Something is happening! The situation between the Jewish community and those who follow Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah (Mashiach) has been a historical demonstration of 2000 years of religious and cultural inertia. But we live in times where old walls are crumbling and new perceptions are beginning to dominate. What has seemed the ‘only’ way for so long is now seen as narrow, restricted and unhelpful. The ‘something’ I refer to though may surprise. For those of us who have closely followed the growing awareness in Christians of the ‘Jewish background’ to the Scriptures, it has been a deep joy to see a similar (albeit as yet still academically driven) awakening in our Jewish communities around the world to the fact that Yeshua is one of us. I don’t normally recommend books, but a new book coming from a Reform Jewish background (see link below) by Rabbi Evan Moffic is worth the highlight. His statements (while not ‘new’) are nevertheless worth repeating because of the inclusive nature of the views expressed, and the implications of the internal logic of taking such views. He says ‘Jesus (Yeshua) wasn’t a Christian. Jesus lived and died as a Jew. Understanding the Jewishness of Jesus is the secret to knowing him better and understanding his message in the twenty-first century.’ (Brackets mine). He goes on to explain in a later interview about his book with Deborah Goldman (8/9/16) ‘Jewish life in the first century has great importance for Jews and Christians; both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity emerged out of the destruction of the Second Temple. We can learn both about our similarities and differences by exploring this pivotal time.’
There will be many who will welcome such an extended and open hand, myself included as a Messianic Jew. But it isn’t the JewishNESS of Yeshua that interests me. That last suffix causes all the problems. It is one thing to accept the JewishNESS of Yeshua, another entirely to accept he is Jewish. For some this will be splitting hairs, but the difference is real. Many talk about the JewishNESS of early Christianity as if this early hallmark and root can today be safely and hygienically dispensed with, an anachronism of history; Sure it is interesting and helpful as a hermeneutic tool, but beyond that irrelevant. Adding ‘ness’ to our categories gives us a safe distance to analyse, reduce the threat level and engage in conflict-free debate. But until the suffix is removed no real lasting change will happen. For Christians the Bible study is enhanced, for Jewish people a turbulent period in our history is explained. But both communities can continue to coexist.
Rabbi Moffic is wrong on one of his salient points: The emergent forms of faith that developed out of the late first and early second century in Israel were not rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. The two surviving forms of Judaism (for survivors they were) by mid second century were (early) Rabbinic Judaism and Messianic Judaism. This has become already a well documented and undisputed fact by many academics. Avoiding the implications of this by continuing to add ‘ness’ to any theological debate and discussion will only push back the internal logic of the current revival in Judaism going on. The emergence again of Messianic Judaism, after 2000 years of seclusion, is a sure sign that Judaism WILL be revived once more in our days.
A Rabbi’s thoughts….
Judaism has always been understood to be a religion of revelation and not discovery. What that means in practice is that the source of all our Jewish understanding, commandments and traditions is from Heaven. As G-d spoke, so we know. Had He not shown us the way of righteousness, truth, love and mercy, we simply would not have known, nor yet worked it out for ourselves. Another way of looking at it is that if Judaism was a man made invention, a human conceptualised faith system, then it certainly wouldn’t have been designed in the way it is. For one, in the first set of 10 ‘commandments’ there would be one approximating ‘Thou shalt eat X every day’ (replace the X with whatever food you enjoy) – at least if I had written them! That they, the commandments, have stood the test of time and have influenced the legal and cultural basis of so many nations and empires over time is yet one more testimony to the enduring ‘other-worldly’ nature of Judaism. Even the strongest of human empires and the values they represent eventually fall apart, yet the Kingdom of G-d endures, as do the people of G-d, the Jewish people.
But having qualified the origins of Judaism, I want to add one caveat: what truth is to be had can be seen and valued precisely BECAUSE it is enduring and seen to have real value. It becomes tried and tested, eventually to the point whereby mankind can go on to make the somewhat audacious claim to have ‘discovered’ some eternal truth and reality, when in fact it has been as clear as the sun in the sky for an eternity past for those of faith. And it was one such claim, a ‘breakthrough’ moment for Prof Stephen Hawking this last week caught my eye. An eminent and influential man, his word carries weight. He is to be congratulated for his recent discovery of truth, and above all his willingness to publish it too. I quote from the article published on the mashable.com website (31st July 2016) link below:
“In a Guardian essay, the world-renowned physicist made the case for a more comprehensive and generous definition of wealth “to include knowledge, natural resources and human capacity.” ……. “We will need to adapt, rethink, refocus and change some of our fundamental assumptions about what we mean by wealth, by possessions, by mine and yours. Just like children, we will have to learn to share.” …… He goes on to explain how he came to see money “as a means to an end” but never as an end in itself. It’s an attitude that is becoming more widespread, he wrote: “People are starting to question the value of pure wealth. Is knowledge or experience more important than money? Can possessions stand in the way of fulfilment? Can we truly own anything, or are we just transient custodians?”
I am genuinely glad that Prof Hawking has published this questioning and probing analysis of the current human condition and its fruitless pursuit of happiness through wealth creation. With humility of course we have to acknowledge that such thoughts pre-date his conclusions by many thousands of years. As Jews we have known for a very long time that wealth in itself does not and can not buy happiness. Such transient things can only enhance the mere brevity of human life in comparison with eternity, and only highlight the otherwise empty void in our spirits and souls. Wealth is good, but it isn’t G-d. This point exactly was made by Mashiach (Messiah) Yeshua 2000 years ago when he said ‘you cannot serve G-d and mammon’. Laying up treasures in Heaven, he concludes, was a much sounder investment. The reason? Because where our treasure is, there will be found your heart. If G-d is your treasure beyond all comparison, then that’s where your heart will reside. Real wealth depends on what we give, not what we collect. In German there is a saying that it is better to give with a warm hand than a cold one, a thought that Judaism itself could have penned. The joy of giving, knowing that blessings are shared and not stored, fills the eternal investment banks of Heaven.
So I am glad that Prof Hawking has seen the light. It is sad that it has taken so long, but maybe we as Jews should take heart too. Maybe the world does and will eventually begin to join the dots and begin to seek G-d and His revelation. Maybe they’ll be pleasantly surprised at what they’ll find.