In the middle of my intense therapy beginnings and increasing awareness that all on the home front is not as it should be and perhaps never was, there is another world opening up to me. I am studying with a rabbi.
This has provided me with tremendous intellectual and spiritual exhilaration that feels almost as powerful as the negativity in my life. It does, however, feel like drinking from a fire hose. I did study Midrash and Mishnah in college, and I took courses in Jewish Studies. It matters not. I am utterly dwarfed by the vast weight of knowledge contained in Judaism as a whole. It is very hard to know where to begin when I try to explain what I’ve learned thus far.
Why even bother? Well, Christianity and Judaism are a bit rivalrous. Christianity began as a sect of Judaism in second-temple times before it completely branched out and became its own religion. It is Judaism’s daughter so to speak. The Gospels are not easy to understand at times, but they become far more accessible when you understand second-temple times. The difficult words of Jesus are certainly challenging unless you understand to whom he was speaking and their culture; his sole audience was the Jews. I don’t know if these are issues that the modern Christian church addresses now, but they were not addressed when I attended church. Certain ideas are timeless–take care of the poor. What does, however, love your neighbor mean exactly if you live under a dictatorship? What does honoring your parents mean if they sell you for drugs? Judaism had responses to these varied questions because the Jews needed clarification and interpretation of the Ten Commandments as it applied to life, hence, the Talmud, the Midrash, and the Mishnah. The sages and rabbis all had their opinions on how to handle various life circumstances, and each one had a desire to be pious. Some were literalists and held strictly to the language of the scriptural text. Others were not. Who was right?
The Pharisees, the sect that survived the rebellion against Rome along with Christianity, were not literalists. The literalists were the Sadducees. The Pharisees were a far more compassionate sect who would more often interpret the scriptures with a leaning towards the “spirit of the law”. The Sadducees followed the letter of the law. Jesus’ teaching was often in agreement with what the Pharisees are recorded as teaching. This information contradicts much of what I was taught growing up in Christian circles. As I have studied, I have seen that there are serious misunderstandings between Christianity and Judaism, and this has caused a great divide. There are other reasons for this great divide most notably historical Christian persecution of the Jews resulting in millions of innocent Jewish lives lost as well as supersessionism which still pervades much of Christian theology.
How do we rectify this? I think the first step in building a bridge between Jews and Christians and improving Jewish-Christian relations is taking a second look at Jesus. I don’t mean in that cliché way that one hears in church settings when someone says in passing, “Well, you know, Jesus was a Jew after all!” What does that even mean? What does Jesus’ being Jewish mean to a Christian? What does Jesus’s Jewishness mean to me–a Jew brought up in an almost exclusively Christian world?
Many Western concepts based in Greco-Roman thought known as Hellenism have been applied to the teaching of Jesus, a decidedly Jewish point of view. What happens when Hebraic thought and teaching is filtered through Hellenism and supersessionism? Well, we have a few thousand years of Church history to observe to find some answers.
For a great introduction to the topics I recommend: