Tag Archives: holocaust

Hitler’s Final Solution, the Oral Torah, and its Meaning to Christianity

These are the statutes and the judgments and the teachings (Toros- plural of Torah) that HASHEM gave between Himself and the Children of Israel at Sinai through the hand of Moshe.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:46

Toros: One (Torah) Written and one (Torah) Oral. This informs that both were given to Moshe at Sinai.

-Rashi

This is a critical and oft underappreciated nugget of information. Not one Mitzvah in the entire Torah is capable of being carried into action given only the parameters provided in the text. There are almost 30,000 details that comprise phylacteries and 5,000 in the ubiquitous mezuzah with little information to guide to their uniform completion. What’s called “killing”? When does life begin? When does it end? What one person calls “family planning” another may legitimately define as “murder!”

The Torah cries out for explanation. There must, by definition, have been a concomitant corpus of information that accompanied the giving of the laws and that is what we call the “Oral Torah”. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch uses the analogy that the Written Torah is like the notes to a scientific lecture. Every jot and squiggle has significance. If properly understood it can awaken the actual lecture. The notes remain useless to someone who has not heard the lecture from the Master. Therefore in the Oral Torah is the sum of the lecture while the Written Torah is merely a shorthand record. Without an Oral Torah that book the whole world holds in such high esteem, the Bible is rendered in-actionable. It becomes a frozen document that cannot be lived. Unfortunately, so many over the ages have become lost due to a failure to appreciate this single point and its significance for our very survival as a people.

When my wife and I were engaged, at the party there was a cousin of hers that has written voluminously about the holocaust. He himself survived, somehow, seven concentration camps. One of the Rabbis encouraged him to speak. He claimed to be unprepared and not a good English speaker. He spoke amazingly well.

-Rabbi Label Lam
“Understand it Very Well” (2007)
Torah.org

Rabbi Lam got my attention when he wrote, ”Not one Mitzvah in the entire Torah is capable of being carried into action given only the parameters provided in the text.” Most of what I hear about the Oral Torah from Evangelical Christians is that it’s all a bunch of made up rules and cannot be considered the valid Word of God. Many in the Christian Hebrew Roots world say the same thing, believing it is possible to observe the mitzvot based on the Written Torah alone.

And yet Rabbi Lam says this is impossible.

Moses received the Torah from [G-d at] Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgment. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.

-Pirkei Avot 1:1

Talmudic RabbisOrthodox Judaism generally believes that the Oral Torah was handed down in an unbroken chain as described above. Given the history of Israel’s exiles, that seems difficult to believe.

Even the written Torah was lost for a great deal of time and when it was found (2 Kings 22:8-13), King Josiah ”tore his clothes” because ”great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” If the words of the Torah had been lost even though written, how much more so can it be true that the original Oral Torah given to Moses could have been forgotten?

But that doesn’t mean Oral history didn’t accompany the written Torah in some matter or fashion across the many centuries. The Oral tradition just might not have survived intact from its earliest inception. That is, what Judaism understands to be Oral Torah now may not be entirely traceable back over three-thousand years.

I’ve repeatedly suggested that the “Jerusalem letter” we saw crafted in Acts 15 as a set of instructions for new Gentile disciples of Jesus, had to have been accompanied by oral instructions because the “four essentials” of the letter are so barren. It’s quite possible that the Didache is the documentation of the original oral instructions for the Gentile disciples, so oral information being transmitted across time to explain written instruction isn’t foreign to early Christian tradition.

Just recently, I said I thought later Christian commentary was a refactoring of the original Jewish understanding of the scriptures, and my statements were inspired by comments made by New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado on his blog, including this paragraph:

But I suspect that if Paul were asked whether Jesus was the “second person of the Trinity,” he would likely have responded with a quizzical look, and asked for some explanation of what it meant! Were the patristic texts and creedal statements saying something beyond or distinguishable from what the NT texts say? Certainly. Does that invalidate those later creedal discussions and formulations? Well, if you recognize the necessity of the continuing theological task (of intelligently attempting to articulate Christian faith meaningfully in terms appropriate and understandable in particular times and cultures), then probably you’ll see the classic creedal statements as an appropriate such effort. (emph. mine)

-Hurtado, Jesus, “Pre-existence,” etc: Responding to Questions

Rabbi Label Lam
Rabbi Label Lam

Put all together, we can paint a picture of an Oral set of instructions accompanying the written Torah, perhaps changing over time to respond to the differing demands and requirements of ”particular times and cultures.” If Judaism is guilty of this process, so indeed is Christianity. We just don’t talk about it.

I’m including the rest of the quote from Rabbi Lam’s article because it includes important points from history, and we ignore history at our own peril.

First he looked out at a room filled with newly observant Jews and wondered aloud, “Where do you people come from?” He then quoted the Talmudic principle, “Torah returns to those who have hosted it.” He explained, “If you are sitting here today then it’s probably because you have some great ancestors who were willing to and did give blood to keep this Torah alive.” He went on to talk about my wife’s and his illustrious family tree.

Then he said that had he known he was going to speak he would have brought with him a document he held in his hands that morning that answered a question that had been nagging him for almost four decades. “We all know Hitler’s “final solution” for European Jewry. What was his global scheme? Where was his plan to eliminate the rest of world Jewry?” He then paraphrased what he had learned from that document. Here is a printed transcript with a partial English translation:

“This document transmits a memorandum dispatched by I.A Eckhardt from the chief of the German Occupation Power. It is an order dated October 25, 1940 from das Reichssicherheitshauptamt-the central office of the German Security Forces to the Nazi district governors in occupied Poland, instructing them not to grant exit visas to Ostjuden- Jews from Eastern Europe. The reason behind this order is clearly spelled out: the fear that because of their “Othodoxen einstellung” their orthodoxy, these Ostjuden would provide “die Rabbiner und Talmudleher” – the Rabbis and the teachers of the Talmud, who would create “die geistige Erneuerung” the spiritual regeneration of the Jews in America and throughout the world.”

