From several quarters I have felt the press of this issue in the past few days.
A commenter on Messianic Jewish Musings said that a certain piece of Jewish tradition was “a violation of the commandment not to add to Torah.”
A friend from the UK wrote with a wonderful illustration about Martians and religion (see below) and the pivotal role of tradition.
A rabbi friend and mentor wrote in an email discussion about the fallacy of the “I simply read the Bible as I see it” approach.
The idea of a pure and tradition-less religion (Christian or Jewish) is a common myth but is less likely to surface than the Loch Ness monster in the Dead Sea in Israel.
I explained to the commenter here on Messianic Jewish Musings that the Torah leaves out the details and leaves them for the community to fill in with tradition. If you read Torah thoughtfully and consider how to keep its injunctions you will find this for yourself. And neither does the New Testament fill in the details for Christian and Messianic practice. Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is a broad command. Baptism is commanded but not given a specific ceremony or wording.
My rabbi friend and mentor, Stuart Dauermann, wrote in an email: It is sooooo easy to imagine that “other people interpret using tradition, but I just take the Bible as it is!” How true! Observant Jews argue over rice at Passover or the doubling of Yom Tovs and practicing Christians argue over infant versus believers’ baptism and just war versus non-violent resistance.
Following up on Rabbi Dauermann’s point, which Christian denomination is practicing worship “just as it is in the Bible”? Most people are likely to think their own denomination is doing so. Most people lead an unexamined life of accepting what they have been told and whatever their religious experience is. Which branch of Judaism prays properly, according to Torah?
And it all gets much clearer when you consider the illustration I received by email from a friend in the UK (not sure he would want me to use his name). He said:
I recently came up with an wacky illustration – if you were a martian living on mars, knowing nothing of life on earth, and the postman delivered a bible (conveniently translated for you, of course), would you be able to accurately understand and recreate Christianity or Judaism, either as they were in biblical times or are today? Of course you wouldn’t. Our understanding and expression of faith is passed down in communities from generation to generation. That’s the way Hashem intended it – l’dor v’dor.
Consider what my wise friend is saying. If you are Jewish and pray the Shacharit, do you imagine that this Martian would develop a Siddur like the one you use just from the Torah? If you are Baptist, do you suppose the Martian church would look naturally like a Baptist church because that is clearly the intent of the New Testament? Of course not.
So let’s all outgrow the myth of pure religion that is scriptural and not tradition-bound. It exists only in the minds of those who have not examined the idea with any depth.