Tag Archives: intermarriage

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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Renewing the Lone Messianic Gentile

I came across a brief article on Rabbi Daniel Siegel’s blog called “When the Rebbe Asks: Renewing Ger Toshav,” which apparently is the topic of a soon to be published book. Actually, I found it posted on a closed Facebook group for “Messianic Gentiles”. This is the same group that has historically drawn a parallel between the Ger Toshav (“resident alien” in Jewish community) and the Messianic Gentile. I chronicled their perspective in a number of my blog posts including Not a Noahide (which I was subsequently reminded would better have been called “More than a Noahide”).

Although I no longer fret so much over issues of identity or praxis, there was something that caught my attention:

Reb Zalman favoured the renewal of the Ger Toshav as an alternative to a full conversion where it was clear that the person did not really want to become a fully practicing Jew. He wanted to see an alternative which honoured the person’s desire to be part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length.

This was a response to a problem noted in Judaism. When a Jew is married to a non-Jew, there traditionally has been two responses. The non-Jew converts to Judaism or the Jew ignores any Rabbinic direction and most likely falls away from Jewish community and practice.

An additional problem is noted in terms of the standards for practice that Jewish community holds for the Jewish convert. Often, in the author’s opinion and referencing Reb Zalman, said-observance of the convert is more lax, certainly not up to the standard of the presiding Rabbinic court. One example of this mentioned in the article is:

Some years ago, Reb Zalman challenged what he saw as too much leniency in our conversion process, to the point where he said that if we did not put a tallit kattan on a Jew by choice as he (in this case) emerged from the mikveh, then we had done nothing.

It was suggested that at least some of the converts did not truly desire to follow all of the mitzvot and converted for the sake of their Jewish spouse.

IntermarriageSo is there an alternative?

There is.

Supporting the renewal of the Ger Toshav, a non-Jew who is already married to a Jew, who does not want to follow the mitzvot as a Jew, but who is in full support of their spouse’s involvement in Jewish community and praxis.

How does this apply to the aforementioned comparison between the Ger Toshav and the Messianic Gentile?

Well, in normative Jewish community, a Messianic Gentile would in no way be considered to map to a Ger Toshav. In fact, a union between a Jew and a Messianic Gentile would be viewed as an intermarriage between a Jew and a Christian, something not in any way seen as desirable in Jewish community.

In my own small experience in Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots groups, it is fairly common for Jews and non-Jews to be intermarried. In fact, again in my experience, the sort of Jews attracted to Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots are either secular Jews or Jews who have adopted Christian practice and identity, and yet who also have a desire to reconnect to being a Jew.

The participation for many intermarried couples in Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots then, could be seen as a sort of synthesis between Christian and Jewish values and lifestyle.

Of course, I can’t speak for every intermarried couple involved in those movements, but when I was associated with those communities, that was what I saw.

Turning to my own situation as a non-Jew married to a Jew, in my case, my spouse is affiliated with normative Jewish community, specifically the Chabad and the local combined Reform/Conservative shul. She in no way can be considered as having any sort of association with Yeshua-worshippers or Christians (which is what she considers me).

synagogueSo we come back to the definition of a Ger Toshav as a person who is part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length. Well, that’s not exactly me, since I’m not part of a Jewish community at all. In fact, I’m not currently part of any worship or faith community.

However, as quoted from the Preface of the Ger Toshav book (PDF), am I a member of this “community”?

There, almost the entire Jewish leadership was married to non-Jews whose spouses, in turn, were full contributors to the community’s life and supporters of their spouses’ involvement, yet choosing not to become Jews themselves.

Nope. That would imply that I’m involved in synagogue life with my wife and support her involvement from that platform.

However, combining “at arm’s length” with supporting my spouse’s involvement in Jewish life, I find a definition of myself, and by “arm’s length” I mean I stay away from her Jewish community completely.

This isn’t news to me. It’s just interesting to find this sort of thing recorded in modern Jewish literature.

In Messianic Judaism, you can probably find many non-Jews married to Jews who are part of Jewish community and support their spouse’s full observance of the mitzvot (keeping in mind that depending on which Messianic Jewish community you sample, the level of observance will vary).

As far as my wife’s level of observance, that’s entirely up to her. Frankly, I wish she were more observant, but as she once said to me (and rather pointedly at that), she doesn’t need my permission to be Jewish.

So I keep my nose out of her business in that arena. I also have surrendered anything that even resembles Jewish praxis since she would no doubt see it as “Evangelical Jewish Cosplay”. She even wonders why, outside the home, I still avoid bacon, shrimp, and other trief, which is just about my only remaining concession to my former lifestyle.

generic white guy
Image: Cafepress.com

I’m sure a number of my former associates would be aghast to read those words (or perhaps they wouldn’t), but in some sense they were also the prompt, or part of it anyway.

The missus is my main motivation for the decisions that I’ve made, but I’m also mindful that the Messianic Jewish community in all its forms and associations, continues to struggle with just how to implement Gentile involvement in their Jewish community, keeping in mind that at least in the western nations, most Messianic Jewish communities are made up of mostly non-Jews.

I know the ideal is to create Messianic Jewish community by Jews and for Jews, and I continue to support that ideal, but it is my belief that the dream will not be realized until Messiah returns and draws his people Israel to him.

So where does that lead us?

For those non-Jews out there who adhere to the values and practices of being involved in Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities and who are not intermarried, not a lot. I’m sure your congregation has standards of behavior and practice for the non-Jews among them, so like any member of a congregation, you adhere to those standards or find someplace else to worship.

For non-Jews married to Jews and part of the previously referenced communities, it is likely you and your spouse share the same values and beliefs, and so there is little or no dissonance between you. Only in Messianic Jewish groups with a Jewish praxis approaching Conservative or Orthodox would there be any noticeable distinction between the observance of the Jewish and non-Jewish spouse (again, this is my opinion, your mileage may vary).

For you non-Jews who have community within a Christian setting and your beliefs are not widely accepted by your peers, you have a tough road to travel. I tried that for two years and ultimately got nowhere, though I learned a lot along the way.

If you are married to a more traditionally Christian partner, then what you experience may be similar to my own marital situation. You may share the vast majority of your lives with each other but there will always be a line neither of you may cross. The most important part of you becomes isolated from your marriage.

risk
Image: mirror.co.uk

It’s a very dicey place to live. I know. I live there.

With neither support at home or community, you depend on the Holy Spirit alone to get to through each day while maintaining a relationship with God. If you’re married to a normative Christian, renouncing a Messianic perspective and taking up the mantle of traditional Christianity becomes the temptation.

For folks like me, it’s renouncing Yeshua entirely. Even if I did that, I doubt the missus would accept my adopting the Ger Toshav identity, so I’d still be alone in belief or disbelief as the case may be.

Assuming Hashem has control of all things, I wonder why He would sanction this perpetual walk along a sheer cliff. Or perhaps like the question, “why do bad things happen to good people,” it’s simply a matter of living in a broken world fallen far from God. These events occur because the King has yet to assume his throne in Jerusalem and take up his reign.

So like the rest of humanity living precariously and dancing madly on the edge of a razor blade, I and those like me just have to keep hanging in there.

Renewing Her Relationship with Shabbos and Hashem

And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you.

Exodus 31:12-13 (JPS Tanakh)

The Talmud (Shabbos 10b) describes Shabbos as a special gift the Almighty gave to the Jewish people.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from “Observing Shabbos is a sign of your relationship with the Almighty,” p.218
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tisa
Growth Through Torah

My wife is continuing to renew her relationship with Hashem. Today (Shabbos, as I write this), she went to the Chabad for Shabbat services. I couldn’t be more delighted.

Why? Let me explain.

I’ve mentioned before that I believe the duty of non-Jews in Messiah and particularly those of us who identify as Messianic Gentiles, is to support, and if possible, inspire a return to greater Torah observance for Jewish people, and frankly, whether they’re disciples of Yeshua or not.

But without me doing a thing, something remarkable happened this morning. My wife (who is not Messianic in the slightest) went to Shabbat services. As I said above, I couldn’t be more delighted. She’s been lighting the Shabbos candle in our home somewhat intermittently over the past few months, but this is the first time in a long time when I’ve found her all dressed up and heading out the door to go to the Chabad to worship.

Shabbat candlesI’ve tried my hand at personal Shabbat observance and let’s say the results weren’t spectacular. Shabbat observance for anyone requires a great deal of discipline and preparation and really, I think it can only be done when it is fully integrated into your lifestyle. It would probably be best if you grew up in an observant home, but short of that, practicing and striving to observe Shabbos over the course of months, ideally with a knowledgable Jewish person guiding you, would certainly be effective.

But after my own “experiment,” and especially knowing my wife would not support me observing Shabbat (my “honey do” list has certain duties I must perform on Saturday), I decided that if it’s more important for her to observe Shabbat than it is for me, then my observing Shabbat, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t really matter all that much. I think Rabbi Pliskin would probably agree:

The Chofetz Chayim gave two parables to illustrate how Shabbos serves as a sign of the relationship between the Jewish people and the Almighty. When two people are engaged to be married they send each other gifts. Even if difficulties arise between them, as long as they keep the gifts that they received from each other we know they still plan to get married. But if we see that they have returned the gifts, then we know that the relationship between them is over. Similarly, as long as a person observes Shabbos we see that he still has a relationship with the Almighty.

-ibid

Granted, she drove to services and it’s possible she will perform other melachah today, but this is still a powerful leap forward.

The effect of observing the Sabbath properly has another dimension. The Midrash (Shemos 25) states: R’ Levi said, “If the Jews will observe Shabbos properly, even one day, the son of David will arrive (i.e. we will return to Eretz Yisrael).” Why? For it is considered the equivalent of all the mitzvos, as the verse states (Tehillim 95:7): “For He is our God and we are the flock He pastures and the sheep in His charge — even today, if we but heed His call!”

from A Mussar Thought for the Day
Sunday’s commentary on Torah Portion Vayakhel
A Daily Dose of Torah

Yes, this is midrash so we might not be able to take it literally, but I believe there is a certain truth involved in Jews performing the mitzvot with Kavanah, the return of Messiah, and the New Covenant promises of God to Israel, the Jewish people, being realized.

Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, that you may become cleansed; I will cleanse you from all your contamination and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow My decrees and guard My ordinances and fulfill them. You will dwell in the land that I gave to your forefathers; you will be a people to Me, and I will be a God to you.

Ezekiel 36:25-28 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

No, I’m not discounting the Messiah, and I know that no one comes to the Father except through the Son:

I am the bread of life. Anyone who comes to me will not be hungry, and one who believes in me will not thirst again.

John 6:35 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

MessiahI don’t believe that Yeshua-devotion and the New Covenant promises of God to Israel are mutually exclusive. In fact, they are inexorably tied to one another, since Messiah is the mediator of the New Covenant and he came the first time to lay the foundation and to make the first down payment of the New Covenant.

This may be for some of you as was said in the synagogue in Kefar Nachum (John 6:59-60), “This word is difficult. Who is able to hear it?”

Rabbi Derek Leman has been spending the past several weeks on his blog laying out his theological perspective on a Jewish understanding of the Bible including the Apostolic Scriptures, as it describes Hashem’s relationship with the ancient and modern Jewish people. One of the things he said, and I agree with him, is that God didn’t abandon the Jewish people, and switch to the Christian Church at the end of the Biblical narrative. He can be found just as commonly in the Synagogue as in the Church (and having worshiped in a synagogue setting in years past, I can attest that His Presence was there).

So I don’t believe that God has abandoned my Jewish wife anymore than He has abandoned me for being a Christian (or Messianic Gentile if you prefer). I do believe that God expects my wife, as a Jew, to observe the mitzvot, including the Shabbat, since they were given specifically to the Children of Israel (as opposed to all mankind) at Sinai. The existence of a large number of “grafted in” Gentiles does not take away uniquely Jewish obligations and duties to God, and if my being a disciple of Yeshua means anything at all, then it should mean that I will do everything in my power to support and encourage my wife to observe the mitzvot associated with Shabbos.

The first of the zemiros that many people sing on Friday night begins with the words: “Whoever hallows Shabbos as befits it, whoever safeguards Shabbos according to the law [and refrains] from desecrating it, his reward is exceedingly great, in accordance with his deed.”

from A Closer Look at the Siddur
Sunday’s commentary on Torah Portion Vayakhel
A Daily Dose of Torah

So even if she didn’t light the Shabbos candles last night but she davened at shul (today) on Shabbos, then in accordance with her deeds, may Hashem reward her.

Of course, this should only be the beginning:

Rashi comments on this that rest on Shabbos should be a permanent rest and not merely a temporary rest. I heard from Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz the following explanation: A temporary rest means that a person has not really changed his inner traits, but he merely controls them on Shabbos. He still has a bad temper and has a tendency to engage in quarrels, but because of the elevation of Shabbos he has self-discipline and these traits are not manifest. But the ultimate in Shabbos observance is that a person should uproot those negative traits which are contradictory to peace of mind on Shabbos. One needs to uproot such traits as anger and the tendency to quarrel with others. Only then is your rest on Shabbos a complete rest.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from “To have peace of mind on Shabbos you need to have mastery over your traits,” p.220
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tisa
Growth Through Torah

intermarriageI’m choosing to interpret this a bit differently than I think Rashi and Rabbi Pliskin have in mind. I think that when a Jewish person observes some portion of Shabbos but not others, they are achieving a sort of temporary rest. Only when a Jewish person observes all of the aspects of Shabbos do they achieve the permanent rest they find in the complete acceptance of Hashem’s gift to Israel.

I’m keenly aware that my wife very likely sees me as an obstruction to her Shabbos observance since, after all, not only am I not a Jewish husband, I am in fact, a Christian husband, and like most Jews, she sees Christian theology, doctrine, and practice as the antithesis to religious Judaism and Torah observance.

More’s the pity.

I probably embarrassed her this morning, though I didn’t mean to. I spent about an hour and a half at the gym and when I got home covered in sweat, she was just coming out of our bedroom dressed quite nicely. I was startled and although I thought I knew the answer, I asked where she was going.

“Where do you think?” she responded.

I was thrilled she was going to services but she said I was “acting weird about it.” I guess I didn’t get my actual emotions across, but then I know she doesn’t want me to comment too much about her observance or relationship with Jewish community.

In the end, if my staying home and doing chores on Shabbat somehow frees her to go to synagogue, daven with Jewish community, and to observe more of the mitzvot, then I am content to be in that role. This is the role, at least from my tiny viewpoint, that I believe God has assigned me as a Messianic Gentile. The rest is in Hashem’s hands.

Is Messianic Judaism Shrinking Because Almost All Other Judaisms are Shrinking?

James (and Chaya) …. what I am seeing today and I already saw that in my messianic days, on the other hand, is another trend, other than than just Gentiles being the majority in MJ places. There are virtually no new Jews coming into the Messianic movement. In my experience as someone who founded and helped run a sizable congregation that was very Jewish in orientation and in a very Jewish area, most of those who did come tended to be older (middle-aged and higher), all intermarried and very assimilated and they tended to migrate from one messianic place to another. There were virtually no young halachially Jewish people around, may be one (and he was mentally unstable and soon went back to the Baptist church no matter how hard we reached out to him). Most of the teens and twenties folks were either 100% Gentile or children of Jewish fathers. Other local messianic congregations nearby were in even worse shape, and I live in a state where there hundreds of thousands of Jews and tons of synagogues of all sorts. I addressed that on my “messianic” blog on numerous occasions. I am also seeing more and more former MJ’s (and messianic Gentiles) leave the messianic movement, in the last 5 years, many returning to Judaism or converting. I attribute it, in part, to much wider availability of information through internet, to aging of the Jewish messianics that are not being replaced by new blood and to the influx of the Gentiles.

-Gene Shlomovich
from his comment on my blog post
Much Ado About the Oral Law

I’m not quoting Gene to put him on the spot (not sure I’d be able to do that anyway) but only because I needed a quote that intimated that Messianic Judaism is neither a Judaism nor a viable religious movement because it contains relatively few halachically Jewish members and most of them are intermarried. Gene also emphasizes that the Jewish leaders are older and that few if any young Jews are joining the movement.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is because of the following:

If you leave out the Orthodox, 71.5% of American Jews marry outside the faith. Only 17% of children of intermarried couples will marry a Jew, and the largest block of American Jews under 40 are the unaffiliated. As Steven Weil, from the Orthodox Union, pointed out, “With a birthrate of only 1.9 children and an astoundingly high intermarriage rate, American Jewry is on a train speeding headlong into self-destruction.”

-Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith
“The Intermarriage Taboo”
Aish.com

It seems that the issues of intermarriage, assimilation, and lack of a younger Jewish membership aren’t exclusive to Messianic Judaism. However, let’s pursue the following:

On the other hand, the Orthodox are thriving. 83% of Orthodox Jews stay Orthodox. The birthrate among Orthodox Jews is significantly higher than most other religious groups (4.1 children per adult). Sarah Bunin Benor, a professor of Jewish studies at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said “Orthodox Jews will eventually likely be the majority of American Jews.” 60% of Jewish children in the New York City area live in Orthodox homes and that number will only increase.

It would seem as if the only group of Jews who are thriving and growing, at least in the U.S., are Orthodox Jews, specifically in the New York City area, which to the best of my knowledge, is one of the largest concentrations of Jewish people in this country.

JewishThat suggests the problem with Messianic Judaism attracting a larger Jewish base population and matters of intermarriage may not entirely be simply because of Yeshua-faith and a large Gentile membership (although those are certainly contributing factors), but also indicative of a much larger problem in western Jewry.

Of course that’s a lot to assume from a single article published on the web, but it does bring up the question of what Orthodox Judaism is doing that all of the other Judaisms (including Messianic) aren’t.

According to a study published by the Pew Research Center as reported by The Jewish Daily Forward:

The study’s numbers suggest that the Orthodox birthrate in the United States is far higher than that of most other religious groups. Pew found that Orthodox Jews averaged 4.1 children per adult, while America’s. general public averages 2.2 children. The Orthodox number is higher than the average for Protestants (2.2) and Catholics (2.4). Hispanic Catholics (3.1) come close, but still fall short.

Certainly a high birthrate is a significant variable but what keeps the younger population within Orthodox Judaism as they become adults and especially as they start families of their own?

“Orthodox life is very, very different than a conventional lifestyle,” said Alexander Rapaport, 35, a father of seven. Rapaport lives in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn’s Boro Park and runs the soup kitchen network Masbia. He described a social structure designed to encourage and support large families — and that structure has apparently succeeded in more than doubling its share of the Jewish population in less than two decades.

That’s more anecdotal rather than hard data, but conservative communities that espouse adherence to traditional values and have strong internal support systems tend to transmit those values across multiple generations with relatively little “mission drift.” You see this especially among Chasidic Jewish groups such as the Chabad.

The price such groups pay, if you want to think of it in those terms, is the inability to “blend in” with the prevalent culture. In other words, such Orthodox Jewish groups do not bow down at the altar of Political Correctness, even the liberal religious variety.

(As an aside, I should point you to an article I recently read called The Challenges of Parenting an Openly Gay Orthodox Teen to illustrate that Orthodox Judaism also has “shades of gray” woven into its fabric. If it matters, the source website Kveller.com is socially and religiously liberal, so their viewpoints will be biased accordingly.)

Which may be why most or all of the other Judaisms are struggling to maintain their unique identity in a multi-generational fashion beyond “bagels and lox,” as Rabbi Coopersmith put it. To further quote the Rabbi’s article:

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, got into a lot of hot water last week, when a copy of a speech she gave to a Florida branch of the Jewish Federation went public. She had to retract her words in order to calm things down.

Her party affiliation is irrelevant here; it’s not hard to imagine a Republican figure issuing a similar retraction. Outside of Orthodox circles you cannot come out and say that intermarriage and assimilation is a problem. It has become a taboo subject. In a not so distant past, stopping intermarriage and assimilation was the rallying cry used to garner support for Jewish outreach initiatives. Federations used the term “Jewish continuity,” to imply that the Jewish people have something of unique value worthy of preserving. Today it is likely you’ll be attacked for bigotry and racism and that rallying cry will more likely push Jews away.

Go to Aish.com to find out what Ms. Schultz uttered that was so terrible, but suffice it to say, it’s not popular in most branches of Judaism, let alone within many Christian groups (in my opinion), and certainly not in the view of American secular egalitarianism, to believe and publicly declare that maintaining the uniqueness of Jewish identity along with cultural and religious Judaism is not only a big deal, but absolutely vital to the continuation of the Jewish people as a people.

And yet, in spite of its apparent shortcomings, including a lack of Jewish membership and including a lack of a young Jewish presence, Messianic Judaism has repeatedly raised a loud and persistent voice requiring and demanding the protection of religious, cultural, and halachic Jewish identity within its communities.

IntermarriageAnd Messianic Judaism has been shot down from all sides for daring to say such a thing, just as was Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the aftermath of her statements at the Democratic National Committee. Ms. Schultz was forced to retract her “offending” words to calm the outrage leveled against her.

It used to be a taboo for Jews to marry outside, but now the taboo in many Jewish places is to dare to criticize intermarriage. More’s the pity (and I say this as an intermarried person).

Can Messianic Judaism afford to do the same as Ms. Schultz did to placate its critics and further risk the survival of Messianic Judaism as a wholly Jewishly-oriented community?

I’m not proposing any answers, but I think it’s important that, according to the data I’ve presented here, Messianic Judaism is suffering a crisis that is very much the same as many other Judaisms apart from the Orthodox.

I’m probably going to regret this, but for this one blog post only, I’m opening up comments. I may close them down just as fast, and I remind everyone that as the blog owner, I’m a benevolent dictator, not the leader of a democracy. Commenting here is a privilege I grant, not a right you possess. Keep that in mind when you keyboard your responsive missives and press the “submit” button.

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…