Working through Chaim Potok’s Jewish novels

A few years ago, I decided to start working my way through Chaim Potok’s Jewish novels again.

English: Chaim Potok, Miami Bookfair Internati...

I hooked into Potok when I was assigned to read The Chosen in a high school American lit class. It is what also hooked me into things Jewish, which led me to convert to Judaism, which is why after I accepted Messiah I eventually became messianic Jew/Torah-observant believer. So in some ways, a reading assignment at a Catholic high school has determined several aspects of the past 25-plus years of my life.

After The Chosen, I caught up with Potok’s other novels out at the time—The Promise and My Name Is Asher Lev—and then continued to follow him as his other works came out. That was a period in my life when I routinely would finish a book and, if I had really liked it, would flip back to page 1 and start over again. I did that with Potok’s books, so rich were they in Jewish thinking and storytelling.

I rarely spend time on fiction anymore, though, trying to devote my reading time—what little of it there is with a job and three children at home and other responsibilities—to Scripture and related material before picking up a novel. However, Potok’s Jewish novels (I’m distinguishing them from his novels based on his Korean War experiences) are more than just fiction. They teach about Judaism and they expose the lifeblood that runs through the Jewish people’s veins, much more so than, say, a Leon Uris, and—can I say this?—as much as an Isaac Bashevis Singer.

So a few years ago, I decided to revisit Potok’s novels in order of publication for a couple reasons: to experience them after having learned much more about Torah and Jewish studies over the past several years; and to experience them after having lived much more of life.

I plowed pretty quickly through The Chosen and The Promise, but when I was about two thirds of the way through Asher Lev, I became sidetracked with other responsibilities and put aside the Potok books. Recently, however, I was able to resume reading them, and will be sharing here how I see them at this later juncture in life. Right now, I’m kind of stalled between In the Beginning and The Book of Lights. I own the former, so was able to read it at leisure. The latter, however, is from the library and I’m not such a fast reader, so may have to check it out a couple times before I get through it. (Plus, I’m about to start leading a HaYesod class and also have to do a lot more preparation for our new Shabbat meeting arrangements, so I may be completely stalled for a while. We’ll see.) So I will at least give my thoughts on The Chosen, The Promise, My Name Is Asher Lev, and In the Beginning. That’s halfway through the set.


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Is today’s messianic movement repeating history?


(Photo credit: Denty One)

Historical parallels can be overdone and misleading, but there’s one I’m sensing that would explain a lot.

In the first century, faith in Yeshua of Nazareth was a Jewish phenomenon for several years, decades even. It doesn’t appear that the first Gentile believed in Yeshua until nearly 20 years after his death (although some say 10), namely Cornelius the Centurion stationed in Caesarea. Even then, we can tell from Paul’s letters and the accounts of Acts that faith in Messiah continued to be declared in and find adherents mainly among Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in synagogues throughout the Roman empire.

So, even though it had become apparent that the Kingdom of God had been opened up to Gentiles and was no longer an exclusively Jewish domain, it also appears from the Acts narrative that the “Jesus movement” continued to be a Jewish movement, based in synagogues. That’s where Paul primarily went to proclaim the Gospel, although it also appears from his letters that separate fellowships, if not separate congregations, had developed. However, there’s nothing to suggest that these groups didn’t continue to follow a Jewish rubric, either led by Jews or by God-fearing Gentiles.

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Do you use the Internet on Shabbat?

Just wondering how Messianics who read here use the Internet—or don’t—on Shabbat.

If you’re totally observant in an Orthodox way, it’s a no-brainer: You don’t use electronics anyway.

But some messianics, especially messianic Gentiles, may feel more free to use electronics AND the Internet.

Please answer the questions below to give others a sense of messianic believers’ use of the Net on Shabbat.

On Shabbat, I use:

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Four Questions: Barry Miller’s looking for an opportunity to help rebuild the kingdom

Corner Tassel reader Barry Miller (no relation that we know of, but you know how those Millers are!) was the guy who kind of inspired me to ask the Four Questions, so it’s only right that he gets first dibs at responding. Here’s his response:

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel illustration by...

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel illustration by Gustave Doré (1855) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Just as you provided a bit of a bio, I will as well.

I am a Gentile, I see myself as a Gentile. Even though my Mother’s side of the family, the “Hersheys,” have a legend that they descended from believing Jews about 500 years ago. (In those days unfortunately it was called conversion)

If you think about it there has to be a lot of Gentiles with something like that, known or unknown, in their background after all the first 9 chapters of Acts have a large number of new believers coming to faith, all of which are Jewish. I expect that most of their descendents today are in the church and consider themselves Gentile. (As I know of no Christians families who claim to be Jewish believers for 2000 years)

I also agree with FFOZ on most things. Based on Acts 15 I agree that “Gentiles are not obligated to keep all aspects of the Torah, they certainly are encouraged to do so”.

To the rest of your phrase “ without usurping Jewish identity” I would also agree, however again from Acts 15, I see James excited about Gentiles coming to faith and rebuilding David’s tabernacle.

So for me as a Gentile I am looking for an opportunity to participate in rebuilding the ancient kingdom. The prophets give us many visions of how that will happen and I believe the New Testament must be interpreted parallel to or even deferential to the prophet’s visions. Thus I am what many call “Two House” however my dream is not Two House but One House under Jewish Davidic leadership and Levitical Priesthood.

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Four Questions: Making peace between Messianic Judaism and Messianic Israel


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Star of David on the Walls of Jerusalem 5

Star of David on the Walls of Jerusalem 5 (Photo credit: zeevveez)

When the Messianic Covenant Community was formed earlier this year, leader Scott Diffenderfer said one of the MCC’s goals was to “move forward from the contention between Messianic Judaism and Messianic Israel to the unity of the One New Man.”

I saw that as an encouraging sign. There has been definite contention between many in the Two-House/Messianic Israel/Ephraim movement and those in the Messianic Jewish movement. This is evident on most messianic blogs out there, especially Messianic Jewish Musings and The Daily Minyan. This has also been seen in controversies over Messianic Jewish musicians canceling appearances at a Messianic Israel Alliance conference, or in sometimes vehement responses to First Fruits of Zion’s change to Divine Invitation (meaning Gentiles are not obligated to keep all aspects of the Torah, but are invited to do so).

A lot of angry words have flown both ways, in some cases on this blog itself.

So what’s the path to lowering the anger level and helping the MCC’s goal along?

To explore that, I posed four questions through email to leaders on both sides of the debate. However, response has been practically nil. That probably shouldn’t surprise me, since I may not appear to be the most trustworthy blogger for this type of thing; I land pretty firmly on the messianic Jewish side of things and have put up posts that received fairly harsh responses from Messianic Israel folks.

But, I’m going to ask the questions anyway. Maybe whatever people read this blog will feel led to respond.

  1. What do the various movements within Messianic Israel and Messianic Judaism need to agree on in order to be at peace and in good fellowship with each other?
  2. What can we agree to disagree about? In other words, what’s not essential?
  3. What “terms” should be excluded from discussion that are offensive to each side or are considered inaccurate?
  4. In what venues could we come together with mutual respect and not feel as if we were violating our consciences or contradicting ourselves?

If you do respond, please keep it civil and constructive.

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Piper pipes up on Israel as a covenant-breaking nation

John Piper (theologian)

John Piper says this:

Today, Israel as a nation is a covenant-breaking people—they are rejecting their Messiah, Jesus. In this condition of unbelief and disobedience, she has no “divine right” to the Land of Promise.

Please understand that he says this in the context of supporting the Jewish people as God’s special people and backing their right to defend themselves against terrorism. This, however, is the first time I’ve come across this particular line of thinking.

He precedes the above statement with

Thus, when Israel broke her covenant in protracted disobedience, God, after much mercy, brought judgments on her, including eviction from the Promised Land. “The king of Assyria carried the Israelites … because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God but transgressed his covenant” (2 Kings 18:11–12). “Because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey his voice, this thing has come upon you” (Jer. 40:3; cf. Deut. 28:45; Ps. 78:56–61).

Is “Israel as a nation” (it’s not clear whether he’s talking about the secular nation of Israel or the people of Israel known today as the Jewish people) breaking a covenant by rejecting Messiah? Yes, they may be sinning by rejecting Him, but is that covenant breaking and, if so, which covenant? And does that negate their “divine right” to the Land as a result? Or was that only the punishment for their earlier transgressions in the Scripture cited?

Or is this just another twist on “Some of my best friends are Jews” supercessionism?

What do you think?

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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First Fruits of Zion adds Jacob Fronczak to creative team

Jacob Fronczak

Jacob Fronczak, a pastor at a Baptist/Presbyterian congregation in Michigan, has signed on as the newest member of First Fruits of Zion’s creative team.

Boaz Michael, president and founder of FFOZ, announced the move earlier this week.

The addition of Jacob is part of FFOZ’s newer effort to reach out to Christians in mainstream churches, evangelical and otherwise. Jacob’s duties are described as focusing on “creating resources that assume that the reader is not familiar with Messianic thought, terminology, or concepts.”

We need resources that are engaging and not overwhelming. We need resources that can connect with and relate to Christian readers. We feel that our current resources assume too much of the reader, are too detailed and cumbersome, and ultimately miss the opportunity to share what we have to offer with sincere and seeking Christians.

Jacob is perfectly suited for that. He has worked with First Fruits for quite some time, writing reviews for Messiah Journal, and spoke at the most recent FFOZ conference at Shavuot this year. He also has worked with Boaz on a recent book (Twelve Gates) and an upcoming book as well. But as a pastor in a mainstream church, he also knows the needs of that area of Christianity, and can tailor his teachings for those brothers and sisters. If you need to know how he thinks (and what he reads), you can do so at his excellent Hope Abbey blog.

I’ve gotten to know Jacob and his family at the past few FFOZ conferences and appreciate his careful and deliberate thinking. (I also received a ride back to the hotel from his dad, who came to the most recent conference with Jacob. It was my first ride in a Prius. Riding in a car that often didn’t make any noise freaked me out a bit.)

Good move by First Fruits and congratulations to Jacob. I hope his work there will bear much fruit in the Body of Christ.

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Questions to ask at a messianic congregation, part 4

What do you think about believers who aren’t messianic? Are they sinners/pagans/heretics because they don’t keep Sabbath, dietary laws, wear tzitzit? Are they to be avoided? Judged? Evangelized? Do you believe their theology is pagan? Do you believe messianics are superior in their grasp of biblical truth?

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse Synago...

The answers to these questions will reveal how the congregation deals with other Christians. Answers will range from “They’re our brothers and sisters in Messiah, but we disagree with them on observance of the Law” to “They just don’t understand, but they are in sin” to “They’re enmeshed in a Babylonian, pagan theological system.”

If you’re looking for a congregation that doesn’t try to isolate itself or doesn’t try to cut itself off from the larger Body of Christ, then pay close attention to their answers. It’s understandable that there will be disagreement over application of the Law, but if congregational leaders feel the rest of the Church needs to be pressured into keeping all aspects of the Torah, then that’s a problem.

Another good question to ask is if leadership feels those who don’t keep Shabbat, dietary laws, etc., are “lawless,” in the sense of Matthew 7:23:

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

 That’s a tough one to defend, but it’s definitely pushed in some congregations. If they believe that “lawlessness” spoken of by Messiah means that not keeping the seventh day as a Sabbath, not keeping kosher, not observing the annual feasts, not wearing tzitzit or not having a beard (at least for men), then that’s a pretty narrow view, especially if high moral standards are kept by those Christians. It’s essentially condemning Christians for perceived failure to observe some outward commandments (given to the Jews, but that’s another post) even though they are striving to observe the inward commandments against coveting, adultery, deceit, etc.
A superior messianic attitude is also a problem. If it’s taught to the congregation that messianics are superior over other Christians, it can and most likely will lead to strained if not destroyed family relationships and other friendships. (I speak from experience.)
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Questions to ask at a messianic congregation, part 3


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The next set of questions I suggest asking at a messianic congregation is:

What led you to become part of the messianic movement? Who teaches you or where have you learned from? (Then research those teachers.)

Finding out about the origins of a person’s belief system is always helpful, but the testimony of a leader can be especially important. It may not cause you to decide to go to a congregation or not to go, but it can at the least help you understand where the leader is based.

They may have entered the movement because they are Jewish, or because they became convinced that God’s Law is for all Christians, or at least that it still has some kind of application today beyond what is typically taught in Protestant churches. They may have entered the movement in a state of rebellion against traditional Christian theology. This isn’t always bad, but combining it with another question I’ve suggested as to how they regard nonmessianic believers can reveal a lot about the leader’s state of soul.

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

Entering the messianic movement for the wrong reasons or with the wrong spirit usually means a leader won’t be taking his congregation very far beyond the point of rebellion. They will exist in order to be different than the rest of the Body of Christ, not to serve the Messiah or His Kingdom. Or, at least, they won’t be able to do it well.

The next question is perhaps an obvious one, but not one that we always think to ask. Since most messianic teachers haven’t gone through seminary or been approved by a denomination, the tendency will be for them to be mostly self-taught or have sat mainly under one teacher, or to be mostly influenced by one teacher. That can be deadly in the messianic movement, which has some real whackos running around as teachers. So ask the leader where they have learned about the faith or where they are learning from currently. Then, investigate that source of teaching yourself. Be sensitive to any red flags that pop up while you’re researching. Run teachings that seem to be a bit off to you past trusted friends in the faith.

If they say they’re self-taught, ask what books they’ve learned from and then get copies for yourself.


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