearly not a Monsanto laboratory), how to assure the health of the land (surely not applying chemical fertilizer courtesy of a ConAgra laboratory) and the biodiversity that comes from growing multiple varieties of natural grains, fruits and vegetables (rather than planting genetically modified seeds developed in the laboratories of Central Soya). I thought about Georgia Pacific’s clear-cutting of forests in the Pacific Northwest thereby destroying the eco-system of the mountains as well as their ability to maintain fertile soil on the mountains after the nearly daily rains of the region. I could go on here, but you get the point. It seems we have placed profit over sustainability; immediate corporate greed trumping the very survival of future generations.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, people around the world lived in close affinity to the land they occupied. They took only that which was needed to provide food and protection from the elements. As urbanization began to replace the pastoral life of the farm and ranch or even the nomadic hunter-gathering life of indigenous people, the ability to live without exploiting the land began to disappear. By the mid-1950’s it was all but forgotten. I once asked my students where food comes from and to a soul they replied from the grocery store, giving the source barely a second thought. What was lost must be somehow regained if we are to survive as a civilization.

It is not enough to preserve a few primitive sites, set aside as national parks, monuments or forests. It is not enough to declare a few acres as a state park. No, the commitment must be to force a return to sustainable farming, to sustainable foresting and to refusing to support food that is not appropriately labeled as to GMO or antibiotic inclusion in the manufacture, growing or preparation of foods. Our very survival depends on this because everything depends on everything and everyone depends on everyone.

On Memorial Day

On Memorial Day

On Memorial Day

On this day, Memorial Day, we are remembering those who gave their lives in the defense of freedom and our democratic-republic. That is what we are supposed to be doing. But is that what this day of remembering really is? Yesterday morning I was watching television, specifically the NBC coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix race while in Phoenix visiting my son and grandson (who is about to turn 15 and is a petulant teenager for sure). While I had heard it all before, nearly every commercial aired during this motor race was advertising a blow out Memorial Day sale. Is this what we have become? Are our memorials, our holidays, set aside so that one can engage in support of commercial interests?

If I were at home, the race would have been seen in a DVR recorded format, one in which I would skip through the commercials allowing me to simply watch the race which is the reason for watching in the first place. But I was in a hotel in Phoenix watching the race live so the commercials were in my face. Blow out car sales, furniture sales, even sales for groceries were simply unavoidable. I began to think about just how disrespectful these commercials are to those soldiers who were conscripted or volunteered to serve our nation in times of war; those for whom a return to the United States came in a coffin. Is this what we have become? A nation ruled by holiday sales without truly understanding the context of the holiday itself?

I am not a supporter of many of the recent wars waged by the United States. I grew up in the Viet Nam era,  that most unpopular war waged for the preservation of freedom by Lyndon Johnson. It was a time of protest against the war as well as a national effort to assure that all Americans would be guaranteed civil rights promised by the Constitution of the United States. A time of political unrest inspired by hope for the democracy promised by the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. My own political breeding ground caused me to question the need for war, for killing and being killed for the sake of some political agenda that was far from certain. The wars fought by the United States since that time have done nothing to change my mind. In fact, the most recent, the second Iraq war, a war fought for a flat out lie, merely reinforced the idea that wars are generally without merit. Generally but not exclusively for there are instances when one must rise as a nation and defend itself.

That being said, there remains the sobering fact that when there are wars there will be parents hanging Gold Stars in their windows for their fallen sons and now daughters. Wars cause death, the death of those fighting in them and the civilians caught in the crossfire of battle. Wars cause young people to die well before their time whether they were conscripted into the battlefield or volunteered; the death of soldiers becomes an inevitable fallout from war. It is fully appropriate to honor those for whom war has claimed the ultimate sacrifice. It is not, however, appropriate to infect those deaths with the wanton hubris of corporate America. Memorial day is not a day to celebrate horsepower or fancy couches. It is a day to soberly reflect on the carnage of war; a day to lay wreaths on the graves of soldiers who have fallen in battle. It is a day to consider the folly of the old men in Washington who are so willing to commit the nation’s young men and women to the battlefield while considering the morality of peace. Memorial day is a day to honor those who have fallen not a day to hawk cars or living room suites or even blueberries on sale. Memorial day is a day of great sadness that has turned into a day of picnics, bar-b-ques and selling cars. What a shame.

Storm Clouds, Tornadoes and Carbon

Storm Clouds, Tornadoes and Carbon

Storm Clouds, Tornadoes and Carbon

Storm Clouds, Tornadoes and Carbon

Storm Clouds, Tornadoes and Carbon

A second F-5 tornado strikes Moore, Oklahoma in the past few years and a representative from Moore responds with calls to prayer. The image on the right was shot along I-70 in Western Colorado around the same time this tragedy occurred. I was standing along an access road to a Costco store in the middle of Colorado gypsum country, in fact, the town in which the Costco was located was named Gypsum, in bright sunlight as the clouds gathered to the south producing rain. The storms were perhaps a mile away moving toward us. While in the mountains they didn’t reach the intensity of the Moore event, when we were driving through them on I-70 it was mighty scary. I suppose making images that tell a story is one way to connect to the tragedy suffered by those in Moore, there is little that one can do except to take action to reverse the man made climate change that is now clearly causing more tragic weather events.

The representative from Moore, in asking people for their prayers, did not express anger for the second and now precedented storm, that’s right, not unprecedented but precedented because this is not the first occurrence of such a storm in Moore. No, his response was to fall upon the mercy of his friend in the sky to help the townsfolk whose lives were either lost or disrupted from the after effects of the storm. My response is somewhat different. Over the past 20 or so years, significant weather changes manifest in a more powerful tornado seasons, more powerful hurricanes, drought, melting of polar ice-caps and so on. One thing I have noticed living in the greater Chicago area is that we seem to be having shorter Winters but when snow falls it seems to fall in buckets.

I think that one must recognize the part we all play in global climate change and vow to do something about reversing the problem. While I will not be around to see the effects of either further and more difficult climate change or the absolute reversal of climate change (I turn 70 in two weeks time), my grandchildren will. Yes, tornadoes are dangerous and the devastation they cause tragic but prayers to an imaginary friend in the sky do nothing to address the difficult, expensive solutions that human beings must take if we expect to occupy this planet for much longer. What is needed are not prayers but action. The first action must be to contribute provide aid and assistance to those who suffered this tragic event; that is merely the beginning and is more palliative than affirmative. The affirmative solutions do not come from denial that climate change does not exist; after all denial is not just a river in Africa, rather, affirmative solutions come from recognition that climate change is man made and that we must attack the problem with as much vigor as we prosecute the wars we ostensibly fight for the defense of freedom. Pray if you must, if you think it will help, if it brings you comfort but when you finish praying take up the cause of reversing global climate change as if your life and the lives of your children and children’s children depend upon the actions you personally take…Because they do!

Reconciling Mythology with Reality: Thinking in Jewish 43

Reconciling Mythology with Reality: Thinking in Jewish 43

Reconciling Mythology with Reality: Thinking in Jewish 43

In their provocative book, The Bible Unearthed, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, drawing on the most recent archaeological research present to the reader a stunningly new vision of the rise of ancient Israel and how the Hebrew Bible served as a powerful mythology for the Judean kings beginning with the rule of King Josiah in the middle of the 8th century BCE. What Finkelstein and Silberman argue is that the Torah and the historical writings from Joshua through Kings I and II provide a picture that is more mythological than historical. Their argument is based on both archaeological data and practicability; could the events recorded in the Bible actually have occurred, do they pass the giggle test.

In terms of the mythological argument, Finkelstein and Silberman present a case that suggests that many of the events have an 8th century BCE contemporary feel that seem to be supportive of Josiah and his ambitions. Many of the “historical” stories presented use 8th century BCE geographical references to cities and peoples that could not have existed in the 15th century BCE when the stories were said to have occurred. Perhaps an example is in order. When the exodus from Egypt is said to have occurred, the People of Israel (they were not yet Jews) took the long way around, wandering in the Southern Sinai for 40 years. Had they taken the Northern route across the Sinai, along the Mediterranean Sea the people would have come in direct contact with a line of Egyptian fortifications which surely would have created an Egyptian response, if only to document the rabble of Israel leaving Egypt. There are any number of Egyptian documents extant today that mention the travel of many peoples but there is no mention anywhere of a rabble of 600,000 people, former slaves in Egypt, leaving as a whole group to cross the desert. To confirm the historicity of the Bible there must be other confirming data, either Egyptian records or archaeological discoveries; neither exist. Crossing the desert with so many people is also beyond reasonable expectations. Small groups of nomads for sure but the population of a small nation crossing the desert and surviving is beyond the capacity of human beings without leaving significant archaeological evidence behind. If the evidence is not there the historicity of the stories fails.

What Finkelstein and Silberman argue is that trying to understand the Bible as an historical document of the development of a people is not supported by the historical or archaeological evidence. It is, however, supported by inferential evidence as dating from the reign of King Josiah, a time in the mid 8th century BCE of great power shifts and an accompanying religious revolution. The evidence found in the historical place names in the Hebrew Bible through Kings II have a corollary in the historical record of that time period as found in documentary evidence from outside of the Judean Kingdom and from the archaeological data dating from this time period as well. Understanding the Bible as a cobbling of extant mythological stories and a political document supporting the ambitions and activities of King Josiah and his immediate successors is a more accurate view.

All that being said, the staying power of the texts is nothing less than extraordinary. The mythology of the Torah and the histories took on a life of its own surviving to this very moment as a guide to ethical practice in the world. It is a book of actions leading to understandings, even if those understandings are quite different and perhaps unrecognizable by those of 8th century BCE Israelites for whom the stories related to their contemporary lives.

Hineni, Here I Am, as the Foundation of Ethics: Thinking in Jewish 42

Moses said, “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight; why doesn’t the bush burn up?” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him out of the bush: “Moses, Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.”
Exodus 3:3-4 (Jewish Publication Society translation)

Hineni, Here I Am, as the Foundation of Ethics: Thinking in Jewish 42

Hineni, Here I Am, as the Foundation of Ethics: Thinking in Jewish 42

The appearance of the response to God of “Here I am” (hineni) is not the first time this word is used in the Torah, nor is it the last. Every time it is used, however, the implication is the same; the responder, in this case Moses, responds to God without reservation, with a sense of obligation born of a duty to service to the Absolute Other. This raises the question as to exactly what is this Absolute Other to which one senses an obligation to be of service? The answer to this question is not simple, but it is quite easily digested if one thinks of the Absolute Other as ineffable, indescribable in human terms. Emmanuel Levinas relates this Other to the boundless infinity which bookends human life; even life in general. The sense of obligation one recognizes with the utterance of hineni is, in truth, related not to the Other but to the other that one senses and engages as a representation of, a reification of the Other in the person of the other.

How is this possible? If one thinks of the absolute uniqueness of each and every human being that is, has been or ever will be then any encounter with the other mirrors, though does not quite reach the level of, an encounter with the Absolute Other. It is through the uniqueness of the other that one connects to the Other. This relationship, then, is the foundation of the fundamental ethical obligation that one has with regard to encounters with the other.

Like the biblical encounter with the Other, nothing occurs until the Other calls to the self. In our ethical interactions with the other, it is necessary to wait; to offer oneself to the other through a pronouncement of readiness and then waiting for the other to call out in need. Once the call is heard, a state of proximity between self and other exists in which the self answers the call without reservation and without expectation for reciprocation. In one’s relationship with the Other, one’s response must be without reservation or expectation for reciprocation as well. It is a fundamental human response to the call of the Other mirrored in the fundamental ethical response to the call of the other.

Ethics, in this sense, does not begin with moral action or with any expectation. Ethics begins with a single realization that I am, in truth, my brother’s keeper. I have a fundamental ethical obligation to act for the welfare of the other without reservation or expectation; in doing so I create a simulacrum of the relationship between the Other and myself, a counterfeit, if you will, of the uniqueness of the very infinity from which I came to the very infinity of the very death to which I must necessarily go. Living in the world, encountering the uniqueness of the other, is as close as I am able to come to defining the Absolute Other. It is my human responsibility for the other which trumps the intervention of the infinitely unknown Other as a palpable connection to my own humanity; it is the responsible life that forms my definition of the Other.

What, You No Longer Post on Saturday? Thinking in Jewish 41

Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.
Exodus 20:8-10 Jewish Publication Society Translation

What, You No Longer Post on Saturday? Thinking in Jewish 41

What, You No Longer Post on Saturday? Thinking in Jewish 41

While the Torah is specific that the sabbath is modeled on God’s six-day creation myth (although the Torah would not think of this as mythology even if I do), an effort so difficult that even God had to rest from his labors, the authors of the Torah understood that such a human mirroring of Godly behavior is not necessarily all bad. Of course, there are some pretty drastic punishments described in the Torah for willfully choosing to not honor “the sabbath day and keep it holy” up to and including death by stoning; of course, the Torah is a product of Bronze Age justice which, in our modern eyes seems a bit over zealous.

That all being said, the fundamental premise upon which the very idea of a day of rest could be included in Bronze Age thinking is, it seems to me, extraordinary. Spending too much time at work and not enough time at play is detrimental to one’s health and well being, but we know that now because of scientific research into things like stress and disease. Three or four thousand years ago, thinking along these lines must have been understood as somehow a bit off center. In order to get the job done, in order to actually get people to take a day off, the very idea that the orders originated with God or that human beings were but imitating, in some small way, the behavior modeled by God, coupled with the overt threat of serious consequences for failing to do so, must have been enough.

But, it seems to me, there are other reasons to take a day off, to not work, to not engage in activity that mimics the efforts of work. While the definitions of work have changed significantly over the ages (there are 39 categories of “work” discussed in the Talmud. According to Wikipedia, “these thirty-nine melakhot (prohibitions) are not so much activities as categories of activity. For example, while “winnowing” usually refers exclusively to the separation of chaff from grain, it refers in the Talmudic sense to any separation of intermixed materials that renders edible that which was inedible. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. (Gefilte fish is a traditional Ashkenazi solution to this problem.”)), there is enough reason to consider just how these activities may or may not be applied to our modern society. What then? I decided to begin to explore these categories not as a religious obligation but, rather, as a secular Jew living in the modern world. This decision was not taken lightly, rather as a response to what a well respected Reform Movement Rabbi, Arnold Wolfe, argued that before absolutely rejecting mitzvot (commandments) outright, one is obliged to try them on for size. He discussed the mitzvot as gifts, packages distributed on the road and found in one’s path. Pick them up and try them out deciding for oneself whether or not they work for you. So my exploration of sabbath commandments begins with writing and publication. Since there is a prohibition against writing I simply decided to stop posting on Saturday, the traditional Jewish sabbath.  There is also a prohibition against lighting a fire. Since the advent of electricity and electrical power, the very act of flipping on a light switch is understood as a violation of that prohibition, so much more so for exciting electrons in a computer.

History is Written by the Victorious…Perhaps Not: Thinking in Jewish 40

History is Written by the Victorious...Perhaps Not: Thinking in Jewish 40

History is Written by the Victorious…Perhaps Not: Thinking in Jewish 40

It is often stated, mostly by the victors, that history is written by the victorious not the vanquished. Perhaps normative history, whatever that may conger up as an image, but not all history. Vanquished people often cling to their own stories and their own versions of the past that are freely told among their particular group. There is, however, no general sharing of those stories or those narratives often because they remain in an oral tradition. There is one clear example of history being written by the vanquished, a written tradition that is millennia old, beginning with the first Babylonian exile so deftly explored by Isaiah and Jeremiah. After the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Temple constructed when a remnant returned to Jerusalem from Babylon about 500 years earlier, and the subsequent defeat of the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 CE when the People of Israel were firmly ensconced in the Diaspora did the rabbis collectively decide to write their version of the record of the Jewish people in multiple texts as a way to preserve their legacy for the world.

In addition to the Torah and the other writings of the Tanakh, writing which preceded the post 135 CE exilic writings, texts which became the foundational texts of the Jewish people, and, to a large extent because of their inclusion in the Christian holy texts, served as a building block for Christians, the texts following the Bar Kochba revolt took on a completely different character; one determined to preserve and protect the Temple cult while living in the world without a Temple.

