the bridge

Doing It Right

My family lives in Greenwood, Mississippi. Nestled in the heart of the Delta, we are proud of our small-but-vibrant shul; even when only a dozen or so folks fill the pews, time spent in our building is meaningful. However, recently we saw our sanctuary overflowing with guests for the first time in years—and we were honored to host an event that led to powerful connections and conversations with our Delta neighbors.

-Gail Goldberg
“Christians and Jews Sharing Shabbat in the Delta”
MyJewishLearning.com

Derek Leman on this blog Messianic Jewish Musings, refers to himself as:

…a rabbi, writer, and speaker at the intersection of Judaism and Christianity, Jesus and Torah, temple and atonement.

That last part about being at an intersection probably describes any Jew or Gentile who is involved in the Messianic movement in any sense, for we hold views and convictions that aren’t exactly typical in more normative Judaism or Christianity. In fact, we end up getting into plenty of arguments with just about everyone because we don’t fit into anyone’s convenient religious mold.

But Gail Goldberg’s article attracted my attention because it shows a portrait of Jews and Christians “doing it right,” of laying aside the ancient apprehension and animosity and for one brief evening, sharing the Shabbat in a synagogue in peace.

People came from all over to hear her speak; Christians were challenged and enriched by her teachings on Christianity, and Jewish attendees were similarly riveted by her approach to scholarship and religious studies transcending both religions. Though the program took place in a synagogue, AJ knew her audience was primarily Christian. She addressed all equally, and encouraged all to be open to challenge and new notions. As local bookstore employee and program partner Steve Iwanski noted in his wonderful blog following AJ’s presentation: “…she sought to bring light to the parts of Jewish faith that may be unfamiliar to the typical Christian.

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

This isn’t describing a Messianic anything. These are Jews and Christians outside our little movement who nevertheless, found a bridge by which they could cross a two-thousand year old gap and find some common ground. There could be a majority of Christians amid Jewish community and no one felt threatened.

Ms. Goldberg’s article finishes with:

That night, I felt the pride of our ancestors – Ilse (Ilse Goldberg, Gail Goldberg’s 86-year-old mother-in-law) in the room, and others no longer with us. If they could have seen the full pews and felt the support and investment of our neighbors, I know how proud the previous generations of the congregation would be. I’m just honored that I could be part of such a wonderful communal experience, and grateful to see our shul stuffed to the gills with long-time supporters and first-time visitors. I hope to see our friends and neighbors joining us in fellowship many more times in the future.

The Messianic Jewish movement purports to share a common Messiah and a common God between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of the Master, and yet we see a lot of friction and many separate ways of attempting to operationalize our “union”. Some Jews who aren’t Messianic like my friend Gene, find it necessary to point out the rather stark differences between Messianic Judaism/Christianity and Orthodox Judaism, which, whether he means to or not, continues to drive a wedge between Jew and Christian.

But as we’ve seen in the quotes above, it doesn’t have to be that way.

But this isn’t the only example:

We moved to the Czech Republic eight years ago to serve God and our new community and I had expectations of what life would be like. When I stand in the synagogue now on Friday nights, looking out at our growing group of spiritual sojourners singing and praying in Hebrew, Czech, and English, I am taken aback by what God has done. He has demolished my expectations and from the rubble built something worthy, something glorious.

My husband and I had just started being observant. We started slowly, first lighting candles on Shabbat, then observing festivals. He began to wear his kippah, I would cover my head during prayer. I started learning Hebrew and to sing the prayers in my new siddur. Each tentative step brought me closer to my heritage and closer to the way I found to truly express my love for God. As we strolled one day through the medieval alleyways of Cesky Krumlov, we stumbled upon a synagogue, hidden away off the beaten path. It was just finished being reconstructed and I felt a leap from within me. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could sometime light the Shabbat candles here at the synagogue?”, I whispered in my heart and ever so quietly to my husband. It was as if saying the words too loudly would damage them extinguishing the hope that had been lit..

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

This was written by Krista, one of Derek’s students, for his blog post A Synagogue in the Czech Republic. You can click on the link to get the whole story, but here’s what I want to show you:

Ours is an inter-faith group. All are welcome. “Isms” are left at the door. Though the service is conservative and very traditional, there is an atmosphere of family here, humanity seeking the Creator and learning how to worship together. Many who come are Christian, Baha’i, Hindu, Jewish and agnostic. We save the discussions for the café which used to be the Rabbi’s house. Ruth remembers it as it was when her dear Rabbi lived there. Now we sing and pray and talk about deep topics there over tea and cake. I invite those who might want to delve deeper to our house for once a week gatherings, Mussar and Bible Studies. As a Messianic Jew, I share my thoughts and beliefs about Messiah during these group times at our home.

I’m not saying every synagogue, Messianic or otherwise, has to be this way, but here we have two examples where in Jewish religious and community space, not everyone was Jewish and in the latter case, there was acceptance of a Messianic Jew as a Jew by non-Messianic Jews and by many other faith traditions including Christianity.

Krista also wrote:

This burgeoning community is in need. We have just filled out the paperwork to be recognized as a Jewish Community by the Ministry of the Interior.

Unfortunately, it was suggested that this Czech synagogue was pulling a “bait-and-switch” since Krista describes it as an interfaith community, but in his response to that comment, Derek said that:

Gene is wondering if a bait and switch is going on in Cesky Krumlov and I answered that: no. The people there are happy with an interfaith community and there is nothing deceptive about it.

Derek also said to Gene (sorry to keep bringing you up Gene, but I can’t avoid it in this context):

Your idea that Jews don’t like Christians or that Jews want to keep Jesus away with a ten foot pole, just isn’t true. Maybe your journey away from Jesus into Orthodox Judaism colors your perception. Most Jews are open to all sorts of things, including Bahai and Buddhism. People who insist on sharp borderlines do not represent most people in the world who take joy in learning from many streams of religion, philosophy, arts, politics, etc. If you were to approach these people and say, “This is bad, you shouldn’t do it,” I think they’d ask who the heck you think you are. Now having said that, the services in the synagogue are simply Jewish prayers and songs. The groups that meet at other times are not in the synagogue. It is called Interfaith. Some people like it. You might not be one of them.

I found that statement slightly ironic given that within Messianic Judaism, there are voices who advocate for a sharp division between Gentiles and Jews, and at times I’ve been one of those voices.

sky bridgeBut there’s got to be someplace where we too can build our bridge, stand together in a common place, break bread together, and find a mutual peace.

Maybe Gail Goldberg’s synagogue in Greenwood, Mississippi, and Krista’s shul in Cesky Krumlov are giving us just a tiny peek into the world of the Messianic Kingdom of peace. Maybe someday we can all learn to “do it right.” Someday, we can put aside our differences and while being distinct, also as one bow our knee to One God.

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36 thoughts on “Doing It Right”

  1. Very nicely written, James. Of course I had Daniel Boyarin’s book Borderlines in mind as I shared my thoughts too (though I never specifically mentioned it). Bringing people together from different points of view to celebrate our commonality and talk about God together — what could be wrong with that?

  2. As much as I do appreciate these big-tent, warm-and-fuzzy, “kum-bye-ya” events, descriptions of this sort don’t actually answer a question that nags at the back of my consciousness. This question arises from the narrow-focus particularistic view that cares about the welfare of the Jewish people per se. One version of the question goes about like this: “Was there any Jewish minyan anywhere about the place that davened the required traditional prayers, at the appropriate time for the welcoming of Shabbat haMalkah?”. Unless such events are held during the summer months, such davening probably would need to be scheduled prior to the meeting with the larger mixed public, because during most of the year Shabbat begins earlier in the evening than when public meetings tend to be scheduled to begin. This conflict could present a problem, as lighting candles in the shul after Shabbat has already begun is a no-no. I’ve seldom seen a significant non-Jewish body that is invited to an event of this sort be subjected to a full 45-minute minimum of Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma-ariv Hebrew prayers (not counting any public address) in conjunction with the lighting of Shabbat candles that should occur some 18 minutes prior to these prayers. Even if these events were to be convened fairly rarely, they should not pre-empt the normal activity that is designed to support the communal spirit of the Jewish community for whom Shabbat observance is covenantally obligatory. Hence, since “doing it right” should not be at the expense of Jews doing it wrong, it would seem that the non-Jewish public must observe the performance of a significant period of Hebrew prayers in which they cannot fully identify or participate. That does not seem to be the practice in either the Czech synagogue or the Mississippi one mentioned above.

  3. James, Reform Jews are big into interfaith and into a whole slew of other social causes (social justice, gay rights, environmentalism, etc.) which have replaced Torah for them. Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, do not see a need to get intimate knowledge about how other religions worship their false gods or why. In fact, they see it as prohibited to them by Torah itself in strictest terms. Jews are to be teachers of the nations, not to learn from them about their religions or pretend that the differences between us are minor.

    Besides all this, Christians have a commandment in the New Testament from Jesus (and we can say from Paul too) to go to the Jews “first” in order to give them the gospel and to make Jews into “disciples of Jesus” (e.g. Christians/Messianic Jews). You can understand why Jews are suspicious of a religion that has an agenda for them specifically, above all others. Should Jews turn a blind eye to this little fact?

    Of course, none of this should preclude Jews and members of other religions having friendly, peaceful relationships.

  4. PL said:

    Hence, since “doing it right” should not be at the expense of Jews doing it wrong, it would seem that the non-Jewish public must observe the performance of a significant period of Hebrew prayers in which they cannot fully identify or participate. That does not seem to be the practice in either the Czech synagogue or the Mississippi one mentioned above.

    I got the impression that having a large crowd of non-Jews in that synagogue was a pretty rare event, so it’s not like they’d either be “subjected to the full 45-minimum of Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma-ariv prayers” nor that the Jews in the synagogue would be forced to “do it wrong.”

    I’m not suggesting this be a regular thing. My point is that, at least on one occasion, Jews and Christians could get together without the need for each side to tell the other that they are “wrong”. It’s a counterpoint to the discussion that has been going on in my previous “meditation”. While those discussions can be illuminating, there are times when I wish Jews weren’t threatened by Christians and Christians weren’t threatened by Jews.

    Gene said:

    Of course, none of this should preclude Jews and members of other religions having friendly, peaceful relationships.

    Which is my point. Also see my response to PL above.

  5. “Of course, none of this should preclude Jews and members of other religions having friendly, peaceful relationships.”

    That’s very true.

    I have friends (and family) from all walks of religion. I have Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Atheist friends. In a public or private setting, we get along. We talk about music, movies, sports, weather, etcetera. We can and have even talked about religion with no problems. However, it’s a completely different story when the interactions take place in a religious setting. For instance, a Christian attending a khutbah at a mosque; a Jew attending a Pentecostal church service; a Muslim attending a synagogue service. If these people take their religion and deity serious, there is going to be some friction or just plain “let’s get the heck out of here”.

    It doesn’t work.

    Would I ever attend a mosque, church, or Hindu temple service? No.

    Would I ever have friends and conversations with people from different religious or atheistic viewpoints? Yes.

  6. “If these people take their religion and deity serious”

    Keith – I think that the key. Most examples of the so called “interfaith” (specifically in a religious setting), including ones cited in this post and elsewhere, take place among people who are part of very liberal streams of whatever religions or folks who are very loosely connected to a particular faith. This is the crowd for which “all religions lead to G-d”. I am sorry, but this is not what Jews get from their Bible in regards to religious ideas practiced by the nations, to cite a verse that I am fond of using in these sort of dialogs:

    To you (Hashem) shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: “Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit. Do people make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods!” (Jeremiah 16:19-20)

  7. While this is a nice event, I don’t believe it is sustainable. The sad reality is that we (Gentile Christians, or Gentiles in general) do not guard a Jew’s identity, and that is, to my mind, the biggest problem.

    Neusner, Boyarin, Shaya Cohen, and many other scholars point out there was no such such thing as “Judaism” until well after the destruction of the temple, and of course “Christianity” simply didn’t exist during Yeshua’s, or his disciples’, day. The hard lines that are drawn in both Christianity and what became Judaism against each other are attempts to distinguish themselves as seperate. Some say it was Turtullian who began to refer to Jewish practice as an “ism”, effectually systematizing it in the mind of Christians in order to help make Jews the “other.”

    Back to the point: we don’t see anything in the written record of believing Jews after around the 5th century. In other words, this purely Jewish sect of “Judaism”– or, the Jewish Jesus movement – once Gentiles flooded in, eventually lost its Jewish people. Why? Did they get kicked out, leave, die off, or did they remain but were forced to dissacoiate with their Jewish identity?

    All conversions to Christianity in the Middle Ages (and beyond) required Jews to forfeit their Jewish identity and practice – often at the threat of death – as the “confessions of conversions” point out (on my blog). Yes, Christianity wanted to tell them about Jesus, but they weren’t allowed to remain Jews once they responded to their own Messiah. How many Jews are within the church and yet are not allowed to think “Jewishly” or do “Jewishly” – it’s legalistic, you know.

    And now, as Gentiles flood into MJ, the same thing will most likely happen again. Most of these Gentiles don’t understand the collective psyche of the Jewish people just since the Holocaust – much less the last 2000 years – and just seek a way to elevate themselves, either by appropriating Jewish identity or by having “tasted” a little, have more ammo to nullify it.

    I’m all for acceptance of each other, and I am sure all those Christians were excited to get a glimps of something Jew-ish (Gene’s point about Reform Judaism is quite right) and yet, I am also dubious about many orthodox claims. But the reality is that Gentiles simply do not see the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their God-given identity, as something to guard and protect.

  8. I am seeing that the general consensus is for separation of all religious groups from each other. Really, all I was suggesting is that we occasionally agree not to “hate” on each other and that, even sporadically, we recognize that all human beings were created in the image of God, even if those human beings belonging to different religious groups.

    Is that so much to ask? If so, then why are we communicating with one another?

  9. “Neusner, Boyarin, Shaya Cohen, and many other scholars point out there was no such such thing as “Judaism” until well after the destruction of the temple”

    Sojourning With Jews, the Jewish people who are actually involved in Judaism disagree with these very liberal scholars (yes, I’ve read all three), if indeed they made such a crazy claim (I highly doubt it). Unless you are talking about the word “Judaism” – which is semantics, but then you should look up Galatians 1:13-14, where Paul himself – before the destruction of the Temple – twice mentions (of his “former life” in) “Judaism” and of Jews being in “Judaism” (Ioudaismos).

    Judaism in Moses’ day was not exactly the same as in the times of Solomon. In fact, many things were different after the Temple was built. Yet it was not a different religion, but a continuation of the same faith. So it is with Judaism today.

  10. “Really, all I was suggesting is that we occasionally agree not to “hate” on each other and that, even sporadically, we recognize that all human beings were created in the image of God, even if those human beings belonging to different religious groups.”

    James, who speaks of “hate”? Why make a hyperbole? I don’t hate people. I even find it hard to hate people that I probably should be hating, murderers and slanderers of Jews, enemies of Israel, or vicious haters of the G-d of Israel. Speaking out against falsehood and idolatry is not hatred – otherwise we should condemn both G-d and the whole Hebrew Bible. What could be more caring than trying to reason with and warn people of something that is destructive to them?

  11. I speak of “hate” in the sense that a lot of energy is spent in the whole “I’m right and you’re wrong” transaction between these various groups. All I said is that it would occasionally be desirable, at least from my point of view, if we could put that aside and attempt to address our commonalities rather than just what separates us. In the Messianic Age, we are promised a world at peace, which I take to mean that all of the diverse people groups and individuals will be at peace with each other. It may be to much to hope that we could capture even a tiny glimmer of that age of peace in the present world, but every so often, as I tried to illustrate in this blog post, I see some such signs. I think we are capable of not beating each other over the head with (metaphorical) blunt instruments. I think that God desires that we live in peace with each other. I just don’t think we have much hope in ourselves and certainly not in “the other guy,” the one with the “wrong” theology.

    But human beings tend to feel safer within their own groups. I think that’s what makes Messianic Judaism so confusing because it attempts to take two diverse collections, Jews who desire to live in a Judaism, and Christians (Gentiles) who bring quite a mixed bag of ideas, beliefs, and biases to the table, and somehow give them a common ground to stand on, that being the ekklesia of Yeshua.

    I suppose it would be easier to simply get comfortable with worshiping in some Evangelical church somewhere if somehow I could identify them as my group (which I can’t). That way, I’d have my place and you’d have yours. If Messianic Judaism only attracted Jewish adherents, then it might be happier or at least more easily defined as a Judaism and would only have to contend with the other Judaisms. Gentile Christians (or for that matter, people from other religious backgrounds) wouldn’t have to be considered.

  12. I am encouraged when people choose to focus on what they have in common rather than place the focus on where they disagree. When we can spend time learning from one another, encouraging one another, helping one another out, and doing it with the desire to bring glory to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob then this is a good thing in my opinion.

    The trouble comes when someone is threatened by the friendships, for whatever reason. Maybe they’re afraid that someone’s soul will be lost or maybe they’re afraid that someone will ask the same questions they’ve had and they’ve chosen to live without the answers. Whatever the reason, that’s for them to deal with and while they’re welcome to be friends with the others, they tend not to be.

    We have friends who are from a wide variety of Jewish and Christian perspectives, and we even have a friend who is an atheist pastor if you can wrap your mind around that. Can we talk about religion and faith with them, or are we relegated to social causes, sports, hobbies, etc? For the most part, YES we can and do. Do we intend to convert anyone to our perspective? No. Can we respectfully have dialogue among one another? Yes. Can we even pray to the same G-d together whether we’re a mix of Pentecostal, Reform, Catholic, Modern Orthodox, etc? Well, yes. It happens. And nobody is terribly threatened because they are secure in their own faith. They expect that one who is serious about their faith and secure in it will live a life that is deeply affected by their faith. And for those who want to claim that our friends “don’t take their religion and their deity seriously” I would say that this is a very unfair statement to make about people you don’t know and a situation you haven’t experienced.

    Thank you, James, for sharing with your audience what other communities are doing to bridge the gap between people groups who are, as we see here, sometimes not very accepting of one another.

  13. “I speak of “hate” in the sense that a lot of energy is spent in the whole “I’m right and you’re wrong” transaction between these various groups.”

    James… actually, most Jews do not spend a lot of energy on “you are right and you’re wrong”. In fact, in my large community nobody EVER mentions Christianity or Jesus, except in extreme passing. Nobody, it seems to me, even gives Jesus or any of the religions based on worship of him a thought.

    The Messianic world (whether Gentiles or ethnic Jews), on the other hand, is of course obsessed with Jews and Judaism in one way or another. There are very few Jewish counter-missionaries and they are mostly concerned with Jews involved in other religions. There are hundreds if not thousands of dedicated Christian/messianic groups who specifically target Jews to get them to embrace Jesus-worship, who try to get them to attend messianic congregations, etc.

    Unlike most of my fellow Jews, I DO spend a lot of my energy on this, however. For now. Probably because of where I came from and what I know, because I was in leadership, because I used to run a popular MJ blog and knew most of the who-is-who in the MJ. I do not know how long I’ll be doing this, because it takes too much of my time and is stressful to be often personally attacked. So, you may get a break from my “contributions” to the Messianic world one day:)

  14. Gene said:

    James… actually, most Jews do not spend a lot of energy on “you are right and you’re wrong”. In fact, in my large community nobody EVER mentions Christianity or Jesus, except in extreme passing. Nobody, it seems to me, even gives Jesus or any of the religions based on worship of him a thought.

    Unlike most of my fellow Jews, I DO spend a lot of my energy on this, however. For now. Probably because of where I came from and what I know, because I was in leadership, because I used to run a popular MJ blog and knew most of the who-is-who in the MJ. I do not know how long I’ll be doing this, because it takes too much of my time and is stressful to be often personally attacked. So, you may get a break from my “contributions” to the Messianic world one day:)

    I really did expect you to become like most other Jews and simply disappear from the Messianic blogosphere. As you say, most Jews, Orthodox and otherwise, just don’t invest much if any energy in being concerned about Christianity. Messianic Judaism, by contrast, needs to establish itself as a Judaism because of how history has depicted those Jews in prior years and centuries who have chosen to be disciples of Yeshua. The Church offered them only one option: leave Judaism and convert to Christianity. Of course, the proximity of so many Gentiles to so few Jews in Messianic Judaism is also another motivation for Jews in MJ to strive to establish and maintain Jewish community. Orthodox Jews have no such need since no one is questioning their/your “Jewishness” and Gentiles aren’t beating down your doors trying to get in.

    Obviously, I can’t read your mind, but I can only imagine that it much be hard on you on some level to maintain a dialog with people like me day in and day out, knowing I represent that which you left behind and knowing that I’m not going to follow your path (not that I can since I’m not Jewish).

    From my point of view (and I could be wrong, of course), you have a ready-made world, a Jewish community, to which you belong and in which roles, identity, and expectations are all clearly defined. It would seem to me that all you have to do is step inside of that community, close the door, and never look back.

    I, on the other hand, picture myself fighting my way through the Bible tooth and nail, clawing my way through the collision (Derek calls it an intersection) between the Jewish and Christian aspects of my faith, feeling like the inside of a sandwich being squeezed by two opposing slices of bread.

    I think this is one of the reasons why the early Gentile believers in Yeshua rather harshly separated from their Jewish counterparts and those Jewish communities to reinvent themselves (to the detriment of Jewish people everywhere). They experienced a dissonance between who they were as non-Jews and the overarching “Jewishness” of devotion to Yeshua. The Gentile solution to the problem was to create Jesus-worshiping communities that deliberately had no Jewish elements at all, essentially stealing the very concept of Messiah and relabeling it (and him) “Christ.”

    I wasn’t kidding when I said that people tend to gravitate toward their own groups. That’s not a pejorative, it’s human nature. But to the degree that Messianic Judaism strives to be a Jewish community by and for Jews in Yeshua, and yet is linked by Yeshua into a larger ekkelsia containing tons and tons of Gentiles, identity crisis for both the Jews and the Gentiles involved is inevitable.

    Add to the mix Jewish people such as yourself who seem to be throwing stones (however gently) at our glass house, and the plethora of Christians who are doing the same thing, and having a “Messianic” faith seems less like a religion or community and more like being pioneers and explorers in hostile territory. How many wagon trains in the old west never made it to destinations like Oregon or California. They might have been better off and lived longer lives staying where it was safe, in their own groups.

    Having differing communities come into contact with each other periodically can help us understand each other, and for those of us who are disenfranchised, provide a momentary respite from the “religious wars,” whether virtual or actual. But in the end, what separates us is stronger than what binds us together, for too much “mingling” threatens to dissolve distinctiveness. I can see why most people responding here can believe what I’m suggesting should be called “doing it wrong.”

  15. I am sadden that some can’t see HaShem’s hand in this. No, we are not denying the G-d of Israel, we (gentiles at this blog) are affirming that there is no other god but the G-d of Israel. But then, I was amazed to learn that not all Jewish people support the rebuilding of the Temple. I long for His Kingdom to come and ‘swords be beaten into plowshares’ that man not learn war anymore, that the knowledge of G-d will cover the whole earth. Shouldn’t we all, Jew or gentile?

  16. Gene:

    You’re making a statement of faith – like a Catholic who believes that Peter was the first pope – which is fine and I’m not criticizing you, but I’m talking about what scholars say was happening during the first century and after re “Judaism”. Since you dismiss these recognized scholars, let me offer you a few more: Gabrielle Boccaccini, Hayim Lapin, Tomasino, Steve Mason, Anders Runesson, and many others – although I know that no evidence is strong enough to dissuade a faith claim.

    These scholars point out very strongly that “It wasn’t until the third century C.E., at earliest, with the wide recognition of the rabbis as leaders in Jewish society, that anything like a “normative” Judaism can be said to have existed.”

    Why is this important? Because we make all kinds of errors in our thinking while perusing “pure” religion. While no one is saying that rabbinic Judaism doesn’t contain some things that are contemporary with, and even pre-date, Yeshua, Tomasino points out:

    “Among many people, there’s a mistaken notion that there was an unbroken stream of “pure” Judaism flowing down through the ages, running from Moses to the Jewish sages. (The scheme holds that this unbroken stream flows freely into either Christianity or rabbinic Judaism, depending on one’s faith perspective.) But in the last century or so, scholars have come to increasingly appreciate that this picture is a distortion of the historical situation.”

    Re Paul using “Judaism” (Iodaismos), Mason argues in “Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History”, in the Journal For The Study of Judaism:

    “…no term equivalent to “Judaism”… appears in the first two centuries B.C.E. and C.E.”

    He goes on to convincingly argue that Ioudaismos was so obscure, and could not have meant “Judaism”, and instead this “ism”, as in a system, was more the creation of Turtullian. It’s complicated, and I don’t want to force the issue, but you can certainly find the paper online if you’re interested.

    @James: not sure if I came across angry, I certainly am not! I just wish we could affirm each other in our own identities and callings, since we are on purpose and dearly loved by the God of Israel, and I don’t believe we can fulfill each other’s roles which always seems to be the eventual default of gentiles in Jewish space. I do get weary from time to time, especially when I see insecure gentiles puff themselves up and challenge Jews on their identity, and that was just the case very recently, and so I probably had “attitude leak” when I wrote my response. 🙂

  17. SWJ, you are the one making a faith claim – faith in liberal scholars who pontificate on what Judaism, the living faith of the Jewish people, was, is or will be. You assume that I have blind Christian-like faith – I have read extensively on first century Judaism and later developments. With that in mind, I can find you a scholar or a dozen to support any conclusion I wish to support, no matter how unlikely. They can’t all be right, but yet somehow they postulate theories that are mutually exclusive. Just like all religions out there. Scholars don’t get to define Judaism – Jewish people do.

  18. Shavua Tov, “Sojourning” — So are you suggesting that Mason believes that Tertulian edited Rav Shaul to add the term “Iudaismos”, in order to support the thesis that no such term existed or was used in the first century? Or is he merely suggesting that the term had a generic meaning different from what Tertullian perceived of Judaism in his era? These notions are, of course, separate from the idea that several streams of Judaism or “multiple Judaisms” existed in the first century. Now, I have read others who ascribe the notion of “religion”, as a distinct body of organized beliefs and demographic identity, to have been a later development, particularly as codified in the effort to define a distinctive Christian religion, thus incidentally creating a similar category in Christian perception, labeled “Judaism”, as an entity to be despised. But the development of this Christian category somewhere between the third and fifth centuries does not rule out other earlier categorical notions that could use such a descriptor.

  19. @Cynthia: What we can and can’t see depends on which vantage point we’re witnessing events.

