Question: I need a good book on Judaism. My wife is Jewish and I recently found out that I am, too! We want to raise our kids Jewish. I have read extensively on the subjects of philosophy, religion and psychology. I need something with some real meat, not a yawn intro book.
The Aish Rabbi Replies: The first place to start, of course, is with the all-time bestseller, the Bible. It is not a yawn! I recommend the “Stone Chumash” (artscroll.com), because it will give you a proper Jewish translation plus extensive commentary.
Jewish life is based largely around the calendar year. “The Book of Our Heritage” by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (feldheim.com) is a classic work, featuring a lively and scholarly explanation of all the laws and customs of the Jewish holidays.
An understanding of history is also integral. Rabbi Ken Spiro has written an excellent book filled with facts and anecdotes – “Crash Course in Jewish History” explores the 4,000 years of Jewish existence from Abraham to Zionism, while answering the great questions: Why have the Jewish people been so unique, so impactful, yet so hated and so relentlessly persecuted?
Finally, I suggest you start in earnest by attending a Discovery seminar. It provides an excellent overview of Jewish history, philosophy, and literature. The seminar is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world. For a current schedule, visit http://www.aish.com/dis/
May the Almighty guide you and your family on the path to Jewish fulfillment.
From the “Ask the Rabbi” archives
Seems pretty straightforward, necessary, and praiseworthy. A gentleman who has recently discovered he is halachically Jewish and who is married to a Jewish wife wants to establish a Jewish family life. While the person in question wasn’t raised in a Jewish household and apparently spent most of his life believing he wasn’t Jewish, the fact that he married a Jewish woman and then recently discovered he is a Jew has had a profound affect on him. He desires to integrate himself into Judaism and ultimately the Jewish community. What could be wrong with that?
Problem (no, not with the guy who wrote “Ask the Rabbi”):
More than a few non-Jewish Christians also express more than a passing curiosity about Judaism and their (our) faith’s “Jewish roots.”
Why is this a problem? Because once you’re drawn to Jewish practices, Jewish philosophy, and Jewish literature, what do you do with that knowledge and those desires?
There are numerous answers, some relatively benign and some highly controversial. I didn’t want this morning’s “meditation” to be controversial but either God or the defective wiring in my brain had other ideas.
Those non-Jews who began in 1960s America to seek the roots of the faith that trusts Rav Yeshua for the redemption of mankind were attracted to the budding MJ movement precisely because it seemed to be seeking the same thing. I sometimes suspect that the resulting fusion between Evangelicalism and MJ has produced the kind of Christian-Jewish religious result they were seeking, though it is currently mislabelled as MJ (while the real essence of MJ has been inhibited because it must pursue more authentic halakhic Jewish praxis that is not suited to non-Jews and is not always appreciated by assimilated American Jews who have lost touch with comprehensive genuine Jewis praxis and perspective). If we could effect the necessary separation that sets MJ free to become itself (i.e., a truly and thoroughly Jewish messianism), while the Jewish Roots of Christianity folks satisfy themselves with the semi-Jewish style of religious praxis developed together with MJs so far, perhaps we would end with a pair of related religions resembling the first-century vision. And if we do it now, maybe we’ll be better prepared for the physical establishment of the messianic kingdom in Jerusalem ‘ere long.
That’s a very generous and informed perspective from a Jewish point of view, although I don’t doubt that a number of people will disagree with this statement. It necessitates two separate religious paths or conduits in the worship of the God of Israel through the Messiah, one for Jews in the Messiah and one for Christians. Coming alongside does not require any overlap and I know more than a few Jewish believers who would prefer that non-Jewish Christians (or “Messianic Gentiles” as the case may be) not “overlap” into their world at all.
My personal belief is that at some point, most likely in the Messianic age, non-Jews will enter into some parts of a space that was previously reserved for Jewish people in terms of the Shabbat, perhaps some manner of keeping kosher (if for no other reason than to maintain table fellowship with Jews), visiting Jerusalem at least once for Sukkot, and generally attempting to reconcile with Judaism after Christianity’s long separation from its “root faith.”
