Taking a glass half-full approach to the extraordinary saga of the “rabbi” who duped a Polish community for years about his Orthodox credentials, but who turned out to have been a Catholic ex-cook, Poland’s chief rabbi noted endearingly Thursday that nobody in Poland would have pretended to be a Jewish religious leader just a few decades ago.
The deception achieved by Ciechanow-born Jacek Niszczota — who passed himself off as Israel-born Rabbi Jacoob Ben Nistell to the satisfaction of the Poznan Jewish community that utilized his volunteer services — is indicative of a growing interest within Poland in its once-large Jewish community, which was almost completely destroyed in the Holocaust, Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said.
“Who, 30 years ago in this country, would have pretended to be a rabbi, to say nothing of 70 years ago?” Schudrich asked.
Schudrich added that he had met Niszczota/Nistell a few times, and always found him to be “very sweet and smiley.” Still, he stressed, it was not good that the man misrepresented himself…
-from “Poland’s chief rabbi finds comfort in saga of Catholic impostor who fooled community” The Times of Israel
I actually lifted this quote from the Rosh Pina Project (RPP) which was quoting from the “Times,” and as far as I understand it, RPP meant the reference to be a criticism of Messianic Judaism, or at least those portions of the movement (perhaps One Law/Hebrew Roots) that allow non-Jews to function as “Rabbis”.
But I saw something different here. Just as Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich suggested, why would a non-Jew, a Catholic, pretend to be a Rabbi?
The article doesn’t describe Niszczota’s motivation, but I wonder if it’s the same one that, to a much lesser degree, attracts Christians out of their churches and into the Noahide, Messianic Jewish, or One Law/Hebrew Roots movements?
There seems to be something about Judaism that a significant subset of Christians find more attractive than their own faith.
As far as many Noahides are concerned, the disconnect between how the Church interprets the Old and New Testaments results in their rejection of Christianity and Jesus Christ altogether, and pulls them into an Orthodox Jewish understanding of the role of Gentiles in a world created by God.
To one degree or another, Messianic Gentiles and One Law Gentiles “split the difference,” so to speak, and find a way to integrate the Old Testament (Tanakh) and New Testament (Apostolic Scriptures) within a more “Judaic” framework. The type and degree of Jewish praxis varies quite a bit among these populations, since there’s no one external standard defining who we are and what we’re supposed to do within any sort of “Jewish” community space.
However, I did find another opinion, or rather a link to that opinion, that was posted in a closed Facebook group for Messianic Gentiles:
With children, at least someone was already obligated to foster their growth in Torah and observance. R. Auerbach now extends this idea to non-Jews. Beyond specific Noahide laws, he assumes all non-Jews are obligated to accept the fact that the world was created for the Jewish people [he does not explain further: I think he might have meant only that the Jewish people set the tone for the world, not that we’re the central purpose of existence. To me, that’s the implication of his following comments].
Recognizing Jews’ role in Hashem’s world means recognizing that Torah scholars, and especially a consensus of Torah scholars, are our best way of knowing what Hashem wants us to do. That’s as true for non-Jews as for Jews, so that a decree by Torah scholars should sound to them as if they’ve been told the Will of Hashem.
Technical questions of lo tasur as a Biblical obligation aside, non-Jews have to listen to the Torah leaders of the Jewish people for this reason [that might be only when there’s a formal body of Torah scholars, debating and voting on their decisions]. Such powers should extend to confiscating money and making decrees, as it does for Jews. Although in the non-Jews’ case, they’d be listening out of their own awareness that they are required to, not (again) a formal halachic obligation.
-R. Gidon Rothstein
“Children and Non-Jews’ Personal Obligations” TorahMusings.com
Granted, this is a minority viewpoint within Orthodox Judaism, but it does exist. It also presupposes Gentile recognition of Rabbinic authority, which must be something of a rarity. I can’t imagine in my wildest fantasies, for example, the Head Pastor of the little Baptist church I used to attend going along with any of the above.
And yet, whether you’re a Noahide or Messianic Gentile in Jewish community, to one degree or another, you are accepting Jewish Rabbinic authority (One Law Gentiles, not so much).
For the Noahide, it’s a foregone conclusion that whether in the synagogue or their own communities of non-Jews, they must accept Rabbinic authority because it is the only thing that defines them.
For Messianic Gentiles, it’s a lot more “messy”. First of all, there is no one definition of what it is to be a “Messianic Gentile” among Messianic (or other) Jews. Secondly, a lot of us don’t live anywhere near a Messianic Jewish community (at least an authentic one), so we lack an actual Jewish lived context in which to operate. Finally, depending on who you are and how you understand what “Messianic Judaism” means, your acceptance or rejection of various areas of Jewish authority and Rabbinic legal rulings will flex quite a bit.
There is one final thing to consider. In the Messianic Age, when King Messiah is on his throne in Jerusalem, and the peoples of the world live in nations that are all servants of Israel, we will indeed be under Jewish authority. I don’t know what that will look like relative to Orthodox Judaism, but my guess is that said-Jewish authority will look more Jewish than most Gentiles would be comfortable with, especially more traditional Christians.
Something to consider as Pesach (Passover) approaches.
I recently blogged about a Christian turned Noahide who I accidentally discovered on the blogspot The Torah Way. In describing this person’s “journey” away from faith in Jesus (Rav Yeshua) to a traditional Noahide or “Righteous Gentile” viewpoint and praxis, I neglected to examine what they wrote on their other blog Cozy Kitchen Chats believing it was more or less a collection of recipes and other food related articles.
As it turns out, this is an older blog and contains a lot more detail about this woman’s (one of the things I discovered) spiritual travels.
I’m not trying to pick on her or demean her in any way. I do, however, find that what she’s been through over the past several years is illuminating, because she comes from a place that should be familiar to many of my readers.
To formally introduce you to my Cozy Kitchen, I absolutely need to share with the you the Foundation of my world, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my soon coming KING. I had always been brought up in the church, although I had bounced around from church to church seeking and hungering for something deeper. I tried small town churches, large Mega churches, Pentecostal churches, Baptist churches, even Catholic churches. Each had amazing truths and amazing people, but nothing felt comfortable to me. My heart was always drawn to the Church described in the Book of Acts.
