Dinner was packed. There’s one main dining room, a secondary one and an overflow. All three were full. Because this hotel is about 500 metres from the Great Synagogue, a lot of people stay here over the weekend if they’ve been invited to a wedding or a bar mitzvah or something there. So I was hearing more Hebrew tonight than other nights; we’re still the only Gentiles here, as far as I can see, but the Jews aren’t all American Jews anymore.
Yuval’s wife had organised something, so he had to go home. I was keen on doing kiddush, because I so enjoyed it last week, but no-one else seemed to be. There was challah and sweet grape juice on each table, so a few of us tried to remember how to do it, partially by watching the other tables. We think we got all the actions (pouring “wine”, sprinkling bread with salt, eating it), but we didn’t recite anything other than the bit I remembered, “Barukh attah Adonai, eloheinu, melekh ha-olam” (blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe).
Because of seeing all the religious Jews around us – of all different types, from “probably is only wearing a kippah because it’s Sabbath and he’s in Jerusalem” to “all black, long black coat, big fluffy black thing on his hat, curled sidelocks and tzitzit hanging from his shirt” – conversation naturally turned to Talmud, Pharisees, the Law, Jesus, and just how Jewish were the disciples after Jesus’ death anyway?
(My answer – they never stopped being Jews and probably kept up most of the observance of the Law after his death, although I wouldn’t think they’d have still made sacrifices – historically, Christianity was seen as a sect of Judaism for quite a while in the early days, and certainly they’d have eaten kosher, because remember how appalled Peter was at the idea of eating non-kosher animals? Yes, I know the New Testament addresses eating whatever you will, but that was addressed to Gentiles and I see no reason to think that the Disciples, being Jews, wouldn’t have still been religious Jews).
But my views on a lot of these topics are, as I’ve mentioned, a little different to what some of the others here might think. The lady sitting opposite me got stuck into me about “putting myself under the law when I don’t have to”. Actually, I don’t think she realised when she started talking smack about that sort of thing that I don’t eat pork and that I view Saturday as the Sabbath / Holy Day.
We were talking a bit about the difference between what Jews today practice and what’s actually in the Torah – because the Torah and the Talmud are pretty different, after all. And I said that a friend of mine doesn’t eat pork or shellfish, but has no problem with eating milk and meat together because the practice of having them separate was developed in the Talmud from a short line in the Torah about boiling kids in their mothers’ milk.
And she said, “You know, I’ve never understood people who put themselves under Law when they don’t have to. Jesus freed us from the Law.”
“I don’t see that He did. After all, we’re Gentiles; we were never under the Law in the first place. Messianic Jews, on the other hand, that’s a whole different kettle of fish for them and they’ve got to work that out themselves; but for me, Jesus never freed me from the Law because I was never under it in the first place.”
“Well, I don’t want to get into that. Jesus did away with the law; Peter was told that he could eat anything he wanted. We don’t have to be under it any more.”
“Jesus came to fulfil the law, not to abolish it.” I’m not even going to mention that the dream was sort of more about allowing Gentiles into the fold of Christianity than it was ever about what people were allowed to eat.
“I just don’t understand why anyone would decide to set rules when they don’t have to. If you don’t eat pork, or do the Shabbat lift, or…”
“I don’t eat pork!”
“But that’s your choice.”
“Well, it is…” Truth is, I don’t it pork because I can’t stand the taste of it. But I have this theory that God has been leading me in various directions subconsciously, ages before I realise it consciously. I had a tendency towards bandannas long before I understood headcovering as a Biblical command. I’ve never liked shellfish or pork.
“You don’t do it for any religious reason.”
“Eating pork or not eating pork is just being legalistic.”
“It could also be polite. We’re told not to eat certain things if it might cause a brother or sister to stumble. I go to a church with lots of ex-Adventists and some Messianic Jews. It wouldn’t do to eat pork or shellfish around them because it would be something really quite awful for them.”
“You can’t worry about offending everyone.” That much is obvious in the way you’re approaching this conversation. “Years ago, people would be offending by wearing jeans to church. That was awful for them. Or kicking a ball on Sunday. That’s just legalism.”
Banging my head against a brick wall. Let’s just wind up the conversation.
“Look, I go to a church where we worship on Saturday. We have debates all the time about what to do, what not to do. But if someone starts saying, ‘You can’t travel on Sabbath, you can’t work or shop on Sabbath, you shouldn’t do this or that on Sabbath’, then the others cry ‘Legalism!’. They say, ‘We worship on Saturday because it’s the day God sanctified. So we set it aside to worship God. We’re not under the Mosaic law, so we don’t worry about whether we work or not, as long as what we’re doing is to the glory of God’. But then here, you know, at church, whether to work or travel or shop is legalism. Here, people have Shabbat lift and Shabbat lights and that really is legalism.”
“Yes, I agree.”
“Well, I think it’s about time for dessert.”
For all that can be said about kashrut, and how it’s from the Talmud and not the Torah, I really do love kosher dinners. There’s something delightfully freeing about being able to walk into a buffet and know that you can eat everything there. I’m hating breakfasts, because there’s usually only one or two things that I can actually eat. Breakfasts are cheleviy – milky. Dinners are basariy – meaty. Chommus is pareveh – harmless.
But I was quite upset by the whole conversation. I haven’t really conveyed it well here, or written everything down. Both our points of view are founded in Scripture, so I can’t refute her references, but rather provide different ones of my own. The trouble with taking the minority opinion on things is that you’ve got to be content with just representing your opinion to the best of your ability, and then taking all the flack of others saying you’re wrong without having the space to say the same of them.
But what I really found hard to digest about the whole thing was that this woman goes to one of the most legalistic churches in Adelaide. Oh, I know it’s a bit more liberal now, but I know people who went to this church at its height, twenty years ago (and I know for a fact that she was at that church back then, and I’m pretty sure she was raised in it, too), and in those days, there were church rules against drinking and dancing and all sorts – what Biblical basis is there for that?
Oh, sure, I understand the no-drinking thing. Staying sober and having self-control certainly is a command we’re given in the New Testament. But to use Ribena for communion? That’s not Biblical. People in the Bible drink wine. And need I mention Miriam and her dancing?
So it’s all right for this woman to be legalistic about what she wants – legalistic about things which don’t really have a Biblical foundation – but it’s not okay for me to say I don’t want to eat pork, or blood, or shellfish, or that really, given the option, I’d rather go to church and pray on Saturday rather than go out sightseeing and potentially spend money on non-God-glorifying things as well?
I can see her point about how Christians aren’t really beholden to kashrut, or can eat whatever meat we want, or don’t have to worry about pressing a button on a lift on the Sabbath. But it just seems to me that what she’s saying and what she’s doing are two completely different things. And that’s what’s really getting to me. Because she’s judging me for what I do and for me being too legalistic – but last week when we had actual wine for the kiddush, I sipped it and she went off to find the non-alcoholic alternative.