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St. Peter and the Reform Movement

An ugly etrog is still an etrog, but a beautiful lemon is never an etrog.
The Christian Cross and Jewish Star of David stand together in front of Genesis of Ann Arbor at 2309 Packard St. The worship space is co-owned by St. Clare's Episcopal Church and Jewish reform Temple Beth Emeth.

The Christian Cross and Jewish Star of David stand together in front of Genesis of Ann Arbor at 2309 Packard St. The worship space is co-owned by St. Clare's Episcopal Church and Jewish reform Temple Beth Emeth.
Photo Credit: Based on a photo by Katherine Axelsen | AnnArbor.com

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The three articles we ran at the end of last week regarding the notion that the Reform movement now ordains “rabbis” who are not Jewish resulted in a huge explosion of responses, and that’s always a good thing, even if in the process yours truly came across as a big meanie, a racist, an extremist, a divider, a hater, and someone who contradicts the very spirit of the month of Elul.

There is a midrash (homily) about Shimon Kefa, who was none other than Peter the Rock, the first Christian pope. Jewish sources have been doing battle over the veracity of this story since at least the time of Rashi and the Machzor Vitri (earliest cited Jewish prayer book), in the 11th and 12th centuries. There are at least four versions of the same midrash, which vary on specifics, but relate essentially the same story:

The Christians were persecuting Jews and encouraging Jews to join their fold, which they did in droves. The sages were distraught about this, until one of them, a sage by the name of Shimon Kefa (rock in Aramaic) volunteered to go as a Trojan horse into the Christians’ camp and change Christianity forever so it would not look Jewish.

He received the sages’ blessings and went to carry out his mission. In a major Christian enclave, he told the gathered that he is the messenger of Jesus. To prove this, he performed some of the miracles Jesus was famous for: healed a leper and resurrected a dead person. When they were convinced he was truly a messenger of their departed master, he started instructing them—and here each version differs on what he told them to do, except that they all emphasize not attacking Jews any more.

Other than persuading the Christians to leave the Jews alone, in several versions Shimon Kefa—Peter—tells them to move the day of rest to Sunday, to eat all the animals and all the blood they wish, and not to circumcise their sons. And so, in short order, the gap between Christianity and Judaism became so wide, no one in his right mind would suggest they’re the same religion.

What was is it about Christianity that so disturbed the sages? After all, Christians to this day embrace many of the Torah commandments and rely on Biblical verses for practically everything they do and say. Why couldn’t the sages say, well, it’s true that Christianity is not exactly Orthodox Judaism (a 19th century term which I doubt they were familiar with), but at least it keeps them away from paganism.

Because it doesn’t. By placing man at the center of the story, even when it is a god who becomes man through congress with a mortal woman, Christianity is paganism 2.0, promoting the same self-centered ideas but using Biblical verses in the process.

I’m well aware of the scant few sources in the Talmud which defend Christianity as an essentially monotheistic religion which employs pagan concepts. I’m not a scholar and this is not a scholarly article, so I’ll cut to the chase: according to Jewish law, a Jew is not allowed inside a Christian church where Christian icons and symbols are on display (but we are permitted to enter a mosque and even pray—Jewish prayers—there).

Our modern poskim, most notably Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, have already prohibited Religious Jews to set foot in a Reform temple. Rabbi Feinstein rules that Conservative and Reform temples are the same as places of idol worship with respect to both of the following rabbinical notions (source: Institute for Dayanim):

1. Since praying together with a Conservative or Reform congregation is forbidden, the need to avoid the appearance of worshipping in a prohibited manner is applicable to these temples.

2. Similarly, the prohibition on being in the vicinity of a place designated for people with heretical beliefs applies equally to idol worshippers and to Jews who do not accept the fundamentals of Orthodox Judaism. (Orthodox Judaism itself has a broad spectrum of beliefs. For a working definition of Orthodox Judaism we can use the thirteen fundamentals of the Rambam [Maimonides]. All streams of Orthodoxy accept the thirteen fundamentals of Judaism of the Rambam as correct. Anyone deviating from those principles is considered a kofer-heretic).

(There are some who make a distinction between the Conservative and the Reform, in that while the Reform completely removed themselves from rabbinical halacha, the Conservative still consider halacha as their legally binding law, they just interpret it differently. Not my place to decide that one.)

Before we continue, I want you to understand that these supposedly harsh and firm demands, as presented by Maimonides, are broad enough to include a huge variety of Jewish congregations, all the way from ultra-Haredim in the neighborhood of Geula in Jerusalem, to the most left-wing shuls in hip America. They all manage to find themselves inside this tent, and quite comfortably and happily at that (OK, some not as happily as others, can’t win everything).

There is only one fundamental, unwavering rule at the core of all these varied congregations: we all connect to God through the commandments, and we all do this in line with rabbinical interpretation.

This is the core difference between the monotheistic and the pagan: in our tradition, we do the will of God, in theirs, it’s the god who does their will.

Their god provides the beauty of a great singer, the loving kindness of a great teacher, the spiritual wonder of the seeker, the helping hand to the needy, the diversity of all of mankind, the generosity of the human spirit – there are so many incredible things their god does for them. It’s truly lovely, and as a recent comment suggested on one of our articles: “Yori Yanover, listen to the singing one more time. Only THIS time, listen with your 2,000 year old ‘wandering Jew’ neshamah, and NOT with your intellect.”

And that is the essence of paganism. A Jewish relationship with God is anchored in a covenant, a legal document the essence of which we recite twice a day, every day, in the Sh’ma. We accept the yoke of mitzvot and in return we have a relationship with God, we get to be alive and to have national and personal continuity.

It’s wonderful when this relationship results in a lot of beauty and personal satisfaction – why the heck not. But it is there also when He in His wisdom kills us en masse, kills our babies, ravages our fields, inflicts cancer and boils on us – we still hold on to the covenant, and we work hard to love Him, especially when He in His wisdom makes it so difficult.

We don’t do this out of an emotional or spiritual yearning – those are wonderful aspects of our faith, but not the essence of our religion. We do this out of a commitment to the mitzvot as a clear expression of the Will of God. we don’t need to imagine what would God want of us – He came down on Mount Sinai and told us specifically, and empowered our sages to teach us the meaning of His words.

And so, we insist that Jews be made aware that only our places of prayer and study are sanctioned by our Jewish tradition, and that non-Orthodox places are not – despite all the sometimes incredible beauty emanating from them.

An ugly etrog is still an etrog, but a beautiful lemon is never an etrog.

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About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.

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35 Responses to “St. Peter and the Reform Movement”

  1. So much fuss over competing myths.

  2. Yori Yanover says:

    Jennifer Krieger · We're not competing. we're not sending anyone out there to encourage customer traffic. On the contrary, we discourage potential converts. All we're asking is that folks respect our definition of what's Jewish, and when they do something radically different from Jewish, they shouldn't use the old trademark. We and our forefathers have been killing ourselves over our Jewish laws — don't mess with them.

    We deserve at least the seriousness with which McDonald's protect their brand…

  3. Anthony Kent says:

    Yori Yanover . The line has to be drawn somewhere. Non-jews being ordained as Jewish ministers is past the line and over the horizon.

  4. Chaim Szmidt says:

    Whether you chose to believe or not, it is you and nobody else who can or will make the decision for you.

    As Yori wrote in his reply to you Orthodoxy discourages converts, you can be sure that no Orthodox entity will come knocking at your door to tell you to convert. All Yori is saying is that Judaism, the Judaism of the Tanakh is only embodied within Orthodox Jewry. Unlike other movements we do not pick, chose or override what Hakodosh Boruch Hu commanded us, even when we do not always understand the reason for a specific command.

    While the history of religion is rife with movements and counter-movements, true Judaism still believes in the same laws given us at Sinai, by the Almighty Himself. Once one denies the Divinity of the Giver of the Law, it becomes easy to readjust that law to suit the needs and caprices of the times.

  5. Leslie Wood says:

    " a Jew is not allowed inside a Christian church where Christian icons and symbols are on display " A true Christian Church does not have icons (or should not have ). And Peter was no pope of the true Christian Church. You are talking about the apostate persecuting 'church' of Rome and its near relatives.

  6. EhudTokatly says:

    I’m amazed how angry some Jews get, whenever we ask them to respect Orthodox values and standards. Some Jews attack us in the name of modern values and Liberal political correctness, but the truth is that Orthodox Jews are a minority and true liberals should tolerate all minorities, as long as they are not violent or preach hatred. 
    The Reform movement is large and strong enough to simply ignore an Orthodox Jew who cannot accept the concept of a “Gentile Rabbi”. (Okay, I heard that Ms. Buchdal converted, but that’s not what Mr. David Ellenson wrote to the Jewish Press). Many reactions to Yori Yanover’s story were furious and not exactly rational.
    The Reform path is by nature radically anti-Orthodox. How can they expect Orthodox Jews to accept Reform services, conversions, marriages or ministers, when they often violate the Torah as we understand it? 
    No one is telling Reform Jews what to do, but with all due respect, they simply cannot force their anti-Orthodox ways and views on an Orthodox Jew like me.

  7. Ike Krieger says:

    I am a proud Jew, and… spiritual certainty is, nonetheless, based on myths. One myth might include the reasons you're not allowed to pray in certain places. Do these myths define spiritual certainty, or is it the other way around?

  8. Yori Yanover says:

    Ike Krieger – If by "myth" you mean some folklore tales that over the years have been culled and edited into a book — this ain't it. Orthodox Jews believe that the words written in our Torah were composed by Moses through divine prophecy, and that they represent the will of God for us and for the world.

    I'm not such a proud Jew, on occasion I'm a pretty sheepish Jew, but that principle is the foundation of my life. You don't have to agree, but in my view if your organization proclaims that Judaism is only a myth edited by some clever folks in the desert — please don't call yourself a Jewish organization.

  9. Let me premise my remarks by saying I am a layman when it comes to this subject. But, it is true that there was a significant period of time in which Christianity was hostile towards Judaism. However, in more recent times there has been significant support of Israel from the Christian community particularly in the evangelical sector. People like John Hagee has been going to Israel for many years, making public addresses in support of Israel, and raising money for this cause. Unlike the past, Hagee makes it clear that the purpose of his support of Israel is not to convert Jews to Christianity but to support a country that deserves it and to counter the significant sized anti Israel movement. I believe Jews should remain Jews and as long as the intentions of the Christian community is to support Israel and not try to convert Jews, the cooperation between Christians and Jews should remain viable and strong.

  10. Yori Yanover says:

    Lawrence Kauderer · You are absolutely correct, and we are grateful for all your help. We would be delighted to have you guys over for a cup of coffee and a bagel and to exchange views on anything at all. Nevertheless — we're not allowed to set foot inside a church.

  11. Having received a Catholic school education for eight years, I learned Peter was told by J— "Upon this rock I will build my Church". The Episcopalians were the first to break with the Church becoming the Church of England.

  12. Dan Silagi says:

    Tell you what, Yori. Why don't you sue me for copyright infringement because I'm Reform and call myself Jewish?

  13. Everything in this article, like Christianity, is based on complete assumption.In the first place, Eusebius(or Hegissipus) stated that the Pope fabricated a line of Popes going back to Shimon Bar Jona[Keipha]who was never in Rome(why would an Orthodx Jew get involved in sun-g_d worship?)….secondly, there is NO record of Christianity BEFORE 135 CE….the popular "J.C" name is based on 2 Greek words, and the post 135 CE, 2nd =4th century counterfeit man-g_d image "Y-e-s-h-u.".Eusebuis said that The Rabbi From Natzrat was known as "Ribi Yehoshua", and he was a P'rushi Ribi, or Pharisee Rabbi.He taught Torah, NOT Displacement Theology!
    The Hellenai(hellenized Jews)fled to Pella from persection by the P'rushim and Netzarim in Yerushalim in 34 C.E…(they were Jews -NOT Chrisitians)..taking some of the local accounts with then, isolating themselves from Orthodox Judaism….and inventing the man-g-d image.They spoke Greek;the N.T is written in Greek! Hello? it's out of all that that the N.T, and Xty arose in 135 CE…cf: http://www.netzarim.co.il.

  14. The roman catholic church has a false religion as Christ when asked Peter whom he thought Christ was, Peter answered. "Thou art the Son of the Living G-d" notice what Christ tells Peter, It is not flesh and blood which has revealed this to you. It is the Holy spirit which reveals this to Peter. and Christ tells Peter that on this faith of Peter, He will build His church, as faith in Christ being the anointed One, the gates of hell can not prevail against it. Is is by faith in Christ we are justified, not on Peter in the next breath Christ tells Peter `get behind me satan, when he tells Christ that the crucifixion will not take place. so it is not upon Peter who was never in Rome, but who also denied the Lord three times, when his own life was on the line, but Peter did repent thereoff and cried bitterly. therefore Christ is the Redeemer and the Holy One of Israel, who calls us to repentance and who shed His blood for the people or those whom believe in Him, as He is head of the church. not the pope.

  15. yes upon the faith that Peter spoke of faith in Christ being the Son of the Living God as we are justified by faith in Him alone, not the church or the pope.

  16. true the Jewish nation were the chosen nation out of which would come the Messiah, and since we believe in Christ Jesus being our Messiah or Redeemer, the Lord G-d of Israel, sents His Holy spirit into our hearts and helps us to uphold the law given at Mt sinai, therefore we are adopted into spiritual Israel, as the Lord has grafted us into the Olive tree, and since we are not the natural branches must not boast over the natural branches, since it is the root that bears us Since Christ came not to abolish the law, but to fullfill it, we therefore uphold the law, and if we transgress we have High priest on High who paid the penalty for us, as He took on the wrath of God for us, while we were yet sinners, So great was God`s love towards us which was manifested in christ Jesus, Our Lord and saviour. Now the Lord G-d once again looks on us with favour when we ask or make our requests known in the name of Christ, the Holy One of Israel. G-d bless everyone.

  17. Yori Yanover says:

    Sientje Seinen – I don't get it. Somebody died for your sins? What good is that? What court would accept that one man be convicted and another take the punishment? That's very wrong.

    When we sin, we go through a process of repair, which includes admitting the sin, taking steps–monetary and others-to repair and pay for the sin, and then committing to God to never again commit this sin.

    That is the description of grownup morality — my sin is mine to repair, just as my relationship with God my father is mine to maintain.

    You're saying some other guy dies for my sin — who asked him to? I cherish my sin, it's my conduit to the Divine. Let him die for his own sins — I hear he was pesky with his mom — I'm not interested.

  18. Ellen Louise Lyons says:

    Before getting too dismissive, I think it might be worth recognizing that there is a long history of atonement theology in Christianity as a means of understanding how humans are reconciled with the divine. You see it with the Patristic Fathers, it reaches a sort of apogee with Anselm's Cur Deus Homo and it appears again in the Reformation in the writings of John Calvin. And while it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it's also hardly a new idea. There's also an easy dismissal of myth going on here. It might be worth considering that myths aren't fairy stories but rather the essential truths that bind communities' understandings of themselves together.

  19. Yori Yanover says:

    Ellen Louise Lyons – You're talking about Limited Atonement, with which Calvin introduces more problems than it solves, because now all you have to do after you murdered your neighbor and married his wife is to accept Christ in your heart and poof, he pre-died for you.

    As to the "satisfaction" idea, it turns God into a kind of book keeper of sins and repents — an idea that slipped into late Jewish thinking or was borrowed there from, I don't care much for it either way.

    Regarding the myths — I respect them fine, I just don't think the Torah is a myth, I think it's the prophecy of one man. I choose to believe that, really.

  20. Yori Yanover, I am the person who’s comment you reprinted from one of your previous articles: “Yori Yanover, listen to the singing one more time. Only THIS time, listen with your 2,000 year old ‘wandering Jew’ neshamah, and NOT with your intellect.” Your article: “St Peter and the Reform Movement” has managed to offend ALL Christians and ALL Non-Orthodox Jews, and everyone with a basic knowledge of the HISTORY of the relationship between the Jewish people and the early Christian Church. As you refer to me as an example of the “Pagan” viewpoint, in this article, you have also personally offended me. I am in full agreement with your own assessment of how you come across in this series of articles:….“even if in the process yours truly came across as a big meanie, a racist, an extremist, a divider, a hater, and someone who contradicts the very spirit of the month of Elul.” You have a gift of expressing the essence of yourself, far better than anything I could ever write.

  21. Yori Yanover says:

    Joseph Salowitz · Feeling better?

  22. Anshel Introlegator says:

    Truth hurts, Josef, doesn't it?

  23. Jerry Aloof says:

    Joseph: I've been following this debate. Could you inject a "fact" into your argument? This is all touchy-feely stuff. I think Mr. Yanover's piece contained some fascinating factual and historical references. And, he's spot on with the history of reformism.

  24. Jerry Aloof, Mr. Yanover's reference to a midrash about Shimon Kefa, is so "non-historical" that it's laughable. Here is the "FACT" that you requested be put into my argument. I take this "FACT" to be proof that there was NO institutionalized persecution of the Jews, by the Christians, PRIOR to 145 C.E., and NOT immediately following the death of Jesus, around 35 C.E. You have to type this link into your address bar, as the Jewish Press does not allow working links in their reader comments section: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/Early_Church.html

  25. Oy Gevalt! You can just "click" on my above link, to get to my factual reference.

  26. Robert Harris says:

    It's a good thing that all this wrangling over how many angels sit on the head of a pin feeds, heals and protects the innocents within our reach, otherwise one might think that many of you have missed the point.

  27. Yori Yanover says:

    Joseph Salowitz – Maimonides says about the Midrash that anyone who takes it literally is a fool, and anyone who doubts it is a heretic. In other words, a Midrash conveys an attitude, a moral precept, rather than a historic truth. Since the midrashim were written some time between the 4th and 7th centuries, and many of them way off in Iraq, it stands to reason they do not represent a scientific report on the subject. Instead they convey the anxiety of the sages about the merging, new, competing religion, and their need to distinct Judaism from that new growth.

    In that spirit, Rabbi Feinstein's psakim on our relationship with the Conservative and the Reform are intended to make exactly that distinction. Take his rulling on using a microphone in a synagogue on Shabbat — technologically, the mic he prohibited had precisely the same technology as the hearing aid which he approved in the same set of responsa. His psak was political, to make sure a Jewish synagogue not look like a heretic synagogue.

  28. Yori Yanover says:

    Robert Harris – The purpose of our faith is not to feed and clothe and heal the suffering. The purpose of our faith is to feed and clothe and heal the suffering in the manner prescribed by God as interpreted by our sages. To get there, we need to define who we are, which may appear to you like counting angels on a pin head. Well, the answer to that one has long since been reached: it's 42.

  29. Yori Yanover, your point is well taken. As a history buff, it was the hardest task I had, when listening to Rabbinical teachings. When I watch a portrayal of Christopher Columbus looking at the New World. through his telescope, I yell "The telescope won't be invented for another 20 years!" Please tell Rabbi Feinstein to avoid watching the online Reform services with Rabbi Buchdahl, as I would not want the sight of the OTHER female Cantor using an iPad to prompt her, during services, to cause, G-d Forbid, any medical problems for him.

  30. Ofer Maimon says:

    Nothing very new here except this Midrash of Peter that I never heard before. Clearly a Jew should not enter a church, as it will contain loads of images of a man claimed to be God, and to make matters worse, nailed to an instrument of torture and death. Hardly gets more pagan than this.

    Reform and Conservatism are very new secular religions, more or less loosely based on Judaism, but primarily informed by the latest mores an values of modern western society.As they have – as far as I know – not reverted to paganism, I however do not understand why visiting their Places of worship.

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