Minutes of Meeting

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Date: January 14, 2001

Location: Home of Shirley Flacks

Meeting Topic: Dead Sea Scrolls

Facilitator: Dr. Eric Friedland

Host: Shirley Flacks

PRESENT: Eileen Moorman, Acting Chair, presiding; Abraham Avnit, Navah Avnit, Judith Baker, Donna Bealer, Connie Breen, Bert Buby, Erman Cole I, John Cowden, Leslie Cowden, Shirley Flacks, Hillel Fox, Eric Friedland, Debra Geier, Lillian Gillespie, Judy Golovcsenko, Igor Golovcsenko, Bette Jasko, Bob Jasko, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, Ken Lotney, Eileen Moorman, Bill Rain, Donald Ramsey, Jeanne Rittner, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Pat Searcy, Robin Smith, Phillis Straka, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk.

Eileen called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM. She thanked Shirley for the use of her house and for hosting the meeting. As the invocation, Shirley shared a few quotations from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "I have a dream. The sons of former slaves and former slave owners will sit down together. Let freedom ring. All Gods children will be able to sing together: free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we're free at last." Shirley also read parts of a letter from Rabbi Leon Klenicki announcing his retirement. He has worked for the Anti-Defamation League, Department of Interfaith Affairs, for 27 years. In honor of Rabbi Klenicki's retirement, the attendees recited the shehecheyanu prayer, thanking God for keeping us alive and sustaining us.

Eric Friedland's Presentation

At this point, Eileen introduced the meeting speaker, Eric Friedland. She stated that Eric was already involved in dialogue when the Dialogue was formed in the early 1970's.

Eric stated that his approach this time around to the subject will involve his personal encounters with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Certain ideas with respect to the Scrolls have interested Eric over the years. He is glad that the committee chose this topic for his presentation. He was visiting family in Israel for the High Holy Days back in October. Among other things, he wanted to spend time in Jerusalem. However, he was only able to spend one day there, because the tensions were getting high. On that day, he took a bus from Ra'anana to the Israel Museum for a special exhibit on Biblical motifs in world art. Unfortunately, the museum was closed when he arrived at 12 noon and it was not due to open until 4 PM. However, a few steps away from the museum was the acclaimed Shrine of the Book (or, in Hebrew, Heikhal ha-Sefer) which is the central repository for the Dead Sea Scrolls. Luckily, the building was open. It should be noted that the architecture of the Shrine of the Book is very unusual. The exterior has the shape of the lid of one of the jars in which the scrolls were stored. Eric noted that at midday in Jerusalem, it was very hot; however, inside the Shrine, it was very dark and cool, so to capture the sense of being inside one of the caves along the Dead Sea where the scrolls were discovered. It takes the visitor's eyes a couple of minutes to adjust to the relative darkness. At the time, Eric was the only one there except for a young, black fellow with dreadlocks who was reading a book on trigonometry. As it turned out, the studious attendant was a Jew who came as a child with his family from famine-stricken Ethiopia to Israel. He was particularly solicitous of Eric in part because the unusual construction and layout of the building was not very handicap-accessible. Eric asked what language the fellow would be more comfortable speaking and the reply was Hebrew. He took Eric around the museum. The young man proved to be an excellent guide. He and Eric shared what they each knew about the Dead Sea Scrolls. The young attendant had gone on a number of archeological digs under the auspices of Hebrew University and proved to be quite knowledgeable about the scrolls and other artifacts on display in the Shrine of the Book. Eric had earlier observed that upon entering the building at first, the centerpiece is one of the very first of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered, namely the entirety of the Book of Isaiah, intact and completely unrolled. Although, the script is ancient, if one is conversant even in modern Hebrew, one can read it with a minimum effort. This centerpiece is positioned directly under the jar lid handle of the building, which serves also as a skylight. As you can imagine, the effect is quite dramatic, and appropriately so.

At this point, Eric went on to discuss some technical details. The Isaiah Scroll is the most ancient manuscript of the Book of Isaiah that we have. It agrees substantially with the official Hebrew text that we have today: the Masoretic text. Eric asked if the non-Catholics in attendance had had the opportunity to look at a Catholic Bible. He also asked whether the Catholics and Protestants in attendance had had the opportunity to look at a Jewish Bible. Eric noted that the Catholics have the largest Bible of all while the Jews have the shortest one of all, for obvious reasons. Part of it is that many of the books of the Apocrypha are included in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles, but they are not considered authoritative, or canonical, for either the Jews or Protestants. Therefore, we have lost the Hebrew original of many of these books. They have always been available in Latin or Greek or other languages, but, ironically enough, not in the original Hebrew. All in all, we have the Catholic Church to thank for preserving the books of the Apocrypha which were initially composed by Jews. By and large, the books that we share in our Bibles are substantially the same, but there are some differences. The older books of the Catholic and Orthodox versions of the Bible ultimately go back to the third century BC when the Septuagint was written. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the books of the Hebrew Bible for the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria, Egypt. Over the millennia, Jews have faithfully retained the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Over time, the passing on of the Hebrew text acquired certain divergencies owing to inevitable copyists' errors. There were thus several versions of the Hebrew text in circulation; Jewish scholars, called the Masoretes, got together and selected the best of these versions as the standardized, normative edition and this is called the Masoretic Text. For centuries this was the only Hebrew text universally available of the Old Testament. Now with the discovery of whole books of the Bible among the Dead Sea Scrolls, we're able to vouch for the essential accuracy of the Masoretic Text. But guess what, we also have many of the Hebrew originals behind the divergent readings in the Septuagint! Eric warned that, whenever anyone claims to have the true version of the Bible, especially the King James, you may have to take such an unequivocal claim with a hefty grain of salt.

The next point Eric raised had to do with the Essenes who are widely thought to have been the people responsible for writing the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is the predominant, though by no means unanimous, view. The Essenes were a sect within Judaism that thrived between the first century BCE and the first century CE. Someone asked whether the Dead Sea Scrolls were copies of the Biblical books. Eric replied yes, but there were also original writings by the Essenes themselves that are non-Biblical among the scrolls as well. Erman Cole told about a video he saw on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The video showed how the scrolls were captured from Jordan after the Six Day War. It also showed that more scrolls are yet to be found, and some scrolls have been taken to other countries. Eric replied that there is a lot of work to be done putting together of fragments of scrolls that have been separated. However, a lot of headway has been made. Unfortunately, analysis and decipherment of the Dead Sea Scrolls in earlier years was a monopoly of a team of a mere handful of researchers. Now the monopoly has been broken. Eric said the Essenes were a very fascinating group of people as they were very offbeat and hardly mainstream. Our information about them for centuries was completely secondhand, from writers of the period. By and large reports about the Essenes were favorable. Philo, a Jewish philosopher from Alexandria and Josephus, a Roman Jewish historian wrote about the Essenes, as did a Roman historian, Pliny the Elder. The general picture of the Essenes is fairly consistent amongst these sources. The basic facts agree, but the perspective varied somewhat. For one, we knew that the Essenes were celibate. Baptism was an important rite, and they shared a common meal vaguely reminiscent of the Eucharist in the Early Church. In the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves, community rules are recorded in concrete detail. An interesting fact emerges from the Scrolls that hardly receives mention in Philo, Josephus, and Pliny, namely that the Essenes were highly sacerdotal, meaning priestly. We were also surprised to learn directly from the Scrolls that the Essenes were intensely apocalyptic. Someone asked whether there are any other strains in Judaism that were celibate. Eric observed that indeed not all of the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls were celibate. There is a scroll, called the Damascus Scroll, that indicates that some groups married and had families and were out in the world. A theory has it that The Essenes refrained from marriage, not because the flesh was degenerate. Rather, the rationale harks back to when the Israelites came to the foot of Mt. Sinai. Exodus 19 tells us that the people had to sanctify themselves for three days in order to be ready for the revelation that was about to occur: the delivery of the Ten Commandments. During this period there was to be no sexual cohabitation between men and women. The theory behind celibacy was that the Qumran community had to be in a state of readiness for the ultimate revelatory event. Lorraine asked whether the celibate community included women as well as men. Eric said no, it included only men. In the Community Rule, for example, women are not mentioned at all. Meals were presided over by a priest. Dieter asked whether sacerdotal means they were Levites who are descendants of Aaron. Eric said that the priests were very much revered and the High Priest had to be of the line of Zadok, the only legitimate line going back to King Solomon. Found among the Dead Sea Scrolls was a document called the Temple Scroll which goes into excruciating detail as to how proper worship was to be conducted in the Temple and who were considered fit to officiate and preside over the sacrifices. Philo and the other contemporaneous reporters did not say a word of this. The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls considered the worship at the Temple to be corrupt and impure and in the hands of the wrong people. One of the main reasons was that the High Priest was not of the line of Zadok. These people placed a high premium on lineage, and breaking the continuity of the lineage was a big problem, indeed a scandal. Since they considered the worship at the Temple to be invalid, they dissociated themselves from it. However, the law in the Torah stated that cultic worship was only allowed in the Temple in Jerusalem ("the place God chose"). People could not make sacrifices at Qumran. For that reason, the climactic daily communal meal was a sublimation of the sacrificial cult carried out at the Temple. The people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls harbored the hope that the current Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed to be replaced by one, much larger than previously, and with a worship conducted in correct, holy and incorruptible fashion.

At this point, Eric asked the attendees what language did Jesus speak. Most people answered Aramaic. Eric replied that he doubted that Jesus's main language was Aramaic. Eric is also not so sure most of the people in the Land of Israel in Jesus's day and age spoke Aramaic. The Dead Sea Scrolls contained a very extensive library, including all types of literature, astrology, bills of lading, etc. Over 90 percent of the books in the Dead Sea Scrolls, as it turns out, were in the Hebrew language. The scrolls were written from about 250 BCE until 68 CE when the Qumran community was destroyed by the Romans. The Hebrew language used in the scrolls ranges from eloquent to colloquial. A central document in Judaism until today is the Mishna. It was produced in Israel about 200 CE. The tradition is that it was orally transmitted prior to that. All of the Mishna is in Hebrew. Thus Eric argues that, given the weight of literary evidence we now have, in all likelihood, Jesus's language was Hebrew. Many other scholars argue that Jesus's language was Aramaic since that language was the lingua franca of the Middle East. Aramaic was indeed the lingua franca, that is until Greek became dominant in Palestine. The two international languages were thus Greek and, to a lesser degree, Aramaic. However, Eric believes that the people spoke Hebrew, although he realizes that his argument is not watertight.

Harold said facetiously that he is from the line of Zadok. Harold said that recent research has shown that a large portion of the people who call themselves Cohanim (the priestly class) are related to Aaron by DNA. Harold asked whether this is also true for Levites. Jerry explained that we do not have Aaron's DNA. All we know is the DNA of Cohanim is common. Rabbi Avnit complimented Eric on his presentation. He observed that scholars spoke Hebrew even though the common language may have been Aramaic.

By way of conclusion, Eric read the Hebrew from a beautiful and moving hymn written by the Essenes in a scroll called Hodayot, "Thanksgiving Hymns," and then asked Father Bert to read the English translation. Eric ended his presentation at 9:10.


Eleanor observed that the temperature in the Shrine of the Book is held constant at that of the inside of the jars in which the scrolls were found. Someone asked whether the Aramaic alphabet was the same as the Hebrew alphabet. Eric replied that the Aramaic alphabet is somewhat like Arabic and somewhat like Hebrew. Connie asked whether the Essenes had special ceremonies. Eric replied that the highlight of their observance was the communal meal, at the beginning of which the priest would say the prayer over the bread and the wine. This procedure is not unlike what one will find in many a traditional home at mealtime. This observance is also highly reminiscent of what is involved in the Eucharist. As noted earlier, the communal meal was a sublimation of the Temple observance. As a sidelight, Eric observed that in Orthodox Judaism, every meal is sacred. No word of discord is allowed at the table. Before partaking of the bread and reciting the blessing, there is the ceremonial handwashing. Connie asked what was the special message of the Essenes. Eric replied that, in a nutshell, they were not happy with the then current Temple observance in Jerusalem, and they wanted to cultivate a worship under the proper auspices. Bill asked what percentage of Jews were Essenes. Eric replied that, according to Josephus and Pliny the Elder, their number was about 4,000. A lady said that she was recently in Qumran. She heard there that John the Baptist had once been there. Eric replied that the one similarity of John the Baptist to the people of Qumran was the act of baptism. Another was the imminent coming of the Kingdom and the need for all to repent. However, the garb of John the Baptist was quite different. Also, he was a loner. In contrast, the Essenes were very conscious of the fact that they were members of a special community, hence their chosen name, Yahad, which means just that, community. A lady asked about the variety of documents found in the scrolls. Eric noted that the style of Hebrew is close to the style of the Mishna. Ken asked whether the Essenes intended to communicate with future generations. Eric replied that, in all probability, the Essenes secreted away the scrolls in the caves on the plateau overlooking the Dead Sea as they became aware the Roman troops were approaching their community to destroy it.

Rabbi Avnit observed that the Essenes had a different calendar with respect to the Counting of the Omer. Eric said that the people of Qumran put on Tefillin (prayer phylacteries), just as their fellow Jews in the Pharisee party did--and traditional Jews do today. A man asked whether the author Eisenman who has written so much about the Dead Sea Scrolls is well respected. Eric replied that he is a maverick. However, we need mavericks. It was noted that Eisenman was one of those people who were instrumental in breaking that counterproductive monopoly brought up earlier. The discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls ended at 9:25 PM.

Administrative Matters

Jack suggested that the Dialogue draft a letter to Rabbi Klenicki expressing the group's appreciation for all he has accomplished and thanking him for the leadership he has shown in dialogue. Klenicki saw the Oberamergau Passion Play, but he was unhappy with the play, even though many changes have been made. One problematic item is the fact that little boys cry out "crucify him." Eileen asked whether Jack would draft the letter and pass it on to Ken who would then send it to Rabbi Klenicki.

Bill Rain, Treasurer of the Dialogue, delivered the Dialogue Financial Report for the year 2000. From the beginning to the end of the year, the cash balance rose from $416.02 to $1,580.96. Bill reported that $417.64 (not included in the ending cash balance) was paid in January, 2001, for postage for mailing the Dialogue minutes during the year 2000. Ken asked about the expenses of the Retreat with Rabbi Riemer, to be held in October. Shirley reported that contributions are being collected to help fund Rabbi Riemer's visit to Dayton. It was suggested that a request for additional donations for his visit be included in the minutes (see this item later in the minutes).

Ken passed around two articles from the New York Times provided to him by Agnes Hannahs. One article reports on the new Holocaust memorial in Vienna. The memorial is very innovative; it is in the form of an inside-out library. Although there was much controversy about whether the memorial should have been built, it is now being embraced even by once outspoken opponents. The second article is a review of a book by David Clay Large, Berlin. The book reports the history of the city from 1871 until the reunification of Germany in 1991.

Suzi announced the Corrie ten Boom event. Corrie ten Boom and her family hid Jews in the Netherlands during the Second World War. She survived the war. Afterward, she traveled around the world telling about her experiences. Suzi Sandager is an actress who delivers a dramatic portrayal of Corrie ten Boom. Several of the attendees who had seen Suzi Sandager's portrayal noted how moving it was.

The meeting adjourned at 9:40 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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