Tuesday, June 13, 2006

From the Desert of Paran

This focus on the community came together with some other things going on in my life at the time. I have always struggled on and off with my prayer life, and I had tried some different strategies to revitalize it. I tried what essentially amounted to Orthodox Christian fasting. (My intention was to mimic Coptic Christian fasting, but I could find only limited sources on that in particular, and the difference is somewhat negligible anyway.) I tried praying with a Jewish siddur (prayer book). These strategies would help for a while, but eventually the strain of doing them on my own, with no communal support, would become too much, and I would give up. I had also noticed how it seemed that Evangelicalism is afraid of tradition—that it will not admit when it has a tradition, and often changes its strategy so as not to create what might look like a tradition. Similarly, it calls itself non-liturgical, but the same general set of songs is sung regularly, the service is configured more or less the same way from week to week, and the prayers use similar language and themes. I thought that a community that took more seriously the role of tradition and its own influence on the way its members read would at least be more honest. So it came into my mind that if I were ever to make any real progress, I would need to seek out and join myself to a traditional community.

Orthodox Judaism was a natural first place for me to look. I had had some interest in Judaism from an early age anyway, and it had grown significantly in recent years. A friend had introduced me to Chaim Potok’s books, which portrayed for me a world in which study was devotion—not entirely unlike Evangelicalism, but with a great deal more depth. Also, I was studying Semitic languages, so the idea of praying in Hebrew and studying the Talmud in Aramaic appealed to me. If I had to pick some tradition, this seemed like a good candidate. I started to gather information—browsed what I could find on the Internet, signed up on some e-mail lists—even concluded that if I were going to convert, it would have to be an Orthodox conversion. But I never really took any meaningful steps. Perhaps if I had bothered to deal with the New Testament the way I had with the Old, I would have concluded that Jesus was probably nothing more than a popular Jewish teacher whose followers got carried away after he died. But I could not really see myself rejecting Jesus as Messiah, and it seemed inevitable that I would be expected to do so explicitly, since I was coming from such a strong Christian background. I also knew that my wife would never go along with it, and I was not prepared to give up the expert status I had earned within Christianity to start over as a convert who was expected to absorb and accept, not to question and challenge.

I thought for a while that Messianic Judaism might be a suitable compromise. An acquaintance had introduced me to a type of Messianic Judaism that teaches Torah obedience for all Christians. I figured I could get at least some of Jewish tradition, including Talmud study (since there’s no comparable Christian source to consult for the application of Torah to daily life) and prayer in Hebrew, without giving up faith in Jesus or asking my wife to leave Christianity. Since I wouldn’t have to go through any type of formal conversion, I could keep my expert status and jump right away into the debate over what faith and practice ought to look like. The one nagging problem that I had with the idea was the role of tradition. In this respect, Messianic Judaism would not be much different from what I already knew. It would pick and choose from Jewish tradition whatever was determined by individual study to be appropriate. And the whole system was based on a reconstruction of early Christianity that depended on sufficient scholarship and might one day be overturned as easily as it had been established. I thought for a time that I could get past this problem, but ultimately I could not.


Anders said...

Hello! I found your website. My name is Anders Branderud, I am 23 years and I am from Sweden.

You haven't yet realized that the historical pro-Torah Ribi Yehoshua and the post-135 C.E. anti-Torah Christ are two different persons.

So who then was the historical Jesus?

The first century pro-Torah Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah - said:

"Don't think that I came to uproot the Torah or the Neviim [prophets], but rather I came to reconcile them with the Oral Law of emet (truth). Should the heavens and ha-aretz (the land, particularly referring to Israel) exchange places, still, not even one ' (yod) nor one ` (qeren) of the Oral Law of Mosheh shall so much as exchange places; until it shall become that it is all being fully ratified and performed non-selectively. For whoever deletes one Oral Law from the Torah, or shall teach others such, by those in the Realm of the heavens he shall be called "deleted." Both he who preserves and he who teaches them shall be called Ribi in the Realm of the heavens. For I tell you that unless your Tzedaqah (righteousness) is over and above that of the Sophrim and of the [probably 'Herodian'] Rabbinic-Perushim (corrupted to "Pharisees"), there is no way you will enter into the Realm of the heavens! “
Netzarim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu 5:17-20.

For words that you don’t understand; se www.netzarim.co.il ; the link to Glossaries at the first page.

Ribi Yehoshua warned for false prophets who don’t produce good fruit = defined as don’t practise the commandments in Torah according to Halakhah (oral Torah). See Devarim (Deuteronomy) 13:1-6.

If you don’t follow Ribi Yehoshuas Torah-teachings, than you don’t follow Ribi Yehoshua.
So you need to start follow the historical Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah – by practising Torah!!

Finding the historical Jew, who was a Pharisee Ribi and following him brings you into Torah, which gives you a rich and meaningful life here on earth and great rewards in life after death (“heaven”)!

From Anders Branderud
Geir Toshav, Netzarim in Ra’anana in Israel (www.netzarim.co.il) who are followers of Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah – in Orthodox Judaism

Trevor said...

Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the effort, but I think I've seen enough of this viewpoint to have made an informed decision. As I said in the post about the kind of Messianic Judaism I was exposed to, there's a major problem in my opinion with any system of belief that bases it self so completely on a historical reconstruction of what Jesus or early Christianity must have really been like. Historical reconstructions are fleeting, and eventually the system will have to ossify into dogmatic faith with no connection to current historical research, or it will have to change its basic tenets. The former is just one more (very recent) attempt at doing what religions have been doing for millennia and offers nothing truly new. The latter is too fluid to form a basis for serious faith. At best it meets the needs of some individual or very small group, but it cannot last.

Having said that, if the outcome of what you're saying is to re-cast this historical Jesus as just another Pharisee rabbi, then it's just a convenient way to defend conversion to Rabbinic Judaism. It may be useful as far as it goes, but personally I would feel better just accepting Orthodox Judaism as it stands. Not that I'm inclined to do either at this point, but there's my opinion, for whatever it's worth.