20 Days: Nosce te ipsum

jewish-t-shirtA convert who converted while among the gentiles.

-Shabbos 68b

Our Gemara introduces the concept of a convert who became Jewish on his own accord, without being informed of the mitzvah of Shabbos. We must understand, though, in what way can we consider this person to be a Jew, and responsible to bring a sin-offering for his unintentional violation of Shabbos, when he has no knowledge of mitzvos? How is this conversion valid?

Reb Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin points out that we see from here that one’s basic identity as a Jew comes from his being known as “a Jew”. The verse (Yeshayahu 44:5) states: “This one will say I belong to Hashem…and he will refer to himself as Yisroel”. The very connotation of being called a Jew is tantamount to being associated with belonging to Hashem.

Accordingly, Reb Tzadok notes that if one is forced to accept Islam, he must resist to the supreme degree of יהרג ואל יעבור Even though we might not consider Islam as being avoda zara, being that their basic belief is monotheistic, nevertheless the very fact that the Jew is being coerced to abandon his identity as being called a Jew is enough of a reason to resist, even if the consequences are severe (see Radva”z, Vol. 4 #92). Even in earlier generations, when a Jew would compromise his mitzvah observance, he nevertheless maintained his distinctive identity as being Jewish.

The verse (Hoshea 4:17) describes this condition, as we find, “Even as Ephraim is bound up…and he follows idols, let him alone.” From here we learn that because they remained bound up with the nation, and they did not assimilate with the surrounding nations, this saved them despite the fact that they were involved with idols.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“What is a Jew?”
Commentary on Shabbos 68b

I’m not writing this to try to answer the question “What is a Jew” but to illustrate how difficult it is to even address such a question from a Christian point of view. As I make my attempt to “assimilate” back into a more traditional Christian context, I discover that I may never understand the answer to questions like the one posed regarding Shabbos 68b. The discussion of Jewish identity involves the concept of a Jew who is Tinok SheNishbeh (Hebrew: תינוק שנשבה, literally, “captured infant”) which, according to Wikipedia, “is a Talmudical term that refers to a Jewish individual who sins inadvertently as a result of having been raised without an appreciation for the thought and practices of Judaism. Its status is widely applied in contemporary Orthodox Judaism to unaffiliated Jews today.

This naturally leads me to thinking about the Chabad and their primary mission to attract “unaffiliated Jews” and make them more familiar with Jewish thought and practices. Whatever else you may think of the Chabad (and like any other community, they have their faults, some of them significant), they are “out there,” extending themselves, reaching out to Jews who might otherwise completely assimilate and disappear into the surrounding Gentile culture and environment.

In today’s morning meditation, I addressed the issue of Christian evangelism and how the church, in spite of the many faults we may find in it, is doing all of the “heavy lifting” in terms of reaching out to the would around it and introducing that world to the teachings and grace of Jesus Christ. One of the comments I received is that “spreading the Good News” isn’t really what Jesus had in mind, but rather making disciples of the nations, which is a more involved, intricate, and in-depth process and relationship.

And I agree.

public-menorah-lightingUnfortunately, Christianity and Judaism tend to collide rather disastrously relative to these two imperatives. I liked Tsvi Sadan’s “solution” to this problem as he presented it in his article “You Have Not Obeyed Me in Proclaiming Liberty” (written for Messiah Journal) by using the concept of keruv to bring the Jewish people closer…

…to God and to one another, first and foremost through familiarity with their own religion and tradition…the Jewish people, as taught by Jesus, cannot comprehend his message apart from Moses (John 5:46)…Keruv is all about reassuring the Jewish people that Jesus came to reinforce the hope for Jews as a people under a unique covenant.”

As I learned recently, it may take me a good deal longer than I originally anticipated to make even the tiniest headway into the church. If I’m to make a go of it, I may have to dedicate myself to the “long haul” of “going to church” at the cost of just about everything else. How am I to begin to “understand church” and yet remain on my current educational trajectory relative to Jewish learning and education (such as it is since I’m pretty much self-taught)?

There’s this idea in some churches as well as within Judaism that requires one to acquire a “mentor.” I’ve previously mentioned how difficult it is just to find someone to talk to in the church beyond the simple “hi” and “bye.” Acquiring a mentor seems like an insurmountable task. And yet acquiring a mentor within a church context means necessarily setting aside any learning one might consider “Jewish.” Can I travel in two (apparently) opposite directions at the same time?

I ask that question with a certain sense of irony. Although my Jewish family is anything but strictly observant, my wife and daughter have been diligent to light the Chanukah candles, say the blessings, and to at least play some Chanukah music on each night. It reminds me of how we used to light the Shabbos candles, pray the prayers and sing songs of joy, welcoming the “Queen” into our home. It’s the most “Jewish” experience I’ve had in our house for a long, long time. Man, did that feel good.

And yet here I am, boarding a ship, and sailing the seas toward a “Christian” destination.

I know that my friend Boaz Michael has told me on more than one occasion that the Torah is taught in the church, and we can learn its lessons if only we are open to it. I guess he should know since he and his wife Tikvah attend a church in a small town in Missouri every Sunday that Boaz isn’t traveling.

And yet he and his family still keep Shabbos, keep kosher, and observe the other mitzvot.

But (as far as I know) they’re not intermarried and I’m not Jewish so I have to go somewhere and do something.

Frankly, as much as synagogue life would be alien to me at this point, I’d still rather go to shul with my wife on Shabbos than to church alone on Sunday if I felt I had a choice. But I won’t embarrass my wife by suggesting that she try to find a way to introduce me to her Jewish friends under those circumstances.

lost-in-an-angry-seaThe rationale of returning to church, at least in part, is defined by Boaz’s soon to be released book, Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile. I’ve been speaking of “mission work” for the past few days. According to Boaz and relative to his new book…

Mission is broader than theology and stronger than a personal identity. Mission allows one to stay focused on the goal while facing challenges, needing to be flexible, and always showing love. A deep and shared sense of mission and kingdom identity allows one to be shaped by their spiritual growth, gifts, desires, etc. yet stay focused on the greater goal.

I don’t know that I have a “mission” or even a purpose in going to church, particularly since at this church, the Pastor seems sufficiently aware of the Christian’s need to support the Jewish people. But here I am because I feel like I shouldn’t be alone and that I might actually have something to share belong a daily blog posting.

I feel like a person in a lifeboat somewhere out in the ocean. The waves lift me up and the waves dip me back down. I have higher days and lower days (today being “lower”). Do I want to invest a year just to explore the possibility that I might fit into a church and that I might have something to offer besides a few dollars in the donation plate and adding my body heat to a chair in the sanctuary?

Well, in spite of what I want, is it worthwhile? Is it what God wants? How do I know what God wants? I know what “feels” better to me and what doesn’t, but that’s hardly a litmus test that yields reliable results. 20 days and counting. The clock is ticking.

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