Singing the Monkey House Blues, Part 2

Frequently, we may look at other people, and feel jealousy. We wonder why this person was born wealthy, this one with a brilliant mind, this one with great beauty. Others may also look at the Torah, and wonder why this group is different from that group, or why the Rabbis gave certain responsibilities to one group and not another.

The truth behind the distinctions of the Kohanim should teach us. Jewish thought does not tell us to seek fame and glory. Our lives are not about power and privilege. The Torah tells us that we are here to seek and to serve our G-d, through performance of Mitzvos and good deeds.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
“Privileged People”
Commentary on Parshas Emor

Disclaimer: As I mentioned in part 1 of this two-part series, I am expressing my viewpoint on Jewish uniqueness and distinctiveness in the community of Messianic believers and suggesting that Jews and non-Jews embody different, or at least, overlapping sets of responsibilities and duties to God while remaining absolutely equal in God’s love and in His salvation. Chances are, some of you reading this will not be happy with me and will disagree with my perspectives. I understood that when I started writing “Monkey House.” Now let’s continue and see how the various parts of the Bible and the perspective of the sages can illuminate this issue.

I know I’m probably going to make some people reading this unhappy, but it’s important to understand that if groups of Jews in the Messianic movement need to preserve their distinctiveness relative to the Torah and God, it isn’t an attempt to “cut out the Gentiles” or to make themselves more exalted. It’s a response to the Torah and the covenant of Sinai. The specific distinctions between Jews and non-Jews in modern Messianism is just as valid and legitimate as the distinctions between the Kohenim class and the larger body of Israel in ancient (and arguably modern) times.

Rabbi Menken said something very important that most Christians should pick up on:

Jewish thought does not tell us to seek fame and glory.

Compare that to this parable of the Master:

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)

The reason the Torah is a story about God’s interaction with humanity and not just about God’s interaction with Israel, is because the Bible is a tapestry woven with the very threads of human nature. It’s human nature to want what we can’t have. It’s human nature to desire what another person possesses by right or ability and to think it’s unfair if we can’t be exactly like them. It’s human nature to sometimes want to be someone we’re not.

Perhaps this is the human dynamic that lead the Levites to be jealous of the Kohenim as well that what’s going on in the Messianic community these days. It may even be the original root of early supersessionism in the church.

I once read a short story in Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s anthology Welcome to the Monkey House where no one was allowed to be better at anything than anybody else. For example, using the slowest runner in society as a baseline, anyone who could run faster was made to wear weights to slow them down to the same speed as the slowest runner. That way the slowest runner wouldn’t have to feel bad knowing that other people could run faster. The entire society was organized this way so that even the perception of greater or lesser ability and privilege was eliminated for the sake of absolute uniformity.

I’m sometimes reminded of Vonnegut’s story when I encounter the desire for uniformity by non-Jews in the Messianic movement.

But God didn’t make us uniform. He didn’t make the Kohenim uniform with the rest of the tribe of Levi or with the Israelites in general. God also didn’t make Jews in the Messianic movement uniform with the larger Gentile Messianic, Hebrew Roots, and mainstream Christian community.

I know that if the lessons in the Bible cannot overcome human nature in the body of faith, my one little blog has no hope of doing so. Nevertheless, since Rabbi Menken’s Torah commentary speaks to this theme, I thought it appropriate to adapt it for a somewhat different audience. We need to understand that different doesn’t mean “better” or “worse,” it just means different. If someone else has a job as a writer because that is their special skill set, it doesn’t make them better than you, it just makes them different based on natural ability. The same goes for people who are skilled musicians, artists, and computer programmers.

Rabbi Menken ended his commentary with the following words, and I suppose I should do the same:

G-d gave us the Torah to assist us in our search. We need not wonder why some of us are Kohanim, some Levites, some Israelites, and why our tasks and responsibilities are different – because just as each individual is different, what will help one person to grow could be harmful to another. And when we perform our tasks correctly, and succeed in our mission, then these outside distinctions do not determine who is considered truly worthy: “An ill-begotten scholar is preferable to an ignoramus priest.” It is not how we were born that makes us – it is how we die.

