Abba Lazarus' Blog

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Concerning Messianic Jews in Israel

Thursday, 06 February 2014 22:36

Jesus for Jews

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white-crucifixion-1938There is a rising sea change in Jewish attitudes towards Jesus, and one of the most influential of all is Marc Chagall. For no one in the history of western painting, not Jew nor Christian, had ever placed the sufferings of Jesus and of the Jews together in quite the same way.

Born in 1887, Chagall grew up in a devout Hassidic family in Vitebsk, Belarus. He went to Heder (Jewish elementary school) together with his eight siblings and the family experienced all the pain and hardships of the anti-Semitic pogroms common in those days. As events of the Shoah began to unfold in the 1930s and 1940s, Chagall, one of the most successful artists of the 20th century, felt compelled to explain to Christians that by persecuting the Jews they were actually attacking the brothers and sisters of their own Christ. His message, however, went unheeded.

By the end of the decade, Chagall's warnings had become a terrifying reality. In early 1938, as the horrors of the Nazi program unfolded, Chagall began work on his iconic White Crucifixion, an image intended to shake the world out of its indifference.

In the White Crucifixion Chagall portrays Jesus as an observant Jew suffering together with his own people. We see the Jewish patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the matriarch Sarah looking down in awe and mourning over the crucified Christ. A Tallith (Jewish prayer shawl) is wrapped about his loins in an attempt to preserve what little dignity he has left. A final appeal for pity towards the suffering Jewish Jesus and his people.

Chagall surrounds his Jesus with scenes of the oppression forced upon the Jews. In the upper right corner of the canvas a Nazi Brownshirt plunders the Torah scrolls from a burning synagogue, a direct reference to the destruction of the Munich and Nuremberg synagogues on 9 June and 10 August 1938. The lions placed over the synagogue doors refer back to the tribe of Judah and make a direct connection between the crucified Messiah and his family now also persecuted.

In the lower left corner of the painting an old man trudges along with a placard on his chest reading "Ich bin Jude" -- I am a Jew—a victim of the Nazi design to humiliate Jews. Above him, refugees unsuccessfully attempt to escape by boat while a nearby shtetl is set ablaze and ransacked.

And yet, as Chagall wants to stir the sleeping conscious of an apathetic Christianity, he is also intent on instilling an element of hope, perhaps even of resurrection. Indeed, this may very well be the most far-reaching aspect of Chagall's depiction of the Crucifixion. For in the midst of the horrors, misery and mourning Chagall draws our attention to the crucified one who hangs in the glow of a Menorah shining from below. Add to this the divine ray of light shining on the suffering Messiah from above and it is clear that Chagall wants his own Jewish people to contemplate how perhaps they too might find some measure of comfort in the Suffering Servant.

Chagall received numerous commissions for works in churches around the world where he depicted Jesus with a prayer shawl for a loincloth, and occasionally with a phylactery on his head. In these works Chagall is not only pointing Christians to the Jewish Jesus so that they might resist anti-Semitism, he is also promoting a dialogue between Jews and Christians.

In his painting the Sacrifice of Isaac which is part of his interfaith "Biblical Message" series of Old Testament scenes done in the 1950s-1960s, Chagall places Jesus in the background carrying the cross surrounded by mourning and wandering Jews. The sacrifice of Isaac is understood by Christians to be a prefigure of the crucifixion, and Chagall uses these images to stress the common faith and deep connection between Jews and Christians.

In similar fashion, in his Exodus series done for the Knesset building in Jerusalem, Chagall shows a small Sacrifice of Isaac on the left, behind Moses, with Isaac lying on the altar in a crucified position. Thus Chagall tried to get the message of unity to the Christians in their churches and to the Jews in his work decorating the main reception hall of Israel's Knesset building.

Chagall died in France in 1985 at the age of 97 years old.
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 22:44

From Sudan to Zion

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A new book written by Judy Galblum Pex, a Messianic Jewish girl from Eilat, has broken into the mainstream Israeli publishing market. This is the first time that an unashamedly Messianic publication is being sold in major Israeli book store chains across the country. Published in both Hebrew and English, "From Sudan to Zion" tells the courageous tale of flight by Sudanese Christians from Muslim terror, scrambling through Islamic controlled North African deserts and finally finding refuge in Israel.

This dramatic account of Israeli Messianic Jews caring for African Christians on the run from radical Islamic violence in Sudan is a story that has caught the attention of Israeli publishers.

Setting the stage for this improbable twist of events in modern Jewish history, author of her latest book Pex writes:
People from over one hundred nations intermingle in Israel. Besides Jews from Kazakhstan and Kansa, Burma and Belgrade, Calcutta, Congo and places in between, over a million tourists every year add to the mosaic. Include in the mixture two hundred thousand legal and illegal workers from countries such as China, Thailand, Philippines, Nepal and Ghana, and it’s clear that the average Israeli is used to seeing faces of all colors and shapes. In 2007, however, a new group appeared… whose appearance was unlike any other till this time… men, women and children and babies… who were exceptionally black and strikingly tall.

Isaac, one of the Sudanese refuges who managed to escape the violence explains why Christians are fleeing to Israel. “In South Sudan, we are mostly Christians,” he says. “The fanatical Muslims who hate Israel are killing our people. We escaped from Egypt as the Children of Israel fled from Pharaoh and his army.”

Author Pex and her husband John have been assisting the Christian refugees in Israel since 2007. From her personal experiences and interviews with the refugees author Pex relates fascinating stories in the book, like that of Gabriel, a Christian trying to flee Sudan across Egypt and reach the Promised Land.

Our Bedouin guide encouraged us, says Gabriel, ‘Be strong and calm. Your only problem is here on the Egyptian side. If you reach Israel you will be okay. The Israeli soldiers will help you. They’ll treat you with respect. Maybe then you life will be okay. We can’t go with you to the fence, because when they see us (Muslim Bedouins) they’ll shoot. Don’t turn around. Always go forward. Because if you turn your back, you’ll lose your way and might get shot.’ And with that the Bedouins left us.

The fence was still about 700-800 meters away. And the Egyptian soldiers were in between. I told my friend that w should hide ourselves. ‘We’ll creep along the ground until we reach the fence.
It was hard work. We were both afraid, but my friend was petrified. When we came near the fence the Egyptian police saw us. The Bedouins told us, ‘If they see you just run.’ My friend bolted… they could tell we were Sudanese… My friend was caught… crying… they kept beating him… I took a chance – and jumped over the fence. I fell on the Israeli side where I lay unconscious.

When I awoke, the sun bright. I went to the road and waited until I was found by Israeli soldiers. They took me to their camp. They asked a lot of questions, but didn’t make me feel like I was their enemy, though Sudan has no diplomatic relations with Israel. They understood.

The soldiers gave me and other refugees food. A doctor examined us, cleaning the wounds of one Darfurianrefugee and giving him medicine.

The title of the book in English is “A People Tall and Smooth: Stories of Escape from Sudan to Israel.” An award winning author had this to say about Pex’s newest publication:
For the first time, Judy Pex breaks the silence, unfolding the perilous journey of Sudanese refugees that fled Egypt only to find continued hardships and persecution, which ultimately led them to make the dangerous choice of illegally crossing the Egyptian border in search of a better life in Israel. For many, it was a choice that came at a tremendous cost: imprisonment, separation from their children and spouse, brutal beatings and death. It’s a story of resilience, determination and the choice for freedom – at all cost.

Even more unforeseeable is the compassion and care these destitute Christians are finding at the hands of Messianic Jews in Israel. Their story of faith and the hope of redemption for the destitute and the “strangers and foreigners” promises to touch the hearts of many in Israel.

This publication is a major breakthrough for the Messianic community in Israel. You can greatly increase the efforts being made to market Messianic literature in bookstores around Israel by purchasing copies of the book. The greater the demand for the book grows the more the Israeli publishing houses will want to publish and sell the book in their stores. “A People Tall and Smooth: Stories of Escape from Sudan to Israel” is available on Amazon. We know you will love it. Why not purchase a few copies? It is a great way to share with your friends and tell them about the wonderful things God is doing in Israel today.
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 22:47

Who Will Open the Door?

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Domestic violence happens behind closed doors where both perpetrator and victim keep their rage, shame and suffering a dark secret. For this reason it is very difficult for police or even neighbors to detect domestic abuse while most families continue to suffer in silence.

“Protection and restraining orders for women victims of violence are life-saving tools, but there are difficulties in their implementation and enforcement,” International Women’s Zionist Organization, or WIZO chairwoman Gila Oshrat said in a statement. “The lack of enforcement ultimately puts women at risk. They find themselves standing alone in front of their violent spouse,” she said.

Yet facing the fears and risks of retribution 56 complaints of domestic violence are reported every day to police. In its annual report on violence against women in Israel, WIZO saidthat 200,000 women suffered from domestic violence in 2012 and 600,000 children were exposed to it. The Ministry of Social Affairs also reported that in 2011 its prevention centers for domestic violence received approximately 14,500 new applications, a 16% increase from the previous year. The ministry’s data also showed that the prevention centers treated about 10,286 households (11,778 individuals) in 2011.

“In the Messianic community in Israel we are far behind even the secular world where there is much more awareness of the problem,” says Oran Greenman director of “Ot Oomofet” a local ministry to abandoned and abused women in Israel. “Sometimes there is a tendency to cover up or excuse domestic violence. It is an embarrassment to the family. They would rather not talk about it. Others hide behind religious language unwilling to admit the horrors and hell they are living with at home. At least in the secular world an abuser feels guilty,” says Greenman. “Here in the congregations sometimes you don’t even have that.

Greenman has witnessed many families in the Messianic community suffering from some form of domestic violence and abuse. “Many of the men and women that come to faith in Messiah in Israel come from broken and dysfunctional families. They just don’t have the tools to end the abuse and restore a healthy environment in the home,” she says.

Domestic abuse is mostly hidden from sight. “Get the children to talk,” says Greenman. “Ask them to paint a picture of their family. They will tell you more about what is really happening in the family than most parents are willing to admit.”

Sometimes even the Bible is misused to prevent intervention in abusive families. “The word of God says submit to your husband. Humble yourself and turn the other check,” one local pastor told the wife and mother of two children suffering domestic abuse during 25 years from her husband who was a servant in the local congregation.

When the mother finally received “permission” from another Messianic leader to go to the police, the husband was removed from the family for three months. Enough time for Greenman and her team to begin the long process of restoration for the mother and her children. “When the abusing husband realized that he had lost everything he finally came to his senses. The family is now miraculously restored,” smiles Greenman.
According to Greenman there is not enough education in the Body of Messiah in Israel to deal with the problems of domestic abuse. There are situations where an abusive husband or wife will take control of the finances. “I know a situation where a husband stole $100,000 from his wife and family just because she was not aware of her rights. Get a good lawyer even before separation is discussed,” she recommends.

A new Messianic initiative called “Shelter” is trying to bring awareness of the problems of domestic violence in the Messianic community. At their recent June 2013 conference in Jerusalem topics included: boundaries of authority of a husband over his wife, congregational responsibility towards the victim of domestic violence and Israeli laws and violence in the family.

“Are we doing enough to protect our families. Are we providing the necessary tools to help families survive in the modern world? Do we even have these tools ourselves? Are we modeling what a healthy family really looks like?” asks Greenman.

Tough questions that may just help crack open a door of opportunity for someone trapped in an abusive family. Questions that Messianics are now finally beginning to ask.
The leadership of Messianic Jewish congregations across Israel are in an turmoil over recent revelations published in Yad L’achim’s new anti-Messianic glossy magazine.

With so many young Jewish Israelis coming to faith in recent years, Yad L’achim could hold back no longer. Compelled to save Jewish souls, they have mass mailed evidence of scandalous activities plaguing Israel’s Messianic movement.

Exposed! Messianic Jews in Cahoots with Christians

Yad L'achim has now proven beyond doubt that there is, in their words, “a strong connection between Messianic Jews and Christian Churches!” A result of years of intensive undercover investigative work (with some help from Google), Yad L’achim has published a website revealing that “some Messianic leaders receive financial support from oversees Christian organizations!”

Such collusion with Christians surely spells doom for the Messianic Jewish movement as we know it. No self-respecting Jewish organization would dare receive support from Christians. Messianic Jews receiving money from Churches clearly excludes them from the Tribe. For Heaven’s Sake, Orthodox Jewish charities would never be caught cavorting with Christian money?!

Revealed: Messianics Enjoying Sin!

In yet another devastating blow, Yad L’achim has reported that young Jewish boys and girls are lining up to join Messianic congregations because “the New Testament gives you the freedom to do whatever sin you want,” says Ronen Shalom a Yad L’achim convert.

Shalom recently converted to Orthodox Judaism after becoming a devout Buddhist, then a Yogainstructor, a Tai Chi until finally settling into years as a sinful freedom loving Messianic Jew. Shalom himself admits that even he eventually got tired of the “sin freedom allows” in the Messianic movement. Thank G-d, the poor seeking soul is now back on track “enjoying every minute” adhering to the 613 commandments as well as the thousands of rabbinic laws added to the Torah, he says.

Shalom and his friends also report being “much happier now that they are back home in the Orthodox religious camp” without all the sin and corruption.

Spotlight: Messianic Leaders Pokes Fun

The swanky new Yad L’achim glossy Hebrew magazine has also revealed that Messianic Jews tell anti-Semitic jokes. Clear proof was seen as a student of Yad L’achim’s reprogramming program said that he heard a Messianic leader tell a joke about how some Orthodox Jews spend hours inspecting the Succoth Etrog with a magnifying glass to insure it is kosher. Overcome with horror that anyone would poke fun at the Orthodox for being too strict in keeping the rabbinic traditions, the student became depressed had to leave the Messianic faith. And that is NO joke!

Messianic Jews in Turmoil

In their scathing report, Yad L’achim has also provided irrefutable evidence that some Messianics do not agree with each other. In fact, they have in their hands actual Messianic newsletters taken from the world wide web showing that certain Messianic Jews in Jerusalem are in disagreement with other Messianics over theological issues. If proven true it appears that Messianics are arguing!

One can certainly appreciate how such arguments make it impossible for a real Jew to join the Messianic movement. Although, don’t they say that when two Jews get together to talk about anything that you get three different opinions? Could it be that Jews who believe in Yeshua still arguing are still Jews (by virtue of their argumentativeness)? That is a question still being argued. At least the ex-Messianics can now rest peacefully back in Orthodox Judaism without all the divisions, conflicts, mean-spiritedness or arguments.

Note: Yad L’achim’s strategy to put off young Jewish seekers from the “temptation to follow Jesus” by exposing the dirty laundry of his disciples should not be considered Chutzpah. Religious authorities way back in the New Testament times also liked to spread stories about the Messianic Jews (see Acts 6:10-15 if you dare).
Thursday, 10 April 2014 06:47

Rabbis Reconsider Jesus

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Jewish attitudes towards Jesus are changing. Rabbi Evan Moffic of the Solel Congregation in Chicago gives further evidence of this in his synopsis of what modern rabbis are saying about the carpenter from Nazareth. Moffic represents a younger, more inquisitive generation of Jewish thinking about Jesus. His findings might surprise many.

Here is a summary from Moffic’s “5 Rabbi’s Explain Jesus.”

A National Hero

In his book “Kosher Jesus” Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach writes that Jesus was "a Jewish patriot murdered by Rome for his struggle on behalf of his people... Jesus, I will continue to show, was a great political leader who fought for the liberation of his (Jewish) people.”

The idea that Jesus was “a great political leader” is not new. Many first century Jewish people including many disciples of Jesus believed that the Messiah would free the nation from Roman occupation. But when a modern 21st century popular Orthodox Rabbi calls Jesus a “patriot” and a “hero,” that news.
Perhaps even more controversial is that fact that rabbi Boteach has been very open with Messianic Jews, though his attempts at dialogue with Messianics has annoyed many in the ultra-orthodox establishment. In 2008 Boteach debated with Michael Brown, a Messianic Jewish leader, on whether belief in Jesus is compatible with Judaism.

Boteach is an American Orthodox rabbi, author, TV host and public speaker. Newsweek magazine named him one of the 50 most influential rabbis in the United States three years in a row.

The Penultimate Messiah
Rabbi Byron Sherwin is a rabbi in the Conservative Judaism movement. He trained at the Jewish Theological Seminary with Abraham Joshua Heschel. His list of scholarly articles and books is almost too numerous to count, on topics ranging from interfaith relations to bio-ethics to Jewish studies. Sherwin has been on the faculty of the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago for 40 years.

Rabbi Sherwin sees Jesus as a for-runner to the ultimate messiah. Jesus serves a similar role as John the Baptist does for Christianity. As Professor Shaul Magid puts it, "Yitz Greenberg and Byron Sherwin base their writings on Jesus on a more nuanced view of 'the messiah' in Judaism that distinguishes between a penultimate and ultimate messianic figure, each serving a crucial role in the messianic process." In other words, Jesus emerged out the yearning of first-century Jews for a national and spiritual savior, and his spiritual significance will be fulfilled in the future messianic period.

A Righteous Leader
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi in 1947 within the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic community while under the leadership of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. Schachter-Shalomi sees Jesus as a Jewish Tzadik, a person of unusual righteousness who serves as a bridge between his community and God. Jesus as an example of Jewish virtue is "Torah incarnate," but not God incarnate. For Schachter-Shalomi, Jesus in his was opposition to the legal doctrine and focus of the Pharisees, offered a more mystical relationship with God through piety. In this way, Jesus served the same function for first-century Judean Jews as the Hasidic movement would serve for eighteenth-century European Jews.

A Rabbi
The great 19th- and early 20th-century American Rabbi Emil Hirsch wrote and spoke frequently about Jesus. He saw him as a champion of faith in human progress and a teacher of the Old Testament. As Hirsch proclaimed from the pulpit, "He was of us; he is of us. We quote the rabbis of the Talmud; shall we then, not also quote the rabbi of Bethlehem? Shall not he in whom there burned, if it burned in any one, the spirit and the light of Judaism, be reclaimed by the synagogue?" Hirsch's point of view has been echoed in several contemporary books with the phrase "Rabbi Jesus" in their title.

An Ethical Exemplar
Emil Hirsch's brother-in-law Kaufmann Kohler was also a prominent rabbi and scholar. He was president of the seminary for Reform Rabbis for 25 years. He wrote frequently about Jesus, and while he was critical of Jesus' seeming dismissal of the law of the Old Testament, he highlighted his social message. For Kohler, Jesus was a "helper of the poor" and a "sympathizing friend of the fallen." He said Jesus learned these values at the synagogue and brought them to the forefront of first-century Jewish life.

This has been hard week for Israel. With barely time to mourn the loss of our 3 murdered teenagers, war drums are pounding again – both within and beyond our tiny borders.
Where do we look for the strength to carry on? How should we pray for Jerusalem in this terrible hour? One of Judaism’s oldest prayers, recited more than any other blessing, gives us guidance to face the unique challenges of these difficult times.

The Aaronic Blessing is packed with beauty and meaning for such a time as this.

The first section - Y’Varech’cha Hashem V’Yishm’recha – “May the Lord bless you and Keep you” asks G-d to prosper us with material and physical well-being. We are commanded to remember that He is our ultimate protection, and not only our own efforts. May we turn our faces to the Lord in this hour to the “Keeper of Israel, the Shield of Abraham.”

Let not allow the stones thrown become a stumbling block, but become a highway of holiness.

The second section – Ya’er Hashem Panav Elecha Vi'y'chuneka – “The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you” asks the Almighty to grant us wisdom ("Ya'er" is related to the word “Or” – light, a metaphor for wisdom). We cannot live by “gut reactions.” When in trouble, it is time to fall on our faces G-d and allow His face to shine on us. It is in the midst of uncertainly and danger that we must pray, “Your will be done, and not mine…”

This is also plea that we should find favor (gracious in the Hebrew) with G-d so that others should be built up with our teachings. His wisdom does not make us so arrogant that people resent us. This is especially true when we are angry and hurt and want to lash out at others, and our nation is seething right now. Let us ask the Lord to be gracious to Israel so that we might find favor with Him especially as we face of such turmoil.

The third section - Yisa Hashem Panav Elecha V’Yasem L’Cha Shalom – “The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” is calling us to look at our Lord right in the eye. When a person does not conduct himself properly and knows that he is wrong, even in the face of danger, he cannot face his Lord, nor can he face others with integrity. But when we do the right thing, we can lift up our heads in the sight of G-d, and this, in turn, evokes a similar response from the Lord.

When our gaze meets our Maker, we are at Peace, and there is no greater strength than to walk in the light and be in fellowship with the will of G-d.

These are the blessings we should have in mind when we pray for Israel. Security, wisdom, humility, favor with G-d grace and the peace that comes from knowing that we are doing the right thing. When we live like this “in the image of G-d,” we will bring Shalom not only to ourselves, but to the entire world.

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