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June 7, 2013     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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June 7, 2013

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 7, 2013 By Rabbi Rachel Esserman The (Vestal, N.Y.) Reporter Was Judaism the first religion of the early Israel- ites? Based on archeological evidence, scholars believe our ancestors worshiped more than one deity. According to Avigdor Shinan and Yair Za- kovitch, the biblical text was written to promote a different idea: that the Israelites were to worship only one God. In "From Gods to God: How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths and Legends" (The Jewish Publication Society), Shinan and Zakovitch show how, before the Bible appeared in written form, numerous oral traditions presented different variations of the tales about the patriarchs and the Isra- elite kingdoms. Their book searches for the other versions by a method described as lit- erary archeology in order to recover these lost traditions. Shinan and Zakovitch note Legends before the Bible that "the official, written version of a story (i.e., the Bible's version) was meant to dispute views and opinions that were accepted when the story was still making its way orally through the world. By fixing the stories in writing, biblical writers aimed to es- tablish what they deemed to be the 'correct' version, the tradition that was worthy of preservation, and to eliminate traditions or viewpoints that they considered unsuitable or impossible to accept." However, these writers were unable to eliminate all tales with which they were uncomfortable, although they attempted to mold them into a more acceptable form. Echoes of the missing stories can be found in other Middle Eastern literature or reap- pear later in everything from rabbinic midrash (stories) to extra-biblical literature such as the "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs." Searching through this material allows the authors to uncover oral traditions, which they care- fully note are not historical fact, but rather unwritten legends that were passed from generation to generation. "From Gods to God" ex- plores avariety of biblical sto- ries in order to discover these "ancient oral traditions." For me, the most interesting chapters explore how the biblical writers portray Moses, emphasizing that he was an ordinary man chosen by God. Yet, hints of a different story appear throughout the Bible, which suggest that Moses was, in fact, once treated as an entirely different kind of hero: a semi-divine being like those found in Greek myths. The fact that Moses' birth deliberately receives little notice when compared to stories of other important biblical figures (for example, Isaac and Samson, both of whose parents learned of the upcoming birth from God or a visiting angel) leads the authors to suggest that the biblical account "was meant to contend with another one: one that brimmed with wonders and miracles." The Bible, however, seeks to downplay even those miracles it recounts (for example, when Moses splits the Sea of Reeds and releaseswater from a rock) by announcing that it was not Moses who performed the deed, but God. Although the biblical text explicitly states that Moses died--thereby making him a mortal, rather than divine--some Jewish traditions claim that Moses ascended to heaven without dying. Shinan and Zakovitch believe the biblical writers found the idea of Moses' im- mortality troubling, because they thought people might worship him, rather than God. Other chapters focus on: How the snake featured in the Garden of Eden is a tamer version of an immortal serpent, which fought with God before the creation of the world. The two biblical tradi- tions behind the eating of matzah on Passover. Are we commanded to remember the bread of affliction our ancestors ate while they were slaves, or does matzah serve to remind us of the unleavened bread they consumed while hurriedly leaving Egypt? Why the original story of the Golden Calf treated its creation not as a sin, but "as symbolic of the presence of Israel's God," something no different from "the cherubs, those winged creatures that served as God's chariot.., in the Temple in Jerusalem." The question of whether the law was given to the Is- raelites at Mount Sinai or in the land of Israel after Joshua made the people put away their foreign idols. A curious note in the book of Chronicles that suggests Jacob's son, Ephraim, never journeyed to Egypt, putting into doubt whether or not an Exodus ever occurred. The question of who really killed Goliath: King David or little-known hero Elhanan, son of Jarre. The real reason that Reuben slept with Bilhah, the concubine of his father, Jacob. Shinan and Zakovitch suc- ceed in their aim "to open a window through which read- ers might glimpse traditions that existed before the Bible came into being," and the strategies the biblical writers used to adopt and redefine them "in order to make them suit the lofty ideals of mono- theism, to elevate them to the morals and value system the Bible sought to install in its readers." Some chapters are more convincing than others, but all were intriguing. Readers interested in the legends of ancient Israelites or examin- ing the possibilities of the biblical text from a different viewpoint will enjoy exploring the lessons of "From Gods to God." Near Dutch ? ;J'laJ 'ia l riangle, ' a small Jewish enclave endures Robert Bink A building at the Van Ostade Jewish Housing Project in the Hague. By Cnaan Liphshiz THE HAGUE, the Neth- erlands (JTA)--On a cold winter night in 2008, Wire Kortenoeven was startled by the crackling of a large fire raging near his home on the edge of this city's last remaining Jewish enclave. Rushing from his apart- ment, Kortenoeven walked 70 yards and crossed the line separating his Jewish- owned housing project from the predominantly Muslim borough containing what Dutch media have taken to calling the "Sharia tri- angle'--Sharia referring to Islamic law. On the seam line, he en- countered dozens of Dutch Moroccans looking at several parked cars that vandals had set on fire. Fearing explo- sions, Kortenoeven shouted to the people looking down from their balconies to go back inside, but his interven- tion was ignored. "Onlookers started clos- ing in on me, shoving me, asking ifI was police, what I was doing in 'their neighbor- hood,' "he said. Kortenoeven scuffled with one man but managed to get away. Kortenoeven has since moved, but about a dozen Jewish households remain in the little-known Jewish enclave known as the Van Ostade Housing Project. The gated community of 200 units built in the 1880s to house poor Jews is sur- rounded by the Schilderswijk neighborhood--91 percent of its residents are foreign- born, half of them Moroccan or Turkish. Earlier this month, Schil- derswijk became national news after a Dutch newspa- per reported that part of the neighborhood had become a "Sharia triangle" that police dare not enter. The report prompted a high-profile visit from the stridently anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders, whose party called this month for a govern- ment study of anti-Semitism among Muslim immigrants. "It is unacceptable that women in skirts should be harassed here," Wilders said during his visit. "This is Holland. Sharia does not apply here." Dutch police have denied Friedman & Friedman Excellence in Real Estate "One Team. Twice the Knowledge, Service and Experience" Harry van Reeken The Van Ostude Jewish Housing Project in The Hague, 2011. The Center for Information and Docimentation on Israel, Sjaak van Doezum, right, the caretaker of the Van Ostade Jewish Housing Project in The Hague, and tenant Mike Du- rand relaxing in van Doezum's home, April 2013. The Center for Information and Docimentation on Israel, A Star of David in the architecture of the Van Ostade Jewish Housing Project in The Hague. that Schilderswijk has be- come a lawless territory and insist they have security under control. But the Hol- land Wilders fears is already a reality for some Jews of Van Ostade. "You get a lot of stares and comments," said Jewish resi- dent Iris Tzur, who says it's not comfortable for a blonde woman in a dress to walk the streets of Schilderswijk. Pinchas Moelker, an Or- thodox Jewish resident, says he hides his yarmulke under a hat and always tucks in the knitted fringes of his prayer shawl. He also installed a low-profile mezuzah that blends into the door frame. Others here have installed mezuzahs inside their doors. Such concerns aside, the remaining Jews of Van Ost- ade have no plans to leave, saying they enjoy a sense of togetherness that richer, less immigrant-heavy neighbor- hoods lack. Moelker hosts weekly Shabbat dinners for his neighbors, "who get so drunk that they zigzag all the way back home." And Avi The Center for Information and Docimentation on Israel, Mike Durand, a tennant of the Van Ostade Jewish Housing Project in the Hague. Genosar, who served in an elite Israeli army unit before coming to Holland to study, says the area's high crime levels don't bother him. "Here I can get fresh, cheap vegetables, tahini, olive oil and the other Middle Eastern foods I'm used to," Genosar says. Things were much differ- ent when the Van Ostade Jew- ish Housing Project was built by Jewish philanthropists more than a century ago. In 1880, there were about 6,000 Jews in The Hague, many of them living in penury in the city's disease- infested slums, according to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. Van Ostade was one of Western Europe's largest Jewish housing projects, bringing dozens of Jewish families in from the cold and charging them only a nominal rent. By 1930, the city's Jew- ish population had grown to 10,000 and many more families moved to Van Os- tade, but even then Jews comprised only 35 percent of the project's residents. Many Jewish families passed up the subsidized rent, preferring to live near the synagogue about a half-mile away. During the Holocaust, virtually all of the city's Jews were deported and mur- dered. Today, only about 250 self-identified Jews remain. Whenwaves of Muslim immi- grants arrived in the 1970s, the old synagogue became a mosque. Still, Van Ostade remained in Jewish hands, even as the old Jewish neighborhood near the synagogue became the local Chinatown. The project is run by an all-Jewish board that rents out subsidized apartments to low-income tenants. Jewish residents are encouraged to spread the word among their Jewish friends, but there are few takers. "The atmosphere in the Jewish neighborhood itself is very nice," Kor tenoeven says. "Everybody greets you hello. The people are good folks. Many of them are educated people, artists, some stu- dents. The problem is some elements in the environment around the neighborhood." The impact of Muslim immigration can be felt in other ways in Schilderswijk, as well. Earlier this month, De Telegraaf reported that a local school that had been a Jewish institution before the Holocaust shelved plans to install a commemorative plaque for fear itwould upset Muslims. Separately, a sign advertising an exhibition about the school's Jewish history had to be placed in- side lest it upset the locals, a co-organizer of the event told De Telegraaf. Gerard Brasjen, a spokes- man for the school's board, told JTA he was not aware of the sign issue. The plaque placement, he said, had nothing to do with Muslim sensitivities. "The plan to place it stalled not so much because of the Jewish-Muslim issue but because it's perhaps not very wise to put up any sort of plaque in the Schilderswijk," Brasjen said. "It's no quiet area, you know."