Herod's Temple

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: A Body You Have Prepared

Dive into Hebrews 10 with an entertaining, fast-paced discussion of an apostolic midrash on Psalm 40 and it’s appearance in the argument regarding the suffering of the Messiah as an atoning sacrifice for sin.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Seven: A Body You Have Prepared
Originally presented on January 4, 2014
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster touched on this in one of his previous sermons, but in today’s lecture on the Book of Hebrews, he goes into depth about why we can’t compare the Temple sacrifices to the death of Messiah, and also why the death and resurrection absolutely doesn’t cancel the Temple service…because it would be like saying apples cancel oranges (my metaphor, not Lancaster’s).

Lancaster, as he starts talking at the beginning of this recording, admits that his opinion of Hebrews chapters seven through ten, disagrees with all New Testament commentators everywhere. On the one hand, he says this probably makes him an unreliable source (and I know folks who would agree) since no other scholar corroborates his opinions. On the other hand, the traditional interpretations of Hebrews (and the rest of the Christian Bible) are fundamentally based on the theological necessity to remove the Torah and the Sinai Covenant post-crucifixion and replace it with New Testament (Gentile) grace. I’ve mentioned how more than once, Lancaster has pointed out how the theology of the Bible translators has been read back into the Bible such that they render the Greek incorrectly.

Here’s what I (and Lancaster) mean:

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves.

-Hebrews 10:1 (NLT)

This is how the New Living Translation (or the “New Living Targum” as Lancaster quips) renders the first sentence of this verse. The word “only,” which I put in bold, doesn’t appear in the Greek, and the word “dim” is not indicated in the original text.

The NASB, which is the translation I most commonly use, isn’t much better.

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.

At least the words I’ve bolded above appear in italics in the online translation of this verse, but a casual reader might not realize something is amiss.

Lancaster then reads from Young’s Literal Translation which, while sounding awkward, renders the Greek text without attempting to interpret it.

For the law having a shadow of the coming good things — not the very image of the matters, every year, by the same sacrifices that they offer continually, is never able to make perfect those coming near…

“Coming near” is a technical term, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

What this sentence boils down to once you remove the translation bias, is to say:

The Torah is good because it contains a shadow of the coming good things.

No indication that those good things have already arrived (because they haven’t) or that anything has been done away with. Just a statement that the ceremonies of the Torah foreshadow the Messianic Age and beyond.

Period.

Lancaster explained his main point and I believe I got it, but it was hell trying to take notes so that point would be easy for me to explain. I’ll try to create a more straightforward statement than what I heard in the sermon, and then I’ll go back and cite some of Lancaster’s proofs.

The Sacrifice - detailThe sacrifices for sin listed in the Torah were never, ever meant to actually forgive intentional sin. In fact, there is no sacrifice for intentional sin in the Torah, only for unintentional sin.

So what happened when a Hebrew in the days of the Tabernacle or the Temples intentionally sinned? Or, for instance, what happened if a Jew lived in the diaspora, the lands other than Israel, far away from the Temple, and he sinned? Did he have to go all the way to Jerusalem to give a sacrifice? But I guess that wouldn’t matter. Even if the Jewish person lived in Jerusalem and committed an intentional sin, was that person destined to burn in Hell for eternity because there was no sacrifice for intentional sin?

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

-Psalm 51:16-17 (NASB)

This is David’s prayer to God after his sin with Bathsheva. He deliberately, purposefully, has an illicit affair with a married woman, impregnated her, tried to trick her husband to sleep with her by getting him drunk, and when that didn’t work, had her husband Uriah murdered, then quickly married Bathsheva so he could claim the child as his as a premature birth.

However, none of that was hidden from God and David’s sins were “outted” through the prophet Nathan.

But this was a series of premeditated and deliberate sins. How could David have possibly atoned for such sins since there is no sacrifice for them? Even David says that God would not be pleased with animal sacrifices. But he does say God would be pleased with a broken spirit and a contrite heart, or more accurately, that those sacrifices God “will not despise.”

Lancaster says that prayer and teshuvah (repentance) have always been effective for the atonement of deliberate sins.

But then, why did God command the sacrifices at all if they weren’t effective for the forgiveness of sins? Was it that they “covered” the sins whilst the death of Jesus finally, completely washed them away? Lancaster said that’s not it.

The sacrifices were never designed to atone for sins.

OK, wait a minute. What about Yom Kippur when the Aaronic High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies once a year to make atonement for the sins of all Israel?

But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

-Hebrews 10:3 (NASB)

If the Yom Kippur (“year by year”) sacrifice never took away sin and neither did the required sin offerings for even unintentional sin, what did they do? What was their purpose?

Remember, a Jew (anyone, actually) who sins intentionally or otherwise, can receive atonement for those sins through prayer and sincere repentance, so technically, there’s no real reason for making animal sacrifices, even when the Temple was standing, for the forgiveness of sins if you weren’t going to enter the Temple.

PriestsBut God commanded Temple services for all Israelites for a number of specific occasions such as Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Jews had to enter the Temple for those moadim and to commemorate a number of other events and acts as well, including offerings when an unintentional sin was discovered. But if a person sinned, even if spiritually he was forgiven, according to Lancaster, he still needed to enter the mikvah and perform the required sacrifices for the purity of the body, so that the person could draw physically near to God’s Divine Presence.

Even a woman who had recently given birth had to offer a sacrifice for sin, and even then, not until forty days after giving birth as commanded in the Torah. It wasn’t that giving birth was a sin. Far from it. But it’s a requirement for physical purification in order to draw near (the word translated “sacrifice” in English is “Korban” in Hebrew, meaning “to draw near”) to God’s Divine Presence. For imagine praying to God when His physical manifestation was only a few meters away. What an incredible experience to actually be commanded to enter into God’s Holy Presence at the Temple.

I have to admit, this one is hard for me to wrap my brain around, since so much of the Torah language does speak of atoning for sins and forgiveness. Even Lancaster says as much. And yet, if sin, even unintentional sin, defiles a person’s body, he or she cannot enter the Holiness of the Temple and draw near the presence of God without purification of the body which was defiled because of that sin. Even if the person was forgiven on a spiritual level through repentance, and remember, some events, such as giving birth, required a sin offering even when there was no sin, there still remained the need for physical cleansing.

That’s an especially important point because it means that Jesus (Yeshua) in his earthly existence, could still have been required to provide a sin offering at the Temple, even though he never sinned. He would just had to be in some state of ritual uncleanness (which is not a sin). That also means, certain prophesies about “the Prince” (Ezekiel 45:22) offering a sin sacrifice in the Messianic Age could indeed be about the sinless King Messiah. No supernatural hocus pocus required and no contradiction involved in a sinless person offering a sin sacrifice.

This also has the benefit of helping us realize that the death of Jesus on the cross didn’t have to cancel the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood, the Temple, and the Torah, since it didn’t replace the actual function of that system. Animal sacrifices didn’t take away sin and then have to be replaced by Jesus who did. Prayer to God and authentic repentance has always provided for atonement.

As far as Yom Kippur is concerned, the Aaronic Priest offered the required blood sacrifices and then he prayed for the forgiveness of his own sins and those of all of Israel.

So what is so much better about the sacrifice of Jesus? It inaugurates by the merit of his holiness and suffering, the New Covenant era which does provide for the permanent perfection of human beings to make them sinless.

What Did I Learn?

