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"It is better to take refuge in Adonai than to trust in human beings; better to take refuge in Adonai than to put one's trust in princes." -Tehilah 118:8-9

Messianic Jewish Culture

Two blog posts by a believer, one that I had read recently and another I had commented on a while back, sparked my interest in commenting on the concept of Messianic Jewish Culture.

As Messianics, we know what we believe: Yeshua is the promised Jewish Messiah who has come and will return. In seeking to live out that creed in our daily existence we rely on two established sources, gentile Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, neither of which provide accurate foundations from which we can relate to and with the world around us. The anthropological definition of culture is: the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another. When one assesses the bevy of congregations, unions, alliances, and ministries functioning in a variety of ways, yet all presenting themselves as "Messianic Jewish" in nature, it is clear to see that Messianic Judaism has no true culture of its own.

Due to the history and nature of the Messianic movement, we are strikingly influenced by the Christian Church. Yet, at the same time, we have a heavy Jewish influence coming from three sources:

1. Jewish believers who have carried Jewish traditions into their halacha with Yeshua.

2. Gentile believers who are learning about and thirsting for the Jewish roots of their faith, thereby incorporating Jewish practices into their halacha with Yeshua.

3. Jewish and gentile believers who are actively seeking to craft a more seemingly "authentic" form of Messianic Judaism by developing their halacha through the lens of Orthodox, or Rabbinical Judaism.

How do these three sources impact the culture of the Messianic movement?

Often, the first two groups approach Messianic Judaism the way Christians approach Christianity-- as a religion performed in a congregation on a weekly/holiday basis. Which leads me to question: How does the incorporation of Jewish ritual instruments/practices influence the way the Messianic community thinks about and relates to the world around them?

The answer is: Not much. Just as many Evangelical Christians go out from their churches to lead secular lives, many Messianics leave their shuls to live seemingly secular lives, with one caveat: They identify themselves as Jews. This inevitably leads to a dichotomous relationship with the real world. Whether they simply abstain from unkosher foods around gentiles, or are relegated to defining themselves to the Christian world, or are left to defend their Jewishness to their non-believing counterparts, Messianic Jews are consistently confronted with the fact that they are, above all, different from everyone else.

In such cases of cultural difference, one usually has a culture to fall back on. In the first two groups of Messianic Judaism discussed above, this "culture" is replaced by your congregation. When the world surrounds you, you are to seek shelter in your congregation, often through havurah groups and religious services. In classic diaspora nature, these Messianic Jews are seeking shelter from the outside world instead of performing the very task they have been given by HaShem to do: to be a light unto the world. Instead of standing bold and proud, being "in the world, but not of the world," these Messianics retreat from the very world they have been commissioned to lead. As a result, their Messianic Judaism is relegated to the walls of the congregation, to religion, to ritual. In which case, this is not a living culture; it is a shelter. Even worse, it is a shelter built by fear.

The third group, the believers who seek to craft their Messianic Jewish culture through the lens of Rabbinic Judaism, does a great deal to incorporate religious tradition and education into their daily life. They often do this through many rituals developed by the Orthodox, i.e.; the recitation of daily prayers, the wearing of tefillin, the donning of kippot, and, even in some communities, the incorporation of headcoverings for married women and beards for adult men. In other words, this group defines Jewish culture through the practices of Rabbinic Judaism. In other words, they base their Messianic Jewish culture on Rabbinic Jewish culture. This presents a serious problem, considering the tenents and practices of Rabbinic Orthodoxyism contradict Messianic Judaism in two major areas: Faith in Yeshua, and belief in the supremacy of Torah over other liturgical texts.

In one of the above-cited posts, the author writes:
At the bleak time after the destruction of the Holy Temple in 70 CE, specifically the work in Yavneh beginning in 90 CE, the choice to keep Judaism alive and the continuing existence of the Jewish People was hanging in the balance. It was by the vehicle of the post-Temple Judaism developed by the Pharisees and later developed fuller by the Rabbis, including Yochanan ben Zakkai and others. This Judaism is the way of living Jewish life and following G-d's Torah that has kept the Jewish People these 1900 plus years as a dsitinct people and living testimony to the G-d of Israel.
The "vehicle of post-Temple Judaism," is the Talmud, the written copy of the oral law handed down from generation to generation of Jewish religious leaders in the Diaspora. However, the Talmud was not given to the first century community of Jewish believers in Yeshua. To understand why is to recognize the distinction between Messianic and Pharasaic (now, Rabbinic) Judaism.

During the Council at Yavneh, through which the Talmud was established and modern-day Rabbinic or, Orthodox, Judaism was born, the religious authorities present negated HaShem's Torah in order to contradict the Messiahship of Yeshua. By taking one scripture verse (Hosea 14:2) out of context, the Pharisees at Yavneh declared that the ritual prayers of the Jewish people were sufficient enough to replace the blood sacrifice required to atone for sin, detailed in Leviticus 1. In doing so, these Pharisees did more than re-work Judaism to function without a Temple; they denied the power of Yeshua's ultimate atoning sacrifice by denying that it ever had to take place.

What's more, during the medieval era of Yiddish Talmudic scholarship, the Rabbis decided that the study of the Talmud, the written Rabbinical commentary on Torah, superceded the study of the Torah itself. In the Talmud it states, "Study of the Torah is an accomplishment, yet not an accomplishment; but the study of Oral Law, there is no greater accomplishment than this" Baba Metzia, 33a. One medieval rabbi wrote, "True future salvation...can only come through the merit of Talmud study, for Talmud study leads to saintliness and purity...while study of Torah does not even produce righteousness...Even a little Talmud study creates more fear of Heaven than much Torah study" (Yiddish Civilization: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation Kriwaczek, 126-127)

Today, this view of Talmud as having the same divine authority as the Torah, has been transmitted into Rabbinic Orthodox Judaism today. While this belief has not yet been transmitted into the Messianic Rabbinic movement, it is worth noting that Talmud was originally considered a secondary text within non-believing Rabbinic Judaism, and it is a text that contradicts the Word of G-d by denying the truth of Messiah Yeshua. How can we, as Messianics, attempt to define our culture through the words of Rabbis who developed and rely on texts that were designed to deny the Messiahship of Yeshua?

The author presents the argument that, even though these Rabbis did not profess a faith in Yeshua, they still "preserved Judaism" after the destruction of the Temple. However, I would ask this: Would they not have done more to "preserve Judaism" and the Temple itself if they had trusted in Messiah? Yet, their lack of trust caused the fulfillment of prophecy. The acknowledgement of this naturally leads one to also acknowledge that HaShem, the giver of prophecy, is the Master of everything. This leads one to question: Has it not been HaShem who has kept Judaism alive since the destruction of the Temple, and is not His "vehicle" for doing such a great thing Yeshua the Messiah?

Moreover, in approaching the Talmud and culture of the Rabbis, one must recall that, "no lie has its origin in the truth." We cannot divide the contributions of the Rabbis, as good as they may seem, from the fact that they base their works in a denial of Messiah. To base our Messianic Jewish culture on Yeshua through the eyes of Rabbinic Judaism is to build a structure with bad mortar; it will crumble and fall apart with the first breeze that passes by. As has already evidenced itself within Rabbinic Messianic circles, following the way of the Rabbis leads to the same non-productiveness that plagues traditional Rabbinic circles. More often than not, useless word battles over theological issues occur within these ranks that prevent any real growth from occuring within the movement at large.

It is also worthy to note the history of Rabbinic Judaism. The Rabbinic Judaism we know today formed as a response to the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish exile from Israel. In other words, Rabbinic Judaism is a reaction to the gentile denial of HaShem; it is a classic Jewish compromise, one where we relinquish ourselves to the demands of the gentile victors. When the Temple was destroyed, the Rabbis did not follow the instruction of Torah and turn to their G-d for salvation; they re-wrote the Torah to suit a life lived under the thumb of the gentiles. In doing so, they created an un-Biblical religious hierarchy that tagged redemption as a futuristic concept and salvation as something to be attained through the doing of good works.

Instead of living life by Torah, the Rabbis crafted a Torah that suited a life lived among gentiles. We criticized the first two groups of Messianic Jews for replacing culture with congregation, and using the congregation to hide or sheild themselves from the real world; we blamed this on the stigma of Diaspora culture. Yet, in understanding the foundational history of this stigma, we must question: Isn't Pharasaic (now, Rabbinic) culture the root cause of this fearful, destructive behavior?

The influence coming from the three Jewish sources discussed above is couched in the mindset of Diaspora Judaism, a Judaism created and designed to function in the Western, Greek-thinking, pagan world. As we discussed, when the Rabbis replaced Temple with Talmud, culture with congregation, they were designing a Judaism that could function under the thumb of gentile rulership. Modern Christianity was an equally perverted form of Judaism suited to function in a pagan mindset. The truth is, to clearly understand and take hold of a Messianic Jewish culture, one must go further back than the Council of Nicea, than Constantine, than Yavneh; one must go back to Yeshua, when He first walked the earth. We must look at Him, the Living Torah, to understand who we are as a people. We must also look to Him and identify with Him if we are to develop the courage we need in order to live out Jewish lives openly, boldly, and fully.

We also must accept that we cannot do this by looking at Him through the lens of gentile Christianity or Rabbinic Judaism. Neither of these methods will suffice. We must look to understand Messiah through scripture, with the guidance of the Comforter, the Ruach haKodesh, the presence of HaShem, whom Dovid HaMelek himself relied on (Psalm 51). Rav Shaul writes in I Corinthians 2:9-16
But, as the Tanakh says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no one's heart has imagined all the things that God has prepared for those who love him."

It is to us, however, that God has revealed these things. How? Through the Spirit. For the Spirit probes all things, even the profoundest depths of God. For who knows the inner workings of a person except the person's own spirit inside him? So too no one knows the inner workings of God except God's Spirit. Now we have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God, so that we might understand the things God has so freely given us. These are the things we are talking about when we avoid the manner of speaking that human wisdom would dictate and instead use a manner of speaking taught by the Spirit, by which we explain things of the Spirit to people who have the Spirit. Now the natural man does not receive the things from the Spirit of God - to him they are nonsense! Moreover, he is unable to grasp them, because they are evaluated through the Spirit. But the person who has the Spirit can evaluate everything, while no one is in a position to evaluate him.

For who has known the mind of ADONAI? Who will counsel him?

But we have the mind of the Messiah!
For today's believers, understanding that "we have the mind of Messiah" requires both spiritual agility and the ability to throw away the tenents of human thought that have plagued us for centuries. Rav Shaul writes,
Indeed, the Tanakh says, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and frustrate the intelligence of the intelligent." Where does that leave the philosopher, the Torah-teacher, or any of today's thinkers? Hasn't G-d made this world's wisdom look pretty foolish? 1:19-20
Only when we see our Messiah, our faith, and ourselves in this fashion will we be able to "be restored to having a common mind and a common purpose" (1:10). Only when this commonality is reached can we hope to build a Messianic Jewish culture that will last.

Therefore, I encourage you, dear readers, to seek to dwell as one with the Ruach haKodesh and respect the gift you have been given- "the mind of Messiah." Ascribe to His Judaism as He lived and taught it. For thousands of years, this gift was abused and misunderstood by the believing community. Now that our trust has ressurected it from its dormancy, we must embrace the mind of Messiah to the fullest-- if we do, the change and growth in the Messianic Jewish movement will be "as life from the dead!"

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posted by Shoshana @ 5:57 PM

A Whole New Way of Thinking

I came across a rather interesting lesson-set on the difference between the Greek and Hebrew mindset. Titled Hebrew Mind versus Greek Mind, it has been published by The Wild Branch Ministry, led by Pastor Brad Scott, has this as their goal:
The WildBranch focus is to restore the ways of our Creator to His people by teaching the Old and New Testaments from the language and culture of the people who penned them. The New Testament is crammed full of idioms, phrases, and concepts known to the observant Jew (Yehudim) living in the time of Y'shua's ministry, but unfamiliar to modern readers. The scriptures MUST be read through the eyes and minds of the culture in which it was written.
The introduction to the "Hebrew Mind vs. Greek Mind" study reads:
This section is devoted to the study of the differences in western thinking (Greek, Hellenistic) and Eastern thinking (Hebrew, scriptural). The Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are penned by Hebrew authors from an Hebrew culture. They cannot be properly understood outside of this perspective. It is our contention that modern Christian teaching filters Scripture through Greek or Hellenistic glasses. This section was originally taught as a college level entry course. There are tests placed at the end of every few lessons. We hope you find the vast difference in these two thought processes as provocative as we do.
It isn't a very extensive read, but the themes and ideas discussed deserve ample time for contemplation and comprehension.

As someone raised in a very Hebraic mindset, it is an education into how utterly different the Christian mind is from my own. Although we both believe in the same Messiah, we differ on practically everything else. Therefore, I would encourage even those believers raised in a Jewish context to read this study, along with those still learning about their Jewishness.

One of the overwhelming themes present throughout the study is "unity." Consider one of the integral prayers of the Siddur, the V'ahavta, a portion of the Shema, the most important prayer in Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9):
V-ahavta et Adonai Elohecha b-chol l'vavcha u-v-chol naf'sh'cha u-v-chol m'odecha.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Worship, to the Hebrew mind, is not merely physical, as in the lifting of hands or singing of songs, nor is it merely spiritual, as in prayerful meditation. Worship involves emotion (heart), spirit (soul), and body (strength). Loving Adonai, worshipping Him, involves an echad of self: the whole person, body, mind, and spirit, must act as one. This is why Judaism is a faith of halacha, of walking; it isn't something that can be easily set aside or separated from other activities in daily life.

This is also why the Hebrew word for worship, avodah, implies service and possesses no time constraints. To the Hebrew mind, worshipping HaShem is to be done with body, mind, and spirit, as a service for life. Consider that we know life to be eternal through trust in Messiah Yeshua. The understanding of avodah translates into the understanding that the physical and spiritual realms are continuously intertwined. The Greek/Western/Church mindset may consider life on earth as preparation for life eternal. However, the Jewish mind understands that life eternal has already arrived and, therefore, acts accordingly.

Pastor Scott writes, "When everything you set out to do is understood to be worshipping YHVH your perspective changes dramatically." Consider this and be blessed in the knowing of it!

Shabbat Shalom

posted by Shoshana @ 11:14 AM