We can either try to learn from these lessons or be stuck in the “monkey house” singing the blues.

There is no one for whom to pride oneself. We must toil strenuously. With patience and friendliness we can prevail in all things, with G-d’s help. With a denigrating attitude toward others and inflating our own importance we lose everything, G-d forbid.

Hayom Yom: Iyar 20, 35th day of the omer
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

NOTE: Oh, neither the title of this blog post nor my choice of comparing the Korah rebellion with some of the conflicts in the Messianic movement are intended to be disrespectful. As I said, the dynamics between the Kohenim and the Levites is very similar to that of Jews and Gentiles in Messianism. And having recalled the name of Vonnegut’s anthology, I had to figure out a way to weave it into my little missive. I just liked the imagery.

3 thoughts on “Singing the Monkey House Blues, Part 2”

  1. I’ll see your monkey, and I’ll raise you a Sylvester McMonkey McBean!
    See below;

    I liked both of these articles. 
    My thoughts: 
    In order for the idea to be seemless (not that its your goal, or even a possible goal) I see a snare in the logic. 
    It’s just that “modern judaism” here in part 2, and your hints towards “noahide cov” in part one, seemed to be what the conclusions were based on.

    I’m not sure that these ideas have been well defined yet.

    If one considers himself “part of Israel” that is a term that needs to be defined as well.

    An Israelite would have different responsibilities than a priest, but he would have the same obligation as every other israelite.

    There is a mound of difference between “obligation” and responsibility. Where does a gentile have any obligation? That’s where noachide comes in. The only problem is do you mean the talmuds “on the path of full conversion noahide”, or the lubavichters, “do your seven and go to heaven cause the mashiach has come, the era of concerts has ended so remain noahide-noahide”

    The responsibility of the priesthood was originally to be on ALL the firstborn. This is the reason we have the redemption of the firstborn.

    With the 100’s of differing ideas of what Judaism today is its hard to find what authority one should “bend the knee to”. If its based on who can make aliyah than surely the opinion of those authority’s would find much wrong with the observance of the same Jews who are trying to tell Gentiles to “be gentile” (and whatever that means). Sure you can make Aliyah but where do you eat? Does all your food have a hechsher? Meat and milk? So why isn’t this just picking and choosing which rulings we want to enforce? 

    My main argument is with messianic “rabbinical authorities”.

     The distinction of who is a Jew and who is a gentile is by Halalka and this is not to be understood outside of said authority. For instance, a reform rabbi says “your a jew” conservative says, “no your not”. Conservative rabbi says, “your a Jew” , orthodox rabbi says “your both meshugganah!” 

    So how does a messianic rabbi who’s a convert to messianic Judaism say who’s a Jew and who isn’t? It’s really only going to effect his community. Like I’ve said before if he’s reading Talmud and saying, “your mother wasn’t Jewish!, Take off those Tzittzit!”.  If Yehuda ha Nasi(the compiler of the Talmud) had a Delorean and traveled into the future he would tell that messianic rabbi that his conversion papers was as good as monopoly money! Whose conversion is valid? Did Paul have timothy converted ? I know some Jews who only where kippot when they enter a house of study or synagogue but they don’t agree that it should be worn. Just because some authorities understood Timothy as being converted doesnt mean Paul did. The fact is Timothy was perfect becaus he had a Jewish mother, contrary to modern belief the liniage was debated in the first century so it wasn’t that Timothy was just an uncircumcised jew. It’s possible he was viewed as a gentile because he had a gentile father.

    To me The problem is messianic Judaism and its conversion process is much like Sylvester mcMonkey mcBean.

    You have to watch this to see what I mean. It’s from a wise Jewish sage a teacher of children, a Dr.

    Skip ahead to about 3:45 and watch at least till 8:45ff

    I will say that I see an important point that can be made from the distinction between Jew and gentile. 
    If a soul is born Jewish he is born Jewish BUT a gentile can “convert” and become what he was not born into.
    Now if a Jewish “soul” is born as a regular Jew or the high priest is a toss up? AND a gentile cannot “convert” and become the high priest.

    I think here is the crux of the thinking. Unfortunately this is basing everything on a Judaism and a tradition.

