Christian reading

Issue N40

answers for a jew, valeriy sterkh

Answers for a Jew

Why do Christians refuse to obey the laws of Moses? (beginning)

Question: Jesus commanded his disciples: «Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven» (Mt 5:17-19).

If this is so, why do Christians refuse to observe Sabbath, Kashrut, Tefillin and other laws observed by contemporary Jews?

Answer: First, it is necessary to distinguish between the laws given by God and the traditions of men.

Take, for instance, the wearing of Tefillin. "Tfile", or "Phylactery" in Greek (literally means a protection amulet), is a small black leather box made from skin of kosher animals. It contains passages from Torah (the Pentateuch) written on parchment. One such box is attached to the upper arm, and another one to the head, right above the forehead – using leather straps. There are no direct instructions in the Old Testament regarding the observance of this ritual. The tradition of the Phylactery is rooted in the Jewish interpretation of certain passages from Pentateuch.

The first quotation: «And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD'S law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt» (Ex 13:9). Contemporary Jews consider this a command to wear the Phylactery. But is it so? First of all, there was no Torah at the time of Exodus, therefore it is highly improbable that the Phylactery law could have been instituted while the Jews were marching out of Egypt. Next, if you read the quotation in its context, you will see that it deals with the institution of the feast of Pesach, Jewish Passover, which was to become a "sign on your hand", "a reminder on your forehead", that is "the work of your hands" as is clearly seen from the verses above: «Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten... Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the LORD» (Ex 13:3, 6).

The second passage is this: «That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD'S. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem. And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem. And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt» (Ex 13:12-16). An unbiased reader will see that this text deals with the tradition of dedicating the firstborn to God. It doesn't talk about Phylactery.

A couple more passages: «And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates» (Deut 6:5-9) and «Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the LORD'S wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you. Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates» (Deut 11:16-20). Here, a similar metaphor is used to underscore the importance of worshipping the one and only God. It's not a command to attach a note onto your head; rather it's a call to be faithful to God in your thoughts. Again, it's a not a command to attach words to your arm, but a command to stay faithful to God in your acts. It has nothing to do with graffiti on doors or gates, but about honoring God by the heads of households.

The tradition of the Phylactery is very old. There is at least one New Testament record of Jesus rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees for their vainglorious adherence to this ritual: «But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries [tefillin], and enlarge the borders [tzitzit] of their garments» (Mt 23:5).

However, there's nothing wrong about keeping this ritual out of godliness. But it would be wrong to say that refusing to observe it is sinful. Notably, Jewish women do not wear the Phylactery but are innocent.

(to be continued)