Saturday 18 September 2010

Got to get you into the Book of Life

A few minutes ago, the most solemn day in the Hebrew calendar. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, ended. It began on Friday evening and for the next 25 hours Jews around the world afflicted their souls by fasting and spent the day in synagogue confessing their sins and repenting of them in a bid to have their names inscribed in the Book of Life.

An Orthodox friend told me he was trying to make his life “100% fantastic” in preparation for the big day.

I was on a plane to Israel on Wednesday and found myself seated with an Orthodox Jewish family, squashed between the pater familias and his teenage daughter. I wished him Shanah Tovah (a Good Year) and asked if he would be keeping Yom Kippur at the Western Wall. He told me he would be at a synagogue in Jerusalem.

I asked if the prospect of being judged by God frightened him. It did.

When I asked if he knew his name would be in the Book of Life at the end of the Day of Atonement, he shrugged. Who could tell?

I asked about Gentiles, since the rabbis teach that at Rosh Hashanah God judges everyone’s sins, not just those of the Jewish people. What could I do to find a place in the Book of Life?

“Do good things” was the only response I got.

Also on the plane was a friendly, non-religious Jewish man. He heard our conversation and joined in. He told me about two events he had attended to hear Rabbi Shmuely Boteach debate Messianic Jews. The first event he told me about was when Rabbi Boteach took on Dr Michael Brown in London two years ago. He thought Michael Brown got the better of Shmuely and I agreed.

The other debate was about twelve years ago when Shmuely went head to head with Messianic “Rabbi” Philip Sharpe. I was also at that debate and Zev was of the opinion that Rabbi Boteach wiped the floor with Sharpe. I agreed but that was only because Sharpe was an easy target. I asked if he remembered the last question of the evening. When I reminded him that Shmuely had called the questioner a liar, he remembered. The questioner was me.

Rabbi Boteach had stated in his presentation that Matthew, the author of the Gospel, did not understand Hebrew. If he had, he would never have understood Isaiah 7:14 as a reference to the virgin birth, since the Hebrew word almah means “young woman”, not “virgin”. In Greek, claimed Rabbi Boteach, there is one word that serves for both “virgin” and “young woman”.

In my question, I pointed out that Shmuely was factually incorrect. The Greek word for “virgin” is parthenos and “young woman” is neanis. When I asked Shmuely why the Jewish scholars who translated Hebrew Scriptures into Greek 300years before the birth of Jesus also used parthenos to translate the Hebrew almah, he yelled – to the astonishment and horror of the audience – that I was a liar. I thanked him for his opinion but continued to press the point.

Afterwards, when I confronted him, Shmuely angrily insisted that, unlike him, I had no interest in truth but I kept asking why the translators of the Greek Septuagint understood Isaiah to have been referring to a virgin in chapter 7 of his book. Finally, in frustration and anger, he shouted ay me that it was because they were “stupid”.

Please pray for the family on the plane, for the secular Jew and for Shmuely Boteach, that they may discover the "Book of Life" is "the Lamb’s Book of Life" and look to the Lamb of God, who alone can take away their sins.

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