Tag Archives: Judaism

Reviewing the Divine Code: Fundamentals of the Faith

divine code
Cover for the Divine Code found at Amazon.com

Part I of Rabbi Moshe Weiner’s book The Divine Code, Parts I-IV is called “Fundamentals of the Faith”. It includes:

  • An introduction by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
  • Chapter 1: Awareness of God
  • Chapter 2: Proselytizers and False Prophets
  • Chapter 3: The Prohibition Against Making a New Religion or Adding a Commandment
  • Chapter 4: Liability to Divine and Earthly Punishments
  • Chapter 5: Torah Study for Gentiles
  • Chapter 6: Serving God; Prayer and Grace After Meals
  • Chapter 7: Sacrificial Offerings
  • Chapter 8: Obligatory Moral Conduct
  • Chapter 9: Repentance

I’m sure that even the casual reader can detect which of the above chapter titles are a criticism of or prohibition against Christianity. However, there are a lot of other pieces of information that some of you might find interesting.

In Rabbi Schochet’s introduction, he states that a Gentile who observes the Noahide Laws only because they make sense cannot be considered a Ger Toshav or “Gentile Resident.” Only one who accepts upon themselves these commandments due to the Holiness of God may consider themselves the “pious of the nations of the world.” Otherwise, we’d just be considered “wise people.”

In other words, it’s a matter of intent. According to R. Schochet as well as R. Weiner, it is imperative we recognize that God gave the seven Noahide Laws along with the rest of the Torah (oral and written), at Mount Sinai to Moses.

In chapter 1, the first step for all of us is to develop an awareness of God. This compares to the following (though the book didn’t make this point):

I am the Lord your God Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Exodus 20:2

Just like a Jew, we are commanded to first have an awareness of the existence of God, which then is followed by the prohibition against idolatry. This is both to be an intellectual and emotional ascension.

I found it interesting that the chapter mentioned a truly pious Gentile who is careful to observe the seven laws may settle in Israel, but one who observes them only out of intellectual conviction is forbidden to do so. I wonder if there is a provision made by the Israeli government for Noahides settling in the Land? I would have to guess “no” given my current understanding.

Chapter 2 addresses proselytizers as those who attempt to persuade another to serve an idol. Given other conversations I’ve had on this blog, I can well imagine this includes a Christian attempting to convince a Gentile to believe in Jesus.

From the book’s point of view, anyone who says God sent them to add, remove, or change a commandment from those given to Moses must be considered a false prophet, whether the person is a Jew or Gentile. That one might be aimed even at Jesus or the Apostle Paul as well as everyone who has followed them in the faith.

The same sentiment can be read into chapter 3 which discusses the Prohibition Against Making a New Religion. Of course, it could include any of the other world’s religions, but given the history of Christianity and Islam relative to Israel, and particularly Christianity’s “great commission,” I can well imagine the intent of the author.

This also involves adapting Jewish practice in creating new religious obligations such as creating a sabbath for yourself, regardless of the day of the week (Sunday comes to mind). However, Gentiles are also forbidden from celebrating Jewish holidays, with the exception of having been invited by a Jew to do so, such as a Gentile attending a Passover seder or being offered a meal in a Sukkah by a Jewish host.

Interestingly enough, although Gentile males are not obligated to be circumcised, they may voluntarily do so as a “gift to God.”

We are forbidden, according to the book, to perform any mitzvah that requires the “holiness of a Jew” such as writing a scroll of the Torah or affixing a mezuzah to our doorways. This suggests that Jews have a greater or higher level of holiness than Noahide Gentiles, but I think I’ve read something about that previously.

TorahThat said, a Gentile may perform any of the mitzvot between man and man or man and God “which has a reason and logical benefit for a person or society.” However, without an obvious logical benefit, such observance is forbidden.

This has to do with “logical morality” such as giving to charity and respecting your parents. They aren’t specific to the Noahide Code, but they make moral sense, so it’s not enough to know the seven laws, we must also study and understand basic morality from a Jewish point of view.

As an example, we must honor our parents because it is a general moral principle, but we are forbidden to do so because it’s a commandment from God (since it’s not included in the seven laws).

Confused yet?

Chapter 4 has to do with divine and earthly punishments for violating the seven laws and all their implications.

I found it interesting that the age of accountability is the same for Gentiles as it is for Jews, age thirteen for males and twelve for females. This assumes either a Noahide community to guide these children or parents who are doing so.

There’s a mention of a Noahide’s obligation to develop a court system, but this is obviously a societal obligation rather than an individual one. Also, I don’t know of any court system in any nation that specifically judges violations of the seven Noahide laws.

If there were Noahide communities, and I’ve written about such communities before, perhaps under Rabbinic supervision, they could construct such a “court” for their congregations.

It’s important to note that the book considers it an obligation for Noahide parents to properly educate their children in the seven laws and how to perform them.

Chapter 5, Torah Study for Gentiles was interesting.

The upshot is that Gentiles are obligated to study the portions of the Torah which contain the seven laws with the same level of “delving into the Torah” that a Jew performs when studying Torah and Talmud. A Gentile may also study those portions of the Torah and Talmud which will help them understand how to perform logical moral acts, such as honoring one’s parents.

In fact, it is permissible for a Gentile to read the entire Tanakh, but not with the same level of depth as a Jew, since those commandments are not intended for us. We may also read other Jewish texts such as the Mishneh Torah by Rambam which “presents Torah-law decisions, but not their inner reasons or the details of how the derived rulings were decided…” We may even read on Kabbalah but with the same prohibitions as reading portions of Talmud.

Chapter 6 is particularly intriguing and may even be practical in that it provides suggested blessings and prayers for Gentiles.

There’s always something of a problem with Gentiles using a Jewish siddur in individual prayer or community worship because the language is written for Jews. We are not “Israel,” so how to use a standard siddur has always been a difficulty for Gentile Messianics.

Although, as the book says, prayer, blessings, and praise to God are not specifically required of Gentiles, they are encouraged. Personally, I don’t see how one can obey the commandment to have an awareness of God and not pray to, bless, and praise God.

That said, we are not to use the prayers or methods of worship of idol worshippers, which is probably shorthand for “don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer” or any other Christian-based worship behavior.

We are, however, permitted to praise God using phrases from the Hebrew Bible. The book cites Abraham and Joseph who both lived among non-Hebrews and yet taught them to worship God, so there is a precedent.

As I mentioned above, there are many suggested prayers and blessings adapted for Gentiles, including Grace After Meals, and this is one of the first practical pieces of information in this book that Messianic Gentiles might adapt to their own praxis.

TempleI was a little surprised at Chapter 7, which discusses sacrificial offerings, since the Temple in Jerusalem does not currently exist. However, the book says that while it is permitted for a Noahide to build himself an altar and to sacrifice kosher animals, it’s not encouraged, both because making such an offering means the Gentile would have to be worthy to more closely approach God, and because we would need expert advice from a qualified Rabbi, which in this day and age, might be difficult.

However, we are permitted to study the precepts of making sacrifices on a theoretical level.

Obligatory moral conduct is covered in Chapter 8, which addresses logical moral behavior not specifically addressed in the seven laws. One of the arguments against the Acts 15 “Jerusalem letter” being a guide as to what the Gentile devotee of Yeshua must observe is that the precepts don’t include things like not stealing or not committing murder. It seems, if you take the book’s perspective, we aren’t expected to “check our brains at the door” so to speak.

Acts 15:21 suggests that Gentiles will hear the Torah read in synagogues every Shabbat, so even if we’re not obligated to the same set of commandments as the Jew, the moral principles taught are still useful in guiding us.

The final chapter in Part I is on repentance, and yes, God will accept our sincere efforts in repenting of our sins and forgive us. The Prophet Jonah and the Gentile city of Ninevah are mentioned as an obvious example.

This part of the book seems to act as a summary for everything else that follows, so in a way, I probably only have to read thus far to get a good idea of what else will be taught.

So what do I think? There are a few sections that seem helpful, such as the blessings and prayers presented, but overall, it’s an Orthodox Jew’s view of what makes up a righteous Gentile. Is it practical for Messianic Gentiles? As a whole, probably not, because it assumes that Rav Yeshua is not the true Messiah and it discounts what is written in the Apostolic Scriptures.

Also, although it’s not presented as such, what we’re really talking about is a “Judaically-oriented” Gentile’s relationship within Jewish community, so if you are not part of a (Messianic) Jewish community, it’s doubtful most of what’s presented in this book is going to be useful (unless you really do want to forsake Yeshua and become a Noahide).

While we can make an argument for Noahides based on the “God fearers” we read about in Acts or some of Paul’s letters, we also have read these God fearers were very joyful when they heard the good news of Rav Yeshua, which imparts a greater ability to draw close to the Almighty than afforded a Noahide (in my opinion).

I’m going to read the rest of the book, but it’s pretty much going where I expected it to go.

If I were part of an actual Jewish community in Messiah, and if there were no pre-established model for my role in said-community, I would probably have a discussion with the congregational leadership about a Gentile’s relationship to Jews based on some synthesis of God fearers, the Acts 15 directives, and perhaps portions of Rabbi Weiner’s book.

However, the only Jews I interact with on a daily basis are my wife and children, so it’s not incumbent upon me to adapt my personal praxis for the sake of peace in a congregation.

For those Gentiles in Messiah who are in community with Jews, it’s a lot more complicated.

Starting to Explore the Divine Code

divine code
Cover for the Divine Code found at Amazon.com

I belong to a private Facebook group for “Messianic Gentiles.” Sometime ago, I was invited to join by a friend of mine but I don’t participate often; hardly ever in fact. However, I do read their content with interest.

Over the past year or more, a number of members  have been exploring the role of the Noahide as a model for developing the relationship a “Messianic Gentile” should have with Messianic Judaism and Judaism in general. It’s an interesting effort though I am cautious about applying that role across the board to those like me. After all, by necessity, it requires the Noahide to have no affiliation with or worship of Yeshua as Israel’s Messianic King. Besides, I don’t know if the Noahide Laws and their subsets compare favorably with the Acts 15 instructions for Gentiles who have come alongside Israel through faith in our Rav.

That said, I occasionally get promotional and informational emails from AskNoah.org which is a Noahide site administered by Orthodox Jews. Today, I got one mentioning a brand new eBook, The Divine Code, Parts I-iV: The Guide to Observing the Noahide Code, Revealed from Mount Sinai in the Torah of Moses.

It’s certainly intriguing, since it’s an Orthodox Jewish perspective on how (or if) the Torah can be applied to righteous Gentiles. I’m not overly enthusiastic about it explaining who I am in terms of Judaism as a disciple of Rav Yeshua, but it was priced reasonably, so I downloaded it to my Kindle Fire.

I’ve been pretty busy lately, so aside from my daily reading of the Bible, I haven’t had a lot of time for consuming books. However this one might be interesting, at least as far as my reviewing it for this blog.

Who knows what may come of it? I’ll let you know.

In Response to Evangelicals Embracing Passover

For example, (Paula) White hosted a controversial Messianic-styled teacher named Ralph Messer, on her television program in 2009 to explain the meaning of Passover. Messer is the founder of Simchat Torah Beit Midrash, a school and congregation that teaches the “Hebrew Roots of the Christian Faith” and is perhaps best known for performing ceremonies during which he will wrap church leaders in a Torah scroll.

