|Volume 6 Number 110||Sat Dec 28 23:55:11 US/Pacific 1996|
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Brent A Sims) Date: Fri, 27 Dec 1996 11:59:45 EST Subject: Authentic Judaism I wasn't sure that I belonged on this mailing list, at least not until I read Rabbi Wallach's thought provoking submission. If the annuals of mainstream Jewish scholarship teach us anything, it is that there are no absolutes. Much to the credit of those responsible for its creation, the Talmud itself contains the opinions of differing schools of Jewish thought. Although I don't claim to be a Talmudic scholar, I like to think that the Rabbis intention was to let the rest of us know that authentic Judaism can only be found in the eyes of the beholder. And, more importantly perhaps, that the true essence of authentic Judaism just might be found somewhere in between those conflicting schools of thought - that it can be different for each and ever one of us. If I may take the liberty: If the G-d of the Torah does indeed exist, then that G-d would have the power to make each of us believe as the other does. Assuming that this G-d does indeed exist, then the fact that we have been blessed with the freedom of choice needs to be taken into consideration. Thus, the most authentic of all Jews may very well be those few Jews who are willing to listen and to learn from the many differing schools of Jewish thought. As simplistic as this may sound, maybe that was the point that the Jewish Sages were trying to make clear when they chose to include the story in the Torah of how Jacob came to be known as Israel (Genesis 32:25-29). Shalom Aleichem, Brent Sims
From: Robin Cohen Anderson <email@example.com> Date: Fri, 27 Dec 1996 09:48:25 GMT Subject: Re: Who's Afraid of Messianic Judaism and Why? In "Who's Afraid of Messianic Judaism and Why?", Yaakov Menken wrote: >In order to explain why "Messianic Judaism" is invalid without falling prey >to claims of unfair treatment, I feel Reform must also define _positive_ >parameters. Robin Cohen Anderson wrote: "Any Reform Jews out there can >correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel fairly certain that Reform Jews do not >believe..." But a statement of what Reform does _not_ believe isn't enough >and Rabbi Warshawsky does no better. Now it's my turn to cry foul. Rav Menken left out my _positive_definition later in the article where I wrote: >All branches of Judaism believe we are born with pure souls, and that God >accepts our imperfections, so long as we make a sincere effort to overcome >them. What this effort actually *consists* of is the point of contention; the >underlying assumptions are not points of conflict. I might also add that Reform Judaism teaches that God is incorporeal and indivisible. Any Reform rabbis out there can correct me if I'm wrong. This in itself sets it apart from any form of Christianity (and I don't consider Unitarian Universalism to be Christianity). If we are simply talking about a way to deny MJs a place in Judaism, I believe that stating these simple principles goes a long way. Most Christian missionaries are not even aware that these core principles are central to all forms of Judaism. One cannot simultaneously hold them and subscribe to the belief that a man is God and that a blood sacrifice is required as atonement for sin. Perhaps these principles are so inherent in the nature of our beliefs that we've forgotten to articulate them. Perhaps they are so simple that we are wary of basing our arguments on them. I'm not sure. However, they are currently the basis on which I reject any attempt to convince me that I am stained with sin and require the blood of Jesus to save me. I could argue chapter and verse with missionaries, but why bother when the core principles of Judaism are completely at odds with the Christian paradigm? B'shalom, Robin Anderson
From: Sherwin Rubin <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Fri, 27 Dec 1996 10:19:37 -0800 Subject: Re: Who's Afraid of Messianic Judaism and Why? So many words about J4J's and so little light. Yaacov Menkin, in v109, addresses the crux of the question which is education. There is only one problem that Jews have with the self proclaimed "Jews" of the mesianic cults. We fear that they will ensnare our own children. The problem is that we have failed to educate our children with the tools that would protect them from being exploited by people who's ideas are not acceptable to us. Jews feel an obligation to pass on the core beliefs of the religion simply because our ancestors gave so much to pass the faith to us. This can be done by education in the home for young children and then in suitable schools for them as they mature. There seems to be some agreement that in America, our efforts are not getting the job done. Yaacov says, "Torah-observant" Judaism has a clear set of beliefs." My traditional friends fault more liberal Jews when they say that the Orthodox have a "package" to hand down to their children unchanged from generation to generation. The problem in America is that the "package" is seldom opened like the Chumash given to children at their Bar/Bat Mitzzvah. Posters to the thread "Orthodox Knowledge of History," cite the exclusion of modern thinkers starting with Baruch Spinoza and Moses Mendelsohn as a gap in Orthodox teaching. When European Jews living in fenced ghettos built a fence around the Torah they felt safer by excluding those teachings of Judaism that showed its intelectual superiority to Christianity or Islam. This fence included the Chumash, but left beautiful and inspiring portions of the Tanach ourside of classic courses of study. This fence later excluded the modern thinkers like Spinoza and Mendelshon and anyone associated with the enlightenment movement called Haskalah. The fence excluded the philosophy necessary to appeal to modern Jews living in freedom among the other religions. It left our children starved for spirituality and left them prey to the evangelism of the messianic Jews. Like Christianity in its early days, modern Judaism needs to do a marketing study to find what will sell. We need to search for the strengths and weaknesses of our religion and to rediscover the truths necessary to inspire our children and our fellow Jews. The ability to change is the strength of liberal Judaism. If we concentrate on this strength, we have no need to worry about MJ's, J4J's or any other J's, Christians or Moslems. Sherwin Rubin Arlington, Texas
From: David Howard <EditOnline@aol.com> Date: Fri, 27 Dec 1996 12:24:56 -0500 Subject: Re: Who's Afraid of Messianic Judaism and Why? The quick barrage of responses to my post on Messianic Judaism confirms my original suspicion that we're dealing here with an overheated issue in the Jewish community. What's all the fuss? My basic contention is that Jewish reaction to MJ has decidedly more to do with reverse discrimination, call it Christianphobia, than with theology. In this context I am delighted to read the frank and soul-searching responses of both Yaakov Menken and Robin Cohen Anderson. Both recognize hostility toward Christians in their own background. Menken is more inclined to defend the attitude historically: "It has little to do with theology - we know that our fathers and mothers were brutally murdered by acts of 'Christian love,' yet died with the Shema on their lips. For their grandchildren to betray their memory is like dancing on their graves"; while Cohen Anderson expresses shame: "I'm afraid to say that this prejudice of mine is still dying a very slow and grudging death." Both, however, bring our deep-seated negative feelings out of the closet of denial and shed light on what I view as a key aspect of this issue. One of the common threads in the replies to my original post is what I'll call the Conspiracy Theory of MJ. Can MJ be reduced to a devious fundamentalist movement designed to theologically seduce and brainwash Jewish children? Aaron Rittmaster claims: > The reality is that Messianic Judaism was created and is supported and run, > by fundamentalist Christian church organizations. Messianic Judaism is, for > them, an outreach program. The largest supporters of Messianic Jewish > groups in the United States is the Assemblies of God Pentacostal > Church. They have even produced training This sounds like the kind of seduction/brainwashing explanation of "cults" we've heard so often in the past, purportedly to explain why otherwise "normal" people became Communists, Hindus, Scientologists or "Moonies." I don't buy it, and I think it is demeaning to those sincere and thoughtful individuals who may have embraced religions or philosophies other than those their parents espoused. It's a cheap way of dismissing their legitimacy and is tantamount to calling them insane, or in the psychobabble of the day, "victims." I'm willing to accept Aaron's assertion at face value that there is a strong fundamentalist presence in MJ, including multimillion dollar funding. But I still see no reason to leap from funding and participation to the conclusion that MJ "was created, supported and run, by fundamentalist Chrsitian church organizations." Aaron, like Moshe Shulman in his post, goes on to make the theological case against MJ, why it is philosophically incompatible with Judaism. Fine. Are these critics, particluarly among the non-Orthodox, taking the same trouble to refute all the other "incompatible" components of religions that have been assimilated into Judaism? Alaine says, <<... if, heaven forefend, one of them [her children] wants to be a messianic Jew, I would tell them that that is an impossibility -- they can (preferably :-} ) remain as Jews or they can become Christians, they can't be both.>> But would she apply the same logic if the child became a Freudian, a Marxist, an agnostic, or what the Fundamentalists would call "a liberal humanist"? Speaking of intellectual honesty (the term came up repeatedly in criticizing the MJs), doesn't such honesty require us to recognize that all the above philosophies are just as incompatible with traditional Judaism as Christianity is? Alaine suggests a hypothetical situation of a child who adopts Greek polytheistic beliefs.Here she is getting close to precisely the hypocrisy I see in the Jewish community regarding MJ. I feel certain that if young Jews started incorporating Greek polytheism into their Judaism, people would criticize it, but not nearly with the vehemence and belligerance they direct at MJ. In fact, elements of polytheistic religions embraced by Reform Judaism are commonplace nowadays. Our Reform rabbi, for example, routinely chants the S'hema as a mantra, a device borrowed from polytheistic Hinduism. True, he doesn't mention Devi, Ganesh and Shiva, but you can bet he wouldn't dare incorporate Christian content into our ritual, say the Lord's Prayer. Indeed, some congregation members murmur every so often about crypto-MJs in our presence! Perhaps we need an auto da fe to extirpate them. Again, it is Robin Cohen Anderson who gets more to the point, recognizing, "If my daughter became a Christian she would be met with a great deal of hostility; if she became a Buddhist, she would not." Robin seems to resign herself to the situation: "The reality is that if my daughter became a Christian, she would be all but ostracized from the Jewish community." Pragmatic advice, indeed. I suggest that the burden of this child's suffering would be our responsibility and be rooted largely in our irrational prejudice. Aaron Rittmaster make one other revealing comment: > The concept of "Messianic Judaism", which purports to allow one to accept > Jesus (and Christian scripture) while still being a Jew is contradictory. Well, of course it's contradictory, but since when do we ostracize Jews for merely contradicting themselves? My contention is that we only apply Inquisitorial double standards when it comes to Christian beliefs. Otherwise, we are benignly tolerant and blissfully multicultural. Sincerely, David Howard
From: Lewis Reich <email@example.com> Date: Fri, 27 Dec 1996 18:40:40 +0000 Subject: Re: Who's Afraid of Messianic Judaism and Why? In v6 n109 Eric Simon bravely took up the challenge of dealing with our moderator's question: >[Moderator's Note: In my Moderator's Note that introduced this thread, I >asked if Reform Jews were doing the same thing to Messianics that Orthodox >Jews often do to Reform....] and among other incisive things, said: >To put it more simply: it *is* the Reform position that we *can* draw lines >(and we do). So, can't the Orthodox draw lines, too? Why are Reform's any >more valid than their's? Becuase Reform's are wider? I think Daniel Faigin's question is a useful one, and Eric's response was excellent. However, I think both, in focusing on the fact of line drawing, have missed an essential distinction between the two situations. Orthodox Jews do not generally deny that adherents of the Reform movement, because of that affiliation, are not Jews. (We will leave aside for the moment the questions regarding conversion and patrilineal descent.) The may think that Reform is an "inauthentic" form of Judaism, but they do not rule Reform Jews in a blanket fashion out of the Jewish community. Orthodox and Reform Jews both agree, however, that so-called "Messianic Jews" are not Jews. Belief in the divinity of Jesus has always been a "bright line" issue. One who accepts the divinity of Jesus is a Christian, not a Jew. If he chooses to observe parts, or even all of the Torah law, that does not make him a Jew, only a Torah-observant Christian. One might argue that acceptance of the principles of halakhah as defined by the divine origin of the Torah constitute a similar bright line. It may, but even if so the line is different. Accepting the divinity of Jesus renders one a "mumar", an apostate, one who has changed his/her religion. Rejecting the divinity of the Torah or the ultimate authority of traditional halakhah might render one an "apikoros", a scoffer, but would not mean one was no longer a Jew. [Moderator's Note: To the Orthodox, acceptance of anything less than the full responsibility of mitzvot, or not believing in the Orthodox understanding of Tanach as the word of God, is an equivalent bright line, even though that line isn't bright to us in Reform Judaism. This is what makes the problem so vexing, and one that may not be solvable. Yet we still must strive to understand each other. -- DPF] Lewis Reich
From: Jerry Blaz <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Sat, 28 Dec 1996 19:04:31 -0800 (PST) Subject: Re: Who's Afraid of Messianic Judaism and Why? I am afraid of Messianic Judaism, and I will tell you why. I see too much ignorance of Judaism among Jews. Because I am a liberal Jew, most of the Jews I see and have contact with are liberal Jews. Only ignorance of Judaism can convince someone that Hebrew Christianity or Messianic Judaism or J4J is anything but Christian. While I understand that the history of Reform has some efforts among early Reform leaders that can be construed as assimilationist, the ability or willingness to assimilate in a given historical situation has always been extremely subjectively understood. For instance, I saw the American Council for Judaism as an assimilationist group. Now we have a phenomenon where Jews take the "sh'mad" and do not even realize it. They believe that they still are Jewish, and this can only be the barren fruit of Jewish ignorance. How can they accept the divinity of a human being? Because they are not really acquainted with the Jewish messianic tradition. So what is the difference if you are waiting for the arrival of the messiah or the return of the messiah? To an ignoramus there is no difference. What is the difference that Christianity lays on all humans the sin of the eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, a sin that can only be wiped out through the blood of Jesus the Christ, or that the Jewish belief states that evil was let out into the world by disobeying God and eating the fruit? The Jewish belief leads to Tikkun Olam(repair of the world). The Christian belief leads to baptism and partaking in the Eucharist. So even a child is condemned to hell until the child is baptised according to most Christian belief. For me, as a Jew, considering all newborns sinners is a theological abomination but that is no problem for those who don't know their Jewish tradition. The greatest evil facing Jews, illiberal or otherwise is this ignorance, and the way Jewish education has failed for the majority of Jews. (This is a real anomaly when the demographics show child education is the main reason for synagogue affiliation.) Mordechai Kaplan's original vision of the American-Jewish community envisaged communal institutions, and one of them primarly would be the school. But we have congregational schools, some Ok, some indifferent, some good, some bad, so many Jews are not given a proper Jewish education. The results can be seen in the ignorance of the members of the Jewish community about their Judaism. Too many Jews have understood the idea of freedom of religion to be ignorance. An education should not stop but really begin at bar mitzvah. Judaism is not an opinion, Jews must gather knowledge, read the books, understand the contexts in which these books were written, what they meant to the Jews of different times, and what they can mean to us today. This goal is not only missing among liberal Jews, but traditional Jews also. What about traditionalists? They study Jewish texts, and therefore they believe that they're not ignorant. However, that is not true, because their education does not context the composition of a text that they study in the social conditions in which it was composed. For the most traditionalists, the social context of the Shulchan Arukh's composition being a Muslim society means nothing or even less than nothing to the traditionalist. So the Shulchan Arukh's greater stringency is accepted without context. For me, that means acceptance without understanding, but accepting it on the authority coming from God, no less. The fact remains that many traditional Jews converted to Christianity. Given the number of years that Jews have been crossing over to Christianity, and the comparatively rather brief history of what we call liberal Judaism today, I can be certain that, in actual numbers, more traditionalists have cross over than liberal Jews. The reasons why were not always ignorance, but for the opportunities the sh'mad entailed. Rabbis could become Bishops. Disraeli became a British Prime Minister. Heine became an honored German poet. And there were the Pfeffercorns, this is the name I give to a list of rabbis, etc., who crossed over and became the experts who argued against the Talmud in the famous disputations between representatives of the Church and the representatives of the Jewish community as preludes to persecutions, pogroms, and expulsions. Pfeffercorn is the actual name of one of the most notorious of them. Often, when we are attacked for our Jewishness, we become very willing to make it our cause celebre. But when we become too comfortable in our Judaism, it loses its importance to us, and when acceptance and tolerance towards Jews is strong, many of us devalue our Judaism and carry it on our arm. This seems to be a justification for ignorance. This is the sin of the liberal Jew, IMHO, but there are other ignorances. I believe that the substitution of authority for knowledge is just as serious. Jerry
From: Ruth Levenstein <RuthEllenL@aol.com> Date: Sat, 28 Dec 1996 22:23:31 -0500 Subject: Re: Who's Afraid of Messianic Judaism and Why? David Howard asked: "Why do we see such hostility expressed toward self-proclaimed Jewish Christians instead of dialogue and outreach?" I'd like to have a go at this. Others have done a good job of both at expressing and explaining the hostility. I'd like to tackle the issue of dialogue and outreach with Messianic Jew's. The assumption has been that Reform Judaism is in some kind of catch-22. Either they accept MJ as a legitimate expression of Judaism, or they have to give up their ideal of respecting individual choices. The implication is that MJ's have pushed that ideal to the extreme. This could not be further from the truth. MJ is an authority, truth-based religious system. Jews who become MJ's have not only converted from Judaism to Christianity, they have also adopted an authoritarian approach to religion. Dialog between Reform Jews and MJ's would be almost impossible because these groups have vastly different approaches to religion. MJ's would want to examine scripture and relate their personal experiences all with the assumption that this will help to reveal the ultimate truth. Reform Jews would say that truth is subjective and very personal. Orthodox Judaism would have better luck dialoging with MJ's as they could at least agree on the search for the one authentic expression of Judaism through study. It sounds like the group Jew's for Judaism does this by addressing MJ on their own terms. Those who are attracted to MJ or other evangelical Christian groups are generally seeking a certainty that liberal religion does not offer. Their needs would best be met within Judaism (as many have already stated) by knowledge of and access to serious traditional Jews. However if their need is to be part of the larger society their only option within Judaism is to make alliah. (unlikely !) As an aside, there certainly are Jews who leave Judaism for a liberal brand of Christianity. (Check out Unitarian and Congregational churches across the country.) These needs could perhaps be met within Judaism by vibrant and accessible liberal Jewish movements. (Reform, Reconstuctionist, Jewish Renewal, and Humanistic Judaism) In either case the cost of leaving Judaism is loss of community. (One does not have to be excommunicated to experience this.) The fact is, if you move beyond the boundaries of your group, as defined by the group, then you will need to seek out others like yourself and commune with them. (pun intended!) And that is exactly what happens in both instances. Ruth Levenstein
From: Lawrence Raphael <email@example.com> Date: Fri, 27 Dec 1996 06:48:43 -0800 Subject: Announcement: Reform Judaism Winter Retreat We are pleased to announce to subscribers to Liberal Judaism that the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is sponsoring a Spirituality and Study Retreat in West Palm Beach Florida, March 6-9, 1997. If any of you are interested in further information, send a note to our email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Larry Raphael (UAHC) Rabbi Kerry Olitzky (HUC-JIR)
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