Friday, July 30, 2010

"Orthodox Jews Are People Too"

"I climbed up the steps and onto the second floor. What I thought was going to be a meet-and-greet of Jewish students was actually a circle of observant Jews who all seemed to know each other. "
What follows is one Reform Jewish student's story of feeling like the odd one out at Columbia University annual Hillel Hannukah party. If you've ever felt like an outsider in Jewish space, you may appreciate what Carly learned!

Shabbat shalom, readers!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rahab's Reversal

I've been reading Rabbi Russ Resnik's new book Divine Reversal in a study group at my congregation, so I'm particularly attuned to this theme of reversal in the Scriptures. Recently, Chaviva (from The Kvetching Editor) highlighted the theme of reversal in the story of Rahab in a shiur (lesson) she delivered on Shavuot:
As Phyllis Bird suggests, [Rahab's] story depends on a certain “reversal of expectations.” It is unlikely to expect a “shrewd and calculating operator” like a prostitute to save the spies and declare allegiance to G-d, but she does. The Rabbis, then, understood something profound about their choice as the ultimate righteous convert: “The harlot understands what the king of the city does not – that Israelite victory is imminent and inevitable.”
Long after Rahab, Yeshua spoke about the reversals that were happening in Israel in his day:

I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did.
As Yeshua-followers, we need to be attuned to the reversals happening around us, because there is where we find the God of Israel at work.  For an extended meditation on how the Messiah of Israel embodies this principle of divine reversal, I'd encourage you to pick up Divine Reversal.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Goy: memoir of a unique life

My local Gazette has featured some great articles of Jewish interest lately.  First it was Project Ezekiel, about a local who constructed images of lost Holocaust victims using their prisoner cards.  Now from this week's paper:
Spend just a few minutes talking with Silver Spring's Ranjit Chatterjee, and you'll realize he has little interest in the mundane. Read just a few pages of his new memoir, "Goy," and you'll learn what does interest him – adventure, family, philosophy and Jewish studies with a dash of linguistics on top.
The article tells the genesis of Chatterjee's interest in Jews and Judaism:
One story the author writes about is when his mother told him a disturbing Holocaust story. Ranjit was only about 6 years old, but his mother decided to tell him a horrific story about Nazis who buried Jewish people up to their waists and then sent in vicious dogs to attack their upper bodies. That was really the beginning, he says, of his interest in the plight of Jewish people.
Goy may not make it to the J-BOM book list, but if you read it, I'd be happy to post a guest book review here at the Gathering Sparks blog!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

David Rudolph on "Paul's Rule"

A paper by Messianic Jewish scholar David J. Rudolph, "Paul's 'Rule in All the Churches' (1 Cor. 7:17-24) and Torah-Defined Ecclesiological Variegation," was featured in the online journal Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations. The article is available for free download at (along with a number of other articles of interest). Here's a teaser:
In preparation for this conference, I asked a number of church leaders if they were familiar with Paul’s “rule in all the churches.” Notably, not a single leader who responded to my ad hoc survey was aware of such a rule. Based on this response and my general familiarity with ecclesial theology, I think it is likely that Paul’s “rule in all the churches” has become a “rule in few of the churches” today. While many would probably be content to see this state of affairs continue, especially those who do not like church rules, there remains the nagging question, “Should a teaching that Paul considered important enough to be a universal rule be almost universally neglected by contemporary Christians?”
The aim of this paper is to introduce Paul’s rule to those who are unfamiliar with it, and to make the case that Paul’s rule is a lynchpin that sustains the church as a body of Jews and Gentiles . . .
Read the rest here...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

J-BOM: let your yes be yes

From this month's J-BOM selection:
" 'Verbal fraud is worse than monetary fraud.' " The words came out in a rapid Sephardic Hebrew. "Is that statement familiar to you?"
"Shimon ben Yochai in Baba Metzia," I said, giving the Talmudic source of the quote he had used.
"You are David Malter's son, no doubt of that. You experienced both kinds of fraud last Sunday night, I understand. We'll discuss it on Sunday. Michael enjoyed sailing with you. Shabbat shalom. What?" He spoke away from the phone. "Yes." He came back on the phone. "Michael says to tell you Shabbat shalom for him."
His voice echoed inside my head for quite a while after I hung up the phone.
The Promise, p. 60 (Knopf, 1969)
I thought the statement from Shimon ben Yochai correlated well to one of the sayings of Yeshua:
Let your yes be yes and your no be no; anything more than that is from the evil one.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Noa at the Sixth and I

