The Recurring Patterns of Biblical, and Jewish, History

Dec. 17 2021

This week’s Torah reading of Vay’ḥi (Genesis 47:28-50:26) is mostly concerned with the final days and death of Jacob in Egypt. And while its opening phrase is generally translated “And Jacob lived,” the absence of a single dot in the Hebrew spelling of the first word allows it to be read “And Jacob will live”—leading to the midrash that “Our father Jacob never dies.” Interpreting this teaching through a kabbalistic lens, and drawing on the rabbinic dictum that “the deeds of the fathers are a sign [of what will befall] the children,” David Wolpe concludes that we ought to see in Jacob’s life the repeating patterns of Jewish history:

The tradition of exile and return is a [pattern] in Jewish history. It happened in the past; it is a part of the Jewish experience, and it happens again. The tradition of commentary grows and grows but keeps the same overall shape, which is why the generations of commentators are in dialogue with one another.

Jacob is leaving his children to face the world that will change. So he must give them lessons that will not change. He must bless them enduringly, with patterns that they and their children and their grandchildren will be able to understand, and will recur in their lives.

As we review Jacob’s life we recognize the patterns: young and ambitious and perhaps heedless of others; visionary and spiritually aspiring; eager and in love; a parent who made mistakes, suffered, lost people dear to him yet lived a full life. We see that those patterns indeed do not die, that we repeat them generation after generation as if, like Russian dolls, our lives are nested inside one another.

The book of Ecclesiastes embodies this lesson, that everything which happens repeats what has gone before. There is something beautiful and sustaining in knowing that, even as we live our own lives, our ancestors’ live through us.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Genesis, Hebrew Bible, Jewish history, Kabbalah

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter