In The Challenge of Jesus to Be a New Kind of Christian, a post where I wrote about two books that helped me in my faith journey during a period of doubt, I wrote:
[My doubts] swirled around in my head, they caused me to furrow my brow, they caused me to sit at my kitchen table and cry and say "what if everything I have ever believed is wrong?"Why would I ask this? What could possibly make me think that everything I had ever believed [about Jesus] was wrong? The reason that I was afraid that everything I had ever believed could be wrong was because of an online discussion board in which I'd been participating. In this discussion forum, which was about Judaism, I not only met people who were Jewish, but people who had left Christianity in order to pursue becoming Jewish. Although that wasn't entirely new to me, as I'd had a professor in college who had at some point in her life converted to Judaism, the number of stories I read here were more than I'd ever considered there could be.
I started learning that people were leaving Christianity for Judaism because their pastors, relatives, or friends could not answer their questions about Jesus and Christianity. They were basically taught not to question anything or that God was a mystery or to just have faith or “the Bible says”. They learned that there were Jewish answers to their questions about faith, scripture, and God that, to them, made much more sense than what they were learning—or not learning—in church.
I learned that Jews have very different opinions on the interpretation of Scripture that Christians are so sure about, like Isaiah 53, or that they have very specific ideas about what Moshiach is supposed to accomplish (rebuild the temple, bring all the Jews back to Israel, all Jews will follow Torah, among other things) and they pointed out how Jesus did not do those things. They were especially emphatic that Jesus could not be God, or, rather, that God could not be a man. I learned that many of them believed that Jesus didn’t even exist, and if he did, not only was he not the Messiah, he was not even a prophet, because, they said, prophecy has ceased.
In fact, they would tell me, if he did exist and accounts of some things he did were true, at best he was simply an ordinary Jew in need of repentance for not following the taryag mitzvos (613 commandments) that Jews are obligated to follow and at worst, he was an apikoros (one who has turned away from Judaism) or even worse for then leading others away from Judaism. I was told that the Greek Testament is riddled with errors and contradictions, both within its own books and with the books of the Tanach, and that the Tanach is error-free, especially the Torah, as the Torah was written by God. I realized very quickly that I really didn’t know how to respond to many of these ideas. It was a very troubling time for me.
I eventually worked through those doubts and I emerged with a great respect and admiration for Judaism. There is beauty in the dedication to God that I often didn't see in Christianity. Because there are so many mitzvos governing all aspects of life, God is infused in everything. From the time a Jew wakes up in the morning until the time he or she rests his or her head on the pillow at night, there are prayers and blessings to be said. There is deliberate community: Jewish men are required to pray in a minyan (group of at least 10 men) three times per day. There is no driving on shabbos so people walk to shul, which means they will attend the closest one in their neighborhood.
Through what I learned, I was able to see Jesus in a new way: a Jewish way. I learned the actual words he would have said at the Last Supper. I learned about how he would have lived a Jewish life. I learned to put Jesus into his Jewish context.
Most of all, I learned about friendship with people who were different from me in belief, practice, and culture.
What other cultures or religious groups have you experienced? Has it helped or harmed your faith? How do you feel about cross-religious friendships?