“Rabbi, How Can I Be Jewish If I Don’t Believe In G-d…?”

 

The Jewish Chronicle has introduced a fab new feature. Each week, it puts a reader’s question to two Rabbis. Here is the most recent one; I think it will be of some interest to both Jews and non Jews alike, as it is on the topic of Jewish identity:

 

Question: I was brought up Jewish, I am a Zionist, and I am proud to feel Jewish. However, I might not believe in God, I cringe at many practices undertaken by our (and any) religion, I am not kosher and I struggle to motivate myself to go to synagogue. Am I, and how can I, be Jewish?

 

Response from Rabbi Naftali Brawer (United Synagogue):

You were born and raised a Jew, you are committed to the state of Israel and the Jewish people – and you wonder if you can be defined as Jewish?!

Being Jewish is an all-or-nothing scenario. You either are or you are not. There is no such thing as varying gradations of Jewishness. The scrupulously observant Jew is no more Jewish in essence than the most non- observant Jew. Where these two Jews differ greatly is in their commitment to Judaism.

The observant Jew takes his Judaism seriously. He is steeped in its history, culture and traditions and he structures his life around its teachings. The non-observant Jew on the other hand does not live his life in accordance with Torah’s teachings. This may make him an apathetic Jew but it in no way detracts from his core Jewishness.

The question you ought to be asking is not whether you are Jewish but whether or not you are living life Jewishly.

I would argue that to a large extent you are living Jewishly. One of the most important expressions of Judaism is the feeling of responsibility and connectedness to other Jews which you clearly have.

As far as your doubts about the existence of God, your phrase “I might not believe in God” betrays a deep inner struggle. This is not the language of a hardened atheist but rather of someone who is wrestling with faith and doubt; something that any intelligent person of faith will experience at some point or another.

I would however encourage you to try to learn more about the meaning behind Jewish ritual and practice. There is depth and beauty in all of God’s mitzvot. Sometimes, at first glance the beauty is not apparent.

Yet by studying their meaning and embracing their practice, one comes to appreciate their power to positively transform our lives and to enable us to connect with the Creator.

 

Response from Rabbi Jonathan Romain (Reform)

You have asked the wrong question. Assuming that your mother is Jewish, then you are Jewish. It is as simple as that.

The better question is: what sort of Jew are you?

This highlights the fact that there are so many different ways of being Jewish – for some it is a matter of heritage and descent; for others it is about faith and belief; for others it is to do with culture and the way we think, laugh, eat and behave.

Some Jews mix all these elements together in their lives, others select some of them, and all are right when they claim a Jewish identity.

This may sounds rather unsatisfying – so much better to have a water-tight definition of Judaism that all can recognise – but it is one of the ongoing mysteries of Judaism that it cannot be neatly packaged.

That is why we can have people who call themselves “atheist Jews” : you cannot be an atheist Christian – you have to believe – but there are many Jews who have Jewish parents, subscribe to Jewish ethics, identify with Israel, support Jewish charities, appreciate Jewish history, bring up their children likewise, but do not believe in G-d. Rabbis may not approve of them, but that does not make them non-Jewish.

Perhaps it might be ideal if you did all of the above and were a person of faith, but if that was the only sort of person allowed to be Jewish, then we would disappear very quickly and be far less colourful or creative.

It means that you are far from being an outsider, but part of a significant group within the Jewish community who value certain parts of Jewish tradition and not others.

The best way forward for you – and the many like you – is not to focus on what you do not like about the community, but get involved in the aspects that do attract you. Eat what you like, but participate in Jewish social action groups. Do not go to services, but help promote links with Israel among both Jews and non-Jews.

Have your own beliefs, but support interesting projects happening at your local shul; and if there are none, then initiate something and advertise it on the internet and elsewhere for others like you. You are far too Jewish to let all your energy and pride be wasted.

Advertisements

20 thoughts on ““Rabbi, How Can I Be Jewish If I Don’t Believe In G-d…?”

  1. You’re pretty much correct.

    Now, there are certain bodies of Christianity who will tell you that there is an unequivocal definition of what is and is not Christian. Nonetheless, there are so many people who have adultered the term, it’s losing it’s effectiveness. So, most sane Christians just let it go, roll their eyes, knowing in their own mind what the difference is and move on.

    We’re much quicker to defend theology than terminology. I won’t let someone disgrace God’s name by their teaching. I could care less what people say about Christians–unless it violates the aforementioned.

    What is fascinating about all this etymology (study of words) is that “Christian” was originally a derogatory term used in Antioch to mock followers of Christ. So, there’s no reason to defend the word as much as their is to defend the faith–and we can distinguish between the two.

    I believe the same is true for “Jewish” although my history could be off. It was a slang term in the Roman empire (or at least it’s derived from some slang term, though I’m sure the latin pronunciation was different) by which the Semitic people from the Roman province of Judea were called, and not in a respectful manner at all. I don’t think it originally had any religious connotiation, but quickly evolved, as words often do, to connote what we call today Judaism. Interesting, the word “jew” is not in the Torah.

    Can you imagine how a person might react if you told them you were a part of Israel, instead of saying, “I’m a Jew.” They’d respond, “Oh, you’re from Israel.” You might say back, “Well, descended from, you mean. I’m not an Israeli citizen, no, but I’m from Israel.” Now how’s that for a conversation starter?

    I do the same thing. “Oh, you’re a Christian?” I say back, “What do you mean by Christian? I’m a follower of Christ.”

    “What’s the difference?” they say… and boom, I have a conversation open.

  2. Cheers for your comments Nick 🙂

    I get it now, I think. You’ve hit the nail on the head; yes, the two faiths totally differ on how identity is defined.

    Let me make sure I’m understanding: Christianity is a *private* faith – you as a Christian have a personal relationship with Jesus, as do all others who would also define themselves as ‘Christians’. If you meet someone who identifies as a Christian, it may be that you don’t agree that they are representing the Christianity that you know and honour. But neither you, nor any ONE Christian body, could assert that they are NOT a ‘christian’?

    Am I understanding this properly?

    Judaism is entirely different and this is where we’ve been misunderstanding each other.

    Judaism is far more ‘legalistic’. No Jew can, individually, decide on what is or is not a Jewish belief. Rather, Jewish religious law, or **Halacha**, is the objective and final arbiter of what is Jewish or is not.

    So for example: I can guarantee you that there exists not one single Jew who would ever suggest that a Jew can also be Christian, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Pagan.

    This is because Halacha says that no Jew can have dual religious identity. Thus a Jew that becomes a Christian = a Christian, and an Apostate Jew. They retain the Jewish heritage, as nothing can alter that they were born into the Jewish family. But they cannot claim to ‘be jewish’.

    This is not to deny in any way that Judaism and Christianity stand on some of the same teachings. ‘Love thy neighbour’ is a basic tenet of both our faiths, as you and I both know 🙂

    I hadn’t realised until now that there is no authoritative structure that defines, absolutely, who is and is not a Christian. So it’s been extremely helpful now that you’ve explained that to me.

    The authoritative structure, then, in Judaism, is Halacha.

    So if I meet a person at a dinner party, for example, and they claim to be Jewish, and then mention that their mother is not Jewish, then I can say, 100% that they are NOT Jewish. Because Halacha says so.

    And every single Rabbi in the world would say the same.

    The *only* time any ‘jew’ will say differently, are the tiny number of Messianics who were, originally Jewish, but are now practising Christians who belong specifically to the Messianic movement. And as they have removed themselves from Judaism, they can’t speak for Judaism.

    I think this illustrates, yet again, that theologically Christian is more complex. Christian identity seems, to me, now, to be more complex in some ways than Jewish identity.

    And while our faiths differ profoundly on matters of identity and theology, there are some fundamental links and similarities that I fear get lost sometimes between Jews and Christians – but hopefully inter faith dialogue can remedy this 🙂

  3. Tabatha,

    Thanks for the response. I didn’t mean to sound “tense” – I certainly don’t feel that way. I think my emotional reaction hinged on the phrase “entirely separate faith” from which I conjurred up the impression of imposters or outsiders with no rightful claim to the Old Testament. I’ll admit that you didn’t *say* that, rather I *heard* that. Sorry.

    As to your second question, perhaps this is why I struggle to understand your staunch position on what IS and IS NOT “jewish.” I think our respective faiths differ in the way members of our faiths would identify themselves.

    You see, there is no authoritative structure for what is “Christian.” Sure, each group makes their own definition and might say that they regard another group as non-Christian, but there is not a rigid, wholly and universally accepted set of definitions.

    Additionally, I’m going to make a leap here, but I dare say the same may be true in Judaism. Respecting your beliefs entirely, we have to admit that your views on what are or are not Judaism are not the views of all Jews. It may be the “correct” view according to traditional Judaism. Nonetheless, I bet I could find a liberal Jew somewhere who has no problem saying you can be a Jew and be a Christian. He’s still Jewish. Yet you disagree with him. You’d even say he’s wrong. The same thing exists in Christianity.

    My reaction to defining Christianity, then, has been notably different than your reaction to defining Judaism. I have laid down the title “Christian.” If someone tells me they’re Christian these days, I’m inclined to ask what they mean by that. I’ll tell others who call themselves Christian that we are not indeed of the same faith. But, I wouldn’t tell someone they’re not “Christian” b/c to them, the term has a different definition in their mind. They might just think all you have to do to be Christian is go to a church with a cross on it at least 2 out of 3 Sundays, or some other liberal understanding.

    My goal is not to defend a term. My goal is to defend the glory of God. If the word “Christian” is defamed, oh well. If it gets abused and morphed and the real meaning eventually gets watered down so that nobody really knows what it was supposed to mean back in the 1st century, oh well.

    I live to make sure that people honor and glorify God, not a label that historically described people who did so. I call that Christianity, but I have to be much more descriptive than that. I call it “orthodoxy” — “reformed” — “Christ Follower” — etc. I don’t believe you can glorify God and be pluralistic, humanistic, or naturalistic. I don’t believe you can be amoral.

    It’s not easy for me to define what is and is not “Christian.” I believe Winston Churchill said (of a totally different topic), “I can’t define profanity, but I know it when I see it.” Same applies here.

  4. It’s a work in progress 🙂

    I’ll let you know when it’s on my blog, I’m hoping to have it finished within the next few days 🙂

  5. I understand your point that Christianity is based on an interpretation of the OT. I’ve never said otherwise.

    And yes, the Torah can be interpreted in a variety of ways – but again, I’d refer you back to the post where I used the Chess anaology. Even with Torah study, there are parameters.

    And once you interpret the Torah in a way that contradicts the very core of Judaism, then of course, for Jews, in our view, it’s a MISinterpretation. Just as it would be a total MISinterpretation if I insisted that the Christian bible actually said that Jesus was a mere mortal and NOT divine!

    ~That would be a MISinterpretation from a *Christian* viewpoint, would it not…?

    I’d also ask that you note I did state that *some* versions of the OT are extremely reliable. I NEVER EVER said that all Christian translations and versions were mistranslations etc. I stated – correctly – that some are.

    I also would ask you to recall that I did mention the historical context, albeit very briefly. I don’t want to dwell on it but you can’t have a conversation on this topic, I don’t think, without acknowledging that historically (I am in NO WAY implying anything about today’s Christians!) the Christian interpretation OF the Jewish scriptures WAS used to try and invalidate Judaism. This is a simple statement of fact – I am not in any way seeking to mispresent Christianity nor Christians! Nor am I stating nor implying that ALL Christians sought to invalidate Judaism. *Some* did.

    Nick, you also said:
    ‘I guess I really am just struggling to see how you can have writings as late as the 16th century which continue to enhance, modify, and change the way you read the Torah… and all of those are just fine so long as they don’t do one thing: present the theory that Jesus was G-d in the flesh. Whereas, for a Christian to perform the same kind of exegesis of the text–albeit very very very different from any theology or interpretation that you are comfortable with–you see as ludicrous and unfounded. ‘

    Please note that I NEVER said that anything about Christianity was ‘ludicrous’!!!!!

    ‘Unfounded’ yes, in terms of naturally I don’t agree with the Christian interpretation of the Torah. But I never stated nor implied that any Christian beliefs were ‘ludicrous’!

    Jews haven’t ‘changed’ the way Torah is studied and interpreted. We’ve always approached it in the same way. Even before, for example, the Talmud was completed, there was ‘Oral Torah’, it just wasn’t in written form.

    And we don’t say that Christians don’t have the right to intepret Torah in their own way. What we state – perfectly logically – is that if a Jewish person concludes that, and affirms belief in, Jesus as ‘god in the flesh’ then that Jew has violated Jewish beliefs.

    I can’t see anything illogical in that statement. And again, surely there are times when a Christian interprets the Christian bible in ways that are deemed ‘wrong’ or ‘heretical’ or ‘inaccurate’?

    What happens if a Christian reaches a belief that Jesus was not the messiah? What if they then start arguing that this is ‘shown’ in the Christian scriptures?

    You’re surely not saying that this would be an acceptable ‘view’ or ‘interpretation’ of your bible?

    I know that you are totally familar with Jewish theology and that you are aware of the following, but just for anyone reading who is less knowledgeable, I’m going to define the specific Christian beliefs that contradict Torah and Jewish ideology:

    Virgin birth – Jews don’t believe in this

    Resurrection of Jesus – Jews don’t believe that anyone can be resurrected until the maschiach comes

    Vicarious atonement – Jews do not believe that anyone can die for the sins of others. In fact, the Tanakh specifically states that this is not possible.

    G-d takes human form – this belief is a total contradiction to Torah and Judaism. We believe that G-d is G-d and man is man. The two never mesh/mix/co-exist in one form.

    Jesus as ‘divine’ – for Jews, this is ‘blasphemy’. Judaism has always had as a core tenet that NO human can possibly be ‘divine’.

    So it’s not just that the early Christians took a certain ‘view’ about Jesus. Christianity represented an entire array of beliefs that contradict Judaism.

    I have a question: I understand, and you’ve also helped to explain on your blog, that there are differences of opinion between the various Christian groups. What are the specific beliefs that, if contradicted, would render a Christian an EX Christian, as agreed by ALL Christian denominations?

    I’m sorry that our exchanges have become a tad tense; I’ve really been enjoying hearing your thoughts and have tried to answer your questions as best as I can.

    And I am of the firm opinion that, theological differences aside, both Judaism and Christianity have great, moral values at their core.

  6. Nick,

    To continue responding; you said:

    ‘The Christian faith, all of our theology and basis for our belief structure, is based on an interpretation of the Old Testament. And, you yourself have said it can clearly be interpreted in countless ways. Don’t misrepresent the Christian faith as some imposters based on your experience with a specific group of Messianics. ‘

    My aim was never to ‘misrepresent’ Christianity.

    And where did I EVER state or imply that Christians are ‘imposters’?????????????????

    Clearly I have caused offence. It certainly was unintentional. If you read all of my comments on Christianity, then you can see, surely, that I have never expressed anything BUT respect for – and indeed interest in! – the Christian faith!

    And again, if you look at everything I’ve posted on Messianics you will see that EVERY SINGLE TIME I have clearly stated that they are a *****specific***** group that DO NOT represent all Christians.

  7. Nick,

    I’ll try and respond to your points one by one.

    1) You said: ‘My particular interest was in the fact that when some Jews in the 1st century posited one “view” in which they accepted that G-d had appeared as a man, they are called polytheists and no longer Jews.”

    Let me clarify. We do not regard Christians as ‘polytheists’. Why would we? Christians do not worship an array of deities. Christians worship ONE G-d – just as Jews do. Be assured the vast majority of Jews hold this view and would not describe Christianity as ‘polytheism’. Granted, Christians conceive of G-d in a different way to Jews, but we recognise that you too are worshipping ONE G-d.

    As to why the first believers in Jesus were no longer Jews… At first they probably were deemed just a heretical Jewish sect. But again, remember that the early Christians didn’t just state that Jesus was ‘god’ and ‘maschiach’. There were/are many other beliefs associated with belief in Jesus that contradict Judaism.

    Also, remember that it was the early Christians themselves who petitioned Rome for separate status to the Jews!

    Let’s imagine that a group of Christians subscribe to most of the core Christian ideas – but they decide that while the idea of Jesus is great, they don’t think he actually existed. Would you not agree that they would no longer be Christians?

    Same with Judaism. Those that followed Jesus and then affirmed belief in his resurrection, his divinity, his status as ‘maschiach’, his death as a vicarious atonement, his ‘virgin birth’, could no longer be Jews because they were blatantly contradicting Jewish ideology.

    Another key point: the majority of the early Christians were not Jews to start with. Yes, some were, of course. But when Paul found he could not persuade the Jews to abandon Torah and worship Jesus, he preached to the Gentiles and Pagans – who of course were not Jewish. So Christianity fairly swiftly became a religion with no Jews in it.

    The ‘view’ that Jesus was divine, was not just a ‘view’ in terms of its relation to Judaism. It was and is a total violation of Torah and Jewish beliefs.

    How can anyone belong to any faith, while espousing a belief that violates said faith’s core tenets…???

  8. Tabatha,

    As I read through your replies, it seems you’ve done a good job of telling me that, indeed, there are many views on the Torah and ways to interpret it. But, with all due respect, I already knew that. That wasn’t my question. My particular interest was in the fact that when some Jews in the 1st century posited one “view” in which they accepted that G-d had appeared as a man, they are called polytheists and no longer Jews.

    You then stated “it’s really quite strange that members of another, entirely separate faith, take those Jewish texts, translate them, re-intepret them, and THEN turn around and insist that the original religion has been ‘misunderstanding’ or ‘blinded’ or ‘ignorant’ of their own scriptures for the past few thousand years!”

    I want to make the point that this is an inaccurate and unfair caricature of Christianity.

    First, I dare say that it’s not unheard of for one group of Jews to hold to a position so strongly that they might argue that another group has misunderstood or is ignorant. People tend to argue in black-and-white. Especially when we become adamantly convinced of an issue, there’s a right and a wrong in our minds.

    Secondly, to use a term like “entirely separate faith” misses the point grossly. The Christian faith is based solely on an off-shoot of the Jewish faith. No, not the Jewish faith as it exists today. The split happened 2000 years ago. But it’s nonetheless a fallacy to state that Christians were some totally foreign party of people that came in, read your scriptures, and then just morphed them for our own uses. That would be like aliens coming to earth, reading the U.S. constitution, and then telling us how it’s to be used. That’s simply not the picture of Christianity and the Old Testament.

    The Christian faith, all of our theology and basis for our belief structure, is based on an interpretation of the Old Testament. And, you yourself have said it can clearly be interpreted in countless ways. Don’t misrepresent the Christian faith as some imposters based on your experience with a specific group of Messianics.

    Now, mistranslations do occur, that is undeniable and unfortunate. Any Christian scholar, however, would agree that it’s important to get to the original Hebrew and do our best to make certain we’ve translated accurately and to the best of our ability. As I study and teach, I nevertheless refer back to lexicon and commentaries to get into the original language as best I can.

    I guess I really am just struggling to see how you can have writings as late as the 16th century which continue to enhance, modify, and change the way you read the Torah… and all of those are just fine so long as they don’t do one thing: present the theory that Jesus was G-d in the flesh. Whereas, for a Christian to perform the same kind of exegesis of the text–albeit very very very different from any theology or interpretation that you are comfortable with–you see as ludicrous and unfounded.

    I am NOT trying to say that you should welcome Christians or “Messianic Jews” as Jews, just trying to point out the paradox in your logic and to make sure you don’t wrongly caricature our faith.

  9. Right, to continue…

    There is also a belief in Judaism that the Torah has 70 facets. ‘Shiv’im panim la Torah’ in the Hebrew – translated, it literally means ‘There are 70 faces in the Torah’.

    Another Jewish belief is that *everything* can be found within the Torah. That, when studied properly, it contains past, present and future.

    If we wanted to venture into the more mystical aspects of Judaism, we could also say that for any Jew, immersing onerself in the study and interpretation of Torah is viewed as actually participating with G-d in the creation of the universe!

    So as you can see, the Torah is far from being a literal document.

    Some students study Torah for hours at a time, every day; they spend every free moment studying Torah.

    Also, I should mention that there are four distinct levels of approaching the Torah:

    p’shat = literal

    remez = the hint

    d’rash= the moral

    sod = the secret

    When one reaches the fourth level, one is entering Kabbalah, the mystical side of Judaism.

    I won’t go into any more detail, but I hope I’ve perhaps partly managed to convey why it is that not everything in the Torah is taken literally and why some laws are followed and others are not.

    You mentioned the Messianics in your post. They claim to study Torah but what they actually do is simply read it and back-engineer Jesus into it.

    Messianics do not study Oral Torah (Talmud) and they don’t show any respect for the complexity of Torah. Now, again, of course that is their right, to study as they see fit – but when they THEN go around posing as ‘the real jews’ and insist that they and ONLY they ‘truly study Torah’ it’s really appalling.

    If you ever get a chance to visit a Jewish Yeshiva and observe Torah students spending hours, sometimes days and even weeks debating and analsying one line or paragraph in the Torah, I highly recommend it 🙂 It’s hard to convey in words the Jewish reverence for Torah but then again, I think you do understand it, judging from your comments 🙂

  10. Nick, you said:

    “So, it would seem, then, that there exists a pivotal interpretation that, if made by a Jew, immediately nullifies their identity as a Jew would be the interpretation that the one G-d can exist in more than one nature.”

    In theory, Torah has an endless number of levels of meaning. This is partly why Jews ***never*** study the Torah alone – we always use commentaries.

    One Jewish writer that I like very much uses this analogy for Torah interpretation, in terms of knowing the limits and rules etc: He compares it to Chess. Chess has well established rules, but countless Chess games are played and have been played over many centuries. Torah interpretation, then, also has its own rules (as outlined in the Oral Torah) but *within* these rules there is room for a tremendous amount of diversity and debate.

    – my telephone is ringing, back in a few mins to finish my response

  11. You asked why some laws are taken literally and others more lightly. There are several factors involved in this.

    Firstly, it depends a great deal upon which Jewish movement you are referring to. Orthodox Jews, for example, approach the Torah *more* literally, and will strive to adhere to all the various mitzvot (commandments). By the way (if you already know this, ignore it!) though many people believe there to be 613 commandments for all Jews, this is not so. Not all the mitzvot apply to all Jews. Some are purely for women, some for men and so on.

    But I digress. The more Orthodox the Jewish group, then, the more rigidly they will adhere to the Torah. Conservative Jews are less rigid, but still often very observant. Reform Judaism is the most relaxed of the three main groups – but even here, you will find a huge variety in any Reform congregation, ranging from those who are devout, through to those who are secular.

    Orthodox Judaism views the Torah as being divinely inspired. Reform Judaism may not always agree.

    We also have to recall that there are not just ‘laws’, per se. Rather, there are several different types. I’ll post more detail on this another time if it’s of interest.

    My next post will address your other queries re actual interpretations of Torah.

  12. Nick,

    You also asked:

    “So, if that is the root of such a deep sentiment, why then is the application of it’s other stipulations so loosely held and lightly regarded? How can you be so unshakably certain of your rich heritage and of your G-d’s existence based on these writings, while other parts are re-interpreted or considered “not viewed as a literal document?”

    Response:
    The Torah is not a law book – though many refer to it as such. Perhaps the closest word we have that fits is ‘instruction’. The Torah represents G-d’s instructions. But – you can’t learn about Jewish laws from the Torah. The Jewish religious laws are not fleshed out in the Torah. Nor will the Talmud always provide the exact way to follow the laws. The Torah and Talmud are the *basis* of Jewish law, but the actual laws and the specifics of how to observe them and which ones are to be taken literally, are found in several codes of law that were set up over a long period of time. For example – the SHULCHAN ARUCH. This was compiled in the 16th Century.

    We also don’t regard the Torah as a history book. There is a phrase used by many Torah scholars:
    ‘ There is no earlier or later in the Torah’.

    Or to put it more simply: we’re not talking about an historical account. The Torah is not necessarily in strict chronological order.

    Yes, there is history *in* the Torah, of course. But the Torah is not primarily a history book.

    Nor is the Torah something to be taken literally. Here’s an example you’ll be very familiar with, to illustrate:

    ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (Vayikra 24:20)

    Many, many people cite this as meaning that revenge was encouraged by the Jews, way back when. In fact, it does not mean this at all. On the contrary, Torah law opposes acts of revenge.

    Rather, this means that if someone punches you and breaks one of your teeth, you don’t get to do the same back. Instead, they should compensate you materially for the injury. Rabbis say that ‘an eye for an eye’ also refers to some form of monetary compensation, which is required for the damage, the pain, and the ‘shame’ of the incident.

    – more in a minute!

  13. HI NICK 🙂

    Right, to address your queries!

    You commented:
    “… it seems that Jews take quite a liberty themselves to interpret the Torah. However, I’ve been challenged by you during other exchanges that Christians have interpreted the Old Testament scriptures wrongly. As if to say that Jews can, and have, interpret the teachings of the Torah in ways that many might consider quite liberal, but for Christians to present interpretations of their own is out of the question.”

    I should clarify. I didn’t mean to suggest at all that only Jews could and should read the Torah and Tanakh. Not at all. Indeed, I know several non Jews who are currently reading parts of the Torah. I hope that non Jews find it an interesting and enjoyable text.

    And of course, as you have rightly reminded me in another dialogue, Christians have every right to read and then interpret the Torah as they see fit. Absolutely.

    This only becomes problematic because *some* versions of the Christian ‘old testament’ are actually MIStranslated. So it’s not a question of merely a different intepretation – but rather, an incorrect translation. This is not true of ALL OTs – many are very reliable indeed.

    This problem of mistranslated texts, though, is further intensified when ***some*** Christians then go on to state that we, as Jews, don’t ‘really understand’ our OWN scriptures. I have been informed by a number of Christians, in various discussions, that they have a ‘better grasp’ of ‘what the Torah is really saying’ than I, as a Jew, ever can…

    I would argue that any religion told this by members of another faith, would find it problematic. And we have to place this in context: I don’t wish to dwell on this at all, so suffice it to say that historically, one of the tools used by ***some*** Christians to persecute Jews was the argument that said Jews were ‘ignoring references to Jesus’ in the Torah!

    I’m sure you can appreciate that these factors have proved difficult for many Jews. After all, the Tanakh was written by Jews, for Jews, and about Jews. When one actually considers it, it’s really quite strange that members of another, entirely separate faith, take those Jewish texts, translate them, re-intepret them, and THEN turn around and insist that the original religion has been ‘misunderstanding’ or ‘blinded’ or ‘ignorant’ of their own scriptures for the past few thousand years!

    This is not to say, though, that non Jews shouldn’t read the Tanakh. And of course, I totally understand that many Christians find it interesting to do so because Jesus would have read the original Hebrew scriptures, in Hebrew – just as Jews throughout the world do today.

    So that’s my first comment on your post – I hope it goes some way to explaining some of my earlier comments…

    I’ll post the rest of my answers in a few minutes 🙂

  14. Hi Nick,

    I’m going to answer this in detail, which is why I haven’t yet posted a response – just wanted to let you know that I hadn’t forgotten about your questions 🙂

    You’re right in that for me, as for most Jews, Judaism is indeed something precious. I’m guessing that you feel precisely the same way about Christianity 🙂

    I shall post a response to your queries either later today or by tomorrow morning (UK time) 🙂

  15. “6,000,000 Jews–6,000,000 Judaisms!”
    (The number is not a reference to the Shoah, but was a witty response to the Jewish-American way of life by an–I think–English Jewish observer. The idea was to point out that every Jew has his or her own sense of what constitutes a “Jewish life.” Tailor-made, if you will.

    Shavua tov!

  16. This is one of the struggles that I have with Judaism. It seems apparent to me through our exchanges that your Judaism is something deeply significant and Sacred to you. There is no other explanation for this than the very tightly woven family lineage that you can trace back farther than any other people group that I am aware of, and of course, the promises of G-d (I shall try to be respectful on your blog) which He delivered and that are recorded in your Torah.

    So, if that is the root of such a deep sentiment, why then is the application of it’s other stipulations so loosely held and lightly regarded? How can you be so unshakably certain of your rich heritage and of your G-d’s existence based on these writings, while other parts are re-interpreted or considered “not viewed as a literal document?”

    It seems very permissive, and thereby irreverent of the Scriptures handed down by G-d (this again reminds me that you’re so careful to observe this 3rd commandment, while violators of the 4th commandment are passively overlooked), for contemporary Jewish sages to ascribe someone’s sin to ignorance, and therefore dismiss any retribution against him/her.

    Leviticus chapter 4 makes it very clear that unintentional sin still results in guilt.

    I’m eager to hear your comments on the above, and now will switch topics…

    Your other statement brings me to a separate point that I would like clarification on. “Torah is not viewed as a literal document in Judaism. Rather, it is something that can be understood, read and intepreted on many different levels.”

    So, if this is the case, it seems that Jews take quite a liberty themselves to interpret the Torah. However, I’ve been challenged by you during other exchanges that Christians have interpreted the Old Testament scriptures wrongly. As if to say that Jews can, and have, interpret the teachings of the Torah in ways that many might consider quite liberal, but for Christians to present interpretations of their own is out of the question. And, may I remind you, that the original Christians making such interpretations of the Torah (and also to a large extent of the Prophets) were indeed Jews–or, at least, of the Jewish tradition up until they professed Jesus as deity, at which point they were deemed no longer Jews.

    So, it would seem, then, that there exists a pivotal interpretation that, if made by a Jew, immediately nullifies their identity as a Jew would be the interpretation that the one G-d can exist in more than one nature.

    Sorry for two topics in one post. I am confident, knowing your familiarity with Messianics, that you’ll have a very substantial response to this and I look forward to it.

    Enjoy your Shabbat!

  17. Hi Nick 🙂

    Yes, indeed, the Torah does say (Ex. 31:14): “You shall keep the Sabbath, for it is holy to you; any one who profanes it shall be put to death. For whoever does any work on that day shall be cut off from his people.”

    And in fact, in Torah law, the punishment for violating the Shabbat is death – by stoning! The person was viewed as one who had betrayed his faith.

    Or, to put it another way: Jewish law defines one who does not keep the Shabbat, as one who abandons Judaism for another religion.

    The Talmud says:”Breaking the Sabbath is like worshipping idols.”

    In reality, historically, stoning was hardly ever used. Yes, it was permissable, but rarely utilised.

    Contemporary Jewish sages maintain that a Jew who violates the Shabbat, is still a Jew; the reasoning is as follows:

    – no one would violate the Sabbath if they truly understood its significance. Therefore, unless we have proof to the contrary, we assume that a person violating the Sabbath is doing so out of ignorance, rather than lack of respect or caring for this most key Jewish ritual.

    And of course, it also depends which Jewish movement you refer to. Orthodox Jews will keep Shabbat – period. They will only break it if doing so will save a life or help someone who is physically unwell, or if there is some form of emergency that is jeopardising a person’s well being.

    Many – most in fact – Conservative and Reform Jews also keep the Shabbat, but not as rigidly, and if they break it, it won’t be such a serious matter as if an Orthodox Jew were to do so.

    As you may know, the Shabbat is the only ritual included in the ten commandments. It is also mentioned more often than any of the other commandments, or ‘mitzvot’, in the Torah.

    In reality, a person is rarely ‘ex-communicated’ or ‘cut off’ in Judaism. Occasionally, it happens when a Jew marries a non Jew; this tends to be in ultra Orthodox communities. And I’ll state publicly: I think it’s totally *wrong* when this happens.

    The only other instance when a Jew ceases to be part of the Jewish family, is if they actively adopt *any* other faith.

    We do have something called ‘cherem’ – which I gather is similar to ‘ex communication’. But it hardly ever, if ever, seems to actually happen.

    The Torah laws, as you can see, were not necessarily taken literally, ever. Torah is not viewed as a literal document in Judaism. Rather, it is something that can be understood, read and intepreted on many different levels.

    Has this helped to answer? If not, do tell me, and I will elaborate further.

  18. Doesn’t your own Torah state that if a person does not keep certain laws, they are to be “cut off” from Israel? Of course, the most preeminent is the failure to be circumcised. But in the giving of the law from Moses, Exodus 12:15, Exodus 12:19, and Exodus 31:14 cite the failure to observe certain religious regulations as grounds for being “cut off.” So, assuming this writer who confesses is not “kosher” has broken any of these dietary laws, or has worked on the sabbath, wouldn’t they be “cut off” from Israel and therefore no longer a Jew?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s