Tag Archives: synagogue

Falling and Rising

Rabbi Noah Weinberg was visiting the United States of America. He spent one Shabbat in a small New Jersey community. The people were friendly, and because of the small size of the congregation for Rabbi mingled freely with all the congregants. On Shabbat afternoon, when they sat to eat Seudah Shelisheet, the third Shabbat meal, a young man who was sitting next to the Rabbi began a conversation, which expressed his frustration with his ability to learn Torah. The young man described the many hours in the many techniques he had tried in order to grasp the difficult concepts of the Talmud study.

“How come I just can’t get it?” he asked. “No matter what I do, it seems my conclusions are wrong when I get a chance to review with my Rabbi. I am about to give up,” he said he reported.

-Rabbi Raymond Beyda
“Try Try Again”
Commentary on Parashas Terumah

On last Friday’s extra meditation, I posted a video of Rev. LeeAnne Watkins, Rector at St. Marys, St. Paul, a faith community located in the Merriam Park neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. As you may recall, she was lamenting that after “years of experience and lots of good will, traditional Faith Formation programming is floundering in communities across the country,” including her own. In response, the ministerial staff at St Mary’s had stopped offering all adult education classes. They cancelled everything. They gave up. Rev. Watkins gave up.

I just got an email notice from WordPress.com notifying me that the domain name for this blog will expire in 90 days. I can either choose to renew it for another year, or let it lapse, sending my “morning meditations” into obscure oblivion. Believe me, there are times when I’m tempted to give up, too. The contentiousness and extreme lack of unity within the community of faith in Jesus Christ is just stunning at times. It’s not only the lack of unity, but the hostility expressed in our various online exchanges that makes me wonder if there even is a community of faith in the Messiah anymore. Everyone is so concerned with protecting their own turf and their own theologies, usually at the expense of everyone else who calls Jesus “Master” and “Lord.”

An extreme, though understandable, example is found in Lawrence H. Schiffman’s review of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s controversial book, Kosher Jesus as posted at JewishJournal.com. Even the concept of attempting to establish peace between Judaism and Christianity is depicted in widely different ways by these two Jewish gentlemen:

Most difficult to accept is Boteach’s claim that Jews should re-accept Jesus as one of their own teachers, so that Jews and Christians will share this common teacher and unite in our service of God. This notion is probably the cause of the great controversy that already surrounds this book. In making this proposal the author ignores two major issues: 1) The symbolism of Jesus in Western culture where Jews were taunted, persecuted and killed in Jesus’ name. It is simply insensitive to expect, as Boteach does, that this experience should be forgotten so quickly. 2) The need for Judaism to draw clear lines between itself and Christianity to avoid losing adherents to the dominant faith. The Jewishness of Jesus is regularly used in evangelizing Jews by Christian proselytizers to ease the way from Judaism to Christianity. So there is no sense to the proposal to reclaim Jesus as a teacher and hero. He is best left to his Christian adherents, even if he was once a fellow Jew who lived by the Jewish tradition.

Although Rabbi Boteach advocates Jews attempting to reintegrate the historical and Jewish Jesus back into Judaism in order to foster Jewish/Christian peace, Professor Schiffman believes that such peace can only be achieved and maintained by abandoning any hope that Jesus could be considered Jewish, relegating him to the exclusive realm of “Gentile god”. While I can certainly understand the need to separate the Christian Jesus from modern Judaism, given the traditional enmity between the two religions, it is still discouraging that Judaism is unable or unwilling to at least consider the teachings of the Jewish teacher from Natzeret, even apart from Christian rhetoric.

Of course, there are plenty of disagreements within Christianity and particularly between the church and the Messianic Jews who have accepted the Nazarene as Master and Messiah, so I don’t have to go looking too far for discouragement. Going back to Rabbi Beyda’s commentary, at the level of the individual, disappointment doesn’t have to be caused by interfaith conflicts. Just facing personal inadequacies can be enough to make you, or rather, to make me want to give up.

But what about our metaphorical Talmud student. Is his case truly hopeless. I found an interesting answer from a very non-religious source:

In this new paper, Moser et al. extends this research by looking at how beliefs about learning shape these mostly involuntary error-related signals in the brain, both of which appear in less than half a second. More specifically, the scientists applied a dichotomy first proposed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford. In her influential research, Dweck distinguishes between people with a fixed mindset — they tend to agree with statements such as “You have a certain amount of intelligence and cannot do much to change it” — and those with a growth mindset, who believe that we can get better at almost anything, provided we invest the necessary time and energy. While people with a fixed mindset see mistakes as a dismal failure — a sign that we aren’t talented enough for the task in question — those with a growth mindset see mistakes as an essential precursor of knowledge, the engine of education.

-Jonah Lehrer
“Whe Do Some People Learn Faster?”
October 4, 2011

I encourage you to read the entire article but in brief, research seems to support the idea that what you tell yourself about learning affects your ability to learn more and to learn faster. If you believe learning is only an effect of your raw, native intelligence, then you internally set limits that you cannot and will not exceed. If, on the other hand, you believe that time and effort can create change and expand your ability to learn beyond your current thresholds, then you indeed will learn more and exceed your limitations.

Interestingly enough, that’s not much different from the advice Rabbi Weinberg gave to the troubled Talmud student.

“That is the worst solution, you could choose” the rabbi responded. “A person has to understand that the learning of Torah is not something that a human being can do without the help of Hashem. Hashem expects you to put in all the effort you can, and then he will produce the results.”

The young man listened and was encouraged. The respect he had for the sage gave him the strength to continue with his suggestion of try try again. Not long after he made a breakthrough. He reached a level where he was able to prepare a portion of the Talmud on his own. Today that young man is a practicing Rabbi in his community teaching others how to learn and how to be patient, if at first they do not succeed.

I’ve presented a lot of content to express what has already been said in a single sentence attributed to 19th century educator Thomas H. Palmer: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. W.C. Fields said something similar, but it’s hardly as useful. Then there’s what the brother of the Master said.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. –James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Am I trying to give you some sort of pep talk? Not at all. If anything, I’m trying to encourage myself. Given the sad shape the world is in lately, the spiritual struggles of one human being who otherwise is doing fairly well don’t really stack up all that much. To extend that thought back into the realm of famous Hollywood quotes, here’s what the “great sage” Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart) had to say:

I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.

Casablanca (1942)

If I (or anyone else) feels alone in the world of faith, it’s not because we are separated from God, it’s because we are separated from each other as human beings and disciples of the Master. That separation is largely by choice. We choose to believe this or that about what the Bible says, which makes it difficult for us to associate with people who interpret the Bible differently. We choose to organize a worship service on a particular day, using specific prayers, and songs, and sermons, and others choose to do it differently on a different day. Then we tell ourselves that one type of service “feels at home” while another type “feels uncomfortable,” but those are choices, too.

There’s nothing wrong about making those choices, but having made them, we live with the consequences. I’ve made choices and am living with the consequences now. I can choose to do nothing or choose a different direction and then there will be more and different consequences. Rev. Watkins and the folks at St. Mary’s made a choice and now they, and the people who attend their church, will live with the consequences. If the Talmud student had given up, there would have been consequences too, but he chose to go on and the consequence for perseverance was to become a Rabbi.

We like to think that we make one choice and we never have to revisit it again, but I find that I am looking at the choices I’ve made every day and continually confronting the consequences, adjusting my studies, my searches, my prayers, and my actions all the time as a result. A relationship with God is incredibly dynamic. If I were to dare to become comfortable with my choices, I have no doubt He would challenge me into discomfort, and then I would have to learn something by generating some effort. What we learn isn’t always what we want to learn but it all adds up to something, though I’m not always sure what. In the end, the only thing I know how to do is to move forward, whether I ultimately choose to continue this blog after the next 90 days or not. I can’t see around the next bend on this “trail of faith” which I suppose makes sense. Faith is pursuing the unseen, not the knowable. God is unseen but sometimes, so are people. Even though I know that my goal is holiness and it is God, what the finish line looks like, and whether I’ll accompany anyone else on the journey, is a mystery.

I only know that I can’t give up what I’m doing, whether it is chasing the scorching Sun like Icarus and plummeting to earth in flames, or like the Phoenix, rising painfully from my own burnt and smoldering ashes. I only know that I have to keep trying, regardless of the consequences. Because God will let me do no less.


Who Am I Now?

