wrong side of the tracks

Notes from the Wrong Side of the Jordan

I shall make a distinction between My people and your people.

Exodus 8:19 Stone Edition Chumash (v23 in Christian Bibles)

R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch suggests that the phrase “between My people and your people” is a reference to the differing perspectives possessed by the people of the two nations.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.101
Friday’s commentary on Parashas Va’eira
A Daily Dose of Torah

I’ve definitely experienced some “distinctiveness” in opinion over the past several days in the comments section of my blog posts Saving Israel After the Fullness of the Gentiles Has Come (and Gone) and In the Image of God.

(I suppose I should note that even the title of the first blog post I mentioned, the phrase “Saving Israel” was taken as some sort of insult when I posted it in a private Facebook group on Messianic Judaism, due to a misunderstanding of my intent and my citing Paul’s words in Romans 11:26, and the reaction was so strongly disapproving of me, that I removed my Facebook post entirely.)

It’s true that if you’re going to write a “religious” blog, sooner or later, you’re going to rub someone the wrong way, but there are people out there who just can’t seem to tolerate that we are all going to either misunderstand each other from time to time, or that we will disagree on something, and there’s no way to any sort of peace with them.

OK. I get that. So I try not to enter into those debates so much anymore. They never end well. But sometimes these situations seem unavoidable.

Relative to my recent blog posts, there’s a particular group of Jewish people who are offering a service to larger Jewry by “exposing” the fallacies involved in Christianity as well as Messianic Judaism. I periodically had visits in the comments section of my blog from one such person, the subject of this blog post, until I finally had to ban him. I hate banning people, but sometimes a person is so persistently annoying and counterproductive that they inhibit any good that might come out of a discussion on at least some of the topics I write about.

Hence another couple of gentlemen, and I will continue to believe that they are well-meaning in their efforts, made some comments that were designed to be provocative and could well fall into the category of antimissionaries. But while their efforts may be seen as good for Jewish people, they’re not so good for the disciples of Yeshua, Jewish or Gentile.

I can sort of see why they’d want to “visit” Messianic Jewish blogs in an attempt, however misguided, to convince the Jewish blog writers of the error of their ways, but what did I do? I’m not Jewish and I try as much as I can to do no harm to Jewish people or national Israel in word or deed.

(I should say there was a third individual involved in some of these comments who isn’t Jewish and sadly seemed to be more of a troll than anything else).

For those of us who identify as Messianic Gentiles, these situations present an odd conundrum. On the one hand, I relate to Messianic Judaism, at least in its ideal state, as another branch of Judaism that runs parallel to Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and the rest of the various streams of Judaism.

On the other hand, antimissionaries relate to Messianic Judaism as a form of Christianity, and a rather deceitful one at that.

This also invokes Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s essay for issue 114 of Messiah Journal, “The Jewish People are Us – Not Them”. It’s a strange thing to relate positively to Messianic Judaism as a Judaism and at the same time, to find yourself at odds with people operating in other branches of Judaism.

Or maybe not. Let me tell you a joke (and I have to thank reader “ProclaimLiberty” for telling me this one):

There were two Jewish men, David and Joel, who were the only survivors of a shipwreck at sea. The two men were washed up on the shores of a deserted island.

A year later, rescuers found them and discovered that they had built three synagogues on the island. One of the rescuers asked David why the two men built three synagogues. David answered, “That synagogue is the one I go to, the one over there is the one Joel goes to, and the one way over there is the synagogue neither of us would be caught dead in.”

Don't ArgueIf you don’t get the joke, it would be kind of hard to explain it to you. Another way of putting it is by expressing the Jewish adage, “two Jews, three opinions.”

Here’s another example:

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

Matthew 12:1-7 (NASB)

From a traditionally Christian interpretive dynamic, this looks like Jesus is contradicting or just doing away with “the Law” of Shabbat, but from a Jewish perspective (to the best of my ability to render one), it’s two groups of Jews debating on what is and isn’t permissible on Shabbat, more specifically, the melachot or acts of work that are considered forbidden to perform on Shabbos.

Remember, some of the Pharisees felt so strongly about Shabbat and performance of melachot that they even planned to destroy the Master (see Matthew 12:14). Fortunately, these disagreements don’t get to that point in this day and age, however, that doesn’t mean they can’t be quite passionate.

So where does that leave me in these discussions? I can’t resolve them. There’s little to benefit from entering into another long and useless debate, batting their proof texts and mine back and forth like so many tennis balls.

Of course, from my critics’ point of view, we aren’t discussing a simple disagreement. This is a matter of heresy, apostasy, sacrilege, and even idol worship.

So where am I to turn?

The clear inference of these passages is that the recognition of Hashem’s mastery over all areas of life is a liberating force, rather than a debilitating one. This concept is illustrated in the simple, yet extraordinarily profound saying of Ben Zoma in Pirkei Avos (4:1), which asks, “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” Rashi concludes that even the wealthiest person who is discontented with his lot will be in a constant state of fear and despondency, and is considered a pauper.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day, p.102

Oh yeah, God. Remember God? This is supposed to be about God and not winning arguments or rattling “pagan” Christian cages just to get a reaction.

