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Islam And Judaism On God’s Covenant With Banu Israel At Sinai – OpEd

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Reform Rabbi Rifat Sonsino Ph.D, states that the term “covenant” refers to “a binding covenant agreement enacted between two parties in which one or both parties promises under oath, to perform or refrain from certain actions stipulated in advance. The corresponding term in the Hebrew Bible is Berit- coming – most likely from the Akkadian word -biritu- meaning a clasp or a bond.

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The Septuagint (3rd century BCE), which is the first Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, renders Berit as -diatheke- meaning “will” or “testament.” Thus, Jews have the first Berit so-called “Old Testament” (a Christian term) and Christians have the second Berit, the “New Testament.”

In the Hebrew Bible, a covenant may be established in two different ways: a) BETWEEN TWO INDIVIDUALS, such as, the covenant signed between King Solomon and King Hiram, of the city of Tyre (I Kings 5:26), or b) BETWEEN GOD AND HUMAN BEINGS, such as the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:9), or with Abraham (Genesis 15:18), with Phinehas, the priest (Numbers 25: 12), with Joshua and the people (Joshua 24:25), with Jehoiada, the priest, and the people (II Kings 11:17), with king Hezekiah and the people (II Chronicles 29:10), with Josiah and the people (II Kings 23:3), with Ezra and the people (Ezra 10:3).

And most important of all, God’s ongoing Berit with the whole People of Israel agreed to at Mt. Sinai (Qur’an 2:63 refers to this event: “We raised the Mountain over you saying: Hold firm to what we have given you, and study its commandments; so that you may attain piety towards God, (as God lovers) and His protection (as God’s beloveds).” through Prophet and Messenger Moses (Exodus19:5).

For mystically inclined Jews, every religious Jewish wedding is a reenactment by two individuals of the holy covenantal Berit first entered into by God and Israel at Sinai, when God and Israel first chose each other. God chose Israel saying, “You shall be a special treasure for me,,, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-5) and the Jewish people chose God by answering: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do”. (Exodus 19:8).

Or as the Talmud puts it, “The groom, the Eternal One, is betrothed to the bride, the community of Israel.” (Talmud Pesachim 106b) Torah is the Ketubah (marriage contract) between the two covenanted partners. Mitsvot (commandments) are their daily loving interactions. Torah study and worship are the pillow talk between God and Israel. Tikunim: Kabbalistic mystical exercises, meditations and marital sexuality are the intimacies of married life.

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Thus, when the Biblical Song of Songs refers to the “crown that Solomon’s mother made for him on the day of his wedding”; the Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) glosses ‘his wedding day’ to mean ‘the day of the Giving of the Torah’ And when Rashi (Ta’anit 26b) glosses ‘his mother’ to mean ‘his people’; Rashi means Israel crowned God as God by saying “we will do” , just as the bride makes the groom into a husband by accepting a ring and saying ‘I do’.

Thus, every Jew, in every generation, can and should feel like he or she is a spiritual beloved and a spiritual lover of God, as Prophet Hosea proclaims: “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in loving kindness and in compassion. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord”. (Hosea 3:21:22)

This concept, of a chosen (by being pressed into becoming a) choosing people, can and among many ultra orthodox Jews has lead to exaggerated and self-righteous feelings of pride.

When the Qur’an (7:171) mentions this same event a second time, when the Mount was moved above the Children of Israel, this verse is followed by a reminder in 7:172 that “children of Adam” were all made (to) bear witness against their own souls: “‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said ‘Yes, we do bear witness.” God Almighty made a covenant with all individuals “lest [they] should say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘We were indeed unaware of this'”.

Thus, while loyalty to the commitment one’s ancestors made at Mount Sinai may inspire greater effort for Jews in following God’s will, when Jews, like Muslims, Christians and everyone else on earth; face judgement on the Day of Resurrection, we are all judged as individuals. As Prophet Abraham says: “Do not forsake me on the Day of Resurrection, a day where neither money nor children will benefit except whoever meets Allah with a sound heart” (26:87-89).

This reminder by the Qur’an that no religious community should be self-righteous; is similar to that of prophet Amos who tells the Children of Israel, “Are you not like the Children of Ethiopia to me, O Children of Israel? says God. Did I not redeem Israel from Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7)

I myself see the Torah’s description of the descendants of Prophets Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel as destined to become the first chosen people, as a testimony about the significance of Prophet Abraham himself, who Islamic tradition asserts received a Sacred Scripture in Ramadan as the Qur’an states: “Indeed, this is in the former scriptures; the scriptures of Abraham and Moses. (87:19) and “Or has he not been informed of what was in the scriptures of Moses and Abraham (53:36)

For very many centuries Abraham’s faithful descendants within the Children of Israel were the only monotheistic community that survived. Jews could have credited this situation to their own spiritual qualities. But the Torah teaches Jews not to be proud of themselves for being the first monotheistic community to survive long after their messenger was gone; because it was God’s choice to choose them.

Their only choice was to always be conscious of, and obligated by, God’s covenantal choice; to remain loyal to their ancestors’ covenantal pledge at Mount Sinai: “We will do.” In every generation a party failed and another party remained loyal. Thus it will be for all Jews and for all other religious communities until Judgement Day.

The prophet Jeremiah (6th cent BCE), spoke of a “new covenant” that will be signed in the future between God and the Israelites (Jeremiah 31:31), referring, most likely, to the restoration of the People of Israel after the Babylonian exile and the reconstruction of the second Temple. Christians, however, reinterpret this passage as a prophecy through Jesus in the New Testament.

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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