The Moshiach and Christianity: My Personal Dilemma

On today’s amud we find the proper seating order in shul.

Rav Raphael of Barshad, zt”l, was a very well known and respected personage, but this did not make him feel any arrogance at all. On the contrary, his every motion was filled with true humility. Every time he would enter a shul or gathering, he would sit in a common seat that was very distant from the coveted eastern wall.

One person felt that this was very strange and decided to ask him what was behind this odd practice. “With all due respect, I cannot fathom what is behind the rebbe’s custom. Either way—if the Rebbe sits in the back because he has true humility, why not sit in the front? Surely, one can retain a feeling of broken-heartedness even while sitting in an honorable seat. And if the rebbe has problems with thoughts of arrogance, chas v’shalom, what does sitting in the back help? Clearly it is possible to be filled with self-inflated feelings while sitting in the back as well as in the front. On the contrary, it is possible to fathom how one would be filled with more thoughts of arrogance because he acts humble…”

Rav Raphael replied, “Listen to me, my brothers. In Kiddushin 59 we find that although action nullifies the intent in one’s thoughts, mere thoughts cannot nullify action. If I, who is unworthy for the honor, were to sit in the mizrach, I would be doing an action of arrogance while trying to overcome this with thoughts of humility. But
we see that this is an exercise in futility. However, sitting in the back is an action of humility which overcomes any thoughts of arrogance. Isn’t it clear that this is the only option that gives me a chance of overcoming thoughts of arrogance?”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“Action Overrides Thought”
Rema Siman 150 Seif 5

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”Luke 14:7-11 (ESV)

I always worry about “getting into trouble” whenever I post quotes from Talmud and the Gospels in parallel. I realize that the Talmud was written and compiled centuries after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, so he couldn’t have known about “Rabbinic Judaism” as such, though he probably did know about the teachings of Hillel and Shammai. And yet, again and again, it seems as if much of what the Master taught in some manner or fashion, is carried on in how Jews continued to teach and in how they continue to teach today. I know the connection is tenuous at best, but for some reason, I find it comforting on a purely visceral level.

And yet, someone completely unexpected seems to hold an opinion similar to mine. Frankly, I was more than surprised when I read this.

Not only was Jesus a rabbi, he was a deeply learned, well-versed student of Jewish holy texts. Almost all his teachings derive directly from the Torah. The lessons he articulated line up squarely with Jewish morality and statements of rabbis found in the Talmud. Some of Jesus’ most famous and recognizable teachings are taken directly from earlier Jewish sources.

…Jesus was equally familiar with Talmudic sayings. When Jesus instructs his listeners, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye,” he alludes almost word for word to a Talmudic teaching of Rabbi Tarphon: “If someone urges you to remove the speck from your eye, he must be given the answer, ‘Take the plank out of your own.'”

-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Chapter 4: Jesus the Rabbi (pg 24)
Kosher Jesus

Although, as an Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Boteach’s perspective on Jesus is quite a bit different than the one held by Christianity (and when I finish reading his book, I’ll post a complete review), he does recognize that many of the teachings of Christ recorded in the Gospels are indeed teachings that resonate very strongly with what Jews understand from Torah and Talmud (though as I said, the Talmud didn’t exist during the time of the Gospels).

This is how I can draw parallels from the following:

Sadly, there is always a need for charity, especially while we are in exile. The Ohr HaChaim, zt”l, explains that a wealthy man has been entrusted with more money so that he will support the poor and worthy institutions.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Consecrating One’s Wealth”
Arachin 27

For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. –Matthew 25:29 (ESV)

However, there is a 2,000 year old “disconnect” between the teachings of the Jewish Rabbi from Nazareth and his almost completely non-Jewish followers all over the earth. In one sense, Jesus was remarkably successful in delivering his message, but according to Boteach, it was Paul’s fault that it was totally stripped of its Jewish origins and recreated in the image of the Goyim.

I have to strongly disagree with Rabbi Boteach here, since I don’t believe Paul is the “culprit” but rather, subsequent non-Jewish church leaders who, when they saw that Judaism was universally reviled in the Roman empire after the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews from Israel, decided to change horses in mid-stream (and this part, Boteach does agree with), creating a faith that would eventually become the state religion of the Roman empire.

I know. I’m probably being unfair and the history of the early church is a lot more complicated than that, but how many Jews have suffered and died because the non-Jewish disciples of Christ forgot that he was also Jewish? However, I must say here that many good non-Jewish disciples loved God and did their best to live out the true principles taught by the Master, so the core of what it is to be Christian has endured, at least as a remnant. But here we are, 2,000 years later, still trying to pick up the pieces of shattered human lives and relationships like tiny bits and shards of Herod’s Temple after the Romans got through with it.

I admit to being discouraged lately. Ironically, it’s mostly to do with Christianity. As much as I’d like to think that the church is getting past its attitude of blaming the Jews for not converting to Christianity, something or someone comes along and shows me that I’m wrong. Then there are some folks who are more or less associated with the Messianic or Hebrew Roots movement who, in their own way, are trying to do the same thing: minimize the Jews in their own faith, not by replacing Jews with Gentiles the way some churches have attempted, but by saying there is absolutely no difference between Gentiles and Jews, as if God “unchose” the Jewish people and then reapplied the same “Sinai choseness” upon all of believing humanity.

Yeah, I’m discouraged. It’s why I wrote my lament on the value and validity of church community and why I know more than ever that it would be completely intimidating for me to go to a church. If someone said to my face the things they feel free to say to me on the Internet, I would have to walk away and regain my composure before deciding if I should respond or not. That’s easy on the web, but harder to do in an in-person encounter, especially when you’re supposed to be “safe” within the encouraging arms of the “body of Christ.”

There are other, even more personal reasons why life as a Christian is becoming depressing and although I am mostly transparent here, this part I’ll reserve to myself. No, I’m not talking about a lack of faith in God or any sort of desire to abandon my discipleship under the Master. However, my faith in some of the people of the church is sorely being tested.

Frankly, I don’t know how God manages to put up with some of his followers, sometimes especially me. No wonder Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

14 thoughts on “The Moshiach and Christianity: My Personal Dilemma”

  1. ” I realize that the Talmud was written and compiled centuries after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, so he couldn’t have known about “Rabbinic Judaism” as such, though he probably did know about the teachings of Hillel and Shammai.”

    What have I missed in this reasoning? I thought G-d knew everything…maybe we just don’t understand His ways.

  2. Greetings, Pat.

    Yes, I suppose that Jesus could have “taught Talmud” long before it was formally written, but if I said that, a number of NT scholars would probably come along and chastise me. 😉 The other part I was trying to communicate is that Jesus wouldn’t have taught too far outside of the context of his times, which means his teachings on the Torah would have had to be consistent with the understanding of his 1st century Jewish audience.

    I actually did write a blog comparing the teachings of Jesus to the Tannaitic Rabbis who taught just after the Second Temple was destroyed and until the rise of Talmudic Judaism, so you might be interested in reading that.

    Thanks for reading my blog and commenting.

  3. “ but by saying there is absolutely no difference between Gentiles and Jews, as if God “unchose” the Jewish people and then reapplied the same “Sinai choseness” upon all of believing humanity.”

    James, why do you resist the Holy Spirit? We believers have not come to Mount Sinai but to Mount Zion. You must learn the meaning of being born again, not of the flesh but of the spirit and from above. Why do you try to exalt the Jewish people about Gentile Believers while griping and complaining about Gentiles who exalt themselves above the Jewish People?

    “For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
    (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
    But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
    And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. FOR IF THEY ESCAPED NOT WHO REFUSED HIM THAT SPAKE ON EARTH, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven”

  4. Steven, that I don’t have the same understanding of what God is trying to say in the Bible as you do doesn’t mean I’m resisting the Holy Spirit. That’s one of the problems with humans trying to get information from the Spirit: it’s really subjective. You could put fifty believers in the same room, describe to them something from the Bible they don’t have an immediate answer for based on doctrine, ask them to pray about it and receive the answer from Holy Spirit and then see if they all get the identical answer. If the Spirit is One and provides only one answer and every one of the fifty receive that answer, they should all respond the same way. Chances are, they won’t, so there must be more to understanding the Bible than asking the Holy Spirit to tell you (and me) what it means. I wish it was that simple.

    I will admit that Hebrews is one of those books that seems to have been written to deliberately support supersessionist Christianity. If I remember correctly, it’s one of the last if not the last book of the NT to be canonized, and there’s been a lot of questions over the years as to who wrote it, who edited it, and with what intent. However, it’s in the Bible, so I’ll leave those questions alone for now.

    I did ask Dan his point of view on Hebrews and he had an interesting answer:

    Well, for me, it was hard first to understand that the book of Hebrews is a midrashing writing. After i understood this, I tried to attach to my understandindg the proper hermeneutic. At the time of the writing of the book, the torah had already been aroung for 1500 years. The book, as i understand it, makes a contrast between ” right here on earth” and the “future heaven.”

    Anyone who does not start from the begining, learn what the Torah says, and how to apply it, going through the Prophets to see how they pointed Israel towards Torah obedience, and then read the Gospels and the epistles visa-vi the rabbinic view that was already in development for hundreds of years.

    The book of Hebrews is not a replacement theology book. it does not deal with one covenant replacing another. Hebrews attempts to explain the relationship between trudt and sacrifice in light of an invalid priesthood. The writer of Hebrews wrote a midrash. we have to understand the metaphorical language of the book. Literal reading of a midrashic alegory will lead to nothing. the book is a midrashic interpretation of Torah text, not a textbook on scientific matters. The book does not discuss the Temple, but the tabernacle.

    Just so you know, Dan and I don’t always agree on things and often we don’t agree on almost everything, but we like and respect each other, even when we are (seemingly) yelling at each other. I’m not referencing his perspective because we’re “two peas in a pod” so to speak.

    If it were just Dan’s point of view, I suppose you could say that it’s his attempt to refactor the book of Hebrews to make it more consistent with a Messianic Jewish belief system, but recently, I heard something quite similar from a completely different source (and someone who is unlikely to agree with Dan on a good many things). One of the few things Dan and my source have in common is that they’re both Jewish, which means they’re going to try and understand Hebrews from a uniquely Jewish point of view.

    My other source (I’m not at liberty to release the details of this information) said the writer of the book of Hebrews probably relied heavily on his knowledge of the Septuagint translation of the Torah and had a completely Hebrew personal worldview in terms of religion and Jewish philosophy, and without understanding Hebrews from that perspective, much of its meaning will be misunderstood. My source, who is quite scholarly, believes that the writer of Hebrews based his book on studies of Psalm 119, Ezra, and Qohelet.

    It seems as if the “secret” of understanding Hebrews is to immerse yourself in how Jews see scripture. I think that’s why Dan described his initial encounter with that book the way he did. He understood that it was part of the Bible but initially, it didn’t make sense from a Jewish standpoint.

    Speaking of Dan, referencing his description, my source also said that the Hebrews author considered spiritual truth not a destination one arrives at but something to be searched for, debated, and sifted (think midrash). This is a very Jewish perspective on understanding the Bible and God and something that drives more “goal-oriented”, western Christians crazy. It’s probably why the Talmud presents as many questions as it does answers.

    Speaking of questions and answers, the only answer I have about Hebrews 12:18-29 is that the author wasn’t replacing physical Sinai with spiritual Zion, at least not in the immediate present, but was juxtaposing the present age (Sinai) with the future and final age, which is Zion. In western thought, we tend to be rather binary. Something is either “yes” or “no”, “right” or “left”, “up” or “down”. In Hebrew thought (and any Hebrew thinkers out there, correct me if I get this wrong) tends to be more global, perceiving all of the different shades and nuances of an issue, wrestling it back and forth, trying to tease out all of its different colors and textures, and then applying all that across huge stretches of time. In that sense, truth becomes a living, breathing entity that changes based on the changing needs of different generations, so rather than every single truth in the bible being a concrete block, it can be like a redwood; steady and sturdy, but capable of growing and adapting.

    I see the present world (Sinai, if you will) as “fading away” as in a current, process that we’re in the middle of but not done with yet. This could (and has) take thousands of years. Even after the Messiah returns, we know that there will be a third (Ezekiel’s) temple where Jesus will reign from as King. At least some of the sacrifices will probably be resumed, although both Christian and Jewish scholars disagree regarding which ones. Eventually, who knows how many years/centuries later, by the time we reach the end of the book of Revelation and the restoration of Eden, God and the Lamb will be the Temple, but we are no where near that point in time as yet. The finger of God is still in the middle of writing His “script” and, from a human perspective, He isn’t even close to making the exclamation point.

    Over the next few months, I’m going to review some specific resources on Hebrews to shore up my knowledge in this area of the NT when I manage the time. In addition to the two books you see in the left sidebar of this blog, I’m reading (re-reading, actually) Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and I’m planning on reading Removing Anti-Judaism from the Pulpit (it was recommended by Boaz Michael), which is a collection of essays edited by Howard Clark Kee and Irvin J. Borowsky.

    As you can see, along with my “day job” and writing books at night, I’ve got a full plate.

    I’m sorry I can’t do better than that at the moment, but I’m doing the best I can with the time and resources at my disposal.

    Blessings.

  5. “I know. I’m probably being unfair and the history of the early church is a lot more complicated than that, but how many Jews have suffered and died because the non-Jewish disciples of Christ forgot that he was also Jewish?”

    As a Holocaust educator who has logged many hours within the Jewish community working arm-in-arm and side-by-side with Jewish educators to teach the Shoah and bring Holocaust survivors, with an ever-increasing sense of urgency, before non-Jewish audiences, I appreciate your appreciation for the Church’s complicity in the overall Jewish refusal to convert to Christianity. Unfortunately, Christianity has often not reflected the gentle nature and humble demeanor of Jesus, its Messiah and Redeemer. As Aaron Breitbart, Senior Researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles once told me, long ago, when he met with me as a new social studies high school teacher researching the Shoah for a WWII unit of study: you cannot understand the Holocaust without understanding the history of Christian anti-Antisemitism. An instructive question leading to a better understanding of the general Jewish rejection of Christianity in light of the Church’s antagonistic behavior toward the people of Messiah, might go something like this: “What is there about the collective witness of the Church over the course of the past 2,000 years that might actually have ATTRACTED the Jewish people to the Messiah-ship of Jesus?” Unfortunately, the question we must attend to now is this: “In the aftermath of the Shoah, given that the road to Auschwitz finds its beginning in the codification and legislation of Christian anti-Jewish theology and its profound impact on European Christianity, how do we, as Christians, legitimize ourselves in the eyes of the Jewish people as true disciples of the Jewish Messiah who loves them?” My suggestion: active remembrance and memorialization of the Shoah as an act of repentance on the part of the Christian Church in our time. We might, with HaShem’s help, achieve the greatness of King David in such a profound demonstration of repentance; in such a profound willingness to take responsibility for the past. In doing so, we might begin to reflect the loving nature of the One we profess to follow: Jesus the Messiah. At least, this would be an honest, forthright, beginning. Thank you for the honesty of your thoughts.

    To add to your list of suggested books 🙂 I would add: “The Holocaust And The Christian World: Reflections on the Past, Challenges for the Future,” ed. Carol Rittner, Stephen D. Smith, Irena Steingfeldt; Consulting Editor: Yehuda Bauer; Beth Shalom Holocaust Memorial Centre, Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies, Continuum, NY. I believe it can still be purchased at the bookstore of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, ushmm.org.

    (Your generating much food for thought with the time and resources at your disposal!)

    Blessings and shalom,
    ~ Dan Hennessy

  6. Unfortunately, Christianity has often not reflected the gentle nature and humble demeanor of Jesus, its Messiah and Redeemer.

    Hence my quoting Gandhi. I think many people see a sort of “disconnect” between what Jesus taught and how we Christians behave. The connection between church history and the Holocaust is not lost on me, as I wrote about not long ago.

    Thanks for you input Dan, and for adding to my reading list. 😉

  7. Jemes,

    A few years ago the infamous Monte Judah came out with a bizarre teaching that the book of Hebrews should have never been included in the Canon. FFOZ (Boaz, Lancaster, and at time Tim Hegg) wrote an excellent response debunking his claims. Maybe you can request it from them to help with your superssesionism project. Also look at Bereans Online’s “The consequences of Misunderstanding Hebrews 8.

  8. Yes, I remember that, Dan. I was with a group in Phoenix at the FFOZ “Wooden Podium” conference when all that broke loose. I did see a copy of the response (which has sadly faded from my middle-aged, swiss cheese memory) at the time.

    Thanks for the tips.

  9. Since this has turned into a conversation on the book of Hebrews, I thought I’d include a quote from a comment Derek Leman made on his blog this morning on this topic. You’ll probably have to scroll through a number of recent comments to get the context. Here’s the specific text:

    I read the book of Hebrews on Temple and sacrifice as saying the very same thing I said: the Levitical sacrifices were for a different purpose than the sacrifice of Messiah. I take his language as rhetoric aimed at dissuading Jewish believers from abandoning Yeshua faith. Hebrews 9:9 and 10:4 indicate not that sacrifices were temporary per se, but that they did not cleanse the person. Yeshua’s sacrifice is for the person, the Levitical to cleanse the Temple. The saying in ch 10 about no longer remembering sins is the fulness of the New Covenant which will be here in the Final Age, not now (correlate Rev 21:22). I take Hebrews to be an astute reading of Leviticus. He is telling his readers that they are going backwards if they think they can give up Yeshua-faith and believe that Temple and Torah without Yeshua are adequate. They vainly imagine the Levitical offerings will provide them the same atonement as Yeshua and the writer aptly argues against it.

    I’m still trying to learn, unfortunately, I can only read and assimilate information so fast. That, and I have a life (believe it or not). 😉

  10. Steven said: “Why do you try to exalt the Jewish people about Gentile Believers while griping and complaining about Gentiles who exalt themselves above the Jewish People?”

    It occurred to me earlier Steven, that if you were “upset” at the tone and theme of this blog, you might be even more dismayed about today’s (Friday) “morning meditation”, my commentary on Parashah Yitro, since I write a small description of the Sinai event as amazing and awesome. Yes, of course it was terrifying, but then, I think we need to capture a little of that in our lives as believers. Far too often, I’ve seen people in the church treat God as if he were some sort of “cosmic teddy bear” and you could just crawl up on His lap and be comforted. I think the narrative in Exodus 19-20 is more what it is and should be to encounter the living God.

    I don’t write this to be disrespectful, but to try and communicate why I am rather captured by the various encounters we see in the Bible of when humanity and Divinity intersect in majestic grandeur.

  11. James Derek is right. Hebrews 9:13-14 makes it clear. note the animal sacrifices …” cleansing of the flesh” compare to Yeshua sacrifice “…cleanse you conscience…”

    “Temporal atonement” vs. “Eternal atonement.”

  12. G’day James,
    Well I now remember why I hadn’t read any of your meditations for some time.
    They often became distorted by the comments.
    But I’ll see how it goes.

    1. Although, as an Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Boteach’s perspective on Jesus is quite a bit different than the one held by Christianity (and when I finish reading his book, I’ll post a complete review), he does recognize that many of the teachings of Christ recorded in the Gospels are indeed teachings that resonate very strongly with what Jews understand from Torah and Talmud (though as I said, the Talmud didn’t exist during the time of the Gospels).
    COMMENT: JESUS SPOKE TO EVERY HUMAN, AS A BEING IN THE MIND OF HUMAN-KIND.

    2. I think we need to capture a little of that in our lives as believers. Far too often, I’ve seen people in the church treat God as if he were some sort of “cosmic teddy bear” and you could just crawl up on His lap and be comforted. ….I don’t write this to be disrespectful, but to try and communicate why I am rather captured by the various encounters we see in the Bible of when humanity and Divinity intersect in majestic grandeur.
    COMMENT: THIS IS WHY ALL CHURCHES WITH THEIR AVOWED ‘IRRESPONSIBLE LOVE’ TEND TO BECOME SANCTIMONIOUS BROTHELS.
    HERE DIVINITY RULES NO MORE, TO INSPIRE OR ENLIGHTEN; BUT IS REDUCED TO A SECULAR GRUEL, WHICH FAILS TO FEED THE MIND OF HUMAN-KIND,AND SO BRIDGE THE DICHOTOMY OF THE PHYSICAL BRAIN.

    3. I admit to being discouraged lately…. I’d like to think that the church is getting past its attitude of blaming the Jews for not converting to Christianity….Then there are some folks….by saying there is absolutely no difference between Gentiles and Jews, as if God “unchose” the Jewish people and then reapplied the same “Sinai choseness” upon all of believing humanity.
    COMMENT: NO CHURCH CAN TRULY CLAIM TO FULLY REPRESENT THE MIND OF HUMAN KIND, SO JESUS COMES TO SPEAK AS A RABBI TO EVERY HUMAN, AS A BEING IN THE MIND OF HUMAN-KIND.

    TO REMIND US THAT ALTHOUGH WE ARE MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE; GOD IS NOT MADE IN OUR IMAGE.

    IN DIVINITY, GOD IS FREE NOT TO CHOOSE US, OTHERWISE WE ARE HIS SERVANTS AND SLAVES AND BEING DIVINE HE CHOOSES TO CREATE US AS FREE AS HE IS.

    THUS HUMANITY EVOLVED IN FREEDOM, TO CHOOSE OR NOT CHOOSE GOD.

    HOWEVER, AS ANY BEING IN ANY UNIVERSE WITHOUT HIS ELEMENTAL ENERGY HAS NO LIFE. OUR EVOLUTIONARY DRIVE IS TO SEEK THE UNITY AND THE LOVE OF DIVINITY IN THE MIND OF HUMAN-KIND.

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