Hebraic Madness Part 4
By: John Rosenstern
Does Judaism today resemble what God had originally conveyed in the Pentateuch? What is the foundation of the modern Hebraic Roots Movement? To answer these questions, let us examine some history. In so doing, we can evaluate which element modern Judaism and the “Christian” Hebraic Movement resemble most: God’s written Word or Jewish oral tradition.
In 165 B.C., there was a Jewish uprising of the Maccabees against Antiochus Epiphanies of Syria. At that time, the victorious Jews were, in fact, free to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, but Rome had begun to take over the government of Syria and Israel. The Hasmonean family, to which Judah Maccabee belonged, brought forth leaders that continued to sustain Jewish independence, all the while Rome kept a watchful and observant eye on their progress. In 63 B.C., Pompey of Rome marched into Israel and invaded the Temple during a service, killing thousands of priests and worshippers. Pompey then appointed Hyrcanus – a Jew very friendly to Rome – as the new High Priest, but Pompey stopped short of giving him any royal title.
Some fifteen years after this event, Julius Caesar and Pompey entered into a civil war, of which Caesar was the victor. During the conflict, Hyrcanus and Antipater defected from the side of Pompey in order to support Julius Caesar. As a show of gratitude for their allegiance and help, Caesar reconfirmed Hyrcanus as the High Priest and appointed Antipater as procurator
After the death of Antipater, his son Herod continued to offer allegiance to Rome. Herod supported Caesar until the latter was assassinated; consequently, Herod shifted his faithfulness from Caesar to Brutus, then from Brutus to Mark Anthony, and then finally from Mark
Anthony to Octavian. In exchange for his undying consecration to Rome, Herod was appointed as King of Judea.
Jewish Sects And Scholars
The daily life of a Jew in Israel was directed by two components: the mitzvoth (commandments) found within the Written Law (Torah), as well as the Unwritten (Oral) Laws, which were laws and traditions that had grown up among the people. Several factions of Jewish leadership emerged during this period. The most significant group of religious leaders was the Pharisees, called Perushim. These Pharisaical rabbis and leaders placed a focus on the keeping of Jewish law in everyday life and living. They revered both the Written and Oral law, though emphasis was directed to the Oral traditions. The Pharisees believed that study and observance were essential for every Jew, and they even went as far as ruling that every town must have a school for children. The Pharisees comprised most of the seventy-one scholarly positions in the court of the Sanhedrin, the group that settled questions of Jewish law. The other major group of Jewish leaders was the Sadducees, and the leaders in this faction were the priestly and affluent “elite” of Israel. They emphasized Temple service and insisted on a literal interpretation of the Torah.
Looking outside the boundaries of Israel, at this particular interval in history, there were many Jews who lived and worshipped throughout the Roman Empire. For example, in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, one-third of the people were Jews. To the pagan people of Alexandria, the philosopher Philo actually defended the Jewish religion, explaining how the Scriptures and Jewish traditions taught people to be virtuous. The largest Jewish community outside of the Roman Empire, however, was in Babylonia. When the first Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C., most Jews were forced into exile, fleeing to Babylonia. Years later when Jews were allowed passage back to Jerusalem to build the second Temple, many of the exiles remained in Babylonia. Despite the Jewish community in Babylonia growing to nearly a million strong at this time, they still considered themselves to be in exile. Those wishing to study the Torah traveled back to Jerusalem. Perhaps the most famous of these Babylonian scholars was Hillel, who travelled to Jerusalem, becoming a leader in schools and in the Sanhedrin. Hillel studied both the Torah and the Oral traditions, and he showed how the Oral laws actually came from the confines of the written Torah.
After the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ, the Roman occupation led to high taxation and dishonor for the Jewish Temple. In fact, the procurator, Florus, robbed the Temple and summarily had his soldiers slaughter thousands of protestors. As a result of this maltreatment, the leaders of the Sanhedrin made plans for war and revolt. They appointed military leaders that were expected to hold back the Roman legions in Galilee. The Jewish General, Josephus, quickly fell to Rome’s great General Vespasian, who was under direct charge from Emperor Nero. Consequently, Josephus defected to Rome and, although a traitor to the Jews, he recorded an account of Jewish history that was, and still is, unprecedented. The Roman forces then gathered at Jerusalem and surrounded the Temple. The Jewish zealots would not allow surrender, and on the ninth day of Av in the year A.D. 70, the Romans set the Temple ablaze, killing every defender.
Traditionally, it is said that while the Romans were besieging Jerusalem, the scholar Johanan ben Zakkai wanted to speak with the Roman commander, however, the Zealots would not permit anyone to leave the city. Therefore, Zakkai’s students claimed that he had passed away, hid him in a coffin, and carried him out the city walls. Once outside the city, Zakkai contacted General Vespasian for permission to start a school in the town of Yavne near the Mediterranean Sea. Tradition holds that Vespasian gave his approval, and the school started by Zakkai saved the Jewish people, though the Temple was destroyed.
Post-Temple Jewish Life
The study of the Torah continued, even without Temple services. The school established by Zakkai carried on the teachings of Hillel, interpreted the laws, and explained how each rule in the Oral Law was derived from the Torah. The Jews were instructed how they could continue to be Jews by keeping the laws of the Torah in their daily lives, even without the Temple and all associated rituals. The synagogues, which were built in nearly every town by Jews in exile, became the chief meeting places and centers of worship. Study and prayer, rather than sacrifice, became the new way the Jew showed his devotion to God.
The rabbis of the learning academies deliberated on questions of Jewish law. Johanan ben Zakkai, upon building the institutions, also reinstated the religious court, which was headed by a president, referred to as a Nasi. The descendants of Hillel were appointed to these prestigious Nasi positions, otherwise known as Patriarchs. The leaders in the academies were called Tannaim, a title derived from the word meaning “to teach.” The Tannaim knew that war, persecution, and exile might cause the Jewish people to forget their law, unless it was gathered and written down in one place. The old feeling that the Oral Law should remain unwritten began to fade away.
Patriarch Judah ha-Nasi edited the Mishnayot, which were statements of Oral Law, and organized them into six Orders of the Mishnah. The Mishnah became the book of study for all Jewish schools. Scholars referred to as Amoraim, from the root “to speak,” discussed and added commentary to the Mishnah. This vast collection of commentary was compiled and dubbed the Gemara. The pairing together of the statements of the Oral Law (Mishnah) and the scholarly commentary on the Law (Gemara) became known as the Talmud. There are two Talmuds, one of which is the Jerusalem Talmud, and the other is the Babylonian Talmud, or the Talmud Bavli.
By the year A.D. 500, Rome did not permit any more Patriarchs. Actually, Christianity had become the state-sponsored religion of the Roman Empire, and converts were made by disallowing all other faiths to prosper. Though there were no descendants of Hillel that could be accounted for, Jews in exile continued to live according to the rules based on Hillel’s teachings that were established by the Nasi.
The Modern Hebraic Roots Movement – Failure
It has been said, and rightfully so, that The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed, thus it is imperative for one to embrace the substance of the New Testament before one can truly benefit from the shadows in the Old Testament; the modern Hebraic Roots Movement asserts that the opposite is true. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Hebraic Roots Movement neglects and altogether minimizes the sacrifice, which is the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, emphasis is placed on the practice of Jewish traditions, which is entirely against the Plan of God revealed in the Bible. In reality, the modern Hebraic Roots Movement does not even resemble in the slightest God’s written Law, which pointed to Jesus Christ, and is the very thing they are trying to follow! Yes, the Church should pray for Israel; it is our indebted responsibility to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. But the debt we owe Israel does not involve holding politicized gatherings or sending money for tree planting in the Holy Land. Very simply, the debt we owe to the Jew is the same as for the rest of the world: present them with Jesus Christ as Messiah.