On this day in 1601, Hebrew books that had been confiscated by Church authorities were burned in Rome. This was an unfortunate theme throughout the Middle Ages: In 1592, Pope Clement VIII had condemned the Talmud and other Hebrew writings as “obscene,” “blasphemous” and “abominable” — and ordered them all seized and burned. Centuries earlier, Pope Gregory IX persuaded French King Louis IX to burn some 10,000 copies of the Talmud (24 wagon loads) in Paris. As late as 1553, Cardinal Peter Caraffa (the future Pope Paul IV) ordered copies of the Talmud burned in the Papal States and across Italy. Yet despite all attempts to extinguish our faith, the light of Torah shines brightly till today.
-from “Day in Jewish History” for Shevat 11
I had intended to leave this topic alone after posting a recent meditation, but then I saw the “day in Jewish history” piece for Shevat 11, which I quoted above, and an entire stream of thoughts surged forth.
As I mentioned yesterday, it is difficult for Christians to understand the Jewish connection to Talmud. The commentary above states that repeated attempts by the Catholic church to seize and burn many thousands of copies of the Talmud were attempts to extinguish the Jewish faith. I suppose this is the reaction we’d have in the church if some repressive government seized and burned all of our Bibles, but since we see the Talmud as “man-made rules,” it is difficult for us to comprehend why Jews would have such a reaction. Sure, if all the Torah scrolls were burned, we’d probably understand, but Talmud?
If I did my job correctly in yesterday’s related blog post (assuming you’ve already read it), then you should likely understand why Talmud is so important to Jewish identity. Without the Temple, the Priesthood, the Sanhedrin, and the Land, scattered across the globe, welcomed no where, the Jews indeed could have vanished from history as did many other ancient peoples (who’s ever met a Hittite, a Canaanite, or an Amalekite today?). Talmud is the focus of all Jewish thought and even passion in understanding God and who the Jewish people are in Him. Significant portions of Torah are dedicated to law and lifestyle within the Land of Israel and Talmud functions as an extension of that, defining halachah for Jews across the centuries since they were expelled from their Land.
But the Jewish sojourn in the diaspora was never meant to be permanent. The Jewish nation once again exists, though amid great controversy and opposition. When the Messiah comes, won’t he be the one to eliminate Talmud and to establish Jewish identity in an idealized form? Won’t he show the Jewish people that only (written) Torah is the key to who they are and as the path to finding God?
I don’t believe it’s that simple. For twenty centuries, any threat to Jewish halachah and to the Talmud has been viewed by Jews collectively as a threat to their faith and even their very existence. Even if you don’t annihilate Jewish bodies in some sort of physical holocaust, destroying the way of life that completely identifies what it is to be a Jew will do the same job.
This also explains two things: Why Messianic Jews, those who have accepted Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, have such a difficult time being accepted by any other normative Judaism, and why it is vital for Messianic Judaism to continue to adhere to halachah and to study Talmud. If you take away Jewish lifestyle, the Jewish lived experience, and Jewish identity from the Jews who have come to faith in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Christ), you turn them into goyishe Christians and they disappear from the Jewish landscape forever. Other Jews won’t even recognize them and will never accept them as their own.
But look at this:
The conversation concluded in great respect for one another and in a clearer understanding of each other’s views. He had asked me questions that perplexed him; I asked him questions that perplexed me, and most importantly, we constantly searched for – and consistently found – the common ground that unites our faith: Judaism and the traditional understanding and performance of it. In reality, we agreed on close to 99% of the issues we discussed, our main difference being the identity of the Jewish rabbi from the Galilee.
Jordan is a young Jewish woman who is an outstanding scholar, writer, and translator. She’s also Messianic and has come to faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Very recently, she had the amazing experience of visiting with “a wonderful Jewish scholar at his home in New York.” The fact that this meeting occurred is, all by itself, virtually miraculous and speaks to the “Jewishness” of Ms. Levy as well as the “Jewishness” of the organizations for which she writes and represents. How else is it possible to explain what she relates to us on her blog…except that the finger of God is also writing?
Jordan says that she and this esteemed Jewish scholar “agreed on close to 99% of the issues we discussed,” and the common ground that was the foundation of their discussion and (albeit brief) relationship was “Judaism and the traditional understanding and performance of it.”
While I can’t deny that traditional Christian evangelical efforts have had success at introducing the risen Jewish Messiah to the Jewish people, including many in the land of Israel, in this particular case, it was important for this conversation to occur between two Jews.
In the meantime, Messianic Jews are assiduously attempting to, essentially, redeem Israel from its Jewishness. That seems to be the task at hand at the Jerusalem Prayer Tower, another 24-7 prayer meeting place located on the top floor of an office building on the bustling downtown thoroughfare Jaffa Street. At the “Restoring Jerusalem” prayer meeting, an American Christian woman read about Jezebel from the Book of Revelation, and exhorted the half dozen people in the room to pray to “purify” and “cleanse” Jerusalem.
Another woman prayed for the Jews “to change their mind, to feel you, Lord, to convert to you, Lord.” The first woman resumed her prayers, hoping that Jesus will give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a great understanding of who you are.” She seems to earnestly believe this is a plausible scenario. “Help him, Lord,” she implores. “Bring him to Messiah.”
“Kosher Jesus: Messianic Jews in the Holy Land” (Nov. 2012)
An article written for the Atlantic
The shared history of the church and the Jewish people is full of instances where Jews have felt Christianity has been trying to “redeem Israel from its Jewishness.” I’m not trying to upset or offend authentic Christian efforts at attempting to reach the Jewish people with the good news of Christ, but there are limits to the effectiveness of worthy evangelical organizations such as Jews for Jesus who ultimately seek to redirect Jews from Judaism and into Gentile Christianity and the church.
Jesus was, is, and will return as a Jew. This isn’t just a matter of a string of DNA, but an entire lived experience and world view. Israel will be elevated to the head of all the nations. The Temple will be rebuilt, and Moshiach will read from the Torah to all his people Israel and to the righteous, believing Gentiles who have been called to him.
Christianity hasn’t been doing the Jewish people any favors by demanding that they cease to behave as Jews. We may tolerate Friday night candle lighting but we balk when a believing Jew refuses our gracious offer of pork chops or shrimp scampi during a shared meal. We try to be “OK” with Jewish believers saying the Shema, but we draw the line with them wearing a tallit or laying tefillin (These are just examples, your mileage may vary).
And heaven help the believing Jew if a Christian sees that they continue to study Talmud and revere the sages.
On the other hand…
In this essay I have suggested that the Pharisees legitimately occupied the Seat of Moses, an actual chair in the synagogue and a symbol of their legitimate authority. This is why Jesus commanded his followers to do whatever the Pharisees say.
Because of the fact that Jesus attacks the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and for their corrupt teaching in so many other biblical passages, many scholars find this interpretation completely unacceptable. I have argued, however, that this apparent contradiction can be resolved by understanding that Jesus did not mean for his disciples to literally do “all” that the Pharisees taught. He meant rather that they were to obey their teachings regarding the Torah and halakhah in principle, a fact supported by Jesus’ own basic observance of oral tradition.
Lastly, I have suggested that Jesus’ condemnation of Pharisaic hypocrisy cannot be reduced to a black-and-white rejection of their authority. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, not because of their halakhah, but because they had forsaken the greater commandments of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
-Noel S. Rabbinowitz
“Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse their Halakhah?”
Published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46:3 (September 2003): 423-4 (PDF)
I know, I rely on the Rabbinowitz paper for a great deal, but it is illuminating and willing to take risks regarding not only the Jewishness of Jesus and his disciples, but his overall acceptance of the Jewishness of the Jews.
For the vast, vast majority of Gentile Christians, the world of Judaism is quite foreign, and the fact that most of Christian tradition supports and validates a removal of the Jewish world for the more familiar lessons of Protestantism, leaves us feeling safe that we don’t have to try to understand anything about Judaism or the Jews. Unfortunately, the consequence is that Christians and Jews don’t speak the same language and not only do we fail to communicate most of the time, but sometimes, attempts at conversation result in misunderstanding and even mutual rejection.
For 2,000 years, the Gentile Christian church, among its many forms, has taken and held possession of the Jewish Messiah King. In order to do that, we have had to transform him, recreating Moshiach into Christ, and putting a Gentile mask over a Jewish face. More than that, we have had to purge him of anything that could be remotely considered Jewish behavior, Jewish thought, and Jewish life. How in the world can we expect the Jewish people to even recognize him, must less accept him as one of their own?
But it’s incredibly scary to consider the alternative. Once we remove the mask and take off the Christian trappings from his wounded Jewish body, Jesus from Nazareth becomes Yeshua Ha’Notzri, the Moshiach. The Holy One of Israel.
I’m blessed to attend a church where the Pastor is very pro-Jewish and pro-Israel. He lived in the Land for fifteen years and brings to his church a unique perspective and attitude that has swept through everyone there. In Sunday school, I’ve been taught that the Ethiopian eunuch (see Acts 8) was very likely a Jewish pilgrim, and that we Christians have a special duty to care for the hungry, the sick, and the imprisoned of Messiah’s people Israel, the Jewish people.
And yet even there, I still hear discussions about Saul’s (Paul’s) experiences in Damascus (see Acts 9) differentiating “Christians” and “Jews,” as if once Jewish people in ancient days came to faith in the Jewish Messiah, they transformed into something else entirely; something that no longer lived like a Jew.
I’ve written repeatedly how the unique and special role of the church is to encourage zealousness among the Jewish people for Torah, for the Land of Israel, for being Jewish. If we demand that Jews leave all that behind in order to become “Christian,” what are we doing to not only the Jewish people, but to their (our) King?
For the past twenty centuries, we’ve made that demand of Jesus Christ, that he stop being Jewish. If we are ready to allow him to “be himself” again, how can we deny the same for his people Israel?
I’ll leave you with Jordan’s beautiful portrayal of her last few hours and minutes as the guest of her esteemed host.
Lastly, before I returned home, he took me to his synagogue nearby where I was able to pray minchah/ma’ariv (afternoon and evening prayers) with him and other men in his community. As I am a woman and I was in an orthodox synagogue, I stood behind the mechitzah (dividing wall) and prayed in unison with the men, which I was more than happy to do. The sweet gentleman that I had come to visit was very kind and came behind the mechitzah to make sure I was able to follow along with the very fast-paced prayers in the completely Hebrew siddur. I was doing just fine. It was a beautiful and moving experience praying to God in this tiny, adorable little synagogue together with so many pious Jewish men.
This entire interaction with the scholar was a huge blessing for me. I pray it was for him as well, and it will be a sweet and fun memory for me. I am humbled to have even been provided the opportunity to have an audience with such a great thinker, and I am grateful to HaShem for this amazing opportunity.
The road is long and often, we travel in the dark. May God return the lamp to illuminate us.
We have put up a “mechitzah” between us and the Jewish believers in Moshiach and worse, we have constructed that wall and separated the Jews from their King. It is time to reunite them on their own terms and in their own world. The King’s throne and his life are in Jerusalem.