After decades of attending Torah classes, it's rare that I get a real head rush of inspiration from a rabbi's shiur (lecture). Don't get me wrong - the Torah is an ever-uplifting ladder of spirituality, which infuses my everyday with meaning and fulfillment. But it's simply not a daily occurrence that I walk out of a Torah learning session blown away from what I had heard.
Last week I was blown away.
I attended a debate between an orthodox Rabbi and Christian Minister entitled "Is Jesus the Promised Messiah?"
The Christian Pastor, Paul Humber, opened the debate with impressive quotes from all over the tanach (Jewish bible) supporting his Jesus narrative to the point that I actually felt uncomfortable. As he continued his 10-minute round of analysis, I felt deep concern that if a Jew on the street were to hear this well-trained missionary, he would be shaken to the core and left helpless - unable to defend his religion against the compelling proofs that JC is the Jewish Messiah. Equally disheartening was the realization that I couldn't defend it well, either.
The pastor continued to fire away from his extensive arsenal of bible verses. A creepy feeling of kfirah (blasphemy) crawled into my system. My rock-solid Judaism was being challenged, and it hurt. I felt that even when the rabbi makes his counterpoints, still some doubt may linger.
I was wrong.
Rabbi Tovia Singer of OutreachJudaism.org pounded back with a slam-dunk, decisive victory. His comebacks were so clever and convincing that I began to feel embarrassed for the pastor who was being ground to mince meat.
Several times throughout the debate, when Rabbi Tovia revealed the utter stupidity of the church's warped understandings of the Jewish bible, he turned to the pastor saying, "Don't take this personally, it's not against you, it's what the whole church believes." My emotions switched from concern for my religion to concern for the pastor who was an invited guest at a Jewish center and being made to look like a buffoon.
Within the rigid time limits of the debate, Rabbi Tovia systematically reviewed each source, explaining it in its original biblical context and showing how it had no connection to JC. It was so convincing that it became humorous, and the crowd burst out in laughter numerous times at the rabbi's delivery.
For example, the pastor explained that according to a verse in Isaiah Chapter 7, a child will be born from a virgin and this, he said, is a prophecy of the immaculate conception and birth of Jesus. Besides showing that "virgin" is a mis-translation, Rabbi Tovia said that anyone who reads the entire chapter and not just the verse sees that the child must have been born some 650 years before Jesus' time. Otherwise, the whole chapter doesn't make sense!
I walked out with a feeling of Jewish pride and smug assurance that when one digs deep in the tanach, Christian theology collapses like a house of cards. Yes, I knew this before the debate, but now this knowledge was a living part of me, filling me with inspiration and confidence.
The punch line is that while Rabbi Tovia told me that he thought Pastor Humber was good, Tovia said that he himself could have done a better job arguing for Christianity.
One of the greatest dangers facing our nation today is the multi-billion dollar (!) missionary offensive to convert Jews. Rabbi Tovia Singer is the vaccination that fights this disease. He told me that when he was a teen, he first heard a Christian missionary preaching to some Jews on a Brooklyn street corner. Since that time, he has dedicated his life to this topic.
Any adult or youth who attends one of his many entertaining appearances is likely to emerge unscathed from a future missionary confrontation. "If Rabbi Tovia were here," he will tell himself, "he would score a slam dunk and complete, decisive victory against this offensive." That's an important memory to evoke, and I hereby encourage every Jewish organization to rush to plant it in the minds of its members.
Rabbi Tovia Singer can be contacted via his website: OutreachJudaism.org If you are looking to learn more about this topic, Rabbi Tovia has posted over 20 hours of free, downloadable, audio classes on his website.
[Hattip to Clifford Bargar of Newton, Mass for his input on this post]