Rabbenu Home

Rabbenu

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

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Monday, March 12, 2007

Which Torah Should We Observe, Written or Oral?

There is a crucial issue imbedded in this question of which few take note: The Torah was not given to any of my Jewish readers, or to Stuart Dauermann, or even to Abraham Joshua Heschel—the Torah was given to the entire Jewish people throughout time. It was the entire people, both collectively and through their representatives, who took upon themselves the yoke of Torah at Sinai (see Ex. 24). This being the case, we ought not to conceive of our task as being (a) Looking at the Law as individuals and as a Movement; (b) Looking at the New Covenant as individuals and as a Movement; (c) deciding what we as individuals and as a Movement are going to do with the former in view of the latter. To so consider the issue is to act as though we are outside of greater Israel, that people throughout time to whom the Torah is given. We must also, on the basis of Matt 23:2-3, if not for other reasons, realize that under God, it is the leadership of Israel, and the people of Israel to whom interpretation of Torah’s demands and the responsibilility for covenant faithfulness have been given. In Matthew 23, when Yeshua says, “do whatever they tell you to do,” he is echoing the very words of Dt. 17:11 ff., which the rabbinic establishment use to support their authority. He is saying in effect, “The rabbis have the responsibility and the right to lead the way in interpreting halacha—the practical working out of obedience to this (Torah) covenant.” We as a Messianic Jewish community must work out the shape of our own obedience in respectful interaction with the history and the current reality of Jewish communal process.

To my mind this is similar to the case of Constitutional tax resisters. These are people who, looking at the Constitution and perhaps the Federalist Papers, draw the conclusion that the Federal Income Tax is unconstitutional and that therefore they should not be required to pay it nor will they. What is wrong with this picture? Just this: they have arrogated to themselves the right to interpret the Constitution independent of those bodies charged with its interpretation and the entire history of its interpretation since its inception.

Could not the same be said of us when Messianic Jews and MJ organizations act as if the task of Torah interpretation were ours, to be carried out in implicit separation from the very community to whom it was given and whose processes and leaders are the divinely appointed means toward its authorized interpretation?

Does this mean that we may not beg to differ, and may not have differences of opinion with the mainstream Jewish consensus? Of course not! Does it mean that we might not have contributions to the process which God wants us to insert, and which are important? Of course not! But it does mean that we must address the task of interpretation through respectful interaction with the tradition and those charged with its shaping and stewardship, and that when we do take exception, we do so in dialogue with that community and process, as participants, and not solitary isolation or disapproving removal from the wider Jewish community and its halachic process.

Finally, these are not decisions to be made by individuals—halachic norms are not only established by long and broad communal agreement, but also by broad-based contemporary communal process. In other words, the halachic norms your congregation adheres to should not, indeed, must not, be the product of your considerations alone, but should be the consequence of the knowledgeable and respectful deliberations of a broader group of rabbis. Such a group has formed within our Union, but is, as you may know, controversial for having done so. Sigh . . .

At 3/13/2007 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Afraid to preach the rest of the chapter with equal vigar?

1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5"Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'

8"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ.[b] 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

13"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.[c]

15"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

16"Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' 17You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' 19You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it.

23"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' 31So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

33"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

37"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'[d]"

 
At 3/13/2007 11:59 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Ah, non Anonymous, I am not afraid at all. Indeed, the fact that this chapter includes such criticisms of the shortcomings and sins of the Pharisees makes my case so much stronger. How remarkable it is, that despite the errors and sins the chapter names (which, by the way, are also criticized in Talmudic sources), the chapter unambigously supports the Pharisees/Rabbis' authority to interpret Torah for the seed of Jacob! This makes my point much stronger!!

Yeshua and Matthew are saying "Obey their authoriity to interpret Torah but don't imitate their errors."

 
At 3/24/2007 5:21 PM, Blogger peter said...

i am not sure about having to agree with the rabbi's interpretations of Torah, because that is not at all what Jesus says. he says "obey them". this means place yourself under their authority, not necessarily agree with what they believe.

for example, i can place myself under the authority of president bush and yet radically disagree with his stance on the war in iraq. or i can place myself under the authority of nero (like sha'ul commands in romans 13) and still not agree with his perspective of followers of Jesus.

so isnt there a difference between authority and interpretation?

peter

 
At 3/24/2007 7:32 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

The rabbi is not saying "Agree with what they believe," but what Yeshua said, "Do whatever they tell you to do." He accords them to the right to interpret the demands of Torah. You may disagree, but still ought to conform, just as you might not agree that you ought to pay "taxes to Caesar," but are still required--even by God--to "pay taxes to whom taxes are due."

In the wider Jewish world, there is a concept of private truth and public truth, One is free, even encouraged to disagree with communally agreed upon interpretations of halacha, yet, out of respect for community norms, and out of desire to preserve community solidarity and not disrupt it, one still conforms to community norms--yet without sacrificing one's right to respectfully disagree.

I trust this makes things clearer.

Shalom.

 
At 3/27/2007 6:44 AM, Anonymous David said...

Excellent article!

Just one point - you say that messianic judaism must interpret Torah and make halacha in dialogue with, and as part of, the wider Jewish community. I agree completely, but don't see how this can be done.

After all, different branches of Judaism rarely make dialogue with each other on halachic matters. Decisions of batei din do not have cross-communal acceptance, even amongst the orthodox.

I can't imagine any messianics being welcomed as participants in the wider Jewish community given that they are treated as apostates. Likewise, unfortunately, the only advice that the wider Jewish community will give MJ would be to reject Yeshua.

Please G-d, perhaps this situation will change and at least one stream of Judaism will accept messianics. But I suspect that a more likely outcome in the short/medium term is that MJ will have to create its halachic norms in isolation.

Thank you for your willingness to pioneer such things.

 
At 4/08/2007 11:49 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Peter,

Forgive me for my delay in responding to your query,

You say you don't see how Messianic Judaism can "interpret Torah and make halacha in dialogue with, and as part of, the wider Jewish community. . . . After all, different branches of Judaism rarely make dialogue with each other on halachic matters. Decisions of batei din do not have cross-communal acceptance, even amongst the orthodox."

There is some truth in what you say, but still, there is a core consensus among all branches of Judaism as to fundamental halachic norms, although one group or another may say,"that is not how we choose to practice, and here is why." Branches of Judaism differ in details, and differ in their rulings on what is binding and why, but beneath all of this diversity, there are core understandings based on historical precedent and classical works. My point is that Messianic Judaism must not and should not go off on its own creating an independent, and certainly, idiosyncratic Judaism.

You say," I can't imagine any messianics being welcomed as participants in the wider Jewish community given that they are treated as apostates. Likewise, unfortunately, the only advice that the wider Jewish community will give MJ would be to reject Yeshua."

How do you know this? How do we come to make such a blanket statement? I remember hearing respected Jewish academic, Daniel Cohn-Sherbok address a group of Messianic Jews and tell us all, "You people are Jews and you should continue believing in Yeshua." (No, I never thought I would see the day! But things do change).

It is becoming clear that as Messianic Jews and Messianic Jewish institutions demonstrate in action that we care about Jewish life and that we care about Jewish lives, and as we do this within the context of demonstrable respect for Jewish communal and religious norms, some, perhaps many, although certainly not all in the Jewish community will respond and say, "We need to talk."

But as long as we are convinced that rapprochement can never happen, it will not.

You say, "Please G-d, perhaps this situation will change and at least one stream of Judaism will accept messianics. But I suspect that a more likely outcome in the short/medium term is that MJ will have to create its halachic norms in isolation."

Perhaps so. But again, what I decry is the reflex many Messianic Jews have to form their halachic norms in contradistinction to the wider Jewish world. I have heard once too much phrases like this, "The rabbis believe this, but we believe this." This tradition of polarized thinking needs to be recognized and at least modified, or, preferably, abandoned.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home