Friday, September 19, 2008

Don’t ask me or attempt to convert me.

In the course of running this blog I have had a number of readers write and ask me questions concerning Jewish beliefs over the years. I use to spend hours painstakingly researching their questions and trying to legitimately answer those questions, and then, point them in the right direction for clarification or study.

The problem was, at the heart, most of my correspondents did not really want answers or direction to the appropriate religious authorities. Instead, what they wanted to do was debate theology with me, in I suppose, the hopes of converting me to their religious point of view. But here’s the rub; the deeper I have delved into Jewish theology, philosophy, and ethics; the less influenced I am to Christian beliefs. Oddly enough, the Jews who are the least susceptible to Christianity, historically speaking, are those who are well-grounded in a Jewish education.

Most of the Jews I know shy away outright from discussing religious beliefs with Christians for much the same reasons – not to mention it is an incredible exercise in pure frustration. Having an ‘inter-faith’ dialogue is like attempting to have a conversation with someone who does not speak the same language. And to confound it even further, Christians believe they share a common language with Jews because they believe their bible is the same as the Jewish Torah and claim their messiah was Jewish. It always strikes me as strange that Christians will accept the divinity of the “Hebrew” bible but reject the Talmud even though both were given at the Sinai. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to understand or reconcile the seemingly inconsistencies of Torah without a working knowledge of Talmud.

For example, every time I point out the Christian concept of Original Sin has no place in Judaism, Christians start quoting me phrases like ‘the sins of the fathers shall be visited unto the children’. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation which has the advantage of being not only rational but psychological consistent, and it is explained in detail in the Talmud. All of which brings me to this article on from Ynet News on a Christian evangelical conference held in Berlin recently.
A formal decree drafted by the World Evangelical Alliance's (WEA) Theology Commission during a Berlin conference held in August, has world Jewish communities up in arms: The decree, which explores "Jesus’ individuality and Jewish evangelism," is meant, according to the WEA, to find ways in which Christians can profess their true love for the Jewish people, especially those residing in Europe.
The conference, which was attended by German Christians and Messianic Jews, ended with a statement calling for forfeiting the Christian-Jewish dialogue in favor of distributing the gospel among the Jewish people. This act, said the WEA, "should be made with a true concerns for the Jewish people's redemption."
Jesus' teachings, it continued, state that "genuine love cannot be passive. Jesus taught that authentic love could not be unfeeling when other human beings are in misery and need. Honest love must include an expression of Christ’s good news in word and deed.

"Therefore, Christians everywhere must not look away when Jewish people have the same deep need for forgiveness of sins and true shalom, as do all nations. Love in action compels all Christians to share the gospel with people everywhere, including the Jewish people of Europe."

As for the origins of the sin of anti-Semitism, the WEA stated that "we acknowledge within the sad record of European Christian history the teaching of contempt, intolerance toward Jewish people and Judaism, abhorrent acts of coercion, and anti-Semitism in attitude, word, and deed. "The historical events of the Holocaust developed within a climate of anti-Semitism. The German Evangelical Alliance out of concern for that history has expressed shame and responsibility for Christian silence and too few attempts to stop the horror.

"In light of rising European anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, vigilance is necessary now... Primo Levi, a Holocaust survivor warned that 'it has happened. Therefore, it can happen again.' The source of all genocide is sin. This sin affects all humanity, both the persecutor and the sufferer. God’s response to sin is the gospel. Therefore, this grace must be proclaimed to every human being."
Embracing Jesus Christ, they declare, will rid us all of sin: "We recognize that genocide illustrates the enormity of sin. God is not responsible for genocide; we humans are. God has provided the solution.

"It is often seen as unacceptable to challenge another’s religious views. However, we regard failure to share the gospel as refusing to confront the problem of sin. No one should ignore Jesus’ assessment of human sin. Everyone needs what God offers by his grace – forgiveness of sin and a transforming divine presence that lives in those who respond.

"Confessing Jesus as Messiah affirms Jesus’ uniqueness as a person, especially to Jews, because Messiah (or Christ) is a Jewish concept," continued the decree. "Jesus of Nazareth was more than a prophet or a religious teacher... He exercises the divine prerogatives of forgiving sin and receiving worship. This is why we confess Jesus as divine and human," said the statement.

"God calls believers to take the gospel to the world. Everyone needs to hear this message, including the Jewish people. Proclamation to Israel was Jesus’ priority. It also reflects the apostles’ practice of going to the Jew first. Nothing has occurred since Jesus came that changes the need of Israel and the nations."

The World Evangelical Alliance "invites the Jewish people and all others to consider the claims of Jesus. We share this gospel with Israel and all nations, not as an attack on the integrity of others. We uphold freedom of speech, freedom of religion and an open forum for all. While respecting the views of others, we still challenge them to consider the message of the Messiah."

The Christians, added the WEA, "have much to learn from the Jewish people. We recognize our need to hear Jewish concerns. We affirm the importance of dialogue in promoting mutual understanding and sympathy. Dialogue provides an opportunity to share deeply-held beliefs in a context of mutual respect. Dialogue and evangelism are not mutually exclusively.

"We reject the notion that evangelism is deceptive in claiming that Jews can believe in Jesus. We also reject the accusation that evangelism is the equivalent of spiritual genocide. We affirm the right of Jewish believers in Jesus to practice those traditions that affirm their identity, reflect God’s faithfulness to his people and uphold the Messiahship of Jesus.

"We recognize the important role of Messianic Jews in the work and witness of the Church. Their special contribution gives testimony to the Jewish origins of Christianity and brings understanding of our Jewish roots. They remind us of the Jewishness of Jesus and the first Christians, and also remind us of the fulfillment of God’s promises to restore His people," concluded the statement.

I disagree with every single premise and assertion of the above, and in my defense, I suggest you study both the works of the Rambam and Rashi. The ultimate irony is this conference and proclamation was issued from Berlin, Germany of all places, and to paraphrase one talkback commenter at Ynet News – Oy Vey Miriam.

Out of any given day of the week, at the corner of Yonge & Dundas in Toronto, there can be found diverse religious groups shouting out their beliefs in the hopes of snaring adherents. The Muslims and Hare Krishnas give out books, the Buddhists pamplets, the Christians – religious tracts, often focusing on the consequences of sin. The one group who is always missing is the Jews, and for that I am forever grateful. It is not because Judaism will not accept converts, and it does, but let us follow a genuine Jewish example and keep your ‘good news’ to yourselves unless asked specifically to share. Call it the least one can do in the face of two millenniums of religious prosecution of Jews by Christians.


Leslie said...

I have enjoyed the discussions I've had with you in the past.

Still, after reading this, I feel led to say that the more I learn of Judaism, the more I am taken aback by the G-d who seemingly has no use for Gentiles in that he has created a system so complicated that only a small chosen group fits.

Some persevere and are converted, and that is good. All the while though I'm left wondering about all the people who can't speak or read Hebrew, for instance, and therefore cannot possibly extract the real truth of God from the Bible. One could ask a Rabbi, or another, I guess, but the large majority of this country at least is Rabbi-less. What then is the path to salvation for the Inuit? And while on this Earth is there a way for the average Gentile to participate in the blessed truths of G-d.

I can understand why you might feel angry about Christians goofing up the path to redemption by touting Jesus as the Saviour, but at the same time, there is perhaps another side to be considered as well.

Good wishes.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

Firstly, let me start by clearing the air and saying it wasn’t our discussions I have alluded to in this post. Your one of the exceptions, and my issue isn’t with the exceptions.

Secondly, you are very mistaken in suggesting or eluding there is no plan in creation for gentiles. There is a definite place, purpose and role for the righteous of all nations. In fact, Judaism is one of the few major religions which promises a place in the world to come for all the righteous.

While I would agree that the religious obligations are different for the Jew than the Gentile, Gentiles are certainly not left bereft and without comfort. If you are interested in learning more about Noahides, I would suggest you could start by contacting Rabbi Lazer. A link to his website can be found on my blogroll under Rebbe Rambo and he does list his email on his site. He is actually a rather warm humorous man who has worked a wide group of very diverse people. He could probably put you in contact with someone who was closer than home than Israel who would help you. Alternatively, if my blog partner Naftali does ever choose to come back to the blog world he would also be glad to help answer any of your questions as well. Considering both men are rabbis, and Naftali is a chabad shulich as well your inquiries are better in their hands than mine.

Leslie said...

Thanks Kate.
I'll check out the Rabbi's site sometime.

A blog post or two about the life purpose of a gentile might make for an interesting read too. :)