The diaspora is the scattering of the Jewish people all around the world beyond the land of Israel. Last week Chris talked about why God allowed the Jewish people to be scattered and what He did and is still doing through them. If you missed it, be sure to go back and listen! The link is below. This week Chris continues talking about the diaspora and what happened while the Jewish people were away from the land of Israel and how it affected their relationship with God. Have you ever wondered why there are no rabbis or synagogues in the Old Testament? We’ll learn during the diaspora, leaders desired to make sure the Jewish people did not break the laws God commanded. How did they accomplish this? They designed a system that would prevent the average Jewish person from ever breaking the law. They were called fence laws. By keeping the Jewish people from coming near the law, you protect them from God’s judgment. These are called Gezerah laws.
The fence laws were embedded into the Jewish way of life. We’ll hear how even Paul and Peter referred to them in the New Testament. We’ll also learn how Jesus talked about these fence laws. And see how one man, Rabbi Moses Maimonides in the 13th century took the laws and made them easier for the average Jewish person living in the gentile world.
Chris will show us how as Christians, we too make fence laws. But they are around God’s grace. Do not miss this valuable lesson for believers too!
*If you missed Part One of this series, you can Listen Here
Steve Conover: This is Steve Conover. Today we are rebroadcasting a short series I know you'll enjoy. We've selected for you a series from our archives entitled The Diaspora. Now, part two.
Christ Katulka: This is Chris Katulka, host of the Friends of Israel Today radio program, and I want to share something with you. The Friends of Israel Today remains on air thanks to the faithful giving of our listeners like you. If our radio program has touched your life, would you prayerfully consider becoming a monthly donor to the program? The Friends of Israel Today believes in reaching out to the church to share about the importance of Israel and the Jewish people in God's broad and important plan of redemption. If this is something you value, then I want to encourage you to partner with us by simply going to FOIradio.org, and clicking right on our donate link.
Steve Conover: Welcome to today's show. I'm Steve Conover. Last week Chris answered the question as to why there are Jewish people scattered all throughout the world in places like the United States, Europe, South America, and believe it or not, Iran. Chris, it was fascinating to learn the biblical reasons for the diaspora.
Christ Katulka: Yeah, Steve, I'm always amazed by God's grace, to see how he scattered the Jewish people, and yet in his judgment, you can see his mercy coming through as he's preserved them through the ages. Now, today on the program, we're going to wrap up our series on the diaspora, and we're going to take a look at how Judaism developed as a result of the Jewish people being scattered throughout the Gentile lands, and then we'll highlight a very famous Jewish rabbi from the medieval period who made Judaism more approachable for the average Jewish person.
Last week, we started a series on the diaspora. We asked the question, why are there Jewish people scattered all throughout the world? And you know, it should make you wonder, why are my Jewish friends living in Chicago, or New York, or Los Angeles, or Cleveland? There is a biblical reason why Jewish people are scattered all throughout the world. The reason for the Jewish diaspora, which is the scattering of the Jewish people outside of the land of Israel, so pretty much anywhere outside of the land of Israel, if a Jewish person is living there that is called a diaspora Jew, they are living outside of the land of Israel. Today I want to continue our conversation on the diaspora, and what happened while the Jewish people were away from the land of Israel, and really how it affected their relationship with God.
When the Jewish people were forced outside of the land of Israel, it seriously changed their dynamic of relating to God. First, the Jewish people had to come to the spiritual conclusion that the reason they are no longer in their homeland Israel is because of the broken relationship and sin that forced God to essentially punish them and to scatter them according to Deuteronomy chapter 28. And you can really see it come across in Ezekiel chapter nine through 11 when the prophet visually describes the Lord's presence in the temple leaving his people because of their idolatry and sin.
The Jewish people knew it was their sin that drove them away from the land. They had a real reflective, spiritual reflective moment to understand that the reason we're not in the land anymore is because God actually made a promise that if we didn't follow him, we didn't obey his laws, we would no longer have the right to live in the land of Israel, and since it was their sin that disrupted their relationship with God and ultimately got them kicked out of the land, they didn't want to ever rupture that relationship with God again.
Also, the dynamic for the Jewish people changed when they were dispersed into Gentile land. Think about this. The biblical laws that were written, were written with the tabernacle, or the temple in mind, and now there is no temple. There's no place for them to worship. It was destroyed by the Babylonians. The biblical laws of the Old Testament were written as though the Jewish people were living in the land, but now they are living in Gentile land. How do we relate with God, and how do we relate with our Gentile neighbors outside of the land of Israel? Between the Old Testament and New Testament, there are a lot of aspects of Judaism that suddenly appear that weren't there in the Old Testament. Think about this, there are no rabbis in the Old Testament. There are no synagogues in the Old Testament. Where did they come from?
Well, while the Jewish people were in the diaspora, while they were dispersed throughout the Gentile lands with no temple to maintain a place of prayer and worship, they built another type of place for prayer, a synagogue. That's what they called it. It was a place of prayer, a place of assembly. In the Hebrew, they call it a beit knesset, but the synagogue, the word synagogue is a Greek word, and this is why by the time you get from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the synagogue has developed and become a common place of worship for the Jewish people. It's also during the diaspora that the title rabbi appears, my master or my teacher. This title develops over time as the Jewish people are away from the priestly system that once governed them.
Now all of a sudden they begin to look to their teachers, these sages called rabbis as they're away from the temple structure living in Gentile land. Now knowing how their sins against God created the situation they were in, being kicked out of the land of Israel and having their temple destroyed. The Jewish people wanted to make sure they never broke the law of God again. Because remember in the Old Testament for the Israelites, when you break the law, you're essentially disrupting the relationship that you have with God. In Deuteronomy chapter 30 God says to the Israelites, choose life, not death. That means follow me and the law I've graciously laid out for you, and you'll have life in the land of Israel. But by breaking the law of God, you're choosing death, a life of emptiness and punishment that follows for not keeping and observing the law of God.
The rabbis, knowing how their sins brought death and destruction to their people, wanted to make sure Israel could never break the law of God again. They wanted to design a system that would prevent the average Jewish person from ever breaking the law, and in some instances, never even coming close to the biblical law. They call it the fence around the law. By keeping Jewish people from even coming near the law, you protect them from God's judgment or so the rabbi's think. The rabbi's actually call these Gezerah laws. This is one branch of the laws that fall under the big umbrella of laws called Halakhic laws. Halakhic law is every type of Jewish law that a Jewish person needs to follow to please God. These are laws that are found in the Bible. These are laws that were made by rabbis. These are all of the laws wrapped under one big umbrella, the Halakhic laws. In fact, the apostle Paul uses this very Hebrew word a lot to talk about the Christian life too.
I was just reading through first Thessalonians the other day, and Paul says in first Thessalonians chapter four verse one "Finally, then brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk." That's our word right there, Halak, to walk Halakhic laws, "how you ought to walk and please God just as you are doing that, you do so more and more." Paul, of course, being a Jewish rabbi himself, a Pharisee, understood what it meant to follow the Jewish law. And so he's using this very Hebrew word to walk, to really bring forward the idea of what it means for a Jewish person to behave, to behave. How do I behave in light of the laws of God to relate with God?
Well within Halakha Jewish law, there are these subcategories of laws, and one of them are the Gezerah laws. These are laws created and implemented by men to make sure no one could ever come close to breaking the law. For instance, Gezerah laws prohibited Jewish people from eating with Gentiles out of fear that co-mingling would become intermarriage. Then they went even further and added more laws prohibiting the purchase of Gentile food, or oil, or drinks, so that by the time Cornelius, a Gentile calls Peter, a Jewish man, to come visit him in Acts chapter 10, Peter goes with a prompting from the Lord and Peter arrives at Cornelius's house and says to him in Acts chapter 10 verse 28, "You know that it's unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile."
Well, folks, Peter isn't talking about biblical law from the Old Testament. He's actually talking about rabbinical law or Gezerah law, a law that was designed by the rabbis to prevent Jewish intermarriage with Gentiles. It took everything for Peter, who was a very religious Jew to leave behind the past and those rabbinical laws, and to follow the law of Christ, to obey Christ, and that's exactly what he did.
One of my favorite modern debates about Jewish law comes from when email was becoming more popular in the late 90s, the issue of the name of God on an email appeared. You know what happens if someone deletes an email with the name of God on it? The rabbis actually convened over this issue, and decided that it wasn't unlawful to delete an email with God's name on it, but you can see how as things modernize the fence around the law must adjust so that we never sin against God's law. Even today, they're thinking about the fence around the law, and if you really boil it down, everybody, this is called legalism.
When man made laws are put in place to control others spiritual lives, and the burden of manmade laws can be a weight that is impossible to bear. In Matthew 11:29 through 30 Jesus says this, " Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." You know, as Jesus is saying those words, he actually stepped into the grain fields on sabbath and started plucking heads of grain to eat because they were hungry, and you know what he actually was doing according to rabbinical law, he was breaking one of the rabbinical laws on work for sabbath, and Jesus is saying, these rabbinical laws are a heavy, heavy burden. These rabbinical laws are a yoke that's almost impossible to bear. Come to me, I will lead you to what God says is the true law. I will tear these fences down.
When Jesus said that his yoke is easy, his burden is light. He's comparing to the manmade legalistic, rabbinical laws, the fence around the law that actually keeps people from worshiping God the way he intended his creation to worship him. Folks, legalism isn't only in Judaism, the church does it too. We build fences, not around the law, but we build fences around the grace of God. Jesus' ministry isn't one built on fear and control, his ministry that becomes our ministry, is one established on resting in God's grace. My friends don't take your spiritual cues from un-biblical laws created to force God's people to see God as man sees him. Instead, take the yoke of Christ, learn from him, he's gentle and lowly in heart, and it's in him that you truly know God and find rest for your souls.
Now listen, when we come back, I want to introduce you to a famous rabbi that lived in the 12th century AD, his name is Rabbi Moses Maimonides, he had a profound impact on medieval Judaism. You're not going to want to miss this, so stick around.
Steve Conover: Every area of Jewish life is tied to some aspect of symbolism. Hundreds of traditions date back thousands of years. But how did these customs get started, and what special meaning do they hold?
Chris Katulka: In the book Jewish Culture and Customs our very own North American director, Steve Herzig answers these questions, in this fun and personal book on the colorful world of modern Judaism. You'll see the Bible and Christianity in a whole new light. As Steve Herzig takes the traditions of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing and explains how they connect with our faith.
Steve Conover: To order your copy of Jewish Culture and Customs, go to foiradio.org, or call our listener line at (888) 343-6940. Again, that's foiradio.org, or call our listener line at (888) 343-6940.
Christ Katulka: Welcome back everyone. For the past two weeks we've been talking about the diaspora of the Jewish people, how the Jewish people scattered all throughout the world, and how Judaism developed throughout the centuries as a result of them being scattered. Earlier on the show we talked about the fence around the law, how the rabbis built a fence to prevent Jewish people from ever breaking the law of God, and we saw how some of those laws got worked out even in the new Testament. Well as Judaism continued to develop over time, it became almost overwhelming to know what Jewish people should believe. There was the Tanakh, that's the Old Testament, that's the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament in our Bible. There's the Mishnah and the Talmud. These Jewish Holy books that are full of laws, laws upon laws, and what it means to be Jewish, and how to be Jewish in light of what the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible teaches. I'm telling you these books could take up shelves upon shelves, and it's all arguments on how Jewish people should live their life.
Well, along comes a very famous rabbi in the 12th century AD, a Jewish man who was not only familiar with the ins and outs of Jewish law, but also considered a philosopher and physician and his name was Rabbi Moses Maimonides, also known as Rambam. Rabbi Maimonides did something no other rabbi of his time thought of doing, he took all of the biblical and rabbinical laws and condensed them into understandable points of belief, to help define what a true practicing Jewish person should understand about their faith. I want you to hear what some of these points of belief are.
Here's one, belief in the existence of the creator who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the primary cause of all that exists. Right away in the first point you see that God as creator and mover is present. That's one of the major elements of being Jewish, to believe in the creator God, the belief in the divine origin of the Torah, the law, that the law wasn't just something that man made, but something that God made, it's God-breathed.
The belief, here's another one, in God's omniscience and providence, that God is sovereign over all. Here's my two favorite ones. The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era, and the belief in the resurrection of the dead. There are 13 different principles, I only went through a few of them, but these 13 different principles help to codify a belief system for the Jewish people. There isn't much in these principles about endless rabbinical laws. Did you hear that? There's nothing there about rabbinical laws. These are mostly biblical. The principles either focus on the character and nature of God, or the origins of the law and Torah, and of course those last two that I love, the future, the belief in the coming of the Messiah and really at the heart of Judaism, what is the resurrection of the dead?
Maimonides is a genius, and he's remembered this way. Jewish people all around the world know Rabbi Maimonides as the most influential Jewish philosopher of the medieval era, and some would even argue he's the most influential Jewish philosopher of all time. He's remembered with a very famous saying "From Moses to Moses, there's no one like Moses." While Maimonides may be remembered in the Jewish world as the most famous rabbi, I want to remind you before we leave today of the most famous rabbi who's ever existed, one that both Jews and non Jews know. His name is Rabbi Jesus. With all the talk about Old Testament law, Rabbi Jesus tells us exactly the laws that are the most important, because from these two laws hang all of the laws and he says this, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." That's the first and great commandment, and the second is like it, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.
Friends, as Christians don't build a fence around the grace of God. A fence keeps people out. Jesus didn't want that. Invite people in to knowing the joy of what it means to know, and to love God through our Rabbi, Jesus, the Messiah.
Steve Conover: Chris, earlier as we looked at those that have put a fence around the law, I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about how Jesus dealt with these issues?
Christ Katulka: Yeah. Jesus actually, his biggest indictment wasn't against the Romans or the Gentile world. Jesus' biggest indictment was actually against, if you notice the religious leaders of the Jewish people, it was an internal issue he was dealing with, and it was this issue of putting a burden, and a burden that the people couldn't bear of laws that prevented them from actually worshiping God the way God intended. I really think that's the way Jesus dealt with the fence around the law, by calling those religious leaders out and inviting the lame, the sick, the poor, all those outcasts into the glorious grace of God and salvation that he provides.
Steve Conover: Israel on the verge of becoming a state, a teenage Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know his search for a new life in the Holy land would lead him to the Messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine, Israel My Glory. While Zvi is now in the presence of his Savior, his collected writings from well over 50 years of ministry continue to encourage believers worldwide. Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life of Zvi.
Mike Kellogg: It's no secret that people fear death, but death cannot be avoided. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. God has given each of us an eternal spirit, and all who believe in the Lord Jesus will live with him eternally.
Recently, an elderly woman in my neighborhood died. Many of her neighbors, including me, gathered and spoke with one another. As we were talking, one of this woman's relatives said, I am sorry she has died and has no children to take care of her in death. No one will remember her. I was saddened by this man's remarks and said, it is possible this poor lady will someday be richer than you. How can that be? He responded. I told him if she had a proper relationship with God through his Son, she will be rich in eternity. I then related the account of the rich man and the beggar from Luke 16, the beggar died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. Someone asked how I had come to this conclusion? I replied, it is written in the Bible. King David did not fear what would happen to his body, instead he prayed, do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Psalm 23 was not written for the rich only, but for everyone who trusts in the Lord and will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The men ask, do you never think about what will happen to you when you die? I answered, my future is secure because I have received the Lord as my Savior, and in him there is no death or darkness, only life and light. They did not understand what I meant. I asked if they had ever read the Bible and the man replied, it was impossible to read the Bible in Russia and we cannot read Hebrew. I said, but you've been in Israel for several years, surely by now you know Hebrew? He replied, oh yes, we could speak it, but we do not understand it well enough to read something as deep as the Bible.
I took out my Bible and read in Hebrew John 14:19, because I live, you will live also. Job 19:25, I know my Redeemer lives and he shall stand at last on the earth, and Isaiah 26:19, your dead shall live together with my dead body they shall arise. I then translated these verses into Russian. They could not accept the concept of resurrection after death.
Referring to the lady who had just died, the man said, we've all seen her dead body, how can you say she will live again? I said, it is written in Ezekiel 18:4, the soul who sins shall die, but the Lord has given us a free choice concerning our souls destiny. If we ask him to forgive our sins, he will grant our request, and assure us of eternal life with him. If we reject his love for us, we will die in our sins and spend eternity in the lake of fire. When we parted, they were no longer hurling accusations, but we're friendly and thanked me for spending time with him. I pray God will water the seed sown and eventually grant the harvest of these souls to eternal life.
Steve Conover: A reminder, if you have not yet subscribed to Israel My Glory, that you can get a full year at no cost, visit FOIradio.org. There you can also find the book we mentioned today, Jewish Culture and Customs. Again, visit FOIradio.org.
The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide Christian ministry, communicating biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while fostering solidarity with the Jewish people.
Jewish Culture and Customs
by Steve Herzig
Every area of Jewish life is tied to some aspect of symbolism. Hundreds of traditions date back thousands of years. How did these customs get started? And what special meaning do they hold? In the book Jewish Culture and Customs, Steve Herzig answers these questions in this fun and personal book on the colorful world of modern Judaism.
Apples of Gold: No One Will Remember Her
Do you fear death? When Zvi’s neighbor died, family and friends gathered together to remember her. One of her relatives was very sad she was gone and was afraid she would be forgotten. Zvi explained that if this woman trusted in the Lord and what His Son did, she would have a rich life in eternity! The man did not understand and like always, Zvi took out his Bible to show him the way to know for sure one can have eternal life.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.