Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel

Who will remain?

A lot of observers, specialists, whizzes, and correspondents comment these days the Hamas’s chart and reflect on its true contents. How to understand what the real goals of Hamas are as regards the Jewish People and Israel? Some refer to different dates, some changes would have been made in 2017-8. No, as a rule, Hamas does not recognize the existence of the Jewish people nor the existence of an independent State of the Jews called Israel that also includes all sorts of nationals of different backgrounds.
It should be noted that this has been the constant attitude of Islam towards the “Peoples of the Book” (Ahl al-Kitab), i.e. the Jews, the Christians, and the other monotheistic creeds that rely upon a sacred book. Things are a bit embattled because Muhammad clashed with the local Jews of Arabia and did accept the Christians. He had been quite influenced by the theology taught by the Greek and Syrian traditions and, of course, he was profoundly influenced by the Talmud.
Muhammad himself had spent some time at the Saint Ekatherina Greek Orthodox Monastery in the Sinai and had granted his protection to the monks and their structure. Similarly, it is known that the great Muslim general Omar Ibn al-Khittab (his name was given to the entrance to Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem) had granted the Achtiname (the Act of Tolerance) that allowed the Jews, and the Christians to practice their religion under the control of the Umma in the 15th year of the Hijri (CE 647-8).
He had granted the Act to the Greek Orthodox leader, Patriarch Sophronios (a man of Arab descent) who was at the head of the then-six Christian denominations present at the Holy Sepulcher (Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Copts, Ethiopians, Syriac, Nestorians) and the Basilica of Bethlehem.
Omar Ibn al Khittab had visited the Temple Mount and seen the ruins of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. But his attitude was “mild” and tolerant. Islam is tolerant at different levels as all religions can be in special circumstances. One year later, in CE 648, the Persians invaded Jerusalem and the region, burnt the religious sites and the Greek Orthodox patriarch fled for a a long period to Constantinople. This obliged the Armenians to create their own patriarchate of Jerusalem in CE 438.
On the other hand, a fierce, violent battle, sort of irrational hatred, and exclusion marks the relationships between all religious groups in the Middle East. It just goes on. There can be, as now and for quite fifteen years – a sort of “stand-by, interreligious, inter-faith gentlemen’s agreement” based on regular meetings between the leaders of the Churches. The situation is due to the progressive fragility of local Christendom in the Land of Jesus of Nazareth, not affecting tourism, when the peace prevails.
But competition between the Churches does exist. The will of power was inherited by the colonial period when the traditional Churches – – the Roman Catholics, and Latins only appeared with the Kingdom of the Crusaders and later in 1878). At present, the historical role of each denomination is being re-evaluated. We can see this by the way the permanent question, “Who is first?” is apprehended.
Of course, according to the Christian tradition, a leader can only lead his church if he is “the last and humble servant”. All the heads of the Church show this basic value – definitely, it is evident. Still, it appears that media power, and capacity to use modern tools, to proselytize throughout the world, and switch roles without changing the order of the “Who’s who” has become a challenging activity for now. Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa is a real Latin Roman Catholic Franciscan, professor, Italian, and theologian from Bergamo. He is modern, up-to-the-minute, and knows how to cope with the present local layers of society. He is used to acting, he is wise and open. He is not a local man either, which is an advantage in some aspects. He is well-accepted by the Israeli government. He speaks perfect Hebrew and Arabic to a lesser level.
But in his position, Italian and English are essential. According to the traditional order, he is not the Head of all the Churches of Jerusalem. Patriarch Theophilos is the “first among his pairs” in Jerusalem and the successor of Patriarch Sophronios. He heads the “Mother of All the Churches of God”, and is Greek, Orthodox, and Byzantine. He has some Hebrew and Arabic but mainly expresses himself in Greek and English. The history of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem is an essential part of the Deir Rum (the House of Rome, i.e. The heir of the Roman Empire of the East and the West – dating from the time of Constantine). The history of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate has been tragic throughout the centuries, always under the control of non-Christians and the Ottoman Empire, the Sublime Porte.
Its role changed drastically after the collapse of the dictatorship in Greece (1974) and the fall of communism in the traditionally Orthodox countries (1989-1992. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem went through very difficult times in the last decades and could more or less overcome its internal conflicts. On the other hand, its position among the Arab communities is no longer secure. Some people whisper that they are rather glad to depend upon a State like Israel that recognizes and backs its present structure. Israel would accept that the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow or some other “Russian” jurisdictions would take the lead over the territory of the patriarchate (Israel, West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, and Sinai to some extent).
The Anglican Episcopalian Church is again on the rise and plays an important strategic role in the Middle East as it did when the Bethlehem Basilica was seized in May 2002.
