Tag Archives: abraham joshua heschel

Saving Israel After the Fullness of the Gentiles Has Come (and Gone)

But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

Acts 5:33-39 (NASB)

James, I think…the ironic part of those words is that the plan and action of these men was indeed overthrown. The early Jewish Jesus-followers ceased to exist in a short order. Their sect was replaced by a religion quite foreign to them in deed and thought, one in total opposition to Judaism and one that worshiped a man as a deity. This is definitely not something that Gamaliel would have approved as mainstream Judaism nor would he have taken a wait and see approach, that is had he actually known that to be the case with the members of the Jesus sect standing in front of him. That’s something to consider.

-Gene Shlomovich
from his comment on my recent blog post

That is very interesting and it’s something I never thought of before. Of course most Christians would disagree that the ancient Jewish movement of “the Way” was overthrown and thus proven to not be of God. Or maybe they would agree since it was the Jewish expression of faith in Yeshua (Jesus) that was overthrown. But the flip side of the coin is that Christians would say the rise of the (Gentile) Church was always God’s plan and that anyone who is against the Church is “found fighting against God.”

But of course as a Messianic Gentile, I’m all for the Messianic movement being a Jewish religious stream rather than a faith co-opted and significantly redesigned by and for Gentiles. Not that Gentiles don’t have a place in that Messianic Jewish stream, but we’re just not the ones sitting in the catbird seat, so to speak.

So, was the early Messianic movement overthrown by the invalid religion of Gentile Christianity? I can almost feel some Christians out there bristling at the suggestion.

Or was the “time of the Gentiles” all part of the plan?

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved… (emph. mine)

Romans 11:25-26 (NASB)

Paul appears to link “fullness of the Gentiles” with “all Israel will be saved,” as if the former were necessary so that the latter could be fulfilled. Perhaps, in all its imperfection and even its historical cruelty to the Jewish people, the Gentile Church was somehow a requirement in God’s plan to ultimately redeem all of Israel, making her a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6) and sending the Torah to all of the earth (Isaiah 2:3).

But how are we to understand this?

The Torah is not in heaven. The voice of God is unambiguous; it is the confusion of man, of the best of us, that creates the ambiguity.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “The Primacy of Literal Meaning,” p.133
Man’s Quest for God

However, a few pages later (p.142) Heschel also states:

The soul of the religious man lives in the depth of certainty…

A Jewish person such as Gene would say that the efforts of the young Messianic Jewish movement in the late-Second Temple period and thereafter was not of God since it was overthrown by the new Gentile religion Christianity. A Christian might say that the Jewish movement of “the Way” was always meant to be transformed by God from one based on Law to a better one based on Grace.

I can’t accept either explanation because I think we’re looking at the idea of being “overthrown” in rather limited terms.

The Jewish people have been exiled on numerous occasions over the course of history by the will of God, though I’m convinced not by any desire of Hashem to do harm to His people Israel. This most recent exile has been nearly two-thousand years long and it is said the exile will not end until every Jew is returned to the Land and national Israel is totally sovereign and at the head of all the other nations in the world.

According to Paul’s criteria, Israel hasn’t been saved yet. According to most modern religious Jews, Israel will not have been redeemed until Messiah comes and accomplishes it.

calloused handsFrom both a Jew’s and a Christian’s point of view, that event has yet to take place.

So was “the Way” was overthrown or is its Jewish core merely waiting for the proper time for the healing of calloused hands (Romans 11:25, see Nanos)?

Yes, I realize that I’ve probably written things here that will make both Jews and Christians unhappy with me. That was not my intent, but I don’t doubt it will be the result. I’m not writing this to be deliberately insulting but as an attempt to address Gene’s observation and how I see the consequences of historic actions in the long haul.

Jews on the Wrong Side of the Cross

crossAngela Buchdahl was born to an Ashkenazi, Reform Jewish father and a Korean Buddhist mother, yet on her path to the rabbinate did not take the time to convert to Judaism.

-Yori Yanover
“It’s Official: You Can Be a Non-Jewish Rabbi”
Published: August 14th, 2013 Latest update: August 15th, 2013

Now that’s an odd story. I was having coffee with my friend Tom last Sunday afternoon when he mentioned this news item. Today, he sent me the link via Facebook. But Reform Rabbi Angela Buchdahl’s tale isn’t quite as it appears.

Exactly 30 years ago, in 1983, the Reform movement in America adopted the bilineal policy: “The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both parent and child, to Jewish life.”

It should be noted that outside the U.S. the Reform movement is yet to adopt the sweeping “presumption of Jewish descent” doctrine, but they do, by and large, offer “accelerated conversions” to children of a Jewish father.

In the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements (and their various branches), Jewish identity is an important issue. Who is Jewish and who isn’t directly relates to the roles and responsibilities of individuals within Messianic Judaism and great efforts are made to maintain such distinctions, particularly since Messianic Jewish congregations contain (typically) a minority of halachically Jewish members and a majority of Gentile believers who choose to worship within a Jewish context.

Yori Yanover, in his article says that Reform Rabbi Buchdahl’s synagogue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan can be seen to have a number of African and Hispanic attendees and that, as far as diversity goes, Yanover would “beam with pride” over “gentiles who embrace the Jewish faith and who go through the grueling process of converting to Judaism.” But that presupposes conversion to Judaism and adoption of Jewish identity.

Yet outside of Reform Judaism, especially the United States expression of it, Rabbi Buchdahl would be considered a non-Jew and the lines defining Jewish identity have gone beyond being blurred to being eradicated. A non-Jewish Rabbi and Cantor?

Indeed, the more the Reform movement is reinventing itself, the closer it gets to Christianity. She’s been active, among other things, at Auburn Theological Seminary, “an interfaith platform to address global issues and build bridges across religious traditions.” “Angela is an extraordinary religious leader,” Rev. Katherine Henderson, Auburn’s president, told Hadassah. At a gathering for a Presbyterian group last year, Buchdahl “led worship that was completely authentic for her as a Jew and yet completely accessible for this group of Christians,” says Henderson. “We were all able to praise God together!”

But should Jewish writer Yanover be complaining? Shouldn’t we all be getting along as people of faith? And as a Christian, shouldn’t I delight to see Judaism and Christianity coming together, merging, forming a combined corporate identity? Isn’t this just one more step to converting Jews to Christians and becoming “one new man?”

In 1827, Czar Nicholas I decreed that all Jewish boys be forcibly conscripted into the Russian Army at age 12. Called “cantonists,” these boys were kidnapped from their parents’ home, and tortured repeatedly with the implication that conditions would improve if they’d accept Christianity. (Many died of their wounds.) The boys were indoctrinated in military prep school until age 18, and thereafter served 25 years in the army. The authorities saw it as a corrective, forced assimilation of stubborn Jews into Russian society, and as a way to undermine the authority of Jewish communal leaders. Some 50,000 Jewish boys were forced into Czar Nicholas’ army, and most never returned to the families they had left at age 12. The policy was abolished in 1855, with the death of Nicholas.

Day in Jewish History – Elul 15

gentile-jesusI was talking with another Christian recently and the topic of Jews being forced to convert to Christianity under torture came up. In the course of conversation, my companion said that the Jewish people ultimately need to accept Jesus as the Messiah and that it’s wrong for Jews to refuse to convert. Frankly, I could hardly believe my ears. Was this person saying that a Jewish person who felt that the blue-eyed, Goyishe Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah and who believed that Christianity embodied polytheism and idolatry should nevertheless accept conversion to Christianity while under torture as an act of obeying God?

That’s plain nuts. Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, but it is not “Christian” to torture someone to conversion. Further, if you force a “conversion,” how sincere can it be? Did Jesus advocate such monstrous acts? Did Paul routinely beat, starve, burn, and cut other Jews who refused to see his side of the story about Jesus? How can this be right? How is this uplifting the Name of God and keeping it Holy?

I’m not saying that Judaism trumps the Word of God or the message of Messiah anymore than Christianity does. We are all (or should all be) seeking an encounter with God, not blindly marching after a series of theologies, doctrines, and dogmas. But is being Jewish nothing to God? Didn’t He call Abraham as the first Hebrew? Didn’t He require that the Children of Israel set themselves apart from the nations as His treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation? (Exodus 19:5-6) And even on the “other side of the cross,” were not there many thousands of Jews who were all believers in Jesus as Messiah and all of them zealous for the Torah? (Acts 21:20)

It hardly seems as if God established the Jewish people and required them to be unique and set apart from the other nations and peoples of the world, and yet after the crucifixion, deleted them from any significance in the course of human history and the plan of the most Holy and One God.

Is God among the Jewish people who have not accepted Jesus as Messiah?

A commenter recently stated that he had no intention of reading anything by Abraham Joshua Heschel because he did not believe he could “grow spiritually” by reading “someone that doesn’t have the type of faith that’s required to be a born again believer in Yeshua.” I am not writing this response with the intention of casting aspersions on the commenter. I simply want to stand against this idea that we cannot learn from or grow spiritually by reading the ideas of people who do not share faith with us in Jesus.

I think the idea is baseless. I’d like to discuss it from various angles, not least of which is the observation that Christianity and Judaism both have long histories of believing otherwise. The theology behind the idea that spiritual truth can only be learned from people with Jesus-faith is not biblical, is not sound thinking about God and his ways, and has its basis in a spiritual triumphalism of the shallowest proportions. I am not saying that people who believe in the Jesus-believers-only theology are shallow, but they have been influenced by an arrogant religious culture.

-Derek Leman
“Can We Learn From ‘Unbelievers?'”

Abraham-Joshua-HeschelI can’t imagine Abraham Joshua Heschel not being a man of God, and certainly his famed book God in Search of Man is a testimony to every man’s spiritual search for his Creator.

Part of the response I posted on Derek’s blog states:

The whole idea of taking “sides of the cross,” so to speak, drives me nuts. In Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel, McKnight tells a story about a chance meeting with another Pastor and McKnight asked in the course of the conversation if Jesus preached the gospel. The Pastor without hesitation said that it was impossible for Jesus to even have understood the gospel message because he was born on the wrong side of the cross! Apparently, this Pastor believed that no one understood the gospel message until Paul.

While Jesus changed a great deal in terms of non-Jewish covenant access to God, he didn’t revolutionize the universe and radically transform Judaism by eliminating any connection between Jewish people and God at the cross. Jesus, as the Jewish Messiah King, should be seen as both a continuation of Judaism across time and as an amplification of Judaism’s greatest gift to the Jewish people and the world.

I found the following Rabbinic stories at Aish.com and I encounter them elsewhere from time to time.

Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach once bought a donkey and found a gem in the carrying case which came with it. The rabbis congratulated him on the windfall with which he had been blessed. “No,” said Rabbi Shimon, “I bought a donkey, but I didn’t buy a diamond.” He proceeded to return the diamond to the donkey’s owner, an Arab, who remarked, “Blessed be the God of Shimon ben Shatach.”

A non-Jew once approached Rabbi Safra and offered him a sum of money to purchase an item. Since Rabbi Safra was in the midst of prayer at the time, he could not respond to the man, who interpreted the silence as a rejection of his offer and therefore told him that he would increase the price. When Rabbi Safra again did not respond, the man continued to raise his offer. When Rabbi Safra finished, he explained that he had been unable to interrupt his prayer, but had heard the initial amount offered and had silently consented to it in his heart. Therefore, the man could have the item for that first price. Here too, the astounded customer praised the God of Israel.

praying-at-the-kotelIn Judaism, kiddush Hashem means “sanctifying the Divine Name,” usually by some sort of behavior. While I can’t say that all Jewish people across the world and across time have always lived up to this principle, I know for a fact that not all Christians have, either. We can hardly point to the cross and the fact that we were born on the “right” side of it as evidence that we have the spiritual upper hand. We certainly can’t say that our efforts to delete Jewish people and Judaism over the last nearly 2,000 years, using tools ranging from torture and murder to assimilation and conversion, represents the highest standard of kiddush Hashem. Are we introducing the Jewish people to their Messiah who holds the message of the good news for Jews, Israel, and through them, the rest of the world, or are we trying to earn points in the church by bringing another one to the Gentile Christ?

In my conversation with my Pastor last week, we discussed the range of beliefs within overall Christianity from fundamental to liberal and where people fall off the “scale of Christianity” on both edges. Yoni Yanover believes such a thing is possible in Judaism as well.

This reporter is known to be flippant, so I very much want to avoid being flippant about this story. I don’t think we should denounce people like Angela Buchdahl, or condemn the Reform movement for its straying so far out of the Rabbinical Jewish tent. But we should remain steadfast in not calling any of these people and the nice things they do “Jewish” in any way at all. We’re already not permitted to set foot inside their houses of worship. We should probably stop calling their religious teachers “Rabbi” – perhaps “Reform Rabbi” will do. And we should look forward to the time when calling someone “Reform” would simply mean a really nice non-Jew.

I’ve written before about the fundamental, core beliefs a person must hold to authentically call themselves “Christian,” but how does our treatment of Jewish people figure in to those beliefs? Is it OK to treat Jewish people and their beliefs with contempt and still call ourselves disciples of the King of the Jews? Can we really say that God is never, ever among the Jewish people because of the cross? How do we know?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Matthew 23:37-39 (NASB)

This set of verses is often used by Christians to condemn the Jewish people, but listen to the compassion and love in Messiah’s lament. He longs to gather his people to him. He begs them to open their eyes and see him. It breaks his heart knowing that Jerusalem will soon be ravaged by Roman armies and be left desolate of her exiled people. He knows that his people, the Jewish people, will see him when they say, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado just wrote a blog post called A Future for NT Studies?.

But, to take a slightly different approach, let’s consider why there is (and should continue to be) a field of study, a discipline, of NT Studies. It’s not practical here to do more than state some things briefly. “Byron” claims that NT scholars are simply “chasing their own tails.” That may characterize some work(ers) perhaps, but as a generalization is an unfair, and uninformed, view of things.

bible_read_meIf, after nearly 2,000 years, our studies of the New Testament record have not produced an understanding of the Jewish Messiah, the Jewish Apostles, the Jewish disciples, and their interaction with and tutelage of the newly minted Gentile disciples who struggled to enter and maintain their presence in a Jewish religious venue, then we can only say that New Testament scholars and theologians are only “chasing their own tails” if they keep studying the same scriptures and coming up with the same conclusions that result in anti-Semitism, supersessionism, and (frankly) worship of the cross instead of the Jewish King who died on it.

As Gentile Christians, we should be provoking zealousness among the Jewish people as the means to emphasizing the need for them to return to the Torah and there, find the Messiah.

I apologize if this blog post has offended or upset anyone. I can’t imagine that I haven’t offended or upset practically everyone with today’s “extra meditation,” but we really, really need to stop worshiping Christianity, especially in a manner that must delete Judaism in order to ensure our continued existence. Seek God and His desires. If He continues to love and cherish the Jewish people, who are we as Christians in the church to do otherwise?

Seeking the Awe of Heaven

Gates of HeavenThere are two approaches to the Bible that prevail in philosophical thinking. The first approach claims that the Bible is a naive book, it is poetry or mythology. As beautiful as it is, it must not be taken seriously, for in its thinking it is primitive and immature. How could you compare it to Hegel or Hobbes, John Locke or Shopenhauer?

The second approach claims that Moses taught the same ideas as Plato or Aristotle, that there is no serious disagreement between the teachings of the philosophers and the teachings of the prophets. Aristotle, for example, used unambiguous terms, while the prophets employed metaphors.

Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism.
pp 24-25

Everything is within the power of Heaven except fear and awe of heaven.Berachot 33b

Although I may have left the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute’s lesson on Toward a Meaningful Life behind with yesterday’s morning meditation, the Christian search for God in the Torah, Tanakh, and Talmud still occupies me. I’m sure reading Heschel’s classic only provokes my interest.

The quote from his book which I just posted presents a more interesting dilemma than the one Heschel considered. He was presenting how Jews view God through the lens of the Torah as compared the perspective of the Greek (and later) philosophers and their “more rational” position on God. From a Jewish way of looking at the issue, it’s a matter of Jewish religion vs. non-Jewish, secular philosophy. Now let’s toss a monkey wrench into the spinning machinery.

It is said that much of how Christianity understands and interprets the Bible stems from the study and adherence to Greek philosophy. I’ve known more than one believer who has left the church because they came to realize that the Christian tradition had “Helenized” the Bible, stripping it of its original Hebraic meaning and intent. If they are right, then a Christian studying the Jewish perspectives will either discover something precious or lose something essential in their faith.

Almost two months ago, I read a blog post warning Christians that to study Judaism and Jewish writings was an invitation to apostacy and the abandonment of Christ himself. The danger was that becoming too attracted to Judaism would result in a person who would eventually lose their Christian faith and perhaps even decide to convert.

That concern doesn’ t particularly worry me. There’s something else to consider. I wonder if the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible even speak the same language. Ponder this statement from Heschel’s book (page 25):

The central thought of Judaism is the living God.

That begs the question, “what is the central thought of Christianity?” The most obvious answer is “Jesus Christ”, but is that the same answer, a related answer, or does this represent two completely different answers? When a Jew thinks of God, he isn’t thinking of the Messiah because nothing in Judaism presupposes that the Messiah must be God. We imagine because the Jewish Bible makes up the first two-thirds of the Christian Bible, that there must be a significant overlap in how Christians and Jews think of, understand, and approach God, but that isn’t particularly true. As my (Jewish) wife keeps telling me, Jews conceptualize God, faith, and the world around them in a fundamentally different way than everyone else, particularly Christians.

But is there no common meeting ground? Don’t both Jews and Christians seek God? Doesn’t the yearning to walk in His Presence stir in both the Jewish and the Christian heart?

The Bible has several words for the act of seeking God (darash, bakkesh, shahar). In some passages these words are used in the sense of inquiring after His will and precepts (Psalm 119:45, 94, 155). Yet, in other passages these words mean more than the act of asking a question, the aim of which is to elicit information. It means addressing oneself directly to God with the aim of getting close to Him; it involves a desire for experience rather than a search for information. Seeking Him includes the fact of keeping His commandments, but it goes beyond it. “Seek ye the Lord and His strength, seek His face continually” (Psalms 105:4). Indeed, to pray does not only mean to seek help; it also means to seek Him. (Heschel page 28)

Hasid AlleywayI certainly can’t see why this couldn’t be the basis of searching for God for both the Jew and the Christian…or any person seeking the God who calls to them in their pain and their dreams.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that, while I as a Christian am seeking God through a Jewish understanding, there was once a Jew who did quite the opposite…and yet remained Jewish:

He read the Gospels in German. Then he obtained a Hebrew version and reread them. Though he was in the midst of a Gentile, Christian city where Jesus was worshiped in churches and honored in every home, Feivel felt the Gospels belonged more to him and the Chasidic world than they did to the Gentiles who revered them. He found the Gospels to be thoroughly Jewish and conceptually similar to Chasidic Judaism. He wondered how Gentile Christians could hope to comprehend Yeshua (Jesus) and His words without the benefit of a classical Jewish education or experience with the esoteric works of the Chasidim.

Taken from Jorge Quinonez:
“Paul Philip Levertoff: Pioneering Hebrew-Christian Scholar and Leader”
Mishkan 37 (2002): 21-34
as quoted from Love and the Messianic Age

Paul Philip Levertoff, born as Feivel Levertoff first encountered a page from the Gospels as a nine-year old Chasidic Jewish boy in the late 19th century. He found a scrap of paper in the snow one day written in Hebrew and assumed it was from a Jewish holy book. He took it home to his father to see what should be done, but when the man realized what was written on the paper, he threw it in the stove to burn. But while that scrap of paper was reduced to ashes, a different kind of fire was kindled in Feivel Levertoff that day and that fire never left him for the remainder of his life.

Levertoff couldn’t believe that anyone not schooled in the Zohar, the Tanya, or other mystic and Chasidic Jewish wisdom could ever understand the words such as are written in John’s Gospel. As much as anything, Levertoff’s experience lets me anticipate that someone with an essential faith in Jesus can hope to allow that faith, understanding, and worship to grow and expand when nurtured with some of the same fertile Jewish prayers and readings (see my review of Levertoff’s Love and the Messianic Age for more).

Returning to Heschel (page 31):

There are three starting points of contemplation about God; three trails that lead to Him. The first is the way of sensing the presence of God in the world in things; the second is the way of sensing His presence in the Bible; the third is the way of sensing His presence in sacred deeds.

What Heschel is describing as three starting points are what he later defines as worship, learning, and action. In my reading and subsequent review of Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, I noticed that it was not recommended for each to person take the same path to God. It seems that not everyone is cut out for the “mystic approach”. Rather, some people are best suited to approaching God through deed, others mainly through study, and still others, primarily through prayer and worship. How interesting that Heschel should offer the same three options, mapped to different scriptures:

  • Worship: “Lift up your eyes on high and see, Who created these? –Isaiah 40;26
  • Learning: “I am the Lord thy God.” –Exodus 20:2
  • Action: “We shall do and we shall hear.” –Exodus 24:7

The human race is a people seeking God. Many don’t understand that His face is the one they long to see and if you ask them about it, they’ll deny it vehemently. And yet, mankind thirsts for justice, cries out for mercy, begs for forgiveness, and pleads for their wounds and sicknesses to be healed. Who are they crying out to if not God?

How much more can this be said of those of us who understand that we are seeking the face of God and yet, there seems to be more than one road to His Throne (not contradicting John 14:6). Even in narrowing these methods to worship, study, and actions, there are still so many choices to consider. I continue to make my choice in one particular direction. Hopefully, Rabbi Heschel wouldn’t have minded.