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FFOZ TV Review: All Foods Clean

All Foods CleanEpisode 23: Most Christians believe that when Mark 7 tells us “thus he declared all foods clean,” that the biblical dietary restrictions were abolished once and for all. In Episode twenty-three viewers will learn that in order to understand these words, it is imperative to look into the Jewish context of the Mark 7 story, and in particular that the argument surrounded not food but ritual hand washing. It will be discovered that the dietary laws are indeed still in force for the Jewish people and will be the menu for the Messianic kingdom.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 23: All Foods Clean (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of All Foods Clean

This episode takes on the traditional Christian doctrine that teaches Jesus abolished the Kosher food laws during his earthly ministry based on the following scripture:

And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

Mark 7:18-19 (ESV)

I understand something of the background of these scriptures and why they don’t actually prove that Jesus abolished the Kosher laws, but First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby did an excellent job at digging deeper and making points I had never considered before. After watching this episode, I challenge any Christian to continue believing that Jesus declared all foods “Kosher” based on the above quoted verses.

But first things first.

We find the basis for the Jewish Kosher laws in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 which outlines the foods Jews can and cannot eat according to the commandments of God. Toby didn’t mention this, but the basis for how food animals are to be slaughtered is only briefly mentioned in the Torah and thus, a significant amount of Rabbinic interpretation is involved in expanding on this important issue, adding more dimension to what makes an animal Kosher in relation to the method of execution and preparation.

However, as you’re about to discover, the discussion in Mark 7 had nothing to do with Kosher foods at all. In fact, it would have been a contradiction for Jesus to have “declared all foods clean” (Kosher) since in Matthew 5:17 Jesus said he had not come to abolish any of the Torah laws, and in Isaiah 66:17 the prophet said that in the future Messianic Kingdom, it will be an abomination to eat pork or mice (non-Kosher animals).

So if Jesus and the Pharisees weren’t even talking about “keeping Kosher,” what were they talking about?

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

Mark 7:1-5 (ESV)

Toby has said in at least one prior episode that “context is King,” and we see that illustrated here. The beginning verses of this chapter show us that the Pharisees weren’t accusing Jesus and his disciples of eating pork chops with a side of shrimp scampi. It had to do with eating (bread) with defiled hands, that is, unwashed hands. It had to do with a particular practice that the Pharisees had of ritually washing not only their hands, but many other objects in order to achieve a level of ritual purity. This was completely irrelevant to the issue of Kosher or non-Kosher foods and was a tradition the Pharisees took upon themselves to honor God; a tradition of the elders.

The following is Jesus’ response to the allegations that his disciples didn’t keep the same ritual washing tradition as the Pharisees:

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!

Mark 7:8-9 (ESV)

Jesus turns the conversation completely around and accuses the Pharisees of being so concerned about non-Biblical traditions involving excessive ritual purity, that they neglected the higher moral laws of the Torah.

That brings us to Toby’s first clue:

Clue 1: The context of Mark 7 is ritual handwashing before eating, not the dietary laws of the Bible.

Toby JanickiThat’s pretty much where I thought Toby was going to go, but what happens next, I didn’t expect and in fact, Aaron’s Hebrew language lesson opened up new information for me, and went a long way to “sealing the deal” that Jesus and the Pharisees weren’t discussing the Kosher laws on any level in Mark 7.

There’s a world of difference in talking about the Kosher food laws and the concept of ritual purity. In Hebrew, the word for ritually clean is “Tahor” and the word for ritually impure is “Tamai.” This has nothing to do with sinning, but it does require a little background to understand the concepts and their relevancy to this discussion.

Aaron told a sort of story in order to illustrate his point. You have to imagine yourself as a Jewish person in the days of Jesus when the Temple was still standing. You are having the Passover meal with a family in Jerusalem. The lamb you will be eating was sacrificed at the Temple and, in order for a Jewish person to eat a Temple Sacrifice, that person has to be Tahor or ritually pure. This isn’t a requirement for having any Kosher meal, only for eating a Temple Sacrifice.

Aaron said that if one of the guests at the meal were to suddenly pass away, just the presence of a corpse at the Passover meal would render everything, including the people in attendance, as Tamai. They would no longer be able to eat the Passover lamb because they would be in a state of ritual impurity.

Again, this has nothing to do with sin. No one did anything wrong. There are many conditions listed in the Torah that could make a person Tamai. A woman who gives birth or who has her monthly period is considered Tamai. A man who has had typical marital relations with his wife is considered Tamai. That doesn’t mean they’ve done anything wrong, and it doesn’t mean they can’t eat anything, but one thing it does mean is that until they perform the rituals listed in the Bible to again become Tahor, they can not eat any Temple Sacrifice.

