Where Judaism differed

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Where Judaism differed
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Rabbi Herbert Baumgard Sermons
Baumgard, Herbert M. (1920-2016)
Baumgard Family
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Miami, FL
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Jewish sermons
Beth Am
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Temple Beth Am
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Digitized from the private collection of the Baumgard family.
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Florida International University
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WHERE JUDAISM DIFFERED -Introduction Story of Balaam and Balak Rosh Hashana, 5921, 1960 Rabbi Herbert Baumgard South Miami, Florida The Bible tells us that when Balak, the king of Moab, saw the Hebrews under Moses coming into the land of Canaan, he went to a holy man by the name of Balaam, and .; asked him to invoke God's curse upon the Hebrews. Strangely enough, however, Balaam blessed the Hebrews instead, but,as he looked down upon them from the vantage point of a high hill, he said fm-t.Cer, "It is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall be different from the nations." This ancient prophecy about Israel has been borne out by thousands of years of history. The Hebrews have dwelled alone, and they have behaved di,ferently from all the nations. This morning I should like to discuss three important ways in which the Hebrews have behaved differently from Ifha-goyim", the nother nations." The first main difference is that the HEBREWS HAVE EMPHASIZBD MC>R.ALITY ABOVE CEREMONIAL OBSERVANCE. Those who have studied the religions of the --A":1cient .Nl3ar East know that 'fOr-the contemporary peoples of the Hebrews, righteousness meant no more than ritual piety. Sin meant ritual uncleanliness. To the religious leaders of the anoient religions, "truth and righteousness" were nothing more than images (Tzalmani), which were used in magical ceremonies. When a worshipper came to the ancient priest with the proper reward, the priest would hold up an image called ttKittuU or Righteousness and 'ask the gods to heal his client's illness or to direct his client to victory over his enemies. The ancient peoples did not believe that the gods rewarded men because they acted justly, but they did believe that the gods could be seduced to favorable action if they were offered honey, sugar cane, or the like. For the ancients I religion was a sort of trading relationship between the gods and men. The American Indian summarized the whole idea when he prayerfully appealed to his god, uYou give me rain, I give you blanket. tr Hebrews Also Had Much Ceremonial Observance -It would be incorrect to say that the Hebrews of Biblical days did not also share in some of the superstition' a.nd magical approach to religion that was so popular in their day. For exarrple, mixed in with the advanced rules for medical treatment, we find that the Hebrews, like the other nations, attempted to heal a leper also .by priestly ri tual. First,. they killed a bird and then released a second bird who symbolized the first bird brought to life again. The Hebrews, like the other nations, attempted to neutralize the guilt for an unsolved murder by ldlling a young bull and washing their hands in its blood. The Biblical Hebrews, like the otoor peoples, worshipped their god by the slaughter of animals on the terrple altar -but -AND THE "BUT" IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT -the Hebrews mew that religion did not end with the ceremonies. Interspersed with the priestly pa.ssages which tell us how the ancient Hebrews followed a few of the primitive ceremonies, there are the loftiest ethical passages, some of which have not been equalled in our day. As we read the Bible, our eye sweeps from the priestly text to the passage which reads, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil a stranger thou shalt not oppress, far ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor justice, justice thou shalt pursue YES, THE ANCIENT HEBREWS HAD THEm CEREMONIES SOME OF WHICH WERE SIMILAR TO THOSE OF THE OTHER NATIONS, BUT IT IS NOT DIFFrCULT TO SEE IN THE BIBLE THAT THE HEBREWS EMPHASIZED MORALITY ABOVE CEREMONIAL OBSERVANCE. story of Abraham And Isaac We read in the Torah this morning the story of the Sacrifice of Isaac. Modern people would wonder why God would command Abraham to sacrifice his son, but when you know that the pagans in ancient times frequently sacrificed their first born sons to God as an act of greatest