Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rabbi Lawrence Schiffman on the gospels

Check out Rabbi Lawrence Schiffman talking about the gospels in From Jesus to Christ: Panel Discussion at PBS's

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The story of Jews, chopsticks, and Christmas

Around Christmastime, we're reminded of the long history that the Jewish people have had with...the Chinese people.  That's right: the widespread Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas Day has grown from insider joke to cultural meme.  JUF News tells just a little bit of the story of Jews, chopsticks, and Christmas--"a history that goes beyond the plate."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Scot McKnight on Mark Nanos: Where Christians Got it Wrong with Paul

Back in August, Christian author, professor, and blogger Scot McKnight did a series on Michael Bird's recent book Four Views on the Apostle Paul, which includes among its four authors Jewish New Testament scholar Mark Nanos.  A couple quotes:
It is big, then, for Nanos to say a major cutting edge between Paul and other forms of Judaism was that Paul permitted Gentile “conversion” without becoming “proselytes” to Judaism. You could convert to Judaism but did not have to become a Jew by undergoing circumcision. Paul opposes proselyte circumcision for Gentile “converts” to Judaism, because circumcision entails Torah observance, and Gentiles don’t have to obey the whole Torah.


The issue, for Nanos then, between Paul’s Judaism and others is “chronometrical”: What is appropriate now that the crucifixion and resurrection have occurred? Are we in a new era or not? Paul says Yes, others say No. In other words, it is eschatological. Or, perhaps even more nuanced, hermeneutical. How do we explain where we are in God’s plan? And it revolves around whether or not Jesus is the Messiah.
Read the whole summary at Where Christians Got it Wrong with Paul.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Light In Every Window

This children's book seems like a good one to add to the Chanukah library for kids.  From JUF News : Children’s book lights up holidays:
A Light in Every Window (Miniver Press) [is] a new children's book taken from a true event in Billings, Montana ...  the holiday season in 1993 when  hate-filled vandals in the town threw a brick through the window of a Jewish family that displayed the Chanukah menorah. In response, the other citizens ran out to buy all the menorahs they could find, and when those ran out, the Billings Gazette printed the photo of a menorah on its front page. Then everyone in the town displayed those menorahs in their windows too.
In this season of "publicizing the miracle," it's also worth collecting (and publicizing) stories like this, of hope and light in the ongoing relationship between Jews and Christians.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tablet journalist reading Daf Yomi discovers the origins of the Chanukah blessing

Tablet Magazine's Adam Kirsch is reading along with the Daf Yomi (the well-known Talmud reading cycle).  Currently he is studying through tractate Shabbat.  In Leading Lights: Week 10 of Our Literary Critic’s Daf Yomi Talmud Study, he comes across the Talmud's justification for employing the phrase "who commanded us" in the (clearly post-Biblical) observance of Hanukkah
[The rabbis note that the events of Chanukah] occurred in the 160s BCE, and the books that recount them are not part of the Hebrew Bible. This means that the holiday of Hanukkah is not a biblical but a rabbinic institution; and as we have seen before, rabbinic decrees are of lesser authority than biblical ones. 

This leads the Talmud to note an anomaly in the Hanukkah blessings. We praise God “who commanded us to light Hanukkah lights”: “But where,” the Gemara demands, “did He command us?” In fact, it was not God but the rabbis who commanded us to do this. Still, the Talmud attempts to reconcile this fact with the words of the blessing. Rav Arya cites a verse from Deuteronomy: “You shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you.” In context, “they” are the priests and judges of ancient Israel; but the rabbis see themselves as the priests’ inheritors, and they read the line as commanding obedience to all rabbinical decrees. 
This explanation is not commonly known in Messianic Jewish circles, where the rabbis are often accused of usurping divine or Biblical authority.  But such accusations rarely acknowledge the Deuteronomy passage referenced above, where authority to interpret the difficult questions raised by the Torah's teaching is actually delegated to the judges of Israel.

Is this authority then unlimited?  Interestingly, the Talmudic passage recognizes this very same question, continuing beyond the above logic to a more reserved conclusion.  Kirsch writes:

By this logic, however, everything the rabbis ordain should be considered just as sacred as what the Bible decrees—as the Gemara goes on to point out. The argument is finally settled by the common-sense opinion of Abaye: The blessing on Hanukkah is not absolutely required, but it is instituted “so that people do not treat [the holiday] with disrespect.” It follows that biblical holidays still take precedence over rabbinic ones: If a poor man has to choose between buying Shabbat candles and Hanukkah candles, the Talmud says he should pick the former.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Article on r̶o̶c̶k̶e̶r̶ crooner Glen Campbell mentions Messianic Jews

From Glen Campbell has rock, religion on his mind | Reuters:
Grammys in a cabinet? Check.

Movie theater? Check.

Jewish artifacts? Check.

Back up. The Baptist-raised country star, who says he once confused "menorah" with "manure," displays a Jewish candelabrum on the mantel, and a Hebrew book sits on the coffee table.

Adding to the cross-cultural confusion, the Rhinestone Cowboy soon breaks into a plaintive cry,

"Jeee-esus ... Help me find my special place." His German Shepherd joins in on the last bit.

It's not a hymn or a prayer. It's a line from an old song by the 1960s rock band the Velvet Underground. "Jesus" appears on the semi-retired singer's first album in 15 years for Capitol Records, the wryly titled "Meet Glen Campbell" (August 19), in which the 72-year-old singer covers tunes by the likes of U2, Green Day, John Lennon and the Foo Fighters.

Amid the jarring juxtapositions, Campbell reveals that he and his wife, Kim, attend the local synagogue every Saturday and celebrate Jewish holidays such as Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah, as well as Christmas. Kim cooks a mean brisket but is still working on her matzo balls. And grape juice subs for Manischewitz in the alcohol-free household.


For two decades, the Campbells have been adherents of Messianic Judaism, a religious movement whose members regard themselves as committed Jews but are rejected by mainstream Jewish denominations as following an essentially evangelical Christian theology.

"It's Jews who believe that Christ is the risen savior," Campbell said. "I think it will all come around to that."
(HT Todd D.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Lo bashamayim hi": G-dcast does the oven of Akhnai

Here's G-dcast's very creative rendition of the famous Talmudic "oven of Akhnai" story.

Usually people omit the second half of the story--which is arguably critical for understanding the whole point of the story.  Instead, they end the story with God laughing and saying "My children have defeated me!"  Good on G-dcast for telling the rest of the tale, which describes the strained relationship between R' Eliezer and Rabban Gamliel and how it led to their eventual death(s).

For the full text of this Talmudic tale, check out David Friedman's The Furnace of Akhnai: Story and Puzzle.  For one Messianic Jewish take on this tale, see Akhnai's Oven at Digging With Darren.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

New Voices on "Messianic Gentile" students at American Jewish University

An article about non-Jewish students at American Jewish University in the Jewish college student journal New Voices has an extensive segment on a couple whose introduction to Judaism was through Messianic Judaism.  The article mentions Messianic Jewish Rabbi Barney Kasdan, referring both to his synagogue and to Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, as well as mentioning the phrase "messianic gentile."
The Browns learned about AJU through Rabbi Barney Kasdan, who was teaching a lecture on Jewish studies as part of their church’s Bible study group for men. Chris was attending his sessions once a week for two months when he became fascinated by Judaism. 
“I don’t know what inspired me – I can’t pinpoint it, but I was deeply touched by what Rabbi Kasdan was saying,” reflected Chris, who later introduced Kasdan to Kelly. 
“We discovered that Judaism is much deeper and richer than Christianity. There’s much more to the Bible than just the New Testament, and Rabbi Kasdan tied the two perfectly together,” Kelly explained. 
Chris and Kelly began regularly attending Kasdan’s synagogue and have not been back to church since. After Kasdan suggested that the couple consider attending AJU’s College of Arts and Sciences, they moved to Los Angeles in 2011 and began attending AJU a year later.
Chris and Kelly both desire to use their knowledge that they are gaining about Jewish studies as an integral part of their future careers. Kelly, who identifies as a messianic gentile, aspires to teach Jewish studies at a Christian college, while Chris hopes to eventually convert to Judaism and become ordained as a Conservative rabbi through AJU’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. While he and Kelly currently attend services at Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, Chris views Messianic Judaism as a transition from Christianity to more traditional Judaism. 
“I am about 70-30, leaning towards conversion, but I want to know something about what I’m doing,” he explained. “I want to become more knowledge about Judaism before I convert if I decide I want to.”

Read the entire article at We Are The 5 Percent: Being Non-Jewish at American Jewish University | New Voices.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Parable parallels: weddings and guests

In this Yiddish folktale (courtesy of last year's Nitzavim edition of Reform Voices of Torah), a man giving a wedding has to go to extreme measures to compel his guests to join him in his joy.
Marc Chagall - Russian Wedding, 1909.
Reb Yitzchak Berkover is the richest man in town. His youngest daughter is soon to be married. Everything is arranged. No expense is spared. Everyone is invited, including the poor folk from the neighboring town of Lipovitch. On the morning of the wedding, three wagons are sent for them. Everything is going according to plan. The feast is prepared; the chuppah goes up, when suddenly a horseman arrives out of breath to deliver the blow. "They aren't coming." "What do you mean they aren't coming!?" asks Reb Yitzchak. "They say they are already full from a wedding this morning, so they will only come to your daughter's wedding if each is promised a ruble." The family and friends who have gathered burst into laughter, but Reb Yitzchak flies into a rage. "You fool, why didn't you bargain with them? The nerve! Forget it! I'll get along without them. They'll see. Fiddlers, strike up a tune! Let's begin!" But with the sound of the first note, Reb Yitzchak changes his mind; he mounts the horse and takes off in the direction of Lipovitch. After a weak attempt at negotiation and an impressive speech from the lead-beggar, Reb Yitzchak Berkover relents: "Get in the wagons! A ruble for each of you!" Twenty minutes later, the father-of-the-bride takes his place under the chuppah; the poor gather around.

When the feast is served, Reb Yitzchak and his closest relatives fulfill the mitzvah of serving the poor with their own hands. One poor man raises his glass for a toast. "To your health, Reb Yitzchak! We wish you long life and happiness from your daughter the bride!" He replies, "And to you, brothers, L'chayim! May God bless you among the whole congregation of Israel!"

After the meal, the musicians begin to play. Reb Yitzchak dances to the center of the hora circle; his satin coattails fly like the wings of an eagle. His eyes gaze upward; his thoughts soar higher than the seventh heaven. He locks arms with the poor and shouts: "Brothers! Let us be joyful as only Jews know how to be joyful! Fiddlers! Play something a little faster, louder, livelier, stronger!" They begin to spin. And the rich man cries big joyful tears.
It is interesting to compare this story to a parable nearly two thousand years older:
On hearing this, one of the people at the table with Yeshua said to him, "How blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God!"  But he replied, "Once a man gave a banquet and invited many people.  When the time came for the banquet, he sent his slave to tell those who had been invited, `Come! Everything is ready!'  But they responded with a chorus of excuses. The first said to him, `I've just bought a field, and I have to go out and see it. Please accept my apologies.'  Another said, `I've just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to test them out. Please accept my apologies.'  Still another said, `I have just gotten married, so I can't come.'  The slave came and reported these things to his master. "Then the owner of the house, in a rage, told his slave, `Quick, go out into the streets and alleys of the city; and bring in the poor, the disfigured, the blind and the crippled!'  The slave said, `Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.'  The master said to the slave, `Go out to the country roads and boundary walls, and insistently persuade people to come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet!'"

Monday, September 24, 2012

High Holy Day Roundup

A slew of high holy day related links that have been accumulating:

May you all have an easy and meaningful fast, a renewed sense of vision and purpose, and many blessings for life in 5773.

Is Rosh Hashanah in the Bible?

"Did you know that Rosh Hashana is not in the Bible?"
So claimed several Messianic Jewish ministry emails that showed up in my inbox this autumn.  Ordinarily I would have just said, "Yes," and moved on, but it just so happened that several weeks ago I discovered something that surprised me: the phrase Rosh Hashanah DOES appear in the Bible.  A casual reference in Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's A Guide to Jewish Prayer led me to Ezekiel 40.1:
בְּעֶשְׂרִים וְחָמֵשׁ שָׁנָה לְגָלוּתֵנוּ בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ, בְּאַרְבַּע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה, אַחַר, אֲשֶׁר הֻכְּתָה הָעִיר--בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, הָיְתָה עָלַי יַד-יְהוָה, וַיָּבֵא אֹתִי, שָׁמָּה.
In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me to the city.
Now most commentators seem to agree that this isn't a reference to Rosh Hashanah but simply a generic reference to the beginning of the year.  Wikipedia sums it up (with a footnote to Conservative Jewish scholar Louis Jacobs):
The term Rosh Hashanah appears once in the Bible in Ezekiel 40:1 where it means generally the time of the "beginning of the year" or is possibly a reference to Yom Kipur,[3] but the phrase may also refer to the month of Nissan in the spring, especially in light of Exodus 12:2 where the month of Nissan is stated as being "the first month of the year" and Ezekiel 45:18 where "the first month" unambiguously refers to Nissan, the month of Passover, as made plain by Ezekiel 45:21.[5]

I was reasonably satisfied with this explanation...until it occurred to me, "Wait, what if this verse is simply the earliest reference we have to the observance that came to be called Rosh Hashanah?"  After all, as everyone knows, Rosh Hashanah came from Babylon, and Ezekiel prophesied in...Babylon.  (Obviously there's still that "tenth day of the month" thing to deal with...)

It turns out I'm not the first person to think of this.  A little Googling led me to a 2006 paper by LDS scholar (!) Rodger C. Young in the Seventh-Day Adventist Journal Andrews University Seminary Studies entitled "Ezekiel 40:1 as a Corrective for Seven Wrong Ideas in Biblical Interpretation." In it, Young uses chronologies to demonstrate that Ezekiel used a Tishri - Tishri calendar and not a Nisan - Nisan calendar.  He also suggests that the burden of proof should be on those who claim that the phrase Rosh Hashanah could refer to springtime/Nisan, since in all other attestations it uniformly refers to the fall.

Young also claims that this one verse "slays the giant [that is] the idea that the Pentateuch was written at any time later than the time of Moses."  In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I don't have the expertise or time to verify Young's claims.  If anyone out there wants to enlighten me on whether Young is right on or totally off, I welcome you to do so.

In the mean time, I'm putting this out there as an encouragement to all of us to treasure precision in language.  Don't say that "Rosh Hashana" is not in the Bible...because it is.  In Ezekiel 40:1.

Shanah tovah, good readers!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Quote of the Day: Hebraic vs. Greek mindsets

"Have you ever heard of abandoning a "Greek" mindset for a "Hebraic" one. One word: IMPOSSIBLE.
First if you are a protestant, you don't think like a Greek(at least theologically) you think like a Roman(i.e. you are Augustine's theological descendant).

Second to that, you are trying to take on a supposed world-view that has been absent for over 2000yrs. Two guys laid down the basic rules of Jewish interpretation that they have followed for over 2000yrs, they were Yossi HaGalili and Yishmael the High Priest. Both of them cribbed Socratic didatic, in fact their rules for interpretation were Socrates rules for didactic logic.

The next major Jewish thinker, Rambam was a neoplatonist.

So if you want to look at the Bible like a Jew, perhaps you should start thinking like a Greek."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Third Helsinki Consultation: Berlin statement on Torah for Jewish believers

A few bloggers have already highlighted the Third Helsinki Consultation on Jewish Continuity in the Body of Messiah.  The participants created a joint statement about the significance of the Torah for Jewish followers of Yeshua, which contained the following encouraging selections:

We, the members of the Helsinki Consultation, ... are increasingly recognizing the intrinsic connection between this [Jewish] identity and Torah, the dynamic reality that has shaped the life of the Jewish people throughout its historical journey. We are also increasingly challenged to understand the continuing significance of the Torah encountered in the light of the gospel within the life of the Body of the Messiah.

We as Jewish believers in Yeshua acknowledge the special bond that unites us with Israel’s Torah. This bond with Israel’s Torah witnesses in the Church to the irrevocability of God’s gifts and call to Israel (Rom 11:29). For Yeshua said, “Think not that I have come to destroy the Torah, or the prophets: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). We believe in the continuing validity of the Torah even as it is fulfilled in Christ. Moreover, we see Christ as the incarnate Torah, the eternal wisdom of the Father in human flesh. He alone lived out the Torah in perfect form, and he calls his disciples to walk in his ways.


As Jewish believers in Yeshua we are in the process of working out the meaning and concrete implications of this bond that we collectively experience. We find ourselves in a variety of different ecclesial and Jewish communal contexts, and we hold different understandings and definitions of Torah observance. Some of us consider the observance of mitzvot such as Shabbat, Jewish holidays, and the dietary laws as an essential component of fidelity to Torah. Yet we all understand that our attempt to live in radical discipleship to Yeshua (in conformity to teaching such as that found in the Sermon on the Mount) is the foundational principle of Torah observance. Furthermore, we all understand our faithfulness to Israel’s Torah as a commitment to promote an awareness of the Jewish roots of the Church.

You can read the Berlin statement in its entirety on the Helsinki Consultation website.  You can also see my previous posts on the First and Second Helsinki Consultations.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Quote of the Day: Daniel Boyarin on the suffering Messiah in Isaiah 53

"This commonplace view [that Isaiah 53 was distorted by the Christians from its allegedly original meaning, in which it referred to the suffering of the People of Israel] has to be rejected completely. The notion of the humiliated and suffering Messiah was not at all alien within Judaism before Jesus' advent, and it remained current among Jews well into the future following that--indeed, well into the early modern period. The fascinating (and to some, no doubt, uncomfortable) fact is that this tradition was well documented by modern Messianic Jews, who are concerned to demonstrate that their belief in Jesus does not make them un-Jewish. Whether or not one accepts their theology, it remains the case that they have a very strong textual base for the view that the suffering Messiah is based in deeply rooted Jewish texts early and late. Jews, it seems, had no difficulty whatever with understanding a Messiah who would vicariously suffer to redeem the world."

from The Jewish Gospels, pp. 132-3

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Quote of the Day: Heschel on God as "the Most Moved Mover"

"...if we put aside the categories and logic of Greek philosophy and try to understand biblical religion in its own terms, we will soon discover that the God of the bible is not Aristotle's impassive, unmoved mover at all; he can only be described as "the Most Moved Mover." Between "unmoved" and "most moved" lies the vast gulf that separates Aristotelian/philosophical and biblical/religious conceptions of God. According to the Bible, the single most important thing about God is not his perfection but his concern for the world. God created the world and from that moment on exhibits concern for his creation. The God of the Bible is not aloof but involved, not distant but near, not immune from, but vulnerable to what happens in his world and what his creatures to do. In a word, God seeks intimacy. He is especially 'in search of man,' desiring relationship and cherishing the hope that, out of this relationship (the biblical term for the fullness of this relationship is covenant) will come proper human actions and just societies. God has a stake in our behavior. Thus, he cries when we fail and rejoices when we succeed. He weeps when we ignore widows, exploit orphans, and abuse strangers; and when we violate the norms he has taken pains to communicate to us, he angrily sends prophets to chastise and warn us. What all this means is that God is filled with feeling, with pathos. Strange as this might be to Aristotle, it is the very essence of biblical religion and of the Judaism that arose from it. "

Alan T. Levenson, Introduction to Modern Jewish Thinkers,
"Chapter Thirteen: Abraham Joshua Heschel," p. 215

Monday, May 7, 2012

New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado expresses 'puzzlement and disappointment' with his friend Tom Wright's reading of Romans 9-11

When I first discovered N. T. Wright in college, I was thrilled by his papers and lectures on Jesus and Paul.  Wright has a special knack for reading Biblical texts as both a historian while simultaneously bringing out their relevance for today's church and today's world.  (I still recommend learning from Wright's reading of the New Testament: just head on over to and select the first thing that looks interesting!

It was only after reading and listening to Wright for several years did it suddenly dawn on me that, although Wright's new perspective on Paul had hugely impacted my own thinking, I actually had progressed beyond his position towards a reading now referred to as "the radical perspective on Paul."  While I continued to appreciate his erudition, I was no longer convinced by his reading of Paul, which to me was supersessionist.

It turns out that I'm not the only one confused by Wright on this point.  In Paul and Israel's Salvation: In Dialogue with Tom Wright, respected New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado writes:
I’ve re-read his essay on Romans 9–11 several times now, and my copy is heavily marked with indications of my puzzlement and disappointment at numerous points. I will simply say that I remain of the view that in Romans 9–11 Paul’s protracted and repeated concern is the fate of his people, fellow Jews, in light of his firm conviction that Jesus has been made now the one source of salvation, and the large-scale rejection of the Gospel by his people. For Paul, it seems to me, the issue boils down to this: If his ancestral people have simply gone into a ditch permanently, then “the word of God has failed” (Rom 9:6), and/or God has abandoned his people (11:1) to whom he made promises. And if God can be so defeated by Jewish unbelief in the Gospel, or can turn from his promises to Jewish ancestors, then God’s character and redemptive power are under suspicion.

