Tag Archives: Holocaust Remembrance Day

Book Review of “Paul within Judaism: The State of the Questions”

I may not be inclined to agree with the late Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything, but in the case of Pauline studies it could, however, easily be argued that research discipline has indeed been negatively affected by Christian normative theology.

-Magnus Zetterholm
from the Introduction of his essay
“Paul within Judaism: The State of the Questions”
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition)

This is how Zetterholm begins his contribution to the Paul within Judaism book, and no doubt it could be a disturbing statement for many Christian scholars, Pastors, and laypeople within the Church. How can “Christian normative theology” negatively affect Pauline studies? At least that’s probably the question they’d ask.

But the common thread running through the different articles within this book is removing Paul from within that normative Christian theological paradigm and inserting him (or re-inserting him) into a first century Jewish context, the context in which the Apostle lived, taught, and wrote.

Zetterholm points out that it’s primarily Christians who study the New Testament (or Apostolic Scriptures as I prefer to think of them) using (naturally) a classic set of Christian traditions. This includes a body of traditions used to study the letters of Paul. But tradition isn’t always the best basis to perform scientific and historical research. Zetterholm suggests something called “methodological atheism” as the preferred method, which isn’t to necessarily divorce our faith from our scholarly endeavors, but to set aside our tradition-based biases and to examine the text on its own terms.

From a methodological point of view, the Christian ideological perspectives that continue to characterize much of the ostensibly historical work done in New Testament studies is problematic.

The original understanding possessed by the first Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) was a specifically first century Jewish (and largely Pharisaic) perspective on the teachings of Paul and, of course, the earlier teachings of Messiah. However, during and certainly after the particularly gruesome divorce the Gentiles required from their Jewish mentors, the theological landscape within the newly minted non-Jewish religion known as “Christianity” was significantly altered from what came before it.

Anti-Jewish propaganda started promptly within early Christianity.

But beginning in the early second century we find harshly critical statements from non-Jewish followers of Jesus that seem to indicate that some form of division based on ethnicity has taken place.

Zetterholm quoted from Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, and his Letter to the Magnesians (8:1) for emphasis:

“…not [to] be deceived by strange doctrines or antiquated myths, since they are worthless. For if we continue to live in accordance with Judaism, we admit that we have not received grace.”

Or the even more damning statement (from the same letter, 10:3):

…”utterly absurd [atopon estin] to profess Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism.”

What was born in the second century has had a lasting impact on how the Church views Christianity and Judaism today:

The binary ideas that Christianity has superseded Judaism and that Christian grace has replaced Jewish legalism, for example, appear to be essential aspects of most Christian theologies.

two-roads-joinMore than that, we have the fixed notion that Christianity and Judaism are wholly separate things with, at this point in history, nothing in common besides a distinct shared “ancestor,” that is, the Torah and the Prophets.

Zetterholm’s goal is:

…what we herein prefer to call Paul within Judaism perspectives–believe and share the assumption that the traditional perspectives on the relation between Judaism and Christianity are incorrect and need to be replaced by a historically more accurate view. It is Christian theology that must adjust…

As history progressed in those first few centuries after the death of Paul, “Christian propaganda” against the Jews and Judaism only increased and diversified. Along with that, Paul’s central focus was also purposefully changed:

While Paul’s problem seems to have been how to include the nations in the final salvation or how the categories “Jew” and “non-Jew” would be rescued from their respective constraints, the interest changes to the salvation of the individual.

This is precisely the matter I was attempting to address yesterday. I believe it’s possible that nearly two-thousand years of inadvertent and deliberate distortion and corruption of Biblical interpretation has resulted in not only a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul the Jew and Pharisee, but confusion about the nature of his mission to the Gentiles. As I read Zetterholm, I believe that Paul was not “preaching” about saving individual souls from Hell, but attempting to reconcile the nations with the blessings of the New Covenant and integration into Jewish religious and social community.

Even within the early Gentile Christian community, there was still a “tug of war” going on between the Jewish and Christian perception of many theological issues. Zetterholm cites the example of a monk named Pelagius who “appeared in Rome around 380…”:

Pelagius also denied any form of original sin that had so corrupted the human soul that it was impossible for one to choose to do what God commanded. Against this, Augustine claimed the opposite: humans can in no way please God, even choose to want to please God, and are…incapable of doing what God demands.

This fourth century Monk seemed to possess a decidedly Jewish perspective of “the fall” in Genesis, and yet it was Augustine’s opinion that became “Gospel,” so to speak, and is staunchly believed in the Church today. But if our faith had remained Jewish and retained Paul’s original teachings faithfully, what would we believe today?

Many Christians, and I used to go to a church just like this, hold fast to the Reformation, to Martin Luther and those like him, who saw the corruption in the Catholic Church, and founded Protestantism as the solution. It would have been nice if they could also have corrected the many flaws that had crept into the Church’s theology and doctrine since the second century onward, but such was not the case. In fact:

During the Reformation, the already wide gap between Judaism and Christianity would widen even further and find new theological bases upon which to build. While the church had adopted a modified form of Augustinianism…Martin Luther returned to Augustine’s original doctrine of justification. Luther, however, developed several dialectical relations that would result in an even sharper contrast between Judaism and Christianity.

Luther
Martin Luther

In this aspect of theology, Luther and his peers reformed nothing. Actually, they took the misunderstanding of Paul’s teachings and amplified them.

Zetterholm referenced Luther’s infamous On the Jews and Their Lies, mentioning:

…that synagogues and Jewish schools should be burnt, rabbis should be forbidden to teach, and Jewish writings should be confiscated.

And from this, the 21st century Church has inherited:

Luther’s interpretation of Paul became established as an indisputable historical fact.

It’s small wonder that when questioning the traditional Christian view on Paul among Pastors and parishioners, it is as if you are questioning the existence of God. From Augustine to Luther, it has been the Church Fathers and Men of the Reformation who have manufactured how Christians understand Paul today, not Paul, not his Apostolic peers, not his Jewish and Gentile students, and not his original historic and cultural Jewish context.

During the nineteenth century the idea of a distinction between Judaism and Christianity was theologically well established. This dichotomy would eventually develop a kind of scientific legitimacy, predominantly within German scholarship.

I’m sure you see where this is going. With Holocaust Remembrance Day beginning this evening at sundown, the terrible legacy of Augustine, Luther, and so many others, reached its bloody climax in Shoah and the memory of six million Jewish deaths we continue to live with and must never forget.

Zetterholm didn’t make this point, at least not very strongly, but I felt it necessary to do so. No, it was not the intent of anyone, any Christian scholar or leader over the many long centuries to create the horrors of Hitler’s camps, but they were the inevitable result.

We can’t allow the possibility of another Holocaust to exist by allowing the traditional Christian misinterpretation of Paul to continue.

The solution is this:

Sanders did what Weber had done, but not so many after him–he reread the Jewish texts in order to see if he could find a religious pattern, common to all texts from 200 BCE to 200 CE.

This is what we should do. This is what the Church should do. Break from tradition and go back to the source material, reconstructing its meaning without twenty centuries of mistakes and disinformation getting in the way.

This revision of ancient Judaism changed the rules of the game quite significantly for New Testament scholars. It now seemed apparent that previous scholarship on Paul was based, not on an adequate description of ancient Judaism, but on a Christian caricature.

Paul the Christian Caricature.

The Jewish PaulNo, I can’t assign malice or any other ill intent upon modern Christians. Those who did create our traditions, some of them with malice, lived many centuries ago. With the passage of time, we’ve forgotten that these are the interpretations of men with a theological ax to grind, and we have forgotten that our understanding of “truth” and “fact” is in fact, a set of traditions, and that those traditions resulted from a hermeneutic that was specifically designed to remove every last vestige of Jewish learning and Jewish legitimacy from our devotion to the Jewish Messiah and the Jewish King of Kings, ruler of the Jewish nation Israel, and Son of the God of Israel.

Don’t worry, the article has a happy ending.

Zetterholm covered the “birth” of the new and even radical perspectives on Paul, citing Sanders, Dunn, Gaston and others. From them, he concludes:

The search for the historical Paul cannot be limited to finding a Paul who makes theological sense for the present-day church, but one who makes sense in a first-century context, before Augustine and Luther entered the scene.

Paul (must be) firmly rooted within Judaism.

A Paul within Judaism would not have taught that Jews and Gentiles in Messiah left their nationality and ethnicity behind and became a “third race,” a “one new man”. A Torah observant Paul within Judaism, still faithful to Judaism, faithful to the Temple, faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, needs to be read within that context. His letters are the same, but the lens by which we view them creates a dramatically different perspective.

One thing to consider given what I just wrote, is that:

…all Paul’s authentic letters seem to be addressing non-Jews might give us a hermeneutical key. Is it possible that Paul only objected to non-Jews observing the Torah or to non-Jews becoming Jews and thus under Torah on the same terms as Jews?

Zetterholm goes on to state (and I’ve said this before as well) that there were different ideas on the table about how the Jewish disciples of the Master were supposed to integrate the new Gentile disciples. They ranged from a sort of open-arms acceptance of Gentiles coming into community with Jews to absolute rejection, the very idea of Gentiles in synagogues being loathsome.

There is also ample evidence indicating that many non-Jews were attracted to Judaism and imitated a Jewish life style, probably as a result of interaction with Jews who believed that also non-Jews would benefit from observing the Torah.

Or at least some of the Torah. Zetterholm considers the existence of some “non-Jews who could be regarded as partly Torah observant” in ancient times. This may have implications on modern “Messianic Gentiles” and what sort of praxis we might maintain as an expression of our faith.

But that creates what Zetterholm calls a “complex social situation” between Jews obligated to the mitzvot and Gentiles taking on at least some of the commandments as a matter of preference and a natural consequence of being part of Jewish community, sharing a common table.

The problem this young movement had to overcome was how to incorporate non-Jews, not only to find ways of socializing safely with non-Jews, but how to include non-Jews in the eschatological people of God. Paul evidently believed that non-Jews should remain non-Jewish, and that they should not observe Torah, which possibly meant that they should not base their relation to the God of Israel on the Torah but on Jesus-the-Messiah.

messianic judaism for the nationsYesterday, I quoted from a sizable block of Colossians 1 in which Paul emphasized the centrality of the Messiah specifically for the Gentile. Given Zetterholm, Paul’s meaning takes on additional dimension.

However, he also cited the Didache which includes an injunction for the Gentile disciple to voluntarily take on as much of the Torah as possible or reasonable, yet remaining a Gentile.

I maintain that this all speaks to the nature of Jewish and Gentile relationships in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements today, as does the following:

It is quite natural and most likely that the process of self-definition was complicated and led to harsh conflicts.

Unfortunately, those conflicts ultimately resulted in Gentiles and Jews taking different trajectories in their expression of Yeshua-faith and finally the invention of Christianity, which split from its Jewish predecessors entirely.

While Paul believed that he represented the perfection of Judaism, the church quite swiftly became a religious movement opposed to the practice of Judaism.

Even those modern Christians who express a love for the Jewish people and for Israel continue to oppose the practice of Judaism, both in normative Judaism and for Jews in Messiah.

I’ll continue with my reviews soon.

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Remembrance and Repentance: A Book Review

shoahBone wet
I watch
as Council members
under rifle
dig obediently
and the earth opens up
to swallow my rabbi
and his sons.

Mach schnell! I hear in my nightmare…

and as I turn to leave,
I notice that the earth still moves
where they buried my heart.

-Lois E. Olena from her poem “Behind the Monastery”
quoted from The New Anti-Semitism

Daniel Hennessy’s new book Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust is generously sprinkled with such “Holocaust poetry.” This one particularly spoke to me as I imagined the love of the Rabbi and his sons buried and still moving within Olena’s heart as their dead bodies were roughly interned in a shallow grave.

Hennessy’s book is written to speak to all of our hearts, especially the Christian heart. His book begins by juxtaposing the betrayal and murder of Jesus with Christian indifference to and even tacit approval of the death of millions of Jews at Nazi hands.

In the Gospel account, we hear the good news of redemption that Jesus rose according to the Scriptures. In the book of Acts, we see Peter — who at the moment of his betrayal was no doubt one of the most miserable human beings on earth — eventually lifted up out of the grip of despair, rising to become an apostle and dynamic leader, a fisher of men used powerfully by God at the very onset of the Messianic movement.

As for the indifferent Christian European world that stood outside the circle of doom, eyes to the ground, during the Holocaust era, it is as if Jesus alive and seated at the right hand of the Father, is looking straight into our eyes today, grieved by the ongoing Silence and indifference associated with the twentieth-century betrayal of his people. Unlike Peter, we as Christians have not yet been restored to fullest spiritual character.

-Hennessy, pp 16-17

That’s a most scathing indictment of today’s Christian church and Hennessy doesn’t let up on the comparison between the ancient betrayal of Jesus and the modern betrayal of his people Israel by Gentile Christianity. According to Hennessy, Peter stood outside the “circle of light” (pg 17) of the fire he warmed himself by as he wept bitterly, and so do we in the church who are beginning to forget the Holocaust and our part in it. As the last aging Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust fade and die, so does our own remembrance and even our own conscience.

Perhaps the circle is light, the light in our hearts, is what is diminishing in our world and when it finally grows dark and cold, what horrors will spring forth from the blackest night?

There’s hope, but only if we choose to remember and act righteously in the cause of justice.

This year, Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Memorial Day was on Sunday, April 7th, so you may be wondering why I’m reviewing this book now. On a practical level, it was because I didn’t receive this book until last week. On a more important level, perhaps the most important level, it is because we do not dare to reserve our remembrance to a single day. When we limit our memory and our caring to just one twenty-four hour period, once it’s over, we can safely tuck away our guilt and our desire to see justice done back in its dusty, cardboard box, and shove it back on the top shelf of some forgotten closet or on a rack in our garage until next year, just like our Christmas ornaments.

But if we choose to read, to experience, to remember Shoah each and every day, then each and every day, we can allow the fire of righteous indignation to burn within us, we can ignite the flames of justice, and burn on the pyre of our own responsibility, lest we ever let ourselves and especially our children, forget.

R-and-RDan does an excellent job in this short book (less than 100 pages) of reminding Christianity that it was not just the Nazis who were guilty of atrocities. They were only the outgrowth of anti-Jewish history. It was our own nearly two-thousand years of church supersessionism that formed the massive foundation upon which rested Hitler, his camps, his ovens, and his bloody legacy.

And if there are Christians who do not feel responsible for the past and perhaps the future persecution, torture, and execution of Jewish people and of Israel, lest we forget, we have a High Priest in the Heavenly Court, a King sitting at the right hand of the Father, who watches and waits and who will judge and the Earth. He will also judge us for what have done and what we failed to do.

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:61-62

Jesus watches still. He looks into our eyes. And at his gaze, we also should remember the Lord, and remember his people, and remember Israel, and we should weep for the dead and their children and grandchildren. We in the church can either say “Never again” and cradle the children, the descendents of those who were once herded into cattle cars and driven into ovens, or we can use our own hands to do the herding and the pushing of these Jewish children into some future Shoah.

That is, until Messiah returns to judge us for who we are and what good or horrible things we have done.

I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, every day I eagerly anticipate that he will come.

-The twelfth of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith

Moshiach is coming. Let him move in your heart.

148 days.

Yom HaShoah: A Day to Remember

Rav Moshe Teitelbaum, zt”l, the previous Rebbe of Satmar, went through the living inferno that those who survived the Holocaust endured. After some time in Auschwitz, he was moved to Tröglitz, a camp in Rehmsdorf. Despite the danger, the inmates of the camp arranged to pray kol nidrei and they invited the rebbe to lead the prayers.

Of course, it was unthinkable to eat on Yom Kippur. But since the meager evening meal was served after nightfall, it at first appeared as though those who wished to fast would have to go without food before the fast as well. After much wrangling, the head of their block, Dr. Kizaelnik—who had been the rosh kahal in Sighet before the war—finally managed to arrange with the kitchen staff that the evening meal would be served before nightfall.

An eyewitness later recounted, “Before kol nidrei we went back into the block and fell onto our beds, crying bitter tears the likes of which I hope I never hear again. Then the good doctor announced that kol nidrei would soon begin and that any who wished could join the minyan. Still weeping, we went to the part of the room set aside for davening, and the rebbe began to speak.

“The rebbe commenced, ‘Rabbi Akiva said: Ashreichem Yisrael! Before Whom are you purified, and Who purifies you? Just as a mikveh purifies the defiled, God purifies Yisrael. We must recall that Rabbi Akiva was one of the ten martyrs—killed for sins he did not commit. He saw all the terrible travail which would befall Yisrael. Yet he chose to give a message of chizzuk to us for all generations. Although a mikveh literally alludes to a ritual pool, it can also allude to the word tikvah, hope. This
teaches that when we hope to Hashem, and do teshuvah—even if we are in the worst situation—God will uplift us. Even from this present darkness, which no nation has ever experienced, such bitterness and cruelty, God will deliver us. Amen.'”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Hope of Yisrael”
Kereisos 23

Originally posted on April 18th, 2012 with some adaptations.

Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah begins in the evening of Sunday, April 7, 2013, and ends in the evening of Monday, April 8, 2013. Do not forget. Do not let your children forget. As long as we remember and repent, there lies our hope in God.

As I edit this blog post, it’s early Sunday afternoon before Yom HaShoah. At Sunday school class earlier, when the teacher asked for prayer requests, an older gentleman named Charlie told us all that tonight at sundown, Holocaust Remembrance Day begins and encouraged us all to pray for Israel and the safety of the Jewish people. I believe it is the duty and honor of all Christians to continually pray for Israel and especially at this time, that never again will the Jews be rounded up and slaughtered like cattle. Pray for King Messiah’s return and for the shalom of all Jews everywhere.

(Click the image below to see a larger version)

According to Dr. Michael Schiffman’s blog, “over 50,000 elderly Holocaust survivors living in Israel, and many thousands of holocaust survivors living in the former Soviet Union (are) living in abject poverty right now.” You can help make a difference. Learn how at Dr. Schiffmans’ blog and then make a donation at chevrahumanitarian.org.

There’s always hope, as long as you repent, remember, and then act out of kindness and compassion.

Yom HaShoah: Remembrance and Hope

Rav Moshe Teitelbaum, zt”l, the previous Rebbe of Satmar, went through the living inferno that those who survived the Holocaust endured. After some time in Auschwitz, he was moved to Tröglitz, a camp in Rehmsdorf. Despite the danger, the inmates of the camp arranged to pray kol nidrei and they invited the rebbe to lead the prayers.

Of course, it was unthinkable to eat on Yom Kippur. But since the meager evening meal was served after nightfall, it at first appeared as though those who wished to fast would have to go without food before the fast as well. After much wrangling, the head of their block, Dr. Kizaelnik—who had been the rosh kahal in Sighet before the war—finally managed to arrange with the kitchen staff that the evening meal would be served before nightfall.

An eyewitness later recounted, “Before kol nidrei we went back into the block and fell onto our beds, crying bitter tears the likes of which I hope I never hear again. Then the good doctor announced that kol nidrei would soon begin and that any who wished could join the minyan. Still weeping, we went to the part of the room set aside for davening, and the rebbe began to speak.

“The rebbe commenced, ‘Rabbi Akiva said: Ashreichem Yisrael! Before Whom are you purified, and Who purifies you? Just as a mikveh purifies the defiled, God purifies Yisrael. We must recall that Rabbi Akiva was one of the ten martyrs—killed for sins he did not commit. He saw all the terrible travail which would befall Yisrael. Yet he chose to give a message of chizzuk to us for all generations. Although a mikveh literally alludes to a ritual pool, it can also allude to the word tikvah, hope. This
teaches that when we hope to Hashem, and do teshuvah—even if we are in the worst situation—God will uplift us. Even from this present darkness, which no nation has ever experienced, such bitterness and cruelty, God will deliver us. Amen.'”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Hope of Yisrael”
Kereisos 23

Holocaust Remembrance Day orYom HaShoah begins in the evening of Wednesday, April 18, 2012, and ends in the evening of Thursday, April 19, 2012. Do not forget. Do not let your children forget. As long as we remember and repent, there lies our hope in God.

According to Dr. Michael Schiffman’s blog, “over 50,000 elderly Holocaust survivors living in Israel, and many thousands of holocaust survivors living in the former Soviet Union (are) living in abject poverty right now.” You can help make a difference. Learn how at Dr. Schiffmans’ blog and then make a donation at chevrahumanitarian.org.

There’s always hope, as long as you repent, remember, and then act out of kindness and compassion.