Jewish and Historical Foundations for Post-Holocaust Messianic Soteriology

[1]

Introduction

Soteriology - literally, “the study of salvation” - is a branch within the corpus of Christian systematic theology dealing with the work of the triune God in bringing creation, and especially humans, to enjoy the divine purpose for existence. More specifically, “objective” soteriology speaks of the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Christ in relation to human salvation. In addition, “subjective” soteriology (the work of the Spirit in the application of Christ’s salvation) deals with the process whereby individuals are brought to God’s saving goals. Topics generally covered include election, calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, conversion, justification, sanctification and glorification.[2] According to another definition, soteriology includes the purpose or plan of God in reference to the salvation of man; the person and work of the Redeemer; the application of the redemption of Christ to the people of God in their regeneration, justification, and sanctification; and the means of grace.[3]

If somebody calls him- or herself a “Messianic Jew,” a “Hebrew Christian” or anything similar, it immediately entails a certain responsibility to identify with the Jewish people. If we talk about “messianic” theology, we automatically presuppose that this theology is related to the Jewish people.

Theology has been always expressed within a cultural, historic and religious context that, to a certain degree, determines the expression of the idea found in the Bible. Additionally, almost no European theologian today would deny that God is working within history and culture. Hence, messianic theology in general and messianic soteriology in particular, while being based on the Bible, cannot be developed without considering the modern Jewish context in which we are living. It cannot be expressed simply in a traditional “Christian” or even “biblical” way without considering the Jewish worldview. This is especially true in a case where it is even more urgent to communicate that soteriology with those who do not believe in Yeshua than it is with those who do.

To a greater or lesser degree, most of the Jewish believers and theologians in Europe (and other countries) represent the Christian denomination(s) from which they come or with which they sympathise. Therefore, it is clear that the messianic theological discussion concerning soteriology will more or less represent the discussion between different Christian views. Such discussions having been taking place among Christian theologians almost since the beginning of Christianity and have been described in many books and journals. The study of the background to soteriology from the viewpoint of modern Jewish history and religious/philosophical ideas has typically not been included in Christian theological discussions. These backgrounds, however, play a very significant role in formulating our relevant Messianic Jewish theology and in communicating our theological ideas to our fellow Jewish people.[4] Therefore, this study is attempting to bridge the gap to some extend by providing some Jewish background that could be foundational in developing biblically based and cultural-historically relevant messianic soteriology in post-Holocaust Europe.

In doing so, we will leave the discussion of the messiahship of Jesus and its apologetic out of this study due to the differing emphasis of this paper and the abundance of existing resources on messianic apologetics.

Reaction to the Holocaust

According to Jewish thinking, the Holocaust, like nothing else, divided the history of the Jewish people into two phases – pre-Holocaust and post-Holocaust. This tragic event altered Jewish philosophy and worldview forever. The major tendencies among Jewish thinkers in their understanding of the Holocaust were (1) “God is dead” (e.g. Rabbi Richard Rubinstein) [5] and (2) creation of the state of Israel.

With humiliation and tragedy comes a sense of abandonment, a diminished hope in the power of God to act on our behalf. For many, the Holocaust killed this hope entirely. In formulating messianic soteriology, we must deal with the tragedy and disappointment of the Jewish people while showing that Yeshua brings hope even to those who are lost and to those who are upset with God.

Establishment of the state of Israel

The establishment of the state of Israel is probably the most important event in Jewish post-Holocaust history. In it, the longing of the Jewish people to have their country became reality. Millions of Jewish people have immigrated there since 1948. After the state of Israel was created, it immediately became the focal point of Jewish identity. No matter what country Jewish people live in, they primarily consider Israel to be “their” country and place of “refuge” in case it is needed. The security and wellbeing of Israel is the driving desire of the Jewish people worldwide. It is seen, for example, in the prayer for Israel in the Jewish liturgy, in the way religious Jews direct their prayers toward Jerusalem and in the way secular Jews carefully follow Israel in the news.

Israel is also the center of all attention paid to the Jewish people. Israel and the Jews are bound together. Even anti-Semitism has been transformed in such a way that it is intermingled with “anti-Israelism.” Every significant event in Israel has its implications and consequences for Jews worldwide and to a certain degree determines the wellbeing of Jews in the Diaspora.

Therefore, in articulating our messianic soteriology, we must include modern Israel as evidence of God’s faithful dealings with the Jewish people and as one more step in the preparation for the messiah’s arrival.

Anti-Semitism

The rising anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli tendencies and sentiments in even the “western” countries and particularly in Europe over the past few decades have highlighted the Jewish people’s isolation and strengthened their “victim-feeling,” developed over the course of their entire history. The Jewish people feel very strongly that there is no certainty that what happened in Nazi Germany will not be repeated. As a result, Jewish survival has achieved a deep new significance. Jews have concluded that survival has become God’s command for the Jewish people and that they must make every effort to ensure it.

Thus, messianic soteriology must include the survival of the Jewish people.

Assimilation

Jews have always insisted on being and remaining Jewish and have come to repeat a familiar statement ever more frequently: “I was born a Jew, and I will die a Jew.” This attitude has resulted in Jewish people opposing anything that even remotely seemed to threaten their survival and identity. In recent times, unfortunately, the Jews’ worst enemy has been their own apathy about their spiritual heritage.[6] In Europe, assimilation, attempts to be like everybody else, is often the reaction to anti-Semitism and the danger of being Jewish within some European contexts.[7] Correspondingly, concerned Jews have intensified the attack on assimilation and the factors contributing to it. In the light of history, a Jewish person simply cannot consider anything as an option that even remotely contributes to the breakdown of Judaism.

In this context, messianic soteriology should clearly mention the important role of the Jewish people in the divine plan of the salvation of the world.

Relationship between Jews and the Church

Another realm of history from which Jewish antagonism to Yeshua the Messiah arises is the historical relationship between the Church and the Synagogue.

Unfortunately, many of the persecutions of the Jewish people have taken place in Jesus’ name. Strong anti-Jewish sentiment has persisted in “Christian” circles even until now.[8]

It is not surprising that the Jewish response has been to assume that Christians are the enemies of the Jews; and the latter, as a result, have strongly distanced themselves from Christianity.[9] Thus, much of Jewish theology portrays the Jews as God’s people and does not take the church into account at all. Although we can see growing interest to the Jewish Jesus among some Jewish scholars,[10] the best common Jewish attitude toward Jesus is that Jesus can be good for Gentiles but not for the Jewish people.[11] This idea reaches its pinnacle in Two-Covenant Theology, which emphasizes that Jews are automatically already with the Father through the Mosaic covenant.[12]

The proper response of messianic soteriology to this is to elevate Jesus as the Jewish messiah and the “King of the Jews.”

European political background[13]

Liberalism

Liberalism, with its core values of liberty and equal rights, has always been attractive to the Jewish people in Europe and the rest of the “western” world, as historically, they as Jews have suffered much oppression and discrimination.[14] The fundamental elements of contemporary European society have liberal roots, and most Jews in Europe feel positive about it.

Democracy

Similarly to liberalism, Jewish people have historically welcomed democracy as means for them to gain a proper and equal place within society.[15] Democracy grants the Jewish people the rights they have been missing for the majority of the time they have been in the dispersion. Nevertheless, while enjoying positive political outcomes and acknowledging biblical values such as equality and freedom, most conservative Jewish religious leaders recognise the incompatibility of the democratic political system with the Bible.

Totalitarianism

Many of the Jewish people in Eastern Europe (particularly so-called “Russian Jews”) have experienced and grown up in the totalitarian political system of the Soviet Union and other countries of the “Soviet Bloc.”[16] Most did not like the system and suffered from the anti-Semitism that was an essential component of the system’s ideology and practice. At the same time, this worldview has been deeply embedded within them from childhood, and they can, with some exceptions, hardly think differently. Among the Russian Jews, it is also supported in the “Russian” tendency of longing for a “good Tsar.” This subsection of the Jewish people is hence more open to a theocratic model of society.

Socialism/Communism

Due to the same reasons connected with liberalism and democracy, namely, a longing for an equal and free place within society, socialism (together with its “higher” form – communism) has been also attractive to the Jewish people, promising an access to the fruits of common labour for the economically segregated Jews.[17] Therefore, it is not surprising to see many Jewish names among the leaders and pioneers who have developed and implemented these theories. It is also interesting evidence of the Jewish longing for a community lifestyle, having its roots in the Bible and in the creation of the Jewish nation as one people.

In consideration of the Jewish response to the political systems within Europe after the Holocaust, messianic soteriology should include a description of the messiah’s rule: the good and just Ruler in a community of equal rights and justice.

European religious and confessional pluralism

Jewish religious and philosophical thought has become very pluralistic in the last two centuries, especially after the Holocaust. The slow but impressive reconstruction of European Jewry in the wake of the Shoah has given rise to a renewal of Jewish religious thought that made Judaism subject to constant debate, discussion, critical review, interpretation and commentary, in which divergent views are respected and encouraged.[18] This conception of Judaism as a dynamic plurality of voices that harmonize only in their commitment to making sense of the spiritual vocation of Israel in the modern world well summarizes the legacy of modern religious Jewish thought.[19] In the European context, the main type of Judaism is Reform[20] and the pluralism of opinions is stronger than elsewhere.

Presenting a soteriology that claims to be relevant for everybody is a great challenge. Common ground is very important for this task.

Therefore, messianic soteriology must emphasize that Yeshua the Messiah is precisely what makes sense of the spiritual vocation of Israel.

Worldwide instability

Energy and food shortages, environmental pollution, political corruption, increased crime, moral decay, international terrorism, world tensions, tensions in the Middle East, increased Arab terrorism, the threat against Israel’s national existence, Zionism equated with racism, rising anti-semitism, etc., have all been alarming the Jewish people worldwide in this post-Holocaust time. At the same time, however, and possibly also due to these turbulences, many Jewish people have expressed a growing spiritual hunger, a searching for God.[21]

Messianic soteriology can respond to these needs by stating that through the messiah, God can be found, granting safety and spiritual fullness.

Postmodern world

We live in a postmodern world, and postmodernism[22] is fuelled by authenticity, acceptance, love, emotional health, pragmatism (whatever works), novelty (new is better than true), and the concepts that feeling/experiencing is believing and the journey is better than the destination.[23] Such views of history do not have purpose and have no possible end result.

In these circumstances, messianic soteriology must present the Bible as the prophetic Word of God that reveals purpose in the movements of history (particularly in regard to the Jewish people), with an end result that God definitely has in mind.

Jewish theological views

The preeminent task assumed by modern Jewish religious thought has been to rearticulate and even radically reevaluate the theological presuppositions of Judaism in the light of the modern, secular experience.

For the majority of contemporary Jewish theologians, the central theme is the defense of traditional theism. This is the doctrine of God as both transcendent and immanent in the universe, involved in all its processes, but also beyond the universe.[24]

Many Jewish theologians have followed Kant and Protestant theologians in declaring that the truth of God’s existence cannot be determined by rational proofs, as in medieval theology, but that it is to be accepted through mystical intuition, tradition, or the existentialist “leap of faith.” However, some important Jewish scholars have elevated obeying God’s will revealed in the Torah while treating religious ecstasy with suspicion.[25]

Some prominent Jewish theologians, opposed to liberal views, emphasize man’s evil nature and his need for the forgiveness and mercy of God.[26]

Heir to the biblical image of knowledge, modern Jewish thought seeks to come to terms with modern conceptions of truth and meaning.[27] In this respect, of course, it is basically similar to modern religious thought in general.[28] However, it has a certain specific; namely, modern Jewish thought has often been guided by an apologetic motive, defending the existence and importance of the Jewish people.[29]

Modern Jewish thought in Europe has thus been charged with the task not only of explaining Judaism to non-Jews and to Jews estranged from the sources of their tradition, but also with re-thinking some of the fundamental concepts of the tradition that bear on the nature of the Jews as a people: covenant, election, exile (diaspora), the messiah and the promise of national redemption—in general, the meaning of Jewish community, history, and destiny. These questions gained a unique urgency in the mid-twentieth century with the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.[30]

Messianic soteriology is thus destined to respond in appropriate measure to these questions while still keeping its overarching theme of Jewish apologetics.

Continuous presence of messianic expectations

Messianic expectations, while differing in form and expression, have always remained present within Jewish thought. This is true not only of the Rabbinic but also of the general Jewish mindset. The drastic nature of our times has caused some Jewish people to hope for a supernatural solution. One rabbi expressed it this way: “History is rushing to a close. God must intervene as He did in the time of Moses. This is the time when Messiah will come. He might even come tomorrow.[31] Those participating regularly or occasionally in Synagogue prayers or using Siddur are encountered with the prayers including waiting for the messiah to come and rescue Israel and the Jewish people. For those secular Jews who are not familiar with the Jewish liturgy and prayers, the messianic idea is taking the form of an expectation of release from suffering and of personal “experience of God” (whatever they understand by this word). Messianic hopes and longings have become intermingled with a desire for a more personal experience of God and a search for answers to the questions life possess.[32]

The conclusion left to draw is that messianic soteriology must emphasize that Yeshua is the expected messiah, who answers the mentioned needs, though in His way and in His time.

Salvation in Jewish religious thought

General snapshots of rabbinic views

Due to the abundance of available studies on the Jewish religious take on salvation in the Talmud and other rabbinic sources (a sort of “rabbinic soteriology”) and the space limitations of this study, we are going to take some basic snapshots that emphasize the major highlights of the “soteriology” of religious Jews.

According to the commonly held Jewish view, God’s gracious love is the only means for salvation, or participation in the world to come,[33] while no certainty or assurance of a settled and secure relationship with God can usually be found in Jewish religious sources.[34]

“Salvation” is commonly understood in Jewish thought as primarily “national” and not as “individual.” The following are among the Jewish attributes of “salvation”:

-          Re-gathering of the Jewish people in Israel

-          Repentance and renewal of the Jewish people as a whole

-          Messiah’s reign in the midst of the Jewish people

-          Jewish people living righteously according to the Torah

-          Peace for the Jewish people and for the entire world

-          Gentiles worshiping the God of Israel and the messiah

It is important to mention here that “salvation” in the Jewish thought is not a “find-heaven-avoid-hell” message. The same is the case with modern western culture.

Liturgy as the “Folk Doctrine”

Liturgy determines the worldview and mindset of those who pray and thus presents a very important consideration. Even many non-clergy Jewish people have some encounters with the Jewish prayers that could to some extent be considered as Jewish “folk doctrine.”[35] Let us now take some basic snapshots from main Jewish prayers as being the sources of “folk doctrine.”

The Mourner’s Kaddish, the prayer that is essential to the Jewish man, expresses hope in and longing for the future redemption and even hope in resurrection of the dead.[36]

Lekhah Dodi, a popular Hebrew-language Jewish liturgical song recited on Fridays at dusk, usually at sundown, in synagogue to welcome Shabbat prior to the Maariv (evening services), connects hope with the coming of the messiah and the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem.[37]

The Amidah, the main Jewish prayer, encompasses much of the Jewish soteriological perspective, emphasizing God’s grace and promise of the messiah, God’s return to Zion, resurrection of the dead, and restoration of Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple, peace, abundance and true worship.[38]

These are just some examples of the concepts that span the entire Jewish liturgy.[39]

All the abovementioned concepts within rabbinic and liturgical soteriological thought, though not being absolutely exclusive, represent the major highlights of the Jewish religious take on soteriology today. It is an imperative to deal with them in developing contemporary messianic soteriology within post-Holocaust Europe.

Conclusion

This study has included analysis of some contemporary Jewish historical, political, theological, and religious backgrounds that seem to be foundational in developing biblically based and cultural-historically relevant messianic soteriology in post-Holocaust Europe.

It also provides some general suggestions as to how we might take these backgrounds into consideration in carrying out the theological task facing us.

To summarize the suggestions resulting from this study, we will need the following in articulating messianic soteriology:

(1) to deal with the tragedy and disappointment of the Jewish people while showing that Yeshua brings hope even to those who are lost and to those who are upset with God;

(2) to include modern Israel as evidence of God’s faithfulness toward the Jewish people and a step in the preparation for the messiah’s arrival;

(3) to include survival of the Jewish people;

(4) to clearly mention the important role of the Jewish people in the divine plan of the salvation of the world;

(5) to elevate Jesus as the Jewish messiah and the “King of the Jews;”

(6) to include a description of the messiah’s rule as the good and just Ruler in the community of equal rights and justice;

(7) to emphasize that Yeshua the Messiah is precisely what is behind the sense of the spiritual vocation of Israel;

(8) to state that through the messiah, God can be found, granting safety and spiritual fullness; (9) to present the Bible as the prophetic Word of God that shows purpose in the movements of history (particularly in regards to the Jewish people), which lead to an end result that God definitely has in mind;

(10) to respond in appropriate measure to questions of covenant, election, exile, the meaning of Jewish community, history and destiny while keeping the overarching theme of Jewish apologetics;

(11) to emphasize that Yeshua is the expected Messiah, who meets Jewish expectations, though in His way and in His time;

(12) to emphasize that God’s gracious love is the only means for salvation;

(13) to mention the “national” aspect of salvation while considering its Jewish attributes;

(14) to express a longing for the future redemption and for the resurrection of the dead;

(15) to deal with God’s return to Zion, the resurrection of the dead, and restoration of Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple, peace, abundance and true worship.

 

The aim of this study is not to give the final and definitive outline of messianic soteriology but instead to hopefully lay part of the foundation so essential for the continuing process.

 

Vladimir Pikman is the founding Executive Director of Beit Sar Shalom, the largest Jewish-messianic ministry in Germany, and the Rabbi of the messianic congregation in Berlin. He holds Master of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science from the Ukrainian National University in Kiev and a Master of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Vladimir is presently working on his PhD in New Testament Exegesis at the University of Dortmund (Germany).


[1] It is a paper submitted to the First European Messianic Theological Symposium, Berlin, 23-25 February 2011

[2] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 108.

[3] Charles Hodge and Edward N. Gross, Systematic Theology, Abridged ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 1997), 1:32.

[4] Overall, our message must be set within the authentic Jewish context. It must have continuity with Jewish culture. It must affirm and confirm God’s special covenant with Israel, have meaning for the Jewish community, communicate a clear vision of the calling of the nation of Israel and have timely relevance and compassion. It must challenge our people. It must also amaze and astound and give our people a vision for their prophetic destiny. Rachel Wolf, "What Is Our Message?," in Borough Park Symposium (New York: 2007), 13.

[5] Edward Feld, in exploring the faith consequences of the Holocaust, says: “We are past waiting for intervention from outside, for a glorious end-time that will transform existence, Our disappointment will no longer bear such a leap of faith, If the God we wanted so much did not appear when our need was so desperate, what use would that God be to us now? … The Messiah was buried at Auschwitz.”Edward Feld, The Spirit of Renewal: Finding Faith after the Holocaust (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Pub., 1994), 138, 139.

[6] The integration of the Jews in the modern nation state and culture that was achieved despite persistent opposition led to a profound restructuring of Jewish life, both organizationally and culturally. The Jews were no longer under the obligatory rule of the rabbis and the Torah as they were in medieval times. In acquiring the political identity and culture of the “non-Jewish” secular society in which they lived, the Jews tended to lose much of their own distinctive culture, e.g., knowledge of Hebrew and the sacred texts of the tradition. Moreover, for many, the nation of Israel’s covenantal relationship to God as a Chosen People—presently in exile but piously awaiting God’s messiah and restoration to the Promised Land—was no longer self-evident and unambiguous. Paul Mendes-Flohr, "Judaism, Philosophy and Theology of, in Modern Times in Europe," in The Encyclopaedia of Judaism, ed. Jacob Neusner, Alan J. Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 2:736.

[7] The problem is not just in the quality of Jewish life but the actual decrease in the numbers of Jews across the world. The problem is the assimilation – the process by which Jews lose their distinctive Jewish identity through intermarriage with Gentiles and neglect of religious observance. Statistics show that out of the official 14 million Jews worldwide, less than one fourth attend synagogue once a week, and forty percent are relatively disengaged from Jewish life. Patrice Fischer, "The Problem of Assimilation in America," in The Enduring Paradox: Exploratory Essays in Messianic Judaism, ed. John Fischer (Baltimore, MD: Lederer/Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2000), 125.

[8] Although the situation has changed after the Holocaust and Christianity in some European countries (e.g. Germany, Austria) has become more sensitive toward the Jewish people, the presence of anti-Jewish sentiment is still evident in these places.

[9] This Jewish attitude even goes to the extreme, e.g., since Hitler came from a “Christian” country, which he then used as the instrument for his purposes, his program is viewed by Jews as connected with Christianity’s relationship to Judaism.

[10] We can also see growth in the Jewish interest in Jesus, with one example coming from academic circles; important Jewish scholars, such as David Flusser and Pinchas Lapide, have spoken and written very positively about Jesus.

[11] The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Ben-Maimon, or “Maimonides”, 1135-1204) and his followers concluded that Jesus and Mohammed had brought many Gentiles to a true though imperfect faith in the God of Israel.

[12] Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) developed this into Two-Covenant Theology, which says that Christians are saved and come to the Father (John 14:6) through Jesus and his New Covenant, but Jews do not need him or it because they are already with the Father through the Mosaic Covenant. In an attempt to honor Jewish sensibilities, especially since the Holocaust, some Christian theologians, such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Rosemary Reuther, have bought into Two-Covenant Theology and use it as an excuse not to evangelize among Jews. David Stern, "The People of God, the Promises of God and the Land of Israel," in The Enduring Paradox: Exploratory Essays in Messianic Judaism, ed. John Fischer (Baltimore, MD: Lederer/Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2000), 80.

[13] Many of political terminological definitions below are taken from the corresponding articles at www.wikipedia.com.

[14] Liberalistic tendencies were always welcomed by the Jewish people; Jewish people often became leaders of liberalistic movements.

[15] Democracy is a political form of government in which governing power is derived from the people. The term comes from the Greek: δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) – "rule of the people." Although there is no specific, universally accepted definition of 'democracy', equality and freedom have been identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times. These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to power.

[16] One of the first to use the term "totalitarianism" in the English language was Austrian writer Franz Borkenau in his 1938 book The Communist International, in which he commented that it united the Soviet and German dictatorships more than divided them. Although there are also some other words used at times to designate these political systems, political scientists Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski were primarily responsible for expanding the usage of the term in university social science and professional research, reformulating it as a paradigm for the communist Soviet Union as well as fascist regimes.

[17] Socialism is an economic and political theory advocating public or common ownership and cooperative management of the means of production and allocation of resources.

[18] Lithuanian-born Emmanuel Levinas (1905–1995), in France, was one of the most important scholars to emphasize this.

[19] Mendes-Flohr, 2:755.

[20] There are usually three major types of Judaism mentioned: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. But even these three groups can each be divided into a number of different religious and philosophical streams. Reform Judaism, called Liberal or Progressive Judaism in many countries, defines Judaism as a religion rather than as a race or culture, rejects most of the ritual and ceremonial laws of the Torah while observing moral laws and emphasizes the ethical call of the prophets. Reform Judaism has developed an egalitarian prayer service in the vernacular (alongside Hebrew in many cases) and emphasizes a personal connection to Jewish tradition. Although it is sometimes called “Orthodox,” “Conservative” or something similar by those belonging to these congregations, this does not change the fact that, according to their worldview, they follow the Reform Judaism.

[21] Dr. Velvel Greene, a Jewish scientist, reflected on this tendency: “The Jewish nature and soul needs to know God; it must be told about God. Our souls are looking for God and trying to know God, and no one has told them.” John Fischer, "Why Messianic Judaism?" in The Enduring Paradox: Exploratory Essays in Messianic Judaism, ed. John Fischer (Baltimore, MD: Lederer/Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2000), 1.

[22] Postmodernism is a movement away from the viewpoint of modernism. More specifically, it is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the problematization of objective truth and inherent suspicion towards global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. It involves the belief that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs, as they are subject to change inherent to time and place.

[23] Wolf, 16.

[24] Theism involves the rejection of the following doctrines as untrue: deism – God is only wholly immanent; polytheism – there are many gods; dualism – there are two gods, one good, the other evil; atheism – there is no God; and agnosticism – man by his nature cannot know whether or not there is a God.

[25] J. B. Soloveitchik, a Jewish theologian who was a mentor to more than a generation of Orthodox rabbis, was responsible for defending the sober, painstaking, unemotional approach typical of halakhic Judaism. The halakhic man sees his greatest good and highest privilege as obeying God’s will as it is revealed in Jewish law. Religious ecstasy is viewed with a degree of suspicion and as supererogatory.

[26] A. J. Heschel, one of the most prominent Jewish theologians, with worldwide influence, is opposed to the liberal theology that avows that man is capable of raising himself spiritually by his own unaided efforts. He roundly declares that an overoptimistic view of man’s potential is thoroughly unbiblical, and the nature of man’s heart is evil from his youth, asserting that even the saintliest of men is tainted by sin, and God alone gives man the power to survive in the struggle. Heschel also stresses a sense of wonder as an essential ingredient to religious life.

[27] Asserting the epistemological preeminence of reason and autonomous judgment and the dignity of a this-worldly happiness, the modern image of knowledge is said to be inherently antagonistic to the biblical image of knowledge, grounded as it is in the concepts of revealed truth, sacred scriptures, and an eschatological vision of human destiny. Mendes-Flohr, 2:735.

[28] There are, however, specifics of the Jewish experience in modern Europe that determine the agenda and peculiar inflections of modern Jewish thought. It should, therefore, be recalled that Jews first encountered the modern world during the protracted struggle in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe to attain political emancipation. This struggle was not merely a legal process but engaged Europe in an intense and wide-ranging debate assessing Judaism’s eligibility to participate in the modern world. Over the course of this two centuries-long debate, Jews became, to say the least, exceedingly sensitive to the prevailing conceptions of Judaism in European culture.

[29] Judaism’s defensive posture was also prompted by the rise of modern, political and racial anti-Semitism that, to the dismay of many, was not confined to the mob but gained vocal support from more than a few intellectuals.

[30] Mendes-Flohr, 2:736.

[31] Fischer, "Why Messianic Judaism?," 2.

[32] One Rabbi described this phenomenon: “We are leaving in an age where people want to touch, to approach and to feel God.”Ibid.

[33] Orthodox scholar Lapide: “It is evident to all Masters of the Talmud that salvation, or participation in the coming world, as it is called in Hebrew, can be attained only through God’s gracious love.” Pinchas Lapide and Peter Stuhlmacher, Paul, Rabbi and Apostle (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Pub. House, 1984), 39.

[34] A weeping Yohanan ben Zakkai could say on his deathbed: “Moreover, two roads lie before me, the road to Gan Eden (Paradise) and the road to Gehinnom (Hell), and I do not know on which road I am to be taken – shall I not weep?” (Berachot 28b).

[35] Somebody can say that many Jews participate in the prayers without understanding what meant there. Although this is true in many cases, the major elements are still communicated in one way or another through rabbis or other Jewish sources.

[36] Cf. “May He establish His kingdom during your lifetime and during your days and during the lifetimes of all the House of Israel, speedily and very soon! … May there be abundant peace from heaven for us and for all His people Israel. … May He who makes peace in His high places grant peace for us and for all Israel.”

[37] Cf. “Shake yourself free, rise from the dust. Dress in your garments of splendour, my people. By the hand of Jesse’s son, of Bethlehem, Redemption draws near to my soul. … Rouse yourselves! Rouse yourselves! Your light is coming, rise up and shine. Awaken! … All my afflicted people will find shelter within you and the city shall be rebuilt on her hill. … Your despoilers will become spoiled, Far away shall be any who would devour you, Your God will rejoice in you, as a groom rejoices in a bride. … To your left and your right you will burst forth, And God will revere you by the hand of a child of Perez, We will rejoice and sing happily.”

[38] Cf. In part called “Patriarchs” – “Who (God) … brings a Redeemer to their children’s children, for His name’s sake, with love.”

In part called “God’s might” – “the Resuscitator of the dead are You, able to save.” “He … resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy.” “O King who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout.” “And You are faithful to resuscitate the dead.”

In part called “Holiness of God’s name” – “from Your place, our King, You will appear and reign over us, for we await You.”

In part called “Holiness of the day” – “The people that sanctifies Shabbat – they will all be satisfied and delighted from your goodness.” “Our God … satisfy us from your goodness and gladden us with Your salvation, and purify our hearts to serve You sincerely. … Grant us Your holy Sabbath as a heritage.”

In part called “Temple Services” – “may our eyes behold Your return to Zion in compassion. Blessed are You, HaShem, Who restores His presence to Zion.”

In Conclusion – “May it be Your will … that the Holy Temple be rebuild, speedily in our days. Grant us our share in Your Torah, and may we serve You there with reverence … Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to HaShem …”

[39] Among others the necessity of the divine grace and mercy is continuously emphasised, e.g., in Shacharit – “Sovereign of all worlds! Not because of our righteous acts do we lay our supplications before you, but because of you abundant mercies.” Minchah – “Our Father, our King, be gracious to us and answer us, for we have no good works of our own; deal with us in graciousness and loving kindness, and save us.” Maariv – Ps 51, which clearly expresses our need to rely on God, not on ourselves, because we are sinners.

 
MJTI School of Jewish Studies
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