Well, what else would we be for? Judaism is, after all, what Jews do, isn’t it? And of course it is this obvious response to the truism of the phrase that the so called ‘anti-missionary’ organisation thus named expects. I have no issue with Jews ‘doing’ Judaism, nor with an organisation that attempts to ensure that Jews continue to ‘do’ Judaism. Judaism is what has been given to the descendants of Avraham as the revelation on Sinai; our precious call and task (and consequent national spiritual responsibility) to inform the nations too of the righteous standards of the Creator G-d in whose image ALL humanity was and is made. When we see this, we can, and should, only conclude that Judaism IS good. It IS G-d’s good gift to us as His people.
So, how odd then that the word Judaism has become such a byword for something that is wrong, incomplete or old-fashioned. Worse, as David Nirenberg wrote recently in his Jewish Chronicle essay (‘Anti-Judaism – a prejudice far more deeply embedded than anti-Semitism’ http://www.thejc.com/node/111009), ‘Judaism’ has come to be a negative emotional, mental and cultural concept that people use to make sense of their world and the problems in it. It also explains the modern rise of anti-Judaism where anti-Semitism is too risky a cultural option. This cultural, spiritual framework, where ‘Judaism’ is seen as a problem, an unreformed (and unreformable?) relic of the past, can only produce a twisted view of a current reality.
This is certainly true today in the growing Messianic Jewish movement. There are some who insist on categorising this Jewish revival movement as just about anything other than Judaism. One senses the cultural and spiritual unease in words spoken and written. Unable to move beyond the narrow confines of a monolithically self-defined Judaism that has defended its borders well from all invaders, and to be fair kept us ethnically if not always spiritually protected down the millennia, many feel uneasy about reformatting the Jewish hard-drive. Yet Jewish renewal has been a constant friend of the Jewish nation and people down the centuries. We have survived because of innovation and the ability to take the living words of G-d and apply them flexibly, intuitively to each new generation. To renew IS to act Jewishly. To have the courage to renew takes faith and a determination to see our people turned back to our G-d once more.
At the heart of the Jewish renewal called Messianic Judaism is the restoration of the Mashiach, Yeshua, the JEWISH Messiah who was born, lived and died a Jew. His followers, all Jews, continued this radical renewal of the Jewish faith, and yet, there will still be some who cannot get beyond the vague uneasy feeling that there is a problem with Judaism per se. There is not. It needs renewal in Mashiach and we continue to work and pray for that. Jews for Judaism? Absolutely.
There is a very good reason why architects have to study to a high level before they begin to actually design houses and buildings for people to live in and for life to function in. Surely we all may have a dream house in our minds eye of what and how this ideal dwelling should look like etc. Few though would be so foolish as to grab a spade and start to dig, lay the walls and so on, knowing that without the right foundation being laid, mathematically worked out, and without load bearing walls correctly located, any final ‘dream’ construct will collapse and possibly cause loss of life too in the process. So too the process of renovation and building renewal; a thorough understanding of the pattern of construction and design envisaged by the original Architect is required before such a process can begin. The point? If Judaism (in the general sense of that word as the ‘religion’ outlined by the Torah and Tanach) is to be renewed then we MUST reconstruct along the lines originally envisaged by the One who first called the ‘building’ into existence.
What is at stake? Everything. If we get this basic understanding wrong then the whole edifice will collapse and cause untold harm to Israel, the global Jewish community and to the nations too who look to us for inspiration and spiritual guidance. Messianic Judaism is a renewal Judaism, seeking to renew and rejuvenate Judaism in line with original Torah precept. Many it seems in our day are trying to re-decorate the house, some even revamping the first floor with ‘Messianic’ wallpaper and shifting the load bearing walls at will. But the foundation hasn’t been touched. If the modern foundation of what has become known as ‘Judaism’ is out of true, then no amount of tinkering in the loft will save the building, in fact it could be disastrous for all concerned.. This renewal has to go right back to below ground level, back to the original plans written by the Creator and Designer Himself. And if that means re-digging the foundations, then so be it.
Mashiach Yeshua told a story about new wine in old wine-skins, that an external form needs to be appropriate and fit for service for the contents therein. Tinkering on the edges will cause the skin to burst, the building to collapse. Judaism is a ‘faith’ that is predicated on salvation, the acts of deliverance of our G-d down the ages, His desire and call to us to return to Him from our sins and wayward lives. This ‘sub-text’ is the motif (foundation) that connects Judaism and Jewish thinking, and all these threads lead to One man, One act in history that brought the possibility of salvation to all who would call on His Name: Yeshua. This ‘sub-text’ creates the right foundations for the whole building, and so we can build, reinvigorate the construction according to ancient precept and design, confident that with the core idea in place, all redesign work will function correctly.
Messianic Judaism is NOT a renewed form of Rabbinic or better Talmudic Judaism. That form exists to serve its own purposes. Messianic Judaism seeks the old paths and desires to walk in them. Nothing short of a radical redefinition of Judaism orientated around the halacha Yeshua taught will suffice. Anything else will crumble before our eyes. What is at stake? Everything. During these days of awe running up to Yom Kippur we should not just consider a redecoration plan but a thorough inspection of everything in our Jewish lives that may be out of kilter.
Have you noticed that we Jews do festivals very differently from those around us? We are barely a couple of days away from Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year and the mood is sombre and reflective. No fairly lights, no big parties planned other than gatherings for apple and honey. Our festivals are not hallmarked by wild celebrations or ribald revelry. For most of us in the community right now our thoughts are focussed on one thing alone: what will the final judgement of G-d be for me at Yom Kippur, for that is the inevitable conclusion of what begins at Rosh Hashanah. The scroll of Life will be opened, but will my name be in it? Hoping surely is not enough. Even given that for 10 days beginning on Thursday this week we will repent and seek forgiveness from those we have wronged, there remains a fear and unvoiced niggle in our minds and hearts that maybe we have overlooked something, maybe we have still not met G-d’s righteous standards. And we would be wise to listen to such inner whispers. As King Shlomo said, and reiterated by Rav Shaul, there is not one who has met His standards, all have fallen short of the glory of G-d.
The prophet Amos provides for us an answer in our dilemma (Amos 5): ‘Seek Me and live’ and ‘seek the Lord and live’. It is at such times as these of our High Holy Days that break into our daily routines and disturb them to the utmost that we NEED and should seek G-d. No ritual will be enough, no sacrifice we could ever bring would be sufficient to atone for what we have done. And in this regard it is interesting to connect our Haftorah portion (the binding of Isaac) with the start of the Days of Awe. Avraham avinu approached the impending and commanded sacrifice of his son with faith and confidence, the text making it clear that he expected to return from this event with his son alive. His faith was not unmerited, he did. He knew that G-d would provide the sacrifice, and at the last moment as his faith was tested to the limits, G-d DID provide one.
In our helpless and hopeless situation as Jews needing atonement, and the nations needing the same atonement for their sins too, we must seek God for His solution. Especially today where we do not have a functioning sacrificial system in Jerusalem any more, we need HIS solution that will and can be applied for all time more than ever. In Mashiach Yeshua we have one such answer, in His sacrifice we can have a boldness to approach G-d and know, not just hope, that our names are written in the scroll (book) of Life. Seek G-d, and the atonement He alone can provide, and you too will walk away alive. Seek G-d and live!