Tag Archives: tradition

What Does “Torah” Mean To You?

For clarification, by the word “Torah,” I do not just mean the Torah, as in the Five Books of Moses, but to all Jewish religious texts such the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic and halakhic texts, and kabbalistic and hasidic texts.

-Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman
“Why I Learn Torah Daily”
Aish.com

This somewhat dovetails with what I wrote in The Torah Without Judaism, and particularly the brief exchange I had in the comments section of that blog post with reader ProclaimLiberty.

The question for the Messianic and particularly the “Messianic Gentile” or “Talmid Yeshua” is what the word “Torah” means to us.

There’s probably no one answer, since depending on the given disciple, Jewish or Gentile, the perspective is going to vary.

What do I mean by “Torah?”

This is just my personal opinion. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do. But I think it’s a helpful question we should all ask ourselves periodically, rather than just assume that our answer is “the answer.”

From my point of view, “Torah” includes the whole Bible, and by that I mean the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Writings, and the Apostolic Scriptures. However, I also habitually read articles and commentaries found at Aish.com and Chabad.org, mainly to get a Jewish viewpoint on what I’m studying.

Granted, I am doing a lot of mental editing when I read content from those resources, since those sites and their information are written by and for Jews, not Gentiles, particularly not for Christians, and absolutely not for anyone with my unique conceptualization of scripture, Messiah, and Hashem.

christian books
Photo: sharonglasgow.com

I don’t typically read traditional Christian resources, even though they are far more Yeshua (Jesus) focused, because, frankly, I just don’t relate to them. I’ve always had a problem with “Christianese,” even when I first became a believer about twenty years ago.

I do read the occasional Christian-oriented book here and there, but either I don’t get very much out of them, or I actively criticize their content.

There have been other resources I have heavily consumed in the past, and they still guide the majority of my thinking and beliefs, but for a variety of reasons, I’ve chosen not to pursue them further, at least to any significant degree.

I have become aware that a debate somewhat like the one I previously mentioned is occurring at a Hebrew Roots blogspot, and the discussion there is very contentious.

However, the blog owner did provide a link to a brief review of a book by Rabbi Chaim Clorfene called The World of the Ger. You can learn more about it at the blog Soul Mazal.

I know that there are some “Messianic Gentiles” who at least suggest the path of the Noahide is an appropriate journey for them/us as well, and I’ve written on this before.

I think there are some things we might take from that example, but it’s also filled with trap doors and land mines. It’s far too easy for some of us to confuse our faith in Hashem and devotion to our Rav with the practice of Judaism or Noahidism. Hence the fact that we see some non-Jews in our communities as well as in churches leave Yeshua-faith and either join the ranks of the Noahide or convert to (Orthodox) Judaism.

It would almost be better for believing Gentiles to stay in their churches rather than take such a risk.

But then, in my opinion, their perspectives regarding what the Bible really says about Israel, the Jewish people, the redemption of the world, and yes, about Judaism, would remain limited if not misguided.

studyAs with many other questions I bring up, I don’t have a hard and fast answer for you. Interestingly enough, this brings us back to Rabbi Hoffman’s brief essay:

I learn Torah every day because it gives me a cohesive set of answers to all of the ultimate questions.

I suppose, from Rabbi Hoffman’s perspective, it does, but it doesn’t work that way for me. I still have far more questions than I do “ultimate” answers.

But here’s another wrinkle R. Hoffman introduces:

I learn Torah every day because it connects me with the millions of other Jews worldwide who also learn Torah every day.

That works if you are a religious Jew, but not so much for we non-Jews, even Noahides, I suspect. After all, how Torah applies to the Ger is remarkably different from how it applies to the Jew, at least in the details, although keep in mind that I also previously mentioned a private Jewish school in Utah that teaches Jewish values to a student body made up of 75% non-Jews.

And that’s one of the reasons, maybe one of my top reasons, for studying the Torah as I understand it. To seek a common ground where I as a non-Jew can stand and learn who God is and who I am to Him through a Jewish lens.

But I craft that “lens” to fit more my particular “eyesight” requirements, since I’m not a Jew and I consider myself more than a Noahide.

The one advantage I have is that I stand outside of actual, face-to-face Jewish or Christian community. Neither one can have too strong a pull on me, although the Pastor at the church I attended for two years certainly tried as hard as he could to turn me into a good Baptist.

But since, as I’ve admitted, I find Jewish thought more appealing, I suppose if I were constantly exposed to Jewish community of the non-Messianic variety, I’d be putting myself at risk of being influenced to the point of challenging my faith. I don’t know if it would go that far, but why take the chance?

That may be why so many of us are unaffiliated, although there are plenty of other reasons.

Laying TefillinIf I study Torah as I understand it and don’t adopt the praxis of Judaism, I can’t be as strongly influenced to confuse Judaism with my identity and role as God created them for me. I also can’t be accused (as sometimes occurs) of misappropriating the things unique to the covenant relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people, such as Shabbat, Kosher, the prayers, donning a tallit gadol, or laying tefillin.

If you’re Jewish, then I say what’s yours is yours.

If I’m not Jewish and I don’t identify as a traditional Christian, all that’s left, assuming I retain my Yeshua-faith, is a journey to discover who I am uniquely in my relationship with my Rav.

If you confuse that with either Judaism or Christianity, you might already have lost your way.

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The Light of Our Traditions

I’ll share a little secret with you. Sometimes, I really don’t like the holidays, but probably not for the reasons you think.

There’s a temptation to read into the reasons a person like me might “disengage” from Christmas, even though my wife and (Jewish) family members consider me a Christian. You might think I’m freaking out over the “pagan origins” of Christmas. Maybe you believe I abhor the secular, consumerism associated with Christmas. Along those lines, you could even consider that I want to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas”.

Actually, the crass materialism connected to one of the biggest American holidays of the year is probably my biggest objection of those listed above. The intense greed and “feeding frenzy” chaotic power surge of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” are more objectionable to me than people putting up a real or artificial pine tree and decorating it with lights and ornaments.

And of course, my family is Jewish, making Christmas a “non-starter” in our home. Really, I don’t miss it. Well, not exactly.

Children's Christmas PageantI’ve written about Christmas before (do a search on “Christmas” on this blog and you’ll see the list…it’s long), and although I’m not fond of this time of year, I really don’t care if secular people or even Christians celebrate it.

Every person has their cherished traditions, as does every family. Christmas is a cherished tradition for many, many American families. Some see it as a way to celebrate the birth of the Savior and take the opportunity to loudly and publicly praise his advent into our world. Some of those same people also seize the moment and choose to give back extra to the community through various forms of charity.

Others, who are not religious, still view Christmas as a time to gather family and friends in whom they find physical and emotional warmth at this time of year, which, here in Idaho, can be pretty cold and dark. Even the areligious bask in the joy of their children on Christmas morning as they open their presents, enjoy roast turkey or goose for the celebratory meal, and marvel in the beauty of neighborhoods decked in the glow of seasonal lights. And sometimes the areligious outshine the Christians in our communities in giving to charity and helping give to those who are doing without.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed seasonal lights recently, they just weren’t Christmas lights.

Every night for the first seven nights of Chanukah, my wife and daughter would gather around our two Chanukiah, say the blessings, and light the Chanukah lights one by one.

I usually only become aware of it when I hear the blessings being said and, when I peak out into our living room toward the kitchen and dining areas, I see my wife and daughter illuminated by the glow.

It still stings a little, but I try to understand that, from their point of view, this is a celebration of Jewish lights, Jewish victories, and Jewish freedom, and the miracles of God toward Israel. As a Christian, my tradition isn’t supposed to include Jewish tradition, so they don’t think to invite me.

But last night was different.

Actually, all of yesterday was different.

lambMy wife and daughter being foodies, can take all day to prepare for a single dinner. My daughter had to work yesterday, so my wife had me fire up the Traeger and pour in the wood pellets so it was prepared, first for beef brisket, and then for lamb. My job as a non-cook, is to clean, usually the ever mounting mess in the kitchen, but also to vacuum the living room and such. I also get sent to the store for various last minute items.

I had an irrational thought about whether or not the stores would be open, only to remember that, for the rest of the world, Chanukah is no big deal. No store closures or limited hours in Idaho for a Jewish celebration.

Finally 5 o’clock arrived and so did the family. Children and grandchildren gathered together. It wasn’t idyllic. These are human beings and we’re a human family, not a Hallmark greeting card. Still, I felt a warmth that didn’t come from the glow of a well used stove top and oven.

I was remembering other family holiday gatherings of the past. I was remembering Christmas, of a sort. Not the tree or the presents or all of that, but the feeling of family coming together, good company, good food, and playing games (my grandson cleaned up on gelt when we played dreidel).

My daughter, who actually knows Hebrew and doesn’t require transliterations of the blessings, helped my six-year old grandson recite the blessing to ignite the Chanukah lights for the final night. His pronunciation was terrible and I doubt he understood the significance, especially since his parents don’t (as far as I know) incorporate any Jewish observance or tradition in their home. But if we can expose him and his now nearly six-month old sister, to activities such as Chanukah, Passover, and Sukkot, year after year, then maybe, just maybe, when they’re older, they’ll be curious enough about their father’s Jewish heritage to look into it on their own.

chanukahOK, that’s pretty unlikely, but what the heck. It’s worth a shot.

That’s what tradition is and what it does. It’s a way to teach your children the values and history of the family, to pass on to the next generation what practices we think are important and why they mean so much to us.

The Jews are experts at this and have been passing on traditions from parent to child for thousands of years, and this, as much as anything, has preserved the Jewish people and the functional practice of Judaism from generation to generation, when over 99% of the rest of the world has actively been trying to destroy them, either through outright extermination or assimilation, which amounts to the same thing.

Although I no longer connect with Christmas, I can hardly distain those who hold it most dear. They’re doing what we’re doing…passing along family and cultural traditions and values. We may or may not approve of the specifics of those values, but we can hardly call the process into question because what they do is what we do.

I know some secular people who have objected to, for example, various practices in Orthodox Judaism involving children, such as what they see as excessively modest dress or little boys wearing their hair in Payot (Hebrew: פֵּאָה‎; plural: פֵּאוֹת), even going so far as to call it child abuse.

But it’s a tradition of their culture and a rather benign one at that. Are we to criticize the traditions of other families and other cultures just because they are not like our own?

So if one family celebrates Chanukah and another Christmas, why the panic attack?

family chanukahHeck, I remember when my children were quite young. We still lived in Southern California. We still celebrated Christmas. My wife had friends, an older Jewish couple (they were friends of her parents actually) who visited us on Christmas Day. One year, they took us to a Judaica store, one of the few businesses open on December 25th, and it was quite interesting.

They didn’t seem to object that we were celebrating Christmas (even though they knew my wife was Jewish, though she wasn’t religious at the time). It was an opportunity for us to get together and spend some time with each other. Friendship and family works like that.

So last night, I enjoyed the lamb and the latkes. We ate homemade ice cream and played dreidel. My grandson helped light the Chanukah lights and I got to stand right there with my family and watch our home become illuminated.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. I hope next year it will be even better.

Book Review of “Paul within Judaism: The State of the Questions”

I may not be inclined to agree with the late Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything, but in the case of Pauline studies it could, however, easily be argued that research discipline has indeed been negatively affected by Christian normative theology.

-Magnus Zetterholm
from the Introduction of his essay
“Paul within Judaism: The State of the Questions”
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition)

This is how Zetterholm begins his contribution to the Paul within Judaism book, and no doubt it could be a disturbing statement for many Christian scholars, Pastors, and laypeople within the Church. How can “Christian normative theology” negatively affect Pauline studies? At least that’s probably the question they’d ask.

But the common thread running through the different articles within this book is removing Paul from within that normative Christian theological paradigm and inserting him (or re-inserting him) into a first century Jewish context, the context in which the Apostle lived, taught, and wrote.

Zetterholm points out that it’s primarily Christians who study the New Testament (or Apostolic Scriptures as I prefer to think of them) using (naturally) a classic set of Christian traditions. This includes a body of traditions used to study the letters of Paul. But tradition isn’t always the best basis to perform scientific and historical research. Zetterholm suggests something called “methodological atheism” as the preferred method, which isn’t to necessarily divorce our faith from our scholarly endeavors, but to set aside our tradition-based biases and to examine the text on its own terms.

From a methodological point of view, the Christian ideological perspectives that continue to characterize much of the ostensibly historical work done in New Testament studies is problematic.

The original understanding possessed by the first Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) was a specifically first century Jewish (and largely Pharisaic) perspective on the teachings of Paul and, of course, the earlier teachings of Messiah. However, during and certainly after the particularly gruesome divorce the Gentiles required from their Jewish mentors, the theological landscape within the newly minted non-Jewish religion known as “Christianity” was significantly altered from what came before it.

Anti-Jewish propaganda started promptly within early Christianity.

But beginning in the early second century we find harshly critical statements from non-Jewish followers of Jesus that seem to indicate that some form of division based on ethnicity has taken place.

Zetterholm quoted from Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, and his Letter to the Magnesians (8:1) for emphasis:

“…not [to] be deceived by strange doctrines or antiquated myths, since they are worthless. For if we continue to live in accordance with Judaism, we admit that we have not received grace.”

Or the even more damning statement (from the same letter, 10:3):

…”utterly absurd [atopon estin] to profess Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism.”

What was born in the second century has had a lasting impact on how the Church views Christianity and Judaism today:

The binary ideas that Christianity has superseded Judaism and that Christian grace has replaced Jewish legalism, for example, appear to be essential aspects of most Christian theologies.

two-roads-joinMore than that, we have the fixed notion that Christianity and Judaism are wholly separate things with, at this point in history, nothing in common besides a distinct shared “ancestor,” that is, the Torah and the Prophets.

Zetterholm’s goal is:

…what we herein prefer to call Paul within Judaism perspectives–believe and share the assumption that the traditional perspectives on the relation between Judaism and Christianity are incorrect and need to be replaced by a historically more accurate view. It is Christian theology that must adjust…

As history progressed in those first few centuries after the death of Paul, “Christian propaganda” against the Jews and Judaism only increased and diversified. Along with that, Paul’s central focus was also purposefully changed:

While Paul’s problem seems to have been how to include the nations in the final salvation or how the categories “Jew” and “non-Jew” would be rescued from their respective constraints, the interest changes to the salvation of the individual.

This is precisely the matter I was attempting to address yesterday. I believe it’s possible that nearly two-thousand years of inadvertent and deliberate distortion and corruption of Biblical interpretation has resulted in not only a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul the Jew and Pharisee, but confusion about the nature of his mission to the Gentiles. As I read Zetterholm, I believe that Paul was not “preaching” about saving individual souls from Hell, but attempting to reconcile the nations with the blessings of the New Covenant and integration into Jewish religious and social community.

Even within the early Gentile Christian community, there was still a “tug of war” going on between the Jewish and Christian perception of many theological issues. Zetterholm cites the example of a monk named Pelagius who “appeared in Rome around 380…”:

Pelagius also denied any form of original sin that had so corrupted the human soul that it was impossible for one to choose to do what God commanded. Against this, Augustine claimed the opposite: humans can in no way please God, even choose to want to please God, and are…incapable of doing what God demands.

This fourth century Monk seemed to possess a decidedly Jewish perspective of “the fall” in Genesis, and yet it was Augustine’s opinion that became “Gospel,” so to speak, and is staunchly believed in the Church today. But if our faith had remained Jewish and retained Paul’s original teachings faithfully, what would we believe today?

Many Christians, and I used to go to a church just like this, hold fast to the Reformation, to Martin Luther and those like him, who saw the corruption in the Catholic Church, and founded Protestantism as the solution. It would have been nice if they could also have corrected the many flaws that had crept into the Church’s theology and doctrine since the second century onward, but such was not the case. In fact:

During the Reformation, the already wide gap between Judaism and Christianity would widen even further and find new theological bases upon which to build. While the church had adopted a modified form of Augustinianism…Martin Luther returned to Augustine’s original doctrine of justification. Luther, however, developed several dialectical relations that would result in an even sharper contrast between Judaism and Christianity.

Luther
Martin Luther

In this aspect of theology, Luther and his peers reformed nothing. Actually, they took the misunderstanding of Paul’s teachings and amplified them.

Zetterholm referenced Luther’s infamous On the Jews and Their Lies, mentioning:

…that synagogues and Jewish schools should be burnt, rabbis should be forbidden to teach, and Jewish writings should be confiscated.

And from this, the 21st century Church has inherited:

Luther’s interpretation of Paul became established as an indisputable historical fact.

It’s small wonder that when questioning the traditional Christian view on Paul among Pastors and parishioners, it is as if you are questioning the existence of God. From Augustine to Luther, it has been the Church Fathers and Men of the Reformation who have manufactured how Christians understand Paul today, not Paul, not his Apostolic peers, not his Jewish and Gentile students, and not his original historic and cultural Jewish context.

During the nineteenth century the idea of a distinction between Judaism and Christianity was theologically well established. This dichotomy would eventually develop a kind of scientific legitimacy, predominantly within German scholarship.

I’m sure you see where this is going. With Holocaust Remembrance Day beginning this evening at sundown, the terrible legacy of Augustine, Luther, and so many others, reached its bloody climax in Shoah and the memory of six million Jewish deaths we continue to live with and must never forget.

Zetterholm didn’t make this point, at least not very strongly, but I felt it necessary to do so. No, it was not the intent of anyone, any Christian scholar or leader over the many long centuries to create the horrors of Hitler’s camps, but they were the inevitable result.

We can’t allow the possibility of another Holocaust to exist by allowing the traditional Christian misinterpretation of Paul to continue.

The solution is this:

Sanders did what Weber had done, but not so many after him–he reread the Jewish texts in order to see if he could find a religious pattern, common to all texts from 200 BCE to 200 CE.

This is what we should do. This is what the Church should do. Break from tradition and go back to the source material, reconstructing its meaning without twenty centuries of mistakes and disinformation getting in the way.

This revision of ancient Judaism changed the rules of the game quite significantly for New Testament scholars. It now seemed apparent that previous scholarship on Paul was based, not on an adequate description of ancient Judaism, but on a Christian caricature.

Paul the Christian Caricature.

The Jewish PaulNo, I can’t assign malice or any other ill intent upon modern Christians. Those who did create our traditions, some of them with malice, lived many centuries ago. With the passage of time, we’ve forgotten that these are the interpretations of men with a theological ax to grind, and we have forgotten that our understanding of “truth” and “fact” is in fact, a set of traditions, and that those traditions resulted from a hermeneutic that was specifically designed to remove every last vestige of Jewish learning and Jewish legitimacy from our devotion to the Jewish Messiah and the Jewish King of Kings, ruler of the Jewish nation Israel, and Son of the God of Israel.

Don’t worry, the article has a happy ending.

Zetterholm covered the “birth” of the new and even radical perspectives on Paul, citing Sanders, Dunn, Gaston and others. From them, he concludes:

The search for the historical Paul cannot be limited to finding a Paul who makes theological sense for the present-day church, but one who makes sense in a first-century context, before Augustine and Luther entered the scene.

Paul (must be) firmly rooted within Judaism.

A Paul within Judaism would not have taught that Jews and Gentiles in Messiah left their nationality and ethnicity behind and became a “third race,” a “one new man”. A Torah observant Paul within Judaism, still faithful to Judaism, faithful to the Temple, faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, needs to be read within that context. His letters are the same, but the lens by which we view them creates a dramatically different perspective.

One thing to consider given what I just wrote, is that:

…all Paul’s authentic letters seem to be addressing non-Jews might give us a hermeneutical key. Is it possible that Paul only objected to non-Jews observing the Torah or to non-Jews becoming Jews and thus under Torah on the same terms as Jews?

Zetterholm goes on to state (and I’ve said this before as well) that there were different ideas on the table about how the Jewish disciples of the Master were supposed to integrate the new Gentile disciples. They ranged from a sort of open-arms acceptance of Gentiles coming into community with Jews to absolute rejection, the very idea of Gentiles in synagogues being loathsome.

There is also ample evidence indicating that many non-Jews were attracted to Judaism and imitated a Jewish life style, probably as a result of interaction with Jews who believed that also non-Jews would benefit from observing the Torah.

Or at least some of the Torah. Zetterholm considers the existence of some “non-Jews who could be regarded as partly Torah observant” in ancient times. This may have implications on modern “Messianic Gentiles” and what sort of praxis we might maintain as an expression of our faith.

But that creates what Zetterholm calls a “complex social situation” between Jews obligated to the mitzvot and Gentiles taking on at least some of the commandments as a matter of preference and a natural consequence of being part of Jewish community, sharing a common table.

The problem this young movement had to overcome was how to incorporate non-Jews, not only to find ways of socializing safely with non-Jews, but how to include non-Jews in the eschatological people of God. Paul evidently believed that non-Jews should remain non-Jewish, and that they should not observe Torah, which possibly meant that they should not base their relation to the God of Israel on the Torah but on Jesus-the-Messiah.

messianic judaism for the nationsYesterday, I quoted from a sizable block of Colossians 1 in which Paul emphasized the centrality of the Messiah specifically for the Gentile. Given Zetterholm, Paul’s meaning takes on additional dimension.

However, he also cited the Didache which includes an injunction for the Gentile disciple to voluntarily take on as much of the Torah as possible or reasonable, yet remaining a Gentile.

I maintain that this all speaks to the nature of Jewish and Gentile relationships in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements today, as does the following:

It is quite natural and most likely that the process of self-definition was complicated and led to harsh conflicts.

Unfortunately, those conflicts ultimately resulted in Gentiles and Jews taking different trajectories in their expression of Yeshua-faith and finally the invention of Christianity, which split from its Jewish predecessors entirely.

While Paul believed that he represented the perfection of Judaism, the church quite swiftly became a religious movement opposed to the practice of Judaism.

Even those modern Christians who express a love for the Jewish people and for Israel continue to oppose the practice of Judaism, both in normative Judaism and for Jews in Messiah.

I’ll continue with my reviews soon.

Viewing the Truth Through a Dirty Window

Truth is simple, it has no clothes, no neat little box to contain it.

But we cannot grasp the something that has no box. We cannot perceive truth without clothing.

So Truth dresses up for us, in a story, in sage advice, in a blueprint of the cosmos—in clothes woven from the fabric of truth itself.

And then, before we can imagine that we have grasped Truth, it switches clothes. It tells us another story—entirely at odds with the first. It tells us new advice—to go in a different direction. It provides another model of how things are—in which each thing has changed its place.

The fool is confused. He exclaims, “Truth has lied!”

The wise person sees within and finds harmony between all the stories, all the advice, every model we are told.

For the Torah is a simple, pure light, a truth no box can contain.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Raw Truth”
Based on the Letters and Talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Depending on our philosophical or theological orientation, we like to think we have a pretty good grasp of “the truth.” This includes the truth of who we are as human beings and, if we’re religious, the truth about the nature of God, Creation, and everything.

But as Rabbi Freeman points out, human beings cannot apprehend “raw truth”. If we could, if we could see truth the way we see the color “red” or hear a particular musical note, maybe we would all perceive “truth” (more or less) in the same way. Humanity wouldn’t be so conflicted. We would all “know truth”.

But we aren’t there, not yet. We don’t perceive raw truth anymore than we can see X-rays with the unaided eye.

So we “clothe” truth with interpretation and tradition. A number of recent conversations have re-enforced the fact (as opposed to truth) that all human beings, and particularly human beings who believe the Bible is the source of truth, are oriented by specific traditional methods of interpretation to believe the Bible says certain things. The problem comes in when we encounter people who have different traditions that tell them different things about the Bible than what our traditions tell us.

While I agree that there is probably a supernal Torah in Heaven that no box can contain, in order to “package” the Torah, or for that matter, the entire Bible in order to deliver it to humanity, it gets put in a box. It has to be clothed. It is a book written (originally) in several languages over thousands of years. The completed “product” is now many thousands of years old and has been translated into innumerable languages. Just in English, there are hundreds if not thousands of translations of the Bible.

And over those thousands of years, both in Christianity (in all its forms) and in Judaism (in all its forms), many traditions have sprung up to tell many different variant religious populations what the Bible is saying. When a tradition persists long enough, it ceases to be perceived as a tradition and it is commonly understood to be the truth…

…whether it is from God’s point of view or not.

suitThey say “the clothes don’t make the man” and “never judge a book by its cover,” but quite frankly, we have no other way of understanding the Bible. We can’t access its “raw truth” and so we have interpretation by tradition. This is stated rather plainly in (especially) Orthodox Judaism. The local Chabad Rabbi told my wife that the Torah can only be understood through tradition. My experiences studying in various churches over the years tells me that Christians interpret the Bible based on traditions too. We just don’t talk about it. We like to think we can read the plain meaning of the text, especially in English, and know just what it is saying. However, the reality of the situation is that we understand, for instance, the letters of the Apostle Paul based on the traditional interpretation of those letters, not necessarily what Paul was actually trying to communicate.

“Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.”

-Dr. Leo Buscaglia

I’ve been told I’m a competent writer, talented, occasionally brilliant. I guess I better be since it’s my “day job”. It’s also a joy for me to write. I really get a lot of pleasure crafting a message in text. I usually enjoy talking about what I write, but periodically the joy gets sucked right out of the experience when all people seem to want to do is argue about what I write.

The point of my writing isn’t for me to tell you what the truth is necessarily. I write this blog to chronicle my process in the pursuit of truth. If you read all of my blog posts chronologically, I would hope you’d see a development or evolution in my comprehension of the Bible from a particular point of view (which may not be your point of view). It’s the progression of my traditional interpretive matrix. I’m tailoring the clothing in which to dress the truth of the Bible.

You probably dress the Bible in different clothing and then we argue about what sort of suit “truth” is dressed in this morning. The “Emperor” always wears clothes, and our debate is only over which sort of clothing he’s put on (or rather, what we’ve put on him).

Only God sees the Emperor without clothes.

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord…

Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)

We aren’t there yet. This is a prophesy about the coming Messianic age. From my point of view, Yeshua (Jesus) initiated the very beginning of this age into our world, but it will not reach fruition until his return when each of us will have such a filling of the Spirit of God, that we will apprehend Hashem in a manner greater than the prophets of old. We will literally “know God”. We will see the truth unclothed, the raw truth…

…but only then.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

This is how we see the truth right now, just as a dim reflection, a faint image, hardly perceptible, open to interpretation as to what is really being viewed. Paul knew this truth and preserved it for us but we don’t believe him. We don’t want to believe him, because believing we can know the truth in absolute terms now gives us emotional security. We don’t like a world that is suspended in dynamic tension between seemingly inconsistent and opposing thoughts, beliefs, and faiths. It’s unsettling.

But like it or not, that’s where we are. I’m sure I’ve got a lot of things wrong. I don’t always answer the questions posed to me because I don’t always have even an opinion on the answers. I’m not “the Bible Answer Man.” I don’t always know.

I wrote a completely different “morning meditation” that I had planned to publish today at the usual time (4 a.m. Mountain Time), but I pulled it out of the queue because it was more of the same and I anticipated more of the same comments and responses.

Who wants more of that?

MirrorI used to actually learn a lot from the comments and the insights of the people conversing with me and each other, but now I’m not sure I’m learning so much. Now I feel like we’re just going around and around in circles and the expectation is that I must change my mind and either think and believe like a more traditional Christian, or think and believe like how an Orthodox Jew views a Noahide.

But I’m not those types of people and that’s not how I experience the Bible’s “clothing,” so to speak.

I also feel like there might not always be an interest in me and what I think but rather, that my blog is being used as a pulpit for someone else’s idea, as a platform to convince my readers to take on a different theological point of view. Certainly some people reading my blog could be undecided about Christianity or Judaism. Did I create this blog to promote viewpoints I don’t endorse?

There’s a fine line as to just how much debate and disagreement to tolerate for the sake of learning. How much of it should I allow and where’s the cut off line? How “fair” should I be before exercising my administrative control as the blog owner? I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been pretty liberal in my policy on comments compared to some others. I rarely edit or delete comments (although I did delete a comment just yesterday).

You don’t have to agree with me and I don’t have to agree with you. That doesn’t make any of us either right or wrong. It just means we’re attempting to discuss what clothes the Emperor might be wearing today. It’s like viewing the truth through a dirty window. None of us see it very well. The problem is when we believe we see truth all too clearly.

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 Tradition of Rosh Hashanah

And all believe that He is the faithful God.

-from the Machzor

This ninth-century, twofold alphabetical acrostic has been ascribed to Yohanan ha-Cohen, but M. Zulay says that Yannai (ca.550 C.E.) may have been it’s author. Declaring that God holds in His hand the scales of justice, the piyyut affirms that He is merciful even as He fathoms our secret devisings.

-Max Arzt
Chapter 2: “The New Year (Rosh Hashanah), pp 175-6
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement

This morning (as I write this), I listened to part of an audio teaching by Aaron Eby called “The Shofar and the Signs of the Times: A Lesson for Rosh Hashanah” as I commuted to work. Since I can’t take notes and drive at the same time (my wife says that men can’t multitask), I can’t reference large portions of the content, but one thing Aaron said has stayed with me. He said that the Bible teaches us almost nothing about how to celebrate or commemorate Rosh Hashanah, which is more accurately called “Yom Teruah” (which literally means in Hebrew “Day of Loud Noise”). Almost everything we know about celebrating Rosh Hashanah was developed much later by the various Rabbinic sages across Jewish history.

I find this rather telling and even amusing in a way, since most Christians (including Hebrew Roots Christians) tend to believe the Talmud or Oral Traditions are wholly manufactured by people and have nothing to do with the Bible. But while traditional (church going) Christians are highly unlikely to have anything to do with Jewish observance, including the commemoration of Rosh Hashanah, Hebrew Roots devotees this year almost certainly marked the occasion through a form of observance that attempted to mirror that of religious Jews in the synagogue.

The “disconnect” in the behavior of the latter group is that they not only tend to dismiss Rabbinic authority in establishing binding methods of worship, but they rather avidly declare that Hebrew Roots believers follow only the written Torah and not the Oral Law.

And yet, the Rosh Hashanah services many of them attended a few days ago were largely established, not in Biblical times (and remember, the Bible contains few if any instructions on how to commemorate Rosh Hashanah), but by the later Rabbinic Sages.

I’m not trying to start another in a long, long series of arguments relative to Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, but I do want to point out something that I think we all need to “get”.

But the very notion that the whole people [who received the Torah at Mt. Sinai] was the vehicle of divine revelation saved Judaism from an arid, literal biblicism. It gave rise to the belief that the “oral law” is the authentic and living interpretation of the “written law,” so that Revelation came to be regarded as a continuing process. The Rabbis seem to have grasped intuitively an idea akin to the modern concept of historical evolution, when they asserted that at Sinai both the oral and the written laws were revealed.

-ibid, p. 186

Further…

What was implicit in the rabbinic expansion of the concept of revelation must become an explicit principle in our day, when Jewish tradition faces the challenge of new ideas and of discoveries of major proportions. As a viable religion, Judaism must continue to be a vehicle of God’s continuous Revelation to His people, for the voice that Israel heard at Sinai “did not cease” (Onkelos on Deut., 5:19).

-ibid, pp. 186-7

Torah at SinaiOK, that’s not going to sit well with a lot of people. These statements presuppose that either a written Torah was given to the Israelites at Sinai along with an oral set of instructions on how to interpret the written texts, or that God gave an ongoing authority to the Jewish teachers of each generation to make binding interpretations of how to operationalize the written Torah and apply that to the Jewish people. The problem is that for most of Israel’s history, there has been no one apparent standard of interpretation. In the time of the Apostle Paul, for example, there were numerous streams of Judaism in existence, most of which contracted one another.

But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

Acts 23:6-8 (NASB)

But then how can Jewish Rabbis and scholars say they have God-given authority to make binding halachah for the Jewish people when not only more than one standard exists, but these different standards are at odds with each other?

An even bolder extension of the idea of Revelation is implied in the statement that where scholars offer two mutually contradictory opinions on a legal problem or on the interpretation of a biblical verse, both opinions are considered to be “the words of the living God,” since both are equally the result of a reverent search for an understanding of the Torah (Erub. 13b).

-Artz, p. 186

Talmud Study by LamplightI have a tough time wrapping my brain around that one, but it does seem to be accepted in Judaism that the various sages and teachers for each community or stream of Judaism have the right to establish binding standards for their own groups.

This point is disputed, not only in traditional and Hebrew Roots Christianity, but in Messianic Judaism. In the comments section of this blog post which I quoted in part in the body of this article, such a debate between two Jewish men in Messiah is demonstrated.

