We’ve just concluded the two-day celebration of Rosh HaShanah (New Year) in Israel. Even though we know the Torah calls this holiday the Feast of Trumpets and not the New Year, at the start of the holiday I still greeted our neighbors with a cheerful Shanah tovah (“good year”). But by the end of the holiday tonight my enthusiasm for this greeting had waned.
What happened? Well I sent our community’s trumpet-blowing friend Charles a “blessed feast of trumpet blowing” text, and he replied that he wouldn’t keep the feast until Wednesday, and sent a link to explain why. And rather than sharing the thoughts of another earnest but partially-informed Christian like me, he had linked to a passionate address from Rachel Elior, a well-respected professor of Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University.
If true this means that according to the word of God the dates of every Jewish holiday for the past 2000 years have been wrong! Which is the main reason the faithful priests separated from the corrupt temple practice in Jerusalem, and took the temple library with them to Qumran.
If you’re interested in the details, I highly recommend the two lectures in the video above. Prof. Elior knows how to fish the big story out of the weeds, and she speaks with the voice of a believer. And if you don’t have 1-2 hours to invest, here is a rough outline of her argument as published 14 years ago in the Jerusalem Post.
Why does any of this matter? Aren’t we in danger of getting lost in the weeds? What difference does it make which day we celebrate? Don’t most Christians celebrate Christmas on an arbitrarily-chosen date?
Elior claims that the real revolution wasn’t just changing the calendar. It was asserting human authority over the written word of God. The traditions of man taking priority over divine inspiration. The Oral Torah taking primacy over the Written Torah.
We Christians know this well from our own dark centuries of gross error, which only started to lift when fearless men 500 years ago paid with their lives to translate the scriptures into the languages of the common people. The reformation is still ongoing. And if Elior is right, rabbinic Judaism is just as much in need of such a reformation.
We bible-believers love Israel because of what we’ve learned from the written word of God, as opposed to the oral traditions of the Church. But it may be we’ve been too deferential to rabbinic authority, and we should learn to speak up about distortions. If there’s anything the Hebrew bible teaches us, it is that hesed and emet, love and truth, always walk hand in hand.
Consider the words this week of Joe Shulam, founder of the messianic congregation Roeh Israel here in Jerusalem, as he rejected the rabbinic edict not to blow trumpets on the Feast of Trumpets because it fell this year on the Shabbat:
In Jerusalem on this next Shabbat, in our congregation, we are going to blow the trumpets loud and clear. We are going to practice the clear and blessed command to blow the trumpets (shofar) with conviction and faith and blow our Shofars (Trumpets) and keep declaring war against idolatry and Baalism.
In our congregation in Jerusalem, we will always choose to be obedient to the Torah and the Word of God above all. And when there is no contradiction between Rabbinical traditions and teachings and the WORD of God, and of course the Living WORD of God, Yeshua – we will respect and keep and celebrate our rich Rabbinical traditions and teachings, and continue to give priority and superiority to God’s Word in the Torah first of all, the prophets and the wisdom literature and finally to the teachings and instructions of the Apostles.
Yet in all these things we’ll do well to keep in mind the pain that professing Christians have caused Jews over the millenia. It’s true that much of it was from the pre-reformation Church, but even Martin Luther in his old age didn’t succeed in shaking off contempt for our elder brothers.
And here’s a sad clue from the news this week of how our Jewish neighbors consequently view us: listen carefully to former prime minister Bennett after he won compensation from a a rabbi who spread the false claim that his mother Myrna is not Jewish:
During the hearing, Bennett said Mizrachi’s claim about his mother led many people to question whether she was Jewish.
“They told a complete lie and defamed my mother,” Bennett said in a quavering voice, according to Channel 12 news.
“Her entire family was destroyed in the Holocaust. Dozens of people have come to my mother in the last two years and said, ‘We didn’t know you weren’t Jewish,’” he said. “Millions of people believe these things.”
Myrna Bennett was tearful in court as she explained how she felt watching Mizrachi.
“One night I was watching television, and I saw Mizrachi say that I am a Christian,” she said. “It was so hard.”
As for our Muslim neighbors, our new coworker Ben shared this week how moved he is to see how positively they’re treated by the doctors at Hadassah Medical Center:
And it was a pleasant surprise this week to see our first financial support for surgeries come in from a donor in Dubai. I wrote to ask how he had heard of our community, and he replied that a Palestinian woman had shared a link on Twitter. Since then he’s followed up with another gift.
Also a man in Yemen wrote this week to say he’d come across the story of how Shevet Achim started on an English-language podcast. May these things be harbingers of increasing common ground to come.
Finally tonight, if you haven’t heard of the latest blessed addition to our community of volunteers, please click over and read this week’s prayer letter to meet Mark and Aishah and their two daughters:
Jonathan for Shevet Achim
“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).