In a letter to the editor of JewishTimes.com, Baltimore resident Sarah J. Rosenbloom expressed chagrin that Jews for Jesus has the “gall” to suggest “we” (meaning the Jewish community) are sinners.
Her letter seemed particularly interesting to us at this time of year as Jewish people the world over prepare for Yom Kippur. Read Ms. Rosenbloom’s letter to the editor and below, an open letter of response from Jews for Jesus.
An Open Letter of response from Jews for Jesus to Sarah Rosenbloom (and anyone else if offended to be considered a sinner).
Dear Ms. Rosenbloom,
I can’t help wondering, what if had it been October instead of August when you responded to the article about Jews for Jesus? Would you have written the same letter?
The Ten Days of Awe and all of the accompanying traditions remind our people of a truth that is all too easily ignored during the rest of the year: namely, God is the One who says we are sinners, and he says something must be done about it.
In fact, if the Bible is to be believed, then all people are sinners, and this does not exclude the Jewish people, noble and virtuous as many in the community certainly may be. As a good Jew you must know what Yom Kippur is all about, and this Holy Day would not exist unless the Jewish people (like all people) needed atonement for sin. So why are you so offended?
In light of Yom Kippur (and by extension, in light of Tenach), which takes more gall: to admit that we are sinners, or to claim that we are not?
Speaking in social, not theological, terms enables you to say with pride, “Judaism is an intelligent, joyous, compassionate religion. Unlike others, it does not say righteousness or access to heaven is only for those who ascribe to our faith.”
Your letter makes it sound as though it is up to people to be generous about who has access to heaven…as though it is a matter of our tolerance and respect for one another, rather than a spiritual reality determined and revealed by God.
Today’s Judaism, like many religions, deals mainly with social issues. We know that God has much to say about how people are to regard and treat one another, and this is an important part of true religion. But it is only a part. God’s expectations are not limited to how we treat one another, but how we regard him, and what we do when we find ourselves disobedient to his standards—both in how we regard others and how we regard him.
Theological concerns are very real, whether or not people choose to face them. What can we do and how can we know that God forgives us? The Bible provides very specific answers. In ancient times, Jewish leaders guided our people according to what God told Moses. But much of what God told Moses is no longer possible for us to follow because there is no Temple and no sacrifice. Did God forget to leave a contingency plan in case the Temple was destroyed? No, God told the prophets that the Temple would be destroyed, and he also mentioned that there would be another sacrifice for the atonement of sin that would not require a particular building or altar. But you don’t hear much about that from your rabbi. After all, the passages that speak of this other sacrifice might “confuse” you if you don’t know all the arguments about why they can’t possibly be about You-Know-Who.
Yes, it is annoying to have someone say that we are sinners. But we are not sinners because we are Jewish, or not Jewish. You (and me, and everyone else on the planet) are sinners because we are human beings who have not accorded our Creator the faithfulness, obedience and love that is rightfully his. We have all given ourselves the place that God deserves, measuring what is right according to our own goodness, preferences or traditions—and even those who try harder than most to give God his rightful place in our lives know that we often fail. In our pride and selfishness we hurt or belittle other people with our words if not our actions, and with our thoughts, if not our words. Can you stand before God and say that this is not true of you? And can you think of nothing else that you have done or even continue to do that shows a lack of proper respect for the Almighty and his ways?
While it stings to hear that we are sinners, it is also liberating. It’s not until we recognize the problem that we long for the solution. And when we long for the solution, there is hope of finding it.
Isaiah 53 says: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Who is the “him”? Whether you are observing all the usual traditions for Yom Kippur or whether you are not doing much at all, God says you need atonement for your sin. And just like the LORD provided a ram so that Abraham did not have to offer up Isaac, the LORD has provided a sacrifice to atone for your sin and mine. Isn’t it time to think about You-Know-Who?