Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Prophets of Tanakh as Literary Genre

It could be said, although I haven't read things from all types of literary genre, and there are a whole lot, that the Prophets of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) can be, from a literary perspective, categorized as a genre. The prime characteristic of this genre would be the criticism of aspects of one's own society. Now, I can't claim with absolution that it is responsible for the creation of this genre because there are many records of writings that criticize their society, but the unique aspect of Prophetic criticism is that it turns an eye to the universal; the criticism is concerned with the whole of its society but further with the whole of human society as well. Many types of literature can claim in honesty and truth to also criticize their societies, but they criticize them for their own well-being, which is not entirely a sin, but nevertheless it does not take into account the rest of humanity. It can therefore be said that the Prophetic criticism found in the Torah is in actuality a genre of its own, which criticizes first its own, and then others, but its own for the sake of others. What this reveals is the heart of the Jewish essence, that one must improve for his/her own sake but as well for the sake of others. Likewise, a society must improve for its own sake and for the sake of others, and the Jewish society (national and/or international) must improve for its own sake and for the sake of every society.

Not only is this a unique genre of its own, it is the epitome of the religious Jewish concept of the "Chosen People," stating that the Jews are "a light to the nations," that they teach, guide, and will teach and guide the entirety of the world's nations into the light of G-dliness. There is no other genre in the world that deals with the betterment of society this way because there is no other society in the world (other than Islam forming in the 7th century) that believes in the One G-d. Therefore, the belief in the One G-d sets up a system where a core group of the recipients of revelation adhere to the instructions of G-d; the aim of the Jewish adherence to the commandments serves to a) correct themselves and b) to correct the world. This is done in an indirect way - the nations of the world do not need to accept Judaism on themselves in order to be corrected, they need only to learn from the Jews and to accept on themselves the Seven Laws of Noah, which were given to Noah and to his descendants, the nations, after the flood. Only Judaism produces a type of literature intended to fix the entire world because only they believe in the necessity of integration under G-d due to His sole existence. If nations believe in polytheism or do not believe in gods at all, there is nothing motivating them to move in a direction of unification of society, which is why when those nations criticize themselves, it exists only for the purpose of bettering their own society and not that of the world.

This betterment cannot occur if the Jews are living in darkness themselves, so first the Jews must bring themselves into the light, which for them is the Torah, and only then will the nations have any hope of seeing the light. Therefore, light emanates from G-d into the Torah, light emanates from the Torah to the Jewish People, and from the Jewish People emanates light to the nations of the world, "or la'goyim," a light to the nations. If the Jewish People are not receptive of this light, they obstruct the cycle and light does not emanate into the world, therefore it is in the interest of every Jew to take and absorb the light from the Torah for a) his/her own sake and b) for the sake of everybody else. It is at times when it seems that the Jews, or many of the Jews, have abandoned this light and this task (G-d forbid) is when other nations take it upon themselves to bring this light into the world, or in other words, they push us aside and attempt to fulfill our job for us. This always has negative implications for everyone involved because it is a violation of the system that G-d created, and we cannot blame the nations for doing this before blaming ourselves, the Jews.

For example, the Talmud says that the Temple was destroyed in the second century due to a sin called "baseless hatred," or "sinat chinam" between the Jewish People. It was at this exact point in time in history in which the Christian religion came onto the scene, and what things did the Christian religion claim? It claimed all of the things that Judaism claimed, such as: been given the Torah, "having" the Messiah, being the "New Israel," and being the arbiters of the "new covenant" between G-d and humanity. Christianity stood for everything that Judaism stood for and attempted to fill in its role, all in the name of harmony with Judaism. What we see is that, simply said, Christianity moved in and shoved Judaism aside, a theft or invasion of sorts, but the source of this is not in Christianity, which was nothing more than an obscure polytheism strand running through the Roman theological realm, but the result of Jewish error. The result is that Judaism's power of truth was passed on from the Jews to another source, which would claim to be the real Judaism, drawing from its truth and emanating it to the world on its own in an altered and false fashion. The result is a conflict of truth between Judaism, which still exists, and the new religion claiming to be Judaism, and the latter's energetic attempts at claiming everyone in the world. A return to Judaism by Jews is the only thing that can remedy this and nothing else. The falseness that has ensued in the name of truth needs to be outlit by the truth of the Torah, and it is not a wonder in the least that Jews have been the central target of suffering at the hands of this religion claiming to be Judaism, interestingly, all the while it was claiming to love them.

Islam is similar but also different. It has had made no false illusory statements of loving the Jews; its resentment for us is clear from the beginning. The pressure it exerts on Judaism and on those of Jews whom are not able to withstand it, has led to some Jews breaking down and becoming Muslims - this is akin to the psychological phenomenon, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Islam's religious sites enjoy protected status from the international watchdog of the world, are located in isolated areas that nobody wants to visit, and therefore allow billions of Muslims to swamp those areas unchallenged. This gives Muslims a sense of completion and confidence, the type that existed for Jews when the Temple stood and will be again when it is rebuilt, but the weak Jew, such as Yosef Cohen, aka "Yussuf Khattab," cannot wait and therefore finds Jewish comfort in Islam.

There was no known Jewish sin in the time when Islam arose which is agreed upon by Jews (as is regarding Christianity), so Islam simply made up its own sins for them; the Jews' worship of the Golden Calf and their corruption of the texts of the Torah in order to cheat Ishmael out of his birthright. Islam explains that G-d passed the covenant on to them as a result of these sins, and also explains that G-d took the covenant away from the Christians for the same reason of corruption. The corruption, they claim, necessitated the Qur'an, which they say was the correction and return to the correct text as it was given and initially explained by G-d.

We see that each religion claimed to be Judaism in a different way; Christianity claimed to have the covenant, the Torah, the Messiah, and to be Israel, while Islam claimed that there was no religious nationalism but only true faith, which was the faith of all the forefathers and foremothers, all of which they call "Muslims," and that both Isaac and Ishmael and all of their descendants inherited the blessing of Abraham. It was "the Jews," some unknown and abstract enemy, whom changed what the Torah said about the righteous Isaac and Ishmael in order to say that Isaac inherited what was rightfully Ishmael's. What we see is that Islam claims to be Judaism by making even farther reaching sweeping conclusions, by saying that there was never such a thing as Judaism. It had to reach even farther back into the religious narrative in order to reach back farther than did Christianity, which claimed the truth of the entire Tanakh. Therefore, Islam had to reach back to a point preceding the delivery of the Torah to the Jews, and so the life story of Isaac and Ishmael was just the tender spot in the historical religious narrative for which they searched, the beginning of lineage. By saying that the entire lineage of Judaism is called into question, which climaxed with the descendants of Isaac receiving the Torah, Islam attempts to suspend Jewish faith in a black hole of obscurity and inaccuracy only to be remedied by the delivery of the Qur'an. It invents a disease and then invents the cure, but neither are real. This is not simply a "new way of looking at things," which cannot be all that bad necessarily, but it was the same thing as Christianity, an attempt to shove aside Judaism by placing itself in its place, kin to robbery. This is the irony of such a development; the robbers accuse the owners of robbery - the Muslims have accused the Jews, the rightful owners of the covenant, of stealing it from them. It is no wonder that the heart of Jewish/Muslim politics have been the same; Arabs accuse Israeli's of taking their land from them, when in reality it is Jewish land. Therefore, to a certain degree, Islam has set itself up as a more hostile self-proclaimed enemy to Judaism than has Christianity, exclaiming that the entirety of Jewish history has been fraudulent and has not even occurred. Christians, ignorantly and even maliciously making childish comments about the Jews have attempted to dismember Judaism, but Islam has attempted to say that Judaism is the product of a big lie. All of these religous Muslim sentiments have been preserved almost perfectly intact in Arab politics; Arafat has said that the Temple never existed and Islam ignores the near 3,000 year history of the existence of a Jewish state, built by King David, with Jerusalem as its capital.

It is the commandment of G-d to follow the commandments and so we see that G-d's plan is to improve this world through the application of Torah, which is a plan relating to the whole of His creations.

This concept has remained alive and relatively strong in Jewish society, even after it has gone through powerful shifts largely transforming much of it into secular emanations of the religious Torah. The social ideal of fixing society from the inside out is at the heart of every Jewish voice and organization that screams for the betterment of society. Most Jews are in folly when they insist that Jews behave in this way because they are traditionally a mistreated people - even though we have been mistreated for more than 2,000 years, the betterment of society leads back to times when Jewish society was at its higher points, under the leadership of King David for example. Before this it leads back to Moses and Abraham, the roots of the Torah, and so we see that the betterment of society is the root of Judaism and is independent of Jewish suffering. The power of the Jewish urge to better society becomes even more powerful at times of Jewish suffering, but we see that at times of Jewish suffering it is Jews whom speak for the sake of everyone, while others at times of their own suffering only speak for themselves. Therefore it seems to be an inherently Jewish trait to speak for others, not one which was borne out of suffering, but out of love for G-d.

Paradoxically, as a secular trait not recognizing the imminence of G-d, the Jewish trait of decrying suffering takes on a destructive function when it fully secularizes, providing "solutions" that do not seek to integrate society but rather to destroy society by wiping away all differences, and societies have responded as expected to this illness, they've lashed out at the Jews. It is without G-d that the Jewish mentality of betterment yearns to blur everyone into one inseparable society strictly in the name of hiding themselves in that society so that they can no longer be hunted. Time and time again, when this has been done, the Jews in the end have met a wave destruction that nearly destroyed them completely; the lesson, when Jews try to be like everyone in order to find safety, the society rejects them and distinguishes them, in effect preparing them for destruction at the hands of the particular madman, be it Torquemada or Hitler or maybe now Ahmedinajad.

This shows that there is an absolute difference between the Jewish religious commandment of the betterment of society and its secular/atheistic parallel; the former acts as an expression of the unity of the world under the One G-d, through the recognition of borders, not through erasing them, while the latter tries to integrate Jews into the rest of society, erasing that border, and the response has always been that that society has felt targeted and invaded and responded by alienating the Jews from within it. It is as if, socially speaking, the nations which have housed the Jews did not want their borders erased; they too rejoiced in having a separate identity. They were willing to house the Jews, even peacefully, as long as they knew that there was a difference between them, but it is not they who should be demanding on the maintenance of this difference, it is we! And even more importantly, they were even more at peace with Jews when they saw that the Jews were not only not trying to integrate with them, but when they were proudly and solidly stating their identity and status as Jews. Many times, it seems, people followed the Jews into the light of G-dliness as long as the Jews were following the Torah. It's as if G-d programmed the rules of society to deject and even attack Jews when they tried to erase these borders, but to respect and follow Jews when they stated these borders clearly and told the nations what was expected of them. If G-d made everything, then He also made society, and if He made society and He gave the Torah to the Jews in order to be a light to the nations, then He could have also programmed the nations to spurn the Jews when they rejected the Torah. But this also means that the opposite is true; He programmed society to follow the Jews when they follow the Torah, and through that, G-d claims all nations, His creations, which is what He wants to do. Jews know this unfolding of events as Messianic Redemption and suffice it to say that a Jew will lead the world through this unfolding of events.

In our own modern times this is especially relevant, like it always is. The Prophetic genre of self-criticism has made its way into the heart of a score of social equality movements. In fact, it is such a powerful moral imperative that virtually every social equality movement either names, is based on, or incidentally acts in the manner prescribed by the Prophets - it has become a civilizational utility for social equality and betterment. Time and again, it is the Tanakh that social organizations use as ideological posts, not the Gospels or any of the Christian Bible and not the Qur'an, although those two religions, through organizations such as the Salvation Army, Save-A-Child, and propaganda about the utopian visions of Islam, have attempted to replace Judiasm.

Again, we cannot pin social equality and betterment, universal things, solely on the Jews and the Torah, but also again, it is only the Torah that is monotheistic in scope and therefore only the Torah that seeks unity through integration, by directing everything towards G-dliness. The perverted secular form of this, sometimes as we have seen, advanced by Jews, tries to annihilate difference and in doing so annihilates society, while the polytheistic or pagan version of this cares only for the improvement of its own society and does not lay an eye on the rest of the world.

If a Jew truly wants to better the world, he/she must be unafraid of the world, for it is only observance of Torah which will fix it. We must view the world like an untamed animal - in order to tame it one must first get through the animal's initial aggressive behavior by being equally aggressive with it. We have a job to do and cannot afford to abandon it; it is a perfect career move for those who like action and adventure and spurn boring moments. To translate, we must be aggressive and energized with our mitzvahs, unafraid of the world's reaction, which could be violent, rejectory, alienating, or demeaning. The reasons: a) to improve our own lives, and b) to improve the lives of others - humanity, like children, are apt to reject and spit out their medicine, but we Jews must administer it, and the blessing of this is that we need to start with ourselves. Finally, the power and joy one gets from keeping the Torah is enough to trump any or all difficulties that he/she recieves from others when doing so - every obstacle becomes like a flicker of a flame held up to the sun - this is not the same for secularism, a god that does not exist but is nonetheless worshipped, and by many Jews as well. It is in the religious history of Jews to worship every god/dess that has come along, which has also been decried by the Prophets.

*The sad thing, but which is joyful because it speaks to the truth of Judaism, is that other monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, don't function in the same way as does Judaism. Christianity is arguably not monotheism and therefore integration is made impossible, and Islam cares only of itself, not of the rest of the world, which is why it so adamantly, violently, and aggressively argues against the "Chosen People" notion and accuses the Jews of having a superiority complex, of which it itself is guilty. We see that Judaism is full of Prophets, like a pomegranite is full of seeds. Christianity, on the other hand, was founded by a person deemed to be Divinity, and Islam was founded by the only prophet to have actually practiced the religion he started. Therefore, the way that both of these religions integrate the Truth of what the Torah's Prophets were saying is extremely interesting; Christianity does it by downplaying a) the Prophets' moral nature, and/or b) by simply claiming that Jesus had to come because the Jews could not live up to the standards set by G-d - this is a fatalistic and defeatist view of G-d, not at all at home to Judaism. Islam explains the Prophetic genre by "turning" all of the Prophets into Muslims, i.e., interpreting them as proto-Muslims, and therefore simply latching itself onto Jewish religious history. In other words, since Islam began with Muhammad and has no real past before him, it simply turns Judaism into Muslim history by messing around with the contents and intonation of the Torah; it's as if the Tanakh is part one of the Qur'an and the Christian Bible, which Islam treated the same way, is part two, and the Qur'an is the final part. In other words, Christians give credence (although not absolute) to the Jewish Prophets but have no Christian prophets, while the Muslims, having no Muslim prophets other than Muhammad, have no choice but to draw from the extensive well of Jewish Prophets and to explain them as the forebearers of their own religion. We too, then, Jews, would be the forebearers of Islam because we are motivated by the words of the Prophets to do as they spoke, which was to follow the Torah. In other words, Jews are the light to the Muslims too, whom are also a nation, but whom seem to disregard Jews as apostates of truth and Muslims are therefore beyond reproach, until the arrival of the Mashiach.


Nick said...

AWESOME commentary. You draw out the flaws of secularism, Christianity and Islam so well. I agree wholeheartly.

I want to add, Islam and Christianity also are motivated by the desire to have more hookups to Hashem than their 7 mitzvos. As goyim have, pyschologically, the same need for closeness to G-d as Jews, they will naturally search out more holy texts, more prophets, etc. The Noachide system hasn't come close to meeting the need. We need to work on that.

jjew said...

Thank you. Right on.

Well that's fine I would assume - I don't think that the Noachide Laws restrict a Noachide to those seven, although it's something I should ask a Rabbi about before assuming. I mean, they tell the Gentiles to follow those laws as a minimum, would it be OK for a Gentile to tack on three or twenty five more commandments to the Noachide Laws if he wanted?

There is nothing that we could do to improve on the Noachide Laws, it is what it is. But I hear what you're saying though, for sure. What I think is that the Noachide Laws are gauranteed to be extremely satisfying for one whom keeps them. I mean, if they really delve into it and have a full knowledge of what it actually means to be a Noachide, to put themselves into the front line of a partnership with G-d that is equal with the Jews' and that fulfills their part in creating a harmonic relationship with G-d and the Jews at the same time, then to be a Noachide seems very pleasing to me, even speaking as a Jew. If larger numbers of Noachide mitzvahs are what they are looking for, the acutality is that it comes down to much more than seven by way of halacha.

This is what I have to ask a Rabbi and I'll post the answer here after I ask -- regarding Islam for example, which is a religion that has faith-building measures built into it, such as prostrating often, the call of muezzin, and a month of half-day fasting, I think (and could be wrong) that those things would be perfectly allowable in a Noachide system as long as they went along perfectly with the Seven Laws. I mean, the sixth law tells them to set up their own courts - I don't see it as a far cry from that for them to set up some of their own venues of connecting with G-d. I mean, do the Noachide Laws tell the Gentiles how to davin? Not necessarily as far as I know.

I think the Noachide system does the job quite well, but I hear what you're saying. Maybe it's too quiet and therefore doesn't reach people. However, have you ever brought it up to a Muslim? Their tendency is to frown upon anything coming from Jewish theology, at least for symbolic reasons. IF that's true, they would be hardpressed to trust what we have to say about the Noachide Laws because they view Judaism as being a corrupted religion.

Peace, I'll get back to this later. Yaniv...

Nick said...

I talked to a Muslim about it. Islam seems to be the only goyish religion that perfectly abides by all 7 Noahide laws.

jjew said...

Clearly a Muslim would feel totally at home with the system that the Torah envisions for Gentiles. The only thing is that Islam doesn't look positively upon a "union," if you will, between Jews and Muslims, monotheists. Their perfect obedience to those seven laws is entirely irrelevant if it does not create a system in which they can feel to share a common task with Jews. The fact that Islam is a Noachide religion, if we can name it that, entirely misses the purpose of what "Noachidism" is if Islam takes the stance that Islam has come to replace or fulfill Judaism. If you ask your friend, I am pretty sure that she/he will tell you that that is indeed Islam's view. It's a bit tricky, sure she/he agrees with the seven laws, but that's because Judaism's destiny is Islam.

jjew said...

My opinion, and I'll have to check it, is that the Noachide Laws, which were always around, were brought into the light at particular points in history during which the Gentiles most needed them. Christianity for example was the perfect time for the springing of the Noachide Laws into peoples' attentions, but Christianity, having pagan spirituality, created such a strong pull (as does all paganism) that it was more favorable than Truth. One our rabbi's said something interesting today, he said that nobody respects Noah the way they respect Abraham. Noah began a movement in order to illuminate peoples' lives with the Truth of the Existence of G-d, but they didn't listen. Thousands of years later the Gentiles all wanna be like Abraham but they all neglect Noah and what he taught, and HE is the father of their tradition and laws. Jews were as eager to tell the Gentiles about their obligations as the Gentiles let them, and so our personal survival sometimes had to take precedence over Truth. Also, how much can we really handle on our own? Teaching our own how to survive AND the Gentiles? They need to administer the Noachide Laws on to themselves and they have already been taught how. Heck, they knew about it before we did! Yes, the Gentiles with which the Jews have tangled have been a stubborn and stiff-necked bunch, sometimes malicious and violent, and resistant to our attempts to save them.