On the Quest For Expertise!

Comments taken from COAS’ ‘Towards a Biblical Masculinity Part 1’

The same resources (rabbinical teachings, talmud, hebrew language, etc.) are available to rabbis and Christians. Why are they any more equipped?” (Brad)

By plain and obvious calculations – simple math I guess. Christians, in average, likely spend about 1/4th of their biblical study in the Tanakh – and sometimes even less in the aspects of Law/Torah. (Over their lifetime). Rabbi’s spend – let’s see – 100% of their time in the Tanakh and a large part of that is devoted to the central part of the Tanakh – the Torah/Law. Isn’t it obvious where we should be directing these questions?

Now even if Christians spent ½ their time in the Tanakh – that is still 50% less than a rabbi and they would still stay was less informed on the Law/Torah since this is not Christianity’s central tenet/focus in the faith.

The OT (to include Torah) is ABSOLUTELY Christian scripture. I assure you that we are just as loyal and faithful to understanding it as the rabbi. Your claim does not stem from ability to correctly interpret, but from a faith assumption that only answers from that perspective are accurate. You are putting the cart before the horse.” (Brad)

No cart and no horse – just brutal honesty. Brad you fail to remember I have been a Christian for 15 years also – 4 years earning a bachelor of theology – and well studied in these scriptures as well. My claims are not coming from some ‘assumption’ as you claim – but from a very well studied life (1/2 of my life in these teachings so far).

I admit the Torah/Tanakh are part of the Christian canon – I can see that quite obviously. But as for Christians being as loyal and faithful as Jewish adherents to it’s understanding – that’s just not a fact. I am sorry – it just isn’t.

What festivals do you celebrate according to the Jewish calendar? Do you keep kosher? Do you devote the majority of your study to the central themes and teachings in the Torah? Have you been circumcised (bris milah) as part of the ‘mitzvot’? Celebrate Hanukah? How about remembrance of Ha Shoah? Do you wear the traditional tefillin? How about Mezuzah attached to your doorposts?

It is a certifiable fact Jewish faith and Christian faith are very different – thus the primary focuses shift in one faith to the next…namely when dealing with scriptures.

Torah for Judaism and Paul’s teachings/gospels for Christianity. The Judaic faith owns the interpretive ground (so to speak) when it comes to dealing with Torah due to their years of extensive study (and tradition dealing with) in it.

Christianity focuses exclusively on the story of Jesus and the lenses of how the Tanakh can be viewed through the messiah. We have a rich church history – but the interpretive lense is solely rooted in viewing every and all things through Jesus – there is no recorded biblical history of Christians using Talmud, Mishnah, or Gemara (oral law)…if so…it is very very rare.

I have to go to the experts in the fields that they study in – this is wisdom. If I want to study aspects of the Messiah Jesus – I will turn for Christian opinion/viewpoints. If I want the Torah/Law explained to me – I will turn to rabbi’s. How does this not make sense?

I cherish all of God’s word” (Brad)

I know you do Brad – I am not questioning your sincerity on your love for the texts.

He revealed Himself through it out of love for us, and did so in a way that is graciously understandable to the child as well as the rabbi” (Brad)

I believe a lot of the bible is fairly understandable – but a lot of it takes some serious study also – there is a dual nature there. On one hand, living what is being asked is quite simple (in some senses) – morality and values. On the other hand, delving into topics like Numbers 31 and other passages – well that is not quite as easy. Some of this stuff takes a lot of mature study – I think we can all attest to that.

To say that it is “over my head” because I am a Christian, is to say that my Christian beliefs render me incapable of understanding that which I cherish so deeply: the knowledge of God.” (Brad)

I would say study away then – I see no problem there. It is over most Christian’s heads though (maybe not yours) – only because the expertise in this scenario will come from rabbinical studies and not so much from Christian studies. If I am wrong – I will accept that…but have any of us approached a rabbi with any of these questions? No.

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36 thoughts on “On the Quest For Expertise!

  1. SocietyVs,

    ”Rabbi’s spend – let’s see – 100% of their time in the Tanakh and a
    large part of that is devoted to the central part of the Tanakh – the
    Torah/Law.”

    This is simply not true. Since the dominance of Rabbinical Judaism or Normative Judaism (Neusner’s term), the focal point of Jewish study has been on the oral torah, recorded in the Talmud and several other places. So no, Jews do not spend 100% of their time studying Tanakh.

    ”What festivals do you celebrate according to the Jewish calendar? [etc]“

    Your litany of Jewish traditions do nothing to distinguish “true Judaism.” Many of these traditions I do participate in, and many of them few Jews actually observe (Kosher rules, for one). So this does nothing to delineate the Christian and the Jew.

    ”Torah for Judaism and Paul’s teachings/gospels for Christianity.”

    This is a textbook example of a false dichotomy. First of all, from 200BC to 100AD, one of the major differences between Jews and Samaritans was that Jews held to the authority of the entire Tanakh, where the Samaritans only upheld Torah. Be careful not to over-emphasize Torah for Jews. In the same way, you cannot divorce Paul’s writings from the rest of Christian scripture.

    ”there is no recorded biblical history of Christians using Talmud, Mishnah, or Gemara”

    This is because it all post-dates Christian scripture. There is some evidence of Christian scripture engaging the intertestimental literature (Ben Sira, 1 and 2 Maccabees, etc.), but it is impossible for me to interact with things that have yet to be written.

    ”It is over most Christian’s heads though (maybe not yours) – only
    because the expertise in this scenario will come from rabbinical
    studies and not so much from Christian studies.”

    This kinda makes me chuckle since one of my mom’s friends who is a Jewish Christian told me about 3 weeks ago that she has learned more about the Old Testament in her Christian bible study than she ever did at synagogue.

    Ultimately, the assumption that belief in Jesus prevents Christians from understanding the Hebrew scriptures is a faulty way of looking at the development of the respective faiths. It is perhaps better to consider Christianity as the Jewish sect that it is, and consider it as valid an interpretation of Judaism as Orthodox, Reformed, Zionist, etc.

  2. SocietyVs Replied:

    “Since the dominance of Rabbinical Judaism or Normative Judaism (Neusner’s term), the focal point of Jewish study has been on the oral torah, recorded in the Talmud and several other places. So no, Jews do not spend 100% of their time studying Tanakh” (Mike)

    Talmud or oral law is based on what exactly? The fact law is in the wording there means Torah is part of that external study. Jewish adherents adhere to no other book as scripture except the Tanakh – unless this has changed somewhere and I am not sure of it?

    It’s comparable to Brad (or yourself) being in seminary and studying the works of a Luther or Zwingli or Calvin – one could say Christians are not studying the bible but some authors. Fact is, those authors are talking about the Christian scriptures – so in some sense you are studying the scriptures…correct?

    “So this does nothing to delineate the Christian and the Jew.” (Mike)

    Sure it does. Faithful adherents to Judaism have developed a set of ideas and values they admire and follow. These festivals and rituals they developed – we do not have in Christianity – yet they are all clearly in the Torah. Why do they have those ideas and we do not? This is a Torah issue for sure.

    It’s like Christians having baptism, a Lord’s Prayer, church services, or communion – none of these exist in Judaism. It is as obvious to me Judaism and Christianity have split paths as Mormonism and Protestantism have.

    “Be careful not to over-emphasize Torah for Jews. In the same way, you cannot divorce Paul’s writings from the rest of Christian scripture” (Mike)

    I am not making no divorces in my statement – that’s read in by you. For me the NT is Paul’s works and the gospels (and there are other letters obviously) – 27 books/letters in total. As for Torah, well everything in the Tanakh is based on the foundation of the Torah – including the history books, wisdom lit, and prophets. Jewish people, when asked about this faith, will always point to Torah as the central/focal point of their scriptures. I think that is the point I am making.

    “This is because it all post-dates Christian scripture” (Mike)

    I am not just talking about the original communities or early church here – I am talking about church history in a whole united nutshell. Christianity does not use Jewish writings for anything except piece-meal bits for their own proof-works – beyond that – they sure as heck would not study them intensively.

    “It is perhaps better to consider Christianity as the Jewish sect that it is, and consider it as valid an interpretation of Judaism as Orthodox, Reformed, Zionist, etc.” (Mike)

    I don’t disagree there – except in the fact Christianity is very Gentile in nature…not very Jewish in nature. Christianity is so non-Jewish in nature – if you polled most people and asked them if Christ was Jewish term – they would likely say ‘yes’.

    As for the sect part – I agree – if Christianity can come back to it’s roots.

    My original point simply was the studying of Numbers 31 and passages of that like – let’s leave that to experts. Do you think you are an expert in Torah? If yes, why? If not, why not? I simply am explaining the obvious here and nothing more. If I have questions regarding Torah I will turn to a rabbi for insight – I mean – this is their focal point of study.

  3. Mike Replied:

    SocietyVs,

    Okay, now we are starting to understand each other.

    “Talmud or oral law is based on what exactly?”

    The oral Torah was considered separate/distinct from the written Torah, so no, you will find its material nowhere in the written scriptures. Talmud is a collection of stories about the Rabbis who created the commentary on the written Torah, the commentary on the written Torah, and the oral Torah written down. So it would be unfair to say that Talmud is all about the written Torah.

    “Fact is, those authors are talking about the Christian scriptures – so in some sense you are studying the scriptures…correct?Fact is, those authors are talking about the Christian scriptures – so in some sense you are studying the scriptures…correct?”

    To some degree this is true, but as I said, study of Talmud has several other components than just the study of the written Torah.

    “These festivals and rituals they developed – we do not have in Christianity – yet they are all clearly in the Torah. ”

    Again, this is true and I agree, but what I am saying is that I as a Christian participate in many of the activities you previously described. I know many Jews who do not. The actions themselves do very little to distinguish Jew from Christian.

    “I am not making no divorces in my statement ”

    My mistake. I just wanted to clarify.

    “I am talking about church history in a whole united nutshell.”

    Okay, this point of clarity helps because it will bring to light my point. You maintain that Christians are less equipped to address issues regarding Jewish scriptures because we have ceased to study Jewish literature from the 1st century AD onward. My point is that the Jewish interpretation of the Jewish scriptures changed dramatically in the 1st century AD in response the rise of Christianity as well as the destruction of the Temple. Christians disagree with this reinterpretation, just as Jews today disagree with our interpretation. What I am saying is that because many Jews view revelation as progressive, they believe their views today represent Judaism best. Christians believe revelation has ceased, and therefore the Jewish interpretation of their scriptures before the 1st century AD were better. This is where the conflict comes in.

  4. “So it would be unfair to say that Talmud is all about the written Torah.” (Mike)

    Then this is problematic – so where are these people that wrote the Talmud pulling interpretations for their Oral Law from? Thin air? Culture? If not based on the Torah – then I am not sure what they are basing it on.

    “Prooftexts (concerning Oral law) quoted to corroborate or disprove the respective opinions and theories will include
    :
    – verses from the Tanakh: the exact language employed is regarded as significant;
    other mishnayot: cross-references to analogous cases, or to parallel reasoning by the Tanna in question;
    – Beraitot – non-mishnaic sources of halakha (lit. outside material; sing. beraita ברייתא);
    – references to opinions and cases in the Tosefta (תוספתא);
    – references to the Halakhic Midrash (Mekhilta, Sifra and Sifre);
    – cross-references to other sugyot: again to analogous cases or logic.” (Wikipedia – Gemara)

    Even the Oral law is talking about prooftexts from the Tanakh – as part of the basis of the argumentation…so it cannot be said to study Talmud is not to study Tanakh/Torah – this is part of the basis for arguing ‘law’ in the first place. I see you do admit studying oral law does include Tanakh – this makes it a study of scripture in my opinion.

    Since we are talking about Numbers in this instance – then wouldn’t approaching someone who has studied the scriptures and oral law be the best person to approach on the subject? I mean, this is their area of expertise after all. I know of no Christians that claim this as an area of expertise.

    “The actions themselves do very little to distinguish Jew from Christian” (Mike)

    Perhaps, but if someone is being baptized I might consider that person an adherent to the Christian faith (or communion for that matter). That is a distinguishable activity for this faith. If I see someone that practices kosher or teffilin – then likely they are adherents of Judaism.

    My point is, those rituals and ceremonies do reflect the faith of the adherent. Jewish faithful are likely not about to be baptized just like a Christian is likely to not be kosher. Why? Our faiths kind of determine those directives. In some sense, they do determine one’s faith and the highlight the differences thereof. The fact Jewish faithful still practice many of the things highlighted in the Torah and we do not – should speak volumnes as to which faith to turn to concerning those issues.

    “My point is that the Jewish interpretation of the Jewish scriptures changed dramatically” (Mike)

    But no so dramatically they turned away from many of the traditions they held – like the festivals, oral torah/talmud, or focus on Toran. Now interpretation may change over time – but they have a kept record of that and can look at it (they don’t deny it). As for Christians, concerning being a sect of Judaism, we kept none of that and even changed our outlook and interpretation of those Tanakh passages – we view it through the Christ alone.

    We seem to be the one’s with the mass change – not them (in my opinion). Your claim of a 1st century shift may even be true (I do not know) but the shift wasn’t so great they added in ideas like Trinity or NT as the main way to interpret scriptures. As far as I can tell, even with their changes, they have not left their Jewish roots behind for the sake of the continuation of the faith. I am not sure I can say that same thing for Christianity – which seems reckless in it’s abandonment of anything Jewish – even Jesus is the Christ (Greek) and not always translated Messiah (Jewish term). It seems we turned Judaism into some semi-Gentilian form that can suit the world. Now if that was Jesus’ goal for humanity – we are succeeding.

  5. SocietyVs,

    “Since we are talking about Numbers in this instance – then wouldn’t approaching someone who has studied the scriptures and oral law be the best person to approach on the subject?”

    No. Because the Oral Torah was not considered a necessary factor to interpreting the written Torah until the Pharisees gained prominence in the 2nd Century AD. As a matter of fact, the Sadducees (who held power and control of the temple until its destruction in 70 AD) really didnt like the Pharisees Oral Torah at all. this can be found in Josephus’ Antiquities and Wars. As soon as you can see that the Pharasaic understanding of Judaism didnt take root until the early 2nd Century AD, you will understand that this was a dramatic shift in theology. Dont forget, this did also change dramatically the practice of the Jewish faith as well. After all, Jews no longer make animal sacrifices.

    “I know of no Christians that claim [Torah] as an area of expertise.”

    I know an entire department of men who have dedicated their lives to the study of Hebrew and the Hebrew scriptures, yet whole-heartedly adhere to the tenants of Christianity. I would hope to one day rank among them, but at this point would say I am still very much in training. As it is though, I can read Hebrew and have spent the last few years not only reading the Old Testament carefully but also reading Jewish literature on the matter.

    I will certainly concede that in an attempt by the early church to present the truth of this Jewish sect to the rest of the world (contents), they borrowed the language of other cultures (wrapping) to make it understandable to them. Because there were far more Gentiles than Jews, eventually the depth of Jewish content got overshadowed. The Goyim need to spend more time understanding the Jewish roots of the Christian faith or they will perpetually miss some of the intense depth that lies just beneath the surface.

    However, as I have studied the Jewish depth of Christian scripture, not one nuance added has taken away from the central Christian teachings. Not one.

  6. “so where are these people that wrote the Talmud pulling interpretations for their Oral Law from? Thin air? ”

    For the record, the 1 Century AD Jews in power (Again, the Sadducees) did in fact believe that the Oral Torah came from thin air.

  7. There are several approaches people can take in religious discussions across religions. One is to show what is wrong with some else’s and another is to show what is right with their own. It’s kind of sad that so many Christians think the best way to prove the value of their beliefs is to tear down Judaism. If Christianity is so great, let it stand on its own merits. If Torah was defective, if Judaism has it all wrong, yet Christianity is built on them, I have to wonder, why would anyone build on top of junk? Why not start out fresh somewhere else?

    So, Mike is a follower of the Sadducees. Good for him. In Jewish history classes we learn that the Sadducees disappeared after the destruction of the second Temple. I’ll have to be sure to inform my teachers that there is still one around. Damn those Jewish teachers, always telling us lies….

    The Pharisees did not appear on the scene in 200 C.E. much as Mike and Brad like to insist they did. The Sermon on the Mount is a paraphrase of the teachings of Hillel, a Pharisee. Obviously the Pharisees were already around and influential or why would they be quoted. This claim about the Judaism of today not coming into existence until 200 CE would be the same as saying Christianity didn’t come into existence until 325 at the first council of Nicea.

    The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death since that isn’t taught in Tanakh but is taught in Oral Torah. The Oral Torah is called Oral Torah, BTW, because it wasn’t WRITTEN DOWN for centuries until the Jewish community was in such dire straits the sages were afraid there would be no one left to teach it ORALLY. Only then was it written down. So, why do Christians believe in life after death, a teaching clearly from the ORAL TORAH, yet they reject the Oral Torah.? After all, good followers of the Sadducees shouldn’t believe in resurrection of the dead, or heaven.

    Jesus told people to follow the teachings of the Pharisees. Why would he do this is the Pharisees had it all wrong?

    Mike is part of the goyim, so not sure why he says ‘the goyim’ as if he isn’t. Trying to sound Jewish? Fool the unwary?

    Just because Mike knows Jews who aren’t interested in Torah doesn’t mean this is a common thing among those who practice Judaism and just because he knows a Jew who converted to Christianity doesn’t mean what they say carries any weight. Ask me what I think about churches and Christianity if you want to know how highly converts view their former religions…..

    Mike has studied and doesn’t see anything that goes against Christianity. Big deal. Jews have studied Tanakh for thousands of years and don’t see anything that supports Christianity. Perhaps we take seriously what we read in Torah, “For what great nation is there that has a god so close at hand as is our God Adonai whenever we call? Or what great nation has laws and rules as perfect as all this Torah that I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:7-8) rather than believing Paul.

    Kind of funny that Mike trots out one Jew who converted to Christianity and uses her as an example. Guess what? I can trot out hundreds of people who converted from Christianity to Judaism, half of my shul is probably made up of converts. Of course the usual response is none of us were ‘real’ Christians. OK. But, what do you suppose we think of your Christian convert? How ‘real’ was their Judaism?

    Another thing that is kind of funny. This Jew has always encouraged Jason to learn from Christian sources, to go study his faith rather than mine. I’m not trying to grab him up and get him to join us. He’s an adult. He’ll figure things out for himself. But, the seminary guys are so afraid of him studying with Jews. Why? What are they worried he’ll find out? Why do they keep insisting he needs to learn from them and not from Jews? Weird. If we’re full of crap, Jason will come to that conclusion on his own. Let him be.

    Jews don’t seek converts but instead push them away. It is a hard thing to convert to Judaism. There is no aisle to walk or simple prayer to utter. There is instead months of study and becoming a part of a community. Most people aren’t interested and most wouldn’t make it through anyway. Many, many people have expressed to me an interest in Judaism, some even say they want to convert, but only one person I know of actually went through to conversion. The seminarians need to lighten up and let people think for themselves. What do they think, a rabbi is going to try to convince Jason of anything? One of my best friends went to visit a local rabbi and was so mad when he told her to go back to church. She thought he’d be so excited about her interest in Judaism, but he wasn’t at all. I told her she’d be turned away at least three times to test her sincerity but one rejection did her in. My rabbi pushed me away hundreds of times in the months we studied together. The reality of it all is, we don’t care if anyone converts or they don’t. Good people are good people no matter their religion or non-religion.

    Anyway, Jason has the right idea. He’s already studied Christian views, now he wants to learn Jewish views. In the end he’ll be fine. Let go of the paranoia. We Jews don’t slaughter Christian boys to make our passover matzah you know…..You won’t have to watch anxiously for him to return from his meeting with a rabbi. He may walk out of the meeting and tell you guys he’s with you. One never knows. Remember the saying about the bird, let it go and if it returns to you you know it’s yours and if it doesn’t , it never was yours?

  8. “As soon as you can see that the Pharasaic understanding of Judaism didnt take root until the early 2nd Century AD, you will understand that this was a dramatic shift in theology” (Mike)

    I hear ya – but as Yael mentions – the Pharisee’s existed for quite a period of time prior to 2nd Century AD. The idea that the Oral Torah carries no weight either – well maybe to the Saducees – is also not a prevailing view in Jewish history (I mean it has existed prior to Jesus and still existed after – so it must of carried some weight to stay in existence). Yael mentions it was called oral torah for a reason – it was passed down orally – for quite some time prior to it’s writing.

    It also should be noted that Jesus sided with the Pharisee’s theologically on issues – like resurrection of the dead. So if they, the Pharisee’s teachings, carried no weight – then why would Jesus back their interpretations at times – and go against the Saducee’s? They must of carried some meaning in their times – maybe not enough to rule the temple philosophies – but enough for Jesus to acknowledge them.

    “I would hope to one day rank among them, but at this point would say I am still very much in training. As it is though, I can read Hebrew and have spent the last few years not only reading the Old Testament carefully but also reading Jewish literature on the matter.” (Mike)

    So…you’re not an admitted expert on the subject at hand (Numbers 31 passage)? Then why would you really care (as in concede) if I send this to someone that is an expert on the topic at hand – which in this case is a rabbi?

    I, and this is my opinion, do not think Christians can become experts on the Torah as they do not view this is centrifical to their faith. The foundational premise is off first off. It’s like asking a residential carpenter for advice on a stonemasons work – similar but almost completely different. Secondly, the viewpoints are a lot different – we see through varying lenses in many ways – the central one being – we are not even sure we need the Torah. So how can a Christian teacher be sure they are doing it right (interpretation) when they have none of the original background to start with? To me that seems suspect in some sense.

    “However, as I have studied the Jewish depth of Christian scripture, not one nuance added has taken away from the central Christian teachings. Not one.” (Mike)

    That’s where I agree with you – that has been the same for me. For me, Christian scriptures are not against the Judaic faith – but are trying to build upon it.

    As for animal sacrifices – that is actually covered in the Prophets concerning the end of the sacrifices.

    “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,
    And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)

    It is one passage but it does mention that certain actions are higher than actual sacrifices. Just thought I’d raise the point – not that I know much about it – but that the idea does exist.

  9. I sent my question to ‘Ask the Rabbi’ @ Jewish answers.org – they say they will get back ot me in a week – but last time I e-mailed them it was a little quicker than that. I will post what they respond – so I can say I did what i said I was going to do.

  10. Yes, I have been super busy working on a project with Rabbi. Plus, no offense to you, I’ve always enjoyed chatting with you, but I’ve become quite bored with talking about Christianity. I’m a Jew, it’s not for me.

    Anyway, I’ve resurrected an old blog and am writing there these days. I only stopped by briefly to see what you’re up to. Glad you’re asking questions to a rabbi. That’s the best way to find out what it is you want to know.

  11. Yael

    I kind of like your style. Im neither Christian nor Jew, do you have room at your blog for someone like that? 😉

  12. Yael,

    I was intending no disrespect to Judaism whatsoever, and that was clear to almost everyone. My only intention on commenting before was to show that Normative Judaism today took theological prominence after the rise of Christianity. Therefore current interpretation of Torah has scant place to claim superiority or greater accuracy than Christianity’s take. That was all. I didnt say it was an evil thing to study (after all, I study it).

    “The Pharisees did not appear on the scene in 200 C.E. much as Mike and Brad like to insist they did.”

    I never said that. I said they took theological prominence. If the Sadducees balked at their usage of the Oral Torah and they dissappeared in 70 AD, then clearly I believe the Pharisees were around before that.

    “The Sermon on the Mount is a paraphrase of the teachings of Hillel, a Pharisee. ”

    I would love to see that paraphrase.

    “Why would he do this is the Pharisees had it all wrong?”

    I never said they had it all wrong. As you and SocietyVs say, Christians and Pharisees both believe in the resurrection from the dead. There is a big to-do about this very point in the book of Acts. They also both believed that YHWH was the covenant God of Israel. They also believed that God spoke through Moses and Aaron, that God had appointed David as king, etc. I do not dispute that there were a lot of things that Jesus had in common with the Pharisees. He also had a lot in common with the Sadducees. For instance, He believed that the Temple was a place of worship. He also described Himself and YHWH in language that the Essenes used. These distinct Jewish groups were divided on many issues, and yet they were all Jewish, which means they must have agreed on something! So did Jesus.

    “Jews have studied Tanakh for thousands of years and don’t see anything that supports Christianity.”

    Christianity started almost exclusively of Jews. Through the centuries there have been many Jews that converted to Christianity. I know of several organizations today that center specifically around converted Jews.

    “Mike is part of the goyim, so not sure why he says ‘the goyim’ as if he isn’t. Trying to sound Jewish? ”

    Yael, I have told you on several occasions I have Jewish blood. Technically I am a Samaritan because I am mixed, but it is there none the less. I try not to flaunt it, lest anyone think I am being elitest, but I am quite proud of that heritage.

    “Of course the usual response is none of us were ‘real’ Christians. ”

    I dont believe I have ever made such a comment.

    “But, what do you suppose we think of your Christian convert?”

    At least now I know where you stand.

    “Jews don’t seek converts but instead push them away. ”

    Thats an odd interpretation of Genesis 12:1-3.

    “I can trot out hundreds of people who converted from Christianity to Judaism, half of my shul is probably made up of converts”–(two paragraphs later)–“but only one person I know of actually went through to conversion”

    There is a discrepancy here. Either you know hundreds of converts, or you know one. I dont know which you prefer.

    “Let go of the paranoia.”

    You seem to be under the impression I am afraid of people studying religions different from Christianity. Truth is, I am afraid of people studying misrepresentations of other religions and caricatures of Christianity. I am just trying to set the record straight.

  13. Well, I was writing a reply, MIke, but it all disappeared and I don’t feel like writing it all again. Here’s the gist of it.

    Having Jewish ancestry doesn’t make a person Jewish. You know it, I know it. You still value having Jewish ancestry, that’s a common thing. It just shows the value of being Jewish, there is something special about us, that’s all there is to it. One of the things I thought about when I decided to look into conversion was that Jews are unique to God and that was good enough for me to throw my lot in with them. Only later did I learn of my own family connections.

    One person who told me they wanted to convert went through with conversion. I had nothing to do with any of the conversions at my shul. That doesn’t change the fact that there are many, many converts at my shul.

    No one needs to convert to Judaism. The righteous of all the nations have a place in olam haba. Christian laws made it deadly to have converts. That just became the pattern afterwards. You’ve studied church history so I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

    I don’t see where I said studying was evil for anyone. I think everyone should study whatever their sacred texts are, whatever history they have.

    That there are organizations dedicated to pulling Jews away from Judaism? So what? Most of the people associated with them aren’t even Jewish, just Christians who like playing with Jewish ‘toys’. I feel sorry for Jews who leave Judaism for Christianity because I think they traded their birthright for a bowl of lentil stew, but it’s a free country, people can choose their own religions. I left the one of my birth and don’t regret it so who am I to say someone else can’t feel the same about their own migration?

    No, the ‘real’ Christian response wasn’t from you. But, it is the usual response I get so I threw it in to forstall it from happening this time.

    No, I don’t think Jewish converts to Christianity felt any more of a connection to Judaism than I felt to Christianity. That’s what I think of your convert. I don’t know why that shows you where I stand on anything other than that Jewish parents need to be willing to invest in their kids’ Judaism?

    Yet it doesn’t bother you to study and trot out your own misrepresentations of Judaism because you claim them to be fact? It doesn’t bother you that you teach caricatures of Judaism? If Jason studies with Jews he’s not going to study Christianity at all because we’re not going to teach it. It’s not a hot topic at shul, you know what I mean? Unless he goes to countermissionary sites, he’s just going to hear about Judaism. I’ve never figured out why you guys waste your time talking about us so much. If someone things Judaism is great, what’s it to you? Why the need to jump in and try to dissuade them? If all truth is on your side, don’t you think it will prevail in the end?

  14. Jason,
    Can you email John the blog address I gave you? Thanks. And please don’t post it here. I have it open to public viewing so one special person can read it when they choose without any hassles.

    John T,
    You’ll be fine in my world. Leave a comment to let me know you’re there.

  15. ** Your claim of a 1st century shift may even be true (I do not know) but the shift wasn’t so great they added in ideas like Trinity or NT as the main way to interpret scriptures. **

    I think this is key when it comes to discussing the connections Christianity has with Judaism. As Society says, while there may have been theological changes to Judaism from 0-2 AD, are those changes closer to what we see in the Tanakh, compared to Christianity? Judaism doesn’t teach about Satan the way that Christianity does. Or the Trinity. For Judaism, one God means one God, not three-in-one. Or Original Sin.

    Yet all of those elements are *huge* in CHristianity, and yet don’t tie back to any teaching I find in Judaism, or really even the Tanakh itself. I think even the nature of man is taught differently — Christianity teaches that everything we do is tainted with sin, and yet Judaism goes with we have two natures, one good and one bad.

    I saw a comment on the other blog that indicated that only with the New Testament can someone get the full depth of the old. Perhaps that’s part of the problem? Judaism believes that the Tanakh can stand on its own, whereas Christianity needs the NT to interpret the old. You can probably argue that it’s no different than using the Tanakh to interpret itself, but in the latter instance, I see that as saying one can’t fully understand Judaism unless there’s a Christian supplement, and as soon as those new theological elements are introduced, such as the Trinity, Original Sin and so forth, how much similarities are there between the two religions?

  16. “My only intention on commenting before was to show that Normative Judaism today took theological prominence after the rise of Christianity” (Mike)

    This is true – but Normative Judaism would be more comparable to Orthodox Christianity that didn’t occur until 325 AD (under Constantine and the councils) – since this when the Christian faith was considered solidified. Prior to that – we have varying interpretations – East and West differences – and no canon. So in reality, Judaism become solidified prior to Christianity – and they are close to the same period.

    “Christianity started almost exclusively of Jews” (Mike)

    But how long did that actually last? There may have been many Jewish people that started the group but that was lost within a few generations (a Jewish perspective). Paul is interpreted in ways that do not resemble Judaism – same with John in my opinion. I would also state that Christianity does not resemble anything Jewish – except commonality in perceived theology and discussion on issues – and even then – this does little to bridge any gap between a religion that started off Jewish (Christianity) with any form of Judaism. I think Christianity took it’s ball and started walking for a new basketball court while Judaism stayed and played (we are on different courts now – but in the same sport).

    “Truth is, I am afraid of people studying misrepresentations of other religions and caricatures of Christianity. I am just trying to set the record straight” (Mike)

    And I think that’s cool – but I am with you in that concern. Thus the whole reason I ask a rabbi (a studied expert in Torah) about Numbers 31 and difficult passages in the Tanakh. I would not turn to a Christian person for that information – since I know none that are experts or do not view the Tanakh as secondary literature to the NT scripture. Why take someone in 2nd place when you can take someone in 1st place?

    Also I am not studying a misrepresentation of any faith concerned in these discussions – both Jewish and Christian. Just because certain views of Judaism I am studying do not line up with what you think is Judaism – which is comparing Conservative with Orthodox – is meaningless. It’s like saying a liberal Christian is not one because a Conservative/Orthodox Christian is one. I study issues and go about reading the proofs for what the interpretation is…I do not decide based on someone’s holding of some perspective about what they think makes a Christian a Christian or a Jew a Jew.

    Mike I know you and I see differently on the Jewish stuff – but that’s quite alright – neither of us follow that faith all that closely (you likely follow it closer than me – attending festivals and what have you). But when we talk about Judaic thought – I cannot see how learning all those scriptures (Tanakh) would not benefit a Christian to learn from a rabbi that studies them thoroughly all their life? The reasoning you have laid down so far does nothing to prove that wrong in any way.

  17. ” saw a comment on the other blog that indicated that only with the New Testament can someone get the full depth of the old. Perhaps that’s part of the problem? Judaism believes that the Tanakh can stand on its own, whereas Christianity needs the NT to interpret the old” (Mystical)

    I think you are right on this point MS. This seems to be the underlying – unargued – assumption behind most of the Christian viewpoint when dealing with the Tanakh. I am amazed no one has said until now – but I used to think this way about the scriptures – but I was acting like a kid then.

    I soon realized that all of the NT is loosely based on something that actually was the prominent scripture of the Bible – the Tanakh. The actual authority of the NT rests in the fact the Tanakh is scripture and God’s word. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Hebrews all quoting it for proof texts to validate their points. So where does the real authority actually sit and what should be studied first…the Tanakh in my opinion.

    The NT is only authoritative because was actually God’s words – and by that – I mean the Torah primarily.

  18. Ah…..

    A Christian claiming to know what is ‘real’ Judaism and that it isn’t mine? Oh-kay. Let’s have a little lesson in Jewish movements here.

    Orthodox Judaism came into being as a response to Reform Judaism. Conservative Judaism is much more in line with what Judaism has been through the ages. Christians who like to play at being Jews always try to make Orthodoxy into something it’s not. Many times in my interactions with the Orthodox I have muttered to myself, “If Jesus ran into people like these, no wonder he said what he said.” Treat your workers like crap and don’t care so long as the meat is ‘kosher’. Yeah, that sounds like something Jesus would go for.

    Too bad we Conservative Jews spend so much time working for social justice instead of fretting over which foot to put on the floor first when we get out of bed. Man, we have our priorities so messed up! Orthodoxy is where it’s at. NOT……

    Oh well, at least I’ve had my amusement for the day.

  19. “Conservative Judaism is much more in line with what Judaism has been through the ages” (yael)

    Is this true? It seems like orthodoxy, in Christian circles, is always held up as the Jewish standard.

  20. As if Christians understand what Judaism is or isn’t to be? Christians like Orthodoxy because the Orthodox claim Torah is without error and every word came from God. Orthodox also tend to be more conservative politically. The reality is Christians don’t know Jewish history, traditions, teachings or movements. They just latch on to what seems familiar from their own beliefs and then make Orthodoxy into a some ‘Jewish’ version of themselves even though such a view isn’t based in the least bit on reality.

    BTW, Orthodoxy came into existence in the 1700’s. I think that rules out Jesus being an Orthodox Jew by a few years!

    I would certainly give little credence to the claims of a Jew wannabe. I find it amusing your comment about him following Jewish holidays when the traditions of Jewish holidays are spelled out in the very Oral Torah he dismisses! Read Torah and see if the descriptions there bear any resemblance to Jewish holidays today or to the wannabes celebrations, which invariably look almost exactly like ours except with a little Jesus thrown in for good measure. Pick and choose, pick and choose.

    If someone wants to see real Jews working on real Jewish issues which impact the world far beyond Judaism, click here. Yes, that is my rabbi and yes, Yael is me. This is what Judaism is all about. Wannabes will never know this life because they don’t belong and they know it. They’d rather play pretend than do anything of substance, while telling us what is real and what isn’t. Too funny.

  21. Society, as much as I’d like to take credit for what One Small Step wrote, it was her and not I who wrote that comment that you respond to. 🙂

    As an aside, I think it is always fascinating when people expend so much energy arguing over what the “real” form of any religion is, I think it is a meaningless argument, one that continually crops up in my own blog and in other blogs where I discuss progressive Christianity. Often conservative Christians who think I’m too loose and inclusive in my definition of Christianity will ask me what I think the definition of Christianity is. I think people are asking the wrong question when they ask that sort of thing. People expend a lot of time and effort trying to decide who gets to be “in” and who gets excluded as “out”, and one way to do that is to deny that a particular group within a faith are “real” whatevers. And conservative Christians are particularly narrow and insistent on deciding who is in and who is out.

    A Jewish friend of mine pointed to a Reform temple in the city where I live as we drove past it, said that they barely qualified as Jews, and compared them to Unitarian Universalists. I said, “Sounds pretty good to me.” And he agreed that they liked that Temple too. You gotta love it.

    I sometimes do blog searches in google, looking for key words like “progressive Christianity” or “Marcus Borg”, and inevitably you find bloggers who insist that Marcus Borg or John Shelby Spong aren’t real Christians. This is an example of what I am talking about.

  22. Rereading my comment, I realize that I mistyped something. When my I told my Jewish friend that the Reform congregation that we were driving past sounded pretty cool, what he said was that he thought so too. So his comment about that temple being sort of a Jewish version of Unitarian Universalism was not meant to be dispariging. Actually, having looked at the temple’s web site, I think he was exaggerating a bit anyway.

    Rebecca Alpert, one of the first women to be ordained a rabbi, writes in her book “Whose Torah?”, Perhaps you’ve heard the quip that goes if you meet two Jews you can be sure that they have three opinions between them. Or the one about the Jew stranded on a desert island, who, when rescued, showed off two structures: “the synagogue I go to and the synagogue I don’t go to.” She also writes:

    Hasidic, Ultra-Orthodox, and Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Rewewal, Humanist, Secular, Cultural, Ashkenazi, Israelite, Messianic, Sephardi: all have differetn ways of beign Jewish and different definitions of woh is a Jew. So who has the right to say to whom the Torah belongs? The answer has to be all of the above. Jews all along this spectrum can claim an authentic connection to the history, texts, and traditions of what has come to be known as Judaism, and each has a legitimate right to call him- or herself part of the Jewish people, even if he or she doesn’t agree with one another’s definition or criteria. All find within Judaism as they understand it the answer to the question of how to live a good life. Good thoughts from a progressive rabbi.

  23. I am still waiting on some rabbinic response from Ask the Rabbi – but they said to wait 7 days – because I would like to see what they have to say. I will make their response a new blog I think.

    “as much as I’d like to take credit for what One Small Step wrote, it was her and not I who wrote that comment that you respond to” (Mystical)

    My apologies to OSS – I should really read closer.

    “People expend a lot of time and effort trying to decide who gets to be “in” and who gets excluded as “out”, and one way to do that is to deny that a particular group within a faith are “real”” (Mustical)

    I agree. I think faith is so much more than some institution or who controls the rules of the faith – it’s a whole life in some senses and that cannot be controlled by others – but only by yourself. That’s a sense of individualism that is good I think…however we still need to respect the community with our behavior. I just know we all can’t agree on everything – and I think that should be an acceptable thing (unless someone’s views become morally dangerous to others – ie: (like God’s Children cult).

    “your blog has certainly been good for laughs these past couple of days” (Yael)

    It was an issue I felt need to be discussed – since authority of scripture finds it way back to Tanakh always and inevitably. I felt I wanted to set the record straight on expertise on issues – concerning Torah/Tanakh – will most likely come from a Rabbi’s studies. It seems kind of narrow minded (to some) but I don’t think it is. I mean after learning what a Rabbi does ot become a Rabbi – they wre very well studied in those areas – and continue all their life to be.

    Glad I could be of service in the humor dep’t – since we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves and some of the things we find just odd.

  24. Ah, but Judaism is not a faith. We don’t think institutions and rules are some evil thing. Judaism is built around the legal system handed down to us through Torah and Talmud. If non-Jews don’t like that, so what? It still comes back to too many people insisting on viewing Judaism through the lens of Christianity when Judaism is a whole different ballgame. A few books, a few websites are not going to convey what Judaism is all about. It takes living within a Jewish community, studying and learning within the community to even start to understand what it’s all about.

    The rulings of one rabbi, which are totally outside the bounds of normative Judaism, BTW, only affect those people who are under said rabbi’s jurisdiction. I am a Conservative Jew. The rulings of Conservative Judaism, the rulings of my own rabbi are the rules I am obligated to observe. If I don’t like those rules, I can certainly choose to ignore them, but it doesn’t change anything, the rules are still in place. If I want to change the rules there are ways to do so, which is why we have the Rabbinical Assembly, a body which makes legal ruling for Conservative Judaism.

    Let me give an example. I am supposed to say kaddish for my father for 11 months. After about 6 months I told Rabbi I didn’t want to say kaddish anymore and gave him my reasons. He listened to me and gave me a ruling on this request of mine, showing me from our texts how he reached his decision. For Christians, and for many Jews as well, this may seem really silly, but this is what it means to live a life governed by halakhah. It’s not just about me and what I want to do at any given moment. Judaism is very different than Christianity. Reading some books on Jewish spirituality, Jewish thought, is not going to convey this difference all that much, but if one begins reading books on Halakhah, the differences become quite clear indeed. If someone is so interested, I would recommend The Unfolding Tradition: Jewish Law After Sinai. Then perhaps one can understand how we can say we love the law and why we enjoy meditating on it, arguing about it, embracing it. For good reason there are many Jewish lawyers. Our heritage, our religion, is very close in many respects to the American legal system; I can’t speak for the Canadian since I don’t know anything about it.

    Jews across the spectrum do have differing opinions on many things but when I say we are really quite alike, I mean that one can find Jews who live their lives according to Halakhah in ALL movements. Halakhah is not limited to any particular movement. There are people in every movement who follow halakhah and there are people in every movement who do not. It is sometimes really hard to differentiate between an Orthodox Jew, a Conservative Jew, a Reform Jew. They might be living their lives exactly the same, even though when you talk to them about beliefs, the responses might well be very different or they might not. We’re not about beliefs, or faith, we’re about actions. Beliefs are nice, but who really cares?

    Those three synagogues? I could attend at any one of them and the services would be really quite similar. The order of services is the same, the Hebrew is the same. Yes, there are some differences in minhag, but it’s not like Church denominations. (The closest thing I can think of would be like Catholics who can go into any church and find their way just fine, whether the church be in Germany or in Nebraska.) Tonight is Kabbalat Shabbat. I can go to any shul in town and be totally confident I will know the vast majority of the songs that will be sung, the prayers that will be said. I don’t go to certain shuls because I don’t care for some of their views, but as far as the services go, I could attend anywhere and be quite comfortable.

    I live this life. I’ve lived this life for years now. I think I just might know something about it. Hell, my rabbi reads my stuff, yes perhaps even here. If I was totally misrepresenting Judaism he’d be getting all over my case in an instant I can assure you. His only comment is ever why do I waste my time talking to Christians. The other rabbi in my shul says the same thing…..I think I need to start listening to them more starting right now. Jason, John, you know where to find me. Shabbat Shalom. Life is good and I have to say. I thoroughly love the one I’m living, even on the days I wonder why.

  25. One last thing….

    Jason, that initiative for which I’ve been doing PR for Rabbi for the past year? We finally made it on CNN!!!! New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, even the New Zealand Herald, and now CNN. Very cool. I love it! All those hours of work are paying off! I’m celebrating tonight with friends. Gotta get out of here though. Have a toast for me, Jason. L’Chaim! Life is VERY good!!

  26. “His only comment is ever why do I waste my time talking to Christians.” (Yael)

    I actually like to here all of your explanation of what Judaism is about – namely the law – since I know very little about the process…I like learning and this is part of the process for me.

    What I don’t quite get is why the rabbi is closed to this communication? Is this wrong in some way or a waste of time for someone Jewish? I just wonder because you have brought this up a few times – and I don’t see my time spent with you as the same? Even if my church leader – if I was part of a church – asked that of me – I would be quite taken aback – since I think I learn a lot from you in these convo’s. I guess this puzzles me…

    Congrats on all the coverage for all the work you have put into the work with rabbi – I wish you only the best in this endeavor since it it means a lot. Dam straight I will toast you tnight!

  27. You are unique, Jason. We’ve been talking for over a year now even though I don’t usually spend much time at all talking with anyone on line.

    No, I don’t suppose most pastors would tell you not to interact. I would say first off because Christianity is a proselytizing religion. Since we’re not, our view on interactions is perhaps more of self-preservation, what’s in it for us. We are a small group after all. And in our shul, I think we have quite a unique Rabbi/congregant dynamic, with Rabbi being actively involved in the lives of his congregants. On top of that, Rabbi is my good friend.

    For myself, I look at interactions this way: Is there any useful purpose in all of this for me and mine?

    a. Does this build up my soul or tear it down?

    “Be careful with the heath of your soul as you are with the health of your body” (Jacob Isaac of Lublin).

    b. Do I become more learned as a result or do I end up just rehashing the same points?

    “Judaism also encourages study, because while the problems of life are new to each individual, they are not new to humanity as a whole.” (Why Be Jewish, p. 28, Rabbi David Wolpe)

    c. Does this make the world a better place?

    “The world needs more than our self-exploration. It needs our action. Sometimes it may seem that action takes away from a focus on our own souls, but at times the only true way to find ourselves is by not seeking.” (ibid. p. 31)

    d. Is this time well spent?

    “It is a foolish life lived in the minds of others. The attempt to fine-tune the perception of others is draining and futile. Ultimately, inside our own souls we know if we have lived with courage or cowardice. Let others choose for themselves…..Listen to what stirs your soul. When God called to Abraham, Abraham responded with a single word, hineni, ‘here I am’. (idid. p. 32)

    Anyway, I’m still trying to figure out what should be the extent of my online interactions. I was actually really relaxed and happy those days I stayed away from all of this and refused to even look. But….like talking with you still….so…..I suppose I just need to be smarter about all of this.

    BTW, unrelated, but I wrote a piece on living life with halakhah. It’s way too long to put as a comment so I’m linking it. It’s the only post visible.

  28. Thanks for the reply Yael – I see you used Wolpe – I really dig that dude. I will check out your blog – which I have been doing lately – and see what i can continue to learn.

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