Rejoinder to Rabbi Rich Nichol’s Response Paper

First I would like to acknowledge Rabbi Rich for addressing practical points that I did not develop in the paper. I want to thank him for enlarging upon what I wrote.

Rabbi Rich’s response was challenging to me at first. However, after reading and re-reading his response, I began to understand his statements and point of view. Rabbi Rich and I begin from two different perspectives, which leads to different conclusions. Rabbi Rich begins from a pastoral position that seeks practical daily application, while I seek to lay the foundation upon which these pragmatic steps can be based. These different starting points have led to several misunderstandings that I would like to clarify.

Rabbi Rich’s response addresses three areas which he designates as exegetical, hermeneutical and communal/practical. I will seek to clarify what I perceive to be misunderstandings within these three areas.

Exegetical: The first point I would like to clarify is Rabbi Rich’s objections to my conclusions drawn from Mark 10:10. He states:

I fail to see how the texts under discussion always justified the conclusions reached. Mark 10:10 [reads:] ‘When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Yeshua about this.’ He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.’

This passage in Mark is difficult to understand as it is written. The brevity of the passage contributes to its lack of clarity. As stated in the paper, this passage in Mark is more clearly understood when read in light of its parallel account in Matthew 19. While Yeshua may not have been a “posek or halakhist” when addressing his followers as Rabbi Rich points out, the discussion in both the Markan and Matthean accounts of the debate between Yeshua and the Pharisees is set in a halakhic discussion, which is indicated by the Pharisees’ question, “Is it lawful…?”

A troubling point for me here is Rabbi Rich’s comparison of my exegesis of Yeshua’s combination of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in Mark 10:6-8 to that of dispensationalist views on the Sermon on the Mount. My intent was not to make Yeshua’s words irrelevant for our current, fallen world by delegating Yeshua’s words to the past or pushing them into some future dispensation. My point was to demonstrate how Yeshua combined the two texts to draw the attention of the debate away from a halakhic discussion of Deuteronomy 24:1-3 and refocus it on ADONAI’s higher principles, which run from creation to consummation and the restoration of edenic conditions. Throughout the Apostolic Writings, Yeshua refocuses people’s questions and discussions. to the pertinent point. ADONAI’s ideal was that one man and one woman would unite through a mystical/spiritual union in a lifelong marriage berith. This is the goal, the way things were intended. The reality, however, is that people sin, marriage contracts are broken, and divorce occurs. Therefore, ADONAI in His loving-kindness and compassion regulated divorce, thereby protecting the damage inflicted on individuals, families and communities. The ideal, which was expressed at creation, points to ADONAI’s consummation of the world. Between these two book-ends of hope, is the fallen world in which we life. Yeshua’s use of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 demonstrates ADONAI’s sovereignty and the confidence that He will complete what He has begun. We live in the time between creation and consummation, where man does not live the ideal. This realty, however, does not negate the ideal. The tension between the already/not yet produces a tension that we experience while living between the two ideals.

Hermeneutical: The second clarification relates to Rabbi Rich’s reading of the paper as propagating an “absolute coherence among texts” and of cutting off rough parts to “cast them into the eschaton.” Rabbi Rich understood the paper to present an absolute coherence among the biblical texts. I regret that this concept came across in the paper. Let me address the three references to “eschaton” in the paper:

1. The first is in to Yeshua’s use of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 explained above.

2. The second is in relation to Yeshua’s words in Mark, “What God has joined together let no man separate,” where in concluding the exegetical interpretation I emphasize the pragmatic character of the interpretation. Creation and the eschaton are the bookends to the “already/not yet” which needs to be dealt with pragmatically, as exemplified in Scripture and Jewish tradition.

3. The third reference is to the context in which the teachings on divorce are found. The statement is made “His (Yeshua’s) teachings do not abolish the Torah and Prophets, but rather interprets them in light of the ideal established at creation, before sin, and the expected return in the eschaton.” This places Yeshua’s teachings on divorce and remarriage into the canonical narrative of Creation and consummation, which then includes the whole of the Torah, writings and Prophets. The intent of the statements were not to cut Yeshua’s teaching off and throw it into the eschaton, but to deal with it in light of his teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven and the Canonical narrative.

Another misunderstanding in the area of hermeneutics, is Rabbi Rich’s the principle at the end of the paper that states, “The principles laid out above apply equally to both men and women.” This was not a concluding factual statement. It is one of the thirteen suggested guiding principles presented at the end of the paper that I felt were important for Messianic Judaism to consider when moving forward with its search for a pragmatic platform on divorce. Any Messianic Jewish view of divorce must be grounded in Scripture, traditions of both the Jewish and Christian communities, and contemporary culture and society.

Communal: Rabbi Rich accurately points out that divorce is a sad reality of modern life, the trauma of which Messianic Jewish leaders deal with repeatedly. This image does not coincide with the ideal lifelong marriage as taught in the Tanakh and by Yeshua. However, it is also nothing new. Moses was dealing with the same issue when ADONAI gave the decree in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 regulating divorce and remarriage. Divorce was also rampant during the Second Temple and Early Rabbinic periods. Contemporary Rabbis are not dealing with a new phenomenon, simply a resurgence of an old one. I have already stated that Scripture regulates the reality that not everyone recognizes ADONAI’s ways, nor walks in them. The entire point of the exegesis, references to other Second Temple literature and explanation of the debate between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. was to demonstrate that ADONAI requires our obedience, but is also pragmatic. He regulates man’s disobedience through His grace. The Tanakh does not approve or disapprove of divorce. It simply recognizes that it exists and regulates man’s actions so that the consequences of broken marriage contracts that end in divorce are limited. Yeshua, in line with the Tanakh, clearly teaches that the ideal is lifelong marriage between a man and a woman, and that breaking a marriage contract and subsequent divorce is sin. Yet it is not the unpardonable sin.

I agree with Rabbi Rich that the “on the ground” realities that Messianic Jewish Rabbis face will require deep thought on our part as to how to guide our congregants ethically and peacefully.” This thought needs to be rooted in the Scripture, enlightened by traditional interpretation, informed by communal practices such as mipnei tikkun haolam, and most importantly ADONAI’s character.

The final area I would like to address is Rabbi Rich’s statement, “I wish that she had more opportunity to deal with the actual ‘on the ground’ realties we Messianic Jewish Leaders encounter.” This clearly demonstrates our different starting points. While I agree with Rabbi Rich wholeheartedly, I was not asked to write such a paper. Here are the parameters I received for writing this paper.

This presentation should be a descriptive historical and exegetical treatment of divorce in Jewish tradition and in the Apostolic Writings. It should explore the traditional Jewish approach to the topic as developed in rabbinic halakhah, and consider both the theological and ethical dimensions of the halakhic rules and the institutional framework which emerged for the regulation of divorce (e.g., the role of the get; the role of the beit din).

This paper should also deal exegetically with the relevant texts on divorce from the Apostolic Writings which seem to impose stricter limits on divorce and remarriage. How has the Christian tradition approached these texts? What are contemporary scripture scholars saying about them? How do these texts relate to the rabbinic material dealing with the same questions? While the Hashivenu board does not want to dictate the conclusions that the presenter will reach, we would ask that the presenter at least mention the views of those who think that the exceptions to the prohibition of divorce in the Apostolic Writings are illustrative rather than exhaustive.

This presentation should not approach the matter primarily from a pastoral or pragmatic perspective, nor should it rely on anecdotal evidence. However, it should be informed by a sensibility and sensitivity that derives from a vivid consciousness of the pastoral and pragmatic challenges.

Additionally, the word limitation was 10,000 words. I believe I met the parameters of this request – except I did exceed the word limit.