Tag Archives: interfaith

Of Grandchildren, Chanukah, and Christmas

As I’m sure many of you know, I haven’t been contributing to this blog spot lately. It’s not so much because I don’t have the time, but rather because some of the “fire” or inspiration for doing so has cooled off.

I have no local community of faith and no longer have a steady stream of information coming in regarding the Messianic perspective on the Bible, the Messiah, and faith to employ as a muse.

chanukah
Chanukah 2016

I had been considering writing something about Christmas and Chanukah (besides my little science fiction Chanukah story) and dreading it at the same time since, after all, it is somewhat expected, but then these issues collided with my regularly scheduled life.

A few things.

My son David is divorced with two children, my seven-year-old grandson and my almost eighteen-month-old granddaughter.

David is currently living with us to save up some dough, and his arrangement with his ex is that he gets the kids for one week and she gets them for the next.

That’s under normal circumstances.

Because she celebrates Christmas and we don’t, we’ve had them for the past week-and-a-half, and she’ll get them starting late Friday or early Saturday, and keep them for the next two weeks.

Since Christmas and the start of Chanukah both begin on December 24th this year, the grandkids will get Christmas but miss Chanukah.

My granddaughter wouldn’t care, but my grandson loves Chanukah. With this in mind, my family decided to celebrate Chanukah a week early this year so, for us, the fourth night of Chanukah begins at sundown tonight.

Another little factoid. David is dating (I personally think it’s on the rebound, but he says “no” and what do I know anyway?) and she celebrates Christmas, too.

star christmasSo last Sunday evening after my grandson lit the candles and my wife coached him through reciting the blessings, my son and his girlfriend produced a bunch of Christmas presents and gave them to my grandchildren.

I had no idea this was going to happen, and I found myself surprised, shocked, and more than a little dismayed.

I usually silently endure the Christmas season and am grateful when January rolls around so traffic goes back to normal and I don’t have to listen to Christmas music anymore. It’s not like I’ve got a case of “paganoia” about the holiday, I just find it overly commercialized and tedious.

But it invaded my home and without even the slightest warning.

At least no one dragged a Christmas tree into the house.

Which brings me to what really inspired today’s missive. Jewish actress Natalie Portman has a Christmas Tree.

This story was published as Jewish educational site Aish.com to illustrate the potential danger of Jewish assimilation into wider secular culture (or worse, directly into normative Goyishe Christianity).

They also published a parallel article, When Christmas Meets Hanukkah touting the same message.

Is it okay to mix Christmas and Chanukah together? Can you have a Chanukah menorah in your home alongside a Christmas tree? Is this acceptable intermarriage holiday practice?

Experts and authors such as Susan Katz Miller would probably say “yes,” but I’m not so sure.

It’s a foregone conclusion that my non-Jewish grandchildren will be raised with Christmas and Easter and all of that, but thanks to their Bubbe, they’ll also experience at least Chanukah and Passover and occasionally a smidgen of Sukkot.

natalie portman christmas tree
Natalie Portman, Image: Aish.com

My wife isn’t particularly observant (I wish she were more observant) and my son even less (non-existent). If he wasn’t living with us, he probably wouldn’t light the candles, and in spite of the fact that he complained about his ex-wife celebrating Christmas when he was married, he seems perfectly fine with giving his children Christmas presents for the sake of his new girlfriend.

If my family hadn’t been such a mixed bag of evolving religious practice when my own children were growing up, and if we had specifically raised them Jewish, maybe some of it would have stuck. I’d like to think so, even though there’s a crisis of assimilation into secularism attacking the upcoming Jewish generation.

All three of my kids identify as Jewish ethnically, but that’s about where it ends. I really don’t think mixing and matching is such a great idea in families (and if my son marries yet another non-Jewish wife and has more kids, it’ll just get worse). Granted, Natalie Portman can make whatever decisions she wants for her family, but if I had it to do over again, when my sons were born thirty years ago, I would have pushed my wife to join a local synagogue and start her (and my family’s) Jewish education right then and there.

That would have changed a whole lot though, so I’m conflicted. At that time, neither of us were religious, and as her non-Jewish spouse, if I had started attending shul with her and the kids, and if I had become entrenched in that lifestyle by the time we initially encountered Christianity some seven or so years later, I might not have become a believer, and then transitioned into a Judaically aware perspective thanks to first Hebrew Roots and then later Messianic Judaism.

How could I do that, and yet, for the sake of my Jewish children, how could I not?

Each of my three adult children will have to make their own path if they want to recapture what it is to be a Jew. I’ll help if they ask, but otherwise it’s totally up to them. It’s totally up to my long-suffering wife if she wants to become more observant (and she’s the product of an intermarriage as well). I’ve told her more than once that I’ll accept whatever decision she makes in that direction.

assimilationI have almost no control at all of what happens to my grandchildren. They’re not Jewish but I have this secret hope that they’ll become curious one day and want to investigate that part of their heritage (they could always convert).

The world is bleeding out Jews thanks to the hemorrhage of intermarriage and secular assimilation (except for the Orthodox, or so I’ve been told). I can’t fix it in my family, and can only watch and shake my head when I see my grandchildren rip into Christmas wrapping as the Chanukah lights burn just a few feet away.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day to return the Jewish people not only to Israel but to themselves.

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A Partnership of Christianity and Orthodox Judaism?

A group of prominent Orthodox rabbis in Israel, the United States and Europe have issued a historic public statement affirming that Christianity is “the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations” and urging Jews and Christians to “work together as partners to address the moral challenges of our era.”

-Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D
“Orthodox Rabbis Issue Groundbreaking Declaration of Affirming ‘Partnership’ with Christianity”
BreitBart.com

Actually, I heard about this a few days ago but according to one Jewish source, this is to be dismissed as a “bunch of interfaith liberal rabbis” attempting to mollify Christians (and Muslims) by (hopefully) having everyone “make nice” wi one another.

I didn’t think anymore about it until I saw the BreitBart.com article on Facebook, however, since BreitBart isn’t known to be unbiased, I thought I’d look for other news sources covering the story.

pope francis
2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea

Apparently, this is associated with something I wrote recently regarding how the Vatican has changed it’s stance on converting Jews. It’s not that the Roman Catholic church has ceased all efforts to share their version of Jesus Christ with Jewish people, it’s simply that they state they no longer have a specific mission to the Jews. They also (apparently) now believe that Jews have a covenant relationship with God without first having to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Messiah.

Anyway, I found a couple of other sources, one being The Times of Israel and the other being Christianity Today.

The Times of Israel story says in part:

In its statement, “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians,” the rabbis who signed the statement “seek to do the will of our Father in Heaven by accepting the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters.”

“It is a groundbreaking statement,” Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn said. “It’s the only statement I know of by an international Orthodox body that talks about the practical and theological relationship with the Roman Catholic church after Nostra Aetate.”

Rabbi Korn, who lives in Teaneck and Jerusalem, was one of the drafters of the statement, which was published by the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, an interfaith center in Israel founded by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Rabbi Korn is the center’s academic director.

Of course, an organization called The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) would have a vested interest in promoting good Jewish-Christian relations, so this statement can’t be a complete surprise.

epelman rosen
Image: Alessandra Tarantino / AP Images / Rabbi Claudio Epelman and Rabbi David Rosen

But just as the Catholic statement previously issued does not represent formal policy of the Vatican, the Christianity Today (CT) story made this observation:

While the Jewish statement is a signpost of improving Jewish-Christian relationships, it shouldn’t be interpreted as a consensus among Jewish rabbis, Orthodox rabbi Yehiel Poupko told CT.

“No major Jewish Halachic (Jewish legal) authority has signed the statement,” he said. “And Jewish thought has, for centuries, emerged not from individuals signing letters but from a long, slow process of scholarship that builds communal consensus. This statement did not do that. In addition, complex theological issues do not readily lend themselves to full expression in short sentences presented in brief public statements.”

In other words, steps are being taken in the right direction (seemingly), but nothing is official. This won’t change things as much as some folks wish it would. However, the CT story added:

But it isn’t meaningless.

“The statement is a very real indication that the Orthodox rabbinate is grappling with how to understand Christianity in an era when Christianity is reaching out to Judaism and has repented of its sins against us,” he said.

The warm relationship between Jews and evangelicals is still in its infancy, Poupko said. “We are feeling our way, and this statement should not be viewed as a consensus, let alone a final statement. Rather, it’s an indication of the theological and intellectual ferment in the Orthodox rabbinate about Christianity.”

Christianity—and Islam, for that matter—are actually Jewish success stories, he said, “because Christianity and Islam use the Torah, and as a consequence, people who would now be pagans have knowledge of and are in relationship with the one God.”

I suppose this goes along with something I quoted yesterday from this source:

By the way, Maimonides states that the popularity of Christianity and Islam is part of God’s plan to spread the ideals of Torah throughout the world. This moves society closer to a perfected state of morality and toward a greater understanding of God. All this is in preparation for the Messianic age.

But as the CT article points out:

Experts told CT that neither statement wipes out the significant theological differences between Christians and Jews.

brickner
David Brickner – Jews for Jesus

Not only that, but as you might imagine, a number of Christian evangelical organizations are rather put out by both the Vatican’s statement and that of (possibly) CJCUC:

Jews for Jesus executive director David Brickner was more forceful, calling the Vatican’s position “egregious.”

And…

Jim Melnick, international coordinator of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE), agreed.

However, the CT article ended with a quote from Jason Poling, a “co-convener of the national Evangelical-Jewish Conversation:”

But the theological divide shouldn’t stop the Jewish-Christian conversation, he said. “Jewish-Christian relations can only be enriched by the participation of colleagues like these Orthodox rabbis who recognize theological pluralism as a phenomenon without embracing it as doctrine.”

Curious, I went to the CJCUC site to read the actual statement. The statement includes seven somewhat lengthy points so I won’t quote them here. You can click the link and read them for yourself, along with a list of the Orthodox Rabbis who signed it (electronically).

The bottom line? I’m not sure there is one, at least nothing particularly dramatic. At best, I’d have to say this is part of the slow evolution the Christian and Jewish worlds are experiencing as we enter into the “birthpangs of the Messiah,” anticipating the events that will lead to war and destruction which will bring Israel to the brink of non-existence before the Messiah returns to bring victory, redemption, restoration, and justice.

Doing It Right

My family lives in Greenwood, Mississippi. Nestled in the heart of the Delta, we are proud of our small-but-vibrant shul; even when only a dozen or so folks fill the pews, time spent in our building is meaningful. However, recently we saw our sanctuary overflowing with guests for the first time in years—and we were honored to host an event that led to powerful connections and conversations with our Delta neighbors.

-Gail Goldberg
“Christians and Jews Sharing Shabbat in the Delta”
MyJewishLearning.com

Derek Leman on this blog Messianic Jewish Musings, refers to himself as:

…a rabbi, writer, and speaker at the intersection of Judaism and Christianity, Jesus and Torah, temple and atonement.

That last part about being at an intersection probably describes any Jew or Gentile who is involved in the Messianic movement in any sense, for we hold views and convictions that aren’t exactly typical in more normative Judaism or Christianity. In fact, we end up getting into plenty of arguments with just about everyone because we don’t fit into anyone’s convenient religious mold.

But Gail Goldberg’s article attracted my attention because it shows a portrait of Jews and Christians “doing it right,” of laying aside the ancient apprehension and animosity and for one brief evening, sharing the Shabbat in a synagogue in peace.

People came from all over to hear her speak; Christians were challenged and enriched by her teachings on Christianity, and Jewish attendees were similarly riveted by her approach to scholarship and religious studies transcending both religions. Though the program took place in a synagogue, AJ knew her audience was primarily Christian. She addressed all equally, and encouraged all to be open to challenge and new notions. As local bookstore employee and program partner Steve Iwanski noted in his wonderful blog following AJ’s presentation: “…she sought to bring light to the parts of Jewish faith that may be unfamiliar to the typical Christian.

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

This isn’t describing a Messianic anything. These are Jews and Christians outside our little movement who nevertheless, found a bridge by which they could cross a two-thousand year old gap and find some common ground. There could be a majority of Christians amid Jewish community and no one felt threatened.

Ms. Goldberg’s article finishes with:

That night, I felt the pride of our ancestors – Ilse (Ilse Goldberg, Gail Goldberg’s 86-year-old mother-in-law) in the room, and others no longer with us. If they could have seen the full pews and felt the support and investment of our neighbors, I know how proud the previous generations of the congregation would be. I’m just honored that I could be part of such a wonderful communal experience, and grateful to see our shul stuffed to the gills with long-time supporters and first-time visitors. I hope to see our friends and neighbors joining us in fellowship many more times in the future.

The Messianic Jewish movement purports to share a common Messiah and a common God between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of the Master, and yet we see a lot of friction and many separate ways of attempting to operationalize our “union”. Some Jews who aren’t Messianic like my friend Gene, find it necessary to point out the rather stark differences between Messianic Judaism/Christianity and Orthodox Judaism, which, whether he means to or not, continues to drive a wedge between Jew and Christian.

But as we’ve seen in the quotes above, it doesn’t have to be that way.

But this isn’t the only example:

We moved to the Czech Republic eight years ago to serve God and our new community and I had expectations of what life would be like. When I stand in the synagogue now on Friday nights, looking out at our growing group of spiritual sojourners singing and praying in Hebrew, Czech, and English, I am taken aback by what God has done. He has demolished my expectations and from the rubble built something worthy, something glorious.

My husband and I had just started being observant. We started slowly, first lighting candles on Shabbat, then observing festivals. He began to wear his kippah, I would cover my head during prayer. I started learning Hebrew and to sing the prayers in my new siddur. Each tentative step brought me closer to my heritage and closer to the way I found to truly express my love for God. As we strolled one day through the medieval alleyways of Cesky Krumlov, we stumbled upon a synagogue, hidden away off the beaten path. It was just finished being reconstructed and I felt a leap from within me. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could sometime light the Shabbat candles here at the synagogue?”, I whispered in my heart and ever so quietly to my husband. It was as if saying the words too loudly would damage them extinguishing the hope that had been lit..

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

This was written by Krista, one of Derek’s students, for his blog post A Synagogue in the Czech Republic. You can click on the link to get the whole story, but here’s what I want to show you:

Ours is an inter-faith group. All are welcome. “Isms” are left at the door. Though the service is conservative and very traditional, there is an atmosphere of family here, humanity seeking the Creator and learning how to worship together. Many who come are Christian, Baha’i, Hindu, Jewish and agnostic. We save the discussions for the café which used to be the Rabbi’s house. Ruth remembers it as it was when her dear Rabbi lived there. Now we sing and pray and talk about deep topics there over tea and cake. I invite those who might want to delve deeper to our house for once a week gatherings, Mussar and Bible Studies. As a Messianic Jew, I share my thoughts and beliefs about Messiah during these group times at our home.

I’m not saying every synagogue, Messianic or otherwise, has to be this way, but here we have two examples where in Jewish religious and community space, not everyone was Jewish and in the latter case, there was acceptance of a Messianic Jew as a Jew by non-Messianic Jews and by many other faith traditions including Christianity.

Krista also wrote:

This burgeoning community is in need. We have just filled out the paperwork to be recognized as a Jewish Community by the Ministry of the Interior.

Unfortunately, it was suggested that this Czech synagogue was pulling a “bait-and-switch” since Krista describes it as an interfaith community, but in his response to that comment, Derek said that:

Gene is wondering if a bait and switch is going on in Cesky Krumlov and I answered that: no. The people there are happy with an interfaith community and there is nothing deceptive about it.

Derek also said to Gene (sorry to keep bringing you up Gene, but I can’t avoid it in this context):

Your idea that Jews don’t like Christians or that Jews want to keep Jesus away with a ten foot pole, just isn’t true. Maybe your journey away from Jesus into Orthodox Judaism colors your perception. Most Jews are open to all sorts of things, including Bahai and Buddhism. People who insist on sharp borderlines do not represent most people in the world who take joy in learning from many streams of religion, philosophy, arts, politics, etc. If you were to approach these people and say, “This is bad, you shouldn’t do it,” I think they’d ask who the heck you think you are. Now having said that, the services in the synagogue are simply Jewish prayers and songs. The groups that meet at other times are not in the synagogue. It is called Interfaith. Some people like it. You might not be one of them.

I found that statement slightly ironic given that within Messianic Judaism, there are voices who advocate for a sharp division between Gentiles and Jews, and at times I’ve been one of those voices.

sky bridgeBut there’s got to be someplace where we too can build our bridge, stand together in a common place, break bread together, and find a mutual peace.

Maybe Gail Goldberg’s synagogue in Greenwood, Mississippi, and Krista’s shul in Cesky Krumlov are giving us just a tiny peek into the world of the Messianic Kingdom of peace. Maybe someday we can all learn to “do it right.” Someday, we can put aside our differences and while being distinct, also as one bow our knee to One God.

If You Had to Choose Between Jesus and Your Spouse…

If someone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother and his wife and his children and his brothers and his sisters and even his own life, he is not worthy to be my disciple.

Luke 14:26 (DHE Gospels)

I know I’m quoting this verse out of context, but I find it hard to reconcile with the following.

Have you not read that from the beginning the Maker “created them male and female,” and it says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? If so, they are not two any longer, but one flesh. Thus, what God has joined, man must not divide.

Matthew 19:6 (DHE Gospels)

On the one hand, Jesus seems to value marriage quite highly (what God has joined) but on the other hand, we are to reject (hate) our family including our wives, presumably if our family opposes our becoming disciples of Jesus.

As an intermarried husband, this is particularly difficult for me, especially when I see my marriage through this scripture:

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through [h]her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 7:12-16 (NASB)

Also, Ephesians 5:22-33 says many fine things about marriage and how a husband and wife are to love one another. How can God join us together, tell us how to love, say that it is acceptable for a believing spouse to be joined with an unbelieving spouse if both are willing, and then tell the husband he is not worthy of being a disciple is he does not hate his wife?

intermarriageThis is one of those “difficult sayings of Jesus” that isn’t easy to answer.

Messianic or “Jewish-friendly” Christian commentaries on such specific topics aren’t always readily available, but I did find a conventional Christian response by Pastor Mark Driscoll. I know nothing about him, but he did write something detailed on this particular verse.

Jesus’ call to discipleship can be difficult. Contrary to common practice today, Jesus was not in the business of getting anyone and everyone he could in the door of his discipleship program. Instead, he took painstaking measures to clarify the costs of following him. Those who heard him often abandoned their pursuit after hearing his messages (John 6:52–71). In keeping with this truth, Jesus’ requirements for discipleship set out in Luke 14:26 are hard for us to hear.

Thankfully, there is another sense for the word “hate,” as it pertains to this passage. When it’s used in the Old Testament, particularly in the Wisdom Literature, the word loses its psychological force (Michel, “μισεω,” in TDNT, 4:687.). Instead, it carries a sense of intensified choice. For instance, in Proverbs, the writer often instructs the reader to choose righteousness over evil, often worded in terms of love and hate. The call is to reject (= hate) evil and to embrace (= love) righteousness. In Jesus’ statement here in Luke 14:26, the same principle is at play.

-Driscoll, “Tough Text Tuesday – Luke 14:26”
pastormark.tv

That helps a little but not as much as you might think. Still, the suggestion of a choice between two paths reminded me somewhat of a Kal va-chomer or “lighter to heavier” argument. If I reword the passage from Luke 14, I could say, “If you love your wife whom God has joined with you, how much more should you love Messiah, who God brought for the sake of the world?”

I suppose that could be worded better, but you get the idea. No, I’m not rewriting the Bible, far be it from me to do so. But I am suggesting in my own wee commentary (call it a small midrash, for what it’s worth) that, even if my wife is an unbeliever, I don’t have to hate her so I can love Jesus. I can love my wife, and I can also apprehend the great requirement to love and be devoted to Messiah, Son of David, who is the living embodiment of God’s promises for atonement, redemption, salvation, and the resurrection. He is the hope, not just for me, but for everyone. He is the hope that someday my wife will be saved, so in a way, by choosing him, I am also choosing her, for if I should choose her by rejecting Jesus, then how do I know I’m not dooming us both? Loving Jesus then, is also loving my wife.

The Battle Between Easter and Passover

Passover and Easter are fast approaching, and I am still immersed in speaking and traveling in support of my book, Being Both. So I am reposting some essays from the archives. This one dates from the spring of 2010. Enjoy!

-Susan Katz Miller
“Passover: Three Generations of Interfaith Family”
On Being Both

The “collision” of Easter and Passover is hitting me particularly hard this year. Last year I “celebrated” both. I put that word in quotes because I had the traditional Passover seder in my home as I do every year, but for the first time in over a decade, I went to the “Resurrection Sunday” (they don’t call it “Easter”) service at the church I currently attend.

I remember that Sunday morning as I was leaving for services. It was too late to do anything about it and since I’d been going to church for months, I didn’t think my wife would mind. But as I was getting up to leave, the hurt I saw in her eyes was almost tangible. It was too late to stop and as I drove away from our house, I realized that this was probably the worst thing I could have done…attend an Easter service while being married to a Jew.

In the history of the Church how many passion plays were immediately followed by a pogrom?

I remember quite some number of years ago attending Shabbat services at our local Conservative/Reform synagogue. Everyone was talking about the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ (2004) which had just been released. All of the Jewish people in the room were absolutely terrified.

In the history of the Church how many passion plays were immediately followed by a pogrom?

I’ve never seen “Passion” and I never will. I realize Evangelical Christians won’t understand my reasoning, but I know the film would just make me angry and I know bringing the DVD into my home would be insulting to my Jewish family.

Passover this year begins the evening of Monday, April 14th and concludes the evening of Tuesday, April 22nd. Easter Sunday is on April 20th. I’ve never really connected to Palm Sunday or Good Friday, so I’m pretty detached from the whole sequence of Easter related events. And yet, especially this year, Easter and Passover seem heavily intertwined.

This coming Sunday, the church service will be quite different from normal. Not only will Pastor be speaking about Passover, but the entire service will be geared around Pesach. No, I don’t mean they will be conducting a seder, but there will be “Passover related” music such as “My Passover Things,” “The Ballad of the Four Sons,” and “Don’t Sit on the Afikomen.” The program does include a couple of more traditional pieces of music such as “Dayeinu” and Hallel,” but when I first saw this in the church bulletin last week, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend or not. Also, and this is the heavy punctuation to the event, they will also be conducting a communion service. I don’t begin to know how to wrap my brain around a matzah-communion wafer mashup.

Normally, communion is only offered in the evening service at this church, perhaps as an inducement to get people to attend both morning and evening services. I haven’t taken an actual communion since first coming to faith as a Christian. I’ve always practiced ”Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24) as part of my Passover observance. Communion, to me, seemed at least redundant if not a skewed path away from this additional meaning Messiah attached to the Pesach meal.

The problem of whether or not to attend became moot when I was asked to help a family move to their new home this coming weekend. This is a friend of my wife’s, a Jewish woman, a single mother with three sons, all with some degree of disability. I’ve helped out this family in small ways before and long-planned to be part of the “grunt labor” when it was time for them to move.

PassoverMy wife is slowly winding things up for our Pesach seder this year. She ordered the matzah for the meal from some place in Vermont that processes the matzah from the growing of the wheat through baking, packaging, and shipping the matzah. For the rest of the week of unleavened bread, we’ll be eating more local fare (although we’ve already opened a box and have started munching).

But while people like Susan Katz Miller can celebrate interfaith families and (apparently) not encounter significant dissonance between Christian and Jewish worlds, there are points in my life experience where I can’t avoid them. One point I faced was last year on Easter, uh…excuse me, Resurrection Sunday, as I was about to walk out the door and looked one more time at the expression on my Jewish wife’s face. I don’t think I can take seeing that hurt and feeling that guilt again.

But there’s another less personal but still important reason.

Imagine this alternate prophetic scenario, which I believe accords far better with the Jewish prophets than the New Testament’s version of the future, where the glorious multinational Church and Jesus are reunited. This is not a version of future events where Jews belatedly accept and worship the messiah they “murdered” two thousand years ago, and finally join the Church, feeling very sorry for not recognizing Jesus all along. The unfolding events looks (sic) decidedly different than what the authors of the gospels, Paul and the author of Revelation would have their readers believe. This is my reading of the Jewish prophets. I took some liberties with filling in the blanks.

-Gene Shlomovich
“The future of Israel, Messiah and the World (the Jewish version)”
Daily Minyan

LevitesGene has made it something of a mission to try to educate Christians, including Hebrew Roots Christians and Messianic Gentiles, of the error of our ways, and how the Bible does not really presuppose “the Church” in any form, but still allows the people of the nations to join with Israel in the worship of the God of Israel. But the people of the nations, including (especially) Christians, are much less Israel-friendly in his scenario.

The real Jewish messiah appears on the scene. He’s not Jesus, but a virtuous and devout Jewish man who is able to unite all Jews. While he knows full well the tradition of Davidic lineage of his family, he does not find it significant when it comes to himself, at least not at this time. After all, many Jews today are able to do the same. Coming from a deeply devout family which nevertheless identified with Jews of all walks of life and participated in the national life of Israel, he is both a scholar and experienced military leader. Humble and wise, he is respected by all sections of the Jewish society. He doesn’t call himself a messiah. In fact, just like his ancient predecessor, Moses, he doesn’t even know that he too one day will help lead Israel – only G-d does. Neither has he been anointed – this is still to come. Still, the nations of the world hate and oppose him and work against him, as they’ve done to every Jewish leader in Israel‘s history. Some already derogatorily speak of this Jewish leader as a false messiah, scorning and ridiculing the fact that he’s so respected by the Jewish people while Jesus has been rejected.

Indeed, he’s nothing what they expected to see in a messiah as Christianity long portrayed him – not the glorious all-powerful heavenly god-man coming back for his beloved Church. It does not take long for this leader of the Jewish nation to branded as the “antichrist”. Preachers preach fiery sermons in their churches against him and against the Jews who fell “under his spell just as Jesus, Paul and John predicted”. No Christian may believe in him or support him in any way, or they risk losing their salvation. Christian tourism to Israel dries up as do other forms of Christian support, with many Christians denominations joining the boycott of the Jewish nation. Jews are ridiculed for their “folly” and the New Testament is held up as having already predicted everything the Jews will do. Muslims, who along with Christians likewise believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that no one else fits the bill, also reject the leadership of the real Jewish Messiah and join with the Western world in their opposition to him and the nation of Israel.

This is the more traditional Jewish viewpoint of the Messiah, the last battle, and the ultimate victory of Israel over her enemies. Gene’s last mention of Jesus will seem particularly difficult for most Christians:

The idols of the nations which do not save (including Jesus) are destroyed, are put away for good and are remembered no more. All false prophets and idol worshipers will be ashamed – they will all realize that they inherited nothing but lies from their forefathers.

sunrise-easter-serviceWhile I consider Gene to be my friend, I am more than conscious of the gulf that lies between us, it’s incredible width, it’s gaping depth, because while I believe (unlike most Christians) in the primacy of Israel and that it will not be replaced by “the Church” as God’s central focus of devotion, love, and the receiver of all the covenant promises, our perception of not only the identity of Messiah, but of his very nature, character, role, and mission as Israel’s King are dramatically different and tremendously at odds.

And as Gene knows quite well, having personally experienced persecution as a Jew in his native Russia, after every passion play, there is a pogrom.

We don’t have pogroms as such in America in the 21st century, but the very act of celebrating Easter is bound to send out some sort of spiritual tremor into the atmosphere that is keenly felt by many Jews. Certainly in interfaith families, it is unavoidable. A collision of Easter and Passover.

My own answer this year will be to not attend Easter or Resurrection Day services. I’m not even sure that Jesus intended to add Easter to the calendar of religious moedim and I’m sure he didn’t intend for Easter to actually replace Passover.

Today, churches all over the U.S. pay some sort of attention to Passover. It’s usually the one festival of Judaism Christians know something about, thanks to the “Last Supper” of Jesus. One of the Jewish Christians at the church I attend will be holding a Passover seder and is inviting anyone in the church who wants to attend. Church and the Passover. It almost seems like an oxymoron.

What will Passover be like in the Messianic Age? My guess is that, from Gene’s point of view, “reformed Christians” will not be attending, at least to eat the Pascal meal, since only men who are circumcised may eat of the sacrifice in the Messiah-built temple. From the Church’s point of view, while some Christians believe there will be a third temple, many more believe that since “Christ is our sacrifice,” the actual sacrificial system will not be reinitiated, and therefore, there will be no Passover sacrifice.

If anyone celebrates Passover, it will be as a memorial of Christ’s Last Supper. Probably the expectation is that since Communion seems to have replaced Passover, that will be the more significant event.

Even from my point of view, one that holds the belief in a third temple, in the return of the sacrifices, and the continued commemoration of all of the moadim, including Passover, I can’t see how I, an uncircumcised male, would be able to eat of the Pascal offering with my Jewish family (assuming they made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Pesach) or even sit at the same table with them, lest my presence render the offering tamei (unclean).

i_give_upI know Christians and Hebrew Roots Gentiles will say that I’m rebuilding the dividing wall between Gentiles and Jews, but the Bible is the Bible. I can’t simply ignore certain parts of God’s Word because it’s inconvenient to Christian theology. I must not allow myself to stand in the way of God’s special, chosen people, the Jewish people. I believe there are personal sacrifices all believing Gentiles must make for the sake of Israel.

Only God can heal the nations after the terrible wars against Israel that will occur in the future. Only God can heal the rift between believing Gentiles and the Jewish people. For Gene, that healing comes at the price of our faith in Jesus as the Messiah. From my point of view, it comes at the price of Christian arrogant presumption that they (we) are the center of God’s universe and that the Jews either mean nothing at all, or at least have been reduced to “shield carriers” standing silently in the background of our tragic play.

Only God can heal how distant I feel from Him sometimes, and how distant I can feel from Jewish people, even in my own family, because of my faith.

Only God can heal us…

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

One of these things is not like the othersCommunity. It’s that thing, the way of life, that we all want but we’re just not quite sure how to pull it off successfully. It’s that tantalizing concept that promises so much reward, and yet it seems so elusive. Its promise sometimes causes us to cut ties where we are and move somewhere else where we hope to find greener pastures, better friends, and/or become part of a different community. Then when we do get a taste of real community, it’s only a matter of time before our hearts are stunned with hurt or insult. But a lack of community causes us to feel despondent, alone, and often times as if we’re missing out on something significant that was intended for us all along. This community thing can really be disappointing!

-Lisa
“Community Disappointment”
Following the Ancient Paths

I wrote a lengthy response to this blog post, but when I pushed “Post Comment,” I received an error message and my comment was lost forever. It was a rather lengthy comment (go figure) and I suspect the blog application was complaining to me about it. I thought about re-writing the comment but decided to blog instead.

Lisa’s blog post addresses what we should already know. Being part of any group or community is hard work. It’s hard to join, it’s hard to sustain, it’s hard to adapt over time. This includes families, employers, and Lisa’s specific topic, religious organizations.

I can sympathize. A little over a year ago I “went back to church” and in that time have had many interesting, educational, and dismaying “adventures.” But as Lisa’s blog post suggests, this is to be expected. No group that involves multiple human beings is always going to run smoothly.

Over a year apart, I wrote the blog posts Why I Don’t Go to Church and Why I Go to Church, chronicling my internal struggle, the same one Lisa seems to be describing.

We live in a world that seems to praise isolationism, yet we instinctively know that we weren’t created to be loaners (sic). Somehow it’s considered a good thing when we can handle things alone, when we can appear stand tall with a backbreaking burden strapped to our backs, when we live such private lives that nobody knows what is really going on with us. Deep inside we know that it isn’t right to go through life all alone. We wrestle with wanting something yet not wanting the very same thing, pursuing it and rejecting it all at the same time.

-Lisa

As Lisa says, we want to go it alone to avoid all of the messiness of being part of a community, but when alone, we know that being isolated from community isn’t right, either. Sort of a “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em” situation.

The main point of my lost comment was the issue of competing interests. Affiliation with one community may conflict with another affiliation. In my case, I’m a Christian living with Jewish family members while attending a Christian church. How does that work?

Another set of competing interests has to do with entering into and finding a niche within a community. I recently declared that I’m a Christian who studies Messianic Judaism, and yet I attend a very fundamentalist Baptist church in Southwestern Idaho. If you’ve read any of my blog posts about my conversations with my Pastor, you know that although we get along, we disagree on a number of fundamental (no pun intended) elements of what faith in Messiah means, particularly to the Jewish people.

Can a square peg successfully integrate into a church of round holes? Good question.

I recently finished the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It tells the story of Pi, born and raised in India, from childhood to adulthood through a series of flashbacks, with the main action taking place aboard a lifeboat shortly after Pi’s family died in a shipwreck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Pi is the only human survivor, but finds that he must share the lifeboat with an injured Zebra, an Orangutan, a Hyena, and a 450 pound, male adult Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker (Pi’s father was a zookeeper and they were transporting a number of their animals from India to their new home in Canada).

life_of_pi_by_megatruh-d5noigdThe other interesting thing besides how Pi manages to survive seven months adrift at sea sharing a lifeboat with a Tiger (the other animals didn’t make it), is that as a child, Pi adopted three religious traditions, first Hinduism, then Christianity (Catholicism), and finally Islam. Pi practiced all three religions simultaneously, ignoring the basic tenet of each that these religions are exclusivist. That is, if you belong to one, you cannot also belong to any other religion.

Pi managed to observe each religious tradition in parallel without arousing suspicion for a while, but eventually it caught up with him, and he was finally confronted by all three congregational leaders at the same time in a public place in front of his parents.

When questioned about why he thought he could be a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim all at the same time, he responds by saying that he “just wants to love God.” (Martel, pg 69)

The book follows Pi’s life into adulthood and middle age where he is married with two children and a small dog and living in Toronto. He still practices all three religions, with no mention of any conflict in his family or in any of the involved congregations, but “Life of Pi” is a work of fiction and operates often at the level of religious allegory (I still haven’t figured out what the carnivorous island is supposed to mean).

In real life, Pi would never be able to successfully manage practicing all three religions, not only because of the conflicts between those communities, but the likely conflict with his own family, particularly his wife, who almost certainly had formed her religious or irreligious affiliations before she ever met and married Pi.

I have to admit, when I read about the sheer audacity and innocence of Pi’s devotion to three different religious branches, cherishing the best in all three, I felt a moment of admiration and even envy. What would it be like to open your arms wide and to take in and accept humanity’s vast range of traditions in worshiping God just for the sheer love of God?

It isn’t practical, which I suspect is one of the reasons why Martel’s novel is called a fantasy.

But Interfaith communities aren’t unheard of in our world. Author Susan Katz Miller maintains the On Being Both blog which celebrates a variety of interfaith families and communities, but such celebrations aside, one does not easily navigate the stormy seas that occur when theologies, doctrines, and dogmas clash in the narrow straits between one religion and another.

The solution in my own family, as it stands now, is something of a compartmentalization of each religion. In my home, Christianity and Judaism exist in separate silos, rarely communicating across the gap between them for the sake of peace. I do occasionally get emails from my wife containing links to news or information items on Israel or Judaism but I’m very careful not to bring up Christianity.

The ugly times is where our communities can grow stronger, more dedicated to one another, where each member grows in righteousness and in the image of our Master. The challenge is on the table. Are we ready to accept it?

-Lisa

Sesame StreetIt is true that adversity can produce stronger communities, but there’s a line that, if crossed, means that adversity has exceeded manageable limits and is destructive, not constructive. Sort of like lifting weights at a gym to build strength but overtraining resulting in injury, sometimes serious injury.

The television show “Sesame Street” sometimes has a lesson in the form of a song called One of these things is not like the others and I know what that experience is like in spades. There are interfaith communities that (seemingly) successfully co-exist within the same larger group, and there are interfaith families that are created and thrive for decades (such as my own), but that doesn’t mean it’s easy (which is what Lisa’s blog is all about).

But beyond being “not easy,” there are times when “not easy” becomes impossible or at least highly improbable, like a fourteen-year old boy from India who is a practicing Hindu, Christian, and Muslim, or the same boy two years later who manages to survive for seven months in the Pacific Ocean sharing a lifeboat with a large Bengal Tiger. How long can such a relationship between communities last before something gives?