When I get tired of religious people and religious arguments, I take some comfort in the Bible such as this reading from the Psalms for this past Shabbat:

Desist, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted upon the earth.

Psalm 46:11

Unfortunately, even here with the (apparent) reassurance that it is right and appropriate for the nations to exalt God, Rashi’s commentary on the verse as found at Chabad.org states:

Desist: all nations from further marching upon Jerusalem.

and know that I am God: That I will execute judgment upon you.

I will be exalted among the nations: I will be exalted with My vengeance which I will wreak upon those nations.

leaving churchNot very soothing sentiments for a Gentile who is trying to relate to Yeshua-faith as a form of Jewish worship and study. Well, maybe Rashi wasn’t talking about people like me (although I think he actually was).

So why do I do this to myself? Why do I continually inject my attention, my studies, and my commentary into what is obviously Jewish space? Because traditional Christian study materials, interpretations, and doctrine are somewhat…how should I say it…wanting. I suppose it’s one of the reasons I left church last fall after attending for two years (and those of you who’ve been following my blog for a long time know how agonizing my decision to return to the church was back then).

So once again I’m standing in-between multiple opposing forces within my little corner of the religious blogosphere and in my life as well. But I did mention something earlier:

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.

My soul waits for the Lord
More than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.

And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities

Psalm 130:5-8 (NASB)

I have no doubt that God will fulfill His promises to redeem Israel. I just hope that when the dust settles, there will be something left for the rest of us…for me.

Addendum: For more perspective on the debate between Messianic Judaism and other Jewish religious groups and branches (in this case, Yad L’Achim and Chabad) please read Yad L’Achim’s Personal Jesus: the Berditchever Rebbe at the Rosh Pina Project.

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11 thoughts on “Notes from the Wrong Side of the Jordan”

  1. I don’t want to “argue” with you, but I don’t feel like I deserve the title of troll. My two comments were not those of a troll. I was challenging your actions in the hopes that you would reconsider how you were handling things. I guess any challengers or critics are deemed trolls in your eyes. That’s sad. Hope you approve this comment, so that I can at least explain myself and not have you painting me into your view.

  2. I read your article. To be frank, no one really knows or understands the truth. Only G-d knows. We hope we follow the law, worship & study as prescribed & lead holy lives the best to our ability. I often wonder where I belong in the grand scheme of things. I too feel I straddle two worlds. I’m neither fully Jewish nor fully Christian, yet both.

  3. Yes, I approved it Keith. I just have a tough time understanding why I should be compelled to respond to every comment and provocation, whether I want to or not. You have the right to whatever opinion of me you want to form, but if you disapprove of me so, then why aggravate yourself by reading my content? I’m not trying to be contentious. Really. It’s like television. I don’t watch shows I know I won’t enjoy and I stop watching shows that am no longer interested in. I also don’t read blogs I know won’t interest me, and even if I do occasionally peek in, I rarely if ever comment because I know it won’t be a productive use of my (or anyone else’s) time and effort. I don’t make people read what I’ve written. It’s OK to disagree but what’s the point of bringing disagreements up over and over again? I didn’t create this blog to constantly butt heads with people, I created it as a record of my journey of faith and hopefully, as an encouragement for people who have experiences similar to my own. From that point of view, I’m really quite benign, or at least that’s how I experience my blogging.

  4. Welcome to my world, Karen. Yes, I agree, no one individual or group has the corner market on “truth,” but I believe we’re still supposed to make the attempt to draw closer to God through study, prayer, worship, and fellowship. It’s not about having all the right answers all the time, it’s about the journey of faith we take each day, what we can learn, and helping others for the sake of Heaven.

  5. I’m a bit confused about your comment, Karen. On what basis do you feel that you are neither fully Jewish nor fully Christian, yet both? I know of multiple definitions, some more accurate than others, by which those terms may be confusing. There is, nonetheless, a simple definition to determine whether you are a Jew: if you were born to a Jewish mother or if you were converted halakhically. Otherwise you are not at all a Jew, regardless of any positive feelings toward Jews or Judaism, or the performance of any behaviors that resemble those which are expected of Jews.

    It is, regrettably, possible for a Jew to behave unJewishly, emulating the attitudes or behavior of non-Jews, or feeling disaffected or disconnected from other Jews or from Judaism; but they remain nonetheless Jews. It is possible also for non-Jews to attach themselves to the Jewish civilization, and to feel that they ought to participate in it. They, however, remain non-Jews, unless they have appropriate and sufficient justification to take special steps to convert and join the Jewish people officially. Hence it is possible to determine that a qualified term such as “fully Jewish” can only apply to Jews as a measure of their behavioral devotion to fulfilling Jewish responsibilities. On an existential level, they cannot be any less than fully Jewish; and only on a behavioral level or an emotional level might they fail to conform fully to such responsibilities, attitudes or feelings. Jews who choose to believe Christian doctrines may well fail in such ways, but from a scriptural perspective the Greek-derived term “Christian” should apply only to non-Jews, if it should be applied to anyone.

    Now, since the term “Christian”, even in its best definition, is defined by belief, it may be appropriate to apply a sliding scale that measures an individual’s quality of belief and consequent commitment to conforming with suitable scriptural principles of behavior. However, the term also has less salutary definitions derived from historical organizational doctrines and behavior, rejection of which might render a faith-filled non-Jew less than “fully Christian” in this sense, or even not “Christian” at all. In such circumstances, a faith-filled non-Jew is likely to seek some other term to express their affiliation with the Jewish Messiah and with the G-d of the Jews Who is in reality the G-d Who created and rules over all of the cosmos.

    Now, Karen, perhaps I may ask if these definitions clarify for you that you cannot be both Jewish and Christian, nor do you need to try to straddle two worlds as if you could not exist fully or comfortably in either one. One can, however, exist wholeheartedly in the one for which an appropriate definition applies, without feeling that one is “on the wrong side”. It merely requires the respective individuals to choose to devote themselves wholeheartedly to learning the rules and privileges pertaining to the “side” which HaShem has already chosen for them. Given the confusions and lack of clarity that have existed during the past four decades since the formulation of an “MJ” paradigm, that task has been easier said than done. However, some folks are now aware more than before of the need to identify the categorical criteria and characteristics appropriate within each set of bounds, so that each may become confident about what is right to do and who they are.

  6. James, I apologize in advance and feel free to not post this, but I couldn’t resist “translating” PL’s joke across religious borders to make a point:

    “There were two Christian men, Stanley and Chuck, who were the only survivors of a shipwreck at sea. The two men were washed up on the shores of a deserted island. A year later, rescuers found them and discovered that they had created three Christian denominations on the island. One of the rescuers asked Stanley why the two men created three denominations. Stanley answered, ‘That denomination is the one I’m a member of, the one over there is the one Chuck is a member of, and the one way over there is the denomination that we will both become members of once we have theological disagreements at the denominations we’re currently members of.’”

    Maybe if we’d all stop running from the common understanding of the process of “argument” as being representative of “failure”, we might get somewhere in our disputes, perhaps even seeing them as healthy [G-d forbid!]. Disagreement can be a tremendously potent vehicle to truth [G-d forbid!], but the rose-colored, dysfunctional drive toward “consensus” turns every instance of it into the “anomaly-from-hell”, so to speak, to be avoided like the plague. If we’d all re-read Thomas S. Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” maybe we’d nurture or re-nurture a healthier respect for anomalies. [G-d forbid!]

  7. “Jews who choose to believe Christian doctrines may well fail in such ways, but from a scriptural perspective the Greek-derived term “Christian” should apply only to non-Jews, if it should be applied to anyone.

    Now, since the term “Christian”, even in its best definition, is defined by belief, it may be appropriate to apply a sliding scale that measures an individual’s quality of belief and consequent commitment to conforming with suitable scriptural principles of behavior. However, the term also has less salutary definitions derived from historical organizational doctrines and behavior, rejection of which might render a faith-filled non-Jew less than “fully Christian” in this sense, or even not “Christian” at all. In such circumstances, a faith-filled non-Jew is likely to seek some other term to express their affiliation with the Jewish Messiah and with the G-d of the Jews Who is in reality the G-d Who created and rules over all of the cosmos.”

    Very true, PL. Many years ago I found I could not reconcile Scripture with the teachings of most Christian Organizations, although many individual Teachers in Christianity, however, do insist on living in righteousness as well as trusting Yeshua for redemption. The problem becomes a view of not just how one lives, though that is the major point in a Non-Jewish Messianist’s life, but exactly who ‘Jesus’ is to the majority of Christians can be difficult to discern, except that in those Christian’s eyes Jesus is not connected to Judaism at all.

    Along your sliding scale of Believers, some Christians get so Greco-Roman in their high Christology that their Jesus and our Yeshua are not the same person at all. In a discussion with an adamant atheist years ago, I had to spell it out in clear terms that I was not a Christian at all in the terms he expressed just in order to describe what being a Messianic Gentile is. Naturally, being an atheist, he still thought I was strange to believe in what I could not prove, but considered me more honest in my statement of belief since I specifically chose to believe and act as I do.

    That simply left me confused that there is not a special category to fit into, any more than there is a definitive place where I can go to learn or worship that is not essentially Jewish at it’s base. That makes us a very confused and lonely scattered few that seem to be in terms of halachah rather light on the Judaism while walking in Torah to the best of our ability, and trusting Yeshua in terms that does not affect YHVH’s essential oneness as G-d. One can only hope that one day there will be enough Non-Jewish Messianists to actually be in community with each other. Or is it merely time to just be Messianists, regardless of our derivation, since a Messianish has to be Judaic in nature?

  8. @Dan: It’s not disagreements I’m against as such, but some folks offer opposing opinions, not as a “refining” methods, but just to rattle cages. Also, a lot of these debates have been recycled ad infinitum and I don’t know if it’s useful to redouble our efforts knowing the outcome will continue to be the same.

    I don’t find it particularly illuminating to argue with antimissionaries as we are always going to represent very different perspectives.

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