From a shabbat shloch to……
…………a snappy dresser!
A lunchtime encounter with two red-heads on the streets of London…..leads to a wardrobe re-appraisal
I am on call. Hyperacute stroke unit. Hard work for five days. Only three or four of these left until I retire! In 32 weeks. But who’s counting?
I hurry between hospitals. Through the “Farmer’s Market.” Past University College buildings where students chill, eat, and chat. One Jewish-looking sandy-haired student, let’s call him “the Sandman”, with blue satin jacket bearing the twinkling words “Jews for Jesus”, swivels 270 degrees as he spots me on his “Jewdar.”
How does he know? The hood of my coat is up. All he sees are glasses, half a beard. I look like Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool manager, on the touch line!
“Dad,” says my son later, “Your tzitzit go past your coat, which has two Spurs badges. You wear Mahler glasses! Of ourse he knew!”
“Can I ask you something?” the Sandman enquires. “What do you think of Jesus?”
Now, I don’t mind Christians. As long as they don’t want to kill or convert me, I’m fine! In fact, I miss England being overtly Christian, with school assemblies telling bible stories, and shops closed on Sundays. I feel an instinctive connection with other-faith colleagues and students.
Jesus, I respond, was an ordinary Rabbi, whose talmidim, in an act of cultural embezzlement, twisted Isaiah’s prophecies of ‘the Servant, Israel,’ to claim he was Messiah!
There are three of them. An unholy Trinity(?), “Sandman” slightly to my left, attractive auburn-haired student to my right, and a tall chap, behind my right shoulder. Do they know the Inquisition considered red hair a sign of Jewish roots (no pun intended)? Could they even be descended from “conversos”?
“It is offensive,” I continue” that you adopt and promulgate a religion that persecuted and killed so many of us for 2000 years, laying foundations for the Holocaust. Are you not aware of the crusades, the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, forced conversions across Europe, including England, the Pogroms in Russia. And you try and convert their descendants?!!
The Sandman has clearly heard this before. “Yes, I had family in the holocaust.”
I let that one go.
Christian persecution of Jews was Hypocrisy incarnate,” I resume.”Even if you think we killed him, Jesus’s most famous teaching which, incidentally, has Jewish origins in “Lo Tikom” (Take no Vengeance), tells you to ‘turn the other cheek.’ You never did! It was Vengeance all the way!
“And,” I continue, “He clearly wasn’t Mashiach! Look at the world today!None of the prophecies have come true”
Hold back, why don’t I? But at no time are our voices raised. Throughout, Miss Auburn has her head on one side, viewing me “compassionately”, trying to understand, “social-worker face!” Are they working hard at “turn the other cheek”, I wonder?
The Sandman’s good though. He asks gently, “What do you think it will be like when Messiah comes?
“There’ll be peace, no war!”
Sandman: “Will that be all? What about peace between individuals? The thing is, Sheldon, if you accept Jesus as Messiah, he changes your heart, and people become good to each other.”
He is warming up.
“Tell me,” he says judiciously, “what do you think Deuteronomy 10.10 means by ‘you will circumcise your heart’?”
“Look, Circumcision is simply a reminder to emulate Hashem’s attributes. You gave me verse 10. I give you verse 17, which lists Hashem’s attributes: -executing justice, looking after the orphan, widow and stranger”.
“Jesus has not been followed properly,” returns the Sandman. “Once you take him into your heart, everything else follows, people are good to each other, he transforms them. Why can’t you accept that this is a progressive vision, a new covenant replacing the old?”
He is fervent, almost capering. He thinks he sees something others are not clever enough to spot. It is his most Jewish moment of the encounter!
“So for 2000 years, his adherents misinterpreted him?” I am incredulous, “You sound exactly like a Marxist who still thinks Marxism works, but Russia and China got it wrong!”
This gets to him.
He leans back on the railing, laughing weakly and scoffs, “That is a ridiculous analogy! It is not the same thing at all”
“It’s a perfect analogy!”
Sandman tries a new tack.
“Do you believe in the prophets, Sheldon? What’s more important, them or the Torah?”
“Torah comes first, but one takes things as a whole. Prophets often provide the ethical or spiritual mood music behind the law but their prophecies are often specific to their political times.”
“Have you read Jeremiah 31?”
“Not since I was 18! Why?”
“Jeremiah contradicts Moses in Deuteronomy.”
“That’s interesting! Did you know Tosefot suggest Jeremiah wrote Devarim! Be odd if he contradicted himself!”
This time I stood close and spoke intimately. “Look, Ziggy (his “real” name, I swear to you!), there is no need for anything else. You want people to treat each other nicely, just look at Kedoshim. No gossip, grudges, public embarrassment, ensnaring people or being bystanders. We don’t ask that everyone becomes Jewish, we just ask them to obey the Noachide Laws-no murder, theft, dodgy sex etc. Even “no idolatry” has modern meaning- no political or religious hegemonies”
My phone rang. A junior doctor from the Emergency Room.
Sandman: “You know why the Rabbis were against Jesus? He healed people on the Sabbath!”
“That has to be rubbish! I’m a doctor. Working on shabbat is normative Halacha. You can even circumcise babies on Shabbat! Look, I have to go!”
Sandman: “Read Jeremiah 31!”
“I will. You look at Tosefot!”
I addressed the three of them.
It’s offensive you should seek me out for conversion. It’s not right. It’s discrimination.”What I don’t get is, if you are “Jews” for Jesus, why don’t you do the Jewish things he did? “Ritual enacts meaning- historical, legal, ethical, spiritual, communal or psychological. Try it!
Heavens! Am I trying to convert them?
That night I read Jeremiah 31. With trepidation! Suppose…..?
And I see it. How verses 31-34 could be twisted out of context to support a prior belief in Jesus. Cognitive dissonance!
And I feel sorrow that somehow we did not give them enough Jewish education, tradition and history to resist “J 4 J”. What motivates them? A desire to fit in with the host community? A naïve attempt to reconcile two religions? An illusion of discovering hidden truth and mystery?
Nonetheless, I am grateful to Ziggy for making me re-read Jeremiah. It is magnificent raw religious poetry. The verses in question are hyperbolic passion. Commentators make little of it.
…I had asked what his family from the holocaust thought.
… I had asked what Jewish practices they did.
…I had told them that when Messiah comes it will be like…Shabbat!
Shabbat. A foretaste of Messianic life. Let’s be honest, shabbat can be tiring and stressful, especially if you are a working woman on whom the bulk of preparation still falls. However, it is peaceful. No emails, phones, news, TV, cars.
In the kabbalat shabbat tehilim we marvel at creation and anticipate future justice and peace. We find a place for the lonely or troubled at our tables and synagogues, welcome strangers without suspicion, and take the time to talk with interest and attention to them, family, friends and even people we don’t know that well! We sing, connect with the divine, and hear or study something that inspires us for the week, and we could take some of that marvelling, working towards peace and justice, and real conversation forward into the week to create that world of Mashiach now. However, sometimes we routinise shabbat so that it loses its potential transformative power.
It’s not Jesus that can transform Jews, it’s Shabbat!
On an ideal shabbat we have one meal in and one meal out! A great kiddush with all the bad-for-you delicacies we like! And, as “the King has come to town,” we dress up!
And this is where ‘Jews for Jesus’ got me!
Often on shabbat I dress down, relaxed and informal. Smart casual to shlochy. But this shabbat, I dress up real smart, beyond Chag or Smachot!
“You’re looking very distinguished” says the Judge I sit next to at Shul.
Someone else asks,“You look very sophisticated, today. Any reason??”
I feel a bit aggrieved. They have seen me smartly dressed before!
“Well, it’s a long story, “I say, “but I was talking to these two red headed Jews for Jesus…….