Tag Archives: boundaries

Where Do We Go From Here?

jewish-family-lifeQuestion: I need a good book on Judaism. My wife is Jewish and I recently found out that I am, too! We want to raise our kids Jewish. I have read extensively on the subjects of philosophy, religion and psychology. I need something with some real meat, not a yawn intro book.

The Aish Rabbi Replies: The first place to start, of course, is with the all-time bestseller, the Bible. It is not a yawn! I recommend the “Stone Chumash” (artscroll.com), because it will give you a proper Jewish translation plus extensive commentary.

Jewish life is based largely around the calendar year. “The Book of Our Heritage” by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (feldheim.com) is a classic work, featuring a lively and scholarly explanation of all the laws and customs of the Jewish holidays.

An understanding of history is also integral. Rabbi Ken Spiro has written an excellent book filled with facts and anecdotes – “Crash Course in Jewish History” explores the 4,000 years of Jewish existence from Abraham to Zionism, while answering the great questions: Why have the Jewish people been so unique, so impactful, yet so hated and so relentlessly persecuted?

Finally, I suggest you start in earnest by attending a Discovery seminar. It provides an excellent overview of Jewish history, philosophy, and literature. The seminar is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world. For a current schedule, visit http://www.aish.com/dis/

May the Almighty guide you and your family on the path to Jewish fulfillment.

“Home Study”
From the “Ask the Rabbi” archives

Seems pretty straightforward, necessary, and praiseworthy. A gentleman who has recently discovered he is halachically Jewish and who is married to a Jewish wife wants to establish a Jewish family life. While the person in question wasn’t raised in a Jewish household and apparently spent most of his life believing he wasn’t Jewish, the fact that he married a Jewish woman and then recently discovered he is a Jew has had a profound affect on him. He desires to integrate himself into Judaism and ultimately the Jewish community. What could be wrong with that?

Problem (no, not with the guy who wrote “Ask the Rabbi”):

More than a few non-Jewish Christians also express more than a passing curiosity about Judaism and their (our) faith’s “Jewish roots.”

Why is this a problem? Because once you’re drawn to Jewish practices, Jewish philosophy, and Jewish literature, what do you do with that knowledge and those desires?

There are numerous answers, some relatively benign and some highly controversial. I didn’t want this morning’s “meditation” to be controversial but either God or the defective wiring in my brain had other ideas.

Those non-Jews who began in 1960s America to seek the roots of the faith that trusts Rav Yeshua for the redemption of mankind were attracted to the budding MJ movement precisely because it seemed to be seeking the same thing. I sometimes suspect that the resulting fusion between Evangelicalism and MJ has produced the kind of Christian-Jewish religious result they were seeking, though it is currently mislabelled as MJ (while the real essence of MJ has been inhibited because it must pursue more authentic halakhic Jewish praxis that is not suited to non-Jews and is not always appreciated by assimilated American Jews who have lost touch with comprehensive genuine Jewis praxis and perspective). If we could effect the necessary separation that sets MJ free to become itself (i.e., a truly and thoroughly Jewish messianism), while the Jewish Roots of Christianity folks satisfy themselves with the semi-Jewish style of religious praxis developed together with MJs so far, perhaps we would end with a pair of related religions resembling the first-century vision. And if we do it now, maybe we’ll be better prepared for the physical establishment of the messianic kingdom in Jerusalem ‘ere long.

Comment on Shammai, Peter, and Cornelius

two-roads-joinThat’s a very generous and informed perspective from a Jewish point of view, although I don’t doubt that a number of people will disagree with this statement. It necessitates two separate religious paths or conduits in the worship of the God of Israel through the Messiah, one for Jews in the Messiah and one for Christians. Coming alongside does not require any overlap and I know more than a few Jewish believers who would prefer that non-Jewish Christians (or “Messianic Gentiles” as the case may be) not “overlap” into their world at all.

My personal belief is that at some point, most likely in the Messianic age, non-Jews will enter into some parts of a space that was previously reserved for Jewish people in terms of the Shabbat, perhaps some manner of keeping kosher (if for no other reason than to maintain table fellowship with Jews), visiting Jerusalem at least once for Sukkot, and generally attempting to reconcile with Judaism after Christianity’s long separation from its “root faith.”

This isn’t to say that I support Christians attempting to mimic the totality of Jewish identity and lifestyle under the mistaken belief that Paul or James commanded them to, but if what we see in many of Paul’s epistles is any example, the very early Gentile believers (and I’ve said this more than once before) had lived experiences that were far more “Jewish” than what Christians are accustomed to today.

Can we use something of what we see in the apostolic scriptures as a sort of “model” for “trying on” a variant method of worship and observance on a voluntary basis?

Maybe not.

Derek said: If you are not Jewish, but keep Sabbath with the Jewish people, don’t forget you are doing it with Israel, not in place of Israel.

But one day, all will keep Sabbath in the interim age and in the final age, all will be Sabbath. Jews who keep Sabbath now are forerunners, proclaiming by our peculiarity that God is Lord of Time, the bringer of the Time to Come.

James said: I’m sure someone’s going to mention Isaiah 56:1-8 to you at some point, so it might as well be me. I don’t really have a problem with what you’re saying since you aren’t taking that stand that non-Jewish believers are wholly forbidden to observe some sort of Shabbat rest. Certainly those of us who are intermarried would have a tough time avoiding Shabbat if our spouse chose to observe it (or other mitzvot such as kosher food in the home).

It seems clear that in the Messianic age, everyone will be keeping Shabbat and I don’t see why, given the parameters you’ve presented, Gentiles who choose to do so shouldn’t get a head start.

Derek said: Isaiah 56. Two interpretations. (1) This is the Age to Come and reflects what the law for the nations will be then. Many believe this. I prefer: (2) This was about the Persian period (539-334 BCE) when Isaiah 56 was written and was about the situation of Gentiles in Jerusalem at that time.

As to the idea, “Since Sabbath will be universal in the Age to Come, therefore why not keep it now?” let me say a few things. This is a valid choice, not obligation. Those who make this choice are not holier than those who don’t. And the best reason Messianic Gentiles have for doing this is to join with Israel in foreshadowing the Age to Come. It is not to replace Israel’s calling as the forerunners. Gentiles are not commanded to be forerunners in this matter. To choose to do so should go along with a right understanding of Israel’s priestly calling.

James said: I never said I was claiming obligation, Derek.

Derek said: James, I know that because I know you and what you believe. I was giving my perspective on your question for the benefit of all readers. Many would see your words “I don’t see why . . . Gentiles who choose to do so shouldn’t get a head start” as an argument for “I must keep Sabbath as a headstart” or “it is better to keep it now even if we don’t have to.” There are many worthy callings in the world and foreshadowing the world to come by resting in the seventh day is only one of them. Differing ways of holiness are lesser or greater based on deeds of lovingkindness and not based on ritual holiness statutes.

From Derek Leman’s blog post
The Sabbath is Between God and the Jewish People

Shabbat-Made-Easy-paintingSorry for that rather lengthy copy and paste of our conversation, but I wanted to illustrate that even between two people who hold relatively the same perspective on Shabbat, there can still be room for a “dynamic” exchange of viewpoints.

I resigned from the vast, vast majority of anything “Messianic” nearly two years ago when I launched this “morning meditations” blog. I made that decision for a wide variety of reasons that are too lengthy to recount here. However, one such reason was to become part of the solution by ceasing to be part of the problem. If the issue is an objection to Gentile Christians assuming Jewish identity, even superficially, my response was to stop assuming any aspect of Jewish identity. It’s easier to talk with people if they don’t perceive you as a threat.

It’s also why I started publicly identifying myself as a Christian, in order to make my “voice” available to a wider audience. Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots writers and teachers tend to end up speaking to a rather limited audience in most cases. However, some of what we talk about is really important and I believe should be consumed by a wider audience. If I can talk to more people and a broader spectrum of populations, maybe the dialog can be expanded and maybe it will actually do some good for a change.

Anyway, I can hope.

But on mornings like this one, I wonder if hope is enough. All of these religious factions and their variants continually butt heads against one another and periodically, I get tired of fighting the turf wars. If you want something, take it. If you think I’m “playing with your toys” and you want them back, here they are. If you want me out of your yard, I’ll go home.

But then, one of the imperatives of some areas of Messianic Judaism is to carry a unique message back into the church. That’s kind of hard to do if there is no dialog between Jewish and non-Jewish believing communities and no overlap in perspectives and practices. I can’t always say what you say without also doing what you do, at least in some minimalist fashion.

Did Paul kick all the God-fearing Gentiles out of the synagogues because they were associating with Jews in a Jewish space on the Jewish Shabbat? Did Peter refuse to enter the home of Cornelius because he was a God-fearing Gentile and Jews were forbidden to enter into Gentile homes? Did James and the Council of Apostles rule that the Gentiles had no share in the Messiah or the world to come and that they should return to their pagan practices rather than turning to God (or did he say that the Gentiles should turn to God, but by way of inventing a totally new religious system totally divorced from Judaism)? For that matter, and to play the other side of the coin, Did James, Paul, or any other apostle absolutely demand that the Gentiles must conform  to the Torah and even (eventually) to become circumcised?

I can see why some Christians might become so exhausted by all of this wrangling that they’d (we’d) just finish the job, retreat into church, and never look at anything Jewish or Hebrew Roots again. You guys all want your various turfs? They’re yours. Have fun.

I know that’s not what the vast majority of believing Jews are saying, but in Messianic Jews defining their exclusive space, is there a space for interaction with Christians? There is going to be another Shavuot conference given by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) and hosted at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin in a few months. There will be Jews and Christians in attendance. There will be some overlap of practice between the two populations. Jews and Christians will be having (kosher) meals together, praying together, listening to teachers together. They’ll be breathing the same air together.

I know that given the real and perceived threats (and some of them are pretty darn real) to Jewish identity specifically within the Messianic Jewish realm, it’s important to make sure there are firm definitions for what is exclusively Jewish about Messianic Judaism as one of the Judaisms in our world, but just once it would be nice to see someone go out of their way and say what believing Jews and Gentiles have in common and on what platform we can both stand.

where-do-we-go-from-hereI believe my basic perspective and the direction from which I’m coming has merit and value. Not that I can’t be wrong and not that I haven’t made mistakes (and I’m sure I’ll make them again), but I think that part of what the Messiah will do when he returns is find a way to bring peace between Jews and Gentiles who are in him. I believe it’s possible to be different and still to co-exist and even to be friends. I believe that when you have something special, you can share it, even though it still belongs to you.

I don’t want to be Jewish. God made the person He wants me to be and I have no right to change that. If I did want to be Jewish, then I’d convert (though that would be problematic since I’d have to surrender my faith in Messiah in the process, which is completely unacceptable). But being married to a Jewish wife, having three Jewish children, and having something of a passion for reading Jewish literature, philosophy, and theological studies, I find myself drawn in a certain direction. If I have violated your “keep off the grass” sign, I’m sorry.

Two-thousand years ago or so, the Gentile believers decided to walk away from their Jewish neighbors. We left their house and taking a few of the “toys” with us, moved in next door and set up a completely different place to live, with a Messiah who didn’t look even remotely Jewish. Now a few of us realize that was a big “oops.” The problem is, even trying to repair the damage that was done is enormously difficult. The rift is huge, the pain runs deep, and the blood still pours out like a river.

I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t want to be an antagonist and I certainly don’t want to claim an identity that I have no right to, but the Jewish pain at the presence of Gentile Christians (including Hebrew Roots) may just be too great for any extension of olive branches to cover. But I keep getting these mixed messages that say “approach,” “retreat,” “approach,” “retreat.”

Where do we go from here? I’ll continue discussing this theme from a different direction in tomorrow’s morning meditation.

Uncertain Traveler

walkingThe Torah is a code which assumes a community tradition to fill in its gaps. That is, the Torah does not spell out how to carry out many of its commands. The details of procedure are often left to the people. And the intention of Torah is clearly not to arrive at a situation like that in the book of Judges, where “every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

In matters of legal judgment, the Torah’s gaps were to be filled in by judges and by a sort of high court (Deut 17:8-13) and the people are not to turn to the right or to the left from the rulings of Israel’s judges. In matters of worship procedure and liturgy, the Levitical priests are the ones who determine the practice of the community.

-Derek Leman
“Torah Fundamental #2”
Messianic Jewish Musings

The Toras HaNefesh learns an important message about when to temper one’s avodah from a statement on today’s daf. “When a person ascends in understanding, he should also develop greater empathy for the pain of others. This is even true regarding fulfilling a mitzvah. If one is overzealous in fulfilling mitzvos, he can sometimes insult another Jew undeservedly. Usually this kind of person has forgotten his friend’s feelings and doesn’t even realize that he has sinned. He might have insulted another Jew, or he might have treated his fellow with less than the honor that he deserves, or he might have forgotten to consider the ramifications of his actions on his friend’s livelihood.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Send Her Away – No Matter What”
Chullin 141

For yesterday’s morning meditation, I wrote something that is a reversal from my usual theme and asked if a Christian should limit his or her Jewish learning. I know I typically advocate for Christians pursuing the traditional Jewish texts in order to discover the “Jewishness of Jesus”, but obviously this has pitfalls. For one thing, it may not be easy or even possible to really deconstruct Mishnah, Talmud, and Gemara back to that very special first century Rabbi in order to learn what he was teaching within its intended context. I must admit that much of the material I study seems to resemble what Jesus has taught to his disciples, but I know I have probably been deceiving myself. I hope I wasn’t deceiving you.

Wait. Let me explain.

I’m not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and I still think there is value in a Christian studying Judaism. I’m still here and I’m still studying, so it’s still important to me. But maybe I’ve been generalizing information beyond reasonable bounds. I quoted that small piece from from the “story off the daf” to illustrate that this information was written by and for Jews. Sure, some of what is presented in Jewish literature can be applied to a larger, non-Jewish audience but a lot of it can’t. Here’s another example:

In any case, since virtually all Jews with an interest in proper practice – lay preachers, priests, pietists, scribes – will have appealed to the Torah for support, the scriptural origins of mishnaic law will tell us nothing about the social group or groups from which the Mishnah derives. Nor can such derivation tell us whether a given law is a pre-mishnaic tradition or a mishnaic creation, since Jews read Scripture both before and after 70 C.E. If a mishnaic law can be shown to derive from a specific mode of reading Scripture, and if that mode of reading can be shown to derive from a specific group or a specific period, then of course the origins of that law would be established. But, as far as I know, convincing examples of this have yet to be adduced.

-Shaye J.D. Cohen
“The Judaean Legal Tradition and the Halakhah of the Mishnah”
Published in The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature
Edited by Charlotte E. Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee

Also, as Derek Leman says on the blog post I previously quoted:

The problem with Torah Fundamental #2 is that modern readers of the Bible tend to prefer the “every man does what is right in his own mind” ethic of our time. Tradition is a bad word. Authority in the hands of a group of people, such as the rabbis, is deemed oppressive and false. The Bible means what it means to me and no one should dictate procedure or tradition. How does Israel’s tradition work and how can those who want to know Torah respect the tradition?

Here is a problem that occurs often in our time: a person discovers Torah coming from a free church tradition and becomes “Hebraic” or “Messianic” and they read Torah as a free thinker descended from the Enlightenment. The people who fall into this trap generally don’t realize that they are reading Torah in a modernist mode. They think they are being true to the Bible.

Even if we look at the same texts as Jewish people, we don’t always see the same things. In fact, to the degree that Gentile Christians lack a Jewish conceptual framework, we are guaranteed not to see the same things. When a Jewish teacher tries to explain this to us, we are likely to reject his comments out of hand, because they go against how our Gentile perceptions construct God, Jesus, and the Bible. I try very hard to avoid falling into this trap and in my own limited way, I think I am successful. But not entirely.

at-the-edgeI struggle with how far I can take my present course and whether or not I’ll go sailing off the edge of the world and into the infinite abyss (I’m being overly dramatic) in my zeal, but the other option is to censor myself and limit what I read and study. I don’t like that idea, either. What I require ideally is the context I lack because I was not born Jewish, not raised in a Jewish home, and not educated as a Jew. No, I don’t regret who I am, how I was raised, and what I have learned in my life as it has been, but my “identity” automatically restricts my abilities and perceptions in terms of studying Judaism.

Some Christians have overcome this barrier, but only after many years of study, usually in a Jewish context such as classes offered at a synagogue, Jewish Community Center, or similar environment. For reasons too lengthy to explain, those options are not currently available to me. Still, I cannot simply let this go. I just have to try to be more careful.

Of course, I’m still going to make mistakes, I just hate making them.

I found something interesting at Chabad.org yesterday.

Wisdom lives in the future, and from there it speaks to us. There is no such thing as wisdom of the past.

Wisdom preceded the world and wisdom is its destiny. With each passing moment, wisdom becomes younger, as we come closer to the time when it is born and breathes the air of day.

Our ancient mothers and fathers, the sages, all those from whom we learn wisdom—they are not guardians of the past. They are messengers of the future.

The truth can never be old-fashioned. It was never in fashion to begin with.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Youthful Wisdom”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I’m used to thinking of wisdom as being locked up in the works of the past and the minds and hearts of people long gone from this world. When I think of “wisdom” as a goal, it never occurred to me to consider wisdom as something we are longing for in the same way we are longing for the Messiah. I know that the path toward wisdom, like living a life, cannot be experienced without making mistakes. Making a mistake is sometimes more helpful in learning something revolutionary than making 1,000 correct decisions. It’s also more painful.

no-danger-of-fallingThe conclusion I’m approaching is that limiting my access to Jewish educational materials isn’t going to help me, but attempting not to stretch them too far outside of their original form and substance might. That still goes against my nature, because stretching or bending information and concepts more often leads to revolutionary or evolutionary learning than playing it safe.

As you can see, I’m still arguing with myself about what I should do and where I should go from here. I just gave a piece of advice to another Christian blogger not to make a change just to reduce anxiety or just for the sake of changing something. In that same vein, I don’t think I’ll change to much around here in the near future. I’ll try to be more careful in how I apply what I’m learning, but to tell you the truth, I learn more when someone comes in here and explains what I said wrong and why it was wrong, than when people come around and say that I got it right (not that I mind complements).

I don’t think I’m really in danger of falling off the edge of the world (and based on the lack of comments in that blog post to date, other people don’t think so, either). However, I do need to verify that my footing is a little more sure sometimes. Perhaps someday, wisdom will lend me her wings so I can fly across the edge and discover the other side.

Why do I do this? Why am I on this rather problematic path? I feel driven by something I can’t explain and I feel that it’s important to try to understand certain things. I believe this trail, for me, is the right one, even though I walk it very imperfectly. I stumble, stagger, and fall like a drunken student on the floor of my school house that keeps tilting and twisting under me. But I’m waiting for something. I’m waiting for someone. Is wisdom coming from the future, tracing a backward path toward humanity like the coming of Messiah?

The great song traveler passed through here
And he opened my eyes to the view
And I was among those who called him a prophet
And I asked him what was true
Until the distance had shown how the road remains alone
Now I’m looking in my life for a truth that is my own

Well I looked into the sky for my anthem
And the words and the music came through
But words and music will never touch the beauty that I’ve seen
Looking into you

And that’s true

-Jackson Browne
“Looking Into You” (1972)

Sailing Toward the World’s Edge

worlds-edgeSometimes the sages tell us, “This wisdom is out of bounds. This contains truth for which you are not yet ready.”

If the soul is intact, it will thirst all the more to attain that wisdom. In truth, that is the inner reason we are told such things.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Forbidden Water”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

When someone asked the Korban Nesanel, zt”l, whether he should make a brochah when doing shiluach hakein, he replied that he should not. “The reason why is obvious: maybe the egg or eggs are inedible. As we find in Chullin 140 there is no mitzvah to do shiluach hakein on such an egg. It follows that we cannot make a brochah on this mitzvah.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“Blessing the Mitzvah”
Chullin 140

Generally in this blog, but especially in the last two blog posts, I’ve been trying to filter Jewish Rabbinic learning through a Gentile Christian understanding. Most of the time, I believe that Christians must struggle with Judaism in some manner or fashion in order to gain a better insight into our faith and our Savior. I believe there is a dimension to be explored that, if we dare enter, will provide a form of illumination into who we are as disciples of the Master that otherwise would completely escape us.

Of course there is the other side of the coin. As Rabbi Freeman suggests, perhaps there is a “wisdom…out of bounds” for us, a boundary that we should not cross, a road that we should not travel, even though it cruelly beckons us.

I don’t know.

Part of my frustration is that I lack the essential educational and cultural foundation to truly do justice to the path I’ve selected. As has become abundantly clear, there is so much I do not know, not only at the level of education, but of experience and identity. Although I seriously doubt I see the world the way most other Christians see it, I also am incapable of seeing the world the way most Jews see it. I deliberately inserted a small paragraph from the Daf on Chullin 140 to illustrate this point.

But if the story of religious Judaism as transmitted in the Bible cannot be comprehended by Gentile Christians, then what the heck are we doing here and why are we reading it? Most churches and Christianity as a whole have refactored the Bible to make it transmit a wholly non-Jewish message and that message, for the most part, is extremely comfortable to most Gentile believers. It speaks our language which is certainly not Hebrew or Aramaic and it offers us a picture we can conveniently wrap our brains and feelings around with little or no effort.

Once you start deconstructing the story of the Bible back to its original language, context, and people, that message becomes increasingly alien to us. We blink our eyes a few times and discover once familiar terrain has become unrecognizable, incomprehensible, and even frightening. A 21st century Gentile Christian suddenly caught on the other side of the Bible, hundreds or thousands of years in the past, among a foreign people, trying to cope with strange customs, and a virtually encrypted language is totally removed from understanding the people of the Bible and hasn’t the vaguest idea how to approach God. Even the safe and loving Jesus Christ becomes Yeshua ben Yosef, whose face, voice, and demeanor are completely at odds with our “meek and mild” Savior. Just how strange would he appear to us and, to the degree that he rarely spoke with non-Jews, if we could understand him, what would he say to us, if anything at all?

So what are we doing here, why do we read the Bible, and especially, why do we attempt to understand where it came from and who the people inhabiting its pages really were as flesh and blood human beings? Should we attempt to know them? Can we really know them?

Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother’s death. –Genesis 24:67 (JPS Tanakh)

Isaac took his bride into his mother’s tent. All this time Sarah’s tent had been empty and forlorn, symbolizing the absence of the eishet chayil (virtuous wife). The Torah portion began the story of Rebekah by telling us of the death of Sarah. Since his mother’s death, Isaac had been in mourning. He keenly felt her absence. Isaac taking his bride into Sarah’s tent symbolizes Rebekah stepping into Sarah’s role as matriarch over the house of Abraham. In the language of the rabbis, Rebekah became the house of Isaac.

“Love and Marriage”
Commentary on Parasha Chayei Sarah

here-there-be-dragonsThis is where a Christian can intersect with the ancient Jewish universe, understand what is going on, and learn what it is for a person to interact with God. Who couldn’t understand grief at the loss of a mother, loneliness, and the need to be comforted? How many of us who depend on God have come to realize that we also need to hold onto a living, breathing human being when we are troubled or in distress? In this, is it so hard to understand Isaac and what he was going through at that moment?

But there is that rather mysterious and puzzling question about “whether a person should make a brochah when doing shiluach hakein.” Attempting to force some of the very human lessons of the Bible into a framework made up of Mishnah, Talmud, and Gemara may be a case, at least for me, of my reach exceeding my grasp. I may long to understand the “Jewish condition” and believe that it can be applied to the much larger context of human beings and our desire to encounter God, but longing for a thing does not make it occur nor does that longing even make it possible.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my wife has told me on several occasions that there is a perspective and thought process shared by people who were born and raised in a Jewish cultural, religious, and ethnic context that is fundamentally different from how people operate who come from other contexts. In that sense, it’s amazing any Jew and Christian can talk to each other at all, even though we may have the English language in common. I suppose I’m overstating my point, but with good reason. While I still think that shared knowledge is good and that there is a wisdom Christians can glean from Jewish education on some level, I’m starting to wonder where the limit of that journey lies. In ancient times, people believed that there was an edge to the world and mariners who sailed too far away from safe and familiar shores risked being lost forever as they fell endlessly down into the mists of the unknown. While we now know this “danger” is completely untrue, in a past centuries gone, those otherwise brave and daring men would experience fear and horror while contemplating that part of the map that declared, “Here there be dragons!”

I’m sure there are Jewish people in the world who, from their perspective, rightfully desire to limit Gentile access to Jewish learning. Should a Ger Toshav study the laws pertaining to the Kohen Gadol? Is it proper for a Christian who worships oto ha’ish as God and man to sit in at a “Talmud 101” class taught by a Rabbi at the local Chabad? From my point of view, if there is a line I should not cross or a barrier I should respect and not transverse, I don’t know where it is. In the violent mists and roar of the waters pouring over the vastness of the world’s edge, I cannot see it or hear it. One can only find “world’s end” by sailing across it and then, when it’s finally too late, declaring, “I’ve gone too far.”

Or we can simply turn our tiny wooden vessel around and head for safe harbor.

I’m not inclined to do that right now, but the day may come when I will have to revisit that option. Until then, I’m letting the wind take me to places not on my map and trying to draw a chart of currents, islands, and shoals I don’t always recognize. Even imagining they seem familiar, I am sometimes told by those who live there that I have my map upside down and my picture is askew.

Each pull at the oars takes me someplace I’ve never been before and each gust of wind pushes me into mysterious territory. What will I find and will I even understand what I’m looking at when I arrive? I don’t know, yet I’m driven to continue the journey, dangerous though it may be, until I either finally understand this strange book I hold in my hands or admit that it was written by and for men who are from a different world and always will be. Then I’ll either return to more familiar environs, where ever they may be found, or let myself sail over the edge of the world and discover if I will fly or drown.