Tag Archives: prejudice

What Good is There in the Hebrew Roots Movement?

rootsNOTE: I wrote this commentary a few days before my recent blog post, Can Jesus Inherit Lineage from his Adoptive Father Joseph?.

I’ve heard it said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who define themselves by what they’re for, and those who define themselves by what they’re against. I know it’s really more complicated than that, but if you’ve spent any amount of time in the blogosphere, it might seem just that simple. I sometimes get the feeling that the Internet was created to assist the latter sort of person to quickly, easily, and sometimes anonymously express their opinions about who and what they oppose.

I try to define myself by what I am for and generally post blogs on whatever happens to be rolling around inside my skull at any given point in time. I also have participated in debates about the relative merits of Christianity, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots (I’m using these terms in the most general way possible). I want to talk about some of the differences between certain groups, primarily Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots but first, I’d like to provide some links that quickly define Christianity and Judaism just to be able to set them to one side.

The next set of definitions are based on well over a decade of experience in the Hebrew Roots movement. Not everyone is going to agree with me, but as I’ve suggested, that’s the nature of the blogosphere and probably human nature as well.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a blog post called What is Messianic Judaism, so you can refer back to that for additional details, but as far as a thumbnail sketch goes, the following should serve fairly well.

Messianic Judaism, in its ideal form, is a stream of Judaism that operates alongside the other branches of Judaism such as Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and so on. It’s principle difference is the belief by the Jewish adherents within that stream that Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth, as we see him in the Apostolic Scriptures, is the prophesied Messiah, who came once to redeem humanity from sin, and who will come again to liberate Israel, restore the captives to their Land, and usher in an era of worldwide peace.

In its current form (again, I’m speaking generally), the majority of members of Messianic Jewish congregations are non-Jews who have chosen to come alongside the Jewish believers while maintaining the distinction between Jews and Gentiles worshiping within a Jewish context. Messianic Jewish groups are led by the Jewish membership, and established by and for Jews in Messiah. Additionally, like other Jewish streams, many traditional and cultural practices are upheld, such as common halachah observed by many religious Jews. Both Torah and Talmud are studied, the traditional festivals are observed, observance of a Saturday Shabbat is practiced, and worship services are what would be found in any synagogue setting.

Hebrew Roots is a general umbrella term defining groups of primarily non-Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) who adopt some Jewish/Hebraic religious practices and traditions to varying degrees. There are a number of sub-sets within Hebrew Roots, the two primary groups being:

  • One Law: This group tends to practice what they call “Messianic Judaism” and believes that the New Testament supports Jewish and non-Jewish believers having no distinctions in identity and practice. In the ideal sense, it makes no difference if the groups are organized and operated by Jews or Gentiles, although the vast majority of One-Law groups are almost always Gentile driven. One Law groups distinguish themselves from Messianic Judaism and the other Judaisms by a general dislike if not disdain of anything that isn’t “written Torah,” although it is impossible for them to practice any religious, synagogue-like service without borrowing heavily from Jewish tradition. One Law groups also tend to dislike if not disdain the traditional Christian church and claims that Christians are universally “anti-Judaic” and even apostate.
  • Two House: This group tends to believe that non-Jewish people who are attracted to Judaism and the Torah are the descendants of the “lost ten tribes” of Israel and that God has supernaturally inspired them to return to a Jewish/Hebraic worship practice and lifestyle. They do not believe that non-Jewish Christians have the same obligation to the Torah as Jewish people do, but they believe that, because they are “Israelites,” they are not truly non-Jewish, and therefore are part of the modern Jewish people. A different stream of two-house doesn’t literally believe that they are the biological descendants of Israel, but that they are spiritual descendants and thus not really Gentiles.

many people

I want to make clear that my definitions are extremely general and within those two groups, there are multiple (probably hundreds) variations of belief and practice. Also, “Hebrew Roots” can include any congregation of Christians (though most won’t claim that particular label), that incorporate some “Jewishness” in their religious lives. This could include church services that use certain Hebrew words, keeping a “kosher-style” diet based on Leviticus 11, wearing kippot and tallitot during services, but not necessarily believing that the full yoke of Torah is incumbent upon them, let alone any significant number of traditions. The one element that unifies all Hebrew Roots groups is the belief that something went wrong in traditional Christianity, usually its historic rejection of the Jewish/Hebrew identity of Jesus and his teachings. The label “Hebrew Roots” is used to separate this group of non-Jewish believers from what they see as the flawed theological, doctrinal, and cultural identity typically associated with the “Christianity” label.
Just to give you an idea of how some Hebrew Roots groups define themselves, I culled the following comments from a One Law blogspot:

As for Seventh-Day Adventists…don’t know much about them except they are Christian and, therefore, anti-Judaic.

In short, the Christian message to Jews is anti-Judaic: “Stop practicing Judaism!”

Yeshua kept the Law, but not any form of Judaism.

Christians believe that the Sinaitic Torah has been abolished; Messianics believe it is valid. Christians believe that the New Testament is anti-Judaic; Messianics believe that the Apostolic Writings are pro-Judaic. And there are divisions with the system of Christianities and also within the Messianic movement. These are all caused by certain convictions.

Are these convictions worth dividing over?

I believe so. We can’t build Messianic communities in the same way that Christians build their communities.

Admittedly, these comments were taken out of context (I added the emphasis because it was apparently missed before), but as you can see, they communicate a less than complementary attitude toward any form of Christianity and sometimes Judaism (although arguably, each and every one of the non-Jewish followers in this movement are Christian by definition).

To be fair, I should mention that at times, there is a positive and supportive connection between Hebrew Roots and the Christian church.

Now that I’ve got all that out of the way, what good can I say about Hebrew Roots? It’s not a matter of whether or not I agree with their basic doctrines. What we all share is faith in Jesus Christ. In that sense, Christianity, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots have a common Messiah and thus a common bond. Where we differ is how we conceptualize the meaning of the Messiah in our lives and what we believe our response should be to him and to the human beings around us. Probably thousands if not tens of thousands (or more) books, blogs, and websites have been created and dedicated to waging the “war” between Messianic Judaism vs. Hebrew Roots, or Hebrew Roots vs. Christianity, or Christianity vs. Messianic Judaism. I don’t want this to be another blog post carrying on the battle.

I’m not saying I won’t complain again, but I want to take this opportunity to say that in spite of our different outlooks, we must admit that we have things in common as well…all of us who claim the name of Christ, though others call him Messiah.

We believe in the God of the Bible. We believe that all of the Bible is “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). We believe that Jesus (Yeshua) is the Messiah spoken of in the Jewish prophesies, that it was necessary for him to come once to redeem us from sin, and that he’ll come a second time to establish the Messianic Kingdom and bring world-wide peace. We believe that Jesus taught from the Torah and the Prophets, and that we all have a responsibility to follow teachings such as feeding the hungry, clothing the unclothed, visiting the sick, comforting the grieving, and performing many other acts of kindness as “the weightier matters of the Torah.”

Hebrew Roots folks also uphold the “Jewishness” of Jesus and his Apostles, the continued authority of Torah, the continued Jewish practice of Paul, of Paul not teaching against Torah, the continued vital importance of the Jewish people and Israel in God’s plan. Traditional Christianity isn’t as good at recognizing this and although some of the details between Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots differ, we all should recognize what we hold as common beliefs.

more-silosBut as long as we continue to define ourselves by who we oppose, we will always be stuck inside our little silos and the only people we will ever talk to is ourselves. One of the reasons I chose to return to a church worship setting is that I didn’t want to get stuck in a silo. I wanted to talk to people who didn’t always think like me, in order to build bridges, share information, and contribute to mutual learning “across the aisle.”

Given my regular meetings with my Pastor and some other relationships I’m nurturing within the church I attend, I think I’m headed in the right direction. Nothing is perfect, and sometimes I become frustrated and discouraged, but overall, I’ve been able to express a number of my opinions and beliefs and not only have I not been given the boot yet, but some people seem authentically interested in continuing our dialog.

That wouldn’t be possible if I took the attitude that anyone who isn’t like me or who doesn’t think or believe as I do must be “bad.”

I once heard President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Boaz Michael say (this isn’t an exact quote) that hitting someone over the head with a Torah scroll won’t give them a different insight into the Torah. We can’t just beat people up with our beliefs. Plenty of atheists complain that Christians are hitting them with their Bibles in their evangelical efforts and guess what? Hostile or aggressive behavior doesn’t change people. You can’t yell at someone as an effective method of convincing them your position has merit. You certainly can’t inspire someone to listen to you if you call them names and denigrate their faith and their worship context.

But we all do that all the time.

While I agree there are some lines in the sand I am not willing to cross, I also must admit that it is important to acknowledge good in someone when you see it, even if you don’t agree with that person on other occasions. In the blogosphere, we all get caught up too much in being theology police. Building the road to accepting each other as members of the body of Messiah requires a willingness to talk to people who are different than you, and to listen to them as well. You may never come to a place where you will always agree on everything, but you may build a place where two people who both love Messiah can get together and share who they are with each other. Once you do that, who knows what you could end up learning and building upon the foundation you’ve started?

Every person you meet has a wellspring deep inside.

If you can’t find it, your own wellspring needs clearing.
Remove the rust from your shovel, sharpen its blade, and dig harder and deeper.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Dig Deeper”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Addendum: August 8, 1:15 p.m. Mountain Time: Peter, the person who commented below, chose to take our conversation back to his blog. To be fair, I thought it was important to display the continued results of our dialog which can be found in the comments section. I see we have a long way to go.


Once in a while, He seems to be peeking through the latticework of our world, filling the day with light.

But then there are times He hides His face behind a thick wall, and we are confused.

We cry out to Him, loudly, for He must be far away.

He is not far away. For the latticework is His holy hand, and the walls themselves are sustained by His word.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Hiding Behind His Hand”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

In Torah-study the person is devoted to the subject that he wishes to understand and comes to understand. In davening the devotion is directed to what surpasses understanding. In learning Torah the Jew feels like a pupil with his master; in davening – like a child with his father.

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tamuz 26, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

I have to keep reminding myself that there is something bigger than humanity. If I ever stop, my faith in just about everything would completely collapse, especially in human beings. It seems like every time I turn about (virtually), someone else is saying that all religious people everywhere are fanatics. I have to keep reminding myself that, for some people, all they know about a life of faith is from those people and groups who only pretend to honor the God of the Bible. I have to remind myself that the only “Christians” some folks are aware of are those who use their religion as an excuse to spew out their vile, personal hate.

No wonder other religious people as well as agnostics and atheists hate Christians.

But it makes me wonder.

If all Christians everywhere are judged by the behaviors of a few, fringe fanatics, doesn’t that make the people doing the judging prejudiced and bigoted?

I know that even the best among the body of faith take heat for evangelizing to the “unsaved”. From the Christian’s point of view, he or she is fulfilling the mandate from Christ (Matthew 28:18-20) and sincerely trying to keep another living human being from “eternal damnation” (I put these terms in quotes because they are very “Christian-centric” and not easily understood outside the church).

I know that although we are not of the world, we are supposed to be in it (John 15:19, Romans 12:2), if only to live the lives we are created for, to do our part in repairing the world, and to prepare our environment for the Master’s return (“and even though he may delay, nevertheless every day I anticipate that he will come”…from the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith).

But most of the rest of the world still thinks I’m a schmuck.

Trying to convince them that not all people of faith are “the enemy” seems hopeless. The secular “haters” outnumber me by quite a bit, and as I’ve said before, I guess I should have expected this. I guess it’s especially difficult to take when people who I like and otherwise get along with continually bombard me with “religion is evil” messages day in and day out.

Judaism’s answer, according to Rabbi Freeman’s interpretation of the Rebbe is:

The first thing needed to fix this world is that Jews should love each other and be united.

And this can begin even without a planning committee and without funding.

It can begin with you.

That can work for the church too, but this strategy often involves defining yourself by who or what you oppose. How can you oppose the world and not expect it (and them) to oppose you? Doesn’t that make it difficult to have conversations? Does that mean the church becomes a self-contained box and only talks inside of itself? How do you spread the Gospel of Christ that way, or do you only “spread” it inside the church?

All that said, maybe the only way to survive with faith intact is to withdraw periodically. I think that’s what prayer is like sometimes. It’s what Shabbat would be like for Christians if Shabbat were permitted to the non-Jew.

It’s almost a shame that my primary template for understanding Christianity is traditional Judaism, because the vast majority of Jews are completely opposed to everything I stand for. Somehow, I manage to fit a square peg into a round hole, but perhaps only in my own imagination.

Alone in silenceI’ve always thought that Christian hymns like just you and me, Jesus were terribly self-centered and driven by the desire to contain the King of the World within a single, human relationship, but I also see the appeal. It’s easy, when you don’t feel as if human beings are friendly, approachable, or even trustworthy, to want to withdraw from humanity all and only trust the Divine.

Of course, that strategy presupposes you have the ability to trust God, but then, that’s one of the interesting things about people who oppose religion. Sometimes people like them and people like me have a thing or two in common.

But I learned long ago that you have to trust someone. If God can’t be trusted, then life is hopeless.

Rabbi Freeman’s solution goes something like this:

Do kindness beyond reason.

Defy terror with beauty.

Combat darkness with infinite light.

I could spread light throughout the world from today until the day I die and most people would continually refactor and redefine the light as darkness, just in order to keep fitting me into how they define religion. In the end, I have to hide some tiny spark of His infinite light  deep inside of me and somehow manage keep it kindled. The horrible alternative is to surrender to terror and a perpetual descent into the abyss, watching both people and God dwindle in the increasing distance between us.

As opposed to people, God is supposed to be the ultimate inclusionist. I certainly hope so.

The Side of Merit

Judge NotJudge every man to the side of merit.

Ethics of our Fathers 1:6

On the most elementary level, this means that if you discern a negative trait in your fellow or you see him commit a negative act, do not judge him guilty in your heart. “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place,” warns another of the Ethics’ sayings, and his place is one place where you will never be. You have no way of truly appreciating the manner in which his inborn nature, his background or the circumstances that hold sway over his life have influenced his character and behavior.

However, this only explains why you should not judge your fellow guilty. Yet our Mishnah goes further than this, enjoining us to “judge every man to the side of merit.” This implies that we should see our fellow’s deficiencies in a positive light. But what positive element is implied by a person’s shortcomings and misdeeds?

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
“Double Standard”
Tammuz 18, 5771 * July 20, 2011

The character traits of strength and firmness evoke mixed responses. On one hand, everyone admires personal fortitude, and respects an individual who has the courage to persevere in his convictions despite challenges. And yet a strong person can also be thought of as rigid and insensitive, clinging stubbornly to his own views without bending in consideration of others. Counseling against this tendency, our Sages commented, (Taanis 20a) “A person should always be pliant like a reed, and not hard like a cedar.”

Commentary on Torah Portion Matot
“True Strength”
-Rabbi Eli Touger

The world of religion is terribly judgmental. To be fair, this is a human trait and not just one seen among people of faith. While secular people tend to blame religion for all the world’s ills (war, racism, poverty, and so forth) is it rather our human nature and our tendency toward selfishness and evil that lets us corrupt the values of God into something that harms people.

In Christianity we are taught, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 [KJV]), but that certainly hasn’t stopped many in the church from judging others, both within the congregation and in the non-believing world. Is this any way to show the world the love of Jesus Christ?

Despite what I’ve quoted above, Judaism is also populated by human beings and thus, Jewish people aren’t perfect. They have a capacity equal to any Christian to judge others and to assign unfair blame and ridicule. Asher at the Lev Echad blog is on something of a mission to try and turn the hearts of Jews toward each other and to heal the differences between them. Recently, he published a plea asking Jews to not judge each other for their differences in religious practices and lifestyle but rather to guide “others into a life of serving God and His children in a way that best matches their individual personality”.

Asher’s words can easily be applied to the rest of us, both in their practicality and in their need.

Returning to the example of the Ethics of Our Fathers from which I quoted above, we see in the commentary that we must not only treat our fellows fairly and as we want to be treated, but we should extend ourselves to give others the benefit of the doubt, while at the same time, looking at our own deeds without compromise:

So judge every man to the side of merit—every man, that is, except yourself. For the attitude detailed above, while appropriate to adopt towards other human beings, would be nothing less than disastrous if applied to oneself.

“True, I have done nothing with my life,” the potential-looking individual will argue. “But look at what I am capable of! Look at the quality of my mind, the sensitivity of my feelings, the tremendous talents I possess. It’s all there within me, regardless of the fact that I have never bothered to realize any of it. This is the real me. The extent to which I actualize it is only of secondary importance.”

In our judgement of human life and achievement, we must adapt a double standard. Our assessment of a fellow human being must always look beyond the actual to the potential reality within. On the other hand, we must measure our own worth in terms of our real and concrete achievements, and view the potential in ourselves as merely the means to this end.

FriendsChristianity has parallel teachings to these Talmudic gems:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. –Matthew 7:3-5

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. –Matthew 18:21-22

At the core of all these lessons is the Torah itself and the Master’s commentary on the “Torah” that both Jews and Christians can embrace:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” –Mark 12:28-31

I specifically say this is a “Torah”, because Jesus is quoting from both Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18, so the heart of Christianity was born in Judaism and if we are wise, we will not separate the branches from the vine (see John 15:5 and Romans 11:11-24).

Rabbi Touger’s commentary on Matos describes two symbols of leadership over the twelve tribes of Israel. The authority of a tribal head is symbolized by both a staff and a rod. They sound the same but are wholly different from one another:

What is the difference between these two terms? A rod is supple, able to be bent, while a staff is firm and unyielding. For a rod is freshly cut or still connected to the tree from which it grew and is therefore pliant. A staff, by contrast, has been detached from its tree long ago, and over time has become dry, hard, and firm.

Both terms serve as analogies for different levels in the expression of our souls’ potential. (See Sefer Maamarei Admur HaZakein 5562, Vol. I, p. 237ff.) The term “rod” refers to the soul as it exists in the spiritual realms, where its connection to G-dliness is palpably appreciated. It shares an active bond with the lifegiving, spiritual nurture it receives. “Staff,” by contrast, refers to the soul as it exists in our material world, enclothed in a physical body. On the conscious level, it has been severed from its spiritual source, and its connection to G-dliness is no longer felt.

In this setting, there is the possibility for both the positive and the negative types of strength and hardness. There is a tendency towards spiritual insensitivity, a brittle lack of responsiveness to the G-dliness invested within creation.

Tree of LifeTying this back to the analysis of Pirkei Avot 1:6, we see that we should be a “rod” when dealing with others but a “staff” when judging ourselves.

A rod and a staff have a common source and the difference is how long each one has been separated from the tree. It is said that the Torah is a “tree of life for those who hold fast to her” (Ethics of Our Fathers 6:7). Given the Torah source of both Jewish and Christian commentaries on compassion toward others, not the least of which is the teaching of the Master, how can we not take hold of that tree and cling fast to her in our relationships with others and with God?

Rabbi Chananiah the son of Akashiah would say: G-d desired to merit the people of Israel; therefore, He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundance. As is stated, “G-d desired, for sake of his righteousness, that Torah be magnified and made glorious.” –Makot, 3:16

The Irrelevant Drunkard

PogromOn today’s daf we find the laws of when we follow the majority.

It is difficult to imagine the precarious state of our fellow just a few centuries ago. Even in places where they were relatively safe and prospered, the status quo could change at any time. Virtually all clergy were antisemites, always trying to trip up the Jews who were generally no more than tenuous second-class citizens in their host countries. If a Jewish rabbi could not give a satisfactory reply to a prominent priest’s questions or accusations, the entire community could be exiled from their homes with hardly any notice and no time or even right to sell their possessions, most of which were often confiscated. And if the king himself asked a question which could not be answered, things were at least as bad.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Majority Rules?”
Chullin 19

It’s difficult for Christians (and everybody else who’s not Jewish) to imagine what living this way must have been like. Probably the closest we get to comprehending a Jewish life of eternal uncertainty in a hostile world is when we watch the film Fiddler on the Roof (1971) or see the stage musical. Even then, we are unlikely to register the true horror of the pogroms, the inquisitions, and the general hatred of the Jews in most parts of the world.

As much as we’d like to believe that all of the Jew-hatred is behind us, there is still a significant presence of these feelings among people, including Christians, today. Even among those (non-Jewish) Christians who are aligned with the “Messianic” movement, while they make a public declaration of love for the Jewish people, love of Judaism, and love of Israel, there is also an underlying current of distrust and frustration, particularly when religious Jews insist upon maintaining a lifestyle and set of traditions that chafe at Christian “goyishe” sensibilities. I once heard a Christian fellow exclaim, “Why can’t the Jews just accept Jesus?”. He was operating out of a sense of historical, social, and theological ignorance that has held the church in thrall for nearly twenty centuries and still exists in many churches and “Messianic” communities to this very day.

To illustrate the point I’m about to make, I will continue to quote from the aforementioned commentary on the daf:

Once, a priest primed his sovereign to ask Rav Yonasan Eybeschuetz, zt”l, what he thought was a genuine stumper. The king was delighted at this trick, since if Rav Yonasan could not answer the question he would fill the coffers of his treasury with Jewish property – an excellent way to improve the economy.

He asked, “The Talmudic rule is that one should follow the majority. Since the non-Jews are the majority of the world’s population, why don’t you join our religion? According to your own law you must follow the custom of the majority!” But Rav Yonasan could not be bested. “We only follow the majority when we are in doubt. When we know the truth, the practice of the majority is irrelevant.”

This could sound pretty harsh to Christian ears. Here we have Rav Yonasan telling a priest and a King that Christianity is irrelevant to a Jew. That’s pretty much a slap in the face, but you have to look at the larger context and what was at stake. If the Rav answered poorly or not at all, his entire community could be evicted from all the lands where the King ruled with not so much as a “by your leave”. The Jews weren’t being “witnessed” to by concerned and well-meaning Christians about the love of Jesus; they were being given an ultimatum that could even be escalated to a death sentence. Rav Yonasan had not only the right to be a little “snippy” toward the priest and the King based on this, but he was also following a path of Godliness and truth that the Jewish people have traveled for untold centuries, going all the way back to Moses at Sinai.

I suppose all this begs the question of how (or if) Christians should witness to Jews and a detailed answer goes beyond the scope of this small article. In short, the answer is “yes” with the caveat that you don’t just go into a synagogue, start “preaching Jesus”, denigrate everything there is about being Jewish, and expect your audience to cry out joyously “Give us an ‘Amen’, brother!” Instead, you’ll be politely asked to leave. If and when God requires that a Gentile Christian share his or her faith with a Jew, that door will become very apparently open. Don’t presume ignorance for “missionary zeal”.

PrayingThe other question this brings up is, when a Jew does accept Jesus, does he or she accept the stereotypical white-Christian Jesus, or are we talking about the Moshiach; the Messiah? Opinions vary, even among believing Jews. Some Jews who have come to faith in Christ lead lives that are little different than any other Christian, including setting aside all of the Torah laws related to the Sabbath, kosher eating, the traditional prayers, and so forth. A very small (but perhaps growing) minority can’t be said to be followers of the Jesus one sees in most traditional paintings of Christ, who bears no resemblance to a first-century Jewish man living in Roman-Judea. Instead, they are disciples of the “Moshiach, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16).

For this latter group of Jews, there is no inconsistency between living a lifestyle completely consistent with religious Judaism, including Talmud study and adherence to accepted halachah and the logical and ultimately expected discipleship of the “Rebbe of Nazaret”, the “Jewish Jesus of Nazareth”. Although Rav Yonasan Eybeschuetz wasn’t necessarily referencing the Moshiach as opposed to Jesus in the responses we’ve read thus far, the Messiah is always anticipated. Why do a few Jews see him in the person of Jesus while most currently do not? I’ve heard it taught more than once that Jesus, the brother of all Jewish people, is currently concealed, just as Joseph in Egypt, though he spoke to and interacted with his brothers, was temporarily concealed behind an Egyptian “mask” (see Genesis chapters 41-45 for the details).

I’ve also recently read that “prominent sages such as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and the Chazon Ish have ruled that we live in a time of God’s concealment” (quoted from the Lev Echad blog), and although those noteworthy Rabbis are not likely referring to the concealment of Jesus as the Messiah, perhaps we Christians can take such a meaning when considering the Jewish people from our perspective.

The conclusion of our “Story Off the Daf” contains an even more difficult lesson for Christians to learn:

Rav Elchonon Wasserman, Hy”d, offered a different explanation, however. “A sober person would never follow the opinion of even a hundred drunks since they are not thinking straight. The Jewish sages are likened to a sober minority since they purify themselves from ulterior motives and personal agenda. How can we expect people who have not purified themselves from impure agenda to find the truth?”

Thus Christianity goes from being “irrelevant” to in the possession of “drunks” and “people who have not purified themselves from impure agenda”. That does not, in fact, describe the majority of Christians who truly are disciples of the Master and live out his holy teachings, but in the era being described in today’s story, it was most certainly true of the corrupt church authorities who spared no effort to harass, malign, and abuse the Jews just because they could.

However, we don’t have to repeat the mistakes we see laced throughout Christian history. We don’t have to demand that Jews stop being Jews just because we don’t understand them. We don’t even have to demand that Jews who have come to faith in the Moshiach, who we call “the Christ”, stop being Jews just because we’ve been taught that “the law is dead” and that “Pharisees are all hypocrites”. We can however adopt the lesson I found at the Lev Echad blog, from which I previously quoted:

One of the unique aspects of Judaism is learning about all the different roads people take that lead them to God and a life of goodness. While this is certainly a fascinating phenomenon, it can also be a great impediment to how we treat one another. Therefore, our goal in life should not be to turn all our fellow Jews into ideological and/or religious replicas of ourselves. Rather, it should be to guide – not force – others into a life of serving God and His children in a way that best matches their individual personality.

Extending this lesson beyond Judaism, we can realize that it’s not our job to judge. There is only one righteous Judge, and He is God. As there are many different churches and many different congregations of God, so there may be many different ways to offer worship and glory to the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. Can you, as a Christian, say that only your church is the true and righteous church and that no other churches, even within your own denomination, worship God in a way that is accepted by Him? Without seeing the world as God sees it, can you dare pronounce judgment on your fellow human being and companion along the path of faith?

If you can be so daring, then perhaps the words of Rav Elchonon are true for you. More’s the pity.

“If your heart is bitter, sugar in your mouth will not help.” -Jewish Proverb

“It was Judaism that brought the concept of a God-given universal moral law into the world…the Jew carries the burden of God in history [and] for this has never been forgiven.” -Reverend Edward H. Flannery

“A Jew never gives up. We’re here to bring Mashiach, we will settle for nothing less.” -Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Good Shabbos.