Tag Archives: Christians

Hope and Love

Canon White is not only concerned about the physical safety of the scrolls; he is also dedicated to what’s written on them.

“The thing that I really respect about how Jews live is that God is in everything. If you’re really Orthodox, God is not removed from anything. From the bathroom to the bracha [blessing] you make afterwards, you bless Him and you thank Him. Every time you say ‘Baruch ata Hashem,’ you are showing that you believe that He is the King of the Universe!”

He pauses. “Do I sound frum?”

Yes, he does. Canon White learned the lingo as the first non-Jewish student at the Karlin yeshiva in Jerusalem. A rabbi there permitted him to get a taste of Jewish learning.

He has grown from a student of Judaism into a teacher of it. He offers a weekly course about Judaism to Christians in Baghdad.

“The Iraqi Christians who come to my class are shocked,” says Canon White.

“They say that nobody has ever told them about Judaism before. It’s hard for them to accept that they’ve been told lies.

None of the young Iraqis have heard about the Holocaust. They don’t know how Christians have persecuted Jews.”

-by Ari Werth
“Struggle for the Scrolls”

Every once in a while, I’ll hear about an extraordinary person, an extraordinary Christian who really does love the Jewish people and Israel. In my circle of friends and acquaintances, I hear a lot about Christians loving Jews, but I don’t think the lot of us can hold a candle to the Vicar of Baghdad.

Andrew White is an Anglican priest risking his life helping Christians in Iraq. Even more dangerous, however, is what he volunteers to do – protecting the last few Iraqi Jews.

“I help Jews because the very heart of my own education, of my faith, is a love for Judaism,” says Canon White. “I don’t see how I can be a Christian without knowing my Jewish roots, and without loving them.”

Given the opportunity, I wonder how many of us would take the risks that White is taking to protect Iraqi Christians and Jews and to try to rescue the single largest collection of Torah scrolls in existence; 365 deteriorating Torah scrolls hidden away in a secret sub-basement in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

I said just the other day that no Christian would ever be admitted into a Yeshiva, but obviously I was wrong. As you read in the quote above, White is the first non-Jewish student ever admitted into the Karlin yeshiva in Jerusalem. His “reward” perhaps for truly dedicating his heart and his spirit to understanding the Jewish people and their closeness to God.

Ignorance, as Canon White calls it, prompted him to write a book about the Jewish roots of Christianity. He shared the newly finished manuscript . It describes several fundamental concepts and practices of Torah observance.

“There is nothing more inspiring than ‘Shema Yisrael,’” he writes in the upcoming book. “I say it every morning and every night. I taught my little boys to say ‘Shema’ before they go to sleep.” He’s planning on translating the book into Arabic. “The Muslims need to know that our faiths come out of Judaism and that therefore the Jews are our brothers, not our enemies. We need to learn from and love our older brother.”

Most believers live in a world where we’ve been taught that the Jews have been marginalized and that Christianity has ascended over them. I know the church is changing, but change is slow. Sometimes change can get sidetracked and Jewish practice and tradition isn’t dismissed, but rather taken over by non-Jewish “Christians” and reinvented as a new type of Christian faith. But there’s a difference between practicing Christianity with a thin Jewish veneer and what White is doing. When he teaches his children to say the Shema, (Deut. 11:19) he isn’t doing so in a way that diminishes the Jewish people but rather, in a manner that honors them. Canon White is one of the few Christians who really “gets it” as far as comprehending what it actually means to honor his faith and recognize Judaism as its root.

Christianity isn’t evil, in spite of what you may have heard in certain corners of the blogosphere. God is opening our eyes and turning our hearts. Men like Canon White are living proof of this (my final article in my supersessionism series for Messiah Journal, which will be published this coming winter, will show how White is hardly alone).

There’s another way to look at Christianity within the current context as well.

On the one hand, it is very difficult for Jews to accept that something is built on the spot of the Holy Temple.

