The longing for Messiah and for Frumkeit: Comings and Goyings of a Hebrew Christian

Lwetter at the Roshpinaproject was saying that the story of Melchisedek in the Bible helped him to believe (the New Testament, I assume). At the end of his comment, s/he quotes Hebrews:

The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent: You are a priest forever” Hb7:22 to that same degree has Jesus (also) become the guarantee of an (even) better covenant. Hebrews talks a lot about this. Now whether this actually happened or not I cannot say but I will say using this little tid bit has helped me believe.” (My italics).

Many would find it odd that Lwetter is willing to believe (the Bible) even if s/he doesn’t believe that some/all of the events recorded in it really happened. Reconstructionist Jews, however, would not find this odd at all, because it’s the “story” that counts. It’s story not history – and certainly not His story – that binds the Jewish community together. Reconstructionist Judaism (and Reform Judaism, by and large) would say that it doesn’t matter whether the Babel story is a myth, or (to use a Reconstructionist term) folklore; what is important is that it is a shared myth, and it is the sharing of a common heritage that binds a community together. What matters, in Reconstructionist Judaism, is the binding, not the Book. Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, a reconstructionist Jew, believes that the Torah stories, even if not true in the historical sense, are central to Jewish life. The Torah, she says, is one of the “noblest employments of the mind and soul aiming at knowledge and wisdom.” (See my The Torah: shared myths and other stories in Reconstructionist Judaism).

I mentioned Lwetter’s attitude to “truth” in On a Theme of Mendelsohn: Relativism, Truth and the Need for Love s/he said: “It was also my choice to finally love, respect and observe my Jewish roots by forgiving my long since dead family. Finally seeing that resentment of [Lwetter meant “resentment towards”] my family was a huge part of my reason for switching faiths (from Judaism to Christianity). It’s a balancing act but for me accepting both is my only way to feel at peace and love with my God.” (My brackets).

The problem is that this balancing act can’t last; in fact, either the one or the other must give way to the other; for obvious reasons, of which the two most important are that in Judaism God  is not a Trinity of Persons, not can he incarnate himself, that is, inhabit a human body. Yet, there are Jews, who become Christians/Messianic Jews exactly because (it’s there main reason) God took on flesh. For example, Lauren Winner, in her “Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life” (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2002) says: When people want the quick answer to “Why did you become a Christian, what
attracted you to Christianity?” I tell them, “The Incarnation.” They probably read the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 2:

5Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

13And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”

And again,
“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

14Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

At the end of his interpretation of Isaiah 53, Toviah Singer says:

Over the years, so many Hebrew-Christians have turned to me and pondered aloud as they finally decided to leave the church, “Why weren’t you there with the answers 11 years ago when I first got involved?”  My response is always the same, “The answers to your questions were always there.  I just teach the Bible.”

These Hebrew-Christians were able to saw their see-saw in half and throw the saw away; they had seen the light. The important point is that they were looking for light not warmth. What attracted them to Christianity was certainly not a Christian equivalent of Jewish heimishkeit (homeliness, warmth and friendliness) or frumkeit (a high level of piety), both of which are important aspects of “community.” Nowhere is this sense of Jewish community more intense than in the Kaddish prayer:

“…the underlying power of Kaddish, says Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, is not merely in the instant of remembrance, but in the building and preservation of community. That a minyan (ten adult males) is required to recite it is not a mere halakhic (Jewish law) legalism. Minyan allows us to sustain and perpetuate community.  It is as essential to the mourner as it is to the thirteen year old who becomes a bat or bar mitzvah. Minyan holds the collective social force of critical mass.  In essence, minyan is synonymous with community. This is why so many Hassidic tales extol the virtue of being the tenth person and honor those who fulfill the mitzvah of ‘making minyan.’ The Kaddish is the essence of frumkeit, where the Jewish community feel most close-knit, for there’s no stronger bond to bring a community together than death, the death of a loved one.

A frum Jew performs the mizvot (commandments for the Creator’s sake, for His name (lishma), because He created everything and everyone for his own sake. In God, self-centredness is holiness; in man, self-centredness is selfishness, which is the most basic instinct of not only man but also the animals. This egocentric instinct originates, according to Richard Dawkins in the genes (Dawkins “The selfish gene”). The Jew will tell Christians they worship God for the reward of Heaven (Olam Haba the “world to come”), while the (frum) Jew worships God for the sake of the Name (lishma). Most frum Jews are not perfect; so, their worship is a mixture of lishma and shelo lishma (not for God’s sake). The rabbis, however, advise that one perform the mizvot even if shelo lishma, because it is in the faithful doing of the mizvot that one may attain – even if not often – the state of lishma. When the Jew is in this state of lishma, the egocentric desire for eternal happiness in the Olam Haba (Heaven) is, according to the rabbis, swallowed up in victory, the victory of God’s glory alone; the frum Jew then achieves the ultimate halachic (Jewish Law) ideal: to be a simple Jew:

True “lishma” means we are doing a mitzvah to serve the Creator, in appreciation of what He has given us, and/or in fulfilment of the mission for which we were created. We are doing it for HIM, motivated from within by the drive to fulfil our responsibilities, which is the true definition of lishma. The reward, Olam Habah, happens to be a reality which we should be aware of, but it is not supposed to be the motivating factor” (A simple Jew).

So, a Jew should wish for Messiah to come, not so that He could wipe away the Jew’s every tear Revelation 21:4, and every fear Isaiah 54:14, no; the ideal simple Jew, that is, the ideal frum Jew, should wish for Messiah to come for lishma, for the same of the Name, for the glory of God. Soli Dei Gloria “Glory to God alone” – which is the central doctrine of Christianity as well. The Jew, though, will argue that Christianity (I’m referring here to Protestant Reformation Christianity) has cluttered the glory of God with several other solas: Sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”), Sola fide (“by faith alone”), Sola gratia (“by grace alone”). Solus Christus or Solo Christo (“Christ alone” or “through Christ alone”). Sins clutter the soul. The Jew agrees with that. But Christianity claims to go deeper: not just sins, but Sin; a sin nature. Hence all those extra solas. By rejecting Original Sin, Jews have saved themselves a lot of bother; they’ve rejected the idea of a Saviour who can – chollile – destroy the power of Sin (the law) and regenerate the walking dead. They save themselves through the Law, they say. The Law, sadly, cannot – as circumcision cannot – cut it:

“For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4). It is “sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin” that is the reason for the existence of five solas instead of the sole Jewish sola of Soli Dei Gloria “Glory to God alone.”

The Christian/Messianic Jew will appeal to Augustine’s adage: “Grace, Concealed in the Old Testament, is Revealed in the New.” “This grace, says Augustine, hid itself under a veil in the Old Testament, but it has been revealed in the New Testament according to the most perfectly ordered dispensation of the ages, forasmuch as God knew how to dispose all things (Chapter 27 [XV], Anti-Pelagian Writings). Not only grace – sola gratia – but all the other solas as well are hidden in the Tenach. Soli Christo in the Tenach! Yes:

25 And he said to them (the two disciples whom Jesus had met on the road to Emmaus), “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses andall the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

You simple ones  פתים pethayim, you who have been seduced and deceived (Proverbs 1:22).

We have moved an eternity away from frumkeit; a maddening eternity away, says the Jew. I agree; Christianity is maddeningly eternal and eternally maddening; but an eternity removed from madness. The Jew, of course, would have a field day with the last statement.

Ye simple ones – פתים pethayim, ye who have been seduced and deceived.

The picture I drew of Jewish frumkeit at its simple best may now help us to appreciate the following retort that a Jew made to a Jewish follower of Yeshua (Joseph at the Roshpinaproject): “The close-knit community is one of those aspects of frumkeit that you (Joseph) really miss” (MessianicDrew).

I am a nitwit for giving up on (the desire for) the closely-knit frumkeit But, truth is, I don’t miss most of it. What I do miss is the heimishkeit – the Jewish warmth, the Jewish cosiness, and the Jewish foooooooood! That’s why, as I’m writing this, I’m wolfing on some chicken soup with kneidelech made with real matzo meal. I made it myself. I’ve an idea. Here’s how I can help the Anti-missionaries get those Hebrew-Christians back heim.Take:

2 eggs (size 2), well beaten
3 Tbsp. melted chicken fat or oil (light olive or peanut)
4 Tbsp. cold water
9 Tbsp. (rounded) medium matzo meal
Salt & pepper

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Fashion them into balls. Put them in the pot of simmering soup. Cook for half an hour; then FRES (eat making slurpy, happy warm, homey, communal, not-lonely-any-more noises.

Light, light, you haven’t eaten lighter kneidelech. Once those Christian-Hebrew tongues taste those balls, they’ll see the light. Tovia Singer’s anti-mission will be done. My mission, though, won’t be. Which brings me back to Tovia Singer’s argument that caused those Hebrew apostates to cry: “Why weren’t you there with the answers 11 years ago when I first got involved?” And Singer’s perennial refrain: “The answers to your questions were always there. I just teach the Bible.” Simple.

What does Singer teach? Let’s return briefly to his tour de force, and coup de grâce, his death blow to Christianity and promise of new life to his wayward Hebrew brethren: Isaiah 53.

I know that the popular Jewish position since the crusades is that the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel (all the descendants of Jacob). Two exceptions to this popular Jewish view are Moses Maimonides (Rambam), and – the thorn in the frum flesh – the Chabad Messianics (Lubavitchers), who believe that the suffering servant Messiah in Isaiah 53 is their deceased (?) Rebbe Schneerson. It’s interesting that one of Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith includes the messiah, which he believed – in its simple, surface reading (p’shat) – was the suffering servant in Isaiah 53.

“What, asks Rambam, is the manner of Messiah’s advent….there shall rise up one of whom none have known before, and signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin; for the Almighty, where he declares to us his mind upon this matter, says, `Behold a man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch forth out of his place’ (Zechariah 6:12). And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he shall appear, without father or mother or family being known, He came up as a sucker before him, and as a root out of dry earth, etc….in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which kings will harken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived.” (From the Letter to the South (Yemen), quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, pages 374-5).

The Lubavitchers, as do many Orthodox Jews, lay great store by the Zohar, which says:

“’He was wounded for our transgressions,’ etc….There is in the Garden of Eden a palace called the Palace of the Sons of Sickness; this palace the Messiah then enters, and summons every sickness, every pain, and every chastisement of Israel; they all come and rest upon him. And were it not that he had thus lightened them off Israel and taken them upon himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel’s chastisements for the transgression of the law: and this is that which is written, `Surely our sicknesses he hath carried.'” (Zohar II, 121a, quoted in The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, page 14-15 (translations by S.R. Driver and A.D. Neubauer), KTAV publishing House, New York, 1969). (See Jonathan Sacks).

Rashi, in contrast to Rambam, holds the majority Jewish view that the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is Israel. But then, Rashi also said that Abraham in his old age didn’t laugh AT God’s promise that he would have a son (Isaac “he laughed”); instead, Rashi slaughters the p’shat (simple, linguistic meaning) of the text by saying that Abraham “rejoiced.” (See my The Slaughter of Isaac: An Exegesis of Laughter in Genesis).

At the Roshpinaproject, I asked Frank Errlispopper (a proponent of the Rashi/Singer view of Isaiah 53):

Verse 4 of Isaiah 53,’Surely our griefs he himself bore.You say Isaiah 53 is about Israel. So is “our” and “he” both Israel. If not, how do you see it?”

Errrlispopper replied: “The ‘our’ in 53:4 is the speaker, whose identity is revealed by Isaiah in 52:15 collectively as the gentile kings who are expressing shock about something they’ve just learned in Is. 53:1. The “he” in 53:4, cited as the “man of suffering” in Is. 53:3, is G-d’s suffering servant identified repeatedly by G-d as the Jewish people in Is. 41:8, 42:24, 43:1, 44:1, 44:21, 45:4, 49:3, etc., etc., etc.). Is. 53 is thus a prophetic look at the scene in the dawn of the messianic age in which the gentiles will at last recognize with horror that their historic abuse of the chosen people lacked any redemptive value and was inexcusable.”

So, the typical contemporary Jewish view is that the “our iniquities” and who would have believed our report” are spoken by Gentiles.

Errlispopper expressed to me his hope that “this context has helped you through your ‘grammatical’ difficulties that have you perennially and erroneously inserting Jesus into the Jewish Bible.” Alas, my grammatical difficulties still persist; It’s all those confounded confusing pronouns that slay me. Above, it was “our” and “he;” this time, it’s “you” and “his.” Here is Isaiah 52: 13-14 again. We follow Errlispopper’s (unfalsifiable?) logic:

13 “Behold, My servant (Israel) will prosper,  He (Israel) will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.

14 Just as many (Gentiles) were astonished at YOU (Israel) My people,  So HIS (Israel’s) appearance was marred more than any man and HIS (Israel’s) form more than the sons of men.”

My problem is: How can YOU (Israel) and HIS (appearance) be the same entity? Who will help me solve this pronoundrum. Perhaps my problem is that I’m stuck at the superficial level of p’shat, and should instead be digging for the deeper, the deepest, the secret level – the SOD. I am confident, though, that there are many out there who will be able, if not inclined, to respond to my insufferable gymguistics. I’m the first to admit – I’m simple; a simple Hebrew-Christian. A sorry sod.

Time to p’shat up.

When people want the quick answer to “Why did you become a Christian, what

attracted you to Christianity?” I tell them, “The Incarnation.”


2 thoughts on “The longing for Messiah and for Frumkeit: Comings and Goyings of a Hebrew Christian

  1. My blessing to you is that you summon the courage to discern what you are, and then find the strength of character to be it openly, honestly and unequivocally, without pretense of being something you’re not.

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