Doing It Right

My family lives in Greenwood, Mississippi. Nestled in the heart of the Delta, we are proud of our small-but-vibrant shul; even when only a dozen or so folks fill the pews, time spent in our building is meaningful. However, recently we saw our sanctuary overflowing with guests for the first time in years—and we were honored to host an event that led to powerful connections and conversations with our Delta neighbors.

-Gail Goldberg
“Christians and Jews Sharing Shabbat in the Delta”

Derek Leman on this blog Messianic Jewish Musings, refers to himself as:

…a rabbi, writer, and speaker at the intersection of Judaism and Christianity, Jesus and Torah, temple and atonement.

That last part about being at an intersection probably describes any Jew or Gentile who is involved in the Messianic movement in any sense, for we hold views and convictions that aren’t exactly typical in more normative Judaism or Christianity. In fact, we end up getting into plenty of arguments with just about everyone because we don’t fit into anyone’s convenient religious mold.

But Gail Goldberg’s article attracted my attention because it shows a portrait of Jews and Christians “doing it right,” of laying aside the ancient apprehension and animosity and for one brief evening, sharing the Shabbat in a synagogue in peace.

People came from all over to hear her speak; Christians were challenged and enriched by her teachings on Christianity, and Jewish attendees were similarly riveted by her approach to scholarship and religious studies transcending both religions. Though the program took place in a synagogue, AJ knew her audience was primarily Christian. She addressed all equally, and encouraged all to be open to challenge and new notions. As local bookstore employee and program partner Steve Iwanski noted in his wonderful blog following AJ’s presentation: “…she sought to bring light to the parts of Jewish faith that may be unfamiliar to the typical Christian.

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

This isn’t describing a Messianic anything. These are Jews and Christians outside our little movement who nevertheless, found a bridge by which they could cross a two-thousand year old gap and find some common ground. There could be a majority of Christians amid Jewish community and no one felt threatened.

Ms. Goldberg’s article finishes with:

That night, I felt the pride of our ancestors – Ilse (Ilse Goldberg, Gail Goldberg’s 86-year-old mother-in-law) in the room, and others no longer with us. If they could have seen the full pews and felt the support and investment of our neighbors, I know how proud the previous generations of the congregation would be. I’m just honored that I could be part of such a wonderful communal experience, and grateful to see our shul stuffed to the gills with long-time supporters and first-time visitors. I hope to see our friends and neighbors joining us in fellowship many more times in the future.

The Messianic Jewish movement purports to share a common Messiah and a common God between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of the Master, and yet we see a lot of friction and many separate ways of attempting to operationalize our “union”. Some Jews who aren’t Messianic like my friend Gene, find it necessary to point out the rather stark differences between Messianic Judaism/Christianity and Orthodox Judaism, which, whether he means to or not, continues to drive a wedge between Jew and Christian.

But as we’ve seen in the quotes above, it doesn’t have to be that way.

But this isn’t the only example:

We moved to the Czech Republic eight years ago to serve God and our new community and I had expectations of what life would be like. When I stand in the synagogue now on Friday nights, looking out at our growing group of spiritual sojourners singing and praying in Hebrew, Czech, and English, I am taken aback by what God has done. He has demolished my expectations and from the rubble built something worthy, something glorious.

My husband and I had just started being observant. We started slowly, first lighting candles on Shabbat, then observing festivals. He began to wear his kippah, I would cover my head during prayer. I started learning Hebrew and to sing the prayers in my new siddur. Each tentative step brought me closer to my heritage and closer to the way I found to truly express my love for God. As we strolled one day through the medieval alleyways of Cesky Krumlov, we stumbled upon a synagogue, hidden away off the beaten path. It was just finished being reconstructed and I felt a leap from within me. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could sometime light the Shabbat candles here at the synagogue?”, I whispered in my heart and ever so quietly to my husband. It was as if saying the words too loudly would damage them extinguishing the hope that had been lit..

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

This was written by Krista, one of Derek’s students, for his blog post A Synagogue in the Czech Republic. You can click on the link to get the whole story, but here’s what I want to show you:

Ours is an inter-faith group. All are welcome. “Isms” are left at the door. Though the service is conservative and very traditional, there is an atmosphere of family here, humanity seeking the Creator and learning how to worship together. Many who come are Christian, Baha’i, Hindu, Jewish and agnostic. We save the discussions for the café which used to be the Rabbi’s house. Ruth remembers it as it was when her dear Rabbi lived there. Now we sing and pray and talk about deep topics there over tea and cake. I invite those who might want to delve deeper to our house for once a week gatherings, Mussar and Bible Studies. As a Messianic Jew, I share my thoughts and beliefs about Messiah during these group times at our home.

I’m not saying every synagogue, Messianic or otherwise, has to be this way, but here we have two examples where in Jewish religious and community space, not everyone was Jewish and in the latter case, there was acceptance of a Messianic Jew as a Jew by non-Messianic Jews and by many other faith traditions including Christianity.

Krista also wrote:

This burgeoning community is in need. We have just filled out the paperwork to be recognized as a Jewish Community by the Ministry of the Interior.

Unfortunately, it was suggested that this Czech synagogue was pulling a “bait-and-switch” since Krista describes it as an interfaith community, but in his response to that comment, Derek said that:

Gene is wondering if a bait and switch is going on in Cesky Krumlov and I answered that: no. The people there are happy with an interfaith community and there is nothing deceptive about it.

Derek also said to Gene (sorry to keep bringing you up Gene, but I can’t avoid it in this context):

Your idea that Jews don’t like Christians or that Jews want to keep Jesus away with a ten foot pole, just isn’t true. Maybe your journey away from Jesus into Orthodox Judaism colors your perception. Most Jews are open to all sorts of things, including Bahai and Buddhism. People who insist on sharp borderlines do not represent most people in the world who take joy in learning from many streams of religion, philosophy, arts, politics, etc. If you were to approach these people and say, “This is bad, you shouldn’t do it,” I think they’d ask who the heck you think you are. Now having said that, the services in the synagogue are simply Jewish prayers and songs. The groups that meet at other times are not in the synagogue. It is called Interfaith. Some people like it. You might not be one of them.

I found that statement slightly ironic given that within Messianic Judaism, there are voices who advocate for a sharp division between Gentiles and Jews, and at times I’ve been one of those voices.

sky bridgeBut there’s got to be someplace where we too can build our bridge, stand together in a common place, break bread together, and find a mutual peace.

Maybe Gail Goldberg’s synagogue in Greenwood, Mississippi, and Krista’s shul in Cesky Krumlov are giving us just a tiny peek into the world of the Messianic Kingdom of peace. Maybe someday we can all learn to “do it right.” Someday, we can put aside our differences and while being distinct, also as one bow our knee to One God.

Are Christians Idol Worshipers?

More to the point, by Christians worshiping Jesus as divine, does that automatically make Christians idol worshipers according to Judaism?

The Jewish criterion regarding idolatry – as it relates to non-Jews – is also subject to debate. The accepted ruling is that if a non-Jew believes in a single all-powerful God, even if he accepts other forces together with God (such as the Christian belief in the Trinity), it is not idolatry. (Note that this distinction only pertains to non-Jews.) However, any other type of belief in a deity independent of God is idolatry (Code of Jewish Law – Rema O.C. 156:1).

-from “Ask the Rabbi”

Granted, the various branches of Judaism would have other issues with the worship of Jesus as part of the Trinity, but it is only idol worship if we are assigning an inanimate object with directly being God.

I’m not going to address the whole idea of the Trinity or the divine nature of Yeshua, and how all that’s supposed to work and, for once, I’m not going to write a lengthy missive on the topic. I just wanted to clarify for those folks out there who have accused Christians of being idol worshipers, that according to Jewish thought based on the above-quoted passage, we/they certainly aren’t.

As far as “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30) is concerned, there are other ways to understand why no one comes to the Father except through the Son.

But as the Aish Rabbi above explains, this applies only to non-Jews. For Jewish disciples of Yeshua, I can only imagine things may be a little harder to understand.

The Wild and Dangerous Jungle of Religious Blogging

In all my days I have never had to look behind me before saying anything.

-Shabbos 118b

Lashon hara (gossip or slander) is not necessarily untruthful. The Torah forbids saying something derogatory about a person even if it is completely true.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Shevat 30

The primary reason I was compelled to close comments on this blog was the startling amount and frequency of (sometimes) true but disturbing, harassing, and occasionally derogatory comments being made by others.

whisperIn reading Rabbi Twerski’s commentary on Lashon Hara, I was reminded of those times many years ago when my wife would say something truthful about me that nonetheless was painful to hear. On occasion, she’d make these statements in front of others, which was certainly embarrassing, and when I would complain about this, she’d say, “Well, it’s true, isn’t it?”

According to Rabbi Twerski and the Talmud, it doesn’t matter if the statement is true or not if it also causes pain.

Derek Leman, who describes himself as “a rabbi, and speaker at the intersection of Judaism and Christianity,” recently wrote a blog post called The Infamous Incident at Antioch. While I generally agree with Derek’s “take” on the topic at hand, a large number of the 80 plus (as I write this) comments different people have composed in response to Derek’s blog (and to the other people commenting) are disturbing.

Yes, each person is telling the “truth” from their point of view, but the debate for some has gotten quite personal. It seems in this case, as in many or most other cases in the religious blogosphere, that “truth” always trumps kindness.

More’s the pity, for we are also commanded to love one another:

I am giving you a new mitzvah: that you love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. With this all will know that you are my disciples: if love dwells among you.

-John 13:34-35 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

From many of these blog commentaries, it would be very difficult for an outside observer to determine who the disciples of Messiah are based on this commandment.

Of course, at least one person commenting on the aforementioned article is Jewish and not Messianic, so I suppose this commandment does not apply to him, but to the degree that Shabbos 118b does apply to Jewish people, what does that say?

bullyingI should mention that the litmus test for Lashon Hara is whether or not you’d make such a statement in public. Since all these dialogs are incredibly public and available to anyone with an Internet connection, does that mean anything we’re willing to write on a person’s blog, regardless of the lack of kindness, cannot be considered gossip, slander, or hurtful just because we dare to press the “Post Comment” button? I hope the answer is abundantly apparent, but just in case it isn’t, the answer is “no”.

Targum Yonoson states that the center crossbar was made with wood that came from the trees that Avraham planted. I heard Rabbi Mordechai Mann of Bnai Brak comment on this that these trees were planted by Avraham for the purpose of doing kindness for travelers. The center crossbar was placed right in the middle of the tabernacle to remind us that even when we are devoting ourselves to serving the Almighty we should never forget to have compassion for our fellow men, who are created in the image of the Almighty.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Even when serving the Almighty remember to do acts of kindness for people,” pp 207-8
Commentary on Torah Portion Terumah
Growth Through Torah

I don’t doubt that each and every person commenting on Derek’s blog, or who have made problematic comments on mine in the past, sincerely believes they are serving God in what they say, trying to straighten me and many others out, so to speak, correcting the “error” of our ways.

However, in (from their points of view) serving God, they are forgetting that some of what they say and write is not kind at all nor acknowledging that the objects of their criticism are indeed made in the image of God.

Some are even a little smug about it:

You could be 90 years old, standing right in front of me and I’d still tell you to your face that you need to be more mature in your online interactions. It’s the truth.

“It’s the truth.” As if that is sufficient moral justification for tearing down another human being.

But I suppose this could also make me guilty of Lashon Hara for I’m also trying to tell the truth at the cost of the dignity of other people.

If I am guilty of this, I ask forgiveness, but it would have been even better had I never written and published this missive.

So what’s my point?

If you want to serve God, is the best way to go about it to charge into battle or to do kindness and show compassion?

This concept of the Chinuch is a basic one for becoming a better person. Even if you are not able to have elevated thoughts at first, force yourself to behave in the way in which you hope to eventually become. If you want to become a giving person, even though you are inwardly very selfish you will eventually succeed if you continue to behave in a giving manner.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“You create yourself by your behavior. This allows you to become the person you wish to be,” p.168
Commentary on Torah Portion Bo
Growth Through Torah

closedI suspect if this principle were applied to becoming kinder human beings while in the service of the Almighty, the comments made on various religious blogs would be quite a bit more gentle, or maybe these comment sections would become astonishingly quiet.

Since it is unlikely that such a principle will ever become a reality among many religious people who comment on blogs (see my rants on this topic here, here, and here), and given that there is a significant overlap between Derek’s readership and mine, I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing by continuing my “closed comments” policy.

Addendum: Sunday Morning I’ve gotten a number of encouraging emails this morning and also a link to the definition of Insult at Jewish Virtual Library. That definition re-enforces the idea that even if you feel responsible to rebuke someone, you are required to do so in a manner that causes no embarrassment or other emotional discomfort. That’s pretty rare in the religious blogosphere. I’ve also been reminded that in 170 comments on this blog post of mine, no one tried to turn it into the “wild west shootout” that has recently occurred on Derek’s aforementioned blog article. So I’ll try a little experiment and temporarily reverse my decision by opening up comments on this one blog post and “take the temperature,” so to speak, of this matter. Can we be civil and non-exploitive in dialog?

Upon Considering a Virtual Community

Viktor Frankl, a Jewish physician who spent the years of the Second World War in the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Dachau, related, “I remember my dilemma in a concentration camp when faced with a man and a woman who were close to suicide; both had told me that they expected nothing more from life. I asked both my fellow prisoners whether the question was really what we expected from life. Was it not, rather, what life was expecting from us? I suggested that life was awaiting something from them.”

The person who feels despair and discouragement is asking the wrong question. He asks what the world is giving him. As soon as he changes his question to what is the good that he can do, he will always be able to find an answer.

(Gateway to Happiness, p.374)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“What Does Life Want From You?”
Daily Lift #260

Recently, blogger Judah Gabriel Himango wrote an insightful article called Stop your religious whining! (Lighten up, we live in an amazing time!) He addressed what I’d call “the petty (religious) slights of the hyper-sensitive” and his blog post encourages us to appreciate all that God has provided to us personally and in the world around us.

This got me to thinking about all the complaining I tend to do and what’s really supposed to be important.

My previous blog post Is Messianic Judaism Shrinking Because Almost All Other Judaisms Are Shrinking has received a lot of attention (almost 150 comments as I write this). It addresses an important aspect of religion: community.

Messianic Jewish community is problematic on a number of levels. One of the “problem” issues is the matter of including Gentiles in Messianic Jewish religious and community space. How many Gentiles do you allow into a Jewish space before it ceases to be Jewish? How can the Jewishness of Messianic Judaism be protected? How can Messiah remain central in the minds, hearts, and faith of the Jewish and Gentile believer and still have Messianic Judaism emphasize the centrality of Jewish identity in Jewish community?

I don’t have answers to any of those questions, and they are questions that Messianic Judaism and the various individuals and organizations involved continue to struggle with.

However, there’s another important community issue Messianic Judaism faces: isolation.

Face it, depending on how you define an authentic Messianic Jewish synagogue, such communities are few and far between. I can think of three or four off the top of my head, but at least one of them, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, is lead primarily by non-Jews, although there are some Jews who are members (If I’ve gotten this wrong, please feel free to correct me).

One of the things it says on the Beth Immanuel website is that it provides “Messianic Judaism for the Nations”. It is a community that strongly adheres to traditional synagogue practices and halachah (to the best of my ability to assess such things) and yet is inclusive of the Gentiles in Messiah who regularly or occasionally worship there.

I’ve attended events at Beth Immanuel exactly twice, but since Hudson, Wisconsin is quite a distance from Idaho, I only rarely have the opportunity to make the trip over there.

I think the closest authentic Messianic Jewish synagogue is located in the Puget Sound area and beyond that, I know of one in Virginia and another in Massachusetts.

messianic judaism for the nationsI’ve listened to quite a few of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons on the Beth Immanuel audio page and one of the things said on the recordings when introducing each lesson, is for the listener to consider donating to their congregation as a “virtual member.”

What is it to be a virtual member? I don’t know that there’s anything formal about it except donating and consuming audio and video teachings streamed over the Internet. In fact, on Beth Immanuel’s Community page, it says:

Beth Immanuel is not a building, it is people. We are a community of disciples seeking to care for and nurture one another as our lives intersect on the common path of discipleship.

Because the Torah cannot be functionally lived outside of a community context, we are mutually dependent upon one another. This means learning to get along with each other even when we don’t always agree on every point. Community means working through the difficulties and acknowledging that, in the end, we really are family.

At Beth Immanuel, we are dedicated to making community happen. Several families live within walking distance of the congregation building. We regularly host one another in our homes on Friday evenings to welcome the Sabbath. On Saturdays, we share a community meal after service. We keep the building open until after sunset so that we can enjoy common fellowship, prayer and study throughout the Sabbath day.

We desire to be known as disciples of Yeshua of Nazareth by our love for one another.

That would seem to preclude even the concept of being a “virtual member,” since community is defined by the direct contact of the people involved in their congregation. Community is particularly identified as those families who live within walking distance of Beth Immanuel, and families who host each other in their homes on Erev Shabbat. That’s pretty hard to do over the Internet, even with webcams and Skype.

On their Why Do We Exist page, it states in part:

Beth Immanuel provides a venue of worship and a community of support for Jewish and Gentile believers alike. We are here for those drawn to practice Messianic Judaism–the historical mode of Christian faith. We are dedicated to teaching and living out the Jewish Roots of our faith in Messiah.

Again, that “venue of worship and a community of support” requires a physical rather than a virtual presence.

Several months ago, I was offered the opportunity to contact the Rabbi at a Messianic Jewish synagogue (located thousands of miles away) and initiate a process that would admit me as a virtual member. I was assured that it would be very interactive and beneficial and I have no reason to doubt the word of the person who kindly contacted me with this suggestion.

This occurred last year right before the High Holidays and I decided to wait until after they were over, figuring the Rabbi and his synagogue would be very busy preparing for and conducting services for the Days of Awe.

And after they were over, I waited some more, turning things over in my head and trying to figure out what my needs really are and what’s important to me.

Which leads me back to the quote from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin I placed at the top of this missive.

It occurred to me that my own sense of isolation isn’t really as important as I’ve imagined it to be. Certainly, there are many Messianic Gentiles who live great distances from any community that could adequately serve their needs. And more importantly, there are many Messianic Jews who live very far from communities which could fully serve their needs. Some live in areas of the country that have little or no Jewish community at all, let alone Messianic Jewish community.

If Messianic Jewish community exists primarily to serve Jews, who am I to complain because I, as a Gentile, live nowhere near such a shul.

My primary role as a Messianic Gentile isn’t to get my “fix” of “Jewish stuff,” but rather, to do what I can to promote Jewish observance of Torah, particularly among (but not exclusive to) Messianic Jews. I’m well pleased that my wife, who is Jewish and not at all Messianic, is taking Hebrew classes at the local Chabad synagogue and attending other Jewish community events (and she’s even studying Tanya). This is as it should be, and if I can’t participate, the least I can do is stay out of her way and let her continue to explore her own Jewish identity and practice.

hopeI’ve decided that the best thing for me to do is to open my hand and let go my “need” for community. I left church after a two-year sojourn because of the extreme dissonance between their core doctrines and mine, and I knew I couldn’t meekly sit by Sunday after Sunday, and listen to teachings that I believe are detached from what God’s true intent is for the Jewish people and national Israel, even though this church and its staff and members were doing many other fine acts of tzedakah (charity, justice).

I can’t imagine a church environment that would have me let alone serve my needs, but remember, it’s not about serving my needs, but rather, finding what good I can do in the world. I don’t have to belong to a church or synagogue to do that. It’s a mission that we all share as disciples of the Master.

We are only isolated to the degree that we isolate ourselves from God and the performance of deeds of kindness and compassion. It’s almost never about what you can get from another person or any particular community or institution. It’s about what you can give back. That’s not virtual, it’s real.

Is Messianic Judaism Shrinking Because Almost All Other Judaisms are Shrinking?

James (and Chaya) …. what I am seeing today and I already saw that in my messianic days, on the other hand, is another trend, other than than just Gentiles being the majority in MJ places. There are virtually no new Jews coming into the Messianic movement. In my experience as someone who founded and helped run a sizable congregation that was very Jewish in orientation and in a very Jewish area, most of those who did come tended to be older (middle-aged and higher), all intermarried and very assimilated and they tended to migrate from one messianic place to another. There were virtually no young halachially Jewish people around, may be one (and he was mentally unstable and soon went back to the Baptist church no matter how hard we reached out to him). Most of the teens and twenties folks were either 100% Gentile or children of Jewish fathers. Other local messianic congregations nearby were in even worse shape, and I live in a state where there hundreds of thousands of Jews and tons of synagogues of all sorts. I addressed that on my “messianic” blog on numerous occasions. I am also seeing more and more former MJ’s (and messianic Gentiles) leave the messianic movement, in the last 5 years, many returning to Judaism or converting. I attribute it, in part, to much wider availability of information through internet, to aging of the Jewish messianics that are not being replaced by new blood and to the influx of the Gentiles.

-Gene Shlomovich
from his comment on my blog post
Much Ado About the Oral Law

I’m not quoting Gene to put him on the spot (not sure I’d be able to do that anyway) but only because I needed a quote that intimated that Messianic Judaism is neither a Judaism nor a viable religious movement because it contains relatively few halachically Jewish members and most of them are intermarried. Gene also emphasizes that the Jewish leaders are older and that few if any young Jews are joining the movement.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is because of the following:

If you leave out the Orthodox, 71.5% of American Jews marry outside the faith. Only 17% of children of intermarried couples will marry a Jew, and the largest block of American Jews under 40 are the unaffiliated. As Steven Weil, from the Orthodox Union, pointed out, “With a birthrate of only 1.9 children and an astoundingly high intermarriage rate, American Jewry is on a train speeding headlong into self-destruction.”

-Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith
“The Intermarriage Taboo”

It seems that the issues of intermarriage, assimilation, and lack of a younger Jewish membership aren’t exclusive to Messianic Judaism. However, let’s pursue the following:

On the other hand, the Orthodox are thriving. 83% of Orthodox Jews stay Orthodox. The birthrate among Orthodox Jews is significantly higher than most other religious groups (4.1 children per adult). Sarah Bunin Benor, a professor of Jewish studies at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said “Orthodox Jews will eventually likely be the majority of American Jews.” 60% of Jewish children in the New York City area live in Orthodox homes and that number will only increase.

It would seem as if the only group of Jews who are thriving and growing, at least in the U.S., are Orthodox Jews, specifically in the New York City area, which to the best of my knowledge, is one of the largest concentrations of Jewish people in this country.

JewishThat suggests the problem with Messianic Judaism attracting a larger Jewish base population and matters of intermarriage may not entirely be simply because of Yeshua-faith and a large Gentile membership (although those are certainly contributing factors), but also indicative of a much larger problem in western Jewry.

Of course that’s a lot to assume from a single article published on the web, but it does bring up the question of what Orthodox Judaism is doing that all of the other Judaisms (including Messianic) aren’t.

According to a study published by the Pew Research Center as reported by The Jewish Daily Forward:

The study’s numbers suggest that the Orthodox birthrate in the United States is far higher than that of most other religious groups. Pew found that Orthodox Jews averaged 4.1 children per adult, while America’s. general public averages 2.2 children. The Orthodox number is higher than the average for Protestants (2.2) and Catholics (2.4). Hispanic Catholics (3.1) come close, but still fall short.

Certainly a high birthrate is a significant variable but what keeps the younger population within Orthodox Judaism as they become adults and especially as they start families of their own?

“Orthodox life is very, very different than a conventional lifestyle,” said Alexander Rapaport, 35, a father of seven. Rapaport lives in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn’s Boro Park and runs the soup kitchen network Masbia. He described a social structure designed to encourage and support large families — and that structure has apparently succeeded in more than doubling its share of the Jewish population in less than two decades.

That’s more anecdotal rather than hard data, but conservative communities that espouse adherence to traditional values and have strong internal support systems tend to transmit those values across multiple generations with relatively little “mission drift.” You see this especially among Chasidic Jewish groups such as the Chabad.

The price such groups pay, if you want to think of it in those terms, is the inability to “blend in” with the prevalent culture. In other words, such Orthodox Jewish groups do not bow down at the altar of Political Correctness, even the liberal religious variety.

(As an aside, I should point you to an article I recently read called The Challenges of Parenting an Openly Gay Orthodox Teen to illustrate that Orthodox Judaism also has “shades of gray” woven into its fabric. If it matters, the source website is socially and religiously liberal, so their viewpoints will be biased accordingly.)

Which may be why most or all of the other Judaisms are struggling to maintain their unique identity in a multi-generational fashion beyond “bagels and lox,” as Rabbi Coopersmith put it. To further quote the Rabbi’s article:

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, got into a lot of hot water last week, when a copy of a speech she gave to a Florida branch of the Jewish Federation went public. She had to retract her words in order to calm things down.

Her party affiliation is irrelevant here; it’s not hard to imagine a Republican figure issuing a similar retraction. Outside of Orthodox circles you cannot come out and say that intermarriage and assimilation is a problem. It has become a taboo subject. In a not so distant past, stopping intermarriage and assimilation was the rallying cry used to garner support for Jewish outreach initiatives. Federations used the term “Jewish continuity,” to imply that the Jewish people have something of unique value worthy of preserving. Today it is likely you’ll be attacked for bigotry and racism and that rallying cry will more likely push Jews away.

Go to to find out what Ms. Schultz uttered that was so terrible, but suffice it to say, it’s not popular in most branches of Judaism, let alone within many Christian groups (in my opinion), and certainly not in the view of American secular egalitarianism, to believe and publicly declare that maintaining the uniqueness of Jewish identity along with cultural and religious Judaism is not only a big deal, but absolutely vital to the continuation of the Jewish people as a people.

And yet, in spite of its apparent shortcomings, including a lack of Jewish membership and including a lack of a young Jewish presence, Messianic Judaism has repeatedly raised a loud and persistent voice requiring and demanding the protection of religious, cultural, and halachic Jewish identity within its communities.

IntermarriageAnd Messianic Judaism has been shot down from all sides for daring to say such a thing, just as was Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the aftermath of her statements at the Democratic National Committee. Ms. Schultz was forced to retract her “offending” words to calm the outrage leveled against her.

It used to be a taboo for Jews to marry outside, but now the taboo in many Jewish places is to dare to criticize intermarriage. More’s the pity (and I say this as an intermarried person).

Can Messianic Judaism afford to do the same as Ms. Schultz did to placate its critics and further risk the survival of Messianic Judaism as a wholly Jewishly-oriented community?

I’m not proposing any answers, but I think it’s important that, according to the data I’ve presented here, Messianic Judaism is suffering a crisis that is very much the same as many other Judaisms apart from the Orthodox.

I’m probably going to regret this, but for this one blog post only, I’m opening up comments. I may close them down just as fast, and I remind everyone that as the blog owner, I’m a benevolent dictator, not the leader of a democracy. Commenting here is a privilege I grant, not a right you possess. Keep that in mind when you keyboard your responsive missives and press the “submit” button.

Approaching God from the Beginning

Not everyone who says to me, “My master! My master!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but rather the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

-Matthew 7:21 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

Very often, as believers, we have some definite ideas about what it is to serve our Master and how to tell the difference between doing good and doing evil. This is good when we apply it to ourselves, but when we apply it to others, what is the consequence?

One of the reasons I “turned off” comments to new content here on “morning meditations” is because of others applying their concepts of good and evil to a wider audience. I don’t mind it so much being applied to me, whether I agree with them or not, but I do mind that my blog has been used as a platform to drive my readers away from Messiah Yeshua. If these folks have a “truth” and wish to convince others that they should follow this “truth,” then these folks can create their own blogs or other social network venues for that purpose.

But all this also exposes a vulnerability in me. Whenever I write something and make it available on the Internet, I too am taking how I conceptualize good and evil and applying it to others, whether they agree with me or not. Now it’s true that people don’t have to visit my blog and read what I’ve written, but that doesn’t excuse me from the blatant arrogance in believing that I know what’s right and that I should transmit that “rightness” to other human beings.

How do we know what’s right?

The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, making the simple one wise.

-Psalm 19:8 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

This is a good place to start. Studying the Torah, studying and basking in the glow of God’s wisdom in the Bible.

Sometimes I feel like my experience with the Bible and with “religion” is not good for me. I’ve become stuck in a rut, so to speak, limited by my personal and somewhat unique perspective. This is true of many of us, and as I’ve said on innumerable occasions, no one has unfiltered access to the Bible, even with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We all approach the text with our own biases based on which doctrines we espouse.

Sometimes I think it would be better to start all over again as if I were a child and knew nothing. This too is how we should approach repentance.

You might tell yourself, “Things are so difficult that I’ll never accomplish. I’ll never get anywhere even if I do try, so I might as well give up right now.” If you ever feel this way, remember that all beginnings are difficult.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Persevere and you will overcome difficulties,” p.188
Commentary on Torah Portion Yisro
Growth Through Torah

serveThese words sound like a good inspirational note to add to my other blog The Old Man’s Gym where I write to encourage older people to become more physically fit.

But while that effort has merit, the greater challenge is always developing and improving our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. If we exercise and take care of our physical health, we have some advantage, but the ultimate purpose of taking care of ourselves isn’t to benefit us but to enable us to better serve God.

R’ David Feinstein states that we must always remember to approach every situation by attempting to discover the Torah way to react. It is for this reason, he says, that the Torah began here with the so-called “logical” laws. By examining the Torah’s mishpatim, he says, we can evaluate our own thinking processes; if the laws do not make sense to us, then we know we are not thinking properly, and we must work to adjust our way of viewing things.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.64
Sunday’s commentary on Parashas Mishpatim
A Daily Dose of Torah

For the Jew and non-Jew alike, this is the starting purpose of Torah study, to learn the mind of God and to imprint His will onto our lives. It isn’t to teach the Gentile believer to imitate the religious Jew by wearing a tallit and laying tefillin, it is so we can learn the difference between good and evil, and then to live lives that are good in His eyes.

This is something shared by all humanity:

All human beings are God’s people, as it says that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Further, the great prophet Malachi said, “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10) The Talmud likewise points out that one reason the entire human race descends from a single set of parents, Adam and Eve, is so that no one would be able to claim his ancestors are greater than his fellow’s (Sanhedrin 37a). Judaism does not believe there is an inherently superior race of human beings.

-from the Ask the Rabbi column
“Chosen People Racist?”

The Aish Rabbi goes on to say that all humanity had fallen away from God and became idol worshipers until Abraham. God chose Abraham, and thus Isaac, Jacob, the Children of Israel and their modern-day descendants, the Jewish people, because Abraham chose God. This is why God chose Israel to be a light to the nations and the teachings of Israel’s ultimate light, Yeshua, have been taken to the Gentiles, first by the Apostle Paul, and then by many others.

The Torah teaches important ethical and moral principles that can be applied both within and outside of Judaism. The Christian faith is an outgrowth of Judaism and I believe ultimately, we will return, make teshuvah, and repent of ever rejecting God’s sovereign plan for the redemption of the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and the indispensability of Torah and the mitzvot in Jewish lives, and also as applied to Gentile lives.

Guard yourselves from doing your tzedakah before the sons of men to be seen by them. For if so, you will not have a reward from your Father who is in heaven. So when you do tzedakah, do not blast a shofar in front of you, like the hypocrites do in the synagogues and public squares so the people will praise them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But as for you, when you do tzedakah, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your tzedakah will be in secret, and your Father who sees the secret things will [openly] be generous to you.

-Matthew 6:1-4 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

bedtime shemaAs it says in my my Middah for the week, there are four priorities we learn about life from the Shema, “Doctrine, Duty, Discipline, and Demonstration by which all of life’s demands might be ordered.”

All four are important, but the last one, demonstration, tells us that study of Torah isn’t simply for our intellectual benefit or even so we can teach others what we know (or what we think we know). the final purpose of study is to do, to serve, not just to blog or comment on the blogs of others. It is in this way that we show that we are really servants of our Master and that we actually, authentically love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all of our resources” (Deut. 6:5, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27).

"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


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