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I am committed to a life provoking the invasion of The Coming Kingdom through: human service, ecstatic prayer, halakhic observation, community building, nurturing hope, and drawing down abiding faith...

Monday, November 22, 2010

FFOZ-Latest Messiah Journal!

First Fruits of Zion (and Vine of David) is a profound resource for believers in Yeshua. All of their materials are worth checking out (http://ffoz.org/).

Particularly special, however, is their latest issue of Messiah Journal. In addition to a wonderful article on the ethics of Yeshua, there are two biographies of luminaries of Messianic Judaism: Franz Delitzsch and Rabbi Isaac Lichenstein. This articles are informative and timely, as FFOZ and VoD hope to release their special edition of a Delitzch Hebrew/English translation of the New Testament soon.

My personal favorite in this issue is a translation of R Lichenstein's, "The Talmud on Trial," which is an apologetic defese of the Talmud to the Christian world.

There are other excellent articles in this issue, including dicussions of "one law" theology and apologetics for Yeshua's Messiahship.

I cannot say enough good things about the journal or the thankfulness I feel for having the opportunity to take a sneak peek...What are you waiting for...check it out: Messiah Jounal Issue 105 Fall 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chanukkah-Increasing in Holiness

(For any "ruachites" stumbling on the blog, this gives a good portion, though not all, of the material from my shiur last Shabbat)

Chanukkah holds two modes of redemption in tension:

1.The defeat of the foes of the Jewish people and God
2.The increasing light of the Jewish people shining forth into a dark world

The matter is best described in the famous machlochet ("disagreement") between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. Beit Shammai say we start with eight lights and gradually decrease, while Beit Hillel say we start with one light and gradually increase all eight days. The first explanations given in the gemara are that Beit Shammai count by the number of days left while Beit Hillel count by the number of days that have passed. This has a certain philosophical import, but it's pretty straightforward. It is the next set of explanations that bring the conversation to another level:

Beit Shammai corresponds to the [Sukkot] Festival
Beit Hillel [say] we increase in matters of holiness

One of the unique features of Sukkot (another 8 day holiday if you count Shemini Atzeret as a part of it) is the large portion of bull sacrifices that decreases by number as you go through the chag. These sacrifices are understood to correspond to the nations of the world. Each sacrifice is a kind of atonement for the nations. It has been suggested that these sacrifices weaken the power of the enemies of Am Yisrael and God. Now we get to the heart of the matter: Beit Shammai are essentially saying that the focus of Chanukkah is the weakening of the foes who oppose us. Beit Hillel say the focus is on the ever increasing light that comes into the world beginning with one nation and growing from there: holiness increases.

Both are valid, but we go with Beit Hillel. The simple reason is, with very few exceptions, the halakha goes with Beit Hillel. We are being taught something even more profound however: It is not the weakening of our foes that is primary for Am Yisrael but rather our increasing light into a dark world. As our light increases foes will be vanquished. Nevertheless, light warms and brightens as much as it burns and we have a responsibility to focus on brightening and warming.

It is fascinating that the only Besora that mentions Chanukkah is Yochanan's. Yochanan, more than any of the others, focuses on Yeshua as the light of the world. From him, our great shamash, all the other lights of holiness are ever-increasingly illuminated. May all chasidei Yeshua remember that we are called to be the light of the world, set ablaze by the fire for God and mankind Mashiach set in us. May we be sure to have enough oil to keep our lamps lit. As we publicize the miracle of Chanukkah, may we join all of Am Yisrael to increase in matters of holiness.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chodesh Tov-Kislev

Kislev is both the darkest and brightest month of our year. It is a month burdened with long dark nights, and at one point of our history the threat of destruction under the Greek empire. A great miracle happened in this month, however: a little candle blazed bright enough to shut out the overbearing darkness. That candle was the menorah...that candle was am Yisrael. As a commemoration of that victory we have an opportunity every year to make our light shine without impending doom as a catalyst, but rather the joy of being alive. May all of k'lal Yisrael be blazing lights this month...I pray that those of us who are still waiting for the bridegroom keep enough oil in our lamps to welcome him for the wedding.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oral Torah: Lifestyle and Communication

In my previous post I discussed a variety of things which Oral Torah is not. I want to continue with what I feel are two helpful ways of understanding Oral Torah that may point us in a direction of clarifying it as a modality.

1. Oral Torah is a lifestyle-Oral Torah requires an engagement with TaNaKh and tradition that asks more questions than it answers and yet produces more clarity than confusion. The midrashim wrestle with deep existential questions and issues raised by the biblical text as it interfaces with the Jewish historical experience (even the more general human experience). Midrash does not produce dogma, but it does produce a way of engaging Scripture that values what it could be saying as much as what it actually does. Halakhic Oral Torah balances the midrashic/aggadic mode of living with the daily practical application of biblical law and ethics. Halakha understands biblical law to be applicable at the most basic level, and in every way possible. There is no room to have any aspect of life to be "secular." Oral Torah, in this sense moves beyond the realm of thought and engagement with Scripture and becomes a fundamental mode of living which consistently allows for the Written Word to say more than we could have ever imagined, and requires our attention in every facet of life.

2. Oral Torah is communication-This is more obvious. It is transmitted "orally," after all (in my next post I will discuss scholarship on what makes Oral Torah, well, oral). The texts of Oral Torah strive as much as possible to share the names of those who spoke the tradition. In fact, the titles of the earliest transmitters of Oral Torah are: Taanaim and Amoraim (literally, "speakers," in Aramic and Hebrew respectively). Almost all traditional Yeshivot require and encourage ongoing conversation about what various halakhot and midrashim mean. The conversation does not end, because to do so would diminish the very name of Oral Torah.

Gerard Bruns (a Christian Scholar) had the following to say about midrash, which I feel is applicable to Oral Torah, generally. This selection of his work ties together the view that Oral Torah is both, a lifestyle and conversation:

“At all events, my argument would be that we ought to think of midrash as a form of life…rather than simply as a form of exegesis; midrash is concerned with practice and action as well as (what we think of as) the form and meaning of texts...There is…no conflict of authority in midrash because in midrash authority is social rather than methodological and thus is holistic…the institution of midrash itself-rabbinic practice-is authoritative, and what counts is conformity with this practice rather than correspondence to some external rule or theory concerning the content of interpretation as such”

(Bruns, G. (1992). The Ancients. New Haven: Yale University Press, pgs.105 and 113).

In my section I will discuss ideas of the oral nature of Oral Torah.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Oral Torah-What it isn't

I have been inspired by one of my current MJTI classes to reflect a bit more on concepts around Oral Torah. I want to begin by sharing two underlying assumptions I bring to the conversation right from the get-go:

1. I do not believe legalism has anything to do with Judaism whatsoever. Among the critiques I have of developed mesorah (tradition/heritage), and there are some, legalism does not ever come up.

2. I DO believe Oral Torah is an indispensable componant to the life of any Jewish community and to attempt to completely do away with it is both unfortunate and impossible.

The question lies in what "it" is. I have a few thoughts for our consideration.

I plan on doing an extended "series" on this topic and so I will start with what I believe Oral Torah is NOT.

Oral Torah is not a collection of documents. In other words, I would say it is inaccurate to define Oral Torah as : Talmud, Tur, Shulchan Arukh, Midrash Rabbah, etc. The process of Oral Torah led to the creation of such works. Oral Torah, by definition, oughtn't be reduced to a list of documents.

Oral Torah is not a verbatim recitation of a series of laws given to Moses at Sinai. The Savoraim, who redacted the Gemara, preserved a number of metaphors, declarations, and parables to describe the differences between Oral Torah and Written Torah and they did not seek to describe anything apart from Oral Torah's "rootedness" and authority from Sinai (examples to come in the series).

Oral Torah does not "trump" Written Torah-Oral Torah was never in competition with Written Torah in the first place. To put them at odds is to fundamentally misunderstand the sages who first described them as unique componants of Torah.

In the coming days and weeks I will post more on what Oral Torah actually is (and it is multiple things)...first a mashal (parable):

" What is the difference between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah? To what can it be compared? To a king of flesh and blood who had two servants and loved them both. He gave each of them a measure of wheat and each a bundle of flax. What did the wise servant do? He took the flax and spun a cloth. He took the wheat and made flour. He cleaned the flour and ground, kneaded and baked it, and set it on top of the table. Then he spread the cloth over it and left it until the king would come. The foolish servant, however, did nothing at all." (Seder Eliyahu Zuta, Chapter 2)