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.com – 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.

5 comments:

  1. First off, I want to say I love your blog. And I also love your posts about the holidays. I am an ex-christian, ex-messianic, and you are right on when you say the messianic leaders are nervous. There are actually messianic sites that have anti-missionary sites listed with the warning not to go there. One day I went there......well, they are right to be nervous. They don't want people looking too closely at what they are teaching. Because once people with open minds start studying the Tanach, they are going to find out that there are too many issues with the nt. You'd be surprised at how many messianics are starting to see the truth and leaving the nt and it's teachings behind.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Jennifer! I am so glad that you came back and posted!! I agree and love the description of Abba as "masculine/feminine" and "close/distant," but most of all, "one!" I so welcome your comments. Thank you for being willing to share...This is a lovely explanation!!
    Blessings to you also, thank you again for sharing with me...I am blessed you came over!
    Also, I just found this post, so I thought I’d place my comment here and take the liberty of sharing my thoughts on this post if you don’t mind.
    You said:
    “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.”
    My comment:
    I sadly agree with you. No doubt the Christian faith is becoming more interested in numbers and supporters than teaching truth.
    You also said:
    …Christians “uncomfortable with the term “Christian” and refer to themselves as “believers”
    These followers are afraid to take his name (Jesus), but it’s REALLY not my place to say… :-))”
    My comment:
    Many “believers” or “Messianics/Hebrew roots” whatever people want to call us , are beginning to understand that the man who the bible describes in the NT that died on the cross was in fact Jewish. This man also (if in fact he was the sacrificial lamb) could not have spoken out against or broken Torah if he was the lamb that was slain for the sins of the world…he would have to be sinless (sin being transgression of Torah). In realizing these truths (truths to us) we have also learned that this man’s Jewish name was “Yahoshuah” and not Jesus…The Christian faith has attached pagan practices to the “Jesus” in their faith…Sunday worship, Torahlessness, Christmas, Easter… (The name Jesus also has no relationship to the Father and apparently has some association to pagan gods.) Therefore, we choose not to be associated with the “Greek concept” of the son of god…we are choosing to have the Hebrew or Jewish association of the Son of YHWH…one who we believe kept Torah, taught Torah and was Torah in the flesh, thus sinless.
    (part 1...sorry so long)

    ReplyDelete
  3. (part 2) As you probably know, most of us “believers” associate rabbinic tradition to the same level of error as the Christian churches because they both teach tradition which is not “scripture only” therefore in error AND most importantly, Christianity teaches that Torah is done away. We do not agree with this and believe it is complete error. You mention being in the “fringe”…this is the reason why we choose to be in the “fringe”…the traditions taught by men.
    You are true to say that we cannot separate our selves entirely from one side or the other but I believe more and more of us are finding that there is error on both sides and both the Jewish faith and Christian faith have a part of the truth that makes up the whole…but that whole is solely based on the unadulterated WORD of YHWH.
    It’s no doubt we “believers” may appear to be a sorry lot and our attempts to keep Torah apart from Rabbinic authority and apart from Christian authority may be feeble but I believe we are a people called out of a harlot religion who are seeking and unadulterated form of worship of the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Most of us (whatever title one may prefer to give us) come from a culture which is totally foreign to the rich Jewish heritage you have the luxury of being born into and there is so much to learn. I believe the following scripture applies to these “believers” that we are speaking about…
    Zec 8:23 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.

    Men of all languages and nations take hold of the skirt of the Jewish people because the Word of Abba Yah is with the Jewish followers of Torah.

    So having said that, we are not seeking to take on all of “Judaism” with its traditions that are formed by men…we just left a bunch of traditions which did nothing but separate us from Abba because, as you noted, we held them more dear than the truths of Abba’s Torah.
    What I have written does not touch on all the areas you touched on but I have written a lot so I probably should stop. The topic is vast.
    Again, I want to say thank you for sharing with me. I’m just sharing where I am today in this walk and why we are where we are.
    I’m sure my words are not eloquent and my beliefs don’t come from an “accepted” faith but we seem to be hearing this “same song” from believers wherever we go, our stories so much the same. Can it be that these things are taking place because of the time we live in? My thought is, yes. Our Messiah is near to return and Abba is preparing His bride and Abba is calling her out to get white and to do that, His word must be restored.
    Thank you so much for your patience with me on this matter.
    Blessings to you and thank you for your ear!!!
    Traci

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for posting this! I'd love to learn more and actually called our local rabbi. I felt shut down once it was 'discovered' that I was non-Jewish. I am still eager to learn and learn well. I appreciate your frankness immensely!

    ReplyDelete
  5. @Anonymous - there are organizations that attempt to create genuine interfaith dialogue (ie not one side trying to convert the other). I wish more of them were coming from an Orthodox perspective so that the world could see the full beauty and truth of Torah. However, there are many reasons religious Jews are fearful... and there is also the hard truth that we are not very numerous, and already spread very thin. Those religious Jews who teach Torah best are probably hard at work within the Torah community. Still, I wish others shared my enthusiasm about taking this message public, so to speak.
    You might try Jews for Judaism, an organization which attempts to combat missionary activity by teaching Jews about the truths of Torah. If you were open with them about simply wanting to know more, you might get somewhere. Maybe. :-)

    ReplyDelete

I love your comments!