I don’t see how one can read 11:25-32 as envisioning anything other than Paul’s surprising declaration that God will ultimately triumph over the present Jewish unbelief in Jesus and secure the redemption of all. Just as Paul asserts that in God’s secret plan (“mystery”) the large-scale Jewish unbelief actually is serving (in Paul’s time) to promote the “fullness” of Gentile salvation (11:25), so Paul seems to me to say that God will double back and bring also the corresponding “fullness” of Israel (11:12) into salvation. Just as all people (including Israel) have been disobedient, so God will scoop all nations (including also Israel) into eschatological salvation (11:32). And for Paul that means salvation through the Gospel of God’s Son.
 If you want to read a brilliant analytical mind at work, don't miss Hurtado's responses to his commenters.

HT: Derek Leman, who beat me to the punch in publishing a post on this very same article.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What does a Bing Crosby song have to do with counting the omer?

A post by Audrey Merwin on URJ's (Union of Reform Judaism) Ten Minutes of Torah blog this week opened up with this teaser:
In the movie, White Christmas, Bing Crosby croons:
When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings1
Crosby, playing the entertainer, Bob Wallace, sings this lullaby to calm the fears of a worried youngster. His warm, soothing tones give substance to the words and create a setting of hope and comfort. What if anything does this have to do with the commandment to count the omer? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
To find out what the connection is, read the article here:

Ten Minutes of Torah - Counting Our Blessings

Don't miss Merwin's connection to justice for the poor...and while you're at it, remember the needy during this season of counting our harvests, and make a donation to your favorite charity.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Learning from Levertoff: "Prayer and Love" (Part 2)

Here is Part 2 of me discussing "Prayer and Love" from Love and the Messianic Age by Paul Phillip Levertoff.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Popular Blogger (and Patrilineal Jew) David Wilensky Explains His Decision to Do a Conversion

A lot of debate was stirred up earlier this month when popular blogger and patrilineal Jew David Wilensky* wrote an article for Forward entitled "What Would You Call Me: Patrilineal Jew Laments Need for 'Conversion'.  Wilensky did actually get a conversion, and, what's more, he defends his action as the right choice for someone in his situation: a Reform Jew whose commitment to Jewish life enables him to participate at a high level in synagogue (i.e. aliyot, leading davening) but whose patrilineal descent paradoxically places him outside the pale of halakhic Jewish identity for the Conservative synagogue he is currently attending.  A quote:
Bette reichman,
My conversion was at once both absurd and a practical necessity: absurd because I know that I have always been a Jew, and a necessity because of my increasing disinterest in the corners of religious Jewry where my Jewishness goes unquestioned. I wanted to participate fully in the ritual life of the synagogue I happen to attend. To do so honestly, I had to take the plunge.
From Wilensky' followup blog post (cross-posted to Jewschool), it seems that his decision is making quite a stir in some circles.

I'm personally not at all surprised by this turn of events.  The Reform movement's decision to recognize patrilineal descent occurred in 1983, and Wilensky is part of the first generation of Jews to grow up after that decision.  (For this reason I--and many others--find his decision to be a notable development.)  A growing post-denominationalism among our generation of Jews--combined with a strong sense of personal identification with and connection to klal Israel across denominational lines--set the context for Wilensky's decision (and also explain why I empathize with him).

* formerly of The Reform Shuckle; now at well as editor at New Voices

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Jacob Fronczak on Hebrews and Supersessionism

Readers interested in non-supersessionist readings of Hebrews may want to give Messianic blogger Jacob Fronczak's graduate-level paper on Hebrews a read.  Surveying the current scholarly conversation on supercessionism in Hebrews, he covers the perspectives of Richard B. Hays, Mark Nanos, Walter Breuggemann, and Markus Bockmuehl, among others.  In addition to reviewing an argument by Morrison in favor of a Jewish audience for the book*, Fronczak also presents Jesper Svartvik's appeal to Middle Platonism as undergirding the book's thinking---an observation which, according to Fronkczak, can help to resolve what otherwise appears (to Nanos and others) to be an over-realized eschatology on the part of the author of Hebrews. 

Fraonczak also includes this gem from Markus Bockmuehl:
“The superiority of the New Covenant introduces not a new people of God so much as a newly energized worship of God – constituted around the definitive and permanently efficacious sacrifice. It is that difference in which the discontinuity of the covenants subsists, not in the identity of the people of God or even in their faith.”
Fronczak concludes by presenting his own developing view, which "substantially vindicates the broader Evangelical perspective that sees Hebrews as fairly interpreting and appropriating Old Testament scriptures, and building strong continuity with the Old Testament people of God....[yet] differs from the standard Evangelical reading of Hebrews in that it retains a high view of Judaism, the Jewish people, and the Mosaic Law." One last quote from his view:
Hebrews’ community, in the light of Jeremiah’s oracle, may have perceived itself not as a new people of God to the exclusion of (the rest of) Judaism. Rather, their existence is evidence of the coming age, and the imminent fulfillment of God’s promises through Christ. Like Christ Himself, they are the first-fruits, a down payment, as it were, on the promises of God, which remain yet to be fulfilled.
Looking to dig into the book of Hebrews?  Let Fronczak shed some light on it for you:

Response to Nanos: Renewed Covenantalism, Not Triumphalism or Supersessionism

* Keep in mind that the title Hebrews was applied later by tradition, which is understood to have been inferred based on the content, rather than on direct knowledge of the audience.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Joel Willitts Reviews Daniel Boyarin's The Jewish Gospels

If you're not following New Testament scholar Joel Willitts, you should be.  He's the one working with David Rudolph on Zondervan's forthcoming compendium of essays entitled Introduction to Messianic Judaism.

