Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blood Libel

Usually Tanta Golda starts off with a letter, but this time I’ve had numerous queries on a topic that has been in the news, Blood Libel, so instead I’m going to start you off with a definition and a little quiz. 
Blood Libel: The false accusation that religious minorities - usually Jews - murder children to use their blood in some aspect of their religious rituals and holidays.
Quiz: Why did Jews need blood?
  1. Jews suffer from hemorrhoids, as a punishment for killing Jesus, and drinking blood was considered the best cure.
  2. All Jewish men menstruate and need a monthly transfusion.
  3. When Jewish men are circumcised they lose so much blood they need to drink Christian babies’ blood.
  4. Christian blood is the chief ingredient in matzah.
  5. All of the above
Believe it or not, the answer is e. Reality rarely has any bearing in hate speech.
Anyone who has some knowledge of Jewish law, would know that killing someone and using their blood, is an anathema to our beliefs.
  1. Of course, the 10 commandments passed onto us by that mensch (person of character) Moses, prohibits murder.
  2. The laws of kashrut (ritual purity of foods) prohibit the use of blood in cooking.
  3. The Torah clearly states (in Leviticus) that blood from sacrifices could only be placed on the alter of the Great Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in 70 CE.
  4. Human sacrifice is one of the evils that separated the pagans of Canaan from the Hebrews. (Deut 12:31 & 2 Kings 16:3)
The origin of the blood libel lie seems to have begun with the spewings of the Greco-Egyptian, Apion, around 40 BCE. He claimed that the ‘Jews sacrificed Greek victims in their Temple’. His rants were passed on, but little action was ever taken.
The first known medieval accusation of ritual murder or blood libel, was William of Norwich (age 12), who was later made a Saint. His unexpected disappearance was pinned on the town’s Jews, but since no body was ever found, the sheriff didn’t pursue charges and even granted the Jews protection.  It is nice to know my dear ones that the mob doesn’t always rule. Unfortunately similar accusations began springing up in neighboring towns. Blood libel was to become the major theme in the persecution of European Jews.
The Middle-Ages were a frightening time, with little understanding of science and medicine, so blood libel was sometimes used to try to account for unexplained deaths and disappearances of village children. According to a very nice and learned professor, Walter Laqueur, there have been approximately 150 recorded cases of blood libel (not to mention thousands of rumors) that have lead to the arrest and killing of Jews - mostly during the Middle Ages. 
History has shown that when people feel powerless they look for scapegoats. This has lead - and continues to lead - to the persecution of minorities, be they Jews, Roma, Muslims, or even Christians.
Tanta Golda would like to counter the assertion that these were all incidents in the distant past and so the term ‘blood libel’ shouldn’t be taken so seriously by Jews anymore, that now it’s just become part of our everyday nomenclature: like that nice phrase - Indian giver.
Dateline- Yom Kippur 1928
After the disappearance of a little girl in Massana, NY, Rabbi Berel Brennglass of Congregation Adath Israel was questioned for 4 hours, while townspeople made blood libel accusations and surrounded the synagogue. The girl was found alive and well in the woods where she had gotten lost.
Dateline Spring 1986
The Syrian defense Minister, Mustafa Tlass writes a book, “The Matzaoh of Zion”. In it Tlass  claims that he has “scientific proof” that Jews living in Damascus in 1840 killed two Christians and used their blood in preparing matzoh. It is later cited (1991) at a UN conference by a Syrian delegate. In 2002 the book underwent its 8th printing.
Dateline - January 2005
Twenty members of Russia’s Duma publicly made a blood libel claim against the Jews and called for a ban on all Jewish organizations. The movement gained momentum for a month before they were forced to retract their claim.
Dateline - Spring 2008
Copies of a poster go up in the Russian town of Novosibirsk which read, “Beware Russian parents. Keep watch over your children before the coming of April 2008, the Jewish holiday of Passover. These disgusting people still engage in ritual practice to their gods. They kidnap small children and remove some of their blood and use it to prepare their holy food (matzah).”
While the Anti-Defamation League has concluded that the swastika has become a generic symbol of hate, no longer reserved for solely anti-semites, Tanta Golda could find nothing before the brouhaha of the past month, that would indicate that blood libel has become an interchangeable term for vendetta, despite what Mrs. Palin huffs. Fie on Mrs. Palin and others for bandying about this term so casually. She may indeed have nothing to do with the horrific incident in Tucson, but she is responsible for using her words in what seemed like wonton disregard for the millions of Jews who have suffered by these very words - Blood Libel.
Our wise ancestors who wrote the Talmud knew that words, once out - like the feathers of a pillow - are hard to take back. They float about with a life of their own, they linger. 
Love - and use your words carefully - Tanta Golda

Friday, January 7, 2011

Messianic Jews

Dear Tanta Golda,
I’ve heard the term “messicanic Jew” tossed around before, but I’ve been too shy to ask what this term means. Are they Jews for Jesus, or is this something different? Can you believe in that a messiah has come and still be Jewish?
Ambiguously Perplexed
Oy, when Tanta Golda looked into this whole mishegoss (crazy, senseless behavior) well could she understand your perplexed state! After going to several sources it would seem that even within the “messianic” community there is controversy and disagreement - which does make them sound a bit Jewish, but I digress. Let me try to give you the main points.
Of course my darling I need to give you a little history first. In the early years of Christianity, one had to be, or become, Jewish - including circumcision - before one could become a follower of Christ. Saul/Paul pushed hard to end this, and by 150 CE this practice had all but died out.
The current messianic Judaism had it’s origins in the Hebrew Christian missions to the Jews in the 19th century. It saw a revival and rapid growth beginning in the mid 1970’s- early ‘80s, which brings us to today.
Messianic Jews try to straddle the line between Judaism and Christianity. Congregations are made up of both Jews and gentiles. Neither needs to ‘convert’ to the other side. Their spiritual leaders are called rabbis, and their houses of worship synagogues. They believe that Jews are the “chosen people”. They use much of the traditional Jewish liturgy in their services, which are often conducted in Hebrew. They observe Shabbat, celebrate seven key holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukkah, and Purim, and follow the explicit laws of the Torah - including circumcision and kashrut, ergo, no pork or shellfish. 
This my confused one is where the similarities to Judaism end.
They also strongly believe that Jesus - whom they call Yeshuva - was the messiah as predicted since the time of Moses. He is the word of G-d revealed to man in the flesh, born of a virgin. Yeshuva died for ‘our’ sins, and both Jews and gentiles must be cleansed of sin by the shedding of his blood. They believe that salvation comes from a good and ‘right’ relationship with G-d which can only be achieved through faith - not works of the Law. (To clarify, most Jews hold that it is our actions first and foremost that put us in G-d’s favor, though many contend that this is only possibly with faith. However, everyone is welcome in the world to come. <There are some exemptions, but that’s for another column!>) They include the New Testament in their canon, and most do not accept rabbinic law, which includes everything laid out and explained in the Mishnah and the Talmud. These texts provide the guidelines around which much of the way we practice Judaism today is framed.
Christians sometimes see this group as being part of the evangelical movement; some are critical for its aggressive proselytizing, and other see messianics as Christians misrepresenting themselves as Jews. Within the messianic movement there are those who prefer to call themselves Nazarene (named for Jesus’ presumed birthplace), and identify themselves as a sect of the Hebrew people that understand that Jesus is the prophesied redeemer of the people. Some call Jews for Jesus a branch of messianic Judaism. Tanta Golda must admit that she wasn’t able to pick up on the nuanced differences between these branches or sects.
As for your final question about remaining Jewish and believing that a messiah has already come. Judaism holds that one who is born Jewish never ceases to be a Jew, even if he or she renounces Judaism and practices another faith. Mothers are always hopeful that their children will return.
I hope I’ve cleared up some of the ambiguity for you my shy one. Best wishes for a happy New Year! TG