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    Derech Yeshua: The Way of Salvation

    Derech Yeshua: The Way of Salvation, by Daniel Nessim

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    Siddur Sar Shalom, edited by Daniel Nessim

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    Introducing Your Jewish Friend to Yeshua, by Nessim and Surey

    Introducing Your Jewish Friend to Yeshua, by Nessim and Surey

The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles – Book Review


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Toby Janicki

The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles

Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion / Vine of David, 2017. 581 pages. $35.00 ISBN 978-1941534243

 

 

For over a century, scholars have discovered in the Didache an intriguing ‘window’ into the lives of the earliest Christians. A short discipleship and church manual for gentiles, it was written sometime around the first great Jewish War in 70 CE. Apart from a few decades in the early 20th century, before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed its very early date, scholars have generally been keen to notice the very Jewish nature of this book. What the Didache is, is a manual written by early Messianic Jews to new disciples as part of what is sometimes called the ‘gentile mission’ – the rapid explosion of the Good News of Messiah’s advent and redemptive work around the Roman Empire and beyond. The title of this famous manual, written in Greek, is translated as ‘Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles‘. This is where Janicki has found a model for the subtitle for his substantial commentary. In case any might think the Didache is pseudepigraphic – falsely attributing its writings to a famous author – the Didache simply claims that its teachings are representative of the teachings of the Twelve Apostles, and its author(s) remains unnamed and anonymous.

One would think that with an ancient book full of teachings collected and presented by early Messianic Jews, their modern counterparts would have been all over it to discover what the perspective of their predecessors might have been. Such has not been the case apart from an Aberdeen PhD dissertation by E. Spivak in 2007. This is where Toby Janicki has made a remarkable contribution. While he makes no claim to being a Messianic Jew himself, as a member of the Movement he examines the Didache from a thoroughgoing Messianic Jewish perspective, in what is the second largest and most extensive commentary on the Didache ever published.

The introduction sets the tone, with a relatively brief but comprehensive overview of the history and background required to understand the background of the Didache. Janicki demonstrates that he has come to grips with the full body of Didache scholarship and has his own specific contribution to make. Thus already a Messianic Jewish perspective comes to the fore as Janicki proposes that the Didache ‘is a Mishnah for Gentile believers. It addresses key halachic issues of everyday life and community’ (pp. 16-19). The introduction is followed by the text of the Didache in Greek, with Janicki’s own translation into English.

The commentary deals with the Didache chapter by chapter. The Didache has 16 chapters. Each chapter begins with the English of the Didache cross-referenced to quotations and allusions in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, but not to extant Jewish literature or other early Christian literature. The focus then is, as through the commentary, on the practical value of the Didache.

Each chapter translation is followed by an overview in which Janicki grapples with the general questions raised by each chapter, with reference to the comments and observations raised by scholarship thus far. Janicki does so in a way that while not easy for the casual or elementary student or reader, is not difficult at all for someone who has mastered the basics.

In turn, the overview is followed by verse-by-verse commentary on the Didache. This is where Janicki’s contribution shines. Each verse is dealt with in depth, with reference not only to Didache scholarship but also comparable writings of the early church. Especially useful is his careful incorporation of insights from the Talmud and other Jewish writings. While somewhat questionable, because the Mishnah and Talmud were not committed to writing until later centuries, the insights do provide a Jewish frame of reference from which to view the teachings of the Didache. Further, they accentuate the Didache’s affinity of thought to that of other Jewish literature, as opposed to that of Christianity in those same later centuries, which was rapidly distancing itself from Jewish modes of thinking.

One of Janicki’s own distinct contributions is important to highlight. Page after page, Janicki treats the Didache as a book of value for directing the life of Jesus’ disciples today. There is a distinctly pastoral tone to the book, and the Didache is not merely exegeted, but potential applications to the lives of modern Christians are highlighted for consideration. Thus we are told ‘According to the Didache, idle and lazy members of our communities who rely on the benevolence of believers are not true followers of the Master’ (p. 442).  It is strong language, but a logical application of the Didache’s teaching in Didache 12. This is nothing less than the re-incorporation of the Didache into the tradition of a church that has long forgotten its precepts in favour of those of later church writers.

