Judaism and the Jews: a draft for an obituary? 6

The founding myth of the monotheistic faith that evolved into Judaism, is the story of Abraham and Isaac, in which Abraham sacrifices to his god not his son but an animal. The story is often interpreted as an hortatory tale about having to obey God. But that is not its significance.

Its essential message is that the God of Abraham, the one and only God, does not require human sacrifice.

The idea of a god who did not want human beings sacrificed to him was a great leap forward for mankind. The other gods of ancient times were all given human flesh to eat and human blood to drink. The huge statue of the god Moloch was a hollow bronze image, a human body with a bull’s head, in which his worshippers, the Canaanites, made a fire and heated the metal until it glowed red-hot, and then they fed their first-born babies into the furnace through the gaping mouth.

Such gods, it was believed, needed propitiation with human flesh and blood, suffering and death, so that they’d allow the tribe to survive and prosper.

The Chaldees, whose god Ba’al was the counterpart of Moloch, similarly sacrificed living people. It was from them that Abraham and his tribe broke away, both in a physical-geographical sense, and in a moral-religious sense.

One of the four main reasons why Jews faithful to their religion could not possibly accept Christianity was because Christ was held by Christians to be a human sacrifice. No idea could be further from Judaism (and would certainly have been absent from the mind of an orthodox Jew like Jesus of Nazareth). The other reasons were: God cannot be incarnate; God is One, and cannot be Three as Christianity holds its triune divinity to be; and Judaism requires obedience to the Law. The Jews were set free physically when they left Egypt where they had been slaves, and became a free civilization when they were granted and accepted the law – traditionally fifty days after the accomplishment of the exodus. Law protects and guarantees freedom. Freedom is only possible in practice under the rule of law.

St Paul, the author of the Christian religion, was willing and eager to abandon the Law. The Catholic Church did not after all do this, and accepted Judaism’s moral law though not its rituals.

As a people, the Jews’ first great gift to humanity was the idea that God, an abstract being, was a moral authority who required people to treat each other justly, and did not himself require them to suffer or die for him.

When the center of their religion, the Temple, was destroyed by the Romans in the first century CE, and they were exiled from Jerusalem and dispersed from their land, the Jews clung to their religion, adapting such rituals as it was possible for them to observe in the absence of a Temple and a priesthood; and their faith held them together for two millennia as a people though they were physically scattered through the world.

With the coming of the Enlightenment in Europe, and then the Age of Science, belief in the supernatural began to die in the Western world generally. But the Jews still needed to adhere to their religious tradition. Only since the land of Israel has been restored to them, has the Jews’ need for religion as a kind of abstract glue to hold them together become less compelling.

It is true that orthodox Jews still observe the religion as it has long been observed. But orthodoxy has spawned a crowd of rivals, some of which have become such broad churches that traditional Judaism is hardly discernible in them. Rabbis (male and female) in Reform synagogues now call God ‘he or she’, and even speak of a plurality of gods. What is left of Judaism there? And if the answer is nothing, does it matter? For ever-increasing numbers (even in America), all religions have passed their use-by date.

If the State of Israel were again to be destroyed – a tragedy that looks all too possible now – would the religion revive to bind the Jews together again?

Just possibly, but much more probably not. The only thing that could and should bind the Jews together in this age is loyalty to their peoplehood in the light of their history. But that is a nationalist kind of idea, and nationalism is despised by the loudest intellectuals of our time. Many of those loud voices are Jewish voices. Treasonously they decry Zionism – the nationalism of the Jews – and raise moral objections to the existence of the Jewish state. If the State of Israel is destroyed, brought to political extinction, can the Jews continue to exist, either as a religion or as a people?

Jillian Becker  June 3, 2009

Posted under Articles, Atheism, Commentary, Israel, Judaism by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, June 3, 2009

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This post has 6 comments.

  • Ben

    Jews have not helped the human sacrifices`elimination!(Holocaust is not the only example). Rabbinical Judaism uniting the Jews didn`t and will never defend them from the new Holocaust, but Israel will do! Of course some Jews don`t want to put all eggs in the one basket,besides they are affraid of Jewish secularization.

  • roger in florida

    Wow; light the BNP blue touch paper and run for cover! Yes, they may be despicable but I doubt they are any more so than the narcissitic fascists who are in power now or who aspire to power. The BNP has come a long way from Oswald Mosleys blackshirts. The reason that I and many others hope to see a surge in BNP support is of course nothing to do with the policies and platforms espoused by the BNP, it is to put a boot up the ass of the smug soft fascists who are in power now, and don’t tell me about the conservative party, a more cynical, unprincipled, backstabbing, class ridden and privilege preserving outfit never existed. As a working class Englishman I am well aware that the only use the tory party has for me is to fight their damn wars (to maintain their privilege) and to polish their boots.

    I agree with you swestrop, there is nothing more important than liberty and equality achieved through an open and unregulated society. Now allow me into your fantasy, where does this political party exist?

    As for Israel, I did not realise it was set up as a homeland for Druze, Christians, Muslims, etc. I had the strange idea that it was set up as a Jewish homeland. Now, speaking as an atheist goyim, please explain to me what “Jewish” is. Is it a nationality, an ethnicity, a shared religion, what?
    As for your contemptuous referral to “betrayers”, would you like a list?

  • swestrop

    I cannot allow this acceptance of the BNP to continue to propagate. BNP figures are indisputably linked to dangerously barbaric and racist ideals. Most of the standing candidates for the BNP have strong links (past and present) to militant Nazi groups, and most have called for the murder of blacks and Jews.

    I believe that national pride can be intrinsically important, but not when it is achieved through the enslavement, deportation and brutal treatment of others. And ‘betrayers?’ – The Nazis label me a red, and the Commies label me a goosestepping nationalist. Nonsense.

    Roger in Florida, I do not know your story, I do not know if you’re English; however I do know that there is nothing more important right now than liberty and equality achieved through an open and unregulated society. The BNP will not provide anything along those lines. They are a far-left party, united by collectivism, nationalisation policies, and opposition to free speech. They represent every evil the free world must fight against.

    As for Israel? I think you misunderstand. Israel is a secular country, and unashamedly so. The patriotism of its citizens is not based on ethnicity – there is very little example of such a form of jingoism. Israel does not fight for its God and his people; it fights for her citizens – Druze, Christians, Muslims and Jews.

  • I wouldn’t say go BNP! Yuks!!!

    I would say go UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) who want to bring Britain out of the corrupt EU.

    Otherwise, an on-the-nail comment, r in f.

  • roger in florida

    In the minds of the political elites of Western Europe (particularly Britain) and the US, the concept of the “Nation State” was permanently tainted by the great catastrophe; the First World War. The League of Nations was a feeble attempt at a supra national body that would adjudicate disputes between nations and ultimately render national status meaningless. After the Second World War the drive to World Government became much stronger with a whole lot of internationalist bodies (UN, IMF, World Bank, EU, etc.). This move to internationalism is supported by the world’s major capital interests and by the orthodox left wing social democratic movements (a group that includes the Republican Party of the US), which form almost all of the western govts. The agenda of internationalism; free movement of capital, goods and labor, regulated by an elite political class, is well advanced.

    Contrast this with the State of Israel; unashamedly nationalistic, ethnocentric, religion based with a govt. committed to national survival; is there any surprise that Israel is held in contempt by the political elites of Europe and the US?

    For those of us who believe that ethnicity means something and that national pride is a positive force, we look at the betrayers with contempt, albeit impotently (go BNP!)

  • C. Gee

    I fear that Israel is doomed. If national identity rests on a shared history, then so too are other nations. History is now “narrative”. It is at the service of ideology. Ultimately, the history that claims universal applicability and is prepared to destroy competing histories will prevail. Humanity will be bound by the totalitarian histories of socialism or Islam. If these empires compete, my money would be on Islam. There will be no democratic nation states. And as the nation state is the only jurisdiction that protects the concept that life and liberty belong to the individual, we will return to barbarism, where lives are sacrificed to the Ba’al of the collective.