Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category
The Jews might have crucified Jesus if they’d had the chance, says Standpoint magazine article. This is outrageous speculation (Telegraph blog)
For centuries, one of the great anti-Semitic myths has been that the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion. This misapprehension has been responsible for countless pogroms, massacres and murders through the ages. In recognition of this, in the Sixties, Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council officially repudiated the notion of collective Jewish guilt for the killing of Jesus. The myth, it was hoped, would be laid to rest.
Sadly, these hopes have proven unfounded. An article has just been published in Standpoint magazine – a publication normally friendly to Israel – which seeks to reawaken this most damaging of unfounded allegations. The article was written by an odd character called Géza Vermes, a Jew who spent many years as a Catholic and a scholar of Jewish and Christian religious history. Exactly what motivated the piece is unclear; what motivated Standpoint to publish it is even more bewildering. Below is the key extract:
“Let us speculate for a moment and ask whether the chief priests of Jerusalem, if they had the power in c. 30 CE to apply the Jewish law incorporated in the Qumran Temple Scroll, might have condemned Jesus to crucifixion. Could Jesus have been charged with betrayal, endangering the wellbeing, or even survival, of the Judaean people? In their view, pretending to be the promised Messiah, Jesus could easily have inspired a rebellion against the Emperor, provoking a massive and violent Roman repression. He would thus have betrayed the interests and endangered the survival of his people. His political crime should have been punished by crucifixion in the light of the legislation enacted in the Temple Scroll.
“Clearly, the chief priests of the Gospels were not familiar with this legislation, nor would they have accepted it as binding in their day. Nevertheless they sought to avoid personal responsibility, and according to the New Testament trial accounts of questionable historicity, they decided to pass the buck and let Pilate do the dirty work.” Read on the Telegraph website
A complex web of rivalries and schisms can be found in almost every corner of Israeli society. The most obvious expression of this is, of course, the conflict with the Palestinians. But there are countless other iterations of acrimony along multiple religious and ideological divides.
A couple of years ago, for example, I interviewed a chap by the name of Rabbi Meir Hirsh for BBC Radio 4′s From Our Own Correspondent. Rabbi Hirsh is the leader of a controversial Orthodox sect called the Neturei Karta, or “Guardians of the City,” who oppose the existence of the State of Israel. The group has extensive contact with both Fatah and Hamas, and senior representatives have even held meetings with President Ahmadinejad; the pictures of the encounter, which showed Ahmadinejad embracing bearded Rabbis in black hats, were nothing short of bizarre.
Last Friday, equally strange scenes at the Western Wall in Jerusalem – Judaism’s holiest site – highlighted another bitter division within the Jewish world. Police officers were seen dragging away four women who were praying at the wall, including Rabbi Elyse Frishman, a pre-eminent leader of the Reform movement of Judaism, and the editor of the Reform prayer book. The reason? They were praying too much like men. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
When darkness falls this evening, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) – the holiest day of the Jewish calendar – will begin. It is believed that the strength of one’s prayers and repentance on Yom Kippur will determine who is written in the “Book of Life” and who in the “Book of Death”, as well as “who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried … who will be degraded and who will be exalted.” The intense spirit of of Yom Kippur is captured within its liturgy; Jacqueline du Pre’s heartrending rendition of the “Kol Nidre” can be heard on YouTube, which also features atmospheric footage of synagogue choirs rehearsing.
In 1973, as the people of Israel commenced this day of prayer and fasting, the Arab world launched a surprise attack from both the north and the south. Egypt and Syria led the assault, with additional force from Iraq, Jordan, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Tunisia, Lebanon, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea. Estimates vary, but in total up to a million troops stood against Israel, who could muster just 400,000 in response. After more than two weeks of fighting Israel finally emerged victorious; but it had teetered on the very brink of destruction. Loss of life was heavy, and a quarter of its fighter planes and tanks had been destroyed. This was a watershed in Israeli history, after which everything changed.
In many ways, the Yom Kippur War represented the end of an age of innocence. Israel’s self-image of indomitability, based on the audacious victory of the Six Day War in 1967, had been shattered. The top brass, which had previously enjoyed almost god-like status, were vilified; the prime minister, Golda Meir, was hounded from office. Eventually, the fallout resulted in the collapse of the Left and the ascendency of the Right for the first time in the history of Zionism. In some ways, it set the tone for everything that was to follow.
A B Yehoshua, the pre-eminent Israeli novelist, describes Israeli bewilderment in the aftermath of the war in his 1977 novel The Lover. “Again and again,” he writes, “I read the confused accounts of what happened, trying to get to the bottom of the chaos that ruled then … To this day there is before us a list of so many missing, so many mysteries. And next of kin still gathering last remnants – scraps of clothing, bits of charred documents, twisted pens, bullet-ridden wallets, melted wedding rings.”
This month, however, some of these mysteries have been explained. Important documents detailing the inquiry carried out by the Agranat Commission in the aftermath of the war have been declassified and released, giving the Israeli public unprecedented access to more “confused accounts of what happened” from the inside. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
So it’s all kicking off again. As I write, the making of a film mocking the Prophet Mohammad has sparked violence in Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Libya. Details are still emerging, but the filmappears to have been made by an Egyptian intent on scapegoating American Jews. But this is of no consequence. The touchpaper of offence has been lit, and the conflagration has begun to consume the Middle East and North Africa.
From a British perspective, the violence unfolding in the region is bewildering. After all, we are the nation that gave birth to Life Of Brian. But as sure as night follows day, the liberal Left will soon start wringing their hands, beating their brows, and blaming alternately George Bush and themselves; the Right, afraid of appearing “un-PC”, will grumble behind closed doors that the blighters are fundamentally barbaric.
Rather than going down that wormhole again, it is more interesting to note that the Islamic ringleaders who stoke the flames of this sort of offence-fuelled violence are exactly the people who spew out truckloads of racist and anti-Semitic material daily.
Try running a Google Images search for the keywords “Arab” and “cartoon”. There is no need to insert the words “racist”, “anti-Semitic” or even “Jew”. Just “Arab” and “cartoon”. You can run the search by simply clicking here.
What you will discover is page upon page of cartoons concerning Jews and Israel. Some may, if you squint, be excused as “political”; a few may even pass for the work of Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell. Most, however, are sickening. There are Jews eating children, Jews gloating over bags of money, Jews with a blood lust, and so on and so on. The sheer irony of Islamic zealots having a hair-trigger themselves towards anti-Islamic cartoons and the like, while simultaneously churning out such vile racism themselves, is almost funny. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Some years ago, I was walking through Jerusalem with a member of the Israeli military. As we entered the Old City, I noticed the Hebrew word “nekama” – “revenge” – scrawled repeatedly in black spray paint on the wall.
“Oh, that’s been going on for a long while,” said my companion. “Years ago, people would scrub it off as soon as they saw it. But these days, they leave it there for much longer.”
This was around the time of the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, in August 2005. That controversial evacuation – which has been rewarded only with continued rocket attacks – catalysed the adoption of a tit-for-tat policy by elements on the extreme Israeli far Right. Known as “tag mahir”, or “price tag”, actions perceived as sympathetic to the Palestinian cause attract the “price” of a violent response, carried out either against the Arab population or the Israeli security forces.
Initially, attacks were bloody. In the days before the Gaza evacuation, Eden Natan-Zada, a serving soldier and member of the extremist Kach group, which is designated a terror organisation by the United States, gunned down a busload of Israeli Arabs in the northern town of Shfar’am, killing four and wounding 22. After the evacuation, another murder of four Palestinians took place in Shiloh on the West Bank, carried out by the bus driver Asher Weisgan, who later hanged himself in prison. Both attacks were intended as direct responses to the withdrawal, and have become known as the first price tag operations.
Since then attacks have been less extreme, if still unpleasant and worrying. Roads have been blocked to disrupt the Israeli security forces en route to dismantle illegal settlements; cars, mosques and Arab-owned olive groves and orchards have been destroyed; Muslim graveyards have been desecrated; the homes of prominent Israeli Left-wingers have been vandalised; recently, even Christian properties in Jerusalem have been targeted. Scenes of the crime are spray painted, often with the words “price tag”, written in a script very similar to the revenge graffiti in the Old City of Jerusalem with which I was already familiar. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Pawel Bromson was a neo-Nazi skinhead who attacked ethnic miorities and vandalised Auschwitz. Then one day he discovered the secret that his family had buried – he was Jewish. On the eve of the anniversary of the Jedwabne massacre, he tells his story
The skinhead thug who became an Orthodox Jew
Ten years ago, when the President of Poland apologised for the 1941 massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne by their Polish neighbours, a controversy flared up. Much Polish public opinion supported the views of controversial Polish MEP Michał Kamiński, who opposed the apology, stating that “all of Jedwabne is being spat on and the entire country is being put on trial.” Most of the citizens of Jedwabne boycotted the memorial service, and the local Catholic church even rang its bells in attempt to drown out the prayers.
Now, however, as the seventieth anniversary of the massacre approaches, it is clear that Poland has changed. A memorial service is being planned at the site of the killings, led by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, the former Polish Foreign Minister and former Auschwitz prison inmate Władysław Bartoszewski, and a senior Catholic figure, Bishop Mieczyslaw Cislo. This is an unequivocal demonstration of Polish sympathy for the Jews.
“Ten years ago, Poland was still in shock,” says Robert Szaniawski, spokesman for the Polish Embassy in London. “Especially the people of Jedwabne. They couldn’t believe that their parents or grandparents had carried out this massacre. But now everyone accepts the facts. As a nation, we are coming to terms with it.”
In 1938, three million Jews lived in Poland. By 1945 ninety per cent had perished, and more were butchered in the communist pogroms that followed. But since the collapse of the Communist regime, attitudes in Poland have been changing. A quiet Jewish revival is taking root. In Warsaw, for example, the number of Jewish families has increased by over 150% in the last six years.
Poland’s difficult journey is, perhaps, embodied in a man called Pawel Bromson, one of a tiny handful of ultra-Orthodox Jews now living in Warsaw. Bromson has not always been an Orthodox Jew. For many years, he was a nationalist skinhead.
I meet Bromson in Oxford, at the David Slager Jewish Community Centre. This is his first interview outside Poland. With his beard and black hat, he could undoubtedly blend in anywhere from Jerusalem to Brooklyn. Yet it is surprisingly easy to imagine him as a thug. He is unusually boisterous, almost laddish; he gets me to buy him cigarettes, talks enthusiastically about drinking, and claps me too hard on the back.
He is thirty-four years old, he tells me. He grew up in the bleak tower blocks of Warsaw during the final decade of the communist regime. So far as he knew, his was a Catholic household; he had no idea that his parents were really Jewish. This was not by any means unusual. Like many others, his parents had kept their Jewishness a secret from their children for their own protection.
During Bromson’s teenage years, the Polish skinhead movement was in full swing, gaining popularity partly as a reaction against the repression of communism. “Life in Poland was stifling for young people at that time,” he tells me. “Becoming a skinhead gave us back our pride. The sense of power was intoxicating.”
Bromson and his friends would roam the streets with baseball bats, attacking people from ethnic minorities and setting fire to foreign-owned schools and shops. He was arrested many times for violent offences. Once he and his gang travelled by train to Auschwitz where they intimidated the staff, shouted that the genocide “should have been bigger,” and carried out some acts of vandalism. As he speaks, Bromson has been looking increasingly uncomfortable. “These are things I would like to forget,” he says. “I apologise if I can’t look you in the eye.” Read more on the Times website (subject to paywall restrictions)
They’ve put him in a private room. Through the window, the London Eye can be seen turning languidly in the heat. On the table there is a jar of gefilte fish and a can of pickles; on the wall is a get-well-soon card from the Pet Shop Boys. A bouquet of flowers from Vivienne Westwood (who was turned away by hospital staff, having arrived outside visiting hours) is on the windowsill. And lying in bed, pale, bruised and dishevelled – yet nevertheless looking irrepressibly pre-Raphaelite – is the iconic gay socialite Philip Sallon, his extravagant black hair forming a corona around his head.
“I still feel weird. Like it’s a dream or something,” he tells me. “When they first brought me in, I couldn’t even remember the details of my parents’ deaths. And now I’m suffering from terrible headaches. Does my memory seem all right to you?”
The night before, Sallon – a committed, if not religious, Jew – hosted a Passover “Seder night” in the ward (hence the gefilte fish, the pickles). Among the guests were Boy George and Matt Lucas’s mother. But after a while, plagued by severe headaches, Sallon retired to bed.
In Piccadilly Circus, central London, in the early hours of April 3, Sallon was seriously assaulted. Having suffered a haemorrhage on the brain, he was given a 50/50 chance of survival. Now, with the aid of round-the-clock medical care, he has stabilised. The reason for the attack remains unknown; his memory of it is blank.
The police investigation is moving slowly. Detectives have released a description of the suspect: an athletic, six-foot male of around 20; short black hair; a tight, royal blue T-shirt; jeans; black trainers. “Several people came to Philip’s aid after the attack,” says Mick Forteath, the detective leading the investigation. “But so far they haven’t come forward. We’re appealing to anyone who saw the assault itself, the prelude, or the aftermath, to come and talk to us.”
“Jake Wallis Simons – novelist, journalist and broadcaster – saw his latest novel sell out within 4 days of its publication this month, prompting an urgent reprint. He joins us to talk about that, the iPhone’s predictive text functionality and the many uses for a Swiss Army Knife.
What made you realise you were a writer?
About two years ago, everything seemed to be going badly. A chain of unfortunate events meant that I lost my agent, and the novel that I had been working on for years seemed to be falling apart. To add to the pressure, I had an 18-month-old baby and my wife found out she was pregnant with twins. At that point I considered my options, and realised that I was unqualified, both in terms of my experience and my disposition, to be anything other than a writer.
So I gritted my teeth, steeled myself, and slowly but surely waded out of the mire. Two years on, my luck seems to be changing. But it was only when I was forced to consider another vocation that I realised that I was cursed – or blessed – to be a writer, no matter what.”