Tag Archives: Orthodox Judaism

Is There More Than One Right Way To Be An Observant Jew?

Shabbat Shalom, everyone. And I know that the Orthodox way has its charm, its appeal, but the cost of living like the old days in this postmodern world is very high. This article is about the real price of being Orthodox in Atlanta and completely following the traditions.

-Derek Leman
as quoted from Facebook

I don’t mean to be unkind to Derek, but my impression of the above-quoted comment is that keeping an Orthodox lifestyle is “quaint, ” impractical, and largely unnecessary for Jewish living. Maybe I’m getting Derek all wrong, but I think he’s missing the point.

But first things first. Derek is commenting on an article written by Asher Elbein for Tablet Magazine called Grappling With the Rising Cost of Being Orthodox.

Here’s a sample:

For Orthodox Jews everywhere, the cost of being observant has always been high; day schools, kosher food, and housing have always been expensive. But those costs have risen dramatically in recent years. And for residents of Toco Hills (a Modern Orthodox enclave near Atlanta, GA), where housing costs have climbed even as the recession has lowered people’s incomes and reduced their savings—and many breadwinners have lost their jobs—the costs have become a major burden. According to Rabbi Ilan Feldman, leader of Congregation Beth Jacob, a grand shul at the center of the community, 100 of the 600 families living here are on federal or local assistance, a number that has risen gradually but consistently since 2010.

The article highlights Tzivia Silverstein, an Orthodox Jew and an unemployed single mother.

Her mother is helping out, Silverstein says, and she’s getting some child support from her husband, but making ends meet is a continuous struggle. Most of her time is now spent looking for work, preferably something steady, like bagging or cashiering at a local grocery store. But finding a position that doesn’t require weekend time has been difficult. “That’s been a classic challenge of American Jewry, you know?” she said. “Do you work on Shabbat or not? You have trouble earning money because you can’t work on Saturday, and you have to take off for holidays.”

In the Facebook conversation regarding this article, Derek commented that Conservative Judaism “is a good middle ground,” but is this really such an easy choice, like choosing which food items to put on your plate at the local Golden Corral restaurant? Although Tzivia was born into a Reform home, many Jews are born and raised in Orthodox Judaism. It is, for them, more than a “lifestyle.” It’s a life.

The Orthodox Jewish community has a certain mystique.

Whether it’s because we look, act or believe differently, people are intrigued by stories about the Orthodox Jewish community. Media outlets often oblige but whenever I read these stories, they don’t quite resonate with me. They don’t look like the Orthodox community I know. So I’d like to share a few things that happened to me over the last year that give a more accurate insight into the real Orthodox Jewish community.

-Shimon Rosenberg
“The Orthodox Community I Know”
Aish.com

Even in other branches of Judaism, the Orthodox (and there’s more than one expression of Orthodox Judaism, from Modern to Chasidic) are looked at somewhat askance. They are seen as rigid, judgmental, archaic, and even uneducated. Many hold to a very literal understanding that the Earth is 5,774 years old (the current year on the Jewish religious calendar is 5774).

Orthodox JewsOn top of that, the Orthodox are considered the most “rule heavy” expression of Judaism and, as the Tablet Mag article attests, being Orthodox and strictly observant is very expensive.

Contrary to popular belief, not all Jews are wealthy or even comfortably middle-class. Some Jews, like Tzivia Silverstein, are barely making it. But what else is Orthodox Judaism? Let’s return to Shimon Rosenberg’s answers:

My wife and I have experienced fertility problems. We thankfully had been blessed with two children but as they grew older we had been trying for some time to have another child to no avail. One day I was speaking with my rabbi about our situation and I conveyed to him that my wife and I wanted to pursue fertility treatments but because of the steep cost, we were having second thoughts. A few days later my rabbi said that he spoke with an anonymous individual with means in the Jewish community who had agreed to sponsor fertility treatment for young Jewish couples if they could not afford it. He would not know who we were and we would not know who he was. He was motivated purely out of a sense of loyalty to the continuity of the Jewish People.

That’s the Orthodox community I know.

I’ll admit to experiencing a certain amount of dissonance between the Tablet Mag and Aish articles, since you’d think Rosenberg’s Orthodox Judaism would somehow step in and help out Silverstein to the degree that she could acquire a job with an adequate income and not struggle so hard to make ends meet.

I also experienced the same dissonance with how Sue Fishkoff described the Chabad in her book The Rebbe’s Army in relation to some of the experiences my wife has had with the local Chabad Rabbi and Rebbitzen (no, they’re not bad people, but they are human, not the morally and ethically superhuman people Fishkoff often described in her book).

But the costs involved in living Orthodox in Toco Hills continue to rise and there’s only so much help available for lower-income Jewish families:

Many Orthodox families, especially those on the lower end of the economic ladder, simply can’t keep up with the prices. So, they turn to underground charities like Yad L’Yad, an Atlanta-based organization that works exclusively with the area’s Jewish community. According to Esther Pranskey, the organization’s head, the number of recipient families more than doubled when the recession struck and has continued to rise steadily. More than 30 families—including the Silversteins—currently receive provisions of flour, rice, pickles, and other essentials. While basic, the deliveries help ease the pressure. The Silversteins rarely go out to eat, and their meals aren’t extravagant affairs, but they stay fed and they stay kosher.

shabbosBut as Rosenberg attests in his continuing chronicle of his daughter’s birth, there are other occasional helpers:

The excitement began early Friday morning and as the day progressed I started thinking about Shabbat. What would we eat? How would I recite Kiddush? Light candles? I remembered hearing about an organization called Bikkur Cholim which means “visiting the sick.” It’s a volunteer-driven charity that looks after the needs of people in hospital. I called them and within a couple of hours someone came to our hospital room with literally bags of food, grape juice for Kiddush, electric candles to serve as Shabbat candles, even spices for havdallah. The food is free and the person delivering it is a volunteer. In the few moments I had to speak with him I learned that he was just a regular guy — an accountant — who takes off Fridays from work to volunteer for Bikkur Cholim. I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.

That’s the Orthodox community I know.

The Tablet Mag article doesn’t exactly end on an up beat, but it does describe why being Orthodox isn’t just a casual choice:

“I know it’s not the smart thing to do,” Wittenberg said. “I’d love to sell my house and move out somewhere cheaper. There’s not a day goes by when my wife and I don’t talk about it. But I’m a baal teshuvah. I’m choosing to be observant. And if I’m going to struggle through this Torah, then my kids need to have friends. They need to be in the community.”

For Silverstein, it comes down to value instead of cost. In terms of personal and spiritual fulfillment, she says, the neighborhood pays for itself. As heavy as the expenses are, they are necessary sacrifices for belonging to the community. “I see maybe one movie a year,” she said. “I choose to put my kids through religious school instead of buying a nicer car. It’s astounding, the amount of money that other people have, to spend on things like renovating their house or buying a bigger TV. To me, my most important relationship is with God. The material world is a means to an end.”

I’d love to copy and paste all of Rosenberg’s write-up here but I’ll restrain myself to its ending as well:

After two weeks in the hospital, the doctors told us we could go home. In the end, they said they would monitor her condition, but over time it would likely go away on its own.

Our two kids at home were delighted at the return of their baby sister. They helped her and cared for her and nurtured her. As a parent, there’s no better feeling than seeing your children care for one another. Likewise, when God watched how my community took care of my family in our time of need, I think He too had that parental pleasure, so to speak.

I wish I could thank my community publicly for everything that they’ve done but I am writing this under a pseudonym to protect the privacy of my family. But I know that my community doesn’t want a public thank you. They were just doing what they do.

That is the Orthodox community I know.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

Getting back to the Facebook commentary, why would being Orthodox seem to be such as casual selection (and I apologize if I’m mischaracterizing the motives or intent of Derek and the others dialoging in the thread)?

One person made the following comment:

I think Yeshua will be a conservative Jew. Orthodoxy is more interested in keeping Torah( or the rabbinical interpretation of Torah) with rigidity. Creating it to be a burden, and simple works that do not bring us closer to Hashem . Reform is too liberal, and mostly a social club than a house of worship. I believe all Jews want to serve Hashem,they just have different interpretations on how to do it. The MJ I attend leans towards the conservative tradition.

I suppose we all have our own theories on what sort of Judaism Yeshua (Jesus) will advocate and teach upon his return (although Christians probably don’t imagine he’ll practice Judaism at all), but we are operating in a vacuum. We don’t know that Messiah will formally support a currently existing branch of Judaism. But if you read Matthew 23:1-3 as I do, you see Jesus not only agreeing with the teachings of the Pharisees but stating that they had the right to issue binding halachah (legal rulings) for their community, which apparently included Yeshua’s disciples.

That would at least hint that in the future Messianic Age, he will support a more strictly observant lifestyle which probably will include a variety of traditions such as Netilat Yadayim (ritual hand washing). That’s a guess, but I hope it’s an educated guess.

Of course modern Messianic Judaism, like all of the other more normative Judaisms, doesn’t represent a single, overarching identity or philosophy. Derek is affiliated with the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) which he describes as “the oldest (and best) network of Messianic Jewish congregations in the U.S.” If you go to the Introduction page of the Standards section of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council, which provides the oversight for the training and ordination of UMJC Rabbis such as Derek, you can find a PDF document called Standards of Observance which outlines in some detail the “worship, ethics, education, (and) halakhic standards” established by this body. Without going into exquisite detail, those standards seem largely to be Reform with some elements of Conservative Judaism.

I don’t doubt that those particular standards were selected with the majority Gentile attendance of UMJC synagogues in mind. Although I know more than a few non-Jewish people who have basically run out of their churches and into a Messianic Jewish lifestyle of one sort or another, almost all of them are not observing halachah to the level of an Orthodox Jew or anywhere near it.

Messianic Judaism is even now just beginning to emerge into its own as an authentically Jewish expression of Yeshua-faith, but it has a long way to go. As a relatively new branch of Judaism (I realize I’m going to receive a lot of “push back” by calling Messianic Judaism a Judaism at all), it’s still trying to “find its feet,” so to speak. UMJC is only one organization representing Messianic Judaism and its codified standards only apply to the affiliated Rabbis and synagogues under the UMJC banner. Other Messianic Jewish groups (as opposed to One Law/One Torah, Two House, Ephraimite, or Sacred Name groups) may follow different standards, either established by a different umbrella organization or at the level of the individual synagogue/congregation.

Even within those groups, Jewish individuals and families may hold to varying degrees of observance, some more stringent and some less than their faith communities. I’ve found that to be true of many of the Jewish families who attend the local Reform/Conservative shul. I’ve heard some people there comment that they think the Rabbi is “too religious”.

Modern IsraelI say all this not to be unkind to Derek, anyone who has conversed with him on Facebook, the UMJC in particular or Messianic Judaism in general. I am saying that religious Jews all over the world make decisions about what being observant means to them and what their duties to Hashem are in this world.

Both Wittenberg and Silverstein in the Tablet Mag article say they’ve made their choices and that being Orthodox, though sometimes a terrific financial struggle, is worth it to them. They seem to join with Rosenberg in saying that the community life of Orthodox Judaism is woven not just across the collective community, but in each of their individual lives, binding one Jew to another.

Even watching my Jewish wife, who has a fairly relaxed observance, particularly compared to Chabad, relate to other Jews and to the Jewish community (regardless of synagogue affiliation) testifies to this bond between Jews, a bond I can’t be a part of and admittedly don’t really understand. Although my wife wasn’t raised even as a secular/cultural Jew (long story), the “Jewish connection” seems to come from her very DNA and is firmly anchored to her soul. It just needed an expression which my wife has since discovered.

So while I can recognize, at least on the outside (far, far outside) looking in, that living as an Orthodox Jew can be a struggle, I can also see that it has many rewards. I certainly don’t see the justification in criticizing a Jewish person’s decision about how to be a Jew. I know if I tried that with my spouse, she’d promptly explain to me in no uncertain terms that she didn’t need my advice or permission on how to be Jewish (that happened exactly once and I’ll not cross that boundary again).

I apologize if I’ve ruffled feathers, but we must admit that in the present world, there seems to be more than one acceptable manner by which an observant Jew can live as a Jew. When Moshiach comes and teaches Torah, then we will know more.

In the meantime, we should not criticize the level of a Jewish person’s observance, especially if it’s more strict than our own (or rather than another Jew’s observance). The world, including the Christian world, has tried for thousands of years to destroy the Jewish people and Judaism using many and varied means. The current method of choice is assimilation by reducing the Jew’s observance and sense of Jewish identity to zero or close to it, thereby turning that Jewish person into a Gentile with Jewish genes.

I know no one has suggested this, but it’s the natural result of telling a Jew not to be so “religious.”

Utilize every opportunity to become aware of the Almighty’s kindness. This awareness will motivate you to emulate the Almighty and make the attribute of kindness an integral part of your personality.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Necessity of Messianic Jewish Community

Orthodox Judaism is the approach to religious Judaism which adheres to the interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Tanaim and Amoraim and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim.

-from the Wikipedia page on Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox Judaism is not a unified movement with a single governing body, but many different movements adhering to common principles. All of the Orthodox movements are very similar in their observance and beliefs, differing only in the details that are emphasized. They also differ in their attitudes toward modern culture and the state of Israel. They all share one key feature: a dedication to Torah, both Written and Oral.

-from Jewish Virtual Library

Note that the image above and all other images of Jewish people in this blog post are not specifically Messianic Jews. I say this so there will be no mistaken attributions assumed.

There have been some conversations going in the discussion sections of a number of my blog posts. They’re too numerous to reference here, but the general themes have to do with Messianic Jewish community, the role of Gentiles within a Messianic Jewish community space, Bilateral Ecclesiology, and just how “Jewish” Messianic Judaism should be.

Opinions span a broad spectrum as the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots movements do themselves, but this morning, I read a rather interesting article that got my attention:

The Orthodox Jewish community has a certain mystique.

Whether it’s because we look, act or believe differently, people are intrigued by stories about the Orthodox Jewish community. Media outlets often oblige but whenever I read these stories, they don’t quite resonate with me. They don’t look like the Orthodox community I know. So I’d like to share a few things that happened to me over the last year that give a more accurate insight into the real Orthodox Jewish community.

My wife and I have experienced fertility problems. We thankfully had been blessed with two children but as they grew older we had been trying for some time to have another child to no avail. One day I was speaking with my rabbi about our situation and I conveyed to him that my wife and I wanted to pursue fertility treatments but because of the steep cost, we were having second thoughts. A few days later my rabbi said that he spoke with an anonymous individual with means in the Jewish community who had agreed to sponsor fertility treatment for young Jewish couples if they could not afford it. He would not know who we were and we would not know who he was. He was motivated purely out of a sense of loyalty to the continuity of the Jewish People.

That’s the Orthodox community I know.

-Shimon Rosenberg
“The Orthodox Community I Know”
Aish.com

As I read through Mr. Rosenberg’s story about “the Orthodox Community I know,” I was struck by how different this would probably seem to most people who aren’t part of this community, and especially to Christians. Even those Christians who are supportive of the Jewish people and of Israel, don’t always understand (how could they?) Orthodox Judaism in general and the devotion of individual people in Orthodox Judaism to their community, lifestyle, and commitments in specific. And even most Jewish people who are not Orthodox don’t always understand the Orthodox.

Seven years ago, had I encountered the woman I am today, I would have pitied her: long sleeves and an ankle-length skirt in the middle of summer; no driving, writing, talking on the phone or cooking from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday; recently married to a man she’d never touched — not so much as a peck on the cheek — until after the wedding. I’d have cringed and dismissed this woman as a Repressed Religious Nut. Now my pity — or at least a patient smile — is for that self-certain Southern California girl I was at 25.

-Andrea Kahn
“What’s a Nice Cosmo Girl Like You Doing With An Orthodox Husband?”
Aish.com

See what I mean?

Christians especially see Orthodox Jews as rule-bound, rigid, odd (to say the least), and on a path that will certainly lead them to Hell. After all, no one can be made righteous through their own acts as we see here:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

-Isaiah 64:6 (NASB)

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

On that point, Derek Leman recently wrote a blog post called Our Deeds Are Not Filthy Rags which illuminates this matter and adds quite a wrinkle to the traditional Christian interpretation of the Isaiah verse. Also, Jacob Fronczak’s article “Sola Fide” in the latest issue of Messiah Journal deepens the exploration into this important topic.

I’m not trying to create a commentary on the nature of “salvation” and the differences between Christianity and Judaism, I’m just saying that we can’t automatically dismiss how Orthodox Jewish people (or any Jewish community) see their own relationship with God.

My friend Gene Shlomovich made a similar observation today on his blog:

So, the reason G-d chose Israel is because He already loved them and has promised their forefathers that He will take care of them. Does it make Jews somehow better than any other people? Not at all and it’s not the reason behind G-d’s love for Israel. After all, one parent’s child is not inherently better than a child of another parent. Your child is no more deserving of love than someone else’ – she is just yours. G-d loves Israel not because He has some grand plan and purpose for Israel (even though He does) or because Israel will proclaim her G-d and His Torah to all nations (which she certainly will). Neither did G-d set His affections on Israel because, as Christianity claims, “Israel was chosen to give birth to Jesus” and “to give nations the Gospel”, a useful tool that can be discarded once the chief purpose has been accomplished. No, these are all conditional reasons. G-d didn’t set His love on Israel because Israel was somehow capable of earning G-d’s love by her performance. Instead, G-d loves Israel because He loves Israel – that’s all there’s to it.

Depending on which denomination of Christianity you belong to or to which Christian doctrine concerning the Jewish people and Israel you adhere, you may actually believe that God still loves Israel and has future plans for her, but it’s really all about “the Church.” God may still use Israel, but their relationship isn’t what it once was, and God really loves the Church best.

I’m oversimplifying that viewpoint of course. I don’t have time to go into all of the details and you don’t want to read a ten-thousand word blog post.

But look at this:

Nine months later we gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

The excitement began early Friday morning and as the day progressed I started thinking about Shabbat. What would we eat? How would I recite Kiddush? Light candles? I remembered hearing about an organization called Bikkur Cholim which means “visiting the sick.” It’s a volunteer-driven charity that looks after the needs of people in hospital. I called them and within a couple of hours someone came to our hospital room with literally bags of food, grape juice for Kiddush, electric candles to serve as Shabbat candles, even spices for havdallah. The food is free and the person delivering it is a volunteer. In the few moments I had to speak with him I learned that he was just a regular guy — an accountant — who takes off Fridays from work to volunteer for Bikkur Cholim. I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.

