Tag Archives: torah study

Book Review: 5 Minute Torah by Darren Huckey

5 minute torah
Found at the Emet HaTorah website.

Darren Huckey asked me to review his book 5 Minute Torah: Messianic Insights Into The Weekly Torah Portion which was published last fall, and to that end, mailed me a copy. It really lives up to its title.

Good Things

This is a terrific beginner’s Torah study for Messianic newbies. Beyond a short introduction, the entire book consists of a brief study of each parashah (portion) of the annual Torah reading. No matter when you buy the book and start studying the portions for each Shabbat, you can dive right in.

Although advertised as a five-minute study per Torah portion, to me they were about two-and-a-half minutes but then I read fast and, after many years of study, a lot of the material seemed pretty familiar. Darren didn’t pull all of the commentaries from his own knowledge, but rather relied on the published insights of such sages as Rashi, Rambam, Ramban, as well as some Chassidic interpretations. The Bible translation used is the ESV which isn’t my favorite but you can’t have everything.

All in all, as I’ve said, this is a very good beginner’s Torah study guide for the non-Jew in the Messianic community (or Jew who has absolutely no background in Torah study perhaps having spent most of their religious life in the Church) or mainstream Christian to start out with. It’s completely approachable and easily digestible.

Darren also points the reader toward calendars for the current Torah cycle including those that reference the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) as well as the Torah, Prophets, and Writings.

Concerns

Since Darren stated that he used specific sources for his commentaries, I’d have liked to have seen those sources cited for a number of reasons. First off, there are many opinions in the world of the Jewish sages that have been collected for hundreds or even thousands of years and not all of them agree. In Christianity, disagreement among theological authorities is seen with worry but in Judaism it’s pretty much the norm and dynamic tension is much better tolerated. But for the someone completely new to Torah study, I think it would help to know who said what. Those sorts of brief citations can be commonly found in my copies of the Chumash and Tanakh.

Also, in a published work, there are customary methods of identifying information that is not original but created by another authority. Typically, authors or organizations want to be acknowledged when their material is being used by someone else.

Finally, since this is a beginner’s guide, the reader might want to know where to go next after they’ve progressed beyond what is offered in this resource, so those citations could have been used as road signs pointing ahead, so to speak.

The only other thing I can think of is that Darren, at the very end of his book, could have added a few pages of “where to go next” for more involved Torah study resources, Messianic and otherwise. I know when I get my hands on a hot resource that whets my appetite, I want to start reading a lot of other stuff and I think Darren is well-positioned to offer such guidance to his audience.

I’m also putting this review on Amazon.

Advertisements

Should Non-Jews Study the Torah?

“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)

So, should non-Jews who are “Judaicly aware” and seek to honor the centrality of Israel and the primacy of the Jewish people in Messiah study the Torah?

For most of you, the answer probably seems like a no-brainer. After all, the Torah, at least in one sense, is the first five books of the Bible, and Christians study the Bible every day.

On the other hand, should we study the Bible using Jewish, including Messianic Jewish, published materials?

Again, that might seem like a ridiculous question to most of you. After all, there are Messianic Jewish publishing groups that produce a vast amount of Torah study materials aimed right at the non-Jew. At least some of these works are designed to reach traditional Christians in their churches and illuminate them regarding the aforementioned centrality of Israel, and how King Messiah will come first to redeem Israel (and not “the Church”) and through Israel and the Jewish people, the people of the nations of the world.

But then we enter the “blurry” area of the status of a non-Jew within Jewish religious and community space through the use of Jewish produced (though some of it is written by non-Jews working for Jewish publishers) educational materials.

Let me get something out of the way first. I frequently read and quote from articles at Aish.com and Chabad.org and both of these websites provide information that is exclusively written by and for Jews.

Nevertheless, I find the insights provided by both these organizations to be helpful from time to time, but again, I am not unmindful of the fact that they are not intended to be consumed by a non-Jewish audience, namely me.

So let us return to the above-quoted passage from Acts 15 with which I began this missive. It’s part of the larger “Jerusalem letter,” the legal edict issued by the Council of Leaders and Elders of the Jewish Messianic sect once known as “the Way”. It was meant to be a formal and binding decision of the status of Gentiles within Jewish communal and covenantal space, outlining, albeit briefly and with little detail, a Gentile’s responsibilities within that context.

Over two-and-a-half years ago, I covered the content and my understanding of this legal decision in my multi-part series Return to Jerusalem (you can start at part 1 and click through to part 6 for the details).

Rolling the Torah ScrollOf specific interest for this “meditation” is the rather mysterious meaning of verse 21, which I touched upon in Part 5 of the “Jerusalem” series:

“For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:21

Although generally the Hebrew Roots movement interprets this single verse to mean that Gentiles should study the Torah and obey all of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, it’s not that easy to derive a definite and concrete interpretation from a single sentence.

Let’s consider not the Gentile God-fearers of that day who already were spending much time hearing Torah read and taught in their local synagogues, but the person who is a pagan Greek and who has just heard the good news of redemption though the Jewish Messiah. Many would have absolutely no background or appropriate context to even begin to fathom the teachings of Rav Yeshua or the Jewish apostles and disciples. They’d be clueless.

After all, it was in Lystra, where the population was largely ignorant of Jewish teachings, that Paul was considered to be Hermes and Barnabas Zeus because they did miracles. To counter this, Paul quickly gave the crowd a crash-course in ethical monotheism (see Acts 14:8-18), hoping to get them to see the light, so to speak.

To even begin to understand anything about what Paul was preaching, it was first necessary to have some sort of background in Judaism and the Torah. In fact, we see this example in the proselytes and Gentile God-fearers who heard Paul’s teachings on Messiah in the synagogue at Pisidan Antioch (see Acts 13:13-43).

Further, rather than just take Paul or any other Jewish teacher at his or her word, a knowledge of the scriptures was not only necessary, but vital. The Bereans (Acts 17:10-15) are the classic model of this principle. Of course, verse 10 does say that Paul and Silas went into “the synagogue of the Jews,” however verse 12 states “…many of them [Jews] believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men,” so it appears these prominent Greek women and men were at the synagogue, either studying the scriptures or listening to the Jewish Bereans do so, and thus benefiting from the study of Torah, including coming to faith because of these scriptural proofs.

But as I said above, Christians study the Bible every day, and yet (in my opinion) they do not always employ the correct hermeneutics that would render an interpretation of scripture largely consistent with what Paul intended to teach (or as close as we can get to it some two-thousand years later).

That’s why, like the Greeks in the Berean synagogue, it is not only helpful but necessary to study Torah with more knowledgable teachers who are familiar with a (again, my opinion) Messianic Jewish view of the Bible.

pathsBut Messianic Judaism isn’t a single entity. There are many different streams, and I’m not even including Hebrew Roots when I say this.

In the past, I’ve referenced quite a number of resources that the “Judaicly aware” Gentile may access including the MessianicGentiles.com website, so all you really have to do is search my blog and or click the link I just provided in order to get started.

But what about a non-Jew who has been studying from that perspective for a number of years and wants to dig a little deeper? After all, when an Orthodox Jew speaks of “studying Torah,” he or she is actually meaning “studying Talmud.” Is it permissible for a Gentile to study Talmud? While it’s not illegal, immoral, or even fattening, is there a benefit for us to study Talmud, especially when the sages wrote against Yeshua being Messiah and in some cases, wrote against Yeshua-believers?

The prohibitions against a Gentile studying Talmud (Torah) are from more traditional Jewish sources and not necessarily from any of the Messianic Jewish groups. Still, I found an interesting discussion on the topic in a closed group on Facebook (I can’t post a link both because you have to be invited to join and I don’t have the permission of the participants to do so).

Unless you are already a qualified scholar and have studied Talmud previously with a qualified scholar, you are going to get a very limited understanding from Talmud. Also, unless the tractates being read are speaking to the non-Jew, it’s again a matter of reading material written by Jews for Jews. In other words, even if you are at the educational level to comprehend what you are reading (which usually also requires fluency in Hebrew), the Talmud, for the most part, has nothing to do with you.

Of course, you could say that about the vast majority of the Bible, since most of it was written by Jews for Jews, but going back to the examples I’ve already presented from Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles,” we see that some form of study of the Jewish scriptures is absolutely necessary in order to understand the teachings of Rav Yeshua and of the Apostle Paul and how they apply to we non-Jewish disciples.

So although in-depth study of Talmud for the Gentile may be somewhat up in the air depending on education, circumstances, and communal context, more general study of all of the Jewish scriptures (and even the Apostolic Scriptures should be considered Jewish scriptures, although they include significant mention of Gentile initiates and disciples) seems not only warranted, but absolutely required.

So we’re back at what to do with a Gentile who finds it necessary to learn in a Messianic Jewish context? How is said-Gentile to be integrated, and more importantly, how does that Gentile not get swept up in Jewish practice and identity, but instead is able to establish and maintain an identity of their own, one that does not result in self-denigration or diminished esteem?

That is a question that has been under discussion for years, probably decades, and as far as I can tell, has no current, practical resolution. The emphasis in Messianic Judaism on Judaism, the centrality of Israel, and the primacy of the Jewish people in God’s redemptive plan is good and correct, but it contains the problem of what to actually do with the majority of the world’s population.

praying aloneWhich is why Gentiles need to find a way to study the Bible through a Messianic lens, so to speak, but also find a way to learn how and why we are important and loved by God, too.

I know this must seem like I’m beating the proverbial dead horse, but to the degree that non-Jews do sometimes feel alienated in Messianic Jewish space, to the degree that some factions of Messianic Judaism find it necessary to be a movement by and for Jews, and to the degree that some Gentiles become so confused between the goals of Judaism and the Messianic Kingdom that they choose to abandon Yeshua and convert to (usually Orthodox) Judaism to resolve their dissonance, I think the issue is significant.

Gentiles need to find a way to study the Bible in a manner honoring to the Jewish people and Israel and at the same time, one that renders a message of the value of non-Jews in God’s redemptive plan as well.

Ultimately, we can’t let a movement define who we are to God. We need to study the Bible and find out what we mean to God from Him…if we can.

On the Occasion of Ha’azinu and Building a Sukkah

As I write this, I put our little sukkah kit together several hours ago. It’s only a 4 x 6 foot sukkah and the frame snaps together, but it still took me a little over an hour. The canvas is the hardest part to handle, especially alone. Then there is improvising the roof supports so I can roll the bamboo (yes, it came with the kit and is certified kosher) mat across the top. Hanging the lights is usually pretty easy, though this year I used some masking tape to hold the connecting electrical cord in place.

I’ve got a couple of plastic chairs in the small structure, but since the holiday doesn’t begin until tomorrow evening, I decided not to have lunch inside (not that there’s any particular commandment for me to do so, at least as far as I can find).

All of my family had to go to work today, so I’m alone right now. Given that my major “honey do” task after the lawn was constructing the sukkah, I decided, that done, I’d read the Bible.

For the past several years, I’ve been using the same Bible reading plan to go through the Bible in a year. It’s one of the few things I took from my former church experience. The plan actually will take you through the Bible cover-to-cover in 222 days, but I like to build in some “wiggle room.”

That said, I stopped following my plan months ago, as my “slump” deepened, my faith in religion waned, and I decided to focus on other, less spiritual priorities.

Four days ago (again, as I write this), I downloaded a new plan, printed it, and have started reading again. It felt appropriate given my attempt at “starting over” in returning to God.

Since I’d also abandoned my traditional reading and studying the weekly Torah portion, and still having uninterrupted time on my hands, I decided to brush the dust off my Chumash (metaphorically speaking, of course) and pick up with Torah Portion Ha’azinu, including the haftarah readings and readings from Psalms and the Gospels.

I have to admit, it felt good. It’s a pleasant afternoon, and I decided to do my reading on the back patio with a cup of coffee and glass of water, within just a few feet of the wee sukkah I constructed earlier.

And, in defiance of my desire to not rely so heavily on Jewish sources, I also read the commentary on today’s Torah portion from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Growth Through Torah.

Even though Rabbi Pliskin is writing for a Jewish audience, I must confess most of what he has authored in this book makes so much sense to me on a personal and moral level. I’ll return to that in a bit. I want to present something to you first.

As part of my Bible reading plan so far, I’ve read the first four chapters of Matthew. Being back in the Gospels reminds me that Gentiles do, from time to time, appear in those pages. I think it’s important to consider how Rav Yeshua interacted with them and I’ll explain why in a minute.

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment.

Matthew 8:5-13 (NASB)

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.

Matthew 15:21-28

MessiahHere we have Rav Yeshua demonstrating two very different attitudes towards non-Jewish people. In the first case, Jesus was actually amazed at the faith in which the Roman Centurion had in Yeshua’s power to heal (and presumably faith in Hashem, the source of all healing). In fact, verses 11 and 12 seem to state that in Messianic Days, many non-Jews, because of their faith, “will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” This is contrasted with a statement about the “sons of the kingdom,” which in this context, I can only presume are Jewish people, “will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” most likely due to lack of faith.

I’m sure these verses have been misused by Christians for centuries to support the old idea that God replaced the Jews with the Gentiles (the Church) in His love and in the covenant promises. While I do not believe this to be true in any sense, there appears to be some support for the idea the Gentile faith in Messianic days, through the merit of Messiah, will at least metaphorically, allow a number of them to “recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

That’s pretty exciting.

But what about Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman?

A lot of Christian commentators (I can’t cite references, but I do remember this explanation being served up to me more than once) believe that Jesus really wasn’t referring to this person, pleading for her daughter’s life, as a “dog,” and that this was just a test of her humility and faith.

But given the traditional social relationship between Jews and Canaanites in those days, that’s pretty much how he, and most other Jewish people, would have thought of her. Even his disciples implored Rav Yeshua to send the woman away, fully knowing that her daughter was “cruelly demon-possessed.” Not the sort of kindness and compassion we’d expect from students of Jesus Christ.

And it’s almost as if Yeshua provided the healing in spite of his feelings for this woman and her people. Yet it was her great faith that seemed to touch the Rav and transcended their usual social roles.

We know Yeshua himself said that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), so the Gentiles weren’t particularly any concern of his, and Yeshua’s interactions with them were an extreme exception rather than the rule.

Yet in John’s highly mystical Gospel, as he is declaring himself the Good Shepherd of Israel, he does make one small admission:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

John 10:16

We presume that these “other sheep” are the Gentiles who will eventually come to faith in the God of Israel through the merit of Messiah, but that must have been a confusing statement to his Jewish audience, since in verses 19 through 21, they accused him of being demon-possessed.

We really don’t find a good example of Gentile Yeshua-devotion in the Gospels, largely because having come to the “lost sheep of Israel,” the Rav wasn’t seeking out, nor did he direct his disciples to seek out, the Gentiles.

In fact, in spite of Matthew 28:18-20, even Yeshua’s closest companions had no expectation that they should actively search out Gentile devotees and make them into disciples. From their point of view, it’s likely that if they had chosen that direction, they would have obeyed their directive by having interested Gentiles convert to Judaism through the proselyte rite.

Peter's visionIt wasn’t until about fifteen years later by some estimates, that Peter was more or less forced to witness a righteous Gentile and his household be the objects of God’s acceptance of faith by allowing them the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Acts 10:44-48

If you read the full context of Acts 10, you’ll see that Peter was pretty reluctant to make the journey to the home of the Roman Centurion Cornelius. Peter’s famous rooftop vision, recorded earlier in the chapter, was Hashem’s effort to convince this apostle that associating with Gentiles, even to the point of entering a Gentile’s home and breaking bread with him, was not going to ritually defile Peter and his Jewish companions (no, it’s not about food…it was never about food).

Just as with Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman, it was a matter of social roles and the perceived “spirituality” of pagan Romans vs. Jewish worshipers of Hashem that kept them apart.

But while Cornelius was a God-fearer and had made many acts of tzedakah (charity) on behalf of the Jewish people, as well as continually praying to Hashem, he was not a disciple of Rav Yeshua until God directed Peter to visit the Centurion’s home and teach him.

It was only then that Cornelius and all the Gentiles in his household received the Holy Spirit of God in the manner of the Jewish disciples as we witnessed in Acts 2.

After this astonishing revelation, Peter had some explaining to do to the “apostles and the brethren” about why he spent several days in a Roman Centurion’s home.

After relating the supernatural circumstances that resulted in Peter visiting Cornelius, he concluded:

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 11:15-18

It seems that the leaders of the Messianic sect of Judaism once known as “the Way” never anticipated this possibility. They never expected Gentiles to receive the Spirit and to have the ability to repent “that leads to life.”

I believe this is some sort of indication of the qualitative difference between Cornelius’ status before Hashem as a God-fearer and later, as a disciple of Rav Yeshua. Only by Yeshua’s faithfulness and in the merit of Messiah may a Gentile become a disciple, one who is more or at least different from the God-fearer Cornelius had been before, and repent in a manner that “leads to life,” the resurrection, and have life in the world to come.

As far as the Bible is concerned, we never hear of Cornelius again and have no clue as to how he led his life after these events.

But I do believe that the various incidents I’ve referred to so far provide some interesting perspectives as to the encounters of non-Jews with Messiah or with faith in Messiah.

In all of these examples, faith seems to be the common element. It’s faith that transcends the ethnic and national barriers that “contain” God within Judaism and allow the rest of the world to turn to Him. This faith even impressed the Rav, and it was proof of this faith that convinced Peter, and through him, the rest of the leaders of the Way, that Gentiles could receive the Spirit, could repent, could merit the promise of life in the world to come, just as the Jews had.

But what does that mean for we non-Jewish disciples today who don’t find an identity or role in the traditional Church and who do not find it convenient or even warranted, to, in some fashion, imitate Jewish praxis?

My teachings should come down to you as rain.

Deuteronomy 32:2

Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz used to cite the Vilna Gaon on this verse that rain helps things grow. But what grows? Only what is there from before. If someone has vegetables and fruits that are healthy and delicious, rain will help them develop. But if there are poisonous mushrooms, rain will help them grow too. Similarly, Torah study makes one grow. But it depends on one’s character traits what one will become. A person who has elevated traits will become a greatly elevated person. But if a person has faulty character traits, the more Torah he studies the greater menace he will become.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Commentary on Torah Portion Ha’azenu, p.464
Growth Through Torah

the crowdI suppose this is why we have such a diversity of “characters” in the religious space, particularly among the more learned. But if Bible study only amplifies who you already are, then how do you, Jew or Gentile, truly become a better person? More to the point, what path must the “Judaically aware” Gentile take (on a metaphoric deserted island) beyond Bible study, in changing one’s character and becoming more conformed to the expectations of God?

I’ll continue to explore these questions in future “meditations.”

Interpretation as Tradition

Antignos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. He would say: Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of reward. And the fear of Heaven should be upon you.

-Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 1:3
quoted from Chabad.org

Back to Stern’s statement: replacing “tradition” with “interpretation” we could rewrite it to say: “There could never have been a time when interpretation of some sort was not a necessary adjunct to the written Torah.” Tradition claims legitimacy by appealing to the past for its authority, and is independent of scriptural anchoring; interpretation does not look to the past for legitimacy, but rather seeks an anchoring in the text itself. One dispute among the rabbis is whether certain halakhot were actually derived exegetically or whether they were an independent revelation.

-Rob Vanhoff
from his December 31, 2014 at 4:03 pm comment on his blog post Is there a core “Oral Torah” written in response to Peter Vest’s blog post Question for Rob Vanhoff

I’m dabbling into somewhat dangerous waters by invoking commentary written by Rob Vanhoff of TorahResource.com since typically, my theological orientation and Mr. Vanhoff’s (and his employer Tim Hegg) are not entirely compatible (I say that as an understatement).

But in reading Mr. Vest’s and Mr. Vanhoff’s dialog and then commentary from the book Pirke Avot: A Modern Commentary on Jewish Ethics, I started to ponder the relationship between interpretation and tradition in both Christianity (which includes the Hebrew Roots movement in my opinion) and Judaism (which I believe includes Messianic Judaism).

I should note at this point that I’m not writing this to challenge either Mr. Vest or Mr. Vanhoff (or Mr. Hegg). I’m not attempting to enter into yet another “I’m right and you’re wrong” debate. I just want to point out that, from my point of view, how we interpret the Bible is based on our traditions, both within Christianity and Judaism as I’ve defined them above.

The existence of the oral tradition is alluded to in the Written Law in numerous places.

For example:

The Torah says: (Deut. 12:20) “When G-d expands your borders as He promised you, and your natural desire to eat meat asserts itself, so that you say; ‘I wish to eat meat’, you may eat as much meat as you wish… you need only slaughter your cattle and small animals… in the manner I have commanded you.” Nowhere in the Written Torah is such a manner described. So what is the manner in which we are supposed to slaughter cattle?

Though the laws of slaughtering cattle are not explained in the Written Torah, they are described in detail in the Oral Law.

The Talmud tells the story of a Gentile who went to Hillel the Elder and said to him, “I want to convert, but I want to accept only the Written Torah, and not the Oral Torah. I don’t wish to accept the words of the Rabbis. So teach me only the Written Torah, and not the Oral Torah.”

But Hillel knew that the man wanted to do the right thing. He simply didn’t understand the purpose of the Oral Torah. So he began to teach him the Aleph Bais (Hebrew alphabet). The first day, Hillel the Elder taught him the first two letters, aleph, and bais (aleph and bet, for those who speak the Sefardic dialect).

The next day, Hillel the Elder taught him the same two letters in reverse. He showed him the letter aleph, and called it “bais.” The man objected, “but yesterday you taught it the other way!”

“Well, then, you need me, a Rabbi, to teach you the Aleph Bais? So you have to trust my knowledge of the tradition of the letters. What I tell you is the Oral Tradition. You can’t read the alphabet if no one tells you what it means. And you think you don’t need the Rabbis’ knowledge of Jewish Tradition in order to understand the words of the Torah? Those are much more difficult! Without an Oral Tradition you will never be able to learn the Torah.”

So it is clear that an Oral Tradition is needed, and that one exists.

-from “The Indispensable Oral Law”
BeingJewish.com

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgement. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.

-Pirkei Avot 1:1

oral lawWas there an Oral Law given to Moses by Hashem in parallel to the Written Law (Torah), and was that Oral Law passed down, generation by generation, in an absolutely unchanged manner, from Moses to Joshua, from Joshua to the Elders, from the Elders to the Prophets, and then from the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly, eventually being codified and making its way to modern Judaism?

It seems like a long shot, given that even the written Torah had “gone missing” for quite some time.

When they were bringing out the money which had been brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. Hilkiah responded and said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan. Then Shaphan brought the book to the king and reported further word to the king, saying, “Everything that was entrusted to your servants they are doing. They have also emptied out the money which was found in the house of the Lord, and have delivered it into the hands of the supervisors and the workmen.” Moreover, Shaphan the scribe told the king saying, “Hilkiah the priest gave me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.

When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Abdon the son of Micah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book which has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord which is poured out on us because our fathers have not observed the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book.”

2 Chronicles 34:14-21 (NASB)

The preservation of an unchanging Oral Torah across hundreds if not thousands of years would require that God sustain the Oral Law as He has the Written Law. I suppose it would make more sense to say that Oral Law as it’s conceived of in modern Judaism is the grand compilation of traditions that have accumulated over the centuries, but were not all given originally to Moses (if any of them were).

Question:

Can you explain why laws never seem to revert back to their original form? For example, some holidays are two days outside of Israel because of the difficulty with keeping time hundreds of years ago, which has since been resolved.

Answer:

Simply put, customs have the import of law since the Torah itself recognizes them as law. That makes sense, because the basis of Torah is not the book, but the people. How do we know the Torah is true? Because the people witnessed it, accepted it and passed down the tradition. So without tradition, we have no Torah.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Why Aren’t Customs Reversible?”
Chabad.org

Of course the belief that the Oral Law as it exists in Judaism today originated as a complete body of knowledge with Moses at Sinai is also a tradition and as such is considered factual, at least in Orthodox Judaism.

Now I admire the refined skill-set of a good kosher shochet, but what Dr. Stern sees as “evidence” for “oral Torah” from Deuteronomy 12:21 (כאשר צויתיך) is for me simply a pointer to what Moshe states elsewhere concerning slaughter: pour out all the blood, cover it with earth, don’t consume it, etc… I’m definitely a minimalist in this regard. Let’s keep in mind that the art of midrash (be it halakhaic or aggadic) consists first of positing a textual ‘gap’ and second of filling it!

-Vanhoff

On the other hand…

Hashem said to Moses, saying: “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations. And they shall place upon the tzitzis of each corner a thread of turquoise wool. It shall constitute tzitzis for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them; and not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray.

Numbers 15:37-39 (Stone Edition Chumash)

tzitzitSo how do Jewish men know how to tie tzitzit (keeping in mind there’s more than one tradition on how to do so)? Who taught the Jewish people the specific method of obtaining the blue dye to color the “thread of turquoise”? There is nothing in the (written) Torah describing how this is done, so how did Moses teach the Children of Israel how to observe this mitzvah? Is it possible that Moses had conversations with Hashem that were not recorded in writing? Was literally every second of every transaction between Moses and God put down in writing?

Probably not, otherwise the Bible in written form would be too large to carry.

But that’s supposition on my part. Still, I must admit that there are more than a few commandments in Torah where there is no written instruction for how to observe them.

Does that mean the Oral Law as it’s understood today is exactly as it was or may have been given to Moses at Sinai or later during the forty years in the desert?

From a human point of view, this seems doubtful, but if an Oral Law also comes from God, then nothing is impossible.

The Bible is the most authoritative element of Judaism. But it is not the only one. Just as it had been preceded by tradition, so was it soon followed by tradition, the “Oral Law,” which strives to penetrate into the essence of the Bible’s written word. The Oral Law strives to apply the teachings of the Bible to all the events of existence; to provide religious and moral standards for all of life’s activities; and to realize the Bible’s teachings in the whole Jewish community. This tradition, which was ultimately established in the Talmud, had at first to fight for recognition; subsequently, it too became a conservative factor in Jewish religious life.

-Leo Baeck, “The Essence of Judaism,”
New York: Schocken Books, 1948
quoted in “The Bible and the Talmud,” p.17
Pirke Avot: A Modern Commentary on Jewish Ethics

In Judaism, tradition is what tells a Jew what the Bible means. In Christianity, as Mr. Vanhoff states, a systematic method of interpretation does the same job.

So am I saying that Jews have tradition and Christians have interpretation? Well, not exactly. I’m saying that Jews are open in stating that tradition guides their Biblical interpretation and Christians believe that they have no tradition of interpretation…

..except that’s not true.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog post called Does the Church Interpret the Bible Based on Traditions. I’ll save you the trouble of reading the whole thing and give you the answer here: Yes!

In fact, I believe that every branch of Christianity, including all versions of Hebrew Roots, interpret the Bible based on some overt or covert set of traditions that transcend any “scientific” method of Biblical hermeneutics. I know I’m going to receive a significant amount of push back for making that statement. I know that many scholarly arguments can be leveled against me, showing me that Protestant Christianity and Hebrew Roots (they have more in common than you might imagine) use totally objective means by which to determine the true and factual meaning of the Biblical text.

Except if that were true, then I don’t think we’d see such dissonance between the pro-Jewish people and pro-Israel words of the Bible including the Apostolic Scriptures and the nature and function of the New Covenant, and how modern Protestant Christianity refactors the Bible to minimize or delete the role of Jews and national Israel in God’s redemptive plan for the world.

Much has been made of Martin Luther and the men of the Reformation and how they undid the abuses of the Bible by the Catholic Church, but the Reformation didn’t “reform” as much as you might think. Many traditions of the Church (Sunday worship rather than a Saturday Shabbat, the continued “gentilization” of Jesus Christ, the supersession of “the Church” in place of Israel) were maintained and survived to this very day in virtually all expressions of Christianity.

So it’s quite possible if we view Hebrew Roots as a minor “reformation” of Evangelical Christianity to believe they didn’t reform as much as you might think, including holding onto some (but not all) of the traditions of the Church, such as how to interpret certain sections of the Bible.

Interpretation of the Bible begins at translation, or so it’s said. I tend to believe that the first step in interpreting the Bible is how we already understand it based on who taught us our traditions. This is true whether you are a Baptist, an Orthodox Jew or operate in any other branch of Christianity or Judaism.

I’m always amazed at how people who have read a dictionary entry or two on “Mishnah” or “Talmud” become so quickly convinced that when they pick up the Soncino Bavli in English, they are reading the culture, worldview, and halachah of the 1st Century! Truth be told, most Messianics who are enamored with “rabbinic Judaism” have spent precious little time actually reading the rabbinic sources, even in translation. They’re willing to watch a YouTube video or two from a Cabad rabbi and think that they’ve just been educated in the finer details of rabbinic halachah and aggadah, and what is more, that their new knowledge informs “what Yeshua really thought and did.”

– from Tim Hegg’s comment on Rob Vanhoff’s aforementioned blog post

I just want to be clear that I don’t consider myself some sort of “expert” in Talmud or anything else. What I do want to emphasize is that we cannot separate our understanding of the Bible from our “religious orientation.” Sure, we can change religious orientations and thus our understanding of the Bible, but with some difficulty. I changed from a more “standard” Christian hermeneutic, to a Hebrew Roots perspective, and then finally to a viewpoint formed from various teachers within a Messianic Jewish context.

Does that make me right and everyone who disagrees with me wrong? Not at all. I have far more questions about the Bible and God than I have answers. I just want to point out that no one has raw, naked, unfiltered access to the Word of God such that they and only they know “the truth” about exactly what it says in every single detail. No Bible scholar worth his or her salt would make such a claim. That’s why Biblical research is ongoing and that’s why we study the Bible (hopefully) every day.

Coffee and BibleThis is like the African-American woman Tim Hegg describes in his comment on Vanhoff’s blog post, the one who believed that the Apostle Paul’s Bible was the King James translation. Her understanding (I have to assume based on limited information that this woman really did believe such a thing) is based on some sort of tradition she was taught and like many, most, or all religious people, tradition first became truth in her mind, and then absolute fact.

Even when we’re aware that we are guided by our traditions, that awareness isn’t going to be enough to keep us from continuing to be driven by said-traditions for the most part. Yoda may have said “You must unlearn what you have learned” (as shown in this brief YouTube video), but that’s easier said than done. Maybe Luke Skywalker could do that under the Jedi Master’s guidance, but in real life, once we learn something, we are very likely to stick with it, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Again, this isn’t a matter of one side being right and the other side being wrong. It’s a matter of all sides being guided and molded by tradition, even when we think we’re not. What we think is who we are.

The Shabbat That Was

O Lord of Legions, God of Israel, you created the world by your word, and you separated the Sabbath as a memorial; for on it you ceased from your work in order to meditate on the words of your Torah. For the Sabbath is a rest from creation, a completion of the world, a seeking of words of Torah, an expression of praise to God, to thank him for what he has given to mankind. Blessed are you O Lord, who sanctifies the Sabbath.

Kiddush for Shabbat, p.17
from The Sabbath Table Prayer Book

If you’re familiar with the kiddush blessings, then you probably noticed this is a deviation from what is normally said. This particular blessing is the alternate wording recommended for Messianic Gentiles in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shabbat siddur and was part of my Erev Shabbat devotions last Friday evening.

But as the hours of my preparations finally reached fruition and I lit the Shabbos candles and offered the traditional blessings and praises to Hashem and welcomed the Shabbat Queen into my home, I was also undergoing an educational and hopefully a transformational experience.

But why would a Gentile believer observe the Shabbat and in fact, why should a Gentile believer observe Shabbos? After all, it’s the sign of the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. What does that have to do with us, the rest of humanity, when the covenant specifically set Israel apart as Holy from all the other nations of the world?

And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you. You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.

Exodus 31:12-17 (JPS Tanakh)

As the sign of the Sinai covenant, it would seem that only Israel, that is the Jewish people, should partake in observing the Shabbat, but there’s also acknowledgement of God as Creator in a seventh day rest. Even Hashem, Master of Creation, rested on the Sabbath day, according to midrash to contemplate His Torah. Since all of Creation, every living thing, was produced by the Word of God, and since all mankind was and is created in the Image of God, then there is sufficient precedence, in my opinion, to at least allow if not obligate “all flesh” to cease in our labors and on the seventh day, to bring honor, majesty, and glory to our Creator.

But there’s more. According to Kabbalistic tradition (see Zohar, Vayera 119a), each of the seven days of the week maps to the seven days of creation and they map to the seven millennia of creation. The Shabbat day then, corresponds to the seventh millennium which is thought of as the universal age of rest, the Messianic Era.

This was also mentioned in two of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series: Enter My Rest and A Sabbath Rest Remains.

As part of my review of the latter sermon, I said:

The Sages liken the Shabbat to the Kingdom of Heaven and the World to Come. It’s as if the days of the week and Shabbat represent the different ages of creation with the seventh day, the end of time, being a grand, millennial Shabbat, an age of great rest, and our weekly Sabbaths are merely a periodic reminder, down payment, or foretaste of that ultimate rest in Moshiach.

This seems to resolve Lancaster’s mystery or cliffhanger, but in fact, he states that it was a trick question. Since the Messianic Age is future oriented, then Hebrews 3 and 4 are not only a rendition of history but prophetic. It may surprise you to realize that all of the prophesies in the Bible have to do with Israel and Jerusalem and for all prophesies to be fulfilled, there must be an Israel and Jerusalem. No Israel, no fulfillment of prophesy.

So a literal Sabbath, a literal Land of Israel, and the Messianic Age to Come all figure into God’s rest and the object of Lancaster’s sermon for the past couple of weeks.

Tree of LifeSo not only in Jewish mystical tradition but from the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Apostolic Scriptures, we see that there is direct linkage between the seventh day Shabbat and the prophesy of the Messianic Kingdom to come, a Kingdom upon which we all put our hope.

So we Gentiles in Messiah have two reasons for looking to Shabbat as also something we can participate in: to acknowledge God as Creator and as a foretaste of the Messianic Era to come, when our King Messiah, Yeshua our Master, will usher in an age of unparalleled peace, justice, and mercy, the age of the resurrection, and a bringing to completion of the New Covenant promises when we will all know God!

But the era of Messiah is yet to come although he has already opened the door a crack, so to speak.

It was a lonely Erev Shabbat. I skipped over the blessings for the children and the Woman of Valor for obvious reasons. It seemed like an interminable wait until 5:01 p.m. (candle lighting for my little corner of the world) on Friday, but once it arrived, everything went much too quickly. Even after the blessings and the meal, I think there was still some last moments of light in the sky. If this had been a meal in community or among family, there’d have been a lot more activity and sharing, but in the end, there was only me and God. But it was sufficient.

On Saturday, I did what I always do, well, sort of. I studied from A Daily Dose of Torah for Shabbos, read the Torah portion, Haftarah, and the associated readings from the Psalms and the Gospels. Then I studied the commentary for the Torah portion from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Growth Through Torah.

And I learned why Gentiles benefit from observing a Shabbat rest and from Torah study.

The quality of one’s life is not dependent on external situations. There are people whose lives seem to run quite smoothly. Nevertheless, they tend to evaluate minor frustrations as tragedies and therefore view their lives in negative terms. The Torah ideal is to be aware that the purpose of your life is to perfect your character and every life situation is an opportunity for growth.

This lesson is most important for us to internalize. See the growth possible in every life event. In each difficult situation ask yourself, “How can I become a better person because of what happened?”

-R. Pliskin
Commentary for Chayai Sarah
“See the good in every life situation,” p.52-3

I periodically encounter people (mostly online these days) who believe that only they obey God’s Torah perfectly as they completely reject the so-called “traditions of men,” or the Rabbinic commentary on and interpretation of the mitzvot. Unfortunately, this reduces the commandments of God to a lengthy but simple list of “do this” and “don’t do that” with no colors, nuances, or wonder. It’s like a child doing what his or her father commands, let’s say not running into the street, not because the child comprehends the intrinsic danger involved and perceives the value of life, but simply because they were told to.

The study of Torah is an exploration into the self, a journey of discovery and wonder as we investigate what it is, as an individual human being, to be a creation of God and indeed, to be made in His unique and marvelous Image. The Torah tells a story that involves each one of us, but not in identical ways. What I discover about myself in the light of Torah will be different from what another person discovers. What a Gentile finds revealed in his or her soul by Torah study and the Shabbat rest will be different from what a Jew unveils about his or her character.

Like it or not, God created each of us as individual and unique persons. No two of us are alike but that hardly means that, as individuals, we are excluded from community. Even though we are individuals and are distinct from one another, we also have commonality and based on that, we form groups and collective associations; assemblies, if you will.

For a non-Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah to observe the Shabbat in some fashion, and to study the Torah of Moses, the Writings, the Prophets, and the Apostolic Scriptures, unites us with our Jewish counterparts in the ekklesia of our Master, Messiah Yeshua. It doesn’t make us “cookie-cutter clones” of one another, but lacking absolute uniformity doesn’t automatically lead to division and isolation, anymore than my being a man and my wife being a woman means we have nothing in common and cannot be a family together.

In my own case, the fact that I’m a non-Jewish man married to a Jewish woman and the father of three Jewish children adds a dimension in Torah study and the Shabbat that only increases my understanding of both the commonality and distinctiveness between Gentile and Jew. The irony here is, in terms of the Shabbat, I could only make that discovery while spending a week apart from my Jewish family.

PrayingBut though I lacked, I also gained in abundance.

I said the Shacharit for Shabbat for the first time in a long time, and even donned my old kippah for the occasion, davening from my aging Artscroll Sefard Siddur (making some minor wording adjustments as necessary). I was reminded of the beauty of the prayers, particularly on Shabbat, including the blessings recited just before the Shema:

Our Father, merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy upon us, instill understanding in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform, and fulfill all the words of your Torah’s teaching with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and revere Your Name, so that we may not feel inner shame nor be humiliated, nor stumble for all eternity. Because we have trusted in Your great, mighty and awesome Holy Name, may we exult and rejoice in Your salvation.

I believe those words can apply equally well when said by a Gentile as by a Jew with the understanding that what we are to understand, what we are to hear, to learn, to teach, to safeguard, to perform, to fulfill, is what has been set before each of us as our portion.

When a Gentile observes the Shabbat, when a Gentile studies Torah, it’s not a matter of rote imitation of Jewish tradition and ritual or worse, it’s not with the idea that Gentiles can “do it better” than Jews because only we know how to obey scripture without the “interference” of the Jewish sages and their “man-made laws,” arrogantly setting ourselves up as having superior knowledge of Torah and the commandments.

The Shabbat and the Torah provides a fourfold blessing for everyone but particularly for the Gentile believer. In these practices, we join with God in praising Him as our Creator. We also experience a foretaste of the future Age of Messiah in which we will have blessings and peace in abundance, as if every day was a Shabbat. Even studying alone or observing Shabbat individually, in praising God and saying the blessings, we are joined in Spirit with all those Jews and Gentiles who also adore Hashem and cleave to the hope of Messiah. Finally, the Shabbat and Torah reveals who we are as individuals, our unique identity that God assigned each and every one of us, and our individual and special role as servants of Messiah, may he come soon and in our day.

The Purpose of Torah in New Testament Judaism, Part 2

mentorAnd whoever occupies (“osek”) himself with the study of Torah is elevated, as is stated (Number 21:19), “And from the gift to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to The Heights.”

-Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) 6:2

What is Torah?

I hear people speak about “Torah study” and “the power of Torah,” etc. But I’m not clear what exactly they are referring to with the term “Torah.” Is that more than the Five Books of Moses?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The word “Torah” literally translates as law or teaching.

Torah is the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Each book is one-fifth of the Torah. In Hebrew, this is collectively called the Chumash (literally: fifth).

It is called the Five Books of Moses because G-d dictated the text to Moses, who then wrote it down. Moses also plays a central role in the Torah.

Sometimes you will see the Five Books referred to by the Greek word, Pentateuch, which means “Five Books.” (“Pent” means five, and “teuch” means book.)

The second, more colloquial use of the term “Torah” includes the entire body of rabbinic literature – the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and Writings, the Midrash, the Talmud (the compilation of rabbinic teachings explaining the biblical commandments), and even any teaching today based on these sources.

In this regard, Torah is the “constitution” of the Jewish people, covering the totality of law and lore, including lifecycle, business and medical ethics, holidays, family life, etc.

So when someone says, “I’m going to a Torah class,” or shares a “Devar Torah” (word of Torah), it is usually meant in the broader sense, not the Five Books in particular.

“What is Torah?”
-from the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish.com

Since I’m in pursuit of the answer to the question What is the purpose of Torah in New Testament Judaism,” which I first asked in Part 1 of this series, the question asked of the Aish Rabbi couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s the question behind the question, the very center of my ongoing discussions with my Pastor about why I believe that Jews who have come to know Jesus as the Messiah are still obligated to the Torah mitzvot.

To say one is obligated to Torah begs the question, “What is Torah?”

But that’s not an easy question to answer, though the Aish Rabbi did a pretty good job. However, that one answer isn’t the only answer. I know my Pastor wouldn’t consider any extra-Biblical sources as “Torah” because he considers only the Bible as containing the inspired Word of God. Midrash and Talmud, not so much.

But if we must necessarily turn to Judaism to answer the question, the answer won’t be palatable to most Christians, especially Biblical literalists.

Another Aish Rabbi answers the same question differently:

The accurate meaning of “Torah” is twofold. Firstly it comes from the word “hora’ah,” which means teaching. More precisely it means “teaching with direction,” i.e. the type of teaching which enables and empowers one with a direction to proceed. The same word could be used in Hebrew with such teachings both in spiritual and secular realms.

The second meaning is from the word “orah,” which means light. One example of this reflected in the verse which states, “A mitzvah is a candle, and Torah is the light” (Proverbs 6:23). This can be understood on multiple levels:

One thought is that the Torah is the source of spiritual illumination in the world. Besides it being the source of Judaism, through it and its teachings we serve as a light unto the nations. As such the Torah serves as the foundation of much of Christianity and Islam.

The Torah also, more importantly, serves as the source of illumination for our own lives. Like the Clouds of Glory which guided the Jews for 40 years in the Desert, providing illumination and direction at night, the Torah lights our paths and provides the Jewish people with direction throughout our long period of exile, even through the darkest of times.

The Torah also provides direction in each Jew’s personal life. In business, family life or interaction with others, the Torah offers the ethical and moral compass by which to navigate the most complicated and tempestuous, thorny issues.

tallit_templeThis takes a giant step back from the document of the Torah and presents it as a two-fold principle or a “service” that is offered. Torah provides education and Torah provides spiritual illumination.

But then what do you do with commandments like this?

You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.

Deuteronomy 22:11

Is that Torah? It’s certainly located within the Five Books of Moses. Do observant Jews perform that mitzvah today? Some do. Why don’t all Jews observe it, even those who may observe other mitzvot, such as wearing tzitzit or keeping some form of kosher? Is there more than one way to “do” Torah?

The answer to a simple question such as “What is Torah” seems multi-leveled and elusive. It’s further complicated by the fact that different streams of religious Judaism observe the mitzvot in different ways or observe some but not all of the codified mitzvot. I know Reform Jews who will go out to lunch at a restaurant on Shabbos but who maintain a tab so they can pay their bill (handle money) on a different day. Orthodox Jews couldn’t imagine themselves doing such a thing, even in their worst nightmares.

Another example: as far as I can tell, there are multiple forms of kosher, one being glatt kosher. If kosher is kosher, why different or varying standards?

This all goes back to my statement to my Pastor asserting the believing Jews are obligated, for instance, to “keep Kosher.” Yes, but “What is kosher?”

I mentioned in another blog post that my concern with looking to Christian sources for the answer to these questions is that the response will be biased by the assumption that Jesus “fulfilled” the Law so that all or much of it is no longer required for the believing Jews. However, looking to Judaism for the answer introduces a bias in the opposite direction, especially if part of that answer states that all of the midrashim and Talmud must be considered as Torah and thus infallibly inspired (or at least authorized) by God.

I also mentioned in my previous blog post that my Pastor believes there is a perfect and permanent Torah in Heaven that is never-changing, but that idea takes us immediately into mystic realms best left for another time (the upcoming Part 3 of this series). However, my Pastor also said that he would never tell a Jewish person who came to faith in Messiah that they had to give up their Torah observance because that’s who they are in terms of covenant, ethnicity, culture, and as a lived-Jewish experience. Part of being a Jew is Torah, even for Jews who have never studied Torah.

For instance, another Aish Rabbi answered the question of a sixty-six year old Jewish man who had never studied Torah before and was feeling as if he had “come to the party too late,” so to speak; that he was too old to begin to learn Torah.

When it comes to Torah study, there is no time like the present.

Maimonides writes (Laws of Torah Study 3:7):

“Perhaps one will say: ‘[I will interrupt my studies] until after I make money, and then I will return and study; [I will interrupt my studies] until after I buy what I need and can focus less on my business, then I will return and study.’

“If you think like this, you will never merit the Crown of Torah. Rather, make your work provisional and your Torah study permanent. Do not say: ‘When I have free time, I will study,’ for perhaps you will never have free time.”

Some people use the excuse, “I’m too old to begin learning.” But we know that Rebbe Akiva didn’t even learn the Aleph-Bet until he was 40 years old. This is the same Rebbe Akiva who became the greatest sage of his generation with 24,000 students!

Some people are hesitant to learn Torah because they can’t imagine ever becoming a scholar – so therefore why even get started? But that is faulty thinking. Every drop of Torah study is precious and eternal.

The story is told of Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman, who lived in the Lithuanian town of Ponevich. In the 1930s, when the Nazi threat grew grim, he escaped and made his way to Palestine. Arriving on the shores of Tel Aviv, he proudly proclaimed: “I have come here to establish a Yeshiva.”

Those who had come to greet the rabbi were perplexed: “Apparently you are not aware,” they told him, “that Rommel’s troops are now stationed in Egypt, and planning a total invasion of Israel. The Jewish Agency is destroying its records; the rabbis are distributing thousands of burial shrouds throughout the country. Our annihilation is imminent!”

“That will not deter me,” replied Rabbi Kahaneman. “Even if I am able to spread Torah learning for only a few days, that in itself would be of eternal significance.”

Rabbi Kahaneman built the Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, and named it after his Lithuanian town of “Ponevich.” Today it is the largest Yeshiva in Israel with thousands of students.

the-divine-torahI don’t know if you consider this “Biblical,” but for me, this is one of the most powerful arguments as to why all Jews, believing and otherwise, should zealously pursue studying and observing the mitzvot. Because Torah (however you define it) is at the heart of what it is to be a Jew. Not that secular, non-observant Jews aren’t Jewish…they certainly are, but something incredibly wonderful happened at Sinai when Hashem gave the Torah through Moshe. A people were brought together and united “as one man” before God in a way that had never happened previously in human history. It’s arguable that such a thing has ever happened since.

Although Christians have blessings without end through Israel and through Messiah, we never stood at the foot of Mount Hor and watched it burn in Divine fire and smoke. According to midrash, God spoke all the words of Torah simultaneously, in all of the seventy languages of the nations. It was truly wondrous and terrifying. Whether that happened literally or not, the point is that an event occurred at Sinai that forged and fused the Jewish people into a nation in a way that has never happened before or since.

I believe that Jesus is the prophet greater than Moses but salvation comes from the Jews, as the Master said himself (John 4:22). If we say that all or at least a whole lot of Torah (whatever that is) has gone the way of the Dodo bird, then all or at least a whole lot of what happened to the Children of Israel at Sinai went with it.

What is Torah? If Pastor is right and Torah, the whole Word of God, actually, exists in a perfect and immutable form in the Heavenly court, then it cannot be annulled, deleted, edited, altered, folded, spindled, or mutilated in any way. If that is true and if the “earthly” Torah was given as a sort of copy or model, just as the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert was a “scale model” of the Heavenly Court of Hashem, then both the original and the model are Holy.

One does not desecrate the altar of the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple) without desecrating God. If we say that parts of the Torah can be removed, minimized, and deleted for the inheritors of the Torah at Sinai, the Jewish people, what are we saying about the Holy original? What are we doing to God?

What is Torah and what are the Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah supposed to do about it?

This is an exploratory series, so I’m not going to try to answer all of the above right now. I’m just setting the scene and inviting the players to take up their roles. Answer for me, if you will, the questions about Torah in a way that our brothers and sisters in the Christian church can comprehend and see how Torah is an ideal and a goal for the Jewish people, even as is the Messiah who is in Heaven and who will return.

The world is a place of constant change and unrest. Each point in time is distinct from the point before and the point after. Every point in space is its own world, with its own conditions and state of being. It is a world of fragments constantly rushing like traffic in anarchy.

Look at your own life: You do so many different things, one after the other without any apparent connection between them.

Inner peace is when every part of you and every facet of your day is moving in the same direction.

When you have purpose, you have peace.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Inner Peace”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

More questions and another perspective on the purpose of Torah coming up in Part 3 of this series on Monday.