By Nancy Reuben
Greenfield. This will be changed soon
And God said, “Let there be
light of day and dark of night. Let the sky separate the waters. Let the dry land also be separate from the
water. Let the earth sprout plants and trees. Let there be light-bearers of the sky to shine upon the earth and
separate days and nights and seasons. Let the waters swarm with living things and birds fly in the sky. Let the
earth bring forth living creatures, animals and creeping things.
Then God made an Adam, a human
in an image worthy of God: male and female did God create. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and
multiply and rule all over living things.”
This, the heaven and the earth
and all their array were brought to the intended completion. And with the seventh day God ceased from creating
work. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.
From dust were humans formed by
God. Adam and Eve, helpmates on earth, were told by God not to eat
from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil for it would cause death.
Now the man and the woman were
naked without shame. But, after the serpent tempted them to open their eyes like God by eating from the Tree of
Good and Evil, they became ashamed of being naked. They sewed together fig leaves for
When God found out that the
first man and women disobeyed his teachings, God cursed them. The man is cursed to hard labour, the women to
difficult childbirth, and the serpent to slither on the ground. So that the man and woman wouldn’t eat from the
Tree of Life and then live forever, God sent then out of the Garden of Eden.
Adam knew his wife Eve. She
conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have born a man with the help of God.” Eve then bore Cain’s brother
Here follows a conversation between our roving
investigator, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, (Secular Humanist) and Methuselah Solomon (Ancient
SAS: Word has it that you’re the man behind this creation story.
MS: Sort of. I retell it on special occasions and the
other elders want me to tell it exactly the same way every time. So I’ve put together a definitive
SAS: I have some questions about the
MS: Fire away.
SAS: Why start with just one man and one woman?
MS: Look, the idea is to explain to people how something came into being. Now we obviously haven’t
a clue, so we start off with an all-powerful being who makes everything. Next, everyone starts to believe in
this being. And because they don’t understand his so-called power, they start to fear him and try to keep in
his good books.
SAS: So they give him a personality and believe he
thinks like they do?
MS: Yes, and we give him a gender, and put words in his mouth, and make him a bigger stronger
version of ourselves.
SAS: Anyway, OK, we start with these two ancestors. And they’re given a test which they immediately
fail! What’s the point of that?
MS: The point of the story is to show that we must
obey this all-powerful being unquestioningly, and if we don’t there will be terrible
SAS: But in the story, Adam and Eve were seeking knowledge. Our culture values the gaining of
knowledge. It doesn’t make sense that an elder like you would invent this kind of
MS: Well, you have to understand that people need
boundaries and a clear set of rules, so that we can maintain our culture. Learning is OK, like knowing the names of trees and animals, but other
kinds of knowledge, deciding for yourself what is good and evil, and especially feeling free to engage in any
kind of sexual behaviour just because you feel like it, that’s too dangerous. We want to keep our community
and our culture strong and law-abiding.
SAS: But nowadays, we consider that making these choices is up to us. They’re a sign of our knowledge
of the world and our own maturity.
MS: Well, not really. If you want to keep a community
strong and unified, defined by its difference, people should feel as though they are freely obeying a higher
authority. It’s the way children feel secure with their parents. God, is, after all, our father.
SAS: I see. What about this punishment of mankind for
all time? That’s not very fatherly. Is God a tyrant? And could he not have foreseen that Adam and Eve would
disobey him, given that he’s supposed to be all-knowing? What was the purpose of testing them, anyway,
especially if he knew what the outcome would be?
MS Look, we needed a story that encourages people to be obedient and warns them against breaking
the laws. This is a pretty effective one, don’t you think?
SAS: I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. If your
story has the effect of building a strong and secure community, I can see why it’s lasted so long. But I
don’t need to believe in an all-powerful creator, and worship him, to behave in a respectful way to my fellow
humans. So, back to your story: why did you make it so that man
was created first and it was the woman that tempted him into evil?
MS: The story reinforces our important social belief that man is the master, more rational and
law-abiding, and woman is weaker, less rational and requires his protection and guidance. It is also to warn men not to be tempted and led astray by sex.
SAS: Well, we are unlikely to swallow that one today.
Women and men are equal partners in this enterprise we call life. We all need to take responsibility for the
way we behave. We don’t need to fear punishment from mystical beings or wait for them to give us our
MS: This story has worked very well in keeping our people together and ensuring they behave morally
and live in harmony with one another.
SAS: Look at the state of the world! Your creation story is pure fantasy, isn’t
MS: Well, at least it’s stood the test of time. It’s
old and well respected.
SAS: Old, yes. I think it’s time we question why people need to believe a story like that in order to
live properly. We invite all of you here to express any views you might wish to
If you’d like to know
more about the real history of our extended Jewish family, read on.
The Jewish people have had a long existence that probably goes beyond the reach of
oral and written records. The earliest history of the Jewish people is shrouded in myths and legends and is
not available to us.
The Jewish people created a historical narrative to give shape to thousands of years
of community growth and evolution. This narrative included many of the myths of the people surrounding the
Jews in their earliest periods. The narrative told by the Jewish people included religious rules too. No
other Western people have their story and faith interwoven in such a way.
For many generations it was impossible to separate the real history from the story.
With modern knowledge it is increasingly possible to separate the actual history from the myths. Modern Jews
can discover detailed knowledge of their history and how they are connected with their past without having to
believe in the truth of the myths that form a significant part of the Jewish faith.
The idea of God is central to the religious version of Jewish history. For believers,
man was made in the image of God. The Garden of Eden and all
subsequent stories are part of the God-based story and form the basis for the belief in Creationism. For many
non-believers, on the other hand, God was made in the image of humans by humans themselves, in search of
meaning and a higher authority.
The idea of gods was very common in all the oldest societies – not one god for a tribe
or a nation but many. There were gods for love, war, crops, fertility and everything of importance in these
societies. If a nation went to war, their people prayed to the
gods for victory. If they lost, it was apparent that their war god was not omnipotent and the god of the
victor was accepted. If you prayed to the god of harvests and there was a drought, then your harvest god had
The Jewish version of God, on the other hand, was different – you prayed to one god
who was all-powerful. If victory or success did not come, it followed for these believers that the community
had proved itself insufficiently faithful, or had not prayed hard enough, and was being punished. In this way, believing Jews could lose a war and still maintain their faith
in the same God and fight another day.
Judaism differed from the existing religions of the Ancient Near East because of the
absence of temple prostitutes. Temple prostitutes were quite
common. Jewish respect for the rights of women was very advanced, and prostitution of any kind was considered
immoral. Allied to its powerful moral sense, Judaism revered the family, and upheld the sanctity of
The Jewish narrative presented in the bible represents a combination of recorded
events and embellishments. The narrative provided a plausible story to a people who claimed that they were
the chosen people of God and had a unique relationship with God that involved them in special
responsibilities. The practice of Judaism, for the most part, required a devotion to the rules of the
With the passing of time, and a growth in scholarship and scientific discovery, Jews
became increasingly inclined to celebrate their identity without proclaiming a belief in God. The
non-religious Jew felt, and was, no less Jewish than the most religiously observant Jew.
The non-religious Jew today owes much to the legacy of Baruch Spinoza, a
17th century Dutch Jew who was excommunicated from the Jewish community for his ideas. Spinoza
examined the bible in the same rational way that scholars examined other historical
It was the opening of the floodgates for Jews who had non-traditional ideas regarding
Judaism and its core texts. Once the floodgates were open there was a torrent of opposition to religion. A
growing number of Jews emerged who were culturally Jewish, and Jewish according to Jewish law, but who wanted
no part of the daily attention to religious duties and other beliefs on which establishment Judaism was
The history that follows in
these pages is one that is meaningful and understandable for modern, educated people. It has been written so
that Jews can attach themselves to their historical past and understand how they have related to the surrounding
populations of Christians and Muslims during the past two thousand years.
The Shabbat celebrations in this book have been compiled in the spirit of
open investigation and rational reflection on Old Testament texts.
The passages of history presented here are abbreviated and not written for scholars.
The intention is to present a brief yet clear version of Jewish history.
You are encouraged to go further and investigate Jewish history and find out the many
interesting details and discussions surrounding all of these issues.
Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by Dad, Chaya and
The roles of Dad, Chaya and Ben can be read by three
We will never know the names of
all those who established our nation tribe as distinct from all the other nation tribes who lived and fought in
the same area. We’ll call our earliest relative Ben Israel, and we’ll call his wife Ora. We are the descendants
of these people. Our names have changed, but the tradition that we, as a people, remember started with them, and
has been passed on to us through all the generations that came before us.
Today, thousands of years
later, another Ben Israel, and his sister Chaya – descendants of Ben and Ora Israel – are asking their father to
tell them where they came from and how their beliefs arose.
Every Friday we will follow their discussions, starting with this short
BEN: As Jews, are we obliged
to believe what our forefathers did – or at least pretend to?
DAD: Actually, the modern Jew is not a slave to any system of belief, Ben. We
believe what rational, scientific evidence tells us is worthy of belief.
CHAYA: Has that always been
the case, though?
DAD: No, Chaya. We owe a
great deal to a Jew in 17th century Holland called Baruch Spinoza, who was an extremely learned
man. He paved the way towards a modern, rational way of thinking about the bible by suggesting it be studied
in a scientific, rational way. He was excommunicated from the Jewish community of his time, but he is today
recognised and respected as the father of the rational and critical investigation of our
BEN: What did Spinoza
DAD: He, and later others,
argued that the bible is made up of a number of types of written and orally transmitted accounts – myths,
legends, sagas, poems, laws, hymns and other ritual material. Interwoven with these were actual events in the
history of the Jewish people.
CHAYA: So, can Jewish history
be separated from the biblical myths?
DAD: Often it can, although
it’s no easy task. Much scholarly research has been done through the centuries, and through that a historical
narrative told by Jews has emerged.
BEN: Could you tell me
something about our history each Shabbat?
DAD: I would love to, and
It is our delight and comfort
to tell and examine our Jewish history on each Shabbat and learn, with Chaya and Ben, the story of the people
whose descendants we are, and whose history we will take forward into the future.
Every Shabbat we read five
short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and humour, insightful reflections on this life of
Here are tonight’s
- The man who hears himself
abused and remains silent will be spared many other abuses
- If you can’t bite, don’t
show your teeth
- Adversity is the best
- Teach your tongue to say,
“I don’t know,” lest you invent something
- Words should be weighed,
Celebration of Great Lives
Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in changing the
world for the better.
(1920 – 1998)
The battle for female equality
started decades before Bella Abzug threw herself into the fray. Yet few fought with such distinction and
success. Bella was one of the first female lawyers in the United States and won many legal battles before
winning a seat in Congress on a strong feminist and peace platform. Her record of accomplishments in Congress
continually demonstrated her unshakable convictions as an anti-war activist and as a fighter for social and
economic justice. She led many women’s rights movements before heading President Carter’s National Advisory
Committee on Women and then founded Women USA. She worked tirelessly to empower women everywhere. She was one of
the most important Jewish feminists of all time and became an example to women everywhere.
We can be proud of Bella
John Monash (1865 – 1931)
As the First World War ground
to a stalemate on the Western Front, with small movements backwards and forwards at the cost of great loss of
life from the Allies and the Germans, it seemed that nothing would break the deadlock. A part-time soldier from
Melbourne, Australia, with an engineering background, did the unthinkable. General Sir John Monash was a
meticulous planner who used innovative techniques and modern technology to plan and win the major battles that
resulted in the breaking of the Hindenburg Line and led to the capitulation of the German forces. He was
knighted on the field of battle by King George the Fifth of England, the first time this had happened since the
Battle of Crecy in 1358. Sir John Monash was feted all over England after the war as the man who had outshone
the full-time Field Marshals. In spite of his achievements, his name does not appear with those of the French
and English Field Marshals in the World War 1 Memorial at Ypres. His military achievements helped to win the war
and bring peace to the world.
We can be proud of Sir John