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A New Chanukah Miracle

chanukah

As you are probably aware, Hanukkah (or Chanukah or lots of different transliterated spellings) is coming up. This year it will be commemorated from sundown on Tuesday, December 12 to sundown on Wednesday, December 20.

I was reading Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s commentary on Chanukah earlier and of course, re-evaluated my relation (if any) with the observance. I mean it’s difficult to objectively insert myself as a non-Jew into a purely Jewish historical event complete with miracle from Hashem.

Of course since today President Donald Trump formally recognized that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state of Israel barely a week before Chanukah, I suppose this too is a sort of miracle and one relevant to the entire world.

(The real miracle would be if the realm of news and social media wouldn’t have a total anti-Semitic hissy fit and meltdown over it, but I suppose that’s asking too much.)

I read somewhere (I can’t find the source now) that historically, the world has tried to destroy the Jews in two different ways, physically as a people (genocide, ethnic cleansing) and by assimilation into general culture (eliminating Jewish identity and uniqueness). Purim is the Jewish celebration of victory over the former and Chanukah the commemoration of victory over the latter.

But what does any of that have to do with non-Jew? In both cases, it’s non-Jews who are the problem, not the solution. Even those of us to are linked to the Jewish community one way or the other (okay, I’m married to a Jewish wife, but that only links me to her, not the community) and who are pro-Israel weren’t involved in either original event, so what do we have to celebrate, except perhaps in solidarity? It’s not our commemoration.

I visited the closest thing I can find that might hold any sort of answer at AskNoah.org to see what they had to say. Granted, they won’t recognize my devotion to Rav Yeshua as having any sort of legitimacy, but people like me inhabit a sort of spiritual and theological “no man’s land” anyway.

According to the article “Noahides may light Hanukkah candles without a blessing,” not only can we light the menorah to announce the miracles of God (minus the blessings since we are not commanded to do so), we can…

…still mark the days of Hanukkah this year in some of the additional customary ways. This includes the option to say the chapters of Psalms (Psalms 91, 67, 30, 133, 33), reading and thinking about the history and messages of Hanukkah, and enjoying some traditional recipes. You can also attend public lightings of outdoor Hanukkah menorahs that might be taking place near you during the festival.

The article even provides us with this:

The following recitation paragraph, adopted from the Jewish traditional liturgy (version of the Ari Zal), can also be said during the days of Hanukkah:

“In the days of Matisyahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, the wicked Hellenic government rose up against the people of Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will. But You, in your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for the people of Israel to this very day. Then the Israelites entered the shrine of Your Holy House, purified and rededicated Your sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Hanukkah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.”

Granted, none of this takes into consideration our “Judaically aware” perception of Rav Yeshua and our being allowed to partake in some of the New Covenant blessings based on the merit of our Master and our discipleship, however meager in my case, to him. Still, for lack of any better template, this will have to do.

trump jerusalem
President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It is true that Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday, so there’s not a lot to get worked up over, but for me, this is what happens every time my Gentile faith in the Jewish Rav intersects at all with some aspect of Judaism.

All that said, I suspect the real role of people like me/us in the days to come will significantly eclipse Chanukah. As the world challenges the Jewish right to call the City of David Israel’s capital and hates the American President for recognizing the fact (of course, if Trump said he liked to eat steamed carrots, suddenly eating steamed carrots would become totally evil because, well, you know, just because), we will be called to stand up and stand with the defenders of Israel against her enemies.

The majority of the world, that is, all Gentiles everywhere, are going to oppose Jerusalem vehemently. We must shoulder the burden of standing against our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends, our neighbors, because we will be the few among the nations who stands with Israel.

May Chanukah be a time of miracles and may Hashem continue to protect His people and nation Israel. May He also grant us among the nations the privilege of joining the righteous.

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Six Distinct Genders in Judaism?

This blog post has strange origins.

A few days back, I posted a story on Facebook called Germany becomes first country in Europe to recognise “third gender” officially. I did so mainly to illustrate how I see Europe becoming increasingly “inclusive” (progressive, leftist) and how, once Trump leaves office and the Democratic backlash occurs, the future political and social administration will attempt to push America in the same direction.

pink
Found at Pink News

I got one response from a progressive perspective, which wasn’t unexpected, and then someone else posted:

Well, the sages of the Mishnah recognized four a very long time ago.

What?

The source, who I won’t name, is someone who probably should know, so I looked it up.

According to Sojourn Blog which seems to be a liberal non-profit focused on LGBTQ inclusiveness, their article More Than Just Male and Female: The Six Genders in Classical Judaism describes these six distinct genders, a list I reproduce below:

  1. Zachar/זָכָר: This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is usually translated as “male” in English.
  2. Nekeivah/נְקֵבָה: This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English.
  3. Androgynos/אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס: A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics. 149 references in Mishna and Talmud (1st-8th Centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd -16th Centuries CE).
  4. Tumtum/ טֻומְטוּם A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
  5. Ay’lonit/איילונית: A person who is identified as “female” at birth but develops “male” characteristics at puberty and is infertile. 80 references in Mishna and Talmud; 40 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
  6. Saris/סריס: A person who is identified as “male” at birth but develops “female” characteristics as puberty and/or is lacking a penis. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam). 156 references in mishna and Talmud; 379 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.

I looked for other sources and the next one I found was The Jewniverse which seems just as specialized, and their article The 6 Genders of the Talmud was quite brief.

It was pretty much the same for Sefaria.org and ReformJudaism.org. The progressive leftist side of Judaism was very vocal about this, which I absolutely had never heard about before. I guess it was not something that came up much when I had a more active involvement in Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots. I did manage to find something called Mystical Aspects of Femininity at Chabad.org and I know that I saw another article somewhat referencing four genders, but that doesn’t particularly map to my (admittedly limited) understanding of Chabadniks. I hadn’t planned to write on this but then, also on Facebook, I saw a story from the Jerusalem Post called Transgender Woman Who Left Hasidic Community to Speak at Yale.

In this case, 26-year-old Abby Stein, who had been born a boy in the Williamsburg section of Broooklyn, New York and who was ordained as a Rabbi at age 19, ultimately left her community and made the transition from male to female.

Her story however, does not mention how it is typical for Hasidics to accept multiple gender identities and in fact, she lost most of her family and friends when she left and then came out.

According to that article:

But, although she was born with a boy’s body, Stein can’t remember a time when she didn’t feel that she was a girl, living in a sect where boys and girls weren’t even allowed to play together and where “it’s almost impossible to be accepting, to be tolerant of gay or trans people.”

I know if I were to present this to a traditional Christian audience, they’d simply discount the Mishnah and the Sages as authoritative, state that there is no support for more than two genders in the Bible, and that would be that.

Abby Stein
Abby Stein (photo credit: OVRIM (OWN WORK)/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

However, in at least some circles of Messianic Judaism, the authority of the Mishnahic Sages is well accepted.

So where do we go from here?

From other quotes found in the Jerusalem Post story:

In her section of Williamsburg, “there was no access to TV, music, magazines … Broadway shows” and only Orthodox Jewish newspapers, Stein said. She spoke Yiddish and Hebrew, but didn’t learn English until she was 20. “It’s all you know. Everything you know is in that community. … They are the most gender-segregated society in the U.S. … First cousins, boys and girls, don’t socialize with each other.”

Her father, Rabbi Mendel Stein, told her he would no longer be able to speak to her. Just two of her eight sisters and four brothers do now.

Seemingly, as far as the Hasidic community goes, there is no room for more than two genders and both are, as much as possible separated from one another.

I’m posting this to gather opinions. I really don’t know what to think. My own understanding of the Bible tends toward defining two and only two sexes and genders and, quite frankly, I don’t think that the Jewish Sages always have all the answers.

It’s also possible that Judaism’s understanding of “gender fluidity” is based on physical characteristics rather than “identifying as,” but I can’t say that with any degree of certainty.

I realize this is a highly controvertial topic, but then again, on our anti-religion, anti-faith, pro-atheist, pro-secular morality, a blog such as mine is controvertial by definition.

Comments?

Gratitude as a Prayer

“I am grateful to my Creator.”

People who have resolved to repeat this for five minutes a day for an entire month have found the tremendously positive impact that this exercise will have on all aspects of their life.

This is one of the most important messages you can tell yourself.

Living with this gratitude elevates you. You become a more spiritual person. You become a more joyful person. You become a kinder and more compassionate person. You become a calmer and more peaceful person. You become a person who lives in greater harmony with others.

Right this moment, imagine the joy you would feel if you were to feel an intense sense of gratitude to your Creator. Allow yourself to begin to feel some of this now.

In what ways might your envy of others be similar to this?

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Aish.com

gratitudeI posted this to Facebook the other day by way of inspiration but then I got to thinking. Since I don’t have much of a liturgical prayer life and there’s always a question of how or if one should adapt the Jewish siddur for Gentile use, what if I could make one out of “neutral” elements adapted from Jewish practice.

