Blog Fri, 19 Sep 2014 18:53:09 +0000 en-gb Feeling The Squeeze?

Feel the squeeze. But not from God.


Blog Fri, 05 Sep 2014 03:14:38 +0000
“Hey, Dude, Does that Resonate with You?”

Hey, Dude, Does that Resonate with You?


Blog Wed, 03 Sep 2014 22:00:03 +0000
How to Make a Mess of Things

Gap living is not for sissies. It’s for those who have vision.


Blog Fri, 22 Aug 2014 03:29:03 +0000
Movie Review: Wish I Was Here

Movie Review: Wish I Was Here, directed by Zach Braff, 2014


Blog Fri, 15 Aug 2014 01:34:04 +0000
Reflections on the death of Robin Williams

"You sit down to dinner, and life as you know it ends," writes Joan Didion in her book The Year of Magical Thinking.  She captures what feels most punishing and cruel about our existence: that it might end without notice.


Blog Thu, 14 Aug 2014 02:53:18 +0000
So Are We Blood Brothers?

We have this common bond and it sets us apart.


Blog Thu, 14 Aug 2014 00:29:21 +0000
Open Letter to Evangelical Christians from Jews for Jesus Now is the time to stand  with Israel

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Our hearts are heavy as we watch the images of violence and bloodshed in Israel and Gaza.


Blog Thu, 31 Jul 2014 04:04:35 +0000
A Dronie Is Coming Near Your Face

The selfie is dead. Now it's the dronie, also known as the sky selfie.


Blog Sat, 26 Jul 2014 02:55:47 +0000
The (real) wall that divides

Conflicts are inevitable. I don’t know of any one family that doesn’t have them, so how could we expect the absence of conflict between entire people groups?


Blog Fri, 25 Jul 2014 04:02:27 +0000
Gaza and the God of Israel

Despite the circumstances, God is keeping Israel safe and reversing attempts to destroy her.


Blog Sat, 19 Jul 2014 02:42:22 +0000
How to Be Confident in Sickness and in Health

What is dying like? Only Jesus can tell us.


Blog Thu, 10 Jul 2014 02:03:00 +0000
How the World Cup Teaches Me about Jesus

It's in the overtimes of life where you discover if you have what it takes to live with your eyes fixed on the goal and to do it with grace and perseverance.


Blog Tue, 08 Jul 2014 21:08:20 +0000
Heaven: Experiencing It & Sean Trank

Two months ago my brother-like friend and co-worker, Sean Trank, asked me to write something about heaven for others to read. In light of his recent passing, I honor his request today.


Blog Tue, 08 Jul 2014 03:30:14 +0000
The Ultimate World Cup!

The 2014 FIFA World Cup continues! Brazil vs. Columbia! France vs. Germany! Belgium vs. Argentina! They say over 715 MILLION people watched the final match of the 2006 World Cup—and that more people view the World Cup than the Olympics.


Blog Thu, 03 Jul 2014 20:56:17 +0000
Does God Like Social Media?

Face-to-face is the original social media.

Conversations that used to take place over a meal or drinks after work is now happening on Facebook, Skype and Tweets.

Whatever the delivery system, online gurus say it has to have at least these four components to be meaningful:

  1. relevance
  2. practical value
  3. emotion
  4. stories 

But even if all these components are there, I've noticed something - people are hungry for human interaction, not just cyber chats. They want face-to-face. They need to feel connected to others they can see, hear, touch and laugh with.

And no virtual delivery system can produce what a personal encounter can.

God knew that.

God, with all his supernatural abilities, could have designed a mechanism (better than Skype or Zoom) whereby he could communicate with us without leaving heaven to do it.

He could have sent angel messengers.

He could have boomed his voice from heaven.

He could have scared the life out of us with flashes of lightning and peals of thunder.

Instead, he sent his own flesh and blood Son to live among us, suffer alongside us, and die a horrible death and conquer the grave.

Where's the value in that?

God knew the kind of mess we were in - we were dead in our sins and unable to rescue ourselves. So he fixed the problem by sending his Son Yeshua (Jesus) to live a life of perfect obedience to the law of God for us, and then die in our place and rise from the dead in order to pay the price for our sins.

So how is that relevant to me? 

If Jesus hadn't done that, you would have no hope of measuring up to God's standards and being loved by him.

Only Jesus measured up and secured your relationship with God, so when you place your faith in his finished work for you, God fully accepts you as his cherished child.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Messiah – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua." – Ephesians 2: 4-7 ESV

By believing in him, for the first time in your life you have face-to-face communication with God through Jesus.

Now that beats anything you can have online!

Want to plug into the best conversation today?

Visit here:

Blog Mon, 30 Jun 2014 22:43:12 +0000

In a way, enlightenment has been a goal or achievement of both the Eastern and Western worldviews for quite some time. In Buddhism, starting with its founder in the fifth century B.C.E., individual enlightenment is a follower's highest goal. "Buddha" means "awakened" or "enlightened one." For the Buddhist, this means freeing oneself from the cycle of rebirth emptying oneself in meditation. The West has also emphasized the individual's role in enlightenment, though in the European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries. It weighed reason and individualism as of higher importance than revelation and tradition. Key individuals in the Western enlightenment included 17th-century philosophers such as René Descartes, John Locke, and Isaac Newton. This longing for enlightenment, it could be argued, is an essential component of being human, made in God's image.

A traditional Western text, Genesis, holds great wisdom that is universally applicable, especially here. Genesis includes the story of two individuals who experienced enlightenment. In fact, these were the first two people, the infamous Eve and Adam, the parents of all cultures. They gained great consciousness of themselves, but not through meditation.  It was through their actions. They reasoned against the only tradition around at that time, the one law that God had created for them. They violated that law by deciding to eat from a tree that held tantalizing fruit and promised with its ingestion, insight. Their eyes were opened to the difference between right and wrong. They then realized their stark nakedness and were suddenly ashamed of their vulnerability.

So, had they found what they were looking for? Without realizing it, Adam and Eve activated the catalyst for God's plan of salvation. This plan was to bring a future, divine messiah, whose arrival is subsequently predicted throughout all Hebrew Scripture, starting in Genesis 3. There Eve asks if she might be the mother of this child. Instead, history unfolds, centuries go by and the Jewish people are established and chosen to carry that promise on.

The Bible holds a universal truth about the search for enlightenment. Humans are drawn to it. Ultimately, the box of undesirable consequences that Adam and Eve—not Pandora—flung open, affects each human seeking truth. The Bible, in Genesis and beyond, outlines a narrative in which God is always seeking to be in harmony with creation. It creates a tradition of animal sacrifice and fulfills the need for it forever with God's own death and resurrection on our behalf.

Are you seeking the ultimate enlightenment? It's available now. God desires to give us insight if we fully seek Him.  His presence can fulfill the deepest needs with which we were designed. The illumination provided in Scripture of who He is and how we can know Him is the most crucial truth we can find.

There are many people who have devoted their whole lives to helping other people discover this for themselves. Some of those people are the staff who work for Jews for Jesus.

If you would like to talk to someone now who can help you with this quest for enlightenment, please go to our live chat.

Have general questions about Jews for Jesus?

Check out our about page.

Blog Thu, 12 Jun 2014 23:11:39 +0000
When Jews Were Proselytizers

The Jewish Daily Forward, a well-known publication in the Jewish community (117-year-old paper), recently resurrected the issue of Jewish evangelism from a traditional Jewish perspective. Are the Jewish people meant to be mission-minded? Did God choose us for a purpose that we're to share with others? Read the Answer.

Blog Thu, 12 Jun 2014 19:33:31 +0000
Yours Free: A Better Memory

According to a recent news report, US military researchers are developing a brain implant that could one day restore a wounded soldier's memory and even tackle Alzheimer's disease.

Whether these researchers succeed at their goal will be interesting, but if you can fix a fading memory not only will you be on every talk show in the world, but maybe you'll finally remember where you hid the afikomen when you were seven and ruined your family's Passover celebration.

Let's face it, even on our good days we forget many things, from car keys to appointments to what's-his-name who is related to your great-great-grandfather back in the old country.

Being able to remember is part of our personality. It's what keeps us connected to our past, our people, our guilt, and our identities. If we lose that, we lose our sense of self.

So restoring our memory would be to renew our life. But there are things we'd probably rather forget.

The Scriptures tell us we were created to be in harmony with God and the world, but that something went terribly wrong in the Garden of Eden that destroyed that harmony. That's such a distant past we hardly pay any attention to the memory hints our hearts give us. Instead we've quieted that voice with distractions and destruction. And it keeps us imprisoned to ourselves so we can't remember God anymore.

That's why God came up with a solution to our desperate need. His is a better implant than anything our military can come up with. It's called a new heart, a heart that resonates with God's life and love. And he gives it for free to anybody who asks for it.

"And I will give you a new heart, and I new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." – Ezekiel 26 verse 26 ESV

While the military implant may take years to become a reality, you can have a new heart right now and with it a memory of the love God has for you by giving you his very best, his son Yeshua (Jesus) who paid the penalty for your sins so you could be set free.

"But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed." – Isaiah 53 verse 5 ESV

Ready for a new heart?

learn how to get it.

Blog Mon, 02 Jun 2014 22:17:19 +0000
Picture Telephone

It's easy for a message to get lost in miscommunication, so how can we trust that the Bible is true and accurate?


Blog Mon, 02 Jun 2014 21:50:56 +0000
Mayor Bloomberg, God, and Jewish Values – Part One

Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, has been in the news recently. Well, he's often in the news, but two recent articles come to mind.

First, there is "Bloomberg Plans a $50 Million Challenge to the N.R.A." (New York Times, April 15, 2014), mostly about his plans for financing gun control. At the end, the article takes a different turn, remarking that "His mortality has started dawning on him, at 72." Then:

Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: "I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I'm not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It's not even close."

Presumably, the grinning mayor was being somewhat tongue in cheek, emphasizing his achievement more than proclaiming anything about the deity.

The second article is,  "Bloomberg, in Israel, Wins a $1 Million Prize, and Then Gives It Back" (New York Times, May 22, 2014). With Jay Leno as the host, Mayor Bloomberg won the Genesis Prize honoring achievements that demonstrate "Jewish values." Bloomberg then gave away his winnings in the form of establishing a competition among entrepreneurs, Jewish or not, whose ideas stem from "Jewish values."

All of which raises the questions: what are Jewish values? And is working on behalf of social causes—surely one such value—an automatic pass at the "heaven interview"? —at least as Mayor Bloomberg put it, "if there is a God." (Humor about God —not poking fun at him, but more at us humans —tends to be a Jewish value as well.)

Writers have often commented on, expounded, and advocated for Jewish values. Most of those values are rooted in the classic Jewish text, the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. Tikkun olam, "repair of the world," or social action? Look no further than the Hebrew prophets. "Let justice roll down like waters," says the prophet Amos. Kibbud av va'em, honor of parents? "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you," right there in Exodus 20:12. And so on with almost everything considered a "Jewish value."

The presupposition of the Tanakh about where all these values derive from is that, yes Mr. Bloomberg, there is a God. Without the God of the Bible, changing a light bulb, or not changing it and sitting in the dark, could be values on a par with showing honor to parents. With God, on the other hand, we know what's right, what's wrong, and what is and isn't important.

One fundamental Jewish value is not often mentioned: teshuvah (repentance for sin), and not just on Yom Kippur. From the prophet Isaiah:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.1

Working for gun safety and for reducing obesity are noble goals, but human sin and evil taints the best deeds. Doing these things may help others, but they don't get us a "heaven interview pass," in the former mayor's business world metaphor. In Isaiah's terms, all that great stuff is — as far as a relationship with God is concerned —like something the dry cleaner charges extra for.

