Monday, January 25, 2010

David Stern and Jewish Literacy

Continuing a round of honor going to Messianic Jewish pioneer David Stern (always a good idea), I found Yahnatan's quote choice (its from the book that used to be called Messianic Jewish Manifesto): 
Jewish history is mine because I am Jewish. I reject the claim that I am not. Jewish history leads to me and explains who I am.

Second, Jewish history is important for me because Judaism has preserved some elements of truth...

And third, Jewish history is mine because if we Messianic Jews are to undertake our task to help heal the split between the Church and the Jews, as insiders to both, we must be fully identified with Jewish as well as Christian history.

So the Rambam is my Rambam, and David Ben-Gurion is my Ben-Gurion, and so are Moses Mendelssohn and Moshe Feinstein and Solomon Schechter and Stephen Wise and Judah HaNasi and the Raba and Abaye and Meyer Lansky and Albert Einstein and the Marxes--Karl and Groucho--and Peres and Shamir and Rav Kahane and Charlie Biton. All mine! And I, a Jew who honors the Jewish Messiah Yeshua, am theirs.
Of course, it is not that a Jewish believer must 'submit' to the 'authority' of these men; it would be a difficult thing to truly submit to both the Rambam and to the Karl (or Groucho) Marx! His point is that they are family. The invitation for all of us then is to get to better know one's family - to be familiar! This is not something that is ever finished (I must admit that however slight, I am nonetheless far more familiar with the Rambam than with Marx, and its more Guide than Mishneh Torah or Das Capital). So in practical terms, this is an encouragement to literacy - i.e. to continuing Jewish education over one's life, carried out with the care and respect of honoring one's own forebears, who as a family tree "leads to me and explains to me who I am."

Even on this level, the Hebrew and Apostolic Scriptures, cornerstones of Jewish thought, are not left out of the equation; nor does it exclude the Gentile followers of Yeshua. I mentioned this quote to my Dad and he pointed out this verse "1 Cor. 10:11 Now these things [Jewish history referred to earlier in the chapter] happened to them as an example, and they were written for our (Jewish and Gentile believers) instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages (acharit-hayamim acc. Stern) have come (i.e. in Messiah, the fulfillment of history)." Our history includes the good and the bad. Maturity comes in evaluating the difference; but in either case we are family. 

Am I wrong in thinking that this quote would find wide (near-universal) agreement within MJ circles (a welcome thought!)? Are there questions stemming from other interpretations of these words that I am missing?

6 comments:

Yahnatan Lasko said...

Matt,

I think you're spot on here in your reading of the Stern quote. I particularly liked this sentence of yours:

"So in practical terms, this is an encouragement to literacy - i.e. to continuing Jewish education over one's life, carried out with the care and respect of honoring one's own forebears, who as a family tree "leads to me and explains to me who I am."

You may be right that Stern's quote would find near-universal agreement. However, practically speaking, few of the communities I know of facilitate the kind of continuing education you so eloquently outline here.

Rather than play the blame game, I'll continue to exhort myself to focus on constructive ways to build up our congregations into learning communities along the lines of this element of Stern's vision.

I'd love to hear any comments you have. Does your statement about encouraging literacy describe your current community? If so, can you give details?

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

Yahnatan, that's great! though your comment assumes I leave the house. That's a ... charitable assumption to make about a fellow blogger. ;-)

Perhaps it is an undernourished area of life. I also respect that this has been a major concern in some Messianic circles for a while, and so I am not looking to out-swim depths already plumbed (without first doing some laps). I attend Hope of Israel Congregation in Charlotte. Besides here and Sha'arei Shalom in Raleigh (big up), I don't have other experiences being a part of an American Messianic congregation, though thankfully I have some other experience outside congregations. In any case, I think our situation (grateful to use other's buildings, though only less than a year to go) make class offerings limited. However, the sorts of classes offered over the past few years - History of the Jewish People, Tanakh values in 1 Corinthians, and even the Chizzuk Emunah and Basic Hebrew classes I taught - do not necessarily skimp on Jewish literacy, which is encouraging as we look to the future. (looking to the future means having to plan our resources - like who will teach a class on Chassidus? who will teach on haskalah? are they ready??? do we need to fund scholarships, etc.?)

But then its not just internal classes that matter. The more a community is aware of and attending outside lectures, events, etc. the more a culture of Jewish literacy is fostered. Its got to be integrated, I have desired and in some cases tried (and in much of those cases failed) to integrate these sorts of things better in my own life and circles of influence.

Another question- what is its importance in the context of a functioning healthy congregation? (how that gets evaluated is sharply determined by - what is the purpose of a Messianic Jewish congregation?) My intuition here is that I wouldn't place it as a highest priority, but rather a secondary priority (though still high). Which would make evaluating congregations along this criterion alone a bit awkward, though also make it important to evaluate among other considerations (i.e. shouldn't, mustn't it get a place at the table? obviously.). But that's just intuitions, not a fleshed out case which would be necessary to move forward well. And of course I've already snuck in an agenda quite unstealthily, since 'functioning healthy congregations' wasn't mentioned at all, and 'communities' could suggest a variety of things, including post-congregational fellowships who attend or member-up with Jewish pastures a bit less polyester. ;-) So I have some thoughts about its role but I will defer for a bit on it because I don't want to get carried away farther than I have.

What do you think? How are you meeting these challenges and what are your thoughts?

(the 'removed comment' is this one save a few typos)

Yahnatan Lasko said...

Matt,

...the sorts of classes offered over the past few years - History of the Jewish People, Tanakh values in 1 Corinthians, and even the Chizzuk Emunah and Basic Hebrew classes I taught - do not necessarily skimp on Jewish literacy

That's way ahead of the curve in my experience (at my own congregation and many of the others in the DC area). So yasher koach.

...it's not just internal classes that matter. The more a community is aware of and attending outside lectures, events, etc. the more a culture of Jewish literacy is fostered.

100% agreed.

I also think you're right on about gauging the importance of Jewish literacy in what you've sketched out about functioning healthy congregations/communities.

How are you meeting these challenges and what are your thoughts?

My experience is that you're right: it's challenging to prioritize Jewish literacy when more primary needs (basic pastoral responsibilities, keeping weekly services going) fill the schedules of the people who might be able to work on this. And I suspect many congregations don't even have people qualified to teach classes like what you list above.

In light of those challenges, I'm working like mad to boost my own Jewish literacy. Attending events in the wider Jewish community has been an important part of this. I'm also working on (a) inviting more people to do this and (b) helping to motivate the need for this, especially among Jewish young people.

That's actually the main intention of my Gathering Sparks blog--though I'm pretty sure it draws more readership from other Messianic bloggers than the young folks I'd like to be reaching. That's ok though--it's a good reminder to me to be investing personally in people. A lot of important things in my life have come from someone personally spending time with me.

Yahnatan Lasko said...

BTW, I noticed your dad's going to be speaking at Son of David Congregation in MD in mid-February. Any chance you'll be coming up with him? It'd be great to get together again...

Yahnatan Lasko said...

One more thought on planning classes: it's important to take into account where the congregation is at. In our congregation we have a beginner's Hebrew class. Other classes in consideration are on the Torah service and on prayer in the Scriptures and in Jewish liturgy. I've also recently realized that a lot of the issues covered by David Stern twenty years ago in Messianic Jewish Manifesto are still relevant/basic to our communities--I would like to see us revisit that text as part of a "basic Messianic Jewish Issues" course.