Where Will We Find the Root of David?

lion-of-judahThere is another familiar case in which adjectives may cause more confusion than clarification: the misleading labels of “Orthodox”, “Conservative”, “Reform”, “Reconstructionist”, “Unaffiliated”, “Ashkenazic”, “Sephardic”, etc. It’s important to ask whether or not these words have anything to do with who we are in our kishkas (insides)! If we were able to perform a Litmus Test on our souls – or perhaps a “Litmus Configuration” on our souls, for “Midnight Run” fans who are more familiar with the Grodin/DeNiro technique for counterfeit money inspection – would we actually expect to find any trace of these labels? Do we really think that just as there are various blood types, a litmus test would reveal various “soul types”, such as AJ (Ashkenazic Jew), OJ (Orthodox Jew), UJ (Unaffiliated Jew), etc.? Do these labels somehow exist as “spiritual-chemical” elements on some kind of “Spiriodic Table”?

It’s crucial to keep in mind that the essential soul of a Jew has no such adjectives! A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. And the more we learn to focus on our shared essence, the more we can appreciate the splendor of our true unity! May G-d grant us the wisdom to continually discern the differences between external adjectives and essential nouns!

-Jon Erlbaum
“Birthright Battles & Material Worlds”
Insights from Torah Portion Toldos

It’s unfair to characterize a uniform Jewish view on just about any topic. As soon as you start talking about different periods [in history], it’s almost impossible to answer any question unless you specify what Jews, where and when. Essentially, uniformity of Jewish thought is impossible to find.

-Alan Cooper
Provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York
as quoted by jweekly.com

Seems confusing, doesn’t it? We have Erlbaum saying that regardless of the various differences between Jews, in fact, a “Jew is a Jew is a Jew.” We also have Cooper saying that it’s “unfair to characterize a uniform Jewish view on just about any topic.” Which view of Jewish people is correct? Probably both. Is this a problem?

Nope. Well, maybe.

A large part of this blog is devoted to trying to gather some sort of understanding about the Jewish classic religious texts and, in my case, attempting to apply that knowledge and insight to the faith of one, lone Christian. Me. If anyone else finds something of value here, then I am honored to have recorded it. But given Erlbaum and Cooper, it seems as if my search for knowledge will not be an easy one. There is not one “Judaism” that exists immutable and unchangeable across time from Moses and Sinai to the twenty-first century that we can point to and say, “that’s what it means to be Jewish” or “that’s the sum of the Torah.” If that’s the case, then what am I looking for?

Hillel told a would-be convert this:

“A gentile once came to convert to Judaism, on the condition that he could learn the whole Torah while standing on one foot. He approached Shammai, who rejected him, so he went to Hillel, who taught him: “’That which you dislike don’t do to your fellow: That’s the basis of Torah. The rest is commentary; go learn!” –Shabbos 31

A generation later, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Jesus said something similar:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22:36-40

This past week on my blog, I’ve been drawing a sharp contrast between religion and faith as well as between Judaism and Christianity. It seems as if these two poles at each end of the religious spectrum keep getting in each other’s way. It’s easy to see why most Jews don’t want to even touch the New Testament and why most Christians are relieved when their Pastors tell them that the Law is dead. It’s much less confusing to believe that one religion has nothing to do with the other and that Jews and Christians can remain self-contained within their own “silos” and not wonder or worry about what’s going on elsewhere.

Of course, to do this, Jews must come to the final conclusion that Jesus could never have been the person he claimed to be and that even if he was a good Jewish teacher, Paul twisted those teachings into a very Torah-bereft religion for the Gentiles. Christians, for their part, must believe that Jesus, born of a Jewish mother and of the line of David, did a very “unJewish” thing. They must believe that he lived a life in complete contradiction to everyone around him, somehow managing to gain a large following of Jewish disciples by preaching the Gospel of freedom from the Law and nailing the Torah to the cross. That last part is especially hard to believe. It would be like Joel Osteen visiting the biggest Orthodox synagogue in Houston, Texas during a Shabbat service and expecting to gain a large following of the Jews by taking their Torah scroll and lighting it on fire.

the-teacherYou can only believe all of that if you choose to remain in your silos, both in community and in mind, and refuse to consider the alternative. You also will be unable to explain men like Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein, Chief Rabbi in the Northern District of Hungry, Rabbi Daniel Zion, Chief Rabbi of Bulgaria, Rabbi Israel Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Rome, and scores of other Jewish people (see Rabbi Joshua Brumbach’s Yinon blog for more information) who amazingly found the Jewish Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ, the man, prophet, and Messiah who neither denied the Torah nor abandoned his people, the Jews. They found that there is no inconsistency between being Jewish and discovering their Moshiach in the pages of the New Testament.

But these people are exceedingly rare among both Jews and Christians. 2,000 years of heinous persecution of the Jewish people by Christians explains why the vast majority of Jews are extremely hesitant (to put it mildly) to consider the validity of Christianity, but what makes Christians so adamant about rejecting the Judaism of Jesus?

To be perfectly blunt: I must say the Christians have robbed the Jews! And perhaps what is worse is that this thievery has been encouraged by theologians, pastors, and even Sunday School teachers, where small children are taught to sing the song, “Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line.”

Every promise in Scripture in some way benefits Christians, but it is not all promised to Christians. Sometimes the thievery has been inadvertent and unintentional. It’s like thinking that the raincoat hanging in the office closet is yours for wearing home because of unexpected showers. Hopefully, you will discover the raincoat belongs to a fellow worker and you will restore it. It is not as if Christians do not have the greatest promise of God, which is 1 John 2:25: “And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”

-Moishe Rosen
as quoted from the Foreword of Pastor Barry E. Horner’s book
Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged

This isn’t happening in just the traditional church setting, either.

One of the consequences is that many Jews are starting to feel like the “other” in what we thought was a Jewish movement. IMO, limitations on Gentile involvement – some of which are legitimate, in my view – arise in large part from a sense of that a majority of our movement no longer feels that it is essential or even important for us to remain demographically Jewish. This isn’t just a feeling on my part: it comes from numerous conversations with Gentiles and Jews in our movement. I routinely ask, “Do you think we need a majority of Jews in the movement to legitimately call ourselves ‘Jewish’?” Apart from obnoxious Jews like myself (and a smaller number of Gentiles), the answer is almost universally “no.” The discomfort increases when the percentage is lowered: 40%? 25%? 10% – “Ten percent – a tithe. That sounds right!” How about less 5%?” It turns out that it’s very difficult for these otherwise reasonable folks to assign any bottom limit to the percentage of Jews necessary to call our movement, or a congregation, Jewish.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council
as quoted in the comments section of
Morning Meditations

Sometimes I say to myself as a kind of joke that, “if God hadn’t replaced the Jews with the Christians, then the Christians would have done it themselves.” It’s a personal “joke”, though a very sad one, because that’s exactly what Christianity did: decide to replace the Jews in the covenant promises of God, all of them, with Christians. Small wonder that Jews don’t want to anything to do with Christianity and that attempting to convert a Jew to become a Christian is considered deeply insulting by Jews. Christians believe that in order for a Jew to come to faith in the “Jewish” (I put the word in quotes because from the church’s point of view, the “Jewishness” of Jesus was undone on the cross) Messiah, he or she must completely deconstruct their own Jewish identity and remake themselves as a Christian goy. Yeah, like Jesus, Peter, and Paul did that to themselves, right?

Supersessionism isn’t just an artifact of the past but a lived reality of the present. Many churches still comfortably believe that Judaism is a “dead religion”, that Jesus did away with the law, that God changed His infinite mind about choosing Israel, played a game of bait and switch with the Israelites, ripped the covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob away from the Jews, and devoted His love, compassion, and mercy exclusively to Christianity.

Ironically, as Rabbi Kinbar points out, a form of supersessionism also seems to have invaded the one religious movement that exists to allow a Jew to live and worship as a Jew and yet be a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah and Savior. It’s like Gentile Christians just can’t stand the idea that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). We know from examples we read about in Acts 10 and Acts 15 that the Jewish disciples were responsible for carrying the Word of salvation to the Gentiles and administering how it was to be interpreted, but at the point where Gentiles began to outnumber Jews in the “Nazerene” faith, we also began to rewrite the rules and scriptural interpretations. We stacked the deck in our favor and loaded the dice so the Jews didn’t even have a chance. We invented a system whereby the Jews lost all control and involvement in their own Messiah and we would only let them back in if they agreed to stop being Jewish and to turn into us.

Fat chance. Why should they?

Tree of LifeWe’ve gotten it all backward. We’ve put the cart before the horse. We’ve elevated ourselves to place God never intended us to be. Romans 11:17-20 is Paul’s cautionary tale to the Gentiles about becoming arrogant with being grafted in at the expense of the natural branches. The Tanakh is replete with examples of God restoring those branches and when He does, what will become of us and our so-called “replacement” of the Jews? How will the grafted in answer for the insult to the natural branch of the vine?

More than anything, as frustrating and aggravating as it can be sometimes to struggle with the Jewish perspective on Torah and Talmud, we must look to ancient and modern Judaism if we ever expect to understand our Savior and our faith. We Gentile Christians embrace our comforting supersessionist “teddy bears” at great peril. I know Christianity is afraid of Christ’s Jewishness because we’re afraid of having to play “second fiddle” to the Jewish people and we hate the idea that not all of the promises belong to us. We hate the idea that our easy-going lives of faith and grace, with virtually no behavioral expectations of us by God, are somehow in contrast to the rich and beautiful morning prayers of Judaism, the holiness of the Shema, the Psalms of the Priests in the Temple, the night blessings at bedtime. It all seems so alien, so…Jewish.

But so is Jesus. Not “was”; “is”:

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” –Revelation 5:5

“The Lion of the Tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David”. Verse 13 of the same chapter of Revelation says “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” Why do Gentile Christians have such a difficult time giving honor and glory to the Jewish “the Root of David”, or have I already answered that question?

Almost a month ago, I wrote another small article called In Search of the Jewish Voice of Jesus. If you’re a Christian who wants to find out about the Jesus no one talks about in church, you can discover him in that blog post.


16 thoughts on “Where Will We Find the Root of David?”

  1. I just wanted to note that I am usually disinclined to approve comments when only a link is being posted, but I visited the blog post in question and feel that it is a legitimate comment. Next time Menashe Dovid, please add some introductory text to your link so people will have some idea of why you want them to visit your blog.


  2. A few years back I was admitted to the hospital. In the course of the treatment I received two pints of blood. A few days later I started to get a very strong craving for eggrols..Does it mean anything? Should I get worried? Shall I start learning how to speak Chinese?

    Was Ben- Gurion right when he said: “a Jew is anyone who wants to be a Jew?”

  3. Just wanted to make the point that ethneticity has no part in God’s overall plan, despite of what many think.

    “Jewish understanding is that Jews have a higher soul than that of gentiles, essentially a part of G-d Himself which connects us to Him directly.”

    When I read comments like that (which were made on another blog) it makes my blood boil.

  4. Menashe, I doubt R. Dauermann has shady ulterior motives in studying rabbinic texts or laying tefillin. He does this to grow in his Jewishness, something he believes is important, Godly, and not annulled in the new covenant. Yes, I know this sounds really strange to traditional Jewish and Christian ears, but it is possible, and in his case, likely.

  5. Also, I hate the notion that everything Messianics do is motivated by missionary goals. That’s like saying everything Judaism does is motivated by rejecting Jesus.

  6. Let’s take a look at some late 19th century/early 20th century Rabbis who (amazingly) came to faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. For the sake of example, consider the Rabbi’s listed on this blog post (I know I refer to it a lot, but it’s a good “container” for the sort of “pioneers” in this realm).

    How about a few assumptions. You’re a 19th century Jewish person who has been raised in a religious Jewish home. For whatever reason (in the case of the people I referred to above), you have gone through the required educational and religious process and have become a Rabbi. You excel and become a head Rabbi in your community. Somewhere in the middle of all this, you nurture, hesitantly at first, a growing suspicion that there’s more to this “Jesus” fellow than meets the eye. You know you’ve been taught some pretty bad things about him, but in actually reading some of the “Christian texts”, you discover for yourself that he may be who he claimed to be. It’s complicated, but you can see how it could work out. Through a long process of study and spiritual “encounters” you finally a accept that “Jesus” is really the Messiah. Now you’ve got to figure out what to do with that faith because you know it doesn’t mean “converting” to Christianity. You know that your faith is not at odds with your being Jewish or a Rabbi. You also know that you would like to reveal your faith and the blessings it brings to your fellow Jews, but the last thing on your mind is converting them to Christianity.

    Let’s look at another scenario. You are a Jewish person who was born in the middle of the 20th century. You were raised by two religious Jewish parents in a Jewish neighborhood in your city. You were educated in Jewish schools, lived an ethnic, cultural, and religious Jewish lifestyle and no one questions that you are Jewish. Somewhere later in life, you begin encountering the idea that there may be more to this “Jesus” person than you’ve been taught. Everything you’ve heard about “Jesus” is pretty bad, but you started reading, hesitantly at first, some of the “Christian texts” and you recognized things about this person that seem much more Jewish and perhaps much more “Messianic” than you thought possible. Eventually, you come to faith in Jesus as the “Jewish Messiah”, who is a very different person than the Christian Savior they talk about in the churches. Now you want to share your faith with other Jews, but you know they’ll probably take it poorly. You don’t blame them for this. The last thing you want to do is to convert anyone to Christianity. You would like to show where the Messiah can be found in the pages of the New Testament. No matter what you do, there is a big challenge ahead.

    Not being Jewish, this is how I imagine the internal dialog would go in these two scenarios. I purposely cast both of my “characters” in the most positive light possible. These are not Jews who have “sold out” and who are interested in betraying their own people by tricking them into converting to Christianity. These are Jews who, whether you agree with them or not, are very sincere in their beliefs and who have been able to reconcile their Jewish education and lifestyle with this man the Christians call “Jesus”, this man who most likely went by the name “Yeshua” in the late second Temple period.

    I’m probably going to take all kinds of criticism for how I’ve painted the portrait of these two Jewish people, but given my experiences and knowledge, it’s the best I can do. Even if other Jewish people are completely opposed to the faith I’ve described in the paragraphs above and the Jews who hold to that faith, it is still possible to believe that these “Messianic Jews” are motivated only by their desire to know the truth about the Messiah, about God, and about themselves.

  7. Concerning Dan’s statement that “ethnicity has no part in God’s overall plan” — evven a cursory reading of the Tanakh shows that Israel has never been ethnically pure. They are, instead, a people in covenant relationship with God.

  8. Hi Carl,

    To be fair, I believe Dan is standing up for the non-Jewish people in relation to God’s plan. I do see your point, but the line can get a little fuzzy at times. Such conversations often start wandering into the “who is a Jew” realm, which invokes ethnicity, culture, and religion and this topic has lead to a lot of “spirited discussions” in the Messianic blogosphere.

    BTW, and I know this is belated, but I hope you don’t mind me quoting you from the comments section of a prior blog in this article. I suppose I should have asked permission first, but usually when something is on the open web, it becomes “fair game” for quotation, and what you said fit perfectly into the point I was trying to make.


  9. No problem using my quote. But the fact that “the line can get a little fuzzy at times” doesn’t eliminate the need for lines, especially in the situation that I described.

    Concerning Dan’s comment — If you read him correctly, then who would disagree that non-Jews have a place in God’s plan? Or is he is actually arguing that God’s plan simply doesn’t recognize any distinctions?

  10. I don’t want to go too far in speaking for Dan, but he does attend a One Law congregation, so I suppose you can infer his feelings about distinctions from that.

    I didn’t mean to suggest the need for those distinctions were “fuzzy”, only that I dont want to get into yet another endless discussion about ethnicity and covenant. I think that’s been covered sufficiently relative to Jewish and non-Jewish responsibilities to God.

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