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.”