Ten From The Nations is a hard book to read, to digest, to understand. It opens a door not only to a world. But the world is one that I know little about, a world that is (and should be) completely foreign. Dr. Rivkah Adler is a close friend and a brilliant writer. When I heard she’d written a book, I was anxious to read it. The topic made me uneasy. Ten From The Nations is a book about “Torah awakening among non-Jews.” As I read Rivkah’s book, the thought, “but do we want non-Jews to be ‘awakened’ to our Torah?” stayed firmly in my mind.
According to tradition, many nations were offered the Torah. Each asked what was in it, and when told, refused. By contrast, when the Jewish people were offered the Torah, we answered, “we will do, and we will hear” – meaning that we committed to accepting Torah, and only then asked what this involved.
Torah and I have a very special relationship. At constant and varying points in my life, the Torah has spoken to me. Long ago, someone told me that if you counted the versus of the Torah and matched them to the equivalent value in years (according to the Hebrew counting), some amazing visions are offered. During the years equivalent to 1939-1945 (Devarim 29-22-28), the passages speak of a great fire across the land. More, the year in which Israel was created (1948) speaks of the ingathering of the Jewish people to their land; and for 1967, the corresponding Torah verse speaks about not crossing the Jordan River. In the Six Day War of 1967, on our eastern border, we conquered all the land up to, but not over, the Jordan River. Within the words of the Torah, lies not only our past, but our present and our future.
And that, to me, is the main point in my relationship with the Torah and the concept of Christians studying and immersing themselves in Torah. Up to the point of Noah, the Torah tells the history of all mankind. But that was more than 5,000 years ago. From that point, the history of man divides into the three sons of Noah. Later it divides further, according to the two sons of Abraham.
In her opening pages, Rivkah (Dr. Lambert Adler) provides an invaluable warning to her readers. In the section on “Issues for Jews”, speaks of Jews who are “strongly opposed to any cooperation between Jews and Christians. They believe that all Christians are dangerous and duplicitous and ultimately want to convert all Jews and/or wrest the Torah from the hands of Jews”. Before reading the book, I stopped for a while at that question. Am I one of those people? If so, there was really little reason to continue reading the book.
It took me a few days (at least) to decide that I did not belong in that category. I have firm lines of what I believe Jews and Christians should not do. One of them is marry each other. I was grateful when the book recognized the “cultural appropriation” that permeates many of the entries in this book. Rivkah also writes about those Jews “who want to retain Torah for themselves” and I agree with her assessment that “for them, the grey area that this book explores is a very disquieting place.” It was indeed.
What follows are thirty-seven stories written by various “shades” of Christians/non-Jews. This section is followed by twelve short essays from Jews. Reading through the essays by Christians, I tried to keep an open mind. I tried to feel that they weren’t speaking about something that was “mine” but rather something God had given to the world. Repeatedly, I felt that the Christians were thanking the Jews for honoring or keeping “their” Torah until they had come to the presence of mind to reclaim that which God really meant for them. But…but…no…wait. My mind rebelled and I stopped reading the book for a while. It’s hard for a Jew to read this and be unable to voice his/ her opposition. No, God offered you the Torah and your refused. Then God gave it to us. End of story. End of game.
You can read the Torah whether you are Jewish or not, and I recommend you do. You can learn the lessons and hopefully strive, as Jews do, to be better people as a result of the study of Torah. What you cannot do, I wanted to say several times as I read the essays, what you cannot do is take what is mine. You can borrow it; even enjoy it. But, you cannot claim it. Getting through some of the essays were very hard; others made me feel better.
Jews come from the line of Shem, Noah’s son. More, we come from the line of Yitzchak (Abraham’s son, Isaac). The Torah was given to the sons of Israel. It was we who stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. No other nation was there. No other nation said to God, “Give us the Torah and we will keep it…oh, and by the way, what’s in it?”
So I began to read and, in truth, wondered if I was wrong about my first assumption. Maybe I was one of those that Rivkah wrote about in the introduction. What was I objecting to? What was I fighting against. Do I feel that it is wrong for Christians to read and study the Torah? The answer was and is no. I’m happy to share it. But while I appreciate the sentiment, I disagree with the writers who claimed the Torah as theirs.
“For the first time, I understood that the Bible was telling my family history. It was my ancestors who were freed from Egypt, who received the Torah at Mount Sinai, who built up the Kingdom of Israel” writes, Britt Lode, one of the “Voices from the Nations,” in the book.
But it doesn’t tell your family history, I want to explain to Britt. You didn’t receive the Torah at Mount Sinai and it wasn’t your people who built the Kingdom of Israel. I love how you appreciate the Torah, I would tell her. And it is so very clear that you love the people of Israel, I would say. She writes that the redemption is “just around the corner” and I agree with her. She writes beautifully about my people and my land, and I am honored that a Christian in Norway sees so much that so many others refuse to see.
There are many things in life that we can come to respect, even love. That doesn’t make them ours. The right to study the Torah is open to all. The right to claim it, is not. It can’t be yours so long as there is a place in your heart dedicated to Jesus and to a religion that is in direct contradiction to the Torah. If you believe that Jesus is both the son of God AND God, you violate the most basic concept of the Torah that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and generations of Jews have dedicated their lives to. There is only one God, and God is One.
In Jim Long’s essay, I found reference to a Torah sentence that I have always loved. It is found in the book of Shmot (Exodus), where God commands Moses to go speak to Pharoah and tell him, “You shall say to Pharoah, ‘So said Hashem, My firstborn son is Israel’.” I enjoyed his essay and his understanding and respect. “I was not troubled by the fact that I’m essentially Israel’s younger sibling.” He charges Israel with the responsibility to “care for the rest of us in God’s family” and I wanted to cheer. Exactly this. This is the relationship that I can embrace. Perhaps, I reconsidered, Rivkah wasn’t including me in those that strongly oppose any cooperation between Jews and Christians.
Another essay, by Albert McCarn, suggested that “The Jewish people are very much Israel, but they are not all of Israel.” He may be right, but how does that translate to Christians awakening now to Torah being a part of Israel, the missing ten tribes. “We are learning that we are Hebrews, but we are not Jews.” I have to confess, I don’t even understand what that means.
At times I longed to get to the end, to the other side of the river I felt I was swimming through. I knew from the table of contents that the other side would be 12 essays by Jews. To some extent, those sections also left me wanting something different. In the essays written by Jews, there seems to be many who feel they have to justify their associations with Christians.
Clearly, as Rivkah had written at the outset, this bridge she and others were trying to build is suspect and surrounded by land mines. Truly, I think the land mines are greater than my friend gives credit. And yes, part of this is, as she and others say, because of the history between Jews and Christians. But more, if we are truly close to (or even in) the end of days, do we have the time to divert our attention to helping others do something they don’t have to do, while failing to move our own people to do what they have to?
Having swam across the river, I climbed to the other side to read the section written by Jewish authors, including several that I know personally and/or respect completely. And yet, here too, I was left with the feeling that something was off. Too often in this section, I felt the Jewish authors went too far in their attempts to justify the dialog they are seeking to establish or expand. In one essay, one author wrote that he has “come to realize that my Christian friends have chosen a wonderful savior with values that can truly make the world a much better place.” But…but…but.
How does he know that their savior was wonderful? Even one of the “Nations” authors questions the very existence of Jesus and yet here is this Jew deciding that not only did Jesus live, but that he was wonderful. And weren’t the values he would have had a reflection of the religion he practiced? Jesus was a Jew. He had, we think, Jewish values…except for the ones he broke. Without question, according to the Christian Bible, Jesus proudly broke the Sabbath in order to feed the hungry. Was there no other way to feed them but the way that Jesus chose? Truthfully, we don’t know the answer, do we? We have no proof. But what Jesus kept or broke is not the point.
In another essay, the author points out how a Jewish audience in her class exhibited a “bored silence and no one had anything to ask or add” while a class she and her husband held for a Christian community resulted in “enthusiastic interest and lots of fervent discussion.” This too bothered me. Do you have to show the strength of the interest some Christians have by belittling the interest of a “Jewish audience”?
What spurred me to write this review was another review, written by Varda Meyers Epstein, another writer that I very much respect. In the coming days (perhaps hours), Rivkah will respond to Varda (on Varda’s blog) and the dialog will continue there. For now, I feel like someone in the audience, listening while whispering to someone at my side (in this case, the readers of Israel Blogger) that I too read the book, and I too had my concerns.
What Rivkah Adler succeeded in doing, is putting before our eyes some very important questions. Her book presents a reality that many of us have blissfully been unaware of. Yes, I agree with her evidence that there is indeed a Torah awakening among non-Jews. We have always know that we are to be a light to the Nations. And I believe we are. I believe Israel is. Do I believe that Jews should be assisting in the wave of this awakening?
There’s the catch. I believe that a wave is a natural phenomenon created by God. If it is a true wave, our part need only be to awaken our own people. If the goal of this book was to convince you of any specific path, it would fail. Luckily, I don’t believe that’s what Rivkah was trying to do. She began the book with a question, “How do the Nations fit into the Final Redemption?”
I don’t know the answer to that question. It is likely that no one in this book does either. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is less the conclusion than the journey. Without question, we are all on a journey. It may be wrong to assume that the journey began at the same point. Wrong to assume it will end in the same place. Maybe it really is much more simple than that. Whatever road we are taking, whether it is the same road or a branch from another, perhaps, as Rivkah says, “at the end of the day, they, like us, are seeking the word of God.”