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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, March 14, 2011

II Adar Halakha of the Month-Part 2

We've had interesting discussion so far. I wanted to shift the discussion specifically to the topic of participation and response. Unfortunately, in many mainstream synagogues one can find the pattern of the shliach tzibbur (cantor) davening for the community, as opposed to leading the community in davening! It should be the latter. The moments where one actually does a mitzvah on behalf of others are rare:

Shofar: The tokiah (shofar blower) blows the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah and the sh'liach tzibbur recites the blessing on behalf of the congregation

Megillat Esther: Unless one has a scroll of Esther in hand, other than the reader for Purim, the people listen to the blessings and respond: Amen. The Megillah is being leined so they can hear.

Communal Kiddush: In a big communal gathering where wine is not available for everyone, the one leading kiddush does it on behalf of the people there. This is not ideal, and many will actually do their own kiddush at home, but this is will within the bounds of custom.

There may be some others I'm not remembering, but these are the main circumstances. The first two are the main ones. This is because the mitzvah is connected with listening. In most prayer, the mitzvah is connected with doing/speaking. Now, one would assume the Torah blessings would be included. After all, it's a mitzvah to hear the Torah! The difference is that the b'rakha recited is a part of the b'rakhot recited over learning Torah in Birkhot HaShachar. This means that, presumably, one has already recited this blessing earlier in the day and is therefore listening to the one making the aaliyah One might ask, wouldn't this also be true of the one making the aaliyah...Wouldn't that person's recitation also be considered a repitition? The answer is: No. When it is over leining form a scroll, it counts as a different blessing....Wait...didn't he just say it's the same...aaagghh!

This can cause one's head to spin because it isn't so logical on the surface. It's rather inconsistant. The real reason is that there is a fundamental difference between Torah learning and other mitzvot. Megillah is a mitzvah once a year. Shofar is a mitzvah once a year. Torah is a daily mitzvah, with specific requirements on certain days to have it publicly read. This is why on the one hand Torah must be listened to, and on the other hand must be learned and recited. I would love to hear your thoughts on why Torah leining/aaliyot would be unique.

Moving on: It is unfortunate that much of American Judaism has developed a vicarious religious practice. I think there are a great many factors that have contributed to this, but I want to address one factor that is unique for the Messianic Jewish community. The Yeshua narrative many have adopted is the belief that he died for us so that we might have life. This is a true, BUT incomplete, notion. This leads to an incomplete spirituality. What's wrong with it? It totally removes responsibility from the "believer." What seems to be more accurate to say (see Romans Chapter 6) is that Yeshua died and rose again so that we, in him, could also die to sin and live in him. Rav Shaul speaks of this in terms of Immersion in Yeshua (this is also spoken of in terms of martyrdom and trials because of Yeshua faith). I believe we ought to see the same going on in our communal prayer life. Yes, Yeshua laid the road for us; we do not have to lay the road. Nevertheless, he paved it so we could travel it! The shliach tzibbur sets the pace for the davening and, at times, elicits responses from the community (Bar'khu, Kaddish, Kedushah, etc.). The shliach tzibbur is not meant to be davening instead of anyone. The shliach tzibbur is not a performer and professional davener.

This is another layer of meaning surrounding the halakhot of "Barukh Hu Uverukh Sh'mo" and "Amen." These halakhot teach us when it is appropriate to take on the responsibility and privilege to bless and pray and when to humbly accept our role in listening and responding to another. I would like to suggest that the halakhic clarification of the role of the shliach tzibbur can teach us something about the role of Yeshua in our community as well. He does not pray to HaShem for us-He teaches us how. He doesn't live Torah for us-he enables us to do so. He doesn't live sinless for us-he guides us on a journey to live in him, free of sin.

I look forward to our continued discussion!


  1. In the First Commandment, G-d told the Jews “You shall have no other gods [aka intermediaries] before Me [in the singular]”. Jews believe that. So, the leader of their prayer service plays a role that is quite unrelated to the explicitly contra-Biblical role Christians established for Jesus in John 14:6 ("No one comes to the Father [G-d] except through me [Jesus]").

    Jews, who believe in the Ten Commandments, never insert an intermediary into their direct relationship with G-d, and their prayer leader merely affords them an opportunity to answer "amen", to G-d, to prayers that they hear. Christians, on the other hand, reject the commandments wholesale, in refuse to pray to G-d other than through an intermediary, utterly disrespecting His expressed wishes.

    I hope that this clarification helps you to better appreciate the not-so-fine line that separates Judaism and Christianity on so many theological levels.

  2. Anonymous,

    I appreciate your efforts in clarifying what you feel are important boundaries to be maintained. I also am aware of the fact that blog discussions on such matters tend to rarely leave either party feeling heard. I want you to know that I do hear your point, though I disagree with your assertions on many levels.

    I am aware that I am not likely to change your mind wth any amount of blogging, as I hope you are aware that your comment has little impact on my understanding of God, Jesus (Yeshua), Judaism, and/or Christianity.

    I want to honestly thank you for sharing your thoughts, but I will not engage them in any full form. There are many more qualified individuals than I to discuss these matters. Belief in Yeshua and the ongoing validity of his Jewish followers committment to the fullness of Torah from Sinai to the present is not up for discussion on this blog (it is not the purpose of this blog to engage in such matters). The "how" of Jews living a committed Yeshua-centered Judaism is what I hope will be discussed here.

    Thank you once again, for your thoughts. I do not want to discount them. Nevertheless, I will ask you to interact with the subject at hand.