A Hungarian Contribution

Jun 29, 2009 at 11:57 PM

This last Shobbos, after speaking at a congregation in Las Vegas, I found myself engrossed into one of the most encouraging conversations with an elderly holocaust survivor named Yosef. Our conversation began in Hebrew, drifted into broken Hungarian, and concluded in English. (He definitely put my rusty linguistic skills to work!)

Yosef is an inspiring man who came to believe in Yeshua through his father. Originally from Hungary, after surviving the Shoah (the Holocaust), he moved to Israel, where he lived for a number of years, and then later moved to the States with a stint in Los Angeles before settling more recently in Las Vegas.

I have previously mentioned that I lived in Hungary for a time. Those transformative years have left a lasting impression upon my life, and I continue to be interested in news and subjects relating to the country and especially Hungary's Jewish community.

As Yosef and I talked, and shared stories and memories, our conversation drifted into Hungary's great contribution to Messianic Jewish life. During the Messianic Movement's Golden Age, Hungary had a large and influential community of Jews who believed in Yeshua. This included a number of Jews who argued for a sort of "Messianic Judaism" - in favor of continued covenant faithfulness and Jewish fidelity.

Some of Hungary's most famous Jewish believers include Alfred Edersheim, Rabbi Ignatz (Isaac) Lichtenstein (pictured above Left), and Rabbi Leopold Cohn (pictured below Right).

Today, Hungary has some very interesting happenings in regard to Jewish believers. Although I cannot share the details in an open forum like this, it is encouraging to hear that the number of Jews who believe in Yeshua (especially those of influence) is continuing to rise.

After Yosef and I hugged and said viszontlátásra (goodbye), we exchanged email addresses.

... I hope he writes!

Quote of the day

at 1:06 AM

The synagogue remains a central institution in Jewish life as a place of study, worship, and assembly, but each day brings word of a new challenging development within each of the larger movements to which synagogues belong—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. Jewish religious communities today share a number of challenges, from the increase in secular or unaffiliated Jews to emerging Jewish spiritual communities forming outside the synagogue. There has never been a more compelling need for a wide-ranging discussion of the diverse issues facing American Judaism.

From Synagogues in a Time of Change: Fragmentation and Diversity in Jewish Religious Movements by Rabbi Zachary I. Heller

Quote of the day

Jun 25, 2009 at 12:50 AM

A successful event is more than just a headcount. Good events leave lasting impressions, build relationships and help engage participants in a Jewish community.

Moishe House Blog

Women in Early Judaism

Jun 24, 2009 at 2:47 AM

During the Second Temple period in ancient Israel, women were able to actively participate within the larger society, both socially and religiously. Women served as leaders of synagogues, participated in ritual services, learned and taught Jewish law, were counted in a minyan, and from archaeological evidence, do not seem to have been physically separated from men during prayer. There was active participation of women in all facets of Jewish ritual life. According to Shmuel Safrai:

In the Second Temple period women were religiously the equals of men: ancient Jewish sources from the land of Israel and from the Diaspora show that women frequented the synagogue and studied in the beit midrash (study hall). Women could be members of the quorum of ten needed to say the “Eighteen Benedictions”…and like men, women were permitted to say “Amen” in response to the priestly blessing.[1]

Archaeological evidence supports that women were not necessarily separated from the men in the synagogue. This is the result of no apparent evidence from any of the numerous synagogues that have been excavated that would seem to indicate men and women were required to sit separately. Archaeologist Zeev Weiss, of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has noted:

By now it is widely accepted among scholars that synagogues from the early centuries of the Common Era did not have a separate women’s section. This might surprise people whose knowledge of Jewish synagogues derives from contemporary Orthodox or pre-Second World War European examples.[2]

This scholarly assumption is supported by Safrai, who comments, “Rabbinic sources mention various functions for synagogue balconies and upper rooms, but there is never a connection made between these structures and women.”[3] The first reference to a mechitza is connected to Abaye (4th Cent. CE) in the Babylonian Talmud (Kiddushin 81a). In many opinions, it is unrelated to the synagogue.[4] As a result of recent scholarly insight into this arena, any kind of inference of women’s inferiority based on supposed separation during prayer is not supported by archaeological or textual evidence.

