A growing group of rabbis provides explanations of the Tanakh, the Old Testament, focusing on the meaning of the text itself. This regularly produces a great deal of recognition among Christians.
Developments within Judaism and in the land of Israel are followed with interest by Christians. Events such as the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the conquest of all of Jerusalem in 1967, the return of Jews from the 'lost' ten tribes and the growth of Messianic Judaism quickly take on a prophetic dimension. But there is another development. One that is less visible, but still remarkable. And that is the return of interest among Orthodox Jews in the peshat, the primary meaning of the text of the Old Testament.
When you think of Orthodox Jews, you quickly have a certain image. Men in black robes, with long curly sideburns and striking headgear. Men who prefer nothing more than to study all day long in the oral traditions of the Rabbis as collected in the Talmud. Then there is a lengthy discussion about the answer to the question of how long you should wait after eating a dairy dish before eating meat, because the Torah forbids eating milk and meat at the same time. Within this movement, the meaning of the actual text of the Torah, the peshat, does not play an important role. It concerns its interpretation, which is called the midrash, and the legal rules that can be derived from it. As Christians we generally have little affinity with this movement. In fact, Jesus reacted against this legalistic interpretation of the Torah, and that causes us to experience a distance with these orthodox Jews.
In Christian books and articles we also come across many references to texts by liberal Jews. These Jews have much less bond with tradition, but they also deal more freely with the authoritative character of the Tanakh, the Old Testament. In the 2020-2021 season, the Center of Israel Studies (CIS), which is supported by several Protestant Reformed organizations, will publish a weekly contribution from a rabbi. This contribution is sent to 2200 people by email and also appears on their website. It is striking that this center has mainly approached liberal rabbis for this purpose. As Reformed Evangelicals, we experience less affinity with their freer approach to Scripture. In Israel the liberal movement is very small, outside of it it is larger.
In recent years there has been a striking change in Israel. There is a growing group of rabbis who teach the interpretation of the Tanakh, the Old Testament, where the meaning of the text itself is central. These scholars start from the Tanakh as the revealed Word of God. And as reformed-evangelical believers, we see a great deal of recognition. Because of their extensive knowledge of Biblical Hebrew, a lot of attention is paid to the word usage and language structure of the texts. More and more profound than we usually see in Western theology, and therefore they are an important addition.
The education of these scholars is now also accessible to us. Books are translated into English, and some of the lessons can also be followed in English via YouTube and podcasts. And so the Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut and the related Herzog College in particular became the basis for a remarkable development within Judaism. There appears to be a wealth of knowledge for theologians. When we hear how it is explained that the core of Exodus is formed by God who reveals Himself to Moses as a forgiving God, it sounds surprisingly evangelical to us. And if we read that from the position of the name Perez in the book of Ruth we can deduce that this history is intended to indicate that Ruth is an ancestor of the Messiah, who would not be pleasantly surprised? And books are being written that address modern questions surrounding scriptural critical Bible approaches and trends in archeology that would fit perfectly on the book lists of theological courses.
And there is more we can learn from these Jewish scholars. Because they have a great eye for histories that run parallel in the Old Testament. And point out its meaning to us. As Christians, we then notice that this stylistic feature can also be seen in the New Testament. The story of Jesus' meeting with an unmarried woman at a well in Samaria appears not without reason to have been written in such a way that it resembles three stories in the Old Testament in which a man meets a woman at a well in a foreign land . So we see how the Jewish way of thinking gives us food for thought. And leads to new insights into the meaning of various Biblical texts.
Jews who return to the meaning of the text itself. It is a remarkable development. Perhaps not as spectacular as some other events, but a development that could prove to be very important. Because more than ever, a close connection between Jewish and Christian scholars can arise. In the hope that it is the prelude to the loss of the 'covering of Israel', the recognition of the Messiah by the people of Israel, about which Paul writes.