This is a person devoted to Jesus as Savior and King in search of a church that reflects the Biblical “prototype” church, the ideal church where one can draw close to the Spirit of Jesus. Apparently, she couldn’t find it.
All I know is that I personally needed to walk away from everything I knew about the modern day church. I spent two years aggressively seeking God to show me the Truth, regardless what it may cost me, I wanted to know that I know Him and that I am following Him wholeheartedly. I read everything I could about the religions most commonly found in the United States. I set aside all that I knew, wiped away all the prejudice that I held and explored each asking the Holy Spirit to show me the Truth.
This part is funny in an ironic way, given where she’ll end up.
…at first I honestly didn’t like the Jesus I was learning about. Oh, I loved how others in the Bible would describe Him, but when I read His words, I thought they were harsh, aggressive and difficult to understand. I really liked Paul much more than Jesus, Paul’s teaching were soft and easy, Salvation by Grace alone, no actions or responsibility, once saved, always saved. Paul was much more appealing.
She goes on to say that in order to learn more from Jesus, she set aside Paul’s writings so she could sit at the feet of her Master. That’s how she started out her blog.
I am here exclusively to show the Love of God to you and to serve you and others in anyway I can. Opening up my Cozy Kitchen Chats with you, I will share with you the Gospel of Jesus, how to have a thriving Christian home, how to serve your community and how to make YOUR own Cozy Kitchen your personal mission field.
I know this is topic that can really set some “believers” off balance, since there has always been a belief that the Torah or the Life Teaching and Instruction of God, given to Moses was done away with at the resurrection of Yeshua (Christ)
Nowhere in the Prophets nor in the instruction that was given to Moses was it ever mentioned that the Law would be done away with. During Yeshua’s time on earth, He never mentioned that the Law or the Word would be dismissed. He actual said the following.
First, she described a general dissatisfaction with all of the churches and Christian denominations she experienced and was determined to study the Bible at the feet of Jesus and gain wisdom from the Holy Spirit alone.
Then she discovered the Torah, started calling Jesus “Yeshua,” and described her understanding in terms more familiar with someone who was just introduced to either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots movements.
A really critical point though, is that her attitude about the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul) changed remarkably. Remember, at the very beginning, she loved Paul’s teachings, but thought Jesus was too harsh and aggressive.
Don’t allow the mindless teaching of man separate you from the TRUTH. The Pharisees over taught the law with man made regulations to overwhelm man so he would not honor it, then the new Pharisees (Paulines, followers of Paul’s teaching rather than Jesus’) discounted the Sabbath with man made doctrines so men would not follow it. Seek God’s instruction to find the Truth.
Here, she’s reversed her original position and now sees the teachings of Paul in opposition to those of Jesus. Ironically (again), she denigrates the “man-made laws “of the “new Pharisees” and believes only in seeking God’s instructions of truth in Jesus. I say ironically because when she became a Noahide, she had to accept the validity of the teachings of the Rabbinic sages and their authoritative interpretations of Torah, which most Christians call “man-made laws”.
And most Christians consider the Sages to be something like “the new Pharisees”.
A husband that truly LOVES his wife will catch on. Believers that are TRULY following, TRULY LOVING Him, TRULY READING Him will catch on. They will start to step away from Paul’s teaching or rather “un-teaching” and will seek to find out what the WILL of the Father is and what is meant by the “Word of God.” it’s an exciting time! An Awakening!
I’m emphasizing this because abandoning Paul is usually a major step in leaving Christianity, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Judaism for a non-Jewish believer, since so much of our understanding of how to apply Torah to the Gentile and to live a life as devoted disciples of Rav Yeshua, depends on what he wrote.
I thought I should investigate what she was listening to in order to discover what was influencing her thinking and beliefs. The textual introduction to the “Deuteronomy 13 Test” states:
Have you ever considered why the Jews reject the Jewish Messiah, our Lord and Savior…What if it was because many today misunderstand Paul…Millions of Jews reject the Christian presentation of Jesus and Paul, alarmingly, because the Word of God says to. Sadly, if the misunderstanding continues, Jews are forever prevented from not only not knowing their Jewish Savior, but also from experiencing the blessings of the New Covenant. This teaching exposes the gap in the misunderstanding, and takes a first step into building a bridge…
The video (about 41 minutes long) wasn’t exactly what I expected. It seemed, at the beginning, to be both very pro-Jesus and pro-Paul. The video instructor said that although Jesus and Paul didn’t teach against the Torah of Moses, but they did teach against the Oral Traditions, what is known today, according to this “teacher,” as the Talmud.
This instructor’s first mistake was defining the traditions and praxis of the Pharisees in the late second Temple period as the Talmud, which would not actually exist for centuries (Mishnah c. 200 CE, Gemara c. 500 CE)
This is very much an anti-Judaism (including Messianic Judaism) lesson. I needed to understand a little more about 119 Ministries itself. According to their site’s About page:
Our purpose is to seek and bring the truth to all nations, unlearn false doctrines and traditions of men, and to equip the body to live and practice the Word as God originally intended.
We find that continuously examining the Scriptures (in the same Hebraic first century context and perspective in which they were written and understood) reveals to His people much more understanding, as opposed to the more common Greek mindset that is a couple thousand years removed.
Sounds pretty much the same as when a Fundamentalist church says their doctrine is the only “sound doctrine.”
It’s difficult to tell if 119 Ministries is specifically “One Law” or “Two House,” but their Faith Statement says in part:
Another purpose of Yeshua was to begin calling back the scattered 10 tribes of Israel that were divorced, scattered, and became Gentiles.
This at least suggests a Two House theology, although it’s hardly conclusive.
Frankly, in listening to the above-mentioned anti-Judaism video teaching, it’s amazing that this woman finally became a Noahide, since as far as I can tell from her blogspot, 119 Ministries was her primary and possibly her only source of information relative to Hebrew Roots.
Listening to the 119 teacher was hard for me since his lesson was not only almost totally opposed to my personal beliefs, but it was thinly disguised anti-Jewish rhetoric which not-so-subtly was also a presentation of supersessionism, misappropriating the Torah from the Jewish people and denying observant Jews the right to establish their own interpretation of Torah.
About halfway through the video, the teacher started hammering away against modern observant Jews. To be fair, he seemed just as prejudiced against normative Christianity.
The 119 Ministries video teacher says he wants to bring Jewish people to faith in Yeshua, but his attitude toward observant Jews is so poor that I can’t imagine any Jewish person wanting to listen to this fellow. In this, his concept of Jewish people who “reject Jesus” is pretty much that of normative Christianity, at least in its worst expression.
This teacher is a great example of how a person who continually quotes from the Bible (and he did so, scripture after scripture) can still grossly misrepresent the intent of Hashem, Rav Yeshua, and Rav Shaul (In doing some subsequent research, I discovered that the people behind 119 Ministries are well-meaning and kind, but I still have to disagree with almost all of their conclusions).
Toward the end of the video, the teacher cited Romans 11, Ephesians 2 and Numbers 15:15-16 as “proof” that the Law of Moses was meant to be observed by, not just the Children of Israel and their descendants, but by all humanity, so he tips his hand, so to speak, and reveals that his ministry supports One Law. He does it however, in a really easily refuted way, so I readily set it aside.
(I found this half-hour long YouTube video of an interview with the two guys who founded and operate 119 Ministries, Steve and John. They seem like really nice guys. If you want to get to know who they are and why they started their organization, click the link).
There’s a gap of over a year where something must have happened, where her fascination with 119 Ministries and what they teach must have waned in the extreme. She would never have become a Noahide if she was listening to their anti-Judaism, anti-Jewish people diatribes.
I wonder if she and her family (she’s married with two children) went through something like this:
Jewish Values vs. Other Faiths
I am struggling with the sense that on one hand I want to instill Jewish beliefs in my children, but on the other hand I feel this would be diminishing the value of other faiths. I feel that love, harmony and happiness are the most important values, and that we need to be accepting of everyone’s beliefs. People are different, so isn’t truth relative for each individual?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
This is an important question, one that I think goes to the heart of today’s society.
If you think about it, you’ll realize that “truth” cannot simply be everything that everyone wants.
I think this blog writer held on to the love and truth of Torah she discovered early on, but for some reason, everything else had to give way. Maybe she finally figured out that the video teachings she was consuming ultimately didn’t hold water and actually disrespected the Jewish people who are the sole human objects of the Sinai Covenant.
I don’t know. She took the path of many Christians who become disillusioned with the Church and find Hebrew Roots as an alternative. Eventually, it becomes too difficult to balance love of Torah but not of Judaism and Jews, as well as seeing Yeshua and Shaul being depicted as somehow against their own people.
Granted, a life either in Hebrew Roots or Messianic Judaism isn’t easy. If you’re a believing Gentile, being a Christian is the path of least resistance, and if you are an observant Jew, then Orthodox Judaism is probably a more understandable option.
But if you’re a Gentile who comes to doubt first Paul and finally Yeshua, and who believes normative, observant Judaism to be true, what do you do?
You either convert to Judaism or become a Noahide.
I don’t know if these individuals finally end their search for truth (or TRUTH as the subject of today’s “meditation” likes to write it). We all want to know who we are from Hashem’s perspective, and what His purpose is for our lives. We all want the easy, pre-programmed answer, where we don’t have to think, we don’t have to doubt, and we don’t have to be anxious.
We all want to settle down and relax, secure in the knowledge that we are finally “right” about everything and we have nothing else left to search out and study, and no other questions to ask that we might not find ready-made answers for.
Good luck with that.
Not to say that there aren’t plenty people in houses of worship all around the world who don’t feel settled and secure and who have stopped asking all but the most elementary of questions. But I think that a sense of insecurity, at least a little bit, is built into our relationship with God.
If we finally come to the point where we have no more questions, then we are saying that there’s a limit to God and His relationship with us.
I can accept a person who goes through a developmental process in their faith, exploring and seeking to understand what the Bible is really saying. I’ve gone through that process and am still progressing along that path. I probably never will arrive at a “settled” place, though there are a few things I accept in my understanding now.
But there’s a difference between that and moving around from one faith discipline to another seeking a “TRUTH” that answers “everything”. A human being’s relationship with Hashem is more “edgy” than that. Just look at anyone in the Bible who was close to God. Abraham wasn’t settled and comfortable, neither was Moses. None of the Prophets had peaceful lives. Paul certainly didn’t. If anything, when Rav Shaul was introduced to Yeshua, his life became remarkably “unpeaceful”.
Why should our lives be any different?
A final word. Paul’s life was unsettled and violent and yet in his relationship with Messiah, he said he found “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” and that guards “your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” ( Philippians 4:7 NASB).
There’s a peace that goes beyond our day-to-day lives, and even beyond our occasional crisis of faith as we continue to study the Bible. There’s a peace we only find if we lay aside our doubts and turn to Him in trust, knowing He desires that we draw close to Him. All the religious pundits in the churches, synagogues, on streaming video, and in the blogosphere don’t hold a candle to authentic trust in Hashem and the peace that He brings to our troubled souls.
I hope the anonymous woman whose journey I’ve attempted to chronicle finds peace in God.
I adored my younger sister and felt very connected to her, but I wasn’t there for her physically or emotionally during her turbulent teens. I was far away in university or traveling, and then in Israel, where I learned in a seminary, married and became in her eyes, a foreign entity: a religiously observant Jew.
Despite the distance, I didn’t see an unbridgeable gap. I could relate to my sister because I saw and felt all our common ground. I was once a teenager, part of the artistic sub-culture of Greenwich Village. I understood what her life was like, even if there weren’t skinheads in my day. I had once been like her, but she definitely didn’t feel like she was anything like me – an “ultra-Orthodox fanatic” against intermarriage, abortion, nudity, atheism, hanging out with guys. I never had a chance to say how I felt about any of these topics; she just assumed everything about my beliefs without any discussion. She could not relate. Or more accurately, she did not want to relate.
For a lot of Christians, the sort of “gap” between Jewish people doesn’t seem to exist. After all, in Church, we generally are taught to view Jews and particularly religious Judaism as a single, unified entity. It’s difficult for many believers (or non-Jews in general) to picture multiple viewpoints among Jewish people (even though it is said “two Jews, three opinions”). And yet, there can be different groups, even within religious Judaism, that are highly polarized.
Consider this recent video that has been circling the various social media venues. Here we have Jewish people saying some rather unkind and perhaps inaccurate things about the “Oral Law” and Rabbinic Judaism.
This is the sort of thing Christians eat up with a spoon.
And they have, or at least one Christian group has within the Hebrew Roots movement as represented by TorahResource.com (For reference, I’ve included a screenshot below taken from Facebook of a discussion on this video by Hebrew Roots proponents).
I don’t feel particularly comfortable “calling out” people or groups, but in this case, I think it’s important to illustrate that there are different points of view involved. What your Pastor preaches from the pulpit about Jews and Judaism may not be the only way we disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) are “allowed” to think. I say this coming off of two years attending a local Baptist church where its members do authentically love the Jewish people and the nation of Israel but who are also at least “uncomfortable” if not downright opposed to the practice of religious Judaism. They would, with all good intent, love to see all Jewish people convert to Christianity and leave all but the most superficial practices of the mitzvot behind.
I don’t think the rabbis are always right. Nor are they always wrong. But I do think it is wrong to attack the rabbis as a class. After all, it wasn’t the ministers and Christian Bible students that kept the Jews and their Judaism alive in the blood- and tear-soaked exilic wanderings of the seed of Jacob. What kept the Jews alive and in faith was the work of the rabbis and the religion they presented and subscribed to.
We owe something to the rabbis of Israel. But is not contempt and mistrust. It is gratitude and admiration, even where and when they disagree with us.
And to the extent that we have entertained the kinds of spurious and nasty arguments I outlined here, we owe them one thing more.
You can click on the link I provided to read his entire message and I encourage you to do so.
I’ve already rendered my opinion on interpretation as tradition so I won’t repeat that message except to say that, like R. Dauermann, I don’t believe that the Rabbis are always right in their rulings or opinions. Nevertheless, the Oral Law in post-Biblical times, was (and is) highly instrumental in sustaining the Jewish people and without what we call “Rabbinic Judaism,” it’s quite possible the Jewish people would have faded from the pages of history long before now.
Of course the Jews have always been protected and nurtured by God but who is to say that the existence and process of the Rabbis was not His method of preserving Jewish people and Jewish practice of the mitzvot. After all, the Sinai Covenant (all of the covenants, actually) didn’t vanish (and it certainly wasn’t replaced) simply because of the Temple’s destruction and the dispersion of the Jewish people among the nations. In fact, about a week ago I mentioned the opinion that one of the functions of the Jewish people being in exile was to be a light to the rest of us. This “being a light to the nations” wouldn’t have been possible without the Mishnah and Rabbinic Judaism.
Why am I saying all this? Just to throw my hat into the ring on this topic?
Not exactly, although that’s part of it.
While we can somewhat separate an opposition to Rabbinic Judaism from how we feel about Jewish people, at least in theory, it’s important to remember that there are those who have no love at all for Jewish people, Judaism, and national Israel, and reports of one of their more heinous acts has been all over the news lately.
As was said on a Hebrew Roots blog recently, we aren’t going to agree on a great many things in the realm of religion, and that’s not really the problem. As I’ve already mentioned, there is a significant amount of debate and disagreement within the various streams of Judaism including Messianic Judaism, let alone all of the expressions of the Christian faith including what I think of as “Christian Hebrew Roots.”
I know I’m probably going to get some pushback for that last comment, but I think of Hebrew Roots as Gentile Christians expressing their devotion to Messiah using Hebraic practices within primarily non-Jewish community, and Messianic Judaism as Jews and associated non-Jews, expressing their devotion to Messiah within a wholly Jewish religious, cultural, and community context.
Given those definitions, it stands to reason that Hebrew Roots will take a traditionally Christian stand, that is a “low view” on many aspects of Judaism including the authority of the Rabbis and Oral Law, while Messianic Judaism, as a Judaism, will take a “high view” of those same elements.
However, depending on which perspective we employ, our attitudes about Judaism and thus Jewish people will be affected. This doesn’t mean that holding a low view of Oral Torah necessarily equals taking a low view of Jewish people or even the Jewish practices in general, but it does require making an effort not to let what one believes about the Rabbis spill over into other Jewish realms, particularly if you are supposed to believe that “One Law” fits all (though I obviously don’t subscribe to the One Law perspective).
If you have a low view on Oral Torah and the Rabbinic Sages, you are certainly within your rights to hold such an opinion, but it doesn’t mean that those who have a high view of Rabbinic Judaism are bad or even particularly wrong. It does mean they’ve made a decision about how to express their faith on the level of lifestyle as well as belief. If that is not your decision also, that ‘s fine and dandy, but please don’t denigrate someone who has taken a different path from your own. For them, that path is right and correct, particularly if they are Jewish and you’re not.
Also, you can read what Rabbi Mark Kinzer has to say about Messianic Judaism and the Oral Torah in a paper (PDF) located at Ourrabbis.org (which can also be found in the body of Rabbi Dauermann’s blog post and over at the Rosh Pina Project).
I’m not going to lie. It was difficult for me to transition from the church to the synagogue. While my father worked out his theology concerning the Torah, it struck me that perhaps the Christian church was wrong. To be honest, I felt a little lied to. I felt like the church was wrong, and had been feeding me a string of lies my entire life. I felt like they were leading people astray, and it made me mad! By the time I left for Israel in 1999 (I was eighteen), I wanted nothing to do with the church. I had gone to the other end of the spectrum, wearing mostly black and white, growing out peyot, and desperately longing to study Torah at a hasidic yeshiva (at that time I was unaware of how off base the hasidic faith is). Needless to say, the church had left a bad taste in my mouth, and I openly and abrasively stood in opposition to it.
If you know any of the names I’m about to mention, then you’ll realize that Caleb Hegg and I, along with his father Tim Hegg, don’t have a lot in common theologically, at least on certain specific matters. However, when I saw a mutual friend had posted this to Facebook, I decided to give it a read. I must admit, Caleb says some interesting things (Note that I’ve copied the text from Hegg’s blog “as is,” so any spelling, capitalization, or other errors are his…just sayin’).
I suppose I should mention that once upon a time, I met Tim Hegg. In fact, I met him more than once when he was still associated with First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). Some years ago, when I was still with my former Hebrew Roots congregation, a number of us visited his group in Tacoma, Washington, and I even spent Erev Shabbat in the Hegg home. As I recall, I was treated very well and the Hegg family was gracious and charming.
So there’s nothing personal in any disagreement or differences of opinion that are between the Heggs and me, it’s just that we’ve taken different paths.
But speaking of path’s, Caleb’s description of his path in the above-quoted paragraph seemed so familiar to me. Not that I exactly felt like he did, but I can’t think of hardly anyone I met when I was involved in Hebrew Roots that didn’t have those same feelings of being betrayed by the Church and becoming somewhat to excessively enamored with all things Jewish.
I think it’s a developmental stage most non-Jews go through when they become involved in either the Hebrew Roots (including One Law/One Torah and Two-House) or the Messianic Jewish movements. They/we become convinced that the Bible has been at least somewhat erroneously interpreted by the Gentile Church, starting with the early Church fathers, as an attempt to separate from their Jewish teachers and mentors, and we come to believe that only a “Judaic” or “Hebraic” interpretation yields the true message of the Bible.
That’s not entirely a wrong idea, but as Hegg points out, what is wrong is any effort on our part to “demonize” Christians and Christianity, portraying them as bad, wrong, apostate, “Babylon,” and anti-Bible (or at least anti-Torah).
Has the Messianic faith come to an enlightened understanding of theology that the Christian church has missed for two thousand years? To be blunt, absolutely not! Is it true that those who uphold the Torah in the life of all believers are reading the Scriptures as they are written, and that those pushing against Torah are holding to church doctrine that goes back to the second century? Yes. But what I see happening is Messianics believing that since “the church” is wrong on SOME laws of Torah, they must be wrong on everything else too. I say SOME laws of Torah, because quite often we as Messianics tend to forget that our Christian brothers and sisters keep a whole lot of Torah, even if they don’t like calling it that. While kosher laws, festivals and the Sabbath are a important part of the Torah, other things such as loving your neighbor as yourself, taking care of widows and orphans, not gossiping and other such torah commands are practiced every day by Christians.
I think Hegg is including any congregation to which he is affiliated and his personal theological identification as “Messianic Judaism” or “Messianic” and it gets kind of “messy,” actually.
I tend to separate Hebrew Roots from Messianic Judaism since, in my opinion, they actually describe two different group identities. I realize that many/most/all Hebrew Roots groups call themselves “Messianic Judaism,” but while the “Messianic” part is more or less correct, I can’t say that they are a “Judaism” if for no other reason than few if any actual Jewish people are involved. Beyond that, although the ritual practices resemble a “Judaism,” the underlying collective history and group identity does not.
I’m not writing all this to start another online argument. Frankly, I’d like to avoid it. I know how they go and they never end well. But I do want to point out something I think Hegg was saying. We non-Jews in Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism sometimes lose our focus. In this sense, I think traditional Christians may have the upper hand. They know who the center of their faith is and that center is not a “movement”. It’s not putting on a kippah before prayer, and it’s not saying prayers in Hebrew, and it’s not even wearing tzitzit. It’s Jesus, that is Yeshua HaMashiach.
In that, Hegg sounded more like a Christian than a Hebrew Roots follower and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, although he also admitted that at one point in his history, he even denied being a Christian, though he didn’t mean to deny his faith in Christ.
We are used to defining ourselves in terms of being different or distinct from other people and groups and unfortunately, we can easily slide into an “us vs. them” mindset. It’s one of the reasons I was hesitant to even write this blog post, because even if Caleb Hegg or his father don’t take offense (and I hope they don’t because none is intended), probably someone who follows their teachings will.
Now I know I just offended one-hundred percent of my regular readers by making that comparison, and probably “ticked off” almost everyone else involved in any part of Hebrew Roots or Messianic Judaism. However, hear me out.
Boaz also made a very pro-Church statement in his book and focused at different points on the commonalities between the traditional Christian and the “Messianic Gentile”. He even mentioned, as did Hegg, that Christians observe many of the Torah mitzvot, even though they don’t call it “Torah”. Much righteous and holy behavior can be learned in Church.
Granted, there still are distinctions of course, and I don’t doubt that there are differences between how Caleb Hegg sees himself and how he sees most mainstream Christians. That isn’t a bad thing, but if the differences are all we see, then we don’t allow ourselves any common ground with our Christian brothers and sisters.
For two years, I participated in a self-assigned “project” or “experiment” in attending a local Baptist church. I hadn’t regularly attended a church in years and frankly, the prospect was intimidating.
But I learned a great many things, was befriended by the head Pastor, and met a number of very devout, kind, knowledgable, and generous people. If things had worked out differently, I’d probably still be going there. Unfortunately, the dynamic tension between the Pastor’s views and mine came to a head and I had to make a hard decision about whether I was an asset or a nuisance, and sadly it turned out to be the latter.
I can’t pretend there aren’t differences, important ones, that separate me from the viewpoint of most Christians, but that shouldn’t lead to enmity of any kind. There are differences within the Messianic Jewish movement and I don’t agree with everything all of the sub-groups believe or teach. The same goes for the different branches of mainstream Judaism. None of that means I experience any hostility toward them. We don’t have to personalize disagreements and turn them into conflicts.
Hegg’s blog post focused on differences between how some Messianic (or Hebrew Roots) groups see the Divinity of Messiah vs. more traditional Christian doctrine, but I’m not going to speak to that. If you want a Messianic Jewish opinion on the subject, it can be found on Derek Leman’s blog, and it’s possible that Hegg and Leman have more in common, at least on that particular topic, than either of them realize.
That’s the point of reading each other’s stuff. Yeah, we disagree and if we want to, we can get into some sort of spitting contest over it. On the other hand, we all have experiences in common, we’re all human beings, we are all disciples of the Master, and we are all children of God. Let’s start with that.
God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars.
–Genesis 1:16 (JPS Tanakh)
R. Simeon b. Pazzi pointed out a contradiction [between verses]. One verse says: And God made the two great lights, and immediately the verse continues: The greater light . . . and the lesser light. The moon said unto the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown’? He answered: ‘Go then and make thyself smaller’. ‘Sovereign of the Universe’! cried the moon, ‘Because I have suggested that which is proper must I then make myself smaller’? He replied: ‘Go and thou wilt rule by day and by night’. ‘But what is the value of this’? cried the moon; ‘Of what use is a lamp in broad daylight’? He replied: ‘Go. Israel shall reckon by thee the days and the years’. ‘But it is impossible’, said the moon, ‘to do without the sun for the reckoning of the seasons, as it is written: And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years’. ‘Go. The righteous shall be named after thee as we find, Jacob the Small, Samuel the Small, David the Small’, On seeing that it would not be consoled the Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller’. This is what was meant by R. Simeon b. Lakish when he declared: Why is it that the he-goat offered on the new moon is distinguished in that there is written concerning it unto the Lord? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let this he-goat be an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.
-Tractate Chullin 60b
True, no human being ever heard the above conversation between the Holy One and the moon. We know of it only through our tradition. But we can actually see with our own eyes that very legend applying to that body which has been symbolized by the moon — Knesset Yisrael.
I read this chapter last Tuesday after I reviewed the latest set of comments on my recent blog post Upon Reading a Rant About “Messianic Jewishism” and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the general themes involved in said-blog post. While I don’t ascribe great credence to the idea that the Moon and God actually had a conversation, I think there’s a principle we can derive from the midrash on the “relationship” between the Moon and “Knesset Yisrael” or the Assembly of Israel. It’s the same principle the sages have derived.
How can Israel be compared to the Moon, the lesser of two “great lights?” Think about the relationship between the Moon and the Sun as compared to the relationship between Israel and God.
An adult sitting at his father’s table is considered a minor; a minor independent of his father’s table is considered an adult.
-from Tractate Kiddushin
Just as the Moon is always dependent upon the Sun for light, and the Moon’s light would be immediately extinguished should the Sun “hide his face” so to speak, so too would Israel be extinguished should God hide His face from her.
And yet, the diminishing of the Moon is not one that is performed on it from outside but an act which the Moon, upon the command of God, performs upon herself, reducing herself in relation to the Sun and the stars.
The life of the moon is marked by a terrible tragedy. The Holy One, at first glance, seems to unequivocally accept her argument. He fully admits that her claim is reasonable, but as an expression of commendation for her just position, He demands more of her no more and no less than, “Go and diminish yourself.”
-R. Amiel, p.27
Rav Amiel compares this to Rosh Chodesh (festival of the New Moon), for on Erev Rosh Chodesh, “Jews offer prayer and supplication as they do on Yom Ha-kippurim, the Day of Atonement. This is Yom Kippur Kattan service” (ibid p.26). Just as the new or reborn Moon is in a greatly diminished state, so too is the rebirth of Israel (and keep in mind, Rav Amiel wrote this in the 19th century, long before the rebirth of the modern state of Israel).
R. Amiel speaks of the pogroms and other offenses the nations have committed against the Jewish people, and the utter dependence upon the leaders and rulers of the various nations in which “Knesset Yisrael” finds herself in, even for existence. Israel has been exiled, Jerusalem is in ruins, the Temple has been destroyed, the people have been scattered. Hostile churches (historically) have burned her volumes of Talmud, her Torah scrolls, and her synagogues.
However, even as the least among the nations as she currently may be, there is a consolation:
On the one hand, we are the smallest of all the nations, mocked and despised among the nations. On the other hand, we occupy “The Eastern Seat,” the seat of honor.
…my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
–Romans 9:3-5 (NASB)
Rav. Amiel says something similar:
Israel orders the times for all nations and tongues. All our seasons, such as our “Festival of Freedom,” our “Festival of the Giving of the Torah,” are celebrated by all enlightened nations. In matters of time, we are emulated by all, even though sometimes the imitation is blemished by modifications — for example, the Sunday imitation of the Sabbath day — but it universally acknowledged that the original is ours.
Timewise, we are the most powerful of nations, the deciding factor. “Go and let Israel determine the days and years by you.” The nations’ calendar is based upon the birth date of a certain Jew.
The Rav, even in the admission of the lowered and diminished state of “Knesset Yisrael,” declares that in her weakness, Israel is great, for the rest of the nations follow her through (imperfect) imitation.
But he goes on:
This is our only consolation. It is, of course, only a partial consolation.
The moon “was not appeased.” Nor is Knesset Yisrael appeased. She thirsts for salvation and redemption, weeping bitterly, “When I remember this, O God, I moan…
And does God not hear the cries of the oppressed and act in their defense?
“Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the LORD; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.”
–Psalm 12:5 (NASB)
Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.
…but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.
I know people who criticized me and the topic of my other blog post don’t see themselves as in any way oppressing Israel or the Jewish people. They certainly have no deliberate intent to do so. In many ways, they see themselves as doing the opposite, lifting the Jewish people up and joining them by performing the identical mitzvot as an obligation in the merit of Messiah.
You might say to yourself that if God commanded Israel to diminish herself as He did (in midrash) to the Moon, should not Israel and the Jewish people be humble and elevate the Gentile to a higher level than the Jews, offering the Gentiles all of the mitzvot; the mitzvah of Shabbat, of Kashrut, of tzitzit, of tefillin, of the Moadim? Shouldn’t Israel be “fair” and at least share all of her mitzvot? Don’t they all belong to us (Gentiles) now anyway?
Maybe not, and we cannot consider Israel diminished forever, just as the sages have said, “for every descent, there is an ascent.”
