A RIGHT RESPONSE TO RABBINIC JUDAISM

By Daniel C. Juster, Director

A Renewed Mind

When we are filled with the Spirit and our faith is centered on Yeshua, on all that He has done, and will do for us, a wonderful transformation takes place: we are endowed with a renewed mind which can weigh viewpoints, practices, and philosophies (Romans 12:2). In this regard, when we reflect on that huge corpus of literature known as rabbinic literature with a renewed mind - and I include in this the prayer books - we are filled with what I would call profound ambivalence. What do I mean by this term?

My Personal Story in Responding to Rabbinic Judaism

As a young leader in the Messianic Jewish movement I devoted myself to working my way through the Talmud, the primary multi-volume corpus of the application of Jewish Law. I was also taking a course on Jewish Worship at Spertus College of Judaica that concentrated on the prayer books. There is no doubt that I missed a great deal; the literature is difficult to interpret. However, I think I also gained a sense of what was going on. I was positively amazed at the doctrine of grace in the Siddur (the prayer book) and also some of the wonderful values reflected both in the Talmudic stories and also in the good applications of Torah. On the other hand, I was stunned by the level of legalism, foolishness and superstition. These types of statements are never found in the Bible itself. Lest some think this is an anti-Semitic statement, I want to clarify that other religions and some sectors of Christianity entertain similar legalism and foolishness.

Defining Profound Ambivalence

I was beginning to respond with profound ambivalence. Ambivalence alone does not describe my response then or now. For example, when I went to buy a car a few years ago, I asked myself if I should buy a hybrid. I was ambivalent. It seemed good for the environment, but then would it be too costly? Would I recover the cost? Which way should I go? I decided against it. However, this was not momentous. It would not make a big difference in my life; I was simply ambivalent.

When something is profound, it is important, it is deep with meaning and significance. Rabbinic Judaism is sometimes profound and is clearly important. How we respond to it is very important, fraught with significance. Rabbinic Judaism has a depth of wisdom, a doctrine of grace and mercy and a projection of biblical values known to no other religion that does not embrace Yeshua and the New Covenant. It has been the instrument God has used to preserve our people with a basic historical unity. God could have used something else, but He used Rabbinic Judaism. If this were the extent of the matter I would want to embrace Rabbinic Judaism fully and then simply add to it our belief in Yeshua and the content of the New Covenant Scriptures.

However, when I study the passages that the detractors of Judaism point out, when I read the summary of Jewish Law known as the Shulhan Aruch, I say to myself, there is no way the amazing levels of legalistic hair splitting or ingenious ways to get around the Law can reflect the real desire of God. We see such foolishness in discussions now in Israel as to whether or not the Sabbath elevator should be legal. The Sabbath elevator was developed so Orthodox Jews would not have to push a button to go between the floors of a high-rise building. By so doing they avoid deliberately making a fire (an interpretation of electricity). Likewise, the 'eruv' - a legal fiction that unites many private dwellings into a communal 'domain' of the synagogue so that children and the elderly can be pushed in buggies or wheelchairs to and from the actual synagogue on Shabbat - has been hotly argued for centuries. Does God really want our people to engage in debates like this? Yet such debate is part of the spirit of the Jewish tradition rooted in the Talmud. I think it is profoundly wrong.

Facing the Paradox

There is a paradox here: the excellent entwined with the foolish. When one tries to embrace all the right things in Rabbinic Judaism and squarely faces the wrong things, one comes to a place of profound ambivalence. There is profound respect for what is good and a profound distancing from what is bad. Some years ago I was close to a Messianic Jewish leader whose orientation was not ambivalent. He was simply able to reject Rabbinic Judaism and felt fully justified. I could not do this and it was one of the key points of our disagreement. Others, largely I believe due to ethnic pride, find some way to totally embrace Rabbinic Judaism and are so enamored of it that they defend the indefensible.

Generally when I find people in the former camp, eventually they or their children will assimilate since there is not much value in living a Jewish life for its own sake; indeed, Torah patterns without Jewish tradition are colorless and unattractive. Even the secular in Israel, people who say they reject Rabbinic Judaism, often participate in traditions that have enriching color and emotional connection to our people. These practices are part of the rabbinic heritage. The people in the latter camp who are overly enamored seem to lack a Yeshua-centered focus in their teaching and worship. The rich emphasis on New Covenant meaning is lost and everything is geared to extolling Judaism, a kind of ethnic self-worship. This ethnic worship may be a reaction to the rejection we face from the larger Jewish community on account of our faith in Yeshua.

Through a renewed mind, profound ambivalence leads us to really embrace what is good in Judaism. On the other hand, such ambivalence also takes a stand where we maintain the centrality of Yeshua and the right emphasis on all the New Covenant benefits that are given to us. I only discovered the significance of this term "profound ambivalence" a few months ago, but I now realize that this term is an excellent descriptor of my perspective.

Why is Judaism the Way it is?

I have come to the belief that Judaism is as it is, partly through God's grace at work in Jewish history. The Holy One did not leave Himself without a profound witness to truth. However because our people's stand against Yeshua can be traced to the first century, to the Sanhedrin and then to the first school of Rabbinic Judaism in Yavneh, there is also judgment. Jewish life did not have to be so restrictive and legalistic. Can we grasp the idea that Judaism shows a direction that was both positive and negative, both the grace of God and sowing and reaping - at the same time? I think if we study Judaism with a renewed mind we will understand this to be true.

A Plea for Wisdom and Discernment

In this regard, I again give a plea for a Messianic Judaism that is wise and discerning, that emphasizes the centrality of Yeshua in our worship and teaching so we might, as He taught us, "Honor the Son as we honor the Father." Lastly, we seek a Messianic Judaism that demonstrates that the Messianic Jewish community is called to live and identify as part of the Jewish community and to demonstrate unity with the whole Body of Believers.


ANNOUNCING: TWO NEW BOOKS BY DAN JUSTER
(published by Lederer-Messianic Jewish Publications)

"That They May Be One, A Messianic Jewish Introduction to Church History"

"A Brief History of Christian Zionism" (to be released this spring)

By Daniel Juster



Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International. Donate to Tikkun International.

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Comments:
18:40 09Feb10 D. -
Extremely interesting and informative article. I had to look up "Shulhan Aruch" to see what it was. Now that I know, your explanation of its implications makes so much more sense. I always wondered where this ultra-legalism came from. Thanks!! Interesting also that you mentioned "Rabbinic Judaism has a depth of wisdom, a doctrine of grace and mercy and a projection of biblical values known to no other religion that does not embrace Yeshua and the New Covenant." That is soooo true! I am presently living in a community that has no Messianic Congregation, so I (as a Jewess) continue to attend services at a Conservative Shul. As we read through the services, there are times I feel like shouting for joy at what is read yet not understood by those reading the same words I am ... BUT, as you said, in essence God has left a witness of His grace and glory and Himself (Yeshua). One day the eyes of the blind will be opened to see Him in all His glory -- possibly from reading and reciting the weekly words from the blue book ...

18:58 09Feb10 Jane Meredith -
Profound ambivalance fits the thoughts and feelings I have been sorting out, as a follower of Yeshua in England. I am travelling to a Reform synagogue modern Hebrew class and at home reading the Torah and Haftorah portions. I have had to unlearn so much of christian/greco/roman thinking and while not becoming "religious", discover the value of Jewish roots. Thank you for putting all that into a neat phrase.

19:27 09Feb10 Raymond E. Wiggins Sr -
It is very "profound" to me, indeed, that I received this e-mail today, because during my early morning reading today, I seemed to have read the book of Romans with a "renewed mind" about "Rabbinic Judiasm," as seen through the eyes of the apostle Paul who seems to be addressing this same "profound ambivalence" that you have so clearly, succintly and "profoundly" expressed.
It seems to me that Paul himself was also dealing with his own "profound ambivalence" between his own "messianic" identity in Yeshua, and his "fellowship" with his fellow Jewish brethren who were yet, as "lights to the nations," were "faithfuly" instructing Gentiles among the nations where they dwelt or travelled sharing "the faith witness" of "Rabbinic Judaism," so to speak, that remains in their original calling and election, in spite of their temporary blindness in rejecting Yeshua as their Messiah.
Facing this "profound ambivalence," Paul did not "throw the baby out with the wash," but seemed to have resolved, as you have, the need for a "mutuality" of respect between the two, when he testified saying, "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you, some spiritual gift, so that you may be established, that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the [mutual faith] both of you and me ... that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among other Gentiles" Romans 1:11,12,13b.
It seems to me that if "messianic Jews" are to become as "Jews" to their brethren after the flesh, that such "mutuality," of giving and receiving, between the two must be respected and embraced, especially, by the "messianic Jews," so that, by all means some of them might be saved! I Corinthians 9:19,20
I could be all wrong, but this is what I concluded from my own daily devotional with the Lord this morning!

20:26 09Feb10 Cynthia Maddaluno -
I have recently had to end a friendship with a fellow messianic believer due to her constant lack of tolerance for Christians who are ignorant towards the jewishness of our faith - it seems as though idolizing the Judaism is a large part of the problem.

22:46 09Feb10 Waltraud Hendel -
I am impressed by your wise and balanced way of looking at things and making judgments. I am an almost 86 years old gentile woman, have been a believer for over 50 years but I always learn something when I read your comments. And they are not quickly forgotten, they stay with you. It is so easy to go overboard in one direction or another, it is harder to stay balanced. There is also a graciousness in your writings. I am so thrilled to see so many Jewish people become believers in Yeshua. I remember when that was a highly rare occurance.

01:46 10Feb10 Daniel Buffenmeyer -
As I read this article, the Spirit impressed a verse on my mind. It was Ecclesiastes 7:16-18: "Do not be overly righteous ... Neither be overly foolish ... it is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other." I think this verse subtly emphasizes the notion of "Profound Ambivalence."
I suppose that over the years, I have practiced the same "Profound Ambivalence" concerning eschatology. There are so many crazy ideas out there, along with quite a few good ones. Yet, it would be foolish to abandon eschatology entirely and equally foolish to allow oneself to be completely deceived by strange notions.
Concerning Rabbinic Judaism, it seems best to cull those things that resonate with our Lord's teaching while esteeming less those other things that seem to go off in tangents. I believe Shaul warned us of this in the first century saying that certain things (arguing over geneologies, etc...) are unprofitable. I suppose the surest way is to abide by the Spirit and allow Him to teach us all truth.

09:30 10Feb10 Susan Leslie -
I am not of Jewish descent but have recently become part of a Messianic congregation made up of both Jews and non-Jews. Some are pretty relaxed. Others are very legalistic. Profound ambivalence is a very apt phrase for me at this time. Discernment is truly needed to be able to navigate through some of this stuff but, at the same time, much of what I am learning is so wonderful! It is filling in some spaces in my foundation in Yeshua that so needed to be filled and could not have been got any other way. The other aspect that is absolutely necessary within a Messianic group is love. This particular group is respectful of others different views and understanding while being able to actually discuss those differences without any rancor. That is truly the work of Ruach Ha'kodesh!

10:40 10Feb10 H. -
This is a very timely article for me as a Gentile believer in Yeshua. It answers some of the questions in my heart regarding the Messianic Jewish Community in Israel.

14:36 10Feb10 Christian Johannes Heinze -
I am nearly totally ignorant about Judaism (excepting repeated lecture of the Scriptures), but I do clearly see that Israel is finally very much in vogue and in the limelight of not only evangelical Christians, but of the entire world. I would just like to briefly point out the following, regarding 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3. "Peace and Security" was said first (?) in Jerusalem in 1996 by Mr Netanyahu. In 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, these same words were the slogan of the then Spanish government. They were also pronounced that same year by the U.S president Mr George Bush, jr., and the British prime minister Mr Tony Blair in articles I read in the Spanish press. "Peace" and "Security" were also mentioned that year by the astute Vatican. And at present, Mr Obama is using the phrase in several of his speeches. Seeing that Iran, a declared enemy of the state of Israel, is on its way to produce nuclear weapons, I strongly believe we can expect a powerful Divine intervention within a none-too-distant future.

15:15 10Feb10 A.S. -
I think that a good messianic believer must be involved in the reading of all kind of rabbinic roots books. We cannot find a good light in the New Testament if we have not a deep penetration of what they call the Old Testament. We need first to understand the behaviour of a native orthodox Jew in his faith before we can make the difference with the belief in King YeSHuaH. To reject YeSHuaH and to master the Holy Scriptures are two different things. Rabbinic Jews have a good knowledge of Holy Scriptures but they are blind to locate YeSHuaH in them.

09:36 11Feb10 Joyce Aubrey -
It seems difficult for the messianic community to stay focused on Jesus and still embrace our Hebraic roots. At times I feel like it is a battle to remain balanced.

19:08 17Feb10 Charles Reece -
Even the famous Gentile theologian, John Lightfoot (1602-1675) had enough "sense" to point out the necessity in studying rabbinic literature in order to better understand the hebraic nuances of the Gospels!!

19:54 01Mar10 John R Peacher -
Excellent points. I immediately thought of the vision Peter had on the rooftop. What a change of heart on his part! God did not do this thing in a subtle manner either. Only the Holy One has the right, and priviledge to make such changes. Yeshua rocked the boat of man made tradition; the added on parts of what God had established. It is amazing that He allows these things to go on for centuries, then while we are in midstream, thinking we are headed in the proper direction, He changes the way for us in ways that only He can. What an amazing Father we have!

09:34 02Mar10 Maryke Moodie -
I have been quite puzzled by this. Thank you for unpacking this difficult topic the way you did.
It's hard for man to distinction between the specific specifications of Hashem and the heart thereof. We compromise either to the one side or the other. Sometimes in our earnest 'to do the right thing', we can end up doing 'my way and not Thy way'. I agree we can only fully discern with the help of His Ruach and in receiving that from knowing and believing in Messiah (understanding allows love where there is no fear). Do you think another reason why Orthodox Judaism find it hard to embrace 'wider' applications and not get stuck in the detail is because their existence has been such a fragile one for so long? And not wanting to disappoint the One who has given it to them? Is the motivation perhaps also in love or fear or both?


Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Moshe Morrison: Purim on a Bridge in Bangkok
Eitan Shishkoff: The Harvest is Ripe
Ron Cantor: Good News in Gombi
Eddie Santoro: Two New Living Stones