Saturday, January 24, 2015

1 Surviving #70days70years

I am learning to remember there once lived a person named Gezela Lorinz nee Noilander. She was born in Oradea Mare, Romania, 1885 and died in Auschwitz, 1944, aged 59. May her memory be for a blessing.

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. 

You can read Rabbi Sacks' essay by clicking on the title above. These are my thoughts.

Why did the Jews survive being exiled from their nation state and continue to exist for the next almost 2,000 years, while other great nation civilizations, like the Mayans and the Romans, disappeared completely?

Rabbi Sacks cites Rebecca Costa's theory that civilisations die when their problems become insurmountable and they cannot overcome this cognitive threshold. According to Costa the first two signs of breakdown are 1. instead of dealing with problems, people carry on as normal and simply pass the problems on to the next generation. And 2. people irrationally take refuge in extreme religious devotion because they cannot cope with the facts.

When the 2nd Temple was destroyed in 70CE the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem, with no return in sight and no access to their holy sites. They had to live among the other nations of the world but they didn't give up everything. Instead they adapted from a nation civilization into a transportable religion. Temple worship became synagogues, sacrifices became prayers, the High Priest atoning for their collective sins became individual repentance, the people of The Land became the people of The Book.

It has always been debated: is Judaism a religion or a race? Now I know where this question comes from and that the answer is both. We could have saved hours of discussion at Jewish Summer Camp had we known this 35 years ago.

However, it wasn't only adapting to a new reality alone that kept the faith, it was this in combination with a loyalty to the past. In the adapted religion they continued to celebrate festivals connected to the agricultural seasons of the Land of Israel, they continued many of the practices of the Temple albeit in symbolic form, they kept their ancient names, the kept their dietary traditions, and they continued to intermarry as if they were not living amongst other populations.

Rabbi sacks writes this loyalty to the past coupled with adapting for the future ensured Jewish survival in exile "despite the hostility shown to them." I would say that perhaps it is because of the hostility shown to them - when no country claims your religion as the official one, you have nowhere to run except to each other.

This essay gives a warning to all nations who are feeling a sense of decline. I read the Daily Mail Online so don't tell me there's not an underlying worry in that direction right across Europe.

Of course this essay does not give all the answers, it's only four pages long after all. The question I am left with is a matter of degree. How loyal should we be to our past in order not to jeopardize our future? And how much should we adapt to modernity without losing our very essence?

There is no consensus on this one. That's why we have both Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Royalists and Republicans, UKIP and Tony Blair.

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