Friday, August 26, 2011

Reeh: meaningful visions and choices

Mishney Torah\משנה תורה or Book of Deuteronomy repeatedly teaches the Commandments in order to inscribe them in the hart of every Israelite that lived out till the time close to the entrance into the Land of Canaan/Eretz Israel. The Kabbalat Mitzvot or traditional acceptance of the light yoke of the Mitzvot/Commandments is given by God and confirmed, then recurrently hammered out and determined with precision so that the people could accept these teachings as taking full part in mental reflexes of a nation of redeemed slaves.

The reading portion of this week is "Reeh\ראה = See (I/God am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" in Devarim-דברים/Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17). Again, God reinforces Moses and the Israelites with a spirit that will allow them combating idolatry and destroying all the idols, pagan altars and worships after their take-over of the Land of Canaan. This is a real theological question, still pending at the present. In this Mishney Torah, God repeats His Commandments of loving care in order to redeem all the nations and souls. The uniqueness of what is said by God to the Bney Israel in the Sinai is proven by His trustful and loving care. Religion and faith conviction have too often laid to horrible stiffness and certitude to be divinely approved in slaying down those whom have been considered as heretical or spiritually wrong. The "acceptance of the Commandments" is so much beyond any human evidence that God requires humility and insights instead of self-justification. The problem is real as concerns "national" identity.

Is it strictly a national specificity to be called to be Jews or would it also involve a profound spiritual and theological significance that presupposes a certain freedom of choice? On many occasions, Israeli society would impose Judaism to people who come from faraway backgrounds. They would only get to true Jewishness after a long-term process of understanding of the Mitzvot and the core of the living moral and divine prescriptions. Thus, the Jewish tradition is strongly opposed to act by force to go through the giur/(turning of non-Jews to Judaism). Indeed, our present situation in Israel resembles the time when the ancestors entered the Land of Canaan, but it only seems similar.

In our generation, after nearly 3,000 years, the problem is different because of the deployment of monotheism in numerous manners that we still have to know and not reject systematically. Then souls are all human and, firstly and ultimately, belong to God. Thus, who is allowed touching or altering in-depth identity for political or national reasons that are limited by definition?

The reading portion of this week starts with the interjection: “Reeh\ראה – Look, see”. This is the very particularity of this week as we come closer to Ellul that precedes Tishri, New Year’s autumnal month. The original root has different meanings connected with “sight and meeting”. Thus, “He who sees comes to a place” (Berachot 9,1). “Look upon the blood of this ram as if it were the blood of an offering” (Bereshit Rabba 1) or “Mah raah? What did he see, i.e. what is the reason of such a situation (Baba Bathra 123a). “Nirah – it looks like, appears” : “He had said that things were nirin = supposedly acceptable”. As also: “What has been considered as fit on one feast and then discarded may again become fit” (Sukkot 33b). There are some interesting extensions to the word: “re’iyah = sight, seeing, glance” as in “the faculty of sight – for childbirth” (Niddah 31a) but also “appearance, ascent to the Temple, aliyah): “the appearance in the Temple (pilgrimage, cf. Ex. 23:17) since all males have the obligation to appear in the Temple (Hagigah 1, 1; Peah 1,1). Finally, the word means “evidence, proof”: “It rests on him to produce evidence that he is an Israelite” (Baba Kamma 3:11; Ketubot 23a/15b (in Aramaic). This week we are called to envision the goal of the most important Mitzvot. This is first the capacity to choose to receive from God a blessing and not a curse (“bracha uqlalah\ברכה וקללה”). This is the “shtey drachim – two ways” options. Let’s say it is not easy. Nobody would spontaneously choose to be cursed by God!! For instance, some alcoholics would start drinking in order to socialize. They finally meet with much lonely people in despair. From quenching thirst and feeling on the top of the world till drying any mouth pleasure, solitary addiction seemingly leads to self-destruction and hopelessness. More and more in Israel drink beer, spirits and liquors and the cheerful get it down the neck can turn to some family hell or personal curse. The same happens with drug-addicted.

I used to find rolling drunk men and a few women out of their skulls illegally lodged in some cave in the outskirts of Jerusalem. They felt a bit fragile as many broken souls because of their tragic backgrounds. Curiously, they only could get out of such a hell by a personal decision, knowing that, being under the weather, God could bless them again and again.

Indeed the main purpose of the sidra is propositioned in two real, test-proof mitzvoth / commandments. Alcohol, drug-addicted, prostitutes and sex-addicted should be considered like true “poor and needy folk”. There are dissocialized inmates who feel cursed by their environment or their own mental stand, or were the victims of historic dramas and need God’s help to reinvigorate their egos. Assistance is very Jewish. The first medical and social care system in Eretz Israel were developed by the Ultra-Orthodox Jews. This traces back to our portion. “There will be no one in need – efes ki lo yihyeh eviyon” as stated in Deut. 15:4 “because the Lord is sure to bless you in the Land that the Lord you God is giving you to occupy”. The word is special: “eviyon = poor, distressed” “who is distressed because he longs for everything (Baba Metsia 111b). Then there is another verse, specified after this first mitzvah which states: “There will never cease to be some in need on the earth (eviyon bekerev haaretz), therefore I command you: open your hand to the poor and the needy (“le’aniyecha uleeviyoncha\לעניך ולאביונך”) neighbor/brother in your land” (Devarim 15:11). The same is said in the Gospel: “Jesus said: you will always have the poor and needy with you.” (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8).

How come that the first verse seems to secure all the inhabitants and the second one commands the mitzvah which is in the heart of Judaism? It should be noted that this commandments are given together with the “shemittah\שמיטה – year of remission, especially of the debts” (Deut. 15:9-18). By the way the coming year 5768 is a shemittah – a year of remission. We are facing here the same quest as for “Shma’ Israel\שמע ישראל – Hear Israel” that is a pure and strict commandment to revere God without expecting any reward. The same happens with regards to the poor and the needy. It is true that we are a in a terrible period of impoverishment. Statistics and ads show that thousands of children and numerous unemployed, old pensioners (Shoah survivors in between…) don’t have enough food or resources. Some charity movements or volunteers do a wonderful work to correct these situations.

In Israel, there is a widely “tzedakah\צדקה” acting system that corresponds, to some extent, to the Muslim “zakat – charity money”. The Christian Churches have been always very generous towards the local Arab people (hospitals, elderly homes), also providing some money and assistance to the Jews in many ways and for various purposes. Interestingly, the Greek-Melkite (Catholic) Patriarch Gregorios III (Lutfi Laham) who served many years in Jerusalem as archbishop, developed and continues to enhance with his hierarchy a strong network of assistance to the poor, the sick, the elderly people as a fundamental part of the religious love towards God and the humans.

This is the point: if we pretend that we love God, we firstly have to show that we are able to love our fellow people whom we see. Look at this psalm: “The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises all who are bowed down, the eyes of all look to you, and you given them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living one” (Tehillim 145:14-16). The “You” form is both applicable to God and to the human beings. It is incumbent to the believers to show a real love of the neighbors/fellow people / others / enemies and, in return, God largely provides His blessings. This is exactly the same move as for Yom Kippur. On the Day of “At-one-ment”, the Jews are called to forgive each other and then be pardoned by God as a consequence of their mutual love and choice of blessing and not curse. It may look a bit dreamy… In Israel, as in many countries, some secular organizations would seemingly show more charity and assistance than the religious groups.

For the Jewish tradition, “’ani\עני – poor / ‘aniyut\עניות - poverty” must be combated and is considered as a shame as regards social stand that leads to diseases, filth, immorality, sloth and depravation. But it is should be noted that the shemittah / year of remission of the debts and rest of the earth allows another consideration of “poverty”. Human beings must give a “leave, holiday time, refreshing year” to the earth that nourish. Of course, the Jews can reverse the mitzvah by hiring non-Jews, but the mitzvah is great and nice toward the soils that also need some vacation.

The observance of the shemittah shows that the faithful totally entrusts his life in God and respect the living, anticipating a year for the remission of debts and permanent agricultural production. Credit cards, money provisions (loans, overdrafts), virtual aspects of financial transfers alarmingly affects numerous families or individuals in the country.

Thus, Judaism values the spiritual wealth of the poor who expect everything from God alone and confide in the Providence / Hashgachah. This implies a good knowledge of who we are and a lot of self-control that is challenge by a system of consumption that increases in Israeli society since 1967. “Israel asked the Lord: who are Your people? He said: the poor (ani’im)” (Ex. Rabba 31, Avot 1,5). In the Gospel, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20), Jesus praises the “aniyut deruchot\עניות דרוחות = poverty of spirit”.

Saint Francis of Assisi is called “Poverello – Little poor man” in Italian. 800 years ago, he launched a thanksgiving movement of freedom and pure love for the poor, praising God in His creation. The Baal Shem Tov and the Chassidic groups appeared in a similar context. Poverty does not mean “poor thing!” On the contrary, it shows that every single soul is worthy and that everything is possible.

Av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

Shabbat Reeh 5771/שבת ראה תשע''א

"Reeh: meaningful visions and choices"

"Reeh: meaningful visions and choices"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Atonement and Divine Presence

1. On times and delays

One more year! I always wear two watches. That was the first article I could publish in my Jerusalem Post blog some years ago. Two watches because on the left hand, the “Jewish Watch” shows the Hebrew calendar date, the time for the Jewish prayers, blessings and reading portions (parashyot/פרשיות ) AND ALSO the Gregorian date + the time in Jerusalem. On the right wrist, the watch shows the Julian calendar date plus the time as it is in Jordan, Palestine, especially in Summer, because the Patriarchate of Jerusalem never switch to to Summer time. People usually do not pay attention to the fact that the Jewish Orthodox time does not change and correspond to that measure of our Patriarchate. Let’s say we are united beyond any sort of “conscious awareness”.