In May, my wife and I got a chance to see internationally renowned Israeli singer Noa perform at the 6th and I historic synagogue in downtown DC. Noa is a consummate performer, and it was such a pleasure to watch her sing and (at various times) play guitar, piano, and percussion. She was accompanied, as always, by her long-time musical collaborator, Gil Dor. Also joining her on this tour was Palestinian-Israeli singer Mira Awad. If you enjoy beautiful music, Hebrew lyrics, or skillful voice and guitar work, you owe it to yourself to pick up one of Noa's albums. (I suggest starting with this one.)

A funny thing happened to us at the concert that I had to blog about. We had purchased VIP tickets: for a mere $10 more we got to meet Noa in person before the show and sit in the front VIP section! After meeting Noa (and listening to Gil Dor talk about the European castle where they recorded their 1998 album "Calling"), we rushed upstairs to try to grab a good seat. The VIP section was already filling up--but amazingly the center row at the very front was still empty!

We briskly made our way down the aisle. When we got to the row, we noticed two white paper signs on the pew: one side said "VIP ticketholders only," and the other side said, "For the Israeli ambassador."

We seated ourselves right on top of the "VIP ticketholders only" sign and thanked God for such awesome seats. Then we amused ourselves by taking pictures of ourselves and of the ceiling dome (see above).

About five minutes to the start of the concert, we were getting really excited when a man in a black suit who had been hovering by the "Israeli ambassador" side of the pew came over to us. He said, "I'm really sorry to do this, but the ambassador is going to need to use this whole row. I'm going to have to ask you to move."

Feeling slightly crushed, we removed ourselves to the second row in one of the side sections (where thankfully we discovered that we still had a fantastic view). Sure enough, in a few minutes, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, walked in, accompanied by several friends or family members.

In a moment, Noa came out and put on an amazing show. Mira Awad is also a very talented singer: I never heard Arabic lyrics sung in the style of Leonard Cohen before--it was quite bewitching. At the end Mira joined Noa on stage to perform the songs they've collaborated on together, including their recent Eurovision hit "There Must Be Another Way."

All in all we had a great time. And our experience changing seats before the show reminded me of what Yeshua said in Luke 14:8-9:
When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.
If we had to give up our seats, at least it was for the ambassador!

Here are some videos of Noa and Mira. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Quote of the Day

A provocative quote from New Testament scholar Michael F. Bird:
The Jerusalem council achieved a via media by finding in Scripture a justification for the inclusion of Gentiles within the church without requiring circumcision and placing upon Gentiles only the obligation to avoid idol food and sexual immorality. Yet the Jerusalem council also permitted the existence of two parallel theologies: one theology where the Gentiles were uncircumcised equals in a renewed Israel with holiness constituted by the Spirit and another theology where uncircumcised Gentiles were guests in an Israelite remnant that still defined holiness through Torah observance. The Jerusalem council’s decisions seem optimized in a setting where Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians remain in parallel rather than integrated, especially in relation to shared meals. The council did not stipulate the standard of law observance to be upheld for Eucharistic fellowship to ensue.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

J-BOM in July: Chaim Potok's The Promise

July's J-BOM selection is Chaim Potok's The Promise.

Chaim Potok is one of my favorite authors. I actually read this book for the first time last summer. So if you're looking for a book that grabs you right from the start--one of those books where you pick it up, get engrossed, and look down and you're on page 60 already--this is a good one to read.

It's also a perfect summer read--at least for me. During the course of the story, the main character, Reuven Malter, spends his year studying for his degree in philosophy as well as for his smicha (rabbinical ordination). In the summers he goes with his dad to a rented cottage in New York resort area called Peekskill (thirty miles outside NYC). Swimming, boating, and me, it sounds like heaven. Even though I spent my summer at work in the office, each time I picked up the book I felt like I was on a little mini-vacation.

So what is "the promise" referred to in the story's title? I realized that even though I've read it, I'm not sure I know the answer. (I might.) This time through the book I'll be looking closely for the answer to that question: what is the promise? I'll report back on the well as any other interesting details I find along the way.

Enjoy your reading!