Last week I was blessed to be able to attend the Borough Park Symposium in NYC. This conference is an academic gathering of Jews, including Messianic Jews who organize this event, to explore issues related to Yeshua, Messianic Judaism, Israel, and related subjects. This year’s symposium included mainstream Jewish scholars who do not believe in Yeshua as the Messiah, but rather, have written, teach, and publish on this year’s topic, Jesus and the New Testament from a Jewish perspective.
By far I was out of my league since the attendees were predominantly rabbis and scholars, so I was very relieved when Rabbi Dr. John Fischer invited me to sit at his table. I am very familiar with others there, Dr. Mark Kinzer, Rabbi Dr. Vered Hillel, Rabbi Paul Saul, others I know, but being one of a small number of women and a layman, it was comforting to sit with John. What I didn’t know was that at one of the breaks, when I came back to my seat, of all the possible places to sit in the large room of 10 tables of 10, Dr. Amy Jill Levine would “happen” to arrive and sit right next to me!
A.J., as she likes to be called, is an Orthodox Jewish woman and professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt University. She began her presentation reiterating her position that if Jews don’t understand that Messianic Jews are Jews then they need to keep studying. Clearly, this is a scholar who understands us and is not afraid to teach truth, to both Christians and Jews. She enlightens Christians about the fallacy of supersessionism or replacement theology and disabuses Jews of the inaccurate perception that Yeshua left Judaism to found Christianity.
Although I did not speak out too often, at our table at one point I had the opportunity to share one of my recent frustrations with a Jewish organization that discriminated against Messianic Jews. Unbelievably, Dr. Levine, not a Messianic Jew, was denied access by this same organization for books she had co-written with a well known Rabbi due to the subject matter being suggestive of Yeshua! She and I immediately connected and I have already reached out to her via email. As you know, my passion is interfacing with Jewish people about Yeshua, so she and I have a lot in common. I am hopeful HaShem will open this door for more opportunities and ideas enabling me to grow in this ability.
This year’s conference brought together major Jewish thinkers, regardless of their theology, to find common ground on the subject of Yeshua. The curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls museum in Israel weighed in on Dead Sea Scrolls corroboration of certain Brit Chadasha/New Testament passages. The archaeologist shed light on related findings. The mainstream and Messianic Jewish theologians dug in on interpretations. The historians compared contemporaneous and other substantiating or parallel writings to the Brit Chadasha text. Such interaction can only lead to greater depth of understanding, a step in the direction of truth.
One evening my cousin who is a Conservative Jew and I were together in the City making plans for the evening. Without pressure, just as our day turned out, she was open to having dinner at the conference and then was planning to take an early evening train to NJ where she lives. “Coincidentally” that particular night’s dinner was followed by a talk by an Israeli expert on the subject of “Jesus and the New Testament in Israeli Art, Literature, and Historiography”. In addition to being an ICU medical doctor, this cousin is also a professionally published poet and poetry lecturer in her own right, very pro-Israel, and from a family of professional painters and sculptors. Not only was she up for dinner, once she saw the topic for the evening meeting, she asked if she could stay. She was so amazed that Jesus could have been and still is such a major subject of Israeli art and literature that she wanted to stay for the entire presentation. She was so enthralled that I had to remind her she needed to leave as 9 pm was approaching or she would miss her train. The normalization of Yeshua within Jewish life and culture that she saw by the portrayals of Jesus in Israeli art and literature completely blew her mind. I am sure she now sees our faith with fresh eyes. Yeshua is no longer part of them, but rather, part of us, her people, breaking down a huge emotional barrier to moving closer to an understanding of Yeshua.
To have the ability for such barrier free interactions with our mainstream Jewish community is groundbreaking. Such an event could not even have been imagined as recently as five years ago. It is the result of many hours of hard work and scholarship among our Messianic Jewish scholars and leaders for which we must be deeply grateful. That HaShem has opened these doors, these minds, these hearts, is prophetically significant to the days of awe we are entering.
I encourage each of you to keep on keepin’ on as you interface with your Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters, for the walls are coming down. Aslan is on the move.