Saturday, May 5, 2012

Crash Course in Jewish History by Ken Spiro

    Rabbi Spiro is an Orthodox Jew who wrote this book based on courses he taught at the Aish HeTorah College of Jewish Studies in Israel.  It is his intention to give Jews a simplified historical line to trace their beginnings as a people to their place in today’s world.

     Because it is a “crash course”, Spiro’s book is easy to read.  In a nutshell, Spiro’s intention is to delineate Judaism from other people groups in the world.

     Now that’s not hard to do or prove.  Jews are the offspring of Abraham with whom God made a covenant.  God does not change or go back on His word.  His plan for the Jewish people will continue until its fruition.  It's important to note that Rabbi Spiro's conclusions differ to what the Bible states in Romans 1:16.  He claims the whole point of the Jewish existence is to usher in world peace. 

      The first part of the book gives a basic run down of historical events that are in the Old Testament.  He skims through the beginnings of the world, the Patriarchs, the Exodus, Moses and the law, the chronicles of the judges, prophets and Kings and finally the Babylonian exile.  This much I already knew from reading my Bible.  Nothing new there. 

     What was interesting was the information he gave concerning the four hundred year gap between the Exile and the Messianic Era.  Here we learn about the Men of the great Assembly, the rise of the Greek empire, the Revolt of the Maccabees, the Romans, Herod and the events that led up to the war of the Jews, the fall of Jerusalem and the Destruction of the Temple.  While these latter things were prophesied in the New Testament (Jesus’ Olivet discourse in Matthew 24) they are not recorded there, presumably because the New Testament writers had all been killed during the Roman Emperor Nero’s persecution.  Much of this I had  read about in Josephus’ books on the War of the Jews but Spiro gives a quick recount which makes it easier for people who just want the skinny on the subject.

       After this, Spiro gives concise accounts of the beginnings of the Talmud, the rise of Islam, the different Jewish groups that scattered throughout Europe during the Middle Ages up to establishing the nation of Israel and the heroic individuals that helped make this historic occasion happen. Spiro describes Kabbalism and the beginning of the Hassidic movement

     Spiro’s main thrust for the rest of the book is how the last two thousand years of has been one long onslaught of persecution and sorrow for the Jewish people.  It is tragic and heart rending to read about.  He doesn’t exaggerate, it is all sadly true.

     Because of the relentless persecution and numerous attempted annihilations of the Jewish people, Spiro concludes that Christianity is a false religion. He also asserts that Christians claim that God changed His mind about the Jews and rejected them in favor of Christians.  On the one hand, I can see how he would think this based on how some Christians or even certain Christian denominations have acted throughout history.   On the other, for all his research, he apparently didn’t take the trouble to actually read the teachings of Christ in the NewTestament to see whether these professing Christians were actually obeying Scripture when they persecuted the Jews.  He might have concluded that instead of Christianity being a false religion that, in fact, some people falsely profess to be Christians.  Jesus said you can judge a tree by its fruit

      Interestingly, in Chapter 39 (Origins of Christianity) Spiro claims that Christians have mistranslated the Bible because they used only Greek and Latin translations.  That is a false assertion-every modern translation of the Bible is from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  This is true even of the 1610 King James Bible. But then he goes on to say that the reason the United States have been a place of refuge for the Jews is because the Puritans who founded our country based their beliefs on Old Testament Scripture and, in fact, many of the founding fathers were Hebrew scholars! (Chapter 54:  Jews and the Founding of America) 

     Finally, he says it’s impossible to read the Bible without Oral Tradition and since time is taking us farther and farther away from Moses and Oral Tradition, the meaning of Scripture is becoming increasingly obscure.  So according to Rabbi Spiro, Christians are wrong because they don’t have an accurate translation of the Bible but then again, he asserts no one can really know what the Bible is saying anyway! 

        Also what I found fascinating was how Spiro acknowledges that the Messianic era began at the time Christ came to earth but doesn’t believe Jesus is the Christ.  He believes the Messiah is still coming and when he does, he will usher in world peace through the Jewish people.

     Yet Spiro doesn’t take into account the problem of sin.  Moses did.  What was the purpose of all those animal sacrifices?  What is the purpose of Yom Kippor and Rosh Hashanah?  Why did the animal sacrifices that were made to atone for the sins of the people stop at the ushering in of the Messianic era?  Isn’t it because the Messiah had in fact come and made the one and only atoning sacrifice when He sacrificed Himself for everyone’s sins- making animal sacrifices no longer necessary?  Does not Isaiah 53 prophesy this very event?   

    Rabbi Spiro ignores all of this and insists that the Messiah is only coming to bring world peace and he’s going to do it through the Jewish people.  He believes the time is very soon now that Israel is a nation again.  He never mentions mankind being reconciled to God. He also fails to share any belief Jews have of the after life. 

     A couple of other things I found interesting.  Spiro is against both the Hassids and the secular Jews.  Both have got it wrong, according to him.  Hassids have created an artificial legalism that isn’t necessary and the secular Jews have capitulated in an effort to assimilate with the Gentiles.  He insists this is also true of any Jew that becomes a Christian: it is merely an insincere effort to avoid persecution.  He doesn’t explain why Jews became Christians even when it caused persecution.  As it does for many today. Some Jewish friends of mine who have become Messianic believers (recognize Jesus Christ as Y'shua Mashiach) have told me that their families held a "shiva" for them.   This is a symbolic burial (literally “seven days of mourning”) for becoming an “apostate”.

     Do I recommend this book?  I don’t know.  I don’t think it is the most informative book out there-even for Jewish history because it is so superficial.  It certainly isn’t a reliable resource for Christians.  I think it’s value for me, as a Christian, lies in that it allows me to get inside the head of a Jewish person and understand why he and-I’m sure other Jews- think the way they do about themselves and how they perceive Christians.

I bought this book.

For more information or book reviews on Jewish literature and culture:
The Chosen
Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen

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