Counting the Omer

Invariably our family misses some days Counting the Omer each year. This year we decided to challenge both our family and our community in not missing a single day of Counting the Omer. To aid us in keeping track of this for our family, I have created a wall chart and stickers to cut out and paste (or tape) on to each day as it is counted. I have posted it here for your use. There are two PDF files. The first is the chart and the second is the stickers.

Please let me know if you and your family get some use out of it.

Counting the Omer Chart 2010

Omer stickers

Happy Passover!

Chag Sameach, everyone! I pray you have a blessed Passover and a wonderful week of Chag HaMatzot. There will be thousands of seders around the world tonight & tomorrow night, so be sure to find one to join and enjoy this experience of reliving the various expressions of our redemption. May you be blessed richly as you celebrate the feast, and may the work of Yeshua be more real to us all this year than the previous!

The Book of Acts and Moral Relativism

I had coffee with a friend of mine a few weeks ago and we began to discuss the Scriptures and our beliefs. I’ve only really gotten to know him over the last year or so. He is curious as to my beliefs and has approached me a few times to lovingly debate a few points of doctrine/theology. Although we disagree on many points, we have a mutual respect for each other’s faith and can speak frankly with one another without jeopardizing our relationship (a rarity). As we got into our discussion, however, I realized that he held to a position I haven’t been exposed to in a number of years. It goes something like this:

The Tanach (the Old Testament) represents a lot of stories of faith, and examples of how we should live our lives in obedience to God (in some vague way, as we will see by the next component). And the Gospels, Acts, Hebrews and Revelation are not written as a documents of instruction, therefore they are not “prescriptive” but only “descriptive” in their content, and therefore cannot have any theological bearing in the life of a believer. Wow… I was really dumfounded for a good while, as I mulled over this implications of how his theological perspective had essentially stripped out 90% of the authority of the Scriptures, relegating “prescriptive” or “authoritative” Scripture to the (misunderstood) writings of Paul and possibly the epistles of Peter, James, John & Jude (and even then I’m not sure if all of them hold equal weight with the Pauline epistles according to this theological premise).

This theological supposition seems to be heavily taught in missions-based organizations, because of opposition they have received over the years that their missionary methods were not practiced by the first believers. In other words, it’s not found in the book of Acts. I just did a quick search on the net for the phrase “book of Acts descriptive not prescriptive” and found a blog from a seminary student returning from a class on missions that said it point blank:

The book of Acts is not presented as a prescriptive book. That is, it is not presented as a manual on how a church should be run (you’ll find a lot of that in the epistles) or missions should be conducted. It describes what did happen, not what should/must/will happen in every time and culture.

I think this represents a snapshot of the theological pulse of our seminaries. It was this concept that was ingrained in my friend, and totally blocked our communication. If you’re interested, the passage of Acts in discussion was the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) in which the Apostles presented their ruling on the minimum requirements of non-Jews entering into the faith. The gist of my argument with my friend was that the minimum level of Torah observance was put forth by the Council in Acts 15, and that we should at least be keeping these four basic boundaries as a bare minimum, whether we agreed on the whole of Torah or not. He was in total disagreement, using the argument that since Acts was not “prescriptive” but “descriptive” the ruling of the Council had no bearing in the life of a modern day believer.

Again, Wow…

Here we have a contrast as to the authority of the Apostolic Council making a strong line in the sand for the entire Yeshua faith community verses the Pauline epistles, which were written for a specific purpose (almost always a response to a specific issue) to a specific group of people. Yet this theological position supplants the authority of James, the brother of our Master (and steward of his throne at that time) and the original Apostles of our Master. [editor’s note: I am not saying the Pauline epistles are not authoritative. I believe they are, and have a greater appreciation for them now than ever. I am only suggesting that “if” there was a priority, then the Apostolic Council would be first in line, rather than Paul’s addresses to specific situations and specific people which do not apply to us as directly as much as the Apostolic decree.]

Does anyone else see a problem with this? Has anyone else ran into this? Does anyone have any suggestions as to how to bridge this gap in our communication?

J-BOM: JPS Commentary on the Haggadah, Pt. 1

JPS Commentary on the Haggadah

The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah

Joseph Tabory

The Jewish Publication Society, 2008

I have officially jumped on the J-BOM wagon, and I appreciate the call to action by fellow-blogger, Derek Leman. If you are not sure of what this “J-BOM” thing is about, Derek explains it for you here. This is my first installment of my review on the JPS Commentary, be sure to check back for subsequent posts, as well as posts reviewing a new book each month.

The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah from the Jewish Publication Society is the first book for all of us J-BOMmers to review. It was very nice to be able to know about this resource prior to Passover this year, as I believe it will enhance my personal experience of Passover.

Let me begin by saying that this commentary is not for the average person wanting to find out how to better celebrate Passover. It is for those who have celebrated the feast for several years and have wondered about the origins of all of the strange rites, traditions and expressions found within the haggadah. However, even within this group, it is probably not a blanket recommendation for addition to your reading list. This commentary is a scholarly approach at peering beneath our current text of the haggadah through textual & higher criticism, comparing our current text to many early variations of the text that, although extant, are not in use. Tabory makes note that “the earliest sources that help us understand the modern seder are those found in talmudic literature” (p.1). And although he does make reference to arguments regarding Christian scholarship regarding many related topics, including the Last Supper, he does not consider the Gospels of the New Testament a valid source from which we can learn anything regarding the earliest seder expressions. Maybe this is due to the fact that his position is somewhat opposed to any kind of interpretation of the seder experience from the believing community. Maybe this is due to his not considering the Last Supper of Jesus to be a seder meal, as many have reasonably argued1. Whatever the case, rabbinic literature is his primary source, and the majority of these works appear to come from the Cairo Genizah (in the case of what Tabory terms the “Eretz Yisra’el” tradition) or sources such as the siddurs of R. Amram Gaon and R. Saadiah Gaon (both from the 9th century, and follow the “Babylonian” tradition).

In regard to this vast sea of literature, Tabory appears to have a knack for pouring over massive volumes of historical & rabbinic works and compressing the essentials into a very small space. He makes many assertions about the origins of the haggadic elements, however, which may be problematic for the average reader. Yet in his pulling on the sacred threads, he is deeply reverent and respectful of traditional interpretation and understanding. Tabory does a thorough job at peeling back layer upon layer of text to uncover the earliest records of the Passover tradition in a way that is both curious and rewarding.

I plan on posting several insights and thoughts brought up by Tabory, but one of the things I would like to note first is regarding the historic nature of the haggadah. In regard to this we can be certain of one thing: The haggadah has never been a static text. Although our present text represents the current and definitive expression of the seder experience, it has not been without challenge or modifications historically. It has been a very dynamic text; one which has changed throughout the centuries in order accommodate the every-changing circumstances of each generation in order that one may be able to regard himself as though he actually left Egypt, as it says: “He brought us out from there in order to bring and give us the land which He had promised to our ancestors” (Deut. 6:23). Although many might view this as a corruption, or paganizing of the service, it can also be viewed as proof that the haggadah has ever been a living organism, bent on elucidating the purpose of redemption in each generation. Tabor notes that “the Torah does not prescribe exactly how the post-Exodic paschal meal should be eaten nor does it prescribe any ceremony connected with it” (p. 4). This is noteworthy in that each generation and community have adapted this ritual in some way or another throughout the centuries, not re-creating it as some would have us do2, but adapting it. Personally, I think this fortifies a Messianic position in that we should be able to produce Messianic versions of the haggadah unapologetically, without feeling we have tipped any sacred cows. We are only adapting to our needs to express Hashem’s redemption according to our understanding, the same as each of the previous generations.

With that said, let me begin my actual commentary with an interesting note regarding the traditional four cups of wine. In his overview of the seder and its history, Tabory makes an observation regarding these cups. He states, “The texts of the second cup, which embodies the story of the Exodus, and those of the fourth cup, Hallel or songs, are unique to this evening. Some of these texts belong to the tannaitic stratum of the haggadah, having been added between the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 70 C.E.) and the redaction of the Mishnah (c. 220 C.E.), while other were added even later” (p. 7). Although here, Tabory speaks of texts in association to the additional cups3, I believe we might also be able to deduce that these cups may not have been in use during this time either. Thus, we have a better explanation of why it appears that during the Last Supper Yeshua only drinks from two cups, rather than the traditional four.

Another interesting note that seems obvious, but I have failed to recognize it until he brought it out, is the fact that the Maggid (the telling of the Exodus) and the Shulchan Orech (the actual Passover meal) are really not connected. The Maggid actually takes place prior to the meal, rather than surrounding or in relationship to the meal. This is due to the post-Temple era in which the modern seder evolved. Since there was no lamb to be the focal point of discussion for the evening, the discussion naturally shifted to the expressions of redemption that could be represented tangibly in the evening. Hence the four cups representing the four4 expressions of redemption found in Exodus 6:6-7.

This is all I have time for now. I will post more soon…

  1. But Tabory cannot be faulted for this. Take for instance the argument of Jonathan Klawans in the Biblical Archaeology Review:
  2. Some Messianic or Christianized haggadot stray very far from the traditional text in order to “fix” it. However, I believe a book such as this would help their understanding of the elements of the haggadah to become more mature.
  3. Tabory notes that the first and third cups are traditional cups associated with festive meals, to which the houses of Hillel and Shammai took issue in regard to interpretation.
  4. Although many have seen not less than five expressions, the fifth found in Exodus 6:8, “And I will bring you to the land I swore.” The debate surrounding this fifth cup lead to the Cup of Elijah.

Yeshua Film: A Documentary of Messianic Judaism

This morning one of the most interesting emails I received was a notification that I was being followed on Twitter by someone using the name “YeshuaFilm.” I thought this was interesting enough to check out, and thus went to their Twitter page and checked their only two existing tweets. These brought me to YouTube for a teaser trailer of a documentary on Messianic Judaism that they are in the process of creating.

Turns out that this is a very non-biased look at the development of Messianic Judaism from a non-Jewish, non-Christian standpoint. It looks promising, but it also looks as if they are still needing input for the film. This is where I would like to call on all of you to action. I think they have a some good information already, but I think they need a more rounded perspective on the topic, and they are specifically asking for input from Messianics. They need to know how real this thing is. They need to know about historic Messianic Judaism. They need to know we are not just a recent phenomenon or fad. They need to know about Messianic non-Jews. They are also needing funds to complete this project. Maybe you could help out a little to show our support as well.

Below is the teaser/trailer from their documentary as well as their website where you can find out more information about them and will be able to make contact with them and give them your story or pass them on to someone you think would represent us well.