In his review of Daniel Boyarin's recent release, Willitts focuses in particular on Boyarin's claim that "Son of Man" is actually a divine title, derived from Daniel chapter 7.  This leads Boyarin to the surprising conclusion that

The theology of the Gospels, far from being a radical innovation within Israelite religious tradition, is a highly conservative return to the very most ancient moments within that tradition, moments that had been largely suppressed in the meantime-but not entirely . . . It follows that the ideas about God that we identify as Christian are not innovations but may be deeply connected with some of the most ancient of Israelite ideas about God (47).
Willitts has this to say:
Irrespective of the highly speculative nature of Boyarin’s argument, the claim that Daniel 7 contains both ideas,  individual and corporate, with one not outstripping the other is interesting. What’s more, the assertion that two divine beings is a thoroughly Jewish idea is extremely provocative. I have not studied the issue of the Son of Man sufficiently enough to have any definitive evaluation. However, I think Boyarin’s argument could open up new trenches for research.
Read the entire review here: The Divinity of Jesus in Early Judaism

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Learning from Levertoff - "Prayer and Love"

Here is Yahnatan discussing "Prayer and Love" from Paul Philip Levertoff's Love and the Messianic Age.

Monday, April 23, 2012

New Bible translation...into Hebrew?

"Why Is the Newest Bible Translation in Modern Hebrew?" Biblical Archaeology Magazine asks in an interesting recent article.  In typical fashion, one of its translators answers the question with a question:
“How many Israelis know that an egla meshulleshet [Genesis 15:9] is not a triangular cow but ‘a heifer of three years old’? If they studied [the new translation] the RAM Bible, they would know because it is translated as such: egla bat shalosh.”
The article describes modern Hebrew as "a hybrid of ancient Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Romanian and other languages."  It goes on to hint at some of the more controversial translation choices (spoiler: ha-shamayim v'ha-aretz is rendered simply as "the world").  But at the end of the day, the translator admits, "I lose. The Bible is much more beautiful than [my translation].”

Of course, this is different than another Bible translation into Hebrew which I wrote about recently: the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels.  On a personal note: while my Hebrew studies growing up were almost entirely in modern Hebrew, I have found that it was enough to enable me to jump in reading and translating Biblical and rabbinic Hebrew.  A dictionary and/or grammar are never too far out of reach though...and I'm always learning.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

(Belated) Happy Birthday to E. P. Sanders

That's Covenantal Nomism (Not Covenantal Gnomism)!

With everything going on in the calendar last week, I almost missed the opportunity to point out the birthday (April 18) of New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders.   "Who's that?" you might be asking.

E. P. Sanders is known for achieving a paradigm shift in how New Testament scholars understand first-century Judaism.  Stuart Dauermann explains:
Sanders is one of the grandfathers of the New Perspectives on Paul.  In his blockbuster first book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and in subsequent texts, he set out to consider methodologically how to compare two (or more) related but different religions; to destroy the view of Rabbinic Judaism which is still prevalent in much, perhaps most, New Testament scholarship; to establish a different view of Rabbinic Judaism; to argue a case concerning Palestinian Judaism (that is, Judaism as reflected in material of Palestinian provenance) as a whole; to argue for a certain understanding of Paul; and to carry out a comparison of Paul and Palestinian Judaism.

He is best remembered for his exploration of what he terms “covenantal nomism.”  This term names his conviction that for  Judaism, “obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such. It simply keeps an individual in the group which is the recipient of God’s grace.” (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 420) In other words: “obedience is universally held to be the behavior appropriate to being in the covenant, not the means of earning God’s grace.” (p. 421). For Sanders, “Israel’s situation in the covenant required the law to be obeyed as fully and completely as possible … as the only proper response to the God who chose Israel and gave them commandments” (p. 81).
In the conclusion to his Messianic Jewish response to Sanders' "new" perspective on Paul, Dauermann writes:

This is certainly not the Paul I was introduced to fifty years ago. But also, this is not the version of Judaism that most Christians I know of entertain . . . We can and should still commend the gospel. But we absolutely do not have to nor should we denigrate Judaism to do so!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Yom HaShoah: Make a difference in someone's life

Today is Yom HaShoah.  In addition to remembering and memorializing victims of the Holocaust, I hope we will all do something make a tangible difference in the lives of those who are still with us.  Judah Gabriel said it well in "Help! We Need More Than Lip Service.":
about_rilkaToday is Holocaust Remembrance day, and surprising to many, thousands of Holocaust survivors are still alive today. And, if you can believe it, many of them live in abject poverty. It’s pretty freakin’ sad that the people who endured the worst kinds of torture and persecution are the ones still suffering now, while the rest of us live comfortably and securely.

Instead of writing some nice lip service on your Facebook wall about Holocaust Remembrance, how about donating a few bucks to Chevrah Humanitarian? Chevrah is a group that sends food and aid to Holocaust survivors and other poor in Israel and the former Soviet Union. I trust this group intimately, having known the founder for several years, knowing him to be an upstanding and righteous man.

So, do something good for a change. Make a donation to Chevrah, even if it’s just few bucks. It will help Holocaust survivors. 
You heard the man.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Call to Remember

I had the privilege of writing the weekly drash for the UMJC last week (head on over to if you want to check it out).
Due to previous scheduling, I was also on tap to give the message at Beth Messiah this past Saturday. Given that I had already written the drash, I decided to use it as the foundation for my message.

Below is the message given at Beth Messiah this past Saturday April 14, 2012.

I want to talk today about remembering or the function of memory.

What is its purpose?

In order to dig in in a meaningful way we must first have a definition. There are few related definitions
a.   To bring to mind, or think of again
b.   To keep in mind for attention or consideration
c.    To retain in the memory
There are others, but these fit the modern idea of remembering accurately.

While I am generally not a fan of defining or describing something by saying what it is not, I believe in this case it may help illuminate my point if I do so here.

What is the opposite of remembering? Forgetting.

In a 2006 article Professor Victor Shepherd wrote:

“To forget in modern discourse, is simply to have an idea or notion slip out of the mind. To forget a person is simply no longer to have the idea of that person in one’s consciousness.”

But he isn’t done. He goes on to say:
“But in the Hebrew Bible to forget someone is much more serious; to forget someone is to annihilate that person, obliterate him; destroy him. When the Israelites cried to God not to forget them they didn’t mean, ‘Be sure to think of us once in a while.’ They meant ‘Don’t annihilate us; don’t blot us out.”
Within this context
“forgetting has to do not with ideas but with living realities. In the same manner to remember has to do not with recollecting notions but with living realities.”
If remembering and forgetting are so tightly knit to our lives and our lifestyles is it any wonder why we see so many warnings against forgetting in the Torah?

Deut 4:9- “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. “ It goes on later to say “Make them known to your children and your children’s children“ but that’s for another day =-)

Deut 4:23- “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God…”

Deut 6:12- “…then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Deut 8-11- “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today.”

Deut 8:14-“…then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

And we read in 1 Samuel 12:9 the consequence of Israel’s forgetting- But they forgot the LORD their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab and they fought against them.

Ok…so enough about forgetting! I said I was going to talk about remembering, didn’t I?

I recently read that Jews are not simply commanded to believe the Torah, but that commitment to faith in the Torah also requires the act of remembering. Whether it is remembering the Shabbat, or remembering to blow the shofar at the appointed times; the call is to “Remember”.

Of course, this “remembering “is not simply an action of our brains recalling events; tied to these remembrances are actions designed to shape not only our thoughts, but to transform our very reality.  

Professor Shepherd wrote:
“To remember is to bring a past event up into the present so that what happened back then continues to happen right now – and is therefore the operative reality of our existence.”
Every morning this week I woke up and got out of bed. I walked to the kitchen and found myself staring at matzah. Dry matzah. Even looking at it makes my mouth yearn for water. "Oh yeah, I remember. No bread." I am sure that this experience is familiar to many of us. Yes, this is part of how we remember God's rescue of the Israelites from Egypt. This is how Jews are commanded to memorialize the journey that the Israelites undertook in hast one day long ago. Jews all over the world are re-enacting and identifying, through personal experience, God's wonderful deliverance from slavery into freedom saying "I do this 'because of what Adonai did for me when I went free from Egypt'" (Exodus 13:8). Remembering is at the heart of who God has created us to be and what he has called us to do.

Of course, this deliverance from Egypt was just the beginning of Israel's journey. Following the exodus, G-d provided manna.
He brought them to Mount Sinai.
There he gave them the Torah and established an everlasting covenant with them.
He tabernacled among his people.
He led them to victory over their enemies and into the Promised Land.
He promised the Messiah.

In modern times, we stand poised to remember the victims of the Holocaust. Next week on April 19th The State of Israel will deliberately come to a complete standstill at 10 am for 2 minutes. Amidst the sound of sirens people will stop talking, stop walking and even stop driving- deliberately altering their normal routines in order to remember.

As disciples of Yeshua there is another vital call for us to “Remember” that is intimately tied to this Passover season: “Do this in remembrance of me”.

Luke 22 brings us to the evening of Yeshua’s last meal. He asked Peter and John to go ahead and find a place where they could all eat the Passover meal together.  While at dinner Yeshua “took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:17-19 ESV)

One of Yeshua’s last acts with his disciples was to give them and us a memorial, a ceremony whereby we purposely disrupt our normal routine, quiet ourselves and actively engage. Through our participation today we are able to, in part, join that final meal and we are able to keep close the memory and reality of his sacrifice for all of us here and now.

What unfolded back then, altered forever those whom it touched. To this day Yeshua’s sacrifice continues to actively operate having the power to forever alter those who continue remember/commemorate/memorialize it.

Through our participation we are also actively remembering Yeshua’s promise to triumphantly return and set creation right. We remember and hold fast to the promises that Israel will once again be “a crown of beauty, in the hang of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” When Israel will “no more be termed ‘Forsaken’ “, and when the “land shall no more be termed ‘Desolate’”, but instead she will “be called ‘My Delight Is in Her’” (Isaiah 62: 3-4 ESV). While scripture is clear that God has not forgotten his people we still see instances of people crying our to God asking him to “remember!”

