Woe to him who wilfully innovates
While ignorant of the constant– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching 16b
These words come from a non Jewish source, namely Lao Tzu the author of Tao Te Ching, one of the primary texts of Taoism, the basic form of Chinese religion. You may wonder where do words from Taoism come into my thinking?
I graduated in 2002, with my BA in Religious Studies from California State University Northridge. I with the guidance of my advisor who is the Coordinator of the Jewish Studies program was able to make my upper division work primarily in Jewish studies, though to complete the major I needed courses in two other religions. I was hoping to take Christianity and Islam, yet the Islam class was cancelled for lack of enrollments. I did take Christianity and of my other choices I opted for Taoism. To say the least dealing with a non-theistic religion was challenging to say the least, I fought on and eventually got a B+ in the class, based primarily on my 25 page paper that posited that Lao Tzu was a gentile prophet that spoke about the coming of the Messiah. I intertwined quotations from Tao Te Ching with similiar passages from Isaiah (a contemporary of Lao Tzu) and also tying in the Tao with the Word from John 1. It made for one of my most creative adventures in putting a Jewish Studies spin on one of my non-Judaism classes.
Though I was lost through most of the class, I did take the above phrase “Woe to him who wilfully innovates” as a phrase that shapes my view of building a mature Messianic Judaism. This phrase represents an ancient wording of the phrase my rabbi and mentor Stuart Dauermann told me and others in a class we had on Jewish prayer, “You cannot depart from where you have not been”. As both Lao Tzu and Rabbi Dauermann put forward it is of vital importance to be mindful of the past and traditional understandings and this is critical for building a Messianic Judaism for the future that is relevant and connected to both Judaism of today and mindful of the past.
Being that the liturgy and the siddur is a passion of mine and will be the focus of my further studies in my graduate programs, I am mindful of what has been done over the last 20 years in “Messianic liturgy” and for the most part much of the work has been to try to create a completely new “Messianic” liturgy that rewrites or reworks the traditional prayers of the siddur to make them more “Messianic” or more “Yeshua-focused”, as if the siddur is devoid on it’s own of Messianic hopes, calls for restoration and salvation and other themes relative to our life in Messianic Judaism.
This can be seen in the “Messianic shabbat candlelighting prayer” that replaces “sanctified us by your commandments and commanded us to kindle the Shabbat lights” with “sanctified us by faith in Yeshua, the light of the world and in His name we light these candles”. In so doing we are trying to create our own Judaism from scratch and establising a Messianic Judaism that has no connection or relevance outside our synagogue walls. Other attempts have been to remove prayers, especially “mystical” prayers like Lecha Dodi and other prayers inspired by kabbalists and Jewish mystics.
This is not to say that we cannot create new liturgical prayers and liturgical services (which would be hypocritical on my part being that I created a “Seudat Mashiach” hagaddah for a final seder of Passover, which was inspired by the observance of a meal honoring the Messiah which was begun by Baal Shem Tov and is still observed at Chabad), yet when we do create new liturgies we need to be mindful of established practices and create new services in line with establsihed norms. In creating the “Seudat Mashiach” I used the Passover hagaddah as the guide for the flow of the service and added in Messianic readings and took the focus of redemption in the traditional seder and focused the story of redemption on the future Messianic redemption. So then it was new, inspired by the practice of the Hasidim and also tied to the Hagaddah as the basis for the service. This can be seen as an innovation that is “mindful of the constant”
I attended Friday Night Live, a contemporary Erev Shabbat service for 18-40 year olds for about four years. This is a fairly complete Conservative service yet set to musical accompaniment and contemporary music which it makes it both contemporary and traditional. This is another example of an “innovation that is mindful of the constant” as our words detail.
We have so much in the siddur that we can draw from and Yeshua is so ever present throughout the siddur with prayers for the Messianic redemption, God’s salvation and other prayers. We can build a mature Messianic Judaism that reveals Yeshua in the very prayers that the Jewish people have been praying for the last 2000 years and we don’t need to “reinvent the wheel”. We have so much that we can draw from Judaism today to build a Messianic Judaism for the future. And when we make innovations they need to be thoughtful and made in line with norms of Jewish religious life.
This is a challenge for us to take up the task to work with the raw materials of the last 2000 years of Judaism, mindful of our righteous Messiah and seek to make Him known within Jewish space. We can honor Yeshua via the traditional liturgy where He is ever present and bring new presentations of this vital piece of our religious literature alive with the life that we have been given by God’s spirit. So then let us move forward, do new things yet always mindful of “the constant” and lift our Messiah up via these powerful words.
The most relevant Messianic Judaism will be a Messianic Judaism that is a recognizable Judaism and an entering into Jewish space. We then have to be careful that we don’t establish a Messianic Judaism that is foreign to the larger Jewish world. This is not good for ourselves to be in our “Judaism” of our own design and also it makes us even more outsiders to the larger Jewish world.