In his “Travelling to South Africa: Two very different world views,” Joel Beeke relates a conversation he had with a fellow plane passenger:
“I had a long talk with a very intelligent 75-year-old Jewish woman on the 15.5 hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg. We talked for a while about her job and her family and about interesting things to see in Israel. She has made over fifty trips to Israel, and seemed quite pleased that I was taking notes of a number of her suggestions.
Before long we got to religion. She is a Reformed Jew, is big on women’s rights, and doesn’t believe in the after-life. Her “church” has 1400 members and is led by three Jewish rabbis. They are not looking for a messiah to come, but view the caring community of Jews as “the messianic fulfilment.” Her rabbis preach almost exclusively about horizontal issues, such as women’s rights, how to help the poor, etc., and seldom touch on our vertical relationship with God. They use the Torah as a background reference tool, but don’t really preach from it.
I got close enough to her that I dared to ask her about Jesus Christ. She said that has never read the New Testament, thinks that Jesus was just another rabbi, and sees no need to be born again. I then explained how we as Christians view the gospel, and why we think it is so important that Jesus is also God. I talked to her about our sin, and about our need for the active and passive obedience of Christ as our substitute and savior. She listened carefully, was not offended in the least, but didn’t buy into it. I asked her, “So then you feel that when you die, life is over, and that this life is the be-all and the end-all?”
“That’s right,” she said.
“Pardon me for saying this,” I responded, getting bolder now, “but from the perspective of being a Christian, that seems like such a narrow and small purpose for life. For us as Christians, we believe that this life is like a one-page preface to a massive book—it is only just the beginning. We strive to live all of life in the light of eternity, and anticipate being with Christ forever. ”
“Well,” she said, “I’m not saying for sure that there is no eternity, and no pie-in-the-sky for after this life, but I’m not betting on it. If I can just pass on my moral values to my two children, and they pass it on to their grandchildren, that, to me, is about the best I can hope for in this life.” That was about as far as I could get with this friend. I silently thanked God for His Son and for the biblical and Christian worldview, for its much larger vision of what life is all about.”
A few thoughts
With regard to Jews using “the Torah as a background reference tool, but don’t really preach from it” (Beeke’s companion above) what do Jews think of the the Hebrew Bible? (“Torah” has two meanings: 1. the Five books of Moses, and 2. the whole Hebrew Bible – the Tanach). There are roughly six Jewish movements: Ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and two other groups (which can’t be called “movements” unless in the sense of moving far away from traditional Judaism); these two groups, agnostics and atheists, comprise the bulk of Jews.
– All “ultra-orthodox” (that is, ortho-orthodox) believe, like all “Reformed Christians” (who follow the tradition of the Reformation), in divine inspiration, that is, the scripture is breathed out by God (a better term would be divine “expiration).
– Not all “Orthodox” Jews believe in the divine inspiration of the scriptures.
Conservative Jews consist of a wide coalition with differing views on how the scriptures were revealed. In contrast to the absolute Ultra-orthodox view and the view of most Orthodox, conservatives do not believe that the words of scripture themselves are breathed out by God. Thus the Conservative Jew would judge as unwarranted the extreme care that the Torah scribes took over each letter of the Torah when copying from one scroll to another.
– Reform Judaism. It originated during the French revolution, and was strongly influenced by the “Enlightenment”(which I described in an earlier post), which was a secular explosion of “free” thought that clipped the wings of the Roman Catholic Church. I have selected excerpts from what Reform Judaism says about itself. The full text can be found here.
“The faith and values which drive the journey provide a compelling vision of where we want to get to and offer such direction and signposting as we can make out.”
Comment: the faith and values of the Tanakh compel Jews to take the direction that it commands, which invariably is at odds with “where we want to get to.” It’s not difficult to “make out” the sign posting. The issue is does the Reform Jew want to follow the sign posting of the Tanakh? The Tanakh says – ad nauseam (for those who hate being told what to believe and do – that the majority of the children of Israel hate being confronted by the Holy one if Israel. Get the “Holy One of Israel” out of my face.
“When the Jewish people emerged from the ghettos of Europe, some were – or became – so frightened of what they found that they have rebuilt the ghetto ‘walls’.”
“Some recognise the new reality but are determined not to be changed by it. Reform Jews don’t underestimate the challenge of modernity but can also see that it offers new ways of understanding and thinking which help us grow and add to the meaning and purpose of the journey.”
“Reform Judaism is living Judaism. It is a religious philosophy rooted in nearly four millennia of Jewish tradition, whilst actively engaged with modern life and thought. This means both an uncompromising assertion of eternal truths and values and an open, positive attitude to new insights and changing circumstances. It is a living, evolving faith that Jews of today and tomorrow can live by.”
Comment: Philosophy is man made. Reform Jews – the majority of Jews, in fact – think the Jewish Bible is also man made.
One of the founders of the Wissenschaft des Judenthums (Science of Judaism) movement of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), argued that practices in Jewish history continued to change. He suggested that these changes not only made it easier to live as a Jew but these changes were also faithful to the spirit of Judaism. He advocated that unless Judaism continued to change, it would not appeal to the majority of Jews. Orthodox Jews consider Geiger to be a heretic of heretics. (For a fuller treatment of Reform Judaism see my The Eternal, History and Reform Judaism.
In Reform Judaism, there is not one single meaning to a biblical text. In his “New Words Inscribed on Old Tablets,” the Reform Rabbi Jonathan E. Blake, writes:
“The beauty of Torah stems from the variety of interpretations that can be surmised from its words. God’s wonder and majesty are exemplified within each individual’s commentary, and it would thus be offensive to suggest that only one interpretation of God’s word is valid. The Talmud exemplifies this basic theme, which depicts our basic right to interpret Torah, communicated; namely, that Jewish law is not contained within the heavens, but in the hands of the people ( Bava M’tzia 59b).”
“However, in whose hands does interpretation reside? Similar to the organization of secular society, tradition states that the majority creates and interprets the laws by which the whole must live. Yet with regard to Torah, tradition suggests that God spoke not only to the entire community, but also to each individual standing at the base of the mountain. We were each given the Torah at Sinai, and we are thus each entitled to own and interpret for ourselves each of God’s words. But in interpreting Torah for ourselves we must also consider the interpretations of the past.”
What does the Orthodox Jew think of the Reform Jew’s “we are thus each entitled to own and interpret for ourselves each of God’s words?” Here is the Orthodox Jew, Mordecai Housman:
“Essentially, they believe that you get to decide what to believe. The Torah, they claim, is man-made entirely, and has been continually changed and adapted, despite all evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, despite the fact that the Torah and history show that Judaism has never tolerated dissenters to the Torah’s opinion, they have the chutzpah (gall) to claim that Judaism has always been pluralistic, that the Torah supposedly has never demanded “uniformity of belief or practice.” This, of course, is obviously baloney. Take one cursory look at almost any chapter of the entire Tanach (Jewish Bible), and you’ll find recriminations against people who have even slightly deviated from the Torah’s teachings, even if they adhered to everything else.”
Many people who have a religion don’t believe the supernatural doctrines on which it is based. Joel Beeke’s Jewish traveller calls herself a Reform Jew, and like most Jews believes the “Messiah” is morality. From the conversation, it is clear that the reason why she calls herself a Reform Jew is that she attends a Reform Synagogue. Like most Jews, she doesn’t acknowledge any vertical relationship between God and herself, but only a horizontal connection to other people. What is important to her is loving kindness, where the “caring community of Jews is the messianic fulfilment.” (Beeke above). Caring and sharing is, of course, an important part of religion. In Christianity, however, good works on their own without faith in God, is a skewed religion. Here is a passage from the letter of Paul to the Colossian Christians explainng the relationship between faith and works (moral behaviour):
9 Because of this, we also, from the day in which we heard, do not cease praying for you, and asking that ye may be filled with the full knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,
10 to your walking worthily of the Lord to all pleasing, in every good work being fruitful, and increasing to the knowledge of God,
11 in all might being made mighty according to the power of His glory, to all endurance and long-suffering with joy.
12 Giving thanks to the Father who did make us meet for the participation of the inheritance of the saints in the light,
13 who did rescue us out of the authority of the darkness, and did translate [us] into the reign of the Son of His love,
14 in whom we have the redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of the sins.