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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Seeds, Weeds, and Walking the High Wire: The Weed of Anti-Rabbinism

A third, closely related weed, is anti-rabbinism—opposition to “the rabbis” as a class. The way the term “the rabbis” has been used in Messianic Jewish circles, although less widely than formerly, demonstrates a polemical disdain fit only to be uprooted and discarded. A quick search of one Jewish mission website using the search term “religion of the rabbis” turned up quotes such as the following:

When I talk about being a Jew, I'm talking about something that is different from the religion of the rabbis. I'll be quick to tell you that I do not follow the Jewish religion.

You might be surprised that the Jewish Bible, the T'nach, does not mention rabbis. According to Scripture, the priesthood was to be in charge. What is now considered "traditional Judaism" began at the Council of Yavneh, when a group of rabbis met and made certain decisions in light of the destruction of the Temple and the growth of Christianity. What decisions they made, we can only surmise. But after Yavneh, rabbis were in control of the religion.

Regardless of the degree to which one agrees or disagrees with the author’s historical reconstruction, we find here an appalling categorical hostility toward Judaism, toward the rabbis, and their religion. Can the rabbis be wrong? Certainly! Has the rabbinical establishment been almost entirely opposed to Jewish Yeshua-faith? Surely! But should we therefore distrust all rabbis and all rabbinic writings as has commonly been the case in our thinking, discussion and polemical rhetoric? Must we consider the rabbis and their teachings to be guilty until proven innocent? Should we consider all of them to be seducers and enemies of Yeshua-faith, to be avoided by all who would exercise due caution? Must we assume, as some have stated of us, that those seeking irenic relationships with rabbis do so only to pander for approval, prepared to sell out the gospel as a means to that end? In the service of truth, I cannot go there. In fact, this weed nauseates me.

This antipathy to “the rabbis” extends beyond distrust to disdain. A typical mission publication states, “Unfortunately, most rabbis have accepted the role of an apologist for Judaism, rather than a spiritual authority who can aid in or inspire a true encounter with God.” Will you join me in finding this comment presumptuous? How do we know the motivations of “most rabbis?” Where do we sign up for a dose of such omniscience concerning the motivations of the majority of an entire class of people? I submit that what we are hearing are echoes of Justin Martyr and the Adversos Judaeos tradition.

We ought not comfort ourselves that these are someone else’s statements, not our own. Axiomatic suspicion of and distancing from the rabbis and their religion lingers in the air like a stench of a corpse only recently removed from the room. Things are better among us, but not well--not yet.

As another case in point, consider our respected friend Dr. Michael L. Brown. One of his recent blog postings includes ample evidence of the weeds of categorical anti-Judaim and anti-rabbinism persisting in our ranks. For example, he states that he has “come to the conclusion that rabbinic traditions have little or no place in our private lives or public services.” Brown continues, “While it is one thing to follow the rabbinic calendar as a matter of convenience, it is another thing entirely to pray the prayers of the rabbis or utilize their varied religious expressions and methods.” He asks, “How can we pray the prayers of men whose very faith presupposes that Yeshua is not the Messiah?” These positions will sound very familiar to most of us in the Messianic Movement, because this viewpoint is not his alone.

I am asking all of us to reconsider our attttudes and to spread the word: “The rabbis” should not be used as an epithet of scorn. We need to recognize and repudiate the tradition of anti-Judaism and anti-rabbinism as weeds, not wheat. Uproot them.

At 1/23/2007 9:36 PM, Blogger Derek Leman said...

Just last week I deleted a sermon from about two years ago where I had made a few remarks about the rabbis' wrong interpretation of Proverbs. I know. It is as you say, a lingering odor of a freshly removed corpse (good, but gorey image--you're quite the wordsmith).


At 1/24/2007 6:18 PM, Blogger Nate Long said...

One extreme does not another justify. While I agree with most of what you had to say in this post, the manner in which you expressed it concerns me.

For example, what specifically about the un-named source's history did you find "reconstructionst"?

I have noted that a majority of those from a Christian background who embrace rabbinic judaism with wide open arms end up rejecting Yeshua. It begins by questioning his divinity, and is quickly followed by rejecting him as Messiah.

It is one thing to wrongly castigate the rabbis, an error to categorically reject their writings, traditions, etc., but it is quite another to embrace them unquestioningly.

So while I can appreciate hyperbole, how would you express the balance that we ought to be aiming for?

Do you disagree that Rabbinic Judaism is as different a strain from Apostolic Judaism as is Christianity? (Perhaps an over generalization, but the point remains)

I contend that both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity offer much in their history, writings and traditions that we ought to glean, but they also both have much that ought to be strained out.

At 1/26/2007 1:07 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

This is typo-corrected version of my earlier posting, from 1/24/2007 11:48 PM:

The unnamed party's reconstruction postulates that the rabbis organized a take-over of Judaism at Yavneh [read the language]. My research, especially in Stuart Cohen's book "The Three Crowns"" demonstrates that the Pharisees had already for centuries been engaged in centralizing authority in their hands, and that even AFTER the Temple was destroyed, the Priests were still honored, even receiving tithes. In short, the unnamed author postulates a conspiracy at Yavneh. Why did he not see Yavneh as part of a campaign to preserve Jewish communty now that the Temple was gone? His account was wrong both in spirit and in fact.

Your remark about how you have noted that "a majority of those from a Christian background who embrace Rabbinic Judaism with wide open arms reject Yeshua" lacks specificity and evidence. How large is your sample? Where are you geographically? Is your sample in any manner indicative of a trend? What do you mean by "from a Christian background"? Are you referring to Gentiles or Jews? If the former, then that is not covered in my article, if the latter, then the former critiques render your statement only an opinion by someone who doesn't claim to be an unbiased observer.

I could respond in kind to your posting and say, "In my experience the vast majority of those Messianic Jews who embrace rabbinic Judaism become more zealous and integrated believers, and more consistent in their devotion to God." That brings us back to square one.

You also use the kind of domino theory slippery slope argument that further undermines your credibility. That this language is alarming does nothing to establish its credibilty.

I am afraid you throw some red herrings into the mix, Mr Long. For example, you decry embracing the rabbis unquestioningly, as if this is what I am doing. But this is something I specifically rejected in my writing.

To your comment "Do you disagree that Rabbinic Judaism is as different a strain from Apostolic Judaism as is Christianity?" my answer is "No." Look at Acts 21 for example and see how the Yeshua believers in Jerusalem are living 21 years after Pentecost--the sacrifices they are offering are rabbinic and traditional. Yeshua observed a seder in a traditional way, refers to "the fruit of the vine" in that connection, showing he said a rabbinic blessing "Who createst the fruit of the vine" at the Last Supper. Over and again it is clear that the disciples lived as other Jews did--and that the sharp division between tradition and Scripture which we draw has more to do with Reformation categories than with the experience of the Apostolic generation.

As for your comment, "I contend that both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity offer much in their history, writings and traditions that we ought to glean, but they also both have much that ought to be strained out.," the question that begs to be asked is this: "On what basis?" You may say "on the basis of the Bible," but then the question is, "On what bases, by what principles, do you interpret the Bible? How are your judgments weighted? What concerns or texts overrule others? And what community consensus authenticates and disciplines your conclusions?"

You are free of course to read the Bible like an Independent Baptist, for example, or some other group--but it is honest to name your perspective as Independent Baptist rather than as "the Biblical perspective." Other perspectives are equally biblical, but perhaps more aware that they are communally determined.

Thank you for for writing, and for logging on with your name. Most commendatory.

At 5/07/2007 10:37 PM, Blogger Dr. Michael L. said...

Dr Michael L Brown


I just happened upon this post that you wrote in January of this year. Just to clarify, the "recent" blog of mine to which you referred is actually a paper I delivered more than 15 years ago at a UMJC conference. So, it is hardly "recent" -- but my position has become reinforced over the years and is not therefore out of date. (And you are a respected friend as well, despite our differences on rabbinic practices.)


At 5/08/2007 7:46 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...


Thanks for writing. It is increasingly rare in our broader circles for people to disagree and yet be respectful. Some of us are working behind the scenes to improve matters, but menschlichkeit calls for a certain courage and a certain sacrifice of turf which is unthinkable for some.

Actually, treating people decently, especially if one has been badly treated, calls for faith in God. As you know, the prayer after the Amidah, "N'tzor L'shoni Meira--Keep my tongue from evil" articulates precisely this stance.

However, I heard about a recent paper at Lausanne which alarms me for its intemperate conclusions and portrayals of one of my most respected friends. It saddens me when people go to press with nasty conjectures. Nasty facts is bad enough, but nasty conjectures? Far worse!

The Christian world needs to learn a lot from the Chofetz Chaim about the evils of Lashon Hara. It is an area in which all of us need to grow . . . true?

Shalom uv'racha,



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