Friday, December 5, 2014

2014 Hanukkah Spirit

The holiday season is upon us and for Jews this means that the festival of Hanukkah will begin on the eve of December 16th. Hanukkah is an oft misunderstood holiday outside of the Jewish community. Christians in the community usually mistake the holiday for the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. These two holidays do indeed fall within close proximity to one another and there are superficial similarities such as decorations of a festival nature. These similarities are as far as these two holidays come to being parallel. Unlike Christmas, which is a significant holiday to Christians, Hanukkah is a minor and insignificant holiday for Jews. The theme of the holiday is not so much supernatural as it is based upon the ancient battle against oppression and persecution that was fought against the Assyrian Greeks by the Jewish Maccabees.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Bible as Allegory

The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination.” –Joseph Campbell

Diagnosing Apocalypse Fever

Throughout the world there is a cry for redemption. This cry is expressed in a variety of ways. For Jews it is the coming of the Mashiach, for Christians it is the return of a Savior and for Shi’ite Muslims it is the 12 Imam who is known as the Mahdi.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Atheism: A Blessing in Disguise

I would like to call attention to the possible benefit of Atheism and its challenge to religious people around the world.  I know you're thinking that there cannot possibly be any benefit to the antagonistic rants and political challenges of these "saints of skepticism."  The modern Atheists have garnered much media attention as of recent and are on an enthusiastic evangelistic campaign to spread their gospel of disbelief.  Most people in society are put off by their tactics and offended by their forthright language of religious opposition, which has earned them the title of being called the "angry atheists."  In truth, most of the Atheists are quite angry.  The reason for this is psychological in nature for whenever a person feels mislead or lied to, in this case by a religious community, they search for enlightenment elsewhere.  This so-called enlightenment may take the form of another manifestation of religious ideology or in the case of the Atheists an ideology which believes in the absence of Theistic religion.  New converts of any faith are generally over-zealous and in the context of Atheism they perceive religion in any form to be the ultimate "evil" of the human experience and the de facto cause of all of the world's pain and suffering.  In a sense they are correct but not entirely as common-sense dictates that human suffering is rooted in human nature itself and evil has been manifested in its most extreme forms even in the absence of religion (i.e. Communist countries, Utopianism ideology).

The "Only" Legitimate Peace Plan



Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
"May they prosper who love you.
May peace be within your walls,
and prosperity within your palaces."
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will now say, "May peace be within you."
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Psalm 122:6-9

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New Book: The Hidden Heritage of Israel

You have questions concerning the incredible mythology, legends, historicity and obscure details about the Bible but you don't know where to find answers. Religious leaders all teach the same mundane stories and present the tired old arguments and scripted answers to challenging questions.
Now you have a resource to answer your questions…

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How Jewish was Jesus?


A depiction of Jesus in an ancient synagogue

Recently on the comments section of a news agency I responded to an article written by a gentleman who was expressing his opinion on the nature of Biblical interpretation. The article itself wasn't very interesting but the comments section is always the place where most of the debate and excitement occurs. A Christian commented that Jesus had nothing even remotely to do with Judaism and that there is no apparent connection between Judaism and Jesus. Predictably the comment section lit up with the opposition pointing out a myriad of examples concerning Jesus' Jewish nature and the indispensability of the "Old Testament" in the understanding of the purpose of Jesus.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Is Religion Our Big Problem?

Is religion a positive aspect of human expression or has it been the one thing that seems to hold our species back from true peace and happiness? A recent article by Valerie Terico on Salon.com featured "6 Reasons Why Religion Does More Harm Than Good." The article is well written and presented in a well-thought out manner. The points in the article suggest that Religion is the most divisive construct known to humanity.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jewish Prostration in Prayer

"Exalt YHVH, our Powerful Authority, and prostrate toward His Holy Mountain, for Holy is YHVH our  Powerful Authority."  (Psalm 99:9)

Last June (2014) a young Jewish boy broke from a tour group on the Temple Mount and prostrated himself in the direction of the Al Aqsa Mosque, which is believed by many to be the former location of the Jewish Temple (I disagree with this location but that's another blog post). The child was later approached by the Israeli police and an attempted arrest was made since the child broke the rules of the Temple Authority which state that a Jew is prohibited from praying or making any gestures of prayer on the Temple Mount. However, a violation of these rules is not technically illegal and the boy's mother who is also an attorney was able to successfully contest the attempted arrest of her son.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mosaic Authorship- Fact or Fiction?

In fundamentalist traditions of faith it is taken for granted that Moses was the author of the Torah. The Rambam even declared that Moses was the sole author of the Torah who wrote it down as directly dictated to him letter for letter by God. This bold assertion by the Rambam doesn't hold up to scrutiny though and previous to the Rambam the Talmud declared that the authorship of Moses doesn't apply to the last eight verses of Deuteronomy which describe in detail the death of Moses (b. Baba Batra 15a). Later, Rabbis would also exclude other verses from being penned by Moses such as Ibn Ezra (1089-1164) who wrote in regard to Genesis 12:6:

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Code of Hammurabi & The Torah

The ancient Near East was a geographical region made up of various city-states and clans. Each of these populaces had its own respective cultures but each influenced the others in a mutual cultural exchange. It is important to understand that when speaking of the Hittites, Amorites, Hebrew, Phoenicians, etc. that we are speaking about individual units of a greater collective whole. They all primarily spoke a dialect that was related, shared architectural technology, held common views of the world and expressed the same myths and legends. The ancient Mesopotamian region was quite homogenous on many levels. It is therefore of no surprise that these ancient people shared a similar legal system.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Hookah: Health Risk or Not?


Moroccan Jew enjoying a hookah

The hookah or nargilah has been around for over 500 years and originated in India and Persia. The hookah has become a common sight throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It is a very popular cultural vice that is seen throughout Israel in both Jewish and Arab populations. In the last few years it has become a popular smoking choice among Americans and there are a variety of shapes, styles, colors and flavors of shisha (flavored tobacco) that can be purchased and enjoyed.

The "Other" Jewish Land

The re-establishment of the State of Israel in the modern world is the most significant event to have occurred to Judaism in, well… 2000 years! However, most people are completely unaware that 20 years before the rebirth of Israel there was another Jewish home established by the name of Birobidzhan. The region of Birobidzhan is in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast which was founded by Stalin under his nationalist philosophy in 1928. Stalin designated a large land-mass on the eastern border of Russia neighboring China to be the home for Yiddishkeit and subsequently encouraged many thousands of Jews to relocate therein. The region became a place for Jewish autonomy, Yiddish is the official language, and Jewish culture was the dominant expression (i.e. Jewish theater, Yiddish schools, streets are named after Yidden, and Jewish monuments fill the public spaces).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Turban: The Early Jewish Headcovering




Jews wearing turbans in Jerusalem 1895
  
It is not unusual for someone to question the reason for wearing the beanie (kippah/yarmulke) commonly sported by traditional Jews. Common answers include the explanations that a head covering is a constant reminder that Jews are under submission to the Creator (Talmud Bavli, Kiddushin 32a), as an identifying symbol that Jews are set-apart from the other nations and that it is descended from middle/near eastern cultural norm wherein one can find traditions that view the uncovered head as a symbol of brazenness and disrespect. Since ancient times the head covering of men was used to distinguish between cultural groups and nationalities. Besides ethnicity, the head covering also served as indicators or wealth, status, position, and lineage. Women also wore a covering on their head and customs varies throughout history, from the earliest simple head bands of the ancient Israelite women to the full head and lower face coverings in second-temple Judea to the scarfs and wigs worn by the modern Jewess. Head coverings for both men and women have been a historical expression of Jewish identity for millennia.

Aleph & Tav - Hebrew Illiteracy

I will admit that there are times when leaving home that I wear a hat or something that doesn't make me the obvious Jew in the crowd. If I am out in public and look the Jewish part by wearing a kippah instead of a hat for example then I will be approached on occasion by individuals who feel compelled to speak to the Jew. Sometimes it's pleasant and sometimes unpleasant. A while back someone approached me with an idea that they apparently believed was a major revelation and no doubt they believed that if they shared this great epiphany with me then I would accept Christianity and convert. The chance to win a Jew to Jesus was apparently fairly exciting to them and this zeal overcame their ability to have tact as they approached me with an attitude of triumphalism. Their intentions were evident to me before they even spoke.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Meat & Milk Together????

"You should not cook a kid in his mother’s chalav" (Shemot/Exodus 23:19)

At face value (p'shat), this verse seems to simply state that one should not cook a kid (baby goat) in the milk of its own mother. However, the Rabbonim have elaborated upon this precept and throughout many centuries continued to apply one elaboration… upon another… upon another… etc. Now, according to Orthodox Judaism, this verse means that we should not mix meat and dairy together, according to some poskim we should wait 6 hours after eating meat before consuming dairy and 3 hours after consuming dairy to eat meat. The Rambam insisted that after eating meat one should rinse ones mouth out with water. Further, we must maintain separate dishes for milk and dairy and never the twain shall meet.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Should Kosher Mean Healthy?

"If you wilt diligently pay heed to the voice of YHVH Eloheicha, and will do that which is yashar in His sight, and will give ear to do His mitzvot, and be shomer over all His chok, I will put none of these machalah (diseases) upon you, which I put upon the Egyptians; for Ani YHVH rofecha (I am YHVH that heals you)." (Shemot/Exodus 15:26)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Henna in Jewish Culture

Henna is a small flowering shrub which grows throughout the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. As far back as human history has been documented this plant has been used to dye skin, hair and nails. The first observed usage goes back to ancient Egypt as archeologists have discovered mummified remains that have various body parts dyed with henna. A popular example of this is the mummy of Rameses II whose hair and nails are dyed with henna. Interestingly scientists have analyzed the hair of Rameses II and determined that his hair was originally red and they suggest that the use of henna as a hair dye was to perpetuate the reddish color of his hair in order to maintain a youthful appearance.

Meaning of the Hamsa

One of my favorite ancient symbols is that of the Hamsa. There are many stylistic variations of the Hamsa but it always appears as a hand within which is an all-seeing eye. The word Hamsa literally means 5 and the emphasis of this naming is obviously on the five fingers of the hand.

The Hamsa is a universal symbol. It predates modern religions as archaeology has found it in ancient Mesopotamia. The Hamsa is used today as a symbol in Judaism and more specifically in the Kabbalah. It is affectionately referred to as the Hand of Miriam. In Islam the same symbol is used and referred to as the Hand of Fatima. In ancient Christianity the hand was called the Hand of Mary. It is a symbol of unity among all religions which are derived from the Mesopotamian region and thus serves as the perfect symbol of collective spirituality and unity of the Abrahamic traditions. For this purpose some have called it the Hand of Abraham- Yod Avraham.

* The hand is a significant symbol of humanity as it represents our collective achievements. The hand is of the most supreme importance as the thumb appendage has allowed mankind to evolve from brute and brawn to brain and to accomplish the unthinkable in terms of scientific and technological innovations.

* The numeral 5 which is central to the Hamsa symbol indicates the perfection of the natural order indicated by the numeral 4 with the addition of 1- the Creative Essence Itself. As the thumb connects to the 4 fingers it is the Objective of all Essence which bestows the Light of benevolence upon existence.

* The number 4 indicates separation as in the 4 corners of the earth. Each direction is independent of the other but the 5 or fifth is the unifier since it resides in the midst of the 4. For this reason the fifth in Hebrew is called "agudah" - a group, with the fifth unifying the other four. The Maharal writes of this as such:

"(5) portrays the five directions of this world, for there is a spiritual dimension in addition to the four directions of physical expanse. The fifth dimension is the spiritual core of existence; it focuses the four diverse sides into a single entity, by infusing the world with purpose. Hence the fifth dimension is the intangible spiritual element to life."

* 4 is considered the number of exile and 5 is the number of redemption.

* 5 is the number of books in the Torah of Moses. The 4 books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are unified by the fifth and central book of the Torah- Leviticus. It is through the Torah that the universal rectification occurs.

* The soul has 5 components- Nefesh (living/animal soul), Ruach (intellectual soul); Neshama (Divine Spark); Chayah (Life force) and Yechida (Oneness).

The Hamsa also has a central eye located in its palm. The eye is indicative of Objective reality that exists within the completion and unity of the 5.

The Hamsa is commonly used as a lucky charm, decoration or as jewelry. The reality of the Hamsa is much greater than the superstitious misuse of it. It is a universal symbol of spiritual knowledge and wisdom.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Inadequacy of English Translation

The Torah is a document written in the Hebrew language and while there are a number of excellent translations and commentaries of the Torah written in the English language they all nonetheless fall short of capturing the essence of the Hebrew itself. Hebrew is a deep and very dynamic language that fundamentally differs from the English language. For example, all Hebrew words are built upon root words that have a three-letter construct. Hebrew elaborates upon these root words with suffixes, prefixes and vowels which turn these root words into nouns, verbs, etc. However, no matter how deeply these root words become concealed, they continue to maintain their original meaning.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Jewish Replacement Theology

It is wrong to claim that when Jews affirmed faith at Sinai they were worshipping one of the deities of the Ugaritic pantheon in praying to Elohim?
Elohim, when referring to God means literally "Supreme Deity" or "Greatest Deity." It is true that Judaism is nothing original or distinct in the context of Near Eastern literature.  Ancient Israelites lived in a time of multi-cultural influences and throughout its history have adopted “Egyptian”, “Sumerian”, “Babylonian”, “Zoroastrian”, etc., concepts, legends, myths and customs.

Is "Elohim" a Plurality?

The Term 'Elohim' is used for many objects in the Hebrew Scriptures- i.e. human rulers and judges, heathen deities and for the Supreme Deity or His Council. The term is generic and is used in both plural and singular forms.
Elohim, when referring to God is distinctly used in a singular sense and literally means "Supreme Deity" or "Greatest Deity". I'll explain grammatically below.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Can Something come from Nothing?

Judaism teaches that Creation emerged ex nihilo- from nothing. Modern science also proposes that there was a beginning point wherein there was nothing. Both positions are essentially the same but have a difficult time explaining how something could spontaneously arise from nothing.  The religious perspective generally asserts that the something came into existence by the act of a God. This assertion is unacceptable to Science as there is no evidence of such a thing nor can the concept of God ever be anything more than simply a concept. There is another difficulty in explaining where God came from. If one is to posit the beginning of something then would God not be something?

The Jonah Myth & Its Meaning

The story of Jonah is an interesting one in that it presents a familiar albeit impossible narrative. The story recounts that Jonah was charged by God to go to the sinful city of Nineveh to cry out against it.  But Jonah was not too thrilled at the idea of going to Nineveh and indulge himself in rabble-rousing, so he hopped the first available ship out of Joppa that was headed for Tarshish in attempt “to get away from the service of the Lord.”  The Lord sends a storm that frightens the ships sailors and being superstitious they figure the gods are punishing them. This is when Jonah explains to these frightened men that he is to blame for the storm and that they should throw him overboard for their own protection. The sailors refuse to follow Jonah's advice but when the storm persists they reluctantly throw Jonah overboard and this is when a giant fish swallows Jonah and carries him in its belly for a period of three days until it arrives at the shores of Nineveh at which point the fish vomits Jonah out.
This is a fantastic story that contains a very unbelievable narrative. Jonah was swallowed by a fish or a whale as some contend and yet there isn't a fish/whale in existence that could swallow a man whole. Some have suggested that the Sperm Whale could have been the culprit however this variety of whale, which has the stomach to accommodate a human, does not possess a throat large enough to swallow a person. Further, no aquatic species, including whales, have air space in their stomachs which would be necessary for breathing and the story says that Jonah prayed in the belly of the animal which means he had to breathe.  This story presents many problems and the question we need to address is whether the story is meant as a literal event or if the story represents a legendary tale that is meant to be taken as an analogy.
Rarely considered in Judaism is the fact that in older Greek mythology the demigod Herakles (Hercules) was also swallowed by a whale, and he too had departed from Joppa.  Add to this curious coincidence that it was at Joppa also where, in Greek myth, Andromeda was bound beside the sea as a sacrifice to a sea monster.  So where was Joppa located?  In Greek myth Joppa was located in Aethiopia.   Aethiopia is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew geographic location called Kush.  Joppa was the capital of that region and a seaport city.
Like many Biblical stories, there are preceding myths of other cultures upon which they are based. This means that the book of Jonah is another tale utilizing coded elements from pre-history wisdom.  The Sea Traders of the time were Phoenicians, and like their close kin the Philistines, they worshipped Dagon, who was depicted in his statuary as a Fish God. Recall that another story occurs in 1 Samuel relating that after the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and placed it inside the Temple of Dagon that twice the effigy of Dagon fell before the Ark. The Philistines were Israel's premier enemy in the ancient world and the Ark story is a narrative crafted to demonstrate that Israel's God is greater than the God of the Philistines. The Jonah story is a narrative crafted from earlier stories because it served the same purpose- demonstrating the superiority of Israel's God above the Phoenicians, which was the same idol of the Philistines.
Is it possible that any part of this legend might be literally true? It's improbable but a bit of deductive reasoning with a healthy dose of speculation can be applied to maintain a literal reality.
Let's surmise that Jonah took passage on a Phoenician ship, to escape God's mission for him. The Phoenicians had great carved prows on their ships, in the likeness of their Gods. This we know, from Archeological remains. So what happens when the Phoenicians realize that Jonah is the spokesperson for the Israelite God- YHVH?
Would they throw him overboard? It's very doubtful and the narrative of the story describes their reluctance. Seamen are superstitious, but not that superstitious. They threw him into the belly of the great fish, which was their ship as it was in the image of Dagon (Fish god) and likely named after him. Jonah remained in the ships belly for the designated "quarantine" spell of 40 days (also the designated fasting time for Holy festivals). Then fearing the wrath of his God, as soon as the proper formalities were out of the way, they threw him up from the fishes belly, at first landfall. Being in the belly of the ship he likely remained wet through the duration of the trip which caused his skin to prune and whiten in its appearance.
It's easy to see where over the years, even though the details of the story may have been confused, the allegory still remains at its heart.

What is the Meaning of Life?

I get asked this question so often and resultantly I have decided to post a short answer to this question herein on this blog. Whenever someone wants to know the meaning of life or the purpose of existence I generally explain why the whole of existence was generated and what the purpose of the cosmic gestation engendered on an experiential level.

Question: What is the meaning of Life?

Answer:  Consciousness is all that has ever been as it states in Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer:
"Before the world was created the holy one blessed be he with his name alone existed, and the thought arose in him to create the world."

but it has a perogative to be conscious of some-thing thus the objective birthed the subjective. This perogative is spoken of in Midrash Rabbah:

"Rabbi Yudan said: The day in which the Holy One blessed be He was one with his universe, for there was only him in Existence..."
"God willed to behold Himself."

The subjective is an image reflected back at the objective primordial consciousness and within the subjective space or void was the plenum of all possibilities formed. The formation was Consciousness- focused as energy- in the form of matter- creating a illusionary nature to the subjective called polarity= form and force. This subsequently gives rise to the subjective observer who perceives dualism and thus is conscious of its own existence. The generated experiences of the subjective observer contribute to a collective consciousness and enables the Object Observer to behold itself as in a mirror and as Consciousness beholds Consciousness it become self-aware and fulfills is perogative.

This is the purpose of Existence... and the meaning of life is the accumulation of your various experiences which contribute to the generation of the Collective thus generating self-awareness.

Musings About the Nature of "God"

The Sages ask a question: "Why does the Torah begin with a beit?" [Beit is the second letter of the Hebrew aleph-beit (alphabet)] The question is a fundamental of Torah scholarship and is the first and most important question as it lays the foundation for understanding the whole of the Torah itself. If one does not understand the answer and its implications then the rest of ones Torah study will be deficient. Of course there is more than one way to answer this question but I will herein lay out a brief answer which covers the essentials.

The Torah begins with the letter beit which is the second letter of the Hebrew aleph-beit. Why would the Torah begin with the letter beit and not the first letter- aleph? An equivalent way of looking at this question is to understand that each Hebrew letter is also a numeral. Thus we could ask why does the Torah start with the numeral two instead of the numeral one? The Torah starts with the beit (two) because the opening of the Torah is a description of the creation of dualism as opposed to the singularity of oneness embedded within the aleph.

The Midrash states that the purpose behind Creation is for "God to behold God."  In other words, Consciousness arose within the Primordial Essence of the Divine Source and the subsequent need of Consciousness is self-expression; this is the only way for Consciousness to experience Itself (i.e. become Self-Aware).

This concept is fundamental to the entire Torah based world-view that "He and His Name are One" and the declaration "Hear O Israel, Adonai your Eloheynu, Adonai Is One."  God experiencing Itself is a very important concept and can only occur within the parameters of a construct of duality.  Thus Creation emerged as a Divine expression from the beit of B'reishit (first letter of Genesis).  The Torah narrative begins with a beit representing the numerical value of 2 (dualism), meaning the potential actualized for "this" and "that."  The reason why the Creation emerged in this manner was simply because it is only possible within the context of conflicting expressions that Self-Consciousness can be actualized.  For example, we say that God is benevolent but how can we perceive the concept of benevolence without an alternative experience of malevolence?  If we say that God is Perfect then we must have another perception of Imperfection.  The natural laws of existence are defined in terms of one thing "opposite" the other.  Natural laws that define dualism don't simply oppose or harmonize though, their interrelation actually defines the concept of the "other," which is our experience of reality.  The manifestation of one quality automatically insures an opposite manifestation of a seemingly contradictory quality.  This is the nature of subjective Consciousness as the Consciousness of experience is dependent upon the opposing characteristics of dualism, which serve to define and create perceptions of the self (sense of identity).

The very concept of "God" cannot be experienced without the perception of its existence (as opposed to Its non-existence).  We perceive Some-Thing in our contextual experience and thus define God according to that experience.  However, the evolved personal consciousness realizes the illusory nature of its own perceptions and knows it cannot define God.  Therefore the individual personal consciousness casts off the restrictive definitions of God being Some-Thing and acknowledges that it is really No-Thing (from the perspective of the subjective creature).  This is the only objective reality, everything else is subjective experience.