Aaron describes the procedure for returning to ritual purity, which you can get from the episode, but comprehending the meaning of Tahor and Tamai is critical to understanding the discussion in Mark 7.

It’s important to note that cycles of being Tahor and Tamai were a typical part of a Jewish human experience and even Jesus would have been Tamai and Tahor depending on a variety of circumstances. It has nothing to do with sin and a great deal to do with involvement in Temple ceremonies in ancient Israel for a Jewish person. Normal Kosher food can either be Tahor or Tamai, but as long as it’s not part of a Temple Sacrifice, it’s OK for a Jewish person to eat Tamai bread. There’s no sin.

Aaron EbyThis next part is the key (and I’d love to see Toby and Aaron’s source material on this matter – – bibliography, please). The Pharisees who confronted Jesus and his disciples in Mark 7 kept a particular practice where they treated every meal as if it were a Temple Sacrifice. This required them to exist in a constant state of ritual purity or be continually Tahor. They had to enter the mikvah and otherwise practice many ritual purity washings in all aspects of their day-to-day existence. This was absolutely not required by the Torah and had nothing to do with the Kosher laws, but was their way of honoring God, though God didn’t obligate them or any Jew to do so.

To maintain a constant state of ritual purity, the Pharisees (I don’t know if all Pharisees kept this practice or only some) had to avoid all contact with other Jews who did not keep the same excessive level of purity (and contact with Gentiles on any level was completely out of the question). These Pharisees led very complicated lives where even having a meal involved a great deal of preparation and would have been very difficult to maintain.

Back in the studio, Toby uses Aaron’s teaching to produce the second clue:

Clue 2: Mark 7 involves a sectarian preference of the Pharisees and not a Biblical requirement.

At this point, it should be abundantly clear that Mark 7 can’t be used as a proof text for the extinction of the Kosher laws at the hands of Jesus, but we have a problem.

…since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

Mark 7:19 (ESV)

We have a statement in parenthesis saying that Jesus declared all foods clean. Toby read from a variety of different Bible translations but only the King James Version translates this verse literally and omits any mention of Jesus declaring all foods or meats kosher or pure.

The words in parenthesis were added by the translators and are not in any of the original Greek texts. Toby was generous and said the translators were just trying to clarify the verse, but what they actually did was to impose their theology onto the Bible by adding words to it (which I think both the Torah and New Testament take a dim view of).

I’ll omit posting all of the different translation examples used by Toby except for the following:

He said to them, “Are even you lacking discernment? Do you not comprehend that whatever comes within a person from the outside of him does not contaminate him? For it does not come into his heart, but rather into his stomach, and it goes out to the toilet, which cleanses all that is eaten.”

Mark 7:18-19 (DHE Gospels)

Here, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being completely out of balance, giving ultimate importance to a man-made standard of excessive ritual purity while neglecting the moral implications of the Bible. The Pharisees were nearly obsessed with avoiding eating anything Tamai which, for non-Temple Sacrificed food, would not affect their relationship with God and would literally pass into the toilet, as opposed to ignoring the Torah commandments and thus becoming morally impure, those things that enter the heart and result in “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22 ESV).

Clue 3: The words “Jesus declared all foods clean” are not in the original Greek text.

This should go a long way in establishing to everyone familiar with these verses that they cannot possibly be interpreted the way the Church as typically understood them. The phrase about Jesus declaring all foods clean is a tragic example of the Christian church in all it’s denominations across much of history favoring man-made traditions (traditions of the elders) and ignoring the actual words of the Bible in their proper context.

kosher eatingThis is an excellent example of why I’m a Christian who studies Messianic Judaism. The vast majority of Christian teachers would have not understood this point at all.

Toby quickly mentions that even though the Kosher laws were not done away with, that doesn’t mean Gentile Christians have to suddenly start separating their milk and meat products. The Kosher laws are applied to the Jewish people, while the only food restrictions for Gentile Christians are found in Acts 15 (and how the “Jerusalem letter” is understood would be a worthy study for a future episode of this show).

Toby also said that in the Messianic Era, the whole world (Jews and Gentiles alike) will be eating Kosher, which probably doesn’t sound like good news to most of the Christians who read my blog. How that works would also have to be covered in another FFOZ TV show since it represents another mystery.

What Did I Learn?

Aaron’s lesson and how Toby applied it was completely new to me. I had some understanding of the concepts of Tahor and Tamai, but I had no idea of the excessive levels of ritual purity practiced by the Pharisees of Mark 7 vs. Tahor and Tamai in relation to ordinary Kosher meals. I know most Christians will try to find a way around this, but for me, it was another example of how this show presents very tight arguments that help us correctly understand the Gospels from their original, apostolic perspective.

I found myself wishing Toby had tossed in a clue or two about Acts 10, since that’s the other major part of scripture used by Christians to “prove” that God did away with the Kosher laws. But then I remembered this:

You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean (emph. mine).

Acts 10:28 (NRSV)

If you recall, earlier I said that the excessive level of ritual purity kept by the Pharisees in Mark 7 would make it impossible to have any sort of association with Gentiles, even to the point of entering their homes. Merely being in a non-Jewish home would pose a great risk of a Jew becoming Tamai for a number of reasons. Now this represents no sin, but for the Pharisees, who could not even eat a single meal in a state of Tamai, it would be exceptionally difficult to have relations with Gentiles.

But what about Peter? We already know that Jesus didn’t require his disciples to keep a level of ritual purity matching the Pharisees.

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them (emph. mine).

Mark 7:1-2 (NRSV)

The text says that only some of Jesus’ disciples ate with unwashed hands, not all of them. Was Peter one of the Jewish disciples of Jesus who did keep a higher level of ritual purity, treating all meals as if he had to be Tahor to eat them? Was this excessive standard of purity considered the de facto standard among Jews until Jesus taught his disciples otherwise?

I don’t know, but since I do know the Torah does not say that it is unlawful for a Jew to “associate with or to visit a Gentile,” the fact that Peter was saying those words and his Jewish companions seemed to be aligned with this belief tells me it’s quite possible Peter kept some of these excessive purity laws (and I should mention that the tradition of washing hands, called Netilat Yadayim, is practiced by some observant Jews today).

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

Acts 11:1-3 (NRSV)

Here we see Peter being confronted by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Council, which could very well have included James, the brother of the Master, and they were very surprised that Peter was associating with Gentiles. This confrontation seems to support that the apostles and brothers in Jerusalem also had adopted a higher set of standards of ritual purity than Jesus and the Torah required. This is very important in understanding the following:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-14 (NRSV)

Apparently, Peter had become accustomed to eating and associating with Gentiles, that is, until some “certain people” showed up, probably important representatives from James and the apostolic council in Jerusalem. We can’t be certain of the sequence of events, but Galatians was probably written before Acts 15. However, did Peter already have his encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10? It seems likely if he initially was OK with associating with Gentiles, but he obviously struggled with the level of ritual purity and tradition he felt he needed to keep, and how it would look to James and the brothers in Jerusalem. He was influenced by peer pressure, unlike Paul, who was a lot more comfortable with being a Jewish man in close proximity to Gentiles, and knowing that did not make him unacceptable to God as a Jew.

DHE Gospel of MarkAgain and again, in all the so-called Christian “proof texts” which seem to abolish the Kosher laws, we see that the topic isn’t about Kosher foods at all, but rather how some Jews, including possibly Peter, kept a higher than necessarily level of ritual purity, and how that specific preference could be used to discriminate against the Gentile believers by “requiring” Gentiles in the body of Messiah not to be permitted to associate with believing Jews (at least those who kept this higher standard).

Sure, some of this is supposition on my part, but given all of the solid scriptural evidence of the maintaining of the Kosher laws for the Jewish people of the apostolic era (and by inference, among modern Jews today, including modern believing Jews), I think I make a good case in explaining the “food” issues of Acts 10 and Galatians 2. Some of my conclusions are also derived from the opinions and research of New Testament scholar and author Mark Nanos, which I’ve previously recorded on this blog.

I know some Christians who express great joy at not “being under the Law” and who would be pretty dismayed at my conclusions, but as Toby said, there’s nothing in the Bible that tells us non-Jewish Christians must keep the Kosher laws. The Didache, an early document dated to the second or even first centuries and purportedly used to train new Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah entering the Jewish religious stream of “the Way,” offers no requirement or even mention of the Kosher laws as applied to non-Jewish believers, and only stresses that the Gentiles should avoid meats sacrificed to idols (which mirrors the Acts 15 directives to Gentile disciples). While I think any non-Jewish believer can take on board additional Torah mitzvoth, including Kosher, voluntarily (and the Didache also supports this), it’s voluntary and a matter of conviction between the person and God.

Just remember that the Pharisees also kept a standard of observance that was higher than what God required of them as well, and it resulted in them becoming so focused on those excessive standards that they ended up ignoring what actually was required of them. If you, as a Christian, feel you want to modify your eating habits to reflect some level of Kosher or Kosher-like observance, just remember that such observance by a Gentile believer will never be as important to God as what is required of us, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

Final note: this is probably a good time to mention that there are only three more episodes in the series available for me to review. Given the value I’ve found in what I’ve seen so far, I hope the folks at FFOZ consider producing more shows in this excellent television series soon.

The Didache in Retrospect, Part 2

SpeakThe fifth sequence might appear as puzzling since it associates grumbling as “leading to blasphemy” (3:6). The Greek term “blasphemia” derives from “blapto” + “theme” (“to injure” + “speech”) and so could be rendered as “slander.” In the Septuagint, however, this term is almost entirely used to denote injurious speech against the Lord, hence what is communal called “blasphemy.” Since the verb “gonguzein” (“to murmur”) is used repeatedly to describe the grumbling of the Israelite people in the desert (Exod. 16:2, 7(2x), 8(2x), 9, 12), some scholars believe this is the implied case history that stands behind the warning against murmuring (Ross 218).

-Aaron Milavec
“A Brief Commentary,” pp 58-9
The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary

I’m picking things up pretty much where I left off in yesterday’s morning meditation. You may wonder about the above-quoted text, but while Milavec associates it with “grumbling” or blaspheming against the Lord, the phrases “to injure” and “speech” remind me of something else.

Leviticus 25:17 says, “You shall not wrong one another.” This has traditionally been interpreted as wronging a person with speech. It includes any statement that will embarrass, insult or deceive a person, or cause a person emotional pain or distress.

-from the article “Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra”
Judaism 101

I don’t question Milavec’s interpretation of this portion of the Didache, the document apparently used to train newly minted Gentile disciples in “the Way,” possibly in the late first century to late second century in the common era, but it also seems reasonable that if the novice Gentile disciples were warned against “injuring” God in speech, they would also be warned against injuring other people in speech.

This is training that many believers in the various religious streams that claim Jesus as Lord and Messiah would benefit from today.

I mentioned some things about Gentiles and food issues in my original pass through on the Didache, but Milavec speaks further on this topic on pages 61-2 of his commentary:

The absolute prohibition against eating “the food sacrificed to idols” (6:3) occurs after the conclusion of the training program and just prior to baptism.

Milavec debates whether this prohibition was placed outside the “Way of Life” instruction as an awkward addition or the injunction was developed and added to a later iteration of the oral instructions/written Didache as a necessity to cement this restriction as an absolute “no-no.” This was probably easier said than done for Gentiles just coming out of paganism and with family and friends still involved in the Roman/Greek worship framework:

Of necessity, therefore, most candidates would have been constrained to take part in family meals wherein, either regularly or periodically, some offering was made to the household gods as part of the meal or some portion of the meats served had been previously offered at a public altar.

-Milavec, pg 62

kosher eatingWhile the prohibition against eating meat sacrificed to idols was one of the absolute commandments in the Didache, reflecting a portion of the Jerusalem letter (Acts 15:28-29), Neither the text of the Didache nor Milavec’s commentary mention applying kosher food restrictions to Gentile disciples in any sense. It also doesn’t mention how Jewish and Gentile table fellowship was to be managed, but then, the perspective of Jews who would be eating with Gentiles was outside the scope of the Didache’s mission, which was as a training manual for a specifically Gentile audience.

In speaking to Baptism (pp 62-4), Milavec cautions against turning “Immerse in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (7:1) into a “baptismal formula”:

Furthermore, the Hebraic expression of acting “in the name of X” has to do with the way a disciple or servant was authorized to act because of the training or mandate received from the master.

-ibid pp 62-3

This is a reflection of how a Rabbi would teach in the name of or in the merit of his master. We find this in the apostolic scriptures:

According to the Christian Scriptures, for example, the Twelve heralded the reign of God and apprenticed disciples “in the name of “Jesus” (Acts 4:18; 5:28; 9:27, 29).

-ibid, pg 63

Milavec’s commentary continues to reveal that this document, though a set of instructions for Gentiles, has a very Jewish source.

The closing line, “This is the Way of Life!” (4:14b), probably served as a liturgical refrain and, quite possibly, following Jewish parallels, was sung (#5a).

-ibid

It is also apparent that the character of the Didache recognized no separation between the “Jewishness” of its sources and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, declaring that Jesus and the apostles were completely representative of the normative Judaisms of that day:

The Didache declares that members should pray “as the Lord commanded” (8:2). The “Lord,” in this case, is not Jesus, for he is regarded as “the servant” who reveals “the life and understanding” of the Father (9:3). For early Christians, Jesus proclaimed “the good news of God” (Mark 1:14; Rom 1:1, 15:16; 2 Cor 2:7; 1 Thess 2:2, 9; 1 Pet 4:17) — never the good news of Jesus.

