THE GOOD SHABBOS COMMUNITY

ENJOYING YOUR JEWISH HERITAGE THROUGH FOOD, FACTS AND FUN - SHABBAT SHALOM

 

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Parashat Vayera – Sodom and Gomorrah 

 

God said, “The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah weighs very heavily. I will go down and see if I need to destroy it.” 


Now, Abraham stood before God asking, “Will you ruin the righteous along with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous people in the city. To kill the righteous along with the wicked would be a profanation to You, God. Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” 

 

And God said, “I shall not destroy the whole city if there are fifty, or forty, or thirty, or twenty or even ten righteous people.” 

  

God sent two angels to Sodom to destroy the city and told Lot to get his family and leave Sodom. God told Lot and his wife not to look back after they escaped but Lot’s wife did and was turned into a pillar of salt. 


Now, God remembered Sarah, and she conceived and bore Abraham a son, Isaac.  

  

But Sarah saw Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the Egyptian woman, making mockery. Sarah said to her husband, “Cast out this handmaid and her son, for the son shall not share the inheritance with our son, Isaac.” 

 

God said to Abraham, “Hearken to Sarah’s wishes, for in Isaac shall be your seed. And also for the son of the handmaid, I will make a nation, for he is your seed.” 

  

And it came to pass that God tested Abraham. God said, “Take your only son whom you love, Isaac, and get yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him on one of the mountains.” 

  

So Abraham did as he was told. He built the altar and bound Isaac, his son, and placed him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. And an angel of God called to him from heaven and said, “Do not stretch your hand toward the lad, nor do the slightest thing to him, for now I know that you are God-fearing and did not withhold from Me.” 


There was a ram caught in the hedge. Abraham took the ram and offered it up in place of his son.  

Commentary on the fourth parsha (portion of the Torah) 

 

The Torah consists of the five books of Moses, the first part of the Old Testament.

 

To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism and how we got where we are. He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.

 

SAS: I see we’re back with the theme of punishment again, Methuselah, in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

MS: Our earliest ancestors didn’t always learn their lessons. In that way, they were the architects of their own misfortune.

SAS: In Hebrew, Sodom means “burnt” and Gomorrah “a ruined heap”, so I assume these were not the real names of the destroyed cities. They’re obviously descriptions of what the cities looked like when they’d been destroyed. So did Sodom and Gomorrah really exist? Those names certainly make me wonder whether this story isn’t just a fabrication to reinforce the point that serious sins are rapidly punished. 

MS:  The material I’m working with says these were real cities. Nobody is quite sure where the cities were located, but in our traditional story it is clear that God destroyed these cities by fire.

SAS:  In other words, the cities perished in a natural disaster or as the result of a man-made calamity. Whenever this happens to a city, you and the elders assume the people have been punished for their sins, and you write your stories to reflect this message. 

MS: That’s not fair. I’m growing tired of your cynicism, Sigmund. 

SAS: Let me tell you something positive. Your story is admirable because of the strong sense of justice evident in it.  Abraham acts like a legal advocate here, persuading God to spare everyone if there are a few righteous people in the city. I’m not particularly interested in the religious part of this, but the legal issues. The underlying point has actually become a basic truth in our culture - we should not kill innocent people in the course of punishing guilty ones. There is no justification for killing one innocent person. 

MS: Yes, that’s all true, but you should also notice something else. Abraham is able to enter into a meaningful dialogue with God. He talks to God and gets a reasonable response. This is the beginning of the idea of a personal relationship with God. 

SAS: In your mind, perhaps! No, my friend, what impresses me is that here we have the first-ever legal argument based on the concept of human rights. The innocent, it is clearly argued, don’t deserve to suffer. The moral necessity of punishing the wicked does not take precedence over the right of protection owed to innocent people. Your story is ahead of its time and impressive on this account.

MS: You might also have noticed that God tells Abraham that while Ishmael has a lesser standing than Isaac, he will not be disinherited. Here is further evidence of a sense of justice in my story. But this outpouring of praise from you is unusual, Sigmund. I sense another criticism coming. 

SAS: You’re right. The punishment to Lot’s wife is a very strange part of the story. Firstly, there are no such things as pillars of salt! Secondly, that kind of punishment is rather harsh for a nostalgic last look at home!

MS: Once again, you’re being too literal, Sigmund. This is the point: if you have been spared a punishment on certain conditions, take note of the conditions and observe them unless you want the whole arrangement to fall through.  

SAS: Oh, I see, so this is a message to all of us to get out while we can, taking what we can and not looking back. Yes, we Jews have needed that advice on more than a few occasions.

MS: You see! This is a good story!

SAS: Well, in its way. My friend, we haven’t come to my most serious objection yet. How on earth could Abraham be expected to sacrifice his son? No principle is worth more than a human life – not a God, a secular state, or a hallowed belief.

MS: Now wait! It was obviously just a test! The important thing is that Abraham’s faith was so strong that he was prepared to follow God’s instructions.

SAS: To prove what? That obedience to God, or faith, or some institution should override individual feelings and responsibilities?

MS: That’s an important part of the message. Shouldn’t it be?

SAS: No! I don’t think we should ever teach the sort of blind obedience that forces a man to do something completely against his nature and his own morality. If Abraham was smart enough to argue about the injustice of God destroying Sodom when righteous people were there, then he should have had the brains and the courage to say to God, “Your command runs counter to everything you’ve promised me, and is cruel and barbaric. Sorry – I’m not doing it!” In my mind, that simple statement of defiance would have made him much nobler than the man who raises his knife in blind obedience.

MS: Abraham did exactly as he was instructed because he knew nothing evil could possibly come of it. Whatever happened, God would make it right! That’s true faith!

SAS: There is no god. The voices in Abraham’s head were internal and reflected his own obsessions and terrors. Fortunately, he came to his senses and stopped.

MS: You make him sound deranged. You deny him the special dignity that a religious hero deserved for his unswerving faith.

SAS: In this particular story, Abraham was heroic only in one respect – he suddenly realised that faith and reason should never run counter to each other. Embrace faith at the expense of reason, and you have moral chaos.

MS: Well, I don’t disagree with that. Perhaps it’s the way I have told the story and made God seem like a cruel tester of faith, and Abraham like a blind fanatic. But in the end, there was a good outcome. The main point of the story is actually to emphasise that human sacrifice is not required in Judaism. Other religions sacrificed humans to appease the gods, but we rejected the concept.

SAS: Yes, now we are in complete agreement. It is undoubtedly true that Judaism’s rejection of the blood sacrifice put other religions to shame.

MS: And that’s why my story is so good. God was teaching Abraham that he wasn’t like other gods.

SAS: Let’s rather leave God out of it and simply say this – Judaism was ethically advanced, and led the world away from the shocking conviction that forces beyond this earth could be appeased through the offering of humans on the sacrificial altar.

History 

What we know about Jewish History is based in fact, and on historical records. 

 

If you’d like to know more about the real history of our extended Jewish family, read on. 

 

Jesus (circa 29 BCE – 4 CE) 

 

It is impossible to write a history of Jesus. Outside of the New Testament, there is precious little historical commentary about him. It seems likely that he existed, but – as Albert Schweitzer famously said – the historical Jesus remains a “stranger and an enigma”. 

 

The Christian gospels don’t help. They date from roughly 70 CE to 95 CE and were not written by eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life. They belong to the category of theology, not history. They are documents written with the aim of promoting Jesus as the messiah. This he wasn’t – and it’s unlikely he even saw himself in this way. 

 

Jesus was a Jew and his teachings were directed to Jews. His main theme was about the coming of “The Kingdom of Heaven”. This was a radical state of existence in which wrongs would be righted, hypocrisies revealed and pretensions exploded. The concept was presented in a Jewish context and the biblical Jesus told his disciples, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles.” Whatever his mission, it was a singularly Jewish one. 

 

Jesus had a following, his Christian biographers reported, and he entered Jerusalem for the Passover to some popular acclaim. This caused alarm amongst the Jewish priestly establishment, dedicated to preserving the fragile peace with Rome, and it caused alarm, and consternation, amongst the Romans too.

 

The gospel writers, those of Jesus’ followers who were beginning to write accounts of his life, omitted to mention this alarm for reasons of expediency. The Romans were either at war with the Jews, or had just sacked Jerusalem, when the first gospel was being composed. The writer, Mark, sitting in Rome, was worried about how the Romans would view Christianity, given its Jewish roots. He decided on a ploy that the other “biographers” of Jesus were to follow.

 

Anxious to make it clear that the early Christians had no argument with Rome, and had no connection with Rome’s Jewish enemy, he radically downplayed the Roman role in Christ’s crucifixion and presented the Jewish establishment of Jesus’ time in the worst possible light. Matthew, another gospel writer, went further, presenting the Jews – as a people – taking responsibility for the death of Christ at his trial. The Roman governor, ludicrously, was presented as unwilling to put Christ to death but was somehow pressured into doing it by the Jewish crowd.

 

Mel Gibson presents just this version of events in his film, “The Passion of the Christ”. It’s a version that flies in the face of common sense and reflects the gospel writers’ attempts to placate Roman suspicions about the new religion that had been born. We’re no enemies of Rome, and nor was our saviour, was the message. Yes, our religion had a Jewish origin but – really – it’s a completely different thing and even the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, admired Christ and washed his hands of his crucifixion. The Jews effectively committed murder by forcing the governor to crucify an innocent man. We Christians and Romans can get along just fine. 

 

This depiction itself didn’t create anti-Semitism, which has been around for a long time, but nothing before or since has had such a terrible impact on Jewish lives as the gospel doctrine that the Jews crucified Christ. The truth, as any historian worth his salt can deduce, is that Jesus’ death was desired by the Romans and was quickly secured by a harsh governor who would not have given Jesus a second thought. One more rebellious Galilean on a cross wouldn’t have disturbed the Roman governor, Pilate, at all.  The charge was sedition against the Roman state. The sentence was speedily carried out. 

 

Before the gospels (various accounts of Jesus’ life by his disciples) even appeared, a Jew called Saul of Tarsus, afterwards known as Paul, had a mystical experience in which he saw Jesus in a vision. He immediately converted to following Jesus. The idea that Jesus had risen from the dead had gained currency among Jesus’ early followers, and Paul – a latecomer to the movement – now had his own resurrection encounter to boast of. It helped him established some credibility among the early followers of Jesus, although the Jerusalem-based Christians – led, it seems, by Jesus’ own brother James – never trusted Paul and kept him on a tight rein.  

 

The Jerusalem branch of Jesus’ followers, which retained links to the Jewish synagogue, was largely wiped out in 70 CE, and it was Paul’s version of Christianity that survived. Jesus’ historical roots as an unorthodox rabbi were obliterated. In Paul’s theology, Jesus became a cosmic, otherworldly persona who had been instrumental in the creation of the world and who had died in sacrificial fashion for the sins of the world.   

 

Paul’s teaching that Jesus was the Son of God did not go down well with either Greeks or Jews – that God had a human son who died and then was raised from the dead was far-fetched to say the least. Jesus had indeed been reborn in this new theology, but not in his own image. Jesus the Semite never declared that he was the Son of God. This was a theological claim owing much to Saul of Tarsus. 

 

Judaism, with only one God, was being forced to compete with another religion with both God and the Son of God – not to mention a third Trinitarian person called the Holy Spirit. The rapidly growing number of converts who believed the story rejected Judaism either as an incomplete testament or as a heresy. Many saw Jews as infidels. The Jewish sect of Jesus of Nazareth was rapidly morphing into Gentile Christianity.  

 

The early Catholic Church formalised the gospel canon by the last quarter of the 2nd century CE. It picked its texts for its own political ends and ended up as the inheritor of the Roman Empire. By the end of the process Jesus the Jew, who was definitely not an anti-Semite, had become the focus of a religion, Christianity, which was anti-Semitic.  It was the beginning of nearly two millennia of Christian anti-Semitism which brought tragic results for the Jews.  However, it should not be forgotten that anti-Semitism already existed two hundred years previously in Alexandria, between Greeks and Jews.   

 

A possible irony is that Jesus might have been a Jewish nationalist with a hatred of Rome. While the “zealot theory” regarding Christ is not currently popular among scholars, there is some evidence to suggest a possible militant tendency amongst Jesus’ followers – and such a stance would make sense of the Roman crucifixion, a standard punishment for zealots.  

 

Whatever Jesus was, he awakened the ire of both the Jewish temple hierarchy and the Roman garrison. The two skirmishes in Jerusalem that preceded his arrest (at the Temple and in Gethsemane) raise questions about Jesus’ peaceful intentions, as does his embarrassing injunction in the gospel according to Luke that his disciples should purchase swords. 

 

One thing we know for sure – Jesus died on a Roman cross on political charges. During his lifetime he was not an important person but caused enough of a stir to be noticed and to be identified as a troublemaker. He was Jewish, he was human, and he had an agenda that involved concrete actions in the real, historical world. 

 

The scholarship of the last 50 years indicates that Jesus understood everything he did in terms of his being Jewish. He believed he was providing a missing dimension of Jewish faith.     

 

Christianity was a later invention. Jesus would probably not have approved of its teachings or its universal outreach. 

 

Here follow a discussion on this historical segment by the Father, Chaya and Ben. 

 

BEN: Dad, I noticed in tonight’s parsha that Jews rejected the practice of human sacrifice in primitive religion. Don’t Christians see Jesus’ death as a kind of sacrifice?

FATHER: What a perceptive question! Yes, Ben, they do! And that’s one of the many reasons why Jews find Christianity problematic. Christians believe that Jesus’ death on the cross represents a once-and-for-all payment for human sins. Jesus is thus seen as a sacrificial lamb slaughtered in place of those who fail to meet God’s standard of absolute perfection.

CHAYA: That’s a very primitive viewpoint!

FATHER: Absolutely! William Empson, a famous commentator, has pointed out that Christianity reintroduced the notion of a blood sacrifice for sin when other religions were at last removing this element of religion! Empson saw the crucifixion in terms of a strange and illogical transaction by which God bargains with himself to offer up his own son as a sacrifice for sin.

CHAYA: As if God were bound by some law which demanded a sacrifice of someone to right cosmic ills! How is it that God stopped Abraham from offering his own son, but wasn’t able to stop himself doing the same thing!

FATHER: Well, there was an ancient tradition that held that a price had to be paid for every transgression. Mere forgiveness wasn’t possible. A blood debt was owed.

BEN: Owed to whom?

FATHER: To God!

BEN: But then God could simply cancel the debt through his boundless mercy!

FATHER: Apparently not!

Celebration of Great Lives 

Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around them. 

Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968)  

A Battle for Ultimate Truth 

Doctorate in hand, Vienna-born Lise Meitner went to Berlin in 1907 to study with Max Planck. She began to work with a chemist, Otto Hahn, she doing the physics and he the chemistry of radioactive substances. Meitner worked with Hahn and also Fritz Strassmann in a new collaborative venture aimed at probing the possibilities of uranium. Forced by the Nazis to leave Germany on November 13, 1938, Meitner met secretly with Hahn in Copenhagen. Hahn and Strassmann had discovered barium. Around the same time Meitner and Frisch explained nuclear fission, publishing their work a few weeks after Hahn. The proof of fission required Meitner’s and Frisch’s physical insights as much as it did the chemical findings of Hahn and Strassmann. The Nobel committee never properly understood Meitner’s role and it gave the 1945 Nobel Prize to Otto Hahn. In 1966, Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann were awarded the U.S. Fermi Prize.  Lise Meitner gave the first theoretical explanation of the nuclear fission process.  

Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677) 

Baruch Spinoza was born in 1632 into the Sephardic community of Amsterdam and was excommunicated at the age of 23 in 1655.  He was a lens maker who worked at the same time as the important Dutch scientists of the era. Spinoza argued that the Bible should be examined in a scientific spirit and investigated like any other literary phenomenon. The approach had to be historical. Spinoza showed that the bible provided an imperfect historical record and that its writings reflected the preoccupations and limitations of their times.  He was treated as an atheist and his books banned everywhere.