That’s the Orthodox community I know.

-Rosenberg

I’m talking about not just God’s love for Israel, but within the Orthodox Jewish community, one Jew’s love for another as well as the community’s love for one Jewish family.

I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.

Jewish Man PrayingThat’s the Orthodox Jewish community most of us, particularly in the Church, don’t see.

No, I’m not saying Orthodox Judaism as a practice or a community is perfect. The fact that it contains human beings means it will, by definition, be imperfect, just as any other form of Judaism will be imperfect, just as any of the estimated 41,000 Christian denominations and their members will be imperfect, just as any human community anywhere across time and space was, is, and will be imperfect.

Jews don’t need to be perfect for G-d to be on their side – G-d already loves them as His own people and nothing can ever change it. No doubt, He has disciplined us when we sinned, and He did that many times. However, at the same time, He’s very merciful. He promised that He will not be angry with us forever (Isaiah 57:16). As that Deuteronomy prophecy promised us G-d Himself will “circumcise” the hearts of all Israel after He brings them to the Land. When He does, all Jews will be Torah-observant, to the last one.

-Shlomovich

The statement that Jews don’t need to be perfect for God to love them, particularly in Orthodox Judaism, might take some Christians by surprise. It is generally thought by some of the Christians I know that Jews believe they have to perform the mitzvot perfectly in order to please God.

Again, I’m steering clear of the whole “salvation” issue, and I’m instead talking about love. Please don’t try to “bust my chops” about Christians being saved and Jewish people not being saved. It’s not what I’m writing about and I won’t approve any comments on the topic.

But what does all this have to do with Messianic Judaism?

It has been argued by many non-Jews affiliated in one way or another with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots, that the “Jewishness” of Messianic Judaism should be toned down a bit. Those Jewish people in the Messianic movement who advocate for wholly Jewish communities for disciples of Yeshua as Messiah are putting Judaism first and Messiah second. I myself have quoted Troy Mitchell of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship as saying:

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

Of course, I usually aim that quote at non-Jews who are so enamored with Jewish practices that they leave faith in Jesus entirely and convert to Judaism, usually Orthodox Judaism. You’d think, given that, I wouldn’t be trying to paint such a rosy picture of Orthodox Judaism here.

But, on the outside looking in, we often criticize things we don’t understand. It’s easy for Christians or just about anyone else to be critical of Orthodox Judaism because we are outsiders. We aren’t like them. We’ve been taught that we should never be like them, and if we tried (by converting or otherwise affiliating with the Jewish community), we would lose our salvation and God’s love.

From an Orthodox Jewish point of view (not that I have that point of view, I just quote articles), God loves Orthodox Jews and, referencing Shimon Rosenberg, Orthodox Jews love each other.

Applied to the Jewish people within the various circles of Messianic Judaism, they are also loved by God and they are also Jews who love each other, both within their specific Jewish communities, and identifying with larger and even worldwide Jewry. That doesn’t mean Yeshua plays second-fiddle to Messianic Judaism anymore than Hashem plays second-fiddle to Orthodox Judaism. From an outsider’s point of view, it seems like an Orthodox Jew’s devotion is to the “rules” first and the will of God second, but as I quoted above:

I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.

The mitzvot, especially those that are performed for the well-being of other people, are done because ”it’s what God wants of us.”

JewishMost non-Jews in Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, and probably not a few Jewish people in those groups believe that it’s unBiblical, racist, and just plain wrong for Jews in Messianic Judaism to desire a community that is primarily or exclusively Jewish. The fact that Gentiles are “grafted-in” to the Jewish community, once called “the Way” and are considered equal co-participants in God’s love make it almost unthinkable that God would still reserve a “specialness” for the Jewish people and that God would not only tolerate but expect that Jews feel a “specialness” for each other.

Gentiles feel excluded by this sentiment among believing Jews. They (we) feel like we are rejected, inferior, second-class citizens, and “back of the bus” riders traveling on the road to the Kingdom.

To counter this, I can see at some point, a Messianic Jewish writer composing and publishing a small article called ”The Messianic Jewish Community I Know,” describing why it is important to have such a Jewish community for Messianic Jews. Granted, the uniqueness of Messianic Judaism when compared to the other Judaisms in our day (or historically), makes it more difficult to operationalize Jewish community within the larger community of disciples of Messiah, and I think we’re still working that out.

But the consequences of failing to support Jewish community within Messianic Judaism can be (and have been) disastrous.

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus 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 part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

-Romans 11:13-16 (NRSV)

According to Mark Nanos in his classic text The Mystery of Romans, the problem Paul was addressing in his letter were Gentiles who were flaunting their “freedom” (not being obligated to Torah observance to the level of the Jews) to the Messianic and non-Messianic Jewish populations of local synagogues in Rome, acting as a “stumbling block,” especially for the non-believing Jews who, because of Gentile arrogance, were inhibited from considering, let alone accepting, faith in Yeshua.

While the Nanos view would be considered controversial by many Christians, it does explain Paul’s rather harsh rebuke or even threat (Romans 11:21) to the “grafted in” branches. Paul was passionate for his people, the Jewish people, even his opponents, and Paul said he would surrender his own salvation if it would save some of them (Romans 9:3).

The Jewish PaulPaul never abandoned his people and God never abandoned Israel. We, as non-Jews, may not understand Jewish “choseness” but it exists. We, as non-Jews may not understand the need for Jewish people to have community specifically within a wholly Jewish context, but it exists. I live it out. I live with a Jewish wife. She needs to be a part of our local Jewish community and even though it is sometimes uncomfortable for me, she needs for me to not be a part of that community.

Admittedly, other intermarried couples share synagogue life, even within Orthodox Judaism (look at Chabad), but given my background in Hebrew Roots and my current relationships within different aspects of Messianic Judaism and normative Christianity (and the fact that our little corner of Idaho makes it difficult to be anonymous), it’s best for her that we have a clean line separating me from that part of her life.

I think it’s because I can see that line on a highly personal level and that I’ve gone through the struggle of making it OK for that line to exist and even to be necessary for my Jewish wife, that I can see the necessity for an exclusively Jewish community within the body of Messiah, too.

Humanity, when completely unbound by G-d’s Laws, when unrestrained by fear of Him, when viewing their fellow human beings not as created in G-d’s image but as an unprofitable animals to be destroyed is at its absolute worst. Unshackled from the divine, humanity is driven to satisfy the desires of its lower, animalistic nature. In such a state, human beings have the capacity to do much evil in their rebellion against the Almighty. Since there’s nothing they can do to G-d Himself, evil people can only resort to rejecting, despising and destroying everything that G-d loves and holds dear. This is why, I believe, Jews have suffered so much during the Holocaust and have been an object of hatred everywhere they went and to this very day. Their identification as the people loved and chosen by G-d has made them the perennial target for the worst humanity has to offer.

-Shlomovich

Gene wrote that in response to the question, ”If G-d is with Jews, why did the Holocaust happen?” Maybe I’m being extreme applying it to the current context, but I believe just because we don’t always understand the relationship God has with the Jewish people and that the Jewish people have with each other, we shouldn’t discount it, either. And as Christians, we absolutely should do nothing to destroy Jewish people and Jewish community. We have been warned.

In Jeremiah 31:3, God said to Israel ”I have loved you with an everlasting love,” and in John 13:34, Jesus gave his Jewish disciples a new commandment to love one another as he loved them. Christians generally apply that “new” commandment to themselves (ourselves), the commandment of self-sacrificial love, but I don’t want to set aside the immediate context in which Jesus uttered these words. He was talking to Jewish disciples within his Jewish community. He knew each and every one of them would suffer and all but John would die in excruciating ways for the sake of Heaven. That’s the kind of love the Jewish Messiah and Rabbi from Nazareth wanted each member of his Jewish community to have for all the other Jewish members.

Again, that doesn’t mean this commandment doesn’t have wider implications, but even Paul, the emissary to the Gentiles went ”first to the Jew” (Romans 1:16 for instance), because the Gospel message, the “good news” of the Kingdom of God, belongs first to the Jew and then also to the rest of the world.

In a comment on one of Derek Leman’s blog posts, I said:

That gets back to the one statement you made among your list of questions: “Maybe what they were impassioned about was the hereafter, the blessed age to come, not so much the Messiah.” In my opinion, the focus really wasn’t so much about the afterlife or eternity, but the restoration of Israel under the Messianic King, who would return the exiles, rebuild the Temple, teach Torah, and bring peace to all the nations of the world, with Israel as the head.

That’s something to be impassioned about in my humble opinion.

Christian and JewishIt’s not comfortable to belong to a group where certain members are more special than you are, especially if their being special has to do with an inborn trait such as, in this case, being Jewish. There’s no way to acquire being Jewish except through conversion, so we can never attain that particular position of being special. We can never fully belong to that group in a way that is identical to what the members of that group have between each other.

We Christians balk at that, in part, because anyone can become a Christian and Jewish Christians in the church (as opposed to Jews in Messianic Judaism) are just like everyone else, identical in role, function, and identity. That’s actually not a good thing, and I have had more than one Jewish person tell me that Jewish conversion to Christianity is just finishing the Holocaust that Hitler started.

Which is a really good reason why Messianic Jewish communities for Messianic Jews is so important and so necessary.

I have no desire to participate in any attempt to remove Jewish people as a distinctive people and community from the face of the Earth. That would be like wanting to remove the Jewish identities and specialness of my wife and three children, and frankly, I wish they were more observant and more mindful of their distinctiveness as Jews. This isn’t to say that I don’t want them to also embrace Messiah, but that’s out of my hands for lots and lots of reasons. I must trust in God that He loves my wife and children, not just because He loves human beings, but because He loves Jews.

Paul said “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). He also said ”If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy” (Romans 11:16), meaning (I believe) if the first fruits, that is, the first Jews to come to faith in Yeshua are holy, all Jewish people, all the branches, are holy. While the Church struggles with the plain meaning of that text, I find it gives me some strength and assurance that God won’t throw the Jewish people in general and my Jewish family in specific under some cosmic bus just for giggles. I trust the Apostle Paul that he was using those words to caution arrogant Gentile believers in the Jewish synagogues in Rome that the calluses on the Jewish heart for Messiah will one day be made smooth and they will be healed.

In the end, all I have is my faith in God that, for the sake of the Jewish people, my Jewish people, my family, they will also be healed and saved.

In the meantime, I accept that there are some places my wife must go that I cannot and should not follow. And as objectionable and offensive as some members of my readership (and beyond) find the term “bilateral ecclesiology” and the concepts behind it, I ask that you try to see Jewish people and Jewish community requirements from my point of view, even if you can’t see it from theirs.

A Plea Against the Custom of Kapparot

kapparotRabbi Yonah Bookstein, an Orthodox Rabbi in Los Angeles, pleads with the Jewish community to stop using chickens for the kapparot ritual. He says using chickens for kapparot violates four different Torah laws: tzaar ba’alei hayyim, creating nevailah, ba’al tashchit, and dina d’malchuta dina.

I know I’m probably going to offend some people, probably Jewish people, but when I saw this, I felt it necessary to make the information public on my blog. I generally support the right of the Jewish community to define and practice their own traditions, but as Rabbi Bookstein points out, not only does this practice directly contradict the Torah, but it is obviously cruel to the animals and has no hope of atoning for sins or benefiting the community in any way.

I had this conversation with my Pastor last week. He lived in Israel for fifteen years, so he’s witnessed this practice many times.

But if you are a Christian or are otherwise not familiar with this practice, you may be asking what Kapparot is and what’s the big deal. Jewish Virtual Library is just one place that provides the answer:

Kapparot is a custom in which the sins of a person are symbolically transferred to a fowl. It is practiced by some Jews shortly before Yom Kippur. First, selections from Isaiah 11:9, Psalms 107:10, 14, and 17-21, and Job 33:23-24 are recited; then a rooster (for a male) or a hen (for a female) is held above the person’s head and swung in a circle three times, while the following is spoken: “This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement; this rooster (or hen) shall go to its death, but I shall go to a good, long life, and to peace.” The hope is that the fowl, which is then donated to the poor for food, will take on any misfortune that might otherwise occur to the one who has taken part in the ritual, in punishment for his or her sins.

You can click on the link and read more of the details, and it’s to the credit of the creators of this content on Jewish Virtual Library that they list the significant objections to this Yom Kippur tradition, which does not appear in either the Torah or the Talmud.

The following video is about four minutes long and I think Rabbi Yonah Bookstein makes his case well. Be warned that some of the images in the video are graphic.

Addendum: September 11, 2013: According to VirtualJerusalem.com, there is a small but growing movement among Orthodox Rabbis and others in the Jewish community protesting this practice:

Last week, the recently elected Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, David Lau, warned kapparot organizers that the failure to treat animals decently is a violation of religious law.

And a number of other prominent rabbis have expressed concern that the ritual, in which chickens are hauled into dense urban centers by the truckload, makes it virtually impossible to adhere to the principle of “tzaar baalei chayim,” which prohibits inflicting suffering on animals.

Given that there are other appropriate methods of satisfying the kapparot requirement, such as waving money instead of chickens, it seems more reasonable and more in keeping with Jewish tradition to finally set aside the practice of using poultry.

Kosher Jesus, A Book Review

In my neighborhood, we did not even mention his name. We said “Yoshke,” a Hebrew play on his name, or some children learned to say “cheese and crust” in place of “Jesus Christ.” In a synagogue sermon, rabbis might refer to Jesus – exceedingly rarely – by saying “the founder of Christianity.”

Fundamentally, we understood Jesus as a foreign deity, a man worshipped by people. The Torah instructs us never to mention the names of other gods, as no other god exists except God. We also understood Jesus to be as anti-Jewish as his followers. Was he not the Jew who had rebelled against his people? Was he not the one who instructed his followers to hate the Jews as he did, instigating countless cruelties against those with whom God had established an everlasting covenant? Was he not also the man who had abrogated the Law and said that the Torah is now mostly abolished?

So begins Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s narrative in the Preface to his latest (and perhaps most controversial) book Kosher Jesus. Rabbi Boteach paints for us, a typical picture of how an Orthodox Jewish boy growing up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood understands the Christian Jesus.

The picture isn’t very flattering to Christians.

You might be wondering why Rabbi Boteach would choose to write a book about Jesus. After all, most Jewish people are, at best, neutral about the existence of the itinerant Jewish rabbi who wandered the through the countryside and towns of Roman occupied Judea in the First Century of the Common Era. Why would an Orthodox Jewish rabbi draw attention to Jesus in anyway? If you’ve been reading the media stories about the sort of attention this book has been receiving, you already know it’s been less than complimentary, both from Christian sources and the Orthodox Jewish community. This book seems to please no one.

So why did Rabbi Boteach write it?

Kosher Jesus sets the stage for Jews and Christians to bridge their differences and come together for the first time through the personality of Jesus himself – the hero, martyr, and teacher that they both share.

This paragraph, taken from the cover flap of the book, provides an “in a nutshell” summary of Boteach’s reasons for creating this much-talked-about work, and it provides us with his goal: to create a connection between Judaism and Christianity across the back of the Jewish Jesus.

Was he successful in achieving his goal?

Not as far as I can tell today, at least on the surface. Of course, it may take months, or even years, to determine the larger impact on the Jewish and Christians communities. One immediate effect we can see is that just about every one with a vested interest in the “reputation” of Jesus is talking about this book. A number of Orthodox Rabbis have outright forbidden their communities to even read the Boteach book (and nothing makes a book more irresistible than when it has been censored) and I can only imagine what (if anything) Christian Pastors are telling their flocks about “Kosher Jesus” from the pulpit.

If Rabbi Boteach had the goal of drawing attention to his book and himself, he has certainly succeeded. He has been known as “the media Rabbi” and has attracted criticism more than once in the past for his statements and associations (particularly with the late Michael Jackson). If his goal was to start a great deal of dialog (polite and otherwise) around the subject of his book, the Jewish Jesus Christ, he has succeeded in this as well, at least in the short term. But is he going to be able to inspire Jewish and Christian audiences to find something in common by “sharing” Jesus?

As I’ve been reading this book, I’ve shared a few of my own insights in various blog posts. I focused on how the Christian community might see the book in my prior write up, Kosher Jesus: The Undivine Savior. In order to emphasize the “Jewishness” of Jesus and make him even somewhat attractive to other Jews, Boteach had to completely deconstruct traditional Christian theology about the “Lord and Savior,” transforming him from the Son of God and prophesied Messiah, to a man born of two Jewish parents, a carpenter turned Rabbi, who fancied himself a would-be Messiah (in Judaism, the Messiah is not expected to be supernatural and particularly not expected to be divine), and ultimately, a man who died as a noble but failed political dissident.

Not exactly the typical Christian view of Jesus.

Scholars who have reviewed this book (and I’m no scholar) have criticized Boteach for his heavy usage of material created by Hyam Maccoby regarding Jesus. In fact, Maccoby’s own views on Jesus have been characterized: Maccoby’s thesis as “perverse misreading” and concluded “Thus I must conclude that Maccoby’s book is not good history, not even history at all.” (Steven T. Katz The Holocaust in Historical Context: The holocaust and mass death before the modern age 1994 “Maccoby’s last work has been devastatingly reviewed, and quite properly so, by John Gager, “Maccoby’s The Mythmaker,” JQR 79.2-3 [October–January 1989], 248-250; to which Maccoby replied, “Paul and Circumcision: A Rejoinder,” JQR). So to use the vernacular, Boteach may have “shot himself in the foot” when he decided to base his depiction of Jesus almost completely on Maccoby’s work.

Since I can’t speak from a Jewish point of view, I must wonder from a Christian perspective, how Rabbi Boteach expects to unite Jews and Christians around their “commonality” in a Jesus Christ who is so unlike the Jesus most Christians find in church? Also, in answering the Christian question, “Why the Jews Cannot Accept Jesus” (Part IV of the book), Boteach creates a Jesus who absolutely must be rejected by Judaism as Messiah, and he describes any person or group who worships a man as if he is a god as idolatrous. Christianity’s insistence on a “three-in-one” God adds polytheism to the mix, and both idolatry and polytheism are anathema to the staunchly monotheistic Jewish people. Rabbi Boteach depicts a church that has to be hopelessly confused to believe Jesus is God, yet Boteach also says this:

I say this not to offend Christian believers, nor to dissuade adherents from living a Christian life. (pg 149)

But if, by definition, Christians are deluded by a terrible misunderstanding of the New Testament text, heavily biased editing of the original teachings of Jesus, and the traitorous actions of the Apostle Paul, to believe that a young Jewish rabbi and revolutionary is actually God incarnate, how can Rabbi Boteach not dissuade believers “from living a Christian life?” He’s just spent the first two-thirds of his book explaining why Christianity has everything completely wrong about who Jesus was, what he saw as his purpose in life, and especially the fact that he has no power to forgive sins and save souls. If anything, Boteach seems to have pounded home the final wedge that will forever separate Christians and Jews.

God is the one great truth. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are paths that bring us to Him. One finds God through personal discovery usually directed by the faith in which one is reared, practiced by one’s ancestors. The merit of any religion is established not by a test of its theological claims but by the goodness of its followers. Therefore, any religion that leads to a good and Godly life has authenticity and truth, even if we cannot embrace all of its theological claims. (pp 149-50)

That probably seems like an insane statement to most Christians. We are taught that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6), so either you’re in or out. We are taught that the only way to God is to “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31). There are no other options, according to traditional Christianity. There is only one doorway to salvation and it’s not through anything we can do. Our only participation in our own salvation is belief and faith in Jesus Christ.

But in Judaism, it isn’t what you believe, it’s what you do that matters. If, in the name of your religion, you feed the hungry, visit the sick, build an orphanage for homeless and abandoned children, or act as a peacemaker between a feuding husband and wife, then that is how you will be judged. You could be a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim and it’s all the same. That seems to be what Rabbi Boteach is saying, and that is the basis on which he expects his readers to build the bridge between Judaism and Christianity, using the Jesus we see in his book.

In real life, it doesn’t work out that way. Judaism, unlike Christianity, doesn’t believe there is a single path to God, but it does believe there are specific paths. If you’re a Jew, your path is the Torah, living a life of righteous acts, prayer, and ritual worship. If you are any other people group or religion, your path is in obedience to the Seven Noahide Laws. If you are compliant to these seven basic requirements, (these laws are deceptively simple, since they can be subdivided into almost a hundred “sub-laws”) you merit a place in the world to come and are considered by the Jews as a righteous Gentile.

But by definition, a typical Christian cannot be considered a righteous Gentile because, in believing Jesus is God, the believer violates the prohibition against Idolatry. There have been exceptions, such as those Christians who, during the Holocaust, made great efforts to protect the Jews from the Nazis and who rescued Jewish people from being sent to the death camps, but those exceptions are few and far between. It is also true that the Talmud has much to say about Jews maintaining good relations with everyone, including idol worshipers, for the ways of peace:

“They said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that no man ever greeted him first, even idol worshippers in the market” [i.e., Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was the first to greet every person, even idol worshippers] (Berachot 17). At the same location the sage Abaye advocated soft speech and words of peace to everyone, especially including idol worshippers.

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

Nevertheless, the Tanya, an early work of Hasidic philosophy used heavily in Kabbalah, has less complementary things to say about all non-Jews:

The souls of the nations of the world, however, emanate from the other, unclean kelipot which contain no good whatever, as is written in Etz Chayim, Portal 49, ch. 3, that all the good that the nations do, is done out of selfish motives. So the Gemara comments on the verse, “The kindness of the nations is sin” — that all the charity and kindness done by the nations of the world is only for their self-glorification…

as quoted from
“Lessons in Tanya”
Chabad.org

I know I’m throwing a huge monkey wrench into the machine, but it’s important to define the barriers to Rabbi Boteach’s stated goals, both from the Christian and Jewish perspectives. All I’m saying is that nearly 2,000 years of strife between Christians and Jews will not be repaired for the sake of a single book which depicts the historical Jesus in a manner that most Christians and Jews will not be able to accept.

So what’s good about this book? More than you might think, given everything I’ve just written. Actually, I think Christians can benefit from quite a few things Boteach has to say about Jesus, not in terms of historical accuracy, but in introducing the believer to the Jewish Jesus. There is no doubt that Jesus was (and is) a Jewish man and rabbi who taught lessons that were completely consistent with the Law of Moses, who did not break the Shabbat or any of the other mitzvot as Christianity imagines, and who did not expect even the tiniest portions of the Torah to be extinguished until Heaven and Earth themselves were extinguished (Matthew 5:18).

Christian supersessionism is responsible for the legacy of crimes against the Jewish people which the church suffers from even today. It is also the source of a terrible misconception about who Christ was and is, both in relation to the descendents of Jacob and to the non-Jewish disciples of Jesus. If we can absorb some sort of understanding of the Jewish identity of Jesus into the theology and doctrine of the modern church, perhaps we can be instrumental in building a better bridge between us and the Jewish people. We might also (and this is probably an unintended effect by Rabbi Boteach, but it fits so well) find a way, as Christians, to understand those Jews who have faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and who also continue to live a completely Jewish ethnic, cultural, and religious life.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s book Kosher Jesus is both deeply flawed and irresistibly compelling. For many, it will be “the book you love to hate” but it is also a window, albeit a shaded and distorted one, into the Jewish perspective on the Jewish Jesus. If you are a Christian who cannot tolerate any portrait of your Savior besides the one you encounter in the pew of your church on Sunday morning, then this book will seem horrifying. However, if you are a little adventurous and want to seek out the portions of wheat this book offers among the chaff, then Kosher Jesus may be worth your while. I don’t agree with a great deal that Rabbi Boteach had to say about Jesus, but I also learned a few things. I don’t regret reading his book.

At the Intersection of Intolerance and Humanity

Greenberg-weddingFor the first time in history, Steve Greenberg, an openly-gay American rabbi ordained by the Orthodox movement, has officiated at a same-sex wedding ceremony.

On Thursday night at Washington DC’s “Historic 6th and I Synagogue,” Greenberg stood under the chupah, a traditional Jewish wedding canopy, as newlyweds Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan tied the knot before some two-hundred guests. Recognizing the unique – and controversial – moment, Greenberg’s voice notably cracked when near the end he stated, “By the power invested in me by the District of Columbia, I now pronounce you married.”

-by Roee Ruttenberg
“Orthodox rabbi marries gay couple in historic wedding in Washington, DC”
+972.com

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. -Leviticus 18:22

Warning. If this is a topic that pushes all your buttons, makes you see red, or otherwise causes you to lose all control of your emotions because you think homosexuality is a worse sin than murder, rape, bank robbery, embezzlement, and stealing from a five-year old’s piggy bank all rolled into one, then you should stop reading right now and either close your web browser or just move on to a different, more politically correct (religiously correct?) blog. End of disclaimer.

I probably shouldn’t do this. I probably shouldn’t write a blog on this topic. People tend to become horribly polarized about this sort of thing and it will most likely end up in a verbal bloodbath. On the other hand, I’m still trying to figure out how an Orthodox Rabbi could marry a same-sex couple. No, that’s not right. I know why, or at least part of “why”. The news story says so.

Greenberg is no stranger to controversy. He publicly admitted his sexuality following his ordination from an Orthodox rabbinical school, making him the first openly gay practicing Orthodox rabbi.

Greenberg gained notoriety following his role in the 2001 documentary by an American filmmaker, “Trembling Before G-d,” which portrayed the conflicts of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews trying to reconcile their religious convictions and sexual orientations. After the films successful release, Greenberg traveled with director Sandi Simcha Dubowski, screening the film globally.

What I’m wondering is how Orthodox Judaism even remotely “fits” with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. If a Christian man had been ordained as a Fundamentalist Pastor and then announced that he was gay, I can only imagine his ordination would be yanked out from under him faster than he could blink. More than that, if he continued in his role of Pastor in a fundamentalist Christian church, I can’t possibly imagine he’d have much of a following, at least much of a traditionally conservative fundamentalist Christian following.

Shifting the context back to Orthodox Judaism, Rabbi Greenberg doesn’t seem to be having any of these problems. Well, not exactly.

While he (Greenberg) was warmly received by many (after publicly announcing that he was gay), his book, “Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition,” led him to be shunned by some in the Orthodox community and even by some gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews who felt his views did not align with Orthodox readings of Jewish law. His participation in Thursday’s ceremony will be viewed by some as a step that crosses a line of no return.

While a number of same-sex couples – many of them Jewish – have now married in US areas that recently legalized gay and lesbian unions, none were officiated by a rabbi who holds Orthodox ordination. The movement maintains a strict interpretation of Jewish law, including the biblical verse found in Leviticus 18 which refers to a man lying with another man as an abomination.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time Orthodox Judaism and same-sex marriage issues have appeared in the news. In a news item published at advocate.com, the Orthodox community pushed back against support of two men getting married, which is kind of what I’d expect to happen. Why didn’t it happen this time when Rabbi Greenberg married a same-sex couple in D.C.?

Greenberg_steve_rabbiPerhaps there is some fallout yet to come from Rabbi Greenberg’s role in marrying Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan. After all, this just happened last Thursday. But Greenberg has apparently been an Orthodox Rabbi and openly gay for years and as far as the source article goes, there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

I didn’t write this blog to bash gays or to bash the Orthodox or to bash anyone. I wrote it to try and understand how this apparent dissonance can not only occur but subsist over time. I know that Rabbinic interpretation of Torah can reveal details that are not readily apparent on the surface, but how do you, especially in an Orthodox context, reconcile Leviticus 18:22 with performing a ceremony joining two men in a Jewish marriage?

OK, this would not be such as head-scratcher if the wedding ceremony were officiated by a Reform, Reconstructionist, and even (lately) Conservative Rabbi, but an Orthodox Rabbi and one who is openly gay?

I don’t get it.

I’m tempted to think it’s an application of the following, but somehow, I don’t think it’s true.

Intolerance lies at the core of evil. Not the intolerance that results from any threat or danger. Not the intolerance that arises from negative experience. Just intolerance of another being who dares to exist, who dares to diminish the space in the universe left for you. Intolerance without cause.

It is so deep within us, because every human being secretly desires the entire universe to himself. Our only way out is to learn compassion without cause. To care for each other simply because that ’other’ exists.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Intolerance”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I don’t think that gay marriage or intolerance of homosexuality in the Orthodox community is what Rabbi Freeman was writing about. I don’t think (but who am I to know) that the Rebbe would have supported an Orthodox Rabbi being openly gay and performing a same-sex wedding ceremony. The mixing of Orthodox Judaism and free acceptance of gay marriage just does not compute.

On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of blogging time trying to figure out how or if the very significant differences between Christianity and Judaism can be reconciled and made to live peacefully and even productively with each other. Can these two situations somehow be compared? If the relationship between Christianity and Judaism can flex over time, is it possible that Orthodox Judaism’s viewpoint of Leviticus 18:22 can flex, too?

jewish-wedding-customsBefore someone says it in a comment, I know the classic response to these questions is to say that there is no question. Sin is sin and Rabbi Greenberg is sinning, both by being gay and by using the authority of his Rabbinic standing to marry two men. I also know someone is (probably) going to say that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” I realize these are the answers we’ve been taught to produce, but it doesn’t actually address what you do with human beings. When you meet a gay person, do you automatically start shaking your finger at him or her and cry “Sinner, repent” in their face? If your brother or nephew, or daughter has a friend and you all go out to dinner together, when it pops out that the friend is gay (you can have a friend who is gay and just be friends), how do you respond?

I’m know I’m asking a lot questions. Stereotypes and gut reactions aside, when you are face to face with a gay person, as a person of faith, how do you deal with that? When you hear about or meet someone who apparently is deeply religious and loves God but lives a lifestyle that, in one single dimension, goes against everything you’ve been taught is right, true, and holy, what do you do with it? Whoever administers the ordination for Rabbi Greenberg hasn’t stopped him from practicing as an Orthodox Rabbi. There are gay people who, even knowing exactly how Orthodox Judaism thinks and feels about homosexuality, nevertheless, choose to practice and adhere to (except for that one dimension) Orthodox halacha rather than shifting to a more liberal form of religious Judaism.

This isn’t a matter of gays in a liberal synagogue or a liberal church. This is, or perhaps just seems to be, the start of acceptance of human beings into Orthodox Judaism who previously would have been shunned. Is the world just disintegrating morally or are we at the intersection of our faith and the realization that gay people are also people?

I don’t know what to do with this. The comments section is now open. Please be polite or at least civil, but what do you think?