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Beit Midrash

Currently there is a growing movement of creating a Beit Midrash in a home environment. Think of a typical home group, with a leader, study notes and fixed programme, then think again, but start with a clean slate.

All very well, you may ask, but how does one get started? Well, for a start, it doesn't require a leader in the traditional sense. The Greek model would have the pastor, minister, elder or teacher leading the meeting, as in a traditional Church service or home group and using the meeting as a different way of teaching. A Beit Midrash doesn't need to be led by someone who has prepared well, or has all the answers. It needs a facilitator, someone to move things along, but the whole point of it is for everyone to learn together. If your minister wants to join in, then he's on the same level as everyone else and should not be allowed to dominate. The point of the Beit Midrash is the acknowledgement that sometimes we don't have all the answers, but it will be fun to find them out together. Proceedings are disorderly, a very Jewish idea, with interruptions, silences, jokes and tangential thinking all the norm. The one thing you won't need to do is put your hand up to speak, though you may have to deal sensitively with the situation of everyone speaking at once. The best way to try this form of group study is just suck it and see ... so what's holding you back, just try it!

Another thing you may want to consider at home is to hold a Passover service. It's the most accessible of Jewish festivals for Christians, but it will need to be done sensitively and relevantly. Sensitivity is needed because this is the most Jewish of all festivals, commemorating the greatest Hebrew prophet of all, Moses, and the greatest event in Jewish Biblical history, the Exodus from Egypt. Even secular Jewish homes have been known to occasionally do a Passover Seder night, which is not surprising as it is the most evocative of all, a feast for all five senses and food ... lots of it.

If you decide to start to celebrate Passover in your home it is best to use one of the messianic haggadahs (orders of service) that are available, that use Passover in a Christian context, as an understanding of the circumstances and setting of Jesus's Last Supper. It will also help you gain an understanding of the Jewish context of the Exodus, which must not be forgotten. The worst thing you can do is strip out the Jewish elements, but the best thing you can do is invite any Jewish friends you have and, whether they have much of an understanding or not, use them as advisors on the project. Show them that you are not hijacking their festival, but just want to get a better understanding of the Jewish roots of your faith. Whether or not there are any Jewish people at the Passover service you must always make an effort to pray for the Jewish people as part of the liturgy. It's the least you can do.

Of course the Passover service can be a grander affair. This takes us out of our homes and into the traditional Church environment. Many Churches hold Passover services, using a set liturgy (usually the messianic haggadahs mentioned earlier). Again, the same rules apply, but more so, as this is likely to come to the attention of the local Jewish community. Be sensitive, perhaps even send an invitation to the local synagogue, though, if you do so, inform them first why you are celebrating Passover and what form the service is taking.

Other Jewish festivals can also be considered, though the lesser festivals of Purim and Chanukah are not to be encouraged, as these are more nationalistic and jingoistic, with the personal theme of triumph over anti-Semitism, by the Persians and Greeks respectively. Shavuot is a neglected festival and any liturgy that combines the twin themes of the Word and Spirit is to be encouraged. Sukkot is perhaps the most relevant festival for Churches to consider, with a secondary theme of Jews and Gentiles celebrating the future millennial rule of Jesus. This is why Israel tourism from Christians peaks at this time of the year. Every Sukkot, a colourful procession through Jerusalem is staged by Christians from all over the world, with tour groups virtually falling over each other in a very congested Holy Land.

Again, if you choose to celebrate any of these festivals in your Church, or in the local community, be proactive in involving the Jewish community and make provisions within the service for prayer for the salvation of the Jew. Don't worry about offending them, be bold and go for it - you know what's best for them, their eternal salvation is at issue here. They may huff and puff, or show general indifference, but, as long as it is sensitively done, let love and sincerity be your motivations, rather than just lip service and they will respect you for it.

Apart from the festivals, it will be hard to suddenly introduce Jewish elements to traditional Church services. Prayer is the easiest thing to get started, perhaps arranging a "Prayer for Israel" group to meet regularly. It would be foolish to start urging the minister to dump the sermon, liturgy and prayer/hymn sandwich because they are suddenly "too Greek". Introducing Jewish elements is more relevant in a smaller scale, as already mentioned, so perhaps experimenting with the Beit Midrash idea for home groups would be a good place to start.

Steve Maltz
April 2013

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Way)

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