Carl Kinbar said:

I would like to contend these thoughts, at least in the absolute way you have expressed them. You’ve drawn this from the story of Achnai’s Oven, in which God does miracles to support the opinion of Rabbi Eliezar over the opinion of the majority of rabbis. But they reject not only God’s miracles but his also voice, which declares “the halakhah is according to Rabbi Eliezer. The majority “defeated” Rabbi Eliezer and God by pointing out that the Torah is not in heaven but on earth. God’s opinion doesn’t matter. Then God laughs in delight that “my sons have defeated me.”

So, as a Jew, I can imagine myself standing before the majority of rabbis as a believer in Messiah Yeshua. God says, “Carl is right–Yeshua is the Messiah.” But the majority refuses to accept God’s voice and declares me a min (heretic). God then laughs, “My children have defeated me again!” God is pleased with them and displeased with me for rejecting the majority, even though he knows full well that Yeshua is his Messiah.

The identity of Messiah is just the beginning of areas in which the majority would overrule God. They do not recognize the Brit Hadashah and they do not recognize the joyous obligation of Jewish believers in Yeshua to love all our fellow Yeshua believers as Messiah has loved us. Should Jews accept the traditional majority in these matters, too?

Hopefully, one day I will find an opening to express the depth and beauty of my relationship with Torah and rabbinic tradition. For now, I just want to say that accepting the majority’s right to interpret and apply Torah is not absolute and God does not laugh when his voice is ignored.

ProclaimLiberty said:

I understand your contention and I share in your frustration with the unpleasant reality that the leaders of the Jewish people actually have the authority to be WRONG. However, for good or for ill, this is an irrevocable gift of authority, which only increases the responsibility borne by these authorities. I do not say that HaShem holds them guiltless for any divergence from His Torah in applying or interpreting the Torah. The episode of Aknai’s oven only underscores the degree of this awesome legal responsibility. It then becomes our responsibilty as Rav Yeshua’s hasidim to work toward opening the eyes of current authorities to the finer distinctions between the negative elements that previously were inveighed against with some statements, and the positive aspects of ourselves and Rav Yeshua’s approach to Torah.

Chazal reiterates some of Rav Yeshua’s Matt.23 criticism of the Pharisees (or a recognizably faulty subset of them), for example, illustrating that corrections and improvements are possible. I believe that the power lies within us (b’ezrat HaShem) to demonstrate that the modern MJ community is not defined by the characteristics that impelled earlier generations of rabbis to present a rejectionistic front. However, there is still much improvement required of the modern MJ community in the aggregate to support such a demonstration. Thus we should not wish for miraculous signs or voices from heaven to justify us in our appeal to these authorities. Rather, the miraculous signs should be evident in improving our behavior and our demeanor on earth as a community and as individuals, that we should be seen as walking examples of Torah whose positive contribution to the Jewish enterprise cannot be denied as sectarian or separatist.

debateI can’t pretend to have the ability to resolve this apparent dissonance within Messianic Judaism specifically and within larger religious Judaism as a whole, but as I said more recently, an adaptive dynamic to the interpretation of Torah for Jewish communities existing in different geolocations and across time is one of the requirements for the continuation of Judaism and the existence of the Jewish people. Without the ability of different streams of Judaism to be able to continually interpret their own scriptures, there either would be no Judaism at all or one that existed as a complete anachronism within the modern landscape, totally incapable of managing even the simplest elements of 21st Century life.

Interestingly enough, Christianity (and probably any other current religion with ancient origins based on ancient texts) engages in a similar dynamic. Imagine transporting a church leader or elder from some popular Christian community of five-hundred years ago into even the most conservative, Fundamentalist church in modern times. Would this person, even if they shared a common language with the modern believers he was placed among, understand what was going on around him? How would he view the modern attire being worn, especially of the women in the chapel? What would be his feelings about the music, about youth groups, about Sunday school, about all of those early 16th Century Christian practices and traditions he holds dear and true and Biblical that are likely not to be evident at all in any 21st Century church?

Christianity is as adaptive as Judaism. It has to be. If it wasn’t, if it took some ancient standard of practice and behavior and suspended it like a fly in amber, forever isolated, immobile, and ageless, its members most likely couldn’t manage modern life outside the church’s walls at all. The Church, as it were, operates with a sort of historically developmental “oral law” just as Judaism does. Only the “clothing” that process is dressed up in is different.

The Jewish people today could hardly be expected to know how to commemorate Rosh Hashanah and many other events and practices without its history of adaptive interpretation of the mitzvot. Whether an objectively existing Oral Law was given to Moses by God at Sinai, or whether it just became an accepted standard in Judaism that the Rabbis would be considered as having authority assigned them by God to make binding rulings, the effect is the same. Judaism has continued to exist for the past two-thousand years after the destruction of the Temple, the razing of Jerusalem, and the scattering of the Jewish people to the four corners of the Earth, because the Jewish people have allowed themselves the ability to progressively interpret Biblical canon as historic and geographic conditions have changed.

The secret to Rosh Hashanah isn’t in the Bible, it’s in Talmud.