First Steps on a Somewhat Familiar Path

How do we maintain a balance between the values of centralized authority and personal autonomy in halachik decision making, particularly for status issues that relate to the global Jewish community such as conversion policies and standards? How do we provide and promote a ‘big tent’ philosophy welcoming Rabbis who share different approaches and philosophies while at the same time maintain boundaries of acceptable halachik and hashkafic (ideological) ideas and behavior? How should the agenda of the Jewish community be set and how should we leverage our limited resources? How can we collaborate and create synergy with leadership of the greater Jewish community without compromising or diluting authentic and authoritative Torah positions and messages?

-Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
04 November 2011
“Let’s be like Avraham and Sarah and change the world one person at a time”
brsonline.org

Interesting questions and probably, in some sense, not limited to the world of Modern Orthodox Judaism. When I was reading Rabbi Goldberg’s article, I couldn’t help but think of those congregations of Jews who are asking similar questions within the context and fellowship of worshiping Jesus or Yeshua, recognizing him as the Messiah who has come and will come again. While mainstream Judaism has definite beliefs regarding Jews who acknowledge Jesus in this light, the questions regarding identity and the desire to “collaborate and create synergy with leadership of the greater Jewish community without compromising or diluting authentic and authoritative Torah positions and messages” is very much the same.

These questions are frequently debated in the blogosphere at places such as Yinon Blog, Messianic Jewish Musings, Kineti L’Tziyon, and Daily Minyan, just to name a few. These can be questions that are very difficult for Christians to understand. This is not to say that individual Christian churches and denominations do not struggle with matters of theology and identity in relation to the larger Body of Christ, but that the nature and substance of that struggle is markedly different.

Both mainstream Judaism and mainstream Christianity have a difficult time looking at Jews who accept Jesus as the Messiah as truly Jewish. I know. It’s strange. But as I’ve pointed out in some of my previous blog posts such as The Tannaitic Rabbi, not only does Jesus definitely fit the model of a late Second Temple period itinerant Rabbi, but he is virtually impossible to understand when removed from his ancient Jewish context. In that, those Jews who see him from that perspective, recognize him as Rabbi, Prophet, and Messiah. This would not be very likely (or even possible), should these Jewish believers follow the pattern desired by the church of coming to faith in Jesus, converting to Christianity, and leaving all traces of their Jewish lifestyle, heritage, and identity behind. I could even argue that a Jew must continue being Jewish as a believer in the Jewish Messiah if they are to be true to their faith. In other words, Jews who are “Messianic” must be “Messianic Jews”, and continue to live an ethnically and religiously authentic Jewish lifestyles if they are to be able to grasp the Messiah as the Messiah and not “the Christ”.

In his blog post, Rabbi Goldberg continues:

As we dialogued and debated questions like these and others, I couldn’t help but think about an important statistic that weighs heavily on me. In a world of billions of people, there are only 15 million Jews. Of them, only a small fraction are Orthodox and within Orthodoxy, only a small fraction define themselves as Modern Orthodox.

tallit-prayerIf advancing the goals of Modern Orthodox Judaism in light of its modest Jewish population seems a challenging task to Rabbi Goldberg, how much more of a challenge is establishing and advancing Messianic Judaism, particularly with limited understanding and support from both larger Judaism and larger Christianity? As Rabbi Joshua Brumbach, Senior Rabbi at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue in Beverly Hills, CA recently wrote, there is a rich history of Jews within the last 150 years, particularly noteworthy Rabbis, who all came to faith in the “Tannaitic Rabbi of Nateret” and who continued to live Jewish lives, worship in Jewish synagogues, and in many cases, continued to serve as Rabbis, within their Jewish communities. The Messianic community strives to progress and expand the work of these courageous pioneers in the 21st century. Interestingly enough, Rabbi Goldberg in his encouraging statement regarding Modern Orthodox Judaism, also can be said to map out the territory for the Messianic community of Jews.

If this goal seems unachievable and out of reach, I encourage you to look no further than this week’s parsha and our great patriarch Avraham Avinu and his partner Sarah. They lived in a world saturated with paganism, corruption and selfishness and yet had the courage to articulate and spread the revolutionary message of ethical monotheism. They lived in a world with no mass media, email, social networking, youtube videos, microphones, billboards or newspapers and yet, look at the result of their efforts. Billions of people across the globe believe in one God and the Jewish values of justice, charity and ethical living. Avraham and Sarah likely never dreamt they would earn international fame and acclaim for their efforts. They simply believed they had a magnificent treasure and wanted to share it with others one at a time.

Let’s be like Avraham and Sarah and change the world one person at a time beginning with inspiring ourselves, our family members and those around us.

How are we to understand worshiping Jesus as the ancient Jewish expression of Rabbi and Messiah within the context of modern Jewish worship and halacha? How can the first century Jewish Messiah be seen through the lens of Torah, Talmud, and perhaps even Kabbalah? The answers to these questions are struggling to be born and to take their first breath in the world. They take their first steps, even on a somewhat familiar path, as all new things do, one at a time. The rest of us may not understand, but we can still be there to support and encourage and to hope.

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4 thoughts on “First Steps on a Somewhat Familiar Path”

  1. Shalom James,

    “Both mainstream Judaism and mainstream Christianity have a difficult time looking at Jews who accept Jesus as the Messiah as truly Jewish. I know. It’s strange.”

    Your quote sums up perfectly the challenges we Messianic Jews face. And yet despite these (and many other) challenges, our undeniable encounter with the “Tannaitic Rabbi of Natzeret” obligate us to live in a way we believe is consistent for us, as Jews who follow a Jewish Messiah.

    Great post and discussion. I agree that Rabbi Goldberg’s thoughts can inspire our community as well.

  2. Hi Josh,

    I read Rabbi Goldberg’s blog and it had “Messianic Jewish struggle” written all over it (not that it was his intent as a Modern Orthodox Jewish Rabbi). One of the things I was trying to communicate was that Messianic Judaism has a very Jewish struggle that is very much like other Jewish communities. To my way of thinking, that shows me MJ is on the right track in establishing a Judaism as opposed to a “Christianity”.

    Tomorrow’s “morning meditation” is called “oto ha’ish”, which has a much less “optomistic” feel but communicates a different aspect of Christian/Jewish interaction that also impacts MJ. Hope you’ll be back tomorrow.

    Thanks.

    -J

  3. Yeah, Modern Orthodoxy’s future is uncertain. And yet MO has far greater cohesion than MJ will likely ever have. There’s ten different things all calling themselves Messianic Judaism. It is a hodgepodge with fringe elements.

  4. I’m not sure I can adequately express my response Andrew, but in reading Rabbi Goldberg’s article, I’m reminded of the most “traditionally Jewish” expressions of MJ. As you say, there are many different expressions, but many of them are only superficially “Jewish”. I see the comparision between MOJ and MJ in relation to the Jewish commonalities between the two groups.

    As I said in the main body of my blog:

    While mainstream Judaism has definite beliefs regarding Jews who acknowledge Jesus in this light, the questions regarding identity and the desire to “collaborate and create synergy with leadership of the greater Jewish community without compromising or diluting authentic and authoritative Torah positions and messages” is very much the same.

    The compassion between MO and other aspects of MJ degrades and finally breaks down completely as we examine the various MJ subgroups that are less and less traditionally Jewish and in fact, many of these “expressions” are markedly more Christian than Jewish, making a comparision with MO practically irrelevant.

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