Lancaster compared Hebrews 10:5-8 with Psalm 40:1-9. Here are the relevant verses:

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,

“Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But a body You have prepared for Me;

In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.

“Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come
(In the scroll of the book it is written of Me)
To do Your will, O God.’”

After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.”

-Hebrews 10:5-9 (NASB)

Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.

Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.

I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.”

-Psalm 40:6-8 (NASB)

Levites singingThe writer of Hebrews, although apparently quoting Jesus, is actually putting the words of Psalm 40 in his mouth, so to speak, since it is a prophetic Psalm. Psalm 40 was one of the songs sung by the priests in the Temple, probably during a Thanksgiving Offering. David is giving thanks for being delivered from some difficulty.

Notice in verse six, he says that God “opened his ears” (in Hebrew, it literally says “dug out my ears”) meaning, according to Lancaster, that God enabled him to hear God in order for him to do God’s will.

But Hebrews 10:5 renders the quote of that verse as “a body you prepared for me.” What happened?

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is likely a Greek-speaking Jew writing to Greek-speaking Jews and is using the Septuagint, the Greek Translation of the Tanakh, as a Biblical reference. Lancaster says a scribal error actually mistranslated the verse about “God opening ears” to “preparing a body” (you’ll have to listen to the recording to get the detailed explanation). However, the Hebrews letter writer makes good use of this error.

If you’ve read all of Psalm 40, you’ll have noticed that verse six also mentions God not wanting sacrifices. Again, this isn’t replacing sacrifices, since a few verses later, David says that he delights in doing God’s will and God’s Torah is in his heart. He is again saying that the sacrifices aren’t designed to forgive sins, though they certainly are a part of a Jew’s obedience to God.

By the way, the part of the verse in both Psalm 40 and Hebrews 10 that says “he was written about in the scroll of the book” is usually interpreted to mean Messiah, but Lancaster says it’s more likely that David meant the Torah speaks of anyone who does the will of God.

However, as far as the body being prepared, Lancaster does say that this is the sacrifice that actually does provide for the permanent atonement for Israel’s sins and perfects them such that they will sin no more in Messianic Days. It brings forth the question of whether or not anyone will have to offer a sin sacrifice in the Days of Messiah, but remember, there are other reasons for making those sacrifices that have nothing to do with actually sinning.

After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

-Hebrews 10:8-10 (NASB)

OK, so the second replaced the first. Sure sounds like the sacrifice of Jesus replaced the Temple sacrifices but what are the “first” and “second?”

The first is that in order to draw near to God in the earthly Temple, the first system, the sacrificial system, was necessary, but this won’t work to draw near to God in the life of the world to come. The “second” speaks of a time past the Messianic Era when there will be no Temple.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple

-Revelation 21:22

In Messianic Days, there will still be a Temple because while the redeemed will be perfected, not everyone alive then will be among the redeemed. However, in the world to come, when all evil has been extinguished and God once again lives among His people, the Temple will no longer be needed, just as at the first, when Adam and Havah (Eve) dwelt sinless in the Garden.

Lancaster pointed out something interesting about Hebrews 10:9:

He takes away the first in order to establish the second…

The Greek verb translated above as “takes away,” also translated as “sets aside,” “cancels,” “does away with,” and “abolishes” is never, ever used in any other part of the New Testament or Septuagint to mean that. In any Greek lexicon, the word has two possible meanings:

  1. Kill or slay
  2. To take up, to lift up, to carry

It doesn’t make much sense to say:

He kills the first in order to establish the second…

Lancaster thinks the second meaning in my list, which Greek lexicons indicates is the most common usage, is the more likely meaning:

He takes up or lifts up the first in order to establish the second…

From Lancaster’s perspective, it’s high time that the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews receive a fresh translation into English to do away with centuries of mistaken translations and interpretations based on the errors required by Christian tradition.

praying_at_masadaMessiah came to do the will of his Father and by that will, we have been sanctified due to the offering of his body and the merit of his holiness.

I have only touched on some of the points Lancaster made. In the approximately forty minute lecture, he inserted a lot more detail. I hope I’ve been able to adequately summarize his sermon and make it understandable. For this one especially, I recommend listening to it yourself. Lancaster says, and I agree, that his interpretation is highly unorthodox, but it has the benefit of not throwing the baby out with the bath water, or in this case, extinguishing the Temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the Torah in order to establish and lift up the Messiah as the mediator of the New Covenant, for in fact, the earlier must flow seamlessly into the latter for the Bible to make any cohesive sense at all.

learning

Can You Help Us Find a Bible Study for the Coming Year?

The third month was chosen for the revelation because everything that is closely connected with the Torah and with Israel is triple in number. The Torah consists of three parts: The Pentateuch, The Prophets, and the Writings. The oral law consists of Midrash, Halakhah, and Haggadah… (Pesikta de Rav Kahana, ed. Buber pp. 186-187)

-quoted by Max Arzt in
Part 2: “The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur),” p.285
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement

My friend Tom and I have been toying with the idea of studying Torah together for quite some time, but the recent events that have seen me leave (once again) church have added emphasis to the proposal. This past Sunday, Tom and I were talking over coffee and started to define some of the parameters for our study.

First of all, I’m not sure a study focused on Torah is the best way to go. Sure, the timing is right. We are very close to the end of the current Torah cycle, and the new cycle begins with Torah Portion Beresheet on October 18th, less than three weeks away.

But Tom said that he wants to have a study that specifically focuses on Messiah and what he means in our lives. I don’t know if I want to study the sidra for each Shabbat with the idea that I must find the Messiah within its pages. What if I don’t?

The second goal of our Torah study is that we might be able to see the Messiah clearly in its pages. Remember Luke 24. This chapter establishes for us one of the key hermeneutic principles of approaching Torah. Here Yeshua tells us specifically to look in the Torah in order to see Him. “And beginning with Moshe and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).

When we first started looking for Yeshua in every Torah Portion, we were concerned that we would not be able to find Yeshua anywhere. However, much to our surprise, after beginning the work we found it difficult to stop! We have discovered that the person and work of Messiah are evident in even the most technical sections of the Torah. And the more we see Him, the more we can worship Him.

-Ariel Berkowitz
“How to Study the Torah”
MessianicPublications

While I don’t always agree with everything presented at this website, I’ve found Berkowitz’s insights valuable in the past and, when I saw this link show up in my Facebook feed, I decided to have a go at it. Seems Berkowitz has no problem seeing the Messiah in the Torah, but maybe another approach would work better for Tom and me.

I started reading the Berkowitz article with an idea to base our Bible study upon its principles. I said I found Berkowitz valuable, but that doesn’t mean I always agree with him. In taking the text at face value (and not allegorizing), he says:

This also applies to what appear to be legal sections. If God said to put a fence around the top of our houses, for example, He does not mean to build fences to protect the Torah! Literally, what is being referred to is a protective enclosure being placed around the top of a house to prevent people from falling off. (In that part of the world, most dwellings had flat roofs, which facilitated people congregating on them.) We have no permission at this point to go beyond the literal face value of the text.

D. Thomas Lancaster
D. Thomas Lancaster

Well, yes and no. Yes, I can agree that it’s a bit of a stretch to create a midrash stating that the Torah commandment to build a fence around the edge of your flat roof also means building fences around the commandments, manufacturing additional barriers to keep the observant from getting too close to the “edge” of sin. I do however, think that we can take the particular commandment and infer a general principle from it (this isn’t my original idea, I got it from one of D. Thomas Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermons). I believe the specific commandment about building a fence around your roof can be expanded to the general principle of removing all physical hazards on your property that could potentially cause injury to family and guests. These would be acts of kindness and express concern over the well being of the people around you. I don’t think there’s too much of a stretch involved here, but it does require we think beyond the immediate situation described.

Berkowitz says:

Also associated with this principle is the necessity of determining the intended meaning of the passage. Since Moshe was the writer of the Torah, we must try to put ourselves in his shoes as he wrote it, even as we attempt to discern the Lord’s intent in giving each teaching. Moreover, we also need to put ourselves into the shoes of the people who first received the Scriptures and seek to know how they understood the text.

I agree with this wholeheartedly and I think many Bible students and scholars don’t take this far enough. Remember, almost without exception, all of the writers of the Bible are Jewish people and the Bible’s contents (with the exception of some of Paul’s letters and a few other portions) were intended to be read exclusively by Jews.

We have to at least attempt to understand what the writer was intending his readers to get out of the document, including any allusions, less than obvious references, traditions, and interpretive praxis that could be employed to derive meaning. The answers to all that are likely not easily gleaned from the plain meaning of the text and require some knowledge of the Judaism of the time period in which the document was authored.

A really good example of this is a lecture that Boaz Michael delivered some years ago called “Moses in Matthew”. I don’t think a recording of that teaching is available commercially, but I managed to get a copy of it and reviewed its contents in a blog post called “The Jewish Gospel”, Part 1 and Part 2. Rabbi Joshua Brumbach also reviewed it on his blog about three years ago.

Ariel Berkowitz
Ariel Berkowitz

I don’t want to attempt to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, so for the details, you can click on the links I’ve provided. In brief though, Boaz aptly illustrated that without understanding the highly specific mindset of Jews living in occupied Palestine in the late Second Temple period, we sometimes misunderstand (sometimes to a great degree) what Jesus (Yeshua) was teaching, leading us to a far less than perfect comprehension of the message of Messiah to his people Israel and, across history, to us.

Berkowitz continues in his article making statements I believe are in support of what I just said above:

For example, it makes a difference to our understanding of the Torah if we know that each of the ten plagues was brought against one of the gods of Egypt. It changes our perception of the book of Deuteronomy if we are aware that its format virtually follows that of other middle to late Bronze Age suzerainty treaties and covenants. Moreover, are we aware that our knowledge of ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets can help us understand the structure of Genesis, as well as why Rachel stole the family idols from Laban? Finally, what is meant by the designations “Way of the Philistines” and “King’s Highway?”

Closely connected with this rule is the principle of studying the Torah in Hebrew, its original language. There are sometimes words, thoughts, or concepts in the Hebrew of the Torah that are almost impossible to express in a translation. For example, it is helpful to know that the Hebrew word sometimes translated into English as “sacrifice” is the word korban (קָרְבָּן), which has the same root as the word meaning “to draw close.” Hence, a sacrifice is that which helps us draw close to God. In addition, there are virtually no English equivalents for the Hebrew words tahor (טָהוֹר) and tamei (טָמֵא) (often rendered pure and impure, or clean and unclean, respectively).

Again, and specifically speaking to the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles, we would also have to know how other Jewish teachers of that time period wrote, what common allusions and references they shared, the midrashic associations the readers were supposed to make, and so on. Reading Jewish texts of any time period requires knowledge of not only the religious and cultural Judaism of that point in history, but what it was to live as a Jew listening to or reading the teachings of the Rabbis.

This isn’t information always available to us.

But if we don’t always have the past at our fingertips, we do that the present:

Jewish practice and interpretation of the Torah began centuries ago—in many cases even before the time of Yeshua. Although we do not believe in the authority of the oral law, it nevertheless contains much that is useful for us today (such as an incredibly insightful periodic interpretation of the Torah). It is helpful for us, therefore, to read some of the best of the modern Jewish commentators (at least those of both the Rishonim and Akharonim), because in them we may find accurate interpretations of the most difficult passages of the Torah. Moreover, it can also be helpful to examine some of the rabbinic applications of the Torah, as some of these halachic teachings might shed some light for us on a given passage.

Jewish Man PrayingChristians don’t always take me seriously when I say that in order to understand the Bible, including (especially) the teachings of Jesus, you have to understand something about Judaism. However, this is true. Christianity has its interpretive traditions which, from their earliest inception, were designed to minimize if not outright delete any “Jewishness” from the Jewish texts. And yet, as I’ve seen time and again, ignoring a Jewish interpretation of the Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, has led to tremendous errors in the development of Christian theology and its resultant doctrine. This isn’t to say that Christianity has completely missed the boat. The Church grasps the principles of loving God and doing good to other human beings very well. They just don’t know what to do with Jewish people as having a unique covenant relationship with God, and especially have not a clue how to understand the Judaism of Jews in Messiah.

Unfortunately, Berkowitz had to employ this rather reductive list of the three rules of interpretation, which I’ve previously encountered:

  • First ask, “What does the passage say?”
  • Next ask, “What does it mean?”
  • Finally, ask, “What does it mean to me?”

Not to say that this list is bad, but if you didn’t understand that it must be expanded to include what I’ve described previously about comprehending the entire historical, cultural, linguistic, midrashic, and every other area of context in which a particular text of the Bible was written and read, then you’ve going to miss a lot.

And in describing interpretation, Berkowitz doesn’t mention that interpretation begins at translation. He admits that most people don’t have a sufficient command of the Biblical languages to read them, and thus tend to rely on translations, but he doesn’t say that some translations do heinous violence to the text. The English Standard Version, for example, changes Greek verb tenses in some of Paul’s letters and in the Epistle to the Hebrews to make the scriptures read as if the Old (Sinai) Covenant has already completely passed away and that it has totally been replaced by the New Covenant. However, the verb tenses in the actual Greek indicate that the old is in the process of still passing away, and there is no indication in the originals that the New is even here yet.

Berkowitz does say that there are a number of good study aids available and I would add to that list a variety of different translations and a lexicon to help with some of the problems modern translators have introduced.

Berkowitz states that the number one requirement in Bible study is to “rely on the Spirit of God to be our teacher.” I can agree, but I’ve argued with a few people here on my blog that the Spirit doesn’t have to exist in isolation from other resources and that we don’t have to “check our brains at the door,” so to speak.

In addressing the use of commentaries, Berkowitz says:

Some people simply will not use commentaries or study aids when studying the Bible. They say they want God to teach them, not man. The problem with this statement is that God has specifically blessed certain people in the body of Messiah with the gift of teaching. We are not disputing the fact that people can discover wonderful things in the Torah by themselves. But God’s usual method is to gift certain people who can, in turn, teach others the truths of His Word. Hence, we all need to rely on the God-gifted Torah teachers whom the Holy One places in our path.

Furthermore, we must also realize that most commentaries were originally sermons or verbal teachings before they appeared in print. If we are willing to ask another person his or her opinion about a given passage in the Bible, we should be willing to consult a commentary. There is no difference, other than the fact that one is a verbal opinion about the Torah and the other is written.

We are not islands unto ourselves. We are members of the body of Messiah, each equipped with certain areas of understanding which, when combined, help bring to all of us a more complete understanding of the Bible. Thus, we should not throw away all the books and say “we will just study the Bible.” God never meant for His people to function like that. In the resources section of this Web site we provide a continually growing list of Bible study aids, such as commentaries, that we recommend. There will undoubtedly be others, especially in other languages. But this is a good beginning for those who are new at Torah study.

TanakhI’ve come the long way around to ask a simple question. Tom and I (and whoever decides to join us) need a structure and format for our studies. We could just shoot from the hip or talk off the tops of our heads, but that’s rather self-limiting.

We need a study that is focused on the Messiah. We’d like to not have the study devolve into a “what’s right” and “what’s wrong” about theology and doctrine, which, for example, so many of these religious blogs tend to do. We would like the study to be specifically Messianic rather than traditionally Christian. If at all possible, we’d like the study not to be too expensive. Unfortunately, a lot of good teaching material out there also costs a proverbial arm and leg.

I’m open to suggestion (without the obligation of having to take everyone’s suggestions). Any ideas?

In advance, thank you for your help and insight.

Oh, and by the “coming year,” I mean within the next few weeks to a month or so, not the beginning of 2015. Thanks.

Elul

The Tradition of Rosh Hashanah

And all believe that He is the faithful God.

-from the Machzor

This ninth-century, twofold alphabetical acrostic has been ascribed to Yohanan ha-Cohen, but M. Zulay says that Yannai (ca.550 C.E.) may have been it’s author. Declaring that God holds in His hand the scales of justice, the piyyut affirms that He is merciful even as He fathoms our secret devisings.

-Max Arzt
Chapter 2: “The New Year (Rosh Hashanah), pp 175-6
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement

This morning (as I write this), I listened to part of an audio teaching by Aaron Eby called “The Shofar and the Signs of the Times: A Lesson for Rosh Hashanah” as I commuted to work. Since I can’t take notes and drive at the same time (my wife says that men can’t multitask), I can’t reference large portions of the content, but one thing Aaron said has stayed with me. He said that the Bible teaches us almost nothing about how to celebrate or commemorate Rosh Hashanah, which is more accurately called “Yom Teruah” (which literally means in Hebrew “Day of Loud Noise”). Almost everything we know about celebrating Rosh Hashanah was developed much later by the various Rabbinic sages across Jewish history.

I find this rather telling and even amusing in a way, since most Christians (including Hebrew Roots Christians) tend to believe the Talmud or Oral Traditions are wholly manufactured by people and have nothing to do with the Bible. But while traditional (church going) Christians are highly unlikely to have anything to do with Jewish observance, including the commemoration of Rosh Hashanah, Hebrew Roots devotees this year almost certainly marked the occasion through a form of observance that attempted to mirror that of religious Jews in the synagogue.

The “disconnect” in the behavior of the latter group is that they not only tend to dismiss Rabbinic authority in establishing binding methods of worship, but they rather avidly declare that Hebrew Roots believers follow only the written Torah and not the Oral Law.

And yet, the Rosh Hashanah services many of them attended a few days ago were largely established, not in Biblical times (and remember, the Bible contains few if any instructions on how to commemorate Rosh Hashanah), but by the later Rabbinic Sages.

I’m not trying to start another in a long, long series of arguments relative to Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, but I do want to point out something that I think we all need to “get”.

But the very notion that the whole people [who received the Torah at Mt. Sinai] was the vehicle of divine revelation saved Judaism from an arid, literal biblicism. It gave rise to the belief that the “oral law” is the authentic and living interpretation of the “written law,” so that Revelation came to be regarded as a continuing process. The Rabbis seem to have grasped intuitively an idea akin to the modern concept of historical evolution, when they asserted that at Sinai both the oral and the written laws were revealed.

-ibid, p. 186

Further…

What was implicit in the rabbinic expansion of the concept of revelation must become an explicit principle in our day, when Jewish tradition faces the challenge of new ideas and of discoveries of major proportions. As a viable religion, Judaism must continue to be a vehicle of God’s continuous Revelation to His people, for the voice that Israel heard at Sinai “did not cease” (Onkelos on Deut., 5:19).

-ibid, pp. 186-7

Torah at SinaiOK, that’s not going to sit well with a lot of people. These statements presuppose that either a written Torah was given to the Israelites at Sinai along with an oral set of instructions on how to interpret the written texts, or that God gave an ongoing authority to the Jewish teachers of each generation to make binding interpretations of how to operationalize the written Torah and apply that to the Jewish people. The problem is that for most of Israel’s history, there has been no one apparent standard of interpretation. In the time of the Apostle Paul, for example, there were numerous streams of Judaism in existence, most of which contracted one another.

But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

-Acts 23:6-8 (NASB)

But then how can Jewish Rabbis and scholars say they have God-given authority to make binding halachah for the Jewish people when not only more than one standard exists, but these different standards are at odds with each other?

An even bolder extension of the idea of Revelation is implied in the statement that where scholars offer two mutually contradictory opinions on a legal problem or on the interpretation of a biblical verse, both opinions are considered to be “the words of the living God,” since both are equally the result of a reverent search for an understanding of the Torah (Erub. 13b).

-Artz, p. 186

Talmud Study by LamplightI have a tough time wrapping my brain around that one, but it does seem to be accepted in Judaism that the various sages and teachers for each community or stream of Judaism have the right to establish binding standards for their own groups.

This point is disputed, not only in traditional and Hebrew Roots Christianity, but in Messianic Judaism. In the comments section of this blog post which I quoted in part in the body of this article, such a debate between two Jewish men in Messiah is demonstrated.

Carl Kinbar said:

I would like to contend these thoughts, at least in the absolute way you have expressed them. You’ve drawn this from the story of Achnai’s Oven, in which God does miracles to support the opinion of Rabbi Eliezar over the opinion of the majority of rabbis. But they reject not only God’s miracles but his also voice, which declares “the halakhah is according to Rabbi Eliezer. The majority “defeated” Rabbi Eliezer and God by pointing out that the Torah is not in heaven but on earth. God’s opinion doesn’t matter. Then God laughs in delight that “my sons have defeated me.”

So, as a Jew, I can imagine myself standing before the majority of rabbis as a believer in Messiah Yeshua. God says, “Carl is right–Yeshua is the Messiah.” But the majority refuses to accept God’s voice and declares me a min (heretic). God then laughs, “My children have defeated me again!” God is pleased with them and displeased with me for rejecting the majority, even though he knows full well that Yeshua is his Messiah.

The identity of Messiah is just the beginning of areas in which the majority would overrule God. They do not recognize the Brit Hadashah and they do not recognize the joyous obligation of Jewish believers in Yeshua to love all our fellow Yeshua believers as Messiah has loved us. Should Jews accept the traditional majority in these matters, too?

Hopefully, one day I will find an opening to express the depth and beauty of my relationship with Torah and rabbinic tradition. For now, I just want to say that accepting the majority’s right to interpret and apply Torah is not absolute and God does not laugh when his voice is ignored.

ProclaimLiberty said:

I understand your contention and I share in your frustration with the unpleasant reality that the leaders of the Jewish people actually have the authority to be WRONG. However, for good or for ill, this is an irrevocable gift of authority, which only increases the responsibility borne by these authorities. I do not say that HaShem holds them guiltless for any divergence from His Torah in applying or interpreting the Torah. The episode of Aknai’s oven only underscores the degree of this awesome legal responsibility. It then becomes our responsibilty as Rav Yeshua’s hasidim to work toward opening the eyes of current authorities to the finer distinctions between the negative elements that previously were inveighed against with some statements, and the positive aspects of ourselves and Rav Yeshua’s approach to Torah.

Chazal reiterates some of Rav Yeshua’s Matt.23 criticism of the Pharisees (or a recognizably faulty subset of them), for example, illustrating that corrections and improvements are possible. I believe that the power lies within us (b’ezrat HaShem) to demonstrate that the modern MJ community is not defined by the characteristics that impelled earlier generations of rabbis to present a rejectionistic front. However, there is still much improvement required of the modern MJ community in the aggregate to support such a demonstration. Thus we should not wish for miraculous signs or voices from heaven to justify us in our appeal to these authorities. Rather, the miraculous signs should be evident in improving our behavior and our demeanor on earth as a community and as individuals, that we should be seen as walking examples of Torah whose positive contribution to the Jewish enterprise cannot be denied as sectarian or separatist.

debateI can’t pretend to have the ability to resolve this apparent dissonance within Messianic Judaism specifically and within larger religious Judaism as a whole, but as I said more recently, an adaptive dynamic to the interpretation of Torah for Jewish communities existing in different geolocations and across time is one of the requirements for the continuation of Judaism and the existence of the Jewish people. Without the ability of different streams of Judaism to be able to continually interpret their own scriptures, there either would be no Judaism at all or one that existed as a complete anachronism within the modern landscape, totally incapable of managing even the simplest elements of 21st Century life.

Interestingly enough, Christianity (and probably any other current religion with ancient origins based on ancient texts) engages in a similar dynamic. Imagine transporting a church leader or elder from some popular Christian community of five-hundred years ago into even the most conservative, Fundamentalist church in modern times. Would this person, even if they shared a common language with the modern believers he was placed among, understand what was going on around him? How would he view the modern attire being worn, especially of the women in the chapel? What would be his feelings about the music, about youth groups, about Sunday school, about all of those early 16th Century Christian practices and traditions he holds dear and true and Biblical that are likely not to be evident at all in any 21st Century church?

Christianity is as adaptive as Judaism. It has to be. If it wasn’t, if it took some ancient standard of practice and behavior and suspended it like a fly in amber, forever isolated, immobile, and ageless, its members most likely couldn’t manage modern life outside the church’s walls at all. The Church, as it were, operates with a sort of historically developmental “oral law” just as Judaism does. Only the “clothing” that process is dressed up in is different.

The Jewish people today could hardly be expected to know how to commemorate Rosh Hashanah and many other events and practices without its history of adaptive interpretation of the mitzvot. Whether an objectively existing Oral Law was given to Moses by God at Sinai, or whether it just became an accepted standard in Judaism that the Rabbis would be considered as having authority assigned them by God to make binding rulings, the effect is the same. Judaism has continued to exist for the past two-thousand years after the destruction of the Temple, the razing of Jerusalem, and the scattering of the Jewish people to the four corners of the Earth, because the Jewish people have allowed themselves the ability to progressively interpret Biblical canon as historic and geographic conditions have changed.

The secret to Rosh Hashanah isn’t in the Bible, it’s in Talmud.

yom kippur service

Reflections on Romans 11 Part 1

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have;

“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
And their words to the ends of the world.”

But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says,

“I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation,
By a nation without understanding will I anger you.”

And Isaiah is very bold and says,

“I was found by those who did not seek Me,
I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.”

But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

-Romans 10:16-21 (NASB)

This is where we left off in my reflection on Romans 10. Sounds pretty grim, huh? I followed up at the end of that blog post by saying:

Paul had many good things to say about his people Israel, but he wasn’t above also speaking of them as Moses had spoken of the Israelites in their times of rebellion. It saddened his heart, even as the same attitude saddened Messiah’s heart as he lamented over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39).

Paul continues this line of thought without missing a beat at the beginning of the following chapter…

So here we are. In general, Paul’s letter to the Romans, from my reading of it, seems to be his telling the Gentiles in the Roman synagogues to stop arrogantly flaunting their equal co-participation in Jewish communal life by trumpeting their “freedom” from the Torah obligations (as per Apostolic decree – see Acts 15) their Jewish counterparts (both Jesus-believing and otherwise) possessed. Some of these Jewish people, for their part, pushed back against the Gentiles by declaring their chosen status, their possession of Torah, and Shabbat, and their covenant relationship with God as justifying them in the presence of the Creator.

Paul was trying to build up the reputation of the Jewish people in the minds of his Gentile readers, but is he now denigrating them?

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.

-Romans 11:1-2

God did not reject His people Israel and as Paul declared, “May it never be!” Paul strongly reminded his readers that he also is a Jew and said again that God has not rejected His people Israel. But my quote stops in the middle of a verse.

Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

-Romans 11:2-6

kneelingThe phrase “in the present time” is important. Paul is comparing the current situation in Rome with the prophet Elijah’s condemnation of the faithless of Israel in his day. God’s response? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (see 1 Kings 19:18). This seems to re-enforce what I’ve heard preached in churches, that God will save only a remnant of Israel, presumably condemning the rest for not converting to Christianity.

Now along with this assumption is the belief that Paul is foretelling the future, and that ultimately among Israel, only a small fraction of the overall Jewish population will be redeemed by God. But why does this have to be prophesy about the future (and remember what I said about the phrase “in the present time”)? What if Paul wasn’t speaking of the future of the Jewish people? What if he’s referencing an example from the prophets and then specifically applying it to the Jewish people in the synagogues in Rome at that point in time,  Jews with whom the Gentile readers of this letter were interacting?

In drawing from Mark Nanos’ book The Mystery of Romans, I’m suggesting three populations existing in the synagogues in Rome when Paul was writing his letter: Jewish disciples of Yeshua the Messiah, the larger group of Jews who were not Yeshua’s disciples and who were struggling with faith, and Gentile disciples of the Master. What Paul could be saying here is that not all of the Jewish people in the Roman synagogues would be condemned, and that some portion of that population would come to faith and be redeemed?

If that’s true, then Paul isn’t commenting on the eschatological future of Israel at all, but only addressing the current state of specific Jews in Rome at that moment in time.

That sounds great, but we have a problem.

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened…

-Romans 11:7

Paul is speaking of Israel, presumably the collective body of Jewish people, and saying they have not obtained what they sought. Only those who were chosen obtained it and the rest were hardened.

This seems to harken back to some version of Calvinism, where God pre-chooses individuals, in this case, individual Jews, to be saved and condemns the rest. Is that really true? After all, at Sinai, all Israelites were chosen as a body, not as individuals.

…just as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”

And David says,

“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.
“Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

-Romans 11:8-11

zealous torah studyYou can see why reading Romans can get really confusing. It seems, on the one hand, that Paul is condemning Jewish people and in fact, that God deliberately “hardened” them, but on the other hand, he says their stumbling does not mean they fell. Additionally, the transgression of the (presumably unbelieving) Jews is necessary for salvation to come to the Gentiles. Given the way it’s worded in English, I almost can’t tell if the people who are supposed to be jealous are the Gentiles or the Jews. In fact, I know of some Gentile believers today who are jealous of Jewish people to the point of being covetous.

I have in my notes that Paul is continuing to juxtapose the rather dim present situation at the time he was writing his letter with the brighter future situation when all of Israel will be saved, but I want to address something else first.

Many non-Jews have quoted the Romans 11:11 clause to “making the Jews jealous” as their main mandate as Gentile believers, and many have attempted to do this through various different methods; few have been successful. Understandably, living a life with the purpose of making people turn green with envy is not a covetous calling for someone who loves the LORD and loves his people. This word from Paul, let’s be honest, seems somewhat unethical when we read it in this English translation. However, the Greek word “zelos” is translated into Hebrew as “kin’ah,” which means “zealousness.” So actually, Paul’s words should really be understood as bringing Jews to zealousness. This is a mission that is a lot easier to comprehend and enact.

-Jordan Levy
“The Crowning Jewels of the Nations”
from Messiah Journal, issue 112 (Winter 2013/5773), pg 18
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

I originally quoted this passage from Levi’s article in my blog post called Provoking Zealousness back in January 2013. I was writing about what I believe to be the true calling of Christian Gentiles in relation to Jewish people, and what I believe Paul was trying to inspire in his Gentile audience: that we are supposed to provoke Jewish zealousness. What zealousness?

And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…

-Acts 21:20

Here we see a perfect example of Jews who were disciples of the Master and who were zealous for the Law (Torah). If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know I believe that Jewish devotion to performing the mitzvot and faith in Messiah are not mutually exclusive and in fact, they are absolutely necessary components in the life of a faithful Jew, both in the days of Paul and now. I’ve heard Messiah Yeshua referred to more than once as “our living Torah,” the only Jewish person (and only person at all) who perfectly obeyed the righteous requirements of God in accordance to the Jewish covenant relationship with God. He’s the forerunner of how all Jews in New Covenant times will have the Torah written on their hearts so they too will be obedient according to God’s commandments.

But they need to both be truly zealous for the Torah with the realization of the identity of Messiah, and have faith in the accomplishments of his works as mediator of the New Covenant. Paul is telling the Gentiles in his letter that instead of extinguishing Jewish zeal, they should help properly contextualize it by supporting Jewish Torah observance. The Gentiles should have been behaving in a complementary fashion toward the Jews, not in competition. You could see how the Jewish people in Rome could get the impression that either they choose the Torah for their justification or they choose the Gentile “freedom” from Torah (we see a similar dynamic today). Naturally, if the Jews thought there were only two selections, they’d choose the former, which unfortunately caused them to miss out from Paul’s point of view.

But it was a mistake for the Gentiles as well. Perhaps if Paul had personally been in Rome, he could have straightened all this out as a Jew, as a Pharisee, as a zealous devotee of Torah, and as a bondservant and disciple to the Master. But he wasn’t.

So the downside is that many of the Roman Jews at that day missed the boat. But, as Paul has said, there’s an upside for the Gentiles.

Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.

-Romans 11:12-16

Cutting BranchesJewish failure and success continue to be compared and contrasted, with the former being the present as Paul is writing, and the latter being the future as viewed through the lens of the New Covenant. In saying that a piece of the dough will make the whole lump holy, it could be he’s saying that the remnant could provoke zealousness in all Israel. Using the word “fulfillment” seems to indicate that will be an ultimate redemption and inclusion of all Israel in God’s salvational future for them, just as the New Covenant promises (see Jeremiah 31:34). This is particularly emphasized in Paul’s use of the phrase “life from the dead,” which his readers couldn’t help but associate with the resurrection, another reference to the New Covenant.

But what about the root and the branches? If the root is holy then the branches are too. What does that mean?

This seems like a good place to end Part 1 of this “reflection.” Romans 11 is a very dense chapter and rather than write 3,000 or 4,000 words or more in a single missive, I’ll break this one up into parts. Part 2 will start where we left off and attempt to answer the question, “What is the root?” The answer may not be what you think.

You might be wondering what zealousness for Torah has to do with zealousness for Messiah. What if the Jews in Rome had a problem in authentic zeal for both? See what Derek Leman has to say in his blog post Paul Was Too Jewish For The Synagogue, Part 1 to find a possible answer.

simchat torah

Torah and the Gentile Believer

It is prohibited for a gentile to study Torah, and if he does so, he is [deserving of death] (see Sanhedrin 59a). A Jew is not allowed to teach him Torah, so as not to be the vehicle by which the gentile sins. What, then, is being added to this ruling in our Gemara from the verse in Tehillim?

According to ” ז ט we can say that the study of Torah which is prohibited for a gentile is the in-depth and careful study of its profundities. This includes the intricate aspects of Torah taught by Moshe to the Jewish people. However, the study of a simple listing of guidelines of Jewish law and general halachos would not cause a gentile to be liable for death. A Jew is, therefore, not in violation of עור לפני for exposing a gentile to such information. Our Gemara teaches that this is still prohibited, nevertheless, based upon the verse in Tehillim.

“Teaching Torah to a gentile”
from “Distinctive Insight” for Ghagiga 13
Daf Yomi Digest for September 21, 2014
Published by the Chicago Center for Torah and Chesed

Disclaimer: I suspect I may be misunderstanding the above-quoted text and it’s source. If anyone can offer clarification, I’d appreciate it. I can only base the following on my current understanding.

I suppose I take it for granted that I can read and study my Bible. I also take it for granted that all of the contents of the Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, are Jewish books, written by Jewish authors for Jewish readers. It was only with the advent of the New Covenant era which has yet to actually arrive, that large numbers of Gentiles were taught the Jewish scriptures as part of the grafted-in population of non-Jews into the First Century C.E. Jewish religious stream originally known as “the Way”.

Of course the prohibition cited in the above-quoted text didn’t exist at that time, at least not in a formal or written manner (and probably not at all as far as I know) and in fact, we see there was some expectation that the Gentile disciples of the Master were expected to learn and study Torah under the authority of Jewish teachers:

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

-Acts 15:21 (NASB)

I interpret this rather cryptic verse to mean that the Gentiles, though by legal decision (Acts 15) obligated to observe only a subset of the full yoke of Torah incumbent on a Jewish disciple, were nevertheless to hear Torah read in the synagogue on Shabbat and most likely to learn and study Torah with their Jewish teachers and mentors. Such an informational background would be absolutely necessary if the Gentiles, especially those recently having been pagans (as opposed to the God-fearing Gentiles who regularly attended shul) were to make any sense at all of the teachings of the Master and to comprehend how the New Covenant blessings allow for the redemption of the people of the nations through God’s redemption of all of Israel.

But of course something happened between then and now. Gentile Christianity was formed out of the bosom of the early Jewish Messianic movement and proceeded, due to many events and circumstances, to remove itself from having anything to do with Judaism. I’ve said before that the actions and mistakes made by the first Gentile Christians in the Second and Third Centuries have been carried down in some manner or fashion into the current Church such that “studying Torah” is not on any believer’s radar (although there are exceptions which I will address presently).

No doubt a great deal of apprehension and even fear among Jewish people has been inspired by the decidedly nasty behavior of the Church toward the Synagogue over the long centuries, and has only been softened quite recently due to Hitler’s Holocaust.

About 350 years ago, someone asked Rav Avraham Amigo, zt”l, an interesting question. “A notzri who is connected to the authorities has been buying our books in an effort to complete a library of all the basic Torah texts. He has also offered to pay a certain Jew to teach him Torah. It is not clear whether this is preparatory to conversion or because he is seeking a way to undermine the Jewish community. Is it permissible to teach him or sell him seforim?”

The Gadol responded, “It is prohibited to teach him, as we find in the Gemara in Chagiga 13a. However, if there is a potential threat to Jewish life involved, it is definitely permitted to teach him, as we learn from the Gemara in Bava Kama 38b. If it does not appear that there is an element of danger in this case, I forbid teaching him or selling him books. Whether he truly intends to convert is difficult to ascertain because he could endanger himself by showing an interest in Judaism as the citizen of a Catholic country. In any case, the Gemara in Gittin 85a states that conversion is not likely, and we also find many references in Shas that prove that heretics often try to capitalize on whatever little learning they do have to defame the sages and undermine the Jewish community.”

The Rav continued, “In any event, we must guard against the possibility that he will travel where he is unknown and get the confidence of a Jew on the road. The Jew will trust him because he is learned. Once he wins his confidence he may very well kill him. This is the logic of the Gemara in Menachos 43a regarding the prohibition to sell a non-Jew techeiles. If he was wearing techeiles, he could easily fool a Jew on the road and kill him for his possessions!”

“The Torah of the Jewish People”
from “Stories off the Daf” for Chagiga 13
Daf Yomi Digest

PogromWhen I first read this story I thought it seemed ridiculous that homicide would be the only or primary motivation of a Gentile to desire Jewish learning. But apparently the fear originated somewhere and resulted in essentially blocking off any non-Jews from more than a superficial level of Torah study unless that Gentile person’s intent was to convert to Judaism.

This doesn’t seem very applicable today, though. I can go online and order any Jewish book that’s available for purchase from any number of Jewish or non-Jewish sellers. I can even order all manner of Judaica online including tefillin and a tallit and no one is going to require that I prove that I’m Jewish (which I’m not). Of course, accessing a knowledgable and authentic Torah scholar from which to learn and study might be a bit of a chore, especially within Orthodox Judaism, but on the other hand, I could take online classes through organizations such as the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, and as far as I know, there’s no restriction on any class based solely on being Jewish or Gentile.

I really doubt there’s much of a chance that someone like me studying Torah, in whatever manner I’m able, will result in any physical (or any other kind of) harm coming to a Jewish person.

But notice something else.

“If he was wearing techeiles, he could easily fool a Jew on the road and kill him for his possessions!”

This statement assumes that the hypothetical homicidal Gentile being discussed not only appeared learned in Torah but that, based on a different Gemara, he could be mistaken for a Jew because he was wearing “techeiles” (which is the blue coloring originally commanded [Numbers 15:37-41] that Bnei Yisrael wear as a thread among the tzitzit on the four corners of their clothing). I have to assume that “techeiles” is another way of saying tzitzit in this instance, thus it is not only forbidden to teach a Gentile Torah but to sell him tzitzit (in modern times, probably a tallit with the tzitzit attached) as well for the sake of Jewish safety.

While in the modern era, it seems highly improbable that a Gentile would study Torah and wear tzitzit for the express purpose of waylaying and murdering a Jew for his possessions, that fear originated somewhere at some time in the past and I don’t doubt that such an apprehension “echoes” across the corridors of history and into the present day.

Ten years ago, I was sitting in our local Conservative/Reform synagogue on Shabbat. Mel Gibson’s film Passion of the Christ (2004) was about to be released in theaters across the U.S., and in the discussion was a very real fear of the consequences. Historically, after every passion play, there is a pogrom, and although our little corner of Idaho generally doesn’t see a great deal of anti-Semitism, a shared cultural and genetic fear rapidly filled the room.

While at least locally, nothing happened and the film came and went, that fear comes from somewhere and it persists.

Ever since there have been Jews or Israelites or Hebrews, the rest of the world has been trying to kill them. Two-thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul was actively recruiting Gentiles to enter into and participate in Jewish communal and religious space as co-equals and participants in the benefits of the New Covenant blessings, however, he received a great deal of pushback from Jewish communities and community leaders, even to the point of Paul suffering injury and risking death.

And yet, there were synagogues from Syrian Antioch to Rome where Jews and Gentiles co-mingled in relative peace, studying, worshiping, and associating together, and at least for at time, it seemed to work out.

But not in the long run.

The history would take too long to relate, but the net result is that Jews learned to distrust the Gentile Christians along with all of the other Gentiles in the diaspora, and Gentile Christians for their (our) part, learned to distrust Jewish people.

Hence rulings were issued such as it being forbidden to sell Jewish books and to teach Torah to a Gentile, and the seemingly irrational fear that a Gentile would leverage Jewish learning and a Jewish appearance to do harm to a Jew.

But now we have something interesting going on.

synagogueA significant minority population of Gentile Christians are experiencing a renewed interest in Judaism, specifically Messianic Judaism. On the surface, the Messianic Jewish movement seems to be an attempt to do what Paul was trying to do; to bring Gentiles into Jewish community for the mutual study of Torah and the mutual worship of God through faith in the work of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus).

But that’s not exactly what’s happening. In the days of Paul, the Way was one of many Judaisms in ancient Judea and the diaspora nations, and if Gentiles wanted to join, they had to accept Jewish authority in the synagogue. Gentiles, by definition, were the learners since all knowledge of Messiah was Jewish knowledge. Gentiles were present in Jewish community by the invitation of the Jewish community, and that community defined Gentile legal status and all of the requirements for Gentile entry and participation.

Modern Messianic Judaism, given the past two-thousand years, is not an attempt to re-create the “churches” of Paul. Gentiles have plenty of Christian Churches and a long and rich tradition to draw from. Jewish people discovering the revelation of the identity of Messiah are attempting to maintain Jewish space and community and to carve out a niche for themselves in larger Jewry, one that allows for a fully experienced and realized Jewish lifestyle that acknowledges Messiah as mediator of the New Covenant God (Hebrews 9:15) made with the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31).

And as I said above, a significant portion of Gentiles are leaving churches and are fascinated with a wholly culturally and religious Jewish take on who Jesus is and what it really means to be a disciple of the King of the Jews.

Do you see how confusing this could get (and has gotten)? Jews who don’t want to convert to Christianity and abandon what it is to be a Jew are attempting to develop Jewish communities for Jews in Messiah, but the Gentiles are knocking at the door asking (and sometimes demanding) to be let in and to study Torah. At some visceral level, I can see the old fears kicking in among the Messianic Jews. Can they be a Jewish community if Gentiles are present? What other motivation could some of these Gentiles have for wanting entry?

Even if those fears don’t appear rational to the rest of us, it’s possible the fear, or at least some degree of apprehension, is still there and feels very real.

I don’t know any of this as absolute fact, but I find myself wondering if Jewish opposition to Gentile participation in the larger body of the mitzvot up to and including donning a tallit, laying tefillin, davening with a siddur, and the rest of those behaviors that make a person look “Jewish” (whether they are or not), might have something to do with the same spirit that inspired Chagiga 13?

I don’t know. But if there’s even a hint of that historical fear incorporated in the desire for modern Messianic Jews to have exclusively Jewish community, then we “Messianic Gentiles” might want to take another look at what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

I’m not saying it should be forbidden for Gentiles to study Torah. Far from it. I’m not saying that all Gentiles should be forbidden from having community with Messianic Jews. Far from it. I’m just saying that we should wait for an invitation to enter someone else’s house.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

-Luke 14:7-11

yom kippurYou’re probably reading this “meditation” in the “space” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, that very critical ten day period in Judaism when many observant Jews are attempting to shift the scales of God’s justice toward mercy. It’s also the time when the new year is unfolded before us all shiny, new, and full of potential. After Yom Kippur is Sukkot, then Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, and a new Torah cycle begins on October 18th.

There have been a number of changes in my life that occurred rather abruptly and I’m looking forward to pursuing my studies with renewed zeal and anticipation. Who I study with and how we pursue the Bible and the presence of God, I don’t know yet (as I write this). As with the other changes I’ve experienced like this one, I’ll wait and see what God has in mind.

Secular sources view history in perspectives of their own, predicated on economic, social, and political principals. By contrast, the Torah directs us to view history as the unfolding of the Divine Plan. History is the metamorphosis of man through the stages of destruction and redemption, continuing towards his final redemption in the days of Moshiach. And all such events, the redemptions and destructions, are perceived as fundamental testimony to the presence of the Almighty in this world, and are understood as experiential units in hashgachah pratis, the active force of the Hand of the Almighty. (Rabbi Mordechai Gifter; “Torah Perspectives,” pp.103-4)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from his commentary on Torah Portion Ha’azinu, pp.466-7
Growth Through Torah

Addendum: Having written all this, I find that Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann’s FAQ called Responding to Some Questions About Messianic Jews and Torah does an excellent job of addressing matters of Torah for the Messianic Jew. I highly recommend it.

matchmaker

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Mediator of the New Covenant

In the New Covenant, Yeshua acts as priest, sacrifice, and mediator. Installment 36 in the Beth Immanuel Hebrews series finishes Hebrews 9 with a discussion on Hebrews 9:15-28 and the Messiah’s role as a mediator between Israel and God.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Six: Mediator of the New Covenant
Originally presented on December 28, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

“Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
catch me a catch”

-from “Matchmaker” by Jerry Bock
from the play and film “Fiddler on the Roof”

Lancaster started off his sermon on a different note than usual this week, stating that he’d been reading a book called A Jewish Response to Missionaries produced by Jews for Judaism, which is an “anti-missionary” organization. According to something in the book, Lancaster said that Judaism has a prohibition against mediators since a mediator between a person and God violates the second commandment not to have any god before Hashem.

Except that’s not true.

Sure, we can pray as individuals, and in any event, God knows our every thought, so it’s not like we need someone to help us communicate to God what we’re thinking and feeling. On the other hand, if the Jewish people didn’t need a mediator, why was there a priesthood? Why were there sacrifices? Why was there a Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle? And why was there Moses?

Actually, Chasidic Judaism very much believes in mediators and relies on a tzaddik, their Rebbe, to act as mediator.

So the Jewish prohibition against mediators seems to only apply when combating Christianity, as Lancaster says.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.

-Galatians 3:19-20 (NASB)

The Jewish PaulPaul himself said that the Torah was delivered to the Israelites through a mediator and would remain in effect until such time as “the seed” would come, meaning Messiah. This isn’t to say that the Old Covenant and the Torah are not in effect today. They still are. But we are still living in Old (Sinai) Covenant times. The New Covenant won’t fully arrive until the resurrection and return of Messiah (but I’m getting ahead of myself), but even then, the Torah remains as the conditions of the New Covenant, too.

What is a mediator? Someone who negotiates an arrangement between two parties. Paul said “God is only one,” so the other party to the Sinai Covenant must be Israel. Lancaster says that the midrash likens Moses to the friend of the bridegroom (God) so to speak, like a matchmaker arranging a “match” between a man and woman for marriage (think Fiddler on the Roof, which is what the image at the very top of the blog post references).

Picture Moses going up and down the mountain carrying messages between Israel and God and between God and Israel, like a friend carrying love notes between a man and a woman who are courting. And in Exodus 24 Moses even performs the ceremony as such. Oaths are exchanged, blood is splashed, and afterward, everybody gets together in the presence of the bride and groom for a covenant meal, like a wedding reception.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

-Matthew 26:26-29

Lancaster says that the Last Supper, or Last Seder if you will, also functions like a covenant meal in the presence of both parties, with the Master in the role of the mediator, representing the groom (God the Father), and the Apostles representing Israel, just as the elders of the tribes at the first covenant meal represented Israel.

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

-1 Timothy 2:5-6

Seems like a pretty pointblank statement to me. Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant between man and God.

However, there’s a part of these verses that has always hung me up and I think Lancaster solves my problem.

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.

-Hebrews 9:15-18

testamentDepending on the translation you have, you either see the word “covenant” being used or “testament” as in “last will and testament.” Except a covenant and a testament are not the same thing at all. It’s pretty confusing in English. But apparently, “covenant” and “testament” are the same word in Biblical Greek and Paul was using a bit of word play. It makes sense in Greek but is useless in English.

However, it’s really just a simple point as Lancaster says.

Just as a last will and testament doesn’t come into effect until a person dies, a covenant doesn’t come into effect until there’s been a sacrifice and shedding of blood.

That’s all the writer of the Book of Hebrews is saying here. Don’t get hung up on any deeper symbolism or meaning. It doesn’t exist except in the thoughts of theologians, scholars, or sometimes people who like to find what isn’t there.

Verses 19-22 describe the events of Exodus 24 with some minor variations, and then Lancaster goes on to compare Moses and Jesus, whereby Moses made the Sinai Covenant come into effect by splashing the blood of the sacrifice, Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant with his blood.

Lancaster was very careful to say that Jesus didn’t literally enter the Heavenly Holy of Holies carrying a bowl of his own blood, this is symbolic language and imagery. He entered the Most Holy Place in Heaven on the merit of his righteousness and sacrifice as the greatest tzaddik of his or any other generation, not because he was a literal human sacrifice.

Verses 24 and 25 use the illustration of the Aaronic High Priest who every Yom Kippur, enters the Holy of Holies with blood to offer atonement for the people of Israel. He offers the blood of the sacrifice and he prays for the people. According to midrash, he was told not to pray too long because while the High Priest may be basking in the Holiness of God, the people outside, since no one can go in with the High Priest, are “freaking out” wondering what happened to him and if the act and prayers of atonement were successful.

So too are we waiting for our High Priest to return so that we know, so to speak, that his atonement for us was also successful (though we know it was and is). Yeshua, our High Priest, is tarrying in his prayers of atonement on our behalf. This is still a “virtual” Yom Kippur. He will emerge from the Heavenly Holy of Holies upon his return to us and then we will know.

Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

-Hebrews 9:26

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

-John 14:6

Jesus as our High Priest, our sacrifice, and our mediator, is the way into the New Covenant through our faith in what his work accomplished, and that faith and acknowledgement of him as mediator is required for us to participate in the blessings of the New Covenant.

Verse 28 speaks of those who eagerly await Messiah’s return. That applies to us as we eagerly await him, await the resurrection, await the terrible and awesome days of the Lord, and await the establishment of his Kingdom and the life of the world to come.

What Did I Learn?

Just about all of this was an eye opener. I had some vague notion of Jesus being the New Covenant mediator as Moses mediated the Sinai Covenant, but Lancaster added a great deal of detail, putting flesh on the mere skeleton of information I possessed as far as Hebrews 9 is concerned.

high_priestI especially appreciated the comparison between the Aaronic High Priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur and Yeshua as the High Priest in the Heavenly Holy of Holies, which represents the Messianic Age to come, a place, like the earthly High Priest, where only he can go, and we can only anxiously wait for him on the outside, wondering what’s happening in there and how long it is going to be before he comes back for us. How long, Moshiach? How long?

Lancaster has a talent for taking what seems to be very mysterious portions of scripture and removing the disguise, so to speak, to give the words and passages a plain and understandable meaning. Reading all this before, I don’t know what I thought about it, but now it makes a lot more sense.

Only four more chapters to go in Hebrews, which will take nine more sermons, nine more weeks for me to review. I didn’t cover everything Lancaster taught in today’s sermon, so you might want to listen to it yourself. This one is fairly brief at just barely 29 minutes. You can find the link above.

"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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