Yesterday, as part of my World Religion’s class at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, I went to a synagogue, Nevah Shalom, here in Portland and listened to Rabbi Isaak talk about Jewish faith, culture, and heritage. It was a rich time of learning about religious, ethical, and cultural values that have evolved into what Jews understand about themselves today. Three things really stuck out to me:
1. Judaism’s search for continued authenticity and relevance today.
2. The honor of the Hebrew Scriptures.
3. The value of community.
First, the issue of Judaism’s search for continued authenticity and relevance for today is a very important issue for people in their faith community, and our own Christian community to wrestle with. Rabbi Isaak told us that Judaism is not only a religion, it is also a culture, ethnicity, and ethos of life. The way that Jewish authenticity and relevance is sought today is through the presentation of preserving the values and identity of the people group that currently numbers about 15 million. The reason that I would say that Christians need to be concerned about the Jewish community is because of God’s continued concern for them throughout the whole Bible. Extreme Christian interpretations that allow for anything other than love and hopeful attitudes towards God’s work in the Jewish people have been historically and contemporarily harmful to the relationship and preservation of that group. I recently read the book Night by Elie Wiesel about his Holocaust experience and I was appalled at the anger and hate that was generated in that historical period. I hope that we will speak up and love our Jewish neighbors with the sacrificial heart just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in Nazi Germany.
Second, Rabbi Isaak spent a good amount of time talking about the Hebrew Bible and the translation, presentation, and interpretation of the TANAKH. One thing that stood out to me was the negation of the use of the term Old Testament, that we Christians have put to use in our Bible. I could see how Old could imply exclusion or unimportance, but I would like to say that as a person who holds a degree in Bible and Theology that I appreciate the Hebrew Scriptures for the foundation and fulfillment, not replacement, that they provide to my Christian faith. I want to strive to understand how these scriptures are the basis of the hope and faith that I have even better after this encounter with Rabbi Isaak.
Lastly, one of the interesting things that Rabbi Isaak said was that when he has gotten together with pastors that they speak in terms of numbers of their congregants, but he speaks of the households or families that attend his synagogue. I think that it is important that we don’t solely focus on the family like that, we must remember that in Christ we are made into a new family.
This experience has been very helpful for me because I was exposed to understanding the Jewish community slightly deeper. I hope that I can learn more through my reading for class, interacting with people of peace from the Jewish community through constructive dialogue, and informing people who are Christians in order to remove some of the ignorance we have about Judaism as a religion, culture, nationality, and ethos.