The Oral Torah is essential for our existence as a people. It is our most vital organ and instrument for survival. Without it we are immediately lost. It makes sense that those who plan our demise understand it very well!

Even the reprehensible Nazis understood the power of the Talmud and Rabbinic rulings and traditions to save the Jewish people, particularly in the face of certain disaster. We see here that beyond the extermination of the six million Jewish victims of the Third Reich, the Nazis had plans to prevent the rest of world Jewry from learning of the so-called “final solution,” for fear that the Jews in America wouldn’t be easy targets if prepared (assuming the Reich was victorious in conquering the world, which, Baruch Hashem, they were not).

Holocaust survivor David Faber
Holocaust survivor David Faber

Oral Torah, which was eventually recorded in writing and then adapted repeatedly as circumstances required, was responsible for Jewish survival during a two-thousand year history where the world was continually trying to destroy them. For this reason alone, we should be thankful for the Jewish adherence to Talmud, but as I’ve already stated, in many ways, Christianity in its various forms including Protestantism, has a parallel set of “oral law” upon which it relies to define Biblical application across the changing historical and cultural landscape.

I only ask that the Evangelical Church “come clean” and admit that we have our own oral traditions that were eventually written down and upon which we continue to depend to define our faith. Just don’t let our traditions diminish the Jewish people and national Israel in any sense, or we might find ourselves “on the wrong side of God.”

Yom HaShoah in Church

Passover this year was not a festival of freedom for Alisa Flatow of West Orange, New Jersey. The Brandies junior was rendered brain dead by a piece of shrapnel on April 9, when a Palestinian suicide bomber drove his van of explosives into a busload of Israelis near Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip.

-Ismar Schorsch
“To Love Our Neighbor is Not Enough,” pg 413, May 6, 1995
Commentary on Torah Portion Kedoshim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

No one is ever to say, “I am too old to worry about the welfare of the next generation.”

-Schrorsch
“The Ethic of Stewardship,” pg 417, May 10, 1997

In short, holiness is a matter of deeds, not words.

-ibid
“What is Holiness?” pg 419, April 23, 1994

You may be wondering what all of these quotes have to do with Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Memorial Day. I’m sure Schorsch’s commentaries on Parashah Kedoshim were unassociated with any thought of Shoah, but with the commemoration beginning tonight (Sunday, April 27th) at sunset, Schorsch’s articles on holiness are refactored in my mind into a memorial for the dead and a cry to the living.

I’m writing this before attending church on Sunday morning. I can’t get away from the counterpoint of Christianity’s history relative to the Jewish people and however unmeaning, the Church’s contribution to Hitler’s ghastly atrocities.

I commented several weeks ago on my decision not to attend Easter…uh, Resurrection Day services at church because of how it affected my wife last year. It seems somewhat ironic that I should select Yom HaShoah as my opportunity to return to corporate Christian worship. I hope it’s not a mistake.

My recent reflections on Purim including its meaning for the Church and sadly finding the Spirit of Haman in the Church, point to the relevancy of certain Jewish observances to Christians, especially as a point of education and elucidation.

ShoahIf any body needs to be reminded of Shoah and how the screams of six-million murdered Jews continue to echo down the dark tunnel of history and into our present, it is the Church.

I don’t say this as a way of blaming current Christianity for the Holocaust or any of the other atrocities that have been committed against the Jewish people and Judaism over the past two-thousand years or so, but as a cautionary tale and a reminder that we don’t have to return to the sins of the past. As I’ve said before, Evangelicals are abandoning support of Israel and the Jewish people in droves. The stage is being set in Europe and America for a resurgence of anti-Semitism and Jew hatred.

How soon we forget.

Which is why we must not only remember but we must teach. We must remind ourselves of the horrors of the past and we must educate the next generation that the return of the Spirit of Amalek is only a heartbeat away.

So my church attendance today will also be a silent reminder, or maybe a not so silent reminder, to my fellow Christians of what this day means to them…to us.

I have a t-shirt. I can’t recall the name of the company that produced it. I bought it many years ago, at the approach of Yom HaShoah, along with the others in the congregation I used to attend. The company making it wanted to sell six million of them, one for each victim. I don’ t know if it worked out that way. I hope it did. I want to represent one of six million. I want to be a reminder of one Jewish soul who died needlessly because of evil men and Christian indifference.

This commemorative t-shirt cries out that Shoah must never happen again. I wear it every year at this time, which is usually during the weekdays at work, as a witness. Only one person has ever asked me what it meant. He seemed surprised when I told him.

RemembranceI normally go to church dressed in “business casual” clothing, but dress pants are hardly suitable attire with a black t-shirt, so I’m “dressing down” for church today. I’m also dressing up, so to speak, and by “up” I mean elevation, both informational and spiritual. My clothing will be a badge of warning and of purpose. We must all do something today and tomorrow (and always) to remind the world around us of what they’ve forgotten, and to tell the news in the world around us to those who have never been told before.

My friend Dan Hennessy is, among other things, a “Holocaust educator, author, and activist.” He has a motto for his teaching which I like.