-ibid, pg 65

This is bound to make many modern Christian readers a little nervous or concerned, because the Didache is elevating God the Father higher than Jesus the Son. At the risk of offending almost everyone, it also potentially raises questions about the modern conceptualization of the trinity, since trinitarian theology considers the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit co-equals in the Godhead or the “Echad” of God. Of course, Jesus considered himself a servant in his early incarnation, but post-ascension, we cannot say that continued to be so, at least in standard Christian thought.

Part of the reason I bring this up is because I recently quoted John MacArthur on the topic of being “obsessed” with Jesus:

The charismatic movement fails this test of exalting Christ above all. MacArthur said, Show me a person obsessed with the Holy Spirit and I’ll show you a person not filled by the Spirit. Show me a person obsessed with Jesus Christ and I’ll show you a Spirit-filled person.

The Didache seems to take another viewpoint on this matter, at least relative to God the Father.

PaulOne of the values of examining ancient Christian texts such as the Didache, are that they are closer to their Jewish source and pre-date the overwhelming majority of Gentile Christian teachings. The Didache may give us a snapshot of how the Jewish and Gentile believers viewed certain concepts that we take for granted in the Church today. I don’t say this to upset anyone, but to bring into focus that what we understand about being a Christian now could be seen as entirely foreign by the very first Christians in the ekklesia communities established by Paul.

What would the apostle Paul say if he were to walk into a 21st century church and listen to what was being taught?

Milavec confirms that the Didache fully anticipated Gentile believers encountering prophets and seems to cast such occurrences in “charismatic” terms:

When the Spirit was active each inspired prophet gave thanks “as much as” he or she wished — a hint that when the prophets got rolling their combined ecstatic prayers might well run on over an hour. Lest this be considered preposterous, consider the case of the second-century “Martyrium Polycarpi,” where one discovers that Polycarp “stood up and prayed, being so full of the grace of God, that for two hours he could not hold his peace.”

-ibid, pg 70

Polycarp is considered the last disciple of John, the last apostle, and when Polycarp died, the direct line of discipleship leading back to the original apostolic tradition was destroyed. I mourn Polycarp as the last link to a body of wisdom and experience we understand only incompletely today.

I find it a little anachronistic for Milavec to insert “charismatic” concepts into ancient times, since the modern Charismatic movement is extremely young. This could represent a bias on Milavec’s part which may include his belief (I’m guessing here) that the “gifts of the Spirit” extended beyond the closure of Biblical canon. But how would the actual, lived experience of a man like Polycarp testify in relation to modern Christian doctrine?

When discussing “First Fruits Offered to the Prophets,” Milavec says something unanticipated, at least by me:

The anti-temple stance of the Didache (#10q, 14b) and the decided preference for the Spirit-led prayers of the prophets helps explain why the first fruits were to be given to “the prophets,” who were regarded as the most fitting substitutes for the priests of the Temple.

-ibid, pg 75

My interpretation of the so-called “anti-temple stance” of the Didache is different. It is likely that the Didache was an oral tradition in the last days of the Temple and for most of the “lifetime” of this document’s utility, the Temple probably no longer existed. Judaism underwent a remarkable and traumatic transition with the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the majority of the Jewish people from their beloved Israel. That transition ultimately evolved into the Jewish tradition that considers prayers and good deeds (mitzvot) taking the place of the sacrifices. The tithe once offered at the Temple for a firstborn is still, in some corners of Judaism, given to one known to be a Cohen in modern Israel and in some Jewish communities in today’s diaspora.

Solomons-TempleIt is possible the sections of the Didache that address giving first fruits to prophets mirror this practice of substitution, so, in effect, the new Gentile disciples were being encouraged to follow Jewish practices mapping to Temple sacrifices that were no longer possible.

It has been said that in the future Kingdom of Israel, when Messiah reigns on the Throne of David, the sacrifices of Gentiles will once again be accepted in the Temple in Jerusalem as they were in the days of the First and Second Temples.

The Rabbis say (Hullin 13b): ‘Sacrifices are to be accepted from Gentiles as they are from Jews’ …

-from My Jewish Learning

Gentiles were welcomed to the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and they will participate even more at the Third Temple – especially during the festival of Sukkot (Zech. 14:16).

When the First Temple was inaugurated by King Solomon, he beseeched G-d with an eloquent prayer that included the following words (Kings I, 8:41-43)…

Torah Law holds that Gentiles are allowed to bring burnt offerings to G-d in the Temple when it is standing in Jerusalem. There is a specific commandment to let us know that an animal (sheep, goat or bullock) offered in the Temple by a Gentile must be unblemished, to the same degree as the offering of a Jew. (Leviticus 22:25)

The Prophet Isaiah foretold us about the even greater participation of Gentiles that will take place at the Third Temple (Isaiah 2:2-3):

“And it will come to pass at the end of days that the mountain of G-d’s House will be firmly established, even higher than the peaks, and all the peoples will flow toward it as a river. And many nations will go and will cry, ‘Let us go up toward the mountain of G-d’s House, to the House of the L-rd of Jacob, and we will learn from His ways and walk in His paths, for out of Zion goes forth Torah and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.’ “

-from “Will Gentiles worship at the Third Temple during Sukkot?”
AskNoah.org

With all that said, I must disagree with Milavec that the Didache is “anti-Temple,” but rather, it was encouraging Gentile disciples to offer “first fruits” in a manner acceptable within the early post-Temple era in Judaism, and perhaps with an eye on the future Kingdom of Messiah, when the sacrifices of Gentiles would be as acceptable as those of a Jewish person.

The last significant section in Milavec’s commentary on the Didache references the End Times, but I think I’ll save that for my third and final blog post in this series.

Kosher Jesus Salad

The presence of even one whole bug, dead or alive, can render an entire vegetable treif — unkosher. On this matter, Orthodox rabbis are unequivocal.

“From a Torah perspective, eating a Big Mac or eating a salad with insects in it, the salad is worse,” Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, who runs the nonprofit Kosher Information Bureau, told me when I met him at his home office in Valley Village.

-Jonah Lowenfeld
“Can we afford kosher lettuce”
January 25, 2012
JewishJournal.com

I actually encountered this article by way of a completely different blog, in a story called How A Rabbinic Ban On Bugs May Have Led To The Creation Of Christianity. As one of the people who commented on the story said, the connection is a pretty big stretch, but the title alone was enough to get my attention.

The Failed Messiah blog is highly critical of Chasidic Judaism and the Chabad movement, which doesn’t exactly make the blog owner Shmarya Rosenberg endearing to many Jews, but he does provide a great deal of information, that would otherwise not be easily accessible, about what goes on in Crown Heights and other Chabad and Haredi communities. I usually take what he writes with a grain of salt, but was captivated with how he could say that a Rabbinic prohibition against eating bugs could possibly have lead to the creation of Christianity.

Let’s cut to the chase.

Din baria probably originated with Beit Shammai, the sometimes violent opponents of Hillel and his school, and whose children and grandchildren heavily populated the rank of the Sicarii and other zealots who spurred the war against Rome that led to the Temple’s destruction.

A student of one of Hillel’s students attacked these rabbis’ extremism: “You blind guides!” he said, “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

That student, fed up with the growing halakhic extremism that dominated Israel from the last few years of Hillel’s life until the Destruction, did what many other disgruntled Jews did with regard to the rabbis or to the Temple cult – they walked away and formed their own version of Judaism or joined one of the many sects that began at that time.

His sect, known in history as the Jerusalem Church, grew. An offshoot from it – one the student’s brother, who was then the sect’s leader, opposed – is Christianity.

Rosenberg, to the best of my knowledge, has no reason to be sympathetic toward Christianity or to want to create even the slightest link between oto ha’ish (an insulting term some Orthodox Jews use when referring to Jesus) and traditional or historic Judaism. And yet here he is referring to Jesus (though not by name) as a “student of one of Hillel’s students” and directly quoting from the New Testament (Matthew 23:24). Rosenberg even compares the “creation” of Christianity to “(forming) their own version of Judaism or (joining) one of the many sects that began at that time.”

When’s the last time you heard a (non-Messianic) Jewish person refer to Christianity as having begun as a Jewish sect? It makes me wonder just how much of an impact Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s soon-to-be-published book Kosher Jesus may be having, even if that impact may not be conscious (OK, I’m probably stretching the connection beyond credibility, but let’s roll with it anyway).

Is Jesus starting to be mixed in with today’s kosher tossed salad among some Jews? Just thought I’d ask.

Tradition!

Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything… How to sleep, how to eat… how to work… how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer shawl that shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, “How did this tradition get started?” I’ll tell you! I don’t know.

But it’s a tradition… and because of our traditions… Every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.

-Tevye
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach answered, “Although there is no source in the poskim, this is the custom and it has been the custom for quite a while.”

Mishna Berufa Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“A Sign of Mourning”
Rema Siman 131 Seif 2

Powerful and moving as study can be, Judaism has to do more than challenge us intellectually. If it is to help us search for spirituality and quest for a sense of God’s closeness, Jewish life has to give us opportunities to express hope and fear, joy and grief. It has to connect us not only to tradition and to our history, but to family and community. It has to create moments in which we touch the innermost parts of who we are, when we can appreciate the miracles of everyday living and when we can reconnect to the dreams we have for ourselves, our families, and the world. Judaism, if it is to provide Jews with something that will truly shape their lives, has to make room for the soul no less than for the mind. That is why in addition to the world of words and text, Jewish life also revolves around ritual.

-Rabbi Daniel Gordis
“Ritual – Creating Space for Spirituality” (pp 102-3)
God Was Not In The Fire

As I make my way through Rabbi Gordis’ book, I find myself falling in love with Judaism all over again. I know people can stab and poke at Jews and Judaism and find fault, but I suppose that’s because Jews are human and not perfect and the rest of us are human and not perfect. But there’s something so beautiful and calming about the traditions in Judaism. There’s an order and a “centeredness” about a devout life, from saying the Modei Ani upon awaking to reciting the Bedtime Shema before retiring. People, whether secular or religious, who do not have a tradition from which to draw and add meaning to their lives, must experience existence in such a colorless dimension. It seems rather sad when religious people disdain tradition, because it’s part of what gives context and meaning to a life lived for God. Tradition and ritual also provides direction and form to trust and faith because without them, the Bible does not say in precise detail how we are to even worship.

Shabbat is not the only ritual in Jewish life that fosters relationship and connection. While each life-cycle ritual (the bris, naming ceremonies for girls, weddings, funerals, and the like) has its own symbolism and its own message, and each holiday on the annual calendar cycle (Rosh Ha-shanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, Shavuot, and the others) celebrates a different value or event, what ultimately makes them powerful is the sense of community that they provide. Sharing many of these holidays and life-altering moments together somehow creates the connectedness that many modern Jews desperately want but have not found elsewhere. When they finally find that connection, they find spiritual richness, a sense of intimacy. They find meaning (Gordis, pg 108).

I think this is part of what makes Judaism so attractive for some non-Jews. I know it’s what attracts me but I recognize the inherent limits as well. Ritual does not a community make, at least not right away. It’s not as if I could simply enter a synagogue on Erev Shabbat and gain an immediate sense of belonging. I would have to stay, perhaps for many years, and allow my life to be molded by the rituals and ceremonies of the community. I would have to allow myself to become connected and the community would have to be willing to allow that connection. Rabbi Gordis wrote this book primarily for a Jewish audience longing to return to or to discover the spiritual meaning in their Judaism. I think Goyim like me just get hooked and taken along for the ride without the author’s full intention.

After all, it’s not like other religions don’t have traditions and rituals, even if they don’t recognize their behaviors by those names. Consider the rituals and traditions of the church. We’ve just finished the Christmas season and many believers in the church find deep meaning, both personal and as families, in celebrating the birth of Christ. It’s not important to them that Jesus was probably born no where near December 25th or that the origins of the modern celebration are attached to ancient, pagan festival practices. The meaning is found in tradition, not the history books. This is true for the other important Christian calendar events and rituals such as Easter, but also includes marriages, funerals, the ritual of communion, baptisms, and a myriad of other activities that define Christian living and life. People outside those traditions may not agree with how the church constructs its rituals and some folks are even vehemently opposed to Christian traditions, but traditions are the structure and the building blocks from which we construct our faith and relationship with God and our fellows.

But there are so many traditions, both within the church and the synagogue. I remember, many years ago, sitting in the local Reform shul when a woman asked the Rabbi (I’m paraphrasing, since I can’t remember what she said word-for-word), “Why do we have so many traditions? It’s like every country we were kicked out of, we took their traditions with us. We have so many. I can’t remember them all.”

It was kind of humorous, and kind of frustrating, and kind of sad the way she asked (you had to have been there…her vocal inflections and pacing gave a wealth of meaning). All of those traditions and rituals are what makes Jewish living uniquely “Jewish”. Not that there’s just one way of being “traditionally” Jewish, as Rabbi Gordis relates (pg 104):

As we examine the world of Jewish ritual, we should not anticipate one authoritative reason for each ceremony or custom. Just as each Jew who studies classical Jewish text reaches different conclusions about its meaning and is touched in profoundly personal ways, so, too, each person drawn to Jewish ritual is drawn by something slightly different. The wisdom of Jewish ritual is that it works on many different levels. Often, it functions in different ways for even the same person.

Particularly for a Jew, ritual and tradition connects them to the study of the sacred texts (Talmud torah), to other individual Jews, to the larger Jewish community, and to the wonder of God. It also connects the Jew to himself and his own personal identity as a Jew beyond an ethnic definition. When a Jewish man davens in the morning wearing a kippah, talit gadol and laying tefillin, feeling the siddur in his hands, singing prayers that are hundreds and even thousands of years old, how can he not feel inside of his soul that he is a Jew?

I, of course, am looking in from the outside, but even to me, this is abundantly apparent. It is no wonder that those who chose to try and destroy Jewish life over the long march of time have burned thousands of copies of the Talmud and siddurim, and forbidden Jewish families from lighting Shabbos candles or praying in synagogue. Even with the threat of certain death, under the most horrible conditions possible, Jews have refused to give up the rituals that say to the world that they are Jewish.

Consider the testimonies of Jews who survived the Nazi death machine and who told of Shabbat in the camps. They spoke of inmates who violated the Nazis’ law, risking immediate death by hoarding their bread from Thursday so that they could have two pieces on Friday (symbolic of the two loaves of challah that tradition requires on Friday evening and Shabbat afternoon). Why would people on the verge of starvation, in which Shabbat could scarcely be celebrated, take this risk? What was to be gained?

What they stood to gain was a chance to reassert their denial of Nazi Europe as an ultimate reality. Honoring Shabbat, even in a murder camp, was their way of saying, “I believe in the possibility of a better world. I deny that you are the real ruler. Despite you, I insist that I am human, that I am created in God’s image, and that one day, a world will arise when good will triumph over evil, when God will triumph over you.” (Gordis pg 120)

I know of no other religion or religious people, not even those Christians who have suffered terribly for their faith, who have something so powerful in their lives that they could be inspired to defy death for the sake of honoring the Shabbat and God.

Some non-Jews are so turned toward the delight of Judaism in their hearts that they convert and make being Jewish their life, adopting the rituals and traditions as their own. There are others who do not convert but who attempt to integrate at least some of what they see as precious in the Jewish life into their own as a form of worshiping Jesus or Yeshua as Savior and Messiah. This gets a little dicey when you start making decisions about which traditions you want to keep and which you want to discard, and the Gentile Christian (who may not even believe he still is a Christian) finds himself in the uncomfortable position of actually re-defining Judaism to suit his personal and religious requirements. It’s sort of like a person who has lived in Los Angeles all his life deciding to move to a small rural town in Colorado because he is attracted to the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, clean air, and simple living. Then, upon his arrival, he rebuilds Los Angeles all around him, brick for brick, car for car, freeway for freeway, because it makes him feel more “comfortable” with “country living”.

If you are going to change your lifestyle, you must come to the realization that you are the one who must change, not traditions and rituals. You accept them and change, or you reject them and admit that you do not want to live as a Jew (the latter being the wiser course of action for most non-Jews).

There is one “Jewish” ritual Rabbi Gordis describes that I think belongs to all human beings, though. There’s a blessing a Jew says upon seeing a rainbow in the sky.

Blessed are you O’ Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who remembers the Covenant, is trustworthy in His Covenant, and fulfills His promise.

Praying with TefillinHowever, this covenant was made with Noah who fathered not only Shem (the Semitic people including Jews) but all of humanity after the flood. The covenant spoken here is with mankind and all human beings can bless the heart of God in this gentle tradition.

But the vast majority of Jewish traditions are…well, Jewish. If you are going to adopt any of them for whatever reason (and keep in mind, some Jewish people might take exception if you end up imitating or “characterturing” Jews), please try to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. Lighting the Shabbat candles honors God as Creator but it doesn’t make you a “spiritual Jew” nor does it say that you are now co-owner of Judaism because you are grafted in (Romans 11). It also doesn’t mean that you can declare yourself “Messianic” as if you are totally divorced from Christianity, and redefine the Torah, Talmud, halachah, and ritual, throwing into the trash whatever doesn’t suit you, and believe that you are in a “Judaism”. You may be doing something, but it probably isn’t very “Jewish”.

One of the “Thou shalt not covets” should be not to covet thy neighbor’s religious practices or his covenants unless you convert to your neighbor’s religion or have another compelling reason to take some on them on board, such as being intermarried. I previously wrote another meditation called Dayenu with that in mind.

Tradition is what gives our faith experience a structure and meaning but what attracts us to a certain tradition may defy logic. Most people love their traditions because it’s what they grew up with and their traditions provide a reminder of childhood comfort, safety, and simplicity. However there are those of us who are drawn to traditions completely alien to our parents for reasons only God knows. Where ever your heart goes and whatever traditions you find yourself practicing, if they belong to someone else, be polite, try to ask permission to join in, and treat the rituals and blessings gently. They may be new to you, but they’ve been precious to others for a hundred lifetimes.