I will try and remember not to post provocative things on Tuesday mornings. Every Tuesday I am away from the internet from 1 pm until about midnight. Tuesdays are fun days and include things like a meeting of a Sci-Fi Lit group (only two of us in it), several Hebrew classes that I teach, and some late night movie viewing at a friend’s house (currently finishing up the whole series of Battlestar Galactica: “so say we all!”).
So yesterday I posted “How to Be a Messianic Congregation, #2” and I got an intelligent push-back from Rabbi Joshua Brumbach, an escalation of controversy by Gene Schlomovich, and a declaration by Andrew T. that he now realizes (due, apparently, to my utter failure as a rabbi to live up to his standard) that MJ is not and never will be a Judaism.
Let me try and address the issues raised. I am sure that some of you out there in the blogosphere care about these issues. Maybe you’d like to weigh in. First, I’ll give a simple summary of the dispute and then suggest some pointers for clear thinking.
- I said that Messianic Judaism (and Judeo-Christianity) have a fantastic double tradition, the core traditions of Judaism and Christianity, to draw from. I suggested that this means Messianic Judaism must learn from classic and enduring examples of Jewish thought and Christian thought. Examples included the ancient (Christian creeds, rabbinic literature) and more modern (C.S. Lewis, Abraham Joshua Heschel). I suggested that neglecting either tradition would be a mistake and leave us either weak on Torah or weak on Messiah.
- Rabbi Brumbach saw a potential misstatement in my words, though he did say “At the same time I know that we would agree more than it may seem.” Yet the problem he had was with my suggestion that we draw equally from both streams. In his words: “our primary community of reference is, and should be, Jewish.” He went on to give as his primary example the way we order our public services, noting that they should follow Jewish means of worship and not Christian ones (inasmuch as the ways of worshipping differ). I think, as I will explain below, that Rabbi Brumbach’s comment did not really concern what I had affirmed.
- Gene Schlomovich, God love him, escalated the whole controversy by saying, “Rabbi Joshua: A++++.” Gene has never given me an A++++, so I have to conclude that he sides overwhelmingly with Rabbi Brumbach on this one and perhaps even thinks Rabbi Brumbach understated matters. Perhaps Rabbi Leman gets an F- – – -.
- Andrew T. was scandalized by my statement that our synagogue’s Oneg Shabbat is not kosher. Upon hearing from Rabbi Kinbar that the MJRC does not compel all Messianic Jews to abide by the MJRC standards regarding dietary law, Andrew T. said that he was even more scandalized by the MJRC’s lack of real authority. And eventually he went on to declare that MJ is not really and never will be a Judaism, as this blog post and discussion have only just today persuaded him! And to think, I had no way to respond though I saw Andrew’s alarming comments on my iPhone!
THE PART WHERE I TRY TO FIX IT ALL AND SAY, “CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?”
- I really like the part where Rabbi Brumbach said we agree on more than it might seem. I was talking about the traditions we draw on for our belief and practice, not how we order our service (with one exception which I will address in the next bullet point). As Rabbi Brumbach admits, we’d be crazy to say we can understand Yeshua apart from Christian tradition. And since I think Messianic Judaism must understand Yeshua, this rabbi and that rabbi agree we must use Jewish and Christian tradition. But would Rabbi Brumbach really quibble over percentages? Should I read two Jewish books for every Christian book? If I spend an hour studying Midrash must I limit my study of a homily by Augustine to half an hour? I’m not sure why the “equal” part disturbs him. And maybe it doesn’t. After all, we might agree more than it seems.
- Perhaps though, it was my belief that Christian music was appropriate in Messianic Jewish worship that concerned my friend, Rabbi Brumbach. If so, I’m curious what his thoughts are on the use of music in MJ services at all. An argument can be made, and I respect it, that since the Orthodox and Conservative forms of Judaism reject musical instruments during Sabbath services, so should MJ. I have been to Rabbi Brumbach’s congregation and there are musical instruments on the Sabbath. Perhaps the idea that a song is “Messianic Jewish” makes it kosher for MJ worship but if a Christian wrote the song it is not kosher? Is music to be like kosher wine (no gentiles involved in production please)? At any rate, I can say that many Jewish people love pop music and worship music that is based on pop musical styles is not antithetical to Jewish cultural tastes. Now Country Music, that would be another story.
- Gene’s A++++ comment was just mean. And being mean is not a Jewish value. So there, Gene. And I’m not sure what Gene would specifically disagree with. Does he think we can ignore Christian tradition in developing our practice and belief? Obviously he thinks we should be kosher in our synagogue meals. That’s a legitimate opinion. And I feel pretty certain he was not trying to characterize me as “grace trumping Torah.” I assume he was talking about someone else.
- Finally, we come to Andrew T. I appreciate Andrew. He has made some thoughtful comments and I’d like to know him better. But as for his disappointment that the MJRC has not compelled the mass of Messianic Jews to adopt Orthodox Jewish standards, here is a serious historical question for Andrew. Did the Tannaim succeed in getting the Jewish community of their day to adopt their standards? The Tannaim are the sages of the Mishnaic era (up to 200 CE). The answer is no. The Jewish community largely ignored the Tannaim and even the Amoraim were only starting to have wide influence and authority. How does a rabbinic body compel people or gain authority? If Andrew has a suggestion about how rabbis like myself should be able to get everyone to cooperate with our opinions about standards and beliefs, I’m all ears. Ha, I’d love to have some real authority! Now wouldn’t that be scary?