His hands alone.

At times it seems like the problems and issues facing us as Jews, our nation of Israel are so overwhelming that we might despair of ever seeing a way forward. The tragedy and sadness of the deaths of the three this last week have underlined our continued existential threat, not only in Diaspora but right inside our precious Land. As the debates rage about responses and solutions to this, the Jewish Chronicle (http://www.thejc.com/news/world-news/120090/whose-hands-hold-future 27.6.14) headlined two contrasting futures: one of continued hatred and the other of a possible hope. Or was it?

The hope outlined in the JC was the apparent good news of a new building in Berlin called the ‘House of One’, a building that contained a mosque, church and synagogue, combined in an architectural unity as if the bricks themselves were, are the message. The future? Have we not historically been the people of G-d, ‘living alone’? Indeed, it has been this very attribute that has allegedly caused some of the worst outbreaks of anti-Semitism in the past; We don’t fit in, have different customs and traditions. So is the future an ecumenical sunrise where all three monotheistic faiths merge into one? Or maybe all religions blending together into a homogeneous whole?  After all, according to some people all ‘ways’ lead to ‘god’. Judaism reborn as a hybrid universalism where the only rule is ‘be nice’?

Judaism needs renewal, our reborn nation demands it and our people expect it. The way ahead for this is to remind ourselves that we do not believe in god. We believe in the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, the G-d of Israel. His commandments are specific, clear and are, if taken in faith and trust through the salvation HE alone offers, transformational of the heart, mind and lifestyle. Our G-d is unlike any other deities, and we are forbidden to worship them. Our G-d is the One true G-d, He does not share His glory with any other, His teachings are unique for lifestyle, values, righteousness and the fruit thereof.

Surely the way ahead is to challenge the errors of the past, to return to paths forgotten, cleanse out the accumulated ‘clutter’ that has clouded vision and purpose, re-examine who and what we are and why we exist again. Embedding the differences in a pretend synonymity will only bring yet more confusion and disasters only paralleled by those brought on by the idolatrous syncretism of our ancient past. The journey from Balaam to Pinchas is tragically short.

Renewal and the future of Judaism is surely about rediscovering the command ‘to write these words on your heart’. Only by an internalising of Torah, a radical restructuring of our hearts and intents, can we ever hope to see the glorious Judaism outlined in the Torah itself. Avraham is our key: For by loving kindness are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of G-d (Bereshit -Genesis- 15:6 and letter to Jewish community in Ephesus ch 2).

 

 

 

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Applying the right medicine

We live in an age where ‘management-speak’ rules the workplace and increasingly our own personal lives. And to be fair, not all of it is bad either. One of the tag-lines banded about so often is that we should all become self-reflective practitioners, to develop the ability to self-analyse and be self-critical with a view to self-improvement. Leaving aside for a moment the element of ‘self’ in all this which panders to our modern perception of the importance of our own individuality and self-worth (ego), the idea that we should take a sharply self-critical view of ourselves is in line with Torah thinking, and Yom Kippur was not that long ago that we should have already forgotten the positive impact of such deep inner reflection. The question however arises as to what to do when one has correctly assessed the real situation you find yourself in; what medicine or even antidote do you apply. What is the way ahead?

In the lest few weeks two very interesting articles have highlighted both the situation and the question. We ARE beginning to recognise that Judaism just can’t carry on like it is now, that we need renewal and reformation. I have quoted at some length from the article below with links for further reading:

The Pew report in the USA discusses the assimilatory tendencies in American Judaism, and the projected end of the community in that country: <The Pew report shows unequivocally that today’s American Jewry (..) derives its Jewish identity from factors completely devoid of any semblance of the source of Jewishness: Judaism.

What both the Pew survey, as well as common sense, confirms is that the only honest and sustainable justification to be Jewish is belief in the holiness of the Torah and the sanctity of the commandments therein. You either truly believe in divinity or you ascribe the holy texts to the lunatic ramblings of dessert wanderers, driven mad by infinite sand and desolate horizons. You simply can’t have it both ways.> http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-spiritual-genocide/

These are indeed noble sentiments addressing a real question, the loss of Jewish identity and how to get it back again. The author points correctly to where the solution is to be found: in rediscovering what Judaism is about. That is impossible without engaging with the G-d who gave us this revelation beyond worth.

Rabbi Naftali Brawer, a popular rabbi in the UK who heads the Spiritual Capital Foundation, wrote at length recently on the same topic and problem in the Jewish Chronicle 6.9.13 ‘Talking about G-d is the last taboo’, but addressing the need for renewal and its focus more directly: <If we are to advance a Judaism that is compelling and relevant to the majority of thinking Jewish adults today we need to move beyond the simplistic and uni-dimensional concept of God that is taught to children and to develop a theology that captures our experience of God in an increasingly complex world.

We need a theology that takes account of such issues as evolution, biblical criticism, feminism, universalism and pluralism. We need a theology that reflects the reality of the State of Israel and Jewish power rather than one that echoes Jewish victimhood. The cost of not continuously renewing our theology is to allow a growing rift to develop between God and our lived experience, rendering God irrelevant. Judaism gave the world the gift of monotheism. We owe it to ourselves and to the world to ensure that it remains more than a cultural artefact.

We need our rabbis, educators and thinkers to engage deeply in questions about God and His place in our world so as to shape a powerful, relevant and compelling God-Conscious Judaism for the 21st century.>  http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/comment/111130/talking-about-god-last-taboo

His brave and determined words face up to the reality of our situation and reach forward for answers. His courage is to be applauded for dealing head on with the real issue for Jewish identity in a modern and post-modern world: We need to talk about G-d. To stop hiding in historical issues however severe and begin to positively map out the territory that is Jewish and Israeli.

But it surely must be even more than this too. To talk about G-d is to ask the timeless question ‘who is G-d?’ This is not to ask ‘who’ in the historical sense of the G-d of our Fathers, but who He is in terms of His nature, character, yes even ‘personality’. What can we expect of Him? The questions edge towards a more fundamental issue: to know who G-d is, is to know Him. Knowing is relational and not mental or academic. It is why He defines Himself as ‘I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt’, historical acts and events DEFINE who G-d is. We know Him by His deeds. How many of us have that deep a relationship with G-d to recognise when He acts in our lives, and even more, would know it to be HIM because it fits our experiential and theological expectations. That G-d chooses to self-declare as the One who delivers, sets free and redeems from Egypt is crucial to our understanding of who He is. Our G-d brings freedom. It is also why in the first century that many of our people from all classes and strata of Jewish society accepted Yeshua as Mashiach because in and through Him they could see and experience the freedom, redemption and salvation promised in Judaism as a hallmark of G-d’s activity in the affairs of men. Such public demonstrations brought forth the response in the people ‘G-d has visited His people’ (Besorah according to Lukas).

So let’s talk about G-d. Let’s begin the discussion and debate before it is too late. Our Jewish identity hangs on us knowing who our G-d is, before we cease to care.

Jews for Judaism

Well, what else would we be for? Judaism is, after all, what Jews do, isn’t it? And of course it is this obvious response to the truism of the phrase that the so called ‘anti-missionary’ organisation thus named expects. I have no issue with Jews ‘doing’ Judaism, nor with an organisation that attempts to ensure that Jews continue to ‘do’ Judaism. Judaism is what has been given to the descendants of Avraham as the revelation on Sinai; our precious call and task (and consequent national spiritual responsibility) to inform the nations too of the righteous standards of the Creator G-d in whose image ALL humanity was and is made. When we see this, we can, and should, only conclude that Judaism IS good. It IS G-d’s good gift to us as His people.

So, how odd then that the word Judaism has become such a byword for something that is wrong, incomplete or old-fashioned. Worse, as David Nirenberg wrote recently in his Jewish Chronicle essay (‘Anti-Judaism – a prejudice far more deeply embedded than anti-Semitism’ http://www.thejc.com/node/111009), ‘Judaism’ has come to be a negative emotional, mental and cultural concept that people use to make sense of their world and the problems in it. It also explains the modern rise of anti-Judaism where anti-Semitism is too risky a cultural option. This cultural, spiritual framework, where ‘Judaism’ is seen as a problem, an unreformed (and unreformable?) relic of the past, can only produce a twisted view of a current reality.

This is certainly true today in the growing Messianic Jewish movement. There are some who insist on categorising this Jewish revival movement as just about anything other than Judaism. One senses the cultural and spiritual unease in words spoken and written. Unable to move beyond the narrow confines of a monolithically self-defined Judaism that has defended its borders well from all invaders, and to be fair kept us ethnically if not always spiritually protected down the millennia, many feel uneasy about reformatting the Jewish hard-drive. Yet Jewish renewal has been a constant friend of the Jewish nation and people down the centuries. We have survived because of innovation and the ability to take the living words of G-d and apply them flexibly, intuitively to each new generation.  To renew IS to act Jewishly. To have the courage to renew takes faith and a determination to see our people turned back to our G-d once more.

At the heart of the Jewish renewal called Messianic Judaism is the restoration of the Mashiach, Yeshua, the JEWISH Messiah who was born, lived and died a Jew. His followers, all Jews, continued this radical renewal of the Jewish faith, and yet, there will still be some who cannot get beyond the vague uneasy feeling that there is a problem with Judaism per se. There is not. It needs renewal in Mashiach and we continue to work and pray for that. Jews for Judaism? Absolutely.

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.

Ethical monotheism in a noisy world.

We live in a noisy world. Have you noticed that it is almost impossible to go somewhere and experience complete quiet? As technology has increased and the ability to communicate has expanded, we are bombarded by voices and messages from all angles. And in this post-modern age one voice seems to be equal to any other. Who can tell what website to believe? What book worth reading? And in all this, wisdom and knowledge has not abounded, but confusion. If Torah teaches us anything it is that this scenario should not be so. Again and again we find that G-d speaks, says and even calls to Moshe and our people to listen to HIM and to Him alone. Some may say of course (as our people did in the wilderness according to the Sages) that Moshe only ever spoke for himself, that it was his voice we heard and not that of our G-d who had brought us out of Egypt. However, the internal testimnoy of the Torah reveals a G-d who not only desires to speak and communicate with us, but has done so, par excellence in the revelation given at Sinai: Torah. It is incumbent upon us as Jews to therefore LISTEN to Him. Why is this so important for our renewal and revival? Because unless we refocus upon our G-d and His acts of redemption for us, listen to His voice alone, we shall not rise up fully to our national call to be a light to the nations. That calling has always been to serve G-d and deliver the message of ethical monotheism to the world.

And what does that mean? In the Torah we were given commandments which, if carried out, would separate us from the ways of the nations around us. The intrinsic, deep seated sense of social justice and relational righteousness sits at the heart of Torah, and when it was given, put clear blue water between us and the nations around us at the time. Today, because of multiple source inputs, people listen to all kinds of philosophies, traditions and various alternative spiritualities to find this sense of justice and righteousness. If we paused for a moment and listened to G-d and examined afresh His revelation to us, we would find His voice, know His voice and obey, finding His righteousness and nothing else.

The words ethical monotheism are meant to be read together. Some want ethics but without the baggage of believing in G-d, some just want to the spirituality of believing in G-d but aren’t so strong on the social and communal obligations of an ethical life. But our calling has been to combine these two words together to be a light. G-d is our source of ethics, the One true G-d of Israel. Without His revelation we would have no ethics, or at least only a man-made copy and invention, an ethics of human expediency.

So we must listen to His voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd, and we have the guarantee that His Spirit will lead us into all truth, if we submit to Him. What we discover as Jews is that the truth sets free, and that must come from our G-d alone. Being set free becomes not only the motif of Pesach but the bedrock of what true ethical monotheism is all about.