So the texts…

The answer to the question ‘what is Judaism?’ is almost as tantalisingly elusive as the answer to ‘who is a Jew?’ Answers to these questions tend to be polemical in nature, highly tendentious and specific community-bound. So, like many people I was overjoyed to see the release of Prof. Martin Goodman’s new book on the subject ‘A History of Judaism’. It’s not that such a topic hasn’t been attempted before, but Prof. Goodman* brings to it a wealth of first century knowledge and understanding, the Roman Sitz im Leben, that opens up windows of clarity in an otherwise now distant, murky historical-religious world.

It is one of Prof. Goodman’s candid assertions however that catches the eye.  He writes ‘the Judaism of today bears little resemblance to the religion ascribed to Moses in the Bible from which it purports to derive’. I doubt that anyone from a Jewish background will be shocked to read this, yet for many this may be a deep revelation. On the face of it, why should the two be even close, after all, we have lived for the last 2000 years out of the Land and Judaism is, if nothing else, deeply bound up with living in the Land. It’s no wonder the meanderings of theological history have taken us to ‘strange places’. Prof Goodman acknowledges the ‘secret’ that in fact so many know about but often fail to communicate because the implications just might be too challenging: what counts today as Judaism is in fact Rabbinic Judaism, a Judaism created to survive the crushing defeat by Rome and the need to centralise Jewish authority in a diaspora world. And to be fair, we should praise our rabbis and sages of old whose spiritual creativity and survivalist instincts helped form a Judaism that would survive a disconnect from our ancestral Home. Yet I hesitate to call this ‘rabbinic’ Judaism because, as Goodman posits, it is the TEXTS that have framed our experiences. It would be safer to describe this form as ‘Talmudic Judaism’. I doubt there would be many dissenters for this, as it is a fundamentally fair description of the reality on the ground, at least of its origin.

Judaism today represents the sum of this inherited textual contouring. So the texts, so the life. One example of course can be seen in the reasonably recent festival of Rosh Hashanah where in the tractate of the same name in the Talmud the celebration was ‘fleshed out’ with additional expectations and commandments, including the later acceptance of the name change from Yom Teruah to Rosh Hashanah (a designation the Torah itself is silent on). In fact there is only one Mitzvah on that day according to the Torah text, and that is to hear (not blow) the shofar. This is not to say that the additions in the Talmud are necessarily wrong or unhelpful, but it illustrates how texts frame your Judaism. The same of course is true of Messianic Judaism. The ‘Messianic Writings’ (NT) form the basis from which we draw our lifestyle and practices, beliefs and Jewish identity today. The teachings of Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, should be the authoritative source to which we go. His teachings are drawn directly from Torah (not just purported to do so) and are still recognisable as such, even today. They represent a Jewish faith that is vibrant and flexible, able to handle the diaspora AND, more crucially, life back in the Land. So the text, so the life. Messianic Judaism needs to insist on this radical source re-orientation if it is to become not just an inevitable subset of current Orthodoxy, but take its place as a contender for the title of ‘Judaism’, an answer to the ages old question.

*Prof Goodman is Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford University.

The ‘New’ Judaism and Messianic Judaism.

At the risk of appearing monotonous, it is nevertheless important to highlight the ongoing challenges and above all CHANGES happening in the Jewish faith world. Barely a week now goes by without a different journal or a published article or a newspaper report in this or that Jewish newspaper trying to verbalise the huge currents of change sweeping through the Jewish world today. It would be wrong to under-estimate this, yet categorising it is also a challenge. As such, the article attached sheds a fair perspective on the situation. Tsvi Sadan says ‘The Jewish people have gone through three major catastrophes, out of which new forms of Judaism have emerged’. The first catastrophe referenced is the destruction of the first Temple and the consequent return to the Land under Ezra and Nehemiah. From them developed the basic form of what would later become known as the Oral Torah, the fences around the Torah to ensure that a second diaspora simply couldn’t happen. That it DID happen was the second catastrophe running from the destruction of the second Temple in 70CE through to the exile after the Bar Kochva revolt in 135CE. The form of Judaism that emerged from that event was created in Yavne and became the foundation for Rabbinic Judaism. Taking the lead from the Oral Torah, the additional element was chiefly the authority of the Rabbis rather than the priests and prophets. We must not forget however, that a further form of Judaism also survived the first century: Messianic Judaism. Although this later was subsumed into a direction not anticipated or expected by those first century Jewish men and women who passionately believed that Yeshua was and is the Messiah (Mashiach), its existence is often far too easily overlooked. The third catastrophe to hit us was the holocaust. Sadan’s thesis, which I accept, is that we can expect to see a new direction for Judaism emerge as we now blend the return to the ancestral Land with a need for a form of Judaism that not only meets the modern needs but also the deepest spiritual needs of mankind, not just of our nation. Rabbinic Judaism, for all its glory and beauty, was designed to be a diaspora Judaism, a Judaism for survival under Roman occupation in the first instance and widespread cultural exile later on. Today we are back in our Land again.

As the article illustrates, there are many groups today exploring what new directions Judaism could or should take. As Sadan states: ‘Today there are tens of thousands who were born into Orthodox families leaving the fold (…) some going through the motions without desire or faith (..) some have become atheists.’ Other secular Jewish people are exploring ways to reconnect with their backgrounds, a truly modern ’emergent’ Judaism in various forms. These two streams are breaking open the old accepted ways and are seeking a renewing.

Given the compelling nature of this argument and the growing facts on the ground in Israel, we must not be surprised that it is at this time the Lord has re-established Messianic Judaism. Yes, a reformation of that ancient form of Judaism lived out in the first century, but also a form that is ready to be a living faith TODAY, not just a nod to the past. Our challenge is to form this Jewish faith in line with Yeshua’s teachings, developing halacha drawn from His examples and apply it in a thoroughly Jewish way to our lives and communities. Messianic Jewish communities the world over are living alternatives to other forms of Judaism that are no longer connecting with so many of our people. We, Jewish people, no longer want form but substance, and that is a faith in G-d founded upon the salvation work He undertook in Yeshua. Truly redeemed both physically and spiritually we stand as a testimony to the G-d of Israel and the narrative of history completed. After our third catastrophe, the emergence of Messianic Judaism is no coincidence. It is a Jewish revival movement that connects us with both Land and with our G-d, the One who has been faithful through all time to us.

Real Riches

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 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.


Why Torah?

One of the key requests to Pharaoh that Moshe was commanded to utter was that not only were we to be permitted to leave Egypt, but that the main purpose behind it was so that we could travel out three days into the wilderness and worship HaShem there. Such a celebration of deliverance and redemption, real physical and emotional freedom, would have been in itself a wonderful occasion of praise and worship, yet it was not to be the complete story. We thought we were to be the active party this time, we would sacrifice, sing and praise. What we discovered was that in fact our G-d had a gift for us too, He would continue to be an active party in this new national coalition. His revelation to us, given through the hand of Moshe, set out a blueprint of commandments and ordinances (Torah) that would shape us and form us into a nation. Whether as a marriage covenant or social contract, this would frame our existence for all time. And in principle we could leave it there, if it were not for the questions that arise about what Torah IS and its role and function in our lives that sporadically break through. According to tradition, Torah was offered to every other nation first before us, with each one declining the offer! Such myths nevertheless vocalise what we somehow instinctively know to be true: Torah is good, yet we fail to live up to its demands and high righteous standards. Why did the other nations refuse if it is really such a wonderful thing? Is it just a list of ‘things to do’, a glorious tick list of do and don’t do? If so, why don’t we? Why haven’t we? Such was our national, corporate and personal falling short that we were exiled from our Land for nearly 2000 years until 1948. Maybe this provides a clue as to why the other nations supposedly rejected this wonderful gift… or at least a gift that should be wonderful but we’ve struggled to accept.

In an interesting ‘spin’ on the role, place and function of Torah in the Jewish nation and people, Rav Shaul writes to the Jewish community in Galatia that ‘it was added because of transgressions (sins).’ Noteworthy that ‘it was added’ as an extra component to the people rather than something that was present at the outset with Avraham. Despite the working assumption that Torah has always been with us, at the very least we have to acknowledge that it was only codified at Sinai (and later). So why add Torah ‘because of’ sins? Maybe an imperfect example may shed some light on this. If every driver at all times drove selflessly, safely and with full due regard for the welfare and best of every other driver, road user and pedestrian, then we wouldn’t need speed limits or the Highway Code. We would simply KNOW what the best is at all times and do it. But we don’t. So the speed limit for example shows us what the higher end of a basic benchmark of good, safe driving is at that moment on that stretch of road. When we drive quicker than that we transgress. We become aware of what transgression (sin) is by falling short of the standard expected. By its breach we learn that we rebel against its standards. And that awareness should be a catalyst to action, an awareness of self, our inner natures and personalities, of our own selfish motivations that reject G-d’s ways in preference to our own. Yes, we think that we surely CAN be the measure of all things, despite our appalling lack of judgement and deficit of omniscience. Such a pitiful human condition is summarised by the prophets and others as the ‘imagination of men’s hearts’, and it has caused us dire problems.

Just how should we react, what action should we take in the challenge that Torah lays on us all? ‘Because of sins’ it was added, precisely to show us THAT we have sinned. Righteousness on display, God’s nature and character revealed, and our response and ability to match it weak and shallow. If nothing else our reaction should be to call on His name and reach out for His mercy. Which, if we go back to where we started, makes sense of why we had to go out into the wilderness for three days and worship Him, the G-d who had shown us unmerited mercy and saved us from Egypt and the tyranny of slavery. True worship only really begins when we have a sense of our own shortcomings and our NEED for His redemption and salvation. And once we receive it the worship really takes off. So Torah not only guides us but brings us to HaShem, to acknowledge our needs and our sins, and thus enables genuine worship to take place.


In Rabbi Dr Donniel Hartman’s article in the Jerusalem Post (Nov 22-28, p21) titled ‘The End of Hanukka’ he poses some excellent questions about the very meaning, purpose and intention of keeping, celebrating Chanukah. As the festival begins tonight and the Jewish world once more is drawn to the flame of our national survival over the millennia in the face of many attempts to terminate the Jewish hope and dream, we may marvel at our national, communal resilience, our ability to survive and live to see another day. Rabbi Hartman rightly draws out the heart’s yearning of this historic connection ‘lighting a candle is not a miracle of yesteryear but to declare a commitment to ensuring that to maintain a Jewish identity is a part of my being’. Who would deny the truth of that? Yet in the same article he assesses the current Jewish situation thus: ‘Jews today see themselves as citizens of both Athens and Jerusalem’. Over 2000 years have passed since the Hellenist dream to absorb and assimilate us was put into operation, yet have we learnt anything, nothing? What was the point of Chanukah, what was the real miracle? Are we really citizens of two kingdoms?

Rabbi Hartman is correct in asserting though that ‘the Maccabean victory was no (…) tipping point in history’. For a brief moment our light shone before internal power politics and international pressures began to dominate the national agenda again. Our Temple, so brilliantly restored with such bravery and zealous courage again fell into corruption and, as if we ever even needed reminding of this, failed also to be filled with the tangible presence of HaShem as in the past. A victory it was, but indeed no tipping point in history. Just over a century later our national decline was once more in full swing leading to the tragic events in 70CE as the heart was ripped from our nation and our ancient longing for a settled Homeland cruelly put on ice as Diaspora inevitably followed.

No, this was no tipping point. Nothing it seems had really changed at all and our national, personal inability to follow the commands of the Lord G-d were brought once more to the forefront of our consciousness. Patting ourselves on our backs to massage our damaged historical souls and spirits while claiming that identity is all, as if this was the driving force behind Chanukah is to miss the point. If we still haven’t realised that the same cultural assimilatory spirit behind Athens is still at work today in our post-modern society with its liberal values, then we still have lessons to learn. No, we cannot be sons and daughters of both Athens and Jerusalem.

So the point of Chanukah? Surely it is this: We must be citizens of one Kingdom alone. It was not the small army of dedicated soldiers who freed us from the might of the Greek armies and rededicated the Temple. It was the King behind the Kingdom. So as we light the candle tonight, let us remember that it is not ‘by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord’. Only because our G-d is faithful to the covenants He made will we, can we survive at all because He is merciful and will always bring our deliverance, our redemption to us in due season.

The positive commandment of Shabbat

The following document which can be downloaded here is an attempt at clarifying positions on and answering some of the questions about specific halachah in Messianic Judaism. Shabbat is a good place to start as it is the core time based command that almost singularly has defined us as Jews and frames our weekly existence. I hope you enjoy the article.

Keeping Shabbat

Judaism is not a philosophy.

According to the dictionary, philosophy is defined as: the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct. In other descriptions it is defined as a system of thought, or a created systematised paradigm of meaning attached to otherwise random events and situations. In other words, it is a human invention of creating meaning from apparent chaos, a way of looking at the world. Judaism fails this definition as a revelation from G-d, an absolute, a ‘given’, a revealed truth that is fundamentally not created nor invented by mankind. To be sure, there are Jewish philosophers (who can be failed to be moved by Abraham Heschel in his towering philosophical work ‘G-d in search of man’), and there are philosophies OF Judaism, drawn from its ethos and spirit. But fundamentally Judaism in its essence is not a philosophy.

The trap however is easy to fall into. Mankind constantly strives to better itself, to create ever better societal and cultural models of values and frameworks, be they political or moral. The more recent fad of the fashionable ‘self-help’ manuals is illustrative of not only the disillusionment of the corporate value system to be replaced by the individual, personal meaning-giving ‘lifestyle’, but also of the drive in us all to ‘understand’, to fill the G-d-shaped vacuum of life. It is easy to see Judaism in this way. Many celebrities (and others) do exactly this, for example chasing Kabbalah for its esoteric enlightenment and cognitive, quasi spiritual high that fixes the momentary need in a me-first generation. An easy trap, yes, and one that sadly even the esteemed departing Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks failed to avoid just last week when he commented to a group of freshly ordained rabbis at the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London ‘Never forget, if you lift (Torah) high it will lift you high’ (JC 12th July 2013, p12).

Seen this way, Torah is reduced to another of the ‘self-help’ manuals of our time. Follow the way of life laid out in this text and you will have success. These words, sadly, could be said of any text of our time written by any of the current plethora of modern ‘gurus’ trying to help mankind. Surely we should and must understand that Torah, in itself, has no power to change us or give us success in life. While some will undoubtedly argue (rightly) that the words contained therein are living and powerful, they are only this because of…. the fact that there is a living, speaking, powerful G-d behind them who continues to speak and change lives today. Words are cheap and plentiful, the question is who speaks them. If our G-d speaks then lives can be changed. It is this encounter with the G-d who IS, who is alive, that fundamentally can, will and must change things, lives, situations, not a reading however close of a text or philosophy. Beliefs, practices, theology and philosophy will shape and form your life and maybe even give it some substance, but only G-d can change it.

Judaism is not a philosophy. If it is, we reduce it to the mundane and human. It is not a ‘success manual’. It is the way of righteousness to all who would believe and embrace the encounter with the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov who is alive.

Comfort my people – Shabbat Nachamu

Having now come out the other side of Tisha b’av we are on the count down to Rosh Hashanah, which this year is early (at least feels early in accordance with the Gregorian calendar!). After mourning for the loss of our Temple and focal point of worship and sacrifice Isaiah picks up on the fact that we need to be comforted by G-d, that despite all our sins and transgressions and the punishments meted out to us down the ages, we are never to forget that God loves us, nurtures us and chastises to bring positive change in us, not merely to show Himself as just.

Yet maybe that is not the whole story. I like Rabbi Shlomo Riskin; I don’t always agree with his theology but his heart for Jewish study and integrity are clear. In his incisive piece this week in the Jerusalem Post ( on the weekly Shabbat portion he concludes with an incident where a young Yeshiva student repeatedly has his milk stolen or ‘appropriated’ by other Yeshiva students until he labels the milk as halav akum, questionable gentile milk. The milk then remains untouched. Such ‘box ticking’ of apparent righteousness that undermines not just the spirit of Torah and Judaism but actual greater commandments should not (and Rabbi Riskin and I both agree on this one) be seen in Judaism as anything like normative practice. So how do we connect this to ‘Comfort my people’?

If the form of Judaism that creates such behaviour in the Yeshivot has misunderstood the very essence of Judaism and Jewish life (and I would argue that it has), then what other models are available that give us righteousness from HaShem and point to His comfort? I believe that we have missed something critical in our Jewish thinking: G-d understands how difficult it is to ACTUALLY live a righteous life in Him. Although we are to draw down HIS righteousness, we still are obliged to live out that in every day life. G-d understands the struggles and despair, while also rejoicing in the victories too! His comfort seen in this light is not so much aimed at consoling us after being told off and disciplined, but rather a Father sitting us on His lap (I speak with the words of men) showing us compassion in our weakness (in comparison to HIS strength).

Two men from our historical past illustrate this so well: Caleb who according to the Torah ‘had another spirit in him’ and consequently ‘truly followed G-d’, and King David, who despite his gross sin was ‘a man after my own (G-d’s) heart’. Neither man was perfect, both sinned and ‘got it wrong’, yet with the compassion of G-d seeing that each one had a spirit to truly understand what the essence of Torah, righteousness actually is, they pleased G-d and moved Him to understand them. Neither man was a ‘box ticker’. Neither man believed that life could be constrained by human conceptual constructs, even if drawn down from Torah. Both knew that G-d and His Torah righteousness had to be understood, its essence lived and breathed as something alive, as relational and real.

If we as Israel could live out that righteousness before this world, just imagine the impact we would have! Be comforted, our G-d knows us and understands us; He is compassionate.

Tisha b’av

All around the world, and up and down the Land of Israel this week on Tuesday we marked Tisha b’av, a serious and painful memorial of all the evil events that have befallen us over the millennia. We as Jews have had our fair share (some would say more than our fair share) of persecutions, attacks and dire existential moments. Difficult too to not fall into the trap of the ‘victim mentality’, it’s our lot in life, we are the lightening rod of abuse from a world openly in rebellion against G-d etc etc. The pain has shaped us and patterned our thinking, and yet… dare we even now have the courage to face reality?

In the first century one particular historical event fundamentally changed the course of Jewish history: the destruction of the Temple in 70CE. As this transformational moment is memorialised on Tisha b’av we are encouraged to consider why this happened. The Talmud teaches that the Temple was destroyed due to sinat chinam or ‘unfounded hatred’. There may be some truth to that as amongst the many ‘Judaisms’ of the first century it is known that rivalry and mistrust was huge. Different visions of what Judaism was, is and how to live as a Jew competed with each other in the faith market place for supremacy.

However, the focus on the physical destruction of the Temple hides a reality that we must actually turn our attention to. The Temple, as beautiful as it was, was only stone and superbly crafted and expensively decorated masonry. It was what the Temple stood for that was more important. The Temple was the ‘home’ of the visible and manifest presence of our G-d in our midst. With the Temple gone, that focus went too. We have to therefore ask, what is it that drives G-d’s presence away? The answer according to Torah is sin. King David amongst his own repentances cried out to G-d to ‘not take His Holy Spirit from him’, Rav Shaul talks about ‘not quenching the Spirit’, again in the general context of our sinfulness. Sin drives G-d away. Without His presence the Temple would not survive. The irony of the situation and (by extrapolation to today) its modern counterpart is brought out by Rav Naphtali Yehudah Tzvi Berlin in his commentary on Bereshit. He describes the Jewish community in the first century as a ‘generation of superior Torah knowledge and observance’. Today we too live in a day when Jewish study is deep and widespread, ranging across many different denominations. Yet study didn’t prevent the sin of the first century and consequent destruction of the Temple, and sadly despite our knowledge of Torah today that too cannot and will not save us. What we need now is a renewal and revival of Judaism that will reach out to all Jews, and subsequently the nations too, that will bring our G-d back to His rightful place in our faith and Land. G-d’s presence MUST be returned to the heart of Judaism, to the core of our faith. Once our sin has been dealt with and we are cleaned/washed again as Ezekiel determines WILL happen, then we can expect our nation to light up this world and so bring an end to the attacks that seem to be our constant travelling companion.

Reflected righteousness

Judaism poses us with a dilemma: An infinite G-d who reveals His righteousness to mankind through the Torah, His absolute standards of holiness and consecration, and then apparently sets us up to fail. As I mentioned before in a previous blog entry (I don’t desire sacrifice), the sacrificial system was only given because of our inability to keep Torah perfectly, and so we fail to actually lay hold of HIS righteousness, a righteousness which is vital to have in order to stand before Him justified and not die instantly. The protective layers of the Mishkan and later Temple were designed to keep apart a sinful and unrighteous man from a fully righteous G-d, who as the Torah says, does not desire the death of sinners. King Shlomo put it this way in 1 kings 8:46 ‘there is no one who does not sin’. Sin is breaking the commandment (to break one is to have broken them all, see also 1 Jn 3:4 ), and you can hear the desperate heart cry of the followers of Yeshua Mashichaynu in Matt 19:25 ‘who then can be saved?’ Yeshua’s answer is interesting: ‘With man this is impossible, but with G-d all things are possible.’ In essence He is saying that man can never reach that level of righteousness needed to enter the Kingdom, to be a part of Israel now and in eternity. But G-d CAN make a way for this to happen.

To be fair to our brothers in history, the Prushim (Pharisees) have been given a very, and undeservedly, bad press. Yeshua’s castigation was not laid against them because they were not righteous, but because the righteousness was not enough! Matt 5:20 makes this clear, our righteousness as Jews must EXCEED that of this particular sub-group in Judaism of the first century. The question is how, given that these men were indeed righteous and Torah observant? If they failed to meet the mark, still struggling with sin (and they did), then what hope does anyone have? Again, Yeshua’s words point the way ‘with G-d all things are possible’.

So how DO we achieve a level of righteousness that will allow us access to G-d’s presence? Thankfully the Lord has not left us to work this out for ourselves. One of His own names is Adonai Tzidkenu, the Lord our righteousness. Our G-d IS our righteousness and we have to have His righteousness given to us if we are ever to be righteous enough.  The next question then becomes, how do we receive such a righteousness? Do we have to earn it, pay for it, or just receive it? Is it dependent upon us at all? The answer is maybe surprising for those who have worked within the parameters of more recent forms of Judaism. The model of righteousness turns out to be Avraham avinu, who because of his faith, or better faithfulness in response, was given God’s righteousness, freely and undeservedly despite his own personal sin. G-d justified him because of his response towards what G-d was offering. In this way then the Prophet Joel fully understands the scope of this faith in that anyone can exhibit it, regardless of whether born Jewish or not: All who call on the name of the Lord can be saved.

Only by reflecting G-d’s own righteousness do we stand a chance of ever standing in His presence, a core desire and aim of Judaism. The writer to the Hebrews puts it in a radical way: (a) boldness to enter the Holy of Holies. This is no sacrilegious or iconoclastic act, but an understanding that through faith salvation can come, and that through the sacrifice that He alone could bring for our sins: Yeshua. With faith making righteousness possible we can come fully into His presence and not fear death.