Israel 2016: In Search of Hebrew Roots Judaism
There is a joke from World War II that no longer makes sense without some explanation. It is said that a foreign student at an American university wrote an essay about General Douglas MacArthur. In the early months of 1942, as MacArthur presided over a doomed defense of the Philippine Islands, he was ordered to leave his command and go to Australia, there to organize the multinational Allied force that would halt Japanese expansion in the South Pacific. At his departure, MacArthur reportedly promised the people of the Philippines and his Filipino and American troops that he would one day come back with an army to liberate them – which he did two years later. On that momentous day in 1942, though, all he could do was promise, “I shall return.”
Those were inspiring words to Americans about to lose their forward bases and their largest military force in the Far East, and who could not bear to lose with them one of the most senior officers of their Army. MacArthur’s words inspired this young foreign student as well. However, his knowledge of English being imperfect, he conducted his research in his native tongue, and therefore committed an unfortunate faux pas when he presented his paper. Standing proudly in front of his peers, the young man said, “I write about Douglas MacArthur, who said those famous words, ‘I’ll be right back!’”
What is the proper response in such a situation? If there is no offense, then laughter erupts. However, if the hearers take offense, then they respond in anger.
It may be that neither is the proper response. If the one who made the error is trying to communicate in good faith, then the audience should give grace, seek to understand the true message, and help the author overcome the error. That is the point behind King Solomon’s wise words:
Solomon’s observation is rooted in a Torah principle:
You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:14 NKJV)
Jewish sages understand that this principle refers not only to the physically deaf and blind, but also to people who cannot hear or see things clearly. Perhaps they are not present when something is said, or perhaps they do not have the language or experience to grasp the intricacies of a subject under discussion. Consider, for example, a man who is brilliant in his native language, but struggles to order a cup of coffee in English, and is laughed to scorn by those who do not realize the importance of being kind to strangers (another Torah principle).
To be honest, Jews are strangers to me, and I am a stranger to Jews. Although I identify as a Hebrew Roots follower of Messiah Yeshua, I have yet to grasp the intricacies of Judaism. The more Jews I meet and get to know, the more I begin to understand, but always what I say and do is tempered with the fear that I may give offense in some way that I had never anticipated.
That works both ways. Honest, sincere Jews who are trying to make sense of this Torah Awakening among Christians are just as fearful as I am of causing offense. And yet, if we are to understand one another, offenses must come.
Which brings us to the letter written by my Jewish Israeli friend Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz.
Eliyahu is one of a handful of Jews I know who are trying to understand us. That is why he accepted our invitation to come to the Second B’ney Yosef National Congress in Ariel, Israel. The result was an article in Breaking Israel News which Eliyahu submitted under the headline, “B’ney Yosef Declares Birth of New Nation: Brothers of Judah”.
The sensational headline heralded a very positive article about Hebrew Roots believers from every continent who had come to affirm their identity as the returning people of B’ney Yosef, the children of Joseph – also known in Scripture as the House of Ephraim (for the tribe that led that part of Israel), and in modern times as the “Lost Tribes”. Why do we affirm this? There are many reasons, beginning with the covenant YHVH made and expanded and confirmed many times with Abraham and his descendants over the millennia.
It starts with the crazy notion that since Jews and Christians proclaim allegiance to the same God, and since they revere the same Scriptures (the Tanakh, or Old Testament), and since they believe the same promises spoken by that God in those Scriptures, then maybe they have more in common than what has been supposed. That is at the heart of such commendable initiatives as the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, founded by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, and Christians United for Israel, founded by Pastor John Hagee.
What has enhanced and accelerated this process is the realization among many Christians that Yeshua of Nazareth was a Jew, that He kept Torah, and that He intended His followers to do the same. That is why so many of us have begun to keep Shabbat (Sabbath), observe the Feasts of the Lord, eat biblically clean meats, and learn and obey other aspects of Torah which the church has avoided. We are not abandoning our Messiah, but rather we seek to follow His example more closely. We realize that the church taught us to keep most of the Torah; in truth, it is only a few highly visible, and highly important, matters that we would like to see reincorporated into the lives of Yeshua’s people.
It does not take long for one who has embarked on the Torah path to realize that what Yeshua redeemed us into was not some separate creation called the church, but the ancient creation called the Commonwealth of Israel. That seems to be the plain sense of such passages in the Apostolic Writings (New Testament) as Romans 11:13-27, Ephesians 2, Galatians 3:26-29, Hebrews 8:8-11, and I Peter 2:1-11. Is that not why the apostles built their arguments on Tanakh passages such as Exodus 19:3-6; Isaiah 56:1-8; Jeremiah 11:16, 31:31-34, and Hosea 1:10-11, 2:21-23? The single greatest body of prophecy in the Bible is the restoration of the entire nation of Israel, all Twelve Tribes. We have come to see Yeshua’s work and the Torah Awakening as the promised restoration of the non-Jewish tribes. In other words, as my friend Hanoch Young says, much of Ephraim has been sitting in church pews for centuries.
It is crazy, especially since Christians and Jews have been at odds for about 1,900 years, and Jews are naturally reluctant to accept our claims. Consider this: Suppose a man lives his whole life running from place to place, without a real home, hated and abused by most of the people he encounters, and finally he finds a place where he can live in a measure of peace, security, and prosperity. What is he to think when someone knocks on his door claiming to be his long-lost brother? What if this “brother” is one of those people who abused him in years past? Why would he trust him? Even if his own family records indicate that he does have a missing brother, it would take considerable evidence to persuade this man that his visitor is his brother, that he sincerely regrets their tragic past, and that he does not want to usurp his brother’s house, but rather help him secure it and build it up for the benefit of future generations.
That is where we Hebrew Roots Christians (if I may use Eliyahu’s term) stand today in our relationship with our Jewish brethren. Eliyahu expresses this eloquently in his letter. In fact, the letter itself is something of a miracle.
Eliyahu’s article did not meet with universal approval on our side. Even with its positive tone, it contained errors and misconceptions that threatened to cause offense in some hearts. To his credit, Eliyahu responded to those of us who pointed out the inaccuracies and did his best to correct them. The article is not perfect, but it is an honest assessment by an outside observer who is trying simultaneously to process what he is seeing and communicate it to a Jewish audience.
What were the errors? I will highlight the two most significant. First, Eliyahu did not make a distinction between this global association called B’ney Yosef and the organization called B’ney Yosef North America (BYNA). It is an honest mistake. We of BYNA are the largest organized body affiliated with the B’ney Yosef Congress, but we did not plan and run the Congress. Unique circumstances on this continent allowed us to organize more quickly than our brethren elsewhere on the planet. However, we do not pretend to speak for them, and recognize that our approach is not necessarily the best approach for Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, and Central and South America.
The second point was a misunderstanding regarding our perception of Yeshua of Nazareth. This continues to be the sticking point between Hebrew Roots believers and Jews, just as it has been between Christianity and Judaism. Suffice it to say that my friend Eliyahu thought he heard one of my colleagues say we do not consider Yeshua to be God. The truth is, we do consider Yeshua to be a manifestation of the Almighty, if for no other reason than because only God can forgive sins and bring redemption to all Israel and all mankind. However, the Torah-keeping Yeshua we revere is different from the Jesus who did away with the Law (Torah) according to Christian understanding.
We understand why Jews resist this Christian representation of a savior who compels them to throw away the commandments of YHVH and cease being Jewish. We know now why Jews who know their Bible must reject such a Jesus (see Deuteronomy 13:1-5). That is why we have no desire to evangelize Jews (“no missionizing”, as Eliyahu would say it). We do not hide our beliefs that Yeshua is our Messiah, that He is God in the flesh, and that His atoning death and resurrection makes possible not only our return to the covenant of the Living God, but the redemption of all mankind to the Creator. However, we will not preface our fellowship with our Jewish brethren on their acceptance of these beliefs. If they can respect our beliefs, and we in turn respect their beliefs, then it is enough.
Eliyahu’s letter explains in part why this is important. He writes as an Orthodox Jew who believes and expects the promises of the Almighty to be fulfilled. He waits on Messiah (Moshiach) to come, but the Messiah he expects is a bit different from the one we from the Christian side have come to know. We see God become man so that He may redeem mankind to Himself. What I have learned from Eliyahu is that Jews see Messiah as the process of God working through mankind to bring redemption. Ponder that for a while and see if there is anything compatible in these two views.
This is where we find the most interesting parts of Eliyahu’s letter. He writes about being a “Hebrew Roots Jew”. Like us coming from the Christian side, he sees that the faith he has followed has lost much of its connection to its roots. Restoring those connections are, I believe, where we will find the greatest common ground.
What we are both seeking is something the world has not seen in 3,000 years: a united Israel gathered in the Land and operating in the shadow of the Temple of the Most High. Not since the days of King Solomon has this been a reality. Note that this is neither Jewish nor Christian, but Hebrew. How this takes shape in the days to come is still a mystery, but the greater our willingness to risk sore toes and forgive unintended offenses, the more quickly this Kingdom will come.
A Word of Apology
Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
Written in response to comments regarding the article
B’ney Yosef Declares Birth of a New Nation
Published in Breaking Israel New
November 8, 2016
First and foremost, I would like to apologize for any details in the article that may have offended. I can assure you that my intention when writing the article on the B’Ney Yosef Congress was to help a reunion that is nothing less than paving the way for Moshiach. Attending the congress was a powerful experience for me. To be candid, there are some things I don’t agree with, but there is much I found to be astounding. When moving forward with any new spiritual endeavor, there are no end of unexpected and unprecedented complications. The details are important, but mistakes are part of the process. We are two people with headphones listening to different music, trying to slow dance. Painful toes are to be expected, and apologies are part of the process.
There are also swollen toes on our side. Jews have become accustomed to being a lonely nation. For non-Jews to come along and claim a slice of our tiny pie is a threat. After 2,000 years of affliction, it is disturbing to be expected to open the door to a stranger who claims to be my brother.
But that is no longer the way I see it, thanks to the amazing connections I made at the congress. I am not there, but I am working at it. This is the way most religious Jews see your movement. I want this to change, but not just for your sake. I think this is necessary for Judaism.
After a millennium of rejection (and worse), our messianic vision has become influenced by the diaspora. Secular Zionism, a miraculous incarnation of Moshiach Ben Yosef, could only envision Israel as a refuge from anti-Semitism and the Aliyah laws reflect this. Only a few short years ago, it was inconceivable that any non-Jew would want to join us in a Torah journey. Our vision of the Temple became that of a synagogue, open only to Jews. I have come to realize that Hashem is pushing us in a direction that will not allow that to happen. The world invited Jews to return to Israel in 1948, but the same UN is now working hard to revoke that well-minded decision.
The Jews cannot stand alone. We can’t remain in Yehuda and Shomron without your support. We will certainly not retain the Temple Mount if we hold onto a vision of an exclusively Jewish Temple. That is my vested interest, but I think Hashem is leading us there in order to recreate a Torah Israel.
In a very powerful way, the Hebrew roots movement in Christianity has affected me. I am a Hebrew Roots Jew. Judaism became a diaspora religion. The Temple, agriculture, purity, Sanhedrin, are all part of Hebrew roots Judaism that have been excised by Orthodoxy, and they are working hard to keep Torah in a Prayer/Shabbos/ Kosher box.
My experience at the congress confronted me with the realization that non-Jews living in Israel and connecting to Torah is Hebrew roots Judaism. It was the reality in Israel in the days of the Temple, but it became inconceivable, and even forbidden, in the diaspora. It is not just the history of bad relations that made it so. It was the necessary xenophobia that allowed Judaism to survive in galut [exile].
Please forgive me for any errors in the article. I respect the spiritual journey you are on and see it is a necessary stage in the return of the Jewish people to our Hebrew roots.
Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz is a features writer for Breaking Israel News. He made Aliyah to Israel in 1991 and served in the IDF as a combat medic. Berkowitz studied Jewish law and received rabbinical ordination in Israel. He has worked as a freelance writer and his novel, The Hope Merchant, is available on Amazon. He lives in the Golan Heights with his wife and their four children.
© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2016. Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.