We lived with a Jewish family that wasn’t very religious for just over a week near Jerusalem in an illegal Jewish settlement next to Maale Michmash. They held a techno festival, had a pub with live music, had a camp site and lots of fruit trees as well. We were volunteers; did lots of building projects, babysitting, plastering, cooking etc… I was a bit disappointed to see hundreds of Jewish people who didn’t seem to be different from any other Westerners, for instance they were swearing, getting drunk and some were even taking drugs. However they were definitely a lot more hospitable and they treated us like we were part of the family. The culture seemed to be a lot less individualistic, more family oriented and more welcoming to outsiders. We even hitchhiked for the first time in our lives while being in the West Bank and met many friendly Jews through it. The work was hard in the heat though, we were very tired by the end of the week.
Second part of our trip we stayed with a religious Jewish family, they had 9 children. They were a family that converted to Judaism. The man was originally Jewish but not religious and the woman was originally from South Africa. Nick and I had no idea that people can convert to become Jewish until now, we thought it had to be in one’s blood to be one. We did some research and worked out that people can become Jewish indeed, however it is not easy to convert, the rabbis make it very difficult as they want to ensure that the conversion comes from a sincere heart and the convert needs to do lots of studying before being able to convert. I still find this amusing and unable to comprehend it as the Jewish nation were God’s chosen nation and a huge part of Judaism is a big part of the nation’s history, therefore being Jewish is based on being born into it, in my head anyway.
I have found this experience a lot more challenging with all the rules of what you are allowed to eat, how you eat it, what you wash up with, how you wash up (there was lots of washing up to do after 9 children!!), what you supposed to do if you are Jewish, all the laws that they need to follow and we needed to follow while being there. I am very glad that Jesus declared all foods to be clean (Mark 7:19) so that I no longer need to worry about what I eat and how I eat it. This experience helped me understand why the very religious Jews and the Orthodox Jews didn’t recognise Jesus; they were tied up in their rules and laws that were more important than anything else. I also understand why they would have despised Jesus; he brought a new meaning to what they based their lives upon and condemned the Pharisees to whom rules and laws meant everything that they couldn’t see behind them and couldn’t distinguish which laws did actually really matter. Food laws, clothing and the practice of circumcision were like badges for the Israelites. They made them unique from the rest of the world. Those badges were continual reminders to themselves and to those who watched that they were to be a light in the darkness. So how do we, can we show others today that we as Christians are to be a light in the darkness without these laws, what are our badges?
We took part of a Sabbath with the religious family which was an amazing experience and I feel privileged that I was able to experience it. They believe that if ten men gather together on a Sabbath then the prayers will be stronger and the gathering and worship will become more like a public gathering other than personal. Some of the men also brought their wives as well. The Sabbath started on Friday evening and ended on Saturday evening. The guests were very friendly and welcoming even though we were not Jewish. Their worship songs were taken from Psalms and some even from Proverbs and some that were not part of the Bible, some had sadder or more reflective tunes and some were very lively that they even danced to them. I really loved the way they worshipped and some of the freedom and passion that was reflected through their worship. It was a very mixed crowd of males from various background some more religious, some not as much perhaps or not the same way, some you could tell they were worshipping with all their heart and with passion and some seemed like they were just following rituals and rules. Perhaps I could compare this to Christianity: some Christians go to church out of routine and sing the worship songs and follow the human made traditions of the church and some Christians go to church and follow Jesus out of a genuine love for Him and are able to worship and express their passion for Him freely. I hope to see more churches where Christians worship freely and with passion as they did and even able to dance before our amazing God. I felt connected to their worship and felt that we were worshipping the same God. Most of the guests who came to the Sabbath didn’t know each other but they treated each other like they were from the same family from the first moment they met. The meals after the worship times were also very special and brought everyone closer together through eating, getting to know each other and singing worship songs in between eating food. I remembered how the Bible described the early Christian gatherings (Acts 2:41-47) and how similar they sounded to our experience at the Sabbath. If I ever start my own church, I would partly like it to be similar to this.
To our surprise one of the Jewish males, Avi was from Maale Michmash and even knew the family we were staying with in the first part of our trip. He became one of my favourite Jew. He was really friendly, his English was amazing due to having American parents, he was open minded and he was the first Jewish person who I felt like I was able to talk to about Christianity and even mention the name of Jesus. He knew lots about the Bible and even quoted from it a couple of times. He explained various things that I didn’t know before such as that it was and is a custom that they drink wine and break bread before the Sabbath meals and they say a blessing over the bread and wine; Jesus brought a different meaning to the breaking of the bread and wine. Furthermore, I have also learnt that the tradition of church communion had no Jewish root. Read more about what Jesus meant with breaking the bread and wine on the following website
We also learnt that while Sabbath the Jews are not allowed to do much at all, not even turning light switches on and off or the airconditioning on and off. Perhaps some of these rules were a bit extreme but it reminded me of the importance of having a day of rest and at least putting one day aside for worshipping God with others together. We interviewed Avi at the end of the night and he told us many things about the conflicts in Israel and his views on them. We will be working on this video and will upload it on here once it’s finished.
This experience at the religious family also helped me understand why most Jews are not religious any more; they couldn’t and didn’t want to keep up with all the laws and rules. However, even though they were not religious they still kept their cultural customs and heritage which was sometimes mixed up with Judaism as well. This shows me that many of them still believe in God but as they don’t want to follow all the rules and laws of Judaism they choose to say they are not religious. Other reasons why they would possibly be described as the secular Jews as well because they didn’t/don’t know how to draw a line between following God in the modern day but not necessarily living like the ancient Jewish people with some ancient customs and rules. There is a clear difference between the religious and the ‘secular’ Jews in their lifestyles and also their outward appearance as well. I don’t think Judaism provides an opportunity for Jewish people who still believe in God but perhaps don’t agree with everything in Judaism to stay within it so they make a clear distinction between the religious and the secular. I would also suggest that many Jews believe that Jesus was or could have been the Messiah but they don’t know who to go to, what to do about it or simply don’t have the courage to stand up for it as Judaism does not permit believing in Jesus or even visiting a church. But even if they visited a church in Israel what would they mostly find? Something that might be based on human traditions and rituals. And who could they even go to with their questions out of the 2 % of Christians who are citizens in the whole of Israel for instance?!
One of the things I was very disappointed by was seeing how the main Christian sites such as where Jesus grew up in Nazareth, both Mary and Joseph’s house, where Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, where He fed 5000 people, were all made into some big fancy Catholic and Orthodox buildings that both seemed to be based on rituals and rules. Living with Jewish people and imagining what Jesus’s life was like and the simplicity that he and his disciples were brought up with makes me even more unsure about portraying Jesus and Christianity through fancy buildings and through how many Christian churches portray Him. I felt very close to Jesus in many parts of Israel and I have learnt so much about what the early churches must have been like but being at those sites, I just felt disappointed. Humans took away the real meaning behind of it which did not help me connect with the Jewish Jesus while he lived on this earth. I imagine if Jesus would step into those big fancy churches, he would act similar to how he acted when he stepped into the temple in Jerusalem and turned tables over or he would just be upset. Looking at it positively, someone said to me that at least these places are still Christian grounds and not for instance mosques and they are still places of Christian worship.
The Old Testament and the Torah are indeed very important for us and Jesus never said that he came to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). So what does this mean to us Christians in the modern age? Many Christians believe that there are different kinds of laws, some universal that still apply and some that only applied in ancient Israel. This approach often divides the law into three different types. John Calvin described these as moral, ceremonial and civil. The ceremonial laws no longer apply to us as we worship through the purity of Christ and in his death and resurrection, he brought to fulfillment the sacrificial and ceremonial purpose of the law and neither does the civil laws as we are no longer in the ancient agrarian culture. What about the moral and ethical instructions of the law? Some Christians give the impression that laws are only for the ancient Israelites, while we are under grace and can forget about all the laws that were given to the Jews. The God of judgment has gone, we now worship the God of grace. However, Jesus actually said unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). Jesus explained what he meant with this in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus never tells us to do less than ancient Israel but He tells us to do more. The Old Testament said do not murder ; Jesus tells us not to lose our temper. The Old Testament said do not commit adultery ;Jesus tells us not to indulge lust. Ancient Israel’s law provides many lessons and many warnings for us. Through Jesus our eyes have been raised higher still to ’ be perfect, therefore as our heavenly Father is perfect ’ (Matthew 5:48)
We were only in Israel for three weeks and we have learnt so much. I could still carry on writing and I think there is so much more we could have learnt if we stayed longer. So what would be the main thing I would like to say to Christians?
Go to Israel! Israel is a beautiful country and you shouldn’t just go and visit it as a tourist but you should consider to live there or to volunteer with Jewish families even if not permanently but for more than just a couple of weeks. Sadly there are not many Christians in Israel at all. Israel definitely needs more Christians who are passionate about Jesus and want to learn more about how Jesus lived and are open to be challenged. There is so much that the Christians and the Jewish people can mutually learn from one another.