Inscriptions discovered in ancient synagogues from the early centuries also testify to women having served in various leadership capacities throughout the Jewish world. These inscriptions include heads of synagogues (αρχισυναγωγος), leaders (αρχηγισσα), and elders (πρεσβυτερα and other parallels).[5] These inscriptions (in feminine conjugations) bear witness to the very public roles of women. Thus further proving that women were indeed active members within their spiritual communities.

This positive outlook toward women is found both within the standard canonical scriptures, as well as extra-biblical writings. Although women’s roles later became more traditionally subservient to men, with very little ability to fully participate, this was not always the case. There was indeed a time when women actively participated in religious life.

[1] Shmuel Safrai, “Were Women Segregated in the Ancient Synagogue.” Jerusalem Perspective, July-Sept. 1997, 34.

[2] Zeev Weiss, “The Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic.” Biblical Archaeological Review (Sept./Oct. 2000), 51.

[3] Ibid. Safrai, 32.

[4] Ibid. Safrai, 29.

[5] Kay Silberling, “Position Paper Regarding Leadership/Ordination of Women.” Presented to the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues, October 15, 1993., 69.

Quote of the Day

Jun 22, 2009 at 1:41 PM

If one is isolated from others, uninvolved in family, friendship or community, an individual person has no more meaning than an amputated finger in a jar.   Each of us is the biological extension of his parents, of his people and, ultimately, of the first form of created life.  The mystics tell us that we are even extensions of the Creator, Himself.  Richard Beer-Hofmann expressed for us our absolute connectedness: 'We are but riverbeds. Through you and me runs the blood of the past to those who shall be.'

- Rabbi Joshua O. Haberman

To ascend or not to ascend?

Jun 21, 2009 at 3:16 PM

Can Ascension to Heaven happen physically or only in a vision? And does the New Testament serve as a link between earlier biblical thought on Heavenly Ascent and later rabbinic and mystical thought?

This idea was originally introduced and raised by the experiences of Enoch and Elijah, who were both described as having been taken to heaven (see Gen. 5:24, and 2 Kings 2:1-11).

1 Enoch

Yet the idea of heavenly ascent takes on a whole new meaning with the introduction of the Book of Watchers, as preserved in 1 Enoch:

And it was shown to me thus in a vision: Behold! Clouds were calling me in my vision, and dark clouds were calling out to me; fire-balls and lightening were hastening me on and driving me, and winds, in my vision were bearing me aloft, and they raised me upwards and carried and brought me into the heavens (1Enoch 14:8).

This account draws heavily upon the prophetic accounts of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel and others (esp. the famous merkavah account in Ezek. 1) in which the throne room of G-d is described in detail.

What makes Enoch’s experience unique is that he is described as having ascended to heaven to experience the celestial throne room and the manifest presence of G-d. The continuity with the earlier prophets is that his ascension is still described as having taken place in a vision: “And it was shown to me thus in a vision.”

2 Corinthians

This is not all that different from an experience described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:

I have to boast. There is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in union with the Messiah who fourteen years ago was snatched up to the third heaven; whether he was in body or outside the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that such a man – whether in the body or apart from the body I don’t know, God knows – was snatched into Paradise and heard things that cannot be put into words, things unlawful for a human being to utter (CJB, vs. 1-4).

Paul describes his experience of ascending into paradise and having witnessed things that are impossible/unlawful to recount. Although we do not have the throne room vision in Paul’s account as we do in Enoch, the connection of ascension to heaven is clear.

However, Paul notes something that sets his experience apart from Enoch’s in that he specifically mentions he cannot explain whether his ascension was strictly in a vision, or whether it actually took place bodily. Enoch’s experience was clearly a vision, because he says so.

It seems to me that this reference, in connection with other citations of bodily translation preserved in the New Testament (for example, Phillip’s being snatched away after his encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:39), highlights another transition in Jewish Ascension thought – that heavenly ascent could happen bodily or within a vision. Paul’s mention of the possibility that it could have taken place bodily did not discredit his account.

Due to the fact that there seems to be some type of a transition in ascension thought to include the possibility of the event taking place bodily, Paul’s account could well indeed serve as a link between older Jewish ascension texts (like 1 Enoch), and stories preserved in rabbinical sources (like the Four Rabbis Who Entered Pardes), and the later Merkavah and Heikhalot mystical texts.

Quote of the Day

Jun 19, 2009 at 12:35 PM

No one in America can know what will happen. No one is in real control. America is having a nervous breakdown. … Therefore there has been great exaltation, despair, prophecy, strain, suicide, secrecy, and public gaiety among the poets of the city.

- Allen Ginsburg, 1959 Village Voice

Quote of the day

Jun 17, 2009 at 3:43 PM

His views consumed him, and in doing so, not only destroyed his life, but destroyed our family and ruined our lives as well … For a long time, I believed this was our family's cross to bear. Now, it is not only my families' lives that are in shambles, but those who were directly affected by his actions, especially the family of Mr. Johns, who bravely sacrificed his life to stop my father.

What he did was an act of cowardice … To physically force your beliefs onto others with violence is not brave, but bullying. Doing so only serves to prove how weak those beliefs are. It is simply desperation, reminiscent of a temper tantrum when a child cannot get his way.

-Erik von Brunn (son of the shooter at the U.S. Holocaust Museum)

Does Judaism have a future?

Jun 16, 2009 at 11:22 AM

The Jewish community today finds itself in a dire state. With only 10% of the Jewish Community attending any sort of services on a regular basis, many scholars are asking if Judaism (at least in its American context) has failed, and whether or not Judaism even has a future.

A recent article in The Forward discusses the specific future of Conservative Judaism.

At one time, Conservative Judaism boasted being the largest denomination in America. During the post-war era, nearly 40% of all Jews identified as being Conservative. Decades later, the movement has found itself with dwindling membership, a change in its senior leadership, and increasing division within its ranks - as part of the movement steers toward a more traditional approach, while others drift toward a more Reform, or less traditional approach to Jewish life.

Some of Conservative Judaism's greatest leaders and thinkers have been discussing this growing problem for several years. And the problem is not just within Conservative Judaism. Reform Judaism may now boast the title of the largest Jewish denomination, but they, along with all other denominations are finding less people in their pews. Especially the critical 'babies and bellies' we have harped on before.

The recent Forward article reports a call by three prominent Conservative rabbis for their movement to rethink its purpose and mission.

One of the panelists, Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York hit the nail on the head! He argued that the separate denominations of American Judaism are losing their relevance among younger Jews. “Denominations are changing,” Cosgrove said. “Lines aren’t black and white. These lines are very slippery.”

In the early years of Conservative Judaism a century ago, according to Cosgrove, "Americans were seeking to make sense of their lives as immigrants.” Now, “This story is over. We’ve arrived. We’re here.” The question Jews ask today, he said, is not “how to arrive in a secular culture, but how to cross back over to tradition.”

According to Rabbi Wayne Dosick, in his book Dancing with G-d:

Despite all of Judaism's outward manifestations of success in America, the vast majority of Jews are 'voting with their feet' ... The contemporary Judaism we have created does not speak sufficiently to searching Jewish hearts and does not sufficiently nourish hungering Jewish souls; it has become, for far too many, stale, hollow, and irrelevant.

If Judaism is to survive into the future it will need to reinvent itself. Guided by the past, it must find a way to provide a spiritually meaningful path for the next generation. It will need to overcome the modern obstacles of intermarriage, over-institutionalization, and find a way to include numbers of non-Jews (especially those intermarried into the Jewish community). Messianic Judaism is not the only movement wrestling with these issues.

We must learn from one another, and those communities that are enjoying success with the next generation.  The Judaism of the future will not necessarily reflect the Judaism of today, but if we do not begin striving for it now there may not be a Judaism for tomorrow.

Quote of the day

Jun 11, 2009 at 2:52 AM

For the Hasid, spiritual pride is the greatest roadblock on the spiritual journey. As we engage in this or that spiritual exercise, we imagine ourselves growing more holy. This is pride. The quality of your spiritual practice rests on the quality of your intention. And there is only one right intention: to do what you do for its own sake, what Judaism calls lishmah. To engage in a spiritual practice with the intent of gaining something in return is to practice idolatry.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Hasidic Tales, p. 80

Quote of the Day

Jun 9, 2009 at 3:14 PM

"[M]ost Jews today do not know what I know, have not been brought up as I have, have different sensibilities than I do, and (as a consequence) think altogether differently about prayer in general. We have three options.

1. We can ignore or dismiss them as anything from ignorant to sinful.

2. We can alter the service – with English, let us say — so as to speak to them, but take a dim view of what we are doing: call it pandering (at worst), watering down (a bit better), or a temporary measure necessitated by the difficult times but intended to raise the ignorant to our own superior position of knowledgeable appreciation “for the real thing.”

Or, finally (3), we can decide that there really is no such thing as the real thing; that we are not the first generation to claim the right to adapt the past to the present; and that there are many alternative criteria that we might adopt to guide the way we adapt."

- Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman (HUC Professor, Author, and co-founder of Synagogue 3000)

Quote of the day

Jun 8, 2009 at 2:01 AM

If your ears are not open to the crying of the poor, then your ears are deaf, and you will not hear G-d calling either.

- Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Quote of the day

Jun 4, 2009 at 12:57 PM

The most significant mystical contribution to the Siddur is the Kedusha, said in three different forms, most notably during the readers repetition of the Amida ... This is a mystical idea, and like all mysticism it hovers at the edge of intelligibility. Mysticism is an attempt to say the unsayable, know the unknowable, to reach out in language to a reality that lies beyond the scope of language. Often in the course of history, mysticism has tended to devalue the world of senses in favor of a more exalted realm of disembodied spirituality. Jewish mysticism did not take this course. Instead it chose to bathe our life on earth in the dazzling light of the Divine radiance.

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks שליט"א from the introduction to the new Koren Siddur, p. xxxiii-xxxiv.

Another wagging tongue

Jun 3, 2009 at 12:22 PM

How much longer does the world need to listen to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Not surprisingly he continues his slurs against the Holocaust and against the West.

Haaretz reports that in a radio address delivered last week, Ahmadinejad once again referred to the Shoah as the "Big Deception" and the West's "weakness."

The West has taken the issue of the Holocaust to expose a hypocritical innocence and oppress other nations, but I have effectively attacked this weak point of the West.

Ahmadinejad is currently in the middle of a fierce campaign to be re-elected to a second four-year term as president of Iran.  His primary pro-reform rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has openly criticized Ahmadinejad's constant questioning of the Holocaust, stating that it has undermined Iran's international standing.

Iran cannot move forward with Ahmadinejad at its helm.  He has proven time and time again his unwillingness to work with the international community, and continues to reject any compromise with world powers over nuclear energy.

It's time for a change in the world, and let's start with saying goodbye to Ahmadinejad.  Hopefully the Iranian people will elect a new leader open to democracy, committed to working with the international community, and one who will be a peaceful neighbor in the constantly shaky Middle East.

Quote of the Day

Jun 2, 2009 at 5:47 PM

[I]f vision isn’t at the heart of one’s rabbinate, then the rabbi runs the risk of becoming mediator of fragmented interest groups.

Quote of the Day

Jun 1, 2009 at 11:49 PM

There are countless examples of a major disconnect between the generations.  The generation of old is living in a vertical, top-down world and we [the younger generation of Jews] live in a horizontal realm where collaboration is key.  The only way to move forward is to understand each other better so we can make our community more effective.

A war against the Jews

at 10:48 PM

Given our current situation, anti-Semitism is not just our right, but it is the duty of every Hungarian homeland lover, and we must prepare for armed battle against the Jews.

A Newsletter published by "The trade union of Hungarian police officers prepared for action," quoted in Haaretz.

Anti-Semitism is alive and well, especially in Hungary, which is home to the third largest Jewish community in Europe, and has a long history of battling prejudice in its many forms. As one who lived in Hungary for a time (2001 and part of 2002), I can attest to the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in Hungarian society.

When I first moved to Budapest from Southern California I was cautioned to avoid wearing a Star of David, a yarmulke, or any other Jewish symbols. Many people will refrain from openly identifying themselves as being Jewish out of fear. When I rented my first apartment, my Jewish landlords were very nervous about my putting up a mezuzah, fearing their property would be vandalized. And I quickly learned my lesson when a swastika was painted outside my apartment window.

A recent article in HaAretz documents just how acceptable it has become in Hungary to blame social woes on Jews and Gypsies:

A crumbling country, torn apart by Hungarian-Gypsy civil war, could easily be claimed by the rich Jews," the article [mentioned above] went on to say. "That is why we should expect a Hungarian-Gypsy civil war, fomented by Jews as they rub their hands together with pleasure.

Once again, hatred continues to rear its ugly head.

Antisocial Networking

at 10:35 PM

by William Levin (ben Baruch)