Therefore, Heaven forbid that we discontinue the custom of Yom Kippur Kattan. Even in Eretz Yisrael of today, Knesset Yisrael is still compared to the moon. And so it will be until that hoped for time when “The light of the moon will be as bright as the sun, and the light of the sun as the light of the seven days.”
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Moshiach is the light of Israel and the light of the world. Will he come to diminish Israel or to raise her up as the head of all the nations? As the people of the rest of the nations of the world who are called by Hashem’s Name, are we to continue to diminish Israel in disobedience to the Master? Why wait for his return? We can raise Israel up now by acknowledging her role and her place in the redemptive plan of God. We must do this now, lest we be counted among Israel’s enemies and even as disciples, be diminished ourselves in Messianic days.
Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them.
Admittedly, I’m playing a little fast and loose with my interpretation of that last passage of scripture, but do you really want to take the chance that I am wrong and God will not deliver consequences upon those of us to call ourselves disciples and yet fail to elevate Knesset Yisrael above all the peoples of the Earth?
There will be another “follow up” blog post on this subject tomorrow morning.
The Rav (Abraham Kook), zt”l, spoke about Knesset Yisrael as being endowed with two covenants, the covenant of Avot, which relates to the land of Israel, and the covenant of Sinai, which relates to the people of Israel.
So far I’m having a blast reading Rav Amiel’s book on Genesis, but that’s not why I’m writing this missive.
I came across something on Facebook written by Rabbi Stuart Dauermann that strongly echoes (though perhaps I am actually the “echo” to Rabbi Dauermann’s “voice” in this case) a topic I’ve written on many times before: the unique role of the Jewish person in Judaism and particularly in Messianic Judaism, a role that cannot be assumed by someone who is not Jewish.
I am going to copy and paste the entire body of text authored by R. Dauermann here, since as far as I know, the only place is exists online is on Facebook and depending on the privacy settings involved, it’s possible not everyone would be able to follow a link to its source. My commentary will follow:
We pause for a rant about what I term “Messianic Jewishism.”
If we ignore Paul’s teaching in Galatians and elsewhere we can get the Bible to say what we want. But no one seems to give a damn about how the privileges God gave to Israel are just being grabbed by others on their own terms, without so much as an “Excuse me.” Paul says this for example, “They are Israelites, and to them **belong** the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them **belong** the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:3-5 ESV)
The religion we see developing in some corners of the MJ movement is NOT Messianic judaism because there is NO respect for the priority of the Jewish people in His covenantal purposes for Israel. What we have is a new religion which I call Messianic Jewishism. These are congregations that practice a kind of Judaism-lite, but by design, not really a Judaism, but a community with enough Jewish religious cultural flavoring for everyone in the fellowship to embrace it, enjoy it, practice it. It’s really Protestant Christianity with a tallis, and it is not Messianic JUDAISM but rather Messianic Jewishism. Messianic Judaism requires a deeper adherence to the communal boundaries and covenantal markers *given to* and *reserved for* the Jewish people. As I said, SOME people are grabbing whatever they can on their own terms using these things as they see fit, feeling absolutely entitled on the basis of their questionable interpretations of certain Bible verses, but with NO respect for the Jewish people who have given their blood for thousands of years to protect this patrimony given them by God.
If people wanted to convert, that would be something else. There is a responsible process whereby people can take on the covenantal calling of the Jewish people irrevocably and hook line and sinker. But this does NOT involve the kind of pirating of Jewish treasures which we see all around us, and the strange distortions of Jewish life, all done with a sense of entitlement because the people in question have a BIble verse that “entitles” them. And if you say “What do you think you are doing?” you will be accused of being a bigot and anti-gentile, neither of which is true. One can be pro-Jewish without being anti-gentile.
NO ONE IS SAYING that gentiles can’t touch, handle, taste Jewish things, But there is a conspicous failure to pay due respect to the fact that such are asking to handle Jewish treasures given to the JEWS by God.
I am NOT anti-gentile, but does ANYONE understand what I am saying?
There were a large number of responses by the time I came across these words and I didn’t have the time to read through more than a smattering, but it seemed that the people commenting generally agreed with and were supportive of R. Dauermann’s statement.
I know that a number of my regular readers (and likely some of those who happen to “surf in”) will object to what Dauermann wrote and will object to my supporting what he wrote. Doubtless, many “proof texts” could be produced in an attempt to refute the idea that Gentiles attempting to observe the entire body of Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews are merely engaging in what has been called Evangelical Jewish Cosplay.
I know a number of you reading this are very sincere, devoted, and dedicated disciples of the Messiah and truly, honestly believe that how you observe your faith is exactly what God not only desires, but demands of you (and by inference, all believing Jews and Gentiles everywhere). I’m sorry, because I know what R. Dauermann wrote and what I’ve written here will doubtless cause you pain as well as result in you feeling insulted and even angry. Certainly you will attempt to defend your beliefs and practices, which I completely understand.
But what if you’re wrong?
A few months back, I wrote a two-part review (which you can read in Part 1 and Part 2 of my article “Acting Jewishly But Not Jewish”) of Mark Nanos’ forthcoming paper, ‘Paul’s Non-Jews Do Not Become “Jews,” But Do They Become “Jewish”?: Reading Romans 2:25-29 Within Judaism, Alongside Josephus.’ The paper suggests that although the First Century CE Gentiles entering the Jewish religious community of “the Way,” while not actually “converting” to Judaism, nevertheless “converted” to a way of life that resulted in them acting “Jewishly”.
I received a certain amount of pushback from some Messianic Jewish people who, like R. Dauermann, sought to shield and protect the unique role and identity of Jews in Messiah. This is obviously a tender subject for many in our little corner of the religious world.
It’s apparent to me by the way Dauermann’s words are crafted (and he even said so himself) that he was “ranting,” so to speak. That is, he was speaking from the heart and quite passionately. I can almost hear a raised voice in the words, “I am NOT anti-gentile, but does ANYONE understand what I am saying?” I think he’s frustrated. I don’t blame him.
But by the same token, what am I to say for those certain numbers of Gentiles out there who choose to believe that God commanded them (you) to don a tallit, lay tefillin, and daven in Hebrew from a siddur? What am I to write about those Gentiles who say they are obligated to observe the 613 commandments of the Torah of Moses, apart from the Rabbinic interpretations and totally committed Jewish lifestyle associated with said-commandments?
The question is, if you choose just how you are supposed to observe these mitzvot, diminishing or disregarding the Jewish praxis involved as interpreted by the Rabbinic Sages over the last two-thousand years or so, is what you’re doing really a “Judaism?”
Probably not, although I suppose that conclusion rests on how you define Judaism.
Even for those non-Jews who identify as Messianic Gentiles, who agree with the differentiation of roles between Jews and non-Jews in Messiah and who study and behave accordingly, it is arguable as to whether or not we are actually practicing a “Judaism,” even if we worship and fellowship alongside Messianic Jews in a Messianic Jewish synagogue (such as at Rabbi David Rudolph’s shul Tikvat Israel).
In beginning to read Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel’s book, from which I quoted above, I truly realize that he conceptualizes the Torah in general and Genesis (Beresheet) in particular, in a fundamentally different way than I do. Of course, he had the benefit of being born a Jew, being raised in a Jewish community, worshiping the God of his fathers as a Jew, being educated as a Jew, and speaking and writing fluent Hebrew (the book is actually two different versions between the covers, one in English and one in Hebrew) as a Jew.
This, and my many other explorations into various Jewish texts, show me that even though I can read them in English, they were written (at least the more scholarly ones) for Jewish people who conceptualize the Bible and associated interpretations in a very different manner than I do, and there are directions in which these texts travel that my thoughts are incapable of following. As I practice my faith, even though I study from a Messianic perspective, that hardly means I’m practicing any type of Judaism as such.
It stands to reason that I don’t consider myself Jewish or even practicing “Jewishly”.
There is, however, a necessity for me to “touch, handle, [and] taste Jewish things,” as R. Dauermann states, because of the intersection between my Messianic faith and Messianic Judaism as it exists within the overarching ekklesia of Messiah, but as I’ve said many, many times before, unity does not require uniformity. It doesn’t even always require being “separate but equal,” although I have also argued for the necessity of exclusive Messianic Jewish communities, at least for some MJ synagogues.
As Gentiles in Messiah who choose the path of studying the Bible and understanding the covenants from a Messianic point of view (and keeping in mind there probably isn’t any one single “Messianic point of view”), in my way of thinking, recognizing the covenant priority of the Jewish people in God’s redemptive plan for Israel is critical to how we not only see Jewish Messianics, but how we are to understand Gentile Messianics as well.
From a rant of my own written last February, I came down to saying don’t argue, though I realize that will always be taken as “let’s argue” by most humans, since we tend to be contrary by nature. But consider that in the long history of the Christian Church, any Jew who has come to faith in Jesus (Yeshua) as the long-awaited Messiah, has been without fail required to opt out of Yiddishkeit and effectively become a Gentile. Isn’t it understandable that Jews who enter the Messianic ekklesia would desire to rectify the insults and injuries of the past by preserving who they are as Jews?
I must admit that my own journey out of “One Law” was largely (but not exclusively) motivated by watching my Jewish wife’s involvement in Jewish community and my desire to cherish her Yiddisher Neshamah. Nothing quite teaches a Gentile about a Jew’s absolute need to be Jewish, to live Jewish, to be among Jewish community like being married to a Jewish spouse. Being married to the girl with the Jewish Soul has certain advantages that many others involved in “worshiping Jewishly” may lack in abundance.
Yesterday, I published a blog post that was highly critical of Christianity, accusing the early Church of virtually “kidnapping” the Jewish scriptures, particularly the Jewish Apostolic Scriptures, and I am sure I insulted many good Christian men and women in the process. I regret any pain I may have caused, but unfortunately, there was no other way to get my point across in the required manner.
But like it or not, the Church has committed many crimes against the Jewish people and their writings and we do so again by failing to acknowledge Jewish uniqueness in covenant connection with God, whether we call ourselves “Christian,” “Messianic,” or anything else.
I know I can’t cause even one single Gentile person to reconsider their commitment to the Torah as they see it, even as I at one time reconsidered my commitment and subsequently changed my direction. It’s possible that I’m totally unique in that regard, though the Gentiles involved in the educational ministry First Fruits of Zion must have faced a similar circumstance a number of years ago when they shifted their official position from One Law to a Differentiated model. And yet, I know it’s possible because I did it.
I inaugurated and celebrated that change almost three-and-a-half years ago when I wrote the first post for this blog called Abundant is Your Faithfulness.
Since that time, I’ve had many adventures, went back to church, left church…I’ve thought about giving up blogging and even “religion” a number of times, usually after encountering my own severe limitations as a human being or encountering the darker side of religious people.
We have just passed through the Days of Awe, exited Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and entered a new year. Erev Sukkot begins day after tomorrow at sundown and the year stretches out before us like a road paved in gemstones. Whatever our differences, we share one Messiah and one God. Would it really hurt we Gentiles to extend courtesy and honor to the Jewish people by recognizing that they are indeed unique and set apart by Hashem, their God and ours, as a people and a nation?
Oh, by the way, you won’t be able to engage Rabbi Dauermann by commenting on my blog since it’s quite likely he may not even read my “meditations” and certainly, he has never commented here. You can only “talk” to me.
One last thing. Although I don’t agree with everything Scot McKnight wrote in his article Does Personal Bible Reading Destroy the Church?, he does make a good point about everyone interpreting the Bible willy-nilly to come up with their own conclusions. We can’t all be right.
Addendum: Please keep in mind that there will always be rather negative influences who will read a blog post like this, draw the worst possible conclusions, and then post their opinions somewhere on the web, whether it be in my own comments section (no, not Cindy or Marleen) or on their own blog or website. I regret that I gave them more fuel to add to their “fire” but the only way I could possibly quench such “flaming” sentiments would be for me to cease to exist. Nevertheless, I apologize if my comments here have resulted in provoking anyone to slander (actually in writing, it’s libel) or otherwise making statements unbefitting a disciple of the Master and a child of God.
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman