Grace After Meals: FFOZ’s New Book

First Fruits of Zion (ffoz.org) is an interesting organization. I am friends with some of the leaders even though we have a few differences in outlook on the role of Torah in the life of non-Jewish followers of Yeshua. I am greatly encouraged by a few things about FFOZ, such as their increasing understanding of the uniqueness of Israel. In recent years their theology on Israel has moved in a direction somewhat closer to my way of thinking.

One of the great things about FFOZ is their commitment to well-produced materials and solid scholarship. They have a large staff of knowledgeable people practicing Judaism with learning and devotion. I know the director of FFOZ, Boaz Michael, personally and I admire his integrity and commitment to love and unity in a movement prone to division and rivalry. He has been an example to me and I hope his example is mellowing me out.

All that said, I want to introduce you to a new resource by FFOZ and give a little critical review . . .
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FFOZ recently released a series of benchers and teaching tools related to Birkhat HaMazon, or Grace After Meals. Grace After Meals is a Jewish tradition based on Deuteronomy 8:10:

So you will eat and be satisfied, and you will bless ADONAI your God for the good land he has given you.

That is why the main Jewish prayer for food comes AFTER the meal. It’s a wonderful tradition.

So, FFOZ has a book about the history and laws of Birkhat HaMazon called Breaking Bread (see it here).

They have a bencher with all the blessings as well as (see below) a possible early Messianic Jewish version of grace after meals from the late first or early second century (I know it sounds like a questionable historical idea, but see below). The bencher comes in a less expensive paperback (here) or a leatherflex (here).

They also have a line of audio teachings and even a children’s book (see all here).

And here are two really useful things:
1. They have CD’s with all of the melodies so those who do not have a community in which to learn these blessings can do so.
2. They have English translations that go with the same melodies and you can hear the English sung as well as the Hebrew!

Now, for those not used to Jewish prayer, know that chanting in English is not common (though a modern mystical rabbi named Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is known for doing this). I know a lot of people are going to love chanting the blessings in English. And according to Jewish halakhah, this is permitted, though Hebrew is preferred (not least because people from different countries speaking different languages can all pray together when Hebrew is the language of prayer).

So, what about this idea that there may be an early Messianic Jewish version of grace after meals? Here is where I think someone at FFOZ has come up with something amazing. I don’t know much about Didache scholarship, but I wonder if one of the PhD’s on staff shouldn’t write this up as a scholarly monograph and get it into an academic journal. Authors of Breaking Bread, Aaron Eby and Toby Janicki, make a compelling case that the Didache, an early Christian (or Messianic) writing from late first century or early second century, is a document that has been read wrongly from the perspective of later Christian ideas. The authors contend that parts of the the Didache reflect Jewish customs and issues not found in later Christianity.

To put it simply, they contend that the Didache is better read without assuming certain later Christian ideas but in an earlier, more Jewish context.

Take, for example, the well-known prayer from the Didache quoted for so long as an example of a supposed early Christian Eucharistic prayer. I include it here in a Christian translation by J.B. Lightfoot:

Chapter 9, But as touching the eucharistic thanksgiving give ye thanks thus. First, as regards the cup: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the holy vine of Thy son David, which Thou madest known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever.

Then as regards the broken bread: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou didst make known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.

But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord hath said: {Give not that which is holy to the dogs.}

Chapter 10, And after ye are satisfied thus give ye thanks: We give Thee thanks, Holy Father, for Thy holy name, which Thou hast made to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which Thou hast made known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. Thou, Almighty Master, didst create all things for Thy name’s sake, and didst give food and drink unto men for enjoyment, that they might render thanks to Thee; but didst bestow upon us spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Thy Son. Before all things we give Thee thanks that Thou art powerful; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. Remember, Lord, Thy Church to deliver it from all evil and to perfect it in Thy love; and {gather it together from the four winds}–even the Church which has been sanctified–into Thy kingdom which Thou hast prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever. May grace come and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David.

Notice a few things:
1. This translation makes it sound very Christian, but eucharist is simply a Greek word meaning “to give thanks.” It has come to mean the ceremony of the bread and wine representing Christ in Catholic churches (Protestants call it Communion usually instead of Eucharist).
2. The prayer is definitely Messianic/Christian since it refers to Jesus, baptism, and the teachings of Jesus.
3. Yet if translated somewhat differently this prayer can be seen as the very Jewish prayer that it is (eucharist = giving thanks, church = congregation, etc.).
4. Most importantly, this prayer does not mention the death of Yeshua nor his body and blood at all. It is more likely a blessing with bread and wine than an early Eucharistic prayer.
5. And finally, the prayer has some similarities to the Jewish prayer, Birkhat HaMazon.

I will say more about FFOZ’s new resources for teaching grace after meals in future posts, but for now, I hope that this resource will help the developing Messianic Jewish movement take on the tradition of grace after meals. I hope this practice will spread. Our fledgling movement needs to move to the center of Jewish life and away from the fringes. Thanks FFOZ for blessing the MJ community with these needed resources.

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About Derek Leman

Derek Leman and his wife Linda live in the Atlanta, Georgia, area with their eight children.
This entry was posted in Christian, FFOZ, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Prayer, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Grace After Meals: FFOZ’s New Book

  1. Huw says:

    It needn’t be either/or – but rather both/and. The Didache text might be read in both ways – as a Eucharist (communion service) based in the Jewish tradition – but based on the “regular” blessing of bread and wine rather than the Passover Seder.

    There are other historic Eucharistic prayers that do not follow the Corinthian model using the “words of institution”, body, blood, etc. The Gospel of John, as well, is missing this material – nor does the Gospel of John have the meal take place in a Seder (which is why the Eastern Church, for example, insists on bread with yeast). And there is evidence that the Johannine communities continued in this practice well into the 2nd Century.

    There is, thus, reason to imagine that it took a while for the Pauline idea to spread through the larger church.

    I once belonged to a community that used this text for their week-night services. I think they wrongly added a “final cup” at the end and I would argue that based on the practise of Grace After Meals. The communion rite is at the front end – a blessing over bread and wine. In this view, the final prayer seems a thanksgiving for communion – as well as for whatever food was shared in the Havurah/fellowship/agape.

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