Sunday, March 06, 2011

When Christians celebrate “Biblical Feasts,” Part 3: When is Pesach?

image I never thought I’d be adding a third post to my first two, but since the previous two have gotten a LOT of visits, I’m hoping somebody will read this one as well.

I’ve become convinced (sad but true), that at this point in history, there are more Christians who care about these holidays than Jews. 

I see two big reasons for this:  first, Jews are by and large apathetic about Judaism.  If you’re Jewish and you’re reading this, congratulations – you’re NOT one of the apathetic ones.  But most are. 

Second, I believe Christianity has reached a nadir, a low point in its 2000-year history, where it has “politically corrected” itself into irrelevance.  If you belong to a Christian church whose message is so bland and friendly and open as to barely distinguish itself from Unitarianism, then of course you’re going to turn elsewhere for genuine spirituality.  People can tell when they’re being fed pablum and told it’s Irish Stew.

image Funnily enough, those Jews who are NOT apathetic (and among these, I count Jews of all denominations) have worked hard over the last sixty years or so to “renew” Judaism:  breathe life into it, create new translations, even make it fun.

One hundred years ago, when my grandparents were growing up in Poland, it may have been enough to tell kids, “this is what we do.”  And leave it at that.  These days, our kids know they have options that are NOT Judaism, so whether that’s fair or not, we have to make our Judaism “competitive” with the many alternatives out there.

Competitive Judaism is wonderful!  So wonderful, I believe, that it’s attracting many non-Jews.  Some of these are the geirei tzedek, righteous converts, who now fill shuls, our stores, our schools, some walking up Bathurst Street in their shtreimlach, others in hospitals, schools, government offices in knitted “srugah” kippas.

image But many of them are NOT geirim.  Many of them are Christian and want to remain that way, though some are increasingly uncomfortable with the term “Christian” and refer to themselves as “believers” and other sideways wink-wink terms that would probably sound familiar to the covert (Jesus-fish) Christians of the first few centuries.  (and frankly, I think Jesus, whoever he was, might be ashamed that these followers are afraid to take his name, but it’s REALLY not my place to say… :-))

These folks want to wear Jewish stuff (tzitzit, sometimes kippot) and they want to observe Jewish stuff (Shabbos, kashrut).  And they want to do holidays – or what they refer to as the “Biblical Feasts,” a phrase I plan to use over and over again, because it is a search engine magnet

Thousands of people are looking for ways to celebrate these feasts in their homes, their churches, their homeschools and co-ops.  (There seem to be far more Hebrew Christian homeschoolers than actual Jewish ones.)

I sense from their blogs, from their overblown rhetoric, from their YouTube videos, that the leadership of these Hebrew Christians is nervous.  Teach folks too much about actual Judaism, let them get too close to the fire of Torah (funnily enough, several of these sites and blogs have links to – aish means fire in Hebrew - but only for its colouring pages), and they may actually leave the fold, becoming geirim, or at least abandoning Christianity altogether.

So they stick in “wedges” to keep Hebrew Christians from mingling too freely with actual Jews; to keep them reading their own special versions of scripture (as our rabbi says often, “every translation is an interpretation” – so obviously, reading it in the original is ideal, and every layer of intermediation creates distance from the core message). 

If you are a Hebrew Christian, Torah-observant Messianic, or any other non-Jewish believer in Jesus/Yeshua, ask yourself how many Jews you know?  How familiar are you REALLY with Jewish Torah scholarship, prayers and observances?  Have you ever been to a synagogue?  Have you ever been to a Jewish seder, before you started trying to create your own “messianic” one? 

imageBy far the most insidious “wedge” between Hebrew Christians and modern Jews is Pesach – the feast of Passover.  And it doesn’t start with the seder… it starts weeks before, with people poking around in Israeli barley-fields, waiting for the grain to ripen to the state known to these folks as “Abib” or “Aviv.”

This may be the purest example of distancing themselves from the mainstream.  Though there are a few Jews who belong to the tiny minority that agricultural signs of ripening are how we approach the date of Pesach and all the holidays that follow, most “Karaites” are not Jews at all – they are Christians unaware of the distinctions between literal Torah text, Rabbinic law and interpretation, and why the latter is such a crucial part of Judaism today.

Judaism, as described in the Torah, simply can’t happen in our times.  Pesach, as it’s written, cannot take place without the korban (sacrifice), the barley, the priests, the Temple. 

Which is just fine, because Moshe appointed a new leader after him (Yehoshuah /Joshua), and new leaders continued to be appointed to carry on the tradition.  God made it clear that each generation’s leaders and judges had the authority to not only interpret but create law as it applied to meet the challenges of that generation.

The ripening of the barley and other natural factors such as the sighting of the new moon may have been important in determining the calendar in ancient times when the Sanhedrin sat in Jerusalem and Israel was in the hands of Jewish Torah leaders. 

These days, as they say:  “not so much.”  Which is why the calendar was fixed – a brilliant (if erratic) mathematical calendar which would ensure that each year Pesach would take place in the “month of Aviv,” a word generally interpreted to mean “spring.”

We follow the rabbinic law in this as in so many other areas because without our tradition, we are essentially reduced to what Christians call sola scriptura – scripture alone.  To many Protestants, this is in fact the ultimate good; a person reading and interpreting scripture for himself.  They say that if one is humble and open, divine interpretation will flow.  That’s simply not the Jewish way of doing things, by any means.

(Neither, by the way, is scripture memorization, as I pointed out in my blog post reviewing the book Pillars of History.  YM explained after he read that post that there’s a very strong suggestion that one should ALWAYS have a text in front of you when you’re learning Torah, and that that is why pure memorization is discouraged.  There are some cases where memorization is useful or necessary, but for the most part, having the actual text keeps you on track.)

imageNo Jew is an island, and I believe no Christian should be either.  (I believe if they are honest with themselves, even the most fundamentalist Protestant denominations believe in following the interpretation of their leadership over even the most “divinely inspired” independent reading)

Starting with Moshe, the Torah tells us we need our teachers for the “tricky verses” – the hard choices in all our lives. 

The Hebrew Christian leadership would like to be those teachers for every follower.  But I believe they can only stay in that role as long as their readers, listeners, congregants, don’t get too close to the many brilliant Torah-teachers found in the Jewish world.

Enter the “abib / aviv” controversy / heresy.

The easiest way to keep your people separate, apparently, is resuscitate an ancient and nearly vanished heresy – slash - misinterpretation, polish it up with a little modern graphics and agricultural information, sprinkle a bit of “New Testament” spice and hang it up for everybody to bow down to as the infallible word of… well, something.

I don’t see a lot of these “barley-abib” Karaites eating cold food on Shabbat, by the way.  Not that I’d want to, but they should know it’s part and parcel of the same deal they’re signing on to by adopting this unconventional approach to the holidayimage.

There is a principle in Judaism that kind of doesn’t apply here, but I want to say it anyway:  “al tifrosh min ha-klal” – don’t separate yourself from the community.  There’s also the secular principle:  “don’t reinvent the wheel.”

These leaders are reinventing the wheel to suit their own purposes, and along the way separating their followers from the beautiful teachings of the Torah as read and interpreted since the VERY BEGINNING by Jewish rabbis, leaders and scholars. 

I began writing this post after seeing another blog which referred to the upcoming barley watching and the festival that would follow, regardless of the actual Hebrew date.

Here’s what I wrote over there – which I’m reproducing in full here.  I actually like the author of that blog post (and enjoy reading the homeschool adventures of her three sweet kids!), but sadly, I’m not sure if she will allow my comment to appear on her blog.

It seems to me that if one wishes to observe Biblical feasts, one should do it at the time when most Bible-followers (ie Jews) are actually doing it. 

The fixed calendar was established because we have no Temple, no Sanhedrin, no authority to establish the Roshei Chodashim [new months] based on natural signs any longer.  All the observances having to do with barley in this section of the Torah (including the Omer offering) cannot be brought without a Temple, Priests, etc. because the land is no longer in Jewish hands (politically, it is still far from the situation described in the Torah!).

There are good reasons most modern Jews follow the rabbinic tradition.  If you wear a kippah or tzitzit (men), cover your hair or wear a skirt (women), celebrate Purim or Chanukah or light Shabbat candles, you are following rabbinic tradition, too - a tradition which, for the time being, ALSO happens to fix a universal date for Pesach that is not dependent on barley or any other natural factors.

If you are not Jewish and considering celebrating Passover this year, I applaud you for wanting to learn more about these Biblical feasts.  I would also urge you to understand the meaning of Pesach, from a Jewish perspective, and to learn more about how modern Jews observe the festival – and why. 

Your leaders may desperately want to keep you from doing this; there are reasons most Jews haven’t heeded the siren song of Christianity over the ages.  By and large, it’s not because we’re stubborn, but because we have something incredibly beautiful right here at home:  why not take a look and see what that is before you decide that you must separate from it and practice a fringe religion that is apart from both Judaism and mainstream Christianity?

imageFind some Jews who know what they’re talking about and get yourself invited to a real seder, or, if you can’t do that, find a synagogue-based class about the seder, about Passover, about the festivals.   (Will you be welcome?  By and large, if you’re honest about who you are and your beliefs and – at the same time – refrain from sharing those beliefs in the synagogue; you’re there to learn, right?)

A word about seders:  If it’s a “women’s Seder”, a “liberated Seder”, a “holocaust Seder”, a “whatever Seder”, run by Jews or run by Christians or run by a tubful of hippos:  fill in the blank with whatever you want… I’ll repeat:  if there’s an adjective, it’s probably NOT a Seder.  A “seder” with any agenda beyond teaching the exodus from Egypt and the history of the Jewish people from idol worship to the service of God is NOT a Seder.

Other posts you may or may not want to read:

I also welcome your comments and questions.  Moderation is on to block spam, but I will post all legitimate comments, even if I do not agree with your views.