Two appendices include the text of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1782. A bibliography is also included but no comprehensive indexes of references or subjects, items which are admittedly an option for commentaries. The layout of the book is excellent and the typeset clear and readable, which helps in making it an accessible resource for all. Jesus is consistently referred to as the ‘Master’, a usage that seems somewhat awkward, but also appropriate. Footnotes unfortunately do not flow from page to page, which sometimes causes problems in the page layout (as in page 9, which is half blank), but in general the book is very well produced.

For those who want to get an idea of how at least some early Messianic Jews taught regarding personal and congregational life, in more than just a dry, scholarly way, Janicki’s book is well worth the $35 asking price. I have a suspicion that Janicki’s contribution will be welcomed not only by laypersons but also Didache scholars for his fresh contribution and integration with contemporary Messianic Jewish thought.

 

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Yom Hashoah and the Righteous among the Nations


Today, 28 April is Yom Hashoah. Israelis across the country have stopped their cars in the middle of the streets and highways as the country came to a standstill to remember the unspeakable evil perpetrated in the Holocaust.

Paradoxically, I spent the eve of Yom Hashoah (27 April) in Berlin, honouring one whom I would term a ‘righteous gentile’. Horst Stresow, a founding member of Beit Sar Shalom Evangeliumsdienst has throughout his life demonstrated love for the Jewish people including those of us who believe that Yeshua our long-awaited Messiah. Messianic leaders came from Holland, Israel, the United States and of course the United Kingdom to recognise his exceptional love and faithfulness.

I was reminded of the other ‘righteous gentiles’ but for whom I would not exist. My mother, born in Berlin in 1933, has often told me ‘I was born in the year Hitler came to power.’ It was because of Hitler, the Nazism and the Nuremburg laws of 1935 that she lost her father. His death, however, resulted in her survival and life.

Shortly after, her mother remarried to a German-British Christian man called Frank Schmidt. I knew him as ‘Opa’. Frank Schmidt refused to be cowed by the Nazis and like Horst Stresow, chose to do the right thing regardless of the consequences. Subsequently, as events unfolded, he found himself concealing the identity of a German-Jewish girl, Jutta, right under the noses of the Nazi regime in Berlin.

I am grateful today for the German official who noticed my mother’s papers were not in order, and instead of pursuing the matter, tore her papers up concealed the matter. That was not only something out of order – and Germans are famous for their carefulness to do things rightly and in order – but it was at considerable personal risk to the official.

I am grateful for the neighbour in Berlin who, when my mother, as a little girl, played with her daughter and wrote her birth name instead of her assumed name, came up to her apartment and remonstrated with her parents. To give away such a distinctively Jewish name in wartime Berlin could also result in exposure and death.

And so, I am grateful for all who at risk and cost choose to advocate and protect the Jewish people. Today the news from Ukraine is that a mayor has been shot in the back. At this point CNN has not reported the fact, but Arutz Sheva has: the mayor is Jewish. That is not likely to be an insignificant aspect to the news, and one has to wonder if CNN was unaware, was not able to verify, or simply did not want to report this aspect of the story. As Jews, we need people who stand with us and for us. We remember the lost, but we remember those who did what they could.

London, 28 April 2014 / 28 Nisan 5774

Jews and Anglicans


Jews and Anglicans

Against the backdrop of the Anglican church’s endorsement of the EAPPI, one perceptive writer severely questions the value of the Anglican church’s relationship to the British Jewish community. Fortunately, this endorsement is not representative of all Anglicans, but it is cause for concern. Are we witnessing a sea change?

http://hurryupharry.org/2012/07/25/jews-and-anglicans/

Want to Be Jewish?


A few weeks ago a gentleman turned up at the door for our Erev Shabbat service. The first words out of his mouth were ‘I want to be a Jew.’
I wonder if I would be married to Deborah today if the first time I ran into her (25 March 1989) I had started with ‘I want to be your husband’. Yikes! Talk about getting off on the wrong foot!
Why do so many Gentiles want to be Jewish? Israel is meant to be a Light to the Nations, not to relegate the Nations to obliteration by making the Nations all Jewish, or all Israel. Israel’s very raison d’etre is linked to the fact that Hashem ‘so loved the world’ that He blessed Abraham that in him all the nations of the world should be blessed. Israel is a peculiar treasure of the L-rd but certainly not His only treasure. Egypt will one day be called ‘My people’ He says. His praise shall be declared in the Islands, Isaiah says. I would like to suggest to you that there is as much to rejoice in being a Gentile as there is in being a Jew.
The Shliach Shaul (Apostle Paul) reminds us that there is no distinction between male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile in our Messiah. Awesome! Along with our Conservative (Masorti) friends we can now amend the prayers that say ‘thank you that you have not made me a woman/slave/heathen’ to a more egalitarian form. While we all have clearly different roles in the world He has created, we also have a wonderful unity.
All the more not to insult G-d by saying ‘I want to be a Jew (or woman or man) when He has divinely ordained that we should be other than in His infinite Wisdom He has created us.
So please, please, do not come to my door and say ‘I wanna be a Jew’

Conversions to Messianic Judaism? Maybe So.


A controversy that I should have seen coming – Conversions from Christianity to Messianic Judaism.

In this blog I am exploring the topic. Your comments and criticisms will be helpful.

The first time I heard of Messianic Jews offering conversion to Messianic Judaism I was completely dismissive. Absolutely crazy. They’ll think we are nuts. Who would recognise a Messianic conversion anyway?

Then I had a chat with my good friend Eleanor, and then I learned some more, read some more, and met my new friend Derek. Derek is sane, believe it or not! A sane prospective convert to Messianic Judaism. Would I tell him he’s all washed up? Do I think he’s driven by an identity crisis? Do I think he woudl discredit us? No.

What do you think? I think we need to keep studying this issue and thinking about it.

We are in danger of being reactionary. Here in the UK there is a group called the Union of British Messianic Jewish Congregations. I believe it is fair to say that they see themselves as more true to the ideals of historic Messianic Judaism than the majority of members of the British Messianic Jewish Alliance (est. 1866!). Maybe in some ways they are right, but BMJA members would counter ‘show us the Jews!’. The UBMJC’s membership is less Jewish in composition than that of the BMJA which requires Jewish parentage of its voting and office-holding members.

I would be very pleased if Rabbi Dr Ruth Fleischer was willing to comment on these observations. I hope that I am being fair and am open to being corrected. However, given that the BMJA sees itself as more Jewish, and the UBMJC sees itself as more Messianic, we have a stand-off in the makings. To BMJA members, the UBMJC conversion process is questionable. The lack of communication between the two groups intesifies the lack of mutual understanding.

I am not alone in being concerned that conversions could become a ‘Trojan horse’ that could turn some Messianic groups into completely Gentile, fraudulent copies of what Messianic Judaism initially set out to be. On the other hand, if Messianic Judaism is truly a Judaism it must have a means of admittance! (Maybe the root of the BMJA’s issue with the UBMJC is that it is seen as non-Jewish and therefore an inappropriate body to offer conversions). A way to keep conversion from being a Trojan horse would be to make the conversion process and expectations as rigorous as those of the orthodox community…

Is Messianic Judaism a form of Christianity or Judaism? Some would assert that we are both 100% Jewish and 100% ‘Christian’, although we might eschew the word Christian. That’s a difficult position to hold – theologically or sociologically.

Our identity in Messiah is distinct from our form and traditions of worship – which are rightly called religion. If we call ourselves Messianic Judaism, and Messianic Jews, then we have to say the latter. It is no wonder that there was such disharmony on the name change from Hebrew Christian Alliance to BMJA in days past. It was appropriate!

Most of us would agree that there are ‘true believers’, the ‘saved’, in both Christianity and Judaism. There is no doubt that these are different religions, but the key issue is whether or not an individual’s heart belongs to God and Messiah Yeshua – it is our relationship to Messiah that matters.

There is and must be a dichotomy between religion and relationship with God. Then it is OK to say that we and Christians have different religions but the same Lord and Messiah. Then it is OK to provide conversions, too – with the proviso that people clearly understand that there is nothing soteriological about the conversion’s meaning!

Last rambling thought… for the BMJA the question is whether toaccept conversions in general, and whose it should not accept (e.g. what if we accept UMJC conversions but not UBMJC?). For the BMJAF, the BMJA’s congregational network, the question is both that and whether we should consider offering a conversion path ourselves, and I don’t think we can even think about doing so at this point!

Shalom,

Daniel

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