Friday 20 August 2010

Shock Horror! A balanced Israel documentary on the Beeb

When the BBC's flagship documentary programme Panorama last broadcast a documentary Israel in January, the result was a one-sided and biased distortion of Jewish history and Jewish rights to Jerusalem.

When Panorama announced it was airing "Death in the Med", an examination of events that took place on board the Turkish “aid” ship Mavi Marmara and the Gaza flotilla in May, I expected more of the same.

Instead, the BBC presented a balanced and comprehensive examination of the incident.
If you didn’t see the programme you can see it at Honest Reporting’s website, where there is other useful information about the Gaza flotilla.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Allah's uneven playing field

Although President Obama has backpeddled on his support for the building of a massive Islamic Cultural Centre/Mosque just yards from Ground Zero, the project still enjoys the support of New York’s Jewish mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Mayor Bloomberg and other supporters of the proposal are motivated by a sense of fair play, tolerance and American values but they need to remember that for centuries Muslims have built mosques on the sites of their great military victories to celebrate the triumph of their religion over their enemies. That's why the Dome of the Rock was built on the site of the Temple in Jerusalem. That is why the Cordoba Mosque (for which this project is named) was built in Spain. The Ground Zero Mosque will be a clear signal to radical Islamists the world over that America is a soft target and ripe for another attack. And to add further insult to the injury, the proposers of the project want to dedicate the building on the tenth anniversary of 9/11!

Although the developers of the mosque are not revealing where the $100 million for the project is coming from, it is more than likely that Saudi Arabia – which has funded the building of nearly 2,000 mosques around the world – is the source of funding. While Hamas demands that Muslims be allowed to worship where they wish, not a single church or synagogue has been constructed in Saudi Arabia.
Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, where they were indoctrinated with hatred of Israel and America.

One of the main movers and shakers behind plans for the Ground Zero Mosque is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who is frequently described in news reports as a “moderate” Muslim. in an interview with the US TV news programme 60 Minutes not long after the 9/11 attacks, Feisal Abdul Rauf declared that America was, "an accessory to the crime that happened" because the US has been an accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world." He believes the United States should be governed by Islamic sharia law rather than the Constitution.

If you are as concerned as I am, Michael Evans has organised an online petition addressed to Mayor Bloomberg that you can sign. Click here.

Monday 16 August 2010

What a difference a day made

US President Barak Obama has withdrwan his support for plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero (see The House Barak wants to build)after families who lost loved ones on 9/11 labelled him “insensitive and uncaring”.

On Friday, he said: “As a citizen and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right ... to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in Lower Manhattan.”

On Saturday the President modified his comments: “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque [at Ground Zero]. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to [America’s] founding … my intention was simply to let people know what I thought. Which was that in this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion.”

Hamas co-founder leader its chief on the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud al-Zahar, speaking on Sunday on “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio” on WABC-AM in the US, said that Muslims “have to build everywhere so that followers can pray, just like Christians and Jews build their places of worship.”

Fair enough. But if Moslems must have freedom to build places of worship wherever they choose in the West, regardless of whether the places they choose to erect their mosques offends the sensitivities of bereft families, why don't Christians and Jews have the same freedoms accorded them in Islamic lands?

Saturday 14 August 2010

The house Barak wants to build

If you didn't know it, plans are afoot to construct an Islamic Cultural Centre cum mosque in the shadow of the site where almost 3,000 people died on 11 September 2000, after Muslim hijackers flew two airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

Not only that, the plan has the support of New York’s mayor and President Obama. “As a citizen, and as president”, Obama says, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”

The president made his remarks at a White House dinner to celebrate the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. In making his statement, he waded into a national controversy that has sparked passionate and angry debate.

Republicans were quick to jump on the president's remarks. Representative Peter King of New York said it was "insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero."

While the Muslim community had the right to build the mosque, said King , "they are abusing that right by needlessly offending so many people who have suffered so much."

Top Republicans including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich announced their opposition. So did the Jewish civil rights group, the Anti-Defamation League.

While insisting that the place where the twin towers once stood was "hallowed ground", President Obama said the proper way to honour it was to apply the "American values" of tolerance and respect to those who were different.

