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Judaism: Replacing Yitzchak

Replacement theology has early roots.
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013 6:06 AM



“Replacement  Theology” is a doctrine created and nurtured by disdain and hatred. The classic definition of Replacement Theology  is a Christian Church doctrine that has existed for nearly two thousand years, that declared that since the Jews failed to recognize "their real" messiah, the Jewish people– the "natural Israel" – were replaced by the "spiritual Israel," the Church, in G-d’s redemptive plan.

In Islamic thinking, Muhammad rides his horse called al-Buraq towards the Al-Aqsa Mosque , the “Furthest Mosque”( probably in Medinah as the one on the Temple Mount did not yet exist ).It is there, they contend, that the spiritual leaders throughout the ages gather behind him in prayer and give him homage and superiority. From that point, on all the other faiths were meant to “return” to Islam, the “true” faith.

In both cases the underlying principle is that G-d somehow changed His mind and in both cases the Jewish people are replaced. We see the beginnings of this distorted theology after the birth of Yitzchak (the Patriarch Isaac).

We read of the miraculous birth of Yitzchak ( Isaac) and we are then confronted with the ensuing tensions in the family:

And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Yitzchak was weaned  And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, making merry ( mitzachek) . ( Genesis 17:8-9)

At this point Sarah becomes concerned and declares to Abraham ;

"Drive out this handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak.”

What was it that concerned Sarah so deeply? What was it that Yishmael (Ishmael) did that was seen as so threatening by Sarah? Traditionally we have understood that Sarah was gifted with great prophetic intuition that surpassed even Abraham’s. It is G-d that verifies Sarah's intuitive concerns and tells Abraham;

 “Whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice, for in Yitzchak will be called your seed."

Rashi quotes the Midrash Rabba giving several understandings that clarify the dangers that Sarah perceived. In explaining the words " “making merry -mitzachek" , Rashi states that the word, mitzachek, is an expression of idolatry, as it is said  regarding the Israelites that worshipped the golden calf:

and they rose up to make merry” (Letzachek) (Exodus 32:6).

With the wife of Potiphar complaining about the young Joseph, we see the word used as   "an expression of illicit sexual relations, as it is said (genesis 39:17):“to mock (Letzachek) me.”

Finally we see it used as an  expression of murder, as it is said (II Sam. 2:14):“Let the lads get up now and sport (veyeisachku)  before us.”

All these possibilities, which actually make up the three cardinal sins, idolatry, illicit sexual behavior or murder would be enough to push Sarah to demand the exile of Yishmael.

Yet perhaps there is another possibility. I was struck by the similarity between the word (mitzachek) and Yitzchak ( Isaac). Perhaps the word mitzachek could be understood as Yishmael was trying to take the place of Yitzchak.  Yishmael could not accept the special role Hashem had put into place for Yitzchak. This desire then to  “replace”  Yitzchak became a dangerous obsession and was to be a precursor for much that was to follow.

The Muslim Quran describes the bringing of Abraham’s  son to the mountain as an offering but it does not describe which son it was (Surah 37:99-106). Muslim interpreters, a generation after Muhammad, declared that the their prophet was descended from Ishmael ,who survived that test on the mountain. This replacement theology belief was then reiterated by later Muslim scholars.

This approach of replacing Yitzchak and his descendants was to then reappear in the struggle between Esav and Jacob. Again it was the Matriarch Rebecca and not the Patriarch Yitzchak who recognized the signs of these dangerous and lethal theological shifts.

The wheel continues to turn. Since the time of our forefathers, Jewish history has become an endless cycle of this eternal narrative. In fact it is this narrative will continue to "litzachek" ( attempt to replace Yitzchak) until selfishness gives way to faith. It will revolve as long as mankind looks for ways to aggrandize himself rather than following the divine plan. Yet that plan will move towards its completion regardless, may it do so speedily in our time.


LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved