JEWS AND FREEDOM
Pesach, 2023 KELLEY KIDD
I recently ran across a Facebook posting that heralded a biography of Rabbi Abraham Heschel. He has been a favorite political and religious leader for me. and he has that stayed with me since I discovered his writings in 1977. So for 44 years i have deeply admired the contributions of a modern Jew, who was extremely devout, very close to Jewish traditions in his worship and teaching. But he helped to establish an organized multi-ethnic and interfaith clerical resistance to America’s role in the Vietnam War, demonstrated for civil rights with Martin Luther King, and introduced MLK for the sermon in which Dr. King spoke powerfully against American military and economic imperialism.
One commentator on the Heschel biography observed that he was responsible for giving Judaism a social conscience. And i immediately reflected that the observation reflected enormous ignorance of the Jewish social conscience. Today i will participate in the annual celebration of a religious observance which is called Pesach or Passover. it is a week of Jewish commemoration of their freedom from Egyptian bondage more than three thousand years ago. If i am not mistaken it is by far the oldest continual celebration of freedom from the political domination of one nation over another. it is also the world’s oldest celebration of any effort to obtain religious and spiritual freedom. And it is also the commemoration of the first effort by a large number of laborers to escape exploitation by a class of overseers. The entire Jewish tradition for all these years has reflected that spirit and that quest. For the birth of the Jewish people starts there.
According to the Jewish story of these events, the newly freed people proceeded a few months later to adopt a constitution which embodied the following legal principles: (1) all people are entitled to regular rest from labor and they are positively urged in the strongest language to insure that the right to rest will be guaranteed and practiced by all, (2) kindness and fairness and even love should be given by each of us to all our friends, aquaintences and even aliens, (3) each person has the right to be free from the violence and robbery of each of the rest of us and from our governing institutions, (4) differences between us and between individuals and the government must be adjudicated by fair and impartial judges who are responsible to all of us. (5) the physical world (i.e, the environment)is holy and belongs to the creator, not to individuals or even the community as a whole, and each of us has the duty to respect nature and the environment. (6) we all have a duty to respect the lives and even the feelings of animals which are dependent on us, and to never be cruel in our treatment of animals.
This covenant or constitution was sometimes violated by individual Jews and by the most influential and powerful individuals and families. But the classical Jewish prophets condemned such behavior. Their people recognized them by making their criticisms and summons to justice into holy scripture.
Throughout the many centuries since Jews have been persecuted and oppressed in virtually every nation and culture. Despite this, and perhaps partly because of it, jews have always been in the forefront of struggles for justice and freedom. May it always be so,
LOSING MY TEMPER
KELLEY KIDD MARCH 17. 2023
When the author was very young he had what his Father once described as a “terrible temper”. This description was so painful that the Father was asked by his son in tears what that meant and could it be fixed. For the son loved his Father and wanted desperately to be the person his Father would respect.
My Father explained that a person’s temperament was about his ability to stay calm and to act appropriately under stressful circumstances. If you let people make you mad and cause you to shout and say insulting things, then folks will call you bad tempered. Screaming and shouting in anger was one of the worst forms of childish behavior. If I acted that way other people would not want to be near me or trust me. Having a good temper was a very important quality for a man to have. What is more, keeping my temper under stress would enable me to succeed in coping with danger and ugly opposition. Show me a prize fighter who loses his temper and I will show you one who loses a lot of fights to other fighters who may not be as skillful at fighting , but who can take punches without getting mad. So said my Father and I believed him.
In my school years after my Father’s consultation I was frequently saved from serious difficulties that would surely have followed any incident in which I had chosen to let the other guy have a strong dose of my anger or contempt. By the time I was in my middle twenties the example and philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired what Dr. King called nonviolent confrontation, rather than angry denunciation, And the parallel philosophy of Thich Naht Hanh reinforced that attitude. And, of course, I had read the many biblical proverbs that extolled the virtues of calm in the face of criticism and that warned of the dangers of harshly criticizing others.
But like my Father I eventually developed a hell of a drinking problem. And problem drinking was often accompanied by problem behavior, including loss of temper. More than a few of the places in which I drank also became scenes of my indignant displays of anger, And those temper tantrums contributed to the growing tendency of friends to stay away and others to show contempt for my drunkenness and my character. I became the object of scorn from folks who viewed my behavior as proof that I was weak willed or “sorry”. I grew defensive and frequently ashamed of myself. Shame does not always result in either guilt or awareness of the need to change. Instead I grew increasingly isolated. I justified anger instead of finding ways to curb it. Drinking eased the negative feelings for years. But eventually as my alcoholism increased the solution of having a few drinks became simply the beginning of drunkenness and more conflict.
Eventually I was persuaded to seek help in a world famous fellowship of recovering alcoholics, There others helped me to I relearn the lesson of my Father. Sober living requires control of negative emotions. And so control of temper became again the elimination of temper tantrums. How that change took place is the story for another later essay.
SHOULD NOT ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS BE A FELLOWSHIP FOR ALCOHOLICS?
JACOB BEN ABRAHAM The name given here for the author is a pen name, as well as the rarely used Jewish name for a convert to Judaism, an old man who wrote this article. He (I) believes that he should preserve his “anonymity at the level of press, radio and film”, a phrase taken from the traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. He is the son of an alcoholic who died young from the effects of alcoholic drinking, the identical twin of a brother who also died young from alcoholism. He is an ardent and active member of Alcoholics Anonymous, a fellowship which he credits with saving his own life nearly forty years ago.
During nearly 80 years of observing alcoholics and efforts to help alcoholics, the author has acquired some very strong opinions about what approach tends to help most. Indeed he has. And the clearest and strongest of those opinions are these four simple and closely related statements about alcoholics, and four other simple and related opinions about the nature of alcoholism.
First the statements about the problem of alcoholism.
(1) The most obvious problem alcoholics share is that they drink far too much for their health and welfare once they begin to drink. In other words they do not have effective control over the ammount of consumption or the consequences.
(1) Alcoholics who have recovered from the problem of alcoholism do not drink alcohol, and have not drank alcohol in a long time.
(2) Most of these alcoholics who don’t drink have been members of Alcoholics Anonymous
(3) Most of these sober alcoholics have been freely given help in Alcoholics Anonymous from other alcoholics who have also recovered.
(4) Alcoholics who have recovered are uniquely able to help alcoholics who are struggling to achieve and maintain sobriety.
There are now many corporations in the business of helping alcoholics to achieve sobriety. Virtually none of them focus on alcoholics specifically Virtually all of these corporations also purport to treat drug addiction and abuse in programs described as “rehabs”. The inpatient rehab is a program with a patient population that can fit comfortably in a classroom sized setting. A variety of substance abuse problems face members of the patient population. Typically alcoholics compose only a minority of the group, with individuals who don’t even have a history of problems as a result of excessive drinking. Many of the patients are likely to be between arrest and sentencing for drug possession and sale charges. Others may have histories of near death from drug overdoses. numerous previous stays in mental hospitals or residential drug programs for problems other than alcoholism. These programs use AA meetings as therapy for their alcoholic and nonalcoholic patients alike. Court probation programs and “Accountability Court” programs frequently require the subject offenders to attend AA meetings and to get the chair person of the meeting to verify their attendance.
Sadly these corporation and courts both add to the original purposes and subtract from AA’s ability to achieve those purposes.
JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN NOTIONS OF SIN AND REDEMPTION
JULY 2022, KELLEY KIDD
The Hebrew Bible has little to say about those of its characters who Jews might refer to as bad guys. So we learn little of the lives of the Egyptian ruler who tried to destroy the Israelites seeking freedom from slavery. And bad king Ahab and his consort Jezebel are mentioned only in reference to their crimes. But the Hebrew Bible keeps its spotlight throughout on characters who are heroic and positive in the assessment of religious Jews And each and every heroic figure in the Hebrew Bible is what Christians might call a “sinner”. Abraham, Noah and Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Elijah and David, Solomon and Isaiah, Hezekiah and Jonah, Ruth and Sarah, Rebekah and Miriam—all of these and others too are folks who the Hebrew Bible shows as imperfect and sometimes wrong. Many details of their lives and characters are elaborated with deep interest.
A few major writers and sages in the Hebrew Bible somehow escape explicit mention of any specific failure of vision and performance, but no one is ever offered to the reader as a person without fault. Yet no one of these characters is ever denounced by God as doomed to God’s unforgiveness. Not one ot them is said to be headed for perdition. Despite their wrongs they are heroes in the eyes of their God and the Bible writer. And all behave in ways that lead to blessings for others, including the readers of the scripture in which they are chronicled. Human failure in the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic teaching is not fatal to redemption if followed by contrition and amended behavior.
In contrast Christian doctrine often envisions humanity as doomed by the fall of Adam to share an inherent sinful and evil nature that God cannot forgive until the death of Jesus atones for those willing to “believe in him” and to accept him as the sacrifice God sees as the necessary and sufficient price for the sins of all “believers”. An old saw captures this sentiment: “To err is human; to forgive is divine.” Man’s sinful nature in this doctrine is so intractable that a Presbyterian statement of creed says that Jesus descended into hell to give preceding generations of relatively godly folk a chance to get out of hell by accepting Jesus’ death as atoning for their sins. So maybe Abraham and David finally escaped their well deserved torment in hell through Jesus’ trip during the days between the crucifiction and the resurrection.
The Jewish attitude on the subject of atonement appears clearly in the 32d psalm: ” Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whosesin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom tha Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When i kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all day long….I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity I have not hid. I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and thou forgivest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”
I have long believed that the Lord’s prayer for forgiveness and the parable of the Prodigal Son both illustrate the commitment of the historical Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth to the view of sin and redemption embodied in the 32d psalm. If that is true, then the Christian view above was a view that came about through the followers of Jesus later reflections ABOUT him, rather than his own view.
ARE ALL WOMEN ACTUALLY DIFFERENT FROM ALL MEN?
APRIL, 2022 KELLEY KIDD In very recent years there seems to have developed a widespread sentiment that there are not two different and distinct sexes among humans, but a wide variety of sexes. The position of very many Americans is that sexual existence can come in any of the following forms: straight male, straight female, bisexuals, lesbians, gays, trans-sexual men, trans-sexual women, queer and other. The old notion that all people are either male or female, and should be seen and treated as though they were one or the other has been vilified as discriminatory and bigoted. Women and men who take that view are called “transphobic” and accused of denying that trans children the right to become what they are.
In particular the insistence on allowing only sports participation in the sexual category of one’s birth certificate has become a widely denounced practice. We are also told by many vocal advocates that trans-sexual women must be treated exactly as though they were women from birth, that we are asking such people to commit suicide if we deny them access to spaces formerly reserved only for females from birth. Surgery and other medical procedures must be employed to prevent puberty when children who say they are trans also express strong desires for such procedures.
i am an old white liberal who went to jail protesting American interventions in Southeast Asia, and who moved into an all Black neighborhood to position myself to conduct a one man stand against racism and the abuse of the poor. My career for many years has been in low paying work to assist poor folks and those who, like myself, suffer from alcoholism. I am opposed to any form of discrimination which denies equality of opportunity in services. housing, education or job opportunities to anyone on account of their sex or gender identification. Vilification or hatred or contempt for any person because he or she calls self trans is also not to my liking.
That said, I do not believe that a person should be automatically enrolled in sports activities, same sex living or bathing facilities just because the person claims to have transitioned to the other sex or wishes to be treated as a member of the sex other than the one on their birth certificate. And I do believe that virtually all children and adults are either males or females, regardless of whether they feel like the sex that biology has assigned them.
A few sentences from MEDECINE PLUS, a publication of the National Library of Medicine, states truisms that cannot be changed by social movements or public sentiments: “In humans each cell usually contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. Twenty two of those pairs called autosomes, are the same in both males and females. The 23rd pair, the sex chromosomes, differ between males and females. Females have two copies of the X chromosome, while males have one X and one Y chromosome.” There are rare exceptions, but those exceptions do not lead to inevitable desires to be trans. Those who have XXY patterns in that 23rd chromosome usually have developmental problems like slowness in learning and motor activities.
I do not approve of discrimination against anyone. But I do not discriminate against you by perceiving you as who biology has made you. Race is a matter of perception as there is no sharp genetic or biological line between those we socially label as Black or White. We treat the race issue as significant because it has been a necessary and foundational perception in the creation and maintenance of slavery, the Jim Crow system and widespread discrimination against people perceived to be of the Black race. Our perceptions of difference have led to very real and hurtful differences in every area of American life.
But biology has created a sharp chromosomal difference between the sexes. Pretending that the line can be extinguished by our personal wants and feelings will not change that reality. Trans women will not thereby be enabled to become the mothers of children, even if their presence in women’s restroom and sports teams changes the social realities of both biological and trans women.
I would go very slow on this trans thing when biological women object to total conflation of the the two whenever and to the extent that policy makers insist that conflation is necessary. Conversely I would be intolerant of discrimination in employment and housing against people on the basis of their gender identification.
ANCIENT JEWS, ROMANS AND JESUS OF NAZARETH
October 31,.2021 Kelley Kidd
“O Man of my own people, I alone
Among these alien ones can know thy face,
I who have felt the kinship of thy race
Burn in me as I sit where they intone
Thy praises–those who, striving to make known
A God of sacrifice, have missed the grace
Of thy sweet human meaning in its place,
Thou of our blood-bond and our own,
Are we not sharers of thy Passion? Yea,
In spirit-anguish closely by thy side
We have drained the bitter cup, and, tortured, felt
With thee the bruising of the heavy welt,
In every land is our Gethsemane,
A thousand times have we been crucified.”
THE JEW TO JESUS BY Florence Kiper Frank (about 1912)
I am the son of a devout Southern Baptist Mother and a Father who was once Superintendent of Sunday School in his Methodist Church. According to these good Christian people who raised me, the Jewish people were “chosen” by God at their beginning in the life of Abraham. And I was taught that they were chosen by God from all the peoples of the earth to fulfill the task of becoming the religious culture into which Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God, eventually would be born. And. of course, at least one of those Jewish people about two thousand years later did become the Mother of Jesus. God himself, not Mary’s husband Joseph, was said to be the other parent of Jesus. His Mother was a Jew and he had no human Father, which made him the child of a Virgin. Oddly enough two out of four of the Jesus stories (ie, gospels) in my Bible recited the ancestors of Joseph as the ancestors of Jesus! None of them traced the ancestry of Jesus’ Mother. but the earliest gospel, Mark, neither asserted nor denied the Virgin birth story. Only one of the four Jesus stories, the gospel of John, asserted that Jesus was as eternal as the creation of the universe and a part of God himself! Nevertheless the function of many hundreds of years of Jewish history, according to my Christian upbringing, was to produce the Mother and the cultural context into which Jesus was eventually to be born.
According to the Christian litany all the families and nations of the world and all humans thereafter would be blessed by the opportunity to adopt certain beliefs about Jesus, since these beliefs would guarantee each believer with eternal life and happiness. The doctrine was also that the lack of those beliefs would leave every nonbeliever in a condition called “original sin”, a status which doomed the nonbeliever to eternal death and torture in eternal fire. This scheme of salvation was said to be the ultimate worthwhile product of Jewish history and divine grace–according to my Christian mentors. Of course this point of view reduced the Biblical “Old Testament” to little more than a lengthy and very complicated literary preface to the doctrine of salvation for those who accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Both the ancient Jews and their scripture were thereby relegated to semi-curious background, not as either my history nor the guide for my behavior. Some of my mentors went so far as to proclaim that the theology and ethics of the New Testament replaced any expressed in the Old Testament. But the creed of these Christian believers is perhaps better expressed by the ancient Nicene Creed, which has been a part of Christian liturgy for more than 1200 years now. Although this creed is perhaps less often recited these days than the less explicit Apostle’s Creed, this statement of the beliefs expected of Christians also verbalizes what my mentors stressed as the truly important points of the religion I was asked to accept as the foundation for my life. Anyhow the Creed follows:
“I believe in one God,
the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Chris, the only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father: through him all things were made. For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one, holy , catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life in the world to come. Amen.”
To my way of thinking the centrality of these beliefs relegated both ethics and actions to marginality. Nevertheless this and similar expressions of the central doctrines of the church were also understood to distinguish good people from bad. According to my teachers the Jews had rejected Jesus, which of course left them condemned by those same teachers as both damned and among the bad people. By the time I was 12 or 13 I had seen enough of humans to know that this simple scheme did not correlate with what I saw of human behavior. I began even in the American South of the 1950s and 60s to encounter church going bigots and despisers of anyone who disagreed with them about much of anything. And I also began to encounter nonbelievers who seemed to me to be compassionate, tolerant and scrupulous.
At the same time as an American I was also occasionally being taught that the human being was God’s greatest creation, and that all people were created equal, and all were entitled to live in freedom and dignity. These latter beliefs were the premises of the democratic country I lived in, or at least the premises my forebears claimed for my country.. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence seemed to me to be at odds with the Christian creeds of the white churches I attended. If these democratic teachings were true, then the world in which I lived must somehow be either very confused or at least was being operated by people whose beliefs contradicted each other. My world was mostly the neighborhood and small towns in which I was raised. And most of the people who lived in my home town were poor, and most of these poor people were at least faintly despised by my Mother and Father and the other ‘saved’ Christians that I knew from my middle class schooling and social life. Yet when I took the time to listen to the church services and the conversations of these poor people, I usually found them to be devout believers in salvation through Jesus Christ. And every Jew I saw seemed to be at least pretty good folks. These contradictions were not the only reasons I found to doubt most of the doctrines of the Christian Creed taught by my parents and my class of white American citizens. That particular view of Jesus and the Jewish people seemed echoed s well by even the teachings of the Puritan pioneers of the Yankee New England my Southern forebears had been teaching me to despise for their racial views.
The prevailing political and social attitude of my Christian teachers was far removed from Jefferson’s vision of equality.A short clip from the sermons of Governor Winthrop, a respected religious leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony should suffice to illustrate the founding fathers’ posture as it was projected through my early Christian indoctrination: “…some were meant to rule, others to serve their betters. God Almighty…so disposed the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high ..in power and dignity; others mean and in subjection.” If this Puritan approach to the Christian faith were to be believed, then Jesus was the heir to a God ordained social order at complete odds with the Declaration’s proclamation that “all men were created equal.” Later I discovered that the same Thomas Jefferson who had written the Declaration had also edited the gospels to produce a portrait of Jesus drawn directly from the text who was a man completely at odds with the teaching of both Nicene Creed and Winthrop pronouncements. The gospels it seemed contained two entirely different portraits of Jesus which were incompatible with each other and which produced totally different world views.
There was also the doubt biology I learned in high school and later in college. There was the caste system features of churches which preached these doctrines and excluded Blacks and the poorly dressed of all races, the seeming cruelty of a doctrine which ignored the ethical and moral behavior of non-believing sinners, and the cruelty so many Christians showed towards animals and foreigners, assertive Black folks and folks deemed to be insufficiently patriotic or devout. Then too, I could not help but wonder why Jews seemed to be so unwilling to convert to Christianity. After all, the story did assert that Jesus was one of them and that his life and mission was foretold by their prophets.
In time my studies and ruminations would lead me to the conclusion that the New Testament contained two different personalities which had been conflated to produce the Jesus portrayed by the gospels.
THE GRECO-ROMAN LEGEND OF JESUS One of these personalities I will refer to as the Greco-Roman Legend, whose character and nature are described in the Nicene Creed. This was the Jesus of the Nicene Creed and the model held up by my mentors. I believe that Jesus character–who the poetess above calls “a God of sacrifice”–was an invention of preachers who were appealing to the sympathies of a Greek and Latin world dominated by the very Roman Empire whose functionaries had unjustly killed Jesus for defying them and their allies among the contemporary Judean elite. See HOW JESUS BECAME GOD, by Bart Erdman. Christianity almost simultaneously became the religion of Rome and the enemy of Judaism, the religion of the rebellious (against Roman domination) Jews, In my upbringing of course this Greco-Roman Jesus was predominant. It was also eventually rejected by me as a legend and not a very helpful one.
JESUS, THE FIRST CENTURY JEWISH RABBI Gradually I have learned from and about the other characterization of Jesus> I eventually came to believe that the human being who was the historical Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi who inspired many of his contemporary Jewish followers by demonstrating an incandescent faith and practice rooted in Biblical and post biblical Jewish traditions and teaching. I will refer to him here as Rabbi Jesus. While the Legend was certainly the principle figure in the religion of my youth, Rabbi Jesus was and is a powerful influence on my own spiritual journey. Until fairly recently and in my lifetime few educated Americans seemed very impressed with the Jewish Jesus. Many recent books use the New Testament and Jewish writings in the Talmud and elsewhere to demonstrate that Jesus was a somewhat radical but devout and committed practitioner and proponent of Judaism. My favorite of the recent books on the Jewishness of Jesus is Jesus: First Century Rabbi by Rabbi David Zalman.
Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth spoke Aramaic and may have been familiar with Biblical Hebrew, a very closely related language which had long been the principle literary and liturgical language of a people that had once spoken it in everyday conversation. He was the child of a devoutly Jewish Mother and a Father who made his living as a carpenter in the Galilean town of Nazareth. Jesus began a ministry of preaching, teaching and healing when he was about 30 years of age. He worked mostly among poor people, and was killed a few years later by a Roman colonial despot named Pilate. He lived a life of devotion to God and to service among the despised, marginalized and persecuted Jews of his time. He never claimed to be divine in any way, talked little about himself, avoided temptation to pursue wealth of social prestige, was a humble follower of his understanding of the Bible of his people, the Hebrew Scriptures that my mentors called the Old Testament—a collection of books written by Jews and for Jews about the acts of God in relationship to God’s beloved people, the Jews. He no more intended to start a new religion than Abraham Lincoln intended to start a new country. Like many other Rabbis in his time, Jesus welcomed gentiles who were genuinely interested in living as devout Jews, and thought of religious attitudes as being centered primarily on the attention and actions of the devotee, not his beliefs. The so-called synoptic gospels are primarily about the life and teaching of this Jewish Rabbi. I have not found this life and teaching unbelievable and at odds with my democratic idealism.
What follows is a list of some of those gospel teachings and episodes which have provided my life with direction and boundary since my childhood:
The Sermon of the Mount and its compassionate appeal to living in the here and now with charity for all and malice towards none. Lessons in tolerance and forgiveness and mercy from parables like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
The Lord’s prayer with its emphasis on a vision of God as the loving Father of us all and its expression of willingness to seek universal peace and brotherhood among all of the members of a human race bound by a common creation and hopefully capable of striving towards a common destiny of equality and peace.
A humility that admits that none of us are perfect and a willingness to strive for improvement.
A theology that sees love of God and others as the keys to eternal life.
The Rabbi from Nazareth revered the commandments and directions of the Torah and said his fellow Jews should try to faithfully follow them, revered the Sabbath and never suggested that the first day of the week (Sunday in the Gregorian calendar) should be a special day of worship services, taught that returning to God through repentance and atonement was possible and desirable, and had strong criticism for attitudes like Governor Winthrop’s.