In Exodus32:13 we see Moses interceding on behalf of the Israelites- “Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel, your servants to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’”

Psalm 74 opens with “O, God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed to by the tribe of your heritage! Remember Mt. Zion, where you have dwelt.”

As ones who are devoted to our Messiah, our participation in these memorials is a prophetic plea for God to remember his promises and his people Israel; to once again bring deliverance, redemption and restoration to His people and to all of creation. That what was announced in Yeshua’s death and validated by his resurrection would finally and completely come to pass.

Deut. 7:18-19 says "Remember... the mighty hand and the outstretched arm with which the Eternal your God brought you out [of Egypt]."

As we close out this season of Passover let us continue to remember in full not only HaShem’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt but also the redemption of the entire world through Yeshua’s sacrifice. May each of us remember with solemnity and gratitude the Mighty Hand that reached into our past and guides our present and may we continue to look forward, filled with faith and hope, at his outstretched arm reaching into our future.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Quote of the Day: "decent behavior precedes Torah"

"It is a mistake to think that halachah is limited to certain religious rituals, or even to the manifest mitzvos, e.g. Shabbos, kashrus, etc. How we behave in our daily activities and interact with other people is also a matter of halachah. Indeed, proper conduct is a prerequisite for Torah observance, as the Midrash says, "Derech eretz kadmah laTorah," decent behavior precedes Torah (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3). The guides to this aspect of halakhah can be found in Ethics of the Fathers.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, Visions of the Fathers, p. 3

Monday, April 9, 2012

Yom HaBikkurim, urban legend

The title of this blog post is meant to catch your attention.  "Yom HaBikkurim, urban legend"!  Can it be true?

Well, not exactly.  Let me explain.

In Messianic Jewish circles, I regularly encounter references to the first day of the omer count as "Yom HaBikkurim."  I grew up with this being taught to me and continue to encounter it both on blogs and in books.  (Not to mention the omer count debate.  Seriously...don't mention it.  Not going there on this post.)  [Update: The reason for this teaching is to justify using the name Yom HaBikkurim as a "kosher substitute" for the term "Easter," the latter being something a non-sequitur of a name for those who didn't grow up within a tradition that uses it.  The underlying assumption is that Yom HaBikkurim is the Biblical holiday on which the resurrection of Yeshua took place.  For examples, simply Google "Yom HaBikkurim."]

However (unless one of you can persuade me otherwise), I'm strongly leaning towards the conclusion that "Yom HaBikkurim" refers not to the first day of the omer count at all--but rather, to the day AFTER the LAST day of the omer count.  In other words, Yom HaBikkurim is not a complete urban's another name for Shavuot.

Let's start by considering Numbers 28:26:
On the day of the firstfruits, when you offer a grain offering of new grain to the Lord at your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work.
This verse equates "the day of firstfruits" (yom habikkurim) with "your Feast of Weeks."  A.k.a. Shavuot.

Case closed, right?

No--there's more!  Let's check out Leviticus 23--the chapter that holds all the answers, right?
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it." (Lev 23:9-10)
Let's see: waving firstfruits, day after the Sabbath ...maybe (ignoring Num 28:26 for a second) this is Yom HaBikkurim?

I see two problems with this reading.  The first problem is that "firstfruits" are also mentioned later on in the chapter:
...count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord. (vv. 16-17)
and again in verse 20:

And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest.
The second problem is that the word בִּכּוּרִים, bikkurim, does not appear in Lev: 23:9-10.  (Say what?)  That's right, the reference to "a sheaf of the firstfruits" in 23:10 is actually a translation of the phrase (עֹמֶר רֵאשִׁית, omer reisheet).  When the word bikkurim does appear in verses 17 and 20, it is referring to Shavuot.

I am aware of the section of mishna Zeraim called Bikkurim, but in my (limited) searching so far, I've seen no reference to the first day of the omer count as Yom HaBikkurim.  Strong's concordance 1061 also seems to concur with me here: "day of the first-fruits (Pentecost) Numbers 28:26."

In support of the first day of omer count as Yom HaBikkurim idea, I have only two observations (neither of which I find convincing):

First, many Bibles have a header above Leviticus 23:9-14 such as "The Feast of Firstfruits."  While that certainly predisposes readers of those Bibles to see that passage as describing such a festival (even leading some Biblical conspiracy theorists to speculate about why the feast of firstfruits "disappeared" from the Rabbinic calendar), it hardly constitutes an authoritative interpretation of the passage itself.

Second, there is the statement by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:20:
But in fact Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 
Paul is certainly using the language of harvest to describe Messiah's resurrection.  But I'm not convinced we can infer that the first day is "Yom HaBikkurim" in any official sense solely on this basis...only perhaps in a symbolic sense.

We might also ask whether Leviticus 23:9-14 is meant to be read as a distinct section from 15-22, but [see below] rather than going on, I think I'll simply close by restating my thesis as a question:

Is there any basis for referring to the first day of the omer count as Yom HaBikkurim?  Show me what I'm missing, friends!

Oh yeah, and happy Omer/Bikkurim to you all.

Update: I'm sure I'm not the first one to point this out.  So, wrong or right, if you want to point me towards articles addressing what I bring up here, I'd appreciate that too!

Second update: I had briefly suggested that perhaps Lev. 23:9-14 and 23:15-22 were not two distinct units, but verse 15 brought me back to reality: "From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks."