Sunday, March 25, 2007


Vayikra Blogging

I was talking with a friend last night and he made the point that he finds he, as a Roman Catholic, cannot be lead astray, at least in terms of general theological and even soterological if not necessarily specific moral issues, by looking to Jewish texts: not just the "Old Testament" but also the Talmud, etc. On the other hand, he finds certain Protestant sources to be deeply at odds with the Catholic viewpoint, even though Protestant Christianity, as Christianity maintains certain aspects of Catholic theology and soterology that, obviously, represent breaks with Jewish thinking.

On the one hand, this is not surprising in as much as Judaism is the "root" of Christianity while, from a Catholic point of view, Protestantism is heretic, but on the other hand, it is interesting how considering even a document as specifically Jewish as the Mishna (*), somehow a Catholic can read out of it something rather different than the Jewish reading. Consider the last part of Pirke Avos 2:18, "you must not consider yourself totally wicked". Somehow a Catholic can be comfortable with what we Jews consider to be a condemnation of the doctrine of "original sin".

What does this have to do with Vayikra? Well, from a Christian point of view, the sacrifice of Jesus substitutes for the "blood atonement" provided by the sacrificial system described in Leviticus. However, we Jews view the whole motivation of the sacrificial system quite differently than do Christians: to us the key point of the sacrificial system is fellowship with God and humanity; which fellowship re-connects us with the community we harmed by sinning. Which fellowship is continued by communal prayer and communal meals.

Now, just as even an Orthodox Christian may be comfortable with many a Talmudic teaching as being a teaching which would not lead such a person astray, an Orthodox Christian would have no problem with this Jewish notion of sin and repentance, although the emphasis on fellowship may seem a bit hippy-dippy liberal to some conservative types (even within Judaism). Yet somehow, the lens in which these teachings are viewed by such a Christian precludes modern forms of fellowship -- the communal Amida and the communal meal -- from being sufficient to reconnect with God and the community. T'filla, T'shuva and Tzedaka are somehow not sufficient as far as they are concerned: "blood atonement" is necessary. So again, a Christian can feel the Jewish text cannot lead him or her astray, yet such a feeling is based on a complete reframing of what the Jewish text says. And still, where did this reframing, the introduction of the idea of "blood atonement" come from?

Interestingly, it works the other way around: Christianity also reframes how Christians view Christian texts that date to pre-Christian times. Sometimes it seems the "lessons" of certain Christian texts are lost of Christians because they view those texts through the lens of the mindset engendered by those texts, whereas, agreeable to us or not, we Jews looking at those texts through the Jewish lens through which those texts were first intended to be read might appreciate certain subtleties in the text that are missed by many Christians: consider, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan, which says something rather different about the importance of faith in judging moral character than, e.g., many Christian denominations would say today.

I think I may have had some conclusions and summary statements I wanted to make with this and some more links to the idea of sacrifice (and hence why this post now), but my train of thought has managed to derail. Maybe someone can take my mind, and write these things down in the comments?

* An interesting side note for those who view Judaism as a "sister" rather than "mother" religion to Christianity is that the Mishna, which makes into a quasi-cannon (although Judaism preserves the Beraisas in a way the Christianity does not preserve, e.g., the non-canonical gospels, although with respect to the apocrypha, it is Catholicism that maintains more of it than Judaism, hmmm ...) the basics of the Oral Law distinguishing Rabbinic Judaism, was compiled at around the same time as the Christians' "New Testament"'s compilation.

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