The Moshiach and the Rabbis

rabbi_child_and_sefer_torahIn his sefer Shem Olam, the Chofetz Chaim quotes an insightful comment which he heard from Rebbe Yitzchok Isaac from Suvalk. Here, and in the Gemara Avoda Zara (27a) we cite the verse from Kohelles (10:8): “The one who breaks down a wall will be bitten by a snake.” When the Gemara invokes this phrase, it does so in referring to one who “breaks the barrier” of the rulings of the sages and their guidelines. When a person ignores the enactments of the rabbis, and he is asked to explain his belligerence, he might respond by excusing himself and claiming that he has not violated any Torah laws. The truth, however, is that this person is not innocent. Every decision by the rabbis to implement a guideline or precaution is only due to their sensitivity to the eventuality that a Torah violation will develop without their intervention.

This is why we say that a person who ignores the rabbis’ warnings is entering into a situation parallel to that of a snake bite. The snake attacks and bites at the heel level. A superficial observer would think that this does not present a noticeable danger to the person. After all, the heel is the lowest part of the body, far and remote from anything essential. Yet, this is a big mistake. The venom of the snake has the ability to spread far beyond the heel and the foot alone. Soon, the leg and later the entire body is overwhelmed with the deadly poison from head to toe.

This lesson is representative of the sinful oversight of this person who miscalculated how certain actions invariably lead to other habits, and some conditions lead to situations which can spin out of control. The one who breaches the barrier of the rabbis is heading to a danger zone similar to that which we find it the bite of a snake.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Belligerence against the rulings of the Sages”
Commentary on Shabbos 110

No, this commentary isn’t likely to make a great deal of sense to most Christians and it’s not intended to. However in reading it this morning, it did remind me of something important I need to talk about.

I recently had a conversation with someone about the relative applications of the Torah mitzvot to both Christians and believing Jews, specifically within the context of the Messianic movement. Even for the most pro-Jewish and pro-Israel Christians, it can sometimes be difficult to grasp the concept that the Sinai covenant and the obligation to obey the Torah mitzvot (or as many as is possible in a world without a Temple, Levitical priesthood, and Sanhedrin) continue to be incumbent upon Jewish people who have embraced Yeshua (Jesus) as the Jewish Messiah. Even my pointing out the numerous examples Luke recorded of Jewish Torah observance in the book of Acts doesn’t always help, since in some Christian circles, Acts is considered a “transitional” book. That is, it is thought to record a period of time when Jewish believers were in a state of change and that perhaps their believing Jewish children or grandchildren were never intended to continue to observe the Torah.

My current frame of reference doesn’t allow me to see the New Testament in that light and I know a number of Jewish believers who are quite enthusiastic regarding the mitzvot, such as observing Shabbos, the Kosher laws, davening at the appointed times of prayer while wearing a tallit and laying tefillin, and in short, living a Jewish lifestyle that is indistinguishable from observant Jews in other branches of Judaism.

But the real sticking point isn’t the Torah as such, at least not the one we have in the Christian Old Testament or the Jewish Tanakh or Chumash. The real struggle involves halachah. Halachah can be a very sticky subject because the methods of how the vast majority observant Jews conceptualize Torah and living a Torah lifestyle was constructed in the post-Biblical Rabbinic period by many Jewish sages and scholars over hundreds of years.

(That’s an oversimplification, since aspects of Jewish tradition extend back to before the time of Jesus. Please keep in mind that this is an enormously complex and involved topic, and I can only present limited information due to time and space constraints, not to mention my own limited understanding of this vast body of knowledge and wisdom)

paul-editedThe basic idea from a Christian point of view as I understand it, is that once Jesus came and said what he said, that pretty much “fixed” the proper way Jewish and non-Jewish believers should behave within the will of God, with no further adaptations required (and I’m not even going to try to insert dispensationalism into my narrative). That’s fine if you don’t examine that assumption too closely, but the fact of the matter is, both Judaism and Christianity have adapted, developed, and yes, even “evolved” in the past 2,000 years. No Christian church today operates in exactly the same manner as the first “churches” Paul established among the Gentiles in the diaspora. That’s true only because we don’t really know how they operated. If we had a model to work from, it would solve a good many questions in the Hebrew Roots movement, but it simply doesn’t exist.

The question is, can believing Jews within Messianic Judaism live a halakhic lifestyle that is consistent with their observant brothers and sisters in other branches of Judaism and still remain true Jewish disciples of the Messiah? The answer that the vast majority of Messianic Jews I know continue to give me is an adamant “yes.”

But how does it work?

Since Messianic Judaism isn’t represented by a single entity or set of standards, I can’t point to any one source as the last word, but I have to point to something. In this case, I’m going to use the standards for halachah that were written by the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC).

It stands to reason that Messianic Judaism can’t simply lift the entire body of Rabbinic literature and rulings as a single integrated unit, drop it within their realm, and “call it done.” Even if you are only somewhat familiar with Talmud, you’ll realize fairly quickly that there are difficulties with some Rabbinic decisions that conflict with a faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

The link I provided above includes access to a PDF document that contains far more detailed information than either the MJRC web page on halachah or my humble blog is capable of rendering. It includes the rationale for continuing a life of traditional Jewish halachah within the Messianic Jewish framework and how the MJRC Rabbis have approached halachah as reasonable and desirable for a Jewish “disciple of Mashiach Yeshua Rabbenu.”

The extremely abridged conclusion is that there can be no separation between Judaism and the Jewish Messiah. There is no fully realized template for understanding the “Judaism” that would be the ideal from Messiah’s perspective, so the Judaism we have in our real, lived existence is (or rather are) the Judaism(s) we have with us today, halachah and all.

You’ll have to go through my whole “evolutions” series, starting with Part 1 to see why I even think this is possible, but I’ll warn you right now that I did a very imperfect job trying to pull all this together. My argument hinges on whether or not Hashem left the post-Biblical Jewish community without leaders or access to His authority and love. If He only gave the Jews what eventually became supersessionistic Gentile Christianity, which for many centuries represented a terrible enemy to the Jews, then it is astonishing that the Jewish people have even survived, and Jewish life and devotion to God has been a total sham. However, if God, on the strength of His numerous covenants and promises to the Jewish people, and His love for the Children of Jacob, remained with them, even as the vast majority of them remained outside of knowledge of and faith in the Messiah of Nazareth, then other possibilities present themselves.

(Please consult Noel S. Rabbinowitz’s paper, “Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse their Halakhah?” which was published (as a PDF) by the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46:3 (September 2003): 423-4 to see how Jesus validated the Jewish authorities and their right to establish halachah in the days of the Second Temple)

the-teacher2I know there are a lot of “ifs” involved in the assumptions I’m making, but I recently told someone, that I believe what God has separated, He will also rejoin. In the final days of the Second Temple, Gentile God-fearers and soon-to-be former pagans streamed to listen to the words of men like Paul and Barnabas as they spoke in synagogues, in town squares, and in people’s homes, sharing words of the risen Messiah, the promise of salvation, and the ultimate return of the King, who will bring peace to all peoples, and who through his death and resurrection, has already reconciled both the Jews and the rest of humanity to the God of Israel, if only we will believe and obey.

This doesn’t mean that the believing Jews and Gentiles of Paul’s day were fused into a single identity, but they did share citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, which is the promise of the Messianic Age. Jews and Christians have been traveling divergent trajectories for nearly twenty centuries, and yet it if my firm belief that as imperfectly as we have been seeking Him, we are all loved and cared for by God. The fact that Jews exist at all is a miracle, and that they are being called to return to the modern nation of Israel is the fulfillment of His promises. If God did not abandon the Jews, and if He has allowed the physical Land of Israel to be resurrected from the dry bones of death, then who is to say that He hasn’t been present with the leaders, the sages, and the Rabbis, who have sustained a rejected and wandering Jewish people for so very long.

I’m not saying that everything we see in some areas of Judaism is perfect, and certainly there is much to criticize. But given the church’s own flaws, embarrassments, and scandals, I don’t believe we can throw stones either, since we are all living in glass houses.

I just read a wonderful and uplifting blog post by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)/Vine of David (VOD) writer and translator, Jordan Levy called Respecting the Mechitzah. It was a moving and beautiful portrait of a meeting between the Orthodox and Messianic Jewish worlds. Nothing I can say could possibly add to what Jordan has expressed and I ask that you click the link I provided above, and let her tell you of her experience with an Orthodox Jewish scholar.

ancient-kotel-prayersI don’t know if I will ever be able to adequately describe why I believe that the Jewish Messiah can be found in the lives and experiences of modern Jewish people in our world, but if the gifted and passionate Jordan Levy is any example, then we will all someday see that the Moshiach who we in the church call Jesus, who was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew, and was resurrected a Jew, will finally return to us as a Jew and will reign as a Jewish King.

And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

Luke 2:42-51 (ESV)

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”

Luke 24:25-27, 31-34 (ESV)

And he is not an enemy of his Jewish people and will not be a stranger in the synagogue or the (rebuilt) Temple. I would love to see the scenes depicted above be realized between the Messiah King and sages such as the one Jordan met with just recently. Can you imagine the illumination just listening to such a conversation would provide as Jesus revealed the secrets of himself from the Tanakh to them and to all of us?

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

John 14:1 (ESV)

May the Messiah come soon and in our day. Chazak! Chazak! Venischazeik! (Be Strong, Be Strong, And may we be strengthened!)



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