Today I am traveling home from the Hashivenu Forum in L.A. It has been an intense experience, both in terms of the theological papers and discussion on the one hand and the late night conversation on the other.
I am encouraged to see the depth and quality of our small movement. Scholars and leaders of outstanding ability are being followed by a promising young generation of thinkers and leaders. As many as are here at Hashivenu, there are at least as many more who could be here (I say that based on attending for five years in a row and seeing those who come some years and not others). That tells me our movement is well equipped with leaders, doers, and thinkers.
In the brief time I have to write this morning, I want to cover two things: (1) an inadequate summary of Carl Kinbar’s excellent paper reflecting on the Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) Midrash and the place of Messianic Judaism between the worlds of Christianity and Judaism and (2) answering a strong objection posted by blogger Judah Gabriel to one of Mark Kinzer’s ideas.
Carl Kinbar’s “Israel, Interpretation, and the Knowledge of God”
Rabbi Carl Kinbar is the first Messianic Jewish leader I am aware of getting a doctorate focused on rabbinic literature (anyone know someone else?). It is vital, of course, that we have more as MJ progresses.
Kinbar’s paper does many things — explaining the essence of midrash, exploring the type of thought found in it, and more. But what I most appreciate is his discussion of the Messianic Jewish way of thinking about Bible, Torah, halakha, and theology. We are a community in tension between Judaism and Christianity, what Mark Kinzer calls “dialectic ecclesial continuity.”
There is an irony to our position in relation to Judaism and Christianity. Although we identify with Judaism and the Jewish people, we find more acceptance within Christianity. Synagogues often eject us when we seek to be part of the Torah learning process from within. Churches, in spite of red flags about our Torah observance and in spite of their supersessionist assumptions, are less likely to eject us.
Torah learning is the lifestyle inculcated in Jewish tradition. It is a communal thing. Reading Rashi at home is great, but engaging study together, of Torah, Talmud, midrash, and so on, is vital. This internal learning is part of being with klal Yisrael.
Yet, in many cases, we are limited to external engagement, not allowed inside. MJ in many cases is going to have to develop Torah learning within our own circles, not being allowed to join the larger community.
This means we are going to have to develop our own internal Torah learning, fostering a culture of learning alongside the rest of Judaism, while not giving up on joining the larger community when possible. The sad reality is intolerance and the people who usually eject us are not the educated leaders and rabbis, but board members reacting out of ignorance and fear of boundaries being blurred.
It will be harder to sort of go it alone, but we have to build up our Torah learning culture in spite of the difficulties.
Answering Judah Gabriel
Over at the Kineti l’Tziyon blog, Judah Gabriel picked up on my summary of Mark Kinzer’s paper and he objected to one line in particular that I wrote: “If MJ is never credited as a Judaism, but is always regarded as avodah zara [idolatry], then we will likely fade away in time.”
Gabriel reacts as follows:
Kinzer is saying if Messianic Judaism is never credited as an authentic Judaism by the mainstream Jewish world, the Messianic movement will perish. To put it another way, our survival depends on approval of Jewish religious leadership.
You can read his full response to me here.
Gabriel’s stance is that MJ should not desire to be recognized by the wider Jewish community as a Judaism.
What are the underlying assumptions? That Jews who do not follow Yeshua have no legitimacy before God? That Klal Yisrael does not matter? That the Messianic movement replaces Israel?
It matters that MJ finds acceptance by Christianity and Judaism. Our identity is wrapped up completely in one community, the Jewish people, and we are in relationship with the other, Christianity, for mutual blessing.
What will happen in MJ continues to be rejected as idolatry? We will never be part of the internal life of Israel, always pushed out to the margins. We will find it hard as a small movement to keep going generation to generation. Our movement is insular already, in need of broader engagement. We will likely dissipate in a few generations.
Gabriel objects that God would not let this happen. He already has let it happen in past history, as Jewish followers of Yeshua fizzled out by the sixth century. Arguments that we don’t need to think about such things but simply trust in God are insufficient. The work of God and people are both important.
But if we do gain wider acceptance in Judaism, what will happen? We will be able to engage internally as part of Klal Yisrael. We will be known not as heretics, but by our love, by our goodness, and by our fervor for Yeshua.