Silly, agenda-driven and diminished: Todd Friel uses Jews to criticise gays

todd friel1

Christian radio show host Todd Friel, from his March 22nd 2013 show on Wretched Radio – listen from about 6 minutes in:

[Some gay people] adjust their entire view of the world and their role within it to accomodate what has become the dominant aspect of their lives their homosexuality. And it’s true don’t we see that all the time? It sort of reminds me of Jewish people! I’m not equating the two in any way other than if you’ve ever had the experience of meeting somebody who is Jewish, there is a propensity for Jewish people to let you know that they’re Jewish. I think it’s that thing that got planted in them to keep them a nation, when they didn’t have a homeland, and they become radically liberal and silly They’re just… they’re Jewish! I’ve never seen anything that even comes close. Irish [...] there’s a few of those [...] you’ll find a few that are Italian, whatever nationality don’t even come close to being Jewish, it’s sort of like the Green Bay Packers. There’s other football fans. Nothing like the Green Bay Packer fans! Same thing with Jewish. Nobody is more nationalistic when it comes to heritage than Jewish people. And I see that with homosexuals. It is about being homosexual. Their agenda, their desires, their needs, their work, their relationships, it is all about their sexuality. Now I don’t know that you see that same degree of definition from heterosexuals. [...] If all you are about is one thing, that is a diminished life.”

When I emailed Todd Friel, he had no recollection of his words.

Hopefully this post will jog his memory, and he will apologise live on air in his next broadcast for these ill-thought-out words.

But I think when you are so quick to speak that you unfairly insult huge swathes of the population, and then can’t even remember doing so, then that is a clear sign for you to slow down and talk less.

So that’s the advice I would give to Todd Friel.

Shlomo Carlebach: The Rebbe knew every Jew from this lifetime or another lifetime

This was a very emotional address in 1994, at a distressing time for Chabad.

Ironically, many Orthodox Jewish leaders are speaking about the Rebbe in more and more  godlike ways, whilst Messianic Jews struggle to understand and grasp the full divinity of Yeshua.

It isn’t a simple as Messianic Jews are the only Jews who believe that Moshiach is divine – many don’t, although we think they really should.

Russ Resnik, IMJ and the definition of a Messianic Jew

We had a very welcome message from the UMJC President Russ Resnik this past week.

In my review of Introduction to Messianic Judaism (IMJ), I questioned the claim by the authors of IMJ, that a Messianic Jew is a believer in Yeshua who also tries to keep the Torah. I was also unsure about Russ Resnik’s comments about Messianic Jews living on the margins, and so I raised the issue in my review, of what Russ meant exactly by Messianic Jews ‘embracing marginalisation.’

Here is Russ’ response:

Thank you for this review and the ensuing discussion. As one of the contributors to the book, and a spokesman for the UMJC, I’d like to clarify a couple of points before Shabbat, and perhaps get back for more later.

First, our definition of “Messianic Jew” certainly is not meant to narrow the category of “Jewish” in general. We might consider someone not to be a Messianic Jew according to our definition, but wouldn’t doubt their Jewishness at all. We’re simply seeking to restore the original sense of the term as applying to Jews who affirm Yeshua as Messiah *and* seek to live intentionally and concretely as Jews. The book does a good job of tracing this historical meaning of the term, showing that, in a way, the UMJC definition is a conservative move.

Second, regarding my treatment of marginalization, in another paper I distinguish between inherent marginalization, which is an inevitable condition of living for Yeshua within the Jewish world, and incidental marginalization, which we should try to overcome. So, Messianic Jews should be allowed to make aliyah as Jews, for example, and I would not embrace a permanent marginalization in this regard. Messianic Jews in Israel should fight to be free from harassment, threats of violence, economic discrimination, and so on, and should not accept such conditions as “inherent marginalization.” At the same time, we recognize that we serve a Messiah who is marginalized not just by his own Jewish people, but by all the powers of this age. That’s the inherent marginalization that we can affirm as a prophetic role.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach.

Firstly, I would like to say of Russ that he showed excellent leadership of the UMJC, at a time when the Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) organisers of an antisemitic Christian conference, were trying earnestly to convince the world that Messianic Jews were sympathetic to their cause.

Under Russ’ leadership, the UMJC released a statement distancing its movement from CATC, which Russ also read out on Youtube:

With Israeli Messianic leaders caught up in an impossible situation whereby to denounce CATC would damage their relationships with some Palestinian Christian leaders in the land, it was refreshing to see Russ step up to the plate and speak out for truth. We at RPP would like to affirm Russ in this, for his wisdom and determination. His actions were a credit to Torah values.

It is for this reason why it is very good to see his expanded comments about Messianic Jewish marginalisation. This comment is spot-on:

“Messianic Jews in Israel should fight to be free from harassment, threats of violence, economic discrimination, and so on”

However, I would take issue with his definition of a Messianic Jew. Russ wrote:

First, our definition of “Messianic Jew” certainly is not meant to narrow the category of “Jewish” in general. We might consider someone not to be a Messianic Jew according to our definition, but wouldn’t doubt their Jewishness at all. We’re simply seeking to restore the original sense of the term as applying to Jews who affirm Yeshua as Messiah *and* seek to live intentionally and concretely as Jews.

If Resnik is not seeking to narrow Jewish identity, then why seek to narrow Messianic Jewish identity, beyond belief in Yeshua the Messiah?

To a degree, all Jews are messianic Jews, in the sense that we all have expectations about the future, that there will be a messianic age. Even a communist Jew who looks forward to the Revolution, or an atheist Jew who looks forward to a society in which religion is not so prominent or readily-believed, is expressing messianism in some form. Messianism itself is essentially a Jewish ideology that the world has caught onto.

But there is a reason why we specifically are Messianic Jews, with a capital “M”. This is a conscious identification with Yeshua our Messiah, whose title is capitalised because we consider him to be divine – just as most believers use the title “Christ” for Yeshua, with a capital “C”.

Messianic refers to Messiah Yeshua, and therefore it is our right to define ourselves by aligning ourselves with Yeshua’s Jewish title of Messiah. To deny us this, is to say that we are undeserving of a Jewish faith identification, because we do not live up to other people’s behavioural expectations of how a Messianic Jew should act.

You can say there is a way that Messianic Jews should live, or you can say that Messianic Jews ought to follow Torah, in order to truly obey God. You can even try to persuade and convince other Messianic Jews of this position. But just because someone does not make any claims of Torah-obedience, it doesn’t mean they are not Messianic – Messianic is simply a word that implies our belonging to Messiah.

By calling ourselves Messianic Jews, we affirm and celebrate Yeshua as Messiah. Either Yeshua is truly Messiah, and those who declare him as such are Messia-nic Jews, or he’s not Messiah, and none of us are Messianic Jews.

Michael F. Bird reviews Introduction to Messianic Judaism

Have a read of Bird’s review of IMJ on Patheos – he issues a respectful and gentle, non-supercessionist challenge to bilateral ecclesiology, from a Christian academic perspective.

The impression I get is that Messianic Judaism is presenting itself not simply as an ethnic church group or as a Christian denomination, it is touted as a separate species of Christ-believer, one more entrenched in its Jewish heritage and distinguishable from the Gentile Christians. To be honest – and Joel might push back on this – I think Galatians rules out precisely this kind of vision of believers in Jesus. First, when Paul says that in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Gentile,” he is creating a shared meta-identity where it is union with Christ that is determinative for our relationship with God and to each other, with the result that all walls between these groups are utterly broken down. What is more, Paul particularly wants to avoid any kind of ecclesiology that results in someone insisting on foreskins sit on the left and no-foreskins sit on the right. I think Paul knew of both mixed and parallel groups of Jewish/Gentile Christ-believers, but not two species of believers.  Second, despite the aversion to using the word “Christian,” I cannot help but note that Christianoi was originally used for mixed Jewish and Gentile groups in both Antioch (Acts 11:21) and in Asia Minor (1 Pet 5:13). Christianoi means “client or adherent of Christ.”

Joel Willitts replies:

[W]hile there maybe MJ’s who think the way you suggest, my view is that most are uncomfortable with the term “Christian” not in the NT sense, which is how you are defining it, but what it has come to be defined, i.e., the gentile church. They usually like to speak of the ekklesia, leaving it untranslated for the same reason. I don’t have any problem with a shared identity in the Jewish Davidic Messiah. I would only point out that I think Galatians’ theological force is in the message of mutual interdependence between Jew and Gentile. Jew as Jew needs Gentile as Gentile and vise versa. What’s more, we should not overlook something that particularly Anders Runesson has been pointing out in various places that Paul’s communities were within the diaspora synagogue social space, thus a Jewish social space. And clearly this is evident in Galatians of all letters.

Any thoughts on this?

In 2004, Michael Wyschogrod still thought Messianic Jews are idolators

In my review of Introduction to Messianic Judaism, and then in a follow-up post, I noted my concern about the theologian Michael Wyschogrod, who wrote a book called trying to dissuade Messianic Jews from believing in Yeshua, which was published by Jews For Judaism. The book equates Yeshua-worship with idolatry for Jews.

Yahnatan  of Gather the Sparks blog replied:

In your book review of Introduction to Messianic Judaism, you expressed incredulity that Jen Rosner would describe Wyschogrod as a theological ally of the Messianic Jewish movement. I think Jen’s claim was more nuanced than you let on; the full claim was that “Wyschogrod’s concern that all Jews–including baptized Jews–maintain a Torah-observant lifestyle makes him another theological ally of Messianic Judaism’s vision.” (153) (I recognize that you differ with said vision, but I think it is worth acknowledging that Rosner’s claim was not unqualified but is actually quite specific as to how Wyschogrod is an ally of Messianic Judaism.)

Also for the record: the Berger/Wyschogrod book you’re referencing was published in 1978. That’s thirty-five years ago. (!) A lot has happened since then, both in the world of Jewish/Christian relations and in the development of Wyschogrod’s thought in particular. Wyschogrod participated in several published Jewish/Christian dialogues via Stimulus books. At the turn of the century he published his major theological work The Body of Faith, and in 2004 he published a book of essays edited by none other than Christian theologian R. Kendall Soulen, the author of The God of Israel and Christian Theology (perhaps the definitive work on Christian supersessionism to date). On top of all this, Rosner’s essay lists Wyschogrod as one of two noted Jewish scholars who delivered lectures sponsored by the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute’s Jewish-Christian Relations Center. Very few figures in the Jewish world have done something like this–precisely because of the way it would make them appear to be an ally of our movement.

If your readers want to learn more about Michael Wyschogrod and the significance of his thought for Christians and MJ’s, I think they would be well served by reading R. Kendall Soulen’s introduction to Wyschogrod’s thought: Michael Wyschogrod and God’s First Love.

Perhaps now that I’ve highlighted Rosner’s important qualification and more fully explicated the development of Wyschogrod’s thought, some of your initial concerns with this aspect of the book have been addressed?

It is a very appropriate reply from Yahnatan, kindly expressed, and seeing the best in Wyschogrod.

I agree with Yahnatan that Wyschogrod wanted Jews to maintain their Torah practice, even as idolators. But so did the Vilna Gaon, for Jews who became believers in Yeshua – it didn’t mean he had any sympathy for them.

The Vilna Gaon said of such believers:

The Vilna Gaon taught that a meshumad, an apostate, is obligated in all mitzvos, just like any kosher Jew. His apostasy doesn’t grant him any kind of dispensation, and he is obligated in every detail of the law just as he was before he abandoned the Torah. When the Gaon heard of a Jew who had converted and joined a monastery, he sent an invitation to his home so that he could try to draw him back to Judaism.When the meshumad arrived, the Gaon honored him with a drink and said, “I would like to hear a b’rochah.“ The meshumad was taken aback. “I am no longer a Jew—why on earth should I make a b’rochah?”

The Gaon patiently explained. “Converting did not change anything, and kefirah is no excuse. You are a child of Avrohom Avinu, and you will eventually be punished for every single sin. But you will also be rewarded for every single mitzvah! Take the opportunity to earn yourself another z’chus!” The words of the Gra made a deep impression on his guest, and it was not long before he did a complete teshuvah.

You can see the logic here – encourage idolators to keep the Torah, and they’ll eventually abandon their idolatry. Reasonable logic, except we know that worshipping Yeshua is not idolatry! But clearly, believing Messianic Jews should keep Torah, doesn’t mean you necessarily respect them or you are positive about their beliefs.

Regarding the book that Kendall Soulen edited, Wyschogrod identified belief in Yeshua as idolatry for Jews on p.158 of Abraham’s Promise, published in 2004.

In an article for First Things introducing the Wyschogrod writings, Soulen even says this:

To be sure, Wyschogrod makes clear that Christian claims on behalf of Jesus of Nazareth are problematic from the perspective of Jewish faith. The claim that Jesus was the Messiah is difficult for Jews to accept because Jesus did not perform a key messianic function: he did not usher in the messianic kingdom. More difficult by far, however, is the Christian claim that God was incarnate in Jesus. For a Jew to subscribe to this belief would mean a grave violation of the prohibition against idolatry.

Soulen is aware of the problem regarding Wyschogrod, but it possibly is not as urgent an issue to him as it is to Messianic Jews, considering we have to live with the fall out of his calling our beliefs idolatry.

Regarding his speaking appearance with the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute (MJTI). I think that – with eyes wide open – it could be considered a positive step that Wyschogrod entered into debate on MJTI “territory”. But I think that we ought to be cautious in proceeding.

However, were Wyschogrod to publicly announce a change of heart, I would welcome that as clear evidence of the positive influence of Messianic Jews in his thinking. Until then I think it would be hard to ignore these concerns.

Has he rescinded his previous views? He would need to do so publicly and clearly, for us to be certain.

But maybe I’m being overly negative or sceptical – let’s see how Wyschogrod’s relationship with Messianic Jews progresses.

Michael Wyschogrod wants Messianic Jews to abandon Yeshua


Michael Wyschogrod is admired by many Messianic Jews in the USA. I think he is overrated and not really very helpful for Messianic Jews at all.

Wyschogrod has written a book called trying to dissuade Messianic Jews from believing in Yeshua, which was published by Jews For Judaism.

Jews For Judaism routinely slander Messianic Jews and hype up fear about us, because we believe in Yeshua as Moshiach, we worship him, and we know he rose from the dead.

In his book, Wyschogrod wrote:

“It is therefore important for Jews to know that a Jew who believes that Jesus was God in the sense asserted by the Nicene Creed commits idolatry as defined by Jewish law.”

Gerald McDermott notes:

Wyschogrod says Jews have a “responsibility” to teach gentiles of the dangers of idolatry. Therefore, “it is my duty to persuade my Christian friends to abandon these teachings.”

The website of a man named Craig Lyons, carries this Wyschogrod quote:

“[Among] those difficult issues which most distinctly separate Judaism from Christianity . . . none is more significant than the problem of Christology, the evaluation of the person of Jesus as an equal person of the triune God. For the Jew, this raises the ultimate danger of idolatry, of the deification of a human being. It must be clearly understood that this is a far more serious issue than the question of whether Jesus was the messiah” (Michael Wyschogrod, “A New Stage in Jewish-Christian Dialogue,” Judaism, Summer, 1982, pp. 361-62).

His book was written to convince Messianic Jews to abandon the Messiah.

Let’s stop recommending his writings.

Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Book review

“The ideology of this book is not rooted so much in New Testament Israel, as in the counter-cultural religious trends emanating from the West Coast of America in the late 1960s and 70s.”


Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Edited by David Rudolph and Joel Willitts

Zondervan 2013

Book review by Joseph Weissman

Religion has never existed in a vacuum, and every faith movement must be aware of its own history. Christians can sometimes make the mistake of looking at today’s Hasidic Jews, and think that their faith is the same as the Pharisees. However, Judaism changed dramatically following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 – Jews would no longer offer sacrifices, but found ways through the rabbinical writings to continue their religion.

Continue reading

Musalaha: Jews have a racial sin of being murderous

Musalaha is a group which claims to seek reconciliation between Arabs and Jews. Unfortunately, Israeli Messianic Jews who work with Musalaha, often end up dismissing their fellow Messianic Jews as ignorant.

For example, recently we witnessed Mati Shoshani first dismiss his parents’ generation of Israeli MJs as not caring about reconciliation, then dismissing Diaspora MJs because they don’t live in Israel, and therefore know nothing about reconciliation.

Asher Intrater heads up Revive Israel, and wrote an article for Musalaha about racism. You can see what Intrater is trying to do here – to show that Israeli MJs do not think Jews are perfect, and that Jews are sinful too.

The problem is, Intrater goes so far with his arguments, the piece ends up reading as quite antisemitic in effect, if not in intent.

Here he is providing a sort of linguistic equivalence between “Nazi” and “Zionist”, without really challenging it:

When we try to share with our people, they call us Gentiles, even Nazis. When the Palestinians try to share with their people, they are called, “Suheina” – Zionists, about as dirty a word as you can get in their culture.

Here is Intrater on “racial sins” and “ethnic failures” of Jews:

I don’t want to confess my very minor racial discriminations because it might appear to be condoning the enormous racial sins of the other group. But that’s not Yeshua’s way. [...] Each side has to deal with their own sins and ethnic failures. The problem for us as Jews is that our sins are written in the Bible, for goodness sake. The Hebrew prophets were replete with descriptions of our people as stiff-necked, stubborn, rebellious, hard-hearted, idolatrous, adulterous and murderous.

Rather than recognising the Hebrew prophets were critiquing human sinfulness that was also apparent in Israel, Asher Intrater is marking out murderousness as a “racial sin” of Jews, which is written in the Bible for Jews and therefore unavoidable.

But here is the worst part for me:

In the New Covenant period, we are described as the very “enemies of the gospel” (Romans 11:28 ); not only have we rejected our own Messiah, but we have done everything we could to keep others from coming to Him (Luke 11:52). In addition, we have long interpreted the biblical concept of being the “chosen people” in a racist way, which misses the point of the biblical covenants. Finally, instead of being a “light to the nations”, we became offended at the thought of the gospel being spread to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21-22).

Why call Jews enemies of the gospel, without mentioning the same verse claims that Jews are beloved of the patriarchs?

The accusation of Jews believing themselves to be exclusively chosen, and therefore being racist, is an one that is often thrown against Jews unfairly by people wishing them ill. Why raise it in this setting, without providing more specifics?

Look, I’m sure Asher Intrater was trying to be gracious to Musalaha, and assure Salim Munayer that he recognises Jewish sins too. But he has overplayed his hand, and revealed his insecurities about quite what he has to admit to about Jews, in order to satisfy Musalaha.

He has written a piece which, frankly if you didn’t know it was by an Israeli Messianic Jew, you might think had been written by a supercessionist with a grudge.

Joining Musalaha has a price for Israeli Messianic Jews.

You have to say sorry for who you are.

My family at Buchenwald and Sobibor

L-R: Anna, Lili, Heinz, Heinrich

L-R: Anna, Lili, Heinz, Heinrich

2013 will mark the 75th anniversary of the Anschluss, when Hitler annexed Austria and the Nazis overtook the country, welcomed by the Austrian populace. As a consequence of this move, my family has been in the United Kingdom for three generations, as my grandmother Lili would take the Kindertransport train from Vienna to London Liverpool Street.

When she boarded the train destined for London, aged 14, she remembers seeing children on the platform who had missed this train. They told each other that they would take the next train out of Austria.

The next train never came. My grandmother would never see her family again. Her father Heinrich was murdered in Buchenwald, on December 12th 1939. Her mother Anna was murdered in Sobibor, along with her little brother Heinz, in June 1942.

They were taken to Sobibor in the Transport 27. Adolf Eichmann had arranged for the “final solution” to be expanded throughout the Third Reich, to include Jews in Vienna, who would not be informed of their pending transfer until six days before the event, so as to curb the spread of news throughout Jewish communities.

Jews were instructed to meet at Klein Sperlgasse 2 in Vienna, where there was then a Jewish school. Now I don’t know what there is there, apart from a furniture shop round the corner. There the Central Office for Jewish Emigration registered deportees. Yad Vashem explains:

Sometimes as many as 2,000 people waited at the school for days, even weeks, to be deported. They would sleep on the floor or on straw sacks. Sanitary conditions at the school were understandably abysmal and reflected the state of mind of the people waiting to be expelled. Some people suffered nervous breakdowns; others committed suicide. The two doctors and two nurses on site did their best to ease the situation. While they waited at the gathering point, the Jews would undergo a registration procedure called “Kommissionierung”, which was often accompanied by violence. The staff of the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna, among them Anton Brunner, would force the Jews to declare all their property before signing a document confirming that they were transferring everything they owned to the state. The Jews were also forced to hand over to Central Office representatives all the valuables and cash they had on their persons. The Gestapo then went on to sell all confiscated Jewish property.

Just as Lili’s train was the last from Vienna to London, Transport 27 was the last train from Vienna to Sobibor.

Yad Vashem:

Transport number 27 departed on June 14, 1942 at 07:08 pm from Aspangbahnhof in Vienna in a train marked Da 38 and arrived at the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland on June 17 at 08:15 am and not, as previously planned, at the township of Izbica. The transport contained 1,000 Jews and included the eminent ethnologist, Eugenie Goldstern. 267 persons in the transport were older than 61 years, and the average age was 50 years.

An armed fifteen-man Schupo detail, including two sergeants, Hauer and Bittermann (their first names are unknown), under the command of Lieutenant Joseph Fischmann (Revierleutnant der Schutzpolizei) of the police number 1 special reserve unit, was appointed to guard the transport. The policemen reported at the train station at 11:00 am in accordance with an order issued by Alois Brunner of the Central Office for Jewish Emigration. The Jewish deportees were led to the train station from the assembly point at which they had been held and embarkation began at 12:00 am, under the supervision of members of the Central Office for Jewish Emigration, SS-Obersturmfuehrer Alois Brunner and SS-Hauptscharfuehrer Ernst Girzick, who were present at the site. The process took place without any resistance or disturbance. At 4:00 pm checks were made to ensure that all the deportees were indeed on the train.

The train traveled a route that took it from Vienna through Breclav (Lundenburg), Brno (Bruenn), Nysa (Neisse), Opole (Oppeln), Czestochowa (Tschenstochau), Kielce, Radom, Deblin, Lublin and Cholm to Sobibor.

At 1:45 pm on June 15 the train crossed the border into the General Government. At 21:00 on June 16, 1942, the train stopped at the train station in Lublin. In accordance with an order issued by SS-Obersturmfuehrer Helmut Ortwin Pohl, who was present at the site, a selection was carried out on the deportees and fifty-one able bodied men aged between fifteen and fifty were taken off the train and sent to the Majdanek concentration camp. A sum of 100,000 zlotys was confiscated from the Jews and transferred to Pohl’s custody, as were the three freight cars – containing the deportees’ personal belongings, which were separated from the train. These were unloaded at the Trawniki labor camp some 30 kilometers from Lublin and handed over to SS-Scharführer Mayershofer. At 11 pm the train continued on its journey, with the 949 Jews on board who had been left behind after the selection; it drew in at the Sobibor extermination camp on June 17, 1942 at 08:15 am. On its arrival, responsibility for the transport was transferred to the camp’s commandant, SS-Oberleutnant Franz Stangl. Disembarkation of the deportees began immediately. All the Jews on the transport from Vienna were murdered as soon as they arrived at Sobibor. This transport was the last one to leave Vienna for the province of Lublin.

When they returned to Vienna, the officer and the two sergeants who had accompanied the train handed in an expense report. For guarding the Jewish deportees and for their journey back to Vienna, they were paid 260 Reichsmark.

Franz Stangl oversaw the murder of my great-grandmother and my great uncle, little Heinz.

franz stangl

At his trial in 1970, he admitted responsibility for the murder of 900,000 Jews, adding:

“My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty.”

Christian churches protested Stangl’s murder of the mentally handicapped by gassing them, and so Hitler put an end to this practice. The murder of Jews in gas chambers would continue.

Stangl’s family ended up in Syria, and then Brazil, where he was eventually apprehended. He would be sentenced to life imprisonment in 1970, and die the following year of a heart attack.

This is Alois Brunner who helped to place my family members on trains:

alois brunner

Brunner escaped justice to live in Syria, as reported last year in the IB Times.

When Anna and Heinz arrived at Sobibor, they were likely met by the Preacher. The Preacher was Hermann Michel. He had a warm and pleasant voice, wearing a white coat, and standing on a balcony to greet Jews.

This is what my family would have heard upon arriving at Sobibor – survivor Ada Lichtman explains:

We heard word for word how Oberscharfuhrer Michel, standing on a small table, convinced the people to calm down. He promised them that after the baths all their belongings would be returned to them and that it was time for Jews to become a productive element. At present all of them would be going to the Ukraine to live and work. This address aroused confidence and enthusiasm among the people. They applauded spontaneously and sometimes even danced and sang.

Here is an eye-witness SS account, also found on Michel’s Wikipedia page, of the Preacher’s message to my family:

“ Before the Jews undressed, Oberscharführer Hermann Michel made a speech to them. On these occasions, he used to wear a white coat to give the impression [that he was] a physician. Michel announced to the Jews that they would be sent to work. But before this they would have to take baths and undergo disinfection, so as to prevent the spread of diseases…. After undressing, the Jews were taken through the so-called Schlauch (“tube”). They were led to the gas chambers not by the Germans but by Ukrainians…. After the Jews entered the gas chambers, the Ukrainians closed the doors…. The motor which supplied the gas was switched on by a Ukrainian called Emil and by a German driver called Erich Bauer from Berlin. After the gassing, the doors were opened, and the corpses were removed by a group of Jewish workers…”

The entire project was overseen by Odilo Globocknik, who was responsible also for the extermination of all Polish Jewry.

You should watch this interview with Meier Ziss, who entered the camp in the same month as my family did. The rest of his family was sent to the gas chambers in Sobibor upon arrival. Meier Ziss had to burn the passports and documents of Sobibor victims, and oversee the luggage. He was appointed ‘chief fireman’. Were a worker to get sick, he would be shot at the lazaret at Sobibor.

One SS guard at Sobibor was John Demjanjuk. Demjanjuk was a “lowly” guard at Sobibor, and his trial and conviction in 2011 marked the first occasion in which a guard was found guilty of complicity in spite of his lowly rank. Ignat Danilchenko claimed to have seen Demjanjuk herding Jews to their death.

A Jewish Holocaust survivor who entered Sobibor the following year, described the horror of the camp at the Demjanjuk trial:

Mr Blatt has not been able to identify Demjanjuk as having been one of the 100 Ukrainian guards at the camp, although he believes he was certainly there at the time he was a Sobibor prisoner. His testimony will nevertheless make it chillingly clear that anyone employed as a Sobibor guard was a vital cog in the machinery of genocide. “We were terrified of the Ukrainian guards at Sobibor. They were worse than the Germans – and I was there at the same time as Demjanjuk,” he said.

Mr Blatt was born in Izbica, only 43 miles from the Sobibor death camp. A Nazi SS squad picked him up with his father, mother and young brother during a routine “Jew round-up” in April 1943. They were bundled into a truck. “The camp gate opened to reveal what looked like a beautiful village,” he said. “We had heard what went on in there, but we refused to believe it. But I knew better, I was 15 and I realised that I was going to die,” he added.

He remembers a man standing next to him peering through a hole in the truck’s side at a group of Ukrainian guards equipped with bull whips. The man said, in Yiddish, how the place was “black” with them in reference to their black SS uniforms. Within a matter of seconds the Jewish prisoners were herded out of the truck and set upon by the screaming, whip-wielding guards who drove them up a path known as the “Himmelfahrtstrasse” or “road to heaven” towards the gas chambers.

“They mistreated us, they shot the old and the sick new arrivals who couldn’t walk anymore. And they were the ones who drove the naked people into the gas chambers with their bayonets. They would come back with splashes of blood on their boots,” Mr Blatt told The Independent on Sunday. “I often had to work a few feet away. If they refused to go on, they hit them and fired shots. I can still remember their shout of ‘Idi siuda’, which means ‘come here’,” he added.

Young Thomas saw his father being beaten with a club.”Then I lost sight of him. I said to my mother, ‘And yesterday I wasn’t allowed to drink the rest of the milk, because you absolutely wanted to save some for today’. That strange remark of mine still haunts me today – it was the last thing I said to her. My brother stayed at my mother’s side. They were all murdered in the gas chambers within the hour.” A few weeks later, Thomas Blatt was forced to watch his best friend, Leon, being slowly beaten to death.

Middle-class Dutch Jews started being sent to Sobibor shortly after his arrival and the SS changed their tactics to trick them. “When a Dutch transport arrived, usually an SS man would hold a speech. He would apologise for the arduous journey, and said that for hygienic reasons, everyone needed to shower first. Then later they would be given jobs. Some of the new arrivals applauded. They had no idea what was in store,” he recalled.

He survived only because the SS had executed a number of so-called “work Jews” at Sobibor the day before he arrived. The camp commandant was looking for replacements and 15-year-old Thomas pushed himself forward, pleading “Take me, take me!”.

His jobs included polishing SS men’s boots, sorting the clothes and shaving the hair off naked women prisoners before they were driven into gas chambers pumped full of exhaust fumes. It took up to 40 minutes for those inside to die. “We heard the whine of the generator that started the submarine engine which made the gas that killed them. I remember standing and listening to the muffled screams and knowing that men, women and children were dying in agony as I sorted their clothes. This is what I live with,” he said.

Demjanjuk died in March 2012.

Am Yisrael Chai.

Moshiach, Torah and the 12th Tribe of Israel: Benoni or Benjamin?

When thinking about Moshiach, Jewish people generally find the idea of the Messiah both suffering and also achieving glory, hard to cope with. If he suffers he can’t be Moshiach, he must have failed! But is this really the case?

As Hannukah ended, and with Christmas approaching, I was reading about Jacob and Esau in the Torah. I reached Genesis 35:16-20, about what Jacob did after escaping from Esau and then returning to Bethel, heading towards Eprath:

Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance[f] from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.”  And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni [Son of Sorrow];[g] but his father called him Benjamin [Son at my Right Hand].[h] So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. 

Interestingly, on the way to Bethlehem, a son is born, who is named Son of Sorrow, but is renamed by the father as “Son at my Right Hand.” Isaiah 53 speaks of a “man of sorrows” acquainted with grief, yet later on in the chapter we are told that God will give him a portion among the great. Elsewhere, Psalm 2 promises the future king of Israel and Son of God that he will sit at God’s right hand.

Here early on in Genesis, we see a fusion of these ideas already, before Isaiah and David are even alive!

At this place, on the way to Bethlehem, death gave way to life. The death of Rachel facilitated the life of Benjamin. In a way, we can think of Yeshua, who had to die to bring us life.

The prophet Micah (verse 5:2) tells us that a ruler will come out of Bethlehem Ephrath, though the place is “small among the tribes of Judah.” This ruler will be “from eternity”:

וְאַתָּה בֵּית-לֶחֶם אֶפְרָתָה, צָעִיר לִהְיוֹת בְּאַלְפֵי יְהוּדָה–מִמְּךָ לִי יֵצֵא, לִהְיוֹת מוֹשֵׁל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל; וּמוֹצָאֹתָיו מִקֶּדֶם, מִימֵי עוֹלָם

This ruler, Yeshua, would eventually be the Son at God’s Right Hand. Like Benjamin, He was also a Son of Sorrows, and also to be born in Bethlehem. He would be renamed, in effect, also by his father, “Son at the Right Hand.”

So there you go, if you were wondering how Moshiach could both suffer and be glorified, and also be born in Bethlehem, well – your answer is already in the Torah!