While his pronouncement wil find favour among Muslims of the world, the president's stance runs counter to the opinions of the majority of Americans, according to polls. A CNN/Opinion Research poll released this week found that almost 70 per cent of Americans opposed the mosque plan.

Some September 11 victims' relatives, see the prospect of a mosque so near the destroyed trade center as an insult to the memory of those killed by Islamic terrorists in the 9/11 attacks.

So what should America do? Should it apply the vallues of tolerance and respect to those who apparently don't share those values. Should America forgive and forget?

Well, try to imagine the response of the Jewish people and the western European nations if a Hitler Appreciation Society requested permission to build a Nazi Cultural Centre at Auschwitz.

Imagine what would happen if the Japanese proposed building a Japanese Cultural Centre at Pearl Harbour.

The seismic shock would register 10 on the Richter scale.

Foundation or Support?

My Roman Catholic proselytiser friend, whom I told you about yesterday, was quick to respond to my letter with a series of statements not from the Bible but from the Catechism. I won’t weary you with them all but if you think the the differences between the Church of Rome and biblical Christianity are marginal, the following will be helpful to you. Emphases are mine:

80 “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.

“Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own "always, to the close of the age”.

81 “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.”

“And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.”

82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”

85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.”

This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

86 “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.”

87 Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me”, the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.

To which I replied:

I’m grateful to you for copying and pasting what the Roman Catholic Church says about itself but you can’t really expect someone who believes in the principle of “Scripture alone” to be persuaded by the claims of an organisation that sees itself as being above Scripture.

The NIV translation of 1 Timothy 3:15 is, for the reasons I outlined, inaccurate. The Church is the support of truth, not the foundation.

This elicited the following response:

The church answers the very canard that you make of the Church being above Scripture. Read the extract.

86 “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.”

87 Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: "He who hears you, hears me", the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.

Foundation is a legitimate translation and can be found in several Protestant versions.

Hedraioma: “a stay, prop, support”. Is not a foundation a support? This is semantics and prejudiced choice of words I fear.

I replied:

Although article 86 states the “Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant”, in practice it does not act as though it is the servant of the Word of God.

In the booklet you gave me, Joel Peters states categorically: “The Catholic Church readily acknowledges the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. But the Catholic doctrine is that the immediate rule of faith for the Christian is the teaching authority of the Church.” (Scripture Alone? p.19, my emphasis)

If that statement does not put the Church above Scripture, I don’t know what does!
In this respect, Roman Catholicism is remarkably like Judaism: Jacob Neusner: in Jews & Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition says that Christianity is “the religion of the Bible”. Judaism is “the religion of the Talmud”. Likewise, Christianity is “the religion of the Bible”; Roman Catholicism is evidently “the religion of the Magisterium”.

The very fact that Peters (and you) see the Church as the “foundation” (ibid p.16) of the truth indicates that in his (and your) view, truth is built on the church, not vice-versa!

The foundation is the most important part of a building.

You accuse me of “semantics and prejudiced choice of words” when you ask the rhetorical question: “Is not a foundation a support?” Yes it is but the distinction between hedraioma and themelios is not mere semantics. As for “prejudiced choice of words”, that criticism is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways.

Of course a “foundation” is a “support” but it is a particular type of support, one on which the entire edifice rests. That is why Christ is the only “foundation” (themelios not hedraioma) on which we build (1 Cor 3:11).

You can see what a difference if would make if 1 Cor 3:11-14 read like this: “No other support (hedraioma) can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this support (hedraioma) with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

Hedraioma is never used in the New Testament for a foundation. The Greek word for foundation is themelios.

When we first met many years ago I told you there was one overwhelming reason why I could never accept Roman Catholicism. When you were an evangelical, you would have spent all your energies trying to lead people to Jesus; now those energies are spent trying to lead people who follow Jesus to “the Church”. If you were truly a Christian all those years ago, I have no doubt that Jesus would have been everything to you; now “the Church” is everything. Put up all the reasons for that polar shift as you might, the fact remains that for you “the Church” is now more important to you than Jesus.

Friday 13 August 2010

And now for something completely different!

On a subject I've not blogged about, my wife and I were talking to visitors at a Christian conference yesterday, when I suddenly saw a familiar face in the crowd. It was my old friend Robert.

Many years ago, Robert had an evangelical conversion but because of divisions in the evangelical world he became a Roman Catholic and now sees his mission as one of bringing the light of the one true Church to his separated brethren.

There he was, merrily mingling with the crowd, distributing photocopied articles about the evils of birth control and a booklet on the error of the doctrine of “Scripture alone”. I immediately headed him off at the pass and we talked for while. He gave me the article on contraception and the booklet Scripture Alone? by RC theologian and apologist Joel Peters. I read the booklet late last night and responded to Robert. You might find the letter interesting and perhaps helpful.

Dear Robert,

It was a very pleasant surprise to meet you at the Conference yesterday.

Thank you for the essay on birth control and Joel Peters’ booklet Scripture Alone?I don’t have the time to deal with it at length but I will say the booklet is well written and has some helpful and challenging points to make. In places he powerfully challenges Protestant assumptions about the meaning of familiar biblical passages and anything that challenges our sloppy thinking is to be welcomed. Having said that, although the booklet appears to be well-reasoned, it is deeply flawed.

As a primary observation, I noted that throughout the booklet, Peters has to appeal to Scripture to prove the Church is above Scripture.

Joel Peters starts on page 1 by claiming the Roman Catholic Church has an “Oral Tradition”. In this sense, Roman Catholicism is identical to Rabbinic Judaism. In post-biblical Judaism, the rabbis claim to be the heirs to an “Oral Tradition”: The Jewish Pirke Avot begins by saying: “Moses received the [Oral] Torah from Sinai, and passed it on to Joshua; and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets; and the prophets passed it on to the men of the Great Assembly.
In Catholicism, it seems, Peter received the Gospel from Christ, Peter passed it on to the Popes, and the Popes…”

Also on page 1, Peters sets up a straw man by misrepresenting the Lutheran/Reformed position on Sola Scriptura. His definition of the doctrine is:

… the Bible – as interpreted by the individual believer – is the only source of religious authority and is the Christians sole rule of faith or criterion regarding what is the be believed. (Sola Scriptura? page. 1)

If that is the doctrine of “Scripture alone”, it is self-contradictory for, as Peters states it, the doctrine is in fact Scripture plus individual interpretation of Scripture.

The principle of Sola Scriptura is that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for Christian faith, and that it contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Interpretation by Church or Individual has never been part of that doctrine. Once individual interpretation is introduced to the definition, “Scripture alone” disappears.

If Peters’ definition of the principle of Sola Scriptura is correct, then he is right to conclude, as he does on page 53, that “Each Protestant thus becomes his own final authority—or, if you will, his own ‘pope’.” If the individual is the final authority you have spiritual anarchy but, by the same token, if the Church or Pope alone claims the right to interpret the Bible correctly, the result (as amply demonstrated by history) is spiritual fascism.

When the inspired apostle Paul preached in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-3), “as was his custom”, he “reasoned from the Scriptures” to prove Jesus was the Messiah. He did not declare on the basis of his own infallible, apostolic authority that Jesus was the Messiah.

When he confronted the Roman governor Felix (Acts 24:25ff), he “reasoned about “righteousness, self-control and judgement to come”. In other words, Paul appealed to the minds of the Thessalonian Jews and the Roman governor Felix.

Nevertheless, he appealed to their reason on the basis of Scripture alone. All of us have the right and duty to check against Scripture, which is why the Berean Jews are commended in Acts 17.

The evidence for “Scripture alone” is to be found in places other than the traditional proof texts with which Joel Peters grapples. For example, throughout the book of Acts the apostles appeal to the reason of their hearers by quoting Scripture. Their message is to be believed because it is according to Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 15:1ff, Paul affirms the basis of his gospel preaching: “For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures: and that he was buried: and that he rose again according to the scriptures…” (Douay-Rheims Version)

In Acts 17, the Berean Jews were commended for searching those Scriptures daily to see if what the inspired apostle Paul taught was true. They did not simply accept his authority nor does it look as though he demanded that they believe him on the basis that he was Messiah’s chosen vessel.

Act 17:10f “But the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea. Who, when they were come thither, went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, who received the word with all eagerness, daily searching the scriptures, whether these things were so.” (Douay-Rheims Version)

I think it would be helpful if 2 Timothy 3:16 was translated simply as “All God-breathed writing is profitable for teaching…” We have treated the word “scripture” as though it refers only to the Bible, when in fact the Greek word graphe just means “writing”. What separates the Bible from other writings is that the writings in it are God-breathed writings.

I was particularly interested to see the way Joel Peters interprets 1 Timothy 3:15 on page 15: “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

When Peters tackles 2 Timothy 3:16f, he refers to the Greek original throughout but when dealing with 1 Timothy 3:15, he studiously avoids the original language. He is quoting from the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Version but if he had examined the verse in the light of the original Greek it would have blown his argument out of the water.

According to Paul, in this verse, “the church of the living God” is “the bulwark and pillar of the truth”, not “the pillar and ground of the truth”, as translated in the Douay-Rheims Version. If the church was the ground of the truth, it would be the foundation of the truth, not the support of it.

In this crucial verse, Paul teaches that the Church is the hedraioma (bulwark/support) and the stulos (pillar) of the truth. He does not say the church is the themelios (foundation/ground) and the stulos of the truth. The Church is built on the truth and serves as the support of the Truth. If any organisation claims to be the foundation of the truth – the ground on which truth is built – by its own admission it has ceased to be the support of the truth. It has usurped the place of truth and therefore cannot be the Church.

I could go on but I have a lot of other work to get through.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Best wishes,

Thursday 12 August 2010

I hate to say this but...

... I told you so.

When Israel ethnically cleansed Gaza of its Jewish population five years ago, I said it was a mistake. Some of my colleagues and friends disagreed with me and thought the gesture would help the peace process.

But instead of congratulating Israel on its herculean effort for peace, commentators like the Independent's Robert Fisk were asking when Israel was going to give up the West Bank ... and Jerusalem. Within days, missiles from Gaza were raining down on the southern towns of Israel such as Sderot, turning that little town into the most bombed area in the world.

Now, even the LA Times agrees that the Gaza pullout was a mistake.

Israel Today carries the following article today:

Even the most liberal of commentators on the Middle East peace process are waking up to the fact that it was a mistake for Israel to unilaterally uproot the 10,000 Jews living in the Gaza Strip in 2005.

In a piece carried in the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times, columnist Edmund Sanders opined that the withdrawal implemented by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon under heavy American pressure was an error in judgment by all parties involved.

Sanders noted that while "disengagement enjoyed broad support at the time" both in Israel and abroad, "almost no one calls it a success today."

Among the negative results of the withdrawal, Sanders recognizes that it "helped put Hamas in power... Security for Israelis didn't improve - and even worsened... It contributed to increased isolation for Israel internationally... It raised doubts as to whether the Palestinians are actually ready for statehood... [and] it made Israelis more cynical about the chances for future land-for-peace deals."

Just before the so-called "disengagement," Sharon and the Bush Administration promised Israelis that wholly surrendering Gaza to the Palestinians would create an atmosphere conducive to final state peace negotiations and give Israel a more free hand to defend itself, which in turn would create a deterrent against continued Palestinian attacks from Gaza.

In reality, Hamas painted the withdrawal as an Israeli retreat created by its "resistance" and road that image to an impressive electoral victory and eventual military take-over of Gaza. Hamas then proceeded to fire thousands of rockets into southern Israel over a six-month period in 2008 that precipitated an Israeli invasion of the coastal strip. Rather than keep its word that Israel would have a more free hand in dealing with Gaza-based terror after the withdrawal, the international community blamed Israel for starting the "Gaza war" and accused the Jewish state of war crimes.

Monday 9 August 2010

Wicked Messengers

I arrived later than usual at the spot on the beach where my Hasidic friend usually dips himself and my heart sank. I thought I had missed him. I saw two men bathing about 200 yards further along the beach and one of them looked like my friend but on every other day he had always been alone. Then he waved and I knew it was him.
“We’re going to miss you” he said as I approached him.

I told him I was going to miss him too and told him that over the last nine days I had grown very fond of him and was very sad to learn that he didn’t know about the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 or the passage about Messiah in Isaiah 53.

I asked if he believed in the coming of Messiah and he replied that he and his Hasidic friends all believe in Moshiach. I asked if he knew when Moshiach would come and he answered typically that no one knew when that would happen.

Had he read the book of Daniel? No.

If my friend read Daniel, he would learn the time of Messiah’s coming because the Talmudic tractate Megillah says that when Jonathan ben Uzziel was about to write a Targum (an interpretive paraphrase) of the book of Daniel, a Bath Kol (a voice from heaven) forbade him to do it because the date of the Messiah is foretold in that book!

Abraham looked surprised. “Yes?”

Chapter 2 verse 44 of Daniel says that in the days of four kingdoms “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed … it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever”. This is the kingdom that Messiah would establish and, according to the great Jewish commentator Rashi, this would happen in the days of the Roman empire.


Yes. And chapter 9 of Daniel says: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks… And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.”


I told him I would like to give him a gift that would help him to study these things and offered him a CD of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) in a variety of languages, including Hebrew and Yiddish, produced by the Society for Distributing the Hebrew Scriptures ( Abraham said I was very kind and quickly slipped the disk into his inside coat pocket. But more than that, he asked if he could have my phone number. I told him it was inside the CD packaging.
We said our farewells and it was all I could do to keep from dancing up the promenade!

His rabbi and entourage did not look quite as happy to see me but I had only a few moments in which to say something that might remain with them. As they were about to board their minibus, I asked the rabbi if he had some words of wisdom for me before he went home to Stamford Hill.

“Err… yes…”, he said, “Be well and keep well.”

I wished him the same and asked if I could share a word of wisdom with him.
He agreed that I could.

“This is a word of wisdom from the Tanakh (the Old Testament) which is precious to me, Rabbi: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and Adonai has laid on Him the iniquity of us all’.”

He thanked me.

“You know where that’s from?” I asked.


If he did know, he wasn’t going to tell me so I told him it was from Yeshayahu chapter 53.

Last of all today, I saw Gershon, a pale, gentle red-bearded Hasid. We had spoken a few times during the week and, as usual, he was hurrying to pray after bathing himself. As we walked to his car I asked about the time of Messiah’s coming.

Gershon had read Daniel and he knew about chapter 9 but, he said, the time of Messiah’s coming was a “thorny issue”; it wasn’t as simple as it seemed from chapter 9.

But Rashi said Messiah had to come in the days of the Roman empire.

Gershon was aware of that but, he said, the issue was very complex.

Gershon reminded me of an Orthodox Jew I met some years ago in Golders Green. That man told me that the difference between the Christian understanding of Daniel 9:25,26 and the Jewish one was that Christians take the prophecy at face value whereas the Jewish sages had turned the passage on its head but without doing violence to the meaning!

Gershon reminded me that the difference in the Christian understanding of the Messiah and the Jewish one had been the source of much trouble for the Jewish people. Yet the Christians who persecuted and killed the Jewish people were messengers of God, sent to punish the Jews for their sins.

I told him that I dissociated myself totally from those who persecuted the Jews in the name of Jesus. The New Testament that taught me about Messiah taught me to love Messiah’s people. We wished each other well and he drove off to go and daven.
Please pray for all these people.

Tomorrow I expect to see new faces on the sea front. Pray that I might be wise as I seek to share Messiah with them.

Sunday 8 August 2010

Of whom does the prophet speak?

A Hasidic Jew I’ve spoken to every day this week was down at the sea later than usual this morning. He’s usually emerging from the water by 6.15 but today I walked the length of the town’s promenade three times before I saw him. He waved to me and I went down to the water’s edge where he was drying his toes.

I asked if he had had a good Shabbos. It had been good.

I asked how he spent Shabbos afternoon. Did he study?

He and his family had a meal that lasted till about three o’clock, then they all went to bed and slept for a couple of hours.

I joked that all the davening in the morning must have worn him out.

Yes, Abraham said, davening is hard work.

I told him that after synagogue I had read a wonderful passage of Scripture and that I’d been meditating on it this morning. Abraham asked what it was and I recited the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. I asked if he knew the passage. He didn’t.

Did he know where it was from? He didn’t and asked me to tell him. I told him and shared a thought that had come to me as I’d been thinking on the passage this morning. God’s Servant in the passage acts as Cohen Hagadol (the High Priest) because he makes intercession for transgressors but he is also the corban, the sacrificial offering. Who could this amazing person be?

My friend didn’t know and asked who I thought the Servant was. I told him that Jesus was the only person who fitted the description of God’s Servant and that in Jesus I had found atonement for my sins. This was why I was so grateful to the Jewish people because I had discovered this truth in their Scriptures. Through Jesus the Jewish Messiah I was enjoying the blessings of the Brit Hadashah (the New Covenant). Did my friend know about the New Covenant?

He had never heard of it; where was it? In Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 31. I explained that, as a gentile, I was once far from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger to God’s covenants of promise, without hope and without Hashem but through Jesus I had been brought into Israel’s Brit Hadashah and knew Hashem because he no longer remembered my sins and iniquities. Did he know the blessings of the Brit Hadashah?

No, he said, but he was planning to study them with his friends one day. Then make it soon, I said.


“Yes, make it soon and also study Yeshayahu 53.”

As he got into his car and wished me a good day, my heart went out to him. He is so devout and yet in so much darkness.

As I had driven into town this morning and saw the mist lying in some of the valleys, I knew that as the sun rose that mist would evaporate and I prayed that God’s Word, as I shared it with his ancient people this morning, would be like the rising sun and dissolve the mist in which their hearts are enshrouded.

I will have one last meeting with my friend tomorrow and I want to offer him a copy of the New Testament.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Davening with the best of them

This week I have been meeting each day with a group of Hasidic Jews.

In our brief discussions I have asked questions such about the greatest of God’s commandments and how we escape the curse promised to those who do not confirm the commandments by keeping them (Deuteronomy 27:26).

During the week I was asked if I would join them at synagogue today, the Jewish Sabbath and I happily agreed. The community the men belong to is on holiday so synagogue is a makeshift affair in a tent. It was good I had a yarmulke (skullcap) with me otherwise I doubt that I would have been allowed to take part.

This was the first time I had visited a Hasidic shul and everyone, especially the kids, were looking at me in wonderment. What’s a Goy doing here? The couple of men who talked to me wished me “Good Shabbos” and although I was not quite sure what to expect, if I had been thinking of a Psalm/Prayer sandwich service with a sermon at the end I would have been totally confused. The tent was filled with trestle tables at each of which were men poring over copies of Talmud and Prayer Books while at the same time others were intoning prayers.

I saw the man who had invited me here and I waved to him. He looked genuinely pleased to see me and led me to a table where a man in a shtreimel (a large fur hat worn by some Hasidic married men) and a tallit (prayer shawl) sat hunched over a book. This, Abraham informed me, was the rabbi and I could ask him questions. Without introducing us, he told me to sit down and promptly left me on my own. With the rabbi!

Maybe it’s just me but at the moment my head was not exactly filled with burning questions I wanted to ask. After a few moments the rabbi looked up. He was the leader of one of the groups I had been speaking to during the week! He looked at me and I wished him “Good Shabbos”, after which he returned to his book.

Abraham returned. “Did you ask the rabbi your questions?”

I told him I had asked him some questions during the week.

“We will say Kaddish and then you can go home,” he announced.

The Kaddish is a prayer for the magnification and sanctification of the name of God, the opening words of which are inspired by Ezekiel 38:23: “Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the LORD”. The central line of the Kaddish is the congregation's response: “May His great name be blessed for ever, and to all eternity”, to which I was very happy to add my Amen.

“OK”, said Abraham. “It’s time for you to go.”

As we walked to the door I told him it had been an honour to be there.

“Of course it’s an honour”, he replied.

Don’t expect false modesty from Hasidic Jews!

It had been an honour to be invited to share in their service and it was fascinated to watch what went on. But I came out of that tent depressed and in need of some strong coffee. Thankfully, in the town where I’m staying there is no shortage of establishments willing and able to cater to that need.

Tomorrow morning I plan to talk to my friend about Messiah. I’ll let you know how I get on.