Tag Archive | Judaism

The Kingdom Divided

I have been quite shocked and disappointed this week to (re-)discover two things:

Firstly that anti-semitism is alive and kicking in the churches, particularly down here in Cornwall.

Secondly, that there are many groups and individuals who believe that gentile believers are not part of Israel proper, only on the fringe as part of the ‘commonwealth’, and that Torah is only for Jews (and beyond that, that we need the “oral Torah” to properly understand and obey Torah).

To my understanding of the scriptures, such a view and practice of exclusion is falsely resurrecting the partition wall that Yeshua tore down. It is a little bit like saying that gentiles aren’t really part of the Kingdom, which is after all what “Israel” is meant to be – the Kingdom where God reigns.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free”

We are meant to be equal and “one”, united in Messiah. As I have said many times, we seem to be yet very far from that ideal. There is still racism, sexism and class and cultural differences which separate us. But certainly we should not be perpetuating such division.

I am supremely grateful that this was not my experience in the Messianic fellowship I attended, which was run by a very lovely, humble Jewish man, who seemed to be quite ‘colour-blind’ when it came to Jew and gentile, whereas I had been turned away from certain other groups that I won’t shame by naming here for not being Jewish! How heartbreaking and divisive!

My conversion, which was what you might call a ‘Ruth-ite’ conversion, a simple declaration as the Biblical Ruth made that “Your people will be my people, and your God my God” is not generally recognised by Jewish or Messianic groups. I find myself in the position of being ‘not quite Jewish enough’ for some Messianic groups, and ‘too Jewish’ for some church groups!

Since there is no official Messianic conversion process in the UK, there is a temptation – even perhaps a push by groups who exclude gentile believers in this way – to convert via Reform or Orthodox means. (In a conversation just this week I was told that if a gentile wants to keep Torah, they must convert to Judaism!)

Since such conversion involves either hiding or denying your affiliation to Yeshua Jesus, that is totally unacceptable in my view, but it is an inevitable result when gentile believers feel particularly called to Israel and the Jewish people and to Torah, and both these things are denied to them as gentiles.

The crux really of this matter rests on what the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 meant when it ruled on gentile believers coming into the Kingdom:

It was being suggested by “a certain sect of the Pharisees who believed” that gentiles could not become part of the Kingdom unless they were first circumcised and kept the whole law, but Paul and Barnabus show that God had shown his inclusion of gentiles by imparting the Holy Spirit, and by many signs and miracles among them.

“And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; *And put no difference between us and them*, purifying their hearts by faith.”
Verses 8 and 9, my emphasis.

In verse 20, the ruling is that Gentile believers must only do the following:
“that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” verse 20

This is really a minimum standard, but even this has been generally ignored by the church because it seems to contradict their understanding that anything at all is permissable to eat. (That’s another discussion for another day!)

But then in verse 21, James goes on to say, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”

Again, this verse is generally either ignored or misunderstood. What does James mean? Well, the early believers were meeting in the synagogue, reading the weekly Torah portions.

In other words, they were learning Torah gradually. There is an implicit suggestion there that the gentile believers will gradually conform their lives to Torah, and so it is not necessary to lay the whole law on them at the outset, and certainly not as a condition for salvation.

But wait, you say! Paul says the following in verse 10:

“Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”

What does he mean by that? Of course, it has been taken to mean that the “yoke” refers to Torah itself. But is that really the case? Is God’s own law a burden and a bondage from which we must flee and escape?

In Leviticus 26:13, God says:

“I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and *I have broken the bands of your yoke*, and made you go upright.”
(My emphasis)

This is in the context of the giving of the Torah. No, the “yoke” is not Torah itself – God did not rescue the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt only to lay another bondage on them – but rather, the “yoke” is all the additional rules and regulations, what is commonly referred to as the “Oral Torah” put in place as a “hedge around Torah”. The clue is in the word “Pharisee”.

