I have had a number of Jewish readers of my blogs for some years. That is an excellent discipline for me as many things that I write touch on Jewry and Judaism and, not being Jewish myself, there are occasions when things I write on such matters are not as precisely expressed as they might be. And on such occasions, I rapidly get an email drawing attention to the lacuna concerned. I enjoy such emails greatly as they are undoubtedly the most intellectual emails that I receive. And I quite often respond by editing or updating what I have written to plug the apparent hole in my argument.

I was aware that my recent post about Islam as a “Jewish plot” could be misinterpreted as derogatory to Judaism but I retained that title because I felt confident that my Jewish readers would be smart enough to see that I was mocking the Left, not anybody else. And I was right. The title evoked no complaints.

There was however another point that I was conscious of not spelling out fully at the time but which I left stand for lack of time to add to it. And one of my readers of course picked it up. He wrote (quoting me initially):

“And other Jewish theologians have had no difficulty in also taking on board most of his ideas — so that Paul has in fact humanized Judaism too. It is left to Islam to represent the “old” version of Judaism.”

Judaism had no need for Paul to “humanize” anything; the Rabbis were long in the process of doing so already. Read “Pirkei Avot”, “Ethics of the Fathers”, which is one of the books of the Mishnah. The Talmud was filled with “humanized” law and parable.

I replied:

Yes. I expected a complaint of that sort — which is part of the reason why I noted the humane elements in the Torah. Both Paul and Jesus were good Jews and almost all they said had precedents in the Torah. And I noted that Paul was only one figure in a long line of great Rabbis and prophets.

The point I think you miss and one I should have spelt out more is that Christianity gradually changed the whole culture of the European and Levantine world so that the influence on Jewish thinkers was more osmotic than conscious

That response cleared the matter up, with my correspondent agreeing that Jews have always tended to make big adaptations to the society in which they found themselves. The language we call “Yiddish” is in fact mainly a form of German!

I guess that this post is already a little rambling (my more rambling posts are usually written with the assistance of Mr. John Walker of Scotland but this one isn’t, surprisingly) so let me ramble just a little further: The reader I have just mentioned bears a surname which in German means “The landlord of “The Sun”” — where “The Sun” is an inn. As regular readers here may remember, I rather enjoy looking at what is behind personal names. So I noted something unusual in that surname. It is of course normal for Ashkenazi names to mean something in German but what such names mean is usually mocking. My favourite is “Kren” — which is Southern German for “Horseradish”. Can you imagine someone going around and being obliged to introduce himself as “Mr Horseradish”?

But being the landlord of “The Sun” is not at all unprestigious — quite the reverse in fact. So somewhere way back there was a Jewish guy who took on the quite challenging job of being the landlord of an inn and who eventually came to be known by that name. Occupational surnames are of course quite common. In English, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Baker, for instance, must have had remote ancestors who were a tailor and a baker respectively.

And it’s not only occupations that formed bases for surnames. One of my favourite non-occupational names is “Inglis” — which is a Scottish surname that is pronounced as “Ingels”. But what does it mean? It means “English”. The original “Mr Inglis” was an Englishman from England who settled in Scotland and became known in his locality for that strange peculiarity!

There are also many English inns called “The Sun”. Here is a link to one of them. Note the sign. Such signs date to times when few people could read and write — so a simple sign that could readily be recognized was put up out front and used to identify a particular inn. “Bull and bush” and “Elephant and castle” are other well known examples of such signs in England. A German inn in the same category that most people will have heard of is Das Weisses Roessl, though most will know it in translated form as “The White Horse Inn” — a popular operetta set in an Austrian inn that was identified by a picture of a white horse outside. You can see a small picture of the horse concerned here

And here is a link to an actual German inn called “Sonne” (“Sun”). Note the sign again.

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