On the other hand, we can thank God for the kindness He has shown – since I imagine He could have allowed a much less flattering structure built on it – like a parking lot, or a sanctuary to an idol. In this case, the Muslims believe in one God and treat the Temple Mount with sanctity.

In fact, Maimonides explains that other monotheistic religions have flourished in order to help spread essential Jewish ideals, to better prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah.

from “Ask the Rabbi”
“Temple Mount”

A strange attitude for a Rabbi to take regarding Islam (or Christianity) but then, it’s just as strange for an Anglican priest to teach Arab Muslims and Christians that Jews aren’t the enemy. Jesus himself said that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) and from a Jewish point of view, salvation is about both national Israel and the individual human being. And it’s about hope.

Each day we hope for Your salvation. -Shemoneh Esrei

The Talmud states that one of the questions that will be posed to each person on his or her day of judgment is, “Did you look forward to salvation?” While the question refers to anticipating the ultimate Redemption, it can also refer to the salvation of the individual.

Positive attitudes beget positive results, and negative attitudes beget negative results. Books have been written about people who have recovered from hopeless illnesses because, contrary to medical opinion, they did not give up hope. On the contrary, they maintained a positive attitude. While this phenomenon may be controversial (for many people are skeptical that cheerful outlooks can cure), people certainly can and have killed themselves by depression. With a negative attitude, a person suffering from an illness may even abandon those practices that can give strength and prolong life, such as the treatment itself.

I have seen a poster that displays birds in flight. Its caption comments, “They fly because they think they can.” We could do much if we did not despair of our capacity to do it.

Looking forward to Divine salvation is one such positive attitude. The Talmud states that even when the blade of an enemy’s sword is at our throat, we have no right to abandon hope of help.

No one can ever take hope from us, but we can surrender it voluntarily. How foolish to do so.

Today I shall…

try to always maintain a positive attitude and to hope for Divine salvation.

-Rabbi Abraham J Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 11”

Never abandon hope, even when “the blade of an enemy’s sword is at our throat.” Men like Canon White give me hope in Christianity and the church. He shows me that Christians and Jews can co-exist, work, live, and worship God side-by-side in unity. We don’t have to do away with the Jews so that Christians can thrive. We don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” by creating new “Christian” religions or denominations or sects that discard the church and the Jewish people while taking over Jewish worship practices.

In the modern world, it’s difficult for me to have heroes. So many of them are revealed to be flawed and damaged human beings. I don’t know who Andrew White is behind the article I just read, but today, he became one of my heroes; one of the few. If I needed a model for how to be a Christian in relation to the Jewish people, I wouldn’t have to look any further than men like Canon White.

I hope you read all of the Ari Werth’s article Struggle for the Scrolls. If you haven’t, please do so now. Read it all. Scroll all the way to the bottom. There, you’ll find a section in yellow with information and links that instruct us on how to “save the scrolls” that are being held in Iraq. Read the article. Spread the word. So much of Jewish history has been lost to oppressors. If even some of the scrolls are still undamaged, we can return them to their rightful owners, the Jewish people.

To achieve wonders takes a heart both humble and fearless.

Yes, two opposites. But also from two opposite directions:

The mind awakens the heart to its nothingness, and by this, the soul G‑d gave you is bared in all its brazen power.

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

If you love Israel, and I know many of you reading my words do, then you can do something with that love. You can give hope.

Redeeming the Heart of Israel, Part 1

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:6-8 (ESV)

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

Romans 15:25-29 (ESV)

It is believed by the sages that if all of Israel would observe a single Shabbat properly, the Messiah would immediately come, since obeying the Shabbat is equivalent to obeying the entire Torah. We could extend this idea to say that if all Jews were to perfectly observe all of the Torah mitzvot, the redemption of Israel would be at hand. Interestingly enough, the two portions of scripture I quoted above directly apply to this concept. Let me explain.

There is just so much I could say about the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference I attended a few days ago. In fact, over the next several days, I will blog almost exclusively on my different experiences at Beth Immanuel, however one particular presentation stands out. When I heard it on the evening of the last full day of the conference, I knew it would be the keystone to everything I took away from my trip and the centerpiece to everything I intend to write.

I’ll just tell you in advance that this is going to be challenging. Some people don’t like being challenged.

Boaz Michael, Founder and President of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) gave a presentation about, among other things, the redemption of Israel. But it’s not the sort of redemption that you are probably imagining. According to dictionary.reference.com, redemption, in a theological sense, can mean:

  1. deliverance from sin; salvation.
  2. atonement for guilt.

This falls in line with the traditional Christian understanding of the term “redemption” and often equates to “when I die, I’m going to heaven.” Being “saved” or “redeemed” is typically the single most important part of what happens to a Christian. Nothing else matters until you “confess Christ” and are “saved.” After that, you can live a life consistent with the teachings of Jesus knowing your eternal future in Heaven is secure.

But Jews think about meriting a place in the world to come quite a bit differently. The chief difference is that Jews aren’t really obsessed about being “saved” and “going to heaven.” While meriting a place in the world to come is certainly important, Religious Jews are far more concerned with obeying God in the here and now, and some even look for opportunities to perform a mitzvah that cannot often be accomplished. There is even a saying that the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah. This is actually a concept Christians should recognize:

For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. –Matthew 25:29 (ESV)

Jewish in JerusalemThis is the point of the “parable of the talents” as told by the Master. As in the wisdom from the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), “the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah and the ‘reward’ of a sin is a sin,” we are “rewarded” for what we do, whether it is for the good or the bad. That reward can come either in this world or the next, according to Jewish thinking, but it’s directly tied to the sort of life a Jew lives right now. Jews have been commanded to obey all of the 613 commandments in the Torah but as you might imagine, being just as human as Christians or anyone else, they don’t do a perfect job. Unfortunately, God was very specific about the consequences to the Jewish people if, as a nation, they did not obey the commandments of Sinai.

The second Temple – when the Jews were involved in Torah, mitzvahs and acts of kindness – why was it destroyed? Because the Jews were guilty of harboring baseless hatred towards each other!”

-Rabbi Naftali Silberberg
-as quoted from askmoses.com

Most Christians believe that Herod’s Temple was destroyed in 70 CE and the Jews subsequently exiled from Israel because they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. As you’ve just seen, this isn’t how Jews understand the cause for their exile and in fact, during the days of the Second Temple and when Jesus walked among his people, proper Jewish religious observance was rather high; much more so than in the days of the destruction of the First Temple.

However, the sin of baseless hatred of one Jew for another was very severe. Jesus especially pleaded with his people to repent of this sin.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. –Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

As recorded in Matthew 18:21-35, the Master illustrates how serious this sin is in the “parable of the unforgiving servant.” But sadly, tragically, Israel didn’t listen, resulting in dire consequences.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” –Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV)

Simchat TorahIt’s not as if every single Jew in Israel was guilty of this sin, but Israel is judged by God as a nation, not a collection of individuals. If the nation is in sin, every Jew suffers whether they commmitted the offense or not. To this day, the Jewish people are in exile, not because they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but because they refused to listen and obey his teaching to turn away from the sin of baseless hatred toward their brothers and to instead seek peace.

This has nothing to do with whether or not Jews merit a place in the world to come. God didn’t take away Jewish “salvation” as a result of this sin, He took away the posession of the Land of Israel from the Nation of Israel, and scattered them across the face of the earth. Redemption, for Israel, isn’t being saved so they can go to Heaven, it’s the restoration of the Jews to their Land and the ascension of Israel above all the peoples of the earth.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem –Micah 4:1-2 (ESV)

Connect that back to Acts 1:6-8 and you’ll see that Israel, as a nation, awaits final redemption so it can be restored to the place at the head of the nations as God has always intended.

But what does that have to do with you and me? Even if we accept that this is true for the Jewish people, what sort of role would Christians have in Israel’s redemption?

I’ll give you the answer to that in Part 2.

The Sign on the Bus

“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.”

Leviticus 19:32 (ESV)

The Torah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 244:1) tells us to rise before old people aged seventy or older, even if they are not Torah-scholars, out of respect “for the trials and tribulations they have undergone” ( Talmud Kiddushin 33a)

-quoted from sichosinenglish.org

On the bus you will find a sign saying, “Mipnei Sevah Takum” … The sign on the bus confronts the bus rider with the command, “Stand up for the elderly!”

-by Lawrence Grossman
“Jewish Ethics, from Ancient Bible to Modern Bus”
Jewish Ideas Daily

My wife read to me from one of the email newsletters she gets periodically, probably from Chabad, about the signs you see on Israeli buses to “stand for the elderly.” The signs are used to indicate certain seats that are set aside for older people or anyone else who would have trouble with mobility or standing for long periods of time. The irony, as pointed out in Grossman’s article, is the “collision” between the holy and the secular. Even though the majority of Israel’s Jewish population isn’t religious, the Torah and the intent of God cannot be so easily removed from being Jewish.

In quoting Leviticus 19:32, my wife made the same sort of remark as Grossman did in his news story. Then she said an interesting thing. She said that, for a Jew, it is impossible to separate loving and obeying God with being good to other human beings. She quoted from a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov (which I don’t have immediately available to me) to support this point.

I agreed with her and remarked that I often say the same thing, however I declined to mention that my source is from a different teacher:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” –Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

As far as I can tell, Jesus is saying the same thing: Loving God means loving human beings. You can’t separate the two. If you say you love God and you hate people, something is wrong with your love for God.

But it’s not easy to love other people, at least not all other people. After all, who gets along with everyone all of the time? I don’t. And yet Paul added some commentary (midrash on Torah, perhaps) that speaks to this very issue.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. –Romans 12:17-18 (ESV)

Oh snap! Really?

Going to verses 20 and 21, Paul adds, “…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. It almost sounds like Paul is connecting his message to the Romans back to what the Master said in Matthew 25:31-46. If so, then giving food and drink to our “enemies” and not just our friends, is the same as feeding a hungry and thirsty Jesus. Does that mean we will be rewarded for serving our enemies as if we were serving Christ?

That’s a startling thought.

So doing good to others, even if you don’t want to, and even if they’re your “enemy” (in this context, it means a person you don’t like, not someone who is trying to kill you in war) is a very Christian value. And yet we see it is also very Jewish.

But more importantly, it just isn’t Christians being good to Christians and Jews being good to Jews:

“They said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that no man ever greeted him first, even idol worshippers in the market” [i.e., Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was the first to greet every person, even idol worshippers] (Berachot 17). At the same location the sage Abaye advocated soft speech and words of peace to everyone, especially including idol worshippers.

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

I “borrowed” those quotes from an older blog post of mine called What the Talmud Says About Gentiles, Revisited as a reminder of who is the root and who is the branch.

Lately, I’ve been writing about why loving isn’t easy and why we should love even a person who leaves the faith and becomes an atheist. Quite the opposite of what you’d expect, religious people have the toughest time loving each other and especially loving people who are different in their religious orientation than they are. In spite of the supposed similarities between Christians and Jews (Judaism being the foundation of Christianity), we have a very hard time being civil with each other on certain occasions.

The conversation going on right now at Gene Shlomovich’s blog Daily Minyan is one minor example. Actually, the transactions are pretty civil for the most part, especially when I recall the verbal “blood bathes” I’ve witnessed in the past. However, even between Gentiles and Jews who are all disciples of the Jewish Messiah, we have a long way to go.

And yet God tells us that if we love Him, we must love other people, even if we don’t always like them. The next time you are tempted to think of yourself as especially holy and righteous, recall the last time when you had thoughts and feelings of disrespect and hostility for your fellow human being.

Maybe we can rescue some feelings of humility from this experience.

Hadassah and the King

The Queen Esther daughter of Abihail wrote, along with Mordechai the Jew, with full authority to ratify this second letter of Purim. Dispatches were sent to all the Jews, to the hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahashuerus – [with] words of peace and truth – to establish these days of Purim on their [proper] dates just as Mordechai the Jew and Queen Esther had enjoined them, and as they had confirmed upon themselves and their posterity the matter of the fasts and their lamentations. Esther’s ordinance confirmed these regulations for Purim; and it was recorded in the book.Esther 9:29-32

I love a happy ending, don’t you? With Purim only a few days away, Jews all over the world are getting ready to celebrate one of the most joyous occasions on their annual calendar. As with many Jewish celebrations, there will be plenty of good and sweet things to eat, lots of laughter and happiness and, on this particular occasion, practical jokes, dressing up in costumes, and generally acting silly. What better way to announce to the world your happiness at not being exterminated as a people?

However, there’s another aspect to Purim that isn’t generally mentioned, although it should be obvious to anyone familiar with the story of Queen Esther, or rather Hadassah, and King Ahashuerus. This wonderful victory was accomplished because they were an intermarried couple, a Jew married to a Gentile.

In today’s world there are still plenty of Hamans. Iran is threatening Israel with nuclear attack and Islamic Jihad sends suicide bombers. Skinheads still tattoo themselves with swastikas and synagogues around the world are defaced. Jews are still killed because they are Jews.

Perhaps we now have a glimmer of hope coming from an unlikely place. Intermarriages, which until now have been so troubling, now offer us opportunities and new realities.

Perhaps in all the intermarriages that are happening today, we are acquiring allies for the Jewish people. Perhaps we now have hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who are also committed to the survival of the Jewish people, its customs and teachings, and to raising Jewish children. Perhaps we have fellow travelers who appreciate the richness of our heritage and will step forward to help us combat the hatred that exists. Perhaps we will find it safer to live as Jews.

-Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael
“Purim and Intermarriage”
Originally published March 14, 2006 and reprinted February 27, 2012

In Judaism, intermarriages are usually thought to contribute to the destruction of the Jewish people, largely through secularization and assimilation, if not downright conversion of the Jewish partner to Christianity. The non-Jewish partner, if not seen as “the enemy” when accompanying his or her Jewish spouse to the synagogue, is often considered with suspicion or maybe just a little anxiety, particularly if the non-Jew is actively Christian. Today, many Evangelical Christian congregations have completely embraced the right of Israel to exist and are strongly attempting to influence American politics in supporting Israel, but that doesn’t mean intermarriage would be welcomed by most Jews because of this.

intermarriageHowever, as Rabbi Raphael pointed out, the Gentile member of an intermarriage can also be seen as an especially close ally because he or she is married to a Jew. To the Gentile spouse, the Jew is no longer an “other” or “outsider.” Jews are family. Up until a few days ago, as an intermarried husband, I hadn’t really considered celebrating Purim in any way except as a remembrance of the victory of the Jews over a moral enemy and against total annihilation. But now there’s something new to commemorate as well. Purim, for me, has become the time of year when it’s OK to celebrate the victories that can be attained through Jewish/Gentile intermarriage, even if this aspect of Purim is never mentioned in the synagogue.

Perhaps the rabbis are afraid that such an admission would amount to implied acquiescence with those who choose to intermarry today — as if an ancient historical precedent affects the decisions individuals make about love, life, and Jewish continuity in today’s secular society.

The Purim story is timeless. That is its strength.

But this timelessness is not a result of a lachrymose approach to Jewish history, in which we see enemies rise up against us time and again, regardless of where we live.

Rather, it is Esther’s relationship to Ahashuerus that catapults the story through the portals of Jewish history.

Esther and Mordechai were heroes, but so was Ahashuerus. The Purim story shows that in the face of Jewish destruction — whether it comes from the outside, as in ancient Persia, or from inside the American Jewish community — intermarriage has the potential to help us rather than destroy us, if we are willing to bring the intermarried into our Jewish family and invite them to cast their lot with our own.

-Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky
“Purim – story of intermarriage gone right?
Jewish Outreach Institute

This isn’t to say that intermarriage has gained any greater approval in Jewish society lately or that there aren’t about a million trap doors that intermarried/interfaith families can’t fall through, but I’d also like to encourage Jews and Judaism to stop thinking of intermarriage as a road that automatically leads to disaster for the Jewish people. I’d also like to encourage Christians and the church to stop seeing intermarriage as a means of converting the Jewish spouse and children to Christianity and eliminating their Jewish identity, which can be a danger as great as any represented by Haman, may his name be blotted out. Purim is the victory of the successful joining of a Jewish wife and a Gentile husband against the forces that would eliminate all Jews from the face of the earth, a destruction I believe God would never allow.

Hadassah called herself “Esther,” hiding her Jewish heritage for a time, but when it was important, she revealed herself to her husband, the King, risking everything to save all Jews everywhere. By the time of our happy ending, Hadassah didn’t have to stop being a Jew because her husband wasn’t, and her uncle Mordechai the Jew, was elevated to the position of viceroy to King Ahashuerus. For that time in that place, Jews and Gentiles lived together in peace.

May there be peace in all the intermarried families and peace between all of God’s children, Jews and Gentiles. And may the Messiah come soon and in our days.

Purim Sameach.

Why Don’t the Jews Convert to Christianity?

In my neighborhood, we did not even mention his name. We said “Yoshke,” a Hebrew play on his name, or some children learned to say “cheese and crust” in place of “Jesus Christ.” In a synagogue sermon, rabbis might refer to Jesus – exceedingly rarely – by saying “the founder of Christianity.”

Fundamentally, we understood Jesus as a foreign deity, a man worshiped by people. The Torah instructs us never to mention the names of other gods, as no other god exists except God. We also understood Jesus to be as anti-Jewish as his followers. Was he not the Jew who had rebelled against his people? Was he not the one who instructed his followers to hate the Jews as he did, instigating countless cruelties against those with whom God had established an everlasting covenant? Was he not also the man who had abrogated the Law and said that the Torah was now mostly abolished?

-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
from the Preface (pg ix) of his new book
Kosher Jesus

I’m just beginning Rabbi Boteach’s latest and most controversial book and will write a full review when I’m finished. However, in reading the Preface and Introduction sections of the book, I find myself thinking that much of what I’ve consumed so far would be good material for every Christian to read and absorb. Look at what Rabbi Boteach is saying about how he understanding Jesus when Boteach was a young Jewish boy growing up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. A Jew’s understanding of Jesus from earliest childhood is as a person who hated his own Jewish people, who taught his Jewish (and later, Gentile) followers to also hate Jews, and who founded a religion based on the idea that Jews must be eradicated.

And Christians wonder why Jews aren’t standing in line waiting to convert to that form of Christianity. Gee whiz!

But there’s more:

Until the deeply anti-Semitic Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) directly addressed the subject centuries later, early Church leaders held that Judaism would never survive. Even the powerful Roman Empire couldn’t resist the Christian juggernaut – eventually capitulating and adopting Christianity as state religion. It wasn’t a stretch for Christians to surmise that all remaining Jews would eventually convert, wiping out the ancient religion. But against all odds, Judaism survived and flourished.

Introduction, pp xiii-xiv

That last sentence reminds me so much of this:

Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. –Exodus 1:6-7 (ESV)

Even as Pharaoh, King of Egypt enslaved the Israelites and the Egyptians treated the Hebrews with terrible cruelty, under the harshest conditions, the Children of Jacob survived, multiplied, and flourished. Of course, Pharaoh had no intention of exterminating his population of slaves. They were much too valuable to him alive, so their continued survival was no mystery to him. However, for the early church, according to Boteach, the continuation of Jews and Judaism was inexplicable.

This makes me ask a few questions.