What does Jesus say about those additional Pharisaical rules?

Matthew 15:3 “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” He goes on to give examples of how they are doing that, and then in verse 7: “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”

So Jesus regards the Torah as the commandment of God, holy and good, whereas the ‘Oral Torah’ is no such thing. Indeed, it can be quite the opposite when it contradicts Torah.

The scriptures, especially the psalms are replete with the idea that the law of God is good. Even Paul acknowledges in many places that the law is good, for example in Romans 7:7 he says:

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid!”

In conclusion, although I realise this is a massive subject and we could argue back and forth on the subject of the law and to what extent Christians should observe it, there is no suggestion whatsoever that Torah is for Jews only and not for gentiles.

In as far as gentiles are grafted into the Olive Tree through faith in Messiah, we are meant to be “one new man”, part of the same body. That is not to say that you cannot retain your identity as Jewish or gentile as a believer, but the wall between us has been broken down. Don’t build it up again.

Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Introduction

searching

This doesn’t quite qualify as a book review as it is a book that I read nearly 20 years ago, but I lent it to a friend some years ago and despite my best efforts, did not receive it back, so I decided to treat myself to a new copy.

Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Introduction, edited by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, is a collection of essays introducing the topic of feminist hermeneutics, published in 1993 in preparation for the centenary of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s ‘The Woman’ Bible’ in 1995.

I bought it in 1996 as a curious non-feminist. I think I would still place myself in that category. Although I accept the basic idea of feminism – the need for equal and fair treatment for women, I am still not quite comfortable enough with the whole feminism entity (as I understand it) to declare myself a member. Beginning to read it a second time with so many years in between, however, I find that I am more ready and able to understand or at least begin to grapple with some of the arguments.

As a caveat, I must say that I have not read or even seen a copy of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s original 1893 book.

When I re-opened the book it fell, appropriately, to Judith Plaskow’s chapter on ‘Anti-Judaism in Feminist Christian Interpretation’. Since this is a subject close to my heart, I thought I would share some of its insights.

Plaskow begins with explaining the significance of Cady Stanton’s book and how, on a basic level, it sought to acquit Christianity by laying its oppression of women at the door of Judaism.

“Anti-Judaism in feminist interpretation signifies both a failure to include all women within its vision and an often unconscious appropriation of anti-Jewish themes and strategies that are as old as the New Testament itself.”

Plaskow talks about the way in which, in order to do this, feminist interpretation unwittingly makes use of quite inappropriately (even patriarchal?) conservative principles of interpretation.

“The claim that ‘Jesus was a feminist’ – a claim first articulated by Leonard Swidler and then taken up by numerous feminist interpreters – can be argued persuasively only on the basis of a negative view of Judaism.”

She outlines some of the ways in which the view of 1st century Judaism as an oppressive patriarchal society is arrived at by picking and choosing sources that seem to agree with that view, whereas there seems to be a lot of evidence for two schools of thought (perhas allied to Hillel and Shammei?) within 1st century Judaism – one of which tended to be more oppressive and the other liberal.

Plaskow also goes on to outline the way in which St Paul’s very difficult, ambivalent attitude toward women is explained away by viewing Paul as being anti-feminist and oppressive in his Jewish identity, but liberal in his Christian identity, a dualism which necessarily ‘others’ Jewish women.

Plaskow says that, with a view to moving toward a more critical feminist hermeneutic, “The first step in eradicating anti-Judaism is becoming aware of its existence, and this means becoming educated about the dimensions of the problem.”

She mentions that “Feminist exploration of Jewish women’s history is a very new field…” – most of the references she gives are essays and articles in obscure periodicals rather than easily accessible books, so I would be interested to know what has happened since the book was published.

In conclusion, Plaskow says that one of the difficulties of dealing with anti-Judaism in Christian feminism is the isolationism, so again I would be interested to know what progress has been made by Jewish and Christian feminists working together since the 1990s.

