Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


A Jew Threatens to Commit Spiritual Suicide

posted by David Klinghoffer

In the thread on Robert Novak’s death, a reader, Range Rover, leaves this heart-breaking comment on the theme of conversion to other faiths:

There is another reason Jews convert to other religions: There is for some of us an emptiness in Judaism, with its emphasis on ritual and its continual emphasis on how “nonhuman” G-d is.

There is also a distinct emphasis on materialism in American Jewish culture, as well as political agendas — like advocacy for Israel.

You cannot even go to a synagogue during the day to just sit and pray; most are locked except during the prescribed prayer services.

And my background is that I was born and raised Orthodox, and both of my parents were survivors of the Holocaust.

And yet I am seriouly considering converting to Catholicism, just as Mr. Novak did, so that I may have some kind of direct relationship with G-d and so that apart from keeping Kosher, and lighting candles, etc., there is something to my life that is spiritual and soul enriching.

A lot of Jews abandon Judaism for those kinds of reasons, not out of ignorance of their faith.

This communication struck me with almost the same force that it would if, God forbid, someone were to say, “I am seriously considering putting my head in an oven and turning on the gas.” The feelings it arouses are panic (what can I do to help?) and sadness. Unfortunately, there’s not much one can do. People embrace religions and leave them not in response to arguments but from a felt need. The reasons tend to come after. You can’t argue someone into adopting a religious view, they can’t hear you at all, unless they are open to what you’re saying already for reasons of the heart.

I will say this, however, to Range Rover. I know what you mean — most of the complaints about Jewish life that you mention are valid and are things I’ve thought and written about myself. Or rather, there are threads in Jewish life about which they are valid. In Judaism, I’ve long felt, as in other faiths, a thoughtful and sensitive person has to labor to find his own path, and that means rejecting other paths in the same religion. This is hard work, no doubt, a lifetime’s labor, but the reward is discovering for yourself the incredibly rich and authentic heart of Jewish spirituality. Where in your Orthodox upbringing — which I’d like to hear more about, I wonder exactly what you mean — did you ever learn that Judaism is simple?
Regarding the Catholic Church, it has its own problems, very disturbing ones such as the widespread sexual corruption of the priesthood, but it’s a church that in general I admire very much for its ancient tradition and philosophical coherence. The question for a Jew, however, is, What does God want from me? Not, What religious entity seems to best fit my personal inclinations? It’s not like buying clothes or food, where individual taste is the main point.
What is true about God and the Jewish people? The most relevant single document we have in hand is the Hebrew Bible. Read it without prejudice and you’ll see one thing very clearly. God has offered us a unique relationship with Him, one based in a grammar of law. That law is eternal. It continues in force forever, even in historical circumstances where many mitzvot can’t in fact be practically carried out. This is not me, or “the rabbis,” or “Judaism,” saying this. It’s what the Bible says, over and over and over. Nothing is insisted on more clearly.

There’s much that Jews and Christians can argue about, but not that. The New Testament seeks to place its own understanding on the nature of this relationship with God, but the Christian interpretation, originated by Paul, is simply tendentious and implausible. It only works if you read the Bible backward, starting with the Greek scriptures, absorbing their assumptions, and then reading the Hebrew Bible in that light. But this is of course not a natural way of understanding Scripture.
That, to me, is the heart of the Jewish objection to Christianity. God gave us a particular relationship with him, a modality for approaching Him. Why that one and not another? An interesting question to contemplate but the fact remains. Christianity in all its forms cancels and abrogates that relationship. God is our life. For a Jew to accept Christianity — I’m not speaking of Gentiles here — is therefore a kind of suicide.
It’s not surprising to find, then, that Christian belief has acted as it has, down through the ages, as the most powerful of all acids on the existence of the Jewish people. Do you think God cares that this treasured people, Abraham’s family, should continue to exist? That He does would seem to be another major, fundamental message of the Bible.
Yet the effect of Christianity has always been to tear Jews loose from Abraham. A Jew who converts has condemned his lineage to extermination. Jesus and his initial followers were Jews. There were communities of Jewish Christians in the first centuries CE. They all disappeared and have no Jewish descendants today — not one, zero — unless they came back to Jewish tradition. So it is with “Messianic Jews” and “Jews for Jesus” in our time. (Admittedly, most folks involved with those groups are not Jewish by birth.) For the Jewish people, existentially, these are all techniques of self-murder. The surest way of making certain that you will have no Jewish descendants is to believe in Jesus. You think that’s what God wants? Bloody unlikely.
This is not about ethnicity. It’s about the Jewish mission that God has in mind for us. It’s His idea. Not mine. If you as a Jew have a bone to pick with God, you’ll need to take that up with Him directly.
None of this applies for a Gentile. What God wants from a non-Jew is a totally different discussion. For a Jew, however, it’s absolutely fundamental. I hope our dear brother (or sister?) Range Rover will comment again and keep coming back. Please forgive me if my tone here comes across as too harsh. Consider reading my two books that deal extensively with the issues raised here, The Lord Will Gather Me In and Why the Jews Rejected Jesus.


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LazerA

posted August 30, 2009 at 4:45 pm


Dear Range Rover,
I am deeply saddened to read of the difficulty you have been having finding spirituality in Judaism. While I have not had this difficulty myself, I do understand many of the complaints you have expressed about the American Jewish community.
The truth is that there is no single American Jewish community. The Jewish world is very diverse. I would recommend you look further.
I would also recommend you make contact with a spiritual mentor who can help you find the spirituality in your own life, without depending on a synagogue or “official” community. Ultimately, the synagogue is a secondary development in Judaism; the essence of Jewish spirituality is found in our private relationships with God and the people around us.
There are two excellent organizations I am aware of that might be able to help you. Both run nationwide free one-on-one Torah mentoring programs for adults (usually by phone):
* Partners in Torah – http://www.partnersintorah.org
* Oorah – http://www.gottorah.com
Having been personally involved with both organizations, I can vouch for the sincerity and care that they invest in these programs.
There may well be resources in your own area that can help you as well.



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Turmarion

posted August 30, 2009 at 9:24 pm


As a Christian, and one who doesn’t feel any particular need to convert Jews from their religion, I have no stake in this. I would like to make one small point, though.
David: The New Testament seeks to place its own understanding on the nature of this relationship with God, but the Christian interpretation, originated by Paul, is simply tendentious and implausible. It only works if you read the Bible backward, starting with the Greek scriptures, absorbing their assumptions, and then reading the Hebrew Bible in that light. But this is of course not a natural way of understanding Scripture.
In one sense, the resoponse to this is, “Duh!” Of course Christianity “reads the Bible backward”, since it interprets the OT in light of the experience of the early Christians of Jesus of Nazareth and the first-century Hellenistic Jewish milieu. Then again, Judaism “reads the Bible backward”, too. It interprets the OT in light of the much later Talmud and such. That such interpretation is not necessarily obvious is easily proved by comparing normative Rabbinical Judaism to Karaism or Samaritanism or any of the other Jewish or quasi-Jewish groups that lacked the Oral Law. Of course, the normative Jewish response is to say that interpreting the OT via the Talmud is legitimate since it, too, as part of Oral Torah, is of Divine origin. But then again, Christians say Jesus was and is Divine.
The point is that the interpretation is secondary to an a priori commitment. Both Jews and Christians make an a priori faith commitment and read the Bible backwards through the lens of that commitment. Jews make the commitment to the existence and authority of the Oral Law, and only then interpret the OT; Christians make a commitment to the divinity of Christ, and only then interpret the NT and OT in that light. Without such a commitment, both testaments would just be an unitelligible mass of material, sometimes interesting, sometimes noble, sometimes barbarous, sometimes creepy, and somtimes just downright weird.
Thus, whether an interpretation of the Bible, in relation to the Old Covenant or anything else, for that matter, is or is not “tendentious and implausible” depends on one’s commitments, made beforehand. This is why Jews and Christians find each other’s mode of interpreation impenetrable, and are unable to bridge the interpretive gap. They are, as Jacob Neusner has said, “two different religions saying different things to different people.”
Having said all this, I reiterate that I’m not trying to talk anyone into or out of any faith or religious belief. May God guide Range Rover in whatever direction He deems best.



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Lawrence Gage

posted August 30, 2009 at 10:15 pm


Dear David,
The Catholic Church has it’s problems, but let’s not exaggerate the “sexual corruption of the priesthood.” It was far from widespread: a very small minority of priests were involved in said corruption.
Further, the reason Judaism seems to have the wind knocked out of it these days (why Jews would look to other religions) is that it’s difficult to see how an all-powerful, all-good G-d would allow his chosen people to be so cruelly slaughtered as happened last century. Unless one finds a deeper theology of suffering than is available to most Jews, the only logical way to deal with the historical reality is to deny one of the three premises: that G-d is all-powerful, that G-d is all-good, or that the Jews are the chosen people.
How do you deal with this historical dilemma?
LG



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LazerA

posted August 30, 2009 at 11:04 pm


Turmarion,
It is true, of course, that any approach to Scripture requires interpretation and all such interpretation involves preconceptions that exist, at least in part, independently of the text. This is true even for those groups that deny the existence of an Oral Torah.
The ultimate question is what interpretive preconceptions are, in fact, most reflective of the true intent of Scripture.
The idea that there is some kind of external, Divinely revealed interpretive tradition is implicit in many places in the Jewish Scriptures. The mere fact that major obligations are imposed without any clarity as to their practical nature indicates that this is so. There are also explicit Scriptural references to Divinely revealed teachings which are not to be found in the Written Torah (e.g. Deut. 12:21 re:the laws of kosher slaughter).
Does this definitely prove that the Talmudic interpretive tradition is correct? Not necessarily. It does however establish that the idea that such a tradition exists is fully consistent with Scripture, even demanded by it, and, all things considered, of the existing interpretive traditions, the Rabbinic tradition has a very strong claim – arguably the strongest – for being closest to the true intent of Scripture.
By contrast, the Christian interpretive preconceptions – e.g. the identification of the human messiah with God (“the divinity of Christ”) and the idea of the messiah coming (and going) without bringing about any significant political and religious change – are fundamentally inconsistent with what one would get from a straight reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. Moreover, these inconsistencies are not on minor details but on major Scriptural themes (e.g. idolatry, the role and destiny of the Jewish people, the function of the messiah).
Of course, once one takes on these preconceptions as matters of faith, it may be possible to reinterpret the Jewish Scriptures in a manner consistent with those preconceptions. Such “reinterpretations” are, by their very nature, tendentious, and, given their inconsistency with the broad themes of Scripture, deeply implausible as well.



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David Klinghoffer

posted August 30, 2009 at 11:21 pm


Hello Lawrence,
Do you then not consider the Hebrew Bible a “deep” source of theological insight? Because the truth is that given what we find in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (including notably the Torah reading for this week), very clear and detailed promises of tragedy if Jews neglect the covenant, it would be a much bigger theological problem for us if the Holocaust *hadn’t* happened. In all candor, it is a much bigger problem for Christians. What was that about worshipping the God of Love? Have you meditated on the photos of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Auschwitz?
As a factual matter, the flow of converts, Jew to Gentile or Gentile to Jew, is far more heavily weighted to the latter than the former.
Nice try,
David



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Alan Stillman

posted August 31, 2009 at 10:00 am


I left (stepped out of, altered?) my identity as a Jew after my parents died. When my mother died I found a little comfort in my religion, but I was continuing to explore different perspectives on expressing strong spiritual feelings. Earth-based traditions were a much better fit for me.
my father died on a Thursday and my family were not able to fly in to town until after Shabbat on Saturday night, so the burial was scheduled for Sunday. I went to services on Friday night and was told, publicly, that I was not considered an official mourner because we had nit had a burial yet, but that I was also not supposed to leave my (unofficial) shiva house.
On Monday, the day after the burial, a relation on my mother’s side of my family died. I was told that I could not leave my (now official) shiva house to be with my small but close family in their loss.
I felt like the religion I was raised with was asking me to put my religion ahead of my call to be a decent human being. I did what I felt was the right thing to do – seek comfort from my community and offer comfort to members of my family.
that being said, and as I have shared on this blog, I still practice Earth-based spirituality in a Jewish way. not too difficult given the overwhelming influence of agriculture and nature-based ritual in the Jewish Traditions. there is even some Tulmudic support for some of my choices – although that is far from essential to me in my practice.
David is correct when he wrote that you can not argue with a person when it comes to spiritual longings, callings or however you prefer to define the spark that draws us to our own spirituality.



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Lawrence Gage

posted August 31, 2009 at 10:36 am


Dear David,
No need to get defensive. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear: I wasn’t trying to convert you, simply asking how you deal with the historical situation. I think we can discuss questions like this like adults without having to worry about scoring apologetical points, don’t you think?
Please note that my assertion was that “most” Jews lack a deeper theology of suffering–I’m assuming you have spiritual resources to draw upon. Christianity, on the other hand, IS entirely a theology of suffering: how does an all-powerful, all-good God allow the just to suffer, and not only to suffer, but grievously? (That this suffering should come at the hands of other Christians, or at least others claiming to be Christians, while perhaps surprising, is par for the course.)
I’d really like to know how you (and other faithful Jews) deal with the problem of suffering (i.e., the suffering of the just).
Best regards,
LG



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Turmarion

posted August 31, 2009 at 11:21 am


Interesting response, LazarA, and some good points. However,
True, but then again, Christians find Christ to be “implicit” in the Jewish Scriptures.
Does this definitely prove that the Talmudic interpretive tradition is correct? Not necessarily.
Agreed.
It does however establish that the idea that such a tradition exists is fully consistent with Scripture, even demanded by it, and, all things considered, of the existing interpretive traditions, the Rabbinic tradition has a very strong claim – arguably the strongest – for being closest to the true intent of Scripture.
Well, arguably is the operative word. Not even all Jews accepted this claim–e.g. the Sadducees, the Karaites, apparently the Essenes (though it’s hard to tell), and the Samaritans (leaving aside the issue of whether they’re “really” Jews, in any case they didn’t accept Oral Torah or even the Nevi’im and Ketuvim).
By contrast, the Christian interpretive preconceptions…
All interpretations involve preconceptions. A Karaite or Sadducee would argue that the Oral Law is as much a preconception of rabbinical Judaism as the divinity of Christ is of Christians.
- e.g. the identification of the human messiah with God (“the divinity of Christ”) and the idea of the messiah coming (and going) without bringing about any significant political and religious change –
Whether such notions were considered congruent with Judaism in 1st Century Palestine is hotly controverted and probably will never be solved in this world to everyone’s satisfaction. Since both the New Testament and the Talmud as we have them were in stages of compilation at the time, it’s fiendishly difficult to disentangle what was “actually” believed then from later concepts, to say nothing of inter-faith polemics that may or may not represent the actual state of affairs at the time. It seems that perfectly well-educated and observant Jews of the time in some cases accepted Christianity and in some cases rejected it so it’s not the case that early Christianity was “obviously” either congruent or incongruent with what Jews of the time believed. Short of time travel, we’ll never know.
are fundamentally inconsistent with what one would get from a straight reading of the Hebrew Scriptures.
I’m inclined to think that a truly “straight” reading of the Hebrew Scriptures by someone totally lacking in preconceptions–say the proverbial Martian–would be seen as fundamentally inconsistent with both Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity in a lot of ways.
Such “reinterpretations” are, by their very nature, tendentious, and, given their inconsistency with the broad themes of Scripture, deeply implausible as well.
Well, “reinterpretation”, “inconsistent”, and “implausible” are in the eye of the beholder, aren’t they? The Sadducees, who were certainly Jews, thought that the World to Come, the existence of angels, and resurrection of the dead were tendentious reinterpretations of Scripture that were deeply implausible. The Samaritans think that everything outside the Pentateuch is “deeply implausible”.
I just point this out to show that it is not a winnable discussion. We could go on indefinitely to no avail. Personally I think that Christians need to leave Jews alone in terms of proselytizing, and that any individual needs to make such decisions on his own in light of his own personal needs. I also tend to go along with the Koran, which says that God could have made us all one religion but did not, preferring that we compete in doing good, until in the end, He will explain it all to us. In any case, thank you for a thoughtful discussion.



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Greg Krehbiel

posted August 31, 2009 at 11:24 am


I’d like to point out that Paul could not have worked backwards starting with the Greek Scriptures because he didn’t have any. His interpretation of the Hebrew Bible is based on his training as a Pharisee and on his (alleged) experience of the risen Christ.



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Mergatroid

posted August 31, 2009 at 12:13 pm


@Lawrence Gage: “I’d really like to know how you (and other faithful Jews) deal with the problem of suffering (i.e., the suffering of the just).”
May I suggest, just for starters, the following approach:
http://www.heritage.org.il/innernet/archives/suffering.htm



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Darryl

posted August 31, 2009 at 12:53 pm


How can any right-thinking Jew look at the Scriptures and think that what passes for Judaism today, whether secular or uber-orthodox is in line with God’s desire for our lives? You commit spiritual suicide when you reject God’s forgiveness and have the temerity to believe that you can stand in your own righteousness. Couldn’t be done in Biblical Israel and can’t be done now, despite the fact we don’t have the Beit Hamigdash anymore. You can read forward from the Tanakh, in Hebrew if you wish and see clearly the promise of the coming Messiah and His job to redeem Israel and the world. No contradiciton. Catholicism is a different story. Sorry David but Paul originated nothing. He became an “Or L’Goyim” which was always Israel’s job. And when I accept Yeshua as the Messiah, my lineage does not risk becoming extinct. Once a Jew, always a Jew, despite what you believe. The Jewish community are all hypocrites in this because the Buddhist or athiest Jew is still a Jew but a praciting one who believes that the Messiah has already come isn’t? That’s plain stupidity. If you’re going to argue against the Messiahship of Yeshua, at least use arguments that would stand up in court. But please refrain from using scare tactics about what happens to one’s identity if one comes to a belief in the Promised One.



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David Klinghoffer

posted August 31, 2009 at 1:29 pm


Darryl, let’s make this concrete — a bit of sociology rather than theology. You seem to be telling me you’re a Jew by birth who believes in Jesus. “Once a Jew, always a Jew” is what people think — it’s not quite so simple — but let’s stipulate that it’s true. Let’s say you’ll retain your status as a Jew throughout your life. Will you have children who identify as Jews? Grandchildren? Great-grandchildren? If you pass on your belief in Jesus to your kids, then the answer is that it’s very unlikely you will have any Jewish-identifying descendants. Your progeny will marry into the general non-Jewish population and your lineage will disappear forever. Does this not seem to be the predictable outcome? Christian belief will then have annihilated your Jewish lineage, as it has a very solid track record of doing for two thousand years.
And you’re telling me that this is what God sent the Messiah to do? Take those Jewish families that correctly understand the Hebrew Bible and erase them from existence? That’s the prize for accepting “Yeshua,” being erased from the future history of the Jewish people?
Now how can this be scenario be averted? I mean, in concrete sociological terms. Only through the decision by one or more of your descendants to reconnect with traditional Judaism. That happens not infrequently, by the way. People discover they have Jewish ancestors and decide to come back. What does this tell you? That the future of the Jewish people is contingent on our embracing a certain set of beliefs, and not others.



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LazerA

posted August 31, 2009 at 1:58 pm


Turmarion, I am a little surprised at the lack of anything substantive in your response.
First of all, as should have been clear, I was not talking about “Judaism in 1st Century Palestine”, I was talking about the Jewish Scriptures. The whole question we are dealing with here is precisely which of the many ideologies of the period was closest to the true intent of Scripture.
I would be interested in knowing what evidence you have of “perfectly well-educated and observant Jews of the time” who accepted Christianity. The only possible case I know of is Paul, and the only evidence that he was “well-educated and observant” is the New Testament’s description of him as a Pharisee. The first examples I am aware of recognized scholars converting to Christianity in in the Middle Ages (during periods of oppression). Even then, such conversions were very unusual.
Secondly, the essential preconception of Rabbinic Judaism is that there is an authoritative oral tradition that explains the full meaning of the written text of the Torah. I fail to see why you believe that this assumption would seem inconsistent with the text to an objective reader, especially given the internal evidence of that I noted earlier.
Whether he would agree with the conclusions of that oral tradition is a separate question. Quite frankly, I don’t think that would present a serious problem either, but it is a different discussion.
The Christian “preconceptions”, however, fly directly in the face of several of the major themes of the Hebrew Scriptures. (I am repeating myself here.)
No honest Karaite (or honest Sadducee, if there was such a creature) would say that belief in an oral law was as inconsistent with Scripture as the worship of a human being as God.
This whole conversation is bordering on the surreal. Virtually every page of the Hebrew Scriptures deals with two major themes, (1) the evil of idolatry and (2) the unique relationship of the Jewish people with God. The basic premises of Christianity fly directly in the face of both of these themes.
It seems to me that your emphasis that consistency is purely a matter of perspective is denying the validity of basic rational thinking in this area. It is possible to objectively assess the consistency of a given idea with the ideas expressed in the written text of the Jewish Scriptures.



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LazerA

posted August 31, 2009 at 2:05 pm


Darryl wrote:

“The Jewish community are all hypocrites in this because the Buddhist or athiest Jew is still a Jew but a praciting one who believes that the Messiah has already come isn’t? That’s plain stupidity.”
Darryl is making a valid point here. of course, not “all” Jewish communities are hypocritical in this manner. In the Orthodox community, atheism and other foreign belief systems are no more acceptable than Christianity.
However, outside of Orthodoxy it does sometimes seem like the only commandment that is held to be truly binding is “Thou shalt not be a Christian.” While I understand this position (which is rooted in culture much more than religion), I agree that it is logically absurd and hypocritical.



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Mergatroid

posted August 31, 2009 at 2:07 pm


@Darryl: “You commit spiritual suicide when you reject God’s forgiveness”
When Jews get through Yom Kippur this year, why do you presume that they will reject God’s forgiveness? (I know that when you say “reject God’s forgiveness,” you’re talking specifically about Jesus. But of course you know that Jews argue that Jesus is not needed for forgiveness.)
“You can read forward from the Tanakh, in Hebrew if you wish and see clearly the promise of the coming Messiah and His job to redeem Israel and the world.”
But of course. It just doesn’t tell us who that’s going to be. (Well, actually, it does tell us who it’s /not/ going to be, but for that, you’ll have to read David’s book, Why Jews Rejected Jesus.)



