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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day Eight - ערב שבועות

Fundamentalism is killing religion. Fundamentalism is not just killing religion, it's killing people.
I've been here a week now. Today is Eruv Shavuoth. The celebration of the Festival of Weeks, counting fifty days (the omer, a measure of grain for offering) from Passover to the fiftieth day, Pentecost. Elements of the old harvest festival remain, counting the omer, and celebrating new babies and a thanksgiving meal, all elements of harvest, productivity and fertility. (I was here for Shavuoth in 2000 as well.)
The most significant gift commemorated during Shavuoth, is the gift of Torah, poured down like living water in the teaching-revelation on Sinai. The Torah that calls for the love of neighbor and stranger and hospitality towards those who reside in Israel but are from different communities.
My favorite texts are:
Ex 23:9 You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt
Exodus 22:21 Not one resident alien, female or male, shall you wrong or oppress, for you all were aliens in the land of Egypt. 22 Not one widow or fatherless child will you oppress. 23 If you do abuse them, as sure as they will cry out me, will I hear their cry. 
I think it is no accident that the traditional reading for Shavuoth is Ruth. One reason for the link is the agricultural setting of Ruth. But I believe that God, through divine providence, arranged that a text about a non-Israelite woman in a (second) mixed-marriage who gives birth to a son and nurtures a great-grandson who would not be recognized as Jewish today by many who celebrate Shavuoth. For others who would even read Ruth's relationship with Nomi and her God as a conversion, they would not be Jewish enough.
And for many fundamentalists the story of Ruth is supplanted by the story of Joshua with it's rhetoric of annihilation. Some shout, "Kill the Arabs! Kill the gentiles! Drive them out!" Joshua is not Torah. Even if there is torah in Joshua - and I think there is - it is balanced by the torah in Judges. Over and over again Judges says, "They did not drive them out... they lived with the Canaanites in the land."
The Jewish fundamentalists are joined by Christian fundamentalists who also call for the expulsion of the Arabs - but just the Muslim ones. Mostly. And the Arabs who call themselves Christians should convert to real evangelical Christianity, never-mind their two thousand-year history as Christians. Orthodox Christianity (and Catholic and Anglican and Lutheran and Presbyterian) doesn't share the anti-Judaistic fervor of Evangelical Christianity. For some of these fundamentalists, after they get rid of the Arabs, then the Christian Messiah will return and send all the Jews to hell freeing up the Holy Land for the reign of the right kind of Christians. (The Jews will be joined by the Hindus, Buddhists, animists, Bahai, Zoroastrians, athiests, agnostics and anyone else who is left.)
The fundamentalist Jews and Christians are joined/opposed by fundamentalist Muslims who want every Jew and Christian converted to Islam or dead.
The fundamentalists among us are distorting our beautiful God-given religions. They are murdering our souls and the souls of our religious heritage. Their violent rhetoric precedes and accompanies violent action. People are dying; lives are being destroyed. And the faithful of each tradition are imperiled and marginalized.
Yossi Sarid wrote an op-ed in Haaretz that looked at the juxtaposition of Shavuot and nationalistic fundamentalism on this Eruv Shavuoth. His midrash of the Ruth story if it were today is the torah on which I meditate today, waiting for the gates of heaven to open anew offering more torah, more teaching, more revelation and more enlightenment. (Sometimes I think the "new" torah is a return to the "old" torah.)
I sometimes wonder how Ruth managed to worm her way into the Book of Books; perhaps the Song of Songs paved the way for her. It could never happen today. The Education Ministry and Mercaz Harav would never consent, and the Culture and Sports Ministry would disqualify its candidacy for the Zionist Artwork Award.
That's all we need: For a complete goy - a Moabite, on top of all her other problems - to marry Mahlon, who, even though he has fallen low, is still a Jew. By what right did she cleave to Naomi - a healthy woman, after all, who doesn't need a Filipina in constant attendance - so that she could later seduce another wealthy Jewish man, thus enabling her to remain without a permit from the rabbis and without even a pro forma conversion? And how did it happen that "all the people" were happy and supportive, without a single opponent?
After all, even back then, they could have deported her as a foreign agricultural worker who had infiltrated into Israel by means of dubious paperwork.
And they would have left her great-grandson, David, without a chance of even being born, much less later being anointed as Israel's king.

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