Monday, March 26, 2007


"Take with you words, and return unto the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and accept us graciously: so will we render as bullocks the offerings of our lips." Hosea 14:1-2

Perhaps more than any other Jewish Holiday, Pesach (Passover) reminds us of the centrality of the Temple in Jerusalem. Observance of Pesach recalls the significance of the Temple sacrifice, and its connection to the redemption of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus we are told that the Jews were commanded by God, through Moses, to slaughter a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the door-posts of their homes so that the Angle of Death would pass them over at night as he went to take all the first-born of Egypt in the tenth and final plague. This sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb was to be eaten by the Jews prior to their flight from bondage the following day. After the departure from Egypt, Jewish tradition holds that this sacrifice was repeated only once during the forty year sojourn in the Sinai Dessert prior to the arrival of the Jews in the Holy Land. It was then decreed that every year on the eve of Passover(Passover commences at nightfall on April 2, 2007, 15th day of Nisan 5767) within the Land of Israel, a Paschal Lamb would be offered by every Jewish family, slaughtered at the Holy Temple by a Priest of the Temple, and then consumed in its entirety by the families making the offerings in their homes. Jewish law has always maintained that these sacrifices could only be made either at the Temple, or at some other place specified by God. Therefore, ever since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., no sacrifices have been offered.

The Hebrew term for sacrificial offering is Qorbanot - קרבנות. The Qorban Paschal, is but one of many different types of Qorbanot. The majority of these offerings were termed Olim, as "burnt offerings". The purpose of these offerings was two-fold; first, to commune with God, and secondly, to expiate sin. It is however, extremely important to realize that true forgiveness for sin, has always been held by Jewish law, to require genuine contrition and remorse. Sacrifice without contrition and belief in God without confession are ineffective. Moral righteousness, loving kindness, combined with faith in God far exceed sacrifice. The Book of Micah, from the Tanakh states:

With what shall I approach the Lord,
Do homage to God on high?
Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?
Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
With myriads of streams of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for my sins?
Man has told you what is good.
But what does the Lord require of you?
Only to do justice
And to love goodness,
And to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:6-8

Indeed no measure of forgiveness for sins can be obtained by an offerer with an impure and uncontrite heart, while, on the other hand, complete and perfect forgiveness can be obtained through prayer and pertinence alone. For Jews, our words and actions, and the way in which we form a personal and communal relationship with God takes the place of the Temple offerings of our ancestors. Our deeds of charity -- Tzedaka צדקה, and loving kindness -- Chessed חסד, and our performance of Mitzvot מצווה, are the Qorbanot through which we commune with the Creator, and gain forgiveness for the wrongs we have done.

Our Passover Seder pays homage to the Qorban Pesach with the inclusion of the lamb shank on the ceremonial plate. In the Seder we are told to recall the Temple sacrifices, the deliverance from slavery and the flight from bondage. On Passover we recall how we came to life as a nation in the Sinai Dessert, and how we all, as a nation entered into a covenant with God to serve Him alone, to abide by His laws, and to obey His will. Although the physical Ark of the Covenant containing the actual Laws given at Sinai is lost, and the Temple is destroyed, our bond with God, our commitment to him, and our love for him is undying, and eternal.

The term Qorbanot is a word which cannot be precisely translated into English. It generally means, "offering" or "sacrifice", but it also has the meaning of "drawing nearer to God". Oleh, too, defies complete definition in English; it generally means "burnt offering", but is based upon the Hebrew word for "ascension", or "going up". These words have great significance in Judaism for what they literally represent, and for what they have come to represent. Since the destruction of the Temple, the blood of martyrs dying for their God has taken the place of the blood of the unblemished lambs offered to God on the alter. These martyrs are regarded as human Qorbanot. With the miraculous re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, Jewish immigrants to Israel are referred to as Olim, and the process of Jews migrating to Israel is known as Aliyah, based upon the same root word-- meaning, "ascension" or "going up".

Beginning shortly after the Holocaust, Orthodox Judaism initiated a movement to encourage Jews who have have become non-observant, or who have otherwise fallen away from Judaism, to return to the faith. This project is known as Kiruv. Kiruv is a Hebrew word which also denotes the concept of "drawing near", but unlike Qorbanot, Kiruv does not also convey the meaning of "offering". As such, Kiruv can be applied to a variety of endeavors, but is understood as entirely distinct from the ritual of sacrificial offering. Kiruv is often referred to as "outreach". However, as pointed out by Rabbi Howard Gorin, because Kiruv seeks to re-establish observant Judaism among people who were born Jewish, and who in reality, never truly departed, it might more properly be called, "inreach". Faith-based outreach to non-Jews has not traditionally been a part of normative Judaism. Therefore other than the typically values-laden concepts of "proselytizing" and "missionary", there are no uniquely Jewish terms that apply to the effort of pro-actively seeking converts.

When one thinks of missionary activity, a broad range of very unpleasant and disdainful images are likely to be conjured up. Missionaries have often worked hand in hand with imperial powers as agents of colonialism. Native peoples have been told by missionaries that they must accept, and submit to colonial overlordship, through the guise of religion. In the hands of missionaries, religion has served to blunt the natural instinct of people to reject and fight against injustice and oppression. Missionaries have been associated with the use of direct and implied force in order to induce conversion. Often the granting and withholding of political and economic rights and privileges has been linked to the acceptance of a religion. Moreover, missionary activity has often historically been focused upon the disputation of a prospective convert's previously held beliefs and traditions. Jews, in particular, have been the frequent historical targets of intense and aggressive missionary activity. These types of actions, whether by intent, or by affect, must never have any place in Jewish outreach to non-Jews.

However, this does not mean that we cannot, or should not, "offer" our faith to the millions of people in the world who might embrace a true and sincere conversion, and be greatly benefited by it. The reasons for "offering" Judaism are compelling. Judaism has sustained us as a people for over three thousand years, and in spite of tremendous pressures and great violence, we know that the our worship of God, through adherence to the laws of the Torah, has never be superseded. But we do not adhere to Judaism simply through inertia, or even less, because of a threat of retribution, or a promise of reward. Judaism is not a religion that demands violent and unceasing war against all non-Jews. Nor is it a religion that permits us to be unaccountable for our own conduct on this earth, or to fail to hold others accountable for theirs. Judaism alone, exalts justice, and man's duty to do justice above adherence to ritual, and vastly above proclamation of faith. Judaism proclaims that the best evidence of God's love for man is God's gift to man of freedom. The ability, and the command, to "pursue justice" is the very essence of freedom. Judaism rejects predetermination. For all of these reasons, we cannot excuse ourselves from the obligation to look at the larger "human condition" and ask ourselves, what more we can do, not merely for fellow Jews, but for fellow man. And when we look to the larger condition of humanity, we find that there are many people in the world who thirst for justice and spiritual enlightenment and who have been failed by all other belief systems that have entered into, and passed through, their lives -- we must "offer" Judaism to them.

Qorbanot is an appropriate term for defining Jewish cultural and spiritual outreach to non-Jews. By "offering" Judaism to non-Jews, we present them with a cultural and spiritual legacy whose value is beyond estimation. We "offer" Judaism to a non-Jewish human being just as we used to offer our sacrifices, and as we now offer our prayers and pertinence, as replacements for sacrifice, to God Himself, in whose image Man is made. For us to effectively make the "offering", we must place our skepticism, narrowmindedness, and hidebound attitudes on the alter, and commit them to fire, ensuring that they are entirely consumed and destroyed in the process. Those of us who believe in making the "offering" must give of our time, effort, and resources.