This year, the program of the Semaine Liturgique of the Orthodox Theological Institute of Saint Sergius at Paris was dedicated to “Fast, fasting”. I lectured about the connection that exists between fast and Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement and that also includes Tisha Be’Av, the Ninth day of Month Av on which the Community of Israel commemorates the destruction of the Temple and other mishaps in the Jewish history.

This started with the spies who lied to Moses when they returned from their exploration in the Promised Land. They were afraid to leave the comfortable and “secured” place in the wilderness. Just as the generation of the Exodus had been frightened after some time by the rude life in the desert. They regretted the Land of Egypt and Goshen.

We are quite ready to long after spiritual matters. The Jewish people has a long experience of spiritual turbulence. The Jews also understand that the consequence of their sins maybe the destruction or getting away of some visible or “somehow palpable” Presence of God.

To begin with, Judaism is “faith and belief in joys and rejoicing events and seeds of life”. Jews can mourn. Too often they may consider themselves as a “mourning” or saddened community, constantly facing adversity, feud, enmity. This is indeed the negative element of some specific Jewish educational system. True, this is quite obvious in Israel: the country shelters many individuals and groups that would be subject to persecution, pogroms or hostility in other parts of the world. Albert Einstein doubted about the real abilities of the Jewish people to cope together with their own “tribes and fellow Jewish ilk”. He stated that in 1938, speaking of what is usually translated in German as “Geduld und Weisheit” (cf. in fact he spoke of “Tolerance and Wisdom”). But he had added that, in exceptional cases of emergency, Israel could be created as a Jewish state in order to provide the Jews with a secure shelter.

Over centuries, the Jews have served many Nations in almost all countries. Jews are to be found in almost all parts of the world and among the most remote human groups. Many Jews continue and will always serve the Nations and live among them. The return to Jerusalem and Eretz Israel corresponds to a real call. It has often been an economic “consequence”, if not the result of harsh persecution and pogroms. The in-gathering of the Jewish people in Israel is inscribed and clearly depicted in the Books of the Prophets.

I had been visiting and lived in Israel before I arrived as a priest in charge of Israeli believers. But when I arrived to serve among the inhabitants of the Jewish State (in Hebrew but also in Yiddish and other Jewish tongues... this is a must and not some odd folklore), I started by a socio-sociological study that I could convey for one of the leading European and International company. They asked me to make a sort of “overall photograph - map” of the spiritual development of the Israeli society as a whole. It has been a fascinating task and it allowed me to get into the many side segments of the society. They asked for this “spiritual survey” because the “return of the exiled” and the development of Israeli economic power does not rely upon migration man power, new abilities or skills and competences. There is a deep, very rooted spiritual, Biblical and TALMUDIC background to the whole of Israeli society and their economic growth.

The Talmudic part is more than essential in the way we can approach Israeli culture and education. Israel is a shelter. it cannot be only a shelter. This would sound too “nudnik-like”. People dare not arrive in Israel because they need baskets of money, financing, economic assistance. Joseph Trumpeldor came as numerous olim/newcomers, among them Eliezer Ben Yehudah, with a hope beyond any other hope. This hope does not concern death, hostility, estrangement in foreign countries, alienation, secularization or even conversion. At this point, late Rav Kook did welcome all the Jews, religious or “secular, atheist, apikoros - אפיקורוס/doubtful Epicurean, blazé style”. There is no model of being “Jewish”. Maybe there is a type of how to get into contact and fully adapt, cope the Jews and participate in the new Israeli society; but again, “hope and joys/rejoicing beyond hope and sorrow”.

There deals with much more than political views over Zionism in the “in-gathering of the exiled”. The spiritual challenge is composed of multi-faceted aspects. One of them is “faith”, the implementation of Jewish faith as such, as a coherent challenge to get to redemption, salvation and to the “World-To-Come”. This constitutes one of the reasons I could clearly describe during the survey I conveyed before commencing my work in Israel. I could “scan” the influence of many Protestant, in particular Scandinavian and American (Messianic) groups that wanted to back the Jews to return to the Holy Land in order to hasten th second and final coming of the Messiah Jesus. It is very striking.

The Scandinavian Protestants got “deceived” because the Jews did not behave according to their plans. They thought that the in-gathering of the Jews would allow their conversion to Christianity or, at least, serve the “end-of-time” prophetic expectations of the Christian communities. This did not happen. The same happens today: numerous “Messianic” or Evangelical groups swarm to Israel and back the State for political and tactical reasons. These do not include any of the fundamental patterns of regular and living Judaism. When the Churches try to enter the “ocean-like world” of the Oral Tradition, they do not read it as a part of Christendom. They would read it either in English, German, Russian, but it requires years of daily training only to get to the core of Judaism. It takes “lives’ time” to get to some connection between Judaism and Christianity without abolishing anything of the Talmudic heritage.

This is why American Evangelicals are often astounded by the attitude of Israelis. To begin with, they seem to be welcome in the country. But they cannot pretend to any privilege on long-term and this is the itching point. The “Christian Embassy” pays tons of dollars or whatever currencies to allow the Jews to make their aliyah/return to the homeland. In between, as I often have to face it, they not only distribute furniture or pay for new “teeth” or whatsoever.... they do! They also suggest that the concerned individuals or their families could convert and be baptized. This is strongly forbidden by the law of the State of Israel. Indeed any soul may convert to any sort of spiritual belief, creed and faith. But the law provides that this only can be total free, without any financial advantage and that the people who convert to any other religion should do it with much awareness and ttoal freedom of reflection and choice.

The deported German Rabbi Leo Baeck stated that “rarely in history a Jew converted in full knowledge and awareness of what he was doing; usually he did it in order to get some advantage... rarely the Jews converted to get more faith and less advantage...”.

I had the privilege to serve as a priest with late Father Elia Shmain, a wonderful Jewish-born priest. He came to Israel with the new wave that arrived after the fall of communism in Soviet Union. He had spent many years in the Gulag for faith. When he came to Israel with his family, he served in the Israeli army. It was quite funny, because while serving as a priest at the Russian cemetery at Sainte Geneviève des Bois where I replaced him but also co-worked with him before he returned to Russia, we used to pray for the “Adelphotitoi/Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher” of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. The list was a bit obsolete but we read from the official booklet. Then he used to show the books that he had received from the Israeli Army, in particular the newest pocket edition of the Talmud for the soldiers...!

When we met, we had of course a nice and open discussion about why we were Christian faithful... and priests. We had a lot in common, especially a real experience of suffering, prison, lack of freedom. We both had to bring up and take care of handicapped children. We knew the price of such handicaps added to the “disadvantage” to be Jews and priests among the Gentiles. He was right: Jews in the Soviet Union could desire to become “priests” or dedicate their life to God in the Christian Church(es) because at that time it was far too dangerous if not impossible to become a rabbi or to lead a Jewish community. Then, he told me that the “Kiddush/קידוש “ (Blessing over the cup and bread) was precious for him, but he felt much more in the Eucharist.

“Presence” is not comparable to anything. In my teaching and lectures, I always point out what Kiddush means to the Jews: the blessing is pronounced in order to thank God for His creation and the fruit He gave or allowed the humans to “shape” and share. The blessing allows to take something that firstly belongs to God and to hand it over to human use.

2. Kiddush and Eucharist

We may discuss at length about the origin of the Eucharist. Is it a Kiddush or really the anticipated Paschal Meal according to some Essene or other side groups? The Gospel do not allow to fix the issue, event if it is clear that Jesus died as the Feast of Pessah was to start in Jerusalem.

As for many actions in the Gospel, we have to refer to true faith. For instance, Jesus died on a Shabbat eve: for the Jews, the Shabbat prevails because it fully includes the total Presence of God Himself. Pious Jews would be able to “feel” the difference with the other days.

In comparison, the Curé d’Ars, Saint Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney used to say that a priest “would die on the spot if he could see the Presence in the Eucharist”. In that sense, the very reality of the Eucharist is to be found and understood in this immense mystery of Divine Presence in the world, though not clearly “visible”, just as the Shabbat. The Divine Presence in the Eucharist has nothing to do with what we - as humans - understand, feel, accept or reject. This it cannot be reduced to a pagan act. Just as some Jews would never accept the Divine Presence on the Shabbat but enjoy a day off, the Eucharist has nothing to do with what has always been prohibited and confirmed as being forbidden, i.e. meals offered to idols (Acts of the Apostles 15; and the “Noahide Laws” reinvigorated in the present State of Israel and Modern Judaism).

3. The specific role of Yom Kippur and Tisha Be’Av

The theme of the annual Semaines Liturgiques de Saint Serge was to display the roots and backgrounds of “fasting” in the Eastern Orthodox Church and of course the other denominations. I was asked to describe some link to Yom Kippur. But I would underscore something else that I could not develop during the Semaine Liturgique except in a sort of apart discussion with the lecturers. It would be a whole theme by itself on which I have been reflecting for many years.

Yom HaKippurim/יום הכיפורים is undoubtedly the major Jewish Feast. It is a day of atonement, of pardon. On that day, each Jew should pray to be released by God from all his sins reckoned in different categories of 37 supplications. The feast is rooted in the Sumerian tradition and Ugarit “Kipuru”, a sort of “ransom” that wipes out, eradicates and suppresses all sins, transgressions that a human being may commit in so various ways, considering that it goes far beyond any conscience, consciousness, awareness or soft, light, deep, profound absence or desire to get aware of the sins that were committed. .

This is why introspection joined to our capacity to analyze misdeeds make us real “human and humane beings”. In the course of history, pardon and forgiveness have been a vivid sign that Jews were always driven, not “compelled, to forgive their feuds. On the other hand, there is a real difference with the position of the Gentiles. Judaism is basically “positive” and “oriented to life, life-giving, birthing”. It is strange to note that the only language in which we can track back the heart of the Kippur or Day of Atonement is the Prayer of the Lord in Greek only; whereas only in this tongue is kept the move that we as humans firstly ought to pardon our fellowmen and other humans. Consequently, God can pardon us. This is at the core of the the Eucharistic move because it is at the original point of Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the “soul”, the day of some full tending to real consciousness of our sins. Many rabbis insist at the present that we seemingly come back to some idol conduct that led to the destruction of the First Temple. Who would ever have thought that Jews would be drifted by passions like rape, incest, nonsense of murder, women and teen abuse. We read about that everyday in the Israeli press. It is beyond any kind of shame. Deposed President Katsav is very pious. In comparison, let’s put it in a parallel way, we hear about the unbelievable attitude of numerous Christian clergy people in different parts of the world. Rav Druckmann, Head of the Gush Etzion community is really a man of God and often utters the right words we need in the country and the faithful Jews should accept because they are based on the Tradition, the Oral and Written Laws and wisdom.

We need the same discourse from the Christian clergy in the Holy Land in general. Before pretending to some “free love - אהבת חינם “, it is true that our society is or looks “cold”, just the way Jesus declares in the Gospel questioning whether upon his coming the Son of Man will find faith on earth. We are going through times of great turbulence and spiritually shaking interrogations.

4. Temple and Mikdash

On the other hand, in Jerusalem, there is a second “Temple”, the Church of the resurrection or Anastasis, usualy called “Holy Sepulcher” in the Western tradition. In the Anastasis, we celebrate the whole of the time of redemption according to the Christian faith: the mocking, crucifixion, sleeping into the death and resurrection of Jesus whom we call Christ or Messiah. The Tomb is empty. The destruction of Jesus on the Cross corresponds to his words that he would be “rebuilt in three days” as compared to what happened to the Mikdash - מקדש/Temple of Jerusalem.

The Christians cannot prove that Jesus resurrected from the dead. It is given as a free gift in the Holy Spirit and to whom the Heavenly Father wants to reveal such an eschatologic reality. .

In Jerusalem, we have two major places of redemption: The Temple located on the Temple Mount and the Anastasis. Both places, inhabited by the Divine Presence, face the mystery of “life and hope beyond hope”. With regards to the Temple of Jerusalem, the Jews have been praying over two thousand years with the certitude to see the Temple raise from ashes. It means that both Judaism and Christianity look ahead to Divine coming and full revelation. There is a sort of “equality” that neither the Jews nor the Christians would agree upon; “in the scope of “redemption”, fulfillment of plenitude, “pleroma” seems to belong to one or another group by a system of intellectual and rational/irrational exclusion.

Redemption came to maturity with God’s naming at mount Sinai: “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh/אהיה אשר אהיה that seemingly should be translated as “I am Who I am” (Exodus 3:14). These are the words or the Name that God gave to Moses. True, the Name introduces to a move, movement toward something and Someone Who is moving ahead and grow into a specific realm.

For the rabbinic tradition, the verse and Name of God should not be translated as a “stiff” phrase. Hebrew is thus in un-achieved tense. It opens to the future. The Name of God calls to a certain move, not to stay put. Indeed, the verse should be translated as follows: “I am going to be Who I shall/will be going to be (on a perpetual basis)”. In some specific way we should say that God, the Divine Presence is “coming out, showing up and out into the world, this and the other worlds”, constantly, permanently. The move never stops. Jesus goes forth on the same line and path. His way is to be on a move that includes constant changing in one’s life. It is quite significant that the Greek deacon utters “Dynamis” before the reading of the Scripture because it calls to this move that develops in the celebration of the Eucharist.

Let’s have a look at the Gospel: Saint Mark’s account (8:27-35), includes the faith expressed by Saint Peter at Caesarea, six days before the occurrence of the Transfiguration. This definitely corresponds to the Feast of the Tents (Mark 9:2 ss.; cf. Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9: 28-36).

In the text, Jesus firstly asks: “For the people, who am I?”; we should consider that the question focuses on God and Divine recognition. The question corresponds to interrogating the Presence or existence of more than “human, humane”. The question is comparable to the expression “Mi El kamocha = מי אל כמוכה - Who is a God like You”.

Based upon the tradition of Saint Matthew, Jesus questions his disciples six (6) days before the feast of the Tents (Booths, Tabernacles, Huts), which means that he interrogates Peter (Shimon Kaipha) about himself AND God no the very Day of Atonement, i.e. six days before the eschatological feast of Sukkot/Tents. The feast refers to this constant move toward the full revelation of God and His redeeming action.

It should be noted that Jesus does not question the disciple in Jerusalem, or inside of the Temple of Jerusalem. Nor does he ask Peter on mount Garizim where he had spoken with the Samaritan woman. The confession of Peter will be uttered on the day of Atonement or Yom HaKippurim (יום הכפורים ) that mark a turning back to God, to our fellow human people in order to open up a new year of life and blessings.

The scene takes place at Banyas (Panias, Banias, the place of pagan god Pan who had goat feet and had been victorious over the powers of evil, a bit like the slaughtering of the Baalim by Prophet Elijah on the coast). We know the town as Caesarea Philippi, but Jesus had stopped outside of the pagan location. It is possible to say that there is one of the most ancient pagan site, a source that flows down through Jordan River from the borders of the Golan.

Pan is the only Greek and pagan god to be submitted to death; he supposedly died. There is some confusion between Pan and Tamuz and he is a typical example of pagan eros.

Jesus, on that specific day of Atonement, is not submitting himself to some odd poll. He is interrogated about his identity. Thus, Peter’s response is unique and a part of the Kippur questioning for life: Shimon Peter says: “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God”. It means that God cannot die. God is not a puppet or a statue or a Pan-like idol. Jesus is the “Son of Man = his complex affiliation is related to messianic views, salvation, i.e. redemption of the whole universe”.

The meaning of the text is very clear in the Gospel after Matthew 16:16:

“Jesus declared: but who do you say I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said to him: “You are Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus answered and said to him: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Yonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter (Kaypha) and on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

“Kaypha/כיפא” means “stone, rock” in Aramaic. In an environment of death and judgement (Banias), paganism and death are called to be destroyed. Peter make the confession of God to Jesus in Banias and still Jesus tracks back to history and tradition. How come that there was a first “Shimon Bar Yonah” in the Book of Baruch Ben Sirach 50:1 : “It was Shimon Bar Onias (Yonah) the High Priest, who, during his life, repaired the House (Temple, after the return from Babylon) and during his days strengthened the Sanctuary” (Siracide 50:1).

This is what had happened when the Jewish people came back from deportation in Babel. Siracide 50:16-20 continues and describes the scene: while the levites were singing, the people were gathered to pray and supplicate to God. Then (Shimon bar Yonah) waved up his hands over the whole assembly of the children of Israel in order to give them the blessing and have the honor to pronounce His Name.” (cf. Talmud Yoma 3,8). This is the order of pronouncing the Holy Name of God, the Shem HaMeforash/שם המפורש that only could be uttered once a year on the day of Atonement. In the afternoon of the Yom Kippur, the cantor/hazan reads the account of this rite. It climaxes with the Name and the forgiving action of the life-giving God.

The building pf the Church relies on a man, a mortal one, Kaypha. It would be useless to discuss here the notion of “Church creation and/or launching”. In Hebrew tradition, disciples follow a spiritual guide; the creation of a separate new Body would be in contradiction with the profound hope and longing of the Jewish call to unite all the Universe, i.e. to assemble Jews and Non-Jews (Gentes, Gentiles) into ONE SINGLE UNIQUE BODY.

We deal here with Eucharist and this is why we would not any longer about the Church. But Israel remains and always has remained the only Divine Assembly and One Jerusalem Church that spread over the continents.

Moreover, we see the connection and definitely not a disrupture between the naming of Simon Bar Yonah confessing the Messiah in Jesus and the parallel situation in the Scripture when the Temple services started again after the return from Babylon.

Jesus said to Peter that he would be given the keys to tie or to loose, to bind or to release. This refers to the Day Of Atonement as a joyous day of forgiveness and proclamation of God’s reign over the whole of the creation. This implies that there cannot be any split, breach, but constant moves and search for unity.

But there is another Kaypha at the time of Jesus’ trial: the High Priest who also made the statement in the form of a question; the question is someway quite similar to the confession of Peter. Jesus had asked his disciples about “who the people say about him”. High Priest Kaypha asked Jesus: “Do you answer nothing? What is it that these men testify against you? (that he could destroy and rise the Temple in three days)”. Jesus kept silent. And Kaypha added: “I adjure you by the living God that you tell us of Christ the Son of the living God”. The High Priest “adjures” and reverses the confession made by the disciple, Peter.

Note that Peter is also “Kaypha”. it should be his “usual first name” along with “Shimon”. Curiously, both Kaypha-Peter-Shimon Bar Yonas the disciple of Jesus and Kaypha the High Priest of the Jewish Community are at the same level, same stand and equal. Both will reject Jesus as Messiah/Christ. Peter’s institution as the first of the Apostles is to be found in the Gospel of Saint John 21:15-19. The chapter had been added quite lately to assure Peter’s first “rank”. On the hand, it is important to take good note of the value of names and Peter is fundamentally tracking back to the “rock”.

Jesus’ silence to High Priest Kaypha’s questioning or the disciple Peter who confesses God in the Messiah testify for his full “control” of history and redemption in the Name of his heavenly Father. Redemption develops in accordance with a special pattern and schedule: Judas’ corruption, but also Peter’s rejection and denial of his guide and Messiah.

The day of Atonement does not only relate to “sins and pardon, trespasses and Divine forgiving”. What pardon? Why should we reconcile and why God should grant His pardon to peoples who are so slow and reluctant to really wiping out of any enmity. Let’s be honest and consider the way we sketch out our faith in God: by mere exclusion and suspicion. God never proposes redemption at such a low level. Disciple Peter, Kaypha the “rock”, so similar to the high priest Shimon Bar Yonas (Siracide 50) at the outcry of the cock/rooster who crowed three times! It is the first morning blessing recited by the Jews; it was by the time of Jesus and it is still the first prayer because the cock is “automatically conscious” of “day-time”, while human beings prefer to judge and not to agree or follow God’s proposals.It is amazing that the blessing “Blessed are You, Lord, Lord of the Universe / Who gives understanding to the cock to distinguish between day and night - ב’ א’ ה’ א’ מ’ ה’ הנותן לשכוי בינה להבחין בין יום ובין לילה .

Forgiveness makes sense if the entire universe is granted salvation and redemption. When the rooster crows, the animal systematically switches and clicks to day-time. There are no automatics with faith in God. Divine Presence is of that nature: just as the French Curé d’Ars (saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney) told that no priest or faithful could survive if they would get to totally visualize God’s resurrected Messiah in the Eucharist. Faith leads to full confidence and inner feelings toward Divine Presence.

Each time the Eucharist is celebrated, the Church proclaims pardon and resurrection, forgiveness and Divine Presence over the whole of the universe. This is why Yom Kippur is essential for the Christians. The Day refers to the propitiatory character of Jesus’ sacrifice, cf. God’s righteousness through faith in the Epistle to the Romans (3:21-25).

5. Prohibited or “on hold”

Subsequently, fasting and sexual abstinence are not “pagan” or non-dogmatic ecclesiastic rules! I would suggest that things should be reconsidered in accordance with the Jewish Kippur tradition.

Contrary to what has often been declared over centuries about Latin celibacy or more exactly sexual abstinence, sexual intercourse is involved in the Eucharist. The Roman Empire Catholic and Orthodox traditions rule that the ordained priests must abstain from sexual intercourse before celebrating the Sacrament of Eucharist.

This does not only concern the priests (bishops and deacons, protodeacons,;;;) but all the clergy and the faithful lay people. The rule can be strictly respected in many Orthodox congregations. The Eastern Catholic or Orthodox priest can be married. On the other hand, he will abstain from sexual intercourse with his wife before celebrating the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist). This is a universal rule of the Church.

Nonetheless, there is some difference: the Eastern Catholic or Orthodox priest is not obliged to daily celebration of the Divine Liturgy or Eucharist. Sexual abstinence is not required for daily Morning and Evening prayers.

The Roman Latin rite priest is usually ordained in view to celebrate the Eucharist on a daily basis. It makes a great difference in the way the Sacrament of the Lord’s Presence is shared in the Western Church, not in opposition but in a contrasted way to the Eastern tradition.

The Eastern Orthodox believers ought to stop their sexual activities, not only the lay people but all the members of the clergy before going to participate in the Divine Liturgy. There is no difference of rank as it concerns all the members of the Church. It is not restricted to sexual activity but it also includes fast and all the regulations for fasting periods. It is a typical heritage that lines with the principles governing the Day of Atonement.
Some rules of the Church often seem “obsolete”. Judaism does not encourage any abstaining from sexual activities. On the other hand, the Jewish tradition considers that sexual intercourse is healthy, vital, The first biblical commandment and “mitzvah” is that “you shall grow, multiply and fulfill/conquer the earth” (Genesis 1:23.28). The commandment extends to “union = unity” in a special order: not the woman shall leave her house, but it is said to man “you shall leave your father and mother and clutch to your woman and you shall be “one flesh”” (Genesis 2:24).

Man will “enter his wife”. Sexual realities are also shown in how the Divine Liturgy bring forth the Divine Presence to the faithful. Married (or non-married) priests have to leave their wives to enter the very heart of the Church, i.e. the “altar”.

Most Christian denominations have maintained the Jewish prayer of the psalm “Introibo ad altarem Dei = I enter to the altar of God”, i.e. “Ego autem in multudine misericordiæ tuæ introibo in domum tuam, adorabo ad templum sanctum tuum in timore tuo/ואני ברב חסדך אבא ביתך. אשתחוה אל היכל קדשך ביראתך” that corresponds to the introductory morning prayer that immedialtely follows Bilaam’s confession “How good are your tents, Yaakov, your mansions, Israel/מה טבו אהלך יעקב משכנתיך ישראל”.

It could be possible to add further reflection to the way the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. I would focus on the Kippur heritage and continuous reality for the Christian life. I often give this example at the Holy Sepulcher, in particular in the Katholikon that is the nave of the Rum-Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodox Churches could and at times continue to ask women whether they are in their monthly periods. The question deals with far too much intimacy. But it is a real question also in Judaism.

Either the question is rude and negative toward women. It makes no sense here. On the contrary, I try to underscore how positive the Scripture and redemption consider women. This could lead to strong denials by entire societies. Let’s keep to the Sacrament, fasting, abstaining from sexual intercourse as meaningful with regards to the Jewish roots and current tradition.

In the Eastern Churches, following different decisions taken from the 11-12th centuries, the structure of a church is inspired by the Bible, not the Jewish tradition directly. But still, Oriental Churches usually celebrate in a space that corresponds to the Temple of Jerusalem, with royal gates, the curtain (Kapporet/כפורת ), the altar. Thus, the separation is meaningful. The clergy enter in order to proceed to the Sacrifice. When the Oriental priest goes out with the Cup that includes both the most holy Gifts of the “Body and Blood of the Risen Lord”, he brings forth the Cup that is compared to the “womb of the Mother of Jesus”.

With regards to the symbolic elements of the life-giving celebration of the Eucharist or Divine Liturgy, this implies that the Gifts as given as the seeds, the fruit of the Woman. Each woman is thus “sanctified” by being in herself a “living calendar” and menstrual periods. There are specific “life-lines” that are specific to womanhood.

The Oriental priest follows at each Divine Liturgy, just the same way all the faithful, male or female do, the order of the rules governing the celebration of the Day of Atonement, “in ransom for the multitude”. The clergy enter the “altar space of the Eastern Orthodox tradition” because it is evident that only a man can enter a woman and not a woman enter another woman. It may sound a bit raw! But Jesus as the whole of the Commandments do take into account our raw human being existence.

The Kippur tradition allows to go much deeper into the “traditional precepts or rules” governing sex and fast realities.

The Eucharist introduces all human beings of whatever faith or religion into another spiritual scope. The Divine Liturgy is in no way the possession of any clerical, ecclesiastical or religious group or community, Church. It belongs to God as thus to all living souls.

We may not cope with the rules. We may not understand and turn living commandments or customs into stiff social decrees. It has often been the case throughout history. The Sacrament covers time, space, all human parameters and rules.

Religious rules do not rely upon “prohibition” or canceling of freedom to give life in all possible ways. Faith induces that life is always stronger, bigger, richer than any regulation.

It should be noted that the high priests who served in the Temple quit their families for a time and returned to them, just as some of the Oriental clergy.

All Eastern Orthodox faithful are normally submitted to sexual abstinence and fasting in view to communicate during the Divine Liturgy. This does not interfere with monasticism that corresponds to another way to consider personal dedication to God for the spiritual benefit of the whole Church.

At this point, the Church only re-discovers the richness and significance of Yom HaKippurim, the day of atonement for the redemption of all living beings.

It is rather significant to review this aspect of abstinence/fasting and Communication to the Holy Gifts on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The Church considers the historic background of the festive context.

The scene relates to the Feast of the Tents/Booths (Sukkot/סוכות ). We do not know with exactitude where it took place. According to the Gospel, it happened on a high mountain and the tradition considers Mount Thabor as the place although the first Father to connect the scene to Thavor is Origen... in the third century. Many ^theologians suggested it could be Mount Hermon or even Jerusalem.

Indeed, the scene of Transfiguration is special: it concerns a flash, a radiating light or vision of Jesus in full “whiter than white”. Just before this vision, he met, as accounted in the Synoptic Gospel, with Moses and the Prophet Elijah, i.e. the two major actors in the history of redemption.

This account is thus directly connected to the celebration of the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur introduces to the time of a pilgrimage that looks ahead of the achievement of history and final revelation of God. But this relates to the history of the whole of the universe. This is why Transfiguration is so impressive and has a great impact on our way to believe in God.

Our understanding of God’s Presence should be linked to this “flashing vision”. The two Kaypha’s betrayed Jesus and denied him. By the time of Transfiguration, the disciples sleep while a flash allowed our Earth to get a touch of God’s fulfillment. The same is given to all in the Eucharist, during the Divine Liturgy.

This article consists in the development of the reflection I have been conducting on the "Sacraments and their connection with the Jewish and Rabbinc Talmudic Traditions; in particular in view with Yom HaKippurim (the Day of Atonement). Thus, the reader who reads French can get more of the initial reflection given in the annual teaching I had at the Faculté Notre-Dame (Paris) and included in the book "Les Portes Royales, Le Sacrement de l'Ordre et le Judaïsme" (Ed. Nouvelle Cité, 1989). The connection between the confession of Peter, the High Priest Kaypha and the name of the disciple and Yom Kippur was firstly published by the Fathers van Cangh and van Esbroeck (cf. "La primauté de Pierre in "Revue théologique de Louvain, Louvain La Neuve 1980, Fascicule 3).

I will continue this reflection till my last day as a part of the great mystery of redemption that concerns each and all human souls.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

August 19/6, 2011/7519 - ביום י’’ט דאב תשע’’א