Gazelles

Have you ever wondered why Jewish boys were prohibited from reading the Song of Songs until age 13?  I distinctly remember the first time I heard this as a young adolescent.  Guess what I went home to read that evening?  I also recall my disappointment…”is that all there is to it?”  Now, of course, I realize that a lot went over my head (isn’t God masterful?).

Rabbi Akiva said,

The entire world, all of it, is not equal in worth to the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel. Why? Because all other books in the Writings are holy, whereas the Song of Songs is holy of holies. (Sefer Ha-Aggadah, Section 136 – Song)

So while I have a more mature appreciation of Shir HaShirim these days, one phrase has continued to puzzle me–until today.

Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies. Song of Solomon 4:5 (ESV)

And then I ran into this fascinating insight on the Blue Cord biblioblog:

…He (Marvin Pope) notes that in Akkadian, anpu means “nose,” just as its cognate ap does in Hebrew. But in Akkadian, it also means “nipple.” Hebrew probably also had this meaning, but it is not preserved. So, just as the face of the gazelle slopes down to the nose, so does the breast slope down to the nipple. It is not only a wonderful image but a great play on words as well.

So there you go, you’ve always wondered and now you know.  I have a totally new appreciation for gazelles.

Avinu Shebashamayim

For those who regularly pray from the siddur, I believe you will find this of interest. I have often pondered the specifics of how The Lord’s Prayer fit in to the liturgy of Messiah’s day. Over on the FFOZ blog, Aaron Eby has made a compelling case that the Lord’s Prayer was prayed at the end of the Amidah in place of the standard conclusion known as Elohai Netzor.

The essence of his point is that Elohai Netzor was composed by Mar, son of Rabina, and taught to Mar’s disciples, as was the case with many Sages who used their own custom concluding prayer, and taught it to their disciples. As disciples of Yeshua, it would seem fitting then that we would conclude ha Tefillah with His prayer.

Labels

Much to the consternation of some of my friends (and the glee of others) I persistently describe myself as a “Calviminian”, and since I don’t want this post to be about those two venerable Christian positions, I’ll leave it to your imagination to decide what I mean by that.

However, and this brings to my point, which is more about what we mean by words we use, as opposed to what others understand when they hear the same labels. I read an anecdote on Prof. John Stackhouse’s blog today that struck me as sort of funny and sort of sad, but definitely as an accurate commentary on the status of language and labels today.

The story went like this:

A Presbyterian scholar had finished a public lecture and a questioner then spoke up: “Are you a Calvinist, then?”

The scholar was about to reply affirmatively, but then wisely asked instead, “Well, what do you mean by ‘Calvinist’?”

“I mean someone who worships a God who enjoys damning babies to hell.”

“O-o-o-kay,” he responded. “Then I’m not a Calvinist. But neither is John Calvin.”

I’d recommend the entire post, as it is a good reflection.

http://stackblog.wordpress.com/2006/12/30/geez-am-i-a-liberal-evangelical/

Who Was Yeshua?

It has often been posited on the web that we ought to be following Yeshua as our Rebbe. I absolutely agree. However, who exactly was Yeshua? Was he a Pharisee? Was he an Essene? Was he something else all together?

I seriously doubt Yeshua was a Pharisee.

Of course, just to make that statement is an anachronism–well, sort of. If Prof. David Flusser (of blessed memory) can be believed (and I think he can), there was no such thing as “Pharisees”; rather, the term was one of derision used by the adversaries of the Sages and their disciples. The one exception to this being that when writing in Greek, it seems that they did use the term “Pharisee” (witness, the writings of Josephus and Rav Shaul) to refer to themselves.

“This was the time [referring to the rise of the Karaites ] when the Rabbis began to identify with the Pharisees, without realizing that the word “Pharisees” never appears in the Talmudic sources as a general designation of the Sages (except when used by their opponents).” – Flusser, David. Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, p 27.

In other words, in the 2nd Temple period there was no monolithic, codified halacha, nor a single homogeneous group that rendered authoritative halachic decisions. Yeshua was not a part of the political party who rose to dominance in the wake of Salome Alexandra and John Hyrcanus. However, it is reality that the Pharisees heavily influenced the Sanhedrin and the general populace. As a result, Yeshua would have practiced halacha that was at times so intertwined with so-called Pharasaic halacha as to be indistinguishable.

We must be very careful when attempting to re-construct who Yeshua “aligned with” not to project historical attempts at categorization into the reality that Yeshua actually lived, breathed, ate, slept and walked in. At the end of the day, the line between assuming present day orthodox halacha as a norm and what I am calling for is a very fine distinction. However, I’m unrelenting on this issue, because that fine line is such an important one to observe.

The difference will be a deciding factor in whether our movement slides into legalism. It will be a deciding factor in whether our movement imitates our Master or those who rejected Him. Are we beit Yeshua or beit ben Zakkai ?

This is why I’ve been emphasizing maturity. The temptation to slide into a norm unless it obviously contradicts Scripture is so strong, yet deceptively non-confrontational. But that mistake would lead us down a path we don’t want to follow, just as Christianity has gone down a path of compromise one slight acceptance at a time.

The process of weighing and creating our own halacha as we carefully attempt to interpret Yeshua’s way of walking is a difficult but enormously healthy practice. And that practice ought to be re-worked every generation or two, lest it become codified tradition that the then current generation doesn’t internalize nor truly comprehend.

Some may say, we just need to teach our children to study the halacha that we form. But that ignores basic human nature. Ask yourself what has driven your own passionate re-evaluation of Scripture, of Yeshua, of all things associated with “Christianity”, “Judaism” and the Bible. It was exactly the situation that resulted from generations of believers who didn’t know why the traditions that surrounded them existed.

Let’s commit ourselves to passionately pursuing the imitation of Yeshua and His talmidim. Let’s commit to becoming His talmidim in our own right. But let’s always remember that there is no unbroken chain of custody from His direct talmidim, and hold our decisions regarding what it looks like to follow him in an open hand. Let’s model for our children the process of constantly weighing what the truths of Scripture mean about walking in the dust that Yeshua is stirring up on today’s highways.

Let me also admit here and now that this post is an overly simplistic attempt to address this seriously complex issue. However, hopefully this post will at least prompt positive questions and discussion, because the issue itself needs several books engaged in an ongoing conversation.

Torah, Tradition & Mezzuzot

The following is written in response to the blog of Boaz Michael, which I highly recommend, by the way). There have been a series of blogs concerning the publishing of an upcoming book on mezuzahs and an effort to procure kosher-certified scrolls to go inside of mezuzahs for your door post. Additionally, Boaz has been engaged in an on-going dialog with Russ Resnick from the UMJC about the place of Torah in the life of believers in Yeshua. Resnick and the UMJC think the Torah is for Jews only. Boaz and FFOZ believe the Torah is for all who believe (for all who believe are the sons of Abraham).

All of this is inextricably bound up with the place of tradition. Who defines it, who certifies it, to whom does it belong? Should Gentile-believers in Yeshua keep the Torah? If so, who are the proper authorities for determining what it means to not work on the Sabbath? If we put a mezuzah on our door post, are we beholden to do so in the same manner that orthodox Jews do? Orthodox Jews don’t even believe it is acceptable for a Gentile to keep the Sabbath, but require that if you honor it, that you also break it slightly in some manner.

The following are my thoughts on all this. Some of what I say will only make sense if you’ve read Boaz’ blog and the comments posted there.

I submit to you that the reason the “Sharpie guy” is no longer keeping the commandments is more likely that he had no community joining him in his practice rather than that he was “re-inventing the halachic wheel” or was un-jewish in his praxis.

The key to success is that we agree and have a larger community that agrees (at least more or less) with our halachah, not that we be rabbinically Jewish in our orthopraxy. There is such a fine line between thinking that it would be nice to have a kosher klef and thinking that it’s not ok to write your own. In fact, my guess is that it would be more meaningful and “kavannah-inducing” to labor over your own klef in love, pondering how to evidence your reverence for HaShem and His words, than to pay a steep price for one a sofer penned.

Perhaps we need a “One-Torah” halachah for writing a klef, that might not be a bad idea, but we need to remember that God never specified which of His words to write on our door, nor how to write them—the principle served by creating halachah around this practice is two-fold: 1) to aid in having a proper reverence for Avinu and for His Words, and 2) to aid in forming identity as mitzvoth-keeping, Yeshua-believing, worshippers of God.

We need tradition, indeed tradition is critical to the existence of a community—without it there is no community. However, the most important thing to remember about tradition is that it exists to serve principles, and it must always remain so. Traditions can and most likely should change from generation to generation, but the principles (mitzvoth, ordinances, etc.) remain the same.

In urging an affinity with rabbinic Jewish tradition surrounding how to keep God’s commands, we are one small step away from the UMJC’s mistake of seeking to be recognized as a legitimate Judaism–by Judaisms that reject Yeshua. Whatever their reasons today (which are more than understandable) historically they rejected Him. Jamie Guinn made a phenomenal observation in one of his comments, “They want to connect more fully with “Judaism”, we want to connect more fully with the root of Judaism.”

Why is it not arrogance when a Breslover disagrees in halacha with a Lubavitcher, but it is arrogance when a Messianic forms halacha?

There are plenty of stories of individual observant Jews responding positively to individual Messianics observing various Torah commands (tzitzit, etc.), but there are also cases of individuals having negative responses. The issue is not with the action of the doer, but with the heart of the viewer.

There is a historical reality that we must keep in mind. The goal we are seeking is to return to an authentic representation of Yeshua’s belief system and practice. Rabbinic Judaism is just as different an entity from the religious system practiced by Yeshua as is traditional Christianity. They both formed and defined themselves in opposition to the other, and in opposition to the sect of The Way.

There is just as much danger in appropriating modern Jewish halachah as a sort of default as there is in doing the same thing with evangelical tradition. Not a one of us would consider the latter, why are we so tempted to consider the former?

We were grafted into the root, not into one of its offshoots (rabbinic Judaism). We are seeking to partake of the rich sap from that root, not the fruit that one of its branches (a branch that rejected the historical Messiah…not the a-historical Jesus that Christianity has presented) has produced.

I am the first guy to recommend studying and benefiting from the Talmud and the midrash. It reflects in many ways the cultural milieu that Yeshua and his talmidim were formed and influenced by. Ignoring the ancient Jewish writings is a sure-fire way to misinterpret the 1st century writings of the talmidim.

The approval or understanding of greater Judaism ought not be our concern (at least not a guiding one). They will consider the writing of our own siddur arrogance as well. Is it? No.

Granted, the guy with a sharpie may have chosen unwisely in his attempt to walk out the command. But we need not go the other direction and lay significant value on a kosher klef either. A klef can’t be un-kosher. I must confess mine is kosher…so I’m not arguing against using one. Like Justin said, when it doesn’t violate Torah feel free, but let’s not mistake ‘feel free to use” with “this is the preferred method”.

In my opinion, it would be preferable for FFOZ to produce their own tiny scrolls for mezzuzot in a method involving kavannah, fear of God and respect for His word, then to seek rabbinically kosher one’s. Lest some mistake an effort to procure them (and subsequent premium price) as a need for the approval of those men. What we need as a movement is One-Torah halachah at a high level with local community elders providing specific guidance. Always teaching that tradition exists to potentiate the keeping of commandments as a people/community and serves the principle, rather than the commandments being bound to the tradition.