I wonder if the continuation of the Jews and Judaism today is what frustrates some Christians? It would explain something my brother-in-law said to me many years ago. He’s my wife’s younger brother and a born-again Christian. He denies that his mother was Jewish (even though we have ample evidence that she, her siblings, and cousins, and parents, and grandparents are all buried in Jewish cemeteries). I can’t remember how we got on the topic, but at one point, in a fit of emotion, he exclaimed, “Why can’t the Jews just accept Jesus?”

Maybe I should send him a copy of Rabbi Boteach’s book.

I think that the survival and flourishing of Judaism in the modern age is frustrating to some Christians. Rabbi Boteach goes on in the Introduction of his book, to illustrate how there has been much restoration of the relationship between Judaism and both Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity, so I can’t paint a terribly grim portrait of the Jewish/Christian interaction today. But there are still plenty of Gentile believers who seem to wish that Judaism would just plain “go away” and who are at a total loss as to why God would allow the Jewish people to continue as a distinct group on the face of the Earth.

My other question has to do with “Rabbinic” or “Talmudic” Judaism. In any real sense, this is the only valid form of Judaism in the post-Second Temple world (and I’m including significant portions of Messianic Judaism in this group), since without a Temple, functioning priesthood, and functioning Sanhedrin, much of the Judaism of the Torah cannot be observed, even in Israel. I’ve said before in a few blog posts that the Talmud and the traditions of the Sages are a major reason why Judaism survived in a hostile post-Temple world and across the long centuries after 70 CE and after the majority (but not all) of the Jews were exiled from Israel by the Roman conquerors.

Throughout the history that followed the last Jewish exile, on many occasions, Christian religious authorities tried to destroy the Jews by burning their synagogues, their Torah scrolls, their siddurim (prayer books), and their Talmud. Sadly, Martin Luther, near the end of his life, reversed any good he did to bring Christ closer to the Christians by advocating the destruction of the Jews:

…set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly ­ and I myself was unaware of it ­ will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.

…I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them….

From “Martin Luther: The Jews and Their Lies” (1543)
as quoted by Jewish Virtual Library

If some Christians, both historically and currently, experience frustration at the continued existence of Judaism, they might also experience frustration at and hostility toward the mechanisms by which the Jews have survived: Jewish prayer, synagogue worship, Torah readings, and particularly Talmudic study. If you destroy a people’s lifestyle and culture, you destroy the people, perhaps not in body, but in spirit and identity. As an example, allow me to present the Native American peoples who were all but wiped out by European expansion across this continent over the past several centuries. There are tribes who no longer know their own written and spoken languages, who have lost many of their traditional ceremonies and history, and who are hanging on to any remaining shred of their identity as a people by their fingernails.

This is what could have happened to the Jewish people and to Judaism if the Talmud had successfully been destroyed. But is this why some Christian and Hebrew Roots groups oppose the study and authority of Talmud among Jews today? Does it somehow diminish those who say they follow the cause of Christ if the Jews continue to adhere to that which has allowed them to survive and to flourish as Jews?

I suppose you could say I’m being a little hard on Christianity and some parts of Hebrew Roots for their opposition to the Talmud of Judaism, but frankly, even if their intentions are “benign” from their own point of view, if they had gotten their way, there would be no Jews walking around today or at best, the “Jews” we’d recognize would be a shell rather than a thriving Jewish culture. Their identity would be shattered, and all that would be left of the people established by God Himself at Sinai through the Torah, would be the tiny sparks and shattered fragments that somehow survived in the whitewashed and “Gentilized” teachings of the modern, refactored “Jesus Christ,” who started out well as Jewish Rabbi and Messiah, but who was turned into a non-Jewish icon symbolizing the extinction of his own people.

Having read my wee missive now, if you’re a Christian, if you’re a Pastor, if you’re a Bible teacher, if you’re a Church Choir Leader, if you’re involved in the church in any capacity whatsoever, take a moment and look at yourself in the mirror. Now ask yourself, why don’t the Jews convert to Christianity. You may not understand it yet, but I think you have the answer.