 

With the advantage of hindsight, we have come to see him as “the first modern Jew” and specifically as a precursor for an array of rival movements, ranging from Reform Judaism to secular Yiddishism to Labor Zionism.  His teachings were part of 17th century rationalist philosophy that heralded scientific enquiry. His work complements that of other great Enlightenment figures such as Leibniz and Descartes.

Sayings 

Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and humour, insightful reflections on this life of ours. 

 

Here are tonight’s sayings: 

 

  • A man’s drive for profit should be prompted by the desire to give charity.
  • If you can’t do what you want, do what you can.
  • If cats wore gloves, they would catch no mice.
  • When one link snaps, the whole chain collapses.
  • Storms pass but their driftwood remains.

 

 

Song  

We will now sing a traditional song to conclude our Shabbat celebration. You have a copy of the words, so please join in as we sing.

 

The song is sung  

Farewell and an Invitation 

Thank you for joining together to share our Shabbat. May you go out into the new week with renewed strength, confidence and happiness. 

 

We now cordially invite you to join us for some coffee and cake.  

   

 


HOW TO SING THE SONGS
ADON OLAM WORDS
Adon Olam David Solid Gould & The Temple Rockers
ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS
ALLE BRUDER SONG
ALLE BRIDER SONG
AL KOL ELEH WORDS
AL KOL ELEH
BASHANA words
BASHANA SONG
BEI MIR BIST DU SHEYN
BEI MIR BIST DU SCHEYN SONG
BMBDS song
CHIRIBIM WORDS
CHIRIBIM Song
DAYENU WORDS
DAYENU SONG ENGLISH
DAYENU SONG
DONNA DONNA
DONNA DONNA SONG
HALLELUYA
HALELUJA KARAOKE
HATIKVA
HATIKVA SONG
HATIKVA SONG
DAYENU
HATIKVA WORDS
HATIKVA SONG 1
HAVA NAGILA WORDS
HAVA NAGILA SONG
HAVA NAGILA KARAOKE
HAVEINU SHALOM ALEICHEM
HEVENU SHALOM ALEICHEM WORDS
HEVENU SHALOM ALECHEM SONG
HINEH MA TOV WORDS
JERUSALEM THE GOLD WORDS
JERUSALEM THE GOLD KARAOKE IVRIT
JERUSALEM THE GOLD SONG
JERUSALEM THE GOLD JARAOKE
MAYIM MAYIM WORDS
MAYIM MAYIM DANCE
OIF'N PRIPITSCHOK song
OSE SHALOM
OSE SHALOM SONG
PAPI ROS'N
PAPIROS'N SONG
PARTISAN SONG 1
PARTISAN SONG
PARTISAN SONG MUSIC
RABBI ELIMELEKH
RABBI ELIMELEKH SONG
AS DER REBE SINGT
AS DER REBBE SINGT LEONARD COHEN
AS DER REBBE SINGT SONG
RAISINS WITH ALMONDS WORDS
SIMANTOV U MAZELTOV WORDS
SIMAN TOV MUSIC
MAZELTOV CLARINET
TUMBALALAIKA WORDS
TUMBALALAIKA MUSIC
TUMBALALAIKA MUSIC
TZENA TZENA
TZENA TZENA
TZENA TZENA 4
TZENA TZENA The Weavers
TZENA TZENA WORDS
ALLE BRIDER KLEZMATICS
ALLE BRIDER KLEZMATICS
HATIKVA STREISAND
HATIKVA STREISAND
BIM BAM SHABBAT SHALOM FOR KIDS
BIM BAM SHABBAT SHALOM FOR KIDS
YO EN ESTANDO - SEPHARDIC
ELIYAHU SEPHARDIC
SEPHARDIC SONG
SEPHARDIC SONG 3
Sholem Aleichem Susan Allen
Shalom Aleichem Susan Allen
OTHER VERSIONS OF SONGS
DUVID CROCKET WORDS
DUVID CROCKET MICKEY KATZ
MODERN PASSOVER SONGS
This will help you find yourself]