UMJC Midyear Meeting, January 15

Okay, nothing controversial to report (I’m glad to say). In fact, we didn’t even really have an agenda on this first night of the rabbi’s conference of the UMJC (umjc.net).

But I have two positive things to tell you about.

First, I hear that something is going on that means only good things for the future of Messianic Judaism. We are a small movement in comparison to other Judaisms, such as Reform or Orthodox. If you speak about Messianic synagogues which are actually about nurturing Yeshua-faith amongst Jews, then this movement is even smaller than most people think. We need something to build a future for Messianic Judaism.

What can build that future? I think the key requirement is a seminary. There needs to be a place which fosters Jewish learning and Yeshua-faith in an integrated fashion. There needs to be a place that develops a scholarly rabbinate for our movement. In the past, there has not been any such place.

The good news is, one is growing. I’m talking about MJTI, the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute (mjti.org).

When I say that MJTI is growing, I mean that through a grant, the school is expanding and building. I have learned that some of the best and brightest in our movement are joining forces with full funding. MJTI has been able to hire faculty and staff to build a future for Messianic Judaism. Look for great things in the next decade from this school.

Second, I want to report to you the quality of thinking amongst our rabbis. This is nothing new, but I am reminded of it whenever I am here.

The rabbis of the UMJC are, for the most part, a highly educated and dedicated group of people. I know many religious leaders who operate on people skills, fundraising skills, and business sense. Here, in the UMJC, I find scholars with a heart for people.

Let me give you some random examples of schmoozing I’ve had today with some of my colleagues. And keep in mind, this is friendly conversation I’m describing, not a symposium where we are reading papers to one another.

Over dinner, I spoke with Rabbi Jerry Feldman, from Kansas, a voracious reader with a great mind. We talked about the theology of the fourth gospel because I am preparing a paper for a symposium in March. Over wine and dinner, Jerry and I dissected the meaning of some key statements in the fourth gospel. Jerry promised to send me a list of some of the latest and greatest thinkers about this wonderful piece of the New Testament, and Jerry would know, since he runs a small academic bookstore in Kansas.

In another conversation, with Rabbi Carl Kinbar, we discussed the rationale behind the Orthodox Jewish view of halakhah (halakhah means how to keep the Torah). There were some important nuances I did not understand (I am still early on the learning curve about Talmud). We discussed certain rulings, such as the second day of holidays in the diaspora, which should no longer be necessary in modern life, now that we have accurate calendars. Rabbi Kinbar asked me, “Do you know why such rulings cannot be changed to accommodate modern reality?” I did not know. He said, “Because the view of Torah in Orthodox life is that it is eternal and unchanging. The Oral Torah is just as unchanging, in their mind, as the written. So changing circumstances cannot change Torah.” Of course, this is not to say that we agree this is how it should be. This is simply how it is.

Where else can you go and have such erudite conversation about godly matters?

Anyway, all this just to say, sometimes I wish Messianic Judaism was a larger movement and had more Jews participating. But I have hope for the future. Some very bright people are here. I believe God is building something.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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