My pious grandfather introduced me to basic bible. I was 5 or 6 years old when sitting on his lap he told me of all the great heroes and great deeds told in the Book of Books and I listened fascinated while watching at the same time his rich brown beard which by that time was already lined with gray . I thought it would be nice if he’d let me run a comb through it, but I never dared suggest it.
By the time I was 8 years old, and already in second grade, all the pupils in our class received small booklets, written and published by our teacher of religion whose name was Mr. Lehr. Even though I enjoyed reading the bible stories myself, they were by far not as thrilling as when my grandfather told them to me.
Maybe because my grandfather knew so well how to use his voice dramatically and very convincingly. He used his voice like a musical instrument, sudden crescendos and diminuendos just in the right places. Grandfather’s bible stories were nothing short of grand performance. I adopted some heroes, I trembled with Isaac every time Abraham raised his knife, I was so sorry for Esau who was short-changed just because he was hungry, and yes I so very much wished I could have met Samson, and I certainly would never have cut his locks! . I gloried in the glory of King David and in the wisdom of King Salomon. In my eyes they could do no wrong!
I passed on the stories to a little non-jewish neighbor who was intimidated by them because I told with love and veneration about my many heroes while all she could produce was Jesus and only Jesus. I quite cruelly pointed out to her that even Jesus was a jew!
And now, many years later I am again celebrating the Book of Books, but in a completely different manner. We have a charismatic bible teacher who spends one hour every week trying her best to disillusion and disenchant us.. Our great kings so revered all the past years are suddenly quite human, we suddenly realize that they were flesh and blood, making mistakes, bad judgments and countless other mischief my grandfather never told me about.
For example let’s take Eliahu, the prophet. Our teacher doesn’t like him. According to her he was a megalomaniac, prepared to manipulate even God himself. She on the other hand likes a man named Ovadiahu, a man I never heard anything about. She tells us of a meeting between those two, Eliahu and Ovadiahu which should have taken place somewhere here on Mount Carmel.
I step out on my balcony from where I can see a big part of Mount Carmel and wonder where that biblical meeting could have been held.
What’s more, after our teacher finishes telling us the most riveting bible story, which she does so well, she suddenly brings us back down to earth by saying:
“But please take into consideration that all this may not be true, much of it is myth and tinged with the scribe’s opinion, who was in charge of writing all this down! And being paid for it too, usually by the interested party!”
This, immediately after her vivid and so very believable description and we believing every word she had said because how could something which is being told so well be a lie? I realize that she has the same talent my grandfather used to have, may he rest in peace, ...
Now about Eliahu, the prophet. He was a real hero in my childhood, and I watched carefully the glass of wine which stood there on the Pessach table waiting for him to come and drink it.
Watching it, it seemed to me that there was less and less wine in that glass, and I shouted joyfully:
“He drank it, he came and although we did not see him, he drank it! Look, it’s much less now!”
Many years later one of my mischievous cousins confessed to me that he used to take a sip from this glass whenever he found himself unobserved for a second..
Anyway it must be admitted that now, at our advanced age, we receive a completely new slant on what’s written in the bible and here and there I can see some shocked faces among the listeners. But maybe it is time we face the truth.