Education is resistance. Join the resistance.

Rather makes you feel like a freedom fighter when you say it out loud. But that’s who we are when we speak of Shoah, when we tell others what Yom HaShoah means, not just as a piece of history, and not just as something meaningful to Jewish people, but as a vital reminder to the Church” that we, as disciples of the Jewish Messiah, have a responsibility and a duty to the Jewish people, to Israel, and to God, never to forget and never to let our children forget. We must never let the world forget about the day when the world went mad.

Dan’s research and teaching led him to write a book: Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust. I’m fortunate enough to own a copy which I reviewed last year. At less than one hundred pages, it can be read in just an hour or two and serves as a perfect devotional for the remembrance of Shoah.

What do you do on Yom HaShoah?

You can learn more than I could possibly insert into this brief missive. You can read the story of a Holocaust survivor and put a living, human face on the Holocaust. You can watch video reminders of the past so you may strengthen your resolve that the past does not also have to be the future for the Jews. You can realize that Shoah is continually lived out in Jewish experience today and in the history of modern Israel.

The Holocaust did not end in 1945 when the Allies liberated the Jewish survivors from the Nazi killing centers and concentration camps. Still shadowing the world’s moral, political, and religious life are the consequences of what happened, and did not happen, in the period of 1933 to May 1945 in predominantly Christian Europe.

-Daniel Hennessy
“Educational Activism,” pg 82
Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust

I quoted Ismar Schorsch above in saying that we are not “too old to worry about the welfare of the next generation” and “holiness is a matter of deeds, not words.”

Yesterday’s Torah Portion Kedoshim includes the following:

Hashem spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your God.

Leviticus 19:1-2 (Stone Edition Chumash)

These words, or something similar, are not foreign to Christians:

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48 (NASB)

Remembering Shoah and teaching others to remember is an act of Holiness and perfection. It is honoring God, for God asks each of us to love kindness and to do justice (Micah 6:8).

candle shoahToday, I will stand in the sanctuary among other Gentile Christians as a witness. Pastor Randy, who lived in Israel for fifteen years, is on vacation this week so he won’t be leading services. Pastor Bill will be giving a sermon on David and Goliath (I Samuel 17) and my Sunday school class will be teaching on Ephesians 2. Nothing wrong with any of those lessons.

But given what is on my heart as I write this, I can think of something better to teach in church today. I pray that there’s someone who will listen.

This year, Yom HaShoah begins on Sunday, April 27th at sundown and ends on Monday, April 28th at sundown. If you can teach someone about Shoah then teach. If you know little or nothing of Shoah, then learn.

Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 1

Coming to the 18th chapter of Acts, I’ve entitled this particular message, “From Judaism to Jesus.” The story of the book of Acts has proven to us to be a study in transitions. I want to belabor the point for a moment, because I think it’s important for you to understand that.

The book of Acts, written by Luke, describing the early years of the church after its beginning, is really a book of transitions. It’s a book of beginnings. In a sense, it’s the genesis of the New Covenant. It’s all of the beginnings as the church begins to find itself and form itself and sever itself from Judaism. It was particularly a time of transition for the Jews of the early church. The old things of Judaism faded out very slowly, slowly, and the new gradually phased in.

The writer of the book of Hebrews gives us the theology of the transition, or the theology of the change from Judaism to Jesus. He very clearly lays it out. He says, for example, that Moses and David and Joshua and Aaron and all of the priests and all of those great characters of Judaism have all been replaced, as it were, by Jesus. He goes beyond that, and he says that the laws and the ceremonies and the rituals and the patterns of the Old Testament have given way to a whole grace kind of life. No longer are you ruled by externals but you’re ruled by the Spirit within.

God’s people, Israel, have given way to God’s people, the church. The system of multiple sacrifices has given way to the one final sacrifice. All the way through Hebrews, as we studied it some months ago, we saw the tremendous viewpoint of the New Covenant as it means the old is set aside. The writer of the book of Hebrews even says, “The old decays and fades away.”

John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 1: Paul in Transition”
Commentary on Acts 18:18-23, January 13, 1974
GTY.org

As Borowsky has already said, Christian scholars, educational organizations, and other groups are already changing their own assumptions which previously provided for the continuation of supersessionism and attempting to pass down their knowledge to the church. But how well is that knowledge being passed down to the families who worship in their churches every Sunday?

The answer is, not very well. This may not be the fault of church leaders and scholars but of the individual Christian. Human nature tends to lead us on the path of least resistance in whatever activities we may find ourselves, including how we understand God and the Bible. While believers may go to church diligently, attend Sunday school classes, participate in mid-week Bible studies and the like, most won’t “go the extra mile” and actively pursue the latest research in New Testament studies, fresh understanding of Scripture, and become involved in interfaith activities. Most people get to a certain level in their lives, whether it is in marriage, at work, or in their faith, and then they’ll plateau and just stay there.

James Pyles
“Origin of Supersessionism in the Church:
Part 4: “Leaving Supersessionism Behind”
Messiah Journal, December 2012/Issue 112
First Fruits of Zion

When I wrote, “This may not be the fault of church leaders and scholars but of the individual Christian,” perhaps I should have clarified that this can include the individual Christian Pastors and teachers, particularly those who either don’t keep up with the latest developments in Biblical scholarship or who choose to discard them in favor of centuries old Christian tradition.

I’ve been encouraged to take a look at some of the sermons of various Christian Pastors including John MacArthur. But where to start? In terms of MacArthur’s recorded messages, at the Grace to You website, if you go to the Sermons page, you’ll see a list of sermons that goes all the way back to 1969. Assuming that MacArthur’s messages were recorded for every Sunday spanning from 1969 to today, that’s a lot of material. How should I choose something representative?

I decided to do a search on a topic that is of particular interest to me. What is John MacArthur’s opinion of Messianic Judaism?

I don’t know. The search didn’t turn up any sermons that specific, but I did come across a three-part series called “From Judaism to Jesus.”

The title alone is provocative because it full-out states that Judaism has nothing to do with the Jewish Messiah, as if Judaism and the Messiah are mutually exclusive terms. That seems not only inaccurate but a little crazy. The Jewish people from ancient days have been longing for the coming of the Messiah as the savior and deliverer of Israel, as the King of the Jewish nation, and as the Monarch who would place Israel at the head of all the nations and inaugurate an age of world-wide peace.

So how could there be a “transition” from Judaism to Jesus as if Jesus was an entirely new and unanticipated “thing” in the plan of God?

John MacArthurAccording to John MacArthur, Jesus replaced Judaism. This is classic supersessionism, also known as fulfillment theology and replacement theology. I’ve been assured that MacArthur is not anti-Semitic, but I don’t know what else to call someone who advocates a theology that in part has resulted in every persecution and pogrom that has ever victimized the Jewish people, culminating in the worst of all atrocities, the Holocaust.

In part one of MacArthur’s sermon series, he invokes the Epistle to the Hebrews to support his position. The primary reason I’m reviewing D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews is to see an alternate interpretation of this book of the New Testament, one that more accurately portrays the intent of the anonymous author toward his Jewish audience and that flows more evenly with the letters of Paul, which I believe also have been misunderstood, and which I believe, when correctly interpreted, offer messages of hope and good news to the Jewish people and to the normative Judaisms of his day (and for Judaism today) and only then also offer good news to the people of the nations as well.

MacArthur and other supersessionists like him, have put the cart before the horse and say that Paul, as well as the writer of the Book of Hebrews, offered “good news” to the Gentiles that grace had replaced the Law, and that if the Jews wanted a piece of it, they had to dismantle Judaism and leave its broken pieces behind them in the dirt, boarding the train to Heaven with Jesus in their new identities as goyishe Christians.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the victims of certain interpretations of Paul’s voice, especially those who have suffered the Shoah. Their suffering cannot be separated from the prejudices resulting from those interpretations any more than it can be wholly attributed to them. To them I dedicate the effort represented in this book.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the Acknowledgments, pg ix
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

You may remember this quote from my blog post Prologue to the Irony of Galatians. The traditional view of Paul and the mainstream historical interpretation of the message of the New Testament may seem totally benign and all but unquestionable to the Church, both across time and in the present, but the damage it has done to collective Jewry over the last twenty centuries has been incalculable.

Of course, men like MacArthur would counter that consequence aside, if how he preaches the “good news” is an accurate interpretation of the scriptures, he can only tell the truth of the Word of God. He can’t help how it’s been misused.

But he fails to ask himself the question (and frankly, I understand why) if he and the Church’s traditions and “ritual” interpretations of scripture are accurate. After all, these traditional interpretations of the Bible are based on the earliest writings of the “Church fathers” in the first few centuries of the common era, who unswervingly sought to distance the newly minted Gentile Christian “Church” from anything related to Jewish people, Judaism, and the Jewish nation that had been razed by the Romans and left wandering the diaspora without King, Temple, or Priesthood.

mj112The basic understanding of the writings of the Epistles has changed only somewhat for many Christians since the time of the Church fathers and the later Councils such as Nicaea, and for many Protestants, the core of Biblical interpretation has changed hardly at all in the five hundred years since the Reformation.

In the last part of my “Origin of Supersessionism in the Church” series for Messiah Journal, I wrote an optimistic message of how the Church was leaving behind this dark set of chapters from its past. Shocked out of apathy by Shoah, Christianity was seeking a way to reconcile with the Jewish people, and even in some cases, embracing the Jewish Roots of the faith. But that optimism may have been misplaced. I wrote it long before I read John MacArthur’s opinion on what Judaism means to Christianity today:

It was ordained of God. It’s a way of life, a point of pride, a divine institution, and it doesn’t die easily. We see that even today. Jewish people who come to Jesus Christ, if they’ve been involved in any depth of Judaism, and certainly Orthodox Judaism or Conservative Judaism in some cases, they become Christians, but it’s very difficult for them to break with all of those traditions. They very often hang on to those things.

Dr. Feinberg himself expressed to me that this is one of the tragedies or one of the problems the church has to deal with, and that is allowing the Jews to become a full part of the body of Christ. Very often, they themselves resist that. The statistics are staggering when you think that in LA there are multiple tens of thousands of Jewish believers and a few hundred of them are involved in local churches.

So it’s very difficult for the transition from Judaism to Jesus. The church needs to do everything it can to stretch out its arms of love to incorporate them in every way and at the same time allow those old institutions to die out.

It amazes me that MacArthur, in the same breath, can complain about how most believing Jews don’t join the local church and also make “from Judaism to Jesus” the key phrase of his diatribe.

Am I being too harsh in calling MacArthur’s sermon a diatribe, “a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something”? Maybe. I don’t think (I’m trying to be fair) that MacArthur meant to attack the Jewish people in general and Jewish believers in particular, but imagine how all this sounds to Jewish people.

How does this sound?

In the character of the book of Acts, the church is born, and Judaism in God’s eyes is a dead issue…

I personally know Jewish people who are deeply involved in religious and cultural Judaism who are also disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah and not only do they not see Judaism and faith in Moshiach as mutually exclusive, they see their devotion to the Messiah as the logical and ultimate extension of their Jewish faith and Jewish identity.

John MacArthur would take that all away and replace it with a pale shadow of the richness of a Jew kneeling before the King of Israel in homage, devotion, and in celebration that Messiah, Son of David, has come and will one day return to restore all that has been lost, bringing the world to perfection in the coming Messianic Age.

It’s funny, because MacArthur saw this vision as well, he simply rejected it out of hand.

It indicates the difficulty in his mind of seeing Christianity as a unit all its own composed of Jew and Gentile, but rather, they saw it as an extension of Judaism. It’s understandable, right, because Jesus was their Messiah? He was the fulfillment of Judaism.

burning-the-talmudMacArthur couldn’t have mapped out his theology more openly (and notice that he said Jesus was – past tense – the Jewish Messiah, not is). Instead of seeing Biblical history extending forward across the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings into the Apostolic scriptures and up through history to today, an extension of the original promises of God to Israel culminated in Messiah, he sees a total break in Biblical prophesy. The “extension” shatters at the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, and by the time Luke records the Acts of the Apostles, those promises have reformed into an entirely new and unanticipated entity. Jews are absorbed into the new thing called “the Church” where Jews and Gentiles are rendered as a completely homogenous mass, something like mixing the different ingredients for “Wonder Bread” into a bowl and baking it up in an oven. Once it’s fully baked, take out the loaf, slice it up, and each piece is pretty much like any other piece…

…anonymous and nutritionally deficient. Everything important has been bleached out.

You have to remember, then, that there was flux in the book of Acts, and that many of these Jewish people who are coming to Christ are finding it hard to get all the way over to the features of Christianity. Not only because of the strength of Judaism but watch this— Secondly, because all of the features of Christianity hadn’t been revealed yet. They really didn’t know what to substitute for it.

Christianity is a substitute for Judaism or rather, a replacement. As the missus would say, “Oy!”

In fact, the Romans considered Christianity a sect of Judaism. As they stood apart and looked at it, they just figured it’s a sect of Judaism. That’s how tightly tied it was.

I apologize, but there’s only one response to that last quote: Oh, duh!

To give you an idea of how entrenched he (the apostle Paul) was in Judaism, Galatians 1:13. He says, “You heard of my manner of life in time past in Judaism. Beyond measure I persecuted the church and wasted it. I profited in the Jews’ religion above many of my equals in my own nation. More exceedingly zealous in the traditions of my fathers.” He says, “I was a Jew in every sense, even beyond the normal pattern of my fellows.”

Philippians 3:5. “Circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, touching the law, a Pharisee.” He was a superlegalist. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. Touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless.” He carried through every little nitpicking iota of the ceremonial legalist system. He was a Jew at the limit of Judaism’s capacities.

Yet he became a Christian. When he became a Christian, you can’t make a change even though the man’s heart was changed, and he was a new creation, the transformation of his person took time. I’ve always said, “You take a person with a rotten temper and a stinking disposition and get him saved, and you’ve got a Christian with a rotten temper and a stinking disposition.”

MacArthur says that Paul was “entrenched” in Jewish tradition, but in reading MacArthur’s sermon, it’s more than abundantly clear that his own entrenchment in Christian interpretive tradition has blinded him to what the Bible is actually saying. MacArthur’s shooting all around the target but even after decades, he’s still missing it.

In the quote above, MacArthur unfavorably compares Judaism to having “a rotten temper and a stinking disposition.” He had to know how this would sound. I guess his audience didn’t mind. I know I would have, though. In fact, I do mind it right now.

So what am I supposed to learn from reading the sermons of Christian Pastors? What am I supposed to learn from reading John MacArthur’s sermons? Granted, he delivered this sermon over forty years ago, but based on his more recent sermons and commentaries, I have no reason to believe he’s changed his viewpoints on Jews and Judaism one bit.

If I’m being offered a choice between MacArthur’s version of Christianity and a more Judaic and Messianic perspective, based on part one of “From Judaism to Jesus,” I know which direction to go in.

The road

Addendum: In his sermon, MacArthur said that by Acts 2, God considered Judaism to be a dead issue. I just read that in 1942, Adolf Hitler said something quite similar and planned to create “a Museum of Judaism, to remember the dead Jewish religion, culture and people.” Go to the small article at Aish.com and find out how Hitler’s intent completely backfired and ended up “as a living testimony to the indestructibility of the Jewish people.” I think that speaks to Christian assumptions about the “death” of Judaism as well.

For more, go to Part 2 of my review.

Prologue to the Irony of Galatians

The Irony of GalatiansFinally, I want to acknowledge the victims of certain interpretations of Paul’s voice, especially those who have suffered the Shoah. Their suffering cannot be separated from the prejudices resulting from those interpretations any more than it can be wholly attributed to them. To them I dedicate the effort represented in this book.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the Acknowledgments, pg ix
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

Such a strange way to end a series of acknowledgments for a book. The author usually thanks his/her publisher, editor, spouse, and whoever else contributed to or who were sometimes inconvenienced by the author’s writing of the book. Occasionally, religious people will thank God, their congregation, and so forth, in addition to the “usual suspects.” Having written a few books myself (though not in the religious studies space), I know the author’s side of composing acknowledgments.

