There is another familiar case in which adjectives may cause more confusion than clarification: the misleading labels of “Orthodox”, “Conservative”, “Reform”, “Reconstructionist”, “Unaffiliated”, “Ashkenazic”, “Sephardic”, etc. It’s important to ask whether or not these words have anything to do with who we are in our kishkas (insides)! If we were able to perform a Litmus Test on our souls – or perhaps a “Litmus Configuration” on our souls, for “Midnight Run” fans who are more familiar with the Grodin/DeNiro technique for counterfeit money inspection – would we actually expect to find any trace of these labels? Do we really think that just as there are various blood types, a litmus test would reveal various “soul types”, such as AJ (Ashkenazic Jew), OJ (Orthodox Jew), UJ (Unaffiliated Jew), etc.? Do these labels somehow exist as “spiritual-chemical” elements on some kind of “Spiriodic Table”?
It’s crucial to keep in mind that the essential soul of a Jew has no such adjectives! A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. And the more we learn to focus on our shared essence, the more we can appreciate the splendor of our true unity! May G-d grant us the wisdom to continually discern the differences between external adjectives and essential nouns!
“Birthright Battles & Material Worlds”
Insights from Torah Portion Toldos
It’s unfair to characterize a uniform Jewish view on just about any topic. As soon as you start talking about different periods [in history], it’s almost impossible to answer any question unless you specify what Jews, where and when. Essentially, uniformity of Jewish thought is impossible to find.
Provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York
as quoted by jweekly.com
Seems confusing, doesn’t it? We have Erlbaum saying that regardless of the various differences between Jews, in fact, a “Jew is a Jew is a Jew.” We also have Cooper saying that it’s “unfair to characterize a uniform Jewish view on just about any topic.” Which view of Jewish people is correct? Probably both. Is this a problem?
Nope. Well, maybe.
A large part of this blog is devoted to trying to gather some sort of understanding about the Jewish classic religious texts and, in my case, attempting to apply that knowledge and insight to the faith of one, lone Christian. Me. If anyone else finds something of value here, then I am honored to have recorded it. But given Erlbaum and Cooper, it seems as if my search for knowledge will not be an easy one. There is not one “Judaism” that exists immutable and unchangeable across time from Moses and Sinai to the twenty-first century that we can point to and say, “that’s what it means to be Jewish” or “that’s the sum of the Torah.” If that’s the case, then what am I looking for?
Hillel told a would-be convert this:
“A gentile once came to convert to Judaism, on the condition that he could learn the whole Torah while standing on one foot. He approached Shammai, who rejected him, so he went to Hillel, who taught him: “’That which you dislike don’t do to your fellow: That’s the basis of Torah. The rest is commentary; go learn!” –Shabbos 31
A generation later, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Jesus said something similar:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22:36-40
This past week on my blog, I’ve been drawing a sharp contrast between religion and faith as well as between Judaism and Christianity. It seems as if these two poles at each end of the religious spectrum keep getting in each other’s way. It’s easy to see why most Jews don’t want to even touch the New Testament and why most Christians are relieved when their Pastors tell them that the Law is dead. It’s much less confusing to believe that one religion has nothing to do with the other and that Jews and Christians can remain self-contained within their own “silos” and not wonder or worry about what’s going on elsewhere.
Of course, to do this, Jews must come to the final conclusion that Jesus could never have been the person he claimed to be and that even if he was a good Jewish teacher, Paul twisted those teachings into a very Torah-bereft religion for the Gentiles. Christians, for their part, must believe that Jesus, born of a Jewish mother and of the line of David, did a very “unJewish” thing. They must believe that he lived a life in complete contradiction to everyone around him, somehow managing to gain a large following of Jewish disciples by preaching the Gospel of freedom from the Law and nailing the Torah to the cross. That last part is especially hard to believe. It would be like Joel Osteen visiting the biggest Orthodox synagogue in Houston, Texas during a Shabbat service and expecting to gain a large following of the Jews by taking their Torah scroll and lighting it on fire.
You can only believe all of that if you choose to remain in your silos, both in community and in mind, and refuse to consider the alternative. You also will be unable to explain men like Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein, Chief Rabbi in the Northern District of Hungry, Rabbi Daniel Zion, Chief Rabbi of Bulgaria, Rabbi Israel Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Rome, and scores of other Jewish people (see Rabbi Joshua Brumbach’s Yinon blog for more information) who amazingly found the Jewish Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ, the man, prophet, and Messiah who neither denied the Torah nor abandoned his people, the Jews. They found that there is no inconsistency between being Jewish and discovering their Moshiach in the pages of the New Testament.
But these people are exceedingly rare among both Jews and Christians. 2,000 years of heinous persecution of the Jewish people by Christians explains why the vast majority of Jews are extremely hesitant (to put it mildly) to consider the validity of Christianity, but what makes Christians so adamant about rejecting the Judaism of Jesus?
To be perfectly blunt: I must say the Christians have robbed the Jews! And perhaps what is worse is that this thievery has been encouraged by theologians, pastors, and even Sunday School teachers, where small children are taught to sing the song, “Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line.”
Every promise in Scripture in some way benefits Christians, but it is not all promised to Christians. Sometimes the thievery has been inadvertent and unintentional. It’s like thinking that the raincoat hanging in the office closet is yours for wearing home because of unexpected showers. Hopefully, you will discover the raincoat belongs to a fellow worker and you will restore it. It is not as if Christians do not have the greatest promise of God, which is 1 John 2:25: “And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”
as quoted from the Foreword of Pastor Barry E. Horner’s book
Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged
This isn’t happening in just the traditional church setting, either.
One of the consequences is that many Jews are starting to feel like the “other” in what we thought was a Jewish movement. IMO, limitations on Gentile involvement – some of which are legitimate, in my view – arise in large part from a sense of that a majority of our movement no longer feels that it is essential or even important for us to remain demographically Jewish. This isn’t just a feeling on my part: it comes from numerous conversations with Gentiles and Jews in our movement. I routinely ask, “Do you think we need a majority of Jews in the movement to legitimately call ourselves ‘Jewish’?” Apart from obnoxious Jews like myself (and a smaller number of Gentiles), the answer is almost universally “no.” The discomfort increases when the percentage is lowered: 40%? 25%? 10% – “Ten percent – a tithe. That sounds right!” How about less 5%?” It turns out that it’s very difficult for these otherwise reasonable folks to assign any bottom limit to the percentage of Jews necessary to call our movement, or a congregation, Jewish.
Sometimes I say to myself as a kind of joke that, “if God hadn’t replaced the Jews with the Christians, then the Christians would have done it themselves.” It’s a personal “joke”, though a very sad one, because that’s exactly what Christianity did: decide to replace the Jews in the covenant promises of God, all of them, with Christians. Small wonder that Jews don’t want to anything to do with Christianity and that attempting to convert a Jew to become a Christian is considered deeply insulting by Jews. Christians believe that in order for a Jew to come to faith in the “Jewish” (I put the word in quotes because from the church’s point of view, the “Jewishness” of Jesus was undone on the cross) Messiah, he or she must completely deconstruct their own Jewish identity and remake themselves as a Christian goy. Yeah, like Jesus, Peter, and Paul did that to themselves, right?
Supersessionism isn’t just an artifact of the past but a lived reality of the present. Many churches still comfortably believe that Judaism is a “dead religion”, that Jesus did away with the law, that God changed His infinite mind about choosing Israel, played a game of bait and switch with the Israelites, ripped the covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob away from the Jews, and devoted His love, compassion, and mercy exclusively to Christianity.
Ironically, as Rabbi Kinbar points out, a form of supersessionism also seems to have invaded the one religious movement that exists to allow a Jew to live and worship as a Jew and yet be a disciple of Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah and Savior. It’s like Gentile Christians just can’t stand the idea that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). We know from examples we read about in Acts 10 and Acts 15 that the Jewish disciples were responsible for carrying the Word of salvation to the Gentiles and administering how it was to be interpreted, but at the point where Gentiles began to outnumber Jews in the “Nazerene” faith, we also began to rewrite the rules and scriptural interpretations. We stacked the deck in our favor and loaded the dice so the Jews didn’t even have a chance. We invented a system whereby the Jews lost all control and involvement in their own Messiah and we would only let them back in if they agreed to stop being Jewish and to turn into us.
Fat chance. Why should they?
We’ve gotten it all backward. We’ve put the cart before the horse. We’ve elevated ourselves to place God never intended us to be. Romans 11:17-20 is Paul’s cautionary tale to the Gentiles about becoming arrogant with being grafted in at the expense of the natural branches. The Tanakh is replete with examples of God restoring those branches and when He does, what will become of us and our so-called “replacement” of the Jews? How will the grafted in answer for the insult to the natural branch of the vine?
More than anything, as frustrating and aggravating as it can be sometimes to struggle with the Jewish perspective on Torah and Talmud, we must look to ancient and modern Judaism if we ever expect to understand our Savior and our faith. We Gentile Christians embrace our comforting supersessionist “teddy bears” at great peril. I know Christianity is afraid of Christ’s Jewishness because we’re afraid of having to play “second fiddle” to the Jewish people and we hate the idea that not all of the promises belong to us. We hate the idea that our easy-going lives of faith and grace, with virtually no behavioral expectations of us by God, are somehow in contrast to the rich and beautiful morning prayers of Judaism, the holiness of the Shema, the Psalms of the Priests in the Temple, the night blessings at bedtime. It all seems so alien, so…Jewish.
But so is Jesus. Not “was”; “is”:
Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” –Revelation 5:5
“The Lion of the Tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David”. Verse 13 of the same chapter of Revelation says “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” Why do Gentile Christians have such a difficult time giving honor and glory to the Jewish “the Root of David”, or have I already answered that question?
Almost a month ago, I wrote another small article called In Search of the Jewish Voice of Jesus. If you’re a Christian who wants to find out about the Jesus no one talks about in church, you can discover him in that blog post.