Boundaries: A New Perspective on a Changing Jewish World: A Periodical Review
Edited by Paul L. Saal. Pasadena, CA: Hashivenu, Inc.
Boundaries is a quarterly magazine published by Hashivenu, Inc. whose Editor At Large is Paul L. Saal. The magazine’s intended readers are Jewish people: Messianic Jews who are both in and out of messianic congregations and Jewish people who are not yet believers. The magazine is designed for those who have been in the movement for some time and are trying to help shape the movement’s identity and future. The name Boundaries refers to the hope of discovering boundaries for the movement so to better define what Messianic Judaism is.
Boundaries has an attractive format, and its contributors are some of the brightest leaders in the movement. Those familiar with Moment magazine will notice the similarity in layout and style.
Hashivenu does not have one position on the issues treated in Boundaries. But there are some underlying perspectives voiced that the Hashivenu constituency would resonate with. The editorial staff of Boundaries would agree that the Messianic community should draw more deeply from our Jewish religious and cultural history as a way of better informing us of our own identity. Many would add that the Jewish community is our primary community and that failing to stay connected with the Jewish community would mean the eventual demise of our movement. In essence, Hashivenu sees Messianic Judaism as a part of Judaism. The magazine seeks to demonstrate where the two communities intersect, and to encourage the development of new connections.
I sampled some articles in the recent Spring 2000 issue. Richard Millman’s contribution, “Hashivenu…Caused Me To Return” is a good example of how Hashivenu views the need to connect with the larger Jewish community as a natural outgrowth of being a Messianic Jew. Millman attended a meeting of Hashivenu, after which he wrote his article describing how the meeting had impacted his life. Well-written, entertaining, and informative, the article speaks of Millman’s experience at the conference and the profound changes the conference had on him and his understanding of where he stood within the larger Jewish community of his area.
“I knew that I was Jewish and was not disqualified from that status because of my Messianic beliefs. But how could I share that? By living as a Jew, the Hashivenu Forum told me, by understanding that my approach to Judaism was just that: another approach. Not the only one, obviously, but one that entitled me to a ticket to the party at the very least.”
Millman then goes on to describe getting involved in the local Jewish film association and visiting local Chabad worship services. He let it be known that he was a Messianic believer, and recounts how different people responded. A note of warning should be sounded here: many of Millman’s observations about his relationship to the local Jewish community sound like the first blush of a new love relationship.
It would be good to balance Millman’s experiences with the anecdotes of others who have tried to live as Jew within the larger Jewish community. Many have found themselves rebuffed and asked to leave, or far worse, their acceptance in the community has been predicated on their playing down their faith or outright denial of it. It is still a very precarious balancing act that we as Jewish believers must play out, and most do not find their experience to be as easy as Millman’s. Most important is that a believer is committed to a strong faith community and that he sees his primary faith relationship in that believing community. There are too many stories of Messianic believers joining synagogues when they could not find a faith community to worship in. Their desire to be part of the Jewish community was far greater than their desire to be part of a faith community that worships the Messiah.
Another good example of the magazine’s commitment to help its reader see the value of drawing from their Jewish religious roots is Russ Resnick’s article in the “Torah for Today” column on “To Honor the Elderly.” Resnick does a excellent job of giving some of the historic Jewish opinion on the Leviticus 19:32 passage. His command of his material is extensive, so much so that he is able to lead us through the debates among the sages on the finer points of the argument.
Mark Kinzer’s column is aptly titled “Bridges” because it is written with the purpose of bridging from the best of Jewish religious experience to the current Messianic self-understanding. In his article on Kabbalah, he contends that evangelicals have too quickly dismissed Jewish Mysticism, that the Kabbalah is altogether Jewish and presents a spiritual world in which some of the central doctrines of Christianity can be found. Kinzer states:
“It is no longer possible to see the Man from Nazareth as the only authentic Jew in the first century movement he initiated, with his followers departing from Judaism under the influence of pagan mystery religions and Greek philosophy.”
Kinzer claims that what the early church believed about Jesus can be found in Jewish mysticism. He wants us to take another look at this source of Jewish thought, warning that we need to be careful when drawing from it.
Richard C. Nichol’s book review of Rabbi Carol Harris-Shapiro’s Messianic Judaism demonstrates the keen desire by many in the movement to be recognized as part of the larger Jewish community. Speaking of Harris-Shapiro’s own ambiguity of what an “authentic” Judaism is,” Nichol comments:
“However, her insights reluctantly open Pandora’s box of eventual Messianic Jewish acceptability. Why? Because there is no universally accepted definition of Jewishness which can logically keep Messianic Jews from the table.”
Nichol believes that as we continue to encounter the Jewish community and live as part of it, we will inevitably be seen as another stream within the whole, much like the Reform, Reconstruction, or Humanistic movements before us.
Along the same lines, Stuart Dauermann’s column “It Seems To Me” calls for both the Jewish and Messianic community to stop and listen to each other. Dauermann feels the frustration of being marginalized by the larger Jewish community. He recounts the hatchet job a local Jewish paper did on the movement, and he calls for men of good will to recognize the good in each person’s faith, hoping that there might be a day when we can accept each other as Jews of different opinions about the Messiah.
If Boundaries is interested in presenting to Messianic Jews the riches that are to be found within the larger Jewish community, it is also interested in exploring the current issues confronting both the Messianic Jewish community and the American Jewish community. Three of the contributors are young adults who have grown up within the movement. I believe the editors wisely recognize that the struggles of these young writers reflect the struggles of the movement as well.
For instance, Eve Fischer’s cover story, “The Young and the Faithless,” reflects an honesty and challenge that we who care about the future of our children and the movement would do well to hear. Ms. Fischer’s article echoes many of the concerns expressed by the Jewish community at large concerning the loss of their young people’s faith to the postmodern world.
One of the disturbing elements in Fischer’s article—which is also present in many of the other articles in Boundaries—is the way Messianic Judaism is talked about. In an attempt to reflect the Jewish communities own hierarchy of values, paramount of which is Jewish survival, loyalty to the Messianic identity seems to be of ultimate concern to the writers of Boundaries. By contrast, their faith walk seems to be penultimate. That is not to say that these articles do not address issues of faith, but they are placed within a sociological and cultural structure, which is much more the language of the Jewish community, than of the larger Christian faith community.
It is critical to point out that there is a real difference in these two communities. In the Jewish community, one enters through birth and socialization; in the faith community of believers in Jesus, one enters through a paradigm shift of regeneration. In the Jewish community, survival of the group has become the guiding mantra, while in the other, seeking the will of God is central. These need not be at odds with each other, but inevitably one winds up having to make choices that determines what one will look like and to whom one will relate and how one will relate.
The Messianic movement is old enough and broad enough to support a magazine like Boundaries. The writers readily admit that this is a “work in progress.” To put it metaphorically, the magazine is attempting to move the boundary lines that have kept the Messianic community from drawing water from the rich well that is just on the other side of the mountain. Its writers want us to move back on to the land and settle in our birthright. They believe that those who have historically kept us from the land will come to accept us eventually. To echo my father’s prayers, “From your lips to God’s ears.”
To continue the metaphor, I would only add one caveat before we take out our buckets to draw the water. We need to make sure to put a large sign over the well that says, “Needs filter. May have sediment.” No culture is sacrosanct. Those of us who have come to know the truth of the New Covenant must use its text as our water filter so that we can drink freely of the best that our people have to offer.