Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 24, 2010 at 10:14 PM

In 1789, George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation with these words:

“Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be….”

Last year, I read an article by Jewish radio personality Dennis Prager titled, “Here’s why Thanksgiving is good for the Jews.”

He points out that Thanksgiving is one of the most widely observed holidays, especially within the Jewish community. The majority of Jews across the spectrum observe Thanksgiving – from non-observant to Orthodox. The reason, according to Prager, “it is quintessentially American, it is deeply religious without being denominational and it is based entirely on one of the most important, and noble, traits a human being can have - gratitude.”

In an age when we are often not thankful enough for the blessings we have, Thanksgiving is another reminder that we have so much to be thankful for.

From our home to yours, we wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Chag Sameach!

Review: Fall Issue of Messiah Journal

Nov 22, 2010 at 11:12 AM

I recently received in my inbox a preview of the Fall issue of Messiah Journal. Messiah Journal is a publication of First Fruits of Zion and focuses on figures, works, and topics related to Messianic Judaism. This forthcoming issue (Issue 105, Fall 2010) includes some very important articles and works:

Yeshua's Spirituality and Ethics

One of the the first articles in this issue, Yeshua's Spirituality and Ethics, by my friend and colleague Rabbi Derek Leman, is a thoughtful reflection on the characteristics of Yeshua as portrayed in the Gospel of Luke, and how they can inform our own spirituality and ethics.

Franz Delitzsch

Another important article is a biography on the great 19th century "Christian Hebraist" Franz Delitzsch, by German scholars Sigfried Wagner and Arnulf Baumann. Professor Delitzsch was the founder of the Institutum Judaicum at the University of Leipzig in 1886, a graduate program devoted to what would now be called "Messianic Jewish studies" and to Jewish missions. Delitzsch is most widely known, however, for his tremendous Hebrew translation of the New Testament, which is still one of the most widely used versions today. He is also known in Christian circles for his collaboration on a monumental commentary on the entire Old Testament with Lutheran scholar J.F. K Keil. He was also known as a vocal opponent of anti-Semitism.

Delitzsch, who although was not Jewish, was one of the greatest scholars of Rabbinics and Semitics of his time. He had an incredible ability to picture and grasp Yeshua within Judaism and its texts. He was also a tremendously forward thinker for his time, and envisioned a sort of 'Messianic Judaism' before there ever was one. In an excellent quote from 1882, Delitzsch wrote:
"I have often thought that many would put better use to their recognition of Jesus as the Messiah by staying in the Synagogue until God himself releases the crypto-Christianity which is bound within the Synagogue and creates a Jewish-Christian Church."
FFOZ is getting ready to release a new edition of Delitzsch's Gospels in a Hebrew and English. The project is expected to be completed this Winter. I actually have the privilege of serving as one of the reviewers of the translation. This is sure to be an excellent contribution to the Messianic Jewish community.

Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein

Another important figure prominent in the forthcoming issue of Messiah Journal is Rabbi Isaac (Ignatz) Lichtenstein. An excellent biographical essay by Jorge Quinonez describes the life and work of Rav Lichtenstein, who served for many years as the Chief rabbi of the Northern District of Hungary. Lichtenstein became a believer in Yeshua late in his life and despite his respected position he was greatly persecuted. After being removed from his position and while suffering greatly on account of Yeshua, he began to travel and write prolifically. Much of his work, however, has remained widely unknown to most Messianic Jews today because he primarily wrote in German.

However, for the first time in English, Messiah Journal is also releasing Rabbi Lichtenstein's The Talmud on Trial, which was first published in 1886. This important work counters anti-Rabbinic arguments within Christianity, and remains relevant in countering anti-Rabbinic sentiment within segments of Christianity (and segments of the Messianic movement) today. Rabbi Lichtenstein is definitely one of Messianic Judaism's great pioneers, and FFOZ's recent republication of this article will help pave the way for an increased interest in Rav Lichtenstein and his work.

The Second Coming and the Days of Messiah - A Chassidic Approach

Another excellent article is from one of my best friends, *Yisrael Levitt (not his real name). The article attempts to identify the source of standard Jewish objection to faith in Yeshua’s messiahship and cross-examine the objection, using material only from Jewish sources. In the end the author attempts to prove that faith in Yeshua as the one promised Mashiach is warranted, despite the fact that we still await the advent of the era of universal peace and restoration. This is an excellent article worth reading.

This issue of Messiah Journal also contains other great articles, including an important article by Toby Janicki that examines the context and use of "one law" in the Torah and considers what it means in context.

I highly recommend getting a copy of the newest issue of Messiah Journal, or better yet, get a subscription. You will not be sorry. Each issue contains thought provoking essays, topics, and scholarship relevant to building a mature Messianic Judaism today.

Wrestling with the Divine

Nov 19, 2010 at 12:37 PM

Parashat Vayishlach

This week’s parasha continues a theme we saw in last week’s parasha, Vayetze, which began and ended with the mentioning of angels. So too our parasha continues in the same venue. In ancient times, there were no chapter and verse breaks within the text. The previous parasha ends with Jacob being met by angels, leading him to call the place Machanayim – referring to the encampment of G-d. Immediately this week’s parasha begins with the next verse (Gen. 32:4), with the words vayishlach Ya'akov malachim ... and Ya’akov sent forth messengers ahead of him.

Since the word malachim can mean both human messengers and angles, the rabbis understand this verse to refer to the angels in the previous verse. Therefore, Ya’akov sends forth both physical and angelic messengers from the camp ahead of him to prepare for meeting his brother Esav. There is a spiritual and physical preparation.

However, in between these two events, a mysterious encounter occurs. In the middle of the night Jacob crosses the Yabok River, and is left alone. A mysterious being comes and wrestles with Ya’akov until day break, at which time this mysterious figure blesses Jacob and gives him the name Israel:

For you have wrestled with G-d and man, and have prevailed (Gen. 32:29).”

In ancient Near Eastern understanding, the crossing of a river was a symbol of new beginnings, and a new start – a sort of rebirth. That is why there is a purposeful connection with the name of the river (Yabok), and the word vaye’avek – to wrestle/struggle. It was here, at the river of a new beginning in Jacob’s life that he also received a new name – and a new identity – Israel.

This was a test for Jacob, and a preparation for a new beginning in his life; to go from being Ya’akov to becoming Israel – the father of the twelve tribes and a great patriarch of the Jewish people. It was a physical and spiritual preparation.

Although Rashi and other sages identify this mysterious figure as the angel of Esav, there are also understandings of this figure being more than just an angel. A clue to this is in the Hebrew itself. Not only does it mention that he struggles “with G-d and with man,” but his name is changed to Israel. The definition of “Israel” is to wrestle/struggle with G-d. Although you can argue that it may just be figuratively, there are two more hints.

Ya’akov asks the being its name, and the response is interesting, “Why are you asking my name?" Alone it does not mean anything. However, when one understands that the sacred Name of G-d is often referred to “as the Name that no one knows,” and the reverence given to the Name of G-d in Jewish understanding, the reference should be obvious. And the last clue that this is more than just an angel is in the name Ya’akov gives to the place afterwards - P’ni El – the face of G-d:

Because I have seen G-d face to face, yet my life is spared (Gen. 32:31).”

The idea of G-d taking on a physical form is not unheard of in the Torah, or in ancient Jewish understanding. Within this sort of incarnation is an obvious Messianic connection. It is not ridiculous to understand this mysterious encounter as a physical and spiritual struggle between Jacob and HaShem.

Parashat Vayishlach teaches us that through wrestling with G-d, and striving for G-d’s purpose for each one of us, we will enter into a new beginning for what lies ahead.

