CULTURE AND CIVILISATION: by Mark BrahamNews Weekly
The Judeo-Christian legacy
, July 30, 2005
We must recognise that a nation's culture has a religious base. "Art for art's sake" is a pagan concept, writes Mark Braham.Let me deal with multiculturalism: the English word "culture", with slight variations in French or German, is etymologically rooted in the Latin word cultus, which means worship, hence in later European languages a "cult' is the worship of a person or thing.
The terms "society" and "culture" refer to different aspects of the same basic human actions and relations.
While "society" and "social anthropology" emphasise the human element, that is the interpersonal and intergroup relations, "culture" and "cultural anthropology" are more concerned with creative achievement, that is the objects and ideas that are transmitted from generation to generation.
The way people behave in society is inextricably intertwined with its culture, and of course vice versa. The films we watch influence our behaviour, and the behavioural norms of society affect the films we make, and so with literature.
We must recognise that a nation's culture has a religious base as is indicated in the etymology of the word.
Jewish "culture" differs in essence from Gentile cultures, just as Judaism differs in fundamentals from Gentile religions. Jewish culture does not recognise a culture that does not have a moral base. Ars gratia artis
("art for art's sake") is a pagan concept that has no place in authentic Jewish life. Nor does "Torah" (Divine teaching) have a place among the world's religions.
Religions of the nations are created by men who form a picture in their mind of the Deity and their relation to it, while Torah was not the creation of human intellect but the proclamation of G-d given to Moses on Sinai in the hearing of a nation of several million people.
Alexander the Great recognised that the Jews were not like other nations who readily accepted the Greek culture; their religion was not a culture but the essence of their lives. Even Ptolemy of Egypt recognised the greatness of Torah and had it translated into Greek (the Septuagint).
Judaism teaches that Gentile nations that observe the seven laws given by G-d to Noah, will be blessed as a nation, hence the dominance of European civilisation based on the Judeo-Christian values and the threats posed to their survival by the challenge to such values, hence AIDS and the breakdown of healthy family.
The Seven Noahide Laws prohibit: (1) idolatry, (2) blasphemy and cursing the name of G-d, (3) murder, (4) robbery and theft, (5) immorality and forbidden sexual relations, (6) removing and eating the limb of a live animal, and require: (7) the establishment a justice system and courts of law to enforce the other six laws.
Any non-Jew who keeps these laws diligently because G-d so commanded
, and not simply out of logic, is considered a righteous Gentile, deserving the World to Come.
Because Judaism teaches that there is a place for all people, irrespective of their colour, nationality or ethnicity, in the World-to-Come, subject to their recognition of the One G-d revealed to Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses, and live a life of decency observing the Noahide Laws based on that belief, Jews do not actively missionise.
There is a very practical reason in that the Jew is bound by 613 commandments, not the basic seven which the righteous gentile must observe.
The authentic Rabbis are not therefore interested in converting anyone to Judaism who does not give evidence in a reasonable period of absolute commitment to a faith that makes such heavy demands on people when, as Gentiles, they can find their way to the World-To-Come by the relatively simple process of leading ordinary, decent lives conforming to the Seven Noahide Laws.
Over the millennia, there have been many breakaway movements based on a garbled version of Judaism. Some of these have been started by Jews, the best known extant of course is Christianity.
Others more recent are Reform, Liberal and Conservative Judaism; more recently, the cults of secular Zionism, Jews for Jesus and one led by Madonna. Mohamed of course took some basic ideas from Judaism and, when the Jews refused to follow him, turned on them.
Authentic Judaism has rejected these, and many more, breakaway movements, many of which no longer survive. Suffice to say that Judaism has survived every trial in its authentic form for 4,000 years. It has always been studied and interpreted by the authentic Rabbis and they are scholars of almost incredible erudition and piety.Fundamental error
It is a fundamental error to think that someone who has studied what Christians call the "Old Testament", even in the original Hebrew, understands Judaism.
The Rabbis regard the Old Testament - "The Pentateuch" - as a holy book to be studied in depth with its massive commentaries. But a genuine Rabbi must have studied, for many years, the Talmud, which is the oral Law given to Moses by G-d, passed down from teacher to disciple until it was written down about 125 years after the destruction of the Second Temple.
The Talmud contains over 2,700 pages, foolscap size, each page containing about 2,500 words on an average, so we are looking at nearly seven million words or over 70 fat volumes of normal books.
To this should be added dozens of volumes of commentaries not written into the actual Talmud. All this must be learned by genuine Rabbis, and over the centuries this has been the life's work of our spiritual leaders, many of whom could quote from any part by heart without referring to the text.
So far as the "Old Testament" is concerned, this provides no more than brief notes on Judaism - a dangerous book in the hands of scholars who lack a Talmudic background, hence the ignorant and anti-Semitic canards such as a literal interpretation of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", which actually means fair compensation.Misunderstood
Such has been the widespread propagation of this misunderstood quotation for 1900 years, that anyone with a western cultural background inevitably thinks in terms of the "harsh and cruel" Jewish Law in contrast to merciful Christianity.
Julia Baird wrote an article in the Sydney Morning Herald
(August 16-17, 2003) with the title "Sentence that gives oxygen to the vengeful". The sentence naturally was: "... Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. In the world of the Old Testament, killing or putting out the eyes of a vanquished foe was common.
"As was written in Exodus: 'If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.'
"Then Jesus came along, chastened the Pharisees for legalism, posturing and hard-heartedness, and introduced the concept of redemption and grace - forgiveness for the undeserving...
"As the Old Testament advocates clamoured for death this week ..." (the reference was to a proposed debate on the restoration of capital punishment).
I complained to the Australian Press Council about this article as I read it as an attack on Jews and Judaism.
Asked to explain her reference to "putting out the eyes of a vanquished foe was common", Baird came up with two examples from the Jewish Bible: Samson, the Jewish leader whose eyes were put out by the Philistines, and King Zedekiah, the Jewish king whose eyes were put out by Nebuchadnezzar, a fore-runner of Saddam Hussein.
These are the only two cases recorded in the "Old Testament"; such cruelty was never practised by Jews, only on
At the Press Council table sat about a dozen members of the council - publishers' nominees, journalists, selected members of the public, the chairman, a university professor of standing. If not all, the majority, I surmise, were university graduates with arts qualifications.
If you were to ask a garbage collector, or high school student, what was meant by quoting from the "Old Testament", a sentence "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" as a cruel law in contrast to the Christian teaching of "forgiveness for the undeserving", they would certainly know you were referring to Jewish Law and Jews as a cruel people in contrast to merciful Christians.
Despite the numerous articles and explanations by both Jewish and Christian scholars, that "eye for an eye" was never intended, or practised as law in a literal sense, but always meant fair compensation, circulated to members of the council, the verdict was that neither Jews nor Judaism were intended to be read into the article. My complaint was dismissed.
The worldwide undercurrent of anti-Semitism manifests itself in various forms. Leftish journalists, such as dominate the Sydney Morning Herald
, are nowadays hard put to propagate their absurd theories that "the Jews" are planning to dominate the world.
This is what Melanie Phillips, a British Daily Mail
columnist wrote in The Spectator
(October 30, 2004):
"The neocons, of course, are the prime villains in the ludicrous conspiracy theory now being peddled in all seriousness throughout mainstream culture. BBC2 [British television] is running a three-part series, 'The Power of Nightmares', which tells us that the threat of global terror is a myth concocted by the neocons in order to enact their sinister, warmongering fantasies and rule the world.
"Not only that, but the neocons have the same philosophy as the radical Islamists they are fighting! Such a paranoid fantasy would once have been dismissed as the ravings of the kind of person who writes in green ink and capital letters.
"Now, though, the theory is espoused across the establishment, from armchair generals to both conservative and left-wing newspaper columnists.
"I am alarmed that rational, factual debate no longer seems possible against this tide of unreason, prejudice and hatred. But no doubt that's because I'm a war-crazed neocon extremist."Codeword for Jews
I should add that "neocons", like "Zionists", is now widely used as a codeword for Jews.
Orthodox Jews, whose purpose in life is to live their lives according to the commandments of Torah, in the confident belief, for which we pray in our three daily services, that in the Messianic Era, which we believe is imminent, hence the unparalleled upheavals in the world - man-made and natural - there will be a universal recognition of the Unity and Sovereignty of G-d. The heathens will forsake their idols and false ideals, wickedness, falsehood and violence.
The Messianic hope is not to destroy the wicked, but to win them over to G-d's service.
- Mark Braham was an officer in the British Army during World War II and later migrated to Australia. An orthodox Jew, he is author of Stronger than Fiction: Jews and Christians Are Natural Allies (London: Minerva Press, 1999). This article is an extract from a talk he gave to the Humanist Society (NSW) on April 13, 2005.