Posts Tagged 'judaism'
Category: Issues Volume 06 Number 04
Published on Tuesday, 05 July 2011 17:00
Written by Jews for Jesus
"Between God and man stands no one—not God-man, not angel, not advocate. Nor is intercession or intervention required. As nothing comes between soul and body, father and child, potter and vessel, so nothing separates man from God, soul of his soul, his Father and Fashioner."1
Most people have little difficulty accepting a need for a mediator in their daily routine. In civic government, local officials represent their constituency to the higher governing authorities. In law, attorneys take the role of advocate. Tax accountants, marriage counselors and others act as "go-betweens" and most people accept their role. Then why is it so difficult to accept the need for a mediator in our relationship with God? Jewish-Christian scholar, Jacob Jocz, sums up the contemporary outlook:
"Man occupies a position in the Jewish view which makes mediation not only superfluous but unbearable. It is an intrusion which violates man's rights and injures his dignity. Righteousness, to Judaism, cannot be imputed, it must be attained…Man is able to stand by himself; herein lies his dignity."2
Modern Judaism teaches that the need for a mediator is "unbearable" and "an intrusion," for we are taught to relate to God in terms of how we see ourselves. According to the rabbis, we are given a soul at birth which is pure and holy, and though we possess an inclination towards both good and evil,3 the inclination to do good is stronger than the tendency towards evil. The modern Jewish view emphasizes that we are made in God's image," and therefore are essentially good. Judaism is an optimistic and positive religion. We are led to believe that the drama of everyday life is played out against this backdrop of hope. And if that is so, we have the potential to make noble and lofty ideals a reality.
Still, we are painfully aware of human tragedies and wrongs which people commit against one another. To deny the existence of this dark side" of the human experience would be to deny the pain which, impressed upon the collective Jewish soul, has served to bind us together.
According to the Scriptures, God has made us in his image, but part of this "image" includes the aability to choose:
"…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…" (Deut. 30:19)
Dr. J. H. Hertz, Chief Rabbi of Britain in the early part of this century, comments on this text: "Jewish ethics is rooted in the doctrine of human responsibility, that is, freedom of the will." Hertz went on to say that "in the moral universe, man ever remains his own master."4 The giving of the Commandments presupposes that we have the ability to choose to follow them.
The ability to choose places the yoke of moral and ethical responsibility upon us. We are accountable to God and to each other for our decisions. We are not programmed robots designed by an impersonal Creator to helplessly act out a destiny that is not of our choosing. Sometimes our choices are wrong, but according to contemporary Jewish thought, evil is not inevitable, but merely an obstacle which we have the power to overcome.
"Mediation implies the inadequacy of the human effort to reach out Godwards. Judaism is founded on the premise that man is capable by virtue of his moral effort of approaching God. Hence, God's coming to man's aid not only becomes superfluous, but actually interferes with the progress of human development."5
The rabbis teach we can overcome our "evil inclination"; we can struggle up the steep hill of morality, ascending ever nearer to God. Why would we need a mediator if indeed we are self-sufficient, moral beings? The need for a mediator implies that human efforts are not adequate, that somehow there is a gap between God and humanity that we cannot bridge ourselves. This is precisely the issue to which many take offense.
Modern Judaism also finds the idea of a mediator "unacceptable" because it is regarded as a Christian concept. In light of tragic injustices which the Jewish people have endured at the hands of those who called themselves "Christians," the desire to remain separate from them is not surprising. Much has been written to explain differences between Judaism and Christianity, so that there would be no misunderstanding as to which camp one belonged.
Rabbis assert: "Christians might feel a need for a mediator, but Jews do not." That means that belief in any kind of intermediary figure is decidedly "un-Jewish," and aligns one with the "other side." Most rabbis believe our survival depends upon separation, therefore any merging of culture or faith means assimilation and loss of Jewish identity.
This decision to remain distinct from Christianity and to take exception to the messianic faith has become a determining factor in what will or will not be accepted as truth. To be Christian is to be un-Jewish is axiomatic. After the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., the focus on reconciliation with God was blurred.6 In the days when the Temple stood, atonement was granted on the basis of repentance and God's acceptance of a substitute, the sacrifice of an innocent animal. Man's good deeds were since made central to forgiveness but only after the rabbis declared sacrifices unnecessary. The need for a mediator was first trivialized, then neglected and finally abandoned as though the original Jewish religion didn't teach it.
The Hebrew Scriptures reveal how mediators were central to the Jewish religion from the very beginning. God established his covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, calling the new nation a "kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6). This was an honor as well as a grave responsibility. The Jewish people, by our faithfulness in keeping the commandments, were to "mediate" between God and the gentile nations. We were to reflect the reality of a living God to the rest of the world so that they, too, might know him.
Did our people respond with a jubilant celebration to this revolutionary new relationship?
"When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.'"
When the people stood in the presence of God, they did not tell Moses, "We don't need a 'go-between,' we can handle this ourselves, thank you very much!" The people implored Moses to go in their stead; they were terrified at the prospect of going "directly to God!" Imagine hearing the boom of thunder claps! Imagine seeing the spectacular display of light and smoke upon Mount Sinai! Imagine realizing that you might be confronted by the Being you presumed existed but never hoped to encounter—the One who demands moral perfection. Many people quiver in the presence of a celebrity. How much greater the awe one must feel in the presence of the Creator!
Even the great prophet Moses, who interceded for the nation when God thought to destroy them, was not allowed to experience God's unbounded splendor.
"And the LORD said, 'I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence…' 'But,' he said, 'you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.'"
If our Scriptures are true, then anyone who would see God face to face would die! But just as God protected the nation through Moses, God protected Moses, covering him with his own hand (Exodus 33:22). Why would Moses and the people need "protection" from God? Hadn't he chosen them, redeemed them and loved them? The prophet Isaiah's dramatic encounter with the living God shows why.
Isaiah had a vision of God seated on a throne surrounded by angelic beings singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory" (Isaiah 6:3). But the music of the heavens was more than a song, it was a supernatural symphony which filled the Temple. "The doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke" (Isaiah 6:4). As the nation of Israel trembled et the foot of Mount Sinai, Isaiah trembled before the same God who had spoken to Moses. One might think that Isaiah had good reason to be pleased and excited—the King of the Universe wanted to have an audience with him. But what was his reaction?
"'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.'"
Isaiah knew that in the presence of a holy God, he was "unholy." The contrast between God's righteousness and Isaiah's frailty was stark.…
He must have felt like someone who had dressed in a dimly lit room and entered the morning sunlight, only to find spots and stains that before were invisible. The closer he'd get to the source of light, the more apparent the blotches and blemishes would become. Of course, the stains were there all the time; he just couldn't see them when he was in the dark.
The reactions of Moses, the nation of Israel and Isaiah seem almost un-Jewish in light of modern theology. Instead of self-sufficiency, our ancestors felt fear and inadequacy. Instead of pride, they experienced humility and awe. They saw who God is, holy and righteous, and they cried out for mercy. When Moses, Isaiah or any human beings have come truly close to God, the Source of light, they could not but be overwhelmed by their own frailties. And just as God sent Moses to protect the people from their fear, he sent an angel with a live coal to touch Isaiah's lips and cleanse him from sin.
The angel said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for" (Isaiah 6:7). It was God who took the initiative in bringing about Isaiah's reconciliation. In an act of grace and compassion, God provided the means for forgiveness and restoration. Like Isaiah, we are responsible for our actions and choices, but we are also responsible to relate to God on his terms.
The concept of our inadequacy before God undercuts all sense of human dignity, if, as Jocz explains, mediatorship is viewed by Jewish people as "an intrusion which violates man's rights and injures his dignity."
But is that what a mediator really does? Human dignity comes from being created in God's image. If believing that we need a mediator to restore that image undercuts our dignity, then saying that we don't undercuts God's very existence, for it requires that he compromise his character and his standards. If we do not need a mediator, one of two things must be true. The first, that God is not who he says he is, "…because I, the LORD, am holy" (Leviticus 20:26). If that is true, Moses, Isaiah and all the people of Israel were foolish and superstitious to tremble in his presence. But, by insisting that God be less than God, we deny that which gives us not only dignity, but also purpose and hope. The second possibility is that God is holy, but a mediator is not necessary because no relationship is desired.
God's holiness has not been compromised, but neither have his compassion and patience. God is interested in a relationship, even if we are not! He used Moses, the prophets, priests and sacrifices to intercede on behalf of the people and to reconcile the people to himself. He chose the Jewish people to represent him to the other nations of the world. And according to his promises, God gave us the ultimate mediator,
"…because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
Y'shua (Jesus) embodies the reach of God across the abyss of human weakness. Untainted by sin, he represents to us God's holiness to man, and reflects our human experience to God.
"For thhere is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Messiah Y'shua, who gave himself as a ransom for all…"
(1 Timothy 2:5,6)
Steinberg, Milton, Basic Judaism, Harvest Book, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., NY, 1947, p. 57-58.
Jocz, Jakob, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979, p. 280.
The commonly used rabbinic terms are "yetzer ha-toy" and "yetzer ha-ra." The rabbis believe that we control the balance between these two opposing forces.
Hertz, Dr. Joseph H., The Authorized Daily Prayer Book, 1975, p. 882.
Jocz, p. 278.
For more information on the sacrificial system and modern Jewish thought, see ISSUES, Volume 5:7, "Whatever Happened to the Substitute Atonement of the Torah?"
Category: Issues Volume 01 Number 01
Published on Tuesday, 05 July 2011 17:00
Written by Jews for Jesus
"May your name be inscribed in the Book of Life" is the most common greeting for the Jewish New Year season.
From the time of Moses onward, the roll call of the redeemed has been closely linked with atonement (reconciliation with God). The Book of Life held much meaning for other world religions as well.
The ancient belief can also be traced to Mesopotamia. Babylonian religious writings speak of "The Tablets of Transgressions" and "The Tablets of Destiny," which record man's fate. If one's name was written in the sin-recording tablets, it was blotted out of the Tablets of Destiny. According to this legend, every year all the gods got together in a special room in heaven called "The Room of Fate." Marduk, who was the chief god, presided over the meeting. Nabu, the god of wisdom and literature, took notes, recording each man's fate on these tablets. Again, the "Book of Life" concept appears in tablets from the neo-Assyrian period, and there seems to be a hint of the same idea in an ancient Sumerian poem.
Because of these writings, some modern Jewish "scholars" believe that the Sefer Hayyim (Book of Life) was adopted into Jewish tradition as a result of the Babylonian influence. Who's to say, however, that the Babylonians weren't influenced by the ancient Jewish revelation before it was transcribed by the Bible writers?
Other theories have been put forth as to the origin of the Book of Life concept. Some say it corresponds to the civil list, or register, in ancient Judea which recorded all the names of the fully qualified citizens. The idea of a heavenly register, they say, might have been derived from this earthly system so that membership in the Book of Life would mean membership in the divine commonwealth. The Mishnah states that the Book of Life records man's deeds: "Know what is above thee—a seeing eye and a hearing ear, and thy deeds written in a book." (Avot 2.1) The Sayings of the Fathers also compares life to a shop with its open ledger of credit and debit. Following this concept to its conclusion, good deeds can cancel out bad deeds or vice versa. Or, as R. Simeon B. Yohai put it, "Even if he is perfectly righteous all of his life, but rebels at the end, he destroys his former good deeds, for it is said, '…The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression…' (Ezekiel 33:12.) And even if one is completely wicked all his life but repents at the end, he is not reproached with his wickedness, for it is said, '…and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not stumble because of it in the day when he turns from his wickedness… (ibid).'" (Kiddushin 40a-b.)
One of the most common interpretations on judgment and forgiveness is found in Rosh Hashanah 16b:
"Three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: one for the wholly righteous, one for the wholly wicked, and one for the intermediates. The wholly righteous are at once inscribed in the Book of Life; the wholly wicked are at once inscribed in the book of death and the intermediates are held suspended from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. If they are found worthy, they are inscribed for life; if found unworthy, they are inscribed for death."
Jewish liturgical writings also mention the Sefer Hayyim: Zakhrenu Le-Hayyim ("Remember us unto life") is a prayer that is said in the daily service from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It reads, "Remember us unto life, O King who delightest in life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life, for Thine own sake, O God of life."
U-Netanneh Tokef, a most poignant and stirring liturgical piece, describes what the Day of Judgment will be like: "Let us declare the mighty holiness of the day, for it is solemn and awesome." The prayer acknowledges, "True it is that Thou judgest and givest reproof, Thou discernest and bearest witness, Thou recordest and sealest, Thou recountest and measurest; Thou rememberest things forgotten. Thou unfoldest the book of remembrance, and it speaks for itself, for every man's seal is found therein." Up to that point, the prayer sounds very ominous, giving man little hope for a positive verdict. But then it concludes with three ways to alleviate the severity of the judgment. Teshuvah is one. It is usually translated "repentance," however a literal translation would render it more accurately, "return." One is not to become a new person, but to return to the "goodness" that is inherent in him according to rabbinical understanding. Tefillah is the second way to making things right. It is usually translated as "prayer" and connotes "attaching oneself." Man is to strengthen his attachment to God. Tzedakah, the last route to forgiveness, comes from the Hebrew word meaning "justice," and is translated "charity." Justice demands that man give to others.
According to rabbinic thought, it is these three: Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah, that will insure one an inscription in the Book of Life. In Hagigah 27a we read, "At the time when the Temple stood, the altar brought atonement for a person; now a person's table brings atonement for him (through the hospitality shown to a poor guest)." In other words, without Temple sacrifice for our sin, we can now rely on acts of charity to gain us entrance in God's Book of Life.
Yet the Bible paints somewhat of a different picture of this ledger, its origin and its contents.
Moses knew who originated the Book of Life. When he pleaded with God atop Mount Horeb after the children of Israel committed the great sin of the golden calf, he cried, "Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written!" (Exodus 32:31, 32.) So God Himself is the author and keeper of the Book of Life.
What is recorded in the book? According to the Bible, everything! King David remarks that even his tears are entered in that heavenly journal. (Psalm 56:8.) The Psalmist also speaks of the fact that the days that were ordained him were written in God's book before he was even born. (Psalm 139:16.)
And who will be blotted out of the book? God's response to Moses' plea for the children of Israel was "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book." (Exodus 32:33).
But everyone has sinned against the Almighty. Does this mean that according to the Bible all will be blotted out of the book of life? No. God is just, but he is also merciful. In His mercy, He has always provided a means of atonement, so that we could choose life.
The Day of Atonement (Yom ha-Kippurim) is first mentioned in the book of Leviticus. It is a solemn day, accented by fasting and praying to God for forgiveness of the sins committed against Him. In the Temple days, the High Priest was the key figure in mediating between the people and God. This one day of the year, he entered the Holy of Holies. This one day of the year, he took a live goat, laid his hands upon its head and confessed "all the iniquities of the Israelites and all their transgressions, and even all their sins." Thus he transferred, in symbol, the sins of the people onto the sacrifice animal. This scapegoat was made the victim, the substitute for the human sinner. In accepting the substitutionary sacrifice, God could inscribe His people into the Book of Life. Therefore, it makes sense that the liturgy for the Day of Atonement concludes with a prayer for inscription in the Book of Life, but with the plea that one be sealed in it.