Though the Church of Rome pretends that Judaism is recognized and that the ancient reproval and preventions against the Jews have been removed and revised, things are not clear. The real decision of the recognition of the Jews, their prophetic role in history, their return and ingathering in the Land of Israel, and the significance of the State of Israel do not depend upon the Church of Rome, the Latin jurisdiction only! The Eastern rite Churches in communion with Rome (Melkites, Syriac, and the pre-Chalcedonian Communities) did not approve and confirm the decision of the Council of Vatican II after the closure of the Council. No patriarchal Synod gathered at the end of the Council to validate the new positions mostly suggested by Western European theologians about the Jews without any decision on Israel.
This constitutes a huge theological interrogation for all the Churches. The Orthodox Church does not truly recognize the validity of the Hebrew text of the Bible and relies upon the Greek version translated by the Jewish Sages in Alexandria, the Septuagint. This can explain the position if the local Arab Islam is not directly rejected by the official Churches present in the State of Israel. For centuries, the Christians had been locally under the ruing of the Muslim power, as “dhimmis”. At present, the agenda published each year by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem includes a copy of the Achtiname, the Act of Tolerance granted by Omar Ibn Khittab in the 15th year of Hijri. We are in Hijri 1445 this year (2023 – 5784).
Since 1967, all the Churches have been under the authority and control of the Hebrew State. This is a tremendous hapax, a huge spiritual shock for religious bodies that are convinced that the world has to be christened and that Jesus of Nazareth has fully achieved and stopped the prophetic role of Israel as the messianic firstborn Tribes of Israel.
This is why the Christian Churches are reluctant to clearly condemn the massacres committed against the Jews and the Israelis.
The Churches, in the “Holy Land”, are engaged in fierce conflicts among themselves. The primacy of Patriarch Bartholomaios (there is no representative of the Phanar in Israel) has been challenged since 2016 (the disturbed Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete) and 1018 (creation by Constantinople of a specific Orthodox Patriarchate in Ukraine). He had resolved the internal crisis of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and allowed to election of Patriarch Theophilos.
The question of the role, identity, and prophetic service of the Jews has not been included in the subjects discussed during the Cretan pan-Orthodox Council that broke down between the Greek and Slavic/Russian jurisdictions and representatives. These days, The real problem for the Orthodox deals with revamping their maps and territories, revising their theological positions, and updating the articles of faith in such a way as to make them acceptable today, paving the way for the future.
They are strong-minded because they enjoy the exceptional wealth of their cultures and the permanency of their creeds. Nonetheless, the Eastern Churches keep being opposed to the Jews and the Israelis except for some groups, some scholars, and some groups and Hebrew lovers who remain a minority and hardly can gather together to build solid entities.
In 1945, A lot of Christians – mostly in the Western world – were traumatized when they understood what had been done in Christened Europe mainly during the Second World War. But the Shoah has passed, it is the end of the catastrophic abomination, also for the persons who had discovered the importance of the “Mystery of Israel”. This is why the Churches would – with much cautiousness and specific ideas – think that the Jews don’t have to exist. It is a part of a long-term tradition developed over the ages. Very few would understand that the community of Israel is open to all the nations of the world, that Christianity is a part of its Mystery, and cannot be imposed, and that if Jesus is the Messiah he gathered both and equally Jews and Gentiles alike (Ephesians 2:4)- at the same level though with different calls to express the unity of Faith in the One Father and Master of the universe.
Thus, antisemitism is “just” a symptom, a series of symptoms. Anti-Zionism is the same. It is a bit childlike to dare match the question of the survival of the Jews in Israel and the legal reality of the State of Israel with the problems connected to the same-sex, trans, slaves, proletarians, the Black or Colored racial issues, women, children, rapes and so forth. Yes, these problems exist but this is not the point.
Jewishness and Israeli existence are a part of another quest, interrogation. It is a far deeper and more difficult subject to challenge. At present as in the old days and the future, the question is not to love or not, to hate or reject the Jews and not only who they are truly or who people think they are. The way their essential nature and characters are handled will not disappear. On the other hand, we face an exceptional period of history in our generation: the ingathering of the exiled. It is marked by a total upside-down process that obliges all to reconsider the structure of the region. It has no price, it is highly perilous. We are challenged to answer with decency and compassion to all.
We face the question: “Who is? Who is going where to and why, who will remain?”. In a very moving poem, the Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever wrote: “Who will remain? What will remain? There will remain a wind. / There will remain the blindness of the disappearing blind… / And more than all the stars in the expanse from north to here / There will remain the star that sinks down in a simple tear. /A drop of wine will always be there in the pitcher too. / Who will remain? God will remain. Is that not enough for you? (“…/abraham…“).
About the Author
Alexander is a psycho-linguist specializing in bi-multi-linguistics and Yiddish. He is a Talmudist, comparative theologian, and logotherapist. He is a professor of Compared Judaism and Christian heritages, Archpriest of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and International Counselor.
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