Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Israel, our beliefs and why it matters
Editor's note: This is the first column in a series on how believers perceive Israel and how those perceptions shape their own faiths.
Recently a colleague of mine returned from a trip -- or, as she referred to it, a pilgrimage -- to Israel.
Her Israel was one of visits to sites considered holy by Christians, Essene caves and a friend's swim in the Dead Sea.
Others might envision a country, with geographical boundaries and a volatile history. Some are swept up into the details of the formation of a new government and what that means for potential peace (or war) with the Palestinians and the nations of the Middle East.
Is Israel your Holy Land, as many Christians envision it, the land in which Jesus was born, preached and died? Is it the land in which the Messiah spoken of in written and oral Jewish history will arrive, bringing about the restoration of his people?
One of the world's most ancient civilizations, the people of Israel have been recognized as an entity, both in the Hebrew scriptures and by outside sources, going back more than 1,200 years before the birth of Christ (or, in less religious terminology, before the common era). Even then, the ancient scriptures and other narratives chronicle the claim to the land was disputed by neighboring peoples and tribes.
There are few, if any, places more significant in the history of the Judeo-Christian faith -- and yet, so often, little time is spent reflecting on the forces that shape our contemporary beliefs about it.
Perhaps it is facile to say that not much has changed in 2,000 years. But it is true that in modern times many faiths, and many denominations within those faiths, have laid claim to a particular understanding of the significance of the land of Israel and its present and future.
Whatever your point of view, the way that you see Israel (as land, as people, as symbol) and the language you use to define it, says a lot, both about you and about what you believe.
To speak of Israel and the people of Israel, whether one is Jewish or Christian, Muslim or secularist, is, inevitably, to make many assumptions. Some of these we will explore in future columns as we try to step back and take a long look at Israel's significance across faiths and centuries.
It is best, perhaps, to start with the rabbis, interpreters of the law and the ancient traditions of the Jewish people.
In weeks to come I hope to speak with rabbis who represent more recently distinct traditions within Judaism.
But to examine what one might call the "originalist" understanding of the significance of the land of Israel, I turned to two local Orthodox men of God.
Rabbi Elazar Green directs the Chabad Jewish Enrichment Center. A local Jewish resource center for college students and adults (it also supervises local kosher facilities), the Chabad Center is part of an international network, accessible to believers and nonbelievers alike. His colleague, Rabbi Shaya Sackett, is the rabbi of Degel Israel, Lancaster's Orthodox synagogue.
They were gracious enough to let me ask them some pretty basic questions -- and I wasn't shy about asking.
In separate conversations they shared their understanding of a Jewish faith and history steeped and founded on the inheritance of the promises of God to Abraham, the Exodus, the exile from the promised land and the hope that, one day, the Third Temple would be built, a reminder of God's faithfulness and of the worthiness of his people.
"The ultimate expression of God's desire to be with his people is rebuilding the Temple," Green said. "We are awaiting a time in which the Third Temple will be built."
In the next commentary, we'll take a closer look at some of the ideas that shaped the core of this influential faith -- beliefs many of us may take for granted, and think that we understand.
It's very possible that we will find, in the weeks to come, that much of what we thought we knew can be reshaped, and perhaps enriched, by someone else's beliefs.
Join me on this adventure in faith. And feel free to chime in, respectfully and coherently, whenever you choose.