Torah Thursday: Isaiah 43-44


Every Thursday, Jeremiah’s blog engages in some anti-Zionist bible study in an effort to think about what a different kind of Judaism might look like. 

This Saturday, most Jewish traditions read from the end of Isaiah 43 and the beginning of Isaiah 44 for the Haftara (the additional reading from the Prophets which supplements the weekly Torah portion).

In a book well known for its beautiful descriptions of the messianic period, the selection we read this week starts off rather dark in tone, with God noting Biblical Israel’s many transgressions during Isaiah’s time. Isaiah 43:24 in particular caught my eye:

But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses.

The Hebrew word translated by most as “burdened” is הֶעֱבַדְתַּנִי, which, is more literally an enslavement. For this reason, I prefer the “Easy-to-Read” translation of the verse:

So you did not use your money to buy things to honor me. But you did force me to be like your slave. You sinned until the bad things you did made me very tired.

A great deal of philosophical and social-scientific literature now holds that things in the world – microbes, other species, material objects – make us at least as much as we make them. Similarly, Reconstructionist Judaism has long held that God is made up in some way by the actions of human beings. This verse indicates to me that the sins of ourselves and our leaders, that is, of those who claim to speak in the name of Judaism, not only affect ourselves and others, but are a literal enslavement of God. In other words, by invoking God to support sins – colonialism, racism, apartheid – we do damage to ourselves and to God as well. And, in fact, just a few lines later God calls upon us to account for our actions:

But you should remember me. Let’s meet together and decide what is right. Tell your story and prove that you are innocent.

Chapter 44 is a bit more optimistic, thankfully. It begins with God reassuring his people that he is still there listening:

Jacob, you are my servant. Israel, I chose you. Listen to me! I am the Lord, and I made you. I am the one who created you. I have helped you since you were in your mother’s womb. Jacob, my servant, don’t be afraid.

Most of the rest of the reading deals with idolatry and proper worship of God. Just a few verses after the Haftara ends, however, comes this:

False prophets tell lies, but the Lord shows that their lies are false. He makes fools of those who do magic. He confuses even the wise. They think they know a lot, but he makes them look foolish. The Lord sends his servants to tell his messages to the people, and he makes those messages come true. He sends messengers to tell the people what they should do, and he proves that the advice is good.

To me, these sentences clearly illustrate the problems with how Judaism has been corrupted and misapplied in support of the horrifying policies of the State of Israel. In these verses, God tells us that the proper formula is not: “The Bible says it and therefore we must implement it regardless of the distasteful consequences.” Rather, God says that we have a pretty simple way of verifying whether an interpretation of God’s words is true of false.

The proof, God says, is in the pudding.

If your interpretation of God’s words are correct then we will see that the end result is correct as well. If the interpretation of the Bible leads to colonialism, racism, or apartheid, then the messenger is a false prophet and a fool.

The corrupt understandings of Judaism as supporting the racist policies of the State of Israel that are so prevalent at the moment do a great deal of damage. The immediate consequences of this support is felt primarily by the non-Jews whose lives are directly affected by these policies. But, at the same time, there is a great spiritual damage being inflicted upon ourselves. More so, in light of our interpretation of Isaiah 43:24, we can even argue that God becomes enslaved to our own sins as well, especially when as so many who commit these sins take the Lord’s name in vein to justify their heinous acts. To free ourselves and to free God from such burdens, we must stand up against the evils being conducted in our name by the State of Israel, as well as by pro-Zionist organizations purporting to represent the Jewish people.

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1 comment
  1. David R. said:

    But, isn’t the current Israeli policy in accordance with the biblical commandments to destroy the Canaanites as is recorded in Deuteronomy 2:34; 3:6; 20:16-18?

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