I adored my younger sister and felt very connected to her, but I wasn’t there for her physically or emotionally during her turbulent teens. I was far away in university or traveling, and then in Israel, where I learned in a seminary, married and became in her eyes, a foreign entity: a religiously observant Jew.
Despite the distance, I didn’t see an unbridgeable gap. I could relate to my sister because I saw and felt all our common ground. I was once a teenager, part of the artistic sub-culture of Greenwich Village. I understood what her life was like, even if there weren’t skinheads in my day. I had once been like her, but she definitely didn’t feel like she was anything like me – an “ultra-Orthodox fanatic” against intermarriage, abortion, nudity, atheism, hanging out with guys. I never had a chance to say how I felt about any of these topics; she just assumed everything about my beliefs without any discussion. She could not relate. Or more accurately, she did not want to relate.
“Repairing the Gap”
For a lot of Christians, the sort of “gap” between Jewish people doesn’t seem to exist. After all, in Church, we generally are taught to view Jews and particularly religious Judaism as a single, unified entity. It’s difficult for many believers (or non-Jews in general) to picture multiple viewpoints among Jewish people (even though it is said “two Jews, three opinions”). And yet, there can be different groups, even within religious Judaism, that are highly polarized.
Consider this recent video that has been circling the various social media venues. Here we have Jewish people saying some rather unkind and perhaps inaccurate things about the “Oral Law” and Rabbinic Judaism.
This is the sort of thing Christians eat up with a spoon.
And they have, or at least one Christian group has within the Hebrew Roots movement as represented by TorahResource.com (For reference, I’ve included a screenshot below taken from Facebook of a discussion on this video by Hebrew Roots proponents).
I don’t feel particularly comfortable “calling out” people or groups, but in this case, I think it’s important to illustrate that there are different points of view involved. What your Pastor preaches from the pulpit about Jews and Judaism may not be the only way we disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) are “allowed” to think. I say this coming off of two years attending a local Baptist church where its members do authentically love the Jewish people and the nation of Israel but who are also at least “uncomfortable” if not downright opposed to the practice of religious Judaism. They would, with all good intent, love to see all Jewish people convert to Christianity and leave all but the most superficial practices of the mitzvot behind.
More’s the pity.
Earlier today, Rabbi Stuart Dauermann wrote a blog post called On Not Bashing the Oral Law and the Rabbis of Israel. Here’s part of what he had to say and how he ended his missive:
I don’t think the rabbis are always right. Nor are they always wrong. But I do think it is wrong to attack the rabbis as a class. After all, it wasn’t the ministers and Christian Bible students that kept the Jews and their Judaism alive in the blood- and tear-soaked exilic wanderings of the seed of Jacob. What kept the Jews alive and in faith was the work of the rabbis and the religion they presented and subscribed to.
We owe something to the rabbis of Israel. But is not contempt and mistrust. It is gratitude and admiration, even where and when they disagree with us.
And to the extent that we have entertained the kinds of spurious and nasty arguments I outlined here, we owe them one thing more.
You can click on the link I provided to read his entire message and I encourage you to do so.
I’ve already rendered my opinion on interpretation as tradition so I won’t repeat that message except to say that, like R. Dauermann, I don’t believe that the Rabbis are always right in their rulings or opinions. Nevertheless, the Oral Law in post-Biblical times, was (and is) highly instrumental in sustaining the Jewish people and without what we call “Rabbinic Judaism,” it’s quite possible the Jewish people would have faded from the pages of history long before now.
Of course the Jews have always been protected and nurtured by God but who is to say that the existence and process of the Rabbis was not His method of preserving Jewish people and Jewish practice of the mitzvot. After all, the Sinai Covenant (all of the covenants, actually) didn’t vanish (and it certainly wasn’t replaced) simply because of the Temple’s destruction and the dispersion of the Jewish people among the nations. In fact, about a week ago I mentioned the opinion that one of the functions of the Jewish people being in exile was to be a light to the rest of us. This “being a light to the nations” wouldn’t have been possible without the Mishnah and Rabbinic Judaism.
Why am I saying all this? Just to throw my hat into the ring on this topic?
Not exactly, although that’s part of it.
While we can somewhat separate an opposition to Rabbinic Judaism from how we feel about Jewish people, at least in theory, it’s important to remember that there are those who have no love at all for Jewish people, Judaism, and national Israel, and reports of one of their more heinous acts has been all over the news lately.
As was said on a Hebrew Roots blog recently, we aren’t going to agree on a great many things in the realm of religion, and that’s not really the problem. As I’ve already mentioned, there is a significant amount of debate and disagreement within the various streams of Judaism including Messianic Judaism, let alone all of the expressions of the Christian faith including what I think of as “Christian Hebrew Roots.”
I know I’m probably going to get some pushback for that last comment, but I think of Hebrew Roots as Gentile Christians expressing their devotion to Messiah using Hebraic practices within primarily non-Jewish community, and Messianic Judaism as Jews and associated non-Jews, expressing their devotion to Messiah within a wholly Jewish religious, cultural, and community context.
Given those definitions, it stands to reason that Hebrew Roots will take a traditionally Christian stand, that is a “low view” on many aspects of Judaism including the authority of the Rabbis and Oral Law, while Messianic Judaism, as a Judaism, will take a “high view” of those same elements.
However, depending on which perspective we employ, our attitudes about Judaism and thus Jewish people will be affected. This doesn’t mean that holding a low view of Oral Torah necessarily equals taking a low view of Jewish people or even the Jewish practices in general, but it does require making an effort not to let what one believes about the Rabbis spill over into other Jewish realms, particularly if you are supposed to believe that “One Law” fits all (though I obviously don’t subscribe to the One Law perspective).
If you have a low view on Oral Torah and the Rabbinic Sages, you are certainly within your rights to hold such an opinion, but it doesn’t mean that those who have a high view of Rabbinic Judaism are bad or even particularly wrong. It does mean they’ve made a decision about how to express their faith on the level of lifestyle as well as belief. If that is not your decision also, that ‘s fine and dandy, but please don’t denigrate someone who has taken a different path from your own. For them, that path is right and correct, particularly if they are Jewish and you’re not.
For more on this topic, read Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s article Who Needs Oral Torah? On Living a Jewish Life.
Also, you can read what Rabbi Mark Kinzer has to say about Messianic Judaism and the Oral Torah in a paper (PDF) located at Ourrabbis.org (which can also be found in the body of Rabbi Dauermann’s blog post and over at the Rosh Pina Project).
Addendum: I’ve written something of a sequel on this topic called Jews Defining Their Own Relationship With God And The Torah. I invite you to have a read and let me know what you think.