I visited a village in the West Bank last weekend. I was wasn’t able to video on Shabbat… so I got the beginning and the end of it. The fellow that invited me belongs to a group of Jews who follow the teachings of Rabbi Nachman – a very mystical sect of Judaism that looks for patterns and numbers in the Torah. They hold fervent messianic expectations and one of the highest mitzvots according to Rabi Nachman is to be happy.

3 soldiers from an intelligence unit joined us for Shabbos. Two of them were computer programmers and the third was a Druze. There could not have been a greater contrast between the ultra secular world view of the soldiers and the ultra-religious one of our host. This is a major division in Israeli society but then again, the soldiers still came to the house of an orthodox man for Shabbos.

Clinging to a Cement Wall

Ive heard it said that our faith is not in one proposition or another but in Jesus. I understand the intent behind this comment, I think I have probably said it, and I think there is some truth to it, but at the same time it can have the effect of making faith impossibly mystical and slippery and a source of real frustration.

Faith needs a proposition – something to be true or false.

Sir Robert Anderson writes of the massive cement piers on the Thames used to unload ships. Each of the piers has a chain on the end for a person who has fallen into the water to grasp. Otherwise, it is possible for a person to drown at the very edge of the pier, even as they try to cling to the cement wall. The drowning person needs a chain, something that can be grasped in the hand and with this they can climb onto the pier. In much the same way, putting ones faith in ‘God’ or in ‘Christ’ in a general sense is like trying to cling to a cement wall. God gave the Israelites symbols and ceremonies that were graspable to the hand of faith. In the same way we have the message contained in the Gospel, a message that contains real propositions… (cf. 1 Corin 15:3,4)

“The faith that ‘comes by hearing,’ brings us salvation and the knowledge of salvation. The faith that springs from abiding in Him and acquainting ourselves with Him, is the secret of a peaceful heart and a holy life. ” R. Anderson, The Gospel and Its Ministr

I think that there is more of an emphasis today on faith in the sense of knowing a person to the exclusion of faith in a proposition. But this is like putting the batter behind the pitcher. Although he’s on second base, there is no chance of making it to third. (although I guess he could steal a base… ok, maybe that was a bad illustration)

But are we forcing youth in our churches to cling to a cement wall?

Erev Yom Kippur in Mea Shearim

I think this video was shot a day or two before Yom Kippur. This the kapparot ceremony that was made famous by the orthodox rabi who flew over Eilat in an ultralight with a chicken in order to sprinkle its blood over the city… If I have the story right, the authorities thought it was a terrorist attack and scrambled jets to force him to land.

Most people didn’t seem to mind the camera although there was a young fellow cruising the neighborhood who took it on himself to warn me off. I’ve exacted my revenge by posting a video of his car on vimeo for the world to look at… Now that I think about it, that was a fairly insensitive thing to do. I should probably do Kipparot.

I hate to be intrusive with a camera the size of a canon… but if you are going to get interesting footage then you pretty much have to resign yourself to being hated. On the flip side, I’ve met a few who, having discovered that I shoot video, invited me to their settlements and asked me to record their message. I will be going to one next weekend. Should be interesting!


Here is a explanation of ‘kipparot’ by one of the rabbis on campus. Ive tried to define a few of the terms that he uses:

Slichot: prayers offered to prepare the heart to repent on erev yom kippur (eve of Day of Atonement)

Kipparot: a ceremony symbolizing atonement in which a chicken is waved over head 3 times

Tshuva: repentance

Rabbi Karo: wrote one of the definitive commentaries on the Mishnah in the 1500’s.

Mitzvot: commandments

Atheism of Indifference

I think the larger question is what Atheism is and is not…. There is a basic difference between the way moderns and medievals look at religion. Medieval religion was a series of propositions about the universe that was either true or false, there is a God; there is not a God; there was a creation, matter is eternal; there is providence there is not providence, there is award and punishment.

