From the Foundation Up, by Annelise
Some people encounter Judaism and leave mainstream Christianity, but hold on to the Christian scriptures. They keep some Christian beliefs out of loyalty to their messiah. When the Orthodox Jewish community rejects them, they “identify with Yeshua’s suffering.” There are many different versions of following him like this away from the rest of the church.
Many of these groups explain their reading of ‘the Bible’ as uniquely important and different through the illustration of building a house. They feel that mainstream Christianity has tried to build the roof first and then get to the foundation. So they say that they now start with the ‘first testament’, the Hebrew scriptures, and only then interpret the ‘second testament’ (or ‘New Testament’), through the lens of Torah.
The problem is that interpretation, from the right perspective, is not even relevant until something is accepted as true from that perspective. They assume that when they go back to the foundations, they will be able to come back to the Christian scriptures and read its symbols and theology with a new light and deeper understanding. And they insist that when they start with the Torah, the New Testament intricately matches the context of Judaism in which it was originally written. They find it exciting to see the similarities, exploring the deeply important themes of Torah amidst a collection of new ideas.
Rather than starting with Torah, these readers are still starting with the belief that their sixty-six books are the ‘whole Bible’, and that the Torah, prophets, and other Hebrew writings are the foundational part of a bigger picture that they imagine. All the things that the original followers of Jesus/Yeshua learnt in their Jewish upbringing gave them language and symbols for what they wanted to say about their leader. So it is no wonder that the meanings of their New Testament are better understood by those who look at the historical and living Jewish culture and spiritual heritage. But being connected to the original ideas does not make a new one true.
What if the foundation could be built, in a living nation’s context, with no such preconception of the ‘roof’ in mind? Ideas that the ‘New Testament’ obsesses over would not come to mind at all; the entire claim would seem unnecessary, yet supported by mere shadows. We can explore two of the greatest themes of the Hebrew prophets to see this.
One thing these prophets thought and wrote about often was the complete difference between worshiping what is in the realm of earth and the sky, and on the completely opposite hand worshiping the maker of everything. This is how they defined true and false worship. But they never defined God.
Christians often feel that a difference between their faith and that of rabbinic Judaism is the ‘imagination if God’. Some have argued that worshiping ‘not-Yeshua’ could itself be considered idolatry, since they think that involved worshiping a false concept of the Creator. But this is a twisted portrayal of the prophetic terminology. While traditional Jews avoid imagining God, turning their hearts away from creation and their minds towards His actions when they pray, Christians have a concept or imagination of what God ‘is’. But He is incomparable even though He is close. Every image, every shape, every idea, every concept of relationship, every value that we can even begin to conceive is a part of His world, a reflection of His light; the heavens, the earth, and everything in them. That is the simple definition of what not to worship, and one who begins with Torah will not find or allow any blurring of this.
The world is an intimate gift from God, according to Judaism. He doesn’t need to ‘become part of it’ in order to be very close. His words and actions in the world are an expression of love and relationship, and there are many of these; all are His servants. Imagining God at all, even when saying that beyond a certain level it is a mystery, blatantly transgresses a deep value of those who begin with Torah. No matter how perfectly a reflection or manifestation of His love serves its purpose, it is part of creation. It can be in front of our eyes when we pray, but not in front of our hearts. Torah Judaism knows this.
A second emphasis of the Jewish Bible is that the Torah path already contains the path of righteousness, forgiveness, and devotion. A simple Jew who seeks to follow it and to love God does not need the messiah to help him access this. That king is a future hope of comfort for the community who follows the prophets’ clear warnings.
The Talmud, and other writings and teachings related to it, reflect the Torah observant community’s generation-to-generation record of what Torah involves in everyday life. Its experiences and intricacies of holiness, and the memories and debates that are attached to it, are all emphasised in the school system of a holy nation. And this love of God and what it means to live out His law with the fear of heaven, gradually becoming more and more noble in every action of life while keeping steady with the main things, is what the prophets were pointing to all along. The Torah observant community has preserved through history the only record of authoritative rulings from the judges and priests about how the Jewish community should keep Torah. Any Jew who focused first on Tanach would find their eyes drawn by all the prophets to the details and the spirit of the Torah, a complete and beautiful gift that is in reach even of the weakest person who desires God. Hope for restoration of the Temple, Israel, humanity, and creation is part of this picture, but the ‘need’ for something specifically like Christianity is not visible unless you already assume it is the next level and build your reading to match.
Christians believe that since no one is perfect in keeping God’s laws, either His laws to Israel or His expectation of humanity, justice must be served and someone sinless must die in place. This comes from an explanation developed by the early church, and taught to the world by the missionary Paul. But in all his honest psalms, King David never lamented that because no one had died in his place, he couldn’t imagine how God could forgive or help him. He just accepted the forgiveness and help offered by God in Torah. The Jewish scriptures don’t warn that a person who loves all their commandments and moulds their life around them might still be an enemy of God if they ignore a ‘second covenant’. Instead it points over and over to the path of life given by Moses, as if that already included God’s best for the nation and the world and even the possibility of healing and growth as a person keeps returning to the path.
If you truly begin with the foundation of the Hebrew scriptures, counting its own emphases as your emphases, and then look at the historical Jewish community, you will never come to the conclusion that among what they have yet to improve in observance is devotion to Jesus/Yeshua. Before giving labels of stubborn rebellion and tragic misguidance to Jews who have, through history, focused their lives on the details and spirit of Torah and built a Temple for God in their hearts, your reasons for thinking that they are rejecting parts of God’s own building must rest on more than shadowy links, verses with multiple readings, or circular logic. When the followers of your messianic claimant have spent the last two-thousand years worshiping him, even more so.
Devotion to God alone, which lies beneath the desire to take the Torah-observant Jewish testimony seriously, should give a person the strength to cling to God and have confidence that He will lead… from the foundation upward.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal