It is sometimes troubling to Christians that typically a Jewish believer in Jesus is Torah ignorant. Even a celebrated Christian Jew like Dr. Michael Brown grew up in a Torah deficient environment. Because, at the time when a Jewish believer comes to faith in Jesus, his decision is uninformed, it is suggestive that his decision is a mistake based in ignorance. And the question must then be asked, why does the Torah knowledgeable Jew not put his faith in Jesus? One can see how this might trouble the Christian. Inasmuch as Jesus is supposed to fulfill the Torah, it appears to delegitimize their faith when the Torah expert does not put his faith in Jesus and the inexpert Jew does. For this reason, if a Torah observant Jew—better yet, a rabbi—puts his faith in Jesus, this person’s ‘testimony’ becomes very important. The Christian faith does not seem so illegitimate when a Torah observant Jew signs up.
Only a few weeks ago, I wrote a comment related to this topic under a different blog post. Briefly I discussed why the Torah ignorant read Isaiah 53 and believe that it sounds like Jesus. I pointed out that the Torah ignorant did not know the overall context of Isaiah. And I pointed out that the reading of the Hebrew Scriptures has been shaped by 2,000 years of Christian interpretation the majority of which Christian culture has been dominant in the West. A commenter recently on this blog post listed a handful of Jews that believe in Jesus. The story of one of the women in the list is helpful for understanding my argument, as the Christian missionary is successful due both to the woman’s ignorance of the Hebrew Scriptures and the influence of the Church in Western culture.
The list consists of the following names:
Their stories can be read here: http://www.jewishvoice.org/who-is-yeshua/jews-who-believe/
This essay will focus on Frieda Roos. Please let the reader understand that the intent of this essay is not to mock Ms. Roos. That her Torah education was neglected is not her fault. Nor is it her fault that someone was able to use her ignorance against her. This essay is only concerned with the realities that are facing Torah ignorant Jews in the modern age.
But it should be pointed out that the commenter that referenced Frieda Roos and the others in the list added them to a conversation about how many Torah observant, Torah knowledgeable Jews put their faith in Jesus. The commenter presented them as if these seven people would be part of the community of believers that knew Torah before coming to Jesus. But if the reader will follow the link to their stories, he will find that largely they were not Torah observant and largely ignorant of the Torah.
Frieda Roos did not grow up with a Torah education. To the contrary, she writes: “[My parents] never talked about God, and I had never been in a synagogue except for my brother’s wedding. For me, Yom Kippur meant a day off from school…”. Ms. Roos was deprived of her heritage, growing up in a home where God was not even mentioned. While she did not visit the synagogue, she did frequent a Catholic church with her boyfriend in her teenage years. This appears to be the extent of her religious education.
Afterward, Frieda Roos suffered through the Holocaust. The details are there for those who wish to read them. While those things through which she suffered had an enormous impact on her life and ought not be minimized, they are of little relevance to this topic. After surviving the Holocaust, Ms. Roos was beset by several Christians telling her about Jesus. She then contacted a pastor who put her in touch with a German woman that had been married to a Jewish man who was at this time deceased. And she and that woman argued about Jesus for six weeks:
“For the next six weeks I argued with her until she asked me to read Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Reading Isaiah 53, I did not understand a single word. Then, as promised, I started reading Psalm 22, and coming to the 16th verse where it says ‘they pierced my hands and my feet,’ I let out one big yell, ‘Oh my God, that is Jesus, because He was crucified!’”
“I remembered all the Christian paintings I had seen years earlier in that church in Amsterdam. Suddenly all of it made sense. I went back to the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah and now I understood each and every word. Hallelujah!”
Please let the reader take note that the Christian presented Frieda Roos with the classic missionary text, Isaiah 53. Again, it is as if the whole rest of Isaiah did not exist. It is as if the whole rest of Tanach did not exist. And experiencing the passage in a vacuum, Ms. Roos could not understand it.
What convinces her is Psalm 22:16, that the psalm says “they pierced my hands and my feet.” Notice that she links this to the Christian paintings she saw. Her reading of the Hebrew Scriptures is based on Christian culture. Used to seeing Jesus with his hands and feet pierced, her mind relates the figure in the psalm to Jesus. It is Christian imagery that interprets the psalm for her.
Tragically, she is a victim to her ignorance. Psalm 22:16 says nothing about hands or feet being pierced. But it is unlikely that Frieda Roos reads Hebrew, and relying upon the Christian translation, she does not know that it does not say, “pierced” but “like a lion”. Relating the verse to Jesus based on the imagery of the Church is an understandable error, but it is an error and a significant one. And it is made in part because she cannot read the text, which does not say what she thinks it says. And it is made in part because her interpretive lens is not Torah but Christian paintings. She has been suffused with Christian culture.
Only after she sees Jesus in Psalm 22 and relates it to the paintings in a church does she have an idea for understanding Isaiah 53. Now the Suffering Servant makes sense to her. Again, she does not understand this through the lens of Torah and through the lens of the rest of Isaiah. She understands it through one psalm, primarily one verse, which does not say what she has been told it says and which she understands through the paintings in a church.
That the commenter would present her as a knowledgeable Jew believing in Jesus is quite bizarre. Unfortunately, Frieda Roos represents the Torah ignorant Jew who has been deceived by a bad translation and the dominant Christian culture. Her parents did her a grave injustice by denying her the Torah and knowledge of God. Like so many other Jews that believe in Jesus, she did not know enough to understand what she was being told. Denied her heritage in youth, it continued to elude her later in life.
Of course, this does not mean that no Torah observant Jews ever put their faith in Jesus. But those cases do not appear to be typical. For 2,000 years, the Torah observant community has put their faith in God and not a man. They have not been misled by bad translations of verses or verses ripped out of context. Because of their knowledge of Torah, by and large, the Torah community has been faithful. But those who did not know Torah and did not know the Prophets, they were misled. One can only hope that they return home soon.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal