Family and People

I have recently enjoyed Philip Rosenbaum’s book, The Promise, on the commandment to honor one’s parents. To summarize briefly (since I recommend reading the book!), Rosenbaum argues that, as per Ephesians 6:2-3 (“Honor  your father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth”), failing to honor parents – which, unfortunately, is a way in which most of us have failed and may still be failing – leads to profound lack of wellness, undermining our relationships with God, with our spouses, and with our children.

I know my parents feel dishonored by my conversion, and I know they are not the only Jewish parents who do. It’s not the kind of dishonor that more traditional parents may feel when their child refuses to follow in their intellectual footsteps: they did not raise me religious, and have probably even less regard for observant Judaism than for Christianity. It took me years to understand – or, rather, to stop denying – that the root of their sadness and anger is that they see my becoming a Christian as choosing another family over theirs. They see my godparents as substitute parents that I have chosen over them, my Christian friends as a substitute extended family; and while they accuse me of having chosen to love strangers more than family, they also blame themselves for, allegedly, being such bad parents (which they weren’t at all!) that their child had to go looking for an alternative family.

I believe that this all comes down to the argument I was trying to make earlier – that the landless condition of the European Jews (among other factors) has led them to define Christianity and Christians as an enemy people rather than a competing religion. My Jewish-Israeli friends refer to Gentiles as Christians, with no discernment as to whether a given Gentile is actually a member of any church. To convert is to switch out your people – to reject your extended family on earth for an adopted family in heaven. Naturally, nothing can seem a greater dishonor to parents!

This leaves me with two questions. First, is it helpful to expose and debunk this misconception to our families (gently, of course) in an attempt to alleviate their sense of rejection? If so, perhaps one ought to start from the argument that Christianity is not an ethnicity, rather than that “I can be Christian and still Jewish” – a line that, no matter how true it is, Jews never seem to buy.

Second, how can a Jew’s relationship with the Gentile Christian world – a relationship that is quite likely to lead to marriage to a non-Jew (as it will in my own case) – be less like rejecting one’s mother and father and more like cleaving to one’s spouse? Some insecure parents may feel rejected when their children marry, but most parents don’t, and instead rejoice both at their child’s happiness and at the opportunity to acquire new relatives through the marriage. Is there a way for a Jew to think and talk about his relationship with the Church as a marriage – a true and fruitful metaphor in any context – rather than as a replacement of family?

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About The Groom's Family

I was born in Soviet Russia and grew up in Israel. I was baptized Orthodox Christian in 2006. Today my husband and I live in Northern Virginia. I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment!
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22 Responses to Family and People

  1. Lukas Halim says:

    “Is there a way for a Jew to think and talk about his relationship with the Church as a marriage – a true and fruitful metaphor in any context – rather than as a replacement of family?”

    Great idea! I hope so.

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  3. Christopher Laurenzano says:

    Hi Leah — I came across this on FB and thought I’d respond, or try to.

    I don’t buy the argument that one can be Christian and still Jewish, maybe because I think the problem (at least a large part of it) is the modern perception of itself in ethnic terms — or maybe I should say it isn’t so modern. This is one of the arugments that Christ had with his Jewish contemporaries, if I remember correctly. At least back then they had a sincere belief in God .

    What makes a Jew a Jew? It is precisely (or should be) — a religious belief, the following of the one true God. That’s what set them apart from everyone else in the ancient world. Sadly these days, much of the Jewish community is culturally Jewish, but they don’t go to synagogue, don’t take Judaism seriously, and lots of times don’t even believe in God at all. It is nothing but an ethnic perception, where literal blood ties are more important than the spiritual.

    Lukas, I don’t think it’s possible for Jews to see their relationship with the Church as a marriage. There will always be a tension or separation between Jews and Christians, simply because we are fundamentally divided over who Jesus Christ is. We should honor our father and mother, yes, but the first commandment is to love God with all your strength, heart and mind “Whoever loves father or mother more than me…is not worthy of me.” Our commitment to our Lord even may require the breaking of familial ties. Not because you are dishonoring them, but simply because families may just have a problem with it.

    Did that make any sense? 🙂

    • Christopher, thanks for writing!

      I would disagree with you that being Jewish is strictly a matter of religious beliefs. We know from the Old Testament that God had chosen for himself a people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – not a collection of unrelated individuals who recognized Him (we know there were in fact individuals who worshipped God, such as Melchizedek, who were not part of the Jewish people). Moreover, when the Jewish people betrays God over and over again and turns to idol worship, God never writes them off and never replaces them with some other collection of people more inclined toward monotheism. In other words, all the way until the coming of Christ He cares that this particular group of people – an ethnic group connected by blood ties – be faithful to Him.

      The Jews of today who don’t take Judaism seriously are living out yet another variation on the Old Testament theme of God’s people being unfaithful to Him; He continues to grieve over that. Moreover, the non-Jews who *are* faithful to Him have been adopted, or grafted, into the people Israel (see my post from 3.30.11; I plan to talk more about that later). Israel is never rejected and never dismissed, and the ethnic tie continues to matter.

      From a more practical standpoint – if, upon becoming a Christian, I can no longer describe myself as a Jew, then who am I? What is my family background? Who are the people with whom I belong? Who you are ethnically may not matter as much as your faith, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter or doesn’t shape who you are – just like your family.

      As for families “just having a problem” rather than being dishonored – yes, that can certainly happen. But the point I was trying to make is that often families feel dishonored because they don’t understand the reality of what a conversion is: they think you have chosen to belong to a different nation, or ethnic group, rather than to believe in God differently. I think it’s important to honor your parents by talking to them about it (hopefully I’ll get around to that myself soon :)).

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  5. Diana says:

    The word Yehudi (literally member of the tribe of Yehuda/Judah, or Jew) comes from the Hebrew root “lehodot,” to give thanks. God didn’t just choose the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – they also chose him – namely, at Sinai, when God offered the Torah to all the nations, and the Jews were the only ones who accepted it upon themselves (the biggest statement of “thanks,” if you will).

    I’d just like to point out that the idea of non-Jews “cleaving and being adopted as gentiles” is a strictly Christian doctrine. Judaism has no such understanding. For example, the Righteous Among the Nations are wonderful people who have done amazing things for the Jews and for humanity as a whole, but they aren’t “half-Israel” or “sort-of-Jew-by-promise” as a result, nor will they be unless they convert to Judaism. That doesn’t mean they are any less wonderful. It just means they are not Jews.

    • Diana,

      Well, the adoption of the Gentiles is precisely the point at which modern Judaism and Christianity part ways. It’s not that they are two parallel and different religions, one of which has this doctrine and the other doesn’t. THE debate between Jews and Christians is over whether, instead, they are continuous – and the point which Jews call a break while Christians would call it a joint – is the welcoming of the Gentiles into the originally-Jewish Church. Not surprisingly, this went down with a lot of controversy – even Christian Jews in the first couple of centuries tried to resist the idea, though the majority of Christians accepted it.

      The prophecy of Isaiah (among others), however, suggests that this was indeed meant to happen. See, for instance, Isaiah 11:10:

      And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
      Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
      For the Gentiles shall seek Him,
      And His resting place shall be glorious.

      • Diana says:

        I read the Isaiah prophecy, but as Genia commented in her post – it has nothing to do with cleavage. All it means is that in the Redemption, when the Moshiach (another sticking point is, of course, that he must be a relative of Jesse and thereby of David, which Christ wasn’t), all the Gentiles will recognize the Moshiach. But this does not mean they will become any sort of Jews.

        Also, what the heck do you mean by a “Jewish church”? Quite the oxymoron, seems to me.

        Jews never rejected the Gentiles. They may not have made them Jews (which is perhaps what you meant by saying they welcomed them into the Jewish Church), but they still love and accept them (here my feelings are similar to your point that Christians rejected Christ by treating the Jews badly — Jews who look down upon Christians are perverting Jewish teaching, IMHO).

        I am thinking of a specific quote from the Rambam on this issue, and will get back to you once I find it.

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  7. Diana says:

    PS – I think I spoke kind of hastily about the “not son of Jesse” point. Google pointed me to a bunch of claims among Christians that Jesus was indeed Jesse. But I found this piece (by a Catholic theologian and a representative of the pope) the most interesting: http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christian_Credibility.htm, namely:

    “Increasingly, the purported descent from David is explained as a theologoumenon, i.e., as the historicizing of what was originally a theological statement. If I many give a simplified explanation, the process of historicizing Davidic sonship is though to have gone somewhat in the following way: the Christian community believed that Jesus had fulfilled Israel’s hopes; prominent among those hopes was the expectation of a Messiah, and so the traditional title “Messiah” was given to Jesus; but in Jewish thought the Messiah was pictures as having Davidic descent; consequently Jesus was described as “son of David”; and eventually a Davidic genealogy was fashioned for him.”

    Goodness Lea, you really do know how to distract me from work! 🙂

    • Eli says:

      About the Rambam on christianity and islam, he said that they are outgrowths and parts of the gradual unfolding and fulfillment of the Jewish purpose of being a light unto the nations – i.e. bringing Gd-clarity to a world not clear on Gd.

  8. Diana says:

    Okay, got the direct quote now (apologies to all non-Hebrew readers – I don’t have the strength to translate…):

    From Hilchot Melachim 11:11
    אבל מחשבות בורא עולם–אין כוח באדם להשיגם, כי לא דרכינו דרכיו ולא מחשבותינו מחשבותיו. וכל הדברים האלו של ישוע הנוצרי, ושל זה הישמעאלי שעמד אחריו–אינן אלא ליישר דרך למלך המשיח, ולתקן את העולם כולו לעבוד את ה’ ביחד: שנאמר “כי אז אהפוך אל עמים, שפה ברורה, לקרוא כולם בשם ה’, ולעובדו שכם אחד”

    • Here’s my attempt at translation Diana’s text above:

      “But the thoughts of the Creator of the World – man cannot attain them, for our paths are not His paths and our thoughts are not His thoughts. All the things of the Jesus of Nazareth, and of the Ismaelite who came after him, were solely in order to straighten the path for the King Messiah, to instruct [prepare, exhort] the entire world to worship G-d together. For it was said: “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one accord.” (Zephaniah 3:9)

  9. Diana says:

    Nice work. Except it’s Rambam (Maimonides)’s text, not mine, and I’d put “words,” not “things,” I think – davar is both word and thing in Hebrew, and of course we know Jesus was all about The Word 🙂

    I find the passage extremely moving and beautiful, esp. the last part, where the English doesn’t capture the metaphor — to carry God (or the work of worshiping him, not clear) together on their shoulders, as on one set of shoulders…

  10. Bill Burdick says:

    Diana and Lea,

    I believe many verses in the Tanakh describe the Christian “grafting in” concept. One of my favorite ones is Zec 2:11-12. Here’s the King James:

    “And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee. And the LORD shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again.”

    I believe Christianity is the beginning of a process of many nations joining to the lord. Note that in this verse and others like it, Israel and the nations are still distinct. The Christian “grafting in” doctrine, given by Paul is that Christian gentiles become spiritual descendants of Abraham, not of Jacob. So they become “cousins” of the Jews and don’t replace or even expand Israel.

    I believe that Christian gentiles participate in many of G-d’s promises, but not the things that G-d promised to Israel. Lea, you’re a Jew, so you participate in those promises to Israel, but I, being (as far as I’m aware) a gentile, do not.

    Bill

    • Hi Bill,

      Thank you for joining the discussion, and my apologies for the delayed response!

      Your point about the Gentiles being grafted in as sons of Abraham, not of Jacob, is really interesting, and seems to be at least to some degree substantiated by Scripture. (Though a question that immediately pops up in my mind is whether there is then a difference between the relationship between Israel and the Gentile Church and the relationship between Israel and the Ishmaelites – any thoughts on that?) I agree with you about the distinction in the promises – an interesting topic to explore!

      What fascinates me about the in-grafting of the Gentiles is the family relationship it establishes between Christ, the Jews, and the Church. In Christ, all are adopted as the children of God. Christ himself, however, is a member of Israel and an heir both of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (hence, of course, the title of this blog), and of the promises. Those who come to Him from among the Jews and those who come to Him from among the Gentiles become one in the Church – so it’s more than a cousinship, even if those who come from among the Jews still participate in the promises to the Jews.

      • Bill Burdick says:

        It is true about being one — Jew and Greek, slave and free, man and woman, but I believe oneness means everyone is equally important, not that all the distinctions were removed. There’s nothing in the New Testament to command Jews to stop keeping the holidays or to command Gentiles to start following them. “Jewishness,” slavery, and marriage were not discontinued.

        Bill

      • Bill Burdick says:

        Actually, you could argue that there’s at least a suggestion in Galatians that Gentiles should not keep the holidays, but that’s kind of a thorny issue — to me, it doesn’t seem so cut-and-dry.

        As for our family, we we’re thrilled when our Jewish friends in Israel invited us to Shabbats and holidays; they took great care of us!

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