In recent weeks, a brand new book has been released by one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of our day. Perhaps we may even be able to equate him with brilliant minds such as Abraham Joshua Heschel.
His name is Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, a Sephardic Jew originally from Holland, but made aliyah to Israel many years ago, and runs a popular institution in Jerusalem.
His new book is entitled Jewish Law as Rebellion. It has been a much-anticipated release, and it is very exciting to have it in hand and be able to read through the critical and keen mind of Rabbi Cardozo.
Jewish law, or halachah, is an important factor in Judaism. It helps to define the practice or implementation of Torah commands. It provides boundaries—or fences—and it helps to bring clarity and uniformity to a community. Some people, especially in the Messianic Jewish movement, have a very negative view of halachah. It is sometimes seen as unnecessarily oppressive or just downright preposterous. Others view it very seriously, as a rich body of literature that has helped to keep the Jewish people more or less unified throughout the nations and the centuries.
Rabbi Cardozo holds a high view of halachah; he loves and respects it greatly. However, he believes that as halachah continues to develop, it has to evolve as our world changes, as new circumstances occur to the Jewish people, causing new laws to be made, relaxed, or changed. His philosophy greatly mirrors that of the illustrious Rabbi Jacob Emden, who says that halachah is relative and subject to time, place, and man. In other words, halachah must evolve based on the progress that occurs, the circumstances of the individual and the children of Israel as a whole, and the location in which they reside.
Jewish law, according to Cardozo, has become stagnant, rigid, and unoriginal, and he wants to encourage healthy change within healthy boundaries and Jewish law that is not devoid of spirituality. Instead of rote obedience, he is advocating a spirituality and firm love of HaShem at the core of observance.
Cardozo hits the nail on the head when he talks about the lack of change and reconsideration within Jewish law when he says, “We are producing a generation that believes its task is to tend potted plants rather than plant forests.”
Perhaps this kind of discussion seems futile for someone who holds to Messianic Judaism. However, it is of the utmost importance. Only when Judaism can continue to develop, form, rethink, and reevaluate itself, can we see it fully be the beautiful religion that God intended to institute amongst the Jewish people, and then impart to the world. The Messianic world can benefit by peering into this conversation, for if we claim to be a part of Judaism as disciples of Yeshua, then we should have a vested interest in Judaism’s future. If we do not hold a strong voice at the moment, we can stand alongside those who currently do, such as the bold Rabbi Cardozo.
The winds are changing, at least in Israel, and it is a beautiful thing to behold our beautiful mother religion asking honest questions of itself, and looking to be spirit-filled, boundary-oriented, and speaking to the modern world. Let us pray that these healthy movements of change and reform will take root.