Rabbinic Judaism vs. Modern Judaism

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the picture of Messiah that emerges from the Akkedat Yitzchak, the narrative of Isaac’s binding and near-sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, and noted at that time, “Ergo, Judaism as taught by the ancient rabbis–rather than the shallow, reactionary Judaism of the anti-missionaries–would not have a problem with a truly righteous, even completely innocent man who laid down his own life to intercede for the guilty so that they could be reconciled to the Holy One–and in fact finds its prototype for such a sacrifice in the Akedat Yitzchak.”

I got a wonderful confirmation of this view today, when Rabbi Derek noted essentially the same thing:

The midrashic conceptions of God are very amenable to Messianic Jewish faith and counter the rather deistic tradition of much modern Judaism. It will not be easy for Jewish opponents of Messianic Judaism to claim that our faith is un-Jewish as our scholars (present and future) delve deeply into the more immanent and mystical parts of the Tradition.

I particularly appreciated his categorization of much of modern Judaism as deistic–which is to say, having a view of God that does not allow for much interaction with His creation. I had a similar view that I voiced in my post on speculative fiction in Judaism and Christianity, but I failed to actually label the problem with modern Judaism correctly. My thanks to Rabbi Derek for succinctly summing up what I was trying to puzzle out.

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to spend several dinners with an Israeli friend of my in-laws. In the course of our conversations, it became evident that for him, “God” was not an entity who consciously directs history, but just the name people put to the course of history. In fact, the distinct impression that I got was that he had come to America with his family because he expected Israel to eventually fail and wanted his daughters to survive. One might expect such an attitude to come from a secularized Jew, but the truly sad thing is that this gentleman was Orthodox in upbringing and custom! He had one of the more extensive libraries of commentary on the Scriptures that I’ve ever seen, and obviously had spent a great deal of time in the Word. He had grown up in the Land that the Eternal One had brought our people back home to after two thousand years of exile, living and breathing the miracle that is Israel’s survival . . .

. . . and yet, in his heart, he had no trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

You know, in the Messianic movement there is a pervasive tendency to idolize all things Jewish. Obviously, I think there is a great deal to be admired in Judaism and Jewish culture, or else I would not have joined to it. Furthermore, I am one of the voices urging those who wish to claim to be a part of the Jewish people to accept the traditions and authorities of the Jewish people. But we need to do so with our eyes open, recognizing and combatting the ennui and despair that typlifies so much of modern Judaism.

And to do that, we need to be able to point to the rabbis of old and say, “We agree with them! The Holy One isn’t distant from the sufferings of His people, the Messiah isn’t just a wise man, and the Spirit still breathes life and joy into us.”

We’ve got a lot of homework to do. Time to get cracking.


9 Replies to “Rabbinic Judaism vs. Modern Judaism”

  1. The deism of modern Judaism is the only thing Judaism has going for it. Fundamentalists who take the Torah so seriously that they believe that God actually commanded genocide are abominations, whether they be Christians or Jews or some sort of hybrid of the two. Thank God their are deists in both ranks! Otherwise, we’d be in for a rather violent ride. Can you imagine if Jews performed the Muslim-style honor killings that Deuteronomy 13 commands? Its precisely their deism that stops them. Too bad the Muslims haven’t discovered deism yet! That would solve a lot of problems!!!


  2. Being a deist myself I’ve been thinking of attending synagogue only and precisely because Judaism is so much closer to deism than Christianity, and doesn’t hold this insane fundamentalist view of scripture that its all literally the word of God. A Christian pastor will get up in the pulpit and read about the genocides in the OT and say “if only the Jews had obeyed God and wiped out all the Canaanites like he told them, then there wouldn’t be all that fightin’ in the middle east today.” Somehow I doubt a Jewish rabbit would do this, although I haven’t been to synagogue yet. But the Christian (and I suppose the Messianic Jews fits in this category whether he likes it or not) has obviously missed the point: God didn’t command those genocides; evil men commanded them and then blamed them on God. And besides that, those stories illustrate the impossibility of ever wiping everyone of your enemies out. The moral is that when you attempt genocide, you merely create more enmity. And who can seriously take a book seriously as the asbolute word of God when it says that the ancient Jews were enabled by God to run out all of these various nations, but this one nation they couldn’t overcome “because they had chariots of steel”? What, God is impotent against chariots of steel? He helped them cast out all the others, but since these had “chariots of steel” his arm was shortened that he could not save? Fundamentalism at its essence is nothing more than blasphemy, and therefore the deism of modern Judaism is its greatest strength, and I venture that God agrees. I’ll bet he’s as tired of the fundamentalist blasphemy as I am.


    1. Shalom, Rey.

      You need to calm down, take a deep breath, and read J.P. Holding’s On “Argument by Outrage” as a fallacy of criticism of the Bible, where he addresses this exact issue. To put it simply, the Canaanites were not a nice, peaceful people just sitting around minding their own business until those evil Hebrews attacked them. The Canaanites had already destroyed a prosperous trade among city-states with their own wars of conquest and were engaged in various abominations including human sacrifice. If God had allowed them to remain and expand their influence, you would demanding to know why He did not stop them. To quote Holding’s piece:

      I like a point a friend of mine made about this. One Skeptic asked why God simply did not kill Hitler as a baby. Yet if “baby Hitler” had died, the Skeptic would ask why God did not prevent the death of this innocent baby. This shows that a far more critical view is needed than “argument by outrage.” Indeed, “argument by outrage” often assumes a form of omniscience by the critic.



      1. All fundamentalists say this sort of thing, but it merely betrays their inability to read.

        1 Samuel 15:2-3 “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. (3) Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

        Do you not realize that Amalek’s supposed misdeed took place 400 years before Saul? Everyone who was involved in not letting the Israelites pass through the land has been dead for hundreds of years by this point. But now the priest Samuel decides its time to punish the people of Amalek for something they didn’t do, something they probably don’t have a clue ever even happened! How is this any different from Hitler? Fundamentalism is evil. Duh. Deism is far superior, as the heavens are higher than the earth so is deism superior to fundamentalism.


      2. “Supposed”? Amalek launched an unprovoked attack on Israel just weeks out of Egypt. The Amalekites repeatedly oppressed Israel throughout the period of the Judges. And if you were truly as well read in the Scriptures as you claim, you would have noticed 1Sa 14:48: “[Saul] did valiantly, and struck the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who despoiled them.”

        Saul’s attack was not something out-of-the-blue, or merely in response to Amalek’s sin 400 years before, but was a war of liberation against those who were at that time robbing and enslaving Israel. God’s command to be particularly ruthless with the Amalekites has to be understood in this context, ala

        I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. [Nor have his descendents repented of that sin, but have repeatedly oppressed My people for hundreds of years. They have made it clear that they will never make peace.] Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling [to put an end to this war forever, and] ox and sheep, camel and ass[, lest you think that I want you to profit by war].

        But of course, you betray your motives with the “supposedly.” It let’s you pick and choose what you want to believe so that you can cast the Bible, the God of the Bible, and the people of the Bible in the worst possible light. You are not interested in the truth, which you could have easily obtained by saying, “Huh, that’s weird. Perhaps I should actually take the time to read the backstory and find out if there’s more to it than what I think I got by reading one verse out of context.”



      3. You can take your high and mighty stance all you want, but the fact is that Samuel’s reason for wanting Amalek wiped out is something that took place 400 years ago. And as for the Canaanites in general, they were supposedly promised these people’s land long before they ever met them. The Canaanies had done nothing to Israel before they came to murder the Canaanites and steal their land in opposition both to “thou shalt not covet” and “thou shalt not steal” and worst of all “thou shalt not murder.” We are supposed to believe that the same God who said “thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor’s” then commanded them to covet their neighbors’ land.


      4. Ah, so providing a contextually-based answer to your objection is being “high and mighty” now.

        I think you’ve made it quite clear that you’re not interested in answers, since you’ve simply repeated an objection that’s already been destroyed and disregarded the actual content of the rebuttal given.


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