The whole course of human history may eventually be decided by whether or not the values of the real and Jewish Jesus gain strength in the affairs of people and nations and economies. After nearly 80 years of living and watching life I sense more deeply than ever that the best values of the Jewish people are the greatest hopes for the survival and flourishing of life on this little and ever-shrinking planet. In that sense I believe the old teaching that the Creator has “chosen” the Jews. And their martyred son Jesus has exerted and will continue to exert a very powerful influence in he struggle for that life. L’chaim.
The closer I have drawn to eternity, the more I have come to believe that God can be trusted to take care of eternity, and that my job is to help God to make this planet a place in which God’s will is done now in this life. I have sought direction for that task from many sources, but virtually all of them appear now to me to be springs of inspiration and guidance from the same deep source –the writings of ancient Jews.
And For the last 46 years I have been living as though the most important story to the quality of life on this planet has been the story of the birth of the Jewish people—the principal story of the first five books of the Christian Bible, a collection that Jews call Torah. That word–Torah–has been variously translated Law or Teaching. I think that the best translation would probably be something like “Teaching that Embodies God’s Instruction to Jews”.
PRELUDE TO A PROPHECY (ONE)
July 2021 KELLEY KIDD Although born and raised in a conservative white Southern home, I have considered myself to be an American of progressive/liberal persuasion for my entire adult life. Martin Luther King’s speeches at the 1963 March on Washington and a few years later at Riverside Church against American prosecution the War in Vietnam were turning points that launched my activities for years to come. My activities in the struggle to change American policy towards the poor would have been enough to give me the reputation of a leftist and a political radical in the late 1960s. Continued involvement in the employ of progressive educational institutions extended that work through 1982.
Somewhat earlier than Dr. King’s 1963 speech, however, several people had influenced me in ways that helped set me up for Dr. King’s influence and that of other spokespersons of the left. First was Henry David Thoreau. Reading WALDEN and his essay of civil disobedience led me to convictions about the value of choosing conscience over the shared racial and economic ideology of my forebears and contemporaries. Then in 1962 a Methodist Bible teacher surprised me by suggesting that to me that Dr. King was the modern day American equivalent of an Old Testament prophet. And of course both he and Thoreau were unique echoes of the prophets’ concerns in many ways. But making that connection for me took many more years. And many more years have been necessary for me to come to the conclusion that the people who wrote what Christians call the Old Testament not only created Judaism, but also created (or passed on from the Creator) all of the humanistic and progressive sentiments and ideals of Western civilization.
These few paragraphs are the prelude to a series of mini essays that may show the reader the bones of an extended thesis that the Jews have given us virtually all of the cultural, political and spiritual foundations for a humane, just and compassionate civilization.
THE ZIONIST CLAIM TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL IN THE FOURTH DECADE OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
July 2021 KELLEY KIDD I was only a first grader in a small Southern town when Ben Gurion declared the creation of the State of Israel in May 1948. At that moment I was six years old and the child of white Southern conservative protestants. It was very exciting to me, despite my tender age and fledgling education. My Bible upbringing taught me that the land of Israel had been promised by God to the descendants of Abraham. After thousands of years of exile from that land, it now appeared that the ancient promise of God was coming true–and in my lifetime!
According to the Biblical story God spoke to a man named Abram, an inhabitant of a city in the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley in present day Iraq. And God told Abram to leave the city of his forbears and to take himself and his family to live in Canaan, the strip of land between the Jordan River and the Mediteranean Sea. When Abram obeyed, God then promised to give that land to him and to his offspring. One of his sons ,Isaac, received the same promise, and one of Isaac’s sons named Jacob became the heir to the same promise. After Jacob had fathered numerous sons, he was renamed Israel, and God promised to give this land to his descendants, who were then referred to by his name Israel. Collectively then they were the Israelites. My Mother told me that currently those people were called Jews. Many folks referred to this new state in the promised land as “a Jewish State” and its name was Israel, after the patriarch of the same name.
Although only six years old, I was thought old enough to be told that this new state was a refuge for survivors of anti-Jewish persecution which had lasted for several thousands of years and recently culminated i the slaughter of six million of them–almost all noncombatants, including millions of mothers, small children and old people. This horrifying story of persecution added a second justification to the re-creation of the long hoped-for “Promised Land ” of the early covenants.
There were other stories, including dramatic ones from my Mother’s Bible, which helped me to understand how the Jews came to establish a much earlier nation, and how that nation was destroyed by the military aggression of imperial powers. The dramatic Bible stories of the descendants of Israel and his sons continued with a famine in Canaan which drove them to seek help from Egypt. There through God’s miraculous employment of one of the sons’ apparent misfortune, the government of Egypt welcomed the Jews to live as sojourners in Egypt, but with the clear understanding that they would eventually be restored to live in the land of Canaan. On his deathbed Israel got his children to promise that his body would be returned to Canaan to be buried with his father and grandfather, Isaac and Abraham. These stories occupied Genesis, which comprises most of the first book within the Hebrew Bible.
Genesis is the first of five “books” which I later learned form the “Torah”, the most sacred portion of the Hebrew Bible to Jews And the other four tell the story of how the prophet Moses led the Israelites out of the bondage imposed by Egypt’s Pharaoh, the Egyptian Empire’s priest/king. This escape from bondage happened hundreds of years after the Egyptians took the Jews captive and enclaved them. So these four books were apparently the first revolution against dehumanizing imperial power. To a little boy who was also learning about the birth of his country through revolt against a demeaning empire, the story of Moses and the Jews bore strong resemblance to the story of Washington and the American patriots. Equally heroic and thrilling was the fact that the Jews were struggling to be free to worship their god, who of course I understood to be our own God, the only one there really is.
Through Moses these Jews received holy law codes by which they were asked by God to shape their personal and communal life in the land of Canaan. The codes in turn were to intended make of them a people “chosen” by God to set an example of personal and communal ideals. According to this story God intended their lives to become models for the other “families of the earth” to emulate. The codes were accompanied by a divine warning that failure to live by those codes would be punished by exile from their promised land of Canaan. And this exile would be laden with their suffering and humiliation until they turned back to God. Their returning to live by God’s instructions would then be rewarded with God’s help in returning to the land to live in peace and prosperity once again.
Although the Hebrew Bible tells some of the story of the Israelite struggle until the end of the fifth century B.C.E., it does not deal with the efforts of the same religious and cultural group to live under the domination of the Persian, Greek and Roman empires during he more nearly 400 years between the return of many Jews to the Land after approximately 70 years of exile under Babylonian rule. During that long interval between the story told by the “Old Testament” and the Jesus years, Jews lived in substantial numbers as the majority population in the southern portion of the land that included Judah and Jerusalem. Since that period of Jewish living in the land had little apparent relevance to the history that Christianity valued, I did not learn until much later about the religious and spiritual growth of the Jewish people during that long period. But the political and religious setting portrayed by the Gospels does portray the dominance of Jews and Judaism in that Land throughout that period.
ISRAEL IN THE PROMISED LAND BEFORE THE EUROPEAN EMPIRE EXPELLED THE JEWS
In short I was taught as a child that the Jews occupied most of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediteranian Sea for more than 1,000 years between the Moses era and the forcible eviction of the Jews from the area in the the first century A.D. During that long indwelling the Jews endured in the land by holding it against both other indigenous groups and outside invaders. At various times Philistines, Midianites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans –among others–tried to wrest the “Promised Land” from various Jewish governments, but all failed at doing more than temporarily weakening the grip of the Jews. Until Rome. This long struggle of the Jews to have and to return to the Land n the post-biblical period began to give me a third reason to think that Jews had a right to seek and to struggle for the right to have a government of their own in the land.
From extra-Biblical sources I also learned that the Jews had revolted against imperial domination from Rome in the late first century B.C.E. and again early in the second century–both rebellions coming during the time depicted in the Gospels as the life of Jesus. Rome put down the patriotic efforts of Jews to reclaim their sovereignty in their own land by slaughtering millions and by driving most of the survivors into exile.
ROME CREATES PALESTINE AND THE JEWS LIVE IN EXILE FROM THEIR HOMELAND
By the middle of the 2nd century A.D. the European empire of Rome had renamed the area Palestine after the long vanished Philistines, who were themselves probably a migrant colony from Europe. Where the Jews had called the area Judea and Israel, the Romans underscored their slaughter and eviction by calling the area after one of the then vanished groups the Jews had previously displaced.
After the European Empire of Rome evicted the native Jews nearly two thousand years passed without the existence of any state in which Jews formed the majority of the populattion or had the protection of any government committed to their well being nd safety. On the contrary wherever Jews lived their presence has been tolerated at most, but usually resented and frequently resisted violently. More often they have been been marginalized as second class citizens. Frequently they have been despised, persecuted and subjected to unofficial and official violence. On the whole Christian nations and regimes have been much worse than Moslem ones, but nowhere have they lived long without considerable resistance from non-Jewish institutions and majorities.
Throughout the two millennia since their expulsion by Europeans the Jewish people have maintained their ancient expectation that they would some day be restored in peace in “the promised land” generally referred to by others as Palestine. And throughout those many centuries other political powers have dominated Jerusalem and the Promised Land without once ever establishing a local government capable of being considered an independent entity or state. No religious or ethnic or language group has given its identity to the land in any manner other than inclusion within a much much larger framework that relegated Palestine to a province or a satrapy.
Since the destruction of the Jewish State by Rome, the land has been ruled from afar by dynasties in Rome and Constantinople and Egypt and Baghdad and London, but never again by an indigenous government that represented the people who actually lived in the land. Palestinian never meant Jews in any political sense, and no Palestinian individual or group ever ruled Palestine. Even now the term Palestinian simply refers to those whose birthplace or family background includes residency in the land coupled with ANY ethnic or religious identity OTHER than Jewish. And the Palestinian identity comes not from Jews or their allies, but from those opposed to the existence of the State of Israel. There are many Israeli citizens who are Arabs and members of the religion of Islam; there are no Jews who are members of any political organization which represents Palestinians. The fact that Jews were relatively a small part of the population of Palestine for two thousand years was the result of the exclusion and marginalization of Jews within Palestine by political powers seated elsewhere.
In the early 19th century there was a brief tendency in Europe to give Jews the rights of non-Jewish citizens. But by the late decades of that century repression took on racial as well as religious justifications. “Antisemitism” became a popular ideology and practice in virtually all European countries, including those within the Russian and German nations and spheres of influence.
During almost all of the first and second millennia after the Roman expulsion from “the Promised Land” Jews lived in “other people’s countries” as second class citizens– at best. They were always the outsider, the oddball, the “stranger in a strange land”. Usually they were despised. To Christians they were usually seem as “God killers” or nit-picking “Pharisees” , rejecters of God’s Messiah, a sect that misinterpreted their own sacred Hebrew scriptures, or perhaps at best as a people whose Old Testament had been happily reinterpreted by a New Testament that replaced Jewish legalism with a gospel of love and forgiveness through the sacrificial death of God’s only son. No matter what version of Jewish inadequacy you imbibed, most non-Jews saw Jews as stingy or dirty or clannish or stiff necked or cowardly or evil communists or just as evil greedy capitalists. Maybe the average Jew despiser saw these people several of those negative images. The point is Jews were taken to be deserving of the marginalization they received from many nations and from many people and institutions even in nations which permitted Jews to be “permanent. residents”. Jew were often the targets of mob violence and individual. expressions of disgust and hatred. Jews not only survived, they kept their religion alive and growing in depth of insight and practice. And they contributed intelligence and often rare decency wherever they went. And always many of them longed for the messianic age when Jews would be restored to live in their Promised Land in peace with each other and the nations.
So the addition of anti-Semitism in a racial sense to the religious and cultural animosities of earlier centuries led to the ultimate assault on the Jews, those people whose roots and many of their aspirations remained in the Land. Zionism was born out of this combustible mix of difficulties, as well as the secular aspirations of young Jewish socialists. The latter yearned for a society in which Jews would be organized in collectives and cooperatives–a socialism of worker control and social equality. Finding their way back to the promised land, Zionists created a Hebrew speaking extended community in the very land their religious forebears had cherished as home. The Land in the late 19th and early 20th century was a backwater and unrepresented province of the weak Turkish Empire. it was relatively poorly populated and its resources relatively undeveloped.
The late 19th Century nurtured some growth in Arab nationalism, a movement which extended throughout the much larger region of the Middle East, an area in which the “Palestine” of Roman control was a very small portion. The Promised Land of the Jews and the projected “Zion” of modern Jewish aspirations was not the scene of a strong Arab “Palestinian” identity until after the Jews had established a state in 1948. The first and strongest leader of the Arab “Palestinian” movement was in fact born in Egypt in 1927 and necessarily led a movement which has never required birth in Palestine, and which has permitted membership only to non-Jews.
“Palestine” from mid 19th century to 1948 seemed ripe for the location of a democratic state in which Jews would be free from persecution for either their ethnic identity or religious practices and beliefs, a state which would be democratically run by a population of many backgrounds and diverse nationalities, but, nevertheless a state in which a majority Jewish population would endure safety and respect for Jews.
The seal on the deed of the Zionists to their state was the Holocaust of course. Six hundred thousand Jews in Palestine reacted to the slaughter of 10 times that number of Jews for simply being Jews. They claimed their right to a state which would protect and welcome Jews, and were met with the resisance of the Islamic and Arab world. Recently the State of Israel has also faced considerable resistance from Western leftists and progressives. But that is the subject of a later posting.
THE JEWS CREATE THE HOPE OF THE WORLD IN OUR TIME
July 4, 2021 Kelley Kidd. I like Ben Shapiro, a conservative podcaster who seems to be as popular among young conservative American intellectuals as he is unpopular among those who do not so label themselves. But I aim to write a little on one of his favorite topics–the contributions of what he calls “the “Judeo-Christian” heritage.