    Let’s not forget that when messianic Judaism comes to the table they are taking a fresh look at Torah and the sages and Jewish history.

     Let’s not kid ourselves about how biased a gentile convert, or a Jewish believer in ‘Jesus’ that grew up in church with secular parents is when he makes his Halacha.

    Therefore when most “messianic” Gentiles come to the table they also are approaching the Torah with a fresh perspective. Who’s to say one is right and one is wrong?

    The dead sea sect said that a high priest was allowed to marry a non Jewish virgin “spoil of war” . Other forms of Judaism rejects this interpretation. 

    How do we know there is a distinction between the high priest family and the rest of israel? Because the Torah tells us.
     Where does it speak of the distinction between the “stranger who dwells among israel”, and the native born? We can’t make an argument from silence. The Torah itself says many times infact not to distinguish between the stranger and the native. It’s about covenant members. Does one need to stand at Sinai to be a covenant member? No does he need to be circumcised ? No. So therefore where does the Torah distinguish between covenant members who are circumcised and who aren’t? Perhapse Pasach? What about an uncircumcised woman? Can she have eat the Pasach? What makes her a covenant member? On whose authority?

    How can a gentile male be cut off from his people is he is not circumcised yet?

    Perhapse this is why the temple was taken away from us? We don’t play fair. Perhaps this is why he identified with the Pasach. He is infact our circumcision. What a blessing it will be to offer sacrifices again.

    I agree Jewish identity is to be protected.
    I agree that Gentiles should be wise to the themes discussed in Monkey house blues 1-2. 
    I think most if not 90% of Gentiles are consumed with presenting themselves as Jewish or near Jewish rather than the humble less glamorous mitzvot and matters of the heart. That IS the real problem.

    A few more questions. 
    1)What’s different about the Gentiles who have “become Jews”? All I see is a license to continue living the way they lived as gentile. 
    Is the license valid? To who?
    2) What about the sons and daughters of the holocaust ?
    3)Are daughters of Jewish great grandmother “obligated” if their grandmothers identity is speculation?
    4) What is the actual scholarly definition of the “ger”? 
    5) What does it mean to be “cut off from your people”?
    Most poles say that only 14% of the Jewish people are religious? How many are cut off? I know that sounds anti Semitic or replacement theo. but it’s a situation the Torah describes, let’s talk about it.
    Furthermore how can a Gentile be “cut off”if he hasn’t been circumcised yet?
    5) Are we really Mishnah Talmud for what it is? The way that the Torah speaks about the “ger” is being interpreted through lense of the anti -“Christian gentile inclusion” of 2nd century Judaism.
    6) What about my children?
    My wife is not jewish at least that I can “prove”. Should I raise my children under obligation because they are Jews and to keep it out of faith?, or to keep torah because of faith only? A very subtle distinction? Does it really look different? Should it? 
    By who’s standards? I tend to lean towards the standard of the original context of the Torah when it was given.

    So bottom line the torah itself is the truth, the traditions of Judaism represent 2nd century Judaism and the authorities of modern Judaism today do not accept the practices of the messianic rabbis in MJ.

    The one law movement has given a bunch of Gentiles identity crisis. The solution is not for these Gentiles to “make themselves Jews”, so therefore what motive is behind, and what authority do those who have “made themselves Jews” really have.

    So I agree, let’s stop all the Monkey mcBean business.

  2. Ohmigosh, that’s incredibly long, Michael! I’m at work and can’t view the great Jewish sage Dr. Seuss’s video at the moment, let along try to go through you lengthy comment and respond point by point. This one piece did catch my attention, tho:

    Let’s not forget that when messianic Judaism comes to the table they are taking a fresh look at Torah and the sages and Jewish history.

    No argument that the coming of the Messiah and progressing up to modern Christianity/Hebrew Roots/Messianic Judaism does bring additions to the table. However I don’t want all that to “undo” or “unwrite” everything that’s come before, including the Torah, Talmud, or Jewish history, which are completely interwoven into the tapestry we are all trying to understand.

    I’ll try to return to your comments and the video by the by and comment more.

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