Of Grandchildren, Chanukah, and Christmas

As I’m sure many of you know, I haven’t been contributing to this blog spot lately. It’s not so much because I don’t have the time, but rather because some of the “fire” or inspiration for doing so has cooled off.

I have no local community of faith and no longer have a steady stream of information coming in regarding the Messianic perspective on the Bible, the Messiah, and faith to employ as a muse.

chanukah
Chanukah 2016

I had been considering writing something about Christmas and Chanukah (besides my little science fiction Chanukah story) and dreading it at the same time since, after all, it is somewhat expected, but then these issues collided with my regularly scheduled life.

A few things.

My son David is divorced with two children, my seven-year-old grandson and my almost eighteen-month-old granddaughter.

David is currently living with us to save up some dough, and his arrangement with his ex is that he gets the kids for one week and she gets them for the next.

That’s under normal circumstances.

Because she celebrates Christmas and we don’t, we’ve had them for the past week-and-a-half, and she’ll get them starting late Friday or early Saturday, and keep them for the next two weeks.

Since Christmas and the start of Chanukah both begin on December 24th this year, the grandkids will get Christmas but miss Chanukah.

My granddaughter wouldn’t care, but my grandson loves Chanukah. With this in mind, my family decided to celebrate Chanukah a week early this year so, for us, the fourth night of Chanukah begins at sundown tonight.

Another little factoid. David is dating (I personally think it’s on the rebound, but he says “no” and what do I know anyway?) and she celebrates Christmas, too.

star christmasSo last Sunday evening after my grandson lit the candles and my wife coached him through reciting the blessings, my son and his girlfriend produced a bunch of Christmas presents and gave them to my grandchildren.

I had no idea this was going to happen, and I found myself surprised, shocked, and more than a little dismayed.

I usually silently endure the Christmas season and am grateful when January rolls around so traffic goes back to normal and I don’t have to listen to Christmas music anymore. It’s not like I’ve got a case of “paganoia” about the holiday, I just find it overly commercialized and tedious.

But it invaded my home and without even the slightest warning.

At least no one dragged a Christmas tree into the house.

Which brings me to what really inspired today’s missive. Jewish actress Natalie Portman has a Christmas Tree.

This story was published as Jewish educational site Aish.com to illustrate the potential danger of Jewish assimilation into wider secular culture (or worse, directly into normative Goyishe Christianity).

They also published a parallel article, When Christmas Meets Hanukkah touting the same message.

Is it okay to mix Christmas and Chanukah together? Can you have a Chanukah menorah in your home alongside a Christmas tree? Is this acceptable intermarriage holiday practice?

Experts and authors such as Susan Katz Miller would probably say “yes,” but I’m not so sure.

It’s a foregone conclusion that my non-Jewish grandchildren will be raised with Christmas and Easter and all of that, but thanks to their Bubbe, they’ll also experience at least Chanukah and Passover and occasionally a smidgen of Sukkot.

natalie portman christmas tree
Natalie Portman, Image: Aish.com

My wife isn’t particularly observant (I wish she were more observant) and my son even less (non-existent). If he wasn’t living with us, he probably wouldn’t light the candles, and in spite of the fact that he complained about his ex-wife celebrating Christmas when he was married, he seems perfectly fine with giving his children Christmas presents for the sake of his new girlfriend.

If my family hadn’t been such a mixed bag of evolving religious practice when my own children were growing up, and if we had specifically raised them Jewish, maybe some of it would have stuck. I’d like to think so, even though there’s a crisis of assimilation into secularism attacking the upcoming Jewish generation.

All three of my kids identify as Jewish ethnically, but that’s about where it ends. I really don’t think mixing and matching is such a great idea in families (and if my son marries yet another non-Jewish wife and has more kids, it’ll just get worse). Granted, Natalie Portman can make whatever decisions she wants for her family, but if I had it to do over again, when my sons were born thirty years ago, I would have pushed my wife to join a local synagogue and start her (and my family’s) Jewish education right then and there.

That would have changed a whole lot though, so I’m conflicted. At that time, neither of us were religious, and as her non-Jewish spouse, if I had started attending shul with her and the kids, and if I had become entrenched in that lifestyle by the time we initially encountered Christianity some seven or so years later, I might not have become a believer, and then transitioned into a Judaically aware perspective thanks to first Hebrew Roots and then later Messianic Judaism.

How could I do that, and yet, for the sake of my Jewish children, how could I not?

Each of my three adult children will have to make their own path if they want to recapture what it is to be a Jew. I’ll help if they ask, but otherwise it’s totally up to them. It’s totally up to my long-suffering wife if she wants to become more observant (and she’s the product of an intermarriage as well). I’ve told her more than once that I’ll accept whatever decision she makes in that direction.

assimilationI have almost no control at all of what happens to my grandchildren. They’re not Jewish but I have this secret hope that they’ll become curious one day and want to investigate that part of their heritage (they could always convert).

The world is bleeding out Jews thanks to the hemorrhage of intermarriage and secular assimilation (except for the Orthodox, or so I’ve been told). I can’t fix it in my family, and can only watch and shake my head when I see my grandchildren rip into Christmas wrapping as the Chanukah lights burn just a few feet away.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day to return the Jewish people not only to Israel but to themselves.

Excerpt: A Time To Follow Your Heart

Chanukah MenorahA different kind of Chanukah story presented at Powered by Robots.

Sarah stood across the street from her Bubbe’s and Zayde’s house. The evening of December 24th, the first night of Chanukah this year, was cool, even in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood, but she had dressed for the occasion. She made sure the coat she was wearing wouldn’t attract attention in case anyone saw her.

Sarah wished she could get closer. She wished she could just knock on the door and go inside, but she wasn’t supposed to be there and she wasn’t supposed to change anything.

Wait! There they were. She could see them through the window in the front of their house. Bubbe and Zayde. Her big brother Aaron, all of seven years old, was excitedly jumping up and down next to them. Sarah couldn’t hear anything of course, but she could see everyone’s facial expressions and imagined Zayde firmly but kindly helping Aaron to calm down.

Tradition says that the Chanukah menorah must be placed either in a central area of the home or by a window. The latter is to proudly announce that a miracle had occurred and this was the commemoration of that miracle. Sarah was watching her family tonight thanks to a miracle she had created herself.

This tale is more flash fiction than a science fiction short story so you can read all of A Time to Follow Your Heart in just a few minutes. Let me know what you think.

Is Unknowingly Committing A Transgression A Transgression?

As some of you may know, I’ve slowed down the frequency of blog posts here pretty dramatically compared to past years. Although I haven’t particularly avoided Jewish-based themes, I’ve tried to target my content more for non-Jews and avoid some of the controversy that continues to surround a non-Jew intersecting the domain of Messianic Judaism or any other kind of Judaism.

tefillin
Image: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)

But I just read Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s latest Shabbat Shalom Weekly column and he wrote about a personal experience of his that I have never considered before:

For several years I have been studying Inside Stam, (Stam — acronym: Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzuos) a fascinating book on the laws pertaining to Tefillin, Mezuzos, Sifrei Torah by Reuvain Mendlowitz. I was very excited to have my tefillin checked by him on a recent trip to Israel. Much to my surprise, Rabbi Mendlowitz told me that I needed to replace the “fake straps.” Fake straps?

Straps on tefillin must be made from kosher animals and painted black. It seems that an unscrupulous individual had sold counterfeit straps made in the Far East from horse hide bonded with black plastic and passed them off as kosher! What this meant to me is that I, and hundreds if not thousands of others, unknowingly were not fulfilling the mitzvah of wearing tefillin!

Now obviously, Rabbi Packouz never thought for one second that his tefillin straps were counterfeit, and with proper intent, believed he was fulfilling the mitzvah involved. It would be like eating a bowl of chicken soup that someone had sprinkled undetectable amounts of some non-kosher food into. It’s not the eater’s fault and they wouldn’t even know they were consuming treif.

So can we say that R. Packouz really failed to fulfill the mitzvah of donning tefillin? He obviously thinks so:

There are those who might say, “It’s OK. God understands. It’s what’s you wanted to accomplish and whether the tefillin were kosher or not doesn’t really matter.” It is presumptuous to assume that we know what God “understands.” If the Almighty “went to all of the trouble” to convey so many specific details on how tefillin are made and how they should be worn, then perhaps there is much more to the mitzvah than one’s intentions.

When the Hubble telescope was launched into space in 1990, the photographs were not as clear as expected. Upon investigation it was found that the mirror was ground with an error from the prescribed curve of only 10 nanometers — but resulted in creating a “catastrophic spherical aberration” in the images.

Some things have to be perfect to work.

But R. Packouz is making an assumption that, in not knowing exactly what and how God “understands,” He literally requires all mitzvot to be observed strictly, even, in this case, if it is impossible for the Jewish person involved to know the tefillin straps were fake.

R. Packouz suggests having your (if you are a Jew) tefillin straps checked by a competent, God-fearing sofer (scribe). That makes sense, but the Rabbi trusted the sofer he originally bought his tefillin from, and apparently, the sofer trusted whoever he purchased them from.

Part of me wants to say that God will pardon such transgressions because they were made without intent, but then I remember that in the days of the Tabernacle and later, the Temple, there were sacrifices made for unintentional sin (once the person realized he or she had committed unintentional sin).

Christianity seems a lot more flexible when it comes to transgressions, unintentional and otherwise. I can see why some Christians consider Jewish mitzvot to be a straitjacket. On the other hand, maybe Christianity in general treats the requirements of God like the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Peace With Our Neighbors

unity
Washington Post photo by William Booth

I read a story in the Jewish World Review called West Bank Jews invite Muslims over for the holidays to try for some bonding. It was published on October 21st, and describes the mayor of Efrat, a “bedroom community of 10,000 affluent Jews, including many Americans, a few miles south of Bethlehem” inviting “Palestinians from surrounding villages to come to his house and celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkos, the Feast of the Tabernacles.”

A few dozen Palestinians accepted the offer and came. It wasn’t perfect. The Israelis were armed and the Palestinians weren’t. It seems like a good time was to be had but rather tentatively.

I encourage you to read the story because I want to contrast it with what’s currently going on in the United States now that Donald Trump is the President-Elect.

There have been numerous protests over Trump’s win, some of them breaking into such violence that even extremely liberal Portland, Oregon has had enough.

A number of groups feel vulnerable and threatened by Trump including the LGBT community, tech and liberal driven Silicon Valley in California, New Yorkers, College Students, women, Muslims, Mexicans (specifically undocumented aliens), and just about every pundit who can keyboard and has internet access.

The point is, whether you voted for Clinton or Trump, we all have to live with at least four years of a Trump Presidency. It’s one thing to ask what are we going to do with Trump as the President and another thing to ask what are we going to do with each other.

Even in my own little corner of Idaho, some people are upset, although thankfully, the are peacefully protesting rather than rioting.

portland riot
Mark Graves / The Oregonian / Associated Press

Feminists have their own theories about why women voted for Trump rather than Clinton. At least according to celebrity Mike Rowe, we should know who voted for Trump and why. And at least according to The Jerusalem Post, Israel is very optimistic about a Trump Presidency.

But that doesn’t solve the problem of the polarization of America. For the past eight years, Barack Obama has increased the racial divide between whites and people of color dramatically. One would expect an African-American President to be ideally placed to promote racial healing, but instead, he did the opposite, and we’ve reaped the “benefits” in responses such as Black Lives Matter.

The liberal press and entertainment industry, which controls most of what we see on television, films, and other media, think that all America is or should be like them. Problem is, the real America isn’t one thing and it certainly isn’t the progressive ideal, which is how it was possible for Trump to be elected.

Of course people with different social and political views are going to disagree, but that doesn’t necessarily have to translate into violent riots, “cry-ins” on university campuses, and the wholesale belief that Trump is going to dial American law and culture back sixty years.

Trump hasn’t done anything yet except talk and the nation has already panicked. What are we all going to do on January 20th and going forward when Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States?

I don’t know.

diversityI know we all need to see some commonality in ourselves as Americans. We’ll never be a united nation as long as any one group expects everyone else to submit to them. We’re supposed to recognize the differences between each other and accept that diversity.

Unfortunately, that’s not happening. Diversity is accepted only as long as it’s on the official “approved” list. Acceptance and unity doesn’t exist unless it includes everyone, even people we disagree with.

In the end, there will be only one King and all this petty bickering will be silenced. Until then, we have a responsiblity to promote peace with our neighbors, even if we don’t like them.

If You’re Not A Jew, Who Are You?

NoahIt’s the beginning of a new Torah cycle, and even though I haven’t been diligent with my studies lately, I am not unmindful of them either.

I’m recycling some older thoughts but I think they are worth the review. I came across an article from the Ask the Rabbi column at Aish called Who is a Jew?. The answer is pretty straightforward. You’re a Jew if your mother is Jewish or if you convert to Judaism. Period, end of story.

I know not everyone agrees with this definition, but it does fit the Orthodox perspective and generally, it’s one I can agree with.

Because the upcoming Torah portion for this Shabbat is Noach (Noah), Rabbi Kalman Packouz in his Shabbat Shalom Weekly column wrote about the Noahide Laws. I know this can be a controversial subject among those who read this blog, but I’m making a point. Be patient.

According to Rabbi Packouz, and you’ve heard this before, you don’t have to be a Jew to merit a place in the world to come. His article explains that even from the beginning, Hashem always intended to create the Jewish people, give them the Torah, and have them be a light to the world as the nation of Israel.

As for the rest of us, what are we to do with that light? It’s there. It’s shining. Where does it lead those of us, that is, the vast majority of the world’s population who are not Jewish?

R. Packouz’s response is predictable; the 7 Noahide Commandments.

I’ve written at length about them many times before so I won’t repeat myself here. You can search this blog and probably find a lot more information, opinions, and comments on the topic.

However, some folks who call themselves “Messianic Gentiles” have proposed that the Noahide Laws can at least be used as a guide for the halachah which applies to non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua.

I don’t know if that’s true in an absolute sense, but if you have no other path, it gives you a place to start. There are plenty of Jewish sources which are instructive to Noahides, and in fact, when you go over those laws, they aren’t particularly outrageous:

  1. Don’t murder
  2. Don’t steal
  3. Don’t worship false gods
  4. Don’t be sexually immoral
  5. Don’t eat the limb of an animal before it is killed
  6. Don’t curse God
  7. Set up a legal court system and do justice
generic white guy
Image: Cafepress.com

You can get more details by reading R. Packouz’s article or visiting sites such as Noahide.org.

Of course, these laws and the perspective of Jewish authorities found at Aish and elsewhere do not take Rav Yeshua and his teachings into consideration, and again, I’ve written a great deal about factoring in our reconciliation to Hashem through devotion to our Rav and by his merit.

According to the teachings of R. Packouz and particularly Rav Shaul (Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles), God really did presuppose that all of humanity would be reconciled to Him, but that Jews would be Jews and the people of the nations would be the people of the nations.

Why am I writing this and why should you care?

Basically to say what I’ve said before. There’s nothing wrong with not being Jewish. I mean, most of the world isn’t Jewish and we’re still created in the image of the Almighty. We’re given a place in the world to come, the blessings of the resurrection, and even the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as disciples of our Rav.

We can even call Rav Yeshua our Rav and not feel like we’re ripping off the Jewish people.

Do we have to obey the Noahide Laws? Well, we probably do if we live generally moral lives. Even if we’d never heard of the Noahide Laws, whether we call ourselves Christians, Messianic Gentiles, or anything else, chances are we don’t murder, steal, worship false gods, or practice sexual immorality. We certainly don’t eat the limbs of a living animal, hopefully don’t curse God, and live in a nation with a system of laws and courts.

In other words, we are likely observing the Noahide Laws whether we know it or not.

What else is there? What else does there have to be?

We know in general that meeting regularly with like-minded believers to build each other up is a good thing. It’s a good thing to pray. It’s a good thing to study the Bible, both in groups and as individuals. It’s a good thing to treat others, even people we don’t like, with kindness and generosity.

Coffee and BibleAll of these principles can be found in the Bible and they don’t apply just to observant Jews.

As we begin another Torah cycle and start another year, it’s good to remember that we don’t have to be Jewish in order to be close to God. However, that knowledge was brought to us in general by the Jewish people, and in specific by our Jewish Rav. After all, he specifically selected one Apostle to bring the good news of Moshiach to the goyim, that is, to the rest of us.

Rejoice.

Sukkot Without A Sukkah

Sukkah in the rainSeems strange, right? No sukkah this year. Let me explain.

My parents are aging and their health is none too good. My wife and I haven’t been able to visit them in a while. A window opened up in our schedules, so we took a long weekend and drove down to their place in Southwestern Utah last Friday. We stayed Saturday and drove back home Sunday.

As most of you reading this probably know, Sukkot began at Sundown last Sunday.

Now we got home at about 2:30 p.m., but I was all in from a nine-hour drive so I didn’t haul out our little sukkah kit and put it together as I usually do.

However, yesterday morning, the missus and I were up at the same time along with our son David, and I asked her if she’d like me to assemble the sukkah when I got home from work.

Her answer kind of surprised me.

She said that I built the sukkah each year because I wanted to, not because she wanted me to.

Hmmmm.

I distinctly remember one year her thanking me for remembering to put up the sukkah when she forgot.

We never have meals in it and it’s rather small, maybe fitting two or three people max.

In our marriage, she’s the Jewish spouse and I’m the goy. I suppose I could have built it anyway, but something told me that if she didn’t want to observe the mitzvah as a Jew, who am I to do so (and not being Jewish, I can’t really observe the mitzvah anyway)?

sukkot jerusalem
Sukkot in Jerusalem

I know some of you are going to say there is an application for Gentiles in Sukkot and I agree with you. On the other hand, without the Jewish people, without the Exodus, without the forty years in the desert, there would be no celebration of Sukkot, and none of that has to do with we goyim, even if we are disciples of Rav Yeshua.

So this year, it’s Sukkot, but without a sukkah.

Perhaps it is fitting since I have distanced myself from at least certain elements of Messianic Judaism. But while some Messianic Jews feel it’s important to separate Gentiles from Jewish praxis, they still can’t insist we distance ourselves from Hashem (and I’m not suggesting they are).

On the other hand, Judaism in general believes that the goyim can have a place in the world to come under certain circumstances (although the Noahide Laws don’t quite map to the life of a “Judaically aware” non-Jewish disciple of Yeshua), so while a Jewish celebration such as Sukkot might not be appropriate for us (again, some of you will argue against this), entering the presence of Hashem through the merit of Rav Yeshua is allowed for us.

So for me, at least for this year, the sukkah will have to exist in my imagination and in the future when we will all enter Hashem’s House of Prayer, which is a shelter for all people, Israel and the nations alike.

"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman