Wednesday, December 06, 2006


In a metropolis, a new theatre was built.
In one of its big shows, a short circuit in the faulty electric installation caused a devastating fire.
The exit doors which were normally operated by electric power, could not be opened due the power failure, and most of the people got trapped, and perished.
The builder of the theatre who happened to be nearby, and who knew how to open manually one of the side doors, could rescue a few dozen people.
In the investigation it was found out that the builder of the theatre had deviated severely in several points from the architect's construction plans, with the faulty electric installation being one of them. On occasion of the above show, a foe who knew about the theatre's installations, plucked in and drew a lot of the current for his own purposes. The ensuing overload caused the breakdown of the faulty system and the flames.
Should the builder be praised for rescuing a few people; or should he be taken to account for the deviations from the master plan and be held responsible for the death of the multitudes in the flames?

Interpretation of the parable:
stage of world events
new theatre:
Christianity (Church) which superseded the pagan Roman Empire
exit doors not operative:
no way of escape for the victims
big show:
WWI and its aftermath
builders of the theatre:
Church fathers, and Vatican
Moses and the Prophets
deviation from the master plan:
changing the Divine Law (esp. putting the Lord of the Church and of the "NT" against and above the so-called "OT")
faulty electric installation:
wrong channeling of the Divine energy with anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism as one of these wrongs
a foe:
who knew about the installation:
the foe said plainly that he does not need to invent anti-Semitism, it was at hand
plucking in, and drawing from the current:
the foe's harping on the Churches' anti-Semitism, and drawing power from it as well as from the Vatican's Concordat with the nazi government in 1933
breakdown of the faulty system:
trapped in its anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic theology, the Church as a whole had not the will nor the strength to stand up and plead for the persecuted Jewish people (notwithstanding acts of brave individuals)
the builder of the theatre who rescued a few through a side door:
the Vatican who authorized in 1943 Italian monasteries to "shelter politically persecuted people, especially Jews".
the people who got trapped, and perished:
the Jewish victims of the Holocaust
Christian-Jewish relationship
according to the
Parable of the Olive Tree
(Epistle to the Romans chpt. 11:16-24)

"...if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and thou being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree, boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, the branches were broken off that I may be grafted in. Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high minded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou were cut of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a goodly olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural ones, be grafted into their own olive tree?"

The parable brings a comparison with the practice of grafting known in horticulture and tree nursery. In order to understand the parable and its implications, we should first try to comprehend the procedure of grafting.
Let's say we want to grow sweet almonds. If we put an almond kernel into the ground, and wait several years till the growing tree brings forth fruit, we could be unpleasantly surprised in case they are bitter almonds. There is no certainty in advance what variety fruit trees grown from seeds will bring forth. But if we take a twig from a tree whose fruit we like, and want to get; and graft this twig upon an existing, preferably wild tree of the same kind (e.g. a bitter almond), we will get exactly the variety of the tree from which we took the twig (e.g. sweet almonds). There are some more advantages to the practice of grafting: usually the wild tree has a stronger, disease resisting root and stem than the goodly variety; and the grafted twig can draw more sap from the strong wild root, and thus be able to develop more branches and fruits. However, the gardener has to watch the grafted trees that their roots would not grow wild shoots besides the grafted twig, for they would take over and strangle it.
Now, our parable says that branches from a wild olive were grafted in the goodly olive tree "against nature", i.e. against the usual practice. Many say that Apostle Paul, by profession a tent maker, was not acquainted with tree growing; and made here a mistake. But by pointing out that something was done here "against nature", he tells us that he was well aware of what he was doing, and took into account that the wild twig(s) would bring forth few and small oil berries, but would grow an impressive foliage. Consequently, he warns his Gentile followers grafted against nature in the goodly olive tree, Israel, not to become proud and boast against the remaining goodly branches; for "not you (Gentiles) are carrying the root, but the root (Israel and its Torah) carries you".
The parable is quite in line with fundamental sayings of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. Let's have a look at some of them:
a) Noah, blessing his sons, established "God shall enlarge Japhet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Sem" (Gen. 9:27. Sem, one of Noah's three sons, is the "father of the children of 'Eber", i.e. of the Hebrews, Gen. 9:21. The word Sem means name, especially the Name of the Lord as in "hallowed be thy name", which the Cohanim (priests) were to put upon the children of Israel, Numb. 6:27; whence Semites. And "all the people of the earth shall see that thou [Israel] are called by the name []Sem of the Lord", Deuter. 28:10).
b) The Lord, in his covenant with Abram/Abraham, decreed:
"... thou shall be a blessing; and ... in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). An ensuing specification says: "...and in thy [Isaac's} seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" [liter. bless themselves; Gen. 26:4].
c) Gen. 49:10 speaks of Judah and his scepter that "unto him the gathering of all the peoples shall be".
d) Exod. 19:6 designates Israel as a "Kingdom of Priests", that is, her very call implies a priestly function for the nations.
e) When King Solomon inaugurated the First Temple, he prayed also for the strangers that the Lord might hear them when they pray in direction towards it (1.Kings 8:27-29, 41). In this train of thought, Prophet Isaiah speaks of it as the "house of prayer for all nations" (56:6); for, as Ps. 133:3 says, the Lord has commanded the blessing in Zion.
f) Jer. 11:16 compares Israel to a green olive tree; and Hos. 14:6,7 sees Israel as the root of that “olive tree of his majesty” [=זית הודו] which is “casting forth its roots like the Lebanon". ((Obviously the Prophets are tracing back to a peculiar term in Deuter. 8:8. There, the Land of Israel is described as land of the goodly olive tree, liter. “land of the oil(giving) olive tree” [ארץ-זית שמן], apparently in distinction from other countries with olive trees; or from (wild) olive trees which do not grow oil berries)).
g) Ezra, then. enjoined the people to bring for Succoth “branches from the olive tree and branches from the oil tree” (Nehem. 6:15)- probably understood by Paul as referring to the wild olive tree and the goodly olive tree.
h) The vision that the nations would be on top for a certain time, i.e. would play the role of the head temporarily, is part of ancient prophecies:
"...thou hast grafted [ordinary] men to our head" (Ps. 66:12).
The passage is usually rendered "thou hast caused men to ride over [הרכבת] our heads", but the Hebrew word רכב which can mean to (cause someone to) ride, is often used in the sense of putting someone or something on top, as e.g. in 2.Sam. 6:3; 2. Kings 13:16; 23:30, where it is impossible to render it as riding. In fact, as we saw, the grafted twig, is above the root, or figuratively speaking, it rides the root.
The same thought expressed in Lament. 1:5, and 2:17, reads:
"Her [=Jerusalem's] adversaries became the head";
"The Lord has done that which he has devised, he has fulfilled his word that he has commanded in the days of old: he has thrown down, and has not pitied; and he has caused the enemy to rejoice over thee [Israel], he has set up the horn of thine enemies".
At the time of the compilation of the Epistle to the Romans, Rome was indeed the head of the nations, even put over Israel. It ruled mercilessly (the crucifixion of the Nazarene as "King of the Jews", besides many other crucifixions, was one of the demonstrations of its rule). The destruction of the Temple as the seal of this rule was pre-told, too (e.g. Hes. 3:43; Luke 21:20-25); and Rome commemorated this fact matchlessly by minting a special coin, inscribed "Juda capta".
All this shows that the destruction of the Second Temple and the Roman exile were not at all a punishment caused by the crucifixion of the Nazarene, as often alleged.
Many allege that the natural branches were broken off because of their unbelief, and that instead of them Christianity is now grafted in. But the parable says plainly that only some of the natural branches were broken off, not all of them. Besides, Christianity developed from early times a novel interpretation of the term belief, in fact an interpretation which is not covered neither by the Hebrew of the Tanakh nor by the Septuagint, nor by the original Greek of the Epistles.
The Hebrew word emunah, (from which Amen derives), as well as its Greek translation pistis, mostly rendered belief, convey the idea of trust, faithfulness (as in Ps. 33:4; 89:25,34; 119:86). That means to say both the Hebrew and the Greek word describe an attitude or behavior which result from one's certainty or conviction. The list of witnesses of faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chpt. 11, gives a clear picture of what is meant also in the NT as belief, or faith.
Be it mentioned in this context that most of the modern translations of Hebr. 11:6, which brings a definition of faith, say improperly "... for he who cometh to God must believe that he is...", while the Greek text states that one has to believe (liter. be living it, be faithful) because God is. In Hebrew thinking, God's existence is the cause of belief, or faithfulness. He is not the object of philosophical or theological speculations, nor of considerations whether the Torah and its commandments can be altered or done away with through a resurrection or ascension. The list of witnesses of faith in Hebr. 11:17-32 may give an idea about the Apostles’ understanding of faith.
The Jews, of course, had to reject these novel interpretations of belief. In turn, they were accused of unbelief, stubbornly sticking to the commandments of the "Old Testament"; and many Christians developed that kind of haughtiness boasting against the root and its natural branches of which Romans 11:18,29 warns so severely.
Paul, “entrusted with the glad tidings to the uncircumcised” (i.e. the Gentiles; Gal.2:7), felt the task to graft them as branches from the wild olive into the goodly tree. In that, he offers co-fellowshipx) with the goodly branches to those who even during the "Times of the Gentiles" stay in faith; and do not boast nor become haughty; do not change the rules of the housexx); and do not missionizexxx) goodly branches to novel concepts. “Nostra Aetate” of the Catholic Church, and similar declarations of some Protestant Churches after WWII, may well be seen as opening the way of return to the original scriptures, coming in line with the "glad tidings to Abraham" referred to in Gal. 3:8:
"I will bless them that bless thee... and in thee all the nations shall be blessed". Eventually, the nations will “bless themselves” (=והתברכו) in Abraham (Gen. 22:18) and in his seed (Gen. 26:4). By using here the reflexive form “will bless themselves”, the Torah tells us that the nations, once they realize that all their crafts are of no avail, shall come unto Israel (cf Jer. 16:19), urging “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob…” (Is. 2:3-4; also Zech. 8:20-23, 14:16,17; et al).

X) cf. Eph. 2:19; 3:6 where the Greek text addressing the believers from the Gentiles speaks of them as co-citizens; co-heirs; co-body; co-partakers; that is, it depicts them as joint to Israel, not as superseding her. This is perfectly in line with Noah’s dictum that Japhet “shall live in the tents of Shem” (Gen. 9:27 – echoed in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven……”).
xx) Indeed, the Gentile believers are enjoined "to abstain from blood" (Acts 15:20); not to touch anything unclean (2.Cor. 6:17); “not to eat flesh … by which thy brother stumbles, or is ensnared…” (Rom. 8:21; 1.Cor. 8:13); not to teach differently (1.Tim. 1:3); to herald the Kingdom of God (Jerem. 30:9; 1. Chron. 285; 29:11; Acts 28:31; et al).
xxx) The "Great Commission" in Matth. 28:19, translated literally from the original Greek, reads: "Going, you will teach all the nations...". These words are addressed to Jewish disciples who, by their going, will teach the nations; i.e. their way of life (הלכה, halakhah), as well as the exile and the return to the country will be a teaching to the nations (cf. Ps. 98:2-4; 117; Ezek. 36:23,24; and others).
Dr. Asher Eder, e-mail:


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