by Sophiee Saguy
To try to add to their own credibility some Missionaries will try to tell followers that their religion (Christianity, Karaism, Messianic Judaism) is just as legitimate as Judaism. They will say “2000 years ago there were various forms of Judaism and the rabbis “changed” Judaism so it is not really “true Judaism.” The rabbis changed everything”. . .
While it is true that 2000 years ago there were many iterations of Judaism the fact is that there have always been Jews who have left observant Judaism as ordained in the T’nach (Bible). There were Jews in the T’nach who worshiped the false gods of Molloch and Ba’al and the prophets warned them to return to observance!. The fact that some Jew decides to not follow Judaism but makes up their own rules — it doesn’t mean that their new (fill in the blank) is “legitimate Judaism.” It is a hijacking of the name “Jew” while avoiding the requirements to be Jewish!
There have always been Jews who have made up their own rules or ideas and called them some form of Judaism (even the so called 1970s invention of “Messianic Judaism” which is a Christian invention of the Baptist Christian movememnt). There were many other splinter groups 2000 years ago. The Sicarii were a violent group who murdered their opponents (very anti-Roman), the Biryonim were criminals, and so on. Throughout the ages there have been Jews who have become apostates (left for other religions) and Jews who tried to reinvent Judaism in their own image (Karaites for example began about 1200 years ago, but mostly died out long ago. Some modern people call themselves them Karaites, but most are a modern re-invention ala “messianic Judaism” and most are not even Jewish).
My point being that there have always been some Jews who have made up their own religion and some have called it “Judaism,” and the Torah warns us that this will happen. . . “G-d will scatter you among the nations, and only a small number will remain among the nations to which G-d will lead you.” D’varim / Deuteronomy 4:27. This is saying that many Jews will fall about into idolatry or in other ways leave Judaism, but a small number will remain observant and faithful to G-d. Jews refer to this minority as the “righteous remnant.”
I suppose those who want to steal the birthright of Jews while avoiding the “rules” and requirements think that if they can discredit Judaism by claiming that “Rabbinic” Judaism is not the same as Judaism, they somehow add to their own credibility.
These non-Jews or spin-offs of varying levels of observance insist that the “Rabbis invented” or the “Rabbis changed” Judaism and that Christianity (or Karaism or even Islam) is as legitimate an “offspring” of ancient Judaism as is “Rabbinic Judaism.” Total nonsense as observant Judaism has always been observant Judaism, following the 613 mitzvot in the Torah given to the entire nation at Mount Sinai.
Some of these accusors focus on the fact that the word “rabbi” is not found in the T’nach. True enough, but what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? The word “rabbi” is Aramaic, not Hebrew. The T’nach (Jewish bible) is written in Hebrew with the exception of a smattering of Aramaic in the books of Daniel and Ezra. The variation of the word “rabbi” is found in Daniel 5:1 (“rav” – meaning “great one”) – which is written in Aramaic. So there are “rabbis” in the T’nach, just with a different name.
People and things are often called by different names in the T’nach. G-d has various “titles” or descriptions (literally no “name” as such including the 4 letter holiest description). . . Jews start out being called “Hebrews” in the bible, and later “Israelite” or “children of Jacob” and later still Jew (which means people of G-d, but also came to be common usage since the last country we had prior to the modern state of Israel was Judah). . .
But what about the rabbis? Did they “invent” Rabbinical Judaism? Did they change Judaism to fit their own “image” of G-d?
Total nonsense. Nothing could be further from the truth! Read the T’nach! Rabbis are mentioned in the Torah (just not by that term) – they are the judges and the teachers (just as they are today). They were the men Moses told you to listen to! The system of justice (rabbis are judges), then as now, follows the mitzvot (the “do” and “do not” rules) in the Torah — this includes how courts are established and how they “operate.” The Jewish system of judges began under Moses. Read Sh’mot (Exodus) chapter 18:
“But you must [also] seek out from among all the people capable, G-d-fearing men – men of truth, who hate injustice. You must then appoint them over [the people] as leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, and leaders of tens. 18:22 ‘Let them administer justice for the people on a regular basis. Of course, they will have to bring every major case to you, but they can judge the minor cases by themselves. They will then share the burden, making things easier for you. 18:23 If you agree to this, and G-d concurs, you will be able to survive. This entire nation will then also be able to attain its goal of peace.’” Sh’mot / Exodus 18:21-23.
From the time of Moses to today there have been Rabbis (teachers / judges) from all the tribes who teach and mete out justice. Every single generation from Moses to today had judges / teachers who have maintained the Torah and Jewish law. There has never been a break in that chain. That is right, “Rabbinical Judaism” has been handed down לדור ודור / l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation).
If it has not changed, why don’t Jews today bring sacrifices? That seems to be the a typical accusation by folks who are unfamiliar with halacha (Jewish law). Jews today do not bring sacrifices (qorban) because we do follow the T’nach. Read D’varim / Deuteronomy chapter 12. G-d commands that we only bring qorban (sacrifices) in the place He designates, and the last place He designated was the Temple in Jerusalem. “Do away with all the places where the nations whom you are driving out worship their gods, [whether they are] on the high mountains, on the hills, or under any luxuriant tree. You must tear down their altars, break up their sacred pillars, burn their Asherah trees, and chop down the statues of their gods, obliterating their names from that place. You may not worship G-d your L-rd in such a manner. This you may do only on the site that G-d your L-rd will choose from among all your tribes, as a place established in His name. It is there that you shall go to seek His presence.” D’varim / Deuteronomy 12:2-5.
Some of you may ask yourseves, “OK, so for 2000 years Jews could not bring sacrifices in the site designated by G-d. But Jews today have control of Jerusalem, why haven’t they brought sacrifices?” True enough there is a Mosque on the Temple Mount, but the reason we have not rebuilt the Temple (yet) or brought sacrifices has to, again, do with a commandment in the T’nach. Again, the Rabbis do NOT change the T’nach. The idea of “Rabbinical Judaism” being different from historical Judaism is slander and a myth.
So what is the commandment forbidding us from bringing sacrifices today? It has to do with פרה אדומה / the parah adumah. פָּרָה / Parah is a cow and אֲדֻמָּה adummah means brown (reddish-brown). Bamidbar / Numbers 19 tells us that we must ritually purify the Temple Mount prior to bringing sacrifices there. To date no פרה אדומה / the parah adumah has been bred (plenty of people are trying!). Until this requirement is met we are being Torah observant by not bringing sacrifices. . .
Observant Jews try very hard to follow all of the mitzvot applicable to us (some are for kings, some for farmers in Israel, some for priests, some for women, some for men, etc. — so not all 613 mitzvot in the Torah apply to all Jews — another error made by many a missionary who asks “how can you keep all 613 mitzvot perfectly?” BTW — nowhere does Torah say we must be perfect, but I digress. .
The Rabbis of today apply the mitzvot in the Torah to various legal problems (this is what much of the Talmud is doing – describing the rules in a given situation). . . and it is ALL biblical. Far from the rabbis “changing the law” the rabbis are doing exactly what G-d instructed them to do – follow the rules and apply them using the Torah as their guide.
Another accusation is that the Rabbis have “added to” (or “subtracted from”) the Torah’s 613 mitzvot (commandments) – something clearly forbidden by the Torah itself. This is also untrue. Think of “adding to or subtracting from” the mitzvot this way. If there is a mitzvah that says “do not steal” it means “do not steal.” If someone tried to “fudge” and say “you can steal bread but not cake” that would be adding to the mitzvah.
However, where there is no mitzvah for something then one isn’t adding to or subtracting from any of them — Purim being a good example. Nowhere are we told “don’t ever add any new holidays.” If there was such a mitzvah in the Torah we would not add any new holidays. The Torah is silent on the question and thus adding a holiday isn’t an issue vis a vis “adding to or subtracting” from the Torah.
Another example — the Torah says we should marry. It doesn’t say we should be monogamous and only have one wife. In the Torah there are examples of men with multiple wives and concubines. Yet an Ashkenazi (European) Rabbi put a “fence” around marriage saying we should be monogamous. Why is this not adding to the mitzvot? Because the Torah is SILENT on the question of how many wives a man should have. While we are told a king should not have too many wives the Torah doesn’t say “you should have more than one wife” and neither does it say “you should have only one wife.” The Torah simply says “marry.” Ergo this Rabbinical “fence” did not change the mitzvah to marry and procreate.
While we are forbidden from changing the 613 mitzvot in the Torah, there is nothing wrong with adding a new rule (such as the observance of Purim or Chanukah). We simply are forbidden from changing the 613!
The Rabbis of today do not have the same stature or authority as the Tanaim and Amoraim of the Talmud, but, (1) we have their teachings written down and (2) the Rabbis of today are part of a long chain of transmission of the Torah through the generations back to those Rabbis and further back to Moses.
Throughout the ages there have been Jews who have observed the mitzvot we contracted with G-d at Mount Sinai. The bible (D’varim / Deuteronomy 4:27) even refers to this group “only a small number will remain” (faithful to G-d). The bible also speaks of the Jews who do not remain faithful to G-d, such as those who worshiped the false gods of Ba’al and Molloch.
There have always, unfortunately, been Jews who have left Judaism. There have always been Jews who have turned to false gods, and others who have changed Judaism to suit themselves. Over time they intermarry and lose their Jewish identities — proving the validity of the prophecy in D’varim / Deuteronomy 4:27 — “only a small number will remain faithful.”
2000 years ago there were many splinter groups who broke away from Judaism. Among the many groups were the Sadducee, a group who had become heavily influenced by the Greek and Romans around them. BUT the Jews who remained faithful to G-d and to Torah were not “new.” They were given a name to distinguish them from the other groups – and this name has been translated as “Pharisee.” These were the “small number” who remained faithful. Even Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived 2000 years ago, stated that the Pharissees (the ancestors to today’s Jews) were the most observant of the Torah than the various other “splinter” groups.
“The Pharisees live thriftily, giving in to no luxury. For they follow what the Word* (of G-d) in its authority determines and transmits as good. They believe that to keep what (G-d) wished to counsel is worth fighting for. . . those who live in the cities have witnessed to their virtue in devoting themselves to all the best in their words and way of life. ” Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:12-15.
In his autobiography Josephus also wrote “<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”times=”” roman”,serif;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:yellow”=””>“the Pharisees are supposed to excel others in the accurate knowledge of the laws of their country.”<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”times=”” roman”,serif;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman””=””>
Many missionaries will claim that Rabbinic Judaism grew out of the Pharisees (the Christian bible blackens the Pharisees, a term which in modern usage has come to mean a hypocrite although historians like Josephus prove this is not truly what they were like). The Pharisees are portrayed as having no more legitimacy than any of the other groups of Jews 2000 years ago — even though Jesus is quoted in the Christian bible as telling his followers that the Pharisees “sit in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2).
The Pharisees did not “invent a form of Judaism.” This is a distortion. Normative Judaism is, and always has been, normative Judaism. The Jews who observe the mitzvot remain the observant Jews whatever title is given to them! The name may change from “Jewish” to “Pharissee” to “Orthodox Jew” — but the observant Jew, whatever the name, is the Jew who remains faithful to Torah and to G-d’s instructions in it. As the Jewish Virtual Library states “The specific term “Orthodox Judaism” is of rather recent origin and is used more as a generic term to differentiate the movements following traditional practices from the Liberal Jewish movements. . . Historically, there was no such thing as Orthodoxy. . . Orthodox Judaism views itself as the continuation of the beliefs and practices of normative Judaism, as accepted by the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai and codified in successive generations in an ongoing process that continues to this day.”
Even today there are splinter groups away from normative, traditional, observant, “orthodox” (a recent name) Judaism. About 200 years or so ago the Germans began to allow Jews to move out of the ghetto and become part of the civilization around them. A number of Jews wanted to assimilate and live among the non-Jews. They formed a new “version” of Judaism which they called “Reform.” The group abolished the observance of many of the mitzvot. To further distance themselves from traditional Judaism they made some radical changes. Many of those extreme changes have been reversed by the Reform movement — such as the observance of Shabbat on Sunday and not Saturday). . . As new groups appeared observant Jews got a new label and the Reform movement coined the term “Orthodox Jew” to differentiate the traditional, observant Jew from new movements.
The term “Orthodox Jew” is relatively new – but it is just a new label for the observant Jew. The small number who remains. . . When you hear the term “Rabbinic Judaism,” or “Orthodox Judaism” do not be fooled – it is Judaism. True, observant, faithful to G-d Judaism.
Let’s focus on how we know that observant Jews have remained faithful to Torah, and to Judaism. It all goes back to the Torah – which speaks of Moses establishing courts with 70 elders from all the tribes of Israel. “G-d said to Moses, ‘Assemble seventy of Israel’s elders – the ones you know to be the people’s elders and leaders. . . He caused the spirit that had been imparted on [Moses] to emanate, and He bestowed it upon the seventy elders” Bamidbar / Numbers 11:16 – 25.
Local courts were also established (courts of no less than 3 judges. Cities had “minor Sanhedrins.” These courts were comprised of 23 judges. (Mishna, Sanhedrin, 1:4a). Ergo the court system was somewhat similar to the American system of courts, appellate courts and a supreme court. The minor Sanhedrins did indeed have the ability to pass the death penalty. The number (23) is derived from Bambidar (Numbers) 35:24-25.
The Great Sanhedrin was a combination of a “Supreme Court” and national legislature. The greatest Sanhedrin was called the “Great Assembly” – and it consisted of 120 men (not 71) – including a number of prophets. The Men of the Great Assembly / הַגְּדוֹלָה כְּנֶסֶת אַנְשֵׁי/ Anshei Knesset HaGedola existed from 410 BCE — the destruction of the First Temple, and continued meeting in the early decades of the Second Temple, up until the invasion of the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great.
When Shimon HaTzaddik, the last member of the Great Assembly died in 273 BCE, the Sanhedrin was run by rabbis known as the Zugot, meaning “pairs.” For almost 300 years, there were always two rabbis at the helm of the Jewish tradition. One was called the Nasi (the president), the other was called the Av Beit Din (the head of the Sanhedrin). These pairs are all listed in the “Ethics of the Fathers.” The last pair was perhaps the most famous — Hillel and Shammai.
So, even though in the Second Temple period there were many Jewish “spin-off” groups such as the Sadducee, the Zealots and others the unbroken chain of Judaism and of the Torah has always been in the hands of the observant Jews. The very opening of Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”) records how the chain of transmission of Judaism and the Torah was maintained — starting with Moses, going on to Joshua and the 70 elders, the prophets, the Men of the Great Assembly, the Sanhedrin led by the Zugot, to the Rabbis who began to write the oral law down in the Talmud. . .
The Torah has many mitzvot about the court system and judges. For example, “To appoint judges and officers in every community of Israel.” (D’varim (Deuteronomy) 16:18).
Some people seem to forget that Jews are a nation – a people. We have laws, and courts and systems. This all stems from the time of Moses – and the court system has continued from Moses to today. The judges today are called “rabbis” – and there is an unbroken chain of these judges, and of Torah transmission, from Moses until this very day.
With the destruction of the southern Kingdom of Judah by the Romans (around 135 CE) the city courts dissolved. Rabbi Akiva, one of the most famous Rabbis to ever live, was murdered by the Romans on the eve of Yom Kippur in the year 137 CE in the city of Caesarea.
To destroy the Jewish nation completely the Roman Emperor Hadrian renamed Judah to Philistia (Palestine). The name was chosen to insult the Jews – Hadrian named the land for the Philistines, an extinct people who were once the bitterest enemies of the Jews.
But what of the Rabbis and the courts upon the destruction of Judah?
During the Hadrian persecutions, the Jewish leaders had to flee and hide. They regrouped in Usha in 122 CE.
By the 135 CE Judah had been destroyed and most of the Jews exiled to foreign lands. By the time Judah was destroyed there were already about 3 – 5 million Jews lived outside the land of Israel. Many Jews had never left Babylon (Jews lived in Iran / Babylon for nearly 2500 years). 250,000 Jews lived in Alexandria, Egypt at this time. These Jewish communities had Synagogues, they had rabbis and those rabbis were judges there, too.
Hadrian dies in 139 CE. A few years later the leader of the Jews, Yehuda HaNasi (Judah the Prince) befriended Hadrian’s successor, Marcus Aurelius (161-180 C.E.). Living now in the city of Yavneh the sages under the direction of Yehuda HaNasi met to discuss the oral Torah and to write it down so that the Jews dispersed in Egypt, Babylon and around the world would not lose its teachings. This writing down of the oral Torah which they used to guide their judicial rulings into what has come to be called the Mishna (the first part of the Talmud).
By the time Marcus Aurelius died the Mishna (the first half of the Talmud) was nearly complete.
Jewish courts remained, even after the demise of the Sanhedrins (city and great). Even today Jewish courts consisting of 3 judges (Rabbis) are found throughout the world, passing judgments based in Jewish law.
Some missionaries seem to think that the priests (kohanim) “ran things.” This is biblically and historically inaccurate (the priests did not run the Sanhedrin). . . All the tribes were represented in the government, and in the judicial system – as is clearly described in the bible itself. Judaism, Jews observant to the mitzvot in the Torah, have been handed down l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation) from the first Jews to the Jews of today. We actually have lists naming the leaders in each generation. . .
So, when someone tries to tell you that the Rabbis changed the “law” (Torah) or invented things, re-read this post. Do a little reading of history for yourself. Lies work only when the truth remains untold.
The bold voice of silence
Save me, O G‑d, for the waters threaten to engulf me . . .
I am wearied by my calling out, and my throat is dry. I’ve lost hope in waiting . . .
More numerous than the hairs on my head are those who hate me without reason . . .
Must I then repay what I have not stolen?
Mighty are those who would cut me down, who are my enemies without cause . . .
O G‑d, You know my folly, and my unintended wrongs are not hidden from You . . .
It is for Your sake that I have borne disgrace, that humiliation covers my face.
I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons.
Out of envy for Your House, they ravaged me; the disgraces of those who revile You have fallen upon me . . .
Those who sit by the gate talk about me. I am the taunt of drunkards . . .
Disgrace breaks my heart, and I am left deathly sick.
I hope for solace, but there is none; and for someone to comfort me, but I find no one.
This psalm describes the life of a poor, despised and lowly individual, who lacks even a single friend to comfort him. It is the voice of a tormented soul who has experienced untold humiliation and disgrace. Through no apparent cause of his own, he is surrounded by enemies who wish to cut him down; even his own brothers are strangers to him, ravaging and reviling him.
Amazingly, this is the voice of the mighty King David, righteous and beloved servant of G‑d, feared and awed by all.
King David had many challenges throughout his life. But at what point did this great individual feel so alone, so disgraced, and so undeserving of love and friendship?
What caused King David to face such an intense ignominy, to be shunned by his own brothers in his home (“I have become a stranger to my brothers”), by the Torah sages who sat in judgment at the gates (“those who sit by the gate talk about me”) and by the drunkards on the street corners (“I am the taunt of drunkards”)? What had King David done to arouse such ire and contempt? And was there no one, at this time in his life, who would provide him with love, comfort and friendship?
This psalm, in which King David passionately gives voice to the heaviest burdens of his soul, refers to a period of twenty-eight years, from his earliest childhood until he was coronated as king of the people of Israel by the prophetSamuel.
David was born into the illustrious family of Yishai (Jesse), who served as the head of the sanhedrin (supreme court of Torah law), and was one of the most distinguished leaders of his generation. Yishai was a man of such greatness that the Talmud (Shabbat 55b) observes that “Yishai was one of only four righteous individuals who died solely due to the instigation of the serpent”—i.e., only because death was decreed upon the human race when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge at the serpent’s instigation, not due to any sin or flaw of his own. David was the youngest in his family, which included seven other illustrious and charismatic brothers.
Yet, when David was born, this prominent family greeted his birth with utter derision and contempt. As David describes quite literally in the psalm, “I was a stranger to my brothers, a foreigner to my mother’s sons . . . they put gall in my meal, and gave me vinegar to quench my thirst.”
David was not permitted to eat with the rest of his family, but was assigned to a separate table in the corner. He was given the task of shepherd because “they hoped that a wild beast would come and kill him while he was performing his duties,”2 and for this reason was sent to pasture in dangerous areas full of lions and bears.3
Only one individual throughout David’s youth was pained by his unjustified plight, and felt a deep and unconditional bond of love for the child whom she alone knew was undoubtedly pure.
This was King David’s mother, Nitzevet bat Adael, who felt the intensity of her youngest child’s pain and rejection as her own.
Torn and anguished by David’s unwarranted degradation, yet powerless to stop it, Nitzevet stood by the sidelines, in solidarity with him, shunned herself, as she too cried rivers of tears, awaiting the time when justice would be served.
It would take twenty-eight long years of assault and rejection, suffering and degradation until that justice would finally begin to materialize.
Why was the young David so reviled by his brothers and people?
To understand the hatred directed toward David, we need to investigate the inner workings behind the events, the secret episodes that aren’t recorded in the prophetic books but are alluded to in Midrashim.4
David’s father, Yishai, was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. After several years of marriage to his wife, Nitzevet, and after having raised several virtuous children, Yishai began to entertain personal doubts about his ancestry. True, he was the leading Torah authority of his day, but his grandmother Ruth was a convert from the nation of Moab, as related in the book of Ruth.
During Ruth’s lifetime, many individuals were doubtful about the legitimacy of her marriage to Boaz. The Torah specifically forbids an Israelite to marry a Moabite convert, since this is the nation that cruelly refused the Jewish people passage through their land, or food and drink to purchase, when they wandered in the desert after being freed from Egypt.
Boaz and the sages understood this law—as per the classic interpretation transmitted in the “Oral Torah”—as forbidding intermarriage with convertedmale Moabites (who were the ones responsible for the cruel conduct), while exempting female Moabite converts. With his marriage to Ruth, Boaz hoped to clarify and publicize this Torah law, which was still unknown to the masses.
Boaz died the night after his marriage with Ruth. Ruth had conceived and subsequently gave birth to their son Oved, the father of Yishai. Some rabble-rousers at the time claimed that Boaz’s death verified that his marriage to Ruth the Moabite had indeed been forbidden.
Time would prove differently. Once Oved (so called because he was a trueoved, servant of G‑d), and later Yishai and his offspring, were born, their righteous conduct and prestigious positions proved the legitimacy of their ancestry. It was impossible that men of such caliber could have descended from a forbidden union.
However, later in his life, doubt gripped at Yishai’s heart, gnawing away at the very foundation of his existence. Being the sincere individual that he was, his integrity compelled him to action.
If Yishai’s status was questionable, he was not permitted to remain married to his wife, a veritable Israelite. Disregarding the personal sacrifice, Yishai decided the only solution would be to separate from her, no longer engaging in marital relations. Yishai’s children were aware of this separation.
After a number of years had passed, Yishai longed for a child whose ancestry would be unquestionable. His plan was to engage in relations with his Canaanite maidservant.
He said to her: “I will be freeing you conditionally. If my status as a Jew is legitimate, then you are freed as a proper Jewish convert to marry me. If, however, my status is blemished and I have the legal status of a Moabite convert forbidden to marry an Israelite, I am not giving you your freedom; but as a shifchah k’naanit, a Canaanite maidservant, you may marry a Moabite convert.”
The maidservant was aware of the anguish of her mistress, Nitzevet. She understood her pain in being separated from her husband for so many years. She knew, as well, of Nitzevet’s longing for more children.
The empathetic maidservant secretly approached Nitzevet and informed her of Yishai’s plan, suggesting a bold counterplan.
“Let us learn from your ancestresses and replicate their actions. Switch places with me tonight, just as Leah did with Rachel,” she advised.
With a prayer on her lips that her plan succeed, Nitzevet took the place of her maidservant. That night, Nitzevet conceived. Yishai remained unaware of the switch.
After three months, Nitzevet’s pregnancy became obvious. Incensed, her sons wished to kill their apparently adulterous mother and the “illegitimate” fetus that she carried. Nitzevet, for her part, would not embarrass her husband by revealing the truth of what had occurred. Like her ancestress Tamar, who was prepared to be burned alive rather than embarrass Judah,5 Nitzevet chose a vow of silence. And like Tamar, Nitzevet would be rewarded for her silence with a child of greatness who would be the forebear of Moshiach.
Unaware of the truth behind his wife’s pregnancy, but having compassion on her, Yishai ordered his sons not to touch her. “Do not kill her! Instead, let the child that will be born be treated as a lowly and despised servant. In this way everyone will realize that his status is questionable and, as an illegitimate child, he will not marry an Israelite.”
From the time of his birth onwards, then, Nitzevet’s son was treated by his brothers as an abominable outcast.6 Noting the conduct of his brothers, the rest of the community assumed that this youth was a treacherous sinner full of unspeakable guilt.
On the infrequent occasions that Nitzevet’s son would return from the pastures to his home in Beit Lechem (Bethlehem), he was shunned by the townspeople. If something was lost or stolen, he was accused as the natural culprit, and ordered, in the words of the psalm, to “repay what I have not stolen.”
Eventually, the entire lineage of Yishai was questioned, as well as the basis of the original law of the Moabite convert. People claimed that all the positive qualities of Boaz became manifest in Yishai and his illustrious seven sons, while all the negative character traits from Ruth the Moabite clung to this despicable youngest son.
Anointing King David
We are first introduced to David when the prophet Samuel is commanded to go to Beit Lechem to anoint a new king, to replace the rejected King Saul.
Samuel arrives in Beit Lechem, and the elders of the city come out to greet him, nervous at this unusual and unexpected visit, since the elderly prophet had stopped circulating throughout the land. The elders feared that Samuel had heard about a grievous sin that was taking place in their city.7 Perhaps he had come to rebuke them over the behavior of Yishai’s despised shepherd boy, living in their midst.
Samuel declared, however, that he had come in peace, and asked the elders, and Yishai and his sons, to join him for a sacrificial feast. As an elder, it was natural for Yishai to be invited; but when his sons were inexplicably also invited, they worried that perhaps the prophet had come to publicly reveal the embarrassing and illegitimate origins of their brother. Unbeknownst to them, Samuel would anoint the new king of Israel at this feast. All that had been revealed to the prophet at this point was that the new king would be a son of Yishai.
When they came, Samuel saw Eliav (Yishai’s oldest son), and he thought, “Surely G‑d’s anointed stands before Him!”
But G‑d said to Samuel, “Don’t look at his appearance or his great height, for I have rejected him. G‑d does not see with mere eyes, like a man does. G‑d sees the heart!”
Then Yishai called Avinadav (his second son), and made him pass before Samuel. He said: “G‑d did not choose this one either.”
Yishai made Shammah pass, and Samuel said, “G‑d has not chosen this one either.”
Yishai had his seven sons pass before Samuel. Samuel said to Yishai, “G‑d has not chosen any of them.”
At last Samuel said to Yishai, “Are there no lads remaining?”
He answered, “A small one is left; he is taking care of the sheep.”
So Samuel said to him, “Send for him and have him brought; we will not stir until he comes here.”
So he sent for him and had him brought. He was of ruddy complexion with red hair, beautiful eyes, and handsome to look at.
G‑d said: “Rise up, anoint him, for this is the one!” (I Samuel 16:6–12)
The Small One, Left Behind
As Samuel laid his eyes on Yishai’s eldest son, he was certain that this was the future king of Israel. Tall, handsome and distinguished, Eliav was the one whom Samuel was ready to anoint, until G‑d reprimanded Samuel to look not at the outside but at the inside.8
No longer did Samuel make any assumptions of his own, but he waited to be told who was to become the next king. All the seven sons of Yishai had passed before Samuel, and none of them had been chosen.
“Are these all the lads?” Samuel asked. Samuel prophetically chose his words carefully. Had he asked if these were all Yishai’s sons, Yishai would have answered affirmatively, that there were no more of his sons, since David was not given the status of a son.
Instead, Yishai answered, “A small one is left; he is taking care of the sheep.” David’s status was small in Yishai’s eyes. He was hoping that Samuel would allow David to remain where he was, out of trouble, tending to the sheep in the faraway pastures.
But Samuel ordered that David immediately be summoned to the feast. A messenger was dispatched to David who, out of respect for the prophet, first went home to wash himself and change his clothes. Unaccustomed to seeing David home at such a time, Nitzevet inquired, “Why did you come home in the middle of the day?”
David explained the reason, and Nitzevet answered, “If so, I too am accompanying you.”
As David arrived, Samuel saw a man “of ruddy complexion, with red hair, beautiful eyes, and handsome to look at.” David’s physical appearance alludes to the differing aspects of his personality. His ruddiness suggests a warlike nature, while his eyes and general appearance indicate kindness and gentility.9
At first Samuel doubted whether David could be the one worthy of the kingship, a forerunner of the dynasty that would lead the Jewish people to the end of time. He thought to himself, “This one will shed blood as did the red-headedEsau.”10
G‑d saw, however, that David’s greatness was that he would direct his aggressiveness toward positive aims. G‑d commanded Samuel, “My anointed one is standing before you, and you remain seated? Arise and anoint David without delay! For he is the one I have chosen!”11
As Samuel held the horn of oil, it bubbled, as if it could not wait to drop onto David’s forehead. When Samuel anointed him, the oil hardened and glistened like pearls and precious stones, and the horn remained full.
As Samuel anointed David, the sound of weeping could be heard from outside the great hall. It was the voice of Nitzevet, David’s lone supporter and solitary source of comfort.
Her twenty-eight long years of silence in the face of humiliation were finally coming to a close. At last, all would see that the lineage of her youngest son was pure, undefiled by any blemish. Finally, the anguish and humiliation that she and her son had borne would come to an end.
Facing her other sons, Nitzevet exclaimed, “The stone that was reviled by the builders12 has now become the cornerstone!” (Psalms 118:22)
Humbled, they responded, “This has come from G‑d; it was hidden from our eyes” (ibid., verse 23).
Those in the hall cried out in unison, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” Within moments, the once-reviled shepherd boy became the anointed future king of Israel.
King David would have many more trials to face until he was acknowledged by the entire nation as the new monarch to replace King Saul. During his kingship, and throughout his life, up until his old age, King David faced many ordeals.
King David possessed many great talents and qualities which would assist him in attaining the tremendous achievements of his lifetime. Many of these positive qualities were inherited from his illustrious father, Yishai, after whom he is fondly and respectfully called ben Yishai, the son of Yishai.
But it was undoubtedly from his mother that the young David absorbed the fortitude and courage to face his adversaries. From the moment he was born, and during his most tender years, it was Nitzevet who, by example, taught him the essential lesson of valuing every individual’s dignity and refraining from embarrassing another, regardless of the personal consequences. It was she who displayed a silent but stoic bravery and dignity in the face of the gravest hardship.
It is from Nitzevet that King David absorbed the strength, born from an inner confidence, to disregard the callous treatment of the world and find solace in the comfort of one’s Maker. It was this strength that would fortify King David to defeat his staunchest antagonists and his most treacherous enemies, as he valiantly fought against the mightiest warriors on behalf of his people.
Nitzevet taught her young child to find strength in following the path of one’s inner convictions, irrespective of the cruelty that might be hurled at him. Her display of patient confidence in the Creator that justice would be served gave David the inner peace and solace that he would need, over and over again, in confronting the formidable challenges in his life. Rather than succumb to his afflictions, rather than become the individual who was shunned by his tormentors, David learned from his mother to stand proud and dignified, feeling consolation in communicating with his Maker in the open pastures.
She demonstrated to him, as well, the necessity of boldness while pursuing the right path. When the situation would call for it, personal risks must be taken. Without her bold action in taking the place of her maidservant that fateful night, the great soul of her youngest child, David, the forebear of Moshiach, would never have descended to this world.
The soul-stirring psalms composed by King David in his greatest hours of need eloquently describe his suffering and heartache, as well as his faith and conviction. The book of Psalms gives a voice to each of us, and has become the balm to soothe all of our wounds, as we too encounter the many personal and communal hardships of life in galut (exile).
As we say these verses, our voices mesh with Nitzevet’s, with King David’s, and with all the voices of those past and present who have experienced unjustified pain, in beseeching our Maker for that time when the “son (descendant) of David” will usher in the era of redemption, and true justice will suffuse creation.
|1.||Translation taken from The Living Nach, published by Moznaim.|
|2.||Siftei Kohen, Vayeishev.|
|3.||See I Samuel 17:34–36.|
|4.||The story and concepts in this chapter are based on Yalkut HaMachiri, as well as Sefer HaTodaah (section on Sivan and Shavuot). See also an interesting English rendition in the bookDon’t Give Up, pp. 187ff.|
|5.||See Genesis ch. 38, and Midrashim and commentaries on that chapter.|
|6.||In the verse in the psalm where David says he was a “stranger” to his brothers, the Hebrew word for stranger, muzar, is from the same root as mamzer—bastard, illegitimate offspring.|
|7.||Commentaries of Radak and Abarbanel to I Samuel 16:3.|
|8.||A short while after this coronation feast, David was instructed by his father to visit Eliav at the battlefield. A war with the Philistines was imminent, and Eliav lashed out in anger at David. This tendency to anger disqualified Eliav now from the throne. (This event occurred after David was anointed as king. However, according to the commentaries, it is possible that they didn’t understand the implications of the anointing, assuming that Samuel had designated David as a new student in his school of prophecy. Though this was an honor, and an act that would validate David’s lineage, only once David actually became king over the entire nation did his brothers realize his true greatness.)|
|10.||Bereishit Rabbah 63:8.|
|11.||Midrash Tanchuma, Va’eira 6.|
|12.||The Hebrew word in this verse for “builders,” bonim, is the same root as the word for “sons.”|
By Hillel Kuttler
A mezuzah tilts on the front door frame of the house on Raven Street in the Israeli desert town of Arad, near the Dead Sea. On the kitchen wall, Hebrew from the Friday-night blessing Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valor) is inscribed on a colorful chamsa charm. Upon the den door appears a sticker for Delaware’s Siegel Jewish Community Center.
The woman who lives here, Constance Campbell, is not Jewish. She is Christian and a proud Israeli—and most of her five children, 19 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren are Jewish and likewise live in Israel. The long-time manager of Israel’s iconic historical site at Masada is Campbell’s son, Eitan; he considers himself neither Jewish nor Christian. He identifies himself simply as “Israeli.”
Campbell and her late husband were religiously motivated to move to Israel, much like many American Jews. Like many in the late 1960s who made aliyah (literally: ascended), the Campbells were spiritually inspired by the country’s victory in the Six-Day War.
“We thought that this is what the Lord wanted us to do, to be in Israel,” Campbell, 83, said, offering a guest dried fruit and nuts from a Tu B’Shvat basket a neighbor delivered.
Devout Episcopalians, the senior Campbells relocated their family from suburban Wilmington in 1968 to support Israel and to revel in the Jewish nation’s reconstitution in its ancient homeland. Some Israelis call them “Christian olim” or “Christian Zionists”—even righteous gentiles.
The Campbells followed a typical immigrant’s path once in Israel: They attended an ulpan for intensive Hebrew-language study, made friends, decided where to settle, landed jobs and enrolled their children in school. Three of the kids adopted Hebrew names they’ve maintained: Eitan was born Kevin, Cameron became Ron, Ian switched to Ilan. (Only the now-deceased Jackson Burns Campbell Jr., known as J.B., demurred.) Two children born after the move received Israeli names: Ma’ayan and Yishai.
They’re even typical in their post-aliyah wanderings: Jackson and Constance moved most of the clan back to America in the late 1970s before returning a decade later; Ron remained in the United States far longer, resettling in Israel in 2010. The Campbells have taken spiritual journeys, too: Ma’ayan and Ilan converted to Judaism long ago, with Ilan becoming very observant. Yishai became a Jehovah’s Witness.
No Law of Return
A Christian family moving to Israel isn’t the norm. Israel’s Law of Return, passed by Knesset (parliament) in 1950 and modified over the years, entitles Diaspora Jews to immigrate and become citizens. But most non-Jews have no such right. So they often begin on tourist or work visas and eventually obtain temporary-resident or even permanent-resident status. Becoming a citizen entails some risk. Many countries don’t allow for dual citizenship. The United States does, and Ron Campbell, 57, recently applied to be an Israeli citizen. Eitan became a citizen several decades ago. Noncitizens aren’t eligible to vote in national elections for Knesset, although permanent residents may vote in municipal elections.
It’s unclear how many Christian Zionists reside in Israel. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 33,000 non-Arab Christians lived in the country by late 2013; the numbers aren’t broken down by denomination and land of origin. (Of the nearly 161,000 Christians in Israel, 127,800 are Arabs.)
Christian immigrants interviewed for this article stated that they’ve integrated nicely and are accepted by Jewish Israelis. Curiosity about their religion fades, they noted, and the respect extended to Israelis is reciprocated.
Many immigrant Christians’ assimilation derives from the Israeli responsibilities they’ve shouldered and the burdens they’ve carried.
Avi and Itai Setz—Christians like their parents Will and Yudit, who immigrated separately from the Netherlands 30 years ago—served in combat units in the Israel Defense Forces. Petra Heldt, a Berlin native who’s resided in Israel since 1979, was severely wounded in a July 1997 terrorist attack while shopping in Jerusalem’s market, Machne Yehuda. Hava (née Darlene) Bausch, of Chico, Calif., has lived in the Galilee since settling in Israel in 1973 and wouldn’t think of moving back to America, even after the death nine years ago of her husband Lev (formerly Arden) and her continuing recovery from cancer.
“I feel like a tourist when I’m in America,” Bausch said. “This is home.”
Said Rafael Jospe, an observant Jew who teaches philosophy at Ariel University and is a close friend of Heldt and her British-Christian husband, Malcolm Lowe, “These are fine people. I wish many Jews were as Zionist as they are. She’s paid with her blood, literally, for her support for Israel.”
Not all immigrant Christians’ presence is benevolent.
Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, said some settling in Israel conceal their motives,
only to proselytize later.
He’s noticed that those proselytizing have become increasingly overt, even brazen. Some represent overseas evangelical movements. A few individuals take legal action in bids to alter the Law of Return to enable wider Christian immigration and citizenship.
Christian evangelical conferences held in Israel might ordinarily be viewed as believers’ internal rallies, but several gatherings set for 2015 have agendas explicitly including preaching to Jews, Schneider said.
One such event, held in May in Jerusalem and called Empowered21, was organized by the Pentecostal Global Congress. Its website says “Pray for Jewish hearts to be turned to Messiah Jesus,” with the heading, “Preparing Jerusalem for Their King.”
As stated on its website, the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism’s agenda for its assembly in Jerusalem this August includes the following bullet point: “Strategize on the global level so that more Jewish people will hear and consider the good news of Jesus the Messiah.”
Promotions for these and other events attest to “increasing signs that Christian Zionists or Israel-supporting Christian groups are more and more active as missionaries,” Schneider said. “I’ve been shocked to find that some people who are true friends of Israel are missionaries—openly.
“This raises questions for people like me who [were]very vocal in trying to advocate for B’nai B’rith to be out in front in embracing cooperating with these Christians, with the Evangelicals,” he said.
“You can’t be a friend of Israel if you’re here to missionize Jews—the remnant of Jews after the Holocaust. I’m not going to make common cause with anyone even remotely related to missionary activity.”
A small group of Israeli Jews working to combat such missionary activity is JewishIsrael.com.
Christian Zionists’ proselytizing often begins with what Ellen Horowitz, the organization’s content and research director, said is called “church planting,” establishing a presence in Israel to entice Jews to adopt Christianity or Messianic Judaism (Jews who believe in Jesus).
Israeli law prohibits only those missionary activities involving financial inducements or involving a minor without parental consent.
But Israel is in somewhat of a bind, Schneider and Horowitz explained, because it markets itself as a tourism destination for Christians. And while protecting the Jewish nature of the state, Israel also is wary of running afoul of the United States’ International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 that monitors other countries’ compliance and issues an annual report listing non-complying governments.
An Israeli Ministry of Interior spokeswoman did not respond to several requests for comment.
The Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel, an organization of Christian clerics that eschews proselytizing, is directed by Heldt, an ordained Protestant minister. The group assists other Christians in a Zionist way, helping Arabs, such as some living in Nazareth, interested in deepening their own identification as Christian Israelis rather than as Christian Arabs, including by serving in the IDF.
Paving the Way to Israel
B’nai B’rith gave Heldt a grant to study in Israel in 1974. “That instilled a love [of Israel] that’s been with me ever since,” said Heldt, who went on to earn a doctorate at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she teaches Christianity and Judaism in the Middle East in the first millennium C.E.
“It was never planned—can you imagine?” she said regarding the motivations for settling in Israel.
Heldt is deferential to Israel and expresses appreciation for being allowed to reside freely as a Christian in a sovereign Jewish state. Asked what she enjoys most about living in Israel, Heldt cites very Jewish-religious dimensions, like discovering new synagogues in her Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona and families’ singing wafting through her open windows to celebrate every Shabbat.
“I regard it as grace, and as great. To live in Israel, among Israelis, to share with Israelis the joys and the pains, is something very special,” Heldt said.
Sundays, she worships in a church in the Old City. Saturdays, Heldt attends synagogue services, her fluency in Hebrew and familiarity with the liturgy enabling her to partake. Jewish holidays regularly find Heldt and her husband Lowe celebrating at the home of Jospe and his family a few miles away.
“The last 18, 19 years, we haven’t had a Pesach without them,” she said. “We love them because they’re devoted to God in their way, we in our way. It isn’t a question of converting them. It wouldn’t occur to me.”
In Arad, Campbell relates something remarkable, too, that deals with personal influence.
It’s not just that she and her husband, shortly before moving to Israel in 1968, attended a New York museum exhibition about Masada—hardly dreaming that Eitan would eventually run the site. Or that Ron, having visited Israel only three times as an adult, would return in 2010 to live there because, as he said, “I identify myself 100 percent as Israeli,” even though he never converted to Judaism, or that Ilan’s son would study to be a rabbi.
It is this: Eitan’s friend in New Jersey said that meeting Constance had actually strengthened his Jewish identity.
“That makes me feel so good,” she said.
In the village of Neve-Oved-Poria, near the Sea of Galilee, Bausch, too, finds abundant welcome.
Her Sephardic landlord had just dropped off some hamentaschen for Purim. Friends, including a young family living on an agricultural settlement, host her for other Jewish holiday celebrations. She attends Christian worship, and, if invited, she’ll join Arab friends for their Christian holiday festivities. “But it’s not like I even have a Christmas tree,” Bausch said.
“I’m in a Jewish environment, you see. I like the Jewish holidays.”
When the Second Lebanon War broke out in 2006, Bausch, then living in Tiberias, sought shelter as Hezbollah-launched rockets fell around. “You become part of things,” she said.
She never considered leaving the country during the war.
“You have to make a decision when you come here, just like any Jewish person,” she said. “You can’t just be here for the yofi-tofi [swell] times.”
When Christian tourists she knew wanted to proselytize, Bausch set them straight. The chastened visitors emerged, she said, “with a better understanding of Israel.”
The Boomerang Effect
For Shannon Nuszen, the boomerang went a step further than that.
The daughter of a minister, Nuszen was trained in her Houston church, Assembly of God, to proselytize to Jews. Seeking a deeper understanding, Nuszen read traditional Jewish books. Her self-education in Judaism caused her to reassess her mission.
“My whole world fell apart. I realized that Judaism did make sense,” Nuszen said.
That was 10 years ago, setting her on the path to conversion. She is now Jewish, and with her Jewish-born husband, the parents of seven children in a blended family, attends an Orthodox synagogue in Houston. The kids go to a Jewish school.
This summer, the Nuszens plan to move to Israel.
Published: 06.25.15, 23:28 / Israel Jewish Scene
Jerusalem Municipality gives in to haredi uproar following major Christian conference held at city’s multi-purpose sports arena last month for allowing Christian organizations to hold a major conference at the venue last month. The event was eventually held as planned despite the haredi outcry, but the Municipality decided to give in to the haredi demand concerning any future events.
Thousands of Christians from around the world participated in last month’s conference at the new sports arena despite the haredi protest, which defined the event as a “major show of forced conversion.”
The haredi media asserted that the event was aimed at convincing Jews to join Christianity with the help of missionaries who had arrived in Israel for that very purpose. The city’s rabbis also intervened and asked the Municipality to call off the event, but their demand was rejected due to legal issues.
Following the protest, the haredi representatives in the Jerusalem Municipality reached an agreement with Mayor Nir Barkat that in future events, the city’s rabbis and legal advisors will be consulted before the permits are issued.
The Jerusalem Municipality offered the following response: “It has been decided that in future events, in case concerns are raised about illegal missionary activity, Jerusalem’s chief rabbis and the Municipality’s legal advisors will be consulted.”
Posted by Jewish Israel on June 24, 2015 at 8:00pm
While numerous Christian Zionist leaders continue to deny any proselytizing or a conversionary agenda connected with their “pro-Israel” involvement, it has become increasingly evident that a great number of devout evangelicals can’t help but “fish” for vulnerable Jewish souls by “sharing” the gospel, engaging in “outreach” efforts, or by “planting” messianic congregations in Israel.
Trying to restrain an insatiable drive to proselytize is not unlike the popular “Fishaholics” shark scene from the animated film “Finding Nemo”, save for one important element. A virtual missionary feeding frenzy has ensued because it is Jewish leadership which has been openly and eagerly trawling for Christian financial and political support, and engaging in uninhibited interfaith “bridge-building” efforts. This, despite knowing full well that the waters are unmarked, murky and hazardous.
JewishIsrael realizes that not everyone has the head or stomach to read in-depth reporting about the evangelical missionary incursion into Israel. For those who simply can’t stomach the gravity of the situation, or fathom how “friendship evangelism” is impacting the very core of Judaism in the Jewish state, we’ve posted a number of new videos illustrating evangelical inroads into Israel. We’ve focused on three specific videos in this report and have provided brief and concise descriptions.
Description: OneforIsrael.org is a cutting edge, aggressively proselytizing Christian organization targeting Jews for conversion. It’s run by native born Israeli “believers in jesus” and enjoys the support of major missionary entitiessuch as Jews for Jesus, Chosen People Ministries (CPM), the Lausanne Movement and Campus Crusade for Christ.
In addition to their use of high-tech evangelizing tools to attract young Israelis, OneforIsrael.org furthers their conversionary agenda by partnering with local Israeli authorities to provide humanitarian aid and bring the “love of Yeshua” to Holocaust survivors.
One for Israel’s recent June 15th newsletter is claiming successes on a number of fronts, including the conversion of an Israeli family of six, as well as having lectured on Jesus to a group of 40 mechina students – at the apparent behest of the IDF:
A GROUP FROM THE ARMY CAME TO LEARN ABOUT YESHUA
“A couple of weeks ago, we had a request from the Israel Defence Forces to ask if they could send a group to come and hear about what we believe. Of course, we gladly agreed! Around 40 young people from all over Israel who are part of the preparatory program before joining the army came to visit, and for 2 hours they gathered in our main hall and listened as we spoke with them about Yeshua. We had a great connection and a great time with them, answering dozens of questions about Messianic Jews, the New Testament, and so on. Please join us in prayer that Yeshua will not leave them alone in their thoughts, and that their hearts will not find rest until they choose to follow the way the truth and the life.”
OneforIsrael.org is a project of the “Israel College of the Bible” located in Netanya and directed by Israeli messianic Erez Soref. JewishIsrael has cited Soref as well as those missionaries connected with oneforisrael.org in previous reports from May 2010, May 2013, and December 2014.
Description: Missionaries Dean Bye, his son-in-law Chaim Malespin and Eitan Shishkoff describe a new messianic center in Kfar Hittim (located in the Lower Galilee near Tiberias). Beit Hittim or the Fields of Wheat Hospitality Village plans to brings major missionary leaders and congregations together to train messianic youth and to attract new Jewish olim to a center of “Christian love and comfort” – and it’s free of charge!
Dean Bye of Return Ministries is a “beloved” Christian Zionist leader from Canada with strong connections to the Jewish community and to organizations such as ICEJ Canada (the International Christian Embassy) and KCAC(the Knesset Christian Allie Caucus). Dean Bye’s ministry works in partnership with messianic missionary entities such as Eitan Shishkoff’s Tents of Mercy. Through “Project Return”, Bye has facilitated in the Aliyah of active messianic missionaries such as Marty and Sue Shoub, as well as his own son-in-law Chaim Japheth Malespin.
As part of Return Ministries, Malespin runs the Aliyah Return Center in Tiberias which in his own words was “established to give a free stay to the new returning Jewish people and Christian messianic hospitality.“ Bye makes it clear that his ministry team has “been welcomed into Galilee of the Gentiles by the local Messianic community and significant friends in the Orthodox community.”
Bye is inspired by a new testament formula which many Jews will find deeply offensive. First bring them [the Jews] on Aliyah by “provoking them to jealousy” (Romans 11:11), and then become an integral part of the new olim’s Jewish lives by acting “as a Jew with a Jew” (1 Corinthians 9:20) via free messianic missionary hospitality at the Aliyah Return Center.
Canadian businessman Jerry O’Leary is helping to finance the new messianic Fields of Wheat Hospitality Village in Kfar Hittim. O’Leary’s website, LovingGodBlessingIsrael.com, makes it clear that received donations “will be sown into the purchase of land and establishment of a unique ministry center, Fields of Wheat in Galilee, Israel. This facility is an Israeli expression of the joint destiny of Israel and the nations. It is the prayerful answer to the heart cry of Israeli Messianic leaders to meet the vital needs of the Body of Messiah in Israel. Fields of Wheat will be a place to gather for children’s summer camps, youth retreats and national conferences, and will provide opportunities for volunteers from the nations to serve the people of Israel as an expression of love for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
JewishIsrael was surprised and saddened to see that Leket Canada: Israel’s National Food Bank is listed as being involved in this missionary project to empower the messianic movement in Israel.
It’s worth noting that in 2011 JewishIsrael gave the community a heads-up on Return Ministries. We gave private presentations to Jewish community leaders and issued a report on Dean Bye’s connection with Tommy Waller of Hayovel Ministries. Chaim Malespin’s activities were also discussed in that report. JewishIsrael also has a number of documents and reports citing messianic leader Eitan Shishkoff of Tents of Mercy.
As expected, once JewishIsrael issues reports, the missionary webpages we link to are often removed. But we retain archived copies of our material and periodically do site maintenance to replace dead and missing links.
Description: Wayne Hilsden, senior pastor of King of Kings [messianic] Community Jerusalem (KKCJ) has purchased yet another piece of Jerusalem’s real estate for a major messianic meeting center to further his evangelizing efforts in Israel.
Hilsden is partnering with Jentezen Franklin Media Ministries to launch what is being described as “an unprecedented opportunity in the nation of Israel to help create faith communities for nine Messianic Jewish congregations speaking five different languages. It is called Celebration Center and it is in the very heart of Jerusalem.”
KKCJ already has a large top to bottom presence in central Jerusalem’s Clal Center, on Jaffa Street. The active messianic entity already occupies, and apparently owns, several offices, a prayer tower, large auditorium space and a restaurant. KKCJ has recently opened up a soup kitchen and is actively in the midst of renovating their new property – a former wedding hall – for the messianic “Celebration Center”.
Wayne Hilsden, who is also a close associate of the ICEJ, explained his success and the strategy behind expanding the messianic movement in Israel at ICEJ’s 2014 Envision Conference.
JewishIsrael notes that Hilsden has been very visible and at the forefront of recent major conferences which have united Christian Zionist leaders from abroad with Israeli messianic Christians, the aim of which is evangelizing and empowering the messianic presence in Israel. Unfortunately certain leaders of the Jewish business sector in Israel have no qualms about encouraging and helping to realize a significant messianic foothold in Israel.
It’s Shark Wrestling Time
Recently JewishIsrael got together with some of its board members and advisors to take a look at the recent proselytizing boom and the way in which Christian Zionists are facilitating a jesus revolution in Israel.
Professor Richard Landes and columnist Diane Weber Bederman joined us and shared in our concerns. They, as well as other who were present at the meeting (although not pictured), are grappling with the issue of curbing proselytizing in Israel and seeking ways to establish parameters for religious freedom in a state which is founded on Jewish values and determined to ensure its sovereignty and unique Jewish character. How one navigates in a sea surrounded by deceptive spiritual “friends” and physical enemies is also a uniquely Jewish problem. It has been since time immemorial.
On behalf of those who are not such ‘big hitters’ and fail to get a mention but never the less make significant un-acknowledged contribution to educate about missionary activity in Israel. I want to say that it would have been a nice to have at least got a mention in the article below after taking so much time out of work to talk, give advice, and who to contact [Avraham Leibler @ JewishIsrael] to the author on the phone, much of which I see in this article. Unless of course I am waisting my time!!? If so please let me know.
Remember the good old days when the only thing the Israelis had to worry about was being wiped off the map by their enemies? (Oh wait, that is still a problem.) But remember the other good old days when Jews for Jesus used to hand out pamphlets trying to convince Jews to convert? Or when the main evangelizing problem we faced was how to fit the unsolicited books and tapes we receive from Sid Roth and his ilk into the trash? It used to be, you could pretty much tell when someone was eager to share the “good news.” But in Israel, who worried about that sort of thing? It’s a Jewish State!
While the traditional tactics unfortunately still exist, and there are still far too many Jews being ensnared with these methods, missionary efforts have grown and gotten more sophisticated, especially in the State of Israel. Missionaries realize that the direct, confrontational approach is not very popular or effective. Most Christian Zionist groups operating in Israel (for the most part composed of evangelicals), such as the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, Christians United for Israel, Bridges for Peace, International Christian Zionist Center, and many others, claim they don’t proselytize. And they do not – directly.
Rather, they are aligned behind the scenes with groups that are aggressively proselytizing. If asked, many of these Christian Zionist groups will deny that they are trying to convert Jews to Christianity. Indeed, this is not their agenda. Their goal is to bring Jews to belief in Jesus, without which Jews cannot be “fulfilled.” And they sincerely believe that this is not the same as conversion.
From our perspective, of course, the subtle distinction doesn’t matter. However they word it, it shows a severe lack of respect for the Jewish religion when an outside faith system believes it knows what is best for us and what our true religion is supposed to be.
Why Can’t We All Just Be Friends?
Missionary activity is not illegal in Israel except when a financial incentive is offered or when approaching minors under the age of eighteen. Organizations therefore attempt it openly. Many missionaries are of Jewish origin, including Avi Mizrachi, an Israeli-born “Messianic” in Tel Aviv. He does not merely have his own congregation; he also runs the Dugit Messianic Outreach Center in Tel Aviv, where free coffee and entertainment are offered, mostly to secular youth. The trained staff is more than happy to share their faith.
In Jerusalem, the Clal building, at 97 Jaffa Road, is a sort of headquarters for missionary groups. King of Kings Ministries has an office on the 14th floor along with a “prayer tower,” and on the bottom floor is Café Forte. There had been on-and-off controversies about itshechsher in the past, but it currently has a Jerusalem Rabbinate kosher certification. Nonetheless, whoever patronizes this café is helping support the missionary effort.
There are hundreds of evangelical groups around the world that raise millions of dollars to support the people of Israel. Their humanitarian efforts include supplying food to the poor, educational materials to schools, donations to hospitals, aiding IDF soldiers, and volunteering to help in the fields. By definition, however, evangelicals have a “mission” to spread the word. They have a phrase to describe the reason for these loving deeds: “to provoke the Jews to jealously.” By being only good to us, they hope we will ask them to share their faith, and they are more than happy to do so.
According to Rabbi Michael Skobac (in a YouTube video entitled Evangelicals and Israel: Knight in Shining Armor or Trojan Horse?), about 25 to 40 percent of Americans identify as evangelical, and this is the fastest growing Protestant group in America. He says, “The basic reality is, the people who are the most supportive of Israel today are the very same Christians who are waging a very fierce campaign to convert world Jewry to Christianity. While it is true that evangelicals support Israel, love Israel, and even love Jews, evangelicals do not love Judaism. They believe Judaism is a false religion and that every Jew is on a paved road straight to hell unless they convert to Christianity.” Rabbi Skobac quotes Frank Eichorn, a former leader of Shalom International. Although he denied engaging in missionary activity, Eichorn explained in an internal memo to his fellow Christians, “The key to Jewish hearts is unconditional love. More Jewish people are converting today than any time in history.”
Time and time again, the website JewishIsrael.com publishes similar proofs and wording showing that most Christian Zionists have an agenda, even as they deny it.
Avraham Leibler, who made aliyah from the U.S. in 1983, and his Israeli-born wife, Shulamit, founded the Jewish Israel organization (JI) in 2008 after realizing that Israel is in the crosshairs of a massive but subtle missionary campaign targeting Jews for conversion. Few in either the Jewish public or the Israeli leadership seemed aware of this problem or took it seriously. Along with several board members, which include rabbinic director, Rabbi Dr. Sholom Gold, and content and research director, Ellen Horowitz, they created and maintain the Jewish Israel website, which monitors and responds proactively to missionary campaigns.
I met the Leiblers and Ellen in the Leiblers’ Jerusalem apartment recently, where they introduced me to many of the concepts relating to Christian groups and what is happening on the ground in Israel. Jewish Israel is 99 percent self-funded, mainly because they don’t have the time to fundraise. With thousands of articles, links, videos, and images, the website contains a wealth of searchable information identifying who’s who in the missionary world, connections between the “non-proselytizing” organizations and their supporters, and how this affects Israel.
“Certainly there are a number of righteous gentiles who have been taking a moral stand with the State of Israel over the years and who are truly Israel’s friends,” Ellen emphasized. “Jewish Israel is not opposed to Christianity or investment from gentile sources. What they are disturbed by is the proselytizing agenda of organizations targeting the Jewish people.”
One of the most distressing videos on their site is a Restoration Feast of the Tabernacles Convention, a Christian celebration held in Jerusalem, organized by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. David Parsons, media and public relations director, speaks in English, with a simultaneous Hebrew translation. Why Hebrew? Because the featured honored guests, who are told to come up on stage and participate, comprise several units of IDF paratroopers. Their presence was organized by IDF veteran Doron Schneider, a self-described “Jesus-believing Jew.” As Ellen Horowitz writes, “As part of the honor, the soldiers were subject to sermons on the Jewishness of Jesus and how Christian prayers from churches and saints are behind them.” Parsons presents a picture of Christian love and support for Israel, explaining to the soldiers that there is a worldwide campaign of Christians reciting Isaiah 62 and offering prayers for the sake of Israel. What he fails to mention is that when evangelicals recite these verses, their kavana (aim) is that they are praying as Israel’s intercessors, since only their words reach G-d, and what they are praying for is that the nation of Israel will come to belief.
A Shabbos Meal…with Love
One would think that Israel is a refuge from this kind of behavior. On the contrary: Although there is an organization operating in Israel called HaMiflaht (The Refuge), it is not a safe place. Led by Scott and Theresa Johnson, this group is funded by a non-profit organization in Tennessee involved in missionary activity. In a YouTube video, you can see the Johnsons, who were former volunteers for International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, host a table full of IDF soldiers each week for a Shabbat meal at their Jerusalem home. Although Johnson is Christian, and he makes sure his guests are aware of that, he recitesKiddush, and his guests enjoy what looks like a lively Shabbat. They offer every amenity that these young people, many of whom are “lone soldiers,” could want.
The Johnsons insist they don’t proselytize, but Ira Michaelson knows better. Ira is one of a growing number of Jews working in the counter-missionary field who were themselves former missionaries. He was active in the Messianic movement for over 20 years and is now the outreach coordinator for Jews for Judaism East, after recently making aliyah. As Ira says, “Do you think if these kids ask Johnson about his faith he won’t share? He just waits to be asked.”
The Johnsons boast on their website that they serve over 4,500 meals a year to lone soldiers and new immigrants. The most important dish they serve, however, is their Christian love. Also on their website are letters of praise from several lone soldiers. One young man, Daniel, describes the delicious food and atmosphere and writes, “But that is not the only thing we do; until late at night we spend time on our balcony, drink wine, and talk about G-d, the stories of the Bible and the Tanach, and the persons from these stories.” He ends his letter with this (emphasis mine): “Scott and Theresa, the way they live, helped me change my mind about life and religion. It opened my eyes. First I was skeptic [sic] about what they told me, but the more I heard, saw, read, and studied about it, the more I got convinced that it all was true. I truly believe that G-d sent me to those people like angels that helped me understand and opened my eyes to this new life.”
Lone Soldiers and Other Vulnerables
The Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ), an organization founded by the “Messianic” lawyer Calev Myers in 2004, also has a lone soldiers project. As a way to influence this vulnerable population, JIJ presented their plans to help improve the lives of lone soldiers to the Knesset Security and Foreign Affairs Committee and were approved. This helps relieve the financial burden for the Israeli army, which otherwise provides its own places for these soldiers who have no home in Israel to go to when on leave. Although there are many Jewish places for lone soldiers, they are not as nice and “fun” as the ones supported with Christian money.
Avraham Leibler explains, “Chances are that if you are a religious lone soldier, you will not end up staying in one of the Christian houses. But if you are a secular lone soldier, and someone tells you that they have a Shabbat party and a movie afterwards, that sounds great!”
Of course, soldiers are not the only targets of these missionary groups. And personal Jewish acceptance of the primary Christian belief is not their only objective. Ruth Guggenheim, director of Jews for Judaism East, says, “One of their long-term goals is to simply get Israelis used to hearing the Hebrew word mashiach used to mean the Christian diety. Just like the Big Lie of Goebbels, if something is repeated enough times, it becomes acceptable, believable. What the missionaries are instructed not to do, however, is to bring up the trinity idea or that they consider Jesus a deity until much later.”
One way the message gets repeated every day in Israel is by means of television and radio. There are three Christian TV channels on cable or satellite, some broadcasting 24/7. There are hundreds of sophisticated websites and Facebook groups with translations in several languages including Hebrew, Russian, and Amharic – with one goal: to convert the Jews.
Ruth says that missionaries have worked hard over the years to make conversion more “palatable to Jews who might have never considered converting to Christianity. In the ‘good old days,’ when a Jew accepted Christian beliefs, he always called himself a Christian. Now they have a marketing scheme and use the ‘brand’ name, ‘Messianic Jews’ that allows Jews to believe they can remain within the Jewish fold while ‘only’ accepting ‘Yeshua.’”
These people get insulted if you call them Christians. “We are Jews!” they insist, and want to be accepted as just another stream of Judaism, like the Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. They claim to base their beliefs on the Hebrew Scriptures – with their unique interpretation, of course – and scorn the “legalism” of rabbinic Judaism.
In describing the enormity of the problem in Israel, Ruth says, “In America, we live in a Christian society. But if you think of the over 150 Hebrew Christian congregations in Israel, a country no bigger than New Jersey, and compare that to around 400 such congregations in America, think of the concentration there. The Israeli population has never confronted this. From secular to chareidi, Jews live in a Jewish society. The issues they have had to deal with in the past have only been regarding physical destruction.
“And now you have a large group of Christians who ‘love the Jewish community’ and are so supportive of Israel both politically and financially, coming in with open arms. Israelis are not used to looking at the possibility that these friends could be wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
Jews for Judaism figures show the shocking growth of Messianic believers (not all halachically Jewish) in Israel. In 1948, there were only 12 Jews who self-identified that way. In 1998, there were 6,000. It took another 11 years for that number to go up to 10,000 in 2009. But four years later, the number doubled to 20,000. It is unlikely that this is due to a population explosion.
There is even a second generation, people who grew up in Israel and were raised Messianic. Some of them attend a Hebrew-speaking primary school (through 9th grade) in the heart of Jerusalem, Makor HaTikvah. Although not all the children of the Messianics attend this school – many attend regular public school – it boasts well over 100 students.
A Flaw in the Law
How do we explain this statistical anomaly? It has to do with Israel’s Law of Return (LOR). This fundamental law of Israel was originally passed in 1950. The intent was to make Israel a haven for any Jew who needed a home or chose to make aliyah. The exceptions were “anyone engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people” or who “is likely to endanger public health or the security of the State.” An amendment in 1970 defined the word Jew to mean anyone who was born of a Jewish mother or who has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.” (Emphasis mine.)
Another amendment was added at the same time. For the purposes of family reunification, it was decided that the LOR also applied “to a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.” (Emphasis mine.)
In other words, according to an Israeli lawyer I contacted, the LOR grants citizenship to anyone who has at least one Jewish parent or grandparent (or a Jewish spouse), unless one’s mother is Jewish and they have “willfully changed religions.” However, as long as the applicant with the Jewish parent or grandparent was not himself halachically Jewish, he is allowed to make aliyah with no restrictions! It doesn’t matter what religion he practices. He can be a Messianic missionary. These immigrants are not registered as Jews, but they have full citizenship and aliyah rights. This is hardly what the intent was when the 1970 law was crafted, but this is the loophole that has existed all these years.
It was not until 2008, however, that the floodgates were opened to Christian Messianic missionaries. That was the year that Israeli evangelical/Messianic attorney Calev Myers, of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, made a big splash by representing 12 non-Jewish Messianic petitioners before the Supreme Court. Myers, the product of a Christian home – his mother is Christian and his father was a Jew who converted to Christianity and became a pastor –uses his PR skills and his legal office to expand the presence of Messianic and evangelical Christianity in Israel. All 12 of the petitioners had Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. Myers argued that their Messianic affiliation should not matter, since they only had paternal heritage and do not fall within the law’s restrictions on Jewish applicants, who cannot be practicing another religion. He won the case and was quoted in a Christian Broadcasting Network blog (JI site): “This is yet another battle won in our war to establish equality in Israel for the Messianic Jewish community just like every other legitimate stream of faith within the Jewish world.”
There are several ironies in this. For one, according to the Israeli lawyer I spoke to, “The Law of Return has become a law that makes non-Jewish immigration easier than Jewish immigration.” Another irony is that Messianic believers, such as Myers, disdain the rabbis and rabbinic Judaism, charging them for being too “legalistic.” What could be more legalistic than using this loophole, which was certainly not the intent of the law? And lastly, these Messianics call themselves Jews, although they entered the country by proving they were not Jewish. The JIJ advises messianic applicants to conceal their beliefs when they apply for citizenship.
(Although the Jewish Agency tries to weed out applicants such as these, putting their status in limbo for a few years, they later tend to win their appeals and become citizens.)
How can Israel, as a democracy, eliminate these activities? Obviously, the more missionaries who are let in, the more proselytizing will be done. In 2015 alone, there are many Israel-focused Christian conferences and events scheduled. According to the JI website, “They all emphasize bringing Israelis to ‘belief’ and empowering the messianic Christian movement. Included among these missionary happenings are the Israel Summit Stand Firm, Envision Pastors and Leaders Conference, Empowered 21 Global Congress, and the Lausanne Conference on Jewish Evangelism.”
“The Israeli government is not in a position to stop such events,” JI states, “because the U.S. State Department considers such censure a violation of International Religious Freedoms legislation. Over the last 40 years, Israel has become dependent on the Christian tourism industry, Christian Zionist U.S. congressional support, and evangelical-led hasbara efforts. All of this makes it difficult to protest what amounts to a ‘Jesus revolution’ in Israel.”
Ellen Horowitz told me “The new issue of the day is religious freedom and democracy. Israel will need a find a way to maintain its identity as a Jewish state and uphold the integrity of the Torah and the people of Israel without succumbing to or importing American definitions and standards of democracy and freedom of worship.” She expects this to be a big uphill battle that we’ll have to fight for.
Not All Our Leaders Are Helping Matters
It would be bad enough if missionaries were successful due to their own efforts alone. Much worse is the fact that they are being aided by the Israeli government and some rabbis. JI is replete with articles and videos about right-wing religious leaders, including Orthodox rabbis, who either participate in interfaith prayer services, unwittingly appear to promote a Christian agenda, and/or accept evangelical money with no parameters in place. This is despite the clear and widely accepted rulings from modern Torah authorities prohibiting interfaith theological encounters which blur the lines between religious faiths.
A committee of Binyamin Regional Council rabbis have written a set of halachic principles that address these problems. Jewish Israel, in describing this document in its website, says, in part, “The tremendous influx of monetary and voluntary support emanating from gentile sources convinced the rabbis to present a much needed and clear halachic response with which to guide the Jewish community in Israel. The scope of the rabbinic treatise goes beyond the questions of accepting monetary and hands-on assistance from gentile sources. Very sensitive prohibitions with regards to avoda zara, empowering Christianity, participation in Jewish-Christian gatherings, expressing admiration for Christian belief, and expressing gratitude are addressed in an unequivocal manner by the committee. The rabbis involved express great concern about the blurring of the line between Christianity and the Jewish faith, the dangers of strengthening Christianity in Eretz Yisrael, and problems inherent in becoming dependent on Christian sources. The document urges leaders and community activists to act in accordance with halacha but to proceed with dignity, respect, and tact, and to take care not offend gentiles who are true friends of Israel.”
Clearly, there is a need for a more proactive and concerted effort to combat the growing Israel missionary threat. The task is massive. Ruth Guggenheim says, “No one organization can do it all. Jewish Israel has a “phenomenal knowledge-base and relationships with Israeli politicians. However, they don’t do the educational programming that Jews for Judaism is known for, specifically geared to raise awareness of how missionaries use various Jewish beliefs, and take them out of context, misquote them, or use them to target and proselytize Jews. In addition to Jewish Israel and Jews for Judaism, there is Yad L’Achim, which is a well- known Israeli organization with its own version of boots on the ground.”
Ruth shared her vision for a coordinated effort. She hopes to create a new entity, one day, using all three groups, to be called “The Israel-Jewish Alliance.” Goals for this potential alliance would include: 1) A new website in Hebrew targeted to young men and women in Israel; 2) Online and offline tools designed for the Israel market; 3) A systematic and continuous social media campaign arming young Israelis with information; 4) Ongoing educational programs and rotating classes to educate rabbis, social workers and other influencers; 5) Meetings, events, and collaboration with the IDF and its soldiers and other groups; 6) An ongoing media campaign.
May Jews for Judaism, Jewish Israel, and all other groups fighting missionaries have much success, and may we see the end of losing Jewish souls.
If you would like to get in touch with Ruth with further suggestions or to find ways you can contribute to this effort, you may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-500-5430
BY NETIV / THE PATH · JUNE 16, 2015
By Richard Dirigible Abbott, UK
I put on my yarmulke before leaving the house on Saturday; about an hour before. I wandered around the house, occasionally catching sight of my future Jewish self in the mirror in the bathroom.
Someday I’ll be a real Jew, Gepetto, today I am a goy. There’s nothing wrong with being goyish, some of my best friends are goy, my parents, my wife and me.
The thing is I am, as of yet, unfinished.
There is that old question:
“If G-d wanted you to be circumcised, then why does He keep making men with the foreskins left on?”
The best answer I’ve heard is this:
“He lets you make the final cut yourself; one small act in the creation of a new Jew, like pulling the battery-tab on an electrical toy.” All the components are there, just remove this irrelevant slip to prime it.
My front door clicked shut and I descended the stairs from my first floor flat to the street.
It was quiet, blue skies, still air. An air of anticipation. This was my first shabbat service.
I had been to the Schul once on an ‘Open Doors Bristol’ day. One of those quiet events when establishments – otherwise out of reach of the public – draw back the curtain and let you see Professor Oz. That was a special day for me, but it was like seeing the beauty of a cello in a shop, today was a string quartet in full concert.
I tread the pale limestone streets of Clifton, I wore the hood of my big black duffel coat up over my head like a wizard. It shrouded my kippah.
Not out of shame, you understand, out of modesty.
I had not yet earned the right to appear Jewish, some day I will and I’ll wear my kippot everywhere, (different colours for different moods) with a big ginger beard and a Magen David around my neck, but today I’m just a novice.
You know what I’m really scared of, I only realise now as I’m writing this, I don’t want anyone to say “Oh, are you Jewish?” because then I’d have to admit I’m not. I’m Jewish in my head and my heart and I hate admitting out-loud that I’m not yet Jewish in my body. Some day I’ll elevate my body to the Jewishness of my soul.
I met James outside the BBC’s broadcasting house on White Ladies Road. The name of the street may shock you, but Bristol has a history in slavery and they won’t change the name of the road lest we forget our shame. Changing a name changes a history. James is in my phone under the name ‘James Jew’, but he is a Noachide like me.
He knows elements of Judaism better than me and other elements I know better, but he’d been attending shabbat for a year now: Schul’s where he’s a viking. He strolled up straight head adorned with yarmulke like a crown, feeling empowered I let down my hood. He pressed the button for the traffic lights.
“On shabbat?” I asked, but I’m only teasing him. The joke didn’t go across and he started to justify himself. From this I deduced that he was as nervous as me.
“Don’t worry brother I’m just teasing. Anyway today I’m going to be a Shabbos goy.”
The night before Mendy, the rabbi from the Bristol Chabad house had texted me:
Interesting question for you. Please call. Thanks!
“Now that’s an intriguing text for a pre-jew to get from a chasid, I was very curious,” I explained to James, “Who doesn’t love a good question?”
As it turns out a frum family had contacted Mendy asking for help. Their son was in hospital. Very ill but in an unusual turn of wellness the hospital had given him permission to go home for shabbat.
This presented them with a problem. They were very observant and their son was in a wheelchair. How could they get him from the six floor hospital ward, across several roads and to their second floor flat without using lifts or carrying, or any other melachas?
Rabbi Mendy had a solution.
You should know, he never actually asked me. He told me about the situation and I said:
“Of course I will Rabbi!” You should also know that I had not started fully observing shabbat so this did not mean lowering my level of observance. This solution was HaLakhicly sound.
James had received the text too, but had not been free to phone, we discussed it a little.
That was an interesting chat. Two goy, who were competing to keep the shabbat, were now eagerly discussing contravening it!
We arrived at Park Row a couple of minutes after ten, the huge black gates locked in front of us yielded to the kind face of one of the congregants. Above his head was a CCTV camera, one of many. James introduced me around as another future Jew, this was met with friendly curiosity unanimously. James led me inside to the book case, Chumeshim, Siddurim of various sorts for various proficiencies of Hebrew. Above the book case was an array of video screens detailing the outside of the Schul. A wave of sadness struck me that this is necessary, but in Europe anti-Semitism is rising, Bristol is a safe place for Jews but only a fool would take these cameras down.
I turned to face the room. I cannot fairly describe to you the riches that my eyes met.
The synagogue has been the home for this community since 1871. It leans back into the hill, propping up the city like a quiet colossus, inside is Victorian; reds and golds and Hebrew whispers and words written into the very wood and stone, it is stitched together from the surviving Judaica of at least four earlier synagogues from the city. As they wearied and died they poured their treasures into the Park Row schul and here they settled and took root in history. Come here some day, come here and pray, stand beside the descendants of Abraham and Isaac, of David and Solomon of Ezra and Nehemiah, stand with the children of Israel and pray to HaShem.
I took my seat. Rabbi Daniels signalled to the Cantor that he wanted to begin, the Cantor hesitated as flotsom and jewsom drifted in the doors and made their rounds, smiling and greeting and praying and fidgeting.
“We’ll start.” The Rabbi and the Cantor discussed some finer points of the service and then whipped up into song and blessings and prayers and we were begun and I was alive and G-d sat naked and unseen in the air, turning the moon without a hand and listening in peacefulness to Park Row prayers.
Baruch HaShem, what a wonderful thing to hear G-d’s words in G-d’s language, sung by G-d’s own nation that He wrote into existence Himself.
Baruch HaShem, you could weep if you only understood what it means to draw close to He who Is and have Him open the door and reserve you a seat by the Aron Kodesh.
This is my G-d and I will worship Him.
This is His nation and I will learn from them.
This is Judaism son. Read on.
James kindly kept me up to date on where we were in the Siddur. It was quiet the task for him and I noticed that if I made the slightest glance in his direction he would strike like lightning his nimble fingertip upon the word so that after a time we began adept psychics unified in perplexed worship in a language not our own. Two old men chatted beside me, their Kavannah perhaps waining in their elder years or perhaps so heightened, so acute that they could follow the to and fro of the service from the comfort of their divided attention. I found their ease in the house of G-d comforting, they were home here, they could put their feet on the furniture and G-d probably wouldn’t mind.
The bar mitzvah took to the bimah, he made blessings over the Torah, everyone listened in, at the end of the passage we sang and the Rabbis and the Cantor and his grandfather dance around him and we all threw sweets and clapped. His brothers and sisters and cousin and his goyish friend from school ran in and tidied up the fallen spoils of war, tasty kosher chews strewn around the torah, that’s Judaism, son.
His grandfather took to the bimah again, this time to pray and blessing and we all sang for clapped for him too.
Rabbi Mendy leaned in “It’s his 60thwedding anniversary,” he explained. It’s all about family this religion. That’s Judaism, son. I saw the bar mitzvah bounce a sweet of his grandfather’s head and then, surprisingly we all joined in. Singing, clapping, cheering and hurling sweets.
“Happy anniversary, I bought you a helmet.”
When the fire of the shemonah esrei had given way to the embers of the haftorah, we all calmed down and listened to the warm bass tones of the bar mitzvah’s granddad like the last campfire songs and smores of a great adventure. We were invited upstairs for kiddish.
You’ve probably seen a bar mitzvah kiddish before, I haven’t. Oy! Do you remember the food fight in ‘Hook’ with Robin Williams? Yeah it looked good. I took a little wine and I was acosted by an Israeli.
“You should try the whiskey!”
“Oh, yeah, thank you. I’m fine.”
“What?” said he, “are you trying to be sober or something?!”
I laughed, “No, sorry I just have to drive a wheelchair in a minute and I don’t want to crash it.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, accepting the premise with no further questions, “You need your head in the game for this.”
James pointed out all the key characters to me, a rabbi from a far away schul and his wife, who is rabbi of the local reform synagogue, an Irish rabbi, the president a great many esteemed jews from this nation of priests. I felt like I was in the royal court. Rabbi Mendy made his friendly rounds and we two sneaked out to to hospital.
He’s a fine man, Mendy, I consider him a friend though I’ve only known him very recently. He’s friendly and he has a young energetic kind of wisdom. Did you know there were lots of kinds of wisdom? There are. He was wearing his chasidic uniform, but it may as well be his skin he’s so at home in it. We chatted and strode with big strides towards the children’s hospital. The day had really taken up speed.
In a matter of minutes we entered the hospital and I offered to press the button on the lift for him, he politely declined. “You know it would be acceptable, but really six floors is not so much on shabbat, I’ll meet you up there.” He’s a kind, encouraging, man accepting of you on sight. I joined him on the stairs and we ascended to meet Jehuda and his family.
Father and two sons sat variously on bed, in chair and in wheelchair and faces lit up and greeted us as we entered the ward. Thanks and kindness we woven in greetings and I was struck by the humble and genuine warmth of this beautiful family. Jehuda, only eleven years old, thanked us thus:
“Rabbi Singer, Richard, thank you for this. You’ve really helped me elevate my shabbat to G-d.”
Wow, I thought, this boy. I’m a primary school teacher and I have to tell you this is not how eleven year olds talk, or think for that matter.
Jehuda’s father handed me a little box of Kleinblatt belgian cake things – dear me, well You’ll have to taste them to know – but only in hindsight have I realised he was offering me one. I mistook it for a presant and swiftly pocketed them. I feel so bad now I realised my crime! Stealing sweets from this family, but the guilt went away when I tasted them.
Mendy made his exit to join his own family for shabbat and we four men and boys began our short journey to their home.
Our interactions were familial, we chatted and joked, I felt like a visiting uncle and since the father has been in touch, we’re facebook friends. He told me Jehuda said to him after I left:
“What a blessing HaShem is giving the Jewish people to have someone like Richard joining us.”
That’s Judaism son. That was my first shabbat. Baruch HaShem.