Thursday, June 20, 2013

From the Empirical Archives: Exploring the Rich World of Flexidox Judaism by Emanuel Stoakes

Exploring the Rich World of Flexidox Judaism
Emanuel Stoakes
Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Empirical

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?

Rabbi Gershon: Both heaven and hell are here on earth, in a person’s lifetime. They are but two sides of the same coin (Isaiah 45: 7).

Emanuel: Do you believe that Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God?

Rabbi Gershon: Short answer, yes! And the Buddhist and Hindu as well. Longer answer, the kabbalist Moses Cordovero, writing in the 16th century, put it this way: The essence of Divinity is found in every single thing–nothing but it exists. Since it causes everything to be, no thing can live by anything else. IT enlivens them. Ein Sof [the infinite] exists in each existent. Do not say, ‘This is a stone and not God.’ God forbid! Rather, ALL existence is God, and the stone is a thing pervaded by divinity. But also do not say, ‘This stone alone is God.’ Again, God forbid! For God is not confined in a stone. The Hebrew concept of God is more as the Force(s) of Creation than as a Man in the Sky. Daniel C. Matt writes in his book God and The Big Bang, GOD is a name we give to the oneness of it all. God is the oneness of the Cosmos. But the name ‘GOD’ is a label we attach to this oneness–the ultimate, all inclusive name. In fact, this is exactly how traditional Jews refer to God: HaShem, The Name. . . .God is the oneness of matter and energy, the process through which one is transformed into the other, the nothingness that embraces both. It is when you confine God to place and space, to image, that you are worshiping an idol. That said, everyone who sees that there is some force in the Universe greater than the human force, is worshiping God.

Emanuel: Does reading Genesis with an understanding of Hebrew alter its meaning?

Rabbi Gershon: I do not know the answer to that. I read it in Hebrew most often. Genesis 1:1 does not say “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Bareyshit, the first word, is continuous. The bareyshit is still happening, not “once upon a time.” A better translation would be “When it began to be created.”

Emanuel: So, creation is still unfolding. That makes sense in relationship to evolution.

Rabbi Gershon: Take the second word in Genesis: bara. It actually conveys the idea of a something coming out of nothing.

Emanuel: That is beautiful.

Rabbi Gershon: Your name [Emanuel, a Hebrew name] reminds me of Star Wars’ “the Force is with us.”

Emanuel: So El does not refer to God?

Rabbi Gershon: El does not mean God but a force, a force of nature. Rabbi Gershon Winkler states: Elo’heem sometimes means God, sometimes means angels, sometimes means mortal judges. Hebrew is not a stiff language, but as with most aboriginal languages it is elastic, lending each word to numerous meanings. Elo’heem, the Zohar says, is “Ey’ma D’ila’a,” literally Great Mother, yet it is written in what seems masculine but that is because, again, it is not a word exclusivelyconnoting the divine mother creator but mortal judges, too, as well as angels. El is divine power, Eloh is feminine attribute of divine power, elo’heem incorporates both, because a mother is capable of conceiving and containing both, male and female within her. Females give birth to boys, too.

Emanuel: So El an expression of God’s power?

Rabbi Gershon: It does not mean God to the ancient Jews. It always is an expression of power.

Emanuel: Isn’t it true that the Tetragammaton is the holy name for God?

Rabbi Gershon: Yes, but what does that name mean? Names in Hebrew define what is being named. It means continual existence! Heh, vav, hen means to be–to exist.

Emanuel: Like the I am in the scriptures?

Rabbi Gershon: Yes, the ehyeh asher ehyeh (the I will be what I will be)–always in becoming. 

Emanuel: What is your understanding of the Moschiach or Messiah–would you understand the Messiah as being a person, or a coming age of spiritual enlightenment as some have posited–or something else?

Rabbi Gershon: The Messiah (Moschiach) is an age–not a person. At one time it was a king of the lineage of King David. But, the concept evolved to refer more to the time of world disarmament and equality of sharing the resources so that no one is hungry or homeless.

Emanuel: Is it permitted for Jews to build a third temple on Moriah, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, as some groups are calling for, absent the appearance of the Moschiach?

Rabbi Gershon: Yes, and one day it will happen. But it can only happen when Islam and Judaism resolve their difference with each other and then bring Esau (Christianity) back into the picture. A Third Temple will incorporate the Holy Places of all Three Abrahamic Faiths plus create worship centers for those of non Abrahamic religious traditions.

Emanuel: Interesting. I take it you are saying this will happen by God’s will–so it cannot be planned for?

Rabbi Gershon: Insh’allah!

Emanuel: Do you think that increased understanding between the Abrahamic faiths could solve some of the internecine rancor on display in places like the Holy Land?

Rabbi Gershon: Yes. Jews and Muslims lived in the Holy Land in abject poverty for multiple centuries until Western powers saw a benefit in [taking advantage of ] Arab and Jewish nationalism. It has only been since the rise of nationalism that the two ways of viewing God (Allah), both correct, have been used for political purposes.

Emanuel: What is your position on homosexuality? Do you consider it a “sin” as such?

Rabbi Gershon: Sexuality is of no concern of mine except where force or violence is involved. A homosexual is as God made them, just as any other sexuality is as God made that person. Homosexuality is as much a sin as is heterosexuality. It is a sin only when the sex is substitutional or abusive.

Emanuel: What do you say to people who bring up Leviticus 18:22?

Rabbi Gershon: It is good to bring it up as then we can go over it. We read those verses in synagogue today. There is no prohibition of homosexuality in Leviticus. It is a prohibition of substitutional sex.

Emanuel: I may be mistaken, I ask your forgiveness–but does it not say “thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman”?

Rabbi Gershon: Exactly, and a homosexual does not lay with a man as he would with a woman. The wording tells you that the perpetrator is heterosexual, not homosexual. He is simply a-sexual. The sex of his partner is not as important as is sex itself. Thus he is substituting a man for a woman.

Emanuel: Thank you. Rabbi Gershon, what inspires you?

Rabbi Gershon: I am inspired by the degree of progress towards equality and Universalism that has happened in my short 70 years on the planet. I believe in the future.

Emanuel: Thank you so much, Rabbi Gershon. Rav Todot.

Rabbi Gershon: B’vakashah!

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