Daf Yomi Chagigah 5
I am very involved with Christians United for Israel (CUFI). I go to the annual convention in Washington DC and I work with CUFI Alberta on an annual Night to Honor Israel. In my mind, they are indefatigable friends of our people and in a world that contains so much anti-Semitism, we are lucky to have the support of so many Christians.
But many Jews are suspicious of these people. After all, how could they be our friends? For thousands of years, they exiled us from land to land, burnt us at the stake, converted us by the sword and burned our books. Why the sudden change of heart?
As Rabbi Joshua ben Chanania lay on his death bed, the rabbis who had gathered around beseeched him, “What will be our fate with the Christians?”
He replied, “The prophet Jeremiah declared, ‘Counsel has been lost from the children, their wisdom has spoiled.’ The meaning of this verse is that once counsel has been lost from your (Jewish) children, the wisdom of the nations will spoil.”
When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, things turned bad for the Jews. The time of the Talmud was rife with Christian harassment and of all the things they could have asked Rabbi Joshua on his deathbed, all they could muster was, ‘When will the persecution end?’
Rabbi Joshua’s response was a powerful prophecy to our generation. Throughout the millennia of Jewish history, we were the most literate people on the planet. We were literate in the arts and sciences of the cultures in which we lived, not to mention our Jewish literacy.
Understandably, our Christian hosts felt threatened by our Bible mastery and commitment and we were regularly challenged to public theological debates. These debacles were utterly futile exercises in Christian tyranny – we were losers whatever the outcome and they inevitably culminated in mass exile or genocide.
But then something happened when we came to the New World. In an effort to establish ourselves financially in our new countries, we began to neglect our Jewish literacy. Fast forward a century or two and we find ourselves in a spiritually terrible place. There has never been a time in the history of the Jewish people that we have been so woefully illiterate. Most Jews cannot read Hebrew, let alone translate a verse of the Torah.
Prophesies Rabbi Joshua: When your children lose their counsel – when they become illiterate, the wisdom of the nations will spoil – they will cease challenging us theologically and the persecution will disappear. Only then will your fate with the Christians ease up, he tells his students on his deathbed.
What does that mean? Is Jewish illiteracy then a positive thing? Now that most Jews are clueless about the Bible, the Christians are our friends! Shouldn’t that be celebrated? We could have abandoned our commitment to literacy a long time ago and we would have saved ourselves much pain and suffering!
G-d forbid!! Sadly, the reason why Christians have stopped persecuting us now that we are illiterate is that they no longer need to harass us in order to Christianize us. Jewish illiteracy automatically leads to assimilation! They don’t need to work hard to convince us to become like them anymore, we are doing it to ourselves by default. Tragically, within a generation or two, we will lose large swaths of our people to the Christian society around us. And all this without them ever needing to lift a finger against us!
You can buck that trend. Become literate! Make sure that you and your children can read and understand fluently. There are some basic levels of Jewish literacy that must be achieved if you want your kids to stay Jewish. You should be able to daven three times a day fluently. You should be able to read and comprehend Rashi. You should be able to at least pick up a volume of the Talmud in English and know what they’re talking about.
Join the ranks of your forebears. They could read and write Hebrew fluently. They could read the Chumash (Bible) in the original and understand. They could read a Mishnah and explain it. You can too! Make the effort. Your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be eternally grateful!