Tag Archives: Jews for Judaism

The Question of Gentiles and Judaism

Dear Rabbi,

I have a question that has bothered me/intrigued me for years. What was Jesus’ true name? What was the name his mother called him? His disciples? The name that he told them that you can do all things “in my name.” I thought ya’ll may have something in your archives that would point to an answer.

Rabbi Rachael Bregman
“Rabbi, What’s Jesus’ Nickname?”

I was a little surprised to read such an article at My Jewish Learning, but I guess I shouldn’t be, since the “About Us” page for this site states:

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Offering articles and resources on all aspects of Judaism and Jewish life, the site is geared toward adults of all ages and backgrounds, from the casual reader looking for interesting insights, to non-Jews searching for a better understanding of Jewish culture, to experienced learners wishing to delve deeper into specific topic areas.

The word “transdenominational” suggests a somewhat more liberal perspective relative to Judaism and perhaps other religious streams. But it wasn’t just that Rabbi Bregman considered the question, but the answer she gave that interested me. Here’s part of it:

This is from a real email I received.

I am a rabbi in a small city on the coast of Georgia; as the only rabbi in a 75-or-so-mile radius, I get many emails and phone calls with all kinds of questions from folks in the Christian community. This one is a favorite for several reasons.

First of all, there is a place where Judaism and Christianity intersect, and that place is Jesus. I love how the writer is looking to me, the local go-to expert on all things Jewish, to help him navigate that intersection. For his sake and for ours, I wish there was an archive of Jewish stuff , where we could look there to not only help our Christian, Muslim and other-faith friends understand their religions better but to also gain deep insight into our own. I mean, a great way to understand the tensions around Jewish religious practice at the time of the Second Temple is to read the Gospels.

By the way, Bregman never gets around to attaching a Hebrew name to Jesus, but she did end her brief blog post with this:

I don’t know any other names for Jesus, or for Allah or Buddha or Brahman, or for God. But what I learned from this man’s email is that many of us are seeking that name, and by sharing the search with one another we enhance the journey for us all.

rabbi bregman
Rachael Bregman – Photo: jacksonville.com

I think what I was impressed with the most was that Bregman seemed completely unthreatened by the question and didn’t mind taking a stab at the answer that wasn’t in some way dismissive of the Christian questioner. Even in my own home, bringing up certain subjects with my Jewish wife (the Apostle Paul being one of them) is likely to be met with a rather icy response.

So I decided to find out what I could about Bregman.

Rachael Bregman knows she doesn’t fit most people’s concepts of a rabbi, at least as seen on TV.
“They’re always old men with earlocks. They’re called peyas,’’ she said of the strands of uncut hair in front of the ears. “That’s spelled p-e-y-a-s … maybe. I know how to spell it in Hebrew.”

Bregman is a 36-year-old divorcee who left Atlanta three weeks ago with her rambunctious 8-month-old dog Safi, a pit bull-ridgeback-Lab mix, at least those are the breeds Bregman thinks she has identified.

Bregman knows big-city life, having grown up in Boston and lived in Atlanta, but she was drawn to Brunswick by the size of Temple Beth Tefilloh, a Union of Reform Judaism congregation chartered 127 years ago.

-Terry Dickson, July 24, 2013
“Woman is Temple Beth Tefilloh’s first rabbi in 50 years”

She also has a Facebook page that’s pretty accessible as long as you’re logged in to Facebook.

I know some people, both Jewish and otherwise, who have issues with female Rabbis (or with female authority in general), Reform Judaism, and liberal political and social viewpoints, but at least she seems approachable, even if asking a Rabbi about Jesus’s name might be somewhat awkward.

Of course many of the comments on My Jewish Learning’s Facebook page were a little less than completely cordial:

Daniel C: I’ve been following MJL for quite awhile and this is the first I’ve seen posted on the matter. If they now have Messianic Jewish leanings then they’ve become a Christian organ and I will no longer be following them.

Carol C: Agreed. Jesus has nothing to do with Judaism. We do not study him or ever mention him in our learning. But since the inception of Christianity his followers have used his name to persecute and murder us. Can’t deny that.

D.E: My Jewish Learning is not a JEWISH resource but a trans-denominational collaboration of mostly misinformed christians and URJ adherents. That it exists does not make it authoritative.

Lori F: Has this become a “jews for jesus” site now?

interfaithAnd the beat goes on. Actually, these responses are pretty predictable, although nothing I read in the original article seemed to support the idea of a Jew having any sort of “approach” to Jesus.

A number of Christians and “Messianic” folks also commented in a more direct attempt to answer the question, but that didn’t go over well. One Jewish fellow even called “Messianic Judaism” an “oxymoron,” but I can’t locate the specific entry anymore.

In spite of recent comments from the Vatican and the suggestion of a partnership between Christianity and Orthodox Judaism, I still think we have a long way to go in having a more comfortable conversation take place between Gentile “Talmidei Yeshua” and Jewish people.

I certainly don’t blame any Jew for experiencing some sense of threat at the idea of a Christian “incursion” into Jewish historical, social, and religious space, but from my particular point of view, it is occasionally frustrating. However, even my highly unusual theological and doctrinal viewpoint won’t earn me any points within normative Judaism anymore than it does with my long-suffering wife.

Still, as a Gentile, once you’ve accepted a certain “Judaicly-aware” consciousness regarding the central message of the Bible, particularly the New Covenant, and how the nations of the world even have a place in a wholly Jewish document, it’s difficult to not want to build some sort of “interface.”

But there are limits, sometimes rather severe ones. Having acknowledged to the Jewish people, including those within Messianic Judaism that what’s yours is yours, whether within Jewish community or standing outside of it, we non-Jewish yet “Judaicly-aware” Talmidei Yeshua struggle to find a place where we belong.

I sometimes suspect that’s why many/most/all of the non-Jews associated with the ancient Jewish community of Yeshua followers in the early decades and centuries of the common era finally broke away from their mentors and teachers in what I’ve previously termed a rather ugly divorce, in order to create a brand new religious entity (Christianity) where the Gentile might feel more at home.

That “solution” has worked out, albeit in a very uneasy (gross understatement) manner, for nearly twenty centuries now, but for a few of us on the fringes of both Christianity and Judaism, that’s not good enough anymore.

NoahOf course, normative Judaism’s response to someone like me is to give up Christianity in any form and become a Noahide or “righteous Gentile”. Judaism maintains that the rest of the world doesn’t need to convert in order to be “saved,” so it doesn’t actively seek converts. In fact, it tends to discourage conversion for a variety of reasons.

But according to this JTA news story published a few days ago, a group called the National Center to Encourage Judaism is attempting to break through that “taboo”.

Maybe it’s the centuries of living under Christian and Muslim rule. Maybe it’s the history of forced conversion. Maybe it’s that there’s no religion requirement for the Jewish afterlife.

Whatever the reasons, Jews have traditionally been uncomfortable proselytizing.

But a Maryland foundation is flouting the taboo by funding outreach programs to non-Jews in an effort to bring them into the fold.

I read an article years or even a decade or so ago (so I can’t remember the source) suggesting that Jews attempt to convert Gentiles to Judaism as a matter of Jewish survival, since except among Orthodox Jewish communities, Jewish families are in a decline.

But again, this effort is not without its Jewish critics:

Eli W: If these people weren’t so ignorant of Jewish law they would realize that soliciting converts if prohibited and that the conversion process they’re advocating wouldn’t result in valid conversions anyway.

Of course if these people weren’t so ignorant of Jewish law the attrition rate from their movements wouldn’t be so shockingly high and there would be no need for conversions to replenish dwindling numbers.

So maybe a proper Jewish education for Jews might be a better idea than trying to recruit non-Jews?

Mark J: when was it ruled that soliciting converts is prohibited? Before or after Moshe Rabenyu married his shiksa? The ban on soliciting conversions was made under duress as was the end of polygamy and I am sure many other rulings by ersatz rabbis who ruled out of fear of gentiles…

Eli W: Did you ever hear of work called the Shulchan Aruch? That and predecessor works like the Tur and Maimonides Mishna Torah have defined normative Jewish law for centuries. They preceded the crackpot websites that seem to be your source for Jewish law.

Photo: OU.org

Dave M: Eli, you are very right on may of your comments. Except, my friend, many many groups are doing kiruv work eg. Chabad, Aish etc. but still the total result has been sadly very little. I am not sayng to stop. I am just saying let’s just ALSO put the information out there on the internet ie. information about Judaism in terms a non-Jew who knows nothing about Judaism can understand. Let’s spread the light of Torah around the world by talking about Judaism not by hiding it under a bushel basket.

There are voices that potentially could be involved in this debate that I’ve left out, mainly because I didn’t stumble across any convenient articles about them. Certainly Evangelical Christianity would have an opinion about Jews proselytizing Christians. Imagine an individual Jew or Jewish family going door to door in a largely Gentile/Christian neighborhood passing out booklets citing the social and spiritual advantages of becoming a Jews.

I don’t see that happening and I do believe that the Church would probably push back pretty hard if it ever did (also keep in mind that occasionally, converts to Judaism become vulnerable to abuse within Jewish community).

Then, of course, there’s what people in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements would have to say about it. Periodically, non-Jews involved in either movement decide to shoot out the other side and convert to (usually Orthodox) Judaism, mistaking becoming a Jew as the primary means of having a relationship with God.

In many ways, it would be so much easier to accept that Jews are Jews and Christians are Christians and that they are separate communities with nothing in common. If Christians would just mind their/our own business and keep their/our noses out of Jewish community, everyone would be happy.

So being “Judaicly-aware” and a self-described “Talmid Yeshua” is a somewhat risky venture. Many non-Jews have felt the necessity to convert to (non-Messianic) Judaism because of such an awareness, remain Gentile and claim the Torah as belonging to them anyway, or gone the two-house, “I’m a member of a lost tribe” route, essentially saying that they’re already Jewish and thus the Torah is theirs, too.

I have another solution. How about learning to be comfortable in your own skin?

That doesn’t mean you, as a Gentile, have to learn to be comfortable in a church. I tried that for a couple of years and it didn’t work out.

So, you either live near enough to a religious community that is accepting of Jews and non-Jews who are “Talmidei Yeshua,” or you just admit to yourself that you are who you are and that you don’t fit into someone’s pre-conceived identity category.

That has the disadvantage of meaning that you, more often than not, will have no community to which you relate, unless you can find one online. However, it has the advantage of meaning you don’t have to constantly argue with people, since you aren’t claiming anything that belongs to any other person or group.

Up to JerusalemThe double-edged sword is building an identity for yourself that’s consistent with what the Bible says about righteous people of the nations who become disciples of Rav Yeshua. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that’s not such an easy thing to do. On the other hand, at least you have the freedom to create yourself.

If you are a Talmid Yeshua and are in a church (and you’re open with your opinions and beliefs), you are liable to butt heads with clergy and worshippers. The same if you are in a normative synagogue. So you either keep your mouth shut (easier for some people more than others), find a more compatible community, or believe that God accepts you as you are, even if most people don’t.

From Judaism’s point of view, anytime a non-Jew expresses an interest in Judaism the question is, “What do we do with these Gentiles?” Certainly the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul) faced that question on many occasions. It’s the whole point of the events Luke recorded in Acts 15 relative to the legal proceeding establishing Gentile status in ancient Jewish community, and the resultant “Jerusalem letter.”

As you’ve read above, these aren’t issues contained only within Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots. They’re spilling over into many other Jewish venues as well. They probably always have. And normative Judaism doesn’t seem to have any better answer to this question than the rest of us do, and we have the rather gruesome history of how the Church has treated the Jewish people and Judaism to thank for it.

I know that there are all kinds of religious pundits in a wide variety of camps who think they have the definitive answer. I think it’s much more interesting to explore the question and to keep creating a better “me,” whoever that happens to be and whatever that means to God.

Notes from the Wrong Side of the Jordan

I shall make a distinction between My people and your people.

Exodus 8:19 Stone Edition Chumash (v23 in Christian Bibles)

R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch suggests that the phrase “between My people and your people” is a reference to the differing perspectives possessed by the people of the two nations.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.101
Friday’s commentary on Parashas Va’eira
A Daily Dose of Torah

I’ve definitely experienced some “distinctiveness” in opinion over the past several days in the comments section of my blog posts Saving Israel After the Fullness of the Gentiles Has Come (and Gone) and In the Image of God.

(I suppose I should note that even the title of the first blog post I mentioned, the phrase “Saving Israel” was taken as some sort of insult when I posted it in a private Facebook group on Messianic Judaism, due to a misunderstanding of my intent and my citing Paul’s words in Romans 11:26, and the reaction was so strongly disapproving of me, that I removed my Facebook post entirely.)

It’s true that if you’re going to write a “religious” blog, sooner or later, you’re going to rub someone the wrong way, but there are people out there who just can’t seem to tolerate that we are all going to either misunderstand each other from time to time, or that we will disagree on something, and there’s no way to any sort of peace with them.

OK. I get that. So I try not to enter into those debates so much anymore. They never end well. But sometimes these situations seem unavoidable.

Relative to my recent blog posts, there’s a particular group of Jewish people who are offering a service to larger Jewry by “exposing” the fallacies involved in Christianity as well as Messianic Judaism. I periodically had visits in the comments section of my blog from one such person, the subject of this blog post, until I finally had to ban him. I hate banning people, but sometimes a person is so persistently annoying and counterproductive that they inhibit any good that might come out of a discussion on at least some of the topics I write about.

Hence another couple of gentlemen, and I will continue to believe that they are well-meaning in their efforts, made some comments that were designed to be provocative and could well fall into the category of antimissionaries. But while their efforts may be seen as good for Jewish people, they’re not so good for the disciples of Yeshua, Jewish or Gentile.

I can sort of see why they’d want to “visit” Messianic Jewish blogs in an attempt, however misguided, to convince the Jewish blog writers of the error of their ways, but what did I do? I’m not Jewish and I try as much as I can to do no harm to Jewish people or national Israel in word or deed.

(I should say there was a third individual involved in some of these comments who isn’t Jewish and sadly seemed to be more of a troll than anything else).

For those of us who identify as Messianic Gentiles, these situations present an odd conundrum. On the one hand, I relate to Messianic Judaism, at least in its ideal state, as another branch of Judaism that runs parallel to Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and the rest of the various streams of Judaism.

On the other hand, antimissionaries relate to Messianic Judaism as a form of Christianity, and a rather deceitful one at that.

This also invokes Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s essay for issue 114 of Messiah Journal, “The Jewish People are Us – Not Them”. It’s a strange thing to relate positively to Messianic Judaism as a Judaism and at the same time, to find yourself at odds with people operating in other branches of Judaism.

Or maybe not. Let me tell you a joke (and I have to thank reader “ProclaimLiberty” for telling me this one):

There were two Jewish men, David and Joel, who were the only survivors of a shipwreck at sea. The two men were washed up on the shores of a deserted island.

A year later, rescuers found them and discovered that they had built three synagogues on the island. One of the rescuers asked David why the two men built three synagogues. David answered, “That synagogue is the one I go to, the one over there is the one Joel goes to, and the one way over there is the synagogue neither of us would be caught dead in.”

Don't ArgueIf you don’t get the joke, it would be kind of hard to explain it to you. Another way of putting it is by expressing the Jewish adage, “two Jews, three opinions.”

Here’s another example:

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

Matthew 12:1-7 (NASB)

From a traditionally Christian interpretive dynamic, this looks like Jesus is contradicting or just doing away with “the Law” of Shabbat, but from a Jewish perspective (to the best of my ability to render one), it’s two groups of Jews debating on what is and isn’t permissible on Shabbat, more specifically, the melachot or acts of work that are considered forbidden to perform on Shabbos.

Remember, some of the Pharisees felt so strongly about Shabbat and performance of melachot that they even planned to destroy the Master (see Matthew 12:14). Fortunately, these disagreements don’t get to that point in this day and age, however, that doesn’t mean they can’t be quite passionate.

So where does that leave me in these discussions? I can’t resolve them. There’s little to benefit from entering into another long and useless debate, batting their proof texts and mine back and forth like so many tennis balls.

Of course, from my critics’ point of view, we aren’t discussing a simple disagreement. This is a matter of heresy, apostasy, sacrilege, and even idol worship.

So where am I to turn?

The clear inference of these passages is that the recognition of Hashem’s mastery over all areas of life is a liberating force, rather than a debilitating one. This concept is illustrated in the simple, yet extraordinarily profound saying of Ben Zoma in Pirkei Avos (4:1), which asks, “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” Rashi concludes that even the wealthiest person who is discontented with his lot will be in a constant state of fear and despondency, and is considered a pauper.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day, p.102

Oh yeah, God. Remember God? This is supposed to be about God and not winning arguments or rattling “pagan” Christian cages just to get a reaction.

When I get tired of religious people and religious arguments, I take some comfort in the Bible such as this reading from the Psalms for this past Shabbat:

Desist, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted upon the earth.

Psalm 46:11

Unfortunately, even here with the (apparent) reassurance that it is right and appropriate for the nations to exalt God, Rashi’s commentary on the verse as found at Chabad.org states:

Desist: all nations from further marching upon Jerusalem.

and know that I am God: That I will execute judgment upon you.

I will be exalted among the nations: I will be exalted with My vengeance which I will wreak upon those nations.

leaving churchNot very soothing sentiments for a Gentile who is trying to relate to Yeshua-faith as a form of Jewish worship and study. Well, maybe Rashi wasn’t talking about people like me (although I think he actually was).

So why do I do this to myself? Why do I continually inject my attention, my studies, and my commentary into what is obviously Jewish space? Because traditional Christian study materials, interpretations, and doctrine are somewhat…how should I say it…wanting. I suppose it’s one of the reasons I left church last fall after attending for two years (and those of you who’ve been following my blog for a long time know how agonizing my decision to return to the church was back then).

So once again I’m standing in-between multiple opposing forces within my little corner of the religious blogosphere and in my life as well. But I did mention something earlier:

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.

My soul waits for the Lord
More than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.

And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities

Psalm 130:5-8 (NASB)

I have no doubt that God will fulfill His promises to redeem Israel. I just hope that when the dust settles, there will be something left for the rest of us…for me.

Addendum: For more perspective on the debate between Messianic Judaism and other Jewish religious groups and branches (in this case, Yad L’Achim and Chabad) please read Yad L’Achim’s Personal Jesus: the Berditchever Rebbe at the Rosh Pina Project.