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December 3, 2014December 3, 2014  0 comments  Jewish Holidays

I have often been asked if there is one book that will help Christians understand Judaism and the Jewish people. To Be A Jew: A Guide To Jewish Observance In Contemporary Life by Hayim H. Donin; Understanding Judaism: A Basic Guide To Jewish Faith, History And Practice by Mordechi Katz,; Understanding Judaism: The Basics of Deed and Creed and even The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judaism both authored by Rabbi Benjamin Blech, are all great books on understanding the Jewish religion. However, I believe the best work to date has always been the Jewish prayer book known as the Siddur.


Lex orandi, lex credendi - what we pray is what we believe. Comprised of a collection of biblical texts along with personal prayers of rabbis that have been adopted into the corporate body of Israel, the Siddur is a masterful tapestry of prayers that are grouped into categories of thanksgiving, praise and petition. Those prayers inform our lives from morning until night.  Upon waking from the slumbers of sleep in the morning, we immediately acknowledge God's returning of the soul back to consciousness with, I thank You, living and eternal King for giving me back my soul in mercy. Great is Your faithfulness (Note: The English translation of the Siddur was taken from the Koren Sacks Siddur published by Koren Publishing). Before petitioning for our daily bread, we ask God to give us a sweet tooth for His word, requesting that He continue to divulge new insights into the Torah.


​Invoking Daniel 9:18, we confess our bankruptcy before God. We admit that no deeds or righteousness have sway over Him, declaring our total reliance on His compassion and grace. As people of the Abrahamic covenant, we have a duty to praise and glorify the Lord as well as to accept His kingdom and be His witnesses to the world when reciting the Shema: Listen, Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One (the last letter of first word, Shema, and the last letter of the last word, Echad, formulate the word Hebrew word for witness - Eid).


The beliefs of the Restoration of Zion, Messiah, Resurrection of the Dead, Repentance, God as Creator and Redeemer, and the ultimate triumph of His will are all declared in our prayers. Even in the most tragic of events such as losing a loved one we say the following prayer for mourners: May the Omnipresent (HaMakom) comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.


We use the name "HaMakom" (literally, The Place) and not "HaRachaman" (the Merciful One) for often a person who has lost a loved one feels abandoned by God. We pray that the individual be blessed by a renewed awareness of His presence, even in the grief-stricken place in which the person now finds him/herself - for that place, too, is HaMakom, the place of God. It also asserts that God is everywhere and in everything: physical and spiritual, matter and energy. All of this makes up the oneness of God, and at the end of life, the soul returns to its Makom. It is our way to tell the mourner: If you could see The Place where the deceased now dwells, you'd be comforted.


I am quite cognizant that many Evangelical non-denominational congregations are reluctant to use prayer books or a set of prescribed liturgy. Worship services are often very "free flowing," and include the latest from contemporary Christian music artists such as Chris Tomlin, Michael W. Smith and Hillsong Church.  But from Judaism's view point, we know that even the greatest of prophets were tongue-tied (Exodus 4:10, Isaiah 6:5, Jeremiah 1:6) and before petitioning God for divine help we recite: O Lord, open my lips, so that my mouth may declare Your praise (Psalm 51). The purpose of liturgy is to help people who feel speechless before God with texts that can jumpstart the emotion to commune with Him. The Siddur is the emotional result of forty centuries of God's hand in Jewish history.


One of the latest prayers adopted into the Siddur is the Prayer for the State of Israel. In it we acknowledge that our sovereignty over the Land is "the first flowering of our redemption" and we ask God to guide Israel's leaders with good counsel as well as lead diaspora Jewry back home. We recite this prayer on Shabbat and on Israel's modern day national holidays - Independence Day and Jerusalem Day.  The conclusion of this prayer is the hope of Jewish people that the world will accept the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:  Appear in Your glorious majesty over all the dwellers on earth, and let all who breathe declare: The Lord God of Israel is King and His kingship has dominion over all.

In the Hallel Psalms (113-118), recited during biblical feasts as well as certain rabbinic holidays, the shortest chapter in of all of Hebrew Scripture is recited - Psalm 117. The question that baffles biblical commentators is why the gentile nations are praising God and not the Jewish people. One possible explanation is that only the nations who plotted against Israel could fully comprehend God's steadfast love and faithfulness in rescuing His people and foiling the plans of the nations. Only those gentiles can see clearly "God's kindness to us was overwhelming" and can adequately praise Him.


The Siddur is not written by one particular author or from a specific period. Rather, it is the expression of the Jewish soul to our Father in Heaven over the centuries of Judaism's development. No one can fully comprehend the Jewish people without a clear understanding of the religious truths preserved in our liturgy. And for Christians who are called to support Israel, that understanding is critical.


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David Nekrutman is the Exectuvie Director of the Center for Jewish Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat. His article was originatlly published in Bridges for Peace monthly magazine, Dispatch.


March 22, 2013March 22, 2013  0 comments  Jewish Holidays

This coming Monday evening, Jews around the world will be celebrating Passover. Part of the holiday celebration is taking part in a seder; an elaborate ceremonial meal to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Some of seder food items consist of Matzah (unleavened bread), bitter herbs, and wine. Without going into the step by step process of the evening's rituals, I believe it is more important to understand why we are doing this in the first place.


Passover seder table

Passover seder table setting; photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons



The Jewish prayer book is Judaism's catechism. Lex orandi lex credendi - what we pray is what we believe. As part of the Shema prayer, we read three biblical sections - Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21 & Numbers 15:37-41. It is our proclamation of the existence of the Unity of God; Israel's obligation to be loyal to Him and His word, the affirmation of Rewards and Punishments, and remembering the liberation from Egypt.

Jews remember the Exodus in our daily prayers for God commanded us to do so - that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt ALL the days of thy life (Deuteronomy 16:3). If we are obligated to remember the Exodus every day, then why have the holiday of Passover at all?



The separate Passover mandate is derived from two biblical verses; Exodus 13:3 & 8. However, it is the later verse that gives us insight into the uniqueness of the holiday -And you shall relate to your sons on that day, saying, for the sake of ‘this' God acted for me when I left Egypt. Jewish commentators take this verse literally in the sense that the retelling of the Exodus narrative has to make one feel as if he/she is literally be redeemed from Egypt right now.

The entire seder is designed as a visual and physical aid to help one go through the process of slavery and redemption. Remembrance is every day, but once a year we have to actually come out of Egypt ourselves. Why does God make us go through this process?


In a Book that chronicles the birth of a Jewish nation, it is strange that the Bible begins with the narrative of creation. For those who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we take it for granted the concept of God the Creator and Redeemer. However, in the world of Abraham and Sarah, our biblical matriarchs, it was truly revelational that ALL human beings were made in the image of God.
The unity of Heaven created diversity on earth. With over 3 million different species in the world, God intended that diversity would be celebrated. In fact, in the beginning chapters of Genesis, we learn of a world that has 70 languages and God was alright with it.
And the whole land was of one language and of one speech (Genesis 11). Many read these verses and picture ultimate harmony. This is far from the case. Thanks to archeology of today, we know that the world's first empire was ruled by Sargon I, the king of Akkadian (also known as Nimrod in the Bible).

Sargon I imposed his language on all that he conquered. The story is not about harmony, but an attempt to eradicate the local culture. In today's language this is known as cultural imperialism. Their physical structures were narrow at the top and broad at the base; symbolizing that there is one human rule resting on the masses. This philosophy is not biblical.

In a time, where humans imposed their will on the people, God made a covenant with Abraham to carry His message to the world that you do not need power to leave your imprint on the world. He tells Abraham to leave the greatest civilization known to humankind and begin a new movement in a new land. Indeed, Judaism begins as the biggest protest ministry of all time.


Why Abraham? Genesis 18 gives us a glimpse into the "election" - For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just. Throughout all generations, those who follow the Jewish people realized that they have consistently refused to conform to the dominant culture or convert to the dominate faith.

Jews were always going to be a small nation to give hope to all small nations. To tell the world you do not need to be large to be great or powerful to have influence in order to leave your imprint on the world.


Usually entitled the Covenant of Pieces in English bibles, God reassures Abraham that he will have children. In this dialogue exchange in Genesis 15, God asks of Abraham to take three heifers, she-goats, rams and two birds. God instructs him to cut the animals in half and leave the birds alone. Soon afterwards; Abraham falls into a deep terrifying sleep that reveals his descendants will be oppressed and enslaved, but at the end will be redeemed by God and He will bring them to the Promised Land.

There is a key word in verse 13 that can give insight into why the Israelites would need to go through such oppression - ger (usually translated as stranger). "Ger" is also used in the first real estate purchase of Israel - when Abraham buys a burial plot for wife Sarah. Abraham approaches Ephron in front of the community and declares: I am a ger and a toshav among you (Genesis 23:4). In most translations the word ger means stranger and toshav is defined as a sojourner. Both words would indicate a short-term residence in the land; with the former term being more transitory than the latter. However, this is not true to the Hebraic origins.

The word ger is derived from the word "gargir;" a berry that is detached from its original source. An example of this can be seen in Genesis 12:10, when Abram needs to leave Israel to live (Hebrew word lagur is used which is derived from the word ger) Egypt due to the famine. Toshav is a term that denotes permanency. The ger and toshav expression appears again in Leviticus 25:23 - And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for you are gerim and toshavim with Me. Therefore, I would translate ger to mean immigrant and toshav as permanent resident.

What is interesting is that Abraham first identifies himself as an immigrant despite living in the land for almost half of his life. I would have expected him to say he is one of them.

Blessed by God, Abraham is the successful immigrant. He achieves permanence, but not a sense of belonging. Abraham is an outsider; the "other."

Being separate and different, an outsider, appears to be a necessary experience in forming the national conscious of Israel. It may be the very reason for Abraham's descendants to go through slavery and oppression. Facing otherness in Egypt would become the essential ingredient in how we should treat people afterward living in our land. Communal protection is needed for the most vulnerable in society.


Shepherding Jethro's flock in the desert of Midian, Moses has a God encounter that would transform the rest of his life and the entire world (Exodus Chapter 3). At the Burning Bush scene, Moses is told by God to lead His people out of Egypt. Instead of accepting the mission right away, Moses has some reservations about moving into a leadership role.

The first two attempted arguments Moses presents to God for not accepting the position are "who am I" and by what God name am I being directed by. Answering the first overture, God says "I will be with you... (v. 12)" and in responding to the second question, the Almighty reveals a name that was never mentioned in the past nor will it ever be repeated again - Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. Many translations of this name of God is I Am That I Am.
The first introduction to Ehyeh in the Bible is in a future grammatical tense when Isaac wants to leave Canaan because of the famine and God says to him: Sojourn in this land, and I will be (Ehyeh) with thee (Genesis 26:3). Additionally, Ehyeh is used in Exodus 3:12 in a future tense - God said, I shall be with you. Therefore, I would translate Ehyeh asher Ehyeh as I will be what I will be.

Ehyeh asher Ehyeh is a history game changer for God is going to do something never seen before; taking an entire nation from slavery to freedom. From this expression "hope" was born.


On Passover night, we have the opportunity to fully comprehend the significance of that redemptive moment from slavery. I cannot be who I am today without God's faithfulness to His covenantal promise.

When introducing the Sinatic Revelation, God presents Himself as the Redeemer - one who took you out from Egypt (Exodus 20:2). He is a personal God, One that is part of human history. Therefore, when we recount the Exodus story, it is not simply a historical recollection. We are literally acting out the Exodus!

Eating matzah is the external reminder of slave's most basic food; no additions or flavorings. However, it was also the food made in haste when we were being freed from Egypt. The bitter herbs touch upon our sense of taste in giving a clue of the harshness created by our Egyptian oppressors. Drinking the four cups of wine gives is the taste freedom's sweetness.

While Passover is the English translation of Pesach, I prefer the translation of this Hebrew word as "protection" as stated in Isaiah 31:5. This is consistent with the context of what actually occurred that night. If we pay attention to Exodus 12:23, we have two characters; God and the Destroyer. The Almighty ensures those who have heeded His commandment to put the paschal blood on the doorpost that the Destroyer will not enter to smite you. God, in His infinite mercy, protected the Israelites during the plaque of the firstborn like that of a mother bird protecting her young.


Beginning as a protest movement in where God tells Abraham to leave a civilization that imposes human will over the masses ends up as a redemptive revolution of a collective nation to celebrate God in complete freedom. The Pesach holiday is more than just getting together for an unusual family dinner.

God, in His revelational name of Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, wants free worship of free human beings. To truly express this freedom, it must be done in a covenanted land that demands a nation to take care of the most vulnerable of society. The instructional blueprint of this freedom can only be found in God's Word by a people who willing to commit loyalty to it. The Torah is more than miracles, revelation and faith. They contain laws, commandments and rules by which we build a just and free society.

God is faithful to His promises! Can we acknowledge what He has done for us and carry His message to the world? The slavery and redemption we experience Monday evening, will it take us to a place to bring God's kingdom here on earth? Are we willing to partner with the Divine and internally process what it means to be the other in order to truly help one another even outside our faith community? God took us out from Egypt; it is our sacred task to take the trappings of Egypt out from us.
Happy Pesach! Let Freedom Ring!


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David Nekrutman is the Executive Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat, Israel. All comments or questions should be directed to info@cjcuc.com.



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