Book Review: 5 Minute Torah by Darren Huckey

5 minute torah
Found at the Emet HaTorah website.

Darren Huckey asked me to review his book 5 Minute Torah: Messianic Insights Into The Weekly Torah Portion which was published last fall, and to that end, mailed me a copy. It really lives up to its title.

Good Things

This is a terrific beginner’s Torah study for Messianic newbies. Beyond a short introduction, the entire book consists of a brief study of each parashah (portion) of the annual Torah reading. No matter when you buy the book and start studying the portions for each Shabbat, you can dive right in.

Although advertised as a five-minute study per Torah portion, to me they were about two-and-a-half minutes but then I read fast and, after many years of study, a lot of the material seemed pretty familiar. Darren didn’t pull all of the commentaries from his own knowledge, but rather relied on the published insights of such sages as Rashi, Rambam, Ramban, as well as some Chassidic interpretations. The Bible translation used is the ESV which isn’t my favorite but you can’t have everything.

All in all, as I’ve said, this is a very good beginner’s Torah study guide for the non-Jew in the Messianic community (or Jew who has absolutely no background in Torah study perhaps having spent most of their religious life in the Church) or mainstream Christian to start out with. It’s completely approachable and easily digestible.

Darren also points the reader toward calendars for the current Torah cycle including those that reference the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) as well as the Torah, Prophets, and Writings.

Concerns

Since Darren stated that he used specific sources for his commentaries, I’d have liked to have seen those sources cited for a number of reasons. First off, there are many opinions in the world of the Jewish sages that have been collected for hundreds or even thousands of years and not all of them agree. In Christianity, disagreement among theological authorities is seen with worry but in Judaism it’s pretty much the norm and dynamic tension is much better tolerated. But for the someone completely new to Torah study, I think it would help to know who said what. Those sorts of brief citations can be commonly found in my copies of the Chumash and Tanakh.

Also, in a published work, there are customary methods of identifying information that is not original but created by another authority. Typically, authors or organizations want to be acknowledged when their material is being used by someone else.

Finally, since this is a beginner’s guide, the reader might want to know where to go next after they’ve progressed beyond what is offered in this resource, so those citations could have been used as road signs pointing ahead, so to speak.

The only other thing I can think of is that Darren, at the very end of his book, could have added a few pages of “where to go next” for more involved Torah study resources, Messianic and otherwise. I know when I get my hands on a hot resource that whets my appetite, I want to start reading a lot of other stuff and I think Darren is well-positioned to offer such guidance to his audience.

I’m also putting this review on Amazon.

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How is Messianic Judaism “Trending?”

the crowdMy stats say this blog has a little over 900 followers and while that doesn’t put me anywhere in the same neighborhood as TechCrunch, it does mean that at least potentially, a few people out there are visiting and reading my content (and thank you for doing so, especially since I don’t post here nearly as frequently as I have in the past).

In answering a comment on my previous missive, I found myself wondering about the current state of Messianic Judaism (or whatever you want to call it) and whether or not it is growing, shrinking, or just holding steady. That is, how is MJ “trending” in terms of population?

It’s the sort of question I’d love to dig into but I haven’t the faintest idea where to go to find valid numbers. I know there are probably individual Messianic organizations that likely keep track of their numbers, but I can’t think of any one central repository that could tell me if MJ is gaining or losing ground.

Why should I care?

Because I wonder how many people there are out in the world like me.

I once belonged to a private Facebook group made up of Christians who are “unchurched.” The term “unchurched” usually means people who don’t go to church, but in this context it describes Christians who remain in the faith but who no longer attend a formal congregation. Usually they meet in small, home groups because “church” in one way or another, no longer suits their needs.

I left that Facebook group when I saw them using the Bible to somehow justify that large, organized bodies of believers isn’t supported by scripture. Of course, I had to bring in Temple worship, plus the system of synagogues that existed during Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) “earthly ministry” which even Rav Yeshua attended.

I got a lot of blowback and I know how much fun that is from maintaining a presence in the religious blogosphere for so many years, so I dropped that association like an angry rattlesnake.

I have lots and lots of reasons for not being involved in any sort of faith community anymore, some are relative to theology and doctrine and some are personal. One has to do with being intermarried to a Jewish spouse and how my affiliation with organized Christianity (including the Messianic movement) impacts her. No, she’d never say I couldn’t worship as I see fit, but we’ve been married nearly thirty-five years and I can tell how my “praying with the enemy” (metaphorically speaking) affects her.

Every once in a blue moon I catch myself missing such congregational meetings, but in the end, the liabilities involved still outweigh the benefits.

How many others who have previously been regularly involved and integrated into some sort of formal Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots group have since dropped away to march to the beat of their own drummer? Believe me, I can see why folks would fall away, either to go back to the normative Church or to attend no congregation at all, but how can we find out about them?

Of course this begs the larger question of the state of Christianity. Is the normative Church shrinking? If so, then maybe a shrinking Messianic movement (though I have no idea if it is shrinking) is understandable in that context.

A quick Google search wasn’t particularly illuminating.

The Washington Post published a January 2017 article called Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving but Thom S. Rainer’s blog (President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources) posted a September 2016 blog post titled Five Reasons Churches are Dying and Declining Faster Today. ChurchLeaders.com produced a December 2017 article that was way too long but reported mixed trends depending on location and church size, and The Gospel Coalition created a March 2015 “fact checker” that seemed to say conservative churches weren’t growing as fast as they once were but were still growing, while “mainline” churches which had strayed away from “Biblical Christianity” were on the decline.

However that’s normative Christianity, not Messianic Judaism.

So does anyone really know how MJ is doing and if so, what’s your source of information?

When is “Winning” in Social Media Going Too Far?

reed sea

Then Moses and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song to Hashem, and they said the following: I shall sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea.

Exodus 15:1 Stone Edition Chumash

Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and with dances. Miriam spoke up to them, “Sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea.”

Exodus 15:20-21 ibid

“How can you sing when my people are dying?”

Talmud Sanhedrin, 39b

I quoted from today’s Torah Portion and from Talmud as much as a lesson to myself as for others. I’m not speaking so much about celebrating or cheering when our enemies (or people we just don’t like) die, even a very deserving demise. I’m addressing how we cheer when we think we’ve trounced some else’s opinion particularly in the realm of social media including the blogosphere.

Believe me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.

But it occurs to me that at some point, when we attempt to champion our own cause at the detriment of someone else’s, we are trying to harm the other person.

Recently on Facebook (clicking that link will take you to an image some would find offensive so choose wisely) I engaged another person, someone in my local community who I used to work with, over the matter of women dressing up in vagina costumes for the national Women’s March of a weekend or two ago. To me, it looked incredibly degrading and seemed to be communicating that these “progressive” and “liberated” women saw themselves as nothing more than their genitals.

I believe they were actually responding to a comment attributed to Donald Trump which he made some years back (and which was recorded) about grabbing women by their “p*ssies which I indeed do find highly offensive.

However, I’m not sure that responding by dressing up as the object of Trump’s interest (as suggested by his comment) is the best way to protest and I said so.

Of course, I was accused of misunderstanding the symbolism involved and maybe even somehow denying these women the right to choose their own symbols.

We went back and forth a few times and then I dropped it (not everyone else did) figuring I’d made my point and people were free to disagree with me.

Did he “win” and I “lose” because I didn’t continue the “battle?” More importantly, if I had continued the exchange and if he became silent, should I have celebrated his “defeat?”

Just so you don’t misunderstand me, I do believe in standing up for morality and I believe vagina costumes and some of the language used by the women and men (yes, some men dressed up for the occasion as well) involved was offensive.

Now I know I can be accused of supporting the “Patriarchy” for that comment, as if I, as a religious male, have some sort of right to control the behavior of women. No, it’s not about control. I don’t “control” the behavior or dress of my wife and daughter (they’d explode if I even tried) and only exercise some control over my granddaughter’s choice of apparel because she’s just two-and-a-half.

Women are free to wear whatever they choose and to behave in any manner they desire (short of breaking the law or otherwise causing harm), but in this nation of free speech rights, I can choose to express my opinion on what I think is acceptable and unacceptable behavior from men and women based on my moral and ethical values. I would also object to men protesting while wearing “penis” hats (my friend said somewhere on Facebook that the Washington Monument is a giant penis symbol which I find kind of ridiculous since not everything that is taller than it is wide is a penis).

women's march 2018
Photo: Carolyn Cole, TNS – Found at Detroit Free Press

If I were a better person, I probably wouldn’t get into these debates at all since long and bitter experience has taught me that they do absolutely no good in changing anyone’s mind.

And yet, if no one objects to offensive and ludicrous imagery and symbolism, that amounts to tacit acceptance and agreement.

How far can we go in objecting before we find ourselves driven to metaphorically “kill” the person with whom we disagree?

For more, read Mrs. Lori Palatnik’s article When Evil Falls. It doesn’t directly address my point, but it is illuminating nonetheless.

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.

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.

"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