Tag Archives: intermarried

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.

Finding My Exit

no-exitWhen you and the path you have chosen get along just great, it’s hard to know whether your motives are sincere.

But when you come across a path to do good, and this path goes against every sinew of your flesh and every cell in your brain, when you want only to flee and hide from it —do this.

Then you shall know your motives are sincere.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Sincerity”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I hit what seemed to be a pretty significant wall this past weekend. Hopefully not too many people noticed, but I was turning myself into knots inside and very seriously doubting my current path for a day or two.

The first event that contributed to this mess was from divisiveness in the blogosphere. I should have known better, but a miscommunication between a friend and I and then another in a long series of online “nastygrams” caused me to question whether or not my friend was pulling away from me and pulling much of my current world view along with him (long story).

As personal as the first event was, the second event was far more intimate. On Sunday morning, my wife and I were having a small chat before I left for church. I happened to mention that Pastor Randy gave me a paper on the different arguments between Arminianism and Calvinism and my difficulties in they way the author of the article was expressing his viewpoint.

I didn’t think much of it, but my wife, who is Jewish, started touting how Judaism has received the Torah in an unbroken line between Sinai and the present and that in any response to changes of circumstances across time, the Rabbis always consult the core text and all applications are based on strict adherence to the Torah, thus avoiding the problems I was having with a Christian commentary.

I think it was her attempt to show me that Judaism has a better handle on the Bible and thus on God than Christianity, which I don’t mind, but in our conversation, she brought up how, if the Christian view of the Bible were true, then it totally invalidates Jews and Judaism.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that her perception of Christianity is not what I believe at all. And yet I was confronted with a dilemma. I could explain, thanks to all of the information I’ve captured within this blog, why I believe she’s wrong and why a Messianic interpretation of “Christianity” is wholly Jewish, but my being a “prophet without honor in my own land” (and needless to say, in my own family), how would she take it?

The worst that would happen if I were talking to any other Jewish person was that they’d tell me I was “full of it” and walk away (not that I desire to insult anyone). But what would be the worst that would happen if that transaction were to occur between me and my wife?

I didn’t want to find out so I let the conversation die.

But as I went to church, I was confronted with two highly significant relationships in my life being (apparently) damaged, all because of who I am and my faith in Christ.

I remembered part of a conversation I had with my Pastor. I told him I left the Hebrew Roots movement in part because I knew my participation was very embarrassing to my wife. He asked me, somewhat incredulously, if my being a Christian and going to church were any less embarrassing to a Jewish wife. I absolutely didn’t consider that before, but at that moment and again last Sunday morning, it hit me like a punch in the teeth from Mike Tyson.

I also couldn’t help but consider a few verses.

Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

Ezra 10:10-11 (NRSV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Matthew 10:34-38 (NRSV)

leavingThe Master doesn’t address husband and wife specifically, but it wasn’t hard for me to read between the lines. And in relation to Ezra, I guess I would be the “foreign wife.”

I wasn’t afraid this would dissolve my marriage, but I could see my friendship receding into the distance and, as damage control, what would be my only option to contain this conflict? If my wife was saying that my being a Christian made me “anti-Semitic” by definition, then how could I prove otherwise except to stop going to church? But how could I stop going to church and maintain my faith in Christ?

The conflict between my faith and my marriage came abruptly into sharp focus.

So last Sunday at church was miserable, not because of church, but because of me.

It’s actually pretty painful to see all of the other couples at church because they’re couples. There’s no conflict that I can see between husband and wife because of their faith. They sit together at church, they bring their children, they go to Sunday school together, they support each other’s views.

That’s also true of most people (but not all) I know in the Messianic movement. I sometimes feel like the only oddball.

So with a nudnik (and I know something about nudniks) trying to drive a wedge between my friend and me on the one side, and my most recent “religious conversation” with my wife on the other, who I am supposed to be at Christ was stuck soundly in the middle. All I could see were “no option options.” I was in a box with no way out, a room with no exit.

So what happened?

I did what I always try to do under similar circumstances…I didn’t do anything about it. The temptation was to act impulsively to reduce the discomfort, but that’s usually the wrong thing to do.

After church, there was plenty of gardening to do and that’s relatively mindless work, so I had a lot of time to think. After that, I was given the annual task of cleaning out my book closet (if left to my own devices, I’d keep everything I’ve ever owned). My wife and daughter tackled the equally daunting job of cleaning out and arranging the food pantry.

My son Michael came over by the by and cooked dinner for us while we were working. By the by, my wife and I interacted and I noticed that she was behaving, not as if I were an anti-Semite in the camp, but like I’m her husband and we’re doing typical Sunday evening family stuff together in our home.

The bubbling pot began to cool.

I got an email later that night allaying my other concern and reminding me that just because “bad attitude” people try to interfere with friendships doesn’t mean those friendships are any less established. The message couldn’t have come at a better time.

when-the-forest-beckonsThis whole episode reminded me that I have a duty to my wife to share the Good News of Messiah with her. The problem is, she’s already heard it, accepted it within the church, re-accepted it within a Hebrew Roots context, and, when transitioning first to the Reform-Conservative synagogue in town and then the Chabad, chosen to reject the Gospel of Jesus “because that’s not what Jews believe.”

I wish I could convince her otherwise, but that “Good News” might not be easy for her to hear coming from me, especially when I’m competing with the Chabad Rabbi, a lot of anti-missionary rhetoric, and two-thousand years of post-Jesus Jewish history.

That particular “adventure” is to be continued, but I do have a message for blogging nudniks who deliberately try to mess up friendships in order to further their own agendas:

There are people who believe they are doing good by swallowing others’ egos alive. The egos of those they cannot help, and of those who cannot help them, are inedible to them—and therefore intolerable. They cannot work with others—because their egos leave no space for “others”—only for those extensions of their own inflated selves that show they need them, or for those whom they need.

You don’t love your neighbor to glorify your own ego. When you come to your sister’s or brother’s aid, leave your own self behind. Love with self-sacrifice.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Free Love”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

If you come to realize that what you do is not for the sake of Heaven but for the requirements of your own ego or emotions, then the need for you to attend to your own affairs is far, far greater than whatever temporary issues I may be experiencing.

I found the exit from my no-exit room and am continuing down the path that God has set before me.

The Interwoven Passover Seder

hagadaLeader: God is my strength and my song, and God has become my triumph.

Group: And we will praise our God forever.

Leader: The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

A Passover Haggadah

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Psalm 118:22

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…'”

Matthew 21:42

That kind of caught me by surprise Monday night.

But let me start at the beginning.

I went through the Haggadah several times to make sure I was familiar with the reading, using little sticky arrows to point to places I needed to skip or pay close attention to (especially where to break for the meal). Last year, I tried reading the Haggadah cold with no preparation at all and became quickly lost (where’s the part I’m supposed to read when it’s not Shabbat?). There are all kinds of songs in the Haggadah I’m not familiar with so where do I read and where do I skip and when I skip, what page do I skip to?

My son, who I commute to and from work with, had an appointment after work on Monday he forgot about, so we had to detour from the plan of getting home in plenty of time to help prepare the meal to getting home with not a lot of time to spare.

Fortunately, my other son has the week off and had spent most of the day with my wife helping her out, so when I got home, everything was under control. All I had to do was cook the chicken and pick up my daughter from work. The only hiccup I introduced was I had taken a copy of the Haggadah to work to go over it one more time before the Seder. When I showed up with it at home that evening, the missus got that “Ah ha! That’s where the other one went” look on her face, but after that, all was well.

By 7:20 that night, everything was in order. Tons and tons of food had been prepared. The formal dining room table was set. Everyone was present. We were ready.

My four-year old grandson was very patient with us. I was wondering how he’d tolerate sitting at the table for long periods of time while we were reciting from the Haggadah. Fortunately, long road trips in the van have helped him to know when and how to sit still.

And he likes matzah.

We praise You, God, Sovereign of Existence! You have called us for service from among the peoples, and have hallowed our lives with commandments. In love You have given us [Sabbaths for rest,] festivals for rejoicing, seasons for celebration,, this Festival of Matzot, the time of our freedom, a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Praised are You, Lord our God, Who have us this joyful heritage and Who sanctifies [the Sabbath,] Israel, and the festivals.

-from the Haggadah

“You have called us for service from among the peoples…hallowed our lives with commandments…You have given us…the time of our freedom…Who gave us this joyful heritage and Who sanctifies [the Sabbath,] Israel…”

Remember, the family Goy is the leader of the Seder in my home and I’m the one reading all of this. I couldn’t figure out any way to read from the Haggadah and not imply that somehow I thought all this applied to me and that I was claiming to be Israel (though I’ve been acquainted with just a few Christians who call themselves “Israelites” and claim pretty much everything that’s Jewish without so much as a by your leave).

But it was more my issue than anyone else’s. I don’t think my wife or children expected me to change the text just to accommodate my “Gentile-ness.” It was really the only thing left that was bugging me about our intermarried Seder.

I decided to let it slide.

(I should say that I was feeling kind of guilty in blogging and even visiting the Internet on Tuesday morning, but I saw a significant number of Jewish believers already posting blogs and comments on Facebook, so apparently, I’m not a horrible person…in their eyes at least…for doing what I’m doing now…I guess it’s up to God to decide how He wants to respond to our online “work.”)

Then I read the quote in the Haggadah from Psalm 118 that is echoed in Matthew 21, Ephesians 2:20, and 1 Peter 2:7. I know the Haggadah wasn’t referencing any of the New Testament quotes, but remember, I said that I intended to allow the Seder to have a double meaning for me, not just addressing the traditional Passover for the Israelites, but the Messianic application as well:

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Luke 22:14-20

candleI admit, I didn’t have a spiritual power surge during the Seder but I had fun. I had fun in the sense of satisfaction at watching my family gather and celebrate the Seder together. I had fun watching my grandson trying to understand why Bubbe was taking him to the front door to see if someone named “Elijah” was there. I had fun watching him really, really, enjoy matzoh ball soup.

I had a feeling of warmth, like the lighting of the candles at the beginning of the reading.

I was glad to be there and participating in the “reminder” to my wife, my sons, and my daughter, that they are Jewish and that who they are and where they come from has a meaning that is unlike any other people and meaning that has ever existed or will ever exist. Even in Christianity, we are not born into a covenant. We cannot consider ourselves as having stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah (although it wouldn’t hurt for us to picture ourselves standing at the foot of the cross and watching Jesus slowly die for our sins).

I did have a “light to the world” moment earlier on Monday morning at work, though. The person who sits right behind me is a very kind and gentle Catholic man. Another of the people who arrives as early to work as the two of us is a Christian woman. The subject of our conversation turned to Passover and within a few minutes, I realized that I had a captive audience, and I was explaining not only the traditional meaning of the Passover, but how I see it as a Christian, juxtaposing it against Easter.

As I’m writing this, I’m watching the “patterns” of Passover, at least in my life, weave in and out of my family, my friends, my understanding of God, taking on different colors and textures as Passover crosses from one of my worlds to the next. Passover is what it means to me as a tradition for my family. Passover is what it means to me as a Christian who acknowledges that my Lord and Savior is the Jewish Messiah King. Passover is what it means to me when, as a Christian, I share my understanding of its observance with others around me.

And in some way that is highly untraditional in the Christian and Jewish worlds, Passover is one of the bridges that crosses the gap between me and God.

So when packing my lunch this morning, among other food items, I inserted the obligatory pieces of matzah. They act, not only as nourishment, but as conversation pieces with my co-workers. They also act as reminders of the body of Christ, which was broken for me and which symbolize the Covenant that attaches me to God; a Covenant that extends directly back to Abraham.

My faith in celebrating Passover as a Christian in a Jewish family has been restored, blissfully and peacefully. Would that the upcoming Easter Sunday observance of the resurrected Messiah be as meaningful.

But that is yet to come.

The Unanticipated Passover Seder

passover-bitter-herbs-sederIf there are aspects of the Passover seder from which all people can learn, how much more so is this true for believers in Messiah? After all, our Master Yeshua chose the wine and the matzah of a Passover Seder to represent his body and blood. More than just learning about and celebrating the concept of freedom from oppression and exile, for disciples of Messiah, the seder celebrates Yeshua’s atoning death and resurrection while remaining firmly grounded and centered on God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt.

There is ample evidence that, for the earliest Gentile believers, the celebration of Passover was an important holiday celebrated by all believers in Messiah—both Jewish and Gentile. Paul wrote the book of 1 Corinthians to a predominately Gentile audience who attended both synagogue and weekly gatherings of believers. Additionally, the timing of the letter seems to have been sometime in early spring before the Passover season had begun. Many portions in the letter allude to Passover and seem to offer instructions for observing it properly with the right heart-attitude.

-Toby Janicki
“God Fearers: Passover and Non-Jews”
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

Everything before the story is to prepare for the story.

Everything after the story is to celebrate the story.

The Leader is the guide on this journey. One of the challenges of the Leader is to keep the participants engaged from beginning to end. All the traditional directions (like covering and uncovering the matzah, for instance) are just devices to help participants, especially children, pay attention and ask: Why?

-Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld
“The Art of Leading an Amazing Seder”
Aish.com

I’m going to need all the advice I can get, especially Rabbi Seinfeld’s, given my memory of last year’s Passover seder. My wife reminded me that it wasn’t my fault that the seder came off so poorly. We had a relative in the hospital and our lives were at least in a mildly emotionally chaotic state. The year before that, my wife and daughter felt rather unappreciated because they believed my sons and I didn’t appropriately recognize the great effort they had put into preparing the meal. Needless to say, Passover has lost some of its appeal in my family.

This year, I promised myself I wouldn’t even bring up the topic of Passover. And since there isn’t so much as a feather in sight and sufficient amounts of rolls and bread continue to inhabit our home, I was firmly and calmly resolved to simply passing by Pesach and moving right on to Easter.

Then yesterday evening, my wife asked me to go with her to our son’s and his wife’s home for a short visit and she said on the way, we could talk about Monday. What’s Monday got to do with anything? In Boise, Idaho, Erev Pesach candlelighting is at 7:44 p.m. on this coming Monday.

Oh.

When she said that we needed to plan for Monday’s seder, it was like she suddenly said, “I’m pregnant.” Well, maybe it wasn’t quite that shocking, but it still came out of the proverbial clear, blue sky. I never saw it coming.

In a way, I was relieved that we weren’t going to celebrate Passover this year, at least as a family. In my quest to return the Torah scroll, so to speak, to my Jewish wife in particular and to the Jewish people in general, I have surrendered a number of practices and observances that I had once held dear, Passover being among them. After all, I cannot be considered as one of the members of humanity who marched out of Egypt and left behind my slavery, and certainly I cannot project myself into the masses who stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and personally received the Torah from Hashem, as does every person who is Jewish.

exodus-reed-seaSo as I processed my wife’s news about our impending family Passover seder, I found myself quickly dusting off Toby Janicki’s advice about Christians and the Passover (though he doesn’t phrase it that way).

I still feel like a fraud and I’m incredibly intimidated. I never used to feel this way, but then that’s the difference between historically celebrating Pesach among mostly non-Jews in a somewhat “Jewish-like” environment, and being the only non-Jew leading his Jewish family in the seder. Or as they say in the hood, “Sh*t just got real.”

There’s really only one difference between matzah and chametz.

They’re both made from flour and water, both baked in an oven, and both provide nourishment.

But one stays flat and humble, while the other fills itself with hot air.

That’s why matzah is a key ingredient for leaving your personal Egypt: As long as we are full of delusions of self-importance, there’s no way to break out and grow to a new level. Once we make ourselves small, we can fit through any bars and fly past any cloud.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Between Matzah and Chametz”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

On the other hand, as Rabbi Freeman suggests, maybe a healthy dose of humility is a good thing. But as it turns out, Rabbi Seinfeld’s advice won’t do me much good since it seems geared for a seder with lots of kids. My four-year old grandson will be the only child present (guess which child will find the afrikomen?) so the emphasis for the seder will have to go in a different direction.

Which direction I have no idea at this point. I’ll need to select a haggadah (after so many years, we have several tucked away in various drawers and cupboards around the house) and practice using it, so my leading doesn’t feel and sound so awkward and forced (and my Hebrew pronunciations are going to be traditionally poor).

I suppose if we were an actual Jewish family (in a traditional sense) and we all had grown up celebrating Passover every year, going to other homes where Passover was celebrated every year, and I, as “head of household,” had been leading family Passover seders for the past thirty years or so, it would seem like second nature by now.

But it isn’t, especially after “reinventing myself” a couple of years ago.

On the other hand, I’m approaching going to my first Easter service in well over a decade with an equal amount of dread if not horror. The one saving grace is that I won’t have to lead a thing…I just have to follow. I wonder where I’ll feel more “alien,” the seder or a sunrise Easter service? But I digress.

What am I really complaining about? Being a fish out of water? I’m certainly not afraid of co-opting Jewish identity or position since A) I’m not going to be very good at this, and B) as the husband and father in an intermarried family, it’s actually my place to lead the seder. Maybe I should play it safe and stick to the ABC’s of Passover, keep it simple (stupid), and just try to get by.

broken-matzah-passoverBut in all of my angst, I’m missing the reason for Passover. If it’s just an event and a performance, then it means nothing and all I’ll get out of it is anxiety in the anticipation and a guilty relief when it’s over. Still, it’s tough to get past what Rabbi Simmons says about “the Seder [being] designed to give each Jew the experience of “going from slavery unto freedom.”

But Christian/Jewish intermarried couples exist. We’re real. There must be some help out there for us…for me. Well, maybe not. I can find material on intermarriage and Purim, but that’s because at the heart of the Purim story is an intermarried couple. But what about intermarriage and Passover?

Shmuel Rosner at Slate Magazine says in part:

Being a pessimist on intermarriage is not easy these days. The Jewish community is tired of gloomy reports conveying what Steven Cohen titled “An Inconvenient Truth” in one of the most controversial studies of the last couple of years. The identity chasm between inmarried and intermarried is so wide, he wrote, as to suggest the imagery of “two Jewries.” One group attends Passover Seders in high percentage—namely, the inmarried—while the other, the intermarried, either refrains from doing so or attends these Seders in much lower numbers.

Rosner also says:

And there will be something different about their Seder itself, too. Passover, more than any other Jewish holy day, is the one in which Jews celebrate not their religion but this strange concept of becoming a people. This idea, of Jewish people-hood—the historic fact that Jews, for generations, didn’t see themselves as just sharing their faith, but also their national fate…

What part of that do I as a Christian share, if any?

But then, Tuvya Zaretsky writes:

“Either/or” thinking is a sadly limited perspective. For example, it sees only the Jewish religious aspects in Passover and misses the universal message of a redeemer God at the heart of Passover observance. Non-Jews who had sanctified themselves to the LORD were welcome to celebrate Passover, to eat unleavened bread and to give thanks to the LORD for His goodness. Gentiles, along with Jews, were welcome to the Lord’s table to eat the matzo and rejoice in the mercy of God. Followers of Y’shua (Jesus) see the message of the deliverer God prominently emphasized within the Passover story.

Although, by definition (my wife and children are not “believers”), our seder will not be “Messianic,” I must allow the seder to have a double meaning for me and not be solely focused on “the Seder [being] designed to give each Jew the experience of “going from slavery unto freedom.”

All this still has me feeling small and inadequate, and while not relative to Passover, I guess I’m not the only one. The following has nothing to do with Passover but everything to do with feeling small.

Blessings.

Commentaries and Cautionary Tales

study-in-the-dark‫לא שנא בדרבנן ולא שנא בדאורייתא – קמח‬

Tosafos (earlier 55a) explains that this rule, that under certain circumstances, one should refrain from pointing out a fellow Jews’ transgressions and not to rebuke a sinner, is only applicable where the offender will most certainly not listen to the words of rebuke which are addressed to him. However, if there is any possibility that the person will change his ways, then the observer has the responsibility to instruct him not to sin.

Rema (O.C. 608:2), however, writes that if the nature of the unlawful behavior is in the realm of a halachah which is not explicit in the Torah, then the obligation to intervene depends on whether or not the person will respond or not, as Tosafos says. Although the law is derived from a verse, being that it is not explicitly stated, we only proceed to rebuke the offender if there is a chance he may listen and change his ways. However, if the halachah is one which is explicit in the Torah, then we must rebuke the sinner even if we are certain that he will not listen to our words.

The rationale for the ruling of Rema is found in Rashba (Beitza 30a). He writes that a halachah that is not explicit in the Torah might be looked upon lightly by some people. We should assume that the violator is mistaken is considering this halachah as not important, but the fact is that if we were to correct him, he probably will disregard our rebuke. It is in this situation that we say, “It is better that he not be told, and that his actions remain inadvertent, than for us to make an issue of it and for his continued actions to be a more intentional violation of halachah.” However, if the person is disobeying a halachah which is explicit in the Torah, we cannot assume that his actions are inadvertent at all. We will not make matters worse by exhorting him to desist from his sinful ways, because he is already acting defiantly. We can only hope to improve the situation and to remedy the person’s observance.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Rebuke to the receptive”
Shabbos 148

I had just commented on one of Derek Leman’s blog posts in what promises to be yet another endlessly circular debate on whether or not Paul ever intended for the non-Jewish disciples of Jesus to be obligated to the full weight of the Torah commandments when I read the above-quoted commentary. As you can tell from the wording in my last sentence, I consider most of these conversations to be a futile waste of time, but on the other hand, they are so incredibly compelling (“Someone is wrong on the Internet”) that I still stick my nose in unbidden from time to time (and usually get it chopped off).

Obviously, the Daf commentary on Shabbos 148 is meant to apply within a Jewish halakhic context, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’m artificially applying it to a wider audience and loosening up some of the definitions (“wrong” doesn’t necessarily mean “sin”).

I very recently referred to all people and particularly all people of faith as “poor, blind, naked, stupid human beings who think we’re a whole lot more cool and smart than we really are.” Apparently that message didn’t get out because if it had and if it were taken seriously, then I suppose we might pause in the middle of our “self-important” debates to consider who and what is really important in the grander scheme of things (i.e. the Kingdom of Heaven).

A key element in why it’s easy to lack gratitude is because human nature is to take things for granted when we get used to having them. To master gratitude we need to stop taking things for granted and to increase our thoughts of appreciation.

The Creator keeps bestowing His tremendous kindnesses on us each and every day when we are awake and when we are asleep, whether we are aware of them or not. There are so many things in our lives that we take for granted.

As an exercise, choose a day to not take anything for granted. Look at everything as if it were new. Look at everything as if this were the first time that this positive thing was happening. Look at all that you own as if you just bought or received them today. Look at what you have as if it were invented recently and you are one of the first people on the planet to get it.

Hopefully this exercise will give you the experience of what it’s like to not take things for granted.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #744: Don’t Take Things for Granted”
Aish.com

illegal-christianityIt seems that one of the things we’re taking for granted in all of these debates is God. Not that we shouldn’t examine, explore, and discuss our faith and how we understand worship and lifestyle, but I think we’re missing the big, big picture. Recently, I’ve started reading a book called The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun written by a Chinese Christian with New Zealand missionary Paul Hattaway. Yun tells his story of coming to faith in Christ at age 16 in a family that was extremely impoverished and in a China where it was illegal to be a Christian.

Yun recounts one of the earliest events when he was captured by law enforcement agents in China for preaching at a gathering of Christians:

I was made to kneel down in the dirt while officers punched me in the chest and face and repeatedly kicked me from behind with their heavy boots. My face was covered with blood. The pain was unbearable and I nearly lost consciousness as I lay on the ground.

They lifted me up and made me stagger down another street. They were determined to make an example of me to as many people as possible.

-Yun/Hattaway, pg 63

I’ll talk more about Brother Yun and the “loss of focus” I believe many of us have been suffering from in tomorrow’s “meditation,” but after reading the Daf commentary and seeing the birth of yet another blogosphere debate this morning, I didn’t want to wait.

In my own little world, I meet with my Pastor every Wednesday night and we discuss many things. We continue our own debate on the function and purpose of “the Law,” both in its original and ancient context and in the world of Judaism today. Pastor Randy lived in Israel for fifteen years, has many Jewish friends, and is deeply devoted to the Jewish people, so it’s not as if he’s a stranger to these topics. And yet we continue to debate how the Torah applies in Judaism and what “Torah” even means.  As people of faith, we all struggle to find our own focus when we read the pages of the Bible, trying to discover the message God has delivered about the past, present, and future.

While our discussions have been very productive thus far, Pastor Randy suggested we turn future meetings toward a specific topic, namely D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians. I’ve been meaning to re-read it again since I feel I didn’t really “get it” the first time, and Pastor Randy wants to read it but since his reading list is so incredibly vast (he has read up to one hundred books in a single year, so as a reader, I’m definitely an “illiterate” amateur by comparison) that having a “reading partner” will add motivation for him to address Lancaster’s work. I think it’s one way to bring some of the matters we have been talking about into greater clarity.

Maybe it seems like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, eschewing Internet debates on controversial Biblical matters but engaging in such conversations in my personal life, but some things seem to be more accessible and “relatable” face-to-face. Also, our conversations don’t involve “the usual suspects” in the blogosphere who always present the same point of view and who always expect everyone else to change their minds except them. That has to include me whenever I participate in these web discussions and that’s why I think those transactions miss the point.

I’ve already experienced some shifting in my viewpoints and more than a little illumination as a result of my Wednesday night talks, and I suspect that my own meager offerings to the conversation may have influenced some of Pastor Randy’s perspectives as well. But that’s what a conversation does…it’s not just a venue for us to teach, it’s an opportunity to learn, to let ourselves be changed, to grow, to be open to encountering God.

It’s also an opportunity to revisit the essentials of faith, which we will definitely not encounter on someone’s web log. God is encountered personally, in actual contact with real human beings, and in the presence of the humility and nakedness of our own spirits.

christianity-is-IllegalIn reading Brother Yun’s book, I’m witnessing the struggle to spread the message of the Gospel in Communist China in the 1970s and early 1980s (which is how far I’ve gotten in my reading so far). Many people coming to faith are illiterate farmers. The vast majority have never even seen the Bible since possession of one would be illegal (although supposedly that has changed in recent years). Most only have a vague idea of who Jesus is except that he’s God’s son who died to take away our sins and illnesses. They meet in secret in small house churches. They baptize in the middle of the night, sometimes in winter, cutting holes in the ice in rivers, trying to avoid the police, arrest, imprisonment, and torture. It will never occur to them that some other Christians in the western nations think that they’re “obligated” to wear tzitzit, keep kosher, and observe the Shabbat. They’re too busy risking their freedom and their lives trying against all odds to worship Jesus Christ, to love one another, and to spread the word of hope to the hopeless.

I’m hardly one to say that I’ve risen above all of the bickering and debating, but I really think we need to stop and put a few things back into perspective. If all the things we argue about aren’t for His Glory; if they aren’t for the sake of Heaven, then they can only be for our own gratification and the desire to be “right.”

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Titus 3:1-11 (ESV)

Commentary and cautionary tale as found in midrash and in a Pastoral epistle from Paul. Blessings.

17 Days: They’re Not Me

like-a-prayerQuestion:

I’ve been repeatedly approached by Jews for Jesus guys near the campus of UCLA. The pamphlet that they hand out alleges that “Messianic Jews” are Jews who believe that Jesus was the Messiah. That didn’t make sense to me. I would label a person “Christian” if they believed Jesus was the Messiah. But my friend claimed there are a great number of Jews who believe that Jesus was the Messiah – yet do not consider themselves Christians. I had never heard of this.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

No matter how disconnected a Jew may be from Judaism, he is still likely to be appalled by the idea of worshipping Jesus. And that poses a great problem for Christian missionaries seeking to convert Jews.

Given this, some missionaries got the idea to try a backdoor tactic. They invented “Jews for Jesus,” which uses a whole lexicon of Jewish-sounding buzz words in order to make Jesus more palatable to Jews.

For example, members of Jews for Jesus don’t go to church, they go to a “Messianic Synagogue.” Prayer is not held on Sunday, but on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. They say that by accepting JC, you’re not converting to Christianity, you’re instead becoming “a fulfilled Jew.” The New Testament is called “Brit Chadasha” (Hebrew for New Covenant). It’s not the cross, it’s “the tree.” Not baptism, but “the mikveh.” Not a communion wafer, but “matzah.” Congregants wear a tallit and kippah, and bring a Torah scroll out of the Holy Ark – just like every other synagogue. After all, they proudly proclaim, Jesus himself was a Jew!

These missionary campaigns are well-funded and relentless. Jews for Jesus has been spending millions of dollars in print and radio advertising, and has run a campaign of banner ads in New York City subways and on major web sites. If you see one of these ads, you should write a letter of protest to the host organization.

It is the responsibility of all Jews to take a stand. Comedienne Joan Rivers started screaming on the air after a commercial for Jews for Jesus aired on her radio show. The ad featured two Jewish men arguing over whether JC is the Jewish messiah, while the Jewish song “Hava Nagillah” played in the background. “Do not proselytize on my show,” Rivers ranted. “I was born a Jew and I plan to die a Jew. How dare you advertise on my show. I find this disgusting, I find this offensive, and I find this ridiculous!”

Jews for Jesus is a subversive organization. The missionaries’ approach to ensnare unsuspecting people includes quoting Torah verses out of context and gross mistranslations. These deceptions are most successful with Jews who have no knowledge of their own Jewish heritage. In Russia, for example, where Jewish education had been suppressed for 70 years, missionaries sponsor “Jewish revival meetings,” where a tallit-clad clergyman asks throngs of unsuspecting Russian Jews to “accept Jesus into your heart.” The sad thing is that tens of thousands of Jews (including an estimated 50,000 in Israel today) have fallen for this falsehood.

Ironically, Jews really could be called “Messianic Jews.” One of Maimonides’ classical “13 Principles of Faith” is: “I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.” In a sense we are all “Messianic Jews” – expecting the Messiah to gather the Jews back to Israel, usher an era of world peace, and reestablish the Temple. Though Jesus achieved none of this.

There are two excellent organizations which counteracts missionary activities and have succeeded in attracting “converts” back to Judaism. You can find them online at www.jewsforjudaism.org and www.outreachjudaism.org.

“Jews-for-J”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series
Aish.com

This is a very traditional Jewish response to any suggestion that it might be appropriate for a Jew to consider Jesus as the Messiah. It’s also typical that much of religious and secular Judaism confuses Jews for Jesus, which works to convert Jews to Christianity and then direct them to the church, and Messianic Judaism, which maintains that faith in Jesus as the Messiah is a valid expression of Judaism, much as the Chabad consider that the Rebbe will be reincarnated as Moshiach.

jewish_holocaust_childrenNevertheless, the Aish Rabbi has a point. For nearly 2,000 years, the Christian church and the world it has influenced has been working very hard to destroy Jews and Judaism, all for the glory of the Christian Jesus, trying to “save” the Jews from their “carnal religion.” If someone were trying to kill you or at least completely destroy your way of life and your unique personal and cultural identity, chances are you’d resist; you’d fight back.

So even if Messianic Judaism is a valid Judaism, and even if there is validity in considering Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, most Jews, including secular Jews who have no attachment to a Jewish religious expression, are going to act the way Joan Rivers reacted as described above.

But if I didn’t know some Jewish people who live as halalaic Jews and who are Messianic, people who are intelligent, faithful, and highly credible, I would have my doubts, too. But I also know a few of these intelligent, faithful, and highly credible Jews who have previously identified themselves as “Messianic” and who are now unsure of their faith in Messiah Yeshua. I know that my wife in particular has adopted the opinion of the Aish Rabbi regarding Messianics and believes only uneducated, secular Jews can be swayed by Christian missionaries to “fall for” Jews for Jesus/Messianic Judaism.

It’s part of what I was trying to say yesterday. It’s part of the reason why both Jews and Christians involved in the Messianic movement are forsaking Jesus and either (in the case of halalaic Jews such as my wife) adopting a traditionally Jewish cultural and religious lifestyle or (in the case of non-Jews) converting to some form of Judaism, usually Orthodox.

It removes the dissonance between attraction to a Jewish lifestyle and faith in Jesus by removing faith in Jesus. The alternative is to remove attraction to Judaism, which is disastrous for a Jew and sometimes troubling for the Judaically-aware Christian. But it does bring a sort of peace with those Jews who make a very convincing argument against “Messianic Judaism.”

Many of my critics who oppose my support of Messianic Judaism as a Judaism cite examples such as the Aish Rabbi and the anti-Messianic article written for the Atlantic, saying that it’s impossible for Messianic Judaism to be accepted as a Judaism. Paradoxically, these critics believe the valid alternative is to support a “One Law” theology that offers a manufactured “inclusiveness” of both Jews and Christians as members of the Mosaic covenant and equal citizens in Israel (thus “destroying” Israel and Jewish distinctiveness by making everybody Israel).

I can only imagine what the Aish Rabbi and Jewish reporter Sarah Posner would say to them and their suggestion. Probably nothing “inclusive.”

The sins of Israel in the time of the Greeks were: Fraternizing with the Greeks, studying their culture, profaning Shabbat and Holy Days, eating t’reifa and neglecting Jewish tahara. The punishment-tribulation was the spiritual destruction of the Sanctuary, death, and slavery in exile. Through teshuva and mesirat nefesh, that great, miraculous Divine salvation – the miracle of Chanuka – came about.

“Today’s Day”
Tuesday, Keslev 29, Fifth Day of Chanuka, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Add to that the fact that the Bible isn’t the simple, straightforward document we have been taught it is…that it’s not something that God just dictated to dozens of people under His Divine influence, and that it forms a perfect, flawless, inspired “Word of God.” We have complete faith in God but we shouldn’t necessarily have complete faith in the Bible because the Bible is full of flaws, is internally inconsistent, and we don’t know who wrote all of the words, verses, chapters, and books it contains.

As you can see, religious and cultural identity, let alone a simple faith, is a lot more difficult to maintain once you start reading, studying, discussing, and thinking.

You can blunder around in the dark, carefully avoiding every pit. You can grope through the murky haze for the exit, stumbling and falling in the mud, then struggling back to your feet to try again.

Or you can turn on the light.

Without a doubt, inside your heart, the light switch awaits you. Even if the light it brings is ever so faint, even that will be enough. For the smallest flame can push away the darkness of an enormous cavern. And then you will make yet more light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Stop Groping”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I can see why some Jews who formally had faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah have abandoned that position. I can see why some Judaically-aware Christians have forsaken Jesus and converted to Judaism. It can be very confusing establishing a sense of identity and belonging. A Jew is always a Jew, regardless of belief, regardless of faith, regardless of what he or she understands about the origin of the Bible. A Christian is only a Christian because of what they (we) believe. Add doubt to that mix and Christian faith dissolves like an alka seltzer in a swimming pool.

jews_praying_togetherThat’s why community is important to faith. If the world is your community, almost the entire population is going to continually challenge what you believe as a Christian. If Jews are the majority population, it’s the same thing. To some degree, faith requires that you stop listening to the world around you except for your community of “like-minded believers.” You have to ignore the atheists and if you are specifically a Judaically-aware Christian, you have to ignore Jewish anti-missionaries who define Judaism as wholly inconsistent with Jesus in any form.

The irony, besides converting to Judaism, is that the only other place for the Christian to go is back to church. Well, that’s ironic for me, anyway.

“Quitters are losers!”

This is frequently true, but not always. Of course it’s a mistake to quit prematurely. But at times, quitters will be winners since they devote their newfound time, money, and energy on a project that seems more likely to succeed.

Weigh the entire picture to figure out your best course of action. But don’t let fear of quitting lead you in the wrong direction.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #668, Quitters can be Winners”
Aish.com

I can see why Pastors discourage the members of their churches from exploring Judaism. I can see why Rabbis are totally against Jews marrying non-Jews. The collision of worlds is just devastating. But when you’re intermarried, you have no choice but to be part of the mix. There is no place you can hide, no community that can shelter you. Each day is lived at the raw edge, running on a razor blade, trying to keep your balance, hoping you won’t fall, praying you can keep your balance.

sitting-on-a-razor-bladeBut each moment on the edge is cutting and there’s blood everywhere. Falling off seems like it would be so peaceful. But no one can help me with that kind of decision.

I am going in the way of all the land (all mankind), and you shall strengthen yourself and be a man.

I Kings 2:2

These were the last words of King David to his son and successor, Solomon. David is essentially saying, “I am no longer able to struggle. My strength is failing, and I must now go in the way of all humans. But you are young and vigorous. You must be strong and be a man.” Implied in this message is that Solomon was to be strong enough not to go in the way of all men, but to be his own man.

Being a non-conformist is not virtuous in itself. Behaving in a manner similar to others in our environment is not wrong, as long as we know that our behavior is right and proper. In this case, we are acting according to our conscience. What is wrong is when we abdicate our right to think, judge, and decide for ourselves. It is easy for us to allow ourselves to be dragged along by the opinions and decisions of others, and thereby fail to act according to our conscience.

The expression “I am going in the way of all mankind” does more than euphemize death; it actually defines spiritual death. It states that true life exists only when we actively determine our behavior. A totally passive existence, in which the body is active but the mind is not, may be considered life in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense it is closer to death.

No wonder the Talmud states that “wrongdoers are considered dead even during their lifetime” (Berachos 18b). Failure to exercise our spiritual capacities and instead relegating the mind to a state of passivity, allowing our physical and social impulses to dominate our lives, is in reality death.

Today I shall…

try to engage my mind to reflect on what I do, and think things through for myself rather than submitting to a herd mentality.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 2”
Aish.com

If there is an answer for my life, it rests with God and hopefully, as Rabbi Twerski suggests, with me. No group, Christian or Jewish, has the answers I seek. They are within themselves and of themselves and united as completely compatible units inside their containers. They are not me, and I am not like anything I’m supposed to belong to, not the church, and not even my family.