So what's a nice Jewish boy like Michael Bloomberg to do? Or the rest of us for that matter? Watch for the next blog post on "Jewish Values in the New Testament," or, "The Day God Said, 'Keinahora!' "

1 Isaiah 64:6 in English versions; 64:5 in the Hebrew.]]>
Blog Thu, 29 May 2014 20:27:02 +0000
If Jesus is the Messiah

Why all the suffering in the world? Why isn't there real and lasting peace? Why all the persecutions in the name of Jesus? Why don't rabbis believe in him? Why doesn't he say so?

There is an answer for each of these questions, if you are interested. Of course, if you're only looking to disprove Jesus' claims, no answer will satisfy. But if you're a seeker of truth, willing to accept the truth where it is found (even if it is Jesus), won't you read on?

Why all the suffering in the world?

Why not? We live in a cause-and-effect world, and sin (wrongdoing) causes suffering. If sin hadn't been introduced into the world at the very beginning, there would be no disease or hunger, and pain would be unknown. To put an end to suffering, the sin problem has to be resolved—and that is why Yeshua (Jesus) came. Concerning suffering, Jesus said, "In the world there will be tribulation but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Why isn't there real and lasting peace?

The peace that Jesus offers is available now to any Jew or Gentile who accepts him. It's a peace for your heart. Sure, most people are for world peace, but lasting peace starts within people, one at a time. Jesus says, "My shalom I give you… do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27).

Why all the persecution in the name of Jesus?

Persecution against individuals and groups of people has been carried out under many banners: the banner of justice and morality, the banner of freedom, the banner of a better world. That it is also carried out under the banner of Messiah Jesus is only another indicator of how people justify their unjustifiable acts.

Why don't rabbis believe in him?

A few do. But their status in the Jewish community ceases at that point and they are no longer rabbis. The vast majority of rabbis do not believe in Jesus for the same reason you don't. To consider Jesus' claims means risking important relationships as well as admitting that all your knowledge, noble deeds and good intentions are not enough to make a relationship with the Creator possible.

Why doesn't he say so?

Despite what you may have heard, he did. You can read Yeshua's own words in the New Testament. See Matthew 16:15-57, John 4:25-26 and John 11:25-27. We hope you will check it out for yourself.

If you find these answers unsettling, please know that isn't our intention. We understand that the truth is not always comfortable or convenient—but it is, well… the truth.

So if these answers speak to you, we invite you to speak to God. Because if Jesus is the Messiah, don't you owe it to yourself to find out? Read more about Yeshua at

Blog Fri, 23 May 2014 02:30:43 +0000
The Dirty Dozen: 12 Questions and Answers from Jews for Jesus

We have compiled a dozen frequently asked spiritual questions for Jewish seekers. Number 5, "What proof do you have that Jesus was the messiah," has some of the highest traffic from our whole website. What questions you might like to see included or answered in the next version of this compilation? Check out the whole booklet and leave a comment for us here to let us know!

Here is what the current set addresses:

  1. Introduction
  2. Exactly what is Jews for Jesus?
  3. How can you believe in Jesus and still call yourselves Jews? Why don't you just call yourselves Christians for Jesus?
  4. Don't Christians believe in three gods?
  5. What proof do you have that Jesus was the Messiah?
  6. If Jesus was the Messiah, why isn't there peace on earth? Look at all the persecutions in the name of Jesus.
  7. How can you believe in God, let alone in Jesus, after the horrors of the Holocaust?
  8. How can you believe in the New Testament? Isn't is full of anti-Semitism and lies?
  9. So if you're still Jewish, do you carry out the Law of Moses?
  10. Jews don't believe in proselytizing, so why do you try and convert everyone to your way of thinking?
  11. I'm basically a good person and I'm very happy with my own religion, so why should I believe in Jesus?
  12. If Jesus was the Messiah, why don't the rabbis believe in him?
Blog Tue, 20 May 2014 03:09:04 +0000
Evidence for God's Existence

Check out an edition of our publication, ISSUES, "Jewish Atheism… and what God thinks about it"

Blog Thu, 15 May 2014 01:36:34 +0000
The Paradox of the Rock
The history of modern Israel holds a fascination for me, so when I came upon a television documentary on one of the heroes of early Israel, Mordechai "Motti" Hod, I found myself riveted..."


Blog Tue, 06 May 2014 07:31:03 +0000
The Christ of Marc Chagall


It recently became widely known that the favorite painting of Pope Francis is the White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall. The news stirred up considerable speculation and controversy. Chagall, born Moishe Segal in the Polish-Lithuanian village of Vitebsk (now in Belarus), was probably the most prominent Jewish painter of the twentieth century. His White Crucifixion was not new to religious controversy. It received severely disparaging reviews from Jewish critics when it was first shown in France, and more since. The work (now hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago) represents Jesus the Jew crucified between, on the left, communist soldiers storming a village and, on the right, Nazis desecrating a synagogue. The Crucified, his loins draped in a tallit, or prayer shawl, is hoisted in the middle, a victim of hatreds from left and right alike.

For Chagall, not alone among Ashkenazi artists, Jesus on the cross represented the painful predicament of all Jews, harried, branded, and violently victimized in an apparently God-forsaken world. The INRI over his head is translated by Chagall into Hebrew, “Yeshua Hanotzri Melech Hayehudim.” In the foreground, fleeing, is a peasant wearing a German placard reading “Ich bin Jude.” Below, front and center, a sense of the whole scene as a horrific modern altarpiece is created by a candelabrum—not a menorah but a six-candled candelabrum in which one of the candles has been quenched. Explicit use of classic Jewish images, the vivid presence of modern-day horrors: Many have found the White Crucifixion a disturbing work, and not just pious Jews. For it to be singled out for admiration by a reigning pontiff is remarkable.

Bloggers have commented on the pope’s singular admiration of this painting. Some Catholics fear that he has betrayed a kind of “ecumenical syncretism”; others hope for a shift toward religious pluralism. Some Jewish commentators think the pope does not understand the uniquely Jewish—and, for them, even anti-Christian—character of the painting. Others welcome what seems to be his appreciation of a commonality in the face of evil too long neglected. We can have no doubt that the juxtapositions of Jewish and Christian symbols are unsettling. The burden of history remains heavy. The hope for deliverance from its antagonisms and agonies is strong.

Much is in the eye of the beholder. Chagall himself claimed that this dramatic use of the central symbol of Christian faith did not make it a Christian painting. Nevertheless, as he himself also said, his juxtaposition was a deliberate invitation to reflect on the meaning of the cross. And indeed, he painted many such images. In his Yellow Crucifixion (1943), for example, completed in New York after Solomon Guggenheim and his wife Irene got him out of France, he presents a double subject, pairing a huge suspended Torah with another crucified Jew. The crucified figure has tefillin, the ritual phylacteries put on by Jewish men for daily prayer, on his forehead and strapped to his outstretched arm, but also a Christian halo. This painting, too, is a deliberate juxtaposition of the Atonement in both Jewish and Christian versions. This past year, when the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross coincided with Yom Kippur (the last time was 1899, the year of Chagall’s bar mitzvah, when, he tells us, he discovered he was an artist), Chagall’s work acquired for me an added resonance.

I do not presume to put words into the mouth of the bishop of Rome, or to claim to have access to his thoughts. I do want to propose that his declared affection for Chagall’s juxtaposition of the Jewish people as the suffering servant and Jesus as the crucified redeemer suggests a deep identification with the suffering of the Jews, which he perhaps includes in his contemplation of the cross. It also invites reflection on the time in which we live, in particular on the fate of those who are daily being martyred around the world. As people fortunate enough to live far away from the horrors of religious violence, anaesthetized as we are by technologies and amusements, we seem able to banish from our minds the incessant slaughter of those elsewhere who are killed simply because of their faith. But there are indeed places today as inflamed and deadly for Christians as the scene surrounding the central figure in the White Crucifixion. As the Canadian Jewish poet Seymour Mayne put it to me after an atrocity some years ago: “Last time, Saturday people; this time, Sunday people.” Or, it seems, perhaps as Chagall intuited, both together.

Though he escaped the worst himself, Chagall was haunted. It was after he learned about Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) that he painted the White Crucifixion. But as he worked on it, he also wrote out his grief and fears in poems. Years later, in the mid-1960s, he sent a selection of these poems, some with line drawings in their margins, to the Yiddish journal Di Goldene Keyt (The Golden Chain) in Tel Aviv. In one, a Jewish man is on his knees, hands reaching toward a large rooster, for Chagall a kind of signature. (A rooster is often found in Chagall’s crucifixion paintings, probably because it was traditionally sacrificed on the eve of Yom Kippur.) Opposite this drawing is his remarkable poem “Mayne Trern” (My Tears). In four stanzas, each four lines, he utters a cri de coeur. Translated, the last stanza reads:

I carry my cross every day,
I am led by the hand and driven on,
Night darkens around me.
Have you abandoned me, my God? Why?

Chagall engaged in a weekly study of Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, in Hebrew. His command of biblical idiom was fluent, as his recollection here of Psalm 22:1—though in Yiddish—shows (“Hastu mir verlatzen, mein Gott? Fer was?”). But the first line in the stanza, the allusion to Luke 9:23, reveals also a knowledge of the New Testament. Here, as in his paintings, the two testaments are drawn together in a personal expression of spiritual distress.

His parents and his beloved first wife Bella were from Hasidic families, and he refers lovingly to the Hasidic rabbi from Mohileff as having “the greatest influence” on him. Yet there is little evidence to suggest he went to shul during his sojourn in Russia, France, or briefly (1943–48) in the United States. Instead, it seems he hoped his art itself would be salvific. His spiritual exercise, as he put it, was “to breathe my sigh into my canvases, the sigh of prayers and sadness, the prayer of salvation, of rebirth.”

We do not look into the heart of an artist for analytical theological warrant. He is not a religious pedagogue or pulpit preacher. In Chagall, we may more reasonably look for moving power, symbols of transcendence, perhaps reasons of the heart, gestures of hope—or despair—for a fractured, atomized world. Chagall was a lifelong friend of Raïssa Maritain, like him raised in a Yiddish-speaking orthodox Jewish community, but who along with her husband Jacques converted to Christianity in 1906. She said that Chagall shows us “Christ étendu à travers le monde perdu,” Christ spread across the lost world.

For Chagall, images of hope tinged with despair, of joyous celebration in the face of death, remained in the foreground of his essentially Jewish religious imagination. No artist of modernity so happily represents marriage on his canvases (as in his life)—marriage as a good and symbolic of a higher good. And he did so despite pogroms, the Russian Revolution, and two world wars, which so often impinged on his canvases. But he also reflected on the darker elements of Jewish experience, characteristically framing them in the light of the biblical story.

Among the most memorable Jewish narratives is the Akedah, the account of the almost-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22. Chagall came back to this scene many times, gradually moving from darkness to light. His early treatments illuminate his later crucifixion paintings in a distinctive way. In 1931, while he was working on his celebrated Bible etchings for art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1931–39, 1952–56), he first showed a naked Isaac stretched out for ritual slaughter, Abraham with his knife raised, and the angel pointing to a ram caught not in “a thicket,” as the usual reading depicts, but in the roots of a tree. He also painted this rendering of the Akedah in oil and guache on paper, just as he did with many of the other etchings done for Vollard. The shading of this work is almost as dark as the ink of the etching. Then he did another painting, still more disturbing, of Abraham and Isaac going in the predawn darkness up Mount Moriah, the boy carrying wood for the sacrifice in a sack over his shoulder. Abraham’s knife gleams in the light of his candle, grimly against the dull chiaroscuro, the black, brown, and ochre of the rest of the scene.

Whether or not he attended synagogue services, Chagall would have known from his youth that the text read from Genesis 22 in the morning service was conventionally moralized and read to refer to Jewish martyrdom, the supreme act of sacrifice in loyalty to God’s covenant. It was inherently a somber, troubling narrative, a painful mystery at the heart of Jewish experience. Yet when he returned to the subject again in 1964–66, he abandoned ink and chiaroscuro, doing instead several sketches and studies in pastels on paper. The colors and figures are not somber but red and blue with touches of gold. All the original elements are present, but now there is a background scene not previously to be found, showing in the far distance a crucifixion with figures of mourners.

The juxtaposition of the sacrifice of Isaac with the Passion of Christ is familiar to Christians. We have from early times seen the Akedah and the divinely provided substitute ram for the sacrifice as prefiguring the Crucifixion of Christ. While I do not presume that Chagall knew patristic exegesis, he might readily have seen this juxtaposition in stained glass or, perhaps, in something like the Biblia Pauperum on exhibit at the Musée de Cluny. It is abundantly clear that Chagall had “eyes to see.”

He also had “ears to hear.” Multilingual, he spoke not only the Lithuanian-inflected Polish of his birthplace but also Yiddish and Russian—he wrote poetry in both—and French, the language in which he wrote the story of his early life. He learned the Bible in Hebrew through a method by which the text takes on life through oral recitation, aural reception, and memory. It is also therefore entirely possible that his familiarity with the verbal texture of the Akedah in its original Hebrew provoked word associations when he was reading the New Testament, just as his knowledge of Psalm 22:1 may have encouraged the combination of Jewish and Christian elements that make the White Crucifixion so powerful.

Whether he was reading in French, Polish, or Russian translations, he would have encountered the final words of Jesus from the Cross, always left printed in their original Hebrew: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani.” Jesus was quoting Psalm 22:1—the verse echoed in Chagall’s poem where he translated the verb a-zabtani as verlatzen, “forsaken.” The same verb appears in Genesis 22:13. Abraham looks up and sees a ram “ne’echaz ba-sbach b’kamav”—caught in the thicket by its horns. The Hebrew is a bit richer than our standard translation, however. The root for the verb describing the ram’s condition, sbach / tzvach, conveys distressed abandonment.

There is a visual hint that Chagall connected the last words of Jesus from the cross with the ram “hung up on the thicket.” His ram is entangled not in a thicket, as in the depiction of so many Christian painters, but in the roots of a tree, evoking the upright span of wood so central to the Christian imagination. Whatever Chagall’s prompt, the intertextual echo in Hebrew is here clearly given artistic form. Yet his distinctive typology is a reversal of Christian convention. The almost-sacrifice of Isaac is foregrounded; Christ on the Cross, the tree of new life, is the background, a poignant midrash on its Jewish meaning.

However we contemplate the Christ of Marc Chagall, whether in the light of early twentieth-century Jewish intellectual appropriations of Jesus as a type of all suffering Jews or in the light of Chagall’s personal identification with the one he called “my Christ” in one of his letters, his verbal and visual universalizing of biblical narrative in a way that juxtaposes the Jewish and Christian stories of sacrifice and redemption is unique in modern art.

Today dark clouds are again on the horizon. Jewish voices are sounding the alarm for Christians, often with greater clarity than do we for those to whom we are joined in baptism. In these times, our times, is it surprising that a spiritually sensitive pontiff should be drawn to such a prophetic exponent of our interwoven story? Passover and Easter are always proximate. Perhaps the time is ripe for more of us to contemplate the Christ of Marc Chagall.

David Lyle Jeffrey is Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities in the Honors College of Baylor University. 

From First Things is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life ]]> Blog Tue, 29 Apr 2014 01:40:10 +0000