This isn’t to say that I support Christians attempting to mimic the totality of Jewish identity and lifestyle under the mistaken belief that Paul or James commanded them to, but if what we see in many of Paul’s epistles is any example, the very early Gentile believers (and I’ve said this more than once before) had lived experiences that were far more “Jewish” than what Christians are accustomed to today.
Can we use something of what we see in the apostolic scriptures as a sort of “model” for “trying on” a variant method of worship and observance on a voluntary basis?
Derek said: If you are not Jewish, but keep Sabbath with the Jewish people, don’t forget you are doing it with Israel, not in place of Israel.
But one day, all will keep Sabbath in the interim age and in the final age, all will be Sabbath. Jews who keep Sabbath now are forerunners, proclaiming by our peculiarity that God is Lord of Time, the bringer of the Time to Come.
James said: I’m sure someone’s going to mention Isaiah 56:1-8 to you at some point, so it might as well be me. I don’t really have a problem with what you’re saying since you aren’t taking that stand that non-Jewish believers are wholly forbidden to observe some sort of Shabbat rest. Certainly those of us who are intermarried would have a tough time avoiding Shabbat if our spouse chose to observe it (or other mitzvot such as kosher food in the home).
It seems clear that in the Messianic age, everyone will be keeping Shabbat and I don’t see why, given the parameters you’ve presented, Gentiles who choose to do so shouldn’t get a head start.
Derek said: Isaiah 56. Two interpretations. (1) This is the Age to Come and reflects what the law for the nations will be then. Many believe this. I prefer: (2) This was about the Persian period (539-334 BCE) when Isaiah 56 was written and was about the situation of Gentiles in Jerusalem at that time.
As to the idea, “Since Sabbath will be universal in the Age to Come, therefore why not keep it now?” let me say a few things. This is a valid choice, not obligation. Those who make this choice are not holier than those who don’t. And the best reason Messianic Gentiles have for doing this is to join with Israel in foreshadowing the Age to Come. It is not to replace Israel’s calling as the forerunners. Gentiles are not commanded to be forerunners in this matter. To choose to do so should go along with a right understanding of Israel’s priestly calling.
James said: I never said I was claiming obligation, Derek.
Derek said: James, I know that because I know you and what you believe. I was giving my perspective on your question for the benefit of all readers. Many would see your words “I don’t see why . . . Gentiles who choose to do so shouldn’t get a head start” as an argument for “I must keep Sabbath as a headstart” or “it is better to keep it now even if we don’t have to.” There are many worthy callings in the world and foreshadowing the world to come by resting in the seventh day is only one of them. Differing ways of holiness are lesser or greater based on deeds of lovingkindness and not based on ritual holiness statutes.
From Derek Leman’s blog post
The Sabbath is Between God and the Jewish People
Sorry for that rather lengthy copy and paste of our conversation, but I wanted to illustrate that even between two people who hold relatively the same perspective on Shabbat, there can still be room for a “dynamic” exchange of viewpoints.
I resigned from the vast, vast majority of anything “Messianic” nearly two years ago when I launched this “morning meditations” blog. I made that decision for a wide variety of reasons that are too lengthy to recount here. However, one such reason was to become part of the solution by ceasing to be part of the problem. If the issue is an objection to Gentile Christians assuming Jewish identity, even superficially, my response was to stop assuming any aspect of Jewish identity. It’s easier to talk with people if they don’t perceive you as a threat.
It’s also why I started publicly identifying myself as a Christian, in order to make my “voice” available to a wider audience. Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots writers and teachers tend to end up speaking to a rather limited audience in most cases. However, some of what we talk about is really important and I believe should be consumed by a wider audience. If I can talk to more people and a broader spectrum of populations, maybe the dialog can be expanded and maybe it will actually do some good for a change.
Anyway, I can hope.
But on mornings like this one, I wonder if hope is enough. All of these religious factions and their variants continually butt heads against one another and periodically, I get tired of fighting the turf wars. If you want something, take it. If you think I’m “playing with your toys” and you want them back, here they are. If you want me out of your yard, I’ll go home.
But then, one of the imperatives of some areas of Messianic Judaism is to carry a unique message back into the church. That’s kind of hard to do if there is no dialog between Jewish and non-Jewish believing communities and no overlap in perspectives and practices. I can’t always say what you say without also doing what you do, at least in some minimalist fashion.
Did Paul kick all the God-fearing Gentiles out of the synagogues because they were associating with Jews in a Jewish space on the Jewish Shabbat? Did Peter refuse to enter the home of Cornelius because he was a God-fearing Gentile and Jews were forbidden to enter into Gentile homes? Did James and the Council of Apostles rule that the Gentiles had no share in the Messiah or the world to come and that they should return to their pagan practices rather than turning to God (or did he say that the Gentiles should turn to God, but by way of inventing a totally new religious system totally divorced from Judaism)? For that matter, and to play the other side of the coin, Did James, Paul, or any other apostle absolutely demand that the Gentiles must conform to the Torah and even (eventually) to become circumcised?
I can see why some Christians might become so exhausted by all of this wrangling that they’d (we’d) just finish the job, retreat into church, and never look at anything Jewish or Hebrew Roots again. You guys all want your various turfs? They’re yours. Have fun.
I know that’s not what the vast majority of believing Jews are saying, but in Messianic Jews defining their exclusive space, is there a space for interaction with Christians? There is going to be another Shavuot conference given by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) and hosted at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin in a few months. There will be Jews and Christians in attendance. There will be some overlap of practice between the two populations. Jews and Christians will be having (kosher) meals together, praying together, listening to teachers together. They’ll be breathing the same air together.
I know that given the real and perceived threats (and some of them are pretty darn real) to Jewish identity specifically within the Messianic Jewish realm, it’s important to make sure there are firm definitions for what is exclusively Jewish about Messianic Judaism as one of the Judaisms in our world, but just once it would be nice to see someone go out of their way and say what believing Jews and Gentiles have in common and on what platform we can both stand.
I believe my basic perspective and the direction from which I’m coming has merit and value. Not that I can’t be wrong and not that I haven’t made mistakes (and I’m sure I’ll make them again), but I think that part of what the Messiah will do when he returns is find a way to bring peace between Jews and Gentiles who are in him. I believe it’s possible to be different and still to co-exist and even to be friends. I believe that when you have something special, you can share it, even though it still belongs to you.
I don’t want to be Jewish. God made the person He wants me to be and I have no right to change that. If I did want to be Jewish, then I’d convert (though that would be problematic since I’d have to surrender my faith in Messiah in the process, which is completely unacceptable). But being married to a Jewish wife, having three Jewish children, and having something of a passion for reading Jewish literature, philosophy, and theological studies, I find myself drawn in a certain direction. If I have violated your “keep off the grass” sign, I’m sorry.
Two-thousand years ago or so, the Gentile believers decided to walk away from their Jewish neighbors. We left their house and taking a few of the “toys” with us, moved in next door and set up a completely different place to live, with a Messiah who didn’t look even remotely Jewish. Now a few of us realize that was a big “oops.” The problem is, even trying to repair the damage that was done is enormously difficult. The rift is huge, the pain runs deep, and the blood still pours out like a river.
I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t want to be an antagonist and I certainly don’t want to claim an identity that I have no right to, but the Jewish pain at the presence of Gentile Christians (including Hebrew Roots) may just be too great for any extension of olive branches to cover. But I keep getting these mixed messages that say “approach,” “retreat,” “approach,” “retreat.”
Where do we go from here? I’ll continue discussing this theme from a different direction in tomorrow’s morning meditation.