In the segment on White’s television program, Messer offered his own explanations to White about “Passover’s meaning to Christians.”

from “Evangelicals Are Falling in Love with Passover – Is There Anything Wrong with That?”
written by Sam Kestenbaum for
Forward.com

messer
Ralph Messer – Found at STMB.org

Is there anything wrong with that? Depends. Paula White and Ralph Messer aren’t, in my opinion, particularly credible representatives of Christianity and Messianic Judaism respectively, so I would tend to discount their input.

Of course, “Forward” would be likely to pick such poor examples of those two traditions in order to re-enforce the exclusive Jewishness of Passover.

I kind of don’t blame them, actually. Here’s another example of why:

And in 2013, American televangelist Jim Bakker hosted a lavish televised Passover Seder alongside Messianic author and teacher Jonathan Cahn.

Bakker, who sat alongside Cahn at the head of the stage, added enthusiastically: “It’s not a Jewish holiday, it is a fantastic Christian time,” he said. “I mean, every detail of Jesus is in the Passover.”

Cahn sought to clarify. “It’s both. It’s Jewish and Christian, because it’s all one.” Jesus, Cahn said, “is the center of the church and Israel, really we’re supposed to be one.”

-ibid

Well, that was horrible. I know that in the future Messianic Age there may well be aspects of the Passover that can be applied to the Gentile (certainly not partaking of the Pascal meal however), and maybe there can be some takeaways for the Gentile believer in the present age, but we’d better watch our step.

Bakker’s statement about Passover being a Christian rather than a Jewish holiday is outrageous. Sure, Cahn backpedaled for him and said it’s both Christian and Jewish, but who was the original Passover directed at? Certainly not Christians who didn’t even exist yet.

christian at kotelThere are times when I get a little tired of churches seeing “types and shadows” of Christ in every little detail of the Tanakh (what Christians call the “Old Testament”), as if Passover and many other sacred events had no intrinsic meaning to Israel in and of themselves.

Christianity just can’t stand being left out of the party, so it has to rewrite the invitations to exclude the Jews and bring in the Evangelicals.

But then there’s this:

“As Messianics, we see ourselves as a bridge,” said Mitch Glaser, head of Chosen People Ministries, another major Messianic organization. “With anti-Semitism on the rise, we want more evangelicals to be pro-Jewish and pro-Israel. Helping evangelicals see the Jewish roots of their faith is a way to open that door.”

-ibid

Yes, the flip side says that by encouraging Christians to embrace the Passover, it could actually reduce anti-Semitism in the Church. Maybe, but it seems to be re-enforcing supersessionism | replacement theology, which is hardly desirable.

The article does cite both Christian and Jewish objections to Christians holding their own seders:

A 2014 article on the website Religion Dispatches — written by a Christian and titled “Why Christians Should Not Host Their Own Passover Seders” — the author decried Christian Seders as theologically dangerous and culturally insensitive. “One of the privileges that comes with being part of the majority culture is that nobody is likely to call you out on your cultural appropriation,” the post read. “So, call yourself out. Don’t host a seder.”

And Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, previously denounced Christian Seders as “distorting the meaning” of the Seder by introducing Jesus into the ceremony — imposing a Christian reading onto what Rudin sees as the true Jewish narrative.

-ibid

And of course, Christians who choose to hold their own seders often aren’t really attempting to observe all the traditions of Passover:

This evangelical fascination with Passover also appears mainly focused on the Seder, just one part of the traditional Jewish observances of the holiday. Jews also abstain from eating any leavened foods for the eight days of Passover. For the most observant, the first and last two days of the holiday are spent in synagogue in prayer.

-ibid

That’s actually a good thing since there’s no actual attempt to “observe” Pesach in the Church in the manner of the Jewish people.

I’m a Gentile believer in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Jewish Messiah King, and I’m married to a Jewish wife who is not a believer.

Every year, we have our small family seder, and even though I’m not Jewish, because my wife and children are, I attend the seder and lead in the readings.

If I have my own personal interpretation of what the seder and the Passover season means to me, it is kept within the privacy of my own mind and heart.

I know there are “Messianic Gentiles” who have a more liberal view on this issue, but my perspective is born out of painful experience, both within the family and in more congregational venues.

PassoverUltimately, people will approach Passover based on their identity, beliefs, and often on their desires. I only represent my personal point of view. It’s a wonderful thing for a Gentile to be invited by a Jew to join their seder (and depending on the branch of Judaism involved, it might be forbidden to invite a non-Jew), but just remember, it’s their seder, not ours.

If we are invited now or in the age to come, it is an act of graciousness. It’s not our right to be there.

Hurtado on the “Conversion” of Paul

The Jewish PaulI finally got around to reading Larry Hurtado’s blog post The “Conversion” of Paul and found it illuminating. Here are the two most telling paragraphs:

But it’s a genuine question among scholars whether Paul understood himself as having undergone a “conversion,” at least in the sense that the word typically has. He didn’t move from irreligion to a religious life, from being a sinful man to virtue. And he didn’t change his God, or denounce his ancestral religious tradition. Instead, he expresses the strong conviction that the God he had always sought to serve showed him his blindness in opposing the Jesus-movement, revealed (Paul’s word) Jesus’ high/unique status, and summoned Paul to a special mission that he believed would usher in (or at least promote markedly) the consummation of the divine plan of world-redemption.

So, some scholars prefer to characterize Paul’s shift in religious orientation as a prophet-like “calling” rather than a “conversion” (as influentially proposed by Krister Stendahl). Others, such as Alan Segal, contended that “conversion” was appropriate, as the term can include a change from one version of a religious tradition to another, such as a Roman Catholic becoming a Baptist. So, Segal urged, Paul shifted from one understanding of what his God required to another very different one, and from opposition to the Jesus-movement to aligning himself with it.

Anyone who has read this blogspot for very long knows I don’t consider Paul (or Rav Shaul if you prefer) a convert, but rather someone who received a “Prophet-like” calling (to use Hurtado’s phrase) to become Rav Yeshua’s (Jesus Christ’s) emissary to the Gentiles.

What’s really cool though, is Hurtado, a well-known and respected New Testament scholar, holds a view of Paul that you would hardly find preached in most normative Christian churches.

I still find it surprising that what the Church teaches (and I’m using the word “Church” in the broadest possible sense) is so at odds with the continuing research being done on the New Testament in general and on Paul specifically.

I suppose one explanation could be that, Christian (and Jewish) tradition about Paul being what it is, the average Christian sitting in the pew on Sunday wouldn’t tolerate a radical update to his/her doctrine. In order to make supersessionist/replacement theology work, Paul had to convert from the Judaism of his day to early Christianity. Most Jews and probably even some Christians believe that Paul even founded Christianity, converting it from a branch of ancient Judaism to a wholly Gentile religion.

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

Hurtado’s reply to one of his readers continues to establish his views on the Apostle, complete with Biblical citations:

Well, Michael, to go by his own testimony, Paul/Saul remained a devoted Jew, even in his ministry as “apostle to the nations” (e.g., Philip 3:4ff; 2 Cor 11:21ff.). But you put your finger on the historical phenomenon that I’ve worked on for over 30 yrs now, offering the best answers that I can find to the various component questions. Paul’s own statement (Gal 1:13ff) is that he shifted from opponent of the Jesus-movement to proponent when “God revealed his Son to me”. So, he accepted the exalted status of Jesus as thoroughly compatible with his commitment to the uniqueness of the God of Israel precisely because he was convinced (by a “revelation”) that this one God had himself exalted Jesus and now required him to be acknowledged and reverenced. In short, if God approved, who was he to withstand it?

In 2 Cor 3:7–4:6, Paul’s description of fellow members of Israel who don’t perceive/accept Jesus as “Lord” pictures them as having a veil over their minds. But “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16).

We have to form our notions of what “Jewish traditions and biblical monotheism” could include based on the evidence, not preconceptions. And, as I showed in my 1988 book, One God, One Lord (3rd ed., 2015), “ancient Jewish Monotheism” could accommodate some amazing things.

Moreover, Paul was and remained a Jew, and so even the remarkable view of Jesus that he accepted must be included as one of the developments initially within 2nd temple Jewish tradition.

Coffee and BibleI’m probably just recycling things I’ve written in the past, but frankly, I learn more about what the Bible is actually saying by studying scholarly works rather than listening to a Pastor’s sermon or going to Sunday School.

I wish I could make blogs like Hurtado’s  “required reading” for all churches everywhere, but, in my  opinion, many or most Christians don’t want to actually learn anything new. They are quite content to have their theology “settled”.

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.

Is Unknowingly Committing A Transgression A Transgression?

As some of you may know, I’ve slowed down the frequency of blog posts here pretty dramatically compared to past years. Although I haven’t particularly avoided Jewish-based themes, I’ve tried to target my content more for non-Jews and avoid some of the controversy that continues to surround a non-Jew intersecting the domain of Messianic Judaism or any other kind of Judaism.

tefillin
Image: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)

But I just read Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s latest Shabbat Shalom Weekly column and he wrote about a personal experience of his that I have never considered before:

For several years I have been studying Inside Stam, (Stam — acronym: Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzuos) a fascinating book on the laws pertaining to Tefillin, Mezuzos, Sifrei Torah by Reuvain Mendlowitz. I was very excited to have my tefillin checked by him on a recent trip to Israel. Much to my surprise, Rabbi Mendlowitz told me that I needed to replace the “fake straps.” Fake straps?

Straps on tefillin must be made from kosher animals and painted black. It seems that an unscrupulous individual had sold counterfeit straps made in the Far East from horse hide bonded with black plastic and passed them off as kosher! What this meant to me is that I, and hundreds if not thousands of others, unknowingly were not fulfilling the mitzvah of wearing tefillin!

Now obviously, Rabbi Packouz never thought for one second that his tefillin straps were counterfeit, and with proper intent, believed he was fulfilling the mitzvah involved. It would be like eating a bowl of chicken soup that someone had sprinkled undetectable amounts of some non-kosher food into. It’s not the eater’s fault and they wouldn’t even know they were consuming treif.

So can we say that R. Packouz really failed to fulfill the mitzvah of donning tefillin? He obviously thinks so:

There are those who might say, “It’s OK. God understands. It’s what’s you wanted to accomplish and whether the tefillin were kosher or not doesn’t really matter.” It is presumptuous to assume that we know what God “understands.” If the Almighty “went to all of the trouble” to convey so many specific details on how tefillin are made and how they should be worn, then perhaps there is much more to the mitzvah than one’s intentions.

When the Hubble telescope was launched into space in 1990, the photographs were not as clear as expected. Upon investigation it was found that the mirror was ground with an error from the prescribed curve of only 10 nanometers — but resulted in creating a “catastrophic spherical aberration” in the images.

Some things have to be perfect to work.

But R. Packouz is making an assumption that, in not knowing exactly what and how God “understands,” He literally requires all mitzvot to be observed strictly, even, in this case, if it is impossible for the Jewish person involved to know the tefillin straps were fake.

R. Packouz suggests having your (if you are a Jew) tefillin straps checked by a competent, God-fearing sofer (scribe). That makes sense, but the Rabbi trusted the sofer he originally bought his tefillin from, and apparently, the sofer trusted whoever he purchased them from.

Part of me wants to say that God will pardon such transgressions because they were made without intent, but then I remember that in the days of the Tabernacle and later, the Temple, there were sacrifices made for unintentional sin (once the person realized he or she had committed unintentional sin).

Christianity seems a lot more flexible when it comes to transgressions, unintentional and otherwise. I can see why some Christians consider Jewish mitzvot to be a straitjacket. On the other hand, maybe Christianity in general treats the requirements of God like the Emperor’s New Clothes.