reverence, then you can understand that this story is placed here in the Torah far the purpose of teaching ttat God does not want the sacrifice of the only son" The story actually tells us that a lamb is, ,sacrificed in place of Isaac, and this story thus marks the transition in an cient times from the sacrifice of human beings to' the worshipful sacrifice of animals.. On the other hand, Christianity today is based upon this ancient noti on that the sacrifice of the first born son carries 'With it special religious connotations. In this connection, we should note that the injmction not to eat pig was made the pig was the totem image of the pagan god eaten at religious communiop. The injunction against eating meat and milk together was beca.use the pagans ., worshipped in ,this fashion. They used the fer ti li ty symbol of milk to urge the gods to gi. ve tllem more plentiful flocks. The revolt against ceremonial' observance reaches its zenith with the literary prophets like Hosea, Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah. Hosea verbalized God's command to Israel, desire kindness -1-


and not the of animals. It Jeremiah said in the nare of God, IlDid I com mand your fathers in the 'Wi.lderness to worship me by means of sacrifices." Fi!. ally, Amos declared" I despise your festival services, and I take no de light in your sol'enn worship. though ye bring m. your sacrificial offerings, I will not accept them. Take away from Me the noise of your hymns BUT LET JUSTICE lI1ELL UP AS THE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE A MrGRTY STREAM. tI ./ The prophets like Amos left no doubt in the minds of the Hebrews that God desired tDral conduct above ceremonial observance. In this matter, the Hebrews were in complete opposition to the flgoyim,n the other nations, who revelled in ceremonies, but knew little of moral teachings. II. The Hebrews differed from their contemporaries in another si gnificant re spect. They taught NOT MERELY THE WONDER OF GOD, they also taught' THE WONDER OF MAN. They spoke not merely of the power and responsibility of God, but also of the power and responsibility of M9.n. A. .,The The other peoples taught tha.t everything important in the world was determined by the gods. Man, they said, wa.s at the of te .. gods were the in the arena of life, and men were the e.:tld The gods could do anything they wished and men responded sl.a:ve .... Li.1ret'o the d ivine whims. The lIDcertainty and fear which dominated the mood of the ancient peoples is re vealed to us in a written by a semite about 3500 years ago. prayer reads, It Oh gods o f whum! knO"N, and go ds of Whom I do not know, for gJ.. ve me for all the sins which I know I hav-e comrti. tted and for all the sins I have com mi tted of which I do not know." This worshipper never knew what the gods wanted from him; he didn't even know which god was afflicting him; he only knew th9.t he, like all men, was powerless before the g ods who played wi th men as if they were insects. The Pagans did believe that there were a few men whom the gods blessed 'Wi. th favor, but the great mass of men resigned themselves to an uncreative existence. They wai ted far things to happen to them. They did not act -they were acted upon9 Consequently, they were easy prey far the villainous and depraved and the aocepted standard was mi ght mkes ri ght. B. The Hebrews The Hebrews also believed in the great power of God. Anyone who has read t,ne I'irst chapters of Genesis or the Book of Psalms knows with what reverenoe and awe the Hebrews regarded their God. The Psa.lmist sang, "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof; the world, and the"fr tbat dwell therein. In the eighth Psalm we have this magnificent hymn to Goa e''1 jhen I behold the heavens, the 'Work of T h y fingers, t he moon and the stars, which Thou hast established; what is man that Thou art mindful of bim and the son of man that Thou thinkest of him?" The Hebrews, no less than the pagans J believed in the great poWer of God, but they differed substantially from their contemporaries in tmt they taught that God licensed man as His partner in a never-ending creation. Immediately after the Psalmist said, tt what is man-that Thou art mindful of him?O The Psalmist an-' swers wi. th the words, nYet thou hast made man but 1i ttle lower than the angels, and hast crowned him wi th glory and honoro Thou hast made him to hlve dominion over the works of Thy hands "Let us try to understand too revolutionary notion that is involved in this God has gi. ven man the pO'Wer to have dominion over the things that God Himself has created! God has created the laws which hold the world together and cause it to operate. It is man's function to learn these laws and t o tee them in the service of manldnd and a better world. The surgeon who removes a diseased organ and knits together a human boqy anew has dominion over the work of God's hands in the highest sense of that phrase. This is equally true of the who creates a new healing medicine by means of synthesis, and it is true of the physiCist who discovers that the human voice and picture images can be harnessed and transmitted through spaceo Reverence for God, yes, said the Hebrews, but reverence for man also. Mm is not a mere spectator the drama or Hfe, he also one of 'Ene chief actcrs and builders. This teaching is forcefully expressed in the incident where Moses turns to God in despair and states thlt the people are constantly complaining about their hardships in the Wilderness. God refuses to pamper the people and to treat them as if they were puppets without responsibilityo tt'Why callest thou unto Me?", God replies to Moses, "Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forwardl"In fundamentalist Christianity, salvation comes not from the Sinner, man, but from the mi.raculous power of Jesus who alone can save. But Judaism teaches that in many matters God passes the responsibility back and says, ''''Yhy callest thou unto Me. Go forward,and you Will conquer 1 n The holy man, Balaam, said, "The Hebrews are not like unto the nations." They were not like the other nations in that they taught that the purpos e of man was "to lhaEe the -war-ldo 'When Moses confronted the Hebrews at the :foot ,2-


of Mt. Sinai and gave then the Torah, he said, in God's name. "See, I have set be fore thee this day. good and evil, life and death; choose,life that thou mayest live. rhe heart of the Hebraic teaching was that the Torah was from God, but the choice of good or evil action lay with man. Consequently, given the rules, which were from God, what happened in life depended upon the choice and the action of men. Summary -We have said that the Hebrews differed from ha-goyim in that they stressed morality as against magical ceremonies; and in that they stressed the need for action by men as well as acknowledgeing the power of God. The third major difference between the Hebrews and the other nations was that they were universalistic and not merely particularistic. That is to say. they were intensely patriotic and self-concerned, but they also projected their thinking to include other nations 2nd peoples., rhe Egyptians taught that anyone who was not an was to be classed with base animals. The Greeks taught that anyone who was not a Greek was a aarian. Both of "these great ancient societies were built a base of slavery. rhe Hebrews, too, were particularistic. They considered themselves to be Godls :!hosen nn "om s' gulnh." They thought them selves to be in a special relationship to God, yet they were capable of self-criticism, and their moral tench ings cnrried them well pnst the Egyptian and Greek conception of n master-people. l'he Hebrews taught that they were chosen to be an "oir l' goyim, a light unto the nations f tI to project the moral to the corners of the world. When the Hebrews showed conceit, the Prophet Amos reprimanded them, snying, in the nnme of God, IlAre ye not as the Ethopians unto me, oh children of Isreal?" the Hebrews boasted thct God had brought them from the land of Egypt, Amos onswered in the name of God, "Didn't I bring the Philistines from the lnnd of Caphtor and the Arnmites from the Innd of Kir?" While f'undnmentnlist Christianity thnt only those who accept Jesus as their savior will escape hell, traditional Judaism has always taught that the non-Jews shall be worthy of the world to come if they observe but six of the 10 commnndments. The chosenness of which the Hebrews speak is a selection for an especinlly arduous task, but the God of the Hebrews is the God of all peoples, and the horizons of Judaism have for thousands of years been ns wide as the universe. Unfortunately, thore have always been Jews VIho th0lght that the roD-in distinguishing characteris tics between thomselves and non-Jews were the ceremonies. Indeed, there hnve been periods in Jewish history when the majority of Jews were taught little more than this. For exnmple. the Jews who lived in Europe in the dnrk nges suffered as the Christians nnd pngans suffered from n stifling of freedom. In the ghettos, cut off from the world about them, denied the opportunity to share in the shaping of events around them, unable to own land, and unnble to pnrticipate in the Gov ernment, the Jews turned inwnrd upon themselves and lost sight of the fact that the very essence of Judaism is its projection outward. 1. Abused as they were be the non-Jewish populntion of Europe, the Jews soon lost their drive to shape the world about them according to their high moral standnrds, and they occupied themselves almost completely vJith their ceremonies. Ritual was piled upon ritual, nnd tbe proper relntionship of the ceremony to the moral impetus behind it wens lost. Jews began to observe ceremony for its own sake. nnd thus began to lose this essential distinction between themselves and their neighbors. O-ltwnrdly, they seemed to be sharply different from the non-J ews, but in the ndorntion of ceremony, they were essentially like the non-Jews. The Babylonian Talmud was studied by Jews, not with a view of creating new law for the Europenn situntion in which they lived, but for the sake of n non-creative scholarship in minutae. Many Jews turned to mysticism, called Ccbbalah, and they became in involved in the study of hidden meanings and abstract formulne. For centuries it could not be said of European Jewry that it projected its morals more than it cherished its 2. On the other hand, since Jews were not given the slightest hope of shaping the governments or conditions around them, they came to believe in the hopelessness of action by men, nnd they emphnsized more the hope for mirc.cles from God. Jews everywhere longed for the Messiah who would lend them at God's com mnnd to Isreal. When the Zionist movement began, the Rabbis discournged it as an expression of mistrust in God,for to for tho Jewish homeland was 0 sign of a Inck of fcith in Godls nbility to perform miracles. As n result, Zionists by the tens of hundreds defected from Judnism. When the Rabbis did not urge the people to overcome the severe economic restrictions under which they labored, ronny Jews became socinlists and defected from Judaism. The Judaism of this period em phasized the "faith of wniting" rnther than tractive foith" I and in this sense, it departed from the tradition and became more like the religion of hn-goyim. 3. Bruised and battered as they were by the peoples around them, the Jews of Europe could scarcely have been expected to emphasize the universalistic aspects of their faith. The Russians engaged regularly in the burning of Jewish villages. The Poles kept the Jews the poorest of the poor. In many lnnds, the Jew as a minority,


was molested and deprived o f basic rights. In such a situation, the Jews emphasized the particularistic aspect o f their faith. They despaired of the possibility o f their tormentors joining with Jews in common cause. The n on-Jewish com muni ty of the Europe of this period was as coarse and as uneducated as any peoples Wi th whom the Hebrews had ever lived. Conse uentl the Rabbis discoura ed com m1mication Wi. th the other peoples. In tea y onian Ie, the ews were among the greatest scholars of the Aramaic language, but in Europe the Rabbis discouraged the learning of languages other than Yiddish and Hebrew. In Alexandria Egypt, 2000 years ago, the Jews were among the greatest scholars in the Greek language and in philosophy, but the European Rabbis discouraged the learning of the develop-'* ing science of the 18th and 19th centurieso Having turned so completely inward upon itself, the J emsh community was unprepared far the removal of the Ghetto walls when liberation finally came. It is an unfortunate fact of history that when emancipation came to the Europe of t he late 18th and 19th centuries, the Jewish reli gious connnuni ty was not ready for 'i'Co In the wake of the :prench revolution, Napoleon invited the Jews to share in'" tne extension of "liberty, equality, and fraternity." These were ideals close to the heart of Jews, but the Rabbis were suspicious even of JeWish idealswhen spok e n from the lips o f those who had for so long tyrannized and The R abbis though t to themselves, lithe voice is the gentle voice of Jacob, but the hands are the r o ugh hands of Esau .. n Summary C onsequently, we may c onclude tha t of severe persecution and virtual imprisonment, the Judaism o f Europe for several centuries was substantially untrue t o those three things which made Judaism different from the nations of old. First o f all, Judaism in El..n"ope stressed meticulou s observance of ceremonies, r ather than the projection of morality outward; secondly, Judaism in Europe stressed the wender of God but neglected the wonder that was man. It said, "Leave everything to GodJu and finally, Judaism in Europe was highly particularistic and suspicious of un.i versalistic slogans even when the ghetto walls were finally broken downe 'lith the coming of this new European period mown as the EmanCipation, many Jews fled the Jewish religious c o mmunity. Sore becarre Zionists and Socialists. Some became enlightened scientists and philosophers. Some became agnostics. The power of the religious leaders over the community progressively decreased in the face of the new liberty. The drive was away from religion and towat'ds worldliness. There were a o f Jews, however, who wished to emphasize once again those attributes of JUdaism which would make it compatible with the new rationalistic mood that was seizing the world. These Jews -went beyond European Judaism to the Biblical traditio n and they taught, 1) that Judaism emphasized morality above 'ceremonies; 2) tha. t Judaism stressed the need for man t o help God shape history; 3) that justice and peace for all men-had always been the supreme goal of Judaism. These Jews called themselves Refer m Jews, and we are their direct spiritual descendants. Looked at in this light, we can 1mderstand that Reform JUdaism is not really reform a t all. It actually affirms what has always been the heart of Judaism. It emphasizes those things which for thousands of years, have made Judaism different from the teachings of other peoples. In this sense, Reform Judaism has performed an important task far all modern Jews -it has kept alive this most significant part of our great tradition. Had Reform Judaism n o t developed, Jews would not have been able to participate in the development o f American democracy. The Modern Sit ua. ti on Vlihat Reform Judaism has d one for Jews in America, Israeli Jews have yet to discover for themselves. Those who visit Israel today are astonished to learn that the vast majori ty o f Israelis are not religious. They are not the slightest bit interested in Judaism as a formal religion. This is due to the Pistoric process that we have The Zionists were disappointed in the antagonism of European Rabbis, and they despaired of Judaism because its cl1ief advocates pre sented it as a passive faith. The Israelis are acti vista to the nth degree. They require a religion which Will encourage their desire to remould their environment'CI The Israelis are not religious in the f ormal sense, but they are intense stUdents of the Bible and ardent adrrdrers of the Biblical Hebrews. The reason is simple. The Biblical Hebrews were active moulders of their environment. In time, no doubt, the non-religious Israelis will discover as the foimders of Reform JUdaism discovered, that it is possible to blend together the basic teachings of JUdaism wi th activism; indeed, basic Judaism demands tha t we assist in shaping events aro und us. Within the next generatio n we Will witness this new expression of Judaism in Israel. It matters not whether it is called Reform Judaism or not, but the historical fact will be that both America and Israel, the two great Jew ish centers of the 'World, 'Will have returned to the basic, acti nst orientation of Judaism. But, Rabbi, y o u may well say, doesn't Judaism need some ceremony and some se1 conCerlDl. Of course, the people Which wishes to survive must have some means of -4-


holding itself together on an emotional basis, as well as on an intellectual basis, and the people which is not concerned for its own survival as well as for the protection of universal ideals will be swallowed up. The problem, of course, is a matter of emphasis, a question of degree. The problem is where to begin and where to break off. Perhaps the best illustration of the need to project beyond particularism and ceremony is found in a story told about the Baal Shem Tov, the ancient hasidic master. It was Simchas Torah and the residents of the village were gathered in the synagogue to v.'itness the gay festivities revolving around the Torah. As was customary on this occasion,9 The Baal Shem Tov performed a free dance holding the Torah. After a few rrd.nutes, however, the saintly Rabbi placed the Torah down, and holding his arms as if he were still carrying the Torah, he continued to dance but with even greater freedom and expression. All eyes were upon him and all mouths buzzed with the question -Whatever is the Rabbi trying to do? One of his wise disciples supplied the answer to the riddle. nIt is simple,," he said, "first our master danced with the Torah. Now he is pro its teachings into all the world. n This is basic Judaism. You can.n.ot danc e u rlless first you dance wi th theTorah, unless first you study it and learn :now to t. a p the divine sources. But the m you have the responsibility tIC; l:: r o .. i-:':ct t he s e teqchings into all the worldl