The Minimalist Judaism of Rabbi Asher Meza: an Analysis  Part 1

To those who have been faithfully following my blog on zionsbanner, I am sorry for the lack of a post last week. I had an extremely important event - a meeting with pastors of the Southern Baptist Church to further work in cooperation with them. I was totally blessed by the outcome of this meeting and will give more details in an upcoming blog. In this blog, I thought I would discuss some issues related to an upcoming special show I am doing with my colleague, the Street Apologist, on a live YouTube video event.

My colleague had the opportunity on one of his live broadcasts to interview Rabbi Asher Meza. Now, the broadcast was supposed to be a discussion based on a past YouTube broadcast the Street Apologist did in which he asked Jews not to believe in Kabbalah. If the program had stayed on the topic of Kabbalah that would have been well and good. But Rabbi Asher made certain claims related to Christianity and Judaism that went beyond the pale of simply a discussion of Kabbalah and why it is best avoided. While I don’t doubt Rabbi Asher’s sincerity, the statements he made were ill-founded and inaccurate both from the standpoint of normative Orthodox Judaism, at least as my grandfather would have understood it, and Christianity as any sound student of theology who is conversant in Christianity could be certain. I will be dealing with these in the upcoming broadcast. Please tune in to listen at https://youtu.be/LaZfP81_dfQ or see below for embedded video linkon Saturday February 9th 2 PM Arizona time or Mountain Standard Time.

In the meantime, I would like to address the claim that Rabbi Asher makes. What he is proposing about Judaism is that it is a simple form of Torah Judaism. I look at Rabbi Asher’s Judaism as a minimalist Judaism, which is not Orthodox Judaism in the conventional sense. First, it must be noted that Rabbi Asher completely ignores the Oral Law and Talmud and their place in Judaism. The Talmud is considered authoritative and oral laws are believed to have been handed down when the written Law was handed down at Sinai. The term Torah does not simply refer to the Five Books of Moses, as Rabbi Asher would have us believe, but refers to the corpus of rabbinical literature (at least to the completion of both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds). Let’s look at a few comments that demonstrate this claim.

The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible is more than clear on the understanding of the necessity of Talmud: “With cessation of the postexilic prophets and with the continual development of the complexity of life in Israel and its relationships to the outer world, there arose a need for further elaboration of the laws of the Pentateuch.”[1] Of Course, one could level the complaint that this is a Gentile source of information, and thus already suspect. However, the authoritative nature of the Oral Law is testified to within the Talmud itself in Pirke Avot 1.1:

Moses received Torah from Sinai,  And passed it on to Joshua,  And Joshua to the elders,  And the elders to the prophets,  And the prophets passed it on to men of the Great Assembly. (1:1A).      משֶׁה קִבֵּל תֹּורָה מִסִּינַי וּמְסָרָהּ לִיהֹושֻׁעַ, וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ לִזְקֵנִים, וּזְקֵנִים לִנְביאִום, וּנְבִיאִים מְסָרוּהָ לְאַנְשֵׁי כְנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה..THIS INTRODUCTORY sentence describes the chain of tradition leading up to the sayings in Avot. It has two messages. The first is that tradition is a vitally important source of wisdom. Avot itself represents the culmination of 1500 years of continuous reflection on the nature of the good life. Each generation has made decisions about what was worthy to preserve from previous generations. The second message is a bold claim for the divine authority of the post-biblical “Oral Torah”—the record of the discussions and legal decisions that went beyond the Written Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Acceptance of the religious authority of both the Written and Oral Torah defined the Jewish religion for 1600 years following the compilation of Avot.[2]

Clearly Pirke Avot, which is a Talmud tractate, cannot be considered a mere biased Gentile source. The commentary which accompanies the English translation in Hebrew text is correct in pointing out that this chain of tradition is designed to establish the divine authority of the Oral Torah, or Oral Law. It is the very reason that the chain begins at Moses, indicating that both oral and written Torahs were received at Sinai.

Beyond this, Rabbi Asher Meza suggests that Judaism does not accept progressive revelation. What if by “progressive revelation,” he means outside of the canon? I would firmly agree with him in that case. However, Pirke Avot was written and codified with the rest of Talmud far after Sinai. Additionally, the prophets are mentioned as the receivers of Torah and the preservers of it, and they add additional revelation to what was already in Torah. There seems to be almost more progressive revelation in rabbinical Judaism - it allows continual information from God about His will up until the completion of the Babylonian Talmud - than in Christianity, which closes the canon at A.D. 90. Now, I know Judaism would claim that the entire Oral Law was given at Sinai, but there are real problems with this claim. It will take another blog to address those and to deal with his comments about Christianity. To sum up this blog: the idea of a simple Torah-only Judaism is not consistent with Judaism’s own theology within its classical literature. It has other serious problems which will be dealt with in subsequent blogs.

[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Talmud,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2032.

[2] William Berkson and Menachem Fisch, Pirke Avot: Timeless Wisdom for Modern Life, First edition. (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 2010), 10.