A Response to Dr. Wu
Miriam Ben-Yaacov writes:
[With the help of God]
It is so wonderful to have the privilege of living in a time in which people's searching for truth is bringing them to Torah. I understand the humility required to examine long-held traditional beliefs. And many of us, who have had to "work in the dark," have lamented, as has Dr. Wu, that the Jews somehow failed in their mission as a "light unto the nations." This comment frequently comes, not from harsh criticism, but rather from sincere sadness over opportunities lost, for the better world that surely would have been, if only things had been just a little different. . . for we all understand that the light of the Torah is essential for the Redemption, the perfect state that Hashem, God, meant our world to enjoy when He created it.
One rabbi I know challenged Christians to read Jewish history. He said this knowing that this subject is, by and large, unknown and unstudied outside the Jewish world. Knowledge of what has been can make a huge difference in our perceptions of each other and understanding of how things came to be the way they are now.
In the past, obviously, in the countries of Diaspora, where Jews lived cloistered together at the mercy of whatever ruler, circumstances were usually far from conducive for Jewish people to teach non-Jewish people much of anything. The Church, over the centuries, tried very hard to convert the Jews through force, bribery, debate, etc. There were pogroms and expulsions, hysterical accusations and wild misconceptions. Anti-Semitism created fear in Jews and, in non-Jews, a fearful imagination fertile for every conceivable evil idea as to the Jews. In the light of this history, we sometimes forget that there were two very famous attempts to teach the universal laws of the Torah.
The first is recorded in the Christian Scriptures, Acts 15. What were the first "Christians," who were all Jewish, going to do with the new adherents to the new faith? At the time, this — Christianity — was not a separate religion but only a sect of Judaism. "The Pharisees among them" (to quote the Acts text) believed that the non-Jewish people coming in should fully convert to Judaism. The consensus that finally developed, however, was basically that they, the new people, should keep the universal laws — the Laws of Noah. Perhaps this was considered a starting place, for people to show good faith, but it was decided that it must be a minimal requirement. (By the way, those first people did not believe in the deity of Jesus; this later became a required doctrinal belief of the organized church.) By the time of Constantine, the church's doctrines had gone so far from its Jewish beginnings that keeping the Mosaic Law and teaching Torah was formally ILLEGAL — Jewish followers of the faith were quite literally being killed for being Jews. The decisions of the new sect's first council in Jerusalem, headed by the brother of Jesus, were long forgotten, rendering their attempt to teach the Noahide laws a failure in the new Christian-dominated world.
The Arabian city of Medina was, at one time, a prosperous Jewish city. There were many yeshivas (religious schools), where the rabbis opened many of their classes to non-Jewish Arabs. Again, this was an attempt to teach the universal laws of the Torah; an attempt to bring civility to a wild nation. Mohammed embraced many teachings of the rabbis, but then tried to convert them to the new religion of Islam. When the Jews refused, as happened before in the case of Gentile-dominated Christianity, their former Arab students not only rejected the teachings of the rabbis but violently turned against the Jews.
On the upside, the rabbis state that these two non-Jewish monotheistic religions brought many people out of extreme, blatant paganism and taught them about the Creator of the Universe. Yet the new religions were still huge departures from the basic tenets of the Rainbow Law, which the rabbis had initially hoped to inculcate. So we ask: what went wrong? Was this failure the fault of the students or the teachers?
In both cases we can see a problem with the masses who took the lessons of universal law and distorted them. We could conclude that it was that rejection of rabbinic authority that was to blame. In the case of Christianity, however, we can also see a problem with the main rabbi or teacher (Paul) involved with the outreach toward non-Jews. We therefore have to realize that Torah outreach is a tricky process, in which both sides need to be sincere in their adherence to principles of Torah — the first being the Oneness of Hashem.
Our day is very unlike the days of the previous two cases. People of the pre-Christian world were extremely pagan, believing in a whole pantheon of gods. They were not inclined to even want to change their traditions. Indeed, Christianity ended up accommodating this tendency by incorporating the pagan gods as saints with different names. The Kabbah in Mecca housed 350 idols; those pre-Islamic allegiances, too, would have been nearly impossible to completely overcome. Now, however, after two thousand years of exposure to the monotheistic idea, we actually have a solid foundation on which to build. People are more familiar with, and therefore open to, the idea of the God of Israel. We see this displayed in so many people today seeking the Jewish roots of their beliefs and even leaving the church. Also, we should not underestimate the importance of the modern re-establishment of the State of Israel. This is a fulfillment of the Prophetic promise to the People of Israel. Each Shabbat, when the Torah is taken out to be read, congregations for centuries have sung the promise from the Prophet Isaiah that the Torah will flow out from Zion and His Word from Jerusalem. And in our day we see this promise increasingly becoming a reality! One after another, our rabbis have agreed that we are in an unprecedented period of history in which the time has come to open Torah to the people of the Nations. What is this Torah? It is the Universal Torah, known in the Jewish world as the Seven Laws of Noah, specifically given to all peoples of the world. Michael Dallen's book, The Rainbow Covenant, does a marvelous job of presenting the basics of these seven principles, along with the connected subtopics. The existence of this book in the world shows how very far we have come. Indeed, the Torah Revolution Mr. Dallen speaks of surely is the remedy for society's problems, the hope our future — for a better world for all of us.
Born in Washington state, Miriam Ben-Yaacov grew up in various states and Europe as an "army brat", and then as a Baptist "preacher's kid." In 1988 she converted to Judaism. While Miriam currently lives in the Dallas area, she has called Israel home since 1990.