Tag Archives: Christianity

Best of Israel – Part I

Whenever I come to Israel, which is about once a year, I tend to go to the same places. Some out of habit, some because of friends and family living there, some because I just like them so much. Over the years, I’ve come to refer to these places as my “stations of the cross”. This is in parallel with the  14 stations of the cross in Jerusalem, the “points of interest” on the route Jesus supposedly walked on the Via Dolorosa, carrying the cross to the place of his execution.

  1. The Temple Mount
    No visit to Israel is complete without it. I usually get no further than the Western Wall, as a visit to the Temple Mount itself involves an early rise, a long wait and an extensive security check. But it should go without saying that if there’s one place that can not be missed in Israel, it is this one. A tour of the Western Wall Tunnel is highly recommended.

    Everybody visits The Wall

    Best of Israel 11 Best of Israel 10

  2. Church of the Holy Sepulchre
    I’m not a Christian, but I doubt a visit to the holiest place in Christendom would leave anyone without a lasting impression. The place is a maze of passages, halls and tunnels, dimly lit by candles and filled with smoke, singing and rituals at any time of day. The notorious Immovable Ladder symbolizes the state of confusion religion can lead to. My favourite spot of the Church is the Ethiopian monastery on the roof – just trying to find it is a sport on its own.
    Best of Israel 7 Best of Israel 6

    The Immovable Ladder

    The Immovable Ladder

    The Ethiopian monastery

    The Ethiopian rooftop monastery

  3. The Old City Walls Promenade
    The medieval walls of the Old City of Jerusalem can be walked almost along their entire length. The total ~4 km hike is actually quite challenging as it involves climbing up and down ladders and squeezing through narrow passages. From the height of the walls, you get a unique perspective into the Old City and its surroundings, and can get an intimate look into how this dense, congested (physically and spiritually) city lives and breathes.
    Best of Israel 9 Best of Israel 4 Best of Israel 3
  4. Israel Museum
    This huge institution in Jerusalem is worth visiting if only to see for yourself the Dead Sea Scrolls. The museum is full of treasures, depicting the ancient and modern history of Israel and its neighbours, presenting classic and modern art, preserving and presenting Jewish heritage and so on. Besides the Scrolls, my personal favourites are the copper and gold treasures from the Chalcolithic period and the interior of the Paramaribo synagogue.

    The Shrine of the Book, in the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are preserved

    The Shrine of the Book, in the Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are preserved

  5. Tel Aviv beach
    In sharp contrast to the devotion and piousness of Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv beach line combines the best of Miami and California, with a Mediterranean flavour to it. It is one of Israel’s biggest treasures and a unique selling point, as depicted in countless commercials. For me, what makes this beach so much fun is the mix of people on it. The elderly locals come up early for their morning coffee, the tourists  bake in the sun during the day, the party people come out at night. Bikini’s and bourkini’s share the waves, the gay beach is next to the religious beach, where men and women come on different days. Best part is of course the drum jam sessions on Dolphinarium Beach, on Friday afternoons.
  6. Dr. Saadya
    Every Israeli is sure he/she knows the best falafel place in the country. This one is my pick. More than “just” falafel, its a symbol of Tel Aviv and its turmoil. Its a warm city, that lives on the streets. Dr. Saadya falafel is on King George Street, one of the main drags in town, connecting the upper class Northern neighbourhoods to the Carmel Market. Whenever I am around, I always come in for a falafel, a strong coffee, and some small talk with the owner and the regular customers, as the flow of people is rushing up and down the street.

  7. Caesarea
    The Romans left a wealth of heritage across Israel, and Caesarea is the most prominent example of Roman legacy. Its sunken harbour still holds numerous treasures, as witnessed by recent discoveries of thousands of Fatimid era golden coins and late Roman bronze cargo. Imagine discovering a hoard of gold on your regular snorkelling swim! The fit visitors can hike into town along a challenging track, following the course of the aqueduct all the way from the water source in the hills. The hike is like a tour of history, stretching all the way back to the Neolithic period.

    Not every underwater wreck in Caesaria's harbour is an ancient treasure

    Not every underwater wreck in Caesarea’s harbour is an ancient treasure

    Caesaria overview

    Caesaria overview

    Walls and moat of Crusader Caesaria

    Walls and moat of Crusader Caesarea

To be continued…



Filed under Tips and tricks, Travel

Smite my neighbours

I’ve recently had a most interesting discussion with Gerard and Alida, who host the blog titled “6 days / 66 books / 6000 years“. The discussion was mostly about whether the Bible should be interpreted literally (as they do) or there is some room for various interpretations (as I think). As they say:

“If you begin to chop and change Scripture and don’t check with other passages that discuss the same issue, you make the Bible a useless guide to the Kingdom of God. So why refer to the Bible at all?”

Since Gerard and Alida make a point of using the whole Scripture as a guide, I feel I can’t respond to that in any other way but re-posting the by now  famous letter to Dr. Laura Schlesinger, discussing the exact issue of literal interpretation of the Scripture. I checked the passages, and they match the quotes in the letter. My only hope now is that Gerard and Alida can help me solve these troublesome issues, as I run into many of the same issues in my daily life as well.

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.


In response to questions such as these, devout Christians like Gerard and Alida usually argue that the “New” Testament “cancels” the “Old” Testament, and therefore these laws are invalid. I find this argument rather unconvincing. First of all, the wordings of the “New” Testament are quite ambiguous. There are no lines such as “Instructions given in Leviticus 1 to 17 are considered invalid”. Second, it seems that some rules and laws of the “Old” Testament are still valid, as people like Dr. Laura or Gerard and Alida still quote them to support their views. So which parts are still valid and which ones are not?

I would be at a loss here, if I were a Christian. Fortunately, I am a Jew, so the “New” Testament cancels nothing for me. There is only one Testament as far as I am concerned, and the instructions given in it are still valid. Now I only need to find a proper authority on Judaism to help me decide whether I should smite my neighbours.


Filed under Europe

Sunday morning

Sunday morning sunrise

Sunday morning sunrise

Sunday mornings are my favourite time in a small European country. The streets are deserted, just the soft whispering of the Saturday night litter is breaking the silence. The only people you meet are early runners (like me), dog-walkers and late drunks. I love how the place is stripped of its inhabitants, like in a sci-fi movie. The city is then somehow naked without the usual crowds. The scarcity of people you meet makes you extra attentive to the ones you do see. It is a unique experience in a big city (and even big European cities are empty on a Sunday morning) to actually recognize faces on the street and not just a blur of people. Now that I have an alarm clock that I can’t ignore (she’s almost two now, and VERY lively), I often am up and running as early as 6 in the morning. And I love it – seeing and hearing my city slowly awakening, literally feeling the buzz picking up pace, slowly at first, but then suddenly everything speeds up to an avalanche race. Then the church bells start, and as if by a wave of a magic stick, within half an hour the whole place is up and awake again, the city is alive with its cars, trams, coffee shops (of both kinds), shops are open and the crowds are all out there, again, as if there was no Sunday morning, and the city beats and blows its horns for a whole week, until its briefly entirely mine again, just for a couple blessed hours of a run through the empty streets. Sunday mornings are best.

All good things come to an end though. As of January 1st, stores in the centre of Rotterdam will be allowed to open on Sundays at 8:00 instead of 12:00. Having lived in Germany, where bakeries are open at 7:00 every day, including Sundays, I can appreciate the comfort of getting fresh bread rolls for your Sunday breakfast. But I doubt the new opening hours will get the Dutch to shop on Sunday mornings. And since I really do enjoy these exclusively quiet hours, I am probably going to vote for a Christian fundamentalist party in the next municipal elections. They seem to be the only ones who still support the Sunday’s rest.

The crowds are back - 'till next Sunday morning

The crowds are back – ’till next Sunday morning

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Filed under Small European things