Posted by Rob Eshman
Oh G-d no. Not another Bible codes book. And this one launched in a full page ad in The New York Times highlighting how in May 2008 Oprah Winfrey sent a Bible code to Barack Obama that he would become President.
Surely I as an orthodox Jew ought to applaud a book that proves that the Torah has encoded prophecy, thereby proving its authenticity. But aside from the question of whether President Obama is G-d’s anointed, I have serious objections to the Bible codes.
First, there is the fact that you can take nearly any lengthy book, put it through a computer, and pull out prophecy. Prof Brendan McKay of Australian National University found 13 predicted assassinations of public figures encoded in Moby Dick, including several presidents and Prime Ministers. McKay also found an encoded phrase in Moby Dick that predicted “Drosnin (the author of the codes series) will be murdered by Eli Rips (the Israeli scholar who first discovered the codes) in Athens.” Other scholars found results that were as statistically impressive as Rips in a Hebrew copy of War and Peace.
Next, associated with the codes there is the usual apocalyptic bunkum that has so tarnished religion. The codes apparently predicted an atomic Holocaust in 1986 and, if that didn’t happen, that the world would end again in 2006. (It’s worth noting my cardinal rule about the difference between a real religion and a cult: religion teaches you to revere life while a cult teaches you to fear death). The codes predicted a world war in the year 2000 and that Israel would be destroyed in a global cataclysm (let’s hope Ahmedenijad isn’t reading the book). The book further predicted a comet would strike earth and obliterate much of it in 2006.
What makes an even greater mockery of the codes is that the Torah today is somewhat imprecise in that some of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet can be replaced by vowels and we are not certain whether the vowel, or the letter itself, should be in certain passages. Insert a few of these missing letters and the codes become gibberish.
But none of this has stopped a few Jewish outreach organizations, most notably Aish HaTorah, from employing the codes as a principal tool by which to attract young Jews to their tradition. Little do they realize that Christian missionaries are now putting the New Testament through computers to demonstrate, through their own codes, that Jesus is the foretold Messiah.
But my personal objection to the codes is something else entirely and has to do with the rise of Judaism as magic and Rabbis as soothsayers. Over the past twenty years we have witnessed a slew of mostly fraudulent Cabbalists and questionable mystics running around the world and telling gullible Jews their future. Many are Rabbis who even claim illustrious pedigrees. The majority employ a classic ‘cold reading’ - where without even realizing it, you end up supplying the information to the ‘seer’ who can really only see your wallet – and are about as capable of telling the future as I am of playing in the NBA. You receive a private audience with these much sought-after Rabbis and they immediately wish you a speedy recovery for your ailing back. They tell you they know you’re having tension with one of your children and that your dead mother has forgiven you for the time you forgot her birthday. They offer sop and comfort, but ask them anything truly useful, like when will the next bomb go off in Jerusalem so as to save innocents from dying – and they stealthily change the subject. But that hasn’t stopped wealthy, educated, and sophisticated Jews all over America from lining up around the block to line these charlatans pockets and get business and personal advice.
We are living in an age that desperately needs religion. Modernity is only a blessing so long as its technological advances are governed by values. Wealth in the West has ended poverty but has brought in its wake soullessness and materialism. Putting the professional before the personal has lead to the decimation of romantic relationships and the neglect family and children.
This is why the Bible is more relevant than ever before. Western men and women need to read of a wealthy nobleman named Abraham who personally sat outside his tent to welcome wayfarers. Politicians who eviscerate each other in attack ads need to read of Moses who brought Pharaoh to his knees yet remained ‘the most humble man who walked the earth.’ Brothers and sisters who haven’t spoken in years need to read of Joseph who became the most powerful man alive but forgave his siblings their attempt at fratricide. Men who cheat on their wives must read of King David who engaged in the most severe penance after his affair with Bathsheba.
But religion as pious sorcery threatens to undermine its moral dimension. The Bible codes and mystical, magical Judaism tell us it’s not the inspirational guidance and wisdom for life which makes the Bible special but it’s hidden numerology and nascent predictions. You turn to the Bible not to learn how to be close to G-d but to predict the next property surge.
So let me be clear. I couldn’t give a damn if the Bible can predict the next President and I don’t need the Torah to forewarn me that I’m about to become nuclear melba toast. Rather, I turn to Judaism to discover the values by which I should lead my life and maximize my human potential. I seek not to discern the future but master the here-and-now. Religion is a roadmap not to some underlying codes hidden in the Bible but my underlying G-dly nature that sits beneath my ambition, selfishness, and egocentrism and strives to come out.
If you want a vulgar forgery of faith there are any number of religious charlatans who, for a couple of bucks, are ready to read your palm. But if you’re an adult then you’re ready for religion as something that attunes you to G-d and humanity’s needs rather than focusing exclusively on your own.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is founder of This World: The Values Network which seeks to use universal Jewish values to heal America. His newest book is Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life” (Basic Books). Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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October 18, 2010 | 1:10 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, sparked controversy last week by declaring in a speech at an Orthodox synagogue that children shouldn’t be “brainwashed” into considering homosexuality acceptable. He later apologized, saying that he supports gay rights but opposes gay marriage. The Rabbi who hosted Mr. Paladino’s speech then retracted his endorsement of the candidate. Likewise, the Jewish Standard in New Jersey recently sparked a community-wide uproar by publishing a gay wedding announcement.
People of faith insist that homosexuality is the most serious of sins because the Bible calls it an abomination. But the word appears approximately 122 times in the Bible. Eating non-kosher food is an abomination (Deut.14:3). A woman returning to her first husband after being married in the interim is an abomination (Deut. 24:4). And bringing a blemished sacrifice on G-d’s altar is an abomination (Deut. 17:1.). Proverbs goes so far as to label envy, lying, and gossip as that which ‘the Lord hates and are an abomination to Him’ (3:32, 16:22).
As an orthodox Rabbi who reveres the Bible I do not deny the Biblical prohibition on male same-sex relationships. Rather, I simply place it in context. There are 613 commandments in the Torah. One is to refrain from gay sex. Another is for men and women to marry and have children. So when Jewish gay couples come to me for counselling and tell me they have never been attracted to the opposite sex in their entire lives and are desperately alone, I tell them, “You have 611 commandments left. That should keep you busy. Now, go create a kosher home with a mezuzah on the door. Turn off the TV on the Sabbath and share your festive meal with many guests. Put on tefillin and pray to G-d three times day for you are His beloved children. He desires you and seeks you out.”
Once, I said to my friend Pat Robertson, whom I have always found engaging and open in our conversations, “Why can’t you simply announce to all gay men and women, ‘Come to Church. Whatever relationship you’re in, G-d wants you to pray. He wants you to give charity. He wants you to lead a G-dly life.” He answered to the effect that homosexuality is too important to overlook, seeing as it poses the most grave risk to the institution of marriage. Other evangelical leaders have told me the same. Homosexuality is the single greatest threat to the family.
But with one of out two heterosexual marriages failing, with seventy percent of the internet dedicated to the degradation of women through pornography, and with a culture that is materially insatiable even as it remains all-too spiritually content, can we straight people say with a straight face that gays are ruining our families? We’ve done a mighty fine job of it ourselves, thank you very much.
The extreme homophobia that is unfortunately to be found among many of my religious brothers and sisters – in many Arab countries being gay is basically a death sentence – stems from an even more fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of sin. The Ten Commandments were given on two tablets to connote two different kinds of transgression, religious and moral. The first tablet discusses religious transgressions between G-d and man such as the prohibitions of idolatry, blasphemy, and desecrating the Sabbath. The second tablets contains the moral sins between man and his fellow man, like adultery, theft, and murder.
The mistake of so many well-meaning people of faith is to believe that homosexuality is a moral rather than a religious sin. A moral sin involves injury to an innocent party. But who is being harmed when two, unattached, consenting adults are in a relationship? Rather, homosexuality is akin to the prohibition of lighting fire on the Sabbath or eating bread during Passover. There is nothing immoral about it, but it violates the divine will.
For the record, I am in favor of gay civil unions rather than marriage because I am against redefining marriage. But I hardly believe that gay marriage is the end of Western civilization. For me the real killer is the tsunami of divorce and the untold disruption to children as they become yo-yos going from house to house on weekends. The American religious and electoral obsession with all-gay-marriage-all-the-time has lead to a values-vacuum in America where it is near impossible to discuss real solutions to the erosion of family life. For instance, making marital counselling tax-deductible would, I believe, do infinitely more to bolster the crumbling institution of marriage than any opposition to gay relationships. Likewise, promoting a code of gentlemanly conduct for men on American College campuses and negating the prevailing hook-up culture where sex even precedes dating could spark a return to romantic and long-term commitments. Finally, getting more families to sign up for our international ‘Turn Friday Night Into Family Night’ would give children in general, and girls in particular, greater self-esteem as they are focused on by their parents for at least two hours each week without any electronic interference. And children with self-confidence later create stronger adult relationships.
I have countless gay friends whose greatest fear, like so many straight people, is to end up alone. Should we merely throw the book at these people? Does not the same book, the Bible, also say, “It is not good for man to be alone?” And all I’m asking from my religious brethren is this: even as you oppose gay relationships because of your beliefs, please be tortured by your opposition. Understand that when our most deeply held beliefs conflict with our basic humanity, we should feel the tragedy of the conflict, rather than simply find convenient scapegoats upon whom to blame all of America’s ills.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author, most recently, of ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life, and is founder of This World: The Values Network, a national organization that promotes universal Jewish values to heal America. Follow him on Twitter @Rabbishmuley and at his website: www.shmuley.com