Yiddishkeit by Sharon Allen
My life in 1982 was dedicated to the well-being of my family and to my activities at Chabad of Irvine Jewish Center. One can find Chabad centers in even the most remote communities of the world. I have always had a deep admiration for Chabad and that is why my husband and I supported the Chabad movement here in Southern California.
But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to go back to the beginning—my beginning.
I was born in 1945 at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. My Hebrew name is Sura Rifka. I was raised in an observant Jewish home. From the moment my mom lit the Shabbos (Sabbath) candles on Friday evening until one hour after sundown on Saturday night, there were certain rules and regulations that we followed. They did not make us feel constricted or oppressed. It was our way of showing our love, our respect, and our devotion to God.
We followed the rabbinical injunctions, such as not using electricity on the Shabbos. We would leave one light on in the hall which was turned on before Shabbos started and was left on through the night and the next day until one hour after sundown Saturday night when Shabbos was over. We were not permitted to work on Shabbos and that included my homework, since on Shabbos one is not allowed to write on, cut, or tear paper. We knew that the Shabbos was special because of what we did or did not do, and it was distinct from the other days of the week.
Of course, my mother kept a kosher kitchen where only kosher foods were permitted. Separate sets of dishes and utensils designated for milchig (dairy) or fleishig (meat) products were strictly enforced. My brother and I knew from the time we could reach up into the drawers and cabinets never to confuse those items deemed milchig and fleishig. Separate sets of dishes were also needed for Passover. Those dishes were brought out of the “hard-to-reach” top cabinet once a year to be used only on Pesach.
We observed all the Jewish holidays. My brother and I attended Hebrew School. We grew up knowing who we were within the Jewish Community.
As a young adult, I married a man from a similar Jewish background. We had a daughter, whom we named Elisa. Her Hebrew name is Chava Leah. When she was only a few years old, we divorced. We received a Jewish divorce, known as a “Get.”
I worked in the “Garment Center” in New York City. During this time Elisa attended Jewish Day School. I remember those early years when Elisa and I would wait for her school bus on cold, snowy, dark winter mornings at seven o’clock. We would huddle together freezing in the wind. It was on such a morning when I whispered to my daughter, “There has got to be a better way.”
Moving out of state seemed like a step in the right direction. Elisa had an allergy problem that was worse during the damp winter months. New York had the worst winter climate for children like her. I had heard a doctor on a talk show mention that when people with certain allergies moved to another climate, their allergies would often disappear. With those doctor’s words echoing in my ears, I sat down and made a list of the leading Garment Centers in the country. The doctor’s theory about the benefits of moving was certainly worth a try.
On August 27, 1974, Elisa and I arrived in Los Angeles, California. Almost immediately, I enrolled her in Yavneh Yeshiva because school was starting in September. She was six years old. We lived near the school in the Fairfax District, the Orthodox section of town, and became involved with the Shaari Tefillah Congregation.
In a few years, my parents moved to Los Angeles to join us, and shortly after that we moved south to Orange County. At that time there was a big real estate boom and, like many others, I decided to get my real estate license. Once I received my license, I started to work in an office owned by a man named Ron Allen. He was to become my husband.
Business Was His Religion
When Ron and I first met, he knew I was Jewish and that I was raised in an observant Jewish home. All I knew about Ron’s religious background was that he was a Protestant. He never mentioned Jesus, the New Testament, or church. If he had, I would have run in the opposite direction. Apparently, he hadn’t been to church since he was a teenager. He was 42. I was 32. Religion was the furthest thing from Ron’s mind; business was his religion.
As Ron got to know our Jewish traditions, he embraced them as his own and eagerly participated. Because of Ron’s warm and loving ways, my parents welcomed him into the family. My mother would say about Ron, “He’s so hamisha,” which in Yiddish means, “He’s so comfortable to be with.”
We were active in Chabad and became attached to the rabbi, Mendel Duchman, whom we admired and respected. Part scholar, part showman, and part businessman, Rabbi Duchman was successful in renewing peoples’ interest in the Jewish lifestyle. His wife Rochel was warm, caring, and knowledgeable. She was the picture of the young, Jewish balaboosta (conscientious, immaculate housewife), a rebbetzen’s rebbetzen (rabbi’s wife), so to speak.
Ron and I knew right away that this was where we belonged. I became very active in the Chabad women’s group.
Converting to Judaism
A few years after Ron and I were married, our discussions about his converting to Judaism turned serious. I knew that our future together could be impaired if Ron refused. Having a Jewish home and raising Elisa Jewish was foremost in my mind. For to be a successful Jew, you must ask yourself the question: “Are your grandchildren Jewish?” and be able to answer in the affirmative. When Ron legally adopted Elisa shortly after our marriage, even the adoption papers stipulated that Elisa would be raised Jewish.
In addition, consideration of burial and the afterlife for a Jew are of vital importance. As a Jew, I knew that burial in a Jewish cemetery was a must. We believe that if we are buried in a Jewish cemetery, we will roll underground all the way to Eretz Yisroel and be among the first to be resurrected. As Jews, we believe that we go to Paradise or Abraham’s Bosom. If we should accidentally wander to the “other place,” Father Abraham “pulls us back.”
The importance for me of being an observant Jew is underscored by the following story from the Talmud (Tractate Berachot 28b) about Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai on his deathbed. The rabbi’s students were shocked to find their master weeping. Asked to explain his behavior, the sage responded that if he were being taken before a king of flesh and blood whose punishment was not eternal and who could be bribed and appeased, he would still be deathly afraid; imagine how he must feel as he finds himself coming before the King of Kings, who lives forever, whose punishment is eternal and who can neither be bribed nor appeased.Moreover, two roads lay before him, the sage explained, one led to heaven and one to hell, and with such prospects, should he not be afraid?
In the January 1989 issue of the B’nai B’rith Messenger, Torah Thoughts, the Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson writes about this story: “The Talmud relates that when the great sage Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai wept before his death, he said: ‘There are two paths stretching before me, one to Gan Eden (heaven) and one to Gehinom; I know not on which I shall be led.’ It goes without saying that Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai was concerned with his spiritual status and if he had attained a sufficient level of holiness to enter heaven.”
These concerns are from a man who is credited with the survival of Diaspora Judaism and whose influence has been felt throughout the ages. Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai leaves behind him the expansion of Jewish thought and law, Babylonian Talmud, Responsa literature, Rishonim, Achronim, Chassidut, and Mussar.But he didn’t know for sure whether he was going to heaven or hell.
Is it any wonder this story got my attention? If such an eminent and renowned Torah scholar as Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai is uncertain where he is bound, it is incumbent upon us to do whatever is necessary to ensure our future fate and to be deemed worthy of Gan Eden.
Another important consideration regarding Ron’s conversion had to do with the Israeli Rabbinate who accept only Orthodox conversions. So we knew that only a kosher conversion would do.
As part of any Jewish conversion, the study of Jewish life, history, and ethics is vital. Ron was exposed to Yiddishkeit (Jewish lifestyle) in our home. I looked forward to his education with Rabbi Duchman.
Before this conversion was to take place, I wanted to make Ron aware of the three ceremonies that would be required. I explained that males needed to be circumcised, and that since he was already circumcised, the rabbi would draw a bit of blood from the penis as a symbolic gesture. It would also be necessary for him to be immersed in water in a mikvah. This is similar to baptism and symbolizes purification and identification with the Jewish people. The third ceremony, though not always done in Reformed or Conservative conversions, must always accompany an Orthodox or “kosher” conversion and that is the renouncing of a person’s prior beliefs before a Beit Din or rabbinical court (council of rabbis).
It’s So Pagan!
Ron agreed to all the ceremonies but the last one. He said he just didn’t think he could renounce Jesus.
I was horrified!
My husband had never mentioned Jesus, hadn’t been to church for more than 30 years, and had never used the words “Christian,” “Christ,” or “New Testament.” Here we were leading a Jewish life—we helped to build the synagogue, our home was used by the Jewish community, our daughter was attending Hebrew Academy—and my husband was telling me he couldn’t renounce Jesus!
I was so upset. I said to my husband, “This is crazy. You’re such a smart and logical person and such a successful businessman. How can you believe in something so pagan? It’s a fantasy. It’s like Greek mythology!”
And then in the midst of my horror came this calming thought—I’ll just begin to read the Jewish Bible and in no time at all I will be able to show my husband the Scriptures that will prove to him that Jesus could never have been the fulfillment of the Jewish Bible. I knew that everything God wanted His Jewish people to know about His Jewish Messiah, so that we Jews would recognize Him when He would come, would be in my Jewish Bible.
Is Jesus in the Jewish Bible?
I marched downstairs to the family room and took my Jewish Bible off the shelf. As I opened it that day, I prayed a very specific prayer. I prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to show me the truth and to help my husband become a Jew.
That morning as my husband went to work and my daughter to school, I began to read my Bible. I started at page one, “In the beginning,” and continued to read page after page. When my husband came home from work and my daughter from school, there I was still reading. The next morning, when my husband went to work and my daughter to school, there I was reading. When they came home again, there I was still reading. This went on for days, for weeks, and then months. I was amazed at what I found written within the pages of my Jewish Bible.
You see, every Jew feels that he basically knows what’s in his own Jewish Bible. That’s because as children we attend Hebrew School, Yeshiva, or Cheder, then as adults, we attend synagogue where we hear a portion read from the Torah and a portion from the Haftorah (the Prophets).
Within the pages of my Jewish Bible, there is much written concerning the Messiah—where He would be born, how He would live His life, the miracles He would do. The Bible also speaks of His suffering and death. It frightened me because what I read sounded very much like what I heard said about Jesus.
Whoever may be wondering if Yeshua (Jesus) appears in the Jewish Bible need only read the many passages concerning the Malach Ha Shem, The Messenger of the LORD. By carefully studying the passages concerning His appearances and how He conducts Himself, one can only deduce that this is no mere created being. He speaks as God and accepts the worship that can only be given to God Himself. And He carries in Him the ineffable name of God, the Tetragrammaton, in Hebrew, the Yud Hay Vav Hay (Exodus 23:21).
In addition, Yeshua, Jesus’ Hebrew name, means “salvation.” Everywhere in the Jewish Bible and our Jewish Holy Prayer books, whenever the word “salvation” appears, we are saying Jesus’ Hebrew name, Yeshua.
In Isaiah 49:6, the Scriptures speak of a time when the Suffering Servant would lament to God of how He had failed to restore the 12 tribes of Israel. God responds by saying, “It’s too light a thing for you to be a servant for Israel only, I will give you as a light to all the nations of the world.” In Hebrew the word “nations” is goyim. So I had to ask myself the question, When did the Messiah come and fail to bring back the tribes of Israel and then when did God give the Messiah to the goyim?
God Had a Son?
I learned that the ancient Jewish writers recognized that there are two pictures of the Messiah depicted in the pages of the Jewish Bible. They even had names for them: Moshiach Ben Yoseph (Messiah, son of Joseph)—the suffering servant Messiah, and Moshiach Ben Dovid (Messiah, son of David)—the Messiah who would come as the conquering hero.
In Proverbs 30:4 I found that God has a Son:
Who was it that ascended into heaven, and came down again? who gathered the wind in his fists? who bound the waters in a garment? who set up all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou knowest it?
Could the Rebbe Be the Messiah?
When I finished reading all the pages of my Jewish Bible, I was confused and frightened. The thought came to me, Sharon, how dare you think that you could interpret the Bible by yourself, as if you knew as much as a rabbi. But then I would think about the passages I read where God told the children of Israel to come and hear His Word for themselves (Deuteronomy 4:10, 11:1820, 4:29, and Jeremiah 29:13).
I knew I couldn’t stop there. There was too much at stake.
How could I even bear the thought of being an outcast from my people? How absurd it was to think that a man the Gentiles call Jesus Christ could be a Messiah for the Jews. So I said to myself, “Sharon, you must have missed something!”
I remembered that the rabbis say, “You cannot understand the Bible without the Jewish Commentaries.” So I bought the Rashi commentaries, the Soncino commentaries, and the latest Jewish commentaries called The ArtScroll Tanach Series by Mesorah Publications. And as I read the commentaries, the more I wanted to read. I also brought home texts from the Babylonian Talmud, the Encyclopædia Judaica, Midrash Rabbah, Mishneh Torah by Maimonides, Targum Onkelos, Targumim Jonathan, The Messiah Texts by Raphael Patai, and the Guide to the Perplexed by Maimonides. On and on I studied, day after day.
With each text I studied, I thought maybe this one will hold the answer, the key to destroying the thought that this goyishe messiah is the “real thing”—The Jewish Messiah!
All this was beginning to affect my life. When asked if I would accept a role in the leadership as next president of Chabad Women, I felt I had to decline because I was leading a double existence.
I was fully accepted by Chabad and adhered to all the traditions. I even went to a cable television station periodically to hear the Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson speak to his followers via satellite. I held this man in high esteem. He was respected and consulted by leaders of the world. All of us who listened to him believed that he spoke the truth. It always seemed in those days it could very well be true that one day it would be revealed that the Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson was the Messiah.
It is a popular belief among Chabad followers that in each generation the Messiah dwells among us, but if we are not worthy, he will not be revealed to us. So here I was listening to this Jewish leader believing that he spoke the truth and yet, at the same time, I was researching ancient Jewish material to find the truth about Jesus!
During the next few months, my home library increased. And my fears multiplied proportionately to the amount of books I accumulated.
Not To Worry
One afternoon Elisa came home from Hebrew Academy to tell me that they needed mothers to drive students to visit a kosher bakery. She asked if I could volunteer. I was glad to help. That day, while walking through the Fairfax area, I noticed that in the window of the Chabad bookstore there were some anti-missionary books on display. When no one was looking, I dashed back to the bookstore and bought every anti-missionary book available.
I was becoming more and more disturbed by my research. To this point I had studied in private. Only my family knew what I was reading. But the time had come for outside help and so I turned to my rabbi. I called Mendel and Rochel and asked them to come to my home. When they arrived we sat in the library and I showed them my books. I told them that when I read my Bible, I saw Jesus. I asked Mendel to help me.
They whispered to each other. Then they turned to me and Mendel said, “Not to worry.” He had just the man for me—a professional who works with people like myself. He would give him my phone number and the man would call me. I thanked them as they left. I felt so grateful and relieved that I was going to get the help I needed and the answers I so desperately wanted.
Two nights later I received a phone call from Rabbi Ben Tzion Kravitz. I gave him a little background about my research and explained how it began. He listened and told me not to worry. He even mentioned a videotape he possessed of people who had renounced their faith in Jesus. I told him to bring it with him when he came to my house.
It was a lovely, sunny, clear morning when Rabbi Kravitz, known as a deprogrammer, came to my house. I had prepared fresh fruit on a paper plate for the rabbi. I wanted him to know that I was familiar with the Laws of Kashrut, but would honor his hesitancy to eat anything away from his home. I did not wish to cause him any concern about what he was served.
When the rabbi arrived, I introduced him to Ron, who then retired to the upstairs where he spent the day working. Ron remained at home, not because I feared the rabbi, but because it was not appropriate for the rabbi and I to be alone.
For the next ten hours, the rabbi and I discussed the Bible, Jewish history, and tradition. The rabbi had a very modern approach to the Scriptures and I, a very traditional one. After reading the Talmud, Midrash, Targumim, and other commentaries, I wanted to talk about what our forefathers believed and what the ancient Jewish writings had to say concerning the Messiah.
Desperately Seeking the Truth
After many conversations, the rabbi suggested I talk to someone else. He recommended Gerald Sigal in Brooklyn, New York, author of The Jewish Response to Christian Missionaries. Rabbi Kravitz said he would call Mr. Sigal, tell him my situation, and let the two of us discuss various issues over the phone.
The rabbi and Mr. Sigal devised a plan. Mr. Sigal would call collect every Monday night. We would discuss various topics and then he would pose a question that I would research during the week. The following Monday I would give him the answer.
For example, one week Mr. Sigal said that the genealogy of Jesus was faulty because, in Judaism, no women were ever included in the Jewish genealogies. I was puzzled by this statement for I had recently read the long list of genealogies in First Chronicles in Historical Records of the Jewish Bible and women are mentioned in those records. The women’s names were included to further the specific knowledge needed where a father had only daughters and no sons, or when there was more than one wife or there were concubines.
Our conversations continued for some time until Mr. Sigal told Rabbi Kravitz I was “too far gone” to be helped. Rabbi Kravitz was upset with me and said I should have accepted whatever Mr. Sigal said. He accused me of not really wanting to know the truth. The rabbi didn’t understand I was desperately seeking the truth and would go to any lengths to find it. Rabbi Kravitz was probably embarrassed too because Rabbi Duchman kept asking him, “Haven’t you helped her yet?”
When I Read My Bible I See “That Man”!
A short time after this, I received a phone call from Rabbi Duchman. He told me about an internationally known deprogrammer, Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet, who would be speaking soon at my daughter’s Yeshiva. I said I would attend.
The night I heard Rabbi Schochet proved to be a turning point in my search for the truth. My family and I sat up front because my daughter was attending the academy and we felt comfortable sitting close to the speaker.
Earlier that evening Ron, Elisa, and I had decided that we would just go to listen and we wouldn’t say anything until the entire program was over. Then, and only then, would I quietly go up to the rabbi and ask him if he could help me.
The rabbi’s speech centered on the generalities of Jewish home life and the problems facing the family. He also discussed various religions and how they differed from Judaism.
After the rabbi completed his talk, he asked for questions. One person asked the rabbi what he could do to protect his children from Christian influence. The rabbi stated that if traditions were respected and followed within a Jewish home, there would be less chance for a child to go astray.
Another person expressed his concern about missionaries who wanted to teach his children about Jesus. The rabbi reiterated the value of having Jewish traditions in the home, but also stressed the importance of sending our children to Jewish day schools and Yeshivas.
The third question came from a man who asked what he should do when his child comes home asking him about Scriptures with which he as a Jewish parent is not familiar.
At this point, Rabbi Schochet grabbed the sides of the podium and shouted to the audience, “Never under any circumstances does a knowledgeable Jew ever turn to That Man!” (“That Man” being a name that Jews call Jesus when they don’t want to say His name.)
I felt the rabbi was talking directly to me so I grabbed Ron’s hand and whispered, “Should I say something?!”
And Ron said, “Yes!”
I then grabbed Elisa’s hand and whispered, “Should I say something?!”
And Elisa said, “Yes!”
So I raised my hand and asked, “Rabbi, what do you tell someone like me who knows Yiddishkeit, follows Judaism, has a Jewish home, and yet, when I read the Jewish Bible, I see That Man!!?”
With so many Jewish families and rabbis in the room, my question hit like a bombshell. For the next four or five hours until midnight, Rabbi Schochet and I discussed Yiddishkeit, Jewish customs, the Bible, and other subjects. When midnight approached, the rabbi was anxious to close the meeting, so he said what he considered to be the words that would show me and all the others in the room why Jesus could not be the promised Messiah. He shouted to the audience that Jesus committed blasphemy from the cross.
Then in an angry, mocking tone, the rabbi quoted Jesus saying, “My God, my God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?”
I was horrified at Rabbi Schochet’s tone of voice and accusation that Jesus had committed blasphemy. I told him there were many ways that Jesus could have made that statement. He could have cried out in a plaintive voice or in a pleading or beseeching voice. But Rabbi Schochet refused to see my point of view. I found it amazing that in his anger, he apparently forgot that the statement Jesus made on the cross was first said by our own beloved King David in Psalm 22. AND WOULD ANY JEW DARE TO SAY THAT DAVID COMMITTED BLASPHEMY?!
I do not profess to be a Hebrew scholar or a Bible scholar. I am only a plain, ordinary Jewish woman who loves Yiddishkeit and who just wanted to know the truth.
That night I told my husband and daughter, “I have no more doubts … Jesus is my Jewish Messiah.”
Commentary by Sid Roth
There are three major reasons some Jewish people don’t investigate the claims of Jesus as Messiah. First, the most anti-Semitic people, historically, have been those who have called themselves Christians. By definition the name “Christian” means a follower of the Messiah. Any person who is prejudiced and violent is the farthest thing from being a follower of the Messiah. These “Christians” may have worn large crosses and attended church, but their actions proved they were not followers of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace.
Second, we Jews believe in One God. Believers in the Messiah also believe in One God. But God’s essence is infinite, beyond complete comprehension. The rabbis even called Him the Eyn Sof—The One Without End. From the Scriptures, we understand our One God can manifest Himself in more than one way.
There is much evidence of this in the Torah. Did you ever wonder who was with God when He made man?—“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …” (Genesis 1:26).
My favorite passage that illustrates this unique nature is Genesis 19:24: “And the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire, from the Lord, out of heaven” (italics added). How could the Lord be in heaven and also on earth simultaneously? Why must the One true God be as limited as man?
Incidentally, I don’t pray to the Messiah, I pray to God in the Name of the Messiah. My forefathers prayed to God through the Jewish high priest. My High Priest is Jesus.
The last reason some Jewish people don’t seek after Jesus is because the rabbis tell them if they believe in Jesus, they will no longer be Jewish. But if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, there is nothing more Jewish than believing in Him. So the question is not, How can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus?, but rather, Who is Jesus?
The followers of Rabbi Schneerson could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had thought for themselves. The Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem according to our Scriptures. Rabbi Schneerson never even visited Israel!
In fact, all rabbis worldwide could save themselves a lot of trouble if they understood why Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai, the architect of modern-day rabbinic Judaism, didn’t know whether he personally would go to heaven or hell. A famous rabbi said, “If a blind man follows another blind man, won’t both fall into a ditch?”
Is there life after death? With all the books about people who have died or had near-death experiences and gone to heaven or hell, there can be little doubt. But what do our Jewish Scriptures tell us about life after death?
Daniel 12:12 says:
At that time shall thy people be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book [of life]. And many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to disgrace and everlasting abhorrence.
Only those whose names are recorded in the book of life go to everlasting life in heaven. Is your name in the book of life? If you don’t know for sure before you die, your fate is everlasting abhorrence (hell). The only way to know for sure is to know God. Not know about Him. Not just believe in Him. You must know Him. You must think for yourself.