My Shocking Debate in a Messianic Jerusalem Café
Some years ago, I befriended Mark, a young Jewish college student who had converted to Christianity. His evangelical Christian roommate invited Mark to Christian rock concerts and Bible studies.
With limited knowledge of Judaism, Mark was swayed by the “proof-texts” shown to him by the local Christian youth pastor.
Although his “mind was made up,” Mark agreed to meet with me at his sister’s request.
On the surface, I could see how the verses he was quoting might sound like Jesus. So, I showed Mark the words of King Solomon, who said, “the first to bring an argument sounds right until someone comes and challenges him.” (Proverbs 18:17).
Solomon’s advice convinced Mark to listen to an alternative explanation that considered the context and original Hebrew for the passages he thought spoke about Jesus. Slowly, he recognized that he had made an uninformed decision. However, the experience had ignited a desire to learn Torah and draw close to God.
Mark left California and traveled to Jerusalem to study in Yeshivah, a Jewish learning institute. A few months later, he called me in crisis.
Mark started each day with a fresh coffee at a small Jerusalem café owned by a fifth-generation Israeli. He discovered that the owner had accepted Christianity and considered himself a “messianic Jew,” Many cups of coffee later, Mark was confused by the Israeli’s passionate arguments and fluency in Hebrew.
Mark wanted to hear my response and asked me to debate the café owner. Because of the urgency of the situation, I immediately booked a flight to Israel, and the three of us met in person. The discussion lasted for several hours, however, no matter what I said, the Israeli rationalized his point of view. So, I decided to take a different approach.
I told them that as long as I am in Israel, I would like to visit the resting places of some of the great biblical figures. In particular, I would like to go to the city of Shechem, to visit the grave of our forefather Yaacov. The Israeli corrected me and declared that not only is Shechem a dangerous place to visit, but Yaacov’s resting place is actually in the city of Hebron almost 50 miles south of Shechem.
I knew this, but as you will soon see, I was trying to make a point.
In this week’s Torah portion Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43), we learn that Yaacov “purchased a field in Shechem from the sons of Chamor” (Genesis 33:19).
However, Yaacov was buried in Hebron “in the cave in the field of Machpelah (that is in Hebron)… which Abraham bought… as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. (Genesis 49:30 & Genesis 23:17-19).
It was Yaacov’s son, Yosef, who was “buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Chamor” (Joshua 24:32).
As we reviewed these biblical and archaeological facts, the Israeli seemed happy that he had caught me in a mistake. Then I made my point.
I asked him, if the bible is so clear that Yaacov is buried in Hebron on land Abraham bought from Ephron, why does the New Testament make a mistake? It says, “Yaacov was buried in Shechem in a tomb Abraham purchased from the son on Chamor” (Acts 7:14-15).
As the Israeli looked this up in his Hebrew New Testament, his mouth dropped in disbelief at the shocking contradictions, and Mark smiled because I had made my point. Recognizing, once again, the wisdom of Solomon’s words, Mark returned to his Yeshiva to study the Torah carefully and committed his life to Judaism.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
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