Being a Hebrew Roots Jew: Turning walls into Bridges

September 9, 2022

3 min read

When I began getting serious about my religious observance, I quickly realized that I had no desire to be Haredi and wear black clothes. My path towards Torah began in the cowsheds of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, passed through the IDF, and wandered through the forests and springs of Gush Etzion, before landing in the Golan. The Judaism of 18th century Poland had no attraction for me. I wanted the Judaism of King David striding through the desert of Judea singing psalms. I wanted to go up to Shiloh with Elkanah and Chana to pray at the Tabernacle. And, of course, I long to bring my Passover lamb to the Temple in Jerusalem.

But that is not what Judaism became in Europe. Rabbis are trained to be experts in Kashrut, Shabbat, Niddah, and the daily mitzvoth. No rabbinical training in the world teaches issues pertaining to ritual purity, sacrifices, or agriculture, the mitzvoth that take up the bulk of the Torah. 

While the rabbis know little about the practical realities of the Temple, it is no surprise that few rabbis are advocating for its construction. They are trained just as rabbis have been trained throughout the 2,000 years of exile and their version of Judaism is the same that was practiced throughout the exile.

But that is not the only form of Judaism there is. Whenever I speak with young people who come to Israel on the Birthright tours, so many of them say that what they have found in Israel is totally new, a form of Judaism they never imagined existed. And this is true. When the Jews returned to Israel, the entity that is the Jews, the land, and the Torah returned to existence. This entity which is the embodiment of the covenant could not exist outside of Israel.

Something new (or more accurately, something renewed) is rising up. And this new Judaism requires new rules. So many of the daily laws (what the rabbis call halacha) that have become fine-tuned over the last two millennia must now be reevaluated and recalibrated to match the new reality.

One of the biggest changes I think needs to be made is to tear down the walls. One of the difficulties Jews have to overcome in returning from the exile is that after 2,000 years of exile, we are ingrained with building walls to protect our Torah and to continue. 

But returning from the exile means tearing down the walls in order to let the light out into the world. That is an eretz yisrael thing. When the Jews are in exile, contact with non-Jews is an existential threat. But in Israel, we must take our place as a priestly nation, spreading the light of Torah from Zion.

I would like to suggest that the root source of the antisemitism that has plagued the relationships between Jews and Christians is based on their disappointment that we are not fulfilling our Biblical function of helping them to connect with God. We necessarily disappointed them because we could not fully connect with them while we were outside of Israel.

So now, Bible-loving Christians are thrilled that Jews can finally fulfill our function. Ironically, many Israeli Orthodox Jews reject this growing connection. Ironically, they cite historic Christian antisemitism as a reason to reject Christian friendship. 

Many of these Jews say that there is a greater need to focus on the Jews who remain in exile. I disagree. Jewish tradition teaches that 80% of the Jews remained in Egypt and even fewer returned from Babylon. Nonetheless, we were never commanded to go back for them. The standard of living in Israel is at least as high as in other developed countries. Thank God, the IDF keeps Israel safer than most urban centers in the US. There is no reason not to return from exile. Anyone from the US or Europe who has not returned has made a conscious choice.

I prefer to relate to the Christians who are responding to the manifestation of prophecy. 

But I feel that this requires me to do something I am incredibly uncomfortable with. I must allow myself to learn from Christians.

 This relationship between Christians and Jews MUST be bilateral. We must BOTH be changed and improved in our relationship with Hashem. For Jews, this is terrifying. “Not changing’ was our national credo and survival mechanism. Your description is inspiring in the extra for me as a Jew. I love to hear about Christians’ relationship with Jesus. It is hugely inspiring.

I remember speaking with a group of Christians who came to Israel with Pastor Trey Graham. I asked them how they were enjoying Israel. One elderly gentleman answered with a story that, at first, made me think he was a bit addled. He explained that his wife had passed away several months ago. He was sad for a while but one day, while walking around his house, alone and feeling lonely, he felt a hand on his back. He was sure it was his wife comforting him

“I’ve felt that every moment since I got off the plane in Tel Aviv,” he said. “It is the holy spirit, comforting me.”

I do not believe in the Holy Spirit but his story reminded me that I too feel the Shechina supporting me in Israel. The story of his Christian faith strengthened my Jewish faith.

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