Rabbi Pete Tobias of the Liberal Synagogue Elstree explains why Jeremiah is his ultimate Jewish icon…
The year is 586 BCE.
The city of Jerusalem is under siege.
Soon it will fall, destroyed by the Babylonians, and Judah’s people will be taken into exile.
One man had seen this coming.
His name: Jeremiah.
As a child, he was told by God he would be a prophet.
This frightened him: he did not want the responsibility or the hostility this would bring upon him.
Nevertheless, he warned the people that they would be punished for their insincere worship and the injustice in their society.
Jeremiah knew that when a people was taken into exile, it quickly became swallowed up by the victorious host nation and disappeared from history.
It happened to countless Canaanite tribes – Amalekites, Moabites, Midianites and even Judah’s cousins, the Israelites. So Jeremiah had two ideas that would save the Jewish people. First, he developed a new concept of how a people’s god functioned.
In most ancient near eastern cultures, a god was a military mascot – if a tribe or nation was defeated, the victor’s god was more powerful and effectively replaced the defeated god.
Jeremiah told the people the Babylonians had been sent by Israel’s God to punish them – it wasn’t God who had failed the people, it was the people who failed God.
His other idea was that the people needed a way to remember and retain their identity while in exile.
He began a project of collecting and collating all the stories, legends and laws of the Israelite people.
That project began in Jerusalem and was continued and completed in Babylon. Eventually it became the book that we call the Torah.
Without the Torah, the people of Judah would have lost their identity and been absorbed into Babylonian society like all the other defeated tribes and nations.
Without Jeremiah, there would be no Judaism. He sounds like a hero to me.