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."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Was the Last Supper A Passover Seder?

The most recent episode of the Sacred Page podcast features New Testament scholar Brant Pitre (rhymes with "B-tree," not "fighter") defending the interpretation that the Last Supper was indeed a Passover seder.

In case you're not familiar with the issue here, there is an apparent contradiction between the synoptic gospels, which describe the last supper as a Passover seder, and John's gospel, which contains several statements appearing to suggest that Passover night happened AFTER Yeshua's crucifixion.

A number of theories have been proposed to resolve this difficulty: two of the most popular are (1) that Yeshua celebrated an "anticipatory Passover meal" with his disciples and (2) that Yeshua celebrated on Tuesday night in accordance with the Essene calendar, a solar calendar whose existence and usage in the Second Temple period is attested to by the book of Jubilees.

In contrast to these theories, Brant Pitre asserts that the word Pascha/pesach is actually used in four different ways in Second Temple texts, and that it is ignorance of these possible meanings or to the surrounding context which implies one meaning or another that has caused scholars to confuse John's usages of the word pascha,creating the appearance of a contradiction.

Check it out at the Sacred Page podcast: Brant Pitre on the Date of the Last Supper

Oh, and chag sameach, everybody.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Reclining at the seder table

Have you ever wondered about the whole "tonight we recline" line in the haggadah?  These two self-described "text geeks" they decided to hold their seder last year in ancient fashion.
...formal meals during the classical rabbinic period were conducted in the format of the classical world. Diners reclined on couches to take the Meal of Freedom, in the manner of the aristocracy of the time.

Nowadays we sit up to table for the Meal like usual, but we “recline” by leaning on our elbows on the table just like our mothers always told us not to. Sometimes with cushions, which knock over glasses and bang into one’s neighbour.

Ever since I was told this, I’ve wanted to conduct a seder reclining, with couches, but that is hard when you are always a guest at someone else’s seder.

This year, however, planning seder with Mar Gavriel, I said “I’ve always wanted to make seder on couches,” and he, being similarly geeky and eccentric, bounced and said “Me too!”

So we did. We dismantled the dining table and made couches from mattresses. We draped many drapes, found tiny tables, arranged cushions upon which to recline, and presented a seder in Ancient Greek style.

Check out the full article at Jewschool.