Saturday, November 30, 2013

I'm Embarrassed to be an American


The Menorah: Symbol of Israel, Symbol of Yeshua, Symbol of One-Law

In 1949 the Knesset made the Menorah the official emblem of the State of Israel.  This was not the first time the Menorah had been a political symbol for Israel (CLICK HERE FOR LINK).  But what did the symbol of the Menorah mean before it ever became a political symbol?

Let's examine some of the clues:

  • The Menorah has seven lamps (Zech. 4:2)
  • Shabbat represents Messianic Redemption for all mankind (Hebrews 4:9)
  • The six remaining lamps represent mankind (since man was created on the sixth day).
  • The Torah is a fire ("from his right hand went a fiery law", Deut. 33:2.  Also see Jer. 23:29) 
  • The Torah is a lamp (Psalm 119:105)
  • Yeshua is the "light" and the "banner" of Israel that summons the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6,22; Luke 2:32).

Yeshua is the middle lamp of the Menorah, the Shamash who, being G-d humbled Himself to serve mankind, to allow mankind (the six off-shoot lamps) to enter into His Sabbath Rest, to see by the Light of His Torah and to be illumined, that we should not perish in spiritual darkness.

And isn't it fascinating that the Modern State of Israel carries this banner!

Praise G-d!

"This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I will beckon to the nations, I will lift up my banner to the peoples" (Isaiah 49:22)
"I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

Why Does Torah Equate Shabbat Desecration with Avoda Zara (Idolatry)? [A Response to Derek Leman]

You shall make no idols for yourselves, nor shall you raise for yourselves a graven image or a pillar; nor shall you place any figured stone in your land to bow down unto it; for I am the Lord your God. You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the Lord” (Lev 26:1-2)
Why does G-d prohibit idolatry in one sentence and then in the very next sentence reaffirm the command about Sabbath-keeping?  

It's almost as if G-d is saying that we must keep Shabbat in order to show that we worship G-d and not idols.

This idea becomes more clear in the Prophets:

"And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord," (Isa. 66:23).
In these two passages we see the following concepts:

(1) we keep Shabbat in order to turn away from idols (Lev. 26:1-2);

(2) we keep Shabbat in order to turn toward HaShem in worship  (Isa. 66:23).

[This is a response to Derek Leman's recent post:  CLICK HERE FOR LINK]

Monday, November 25, 2013

Christians: The Perfect Poison for Isolated Messianics

For the record, I never expected the Christian teacher with whom I've been conversing to read my arguments and immediately exclaim, "Wow!  I really am part of Israel through the blood of Yeshua!  And the Torah really is valid for non-Jewish Believers!"  It was probably an exercise in futility trying to convince him of the truth.  But I tried because A) I'd want someone to do the same for me and B) I can't help myself.  

So, without further ado, here's my final update on this apparently fruitless discussion. Here's his response:

Hello Peter.  I hope you had a blessed weekend.

I just want to make a couple of brief comments to your reply.

 Let me be clear; I never stated that the festivals were abolished.  What I said was that these were mandated by God to ISRAEL (Jews) as a way to remember the great and mighty acts of mercy and deliverance.  My point is that although they are permissible, they are not mandated for theGentile believers.   As for the ceremonial practices, I was thinking of the procedures of washing, cooking, dressing, etc. and things that pertain to the Leviticus order of worship related to the sacrifices.  The fact that Levites as a clan do not exist is evident that these things cannot be practiced.  As a matter of fact, no modern Jew can determine from which tribe they descend since the census records have long since been destroyed.

The key to understanding the issue of observance of Jewish Law is context.  When rightly applied, the rules of hermeneutics (context, rules of language, exegesis, etc.) makes this issue quite clear as was explained in Acts 15.  Nevertheless, there were those who insisted that Jewish converts adopt and maintain the same regulations as Jews.  This created much confusion for the Gentile believers in Antioch as well as the Galatians and Colossians.  This is also why Paul stressed the application of moral precepts and a life transformed by the "renewing of the mind (Ro 12:1-2).

The personal example that Paul cites in Philippians 3:17 when examined in context has nothing to do with following Jewish regulations, but rather a lifestyle of sacrifice and love.  All of the instructions provided in each of his letters pertain to a lifestyle that results from a transformation of the heart by a personal encounter with the living Savior and explicitly charges people to NOT become entangled in legalism as a means of righteousness.

I am not sure where you see a reference in 1 Cor. 5 pertaining to the Passover.  The entire chapter is dedicated as a rebuke to immorality (another emphasis on moral precepts).   In verse 7 there is a mention of Christ being our Passover as THE sacrifice.  This is in context of not allowing sin a foothold in our lives as a means of leaven.  As for the feast in verse 8; we always remember the Passover as it proceeds Easter; however, here he appears to be speaking figuratively regarding the attitudes of our heart regarding the Lord's Supper which we should be practicing each time we meet as they did at that time.   Again, the emphasis here is repentance "from morality and wickedness" to a heart of "sincerity and truth."

As for the prophesies of Zechariah: the 14th chapter appears to pertain to the millennial reign of Christ and those who rise up against Israel during the rule of the anti-Christ.  These will be those have "rejected the truth so as to be saved."  In other words, they are unbelievers; rejecter's of Divine Truth.  How the Lord chooses to deal with them at that time should not be construed as a patter for our lives now.

As for Isaiah 66:23; yes every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  This is a certainty.

It appears that we are not going to find much common ground on this issue Peter.  Nevertheless, I look forward to having fellowship with you as we walk together.

Blessings to you Peter


If you're a Messianic and your primary congregation is a Messianic congregation then visiting a church won't hurt you.  The Messianic sphere of influence will neutralize the poisonous teachings you hear at church and inoculate you to the subtle social rejection you'll receive from Christians (no matter what they say, they won't really accept someone that they think is a legalistic Pharisee).

But if you're Messianic and you only go to a prepared for a slow, tortuous spiritual death.  One cannot live without true fellowship.  And a Messianic can't live without hearing the Teaching.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Now It Really Begins: Your Opinion Will Determine the Next Step

So I've now reached the stage in the discussion with the Christian teacher where we get to the heart of the doctrinal divide.  Below you'll see his most recent statements and my response--except that I haven't responded yet!  And that's where you come in.  Do you recommend I respond as set forth below?  Or should the response be more measured?  Let me know what you think.  NOTE:  the Christian teacher's words are in italics.

RE:  "Consequently, the ceremonial regulations pertaining to the Temple, it's worship and those who maintained it are all obsolete."

      Ezekiel says otherwise.  In fact, Ezekiel says that not only will the Temple regulations continue but those who maintained the Temple regulations will continue:
" 'But the priests, who are Levites and descendants of Zadok and who faithfully carried out the duties of my sanctuary when the Israelites went astray from me, are to come near to minister before me; they are to stand before me to offer sacrifices of fat and blood, declares the Sovereign LORD." (Eze. 44:15).
RE:  "It should be noted that nowhere in the NT do we see any of the Apostles advocate or instruct Gentile believers to follow the old Levitical and Rabbinical codes....Nevertheless there were many that were still fixated on the old code and they insisted that these new believers follow such practices in order to be considered 'Messianic' followers.  This led them down a path of following a set of external precepts (mechanics) which included being circumcised, keeping the Sabbath, maintaining the festivals, dietary practices, etc. as though these practices were required for Gentile believers.  While practicing these things may be permissible, especially Jewish believers, they are by no means obligatory, but have a tendency to become baggage.  Paul was very explicit regarding this matter.  'But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter."

     You say that only moral laws continue and that all the ceremonial laws are abolished.  So let's ignore, for the moment, that Yeshua said He would not abolish a jot or tittle of the law and that those who teach the law will be considered greatest in the kingdom.  And let's ignore the fact that Paul says for Gentiles to imitate the "way of walking" of Jewish Believers such as Paul (Phil.3:17) and commands Gentiles to keep Passover (1 Cor. 5).  Let's set all of that evidence aside for the moment.  Your assertion that the ceremonial laws such as "keeping the Sabbath" and "maintaining the festivals" is not Biblical because it is again flatly contradicted by the Prophets.  I'll give two examples.

Zechariah says that festivals have NOT been abolished.  Here he says that Sukkot will be mandatory for Gentiles:

"And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.  And it shall be, that whoso of the families of the earth goeth not up unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, upon them there shall be no rain.  And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, they shall have no overflow; there shall be the plague, wherewith the Lord will smite the nations that go not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.  This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations that go not up to keep the feast of tabernacles."  Zechariah 14.16-19.

And what is the purpose of Sukkot (i.e. Feast of Tabernacles)?  The Torah explains that the ultimate purpose is to hear and learn Torah:

"Moses wrote down this Teaching and gave it to the priests, sons of Levi, who carried the Ark of the Lord's Covenant, and to the elders of Israel. And Moses instructed them as follows:  Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.  Gather the people--men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities--that they may hear and so learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully every word of the Teaching.  Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere the Lord your God as long as they live in the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to occupy."  Deuteronomy 31.9-13.

You also assert that Shabbat is abolished.  The Prophets contradict this by saying that Shabbat will be for everyone:

"And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord," (Isa. 66:23).

And note that the Temple only becomes a "House of Prayer for all people" when a Gentile properly keeps Shabbat in the eschaton:

"6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-- 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isa. 56:6-7)

RE:  "Paul recognized that the moral precepts reflect the nature and character of God Almighty and transcend time and culture.  Therefore they are universal and normative for all peoples for all time.  That is why he translated this into principles of practical theology for the Gentile believers which was affirmed by the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15)."

You assert that the Jersualem Council abolished Torah for Gentiles (in blatant contradiction of the Prophets) and you base this, apparently, on the fourfold decree.   

First, the fourfold decree can only be read as a prohibition against participating in cultic pagan rites.  I'll now present the evidence for this position.  First, here is the subject verse:
"But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols [alisgematon ton eidolon] and from fornication [porneias] and from things strangled [pniktou] and from blood [haimatos]," (Acts 15:20)
In 15:20, the first thing prohibited is "alisgemata ton eidolon" which translates as "pollutions of idols".  And the parallel of this provision in 15:29 rephrases it as "eidolothuton" which translates quite clearly as "idol sacrifice" (also see LXX of Daniel 1:8 for corroboration).  This sets up the cultic context for the remaining three provisions which we will now look at in turn.

We know that "porneias" is connected to "eidoluthutai" elsewhere in Scripture:

"Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality [eidolothuta kai porneusai]," (Rev. 2:14) 
"Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols [porneusai kai eidolothuta]" (Rev. 2:20)

This establishes that porneias in Acts 15:20 concerns cultic idolatry.

Now we turn to "pniktou", a term so rare that it is not found elsewhere in Scripture (outside of Acts).  In fact, the only we know about it comes from Philo:

"The Jewish philosopher Philo described the revolting practice of how pagans would often strangle or choke their sacrifices, not letting the blood out, in opposition to God's law: 'But some men, with open mouths, carry even the excessive luxury and boundless intemperance of Sardanapalus to such an indefinite and unlimited extent, being wholly absorbed in the invention of senseless pleasures, that they prepare sacrifices which ought never be offered, strangling their victims, and stifling the essence of life [Leviticus 17:11], which they ought to let depart free and unrestrained, burying the blood, as it were, in the body.  For it ought to have been sufficient for them to enjoy the flesh by itself, without touching any of those parts which have a connection with the soul or life' (Special Laws 4.122)," (from McKee's Acts 15 For the Practical Messianic).

 So we see that the fourth prohibition of "blood" is connected to "pniktou".  When one strangles the animal one automatically traps the blood for the purpose of pagan rites.

 Therefore, the fourfold decree can not be taken to be some new form of Torah for Gentiles.  Taken in context,  it is simply a prohibition of core pagan rites in a cultic context.  And why were these prohibited?  Because Gentiles were EXPECTED to be in synagogue to learn the Torah of Moses:
"For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath." (Acts 15:21).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Mitzvot Series: #2


Ex. 20:2-3

Ex 20:4,5; 23:13; Lev. 19:4

"Ye shall not make with Me gods of silver and gods of gold" (Ex. 20:23

Ex. 20:7; Lev.19:12
NOTE:  Scripture doesn't really explain this.  In Rabbinic literature, this mitzvah is taken to refer to oaths.  However, I believe it should be construed in broad terms as follows:  we are a People chosen for His Name and thus we must conduct ourselves accordingly.  If we give G-d a bad name as it were then we've taken His Name in vain.

Ex. 20:8,10; 23:12; Deut.5:12
NOTE:  We are required to sanctify Shabbat in several ways.  One of the primary ways that Shabbat is sanctified is by our refraining from doing work associated with the common workday.  However,the concept of "work" is not intended by Scripture to be a purely subjective idea.  Rather, Scripture provides many examples of activities that are objectively prohibited as melakha--on such Scripturally defined matters there should be no debate.  However, one issue for Messianics is whether to accept the rabbinically defined categories of work--the 39 categories of melakha.

"Let no man go out of his place on the seventh day" (Ex. 16:29)
NOTE:  Clearly by the time of the Prophets this concept of "place" had been precisely defined (e.g. Jer. 17:21-22).  This definition of "place" is also alluded to in the Apostolic Writings (Acts 1:12).  For there to be a "sabbath day's walk" implies that the permissible distance was precise, well-known, and agreed upon in the system of first-century Judaisms.  However, it may have been a matter of halachic debate as to what could be carried on Shabbat.  For example, in John 5, Yeshua and a man are in a public domain and Yeshua tells him to pick up his bed and walk.  The Jewish leaders then said that the law prohibits carrying a mat.  Modern halacha (Shulchan Aruch) states "In the public domain and in a semi-public domain it's forbidden to carry (on Shabbat) any object four cubits. Whether one carries it, or throws it or passes it. To carry it, in several stages, each one less than four cubits, is also forbidden."



The Mitzvot Series: #1

So recently a Christian teacher who is a friend of mine asked me to enumerate all the mitzvot that I believe are currently valid.  He wants to be thorough and define everything--a very wise approach, yes?  Oddly enough, I've never really thought through all the mitzvot and considered which are binding for Messianic Jews and non-Jews in the modern day.  So this will be a beneficial exercise.  Without further ado, here's the first in the mitzvot series.  And I'll be borrowing heavily from Abraham Chill's "The Mitzvot" for all of this (one of the chillest rabbis of all time by the way).  Oh, and for the one's that pose issues for Messianics (e.g. rabbinic authority issues or One-Law issues) I'll post a brief note discussing my personal view and if anyone wants to comment then feel free (all perspectives are welcome here).

"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28)

"Every male among you shall be circumcised" (Gen. 17:10)

"Therefore the children of Israel are not to eat the thigh muscle on the hip socket" (Gen. 32:33)

"This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be unto you the first month of the year" (Ex 12:2).
NOTE:  How do we get to the mitzvah that each new moon should be sanctified?  It's implied from "beginning of months" that just as Pesach is reckoned from a new moon so too must each subsequent month be reckoned by the new moon.

Ex: 12:6; 23:18
NOTE:  When the Temple is standing, the Israelite householder goes to the Temple, waits his turn to enter the courtyard, has his sacrifice processed, and returns with the paschal lamb to his house where everyone eats it. (See "Those Forbidden to Partake of the Paschal Lamb" for a special note for One-Law Messianics)

"And they shall eat the flesh in that night" (Ex. 12:11)
"Ye may not eat of it raw nor boiled in water" (Ex 12:9)
"With unleavened bread and bitter herbs shall they eat it" (Ex. 12:8)

Ex 12:10; Numbers 9:12; Deut. 16:4

Ex. 12:43,45,48
NOTE:  A convert, after the model of Abraham, is initiated into the covenant via faith.  A male convert thus initiated then ratifies his conversion via circumcision. When the Temple is standing, a circumcised male convert may then consummate his conversion by eating the paschal lamb.  This model of conversion (initiation, ratification, consummation) is obviously not held by "the rabbis".  Yet it is the model which I believe best describes the reality of a convert's journey as demonstrated in the Tanak and the Apostolic Writings.

Ex 12:46; Numbers 9:12

"You may not carry forth any of the flesh away from the house" (Ex 12:46)

Ex 12:15,17,18,19,20;13:3; Deut. 16:3

Ex 13:2; Num 18:15,17; Deut. 12:17;15:19
NOTE:  This was historically interpreted to mean that the father was duty-bound to "redeem" his first-born son thirty days after the birth by presenting the Priest with five pieces of silver or an object of equal value.

"And you shall tell your son on that day" (Ex 13:8)

Ex. 13:13
NOTE:  I'm not going to attempt to explain the rationales behind each mitzvah...


Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend...

Might Israel be teaming up with Saudi Arabia?


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Did the Apostolic Decree Force First-Century Gentiles to Eat Kosher Food?

The Apostolic Decree prohibits a non-Jew from eating food that has been sacrificed to an idol (Acts 15:29).  Yet the first-century reality was that all meat sold in a marketplace was presumptively associated with idol sacrifice.

Here's Bruce Winter on the subject from his book "After Paul Left Corinth" (see especially the portions highlighted in yellow):

pg. 288 "Josephus records an official decree which involved provision of kosher food and which was issued on the resolution of the magistrates from the city of Sardis in Asia Minor and passed by the Council of the People.  It was dated after October, 47 B.C., not long before the founding of the colony of Corinth in 44 B.C. (Ant. 14.259-61).  This was not the first discussion of Jewish rights in Sardis, for Lucius Antonius, the proquaestor who deputised for Minucius Thermus, the Proconsul of Asia on his recall to Rome, wrote an official letter to the magistrates, the council, and the people of Sardis indicating that the ancient customs of the Jews in that city were to be respected.  These included their own 'association', 'a place of their own'---presumably a synagogue--and the right to decide their own 'affairs and controversies with one another' (Ant. 14.235).  This letter, written earlier than the decree of Sardis in 47 B.C., appears to have been the catalyst for securing recognition of their ancient customs.
     The preamble of this decree began with the customary 'whereas' order to explain the context of the official resolution of the Council and the People:
     'Whereas the Jewish citizens living in our city have continually received many great privileges from the people and have now come before the Council and the People and have pleaded that as their laws and freedom have been restored to them by the Roman Senate and People, they may, in accordance with their accepted customs, come together and have a communal life and adjudicate suits among themselves, and that a place be given them in which they may gather together with their wives and children and offer their ancestral prayers and sacrifices to God...'
     The official resolution then declared, 'it has therefore been decreed by the Council and the People...that permission shall be given to them to assemble on sacred days, to do things in accordance with their laws, and also that a place shall be set apart by the magistrates for them to build and inhabit'.  The decree concluded, 'so that the market-officials of the city...shall by charged with the duty of having suitable food for them [the Jews] brought in'...for sale in the marketplace, over which they had control.'"
pg. 296  "The Christian Jews, on the basis of Gallio's ruling [Acts 18], were entitled to purchase meat that had not been offered to idols in the marketplace.  Even if the Jews were unhappy with that arrangement, they could not move against the sale of 'suitable meat' to Christians.  Gallio's ruling was that the Jews' case against Paul was about an internal religious dispute, 'questions about words, and names and your own law' and not some criminal offence (18:14-15).  Therefore the officials who governed the meat market might have been involved.  Christians were entitled to purchase kosher meat there, and this may have been the reason that Paul needed to provide no tradition on the purchasing of idol meat for the Christian community in Corinth while he was there.  If this was the case, then Corinthian Christians had been able to follow the Jerusalem Council's decision concerning food offered to idols (Acts 15:23-29)--a decision that could only be implemented in Gentile cities where kosher meat was available in the official market."

Torah Talk with a Christian Teacher

For anyone interested, here's a taste of an on-going discussion I'm having with a Christian teacher whom I greatly admire:

RE:  "I am not sure if this was clearly conveyed in your previous reply.  Which aspects of what was given (Levitical Code) do you see necessary for a Gentile believer to keep? "
Everything that is practicable given one's circumstances, everything which would not conflict with the spirit of the Biblical command and which comports with the letter of the Biblical command.  

RE:  "...I would like to understand how you define the Law."

To a non-Messianic Orthodox Jew, the Law includes d'oraita and d'rabanan.  To a Messianic, the Law consists of only d'oraita, those commands given in Scripture (which I believe includes the Apostolic Writings and any instructions issued by the Holy Spirit).  We exclude (or should exclude) d'rabanan--commands issued from rabbis--from carrying the force of law.  That said, where a command d'rabanan is helpful to the spirit of the law and not harmful to the spirit of the law or harmful to the letter then I see no reason why a rabbinic rule cannot be voluntarily obeyed.  

There are two models for rabbinic authority.  The deontic model (duty-based) says that the rabbis must be obeyed implicitly;  The epistemic model (knowledge-based) says that the rabbis must not be obeyed implicitly but only where the rabbinic instruction comports with Truth (knowledge).  The epistemic model gives the rabbis a presumptive but not final authority.  Where the rabbis are wrong, the epistemic model demands that one ignore the rabbinic instruction.  It is this latter model which I don't have a problem with.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why Does Torah Call the Fruit From Young Trees "Uncircumcised"?

"23 And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of.24 But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the Lord withal.25 And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am the Lordyour God," (Lev. 19:23-25)

The word "uncircumcised" is orlah in Hebrew.  It's the same term as in "On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin (besar ha-orlah) shall be circumcised."

This is interesting, yes?

The flesh represents all of our sinful desires, the disobedience to the Divine Will.  The passage calls to mind the story of the forbidden fruit that appealed to man's yetzer hara.  

The rationale for the command appears to be that the fruit is untouchable because the firstfruits belong to HaShem.  But is there a deeper level of meaning?

Here's some questions to consider (and I don't claim to have the answers):

  • Does HaShem consider orlah (foreskin) to be an impurity? Notice how it is only the circumcised fruit that is called a "praise".  
  • Why does HaShem require the male members of His People to undergo brit milah?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Does a Messianic Need Other Messianics?

We define ourselves by the group with which we associate.  "I am a Buddhist".  "I am a Mormon".  "I am a Messianic", etc.  All these identities are expressions of group affiliation.  

Why do we define our identities this way?

There's really no escaping the fact that we each have social needs, the need to be accepted, the need to belong to a group.  We see the effects of these needs playing out all the time.  A Messianic starts attending a non-Messianic synagogue and eventually rejects Yeshua.  A secular Jew attends a Messianic synagogue and eventually identifies as a Messianic Jew.  A religious Jew joins secular Gentile society and eventually (often through marital assimilation) the Jewish identity is completely lost.

Our group affiliation determines our identity.

Are you a Messianic Jew?  Or a Messianic Non-Jew?  Why?  What caused you to identity that way?  However it happened one thing is certain:  you did NOT develop this identity by going to church and acculturating to Christianity.

Think about that.

In fact, if you are Messianic and you remove all Messianic spheres of influence and replace them with only Christian spheres of influence then what will happen?  

Answer:  social assimilation.

Ah, but you say, "I'll never forget who I am!  I will always be a Messianic!"  And that may be true.  But what about your children?  Or your children's children?  

Consider this:  an Italian immigrant moves to America.  He has a thick accent.  His child born in America doesn't have an Italian accent.  Why?  Answer:  because the child is more influenced by the American culture than by the Italian culture of the father.  

Assimilation is inevitable.  It is a need as real as hunger or procreation.  We must assimilate into a group.  


So now as Messianics if we are really serious about preserving our Messianic identities we must always be striving to find Messianic communities.  Yes, fellowship with Christians for they are our brothers.  Even this morning I visited a church and had many Christians thanking me for my input in the adults class.  It's great to visit Christians and build bridges.  But why are we building bridges with churches?  Is Christian church our destination?  NO.

We build bridges with Christian churches so that they will cross over to us.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,    to the house of the God of Jacob,that he may teach us his ways    and that we may walk in his paths.”For out of Zion shall go the law,    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reader Questions: "Do You Do Any Podcasts?"

A reader just asked if I do any podcasts.  No, but I have thought about it.  There's actually a lot of great locations around Richmond, VA and the surrounding area which would make excellent backdrops for a video podcast...  I'll think about it!  : )

2 Models for Rabbinic Authority (Avi Sagi)

A long time ago I did a post about Berger's book "Rabbinic Authority".  He described various models of rabbinic authority.  But I think that Avi Sagi in his book "The Open Cannon" has offered a better and more simplified understanding.  Borrowing terminology from Richard T. De George, Avi Sagi explains that the two approaches to Rabbinic Authority fall into two categories:  deontic and epistemic.  That's a fancy way of saying duty-based (deontic) and knowledge-based (epistemic).  Which basically means that someone is an authority because he's an expert (epistemic/knowledge) or because he belongs to an institution which society has imbued with authority (deontic).

I don't mind the model that gives expert authority to the Rabbis.  But I take exception with latter, deontic model which typically justifies Rabbinic Authority on the basis of either the Divine Command Theory (i.e. that HaShem commands unquestioned obedience to the Rabbis) or social contract theory.  There's a host of problems with the Divine Command Theory of Rabbinic Authority.  First, trying to ground such a view in Torah is like trying to suspend a mountain by a thread.  Second, I believe it violates a number of mitzvot De-Oraita (commands from the Written Torah).  

So now here's Avi Sagi on this subject:

pg. 192 "My contention is that Jewish tradition offers two main models of authority that, relying on the terminology coined by Richard T. De George, will be termed epistemic and deontic." 
pg. 192  "The epistemic model argues that authority derives its legitimation from the possession of knowledge in a specific and defined realm, which ensures the person in authority an advantage over all others who do not know.....Since [epistemic] authority rests on knowledge then, at least in principle, it is temporary and removable.  As soon as someone's attainments are on a par with those of persons in authority, the latter lose their power to teach or command.  De George has even argued that epistemic authority is not really authority in the strict sense of the term, since it cannot command performance.  It can suggest, advise, or recommend, but it cannot impose obligations.
     In the terms of this model then, it would be inaccurate to say that a command issued by an authority creates a duty of obedience.  In and of itself, the authority's command is not a sufficient condition for obedience, particularly when it challenges the knowledge shared by all community members."
pg. 200 "The deontic model adopts a different perception of the meaning of halakhic authority in Jewish tradition....The basic assumptions of this model state that an authority can validly order certain acts to be performed and compel community members to obey.  Rather than knowledge, deontic authority rests on the power invested in the person in authority to determine the binding norms.  Conceptually, deontic authority must always be obeyed, even when apparently wrong.  Whereas the epistemic model stresses that all members of the community are bound by knowledge, the deontic model emphasizes the special status of the authorities.....Support for deonitc authority is quite prevalent in the sources, and three basic justifications are usually adduced in hermeneutical and legislative contexts:  (1) God's command; (2) divine inspiration or charisma; (3) public consent."

The Governance of Cities According to Jewish Tradition

Menachem Elon on the Concept of Halachah

Shifting Rabbinic Opinions on Juridical Autonomy of Diaspora Communities

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament

Has anyone read this book:


I was just wondering if it was any good...

Atonement Series #3: Are There Other Means of Atonement Than Blood Sacrifice?

Everyone can agree (or should anyway) that blood atonement in the Temple system atoned for all manner of sins:

"When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat.  He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites--all their sins--and put them on the goat's head.  He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task.  The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert," (Lev. 16:20-22).

But is it possible that after the Temple was destroyed that G-d allowed alternative means of atonement?

That's the question.

To be fair, there's evidence for and against.

But I believe the greatest argument that there are NOT alternatives to blood sacrifice is found by combining Scripture with common sense:

If all that was needed for forgiveness was merely good works or repentance then...
  • Why did Abel think that a blood sacrifice was necessary?
  • Why did Noah think that a blood sacrifice was necessary?
  • Why did Abraham think that a blood sacrifice was necessary?
  • Why did Moses think that a blood sacrifice was necessary?
And if all these men were wrong then wouldn't G-d have corrected their mistake?  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Atonement Series #2: Did G-d Ever Require Blood Sacrifices?

Anti-Missionary:  The Prophets say that G-d rejected blood sacrifices.  Therefore, G-d does not desire or require blood sacrifices.

Messianic:  The Prophets say that G-d rejected the blood sacrifices of the unrepentant.  But G-d still desired and required blood sacrifices.

Issue #1:  Did G-d ever require blood sacrifices?

So let's examine what several well-respected Jewish scholars have to say (Rainey, Hertz, and Heschel):

Anson Rainey (Tel Aviv University):

"The prophets of the First Temple period often spoke out against sacrificial ritual (Amos 5:21-27; Hos. 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Isa. 1:11-17; Jer. 6:20; 7:21-22).  Righteous and just behavior along with obedience to the Lord are contrasted with the conduct of rituals unaccompanied by proper ethical and moral attitudes (Amos 5:24; Micah 6:8; Isa. 1:16-17; Jer. 7:23).  It has thus been assumed by many scholars that the prophets condemned all sacrificial rituals.  ...De Vaux has shown the absurdity of such a conclusion since Isaiah 1:15 also condemns prayer.  No one holds that the prophets rejected prayer; it was prayer offered without the proper moral commitment that was being denounced; the same holds true for the oracles against formal rituals.  Similar allusions in the Psalms which might be taken as a complete rejection of sacrifice (e.g., 40:7-8; 50:8-15) actually express the same concern for inner attitude as the prophets.  The wisdom literature sometimes reflects the same concern for moral and ethical values over empty sacerdotal acts (Prov. 15:8; 21:3, 27).
     Certain other statements by Amos (5:25) and Jeremiah (7:22) have been taken to mean that the prophets knew nothing of a ritual practice followed in the wilderness experience of Israel.  De Vaux has noted that Jeremiah clearly knew Deuteronomy 12:6-14 and regarded it as the Law of Moses.  The prophetic oracles against sacrifice in the desert are really saying that the original Israelite sacrificial system was not meant to be the empty, hypocritical formalism practiced by their contemporaries.  The demand by Hosea for 'mercy and not sacrifice...knowledge of God more than burnt offerings' (Hos. 6:6; cf. Matt. 9:13; 12:7) is surely to be taken as relative, a statement of priorities (cf. also I Sam. 15:22).  The inner attitude was prerequisite to any valid ritual expression (Isa. 29:13).  Foreign elements that had penetrated the Israelite sacrificial system were, of course, roundly condemned by the prophets.  Such was especially the case with Israel (Amos 4:5; Hos. 2:13-15; 4:11-13; 13:2) but also in Judah (Jer. 7:17-18; Ezek. 8; et al.)," (pg. 84 of Michael Brown's "Answering Jewish Objections")
Dr. J.H. Hertz:

"The Prophets do not seek to alter or abolish the externals of religion as such.  They are not so unreasonable as to demand that men should worship without aid of any outward symbolism.  What they protested against was the fatal tendency to make these outward symbols the whole of religion; the superstitious over-estimate of sacrifice as compared with justice, pity and purity; and especially the monstrous wickedness with which the offering of sacrifices was accompanied," (ibid, pg. 86).

Abraham Joshua Heschel:

"Sacrifice, the strength and the measure of piety, acts wherein God and man meet--all this should be called obnoxious?
     Of course, the prophets did not condemn the practice of sacrifice in itself; otherwise, we should have to conclude that Isaiah intended to discourage the practice of prayer (Isa. 1:14-15).  They did, however, claim that deeds of injustice vitiate both sacrifice and prayer.  Men may not drown out the cries of the oppressed with the noise of hymns, nor buy off the Lord with increased offerings.  The prophets disparaged the cult when it became a substitute for righteousness....
...The sacrificial act was a form of personal association with God, a way of entering into communion with him.  In offering an animal, a person was offering himself vicariously.  It had the power of atonement....
     It is hard for us to imagine what entering a sanctuary or offering a sacrifice meant to ancient man.  The sanctuary was holiness in perpetuity, a miracle in continuity; the divine was mirrored in the air, sowing blessing, closing gaps between the here and beyond.  In offering a sacrifice, man mingled with mystery, reached the summit of significance:  sin was consumed, self was abandoned, satisfaction was bestowed upon divinity.  Is it possible for us today to conceive of the solemn joy of those whose offering was placed on the altar?
Then will I go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy.
I will praise Thee with the lyre,
O God, my God
(Ps. 43:4; cf. Deut. 12:18-19; 31:11; Exod. 34:23-24; Isa. 1:12)," (ibid, pgs. 86-87). 

In the next post we will look at issue #2 "Does the Torah really offer other means of atonement than blood sacrifice?"

Atonement Series #1: By What Means Did the Repentant Nations of Jonah's Day Receive Atonement For Their Sins?

"In b. Sukkah 55b...we read that the seventy bulls that were offered every year during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot; see Num. 29:12-34) 'were for the seventy nations,' which Rashi explains to mean, 'to make atonement for them, so that rain will fall throughout the world.'  In this context--and in light of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 c.e.--the Talmud records the words of Rabbi Yohannan:  'Woe to the nations who destroyed without knowing what they were destroying.  For when the Temple was standing, the altar made atonement for them.  But now, who will make atonement for them?" (pgs. 152-153 of Michael Brown's "Answering Jewish Objections").
Why was Yohannan getting so worked up?  After all, we don't really need the Temple according to Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai:
"It once happened that Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai was leaving Jerusalem and R. Joshua was walking behind him, when the latter saw the Temple in ruins.  Said R. Joshua:  'Woe to us that this is in ruins--the place where the sins of Israel were expiated!'  Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai replied:  'My son, be not grieved, we have a means of atonement that is commensurate with it.  Which is this?  It is the performance of lovingkindness, as it is said, 'For I desire loving kindness and not sacrifice'" (ibid, pgs. 111-112).
And this latter view is now official halachah in Orthodox Judaism.  According to Orthodox Judaism, the whole Temple system was just a big miscommunication.  G-d never really commanded blood sacrifices (but even if He did we have some really good back-up options that make the Temple irrelevant).  So it doesn't really matter that the Temple was destroyed.  In Zakkai's words, "be not grieved."  Don't sweat it.

Is that really the truth?

In the next post I'm going to breakdown this subject and talk about what the Torah really says about the necessity of blood sacrifice to effectuate forgiveness of sins.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Answering Jewish Objections to [Yeshua] by Michael L. Brown

I wanted to do a post today on the issue addressed in Michael Brown's book "Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol. 2, Theological Objections" about whether we really need a blood sacrifice or whether there are alternative means of atonement (e.g. Maimonides says, "At this time, when the Temple is not standing and we do not have the altar of atonement, there is nothing but repentance; repentance atones for all transgressions").  But I'll get to it tomorrow and we'll have a good discussion.

This is very important.  In light of recent apostasies, I think it's important that we get back to some basic Messianic Apologetics.  

Until then...


I Love This Midrash...

"Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun ; for this is your reward in life..." (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

To the single men out there...

If I were a secularist, I would encourage you to get married by telling you that if you do not get married then nature will unapologetically weed your genes out of existence.  But since I am a man of faith (and as an Italian), I will encourage you to get married because there is nothing more fulfilling in life than family!  And, if you have the good fortune to have a daughter, there is nothing better in this life than hearing a little angel from HaShem say "Daddy!" and rest her little head against your arm.  Oh, and hearing her say "Shabbat Shawom!"

Anyway, here's a classic rabbinic midrash.  Yes, it contains hyperbole but you gotta love how the rabbis support everything they say with Scripture:

"The Midrash says:  'And the Lord God said:  It is not good for Man to be alone....R. Jacob taught:  every man who has no wife lives without good, without help, without happiness and without forgiveness... 
...without good, as it is written, 'it is not good for man to be alone.' [Genesis 2:18]
...without help, as it is written, 'I shall make him a helpmate for him.' [Genesis 2:18]
...without happiness, as it is written, 'And you shall rejoice, you and your household.' [Deut. 14:26]
...without blessing, as it is written, 'To bring blessing to your household.' [Eze. 44:30]
...without forgiveness, as it is written, 'And I shall forgive you and your household.' [Lev. 17:11] 
R. Simon said in the name of R. Joshua Ben Levi:  Even without peace, as it is written, 'And peace will be with you and peace will be with your household.' [Isaiah 25:6] 
R. Joshua of Sichnin said in the name of R. Levi:  Even without life, as it is written, 'See life with the wife that you love' [Ecc. 9:9] 
R. Hiyya bar Gamda said:  He is not even a complete person, as it is written, 'And He blessed them and He called their name Adam.' [Gen. 5:2] 
And some say:  He even diminishes the Divine Image, as it is written, 'For man was created in God's image,' [Genesis 9:6] and immediately afterwards it is written, 'And multiply.' [Genesis 9:7]"

Shidduch Dating: Gila Manolson on the Traditional Jewish Approach to Dating

I had Shabbat dinner one time at an Orthodox rabbi's home.  As I was leaving, the Rebbetzin said something like "You should bring your daughter next time.  You never know, maybe she and our grandson will make a good shidduch!"  I was struck by how welcoming they were toward a non-Jew like myself (and by how welcomed I felt, something I hadn't experienced at a UMJC synagogue) but, most of all, I was struck by how determined Jewish mothers must be to make a match for their children and grandchildren!  I mean, we were talking about four-year-olds for crying out loud!  : )

So what is a shidduch anyway?  It denotes a match made between a man and a woman (though if I'm not mistaken it connotes peacefulness).  But really it refers to a whole system of dating based on traditional Jewish values (which really used to be universal values up until the last century).  Here's a quick overview:  

"Shidduch dating has four characteristics.
    First, it assumes you're ready to get married.  That means you're reasonably mature, know who you are, and have some idea of where you're heading and the kind of person you want.  You also know what's negotiable and what isn't.  This concept of being thought out, even to the point of having a mental 'shopping list' of qualities you're seeking, may offend some.  (Funny how rationalism in relationships bothers us, as if using your head means you have no heart.)....
     Second, a shidduch is arranged through a third party.  He or she must understand you, be fairly wise and perceptive, and be able to introduce you to someone fundamentally compatible....
    Finally, shidduch dating includes no touching--being shomer negiah.  While ridiculously difficult if you intend to hang out together for a few years, this self-control is definitely feasible in a shorter-term, marriage-oriented relationship.  Many insist, of course, that 'trying things out' helps determine compatibility in marriage.  All the evidence indicates they're dead wrong, for theirs is a pitifully shallow conception of sexuality.  True sexuality expresses not only who you are, but your feelings for your partner and the quality of your relationship....Strange as it may sound, postponing physical contact is actually the best way to assess compatibility.  It promotes objectivity, letting you see the other without the illusions frequently created by physical closeness.  It fosters a genuine, person-to-person (rather than body-to-body) connection.  It helps you discover if you can appreciate the other not for how good he or she makes you feel but for who he or she actually is.  Being shomer negiah is therefore essential in acquiring perspective on the big question:  'Is this the person I want to spend the rest of my life with?'....
     Dating for marriage, using an intermediary, doing research, and being shomer negiah all help you put your head before your heart, and constitute 'religious dating,'....The purpose of religious dating is to reach the point of knowing, 'This is the person with whom I want to, and can, make a relationship work,'" (from "Head to Heart" by Gila Manolson).

The Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valor): Why is She Compared to a Candle?

"...Her lamp does not go out at night," (Prov. 31:18)
Question:  Why is woman compared to a candle?
"Woman is compared to a candle and man to the flame [Rashi].  Although the flame is what gives the light, it is the candle which holds the flame and gives it the material it needs to burn.  The candle of the Eshes Chayil does not stop feeding the light of her husband's Torah and his shining deeds even at 'night,' when times are dark.  She does not lose her ability to be a source of illumination for others..."  from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller's "More Precious Than Pearls".

Questions From a Christian Teacher (Continued)

I'm having the best on-going discussion with a Christian teacher about the Torah.  He just keeps agreeing with everything!  He could at least have the decency to disagree once in a while!  : )

Recently, he asked about the purpose of the commandments.  Here's that brief response in case anyone might find it helpful:

"This is called "ta'amei hamitzvot" (the reasons for the commandments) and is a very deep subject.   
At a most basic level, the two purposes of the Law are to help turn man from idolatry and help him reorient to the G-d of Israel (and integrate into this family). 
Of course, this reorientation process involves many different Biblical commands, each with its own specific rationale (which is in addition to the aforementioned general rationales). 
There are two types of commandments, the mishpatim and the chukim.  The mishpatim have rationales which are very easily discerned as they contain basic principles of righteous living.  The chukim (e.g. kashrut, blood atonement, moedim, etc) also have rationales but we don't always understand them fully.  However, we do understand most of them:  kashrut law (Lev. 11) is about eating those things designed for human consumption; the laws of Temple purification have a symbolic and inherent significance; the laws of the moedim (appointed times) help us to identify with Israel (e.g. when we taste the bitter herbs of the Passover seder, how can we not identify with the ancient Israelites?) and to learn more about Yeshua and what He accomplished.  
In summary, each mitzvah has, in addition to its general rationale, a specific rationale."

Personal Update

I didn't blog any this past week because I started a new job.  Had to learn some new things (an understatement).  But now I'm up to speed and ready to resume blogging!

The next post is going to cover a section of a Dr. Michael Brown book dealing with atonement, specifically the question:  "Do we really need a blood atonement?" [NOTE:  it's amazing how G-d works because I got online just now and saw that Rob Roy had suggested we cover Dr. Brown's books!]

After that, there's some obscure Jewish books on marriage that I read a long time ago using inter-library loans.  I'll try to share some of the highlights from those.  Such wonderful insights into the mysteries of love!

Blessings to all who dwell in the House of the Father,


Important Post at Kineti L'Tziyon