I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Messianic Jews and Mysticism

Messianic Jews of the UMJC at worship
One of the common criticisms of the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Christian movements was that they were just evangelistic fundamentalists using a Jewish gloss or glamour in order to entice Jews into Evangelical Christianity. While this is a simplistic view of a complex issue there is certainly some validity in some of the criticism. We have seen that Paul Levertoff was opposed to this kind of Hebrew Christianity and he stressed the essential place that Chasidism should have in a 'Jewish branch of the Catholic Church'. Chasidism emphasises the mystical dimension of religious faith.

In recent years I have noticed more and more interest by some Messianic Jews in Chasidic and Mystical Jewish spirituality. While evangelical Christians do stress an initial mystical experience of becoming 'born again' there is no tradition or structure to understanding the mystical life of the soul in their approach. As a result many Evangelicals have felt that there must be something more and we have seen many moving into the Charismatic movement and its mystical experiences of the Holy Spirit. This has also lead many to look into both Catholicism and Eastern Christian Orthodoxy.

Most Jews who have embraced Jesus have had a mystical experience and thus the charismatic dimension is very popular among Messianic Jews. However in all mysticism including the charismatic movements there are many pitfalls and dangers. Catholicism and Eastern Christian Orthodoxy have a very developed understanding of mysticism in its diverse manifestations as does Chasidic Judaism. Mystical life is 'deep calling to deep'. Many from evangelical and fundamentalist backgrounds feel they have come to a full stop in their spiritual development within the teachings of their churches and they sense there is a deeper way.

I believe many Messianic Jews today reach a point where they became spiritually dry and sense there is more to being a Jew and to life in the Mashiach than that offered by evangelicalism and pentecostalism alone. The turning to more structured and traditional liturgy is one manifestation of this. Another is the interest in the teachings of Chasidism and the Kabbalah. Levertoff was ahead of his time in that he stressed this link with liturgy and Chasidic mysticism in the development of an authentic form of Jewish Christianity. He was also one of the translaters of the Jewish Socino version of the Zohar into English.

The mystical dimension is essential to a rich and spiritually fruitful religious life- it is the dimension of the heart and heart worship. Like other Jews the Chasidim study Torah and Talmud but not in a dry intellectual way but from a mystical perspective seeing beyond the letter of the text ascending into its heart-felt and mystical applications. In Catholicism there is also a danger of replacing the dry intellectualism of Modernist and Liberal theology (which could be associated with Saducean Judaism) with a dry and intellectual orthodoxy (which could be associated with Shammaite Phariseeism) or a dry evangelical form of Catholicism (which could be associated with Karaite Judaism) rather than an orthodox Catholicism imbued with mystical dimensions (which could be associated with Hillelite Phariseeism elevated with Essene mysticism of the followers of Menachem). Of course one also must be careful not to fall into extreme and fanatical forms of mysticism such as that of the fanatical Essenes of the Dead Sea region.

True mysticism is a blessing to the whole community and leads, not just the individual mystic but the whole community that shares in this mystical way, to drawing deeper and closer into intimacy with the Divine and manifesting a deeper love commitment and communion to the community and to each individual in the community. This is the mystical Body of the Mashiach with which the soul enters into mystical union or marriage. Those of us who have attended chasidic liturgical worship in the Synagogue and also the liturgy of the Eucharist in the Church know that both as individuals and as a group one can ascend into the mystical and divine realm through such liturgy when it is celebrated with devotion and reverence.

Levertoff and Gillet's vision of a Jewish liturgical, mystical and traditional form of Hebrew Church proclaims a way forward for Messianic Jews and Hebrew Catholics who feel the longing and calling in their Jewish hearts to Torah and mitzvot as a deeper Jewish way for them to draw closer in intimacy with the Mashiach and his acts. The election and vocation of Israel is primarily a collective one. It would seem Messianic Rabbi Mark Kinzer and the UMJC are grasping this reality as expressed in "Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism" and are far ahead of the Hebrew Catholics in this regard. However the Association of Hebrew Catholics is at the stage of seeking to gather the Jews in the Catholic Church so that it will be possible for them to participate in their collective vocation in the church and the world. In the last few years we have seen a number of Hebrew Catholic conferences which is a positive step in this direction.

Watch this on Levertoff