Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Stringency Danger

Our friend Judah Himango wrote a recent blog that everyone should read.  It's about a dangerous sociological trend that could be affecting you without your even knowing it!


Pray for Derek Leman!

Some things just never cease to amaze me!  

We've all read 1 Corinthians 5:7 that says Yeshua, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.  And we've all read Ephesians 5 which says that Yeshua gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to G-d.

But Derek Leman says:

(1)  "Yeshua’s death was NOT an offering…His death was an execution,"; [emphasis added]

(2)  "Yeshua was NOT a human sacrifice." [emphasis added]

His explanation?  He says "…is the sacrifice of Messiah a literal idea? I want to suggest it is a metaphor…"


This is an embarrassment to all of us in the Messianic movement.  I don't know what else to say.  You can see his post for yourself HERE.

No, wait a second!  I do know exactly what to say!  Derek is 100% WRONG.  Yeshua's sacrificial atonement was 100% real--the realest thing that ever happened.   

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our Abba Loves Us So Much!

I was just responding to a commenter just now and thought I'd share this thought with all of you:

All the dads out there who have little girls will understand how the heart melts when we hear our little girl call out in delight "Daddy!"

How much more does our Heavenly Father delight when He hears us call out to Him?

Why were Some 1st-3rd Century Gentiles Drawn to Torah Whilst Others were Repulsed by it?

During the mid-first-century, there was no Christianity, only a Messianic sect of Judaism:

 "...there was no single "Gentile Christianity" in the mid-first century and scholars should discontinue its use so that they do not perpetuate this misunderstanding. The Christ-movement at this stage was a variant form of Judaism, existing within the synagogue community and Jewish sacred space, with local differentiations recognized." pg. 8 of "Gentile Christianity" and the Study of Christian Origins:  A Response to Terence L. Donaldson Focusing on Gentile Self-Identification

By the end of the first-century, Gentiles separated themselves from Messianic Judaism:

"The first Christians constituted a small group within Judaism.  Jesus had devoted his own ministry to Jews (Matt. 15:24), and his followers were Jews.  At an early date the apostles began to admit Gentiles to the movement, but the Christians remained a basically Jewish group for a few decades.  The new movement separated itself from its parent in the course of the first one hundred or so years of its existence.  There is no one point that marks the 'divorce,' and so we must be vague about dates, but by the end of the first century many (probably most) Christian groups considered themselves not to be Jewish.  By the end of the second century relatively few Christians would have identified themselves as Jews.  Christianity became a predominantly Gentile religion." [Sanders in an essay entitled "Reflections on Anti-Judaism in the New Testament and in Christianity"]

During the Patristic period of Christianity, the leaders of the Gentile Separatist movement (Christianity) formulated an anti-Jewish theology:

"By the end of the third century, the primary motifs of the Adversos Judaeos tradition, or theological anti-Jewishness, were firmly implanted in church Christology.  They laid the foundation for the Christian view of Jews and Judaism for centuries to come.  Indeed, it was the church leadership in the patristic period that actually formulated such a theology of contempt," (Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein).

But how did anti-Judaism first arise???

Perhaps you know better than me.  But here's a few suggestions:

(1) Pride (Romans 11); 
(2) Misinterpretation of the significance of the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.; 
(3) Misinterpretation of Yeshua's statements in the Gospels (e.g. "You are from your father the devil!"; 
(4) Misinterpretation of Acts 15; 
(5) Misinterpretation of Paul's seemingly anti-Jewish statements (e.g. 1 Thess. 2:14-16 "For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.  Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God's wrath has overtaken them at last."); 
(6) Misinterpretation of Paul's seemingly antinomian statements (e.g. Romans 10:4 "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes."); 
(7) Misinterpretation of Paul's seemingly supersessionist statements (e.g Romans 9:6-7  "It is not as though the word of God had failed.  For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham's children are his true descendants."); 
(8) Sociology of group identification.  The Christians needed to demonize the Jews (the supposed "bad group") in order to prove that they (the Christians) belonged to the good group.  Also, anti-Jewish rhetoric served the purpose of differentiating the Christian group from the Jewish group and thus strengthened Christian identity; 
(9) Theological resentment.  The Christians needed to prove to themselves that G-d preferred them above the natural members of Israel (i.e. Jews); 
(10)  Message Differentiation.  To show the superiority of the Christian religion (over Judaism), the Christians needed anti-Jewish rhetoric to show that Judaism was inferior.  

You, dear reader, will probably think of other motivations for early anti-Jewish sentiment.  If so, let me know.  But let's keep going…

Up Until 386 C.E., there Persisted a Group of Uncircumcised Gentiles Who Believed in Yeshua AND Desired to Practice Judaism:

See earlier post HERE.

So now let's ask the finale question:

Why were some Gentiles in the 1st-3rd Centuries drawn to Torah?

The simplest answer I can suggest is that they saw G-d's love manifested in the Torah and then they felt the natural urge to reciprocate.  

But there were other reasons as well…

For example, in the Roman Empire in the first three centuries, a gentile who refused to honor the local gods was considered to be a traitor to his people:

"A useful way to contrast ancient and modern conceptualizations of 'religion' is to consider, in antiquity, the embeddedness of divinity.  Ancient gods were local in a dual sense.  First, they attached to particular places...Second, gods also attached to particular peoples: 'religion' ran in the blood.  Put differently:  cult was a type of ethnic designation, something that identified one's people or kinship group, the genos....More commonly, deities were identified through reference to the peoples who worshipped them:  the god of Israel, the gods of Rome, the god at Delos, and so on (cf. Acts 19:28: 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!')." pg. 3 of Christians in the Roman Empire in the First Three Centuries CE by Paula Fredriksen

Gentiles deemed traitors to the ancestral gods were subjected to all sorts of abuse:

"We know that those gentile Christians who refused to worship their ancestral gods became the target of pagan anxieties and, eventually, of pagan persecutions." pg. 7 Christians in the Roman Empire in the First Three Centuries CE by Paula Fredriksen

Thus, Gentiles in the Roman Empire had two choices:  (1) be a pagan or (2) associate with the synagogue.

The sociological pressure from the host culture seems like it would've driven the Gentile Believers into synagogues.  Once there it seems that the process of normalization would've taken over and Gentiles, immersed in Judaism, would've naturally assimilated into Jewish culture.  

Yes, it's a guess on my part.  But I think it's an educated one.  The ancient Gentile's options were limited--at least until the end of the first century:  paganism or Judaism.  Post-first-century then the options would've been broader:  paganism or Judaism or the hybrid known as Christianity.  

But during Constantine's reign, to be a Christian meant to worship in the imperial cult (a practice forbidden in Messianic Judaism, see Acts 15).  Furthermore, by the time of Constantine, orthodox Christianity had formalized its anti-Judaic stance (which really began in the second century):

"To understand imperial Christianity's policies toward Jews and Judaism requires an appreciation of its foundational history in the second century, when the younger community fought doctrinal diversity within and persecution without.  During this earlier period, the seeds of orthdoxy's anti-Judaism, which flourished especially from the late fourth century onward, developed and became established." pg. 2 Christian Anti-Judaism: Polemics and Policies by Paula Fredriksen and Oded Irshai

Well, I'm out of time.  Hope this helped someone!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Iranian Reactor Site Destroyed (?)

You can read about it HERE.

My brother, the genius software architect, once told me about a computer virus that was puzzling him and his colleagues.  It was puzzling because it had no apparent purpose.  And it was all over the world.  Well, it turned out to be a virus with a very specific function:  overload Iranian centrifuges.

Pretty interesting, eh?

In Search of Better Terminology (Suggestions are Welcome)

Perhaps you scholars and philologists out there can help me...

It seems to me that it is inaccurate and unhelpful to say that Christians are "antinomian", which is to say anti-Law when in fact they are only partially antinomian.  They are not against Jewish secular law (mishpatim) but they are very much against Jewish religious law (chukim).  So is there a more accurate term than "antinomian"?  Does anyone know?  The only thing I can think of is the term "anti-chukim" but that's a rather confusing term.

Also, the term supersessionism is extremely ambiguous these days since it comes in almost as many varieties as Christianity itself (e.g. punitive supersessionism, economic supersessionism, structural supersessionism, hard superesssionism, soft supersessionism, etc, etc).  Perhaps we could use something like "covenantal supersessionism" so that we at least have a context?

So if anyone has any suggestions for alternate terms to replace "antinomianism" and "supersessionism", I'd love to hear your thoughts.



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Question Posed at James' Blog

James posed this question at his blog:

"Who is the Christian and the Messianic Jew when they each stand apart and who are we when we stand side-by-side? How are we to understand one another and in the light of scripture, how are we to understand ourselves?"  (from:

No doubt the concept of "mechitzah" was fresh on his mind because he cited a link to Jordan Levy (FFOZ) article about mechitzot.  You can see it HERE.

So back to James' question:

His question presupposes that Believers fall into two categories:  (1) Christian and (2) Jewish.  Thus, if you believe there are two separate religions for Gentiles and Jews (Christianity and Judaism), then you believe there's a reason for them to stand apart.  In reality, however, the New Testament is not schizophrenic, offering two completely different religions for Jews and Gentiles; rather, there is only one religion in the New Testament and it is Orthodox Messianic Judaism.  

Now, I understand why men and women should stand apart during prayer service.  The reason is so that men won't be distracted (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch HaRav).  

But why would Jews and Gentiles ever stand separately?

Where is James getting this stuff?  

It saddens me that so many have been brainwashed into Exclusionism, the faulty premise that Jews and Gentiles need to be separated with some sort of Theological mechitzah.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This Blog is Nearing the #1 Spot on Google for Messianic Judaism Blogs!

As this blog nears the top spot on Google for Messianic Judaism blogs, I'd like to give a shout out to my wonderful readers out there!  Truly there are many of you out there who feel dissatisfied with Christianity and certain exclusionist organizations in the Messianic movement.   

May G-d guide us ALL back to His perfect Torah that gives freedom!  May He grant us a unified community in our time!  And may He return swiftly to rebuild His Temple!

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3)



Poisoned Wells and Pure Wells

So my dad (who is seventy years old and still sharper than I'll ever be) gave a great analogy.  He was actually applying it to some rabbis in the UMJC, saying that they had "poisoned the well." But I think it applies equally well to Christianity.

The men who shaped Christianity and made it what it is today, they had one thing in common:  they hated Jewish Law (i.e. Sinaitic Torah).  So what did they do?  


The original well was pure.  The source was Judaic.  But these early Christians came along and started pouring in a few ingredients like supersessionism, anti-Semitic rhetoric, antinomianism, etc.  The result: a poisoned well.  And people have been drinking from it for two thousand years.

So what do you do when you are thirsty but all that's available is a poisoned well?

You dig a new well!  Go back to the source.  We need fresh water, folks.  Inclusionist Messianic Judaism is where its at!

Thanks, dad, for the great analogy!!!  

Faulty One-Law Reasoning

If you're a One Law Believer (like me), you need to realize that there's a right and wrong way to defend your position.


Let's say, heaven forbid, you're having a conversation with someone from the Exclusionist camp of Messianic Judaism (e.g. Derek Leman, Boaz Michael, etc).  You want to give a One Law rationale for kashrut law and so you say something like the following:

"But, Derek, kosher animals are qualitatively different from unkosher animals.  Unkosher animals are bottom-feeders, scavengers, the nutritional value of the meat is poor, there are health risks, etc.  In other words, G-d doesn't want anyone to eat garbage.  Therefore, kashrut law is for everyone!"

He would then come back with something which would destroy your argument:

"Then why does Torah say that un-covenanted Gentiles could eat treif meat?"

Whoops!  He'd have you there!

The Bible does INDEED say that kashrut law is only for those who are IN COVENANT with G-d.

See where I'm going with this?

In other words, base your argument on the fact that there is only one covenant with the people of G-d (Israel).  The New Covenant is a renewal of the Sinaitic Covenant.  The New Covenant contains the same Torah as the Sinaitic Covenant--because it IS the Sinaitic Covenant!

Let's look at an actual example of something Derek wrote (lest anyone accuse me of putting words in his mouth):

"...God permitted Noah to eat all living things. It’s there in Genesis 9. It was never repealed. God never enforced the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 on gentiles. Noah was allowed to eat pork and shrimp. Israelites were not. We’re not all the same. Oh sure, people who realize this about Noah, but who don’t want to believe it, will perform scriptural gymnastics to deny what is plain. But not only are their arguments about “clean” and “unclean” animals in Noah’s time simplistic, they also cannot explain Deuteronomy 14:21."  (from  located here:

Pay special attention to this sentence:

"God never enforced the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 on gentiles."

This is wrong.  Plenty of gentiles became COVENANTED with G-d and, thereby, included in Israel (e.g. Caleb, Ruth).  What Derek should've said there is "G-d only enforced the dietary laws of Leviticus on covenanted Gentiles."  

Hope this explanation helps.  

Shalom and blessings to all who seek after His holy and perfect Torah,


Monday, January 21, 2013

Dietary Torah: Biblical Foods That Prevent Disease and Boost Health

My wife really likes a book called "The Makers Diet" by Jordan Rubin.  So I went ahead and read it and loved it.  

I liked it so much that I've excerpted all the highlights for you, taking care to keep all the references to Scripture (which is what makes this diet appealing).  So, without further ado, here are the excerpts:

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Rewards of Torah (Expounding the Midrash of Psalms 105:44-45 a little bit further)

I really like that Tannaitic midrash on Psalms 105:44-45 that I mentioned several posts back.  It makes me think of several concepts:

(1) if you love something because it is helpful to you, then you want to share it with as many people as possible so that they can benefit from it as well (same applies to Sinaitic Torah).  This is a covenantal reward--the ability to give something!;

(2) how do we know G-d wants intimacy with us?  Through natural law or so-called Noachide law?  NO!  Not through negative precepts but only through positive precepts ("love the Lord thy God") of Sinaitic Torah.  This is a covenantal reward--being bound to intimacy with G-d (i.e. to know true love).  Tell me, you "teachers", where in Noachide Law is a Gentile bound in love to G-d?  Where in your interpretation of the Apostolic Decree?  Is a prohibition of blood to be equated with the positive commandment to love the L-rd thy G-d?  NO!  And it was not intended as such!  The Apostles believed that the people called after His name should go and learn SINAITIC Torah (Acts 15:21) so that they could put it into practice.

Exclusionists Say Gentiles Should Avoid the Sign Commandments--But What Does Scripture Say?

One thing you'll hear the Derek Lemans and the FFOZs and the Gene Shlomovichs say is that Gentiles shouldn't keep the "sign" commandments.  Here's an example from Derek Leman's site:

"God has never required that non-Israelites keep certain Laws which were given to separate Israel from the nations. God required Israel to circumcise their males on the eighth day to set Israelites apart as a covenant people. God required Israelites to observe the seventh-day Sabbath as a sign between him and Israel forever. God required Israelites to wear fringes on their garments as markers of their identity. God required Israelites to make a pilgrimage three times a year to Jerusalem, but certainly didn’t expect Gentiles to do so. God required Israel to restrict its diet of meat to certain species and to avoid accidentally killed animals. God did not forbid, but allowed non-slaughtered meat to be sold to Gentiles."  (

So by this reasoning then, if a Gentile decides to keep the Sabbath, he's hurting Israel's distinctiveness.

It's interesting though that Paul had no problem with the Colossians observing Shabbat.  He told the Gentile Believers at Colossae to keep Shabbat (etc) even despite the harsh judgments they were receiving from ascetics (people who shunned any sort of pleasure).  Paul didn't say anything about how Gentile observance of Shabbat would injure Israel's distinctiveness.

The truth is that G-d's plan has always been for Gentiles to celebrate Shabbat and bring them to His Temple (Isaiah 56).

But isn't Shabbat a sign of the Sinaitic Covenant?

"16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested." (Exodus 31:16-17)

"12 "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. THEREFORE the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day."  (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

So it's absolutely a sign of the Sinaitic Covenant.

We also know that G-d wants His Temple to be a House of Prayer for all people and that He won't let anyone enter the Temple who is uncircumcised in the flesh (Isaiah 56:7 and Ezekiel 44:9).

So G-d wants Gentiles to observe the sign commandments of the Sinaitic Covenant.

Now, keep in mind, that Gentiles are included in the covenant through Yeshua and that things like circumicision are mere "signs".  So here's some logic for you:  if a Gentile should receive circumcision as a sign that he is covenanted then should he not also wear tzitit, etc?  Should he not manifest all the other "signs" of being covenanted?  Is it not his right (and duty) as a covenantal member to take upon himself those signs?

One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward: A Look At Boaz Michael's Tent of David

Boaz writes in the table of contents of his new book "Tent of David" that "The Church is Good" and says that the Church has received three undeserved criticisms:  (1) paganism; (2) antinomianism; (3); doctrinal divisions.

"Undeserved" criticisms?  Is that a joke?

Look, I don't mind if you go to church IN ORDER TO help eradicate Christian anti-Judaism and bring Christians out of Christianity.  In other words, I don't mind if you are on a mission to put an END to Christianity (anti-Judaism) and to RESTORE Messianic Judaism (i.e. the pro-Judaic faith put forth in Scripture).

But that's not Boaz's vision.

Boaz's vision is TWO bodies of Messiah:  Christianity and Judaism.  

Boaz made one step forward and then two steps back.  He realized the faith SHOULD be Judaic.  One step forward.  But then he tells the Gentiles to have their own segregated community!  Two steps back.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Prayer Request

I was hoping someone out there might pray for me and my family that we might experience a blessing sometime soon.  We've been through a lot.  And I've just gotten another piece of bad news.  Thank you, brothers and sisters.



The Tannaim (2nd-Century Jewish Sages) were ONE LAW

The Tannaim believed that Gentiles would eventually cling to the Sinaitic Torah.  One of the passages to which they cite is the following:

"And gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the
labour of the people; That they might observe his statutes, and keep his laws. Praise ye the Lord." (Psalms 105:44-45)

[NOTE:  see Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, the classic compilation of Tannaitic midrash, in which we see the following exegesis of the above passage:  "'And He gave them the lands of the nations,' etc. (Ps. 105.44).  What for?  'That they might keep His statutes and observe His laws'"]

Here's a little more on this if anyone is interested:

The Temple is a House of Prayer for Everyone (Who is Circumcised in the Flesh)

One Law Believers have to accept that being obligated to One Law means being obligated to physical circumcision.  Isaiah does indeed say that the Temple will be a House of Prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7) but let's not forget what Ezekiel says:

"Thus saith the Lord God:  No alien, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into My sanctuary, even any alien that is among the children of Israel" (Ezek.  44:9)

BLOG UPDATE: The Topical Index and Links Pages Have Now Been Updated

As you can see, the topical index is quickly becoming an encyclopedic index of all topics within Messianic Judaism and the links page is quickly becoming a hub to all things Messianic...  :  )

Muslims Take Americans Hostage: URGENT PRAYER NEEDED


Is Your Food Making You Sick? Try a Biblical Diet!

I love my country, I do.  But we are terrible when it comes to eating healthful foods.  I'm not going to judge anyone out there because I'm guilty of putting unhealthful things into my body.  But we need to work together and figure out how to change some bad habits.

One of the reasons why I love my wife is that she teaches me about food and makes sure to get the 100% whole grain bread for us.  Why is 100% whole grain important?  Because if it doesn't say 100% then they've essentially taken out the following components of the whole grain:

Bran:  which contains B vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants that fight cancer

Germ (it's actually better for you than it sounds):  which contains B vitamins, proteins, minerals, healthy fats.

A book my wife recommends on this subject is The Maker's Diet written by Jordan Rubin.  I haven't read it but I've had other Messianics tell me that it saved their lives.  One friend of mine was wasting away until he learned from this book that he had a gluten allergy.

May G-d bless our movement and help us to live healthful lives!  L'chaim!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Classic Work of Mussar: Iggeres haMussar (by Rav Israel Salanter)


Mussar: Hilchot Deot (Maimonides)


Mussar: Vilna Gaon (Free Text)


Mussar: Tomer Devorah (Free Book)


Free Classic Work of Mussar: Mesillat Yesharim (Path of the Just)

The word "mussar" (Prov. 1:2) refers to all the disciple and training one gives to a child.  So mussar is about how we can cultivate all of the good middot (character traits).  The following link will take you to a free English translation of Mesillat Yesharim, which is a classic, systematic look at the gradations one must go through to become virtuous.


Free Chassidic Text: "The Principles of Education and Guidance"

So I just came across this text (haven't read it yet).  It looks very interesting!  If you're interested in the theory of teaching/education, you might want to check this out.  It's free so what have you got to lose?



So we tend to focus on "duties of the limbs", those mitzvot that we do with our physical being and not talk enough about the "duties of the heart".  One way to rectify this imbalance is to study the writings of learned men who devoted their entire lives to the subject of man's spiritual life.  One such writing is the famous work "Chovos Halevavos" written by Bahya ibn Paquda in eleventh-century Spain.  So without further ado...


Monday, January 14, 2013

Yeshua is Light (John 8:12); Sinaitic Torah is Light (Psalm 119:105)

Groups like FFOZ and UMJC that teach Gentiles to NOT follow the Sinaitic Torah are teaching Gentiles to walk the path of Darkness.

And what happens when you walk in Darkness?  YOU STUMBLE.

To everyone who has wisdom, read the following and make the connection for yourself:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"(John 8:12)

"Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a Light on my path." (Psalm 119:105)

Shame on those "teachers" (so-called) who are trying to lead my brothers and sisters down a path of darkness!!  To you "teachers", I say you are a shandah!!

Are There Really 613 Mitzvot? Says Who?

We say that there are 613 mitzvot but this isn't really true.  The truth is that you must engage in numerical acrobatics to arrive at the arbitrary number 613.  If, for example, your calculation includes both temporary and perpetual mitzvot then the number is far greater than 613.

If you're interested in this bit of esoterica (and it's totally okay if you're not) then read on:

"It was axiomatic in Israel that the number of mitzvot is 613, no more and no less.  This number is mentioned in the Tannaitic literature.  Its source is in an aggadic exegesis attributed to Rabbi Simla'i, an aggadist of the second generation of Palestinian Amoraim.  'Rabbi Simla'i expounded:  613 commandments were spoken to Moses.  The negative ones numbered 365, corresponding to the days of the solar year, and the positive ones numbered 248, corresponding to the organs in the human body.  Said Rav Hamnuna:  What is the textual source? 'Moses charged us with the teaching (Torah) as a heritage' (Deuteronomy 33:4)--'Torah' has the numerical value of 611; and 'I the Lord' and 'You shall have no other gods' were heard directly from God.'
Note well, that when Rav Hamnuna felt constrained to find a source in the Torah for the number 613, he had to resort to a numerological hint, a method peculiar to aggadah.  Indeed, Maimonides, in his Book of the Commandments, used this aggadic statement to establish principles concerning the number of the mitzvot, a matter on which depend several prohibitions and permissions, leniencies and stringencies.  Thus did he build the halakhic edifice on an aggadic foundation.
Several Sages expressed misgivings about the number 613.  Judah ibn Bal'am denigrated those who number the mitzvot, and who attempt 'to force their count to equal 613.'  In his opinion, this is impossible, for if we were to count all of the mitzvot, including those that were temporary commandments and those that were intended to endure, the number would be far greater than 613.  'And if we confined ourselves only to those that endure, we would find fewer than this number.'
Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra wrote in a similar vein:  'Some Sages enumerate 613 mitzvot in many diverse ways...but in truth there is no end to the number of mitzvot...and if we were to count [only] the root principles...the number of mitzvot would not reach 613.'
Note that Nahmanides also expressed doubt as to whether this number was fixed as a matter of law.  'Perhaps we should say that this statement of Rabbi Simla'i is not unanimously accepted but is the subject of dispute.  That is, Rabbi Simla'i enumerated the mitzvot according to his opinion and his reasoning, found them to equal this number, and then founded it on this exegesis.'  Yet, in the end, Nahmanides allowed that since 'this total has proliferated throughout the aggadic literature...we ought to say that it was a tradition from Moses at Sinai.'  pgs 770-771, Heavenly Torah by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Did Yeshua Drink Fermented Wine (i.e. the good stuff)?

Why did we bring wine to the Temple?  Would G-d want us to bring something to Him that He did not like?

Why have wine for kiddush and havdallah?  Does it have to do with the command to call Shabbat a delight (Isaiah 58:13)?

Well, you might point to the fruit in the Garden of Eden and say "Look at what evil the fruit of the vine has caused!"  Yes, that's true.  And you may say "Look at what wine did to Noah and so many others!"  Yes, that's also true.

So we should not use wine because it can be used for evil?

Would you say "Don't use fire because fire can kill"?  No, you would not.  And why?

Wine, like a person, has both destructive and creative potential.  Jews believe in directing wine toward a creative end:  namely, enjoying the commandments and thereby sanctifying life itself.

Asceticism as a lifestyle is evil. Paul got a little angry with the Colossians because they were listening to the lie "do not taste, do not handle, do not touch." Paul said to not let those ascetic types judge them for what they were eating (feasting) and drinking (celebrating).

Hmm, it's almost as if the Believers at Colossae had gotten into some Judaism and were learning to enjoy the commandments!  But is there proof that they were practicing Judaism, that Paul was teaching Gentiles to observe Jewish Law?  Let's look and see!

"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day."

So Paul's readers were enjoying the commandments and then Paul, in the same passage, says what specific commandments they were enjoying.  And, what a coincidence, those festivals, celebrations, and Sabbaths all traditionally involve the drinking of wine!

So did Yeshua drink fermented wine?  Well, that I don't know.  Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Are You Willing to Look Strange For Yeshua's Sake?

We are social animals.  Our instinct tell us to associate with other humans for survival and for happiness.

This instinct becomes problematic for Messianics who desire to obey the Torah ("and you shall not walk in the customs of the nation which I have cast out before you" Leviticus 20:23) but also feel the need to fit in with the host culture, which is, inevitably, a wicked culture.

So how do we direct the socializing instinct toward a righteous end?  I believe that the Torah tells us the solution.  First, let's hear how Maimonides describes the problem:

"It is natural to be influenced, in sentiments and conduct, by one's neighbors and associates, and observe the customs of one's fellow citizens.  Hence, a person ought constantly to associate with the righteous and frequent the company of the wise, so as to learn from their practices, and shun the wicked who are benighted, so as not to be corrupted by their example.  So Solomon said, 'He that walks with the wise, shall be wise; but the companion of fools shall [hurt] for it' (Prov. 13:20).  And it is also said, 'Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked' (Ps. 1:1).  So too, if one lives in a country where the customs are pernicious and the inhabitants do not go in the right way, he should leave for a place where the people are righteous and follow the ways of the good."

"We should not follow the customs of the Gentiles, nor imitate them in dress or in their way of trimming the hair, as it is said, 'And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation which I have cast out before you' (Lev. 20:23);  'Neither shall you walk in their statutes' (ibid. 18:3); 'Take heed to yourself that you be not ensnared to follow them' (Deut. 12:30).  These texts all refer to one theme and warn against imitating them.  The Israelite shall, on the contrary, be distinguished from them and be recognizable by the way he dresses and in his other activities, just as he is distinguished from them by his knowledge and his principles.  And thus it is said, 'And I have set you apart from the peoples' (Lev. 20:26)."

In conclusion, the way to prevent assimilation is address the instinctual need for socialization:  (1) associate with a righteous community; (2) shun the traditions of the host culture; (3) purposefully dress according to the principles of tzniut and according to the halachah of Israel; (4) establish a community that observes the three sociological pillars of Judaism:  Shabbat, Kashrut, Taharat haMishpochah.

Hope this helps!



Friday, January 11, 2013

Judaism in Outline

"It is the business of the wise man to order"  --Aristotle

"The unexamined life is not worth living" --Socrates

Some folks reading this blog are new to Judaism.  For you newbies, I'd like to help you wrap your head around Judaism.  I'd like to offer some ideas for how to outline Judaism for the purposes of teaching and learning.  Why do this, you ask?  Because, I believe, that understanding Judaism leads to a meaningful, happy, and good life.

Four basic categories of Judaism:

1.  The Four Cornerstones:  People, Land, G-d, Torah;

2.  Daily life:  Ethics, Shabbat, Kashrut, Taharat haMishpochah, and Signs of the Covenant (Tefillin, Mezuzah, Tzitzit, Tallit, Prayers, Blessings);

3.  Moedim (and various other special times during the year)

4.  Life Cycle:  birth/adoption/conversion, bar mitzvah, engagement/marriage/divorce, death/mourning

Three sociological pillars of Judaism:

1.  Shabbat;

2.  Kashrut;

3.  Taharat haMishpochah

Two categories of Halachah (i.e. the Jewish Way):

1.  Sources of Law and Tradition;

2.  Institutions for interpreting and enforcing laws

Two categories of the 613 Mitzvot contained in Mosaic Torah:

1.  Chukim (supra-rational decrees);

2.  Mishpatim (rational laws)

I hope this helps!



Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Documenting How Christians Changed Passover to Easter and Shabbat to Sunday

Ever wonder how Christians implemented their anti-Judaic (and pagan) changes to the original Messianic Jewish Faith?  If you have, here's the primary historical sources (the council of Laodicea and some miscellaneous letters from Constantine) that document the shift:


"CHRISTIANS must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord's Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ," (Council of Laodicea, c. A.D. 337, Canon 29)

"On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed" (Codex Justinianus lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; trans. in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 380, note 1).


"Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd...For how should they be capable of forming a sound judgment, who, since their parricidal guilt in slaying their Lord, have been subject to...every impulse of the mad spirit that is in them?  ...strive and pray continually that the purity of your souls may not seem in anything to be sullied by fellowship with the customs of these most wicked men [i.e. Jews]."  (Life of Constantine (Eusebius) Vol. III, Ch. XVIII)


"At this meeting the question concerning the most holy day of Easter was discussed, and it was resolved by the united judgment of all present, that this feast ought to be kept by all and in every place on one and the same day. For what can be more becoming or honorable to us than that this feast from which we date our hopes of immortality, should be observed unfailingly by all alike, according to one ascertained order and arrangement? And first of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. For we have it in our power, if we abandon their custom, to prolong the due observance of this ordinance to future ages, by a truer order, which we have preserved from the very day of the passion until the present time. Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way. A course at once legitimate and honorable lies open to our most holy religion. Beloved brethren, let us with one consent adopt this course, and withdraw ourselves from all participation in their baseness. For their boast is absurd indeed, that it is not in our power without instruction from them to observe these things. For how should they be capable of forming a sound judgment, who, since their parricidal guilt in slaying their Lord, have been subject to the direction, not of reason, but of ungoverned passion, and are swayed by every impulse of the mad spirit that is in them? Hence it is that on this point as well as others they have no perception of the truth, so that, being altogether ignorant of the true adjustment of this question, they sometimes celebrate Easter twice in the same year. Why then should we follow those who are confessedly in grievous error? Surely we shall never consent to keep this feast a second time in the same year. But supposing these reasons were not of sufficient weight, still it would be incumbent on your Sagacities to strive and pray continually that the purity of your souls may not seem in anything to be sullied by fellowship with the customs of these most wicked men. We must consider, too, that a discordant judgment in a case of such importance, and respecting such religious festival, is wrong. For our Saviour has left us one feast in commemoration of the day of our deliverance, I mean the day of his most holy passion; and he has willed that his Catholic Church should be one, the members of which, however scattered in many and diverse places, are yet cherished by one pervading spirit, that is, by the will of God. And let your Holinesses' sagacity reflect how grievous and scandalous it is that on the self-same days some should be engaged in fasting, others in festive enjoyment; and again, that after the days of Easter some should be present at banquets and amusements, while others are fulfilling the appointed fasts. It is, then, plainly the will of Divine Providence (as I suppose you all clearly see), that this usage should receive fitting correction, and be reduced to one uniform rule." (Life of Constantine (Eusebius) Vol. III, Ch. XVIII)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Can't Wait to Read This Book!

It's entitled "Solidarity and Difference:  A Contemporary Reading of Paul's Ethics."  Check out the table of contents at the following link:  CLICK HERE FOR LINK

Gilels Plays Rachaninoff Op. 3 No. 2 in C Sharp Minor

Meeting at Starbucks with a Potential Mentor

So I followed up with a name given to me at Grove Ave's Hannukah party and it led to a meeting this morning at a Starbucks with a potential mentor.  I was impressed with the man not because of his experience in private practice or working with the AG's office for many years but rather his sincere desire to be a witness of Yeshua's love.  Tomorrow, for example, he's leading the Commonwealth prayer breakfast which hosts the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, AG, members of General Assembly and judiciary.  I hope you'll join with me in praying for him and the event.  Our nation desperately needs prayer.

There's a lot I can learn from this guy.  I hope it works out that we can form a mentor-mentee relationship...  but all in HaShem's will!

Yeshua Sent Seventy Disciples (Luke 10) to Seventy Nations (Genesis 10) For Whom the Torah Was Written in Seventy Languages

So did anyone else notice this?  Yeshua sends out 70 disciples in Luke chapter 10.  And there are 70 grandsons of Noah corresponding to the 70 nations (LINK).

Also, the Torah at Sinai, according to Jewish tradition, was written in 70 languages:

"The word of God was pronounced on Mount Sinai in seventy languages (Shab. 88a; Ex. R. v.; comp. Acts ii. 5). The Torah was written in seventy languages in order that the nations should not be able to plead ignorance as their excuse for rejecting it (Tosef., Soṭah, viii.). Among the seventy languages the most noble is Hebrew, for in it was pronounced the creative word of God (Gen. R. xviii., xxxi.; Yalḳ., Gen. 52). The Jewish law required that every member of the Sanhedrin should have sufficient knowledge of the seventy languages to be able to do without an interpreter (Sanh. 17a; comp. Meg. 73b; Men. 65a)."  (Jewish Encyclopedia)

Remain in Your Calling and Keep "Walking": Paul's Hint in 1 Cor. 7:17 That Gentiles Should Follow Jewish Law

 Here's the passage in question:

"{7:17} But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. {7:18} Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. {7:19} Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. {7:20} Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called."  (1 Cor. 7:17-20)

Here's Brian Tucker's take on "let him walk":

"Paul hints [in 1 Corinthians 7:17] at the way he sees the continued relevance of the law within the Pauline movement; his focus is specifically on differing halakhic understandings (i.e., strict or less strict interpretive traditions).  ...Here in 7:17, Paul uses the imperative 'let him walk'...which echoes Jewish teaching and learning discourse and 'walking in the way of the Lord' language of the Hebrew Bible (Exod 18:20; Ps 25:4; Deut 26:17; 28:9).  Tomson rightly notes that there is a significant amount of halakhic material in 1 Corinthians:  'the authoritative, halakhic character of First Corinthians is striking.'" Remain in Your Calling:  Paul and the Continuation of Social Identities in 1 Corinthians by J. Brian Tucker

Transmitting Mishnah: The Shaping Influence of Oral Tradition

That's the title of a book by Elizabeth Alexander that I just finished reading.  I'm going to summarize the whole book for you in a short paragraph and then, if you're interested in this esoteric subject, you can read the excerpts from her book.

This book deals with the question "what is the purpose of the Mishnah:  is it intended as a legal code or as a means of training minds to think in terms of legal analysis?"  The author believes that it does both.  See how easy that was?  The Mishnah is essentially law school for Sages PLUS a legal code.

Now if you want to learn more about Rabbinic legal analysis theory and the nature of the Mishnah then read on (but I won't be disappointed if you stop here).

I've tried to select excerpts of all her main points and then I excerpted the final, concluding paragraph:

pg. 121 "Seeing the significance of mishnaic formulation as the conveyances of legal norms, a good many scholars have argued that the primary purpose of the Mishnah was to serve as a law code.  [footnote 13]"

Footnote 13:  "A long-standing debate in mishnaic studies concerns whether or not the Mishnah was intended to function as a law code or pedagogical handbook.  See n. I in the Introduction."

Introduction note 1:  "The issue of whether the Mishnah was intended to function as a law code or academic handbook for young rabbinic scholars has long been contested among academic scholar of rabbinics.  Arguing on behalf of the Mishnah as law code are:  Zacharias Frankel, Methods of the Mishnah (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv:  Sinai, 1959 [repr.]), 224-227;  J. N. Epstein, Introduction to Tannaitic Literature:  Mishnah, Tosephta, and Halakhic Midrashim (Hebrew), ed. E. Z. Melamed (Jerusalem:  Magnes Press, 1957), 225-26;  Alexander Guttman, Rabbinic Judaism in the Making (Detroit:  Wayne State University Press, 1970), 240-44; and Menachem Elon, Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles (Ha-Mishpat Ha-Ivri), vol. 3, trans. Bernard Auerback and Melvin J. Sykes (Philadelphia:  Jewish Publication Soceity, 1994, 1057-78.
Arguing in favor of Mishnah as pedagogical handbook are Abraham Goldberg, 'The Mishnah--A Study Book of Halakha,' in The Literature of the Sages, ed. Shmuel Safrai (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1987), 211-51; and Robert Goldenberg, 'The Talmud,' in Back to the Sources:  Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, ed. Barry Holtz (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1984), 133-34.
An intermediate view of the Mishnah as a compiled collection of opinions can be found in Chanoch Albeck, Introduction to the Mishmah (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv:  Dvir, 1959), 105-7."

pg. 124  "The defining feature of casuistic legal materials is, of course, the presence of what is usually translated as the 'if...then...' formula.  The first clause, the 'if...' clause or protasis, states the facts or circumstances of a particular case.  The second clause, the 'then...' clause or apodosis, provides a legal resolution."

p.g 127  "In sum, while it is certainly true that the casuistic form communicates a set of legal norms, it is equally true that the form does much more than that.  It engages both those who construct or compose it and those who review it in certain kinds of analytic activities.  One is led to 1) abstract general principles from particular cases, 2) compare similar cases in a series, 3) consider how diverse legal principles interact in the improbable case, and 4) evaluate the concerns of competing legal considerations in the borderline case."

pg. 171 "...the conclusions reached here do not preclude the possibility that the materials also served as an authoritative source of normative law.  As mentioned earlier, scholars often have been split into two opposing camps, with some arguing that the Mishnah functioned as a law code (i.e., as an official source of normative law) and others arguing that the Mishnah functioned in a more pedagogical capacity.  The two positions are generally seen as mutually exclusive...however...I would argue that the approach taken here...does not necessarily contradict the view that the Mishnah conveys the authoritative norms of the legal system.  As a law student at the University of Virginia pointed out to me at the conclusion of his first year, which traditionally exposes students to many of the fundamental principles of the American legal system through a series of classic 'borderline' cases:  'in order to learn to apply the principles you need to know what the principles are.  The very same cases that teach you to think 'like a lawyer' also teach you the substance of the law.'  Our textual analysis of m. Shevuot bears out the same impression that the cases that teach students to apply the law also convey important information about the standards and norms of the legal system."

pg. 219 Conclusion, "Rabbinic practices of transmission, then, provided not only for the conveyance of textual materials, but equally as important, for the cultivation of particular intellectual habits.  As much as anything else, the prevalence of these intellectual habits impacted how the text of m. Shevuot was received, understood, and interpreted by the talmudic sages."

Monday, January 7, 2013

Did Paul Consider Uncircumcision to be a "Calling" in 1 Corinthians 7?

I came across a commentary on 1 Corinthians by Gordon Fee that offers a helpful outline for how Paul uses the term "calling" in 1 Corinthians 7.  He writes:

 "Since the theme of 'calling' is central to the argument, it may be helpful to outline it in advance:
1.  The concept of call is first of all a way of describing Christian conversion.  God calls people to be 'in Christ' (1:9).
2.  That call came to a person in a given social setting.  This is the clear emphasis in all the verbs in this passage, especially as it was associated with various social options (vv. 18 [twice], 21, 22 [twice]).
3.  These two realities are pressed theologically in various ways:
 a.  God's call to Christ that comes in these various settings renders the settings themselves irrelevant (vv. 18-19, 22).

 b.  Because of this, change is not necessary; indeed, one may live out the Christian life in whatever setting that call took place.

 c.  On the other hand, precisely because the settings are irrelevant, if change does take place, that too is irrelevant.  What one is not to do is to seek change as though it had religious significance, which it does not.

 d.  Although he comes very close to seeing the setting in which one is called as 'calling' itself, he never quite makes that jump.  At most 'calling' refers to the circumstances in which the calling took place."

I like this outline because it leaves room for the interpretation that Paul doesn't view uncircumcision as a Divine-calling but rather an irrelevant social situation--when compared to being 'in Christ'.  Notice that Paul isn't saying--couldn't possibly be saying!--that circumcision is "nothing."  Thus, he must be using hyperbole (something not foreign to Rabbinical argumentation) to show that circumcision and uncircumcision are nothing when compared with something much more important.  But what could be more important than circumcision and uncircumcision?

We'll allow Paul to explain in his own words:

1 Cor 7:19 " Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters."

Galatians 5:6 "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."
Galatians 6:15 "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation"

In conclusion, Paul believes that circumcision does indeed have value (Rom. 2:25) but that being 'in Christ' (i.e. having faith and being a new creation) is infinitely more valuable.  Additionally, being in Christ means that you will keep the commandments (a reference to Sinaitic Law, i.e. Jewish Law).  

On that last point, I should mention that the Septuagint uses "commandments of God" synonymously with Sinaitic Law.  But if you need further historical proof that commandments of G-d correlates to Jewish Law then see Josephus:

"And the sons of Tobias took the part of Menelaus, but the greater part of the people assisted Jason:  and by that means Menelaus, and the sons of Tobias were distressed, and retired to Antiochus, and informed him, that they were desirous to leave the laws of their country, and the Jewish way of living according to them, and to follow the king's laws, and the Grecian way of living:  Wherefore they desired his permission to build them a Gymnasium at Jerusalem.  And when he had given them leave, they also hid the circumcision of their genitals, that even when they were naked, they might appear to be Greeks.  Accordingly they left off all the customs that belonged to their country, and imitated the practices of the other nations."  (Book XII, Chapter V, 1).  


So I just noticed this today--it's a site that provides tons of streaming Hebraic Roots videos!  Pretty cool, huh?  I haven't yet had the opportunity to thoroughly review the site but I did notice that Daniel Botkin is one of the teachers.  He's a good guy.  He believes in Inclusionist Messianic Judaism (i.e. One Law).

Friday, January 4, 2013

Interesting New Blog About Judaism and Paul

You can find it HERE.  That link also takes you to a post entitled "The New Perspective on Paul, Ethnocentrism, and Judaism."

I found it accidentally as I was googling to see if there was a term "covenant-centric" to contrast with "ethnocentric".  But it looks like an interesting blog and I look forward to reading more of it as time allows.

By the way, I don't think Judaism is ethnocentric;  it's covenant-centric!  (I think I coined that???)

Shabbat Shalom!

UPDATE:  nope, it looks like someone else beat me to the punch.  LINK

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

In Search of a Pro-Judaic Textual Tradition

So it seems to me that we need--as a movement--to procure a version of the New Testament that excises the Western textual tradition (e.g. Codex Bezae).  We need to utilize the oldest and most reliable textual tradition--which appears to be the Alexandrian or B-text type.

Check this stuff out:

pg. 497 "15:2.  Codex D has Paul arguing that converted Gentiles should stay as they are when converted (i.e. uncircumcised).  In a separate addition, it argues that the Jerusalem group orders them to go to Jerusalem to be judged.  One can sense in these additions in D that the reaction against Judaism is stronger in this MSS tradition.  These poorly attested additions are not original." Acts: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament by Darrell L. Bock

"...from the scribe's standpoint, changes were made to promote a doctrinal or ideological view not in the text being copied....Intentional alterations include....often small changes...or longer additions such as found in manuscripts of the 'Western' textual tradition, where anti-Judaic...and other tendencies have been detected."  Stanley E. Porter, Handbook to Exegesis of the New Testament

pg. 2 "In the case of Acts, however, a small body of manuscripts called the 'Western Text Tradition' (represented most fully by Codex Bezae Cantagrigiensis, called 'Codex D' throughout this commentary), present a rather consistent alternative version of Acts.  This group of manuscripts obviously has its own internal points of inconsistency due to scribal tendencies.  But as a group it contains a version of Luke's story up to ten percent longer than that found in the majority textual tradition (usually called the 'Alexandrian Tradition')." Sacra Pagina by Luke Johnson

pg. 2 "Because it tends to aim at a smoother Greek style, to amplify stories (especially by the addition of details), and to reveal certain tendencies (such as an emphasis on the rejection of the Jews and on the Holy Spirit), it appears certain to most contemporary scholars--although vigorous protestations to the contrary continue to be made--that the Western Tradition taken as a whole does not contain the original text of Acts.  Neither is it probable that this text comes from an authorially revised edition.  In all likelihood what we have is an unusually sustained scribal redaction." Sacra Pagina by Luke Johnson

Solid HIstorical Evidence That Uncircumcised Gentile Believers Practiced Judaism! (2nd Century)

So I read those books today by Ruether and Gager.  The former was a little outdated.  But I enjoyed Gager's "The Origins of Anti-Semitism".  The interesting thing I learned from him was that, during the Patristic Period, we have solid evidence that uncircumcised Gentile Believers allied themselves with the synagogue (despite what the Bilateralists would have you believe).  Oh, and did I mention that these same Gentiles Believers believed in practicing Judaism and also circumcising themselves?  Check this out:


"In 386, while still a presbyter at Antioch, in western Syria, Chrysostom interrupted his addresses against the Arians and began a series of eight sermons directed against Judaizing Christians in the city.  The timing of these sermons is of interest in that they are addressed not to the Christian calendar but rather to the Jewish festivals (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkoth) of the autumn season.  The reason for this unusual proceeding, as Chrysostom himself plainly reveals, is that numerous Christians in the city were accustomed to celebrate these festivals with the Jews.  John hoped to dissuade them from doing so.
The immediate audience of the homilies, it should be noted, is neither the Christian Judaizers nor the Jews themselves but members of Chrysostom's own congregation.  His announced aim is to combat their complacency regarding the Judaizers.  With dire threats of perdition, he urges his listeners to seek them out in their homes and to dissuade them from their foolish ways.  But if loyal Christians are the audience of the sermons, the Judaizers are the targets of his wrath and the Jews its victims.  His method is to turn the tables on these Judaizers, by likening the synagogue to a theater or a brothel rather than a place of power (I. 2-3).  Better to die of illness, which he calls a martyr's death, than to make use of Jewish charms and spells (VIII. 5-8).
Throughout the homilies, but especially in the first and last, his language is intemperate.  At one or two points in the first homily he appears to pause, as if members of the audience had expressed dismay at his words, in order to justify his choice of words.  'I know that some will condemn me for daring to say that the synagogue is no different from the theater....' (I. 2).  But he will not be deterred.  The Jews have degenerated to the level of dogs.  They are drunkards and gluttons.  They beat their servants.  They are ignorant of God.  Their festivals are worthless and were proclaimed as such by the biblical prophets.  Their synagogues are the dwelling places of demons.  'If our way is true, as it is, theirs is fraudulent.   I am not speaking of the Scriptures.  Far from it.  For they lead me to Christ.  I am speaking of their present impurity and madness' (I. 6).  And by way of summing up:  'What more can I say?  Rapacity, greed, betrayal of the poor, thefts, keeping of taverns.  The whole day would not suffice to tell of these things' (I. 7).
What were the activities of these Judaizers that so outraged the eloquent presbyter?  They attend the Jewish festivals and join in their fasts.  They undergo circumcision.  They observe the Sabbath.  They honor the synagogue as a holy site.  They make use of Jewish charms and spells as cures for diseases.  They sleep in the synagogue at Daphne, a suburb of the city, for the purpose of receiving dream-revelations.  In Chrysostom's own words, they 'have high regard for the Jews and think that their present way of life is holy' (I. 3).  Furthermore, the 'sickness' was not limited to a few.  On numerous occasions Chrysostom speaks of them as many (polloi) and at one point warns his listeners not to announce the full number lest the reputation of the church suffer damage.
...While he does not advocate the use of force against the Jews, he is not opposed to it as a means of recovering a fellow Christian from the fellowship of 'the Christ killers' (I. 4).  At another point he admits that he has come to lust for combat against the Jews (VI. I)."


pg. 127 "IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH...Turning from the Didascalia, dated between 200 and 250, and the sources of the Pseudo-Clementines, reaching perhaps as early as 200, to Ignatius, we arrive at Antioch in the first decade of the second century.  In our discussion of John Chrysostom we have already discovered disputes at Antioch regarding Christians and the observance of the Mosaic commandments.  With Ignatius we encounter once again a protest by an ecclesiastical leader against the observance of Jewish practices in that city by persons who regarded themselves as Christians.
To be sure, the letters of Ignatius bear only indirectly on the city of Antioch.  They were written during Ignatius's forced journey toward martyrdom in Rome, and they address issues which he encountered in Christian communities along the way.  The tone of several passages suggests that Ignatius was genuinely surprised by the Judaizers whom he encountered on his journey.  In view of what we know about the previous and subsequent history of Christianity in Antioch, however, it seems unlikely that Ignatius was completely unfamiliar with the phenomenon of Christian Judaizers.  Perhaps what surprised him was the discovery that they were not limited to Antioch!
Two of Ignatius's letters contain clear references to Judaizers.  In Magnesians his warning 'not to be led astray by strange doctrines or old tales which are without benefit (8.1)' is directed at those who had been living according to some form of Judaism.  The contrast between the Sabbath and the Lord's Day in 9.1 may point to Sabbath observances.  Finally in 10.3 he completes the picture, though adding no new information, by expostulating that 'it is foolish to talk of Jesus Christ and to Judaize.'

In his letter to the Philadelphians, he says the following:

'If anyone should undertake to interpret Judaism to you, do not listen to him.  For it is better to hear of Christianity from a man who has been circumcised than to hear of Judaism from someone who is uncircumcised.' [6.1]

Ignatius's words are not altogether unambiguous, but the situation appears to involve an effort on the part of Gentile converts to Judaism, or perhaps Gentile Judaizers, to suggest that the two faiths be regarded as complements rather than opposites.  Unfortunately, nothing further is said about those who were 'interpreting Judaism' except that they were not born Jews."

Misquoting Jesus

That's the title of a book I read yesterday.  I thought it was a pretty catchy title for a book about Biblical Criticism (the scientific process of arriving at the most reliable texts from which to base an English translation of the Bible).  It's a fantastic book.  But the thing that interested me was something on page 187:

"How did Christianity move so quickly from being a Jewish sect to being an anti-Jewish religion?  This is a difficult question, and to provide a satisfying answer would require a book of its own. [footnote 7]"

And so, seeing that there was a footnote, I raced to the back of the book and found this:

"7.  For two standard treatments in the field, see Rosemary Ruether, Faith and Fratricide:  The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism (New York:  Seabury, 1974), and John Gager, The Origins of Anti-Semitism:  Attitudes Toward Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity (New York:  Oxford Univ. Press, 1983).  A more recent study is Miriam Taylor's Anti Judaism and Early Christian Identity: A Critique of the Scholarly Consensus (Leiden: Brill, 1995)."

And so I'm on the hunt right now!  Yes, I'm an uber-nerd.  Today I'm going to look all over town for these books.  When I have them, I'll devour them and write up some review posts for you to enjoy!

I should probably explain why I'm interested in such books so you don't think I'm totally nuts.

We don't have the original texts for the Bible (clearly).  The process of textual criticism has been evolving for two thousand years.  It used to be horrendous.  For example, when the King James Version was written, they had a paltry selection of texts to work with--texts that were not very early at all!  But now we've discovered like 1,500 or so really ancient Greek texts.  Some are amazingly accurate witnesses to the original manuscripts (e.g. Sinaiticus and Vaticanus).

Why is this so great for textual criticism?  Well, the more reliable data we have, the more accurate our results will be.  It's a fact that early Scribes wrote in a lot of anti-Judaic additions to the text.  Now is the appointed time that HaShem has allowed us to go back and pinpoint where those non-original, scribal additions are, to find the best representation of the original by using the oldest and most reliable manuscripts. it possible that we could now be in a position to piece together the most reliable, most pro-Judaic version of the early manuscript witnesses that has ever been done?  What an exciting time in which we live!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself: An Impossible Mitzvah?

There's a documentary that chronicles one wealthy family's attempt to build an American version of the palace at Versailles.  They decide to build Versailles II after running out of space at their first residence:  a 90,000 square-foot cottage.  One wonders, had they completed the project, whether they would've been happy with more space.  Ironically, the Filipino maid (one of twenty servants) had asked for and received the abandoned playhouse in the backyard--it had only space for a single bed!--and she cherished it as if it were the Taj Mahal.

This type of behavior contrasts with, say, certain farm communities among the Mennonites which, the moment a disaster hits somewhere, they mobilize like the National Guard, sending out supplies and food (sometimes even before the National Guard can get there!).

So what makes some people behave selfishly and others behave altruistically?  Or is it even possible to be truly altruistic and have no selfish motivation whatsoever for the good things one does for other people?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Christopher Hitchens: Acknowledging the Legitimate Complaints Offered by the C.S. Lewis of Atheism

Just finished a book by Christopher Hitchens about religion.  He made some good points and provided a historical overview of religious bigotry and cruelty.  I hope you will read the following as I believe that Hitchens had some legitimate grievances against religion:

"A week before the events of September 11, 2001, I was on a panel with Dennis Prager, who is one of America's better-known religious broadcasters.  He challenged me in public to answer what he called a 'straight yes/no question,' and I happily agreed.  Very well, he said.  I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on.  Toward me I was to imagine that I saw a large group of men approaching.  Now--would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting?  As the reader will see, this is not a question to which a yes/no answer can be given.  But I was able to answer it as if it were not hypothetical.  'Just to stay within the letter 'B,' I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beiruit, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad.  In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance."

Hitchens then went on to describe the following:

Belfast:  sectarian warfare between different sects of Christianity

Beirut:  the Catholic militia ("the Phalange") steeped in racism which conducted the massacre of Palestinians in 1982

Bombay:  which was overrun by a Hindu nationalist movement culminating in the renaming of the city to "Mumbai."

Belgrade:  "To be to be Roman Catholic.  To be a Serb is to be a Christian Orthodox.  In the 1940s, this meant a Nazi puppet state, set up in Croatia and enjoying the patronage of the Vatican, which naturally sought to exterminate all the Jews in the region but also undertook a campaign of forcible conversion directed at the other Christian community.  Tens of thousands of Orthodox Christians were either slaughtered or deported in consequence, and a vast concentration camp was set up near the town of Jasenovacs.  So disgusting was the regime of General Ante Pavelic and his Ustashe party that even many German officers protested at having to be associated with it.
By the time I visited the site of the Jasenovacs camp in 1992, the jackboot was somewhat on the other foot.  The Croatian cities of Vukovar and Dubrovnik had been brutally shelled by the armed forced of Serbia, now under the control of Slobodan Milosevic.  The mainly Muslim city of Sarajevo had been encircled and was being bombarded around the clock.  Elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially along the river Drina, whole towns were pillaged and massacred in what the Serbs themselves termed 'ethnic cleansing.'  In point of fact, 'religious cleansing' would have been nearer the mark.  Milosevic was an ex-Communist bureaucrat who had mutated into a xenophobic nationalist, and his anti-Muslim crusade, which was a cover for the annexation of Bosnia to a 'Greater Serbia,' was to a large extent carried out by unofficial militias operating under his 'deniable' control.
....In effect, the extremist Catholic and Orthodox forces were colluding in a bloody partition and cleansing of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  They were, and still are, largely spared the public shame of this, because the world's media preferred the simplification of 'Croat' and 'Serb,' and only mentioned religion when discussing 'the Muslims.'  But the triad of terms 'Croat,' Serb,' and 'Muslim' is unequal and misleading, in that it equates two nationalities and one religion."

Later in the book, Hitchens ventures quite beyond the letter "B" and goes after Catholicism (especially the scandals involving priestly pedophilia).  However, in keeping with the previous examples of institutionalized Christianity and Islam, I'll quote excerpts about Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa:

Uganda:  the 'Lord's Resistance Army' (LRA) led by a former altar boy, was a sinister force originating in Christianity but financed and armed by the Sudanese regime.  They took children from Acholi, ages 8 to 13, and trained them to be murderers.

Rwanda:  An even more graphic example is afforded by the case of Rwanda, which in 1992 gave the world a new synonym for genocide and sadism.  This former Belgian possession is the most Christian country in Africa, boasting the highest percentage of churches per head of population, with 65 percent of Rwandans professing Roman Catholicism and another 15 percent adhering to various Protestant sects.  The words 'per head' took on a macabre ring in 1992, when at a given signal the racist militias of 'Hutu Power,' incited by state and church, fell upon their Tutsi neighbors and slaughtered them en masse....many of the mass-grave sites that have been photographed are on consecrated ground..."

[Peter's Note:  one of the Tutsis visited my law school once and told us about how the Christians would be praying in church one minute and then the next minute they would go out and murder hundreds of Tutsis.  Just like the Crusaders of long ago, wearing crosses and murdering Jews, these Hutus were going about in the name of Christ and murdering innocent men, women, and children.]

South Africa:  The connection between religion, racism, and totalitarianism is also to be found in the other most hateful dictatorship of the twentieth century:  the vile system of apartheid in South Africa.  This was not just the ideology of a Dutch-speaking tribe bent on extorting forced labor from people of a different shade of pigmentation, it was also a form of Calvinism in practice.  The Dutch Reformed Church preached as a dogma that black and white were biblically forbidden to mix, let alone to coexist in terms of equality.  Racism is totalitarian by definition:  it marks the victim in perpetuity and denies him, or her, the right to even a rag of dignity or privacy, even the elemental right to make love or marry or produce children with a loved one of the 'wrong' tribe, without having love nullified by law...And this was the life of millions living in the 'Christian West' in our time."

Hitchens also made sure to mention the silence from American churches in the South during the time of slavery.  Christians endorsed slavery from the pulpit, blaming the plight of the Blacks to a supposed ancestral curse.  He also covers the Vatican's support of Hitler and how the Nazi's were composed of both Catholics and Protestants (predominantly Lutheran).

He concludes that "religion poisons everything."

While I disagree with his conclusion, I am forced to take his sincere grievances against religious abuses to heart.  Hitchens was a Jew (and therefore a brother) who could not in good conscience follow the religions which he observed around the world during his time as a reporter.

It would be too easy to hate Hitchens for his blasphemous remarks (the title alone of his book is enough to turn most Believers away).  But I can't hate him.  He didn't hate G-d (it would be difficult to hate that which you do not believe even exists).  He hated those who would use religion to racially divide society, create inequities, institutionalize cruelty and anti-Semitism.

Call me a Devil's Advocate if you must....but I could never hate Christopher Hitchens.

I'll conclude on a quote of Hitchen's with which I entirely agree:

"The urge to ban and censor books, silence dissenters, condemn outsiders, invade the private sphere, and invoke an exclusive salvation is the very essence of the totalitarian."