Judaism's Worldly Purposes

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Sukkoth & the Functions of Judaism


A function is an anticipated consequence. Therefore we can list eight functions of Judaism.

First, Judaism distinguishes between the secular and the sacred. For example, Webster’s Dictionary is a secular book. The Torah, however, is a sacred book. Columbus Day is a secular holiday. Sukkoth is a sacred holiday.

The festival of Sukkoth begins on the 15th day of Tishri, which is the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It is called “The Season of Our Rejoicing” and lasts for seven days. The two days following Sukkoth are called Shemini Atsereth and Simchat Torah.

The word “Sukkoth” means booth, because it is in part celebrated to remind us of the booths in which our nomad ancestors lived during 40 years in the desert. It also reminds us that we, who live in sturdy houses, ought to give charity, Tsedakkah, to those who lost their homes in the recent Florida hurricanes.

Sukkoth is also called “Chag HaAsif”, or the Festival of Ingathering, because it celebrates the annual harvest here and in Israel. This is a sacred Holy Day because it is commanded us in Leviticus 22:33. The first two days are regarded as sacred obligations and no work is permitted us. The Torah only speaks of one sacred day of Sukkoth but we observe two. The intermediate days between the second day of Sukkoth and Shemini Azereth are called Chol Hamoed.

Observant Jews construct a “Sukkoh” in the front or back yard of their home or on the porch of their apartment. They eat in the Sukkoh.

Our Thanksgiving holiday is a replica of Sukkoth and was taken from the Torah by the Puritan Christians who, in the 17th century, made very effort to live by the Torah. They even used Hebrew as the language of instruction at Boston College, which became Harvard after an English clergyman by that name left in his will a donation of some books to the college library.

On Sukkoth, observant Jews bring to the synagogue a citrus fruit called an esrog, a palm branch, two willow branches and a myrtle branch. These are held during a procession through the “shul” while Hallel is sung.

Those of us who have never seen these proceedings and never even heard of Sukkoth owe it to themselves to visit “shul” on Thursday and Friday and see what it is all about. This may help those who feel deprived of Christmas to discover that we Jews have some wonderful Holy Days that we can all enjoy without having to stoop to idolatry.

A second function of Judaism is to relate man to the universe. Judaism answers the question: “Where does the world come from? What is its final destiny?” In particular, Judaism gives its followers a reason for living. This is discussed in great detail in Jewish philosophy. Study with the rabbi of your choice and you’ll find out how much satisfaction there is in doing so.

A third function of Judaism is to relate man to man. For example: “Honor your mother and your father etc.” That is the 5th commandment. There are hundreds of other instructions in the Torah, the Talmud, the Mishnah and the Gemorah which teach us how to relate to our fellow men and women. Look at Leviticus 18-20 alone and see how specific the Torah is on that issue.

A fourth function of Judaism is the celebration of the cycle of nature. In the spring we celebrate Pesach, which is not only our Festival of Freedom from Egyptian and other forms of slavery, it is also a festival celebrating the reawakening of nature after a tough Western New York winter. In the summer we celebrate Shavuoth, which recalls the giving of the Ten Commandments; in the fall we celebrate Sukkoth and when we celebrate Chanuka we light up the dark days of winter.

A fifth function of Judaism is the celebration of the life cycle. We celebrate birth (brith milah), biological maturity (Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah), marriage and death. Death is the entrance of the human spirit into the Olam Habah, even as birth is the entrance of the human spirit from the unborn to the born stage. They resemble each other a great deal. An infant in his mother’s womb knows no more about the world into which he is about to enter than we know of the world into which we die.

A sixth function of Judaism is to connect us to our ancestors and our history. Judaism repeats over and over again “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. We constantly invoke our ancestors, including Sarah, Rachael, Leah and Rebecca. This gives us a sense of belonging to an endless people. It is said that all Jews living now stood at Mt. Sinai and saw Moses deliver the Ten Commandments. Of course, we say that is a legend. However, the legend functions to give us the feeling that we are an indestructible Chosen People no matter how many Moslems want to kill us, how many Michal Moores want to destroy us, how many Cynthia McKinneys scream their hatred of Jews into their TV commercials, no matter how often the Rev. Al Sharpton burns down Jewish owned stores in Brooklyn and incites his followers to riot against us.

A seventh function of Judaism is therefore the delimitation of Jews from our non-Jewish brethren. We hold all human beings in high esteem. Judaism teaches respect for any and all of the 6.4 billion people on this earth. Nevertheless, we, like all human groups, define ourselves. We are called the Children of Israel. We are those who taught the world morality and ethics. Two billion Christians and one billion Moslems have adopted Jewish teachings to their purposes even if the Moslems, the Anglicans and the Presbyterians continue to rant their medieval denunciations of all Jews and call for our persecution and death. Their theology is Jewish just the same.

The eighth function of Judaism is to defend ourselves against our enemies, who are also the enemies of all civilized men. The terrorists who bomb Israel’s people out of sheer “causeless hate”. The killers who murdered three thousand Americans on 9/11/01. The brutes who slaughtered hundreds at a school in Russia. The fiends who threw an American tourist to his death while sitting in wheelchair on an Italian cruise liner just because he was Jewish.

To defend themselves against these ungodly monsters, Israel is constructing a wall designed to keep the killers out. Our president, George W. Bush, has recognized this wall as a necessity and forcefully supported Israel’s right to defend itself.

Unfortunately, the nominee of the Democratic Party, John Kerry, told the Arab-American Institute convention last October that Israel’s wall is “a barrier to peace”, that he understands the suffering of the Palestinians, etc. He evidently never heard of dead and maimed Jews victimized by his friends the Saudis and the “statesman”, as he calls Arafat.

It is no accident that 78% of Arab Americans intend to vote for Kerry and only 7% for Bush, while the others intend to vote for the Jew baiter Ralph Nader.

That being the case, will we vote for the survival of Israel or will we find some lemming-like excuse for the hate mongers and elect them in November so that they can gain the power to remove Israel’s defenses?

Think about it.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Man's Ascent to Reason (2003) & the forthcoming Football & American Identity.

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