To those Christians who find it outrageous to consider that the Jewish people have a special understanding of Torah,
One of you, David I believe, misrepresented the Jewish position on this matter. He made the Jewish position out to be one of racial superiority. This misrepresentation is egregious and serves only to malign others, but David feels like this is justified. He believes he is only fighting fire with fire, and that is his business. I am only interested in the facts, here. In a moment, I will show why this mischaracterization, besides being ugly, is false.
But first, let me mention that at least one other of you has protested the idea that the Jewish people are particularly well suited to read Torah. Eric was quite incensed with the idea that he would need to go to the Jewish people to understand Torah. He does not like the idea that he would have to rely upon someone else to understand the Word of God.
I can understand Eric’s feelings, but they must be put aside. We must only consider the facts. Examining them will give us all the reason in the world to look to the Jewish people for our understanding of Torah and the whole of Tanach.
First, let us state the exceedingly obvious. Torah is written in Hebrew. It is in a language with which most of us are not familiar. And for those of us who do know Hebrew, from where did that understanding come? It came from the Jewish people, those who do know Hebrew. One of the Church fathers, his name is escaping me right now, studies with rabbis to make his translation of Torah. He could not read the original text on its own.
Most people recognize that a translation is not the same thing as the original writing. Meaning is lost. Sometimes languages do not even share concepts. Translations are rough approximations. One who reads a translation can get an idea of what Torah teaches but will miss nuances and, sometimes, larger ideas. Sometimes the prophets made puns that are not apparent in translations.
Moreover, as we all know, Torah is not vowelized. The non-Hebrew speaking world relies on the Jews to tell them how the words should be pronounced, which can alter the meaning at times. Without the Jew to guide us, even once we learn Hebrew, Torah will not be clear to us. We rely upon the Jewish people.
It is not only the language, however, that makes us reliant upon the Jewish people, not at all. We rely upon them for context as well. The book is part of their history and culture. They understand its terms and meanings, not just as bits of vocabulary, but contextually. The prophets rely upon this understanding, referencing fasts, for example, that are not mentioned in Torah. Only the Jewish people, whose fasts these were, understand the reference, and those who have learned from the Jewish people.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the understanding of the shema. The Jewish people were given this Torah with the idea that there is none beside God. They were instructed on how to worship Him. It is a part of their heritage. Later, people who were not part of the culture, who were not part of the tradition, reinterpreted the shema. They made God three instead of one, because the concepts of Torah were foreign to them.
But they must acknowledge, that the Jewish people were appointed, according to Torah, to be God’s witnesses. They were to be a kingdom of priests. It is upon the knowledge of the Jewish people, regarding Torah, which we must rely. The Christians who adopted the Hebrew Scriptures recognize that the Jewish people were given the prophets and appointed to keep the knowledge of God alive in the world.
Now, David wants to pretend this is a racial argument for his own reasons. But it is not. Clearly, it is not just any Jew who is qualified to teach Torah. Unfortunately, many Jews did not study Torah, did not practice it, nor cling to it. Some have abandoned it. We cannot turn to these to teach us Torah. It is not their genetic structure that makes them teachers of Torah. Those who separated themselves from it clearly cannot teach it. Those who have gone after other gods have disqualified themselves from being Torah instructors. Those who never learned it, whose parents abandoned it and did not pass its knowledge along, do not have the proper qualifications just because they descend from Abraham. (And in fact, one can attach himself to the Jewish people, though never born to it.)
We must not be afraid to recognize our limitations. God has given the world a great gift in the Jewish people. He gave them Torah and made them our teachers. Let us not be afraid to come to them to learn. Without them, we know that we could not decipher one page of Torah. But with them, we may learn how to serve our God. Blessed is HaShem who gave us the Jewish people, so that we might know His ways.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal