Of course we all have our biases. Reading in this week's parashah, I found myself wondering whether Hertz's selected commentary might sometimes be "too positive". Genesis 29:17 says:
A standard translation:
And Leah's eyes were weak; but Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon.
The general idea conveyed by most translations has been that Leah was unattractive physically, whereas her younger sister Rakhel (Rahel, Rachel) was a beauty. Yet Hertz comments on the translation "weak":
Better, tender, which the Targum understands in the sense of 'beautiful'.
Later, in v. 31, there is a similar moment:
And ADONAI saw that Leah was hated, and He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
Hertz remarks on "hated":
The word here only means 'less loved' — not that Jacob had an aversion to her, but that he preferred Rachel; cf. Deut. XXI, 15.
Thus, in both cases of a textual contrast between the two sisters, Hertz lessens the severity of the difference — thereby making the narrative more positive or palatable. If he is correct, it is important to know that in order to understand the text correctly. Yet at the same time, we know that Torah certainly does include dramatic conflicts between siblings. Just last week we read about Ya'aqov (Jacob) and 'Esav (Esau) fighting already in the womb of their mother Rivqah (Rebekah)!
So is Hertz's interpretation a needed revision of traditional translation, or biased sugarcoating of an unpleasant reality? Hebrew & Torah scholars, what say ye?
Incidentally, the implications of Hertz's interpretation affect many other passages, such as Malachi 1:2-3:
Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith ADONAI; Yet I loved Jacob; but Esau I hated.
In fact, Hertz makes the same comment here:
'Loved' and 'hated' in this and the preceding verse are relative terms only, denoting that one has been preferred to another; cf. the similar phraseology applied to Leah and Rachel, and used in Deut. XXI, 15.
The same type of phrasing appears also in (e.g.) Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26. This interpretation could also affect (e.g.) Gen. 22:2.
Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι ἀποδεκατοῦτε τὸ ἡδύοσμον καὶ τὸ ἄνηθον καὶ τὸ κύμινον καὶ ἀφήκατε τὰ βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου, τὴν κρίσιν καὶ τὸ ἔλεος καὶ τὴν πίστιν· ταῦτα [δὲ] ἔδει ποιῆσαι κἀκεῖνα μὴ ἀφιέναι.
Woe to you Torah scholars and Perushim, pretenders! For you give the tenth of mint, dill, and cumin; yet you have left undone the weightier matters of the Torah: justice, mercy, and faith. But it is necessary to do these things, and not to have left the others undone.
ירמיה, I remember you suggested that the ordinary translation might not be quite right — or else you had some other insight on the last part of the verse in the Jewish-Greek text, and how it should be interpreted. Could you share your thoughts again?
Of course, the way I am presenting this idea is somewhat exaggerated. Or is it?
Last week I had an intriguing, but mostly odd, conversation with a friend of mine which expressed something I have heard many times over the years in Christian circles. His basic point was that when he reads scripture he sees that God related differently to humanity in the "Old Testament" than how He did in the "New Testament". Essentially he described the God of Wrath and the God of Grace. He sees all the killing versus the mercy and grace.
I could list hundreds of cases of God's mercy expressed to Israel and the world in the Tanakh. Not even to mention the very fact that God didn't destroy all of Israel in the wilderness, like He wanted to, but relented because of Moshe's pleading. I could also list many times that Yeshua describes God's judgement and condemnation. I'm not going to list them all now; but rather I want to raise this issue, and everyone can read for themselves.
The larger issue is not over specific cases, rather perspective and way of understanding God and scripture. I recognize that very few people actually present two different Gods explicitly. Nonetheless, when we break down their arguments this is what it comes down to. A root of the problem, which most likely will be discussed frequently in the blog, is that as Christianity was developed it set itself in contrast to and in place of Israel. The very thing that Shaul warned the Romans about in becoming prideful in relation to Israel! In doing so Christianity had to rework its relationship to the "Jewish" scriptures. (Another related subject is the fact that the Messianic Writings are "Jewish" scriptures as well!) One way in which it was done was the creation of difference between God's character in the "Old Testament" versus the "New Testament". Clearly grace sounds better than wrath! I believe this attempt was to de-legitimize (to use post-modern terminology) Israel, not God. Regardless, I see this as an affront to God Himself.
God was very clear. He is unchanging. He told Moshe that His name is אהיה אשר אהיה, which is commonly mistranslated as I AM. It's not as much of a mistranslation as it is an attempt to translate something that doesn't translate well. A better translation perhaps could be, "I will always be who I always have been." This may not be the exact meaning, but it better expresses the intent, which is God's eternal nature. God always has been a God of justice and mercy, and He always will be.
Here is one way those close to Yeshua understood the "wrath of God" as expressed in the Tanakh.
2 Kefa (Peter) 2:4-6
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter. (emphasis mine)
Yehuda (Jude) 5-7
Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (emphasis mine)
I recommend reading the context in which the verses above were written. When one views the scripture properly, as a whole, things make more sense.
Harvey, Richard. Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology: A Constructive Approach. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009. 316 pp.
Note: I submitted this review to the editors of Mishkan (of whom Harvey is one) in April 2010. I never received any reply.
Abstract: A useful book, but infused with an excessive bias toward systematization. The author pushes MJ thinkers in a direction that inevitably leads to distorting Truth.
Richard Harvey's new book organizes and outlines a wide variety of "Messianic Jewish" theological perspectives. It is therefore a very useful reference work. The reader can see at a glance what people as varied as David Stern, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Mark Kinzer, Baruch Maoz, Tzvi Sadan, John Fischer, Elazar Brandt, and other current "practitioners" have to say about Torah in theory and in practice, the deity of Messiah, and other important topics. Harvey's "Conclusion" furnishes a helpful "typology of eight major streams of thought within Messianic Jewish Theology." [262, 267-277] Readers already familiar with the wide spectrum of Messianic Judaism(s) will not be greatly surprised by this final summation. Nonetheless, even the most experienced can appreciate the way he brings coherence to the sometimes chaotic jumble of contradictory views making up "the movement." This book is one that I would like to keep on my bookshelf as a kind of mini-encyclopedia of selected MJ viewpoints.
In 2008, the journal Mishkan devoted most of Issue 57 to the earlier version of Harvey's work, his Ph.D. dissertation completed at the University of Wales under the direction of Rabbi Dr. Dan Cohn-Sherbok. Excerpts by the author and review articles by others elucidated the main content, questions, and arguments of Mapping Messianic Judaism. Rather than covering the same ground, I'd like to express some additional thoughts stimulated by Harvey's book. My hope is to offer a balancing perspective on some broad, underlying issues regarding how we ought to approach Scripture and our faith.
Mapping comes accompanied by promotional blurbs asserting its "fairness." To a significant degree, they are accurate. In the descriptive part of his book, Harvey treats each school of thought academically, even clinically, without passing judgment. His concern is to present a range of MJ perspectives, from extremely pro-Christian to enthusiastically pro-rabbinic, rather than to push one or another point of view. This apparent objectivity is commendable.
At the same time, Harvey's book is highly biased in one particular way.
[Opening lines of Ukrainian-Jewish Relations, ed. Potichnyj & Aster (1988)]
I believe the question of observing Torah is a simple matter.
The basis is that Torah is God’s commandments to Israel, and there is no indication that it is a temporary system. The burden of proof is on those who say Jews do not need to observe Torah.
Most all arguments against observing Torah come from Shaul’s letters. We can address his different statements in another place because it is not my intention to do that here. I merely note that I am aware of these arguments. One who takes this stance against Torah has to deal with Yeshua’s own words that he did not come to abolish the Torah (Matt. 5:17).
Putting Shaul’s points aside, which were written to Gentiles, not Jews, there is a very logical argument based on historical evidence.
The largest issue that arose when the message of Yeshua began to spread to the nations was whether Gentiles need to be circumcised and follow the Torah. The elders in Jerusalem decided that Gentiles were not required to observe all of Torah (Acts 15). The underlining assumption was that Jews still must follow God´s commandments as given in the Torah. Otherwise it never would have been an issue for the Gentiles! The question would have been asked if anyone needs to observe Torah. This question is not raised.
One response I have heard is that the elders had not quite understood what Yeshua had done and the consequences for us. As time passed more revelation was given and it was understood that none need to observe Torah. I find this argument speculative at best and at worst preposterous.
If anyone has a better explanation I am ready to listen. Otherwise I am going to follow the example of Yeshua´s own students, who knew him quite well, and observe Torah as an expression of my love for God.
There are many questions that arise when we approach these texts. Broadly we may want to know what these ancient texts mean for us today. Naturally, we come with our own assumptions. Some approach them from a critical perspective, attempting to dissect the texts as one would any other ancient text. On the other side, there are those who see it as the eternal Word of God and there is no room for modern critical analysis.
I personally sit somewhere in between. I believe God spoke to people and they wrote it down. I also believe that these human writers were writing in a cultural context. In addition, there is the issue of transmission and questions of scribal errors or additions, but I'm not addressing these right now.
The issue I want to raise is the importance of context. I disagree strongly with the classical Rabbinic approach, in which a verse or phrase can be used to prove their point based on the use of a particular word. Their approach is founded on the assumption that there is no past of future with God's Word. Since it is eternal context is irrelevant. I believe it is dangerous to "pluck" a line out of context to prove a point. Beyond a cultural context there is the immediate textual context. Writers are expressing certain thoughts and we need to try to understand the train of thought. For example, I could use two different phrases in Shaul's letter to the Galations to "prove" opposite ideas. Therefore, when I discuss my understanding of something and I want to show how it is expressed in a particular passage I'll quote it while trying to keep in mind the textual context. I also judge individual thoughts arising from a certain passage against the larger picture I see in scripture.
One significant phrase, for example, which in my opinion has been taken out of context, that influences our daily life in Israel is Ex. 34: 26b: לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו Do not boil a kid in his mother's milk.
Just according to my own logic I've never thought that the intention was eating a cheeseburger. It definitely is not referring to a cream soup with a chicken broth base.
I've read articles examining possible parallels to cultic practices in other ancient cultures to explain what this might mean. In my opinion the textual context tells us a lot, and I only paid attention to this recently.
This commandment is given after instructions regarding the three pilgrim festivals (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot). [note: As I continued to read the parashot I realized that this same commandment is given again, Deut. 14:21, in the context of which animals should and should not be eaten.]
V. 25 "Do not slaughter with a fermented thing the blood of My sacrifice; and the sacrifice of the feast of the passover shall not remain till morning:"
V. 26 "the first of the first-fruits of the land you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God; Do not boil a kid in its mother's milk."
It is clear from the context, at least to me, that this is not a general command regarding meat and dairy. The previous commandments very specifically refer to aspects of different festivals. Logic would say that "boiling a kid in his mother's milk" would fit in this same category. Granted I still do not understand the connection and background to this commandment, but I believe based on context alone we can say with a high degree of certainty that it is related to a cultic practice.
My point with this example is that context is vital for proper interpretation. As soon as we read and try to understand any text we interpret it. I don't believe we can be one hundred percent objective, but my hope is that we strive for it.
I live absurdly
Jew that I am
Camus would marvel at me.
Beckett should write me
in a play
Tefillin, my prayers;
Kashruth and mikveh.
Fasting appointed days.
And even beyond these,
my love for a land
and an ancient walled city,
my lean hungry eyes
have never seen.
I am a servant of the ages.
Part of a people with a dream
A Jew living absurdly
in love with his God.
[Cited in: Rausch, Messianic Judaism, 107-108]
(This post is in response to comments re: Whatever Happened to Messianic Judaism?)
About thirty years ago David Rausch investigated the history of the MJ movement. He wrote in part:
« It is ironic that The Hebrew Christian Alliance of America [founded 1915] was charged in the early years of its existence with some of the same charges that Hebrew Christians would level against Messianic Judaism during the 1970s. In 1940, Rev. Elias Newman addressed the Silver Jubilee Hebrew Christian Alliance Conference in St. Louis, Missouri and reminisced about those early difficult years:
"Twenty-five years ago when we began to unite we were warned, we were threatened, we were cajoled, we were urged not to form such an alliance. It was supposed to be unscriptural. We had to watch our steps. If we wanted to eat a Jewish corned beef sandwich we were considered Judaisers. If we wanted to get married we were told we must marry a Gentile; there were a few Hebrew Christian girls and they had to marry Gentiles and if we were impudent or imprudent to cast an eye upon one of these maidens, flesh of our flesh, we were considered in danger of apostacy, etc."
Newman said that some Christians were afraid that the Alliance was trying to form "a Hebrew Christian Church." He wryly mused about this view, "Hebrew Christians must not unite. Union was only for Gentile Christians."
As one travels the United States and interviews Messianic Jews today, he is impressed with the fact that quite a few leaders believe they coined the term "Messianic Judaism." Of those who are not quite so bold as to suggest such pioneering, many Messianic Jews believe that the term originated within the last 10 or 20 years. It is quite amazing, therefore, to find out that the fledgling Hebrew Christian Alliance of America did some "attacking" in its early period, thwarting a controversy that might have split it asunder if more of its members had adhered to such "heretical" dogma. The year was 1917 and the controversy: Messianic Judaism.
It seems to have disappeared.
A few who call themselves "MJ" have gone in the direction of Rabbinic Judaism. Most have gone in the other direction, collapsing back into Hebrew Christianity. Today it is rare to find MJs who see any essential difference between their own faith and Christianity. Those few who do are unlikely to be non-rabbinic. The core, the heart of MJ has vanished.
This is a great tragedy. The very raison d'etre of the movement has been lost. In the late 1970s, David Rausch studied the MJ movement and determined that a primary defining element was separation from Hebrew Christianity. Hebrew Christians also believed in Yeshua and also claimed some Jewish heritage. Yet there were vast differences in identity, Scriptural interpretation, lifestyle, and self-perception. Hebrew Christians were Christians of Jewish ethnic background who viewed themselves as Christians but also wanted to maintain some elements of familial Jewish culture. By contrast, Messianic Jews were both ethnically and religiously Jewish, viewed themselves as Jews, did not accept Christianity, believed in a Jewish Messiah, and sought to live in an explicitly Jewish and Torah-centered community.
Today that difference has all but disappeared, because bona fide MJ has all but disappeared. Those who would have been considered Hebrew Christians thirty years ago now call themselves Messianic Jews. So-called MJ congregations are often copies of Christian churches, with little bits of Jewish culture added in (the classic Hebrew Christian model). "MJ" leaders often refer to themselves as "rabbis" but nonetheless function within the framework of "Christian orthodoxy." Previously standard MJ views — e.g., "I'm a Jew, not a Christian" — are met with accusations of being "too Jewish" (sic!!).
What happened?? Why? And what can we do to change the situation?
Let us hope that true MJ is not yet dead, and may yet make a resurgence. Let us hope that a biblical, messianic, Jewish faith founded on the Tanakh will yet touch the heart of Am Yisrael!
This brief investigation brought me to some interesting thoughts, not necessarily related to the Angel of the LORD.
First of all, the account of giving the tablets appears in Exodus 31:18 and Deuteronomy 9:10. In both places the same phrase is used that they were written באצבע אלהים (the finger of God). This seems to be the primary basis for this argument. To be fair I've never heard the argument developed fully, only references as if it is widely understood and accepted. Why are believers so uncomfortable with anthropomorphisms? Why does every reference, for example, to God's right hand have to be Yeshua?
As I looked at the passages I noticed some other things. The "Ten Commandments" are listed in Exodus 20, but the description of giving the tablets, referred to as לוחות הברית או לוחות העדות (the tablets of the covenant or of the testimony), isn't until chapter 31. In Deuteronomy the "Ten Commandments" are in chapter 5, but the tablets are given in chapter 9. What's interesting is that there are other commandments given in the chapters in between, in both books. My first thought was why then are the "Ten Commandments" thought of being the ones written on the tablets. Then as I read more I realized that it is indeed explicit in the text.
ויגד לכם את בריתו אשר צוה אתכם לעשות עשרת הדברים ויכתבם על שני לחות אבנים (Deut. 4:13; cf. Ex. 34:28, Deut 10:4)
Clearly it is significant that God commanded to write these particular ten utterances on tablets of stone. But did He intend such a huge separation of understanding between these ten things (note that they are not all commandments) and the rest of His commandments? What I mean by this is the way some state that the Ten Commandments are what we must all keep for all time, but the rest of the Torah has passed away.
Maybe we get this division from Yeshua?
The only reference Yeshua makes to the Ten Commandments, that I am aware of, is the well-known story of the "rich young man" (Matt 19; Mark 10).
When asked what one must do to inherit eternal life Yeshua responded, "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself". (Matt. 19:18)
I only count 5 out of the ten, and he adds this thing about loving your neighbor (Lev. 19:18). Was his memory that bad?
When asked what is the greatest commandment, he forgot the "Ten Commandments" completely . He responded with love God (Duet 6:5) and love your neighbor (Lev. 19:18). All of the Torah and the Prophets hang on these two.
Jewish vs. Christian
I have noticed that too often I, and we, are drawn into discussions in which we contrast Judaism and Christianity. This comparison can lead to confusion because it's mixing two separate, yet related issues. First and foremost we have issues of truth. Secondly, there are issues of culture.
There are many issues, particularly dealing with the way we understand God and our interaction with Him, with which I disagree. It just so happens that these ideas have been developed within Christianity. But my problem is not that they are Christian ideas, but rather I don't think they are Biblically based. (In a later post I'll write about a few.) This distinction is crucial and it would solidify our stance. There will still be misunderstandings (as with Copernicus many don't grasp that the point is evaluating the Biblical texts), but we can at least do our part in being clearer. Hopefully this would help people understand we are not trying to attack Christians (even though we do have major issues with Christian theology).
There are other issues, however, that are more cultural ,such as style of music. I think the understanding of music and it's role in the "service" is a matter of truth, but the style is cultural. The point here is very basic. If I'm going to chose a cultural style it makes the most sense to choose my own culture, which for some reason doesn't seem to be fully grasped in MJ congregations. Or perhaps it points to the fact that they believe X cultural is there own. I personally don't have a problem with organ music, for example, but I also don't think it is appropriate in a Jewish service (any Reforms Jews listening?). The same goes for Michael W. Smith.
He says בגדיהם in the plural - does this mean we have to 'make tassels' on every single piece of clothing? Not only, say, a shirt or tunic; but also pants, jackets, socks, pajamas, hats, kipot? But wait; ציצית is singular! Was God's intention that we make one huge tassel for all the garments of Israel? Or that we each have only one tassel? Or one tassel per garment? It's confusing!
The more I think about it, the more questions arise! Does תכלת just mean 'blue', or does it refer to the color of a special dye manufactured from a certain species of sea creature? Do the non-blue tassels have to be the same color as the garment, to show they are part of it? Or maybe they should be a different color, to highlight their special function?
What about current rabbinic practice: instead of adding tassels to regular garments, 'Orthodox' Jews simply make a separate, special piece of clothing with tassels to wear every day (טלית קטן). Does that satisfy the commandment of Torah? Or how about Reform-style practice, wearing no טלית קטן but a טלית גדול once a week (or a year)? Incidentally, do the tassels have to show on the outside, or can I tuck them into my other garments? Should women also have ציציות, or is this commandment just for men?
In just a few minutes, I've come up with several questions related to how to keep this commandment. And I could go on and on. The words of the מצוה do not themselves answer my questions. So what do I do? The response of rabbinic and rabbinic-like Judaisms has been to try to standardize every single detail, to answer every single possible question with an "authoritative" prescription. A council of rabbis (or other 'clerics') decides what "must" be done - and that becomes the "doctrine" or teaching of the religion or denomination.
My view is the opposite. If God left it unsaid, where do these councils get the hubris to impose conformity on a free people? To put themselves in the place of God and issue additional מצוות to כל עם ישראל? To forbid what is not forbidden by Torah itself? Why do they even want to control every aspect of everyone's behavior? Is this not totalitarianism?
The wording of this commandment, as well as many others, leaves open the possibility of a wide variety of forms or styles in observance. In my opinion, each of us should make an effort to keep this commandment. Personally, I see no problem with one person wearing טלית קטן every day, another wearing טלית גדול only on shabbat, a third attaching green (and blue) fringes to his yellow football shirt, and a fourth wearing a brown poncho with brown and blue fringes. What in the world is the problem with this?? Only fascists want to eliminate all variety from life and force everyone to think and act identically.
God said for us to have ציציות on our clothes as a visual reminder of His commandments; i.e., of how He wants us to live. We should therefore have ציציות on our clothes as a visual reminder of His commandments. What we should not do is to ignore this instruction completely. We should also not ignore it in part, (e.g.) by explaining away the need for a blue cord. Yet neither should we obsess over what isn't clear. Not all details have been given, leaving many questions open to a multiplicity of interpretations. The possible existence of a variety of practices (ways of keeping this commandment) should be viewed as a positive phenomena and deeply enriching to Jewish life. Most importantly, none of us should attempt to impose one particular interpretation of these unprescribed details on everyone else. That does violence to God's commandments and also to the creativity and freedom He has implanted in every human spirit.
This is an open discussion between the four of us (for now). Feel free to share any thoughts or ask any questions. At some point we can change the settings to make it available for others to see.
My hope is that this blog would be a tool for something constructive. In addition to reviewing and critiquing articles or ideas, this should also provide us a forum to develop a positive model and way of understanding that is helpful for us.