Messianic Rabbinic
Dialogue

by Rachmiel Frydland

Throughout the centuries there was always ambivalence among Jewish rabbinic leaders as to whether to ignore Messianic proofs, for Jesus' Messiahship and Divinity,

 or to treat them seriously by using counter arguments.

It seems that the latter view prevailed.

   J.D. Eisenstein in his Hebrew book entitled, "Polemics and Disputations" makes the following observation:

   The first Christians, who were Jewish, some half, some one third and some one fourth Jewish, were called Minim (a sectarian; a believer in Jesus).  These Minim were always on the lookout for opportunities of disputations with rabbis, especially in the matter of interpreting Scriptures.  The rabbis, however, pushed them aside as with a straw, i.e., they did not give them sincere or weighty answers, only a sharp word, or saying, like it is written in the Passover Hagadah, in regards to the wicked, "But do thou set his teeth on edge and answer him.......

   As example, the following story is quoted from the Talmud (Abode Zara 4:a):

       The minim asked R. Saphra (a third century Jerusalem Amora - teacher): What is the meaning of Amos 3:2.  "You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I visit upon you your iniquity?" Does one treat kindly a bad horse?  (If God is unkind to the Jews then they must be bad).  He did not know the answer, so they threw a kerchief on his neck and were bothering him.  But R. Abahu explained it to them in this way: It is like one having two creditors to whom he made loans.  One is a friend, the other an enemy.  From his friend he agrees to correct the debt in small installments (as God does with the Jews), but from his enemies he demands payment in one lump sum (Gentiles will be punished in one lump).

   The other example is quoted from Midrash Rabbah Genesis 9:

       R. Samlai (also third century) was asked: How many Divinities participated in the creation of the universe?  He answered we should inquire from the ancient days as it is written in Deuteronomy 4:32: "For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth.  ... " It is not written created in a plural Hebrew form but in a singular form.  They asked further,  Why is it written, Bereshit bara elohim (Elohim is a plural form in Hebrew)?  He answered again that bara (created) is a singular form.  They asked again, why is it written in Genesis 1:26, "Let us make man in our image."  He answered, read what is written in the following verse, "God created man in His own image. "  It is not written "In His images" but "in His image."

   When the Minim had left, his disciples objected saying, You pushed them aside with a weak reed (an inadequate answer) but how do you explain it to us?  For the text still says, "Let us make man in our image......."   He answered them, Originally, Adam was created from the earth.  Eve was created from Adam, but henceforth, "in our image after our likeness" to say that no man is anything without woman, or woman is not anything without man, and both of them are not anything without the Shechinah.

   They asked again, Why is it written in Joshua 22:22, "The Lord, God, God; The Lord, God, God" (Hebrew El, Elohim, Jehovah).  He answered, It is not written, "They knew" but "He knows." His disciples objected again saying, you pushed them aside with a weak reed, but explain it to us, He answered, all three are names of God as one says, Basileus (king) Caesar, Augustus.

   Oft repeated in the Talmud is the pun made on Matthew 5:13:

       How do you salt the salt that lost its savor?  [Answer]  With the offal of a mule.  But does a mule have an offal (since it is incapable of giving birth)?  [Answer] And does salt lose its savour?

   The following story, in a similar vein, attempts to show the superiority of the rabbis as compared with the Minim.

   R. Joshua ben Hananiah was standing before king Hadrian.  There was also one of the Minim present and the latter hinted before the king [by sign language] that the Jews are a people from whom God has turned away His countenance.  R. Joshua, in turn, showed [by sign language], that God still has His  protecting Hand over us.  The king asked R. Joshua quietly, What did he show you?  He, answered, The Min showed that God turned away His countenance from us, but I showed him that God's hand is still outstretched over us.  Then the king asked the Min: Explain what you showed him?  He answered, I showed him that he belongs to the people from who God turned away His countenance.  And what did R. Joshua show you?  He answered: I do not know.  The courtiers said, A man who does not know what was shown to him by sign language dares speak in sign language before the king?  They took the Min outside and killed him. (Talmud, Hagiga 5:b).

   We could summarize this rabbinic relation to Jewish believers in this way: The Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua were convinced of their bounden duty to witness to their Jewish brethren about the One who died and rose from the dead according to the Scriptures, who was the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Their proofs were from the Hebrew Scriptures and from history.  The disaster of C.E. 70 was special proof to them that this extreme judgment was the result of the non-acceptance of Yeshua as Messiah by the Jewish leaders.  Although it irked the rabbis, they had no ready reply to these arguments.  The Bar Kosiba (Bar Kokhba) revolt in 132-135 failed miserably in spite of the fact that the leading Rabbi Akiba hailed him as the Star of Numbers 24:17 (Bar Kokhba means The Star).

   Lacking the answers, the rabbis resorted to denigrating the Jewish believers, calling them.  Minim, although some Jewish believers see in this term the initials for Ma'min Yeshua Nozree - Believer in Yeshua the Nazarene.

   The Talmud forbids the reading of the Gospels.  Parts of them were known to the rabbis, yet they preferred to treat these parts with contempt, instead of searching their own hearts and determining how they could be the light that they were supposed to be (Isaiah 60:1-3).

Messianic (Christian) Reactions

   The Jewish Messianic reaction in the post-apostolic period can be illustrated by the contents of the Epistle of Barnabas.

   On the basis of Isaiah 1:11-13 and Jeremiah 7:22-23, Barnabas points out that the ceremonial laws of sacrifices, feasts, and fasts, were never intended to be observed literally forever.  Only Messiah can and will purify us.  The Hebrew Scriptures make this clear by predicting Messiah's Incarnation, death and resurrection.  This is also hinted in the Tenach by the types of the two goats for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), and by the Red Heifer (Numbers 19).  Even the laws of circumcision and the dietary laws of kosher and non-kosher foods, have a spiritual meaning and intent.  Believers in Messiah Jesus are, therefore, the true heirs of the Patriarchs, of Moses, and of the Prophets.  The Messianic believers possess the true Sabbath and they are the true Temple of God.

Dialogue with Tryphon

   Justyn, a Samaritan, composed this Dialogue soon after the Bar Kokhba war of C.E. 132-135.  He was martyred C.E. 165.  Justyn tells us how he met this venerable rabbi, whose name sounds like the R. Tarphon of the Talmud. Justyn rebukes Tryphon for studying philosophy instead of concentrating on the Hebrew Scriptures.  He tells him how he, Justyn, a philosopher himself, has come to the knowledge of Truth which is found in the Prophets.  These Jewish prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures glorify the Creator of all things as God the Father and proclaim Messiah sent  from God as His Son.

   Tryphon's companions laugh aloud at this.  Even Tryphon himself smiles and says to Justyn that it were better for him to have remained a philosopher.  By believing in Jesus "You have forsaken God and placed your hope on man. What kind of salvation yet remains for you?"  Justyn is advised to get circumcised, keep the Sabbath, and the Jewish feasts "and then perchance you will find mercy from God."  As to Messiah, He is unknown "until Elijah shall come and anoint Him ... but you ... shape a kind of Messiah for yourselves."

   Now Justyn seizes the opportunity to point out the prophetic passages regarding Messiah.  He reminds Tryphon that believers in Jesus are denounced in the Jewish synagogue in the twelfth benediction of the Shemona Esreh. (In his days the text was: "To the apostates let there be no hope, and the kingdom of pride do Thou quickly root out in our days.  And let the Nozrim (Nazarenes) and the Minim perish as in a moment.  Let them be wiped out from the Book of Life." (Berakhot 19:a).

   Justyn then shows that the believers in Jesus are the true followers of Moses and the Prophets.  This he finds in Genesis 49:10, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh comes, and unto him shall the gathering of the peoples be." He finds confirmation also in Jeremiah 31:31-34 which prophesies about the New Covenant.  He supports the pre-existence and the Divinity of Messiah with Genesis 1:26 (Let us make man in our image...).  He supports the supernatural birth of the Messiah with Isaiah 7:14.  This leads to a lengthy discussion as to whether the Septuagint was correct in translating, "Behold the Virgin. ... parthenos)" or that it should be translated, "Behold the young maiden. ... (neanis)."

   Messiah is "the Stone cut out without hands" of Daniel 2:34; hence, in a midrashic manner, Justyn explains that the circumcisions by "knives of stone" in Joshua 5:2 suggest the Stone which is Messiah Jesus.

   Tertulian, C.E. 200, in his discussion with Jewish people introduced the additional proof, that Messiah is to be the light to the nations according to Isaiah 10:11; 42:4; and 49:6 and says, "We see that the prophecies that the nations should hear him are already being fulfilled, even to the very ends of the earth including the parts of Britain unreached by Rome." (Lukyn Williams, Adversus Judaeus 1935, Cambridge).

   Conclusion   Believers in Jesus took seriously their Lord's command to be witnesses to the end of the earth, but "first to the Jew" and "beginning in Jerusalem" (Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16).  To support their witness they had a risen Messiah, prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the historical facts that followed Messiah's resurrection.  The rabbis' counter arguments did not even satisfy their own disciples, therefore they resorted to strengthening the wall of partition between those who believed in Messiah Jesus and those who did not.  This could not go on forever and so especially to-day we see the wells, erected so artificially, crumbling before our own eyes, and again thousands of Jewish people, especially the young and the intellectual, are finding their joy, salvation, and satisfaction in Messiah Yeshua.

 

Reprinted with permission of The Messianic Literature Outreach
www.messianicliterature.org

 

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