GO TO HELL

Every so often, it happens that Christian clergy or laity, Christians of notoriety or insignificance call upon Jews to accept Jesus into their lives as the savior. Alternately, these same Christians warn Jews that as long as they continue to reject Jesus as the savior, they are destined to go to hell when they depart this world. I wish it weren’t so, but more than a few Jews have a knee jerk reaction to such statements. They go ballistic. To say that I am amused by the statements of such Christians; to say that I am horrified by the reactions of such Jews would be an understatement.

Do you really think that I give a damn what such Christians believe about me and my people? If I can soundly reject their belief in Jesus as the savior, then I can also dismiss any remarks they make as a result of their belief in Jesus as the savior. As long as Christians commit no acts of anti-Semitism or propose reinstating Crusades, Inquisitions or Pogroms, I adopt the attitude of “zollen zei leben un zein gezunt” or as the late Leonard Nemoy in his role as Mr. Spock was wont to say: “Live long and prosper.”

Having made mention of Crusades, Inquisitions and Pogroms, I cannot help but feel that any Christian who is so concerned about Jewish souls as well as the destination where those Jewish souls are most assuredly headed because of Jewish theological pigheadedness, ought to look twice… and twice again before uttering the name of Jesus and Jewish souls in the same breath. The amount of Jewish blood that has soaked into the soil of this world over the centuries (for the record Christians had absolutely no problem shedding Moslem blood or the blood of fellow Christians as well) in the name of Jesus is nothing short of reprehensible. Funny thing though, I have yet to hear any Christian raise a question similar to the baseless question raised by far too many Jews over these last seven plus decades: How could Jesus sit by and do nothing while such carnage continues?

If Christians believe that G-d sent His son, His one and only son (sound familiar?) to earth so that the world could behold his birth, share his life and witness his death, all the power to them! If Christians believe that the second coming can only come about, when he is acknowledged and accepted by all as the savior, they are out of bounds and out of control. It is a terrible sin to believe at the expense of others! It is a deep embarrassment to believe at the validation of others!

Once upon a time in America, we were taught that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” America of today seems to take the exact opposite tack. As a child, I remember coming home crying when a Christian neighbor called me a Christ Killer. Since then, I’ve found much more important and meaningful things to cry over. I no longer cry at being called a Christ Killer (few, if any in our culture of today would have the temerity to call any Jew a Christ Killer). I summarily dismiss being told I will end up in hell – certainly as a result of my beliefs.

But I do cry over Christians who feel that they need to have their beliefs shared….or else. I do cry over Jews who go ballistic over well intentioned comments (I truly see these comments as such – so much for intention) by Christians who only wish to save our souls. I cry because there are so many more important things to cry over in this world.

MORE THAN WE CAN POSSIBLY BELIEVE

I attended a Baptist memorial service last Friday. For me, it was a most positive experience — one that I recommend to other rabbis and other Jews, as well. Having listened as objectively as possible to the minister, from a Baptist perspective I cannot help but feel that he is deserving of a big Yasher Koach for doing an excellent job.

More importantly, however, from a Jewish perspective, attending a Christian service afforded me the opportunity to realize what I, as a rabbi (and, by extension, what I as a Jew) simply do not believe in. For it is only after realizing what I as a Jew do not believe that I can better understand and appreciate — as well as put in a clearer perspective — what I do believe, as well as what makes us Jews so very different.

The minister focused on death. He made a point of correctly pointing out that we will never again find ourselves in the unenviable position of bidding that most difficult and heart wrenching final farewell (“difficult and heart wrenching” are my words…always the rabbi!). Typically, a Jewish memorial service focuses on life. Rather than bidding farewell to the deceased, we are apt to spend time on saying “hello” by introducing or at least reminding those assembled of the good, decent and, hopefully, even remarkable aspects of the deceased’s character via anecdotes about the deceased’s life. I have no idea who coined the phrase “celebration of life” to serve as a euphemism for a funeral service, but, when you stop to think about it, that’s precisely what we Jews have been doing for the longest time as we recall the positive and uplifting, even though the hearts of so many in attendance seem to be pulling in the opposite direction.

As Jews, we seem to be very uncomfortable whenever we are reminded that the deceased is now in a better place. We shouldn’t be. That’s precisely what Judaism teaches — but in no way dwells upon. As “heavenly” as death may be for the deceased, from time immemorial we Jews have adopted the attitude of “what’s your hurry?” In fact, this is exactly what went through my mind as I listened to the minister remind us that our dearly departed is now “whole again” and free from any aches, pains and disabilities that had set in over the years.

Yet I had another thought in mind, as well: Provided we are blessed with mental acuity until the very end of our lives, the longer we are here in this world the greater the opportunity we have of continuing to become a better individual. Accordingly, Jews can’t help but feel that death “got in the way”.

I’ve lost count of how many times Jesus was invoked by the minister, which, when all is said and done, is quite proper as well as theologically correct from a Baptist perspective. The thing is, each time I heard the minister mention Jesus I realized that our admittance into heaven as Jews rests primarily in our belief not in any savior but in ourselves. Our ultimate reward is solely dependent on our ability to stay true to the mitzvot which, if done correctly, will result in our becoming better selves. Judaism maintains that the greater one’s self-improvement becomes, the greater the likelihood of clear sailing into heaven.

At the risk of sounding smug, I’ve never been concerned about having to provide an answer to the question “Did you believe in HaShem?” What does concern me — more than you can ever know — is finding out whether HaShem believed in me!

As Jews, we are all too quick to dismiss such words when we hear them coming from a minister. It seems to be a knee-jerk reaction that there is absolutely nothing any minister can possible teach us as Jews. Perhaps not. One thing is for certain, though: Listening to a minister conduct a memorial service can clarify our Judaism for us more than we can possibly believe.