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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dispelling a Longstanding Bloody Lie

I've often found that because New Testament followers have a perspective of Judaism that is foreign to and contradicts what Jews believe and entirely from their doctrine rather than from the laws of Judaism, I often see misrepresentations of Judaism in telling others *about* Judaism. The often made claim that a “blood“ sacrifice for sin was the "only means of atonement for Jews"/the covenant of Torah, is something that is not found IN the Torah and in fact violates and negates what God shows from Genesis throughout the entire Hebrew Bible.

To dispel this false statement about Judaism to such a person who was raised to believe that "blood" had to be shed for "atonement" in Judaism, I find that contrasting of the concepts found in each religion best helps them understand. I’ll use a modern example of how Jews are presented with their concept of atonement and forgiveness and then show the Jewish religion’s laws from the eternal covenant of Torah.

The following scenario was long ago given to me on a Hebrew Christian missionary pamphlet (dishonestly calling itself Messianic “Judaism“) with the tag-line "This is you.” or something like that. I can’t seem to find it now to quote it verbatim, but I’m hopeful some reader out there may also have a copy to forward to me so I can post a copy of it online and illustrate with objective evidence how completely opposite to Jewish belief it‘s statements about Judaism really are. I know I can't be the only person who had that flyer handed out to them.

First of all, the Jewish people are forbidden to worship anything on earth or in heaven before or in lieu of God. The Torah declares that God is not and does not become a man (this was to separate Jews from this common and widespread belief in the ancient Levant in godmen and men/rulers becoming Divine) Believing Jews have always trusted that God did not lie to us in these statements.

The gist of the missionary pamphlet was to try to show that one is following Torah to consider a Jew as a sacrifice to atone for sins! It was supposed to show the enormous capacity of mercy from Jesus (Yahsuah) that is available to all humans who have the “blot” of “original sin” and all the accumulated sins that humans have engaged in action, past, present and *future* if one simply relies on the sacrifice of Jesus to “pay” the “price” for them. I recall that it had a story line to it:

It instructed you to pretend that you are an inmate on death row for being a murderer and a rapist. You were tried and are guilty, that is not in dispute. The day before you are to be executed, a stranger offers to take your place and receive the lethal injection and die in your place instead. The court accepts this and the sentence is carried out on the stranger who dies in your place. You are now a free man.
It went on …but I’m going to stop here
What struck me right at that point was how strongly this differs from the focus of mercy through justice and accountability taught throughout the entire Tanakh and especially in the eternal Torah (law/teaching) of Judaism. How does that pamphlet's scenario in any way resemble justice?
Torah demands that “Justice, justice, shall you pursue”.
Letting someone else die in place of the guilty does not change the guilt of the guilty, nor serve justice in any sense of the definition of the word. There is no mention of any attempt on the part of the guilty to try to make amends or ameliorate any resulting damage or pain caused by their sin, no mention of regret or repentance on the part of the sinner or a desire to refrain from the same sin again. Not one mention of individual accountability or outward demonstration of an effort toward atonement by the sinner is shown, only abdication of personal responsibility...However, later, the pamphlet referred to an obligation to be eternally grateful for the death of that innocent person and their suffering for what you did.
Moses once offered himself to do that for the covenant nation, Israel, and God declared outright that was not permissible, that every person is directly accountable to God for his/her own sins. Jews believe God didn’t lie to Moses about this, or to the covenant nation, Israel with regards to the precepts of mercy and justice.
Repentance and acts of restitution are prerequisites to the act of any sacrifice, either animal or non animal sacrifice in the Torah.

So how is it so widely accepted that Jesus’ supposed sacrifice *paid* for anything at all? There is no justice in an innocent person being punished and dying in place of a guilty one, so why would God accept this gesture and agree to redeem all souls who recognize the sacrifice, unless God is unjust?

Living in a society/civilization that believes in justice, I'm sure all of you would have a problem letting a death row inmate go just because a stranger was executed for him. Again, I ask how does this fit with God's commandment to pursue justice?

So the New Testament concept of god in that scenario doesn't appear to care about justice or demonstration of acts of sincere repentance or individual and personal accountability and instead focuses on blood sacrifice as mere *appeasement* versus the Tanakh's Scriptural contextual concept of ATONEMENT..meaning to be at one with the Creator in striving to honor the gift of life. Atonement is more compelling to me than appeasement.

Animal sacrifice (zevachim) was never the exclusive means to atonement.  A sin sacrifice, called a Korban Chatas, was only required for accidental transgressions of severe sins. If someone was unsure if they had transgressed a sin for which they would be required to bring  a sin sacrifice they brought a sacrifice called a Korban  Asham Taluy.  The Chatas ( sin ) offering was not for intentional or malicious sins.   Some sin offerings could not be eaten, but for the most part, for the average person's personal sin, the chatat was eaten by the Kohenim, the Temple priests.
The animal offerings differed as to who was giving them, for a king or the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol  the requirement is the sacrifice of unblemished bull. A normal person had to bring a female lamb, but if they were too poor to provide that, they were asked to bring two birds (the exact species is subject to debate) and a really poor person brought flour, oil and frankincense.

There is no blood in flour, oil and frankincense. Thus, animal sacrifice was shown as NOT mandatory for atonement. In addition, No sacrifice for sin was considered acceptable unless you had done the necessary steps of teshuvah beforehand. Teshuvah refers to repentance of the wrongful deed, amends for anything you could rectify and a return to righteousness, eschewing the wrongful deed. The important thing was the repentance you did prior to this offering and the *acts* of showing you had done what was necessary before you asked God to forgive you. The fact that even amid the instructions on the specifics of animal sacrifice it shows that flour, oil and frankincense could be brought INSTEAD..reveals that what was important was that you were offering something meaningful as a sign you had done your part before you sought God to accept your offering.

According to Torah, there is a three-step formula for "repentance" (teshuva = returning to G-d by returning to the proper path). Quoting from Mishneh Torah by the Rambam (Maimonides):
"And what is repentance? It is when the sinner abandons his sin, removing it from his thoughts [i.e. he will from now on push out from his mind any idea to do or to imagine doing this sin], and is completely resolved not to do it again.
Consequently, he [verbally] regrets what has happened in the past [i.e. what he thought, said or did] and [verbally] accepts G-d, the Knower of secrets, as his witness that he will never return to such a sin again.
And he needs to confess verbally and state the resolutions that he made in his heart."

***The centrality of the animal sacrifices ceased, not with the second destruction of the Temple by the Romans, but rather with the first destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians. Please remember that the vast majority of Jews never returned to the Promised Land under Cyrus of Persia. They remained in Babylonia. By the time Jesus was born, eighty percent of the world's Jewish community lived outside of the Promised Land, and could not have cared less about the cessation of the animal sacrifices. When the Temple was reestablished, the Jews of Babylonia made an annual financial gift for the maintenance of the Temple, and the land, but never worried that God was not going to forgive them their sins without a blood sacrifice, just as Diaspora Jews do today. And the reason why they had no such fear, was that the Bible makes it explicitly clear that no blood sacrifice is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, or that the exclusive means for the God-man relationship was through the animal sacrifices.***
The important thing was and remains “teshuvah” This is represented using two concepts, nicham (to feel regret or sorrow) and shuv (to return)
`When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Eternal, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged. [Numbers 5:6-7]
30:8 You will repent and obey God, keeping all His commandments, as I prescribe them to you today.
Ve'atah tashuv veshamata bekol Adonay ve'asita et-kol-mitsvotav asher anochi metsavecha hayom.
Deuteronomy 30:8
note the Hebrew word tashuv there

For the person who has sinned to acknowledge the wrongdoing is the first step, then one must regret the wrongdoing and do your best to make amends, lastly, is to turn away from doing the wrong and not do it again.

***For intentional sins to be atoned for, there had to be repentance and restitution and often punishment because the sins were committed on purpose!
A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft... If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man's field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard... If a fire breaks out and spreads into thorn bushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution... But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, he must make restitution to the owner... If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution. [Exodus 22:3, 5, 6, 12, and 14]

Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. [Leviticus 24:21] ***

It is hard not to go and refer to the many places throughout the Torah and the rest of the Tanakh that show that the commandments of Torah obligate those who follow it to be accountable to both our fellow humans and to God for our behaviors to all living beings.
The religion of Judaism through the precepts of the Torah is a path that guides humans to individual and collective accountability for our behaviors and to promote justice and mercy and restoring the world to a righteous state. “Justice, justice shall you pursue”.

Torah outlined the steps of repentance and return whether or not the sin ( violation of God's commandment) was unintentional, or intentional. So, in order to fully understand the Jewish Bible’s ( Tanakh’s ) concepts of sacrifice in relation to atonement, you need to study much more than the laws regarding just the *rituals* surrounding the sacrifice. An out of context passage that refers to the prohibition of *consuming* blood, to claim that blood must be shed and justify a human sacrifice for appeasement..remains antithetical to the Torah’s commandments, nor does it fit with what Jews have ever believed or practiced.
There can be no real justice without mercy and no real mercy without justice..but then that leads us into a whole new discussion :)
The Tanakh shows that Jews and Gentiles came to both First and Second Temples to pray and seek atonement. Blessing, repentance and atonement have and shall forever remain equally available to all human beings and does not limit this to membership in one particular group of people. God is not exclusive to the Jewish people, but demands that Jews remain exclusive to God. There is a difference.

***http://whatjewsbelieve.org/ portions asterisked with this copied from that site. Permission from my friend Rabbi Stuart Federow to use his site to help educate as long as I always credit him with his words.
Lastly.. a reminder even though I omitted the many narratives that clearly show that human sacrifice is condemned in the harshest terms throughout the Tanakh and it has no place within Judaism, I only referred to the scenario and the NT doctrine to contrast their concept of sacrifice for sin with that of the Torah's and of Judaism.