Searching the Scriptures is a big, meaty volume, nearly 400 pages, so I doubt I will read it from cover to cover in one go – it will keep me occupied for some time, and I will probably dip in and out of it. But Plaskow’s essay has whet my appetite and I will look forward to seeing volume 2 in due course.

Apologies for publishing this blog-post prematurely, and I hope (I can’t see, since I am posting via my phone!) that, having edited, it will all come right in the wash 🙂

I would be interested to hear from reluctant / converted Jewish or Christian feminists, or anybody who can recommend reading in this area.

Rounding Up the Year – 2014 – It’s been a weird one.

2014 has not been the greatest year, but it certainly hasn’t been the worst year by a very long mile.

We had only just moved into this house (in November 2013) with mixed feelings – not the home I had hoped for, we’re still renting with no end in sight, but relieved to be out of the hell that was the previous rental. But on the home front I have spent most of the year battling the agents over a long list of problems, not least of which the intermittent hot water, which thankfully was finally fixed in time for Christmas.

At the beginning of the year, I set out meaning to read one book a week for #Read52 but I doubt I have even read one a month. I can’t remember another year when I have read so little in fact. I started off the year with lots of energy and did several courses – an OU course, DD101, an introduction to Social Science, as well as several MOOCS, and I also volunteered with Scouts and Guides AND Boys / Girls Brigade. By the beginning of the summer holidays I had totally overdone it and had a relapse which kept me almost housebound over the entire summer and well into September. I have been getting better since then but I have had to pace myself and I haven’t resumed any of my volunteering again so far.

In the Spring – also when I was feeling healthy and strong and on top of the world – I put myself forward for Ordination. I had two interviews and was informed that, although it was considered that I had a ‘call’, I wasn’t quite Anglican enough yet and needed to do several things before coming back to them. Although I know it was the right decision, I did experience that as a kind of rejection that has made me feel quite miserable and frustrated since. This Spring I will need to decide whether or not I want to pursue it. I have a feeling that it may be an uphill struggle, and it’s a funny kind of mirror of the struggle one has to go through in order to convert to Judaism – you can expect to be sent away and persist several times before your wish to convert is taken seriously.

And then the other big issue of 2014 was the beginning of a possible adoption journey which so far has consisted of a lot of reading (mainly of blogs – see the blog roll to the right for recommendations) and attending information meetings with the Council and an agency, but not much else so far. I have been lucky enough to discover the amazing adoption community on twitter which, since mostly anonymous, is able to be very open and honest about the reality of adoption and they have been kind enough to answer my questions.

Oh and finally, I did successfully complete my second ‘novel’ for NaNoWriMo in November. I haven’t started editing yet…

Overall, 2014 has been something of a weird and unusual year – not good, not bad, but a lot of new stuff and big stuff being contemplated which could possibly lead to big changes.

There seems to be a lot of pressure to make resolutions and have a ‘new start’ for the new year. But ‘New Year’ is an invented non-entity. The winter solstice has already passed and there isn’t even a new or a full moon – there is no astronomical reason to say that the year turns on this day or night and yet somehow we imbue this date with significance that give it a kind of magic. Whatever. Every day can be a new start. I would love to resist it, but I find myself – as I often seem to do – in the position of being very unhappy with where my life is and feel the need to make some decisions about the direction it is taking. In that sense I would like to avail myself of the opportunity to make a new start. but on the other hand, I feel as though there is very little within my control that I can change.

I have realised that I perceive myself as a victim in many areas while often seeing everything as being ‘all my fault’ – all of which results inevitably in misery. in other words, my thinking has become rather negative and unhelpful.

I have made some painful realisations recently, the details of which I won’t go into in any depth but they revolve around needing to rely on myself for what I need. This is nothing new really – when I did the 12 Steps back in 2010 in working through grief and did a ‘life evaluation’, it became clear that my life was very strongly characterised by disappointment. What has taken me a little longer to take on board is the fact that it hasn’t just been ‘bad luck’ or that I just need to wait for hope to be realised around the corner. No, it is that my expectations (of God, of marriage, of family, of friends, of church, of community, of neighbours) were wildly outside what they were prepared to give or be to me. (The book ‘Disappointment with God’ by Philip Yancey, that I read many years ago springs to mind. Worth reading, although it doesn’t resolve anything, and I seem to remember wanting to throw it across the room! But it very eloquently explores the theme and I do recommend it.)

So the crux of the matter, I think, is that I need to change my thinking. I don’t mean that I need to ‘think positively’ – I have had an earful this year about ‘the Secret’ / Law of Attraction from people who have a ridiculously easy life because they’re selfishly and thoughtlessly living at others’ expense but believe they have ‘attracted’ their good fortune by thinking positively while all the dreadful things that have happened to other people were also somehow ‘attracted’ by them. NO, NO, NO! Although that philosophy may be ‘attractive’ (pun intended) it really is the most offensive claptrap when you think about it in any depth. So as my Dad (of blessed memory) used to say, “Take the meat and leave the bones” – if it helps you to think positively, that’s great! Please just don’t let it be a weapon to bash yourself or others when disappointment, failure and disaster happen. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault. And if you’re successful while others aren’t, it’s not their fault. Really, people, as a philosophy LoA is severely lacking. It’s not that simple. Life is (and people are) complex, multi-faceted, inter-connected and unpredictable.

What I do mean is that I need to start thinking of myself as capable – capable of providing for my own needs without relying on anybody else to make me happy, capable of making my own decisions, capable of making the life that I want for myself without relying on anybody else to do it for me.

So, 2015…

My main goals are always along the same lines – get healthier, enjoy life more, be a better person, be more disciplined. This year though, I would also like to learn better how to look after myself (knowing now that nobody else is going to do it). That means, in the first instance, forcing myself to go to the hairdresser’s. Its such a small thing but I have developed something of a hairdresserphobia. I have probably only been perhaps three times in the last 15 years or more. I know that, if I manage to get there, I will feel better for it, but I really do have to force myself to do it.

I am intending to sign up for some new courses. My OU account is still apparently having funding problems, so I’m still not sure whether or not I’ll be able to do the course I had intended (I wasn’t able to sign up for anything in September but I was assured it had been sorted in time for the spring term, but it seems not…), but I have signed up for a Ministry Course with the deanery and a free Archaeology MOOC, and I may do some other things, depending on finances.

I have been extremely frustrated with my de-cluttering efforts over the holidays so far. I was hoping to be able to have the house spic and span with a view to finally registering for Stage 1 of the adoption process. (It has been around 8 months now since we first enquired with the Council about adoption). So now I’m not sure whether untidy house is an insurmountable obstacle. I have got rid of nearly 50 books along with old furniture and lots of other junk including 20 years of magazines! But the place seems ten times more untidy that when I started so it’s obviously going to be an ongoing project.

I do know that, for the purpose of adoption, I need to do some work on building up a bigger and better support network, since any that I had before we moved down here is now completely non-existent, and developing a new one down here has not come easily.

I may come back with some more specific goals linked to specific times and dates because I think the deadline aspect is a crucial layer of accountability that causes resolutions to fail when they’re not included.

So finally, wishing all (any?) readers a happy new year and, as ever, I hope to be more consistent 🙂

Liberty

I learned today, via a contact on Twitter, Rachel Barenblat, the @VelveteenRabbi (I hope you get the literary reference) that Israel has a policy of detaining Palestinian suspects without charge, sometimes for years.

I don’t know how I have been unaware of this fact, except that I probably tend to see Israel with slightly rose-tinted glasses.

The last thing I would ever want to do would be to damage Israel in anything I say or do. I know that Israel for the most part is a haven of democracy in a very toxic surrounding culture, and despite constant accusations of being an ‘apartheid state’, it is nothing of the sort. Furthermore, Arabs and Muslims living in Israel are known to fare better there and have more freedom than in any Muslim State.

Israel’s argument for legitimacy far outweighs the arguments of its detractors.

Nevertheless, detention without charge, especially for long periods is wrong. It’s not justice, and as @VelveteenRabbi says, it’s not Judaism.
http://palestiniantalmud.com/2012/05/14/administrative-detention-is-not-judaism/

I tend towards Libertarianism politically in a lot of ways, and generally speaking I would support freedom of travel and movement. But how could a country that is surrounded by people who passionately hate and desire the destruction of its inhabitants survive without State controls?

The only answer is that it couldn’t. If Israel is to survive, it must protect itself.

But surely such protection must not extend to contravening the human rights of suspects, even if they are suspected of terrorism.

Looking at the Twitter feed of the Israeli Centre for Human Rights, it reports that the Palestinan’s top runner has been denied entry to Israel to run in the marathon. How petty that decision seems! Meanwhile, though, Israel has released another batch of *convicted* terrorists and murderers to the Palestinians who, rather than incarcerating them themselves for their crimes, as any other State would be expected to do to murderers, celebrates these wicked men as heroes.

Israel, just like Palestine, obviously has a lot to learn about genuine justice.

May God restore justice to His people!

Torah Portions and general thoughts on evangelism and fellowship

I have a question: when you study the weekly Torah portion, are you studying a week in advance or not (ie do you study the portion for shabbat in the days running up to shabbat, or start looking at it on shabbat and study it in the days afterwards)?

I’m assuming that the former is the norm rather than the latter. Not being in fellowship anymore, I have never really got into the habit of studying the portions regularly. Actually, when I did have a Messianic fellowship it wasn’t a particularly observant one anyway, so I never did have anybody to study with so it was always a challenge.

So I’m still in the wilderness – another kind of wilderness now, and I wonder whether I have the strength to carry on swimming upstream. I keep coming back to the conviction that Judaism, even Messianic Judaism (and perhaps especially so) cannot be lived out properly except in the context of community.

I am trying to connect more and more with Christians (like the Roman Catholic church, I view them as ‘separated brethren’). I do keep coming back as well to the question of where to draw the line – when and at what point must we ‘come out and be separate’? To what extent can we have fellowship? Is there anything on which we can agree, or are the two ultimately irreconcilable?

I encountered a Messianic Jewish lady this week, who appears to have moved from Orthodox Judaism straight into mainstream Christianity without a ‘Messianic’ step inbetween. Actually it would be interesting to know how many Jewish people end up in mainstream Christianity having been part of the Messianic movement. I would think the number and percentage would be very low, given the Messianic emphasis on Torah and rejection of anything even slightly reminiscent of paganism.  I am noticing, however, that my friend’s perspective on Torah as an Orthodox Jew is very different from mine as a Messianic (non-Jewish) believer, and she didn’t want to get drawn into a discussion about what constitutes paganism.

I am realising more and more as well that the Messianic movement is almost as broad a ‘church’ as mainstream Christianity. It really does vary from something approaching Orthodox Judaism on the one hand and almost Roman Catholic High Church on the other. My experience is probably different again, because I discovered the Messianic movement in parallel with the Sacred Names movement which tends to be scathing of paganism in Christianity and Judaism in equal measure.

I keep wondering about how to live out the Great Commission as part of living out Torah, and wondering whether it is possible without making use of existing structures. I am feeling particularly isolated and useless. Being Messianic surely isn’t all about living to ourselves in a holy Torah huddle while the rest of humanity is drowning.

My friend advised me that it is unwise to criticsise traditional, established church tradition. She also advised me to play down my Jewish connection if I want to have any connection or involvement with other Christians (this was in the context of Mission). I can see where she’s coming from. Even though I am not actually Jewish, I have experienced a fair amount of anti-semitism from within the church. But is keeping quiet and putting my head down really the best response, or even the right one? I have to say I feel profoundly uncomfortable about that.

 

Identity Crisis

My name is Sharon. I don’t like it much, although I suppose I have more or less made peace with it now. When I was growing up in the 70s the name Sharon, along with Tracey, was renowned for being a common name and even associated with promiscuity. I know now that it is a Hebrew name, not quite as regal as the princess Sarah, but having to do with the plain of Sharon in Israel.

I am sure I am not alone as a woman having identity crisis. Most women change their surname at least once when they marry. I’ve taken that a bit further – I have changed my first name, not just once but several times. Names are tied up with identity and it seems to me that women in particular have a challenge to decide who we are. I’m not particularly feminist, but I do feel acutely aware that my name represents my identity. Who am I? Who do I want to be?

I married early, and my first marriage broke down when I was just 23. I had already changed my surname to my husband’s and I definitely had an identity crisis. My first husband was Swedish and I loved having a Swedish name. I didn’t want to give it up even after we split up. At the time I was also intrigued by all things Celtic, and picked an Irish-sounding name completely out of the air: Shannagh. I even made up the spelling. I used it for a few months and then abandoned it, feeling that it was a little bit ridiculous and that made me a little ridiculous. I do have a vague Irish connection, but Shannagh was just made-up and it made me feel fake.

Then, in my 30s I left the church and went on a spiritual journey that culminated, in the end, in not quite converting to Judaism. I came quite close and I decided to take a Hebrew name anyway – Shoshana. Shoshana means Lily and is one of the names of God: Shoshana HaAmakim is the Lily of the Valley. What I particularly love about Shoshana is that the Lily of the Valley grows in the plain of Sharon. It is associated with the town of Shushan in Persia where Esther was Queen. It is even associated with the Apocryphal book of Susanna who was known for her purity. I’ve been Shoshana most of the time for about 5 years.

Living in this new place, I decided to revert to my own name and new my husband’s name, and make a new start. I’m getting used to it again. It’s also my ‘official’, ‘legal’ name according to the DWP as I discovered when I enquired about my pension as a stay-at-home mum. Ironically that makes me want to rebel and change my name again! I never signed anything to say I would change my surname to my new husband’s name, so it makes me a bit cross that it has been decided for me without my consent.

I did have a little bit of an epiphany though about that. If the husband symbolically represents Christ, and the wife represents the Church for whom Christ died, a woman taking her husband’s name is symbolic of the Church (the body of believers) taking on the *identity* of the people of Christ. That’s kind of beautiful, but I don’t like the State making that decision for me. What business is it of the State?

Just recently though I have started to get interested again in all things Celtic. I’m living in a Celtic country, with its own language, and history, flag, customs and traditions. There’s even a Cornish tartan.

I don’t know what made me do it, but I decided to look up the name Shannagh to see if it was a real name, and it turns out it really is. It is an Irish girl’s name denoting a descendant of Sean and meaning old and wise. Well I don’t know whether any of my Irish ancestors were named Sean, but I hope I’m wiser now. I’m definitely older. 🙂

Church Questions

I wanted to share this post because Les asks some very worthy questions and I think his answers are good.

http://lesfergusonjr.com/2014/02/06/church-questions/

I also think that questioning in general – and even being angry with God while desperately wanting to believe and to love Him – is good and healthy.

The stifling of questioning, and the lack of compassion and understanding around the issues of grief and depression are among the things that made me leave the church a decade ago; and conversely, the welcoming of questioning, and the understanding of pain and suffering (as integral to human experience in a broken world) were among the things that attracted me to Judaism.

And now, having a connection again with the church in the form of The Salvation Army, I think that its core Mission of restoring the world to God by restoring and rescuing individuals (especially those who are so low the other churches don’t want them!) answers some of those questions for me.