The hardest chapter to write for my book on the Jewishness of Jesus was the one on resurrection. I tried to avoid it, but my editor insisted. Resurrection of the dead is not a topic we discuss much in synagogues.
In fact, many Jews and Christians today believe Jews have never believed in the resurrection of the dead. Yet, the Talmud says faith in resurrection is one of the three core ideas of Judaism. Look at chapter 37 of the Book of Ezekiel.
In it the Prophet Ezekiel envisions a valley full of dry bones. He speaks to the bones. He tells them God will breathe life into them. They will have skin and flesh and become a great army.
The bones symbolize the people of Israel, who will rise again and return to their land. The text is not purely a symbolic vision of rebirth. It is physical, with the spirit giving life to the bones of the dead. The text is traditionally read during the week of Passover.
With the passage of time, the extraordinary can become ordinary. The revolutionary can seem normal.
Take trial by jury. When introduced in England, jury trail was a monumental development, and it spurned great resistance. Now we are so accustomed with the practice that we feel inconvenienced when we have to show up to serve on a jury.
Such is the case with the Ten Commandments. We tend to take them for granted. Even pastors or rabbis who teach and preach about them can forget how revolutionary they once were.
Tonight begins the Jewish “Festival of Tabernacles.” Known in Hebrew as Sukkot, we spend time in temporary outdoor dwellings.
They remind us of the fragility of life our ancestors experienced during their journey across the Sinai Desert.
Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity!
The biblical book we read on Sukkot is Ecclesiastes. Tonight we will chant it in my synagogue.
I confess this book has always mystified me. Ecclesiastes seems to contradict other parts of the Bible.
The Bible was never meant to be studied alone. This past year, a Christian colleague and I gathered periodically to study. He suggested we explore Deuteronomy.
The study expanded us both. While we differ in our view of the Old Testament, we both came to see Deuteronomy as strikingly modern. The God it describes is accessible and universal.
The moral vision it presents challenges and enlarges us. The society it reflects resembles our own.
If you are Christian or a Jew beginning to study the Old Testament, I suggest starting with Deuteronomy.
Here’s what you might discover.
Every year I lead a session with my confirmation class on “hot topics.” Inevitably someone asks about tattoos. Specifically, they asked me whether it is a true that a Jewish person with a tattoo cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
A tattoo of the Hebrew word “Shalom,” which means “peace.”
The answer, as is the case with many such questions, is “it depends.” There is no blanket prohibition on tattoos. Such a prohibition would prevent any survivors of Nazi concentration camps—whose arms were branded with a number—from residing in a Jewish cemetery.
The Jewish view of tattoos is more nuanced. It reflects the purposes skin markings filled in ancient culture and the reverence with which we are to treat our bodies.
What is Wrong with Tattoos?
The answer may surprise you. The most important Jewish holiday is not one that happens only once a year. It is one we celebrate every week.
It is the Sabbath, known in Hebrew as Shabbat.
Shabbat is at the core of Jewish life. It is built into creation, as we discussed in a previous post. It is part of the Ten Commandments. It has helped keep Judaism alive, and it is a gift adopted in different forms by other religions and cultures around the world.
As a parent I have to teach my children they do not always get their way. It’s not only important. It’s hard.
Our culture reinforces the idea that with enough money or looks or connections, we can get anything we want. Life experience proves otherwise.
None of us get our way all the time. We have to accept the views of others and learn to live and work with them constructively.
The leaders of the American Jewish community need a reminder of this lesson. A recent incident proves why.
What Happened on Wednesday?
The Book of Psalms tells us “Number our days so we gain a heart of wisdom.” The Jewish sages took this verse literally. They instructed their communities to count the days between the holiday of Passover and festival of Pentecost.
We count the days by saying a blessing over each of them. This little-known tradition has its roots in the agricultural cycle.
In Sunday school we tend to emphasize the inspiring parts of the Bible. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God.” (Leviticus 19:18; Micah 6:8)
But what about the more difficult passages? What about the murdering and pillaging and sexual perversity? As we begin the Jewish holiday of Purim, we confront an immensely challenging text.
A People to Destroy