It is 2000 years now that Christians have been striving to persuade the Jewish people to join them in their faith. And it is for 2000 years that Jews have resisted the arguments of the Christian missionaries. The Jewish resistance to the claims of the missionary is firmly rooted in the words of scripture. But the Jewish objection to Christianity runs much deeper than that. The people of Israel recognize that the Christian faith runs counter to the very foundation of the Jewish scriptures.
God made a covenant with the nation of Israel when He took them out of Egypt. As part of this covenant God entrusted the Jewish people with the responsibility of preserving His scriptures and passing them on to the future generations. This was not limited to the preservation of the original books that God had given them through Moses. The covenantal responsibility of Israel includes the task of identifying the true prophets and preserving their words. The 24 books of the Jewish scripture are here today because Israel discharged this duty under her covenant with God.
When God charged Israel with this responsibility, He also gave them the means through which they can accomplish this goal. God supplied Israel with a standard against which every claimant to prophecy can be measured. Israel was directed by God to dismiss the most spectacular miracles and the most persuasive and forceful arguments if the claimant to prophecy fails to measure up to the standard that God provided to His covenant community.
In order to empower Israel to resist the arguments of the false prophets, God provided Israel with the confidence and the conviction that His standard is true and immutable. This conviction would give them the strength to stand firm in a world intoxicated with the message of the false prophet. God empowered Israel with the fortitude to endure all the hell unleashed by the frustrated followers of the false prophets. This is an integral part of the covenant that joins Israel and her God.
What was the standard that God gave Israel against which they could measure the claims of the prophets? How did God give Israel the certitude and the conviction that this standard is true and eternal? What was the strength that God poured into the hearts of His people that gave them peace in the face of the most violent aggression?
The standard that God gave Israel is her understanding of God. The people of Israel possess a certain understanding of God, and they measure every claim to prophecy against this understanding. If the prophet is encouraging devotion to the God that their fathers knew, then his words can be accepted. But if the prophet advocates faith in an entity that does not conform to the Jewish understanding of God, then his claims are rejected (Deuteronomy 13:6).
How did the Jewish people acquire their understanding of God? The Bible tells us that it was God who taught the Jewish people their understanding of God. God did not deliver this teaching to Israel through the medium of a book. God did not educate Israel on this matter through the agency of a prophet. God Himself imparted this teaching to the nation as a whole when He spoke at Sinai saying “I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2, Deuteronomy 5:6). The unparalleled miracles of the Exodus which culminated with the revelation at Sinai gave Israel her understanding of God (Deuteronomy 4:35).
The generation that left Egypt was taught by God Himself. In order to enable all the future generations of Jews to discharge their covenantal duty, God ensured that the Jewish understanding of God be preserved throughout the ages. Not only did God take care that His truth be preserved for future generations, but He also made sure that the message retained its strength and vitality.
The scriptures tell us how God preserves His standard for the future generations. God commanded the Jewish people to observe various testimonial commandments. These include the observance of the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:15), of Passover (Exodus 12:26, 27), of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:43), and the redemption of the firstborn (Exodus 13:14,15). The observance of these testimonial commandments allows each generation of Jews to encounter the exodus on an experiential level. God commanded the Jewish people to pass on to their children the awe and the power of the Sinai experience (Deuteronomy 4:9). The standard that God established for the validation of prophecy is preserved through the actions and the words of the Jewish people.
The Jewish child encounters the events of the Exodus and Sinai in the living observance and in the words of his parents. Through the living experience of the divinely ordained observances, the full impact of these events is passed on from the heart of one generation to the heart of the next generation. Through the living observance of the testimonial commandments the Jew learns the rock solid truth of God’s oneness. The instruction and the living observance of one generation of Jews, preserves God’s message for the next generation and for every subsequent generation thereafter. When the Jew experiences the Exodus and Sinai as these events reverberate through the hearts of his people, he is empowered with God’s eternal truth. As God’s chosen witness, the Jew is granted the strength to resist all falsehood (Isaiah 43:10).
The Jewish understanding of God, established by God Himself in the heart of His nation, is the means through which Israel discharges her covenantal duty. Israel measures every claim to prophecy in the light of the standard that God has taught His people.
Christianity bases her claims on the words of the Jewish prophets. Apparently, Christianity recognizes that Israel has properly discharged her covenantal duty of recognizing God’s true prophets and preserving their words. At the same time Christianity contends that Israel’s understanding of God is erroneous and faulty. Christianity worships a trinity which is precluded by Israel’s understanding of God. Christianity attributes deity to a human, a doctrine that is likewise precluded by Israel’s understanding of God.
This is absurd. Israel’s understanding of God is the standard that God provided to His people through which they could discharge their covenantal duty of canonizing the words of the prophets. This is the pillar upon which scripture stands. There is no way that we would have scripture if we do not first accept the standard through which Israel canonized scripture, namely her understanding of God. The Christian theology that disregards Israel’s understanding of God while accepting Israel’s scripture is an exercise in self-contradiction.
The heart of Israel’s covenant with her God and the foundation of her scripture is the truth that God granted them at Sinai. Throughout history Israel has been willing to be confined to ghettoes, to be denied the most basic civil rights, to be taxed of their worldly possessions and sometimes even to give their lives. But Israel as a nation will never give up the heart of her relationship with God.
By Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal