Disrupting Judaism

At the opening of the African-American Museum this last week in the USA, Will Smith stood up to deliver his dedicatory speech and quoted Martin Luther King: “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but it comes through continuous struggle.” Anyone who has attempted to change the status quo of anything, whether political, cultural or religious can testify to the veracity of such thoughts. The CEO of Indiegogo recently put it this way: “The world loves to say ‘no’. It likes the status quo, it doesn’t like change (…) your job is to keep saying ‘yes’.”
In Judaism right now there are many it seems who are screaming ‘yes’. Many who are demanding change from the roots up and are beginning to do something about it. Rabbi Cardozo (whose blog appears on the Times of Israel website) describes such Jewish faith start-ups as ‘disruptive Judaism’ because they are increasingly putting pressure on the establishment, and rapidly so. The spectrum of disrupters runs from the Women of the Wall to the Beit Moshe movement and the ordination this last week of the first batch of rabbis from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem (see link below). While we in Messianic Judaism would not necessarily agree with all the components of such ’emergent’ forms of Judaism, the fact is that Messianic Judaism DOES belong to the disruptive spectrum of Judaism. One of the newly ordained Rabbis put their vision as follows: “At Bina, a big part of what we try to do is to ‘redeem’ Judaism, reclaim ownership of Judaism, reclaim terms and language and concepts, but while reinterpreting and redefining, also finding new meanings.” There is very little in such a statement that we would disagree with, although our conclusions will surely differ.

What this does however reveal is not only the thirst and hunger right now for a redefined Judaism, or should we say a new relationship with our Judaism, our shared Jewish heritage, amongst Israelis and the wider diaspora community, it also reveals the telling fact THAT such a change is possible and desirable. Indeed Judaism has never been static and unchanging, even if many have sought to portray it as such for the wrong reasons. Messianic Judaism is a ‘disruptive’ Judaism because it not only is willing to question but also because in Mashiach we have a perfect example of disruption. An ancient thread of Jewish experience and identity was the concept of G-d breaking into the human experiential realm, whether through our deliverance from Egypt or being led through the wilderness, or yet again with the tradition of the Bat Kol speaking and guiding Israel through the ages. His presence literally disrupted our lives and we knew that HE was the reason for our existence, continued and past. We have lost such a concept in today’s forms of Judaism. In Mashiach we can begin to win that back. As He taught and preached 2000 years ago the question on so many people’s lips was ‘in whose authority do you speak?’ They wanted to know who trained Him, what school of thought He adhered to, in which Rabbi’s name He ministered. Yeshua rejected such limitations and so often responded to such questions with ‘you have heard it said (by Rabbi so and so), but I say unto you..’ He spoke on His own authority, or directly related such authority back to His Father in heaven. Such a disruption in the religious thought-world continuum of course caused astonishment and some outrage, as it does today.

Messianic Judaism however is no new start-up. It is the return of an ancient form of Judaism practised by tens of thousands of Jewish people (if not more) in the first and early second century. It is disruptive and will cause ripples in the fabric of Judaism generally, and often-times we shall be told ‘no’. But the disruptive effect of Yeshua id an eternal ‘yes’ to any resistance As our people are reaching out for change in the status quo, in Mashiach we can give it to them.

Judaism will out.

Yirecho (Jericho) was a fortified city, the first one our people encountered for real when entering the Land. It stood as a representative fortress and bastion against the people of G-d and the truth they held in their lives, and in the Ark they carried before them. It was not that the shofar blasts caused the walls to tumble, nor yet the seven times walking around the perimeter, (although the links to the sheva b’rachot and the marriage to the Land are wonderful themes to consider). No, what caused the walls to fall was the power of covenantal faithfulness in the face of stubborn rejection. Had the inhabitants accepted the rule of G-d and ‘crossed over’ to join with the people of G-d, His nation, then Life would have been theirs too.

What do we learn from this? Like the city of Yirecho, we can all build high walls to stop the Lord from coming in and showing His faithfulness to us. It’s so often way more comfortable to hide behind these defences and think all is well, nothing can change and the status quo will be maintained. And it’s not just personal walls we hide behind. What intrigues me more in these days are the institutional and religious walls that so many are hiding behind. I suspect that it may (I hope I’m wrong!) take many more shofar blasts of truth and revelation yet before some of these walls begin to fall, yet we are nevertheless seeing in our day signs that change is coming to what most people would call Judaism. I say most people because the hegemony of some sections of the faith over school book photos and media domination obscures for many the actual vibrancy and fluidity of what Judaism is, and can be, all about today.

One such example again found a small space to shine this last week in the Jerusalem Post (http://www.jpost.com/…/New-Moishe-House-creates-pluralistic…). While there are many aspects to this movement that are open to question, this is not the point that needs to be made. The fact THAT this kind of spontaneous bursting out, away from traditional concepts of the Jewish faith, is happening at all is noteworthy. There is a growing hunger for real Jewish spiritual reality, not borrowing from other faiths (although sadly that is happening too) but a desire to know G-d, and yet not through the traditional channels. I will let a few quotes speak for themselves: “It’s a Jewish community, and when we have non-Jews come for Friday night dinner, it shows them the warm, open, embracing side of Judaism,” ……. “Moishe House deals with Judaism in a pluralistic way and, I think, is special and rare.” ….. “The idea of Moishe House is to make a connection to Judaism, and to make it fun” …..
“We create fun activities around the Jewish calendar. Moishe House allows you to do something positive and challenging in your life.”

The walls of our most ancient and glorious of faith have been a wonderful protection for us for over 2000 years, yet like all walls at some point the positive protective function begins to outweigh the need for renewal, and that can only happen when the gates are opened. Like the above movement, Messianic Judaism is exploring the borders and spiritual topography of a renewed form and structure of Judaism: a Judaism that is G-d centred, Messiah focussed and Spirit filled. Before the presence of the Ark of G-d the walls of that ancient city fell prostrate. G-d’s presence is able to bring down that which has served its purpose well but has now outlived its function, both personally and institutionally. HIS truth will prevail, and the exciting signs are that our people want that too!

Should the Ark stay lost?

Some things are just bound to stir up people’s natural curiosity. One mention of the Ark of the Covenant and we’re lost in romantic notions of Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg. And as we know, there are as many theories of its location as there are specialists in the field. Countries claiming to currently hold it range from Israel to Ethiopia, and of course it is impossible to verify the claims because, after all, who wants to look upon it let alone touch it and die!? Just what WOULD we do with it if we ever did find it? I am assured that there are many groups working on that question even as I type, yet as a recent article in the Jewish Chronicle (26th August 16 – http://www.thejc.com/…/could-buccaneering-rabbi-uncover-los…) proves, its allure and ability to capture our fertile imagination has lost nothing over the centuries. That the Ark’s power to instil fear has not diminished can easily be measured by a visit to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) replica constructed in the Negev (see photo). Even knowing on my last visit that this was merely a copy of the original prevented me from lifting the lid…..To be fair to the Rabbi in question, he does himself question whether we should even try to find it (despite his solid belief that he knows where it is).

Yet maybe we’re making too much of all this. Are we actually meant to know where it is, let alone find it and use it? Would a future Temple minus the Ark still be a Temple? The question becomes more focussed when we consider what the Ark stood for and represented in the Temple: the immanent dwelling place of the presence of G-d. Between the Cheruvim on the Mercy Seat the Shekinah the visible manifested presence of the Lord was found. A wild imagination might fill the blanks on what the High Priest would actually see as he entered on Yom Kippur, yet again such spiritual pyrotechnical considerations aside, just what are we meant to understand from all this?

The prophet Jeremiah saw a time coming when the Ark would no longer ‘come to mind, nor be remembered, visited, nor made anymore’ (Jer 3:16). As strange as this thought might be to us as Jews who yearn for the rebuilt Temple and the ‘good old days’, it challenges us to reconsider the Ark, especially in the light of the reasons WHY we would no longer seek it out. According to the prophet the Ark’s ‘demise’ is linked to our stubborn hearts being changed and thus we would no longer walk in the vain imaginations of them. Again it falls to Jeremiah who later would add that as such a heart circumcision took place ‘we would all know Him’, no longer needing to be taught. A day would come (and now has come) when we would not instinctively rebel against G-d but obey Him instead. When that scenario occurs the Ark would no longer be needed. The presence of G-d seen so visibly in one place now is transferred to our own hearts (this time Ezekiel fills the blanks) thus the Spirit of the Lord causes us to walk in His ways and not rebel against Him. As living servants, a living Temple holding the presence of G-d, we become an even stronger witness to the living G-d of Israel than the Ark could ever have been.

In Yeshua Mashichaynu the Renewed Covenant is cut and our hearts renewed. So do we, should we need, look for the Ark? Or should we rather spend the energy looking for what the Ark pointed to, a living demonstration of the presence of G-d in our midst through changed lives? I know what Jeremiah would think!

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