Jewish nationalism.

As Avraham walked up and down the length of what would later become Israel, the Inheritance and Land of Promise, I wonder if he had any idea of just how ‘controversial’ such an action would later be considered. Where he walked, what he saw, it would eventually come to be the Land, the geo-political terrain that thousands of years later would still be at the centre of world politics. And this piece of real estate holds our attention as Jews, either for or against.. passions stir and our relationship today to this small, singularly Jewish nation and country still seems for so many to be uncertain. Shall we consider our nation as a secular democratic country amongst other Western nations and their traditions, or are is it a Zionist nation? Can we be patriotic, merely historic or even nationalistic about it? In an age where Nationalism as a positive cultural value-creator has become more associated with wars, genocides and even the Shoah, sliding down the societal options as a valid national expression, can we accept Jewish Nationalism?

Today Nationalism once more is on the rise across the globe, especially across the European Union, Russia and the Far East. The old Romantic notions and cultural paradigms of home and hearth, land and identity are resurgent. As if we haven’t learnt enough from history. The Jewish people have singularly learnt where Nationalism leads with its idolatrous glorification of one nation or people group over another. It leads to only one place: death. Usually of many tens of thousands if not millions. Given this historic background, should we even consider Jewish Nationalism? And yet…

If Nationalism has at its base the historic almost quasi religious identification of a people group with a piece of land, then surely Israel, of all nations CAN make a claim to a legitimate form of Nationalism. Our hearts ARE stirred by our Land; it was given to us by divine decree and we would remain in it as long as we observed the house rules. So it is no surprise then that this deep national stirring is taking form in Israel. Recently PM Netanyahu began a process that would define Israel in Basic Law as a Jewish State, and not just a national homeland for Jews. To define it such is to firmly put the flag of a nationalist identity into the foothills of Jerusalem. And why not? There will be resistance of course, not least from those who wish to see a two-state solution with its slow demographic death for Israel. The bigger and more pressing issue of course will be to define and create a working definition of the word ‘Jewish’. For Messianic Jews this is an exciting opportunity to see our national and spiritual homeland become a truly open country to ALL Jews regardless of religious persuasion. Avraham Avinu was not a 21st century Eastern European Askenazi Jewish man. Neither was he of the Orthodox persuasion. He had faith. With that faith he began a family (made up of ethnic Jews and converts) that created and inherited a national homeland. The rest is history. Israel will in time realise that the constituency of Messianic Jews scattered around the world are and will be one of the strongest supporters of our Land. If this ‘new Nationalism’ means anything then it must be inclusive. As Leat Collins in her editorial piece (Jerusalem Post 27.3.14, p5) said ‘The lesson that many in the West took from the Holocaust is that nationalism is bad; the message the Jews took from it is that nationalism is necessary’.

Advertisements

Just take 10 (9)?

Most people of the world living in developed nations are aware of the need to live with and under a system of Law that governs almost every area of our lives, national and personal. A lack of such Law and the ensuing corruption that inevitably surrounds such a situation is definitely seen as a negative, making day to day living difficult and unpredictable. Most people also will be able to tell you of 10 ‘laws’ that are enshrined into historical consciousness almost everywhere: the 10 Commandments. Leaving aside the question of terminology (commandments or word/ teachings/sayings) it is a fact that just about every law system in the world has its origin in the concept of a national Law code pioneered by Israel, or rather, by the G-d of Israel. The ‘Decalogue’ has inspired a sense of justice and righteousness wherever it has been allowed to flourish and be taken seriously. As a cultural and social heritage from Israel to the world it ranks very highly.

And this is the point. These ideas, concepts and ‘laws’ are not neutral. They had a time and a place in history, given to a people group in a specific location, designed to allow a functioning, real time, physical manifestation of the Kingdom of G-d on earth. The commandments form a living national signpost to reveal who the one true G-d is. And of course they represent just the beginnings of the revealed commandments given. Yet strangely the first 10 of the commandments have taken on a peculiarly universalistic role that is not reflected by the Torah itself. There is no ‘line break’ after them, the commandments and teachings of the Lord G-d continue throughout the rest of the Tanach. This artificial and abrupt¬† disconnect after the 10, driven by later theological developments alien to Judaism, downplays the actual strongly particularistic elements of the Sinai Covenant. Even the later rabbis, keen to provide some comfort to the nations vis-a-vis their relationship to the G-d of Israel, offered the so-called Noahide Commandments, not the Decalogue.

The first set of commandments begins with the particularistic statement that we should remember who it was who brought us out of Egypt. Conveniently forgotten by other faith groups as the first commandment, it nevertheless makes it clear that living under THIS system of Law is for those who ‘were brought out of Egypt’. Each Seder night we re-enact this departure to connect with our shared history; you have to be a part of the group, the nation, the people to actually understand and accept the teachings (commandments) that were given to US as a result of our redemption and deliverance. Salvation brings obligations.

The problem is that having universalised some of the Jewish faith, many are happy to leave the rest particular. This is not Judaism, and nowhere does Judaism foresee a time when aspects of it will be taken and some discarded as unworthy of application. What Judaism DOES foresee is a time when the wider universal outreach beyond the mere physical borders of the Land will gather in those from the nations who choose to align themselves with the G-d of Israel and the Jewish Mashiach Yeshua and then live accordingly. As Rav Shaul makes clear, G-d is the G-d of all, regardless of ethnic or national background, but He has chosen to make His message particularist to those who follow Him. Messianic Judaism is, if taken seriously, the developed universal form of Judaism that preaches inclusion and outreach, the particular with universal application. But it should be noted that it is Jews, living a form of Judaism that this happens, not by creating a different faith or religion. Nowhere do we see Judaism teaching or advocating the creation of a different faith expression to fulfil this inclusivist prophetic principle. A universalistic, disembodied set of principles may appeal to some who wish to distance themselves from Judaism, but it is not the Jewish way. The invitation to join us stands.

Survival

Everyone is talking about: demography. Barely a day goes by when the long term predictions about the number of Jewish people living in Israel discourages and the number of those marrying out disappoints. Facing the onslaught of the world, its values and beliefs, the sheer difficulty at times of living in Israel against all odds , being a part of the Jewish community can feel like being a people under siege, fighting to exist and even argue our case to exist!

In recent articles by the Jerusalem Post (12th July 2013) this was highlighted and once more the debate turned on the issue of Jewish survival. We must survive! We must do whatever it takes to survive! Now, no one will disagree with this, of course, and we must survive and will survive because the living G-d of Israel has decreed it to be so. JA Chairman Nathan Sharansky went on the record saying that the solution to this survival was to strengthen Jewish identity. We must endure that our children identify with Jewish life, nationhood and culture. Agreed. Again, Harry Triguboff argued that we could lose a whole generation of Jews unless we educate as, and teach our children to be Jews. Agreed. But the whole purpose of these proposed good acts is to… survive. It seems that to preserve the Jewish people is the highest goal; the aim of our existence is to exist; we survive so we can survive.

Is this what G-d has called us to? Were we brought up out of Egypt so we can survive? Given our own homeland so we can be preserved like some museum piece for the nations to look at? Is ‘mere’ survival the national aim of the Jewish people? We are a particular people but we have a universal message. We have Jewish roots but Jewish branches too for those of the nations to come and sit in. You can’t keep a good thing to yourself! Through us was given the oracles of G-d, states Rav Shaul; the very concepts of redemption, salvation, forgiveness, repentance, restoration, the idea of Mashiach and the truth of the One true G-d of all mankind were given through the calling and election of the nation, the people of Israel.

‘Merely’ educating in who and what we are will not set the next generation on fire with a passion to be Jewish. Bringing our young people to the feet of the One who called us in the first place, to serve Him and the national mission entrusted to us will however bring a passion with it. We shall survive because G-d is not liar and His word is faithful and true. Let us not worry about survival but serving the One to whom we owe our lives and to whom we give our allegiance. Let us concern ourselves with the calling to bring a message of hope and salvation to a world that so desperately needs it.

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.

Conversion – a dirty word?

Mention the word conversion and it can be a conversation stopper. Just hearing the word for most of us makes us feel as if we are the targets of that conversion, after all, down the bloody ages of our history we have experienced enough ‘encouragement’ to convert. Who needs it, who wants it? In any case, aren’t we all happy as we are and follow our western liberal tolerant line of live and let live? Yet such a reaction merely reveals our defensive and jaundiced view of the world and our calling and place within it. Conversion is a good word, because we are meant to be the people, the nation that reaches out TO other nations and peoples to convert and come and join us! This was after all our national task and responsibility, to be a light to the nations; what we have is good, positive and can help. What we have we are meant to share and not keep hold of.

It is good to see that some in the community are raising the profile of these issues. Ben Rich in the Jewish Chronicle 24.5.13 (http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/comment/107901/we-dont-marry-out-we-are-made) boldly lifted his head over the parapet and stated what we actually all know to be true: the pattern of conversion laid out by the Moabite woman Ruth stands as a reminder of what our true place is in this world. Despite the attempts by her mother-in-law to dissuade Ruth from returning to Israel with her, something of that light had had a profound impact upon her and she insisted on joining the family. Her faith carried her into the family, the people of G-d and so she became part of the national narrative that is Israel, the Jewish people.

Of course, by today’s standards she would never be allowed in. She hadn’t done this programme, or that course, hadn’t learnt about this or that, let alone the speed of the conversion. How many of today’s rabbis would recognise the conversion undergone by Ruth? Few I suspect. Yet surely all our anguished hand-wringing about Ruth’s conversion merely reveals to us, or should reveal, that we are missing something. Ruth never learnt ABOUT Judaism, the Jewish people, our history or destiny in Avraham, she EXPERIENCED it and it convinced her that that was the truth, the ultimate reality, the spiritual key that unlocks the image of G-d in us all. As uncomfortable as it is, it was her faith in G-d, His ability to follow through on His promises and covenants -something she had seen for herself despite personal tragedy- that convinced her.

Jewish conversion is about faith, not learning. We can pump prospective converts full with head knowledge yet leave them unchanged internally, in the heart, Jewish according to the certificate but gentile still. Ritual does not change someone that radically, education fails to change the human heart. Conversion is not to a religion but to G-d, it is a fundamental change of master and not just an intellectual re-tread.

In fact, the Torah makes it clear exactly WHAT is needed in Devarim 10:16 ‘circumcise the foreskin of your heart’. Our very nature, the core of our beings, our human essence, our hearts have to be changed, dedicated to Him and not ourselves and our natural evil inclinations. And in response to the next obvious question of how, Moshe replies in Devarim 30:6 that ‘the Lord your G-d will circumcise your heart’. This level of heart surgery can only be done by G-d Himself. He will change us, He will convert, He will ensure that not only those joining us are changed and dedicated to Him, but also that we in the family too can be radically touched by faith and have hearts circumcised unto HIM alone.

This is the doorway of conversion ,and it is the way Ruth the Moabitess walked into the nation and our history. By her faith she sands as a reminder to all who would follow after the one true G-d, the G-d of Israel.