Why Bob Dylan Probably Wouldn’t Attend a Messianic Congregation

Just read a fascinating blog entry over at ffoz.org by Toby Janicki (http://ffoz.org/blogs/2007/02/bob_dylan_a_messianic_jew.html).

First, a word about FFOZ (First Fruits of Zion). This is a Hebrew roots organization whose vision differs somewhat from the UMJC (what I see as normative Messianic Judiasm, umjc.net). Interestingly, FFOZ agrees with us about Torah and even rabbinic tradition. It is on issues of Jewish identity and the distinction between Jews and Gentiles that we differ. Nonetheless, they are fine thinkers and scholars whose work we should pay attention to. They also happen to be nice guys.

Now, about Toby Janicki’s post: it concerns Bob Dylan and his biography by Scott Marshall, called Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan (get it here). Dylan started preaching at his 1979 concerts and got a bad reaction from fans and the media. He released three gospel albums and then retreated into a more private stance.

What I found fascinating about Toby’s article was Bob Dylan’s apparent stance toward Judaism and Christianity. Dylan was born Shabtai Zisel ben Avraham in Minnesota. After coming to faith he maintained a relationship to Judaism and did not choose the more familiar route of abandoning his heritage. This led to confusion for his Christian fans. As Marshall put it in the biography:

Seemingly, every foray into the Jewish arena is interpreted as flat-out return to Judaism, a renunciation of the truth of Jesus Christ that he confessed more than two decades ago. (p. 179)

Or as Toby put it, Messianic Judaism was even harder to explain back in the ’80’s: “To most people it was either belief in Yeshua or Judaism.”

Toby then gives an example that made me really think. In 2001 Dylan spent Yom Kippur at the Chabad House in Encino (for the uninitiated, Chabad is a friendly form of ultra-Orthodox Judaism that reaches out to secular Jews and people at the margins, but they are strict in faith and practice). Then in 2002 he had a new tour featuring a gospel song, ““Hallelujah, I’m Ready to Go.” Here is how Toby put it:

For Dylan it was not an either/or scenario between Judaism and Christianity. He was comfortable with a world that drew from both.

What I thought is, what a shame that someone would feel a need to go to Chabad for Jewish worship and to draw on Christian themes for Yeshua-faith when Messianic Judaism is right here. But as soon as I thought that, I knew why.

Let’s face it, Messianic Judaism has come a long way–but it has a long way to go, baby! Here are my tendentious thoughts:

1. Many congregations that call themselves Messianic are not even about Jewish people and Messiah. They are about holidays and customs that seem cool to people who have little clue about actual Jews.

2. Congregations that are Jewish in vision and focus (that does not mean Gentiles are excluded, just the Judaism is the focus) are still immature, small, and would seem rather rag-tag compared to a Chabad House or a Reformed Temple.

We have a long way to go before a lot of highly creative Jews, like a Bob Dylan, will take us seriously. Along the way, we need to leave certain baggage behind. We need to get over the “Jewish roots,” immature emphasis and get onto Messiah, HaShem, and the Age to Come. We have something dear to the neshammot (souls) of Israel if we will get our focus right.

As for me, I pray to give Chabad a run for their money someday. But I know I am not there yet. May God help us.

******Postscript: Boaz Michael of FFOZ added this comment. In addition to my observations about the long way Messianic Judaism has to go, Boaz adds the following (food for thought):
Lack of Torah Observance
Fake, Phony, or Bogus Torah Observance
Silly, Self-Defined Torah Observance

******Post-Postscript: Reader Chris Smith related a story that further backs up what Toby noticed about how people see Judaism as incompatible with faith in Jesus: “I was staying at a friend’s house with a couple of my other christian hitchiking neo-hippie friends, when they busted out an old scratched up CD of one of Bob Dylan’s gospel albums. I was surprised to find out that Bob Dylan was saved. They expained to me that he was for a while and then he decided to be Jewish instead. “Sometimes he still seems saved, but with the way he jumps back and forth he’s probably not,” is approximately what they said to me.”

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About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bob Dylan, Messianic Jewish, Theology, Yeshua. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Why Bob Dylan Probably Wouldn’t Attend a Messianic Congregation

  1. Toby Janicki says:

    Great post. I really liked your concluding thoughts. I think there’s alot of truth there.

  2. Boaz Michael says:

    Shalom Derek,

    You are correct FFOZ is not part of the UMJC. We were at one point in the past an “approved organization” but that changed in 2001. Regardless of our departure, we deeply respect the UMJC and applaud its efforts despite our differences—we also recognize your scholarship and hey, you’re a bunch of nice guys as well.

    As you know I am living on the road. I am seeing first hand the variety of MJ synagogues and would agree with your assessment. Unfortunately the majority will most typically always define the minority and from my perspective there are three additional areas that the majority of MJ groups still operate in on some levels, which define the solid and authentic minority. I would add that these issues drive seekers like Dylan away verses drawing them in:

    Lack of Torah Observance
    Fake, Phony, or Bogus Torah Observance
    Silly, Self-Defined Torah Observance

    Many people today are seeking something authentic and genuine. Most MJ groups still only have a vainer of Torah for the purposes of evangelism rather than Torah life for the sake of Torah life. This is quickly revealed.

    Chabbad is earthy, passion filled, and many of the shlichim sacrifice greatly for their message. MJ seems to lack that passion. Passion appeals.

    I look forward to seeing you in April. May the Lord bless you and your work.

  3. Chris Smith says:

    After reading this article, I remembered something from when I was a kid (a couple years back, you know). I was staying at a friend’s house with a couple of my other christian hitchiking neo-hippie friends, when they busted out an old scratched up CD of one of Bob Dylan’s gospel albums. I was surprised to find out that Bob Dylan was saved. They expained to me that he was for a while and then he decided to be Jewish instead. “Sometimes he still seems saved, but with the way he jumps back and forth he’s probably not,” is approximately what they said to me. I realize that I’ve held that memory that way without re-evauating it through a more mature framework until now. I had pegged Bob Dylan as one of those religion-hopping “spiritual” stars like Cat Stevens who moved between Christianity, numberology… and settled on Islam was it? Anyway, I was also wonder if you could articulate a little on this statement, “We need to get over the “Jewish roots,” immature emphasis…”

    Please-
    Thanks

  4. Chris:

    Your story is so good I pasted part of it into a post-postscript in the original blog entry. Your friends comment about Dylan not being saved anymore because he was worshiping in Jewish settings is part of what we need to change. I think that combining some church and some synagogue attendance makes sense as one strategy for following Jesus in a Jewish way. I just hope that Messianic Jewish congregations will be able to become a better option by becoming as passionate in Jewish worship as Chabad houses.

    Derek

  5. Vann Cooley says:

    I still do not get the knock on the “Jewish roots” thing. Belivers who are growing, who study and are learning more about G-d, relize there is more to this than just “saved by grace”.

    As the Master talked about “narrow is the gate and straight is the path”.

    The gate is salvation, Yea! we are saved.

    Some belivers seek the path as well. They look around and see a lot of standing around where they are and they want to find this path.
    Without formal training they look in the only place they know of for guidence on how new belivers should find this path, Acts. It may be immature, but it is a start along the path.

    May we all “grow in grace and knowledge”.

  6. Vann:

    You said: “I still do not get the knock on the “Jewish roots” thing. Belivers who are growing, who study and are learning more about G-d, relize there is more to this than just “saved by grace.”

    Let me replay what I said: We need to get over the “Jewish roots,” immature emphasis and get onto Messiah, HaShem, and the Age to Come.

    My point, put simply, is we need to quit focusing on how exciting Jewish customs are and let the Jewish customs lead us to the goal: the glory of HaShem and Messiah. That is, too often Messianic Judaism is a place where we do not grow to maturity but we linger on the basics. We need to do more than have a Passover Seder–we need to worship at the Seder. We need to do more than talk about the Feasts, we need to exalt the God of the Feasts.

    Hope you see what I mean. Immaturity is self-focused. Maturity is God-focused.

    Derek

  7. Susan says:

    If I may speak for my Messianic Jewish leader, who is a Jew by the way, he teaches jewish Roots courses and it, I think, is to inform Christians who take these courses of exactly what you state on every blog: people need to see the Jewishness of the Bible, etc. I don’t think a study in Jewish Roots is immature, I think ” FINALLY someone is telling me the Truth”. Can I hear an “AMEN” !! (smile)

  8. alice adams says:

    Amen,

    from a gentile who attends a messianic congregation in EL Paso and every christian needs to know their jewish roots to better understand G-d and Yeshua and ther bible

  9. MJH says:

    Derek said, “My point, put simply, is we need to quit focusing on how exciting Jewish customs are and let the Jewish customs lead us to the goal: the glory of HaShem and Messiah. . . . do more than talk about the Feasts, we need to exalt the God of the Feasts.”

    Very well stated and a true challenge. I just found you and I am reading from the beginning. Look forward to it.

    MJH

  10. sunnyvj65 says:

    You know, I love FFOZ and read all their stuff. I’ve read quite a few of their books, then checked out the scriptures, I think their correct. However, I think the gentiles who want to be apart of Israel and eat kosher and all that, can and should. Those who are not interested , are more than free not to. What I’m frustrated with, I feel the lack in my life. I’m newly observant, called by God three years’ ago from a Christian church to a Messianic synagogue, I feel that I should be so much more. I’m the only one out of six adults siblings following this, and I feel so alienated sometimes. I keep wondering, why only me? My other two sisters are devout Christians, why didn’t He call them to observe the Sabbath and all that like me? And yes, our family is Jewish, tribe of Levi, although no one really cares. They think it’s stupid or I’m talking “Jewish” again. Some of them thought I was crazy, literally. They talked of having me checked out by a doctor.
    Oh, He’s called me to teach the children of our synagogue. There are only two of this thus far, any suggestions? Their both under six.

  11. Some thoughts given on the chosen ones = the Jews.

    The question to ask is, what were they chosen for by God?

    To be persecuted?

    To be responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus which if you believe the mantra that Jesus paid the price for sin on the Cross ie he took the rap, then it was surely an act of incredible pandering on the part of the Jews. In that context the persecution of Jews on the basis that they crucified Jesus is totally illogical as they wittingly/unwittingly played the greatest get out of jail card of all time.

    The widely held belief that Jesus paid the price for one’s sin on the cross surely begs the question to whom was the price paid?

    To himself?!!

    To satan?!! HOLD THE PHONE!!!

    The answer is neither of these I suggest.

    God chose the Jews to be the first humans to be told what God requires from his creation as in man.

    The Ten Commandments and the associated instructions as in Exodus, Leviticus Deuteronomy, Numbers.. describe God and what He detests.

    The Jews, make no mistake, were no different from any other race of people spiritually and physically, and that applies to this day.

    What is highly significant, is that God chose not to empower the Jews in order that they could consistently obey God’s instructions ie He did not alter their thinking to bring it more and more into alignment with His thinking.

    Thinking comes before doing even involuntary thinking as in instinct/subconscious.

    Why you may well ask would God do that, when he knew they would goof/sin meaning defy God voluntarily and involuntarily, which is why He gave the Jews the animal sacrifice…. systems in order to bring them back into His care ie their atonement.

    Even in that mercy the Jews fell away terribly cyclically as recorded in the Old Testament. Even from time to time they sacrificed their children to Molech.

    They insisted on their way in preference to God’s Way to such an extent that eventually God and Jesus let them go and took away their protection, resulting in incredible abominations eg mothers eating their own children to keep themselves alive.

    The Jews thought and probably still believe they were interacting directly with God when in fact they were interacting with Jesus and angels.

    What I am led to believe what God was doing and still doing was to teach the Jews they had a fundamental problem, that being, they were / are like all people, totally incapable in themselves of consistently obeying God.

    Without the acknowledgment of a problem a solution makes no sense.

    The problem being their thinking which needs to be altered to bring it into alignment with God’s thinking which would then mean it would become increasingly natural to obey God.

    Why would you want to think like God?

    As Jesus on earth as a human in every way said “ Why do you call me good. There is only One who is good.”

    God defines good ; kind, considerate, merciful, logical…….. all the characteristics 180 degrees from the behaviour that emanates from thinking as from self enticed by satan. By definition the thinking of the world, which is totally opposed to God.

    It is a fact that one is either a child of God or of satan and to reject God and Jesus, the good news which is the methodology to escape the lake of fire for eternity, means one thinks like the world which is under the control of satan and by definition one is estranged from God. He has turned His back on you if you die in that accursed spirituality.

    God gave the Jews sufficient time to realize they had a problem. He raised up prophets who in the main were despised and murdered horribly, yet God still didn’t start again as in the cataclysm of Noah. God gave the sign of the rainbow to signify He would not do that again and to announce the solution to man’s fundamental problem, Jesus.

    It is mindboggling, a total abomination that the gays have a rainbow as their symbol, and be aware the LBGT ( Lesbian, Bissexual,gay, transgender) lobby in this fallen world not surprisingly, is incredibly powerful. The ridiculous Safe schools programme currently being thrust on the Australian community is sourced in that “organization” and incredibly, but not surprisingly supported by all political parties.

    Finally God sent the ultimate prophet, Jesus His own Son who as the New Testament says, didn’t consider equality with God as something to be grasped at. Equality with God means to think like God.

    Jesus agreed to undergo the complete human experience starting from conception and to be born intrinsically sinful like all humans and to live like all other humans until the point God granted him true belief Ephesians 2 : 8 – 10. His sin had to come from Mary who was descendant of David as Jesus had the human nature of King David who during his life was a liar, murderer, adulterer a womanizer…..

    This was an act of incredible sacrifice and Love in the reality as the Bible defines, to love is to obey. In other words he did as he was told by his Father God.

    Jesus starting from a purely human base, the human nature of King David, (who incidentally should have been put to death with Bathsheba for adultery and the murder of Bathsheba’s husband as per God’s instructions), lived and exampled the solution to intrinsic evil as in conceived with.

    That solution is to have one’s thinking gradually altered by the Holy Spirit.

    God gave Jesus this incredible priviledge. The Holy Spirit landed on him as a dove when he was baptized in the Jordan and in that indwelling he was convicted of his sin which caused him to pray with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death ie eternal separation from God in the lake of fire.

    Also in that blessed indwelling he was able to fulfil the 10x Commandments, instructions.. as he said “ I have come not to do away with the Law but to fulfil it.”

    This was not the worldly paradigm of “do as I say not as I do’” ie the usual hypocrisy. Jesus started at the start line just like you and me. He didn’t start miles ahead as he would have done if you believe the tripe that Jesus on earth was fully man and fully God ie sinless, incapable of being tempted when the Bible says that he was like all of us, tempted in every way.

    There was no having a lend as in “ Love one another as I have loved you.” That is totally impossible for man should Jesus have been sinless.

    The very very sad reality is that the Jews in the main, screamed crucify Jesus which indeed was what happened to demonstrate to all true believers what satan and his own desire to do to you.

    The crucifix is not a sign of Jesus taking the rap, it signifies what satan and his own are like. They are murderers, liars, schemers, thieves, homosexuals, busybodies, take over merchants, cheats, unreliable, say one thing and do another, adulterers, fornicators, pleasure seekers, bisexuals, incapable of recognizing God’s Truth …… all the characteristics that are endemic in this fallen world.

    Jesus upon his ascension back to Heaven to complete the sanctification process which is the total elimination of self/satanic/worldly thinking, exhorted his disciples to preach and teach the solution, the good news, which is, only in Jesus and through Jesus is the Holy Spirit made available to gradually cleanse and scourge your thinking. God does what Jesus asks, now seated at His right hand in Heaven.

    Paul stated that judgment began with us, meaning true believers when they preach you, write to you an adequate presentation of the good news bring upon you judgment with a capital J.

    If God chooses to grant you true belief, Ephesians 2 : 8- 10 you cannot be anymore blessed and on the other hand if He chooses not to do that you cannot be anymore condemned/accursed.

    When one takes communion, the bread represents Jesus’s sinless being in Heaven being sacrificed to a sinful being and the wine defines that God chooses anyone, regardless of race, colour, gender, blood mixed or pure, to enable to truly believe, Ephesians 2 : 8 – 10. He no longer has an exclusive arrangement with the Jews, that ceased upon Jesus’s abominable murder, which also means that Palestine is no longer their Promised land.

    Mind you, and it must not be forgotten, the first true believers ( the day of Pentecost) were Jews even from foreign parts, hearing the good news preached to them in their language. ( the miracle of speaking in tongues.)

    The body, meaning all true believers owe a huge debt of gratitude to the apostles esp Paul.

    The New Testament refers to a period of time “ as the daylight persists” or something similar, meaning I suspect that when all the apostles died, it was no longer possible to replicate the miracles that Paul, Peter, John….. blessedly performed in God’s empowerment sourced through Jesus.

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