My Journey to Authentic Judaism

My Journey to Authentic Judaism
by Lori Kistler Harrell
March 2015

I have always been a person who was searching. I have always needed a real, authentic connection to Gd, but I didn’t have anything close to that when I was very young. My mother, (who was Jewish but I didn’t know it until many years later), was very unstable in her religious life…well, in her life in general. I remember quite a few different places of worship during my time with her. Looking back, I believe she was searching, too.

But my time with her was to be very, very short. At nine, my dad was given custody of my younger sister and me. His religion/denomination of choice was Methodist. He had married a Methodist woman a few years before we moved in with him so I really don’t know if he was raised in Methodism or just going in that direction to be with his wife. When we first moved in with him, however, our church/religion was just called Protestant. That’s how things were done in the Azores, Portugal. No denominations there, just Protestant, Catholic or Jewish. It was not until we moved to Mississippi when I was twelve that we actually became a part of a Methodist church. (I guess you can see that my family isn’t very big on our history.)

I stayed with Methodism until college. There, I joined the Baptist Student Union, (BSU), mostly because the Methodist presence on campus was fairly non-existent, and a local Baptist church, mostly because of my friends. In addition to my Baptist-ness during college, I was introduced to a charismatic form of worship. This came wrapped in a contemporary Christian singer named Keith Green. I loved his music and I loved his ‘story’ even more: he was a Jew who had converted to Christianity. That was fascinating to me. I ‘got saved’ at one of his concerts. I was 18 years old. But now, having been introduced to a more enthusiastic way to worship, I was no longer content with the Methodist or Baptist church. So, I kept searching.

At about 23 years old, I was invited to an AG congregation by a coworker. (I was a paramedic by that time. That info is not really relevant to my topic but I wanted to mention it anyway.) Talk about a culture shock for me at THAT church! DANG! But I wanted to stay even though my knuckles had turned ghostly white from my death-grip on the pew in front of me. So I stayed….for about five years. I stayed until Dwayne and I got married when I was 28. Since we were now married, I started going with him to an ‘interdenominational’ church where he was the co-pastor and music minister.

(Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list of the congregations or denominations that I frequented through the years. This is just a sampling so I can get to the good stuff.)

Sometime after Dwayne and I got married, 1991, but well before our twins were born, 1997, we started to feel that we were missing something in our worship. Mind you, we were completely committed to Christ and Christianity. No ‘lukewarm’ stuff for us. We, together and individually, had been ‘all in’ for many, many years. But something was missing. One day, Dwayne said something like, “Since Jesus was Jewish, we should worship like he did.” Our understanding, at that point, was that we needed to be worshiping on Saturday, the Biblical Sabbath according to The 10 Commandments. We found a congregation in Mobile, AL, and began our journey together. For the first few years, we attended only occasionally. Then, in December, 1999, we made it our full time Friday and Saturday congregation in addition to our full time responsibilities to the church on Sunday and Wednesday. Unfortunately, Dwayne didn’t get to be a part of this journey for very long. He died in April, 2000…. just four months after our “full time” decision had been made.

My twins and I stayed very involved in “messianic” congregations for the next six years. Even though I was seeing many issues with this “minority within a minority” belief system, we stayed. (In case you’re wondering, one of the things we were taught is that ‘messianic’ is a part of Judaism. Since Judaism is a minority in the numbers game in The Big Three Religions, messianic is a minority within that minority. However, messianic is NOT Judaism or any part of it. It is Christianity. Period. I may discuss more on that later. Maybe. We’ll see.)

As I mentioned, I was seeing SO many problems with the beliefs of my congregation. Though I was seeing problems, I was so afraid to deal with them. But the questions that kept creeping into my every thought just wouldn’t let up. Things just didn’t add up. Why do I CONSTANTLY have to make excuses for what I believe? Why is it so hard to explain my beliefs? Why am I shying away from being completely honest with myself and others when I’m asked about what I believe? Am I being deceitful to the Jews because I believe in Jesus? Or am I being deceitful to the Christians, saying I’m not the same as them because I use different words to mean the same thing? As “messianics”, we were taught that everything in the “Old Testament” is still valid but with the “New Testament” revelation. There is no way that that can be possible. UGH!!!

Anyway, with all of my doubts still intact, we moved to New Mexico and found a messianic congregation in Rio Rancho and continued with life.

But early into our time in NM, about three weeks to be exact, we had the opportunity to visit some other congregations in our new area. We began to learn more and more about Judaism. Real, authentic Judaism. Judaism that doesn’t have to make excuses for the beliefs. It just makes sense. Questions that can actually be answered….none of the “you just have to accept it by faith” answers. These are WRITTEN-IN-TORAH ANSWERS!!!

Once I was willing and able to swallow my fear, I started getting answers. Real answers. I found congregations and websites and people who had walked a very similar path. People like Penina Taylor and Ira Michaelson and Rod Bryant, just to name a few. I was also meeting people like Rabbi Tovia Singer and Rabbi Stuart Federow, (and, thank Gd, many more), who have dedicated their lives to helping Jews and non-Jews see the truth. GD IS SOOOO AWESOME! HE NEVER GIVES UP ON HIS PEOPLE!!! WHOOOOO HOOOOOOO!!!

I’m going to let that be the end of my ‘history’ for now and just answer/respond to ten questions or statements that have been asked over the last six years. (I am stating that 2009 was the year that I left Christianity/messianic/etc. completely, but the doubts as to its legitimacy started long before that.)

P.S. Just to let you know, when I use the name Jesus, I am referencing all of the now-common, or even uncommon, other spellings as well. I am NOT going to get into any discussions and/or arguments that Jesus and Yeshua/Y’shua/Y’hoshua, etc., etc., etc., are different. It doesn’t matter how that name is spelled or if you want to worship him on Saturday or Sunday. SAME GUY! (It doesn’t matter if you spell my name Lorene, Lori, Laurie, Lauri, Lorie, etc., or if you only knew me from Spokane, WA, or Pascagoula, MS, or Mobile, AL, or Rio Rancho, NM, or the Azores, Portugal, I am the same person. Get it?)

Also, I am going to quote Rabbi Stuart Federow and Rabbi Tovia Singer in quite a few places. If I just keep writing from my heart, I will NEVER get this to the people who have requested “my story” to be in writing. Also, I suck at finding the verses that I want to reference….and these Rabbis have many of them ready for me to cut and paste! (insert cheesy grin here)

Q #1: NOOOOOOO, LORI!!! I know you’ve been hurt by evil people and by the death of your husband, but DON’T GIVE UP ON JESUS!!!
A #1: I didn’t give up…..I opened up. My journey to authentic Judaism has been a long one. LOTS and LOTS of studying. Countless hours of studying. No decisions based on emotions because of the actions of others. My decisions were based on my own praying and my own studying. No one to “blame” but me. Please, PLEEEEEEASE stop trying to invalidate my walk and subsequent decisions by stating things like that. Or, another one of my favorites, “Dwayne died and Lori went crazy”. Comments like these are not fair. And they are not true.

Q #2: Lori, you know you’ve traded your eternal salvation for Hell, right?
A #2: Not true, but that is the most well known of Christian doctrines. I know the penalty of rejecting Jesus according to Christianity is Hell. And, even worse, is that there is absolutely no hope for someone who turns their back on Jesus after they once knew him. (I know that much of Christianity gets around that by saying that NO one who ever REALLY believed would ever walk away. Therefore, if someone does turn away, they were never REAL believers.) But I, and Gd, say that it is possible for a believing, thinking, intelligent, loving, caring, compassionate person, widow of a pastor, to come to a different conclusion. It is possible for this same person, to trust Gd enough, to take Him at His word…..literally. I no longer need “only faith” to interpret the word of Gd. I admit that I did have to get past that fear of going to Hell, though. That is a powerful, VERY powerful fear tactic that Christianity has in place. Pretty powerful, indeed. But, since that belief has no basis in scripture, I did get past it. Thank Gd!

Q #3: So, Lori, do you REALLY think that you were wrong for all of your Christian years? How can that possibly be?
A #3: That “being wrong” issue is another toughy, to be sure. I do not believe that any human looks forward to being proven wrong. It is a humbling place. It can even be fairly devastating. But I WAS WRONG. And, I gotta tell ya, considering that you could possibly, just maybe, be wrong, is really a great place to start.

Q #4: Did I do something or hurt you in some way? I am SO sorry if I did, but PLEASE do not walk away from G-D because of me!
A #4: First: No, you didn’t do anything. No human has that power over me. Second: I don’t think that there are too many people out there who delve deeper into a “more strict” religion just to get back at the one who caused the pain. That really doesn’t make sense on any level.
And, for the sake of clarification, I did not walk AWAY from Gd. I walked away from a complete misunderstanding of who Gd really is.

Q #5: Lori, Jesus was our perfect sacrifice. You KNOW that.
A #5: Here’s why that’s wrong as stated by Rabbi Stuart Federow: Most Christians identify the messiah as Jesus, define him as Gd incarnate, and believe he died for the sins of humanity as a blood sacrifice. This requires that one accepts the concept of vicarious atonement. However, this idea is the opposite from what is written in Deuteronomy 24:16 – “Fathers shall not be put to death because of sons, nor shall sons be put to death because of fathers; each man shall be put to death for his own sin” — also expressed in Exodus 32:30-35 and Ezekiel 18. The mainstream Christian idea of the messiah also assumes that Gd wants, and will accept, a human sacrifice. After all, it was either Jesus-the-human or Jesus-the-divine who died on the cross. Jews, and presumably, Christians, believe that Gd cannot die, and so all that Christians are left with, in the death of Jesus on the cross, is a human sacrifice. However, in Deuteronomy 12:30-31, Gd calls human sacrifice an abomination, and something He hates: “for every abomination to the Etrnl, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.” All human beings are sons or daughters, and any sacrifice to Gd of any human being would be something that Gd would hate. Therefore, the Christian conception of the messiah consists of ideas that are completely unbiblical.

Q #6: Lori, Christianity is the revelation of Gd’s love to mankind. The ‘Old Testament’ has been fulfilled by Jesus. You know Jesus even said that he didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it!
A #6: Hmmmmm. Nope. Have you ever wondered why Judaism was the “right” religion before Jesus? Every Christian believes that the “Old Testament” WAS valid, WAS right, WAS the way to worship Gd. Isn’t it a bit concerning that in a split second of time and without any warning from the faith that was right for so many years before….. is now completely wrong? (And, no…..Isaiah 53 is about Israel–not Jesus.) How can the way of life, aka Torah/Tanach/Hebrew Scriptures, now be completely wrong and/or insignificant? This just doesn’t make any sense. Look at Deut 4:2 – “Do not add to the word which I command you, nor diminish from it, to observe the commandments of the Lrd your Gd which I command you.” Sounds like the entire ‘New Testament’ needs to be called into question. Looks like a whole bunch of stuff, as in an entire doctrine, was added CENTURIES after Torah!

Q #7: Lori, you know that all you need is faith. Why have you lost your faith in Jesus? Millions have been saved because of him!
A #7: If ALL we have to have is faith, then what makes Christianity/messianic/etc., any better or different than any other religion out there? Every religion requires faith. Even the Christian bible states in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto Gd, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Seems to me that there should be some studying, (aka, facts), going hand in hand with the faith.

In Judaism, unlike all of the other major religions, a well documented national revelation was given at Mt. Sinai. An entire NATION heard the words that were spoken by Gd. Judaism doesn’t have to rely on the belief that one or two people who “heard from Gd” were telling the truth. Judaism actually has MORE than faith!!! (Pause for a moment and think about the Virgin Birth story. Imagine that happening in today’s world. A young girl is pregnant and she swears that she “didn’t do anything!” Would you believe her when she said this baby came in an immaculate way? There are no witnesses to stand in court with her, affirming her truthfulness. You just have to take her word for it…and have faith that she’s telling the truth.)

Q #8: Lori, you know Jesus is our Mediator, right?
A #8: Well, I know that that is what the Christian bible states, 1 Timothy 2:5-6 “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who game himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” But that completely contradicts Hebrew scriptures…Ezekiel 18:27-28 “Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all his transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die…”. No requirement to go “through Jesus”.

Q #9: John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me”. How can you get around that?
A #9: Nope. The WAY was set out long before Jesus. Deuteronomy 30:15 states, “See, I set before you TODAY life and prosperity, death and destruction”. Deuteronomy 30:19 states, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now CHOOSE life, so that you and your children may live”. Isaiah 55:7, “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon”.

Q #10: Jesus is the Messiah! His lineage matches the requirements of the Messiah. Haven’t you seen that already?
A #10: This whole answer is going to be copied from Rabbi Stuart Federow, who has summed up this issue quite nicely:

How have we Jews, who invented the term, always defined the term ‘messiah?’ Our definition is based on Scripture:

1. The Messiah is born of two human parents. But Jesus, according to Christian theology, was born of the union between a human woman and Gd, as were many other pagan deities; Mithra, Adonis, Dionysis, Attis, Ra, and many others. They were all born in the Winter, died in the Spring, and came back to life.

2. The Messiah can trace his lineage through his human biological father, back to King David (Isaiah 11:1,10; Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:21-28; Jeremiah 30:7-10; 33:14-16; Hosea 3:4-5). According to Christian theology, Jesus’s father was Gd. Therefore, Jesus’ lineage does not go through his human ‘father’ — Joseph, the husband of Mary.

3. The Messiah traces his lineage only through King Solomon (II Samuel 7:12-17; I Chronicles 22:9-10). But according to Luke 3:31, Jesus was not a descendant of Solomon, but of Solomon’s half-brother Nathan. Therefore Jesus was not a descendant of King David through King Solomon, and fails this test as well.

4. The Messiah may not be a descendant of Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, or Shealtiel, because this royal line was cursed. (I Chronicles 3:15-17; Jeremiah 22:18,30). But according to Matthew 1:11-12 and Luke 3:27, Jesus was a descendant of Shealtiel.

5. The Messiah is preceded by Elijah the prophet who, together with the Messiah, unifies the family (Malachi 4:5-6). This is contradicted by Jesus himself (Matthew 10:34-37).
According to the traditional Jewish definition of the term, the Messiah will make changes in the real world, changes that one can see and perceive and be able to prove, precisely because they take place in the real world. It is for this task that the Messiah has been anointed in the first place, hence the term, messiah — one who is anointed. These perceptible changes include:

6. The Messiah reestablishes the Davidic dynasty through his own children (Daniel 7:13-14).
But Jesus had no children.

7. The Messiah brings an eternal peace between all nations, all peoples, and all people (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-4; Ezekiel 39:9). Obviously there is no peace. Furthermore, Jesus said that his purpose in coming was to bring a sword, and not peace (see Matthew 10:34, as referenced above).

8. The Messiah brings about the world-wide conversion of all peoples to Ethical Monotheism (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Zechariah 8:23; Isaiah 11:9; Zechariah 14:9,16).
But the world remains steeped in idolatry.

9. The Messiah brings about an end to all forms of idolatry (Zechariah 13:2).
But the world remains steeped in idolatry.

10. The Messiah brings about a universal recognition that the Jewish idea of Gd is Gd (Isaiah 11:9). But the world remains steeped in idolatry.

11. The Messiah leads the world to become vegetarian (Isaiah 11:6-9).

12. The Messiah gathers to Israel all of the twelve tribes (Ezekiel 36:24).

13. The Messiah rebuilds the Temple (Isaiah 2:2; Ezekiel 37:26-28).

14. After the Messiah comes, there will be no more famine (Ezekiel 36:29-30).

15. After the Messiah comes, death will eventually cease (Isaiah 25:8).

16. Eventually the dead will be resurrected (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; Ezekiel 37:12-13; Isaiah 43:5-6).

17. The nations of the earth will help the Jews materially (Isaiah 60:5-6; 60:10-12).

18. The Jews will be sought out for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23).

19. All weapons will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9,12).

20. The Nile will run dry (Isaiah 11:15).

21. Monthly, the trees of Israel will yield their fruit (Ezekiel 47:12).

22. Each tribe of Israel will receive and settle their inherited land (Ezekiel 47:13-13).

23. The nations of the earth will recognize that they have been in error, that the Jews had it right all along, and that the sins of the Gentile nations – their persecutions and the murders they committed – have been borne by the Jewish people (Isaiah 53).

These biblically-based changes in the world are very real, perceptible, noticeable, and knowable. The changes that Christianity claims were made by Jesus are not perceptible at all. They must be accepted on faith, and faith alone. How can one establish that Jesus died for one’s sins, except by faith? The changes made by the Messiah according to Judaism would be provable, but the changes made by the messiah according to Christianity can only be taken on faith.

Even Christians recognize that the changes the real Messiah will make, according to the Bible and Judaism, have not yet happened. This is why Christianity had to invent the idea of a Second Coming.

The real Messiah has no need to come a second time to do those things — he must do them the first time around in order to actually be the Messiah.

Now, a few more points before I stop writing.
Isaiah 44:6 – “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no Gd.” No first? Then there can be no “Father”. No last? There can be no “Son”.

Numbers 23:19 – “Gd is not a man that He should lie, nor a mortal that He should change His mind.” Soooo…”Gd is not a man”. That is quite clear. Add that to “Nor a mortal that He should change His mind”. With the New Testament, we now have a complete change of mind AND a new addition to Gd Himself!

3. Psalm 146:3 – “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no salvation!” There “is no salvation” in a man — salvation is ONLY in Gd.
The Trinity belief does have plenty of company, though. Take a look at……..
Babylon – Anu, Bel, and Ena.
India – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Rome – Jupiter, Pluto, and Neptune.
Greece – Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon.

Jews believe that Gd is Gd, humans are humans. Gd doesn’t become human and humans do not become Gd. It is the hallmark of idolatrous faiths to confuse Gd with human beings: either that Gd becomes human, or that humans become Gd. In Hosea 11:9, Gd explicitly tells us, ‘…for I am Gd and not a man.’

Ezekiel 18:27 – “when the wicked man turns away from his wickedness that he has committed, and does that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.”

Deuteronomy 24:16 – “Fathers shall not be put to death because of sons, nor shall sons be put to death because of fathers; each man shall be put to death for his own transgression.”

Rabbi Tovia Singer has put a few of the contradictions in a concise list. Take a look.

Something that I hope each of you will consider as you read this: Fundamentally, I have…..and have not…..changed. If you’ve had any contact with me during the last six years, you know that I haven’t become a completely different person. I still smile a lot, (probably even more), I still laugh at the stupidest things, (my kids say that I am actually a seven-year-old boy), and I still worry excessively. Just to prove that I’m ‘still Lori’, here’s a rabbit trail for you. About twelve years ago, Toni McGinnis Childress’ son, Mitchell, said to his mother, “Mom, we never have to worry about anything! As long as Mrs. Lori is in our lives, she’ll do it for us!” Rotten kid! As I said, some things in my life NEVER change.

I have lost friends because of my love and passion for the One, True, Gd. I am NOT happy about that, but I knew it was a possibility. I hope that that will not be the case with each of you. Because if you’re reading this, you are still my friend. And no matter our religious differences, I still love you just as much as ever. (I just had a thought. With the wonders of the internet and social media, it is possible for this to reach people for whom this letter was never intended. So, as a matter of full disclosure, I may not know you and/or love you….at all. Well, I guess that means that I will still love you just as much as ever! Nevermind. It’s late.)

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