Jewish Self-Identity; an excerpt from “Covenant Nation”

In his description of the sense of Jewish self-identity that preceded Christianity, Boyarin has forgotten a key element in that sense of self-identity. The Jewish people did not just see themselves merely as a community; they saw themselves as a community that stands in a special relationship with God. Obviously, some Jews took this relationship more seriously than did others, but being a Jew meant being tied up with God. This central feature of Jewish self-identity was shared by every man woman and child who saw themselves as part of the larger Jewish community.

A prerequisite for sharing a relationship with somebody is an ability to identify that somebody. If it is a group of people that share a relationship with somebody, as in the situation of Israel sharing a collective relationship with God, then the nation will need to be able to identify God on a national level. This would require a uniform definition of God that is shared by the nation. This definition would have to be clear and simple. If the Jewish people are going to relate to God as a nation, each Jew needs to be confident that whichever group of Jews he or she stands with, they worship the same God. It is not enough that they call God by the same name because you don’t have a relationship with a name and you don’t worship a name. We need to find the common Jewish understanding of the One that they were having a relationship with.

This understanding of God shared by the Jewish people will not be a theological formula or creed, because you don’t have a relationship with a mathematical equation. It needs to be something concrete that everyone could relate to on the level of the heart.

So what was it? How did the Jewish people perceive God in the pre-Christian world? How did the Jewish people understand the One that they were tied to in covenantal relationship?

If we search the Jewish Bible for an answer to this question, we will not find a creed or a mathematical formula. The Bible opens with the words: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth”. The God of Israel is above and beyond heaven and earth and all that exists in heaven and earth are His creations. The Jewish concept of God shapes the Jew’s view, not only of God Himself, but also of all existence. God is the One Creator and every detail of existence is viewed as His subject. The One that the Jewish people related to was the One that is outside of the confines of heaven and earth and the Jew saw heaven and earth and of all their inhabitants as subjects of this One God. The Jew stood apart from all of the pagan nations that surrounded Israel because they all found themselves in a relationship with some feature of finite existence; be it the sun, the moon, or any other force of nature. The Jew saw all of these as fellow subjects of the One who created them all.

This is the concept of God that is shared by all Jews from the time of the exodus onward. It is this Being who is identified by the fact that He is outside of existence as we know it that Israel shares her covenantal relationship with.

Yes, there were many teachings floating around, and there still are many teachings floating around that address questions such as; how does an infinite God appear to the prophets? How does an infinite God interact with a finite world? But whatever answers are given to these questions, they do not affect the basic relationship with God. God always remains outside of the existence that we see and comprehend.

Pointing to any inhabitant of heaven and earth, be it a human, an angel, a star or an animal and encouraging a devotional relationship with that entity is the most serious violation of Israel’s relationship with the God who is above and beyond heaven and earth.

This then was the constant. When a Jew joined his or her fellow Jews in worship, they may not have been confident that their fellow Jews subscribed to the same teachings that explain how God appeared to the prophets. But of this they were sure; that their fellow Jews were NOT worshiping an inhabitant of heaven or earth but that their hearts were directed to the One who stands outside of the confines of heaven and earth.

When the Church encouraged devotion to Jesus as a deity (regardless of when this devotion surfaced in Church history), the Church was encouraging a different relationship than the relationship of Israel with her God. The Church was pointing to an inhabitant of this earth and demanding that human hearts direct their devotion towards that entity. The Churchmen may have used the Jewish teachings that explain God’s interaction with this world to justify the relationship that they were encouraging, but they were encouraging a different relationship. The fact that the Logos theology of the Church is similar to some of the Jewish teachings on God does not make Christianity Jewish. The teachings may be similar, but the relationships that they are encouraging are diametrically opposed to each other. In Judaism these teachings are used to explain a relationship with an entity that stands outside of the confines of nature, while in Christianity these same teachings are being used to justify a relationship with an entity that is inside the confines of nature.

Whenever it was that the Church introduced the idea that the hearts of human-kind ought to relate to Jesus as their supreme master they had crossed the line and moved out of the range of Jewish self-identity – according to every understanding of Jewish self-identity that ever existed.

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The Pharisees in the Gospels – an Excerpt from Covenant Nation

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

Boyarin presents us with an analysis of the hand-washing incident described in the seventh chapter of the book of Mark (TJG; pgs. 106-127). Boyarin concludes that, contrary to popular Christian opinion, this incident does not teach that Jesus abolished the dietary laws altogether. Rather, Jesus was opposed to the specific rabbinical enactment of hand-washing, which stands apart from the general dietary laws.

I find myself in agreement with Boyarin on this point. Reading the book of Mark with an understanding of Jewish law one recognizes that there is a distinction between the purity laws, which Jesus was contesting, and the general dietary laws, which Jesus does not mention. Boyarin however does not stop there. Boyarin goes on to argue that Jesus stood against all Pharisaic innovations and additions to the Law. This position is not supported by the Christian Scriptures, the only source we have for Jesus and his teachings.

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Each year, numerous missionary churches and Messianic congregations co-opt the holiday of Passover, claiming that it proclaims a Christian message. The Christian bible compares Jesus to the Paschal lamb (John 1:29) and insists that he died as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world (I Cor. 15:3, I John 2:2).

In truth, this deceptive spin totally distorts the actual meaning of Passover.

The exodus of the children of Israel from their long bondage in Egypt 3300 years ago was preceded by ten awesome plagues that God visited upon our oppressors. The last of these plagues was the slaying of the Egyptian first born. God instructed the Israelites to place the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and lintels of their houses. The Angel of Death passed over the houses marked in this way as it went about smiting the Egyptian first born.

The Passover lamb became a yearly sacrifice eaten on the first night of the holiday to commemorate this event. It was not sacrificed to atone for anyone’s sins and the original sacrifice in Egypt only served to spare the first born Jews.
If Jesus’ death was supposed to have been an atoning sacrifice, it would have been more appropriate to liken him to the special goat that was offered on Yom Kippur – the national Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).

Missionaries often try to connect Jesus to the Passover lamb because unlike other victims of crucifixion, his legs were not broken (John 19:33). In the laws of the Passover sacrifice, the Torah prohibited breaking any of its bones (Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12).

However, it is a cynical farce to arbitrarily seize upon only one requirement of the Passover sacrifice and show a parallel to the death of Jesus while ignoring all the laws that don’t fit. For example, the Bible prohibited sacrificing any animal that was maimed or blemished in any way (Leviticus 22:19-22, Deuteronomy 17:1). However, prior to being crucified, Jesus was beaten and scourged (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15-19) which would render him unfit to be a sacrifice. In addition, he was circumcised in the flesh (Luke 2:21), which according to Philippians 3:2 is considered to be a form of mutilation.

As well, the Passover sacrifice most certainly could not have been a human being! The Bible strongly condemns and forbids human sacrifice over a dozen times.

The actual meaning and significance of the Passover lamb is, in fact, a total repudiation of Christianity. Four days prior to the Exodus, the children of Israel were instructed to set aside a lamb that they would eat on the evening prior to leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:3-6). This was a tremendously risky act of defiance because the Egyptians worshiped the lamb (Exodus 8:22 / 8:26 in a non-Jewish Bible).

The slaughtering of the Paschal lamb was a dramatic renunciation of idolatry. It was a statement that the people inside those houses worshiped God alone. The blood on their doorposts was a brave protest against the prevailing beliefs and a forceful rejection of the worship of any created being. Our Passover today continues to serve as a rejection of the deification of any human being.

Have a true and kosher Passover – sweet, joyous and inspiring!

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Being a Jew – What Does it Mean?

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

Being a Jew – What Does it Mean?


The Bible tells us that G-d took the Jewish people to Him for a nation and that He is their G-d (Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:7).  The relationship between G-d and Israel is like a marriage. G-d will not enter into such an intimate relationship with any other nation and Israel will never enter into a devotional relationship with anyone aside from their G-d.

“You were shown in order that you know that the Lord is God there is none beside Him” (Deuteronomy 4:35).

It is Israel’s holy calling to testify to this truth. Israel is to carry the torch of the Oneness of G-d throughout the corridors of history.

This truth has two ramifications. The first ramification of this truth is the simple fact that the devotion of our hearts belongs to no one but to the One who brought our…

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Supplement to Rabbi Freitag vs Dr. Brown – by Concerned Raeder

A Supplement to Rabbi Freitag’s debate with Dr. Brown. (Part 1 Addressed to Dr. Brown.)
In Dr. Brown’s debate with Rabbi Freitag, Dr. Brown leveled the charge that the rabbi didn’t provide one  example of Christian scriptural manipulation, mistranslation, or obfuscation. I will address one instance, though I mean no offense to either party.
As Dr. Brown well knows, Hebrew is a very context driven language. Dr. Brown knows that rabbis have vowel points on the Hebrew letters in the Masoretic text which guide one in understanding the plain simple meaning of the text, which the rabbi addressed at length by pointing out the Jewish people’s clear unambiguous duty to the commandments.
Dr. Brown views this as a rabbinic addition to the Torah in some sense,( though not malicious as stated in certain of his works,) but he also knows full well that without the vowels, many root words in Hebrew can be translated in several different ways, thus making the Torah into putty in a person’s hands.
 It is in this respect that Christians are able to defend the textual variants as found in the Septuagint, (the Greek Tanakh employed by the gospel writers and the Church.) In this sense, Dr. Brown can claim that the Christian translation of Isaiah 7:14 as virgin for one example, is not a mistranslation, due to the Greek’s use of the word Parthenos.
What Dr. Brown will himself point out is that neither Partheonos, nor the word Almah convey a woman’s sexual purity or virginal status.
 Both Almah and Betulah can on occasion be read either way.
He can likewise employ a Targum (an Aramaic Paraphrase of a biblical book) to justify the change in tense in 7:14 from the present tense found (in Jewish translations) to the Christian use of 7:14 in the future tense. He will do the same with the choice of Almah or Betulah, and how he chooses to translate.
Jewish translations like the Stone edition Tanakh in Isaiah 7:14 say “the young woman is pregnant and will bring forth a son.”
Christian translations will say “the Virgin will conceive and bear a son.” The Christian will claim then that Isaiah’s prophecy had a meaning in his day, (IE the traditional Jewish meaning,) but also a future typology of a promise to David’s house of a future messiah.
A change so subtle may not seem insidious, or even mistaken, but I ask you, which reading stays consistent with Isaiah’s prophecy as recieved by him and delivered by him in his own day? Which reading makes the best sense of what is plainly happening in the Bible as we read it plainly for its own sake and not as a sectret fountain of future riddles?
When a Christian employs Targumim, Midrashiim, or extra biblical sources, we must realize that this would be like a Christian explaining and establishing Christian doctrines using Lord of the Rings, or The Left Behind series.
These works are based on opinion, a biblical hypothesis, and are a fan fiction as it were, not doctrinal source material.
That being the case, I will not fall into the pit of possible readings and types, because it is a pit into which the Christian himself can fall due to his overzealous use of type and shadow.
Let me illustrate.
 Dr. Brown as usual with his masterful use of argument will bring forward a prophecy which he will attempt to back with rabbinic commentary and a semblence of context, and say who but yeshua will fit?
He claims that there is a special servant in Isaiah 53 who is not national Israel (who is usually guilty,) but is an innocent person whose death serves to atone. But is that the plain meaning?
Let’s say (for argument sake,) that I grant Dr. Brown’s premise that this is a rightous sufferer. Nowhere does the text clearly state that this person is the son of David. Nowhere does the verse state that it is the servant’s death that will bring justification.
The NASB states: As a result of the anguish of HIS SOUL, He will see it and be satisfied; By His KNOWLEDGE  the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.
Death of the servant does not justify the many, but the knowledge of the servant justifies, IE his knowledge of the Torah and G-d’s justice. He knows G-d will not forsake him.
 Why is his soul in anguish if he is wholly innocent? Shouldn’t the soul be elated at the suffering of the sinful flesh, the man  resting in knowledge of G-d’s future reward?
Even if this can apply to the death of a righteous man, there is no way to know that it applies to Yeshua conclusively or exclusively.
Dr. Brown sets several criteria
1. The Servant is a righteous sufferer
2. He dies before the Second Temple falls
3. He is the son of David
4. He is a priestly king who fails in his mission to gather Israel.
If we were Jews living in the second temple era, we would not know this was about jesus exclusively, (just as his own students tell us that they did not know it was him.)
Let me ask a question. Could we possibly be well intentioned back then, and still think this prophecy could be about another person?
    who other than Jesus might fit these categories?
1. John the Baptist was righteous and suffered.
2. He died before Jesus
3. He was related to David via matralineal descent (as was Jesus,) due to being Jesus’ own cousin.
4. Unlike Jesus, John could actually be called a royal priest because his father Zachariah was a bonafide priest who served in the Temple.
What is my point here? Just because a man can fit into a verse does not mean the verse refers to only him to the exclusion of all others. No Christian would regard John the Baptist as a potential messiah, even though he can easily fit many of the same criteria Dr, Brown pointed out.
In the case of being both a melech and a Kohen, it appears that John actually fits better and more easily than Jesus in that catagory.
Types do not a messiah make.
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Forming a Nation

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

Forming a Nation

Exodus 13:8, Psalm 78:5

The exodus from Egypt was a foundational event in the history of our nation and the retelling of the story is an important aspect of preserving our heritage as Jews. On the first night of Passover, Jewish people around the world join together in a family setting and retell the story of the exodus. But the exodus is more than just a story from the past, the exodus is a living implement in the hand of God that serves to create a nation for Himself year after year.

The wording that the Torah uses to teach us to retell the story to our children does not directly indicate that the story ought to be told on the first night of Passover. By tying the retelling of the story to the special observances of Passover (Exodus 13:8) we are given to understand that the…

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Tower of Truth

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

Tower of Truth

Man’s need for self-validation is very deep. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. The deeper the need – the more powerful the desire to invent and to fabricate.

Not that there is a true need to fabricate. The Creator who so lovingly designed us also provided for all of our needs. We have air to breath, water to drink and food to eat. Surely God also provided for our basic emotional needs as well.

There seems to be a pattern in the way God provides for our needs. The availability of the item that satisfies our need seems to be directly correlated to the level of requirement that we have for the particular item. Air is the most essential material need that we have and it is all over the place. Water follows as our second most basic need and while it is not…

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