Zvi Mar/Apr 2008
I live in a neighborhood in Jerusalem where many Russian immigrants live. I have lived in this home 34 years, but many of them arrived recently and do not go to synagogue. So the rabbis teach volunteers how to go door-to-door to encourage these immigrants to attend synagogue.
Most of the people here know me. But these volunteers do not. So they come to me also. Several knocked on my door recently, and I invited them in. The first question they ask is always the same: “Do you pray every day?”
I said, “Yes, I do.”
But my answer did not satisfy them. “We can see for ourselves that this is not so because you do not even cover your head,” one said. “How can you worship God without covering your head?”
This attitude was nothing new to me. The ultra-Orthodox always wear yarmulkes (skullcaps). “Is it so important to cover the head in order to worship God?” I asked. “Many of those who cover their heads in Israel are in jail.”
They also asked me if I keep kosher and have a prayer book. “Why do you ask these things?” I replied.
“Because they are most important in our faith. Do you have a prayer book? How can you pray without a prayer book?”
I listened to all their questions and then decided it was time to give my answers. I asked them if they were ready to listen, and they said yes. So I began.
“Where is it written in the Bible that you cannot pray without a prayer book?It is clearly written in Deuteronomy 6 what we must do when we come before the Lord and how to be holy before Him.”
“You want to teach us how to be holy!” one declared. “You? You? You do not even have a prayer book at home!”
“I read the Bible,” I replied. “And I believe what is written there. And it is not written that you must come before the Lord with your prayer book. It is clearly written how you must come before the Lord: ‘with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.’ The Lord said, ‘These words which I command you today shall be in your heart’ [Dt. 6:5–6].
“And it is our obligation to teach these things to our children. These prayer books that the rabbis have written, do they enable you to enter heaven? You say you are holy, but you do not follow what is written in God’s Holy Word. Instead of telling people to read the Bible, you tell them they need prayer books and lead them far from the right way to the Lord. God’s Word is eternal. It is written in Psalm 119, ‘Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven’” (v. 89).
Then the men became nervous. “You are not like the others we speak to,” one said. “How do you know all these things?”
“I do not read Jewish commentaries,” I said. “I read the Bible. It is very clear. It is written in Deuteronomy 6:13, ‘You shall fear the Lᴏʀᴅ your God and serve Him.’” They became inquisitive and wanted to know more.
“How did you come to all this? You do not even have forelocks [ultra-Orthodox men wear side curls called payis], but you say you are faithful to the Lord.” These men could not understand how someone like me knew what is written in the Bible.
“First of all,” I said, “you go to people and do not teach them what is right. You do not bring them closer to the Lord but make them more distant from Him. Look here in our home. We do not have a big stack of commentaries; many of them even contradict the Bible.”
Now they became extremely serious and wanted to know more. So I read Deuteronomy 6:14: “You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you.” I tried to explain that doing what others around you do is not always right. We must do what God says. Others may be wrong. But God’s Word is never wrong.
Then one asked, “Do you go to Christians and tell them the same as you tell us?”
“Christians,” I replied, “do not need me to say such things because they do not put their faith in commentaries. They believe only what is written in the Holy Bible.”
“You must believe as they do,” one replied. “Do you also believe in This Man [Jesus]?”
“I certainly do not believe as you do, that everyone who comes with a long beard and with his head covered is holy.”
“Now we know with whom we have spoken!” one said. They understood that I believe in Jesus.
“Our home is always open to you, and you will always be welcome,” I replied. Before they left, I read them Isaiah 53. “What do you think about it?” I asked.
Sadly, I received the same answer I always receive: “We will have to ask our rabbi.”
I pointed to my Bible and replied, “Here I have the answer. This is enough for me. And if you will believe the Lord according to the Bible, this will be enough for you too.”