Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sacrifice of Isaac/Ishmael

My interfaith group had a retreat in the Old City on Thursday evening about the sacrifice of Isaac/Ishmael in our traditions. We were a small group of perhaps 15 people - half were Palestinians from the Hebron area and the other were Jews from Jerusalem area/Tel Aviv/Rannana/Galilee/US.

I had made my kids spaghetti and meat sauce on Wednesday evening so they wouldn't starve to death on Thursday, being that I was going to stay overnight at the beautiful Austrian Hospice on Via Dolorosa.

What made me happy was that there were quite a few people who were experiencing an interfaith gathering for the first time. During the introductory circle, some even expressed their discomfort at meeting the other. There was a woman from Baltimore who said her friends were telling her she was crazy for meeting Arabs, a wife whose settler husband was totally against her meeting Arabs, but to compromise he let her go, as long as she doesn't do this more than once a month. I think the subject of our retreat was a curiosity for the Jews moreso than for the Arabs.

One Jewish person asked the Arabs in the group - "this biblical story is actually SO awful, why on earth did you have to adopt it for Ishmael?" which made everyone in the room laugh.

We began with the Jewish perspective (since we started the whole story...); it was interesting to see how many explanations you can have with the text that said something like "Take your son, your only son, whom you love..." - but Isaac, of course, wasn't Abraham's only son. What about Ishmael? Did the text insinuate that Abraham only loved Isaac and not Ishmael. We know that wasn't true either....

Some of us then shared stories of someone who sacrificed something for us.

We had dinner at the hospice and the Austrians serving our meals were unusually friendly - probably because no one brought their shrieking kids. Last time we had a retreat, the Bethlehem crowd brought their cranky kids, which totally flustered the staff. This is a very quiet place. They should actually have a sign "no kids under 12 allowed".

The next morning we had the Christian perspective which showed the parallels of this story with the actual sacrifice of Jesus for his people. Actually, I learned that at the time, it was a sacrifice for his disciples only - later on in Christian history, the story evolved that Jesus sacrificed his life for all mankind. The Christian presenter also asked how it was possible that Abraham, already an old man, was able to bind Isaac up (who commentaries say was already an adult - 37 years old).

The Moslem perspective came afterwards - basically that Ishmael was the son that was the one that Abraham was to sacrifice and not Isaac. But someone questioned the Koran and said that it doesn't actually say in the Koran that it was Ishmael; it wasn't until the 13th century that Moslem commentary stated it was Ishmael. But no one there could actually confirm this.

One of the Jewish women there, the first-timer whose husband was a settler, posed a question to the Moslem presenter about slaughtering lambs during modern times during their holidays and does this perhaps contribute to their "violent culture"? Her question distressed me and I said "I want to defend Islam (me? I'm always astounding myself) by saying that if the slaughtering of animals is done for a Moslem holiday and is within the framework of the Koran, it's totally acceptable and doesn't contribute to a violent culture. Because it's contained to animals and holidays, nothing else. Much like when Jews adhere to the Torah when drinking wine on Shabbat, which doesn't contribute to alcoholism. We're sanctifying the wine. They're sanctifying their holiday meals by preparing the lamb just as specified in the Koran." An approving nod from the Moslem members of our group.

But I was also glad she felt safe enough to voice her opinion in the group, however uncomfortable it may have made people feel, because it was her first time in an interfaith group and we need the skeptics to come. And she was so curious about the Moslem faith, she wanted to go with whomever was going to pray at Al Aksa for Friday morning prayers. She'd buy a body/head covering so she would look appropriate. Some of those going said they'd take her. I don't know if she got into the mosque or what her reaction was afterwards, because we parted ways before lunch....but I am very curious to find out....


Tsedek said...

damn, why aren't i ever asked to come to such interesting meetings?


nice report, jerusalem wanderings. although when i read about the 'contributing to their violent culture' bit my breath stopped for a second :D

Yehudi01 said...

Very nice post, JW! I would maybe consider taking part in something like this. Unfortunately, the people sharing in these meetings are "average people," not the decision-makers in the governments. Changing hearts one at a time, I guess. That's cool.