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Who Am I and Why Am I Here?

Indeed, surveys show that actual converts to Judaism are far outnumbered by Americans born outside the faith who consider themselves Jewish despite having never formally converted to Judaism. However, even in the most liberal Jewish communities, there is a dividing line that excludes non-Jews. Practically no synagogues allow non-Jews to be called to the Torah (unless they are accompanying a Jewish spouse at their kid’s bar mitzvah). Jews married to non-Jews are barred from admission to rabbinical school. And, of course, non-Jews can’t marry Jews under Conservative or Orthodox auspices.

Most importantly, you can call yourself whatever you want – friend of, member of, parent of. But unless you formally join, you’re no Jew.

-from the article “10 Questions About Jewish Conversions You Want to Know but are Afraid to Ask”
VirtualJerusalem.com

Don’t worry. I’m not considering converting. However, I saw a link to this article on Facebook and was interested about which ten questions one might be afraid to ask.

In my two most recent “meditations,” Are Christians Idol Worshipers and Doing It Right, the conversations kept returning to what Derek Leman might call “the intersection of Judaism and Christianity, Jesus and Torah, temple and atonement.”

But while many or most traditional Christians don’t see much of an intersection between their faith and Judaism, those of us involved, at some level in Messianic Judaism find it unavoidable. In a comment to Gene on Doing It Right, I said in part:

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 could make up a story or a series of stories about the Jews and Gentiles who left Messianic Judaism and entered a more mainstream Judaism or entered (re-entered) the Church.

disconnectedI could say that the dissonance (remember, I’m making all this up) experienced living in-between various elements of Jewish and Christian faith are very “crazy making” and that in order to reduce or even eliminate the inherit discomfort of being identified as “Messianic,” these individuals chose to escape into a more internally consistent or at least more readily acceptable religious identity.

I’ve heard stories of more than a few non-Jews in Messianic Judaism who (in my opinion) became confused about what to prioritize in a life of faith and mistook function for devotion by converting to Orthodox Judaism. It’s not being Jewish that makes one acceptable to God, since even the Orthodox readily admit that Gentile conversion isn’t the only way, or even the primary way, a Goy may merit life in the world to come and be considered righteous. It’s living a life that is Holy to God by transforming our lives from being focused on ourselves to being focused on service to others and service to God (think Matthew 22:36-40).

Of course, that’s not the only path leading out of Messianic Judaism. For Jews, there’s going to/returning to a more normative Judaism such as Orthodox Judaism, and for the Gentile, there’s going to/returning to normative Christianity. Those groups disagree with each other, but the world generally accepts them as valid religious expressions.

But the world, including the religious world, doesn’t always know what to do with Messianic Judaism. While many of the Jewish people within the movement strive greatly to live authentically Jewish lives, in some cases, indistinguishable from Jews in Reform, Conservative, and even Orthodox Judaism, the really big question (and I’ve brought this up before) is what to do with all the Goyim in Messianic Jewish community space.

Actually, there are two other escape paths, particularly for the Gentile, I haven’t mentioned. Leaving the world of faith entirely and becoming an atheist, and continuing to adhere to faith but leaving all forms of religious community and considering all such community as non-sustainable.

I rarely quote from Christian articles and blogs, but the other day, I did find something written by A.W. Tozer called The Saint Must Walk Alone.

The idea, based on a number of Biblical precedences, is that the person of faith by definition is isolated from the larger culture. Tozer cited a number of the Prophets including Noah, Abraham, and Moses, but while it’s true that, in the end, Noah only had his family as his form of community, and Abraham had to gather people around him in order to construct community, Moses, though effectively isolated from the community of God for the first forty years of his life, found a ready-made body of millions of Israelites once God commanded him to rescue His people Israel.

In the Apostolic Scriptures. Jesus (Yeshua) called apostles and disciples to himself, and after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the apostles and disciples, made many more disciples, both Jewish and Gentile, across the latter part of the First Century CE and beyond.

I’ve said before that people gravitate to groups made up of “their own kind”, that is, others who are like themselves. That’s why in older cities in our nation, you have neighborhoods defined by nationality and ethnicity. Visit New York, Chicago, or San Francisco to see what I mean.

And I believe the same is true of religious people. We all want to hang out with people like us, so we don’t get thrown too many theological curve balls. The secular world is a hard place to live in, so it’s comforting to know you have a place to retreat once in a while where you can truly be yourself and be understood without being judged or maligned (ironically, sort of like being a recovering alcoholic at an AA meeting).

Tozer writes:

The pain of loneliness arises from the constitution of our nature. God made us for each other. The desire for human companionship is completely natural and right. The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share inner experiences, he is forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way.

A.W. Tozer
A.W. Tozer

Of course, Tozer’s “Saint” is only lonely away from the authentic community of the Church, and while he says that there may be few who have great devotion to Christ in the body of believers, he hasn’t taken into consideration the fact that there could be “Saints” who have no access to fellowship, and any such like-minded communities nearby could be too internally conflicted and even unstable to be viable options.

Ultimately, the person of faith may be isolated and alone not only from society but from other religious people, even those who fundamentally conceptualize their theology in similar way.

The problem for many of these “Messianic Gentiles,” is not that they/we are attracted to God, but we’re attracted to a particular exegetical system that allows us to read the entire Bible (Tanakh and Apostolic Scriptures) as a unified Jewish document that upholds the primacy of national Israel and the Gospel message as one of national and even worldwide redemption rather than a truncated plan addressing salvation on an individual-by-individual basis.

By definition, we find Judaism more attractive than Christianity (I speak of institutions, traditions, and lifestyles here). However, as the VirtualJerusalem.com article I quoted from states, “you can call yourself whatever you want – friend of, member of, parent of. But unless you formally join, you’re no Jew.”

Not that I would try to be, but many others like me can’t separate their identities from Jewish (quasi-Jewish really) identities. In the end, we either find others who accept us as we are in religious community, we change our identity by conversion to find acceptance, we retreat into the Church (abandoning Messianic theology) to find acceptance, or we just retreat and call an end to seeking acceptance and community. In the latter case, acceptance comes from secular community. We’ve thrown our net very wide and through the wide gate, everyone can travel together.

Tozer concludes:

The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful “adjustment” to unregenerate society they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest. The world recognizes them and accepts them for what they are. And this is the saddest thing that can be said about them. They are not lonely, but neither are they saints.

Earlier in his article, Tozer admits that those Christians who say they are never alone because Jesus is always with them, echo a rather hollow message. Remember, he also said man was made for community, and the people of God are made for community with their fellows.

But in the end, all we really have is God. No religious community is perfect, and some of them are downright toxic. There are who knows how many wounded souls who have sought fellowship, but once burned are thereafter “twice shy.”

I’ve been pleased with how discussions have gone on in my two previous blog posts, especially given the rather controversial nature of the topics at hand. After all is said and done, we “odd balls,” many of whom are like me and simply are not made to be in community, or who otherwise have no acceptable peer group at hand, in addition to God, have the Internet. This is the only place we can find each other, through our communication is merely so much binary and electrical chatter across fiber, copper, and wifi.

Since I’ve pulled back from writing so much, I can feel my intellectual and emotional attachment to the “Messianic blogosphere” wane correspondingly. I don’t scour the web looking at other blogs the way I used to. I don’t view each article and quote at Aish.com or Chabad.org as inspiration for yet another “morning meditation.” I no longer even peek out of my home office on Friday evenings to see if my wife is about to light the Shabbos candles. They either are lit or not as she wills.

purim
Purim Parade in Hebron

Right now (Sunday afternoon), she’s at the Chabad helping to prepare for the upcoming Purim celebration. I couldn’t be more pleased. That’s where she belongs, in Jewish community because that’s who she is. Given the enormous barriers she’s had to cross, I’m glad she’s found her way home. Her experience has taught me that my having community doesn’t seem to be part of the reason I exist. If my marriage to a Jewish woman has previously inhibited her from a Jewish life, maybe our union also helps to reveal my purpose in supporting and encouraging her pursuit of that Jewish life.

I believe for the Messianic Gentile, that’s why we are here, not to promote ourselves but to support Jews, both in Messiah and otherwise, to return to devotion to Torah, devotion to Jewish community, and devotion to Hashem.

As a “Messianic Gentile,” if that’s who I am and why I’m here, it’s enough.

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96 thoughts on “Who Am I and Why Am I Here?”

  1. I really like Tozer, a thinking and esoteric evangelical, which is probably an oxymoron. I’ve read most of his books, and what really surprised me was the first time I listened to him on audio. He didn’t sound like the deep and creative thinker as his writings demonstrated, but like a down-home, country boy. Always enjoy stereotype busters. One disagreement I would have, and perhaps this is more related to modern times, is that the religious world is just as unregenerate as the secular one, and usually worse. I would add that for Jews, Orthodoxy is not the only route to a saner and more stable life. It would be nice to find the support of community without the conformity and us vs. them aspect of community. At this point in my life, I would rather have limited community that is based upon honesty and openness than the larger and more structured place that paternalistically controls information, learning and thinking, “for your own good.”

    Twelve-Step groups are not as non-judgemental as their image appears; it is a religion like any other, with doctrine, catchechism, holy books and prophets, as well as heresy, with love and acceptance offered in return for conformity.

    I believe what Tozer experienced was the loneliness of the prophet; of the few who are willing to see what the masses refuse to see, especially those in leadership who benefit from the mass blindness. Perhaps likemindeness is not the most important issue for fellowship, but appreciation of what others have to offer, honesty, mutual respect and valuation of what others have to contribute, as well as mutual encouragement in growth and development wherever that takes each individual

  2. @Chaya: I think in his article, Tozer did say that one of the reasons a Christian might be lonely is because most of his/her peers in the church are unregenerate.

    You also said:

    I would add that for Jews, Orthodoxy is not the only route to a saner and more stable life. It would be nice to find the support of community without the conformity and us vs. them aspect of community.

    That seems to go along with some of the content in the Virtual Jerusalem article:

    Question: Conservative Jewish leaders have criticized Israel’s Chief Rabbinate for treating non-Orthodox conversions as invalid. But doesn’t the Conservative movement also view Reform conversions as invalid?

    Answer: Each conversion is considered on a case-by-case basis. A Reform conversion could be kosher, Schonfeld says, if it included mikvah immersion, circumcision and “a serious course of study and commitment to live a Jewish life, join a Jewish community and cast one’s lot with the Jewish people.”

    Question: Are Conservative converts expected to adhere to Jewish law as defined by Conservative Judaism?

    Answer: Generally, no. The minimum requirements vary by rabbi but usually include a commitment to live as a Jew and adopt some form of the basic observances. “What I tell people is, in order to convert, they need to be engaging with all of the areas of Jewish life,” says Rabbi Adam Greenwald, director of the Miller Introduction to Judaism Program at American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

    My take away from the those quoted questions and answers is that it’s not absolutely necessary for the Gentile to convert to Orthodox Judaism in order to live a fully realized Jewish life. Of course, I expect most Orthodox Jews to disagree.

  3. “Are Conservative converts expected to adhere to Jewish law as defined by Conservative Judaism? Answer: Generally, no”

    And there’s is the essence of “Conservative Judaism”. A veneer of Judaism and Torah observance, much like its parent, the Reform Judaism, from which the CJ emerged as a movement in the U.S. in early 1900s. Even for converts… What are they converting to when they swear to uphold Torah and the covenant – ethnicity? Orthodox Judaism is not perfect and neither are Orthodox Jews – but at least they (and their converts) have a deep conviction and abiding commitment both to G-d and His Torah that they take very seriously, one they live out daily and one that affects every aspect of their life. Not a social club for secular Jews with only a very loose connection to Torah and G-d (I am speaking as someone who for years participated in a liberal congregation with my family upon arrival into this country).

  4. Gene, maybe you should take up your grievance with the author of the article or the Rabbi who made that statement. I’m just the messenger.

  5. James, you used this article in your post and comments to prove a point against Orthodox Judaism as the sole viable form of Judaism for “fully realized Jewish life”. Therefore I am replying to you and not the author.

  6. Actually, I was replying to something Chaya said, but let’s put our cards out on the table. Of the Jews in my family (wife and three adult offspring), none of them is Orthodox and my wife and daughter are really the only ones who even take a stab at observing some of the mitzvot. Add to that the fact that the missus married a Goy (me) and that her Mom was also intermarried, and I can only imagine that your “opinion” about these sorts of Jewish people must be pretty dim. Has becoming Orthodox really resulted in you looking down your nose at any Jew who isn’t Orthodox?

  7. “Has becoming Orthodox really resulted in you looking down your nose at any Jew who isn’t Orthodox?”

    No, James, only on religions that claim to be Judaism but deny its essence. My opinion of the people who founded and lead these movements is not very high either. From eating treif, breaking Shabbat, performing homosexual marriages, ignoring family purity rules, knowingly creating “converts” who disobey Torah. It’s like me claiming that Mormons or JWs are Christians in good standing and that you shouldn’t judge those religions as valid paths to Jesus (you would probably disagree, am I right?).

    However, they are Jews like all other Jews. Also, many people who participate in Orthodox Judaism are secular Jews or Jews who are very assimilated. I do not judge them as I was once there myself. But they do not represent Orthodox Judaism – they are learners not its teachers.

  8. @Gene — It appears that your familiarity with the origins and the motivations of the Conservative movement is faulty. It did not arise out of the Reform movement as if from some “parent” organization, nor is it merely “a veneer of Judaism and Torah observance”. It arose independently among a sub-demographic of Jews whose views of Jewish praxis did not fit precisely with either the Reform movement or the reactionary Orthodox one. These Jews held views like Heshel’s, and as they immigrated from European locations like Hungary rather than, say, Germany where the dichotomy between Reform and Orthodoxy arose, they formed their own congregations that they felt could address their modern circumstances better than those apparent extremes. Their rabbinical committees continued the halakhic process illustrated in Talmud in order to address current issues. One viewpoint in which they differed from Orthodoxy was to encourage pursuit of Torah and halakhic praxis with personal internal motivation rather than via external enforcement or social opprobrium for failure to conform. This is why converts under their auspices would not be presented with a specific demand for halakhic adherence. They would be taught, rather, the benefits of doing so, and encouraged to pursue it, learning to add one mitzvah at a time if need be. Hence Conservative Jews may be quite orthoprax, albeit in a kinder, gentler manner than one tends to find in many Orthodox communities. Regrettably, this approach has also allowed many Conservatives to be swayed by excessively liberal influences, thus failing to meet the challenges inherent in diligent pursuit of Torah. I have always appreciated the traditionally orthoprax approach encouraged in the Conservative shuls that I attended (including one in Israel), which prepared me to function comfortably in Israel when it became necessary to adapt to a modern orthodox national religious sort of environment, particularly during IDF service. I have found the “kinder, gentler” approach also characteristic in Sepharadi and Masorati communities in Israel, indicating how much of traditional Judaism differs from the flavor that developed in the version of orthodoxy that reacted negatively to the errors of the Reform approach in Germany and then in the USA.

  9. ” It appears that your familiarity with the origins and the motivations of the Conservative movement is faulty.”

    I don’t think so. I am well familiar with the dying Conservative movement. Conservative Judaism is mostly a theoretical and non-practicing movement. To give you just one example – it never ruled that taharat mishpachah laws in Judaism were no longer binding. OK, so far so good. But virtually no Conservative synagogue has a mikvah for use by women (some do have a mikvah for the few converts that may use it) and in actual practice this means that women within Conservative Judaism do not observe marital laws. In traditional halacha a mikvah for family purity is so important that in any new area one builds a mikvah first, even before a synagogue is built.

  10. While I cannot speak for the personal praxis of Conservative women, Gene (and I doubt that you can either), I know of mikvaot that are not connected in any way with any particular shul, but which were established with general Jewish community funding, including from Conservatives. Any Conservative woman may observe the mitzvah accordingly, just as may any Orthodox woman. Even a mikve built specifically by some particular Orthodox shul for the benefit of its members would not turn away a Jewish woman not a member who wished to fulfill the mitzvah (though they might charge a fee for non-members or demand a subscription of some sort). And while I support wholeheartedly the use of a traditional mikve to fulfill this mitzvah, I can also entertain arguments favoring alternative modern methods of cleansing that could be deemed to meet the requirements of “taharat hamishpachah”.

  11. In practice, Conservative Jews do not use mikvah for marital purity. It’s well known in the Jewish world and if you read recent Conservative responsa they basically themselves say “oh, too bad we neglected this, we recommend that we do this …it’s so nice”. So, my estimation of CJ – a social club for older secular Jews who talk about but do not actually practice Judaism, even according to the standards they themselves came up with.

  12. Just had a thought. Within elements of both Judaism and Christianity (I am not broadbrushing) there is a similar attitude that is expressed differently. Evangelicalism says, “We are saved and you are lost.” (Ashkenazi) Orthodox Judaism says, “We are good Jews; you are not.” This is well understood within cognitive psychology. When a person leaves one group/worldview and joins another, it is necessary to view the past choice as deficient, inferior and perhaps evil, while viewing the new environment through rose colored glasses. The magnet that attracts, the payoff for new restrictions in one’s life is a sense of superiority and the licensing to look down upon others.

  13. Yes, I remember he said something like, “In 50 years, there won’t be one godly man in most evangelical churches.” He saw the encroachment of entertainment and feel-good religion.

  14. “He saw the encroachment of entertainment and feel-good religion.”

    Chaya…. and if you look at much of Evangelicalism today, it’s hard to say that this is not the case with them. If a shoe fits.

    “(Ashkenazi) Orthodox Judaism says, “We are good Jews; you are not.” This is well understood within cognitive psychology.”

    It’s not about good or bad Jews. Secular Jews are intermarrying and assimilating into Christian society. Secular educated Jewish women often remain single and childless and for both men and women, Jewish intermarriage is over 50% today. That’s a fact. If secular and liberal Jews disappear as a group (and Jewish people will always be around), it won’t be because Orthodox Jews looked at them negatively while seeing themselves through “rose colored glasses”. It will be because while some took their Judaism seriously, others would rather lead a comfortable existence and be liked by others.

  15. Chaya, I also find your last few comments funny, considering that you often rail here and on other MJ blogs against the mishigas you see in the Messianic Movement, at various practices, at their leaders marriage to Gentile women, how they started as Evangelicals, etc. and also frequently claim that you thus have to observe them from outside, since you don’t “fit”. Well, don’t mind me if I don’t fit and also observe from outside:) But don’t knock others’ criticism of other groups while you yours are usually no more charitable.

  16. While this has certainly been an interesting conversation so far, it doesn’t appear to address the major themes I wrote about, including social isolation of the religious person, even within his/her own faith group, and the role of the “Messianic Gentile,” which is to promote Jewish return to Torah, both within and outside of Messianic Judaism.

    I do see people taking potshots at each other, or at least that’s what it seems like.

  17. Yes, Tozer believed he was looking at the future, and I believe he was. It seems secular Jews assimilate into secular society, not Christian society. The trend to late marriage or ignoring formal marriage and marrying later and having fewer children as well as more who elect to not have children is prevalent throughout the educated and middle to upper-middle class population. I understand the problem of lots of single women is common in the religious world, including the Orthodox world, as there are more marriageable single women than marriageable single men, and more women than man in total demographically in these communities. I know several Orthodox women who are beautiful, have good character and pleasant personalities and are educated, talented and UNMARRIED, not by choice. I understand this problem exists in Israel also.

  18. Since intermarriage is such an issue to some, are you sure your own bloodlines are “pure”? If so, how can you be sure, since Jewish men marrying non Jewish women go all the way back to Moses, Joseph, and lots of others. This didn’t end in the diaspora. Anyway, just curious.

  19. “Jewish men marrying non Jewish women”

    After the giving of the Torah and after the covenant was made between G-d and Israel, women who married these men became Jewish / converts to Judaism by whatever standard of the day was. They “entered the congregation of the L-rd”. Not all people were allowed into the congregation (as we read in Deuteronomy 23:3), so from this we can deduce that there had to be some sort of “gate” for the converts to get in and someone had to guard it – elders and judges of Israel. One criteria for these converts – they had to leave behind whatever idols and false gods they previously worshiped and worshiped the G-d of Israel alone.

    “are you sure your own bloodlines are “pure”?”

    I don’t have to be sure of purity of my blood. I just have to trace my ancestry to halachic Jews according to the Jewish law – through my mother (I can do this through my Dad too, but that’s not what the Law requires). This I can easily do and I have documentation and photographic evidence going back at least 5 generations. Also, intermarried rates even in the U.S. were only 17% in the beginning of last century. You can imagine that there were extremely low where my ancestors hail from – Poland and Ukraine. Those who did stray and married into another religion – well intermarried didn’t stick around the Jewish community back then, so there’s no need to worry about one’s bloodline.

    The Jewish community has a solution for intermarrieds – the Gentile spouse can convert. Those who don’t want to for whatever reason or don’t wish to give up their gods – they shouldn’t complain that Jews are so cold-hearted. I’ve known many men and women converts to Orthodox Judaism. They are doing just fine.

  20. ” I understand this problem exists in Israel also.”

    Chaya… there a difference between can’t and won’t. A lot of secular Jewish women do not want to get married and have children or they delay marriage until after they feel they accomplished their own goals. They want to have education, career and independence. Those things are nice, but by the time they are ready to get married, it’s too late. This is well documented and complained about. I am not saying anything new here.

  21. Since I can only trace my family back two or three generations, and most US Jews are in this same situation, we have no way of knowing our ancestry. However, whatever the content of this bloodline that we are not aware of, we can see right in front of our faces the problem of assimilation, as well as, Gene mentioned, Jewish women who want to marry Jewish men being unable to marry and therefore not having children and their generation is cut off.

    @Gene, I don’t know what numerous blogs you are talking about, as I can only think of one other MJ blog I comment on, and that one doesn’t post new articles too often. Just because a religious community is not right for me, doesn’t me it isn’t a good fit for someone else, but at least they should go in with their eyes open, full disclosure.

  22. “Those who don’t want to [convert] for whatever reason or don’t wish to give up their gods – they shouldn’t complain that Jews are so cold-hearted.”

    Interesting, I never said anything about cold-heartedness.

    But your remark is what is wrong with all religion, and is by no means restricted to Jews. There are always some who feel they are “helping” God by harming His creation, as if He plays favorites and is happy when we hurt the “others”. It isn’t easy finding out that the only way to please one’s mother-in-law is to either drop dead or divorce her son, with no regards to how that divorce would affect any of the parties involved, including the children.

  23. @Sojourning — Why mention “bloodlines” at all? Even Orthodox Judaism isn’t concerned with anything like genetic purity. The concern regarding intermarriage has to do with halakhah, which in turn is aimed at maintaining Jewish identity and cultural civilization that embodies the defining characteristics derived from Torah. Now it is understandable how intermarriage might contribute to the one partner feeling isolated or estranged from the community in which the couple and their nuclear family resides, especially when that community has a strongly characterized cultural identity. However, I believe James was trying to consider other causes whereby an individual might feel isolated or estranged from the cultural or social environment in which he or she is located. One of them seems to be when the individual differs in religious intensity or character from others in their social circle.

  24. There are religious Jewish women, including Orthodox, who are unable to find spouses. Then, there is also a problem with grabbing the first person who comes along when one is still not mature, out of fear. I know my nieces, who identify Jewishly but are not religious, eventually want to marry and most have serious boyfriends but are not in a hurry to get married as they view, as you mentioned, completing their education and establishing a career as something to accomplish first. In a world with a high divorce rate, it makes sense to be able to financially care for oneself and children if required, rather than place oneself in a highly vulnerable, dependent position. People tend to act according to their peer group with these issues.

  25. PL:

    “Sojourning — Why mention “bloodlines” at all? Even Orthodox Judaism isn’t concerned with anything like genetic purity. The concern regarding intermarriage has to do with halakhah, which in turn is aimed at maintaining Jewish identity and cultural civilization that embodies the defining characteristics derived from Torah.”

    I mention it for two reasons:

    1. I’m a simple girl, and the Bible says over and over that God covenanted with the literal “offspring”, or “seed”, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When I look those words up, it means a literal, physical thing, that is to say, if I plant a tomato seed I will not get a lemon tree. It is that identity that I believe is set apart in covenant to God.

    Now, I’m not saying a group doesn’t have the right to construct entrance requirements to it’s community, or that a person cannot convert to a religion, but I have always had difficulty with the idea that one “becomes a Jew”, at least in the Biblical sense.

    I honor my Jewish family — despite the difficulty I didn’t know I was getting myself into — and so I do everything I am able to create an appropriate environment for them, even as my Christian relatives and friends sometimes think I’m going over board in affirming their identity. But, that’s how this simple girl reads the scripture, and I aint gonna stand in their way of God (okay, I’m not gonna divorce him or commit suicide, so I guess I do have limits). In fact, as much as it is probably nullified in the mind of many Jews, since I’m a mere “shiksa”, my husband’s family is celebrating Jewish holidays at my table and doing “Jewish things” that they hadn’t done for years.

    2. As I am sure you are aware, despite the appropriateness or not, even orthodox converts are not thought of as Jews by many (most?) born Jews. Including those converts with actual Jewish blood, like from their father’s side, and often these converts, even with Jewish blood, are prohibited from marrying any of the “choice” candidates.

  26. Getting back to the original post, the isolation caused by adherence to what we experience with G-d, and the instructions He gave to those who will obey them is not a new thing. The Israelites, and the Gentiles among them took up the Mosaic Covenant in isolation from the rest of the world, and have remained in isolation from the world, according to the depth of their praxis, and how firmly they close the door against the people not of their group, and within the group expect dutiful adherence to their traditions no more differently than other closed religious groups.

    The Torah tells Israelites how to live a life in accordance with G-d’s Covenant with Israel, and that is well and good, but G-d chose to give the Covenant to Israel to make a Name for Himself, that all the world should know of Him through the people of Israel. The creation of the people Israel was not supposed to be solely for the benefit of the Israelites.

    The knowledge of G-d is not supposed to be shut up in a box to be delivered only to those that meet the full expectation of the Orthodox Jews. Light is light, and I always supposed that light was to be given as a gift from G-d through the Jews, not in obedience to a specific praxis, and dutiful adherence to traditions and customs not specified by G-d in the Torah.

    Where are the Orthodox Jews that are saying, come unto us, and learn, revel in the light of G-d, and let the light lead you into more and more knowledge of G-d as well as Torah Observance, as opposed to those saying you must be like us, think like us, act like us to be one of us who knows G-d. But no, Orthodox Jews say to those who do not live up to their expectations, “You are not Jews, so go away from us.”

    Christians are worse, in many ways, because they reject Torah in most cases, and have a skewed idea of what to do as a Believer in YHVH, while their rules and regulations are just as firmly held as those who are Orthodox Jews. Most Christians are just as willing to shun any who do not comply with their beliefs, opinions, traditions and customs, thus rejecting those who do not think or act as they do.

    YHVH, however, rejects none who come to Him, and if to know G-d I need to do so on my own, that is what I will do. It is a blessing that we have all the writings available to us, the Tanakh, and the Brit Chadashah, the writings and comments of the sages. Better still, in Yeshua, we have gained his righteousness to have as our own, and the Ruach haKodesh to tutor us, mentor us, guide us, and teach us.

    Perhaps this is what Yeshua meant when he said, “Go in through the narrow gate; for the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road broad, and many travel it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (CJB)

  27. SWJ, since Christianity is idolatry in Jewish eyes (certainly for Jews, as James wrote recently), this fact doesn’t permit the intermarriage to be turned into in-marriage while there are still idolatrous beliefs and practices. Judaism provides a solution for those who are willing to embrace the G-d of Israel to the exclusion of any other god – conversion of a non-Jewish spouse and even the minor children (who convert automatically with the mother) to Judaism. In many cases, the conversion takes about a year to prepare for (for a intermarried couple).

    Also, yes, the promises are to Abraham’s, Isaac and Jacob’s seed (even though Paul, seemingly ignorant of the Hebrew used in the Bible, insists that the “seed” there is singular and actually means Jesus and not plural, that is all of descendants of the patriarchs). But Israel also became a nation when G-d gave us the Torah. As any nation, Israel has certain citizenship requirements. Under these requirements, Israel has always allowed others to join its people – on Israel’s terms. Throughout the thousands of years, many thousands of Gentiles, both men and women, formally converted and joined the Jewish people. Today, their descendants are among us, totally mixed in and indistinguishable from other Jews.

    “2. As I am sure you are aware, despite the appropriateness or not, even orthodox converts are not thought of as Jews by many (most?) born Jews.”

    That’s patently NOT true. As someone who is actually involved in Orthodox world, I can tell you that converts are viewed as Jews (who have converted) and are given honors that can be given only to Jews – including calling up to Torah (for men) and circumcision of their children (if women), full participation in the community as Jews. I know MANY converts to Judaism and they are even more committed than born-Jews. I also personally know a number of ultra-Orthodox rabbis who are happily married to women converts and their children are fully accepted as Jews.

    Apart from occasional unavoidable human ignorance and prejudice and discrimination some converts do experience, it’s not possible to make the blanket statement you are making. However, it’s also true that many secular Jews (and Christians too), who only see their identity in physical terms, have a hard time grasping the concept that someone can become Jewish (or they think that someone is crazy for wanting to).

  28. “Where are the Orthodox Jews that are saying, come unto us, and learn, revel in the light of G-d, and let the light lead you into more and more knowledge of G-d as well as Torah Observance, as opposed to those saying you must be like us, think like us, act like us to be one of us who knows G-d. But no, Orthodox Jews say to those who do not live up to their expectations, “You are not Jews, so go away from us.””

    @Questor… oh, where to begin answering your charges…

    First of all, those Gentiles who want to come to Jews and learn from them – they can come and many do come. Unless you forgot, for the last two thousand years it was the Gentiles who wanted nothing to do with Jews, not the other way around. In the first century, synagogues were filled with G-d-fearers. If some, especially the more insular Orthodox Jews today are a bit apprehensive of non-Jews in their midst, you must understand them – we have been through a lot, primarily at the hands of the ancestors of Gentiles, perhaps even those who may now wish to come and learn. Jews don’t hold long grudges, but the deep scars still take time to heal for trust to replace them.

