Tag Archives: minyan

Commentary on the Command to Fellowship: A Jewish Interpretation of Hebrews 10:23-25

Yesterday, reader ProclaimLiberty (PL) commented on how he understands the meaning of Hebrews 10:25. Later, I responded by quoting Hebrews 10:23-25 and describing how I understand those verses.

The issue is whether or not Christians can take these verses as a general commandment to enter into fellowship with other believers. That is, does Hebrews 10:25 command us to go to church?

Maybe not, at least not exactly.

PL emailed me a detailed translation and explanation of Hebrews 10:23-25 rather than post it in a blog comment because he wasn’t sure how to deal with the needed typography. I think I can represent what he wrote correctly here in WordPress and I think it’s a much-needed perspective on addressing the pesky challenge of whether or not returning to Christian fellowship should be an imperative for me. I’ll continue to review Pastor Chris Jackson’s book Loving God When You Don’t Love The Church, but I thought this particular commentary was a worthy interlude.

Shabbat Shalom.


@James – Maybe you’ll see a bit more of what I meant in reading the following alternative translation of the Greek text of the Hebrews 10 passage (as I take each verse through the stages of transliteration, literal translation, and colloquial rendition):

23κατέχωμεν τὴν ὁμολογίαν τῆς ἐλπίδος ἀκλινῆ, πιστὸς γὰρ ὁ ἐπαγγειλάμενος:

Katechomen tin homologian tis elpidos aklini, pistos gar ‘o epangeilamenos:

Holding-tight/not-letting-go the saying/claim the [one of] expectation/anticipation [hope or fear] not declining, faithful/trustworthy for/[because of] the [ones] declaring/promising:

Let’s hang on to the claim that we anticipate unflaggingly, because those who declared it to us were trustworthy:

24καὶ κατανοῶμεν ἀλλήλους εἰς παροξυσμὸν ἀγάπης καὶ καλῶν ἔργων,

Kai kata-no-omen allilous eis paraxusmon agapis kai kalon ergon,

and consider one-another unto spurring-on [paroxysms, spasms] love/good-will and good efforts/deeds [mitzvot],

and consider how to spur one another onward in hesed and mitzvot,

25μὴ ἐγκαταλείποντες τὴν ἐπισυναγωγὴν ἑαυτῶν, καθὼς ἔθος τισίν, ἀλλὰ παρακαλοῦντες, καὶ τοσούτῳ μᾶλλον ὅσῳ βλέπετε ἐγγίζουσαν τὴν ἡμέραν.

Mi egkataleipontes tin episunagogin eauton, kathos ethos tisin, alla parakalountes, kai tosouto mallon, ‘oso blephete engidzousan tin emeran.

not abandoning the gathering-together [under the same roof; around the synagogue] ourselves, just-as/seeing-that custom/ethos/habit/practice [of] some, but summoning/exhorting [one another], and so-much/all-the-more, as-far-as/how-much you see approaching the day.

Not abandoning the synagogue meetings [or the prayer minyans], as some have done, but rather calling and encouraging [one another], all the more, as you see daylight approaching.

[Note that this last phrase is an expression of hope that the situation will improve, possibly even invoking the anticipation of that “day” when Messiah ben-David will appear to set all things right.]

Note that this comes out just a bit different from the NASB rendition you cited.

As you can see, my colloquial rendition represents how I envision a modern MJ reflection of the first-century Jewish readership would perceive this passage. As I see it, the Hebrews writer was not exhorting his readers solely to hang onto their faith in Rav Yeshua as the messiah, but to continue in their Jewish praxis and to similarly encourage other beleaguered messianists to do likewise, because of the promised hope that Rav Yeshua would return to set right all the issues and persecutions they were facing, and that they would be found faithful when he came. I’ll turn your attention to a question that appears in Lk.18:8 – of which I will render the final phrase as: “But when the Son-of-Man comes, will he find faith in the Land [of Israel]?”). Note that while most English translations will say “in the earth”, rendered literally from Greek, the word reflects a cognate in Hebrew between “earth” and “aretz”, both of which may refer to the planet, to dirt, to a plot of land, or to the Land of Israel. Given Rav Yeshua’s dedicated focus on the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (cif:Mt.15:24), I infer that the Land of Israel is the intended primary focus of this question. If he will find faith anywhere on planet earth, Israel is the first place he should be expected to look. It is this question that I believe impels not only the writer of Hebrews but also my inference that the passage was intended to encourage these first-century messianists to remain solid witnesses that their trust in Rav Yeshua as messiah strengthened them as Jews and that they should share this strength and encouragement with fellow Jews who would likewise wish to be found faithful when the messiah should appear in Judgement.

