Even Cranky People are Right Sometimes: A Word About Messianic Jewish Conferences

June 22, 2014

In just under a month I will be attending the National Conference of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. I admit to being very much the introvert which may be why I find such gatherings stressful. I don’t like large crowds, but prefer to relate to people one on one or in small groups, unless I happen to be the speaker, then any size group will do!. But I have at least two other reasons I find such occasions stressful.

One is what I term Dauermann’s Law of Conference Yiddishkeit which states that the more a man or woman grooms and dresses like a Hasid, the more likely they are not Jewish at all. At our conferences you will invariably meet some guy with a long beard, tzit tzit displayed, even dressed in the requisite black.  Usually such a fellow, if asked, will supply a name like Obadiah ben Clem, which is a sure sign that this guy is, shall we say, not a M.O.T., a images-2Member of the Tribe. It is sad to see people masquerading as Jews, or somehow seeking to disguise or evade their actual identities. In fact it is sad to meet people who apparently regret that they were born Gentiles!  What does that say about how we assess God’s sovereignty and goodness?  Like they say, “God don’t make no junk.” But it is also troubling to see a seriously-considered and jealously protected way of dress and grooming, a Hasidic persona, treated like some costume or alter-ego anyone may assume at will, regardless of social location or lifestyle.

My question in such cases is always the same: What would a normal Jewish person not on psychoactive medications and visiting our conference think of this?  The answer to the question is never good.

And here is a second related conference irritant. Inevitably someone will be selling shofars which they will images-1blow at random moments, and sell to others who will use these sacred objects to register their own excitement whenever the mood [which they will term, the Spirit] grabs them. So it is that at any moment we have instant Rosh Hashana . . . in the middle of July. You see, the shofar, the ram’s horn, has a very particular meaning in Jewish life. It is associated with repentance and the Ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It is meant to inspire awe and to evoke the memory of the near sacrifice of Isaac on Mt Moriah, and also as a reminder of the coming Day of Judgment. In no way, shape, or form is it used in Jewish life to register excitement or as some sort of melodic gavel to call a meeting to order.

It is a holy object, by which I mean that it is reserved for specific God-centered purposes, and is not to be used for any other purpose . . . except apparently by some people at our conferences and in our congregations

Now there are no doubt many who will protest that biblically the shofar was used more widely than it is now used. I will grant that. But we are not living in Bible times. The shofar is an easily recognizable artifact of contemporary Jewish life, not of thousands of years ago, but now.  How it was used in the Bible should be no more a guide to our practice than should the way Ruth and Boaz got engaged in the Book of Ruth. She crawled under his blanket. I don’t know of many churches of Messianic synagogues that would look favorably on those who got hitched in this way on the grounds that it was “biblical” to do so!

This posting was triggered by this message I received today from a Jewish friend who believes in Yeshua. She is away at a scholarly conference, and reported this experience:

I was talking during lunch with a non-Jew who told me that he not only observes the Torah because it “ was written in his heart”, but he also “blows the shofar” every kiddush and “whenever the Lord tells him” as a sign of repentance for the church of its supersession theories. I felt a bit uncomfortable.

Now, let’s take it for granted that the person in question is a nice person, a sincere person, a respectful and in fact lovely person. With all of that considered, what might one say to this? Here is what I would say to such a person.

I would tell him I have a Protestant friend who has learned the text of the Mass and has managed to get his hands on some wafers/hosts such as are manufactured for Roman Catholic use, and who says the Mass, complete with wafer and wine whenever he feels the need for a spiritual pick-me-up. Ask your lunch partner if he finds that acceptable or if not, perhaps quite grating. I assume he will feel the latter. This is precisely the same thing: taking the holy ritual from someone else’s context and using it at one’s own subjective whim.

If you are looking for a Bible reference for the kind of opinion I am stating I might start with the story of Uzzah and the ox cart. He was part of an entourage of Levites who were accompanying an ox-cart carrying the Ark of the Covenant up to the City of David.  The problem here is that God had told the Levites how he wanted the Ark carried: on their shoulders on poles strung through rings attached to the Ark. But due either to their culpable ignorance, or just not bothering to care, these Levites put the Ark in a cart being pulled by oxen. And when the oxen stumbled, and the Ark tottered, Uzzah reached out reflexively to steady it—and was instantly stricken dead by God.  The point was, this tottering never would have happened if the Levites had only done what God had previously said, But somehow they never got around to it, thus necessitating this hard lesson.

Also, In Bamidbar/Numbers chapter four, especially 4:17-20 we read that the Kohathites, who were charged with moving the furniture of the Tabernacle were not allowed to even LOOK at the holy things lest they be smitten by God. They could only go in and get these things after the priests had first covered them up! Here in the passage about Uzzah and also about the Kohathites we have in an intensified manner the stricture that holy things are to be handled a certain way by certain people, and doing otherwise is deemed disrespectful.

Ladies and gentlemen. A golden altar cross might make a dandy putter, but I don’t suggest it. Neither do I suggest your instituting your own ad hoc Roman Catholic Mass or learning to blow the shofar as a way to call your group together or to indicate how excited you are. We need to use other people’s holy things under the full awareness that these are other people’s holy things. To not bother taking note of their custody of the use of these items seems to me careless, and even, to speak theologically, a trifle icky.

So I admit to being cranky. But even cranky people are sometimes right. I hope this is one of those days for me.

I hope some day soon Obadiah ben Clem will see things that way too, and I hope that I won’t have to worry so much about what normal Jewish people will see and hear when they visit one of our conferences.

One can only hope.


8 comments on “Even Cranky People are Right Sometimes: A Word About Messianic Jewish Conferences”

  1. You and I are most definitely on the same page. It saddens and frustrates me that Gentiles feel they must 'make themselves Jewish" to fit in. They don't realize the effect their actions, no matter how well meant, have on the rest of us.

  2. Something for every Gentile: Don't be Jewish (attire) and don't not be Jewish (shofar).

    It's ok to snack on the pagan sacrifice as long as you just think it's a cracker (1 Cor.10:27,28).

    And this Gentile Christian agrees at least with - "come as you are" (1Cor.7:17). So far, by the grace of God, I'm staying out of the shadows (Heb.8:5,6; Heb.10:19,20). In the gracious freedom within the dimension of the big kehunnah (the Melchizedec priesthood of Jesus Christ), I may be able to share the solution to your shofar dilemma:

    Shofar out of the shadows...

    Hope you have a stress free conference; I'm pretty certain that I won't be there!

  3. Well (and, may I say, timely) said! I wish such shenanigains were limited to conferences where the audience (and damage) was limited.

    Recently, was asked to pray at a National Day of Prayer ceremony. Coming up to the event in a previous year, women wearing taleism were marching through the streets of downtown happily blowing their shofars. Based on this experience, I refused the "honor". When I explained why, I was told "That's O.K. We're the only ones who come to these anymore." I asked, "Why do you suppose that is?". That was the most polite and edifying thing I could think of at the time.

    I wish I had had your article to point to.

  4. Valid. But what if the person is Jewish? What if the person is a pastor/congregational leader/rabbi/leader/person and for whatever reason either doesn't know that it's out of context or doesn't care? Bad Jew?

    1. Far be it from me to call such a person "a bad Jew!" God forbid! However, there can be no doubt that our movement suffers from ignorance of and/or disrespect for Jewish standards of decorum and practice in countless areas, and that this neglect is not restricted to Gentiles nor to laity.

    2. Jewish education is an ongoing, desperately needed, activity - primarily for Jews. This concedes that Jews, for whatever reason, have been raised without full training in many matters, both religious and cultural. In fact there is no particular reason why Gentiles should receive a Jewish education, unless they simply want to know more about Jewish people and Jewish life.

      Many Jews reject Jewish norms - either as a way of asserting their individuality, or, sometimes as a way of rejecting traditional norms that seem incomprehensible, unattainable, or foreign to the daily life of many - if not most - Jews.

      Also, there is a serious misunderstanding of what it means to be "led by the Spirit." For many, it simply means not having to be answerable to the concerns or sensitivities of others - the presumably uninitiated. But as one teacher pointed out to a classroom in which I happened to be seated, prophetic people, though often given great leeway as those who are not governed in the presence of clear authorities, ought to be the most orderly of all people, since they are (or claim to be) speaking on behalf of the Divine voice.

      In the wilderness, each person did whatever seemed right in his own eyes. But our people were warned that, upon entering the Land, this would change. The fledgling Messianic Jewish movement is coming (sometimes kicking and screaming) into a greater maturity. This may require a level of Spiritual infusion as well as restraint such as we have not fully experienced.

      The better educated we are as Jews, the better we will be able to support, encourage, and educate our very dear and well-loved non-Jewish friends and participants.

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