One summer, my colleague Rabbi Michael Skobac joined me in visiting a messianic conference in New Mexico. Our hope was to dialogue with willing Jews who had accepted Christianity,
One encounter stands out in my mind. During a cordial conversation with someone I already knew, one of the leaders of the conference approached us. Upon hearing my name, he became agitated and accosted me with an accusation.
“Rabbi Kravitz. You are merely a rabbinic Jew. We are biblical Jews.”
He meant that I am following the words of men while he and his other messianic Jews are following the word of God.
I responded by asking him, “what’s on your head?” When he replied “a kippa,” I told him that wearing a kippah isn’t in the bible but is a rabbinic enactment. I then asked him about his tzitzit and pointed out that his eight fringes and five knots are also rabbinic and not mentioned in the bible. I made the same point about the Shabbat candles they light and the black and square tefillin they occasionally wear. Each time I stressed that the details of these mitzvot were transmitted by rabbinic tradition.
I then declared, “you have the audacity to say that I am ‘merely a rabbinic Jew,’ and you are a biblical Jew when everything you do to masquerade your Christianity in the guise of Judaism is based on rabbinic tradition.”
He was dumbstruck at his hypocrisy.
In this week’s Torah portion of Yisro (Exodus 18:1-20:23), Moses, with God’s permission, institutes a judicial system. He appoints leaders to assist the Jews in keeping the Torah and instruct them “of the path they shall follow and the deeds they shall do” (Exodus 18:20). This momentous event was the inception of the God-given “rabbinical” tradition.
The authority of this tradition is repeated in Deuteronomy 16:18-20, “Judges and officers you shall appoint” and in 2 Chronicles 19:4-10, “It is not for man’s sake that you judge but for God’s.”
Contrary to what many Christians claim, rabbinical Judaism is an intricate part of God’s vision of bringing Divine spirituality into all aspects of our life. By endowing man with the wisdom and tools to refine the world, we fulfill our partnership with God.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz