Dr. Qazi Ashraf


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(PART 1)

‘Kashruth’ in colloquial as well as in literary jargon is equated with our idea of civilization and ‘Kashur’ culture. The story doesn’t end here. This word impregnated with our ‘ethos’ not only denotes our distinctive character but also symbolizes the epitome of a deep-rooted sense of pride for this people. But when we look at ‘Kashruth’ from a different perspective we can very well acknowledge that ‘Kashruth’ takes us back into the depths of history which we have shared with and continue to share with, albeit at subconscious level, with one of the most significant and noteworthy people of the world – the Jews. The Jews became Jewish only after the 6th century BC before which they would call themselves ‘the chosen people of God’. The ‘chosen people’ had an exclusive right over the ‘promised land’ of Canaan.

Even though after 40 years of wilderness, the chosen people managed to forcibly cross the river Jordan and capture the ‘Promised Land’, life did not become as smooth as they had expected. Life’s challenges were myriad and handling the challenges demanded of the chosen people to be innovative and mindful, which they failed to be specifically on the administrative front. However from the religious perspective they proved to be very much innovative, progressive and evolutionary. They succeeded in organizing and recreating a huge body of religious literature and written works and also pioneered in recasting their religious dogmas into a new body of progressive ideas that ultimately proved useful to them to sustain their identity and help them withstand the continuous and, by all standards, the merciless onslaught of history.

The blows that history dealt them for their obstinacy and political naivety transformed them from the ‘chosen people’ to the ‘Jews’ and consequently they found themselves at the receiving end of history for more than 2000 years. Jews handled their religious and sacred history in a remarkable way especially during a time of intense transformation of religious thought that was underway throughout the world. No other people could handle their sacred history or religious transformation as meticulously as the Jews during this period of 1500 years following ‘the Bronze Age’.

Karl Jaspers, a German historian, aptly calls this period ‘Axial Age’ – the period between 2000 BC to the first century AD.

The question is what happened during the Axial Age period that put the Jews at the receiving end despite the fact that they could brilliantly handle their ‘sacred history’? History is a witness and it has a habit of judging people, nations and cultures. And when history judges, it judges harshly although by herself she tends to remain neutral.

For a moment, let’s return back to Kashruth. “Of all Jewish customs that of dealing with things, ‘Kashur’ or ‘ritually clean’, is the most perplexing to non-Jews”, writes Max Dimont in ‘Jews, God and History.’ He continues, “…..Generally speaking, Kashruth, as the Jews call the system, rests on three injunctions in the five books of Moses”. Paradoxically these laws pertain to dietary habits and dietary laws which people in Kashmir, by the way, have been observing for millennia. These dietary habits and observance of certain other laws have been an integral foundation stone of our culture or “Kashur culture”. Our name Kashur and Kasheer, has been derived itself from “Kashruth” and this can be taken as an evidence of our cultural link with the ‘chosen people’ inhabiting the land of ‘Canaan’ or present day Israel. The history of the turbulence and turmoil which the ‘chosen people’ and the later day ‘Jews’ went through could easily serve a lesson for us in today’s times of despair and disconnect that we are experiencing as a ‘people’. Jews suffered for more than two thousand years despite being the ‘chosen people’. We can easily draw a leaf from their history to learn the lesson that Jewsthemselves learned the hard way. We still have time to avoid ‘reinventing’ the wheel.

A quick look at the history of Jews will make the things clearer for common Kashmiri to wake up and probably take stock of the situation, although it is not necessary that the Jewish history can provide a template for future course of action. Nevertheless, Jewish historical saga does provide many common things which can be and should be looked at from an imaginative and intelligent perspective.

The exodus of Jews (Israelites) from Egypt had been led by Moses (PBUH) but he could not resettle them in the promised land of Canaan. It was Joshua, who defeated the loosely federated, small kingdoms after crossing the river Jordan and put the inhabitants of that land to sword. Jews thus, under the leadership of Joshua, subjugated the Canaanites and established their right over the Promised Land and wrote the pages of history with the blood of innocents. Strictly speaking this ‘innocent blood’ which they spilled, was their own remote kiths’ and kins’, because they were the same people who had not crossed over to Egypt during the famine about four countries before the Exodus. So the people, history calls Israelites, reunitewith their own brethren, the Hebrews, but now they could not reintegrate with each other.

It took centuries to establish a political fusion between the two tribes but it remained an imperfect fusion till the end. This is how history unfolds itself.One can’t help it. Four centuries down the line, Canaanor Palestine, even under king David(PBUH) could not become a unified, centralized state. It remained a weakly fused dual kingdom of sorts like present day Jammu and Kashmir (not exactly but in some sense). Northern part was Israel and southern part was known as Judah. When King David’s son, King Solomon(PBUH) died in 931BC, Rechoboam, son of King Solomon, bequeathed only the throne of Judah. Jeroboam seized Israel and was declared the king. These two sister kingdoms got involved in a bloody civil war that lasted more than hundred years. After hundred years of bloodshed the Jews came to understand the futility of this self-annihilating warfare but then the state had become utterly weakened and could be destabilized by any external invasion. And that is what exactly happened. By now Assyrians made a comeback.

The Assyrians threatened to march their armies into the already war torn Israel unless the Jews pay them tribute. This demand did not go well with the ‘chosen people’. After all, they were the ‘chosen people’ of God! How could they accept this demand knowing fully well that God, the Yahweh, was always with them and always present and protecting and shielding them from everything including the pagans. Paying tribute to pagan empire was simply a humiliation and puncture of their pride. They would spend millions for defense but would not pay a dinarin tribute. The Assyrians decided to take action. Everyone expected the Israelites to capitulate but they didn’t. How could they? They were the special people and were convinced in ‘God of Zion’ coming to their rescue, but it turned out that Yehweh, the God of Zion, had different plans. Israel was razed to the ground. The entire population was deported and exiled. The state of Israel was over.

People of Judah, paid heed to the advice of Prophet Isaiah. They stayed out of the drama. The king of Judah, acting under the advice of Isaiah, paid the tribute. The people of Judah, later known as Jews as we know them, breathed a sigh of relief. But history had different plans in store. The Assyrian might could not last for long. The Babylonia rebelled and defeated Assyria in a historic battle in 605 BC. The Assyrian nation was lost in the sands of history never to be heard of again. Judah fell into the hands of the Babylonian Empire. The Jews staged a rebellion against Babylonians in 600BC.Nebuchadnezzar headed towards Judah and besiegedJerusalem and deported the Jews who were spearheading the revolt. This was a warning for Jews to stay away from the wrath of Babylonian might. But how could the Jews digest it so easily? They persisted with ‘Zeal’ to establish the ‘Law of God’ in the Promised Land. They did not budge. The pagans had no moral authority to receive the tribute from the ‘chosen people’, rationalized the Jews. That was against Jewish ethos. They had to fight harder and harder and expel the pagan Babylonians from their land. Again history had different plans. Babylonians besieged Jerusalem, breached the fortification and destroyed the temple on the ‘Mount of Zion’ – the symbol of Jewish ethos, culture and religion. The kingdom of Judah was reduced to rubble. The population was deported to Babylonia.The state of Judah was finished exactly 136years after the fall of the state of Israel. The Jews lived in exilein Babylon in a state of slaveryand as second class citizens never to be accepted by Babylonians as their own.

They had paid dearly for their obstinacy and political blunders. They knowingly were playing against their own people, own nation and culture. They repeatedly committed political suicide in the name of Yahweh in utter disregard to the existing socio-political realities of their time. They were dismayed but there was a ray of hope.


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