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Turmarion

posted August 31, 2009 at 3:17 pm


LazarA, as I said, we’re never going to agree and are only going to talk past each other. Which is OK–ultimately God will sort it all out for all of us. I only note two things; one: “It is possible to objectively assess the consistency of a given idea with the ideas expressed in the written text of the Jewish Scriptures.” If this were true, there’d have never been multiple sects of Judaism to begin with, would there?
Two: “Virtually every page of the Hebrew Scriptures deals with two major themes, (1) the evil of idolatry and (2) the unique relationship of the Jewish people with God. The basic premises of Christianity fly directly in the face of both of these themes.”
Many Lubavitchers actually have floated the notion that the late Rebbe actually was God incarnate, resulting in in controversy, and no one doubts that, aside from this, they are “perfectly well-educated and observant Jews”. If this can happen in the middle of a prominent Orthodox community now, why is it inconceivable that it happened in the time of Jesus of Nazareth, regardless of what one believes about him?



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Range Rover

posted August 31, 2009 at 7:58 pm


David
I very much appreciate your thoughtful response to my post.
I do agree that matters of faith are not really amenable to argument. Although discussion and dialogue are very helpful, which is why I found your response helpful. Thank you for it.
I have thought about this whole matter for a very long time. I am very familiar with the Torah, as I went to Yeshiva as a child. I am familiar with the sublime teachings of Judaism. My point was directed at your comment that those Jews who may choose another faith are ignorant of their own. I am not ignorant of Judaism.
Let me make two more points.
I do not agree that by becoming a Christian I would be committing any kind of spiritual suicide. Rather, my spirit is starving in the austerity and emptiness of Judaism. I acknowledge that these are my feelings, and others may disagree. But they are not born of ignorance of my birth religion.
The Law and the necessity to obey every aspect of it seems to be the core of Jewish life. The Tanakh, Mishna, and Gemera are concerned mostly with the technicalities of how to do this, whether to do that, etc.
What about one’s desire to truly know that G-d forgives one? What of one’s thirst to know that one is judged based on what is in the heart, rather than what is in one’s wallet or how many times one has put on tefillin? To feel G-d’s love directly and in human form — Christianity offers a vision of G-d in which He so loved humanity that He became human Himself and suffered personally all of the trials and evils that real people must cope with every day of their lives, even torture and even death itself! I find this profoundly moving and just because it does not match what Rabbinical Judaism says of the Messiah, or what I have been taught all of my life, does not mean that it is not true. I am beginning to feel that it is true. Why can’t something so profoundly wonderful be the truth after all?
I would be offering no disrespect to Judaism by embracing Christianity. I would not be inflicting any kind of harm to myself, spiritual or otherwise. What I would be doing would be following my heart, as I think Mr. Novak and many other Jews who have accepted Jesus Christ have done. Not out of ignorance, but out of a true and sincere desire to know and love G-d.
My second point concerns your comments about the sexual misconduct of clery of the Catholic Church. These crimes were human crimes and have nothing to do with Catholicism, no more so than the recent arrests of several rabbis in New York and New Jersey for money-laundering and extortion have anything to do with Judaism.
I want to make one final comment. My best friend died ten years ago. He himself was a Methodist, but he married a Jewish woman, and they agreed to raise their only child, a daughter, as a Jew. My friend was a brilliant man, and a wonderful father, and a marvelous friend to so many — a true mensch.
After his funeral, his daughter asked me if I would say Kaddish for him. I told her it would be a privilege for me to do it.
But then I realized that, according to Judaism, since my friend was not Jewish, that might be a problem. So I asked a rabbi, and he told me that it was absolutely forbidden “by Jewish Law” to say Kaddish for a gentile. Now why is that? I know the Mourner’s Kaddish by heart, having recited it twice a day for months after my father’s death. There is nothing in it really but praise for G-d. But I am sure that somewhere in the Talmud, thousands of years ago, some learned rabbi, came to this conclusion. So the Law wins again. The rabbi was not interested in what a wonderful man my friend was, was not concerned with the many mitzvoh he did throughout his life. No. What mattered was the Law.
I said Kaddish for my friend anyway. And I hope that G-d will forgive me for doing so.



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David Klinghoffer

posted August 31, 2009 at 9:52 pm


Range Rover, it’s certainly true that the Christian story is a beautiful and evocative one, and that the Christian God is a more readily accessible idea than the God of the Hebrew Bible and of Jewish tradition. The mere fact that Christianity is a mass religion, unlike Judaism, indicates there’s something more readily graspable there. Having a human God helps. How could it not? The question is, *What’s true?*
You seem to be subjecting Judaism to tests posed by Christianity in its own language, tests that Judaism fails — the tests were designed with that in mind. Christianity by the same token fails the tests that Judaism would pose. In other words, you’ve adopted Christian habits of thought, which makes it a sure thing that Judaism is going to fall short in your view.
I’m very sorry about the loss of your dear friend and it sounds like the rabbi you consulted was not prepared to answer your question sensitively or perhaps even intelligently. BTW, I think the importance of the Kaddish itself has been massively overblown in Jewish life.
I urgently hope that you’ll consider all this and not rush into anything. Please judge Judaism with the same charity you do the Catholic Church. You’re willing to explain all those priests using their power to destroy young boys as mere human failing. I assume you’d say the same of all the other countless crimes and atrocities committed in the name of Jesus down through the centuries. But then when it comes to Judaism, you find a disappointing rabbi, a tendency to exalt legal trivia, and the other failings of Jewish culture and these you take to be positive proof of something wrong at the core of the Jewish idea. Why the lack of generosity to your own people, to your ancestors to whom God saw fit that you should be born?
I do hope I’m not being harsh. I would love to know more about your earlier experiences of Judaism. You say you went to a yeshiva as a child. What kind, and when did you leave? What was your Jewish family life like? Did you continue as an observant Jew into adulthood? How far? I’m interested in filling out the picture, if you don’t mind. I’m sure others will be interested too.
Finally, I would add that most of what you are seeking — apart from the human God — can be found in Judaism’s authentic mystical strains that go back to antiquity. They are the real thing. Chasidism insisted that these ideas be made public and accessible precisely because in our time, people really need them.



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Yirmi

posted August 31, 2009 at 10:01 pm


Range Rover, before you make your final decision, I urge you to do some reading outside of what you have already been exposed to in Judaism. David’s books are a good start (see his discussion of his one-time girlfriend’s Catholic faith in his authobiography, as well as his very well-done explanation for why Jews reject Jesus), as are the books of Rav’s Shalom Arush, Lazer Brody, and Yitzhak Buxbaum, which I recommend very highly.
It may be that in some, or many, congregations and yeshivot, the details of the law are discussed more than spirituality, one’s personal connection to Hashem. But this is not the way it’s supposed to be (see R’ Ariel bar Tzadok for one point of view on this). Hashem wants the heart. He wants us to love Him with all our hearts. To love and know God are among the constant commandments — at every possible moment we should strive to pray to Hashem and feel great love for Him. It may be that in Modern Orthodox and Yeshivish circles spirituality is downplayed or left to the individual out of reaction to Hassidism. If so this is a bad thing. In my opinion hitbodedut, developing a personal relationship with Hashem by long daily sessions of personal prayer and meditation, is central to Jewish spirituality and is important for everyone. It isn’t just a Breslever thing — The Chofetz Chaim was known for this, as were our forefathers and mothers (per basic pshat)! As Rebbe Nachman writes, hitbodedut used to be the main way of prayer, and only later did the Sages institute the three daily prayers — and even now, hitbodedut is still the most important way to come close to God.
People should study what appeals to them — if technicalities don’t appeal to you as much as spirituality and feeling Hashem’s love, focus on spiritual literature (chasidut, etc.), and just read a page or two of a Code of Law daily to ensure you remember what the commandments are (like Rebbe Nachman recommends).
When we truly do tshuvah, identifying our trangressions, asking forgiveness, and undertaking not to repeat the misdeeds, then we are forgiven — and we can know that. There is no double jeopardy — if you judge yourself, Hashem won’t judge you. And by forgiving others and viewing other’s favorably, we merit forgiveness and leniency in the heavenly court. To me this makes a lot more sense that forgiveness in the Christian context, which says as sinners we’re all doomed to eternal punishment, but since God (heaven forbid) took human form and was executed this means we can finally be forgiven and escape hell by believing that a certain man was God. After all, forgiveness is absolute in Judaism — we don’t believe in eternal punishment, only in purgatory and reincarnation (if necessary). Even more, “all nations have a share in the world to come.”
The law is important — without it the Jewish people will cease (and are ceasing) to exist — but having emunah, faith in Hashem, talking to Him, feeling great love for him — this is a necessary part of the process too. Each mitzvah is an opportunity to meditate and be full of love and thankfulness and awe for Hashem and the wonderful world he has created and guides in minute detail. If a (ritual) mitzvah isn’t that, I’m not sure it’s really done correctly (mitzvot that help others or improve the world are different — they have independent worth).
Look, I was raised Catholic, and I didn’t experience it as all that inspiring. Unlike in (Orthodox) Judaism you’d be very hard-pressed to find any congregation where many of the congregants know very much about the religion, or give it much thought other than going to mass. Much of Catholicism these days is a kind of feel-good new-agey weekly entertainment session, with virtually no committed, knowledgeable people who actually shape their lives around the faith (see Rod Dreher for his interesting experiences and posts). Outside of seminaries you’re not going to find very many people interested in talking about the meaning of life and their connection to Hashem — and that’s true for any religion. But as Rebbe Nachman says we need to always try to talk to our friends about the ultimate purpose of life. That takes effort and initiative — it’s just easier to have light conversation about our families and so on.
Finally, see this recent post related to your issues with Judaism:
http://mysticalpaths.blogspot.com/2009/08/i-dont-feel-spiritual-yoga.html



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Mergatroid

posted August 31, 2009 at 10:21 pm


@RR: I wish I knew how to be as sensitive as David is, but I’m just going to go for the jugular. Well, OK, not really. Please see my words as coming from the heart.
“My spirit is starving in the austerity and emptiness of Judaism. I acknowledge that these are my feelings, and others may disagree. ”
Since you acknowledge that these are your own feelings, it would be more appropriate to say “my spirit is starving in the austerity and emptiness of MY Judaism.”
“sexual misconduct of clergy of the Catholic Church. These crimes were human crimes and have nothing to do with Catholicism”
Well, they /might/ have to do with celibacy, which /in turn/ has to do with Catholicism.
“What I would be doing would be following my heart”
Don’t those special words in the third paragraph of the Shema beckon to you when you say that?
“But they are not born of ignorance of my birth religion.
The Law and the necessity to obey every aspect of it seems to be the core of Jewish life. The Tanakh, Mishna, and Gemera are concerned mostly with the technicalities of how to do this, whether to do that, etc.”
The Tanakh, or at least the Nakh part, hardly touches on the technicalities of how to do this.
“I said Kaddish for my friend anyway.”
With a little creativity, I could come up with a different way to praise God and remember my deceased friend.
“What about one’s desire to truly know that G-d forgives one?”
Why should you believe the New Testaments promises of forgiveness with Jesus, but not the Tanakh’s promises of forgiveness without needing any sacrifice, just teshuvah?



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LazerA

posted August 31, 2009 at 10:33 pm


Turmarion, you wrote that if it were possible to objectively assess an ideas consistency with the ideas expressed in Scripture, then “there’d have never been multiple sects of Judaism to begin with, would there?”
I find this to be a surprisingly naive statement. There are many reasons for the growth and popularity of sectarian movements. The desire for logical consistency with Scripture rarely plays a major role. On the contrary, most of these movements grow out of some other motivation – frequently political or sociological – and only later attempt to shoehorn themselves back into the Scripture.
The Karaite movement began as the result of a political struggle. The Sadduccee ideology was closely tied to a political power struggle as well, and also served other sociological functions (there is a reason why the Sadducee ideology was popular primarily amongst the wealthy and politically connected).
The Essenes and the early Christians were probably not motivated by politics, but by a sense that mainstream Judaism was not spiritually satisfying (much like our friend Range Rover). This was not the result of a serious analysis of Scripture, or a real problem in Judaism itself, but a reflection of problems within the Jewish community. Like today, and many other times in history, many Jews felt detached from the community, disenfranchised, and spiritually empty. These feelings were rooted in dysfunctions that existed in the Jewish world at the time, including the Rabbinic world. The Talmud speaks quite openly of these problems, and focuses most of its criticism on the Rabbinic community (i.e. the community associated with the Rabbis, including the Rabbis themselves).
Your second point, regarding the heresy currently growing within the Lubavitch community, arguably proves my point. there is no question that, at this point in history, the identification of a human being with God and the idea of a dead messiah, have been well established in the Jewish community as heresy for thousands of years. Yet, without any serious attempt to justify their position (which, to them, is virtually self-evident), many Lubavitcher’s have veered completely off track. Without going too far afield, as one who has discussed these issues at length with people within the movement, the underlying motivation for this movement is pure emotion – they feel an intense “need” to believe what they believe and everything is interpreted in light of that need.
While I, personally, would quibble with the description of the Chabad messianists as “perfectly well-educated and observant Jews”, I will, for the sake of argument, concede the point. Nevertheless, while the Chabad heresy might show that educated and observant Jews could, in principle, still be attracted to the heretical ideas found in the Christian movement, that does not justify your statement that “it seems that perfectly well-educated and observant Jews of the time in some cases accepted Christianity.” The fact that something could have happened does not prove that it did. I am ready to concede that such an event is “not inconceivable.” But the fact remains that I know of no evidence that this actually happened. Do you?
Moreover, the fact that Lubavitch was a distinct group – culturally and ideologically – for about two hundred years prior to their shift towards heresy creates a very different dynamic. An educated and observant Jew who was already a member of this group might go along with their slide into heresy simply because he cannot conceive of leaving the group. The Christian sect, however, had no such “captive audience” to draw upon. Any member of the group had to be recruited from outside, when the heretical nature of their group was already well-established.



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Your Name

posted August 31, 2009 at 10:36 pm


I remember being shocked when I learned that as a Jewish friend was dying from cancer she found comfort in the Gospels. I was less surprised later when another friend turned to Catholicism after a family tragedy. At the risk of insulting the Christians reading this, I think my friends did so because they did not have much experience in the way of Jewish learning and because, frankly, Christianity is a lot quicker and easier, particularly if you are distressed or pressed for time. And I don’t mean this in a snobbish or condescending way. Really. Sometimes you need something quick when you are suffering. I mean it more in the sense that Christianity seems to have a graphical user interface in Jesus, whereas Judaism seems to be a programming language. Programming languages are hard to learn and take time. That being said, when you know how to program, you have more knowledge and understanding and power and autonomy and freedom to create something (in this case, a spiritual life), as opposed to using an interface that removes you from the inner workings by a few degrees. Now, sometimes you just want the interface. You don’t need to know what’s going on under the hood (to mix my metaphors). This is why Christianity is much more popular than Judaism. However, I would argue that knowing how to spiritually “program” – how to wrestle with the laws and with G-d, gives the individual a strength to endure, a deepening of spirit, a sense of humor, and a degree of wisdom that, in my opinion, is not nearly as pervasive in Christianity as it is in Judaism. And I would argue that any Jew who gets hung up on the lines of code as opposed to the ultimate goal of the program is merely someone engaged in data entry. It is unfortunate that many religious Jews and many rabbis are simply typists pretending to be programmers, but that’s no reason to throw out a magnificent, ingenious, versatile, powerful program that has managed across the centuries to handle everything that’s been thrown at it.



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Joseph

posted August 31, 2009 at 11:02 pm


Very interesting…hmmm…having been exposed to Jewish Messianic congregations and their responses to the points raised above, I question whether this is a point of view or an attitude of reluctance to consider the Jewish qualities of early Xianity or rather, fulfilled Messianic Biblical faith; a relationship with its struggles, rather than one of this religion of rules for Jews, and this other religion (false?) for non Jews. Hmmm. Keep reading and consider the few well-qualified writers, such as Jews on this topic of topics.
Joseph, rzeplin@telus.net



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Range Rover

posted August 31, 2009 at 11:05 pm


David
I do not feel you are being harsh.
I am happy to share my background with you.
My father was from Poland and was an inmate at Auschwitz; my mother was from Hungary and was imprisoned at Bergen-Belsen. They survived, although most of their families did not, and met and married in New York City after emigrating to the USA after liberation. Since neither could speak each other’s secular language, we spoke Yiddish at home. That was my first language.
I attended Salanter Yeshiva in the Bronx, which at the time was one of the most famous in New York. We had one-half day of Hebrew and the other of English. I found it very difficult.
My father was very religious in the Mitnagdim tradition. He put on tefillin twice a day and we kept strictly kosher. We went to synagogue every Shabbos and on every holiday. In those days (the 1950’s), there were Orthodox shuls in the Bronx that had huge sanctuaries attended by hundreds of people (many refugees like my parents).
I had my Bar Mitzvah and continued to attend synagogue well into my early adulthood, after both of my parents passed away. I continued to believe in G-d, but discontinued Orthodox observances like keeping kosher, and over time, I stopped attending synagogue as well. I think I stopped because I found saying the same prayers over and over again boring and anything but spiritual. I also began to dislike some of the values I saw all around me in the Jewish community — an obsession with material things and a very shallow concern for others.
By the way, when my father died suddenly, no one from the shul came to see us. We were poor, and my father was not a “macher”, you see. A priest who happened to live across the street from us did come to see me. He was very kind. He made no attempt to convert me, but listened to me cry and comforted me by assuring me that my father was in heaven and that G-d loved me. Another gentile woman neighbor did the laundry for us because my mother was so grief-stricken she could not get out of bed for two days. Still, I went to synagogue in the morning and evening for six months to say Kaddish for my father.
Over time, I actually felt my Christian friends were more concerned about the important things in life than my Jewish friends. (My father would sometimes say “The Goyim are better than the Jews”, but of course he was joking.
My father was full of Jewish legends and parables and taught me about the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Loeb and the Golem. He truly loved Judaism. I still miss him after all of these years and treasure his memory, as I do my mother’s.
In any case, that is my background in a nutshell.
In response to some of your other points, I would agree that Christians have shown immense cruelty to the Jewish people, but, again, as in the case of your prior comments about Catholic pedophiles, that is a human failing, and does not refect on Christianity’s truth any more than the cruelty Israelis inflict on the Palestinians is an indictment against Judaism. I think it would be useful to drop that line of argument, as it is irrelevant.
Yirmi
I can understand how you may not have found Catholicism inspiring; and I think that means you can understand my state of mind quite well. You seem to have found something wonderful in Judaism, and I am happy for you.
All I find is emptiness and a lack of spirituality. I can’t stand the constant harping on the Law! How can G-d possibly care whether one eats pork or not? It makes no sense. Most of it is just a congeries of superstition and nonsense, in my view. I do think that the concept of a Messiah who is present in one’s life to help one become a good person — good in the sense of kind, loving, as much like Christ as a mere human can be — is much, much deeper than a faith that is really at bottom just a bunch of ancient, meaningless rituals.
I think what you say about some Catholic congregations is even more true of MOST Jewish ones. People recite the Hebrew without knowing what it means (or caring, apparently). And why Hebrew? If G-d knows our thoughts, we do not need to intone anything in a language that no one understands and is itself a barrier between many Jews (who do not know it) and their faith.



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LazerA

posted August 31, 2009 at 11:36 pm


Range Rover’s comments bring to mind an observation I (and others) have made many times over the years. The hardest person to teach Torah to is someone who thinks that he already knows what Judaism is. The Hebrew school graduate, the (now grown-up) kid who had a big fancy bar mitzvah, the fellow who went to “yeshiva” for grade school, the family that drives to their Orthodox synagogue every Saturday, etc. Such people are convinced that they already know all about Judaism, that they have already experienced all that Judaism has to offer, and therefore are justified in rejecting it.
The fact is that well-educated Jews are pretty unusual outside of a few exceptional communities. Most communities are fortunate if they have even one such fellow as their rabbi.
I know this will seem insensitive (or something similar), but I am deeply skeptical of how knowledgeable Range Rover really is. Despite his assertions to the contrary, the fact is that his comments are not reflective of a serious Jewish education. They are of the same nature – although expressed in a more adult fashion – as the comments I hear regularly from 11-12 year olds attending Hebrew school.
—-
With regards to the Kaddish issue, while I am not an expert in this area, not having researched it, I am a little surprised that Range Rover got such a strong answer from the rabbi that he consulted. (Did he actually say it “was absolutely forbidden”?)
To my knowledge, there is no conceivable halachic prohibition against saying kaddish for a non-Jew unless one’s own parents are alive (this concern would apply to saying kaddish for any non-relative). A convert is permitted to say kaddish for his parents, and may even be obligated to do so.



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Range Rover

posted August 31, 2009 at 11:47 pm


Mergatroid
Thank you for your comments (I think).
No, there is no promise anywhere in the Tanakh that guarantees forgiveness if one repents and redresses one’s sins. Nowhere. In Judaism, you cannot ever know for sure that G-d forgives you of your sins.
Consider the story of King Saul. Nothing he did could dissuade G-d from torturing him to death by sending a demon to torment him. And why did G-d do that? Because Saul did not kill the Amalekite sheep, for he wanted them for a sacrifice to honor G-d. Quite a sin. And one he could not repent of.



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LazerA

posted August 31, 2009 at 11:51 pm


Oh, my previous comment was written before I saw Range Rover’s most recent comment. (I guess it came in after I had already viewed the page.)
Range Rover’s story is story is, unfortunately, quite typical for someone of his generation. Many deeply committed and observant Jewish immigrants failed to pass on their commitment to their children. This was due to a number of factors, including the fact that, generally speaking, despite their sincerity, these immigrants usually had little real Jewish education. The schools of the period were struggling with many factors and tended not to do a very good job.
To me it clear from Range Rover’s story that his knowledge of Judaism is rooted more in his communal experience than in actual Torah study. As such, he easily falls prey to the error of seeing the problems in the community (such as materialism) as problems in the religion itself.
The ultimate tragedy in this story is that, despite his obvious love and affection for his father, he is considering a move that his father would have gladly given his life to avoid.
(BTW, Salanter Yeshiva is still around, it combined with a couple other schools in the sixties and is called SAR Academy today.)
(Also BTW, tefilin twice a day? I assume that was a typo.)



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Range Rover

posted September 1, 2009 at 12:13 am


LazerA
I have enough Jewish education to have led minyans in New York City and Arizona. I have also taught at a Hebrew School in Brooklyn. But I never claimed to be a scholar; if you read my original post, it was in response to David’s point about converts being ignorant of Judaism. I am not ignorant of my faith.
You are being presumptuous as well as arrogant. My parents were poor, and my Bar Mitzvah was held in a small, Orthodox synagogue. There was no reception. Just paper cups of schnapps and little slices of apple cake after the service. My one gift was a tallis from my father. it is still precious to me.
We would not drive to synagogue on Shabbos. We walked. Even if we had a car, we would have walked.
The rabbi I consulted about Kaddish is a scholar. Whether he is right or not, you missed my point — which was that he cared only about the Law, not about my grief or about my love for my friend.
I don’t know how sensitive you are or not, but what you are doing is known as an ad hominem argument — attack the person instead of addressing the points he or she is making.
Your anger and contempt do come through loud and clear. Were I tempted to resort to the same type of ad hominem attack, I could repay you by making a further point along the lines of what I have been saying, but I am sure you know what I mean, and so that would be unnecessary as well as fallacious.



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LazerA

posted September 1, 2009 at 12:14 am


Oy, Range Rover, you’ve been hanging out with Christians way to much. Repentance and forgiveness are major themes in Tanach. It is certainly a basic concept in Judaism. Christian theology tries to portray Judaism as a harsh, unforgiving religion in order to present Christianity as the loving, forgiving replacement. This portrayal is basic to how Christianity sees itself. It is also completely false.
I have made enough posts for one evening, so I’ll stop here. I strongly recommend you find a mentor who can guide you to a true understanding of what Judaism really is. This will bring bring happiness to both you and the souls of your departed parents.
(This way you can also learn what was actually going on in the story of King Saul.)



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Mergatroid

posted September 1, 2009 at 12:33 am


@RangeRover: “All I find is emptiness and a lack of spirituality. I can’t stand the constant harping on the Law! How can G-d possibly care whether one eats pork or not? It makes no sense. ”
The following comment is not about trying to get you to love the law or anything like that. Here goes: So, you say it makes no sense that God would care if you eat pork, and yet you want to follow a leader who taught his followers that God wanted them to refrain from eating pork. Not only did Jesus refrain from eating pork, despite it being (in your words) an “ancient, meaningless ritual,” he no doubt LOVED refraining from eating pork, following the sentiment in Psalms 19 and 119. The words “it makes no sense” ought to be ringing in your ears, RangeRover.
“No, there is no promise anywhere in the Tanakh that guarantees forgiveness if one repents and redresses one’s sins. Nowhere. In Judaism, you cannot ever know for sure that G-d forgives you of your sins.”
Ohhh, you wanted a promise of forgiveness. I didn’t know that. In that case I, Mergatroid, promise to forgive you for all your sins. Believe in me, then. Seriously, ignore my facetiousness and think about what you’re saying.
“People recite the Hebrew without knowing what it means (or caring, apparently).”
Why generalize like that?
“And one Saul could not repent of.”
Where did you learn that?
Also, did you consider an alternate way of honoring your friend and God, instead of Kaddish?
@LazerA — There are some Jews who put on two pairs of tefillin each weekday. Rare, though.



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Range Rover

posted September 1, 2009 at 1:05 am


Well, I do find that this is somewhat pointless to continue, as I meant not to evoke hostility from those committed to Judaism, but rather to say that I understand and identify with Mr. Novak, and to make the point that a desire to become a Christian can have motives aside from an ignorance of Judaism.
Zayt gesunt, everyone.



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Mergatroid

posted September 1, 2009 at 1:26 am


“to make the point that a desire to become a Christian can have motives aside from an ignorance of Judaism. ”
It appears from your words in this thread that almost all of your motives are not positive motives, but negative motives. More of a running away than a running towards.
Please don’t think of me as hostile. A little impetuous and blunt, but not hostile. Caring above all.



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Turmarion

posted September 1, 2009 at 9:22 am


LazarA, all sects are motivated to some extent by political considerations. “Orthodoxy” in any religion is just the sect that happens to win out. It’s like when someone says of a person that he or she speaks “with no accent” (see the thread on that). Everyone speaks with an accent–it’s just that the accent deemed standard is so pervasive and touted as “correct” that it’s not perceived as an accent. Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t believe that all sects are equal and that none are “right”–it’s just that God has obviously ordered the world in such a way that the usual base human motivations of power, politics, wanting to be right, etc. etc. come into play in the development of religion. God could speak directly to each individual to correct him if he’s starting down a heretical path–or He could just boom the truth from the sky on request. He obviously preferred to let humans work it out in messy, human fashion, “writing straight with crooked lines”. Isn’t there a Talmudic story about a rabbinical debate in which one rabbi invokes God Himself, and God booms from on high that the rabbi is right? In response, one of the other rabbis chides God Himself by quoting the Tanakh to the effect that God’s word is “not in the sky”, and that as such it has been given to humans to interpret–at which God bursts into laughter, saying, “My children have defeated Me!”
Having said this, I think if you set down a Sadducee, a rabbincal Jew, a Karaite, a Samaritan, and a Sabbataean together, each one would argue with equal vehemence that his position was obviously derived from an objective reading of Scripture, and the argument would never end. Any naivité lies in thinking that such an “objective” reading would win the day for any one of them!
Just for full disclosure, I’m Catholic, so I am more or less the Christian equivalent of an Orthodox Jew with respect to other Jewish sects. I’ve studied Christian theology and Scripture for nearly twenty-five years and have a pretty good grasp of it. At one time, I would have thought with respect to Christianity much as you do with respect to rabbinical Judaism–it’s obviously supported by objective reading of Scripture, and anyone who thinks otherwise either just doesn’t understand the issues or is in bad faith. Over the years as I’ve delved and studied, and yes, debated other Christians, I’ve come to see it’s a lot more complex than that. I still believe that Catholicism is best supported by Scripture and Tradition, but I don’t think that logical argumentation is enough to prove it. I don’t think it can be conclusively proved. It really boils down to faith commitments and worldviews–things which can’t be logically argued. Thus, I’ve come to a point at which I’m pretty much OK with other Christian schools of thought, even those with which I disagree. I would argue my case now more on the basis of the antiquity and continuity of the Catholic tradition (as I imagine an Orthodox Jew would vis-à-vis Orthodox Judaism) and the evidence that gives for God’s work there, rather than arguing doctrine per se, this latter being ultimately fruitless.
Nevertheless, while the Chabad heresy might show that educated and observant Jews could, in principle, still be attracted to the heretical ideas found in the Christian movement….
Which was my point.
[T]hat does not justify your statement that “it seems that perfectly well-educated and observant Jews of the time in some cases accepted Christianity.” The fact that something could have happened does not prove that it did.
I agree that “could have happened” does not necessarily imply “did happen”.
I am ready to concede that such an event is “not inconceivable.”
Well, that was my point. Originally you implied it was inconceivable–my point was, as Iñigo Montoya said, “That word doesn’t mean what you think it means!”
But the fact remains that I know of no evidence that this actually happened. Do you?
I don’t really think there is available evidence to support either of us. There are, to my knowledge, no census rolls giving lists of early converts, their religion of birth, and level of activity and education therein! The records on the first three centuries of Christianity (and Judaism in the first three centuries CE, too, for that matter) is notoriously spotty. According to the New Testament, there were fairly large numbers of Jewish converts (although it doesn’t say how educated they were), including Paul, a rabbi and a Pharisee–but from your earlier comment you seem less than inclined to take the NT at face value. According to this article there seem to be some groups claiming continuous descent from early Jewish Christian converts; and the retention of Jewish custom indicates at least some level of understanding of and education in Judaism of the early popluation; but that, too is inconclusive. We both concede it’s possible; you think it didn’t happen; I think it did; that’s probably where we’ll have to leave it, barring stunning new archaeological discoveries.
Anyway, I’m not trying to argue anyone into or out of Christianity or Judaism or anything, nor to argue that either is the “right” religion based on Scripture. I don’t think it’s possible so to argue, since every party has preconceptions. All I’m saying is that neither interpretation is more “obvious” or “objective” than any other, and that underlying commitments, beliefs, and, yes, emotions, probably play a bigger role than logical argumentation. In that regard, I think this excellent post from Rod Dreher’s “Crunchy Conservative” blog here at Beliefnet is germane.



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Yirmi

posted September 1, 2009 at 12:26 pm


Your depiction of Torah likes like Kashrut as being superstitious nonsense is incompatible with Christianity, which claims that the Torah is completely true was obligatory, but was just superceded by Christianity. Actually the modern Catholic belief is that traditional Jews are doing the right thing by sticking with their religion and following the mitzvot, and that no one need try to convert them since this will happen at the end of time anyway (dual covenant theology).
As to your point about Hebrew, for the communal prayers of course it makes sense to be in Hebrew, since it’s the national language — useful for people correctly prophesied to end up scattered throughout the earth — but hitbodedut, which is as or even more important than the prescribed prayers, should be in one’s own language. And if you’re davening without a minyan I believe it’s acceptable to daven in English, if that helps with kavannah.
In terms of having a “messiah” as you say to be a part of your life and guide you toward being a better person, well Hashem does that, but also your Rebbe, or Rebbes or tzaddikim of times past, who, it is taught, are more powerful after their death than while alive.



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Dave

posted September 1, 2009 at 6:59 pm


Hello David
I enjoy reading your blog and so I have refrained from comment when your anti-Christian biases are revealed. You may have good reason for your biases and you may not. But your attack (yes – attack) of Range Rover because he is considering converting to Christianity is a little extreme. The style is reminscent of the attacks on ID by Darwinists. Go figure.

It only works if you read the Bible backward, starting with the Greek scriptures, absorbing their assumptions, and then reading the Hebrew Bible in that light. But this is of course not a natural way of understanding Scripture.

Of course it does. Perhaps you should try to consider the reason why the later books shine light on the earlier books. There is much in the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) which is obscure and ambivalent. It is not uncommon for later books to provide insight into the more obscure passages of the earlier books. It is not uncommon for the earlier books to shine a light on obscure passages in the later books. The Bible is a unified whole, but the Old Testament has no ending. It is unfinished.
Unless, of course, Jesus really is the long-awaited Messiah, whose imminent arrival was expected by the 1st C. Jews. Leaving asise the veracity of the New Testament (which was written primarily by Jews even if they utilized the Greek language) there is ample evidence for the Messianic anticipation of Ist C. Judaism outside of Christian tradition. The reasons for this anticipation were based upon the interpretation of various OT prophesies, not Christian interpolations redacted into documents that are indiputably pre-Christian.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Luke 24:44-48
I confess, I haven’t read your book, “Why The Jews Rejected Jesus” and will defer to your superior scholarship. I would point out Rodney Stark’s “Cities of God” in which he opines that Paul and other Christian missionaries deliberately targeted the diaspora Jews and utilized the Jewish community networks in their evangelizing. He suggests that most of the early Christian converts were either Helenized Jews or Gentile “God-fearers”. I might also mention the curious affair of the Afikomen which some have suggested reflects an early Christian influence upon the practices of orthodox Judaism which has been retained for nearly two millenia. Or the strangely convenient result of Maimonides “negative theology” which rephrased the Shema.
None of this, of course, proves the truth or falsity of Christianity as a fulfilment of Judaism, but it does make one wonder. Certainly it places Range Rover’s doubts in another perspective.



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Finnur

posted September 16, 2009 at 8:10 am


“There’s much that Jews and Christians can argue about, but not that. The New Testament seeks to place its own understanding on the nature of this relationship with God, but the Christian interpretation, originated by Paul, is simply tendentious and implausible. It only works if you read the Bible backward, starting with the Greek scriptures, absorbing their assumptions, and then reading the Hebrew Bible in that light. But this is of course not a natural way of understanding Scripture. That, to me, is the heart of the Jewish objection to Christianity. God gave us a particular relationship with him, a modality for approaching Him. Why that one and not another? An interesting question to contemplate but the fact remains. Christianity in all its forms cancels and abrogates that relationship. God is our life. For a Jew to accept Christianity — I’m not speaking of Gentiles here — is therefore a kind of suicide.”
Dear reader,
I just wanted to throw in a point – as the thought came to me strongly when reading this.
It sorts of starts with a thought that is – = when where the scriptures finalized..?.. In them there is the voice “in the wilderness” the prophet that is often alone struggling to get the nation which is betrothed to the Lord to leave her regrettably often wicked ways. There are a few lessons to be drawn from that firstly that it is altogether too human to reduce God to a concept that fits ones own comfort zone (the Prophets = a lonely voice) and second that if we follow everybody else we may be in danger (perishing with this world). Implying that we constantly have to seek God on our own (even if we respect and participate in corporate worship) as when it comes down to it we are responsible in our relationship with Him. This responsibility is in a way what makes us understand that the only way to live is death to the self. Not to live as oneself might want to but to live the best one can as God wants one to. This makes the prophetic voice extremely important. We have the written word so that we can recognize Gods character and do our best to reflect Him, also because it absolutely humbles us to the dust – who can be righteous?? Who may enter the promised land? Who has called Gods judgment upon himself and may expect to be vaporized in any moment?? We remember that God’s mercy and loving-kindness lasts for ever, while is it a danger threatening our comfort for us to recognize that He is a judge also – judging kindly for thousands – also the maker who shapes the clay His way.
On which side of Gods judgment are we? Who was the last true prophet ? Has God become silent – is He maybe dead (forgive me this – I am pointing to popular philosophy and even the new age which totally impersonalizes God).
There are a few things which every Jew must consider – why is it tough to be? Who can help me?(As indeed any person may ponder – Is it specially tough to be a Jew; what about the people of Somalia? – are we[humans] victims – can we even require there be a God – and as He is aren’t we fortunate that He is good – and then …how can He be good if we suffer? … then..What causes suffering) And from that the central question may be what is the solution and then Who is the Messiah? Other questions might be what happened to the temple? How is it possible to be a Jew without a temple? And for anyone… How does the unseen interact with the seen?
Now, given that God is alive we may recognize that He still communicates and interacts with humans – a central question then becomes how? How do you approach God? How does He approach you? I must state that when I first read the scriptures I started from the beginning – meaning that after reading every chapter it had a bearing on my understanding of the next one. For example when I read Hosea I was very glad when I reached the point which some refer to as Hosea 14:5 – before that I was more in some sort of a state of fear. And suddenly the dawn broke through! Numerous Words show us that we are to do good or to “love”: As the chapter some refer to as Isaiah 58 – So we know God cares about people – even the foreigner – and that we are to love to reflect His character. Can we think that such a God has forsaken His people or left them only to philosophical ponderings and impossibilities??!



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