Although her highly educated parents were secular, Karen always knew she was Jewish. Growing up in Brooklyn, it seemed like everyone was.
An uncomfortable experience with an overzealous religious Jew shattered any thoughts of exploring her religious heritage.
However, a chance encounter with a Jew for Jesus seemed like the correct path, and for 30 years, she considered herself more Jewish than the Orthodox Jews from her old neighborhood.
While attended a messianic synagogue, she told the “rabbi” that her parents had recently died and asked him to say the mourner’s Kaddish prayer for them.
She was devastated when he told her, “There is no reason to say Kaddish since your non-believing parents are burning in hell.”
The bluntness of this statement shook her to her core and put her on a path of reexamination.
An acquaintance suggested she contact Jews for Judaism. She reached me by phone and asked for my viewpoint on more than a dozen biblical proof-texts, which seemed to validate the Christian belief that Jesus was God, the messiah, and savior.
Each week, for nearly a year, we studied over the phone. I demonstrated how the passages were mistranslated and taken out of context and how the correct interpretation provides a spiritually fulfilling path to God.
The passage that bothered her the most is found in this week’s Torah portion Acharei Mos (Leviticus 16:1–20:27). “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement on your soul” (Leviticus 17:11).
She was misled to believe that this passage says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” and since sacrifices ceased with the destruction of the Temple, Jesus is the only way to salvation.
I explained that in context, the original verse is speaking about the prohibition of consuming blood and does not state that blood sacrifices are the ONLY way to make atonement. For instance, atonement can also be attained by giving charity (Exodus 30:16), or through the burning of incense (Numbers 16:47). Also, when there is no Temple service, the prophets instructed the Jews to “offer prayers in place of sacrifices” (Hoshea 14:3).
Most importantly, repentance was and remains the most essential way to return and be close to God, as it says, “return to Me, and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:7).
Karen returned to Judaism and attended Yom Kippur services. She went to pray and ended up crying. She described her tears as cleansing and joyful because she had discovered her Jewish inheritance, a personal and spiritual relationship with God.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz