The people at First Fruits of Zion are friends of mine, so as I write this, I make no pretense to objectivity. I do think, however, that the arguments I will briefly lay out speak for themselves. I believe it is possible, if you know nothing of FFOZ or of Tim Hegg for a reader to see what is at stake and to fairly judge from this article. I invite Tim Hegg or any of his supporters to politely respond here.
There is a debate going on right now. It began when an individual, Tim Hegg at torahresource.com decided to publish a sharply critical letter warning the world of the dangers of FFOZ. What is at stake in the FFOZ/Tim Hegg debate? The answer is the legacy of pre-Messianic Jewish pioneers such as Paul Philip Levertoff is at stake.
In short, First Fruits of Zion, at great expense, and I know since I was consulted about the matter, at a great financial loss, has with integrity purchased rights to and begin to publish works from the great pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries under the imprint Vine of David (vineofdavid.org). The first two volumes to be produced include an updated version of Paul Philip Levertoff’s Love and the Messianic Age and a commentary and study guide on the same work.
On June 26, Tim Hegg of Torah Resource issued a letter and an 11-page paper stating his reasons for distancing himself from FFOZ and inviting others to share his stance toward them. He listed as his reasons: (1) that FFOZ no longer teaches the One-Law doctrine, (2) that FFOZ values the tradition of normative Judaism, and (3) that FFOZ (allegedly) wishes to promote kabbalah, (4) and that FFOZ (allegedly) advocates a mystical hermeneutic for interpreting scripture.
As to the first two points I can say: hallelujah. As to the second two points, Mr. Hegg, solitary prophet that he presents himself to be, is guilty of two insidious and simplistic tricks of rhetoric:
(1) Using “guilt by association” to denounce his enemies.
(2) Using alarmism to promote himself.
The Guilt-by-Association Rhetorical Move
Levertoff was deeply moved by, though not without limits and caveats, the beauty of the Chasidic thought which was the background of his family. He sought to integrate some, mind you some, Chasidic concepts with the New Testament theology he taught and learned as an Anglican divine of Jewish descent.
He clearly did not bathe uncritically in the waters of kabbalah. He did not, for example, accept the ideas of Lurianic kabbalah about God requiring the help of Jews to restore the cracked vessels of creation by keeping mitzvot. He did not accept the idea that Gentiles have an animal-like soul and are incapable of true spiritual reflection. There is much evidence to the unbiased observer that Levertoff’s love for Chasidic thought had limits and balance.
From reading Tim Hegg’s letter, you would think that Levertoff and FFOZ are ready to join Madonna and Yehuda Berg in bringing New Age philosophy to the unsuspecting minds of the Messianic Jewish movement. Hegg writes eleven pages warning us about how dangerous Chasidic thought and kabbalah can be, especially in the way scripture is subject to esoteric means of interpretation.
Is FFOZ in fact guilty of mystical redefinition of terms and an undisciplined hermeneutic of scripture which rejects the plain meaning? Of course not. Note for example the caveat in the introduction by Daniel Lancaster to Love and the Messianic Age, a caveat which I believe FFOZ has followed heartily in their presentation of Levertoff’s thought:
During the course of those six chapters, the reader will be exposed to a variety of mystical constructs, some of which are inspiring and insightful and some of which may seem dubious. It is not necessary to agree with or endorse the mystical concepts Levertoff advances in these chapters. . . . Levertoff’s method invites the reader to withhold judgment until the epilogue, when he takes us into the book of John.
Guilt by association is a simple but detestable practice of rhetoric. It consists of insinuating that someone you wish to denounce is guilty of the worst errors of any tradition or person from whom they have some association. For example, someone might say, Joe Messianic drives a Ford, and we all know that Henry Ford was a damnable anti-Semite. Is Joe Messianic turning against his own people?
PARODY: The Dangers of Calvinism and Does Tim Hegg Wish to Burn Hebraists at the Stake?
Let me apply a bit of Hegg’s own technique on him as nothing more than a parody.
Tim Hegg is an admitted Calvinist, a form of theology which we all know is insidious and which undermines the very authority of the Bible (see my accompanying twelve page monograph, “Are Calvinists Responsible for Some of the Missing and Murdered Children in America?”).
Calvinism, as is well-known, foists onto the Bible certain unscriptural and harmful ideas. God does not love you in any sense in which you would use the word love, according to Calvinists. He chose you randomly to be saved and also randomly chose others to be damned. Calvinists say if God found anything lovable about you, this would be a “good work” and render you unfit for salvation.
Calvin, as is well-known, called for the death of Michael Servetus, who perhaps represents an early attempt to bring Jewish thought into Christian doctrine. In other words, Calvin was in favor of burning Hebraists and Messianic Jews.
Is Tim Hegg planning to burn Messianic Jews as his mentor John Calvin taught as the true path to Jesus Christ? We would not want to see Torah Resource grow in power or strength lest this hidden agenda become a reality. The only course for us in the Messianic movement is to avoid purchasing Torah Resource materials and warn all our friends about this coming persecution.
Let’s work together to protect Messianic Judaism and the world from the dangers of Calvinist biblical interpretation and pursue instead the plain meaning of the text. Let’s work against the persecution of Messianics by the Geneva Illuminati and Tim Hegg.
**Note: I say again, the preceding words are a parody only.
Alarmism versus Balance
Tim Hegg warns all his readers about FFOZ, explains that he no longer associates with FFOZ, and urges readers not to be fooled by the writings of Levertoff.
Alarmism serves the interests of solitary prophets in need of attention and an audience. It is a shameful technique for self-promotion.
There is no crisis of hermeneutics or theology in the publishing work of FFOZ through Vine of David (vineofdavid.org). No nefarious theologies are being promoted. There is nothing more extra-biblical about Levertoff’s synthesis of Chasidic and New Testament theology than there is about the works of John Calvin.
But I can say that the tragedy is if people who trust Tim Hegg and do not investigate for themselves miss out on the blessing of reading Love and the Messianic Age and other great works in the history of Messianic Judaism.
Far from being literature to be banned or shunned, which if you read the book Hegg’s alarmism will likely make you laugh, this material is part of the heritage of modern Messianic Judaism. There have been many missteps in developing Messianic Jewish thought. Pioneers like Alfred Edersheim made a real contribution while, unfortunately, feeling that devotion to Messiah required them to criticize Judaism. Early leaders in Messianic Judaism too closely followed patterns in Charismatic Christianity which led to embarrassment and avoidance of Messianic Judaism by Jewish believers for years.
Is Levertoff’s work the be-all, end-all of theology? No one claimed it to be that. Yet it is a perspective to learn from and to understand. What Tim Hegg does not seem to understand is that mystical reading of scripture, properly done, is not about interpretation at all. It is about application. The heart of Love and the Messianic Age is a practical theology of loving God. It is not about doctrine or historical research, but about how to love God. Everyone in the Messianic Jewish movement should remember and practice what Messiah taught: there is no greater commandment. And to disparage a beautiful work of meditation on love for God does not serve God or the movement.