I just had the unhappy experience of a Jew celebrating Christmas. I celebrate it with my family each year because although I am a Jew I was born a Christian. This year I even made Christmas dinner, such as it was: Apple and Onion and Cheddar Soup (I may post the recipe tomorrow). Well, my sister was the one person here besides my mom, and we opened our gifts. Then Gayle had to say it, “I am in a class about the Old Testament. There is nothing spiritual about the Old Testament at all. It is just a bunch of ugly stories that have nothing to do with being spiritual at all.” She mentioned two stories: a story in Judges about a concubine who got raped and whose husband wrought vengeance for her with the help of the rest of Israel; and the story of Noah after the flood with his son Ham. Now, there are lots of people who do not see these as the most edifying pieces of the Hebrew Bible. Yet I really wanted to punch her out when she expressed what she felt in one sentence: “I am never reading the Old Testament.”
Now, I seethed under the surface listening to her, but I also wondered about something that bothered me even as a Christian. Why is it so many Christians think the Old Testament is about a “God of Wrath” while the New Testament is about a “God of Love.” There was a Christian heretic–a heretic only I admit–who thought Christians should abandon the “Old Testament” altogether in favor of the “New Covenant” alone.
When I lost faith in Christianity it was in large part because my Grandma insisted on the coming of a Jewish anti-Christ, a Catholic false prophet, and all the peoples of the world (except a small number of Protestants) going straight to hell. I could never really get it out of my head that I no longer liked Jesus after she told me all of those things, beginning when I was ten. What I knew, though, is that awful though her views were it had nothing to do with real Jews or real Catholics that she had them. I also knew that it had nothing to do with “no religion having anything to say at all.” What is spooky about my sister and stepsiblings (all of whom are her grandchildren) is that even though they hate Grandma’s God to death, they all hate Jews and Catholics, too. Mom’s religion was Methodism and Gayle has been Bahai and Buddhist. Yet she really does hate the Old Testament, apparently, and I think by extension the Jewish people. She also hates the Catholic Church. She blames us for Grandma’s awful faith. As for my cousins? In the branch of the family I mentioned, two of the four of them hate God–and anyone with a smidgeon of any religion left in them, including the groups Grandma hated.
Anyway, I want to say that even though I can barely read the New Testament without crying, I do not really blame Jesus for the ugly people who were in my life. I feel like I never met the man in reality, and never could understand him if we met today. Yet I still loved the “Old Testament” and so I will say it: the Bible is a Book of Love. It’s aspirations–the dream of a day when humankind will have peace and prosperity, and worship God as One–are what move me even more than the book’s theology (monotheism). I wish as angry as I am right now that I could reach into my heart, and show the world what True Love is… and that is written in Hebrew and not just Greek or Arabic. I don’t blame Christians or Muslims, but I wish they would quit persecuting us for good. I’m embarrassed to admit to admiring the Quran, and still being able to quote the New Testament.
I barely know how to admit this or if I should: when I foolishly told Grandma that I was converting to Judaism, she yelled at me for two solid hours that I was going to hell for all eternity. My dad would literally make fun of Kosher when I ordered meals at restaurant approximating it. As for my stepsibling’s/cousin’s dad (because my mom married the man who had been married to my Aunt Marcia), when I told them how Grandma had yelled at me he said, “Yeah, you being a Jew would do it. It’s not really the smartest idea you could have had, though. You and Sammy Davis, Jr. are the only two people who ever converted.” He died that spring, and Mom let me cook Kosher meals so I could practice my new religion.