My Mennonite & Quaker Background ~ its relationship to contemporary Judaism

September 6, 2015

I am already what i will always be: A Judeo-christian (note lower-case “c”) Mennonite with a 500-plus history of an odd form of ‘christianity’ based on the Old Testament or “Tanach” (Jewish Bible). This was a fluke of history or “perfect storm”  occurring at the precise point where the Roman Catholic Church lost its unopposed grip on the human intellect of Western Europe by no longer being able to restrict knowledge of the Bible to only those read Latin. This was the result of Guttenberg’s printing press, which provided the Bible for the first time in the common languages of its readers.

In 1521 my ancestry were already rebelling against Catholicism (making them protestors or ‘i.e. protestants’). There were a lot or reasons to be dissatisfied with the megalithic Catholic Church, but one of the most egregious was infant baptism and the Pope’s policy of selling dispensations (a ‘get-out-of hell-for-a-fee’ card) to those who could afford such things.

These budding ‘protestants’ were joined by a disgruntled Catholic priest named  Simon Menno. He had recently and for the first time in his 20 years as a priest gotten his hands on a bible printed in Dutch and became appalled at how much of the Church’s core beliefs were no where in the Bible. He and other began to meeting on one another’s homes to discuss these issues, at great risk to themselves since questioning the State church was a hanging crime.

They soon  got their hands on one of these precious and very expensive bibles. This created a situation similar to a Torah scroll, which also was rare and precious and not ‘owned’ by individual. Its use in a communal setting was also like a Torah scroll, as these early Mennonites read a section aloud to their upstart congregation (who were also risking their lives), starting it at the beginning with Genesis, and then spending the rest of the day discussing its implications. While men were more likely to be literate than women, many women were among these groups and also profoundly moved by the promise of a religion that did not require an abdication of their intellect.

Apparently they didn’t get to the New testament for a couple more centuries, a conclusion based on the “Old Testament” focus of their beliefs and their chosen life style of communal responsibility.

They became a “People of the Book”, eschewing graven images (ie. prohibited painting and photos as well as garments that had flowers, birds, animals, trees, stars, sun, moon, or other identifiable image of the physical world). They following the ten commandments to the letter and concisely choose either martydom or diaspora when faced with forced relisious conversion or breaking the tenets of their beliefs (in some instances, military service required killing in the name of  the king.

I am a direct ancestor of Jacob Shantz (original spelling “Tschantz”, born in Switzerland in 1710. His family first fled religious persecution in Bern (S) by immigrating to Holland to become part of substantial Mennonite community in Amsterdam. One of those Mennonite families in Amsterdam that rented an upstairs room to Baruch Spinoza, after he was excommunicated from his family’s synagogue in Spain.

Opinions differ but one highly respected account (Will Durant’s “The Story of Philosophy”) describes a mutually affectionate and deeply respectful relationship between Spinoza and his Mennonite landlord. They appreciated one another’s intellectual gifts and biblical scholarship; they fed and caring for him like a member of their family until his unexpected and premature death at 44 one Sunday afternoon while they were at the “meeting house” for weekly church services.

Jacob Shantz lived with in Holland and them in 1737 he and a large number of other “ o-relisionist” as they called themselves, immigrated first to the US, and then in 1806 to Ontario, the north eaten area of upper Canada. My ancestors all named their first 3 sons Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while the girls were given names such as Sarah, Rebecca and and relative are all named

Their lived beliefs are a functional monotheism based on Torah, but they also add a vocabulary that slides into an intellectually & theologically uncomfortable territory of the one-and-only-G*D and, “oh by the way, have you met Junior, my son, who is not actually a god, but a person who by some mystical process basically has god-powers. But don’t worry its monotheism, just a harmless bifurcation that doesn’t hurt anything.” ???