Archpriest Alexander A.Winogradsky Frenkel: “Revealing And Glorifying”
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A new 2018-19 series of articles shared on the roots and the prospects that unite Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Traditions to the realm of Jewishness and Hassidism, Compared semantics and exegetical “paysages” by archpriest Alexander A.Winogradsky Frenkel (Patriarchate of Jerusalem). Below the fourteenth article: “Alive Beyond The Crime Without Name”.

This is the rejoicing time for planting trees and eating flavorful fruit. It depends how and when we celebrate “new year portions”. In the North Hemisphere, the Sumerian tradition insists on Autumnal cycles, whereas the splendor of sun and warm seasons fades. We know that the Christian tradition focused on the feast of the Annunciation in March that marked the beginning of new year. The good tiding brought by the Angel Gabriel to the young maiden of Nazareth remains indeed a “life-line” date in the development of history.

Before each reading of the Torah, the Jews say: “Blessed are Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe / Who has given us the Torah of truth (Torat Emet\תורת אמת) and planted eternal life within us (vechayei olam nat’a betochenu\וחיי עולם נטע בתוכינו)”.

At the present, the Fertile Crescent (Israel, West Bank) has some flowing capacities to birth children. It is a sort of tradition in the Jewish life-style that is likely to be in a baby-booming mood. Little children are so sweet and so essential because they are the next generation and will provide the extension to one or more next generations. It deals with a strong feeling of forwardness, ahead of any coming or coming-back of the Messiah.

“Yeled melech\ילד מלך = “a child is a king” can be bleach, pale, reddish, fat-cheeked. Children can be spoiled, tremendously spoiled. Even when we have naught, they can get something out of nothing. The chutzpah went too far at the present: children have been so pampered to get on their own that they need real guidance, serious talks now. Some prefer to pamper or revamp their parents. All the segments of the society show, including among the devout Jews, that there is a strong need for paternal guiding presence and dialogue combined with motherly tenderness and munchies.

Nat’a betochenu\נטע בתוכינו – planted among us” = 613 in Hebrew! The total of the arithmetic value of the consonants corresponds the number of all the Mitzvot. This is normal because the blessing is read on the Shabbat after the reading of the weekly portion.

Thirteen/13 years for boys (bar-bney mitzvah\בר-בני מצוה) – 12 years for girls (bat-bnot mitzvah\בת-בנות מצוה) – plus 1 (one) full day is the usual age when teens leave adolescence and their pimple spleeny faces to take up the yoke of the Mitzvot\מצות/Commandments.

There is also another option that is not certain, at times: so families would wait till a child is 83 years-old +1 full day since 70 is a traditional computation for many things in Judaism, also a normal life duration… so, 70 plus 13 years, you can offer a bar mitzvah gift to your parents or grandparents. They might be wiser than present-day 13-12 years-old teens, maybe not… This is mostly the consequence of history. Out of a sudden, but still the celebration is always much expected, old-new youngsters who had been persecuted, deported, half-slaughtered, arrive in Jerusalem and dare explain that they would love to be “barei-mitzvah”. They assure a high sense of historic transmission. They achieve an act that may be left aside by many people at the present: they definitely choose to join the Klal Israel\כלל ישראל = “the fulfillment, totality of the Community of Israel” as a Body who witnesses throughout generations to the Divine Providence, at least a Special Project.

Thirteen is a mazel-מזל/a number of good omen. The 13 Middot HaAhavah\13 מדות האהבה are the 13 measures of Love. Real, full love: “HaShem, HaShem, El rachum vechanun\ה’, ה’ אל רחום וחנון – Lord, Lord, God of loving-kindness and merciful…” (Ex. 36:6).Just be cautious! Love is the age-long moseying motto among the humans and affiliated. In the context, the word refers to some invisible reality that intetwins feelings, affectivity and morals, ethics granted by the Most High.

Basically, it is said that Abraham became a monotheist at that age (Pirkey deRabbi Eliezer 26): he firstly went out of his cave and saw the sun: he decided to worship it. Then, he got a nap. At night, he went out again of his cave and saw the moon and – good enough, this was up-to-the-minute for him – and thus it got convinced he had to worship it instead.

He realized overnight that sun and moon alternate and understood that only the One God could manage such a process. The saying explains how man passes through the sequence of being awaken and the obligation to fall asleep in a natural environment and switch from darkness to light.

The cycle of nights and days circulates in a continuum that cannot be controlled. Master Abraham subsequently destroyed his father’s idols. In the Second Temple, the Sages/Chachamim-חכמים seemingly used to bless the children who, at 12-13 years old could endure one full day of fast (Tractate Yoma 85). This might explain the presence of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:52), discussing with the Sages. It is quite frequent for teens who are accomplished “barei-mitzvah” to be involved in real scriptural talks with famous rabbis.

There were different writings that indicated to begin to study the Torah at 5 years-old, but the age of adulthood or the observance of the Commandments is not evident in the Talmudic tradition. “By ten utterances (ma’amarot\מאמרות) the world was created… to call the account of the lawless (resha’im\רשעים) who destroy the world and to give good “sachar tov\שכר טוב-salary, reward”to the righteous who invigorate (shemekaymin\שמקימין) the world and preserve it” (Avot 5:1). This verse is quite similar to the very first verse of Psalm 1:1. The combat is led between a righteous (tzaddik\צדיק) and a unfaithful (resha’\רשע).

This is why Tractate Yoma 82a insists on accomplishing the Mitzvot. On the other hand, a Tzaddik is a man on a spiritual move that needs to be justified. No one was born a stiff righteous.  There was no age nor specific celebration for becoming a bar mitzvah before the 15th century, except the acceptance to assume the Commandments and behave as a full adult. Traditionally, a bar mitzvah is, first of all, a subject of the Law: he accepts to act according to the multi-secular traditions of the teaching. He does not take up a burden, but a “light yoke” since Hebrew as Aramaic insists on the “non-heavy” aspect of the yoke “‘ol/עול” that softly ascends to the (realm of) the High (Talmud Bava Metzia 96a; cf. Galatians 4:4).

This explains the words pronounced by the father upon a new bar-mitzvah: “Barukh She-patarani\ברוך שפטרני – Blessed art Thou/Who released me from this day of any responsibility upon this one”. Since early times, a thirteen year-old Jewish son used to become responsible inside of the society, legally observing all the Commandments and being eventually judged according to the Law (Talmud Nedarim 5,6), allowed to marry (Tractate Kiddushin 16b) and be chosen as a member of a Beyt Din\בית דין (a court of justice). This is shown when a “very young judge Daniel” saved Susanna from death penalty, only in the Greek version of the Septuagint-Bible (Daniel 13:64).

This legal aspect is also accompanied by the requirement to don the tefillin\תפילין– phylacteries, one of the first commandments prescribed by the time of the flight from Egypt. The phylacteries show that acts of loving-kindness (cf. shel yad\של יד = tefillin put on the left arm/hand and close to the heart) are as important as the Love to God (cf. shel rosh\של ראש = tefillin worn on the forehead). Some boys would be trained to don them some time before their 13th anniversary, but the Orthodox and Chassidic movements prefer to wait till the exact day is over. This also means that the young boy has overcome the trials he has experienced without yielding to the Yetzer HaRa\יצר הרע (Evil Impulse) and definitely chose to follow the Yetzer HaTov\יצר הטוב (Good Impulse).Teens and adolescents can be tempted by very strong undecided, hesitant and screwing impulses. They would tend to be good and may turn either foolish or basic instinct, blind lawlessness.

As regards the “bat mitzvah\בת מצוה – daughter of the Commandment”, the expression is only mentioned in Talmud Bava Kamma 15a about female obligations toward the respect of the Law. At twelve years plus one day, a girl is fully adult and responsible for her acts. Until very recently – the movement was launched in the United States – the celebration was really considered as a minor celebration for the women. A female child was regarded as totally independent and normally did not depend on any parental or fraternal care. This has shown to be rather a dream throughout the Jewish history. In fact, for different reasons that are not always rational, daughters, female members of the Jewish communities had to be protected and often remained under too strict control of males. Curiously, in other contexts, we ought to reflect on how married, divorced or widowed women have played a very important role in the Jewish society everywhere, in all rites.

It may be considered as trendy if not “prophetic” that some Orthodox movements (Modern Orthodox, Chabad/Lubavitch, Haredi to some extent) have accepted to develop the “bat mitzvah\בת מצוה” celebration for women (they are precisely no more “[young] girls”). Both Kiddushin 16b and Niddah 6,5 determine this age as the woman move from “childhood” to “civil responsibility”, i.e. to the puberty life-long cycle that definitely modifies their mental and physical capacities and behaviors and changes them into b’not mitzvah-בנות מצוה/daughters of the mitzvah.

The same applies to boys who become men, but the process can be slower and not show the same fulfillment of significant life changes. It is very important for Israeli young girls and women to feel and spiritually assume their own life. Interestingly, the modern “bat mitzvah” celebration was introduced at a time when women took more responsibilities within the Jewish society. The example of Hannah Rachel Werbemacher (1815-92), woman talmudist buried at the Mount of Olives positively interrogates – beyond her specificity – the dynamics of Jewishness as regards the women status of being “fully subject to the Law”. She has been pictured by the Yiddish Nobel Prize of Literature writer Isaac Bashevis Singer in his best-seller “Yentl”. The story deals with positive transgression in terms of faith.

Is there a positive transgression of the 613 Mitzvot/Commandments? The question has been a pending interrogation. Some people would trace back  to the beginnings of the Enlightment in Europe and their impact on East-European Jewishness. But the transgressive actions also developed with the pogroms in the context of the Russian Revolution, messy social environments and a strong requirement of struggle for survival.

Indeed, “Bar Mitzvah” means a clear understanding that innocence is not possible without God’s reinforcing assistance. Judaism has known famous characters like the Besht (Baal Shem Tov), initiator of the Hassidic movement whose soul and intentions were reputed to always be “innocent”.

This corresponds to the morning prayers that states that “nishmati… taharah\נשמתי… טהרה – my soul… is pure”. Responsibility implies that each boy read one full part of the weekly portion; i.e. to truly assume his ascent to thelectern  in order to read the text and deliver a personal “drashah\דרשה” or comment of the text. This is not always the case at the present where the baaley qeriyah-בעלי קריאה/readers mostly function in place of the bney mitzvot. Since women often read the weekly reading of the Prophets, this should allow to underscore the basic and essential call to become a fully respected woman at all levels of Jewish and Israeli society with all the moral involvements. There is a danger to reduce the celebration to a ritual affair if not a day when gifts and family-centered events could prevail and affect the true meaning of adulthood.

It would be very difficult to compare “Bar mitzvah adulthood” to any similar Christian celebration. Still, it is important to underscore that Jesus of Nazareth was fully a “subject of the Law” (Galatians 4:4). He was circumcised and underwent some “pedyion haben\פדיון הבן -redemption of the firstborn” rite as shown by the offerings that his parents brought in the Temple of Jerusalem (Luke 2:21-32). He subsequently went down with his parents to Nazareth and was obedient to them… advancing in wisdom, age and favor before God and man (Luke 2:51-52).

When he was twelve years-old, he went up to Jerusalem with his parents and was found in the Temple “sitting among the teachers listening and asking them questions” (Luke 2:41-50). Children have to ask questions.  Children as signs of “new creations, growth”, they are “produces” of parental fertility. They appear as generating processes of nascency, institution and imagination. The Semitic roots “Y-L-D” focus on childhood, youth that is definitely natural, instinctive and still cross along waywardness, be it because of the pangs of birth or the uncertain manners that can harm a baby’s route through years of existence.

These similarities are important in order to avoid cutting Christianity from the Jewish way of being “subject of the Law”. The Christian way to become a believer in the One God and Father mainly showed through various rituals: baptism and pouring of oils (oil of strength and faith, then the gift and pouring of the Holy Spirit). The Eastern Orthodox Church usually proceeds to these rituals in the course of one single celebration that is never repeated. The Orthodox Christian is born and “imprinted” (Gr. “sphragis\σφραγης”, mark, seal) to behave with consistency. The Western Churches have developed a more rational path with the “Receiving of the Communion in the shape of “Bread and Wine” around the age of 7-10 years-old and the confirmation (seal of the Holy Spirit) about 12 to 15 years-old. This depends on local customs. Strangely enough, it appears that some Eastern Churches in communion with the See of Rome, also postpone the threefold unique Mystery-Sacrament of the Oriental Baptism, i.e. that each body and soul who went through the waters of regeneration has to be sealed by the life-long action of the Spirit and, thus, participate in the Messianic Presence of the Eucharist granted by the Resurrected.

The Christians do not have any phylacteries. Instead, they are entrusted to comply wit hthe Thirteen Attributes or measures of Love as given in Exodus ch. 36. The whole of the body and the soul are to be turned into an authentic in-corp-oration of the eschatological Body of the Lord. It is possible to say that from childhood till adulthood, the path is a long itinerary that allows to speak, dialogue, ask, beg, utter words creating links, a constant flow of back and forth dynamic ebullience of Divine Presence.

This is why we are called to leave our first human and common status of infans/tes (speechless beings), typically expressed by the Latin radicals and lexicon (from in- “not, opposite of” + fans, present participle of fari“to speak,” from Indo-European root “Bha” = “to speak, tell, say, comp. “phone”, “φεμε/utterance”, “fabula/fable” or “a-phasia” – “photo-“, then interestingly connected to “fetus”, the unborn young before being expulsed from mother womb).

The paradox is that silence calls to learn how to talk and then how to listen to the silenced words of the Presence. We acquire the ability to speak and dialogue with others in order to reach out to deeper intelligence of how we relate to numerous levels of environments. Our consent to faith is expressed by our gathering in with other human plants (quite ambiguous in English as matching humanity and technics) who grow into a living mental and acting build.

The realm of the Mitzvot/Commandments is not restricted to one specific people. They exist in view to reveal the moral elements of human intermingling proficiency. They are not silent but rely upon uttered words that express the conversation with the Lord. The yoke of the Mitzvot/fulfilling the Commandments consists in the process of getting obedient to the teaching from High and to perform them with decency and conscience, so far it is possible.

The Christian continuously renewed Commandment of loving all their human, animal and natural fellow people and creatures along the generations since the manifestation of the Cross. It would suffice that the Christians truly could implement the only Commandment of true and chargeless love for all, neighbors and strangers, foreigners and aliens, enemies and friends, companions and opponents.

This would suffice. We are too judgmental at times to commit ourselves with this unique commandment.

This commandment is bound in and on our limbs through the mark, the seal of the Cross that corresponds to the last letter of the Semitic alphabets (Phenician, Aramean, Hebrew), the Tau (ܬ/ת) used by the Poverello of Assisi to bless Friar Leo. A seal and a lock wedded to our souls. The unique commandment of love is bound to our very being and existence. It is a matter of marriage, just as the Jew who dons the tefillin in the morning says, while winding the strap of the hand-phylactery around the middle finger, the verses of the Prophet: “I will betroth you to Me forever/ארשתיך לי לעולם…” (Hosea 2). This betrothal can only give fruit, multiply and be full of seeds.

Rites, times of our lives, passing-over dates create strong socializing ties. Everywhere they may tend to exercise a pressure that seemlingly aims to untie souls and drift them away from their route.  They show synchronic and diachronic impediments. All these times and delays curiously witness to our faith in redemption because we get aware of our need for God’s assistance: “God delivered all humans to disobedience so that He may have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32).

Do we prefer desobedience to mercy?

“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles (ܕ݁ܥܰܡ݈ܡܶܐܠܓ݂ܶܠܝܳܢܳܐ ܢܽܘܗܪܳܐ  /nūhrā ləgelyānā dəᶜamme), and for glory to your people Israel (ܠܥܰܡܳܟ݂ܐܺ ܝܣܪܳܝܶܠ ܘܫܽܘܒ݂ܚܳܐ /wəšūḇḥā ləᶜammāḵ ᵓīsrāyel) .” (Luke 2:29-32).

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About the Author

Jivko Panev

Jivko Panev

Jivko Panev, maître de conférence en Droit canon et Histoire des Églises locales à l’Institut de théologie orthodoxe Saint Serge à Paris, recteur de la paroisse Notre Dame Souveraine, à Chaville en banlieue parisienne. Newsletter

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