The Challies Chronicles: Interlude Courtesy of the Rabbis

Ismar SchorschA third-century Palestinian amora, Rabbi Hanina bar Yitzhak, posited that three common experiences are merely unripened fruit (novelet) of phenomena unknown to us: sleep (foreshadowed death), dreaming (prophecy), and Shabbat (the world to come). Hence to dream is but a faint reflection of the intensity of a direct communication from God. The Talmud speaks of the ratio of these relationships as being one-sixtieth. Together, these views of Rabbi Yonatan, Rava, Rav Hanina, and the Talmud add up to a consistent effort to limit the potency of dreams as recorded throughout the Tanakh, without fully denying the possibility of fleeting contact with the Divine.

The shift away from revelatory dreams mirrors what Rabbis had done with prophecy itself. They declared it to have ended with the destruction of the Second Temple, to be found henceforth only among “fools and children.” In a culture reconstituted around the centrality of a sacred book rather than a sacred space, the scholar outranked the prophet. Exegesis replaced prophecy as the key to determining God’s will.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Living in Two Worlds,” pg 157
Commentary on Torah Portion Miketz
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

This is another brief interruption in my Challies Chronicles series which seeks to take the live blogging of Pastor Tim Challies on John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, and use it as a platform for analysis and critique.

As I was reading Schorsch’s commentary on last week’s Torah reading, the above-quoted text jumped out at me. The essence of what Schorsch writes, that the Rabbis shifted away from certain “gifts of the Spirit” and toward a more “Bible-based” platform for understanding the revelation of God, seemed like it should be something MacArthur would agree with. Of course, the framework of Judaism would probably result in MacArthur immediately rejecting this information, since it comes from an “alien” (i.e. “Jewish”) source.

But since I stand outside of MacArthur’s own framework, I am at liberty to see the parallels. Evangelical Christianity didn’t invent this shift in perspective nor is it the sole owner of the material. It is true that Ismar Schorsch is only one author and represents the Conservative branch of Judaism, nevertheless, he is mining a rich field of Rabbinic knowledge and wisdom.

But I like what he writes next:

But neither the rupture nor disparagement were total. How could they be? The reality of God’s presence permeated every aspect of the Rabbi’s discourse, piety, and daily lives. In their religious quest, they crafted a Judaism that enabled one to live in two worlds — the material and the spiritual, the transitory and the eternal, the here-and-now and the here-after — simultaneously and harmoniously.

-Schorsch pp 157-8

Tom Pennington at Strange FireWhile Tom Pennington in my recent Strange Fire commentary acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the current world, restricting its activity only in the areas of such direct spiritual gifts as prophecy, miraculous healings, and “tongues,” I wonder if he’s saying something similar? I’m sure he didn’t mean to sound like the Rabbinic sages, and after all, much of what the Rabbis taught were in the form of midrash or commentary, not directly pulled from scripture. On the other hand, while the Strange Fire speakers present their arguments as based only on scripture, the reality of what they produced at the conference was all inferred information, so both “camps” can be accused of standing on less than absolutely solid ground.

In other words, the Strange Fire speakers have a theory that just happens to fit words in the Bible.

At the heart of their arguments, “Cessationists” exist in a world of polarity. Either you believe this or you believe that. Either the Holy Spirit always enables prophecy in human beings or it never does.

While I myself am a skeptic of many of the strange claims regarding holy vomiting (though I don’t think the practice is mainstream Pentecostalism) and other highly dramatic experiences where the Spirit of God seems to perform on command (tonight and tonight only, on this very stage…), I’m not willing to say that God is quite so rigid as to be subject to such terms as “always” or “never,” at least not as defined by mortal human beings.

I suppose that’s one reason why I’m attracted to Jewish thought. It allows God a little “wiggle room” should He decide to supernaturally act in our world in a way our doctrine doesn’t always anticipate.

Schorsch wrote, “But neither the rupture nor disparagement were total. How could they be?” How could they be, indeed. God is an ethereal substance that, once we are open to Him, we soak up like a sponge. If the Holy Spirit really in-dwells within all believers, then we are each a nexus point for a simultaneous connection of physical and spiritual reality. This doesn’t make us spiritual super-people, capable of “leaping tall buildings in a single bound,” but it does expose us to realities that a mere secular individual would be blind to.

But you have to be willing to see beyond the visible light of the universe into a spectrum that exists only in the realm of God. That’s a place we enter when we pray, a sort of doorway that leads from one room of existence to another. We can’t really enter into that other room in this life, but once we gain awareness of it, we can no longer afford to ignore it, either.

torah-tree-of-lifeWe stand in two worlds if we’re willing to see it. My beef with MacArthur’s perspective is that he seeks to define that other world in concrete and quantifiable terms when, from my perspective, the vastness of God extends far, far beyond what can be crammed into our understanding of the Bible.

If I can paraphrase the bard (Hamlet to Horatio), “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I suppose MacArthur and party could say the same of me relative to demonology, but my orientation tends to naturally seek the positive aspects of the “spiritual plane,” which in this case, is the Spirit of God.

While I always will remain a devotee of Jesus of Nazareth, I think Judaism, or certain areas of Jewish thought, does a better job of allowing God to be God, than certain areas of Christianity.

Schorach said that the Rabbis crafted a Judaism post-second Temple, that could exist in two worlds. That makes it sound like the Judaism of the Rabbis is “man-made,” a common criticism of Judaism by the Church. But did the Christian Reformation start and Fundamentalism continue to craft a different kind of Christianity than what existed at the end of the first century of the common era?

Maybe both Christianity and Judaism are products constructed as much by their “revered sages” as molded by the hand of God.

6 thoughts on “The Challies Chronicles: Interlude Courtesy of the Rabbis”

  1. Most of you reading here are probably aware of the various viewpoints and practices among Jewish scholars, and the above-mentioned was just one voice of one camp. Of course the Hasidim and the Mitnagim debated vigorously, but I doubt with the hatred and excommunication we see currently in the world of Christendom.

  2. I don’t think it’s fair to compare what could be considered “mainstream” Judaism with what could be considered “orthodox” Christianity.

    @Chaya, I’m very sorry to disillusion you, but you need to make a visit to the Mea Sharim district in Jerusalem before you talk about Judaism not having sects who practice hatred. Believe me, they are throwing rocks and overturning taxis down there. You take your life in your hands if you dress or act in any way they deem undesirable.

    So perhaps what we should be comparing is John MacArthur faction to the Ultra Orthodox. That might be a more meaningful comparison.

    Just my thoughts on the subject.

  3. Ismar Schorsch is an educator and is involved in Conservative Judaism. His book “Canon Without Closure” is a collection of the commentaries he’s written on the Parashot over the years. I read the commentaries in the relevant section of his book each Shabbat along with my other readings as a sort of “devotional.”

    All I was really trying to do here is to illustrate a sort of comparison between MacArthur’s view of “cessationism” and how some of the Rabbinic sages have address similar issues

    Neither Christianity or Judaism (or any other religion or human organization) is immune from bad behavior and bad motivations, but that’s not the main theme of this “extra meditation.” Just thought I’d throw in that reminder.

  4. “Mea Sharim district in Jerusalem” … I have walked through this neighborhood many times, have been in the home of one resident….was never treated badly! But, being female I did observe the rules pertaining to ‘dress’ and ‘behaviour’..also attended a Tisch with Israeli friends. Women up stairs observing the men who were having a wonderful time listening to their Rebbe..dancing, and singing songs of praise.

  5. There certainly is bad behavior within Judaism, such as the cover-up of child molestation among Orthodox groups. I am aware of the behavior among some of the extremists among the Orthodox, spitting at little girls and calling them, “zona,” for not wearing socks, but it seems they are a small minority even among the Haredi, and confine their “activities,” to what they perceive as a violation of their space, usually. I suppose the analogy is that JM and others are not fringe in the Christian world, but leaders of the mainstream.

    I was in Mea Sharim in 1985, so it was a long time ago. I wore jeans and a jacket, certainly not Orthodox sanctioned garb, but modest enough. I noticed some guys threw a fit because a husband and wife were having a picture taken of them standing together and the husband put his arm around his wife. I have a friend whose husband thought of attending ORU for medical school, but didn’t because he was accepted at a state school. They were told that if his wife visited him on campus, they could not hold hands publicly. Same old, same old. I know, the “make out in church,” stuff is really inappropriate.

  6. There will always be those who consider themselves “defenders of the faith” whom, I think, may be more motivated by fear than inspired by confidence. Paul was one of these prior to the road to Damascus. There, he met his match in the light of his Redeemer and was set free.

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