Blowing away the dust of history (part two)

A couple of weeks ago we began to explore the encounter between Yeshua and an esteemed Torah scholar and community leader called Nicodemus. The encounter highlighted some conceptual and theological breakpoints between general Jewish understanding at the time and the focus that Yeshua brought to Judaism. If Nicodemus had so completely misunderstood the concept of salvation, earning him a gentle rebuke from Yeshua, what else had he or might he have had missed?
One of the clash points between Messianic Judaism and other forms of Judaism is the idea of salvation itself. Consistently throughout all the Torah, and in our wider Jewish consciousness, we know and read that G-d is our salvation, and only HE can offer it and fully provide for it. That is stated in many places in the Scriptures, for example, Is 43:11-14a, Is 49:26, and Is 60:16. G-d is our salvation.These, and many others, are the verses often quoted by some in other forms of Judaism who are antagonistic towards us as Messianic Jews. And in all honesty, you can’t argue with the verses, that is what they say. The implications given to the verses, however, is wrong. So how is it that in Messianic Judaism, and even for those very first Messianic Jews of the first century, we believe and teach that Yeshua is our salvation, and therefore by implication, Yeshua is, must be, G-d?
To answer this we need to unpack something called ‘Identity theology’. There is an example of this happening in the Besorah (Good News) recorded by Luke (Lk 7:11-17). There we read that after an encounter with Yeshua the people declared ‘G-d has visited his people’ (referring to Yeshua). The key question here is: How did they know? Yeshua didn’t tell them, yet the group there at that moment knew G-d had appeared in their midst. They knew because of what Yeshua DID, not what He preached, what He DID. He was able to revoke the power of death, reverse therefore the effects of sin on life and thus demonstrate Himself to be more powerful than sin and be able to overcome its consequences. Only G-d can do that. Freedom from sin, deliverance, redemption and salvation are events far more than theology, and G-d is known by His acts, actions and events. We ‘know’ G-d is able to set free because He did it and does it. So we know that He is by nature a G-d who releases people rather than brings them into bondage. It is why G-d consistently calls to mind the deliverance from Egypt as a key character statement of who He is. G-d IS salvation, and we see Him ACT in that way because it is His character, His identity. By saving, delivering and bringing us out of Egypt He is only being true to His nature and essence.
In he Second Isaiah section the prophet develops this ‘second’ Exodus motif in a deeper spiritual way, not merely physical this time but a deeper redemption. The passages culminate in the Suffering Servant by whose death this redemption is brought about. What is extraordinary about this is that this suffering servant pattern or template revealed by the prophet of humiliation and rejection followed by exaltation and acceptance becomes the definitive revelation of who G-d is. This singular act as it breaks into history is THE experience of G-d that ultimately defines Him. In the Messianic Writings we see the same conceptual understanding applied to Yeshua: He is the Saviour (the same term used in Tanach for G-d) who brings salvation (see Lk 2:11, 1 Jn 4:14). By His sacrificial death He fully develops the Jewish concept of deliverance and salvation, a release for freedom, free to live as G-d wants us to live. The links are clear; G-d IS salvation, it is His identity. He sends His salvation to us, His Son Yeshua, both are salvation, It’s not that His name just means it, He IS it. By Yeshua’s ACTIONS He proved that He is salvation and He is G-d. He overcame death and sin in His own body. Yes, all of this is in fact obvious from and in Judaism, although in other forms of Judaism this has been masked and concealed. Yeshua IS salvation, and thus Yeshua IS G-d. He is the embodiment, the physical shape of salvation, who Is G-d. Yeshua carries the identity of G-d in Himself. As Yeshua Himself said in Jn 5, He must do ‘the works the Father has given him to FINISH’. Yeshua’s works of salvation were not new in the first century, He had been doing them for a long time as the agent of salvation in history. But He did need to FINISH them, draw the idea of salvation to its conclusion. And that Yeshua did in His own death and resurrection, a sacrifice for sins that would truly set people free.
Blowing away the dust of history (part one)

Blowing away the dust of history (part one)

Some time ago a friend of mine was ‘chewing the theological cud’ with me about the vision and meaning of Messianic Judaism and made a comment that surprised me but caused me to think too. His comment (paraphrased) ran something like this: ‘It was Luther who invented the ‘saved by faith’ doctrine, so why does Messianic Judaism (as a branch of Judaism considerably pre-dating Luther) insist on teaching something that only Protestantism or later Evangelicalism teaches?’ His concern was real; to do so would be to undermine the actual foundations of Judaism and replace them with something else alien to the Torah and Judaism.

The question quite legitimately throws up some real issues about the core teaching and identity of Messianic Jews and Judaism. And the answer, although simple and obvious, leads us to ponder a much deeper Jewish issue of our own time.
Messianic Judaism is far from being the iconoclastic form of Judaism that it is often portrayed as being. It stands often accused of betraying core Jewish ideals and teachings, yet Messianic Judaism is at its heart a call to renewal and restoration in Judaism. The clue is in the ‘re-‘, for we are about taking core Jewish ideas and teachings afresh from the source document and texts that have forever framed Judaism (Torah) and applying them anew through the redemptive actions of G-d through Yeshua Mashichaynu (the Jewish Messiah). Our call as Messianic Jews is to re-establish the Jewish spiritual home and see a return to themes and ideas, concepts actually inherent in Judaism but covered up by the dust of history and lost in the diaspora theological development of the last 2000 years. The ‘saved by faith’ comment is one such concept that was not invented by Luther, nor yet even discovered by him, but if anything was ‘rediscovered’. The first converts to ‘Judaism’ (I use the term in its wider popular usage), were Avraham and Sarah. They were not born Jewish yet were counted as belonging to G-d not by dint of birth, nor by the high level of their observance (Torah was yet over 400 years away), but because of their faith. As the Torah says (in an uncomfortable truth kind of way), the righteousness of G-d was counted or reckoned to Avraham because of his faith alone. No person can stand before G-d and survive unless our righteousness matches His, and the way to achieve this is laid out in the Torah for this to happen: by faith alone. Luther at best rediscovered this ancient truth and recognised the reality of it for himself and for a deeper return to a true walk with G-d. But it had been there all the time. And it was Jewish.

But it got me wondering about the deeper issue of our own time: what else is there that our people simply are not seeing because of the dust of history. Leaving aside the obvious for one moment, the identity of Messiah, there surely must be more in the Judaism/ Torah archaeological dig that will be unearthed. And it reminded me of an encounter that Yeshua had with a man called Nicodemus, a Jewish ‘ruler’ (possibly a Sanhedrin member?) of the first century. He came to Yeshua at night to conceal his embarrassment of having any association with Him, and is told that no person can see the Kingdom of G-d unless he or she is born again. Nicodemus’ reply as to ‘how can this be?’ drew a gentle (but humbling) rebuke from Yeshua: ‘you are a leading teacher in Israel and do not know these things?’. Indeed, there DOES appear to be more, much more that even the best of our Sages and rabbis have missed. And Yeshua names it in one: salvation, being born again. He effectively says this idea, the redemption, salvation motif is the central core idea in Judaism. Not for nothing was this concept the central stage event of Jewish history in the Exodus, even granting the Lord His epithet ‘the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt’. But this salvation and redemptive act was not meant to be just physical but spiritual too. Just as Pharaoh had oppressed us, so too does sin and in some ways this has proven to be a much harder taskmaster than Pharaoh. In essence Yeshua says that Judaism and the Jewish people who live it out have at the core the message of deliverance and freedom from sin through atonement. It is our raison d’etre. Jews, Israel exists to shine a light of deliverance, salvation and redemption to a dark world. So that ALL who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

G-d with human names

It is very fashionable to talk about emerging spirituality in these modern times. You see congregations of all types, but increasingly Jewish and Christian, who feel the need to throw of the perceived (or otherwise) shackles of the past, to open up communities to more contact, to speak to a younger internet-savvy and media-rich generation for whom community increasingly means something very different. Such an approach to spirituality may appeal to many whereby doctrine and belief take a step back and lifestyle and life choices configure the format of our existences. Whatever ‘buzzwords’ we may want to attach to such expressions of modern faith, there is one concept that can struggle to gain the limelight it truly deserves: the G-d of Israel is not god. We do not worship a generic deity, god, who injects spirituality into our lives to ensure that the latest wellness mode of life is fully rounded and explored. That god is truly a ‘broad church’
We, as Jews, worship and believe in the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov. That He adds this epithet tells us so much about who G-d is. He is not a distant deity, unknowable, ethereal, impossible to experience, utterly ‘other’ and therefore unrecognisable. Despite the fact that for many of our people this sadly IS the reality in their daily experience of G-d, the Torah does NOT see G-d in this way. That He has names of real individuals in history attached to Him and His name tells us that He is the G-d who has broken through into their lives in a real way. The three Patriarchs have their names attached because they personally knew Him and walked with Him in a way that demonstrated not only their active faith but HIS actual reality and presence. We know what G-d is like when we examine their lives. The interaction between G-d and man illustrates so much of who G-d is, He is literally revealed through real situations. ‘I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt’ is not so much a historical event as a declaration of character. We know who He is, how He is by what we see and experience of Him. To know Him only by what the texts say is to have a very two-dimensional view of the living G-d of Israel.
In Judaism, and in Messianic Judaism par excellence, we see the gap between the ‘G-d idea’ and ‘G-d alive’ removed. He is not merely an idea, a theological concept, a necessary spiritual understanding for life. He lives and has revealed Himself often to us as a nation and through history. With Chanukah now on the horizon we are reminded that as He broke through INTO human reality in time and space we saw with our own eyes the nature and character of G-d Not surprisingly then do we see Yeshua during the season of Chanukah declare ‘I am the Light of the world’, a life lived through whom we could and still do see the reality of the presence of the G-d of Israel.

The Temple Mount is Jewish

There is much in the world right now that might lead one to conclude that it has collectively lost its senses. Be that as it may, this was only heightened by the recent decision by UNESCO to ratify a resolution generated by certain members of the UN that disavowed any historical Jewish connection with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. According to the authors of the resolution its stated aim of the text was “the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Palestine and the distinctive character of East Jerusalem” (see link below). The absurdity of the description and the falsity of its basic premise was ably summarised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said in a Facebook post that UNESCO had become a “theatre of the absurd” in taking “another delusional decision”. He continued “To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. By this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it had left.”

There are, thankfully, few within the Jewish world who would support such historical revisionism as is now accepted by the UN. The reasons for the outcry are, however, more nuanced. In a world where materialism and consumerism rule the conceptual roost it is fashionable, and has been for some considerable time, to see the world of faith a something purely ethereal and singularly spiritual by nature. This presentation of the Jewish faith merely sees faith wrapped up in joy, ecstasy or an emotional response to loving G-d. It is not even that unusual to hear the old ‘physical is bad, spirit is good’ dichotomy, taught by the ancient Greek philosophers. While it is true that the spiritual world underpins the physical, ignoring the physical is quite simply unjewish and unbiblical. In Judaism our faith is precisely rooted in the physical, the historical, the real world. G-d didn’t theoretically take us out of Egypt as a theological teaching tool, He actually DID take us out. Jewish faith is as much to do with dates and events as spirituality. We detect the Hand of G-d at work IN and THROUGH the physical real world around us. The reason why answered prayer is so powerful is because it shows that our G-d, while omnipotent, is not just so in theory: He can break through into this creational shell that is our temporary home. When He sent His salvation into human history He was born in a certain time in a certain place. Salvation has historicity.

To deny the physical reality of the spiritual is to follow through with the UNESCO resolution. Some may argue it makes no difference. It does. It is a crucial difference. Our G-d reigns not just on an ethereal plane but in reality in human lives, in time and place. Faith has a history, and it is important.

What the UN did with this resolution was not an action to side with an Islamist agenda regarding history. No, this was to take sides against the G-d of history who has left His fingerprints on the earth, in time. As such our response is not to become anti-Islamic but to recognise that we must work to become a stronger nation with all the historical ties to the Land legitimised in ways that only we can do as its inhabitants. A stronger national connection is the only answer to such historical revisionism. Ironically, by adopting this resolution, the UN has itself become an historic irrelevance, a footnote in man’s attempts to fight the G-d of Israel.

The last Trump

While our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who are suffering in the recent earthquakes in Italy and New Zealand, there has been another ‘earthquake’ in the last week that has the potential to realign the geopolitical tectonic plates around the world: the election of president-elect Donald Trump to the White House. The unrest that this has stirred coupled with the fact that well over 70% of the Jewish community in the US didn’t back Mr Trump (source Jewish Chronicle, 11th Nov 2016) means that this ‘shock result’ can not be ignored, despite some residual reluctance to appear partisan. According to reports in the Jewish Chronicle this week some US Jewish commentators are lining up to attack Trump’s election to what is arguably the most powerful political position in the world. Dan Friedman’s comment is typical: ‘The Jewish community is united in its opposition to Trump (….) he is mostly anathema to the Jewish vote’. Apparently even our Prime Minister, Netanyahu, has been less than effusive in his congratulations.
What should our response be? In an early response to the events Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote to all his employees quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said 50 years ago: “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” As Jews this sentiment has deep historical resonance for us. There simply is not a good day to stop moving. To stop is to surrender, to give in to a force that may feel overwhelming but in reality will pass. Despite the right-wing rhetoric bordering on anti-Semitism coming out of the Trump support base, we cannot, and must not conclude that the game is up. Cook continued in his communication: ‘While there is discussion today about uncertainties ahead, you can be confident that Apple’s North Star hasn’t changed.” If the CEO of a multinational can make that claim, then how much more so the Jewish people, the nation G-d has called into existence through Avraham avinu. Our continued presence on this planet is a provocative challenge to a human history littered with countries and leaders whose sole ambition it was was to see us annihilated. Israel’s ‘North Star’ is our G-d, our Redeemer, the One who has become our salvation. THAT will never change.
In Israel one can often hear the phrase ‘yehiyeh tov’ – it will be well. Indeed it shall be. Such confidence is born out of the solid covenantal conviction that G-d has not, does not and will never leave us. To take on the Jewish people is to attempt the impossible: to defeat G-d. As was spoken through the Prophet Daniel, the Lord ‘removes kings and raises up kings’. Blessed be the name of the Lord. History with its empires and kingdoms has ebbed and flowed with time, some have been kind to us, some less so. But Israel continues. Our G-d IS a G-d of justice and righteousness, His verdict is just and we can trust Him to be so. Whatever may yet come our way, from history, and Scripture, we know one fact: G-d is in control. Lift up our eyes, for our redemption is near. All will be well.

Architectural Falsehoods

A few years ago on one of my regular visits to Germany I happened to be in the beautiful city of Wittenberg, the spiritual home of Martin Luther whose writings and protests at the theology of the Catholic Church played such a part in the so called, and aptly called, Protestant Reformation. Any visit to that city will inevitably involve a walk down the main street ending at the church where Luther’s 95 theses were nailed to the front door in dramatic style. This act reverberated through ecclesiastical history as loudly as, if not more so, the slamming of Helen Huntingdon’s bedroom door against her husband…
While Luther’s protest was ostensibly about the theology surrounding indulgences, we cannot overlook the background to the church and its very sad inherited history, nor dare we forget Luther’s own commentary to the said events. It was there that in 1305 a carved image of the ‘Judensau’ (Jewish pig) was fixed high on the building, an image of Jewish people suckling on the teats of a pig while yet another examines the rear end of the animal. In Luther’s discussion of this some 200 years later he describes how this represents the Jewish people seeking the source of the unutterable Name in Judaism. Such appalling and shocking words are rightly today rejected by many if not most Christians, yet represented at the time a considered and widely accepted Christian theological position. In the Jewish Chronicle (see link below) Max Privorozki, a local German-Jewish leader, comments “There is no doubt that the Judensau sculpture is unseemly, obscene, insulting, offensive, libellous, a portrayal of hate speech and anti-Semitism and that it defames Jewish people and their faith. However, it should be seen within the context of the time period in which it was made.” Indeed. That the sculpture still exists has provoked a backlash today with plans suggested to remove it. Yet Privorozki continues that the sculpture should not be removed, as it “represents a testimony of medieval thinking and Christian architectural tradition”.

Such defamation and persecution was not, and sadly today is still not, that unusual in the world. Anti-Semitism lives on as strongly today as it ever has, and the ancient Catholic tradition of interpreting the Scriptures in this anti-Judaic (read anti-Semitic) way has either by accident or with malice aforethought contributed to the fuel used to fan such fires. That Christians today should be repenting of such attitudes is an excellent first step, yet as Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow and President of the Conference of European Rabbis, said: “Removing statues can be, on the one hand, symbolic. On the other hand, it might not be enough. The question is, to what extent the Protestant churches have gone through their history, liturgy, statements and religious texts to distance themselves from teachings which have elements of anti-Semitism.” Indeed again. It is simply too easy to argue that the Church of that time was misguided or not well enough informed, or even worse that such events were driven by those who were not ‘real’ Christians. None of the above is true and represents an escape clause and ‘get out of jail card’ for today’s believers who wish to distance themselves from anything too distasteful by today’s standards. The truth is that such events were driven by an integral and core theology that began in the late first to early second century, and was well under way by the fourth: Christian anti-Semitism. At times latent and better hidden, at others more open and hostile, the ‘necessary’ theological distancing of the nascent gentile body of believers spawned this institutional anti-Semitism, a sad and inevitable backlash against the ‘defeated’ nation of the Jewish people. The rest as they say is history. Rabbi Goldschmidt is totally correct in his view: repentance is fine, but a root and branch eradication of all early theology that was anti-Judaic MUST now happen too.

That this is needed was amply demonstrated by the reaction from one man who upon seeing us in Wittenberg crossed the road to speak to us and confront us with the Judensau to our faces. It wasn’t pleasant, yet affirmed that the spirit of anti-Semitism is still feeding off the sculpture and its history. By all means remove the image, but remove everything else too.

The Matrix of Love

I like to think. Sometimes it gets me into trouble as my thoughts often tend to wander beyond the ‘box’ where most people reside. My mind tends to reject boundaries of thought imposed by others who jealously guard their intellectual and philosophical/theological territory. Yet such intellectual and spiritual ‘truth-seeking’ is not only healthy but required in a world that apparently eschews faith and yet is built upon ‘faith’ in so many ways, be it secularism, scientism or atheism. This week threw up yet another example of such ‘faith’. In the Guardian online (link) a report appeared about Elon Musk and his ongoing desire to frame his bright new electric world. The article begins “Musk is just one of the people in Silicon Valley to take a keen interest in the “simulation hypothesis”, which argues that what we experience as reality is actually a giant computer simulation created by a more sophisticated intelligence. If it sounds a lot like The Matrix, that’s because it is.”
Such views have of course a long historical reach, as the article points out, they are not new. That we may be living in a reality within a reality is not however contrary to the Torah and Scriptures. If G-d is our final reality, a benchmark of ‘real’ in the universe, then we must concede that His eternity, outside of our understanding of time and the restrictions that places upon us as mere mortals, is the final prime reality. Our experience of the physical world as over against the deeper reality of the eternal spiritual world, must also take second place to His eternity. Such a view resonates perfectly with the idea that the physical Creation was a necessity predicated on the need for G-d to show us His love (love needing a demonstration to be real and meaningful). As created recipients made in His image we are able to not only recognise and receive His love but are able to reflect it back to Him again. Such a cycle of a beneficent God and love filled worship and service perfectly fits the picture we know within Judaism. Of course, by creating a somewhat artificial dichotomy between spiritual and physical (or as the Scriptures describe it, spirit verses flesh) the danger was always going to be real that the ‘nowness’ of what is seen and experienced would always cause us a problem in serving G-d (and it most certainly did… and sadly does).
Seen thus however, the question of the ‘more sophisticated intelligence’ behind this ‘simulation’ is answered. It’s not so much a comment about so-called intelligent design, it’s much more a focus on the Designer. The article goes on “That we might be in a simulation is (…..) a simpler explanation for our existence than the idea that we are the first generation to rise up from primordial ooze and evolve into molecules, biology and eventually intelligence and self-awareness. The simulation hypothesis also accounts for peculiarities in quantum mechanics, particularly the measurement problem, whereby things only become defined when they are observed. For decades it’s been a problem. Scientists have bent over backwards to eliminate the idea that we need a conscious observer. Maybe the real solution is you do need a conscious entity like a conscious player of a video game.”
I welcome the admittance that so many in the scientific world have had an agenda against G-d, despite the internal logical problems that throws up, which are well documented. In Judaism however there is no teaching about a Conscious Observer, or a sophisticated intelligence, nor merely a Grand Software writer, but a real, living G-d whose care, love and attention to us as His created beings in a Creation framework goes on from day to day, millennia to millennia. Our G-d is One who not only observes but breaks into the physical to demonstrate His love for us, His faithfulness and mercy. The greatest expression of this love was none other than in Mashiach Yeshua, whose life and death rent the physical asunder to reveal the deeper layer of reality: mankind and G-d could once more freely love each other unburdened by guilt and shame.
The wonderful truth that comes out of such thinking is that we do need a conscious entity who is running the ‘Creation app’, and it is difficult to make sense of this existential experience without Him. The revelation is that this One is the G-d of Israel, the only, unique G-d. As we continue through this Sukkot week and consider our fleeting years on this earth, sojourners no less on the planet, we would do well to consider our Maker’s ways and His ongoing desire that all men would know Him, and that no sinner should die.

Find a healthy source

In the Internet age that we currently live in it is vital to be not only wary of anything that we read, anything that comes up as the top link for X or Y or anything that we find in our research, but also fundamentally we need to know the sources of any information offered to us. In the egalitarian Internet of all equal voices the messages can so easily be consumed by the media and leave us feeling lost and bewildered. In the garden of knowledge the fruit of wisdom is not easily picked. It is why the prophet, speaking the words of G-d relating to Himself, said ‘Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters’. It is why Yeshua Mashichaynu at Simchat Torah said ‘if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’. G-d has always been our first source and inspiration for truth and understanding. In the spectrum of ‘sources’ in our age there is only One Source we need to hear.

Which is why when we move to consider our Judaism it is vital to know what sources we draw from. Judaism as the ‘religion’ given to the Israelites at Sinai, the national covenant of the Jewish people who had descended from Avraham, has as its source G-d Himself. It was given to us, a revelation, and not discovered by mankind. Judaism thus categorised by source should be ‘Judaism from Heaven’, or maybe ‘Heavenly Judaism’. All the more interesting then that as Jews we have applied many other modifiers than this to our Judaism to describe how we have adapted, or denominated this original form of Judaism into each subset. In the last 2000 years we have made use of these many modifiers to build the categories of rabbinic, orthodox, reform, liberal, masorti, modern orthodox, conservative, charedi, chasidic etc etc. Each one tells a story of sources and their impact upon the resultant form of Judaism.

This is highlighted in a recent article (see link below) in the Jewish Chronicle. As the article clearly and rightly explains, Rosh Hashanah has only one specific command attached to it: to hear the shofar blast. It is one command that is relatively easy to fulfil. That the festival nevertheless has been renamed away from Yom Teruah to Rosh Hashanah, and the numerous other commandments detailed in a dedicated tractate in the Mishnah introduced, shows us not that any of these per se are wrong, but rather that this is the expression of a form of Judaism (rabbinic) that has as its source the rabbis and sages of ancient times. Now, as someone who has read and loved these rabbis and their writings, I can accept and acknowledge their deep commitment to Judaism and its continuation. But that is not the issue. The issue here is sources.

In rabbinic Judaism the sources, and authoritative texts include not only Torah but Talmud and the many other later writings. Tradition plays a large role in the generational transfer of faith. None of this is in itself necessarily bad, but the original concept of source in Judaism is G-d Himself, and not man’s traditions, however good and noble they may be. In Messianic Judaism the source is G-d Himself, through Yeshua our Mashiach (Messiah). Our source texts are the accounts of the teachings of the Mashiach in the first century and the letters written by the first generation of hearers and followers of Yeshua. For us Messianic Jews these texts are as authoritative as the Talmud is for rabbinic Jews. And just as the Talmud and the later rabbinic writings play a role in defining rabbinic Judaism today (Orthodoxy), so too the Messianic Writings define our Judaism too. Our prophetic task as Messianic Jews right now is to redefine Judaism around the teachings of Mashiach (rather like many Lubavitch do with the teachings of one of their former leaders, subsequently declared by many to be Messiah). This is nothing other than a radical shift of sources, finding the One original source again that alone can define what Judaism and should be: G-d.

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 (…/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!