Divine Messengers: Luke 5:1-11

Nov 18, 2010 at 5:16 PM

This week’s Torah portion (Vayishlach) begins with the words, vayishlach Ya’akov malachim – and Jacob sent messengers ahead of him (Gen. 32:4). These messengers (or angels, as it can also be translated) were sent out ahead of Jacob in preparation for his return. These messengers were given the responsibility of carrying a vital message of reconciliation and peace to a distant brother.

Luke 5 also speaks of the sending out of messengers who would carry a message of reconciliation and peace to distant listeners. And the message that these new messengers would bring would come from none other than the Messiah himself.

As Simon Peter and his partners, James and John, concluded an unproductive day of fishing, they found themselves in the midst of throngs of people. And at the center of this crowd was none other than the carpenter from the Galil, Yeshua. This quickly turned into an unordinary day for the three fishermen.

Upon concluding his message to the crowds, Yeshua miraculously enabled the three previously unsuccessful fishermen to catch more fish than they could possibly bring ashore. Astonished by the miracle Yeshua had just performed, the three rugged fishermen came to believe that Yeshua was indeed the long awaited Messiah. Recognizing the divine spark within them, Yeshua called them to a “new life of fishing.” A type of fishing that would rely on a divine message. And rather than remaining limited to the Sea of Galilee, they were given the ability to take this message around the world.

Like the messengers sent forth by Jacob, these called out messengers heralded a message in preparation of Yeshua’s ultimate return. And they too were given the responsibility of declaring a message of reconciliation and peace to others.

We too have been called out as messengers. As followers of the Jewish Messiah, we have been chosen to bring this same message of hope and reconciliation to the nations of the world. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach once said that our mission is to “leave the world more Jewish than we found it.” This means that we have a divine injunction to be a light that shines in a dark place. To bring our people a hope that surpasses all understanding. Yeshua is indeed the Messiah. And as such, we are meant to prepare for his glorious return.

Shmuley Boteach and a Judaism for Non-Jews

Nov 17, 2010 at 12:17 PM

There has been some interesting buzz across the web regarding an article by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach that appeared yesterday in the Jerusalem Post.

My friend and colleague, Derek Leman, has already beaten me in responding to the article, but his response particularly deals with the figure of Yeshua. I want to rather focus on Rabbi Shmuley’s concept of a more global and open form of Judaism.

According to Rabbi Boteach:

“Judaism for Jews is too narrow, too particular to really inspire. The vast majority of the world’s Jews want to live mainstream and fully integrated lives. But every form of Jewish outreach – from Reform to Orthodox – is designed to bring them back to the Jewish community. News alert. They left 200 years ago during the great emancipation and they aren’t coming back.

There is, therefore, only one solution: Judaism for non-Jews. A global movement to disseminate Jewish values and spirituality to all Earth’s inhabitants, making no distinction between Jew and gentile.

Rabbi Shmuley is hardly the first person to advocate for a more welcoming and global form of Judaism. This has been proposed by Reform, Reconstructionist, and Renewal movements; as well as the B'nai Noach Movement and even the Kabbalah Center. And of course ... this has been the similar position of Messianic Judaism.

Just to clarify, Rabbi Shmuley (and the other Jewish movements) are not advocating that all distinctions be removed, but rather that the rich legacy and teachings of Judaism should be more readily shared with the world. Our services should be more welcoming, spiritual, and user friendly; and a greater level of participation granted to intermarried couples and non-Jews.

I am one such person who shares this position. Especially as a follower of our Messiah, Yeshua, I feel there is a Messianic mandate to include those from the Nations. The question is what will this look like? How do you share the universal message of HaShem with the world, while at the same time affirm the unique covenantal role of the Jewish people? Afterall, Messianic Judaism, for example, is supposed to be a JEWISH movement for Yeshua within both the wider Jewish community and Ecclesia.

It is true that the current wave of non-Jews drawn to Torah and the Jewish roots of their faith is a move of HaShem. Yet, there is a just as significant role in Jews coming to faith in the Jewish Messiah, and in many circumstances, re-embracing Jewish life and covenantal responsibility (which is different for Jews and non-Jews).

In every aspect of life, balance is always key. So what does that look like for a more open and tolerant form of Judaism? Although in many respects I agree with Rabbi Shmuley in this regard, I am not sure I necessarily agree with his action points.

In his recent article (and in a forthcoming book) Boteach advocates a global campaign for a seven-step program of living:

1. Observe Friday night as family night by tuning out all electronic interference and focusing on children, friends and community.

2. Eat kosher food (20 percent of Americans already look for kosher symbols for cleanliness and purity) and separate milk from meat as a symbol of the affirmation of life and its negation from all forms of corrosion and death.

3. Celebrate the themes of the Jewish festivals …

4. Studying Judaism’s great texts …

5. Observing the marriage laws, including the monthly act of sexual separation thereby creating an erotic barrier that enhances lust and pleasure.

6. Appreciation of, and respect for, the feminine, including codes of alluring modesty for women ...

7. A commitment to acts of communal kindness, such as regular visits to hospitals and homes for the elderly and giving 10 percent of one’s income to charity.

Although I am not sure the above seven steps are indeed THE STEPS, I do agree that these recommendations could certainly bring added meaning and a deeper spirituality into our world. Judaism indeed has much to offer. However, the struggle is that Judaism cannot escape this continually percolating tension between universality and exclusivity. We as Jews are to be both an Or L'Goyim (a Light to the Nations) AND an Am Segulah, a unique and set-apart people. There are so many mitzvot given within the Torah for the specific purpose of keeping us different. And when these distinctions are entirely removed, history continually demonstrates that it always leads to the assimilation (and disappearance) of the Jewish people (also a problem).

I think there is an answer. However, we know from experience that neither removing all distinctions nor keeping ourselves isolated from the rest of the world works. We MUST for the sake of ourselves and the benefit of the world try to find a healthy balance between the age-old tension of universality and exclusivity. We MUST find a way to have open and welcoming communities that at the same time affirm the unique covenantal role of the Jewish people. This is especially true in a day and age when the make-up within the Jewish community itself is more complex and diverse as never before. A feat not as easy as one would think. There is no silver bullet. However, for the sake of the future it must be done. This is both our prophetic and necessary task.

Quote of the Day

Nov 15, 2010 at 1:39 PM

"Messianic Judaism has never had the luxury of being able to sit back and affirm what has always been at the expense of what could (and we believe, will) be: the recognition of Yeshua as Messiah by all Israel. Yet, just as the pioneers of Messianic Judaism had the boldness to reclaim kippot and tallitot, to disavow the label “Christian” to the extent it meant “member of a sociohistorical entity opposed to Judaism / the Jewish people”, to rename Jesus, and to assert their right to create a distinctly Jewish expression of faith in Messiah, we must have the boldness to fix their mistakes, to go where their acquired Christian theologies would not let them, to de-tangle our ultimate goal from the particular cultural forms of early Messianic Judaism and (more broadly) American evangelical Christianity as they become obsolete or counter-productive, and to follow Yeshua not only as Jewish people but as practitioners of an informed and faithful Judaism. Stagnant Messianic Judaism should be a contradiction in terms (Emphasis mine)."

-Ovadia from the blog, Just Jewish

Climbing Jacob's Ladder

Nov 12, 2010 at 9:43 AM

Parashat Vayetze

Parashat Vayetze begins with one of the most mysterious passages in the Torah. While Jacob was fleeing from his brother Esav, he stopped at a certain place to spend the night. After laying his head down on a rock and falling asleep, he had a dream. In Ya'akov's dream, he saw a vision of a ladder that reached from the ground into heaven, and angels were ascending and descending upon it. Additionally G-d spoke to him, and relayed the promise of giving the land of Israel to him and his descendants, that He would multiply Jacob's offspring, and that through his descendants, all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. G-d concluded by reassuring Jacob that He would not abandon him, for He had made a promise with him.

Throughout Jewish history, commentators have argued over the exact meaning of Jacob's vision. Interestingly, the vagueness of the Hebrew does not help in understanding it any better. For instance, the phrase, “and the angels of HaShem were ascending and descending upon it” could also be rendered as “the angels of HaShem ascended and descended upon him.

Based on this reading of the text, Ya'akov represents the medium by which G-d's blessings are imparted into the world, and whose descendant's (the twelve tribes who also are birthed in this parasha) further embody G-d's blessings in the earth. The story of the sulam Ya'akov, of Jacob's ladder, is a reminder of G-d's direct interaction into the affairs of humanity.

Lastly, the parasha also begins and ends with with the mentioning of angels. At the beginning of the portion we read about the angels who ascend and descend upon the ladder in the dream, and at the very end of the portion, of the angels who come to meet Ya'akov after he left his father-in-law, Lavan (Gen. 32:2-3). It is interesting to note this specific mentioning of angels both at the beginning and the end of this parasha. For it additionally shows G-d's involvement in the trials that are attested to in-between these angelic encounters.

The first mention is almost a “changing of the guard,” if you will. The description is that the angels first ascend, and then descend. The seemingly opposite of what we would expect. This leads us to believe that there were angelic escorts with Ya'akov as he fled his home. In the dream, Jacob was given the ability to see those angels who were with him ascend back into heaven, as a new host of heaven descend to meet him for the next stage of his journey. For the journey ahead would be full of trials as he is tricked and taken advantage of repeatedly by Lavan. The new angelic escorts would be with Ya'akov to teach him what he needed to be a Patriarch of Israel, and to turn what Lavan meant for evil, into blessings for Ya'akov and his family.

As a patriarch of the Jewish people, Ya'akov served as an embodiment, and vehicle, through which G-d's blessings would be imparted into the earth. This interpretation is further related and clarified in the Brit Chadashah. In the gospel of John, Yeshua speaks to a man named Natanel, and says to him:

Yes indeed! I tell you that you will see heaven opened up and the angels of G-d going up and going down on the Son of Man (Jn.1:51).”

In this passage Yeshua clarifies that now he would be the embodiment and vehicle of G-d's work in the earth. That through him is access to the heavenly realms.

A Little Gratitude

Nov 11, 2010 at 11:39 AM

My paternal grandfather (pictured at left) served during WWII in the South Pacific in the Army's searchlight and radar units. My maternal grandfather served in the Army in the Pacific during the Korean War.

My Dad also served our country as a Navy Seabee during the Vietnam War.

Monique's maternal grandfather escaped Nazi Germany, joined the U.S. Army, and returned to Europe where he served in Army Intelligence during WWII, and helped liberate Dachau. Her paternal grandfather served as a midshipman in the Navy on the Battleship New Mexico.

From our families to yours, we wish you and all the vets out there a very Happy Veteran's Day!


Nov 9, 2010 at 2:57 PM

Tonight, November 9-10, marks the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht - the Night of Broken Glass.

It is called the "Night of Broken Glass" because on this night, in 1938, thousands of rioters stormed Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues causing enormous amounts of damage throughout Germany and Austria.

Just before midnight on November 9, the Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller sent a telegram to all police units informing them:

"In shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all of Germany. These are not to be interfered with."

Instead of arresting the perpetrators of these events, police began rounding up and arresting the victims – Jews all over German occupied territories. Fire companies stood by synagogues in flames with explicit instructions to let the buildings burn. They were to intervene only if a fire threatened adjacent “Aryan” properties.

In two days and nights, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or damaged, over 7,500 Jewish businesses were looted and ransacked, and at least 91 Jews were killed. Rioters also vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. The attackers were often neighbors.

Some 30,000 Jewish males between 16 - 60 were arrested, and deported to concentration camps. Kristallnacht marked the beginning of the Holocaust.

72 years later we still remember, and will never forget!

A Global Day of Jewish Learning

Nov 7, 2010 at 11:09 PM

Today Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz completed his monumental translation of the Talmud into Modern Hebrew - a feat begun 45 years ago. Nearly 400 communities around the world joined together today for a global day of Jewish Learning to mark this tremendous achievement.

The author of over 60 books and hundreds of articles, Rav Steinsaltz has opened up the world of the Talmud and Jewish learning to new generations of Jews, and has established a network of Jewish learning institutions across Israel and the former Soviet Union.

Today I attended two tremendous events worth sharing about. The first was at the historic 6th & I synagogue in Washington, DC where we were joined by a live broadcast from Jerusalem to hear from Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, other figures, and of course Rav Steinsaltz, who read from the last few lines of his final volume, Masechet Ta'anit, gave a small d'rash, and recited the special brachot upon completing such a monumental task. This was followed by learning sessions with local rabbis and a special message on Jewish learning from Meet the Press's, David Gregory.

Panel: Orthodoxy at a Turning Point, a National Conversation: Women and the Future of Judaism

This evening I was at Kesher Israel, "the Georgetown shul," for a panel discussion on the topic of: Orthodoxy at a Turning Point, a National Conversation: Women and the Future of Judaism. The highly-esteemed panel included Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Frimer, Rabbanit Chana Henkin, Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber, and Rabba Sara Hurwitz - whose recent ordination has created quite a stir within the Orthodox community. The panel was moderated by Rebbetzin Sharon Freundel.

I have long been interested in the discussion of women's roles within Orthodoxy. The roles of women within the Orthodox community, especially in regard to the possible role as a rabbi, must be guided by halachah. As such, women rabbis do not function entirely in the same ways as their counterparts within the wider Jewish community. For example, Orthodox interpretation of halachah forbids women to make-up a minyan, serve on a Beit Din, act as a posek (a religious judge), or as a halachic witness. As such, women rabbis within Orthodoxy would not be able to participate in these particular roles. However, advocates point out that there is much more to being a rabbi than just those few roles.

Many halachic authorities, both who support or may not support outright s'micha for women, acknowledge that many of these other roles are not forbidden to women. As such, as Rabba Hurwitz argued in a recent article in Moment Magazine: "I don’t think there’s a 90 percent overlap [between a rabbi’s role and what women can do] ... There is a 100 percent overlap. The rabbi’s job isn’t to make the minyan. It’s to make sure there is a minyan.” She added that women can also serve in roles not open to men, such as accompanying a woman to the mikveh.

Many halachic authorities recognize the need for greater roles for women ... but the question is: Should they necessarily be called 'rabbis?'

Judaism is a dynamic community - constantly evolving and wrestling with its identity. But it begins with a deep knowledge and love of Jewish learning. I echo the voices of those around the world encouraging active participation with our faith and texts. The point, as I have pointed out before, is not about always agreeing or disagreeing with everything. It is about participating in the conversation!!!

So what are you waiting for??? Get more involved in your own spirituality, and begin engaging in greater learning opportunities! (Some practical how-to's will come in my next post!)

Choosing to be G-d Conscious

Nov 4, 2010 at 9:36 PM

Parashat Toldot

What does this week’s Torah portion teach us about personal choices?

"Esau said to Jacob, ‘Pour some of that red stuff for me now, for I am exhausted. Jacob said, ‘Sell, as this day, your birthright to me.’ And Esau said, ‘Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?’ … Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, he ate and drank, got up and left; and thus, Esau spurned the birthright (Genesis 25:27-34)."

Esau was faced with a choice, soup or a birthright? When offered the opportunity for spiritual blessings and rewards, the only thing that mattered to him was his own immediate physical needs. Esau ended up selling his birthright to Jacob, for he had no regard for the spiritual. So why does he still end up hating and wanting to kill Jacob? (Genesis 27:41)

Just like Esau, we too often make irrational decisions in the spur of the moment, and end up hating ourselves and others as a result. We often cast off spiritual values in an attempt to satisfy an immediate need. Yet in the end it is futile. The thing we once cast off ends up becoming the thing we most desperately desire. And when we cannot have it, we end up hating those who do have it, resulting in a vicious cycle.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to G-d (Philippians 4:6).”

