Sunday, February 27, 2005

Lazer's Land

Lazer Brody's latest letter is laughable, so laughable that I am obliged to ask: Why do people take this man seriously? What follows is the letter's best bit, and then my animadversions:
Open up your Bible to Leviticus 34:24, which states: "No person shall covet your land during your pilgrimage to Hashem's holy temple three times a year". This is a strict Torah ordinance that requires every Jew to come to the Temple in Jerusalem 3 times a year - once for the festival of Passover, once for the festival of Shavuot, and once for the festival of Succot. That means that 3 times a year, during the months of Tishri (Succot), Nissan (Passover), and Sivan (Shavuot), the entire army was required to pack up and leave the Jordan border, the Syrian border, the Lebanon border, and the Egyptian border, and report to Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash (holy temple).
The first and second temples stood and were active for a total of 830 years. Never in these more than 8 centuries, was Israel ever attacked during the above mentioned 3 months (except for once, as we'll soon see), that is, at the time of the festivals. How can that be? The borders were wide open!
There are several faulty assumptions here. Let's count them:

1: Lazer assumes that all attacks on the Jewish state are recorded in books that we have in our possession today. Unfortunately, no such account exists for the second temple period, and, the Book of Kings, our primary historical record of the first temple period, is full of gaps. Frequently, a period of twenty or thirty years is glossed with a single verse.

2: Though the Book of Kings does tell us about various foreign kings and their military campaigns against the Jewish state, dates are not provided. We're told the year, but aside for the final campaign against Jerusalem and the temple, which occurred in Av, we have no dates. What is Lazer's source for imagining that none of the many attacks recorded in Kings occurred at holiday time? Wishful thinking? Faith? The record upon which he relies is inconclusive.

3: Lazer writes that the "Torah ordinace required every Jew to come to the Temple in Jerusalem 3 times a year" but was this law followed? He seems to forget (or perhaps he never knew) that Yerava'am, the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, prevented his people (ten out of twelve tribes!) from turning to the house of David. In fact, he set up two golden calves, one in Beth-el and the other in Dan, on the plea that the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was "too much" for the people. Is Lazer suggesting that Divine protection extended to the people who went to Dan and Beth-el to venerate golden calves?

And, in the Southern Kingdom, people weren't much more observant. In fact, the prophet testifies (2 Kings 23:21-23) that everywhere Passover was largely ignored: "Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed."

Ok, so much for the first temple period. Were people any more pious during the second temple period? It's hard to know, but do recall that Jerusalem had gymnasiums and a large population of Hellenized Jews; in its very last year Jerusalem was a center for the Judeo-Christians. Neither Hellenist nor Christian was likely to keep the sacrifical rites.

4: Moreover, there's ample evidence that the kings who ruled in Jerusalem and Shomron had no use for the Torah or its holidays, making it very unlikely that the kings permited "entire armies" to "pack up... and report to Hashem," leaving their borders defenseless. With few exceptions, we're told that the Kings were evil, idol-worshippers, who did "what was wrong in the eyes of God." Do these kings sound like men having enough faith in God to leave their land unprotected three times per year? The Book of King's description of first temple kings militates against such a view.

And in the second temple period the he Hashmonian kings who governed were equally bad. They quickly became Hellenized; one, Alexander Yannai, was pelted with esrogim on the Temple Mount one sukkot when he performed a Temple service improperly; others allowed the office of the High Priest to be filled by men who were not even kohanim. Do these sound like men who might trust the divine promise Lazer's adduces and leave their land unprotected at holiday time?

[Other nit-picks: moved to comments for the sake of brevity.]

Who does Lazer think he's serving by perverting the historical record, and by showing a blatant disregard for the Book of Kings? Certainly not his original correspondent, who wrote: "I'm curious to know if it's possible to substantiate the Torah from solid recorded historical evidence."

If she's smart enough to approach our religion from this perspective, from the perspetive of criticial thinking, I fear she's also intelligent enough to see through the bad arguments and bad facts in Lazer's answer and to be sent running in the opposite direction.

She deserves a better answer. Anyone?