That said, I normally blow past the acknowledgment page quickly when I get a new book in my hands, but something told me to slow down a bit before getting to the “meat” of the content. What we have here is a suggestion that the traditional way Paul has been understood by Christian interpreters has, in some manner or fashion, contributed to the injury of the Jewish people, including the most glaring injury in recent history, the Holocaust. There have been two injustices committed by the “consensus view” of Paul which includes his letter to the Galatians: a gross misunderstanding of Paul himself and his missives to various First Century churches, and as a result of that misunderstanding, a terrible injustice to Jewish people across the last nearly two-thousand years of history.

That’s a heavy burden to place upon collective Christianity, but it’s not a burden that is undeserved, nor is it one that cannot be lightened. What is needed is a fresh reading of Paul from a First Century Jewish context.

While Nanos states in the book’s Prologue that he attempts to make no direct comparison between the Paul of Galatians and how Nanos depicted Paul in his previous book The Mystery of Romans, I don’t doubt that I’ll be making the comparison anyway, considering my several recent reviews of that work. After all, we are talking about the same human being, and unless Paul received a “personality transplant” between writing one letter and the next, he should be transmitting the same basic understanding of the role of Jews and Gentiles in the Jewish religious stream once known as “the Way.

Because the prevailing interpretations have probed Paul’s text without sufficient appreciation of the powerful role of ironic inversion at work, at the formal as well as functional level, the interpretation of the apostle’s scathing rhetoric has exaggerated and, regardless of other plans, continues to accentuate the differences that are imagined to separate Christian and Jewish identity, behavior, and even intentions toward God and neighbor. The legacy of this perception of the Jewish other has proven often tragic for the Jewish people, at least in a world that has been often dominated by those who look to Paul to shape reality, and for others, as a foil to justify their twisted construal of what is right.

-Nanos, Prologue, pg 2

This reads more like an indictment than, as Nanos puts it, a project that “represents a revised and expanded version of (his) Ph.D. dissertation…in 2000.” There’s a sense that Nanos has more invested in this project than simply a serious and scholarly re-investigation into the traditional interpretation of Paul relative to ancient and modern Christian and Jewish relationships and identities.

No interpretation is independent of context, that realized or assumed for the original author and audience, and that of the interpreter him-or herself. I am a product of many factors, not the least the long shadow of the Holocaust, which claimed so many Jewish people, my people, as well as exposure to critical tools now available to the interpreter.

ibid, pg 4

PaulNanos goes on in the Prologue to compare the “Consensus View” which he states has “not changed that significantly in the history of Christian interpretation” to his perspective which he calls “The Irony of Galatians,” characterizing Paul’s letter as an “ironic rebuke”. He challenges the consensus view of Paul as Law-free and in opposition to Jewish Law (Torah) and religiously obedient Jews, which is an interpretation of Paul’s message in Galatians that has been “undeniably colored by the interpreter’s understanding” rather than “producing a disinterested portrait” of the subjects of the letter, “considering their identity, motives, messages, or methods on their own terms.”

Of course, we have to consider that Nanos, in partially attributing Shoah and the murder of six million of his people to the traditional interpretation of Paul renders him less than completely objective, but then again as Nanos has already alluded, no one fails to bring something to the table when interpreting the Bible. In the book’s Prologue, Nanos leaves it up to the reader to determine if he has “constructed a probable context for interpretation of Paul’s voice…”

I know a fellow who is quite an erudite scholar and it is his opinion that more often than not, a book’s prologue may contain enough of the contents of the book itself to tell the entire story, sort of how some movie trailers give away most or all of the story of the films they are advertising. This may also be true of Nanos’ “Irony,” but not having cracked even the first page of the first chapter yet (as I write this), I’ll have to wait and see.

On the other hand, Nanos does reveal that he considers the “influencers” to also be Galatians and Jews who have a certain responsibility to initiate the Gentiles in the Galatian synagogues into their entry into Judaism. If these influencers were like those Jewish people we encounter in Acts 15:1-2, we may be seeing a heavy bias in the non-believing and believing Jewish communities in the days of Paul toward the proselyte ritual as the only means by which a Gentile may enter “the Way.” That makes Paul’s Galatian letter, according to Nanos, an “ironic rebuke” to the Gentile readers and an intra and inter-Jewish communal dispute between Paul and the Jewish influencers.

As I read in Nanos’ “Romans” book, he continues to depict Paul as Torah-observant, which only makes sense, given that Paul wrote that a Gentile being circumcised and converting to Judaism is obligated to the full yoke of Torah (Galatians 5:3). Being Jewish then, by definition, would mean that Paul considered himself as obligated to said “full yoke” of Torah in the same manner as his fellow believing and unbelieving Jews.

Paul is himself an example of status and observance, and his message in this letter does not abrogate the identity or observance of Torah for Jewish people (i.e. Israelites) in the least but is instead predicated upon their continued validity for himself and other Jewish members of this movement.

-Nanos, pg 9

The remainder of the prologue covered a summary of each of the three parts of the book and what the reader can expect to discover. What remains are the detailed arguments presented by the author, which I have yet to experience.

For the “Romans” book, I reviewed the material almost chapter by chapter in some cases, and I have a tendency to write book reviews in parts, often before I’ve completed my reading of the entire work. I don’t know if I’ll do that here since such an analysis takes a fair amount of time. On the other hand, it’s difficult in just a few sentences, to impart complex ideas and descriptions accurately when presented in a “book-length” form. Also, as much as I report for the sake of my audience, I write these blogs to process my own experience as I encounter new thoughts and concepts, so the level of detail in which I engage is sometimes more for me, the writer and learner, than it is for you the reader. Of course, my benefit is also your benefit as long as you don’t mind having to consume the output of my internal dialogue.

Mark NanosSince I’ve liberated myself from having to produce daily morning meditations, I can’t say when the next installment of my review on “Irony” will be written, but know, compulsive blogger that I am, that it will appear before too long. Galatians is one of my Biblical “pet peeves” along with the traditional Christian interpretation of Paul as either suffering from multiple personality disorder or as a liar and hypocrite.

I’m searching for an interpretation of Paul’s letters that renders him sane, internally consistent, consistent relative to his personal history as an observant Jewish Pharisee, and as a living expression of generations of Torah-observant Jews who came before him, worshiping the God of his fathers, obeying the Torah, and honoring the Temple, all within the context of a zealous faith in the Jewish Messiah. No other Paul makes sense, and a Paul (as the Christian consensus view defines him) who is mentally ill, a duplicitous liar, or a two-faced hypocrite makes the apostle completely disingenuous and an unreliable author of the majority of the canonized New Testament.

So much for the Christian faith if the consensus view is true.

I can only take Paul seriously if I can find another way to hear his voice. I believe I have found that sane and reliable Pauline voice. Now I want to see how that voice speaks in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Being Jewish is a Gift

jewish-t-shirtMy great grandparents were born in New York. At the end of a high school Holocaust memorial assembly, students were asked to file out quietly in the following order: those who had parents who were Holocaust survivors, those who had grandparents who were survivors, and finally those who had great grandparents who were survivors. I remained sitting with three other students in the empty auditorium. We looked at each other across rows of empty seats, and I felt shock ripple through me. I didn’t know that most of my classmates’ grandparents were survivors.

On the stage the American flag rippled in the dim spotlights alongside the Israeli flag, and I thought about the refuge that this country has been for so many Jews. My grandmother used to tell the Santa Claus who offered us candy canes at the mall: “No thank you. We’re Jewish so we celebrate Hanukkah. But happy holidays!” I’ll never forget the way her green eyes lit up with her fiery pride for Judaism. As her granddaughter, I grew up believing that being Jewish was a gift…

-Sara Debbie Gutfreund
“Swastikas in New York”
Aish.com

“…being Jewish was a gift.”

I never really thought of it that way before. Being Jewish is precious. There aren’t that many Jewish people relative to the world-wide population, and usually when something is rare, it’s valuable.

Jewish people are survivors, not just of the Holocaust, but of the world. Look at Jewish history going back thousands of years and you’ll almost always find that someone is trying to kill them. Look at ancient, Biblical history. Israelites co-existed in a world with Canaanites, Hittites, Moabites, and a lot of other “ties.” Are any of those other nations or people groups still around?

No. Only the descendants of the Israelites, the Jewish people.

They even continued to exist when they were evicted from their national homeland nearly two-thousand years ago. Who’d have thought that when the Roman empire crushed ancient Israel under its boot, that homeland would be resurrected again in 1948? Who knew that after over six decades, this tiny nation in the middle east would not only continue, but thrive and be an innovator in technology and other industries? Who knew?

Being Jewish is a gift.

Which brings me to Christianity, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Judaism, all movements that are loosely connected by a mutual worship of the God of Israel and discipleship under the King of Israel and Messiah.

The vast majority of Jews would disagree with the last part of my statement. I understand that. But there are a very tiny minority of halachically Jewish people who have recognized that the man called “Jesus Christ” in the Church is also Yeshua HaMoshiach, Son of David, Anointed One of Hashem.

Of those Jewish people, probably most of them are assimilated into the traditional Christian church and live mostly or completely like their Gentile counterparts, foregoing most or all of the mitzvot that would otherwise identify them as observant Jews.

The “gift” of Judaism is recognized by some Gentile Christians in the Church, prompting them to leave their usual world of pulpits and pews and to join some variation on a Hebrew Roots or Jewish Roots congregation. These groups typically attempt to incorporate some form of modern, Jewish synagogue worship into their Sabbath meetings, spend more time in the Tanakh (Old Testament) than the Apostolic Scriptures, and some even tend to elevate the Torah or the Five Books of Moses, above their former devotion to Christ. They see Judaism as a gift too, tempting some of them to convert.

It’s a confusing world.

churchesAlmost all the Jewish people I know in Messianic Judaism have a previous experience in a traditional Church. Almost all of them are intermarried to a non-Jew. Many of these families live observant Jewish lives, but a few are split, with the Jewish spouse (and perhaps kids) attending a Shabbat service at a Messianic or traditional synagogue and the Christian spouse going to church.

It’s a confusing world.

Does attraction to or involvement in Jewish/Hebrew Roots and/or Messianic Judaism lead to apostasy? Or, for that matter, does such involvement increase the risk of apostasy?

I have no data to draw from. I don’t know if as many, more, or fewer people in the Church (big “C”) leave the faith altogether than people in Jewish/Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism. I only have anecdotal information only. Whispers in the dark. Rumors of this family and that who left the worship of Yeshua and converted to Judaism or, if halachically Jewish, returned to an observant Jewish life.

I can say that the temptation is there. I remember my own involvement in Hebrew Roots back in the day. It’s easy to be persuaded that the ritual, the prayer service, the Torah service, donning a tallit, laying tefillin, relating to the Judaism of our ancient faith leads to a closer walk with God. It can generate an enormous pull. Of course, with my wife being Jewish, the thought of conversion was additionally fueled, but that was many years ago. I even toyed with the idea of suggesting to my wife that we make aliyah.

But that seems like another life.

Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism. Seek an authentic encounter with God.

That’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received and it cuts to the heart of the problem. Who the heck are we anyway, Jew and Gentile, in the body of Messiah?

There are a lot of writers in the Messianic Jewish space who write about distinctiveness between Jews and Gentiles in the faith, about the obligations to the Torah and how they are applied differently, radically differently to Jewish members and Gentile members. Men like Mark Kinzer, Stuart Dauermann, and David Rudolph write periodically or even regularly about the drive, the need, the absolute requirement for Jews in Messianic Judaism to see all other Jewish people and national Israel as not them, but us.

In other words, Messianic Jews are Jews first and Messianics second. I think that’s what Dr. Dauermann’s statement means. But that statement, while it repairs many an old wound, creates other problems.

How do you balance Jewishness and Judaism against a faith that in any real sense, hasn’t been Jewish (for the most part) in nearly twenty centuries? The very word “Christian” immediately screams “GOY!” in the ears of any Jewish person.

jewish-repentanceBeing Jewish is a gift.

Yeah, I get it. And if a Jewish person comes to faith in Jesus…excuse me, Yeshua, then do they throw away that gift?

I know a few Jewish people in my church. At least one of them has a passing relationship with the larger Jewish community in my little corner of Southwest Idaho, but she’s actually Christian through and through. Did these Jewish Christians throw away that gift?

I know that Kinzer, Dauermann, Rudolph, and other Jewish scholars and writers are choosing to see being Jewish as a gift that being Messianic does not require to be returned to sender. The apostle Paul was Jewish, proud of his heritage as a Pharisee, circumcised on the eighth day, zealous for the Torah. He worked closely with many Gentile disciples, established Gentile congregations among Romans and Greeks in the Diaspora, was aided, shielded, and supported by the Goyishe believers for decades.

If any man had the opportunity to leave Judaism, assimilate into Gentile “Christianity,” and “go native” among the Greeks, it’s Paul.

And he didn’t (I’ll get a lot of pushback from both Christians and Jews on that one).

I’ve gotten just tons and tons of advice since the most recent apostasy scandal hit the Hebrew Roots and Messianic section of the blogosphere. Most of it basically says, “Keep your eyes on Jesus.”

I sometimes wonder where God went, that is, God the Father, the one Jesus could do nothing without, the one who Jesus watched and imitated perfectly, the one Jesus told his disciples to pray to. Jesus said “no one comes to the Father except through me,” but he didn’t say the Father was replaced by the Son. Shouldn’t I be looking at the Son because opening his door, reveals the Father?

Being Jewish is a gift.

jewish-christianAnd there’s a terrible crisis in the Jewish world today. Jews are turning their back on being Jewish and practicing any form of Judaism in droves. Jews in this country are assimilating into Christianity, other religions, or secular atheism at a tremendous rate.

Jewish children are no longer receiving even the most basic Jewish education. They grow up in communities that do not have children knowing that their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents are Holocaust survivors.

I’m not Jewish so I can only imagine this. If you are passionately, religiously, ethically Jewish and also passionately and religiously a devoted disciple of the Messiah who the Church calls “Christ,” then you must feel powerfully torn in two directions.

Except…

…except if devotion to Moshiach was originally Jewish and considered a valid Jewish religious stream in the days right before and then after the destruction of the Second Temple, why can’t it be just as Jewish today? Why do there have to be two opposing directions for a Messianic Jew? Why isn’t it the same direction, another stream of Judaism among many streams of Judaism?

I know…two thousand years of anti-Semitic Christian church history has severely tainted those waters.

For a Messianic Jew, faith is an unavoidable tightrope walk. For non-Jews associated with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots, the draw is there, but it’s different. We weren’t born into the covenant that every Jew who ever existed was born into. We don’t have the same spiritual connection that is infused into our blood, our flesh, our bones, our very DNA. For Jews who turn their back on the covenant of Sinai, I believe there will be an accounting one day.

We from among the nations are not called to that covenant, but we are called to God through the Messiah, through a faith that righteous Abraham demonstrated. Yeshua is the doorway but we must remember that Messiah, not Judaism, not Jewish practice, not Jewish identity, is the key to being reconciled to God. That was Paul’s entire point when he wrote his famous letter to the Galatians.

Being Jewish or not being Jewish doesn’t justify one before God. Faith justifies. However faith and justification doesn’t erase who we are. Men are still men, women are still women, Jews are still Jews, Gentiles are still Gentiles.

Being Jewish is a gift and most of us don’t receive that gift. A few Gentiles become Jewish by choice under the authority of the proper Rabbinic court, but born-Jewish, conversion to Jewish, or born something else, if we turn away from our sins and turn toward God, we must do so as who we are, knowing that our identity doesn’t justify, only faith in God through Messiah does.

prophetic_return1Being Jewish is a gift and I defend those Jews who believe their gift and their identity is being threatened by Christianity, by Gentiles who suffer from identity confusion, or by anything else linked to our religious streams and even how we search for God. I’m not Jewish but I understand that God chose the Jewish people from all of humanity for a special purpose, and as a Christian, I have a unique responsibility to cherish and uphold their purpose and their role, because only through the blessings of the covenants God made with the Jewish people do I have access to God at all.

But…

…but, that purpose and that role isn’t the end of all things. Being Jewish does not grant exclusive rights to enter the presence of God or a place in the world to come. God will do what God will do, but it is only the faith of Abraham that grants anyone righteousness before a righteous God. In that, Messiah is the gift, and he is a gift everyone may receive, to the Jew first and even to the Gentile.

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.