ShabbatNow, extracting from this exhortation to Jews some sort of generalized principle for non-Jews raises the question about what non-Jewish affiliates should be expected to be doing while awaiting the messiah. Certainly they should be encouraging one another to do good deeds of all kinds, including their support for Jews to “be all they can be”. Of course, the practice of such encouragement is much facilitated by gathering together and interacting for fellowship, for meals, for worship, and for teaching, in whatever venues may be available. This may include virtual ones via the internet, though virtual meal-sharing is rather insipid, and it’s virtually impossible to pass the ‘humus around the table. [J] Nonetheless, one may recognize the truism that sharing such encouragement would tend to protect its participants from growing spiritually weak and falling away in apostasy, hence there is a valuable recommendation to offer against isolation. As you point out, that’s not exactly your problem, since you engage in a great deal of virtual interaction, receiving both encouraging and critical responses. The writer of Hebrews was rather far removed from any ability to comment on the merits or demerits of fellowship that lacks the benefit of ‘humus and falafel. But let’s not whine that we can’t dine together.


The Tenth Man

“Our world is a banquet,” proclaims the Talmud. “Grab and eat, grab and drink.”

Those who arrived during the early hours of the banquet, went about the business of feasting and dinning in a most professional and methodical manner. First, they sampled the appetizers just enough, mind you, to properly whet their appetites. Then, they proceeded up the ladder of courses and wines, carefully negotiating their way to gastronomic satisfaction par excellence.

But what of the group who arrived a few scant minutes before midnight, the hour when the tables were cleared, the chairs stacked and the doors bolted shut? For them to attempt to follow the course outlined by the intricate rules of dinner etiquette would only guarantee that the doors would will slam on their empty stomachs. “Just grab!” we tell them. Grab meat, salads, soup, wine and fish never mind the order and proportion. It’s a race against the clock: Grab and eat, grab and drink….

In earlier generations, there was a well-defined “Standard Operating Procedure” for those who consulted the Torah’s spiritual menu for the banquet of life. No one, for example, would have ventured to sample the esoteric wine of creation’s secrets before filling his belly with the “meat and potatoes” of Talmud and halacha. No one would have been so presumptuous as to believe that he could refine his nature and character before he had perfected his behavior and made his every act, word and thought to utterly conform to Torah’s directives.

All this, however, was a luxury of generations bygone. Today, we are rapidly approaching the climax of history, the day when Moshiach will herald a new era of goodness and perfection, yet will also bring down the curtain on the struggles and attainments that stem of our currently imperfect state. So grab! Grab another mitzvah, master another, yet deeper, facet of Torah. Never mind the “Standard Operating Procedure” – strive for the ultimate, now.

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
Tammuz 21, 5772 * July 11, 2012

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

Luke 14:12-24 (ESV)

At our local Reform/Conservative synagogue in years gone by, they had an annual event called Feast of Torah which, as you can see if you click the link, is a multi-day affair combining food, social gathering, art, and study.

I’m rather taken by the picture of sitting at God’s table; at His banquet, feeding off of His teachings, joining with the other hungry students, consuming the Word, and drinking in wisdom. Of course, that’s all rather poetic and, as I’ve said before, the reality of a life of faith is that it can be rather punishing and even diminishing.

The Talmud refers to the world as our banquet, but Jesus teaches that such is the Kingdom of God. While I would hardly ever be invited to a Talmud study, according to the Master, the Banquet of the King is available to everyone. Don’t think you’re too good for it just because some of the guests are poor, crippled, blind and lame. Remember, the wealthy and powerful; the princes and kings have also been invited. It’s just a matter of who is willing to come and feast and who will decline and end up being locked out.

Inclusion, as it’s used on progressive social and political circles, refers to the concept that all people and groups, especially those who have been marginalized or abused in the past by the larger society, should be mainstreamed with the greater populace so that everyone carries equal value and dignity within the cultural context. That has been applied to all people of color, the LGBT community, and anyone else who has experienced discrimination by the primarily rich, white, male “ruling class” of the western world.

Now let’s take one really giant step backward and try to see the big, big picture.

From this point of view, we are looking at the panorama of the “Grand Canyon” of all eternity and we see that God is the ultimate inclusionist. As least according to this teaching in the Christian Bible, God invites and welcomes absolutely everyone who is willing to come to Him. In fact, He probably welcomes those folks who even the staunchest political leftists would hesitate to invite to their table. Politics and social standing are irrelevant. Wealth or lack thereof is irrelevant. Age, sex, color, nationality, and everything else is irrelevant at this level. All that is required to enter the banquet hall is a willingness to be sensitive and to respond to the voice of God.

While this is something we all should aspire to, most of the world-wide human population currently disdains God and ridicules His people as they represent archaic reminders of a simple, primitive past, and who inappropriately try to apply ancient Jewish tribal customs (in the case of religious Jews and Christians) to the Information Age.

And yet, it should be for us like it is for the recent bar mitzvah, who now finds that nine Jewish men are waiting for him to arrive so they can have a minyan and begin to daven.

Today’s daf continues discussing the halachos of determining when a child attains majority. The Otzar HaYir’ah, zt”l, points out that we see the greatness of being a Jewish man from his ability to combine with nine others and form a minyan. “Imagine nine outstanding tzaddikim who join together to daven. These tzaddikim may be the greatest the world has ever known, yet without a tenth man they may not do anything more than any other nine Jews. They may not recite kaddish or kedushah. Nor can they conduct the repetition of the amidah or read publicly from the Torah. But if the simplest Jew who has emunah joins their group, he makes a minyan. Now they can do all the aforementioned and give God special pleasure— all thanks to that simple Jew!” It is fairly common to find a minyan composed of exactly ten people. It is also all too common to have exactly nine and wait a while for a tenth man.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Taking His Word for It”
Niddah 52

I can only imagine what it must be like, to be a boy of barely thirteen, inexperienced and insecure, being the indispensible man who must arrive before nine august tzaddikim can recite kaddish. Christianity has no such rite of passage that allows the new initiate to be included with such elevated company and to be valued as an integral part of the minyan and ultimately, the community.

Imagine if all God’s children were given such an opportunity.

In Yisroel Cotlar’s article Honor a Holocaust Victim by Tattooing Her Number?, he responds to the question about a Jewish teenager wanting to tattoo her grandmother’s concentration camp number on her arm to honor her. Cotlar states that this may seem a sort of appropriate memorial to some, but also reminds us that inclusiveness can be a memorial, too.

This story…demonstrates that children need to get the message that Judaism is alive and well, and that it is a life of joy (not only a life of oy). Museums and memorials are incredibly important, but children should also be taught to be excited about the future of Judaism; they should feel a sense of purpose and pride as Jews.

A few years after the Holocaust, an influential Jewish leader made a request of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory: “We need your help and cooperation to perpetuate the memory of the millions tragically killed in the Holocaust. We decided it would be most fitting for each family to set aside one empty chair at their Passover festive Seder meal. The chair will commemorate the millions who sadly cannot attend. Rabbi, would you encourage your followers to join in this campaign?”

The Rebbe responded (paraphrased), “Your idea is a nice one, but with all due respect, instead of leaving the chair empty, let us fill that chair with an extra guest. Invite a Jew who would otherwise not participate in a Seder. This would be a true living legacy and a victory for the Jewish nation.”

While in a certain sense, I will always be alone in this life, the fact that I am also invited to the “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11 ESV) means that it won’t be so forever.

Gene Shlomovich just posted the blog article How many people will be present on the Judgment Day as a reminder that there will be an incredibly vast multitude who will one day stand before the Throne of God.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” –Revelation 7:9 (ESV)

A life of faith can be very isolating. Most of the “cool kids” don’t want to have anything to do with you. Sometimes that’s even true within the confines of the church. But according to the teachings of the Master, a day will come when not only will each of us will be invited into the banquet, we will be valued as who we are when we get there. We won’t simply lost in the crowd.

And we won’t be alone anymore.

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” –Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)

But until then…