Recently a lengthy scholarly article by Dr. Sherif Addel Azeem dealing with the conception of woman in the three Abrahamic religions, has appeared under the title of Women in Islam vs. Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth and the Reality. I have relied on such an article in double checking the historical data of the Islamic tradition on its conception and treatment of women. While agreeing with some of its premises and conclusions, I disagree with others as will become apparent further down in this essay. The juxtaposition of those variant views stimulated by Dr. Azeem’s article has yielded some surprising insights which I’d like to share with the reader.
As is commonly known, the Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam (which in Hebrew means first man) and Eve (which in Hebrew means first woman) is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent then seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, Adam tries to place all the blame on Eve. “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Consequently, God said to Eve: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” To Adam He said: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree … Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life…”
In this narrative, or myth if you will, both Adam and Eve get punished and held responsible for disobedience. God is not punishing one for the faults of another, which would be unfair; neither does he accept Adam’s rationalization that the woman is exclusively responsible for the deed of disobedience. He holds them both responsible and punishes both. This needs to be kept well in mind: God judges, assigns the blame justly and equally; both Adam and Eve are punished.
On the other hand, the Islamic conception of the first sin, while appearing similar to the Judeo-Christian view at first sight (complete with the act of creation, the idyllic garden where everything is good but where Satan lurks in the form of a serpent, the positing of limits to freedom, the act of disobedience, and a meting out of punishment), it is nevertheless different in its conception of woman and what it implies. Here Eve does not come across as a seducer and temptress. The narrative is found in several places in the Qur’an, for example: “O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: ‘Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.’ And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?’ They said: ‘Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost.” (7:19:23).
A careful comparison of the two accounts of the primordial story of the Garden reveals some essential differences. The Qur’an seems to assign equal blame on both Adam and Eve. Nowhere in the Qur’an, try as one may, one will discover the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Here Eve is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not punished with the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Qur’an, punishes no one for another’s faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.
Needless to say, the image of Eve as temptress in the Bible, absent in the Qur’an has impacted in a negative way the image of women throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. All women were believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both her guilt and her guile, as part of original sin. Consequently, it is almost logical to think of all of them as untrustworthy and somehow, morally inferior. In the New Testament we read these words by none other than the evangelizer and prime theologian of Christianity, St. Paul: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (I Timothy 2:11-14). Also this: “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (I Corinthians 14:34-35). It couldn’t be more clear.
And yet a caveat is in order here. As the founder of Christianity, nowhere in the gospels do we discern Jesus teaching and approving any kind of subordination of one of his followers to another. Instead, he expressly forbade it in any Christian relationship. All three Synoptic gospels record Jesus teaching his disciples that any subordination of one to another, both abusive and customary, is a pagan practice—not something to take place among his followers. Having issued his strong prohibition against subordination of others, he prescribed the Christian alternative to subordination as being the exact opposite: profound service to others, extending even to making the ultimate sacrifice of giving one’s life if necessary: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”
His first phrase, “lord it over”, described the Roman masters who wielded ultimate and unlimited power. His second phrase, “high officials”, referred to lesser Roman officials who, having some limitations of power, “exercised authority” over their citizens. In the nearly identical passages in all three Synoptic gospels, Jesus sternly commanded his disciple that “It shall not be so among you”, clearly forbidding both abusive extreme “lording it over” others, and even more moderate, ordinary “exercise (of) authority” over others. Egalitarian Christians consider that this teaching of Jesus to the men who were the 12 Apostles trumps any subsequent interpretation of the teachings of Paul and Peter that allegedly establishes “Husband-Headship” requiring “Wife-Submission”, or denying women opportunities to serve in any leadership position within the Church. The New Testament of the Bible refers to a number of women in Jesus’ inner circle—notably his Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene who is stated to have discovered the empty tomb of Christ and known as the “apostle to the apostles” since she was the one commissioned by the risen Jesus to go and tell the 11 disciples that he was risen.
According to the New Testament, Christ saved a woman accused of adultery from an angry mob seeking to punish her, by saying: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”.
Unusually for his epoch, Jesus is said to have provided religious instruction to women. The Gospel of John provides an account of Jesus directly dealing with an issue of morality and women. The passage describes a confrontation between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees over whether a woman, caught in an act of adultery, ought to be stoned. Jesus shames the crowd into dispersing, and averts the execution with the words: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” According to the passage, “They which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last,” leaving Jesus to turn to the woman and say, “Go, and sin no more.”
Another Gospel story concerns Jesus at the house of Martha and Mary where the woman Mary sits at Jesus’ feet as he preaches, while her sister toils in the kitchen preparing a meal. When Martha complains to Mary that she should instead be helping in the kitchen, Jesus says that in fact, “Mary has chosen what is better”
The story of Mark 5:23–34, in which Jesus heals a woman who had bled for 12 year suggests not only that Jesus could cleanse his followers, but this story also challenges Jewish cultural conventions of the time. In Jewish law, women who were menstruating or had given birth were excluded from society. Therefore, the woman in Mark was ostracized for 12 years. Jesus healing her is not only a miracle, but by interacting with an unclean woman, he broke from the accepted practices of the time and embraced women.
So, Jesus treated women with compassion, grace and dignity. The gospels of the New Testament, especially Luke, mention Jesus speaking to or helping women publicly and openly. Martha’s sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet being taught, a privilege reserved for men in Judaism. Jesus had female followers who were his sponsors, and he stopped to express concern for the women of Jerusalem on his way to be crucified. Mary Magdalene is stated in the Gospels to be the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. In the narratives, Jesus charged her to tell others of what she had seen, even though the testimony of a woman at that time was not considered valid.
The historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that women were more influential during the period of Jesus’ brief ministry than they were in the next thousand years of Christianity. Blainey points to Gospel accounts of Jesus imparting teachings to women, as with a Samaritan woman at a well, and Mary of Bethany, who rubbed his hair in precious ointment; of Jesus curing sick women and publicly expressing admiration for a poor widow who donated some copper coins to the Temple in Jerusalem, his stepping to the aid of the woman accused of adultery, and to the presence of Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ side as he was crucified. Blainey concludes: “As the standing of women was not high in Palestine, Jesus’ kindnesses towards them were not always approved by those who strictly upheld tradition. According to Blainey, women were probably the majority of Christians in the first century after Christ. Jesus always showed the greatest esteem and the greatest respect for woman, for every woman, and in particular He was sensitive to female suffering. Going beyond the social and religious barriers of the time, Jesus reestablished woman in her full dignity as a human person before God and before men … Christ’s way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women.
Comparing to Paul’s traditional standing towards women to Jesus’ attitude toward them, what becomes immediately apparent is that somehow his example was not imitated after his death and resurrection. Paul seems eager to put women in their proper place. To be sure, this is not unusual in many religions: the founder establishes certain innovative ideals which at times may even go against well established and revered traditions and customs, but after his death the initial enthusiasm and zeal begins to cool. The attitude toward women in Christianity seems to have been a retrogressive phenomena hardly representing the example of its founder. We shall see further down that something like that also happened to Islam: at a certain point in time a downward movement began and the religion begins to gradually lose its pristine impetus. To be sure, the theory and the ideal remain but the practice leaves much to be desired
Let’s in turn have the Qur’an speak for itself on this issue: “For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise– For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward” (33:35). “The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise” (9:71). “And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another” (3:195). “Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed -whether man or woman- and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss” (40:40). “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions” (16:97).
It should be clear from the above passage that the Qur’anic view of women is no different than that of men. They, both, are God’s creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be assessed accordingly. The Qur’an never mentions that the woman is the devil’s gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. Moreover, it never mentions that man is God’s image; all men and all women are his creatures, that is all. According to the Qur’an, a woman’s role on earth is not limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as any other man is required to do. The Qur’an never says that no upright women have ever existed. To the contrary, the Qur’an has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary and the Pharaoh’s wife: “And Allah sets forth, As an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: ‘O my lord build for me, in nearness to you, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings and save me from those who do wrong.’ And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout” (66:11-13).
In fact, according to Dr. Azeem, the difference between the Biblical and the Qur’anic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. For example, the Bible states that the period of the mother’s ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5). The Catholic Bible states explicitly that: “The birth of a daughter is a loss” (Ecclesiasticus 22:3). It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Qur’an severely condemned this heinous practice: “When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?” (16:59). The Qur’an makes no distinction between boys and girls. It considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male. The Qur’an even mentions the gift of the female birth first:” To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills” (42:49).
In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly: “He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire”. “Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers”.
Now, to be fair, we should ask: is the Qur’anic position any different? One short story narrated in the Qur’an sums its position up concisely. Khawlah was a Muslim woman whose husband Aws pronounced this statement at a moment of anger: “You are to me as the back of my mother.” This was held by pagan Arabs to be a statement of divorce which freed the husband from any conjugal responsibility but did not leave the wife free to leave the husband’s home or to marry another man. Having heard these words from her husband, Khawlah was in a miserable situation. She went straight to the Prophet of Islam to plead her case. The Prophet was of the opinion that she should be patient since there seemed to be no way out. Khawla kept arguing with the Prophet in an attempt to save her suspended marriage. Shortly, the Qur’an intervened; Khawla’s plea was accepted. The divine verdict abolished this iniquitous custom. One full chapter (Chapter 58) of the Qur’an whose title is “Almujadilah” or “The woman who is arguing” was named after this incident: “Allah has heard and accepted the statement of the woman who pleads with you (the Prophet) concerning her husband and carries her complaint to Allah, and Allah hears the arguments between both of you for Allah hears and sees all things….” (58:1). A woman in the Qur’anic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself. No one has the right to instruct her to be silent. She is under no obligation to consider her husband the one and only reference in matters of law and religion.
According to the Bible, a man must fulfill any vows he might make to God. He must not break his word. On the other hand, a woman’s vow is not necessarily binding on her. It has to be approved by her father, if she is living in his house, or by her husband, if she is married. If a father/husband does not endorse his daughter’s/wife’s vows, all pledges made by her become null and void: “But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand ….Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself” (Num. 30:2-15). In Islam, the vow of every Muslim, male or female, is binding on him/her. No one has the power to repudiate the pledges of anyone else. Failure to keep a solemn oath, made by a man or a woman, has to be expiated as indicated in the Qur’an: “He [God] will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; Or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But keep your oaths” (5:89). Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, men and women, used to present their oath of allegiance to him personally. Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their oaths: “O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving and most Merciful” (60:12).
In Islam, the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood are unparalleled. The Qur’an places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping God Almighty: “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, And that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, But address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, Lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Your Mercy as they Cherished me in childhood’ ” (17:23-24). The Qur’an in several other places puts special emphasis on the mother’s great role in giving birth and nursing: “And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents” (31:14).
The very special place of mothers in Islam has been eloquently described by Prophet Muhammad: “A man asked the Prophet: ‘Whom should I honor most?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother!’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your father'”. Among the few precepts of Islam which Muslims still faithfully observe to the present day is the considerate treatment of mothers. The honor that Muslim mothers receive from their sons and daughters is exemplary. The intensely warm relations between Muslim mothers and their children and the deep respect with which Muslim men approach their mothers usually amaze Westerners.
The one question all the non-Muslims, who had read an earlier version of this study, had in common was: do Muslim women in the Muslim world today receive this noble treatment described here? The answer, unfortunately, is: No. Since this question is inevitable in any discussion concerning the status of women in Islam, we have to elaborate on the answer in order to provide the reader with the complete picture.
It has to be made clear first that the vast differences among Muslim societies make most generalizations too simplistic. There is a wide spectrum of attitudes towards women in the Muslim world today. These attitudes differ from one society to another and within each individual society. Nevertheless, certain general trends are discernible. Almost all Muslim societies have, to one degree or another, deviated from the ideals of Islam with respect to the status of women. These deviations have, for the most part, been in one of two opposite directions. The first direction is more conservative, restrictive, and traditions-oriented, while the second is more liberal and Western-oriented.
The societies that have digressed in the first direction treat women according to the customs and traditions inherited from their forebears. These traditions usually deprive women of many rights granted to them by Islam. Besides, women are treated according to standards far different from those applied to men. This discrimination pervades the life of any female: she is received with less joy at birth than a boy; she is less likely to go to school; she might be deprived any share of her family’s inheritance; she is under continuous surveillance in order not to behave immodestly while her brother’s immodest acts are tolerated; she might even be killed for committing what her male family members usually boast of doing; she has very little say in family affairs or community interests; she might not have full control over her property and her marriage gifts; and finally as a mother she herself would prefer to produce boys so that she can attain a higher status in her community.
On the other hand, there are Muslim societies (or certain classes within some societies) that have been swept over by the Western culture and way of life. These societies often imitate unthinkingly whatever they receive from the West and usually end up adopting the worst and most superficial (often called “progressive”) practices of Western civilization, the worst perhaps being the dispatching or religion per se as passé and unprogressive and not very modern and “enlightened.” In these societies, a typical “modern” woman’s top priority in life is to enhance her physical beauty. Therefore, she is often obsessed with her body’s shape, size, and weight. She tends to care more about her body than her mind and more about her charms than her intellect. Her ability to charm, attract, and excite is more valued in the society than her educational achievements, intellectual pursuits, and social work. One is not expected to find a copy of the Qur’an in her purse since it is full of cosmetics that accompany her wherever she goes. Her spirituality has no room in a society preoccupied with her attractiveness. Therefore, she ends up spending her life striving more in realizing her femininity than in fulfilling her humanity. The cartoon below brilliantly makes the point. But there must exist a more nuanced and harmonious view of women. Paradoxically, it turns out that the more balanced, harmonious view is the traditional one, often forgotten or discarded.
Why did Muslim societies deviate from the ideals of Islam? There is no easy answer. The ineluctable fact remains that Muslim societies have deviated from Islamic precepts concerning so many aspects of their lives for a long time now. There is a wide gap between what Muslims are supposed to believe in and what they actually practice, as indeed there is also one in Judaism and one in Christianity. The gap has been there for centuries and has been widening. Terrorism and ideological fanaticism is not and never was an Islamic phenomenon. Perhaps it is this ever widening gap that can be blamed for disastrous consequences on the Muslim world: political tyranny and fragmentation, economic backwardness, social injustice, scientific bankruptcy, intellectual stagnation, etc. The non-Islamic status of women in the Muslim world today is merely a symptom of a deeper malady. The cartoon of the two women carrying AK47, one Moslem and one Western, makes the point in this regard. Any reform in the current status of Muslim women is not expected to be fruitful if not accompanied with more comprehensive reforms of the Muslim societies’ whole way of life. Irshad Manji has recently shown us a possible way to analyze the situation and begin the reform process with her book titled The Trouble with Islam Today. The subject will be dealt in part II of this essay. Indeed, the Muslim world is in need for a renaissance that will bring it closer to the ideals of Islam. To sum up, the notion that the poor status of Muslim women today is due to Islam itself is an utter misconception. The problems of Muslims in general are not due to too much attachment to Islam, rather, they may well be due to a long and deep detachment from it.
Recognition of Macedonian schism by Constantinople – Threat Remains
After the publication in Macedonian news agency Sloboden Pecat, many believers of Serbian Orthodox Church gave a sigh of relief supposing that the common sense prevailed and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew discarded his intention to grant autocephaly to the schismatic Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC). But it appeared that such hopes were premature.
The article in Sloboden Pecat reads that Patriarch of Constantinople had sent a letter to MOC that admitted Serbian Orthodox Church’s (SOC) jurisdiction over Macedonian archdioceses and thus he had no rights to satisfy Skopje’s request for autocephaly. Ironically Greek mass media used this as an pretext to accuse Fanar of bribery.
A few days ago Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a refutation on its official cite, claiming that they didn’t sent a letter to the MOC and haven’t even heard of the Serbian gold.
While Serbians keep praying, Constantinople continues secret negotiations with the MOC. According to some sources this is why Metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianople carries out frequent trips to Macedonia. At the same time statements of Fanar’s clergymen and Patriarch Bartholomew demonstrate phyletic intentions with a purpose of establishing the superiority of “Greek” church over all others as “the first without equals”. So the threat of the recognition of Macedonian schism by Constantinople is still relevant.
But the Fanar’s primary aim now is to force SOC into recognizing the autocephaly of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) – such a precedent will path the way for Macedonian tomos of autocephaly in the future.
Obviously our Church shouldn’t trust fake publications of the mass media. On the other hand there’s no point in passive expecting of “His All-Holiness” Bartholomew to declare his will. Considering that the community temporarily believed in a possibility of a “fair verdict” from the Fanar, Serbian Patriarchate’s position must be based not only on historical truth and church canons but on public opinion as well. In this regard the separatists’ worst nightmares of Constantinople going back to the canonical path can come true.
Constantinople has the right to revoke the tomos of autocephaly of any Slavic church at any time. Recently Archbishop Job of Telmessos. In the same interview he said that the name “Serbian Orthodox Church” is uncanonical and is a sign of ethnophyletism. If it’s not a declaration of war, then it’s at least a direct threat to Serbian Patriarchate. History shows that accusations of ethnophyletism sound when Greeks need to infringe the rights of Slavic Churches or deprive them of independency.
The Ukrainian example proves that Constantinople easily revokes the historical signatures of its patriarchs and no matter how much gold they were paid and how long ago the papers were signed – 100 or 300 years ago. Will Constantinople be allowed to go on rejecting its own decisions unilaterally and broaden its borders in the future? It mostly depends on the position of Local churches including ours. If we don’t react now then Serbian Church will face the fate of Moscow which is losing its territories land by land.
Patriarch Irinej needs Constantinople to officially recognize that the tomos of 1922 still has legal power despite the changing historical circumstances and that the extension of SOC jurisdiction over Macedonian archdioceses is no discussion point. We need a document that will be undoubtedly canonical and impossible to cancel at a moment’s notice. At least personal signatures of patriarch Bartholomew are still more trustworthy than fake mass media publications.
The Jews of Chalkida
“When we returned, we had no bed to sleep, no pots to cook, nor clothes to dress. We went to our house and it was confiscated by others. We rented a room in our house and the whole family lived there.”
At Kotsou Street
Mair Maissis is in the Synagogue of Halkida, eager to guide anyone who passes itsdoor and wants to learn more about the Jewish community and the Jewish cemetery of Chalkida. Willing and full of energy, he would start explaining me the architecture of the — the Romaniote type — Synagogue.
“The two columns of our Synagogue prove its antiquity. A large number of scholars regard the Synagogue of Chalkis as the oldest of Europe and many believe that the first presence of Jews in Evia dates back to 586 BC. Around the Synagogue was the Jewish ghetto, the Jewish quarter where most Jews lived until the end of the Ottoman domination.
“On Good Friday in 1854, a great fire broke out which destroyed the biggest part of the Synagogue. Of course it was an arson. Nearly all community archives, books, heirlooms and manuscripts were destroyed. Only three Torah scrolls of the 13th & 14th century have survived until today. The Synagogue was rebuilt in 1855 with the donation of the Dutchess of Plakentia. Luckily today, we do not have any anti-semitic incidents here in our city. We are completely asssimilated.”
“We came from Italy. We were doing business with cornflakes and in italian mais means corn. So we were named after the profession. We left when the persecutions of Ferdinand and Isabella began. We crossed the city of Patras, then Mystras and finally Chalkis. At that time, we were traveling in enormous groups. They did not leave each other back. “
With the annexation of Thessaly to the newly established Greek state, several Jews in Chalkida moved to Volos. There, they found a new dynamic community. The mother of Mr Mair came from this community.
“My mother was Sephardi and she was speaking Ladino. Of course, at our house in Chalkida we only spoke Greek, neither Ladino nor Hebrew.”
He was born in 1935 a few years before the great disaster. His father Solomon was a merchant like most of the Jews at that time.
“Then the Community consisted of about 300 people. All merchants, spinners, craftsmen, etc. The weekly market in Kriezotu street was 90% Jewish. “
When the war broke out, he had only been able to go to school for a few weeks. The Jewish community had its own Jewish school where students were taught all the lessons and additionally the Hebrew language and Jewish religion.
“We were only able to learn about two or three songs and to dig out some scribbles. Nothing else we’ve got. “
The Partisans and the Orthodox Church
“We were almost all saved. With the help of the partisans and of the local Bishop Gregory. Without them we would have followed the others. The Bishop saved Jews whohad been prisoned and hide the Sacraments of the Synagogue in a place of the Central Church.
The partisans mobilized the Jewish families to leave Chalkida and go to the mountains. They were hidden in villages such as Steni and Gides.
“We left before the invasion of Germans. We had already been aware for the incidents in Thessaloniki and Athens, and there was no possibility to follow the same fate. The partisans told us to pick up things and by horses, we went up to the mountains. We were hidden in Steni like many other Jews, although this was extremely dangerous. There we stayed in Christian homes. But we knew these Christians. They have been our customers for so many years, we have had personal contact with them. “
Even the Italian Commander urged them to leave as soon as possible. On March 24, 1944, the Germans announced that all the Jews would gather in the synagogue to give them flour to make the enzymes for their Easter. They opened the door and they only saw Rabbi.
“They believed we would follow Rabbi and stay there. But we had chosen to be mobilized and save ourselves. “
22 Jews were lost from the Chalkida community. But how did they get lost?
“Mainly by German traitors”, Lili Kosti answered to me.
“So they captured my father and his sister. My father stayed in Chalkida to look after his parents who could not move. A Nazi partner betrayed him and caught him immediately. His sister descended from the mountain to take him out and so caught her. We could not leave our families.”
Who were the traitors, I wondered? I asked her to describe me the profile without telling me the name.
“Everything is now publicly available. I can tell you the name if you want. But do not imagine that their traitors and associates were reputable individuals, with family and educated. They were just criminals.”
Jews entered the guerrilla I asked them?
“Of course, havent’t you heard about Sarika?” And I had never heard her.
“17, 5 year old girl. Sarah or else Sarica Geoshoua. At first she entered the guerrilla and helped with chores. She slowly became a leading figure and propagated in the villages to get everyone into the guerrilla. She focused on girls and after a while she got teamed and had her own team of 12 young girl partisans. “
After the end of the Occupation and with the civil war, Sarica was led to the prosecutor. He told the prosecutor, “I am not with either communists or the right side. I went up there to fight the Germans. “The prosecutor released her with the condition of leaving Greece for ever. She left for Israel and never returned to Greece.
After the Occupation
“When we returned we had no bed to sleep, no pots to cook, nor clothes to dress. We went to our house and they were already others. We rented a room in our house to stay the whole family, “says M. Maisis.
America was first helped by the first time. Huge balls with clothes, beds, kitchen utensils, books for children.
“Many left for Athens, others for Thessaloniki because they thought they would find opportunities there. Others fled for Israel. As early as 1944, 160 people of ours had left for Israel. We then had a Chalkidiki lawyer, Sotiris Papastratis. He organized the mission for Israel. Free spirit, democrat. Later, he was honored with the Yad Vashem Prize for the Law of Nations. “
His family had nothing when he turned from the mountain to Chalkida.
“We went with my father to Athens to get some goods and start over again. As soon as he entered the shop and saw him the merchant shouted: Solomon lives! Download and give whatever he wants. “He knew his money was for sure. We had such a relationship of trust between us.”
The community saw a significant reduction in the number of its members. The day-to-day operation of the Jewish school ceases, and the rabbi was stopped in the early sixties.
The current community
“Today we are about 50–60 people. All older in age and we have only 2–3 children. Of course we keep all traditions and customs. We do it as we did before. “
When does the synagogue come to life?
“Every Friday we normally do our Shabbat service. We gather about 20–25 people. For the needs of the function we have a hazzan, that is, a cantor.
But in the great feasts, Ross Ashana, Pesach and Kippur, we bring a rabbi. “
Entering the Synagogue, my eye fell on a shelf with his books. He writes about the history of the Jewish community and the Synagogue and in a few days he will present his second book entitled “The History of the Jewish Community of Halkida since 580 BC. until 2001 The Cemetery. “
“ Do tourists and people visit the place in order to learn more about the Jewish community?” I asked.
“In recent years we have a lot of people to visit us. This month, you are the fourth who comes to learn information. Not just tourists. Many local Halkidians are coming too. “
We are preparing to lock down the Synagogue and go tothe exit where we would say goodbye.
“This year, on the anniversary of the Holocaust on January 27, I went to talk to 7 schools. Halls were filled with 350–400 children and neither one stood up. They first heard about all this. Teachers are now mobilized. If nothing is done through education and school, nothing can be done. “
How Constantinople changed the Orthodox World
Soon it will be one month since the Ecumenical Patriarchate reinstated the primates of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC KP) and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) and finally headed for granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church the Tomos of Autocephaly.
This decision has already led to large-scale changes in Ukraine and the Orthodox world. So, what’s happening?
Ukraine: Property redistribution, fighting for the new Church’s Primate chair and uncertainty
The first thing the Ukrainians did was redistributing property. A part of the deal between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Autocephaly was a number of real estate items in the center of Kyiv. As it is rumored, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France visited the country to review the objects; their size and value quite impressed him.
On October 18, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada passed the President’s bill on handing St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Up to that moment the church served as the UAOC’s cathedral but its primate Metropolitan Makarios supported the presidential decision since his organization will be part of the new united Ukrainian Church and he is ready to sacrifice for it.
Meanwhile the UOC KP is getting ready to obtain new real estate items. On October 20, the Synod changed the title of its head: now he will also be the “Holy Archimandrite of the Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavras”, which belong to the UOC MP. On the eve of elections, Filaret seems to demonstrate his supremacy before Makarios and the UOC MP. As it is known, the UOC KP and UAOC are in long-lasting conflict, which escalated since the Tomos will be granted shortly.
The UOC MP certainly is in no haste to recognize Constantinople’s decision: the clergy of a few large eparchies of the Moscow Patriarchate vote for Metropolitan Onufriy and against the Tomos. Met Onufriy openly claims that the Phanar’s actions are uncanonical and calls for defending the faith. Bishops won’t join the new Church without their clergy and dioceses.
For instance, in predominantly anti-Russian Rivne Oblast in western Ukraine, all the clergy and monks unilaterally supported Met. Onufriy.
At a voting by secret ballot in Odessa Diocese, only 3 (!) priests of 406 were against Met Onufriy.
Metropolitan Sofronios of Cherkasy was the only bishop of UOC MP dioceses who openly supported Autocephaly. Cherkasy Diocese’s voting by secret ballot showed that nearly all of the local clergy deprecate the Autocephaly. Facing criticism, Met Sofronios had to publically state that he “won’t join the same Church with Filaret.”
In case Filaret and Makarios don’t reconcile and UOC MP bishops stand aside, the Unification Council will fail. The only result yielded by the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s strategy would be an exarchate and valuable property in the center of Kyiv. But where is the promised unity of the Ukrainian Church?
The world: A schism, the declining authority of the Greek Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Patriarch
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has failed to reach concord in the world Orthodoxy. It is starting to divide into two camps. Despite the cut ties, Moscow couldn’t be isolated: the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Slavic Churches are against Constantinople’s hasty actions on the Ukrainian question and the conflict is expected to be universal.
Such stand-offs can’t foster the positions of the Greek Orthodoxy. Constant quarrels between the Local Churches undermines the authority of the Orthodox Church in the eyes of Roman Catholics and Protestants: the Greek Orthodoxy once again looks ridiculous.
The ambiguous events influencing the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s reputation also added oil to the fire. First, the contents of the confidential talks on August 31 with Patriarch Kirill were leaked. The negotiations were recorded only by Constantinople’s representative, so it couldn’t have been published without prior consent of Patriarch Bartholomew.
The Ecumenical Patriarch is quite aggressive toward the Russian Orthodox Church without presenting grounds for his accusations. Thus, he has recently blamed Moscow for the dissemination of “well-paid articles” and “black propaganda” without clarifying what he meant.
Obviously, scandals like this one and aggression toward other Churches negatively affects Bartholomew’s reputation. Moreover, it looks like the Ecumenical Patriarchate strives not for the Unity of the world Orthodoxy but for its own supremacy over other Churches.
There should be recalled the situation with the “pearl in Constantinople’s crown” – the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). In summer, some of its influential supporters spoke about independency following the example of Ukraine, but these talks were cut off. Meanwhile, for several months the Phanar has been trying to displace Archbishop Dimitrios. Against the background of the Ukrainian Autocephaly and open war with Moscow, the attempts to restrict the GOA’s independence and kick out its primate look cynical. Otherwise, it can urge the Archdiocese’s clergy and laity to unite for independency.
Relations with the ROC: the future of the ecumenical dialogue in question
The rupture between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate has influenced not only the processes between the two Churches. In cooperation with the ROC, Constantinople conducted active inter-confessional negotiations, but since Moscow refused to take part in them, the future of the relations, first of all with Roman Catholics, are not that promising. Now the talks led by Constantinople won’t be all-Orthodox, and this can be a pretext for predominantly anti-Ecumenical Churches to abandon them.
Besides, the Phanar’s actions will affect the Orthodox Diaspora: without the ROC, the Assemblies of Bishops won’t be that effective, their activity can stall.
At this moment, it’s unclear what awaits us in the future but one thing is obvious: the Orthodox world has changed and it will never be the same. Yes, Constantinople has won in the battle for supremacy becoming “the first without equals.” But the price is too high.
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