    Secondly, Jews don’t want Gentiles to be like them – you can be and should be a Gentile. You don’t have to think like us, or act like us – Jews are not “One-Law” messianics. But if you want to keep thinking the way you’ve been thinking and you don’t want Jews to tell you otherwise – why come and learn from Jews? However, as far as learning from Jews goes, there are plenty of community classes taught by Orthodox rabbis that are open to all irrespective of birth or religion, and there are mountains of online resources that anyone can access. However, if you want Orthodox Jews to accept and legitimize your religion which Jews hold as false, you are the one bringing your expectations to the Jewish table. That’s just not going to happen.

  29. Thank you, Gene, for your staunch defense of the generally unconditional acceptance of those who are halakhically-converted as Jews with all attendant rights and responsibilities. Your calumny against Rav Shaul, however, was entirely unwarranted. His midrashic re-interpretation of the “seed” to make a statement about a singular realization of that Avrahamic blessing does not dismiss the plural meaning inherent in the “pshat” of the text. You present yourself as unnecessarily ignorant when you so misrepresent his profound usage of Hebrew wordplay as if he were ignorant of his native language. I am convinced that you know better, and yet cannot resist foolish antagonism against what you have disdained for yourself.

    @”Sojourning” — Even a “simple girl” should recognize the difference between a promise made to a man, that begins with him and his physical descendants, and the notion that somehow all the members of the families of those descendants would all be equally and directly connected to him genetically after four thousand years. Families of descendants are also themselves descendants, though they begin to stretch the genetic connection and replace it with a metaphoric one that is based on relationship rather than mere genetics. This definition broadens as the families multiply to become a unified culture and an entire civilization, and as joining into the extended family can include adoption and affiliation as well as marriage. Thus the “sons of Avraham” are relational ones as well as physical ones. And thus also rules were developed to define such relationships and set boundaries for covenantal identity — which is why some who are genetically-related descendants of Avraham (e.g., Ishmael, Esav) are not members of the covenant that embodies the ancient promises to him. There were always constraints on the definition of the plurality of the “seed” to whom the post-Akedah promised blessing applied. One may apply such constrains also to Rav Shaul’s invocation of the “sons of Avraham” metaphor for the gentile Galatians who affiliated with Rav Yeshua as the metaphorically singular “seed”. They were not also “sons of Isaac”, nor “sons of Jacob/Israel” to be included in the Jewish covenant. But all who conform with this affiliation pattern share the blessings inherent in trusting HaShem as Avraham did. Simple metaphorical imagery is used to express complex notions and relationships, and we do well not to treat them superficially nor to over-simplify them, lest we miss or dismiss their profound meanings.

  30. PL, there is no thing as midrashic fulfillment of prophecy. Paul is doing is it wrong (besides his ignorance of Hebrew). But I suspect that his illiterate Gentile audience didn’t know better.

  31. @Gene — Did I say anything about fulfillment of prophecy, midrashic or otherwise? [No, I did not.] Midrashic interpretation of words and phrases in Torah text is not at all uncommon, particularly in promissory or prophetic passages. Rav Shaul’s audience couldn’t have been entirely illiterate, since he expects them to read his letters. In fact, he seems to expect them to recognize the Torah passage he cites, as well as the Hebrew text that gives his wordplay on singular or plural readings meaning. He is certainly not doing anything literarily “wrong” — as you put it — regardless of whether you wish to dispute the insight he derives thusly. Moreover, Greeks of the period had a highly-developed literary culture, so your presumption of the common man’s illiteracy is rather arrogant.

  32. PL, even if they could read Paul’s Greek, they were certainly ignorant of the Hebrew used in the Bible. Paul makes a claim that in the Hebrew Bible in the verse he cited the seed is in singular form. This is downright dishonest for the following reasons:

    1. There’s no “plural” or “singular” form of “seed” (as in person’s progeny) in Hebrew – there’s only one form, like English’s “fish”. So, his distinction between “seed” vs “seeds” is completely made up and his subsequent claim that this is what the text actually says basically displays either his ignorance of Hebrew, or if he did know better, downright malicious intent to pull one over his Hebraically and biblically ignorant Gentile audience.

    2. The context, as you yourself noted, is clearly plural in the verse Paul is relying on. Paul doesn’t say that he’s being allegorical, but that makes a claim the TEXT itself actually uses singular form. He’s stating it as fact. He’s either wrong or a liar. That’s not “midrash”.

  33. “Moreover, Greeks of the period had a highly-developed literary culture, so your presumption of the common man’s illiteracy is rather arrogant.”

    Not my “arrogant” assumption – literacy rates among adults in the Roman Empire are estimated to be at about 10%. (from Ancient Literacy by W. V. Harris.). This means that only 1 in 10 men could read. Women and slaves, who flocked to Christianity, were usually even less literate than free men. This fact, in combination with wild claims about Christian miracles (claims common during that time in the Roman society, as even deified Roman emperors were claimed to have miraculous powers of healing and even ability to raise from dead), allowed Christianity to spread like wildfire.

  34. @Gene — Hebrew certainly does have a plural for “seeds” as well as a singular form. It also has the same sort of literary usage as exists in English whereby the singular form may be used to represent an aggregate plural. You may note that English also may use the plural “fishes” as well as the singular “fish”. It is not true that only the singular form exists or is used. Each has its place and appropriate literary usage — and likewise for the Hebrew “zera-im” or “zera”. The passage in Gen.22:17 actually does use the singular form for appropriate literary reasons; and thus it is also suited to Rav Shaul’s inference from it. This is midrash, not dishonesty. He was not wrong, nor lying, nor dishonest. It is you who are in error because of your un-analytical (may I suggest even irrationally antagonistic?) approach to the text, to its author, and to his audience.

  35. “Hebrew certainly does have a plural for “seeds” as well as a singular form. ”

    OK, test time, PL – please find me one instance in the Hebrew Bible where zera (specifically as in descendants of a person) is used as in yours and Paul’s supposed Hebrew “plural” form, that is other than “zera”?

    Remember, that Paul is the one who claims that this is what the Biblical text says, that it is specifically singular inspite of what the Bible actual says. He makes a big deal about it! Since this is patently not what the Hebrew says. This makes Paul, the true founder of Christianity, a deceiver. There are many other things that Paul says in his writings that can be pointed to as showcases of his conniving nature. In that, he joins that ranks of other founders of religions who likewise claimed to base themselves on the Jewish scriptures and prophets, e.g. Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Ellen White, etc. All these people joined Paul in misusing and abusing the Jewish prophets for their very own “midrash”.

    “irrationally antagonistic”

    Don’t get personal, PL. You might as well label all Jews who reject Christianity and are likewise incredulous at Paul’s gross misuse of the Hebrew Bible as “irrationally antagonistic”.

  36. While we’re posing test questions, Gene — Where do you think the name of the first order of the Mishna, “z’ra’im” (“זרעים”, “seeds”), came from? As it happens, the examples in the Tenakh, both for human seed and for various kinds of plant seed, are all phrased with adjectives that allow or require the singular form of “seed” to be cited, much as would be done in English as well. However, that does not rule out other phrasings and grammatical expressions of the sort that Rav Shaul invoked. Moreover, your approach is not typical of all Jews, nor typical of all traditional or orthodox Jews (I have spoken with many during the course of decades), and you have demonstrated numerous times that you in particular have a “bee in your bonnet” on such subjects. You deliberately attempt to cast the worst aspersions and interpretations upon the text of the apostolic writings and the motivations of its authors; and no rational explanation or comparison with other Jewish authors or literature, ancient or modern, seems to mollify you. Now, to be fair, you seem equally willing to complain about other Jews who do not share your antipathies. But you leave very little room for reasoning together and a meeting of minds.

  37. PL,

    “This definition broadens as the families multiply to become a unified culture and an entire civilization, and as joining into the extended family can include adoption and affiliation as well as marriage.”

    First, I have my perspectives based upon my own experiences, research, and interaction with others. And, I didn’t list them to be either authoritative nor offensive, but rather to answer your question.

    Secondly, my mother was best friends with a Jewish woman all of my growing up years and I am intermarried to a Jew, and I mention that to say, I am well aware that I am not a Jew (even tho I’ve always heard we are), meaning that the Jewish people have a collective identity and history that is not mine. I don’t feel bad about that because although I believe Jewish identity is distinct, I don’t believe it is superior. Anyway, I’ve been trying to figure out Jewish ways, attitudes, and perspectives for 27 years of marriage with a Jewish family and I don’t think I could ever do anything (study, mikveh, or other) that would suddenly give me their history, thought process, etc. additionally, I’ve been made all too aware that I am the “other” for a very long time.

    Now, I have already been “adopted” into Israel, many years ago as a child when I became a believer in Israel’s Messiah. And, Paul, who understood that gentiles following the God of Israel was in the plan from the beginning and are a fulfillment of scripture, forbade “conversion”, whatever that looked like at his time which historians and the “faithful” often disagree on.

    Yes, being an intermarried complicates this matter, and without opening another can of worms by discussing the Ruth example – as found in Scripture – I’ll just say that no one has been able to explain to me why it would be proper in God’s sight for me to formally convert and lose my identity.

    Don’t get me wrong, again, I say everything above based not on declaring myself an expert on the matter, but rather I’m being transparent in my understanding, limited though it is. No one – that I’ve heard – who advocates for conversion deals with Paul’s forbidding of it, or addresses the real (and beautiful) identity of the Gentile believer, and seems to assume a Jewish superiority. I just haven’t heard a compelling case that deals honestly with all of these issues (and a few more that aren’t appriopriate here), is what it boils down to.

  38. While modern Hebrew has a plural for seed, “zerim,” it is my understanding that this plural form is not found in the Tanakh. I suppose this is similar to the fact that water, heaven and other Hebrew words are always plural, as in mayim, shamayim…

    As far as antagonism, an important aspect of creating group cohesion is to view insiders as good and trustworthy and outsiders as evil and threatening. This is ubiquitous. The fact that a people has a history of being under siege makes it easy to create a siege/bunker mentality even when it doesn’t exist, and fear binds one to the leader(s).

    One problem is that English translations of Greek writings are biased, and we don’t even have the original Hebrew or Aramaic sources. As far as abusing Tanakh, certainly our own kabbalists and mystics have come up with some very different ideas, and Jewish thought has evolved over the centuries. We aren’t privy to the divine vantage point, so for now, we can look at the fruit of an interpretation or set of such. In the US, can you guess which religious group has the greatest longevity? It is SDA, so they’ve got something right. According to my son, the friendliest religious group on campus is the Mormons, and the Muslim groups are friendlier than Hillel, who, “put the clique in cliquish,” and reportedly have much better food. One kiruv group, Jam, pays students $300 to attend a series of 12 lectures. So much for claims that, “missionaries,” do this sort of thing. No other campus group provides anything free besides dinner.

    Since I am wandering off topic, I would like to reply to digs at Conservative Judaism. My parent’s conservative congregation has been wonderful and incredibly supportive in assisting my elderly parents, as I live on the opposite coast. When my mom went into the hospital last week, the synagogue was closed due to weather, but my dad left a message. When he arrived at the hospital later he discovered the rabbi had already been there to visit, driving on icy roads. This is the sort of doctrine and interpretation of torah I support.

  39. “As it happens, the examples in the Tenakh, both for human seed and for various kinds of plant seed, are all phrased with adjectives that allow or require the singular form of “seed” to be cited, much as would be done in English as well. ”

    PL, thank you for confirming what Jews who have studied Paul have known all along about Paul’s misuse of the Hebrew Bible and the language that it uses. BTW, Christians have historically used these words of his to deny G-d’s eternal promises to the Jewish people (Paul’s so called “not seeds”) to transfer them to one person – their demigod.

    Gosh, Paul sure said so many things that are so easy to take by merely reading them as being against the Jewish people, Judaism and against the Torah. How could Christianity ever misunderstand such “obvious midrash”….

    “You deliberately attempt to cast the worst aspersions and interpretations upon the text of the apostolic writings and the motivations of its authors; and no rational explanation or comparison with other Jewish authors or literature, ancient or modern, seems to mollify you. ”

    No, I just use the brain G-d gave me to see things for what they are, instead of lying to myself for the sake of “faith”. I don’t wish to “midrash” lies away. From false genealogies of Jesus, to false “prophecies” ripped out of context, to false history, to anti-Judaism – I am not going to ignore what I can read and understand. You wish to continue to embrace Christianity (in your special but not too different form) and the falsehoods of Paul – I no longer do.

  40. I don’t suppose there’s anyway to have this discussion without personalizing conflict, is there? Granted, this is a very emotionally charged topic and Paul has a rather poor reputation in most branches of Judaism, but you could try sniping at each other (and inadvertently me, your host) a little bit less.

    Thanks.

  41. “When he arrived at the hospital later he discovered the rabbi had already been there to visit, driving on icy roads. This is the sort of doctrine and interpretation of torah I support.”

    Chaya, being nice is not a sign of truth. Mormons are very nice (as you noted) and Buddhists are very nice people. They all make great neighbors. Most Christians I have been around were very nice people. Even idolatry can feel good, obviously, but it’s still false. A Conservative “rabbi” can be a nice person, violate Shabbat, eat in a treif place, and marry gays, but that’s not Judaism, sorry. He may be a nice person, but other religionists can be nice too. Being nice alone is not going to preserve the teachings and observances of Judaism. One must be obedient to G-d’s Torah too, to everything it encompasses, not just the things you like. Turn Judaism into only ethics like the Reform is not Judaism (as if the Orthodox Jews are not practicing charity, kindness, visiting the sick, etc. – they do, religiously).

  42. “but you could try sniping at each other (and inadvertently me, your host) a little bit less.”

    You are right, James. I think I am going to wrap this up:)

  43. Gene said:

    but that’s not Judaism, sorry. He may be a nice person, but other religionists can be nice too. Being nice alone is not going to preserve the teachings and observances of Judaism. One must be obedient to G-d’s Torah too, to everything it encompasses, not just the things you like. Turn Judaism into only ethics like the Reform is not Judaism…

    Whoa! If I (a non-Jew) said something like that, I’d be instantly labeled anti-Semitic because defined some Jewish religious groups as “not a Judaism”. I must admit, one of the things I am sometimes taken aback about concerning Orthodox Judaism, is that they make statements indicating that they and only they are a “Judaism”. What does that make all other forms of religious Judaism? Also, and I could be wrong about this, there isn’t one overarching Orthodox Judaism, and saying that, do their Rabbis and Poskim always agree with one another on everything having to do with the mitzvot?

    It’s sort of like the aforementioned Mormons, who also believe they and only they are the true “Christianity”. I’m pretty sure the Catholics are the same way and there are other expressions of Christianity such as Church of God who believe all other Christian denominations are false.

    Granted, you have the right to your opinion Gene, and certainly, we all like to think of our own religious body as the “true” religious body, but frankly it’s God who will judge us in the end. We all pursue truth as we understand it, but I wonder if any one person or any one religious body really has the corner market on truth?

  44. James, it’s one thing to call these Jews “non-Jews”, which I have never done even for Jews who embraced Christianity, and quite another to accept their religion “Judaism” when it violates its basic tenets, including even a belief in G-d (in case of Humanistic Judaism). I have a simple test for you, James to see if you are so different – do you consider Mormonism as legitimate Christianity?

  45. No, but on the other hand, I accept a large number of Christian denominations as valid expressions of the faith, even though I don’t agree with all their doctrinal positions (and that’s an understatement). Further, I’d never say to a Mormon that I thought they were outside the definition of a Christianity (I live in a state where there are a lot of Mormons). It wouldn’t be a productive conversation. Whenever I get to that point in talking to a Mormon, I just say that our theological ideas are not particularly compatible.

  46. ” I accept a large number of Christian denominations as valid expressions of the faith”

    I do as well in Judaism – for other Orthodox streams, which are a good number (granted not thousands as in Christianity). So far, we are not different.

    “Further, I’d never say to a Mormon that I thought they were outside the definition of a Christianity”

    That’s being nice. But you DO BELIEVE IT, even if you are not willing to voice it. I don’t go to strangers either and just tell them off – I approach people with whom I’ve already had some sort of rapport and who already know my position and are willing to discuss it and even argue it with me. So far, we are not that different.

    “Whenever I get to that point in talking to a Mormon, I just say that our theological ideas are not particularly compatible.”

    Well, I do this as well. However, a Mormon may just challenge you – remember, they send out missionaries door-to-door to convince Christians that they are not in a true Church. And then you have to either ignore them or tell them your version of truth – if you care about them and their relationship with your idea of G-d and his will.

  47. I think here one would have to define, “Christianity.” This usually encompasses both history and doctrine. While evangelicals I know note that Mormonism (and others) have taken the concepts and texts of Christianity and embued them with a different meaning, they have done exactly the same thing with non-evangelical Protestants who did the same thing with Catholics who did the same thing with Jews. It is much easier to morph a belief system already in existence than to start from scratch, and also easier to poach from other markets than to create your own.

    One thing I think we can agree with Joseph Smith about. He prayed that God would reveal to him which Christian denomination of the day was the correct one, and he said God answered that none were.

    Obviously there are gatekeepers who decide how far one can deviate. We have to keep in mind that Christianity considers belief/doctrine as of greatest importance. Catholics consider Protestants as separated brethren, while Protestants consider Catholics as unsaved. Most evangelicals consider SDA as deviant, yet still Christian, while they consider Mormons as not Christians.

    I have Sephardic relatives who, as you would know, hold to different practices. They are not considered, “not Jewish,” but the Orthodox Ashkenazi community considers their halacha as deficient. I don’t know if this is a majority viewpoint, but this has been the experience of my relatives on a personal level. This conflict between belief and how it is played out is something we can’t ignore. I am aware that when a person converts to Judaism, their past existence as a non-Jew is not supposed to even be mentioned. However, in reality, these people are often viewed as deficient, as less desirable as spouses, teachers, etc. Well, we see the same situation with Baalei teshuvah.

  48. @SWJ — I don’t know if James might help me out to find the essays he has posted and their comments that address exactly the issues you cite, of explaining the circumstances that justify conversion (particularly in the present era), the reasons for Rav Shaul’s strong discouragement of it for the Galatian gentiles and the social pressures they faced (addressed also by Mark Nanos in his book “The Irony of Galatians”), the positive reasons for gentiles to remain as such, and the positive reasons for Jews to remain as such (none of which constitutes “superiority”).

    Becoming a believer in the Messiah does not constitute adoption into Israel, nor does conversion constitute a loss of identity. Gentile believers are not part of Israel but are rather called alongside of Israel to participate in the blessings of trusting HaShem together *with* Israel. And a properly justified convert to Judaism is correcting damage to the path of their life and their family history in order to acquire their truest identity. That is a rare circumstance for non-Jewish disciples, and an exception to the general precept outlined by Rav Shaul to remain in the condition in which one was “called”.

    While in your personal case perhaps conversion is not appropriate; if it were, you would face the challenge of learning the equivalent of what you should have learned growing up as a Jew in a Jewish environment, in order to think and perceive and react accordingly. I certainly don’t know any formula for accomplishing that, though I have known individuals who did so quite adequately and who thus have overcome any residual sense of “otherness”. It certainly required time and study, and a suitable sense of perspective and motivation. Some converts get rather a head start on such a process, because they grew up in proximity to a Jewish environment, Jewish friends, etc. Hence some of them were effectively “sociological Jews” even before they sought formal conversion. Others must start from scratch as adults, much as the biblical Ruth had to do.

  49. Hence your presence here and your conversations with everyone, particularly PL.

    I just read a brief article from Chabad.org called Why is There No Evidence of God?. It inspired some interesting ideas about the nature of truth and who really knows it. The reason we all disagree comes down to a couple of things. 1. What we consider valid portions of the Torah/Bible. 2. How we choose to interpret the Bible we accept.

    Much of the dialog in the comments section of this blog post contains information presented by each person that supports their particular interpretation, including support for which parts of the Bible/Holy Texts/Authoritative Writings are considered valid. Obviously, we each believe our own evidence, otherwise we wouldn’t hold the the religious viewpoints we do.

    Over the course of 20 years or so, I’ve gone from being an atheist, to attending a Nazarene Church, to attending a One Law congregation, to finally studying the Bible from Messianic Jewish perspective.

    Gene, I know relatively little about your life, but think it’s safe to say that you have gone from being a Messianic Jew to being an Orthodox Jew. We’ve both changed our perspectives from one theological stance to another, and yet at the time we held our former opinions and theologies, we sincerely believed they represented the truth. Subsequent evidence and experiences have changed our minds. We both believe we understand truth better now than we did before.

    You know as well as I that this conversation could go on from now until the coming/return of the Messiah (at which case, all our questions will be answered) and we’ll never convince the other to change his mind about what is “truth”. We can only marshall our forces, and present our cases, like a roomful of lawyers. And yet, to extend the metaphor, the Judge already knows how the “case” will turn out.

    For the most part, people believe what they believe based on the traditions to which they adhere. We simply all have faith that those interpretations represent the truth.

  50. While the convert may never completely overcome the sense of otherness, his/her children will not be a part of this otherness. Usually grandchildren erase much of the distance between the outsider and the rest of the family, and perhaps the children serve as a bridge. I assume this was the thinking with torah concerning the descendents of certain groups and when they could enter the congregation of Israel, as well as those who were forbidden.

  51. PL said:

    I don’t know if James might help me out to find the essays he has posted and their comments that address exactly the issues you cite, of explaining the circumstances that justify conversion (particularly in the present era), the reasons for Rav Shaul’s strong discouragement of it for the Galatian gentiles and the social pressures they faced

    One of the downsides of having written almost 1,400 blog posts is that I don’t always remember where I put this piece of information and that. I’ve tried searching for related topics but didn’t come up what the specifics you mention.

    In a nutshell though, my understanding of Paul discouraging Gentile conversion to the Judaism of “the Way” is that it’s not necessary in order to be justified before God. As I recall, the recipients of Paul’s Galatians letter had been convinced (exactly by whom is up for debate) that they *had* to convert to Judaism in order to be included in the New Covenant blessings. These “influencers” were convinced that only the Jewish people could receive the blessings of receiving the Holy Spirit and a life in the resurrection because Jer. 31 states that the New Covenant was made only with Judah and Israel.

    This doesn’t mean there aren’t valid reasons for a Gentile to convert to Judaism, but the death of the Master and his resurrection allows (the detailed answer as to why this works is really long) Gentile disciples to receive these blessings (but not become actual, named covenant members) by Abrahamic faith and through the merit of Yeshua.

    A Gentile (lets say a guy) converting to Judaism within a Messianic framework could be valid if the wife is Jewish and he would like to have a Jewish family and raise Jewish children. I suppose the reverse is true, and in fact, I know of a (non-believing) Gentile who converted to Conservative Judaism (Orthodox conversions are not an option in Idaho) because she is married to a Jewish husband and it was important to her to raise their child in a Jewish home (the boy also converted since only his father is Jewish).

    I think that a person who converts to Judaism agrees to adopt a life of Jewish responsibility and lifestyle, but I don’t think that all Gentiles must convert in order for God to love them (or love them better). Even Orthodox Jews believe this.

  52. “Over the course of 20 years or so, I’ve gone from being an atheist, to attending a Nazarene Church, to attending a One Law congregation, to finally studying the Bible from Messianic Jewish perspective.”

    (You missed attending a Baptist church:) 🙂

    You have just a bit more to go, James, one more step to reach the truly Jewish perspective, one that will free you to know and worship One G-d of Israel and Him alone, forsaking any non-god that stands in your way.

  53. I attended a Baptist Church but I certainly didn’t belong there. 😉

    Gene said:

    You have just a bit more to go, James, one more step to reach the truly Jewish perspective, one that will free you to know and worship One G-d of Israel and Him alone, forsaking any non-god that stands in your way.

    My point was that we’ve both gone through changes and at each step, we both thought we were doing the right thing. In the present, we still both think we’re doing the right thing, even though our points of view on “truth” are largely different from one another. If there is a fully objective truth, it rests with God. The minute God gives information to human beings, we have a tendency to add our own layers of abstraction because, after all, that’s what human beings do.

  54. “If there is a fully objective truth, it rests with God. ”

    James, we may not know everything that is to know, but I think you know where the Bible says people will go to learn the “truth” as apparently He wants it known:

    “Thus saith the L-rd of hosts: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men out of all languages of the nations, shall take hold, shall even take hold of the hem of a robe of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that G-d is with you.'” (Zechariah 8:23)

    The above verse occurs right after the Bible speaks of the future times, not past or present, but when “many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the L-rd Almighty and to entreat him.” It speaks of the future that is yet to occur.

    One would think that it would be wise for Gentiles to do so today. But few choose to do this. They believe that Jews made a grave error and are mistaken about the nature of G-d. Their New Testament taught them that Jews are blinded by G-d. Christians believe that G-d is already with them right now through god/man Jesus that they worship, and the Jewish converts to Christianity are only marginally better informed and themselves are mired in worship of false gods who do not save. There’s objective truth for those who are willing to go for it. I hope that one day you will be willing, James and other here.

  55. I agree that fully objective (and just plain full) truth rests with God because I believe we are incapable of comprehending this truth during this life. This is Greek philosophy, that absolute truth exists in a manner that we can understand within the veil of our earthly existence.

    @James, what do you mean by, “the Messianic Jewish perspective?” I think we can see there are many perspectives. Hopefully, you didn’t equate FFOZ’s viewpoint with this, as none of their leadership is even Jewish. It also doesn’t make sense that a person or organization can tell others outside their community what to believe or practice, although they can provide their viewpoint on such things.

  56. My understanding is that literacy among gentiles in the ancient Roman Empire was limited to upper class (Patrician) males, although a favored slave might be educated, or an educated member of a conquered people might be educated, yet a slave. Perhaps the message of equality of classes was also attractive to the majority oppressed population. Although Christianity, like Judasim, was misogynistic in practice as it became organized, women were given a higher standing than that of the pagan world, where they were merely property.

  57. Chaya, I like to think that my current perspective is a synthesis of a number of different sources, but it’s true that I find a lot of the material produced by FFOZ to be quite useful. If you don’t consider that a Messianic Jewish perspective, then I’m at a loss for a “label”. I don’t consider my viewpoint to be traditionally Christian. I consider my perspective to be more like I explained here.

  58. I also learn from various sources and get the idea of holding things in tension. We know it is far easier to falsify something than to prove it true, and much cannot be proven either way. My question was related to your phrasing; it apppeared that FFOZ and, “the MJ viewpoint,” were treated as synonymous, and I just wanted to clarify it with you. You know some things where I won’t budge, and that dishonesty. Non-Jews who claim to be Jewish and non-rabbis who claim to be rabbis are on the do not call list.

  59. @Chaya — While it has not always been so, FFOZ has more recently been striving to conform itself with what James called “the MJ viewpoint”. One does not need to be Jewish to do so, though it certainly helps — much as an old advertisement for Levi’s Jewish Rye bread depicted an African-American boy with a big grin munching on a sandwich made with the product over the caption “You don’t need to be Jewish to love Levi’s”. Therefore I suggest you ought to reserve your disdain for those who claim an MJ label while actually advocating HC viewpoints. *That* you could justifiably call dishonest (though even that case may result from ignorance rather than dishonesty). The definition of “the MJ viewpoint” is something that was, in fact, formulated by actual Jews; though, since it is an idea or an ideal, just about anyone may advocate in its favor.

    As for the honesty of conversions performed under messianic rabbinical auspices, you may well inquire into their halakhic quality and qualifications, because their quality is not uniform just as the messianic movement is not uniform. However, while I also have misgivings about their reliability and that of some of the rabbis who may perform them, I must suggest that dishonesty cannot be the motivation behind them any more so than conversions performed under Reform or Conservative auspices. The quality of these also differs, because of their differing approaches to the halakhah that defines the time-honored standard for the conversion process.

    A similar analysis may be applied to the ordination of rabbis and the qualifications thereby demanded. A rabbi ordained by some organization is not dishonest to call himself a rabbi, though one may wish to investigate what qualifications were demanded of him. Self-proclaimed rabbis who have never been examined by at least a panel of their peers are another story that is more susceptible to your charge of dishonesty, especially as the MJ movement has developed sufficiently to convene rabbinic panels and apply qualifying standards.

    I believe, Chaya, that you’ve previously indicated that you have a professional bent toward journalism, and possibly some qualifications therein. Would you consider doing some investigative journalism that actually interviews leaders of the organizations that presently are qualifying messianic rabbis and converts, to determine what standards they use, what qualifications they require, and what is their evaluation of the current state of quality for such positions within the MJ movement? You might then have a basis from which to justify your accusations of dishonesty against some, while you might also discover that such a charge is unwarranted against many or most. You could then avoid making sweeping negative generalizations, even if you continue to disdain the qualifications of one particular rabbi who was also a convert, and with whose views it may be presumed you frequently disagree.

  60. You might want to ask yourself why there are no investigative journalists in the religious world, although secular journalists have done exposes when the story was interesting enough.

    Sure, I have written features, done a bit of advertising and worked in healthcare PR and marketing, but maybe I am a bit of an investigate journalist wannabee 🙂 However, there would be little interest in such an article, as both leaders and followers seek validation and aren’t interested in a, “Consumer Reports,” as such. In my MJ experience, cover-up among leaders was endemic, and I still don’t know a lot of what went on behind the scenes. So, I suspect few leaders would be willing to speak openly and honestly. I’ve noted that among some one cannot even critique a book or article without attacks such as, “You have no right to criticize my friend who is trying to serve God.” Well, thank God Woodward and Bernstein didn’t fly this route. Organized relligion is all about protecting the image at all costs.

    I would view a fake rabbi in the same manner as the multitude of fake Ph.D’s. A mail order, unaccredited diploma (or smicha) is not just another method of credentialing. If I get myself a fake Ph.D and fake smicha, will what I say be more respected? I suppose so, among those who aren’t aware of the fraud, and if they like what they hear, they won’t care. So, perhaps I should become a fake rabbi too? I found a place that does this, a hyper-liberal/new agey group, but at least they are egalitarian in their provision of fake rabbinical ordination, and my credit card is as good as any man’s. As far as a jury of their peers, are you referring to a jury of other fake rabbis, or just those who have a good reason to protect their image. The rabbis I encountered in my childhood weren’t particularly good ones, IMNSHO, but at least they were Yeshiva and/or Rabbinic Seminary educated with smicha. There are a few exceptions, but the typical MJ rabbi lacks even a percentage of the knowledge, training and supervision accorded traditional rabbis. While anyone can be an evangelical pastor, no one can just decide to become a rabbi anymore than anyone can just decide to become a Catholic priest; that is the way the system is designed. I’m not sure how those who claim authority to make halacha, who claim they are mostly aligned with Conservative halacha fail to admit women among their fake rabbis even though Conservative Judaism does. The people I respect, and a few could actually legitimately claim the rabbinic title, don’t do this. They don’t seek honor or titles for themselves and won’t play the required games for a place at the table, or perhaps I should say, “the head table.”

    As far as interviews, many people I have had contact with are nasty, dismissive and not interested in replying to challenges; the sweeping negativity is related to sweeping negative responses. Surely nothing I write would be believed anyway.

  61. @ Chaya,

    I have to say that I share somewhat your skepticism of gentiles who take on the “praxis” and “markers” of Orthodox Jews. It can come across as being contrived (even disingenuous), especially to non-Yeshua believing Jews. It is my view that gentiles should embrace their identity as gentiles and not seek to be something (or portray themselves as something) that they are not. Having said this, I do read the materials of Derek Leman as well as FFOZ. The plus is that they are well informed and studied (as opposed to the “Hebrew Roots” groups). I don’t agree with everything they write, but I can still learn from them, and in some cases, I can learn a lot. Of course I say this as one who grew up as a cultural (non-religious) Jew and not as you did in a more traditional environment. So this may make me a little less hesitant than you to read their materials. However I do share agreement with you that these individuals should not act as though they are authoritative examples (either overtly or subtly) over the praxis of Yeshua believing Jews (or Yeshua believing gentiles for that matter.)

    (PS: Chag Sameach Purim to all those who in sincerity love Jewish people! :))

  62. You might want to ask yourself why there are no investigative journalists in the religious world….

    I would hope that there are. I have found the PBS “Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly” to be frequently interesting. They do tend to try and be more upbeat rather than pessimistic and hateful (as religion can become). I don’t know if they’ve ever approached this topic (Messianic standards or evaluating bodies). But maybe you mean investigative journalism by say an Episcopalian of Episcopalians/Episcopalianism (not that anyone here was talking about them), as an example.

  63. While anyone can be an evangelical pastor, no one can just decide to become a rabbi anymore than anyone can just decide to become a Catholic priest; that is the way the system is designed.

    While this is true in certain categories (or non-categories) of evangelicalism, there are some evangelicals with standards and evaluations (and more or less, depending, say-so over service and assignment). I would be very wary of places with no oversight or thought-out training (evangelical, Catholic, messianic or anything else at a community level). I know there are others who are wary OF oversight (while I can understand distrust of control, such as with strange places like Mormon “prophetics” or Westboro Baptists… and others with similar control mentality even without such extremes).

    [I was sort of flabbergasted to hear that a certain Messianic place I visited a few times actually told people (in general, as a rule, a requirement of agreement to join) they should not get together without leadership approval. Granted, this group had split off from another… so maybe they feared it could happen to them.]

    This piece, I’m quoting, of what you said also reminded me of a place in Florida where some guy who is able is wanting to own a town (and has been doing so) and to require a religion of everyone there (so far so “good” (not good, in my opinion, as this is problematic for religious freedom when an individual like a son or daughter disagrees with something or can’t handle it) — and hand-pick a Catholic priest because he can pay him. The Catholic Church (larger organization) said that’s not the way it works. Many in the United States have made pretty much an idol of ability to pay.

  64. @ Marleen,
    The experience you had with the “messianic place” you attended briefly would send major alarm bells for me as well. Any congregation that would require that kind of control over their congregants smacks of the makings of a cult to me. The rise in interest in the Jewish roots of NT faith in recent years (which in itself is a positive development) has unfortunately generated some very peculiar, cultish offshoots. (I guess this should come as no surprise as one of satan’s grand tactics is to counterfeit true faith in whatever way possible.)

  65. ‘Hag Purim Samea’h to all — To Chaya, I must say that I think you’re a bit too pessimistic, and that you’ve locked yourself into a negative viewpoint for which you have insufficient justification, and yet you seem unwilling to seek better information that might relieve you of some of that negative energy. Now it is true that there are varying attitudes with which one might approach such an investigation. Some are counterproductive, because no one is going to wish to cooperate with someone who indicates that they have an axe to grind and a negative a-priori presumption. I’m sure you are also correct that there are some (I don’t know how many) who are authoritarian, anti-intellectual, and highly under-qualified, who will not allow anyone to collect information within their frame of influence that might challenge their position. Certainly I have known personally such people, who were nonetheless most highly respected in the MJAA at one time. But I have known others who were diametrically opposite, highly-qualified, knowledgeable, open, honest, evidencing the highest of Jewish values and commitment.

    Personally, I take to heart Rav Shaul’s exhortation in Phi.4:8 — “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Hence, I tend to be dismissive of the unqualified and the under-qualified, and to focus on those who are better representatives of MJ ideals. It is enough for me to know that many good MJs exist, and to contend for the best of MJ, and to encourage more MJs to be better, more knowledgeable, more committed Jews.

    I do have an intellectual curiosity about how many individuals and congregations are good representatives of MJ, and even about how many are of lesser quality, to consider a statistical analysis of varying categories of good and bad. I, myself, would be interested in a “Consumer Report” for MJ religious and community services, if anyone could produce one that is accurate and reliable. Regrettably, the reliability and quality of such a report would be exceptionally sensitive to the viewpoints of those who might attempt to compile such a report. It would require a detailed preface disclosing and outlining the principles used for its evaluation of its subjects.

    One might further ask for what purposes could such a report be applied? Even a report of the highest quality, accuracy, and objectivity would be unlikely to persuade prospective consumers to uproot themselves and relocate to somewhere that they deem close enough to their nearest high-quality MJ community (though at least it would enable such a possibility). More likely, it would be most helpful to qualify sources of internet teaching and even possible web-streaming of services for the benefit of smaller, more remote congregations and ‘havurot.

    Now, if you and I could only figure out how to tap into the money-flow, we might even be able to finance the production of such an evaluative report. [:)]

  66. PL said:

    While it has not always been so, FFOZ has more recently been striving to conform itself with what James called “the MJ viewpoint”. One does not need to be Jewish to do so, though it certainly helps

    I don’t think one needs to be Jewish to hold to a particular exegetical perspective on the Bible that has a high view of national Israel, the centrality of the Jewish people in fulfillment of prophesy, and how God’s redemptive plan for the world absolutely requires the redemption of Israel and her ascending to be the head of all the nations.

    I think that’s what I’m trying to express when I call myself something like a “Messianic Gentile”. I don’t need to be ethnically Jewish or ethnically particular thing in order to interpret the Bible in a specific direction.

    Chaya said:

    You might want to ask yourself why there are no investigative journalists in the religious world

    I’m not sure why you believe journalists have any more integrity or dedication to the facts than anyone else. My opinion of the mainstream media outlets is that they not so much objectively report news as they continually editorialize and push specific political and social agenda, and then just dress it up as “news”. We don’t read or see the facts of what’s going on in the world via news organizations, we only see and read what they want us to. If there was investigative journalism in the world of religion, such would be the case as well.

    As far as people being honest and trustworthy, Paul said that no one is righteous, and I tend to take him at his word. Consider King David who was “a man after God’s own heart.” And yet, if we were to judge him by today’s standards (or even ancient standards), he was an adulterer, a liar, and a murderer in the matter of Bathsheba.

    In spite of all that, God made a covenant with David that his descendants would always sit on the Throne of Israel. God doesn’t seem to require the men He promotes to leadership to be perfect or even to be without ulterior motives at times.

    What does that say for the imperfect and flawed leaders we see in the various expressions of Messianic Judaism, or for that matter, in the world’s religious landscape?

  67. There absolutely are people who are generally honest and people who are generally dishonest. I refuse nihilism. I remember that Wurmbrand said, in one of his books, that he told people listening to him when he was a Lutheran leader (whether it was under Nazis or Soviets — I think the time frame was the latter, in his experience) they didn’t have to be forthcoming and could be evasive with these despots. That’s different. We would expect more of leaders now that to accept David’s kind of behavior — even though he was at a forefront then (as we would also expect more than what Abraham did — child sacrifice is totally anathema, but the fear of his God [the one that said to stop] is the BEGINNING of wisdom).

  68. Merrill, I think my response to that situation (with the group of people who had split off from a founding Messianic congregation in their city) meshes with what PL said. They chose to go with MJAA because those they had walked away from were not with MJAA (and were more like PL… and FFOZ in their more recent form I take it). I’d had years of blessing as a Messianic, so it didn’t sour me in that sense. I just never returned THERE. I couldn’t stand the nerve of their presentation of themselves (no hint they had split off except for their hypocritical paranoia which someone could mistake as real principles).

  69. I actually felt (quietly) almost propelled out of the place at that point. But the meeting (for membership) was over anyway, so I wasn’t too conspicuous.

  70. @James, @PL and others, I would like to know what you view as the, “MJ viewpoint,” because, according to my understanding, there are many viewpoints and the situation continues to evolve/change.

    Investigative journalists are an unusual breed. The good ones are dedicated to pursing truth even at risk to themselves. Despite problems with a handful of conglomerates owning media, to its detriment, the press is still, “the fourth estate,” and plays and important role in checks and balances in a society. Skeptic sites, the good ones, often provide info and insight into religious fraud and fakery that you would never find in the world of religion. So much for, “examining oneself,” or, “He who conceals his sins will not prosper; he who confesses and forsakes them finds mercy.”

  71. I will admit to being partial to journalists, and I grew up in a time prior to corporate journalism. Think about what happened to Brian Williams; our society expects journalists to be honest and truthful. What happens when religious figures pull a Brian Williams and much worse? There is no outcry. Instead, there is coverup and spin. Even if the evidence is without argument, followers will forgive, rehabilitate and ignore the fact that their idol has proven himself/herself untrustworthy. And of course they can blame the world of the ungodly, satan or the Illuminati as responsible. It is no wonder that religious leaders can tell the most outrageous and easily documented lies. We know that religious leaders hold claim to and we hold them to a higher standard, so can’t claim every does it. I’ll provide a couple of examples, and won’t tread on any friends of anyone who might send you an email and ask you to delete the info (an example of honesty and integrity?)

    Just one of many fake ex-Muslim terrorists, Walid Shoebat never was arrested nor spent any time in Israeli prison. Ergun Caner spoke in gibberish, claiming it was Arabic, assuming no one in the audience at the flagship Calvary Chapel would know the language, but many who did saw the message posted on YouTube. The owner and founder of Apologetics Index, Anton Hein, as a warrant for his arrest here in California which can be found on a county government website (he skipped to his native Netherlands) violating terms of his parole after a plea deal that allowed him to spend only 6 months in prison for molesting his 13 year old niece. We could go on and on. There are bad doctors out there, but there are internal and external checkpoints to help weed them out. Religion is the most corrupt, and yet unregulated business in existence. Even opposing groups that trade barbs with each other usually will spar over doctrine and stay away from financial and other abuses. This reminds me of a bipartisan fight against further scrutiny and disclosure for legislators many years ago.

  72. As you mentioned, such a thing would be futile. As far as negativity, these leaders/organizations are looking for fans and allies. One problem in the world of religious business is that there are a number of honest persons with integrity, but in order to remain employed, they keep their mouth shut about abuses and fraud of leaders and major players. To do otherwise would be professional suicide. Perhaps in some ways it would be cruel; it is like telling children their parents are incompetent and bad people when they are dependent upon them and cannot survive on their own. Those I trust are outside the financial and social pressures of the religious business world, as by definition, these are compromised and contaminated whether they wish to be so or not. These systems, organizations and competiting entities we have violate the divine design, and are all about, “Give us a king so we may be like the other nations,” and, “Making a name for ourself, so our name may not be blotted out under heaven.”

    I did see something interesting, although it is limited. Yelp has a few churches and religious groups listed, which would be helpful if it was as well used as ratings reviews of restaurants and other businesses. Sure, there are survivor and so-called, “discernment,” blogs, but this would level the playing field a bit. But as with survivor blogs, the religious world is able to relegate these to, “a few malcontents.”

  73. She may be talking about that polygamous YATI group in Florida, which would not be considered mainstream in any faction. I don’t believe it is satan attempting to provide a counterfeit to, “true faith,” as if you investigate closely and in an unbiased manner, you will see the same corruption within pretty much every group, and we don’t want to see it either, especially in our own chosen places.

    I believe this is a matter of becoming adults and leaving childish things, including childish protective illusions, behind.

  74. The Florida guy I (if that’s who you mean by “she” just above) mentioned was/is Catholic (quasi I guess since he thinks he should be able to run his version of it as his version of reality). [Of course, it’s not like there isn’t corruption in the system as it is usually run though. So, his weirdness is just one thing on top of another, etc.] The other place I mentioned was not in Florida and and isn’t anything like polygamist. In that case, you’re right about leaving illusions. Those people are generally good (despite the [mostly hidden] bickering and simplistic and hypocritical views on some relational [not so hidden] matters — and their cozy ties with their local version of “new prophets”/IHOP). I just couldn’t go along with it (certainly a source of… well, you get the idea).

  75. Despite problems with a handful of conglomerates owning media, to its detriment, the press is still, “the fourth estate,” and plays and important role in checks and balances in a society. Skeptic sites, the good ones, often provide info and insight into religious fraud and fakery that you would never find in the world of religion. So much for, “examining oneself,” or, “He who conceals his sins will not prosper; he who confesses and forsakes them finds mercy.”

    I agree.

  76. Chaya said:

    Think about what happened to Brian Williams; our society expects journalists to be honest and truthful. What happens when religious figures pull a Brian Williams and much worse? There is no outcry. Instead, there is coverup and spin.

    I don’t know about that. The whole controversy around Pastor Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill Church made a big splash in secular news media. There was just tons and tons of outcry from people at Mars Hill and from many other churches. Come to think of it, periodically, religious scandals make the news and Pastors disgraced for their indiscretions.

    Cover up and spin aren’t the exclusive to religious leaders to “stray from the path.” Many a politician has covered and spun themselves when accused of wrongdoing. I think that anyone who gets caught with their hand in the cookie jar who has enough money/power to try to avoid the consequences will try to avoid the consequences.

  77. @Marleen, When you say “MJAA” are you referring to The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America? I haven’t found them to be “off” in the major tenants of NT faith at all. I am surprised that one of their affiliating congregations would be so strangely overbearing. In my experience I have never come across anything that would raise red flags about MJAA. Also, they are endorsed by the ECFA. I may be naive, but in my experience with the ECFA, they do monitor those with their endorsement and take seriously complaints that come in. Nothing to my knowledge has ever been lodged against MJAA in general. Maybe you hit a “bad apple” that slipped in as one of their affilating congregations?

  78. Driscoll still has his position, I bellieve, is still publishing books and still on the speaking circuit. I suspect his church continues to grow as well as his offshoots, even with complaints of abuse and staff being forced to sign non-disclosure agreements to receive their severance pay – this is typical.

    Note, it was secular media that outed him, certainly not religious media. I believe one religious media interviewer was fired for bringing this up? What I read on social media was followers excusing his behavior and attacking others as, “unforgiving.” One person who is well-known in HR who changed his name to a Jewish one, posted a status, “We’re the only army that shoots its own generals.” What a perfect set-up for my reply, “Not my army; not my general.” So, you see that HR, and to a lesser extent MJ, considers the evangelical world and its reputation something to be concerned about. And perhaps they are correct, as J4J was concerned that the PTL scandal hurt their donations, as well as donations went down across the board.

  79. Well, yeah, “never” was going too far. But, for instance, when scandal in the Catholic Church came to light, the hierarchy seriously argued (had been arguing) that these were Church matters such that the faithful should trust that their religious system would do whatever could be done. And their majestic part was to shut up. It’s an extra chip.

  80. I am getting the impression that perhaps the MJAA is not considered “kosher” by the UCMJ and vice versa. Maybe I’ve been out of the loop, but I always thought that though there are differences of opinion regarding the “NON-essentials” of biblical faith, that these two groups were on good terms. Am I wrong here?

  81. Merrill, neither I nor PL said they (Messianic Jewish Alliance of America) were/are “off on major tenets” of the faith. And I followed up your post to say the people at the place I had visited weren’t overall bad people (or even the Christian version of “not perfect” while whitewashed sepulchres such as we see in a lot of church leadership). At least they were upfront about how controlling (or paranoid) they would be, even if not about their history (taking advantage of the other place not being paranoid in practice). Thankful to know, I didn’t return. (I take my freedom of association and adult judgment seriously and didn’t want to cede that to someone I knew, at that point, tangentially — and really don’t know what it would take for me to trust someone that much). Beyond that local history, I was at a convention when these two major groups (in other words, not those local groups) were kissing to make up (and I saw [this was decades ago] a major leader of the above-named organization come strutting out like those other guys finally got real and buckled — kinda rude and arrogant of him, and counterproductive and daft). I’m not in the leadership, so I’m not representing how anyone feels today [find myself in the “wilderness” like Chaya somewhat but with very positive memories]. My impression is they are more church-like and status-quo-ish in that direction (while congregations certainly vary).

  82. Thank you Marleen for clarifying. I think I understand better now.

    The modern day messianic movement is still a relatively young movement. Like anything else, it is experiencing the ebb and flow of growing pains, so bumps in the road are to be expected. The adversary is working overtime to ruin what God is doing in this nacent movement. He is keenly aware that as the Jewish people begin to recognize their Messiah, his time is running out. He’s givng it all he’s got to cause us to abandon our first love. (And we know from the NT writings that he will unfortunately have a measure of success in this.) However we also know the ulimate victory belongs to our God and Messiah, and in this we rejoice!!

  83. My understanding is that EFCA is about financial management and adherence to a set of guidelines about this. Regarding your other questions, the various letter groups are, of course, competing with each other for marketshare and need to differentiate their product and create polemics. Some groups will blackball a leader if he attends a conference of another. I have been told that musicians have been threatened, that if they perfrom for X group, Y group will blackball them. I haven’t heard of any MJ groups being hyper-controlling or more cult-like than any religious group, nor is this encouraged. But any group, depending upon the leaders and culture, can have this happen. There are unaffiliated congregations.

  84. With an unaffiliated group, I would expect things to be much more …I am not coming up with an apt adjective. I wouldn’t want to have much if any acknowledgment of someone or some few being the leader(s) of a “congregation” — fluid, maybe, is a good word. The congregation would be more literally those who are here (“congregating”) today. But then that doesn’t take into account, but is not meant to leave out, those who are in community. Friendlies. More than friendlies. For instance, there is a Messianic man in my metropolitan area who almost never (but maybe something like twice a year) goes to a Messianic (or any) synagogue (always the same one, not as a drifter). He has a few places in the larger community (to benefit the population of the city in general) in addition to his own business, which interacts with the public quite a bit, where he goes to teach (whether on Bible or basic English literacy, adults and the city’s kids). And he has employed a few of my sons while they were in school. He is a huge part of the community, but not established (nor headed by anyone per se).

    Still, I wanted a regular place to go with my children on a weekly basis for that repetitive memory of multiple people who have similar values. And to help motivate an interest in who God is. It takes a lot of work and dedication to be an anchor for that kind of assemblage of individuals with some kind of vision for their own progeny within the heritage of Judaism. I respect the effort and energy and pain. There are people who labor for people and not a market share.

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