With the Temple destroyed, the priesthood disbanded, and the cessation of the sacrifices, the rabbis felt they had to improvise. They rationalized, "Repentance and works of charity are man's intercessors before God's throne. " (Shab. 32a.) "Sincere repentance is equivalent to the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the altar, and the offering of all sacrifices." (Pesik., ed. Buber 24.158; Lev. R. 7.; Sanh. 43b.) However, the Bible does not teach these as ways of being inscribed into the Book of Life, for there is no access to forgiveness without a mediator, an intercessor. Moses fulfilled that role when he pleaded with God not to blot the children of Israel out of His book. The High Priests did likewise.
Who can plead our case today? Only God Himself. And that He did, in the person of Jesus. When Jesus began His earthly ministry, the prophet John heralded Him as "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." Jesus served as the substitutionary sacrifice, the "scape-lamb" of God.
In the Machzor, the prayerbook for the Day of Atonement we read:
"Our righteous anointed is departed from us: horror hath seized us, and we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgression. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by His wound, at the time that the Eternal will create Him (the Messiah) as a new creature."
Form of Prayers For Day of Atonement. Revised Ed. pp. 287-88. Rosenbaum & Werbelowsky, New York, 1890
With our sins upon Jesus, God's righteous anointed, He can look upon us as righteous and worthy to be entered into the Book of Life.
Jesus told those who believed He was God's anointed, "…rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven" (Luke 10:20.) Does it seem strange to link the idea of celebrating the inscription of one's name in the Book of Life to the person of Jesus? The Jewish New Year expression "Le shanah tova tikatev ve-tehatem" is more than a quaint custom. It is an expression of hope for God's acceptance and forgiveness.
At the time of Christ, the ancient Biblical tradition of atonement ceased. Was this merely coincidental? The Kapporah, or sacrifice animal, to accomplish atonement is nowhere apparent in modern Judaism—yet in original Judaism, sacrificial atonement is intrinsic and essential:
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement" (Leviticus 17:11.)
In order to fully comprehend the concept of God recording man's eternal destiny, one cannot stop reading the Bible at the Old Testament portion. Nor can one allow himself to be side tracked into the forest of contradictory statements which is the Talmud. For understanding, one must read the continuation of the Bible, in what is commonly called the New Testament, to see the true meaning of the Book of Life and to discover how a person is permanently inscribed for eternity:
"He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My father and before His angels."
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God made ready as a bride adorned for her husband…and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book life."
Revelation 21:1, 2, 27
Had Judaism not rationalized away God's system of sacrificial atonement, then it would not have come to regard the person and atoning work of Jesus as alien. Had it not substituted humanistic and humanitarian value for God's value structure, would not God's remedy of Jesus the "scape-lamb," have made sense?
What a paradox confronts the modern Jewish person! If he would be a faithful Jew according to the Bible and not merely according to the traditions of man; or if he would be God's kind of Jew, then he must be written in the Lamb's Book Life and thus be a follower of Jesus, the Messiah.
Category: Messianic Review of Books 1:1
Published on Thursday, 07 July 2011 08:27
Written by Jonathan Evans
By Michael Pollak. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1980. 440 pages. $12.95 paper.
Jewish people in China? The notion will strike most American Jews as strange. But now in Mandarins, Jews, and Missionaries, Michael Pollak has given us a scholarly yet accessible overview of the history of China's indigenous Jewish population (which is to be distinguished from the European Jewish population of China's treaty ports such as Shanghai).
The history of the Chinese Jews makes fascinating reading. The oldest extant records of Jews in China are a letter written around 718 A.D. in Judeo-Persian (Persian written with Hebrew letters) on paper that was made in China, and a selihah (Hebrew penitential prayer) from the eighth or ninth century composed of Hebrew scriptures (pictures of both on pp. 262-63). After sifting through a great mass of literature on the subject, Pollak concludes that the Jews of Kaifeng probably began to arrive between 960 and 1126 A.D., building the first synagogue in 1163 (chap. 13). The settlement in Kaifeng was probably the largest, and certainly the most visible, Jewish settlement in China, numbering up to a few thousand. This community maintained contact with the Jewish world outside China until the sixteenth century, when the Ming dynasty forbade such contact. There continued to be a synagogue (rebuilt at least three times) until the 1860s, by which time services were not being held, and destitute members of the kehillah (community) sold off the building materials to ameliorate their poverty, which had been brought on by a flood.
Part One, The World and the Chinese Jews," concerns the interest that the West took in the Jewish population of China. This part of the book discusses two issues in depth. The first of these is the "Chinese Rites Controversy" at the turn of the 18th century, an issue of interest to those involved in Jewish evangelism. This controversy was a debate over the nature of missionary methodology which involved different mission societies, mainly Catholic orders. The Jesuits wanted to allow their converts to maintain as many of their customs and Confucian ceremonies as possible so that they would feel free to become Christians, and thus more would convert. On the other hand, the Dominicans and Franciscans claimed that in allowing such cultural trappings, the Jesuits were not producing real converts. Here the Kaifeng Jews entered the picture. The church wanted to know how much Confucian ritual and custom they—the Jews—allowed, and what Chinese terms they used to refer to God, in order to serve as possible guidelines for their own principles. This dispute over whether and to what extent indigenous culture could be used in the service of the gospel without importing an unbiblical theology is an issue familiar to many in the Messianic movement. Though accepting in general the rightness of continuing our Jewish culture, we still sometimes disagree on the propriety of utilizing certain rabbinic customs, prayers, or terminology.
The second issue Pollak discusses in Part One is that of the history of missions to the Jews, and how the Jews in Kaifeng fit into that history. In the area of missionary methodology, Pollak tells us his impressions of the ethics of the situation: one missionary sought to rebuild the Kaifeng synagogue as nothing more than a stratagem for bringing Jews to Christ (p. 170); others wrote letters to the Kaifeng Jews giving the impression that they themselves were Jewish (p. 142). Whether or not his assessment is accurate, Pollak reminds us of the importance of ethics in missions. (It should also be noted that Pollak raises questions on the ethics of non-Christian Jewish representatives, one of whom may have plagiarized or concocted a report of his visit to the Kaifeng Jews [pp. 188-91]).
Part Two, "The World of the Chinese Jews," focuses on the lives of the Kaifeng Jews themselves, primarily on the religious aspect, including a history of the Kaifeng synagogue. Pollak also discusses the relations of the Jews to their neighbors, which were fundamentally good except during times of anti-foreign sentiment.
Mandarins, Jews, and Missionaries is undoubtedly one of the best in-depth introductions to the topic of Chinese Jewry and contains an extensive annotated bibliography. In addition, it contains pictures of Chinese Jews, a drawing of the synagogue in Kaifeng as it appeared in 1722, and examples of some of the Hebrew texts from China. There is also a glossary of Chinese terms in the book, such T'iao-chin-chiao, "religion that extracts the sinews" (the term for Judaism, in reference to the practice of removing the sinew from meat during butchering, a custom derived from Genesis 32:25-33).
For those interested in reaching Jews with the gospel, this book contains a warning about insincerity and end-justifies-the-means evangelism, both of which result in a loss of reputation for those proclaiming the Good News. It is also thought-provoking on the topic of the use of indigenous culture in missionary work.
Of additional interest to Jewish believers is the question of Jewish identity which permeates the entire book. There is no definitive answer to the question of when (or if) these Chinese people ceased to be Jewish. If someone's only tie to the Jewish people is that they know that their ancestors were Jewish, does that make them Jewish, too? Finally, the book gives us insight into how a modern Jewish scholar views Christianity and its meaning and relevance: it is clear that Pollak does not believe that one can be Jewish and also follow New Testament teaching or consider Jesus as the Messiah.
Category: Issues Volume 05 Number 05
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 12:24
Written by Rich Robinson
Most Jewish people, whether observant or not, know the clarion call: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Whatever else may be in question, we all agree that in the Jewish religion there is only one God.
Yet there is disagreement as to the origin of Jewish monotheism. Some believe the Tanakh is a tangle of barely related but cleverly edited documents. When that tangle is unraveled, the evolution of ancient Israel's religion is uncovered. According to this theory, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were polytheists, and monotheism did not emerge until later.
Another viewpoint suggests a type of "quantum leap" in Israel's religion. Adherents believe Moses was a brilliant innovator who gave birth to the monotheistic faith.
The Evolution of Monotheism: Hard Fact or High Fashion?
The evolutionary approach to understanding religion is rooted in the 18th century. It wasn't until the 19th century however, that Julius Wellhausen developed and popularized the theory. Two schools of thought were particularly influential in this development.
First, Wellhausen applied the "dialectical" system which he borrowed from the German philosopher Hegel. In Hegel's system, one factor--the thesis--interacts with another--the antithesis--to produce something newer and higher--the synthesis. According to Wellhausen, the "pre-prophetic" faith of Israel (i.e. that of the patriarchal and Mosaic periods) was the thesis, and the later "prophetic" faith was the antithesis. The "priestly" faith (which Wellhausen considered normative Judaism) was the synthesis. According to this approach, monotheism did not appear until the days of the prophets in the 8th century B.C.E.
Second, Wellhausen applied certain aspects of Darwinism to the area of religion. He believed that Israel evolved through primitive phases of religion in much the same way as the species evolved through biological phases of organic growth and development.1
This is a thumbnail sketch of Wellhausen's reconstruction, which has survived (with modifications) to the present day: Israel's religion evolved first through animism, defined by Webster as "the attribution of conscious life to nature or the natural object." (An animist would believe there is life and personality residing in running water or swaying tree boughs.) After animism came polytheism, the belief in many gods. Polytheism was then followed by totemism, "the belief that the members of a clan or tribe are related to some group of plants or animals"2 as descendants. Ancestor worship followed totemism, and developed into belief in a local tribal deity...which finally evolved into monotheism.
Wellhausen influenced most critical thinking about the Bible from his day until modern times. Unfortunately, his influence was based on assumptions and philosophies which had little to do with historical evidence. The recent upsurge in modern archaeology has shown Wellhausen's viewpoint to be arbitrary and outdated. Popular Jewish writer, Herman Wouk, rightly remarks, "The main thing, probably, was that in 1875 evolution was in the air.... A theory that imposed evolution on Old Testament religion radiated chic and excitement, even though it stood the Bible on its head."3
Genesis 12:6 provides an example of how Wellhausen's thinking colored the text. The verse reads, "And Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh." If Wellhausen was correct, this clearly demonstrates animism. How? "Moreh" would signify "teacher," from "horah," (to teach), because the devout could hear the oak tree speak through the rustling of its leaves--as with the oaks of Zeus at Dodona.4 Yet the text says nothing about trees speaking to Abram; nor does it imply that he ever expected to receive messages from that, or any other tree.
The Changing of the Guard
All support for Wellhausen's theory of reconstruction crumbled with advances in modern archaeology and comparative ancient history. Old Testament scholar Roland Harrison comments, "...it is now evident from the comparative study of ancient Near Eastern literature and from archaeological sources that animism disappeared from the oriental world centuries before the Hebrew patriarchs appeared upon the historical scene."5
If animism is discounted from the life of the patriarchs, totemism must follow. Totemism involves people regarding themselves as descendants of their "totem animal." Neither Egypt nor Mesopotamia, the two civilizations where Abraham and Moses were nurtured, show any evidence of totemmistic belief. Furthermore, "in view of the absence from the Old Testament writings of the two most important elements in any totemistic system, namely, the claim of descent from the totem and its ceremonial sacrifice among certain tribes,"6 there is no reason to assume totemism was ever part of Israel's religion.
But what of the idea that Abraham worshipped a tribal deity and that monotheism came much later? Judges 11:24 is offer cited to support this theory. Jephthah is pictured negotiating with the Ammonites: "Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the YHVH our God has driven out before us, we will possess it." Wellhausen's followers see this as evidence that Jephthah believed in the existence of the Ammonite god. Others see the text in a different light: "Jephthah is not speaking as a theologian but as a foreign diplomat, negotiating with them in terms which they could understand as he appealed to their sense of fair play."7
Kenneth Kitchen, Egyptologist at the University of Liverpool in England, offers these remarks: "Unilinear evolution is a fallacy. It is valid only within a small field of reference for a limited segment of time, and not for whole cultures over long periods of time. Intertwined with the multi-coloured fabric of change are lines of continuity...that show remarkable consistency from early epochs."8
The scenario of evolutionary development in the Jewish faith is absolutely unsubstantiated. But even more interesting than the apparent weaknesses in that theory is the indication that there has been a universal devolution from a faith in one God to the various primitive forms of religion mentioned above. Recent findings in comparative history and anthropology indicate that:
Most, if not all, pre-literary people have a belief in a Supreme Being which most scholars call a High God to distinguish him from the lesser divinities....It is interesting to note that among some of the most backward peoples of the world clear and high ideas of God are to be found. W. Schmidt of Vienna built up a whole theory on it: that the original religious concept of man in his primeval state was monotheism which later became corrupted into polytheism.9
Among the "primitive" peoples who believe in a supreme High God, we find such examples as "the Bushmen of the Kalahari, the Pygmy tribes of the Congo and the tribes of Tierra del Fuego."10
Elohim versus YHVH?
In a second theory, Moses is seen as the originator or discoverer of the concept of one God.
Exodus 6:3 is cited as evidence for this: "and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, YHVH, I did not make Myself known to them." Eminent scholar William Foxwell Albright referred to YHVH as "the name given his God by Moses" (though not in specific reference to Exodus 6:3).11 Albright spoke of "the identification of Yahweh with the God of the Fathers."12 He believed Moses invented the worship of YHVH, or as he put it, "Yahwism." The patriarchs worshipped their gods under various rubrics such as El Shaddai. Later, these gods were considered one and the same God.
Closer inspection of material from other ancient cultures removes the legs from this table as well. People, places, things and single deities were often referred to by more than one name. For instance, there are five alternate names for the Egyptian god Osiris: Osiris, Wennofer, Khent-amentiu, Lord of Abydos and nuter (god). "The same phenomenon," writes Kenneth Kitchen, "may be observed in Canaan, Old South Arabia, and among Hurrians and Hittites." The list goes on and on to include multiple names for places and objects.13 In more recent literature, the Koran parallels the Bible's alternating of names. Allahu (the same as Elohim) is used interchangeably with Rabbu (the same as Adonay, which is the traditional Jewish substitution for the name YHVH).14
In the ancient world, a name expressed character. The various names of God are important keys to understanding some of his attributes. Elohim refers to God in his character of Creator and Lord of mankind, whereas YHVH generally is used where God's covenant relationship is implied. The famed 12th century Jewish poet and philosopher Judah Halevi recognized this when he defined Elohim as the divine name in general, whereas Adonay specified the God of revelation and covenant."15 The patriarchs knew both names, but the full implication of God's character implicit in the name YHVH had not yet been revealed to them.
There is no evidence from the ancient world to support the idea that Moses invented "Yahwism," but could it be that Moses borrowed the idea of monotheism?
Was the Sun the "One"?
Some say Israel borrowed monotheism from another culture's deity, e.g. "the Egyptian Sun God" or from Zoroastrianism. There is no evidence to substantiate such a theory.
The examples above were suggested in a letter to the editor of ISSUES, and they demonstrate the lack of evidence for the "borrowing" theory. Zoroaster's dates are somewhere between 660 and 541 B.C.E.--well over half a millennium after Moses. No scholar dates the rise of Israel's monotheism that late. Zoroastrianism is therefore disqualified as an influence. Even without the conclusive discrepancy in dating, Zoroastrianism's tendency towards dualism (belief in two independent powers standing in opposition) is a far cry from the monotheism of biblical faith. The other example was the Egyptian sun god. No doubt this refers to the "solar monotheism" of King Akhenaton. Akhenaton's dates are anywhere from 1387-1366 or 1367-1350 B.C.E.--roughly the time of Moses.16 The history of Akhenaton's "monotheism" is as follows:
When Akhenaton came into power, he banned the worship of all gods other than the sun god, Aton. As Alan Richard Schulman points out, "...this was not monotheism. Although Aton, a manifestation of the sun, was a universal god, he was worshipped only by Akhenaton and his wife Nefertiti. Everyone else in the land worshipped Akhenaton himself as a god, and there is no indication that he ever denied his own divinity."17 Despite Akhenaton's mandate, Egyptians continued to worship numerous manifestations of the sun.
Akhenaton's brief religious rebellion failed. Polytheistic tendencies continued during his reign and returned to prominence after his death. It is unlikely that Akhenaton's unsuccessful attempt became the source of Israel's monotheism. Yet, similarities between the ancient "Hymn to Aton" and Psalm 104 still raise questions. Egyptologist Barbara Mertz explains, "These similarities do not mean that there is a direct connection between Atonism and Hebrew monotheism, or that Moses learned about God at the court of Amarna. Rather, the Aton hymns and the psalm represent two examples of a literary tradition which flourished throughout the Near East over a vast span of time."18
A Final Explanation
Fragments of a similar story in numerous cultures corroborate rather than undermine universal truths. The "monotheism" of Akhenaton was the result of a human instinct to believe in one God. As was mentioned, monotheistic underpinnings seem to exist even among modern primitive peoples.
The very clues used to imply borrowing seem to serve as evidence that monotheism was a universal impulse. The notion that monotheism evolved is a product of 19th century philosophy. It is insupportable in light of evidence provided by linguistics, archaeology, comparative ancient history and anthropology. The potpourri of primitive or sophisticated polytheism, pantheism and pick-your-own-theism appears to be a devolution from primal monotheism.
History shows ancient Israel as a unique example of a monotheistic nation. Monotheistic tendencies could be found everywhere, but Israel alone made the transition from tendency to theocracy. Such uniqueness demands an explanation. The monotheism of ancient Israel, a nation not only surrounded, but frequently ensnared by polytheistic neighbors, is a mystery. The answer is not a "genius for religion" (as is often suggested). Scripture is a witness to the Hebrew tendency toward apostasy--a fact which led Jewish prophets of old to express anger and anguish over the spiritual condition of Israel.
This author has found no reasonable explanation other than that given by the Tanakh; Israel's monotheism was received as a direct revelation from God. We see no evidence to indicate that Israel invented, discovered or borrowed monotheism. As to faith in the God of the Shema, Moses was not a brilliant innovator, nor was he a bold adventurer. He was not a pragmatic plagiarizer either. He was the humble worshipper of the God who is no invention or discovery, but who is real and who created us...the God who not only expects certain things of us, but who also invites us into a relationship with himself.
- Roland Kenneth Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1969), 352.
- Ibid, 354.
- Herman Wouk, This Is My God, (Doubleday & Co.: Garden City, 1961), 316.
- Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. (Moody Press Chicago, rev. ed. 1974; orig. ed. 1964), 145.
- Harnson, 383.
- Ibid, 388.
- Ibid, 389-90.
- Kenneth A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1966), 113-14.
- Edward G. Newing, "Religions of Pre-literary Societies," pp. 11-48 in Sir Norman Anderson, ed., The World's Religions, (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 4th rev. ed. 1975; orig. ed. 1950), 38.
- Ibid, 38, see note 8.
- William Foxwell Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity: Monotheism and the Historical Process, (Doubleday & Co.: Garden City, 2nd. ed. 1957; orig. ed. 1940), 258-59.
- Ibid, 271.
- Kitchen, 121.
- Archer, 120.
- Ibid, 121-22.
- Archer, 144. See also Alan Richard Schulman, "Akhenaton," in the Encyclopedia Judaica Vol. 2:487-88.
- Schulman, 487-88.
- Barbara Mertz, Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphics: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt, (Dodd, Mead & Co.: New York, rev. ed. 1978; orig. ed. 1964), 224 ff.
Category: Issues Volume 06 Number 03
Published on Tuesday, 05 July 2011 17:00
Written by Louis Goldberg
It is human nature to want to neatly categorize and label ideas--as well as people! It's not that we mean any harm by such an exercise; it just seems to make things more manageable, at least in theory, if not in reality.
This desire to identify and categorize often results in a "hero and villain" mentality whereby good and bad are falsely personified.
The Pharisees of the first century are one such group. They are often depicted by Christians as opponents of Jesus [in other words "the bad guys"], while the disciples and other Jewish people who followed Jesus are seen as "the good guys." On the other hand, most Jewish people who are not Christians see the opposite! Their premise is: the Pharisees were right in not accepting Jesus [now they're "the good guys"], and the apostles and all Jews who embraced Jesus were certainly wrong.
Both Jewish and Christian commentators bear out these assessments:
"The Pharisees (literally, 'Separated Ones,' in a ritualistic or a derogatory sense)... They scrupulously observe the rabbinic as well as the Mosaic law."
Robert Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981, rev. ed., pp. 47-48
The Pharisees are understood to have made "so many absurd rules that the law became a moral millstone to the pious rather than a gift from God...they came to equate knowing God by being a member of their group." (John Drane, Introducing the New Testament, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986, pp. 36, 37)
"No group in history has had a greater injustice done to its fine qualities and positive virtues than have the Pharisees through parts of the Gospels." (Samuel Sandmel, A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament, Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1956, p. 24)
While most scholars would agree with one or the other extreme cited above, there are a few who are balanced in their view:
"Although many of the Pharisees were so introspectively intent on obedience to the: Law that they often became fussily self-righteous, there were many among them who were truly virtuous and good men... Nicodemus, who honestly sought out Christ... Joseph of Arimathea... the moral and the spiritual standards of Pharisaism may have tended towards self-righteousness... but they were high in comparison with the average of their day." (Merrill C. Tenney, The New Testament, A Survey, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953, p.138)
Inasmuch as the Pharisaic tradition of Jesus' time was the precursor of [rabbinic Judaism today, it is imperative for understanding that we compare and contrast Y'shua's teachings to the Pharisees of his day.
The life and message of Y'shua cannot be divorced from the Pharisaic party which represented mainstream Judaism at that time. Y'shua often concurred with the Pharisees' beliefs. He also challenged some of what the leading party taught. And when the occasion demanded it, he had an astonishingly unique message of his own.
Where Y'shua agreed with the Pharisees
The Pharisaic party took a centrist position on many issues. One worth noting was the tension between the sovereignty of God and human freedom, a perplexing, pressing question still much debated today. The Sadducees represented the "privileged class" of the nation. They held to a strong position regarding God's sovereignty and transcendence. The Essenes were religious people who had become non-conformists in Judean society and were at the other end of the spectrum on this issue. They isolated themselves in desert communities where they greatly emphasized a certain personal freedom. They taught that man had great initiative in conditioning God's behavior.
The middle of the road position was espoused by the Pharisees: "It has pleased God to make a temperament, whereby what he wills is done, so that the will of man can act virtuously or viciously." (Josephus, XVIII, 1, 3)1
One of the most important religious leaders of the second century C.E. was Akiva (first century C.E.-135 C.E.), who began the huge task of codifying the mass of religious tradition. He said, "All is foreseen but freedom of choice is given." (Avot 3:16)2
Israel's Outside Literature, known today as the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, also expressed this position: "For man...cannot add to, so as to enlarge, what has been prescribed by Thee" and "Our works are subject to our own choice and power to do right or wrong [is] in [our] hand." (Psalms of Solomon 5:6; 7:7)3
Y'shua supported that same position, as evidenced by his statement:
"But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him."
On the one hand, we note the phrase, "as it has been decreed," regarding the death of Y'shua which was determined from the beginning. At the same time, we see woe to the person who chooses by his actions to actually betray the Messiah. The Pharisees never attempted to solve the problem of the seemingly mutually exclusive free will of man versus God's pre-ordained decrees. Rather, they set them side-by-side as factors to be reckoned with in many of life's situations. Y'shua did likewise.
A second issue on which Y'shua and the Pharisees found agreement was the doctrine of resurrection. The Sadducees accused the Pharisees of manufacturing this doctrine which could not be proven from Torah. The Pharisees felt strongly that this belief could be substantiated. Rabbi Jacob stated:
"This world is like a vestibule before the world to come: prepare thyself in the vestibule that thou mayest enter into the banquet hall."
The "Outside Books" tell the story of a mother whose seven sons suffered martyrdom rather than compromise their faith. Her counsel to her last son before he died was:
"Do not fear this butcher [Antiochus Epiphanes], but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again with your brothers."
II Maccabees 7:295
Y'shua also had to deal with the Sadducean denial of the resurrection. When they tried to ensnare him with a question regarding the hypothetical example of a woman who is widowed and marries the brother of her late husband as to who will be her husband in the world to come, he replied:
"At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead--have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."*
Thirdly, both the Pharisees and Jesus were not especially interested in amassing the material goods of this world. Hillel, who presided over the Sanhedrin from 30 B.C.E. to 10 C..E., once said: "The more flesh the more worms; the more possessions the more care." (Avot 2:7)6
The Pharisees taught what it means to be unselfish: "What is mine is thine, and what is thine is thine own." (Avot 5:10)7 The worldly moral is just the opposite, and was condemned by religious leaders as wicked. "What is thine is thine, and what is mine is mine own."
Y'shua likewise encouraged his followers to be unselfish: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) Y'shua taught that true spirituality is to be valued most highly and it is to be found in serving others. His background of poverty enabled him to teach his disciples to live simply and care for the poor.
Fourthly, the Pharisees recognized the need for a balance to life and could enjoy both eating and dancing, and yet giving themselves to fasting and somberness when appropriate. Hillel once commented on the necessary balance between regard for self and the importance of regarding others:
"If I am not for myself, who is for me? and being for mine own self what am I?" (Avot 1:14)8
Y'shua's life was an example of such balance. He enjoyed eating and drinking with Pharisees (Luke 7:37-50), but on the other hand he spoke of sacrifice:
"He called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.'"
Mark 8: 34, 35
There are additional areas of agreement between Y'shua and the Pharisees, such as in the case of observance of most religious customs and ceremonies, but we turn now to consider the differences.
Where Y'shua and the Pharisees part company
The tension between Y'shua and the Pharisees is a persistent theme in the gospels, but it is helpful to understand that the Pharisees differed among themselves in a number of areas. The Messiah's disagreements with the Pharisees focused primarily on certain religious leaders.
There are seven "wings" in the Pharisees' "house," ranging from legalists (those who wore their good deeds before others) to mystics (those who looked inwardly for higher levels of spiritual perfection). Many others took middle positions. In Y'shua's day, the two prominent groups of Pharisees were the house of Shammai (the legalistic point of view), and the house of Hillel (the mediating view).9
Y'shua challenged many of the rulings by the house of Shammai, as reflected in the gospels, and is therefore frequently regarded as partial to the house of Hillel. The stance Hillel's grandson, Gamaliel, took regarding Y'shua's disciples typified the more moderate of the two positions. Gamaliel advised that they be left alone, stating that if they were not of God, they would fail. If they were of God and the religious leaders attempted to stop them, the leaders would only "find [themselves] fighting against God." (Acts 5: 38-39)
The areas of major differences between Y'shua and the Pharisees centered on the issues regarding women, the common people (am Ha 'Ares), and what are referred to as the "harsh traditions of the elders."
Concerning women, even Hillel, known for his moderation on many issues, once said: "The more women the more witchcrafts." (Avot 2:7)10
Ben Sirach declared:
"From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die. Allow no outlet to water, and no boldness of speech in an evil wife. If she does not go as you direct, separate her from yourself."
And another instance of Pharisaic disdain for women in the Outside Writings:
"For from garments comes the moth, and from a woman comes woman's wickedness. Better is the wickedness of man than a woman who does good; and it is a woman who brings shame and disgrace."
Ecclesiasticus 25: 24-26; 42:13, 1411
The gospels indicate that Y'shua held a far different position. Luke, in particular, demonstrates the Messiah's high regard for women just by virtue of the fact that he spent time in their company.
Rather than saying that sin entered the world through woman, Y'shua emphasized that a man leaves his father and mother to cleave unto his wife. Jesus stressed that women had worth.
He even came to the defense of a woman caught in the act of adultery, charging her accusers to cast their stones only if they themselves were without sin. (John 8:7) Women were a part of the band of disciples, both as ministers and as students of the Messiah. (Mark 15:40,41; Luke 8:1-3; 10:42; John 4:7-27)
The am Ha 'Ares** (lit. "the people of the land" or common people) and the Pharisees were in contention. One of the mandates of the Pharisees was: "A Pharisee may not eat with an am Ha 'Ares." (Berakot 43b)12
Y'shua challenged this attitude in word and deed. After Levi (Matthew) became a follower of Y'shua, he gave a banquet and invited his former "coworkers"--tax gatherers who were considered the dregs of society. Y'shua attended the gathering because these were the very people who needed him the most. His compassion prompted much criticism by certain religious leaders whose question was more of an accusation: "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" (Luke 5:30)
Another major difference between Y'shua and the Pharisees was his concern over some of the harsh rulings on the "traditions of the elders." In many ways, his lifestyle was consistent with Pharisaic interpretations: he attended synagogue services during the week as well as on Sabbath days (Luke 4:16). He observed the blessing before the meals. (Berakot 3:3,4)13
There were other traditions, however, which Y'shua broke. For example, he healed people on the Sabbath. That was when the greatest numbers of people could hear his message and see his miracles, and it was his best opportunity to help people. When an indignant synagogue official berated Y'shua for healing a woman on God's holy day, Jesus replied that if, according to the Law, an ox or donkey can be unleashed and led away for water on the Sabbath, then could not this poor woman, "whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?" (Luke 13:16)
His point was that human need takes precedence over sterile rules. Rules were designed to help people revere God, rather than themselves becoming the object of reverence. Y'shua insisted upon recognizing exceptions to tradition. He cited the example of David fleeing to Nob, where he asked for the consecrated bread from the holy place of the sanctuary to feed himself and his men. Even though common people were not to eat of the bread, the priest complied. (Matthew 12:3,4; I Samuel 21:1-6)
Y'shua's unique message and work
Y'shua often agreed with Pharisaic teaching, and on a number of occasions he challenged these leaders. There were other occasions when he neither agreed nor challenged, but simply showed himself to be unique by what he said and did.
His unique message
When Y'shua taught, people immediately were struck by a difference in the way he spoke. They compared him to other religious leaders, and the record indicates that "the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law." (Matthew 7:28,29) What caused people to assess his manner of teaching as such?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Y'shua prefaced each point of his message by saying: "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago," or, "You have heard that it was said." (Matthew 5:21,27)
The people heard religious speakers on many occasions, and were accustomed to hearing: "This rabbi said this," and, "That rabbi said that," and then the teacher would reach a conclusion by combining the sayings of the various religious leaders.
Y'shua differed radically from this formula when he followed the phrase: "You have heard it said" with the words: "But I tell you...." (Matthew 5: 22, 28, 32, 34 and 39)
Everyone, and particularly the am Ha 'Ares, was quick to observe this difference and many responded to the authority of Y'shua's message. He spoke with conviction, quoting from the Written Law (Tenach), and people recognized that he was speaking with power on behalf of God.
Different parties sent their representatives to Y'shua, attempting to trap him with his own words. The Pharisees and Herodians tried to ensnare him by asking what one should do regarding the poll tax. The Sadducees tried to draw him into an argument concerning the validity of the resurrection. A master of Mosaic Law inquired of the Messiah as to which was the greatest commandment in the Law. Y'shua's answers repeatedly reflected the wisdom of the Torah. (see Matthew 2:15-40)
Finally, Jesus posed a question of his own to some of the Pharisees. Jesus inquired that if Messiah is the son of David: "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'?" (Matthew 22:43; Psalm 110:1) The question placed the religious leaders on the horns of a dilemma and since they had no answer forthcoming, "from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions." (Matthew 22:46)
Y'shua's stature increased as people heard his unique message and his unique way of answering those who objected to his claims.
Y'shua may have been the greatest communicator in the world, but what truly made him stand out was the work which he did.
1. His authority over the elements of nature
Y'shua and his disciples had entered into a boat to cross the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. A storm arose and the boat was tossed by the suddenly menacing waves. The disciples began to row furiously in an attempt to reach the shore. Their efforts availed not, so in desperation, they awoke the Messiah who had been sleeping in the midst of the storm. He rose, faced the winds and rebuked the sea surging at the boat. Immediately, the wind collapsed and the sea became glassy calm. Jesus' disciples could only marvel and ask: "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" (Matthew 8:27)
2. His control over the unseen world
When Y'shua and his disciples arrived in the country of the Gadarenes (Garinim), they were met immediately by two demon-possessed men who were exceedingly violent. The demons sneered and snorted, "What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" (Matthew 8:29)
We should note that there are two sides of the unseen world, one, where God presides and the angels minister; and the other side--the kingdom of Satan. The demons immediately knew who Y'shua was, and begged that he not cast them into the abyss of torment then but that he cast them into a herd of swine instead.
Here we see the Messiah's unique control over casting demons out of those in whom they resided.
3. He forgave sin
When Y'shua came back to the side of the Sea, to Tiberias, a paralytic was brought to him for healing. He proclaimed in the presence of everyone, including some religious leaders: "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." (Matthew 9:2)
The Messiah immediately sensed the hostility of some of the religious leaders and responded by saying: "Which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?" (Matthew 9:5) Y'shua was pointing out that whoever has the authority to heal has also the authority to forgive sin. Thus his authority to heal people of all diseases was an indicator of his ultimate authority to forgive sin.
4. He can give life
Matthew gives a climactic testimony of Y'shua's uniqueness. A synagogue official had asked Y'shua to come to his home and heal his daughter, but when he arrived, the girl had already died. Yet Jesus made a peculiar announcement: "The girl is not dead but asleep." (Matthew 9:24) The crowd derisively laughed, amazed that he would make such a pronouncement when everyone knew better.
Nevertheless, Y'shua escorted Peter, James, John and the parents of the girl into the inner chamber where her body lay. He said: "Talitha koum!" (Little girl, I say to you, get up!) And she did! (Mark 5:41,42)
Jesus' unique ability was also demonstrated when he told a dead man who was about to be buried: "Young man, I say to you, get up!" Once again, his command was obeyed. (Luke 7:14)
Jesus' power to reach beyond the grave was dramatically seen when he stood in front of the tomb and called in a loud voice: "Lazarus, come out!" (John 11:43) Lazarus, who had been dead for days, came forth in the wrappings with which he had been buried. Even more dramatic was the fact that Jesus rose from the dead himself, three days after his crucifixion.
Y'shua's unique work compares to God's miraculous power on that first Passover night when he demonstrated that he, not Pharaoh, was the one who gives life, and that he, not Pharaoh, was the one with the ultimate power to take life as well. Y'shua displayed the same uniqueness, demonstrating attributes which only God possesses. It is no wonder that thousands of Israelis responded to him.
Jesus was more than a merely wise or profoundly philosophical person, sometimes agreeing and other times disagreeing with religious leaders of his day. His uniqueness and his ability to do what no other leader could do had a powerful impact on the people to whom he ministered.
We have cited areas of agreement as well as disagreement between Y'shua and the religious leaders of his day. Many times the New Testament writers emphasized the differences more strongly than the similarities. However, they were functioning as iconoclasts, tearing down false images which could prevent the common people from hearing a message they so desperately needed.
Believers in Jesus need to recognize that the Pharisees were not "the bad guys." They were not at odds with Jesus every step of the way. Those who don't believe in Y'shua should realize that he was not entirely out of step with the Judaism of his day. The two are not diametrically opposed.
But what of Y'shua's uniqueness? No one on the face of this earth can escape his claims, or say that he was just a good rabbi, for what rabbi would dare to say:
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Twice in the history of Israel God broke through from beyond to present himself to us: at Sinai when he gave the Law to Moses, and again, in the person of Y'shua the Messiah. When he came, he had agreements as well as disagreements with the religious leaders then in authority. Perhaps the same would be true if he came and observed some of our rabbis today. But when we are faced with the claims of Y'shua, the most important point is not how often he agrees or disagrees with what is taught in the Jewish community. His unique claims and authoritative power are the things with which we must grapple. We cannot place him in juxtaposition with the Pharisees of yesterday or the Jewish community of today, and simply choose sides. Y'shua is in a category by himself, and we must either accept or reject him on that basis.
*This was an argument from the tense of the verb, "I am." Y'shua maintains that the Scriptures do not speak of the Patriarchs as ceasing to exist or the tense would be, "I was the God of...."
**In recent times that term has come to mean "ignoramus," which reflects the lack of educational opportunities for those living apart from towns. However, in Jesus' time the term meant "common person."
Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews. W. Whiston, tr., (Philadelphia: Winston, n.d.), 530.
The Mishnah H. Danby, ed., (London: Oxford, 1933), 452.
The Pseudepigrapha, Vol 2., R H. Charles, ed., (London: Oxford, 1913), 637, 639.
The Mishnah, Op Cit., p. 454.
The Apocrypha (New York: Nelson, 1957), 236.
The Mishnah, Op. Cit., 448.
These two well-known religious leaders amongst the Pharisees were the last of the great pairs, living in the first century B.C.E.
The Mishnah, Op. Cit. 448.
The Apocrypha, Op. Cit., 139,159.
Zeraim, Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino, 1948), 266, 267.
The Mishnah, Op. Cit., 4.
Secularization" is defined as the process in which those things religious transfer to nonreligious use, possession or control. To say that something is "secular" means that it is without religion or religious significance. Secularization has become a major concern to today's Jewish community. It began with the Haskalah movement among Jews of Eastern Europe in the late 18th century and early 19th century.1
Most English-speaking Jews hold to a general secular philosophy. Even among Orthodox or observant Jews there would be some tendencies toward secularization. However in recent years, it has been conceded by many that secularization does not work.2 Many Jews are seeking to recover what they see as lost or dwindling spiritual values. In place of secularization, the Jewish community has seen the development of several new trends.
Three closely-related trends comprise the overall move from secularization to "return to Judaism." Each touches on an area of Jewish life where a need is felt. Trends and their corresponding areas of felt needs are: (1) the development of the havurah, emphasizing community; (2) the increasing influence of Chasidism, especially of the Lubavitcher variety, emphasizing authority and experience; and (3) what I call the "New Orthodoxy" with its emphasis on observance, structure and tradition as a guide to what is good and right. There is some overlap between the three: the Chasidim study Torah , and observe mitzvoth, while many in the havurah movement have found a new dimension of worship experience. However, we will examine these trends primarily via three modern writers on American Judaism: Gerald Strober, Chaim Waxman, and Charles Silberman, each of whom has something to say about havurah, Chasidism and the New Orthodoxy.
The roots of the havurah movement are ancient, but it was not until the early 1960s that exposure in the publications of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation brought it into American Jewish life.3
Gerald Strober's description of havurah in the '70s was as a community "organized on or close by a college or university campus,"4 thus suggesting that it was initially a student movement. Members of one havurah might all be observant, while another might have a mix of atheists and chasidic-minded.5 Strober quotes Jon Groner of the Beit Ephraim Chavurah at Columbia University regarding their motivation for beginning a havurah:
Groner presumes that there is a spiritual mover behind Judaism. This is a theistic assumption, but a more humanistic statement is made by Jonathan Stein in The Journal of Reform Judaism:
Because it was viewed as an offshoot of the counterculture and it seemed communal life was for hippies, the new movement was criticized by establishment members such as Rabbi Wolfe Kelman. In the Fall 1971 issue of Conservative Judaism he says that the significance of the havurot (plural) had been 'slightly exaggerated" by the early proponents.8 Yet the movement remains.
The needs expressed by Jon Groner have not disappeared. Nor is the movement to be dismissed as a relic of the Jewish counterculture." Chaim Waxman cites a 1977 publication on havurot by Bernard Reisman of Brandeis University. Waxman gives weight to Reisman's observations that most Jews do not join a havurah for "countercultural" reasons but because the existing institutions do not meet their needs.9
The "established" nature of the havurah was made even clearer by Charles Silberman in 1985:
Rabbi Harold Schulweis [of Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Encino, California], borrowing the most inspired innovation of the Jewish counterculture, has adapted the idea of the havurah to the needs of a middle-aged suburban congregation. The result has been the creation of havurot, usually involving ten individuals and/or families, within the synagogue itself, to provide a more intimate and less threatening setting for religious observance as well as a system of mutual support in time of need. In the fall of 1984 there were more than 60 havurot.…11 Silberman continues:
So although the havurah has not turned American Jewish life upside-down, it remains in some circles an ongoing institution. It would be difficult to say the havurah movement is either growing or declining. Its significance seems to be in the way it tries to answer problems rather than in any great solutions achieved by large numbers of people. But what then distinguishes a havurah from other forms of Jewish communal expression? Silberman again:
It might seem that the counterculture of the '60s and the apathetic resignation of the '80s would mitigate against a need to seek more authority and structure. Consider Myriam Malinovich's chronicling of women who made a return to Orthodoxy via the route of Chasidism.14
Malinovich decided to investigate this phenomena because a friend had become ba'al teshuvah, that is, made a return from nonobservance to Orthodoxy. Her curiosity led her to an "Encounter With Chabad Weekend." [Chabad is another name for the Lubavitcher Chasidism movement; Chabad Houses are frequently found at university campuses.] Her observations are illustrative of the need for community:
Perhaps the issue is summed up by Malinovich's quote from an anonymous woman at the Chabad weekend:
Chaim Waxman says that modernity "promotes a crisis of meaning [and] also precipitates a loss of and subsequent search for community."17 Jonathan Stein adds that "the struggle to find community and intimacy stems, in part, from the transient and frenzied nature of our American society.…"18
The struggle was a reaction against the loss of authority and structure. The renewed interest in Chasidism is due, in part, to their strong emphasis on authority. Chasidism has struck a responsive chord in the hearts of Jews who feel inadequate in a society that stresses that we "do our own thing" and rewards those who find loopholes in the system. The authority which Chasidism offers is personified in one man simply called "Rebbe." He is part of a dynasty of supposed seers, miracle workers, sages, saints and otherwise elevated men. Gerald Strober writes:
The above is from the Chabad's own publication. One wonders whether the legitimate need for authority is being addressed in an inappropriate and unJewish way. This certainly sounds more like the Hindu or Buddhist version of a holy man rather than a Jewish religious leader.
This adoration and veneration accorded him border on idolatry. The Rebbe strictly regulates all the lives of his followers and is accorded a status far above that of even the Pope of the Catholic faith. This sort of person veneration of a living religious leader is more characteristic of cults than of Judaism.
Neither Waxman nor Silberman devote much room to discussions of Chabad or Chasidism in general. They do, however, give much attention to what they call the "Orthodox revival" and what I call the New Orthodoxy.
Lubavitcher Chasidism has not been nearly as influential as the New Orthodoxy, yet it does overlap with Chasidism inasmuch as it stresses authority. The New Orthodoxy goes hand in hand with structure, and the return to "observant Judaism" is an attempt to recover a lost sense of structure, and a proper sense of external authority. While the Chasidim submit to the authority of the Rebbe, the New Orthodox look to the authority of tradition.
The New Orthodoxy is both visible and widespread. According to Strober, its adherents come from the ranks of "some of the most influential Jewish religious philosophers and authorities."24 But what of the movement in mainstream Judaism? The momentum of the ba'al teshuvah movement was not yet apparent when Strober made his assessment in the early '70s. Strober did speak of the Lubavitcher Chasidim's "considerable success"25 in motivating young people to adapt a Jewish lifestyle in the Lubavitcher mode. But he concluded, "the prognosis for the future of Jewish religion in America is not promising."26
According to Chaim Waxman there was a pendulum shift between 1965-1975 which involved a "new, distinctly American Orthodoxy." He concluded this based on the following observations: One, there was an increase in the number of Orthodox Jewish immigrants to the U.S. between 1937-48. Two, there were changes in American Orthodox institutions, such as the Day School movement. Three, there were changes in American society, such as a five-day work week (which made it easier to be upwardly mobile and still observe the Sabbath). And finally, the rise of "religious consciousness."28
What kind of religious revival is taking place? What brand of Orthodoxy is being followed? The term ba'al teshuvah literally means "master of repentance" or more colloquially, "one who returns" to the fold of Judaism. Since this "return" takes on a variety of forms, Silberman prefers the definition of Charles Liebman: "anyone of college age or older who is more observant than his or her parents, teachers, or childhood friends would have predicted."29
According to Liebman this includes anybody, for any reason, doing just about anything, to be "more Jewish." The specific reasons for returning to Judaism vary from person to person, as do the routes the returnees have followed, the particular forms their new-found observance takes, and the intensity and seriousness with which they approach their religion.30
What is the practical outworking of this? Is the degree of Orthodoxy one practices a matter of personal preference? The New Orthodoxy may or may not resemble the Orthodoxy of our grandparents, even when it comes to such fundamental issues as the existence of God. Perhaps it is better to speak of this revival as "neo-observance."
This pick-and-choose approach to Judaism, creates a problem. Silberman highlights the problem as noted by Sara Bershtel and Allen Graubard in the Summer 1982 issue of Dissent:
As a case in point, Silberman makes an example of the anonymous "X" who turned from "humanism" to "the Jewish tradition." Yet X remains an atheist who "would like to" believe in God but does not. Furthermore, "he wonders whether his observance of ritual can be sustained without the belief he does not (or does not yet) have, but he is 'prepared to see what happens.'"32
Although Silberman takes issue with Bershtel and Graubard and applauds this emphasis on "individual choice," he does admit that: