Teaching the Gospel in an Orthodox Synagogue

  1. The Question
  2. The Answer
  3. The Upshot

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I. The Question

The question as asked is both insightful and inciteful. A voicemail was sent to B’nai Israel from a female, who left her complaint, but not her name, phone, or e-mail. Apparently following Rambam, Deot, 6, she listed the fact that we are teaching “The Gospels” after Yoreh Deah [the Jewish Kosher laws]. The not so learned lady “knowingly” reminded me that the Gospel has, to her uninformed view, nothing to do with Judaism and should not be so listed or addressed at an Orthodox synagogue.

I was instructed to change the course’s title and that is the “good news.”

II. The Answer

  1. Tractate bAvoda Zara 43b explicitly authorizes the teaching of idolatry in “order to understand and to teach.”
  2. One has a right to say that we would rather not deal with the issue; one might claim that it is an unwise thing to do; and might even say that the topic is strange and inappropriate in our opinion and experience. If the Oral Torah allows the investigation, we may restrict ourselves on policy grounds, but we may not say that the study violates Jewish law. Because it does not.
  3. Rabbi Moses D. Tendler of YU said in my presence that we hide from heresy at our peril. If we do not address challenges inside Jewish walls, we leave Jews uninformed and vulnerable outside of Jewish walls.
  4. The Gospel according to the Jews, or the Jewish response to the Christian challenge, is the focus of the sessions. Just as babies are inoculated with a disease in order to combat the disease, the wise Jew would do well to understand the religious alternatives that for better or worse are part of our American Jewish reality.
  5. In Mark’s Gospel we learn:
  • The original Gospel was a teaching of Jesus to repent and return to God. 1:15.
  • The religion about Jesus is a new, invented, political religion that serious Jews rejected in antiquity and in modernity.
  • That the “elders” [Deuteronomy 32:7] were alive, well and teaching an Oral Torah. While the Jesus movement objected to rabbinic innovation, that heretical Jewish Messianic movement made its own innovations, (i) That the law is in heaven [against Deuteronomy 30:12] (ii) That God did not really allow for divorce, [against Deuteronomy 34:3] (iii) That Jesus is a mystery who must be believed blindly, and implied is that the authority of the Church, like the so-called Daas Torah of parochial Orthodoxy, represents the power and authority of the “man-god.” (iv) The God Who wrote Deuteronomy 4:6 saw the law as wise and rational, not so secret that sacred sages alone are invested with the authority and are dynamically endowed with the power read between the lines of the Law in order to divine its real content.
  • Jesus is seen as washing the hands for the eating of bread. (i) Jesus died at 30 CE. (ii) The washing the hands rite is post 70 CE and therefore proves the Markian claim to be fiction.
  • According to the Dead Sea Scrolls, Matthew and Mark, one immerses for the forgiveness of sin. (i) This idea is not found in the Judaism of Torah (ii) This doctrine assumes that all sin defiles as opposed to the fact that there are only some sins that do defile. (iii) One rabbi associated with modern Orthodoxy made the undocumented claim that sin defiles and dulls the offending culprit (iv) It is by studying Christianity, its rites and its wrongs, Orthodox Jews can identify and eliminate improper borrowings, like praying to angels Shabbat night [barechuni le-shalom] and giving Hanukka presents, which represents no Jewish source but does reflect “heathen’s greetings.” (v) If it were really forbidden to study Christianity, how is it that great rabbis read its works? Was it possible that they also read — and believed — what the Oral Torah teaches, that the study of idolatry to understand and teach is allowed?
  1. Jews are exposed to other religions in the pluralist reality that is America. If the Rabbis of the early Midrash addressed the Christian challenge of late antiquity, we do the same in our time.
  2. Modern Orthodox Jews are Orthodox/covenanted and observant Jews who inhabit the secular space called “modernity.” We are bound by God’s Law, not with or by the dispositions of yesteryear. If we are bound as Tradition to what our ancestors, did and believed, Lamentations 5:7 would not have been written in the Canon; God’s Torah is divine, not Oedipal.

III. The Upshot

  1. The question

In Judaism all questions are kosher. By not leaving a name, phone number, address, or e-mail, and then giving me an order, the lady was rude. She was also ignorant. In Rambam, Deot 6:6, complaints are frontal, not anonymous, the norm in Jewish law [i.e. the canonical statute. Minhag Yisrael is not what Jews happen to do. If it were, Rabbi Dr. Joseph Soloveitchik now broke the “minhag”/custom of his Masorah/tradition by earning the Ph.D. That which I violated should have been cited, and I should first have been asked, “why did you do that?” There is a “great rabbi” in Baltimore who was formerly teaching Torah in the holy land who was called from Israel into exile in Baltimore to be a Rosh Yeshiva. This act violates Jewish law. I wonder aloud and I wonder if is allowed to ask that venerable, saintly man who is in the eye of our storm, “Why did you do that?” [see bMoed Qatan 14a, which requires permission of a bet din to leave the land of Israel].

  1. The questioner

I cannot answer the questioner directly because she did not leave a name, phone number, address, or e mail. I take direction when appropriate; I do not take orders from ignorant people who are too cowardly to be traced. To have a conversation is kosher; for a non-member to issue a directive without first asking “why did you do that?” reflects very badly on the boorish lady who, I surmise, would not be so bold regarding the Baltimorian Yeshiva Rabbi who left the Holy land.

  1. What counts as a Jewish answer

What does not count is a snide statement packaged in the sinful syntax of a question. Since the Gospel according to the Jews raises eyebrows, an answer must be forth most a Jewish answer that is…

  • Based upon Jewish sources
  • Appropriate to current realities
  • Is grounded in the search for truth
  • And respects the integrity of the sincere — as opposed to belligerent — interlocutor.

About Rabbi Alan Yuter

Rabbi Yuter is Adjunct Prof. of Hebrew Lit., Baltimore Hebrew University, and Adjunct Faculty, Fairleigh Dickenson University/Institute for Traditional Judaism. S'micha from Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Rabbi Mordecai Eliyahu. See bio for more.