Tag Archives: Catholic

Lech Lecha: Did You Hear the One About the Jewish Student and the Priest?

strangers-in-israelThe Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you And curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”

Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the wealth that they had amassed, and the persons that they had acquired in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, at the terebinth of Moreh. The Canaanites were then in the land.

Genesis 12:1-6 (JPS Tanakh)

Thus Abraham took his first steps on a journey that would result in the vast and astonishing progression of the Jewish people across the grand panorama of human history. Abraham the Hebrew “crossed over” not just a geographical boundary, but a spiritual one.

I’ve said on a number of occasions that I thought one of the missions of the Christian church was to provoke zealousness among the Jewish people, to inspire Jews to return to Torah, return to Judaism, return to being who God made them to be.

Although I don’t believe God would allow it, there is a tremendous and ongoing concern, especially in America, that the Jewish population will continually assimilate, and ultimately vanish from our national landscape. And while many Christians believe that the only hope for the Jewish people is to convert to Christianity no matter what, there are some Jewish believers who insist that only when the Jewish people repent and return to Torah that the Messiah will finally return, and all of God’s promises to Israel and the people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12) will finally come to pass.

In this week’s Torah portion, Avraham (Abraham) makes his way to the land of Israel and begins the journey of the Jewish people through history. Along that path we have seen nations rise and fall and have survived them, even through massive persecution. There were 2 million Jews during the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. Demographers state that though there are approximately 14 million Jews identified worldwide, there are possibly 400 million halachic Jews (Jews whose mother’s were Jewish or converted according to Jewish law). Many Jews have fallen by the wayside of history. This week I share with you a story of one Jew who made his way back to identifying with the Almighty, the Jewish people and the Torah … albeit in a rather unusual way.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Lech Lecha

orthodox-talmud-studyRabbi Packouz goes on to tell the story of “Lance,” a young Jewish fellow who came from a family so assimilated that they sent him to a Catholic school to get the “best education.” One of Lance’s instructors, a Priest, found out that Lance was Jewish only by accident. Lance chose to write an essay about Rabbi Akiva for an assignment in the Priest’s class. Curious, the Priest asked Lance why he chose a great Jewish sage as the topic and Lance answered, “Because I’m Jewish.” This simple statement launched another journey into Judaism with some surprising twists:

The priest was surprised that he had a Jewish pupil and asked Lance if he had ever studied the Five Books of Moses with Rashi, the great commentator, or if he had ever learned the Mishna, part of the Talmud. When Lance told him “No,” the priest offered to teach him. For an hour a day after school, they learned together.

One day it occurred to Lance that Judaic studies were not the usual curriculum for the priesthood, so he asked his mentor, “How did you become so knowledgeable in Torah?”

The priest replied, “Before I entered the seminary, I traveled to Israel. While visiting the Western Wall a man asked me if I was Jewish. Curious as to why he asked, I answered ‘Yes.’ The man then asked me if I was interested in learning about my heritage. I figured it would be interesting, so I said, ‘Sure.’ He took me to a yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem and I was so impressed that I stayed for close to a year, never revealing that I wasn’t Jewish. I considered converting, but decided that it would be too difficult and too much of a shock to my family, so here I am.”

One Jewish young man who had grown up never knowing what it is to be Jewish and a Catholic priest who nearly converted to Judaism. What strange partners of God. A Priest encouraged his Jewish student, not to convert to Catholicism, but to become knowledgable in Torah and Mishnah. He encouraged “zealousness.”

Protestantism struggles with how to support the Jewish people but gets hung up on Jews who are not in the Church. They can’t always see that we can also “provoke zealousness” and that Messianic Judaism is the most likely vehicle for doing so. If Jesus is Jewish and the Messiah, then his Jewish followers will not abandon being Jewish and will not neglect Torah as his disciples.

Abraham took all that he had and, at the command of God, went to the Land of Promise in obedience. God put Lance and a Priest together and using a highly unlikely set of circumstances, sent one lost Jewish person on the correct path as well. According to Rabbi Packouz, Lance continued pursuing his Jewish studies and presumably became observant.

If you are a Christian, what does this tell you about what God wants you to do? If you are Jewish, where should you be going?

Good Shabbos.

An Unusual Introduction

Professor Didier Pollefeyt of The Catholic University of Leuven (the oldest continual Catholic University in the world) stated his view at the Cathedral Notre Dame on October 1996 as follows:

‘The way Jesus will come as the Christ and the Redeemer of the world will depend on the way Christians re-present Him in the present. When Christians are not able to bring His redemption to the world today, especially in relationship with the Jewish people, I’m afraid that at the end of times, they will not meet a triumphalising Messiah, but what I would like to call a `’weeping Messiah’, a Messiah weeping for the injuries and the unredeemedness Christians caused, especially to His own people. Then it could end with the fact that indeed not Christians, with their triumphalistic Messianic perceptions, but the Jews will be able to recognize as the first one’s the Messiah as the Savior of the World.’

At a pre Christmas service in 2001, Father Dr. Reimund Beiringer, also of the Catholic University of Leuven, began his sermon with the following opening remarks: ‘when Jesus comes back he will be circumcised, he will not be able to eat at my home because it is not kosher and will look at this church and ask the Rabbi where can he find a synagogue’. The above remarkable statements confirm that Jesus the Jew continues to accept the symbol of Jewishness – the circumcision – by eating kosher he continues to observe Jewish ritual law and by attending a synagogue he continues his Jewish persona. This embodies the total antithesis of Rejection theology. Father Reimund personally asked me to attend this church service and pointed me out as the person Jesus would ask for a synagogue and at whose home he could eat.

-Rabbi Moshe Reiss
from the Introduction to
Christianity: A Jewish Perspective

I don’t know where I got this link. I tend to collect them in my email account and “save them for later.” Most of the links and resources I save never get read or written about. I just don’t have the time. But for some reason, I went back and revisited this one and read through the Introduction. As far as I can tell, this book is only available online and has ten chapters, including the introduction, conclusions, and bibliography. The landing page for the book is at moshereiss.org.

I have no idea who Rabbi Moshe Reiss is and I can’t find anything reliable about him on the web, at least as the result of a quick Google search. For all I know, his opinions and experiences are “stuffed full of muffins,” to put it politely, but I got this link from somewhere, which means someone probably recommended it.

I must admit to being intrigued by an Orthodox Rabbi to who doesn’t dismiss Christianity out of hand and who is willing to engage it to the degree that he even writes a book about it.

OK, there is also Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and his book Kosher Jesus, which I reviewed reviewed last February, but that almost doesn’t count because Rabbi Boteach is always writing about controversy. He also didn’t really “engage” Christianity so much as he tried to explain it away.

I don’t think I expected an Orthodox Jew to write something like this:

As a graduate student at Oxford University in 1970 I decided to visit the Anglican Church on Christian Eve. I was amazed how the services seemed Jewish-like to me. I discovered a class on the Talmud at Oxford. I naively assumed that the teacher would be a Rabbi; in fact he was an Anglican Minister. Not only was I amazed – having grown up in a Jewish ghetto I assumed only Jews learnt the Talmud – I was also angry. Why was this Gentile cleric reading our books? In 1984, after visiting Auschwitz I entered an Orthodox Church in Bucharest and was once again I was struck by the resemblance to a service in a Jewish Synagogue. At the time my knowledge of Christianity was virtually nil. The following year I found an ex-Jesuit Priest from Yale University who agreed to teach me the Christian Bible.

Maybe the reason the only place I can find out anything about Rabbi Reiss is on his own rather cheesy looking, 1990-ish website, is because of how the larger Orthodox community has perceived statements such as the one I just quoted. What Jew would admit on the Internet that he asked an “ex-Jesuit Priest from Yale University’ to teach him the New Testament?

Frankly, I’m also amazed at the quote from Father Dr. Reimund Beiringer saying, “when Jesus comes back he will be circumcised, he will not be able to eat at my home because it is not kosher and will look at this church and ask the Rabbi where can he find a synagogue.” I think that definitely demands an official response of, “Wow!”

So, despite the fact that I can’t really discover anything about Rabbi Reiss, I am quite intrigued to find out what else he has to say about Christianity. I’m also very interested to see if he’s encountered any other Christians who believe the Messiah will return as a circumcised Jew who keeps kosher. Imagine listening to a conversation between two guys like Rabbi Reiss and Father Beiringer over coffee.

I suppose I should say at this point that the Rabbi does have an email address on his site, so I could just send him a message and ask him about himself. I think I’ll wait though. I’ll let his book speak for him right now. Later I may have more questions I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if anyone out there has any insights or information about Rabbi Reiss, please let me know. Thanks.