    @Gene: If by that you mean me converting to Judaism, that’s not going to happen for lots and lots of reasons, not the least of which is, from both your point of view and mine, it isn’t necessary in order to worship God.

    @Sojourning: It’s tough to tell emotions in a text-only communications environment. No worries. It’s all good.

  20. No, James, I didn’t mean conversion to Judaism. You can’t follow my example of returning to the faith of my forefathers. I simply meant leaving Christianity and its worship of a dead Jewish man because it’s wrong to do so for anyone created by the same G-d as Jews. (Although I do know of men who, for the sake of unifying their family and due to their own conviction as well, converted to the Jewish faith if their wives and children.)

  21. Ah, thanks for clarifying that, Gene. In any case, my long suffering wife told me the Chabad Rabbi here would refuse to perform a conversion for multiple reasons, including the lack of Jewish community in my little corner of Idaho.

    I’m sure it would make my wife happy if I were to leave the Christian faith (or rather “Messianic” but she, as you do, considers me a Christian), but I’m afraid that’s one of those places (among others) where I have to disappoint her.

  22. Shavua Tov PL,

    No, Mason is not saying Turtullian edited Paul, but you are closer to his argument in your alternative.

    He points out that ancient Jews were: “Ethnos” and “Ioudaioi were understood until late antiquity as an ethnic group comparable to other ethnic groups, with their distinctive laws, traditions, customs, and God. They were indeed Judaeans.”

    His perspective is to understand how the ancients saw themselves and their world. He convincingly challenges the appropriateness of using “Judaism”, as if this was an emic concept in describing the whole of Israelite life, culture, traditions, belief, and practice, i.e., “Judaism”.

    He points out how exceedingly rare the terms ἰουδαίζω / Ἰουδαισμός are, and that they’ve been wrongly translated as “Judaism” i.e., a belief system, instead of describing the practice of non-ethnos (foreigners) adopting the ways of another ethnic group, in this case, Judaeans (Israelites). He says:

    “The term does not appear at all in the large Greek-language corpora by Philo and Josephus, who both wrote extensively about Ioudaioi and their ways, or in literature by any of their compatriots.”

    Then, he builds on his argument by showing how the term is used with great frequency beginning with Turtullian, in an effort to make the Jews and their ways the “other”, in other words, polemically.

    Re Paul’s usage:

    “Thus Paul’s only employment of ̓Ιουδαϊσμός, in two contiguous sentences, comes in a letter devoted to the problem of Judaizing. … Although he often speaks in his other letters of the Ioudaioi, Moses, the Law, circumcision, and sabbath (e.g., 1 Thess 2:14-16; Phil 3; 2 Cor 10-13; all of Romans), it never occurs to him in those places to invoke ̓Ιουδαϊσμός for those purposes.”

    The paper is somewhat lengthy (56 pages), not “the gospel”, but worth the read. 🙂

    http://www.stevemason.eu/resources/SMason-JSJ-2007-Jews-Judaism.pdf

  23. Gene, I mentioned several Jews regarding this issue of a normative Judaism, who you dismissed out of hand. None of them argue that Judaism is made up out of whole cloth, or attempt to redefine it. What they do say is that our common nomenclature creates false ideas and categories, and lead to anachronistic narratives.

    I understand many in any faith community are not willing to look at historical facts (as can best be ascertained) and I’m well aware that everyone has a perspective, including scholars, and that it can cloud their judgment. That’s why it’s important to read more than one source, and to always seperate the “wheat form the chaff.”

    But if no one but Jews can discuss the issue of properly defining the ancient’s understanding of (what we call) “Judaism”, and then only the *certain* Jews that you deem worthy, then, what pray tell, are you doing writing a out Christianity on blogs belonging to non Jews who believe in Yeshua?

  24. “what pray tell, are you doing writing a out Christianity on blogs belonging to non Jews who believe in Yeshua?”

    Very simple, SWJ:

    1. To call them out of idolatry of worshiping man as god
    2. To call them out on trying to redefine and misuse Judaism, either ancient or modern, in order to wrest from it support for their worship of man as god. You see, it’s they who completely depend on (at least) Judaism’s past but also the future of Jews and Judaism too, and not Jews who depend on Christians and their religion. This what makes Judaism and Christianity quite different in relation to each other.

    “Gene, I mentioned several Jews regarding this issue of a normative Judaism, who you dismissed out of hand.”

    First of all, you are trying to define Judaism by what Christians may have thought of it (Paul, Tertulian, etc), or by what secular scholars, ethnic Jews or Gentile, think it was or is today. Have you tried defining it the way Torah-faithful Jews, the inheritors of Torah and Jewish way of life, define and practice it today? Don’t you think it’s important what they, people who worship the G-d of Israel and live by His Torah, have to say about what Judaism is and is not, who is a Jew or not, and what the future of Judaism holds?

    You are focusing on semantics which the Torah-faithful Jews do not even employ themselves (outside of the English language). There’s not even a word for “Judaism” or even religion in the Hebrew language (e.g. word “dat”, or practice, is a word that only in modern Hebrew is used to mean “religion”).

    Can you tell me what you have learned from these scholars that have given you a new understanding into Judaism that is different from what Torah observant Jews hold themselves?

  25. @Gene:
    “1. To call them out of idolatry of worshiping man as god
    2. To call them out on trying to redefine and misuse Judaism, either ancient or modern, in order to wrest from it support for their worship of man as god. You see, it’s they who completely depend on (at least) Judaism’s past but also the future of Jews and Judaism too, and not Jews who depend on Christians and their religion. This what makes Judaism and Christianity quite different in relation to each other.”

    Worshiping a man as god? I think you have Christianity confused with those Chabadniks who believe MMS is the messiah – and God almighty – and aren’t shy about saying so, even on giant billboards. On a side note, I’ve never in all my life as a Christian, even among Catholic relitives and friends, seen half as many pictures of Jesus in a Christian home as I’ve seen of MMS in a Chabad home. One in particular, an enormous picture of him is staring at you as you walk into the house. The rest of the walls are literally lined with his pictures every few inches.

    And, isn’t it strange that his followers waited for 3 days at his gravesite for him to rise from the dead, and finally left in discouragement on day 4 after he failed to do so? Where would they get such an idea? Or that the messiah would be God almighty?

    Isn’t that “idolatry?” Why, yes, yes it is now that I think of it, because I’ve been told as much by “Torah faithful” Jews of the Chabad variety, that worshiping Jesus and saying that he is God, is idolatry. Weird, right? Since they do this very thing!

    Now, if Chabad can think their dead rebbe, who as I write this is still in the grave and never stepped foot on Israel’s soil during his life, is the messiah, and by extension god, don’t you find that a tad bit problematic, on multiple levels? Btw, what’s the anniversary they gather for at 770 every year?

    Now, I have no idea if you’re involved with Chabad, and that isn’t the point anyway, but I’ve interacted with them quite a bit and they assure me that Jesus never had anything to do with “Judaism.” This used to frustrate and confuse me until I realized they are essentially correct: because what they call “Judaism” simply didn’t exist in Jesus’ day. So, that is one area that these scholars I mentioned helped me with.

    Unless, of course, you think that in the event that Jesus couldn’t make it to Jerusalem on Yom Kippur, he simply swung a chicken over his head and called it a day.

    Just curious, you do post all this stuff on Chabad blogs too, right?

  26. SWJ, I find it revealing that your first instinct in your defense of worshiping a man as god is to make mockery of one Chasidic Jewish sect that venerates its dead Rebbe. But most Jews, myself included, do not approve of chasidic overemphasis on their rebbes – we even find it disturbing. But even their great devotion doesn’t compare with or excuse what your are doing with Jesus – who is your god and savior from sins, not just a “rebbe” . Most Chabadniks do not believe today that their rebbe is a messiah, even if they once hoped he was – he failed to deliver. (The maschichist camp is tiny in comparison to mainstream Chabad, even if they make noise.) More importantly, none of them (except a few loonies from a while back who were excommunicated) believe that he is G-d in any way. But you still very much do about your dead Jewish guy. Which is why what you are doing is a sin of idol worship against the One G-d is Israel.

  27. The thing is Gene, you don’t know me and you have zero knowledge of “what I do” with the risen LORD Yeshua. Of course, the fact of Jesus’ resurection is beyond speculation and has been proven by many a skeptic, naysayer, and atheist, makes this a very different situation from MMS.

    There’s also one other problem: if Yeshua wasn’t Messiah, since there are no other possible candidates, then you and I are both clinging to a pointless, false religion.

    Anyway, you GREATLY understate the Chabadniks who believe MMS is God and instead repeated what they say to those who question them about this little problem, so the question remains: do you post all over their boards to save them from their idolatry?

  28. “Anyway, you GREATLY understate the Chabadniks who believe MMS is God and instead repeated what they say to those who question them about this little problem, so the question remains: do you post all over their boards to save them from their idolatry?”

    I don’t greatly underestimate, SWJ – I’ve worshiped in any Chabad synagogues, studied with their rabbis, and have many Chabadnik friends. You, at best, as a Christian, have a marginal experience with them or things you learned about them from their detractors and other Christians. You are making a caricature of them.

    Here’s what I’ve never witnessed myself in any Chabad shul I’ve been at:

    1. Nobody has every said that Rebbe was god or part god
    2. Nobody has ever said that Rebbe was messiah
    3. Nobody has ever said that Rebbe saves from sin or gives eternal life
    4. Nobody ever said a prayer toward a portrait of the Rebbe
    5. Nobody ever kissed a portrait of the Rebbe
    6. Nobody ever touched a portrait of the Rebbe in a reverential way.
    7. Nobody ever said the portrait of the Rebbe has any “special powers”

    (Which are things one finds in “mainstream” Christianity).

    To cite a an example I know well. There’s a “renegade” maschichit synagogue down the street from a local Chabad in area where I live. The mainstream Chabadniks have absolutely nothing to do with them. They call them “maschichists” (does it tell you something?). The local Chabad rabbi flatly refused to officiate a bar-mitzvah at the “maschichist” synagogue for a father who attended his synagogue and wanted to do it there because of their beliefs. (Oh, btw, it’s not a sin in Judaism to think that some man is a messiah. But to see him as god – that’s idolatry.)

    This is to show that Christianity’s idolatry of Jesus as a man-god and savior is their unique perversion. Not marginal to some ostracized crazies – it’s mainstream for them and for their “messianic” brethren too.

  29. “Of course, the fact of Jesus’ resurection is beyond speculation and has been proven by many a skeptic, naysayer, and atheist, makes this a very different situation from MMS. ”

    SWJ, excuse me, what???

  30. “I don’t greatly underestimate, SWJ…I’ve worshiped in any Chabad synagogues, studied with their rabbis, and have many Chabadnik friends. You, at best, as a Christian, have a marginal experience with them or things you learned about them from their detractors and other Christians. You are making a caricature of them.”

    Wow, you seem to know absolutely everything Gene! Except that my exposure is far from “marginal” and I don’t know any Christians who have ever heard of MMS or Chabad.

    It is a fact that many of them, although not all — but then I never said “all” either — do believe he is not just the messiah, but God. Unless chanting Long Live Our LORD, Master, Teacher & Rebbe — King Moshiach Forever and Ever” with arm held high toward his empty chair, means something different for a Torah faithful Jew that it does for a non-Jewish Christian. And the children being told he isn’t dead but undercover and listening to them…

    Certainly, if it is idolatry to say Jesus is God incarnate, this is worse, because properly educated Torah faithful Jews know better than to fall for the paganism that Christians engage in, right? At least that’s what I’ve been told.

    It is also well known that most who do believe he is God don’t say so openly, for fear of the reaction. But, apparently you don’t know about the downstairs shul at 770.

    “Here’s what I’ve never witnessed myself in any Chabad shul I’ve been at:
    1. Nobody has every said that Rebbe was god or part god

    Great, but there is plenty of evidence that many do say and believe this.

    2. Nobody has ever said that Rebbe was messiah

    But Chabad says this all the time. Not hard to find out about, it’s everywhere.

    3. Nobody has ever said that Rebbe saves from sin or gives eternal life

    Well that’s good, I don’t know how a dead guy could accomplish that.
    There in lies one of the many differences between MMS and Yeshua.

    4. Nobody ever said a prayer toward a portrait of the Rebbe
    5. Nobody ever kissed a portrait of the Rebbe
    6. Nobody ever touched a portrait of the Rebbe in a reverential way.
    7. Nobody ever said the portrait of the Rebbe has any “special powers”

    (Which are things one finds in “mainstream” Christianity).”

    Well, I’ve been a “mainstream” Christian for probably for longer than you’ve been alive, and I’ve and yet I have never witnessed #4-7.

    And, I’ve never witnessed Christians swinging chickens for atonement, which is done openly every year in Brooklyn. Not under cover.

    Now, despite your attempts to diminish the problematic issues of Chabad, you continue to avoid my question:

    Do you attempt to save your fellow Torah faithful Jews from their idolatry, or are you just lashing out at the people who loved and supported you while you were amongst their ranks?

  31. “Do you attempt to save your fellow Torah faithful Jews from their idolatry, or are you just lashing out at the people who loved and supported you while you were amongst their ranks?”

    SWJ, since they are not committing idolatry nor are they worshiping any creature as god, there’s nothing for me to save. In their excessive veneration of rebbes at best one can say that some of maschichist Chabadniks are coming awfully close to idolizing a man. But Orthodox Jews can take care of the few heretics in their midst and they’ve done just that as I’ve shown you in my example above. For Christians and Messianics, however, heresy and idolatry IS their “mainstream Judaism”. There’s nobody from within to warn them and correct them.

    You know very little about Judaism except what you’ve read about it on blogs and in books by secular authors. I’ve been in Christianity and Messianic Judaism for almost 20 years, including in leadership. I know intimately what their beliefs are – and besides, most of the time, they are not even hiding them. No rabbi is worshiped as god by Jews who are within mainstream Judaism, and they have thrown out any Jews who embrace such a perversion. But Christians-messianics worship Jesus as god as part of their mainstream. You can’t deny that.

  32. “And, I’ve never witnessed Christians swinging chickens for atonement, which is done openly every year in Brooklyn. Not under cover. ”

    Christians do much worse than Chabdniks – they put up a dead man over their heads and call it a sacrifice for their sins and then they do even worse – they worship their sacrifice. Last time I checked, G-d is not to impressed when humans are sacrificed and offered to him for any reason (he expressly forbade such practice), but He didn’t forbid animals used for that purpose (any people sacrificed those even before Temple stood).

    Deut 12.31: You must not worship the L-RD your G-d in their way, because in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

    Christianity would have us believe that G-d would sacrifice his own “son” to appease Himself, while He made it clear that He deplored such practice being done (and wouldn’t even permit Abraham to do this, after testing his obedience), since this is exactly how pagans worshiped their gods.

  33. If you were a Christian and Messianic Jew for 20 years, then I have to believe you know better than what you just wrote in the last two posts (and many others), and instead have other motivations that are driving you.

    “Back in the day” you seemed to regard yourself as the resident expert on what Christians and MJ’s ought to believe, and now you seem to see yourself as the resident expert of what those same folks shouldn’t believe by distorting reality. That strikes me as unstable. The only thing that has remained consistent is your view of yourself as expert, even about people you don’t know and things you claim ignorance of.

  34. “The only thing that has remained consistent is your view of yourself as expert, even about people you don’t know and things you claim ignorance of.”

    CJW, if you followed me in my MJ days, I was focused on Messianic Jews to embrace practice of Judaism and for proper Jewish identity, even back then. For example, my primary area of advocacy within the Messianic world was against Replacement Theology, for Jewish observances by MJs and against false “Israelite” identities of the One Law messianics. So, I have remained quite consistent and “stable” in my argument. What I dropped when I left Christianity/MJ was idolatry of worship of man. This is because I re-examined and threw off falsehoods led me to it from my teen years as a kid who just came from the former Soviet Union and bought into the claims of Christianity. I think that James here can back me up on this. In fact, I would like to believe to have contributed to him leaving the One Law movement.

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