Monday, November 5, 2012

December Excerpt: Flexidox Judaism by Emanuel Stoakes

Exploring the Rich World of Flexidox Judaism: An Interview With Rabbi Gershon Steinberg-Caudill
Emanuel Stoakes

December is the month in which two of the major American holidays, Christmas and Hanukkah, are celebrated–though Hanukkah sometimes begins in late November. While the former celebration is familiar to most, with its family gatherings, present sharing, spirit of goodwill and an attendant crush of gaudy commercial mayhem, Hanukkah is a more understated and often more misunderstood – as well as misspelled – midwinter festival.

It is apt to include a conversation with Rabbi Gershon in the December issue of Empirical, given the beautiful symbolism of Hanukkah, the festival that to many Jews concludes the High Holy Day season which begins with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Holy Day, also known as the “festival of lights,” celebrates a miracle that occurred in Solomon’s Temple during the second century BCE, after the Maccabees had regained Jerusalem from the Seleucid tyrant Antiochus. According to the Talmud, after the Holy Temple was rededicated, oil lamps were lit in celebration and burned for eight days despite there being only enough sacred oil for one day’s use.

This was a reminder of the love of God for the Jewish people, having once again overcome great adversity and oppression. Since that time, in the heart of winter around much of the world, Jews have lit menorah candles in solemn remembrance of this redemptive moment.

It is thus apposite to mention the story of Hanukkah in relation to Flexidox Judaism, a radically universalist school of thought within the great Jewish tradition. The Flexidox movement celebrates all that Judaism encompasses from the time of the Patriarchs through the era of the Nivi’im (prophets) and great thinkers like Hillel to more contemporary voices such as the Lubevitcher Rebbe. In that mix, Rabbi Gershon also includes Jesus, of whom he says: “He was an early rabbi, a Tanna. He was of Davidic ancestry, possibly the legitimate heir of his generation.”

Drawn from the incomparable history of the Jewish people and religion, Flexidoxy collects the varied lights of Jewish faith in celebration of all it has to offer. The Hanukkah menorah, the nine branched candelabra lit in gratitude to God, puts one in mind of the Flexidox spirit: a tribute to memory and triumph. I began by asking Rabbi Gershon to describe his understanding of the significance of Hanukkah.

Rabbi Gershon: Hanukkah began as a celebration of a revolution to oppose oppression and forced foreign worship [by the Seleucid empire]. Instead of fulfilling the mandate of the Revolution, to restore the Davidic throne and the Zadokite High Priest, the Maccabees made claim on both traditional, lineage related offices (the royalty and the priesthood), and then went about seeking to eradicate those with a legitimate claim to either 

Emanuel: How would you define the message of Flexidox Judaism?

Rabbi Gershon: The message of Flexidox Judaism is that every branch of Judaism is legitimately Jewish, equally. It posits that interfaith marriage and families is traditional and to be respected. That proselytizing is always in error.

Emanuel: What is your understanding of the creation narrative in Genesis – do you believe in evolution?

Rabbi Gershon: Yes, I believe in scientific knowledge as telling me how God did it.

Emanuel: What do you understand the soul to be?

Rabbi Gershon: The Hebrew word for soul is neshamah (breath). When one dies the breath returns to the One Who Breathed it and the body returns to the elements.

Emanuel: What is your position on heaven and hell?

You can read the rest of the article by picking up the December issue available now. Visit the Empirical website for more information about subscriptions, single issues, and submissions.

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