The Mishnah completed in 200 CE is the fundamental work that was written in an attempt to codify Jewish practice and law while creating a utopian world that no longer existed. The Mishnah is attributed to Judah H’Nasi (Judah the Prince) is a complex document written in Hebrew (although not Biblical Hebrew, rather in a form that was more like the Hebrew of the 3rd Century CE, which attempted to explore all aspects of Jewish life and practice including ritual Temple practice, when and how to recite blessings, as well as civil law and the laws of the Sabbath among other things. Some have argued that Judah the Prince wrote the Mishnah at the request of the Roman governors in order for the governors to understand and administer Jewish Law to the Jews remaining in Palestine under their rule. Whether this is true or not is of little consequence, although it makes for an interesting conjecture. What is important is that Judah the Prince created a massive document outlining Jewish practice in the days of the Temple, a world that no longer existed, thereby stopping time and preserving a world which otherwise would be lost.

The Mishnah was, it seems, incomplete in the sense that there were many instances where the text did not address problems that might arise. Someone, for example, might come to his rabbi with a loaf of bread found in the street asking, “Rabbi, may I keep this loaf of bread to feed my family or must I seek out its true owner?” The answer to this question is unclear in the Mishnah so groups of rabbis separately in Jerusalem and Baghdad began to address these kinds of problems. Their arguments and decisions are codified in both the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. The Jerusalem Talmud was finished around 400 CE while the Babylonian Talmud was not completed until somewhere between 600 to 700 CE. The Babylonian Talmud contains longer, more detailed arguments and generally carries more weight than the Jerusalem Talmud but both are an attempt to clarify the Mishnah where clarification is necessary. If no clarification is required the Mishnah is still primary.

Not to be outdone, later rabbis saw the necessity for additional commentary to the Talmuds. In the 13th Century CE, commentaries by Rashi and others made their way onto the pages of the written Talmud. It was Rashi’s goal to clarify the decisions of the Sages of the Talmud in plain language. Others, such as Maimonides (Shimon ben Maimon) who was deeply influenced by Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle, attempted to put the whole of Jewish sacred texts into philosophical terms. Other rabbis followed until this very day creating commentary on the spiritual and legal foundations of Jewish texts.

What is clear is that the Jewish connection to the written word is both ancient and modern. It is a tradition that goes back four to five millennia and over time is a story of victory and defeat and victory again. It is a story of preservation, of timelessness. It is understood at a deep level the Jewish experience is one that is experienced by every Jew at the moment of its occurrence. When asked at the Passover Seder, “What does all this mean to you?” the response is as follows: “It is for me when I was a slave in the Land of Egypt that the Lord brought me forth from Egypt and delivered me to freedom.” That I was a slave, that I was brought forth a free person, that I was there; not that someone told me about someone who was there but that I was there to experience the Exodus from Egypt; not just to witness but to participate. I was at Sinai when the Ten Commandments were heard by all the people; not that I read about it or was told about it, no, I was there in the flesh and I will experience that once again this Wednesday when the Ten Commandments are read aloud in the synagogue.

The very nature of the cycle nature of the Jewish calendar is to be present, to experience that which was always already experienced. Time standing still for the past 2000 years yet repeating itself like clockwork year in and year out all connected by words on parchment, words that survive Diaspora and connect me to the very first anonymous person who decided to call himself a child of Israel and later a Jew in an unbroken lineage from that moment to this very moment.

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A Blog About Ordinary Life Told In Extraordinary Fashion!

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the beauty of words and colors

who is the God of heaven ? the jesus I never knew.

life is not a rehersal,so live it...if you cant be the poet, be the poem.

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(Almost) Jewish in Beijing and California

NIKOtheOrb

A weirdo unleashed. . .riding the spiral to the end.

Screwy Lew's Views

An egotistical flight of fancy into the random ramblings of a semi-demented mind.

Rabbi Danny Burkeman Online

An English Rabbi in New York

Gooseyanne's Blog

The everday ramblings of Anne and her Goose

Exploring Torah and Genetics

A college student's exploration of the interplay between genetics and Torah.

FEC-THis

Life after a tango with death & its best friend cancer

JUMP FOR JOY! Photo Project

Capturing the beauty of the human spirit -- in mid-air -- around the world

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