Friday, May 03, 2013

3-May-13: Scotland weighs up the Jews and finds them lacking. And vice versa.

What would Braveheart have done?
We had our first exposure to the Church of Scotland back in 2008. They brought a group of visitors to Israel under the rubric "INTERFAITH PILGRIMAGE: Promoting Community Cohesion and Interfaith Understanding". We met with, and addressed, them in a large room at Jerusalem's St Andrews Church and found it a pleasant and expanding experience.

A page we were handed at the time by the organizers expressed sentiments that we felt provided a fine basis for sitting down and sharing views. We pulled it out of the cupboard this morning to revisit its contents in light of what the Scots have now done. The key part says the "pilgrimage" stems from:
conversations amongst a number of individuals with differing backgrounds and affiliations, who are concerned that tensions in the Middle East are a constant obstacle to developing good relations between religious groups in Scotland.  We are united in our belief that practical steps need to be taken in order to prevent these tensions being imported to Scotland. Over the years Scotland has demonstrated a positive example of multiculturalism and there are various opportunity (sic) to enhance and build on this... Our mission will reflect on opportunities of community cohesion and interfaith understanding which can help develop one Scotland [and will help to] create a better understanding of faith diversity and the value of enhanced cooperation.
Ah, but that was then.

The Church of Scotland published a report in the last few days, entitled "The Inheritance of Abraham: A report on the 'promised land'". It comes with aggressive recommendations that are going to be put before its General Assembly at the end of this month.

A note issued this morning in the official name of Scotland's Jewish community uses such words as 'arrogance' and 'outrage' (it's unusual to find expressions like these used by a community-wide Jewish organization anywhere, and certainly in the UK) in discussing the direction taken by the church. It calls the paper
an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for. It reads like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism. It is biased, weak on sources, and contradictory. The picture it paints of both Judaism and Israel is barely even a caricature. The arrogance of telling the Jewish people how to interpret Jewish texts and Jewish theology is breathtaking... [It] claims to know Judaism better than we do. Meanwhile it recently sponsored a conference organised by someone whose website promotes Holocaust denial and the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion - but it claims to want to act as a peacemaker in the Middle East! Sadly, this document makes that impossible, and closes the door on meaningful dialogue. On behalf of the Jewish Community of Scotland, we call upon the Church to withdraw it from the forthcoming General Assembly. If the Church cannot build bridges, can it at least refrain from burning them?
St Andrews Church in Jerusalem [Image Source]
The Board of Deputies in London has also weighed in, expressing (in a manner different from its customary buttoned-down approach to all things) its sense that the document from the Church of Scotland is
deeply troubling on many levels... littered with misrepresentations of Jewish history, values and beliefs as well as basic factual errors. It is an ignorant and tendentious document masquerading as a theological statement. The Church of Scotland has done a deep disservice to itself by producing a document without any regard to the trust, respect and dialogue on which interfaith relations should be based... a slap in the face to the Jewish community.
Theological philosophy is way above our pay scale. Besides, once we saw that the Church of Scotland paper quotes with approval the views of Sabeel, a repugnant strand of extremist Christian thought steeped in hatred of Jews [background here], we recognized there was little we could, or would want to, contribute to the unseemly rant on which the Church has just embarked.

Still, we do want to make one point that is not expressed in their 10 page paper, or in the responses it has so far elicited.

The Scots write (on page 2) that
In general terms there have been three main ways of understanding the promises about land in the Bible: (1) A territorial guarantee; (2) A land held in trust (3) A land with a universal mission.
and then proceed to turn scripture, Halacha, Torah Sheb'al Peh, modern Zionist literature and centuries of Jewish thought upside down and inside out in order to show that all three understandings are faulty. They argue that, whatever the promises that gave rise to the notion of a promised land, these have to be understood this way:
Focussed as they are on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ [they] call for a commitment in every place to justice in a spirit of reconciliation... [page 9] Jesus gave a new direction and message for the people of God, one which did not feature a special area of land for them... [page 8]"
In short, the Scots say we Jews are to live our personal and collective lives according to certain selected principles of their religion; ours evidently does not count. It's a bizarre line to take when first you demolish the other's view of its own history and theology and self-determination.

But it fails to come to terms at all with history. Let the Scots argue till the cows come home over theology: theirs, ours and anyone else's, whatever makes them happy. But are they in doubt about the thousands of years of connection and longing that exists between the world's Jews and this tiny patch of ground that the Scots, employing quotation marks to evoke their skepticism, call the 'promised land'? That Jewish connection is not a matter of conjecture or interpretation. You can walk into virtually any Jewish home in the world, step up to the book case and pull down volume after volume that expresses that connectedness and that longing, and you could have done it last century and two thousand years ago with the same result.

You can ignore the concrete evidence in front of your face (something at which Palestinian Arab religious and political leaders are adept). But then it becomes an entirely different discussion. It ought to matter not at all to the Scots or to anyone else whether we Jews claim our connection to this 'promised' land via the Almighty or through the man in the moon. Whatever its origins, it's the oldest documented tie that exists in human history between a people and their homeland. That provides a very different basis for this discussion compared with the bogus one offered by the Church of Scotland in May 2013.

Their 2008 strategy of interfaith understanding and openness made vastly more sense.

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