Instead of living by our own irrationality, like Esau, we must become like Jacob. We should never by too anxious to make a decision. But rather, we need to be “G-d conscious.” We need to constantly be reminded of a greater spiritual reality.

Yehudah HaNasi states, “Consider three things and you will not fall into the power of transgression: Know what is above you – a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all your deeds are written in a book (Pirkei Avot 2.2).”

Being “G-d conscious” requires being in tune with spiritual values. It also requires us to train our minds to think about consequences for our actions. We must make ourselves aware to make choices for good. 1 Corinthians 10:5 encourages that we must “take every thought captive to the obedience of Mashiach.”

We all make choices. Sometimes, we may not even make the best ones. However, I challenge each one of us to begin to train our minds to be “G-d conscious” in every way. So when the challenge arises to place our needs above the highest (and holiest) needs, we will be able to make the right decisions. May we, like our ancestor Jacob, receive the blessing to make choices of blessings and shalom, and in the end merit the righteous birthright of our Messiah Yeshua!

Complexity in Early Jewish Messianism

Nov 2, 2010 at 10:54 AM

The Messiah is the fullness of the G-d of Israel manifested in a physical form. This concept is readily evident throughout the Biblical text and extra-biblical writings. In Hebrew, the word אחד echad helps to explain this oneness that exists between HaShem, the Messiah, and the Spirit as the word echad means one, but not always in the singular. Rather, it is better used to describe a “complex unity.”

There is a popular misconception that Judaism has never believed in a Divine Messiah. However, the concept of Messiah in Jewish thought was far more complex before the destruction of the Second Temple, in 70 C.E., than after. Dietmar Neufeld, of the University of British Columbia, confirms that, “a heavenly, transcendent Messiah was not a unique invention of the Christian community but the outgrowth of reflection that had its roots in Judaism."

This perspective that, somehow, the messiah would be more than human, goes back to the last centuries B.C.E., and continued through the first centuries C.E. Already by this time, Biblical passages were attributed with messianic significance. We see messianic commentaries that include sections from Daniel, Zechariah, and others.

The Dead Sea Scrolls reflect this development. Certain texts describe an exalted figure that would suffer, even die, only to be resurrected. This particular messianic understanding has been brought to the forefront of scholarly debate with the recently published inscription known as “Gabriel’s Revelation.” This apocalyptic inscription, written on stone, dates to the late first century B.C.E., or the early first century C.E. Although some of the text is badly worn and difficult to read, Israel Knohl, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem contends the text refers to a suffering Messiah who is to be resurrected within three days. This idea seems quite different from commonly held assumptions.

According to Knohl, “The new inscription, ‘Gabriel’s Revelation,’ suggests that this different kind of Messiah was evolving at the turn of the era – different from the Messiah son of David. Instead of a militant Messiah, it envisions a Messiah who suffered, died, and rose.”

There are a number of additional allusions and similarities to phrases and concepts in the New Testament. According to Hershel Shanks, of the Biblical Archaeology Society:

"By Jesus’ time...the concept of the mashiach had developed beyond that of an earthly messiah who would restore the glory of the kingdom of David. It also came to mean a divinely sent figure who would return as G-d’s agent and usher in the world to come. The Dead Sea Scrolls reflect this development…thus…the messiah was already freighted with eschatological content."

Craig C. Broyles, of Trinity Western University, claims, “The messianism that is attested in the Dead Sea Scrolls did not arise in isolation from the Scriptures of Israel or from the larger context of Judaism in late antiquity.”

The soil for messianism and complex unity in relation to G-d were already firmly established within the Jewish world of the Second Temple period. The earliest Jewish followers of Yeshua were absolutely convinced that Yeshua was indeed a divinely incarnated Messiah, and their perspective was based on various Jewish understandings and interpretations of the time.

*This is an an excerpt of an article I wrote that recently appeared in Kesher Journal. You can read the entire article here.