Oct 24 2005
Why is Reform Judaism invalid?
Reform Judaism as formulated by the 1885 Pittsburg Platform, while doing away with most of the archaic law, maintains nonetheless that the jewish creed in general is superior to other creeds. However, this has been proven wrong on historical grounds.
Jesus Christ did not intend to develop and promulgate a new religion but to reform the corrupt judaism practiced in his days. Perhaps if his kinsmen had adopted his essential message to modernize the religion, the roman destruction of the temple would have been delayed or avoided. Jesus was critical of the pristly focus on the temple and its animal sacrifices, he was critical of the exclusive tendency of contemporary judaism and he was critical of ritual cleanliness laws. These are all reforms that the jews refused to acknowledge until the Reform movement came along 1800 years later.
We thus see that christianity is a judaic reform movement, one which most of today's jews have adopted unwittingly, albeit under a different name (=reform judaism) and as such christianity in general ought to be considered a more modern and superior religion to judaism. Therefore, if we are to recognize flaws in today's Orthodox Judaism and attempt to rectify them, we cannot do so along the lines of an isolationist and exclusivist movement, one which fights against the corruption of the christian and muslim world. Rather we must attempt to find common ground with popular culture and remove all artificial barriers which have been erected by Jewish Diaspora over the millenia. For example, we need not dress any differently than the christians for the sole sake of "preserving our jewish identity" for there is nothing in Judaism worthwhile preserving as distinct from christianity.
The text of the Pittsburg Platform:
4. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.
See more of the text at http://www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/363_Transp/PittsburgPlatform.html .
If jews are to exercise true reform, how should they go about doing so?
* Messiah. All connections to messiah and aspirations for national restoration, including the identification with the state of Israel must be abandoned. As stated in the original Pittsburg Platform, we are a religious people, not a national or ethnic group. We are all American citizens and our loyalty to our contry is the only national loyalty we should harbor.
* We must admit that christinaity is -at the very least- a religion as valid as judaism. Thus, our children should not be deprived from a christian education. They should learn the new testament and understand what Jesus and the gospel was all about. More importnantly, we must appreciate the monotheistic and ethical advances initated by christians and incorporate them into our religious curriculum. After all, the christians acknowledge the old testament; so why should we not acknowledge the new testament?
* We must slowly but methodically cast away religious performaces as the basis of our religion. Religion is not about rituals, nor is it about the imposition of restrictions and obligations. Religion, is principally a belief system that explains certain phenomena and sets forth societal norms, goals and ideals. An ancillary part of religion are ethical and spiritual practices or restrictions which support the main ideas of religion. But such practices or restrictions are not etched in stone and should be suspended or modifed as circumstances dictate.
Thus when jesus needed to cure a woman on Sabbath he profaned the sabbath to do so. When the rabbis criticized him for this, he pointed out that it is common practice to untie the animal from the feeding trough on sabbath and lead it to the water; we should therefore surely be allowed to release a woman who had been held in bondage by the satan for eighteen years, even on sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). This is but one example where Jesus advocated the violation of tradition on the grounds of common sense and based on the true hierarchy of religious priorities.
* We must emphasize the importance of a strong secular education and mastery of the vernacular language. These are our only common grounds that both we and the gentiles about us share and at a time of upheaval, it is the common ground that will allow us to survive.
What did religion mean to the Israelites of the first temple (950 BCE - 587 BCE)?
The basic ideas of religion were no different from other religions common in their days such those of the assyrians, babylonians, canaanites, egyptians, philistines and phoenicians, to name just a few.
In fact, in all likelihood, monotheism was probably not exclusively practiced among the israelites until late in the first temple (the days of the prophets). During the era of the judges, the Israelite religion was not monotheistic. Regardless, following are some of the characteristics of those ancient religions:
* creation myth. All religions have a creation myth. We call it a myth because it is a figment of the imagination. These peoples had no proof for their crreation belief; rather, the story of creation eveolved over the generations and sought to explain natural phenomena. Other religious tenets evolved to explain why natural disasters occur such as drought, floods and plagues.
* battle between forces of good and forces of evil. Ancient peoples observed that the world is in perpetual turmoil. Food, shelter and mere survival were major challenges and war was pervasive but these challenges could be overcome. They noticed that certain nations or peoples prospered for some time but prosperity rarely lasted for very long. A battle seemed to be raging between two opposing forces, one seeking to benefit mankind and the other seeking to inflict suffering on mankind.
* "worshipping the gods" was a form of service to the gods in order to secure their goodwill. But why -you might ask- do heavenly gods require service? Answer: those gods are humanlike deities. They eat, dring, fornicate and reproduce; the only thing they might not do is die and that is the only major distinction between the deities and humankind. They need our service because they are humanlike in most regards and if they don't get what they want and need they punish us, mortals.
It is amazingly true that the ancient Israelite deity "yawheh" was no different in this respect in the eyes of the first-temple believer. We are so accustomed to think of god in modren terms that it's perhaps hard for us to believe that people ever ascribed such physical and sensual properties like hearing, smelling, talking, walking and breathing to Western religion's proto-god Yawheh.
How do I know that this is the case? Well, first off, if we examine other contemporary religions we clearly see how humanlike these gods were. Greek gods for example fought each other, gave birth and even ate their babies. If all the religions of its day conceived of such a physical god, why should we believe that the hebrews harbored any other beliefs about their god, Yawheh? But the real proof that Yawheh posessed human properties is from the Bible itself, specifically the J source which is the oldest source in the bible.
Ge 2:7 And the Yawheh God made man from the dust of the earth, breathing into him the breath of life: and man became a living soul. NOTE: There is no need to describe the animation of Adam in this awkward way if God was indeed a spiritual entity. This verse clearly implies that Yawheh has a mouth and breathes just like all of us.
Ge 2:16 And the Lord God gave the man orders, saying, You may freely take of the fruit of every tree of the garden. NOTE: This is the first instance in the J source where god is said to be communicating with a human. If god is not humanlike thus naturally possesing the organs required for speech, further explanation would have been needed here. It should have said something to the effect that God produced a voice that Adam heard saying so and so and this perhaps would have set the precedent for later instances where god is depicted speaking to humans. Note also that in Gen 15:1 it says "After these things, the word of Yawheh came to Abram in a vision, saying..." and so we see if a communication is made in a dream or vision then it is so stated. If it is not stated to be a vision or dream, we can assume that it was real. God literally spoke to Adam insructing him not to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
Ge 3:8 And there came to them the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the evening wind: and the man and his wife went to a secret place among the trees of the garden, away from the eyes of the Lord God. NOTE: It says openly that god was walking in the garden and that he produced a sound/rustle while walking which prompted Adam to hide and God then called Adam by his name and asked "where are you". These are all human features.
Ge 3:21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife coats of skins and he clothed them. NOTe: The meaning of the hebrew word "wayalabshem" (=he clothed them) seems to be that god physically placed the clothes on Adam and Eve. Otherwise it would have said "lilbosh" (=to wear).
Ge 3:23 So the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to be a worker on the earth from which he was taken. Ge 3:24 So he expelled the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he put winged ones and a flaming sword turning every way to keep the way to the tree of life. NOTE: "wayeshalchehu" (=he sent him) could mean that he commanded him to leave. However, Adam had aleady disobeyed Yawheh's previous commandment and so it seems unlikely that Yawheh would trust Adam to leave from the paradise on his own. Moreover, "wayegaresh" (=he expelled) is an even stronger expression which seems to indicate that Yawheh physically shoved him out of the Garden. This is only possible if God is a physical being who is capable of pushing and shoving.
Ge 4:4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD turned towards Abel and his offering. NOTE: "Wayesha" (=he turned) means that a fire emerged from Yawheh and consumed Abel's offering. We find similar wording in the consecration of the Tabernacle Le 9:24 "And there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces." The fire was sign that the offering had been accepted and this established the tabernacle as an authorized place of sacrifice for centuries to come. The problem is that in Leviticus we understand that the fire emerged from the cloud that surrounded the Tabernacle like it states in the preceding verse "and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the people" since "kebod yawheh" (=glory of Yawheh) is understood to mean a cloud in the Pentateuch. However, there is no mention of any cloud in the story of Kain and Abel and we must therefore assume that the fire emerged from the physical humanlike Yawheh, a being that is bound by the constraints of space.
These are all J accounts and I can go on and on like this but I just want to point to two more major Biblical account which demonstrates beyond any doubt that Yawheh was perceived as a humanlike figure.
Ex 33:18 And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory. Ex 33:19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Yawheh before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. Ex 33:20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. Ex 33:21 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: Ex 33:22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: Ex 33:23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen. NOTE: We see that Yawheh walks; he has a face, back and can be seen (although the punishment for seeing Yawheh is death).
Ex 24:9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: Ex 24:10 And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. Ex 24:11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.
NOTE: This is NOT a J account. According to the J account, even moses never saw the face of god --only his back-- as you can see from the previous J account. Still, we see that the Hebrews thought of a God who has feet and can be seen as a distinct entity.