For moderns, for a whole variety of reasons, we do not view religion that way. We regard religion as self expression, and subjective experience and the truth of a propostion is owed to the intensity with which it is believed. I happen to think that the medieval way of looking at religion was correct. That whatever religion is, it is a picture of the universe that is either true or false.

…there is another problem which is the atheism of complete indifference. Most Americans are atheists not because they believe that God does not exist but because they spend all their time shopping.

Leon Wieseltier


I thought these were some interesting insights although I am not sure I would want to lift up medieval religion as a guiding light…

Psalm 110

In Matt. 22:44 Jesus challenged the Pharisees to identify who King David was referring to in the reference to ‘my Lord’ in Psalms 110.

“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘

In Psalms 110 it literally reads “Jehovah says to my Adonai…”

But the New American Bible adds ‘you’ and a comma.

The Lord (Jehovah) said to you, my Lord (Adonai)…

This is clearly an interpretive decision as ‘you’ is not in any of the manuscripts. No other translation goes so far as to add a word that is not in the originals. By adding ‘you’ the NAB (not to be confused with the NASB) puts the words of the Psalm into the mouths of court singers and makes ‘Adoni’ a personal reference to king David rather than to the Messiah.

Was the Psalm written for court singers to extol the power and virtues of King David? Jesus interpretation of the Psalm clearly rules that out. Jesus put the words of the Psalm in the mouth of David and then asks who is the person that David calls ‘Lord’? The implication being that the Messiah is not a reincarnation of King David but is greater and sits at the right hand of God.

Psalm 110 contains some similarities to Psalm 2. Both contain references to the world wide rule of the Messiah. A kingdom that was never fulfilled in David.

He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. Psalm 110:6

“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. Psalm 2:6-12

The boundaries of Israel are clearly spelled out in Num 34. Even the expanded boundaries mentioned in Genesis 15:18 and Deut. 11:24 do not extend past the Nile or Euphrates. Only the Messiah will rule the nations and judge them as was foretold by Jacob.

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. Genesis 49:10

It is interesting also that Psalm 110 contains the only other reference to Melchizedek in the OT.

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110:4

It is hard to understand how David would receive this kind of praise as he was never allowed to build the temple because of the blood on his hands. But that is more speculative.

And I am not sure what this means.

He will drink from a brook beside the way; therefore he will lift up his head. Psalm110:7

What is clear is that David spoke of one who would judge the nations who he referred to as both Adonai and a Priest in the order of Melchizedek. And that is something to take to heart.


Several weeks ago I was asked if there was any chance I would convert to Judaism? How do you answer a question like that? The man asking the question had invited me to a study of Judaism but wanted to make sure that I was open minded enough that he wasn’t wasting his time. I asked him first if he would be willing to convert to Christianity? He said that he would be if he was persuaded that it was true… furthermore he said that when he was a college student in Georgia he had ‘gone to the altar’ after being witnessed to by “Christians who had a gleam in their eye”. When he told his Rabi what he had done, the Rabi did not argue with him but told him that, “he owed it to his people to discover why so many Jews were killed on their refusal to convert to Christianity.” This quest led him to reject the Christian faith and to become an orthodox Rabi. He told me that he had found in his studies that Judaism was very logical whereas Christianity was not based on reason but on experience. However, if it could be proven to him that Judaism was false and that Christianity was true then he would have to convert.

So what about me, he asked? Could I be persuaded to convert to Judaism?

This conversation got me thinking about the nature of faith. If our faith is only a reasoned response to evidence then we should never be fully persuaded of the truth and should always allow for the possibility that we may be wrong. But this is not how faith is defined in Hebrews 11.

Faith is the substance of things hoped and the certainty of what we do not see.

Faith is not a conclusion reasoned from premises. Neither is faith a matter of probability quantified through experimentation and observation. It is not like a scientific theory that is true until it is shown to be false.

At the heart of faith is revelation.

I think revelation is viewed as an inferior way of knowing. Many argue that reliance on revelation places the human mind into a prison of dogmatism. I respectfully disagree. Take one quick glance at the history of philosophy and tell me that human reasoning alone is not utterly futile. This is freedom? And one has to be a blind, deaf and dumb disciple of science to think that some of what we call science today will not meet the same fate as spontaneous generation, Lamarcks’ theory of evolution or the theories of the spheres. Thomas Kuhn has persuasively argued in his book, `The Nature and Structure of Scientific Revolution” that science is prone to seismic shifts as one paradigm is replaced with another. Science is particularly prone to error as it deals with philosophical questions. It is better to take a more humble approach and recognize the distinctions and limitations of each form of knowledge.

Blaise Pascal, the great theologian as well as outstanding scientist, makes some helpful distinctions. Pascal separated knowledge into three orders. These are “the order of nature, the order of mind, and the order of charity.” (Eliot, in. loc) For Pascal it was critical to distinguish between these three orders and to give each its proper place. The order of nature required rigorous experimentation, the order of mind demanded sound reasoning and the order of charity required spiritual understanding and intuition.

Pascal believed that certainty was only possible for those things that belonged to the ‘order of charity’ because they were rooted in God and not in man. Pascal warned that, “reason’s speculation, when cut loose from divine authority, lead people into a junk yard of dead theological platitudes.” (MacKenzie, pg. 41) For Pascal, Gods revelation of himself through Scripture was paramount. This conviction led Pascal to disagree with those philosophers that said that God could be discovered in nature through reason alone. According to Pascal, “It was part of God’s purpose and strategy to give enough light through nature to guide sincere seekers, and enough darkness to keep rebels from being unwillingly bludgeoned into accepting the truth.” (MacKenzie, pg. 91) Natural revelation led genuine seekers to a fuller and more specific revelation of God.

Pascal did not reject reason in matters of faith. He was very interested in the types and prophecies found in the Old Testament, especially as they related to the Jews and to Jesus. He saw in these types and prophecies, proofs that served to confirm the claims made by Jesus to be the Messiah. Pascal even sought to use his mathematical work on probabilities to challenges his readers to consider the repercussions of their decision to believe that God does or does not exist. Pascal said, “You must wager; it is not optional… Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God exists… If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.” (Pascal, Pensees 233)

However, alongside these proofs was a recognition of the limitations of reason. Pascal constantly sought to balance what could be understood by reason with what must simply be recognized as a mystery. “If the truths of Christian religion depended entirely upon reason, it would be stripped of its mysterious and supernatural content. On the other hand, if the principles of reason were offended, then religion became “absurd and ridiculous.”” (Sedgwick, pg. 89)

So how should I answer the Rabi? Can I be persuaded to convert to Judaism?

Well I think it is too late. I have already jumped. Although reason may have led me to the cliff, my leap was a leap of faith based on the conviction that the words of Prophets were fulfilled in Yeshua and that the law is perfected in him. Now that I have jumped, I cannot go back. If a mans wife returns home in the middle of the night and tells him that she was delayed because the car broke down, should he doubt her?

Love… always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Yeah, I know that is a mystical take on faith but then, as Pascal put it, the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. This is knowledge of the first order.

But what do you think?

Pascal, B. Pensees, trans. by A.J. Krailshammer, London: Penguin, 1995

Eliot, T.S., An Introduction to Pensees, by Blaise Pascal, vii-xix, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1958

Krailshammer, A.J., An Introduction to Pensees, by Blaise Pascal, ix-xxx, London: Penguin, 1995

MacKenzie, C. S., Blaise Pascal: Apologist to Skeptics, University Press of America: Lanham, 2008

Sedgwick, Alexander, Jansenism in Seventeenth-Century France: Voices from the Wilderness, The University Press of Virginia, 1977

Oakes, E. T., Pascal, The First Modern Christian. First Things. no95(41) 1999