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Jewish And Christian Views Of Modi’s Visit To Jerusalem – OpEd

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Although Jews have lived peacefully in India for almost 2,500 years, few people in Indian know much about Judaism; except for the negative things (the Jews killed Jesus the Messiah) they have heard from Christian missionaries.

Judaism is not a universal, missionary religion of eternal, unchanging, universal truth. Judaism is based on the spiritual and moral meaning given to specific events in Jewish history, especially the Exodus from Egyptian bondage and the ensuing covenant (a holy committed relationship) between God and the whole Jewish People, which commits the Jewish People to establish a good and holy society, that would eventually become a blessing for all humanity in a future Messianic Age on earth.

Since there is only one God, the God of Israel is also the God of all other peoples. God has inspired prophets of other nations (Noah, Melchizedik, Balaam etc.) and redeemed other peoples in other lands (Deuteronomy 2:9-23, Amos 9:7). God has also made a covenant-a committed sacred relationship with one small people: the people of Israel. God and Israel are partners.

Thus, the historical development of the Jewish people, its survival in spite of attempts by evil forces to destroy it, and its influence on the development of mankind, are a significant expression of God’s great desire that all humans will create a just, holy, loving and peaceful society on earth as the ultimate goal of human history.

Therefore, the Hebrew Bible does not begin with the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai, or with Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews, but with Adam and Eve, who represent the whole of mankind. Judaism was always aware that it originated within, and in opposition to, long established pagan civilizations that worshipped many Gods who could be represented visually in man made art, and/or located specifically in natural objects i.e. sun, moon, mountain, river, tree, animal, or human being. The one God of the Jews existed primarily in human history, both past and future.

The current Jewish calendar year 5777 (2017) is the sixth millennium of Biblical history. The year 1 is not the birth of Abraham or Moses, nor is it the revelation of Torah at Sinai or even the beginning of a new cosmic world cycle. The year one dates from the eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil which launched humanity on a path of moral and social development. It also approximates the beginning of cities, states and writing, the basis for most written history.

This is why there are a number of Jewish holidays that commemorate events in Jewish history (from Passover-the 13th century B.C.E. exodus from Egyptian bondage, Purim-the 5th century B.C.E. avoidance of Persian anti-Semitism, and Hanukkah-the 2nd century B.C.E. victory in the fight against the Syrian Greeks for religious freedom, toYom Hashoah- the 20th century C.E. European Holocaust). But there are no Jewish holidays that commemorate the birth, death, or enlightenment of any individual, human or divine.

This is also why Jewish sacred scriptures include a great deal of history. Of the 39 books in what Christians call the Old Testament: 10 are history books (36% of the Hebrew Bible by number of pages). Of the 27 books of the New Testament only 1 is a history book (13% by number of pages). The Koran, Vedas and Sutras include even less historical material.

Although the 10 history books are longer; the spiritual, ethical and moral concepts of the 15 shorter books of the Jewish Prophets have influenced the western world to a much greater degree.

One of the most influential concepts is that of a Messianic Age. In most religious traditions, redemption is defined in terms of individual enlightenment or personal salvation. However, the Prophets of Israel conceived redemption as a transformation of human society that would occur through the catalyst of the transformation of the Jewish community. This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age.

The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah. The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of an easy or difficult labor. If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her religious tradition, we would ourselves bring about the Messianic Age. But, if we will not do it voluntarily, it will come through social and political upheavals, worldwide conflicts and generation gaps. The Messiah refers to an agent of God who helps bring about a positive ending to this transformation.

The Jewish tradition teaches that this agent of God (together with several forerunners and many disciples) will be a human being, a descendant of King David, with great qualities of national leadership similar to Moses or Mohammed. The arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the personality of the agents who bring it about, since they are simply the human instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer.

The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails, will provide challenges to society for many generations to come. For example, the Prophet Isaiah, 2,500 years ago, predicted that someday there would be a radically new world in which Jerusalem would be fulfilled with joy because “no more shall there be in it an infant that lives only a few days.” (65:20)

Before the mid 19th century the annual death rate for humans fluctuated from year to year but always remained high, between 30 and over 50 deaths per 1,000 individuals. Those elevated, unstable rates were primarily caused by infectious and parasitic diseases. The toll from disease among the young was especially high. Almost 1/3 of children born in any year died before their first birthday; in some subgroups, half died. Because childbirth was hazardous, mortality among pregnant women was also high. A century ago, the infant mortality rate in Jerusalem (as in most of the world) was 25-30%. Now it is less than 1%. For thousands of years almost every family in the world suffered the loss of at least one or two infants; now it happens to less than one out of a hundred.

If this radical improvement had occurred over a few years, it would have greatly impressed people. But since it occurred gradually over several generations, people take it for granted. Also, it seems to be part of human nature that most people focus on complaining about the less than 1% that still die (an individual family tragedy heightened by the fact that it is unexpected because it is so rare) rather than be grateful that the infant mortality rate has been reduced by over 95%.

Also, people are quick to point out that modern medicine has produced a great increase in the number of people who live long enough to become “elders” which provides us with a new set of challenges (a 5-10 year increase in life expectancy is bad news for pension plans and good news for health care workers). In 1900 there were 10-17 million people age 65 or older, making up 6.2% of the population. By the year 2050, people over 65 will number at least 2.5 billion – about 1/5 of the world’s projected population. Barring catastrophes that raise death rates substantially, the human population will achieve an age composition within our children’s lifetime, which will be absolutely unique in human history.

These improvements in human health are unprecedented in human history. Truly we will be coming close to Isaiah’s prophecy, “One who dies at 100 years shall be reckoned a youth, and one who fails to reach 100 shall be reckoned accursed.” (65:20). Such radical change will necessitate major changes in the way we think and act when faced with decisions about life and death. Yet who among us would want to return to the high mortality rates and early deaths of previous centuries? The challenges we now face are not those of survival, but of opportunity.

The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy has thus gone un-noticed and uncelebrated. But even when the events are rapid and dramatic, people rarely connect them to their Messianic significance for very long. The amazing 1991 covert rescue of 14,325 Ethiopian Jews in an airlift lasting less than 48 hours stirred and inspired people for a few weeks. Subsequently, the difficult problems the newcomers faced (similar to those of the 900,000 recent Soviet immigrants) occupied the Jewish media. Now both have long been taken for granted. The miracle has become routine.

But if you had told the Jews of Ethiopia a generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a Messianic miracle. If you had told Soviet Jews a generation ago that the Communist regime would collapse, the Soviet Empire disintegrate, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic dream.

In our own generation therefore we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will bring your offspring from the (Middle) East and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’. Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (43:5-6) Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget the past. Indeed, the Prophet Isaiah himself said, “Behold, I create a new Heaven and a new Earth, and former things shall not be remembered.” (65:17)

Where does the Messiah fit in with all of this? He will still have lots to do when he arrives. Most Orthodox Jews would not commit themselves to any individual as a Messiah unless he successfully rebuilds the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah, “He shall build the Temple of the Lord, and he shall bear the glory, he shall sit on the throne and rule, there shall be a priest before the throne, and peaceful counsel will exist between both of them.” (6:13)

Now that a large part of the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel, and resurrected a Jewish State, one might think that rebuilding a temple of the site where Solomon originally built one almost 3,000 years ago, would be relatively simple. And it would, except for the fact that a Muslim Shrine, The Dome of the Rock, presently occupies the site. Often erroneously called the Mosque of Omar, it is not a mosque and it was not built by Omar. It was built in 691 CE by Abd-Al-Malik and it is regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in the world. Any attempt to replace the Dome of the Rock would provoke a Muslim Holy War of cataclysmic proportions.

There is, however, a lot of vacant land on the Temple Mount, and a small Jewish house of worship could be built adjacent to the Dome of the Rock provided that Muslims would cooperate. Most observers agree that anyone who could arrange such Jewish-Muslim cooperation would really be a Messianic Ruler of Peace (Isaiah 9:5)

Christian leadership and support for such a cooperative venture would also be important, and anyone who can bring Jews, Christians and Muslims together in mutual respect and cooperation would surely fulfill the greatest of all Messianic visions: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives; nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall never again teach war.” (Isaiah 2:4)

Indeed, such Jewish/Christian/Muslim cooperation would not be possible without great spiritual leadership in all three communities. Thus, each community could consider its leadership to be the Messiah and this would fulfill the culminating verses of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy as enlarged upon by Micah (4:3-5): “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives. Nation shall not take up against nation, they shall never again teach war, but every man shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him, for it is the Lord of Hosts who spoke. Though all peoples walk each in the name of its God, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.”

If each people truly follows the best of its own religious teachings the Messiah will surely have arrived, and God’s Kingdom will be established.


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Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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