Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Torahphobic Torah Talmid

Recently I have been accused of being Torahphobic. The intent of the accuser(s) was to suggest that I am biased against “Torah.” A buzz word in media today is “Islamophobia.” I hear this word disparaged all of the time on Christian and conservative talk radio. I had to laugh once when I heard Janet Parshall, host of conservative Christian radio station Moody Radio’s In the Market with Janet Parshall, state that “Islamphobic” is a “made-up word.” Huh, I guess she would have a problem then with every word she speaks for being likewise made up.

Though her word choice might suggest otherwise, no doubt Parshall did not mean that the word was “made up” but that the concept of Islamophobia is fabricated or fictional. I would like to challenge Parshall to walk about most anywhere in America dressed as a conspicuous minority—say with a hijab on (as her very own Bible would have her cover her head I Cor 11:1-16). Have her do so for an hour in rural America or a day in a metropolitan suburb. In her white, majority culture Christian cultural identity, she has no idea, no concept of what if feels like to be a conspicuous minority, and, in her asinine myopia, she shrugs the concept off as an idea that somehow threatens her as a Christian. If she were trying to be funny, she succeeded.

However, this post is not about Janet Parshall and her fundamentalist intolerance; it is about my being called a Torahphobe. If I can again defer to the very-real concept of Islamophobia, I would like to illustrate how the accusation that I am a Torahphobe is heavily flawed. Islamophobia is characterized largely by an uneven-handed treatment of Islam. It is characterized by the common human tendency to be graceful, forgiving, and even-handed with one’s own in-group but to be intolerant, unforgiving, and overly general and critical of an out-group. There is plenty more that can be added to this, but I will stop here.

Torahphobia, as used by my accuser(s), assumes a misleading definition of “Torah.” Though the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch or the Chumash, are often called “Torah,” the concept of Torah in Jewish use is expansive. Jews consider the entire legal process, anchored in the Pentateuch and in the Peoplehood of Am Yisrael (the Jewish people) to be Torah. When my accuser(s) call me Torahphobic, they are defining Torah in a non-Jewish, Christian, Protestant, minimalist manner that rejects the Jewish legal process and Jewish peoplehood. Ironically, I accept the integrity of the Jewish legal process, but my accuser(s) do not. For them Torah is biblical texts, specifically the Pentateuch.

I have read the Pentateuch through over thirteen times. At least five of those reads were done in Hebrew with rabbinic Jewish commentaries to accompany and elucidate the read. Each read also lead me to look heavily into historical critical commentaries both from conservative and “liberal” commentators. I have a sustained fascination with the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch, and there is no body of literature that I study more than the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch. I am particularly caught up in the legal minutia and law codes present in the Pentateuch, and I think about them at a nearly compulsive level. Yet, I find the Pentateuch to contain ethical atrocities that any modern person should first of all recognize and then reject.

Who is the person that is “Torahphobic?” Using the definition of Torah that my accuser(s) assume, the Torahphobe is the one who is afraid to recognize the swine carcass in the Holy of Holies. The Torahphobe is the one who refuses to study the Pentateuch and to understand. The Torahphobe denies the swine carcasses and pretends they are holy cows who should not be touched.


Andrew T. said...


Wow. Thirteen times!? I would guess you've read the Chumash much more than most theologians, Jewish or Christian. I have read through it fewer than two full times.

I think that Messianics are increasingly recognizing that merely-Biblical Judaism is an impossibility, a naive figment. More leaders of Messianic Judaism than ever before seem to agree on the validity of normative Jewish practice and its relevance, at least for Jews. Of course, I'm talking about the mainstream of the movement, not those nutty gentile-led Hebrew Roots groups that think themselves the true remnant.

Peter said...

Hey Andrew,

Yes, thirteen times. I have portions of the Pentateuch nearly memorized in the Hebrew text and can peel them off sing-songish. There are some portions that I have studied much more in depth than others. For example, I have given and give the first eleven chapters of Genesis, the “Holiness Code” of Leviticus, the “Book of the Covenant” of Exodus, and the first sixteen chapters of Leviticus much more attention than the narrative histories. Thank you for allowing me to boast 

There are some Messianics that are growing to appreciate the integral connection between Jewish-peoplehood and the text of the Chumash as the raw ingredients that make up Torah. One notable group that has gone that direction is First Fruits of Zion. Though, I do not think it is possible to amalgamate New Testament, Christological religiosity with the Jewish Torah. Insofar that the Jewish Torah is focused on cultic and ethnic holiness and separation, to that degree is the centripetal focus of the Jewish Torah covenantal ethics and priorities. New Testament holiness is of a different nature. Taking Matthew 12 as an example, Jesus is made to argue that the holiness of the Temple (cultic holiness) is a moral priority which exempts the priests from their acts of work on the Sabbath. Jesus then asserts that he is greater than the Temple and hence asserts a Christological focus to New Testament ethics and holiness. The implications of this are immense and are missed by Messianics who try to brush over it by the assertion that Jesus’ was fully congruent with the ethical priorities of the Chumash.

Andrew T. said...


It's not just FFOZ. Granted, most Messianics, Jewish or gentile, would have reservations about calling it "Oral Torah", because the evangelical Protestant roots of the movement have yet to be outgrown. Messianics are recognizing the trans-generational nature of the Torah and certainly the Jewish peoplehood, but they are not calling a spade a spade.

In Mt. 12 and throughout the synoptics Yeshua was quite subtle about his true Messianic identity. He said "something greater than the Temple is here", not simply boasting "I am greater than the Temple", which is the kind of assertion you'd expect to see in John's gospel, a work of questionable authenticity. Without a proper sense of context, it might almost seem that Yeshua was anti-Temple, but in fact he loved the Temple ("my Father's house") enough to severely criticize its corruption by the Sadducee party. It's difficult for modern Christians to imagine Yeshua shekhita-slaughtering and offering a lamb for sacrifice, but to his 1st-century followers, it would have seemed ludicrous that someday people would imagine him as anything other than a kosher, Temple-worshipping Jew. What were Yeshua's Jewish followers doing immediately after he departed from them post-resurrection? They were in the Beit ha-Miqdash constantly blessing God (which, of course, necessarily implies their strict adherence to the purity codes associated with worship in the Temple).