Deuteronomy 33:4 – Oral Law

Deuteronomy 33:4 – Oral Law

Posted on November 28, 2011 by yourphariseefriend

Judaism affirms that God made use of two methods of communication in order to transmit the truths of Judaism from one generation to the next; the written text and the living communication of parent to child. These two methods of communication complement and support each other. It is only when we absorb the message through both of these mediums of communication that we can arrive at a proper understanding of God’s truth.

studyingSome of Judaism’s detractors attempt to invalidate the second method of communication; the living transmission of parent to child. These critics of Judaism argue that the written text; i.e. the Bible, is God’s word, and as such is reliable and trustworthy, but the living transmission is only words of men. Why should we rely on the words of men? What indeed is the basis for the Oral Law?

If we examine the Bible itself, we will see that this criticism of Judaism does not get off the ground.

Those who dispute the validity of the Oral Law assume that the Five Books are the basis and the foundation for the Law. They understand that the written text comes first. When these critics approach Israel’s claim for an authoritative Oral Law, they see this as a claim for a supplementary code, one that is authorized to define and to interpret the written word. These critics contend that if there is a valid code of Law that supplements the text, we would expect that it should have been mentioned in the text.

The facts though are exactly the opposite. It is not the Oral Law that is a supplement to the Written Law, it is the Written Law that serves as a supplement and an augmentation for the Oral Law. The Five Books present themselves as something that came after a complete body of Oral Law was already firmly established.

Throughout the Five Books of Moses we find that God communicated with Moses and Moses, in turn, communicated with the people – orally, without any written medium.

Deuteronomy 5:28, – God tells Moses: “But as for you, stand here (at Sinai) with Me, and I shall speak to you the entire commandment and the decrees, and the ordinances that you shall teach them and they shall perform in the Land that you shall possess.”

Deuteronomy 1:18- Moses reminds the people: “I commanded you at that time (at Horeb) all the things that you are to do”.

These conversations between God and Moses and between Moses and the people of Israel are the basis of the Law. The format of the text of the Five Books fully confirms this basic truth. The Five Books do not present themselves as an independent legal text. They are written in the format of a narrative, with various laws woven into the narrative.

In other words; the Torah does not read like the constitution of the United States which simply sets down an arrangement of laws. Instead the Torah records the conversations in which God commanded Moses one law or another. Sometimes the Torah may record a lengthy series of laws, but always in the narrative setting of a God talking to Moses (as in Leviticus 1:1-7:38) or Moses talking to the people (as in the book of Deuteronomy). The usage of the narrative format confirms the significance of these conversations as the basis of the Law.

Furthermore, these narratives are not written in a way that would indicate that every last word of the conversation was included in the written record. In fact the opposite is true. It is actually clear from these narratives that they are not literal, word-for-word records of these conversations. The first example of such a narrative conspicuously highlights this truth. In Exodus 12:1-20 we find a narrative that tells us what it was that God said to Moses and Aaron concerning the Passover offering. Verses 21 thru 27 of the same chapter record Moses passing on this same commandment to the elders of Israel. The words of these two narratives (God to Moses – Moses to the people) and the structure of these two narratives are entirely different. Each of these narratives contain elements that are absent in the other one. There can be no question that these narratives are not meant to be a verbatim record of these conversations. The same pattern holds true every time the Torah presents both sides of the conversation; God to Moses and Moses to the people. In each instance the words are different and the details are different (e.g. Exodus 25:1-28:43 versus 35:4-29; Exodus 29:1-37 versus Leviticus 8:5-36). It is clear that these narratives are not literal records of every word that God told Moses or that Moses told the people. The fact that these narratives do not attempt to record every last detail of the conversations is evidence that the people possessed another, more complete record of these conversations, which can only be the record they retained in their memory.

There is yet another way that the written text affirms the central nature of the Oral Law in Israel.

The Five Books reiterate again and again the importance of passing on the teachings of Moses to the future generations (Exodus 10:2; 12:14,17,24; 13:8,14; 31:13,16; Leviticus 23:43; Numbers 15:24,38; Deuteronomy 4:9,40; 6:2,7,20,21; 11:19; 12:25,28; 30:2; 32:46.) Not once throughout the Five Books are we commanded to utilize a book in the personal process of passing on the teachings of Moses to our children. The process is described as one in which parents speak to their children – an oral transmission.

When Moses exhorts the people to keep the Law and to pass it on to their children he is referring to a body of law thatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA these people have absorbed through the medium of speech. When Moses refers to “all that I have commanded you” (e.g. Deuteronomy 30:2), he was not referring to a particular scroll that each individual Jew had tucked in his pocket. He was talking of a Law that lived in their hearts and in their minds. The children of that first generation of Jews were to receive the Law from their parents through the medium of oral communication. They were also to realize that the Law that they receive from their parents is the very same Law that God delivered to Moses and that it was God who established this medium of communicating with them. The written text, which was only presented to the Levites and the priests at the end of the 40 year sojourn in the wilderness, served to augment, to support and to corroborate the oral testimony of their parents. But the primary means of communicating the Law from generation to generation was and still remains; oral.

Throughout the Five Books of Moses, mention is made of ten written documents. Not one of these documents was designated to play a role in to the personal process of parents teaching the practical observance of the Law to their children.

Let us examine these Scriptural references to the various written documents and let us see what function these documents were to serve.

The first reference to any written document is found in Exodus 17:14. Moses was to write a remembrance of God’s enmity towards the people of Amalek. This was not a text that was handed to every individual Jew. This was a national remembrance that was in the hand of the central leadership; Moses and Joshua. Furthermore, the text tells us that the written remembrance did not stand alone. Moses was to place the remembrance into “the ears of Joshua”. The communication was to be passed on through both mediums; the written text and the living transmission.

The next reference to a written document appears in Exodus 24:4 where Moses wrote the ordinances recorded in the previous chapters. The ordinances of Exodus 21 – 23 were first presented to the people orally and only afterward were they written down in a book (Exodus 24:3,4). This book (the “book of the covenant”) is not mentioned again in the Five Books. At no point are the people directed to look in this book as a resource of reference for the observance of the Law. It is clear that the function of that book (the book of the covenant) was ceremonial and not practical.

The next reference to a written document speaks of the tablets of testimony which contained the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 32:15,16; 34:1,27,28; Deuteronomy 9:9,10; 10:1-5). The Ten Commandments were presented to the people through the medium of speech (Exodus 20:1). The tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved were only given to Moses after his stay on the mountain (Deuteronomy 10:5). These tablets were eventually put into the ark that was placed in the holy of holies, which was accessible to no-one, but to the high priest, once a year (Exodus 40:20, Leviticus 16:2). It is clear that these tablets were not used for any practical transmission of information from one generation to the next.

Another reference to a written document appears in Numbers 5:23. This passage describes how the priest is to write the curses on a scroll and erase this writing into the bitter waters which the suspected woman is to drink. It is clear that the only function of this scroll was ceremonial, and in no way did this written text function as a means of communicating information.

The next reference to a written document instructs the King, as a public figure, that he must keep a Torah scroll with him and read from it constantly (Deuteronomy 17:18). (The wording of the aforementioned verse indicates that it is only the book of Deuteronomy that the king must copy for himself). This injunction is limited to the person of the king and is in no way related to the practical transmission of the Law from one generation to the next.

The next reference to a written text appears in Deuteronomy 27:3,8. Moses commands the people to write the Torah upon an altar of rocks upon their entry into the land of Israel. In the book of Joshua we learn that this commandment was limited to the book of Deuteronomy (Joshua 8:32). This altar was used only once; on the occasion of the reading of the blessings and the curses as described in the book of Joshua. This was not the permanent altar in the Tabernacle, which was not on Mt. Ebal but rather at Shilo (Joshua 18:1). At no point does the Torah direct the people to read the writing on this altar and at no point are the people commanded to preserve this writing on the altar, which presumably faded with the passage of time. It is certainly possible and even plausible to assume that the people did read these written words. But in no way can it be said that this was their first encounter with the Law, nor can it be said that this altar served as a means of transmitting the Law from generation to generation. After the one-time use of this altar described in the book of Joshua, this altar is never mentioned again in the Scriptures.

The first reference to the complete Torah scroll appears in relation to the imprecations of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:58; 29:19,20, 26). The curses that will befall Israel if they disobey the Law are described as: “the imprecations of the covenant that are written in this book of the Law”. It is significant to note that the details of the curse would not be relevant to the practical day-to-day living of a Jew in his observance of the Law. It therefore follows that this information would require a written document in order to ensure its preservation. Again we see that the written document is not mentioned in relation to the practical observance of the individual Jew.

The next reference informs us that the priests and the Levites were presented with a copy of the complete Torah scroll (Deuteronomy 31:9). As the guardians of the Law (Leviticus 10:11, Deuteronomy 33:10) these public servants would make use of a written text. But for the individual Jew, the Law that he or she heard from her parents was the primary method of learning the Law. The fact that Moses commanded that the Torah be read publicly once in seven years (Deuteronomy 31:11) does not mitigate this truth. The once-in-seven-year reading would do little to impart knowledge to the nation as a whole. Hearing the Torah once in seven years can perhaps reinforce existing knowledge. It cannot be used as a method of teaching new information. How can you expect a nation to follow a Law that is as complex as the Torah on the basis of having heard it read once, in the setting of a vast crowd, five years ago? It is clear and obvious that the people passed the Law on to their children as they heard it from Moses – orally. The public reading was a means of reinforcing the knowledge of the Law that they already possessed through the medium of the living transmission.

Another reference to a written text tells us that the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32;1-43) was to be written down (31:19). This written version of the song is presented as a supplement to the oral teaching of the song (Deuteronomy 31:30). The song of Moses is not related to practical observance of the Law. It is parallel to the “imprecations of the covenant” that would befall Israel if they were to disobey God’s Law. This particular document is also not related to the practical observance of the Law.

The final reference to the written document describes how Moses presented the Levites and the priests with the completed Torah scroll. They were instructed to place it beside the Ark of the Covenant as a testimony against Israel. Here too, we see that this text was not used for the personal transmission of practical information from parent to child. Rather, this text was placed in a national setting (the holy of holies) and its main function was to keep record of the curses that would befall Israel should they disobey the Law.

The Law of Moses, as it is described in the Five Books, remains for all practical purposes an Oral Law. When Moses makes continuous reference to “the Law”, “the commandments”, or “that which I command you” (e.g. Deuteronomy 26:16; 27:26; 28:1,14; 29:28; 30:2,11; 32:46), he refers to a body of information that his listeners carried around in their minds and in their hearts. When the Five Books declare: “Moses commanded us a Law, and inheritance for the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4) – it is referring to an Oral Law that is the exclusive inheritance of the intergenerational community of Eternal Israel.

Thou Shalt Not Oppress the Ger

Thou Shalt Not Oppress the Ger

By The Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

Sunday, October 26 2014

This is a revised version of an article originally published anonymously in issue 4 of Conversations, the journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. Barbara Redman is a lawyer and part-time college teacher in Georgia. This article appears in issue 20 of Conversations, the journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.

Abstract

convMost Jews do not appreciate the difficulties a convert faces within the broader Jewish community. Usually, the only stories that see publication are of the “happily ever after” variety. But most converts I have known, as well as myself, have a hard time of it—and nobody ever forewarns us because nobody else is sensitive to what occurs. The commandment to not oppress the ger seems to have been largely ignored, often in the name of preserving the purity of the Jewish people. For those of us who are halakhically Jewish, the situation is unjustifiable; where our situation is known, we are forever under suspicion that we are not “really” Jewish. Because of negative social experiences, many of us have chosen to go underground where at all possible; I predict that most of us will ignore the recent RCA geirus policy that the ger should make his/her status known in a community, which merely invites such experiences. I am writing to make the problem known, and to beg reconsideration on halakhic grounds of some common institutional policies.

_________

I am a convert. There can be no question that I am halakhically Jewish, as ruled by two Orthodox rabbinic courts. I am writing to protest the downright shameful treatment of converts by the Orthodox community, which so conveniently forgets the express command to not oppress the ger.

I was raised in the Bible Belt, as a conservative Protestant, to believe that the Bible was the Word of God. Nobody explained to me why “God’s Word” did not include the laws in the first five books, which today are observed only by Jews. Due to severe parental opposition, I could do nothing toward converting until I went away to graduate school in a small college town. This was more than 40 years ago. I took instruction from the only Orthodox rabbi in the state; he could be described as Modern Orthodox. In those days, I knew nothing of modern/black-hat distinctions among Orthodox Jews— and in fact there were no black-hat Jews in my immediate vicinity. The Beth Din consisted of this rabbi; the only Conservative rabbi in that town (he was shomer shabbat), and one other person. As I started meeting other Jews for the first time (I had had no significant social Jewish contact before conversion), I started getting questions about this conversion. I had met the Lubavitchers by this time, and they decided that while they believed this conversion was valid, they would redo it just to remove all question. They even placed a call to New York and got a ruling that I should not say God’s name in the blessing for this re-run. This took place about a year and a half after the first conversion. I did not meet and marry my husband until nine years later. His entire family is Hareidi, and he is yeshiva-educated. We are shomer shabbat but not “yeshivish,” and live in a small college town with a bare minyan for our Orthodox community. We have one child, a son, who is also shomer shabbat.

The basic problem a convert faces in the Orthodox world stems from the Orthodox mind-set that if you observe one mitzva more than I do you are a fanatic, and if you observe one mitzva less you are an apikores (heretic). It is hard enough for the ba’al teshuvah to navigate this mind-set and to figure out what is essential halakha and what is less essential minhag (custom). But the erring ba’al teshuvah at least is still considered Jewish. The convert has a more serious problem. If the convert is at all less stringent in observance than the person he or she is speaking to, the convert may be deemed to have not accepted all of the mitzvoth, and therefore the validity of the conversion is in question. I’ve even had an Orthodox rabbi say this to me in those very words. As I recall, on an occasion when I asked why, if there was one law for the convert and the home-born, that converts were automatically classed with prostitutes as people kohanim couldn’t marry. That’s when I learned that for converts, questioning is not permitted. That rabbi told me that any questions should have been addressed before conversion, not after it, and my present questioning indicated that I hadn’t accepted the whole Torah, so I wasn’t really Jewish.

I also encountered this response when I became friendly (no more) with a young man and this was disapproved of by people in the community, who forced him to end the friendship. I obviously hadn’t accepted that the only permissible relationship between a man and a woman was marriage to that person, and therefore I wasn’t Jewish. I even got into trouble when I expressed secular political views that differed from those of the person I was speaking with; I didn’t elevate “what’s good for the Jews” (including the State of Israel) over all other considerations. This showed that I had not really become part of the Jewish people; therefore I wasn’t Jewish.

My point is that the only way for a convert to be “accepted” is to become SuperJew: to be more stringent than thou, and to totally block out the former non-Jewish self. I have known of a few such people, though I have never become close enough to them to tell if this is real or an act they put on for self-preservation. Sorry, folks, I’m not SuperJew, nor are the vast majority of converts I have known, although they and I feel pressure to be so. If you can be “accepted” only by putting on an act, you’re not really accepted.

But in the culture in which I grew up, the cardinal sin is forgetting where you came from. I’ve often had Jews tell me that they assume I wouldn’t want my children to know my parents, and that since my parents are not halakhically my parents I owe them no obligation. I’m afraid that I’ve never bought that, and it has been the source of many problems. Does this mean I’m not really Jewish?

And I wish I had a dollar for every remark I’ve heard made by Jews about “the goyim.” I can’t stand such remarks about me (I’m still the same person I was before) and my family and my former co-religionists (whom I do NOT consider to be idolaters!), and it’s no excuse that the speaker didn’t know my background. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 94a) recognizes that this is painful for the convert, and explicitly forbids such comments lest the convert regret the conversion. Me’Am Loez states, in his commentary on Exodus 18:11, that even if a family has a convert as an ancestor ten generations back, it is forbidden to speak badly about non-Jews in front of them, because it hurts a person’s feelings to hear his/her nationality derided and can cause the person to give up Judaism. (This prescription, if taken seriously, would ban virtually all such derogatory comments since there is no way a person can know the ancestry of all those within earshot.) Believe me, I’ve heard much worse about non-Jews from Jews than I’ve ever heard about Jews from non-Jews. I’m afraid that this does not exactly solidify my identification with the Jewish people, whom I encountered only after my conversion to the faith.

The effect of all this on me (and I’ve only related a few examples) was very nearly to drive me away from Judaism. When people do things to you in the name of religion, it becomes hard to separate the people from the religion. In this case, it is also very hard to separate halakha from minhag. When a demand is made on you that you simply can’t fulfill, and you are told that this is an essential part of the package, how do you not then reject the whole package? I very nearly did. If there had been a way to undo my conversion, I might well have done it. But when I give my word, I keep it. I believed I was now obligated to observance and couldn’t get out of it. What really saved me Jewishly was that I was now living in my present small college town, where all Jews are accepted without question (because, for one thing, we can’t afford to be very particular). This tolerance allowed me the space to recover after my experiences with larger and more rigid Orthodox communities.

Most of my problems of the sort I’ve described occurred before I got married. Since then, my husband’s yichus has largely protected me—coupled with the decision made to hide my ancestry where at all possible. This started with my mother-in-law, a Polish immigrant who probably subscribed to the “can the leopard change its spots” view of non-Jews, which I have also heard (primarily from her generation). She was deeply embarrassed about having non-Jewish in-laws, but she wanted her son to be happy. She solved the problem by pretending to everyone (and herself) that my parents were Jewish, and ordering us to say nothing to the contrary. She has been dead many years now, but my husband with his greater knowledge of Orthodoxy convinced me that it would be better for our son if my background still was not known. We have all become very good at giving the misleading impression that I was born Jewish, while at the same time not saying anything that isn’t true. I do not have sufficient Hebrew language skills to pass as a Frum-From-Birth, but we allow the impression to exist that I am a ba’alat teshuvah. Although our son knew my parents (now long-deceased), to outsiders we emphasize my husband’s family and de-emphasize mine. I am not comfortable having to deny who I am, and I hope that someday my son will decide that denying half his heritage is not good, but I’ve acquiesced because it’s best for him. I feared, with reason, that if my status became known, he would be forever under the same cloud that I am. I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone, especially my own child, who did not choose his situation. (The worst problem for him was shiddukhim, but since he married a Jew-by-birth we believe that now there is little serious adverse consequence that he could face even if identified with me.)

What reawakened all of these memories, of course, was when my son started looking for a shiddukh, a wife, in the Orthodox world. We had a very bad experience. The girl signaled interest on a computer site, knowing of my background. Her mother took over and forbade her to agree to a contact until I was investigated. The result was very unpleasant for me: The matchmaker, in the course of her Inquisition, persisted in thinking that it was for the sake of marriage, that the re-conversion was at my husband’s insistence (never mind that both occurred long before I met him), and even asked whether our son had conversion papers! Their rabbi then called us to explain that it was shul policy to have copies of conversion papers on file, and asked us to send them. (All of this was before my son could even talk with the girl to see if the match was worth pursuing.) I was going to refuse unless the same demand was made of the other parents; before it came to this point, my son refused the shiddukh. He agreed with me that proof of my Jewishness should not be halakhically necessary (especially at this stage) since it was not in question that I had long been observant, and further, it sounded like a bad in-law situation. It still left me very upset. I don’t mind the asking itself as much as I do the unwillingness to accept my answers. (My son decided after that to omit my status from his shiddukh profile, as it proved to be a “date-killer.” However, the wife he finally found turned out to be also “second-generation” in that her father is a convert. Her family raised no questions about my status!)

This brings me to one of my long-standing grudges. Converts are asked to show papers at every instance, from Day School enrollment (either their own or their children’s) to weddings. The same is not asked of people who claim to be born Jewish. I really resent being singled out for this suspicion. I don’t care how politely it is phrased or what reasons are given. (“Standard shul policy” certainly doesn’t cut it.) I find it offensive and discriminatory. To constantly have to prove myself, to know that there will never be a time when I am simply accepted as a Jew without strings attached? How would you feel? Perhaps the larger community is simply unaware of the impact this practice has on a convert’s feelings—but it is past time that this was realized and these policies reexamined.

These actions may actually violate an additional negative commandment, beyond oppressing the ger. Maimonides, when talking of “cheating with words,” gives an example of someone who tells a convert to “remember your origins.” He may have meant that someone who, while in negotiations with a convert, assumes a superior position because of his Jewish birth is cheating, by taking for himself something to which he isn’t entitled (since Jewishness should be equal for all Jews). These demands for proof of conversion in return for shiddukhim and Jewish education may qualify.

I will now refuse to provide papers for any reason unless the same is required of non-converts as well. (I can tell you that my husband has no paperwork to prove he is Jewish.) If you need to be sure I am Jewish, apply the same criteria you have for people who claim to be born Jewish. To me (and my yeshiva-bred husband agrees), this discriminatory treatment is a clear violation of the commandment not to oppress the ger. One convert I know got so fed up with this practice that she tore up her papers. I haven’t dared go that far, but I’m sorely tempted. What ever happened to the halakhic presumption that if you are observant, you are Jewish? I’ve been shomer shabbat for 40 years. Shouldn’t that suffice? (The yeshiva community actually may be better on this point than non-yeshiva people; my Hareidi sister-in-law and her husband immediately and totally accepted me with no questions asked, let alone papers demanded.)

I have been told that I should not feel offended by these procedures because, especially in these days, people need to make sure that both parties to a Jewish marriage are Jewish. First, I don’t think you should tell me how to feel. The commandment not to oppress the ger only makes sense in light of the ger’s own feelings. Second, why are the same requirements not made of the parties who claim to be born Jewish? Ba’alei teshuvah aren’t asked for papers; but even for them, isn’t it forbidden to shame a ba’al teshuvah by reminding him or her of past non-observance? Third, I don’t think you should downgrade the explicit commandment not to oppress the ger.

So what if an occasional mistake is made? I’m afraid that with my background I can’t consider this the worst thing that could happen. I can hardly take the position that any non-Jewish ancestry is a blot on the Jewish people. Actually, I believe there is an opinion that if it should transpire that a maternal ancestor wasn’t Jewish, it would not negate the Jewish status of observant mikvah-going descendants. But if that doesn’t suffice, do a conversion to make sure— and I DON’T mean making an already observant person start from scratch. This problem is fixable. Elijah the Prophet is going to have quite a job sorting us all out anyway; what’s a few more, especially when weighed against the commandment not to oppress the ger? Personally, I’d go with this Torah commandment as against concerns with the purity of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, however, the Orthodox community seems to have taken the other position. I think a number of so-called religious Jews will have a few things to answer for on the Day of Judgment.

The situation today is even worse than it was 40 years ago. With the move rightward of Orthodoxy, standards for converts have been raised. It is forbidden to refuse a sincere convert. In the effort to weed out the insincere, has the bar been raised so high as to also exclude many sincere converts? In my day, the Big Three mitzvoth were Shabbat, kashruth, and taharat haMishpaha (family purity); anything more was desirable but not a deal-breaker. It is not required that the convert know all of the halakha. And at least where I did it, anyone who did not have a Jewish fiance(e) was almost automatically accepted. In addition, if a problem was later discovered with the procedure, redoing it was no big deal. Now, to judge by the experience of newer converts in our community, you have to commit to a higher level of observance, you have to live in a large Orthodox community (which as a resident of a small community I strongly disagree with—it is quite possible to learn about Judaism and live halakhically without a lot of large local Jewish institutions), and there is a reluctance to simply redo questionable conversions. Rather, such cases are treated as if the person is definitively non-Jewish.

One shomer-shabbat person in our community was in halakhic limbo for years with his questionable prior conversion, which nobody was willing to redo while he lived here—so he finally had to move. Even then, it took two more years, despite his unquestioned sincerity and existing observance, and despite the clause in the RCA’s Geirus Policies, which says that in such cases it could be done more expeditiously. Although he was told that the prior conversion could have been valid, so he should continue to be observant, it seems that no rabbi would simply regularize his status. Meanwhile, he was not counted in minyanim, and was generally made to feel like a non-Jew. He had remarked that his observance during this time would have been somewhat more meticulous had his original conversion been ruled definitely valid. Why did this process have to take so long?

The point about questionable conversions, which appears to be overlooked, is that while the conversion may be invalid, it also may be valid. The current focus seems to be on the possible invalidity, with the result that these converts are treated as if the conversion never happened. What about the possibility that it may be valid? If it is, aren’t you committing several serious sins, from oppressing the ger to discouraging further observance?

The State of Israel adds to the problem by only accepting certain rabbis’ conversions. Where would that leave me? I doubt such a list even existed 40 years ago, much less whether my rabbi would have been on it. Put it this way—my son knows it would be probably too complicated for him to even consider making aliya.

Even outside the State of Israel, there is a problem with local autonomy: A conversion that is accepted in one community may not be accepted in another. One person in our community converted 50 years ago. No problems arose until now, when her daughter was refused membership in one European synagogue, and her grandchildren were refused a Jewish education in that community because of her conversion; since the (Orthodox) converting rabbi has long been dead, he could not be asked for information. The daughter is accepted as Jewish in some Orthodox communities but not in others. What is a convert to do, especially when it is long enough after the fact that all witnesses have died? I have read the RCA’s new geirus policies, which are intended to address at least the uniformity problem. Aside from the fact that they are necessarily only prospective, I am afraid that in implementation they will be used to institutionalize a very high bar for converts and justify retroactive rejection of converts such as myself. I fear that the prescription that converts should tell their local rabbi of their status merely invites the sort of social problems I’ve described above, unless said rabbi is both trustworthy and sensitive (which, unfortunately, not all are). We do, after all, know the halakhic implications of our own conversions! I for one (and I suspect others as well) prefer not to emerge from the closet.

It appears that no convert can ever be secure in his or her status as Jewish, no matter how much time has elapsed. Ignorance of the halakha involved, coupled with prejudice against non-Jews, makes it all too easy for a Jew to consider a convert to be insufficiently observant, hence non-Jewish, and to feel no qualms about expressing this. It should be absolutely forbidden for a Jew to raise this issue about a conversion once validly performed, and it also should be forbidden to reexamine decades-old conversions which were done by Orthodox rabbis. Otherwise, there will be literally no end to the suspicion surrounding a convert.

It may not be too far-fetched to draw an analogy with the “purity of blood” concerns of Spanish Christians at the time of the Inquisition. “Old Christians” constantly suspected “New Christians” of being secret Jews, even if generations of the New Christian family had been devout Christians. This entailed serious social and political repercussions against the New Christians, who became a permanent and inferior social class. Only if one could prove “purity of blood”—i.e., unadulterated Old Christian descent—could one rest easy. I am afraid that the present-day Orthodox Jewish social structure may be developing into a similar caste system, with ba’alei teshuvah and converts at the bottom of the yichus ladder and with decreasing possibilities of social integration. (Note that my son’s eventual shiddukh is of the same family condition as his, which is probably best for them but not so good for social integration.) The tales I hear from kiruv organizations about the problems ba’alei teshuvah face in Orthodox communities also indicate this—and, of course, converts have even lower yichus than ba’alei teshuvah. Rambam would be appalled.

When people ask to convert, they are warned about persecution from non-Jews. Nobody ever warns them about persecution from Jews. Perhaps this is simply not on the radar screen of conversion rabbis, very few of whom have ever experienced it themselves. But this has been the experience of nearly every convert I have known. Frankly, if I had known 45 years ago everything I know now, I doubt I would have found becoming Jewish to be worth the struggle, despite my theological convictions. Is this the message we want to give converts—that they will never be fully accepted by the Jewish community? I can never fully belong, and I worry for my son. At least my child is a male (and my daughter-in-law’s convert parent is her father), so my problem should die with him. For myself, there is nothing more that I need from the Jewish community. If they reject me, I can do without them. But it is past time for someone to remind Jews that the commandment not to oppress the ger is still part of the Torah.

It’s a Mystery

It’s a Mystery

Remarking on a Face book thread on a recent Succoth event at the Western Wall or Kotel inside Jerusalem’s Old City, a Christian remarked how:

“They do have such joy under the old covenant!!! Lol Fantastic!”.

mysteryThey of course are the Jews having such fun under the ‘old’ covenant. What amazed me was how much the Christian was under the spell of nearly two millennia’s semantic theological agenda by the Church where the New has absorbed the Old. The Church has absorbed Israel, the Jewish people are stripped of their essence, if not their very existence and their suffering proves the Christians right! Very quickly the two millennia Church agenda, not to mention the inquisitions/ blood libels etc., was smoothed over by an apology by the Christian that they meant the “Hebrew Scriptures” and not the ‘old’ testament. Jews who mention inquisitions/ blood libels etc., are just plain intolerant!

The above re-wording to ‘Hebrew Scriptures’ did not stop folks on the thread however; to insist that there is a ‘new’ covenant in the ‘Hebrew Scriptures’ (Jer 31:31-34) which is more fully explained in the ‘new’ testament. The problem with the ‘new’ covenant in the ‘Hebrew Scriptures’  per Jer 31:31-34, is that it is not new in terms of content but rather how the content is applied to a person from the House of Israel:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. Jer 33:33,34

No mention of the house Judah because the Jews have been doing the Torah for well over 4000 years now. Whereas the House of Israel [lost 10 tribes] was taken into captivity and dispersed into the nations. Essentially “Christian Israelites” need to consult the Jews as to what this Torah is all about? (cf Jer 16:19-21)

No mention of a messiah or believing in a messiah here folks! No mention of a messiah dying as the atonement either. SomystNT where do the Christian folks in the thread and Christians get it from? The answer is that they get it from the New Testament alone, nowhere else! And just how this life threatening ‘new’ covenant, believe in Jesus and his sacrifice alone or otherwise it’s the eternal BBQ for you[1] supposed to be understood? Well that is the easy part for the Christian; it’s not meant to be understood it’s simply all a mystery! By definition of the term mystery it’s anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or unknown like the mysteries of nature or any truth that is unknowable except by divine revelation. The New Testament has 28 such mysteries[2] and the whole Jesus thing is the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people[3]. Which means that nobody knew about the whole divine/ human sacrifice atonement eternal BBQ thing or else until Jesus came on the scene because it had been kept hidden for ages and generations.

The convenient use by Christians of the term mystery allows deliberate ignorance of context of scripture and the role of the Jewish people as part of G-d’s plan for the whole of humanity. It is little wonder that Christians can make the wild claims for Jesus based on their misrepresentation and false idea that Jesus came on the scene and made a new revelation which had been kept hidden for ages and generations.

In stark contrast there are no mysteries in the ‘old’ testament. In fact it is quite the opposite:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. Deut 29:29

I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right. Is 45:19

If the Torah is considered, God sets down before His people a passage[4] which gives a clear portrait of the Messianic era. The clear portrait is not one that is ambiguous and murky. Rather, God used sharp and well-defined brush strokes to paint this portrait. From the passage, the return of Israel to her land will be precipitated by her repentance. The passage teaches that repentance means turning back to obedience of God’s law as Moses taught it (i.e. all 613 commandments). The passage also teaches that repentance is effective even when Israel is in exile and when it is not possible to bring a blood offering. Further, the passage shows that God will accept exiled Israel’s repentance even before He circumcises their heart. Finally, from the passage it is learned that the commandments that Moses taught us, will be fully observed in the Messianic era. In stark contradistinction, Christianity teaches that Israel’s return to the teachings of Moses, will play no part in the ushering in of the Messianic era (cf Mal 4:4 – 6).

A defining feature of the messianic age is the desire of gentiles to learn the Torah:

And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law (Torah), and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:3

In sum if G-d had wanted the Jews to know the importance of Jesus as per Mark 16:16 and all that believe in him alone/ or it is the eternal BBQ for you nonsense, he would have told us way back then would he not?

Dagon

_______________

[1] see Mark 16:16

[2] The Greek word “musterion,” translated “mystery” means a truth given and revealed only to a select few that was unknown until it was revealed.

[3] Col 1:26

[4] “1 And it shall be that all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have set down before you, and you will bring it to your heart amongst all the nations that the Lord your God has driven you. 2 And you shall return unto the Lord your God and you shall hearken to His voice according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul. 3 And the Lord your God will return your captivity and He will have compassion upon you, and he will return and gather you from all the nations that the Lord your God has scattered you there. 4 If your outcasts be at the ends of the heaven, from there will the Lord your God gather you and from there will He fetch you. 5 And the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your ancestors inherited and you shall inherit it, and He will do you good and He will multiply you more than your ancestors. 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul for the sake of your life. 7 And the Lord your God shall place all these curses upon your enemies and upon those that hate you who have persecuted you. 8 And you will return and hearken to the voice of the Lord and you shall do all His commandments that I command you today. 9 And the Lord your God will make you plenteous in all the work of your hands, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land, for good, for the Lord will turn to rejoice over you for good just as he rejoiced over your ancestors. 10 When you hearken to the voice of the Lord your God to keep His commandments and statutes which are written in this book of teaching, when you return to the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

Rejects

“But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The descendants of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, And called from its farthest regions, And said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

“But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The descendants of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, And called from its farthest regions, And said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Isaiah 44:8-10

I had a strange encounter recently with a missionary at the Kotel. The missionary was originally born and brought up in Israel on a secular Kibbutz. Like most secular Israelis after army service he went on a spiritual journey to find himself. The crowing glory of finding himself was tied to his travels in a country which he now has gained citizenship of. There in the country, whilst travelling he was influenced and converted to Christianity by some locals offering ‘free’ accommodation. Now post conversion he has hit on an idea of providing a ‘free’ service to Israeli travelers to the country in Hebrew/ English which gives lots of useful information and discounts to the ‘secular’ Israeli traveller. Included in the information is the similar ‘free’ accommodation and other attractive services provided by Christians, who else of course?

By his own admission he grew up to hate and failed to see the relevance of Judaism. What can you expect from a secular Kibbutz? So irrelevant was Judaism to him that he did not undergo a bar mitzvah since he decided to do such a thing would be hypocritical! Well you have to at least admire his honesty!

So now we are at the Kotel, we go through all the usual proof texts. Nothing doing here I am afraid. The same route of him jumping to another text when things do not work out with his arguments. It’s nearly the end of our time together and where have we got to? In conversation I realise that he cannot be convinced about the verses or that in reality he does really not have a clue about Jews or Judaism in particular. No wonder he was a prime candidate for conversion to Christianity and now he is the poster boy for the international messianic/ church circuit with their fool-proof idea of “if a Jew believes it, it must be true!” Strange how this fool-proof idea does not extend to those secular Jews who in search of spirituality in different parts of the world become Buddhists or Hindus!? I pointed this out to him too by the way but I was treated to the standard response of “just look at how believing in Jesus changed my life” etc.. Strange how converted Jews to Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism etc have in common in their personal testimonials, how their religious faith has transformed their lives miraculously. It seems as if they all somehow belong to the same religion, their testimonials all pulsate with the experience of an encounter with the divine!

Wandering_jew copyThe simple fact is of course is that God permits man to become enraptured with false religions for the same reason He permits a married man to be attracted to women other than his wife. Freewill is within the grasp of everyone! Virtue is only possible when sin is alluring. If alien religions were unappealing, there would be no merit for rejecting their blandishments. If this tender balance of freewill were ever injured or compromised, virtue would be impossible.

The blindness of my missionary friend in the context of the Kotel was astounding. Like it or not as a Jew he is bound to the words of the Torah!

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. If, though, your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live. (Deuteronomy 30:15-19)

In stark contrast the Christian philosophy of those who aided him in his conversion to Christianity resonates forth the idea that the jews a carnal people were destined to misapprehend the Bible:

It is a wonderful thing, and worthy of particular attention, to see this Jewish people existing so many years in perpetual misery, it being necessary as a proof of Jesus Christ, both that they should exist to prove Him, and that they should be miserable because they crucified Him; and though to be miserable and to exist are contradictory, they nevertheless still exist in spite of their misery. Page 180, Pascal’s Pensées, by Blaise Pascal.

To show that the true Jews and the true Christians have but the same religion.—The religion of the Jews seemed to consist essentially in the fatherhood of Abraham, in circumcision, in sacrifices, in ceremonies, in the Ark, in the temple, in Jerusalem, and, finally, in the law, and in the covenant with Moses. I say that it consisted in none of those things, but only in the love of God, and that God disregarded all the other things.  Page 167, Pascal’s Pensées, by Blaise Pascal.

According to Pascal, the New has absorbed the Old; the Church has absorbed Israel. The Jewish people are stripped of their essence, if not their very existence and their suffering proves the Christians right! Here at the Kotel of all places my missionary friend echoed the same sentiments: nobody ever kept anything or keeps anything even now and Judaism is a failure. There at the Kotel in front of his eyes were Jews keeping the very same mitzvots as commanded by Moses just like Jews did way before Jesus and now way after Jesus. What are these Jews here doing here I asked him. Is this not proof in front of your very eyes that Jews are doing excatly what G-d has asked them to do, I asked him. ….silence from my missionary friend……And the Kotel wall said …………Amen!!

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars in the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.’

”The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Have you not noticed that these people are saying, ‘The Lord has rejected the two kingdoms he chose’? So they despise my people and no longer regard them as a nation. This is what the Lord says: ‘If I have not made my covenant with day and night and established the laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them.’ ” Jer 33

“1 And it shall be that all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have set down before you, and you will bring it to your heart amongst all the nations that the Lord your God has driven you. 2 And you shall return unto the Lord your God and you shall hearken to His voice according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul. 3 And the Lord your God will return your captivity and He will have compassion upon you, and he will return and gather you from all the nations that the Lord your God has scattered you there. 4 If your outcasts be at the ends of the heaven, from there will the Lord your God gather you and from there will He fetch you. 5 And the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your ancestors inherited and you shall inherit it, and He will do you good and He will multiply you more than your ancestors. 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul for the sake of your life. 7 And the Lord your God shall place all these curses upon your enemies and upon those that hate you who have persecuted you. 8 And you will return and hearken to the voice of the Lord and you shall do all His commandments that I command you today. 9 And the Lord your God will make you plenteous in all the work of your hands, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land, for good, for the Lord will turn to rejoice over you for good just as he rejoiced over your ancestors. 10 When you hearken to the voice of the Lord your God to keep His commandments and statutes which are written in this book of teaching, when you return to the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

In Deuteronomy 30:1-10, God sets down before His people a passage which gives a clear portrait of the Messianic era. The clear portrait is not one that is ambiguous and murky. Rather, God used sharp and well-defined brush strokes to paint this portrait. From the passage, the return of Israel to her land will be precipitated by her repentance. The passage teaches that repentance means turning back to obedience of God’s law as Moses taught it (i.e. all 613 commandments). The passage also teaches that repentance is effective even when Israel is in exile and when it is not possible to bring a blood offering. Further, the passage shows that God will accept exiled Israel’s repentance even before He circumcises their heart. Finally, from the passage it is learned that the commandments that Moses taught us, will be fully observed in the Messianic era. Theologians presentations of the Jewish arguments are often inaccurate at best. In stark contradistinction, Christianity teaches that Israel’s return to the teachings of Moses, will play no part in the ushering in of the Messianic era (cf Mal 4:4 – 6). Christianity teaches that repentance without a blood offering is not accepted by God. Also, the Church teaches that with the advent of Christianity, the law of Jesus has superseded the Law of Moses. How do theologians answer the Scriptural challenges from the passage, to the doctrines of Christianity?

Theologians claim that after the advent of Jesus, the central issue is; believing in Jesus, obeying Jesus, following Jesus and honoring Jesus. Speaking of the ‘inferiority’ of Israel’s high-priests when compared to the High priesthood of Jesus, Hebrews states, “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless…”

Theologians often say that there is a divergence of views amongst followers of Jesus. Some Theologians understand that obedience to Torah which the passage speaks of, is a reference to obedience and faith in Jesus. Other theologians say that other followers of Jesus believe that the passage, a Scriptural prophecy, will never be fulfilled because of Israel’s failures. Both of these positions are openly refuted by the text. Moses told the people that they will return to obey God, “according to all that I (Moses) command you (Eternal Israel) today”. These words were spoken by Moses more than 1000 years before Jesus was born. Moses made it clear that he expected the last generation of Jews to look back to him (Moses) as their ultimate teacher, and that he expected them to follow his commandments as they were understood on the day he presented them to Israel. These words of Moses clearly preclude the Christian belief that Jesus is the ultimate teacher, and that the teachings of Jesus are somehow superior to the teachings of Moses. The second position that Theologians attributes to followers of Jesus, is also invalidated by the passage itself. The passage opens with words: “And it shall be that all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse…” The curse that Moses is referring to is the curse that God warned would befall Israel should they fail to obey His voice. How then can one make the claim that on account of Israel’s failure to obey God, the Scriptural prophecy will never be fulfilled?

The Scriptural prophecy clearly predicts Israel’s failure to obey and tells how, after Israel’s failure, Israel will ultimately return to God. It is clear that God took Israel’s failures into consideration when He encouraged Israel with these words, and God’s promises are irrevocable. The two Christian explanations that theologians offer readers of the passage are therefore, clearly refuted by the words of the passage itself. Theologians, therefore do not even begin to provide a textual justification for the Christian interpretation of Deuteronomy 30. The real question is: What do the Hebrew Scriptures teach? This passage in Deuteronomy clearly teaches that Israel’s repentance is the precursor of the Messianic age, this passage teaches that repentance is efficacious while Israel is still in exile, and this passage clearly teaches that the Law of Moses, as Moses taught it, is going to be observed in the Messianic era. Each of these issues is central to the debate between Judaism and Christianity.

Noach

Noach

7 And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood. Gen 7

Rashi on this verse notes the strange ordering of this verse ‘And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife’ to indicate that marital relations did not take place on the Ark as the men and women were separated from each other. Otherwise the verse would say ‘And Noah went in, his wife and his sons’ and their wives’.

According to the sages the wife of Noah was Naamah.

22 And Zillah, she also bore Tubal-cain, the forger of every cutting instrument of brass and iron; and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah. Gen 4

Naamah descended from the ignoble line of Cain and yet chooses the ark and lives separate from her husband. Was the flood not an opportunity to wipe out the line of Cain? May be this teaches us something: Naamah demonstrates that it is indeed possible to repent and choose to do the right thing, after all choice was offered to all was it not? But has it always been the case that the choice and the power to choose has always been with us?

6 And the LORD said unto Cain: ‘Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7 If thou doest well, shall it not be lifted up? and if thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door; and unto thee is its desire, but thou mayest rule over it.‘ Gen 4

Puts ideas of original sin and total depravity where one is incapable of doing anything into the ‘falsehood’ bin somewhat?

Cheating on G-d with Jesus

Menashe Dovid (מנשה דוד):

Light the blue touch paper!!

Originally posted on Daily Minyan:

married to JesusThe other day I have went out to lunch with an old Christian friend of mine. He already knew about my return to Judaism and wanted to talk about my life and especially what led me out of Christianity (a.k.a. “Messianic Judaism”). He told me that he’s not going to attempt to talk me out of it. As I was relaying to him all of the reasons and happenings, he listened very intently, shocked not so much at my choice, but rather from all the things he was hearing, as if for the very first time. As I quoted the Hebrew Bible for him and compared it with the New Testament, he acquired a worried look on his face. As I brought up the biblical verses, one after another, where G-d over and over said to Israelites that He was not a man, that He can’t ever die, that we…

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The Rosh Hoshana Conspiracy

Fake Rabbis Shapira and Burton of the messianic movement doing their best to mangle meaning in their own inimitable style!

Fake Rabbis Shapira and Burton of the messianic movement doing their best to mangle meaning in their own inimitable style!

Yehoshua ben Yehotsadak, and Yeshua ben Yotsadak are the same person. He was the High Priest at the time of the rebuilding of the Temple and together with Zerubavel led the people who returned to Israel from Babylon. Spelling changes occur quite often in the Bible. The spelling Yeshua (without the hey) is in the books Ezra and Nehemia, while the other spelling [with the hey] is in Hagai Zecharia and Divrei Hayamim.

A devious plan by modern day Jewish prayer books to acknowledge that Jews have always prayed to Yeshua? Or is it simply that a word in old Rosh Hoshana Machzor (prayer book for Rosh Hoshana) has been subject to Christian censorship and is now indeterminable? Perhaps there is another explanation? Here is just one possibility:

ezzzy