Light from the Sidra

Re'eh ('See')

Torah: Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17. Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11-55:5

Clear and present danger

More than once in his book 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus, Asher Norman solemnly warns his Jewish readers, ‘Christianity is idolatry for a Jew’ and, ‘The penalty for idolatry is kores, which means separation from God forever in the World to Come’.

On page 16 of the book, Norman elaborates on the meaning of ‘kores’: ‘According to the Torah, idolatry is the most serious sin a Jew can commit. The Torah’s penalty for idolatry is “kores,” which means “cut off” . . . Kores can also refer to God’s punishments in this world of premature death (before the age of fifty or sixty) or childlessness.’

There you have it. Believe in Jesus and you could end up childless and dead before the age of fifty. Why is it ‘scare tactics’ if a Christian warns a Jew about hell but it is not ‘scare tactics’ when Mr Norman warns Jewish people not only about hell but also that they might end up there before the age of 50 and childless to boot?

Was Moses using ‘scare tactics’ when he warned Israel in Deuteronomy 13 that the punishment for a community member or a family member who attempted to entice others to follow false gods would be death? Was it ‘scare tactics’ to warn that an entire Israelite community that worshipped a god other than Yahweh would be wiped out? Of course.

There’s nothing wrong and everything right about scaring people who are about to do something life-threatening. We warn our children of the consequences of playing with fire, of not looking both ways before they cross the road and about the dangers of not brushing their teeth (or we ought to!).

So what about Asher Norman’s claim that Christianity is idolatry for Jews but is fine for non-Jews? Mr Norman is a believer in the seven Noachide laws which, the rabbis say, are binding on all mankind. The first of the Noachide laws, however, forbids idolatry, which catches Asher Norman on the horns of a dilemma. He recognises the virtues of Christianity and he doesn’t want to offend Christians, so he is forced to theorise that when Gentile Christians worship Jesus – even though, according to his reckoning, Jesus was a false messiah and a false god –Christians are not engaging in idolatry! The theory is totally lacking in logical consistency. If Jesus is a false god it follows that it is an act of idolatry for anyone to worship him and serve him.

Moses never allows that the worship of Baal, Molech, Tammuz or Ishtar, though anathema to Jews, is fine for the Canaanite nations. The idolatrous systems of the peoples of Canaan were a primary reason why Israel was instructed to wipe them out. Mr Norman’s reasoning would make idolatry impossible for everyone but Jews!

Idolatry is always a clear and present danger for both Jews and Gentiles. What if, albeit unwittingly, religious Jews are idolaters? What if the God of the Talmud is not the God of the Bible? What if the deity of Judaism today is not the God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the Prophets?

Take one example. Why, when God forbids adding to or taking away from the words he spoke to Moses, did the influential twelfth century Rabbi Moses Maimonides change the wording of the Shema in order to strengthen the rabbinic doctrine that God is an absolute, indivisible unity?

In Hebrew, Deuteronomy 4:6 reads: Shema Yisroel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad: ‘Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.’ The Hebrew word echad, as Maimonides realised, does not indicate absolute singularity. It is the word used in Genesis 2 to describe man and woman becoming ‘one flesh’; it is used in Ezekiel 37 for two sticks that are joined together to become ‘one’. Maimonides was aware, therefore, that the classic Christian doctrine that God is three-in-one did not contravene Deuteronomy 4:6. The Shema is foundational not only to Judaism but also to Christianity. But like many Jewish people, Maimonides probably thought the Christian doctrine of the trinity amounted to a belief in three gods. In order to safeguard the rabbinic concept of God as an absolute indivisible unity Maimonides, therefore, changed echad to yachid. But a god who is yachid is not the same as the God who is echad.

The terrible irony is that in order to fence the wording of the Torah, Maimonides became guilty of the very sin condemned in Deuteronomy 13. In effect, Maimonides became a prophet who said to Israel, ‘Let us walk after another god.’ Apart from Messianic Jews and some cabbalists, Israel was led astray by Maimonides.

God still loves Israel and remains gracious to them, however. He is not willing that Israel should perish and so he continues to calls the Jewish people to repentance. Israel’s repentance, when it comes, will involve them recognising that Jesus not a Gentile deity but as none other than the Almighty who revealed himself to Moses and the Patriarchs of Israel.

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