It would seem that Rabbi Pliskin’s suggestion of expressing gratitude to the Almighty for a meager five minutes per day would be a good place to start. After all, the goal here is to draw closer to Hashem, not to simply go through a set of words and rituals by rote.

Stating what you’re grateful to Hashem for, regardless of what you happen to be going through in life at that point, reminds each of us (especially me) that no matter how difficult you have it, there are always reasons to express gratitude.

I launched this blogspot over six years ago with a brief commentary on the Modeh Ani or the morning blessing said by observant Jews the moment they awaken. It’s the only “Jewish” blessing I have continually recited over the years and I see no reason for a non-Jew not to be grateful for the gift of life and to thank Hashem for another day.

I suspect we all have our own personal “rituals” anyway, so why not make the most of them? We don’t have to be Jewish to be children of God and in fact, all of humanity was created in Hashem’s image.

Being human is something special and each one of us, Jew and Gentile alike, is precious in His sight. It is true that Israel holds an especially cherished place in Hashem’s “heart,” but that doesn’t make the rest of us chopped liver, so to speak.

Hashem didn’t have to offer redemption to the nations through the faithfulness of Rav Yeshua, but He did. In my own personal zeal to reverse the arrogance of the Church in believing only they possess the Keys to the Kingdom, and that only they have the power to offer them to Jews by first requiring Jewish people to renounce their covenant with Hashem and convert to ham-eating Christians, I tend to overcompensate in the opposite direction. Certainly there’s a middle ground.

Modeh AniI know this mirrors many other blog posts I’ve made here, but writing at “Morning Meditations” isn’t about presenting new revelations and insights so much as sharing what’s going on in my head and heart on any given day as I proceed on my walk with Hashem.

This morning for the first five minutes of my commute to work, I recalled what I was grateful to Hashem for. That’s not easy while driving, but then again, it’s not impossible, either. I hope that by day thirty, I’ll be a lot better at being grateful than I am today. Hopefully, this will become part of the practice of a lifetime.

Why We Need to Disagree (at least occasionally)

ben shapiro
Ben Shapiro – Found at DailyWire.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about disagreements recently. I’m no saint. I’ve participated in all kinds of arguments lately regarding folks I disagree with. I’ve disagreed with a Massachusetts elementary school librarian who took exception to the First Lady donating Dr. Seuss books to her school. I’ve disagreed with a former CBS Vice President who didn’t seem to mind that the victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting were (apparently) country and western fans and thus Republicans, and owners of firearms. I’ve disagreed with lots of people in the past and probably will continue to do so.

I don’t doubt there are a lot of folks who disagree with me about my stance on certain issues. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t particularly like it. But that doesn’t mean disagreement is a bad thing. Actually, the ability to express disagreement is a good thing. We need to keep doing it.

Why do I believe disagreement is good you ask?

Read the rest at Powered by Robots.

No, this isn’t really on a “religious” topic, but since people in the realm of theological blogging are often in disagreement, I thought this audience might be interested.

What If Parts Of The Bible Are Wrong?

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

I came across something interesting at Larry Hurtado’s blog the other day titled Paul and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I had just finished reading 1 Corinthians as part of my annual “read the Bible cover-to-cover in one year” effort (through admittedly, this is the first year I’ve made the attempt in quite a long time).

Hurtado was discussing Philip B. Payne’s recent article Vaticanus Distigme-obelos Symbols Marking Added Text, Including 1 Corinthians 14.34–5. Referencing the paper, Hurtado states in part:

The…story focuses on the view espoused in Payne’s article that vv. 34-35 are an interpolation inserted into some copies of 1 Corinthians, probably originating as some reader’s marginal note, and then incorporated into the copy-stream at some early point. But, actually, for a number of years now an increasing number of scholars have reached this basic conclusion. Indeed, in his article Payne points to the numerous scholars who agree that vv. 34-35 are not an original part of Paul’s letter. For example, note Gordon D. Fee’s judgment in his commentary: “The First Epistle to the Corinthians,” New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 705-8.

Okay, so what does that mean? It means there are a number of scholars who have long believed verses 34-35 in 1 Corinthians 14 were not part of the original epistle and in fact were a reader’s note in the margin that was later erroneously incorporated into the formal text.

What are these verses?

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NASB)

According to Hurtado, the general reason for scholarly agreement on this point is:

The verses seem to go against practically everything else in Paul’s uncontested letters pertaining to women’s involvement in the churches.

I bring this up for a couple of reasons.

The first is the general belief that the Bible in toto is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible word of God and is not to be questioned in even the slightest degree. Of course, this depends on the level of sophistication and education of the reader, but there are a lot of Christians who basically say God said it, I believe it, that settles it.

I work with a fellow who is very nice and friendly and he is a Christian who basically approaches the Bible this way. Occasionally, he tries to engage me in a little theological discussion and I tend to put him off. I know from painful experience that if I tell him what I believe and what I believe about what he believes, it will not end well.

Coffee and BibleThe second, building on my first, is that if we know or have good reason to believe there are “questionable” verses and phrases in the Bible, shouldn’t we make it our business to find out what they are so we don’t use them to commit an injustice?

There probably are churches (probably conservative and many of them rural) that do preach women being silent within their walls and that expect women who may have questions about what they hear from the pulpit or in Sunday School to wait until they get home to ask their husbands (who may or may not have a good understanding of what was said) what it all means.

Now I’ve never had that sort of experience in any church or congregation I’ve attended. Women did seem to be active, questioning members of those religious communities, so there obviously are churches that simply set aside those verses or at least believe Paul meant to address a local matter rather than pronouncing some sort of universal truth.

Even if a Pastor, who hopefully was educated at a formal accredited seminary, keeps up on the latest Biblical research, it’s not likely you’ll hear the findings of that research being preached from the pulpit (or on Christian radio), so the average Christian in the pew will be totally unaware of this information.

After all, it doesn’t have anything to do with a Christian’s salvation or going to Heaven when they die.

I know that sounds cynical, but it can be really frustrating when I hear some Pastor on Christian radio say that you can’t be a believer unless you go to church and are in fellowship, realizing that what they’re advocating (whether they intend to or not) is, for the most part, corporate ignorance.

That said, most or at least a lot of believers don’t want to know anything that makes them feel uncomfortable about the Bible or their faith. It’s one of the reasons Evangelicals are believed to be superstitious, unsophisticated, anti-science, Luddites. They seem to have missed what Paul said about the Bereans.

I’m no teacher or scholar, and I’m no smarter than the average bear, but at least I try to learn a little bit more about the Bible and other things today than I knew yesterday or last year.

Christians have historically bent, twisted, and mutilated the Bible for their own purposes, at least those Christians in charge of Bible translations and laying out what is “sound doctrine,” so I don’t have a problem investigating said-doctrine to see if they’re wrong about something.

My wife calls me a Christian (her being a Jew) and she tries not to say it as a pejorative (most of the time), but while that’s true in the broadest possible sense, I’m certainly atypical relative to the vast majority of churches in my local community as well as in the nation (and the world).

Consider this blog article to be a small cautionary tale. Before you use the Bible to beat someone up or to establish and inflate your own superiority as “saved,” you might want to check and see if the Bible says what your Pastor or Sunday School teacher tells you it says.

muzzle
Actress Alexis Bledel in the television show “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

In this one specific case, it is highly unlikely that the Apostle Paul was advocating for muzzling women in “church.”

I put the word “church” in quotes because every time it’s mentioned in the New Testament, the word isn’t really “church,” nor is it likely Paul meant the Greek word Ekklesia to mean “church” in the modern sense (for more on this rant, see Notes on the Church from an Insomniac and When is Church not Church?).

Living a Life

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of being a Christian or a Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua, or whatever you want to call me.

My life has taken a downturn recently, specifically since April. I was laid off of my job of eight years, basically because the company and my job description had changed so radically that I was no longer an adequate “fit”.

dad
© James Pyles

Then my Dad died abruptly, and it was fortunate that I happened to be visiting my folks at the time to be able to support my Mom.

So far the only job I’ve been able to get is temporary contract work for significantly less than I was previously paid and absolutely no benefits.

I’ve been trying for the past couple of months to get medical insurance through the local version of “Obamacare” (Affordable Care Act) and getting the run around. I received yet another encrypted email from them when I got home from work today that was probably prompted by my zillionth phone call to them this morning. I suspect they are about to reject, for some arcane reason, the document I submitted proving I’ve been without medical coverage since July 1st.

And to add insult to injury, I’m fined by the Federal Government every month I’m not insured, even though I’m trying as hard as I can to purchase coverage.

What does all this have with God, faith, and religion?

It has to do with life and how we live it, and more specifically, how I live it.

I’ll admit that I’m better at the study of the Bible then actually living out its principles. I suspect that my life has been going downhill because God is trying to get my attention. He wants something out of me. He wants me to live a better life, but it’s not that simple.

God doesn’t make deals. He doesn’t say, “If you do this thing for me, I’ll make your life better and you and your wife will get health insurance coverage.”

How do I know this? Because tons and tons and tons of believers of great and wonderful faith live terribly dangerous and difficult lives. Just look at the Apostles. Except for John, they all were executed in one way or another, and even John was thrown into a vat of boiling oil, though amazingly he lived.

That’s been my sticking point. If you trust in God with all your heart and soul, there’s still no promise that you’ll escape pain and suffering. There’s no promise that if I trust God with all my heart and soul, that I’ll be able to provide my wife and myself medical insurance let alone a better income.

I mean God could do that, but obviously He doesn’t have to.

On the other hand, if I ignore what I think God wants me to do (love and trust Him completely), then I can hardly expect He will turn my life around or provide opportunities for me to improve my condition.

No I’m not writing this just to whine (well, maybe just a little). I’m writing this to speak to the question of Gentile praxis in a Messianic world (or at least a Messianic thought and study world since I don’t have that kind of praxis or community).

In the closed Facebook group “Messianic Gentiles,” First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) writer and teacher Toby Janicki has been sharing a number of articles on their particular publication of the Didache, which may or may not have originated with the Apostles or their students. It’s an attempt to answer the question of what is Gentile praxis within (Messianic) Judaism.

I certainly won’t discourage anyone from reading and pursuing that particular model of religious practice, and indeed, I’ve written on the Didache myself.

But it seems to me that all of us have our hands full anyway, not with the rituals of praxis but with day-to-day living.

I mean, how close to or far from God do you feel? How often do you read the Bible? How often do you pray? How often do you pray and don’t feel like you’re just taking to yourself and the four walls? Are you kind to others even when you don’t feel like it? Do you yell at the person who cuts you off when you’re driving to work? Given the terrible things that are happening in Huston thanks to Hurricane Harvey, what have you done to offer aid and assistance? Do you give to others in need in your local community?

huston
David J. Phillip/AP

These aren’t questions I’m asking you, they’re questions I’m asking myself.

A life of faith is no life at all if it isn’t lived, but frankly, living that life isn’t easy.

I’ve been trying to listen to Christian radio again (mainly because there’s no such thing as Messianic Jewish/Gentile radio, at least nothing that is freely available over the airwaves). I’m having a hard time with it.

Air1 at least has more modern pop songs, but it’s also marketing to the younger crowd, and it can be terribly juvenile and even shallow. On the other hand, they have mentioned their concern for the people of Huston, and I learned about Convoy of Hope from them.

I’ve tried listening to a couple of local Christian stations.

I have a tough time with the more traditional Christian songs and hymns. I had the same problem when I was attending church. The people who’ve grown up in the church have a great deal of emotional and nostalgic attachment to those tunes, but to me, they are terribly archaic and boring.

The Christian station where people talk drives me nuts. I guess this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and I was listening to these two Pastors who were fairly gushing over Martin Luther. I can’t stand Martin Luther because of the Anti-Semitism he displayed toward the end of his life. This is on top of these so-called “reformers” not taking their reform back far enough in history so they could re-discover the deep connection Gentile believers have to a Jewish perspective on Hashem and Rav Yeshua.

Those “reformers” just changed things enough to object to some of the greater abuses of the Catholic church as it existed at that time. They kept all the stuff that deleted the Judaism out of an originally Jewish faith, and kept all the stuff that put Gentiles and only Gentiles at the top of the religious food chain.

Yeah, that works for me.

But I’ve got to do something differently, even if it drives me nuts. Frankly, I suspect there are a lot of non-Jewish but Judaically aware believers who are also scrambling to make sense of their/our lives. My point isn’t that the hard part of it all is being “Judaically aware,” the hard part is what’s hard for every Christian in churches and home fellowships all over the place.

The hard part is conforming our lives, our faith, and our actions to the desires of God. The hard part is to be a better person, even when it seems impossible. The hard part is to be a better person, even when God doesn’t promise to do anything for you in return.

This isn’t about where you go when you die, which is the shallow and simple-minded version of the “good news”. This is about who you are and what you do right here and now in this life. This is the “Gospel message” you absolutely won’t hear on Christian radio ever, and a message you won’t hear in many if not most churches.

jfk
President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” (and he’d be appalled if he were alive today and could see the nature of the younger generation coming up and what they want).

But what if he asked works in a relationship with God, too?

“Ask not what God can do for you. Ask what you can do for God.”

Really, if responding to that doesn’t take up 100% of your time, I don’t know what will. Frankly, the prospect scares me to death, but at the same time, I can’t fault it, since this is what the Bible speaks of regarding our service to God and our fellow human beings.

I suspect, even if nothing else changes in my life, my response, if I choose to sincerely make true Teshuvah, will occupy every day I have remaining in this life.