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The Binding of Isaac vs the Unraveling of Jesus

August 12, 2010

Christians often try to create a parallel between the “Binding of Isaac” –  Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac and God’s supposed sacrifice of Jesus.  Although it sounds lovely to Christian ears, the analogy breaks down practically before it ever begins.  The Christian will say that God sacrificed His own son just as Abraham would have sacrificed his own son, had God allowed the act to be completed.  But Abraham was sacrificing his son to God the show him that he loved God more than the love he had for his son, something that even God acknowledged in the text,

“He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” (Gen 22:2)

So who did God sacrifice Jesus to?  Did God sacrifice Jesus to mankind in order to show mankind that He loved mankind more than he loved Jesus?  Does this analogy make sense?  Is mankind God’s god?  Truly, from the very start the analogy is ludicrous, but it continues to unravel from there.

The Christian goes on to explain that the place where Isaac was offered up was on Mt. Moriah, which became the Temple mount in Jerusalem.  They claim that Jesus was also sacrificed on Mt. Moriah, but that’s not true.  One of the reasons that the analogy of Jesus being a sacrifice for sins breaks down (and there are very many reasons why it doesn’t work) is that a sacrifice has to be offered on the altar – on the Temple mount, but Jesus was crucified, according to the New Testament, on Golgotha.  Golgotha is not only outside the Temple mount, according to some reckonings it was outside the city walls – it wasn’t even in Jerusalem!

The binding of Isaac teaches us that sometimes we have to give up that which we value most in order to obtain that which is most valuable.  It was not Abraham’s willingness to kill his son, but his faith in God to provide for all his needs that that brought about the resultant salvation.

Faith is a very important part of who we are as human beings, it is what connects us to the Source of everything that we are, but blind faith – that is, faith that ignores facts in favor of one’s preferred story, is just a lie that traps its followers in an enveloping darkness that breeds hatred and contempt instead of love and respect.

Trying to twist the Hebrew Scriptures into parallels in order to prove that Jesus was the Jewish messiah is not only an act of self-imposed blindness, it’s a crime against the author – God himself.

Israeli missionary makes a fool of himself

July 21, 2010

According to the website of the missionary Zev Porat, Zev was born and raised in Israel, the son of a Rabbinic family.

One would expect, then, that Zev would at least be able to read Hebrew.  However, in his newest article on his website, Zev points to a Yad L’achim sign and claims that it says, “Jews for Judaism.”  Never mind the fact that Jews for Judaism does not have an office in B’nei Brak, the statement is laughable.  Just as laughable is Zev’s claim that he “shared the gospel” with 40 Orthodox Jews on Tisha b’av.

Of course, Mr. Porat uses this claim in order to ask that people donate money so that he can continue his “ministry.”

Zev claims that he shared the gospel with these people by showing them Isaiah 53.  However, the gospel isn’t in Isaiah 53.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the Isaiah 53 link on the Shomrei Emet website, which now has the writings of several counter-missionaries on the subject.   http://www.shomreiemet.org/index.php?page=links-by-subject

Discovering the Jewish Messiah, part 1

May 5, 2010

When beginning a study on Christianity’s claims for Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, it is very easy to come across as though we hate Christianity or are trying to destroy it.  That is not our purpose.  We are simply using Christianity’s claims as a platform for delving into the depths of Jewish Scripture to get a clearer understanding of what the Hebrew Scriptures teach about the messiah, the nature of God and the end-times.

Unlike Christianity, which holds that anyone who does not believe in Jesus as savior is doomed to eternal condemnation (Hell), Judaism teaches that “the righteous of all nations have a place in heaven.”  Therefore, we have no need to destroy or belittle another faith system, even if we believe that faith system to be in error.

What is the error of Christianity? The basic error of Christianity is its claim that Jesus is the Jewish messiah and therefore Christianity is consistent with Judaism and the Jewish Scriptures. As we will see in this unit, the Christian concept of the messiah is not consistent with the Jewish concept which comes from the Hebrew Scriptures.

When making an honest investigation of Christianity’s claims, therefore, it is prudent to begin with the subject of the messiah.  The reason for this is clear; this is the primary claim that Christianity is making – the Jewish messiah came, we didn’t understand who he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to do, and so we missed him. Thus, this is also the first issue that missionaries will bring up when trying to convince a Jewish person to believe in Jesus.

Even though the Christian concept of the messiah (a divine sacrifice) is repugnant to most Jewish people, the concept of messiah is one which is very familiar to the Jew (one of the Rambam’s 13 principles of faith is that we eagerly await the coming of the messiah).  It is for this reason that it makes a good point of engagement, and an important place to begin this study.

The Real Messiah

Since the subject of the messiah is the primary point of engagement between missionaries and Jewish people, it is vitally important that we have a clear understanding of whom and what the messiah is, according to the Hebrew Scriptures.  Without having a clear understanding of the Jewish messiah, we might be easily convinced to accept the counterfeit being proffered by other faiths.

Counterfeit Division

In the United States, The Secret Service is exclusively responsible for the investigation of counterfeiting of money.  While the Secret Service constantly reviews the latest reprographic and lithographic technologies to keep a step ahead of counterfeiters, their training primarily involves not learning all the different ways in which money can be counterfeited – the possibilities are endless.  Rather, it primarily involves learning what real money looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like, etc.  For it is only in knowing the real thing intimately, that one can identify a counterfeit no matter what form it comes in.

In the same way, when we have an intimate understanding of whom and what the messiah is, looks like and will do, it becomes amazingly easy to identify a counterfeit when it is presented to us.

משיח – ANOINTED

The word “messiah” is the English pronunciation of the Hebrew word “mashiach”.  This causes a problem because by using the English pronunciation, the true meaning of the word becomes obscured.  The word mashiach is a form of the word “limshoach” which means to pour.  A mashiach is something which has been anointed with oil in order to serve a special purpose.  We will see in the following passages that in the bible, there was a custom to pour oil on people or things in order to consecrate them for service to God.

Shemot (Exodus) 29

7 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him.

8 “You shall bring his sons and put tunics on them.

9 “You shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and bind caps on them, and they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute. So you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.

Shemot (Exodus) 30

22 Moreover, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,

23 “Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of fragrant cinnamon half as much, two hundred and fifty, and of fragrant cane two hundred and fifty,

24 and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a            hin.

25 “You shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume mixture, the work of a perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.

26 “With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony,

27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense,

28 and the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the laver and its stand.

29 “You shall also consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall be holy.

30 “You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister as priests to Me.

31 “You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations.

ואת־אהרן ואת־בניו תמשׁח וקדשׁת אתם לכהן לי׃ 30

1Samuel 16:13

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah.

1Kings 19:16

And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.

Isaiah 45:1

Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:

Tehillim (Psalms) 105:15

“Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.”

We see that hundreds of people, and things were anointed for a special purpose, many of which were anointed for service in the Tabernacle (Mishkan) or Temple (Beit Hamikdash).  However, in each and every case except one, the word HaMashiach “THE Messiah”, doesn’t exist.  In each and every case the person or item is “a mashiach.”  The only time that the word, “Hamashiach” can be found in the Jewish bible is in the book of Vayikra.  However, it is quite clear from the passage that this is not referring to the future messiah, but rather, to the High Priest.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 4:3

If the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord a bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.

אם הכהן המשׁיח יחטא לאשׁמת העם והקריב על חטאתו אשׁר חטא פר בן־בקר תמים לה’  לחטאת׃

Given that there are so many people and things that are referred to as messiahs in the Hebrew Scriptures and that there isn’t any specific reference to a person called, “HaMashiach,” where do we get the concept of the messiah from in the first place?

Most people think that the concept of the messiah comes only from the Prophets, but the truth is, this concept of a time at the end of days when Israel will be redeemed and vindicated and the world will know true peace and worship the G-d of Israel is hinted at in the Torah itself.

We see in the Parshah Vayechi – Bereishit (Genesis) 49:1-2 that Jacob gathers his children together to bless them and to reveal when the messiah would come.  The text says,

“And Jacob called unto his sons, and said: ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days. Assemble yourselves, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.”

The Hebrew text reads:

(1)  ויקרא יעקב אל־בניו ויאמר האספו ואגידה לכם את אשׁר־יקרא אתכם באחרית הימים׃

(2)  הקבצו ושׁמעו בני יעקב ושׁמעו אל־ישׂראל אביכם׃

The above passage is curiously written for two reasons.  Firstly, we know that the sons of Jacob did not live to see the “end of days” or Messianic era.  This is easily dealt with since the Jewish people are the direct descendants of the sons of Jacob and therefore it can be said that we (or our descendants) will see the “end of days”.  The more curious part of this passage actually lies in the fact that Jacob never actually went on to tell his sons what would befall us in the Messianic Era or “end of days”.

Rashi comments that Jacob wanted to tell his children when the messiah would come, which would provide comfort to their descendents during times of exile, but the Divine Presence deserted him and he was unable to do so. Jacob then understood that although he had this information, God did not want the time of the End to be known.  According to the Stone edition of the Chumash, “Israel would find its comfort not in deadlines but in faith and performance of God’s commandments.”

However, the point of our exploration of this passage is in the fact that this is the first time we come across the concept of the “End of Days – באחרית הימים” in the Torah.  Thus, we have our first indication of the Jewish concept of a messianic era.

Judaism – the Jewish people – are the originators of the idea of “HaMashiach”.  Since the Hebrew Scriptures make no reference specifically to The Messiah, or a person called, “HaMashiach,” the concept developed from a careful examination of all the texts referring to this “End Days” or Messianic era.

The result of this careful examination is an understanding of certain key elements of what would take place during the messianic era and a key figure which reveals himself as part of this incredible time.

Some of the verses which clearly and consistently tell about the messianic era also talk about an anointed king, a mashiach, who will reign during this supernatural time of universal peace and worship of the God of Israel.

The fact that there is no reference anywhere in the Jewish bible to a person called, “HaMashiach” creates a problem for those who would like to believe that there is only one such person in history, that being the unique person of Jesus.  Such believers assert that the bible clearly points to him as the one and only messiah, that there are over 300 messianic prophecies in the Jewish bible that he fulfilled, and that the odds of this happening are so low that no one else could possibly be the messiah.

However, the fact that the concept of the mashiach is not explicit in the Hebrew Scriptures, but rather, implicit, leaves room for a lot of speculation. And, as we will discover through the course of this text, none of the supposedly 300 prophecies specifically point to Jesus.  Most of these supposed “messianic prophecies” are either not prophecies or not messianic.  Of the few verses we have left, we find that either Jesus didn’t fulfill them, or they are verses written in such a way that while they may or may not apply to him, they certainly cannot be used as proof of anything.

The name “Christianity” means “of the messiah”.  The word Christ is the English form of the Greek word, “Christos”, which means Mashiach – Messiah.  The religion of Christianity is so named because its primary focus is on this concept that there was only one messiah in all of history and that is Jesus.  That being the case, it may come as a surprise to Christians that the bible doesn’t ever make reference to The Messiah in any specific way.  This, however, is not a problem in Judaism, since the messiah is not a central theme in the Jewish bible.  What is the central theme of the Jewish bible?  God’s relationship to the Jewish people; the coming of the messiah is just one part of that relationship.

Chosen People Ministries admits they break the law

February 7, 2010

Much to the chagrin of a high percentage of the Jewish population in Israel, it is not illegal to proselytize in Israel.  It is, however, illegal to proselytize children and to proselytize with enticement.  And most of the Christians residing in Israel would try to tell you that they are law abiding citizens.  That is, unless the law goes against their own personal agenda of converting Jews.   Then, all bets are off.

Case in point:  Chosen People Ministries admits that it uses the Tel Aviv outreach facility to feed poor Jews and uses these opportunities to “share the Gospel” read a quote from their website:

“By God’s grace, because we have begun outreach through the Tel Aviv Messianic Center (which has a full industrial kitchen), we are in the unique position to help hundreds of these desperate people right now. I don’t know if you have ever been to Israel, but I can assure you that even though Tel Aviv generally has a mild climate, it is still cold there during December.

The need is urgent and the time to send your gift – especially if you would like to maximize your gift for tax purposes – is now.

Whatever you donate before December 31 will be used to feed the hungry in Israel, provide a warm place for those who are cold to have a cup of tea or coffee with a believer who will lend them a sympathetic ear and of course share the Gospel with them.”

So much for being law abiding.  Of course, whether or not the law will ever be enforced is another question, entirely.

Haiti, Pat Robertson and the Devil

January 14, 2010

In the year 2000, I attended the “Messiah” conference, a yearly messianic conference held in Grantham, Pennsylvania.  That year, I served as a sign language interpreter as part of the deaf ministry.  At that point in my signing career, I wasn’t quite fluent enough to interpret long, complicated, text-based sermons; I mostly interpreted the music and announcements.  But at one of the smaller sessions, I was given the opportunity to interpret a lecture, and I was thrilled.

As it turned out, this teacher tended to tell a lot of stories, a good thing for someone with my skill level.  To this day I remember the gist of the main story the teacher told, because it was fun to interpret.  A few weeks ago, in a discussion with my family about signing and that event, I was temporarily transported back 9 ½ years to that hot summer day.  I began to share the story that the teacher told, which goes something along these lines.

Apparently this teacher had put together a mission trip to another country where the presentation of the gospel was not particularly welcomed.  His group had managed to get the permits necessary to rent a stadium and they advertised the event.  On the night of the event, as I remember the story, the teacher was giving a sermon when all of a sudden the lights went out.  Unable to read his bible in the dark, the teacher began to pray that G-d would provide a way for him to finish preaching and offer salvation to those who were present.  Then, all of a sudden, a firefly came out of nowhere and landed on the lectern next to his bible, illuminating the text and allowing him to finish preaching and give the invitation.

As I was retelling this story to my family, I stopped in the middle and realized the ridiculousness of the story.  What was the likelihood that this was true?  I then began to think about all the other ridiculous stories I had heard during the 17 years I was a Christian.  This prompted me to comment, “boy, Christians are really gullible.”  Had it stayed at the family table, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal.  But, my daughter decided to post this on her Facebook status, thus offending the other half of her family, which is comprised entirely of Evangelical Christians.

Today, I found myself in a quandary.  What do I do about yet another example of the gullibleness not only of Christians, but of so many people across the globe?  Today I heard one of the most absurd things I have heard come out of an Evangelical preacher’s mouth in many years.  Today I heard Pat Robertson say that the reason that Haiti has suffered so much over the years is because it is cursed due to a pact that Haitian leaders made with the devil 200 years ago so that it could win its independence.

This story is wrong on so many levels it makes my head spin.  Besides the fact that the “devil” by Christian or Jewish definition (see my article on the differences between the Jewish and Christian understanding of Satan) doesn’t have that much power, what does that say about God?  The perpetuators of this absurd myth have made Satan into a god, and have tied G-d’s hands, rendering Him impotent (G-d forbid!) in helping these people, over 7 million of which or more than 83% are Christians, at least 15% of which are Protestant Evangelicals.  In fact, this tiny country has been evangelized by practically every Evangelical group known to man.

Not willing to leave my acceptance of the story to shear logic alone, I decided to do a little research on the internet.  I found absolutely no evidence to support the story, and in fact, I found an article on one website written by a Dr. Jean R. Gelin, a Haitian man born and raised in Haiti, now living in America.  Dr. Gelin is an ordained minister of the Church of God.  In this article, Dr. Gelin talks about his own research into this story and the fact that there is no evidence to support it whatsoever.

So now I find myself in quite a quandary.  Is it more respectful of Mr. Robertson to think that he believes this ridiculous story because he’s a prejudice bigot who would believe anything about black people that paints them in such a negative light, or that he’s simply gullible and a few French fries short of a happy meal?  The Jury’s still out on this one.

Freedom of Religion, take two (aspirin and don’t call me in the morning!)

January 13, 2010

Yesterday I received the following comment to my post, “Its about Jesus, Plain and Simple.”  Below that is my response.

“Yes, Christians should have freedom of religion in your “Jewish State”.  I have a hard time believing that a Jew within history’s memory of the Nazi holocaust would even ask such a question!  Persecution is persecution, and is wrong.

Also, as an American, I have a BIG problem with sponsoring religious states, or state religions.  The USA sends a lot of money and support to Israel.  If Israel chooses to advance a religious apartheid, I don’t think that US support can be sustained (freedom of religion is one of our foundational tenets) .  US support to Israel is pretty strained as it is, politically, because of Zionism’s apparent disinterest in honoring the Palestinians’ rights and property.

The rest of the world strives to remember the Holocaust – ___ help us if the Israel forgets.”

Just because you don’t believe in State-sponsored religion does not make it wrong.  After all, the original state of Israel was established by God as a theocracy – talk about a state religion!  America may claim to not have state-sponsored religion, but if that were truly the case, Christmas wouldn’t be a national holiday, and it is.

In addition, America, which is the bastion of freedom of religion, still limits those freedoms.  One may not kill in the name of their religion, one may not traffic illegal drugs or weapons in the name of religion and one may not commit acts of abuse against children in the name of religion.  Every state MUST establish limits when the practice of one individual’s freedom encroaches on the freedoms of another individual.

Korean Missionaries exercising Freedom of Religion in Jerusalem

In the same way, Israel, as an independent and sovereign state, has the obligation to ensure that the freedoms of one group do not encroach on the freedoms of another group or individual.  This involves establishing limits to all freedoms.

Israel does have freedom of religion – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze, B’hai and a myriad of other religious observers have complete freedom to believe according to their own personal convictions.  They also have the freedom to assemble and worship according to their own convictions.  Any activities that fall outside of those two categories are subject to limitations as they are in any other sovereign state and each state has the right to draw those lines where it sees fit.

In a true democracy, the limitations of certain freedoms are determined by the values of the citizens of that state, and may vary from state to state depending on a variety of cultural, ethnic and religious norms.  In the case of Israel, it’s establishment was specifically to grant the Jewish people a homeland and a place where they could practice their Judaism (according to their own convictions) free from the persecution of the state or the majority  – something the Jewish people have not had since the Roman exile in 70CE.  Part of the freedom from persecution for being a Jew, according to the majority of citizens of the State of Israel, is the freedom from harassment by well-meaning Christians who would try to convince us, without invitation, that our Faith is insufficient, that we do not have a relationship with God, and that we are all going to burn in Hell forever in retribution for our rejection of their convictions.

If you don’t like that, don’t become a citizen of this country – you have the freedom to stay where you are!

Heaven or Hell

January 12, 2010

Whether you are talking about Evangelism Explosion, Ray Comfort or Jews for Jesus, the first question almost always being asked in a witnessing scenario is something along the lines of “do you know for certain that you will go to heaven when you die?”

It may shock Christians and Jews alike to know that the simple answer for Jews is, “yes.”  How can that be?  The missionary is often caught off-guard by this answer because the usual answer from non-Christians is, “I hope so,” or “nobody can know for certain.”  To which the missionary has an answer because the New Testament tells them that one CAN know for certain that they are going to heaven.  Such a response is usually an open door for the missionary to then proceed to share the gospel message.

However, as Jews, we have a very different understanding of what happens to us after we die and therefore a different definition of hell and how one gets to heaven.  Judaism understands “hell” not as a place but a process.  You see, according to Judaism, not only are we all going to heaven, we are also all going to hell!

This is one of the reasons that Jewish people are not as concerned about heaven and hell as we are about doing what is right in the here and now.

One of my students described the process as a big washing machine.  When we are born, our soul is not only housed in a body of flesh and blood, but clothed with spiritual garments of pure white.  As we live in this world, fighting our inner evil inclination (and occasionally giving in), we get our garments dirty.  Some dirt is easily removed through good deeds or hardships in this life, other dirt becomes stains which may or may not lighten throughout the course of our life.

When our time in this world is through, we go to hell – literally, “the grave”.  It is at this time that our soul, in its spiritual garments alone (for the body is in the ground) stands before God in judgment.  We must give an accounting for everything we have done in our lives, and we must have our garments cleansed, for only those with clean garments may enter the presence of Hakadosh Baruch Hu – the Holy, Blessed One.

How difficult the cleansing process is and how long it takes depends on how badly stained we are and how “ground-in” the stains are.  Are they blood stains?  Or simply grass stains? According to Jewish tradition, this process doesn’t take more than 11 months.  Then, once purified, we enter the presence of the Divine.

But what about those who are wicked?  Surely they must suffer more!  They couldn’t possibly go to heaven!  Those who are truly wicked wear garments that are so stained that no amount of cleansing will clean them and they are destroyed in the process.  They no longer have spiritual garments and their only other clothing – their earthly body is left to Sheol – Hell – the grave.  They decompose into the earth and are no more.

Many missionaries claim that the “Christian God” is a God of love while the “Jewish God” is a God of rules, regulations and judgment.  The truth is that the Jewish understanding of God makes much more sense and is far more loving.

According to Christianity, God is perfect and requires us to be perfect (Holy). It is impossible for us to be holy and we therefore are condemned to die not just physically, but spiritually as well. (This, it is explained, is why we “need” Jesus).

It’s like a father who tells his child that he must complete a certain task.  Only, the task is impossible to complete, and the father knows this.  The father explains to the child that if he does not complete this (impossible) task, the father will kill him – he will die!  What kind of a loving father would condemn his child to a death sentence for not completing a task that is impossible for him to complete?  This is the model of the God of Christianity.

The God of Judaism is also perfect and also requires holiness from us, but holiness is only partly about what we do.  Holiness is about a heart-attitude.  Look at Abraham and King David, for example.  And the Scriptures tell us exactly what it is that God wants from us:

Micah 6:8

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what the Lord requires of you – only to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 10:12-13

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?

 

According to Judaism, God has not asked us to do anything we are not capable of doing and repairing our relationship with God has always been about Teshuvah (repentance) and not about sacrifices. Heaven is a place where the righteous of all nations will go and hell is simply the process of getting there.

 

Photo (C) by www.martin-liebermann.de

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