Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin: Lay Off From Mocking & Attacking the God of the Old Testament

That’s it. I am calling the ADL.

Was it an anti-semitic incident? A swastika on a synagogue? A physical attack on Jews?

No. Not this time.

This time, it is an attack on Judaism itself.

This time, it comes in the pages of one of this country’s most sophisticated magazines — The New Yorker.

In the December 24 & 31, 2019 issue, on page 28, we see a cartoon. In the cartoon, Santa Claus has come down the chimney. He is wielding a whip. The waiting children say: “Oh, crap — it’s Old Testament Santa.”

Now, I thoroughly get it.

After all, compare the religious heroes of the season.

On the one hand, you have jolly St. Nick, whose only purpose in life is to deliver presents to greedy kids all over the world. Pure love and niceness. (You would have hoped that the major religious hero for Christians at this season would have been the Baby Jesus, but that theological train left long ago).

On the other hand, Judah Maccabee, the hero of Hanukkah. A brilliant military hero. A man who fought for Judaism. A man who wasn’t afraid to kill Syrians and treacherous Jews alike.

OK — not a nice guy. But, a necessary guy.

Santa Claus, nice. Judah Maccabee, not so nice.

Back to the “Old Testament Santa” cartoon — ignoring, for the moment, that Santa Claus appears in neither testaments.

The idea of an “Old Testament Santa” is anti-Judaism 101.

First of all, the very term “Old Testament.”

“Old Testament” is an unconscious piece of anti-Judaism. “Testament” means “covenant.”

To say that the Jewish Bible, or the TANAKH, is the old testament implies that the covenant that God made with Israel is old — as in, outmoded, out of step, out of style. To put it in computer terms, the old covenant needs an upgrade — to a new covenant, a new testament — through Jesus.

For that reason, many sensitive Christians no longer refer to our Bible as the Old Testament. Some refer to it as the “first testament.” Some even respectfully call it what we call it — the TANAKH.

Second, Santa wielding a whip. Here we have the following implication — that the God of the so-called Old Testament is a cruel, vengeful God — and that the God of the Christian New Testament is a loving God. God of justice vs. god of love.

The idea is very powerful, and very old.

It dates back to the first century Christian theologian, Marcion.

In the early years of Christianity, there was an ongoing debate: how “Jewish” should Christianity be? How much should it acknowledge Judaism as its parent religion?

Marcion would have none of it. He taught the following idea: the Jewish God — the God of the Old Testament — was evil, and that the Christian God — the God of the New Testament — was good. Marcion believed that Christianity must utterly sever itself from its Jewish roots.

From there, it was an easy move to Jews/bad, Christians/good.

You all know where that brought us.

What is my response to the God of love/God of justice thing?

First, for all of the love that the New Testament contains, you will forgive me if I remind you: for the better part of two thousand years, until sixty years ago, we Jews did not feel the love that emanates from Christianity. Rather than Santa brandishing a whip in a cartoon, it was the agents of the Church that brandished whips — and far worse — not in a cartoon in the New Yorker, but in real life.

But second, let me introduce you to my God.

The God I worship is many things.

But, at this moment, let me tell you about my God of love.

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Source: Religion News Service