At the event I took the opportunity to ask Rabbi Boteach a question having to do with historical context. I challenged him over his claim that Christians seeing the Jewish Jesus would lead to a more human understanding of Jesus, which in turn would lead to a more tolerant Christianity. My problem with such a claim is that we have ample historical precedent from the history of Jewish-Christian relations that an emphasis on the humanity of Jesus does not necessarily lead to greater tolerance of Jews. On the contrary, it can lead to anti-Semitism by focusing attention on the cause of Jesus’ suffering. This was the case during the high Middle-Ages. Christians “discovered” the humanity of Jesus. This led to a plethora of artwork showing Mary with baby Jesus actually drawn with baby features and gave us the Christmas creche we have today. This also led to an emphasis on Jesus’ physical suffering on the cross. The divine Jesus could never possibly feel pain; only the human Jesus could suffer. Rabbi Boteach response was that the Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, the Roman were. This is in fact a major point of his book. While this answers the question whether Christian readers will take Rabbi Boteach’s arguments to anti-Semitic conclusions, it does not answer the question I was asking of why we should be willing to draw a straight line between a human Jesus and a tolerant Christianity when historically this has not necessarily been the case.

“Kosher Jesus’ Lack of Historical Context”
Book review of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus
from Izgad

This isn’t a review of Boteach’s book Kosher Jesus from a Christian point of view, but reading it did make me start to think about the “Christian point of view” and whether or not I actually have one. I don’t. I realized in reading this blog post that I haven’t the faintest idea how “traditional Christians” see the world, at least from an actual “lived” experience, even though I call myself a Christian.

So why do I call myself a “Christian?”

Frankly, for lack of any other way to describe myself as a person of faith. My wife, who is Jewish, considers me a Christian. Everyone who I know who is Jewish considers me a Christian. Ironically, many of the Christians I know call me a “Messianic Jew.” I find this last part rather surprising (and uncomfortable) since, not being Jewish, I can’t be any sort of “Jew,” Messianic or otherwise. According to many Messianic Jews I know, I can’t be “Messianic” either, since being “Messianic” is considered a Jewish designation. Technically, as far as it’s been explained to me, the Gentiles cannot have a “Messiah” as such. We can have a Savior, or Lord, or Prince of Peace, but the Messiah came for “the lost sheep of Israel.”

I call myself a “Christian” to try and avoid any confusion about who I am. I am not a Jew so calling me a “Messianic Jew” is completely inappropriate. Calling myself a Christian announces that I am a Gentile who believes in Jesus Christ, just as millions and millions of Gentiles have been Christian across the vast expanse of history. Since I”m also vehemently non-supersessionist, I am also at odds with some and perhaps many other Christians, which is one of the reasons why I don’t go to church.

Even though some Jewish people consider me “Judaically-oriented” or having a heart and mind for Judaism, it has occurred to me lately (and again, referring back to the Izgad review of Kosher Jesus), that I might not fit all that well into a Jewish setting, either. It’s one thing to read and study Jewish commentary and studious texts and another thing entirely to be part of a community. It occurs to me that when my wife says the Rabbis at the local Reform and Chabad synagogues “tolerate” the presence of Christians in their midst (as long as they don’t try and proselytize the Jews at shul), that “tolerate” may be in the sense of tolerating a splinter under your fingernail or the discomfort caused by a repetative motion injury. You can handle it being around, but it’s not exactly enjoyable…and it would be a relief when the thing you are “tolerating” is finally gone.

That’s my projection, of course, but I think it’s reasonable. In reading Jacob Fronczak’s blog post Why I Go to Church, part of what he is saying is that he must “tolerate” some aspects of church communal life. It’s not perfect and it’s not going to be. That would be true for me as well if I were to attend a church (though I suppose they’d have to learn to “tolerate” me if I ever chose to actually open my mouth and say what I was thinking). To emphasize my “differentness” from how “regular” Christians think, I have to say I’ve received my first criticism on my recent article Origins of Supersessionism in the Church. My critic, a Christian, and a person I have no reason to believe is anything but honest, sincere, and well-grounded in the faith, states that many of the historical wounds between Messianic Judaism and the church are well on their way to healing at this point in our relationship, but the tone and attitude of my article, has resulted in ripping open some of the scars and pouring salt into the reopened injuries. I don’t seem to be doing “Christian” very well.

So if I’m a Christian, it’s because the label is the closest and most accurate approximation that represents my faith, but I’m a Christian who would not easily fit into either a church or synagogue setting. I’m nearly nine months into my current “experiment,” the primary goal of which was to join with my wife and, as a married couple, worship together within a Jewish context. It hasn’t worked out well thus far. With just a little more than three months left before I decide to continue toward my goal or to pull the plug for good on my hopes, it has become increasingly unlikely that I will achieve anything I started out aiming for.

I don’t actually have to confront the “where do I go from here” question until the end of May or perhaps early June (and keep in mind these time frames are completely arbitrary and self-assigned), but it’s not too early to start thinking about the question. If I had to frame an answer today, I would have to say that there are no options for community that meet my requirements. Facing that would mean facing the consequence of having no tangible faith community for the long term and possibly for the rest of my life.

I don’t fit in. Even if I did find a community where I personally fit in, chances are very high that my wife wouldn’t, and one of the primary requirements for achieving my goal is to worship with my wife. If someone were to offer me a practical option for community that fit me personally “hand in glove,” it would still be lacking if it didn’t fit my spouse as well.

So, who am I? I’m a Christian who doesn’t think very much like a Christian but to be honest, I don’t think very much like a Jew either. I’m the fish in the game Marco Polo who is always “out of water”. If I can’t say that I’m a “freak of nature” I have to say that I’m probably a “freak of faith.” I’m not trying to sound pathetic, but this blog is centered on my “experiment” so it represents, among other things, a chronicle of my progress or lack thereof.

Oh, interesting thing about the reviews of the Boteach book. I’ve found numerous Jewish and Messianic Jewish book reviews, but I have yet to find even one single review written by a Christian. If Rabbi Boteach had hoped to reach not only the Jewish community, but the church with his book, he doesn’t seem to have achieved his goal either, at least up until now.

Why I Don’t Go To Church

This dialogue can happen over the Internet. God forbid that I should disparage the Internet as a means of communication; the irony would be a bit sickening. But realistically, all the activity out here is nothing – nothing! – compared to what is going on in real churches, with real people talking face to face. Real, honest dialogue with other people who bear God’s image and are trying just as hard as we are to understand and interpret the Bible.

I have seen so much good come out of the church I am in. Depending on how far you want to stretch the idiom, I have seen “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”

Have people left? Yes. Have people gotten hurt? Yes. Welcome to communal life…

-Jacob Fronczak
“Why I Go to Church”
Hope Abbey blog

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 (ESV)

I read Jacob’s latest blog post this morning before I went to work and responded to him that I’d probably have to write a “counter-point” blog from my perspective. I don’t write this to disagree with or to oppose Jacob. In fact, I have the greatest admiration for his writing and the message he has created for today. He’s one of the few people who blog, especially about religion, who consistently presents an attitude that is sane and calm. I always hope that I present myself as sane when I blog, but anyone who has followed my “morning meditations” for any length of time knows that I am not always calm.

Jacob makes some very good points about why a person who is aligned with the “Hebrew Roots” movement can still attend and even thrive in a traditional church setting. I’ve said this in the past and I have also said that a great deal of good is done by the church in pursuing the commandments of Jesus to feed the hungry, visit the sick, and to provide comfort to the widow. In fact, I experience that sort of lovingkindness more from the church and the traditional Jewish synagogue than I do from many of those groups who call themselves “Hebrew Roots” or “Messianic,” usually because those groups are more focused on establishing and maintaining their “rightness” than in actually doing “rightness” to others in the Messiah’s name.

On the other hand, I have reasons for not attending church. None of this is new and I’ve spread “my story” over many different blog posts and various comments in the blagonet, but after reading Jacob’s message this morning, I felt I should collect all of that here today. This also, by coincidence (if I can even believe in coincidence in a created universe), dovetails nicely into today’s morning meditation where I spend several paragraphs summarizing my “witness” or my history in the world of faith.

Up until last May, I was regularly attending and teaching at what you would call a “One Law/Messianic” congregation. I left after much prayer, study, and investigation of the assumptions that had originally attracted me to that movement because of two basic reasons: I no longer felt the One Law proposition, which states that both Jews and non-Jewish Christians are obligated to the full 613 commandment in the Torah (minus Jewish halacha and Talmudic judgments and rulings) was Biblically valid. Also, I didn’t want to worship in a religious venue in which my wife, by her very nature as a (non-Messianic) Jew, would be unable to attend, and which would prevent me, due to my “reputation” as “Messianic,” from fellowship with her communities in Reform and Chabad Judaism.

So for the past nine months, I have been unaffiliated with any specific house of worship or formal denomination or sect, and for nine months, I have not engaged in any form of communal prayer or worship.

I kind of miss it.

The idea was to join with my wife at some point, in her communal religious life, but she doesn’t really have one at this point. She very occasionally attends shul, usually for a bar or bat mitzvah, or to help in some event held at one synagogue or the other, but not for Shabbat services and not to go to any of the classes being offered. I’ve suggested that perhaps we could do something together at one of the synagogues, and after a number of conversations on the matter, she said, “we’ll see.”

So why don’t I attend a church in the meantime? One of the reasons I left “One Law” is that the Rabbis at both synagogues in town are generally “OK” with Christians visiting for worship and classes, but they have an extremely difficult time even tolerating the presence of “Messianics”. Certainly, if I attended a church, even regularly, I would be no more or less offensive to them than any other Christian who walked through their doors, and certainly there are other intermarried couples who attend both synagogues, so how out of place could I be? Church attendance shouldn’t be a barrier to synagogue worship as such.

Traffic ConesThe other reason I left “One Law” was because I didn’t want to worship alone. I don’t mean without fellowship, which I had in abundance, but without my wife. She would no more step one foot inside a church than she would inside a “Messianic” congregation and for pretty much the same reasons. I would be just as “isolated” from my wife in a church service as I ever was in a “Messianic” service. I might eventually gain fellowship with other Christians, but it would still be completely hollow without my wife.

I know what some Christians out there are probably thinking right now.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. –Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)

You could reduce that down to, “the heck with your family, Jesus is more important” or words to that effect. You could even attach my desire to attend synagogue services with my wife to what the Master said in Matthew 10:33 (ESV): but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. So much for loving my wife, eh guys? But what about this?

…and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” –Matthew 19:5-6 (ESV)

It’s not so easy now to simply dispense with my “other half,” even for the sake of my faith in Jesus, unless you can come up with some handy way to reconcile the dissonance created by juxtaposing those two teachings of the Master (and I’m aware that theology has come up with some rather creative ways of making discordant verses “fit” for the sake of “smoothing over” theology when rationally, they otherwise shouldn’t reconcile).

And then there’s supersessionism in the church.

I recently wrote an article for Messiah Journal called Origins of Supersessionism in the Church, which is the first of a four-part series on this topic. While I generally oppose this theology, my writing and research has made me particularly sensitive to the extraordinary harm this teaching of the church (not teaching of Jesus and Paul) has done to the Jewish people and to the worship of the Messiah within the framework of Judaism over the past 2,000 years or so. I admit to living with a certain amount of apprehension that if I ever started attending a church again, someone, a Pastor or Bible Teacher or just one of the parishioners, would spout off something about the church replacing Jews. Then I’d feel my blood pressure rise along with my temper, and I’d either just walk out, or I tell that person what I thought of their ill-considered “theology” (and then walk out or be thrown out).

Not that it would really be their fault. After all, the church has been teaching supersessionism as Biblical “fact” ever since the days of the early Gentile “church fathers.” That still doesn’t make it right nor does it mean I have to tolerate a way of understanding the New Testament that requires Judaism and every living, breathing Jew (including my wife and three children) to be deleted from religious, spiritual, and historical significance, not to mention permanently removing them from God’s love and, in at least a historical sense, removing the Jews from their very lives.

I told you I was sensitive to this stuff just now.

So that’s why I don’t go to church.

I understand what Jacob is saying and he’s right. Internet relationships are something of an illusion. I have managed to turn one or two into “real” friendships, but it always involves meeting in real life and doing stuff together. Pretty difficult for most web connections, particularly when those contacts span the globe.

Jacob ended his blog post with an invitation to those of us who are disaffected in relation to the Christian church:

If you believe in Jesus, you’re a Christian. We’re all brothers. We can be distinctive without being destructive. We can worship together. We can live together. We have to.

And maybe, just maybe, you could drop in at church sometime. We’d love to have you.

Thanks, Jacob (where ever you live…which according to his About page, is thousands of miles away from me). I’m not sure how that would ever work out, but I guess we’ll see what God has in mind.

Mistreating People

A few years ago, in a hilarious episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the comedian Larry David bought scalpers’ tickets to his congregation’s High Holy Day services, and was kicked out when his subterfuge was discovered. Nothing that dramatic happened to a friend of mine who wished to attend services last year, but he also had an unpleasant experience with a large congregation.

My friend, who moved to Westchester several years ago, is not a regular shul-goer, but had always gone to High Holy Day services in the city. In his first year in the suburbs, he called a large local Conservative congregation — his denominational preference — and was told that he could have tickets that year at a nominal fee, but if he wished to attend the following year he would have to join the congregation. He was out of the country the following year, so when he returned the year after that, he phoned to ask if he might pay a more substantial fee for his seats this time but not yet become a congregation member. He had not made up his mind about membership. The response he received was a snappish, “You cannot come here again without joining,” and a loud click of the receiver. One or two other large synagogues in his area also informed him in no uncertain terms that he had to be a member to get tickets.

-Francine Klagsbrun
Special to the Jewish Week
“Synagogues Should Be More Welcoming”
The Jewish Week

That sounds terrible. In fact, the whole process of buying tickets to the High Holy Days services probably seems strange and alien to most Christians. After all, it’s not like we have to buy tickets to get seats at Christmas or Easter services in a church (although I must admit, I haven’t commemorated either event or worshiped in a church setting for many years). And yet, the synagogue model raises funds in a very different manner than the church and purchasing an annual membership to a synagogue as well as buying tickets for special events like Passover or the High Holy Days is perfectly normal and reasonable.

But what about the situation described by Klagsbrun? Is this what God really intended? Is this how a synagogue welcomes a Jew into its midst for worship and to honor God? If the person in question had held a membership to the synagogue, it wouldn’t be a problem. But just as some Christians only attend church on Easter, some Jews only go to shul for the High Holidays. No one bars the door to the “annual Christian” but why should a “three day a year Jew” not be able to worship because of lack of “membership?”

Of course, there are always options.

Put off by those responses he called the local Chabad office, ordinarily a sect foreign to his liberal religious and social outlooks. The rabbi who answered the phone greeted him cordially and invited him to attend all the holiday services with no payment. When he did, he received a warm welcome from the rabbi and his assistant. And when he became ill and did not show up for Yom Kippur, the rabbi later called his home to inquire after him. Although my friend missed the more intellectual atmosphere of a Conservative synagogue, he enjoyed the enthusiasm and inclusiveness of the Chabad service. Needlessly to say, he sent an unsolicited check to Chabad after the holidays. It was the money he had offered to pay for tickets to the large suburban synagogue.

No, this isn’t my advertisement for the Chabad and that also was not Klagbrun’s intent when writing her article. For many Reform and Conservative Jews, entering the world of the Chabad is about as comfortable as a visit to the surface of the Moon without the benefit of a spacesuit. A large number of Jews consider the Chabad “cult-like, with its mysticism, messianism, and adulation of the Rebbe” (so if you as a Christian have issues with the Chabad, you’re not alone). But they are doing one thing right. They are welcoming the so-called “three days a year” Jew into their midst the way (forgive me if this next part offends you) that a church would welcome an errant Christian, seeker, or wandering atheist through their doors.

Klagsbrun suggests that it is time for “synagogues to rethink some of their policies, add flexibility, reach out to the unaffiliated, and then take more pride than ever in what a religious New Year really means.” I don’t often go out of my way to be critical of Judaism, but I am also aware that no people group and no religious faith is perfect or has the corner market on righteousness. To my way of thinking, the “welcomeness” of the church (whatever faults it may possess) is generally more aligned with the will and wisdom of God and the spirit of the Messiah than the examples of the synagogue Klagsbrun brings forth. And yet, even during some of Judaism’s darkest hours, God’s response to His “straying sheep” is not condemnation, but compassion.

By the time Moses returned to the scene, his people had hit an all-time low. They worshipped idols, spoke slanderously of each other, and had wandered very far from the path of their forefathers. Perhaps he should have told them off, saying, “Repent, sinners, lest you perish altogether!”

But he didn’t. Instead, he told them how G-d cared for them and felt their suffering, how He would bring about miracles, freedom and a wondrous future out of His love for them.

As for rebuke, Moses saved that for G-d. “Why have you mistreated your people?!” he demanded.

If you don’t like the other guy’s lifestyle, do him a favor, lend him a hand. Once you’ve brought a few miracles into his life, then you can urge him to chuck his bad habits.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I am sometimes treated to a view of our local Reform and Chabad synagogues, their members, and their Rabbis, as seen through my wife’s eyes and experiences. No one is perfect. Everyone has flaws. Some of the events that occur within the Chabad are less than attractive or appealing. And yet to read words of wisdom and beauty that are inspired by the Rebbe are a joy that reminds me of the grace of Jesus. As I mentioned in yesterday’s “morning meditation”, God is writing on all our hearts and there is something of the Divine in each of us. Rather than rebuking our neighbor for his shortcomings, we should show our love and grace, even as God has shown love, grace, and mercy to us.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16 (ESV)