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H. John Rogers: Rabbi speaks on views of Judaism for Lent series

In St. Matthew's gospel, Jesus asks his disciples: "Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" (KJV)

On the first Wednesday of Lent, Rabbi Victor Urecki of Charleston congregation B'nai Jacob gave the answer for Orthodox Judaism, a modern orthodox group that observes the Rabbinical 613 Commandments of Moses.

When the Orthodox speak of the Commandments, they refer not to the Decalogue, the 10 Commandments familiar to Christians, but to 365 positive directives and the 248 negative ones formulated after Mt. Sinai.

Nearly 1/3 of these commandments relate to animal sacrifice in the Temple, the second of which was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 C.E. (Christians say A.D. for Anno Domini) but to Jews of all stripes, Jesus' birth has no special significance. Thus the "C.E." means the "common era" and B.C.E. is "before the common era." These designations are used by scientists too.

Few Christians have probably read the regulations pertaining to blood sacrifice in the Temple. They are contained in the book of Leviticus in the Tanakh, the word Jesus used for what Christians call the "old testament" (to say old testament is to imply that there is a "new testament," which for obvious reasons, Jews are reluctant to do.)

Episcopalians are, of course, the economic "cream" of Christianity, topping all other Protestant denominations by a wide margin in average income, e.g., the chapter titled "The Long Road from Pentecostal to Episcopalian" in Vance Packard's "The Status Seekers" of a few decades back. I passed from Methodist to Episcopalian a decade or so ago, primarily because of the regular Eucharist. I am on my way to the Roman church, but have troubles, e.g., with the notion of the Blessed Virgin's bodily ascension into Heaven, sans scriptura or other contemporary source.

However, I would suggest that it is impossible to understand Christianity except in the context of Temple sacrifice. The liturgical churches regularly intone "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world . . .," just as the high priest did.

It was to an audience of 100 or so Christian faithful that Rabbi Urecki brought the message, a people that since King Henry VIII considered themselves as the "chosen," supplanting the Jews. The Rabbi stood behind a small table and deftly fielded a couple dozen questions from people who wanted to know if he believed Jesus was the "Son of God" (What does Islam say?" he retorted) to a woman's complaint about not being able to be buried with her Jewish husband. (Different rules.)

With his even good humor, Urecki said midway that he felt like he was being interrogated by a Senate committee. Earlier, however, he had alluded to the fact that historically when Jews were summoned to appear before a Christian conclave it was almost invariably to force converson or exile upon them.

Christians think of the year of 1492 as "when Columbus sailed the ocean blue" while for Jews this is the date when they were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. A Dominican priest who taught theology at Notre Dame once told me with a thin smile, "Whatever you might say about the Inquisition, it saved Spain from the Church."

Urecki is an avuncular fellow, but when the invitation to speak came, I suspect that he may have felt a little like Jonah when God dispatched him to preach to the people of Nivenah, i.e., he was fearful that they might convert. After all, Urecki was asking us to ignore 2000 years of "brain washing."

Systemically viewed, Christianity is probably best viewed as a Jewish heresy. We violate the most basic tenet of Judaism with our "man/god" (Who knows what the Holy Spirit is?) and expect the Children of Israel to go along because of some "prophecies" that we have wrenched from their texts. For example, we created the doctrine of "original sin" out of whole cloth, i.e., humans depravity of such a magnitude that it can only be remedied by God's sacrifice of God's self, where the actual text speaks merely of the yetzer hara, our inclination to do evil.

Christianity focuses on the persona of Jesus and it took us more than 300 years to elevate him from failed prophet status to part of a godhead. Someone pointed out during the question period that neither the Mormons nor the Jehovah's Witnesses believe in the divinity of Jesus, putting them in the same bag with Jews and Muslims ("a good man but . . . ").

It took George Daugherty, the famed "Earl of Elview," to point out the basic fact that it's probably not so much what we believe as how we live: "Love your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself."

The Rabbi agreed. Both concepts are, of course, quintessential Judaism. Moses and Hillel gave us the same guidelines.

Rogers is a member of St. Ann's Episcopal Church in New Martinsville and Temple Shalom in Wheeling. He has a M.Div. Degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and an M.A. in Sacred Theology from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in New York.


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