Tag Archives: authority

Gathering Jerusalem

paul-in-romeHe lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Acts 28:30-31

So ends Luke’s chronicle on the acts of the apostles in what we know today as the Book of Acts. Paul is left in Rome as a prisoner of Caesar in a rented abode, still in chains and guarded by a member of the Praetorian guard. We have only bits and pieces from Paul’s letters and other documents to help us understand what happened to him afterward and the fate to which he finally arrived.

The abrupt end of the book leaves the reader wondering why Luke closed the narrative at that point. He does not grant any specific stories about Paul’s activities in those two years, and he does not mention the outcome of his appeal before the emperor. It seems like a strange and unsatisfying place to conclude the story.

-D Thomas Lancaster
Study for “Behar (On the Mountain)”
Commentary on Acts 28:16-31
Chronicles of the Apostles, Volume 6,  pg 837
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Torah Club

This is the conclusion, as far as Luke’s narrative is concerned, of Paul’s long, dangerous, and confusing journey from Jerusalem to Rome, a journey which began under the shadow of grim prophesy.

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge.

When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

Acts 21:10-19

Even before Paul entered Jerusalem, he knew he might not be leaving the Holy City again, at least not in this life. Yet he did as a result of false accusations against him, having been accused by Jews from Asia of teaching against the Temple, against Jews keeping Torah, and even bringing a Gentile into the Temple past the court of the Gentiles.

As I said, none of it was true, but Paul defended himself as he was taken from one city to the next, from one court venue to the next. And even though he had done no wrong, because of the accusations against him and the threats against his life, Paul finally appealed to Caesar to hear his case, and his assurance of a one-way journey to Rome and the emperor was complete.

But he never saw Jerusalem again. Never saw Peter or James or the elders and apostles again. Never offered sacrifices in the Holy Temple again.

While Paul’s ultimate fate remains a mystery, what about the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem?

Last Sunday, Pastor Randy said a funny thing from the pulpit and he repeated it during last Wednesday night’s conversation with me.

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

Acts 11:19-21

Apostle-Paul-PreachesPastor said this was the beginning of the process of transferring authority from Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch. What? Transferring authority? I’d never heard of such a thing. How could any city but Jerusalem be the geographic and spiritual center of our faith? I had always believed that the ultimate authority over the “church” was always wielded from Jerusalem, that is until 70 CE when the Romans leveled the Temple, razed Jerusalem, and sent the vast majority of the Jewish population into the diaspora. Only then was authority transferred from the Jewish apostolic council to the Gentiles, and this by force.

But according to Pastor Randy, once the original apostles, those who walked with Jesus and who witnessed the resurrection, died…their authority was not automatically passed down to others, either their heirs or any other appointed elders. There is only one record of an apostle being replaced and that was long before the trials of Paul.

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Acts 1:21-26

Protestantism tends to discourage the idea of a more permanent intent for the Council of Apostles because it smacks of the authority of Rome in Catholicism and other Ecumenical Councils who exercise authority over the faithful, many times to the detriment of the faithful. So Pastor’s thoughts could be a reflection of his perspective and education.

Be that as it may, the Council of Apostles disappears from Jerusalem and from history, certainly by 70 CE if not before.

But what about the centrality of Jerusalem? If you believe there will be a Third Temple (as I do) from where Messiah will reign in Jerusalem, then you cannot dispense with Jerusalem. If you believe that each year the Gentile nations must send representatives to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16-19), then you cannot dispense with Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the focus, the nexus for all of our prophetic hopes in the return of the Messiah. If the apostles and the council vanished from Jerusalem with no successors, did “authority” shift to Antioch?

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 13:1-3

It certainly seems so, but let’s think about this. The first large group of Gentiles to become disciples of the Master and to receive and extensive education in his teachings and (very likely) in the Torah were the Antioch Gentile God-fearing believers. Antioch also became a good “jumping off place” for Paul and his fellow apostles to go to the Gentiles in the diaspora with the good news of the Messiah (but going to the Jews first, of course). And while Antioch seems to have been a major center of Jewish/Gentile Messianic worship and evangelism, Paul continued to return to Jerusalem (Acts 15 and 21) to receive authoritative rulings on difficult matters and to bring donations for support of the Jewish “saints” in Israel.

fall-of-jerusalemAntioch may have been the center of the Jewish/Gentile interface of the Way, but Jerusalem was the heart, soul, and final authority over the movement.

But when there were no more living apostles in Jerusalem, did God close the door on Jewish authority over the Way, even over the Jewish members?

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved…

Romans 11:25-26

This and other references of Paul’s, indicate that whatever separation there may be between the Jewish people and King Messiah is only temporary, which includes the separation between the King and Jerusalem. The “authority” left Jerusalem temporarily, but the Throne of the King has always been in the City of David.

The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne.

Psalm 132:11

When Jesus returns as Lord of Israel and Lord of all, the authority will return to Jerusalem again. I don’t think even Protestant resistance to “apostolic authority” can deny that we all have one King and he is the authority and author of our lives.

“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)

Good Shabbos.

145 days.

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Losing My Faith in Religious People

Normally, I build my blog posts around one or two interesting or inspiring quotes I’ve found during my studies, but today there’s nothing that applies, or at least nothing that applies to how I feel. “Christian marketing” is fond of advertising “Christianity: It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” That’s bunk. It’s a religion. That’s not a bad thing, but as I read recently (albeit from a non-Christian source), “…This phrase sets up a classical logical fallacy, called a false dichotomy (more specifically, it’s black-and-white thinking, a sub-class of the false dichotomy)…The phrase implies that there are two choices. It’s either religion, or a relationship.”

There’s nothing wrong with a religion. I’ve said many times before (and I will again in tomorrow’s morning meditation) that religion is the interface by which we learn to understand God. Religion is the structure in which we comprehend the specifics of our faith, including how to interpret the Bible, the nature of prayer, and any traditions (yes, Christianity has traditions) and rituals that help us to operationalize and express our faithfulness behaviorally. The problem is, I’m losing my faith in religion.

Actually, I’m losing my faith in the human beings who are involved in religion. Well, no, not all of them. I have very high regard for most of the people I communicate with (primarily over the Internet) in the world of faith, but others can be a royal pain. Maybe it’s not their fault. I mean, we all have our moods, and our needs, and our insecurities. Whenever you add religion or “righteousness” to that mix though, you usually get something that’s bent and twisted just a little bit (and occasionally by quite a bit).

What started this rant? I was “rebuked” on an online social venue earlier today. You see, I have this thing about “experts” or maybe I have “authority issues.” It’s not that I don’t recognize and submit to authority. I have a job and I have a boss and what he says goes. There are religious authorities I respect and consider very knowledgable and wise, and I defer to their judgment. I know they know a whole lot more than I do, and more than I will probably ever know.

My problem is with the sort of person who really wants and needs to be called by a title, and who is continually telling everyone, “I’m an authority!” The interesting thing is, the person really is an authority and I can certainly recognize that, but by always saying “call me by such-and-thus title,” and “I’m an expert,” and “don’t question my judgment,” I keep getting the impression that they’ve got something to prove beyond their education and experience (I wouldn’t really care except I really do respect and like this person…otherwise, I’d just ignore him). I know that some people are insecure but not always for personality reasons. Sometimes, the person’s field of study, or where they got their education isn’t considered “mainstream,” and they aren’t always given the respect that is their due. In such cases, I suppose they need to compel the world around them to give them what they deserve.

But it still rubs me the wrong way. I’ve known too many people, particularly in the world of religion, who adopted roles, and titles, and authority that they certainly did not earn by education, experience, or temperament. They just “needed” to be a big shot and by inference, they needed everyone around them to be “little shots,” if that makes any sort of sense. So when someone who is genuine comes along and really has earned what they have, and they aren’t given respect by everyone around them, they have two choices: blow it off, or push back.

It’s the pushing back that bothers me. It’s the pushing back that seems to say, “I need to be big, and to meet my needs, you need to be little.” It’s the pushing back in a religious world where even the Master we all follow valued humility above blatant honors. It’s not like Jesus doesn’t deserve honors and it’s not like he doesn’t receive them. Yet the first time he was here, he set them aside, even to the degree that he washed the feet of his disciples. Even to the degree that he died for an unworthy humanity, including me.

The authorities who I have respected the most didn’t need to tell me they were in charge. They didn’t need to tell me to respect their knowledge. Just by being who they were, I learned to respect them. They didn’t have to make it a command. It’s ironic that people who God has given great gifts and who use those gifts in His Name, can still push back and push away those of us who are just trying to keep our heads above water. If the pushing keeps up, I’m going to be pushed out, and down, and I’ll drown in a sea of someone else’s religious authority and personal requirements.

I’m losing my faith in religion. I’m losing my faith in some of the people in religion. God is good, and great, and pure, but what human emotion does to faith and religion is anything but. It takes a great deal of energy to be patient sometimes and you know how lousy I am at keeping my (virtual) mouth shut. So I need to be able to push back as well, or let myself be pushed out of the body of faith altogether. I’m already isolated enough without someone, even a well-deserving someone, saying, “you’re not good enough.” I guess that’s what I hear when someone says, “I’m an authority,” or “you should respect me,” or “call me such-and-thus and not my first name.”

But as annoying as people like this are at times, they aren’t the real problem. I am (I suppose it always comes back to that). People like this are everywhere and sometimes they just can’t be avoided. They are in the world of religion and if I want to learn from them, I can’t avoid them…or I avoid them and avoid learning the lessons they are very good at teaching (the intentional lessons…not the unintentional one I’m talking about). Here’s what I need to learn:

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

-Robert Frost, American poet

I suppose if I had learned that lesson well, I wouldn’t be writing this “extra meditation.” I suppose if the “authority” had learned that lesson well, the event that triggered my unfortunate little missive would never have occurred. It’s not the first time I’ve wanted to push back and it won’t be the last. Maybe someday, I’ll start listening to Mr. Frost (who has my respect and my attention) and learn the lesson he teaches so well. Then I will be able to listen to almost anything…and I’ll still be fine.

Is It Better to Rule?

This week’s reading describes the miracle of the Mahn (Manna), the miraculous bread which G-d gave to our ancestors to eat in the desert. The people said they were hungry, they complained, and they were given an open miracle in return — along with instructions. They were told to gather only what they needed for the day, except on the sixth day, when they were told to gather a double portion for the Sabbath. So almost everybody did exactly what they were told to do. But the Torah tells us that “they didn’t listen to Moses, and men left it over until morning, and it became wormy” [Ex. 16:25]. Who didn’t listen? The Medrash tells us: Dasan and Aviram.

You just have to ask, who were these guys? In modern language, what was their problem?

We first meet Dasan and Aviram much earlier. Moses goes out and sees an Egyptian beating a Jew, and in order to protect his brother from death, he kills the Egyptian. The next day, he finds Dasan and Aviram fighting with each other, and he says to the attacker, why are you hitting your friend?

He answers back, “who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you saying you’re going to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?” The Medrash says that what Moses found so frightening about this exchange is that there were wicked people, informers among the Jews.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org
Challenging Authority “for its own sake”
Commentary on Torah Portion Beshalach
ProjectGenesis.org

Some people just aren’t satisfied with what they’ve got. That seems to be the premise of the midrash for Dasan and Aviram, according to Rabbi Menken. I have a tendency to give the newly freed slaves of the Egyptians a break because after centuries of servitude to a corrupt and idolatrous kingdom, they are suddenly thrust into a world they could hardly have imagined and after all, learning to wait for God’s provision isn’t something they really understood. But Dasan and Aviram are a different case. Midrash states that they questioned authority, not because they didn’t understand and desired to comprehend the will of God, but just because they could.

But they weren’t simply informers, they were troublemakers at every opportunity. They finally met their end during the rebellion of Korach, which they joined. Korach was jealous of Moses and Aharon for the honor they received. But if Korach had become the leader instead, Dasan and Aviram would still have been simply members of the tribe of Reuven. What did they stand to gain from getting involved in the argument?

They were obviously sincere to a certain degree, because they merited to be part of the Exodus. But they could not get over their desire to challenge authority, apparently simply for its own sake. Even on something so trivial as gathering extra Mahn, they couldn’t resist seeing if they could find a flaw in the orders Moses gave them. And that was the same trait that eventually led to their deaths in Korach’s rebellion.

But that’s not really relevant to us today, is it? I mean after all, we don’t find people today, apparently well-meaning in some way, but acting out, against authority, just “because,” do we? Or perhaps it is more common than ever.

Rabbi Menken’s last paragraph obviously communicates more than a little irony, and he points to last time we see such rebellion against authority from these two Reubenites, just because they were jealous and had a desire to rebel.

Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth — descendants of Reuben — to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” –Numbers 16:1-3 (JPS Tanakh)

The two same malcontents who insisted on disobeying Moses in regards to the manna are also backing up Korah in his opposition against Moses and Aaron. They are nothing if not persistent, but as the subsequent verses in this chapter and Rabbi Menken’s commentary tells us, they finally came to a bad end.

Unfortunately, as Rabbi Menken suggests, discontent within the community of faith isn’t exactly a rare occurrence. In fact, it seems to happen all the time. Jewish blogger Shmarya Rosenberg even suggests (incorrectly) that Jesus broke from the traditional sects of Judaism in the late Second Temple period, and formed his own branch because he too was rebelling against religious authority which, in that place and time, had become corrupt and laden with many superfluous, man-made rulings.

A student of one of Hillel’s students attacked these rabbis’ extremism: “You blind guides!” he said, “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

That student, fed up with the growing halakhic extremism that dominated Israel from the last few years of Hillel’s life until the Destruction, did what many other disgruntled Jews did with regard to the rabbis or to the Temple cult – they walked away and formed their own version of Judaism or joined one of the many sects that began at that time.

His sect, known in history as the Jerusalem Church, grew. An offshoot from it – one the student’s brother, who was then the sect’s leader, opposed – is Christianity.

This is a completely distorted view of Jesus and the early formation of Christianity, but it does illustrate that when the Messiah walked among his people as a man, there were many branches of Judaism in existence which often zealously disagreed with each other on many basic tenants of Jewish belief and practice.

Progressing only slightly forward into history, we are keenly aware that the Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah would eventually turn against their Jewish mentors and by the second and third centuries of the Common Era, would create a religion that was completely distinct from and excised of any traces of its Jewish origins. This could be viewed as a historical extension of a “Dasan and Aviram” type of rebellion against the Jewish authority which was established by God through the Messiah.

Why do we have people like this among us? As Rabbi Menken previously pointed out, it wasn’t as if Dasan and Aviram were completely evil and beyond redemption. After all, they merited leaving the “enthrallment” of Egypt along with the rest of the Israelites, so they couldn’t be “that bad,” could they? This example may tell us that the “rebels” in the community of faith today aren’t necessarily “all that bad” but then again they aren’t necessarily all that good, and can still be really annoying nudniks. Maybe they’re just people who will never be satisfied with anything that even slightly disagrees with their own personal desires.

In the past couple of days, the Messianic blogosphere has been alive with passionate discourse about one such “extremist nudnik.” In an opinion piece at the Huff Post called Eddie Long Is Not a King, Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D, an Associate Professor of Biblical Hebrew and Jewish and Christian Scripture, posts a commentary on the extremely controversial YouTube video of “troubled pastor” Eddie Long, of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta GA, being “apparently crowned king with the ritual use of a Jewish Torah scroll.” The real “nudnik” of this sad and sorry tale though, is a fellow named Ralph Messer, as Rev. Gafney states:

The unidentified man who, (in the YouTube video to which I had access he is identified subsequently as Ralph Messer), represents himself as a Jew. He may well be some sort of Messianic Jew, a person who claims Jewish heritage and recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, but who is not part of one of the major Jewish movements: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal. He does not, however, represent recognizable Jewish thought or practice in his (mis-) representations of the Torah and other Jewish sancta — or for that matter, New Testament and Christian biblical interpretation and theology.

I won’t present any more details about this story since I would end up just duplicating what’s been thoroughly covered in much more worthy blogs, such as the one maintained by Dr. Rabbi Michael Schiffman, however, I would like to suggest that one of the motivations for such bizarre and unBiblical behavior on the part of men like Long and Messer is the same motivation Dasan and Aviram had in rebelling against the authority of Moses, Aaron, and ultimately God. This desire lead them, like Nadab and Abihu, to offer, “unauthorized fire” or in this case, to misuse a holy sefer Torah for unholy purposes.

Some people just have a problem with legitimate authority and having such a problem, do what Korah did and rebel by attempting to recreate that authority within themselves. This is at the heart of the theological arguments that have supported supersessionism in the ancient and modern church. I can’t truly say that the Christian church stands in total opposition and rebellion against the authority of God, since it is abundantly obvious that God has been using His Christian church to perform His will for centuries. I can say that the seeds that were planted 2,000 years ago which resulted in the weed that opposed the Jerusalem Council and denied the Jewish foundations of the church, were born of rebellion, but it was perhaps a “necessary” rebellion (Romans 11) so that the Gentiles could find a place within their Messianic covenant relationship to God.

That doesn’t make it any less painful or harmful and I believe the time for that “rebellion” is coming to a close.

People like Long and Messer seem to be establishing themselves as “authorities” simply because they can draw a following and they can magnify themselves by creating the illusion that they are “anointed” by God. But what do the people who follow these “rebels” want? Perhaps they are looking for whatever the rest of us are searching for, too.

Where was the knowledgeable one who wove his spell to bring his familiarity with the Atman out of the sleep into the state of being awake, into the life, into every step of the way, into word and deed? Siddhartha knew many venerable Brahmans, chiefly his father, the pure one, the scholar, the most venerable one. His father was to be admired, quiet and noble were his manners, pure his life, wise his words, delicate and noble thoughts lived behind its brow – but even he, who knew so much, did he live in blissfulness, did he have peace, was he not also just a searching man, a thirsty man? Did he not, again and again, have to drink from holy sources, as a thirsty man, from the offerings, from the books, from the disputes of the Brahmans? Why did he, the irreproachable one, have to wash off sins every day, strive for a cleansing every day, over and over every day?

from the novel Siddhartha (1951 U.S. publication)
by Hermann Hesse

This may seem like an odd source to quote within a Christian (and tangentially Jewish) context, but take one giant step backward from your religion and consider what human beings are looking for in general. What does the praying Christian have in common with the Jewish man davening in a minyan or a Muslim kneeling on his prayer mat? What do they have in common with the Buddhist, the Wiccan, and the New Age mystic? Aren’t we all, in our many and diverse ways, seeking God, in whatever way we may conceive of Him (or “Her”)?

I’m not saying that each and every one of these religious paths is equal in its validity or potential to arrive at the true “destination” of God, but the need to strive for that destination is the same in each of us. Some of our paths are legitimate and worthy, and many, many other paths lead to dead ends, darkness, and many ghastly conclusions in the spiritual travels of such seekers.

There are paths that lead people who desire a sincere and simple relationship with God to people like Ralph Messer, more’s the pity. Messer took the true message found in our Bibles and twisted it into a horrible distortion of God, misusing and desecrating the holy Torah of the Jewish people in order to glorify a misguided and selfish man. There is a legitimate path that allows man to understand God through the revelation of Torah, but Messer chose not to take it, perhaps because he would have to become a humble student and not an exalted “teacher.”

Milton, in his classic Paradise Lost, allows the “character” Satan to utter the famous line, “It is better to rule in hell than to serve in Heaven.” That seems to sum up anyone who would usurp the authority of God and the Bible (and Torah) for their own purposes rather than submit to the legitimate authorities God has established and to humbly serve under them. Jesus taught the exact opposite (John 13:1-17)  of Milton’s “adversary” when he washed the feet of his disciples and explained that “a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (v. 16). It is terrible to forget the words of the Master and to seek to rule over yourself and others, thinking you are better than those who came before you.

It is better to serve in Heaven than to rule in hell. Seek out those who are truly appointed by God and repudiate those who aren’t, so that the others who seek God just as you do, will be saved. Do not take such actions out of the desire to glorify yourself or whatever group or religion you serve but to glorify God only, lest you become like Dasan and Aviram and surrender to the temptation to serve only yourself. Should you feel that temptation within you, as if being who God made you to be isn’t good enough to satisfy you or Him, consider the parable of the Stonecutter by R’ Abraham Twerski MD. Perhaps it will add some perspective and even a hint of wisdom.

Tasty Chazir

Plane FoodEach person is responsible to interpret and apply the Scriptures to their own lives.

No person standing before God will get a pass because he was just following the [big religious group X] interpretation of Scripture.

That isn’t being prideful toward either Jewish or Catholic traditions. Rather, it’s being responsible for your own walk before God.

Judah Gabriel Himango
from one of his comments on his blog post
A Warnng to Those Who Follow Yeshua
Kineti L’Tziyon

There’s a rather spirited debate going on over at Judah’s blog considering whether or not studying Talmud and other Jewish texts leads Christians and “Messianics” away from faith in Jesus. The Jewish texts are taking a rather heavy beating from some of the commenters (as I write this, there are 105 comments and growing) but a few defenders of Talmud study are weighing in, including me.

I’ve already commented on a number of occasions, but the question of authority has come up. While I agree that we, as individuals, are responsible to God for our behavior and how we have sanctified or desecrated His Name, I also believe we are not expected to be solely responsible for understanding God or His Bible. It’s OK to have teachers and authorities that we agree to follow and it’s OK to let ourselves learn from these teachers.

I found the following commentary on a Daf I was studying and I thought it was an appropriate illustration of the dynamic between an individual’s interpretation of the Bible (in this case, a Torah mitzvah) and a Rabbinic ruling that modifies the person’s beliefs. As a bonus, the story shows a typically human response to this new information, even after agreeing that we’ve changed our opinion.

Enjoy today’s “extra” meditation.

On today’s daf we find that even pork was permitted during the seven-year conquest of Eretz Yisrael.

Rav Shabsi Yudelevitz recounted that on one plane trip he was seated next to a well-known Israeli zoologist. While the two spoke, the airline meal came and the professor began to partake of his bacon with obvious relish.

Rav Yudelovitz painfully remarked, “How could you eat that? Aren’t you a Jew?”

The professor was nonplussed. “Why does what Moshe said four thousand years ago obligate me?”

Rav Yudelevitz was not impressed, however, with this answer. “Rasha! God said what is written in the Torah, and He is alive and well!”

The professor tried to mollify the offended rabbi. “Rebbi, don’t get upset. If you can prove that God said what meat to eat, I will do teshuvah. But I must say that I had an argument with a certain rav for four hours and he failed to convince me of anything.”

“Four hours? I only need about four minutes,” was Rav Yudelevitz’s confident reply.

The professor opened his eyes wide and said, “Four minutes? Really?”

“Yes. Just listen. The Torah tells us that there are only four species that have one sign of kashrus but not the other: they all either have split hooves or chew their cud, but not both. The Gemara in Chulin 60 wonders how Moshe could have possibly known this. It’s not as though he was a hunter or zoologist! He never went hunting and how could any human at that time possibly know all the many species of animals, even on the savannah of Africa? So how would he dare say that there are only four such anomalies unless God told him so?”

The professor turned white.

But a moment later he said, “I will just finish eating and then I will do teshuvah…”

Rav Yudelevitz commented later about the incident. “What a pity. The professor simply cannot wean himself away from his tasty chazir. He is convinced of the truth but will just wait to finish eating. Sadly, by then it is already too late…”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“Logical Inconsistency”
Chullin 17