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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Larsen

A Christian Chats with a Jewish Rabbi


 

I took on my The Year I Read the Bible with the goal of learning.  Learn more about God, about the Bible, about my faith. The more I read the books in the Old Testament, the more I realized how much I still didn’t know. Like many Christians, I lean more heavily to the New Testament – the part where Jesus comes, and I’d neglected digging into the Old Testament in my adult years.


What Christians call the Old Testament is the Jewish Bible: The Hebrew Bible.  The books are in a different order than ours, but for the most part, it’s the same content. The Hebrew Bible is broken up into three parts:


·        The Torah (Hebrew translation: “law” or “instruction”): The Torah is made up of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

·        The Nevi’im (meaning “Prophets” in Hebrew):  This section can be broken down into two key parts: the Former Prophets (books such as Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and the Latter Prophets (made up of the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel).

·        The Ketuvim (meaning “writings” in Hebrew): This section contains 11 books across a variety of literary genres and styles, from history to poetic verse. The poetic books of the Ketuvim are the books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job focusing on wisdom and commitment to God, as well as the prophecy of Daniel, and the history books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles.


Thank you to the article, The Tanakh Explained: The Hebrew Bible vs. The Christian Bible on the website alabastorco.com for the help!


When you want to learn, often you seek out experts willing to share their knowledge. Who else would be well-versed in helping me translate ancient writings and meanings than a person born and raised in the Jewish faith? I needed to talk to a Jew! Fortunately, I have a Jewish friend and asked her for help. But I think I made her nervous that she wasn’t up for the challenge, although I’m sure she would’ve been.  So instead, she talked to her rabbi and told him about my Bible In a Year challenge and the blogs I’m writing. She asked if he would speak to me, and he generously agreed.


So, in the middle of January, 2024 I placed a call to Rabbi Weissman. We had a delightful chat. He was warm and friendly, interested in answering my questions, and had a great way of explaining what I wanted to know. I could tell he was a loving and devoted man, and we both agreed that we weren’t trying to convert each other to our own beliefs. This was just an open fact-finding conversation. This blog will relate some of the topics that you might find interesting. I’m including the rabbi’s answers as he gave them, as closely as I can.


Caveat: if anything I’ve recounted from our conversation is inaccurate information, it is 100% my interpretation of the explanation, and 100% NOT Rabbi Weissman’s explanation that is at fault.


How the Jewish religion is organized in modern times:   Just as the Christian religion has organized into many different denominations based on nuances of the faith, the same could be said for the Judaism. There are three major Jewish “denominations”:

·        Orthodox: this is the most traditional grouping of the Jewish faith. They adhere to the original understanding of the Jewish law as documented in the Torah and interpreted by rabbis over the centuries. Currently, 10% of all Jews are Orthodox.

·        Conservative: represents a midpoint on the spectrum between orthodox and reform. They’ve loosened up the strict rules in the Torah on some subjects but kept them in others. 18% of all Jews are Conservative.

·        Reform: the most liberal and largest of all the denominations, about 35% of Jews identify as reform. The rabbi is part of the Reform denomination. The ethics of the Jewish tradition are more important, and often take the place of ancient law. They seek to adapt Jewish tradition to modern sensibilities and sees itself as politically progressive and social justice-oriented while emphasizing personal choice in matters of ritual observance.


·        NOTE: The Messianic Jews denomination is outside the mainstream. Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah. They also believe that to follow Jesus you have to be Jewish just like the early disciples were in the Acts of the Apostles.


How the Jewish faith views the Bible: “The modern Reform Jewish take is that the Bible is a God-inspired work. Parts of the Bible are specific to the social and historic time the Bible was written in, the ancient times.  However, some parts of the Torah have eternal value and apply to modern Jews. The faith is based on the many learnings that have eternal value.

Here’s an example of a Bible law that is seen from a modern lens now: modern man has become more sophisticated and sensitized to moral issues. Example: homosexuality – the Torah forbids it.  But the modern take is that people are all made differently, all in God’s likeness and we are all God’s children. If you are a good person leading a good life as described in the Jewish Bible, it doesn’t matter that you happen to be homosexual.”


How the Jewish faith views other religions, such as Christianity: “There is a place for all righteous people in God’s world. No one has an exclusive hold on truth. We are all just part of one ultimate truth. People who faithfully follow another faith and worship a god besides our God, as long as they’re good people, it’s not up to me to question their beliefs.  You are a Christian. I don’t believe the same things that you do because I’m Jewish. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not a good person, and that doesn’t mean that you’re not a part of God’s kingdom.


An exception would be if someone’s religion requires them to use their faith as a weapon of hate. That is an abomination against God.”


How the Jewish faith views animal sacrifices as a way to earn God’s forgiveness as detailed in the Torah: “In the Reform denomination, we have evolved our practices and beliefs as our world has evolved. Now, “Mitzvah” has replaced animal sacrifice.  Mitzvah means doing a good deed or fulfilling a commandment.  It’s not what you think that counts, it’s what you do that counts. It’s seen as a commandment from God to be performed as a religious duty.  A mitzvah is often associated with doing an act of kindness or charity. It’s a way to connect with others and make a positive impact on the world around us.  God is out there for us to experience.  When we do a good deed (comfort, donate to a charity, feed the poor, etc) we experience God in the actions. “God is Love” is the best definition.  God wants us to lead good lives. This pleases him.”


How the Jewish faith views what happens to believers after death: “Not all Jews believe in life after death. I believe that the soul survives, but I don’t know in what form.  A person’s essence may continue to exist, but not in a physical form. Some Jews believe in reincarnation.  Humans have a very vivid imagination and they dreamed up a place called heaven.  In truth, no one knows.  In general, the Jewish faith does not believe in heaven and hell, or life after death.”


How the Jewish faith views Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah: . . .


I’m going to end this blog right … there … as a cliffhanger till next time!  Of course, this is the exact point where Jews and Christians have opposite points of view. Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah and Jews believe he is not.  But why do they not believe it? Stay tuned for next week’s blog when we will discuss this topic!


Prayer: God, I thank you for Rabbi Weissman, the faithful Jewish rabbi who educated me so well on the faith of your chosen people. I thank you that despite the differences in belief between Christians and Jews, we can have logical and calm discussions and learn from each other. Please help Christians to respect our Jewish friends despite our differences, knowing that we are all part of the same family.  Amen.



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