Monday, November 1, 2010

Halacha with Compassion: A lesson from our Master

Celebrating the fall feasts, working towards marriage, and just working over time leaves me with very little time for blogging. So my apologies for being so tardy in posting, but you’ll just have to forgive me. For now blogging is low on my priority list, but I really love doing it.
That being said, I would like to bring your attention to a very interesting pasak (verse/passage) in the Talmud that deals with a Halacha of our Master, given to us through a discussion that R’ Eliazer had with Jacob of Kafar Sachinah (who some scholars say is Jacob the lesser).  We find this Pasak in Avodah Zarah 17a the story is as follows:
 “Akiva you have reminded me. 'I was once walking in the upper-market of Sepphoris when I came across one [of the disciples of Jesus the Nazarene] Jacob of Kefar-Sekaniah by name, who said to me: “It is written in your Torah, ‘You shall not bring the hire of a harlot … into the house of the Lord your God.’  May such money be applied to the erection of a retiring place for the High Priest?” (i.e his bathroom) To which I made no reply. Said he to me: “Therefore I was taught [by Jesus the Nazarene], ‘For of the hire of a harlot she has gathered them and unto the hire of a harlot they will return.'  They came from a place of filth; let them go to a place of filth.” Those words pleased me very much, and that is why I was arrested for apostasy; for thereby I transgressed the scriptural words, ‘Remove your way far from her’ — which refers to minut (Heresy)  — ‘and come not near to the door of her house,’  — which refers to the ruling power.”
In this story we find a disciple of Yeshua asking R’ Eliazer a Halachic question regarding the donation of money to the Temple from an impure source (i.e. harlotry). When R’ Eliazer is unable to answer, Jacob gives him the tradition from our master, that it may be used to build the High Priest’s bathroom (“place of sitting”, in Talmudic terminology the bathroom is called Beit Kiss’eh, “house of the chair”).
This Halacha from our Master pleases R’ Eliazer very much.
And it pleases me very much to see our Master’s words recorded and preserved in the pages of the Talmud.  I do believe this saying is authentic for the following reasons:
a.    It follows well with Yeshua’s focus on compassion, and the desire to see all people connect with the Mitzvoth on some level.
b.   By saying that the money could be used for the Temple bathroom, he is upholding the Torah (Deuteronomy 23:18)* and also allowing an otherwise sinner to connect with Hashem on some level. 

We should keep this in the forefront of our minds in our daily lives and we should strive to always uphold the Torah, while still keeping the inner Torah (ethical matters) front and center.

*This passage deals with money coming from a harlot for the sanctuary of the Temple; however, the bathroom is not found in the sanctuary of the Temple. Here Yeshua is upholding the Torah in not allowing her money to be used for the Sanctuary, but also allowing her the opportunity to connect to Hashem.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Spirit of Elizabeth Dilling

Imagine if an anti-Semitic woman wrote a commentary on the Talmud. Sound scary? Well it happened, and for those of you who have been privileged to never read, it consider yourselves lucky. Just who am I talking about here? I’m talking about a woman named Elizabeth Dilling. Dilling was a widely known critic of Judaism in the days preceding World War II. She wrote a book entitled “The Jewish Religion: Its influence today,” which, from what I have read, is pretty much a tirade against the Jewish people and Judaism.

Her beliefs, as brought forward in her book, are nothing unique unto her; they are reflections of her times. Her primary source for this book was the Talmud. Having a completely misunderstood view of the Talmud, she comes at it like a viper, seeking young helpless rat babies to devour. OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you get the point. Dilling did not come to the Talmud with respect, but rather with brashness and an already severely anti-Jewish view point. This is why she is so eager to point out commonly misunderstood passages of the Talmud.

So, just what did Dilling have to say about the Talmud? Well, let's take a look at few of her choice words. Let’s take this text from our current tractate of study Avodah Zarah.

The Sages do not mind receiving the money of idolaters. (Avodah Zarah 12a)

Here is Dilling’s commentary on this above passage.

“The Talmud book of Abodah Zara, which concerns relations with the non-Jew, is a series of contortions aimed to keep the "human" Jew separate from the "non-human" Gentile, while still making money off of the Gentile. Christians, in particular, are designated as "idolaters," with Jesus as the "idol." A Mishnah of Abodah Zara 11b-12a attempts to circumvent the question of how to go to an "idolatrous festival" and do business without technically being there at all. A long-winded exposition about the road leading to it is ludicrous:


Of course, a road which went only one place would only be outside of one place. Every road goes past one place after another or it is not a road at all.

But the essence of it all is this: "The Sages should not mind the possibility of receiving money of an idolator."

OK, so Dilling brings forth a few points,

1. According to the sages Jews are humans; and thus

2. Gentiles are Animals

3. That the Jewish goal is to make money off of Gentiles

I’m afraid Mrs. Dilling is extremely misinformed.

Lets take a look at each issue.

1. Jews are Humans.

No need for much commentary here folks! Of course Jews are humans, however, that doesn’t make non-Jews animals which segues into our next point.

2. Gentiles are Animals.

Dilling is very much misunderstanding the Sages desire here to keep Jews away from Idolaters. There point is to keep Jews away from such people as to avoid any contact with Idol worship and the danger to the Jewish person's life. For Dilling to jump to such hard-line conclusions about what the Sages say regarding Gentiles actually misses some very key passages in the Talmud itself that speak of Gentiles in very lofty terms, even without converting.

Remember the stories of Onkelos, Bar Shullam that I blogged about a few days ago? Did the sages say in these stories that these men were Animals? No, they did not. There is also another passage in the Talmud about a Gentile that had a huge amount of respect for his Father and the sages considered him to be a tzaddik ( I can’t remember the source, if anyone knows let me know). There are also numerous other positive views of Gentiles held in the Talmud. One example being that R’ Yochannan Ben Zaki treated his Gentile slaves with huge amounts of respect (you can read about this in Tracate Sukkot).

Based on this I would have a hard time saying the sages believed that Gentiles are Animals. Now to be fair there are some very anti-Gentile statements in the Talmud. However, these are, for the most part, geared towards Idol worshipers, or those who seek the Jewish people harm. They are not statements of condemnation upon all Gentiles, especially those who are righteous.

Dilling lived in a very different world than the sages, and the Gentiles of that era where much different than in her day (one could argue, however, that they were not as, in Dilling's day, the Holocaust was about to take place).

3. The Jewish Goal is to make money off of Gentiles.

Yes, Jews know how to make money, but our goal is not to rip Gentiles off for a buck. This is false. Sure, there have been some very unethical Jews in this regard, but to say the goal of the Jews is to make money off Gentiles? It doesn’t work. Nor does it fit with the Jewish spirit of charity.

Unfortunately, Dilling is not alone in her view of the Talmud. Her spirit still infects, and plagues some, in the Church, and even in the Messianic Movement, that the Talmud is nothing but a seething pot of lies, and burdensome rabbinic laws. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard in the course of conversation, or overheard statements, about the Talmud encouraging men to have sex with three year old girls (God Forbid!), telling people to eat their own feces, or making fun of law that they frankly know nothing about. At first glance these seem like a burden, however, upon further review are really based on Torah law.

We must free ourselves from the Spirit of Elizabeth Dilling. We must not approach the Talmud assuming that we are going to find horrid things in it which the Jews desire to bury deep in their enormous writings. The only way to do this is to also accept the fact that our Master Yeshua was, and is, a Jewish Rabbi. Then the words of other Jewish Rabbis won’t seem so foreign.

I would encourage all of you to check out First Fruits of Zion’s new Torah Club Volume Four, which deals with putting our Master back into his proper context.


You can also go here for promo videos of the new Torah Club.

Promo Videos

May Hashem grant us all peace.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Before Shabbat comes and I check out, I wanted to point you to some good books to get you going on Talmud study. The Talmud like any other piece of good literature requires some back ground information, this is especially true of the Gemara or you will never be able to fully enjoy it and its amazingly complex style.

Here are some great books to get you started.
Every Mans Talmud

This is one of the classic in layman Talmudic scholarship; this book will guide you through the major themes and teachings of the Sages.

The Talmud: A Selection

Having read this book three times now, I can give it a huge endorsement. What the author does is take a tractate of the Gemara and abridge it. So you get the feeling of the style and reading of the Gemara but it is shortened, also the footnotes are particularly interesting since the author not only draws parallels to the New Testament but also to the writings of the Church Fathers. While this source shouldn’t be used for serious study of Gemara it is a great quick reference guide to the Gemara.

Essential Talmud: Adin Steinsaltz

I have not read this book, however I have read quite a bit of translation of the Talmud based on that I would say the above book would have to be a good resources to have. Let me know if it’s any good.
That being said I hope you all have an extremely restful Shabbat. Next week with Gods help I would like to explore these themes.

Continue with short commentary on the Daf Yomi.

Elizabeth Dilling and the Talmud

Why is it important for Messianics to know Talmud?

God willing I will be able to write about these, if not then till next time!

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Avodah Zarah 11

For Today’s discussion we will be hitting up page eleven of the Gemara.

Onkelos and turning the other cheek.

The Gemara on page eleven opens up with a discussion about a righteous gentile named Onkelos, the son of Kelonimus (it is doubtful whether the Onkelos here is the Onkelos of the Targums). The story of him, which I will tell later, follows on the heels of another long teaching about some other righteous gentiles, Antoninus who was a good friend of Rebbe (R’Yehuda Hanasi). And  the story of Keitah Bar Shallum, who protected the Jewish community against a particularly Caesar who hated the Jews. According to the Gemara, all of these gentiles have a portion in the world to come even if they had not fully converted to Judaism such as the case with Keitah Bar Shallum who merely circumcised himself but failed to fulfill other requirements of conversion. Accordingly when Keith Bar Shallum died he was emitted right away into the world to come:

“A heavenly voice emanated and proclaimed: Keitah bar Shallum is ready for the life of the world to come”. Rebbi wept and said: “There is one who acquires his portion in the world to come in one hour, and there is another who acquires his portion in the world to come only after many years.”

Avodah Zarah 10b.

Now we return to the discussion about Onkelos, the son of Kelonimus.

Onkelos is a convert to Judaism who seems to have an infectious effect on those around him to convert to Judasim. The story goes that the Caesar sent troops after him three times and each time, instead of killing him, they converted. The first time he entices them with words of Torah, the second time with a teaching about the pillar of fire, and the third time with a discussion about the mezuzah on his doorway. After these three times the Caesar gave up. Avodah Zarah 11a

Points to consider:

Much like the teaching of our Rabbi Yeshua in his sermon on the mount to turn the other cheek against those who seek us harm (Matthew 5:39) “But I tell you, do not retaliate against the wicked person, and to the one who strikes you upon the right cheek, turn to him the other as well”.

I believe, in this instance, Onkelos is following the teaching of our Rabbi, albeit unknowingly, by turning the other cheek to the Romans. OK, I have to admit, I highly doubt that even if he did put up a fight he would have been any match for the Roman task force sent against him. Lets face it folks, Jews (unless your in the IDF) aren’t really made for war, but I digress.

So instead of Onkelos turning to violence he turns to words of Torah, thus causing the Romans to pause for just a second and then, according to the story, convert. I believe we can apply this to our lives, and instead of turning to violence, whether with our words or actions, turn to the words of peace and life found in the Bible as Onkelos did.

To avoid with burning or not?

The Gemara now turns to discuss various types of Pagan holidays and the avoidance of the them, and also contact with Pagans on them. The first one mentioned is the birthday of the Emperor. R’ Meir says to stay away from Pagans three days before the emperor's birthday and the day of his death. However the sages say that business is forbidden before the anniversary of the emperor's death only if the death was marked by the burning of his personal articles. Then Comes R’ Meir to say that the burning of articles is not attached to idolatrous rituals.

The Rabbis now proceed to challenge the opinion of R’ Meir by citing that whither burning is involved or not, the ritual of the king’s birthday and death involve Idolatrous activity.

The Gemara now challenges the opinion of the Rabbis in saying that burning of the king's articles is attached to idolatry saying: “We burn for the honor of Jewish Kings, and this not one of the ways of the Amorite. Now, if it (burning a king's articles) is an idolatrous ritual, how could we burn the articles of a Jewish king? Why, it is written, "And you shall not follow their rituals!”

After this the Gemara reverts to the burning of kings' articles to not be attached to idolatrous ritual. But merely a display of the importance of the king. However the Rabbis and R’ Meir continue to disagree over which days to avoid contact with pagans the Rabbis maintain to avoid contact only when they burn the king's articles and R’ Meir maintains to avoid them whether or not there is burning involved.

Points to consider

Who would you side with? R’ Meir on the side of caution, or the sages on the less cautious side? Why?

Which one makes more sense?

Festive days of Pagans and Romans 14.

Before page eleven ends it states something very interesting that caught my eye and reminded me of something I have read in Pauline writings. See if you can dictate what I caught. The Gemara says.

Shmuel said, "In the Diaspora it is forbidden to do business with idolaters only on the festival itself." The Gemara questions whether this is forbidden: And the festival is forbidden? But Rav Yehudah allowed Rav Beruna to sell wine to pagans, and Rav Gidal to sell wheat to pagans on the festival of Merchants. The Gemara answers that it is different because it is not a fixed day. However, this reminded me of Romans 14 when Paul talks about one day being above the other and some keeping them as unto the Lord and others treating them as common. Paul could be addressing these types of concerns here, or he might not be, the language just has me thinking.

Points to consider

Would you feel comfortable having contact with Pagans on their festivals? Keep the words of Paul in Romans 14, and 1 Corinthians 8-10 in mind. Do you think there is any connection here between the words of Paul and the Sages? Yes? No? how so?

Over all I think this is a good start to a world of discovery! Remember there are no wrong answers!

Welcome to the wonderful world of Daf Yomi!

In the 1920's R'Shapira set up a system of studying the Talmud, known as the Daf Yomi (daf means page, and Yomi is day, roughly) Those involved in this program read one page of Talmud (henceforth Gemara) everyday. One page of the Gemara in Hebrew/Aramic can last for several pages in English.

The Gemara is a never ending source of discovery, loaded wth legal discussions (often enough to make one's head spin), stories, lore, prophecy, discussions on Messiah and end times, the esoteric realm, and much more.

Every day around the world Jews engage the Gemara, that that is how it should be apporached, in an egaged fashion. Instead of just reading it and leaving it, the Gemara wants you to engage it, fight with it, and learn with it. Althought it is standard for the Gemara to be studied under a Rabbi, for a Messanic this is not always possible.

For a Messianic, I would recommend egaging a study partner who has a slight edge over you in some areas, and you over him in other areas, in order to sharpen each other. I hope in this blog to give my thoughts on the Gemara from a Messianic perspecticve, since for me the New Testament brings life into the Gemara. Enjoy it! Learn from it, and welcome to the wonderful world of Daf Yomi!