Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Secret Of The Scarlet Thread

A little Talmudic mysticism for you, here on a Sunday evening, and, of course, the beginning of Yom Kippur (Thanks to Olivia for sending this over to me):

The Talmud, a gigantic library of ancient Rabbinic commentary, is composed of the Mishnah, a legal commentary on the Torah codified around 120 AD, and the Gemara, a commentary on the Mishnah, which was finalized around 400 - 500AD. A multitude, if not a majority, of the traditions recorded in these texts, however, existed in the time of Yeshua, and represent major influential currents in the theology of Judaism in the Second Temple period. As such, the Talmud is absolutely indispensable to the study of the New Testament. In recent years, a flurry of modern scholarship, both Jewish and Christian, has rapidly developed in this field, and numerous articles and books have been published on the subject. Contained within the Talmud, and even throughout the entire scope of Rabbinic literature, a large number of striking parallels to the New Testament emerge, illuminating the ancient understanding of the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth, and opening a window into the text of the Gospels and writings of Shaul of Tarsus. In the midst of this connection between the Talmud and the New Testament, a scarlet thread has ignited a new facet of an ancient debate.

The controversial scarlet thread figures prominently in the center of miraculous events that took place in the Second Temple. The Talmud records the Yom Kippur Temple ritual concerning the thread, and the miracles surrounding it:

"R. Nahman b. Isaac said it was the tongue of scarlet’, as it has been taught: ‘Originally they used to fasten the thread of scarlet on the door of the [Temple] court on the outside.28 If it turned white the people used to rejoice,29 and if it did not turn white they were sad. They therefore made a rule that it should be fastened to the door of the court on the inside. People, however, still peeped in and saw, and if it turned white they rejoiced and if it did not turn white they were sad. They therefore made a rule that half of it should be fastened to the rock and half between the horns of the goat that was sent [to the wilderness]’. . . . If you assume It was R. Johanan b. Zaccai [who made the rule], was there in the days of R. Johanan b. Zaccai a thread of scarlet [which turned white]? Has it not been taught: ‘R. Johanan b. Zaccai lived altogether a hundred and twenty years. For forty years he was in business, forty years he studied, and forty years he taught’, and it has further been taught: ‘For forty years before the destruction of the Temple the thread of scarlet never turned white but it remained red’. Further, the statement of the Mishnah is, ‘After the destruction of the Temple R. Johanan b. Zaccai made a rule’. [What says] the other [to this]? — During those forty years that he studied his status was that of a disciple sitting before his teacher, and he would offer a suggestion and make good his reasons."

(28) After the High Priest had performed the service on the Day of Atonement. V. Yoma, 67a.(29) This being a sign that their sins had been forgiven.Rosh HaShanah 31b, Babylonian Talmud, Soncino Press Edition

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day in all of Judaism, and was central to the kapparah (covering) of the sins of Israel. The scarlet thread, as explained in the above passage, miraculously turned white if Adonai accepted the sacrifice, thus indicating that He forgave the sins of the people. If the thread did not turn white, then they were sad, as their sins were not forgiven.

This section in the Talmud divides this time into three periods of 40 years, coinciding with the life of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. A similar division of years is applied to Moshe, and Rabbi Akiva. Leading up to the last set of forty years when the scarlet thread ceased altogether, the miracle only sporadically occurred. What is extremely significant, or "coincidental", is that the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Yeshua of Nazareth, whom a first-century apocalyptic sect of Judaism believed was the Messiah, was crucified circa 30 AD. The "coincidence" and controversy is now obvious, the scarlet thread finally ceased turning white around the time Yeshua was crucified.

Rabbi Tovia Singer, of Outreach Judaism, an anti-missionary group, has attempted to refute this understanding of the text. He attempts to make a point about hypocrisy of "Hebrew Christians" who disparage the Oral Torah, and then change positions when it fits their agenda.

In regard to the importance, or "coincidence" regarding the scarlet thread, Rabbi Singer, argues against the connection to Yeshua's crucifixion noting how Christians have "misused" this Talmud quote, and taken it out of context. Recounting a story of a pastor who "excitedly" expounded this section of the Talmud to his congregation, who were so "spellbound" their faces turned pale, he asserts,

"Had any one of the parishioners in the audience gone to the local library and examined this entire section of the Talmud, they would have quickly realized that this quote had been misapplied and misused."Tovia Singer, Outreach Judaism, "Why Did the Red Ribbon on the Head of the Scapegoat turn White in 30 C.E.?"

Years ago, when I first became aware of this text, I was aware of this possibility, so I actually looked Rosh HaShanah 31b up in a local Jewish temple. I then purchased Tractate Sanhedrin, and then eventually the entire Talmud. Rabbi Singer's statement is totally inaccurate. There is NOTHING in the surrounding areas of this texts that indicate it has in any way been misused. As we did to Rosh HaShanah 31b above, we will quote the entire section relevant to the scarlet thread, and then let the reader decide:

"Our Rabbis taught: Throughout the forty years that Simeon the Righteous ministered, the lot [‘For the Lord’] would always come up in the right hand; from that time on, it would come up now in the right hand, now in the left. And [during the same time] the crimson-coloured strap12 would become white. From that time on it would at times become white, at others not. Also: Throughout those forty years the westernmost light13 was shining, from that time on, it was now shining, now failing; also the fire of the pile of wood kept burning strong,14 so that the priests did not have to bring to the pile any other wood besides the two logs,15 in order to fulfill the command about providing the wood unintermittently; from that time on, it would occasionally keep burning strongly, at other times not, so that the priests could not do without bringing throughout the day wood for the pile [on the altar]. . . . Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until R. Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekal, Hekal, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself?5 I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee:6 Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.7

12) Which was tied between the horns of the bullock. If that became white, it signified that the Holy One, blessed be He, had forgiven Israel's sin. Cf. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow (Isa. I, 18, Rashi).
Yoma 39b, Babylonian Talmud, Soncino Press Edition

Contrary to Singer's assertion, there is nothing in the above selection that would lead any of the "parishioners" to think differently about the way their pastor "excitedly expounded" it. It is important to note that the miracle of the thread turning white was a sporadic occurrence, yet something still happened to cause the miracle to cease completely 40 years before the destruction of the Temple.

There is more, much, much more. Go read it for yourself.

I often wonder why Jews and Christians are so convinced that we practice a different religion, and then, I read things like this, and I recognize that until the Last Days when the blinders are taken off both the Jews, and my fellow Christians, none of us are going to be able to resolve these differences.

Until then, I'm going to sit here and tell you, I know for sure that we worship the same God, and that He is simply working His plan for our separate groups, in separate ways. Too bad the result of us not understanding His plan is that we too often condemn each other.

Today, being Yom Kippur the day when we are supposed to confess our sins to the Lord, and ask for His forgiveness, I propose we ask to be forgiven for condemning each other at times when we simply don't understand each other.

Now, in our world, more than ever, we Christians need the Jews, and the Jews need us Christians. I hope we will work together.

I know it's the wrong Holiday to say this, but, what have such considerations ever stopped me before? Next year, in Jerusalem.

And, let me leave you with some words from George Bush (via Atlas Shrugs):

"Yom Kippur is a solemn time to express thanksgiving that the Almighty remembers the names of all His children," said a White House statement issued in the name of the president and First Lady.

"During this blessed Day of Atonement, Jewish people gather in synagogues, consider their deeds and actions and celebrate as the sound of the Shofar proclaims the forgiveness and mercy shown by the Creator of life.

"As the High Holy Days come to an end, the Jewish people in America and around the world remind us of the gift of religious freedom and the blessings of God's steadfast love. On Yom Kippur and throughout the year, your deep commitment to faith helps make the world a more hopeful and peaceful place."