However, what we "offer" to non-Jews in welcoming them to Judaism, is not destroyed in the process, but rather, it is ignited and set aglow within the hearts of all those who embrace the worship of God and the Mitzvot. Nor are we diminished by the "offerings" that we make. To the contrary, we are in every way, enhanced. Just as we perform Mitzvot when we give to the poor and perform acts of living kindness for those in need, by "offering" Judaism, we do God's will by giving to those who are spiritually in need and impoverished. In doing so, we "draw" not only the convert, but also, ourselves, "closer to God", just as our ancestors did with Qorbanot. Finally, as we recall in Pesach our deliverance from slavery, our worship of God through Qorbanot, and our freedom, our "offering" of Judaism to non-Jews, provides them with the same hope of redemption, justice and communion with God.

As we "offer" Judaism to non-Jews, we must bear in mind several core principles, lest our mission be diverted from its purpose, and its results be undesired:

  • Tradition -- Every conversion that takes place must strictly conform to the requirements of Halacha -- Rabbinic Jewish Law. The requirements of Jewish Law must not be relaxed for the sake of inducing conversions. There must however, be no conditions placed upon prospective converts that Jewish Law does not otherwise require. Additionally, Jewish scriptures and texts must be taught in accordance with accepted Jewish rules of construction and interpretation. Other faiths have, to a significant extent, co-opted Jewish texts and applied diametrically apposed interpretations to them -- these un-Jewish interpretations cannot be reconciled or harmonized, and must be rejected. The wisdom of the Prophets, the Talmudic sages, and other well-recognised Jewish thinkers are the source of Jewish knowledge.

  • Peoplehood -- Judaism is unlike other religions, in that it encompasses not only spirituality, but also culture, and tradition. Being Jewish is not a private matter, but to truly be Jewish one must enter into a covenantial relationship with God, and with all Jewish people. Being Jewish means bonding ones fate with the fate of all Jews, everywhere. Being Jewish means respecting and honoring the traditions of all Jews, and recognising that they all derive from a common origin. Being Jewish means honoring the ancestors of other Jews, as they are your own. Being Jewish means recognizing that the beating heart of all Jews is in Jerusalem, and that sovereignty in our Land is a Godly mandate. Any conversion which fails to embrace Jewish Peoplehood as defined herein, is a nullity.

  • The Thirteen Principles of Maimonides -- These must be believed and followed:
    1. God exists
    2. God is one and unique
    3. God is incorporeal
    4. God is eternal
    5. Prayeris to be directed to God alone and to no other
    6. The words of the prophets are true
    7. Moses's prophecies are true, and Moses was the greatest of the prophets
    8. The Written Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and Oral Torah(teachings now contained in the Talmudand other writings) were given to Moses
    9. There will be no other Torah
    10. God knows the thoughts and deeds of men
    11. God will reward the good and punish the wicked
    12. The Messiah will come
    13. The dead will be resurrected

  • A True and Sincere Conversion -- Every person who seeks to convert, must do so out of a coextensive faith in God, love of God, desire to worship God and to perform Mitzvot, and a deep sense of belonging to Jewish Peoplehood, and a love of Zion. A man or woman cannot make a true and faithful conversion if he or she is induced to convert only for material gain. Judaism is not offered as an instantaneous "escape" from all poverty and oppression. However, every person who converts to Judaism can, and should, view Judaism as a powerful method of self-empowerment, leading to spiritual, material, and economic betterment. All converts must embrace the Ten Commitments, as set frorth by Rabbi Celso Cukierkorn :
    1. Yom Kippur Observance - Fasting and attending synagogue
    is symbolic of our commitment to observe the High Holy ways and the Festivals.
    2. Kindle Shabbat Candles - Symbolizes our commitment to begin to observe Shabbat at home and in the synagogue.
    3. Mezuzah - Symbolizes our commitment to having a Jewish home.
    4. Tzedakah -
    The commitment to give of ourselves, our time and our money, according to ability.
    5. Affiliation - The commitment to join a synagogue and become an
    active member of the synagogue community.
    6. Dietary Laws - Accept some aspect that reflects and understanding of their importance for Jewish life. Acknowledge the validity of the discipline.
    7. Worship - The commitment to a regular worship experience.
    8. Education - Each individual must present an outline or plan for continuing a Jewish education.
    9. Love of Israel - Includes support for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel as the historical Jewish homeland and the Jewish State. Support the United Jewish Appeal or other organizations that act on behalf of Israel and
    Jews in American and around the world.
    10. Raise Children as Jews - The commitment to "teach them faithfully to your children" (the v'ahavta prayer). Our commitment to raise children in the Jewish faith.

  • The Cycle of "Offering" -- Every convert should aspire to become educated in Judaism within his or her ability, and to then reach out and "offer" his faith to others in his community, who have not yet been touched. Every convert should aspire to become a Jewish Leader, and to contribute to the discourse of normative Judaism, so that his or her legacy will be known to future generations.

  • Tikkun Olam -- We must "offer" Judaism as a vehicle for empowerment and social justice. We must bring "Qorbanot" to the world's "broken people".

  • Citizenship -- Every convert must understand that it is God's will for him or her to succeed, and flourish in the land of his birth. Every convert should aspire to seek the betterment, not only of his family, his people and his community, but also of his Nation. All converts should aspire to play a leadership role in their Nations, and should develop a sense of responsibility towards all fellow citizens. As it is stated:
    "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all; those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may -have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." Jeremiah 29: 4-7
    As a corollary, of all the millions upon millions of prospective Jewish converts in the world, not all can, or should, seek to make Aliyah to Israel. However, every Jew should make "Aliyah of the heart", and support and love Zion, in the heart.

  • Permitted Pluralism -- Judaism, having developed for nearly two thousand years in the Diaspora, has many different variations. In all of the nations where Jews have lived, they have adopted and developed some unique customs, idioms, and folkways. It is to be expected and encouraged, that new converts will bring to Judaism, various aspects of their native traditions. So long as these new elements are not inconsistent with normative Jewish law, they are to be welcomed, and appreciated as adding to the rich cultural mosaic of Jewish tradition.

  • Patience and Wisdom -- This idea originates with Igbo Jewish leader, Remy Ilona. There is no deadline or time limit for the conversionary process. Some people will rapidly accept all fundamental principles of Judaism, and will convert quickly. Others will remain somewhat attached to their previously held beliefs. It is every person's choice to either embrace, or not embrace Judaism, and every person must be allowed the time and space to arrive at his or her own decision. No person should be cut off or excluded from the dialogue because they are not yet ready to make a full conversion. Honesty and candor for all parties is a necessity.

  • Openness to All -- No person may ever be excluded from the "offering" of Judaism, or deprived of the opportunity to convert because of ancestry, poverty, illness, illiteracy, or any immutable characteristic. No person will ever be required to pay any sum of money to convert. However, consistent with Jewish Law, charitable giving, to religious institutions, Jewish philanthropic organizations, and other worthy recipients, is a duty for every Jew.

It is my hope that these ideas will represent a framework for us to begin the process of "offering" Judaism to the world. It's now getting late, as I finish this essay on Friday afternoon, and the sun will be setting soon. I wish everyone Shabbat Shalom. And may we all have a peaceful and joyous Passover.


Miriam said...

ooh! I'm nervous about "offering" Judaism. Not that I think its a bad idea. I think its a great idea. But there are some tricksters out there who would love to infiltrate and to a bit of missionarying of their own.

If only we could distinguish who was open and sincere...

Andrew said...

What an incredible blog! I am not a Jew and do not practice Judaism, so my knowledge has always been limited, but I never knew Judaism existed in the form presented by this blog, and it is very encouraging. I remember studying ancient Judaism, and knowing that Israel went through times where Jews made it very difficult for others, for "gentiles", to become Jew. This always saddened me, because, based on my understanding of the Torah, the Jews are supposed to be a blessing to the world, and how else can that happen except to bring people to God? And how else can a Jew bring someone to God other than to allow them conversion and then welcome them wholeheartedly? Yet, there have been times past where a convert was considered different and never quite fully integrated. Not always, mind you. Rahab is a perfect example of someone who was converted and embraced as fully Jew, and I believe her line was even blessed (didn't David come through her?).

Anonymous said...

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