Was Christ our Passover?

RossNicholsPublicityRDAs Easter approaches millions of Christians will associate the death of Jesus by crucifixion with the Jewish rite of Passover–reinforced by sermons, readings from the Bible, and liturgy. In this article, that appears with permission from Ross Nichols, this association is examined from a Biblical and historical standpoint. The article was originally published in a revised version here at Ross’s Roots of Faith web site. We encourage readers to visit Roots of Faith for a wealth of Biblical studies and information including hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings.

On a positive note, more and more Christians are searching Scripture in an effort to orient themselves towards a more Hebraic understanding. Non-Jews are celebrating biblical festivals, taking up dietary rules prescribed in the Torah, abandoning their previously learned anti-nomian beliefs, learning Hebrew, and returning to the Hebraic roots of their faith. These people are good and sincere souls seeking deliverance from nearly two thousand years of spiritual slavery, during which, false religious teachers have held them captive and oppressed them. A modern day Moses might well go forth today with a message to modern day pharaohs saying “Let my people KNOW!” No doubt there will be those who do not wish to leave the comfort of their Egypt, desiring the onions and leeks served daily in the only home they have known, but others are willing to endure the hardships of a new Exodus. It is for these who seek deliverance that the present article is written. Christians have inherited lies, vanity and things wherein there is no profit, when it comes to a true and biblical understanding of Passover.


In a text attributed to the apostle Paul, we learn that Christians are encouraged to participate in Passover. “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (I Corinthians 5:6-8).

Based upon this text and the gospel accounts associated with what are referred to as the passion narratives, Christians have come to certain conclusions that support their theology. The messiah, or Christ as the Greek puts it, becomes a sort of symbolic Passover lamb. The Passover lamb is then presented as merely a shadow of things to come, finding its real meaning in the death of Jesus. The writer of John’s gospel in fact lends support to this comparison when John the baptizer sees an approaching Jesus and is made to say, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b).

Searching for more similarities, Christians often point out that according to the gospel narratives, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem four days before Passover and is examined by the priests. This they argue fulfills the Torah’s obligation to “take a lamb” on the tenth day of the first month, and “keep watch over it until the fourteenth day” (Exodus 12:3-6). The purpose? Leaving aside the age of the lamb, and the fact that it can be taken “from the sheep or the goats,” it is to prove whether or not the lamb is “without blemish” (Exodus 12:5).  Jesus was killed on the day of preparation, between the evenings, and yet despite the horrors of crucifixion, not a bone was broken (John 19:14, 32, 33, 36). So too, these reports seem to fulfill certain requirements for the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, cf. Psalm 34:20).

Participants in messianic circles will likely learn that every aspect of the seder also point to Jesus. They are often shown the matzah and told that this bread, with piercings and stripes, represents the body of Jesus that was wounded for them, though the manufactured and boxed up bread today probably looks far different than the unleavened bread of antiquity. Further, they may be taught that the 3 matzos known as the afikomen represent a triune God, and that the symbolic meaning of taking the middle piece, wrapping it in linen, hiding it, and bringing it back also point to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The meal then, is presented as a teaching tool to share the deeper meaning of an ancient Hebrew Festival, which sadly and evidently has been kept from the ones who were charged to “keep” it in the first place!

So what’s so wrong with a seder such as is taught by Messianic Jews as advertised in this video? Just about everything. Much of what is taught has no connection with the first Passover described in the book of Exodus. Many of the teaching points are based upon traditional Passover meals, some of which find no direct support in the biblical texts. When it comes to making Jesus the Passover lamb, there are some difficulties as well.

One difficulty is sorting out the last supper. Was it a seder as is commonly taught, or a meal eaten the prior day? The original Passover meal was eaten AFTER the lamb was killed since the lamb was one of the key components to the meal. In other words, if Jesus is representative of the Passover lamb, he must be killed before the meal. The writer of John’s gospel suggests that this meal took place on the day of preparation, BEFORE the Passover (John 13:1; 18:28; 19:14, 42).

Other problems exist in making the Passover about the death of Jesus. The lamb had nothing at all to do with sin. The fact that the bones were unbroken aside, the year-old lamb was to be taken from “the sheep or the goats,” roasted and eaten. What about the blood? The blood of the sacrifice was to be applied to the doorways of the Israelites for one reason and one reason only. “For when YHVH goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and YHVH will pass over the door and not let the destroyer enter and smite your home” (Exodus 12:23). This leads to perhaps the biggest error in associating the death of Jesus with the redemption brought about through the Festival of Passover as taught in the Torah.

While Christians teach that the Passover is a picture of the death of God’s son, the Torah teaches the exact opposite! The Hebrew Bible recognizes that God has a son and this is an essential part of the authentic Passover message. The story of Passover however is not about God’s son dying, but about God’s son NOT dying while the sons of the oppressing nation are killed. As Moses prepares to go before Pharaoh the first time, we read the message that he is charged to deliver. “Thus says YHVH, Israel is my firstborn son. I have said to you, ‘Let my son go, that he may worship me, yet you refuse to let him go. Now I will slay your firstborn son’” (Exodus 4:22-23)! A careful reading of the narrative of Passover affirms this in several places (Exodus 12:12, 27, 29; 13:15).

While Christianity teaches that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything” (Galatians 5:6), the Torah says the opposite. Circumcision is required of any male that will eat the Passover. It’s not enough, as Paul would have us believe to be circumcised inwardly (Romans 2:28). As far as a matter of the heart, the Hebrew Bible would agree (Deuteronomy 10:12-16; 30:1-6; Jeremiah 4:1-4), but this does not negate the clear language concerning the requirement for a circumcision “of the flesh” (Exodus 12:43-49).

As a faithful Jew, the historical Jesus likely kept the Passover Festival every year of his life (Luke 2:41). We do believe that Jesus was killed at the precise time and day that the lambs were killed. This finds support in the gospel narratives as well as a reference in the Talmud, which says, “On the eve of Passover, they hanged Yeshu” (Sanhedrin 43a). If truth be told, it is improbable that the hateful Pontius Pilate had a custom to release any Jew at any time, let alone during Israel’s festival of freedom. It is more probable that in some way he was pleased to put one of Jacob’s sons to death at the very time when they would be speaking of their deliverance from oppression.

The prophesied salvation of Israel is what must have been on the mind of Jesus on the final day of his life, Passover day in year 30 of the Common Era. Perhaps his cryptic answer about one coming on the clouds, clearly a reference from Daniel chapter 7, was intended to declare his unwavering faith in the ancient prophecies of his people. This passage, though understood to be a prophecy about a messiah that would come on the clouds of heaven, is about restoring the kingdom to the people for which it was intended. If it is messianic at all, it has to do with a corporate messiah represented by the people of Israel (Psalm 105:12-15).

Passover is indeed a story of salvation and deliverance. It is meant to symbolize forever the redemption of God’s son, who does not die but is preserved alive. This is the only meaning that any child of Israel, including Jesus of Nazareth has ever known. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

References and Further Reading


Articles by Dr. James D. Tabor



Passages from the Hebrew Bible related to Passover

Exodus 12-13; 23:15; 34:18; Leviticus 23:4-8; Numbers 9:1-15, 28:16-25, 33:3; Deuteronomy 16:1-8; Joshua 5:10-15; 2 Kings 23:10-14; Ezekiel 45:2; Ezra 6:19-22; 2 Chronicles 30:1-27, 35:1-9

Passages from the New Testament related to Passover and Jesus

Mark 14:1-57; Matthew 26:1-46; Luke 2:41, 22:1-53; John 11:55, 12:1; 13:1-38, 18:28; I Corinthians 5:7-8


Today is the Biblical New Year–Happy New Beginning to All!

January 1 on the Gregorian calendar is universally celebrated now as the New Year in most countries of the world. In addition the Chinese have their New Year, as do the Muslims, and of course the Jewish “New Year” of Rosh HaShanah, that falls in September or October–the 7th lunar month–is well known.Almost entirely overlooked is the original Biblical New Year–the 1st day of the 1st month of Nisan on the Jewish calendar. In the book of Exodus Moses tells the Israelites:

This month shall mark for you the beginning of the month; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you. Exodus 12:2

Today is Nisan 1st, the first day of the lunar month, which is always they month that leads up to Passover. Even though the focus on the 1st day of the 7th month is dominant in Judaism today has been picked up even in our culture as “Rosh HaShanah,” the Jewish “New Year,” in biblical times such was not the case. This is indeed the beginning of the “Sacred” year, not the civil year, and the return of the cycle of Sabbaths, New Moons, and Festivals. There is a lot in the Bible about this New Year’s Day and this season. The ancient Hebrews began their year in the Spring–a time of New Beginnings, not in the dead of Winter or in the Fall as everything was dying. There is a lot in the Bible about this day and this season.


The terms “first day of the first month” in the Hebrew Bible, marking the ,”New Year” signal a new beginning, or renewal of life, including here in this text in the time of Moses at the Exodus. It is also called the turning of the year, and has to do with the sprouting of the barely, and with what we call “Spring”–at least in the northern hemisphere!

According to the Torah Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 (Gen 17:17).  A year earlier, when Abraham was 99, we have an important set of references to what was ahead.  Three “men” appeared to Abraham, one of whom is subsequently revealed to be an “epiphany” of Yahweh. The Yahweh figure tells Abraham explicitly twice:

I will certainly return to you when the season comes around, and lo, Sarah your wife shall have a son (Gen 18:10).

Is anything too hard for Yahweh?  At the set time I will return to you, when the season comes around, and Sarah shall have a son (Gen 18:14).

Two precise Hebrew expressions are used here, lending strong emphasis to the precise timing of the birth of Isaac.  There is great meaning in all this.  The first phrase, “when the season comes around,” is literally, “at the time (or season) of life.”  It is a reference to the new year in the Spring, in the month of Abib or Nisan (see Exodus 12:2).  It is worth noting that in the traditional reading of the Torah portions this section is paired with a reading from the Prophets, from 2 Kings 4.  There we read of another extraordinary birth, that of the son of the Shunammite woman during the time of Elisha (2 Kings 4:16).  Truly this month of Nisan is a month of miracles and “new birth” as we shall see.  The second phrase, “at the set time,” stresses the exactitude of the timing of this important event.  It will come at a precise time or season.  These are not merely superfluous passing references.  Three chapters later we read:

And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him (Gen 21:2).

What we learn here is that Isaac was born in the Spring of the year, likely in the month of Nisan, at a “set time.” In the book of Exodus we read of another “Spring” birth–this time the birth of the nation of Israel. Whether the author intended to link the two ideas or not is difficult to say:

Israel is My son, My first-born,
and I have said unto you: Let My son go (Exodus 4:22).

When Israel was a child I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son (Hosea 11:1).

Exodus 12:40-41 explicitly states that this “birth” of a nation taking place at this precise time:

Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.  And it came to pass, at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the very day [i.e., Passover], it came to pass that all the host of Yahweh went out from the land of Egypt.

The reference to the very day is to the 15th of Nisan, the evening of the Passover Seder.  But what about this intriguing reference to 430 years?  Scholars have disputed over the meaning of this chronological note.  It should be noted that the verse, when properly translated, does not say that Israel was in the land of Egypt for 430 years, but rather the that the time of their “sojourning” was 430 years.  What event happened, 430 years earlier, “to the day,” from Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, based on the chronological records now preserved in the traditional Hebrew “Masoretic” text.

Some have suggested plotting this 430 year period of “sojourn” with the Call of Abraham in Genesis 12.  Others have counted the 430 years from the circumcision covenant with Abraham, when he was 99 years old (Gen 17).  Still others have begun the 430 years with the birth of Isaac in Genesis 21.  The Rabbinic source Seder ‘Olam preserves a traditional solution to this question.

In Genesis 23:4 Abraham tells the children of Heth, from whom he purchases the burial cave of Machpelah in Kiriatharba or Hebron, “I am a stranger and a sojourner” with you.   Abraham refers to himself as a ger (stranger) and a toshav (sojourner), even though the Land of Canaan had been promised to him. Abraham never received the Land of Promise in his lifetime; he remained a “sojourner” until the day of his death.  The same is true for Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and their 70 descendants who went down to Egypt.  The question is, precisely when did this “sojourning” of the people of Israel begin?  According to Seder ‘Olam it begins not in Genesis 12, with the Call of Abram to leave his father Terah’s house in Haran, but five years earlier, when he left the city of Ur in Babylon.  Note carefully, when Abram leaves Haran he is 75 years old (Gen 12:4).  But according to Genesis 11:31 “they went forth . . . from Ur of the Chaldees” some years earlier.  This is the actual beginning of their wandering or sojourning.  There is a significant reference in this regard in Genesis 15:7:

And He said to him: “I am Yahweh that brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it.”

One might have expected, on the basis of Genesis 12:1-3, for the text to read “who brought you out of your father’s house,” i.e., from Haran.  But in the Genesis tradition, picked up on by the Rabbis, the initial “Call” of Abram was out of Ur in Babylon, not from Haran in the land of Canaan.  In other words, the wandering, or “sojourning” of Abram begins before his call from Haran at age 75.  Also, the Hebrew word here is crucial.  The phrase here translated “brought you out” is from the verb yatz’ah, the same word used in Exodus 20:2 introducing the Ten Words at Mt Sinai:

I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

That would mean that according to the Masoretic chronology Abram left Ur, which was his own personal “Exodus” from idolatry and paganism, on the very same night, Nisan 15th, which later becomes the Passover.

The precise chronology of the Masoretic Hebrew text confirms this.  Note the following references and numbers (the years are given as AM, “after Man (i.e., Adam),” which correspond to the traditional numbering of Jewish years since Creation):

Abram leaves Ur    Abram 70    Year    2018 AM (Gen 11:31)

Abram leaves Haran    Abram 75    Year 2023 AM     (Gen 12:4)

Birth of Isaac    Abram 100    Year 2048 AM    (Gen 17:17)

Birth of Jacob    Isaac 60    Year 2108 AM (Gen 25:20)

Israel to Egypt    Jacob 130    Year 2238 AM (Gen 47:9)

Exodus    210 yrs later    Year 2448 AM (Ex 12:40)

The total years from Abram leaving Haran at age 75 (2023 AM) until Jacob going down to Egypt (2238 AM) are 215.  To this we add the 210 years of Egyptian slavery for a total of 425 years: from Abram leaving Haran, until the Exodus in the year 2448 AM.  Since Exodus 12:40-41 designates 430 years rather than 425 the conclusion becomes obvious. The five additional years are by default the time Abram spent in Haran.  Accordingly, he must have left Ur at age 70.  Thus, the total years of “sojourning of the children of Israel,” is precisely 430 years, from the Abram’s “going out from Ur” at age 70 (2018 AM), until Israel’s “going out of Egypt” in the year 2448 AM.

One important additional note here.  Why would Exodus 12:40 speak of the sojourn of the “children of Israel” as 430 years when this period begins with Abram?  The answer is that Abram stands for the whole people.  The term “Israel” is both a name and a title which includes Abraham and his entire line through Isaac and Jacob.  The Covenant with the Jewish people begins with Abraham.  The Rabbis love to play with letters and point out that the name ISRAEL in Hebrew is spelled Yod, Shin, Resh, Alef, Lamed.  These five Hebrews letters are the first letters of the names of the Patriarchs and their wives, namely Yod=Yitzak (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob); Shin=Sarah; Resh=Rebecca and Rachel; Lamed=Leah!

Isaac is born at a “set time,” when the “season of life” comes around.  We have already seen that this is a reference to the beginning of Spring, or the month of Nisan.  In Jewish tradition Isaac, as a miraculous child of promise, was born on Nisan 15th or Passover.  In fact Genesis hints at the festivals and holy days of Israel, later set forth in the Torah, as known in various ways in much earlier times (Gen 1:14; 8:13).  For example, there is a reference to Lot preparing “unleavened bread” or matzos, for the heavenly guests prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:3)!  Why matzos?  In the previous chapter Abraham has been told that Isaac will be born “at this season next year” (18:14).  So, in the text of Genesis we know we are in the time of Nisan, when Abram is 99, a year before Isaac’s birth.  Does Genesis imply that God rescued and removed Lot and his family from Sodom around, or even on, the very night of Passover? The text contains several Passover motifs.  The angels keep urging Lot and his family to leave, to hurry, and not to delay.  In a similar way the Israelites make haste to leave Egypt, not even allowing their bread to rise.

Remembering David Horowitz: What A Difference a Year Makes!

Times Square: New Year’s Eve and the countdown was underway. Suddenly it was 1950.

Happy New Year…Happy New Decade!

Samuel Epstein and David Horowitz were invited to a New Year’s Party in Greenwich Village to celebrate the new beginning. During the party the subject of Israel and the Middle East was raised and David was asked for an insider opinion. Some, not wanting to mix merriment with politics, objected rather loudly. Upon hearing the commotion, a Ms. Nan Reilly, seated just inside an adjacent room, spoke out loudly, “It’s regarding Israel, let him speak!” And so, with Ms. Reilly’s vociferous endorsement, David addressed the revelers on why he felt it was the British, more than the Arabs, who were responsible for the hostility and conflagration against Israel.


Following his address, David introduced himself to his young outspoken supporter. They spent much of the remaining evening in conversation and ringing in 1950 together.

Nan Reilly had been escorted to the party by composer Abner Silver, but following the party, was taken back to her East 76th Street residence by David and Mr. Epstein.

As David would discover later, Nan Reilly had a similar history in supporting Israel’s struggle for independence. Born in 1910 to an Irish father and English mother in Longford, Ireland, Nan’s childhood and early adolescence were spent like any other Irish child of that period, living on a rural farm with lots of chores and a warm family and community life. Unfortunately, that blissful existence came to an end when Nan was but a teenager. She lost both of her parents, then her aunt and uncle who had subsequently brought her to America.

Bereft of relatives, and still in her teens, Nan studied nursing and obtained her certification. It was during this period of loss that she began to make close friends in the Jewish community, both among her patients and other acquaintances. This new circle became her adopted family. Nan developed a fierce loyalty to the Jewish people and became an outspoken supporter of an independent State of Israel and an opponent of all forms of anti-Semitism.

Nan also became an ardent supporter and worker for the pro-Irgun “American Committee for a Free Israel,” which was led by the noted Samuel Merlin and Peter Bergson and supported by other such notables as Ben Hecht and Billy Rose. In connection with this work, she met and befriended the young Irgun leader Menachem Begin, thus meeting the great Israeli leader before David Horowitz would.

As the New Year unfolded, Middle Eastern issues continued to occupy the UN agenda.

The UN General Assembly, led by a coalition of Arab, Muslim, Catholic and Soviet bloc states votes for the internationalization of Jerusalem. In reaction, the Israeli government proclaims Jerusalem to be its capital and the Knesset is transferred there. Most countries refuse to move embassies to Jerusalem.

The General Assembly also established the UN Refugee Works Administration (UNRWA) beginning with a $54 million budget, to assist in employing refugees on relocation projects in Arab lands. Arab governments refuse to cooperate with any plan designed for economic integration and the UNRWA remained a relief agency.

Many new developments were also underway at United Israel World Union.

image12David Horowitz announced plans to visit Israel after a long absence. He would be returning as a correspondent for the UI publication and as head of United Israel World Union. His purpose was to make a comprehensive survey of conditions prevailing in Israel after statehood and explore possibilities for assisting in program development of a more unified educational system.

After meeting David at the New Year’s party, Nan Reilly began to take a greater interest in the activities of United Israel World Union, becoming a member of it’s editorial staff and assisting at UIWU’s Fifth Avenue office in her spare time.

Speaking at a meeting of the New York unit of UIWU on the eve of the biblical New Year, 1 Nisan 5710 (March 18, 1950), President David Horowitz emphasized that “the battle of the sword” for the redemption of Israel must be accompanied and followed by “the battle of education” towards the unity of all Israel in common with all nations. “The Mosaic Code,” stated Horowitz, “is not mere religion in the ordinary sense of the word. It is a philosophy of life applicable to all peoples and all times.” He announced that UIWU was expanding to include a more extensive program in the educational field and that a new United Israel Welfare Fund would be established to assist in the newly expanded program.

In an interesting development, the Jordan radio station in Amman announced plans to launch a series of Hebrew broadcasts. The programs were seen as the first move toward Jordan’s recognition of the Jewish state. The Amman station would be the only Middle Eastern station that referred to the new Jewish state of “Israel.”

During April 1950, the council of the Arab League adopts a resolution forbidding its members to conclude peace with Israel. They also refused to recognize the annexation by Jordan of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, calling it illegal.

On June 11, the Jewish National Fund announced the establishment of the Harry S. Truman Village in Israel. Vice-President Alben Barkley expressed the hope that the agricultural colony bearing the name of the President will “serve not only as a testimonial to President Truman’s efforts on behalf of the Jewish State, but also as a firm link which will bind together the oldest democracy in the New World with the youngest to be born after the World War, in a firm union against all aggression.”

April brought the seventh annual meeting of UIWU, several favorable reviews for David’s autobiography “33 Candles” and an extensive interview by New York radio station WLIB commentator Estelle Sternberger, whereby David explained how UIWU began and discussed the purpose and goals of the organization.

Events were heating up on other fronts.

Egypt closes the Suez Canal to Israeli ships and Israeli commerce.

In June 1950, North Korea invades South Korea. The UN Security Council, acting in absence of the Soviet Union, votes military sanctions and calls on its members to repel the invasion. President Truman authorizes the use of American forces.

On the 19th day of Tishre, 5711 (September 30, 1950), the Sabbath of the Feast of Tabernacles, members of United Israel World Union from various parts of the country converged upon West Olive, Michigan, at the estate of Lewis Goodin, Vice-President of the Union, to dedicate a new Hebrew altar. Scores of visitors from surrounding cities came to witness the historic dedication, including the Mayor of Grand Haven and the leading Rabbi of Muskegon. The New York Times, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and all the local newspapers had representatives covering the biblical ceremony. The New York Times coverage of the event appeared in their October 1, 1950 edition.

With UN Day only three days away, David Horowitz finished the final draft of an article entitled “America’s Destiny, The United Nations and the World.” He completed it in the United Nations Press area at Lake Success on October 21, 1950 and the first copy was dispatched that same day to President Harry S. Truman.

David arrived at Flushing Meadows on the morning of October 24, UN Day 1950.

Everything was in readiness for President Truman’s arrival on this historic day, where he was scheduled to be the final speaker. With a number of newsman and security personal in the hallway, David witnessed Truman’s entry. Truman’s address on the role and vision of the United Nations was moving and passionate, citing the promise in Isaiah that “swords shall be beaten to plowshares and that nations shall not learn war anymore.”

Following the adjournment of the Assembly, a special UN reception was held for the President. David was standing nearby with a couple of White House correspondents when the President left. The President looked over, smiled and chuckled, “well, well!”

It had been a year filled with change and progress. United Israel World Union was experiencing incredible exposure and growth and David was becoming much more involved in UN activities.

As 1951 came into being, David Horowitz and Nan Reilly, whom he had met at the New Year’s Party the previous year, were married. Truly, what a difference a year can make.

This is the sixth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” Be sure to read any posts you have missed at our archive here.

BuntynRalph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.












Judgment at Nuremberg: Purim Fest 1946!

On the occasion of the Purim holiday, I’d like to share something I have read in a number of sources over the years and find fascinating to this day. It is the strange and captivating connection between the Megilla Esther story and the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials in 1946. Many will remember the chilling 1961 film “Judgment at Nuremberg,” still worth watching and you can read more about the trials, the accused, and their crimes here.

A rare color photo of the accused in the docket

A rare color photo of the accused in the docket

Those of us familiar with the story of Esther (478-464 B.C.) know how she was instrumental in bringing deliverance to the Jews living in Persia who did not return to Jerusalem after Cyrus’ decree. The defeat of the wicked Prime Minister Haman whose lies were intended to bring destruction to the Jewish people is still celebrated today as the Feast of Purim.

On October 16, 1946, ten of the highest-ranking Nazi officers of Hitler’s Germany were put to death. Three more were given life sentences (Rudolf Hess, the last surviving relic of the trials, died in Spandau Prison in 1987 at the age of 93), four were imprisioned for up to twenty years, and three were acquitted.

After 216 court sessions the International Military Tribunal, convened specially for this purpose, disbanded itself and later in that day the ashes of the men responsible for the Holocaust were scattered into a little brook in Munich-Solln, and thereupon vanished forever. The true horror of Nazism had been revealed to the world every day for almost a year, and now the grimmest chapter in the history of the civilized world was all but closed. While the ashes of Hitler’s top politicians and officers have disappeared into oblivion, not many people are aware of a more divine significance of this historic event, one connected to an episode in Persia over 2,500 years ago.

When King Ahasuerus, then the most powerful man on earth, offered to grant Queen Esther whatever she desired for having saved his life, she replied, “If it please the king, let it tomorrow also be granted to the Jews who are in Shushan to do according to the law of this day, and let the 10 sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.”

This is a remarkable request since Haman’s 10 sons had already been killed by the sword in the citadel of Susa (Esther 9:6-14). Nevertheless, in accordance with Esther’s wishes their 10 dead bodies were hanged. In the Apocryphal Greek version of Esther, chapter 9 verses 13-14 reads: And Esther said to the king, “Let the Jews be allowed to do the same tomorrow. Also, hang up the bodies of Haman’s 10 sons.” So he permitted this to be done, and handed over to the Jews of the city the bodies of Haman’s sons to hang up.

When the Megilla Esther was written, the names of the 10 sons of Haman who were hanged are enumerated. In the Hebrew text, the letters of the names are several times larger than the regular text. Yet, in the second, eighth and eleventh entry in the list, there are three letters; Tav, Shin and Zayn which are only a tiny fraction the size of the regular text–they are almost hard to spot. This mysterious order has been followed ever since in copies of the Megillat Esther. The numerical value of the three diminished letters equals 707.

10SonsHaman Esther Scroll

The Nuremberg Trials ended on October 1, 1946, which corresponded with the Jewish year of 5706. However, the due process of law meant the sentences of the convicted men could not be passed down until after appeals for clemency, of which there were many, had been heard. Finally, the sentences were pronounced. The Jewish New Year had arrived in the interim-it was 5707.

Twelve Nazis were meant to hang-although the method of execution might equally as well have been the firing squad-but Martin Bormann had escaped at the end of the war and was sentenced to death in absentia, and Herman Goering committed suicide two hours before his destined execution, leaving 10 condemned men.

In the early hours of October 16, 1946 during a 90 minute period, these 10 top Nazis went to their death on the gallows. The guards, with precise, ruthless efficiency brought them in one by one to deliver their last words and die. Only Julius Streicher went without dignity. His appearance happened at 2:11 a.m. He had to be pushed across the floor, wild-eyed and screaming, “Heil Hitler!” Mounting the steps, he cried out: “and now I go to God.” He was pushed the last two steps to the mortal spot beneath the hangman’s rope. Streicher swung around to face the witnesses and glared at them. Suddenly he screamed “Purim Fest 1946!” Then he was hanged.

The Megilla Esther had predicted that just as these 10 sons, descendants of Amalek and enemies of the Jews, were hanged, so again in the year 5707 (1946) would 10 other children of Haman be hanged.

The day of the early morning executions the front page headlines of the October 16, 1946 Late City Edition of The New York Times broke the story of what had just happened. In another strange twist, this was the day of Hoshana Raba.


“…On the seventh day of the Succot Holiday (Hoshana Raba), the judgement of the nations of the world is finalized. Sentences are issued from the residence of the King. Judgements are aroused and executed on that day.” Zohar Vayikra 31b

BuntynRalph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.


Benjamin Netanyahu: A Modern Day Mordechai

RossNicholsPublicityRDThis article originally appeared at Roots of Faith (March 1,2015) and is reprinted here with thanks to Ross Nichols. It was written prior to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress.


Purim is a Jewish holiday, whose etiology is found in the Hebrew Bible’s book of Esther. In the book, a behind-the-scenes plot to destroy the Jewish people is foiled by an informed Jew named Mordechai and his strategically placed niece Esther. The book presents an ancient anti-Semitic antagonist by the name of Haman, a descendant of the infamous Amalek (Deuteronomy 25:17-19; Exodus 17:8-16). At its core, the book tells a tale of how the Jews survived death in the face of anti-Semitic hatred. Berlin states, “In the end, though, the message is positive: Good triumphs and evil is eradicated; the threat of Jewish annihilation is averted and the Jewish community is assured of continuity and prosperity” (Berlin, 2004, p. 1625). As Purim approaches, it is the Prime Minister of Israel who is seeking the good of his people and interceding for the welfare of his kindred, against threats from those in a modern Persia who desire their destruction.


While the Jewish people prepare to celebrate their survival in antiquity, the words and themes of the book of Esther seem to take on a new relevance as Benjamin Netanyahu travels to the United States to speak before the American Congress. The visit of Israel’s Prime Minister has created quite the stir. The invitation it seems, violated certain protocols, comes at a crucial period in negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran over its nuclear program, and is viewed by many as counter productive when it comes to an already strained relationship between the governments of Israel and the United States. None of this has deterred Bibi. Against all of the encouragement and pressure to cancel his address, the Israeli leader has promised to do everything in his power to make his concerns heard. He has clearly said that as the Prime Minister of Israel he is obligated to ensure the security of Israel, and part of this obligation is to do everything in his power to oppose the present negotiations with Iran.

Is the threat real or imagined? Is there any hope in reaching a peaceful resolution to the concerns of the global community? Every sensible person is concerned about the intentions of Tehran’s leadership when it comes to their nuclear program. One does not have to look far to find threats against the Jewish state from people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Some have suggested that Hassan Rouhani is more moderate, but others doubt this assessment. Due to global mistrust, an international team has formed to negotiate a peaceful resolution to concerns around Iran’s nuclear program. The team is known as P5+1 and consists of delegates from the U.S., UK, Germany, France, Russia and China. The European Union is facilitating the negotiations.

Benjamin Netanyahu remains unconvinced that the negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran will prove successful and sees his appeal to Congress as perhaps his only chance at convincing American leadership of the true intentions of Iran. Netanyahu holds that the potential threat is too real to ignore and that easing sanctions will enable Israel’s enemies to reach a nuclear threshold state within a short period of time, thus endangering the people of Israel. So, on the eve of the Jewish celebration of Purim, a modern Jewish voice, inspired by characters and events from the Bible’s book of Esther is making his way to the United States.

While it is untenable to make direct correlations between the characters of the book of Esther and the modern day, Netanyahu may find it useful to draw from the characters and events in the story of Esther. Like a modern day Mordechai, he is right to refuse to bow down to edicts that contradict his values and beliefs. Perhaps his visit to the Western Wall before leaving for the U.S. correlates to Mordechai’s mourning, and his speech before Congress to the crying out loud over the threat against his people (Esther 4:1). Like Mordechai of old, he will not have access to the king. He will need to do his work through friends in high and influential places. There is no Esther in our modern play unless Congress can fill the role. If they fear a breach of protocol, perhaps he should warn them that even their present position will not guarantee their safety and that if they “keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while [they] and [their] father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:15). Netanyahu might further encourage members of Congress that perhaps they have attained their present positions, “for such a time as this.

The role of Haman is played out in the voices of such men as Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, who want to destroy the Jewish people. If the scenario plays out in modern times as in antiquity, their true intentions will become manifest and the evil that they intend for the Jewish people will be returned upon their heads. Perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes was correct when he said that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). On March 3, 2012, on a previous trip to Washington, Benjamin Netanyahu presented President Obama with a scroll of the book of Esther. This trip, the Israeli Prime Minister will need to share the story with Washington as if the existence of the Jewish people depended upon it. If he does his job effectively, generations from now, people will say of him that he was “highly regarded by the Jews, popular with the multitudes of his brothers, he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of his kindred” (Esther 10:3).


Berlin, A., & Brettler, M.Z. (2004). The Jewish Study Bible (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

P5+1 Negotiations with Iran. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/foreign-policy/iran-negotiations

Purim: Celebrate, but Remember!

From the Rabbi…





And Moses built an altar and named it, “The Lord is My Banner.” And he said, “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.” (vv. 14-16)


The holiday of Purim is just around the corner. Beginning at sundown on Wednesday, March 4, and extending until sundown on Thursday, March 5, it is a time of joyous celebration for Jewish families the world over. We will observe the four mitzvot or commandments of Purim which are enunciated in the Hebrew Bible (Esther 9:20-22) and reinforced in the Mishnah (Mas. Megilah 2a): the reading of the megillah of Esther, matanot l’evyonim—giving money to the poor, mishloach manot—gifts of food to friends, and feasting. Our hearts will be filled with gladness! But, we should also take time to remember that Purim represents a very serious subject as well, the age long struggle of those who would stand for the good against the forces of evil. It is a sad fact that the enemies of Israel and of the Jewish people have a hatred so intense it seems unexplainable in terms of normal human emotions. And, that hatred is both ancient and modern.

We read in the Torah, in the 25th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, that as our people were coming out of Egypt, a tribe called Amalek laid in wait along the way and attacked Israel from the rear as they passed through. Amalek picked off the weakest members of the Israelite group, women, children, and stragglers. The Torah states that Amalek “did not fear God.” A very stern pronouncement against Amalek occurs twice in the Torah, once in Deuteronomy, “It shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies in the land which the LORD your God gives you…, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.” (vv. 17-19) This commandment appears to be a clarification of the more cryptic statement in the 17th chapter of Exodus, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’ And Moses built an altar and named it, “The Lord is My Banner.” And he said, “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.” (vv. 14-16)

EstherNow, the connection between Amalek and Purim might not be immediately obvious to most readers. The evil Haman, whose hatred of the Jews defies rational explanation, leading him to seek the Jewish people’s annihilation, is referred to in the book of Esther as an Agagite (3:1). The connecting link to Amalek is found in the 15th chapter of the book of First Samuel. The newly crowned King Saul is leading the Israelites in a life and death struggle against the neighboring tribe of Amalek. God, through the prophet Samuel, had instructed Saul that God was about to punish Amalek for the crimes done to the people of Israel when they were on the way out of Egypt, and the judgment was to be harsh. Saul, in defiance of God’s command, spared the king of Amalek, Agag, the ancestor of the wicked Haman. (I Samuel 15:1-9)

Parallels to those who hate the Jewish people so intensely and who seek our annihilation, while difficult to comprehend or accept, can be found in almost every generation, most recently and egregiously in the acts of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. I have never been so moved by a Purim story as I was recently by a story told by Lori Palatnik, a writer, educator, and the founding director of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. She tells of a neighbor she had while living in Toronto whose name was Mr. Cohen. He was a holocaust survivor. As a youth of only 17, Mr. Cohen had been taken by the Nazis to Auschwitz. Knowing he would be there for a long time, if he survived, Mr. Cohen memorized the Jewish calendar for the next several years. He was known by his peers in the camp as a walking calendar. They would ask him, “When is Shabbat?” “When is Hanukah?” “When is Pesach?” And, Mr. Cohen would be able to tell them. When it was Purim, Mr. Cohen and a group of men met secretly in their barracks. They had smuggled a few bits of potato and bread crust as well as a book of Esther into their deplorable living area. The men stood in a circle as quietly as possible so as not to arouse Nazi suspicion, and they passed the bits of bread and potato from man to man in fulfillment of the mishloach manot commandment. The last to receive the morsels of food was Mr. Cohen, for it was he who was about to read the megillah of Esther. As they read the story of Esther under the harsh oppression of the Nazis, you can only imagine the joy it brought to their hearts to hear of the victory of the Jewish people over their enemies on Purim over 2300 years ago. We ultimately gained victory over the Nazis as well, though many, many precious souls had to give their lives in the process. Still, the Jewish people survives, thrives, and prospers. Truly a modern miracle (http://www.aish.com/sp/lal/Purim_in_Auschwitz.html)

Jewish author, Tracey Rich, tells a similar Purim story about Joseph Stalin. Rich relates the story from Chabad, the Lubavitcher Hasidic Jewish group, that in the year 1953 Joseph Stalin was planning to exile all of the Jews in the Soviet Union to camps in Siberia. At a Purim gathering of the Lubavitcher Jews that year, their Rebbe was asked to give a blessing on the Jews of the Soviet Union. Instead of a blessing, he told a story about a Jewish man who was in attendance at the election of a Soviet official earlier that year. The crowd was shouting, “Hoorah! Hoorah!” as the candidate stood on stage. The Jewish man did not want to validate the candidate by shouting, “Hoorah,” but neither did he want to draw the suspicion of the crowd. So, he indeed shouted, “Hoorah,” while knowing in his own heart that he meant “Hu ra,” which in Hebrew means, “He is evil!” Moved by the Rebbe’s message, the Jews at the Purim celebration began to shout in unison, “Hu ra! Hu ra! Hu ra!,” referring to Joseph Stalin. Later that same night, March 1, 1953, Stalin experienced a stroke that led to his death a few days later. His plan to deport the Jews was never carried out. (http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday9.htm)

Rabbi Benjamin Blech reminds us that the meaning of Purim can be found not only in the great miracles of the ages, but also in the small miracles of everyday life. A common term for such everyday miracles is “serendipity.” Defined as “a fortuitous happenstance” or “a pleasant surprise,” serendipity can be thought of as a beneficial occurrence that seems to defy statistical odds. For example, one evening you have just been thinking of a friend whom you have not seen for many years and with whom you long to reestablish contact, and the next day you happen to bump into that friend at the grocery store. Or, you set an arbitrary date to meet with your friends based on your busy schedules, and then you find out in retrospect that the day you chanced to pick is, in fact, the anniversary of some important event that is meaningful to you and those friends. Rabbi Blech points out that some of the greatest scientific achievements of all time were made under the most serendipitous of circumstances.

How does this relate to Purim? The miracle of Purim is recorded in the Hebrew Bible in the book of Esther. Esther is one of only two books in the Bible which do not mention God or the name of God at all (the other being Song of Songs). And yet, one cannot read the amazing details of the hatred and plot against the Jews, the coming of a Jewish princess into a position of power disguised and against all odds, and the ultimate triumph of the Jewish people over their enemies, without sensing the power and the hand of God in the events. So it is with serendipity. God may not be working in overt, readily observable ways or in mighty miracles. But, according to Rabbi Blech, “Serendipity is God whispering to us; it is God’s still small voice that beckons us to be aware of God’s presence.” (http://www.aish.com/h/pur/t/dt/Purim-and-Serendipity.html)

As we celebrate this year’s holiday of Purim and mark the final month of the Hebrew calendar, Adar, leading up to our beloved Pesach, it is my prayer for you that you too will find God working in your life, whether in the grand ways or small. Ken yehi ratzon—May this be God’s will.

Remembering David Horowitz: A Decade of Change–The Greatest Generation

Israel, the Jewish State in Palestine, was born on May 14, 1948. The day after Israel declared its independence, five Arab armies-Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Iraq-invaded Palestine in an effort to prevent Israel from coming into being.

The Arab war to destroy Israel failed. The cost to Israel, however, was enormous, both in human loss and economic cost. Because of their aggression, the Arabs wound up with less territory than they would have had if they had accepted partition and the United Nations would be faced with a huge Palestinian refugee issue. Israel expected its neighbors to accept its independence as a fact and negotiate peace. This was not to be.

Four of the Arab countries signed armistice agreements with Israel in 1949 with Iraq being the only country choosing not to do so. It would be 30 years before an Arab state would agree to make peace with Israel.

1948 was winding down.

On September 14, 1948, the symbolic ground breaking ceremony of the United Nations permanent headquarters located in the Turtle-Bay area on the East Side of Manhattan took place. The event marked the beginning of the actual work of excavation for the thirty-nine story first building. David Horowitz once remarked that he “watched the UN compound go up brick by brick.”

October 24 would be declared United Nations Day to commemorate the coming into force of the United Nations Charter, one of the greatest international undertakings in history. October 24th would be observed each year thereafter throughout the world as United Nations Day.

During the same period, Dwight David Eisenhower was installed as the thirteenth president of Columbia University. Some interesting sidelights on the appointment: the number thirteen happens to be both America’s and Israel’s peculiar symbol. Nearly all the emblems on the Great Seal of the United States run in groups or clusters of thirteen. America started with thirteen colonies, Israel with thirteen tribes. Also, thirteen is the numerical value of the Hebrew word “echad” (meaning one).


Eisenhower was taking over the reigns of the only university in the world whose official seal carries the Hebrew name YHVH as its most imposing symbol. Eisenhower would later succeed Harry Truman as the 34th President of the United States.

Once again America stood at the head among the nations of the world in espousing the cause of Israel. The January-February 1949 issue of the UI Bulletin covered the story of the December 2, 1948 session of the Security Council in which U.S. Spokesman, Dr. Philip C. Jessup, delivered a stirring appeal urging Israel’s immediate admission as the fifty-ninth member of the UN. Dr. Jessup’s declaration indicated clearly where President Truman stood on Israel.

On March 4, 1949, the Security Council recommended Israel for admission to the United Nations. The vote, coming at about 5:40 pm (almost midnight in Israel) was 9 in favor, 1 against (Egypt), and 1 abstention (England).

David Horowitz would be present on May 11, the twelfth day of Iyar, 5709, at about 7:30 pm, when the United Nations congregated in its General Assembly Building at Flushing Meadows and admitted Israel as the 59th member nation. David summed up the prevailing emotions as the event unfolded: “It was a dramatic occasion. As the vote was taken, there prevailed an air of tense alertness, vigil and almost breathlessness. Even some of the most seasoned newsmen showed emotions that revealed their innermost feelings. Most of them, having followed the Israeli case from the very outset of the struggle, had hoped for just this sort of development. The vote, 37 in favor, 12 against with 9 abstentions, came as a sort of climax to a drama upon which the eyes of the world had been focused for a long time. For the Jews, the event seemed Messianic in scope.”

In the November 1949 edition of the UI Bulletin, there was a story on Herbert Hoover’s plan for Palestine. Hoover, a former US President (1929-33) and a Quaker, was known as “the great humanitarian” for his many relief initiatives that fed war-torn Europe during and after World War I and similar efforts post World War II. He had proposed a plan for the many displaced Palestinian refugees following Israel’s War of Independence.

Much could be written, and has been, regarding the refugee issue. For brevity sake however, the least one should know is an overview of the facts. The Palestinians left their homes in 1947-48 for many reasons. Thousands of wealthy Arabs left in anticipation of a war, fleeing to neighboring Arab countries to await its end. Thousands more responded to Arab leaders’ calls to flee out of the way of the advancing armies and in a few cases the Israeli forces did expel Arab residents from villages, usually out of military necessity.

From census records, best estimates show that no more than 650,000 Palestinian Arabs could have become refugees. Reports by the UN mediator on Palestine arrived at an even lower figure of 472,000.

There would be no welcome mats in neighboring Arab countries for the displaced refugees and the UN would become essentially a welfare agency for the Palestinians.

Hoover’s proposal was that Iraq be made the scene of resettlement of the Arabs from Palestine. Quoting directly from Hoover’s plan: “In ancient times the irrigation of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys supported probably 10 million people. The deterioration and destruction of their irrigation works by the Mongol invasion centuries ago and their neglect for ages are responsible for the shrinkage of the population. My own suggestion is that Iraq might be financed to complete this great land development on the consideration that it be made the place of resettlement of the Arabs from Palestine.

This would clear Palestine completely for a large Jewish emigration and colonization.

A suggestion to transfer the Arab people of Palestine was made by the British Labor Party in December 1944, however, no adequate plan was proposed as to where or how they were to go. There is room for many more Arabs in such a development in Iraq than the total of Arabs in Palestine. The soil is more fertile. They would be among their own race, Arab-speaking and Mohammedan.”

The Hoover Plan was submitted to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine in December 1945.

Speaking in Kansas City on December 27, 1948, President Harry Truman made reference to the Hoover Plan as a possible settlement of the Arab refugee problem brought about by the war in Palestine. He viewed it as a way to relieve the plight of the refugees while also benefiting Iraq since Palestinians excel at both agriculture and construction.

The November 1949 issue of the UI Bulletin also included a full-page advertisement for David Horowitz’s autobiography “33 Candles.” It included a publishing date of November 1949 with a retail price of $3.50.

Israel was now a member nation of the UN and was ready to take its place at the big table. The alphabetical seating arrangement of the United Nations delegates at all committee meetings placed Israel in a rather uncomfortable position. Directly at Israel’s left sits Iraq, then Iran and India. At her right is Lebanon. These states, who voted against Israel’s admission into the World Body, seemed not to be too pleased with their immediate seating partner. The UN experience would lead to Israeli delegate Abba Eban making his famous observation, while commenting about the UN General Assembly: “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”

The decade of the 1940s was one of immense change in every aspect of the human experience. Those living in our country at that time were a part of what has been called “The Greatest Generation.” David Horowitz’s life would become profoundly redirected.

United Israel World Union was founded as a world organization and Horowitz would begin a long and successful career as a United Nations Correspondent.

An impressive endorsement came from famous French author and playwright Edmund Fleg. Interviewed at his Paris home, Fleg stated that the advent of “United Israel World Union in the new World is without a doubt a sign of a new beginning in American Anglo-Jewish life. It is my sincere hope that United Israel will spread to all parts of the world. The idea has a message for tomorrow.”

It was a year of many accomplishments, but David Horowitz was about to close 1949 with an event that would change his life.

This is the fifth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” Be sure to read any posts you have missed at our archive here.

BuntynRalph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.

A New Year for Trees?

From the Rabbi…





As we emerge from winter and begin to see the first signs of spring, the next notable occasion on the Hebrew calendar is Tu B’Shevat. Often called the “New Year for Trees,” Tu B’Shevat is actually a transliteration of the Hebrew for the 15th of Shevat. You will recall that in Hebrew, letters represent numbers. The Hebrew letter tet stands for the number nine and the letter vav (which in this case makes the “u” sound) represents the number six; six plus nine, of course, equaling fifteen. Shevat is the eleventh month of the Hebrew calendar.

Tu B'Shevat


The New Year for Trees is not a biblically commanded festival. Its first mention is found in the Mishnah, a collection of the sayings of Judaism’s most prominent sages from just after the beginning of the Common Era. In Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 2a, the rabbis are discussing when the new year should fall. They did, in fact, establish four new years. The first of Nissan was referred to as the new year for kings and festivals. The first of Elul was established for the tithe (giving of one tenth) of cattle. The first of Tishri was called the new year for years of release, Jubilee years, and for the tithe of vegetables. The famous House of Hillel placed the new year for trees on the 15th of Shevat

The need for a “New Year for Trees” was based on several passages from the Torah dealing with the treatment of trees, the most specific being Leviticus 19:23-25: “When you come into the land and you plant any tree for food, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the LORD. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit.” The rabbis of the Mishnah probably placed the new year for trees on the 15th of Shevat because at that time of year the trees in the land of Israel, particularly those which bear fruit, begin to emerge from their winter dormancy and put forth their first buds. Since the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans in about 70 C.E., the ancient practices of tithing and the dedication of fruit, vegetables, and cattle for use by the priesthood in Jerusalem are no longer strictly adhered to in Judaism. Still, the importance of Tu B’Shevat has remained on many levels.

In modern times, the “New Year for Trees” has become a time to emphasize Jewish responsibility toward the environment. For an ancient document, the Torah contains a remarkable number of passages that deal with the appropriate treatment of plants, animals, and the land. The passage cited earlier from Leviticus 19 about the treatment of a newly planted fruit tree is one such example. The practice of not harvesting the fruit of a young tree for the first three years would allow the tree time to strengthen and establish its root system before being subjected to harvest. You will recall that even from the beginning of man and woman’s time on earth, they were instructed to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and master it, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28). The book of Genesis goes on to tell us that man and woman were placed in the Garden of Eden “to cultivate it and keep it” (2:15). The psalmist confirms, “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and all who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1). In fact, the Almighty has made us partners in tending this incredible planet and bringing its possibilities to fruition.

The Torah instructed the children of Israel that even during times of war, when extreme measures were necessary for the preservation of the nation, special care was to be taken not to destroy trees (Deuteronomy 20:19). According to Numbers 35:4, when cities were constructed in the Promised Land, “green belts” were to be maintained around the perimeters of the cities. Special rules were established for the harvesting of crops and the treatment of fields. For example, land was to be planted and harvested for six years, but on the seventh year the land was required to lie fallow, obviously in order to rejuvenate itself (Leviticus 25:3-4). This is actually referred to as giving the land a “sabbath rest”! There are even laws in the Torah which regulate such mundane things as the disposal of waste (Deuteronomy 23:12).

The ethical treatment of animals is also a prominent concern in the Torah. Leviticus 19:19 prohibits the crossbreeding of species. Several laws pertain to the preservation of species. One such example is Deuteronomy 22:6: “If along the road, you chance upon a birds nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may farewell and have a long life.” It is on this same theme that the famous passage, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19 and Deuteronomy 14:21), the very passage from which the Kashrut laws of separating milk and meat derive—the ethical treatment of a parent of a species and its young. Even in such a simple statement as, “You shall not muzzle the ox while it is threshing” (Deuteronomy 25:4), one can sense the ancient intent of not wanting to cause an animal undue stress or suffering. I have always been astounded that in the central communication of Jewish law, the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, the Almighty keeps the welfare of animals in mind. When the instructions for the keeping of the seventh day Sabbath are given, in verse 10 the Torah states, “the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male servant or your female servant, or your cattle…. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” So it is clear that even our livestock, just as we ourselves, were to be given a time of rest and restoration one day in seven.

Another, more metaphorical, lesson that we can take away from the “New Year for Trees, is a deeper appreciation for the very source of the amazing laws and precepts that have preserved us as a people, the Holy Torah. It is likened in our tradition to a “tree of life.” The laws of the Torah truly have, as promised (Joshua 1:8), kept those who observe them happy, healthy, successful, and prosperous. Referring to the Torah as a “tree of life” connects back to the original “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden, from which, according to the creation story, if man and woman had eaten, they would have lived forever (Genesis 3:22). One of the most beautiful and soulful chants from the Sabbath morning liturgy is the one we do after reading the Torah, as we return it to the ark, “Eitz chayim hi…” Based on a paraphrase of the passage from the Hebrew Bible found in Proverbs 3:17-18, we are instructed: “Behold, a good doctrine has been given you, My Torah; do not forsake it. It is a tree of life to those who hold it fast, and all who cling to it find happiness. Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” We have truly inherited an awe-inspiring and lofty tradition, teaching us to love God, our Creator, and to have compassion not only for our fellow human, but for the earth and all of its creatures, plant and animal.

As we observe Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees, which falls this year on Wednesday, February 4, please join me in thanking God for the awesome creation that has been entrusted into our care, as well as for the remarkable laws, the Holy Torah, which instruct us as to how that care should be implemented.

Dennis Jones is Vice President of United Israel World Union and the Rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Hickory, North Carolina. His posts are a regular feature of our web site and you may read his entire series of thoughts, meditations, and Biblical reflections here.


Salvation – the Final Act

Tissot_The_Egyptians_Are_DestroyedIn this week’s teaching Ross covers the final act of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. He begins by establishing the connection between Israel’s salvation and the lovingkindness or chesed of YHVH as it relates to the greatest story of redemption ever told. He demonstrates through Scripture that the ultimate purpose of the Exodus was to make YHVH known in all the earth. Ross shows that the salvation of Israel involves the destruction of the enemy AND the saving of God’s people and makes the point that this theme is often repeated in the Bible. Carefully working through passages, Ross shows that the fear of YHVH and trust in YHVH and Moses were prerequisites for salvation and proposes that the same is required today. You will not want to miss this teaching. Click here to listen to this class.

The Bible Codes—Divine Pattern or Preposterous Chimera?

In May 1997, a sensational new book titled The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin, was published by Simon & Schuster.  It was announced with a full-page ad in the New York Times and quickly appeared on the covers and editorial pages of major magazines and newspapers worldwide.    Drosnin, a free-lance investigative reporter, who once worked for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, offered a readable, engrossing, and intriguing account of a hidden code found in the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament), discovered several years ago, with the use of advanced computer programs, by a number of Israeli mathematicians, including Moshe Katz,  Eliyahu Rips, and Doron Witztum.  This code is based on what are called ELS or Equidistant Letter Sequences found in the traditional Masoretic Hebrew text of the Torah or Five Books of Moses.  The idea is a simple one.  According to its supporters there is encoded within the plain text of the Hebrew Torah hidden messages and information.  Imagine the entire 304,805 Hebrew letters of the traditional Torah fed into a computer in perfect sequence, much like the sequenced chemical strand of a DNA double helix.  The computer then looks for meaningful words and phrases occurring at various intervals or equal distant letter skips—say every 50 letters, or 75, or 100 letters—or really any number one chooses to use, forward or backward in the text.


For example, if you start with Genesis 1:1, go to the first occurrence of the letter Tav (which is at the end of the first word bereshit, “In [the] beginning”), count 49 letters, and you come to the letter Vav (50th letter); count another 49 letters and you arrive at Resh; and 49 letters again and you come to the letter Heh—put these together: Tav, Vav, Resh, Heh and you spell a Hebrew word: TORaH.  It is most interesting that the same thing happens with the first lines of Exodus, the second book of Torah.   If you begin with the first Tav (the end of the second word shemot), count 49 letters, you come to a Vav, another 49 letters to a Resh, and a fourth 49 letters you end up with a Heh—again TORaH in Hebrew.   The third book of the Torah, Leviticus, has a similar pattern, but this time the sacred Name of God (YHVH/Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey) is spelled out every seven letters, beginning with the first Yod.  Numbers and Deuteronomy continue the pattern, but with the word TORaH spelled backwards, every 49 letters.  The sacred Name YHVH also is found at the end each of these five books, also at intervals of 49 letters.  The question is, are we dealing with a phenomenon that can be explained purely by chance and random sequence, or is there some “pattern” that has somehow been inserted by the Author or authors of these texts?  Given the number of letters in Genesis (about 78 thousand), one would expect the letters Tav, Vav, Hey, and Resh, to appear in sequence, at various letter intervals, at least two or three times based on chance distribution alone.  What is interesting here is the way in which these key terms: Torah and YHVH, appear precisely where they do—at the opening and closing of the Five Books of the Torah, and in a balanced sequence of forward and backward spelling—with YHVH opening Leviticus, at a sequence of seven letters.  Such number patterns, of seven and forty-nine, have mystical and historical significance in Hebrew tradition.


The phenomenon is also found in much more complicated ways.  Prof. Rips, for example, found that in the single section of Genesis 1:29-3:3, one can find encoded, at various letter sequences, not only the names of the seven edible species of seed-bearing fruits in the land of Israel (barley, wheat, vine, date, olive, fig, and pomegranate), but also the names of the twenty-five trees of the Garden of Eden, delineated by tradition (chestnut, acacia, willow, etc.)—again, all hidden at various equal distant letter skips (5, 18, 9, 14, and so forth).  There is no other segment of Genesis of similar length where these words occur at such short intervals (less than 20 letters).

Dosnin’s book goes much beyond such relatively simply patterns.  His book is filled with charts of various grids or sections of the Hebrew text, in which one finds patterns of words at various sequences—moving forward, backward, horizontally, vertically,  and diagonally.   For example, he finds the names Yitzhak Rabin and Amir (Rabin’s convicted killer),  the phrase “name of assassin who will assassinate,” Tel Aviv, and the date on the Hebrew calendar 5756 (1995-96)—all laid out in one portion of the Hebrew Torah at various letter sequences (see pp. 16-17) of his book.  He tells us of his dramatic efforts to warn Rabin of the possibilities of his death, as he discovered these particular “codes” before the assassination in 1995.  He also finds the assassinations of J. F. and Robert Kennedy, clustered with terms such as Dallas, Oswald, Ruby, S. Sirhan, marksman,  respectively.  In the case of Egyptian President Sadat, he finds the phrase “Chaled will shoot Sadat” and even the Hebrew date “8 Tishri” in a relatively small section of the text.  Another section shows many words clustered together related to the 1991 Gulf War, including the words: Saddam Hussein, missile, 3rd of Shevat (Jan 18th), and so forth.   Hardly anything is left out of the book, from Watergate, to Hiroshima, to the Jupiter comet collision.  Drosnin’s book is filled with such examples, including things yet to come—which is part of the controversy, since most of the Israeli scientists who have developed the basic research on the computer code maintain it can not be used reliably to predict the future.  As Prof. Rips put it, when asked about Drosnin’s book: “All attempts to extract messages from Torah codes or to make predictions based on them are futile and of no value.”

The idea that the Torah, as the purest revelation of the God of Israel, was divinely inspired at Sinai and delivered to Moses in a letter-perfect form that we have without error today, is fundamental to traditional Judaism.  Indeed, in Jewish mystical tradition, the Torah contains all knowledge.  As the Vilna Gaon put it in the 18th century: “all that was, is, and will be unto the end of time is included in the Torah.”   The Torah is understood to be the “blueprint” of the universe, a reflection of the perfect mind of God.  Many of these Codes, especially the more simple ones, based on the ELS phenomenon,  had been discovered by various rabbis down through the ages.  It was the brilliant Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl, survivor of the Holocaust, who first made a systematic examination of the entire Torah, looking for such patterns.  As a youth he had written out the entire 300 thousand letter text of the traditional Torah on white cards, in 10-by- 10 arrays of letters.  Following the war he lived outside of NY City, sat for hours, Bible in hand, making complicated mathematical calculations on the letters of the Bible, taking copius notes in the margins.  Eventually he established a Yeshiva and gathered a group of faithful students around him.  Unfortunately little of his work was committed to writing, and most is now lost.  For example, the Vilna Gaon had found the name Rambam (Maimonides) encoded in Exodus 11:9 in an acrostic acronym from the first letters of the words: Rabot Moftai B’eretz Mitzraim (“marvels will be multiplied in the land of Egypt”).  Rabbi Weissmandle discovered that if you began with the letter M (Mem), of this acrostic, the words Mishnah and Torah were spelled out at a 50 letter sequence—but with the two words separated by 613 letters.  Those familiar with Jewish tradition will recall that Maimonides’ greatest work was titled Mishnah Torah and it is the most authoritative commentary on the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments) in Judaism.

I first heard of the Torah Bible Code on various visits to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in the early 1990s.  It was talked about openly among the rabbis and Torah students who lived there.  In fact, in July, 1990 I discussed the phenomenon with the Chief Rabbi of Israel, and he appeared to be quite excited and favorable toward the results that were just beginning to appear from the Israeli scientists.  I can still recall  the example shown to me from Deuteronomy 31:14-18, where Moses is told how Israel will go astray and that God will hide his face from them.  If you begin with the letter Heh, last letter in the name of Moses in verse 14, count 50 letters, you come to Shin, another 50 letters, you come to Vav, and so forth until one finds spelled out: Hey Shin Vav, Alef, Heh—which is in Hebrew is HaShoah—the Holocaust! (see illustration).  I was told at the time that this word, HaShoah, never occurs anywhere else in the Torah in such a pattern.  I still have my Hebrew Bible marked with those letters I circled on that day.   Shortly thereafter I was able to obtain a privately published “manual” on the Torah Codes published by the Orthodox group Arachim.  In 1993 I received a letter from Prof. Paul Eidelberg from Bar-Ilan University, on behalf of his colleague Dr. Moshe Katz asking me for help in getting some of this work published in English.   Prof. Katz was one of the pioneers in the computer examination of the Torah Code possibilities.  Prof. Eidelberg was kind enough to mail me a copy of Prof. Katz’ s book on the Torah Codes in Hebrew, B’Otiyoteiha Nitna Torah (published 1991; subsequently in English as: Computorah: On Hidden Codes in the Torah [1996]).  Over the next few years I continued to hear about the Bible Code and the astonishing claims these Israeli mathematicians were making.  Prof. Eidelberg himself published a fine summary in the Orthodox scientific journal B’Or HaTorah (“Codes in the Torah: A Discussion” No. 9, 1995), and from time to time one would see articles about the codes in the Jewish press.

The first major academic breakthrough involving such research on the Bible Codes was the 1994 publication of an article in the prestigious scholarly journal Statistical Science (Vol 9, No. 3, pp. 429-38) titled “Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis,” by Israeli mathematicians Doron Witztum, Elijahu Rips, and Yoav Rosenberg.   In this very technical article these researchers reported on an experiment in which they claimed to have found, encoded in the book of Genesis, the names, as well as the birth and death dates, of 34 “Great Men of Israel” taken at random from a Jewish Encyclopedia.  Their list included such figures as Rabbi Avraham Ibn-Ezra, Rashi, the Rambam, and so forth.  In October, 1995, the popular magazine Bible Review, published a summary of these findings by researcher Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, titled “Divine Authorship? Computer Reveals Startling Word Patterns.”   The response was overwhelming and gradually the subject of the Bible Codes was working its way into a wider discussion among Biblical scholars (who almost universally scoffed at the idea) and informed lay persons.  Satinover addressed many of the objections and responses in a subsequent issue of Bible Review (February, 1996), but the idea was dismissed by Biblical scholars as preposterous and it never really caught on in the public mind.   A rather technical mathematical discussion has continued on the Web in various Usenet groups since the publication of the Statistical Science article in 1994.  I have attempted all along to follow the discussion as it has developed.

And then Michael Drosnin’s book burst on the scene and the result was like a torrential storm among specialists and non-specialists alike. There are dozens of Web sites on the Internet devoted to a discussion, pro and con, of the validity of the Bible Codes.  Bible Review, perhaps as an act of repentance, published a scathingly critical article on Dosnin’s book in August, 1997 titled “The Bible Code: Cracked and Crumbling,” in which the prestigious Hebrew Bible scholar Ron Hendel and mathematician Shlomo Sternberg pointed out what they consider to be the utter foolishness, problematic nature, and outright fraud embodied in the whole idea.   Australian mathematician Brendan McKay, along with Hebrew University professor Dror Bar-Nathan, are engaged in writing a detailed refutation of what they consider to be the mathematical flaws of the whole idea.  Preliminary versions of their work are already available on the Internet, with replies and responses by Ripps and Witztum, and counter-responses from McKay & Bar-Nathan.  These discussions become extremely abstract and technical and would surely be difficult to follow without a high level of training in the science of mathematical statistics (see http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/report1.html).

In the meantime, everyone is jumping into the act.  You can purchase a copy of the Torah Bible Codes program and run it on your own personal computer.  With a little knowledge of Hebrew one can search for his or her own name and any other significant data.  I know of several who have done this.  One friend wrote me recently to report that he had found his name, year of birth, place of birth, and the words “prophet Elijah” are all encoded together!  He is trying to determine if this might be significant for his own role in the future plan of God.   Others are using the codes to reveal all sorts of details about the impending apocalyptic end of the age on or around the turn of the Millennium.  The Christians have also moved quickly into the arena.  Popular evangelical writer Grant Jeffrey has published a best-seller titled The Signature of God, in which he shows how all sorts of information asserting Jesus as the Messiah, his atoning death on the cross, and his role as Savior and Lord, are all encoded in Hebrew Bible using this same ELS code!   For example, he points out that if you begin in Genesis 1:1, take the first Yod in the first word, count forward every 521st letter, you will spell out Yeshua Yakhol, which he translates “Jesus is able.”  (I have not bothered to count this one out, but assume it will work).  He also finds the name of Yeshua, as one might expect, in the prophecy of Isaiah 53 regarding the Suffering Servant.  Jeffrey has no mathematical training of which I am aware, but he assures his readers that the chances this name would appear randomly in this chapter are one in 50 quadrillion!!  What Jeffrey fails to point out or recognize is that any name of three or four common letters can be found millions of times in various letter sequences, in any language, in a book the size of the Hebrew Torah.  The word Yeshua, with its very common Hebrew letters, occurs 600,000 times at various sequences in the Torah—but so does Koresh, Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha, and so forth, including most of the simple first names of anyone reading this article.   One can find Jeffrey’s book at Barnes and Noble and all the popular mass market book chains, including airports, shopping centers, and grocery stores.  It is obvious that the whole Bible Code phenomenon has degenerated to the level of tea leaves and Tarot cards!   The whole subject of mathematical patterns is nothing new.  Over the years I have read of “astounding” claims of improbability with reference to the measurements of pyramids of Egypt, the letters in the Arabic Koran, or even the Greek New Testament (numeric patterns of all types).

In my view one of the most worthwhile discussions of the whole Torah Code phenomenon, on a more popular level, is being carried out by the leaders of Aish HaTorah, a rabbinical school in Jerusalem founded by Noah Weinberg—particularly the work of Rabbi Daniel Mechanic, senior “Codes” lecturer for the organization.  Although these Orthodox Jewish scholars are convinced the Torah Code phenomenon points to the Divine Authorship of the Hebrew Torah, they have responsibly engaged one another and outside colleagues in a discussion that takes into consideration the various objections and excesses of the subject. Jeffrey Satinover, the author of the initial article in Bible Review,  has published a responsible and balanced book called Cracking the Bible Code (William Morrow, 1997), that appears to be the best single source for surveying the question in a comprehensive way—neither with hyper-skepticism nor dubious predisposed belief.

In the end, the notion of the Bible Codes rests on two fundamental pillars: 1) the claim that these word patterns are statistically significant and could not be accounted for by chance; 2) the idea that there is a letter-perfect, inviolate, version of the Torah in Hebrew, without textual variants or alterations.   First, we must be clear on what is meant by “codes.”  Word patterns per se, distributed at various distances, will naturally occur in any text in any alphabetic language, whether the English or Hebrew Bible, the works of Tolstoy or Shakespeare, the morning newspaper, or even this article I am writing.   Such “words” are accounted for purely by chance, and are not properly referred to as “codes.”  Thus to find my name Tabor, or Jesus, or that of anyone reading this article, in any text, is no surprise—especially if the letters of a text are arranged on a grid, and one searches for sequences of one letter skips up to several thousand, in all directions—forwards, backwards, horizontally, and vertically.  The possibilities are endless!   A “code,” on the other hand, implies that an author or the Author has deliberately arranged the text with certain patterns, complex enough and unusual enough that they would not be accounted for by a random chance occurrence.

For example, Prof. McKay took the English text of Moby Dick and has shown how all sorts of “astounding” things can be found at various letter sequences—such as the assassinations of various public figures, with dates and details.   In a more playful mood, Dr. McKay took an English translation of the New Testament book of Revelation and found terms such as Bill Gates, MS-DOS, virtual reality, software,  and even the name Michael Drosin—all on a single page grid!   Other researchers have taken a portion of the Hebrew translation of War and Peace, roughly the size of the Torah in Hebrew, fed it into a computer, and sought to determine what hidden codes might be there as well.   In one short section of the book they found at least 50 words, and even phrases, related to Chanukah—including Hashmonean, temple, lights, Maccabees, sanctuary, month of Kislev, miracles, chanukah, etc.   Not having any advanced mathematical training, and no experience at all in the complex world of statistical analysis, I really can offer little here from my own expertise.  I will continue to read the debate between the mathematicians and follow it to the degree I can.


As for the inviolate text of the Hebrew Bible, the whole Bible Codes theory faces what I take to be a rather insurmountable problem—especially in dealing with portions of the Hebrew text larger than a section or page.  Drosnin states that the Israeli research is based on the traditional Torah, as printed in the Jerusalem Bible Koren edition, which he tells us is the same in all official copies of the text worldwide.  The problem is that there is no single ancient copy of the Torah that agrees letter perfectly with modern copies found in synagogues today.  The traditional text reprinted in modern editions goes back only to the 16th century and represents a composite text based on various manuscripts of the Masoretic text, put together by the Rabbis.  Even our two oldest copies of the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible, the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex (10th century C.E.), do not agree in every word and letter.   Any critical edition of the Hebrew Bible will show these many variations at the bottom of the page (see the latest edition of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, which is based on the Leningrad Codex but footnotes all the major variants from other manuscripts).  There are also the many hundreds of changes that the Masoretes made in the text and have noted in the margins and their notes.  Over 100 times they change the name of God from YHVH to Adonai, thousands of times they recognize that the text as written needs correction (which they do in the margins).   Now with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and portions of the Torah they contain, we know the Masoretic text is just one textual tradition, and not necessarily the oldest.  As often as not the Dead Sea texts agree with the Greek Septuagint (which was translated from a Hebrew version around 200 B.C.E.!), and the Hebrew text that Josephus used, against the traditional Masoretic text.  This means that any wide search of the Hebrew Bible, involving thousands of letters in dozens of pages, becomes invalid if one assumes that the precise letter sequence in modern copies of the Torah has not changed over the centuries.  Our manuscript evidence simply proves otherwise.  On the other hand, some of the word patterns, such as the two illustrated in this article, involving letter skips of only 49 or 50 letters, in a relatively limited section of Torah, would remain valid subjects of discussion.  What becomes impressive to the non-specialist is when such patterns appear to be superimposed directly within a passage in which the plain meaning of the text corresponds to the “code”—such as the “trees of Eden” mentioned earlier, or the word “holocaust” in Deuteronomy 31:16-19, a passage dealing directly with the subject of the “hiding of the face.”  The mathematical debate will go on and perhaps reach definitive resolution by the scientists.  My own conclusion is that the verdict is still out on the final question: has some author/s or Author/s inserted patterned messages into the text of the Hebrew Bible, or can all the patterns,  so far discovered, be accounted for by statistical factors of chance.