The exhaustive, canonical FAQ on Israel and Palestine, in plain English

Each time a conflict arises in Israel (seemingly every year or so!), I hear the same questions and challenges. Below is a single, canonical list attempting to answer them. I intend to keep this list up-to-date in the years to come, referring back to it as needed.


# Why are they fighting again?

A. [Circa 2014] Because of Hamas, the Palestinian group governing half of Palestine.


# What’s so bad about Hamas?

A. Nothing, if you’re cool with forced conversion to Islam under threat of death, firing rockets at civilians, instituting fundamentalist Islamic law, using kids as human shields, a special Hamas-version of Mickey Mouse, and a culture that loves murder in the name of God.


# How did this war start?

A. [Circa 2014] Hamas increased rocket fire into Israeli towns, formed a unity government with Fatah, and kidnapped 3 Israeli teenagers and executed them. Israel is now bombing Gaza in an effort to stop the rockets.


# Isn’t Israel just as evil as Hamas? They killed that Palestinian civilian teenager!

A. No, the State of Israel arrested several Jewish teens who murdered a Palestinian teen in a revenge killing for the murder of 3 Jewish teens the week prior. The Israeli Prime Minister condemned the murder, calling it no different than Palestinian terror, and prosecuted them to the fullest extent of law. By contrast, when the Jewish teens were kidnapped and executed, Palestinian civilians celebrated by handing out candy on the streets, and Hamas publicly praised it.

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# Isn’t that a one-sided view?

A. Yes, that is one side. The other side is, “Israel has no right to exist, therefore, we wage religious war.”


# Maybe Israel doesn’t have a right to exist. Didn’t Israel steal Palestinian land?

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A. No, Jews have lived there before the modern term ‘Palestine’ came into existence. If we’re going by “who lived there first”, then it is Arabs who stole it from Jews.


# Palestinians may have stole it from Jews, but Jews first stole it from Philistines, the ancient Palestinians!
JewsStoleItFromPhilistines

A. You’re mistaken, and need a history lesson. Philistines were a Canaanite people in the late Bronze Age, with no relation to Palestinians.

(Ironically, if the ancient Philistines were alive today, Palestinian Hamas would have them put to death for worshiping Baal, Astarte, and Dagon.)

Jews are the oldest surviving people group indigenous to Israel. Philistines don’t exist today.


# If they’re not related to the ancient Philistines, then why are they called “Palestinians”?

A. Because Rome once hated Jews almost as much as Hamas does. Rome renamed Israel to Syria Palestina in an effort to suppress Jewish ties to Israel. 

Having sacked Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD, and just prior to the failed Jewish revolt against the Romans in 135 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian renamed Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina in honor of one of his Roman gods. Scholars believe it was around this time the Roman province of Judea was renamed to Syria Palestina, in honor of the Bronze Age enemy of ancient Israel.


# And that’s where the Palestinians come in? Right after the Roman conquest?

A. No. There has never been, in the history of humanity, an independent state called Palestine. Even when it was Syria Palestina, it was merely a province of the Roman Empire. Ditto for when it was Mandate Palestine under the British.


# But now the State of Palestine exists! #FreePalestine

A. After World War I, the British took over the land of Israel from the Ottoman Empire, and divided the land into Palestine – a national home for Jews – and Transjordan, a land for the Arabs living there.


# So modern “Palestine” was actually created as a home for Jews?

A. Yes, in fact, Jews that lived under the British Palestine mandate were known as Palestinian Jews. The preamble to the British mandate document is explicit about its intentions for a Jewish homeland called Palestine:

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.


# When was the modern state of Palestine created?

A. After the British created Palestine as a national home for Jews, the Arab League created a faux-government called All Palestine in 1949. It was a mostly symbolic government, and was dissolved and absorbed back into Egypt within a decade. While All Palestine claimed authority over all the land of Israel, no one recognized it except Arabs in a strip of land in Israel called Gaza.


# So Gaza was the home of the first Palestinian government?

A. Yes; sort of. All Palestine was an attempt by Egypt and the Arab League to create an Arab state in the land of Israel. It remained in Egyptian control until the failed Egyptian invasion of Israel in 1967. (An invasion that went so terrible, to this day Arabs refer to it as An Naksa, “the setback”.) After the failed invasion, Egypt renounced all territorial claims to Gaza, passing it back to Israel. And after a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, Israel began building homes in Gaza.


# Gaza was conquered by Israel.

A. No, Egypt held Gaza and relinquished control to Israel after the failed Egyptian invasion of Israel in 1967.


# Israel occupied Gaza! Israel is the evil occupier!

A. Countries which own land tend to fill that land with its own citizens. Calling Israel “occupiers” is like calling Native Americans occupiers of the United States. Jews are the Native Americans of Israel: the oldest living inheritors of an ancient land.


# How you can blame the Palestinians for violence when Israel is an evil occupier, building Jewish settlements on Palestinian land?

A. “How can you blame the German Socialists when the Jews are occupying German land?!” Except your argument is worse, since Jews are the oldest surviving natives of the land of Israel.


# If Israel just demolished their settlements and ceased their occupation, we’d have peace.

A. No. To convince yourself, consider this was already attempted in 1994: Israel transferred Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. And within a decade, Israel demolished the home of every Jewish person who lived in Gaza. The outcome is what we are seeing today: a never-ending barrage of rockets from groups whose mission is to destroy the world’s only Jewish state. If the problem was settlements and occupation, Gaza should be an exemplary peaceful region. But it’s utterly violent and chaotic and despotic, because the problem is neither settlements nor occupation.


# What’s causing war in Israel?

A. Armed fundamentalist Islamic groups whose raison d’etre is destruction of the world’s only Jewish state. It is a spiritual battle manifesting as a religious war, where one side is trying to defend itself from rockets and suicide bombs, while the other works towards its goals of Islamic domination meanwhile drawing sympathy from the secular West.

Dennis Prager’s short and concise lesson will fill you in quickly enough.


# How did Gaza end up in Hamas’ hands?

A. The failed land-for-peace deals. Yasser Arafat’s Islamic political organization, the PLO (now called Fatah) launched suicide bombing attacks at Israel civilians, then sued for land. Israel gave away Gaza in 1994 to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for peace. Then, in 2007, the Palestinian civilians voted Hamas into power, who subsequently gunned down their rival Palestinians, and, ahem, threw them off of rooftops:

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# Israel gave away Gaza in exchange for peace?

A. The trade was Israel gives Gaza goes to the Palestinian Authority, and Israel gets peace in return. The land trade happened and stands to this day. But the peace part hasn’t stood, because Fatah and Hamas do not want peace.


# Can’t both Arabs and Jews share the land and be at peace?

A. Israel is willing to make this happen: as proof, consider there are thousands of Arab Israelis, and several Arab Israeli parties hold seats in the Israeli government. But Hamas and Fatah, the 2 ruling Palestinian parties, exist to ensure Israel is destroyed and replaced with a fundamentalist Islamic state, so peace is about as likely as snowfall in a Jerusalem summer.


# If Hamas controls Gaza, what about the other part of Palestine?

A. The other part of Palestine, the West Bank, is controlled by Fatah. Fatah is the original group formed by Yasser Arafat; you might call them the “original” Palestinians. Their charter calls for the destruction of Israel, stating, “armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine” from “the Zionist aggression”.


# Yeah! Those evil Zionists and their aggression! Shame on them! Umm, what is a Zionist, again?

A. A Zionist is someone who loves the land of Israel (Zion). Most of the early Zionists were secular Jews – Theodore Herzl (founder of Zionism), Eliezar Ben Yehuda (revived the Hebrew language and an early settler in Jewish Palestine), David Ben Gurion (first Prime Minister of Israel). These were non-religious people who loved the land of Israel so much, they devoted their lives to restoring it and bringing Jewish people back to it.


# Why bring Jewish people back to Israel?

A. Anti-Semitism – hatred of Jews – forced Jews to go back to their historic homeland. Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, was a non-religious Jewish journalist in the late 1800s. On a journalist assignment in 1890s France, he witnessed French mobs shouting “Death to Jews” during the Dreyfus Affair. Upon seeing this, he realized Jews needed to return to their ancient homeland to escape anti-Semitism, devoting the rest of his life towards Jewish return to Zion. Little did he know that 30 years later, Adolf Hitler would capitalize on Europe’s anti-Semitism in the form of the Holocaust, killing 2/3rds of all Jews.


# That’s all secular fluff; there are no Biblical reasons for bringing Jews back to Israel.

Secular reasons are important. But there are also religious reasons for bringing Jews back to Israel.

First, nearly the whole of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, the core of Judaism) is Israel-centric. Jews cannot fully practice Judaism without the land of Israel. Examples: Deut. 16, Ex. 23, Lev. 23, Num. 29. To this day, the daily prayers of Judaism remain Israel-centered.

Additionally, the Jewish and Christian Bibles record God giving the land of Israel to the Jewish people as an “eternal possession”, that is, it belongs to Jews forever. See Gen. 17 and I Chronicles 16.

Furthermore, the Jewish return to Israel was spoken by God and recorded by prophets like Ezekiel:

“I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.”

-Ezekiel 37

One Bible scholar puts it like this: “[In the Bible], habitation of the Land of Israel is contingent on obedience to God, possession of the Land is based solely on the patriarchal/matriarchal obedience and on God’s irrevocable oath.”


# I feel bad for the Jews. The Holocaust was bad. But anti-Semitism doesn’t exist anymore, so stop using it as a crutch!

A. It’s stronger than ever, and this time it’s disguised: Universities in the United States and Europe have pushed the BDS movement – the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction the world’s only Jewish state. Numerous Christian Churches, mostly recently the Presbyterian Church of the USA, have joined the boycott, while Christian leaders like Stephen Sizer are working to demonize Zionism and turn Christianity against Jewish Israel. Pro-Israel views are shouted down, silenced, and labeled apartheid.

At an anti-Israel protest in Boston on Friday, pro-Palestinian activists surrounded several Israel supporters, hurling insults and allegedly physically assaulting pro-Israel students (photo credit: Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)


# Yeah, death to apartheid Israel! Umm…what’s apartheid again?

A. Racial segregation. Palestinian propaganda claims Israel is an apartheid state. Consider, however, that Israel is comprised of Jews and Arabs (and Christians and Armenians and Bedouins and…). Consider that Israel’s government is comprised of non-Jewish parties. Consider that Israel allows its holiest site – The Temple Mount – to be controlled by Islamic Arabs. Consider that none of this is true for the Palestinians, where virtually everyone is Sunni Muslim and there is no room for diversity or debate. If there is state-sponsored racial segregation, it is happening among the fundamentalist Islamic imperialists, not secular Jewish state.


# OK, but isn’t Palestine holy to Muslims?

A. Palestine is mentioned in the Quran -- written 2500 years after Israel was founded -- and when it is mentioned, it’s in reference to God giving that land to Musa (Moses) and the children of Israel.

By contrast, in Judaism, Israel is central and can hardly function outside of it: kings like David and Solomon were kings of Israel, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah were prophets of Israel sent to Israel, the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers) were given to the people of Israel on their way to the land of Israel. Basically, the whole of the Hebrew Bible is centered around Israel, Jewish life and daily prayers have Jerusalem as their locus.


# Israeli Jews are Europeans, not true Middle Easterners, so they cannot claim any historical rights to the Holy Land.

A. No. Demographic statistics show that 61% of Israeli Jews are Mizrahi, that is, of Middle Eastern descent.

The argument is also a non-sequitur: why should Jews who were forced to emigrate to Europe or the New World be denied access to their historic homeland? There is no good reason.


# Jews have no claim to Israel because they aren’t actually Jewish, but rather, converts from the Khazarian Empire.

A. First, converts to Judaism are considered Jewish, and their bloodline is soon mixed with the rest of Israel, and they have the same rights as a native. Secondly, the theory here, dubbed the Khazarian theory, is largely rejected by scholars as an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. (Indeed, this theory is popular primarily with neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic groups, which is ironic, seeing as how Hitler certainly considered European Jews to be Jewish.)

The idea behind this theory is that European Jews aren’t Jewish, but were just converts to Judaism from the Khazarian Empire circa 990 AD. There is a kernel of truth here: that about 1000 years ago, some Khazarians converted to Judaism. And it’s true that modern DNA research on European Jews suggests a mix of paternal DNA from an ancestor in the Near East (likely Israel), and maternal DNA from European ancestors (likely converts or intermarriage).

More importantly, none of this matters. Suppose that all European Jews were ancient converts to Judaism some millennia ago, with no physical descent from Jacob, no Jewish bloodline. Would this change their rights to the land of Israel? Can we say those European Jews who have lived as Jews for generations, suffered as Jews for a thousand years through pogroms, crusades, expulsions, and the Holocaust, can we say they have no rights as Jews?

No, of course not. Israel is, and always has been, comprised not only of Jacob’s descendants, but also converts and people who joined Israel over the ages. Adolf Hitler certainly considered them Jewish enough to murder 6 million of them; those who say otherwise likely have ulterior motives, likely delegitimizing Jews in Israel.

Ashkenazi (European) Jews are Jews, even if their bloodlines are mixed with non-Jews.


# More Palestinians civilians die than Israeli civilians. This shows who is really evil.

A. It is foolish to judge right and wrong merely by civilian deaths.

Consider that more German civilians died in World War II – roughly 5 million – whereas the United States lost only 1/10th of that number. Does that mean Nazi Germany was good, and the United States evil?

Of course not. We must judge the motives and actions of each side. The motive of Hamas and Fatah is primarily Islamic conquest, and their actions align accordingly. By contrast, Israel’s motive is to live free and at peace in their historic homeland, and their actions align with accordingly.


# If Israel’s intentions are so pure, how do you explain the lopsided casualties between Palestinians and Israelis?

Israeli technology, and Hamas hating Israel more than it loves Palestinian children.

Israeli defense technology – particularly the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system – shoots down 90% of the rockets Hamas fires at Israeli civilian populations. This decreases the casualties on the Israeli side.

Hamas fires rockets from civilian homes, mosques, and other civilian areas, knowing that if Israel destroys the launch pad, they’ll incur civilian deaths. This increases casualties on the Palestinian side. Hamas encourages non-combatants, including Palestinian children, to stand near rocket launch sites to take advantage of Israel’s respect for human life.

A great example of this is how Israel warns civilians of a pending attack by shooting a flare and dropping pamphlets before an attack. Many civilians flee. Some Islamic fundamentalists consider it an honor to die for Islamic conquest, so others will stand on the roof an await death, knowing Israel will be shamed by the West if they proceed with the attack.


# Jews have no biblical right to the land since they remain in a state of non-repentance; they do not accept Jesus.

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A. This theology, a form of supersessionism, is inconsistent with the Christian Bible.

Supersessionism argues that God has rejected Jewish people and canceled his promises to Jews – including the promise of the land of Israel, and instead replaced (superseded) Jews with the Christian Church.

But Paul, author of a significant portion of the New Testament, and a Jew himself, combats this directly in Romans 9 and 11:

I ask, then, did God repudiated his people? Heaven forbid! For I myself am a Jew, from the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not repudiated his people, whom he chose in advance.

While they may be enemies of the gospel, being the chosen people they are loved for the sake of the Patriarchs. For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

-Romans 11

If God’s gifts are irrevocable, then God has not revoked his gift to the Jewish people.

More tellingly, consider the actions of the early Christians. Did they preach that the Jews no longer have God’s promises, that Jews no longer belong in Israel? Such a teaching isn’t found in the New Testament. If supersessionism was God’s intent, it was lost on the early Christian community.


# God’s promises about the land of Israel were fulfilled (Joshua 21). Therefore, the land of Israel no longer belongs to the Jews.

You are conflating fulfilled and cancelled.

God’s promise about the land of Israel is this: the land belongs to Jews forever.

The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

-Genesis 17

This is repeated again many generations later,

He remembers his covenant forever,
the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac.
He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
“To you I will give the land of Canaan
as the portion you will inherit.”

I Chronicles 16:16

God’s promise to the Jewish people is that the land of Israel will be theirs forever.

For God to fulfill this promise, it must belong to the Jewish people forever. Not just for a few years after Joshua, not just until the prophets, not just until Messiah. Forever.


Dear readers: I hope to have compile a comprehensive list of questions and answer, objections and challenges, regarding Israel and Palestinians. I would like to refer back to this post over the years to come. Feel free to contribute your own questions and challenges in the comments, we’ll make them part of the canonical list.

Is Messianic Judaism Really a Part of Modern Judaism?

reblog Reblogged from TorahResource, courtesy Caleb Hegg.

Rebbe-300x300Within our modern culture and societies there are a plethora of different beliefs. Christianity has many different branches, and even within those branches we see offshoots. A Baptist is no longer just a Baptist, but must define what type of Baptist they are. Southern, reform, seventh day, etc. While many people in our western culture understand this break down within Christianity, it seems to be lost when speaking about Judaism. Even those that understand the four major branches of Judaism (reform, conservative, orthodox and Hasidic) consider the identity lines within this religious structure to all fit within these definitions. Now, to muddy the waters even more we have seen the rise of “Messianic Judaism.” Even within this title we begin to see numerous issues that need to be addressed. The word “Messianic” stems from the word “Messiah”, and denotes one “who is inspired by hope or belief in a Messiah.” (Definition taken from the Oxford American Dictionary) With this definition we could rightly say that almost all Judaisms today are Messianic. Beyond this, with such a definition, every branch of Christianity today falls under the title “Messianic”. Perhaps this is fitting as Messianic Judaism tends to have one foot in both camps. But the real trouble comes when we attach the word “Judaism”. While I don’t believe I will give the ground breaking definition that will answer the age old question of “who is a Jew”, I will attempt to give a definition of what “Judaism” is, and in so doing will attempt to show that “Messianic Judaism” is not in fact a part of Judaism as can be defined today. I will then attempt to demonstrate similarities between Hasidic Jewish theology and Messianic Judaism in an effort to show that both of these groups took some specific theology from the the followers of “The Way”, i.e., first century Messianic Judaism. My contention is, while Messianic Judaism does not fall under the modern definition of “Judaism”, Hasidic Judaism has borrowed theological beliefs (even if unknowingly) from Messianic Judaism, thus challenging the concept of Judaism as a whole within our modern times.

What is Judaism?

I am not attempting to define what makes a person a Jew, or Jewish. Rather I am attempting to define a religious order to which one holds, i.e., how do we know if a person is practicing Judaism? This short definition is nothing more then a summary of thought, as I don’t believe I will give such a mountain of a topic the justice it deserves in such a short exposition. Others such as Michael L. Satlow, in his article “Defining Judaism: Accounting for ‘religions’ in the study of religion, as well as Michael Fishbane in chapter three of his book Judaism: “Revelation and traditions”, have given a much more in depth look at this topic and the theological implications that come when answering such a question. My definition is an attempt to define Judaism as those, in our modern time, who practice “Judaism” might see it, also giving consideration to the scholarly view of Judaism by weighing both Satlow and Fishbane’s work (cited above). In so doing I hope to formulate a broad understanding of Judaism as it is today. Both Satlow and Fishbane would most likely disagree with my minimal description of Judaism, yet with respect to the discussion of defining this religious order in our modern times, I am only trying to present a bare bones definition.

One thing I believe Satlow has shown within his work is that the definition of Judaism has changed throughout time and geographical location (Satlow, p. 10). Thus, a definition of Judaism in 1CE, is going to be different than the definition in 101CE (perhaps even more so within this specific time frame as the temple was destroyed). Likewise, defining Judaism in the 4th century CE. is going to be different than defining Judaism in our current time.

With this in mind, I agree with both Satlow and Fishbane that those who practice Judaism consider specific writings to be authoritative. Even within the different levels of halachic observance, certain books are held by those who practice “Judaism” as authoritative. In our modern time those that hold to Judaism affirm, at the very least, the Torah, Mishnah  and Talmud as carrying divine authority. Those that practice Judaism are required to observe the five high holy days, as well as keep a kosher diet. Yet, since the seventh century (and perhaps even later) a kosher diet has grown to encompass the separation of milk and meat. What is more, those that practice Judaism believe that anyone who claims to be divine is a heretic, thus Yeshua, according to modern Judaism, was a heretic and the belief that He was the Messiah goes contrary to the very beliefs of this religious order. Therefore, according to my definition, those that practice Judaism in our modern time hold to a dietary standard (even if this fluctuates between different groups), authoritative books (even if various groups accept certain parts of these books as authoritative over other parts of the same book), and adherence to specific Jewish holidays (and traditions).

I am fully aware that this definition brings its own set of problems, however, the task of defining “Judaism” is one that is much easier said than done. From the outset of this definition we may notice a specific issue. Those who say they practice Judaism, but are not as “orthodox” as others, are left outside my definition. Some within the Conservative tradition, and almost all of the Reform sect are now placed outside this description of Judaism (something with which many orthodox would happily agree). While some within the Conservative sect might be walking the line of Judaism, they might better be considered a fringe group, much like the Seventh Day Adventists within Christianity. However, if given this definition, those within the Reform and Messianic sects might better be likened to the Mormons within Christianity. They hold to some of the same basic teachings, but they have rejected some fundamentally core beliefs, and therefore have gone off the proverbial deep end. Although many within these sects consider and call themselves part of Judaism, the majority of Torah observant Judaism do not. Perhaps more important to note is the fact that anyone who affirms Yeshua as the Messiah is then left out of such a tradition, making the term “Messianic Judaism” an oxymoron in and of itself.

Many might disagree with this assessment by stating that the followers of “The Way”, i.e., “Messianic Jews” in the first century were certainly a viable sect of Judaism. To this I fully agree. Those that practiced Judaism in the first century while fully affirming that Yeshua was the Messiah were indeed a sect of Judaism… in that time. According to my definition there was no such thing as “Judaism” as we know it today, within the first century. The Mishnah and Talmud both had yet to be written. Separating milk and meat was not even considered in the 1st century, and many within Judaism were still waiting to see if Yeshua was  the long awaited Messiah. This however has changed. Judaism is not what it once was.

The Theological Formation of the Tsadik

I will now turn my attention to a specific theology that is held by many sects that fall under my definition of Judaism and the more specific title “Hasidic”.

Joseph Dan in his article titled Hasidism: Teachings and Literature (http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Hasidism/Teachings_and_Literature) in the Yivo Encyclopedia (from now on abbreviated “JDYE”)  states that the concept of a leader being responsible for the spiritual life and acting as the intermediary between such a community and God, was first taught by the Ba’al Shem Tov. This teaching was later formulated by Elimelech of Lizhensk and Ya’akov Yitshak Horowitz, the Seer of Lublin, as the theology of the “tsadik”. JDYE states that the “conception of religious leadership that resulted came to dominate – and distinguish – Hasidism.” Dan goes on to say, “Without adherence to a leader and his dynasty, there is no Hasidism.”  Thus the theology of the tsadik within Hasidic communities is foundational, as well as a necessary identity marker for groups labeled as such. While this foundational belief was formulated for Jewish communities in the later half of the 18th century, it is my belief that such a doctrine was alive and central for observant Jewish believers of Yeshua since the first century. While the Hasidic wings of Judaism would strongly object to the notion that any of their theology stemmed from some form of “Christianity”, the similarities between the Hasidic belief in a tsadik, and the Messianic Jewish role of Yeshua within believing communities are striking (Christianity not excluded).

The Tsadik in Hasidic and Messianic Belief

The core of the theory of the tsadik maintains that there is a pact between the leader and his community, which exists on two levels, spiritual and physical. On each level, the duties of the leader and those of the community are clearly specified. On the spiritual level, the community owes the tsadik complete faith and loyalty. It has to perceive him as the intermediary between themselves and God—as the divine representative in their midst—and their worship of God is to be directed through him. Complete loyalty to the tsadik and his dynasty on the part of the Hasidim and their families is demanded, and a Hasid identifies himself according to this dynasty. (JDEY)

From the outset of this description we see parallels between the theology of the tzadik and the relationship that Yeshua has with his followers. A Hassidic community “owes the tsadik complete faith and loyalty.”

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believe in the name of the only begotten son of God. (John 3:16, 18)

But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin so that the promise by faith in Yeshua the Messiah might be given to those who believe. (Gal. 3:22)

And Yeshua cried out and said, “He who believes in me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. (John 12:44)

“It has to perceive him as the intermediary between themselves and God”

Yeshua said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me. (John 14:6)

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. (Heb. 8:6)

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Messiah Yeshua. (1 Tim. 2:5)

“as the divine representative in their midst”

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Col. 1:15)

I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)

“and their worship of God is to be directed through him.”

Yeshua answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” (Luke 4:8)

After coming into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him… (Matt. 2:11)

And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him. (John 9:36)

“Complete loyalty to the tsadik and his dynasty on the part of the Hasidim and their families is demanded, and a Hasid identifies himself according to this dynasty.”

The concept of loyalty to a dynasty is not lost within Messianic Judaism (or Christianity and traditional Judaism). Yeshua was to come through the line of King David (2 Sam. 7:16-19), and the writer of Matthew begins by showing that Yeshua has come through this dynasty. Thus, the kingly dynasty that has been maintained by Judaism and Christianity since the time of David, is the same loyalty that Messianics have, and therefore translates to direct loyalty of the Messianic Jewish tsadik’s dynasty, i.e. loyalty to Yeshua’s dynastic line. Beyond this, those that follow Yeshua as the true Messiah, and the leader of their sect, (i.e. their tsadik) find identity within Him.

“For his part, the tsadik uses the faith that the community puts in him in order to focus the spiritual power of all of them together; he aims to employ it, on earth and in the divine world, to protect and advance the spiritual needs of the community. The tsadikuses this power in order to uplift his followers’ prayers to the divine world, pleading that their sins be forgiven and their repentance accepted, and that divine providence be perpetually extended to them.” (JDYE)

Once again we see parallels.

Who is the one who condemns? Messiah Yeshua is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. (Rom. 8:34)

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (Matt. 9:6)

And Yeshua seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)

…The tsadik’s role as an intermediary requires him to move, spiritually, from the divine realm to earth and vice versa, in a constant rhythm. (JDYE)

For Messiah did not enter a holy place made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. (Heb. 9:24)

lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:20)

The doctrine of Messianic Judaism has always held that the Messiah Yeshua sat down at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places (Acts 22:33, Rom. 8:34, Eph. 1:20, Col. 3:1, Heb. 1:3 and more), yet is in the midst of His community always. Thus the notion that the head of a community can move from the spiritual throne room of God, to the physical world of his people, is one that has been established since the ascension of Yeshua.

“The tsadik, in turn, had three primary material obligations relevant to each of his adherents. First, it was his responsibility to endow every one of his believers with sons, health, and livelihood. Throughout the history of Hasidism, extending to today, thetsadik has used all of his powers to ensure that each adherent will have at least one male offspring. Second, the tsadik prays, and sometimes intervenes with regard to medical treatments, for the health of his Hasidim and their families. Finally, he gives detailed advice, direction, and assistance concerning choices of employment and business, so as to make possible at least a modest standard of living.” (JDYE)

While this might seem out of the realm of possibility, Yeshua’s followers are even more specific, saying that their Tsadik is in control of every aspect of their lives. The idea that Yeshua has complete control over His followers lives and their well being, and will give or withhold whatever He deems in their best interested is established within the Apostolic Scriptures.

And Yeshua came up and spoke to them, saying, “all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18)

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers of authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Col. 1:16)

Messianic Judaism has always taught that Yeshua is the one who has the power to produce offspring for His followers, as well as direct them in their daily lives. Beyond giving these things to His followers, it is He that provides these things for the entire world. Thus, from a Messianic Jewish perspective, it is our Tsadik that grants blessings to the tsadiks of other communities, and ultimately to their followers. There is nothing that the tsadik of a community can do to help their followers, but rather, it is our Tsadik that grants such blessings.

Beyond all this, the first citation of anyone calling their leader a tsadik is in the first century work by a follower of Yeshua.

My little Children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Yeshua the Messiah, the Tsadik. (1 John 2:1)

Conclusion

We have seen that the term “Messianic Judaism” carries a set of problems from the outset.  Many Christians would say that a belief in Yeshua as the Messiah brings us under the umbrella of Christianity, even if we are practicing things that “look Jewish”. On the reverse side many non-believing practicing Jews would take great offense at the idea that those within Messianic Judaism are claiming to practice some form of Judaism. Groups such as the Breslov,  Bobovers, Satmars, and the very vocal Chabad Lubavitch might claim that Messianics are borrowing practices and rituals that are not rightly ours. However, it is my belief that if modern Hasidism can say that Messianics are wrongly taking ritual and tradition from the ancient religious order known as Judaism, then it should just as well be said that Messianics and Christians are rightly the first “Hasidic” order, and that modern Hasidism has borrowed our theology of the Tsadik.

I have no problem giving up the term “Messianic Judaism”, and would just as well call myself a “Messianic Believer”, a “Messianic” or perhaps we should simply call ourselves what the Messiah told us to be, “Disciples of Yeshua.” It is my contention that the religious order that now identifies itself as Messianic Judaism originally formed out of a Judaism of the first century. Yet Hasidic Judaism simply borrowed a theology that, at the time, had been held by believers in Yeshua for almost 1800 years. But perhaps what should be even more apparent to those of us who do believe in Yeshua, is that we have the true Tsadik leading our communities on a daily basis. He is our mediator between this world and the throne room of God. He oversees our well being, and our daily lives. We place total faith in Him and have complete loyalty to Him and His dynasty. He is the true Tsadik.

A summary of Shavuot mitzvot in the Hebrew Bible

Christians and Shavuot...errr, Pentecost

Sometimes I need a little motivation to move my various God-related projects forward. So, thank you, Lord, for Shavuot, which takes place this week. Just the motivation I need. Smile

Shavuot (“Pentecost” in English-ified Greek) is one of the 7 Biblical holy days, still observed by Judaism to this day. Or at least, Judaism observes the commandments that don’t require the Jerusalem Temple to be rebuilt. More on that in a moment.

Traditionally, Judaism sees Shavuot as the time when the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai; the giving of Israel’s constitution and the foundation for all Judeo-Christian societies that followed.

It also plays an important role in the New Testament, where during Shavuot the early believers were in Jerusalem for this feast when God’s spirit fell on the disciples and the early community of believers grew by the thousands.

Christians consider it the birth of the Church.

Despite Shavuot playing a crucial role in early Christianity, Christians don’t actually celebrate it; it seems many Christians look at Pentecost as a one-time event, rather than the recurring, yearly holy day the Scriptures call for.

(Odder still, Pentecostal Christians don’t actually celebrate Pentecost! So I guess we cannot call them Shavuotals, as Dry Bones points out. Smile)

The Messianic world absorbs and appreciates both old and new sides of Shavuot. As this Messianic sees it, old and new complement each other: the Torah given to ancient Israel, and God’s spirit given to his people in Jerusalem. The first a constitution for God’s people, the latter a guide and comfort for God’s people. Beautiful symmetry in that.

Messianics have much to be grateful for! Smile 

(Thank you, Lord, for the giving of your Torah and your Spirit, which persists to this day among those who love you!)

My friend and Messianic scholar J.K. McKee has outlined the summary of Shavuot traditions.

The challenge when considering Shavuot today, either as Messianic Believers, or simply as a member of the Jewish community, is that much of it is focused around being a harvest festival with animal sacrifices. Without a doubt, Shavuot is intended to be a time when we are to go before God and rejoice. Simply being alive and healthy are adequate reasons enough for us to go before the Lord. But, much of this was intended to be done in Jerusalem at the Temple. How are we to celebrate Shavuot today?

Indeed, examining the 4 Shavuot commandments in the Torah shows a Temple-centeredness.

Appear in Jerusalem for Shavuot
(…and Passover and Sukkot!)

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“Three times a year all your men are to appear in the presence of Adonai your God in the place which he will choose — at the festival of matzah, at the festival of Shavuot and at the festival of Sukkot.

- Deuteronomy 16:16

This one really is Temple-centric! The other week I showed that the Torah demands an interpretation, citing this verse as a great example: what does it mean to “appear before the presence of the Lord”? Where is “the place that God will choose”?

From the context of broader Scripture and from Judaic writings, we know that the place God chose is Jerusalem (II Chronicles 33, to cite one of many examples), and to “appear before the Lord” meant to go up to the Temple in Jerusalem and bring an offering.

McKee notes that we also have extra-biblical confirmation that this is indeed how ancient Israel kept Shavuot:

“Those [who come] from nearby bring figs and grapes, but those [who come] from afar bring dried figs and raisins. And an ox walks before them, its horns overlaid with gold, and a wreath of olive [leaves] on its head. A flutist plays before them until they arrive near Jerusalem. [Once] they arrived near Jerusalem, they sent [a messenger] ahead of them [to announce their arrival], and they decorated their firstfruits. The high officers, chiefs, and treasurer [of the Temple] come out to meet them. According to the rank of the entrants, they would [determine which of these officials would] go out. And all the craftsmen of Jerusalem stand before them and greet them, [saying], ‘Brothers, men of such and such a place, you have come in peace’”

Mishna Bikkurim 3:3.

So the first Shavuot commandment is one that really can’t be carried out today. Yes, we could go to Jerusalem, but the Temple is not yet rebuilt. We can’t “appear before  the Lord”, at least not in the same way the Torah intends.

Celebrate on Shavuot

(…and on Passover and Sukkot)

Maimonides extracts an additional commandment from the text of Exodus 23:

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Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to Me….Unleavened Bread…Shavuot…and Sukkot.

Exodus 23

This is one we can keep today – celebrate before the Lord! Shavuot was a time of giving the best of one’s harvest as an offering to God at the Temple.

Without the Temple, we can at least celebrate before God and give thanks with praises and prayer, the fruit of our lips.

Rest on Shavuot
…and…

Do not work on Shavuot

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On that day you are to proclaim a holy gathering and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for all generations to come, wherever you live.

Lev. 23:21

Following his usual mode of interpretation, Maimonides derives 2 commandments from the “do no regular work” source text: rest on Shavuot, and do no prohibited labor on Shavuot.

Interestingly, Maimonides does not list “proclaim a holy gathering” as a commandment. I’m guessing he figured it is already a commandment in the form of “appear before the Lord at the place he chooses”, the commandment discussed above.

God makes a point to say Shavuot is both eternal and global. This has implications for this generation; many of us live outside Israel. Yet God says, “wherever you live”. Still others say our religion is enlightened and the old Law obsolete or otherwise no longer binding. Yet God says, “this is a lasting ordinance for all generations to come.”

Bring additional Shavuot offerings

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On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the Lord an offering of new grain during the Festival of  Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. Present a burnt offering of two young  bulls, one ram and seven male lambs a year old as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. With each bull there is to be a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil; with the ram, two-tenths; and with each of the seven lambs, one-tenth. Include one male goat to make atonement for you. Offer these together with their drink offerings, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its grain offering. Be sure the animals are without defect.

Numbers 28:26-31

This one, I feel, Maimonides does not do proper justice. As with many of the sacrifice commandments, he skims over all details, lumping them all into the catch-all “bring additional offerings on Shavuot.”

Looking at the text, we’ve got these Shavuot harvest offerings:

  • 2 young bulls
  • 1 ram
  • 7 male lambs
  • 10 grain offerings of fine mixed flour
  • 1 male goat
  • Drink offerings to coincide with all the offerings

All the animals offered were without blemish, and this was in addition to the daily sacrifices.

These would be sacrifices offered by the priests in the Temple, as I understand it, and not by each person. However, each person did bring grain offerings from the harvest, as we read earlier in the Mishna.

Bring 2 loaves as a wave offering

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From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord. Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.

-Leviticus 23:17

In addition to the special Shavuot offerings of grain, bulls, lambs, and drink offerings, Maimonides adds another commandment for the two loaves as a wave offering to God, offered alongside the animal offerings.

Why two loaves?

Thinking out loud here, there may be a link to the previous feast, Passover. At Passover, we eat unleavened bread for 7 days. After which, we count the omer up to the 50th day, which is Shavuot. Enter the two leaven loaves, signifying a restoration. A harvest.

Messiah’s arrival may inform our understand here. The two loaves may symbolize the giving of the Torah and the Spirit. Both are waved before God as a pleasing offering.

A joyful chag to you, fine Kineti reader! And a rest-filled shabbat.