Last night I returned from a trip to Amsterdam, Holland. I went to Amsterdam with brothers Marcelo and Matheus from Belo-Horizonte, Brazil, in order to make a short documentary film about the Jewish Community in Amsterdam in the 16-17th centuries. Amsterdam was a hub for Spanish and Portuguese Jews who escaped Portugal to get away from the Inquisition that forced them to convert to Catholicism and to abandon all traces of Jewish identity and practice. Holland at that time was entering the age of discovery and the house of Orange needed the Jews and their commercial abilities and their connections and the Dutch welcomed the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. The Jews flourished in Amsterdam and in Holland and became a formidable force in making Holland a sea-faring empire and a commercial mogul. One of the biggest synagogues in Europe is in Amsterdam and it is a 17th Century Synagogue that is named The Portuguese Synagogue. The Rabbi of this Synagogue in the 17th Century was Saul Levi Morteira. In the United States there was a idiom “Hanging Judge.” On the same scale Rabbi Morteira was an excommunicating Rabbi. He excommunicated members of his community at will and for according to his fancy. He pronounced the excommunication of Baruch Spinoza on July 27, 1656. Rabbi Morteira’s biggest fear was that the victims of the Inquisition would continue to believe in Yeshua even after they restored their Jewish identity and life style. It was the very same spirit that the Catholic Church had against the Jews. The Catholics persecuted the Jews that they forced to convert for eating kosher food or for lighting candles on Friday evening, or for keeping the Passover. Rabbi Morteira persecuted the Jews that believed and respected Yeshua as the Messiah and excommunicated them even on suspicion of faith. One of the sad cases was Uriel da Costa’s death. Uriel was born in Porto with the name Gabriel da Costa. His parents were Cristãos Novos, or New Christians, devoutly religious Christians who were forced to convert to Catholicism because of the persecution of the Jews in Spain and Portugal.
Uriel began to read the Bible while a student of canon law. He was aware that his family had Jewish origins, and in the course of his reading the Bible, he began to consider Judaism. In 1617 the whole family decided to return to Judaism.
However, in Amsterdam Uriel quickly became disenchanted with the kind of Judaism he saw in practice there. He came to believe that the rabbinic leadership was too consumed by ritualism and legalistic posturing. In 1624 he published a book titled An Examination of the Traditions of the Pharisees which questioned the fundamental idea of the immortality of the soul. Costa believed that this was not an idea deeply rooted in biblical Judaism, but rather had been formulated primarily by rabbis. The work further pointed out the discrepancies between biblical Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism; he declared the latter to be an accumulation of mechanical ceremonies and practices. In his view, it was thoroughly devoid of spiritual and philosophical concepts.
The book became very controversial and was burned publicly. Uriel Da Costa was taken to Rabbinical Court before the leadership of Amsterdam. He was accused of blasphemous views against Judaism. The Rabbinical court fined Da Costa with a very large sum of money and excommunicated him from the community. After a period of returning to the Christian community in Hamburg, Germany, Uriel returned to Amsterdam. In 1633 he sought a reconciliation with the Jewish community. He claimed that he would go back to being “an ape amongst the apes”; he would follow the Jewish Rabbinical traditions and practices.
It did not take long for Uriel to express his admiration for Yeshua on the one hand and his rationalistic and skeptical views. Uriel was a personal friend with Menashe Ben Israel a prominent and rich Jew who was one of the leaders of the Synagogue in Amsterdam and also with Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza was also excommunicated by the same Synagogue and by Rabbi Morteira. Ureil did not back off from his view that religion was a human invention. He believed that God resides in nature, which is full of peace and harmony, whereas organized religion is marked by violence and strife. Uriel da Costa dissuaded some Christians from conversion to Judaism. For the communal leadership of Amsterdam, this was the final straw. He was excommunicated again. For seven years he lived in virtual isolation, shunned by his family and loved ones. As a punishment for his heretical views, he was publicly given 39 lashes at the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. He was forced to lie on the floor while the congregation trampled over him. He was demoralized and depressed that he became suicidal. He wrote his own autobiography in 1640, and described how he was a victim of religious intolerance and when he finished writing he took a gun and shot himself. Today most cities in Holland have at least one street or monument called “Da Costa” in memory of this young man who died because he stood with faith in the Biblical truth and refused to bow down to man’s inhumanity to man and religious intolerance. Da Costa understood Yeshua as a liberator from human religious meanness and the abuse of man in the name of God. No sane human being can justify suicide under any circumstances. When I think of Uriel Da Costa and others who did not compromise their understanding of the truth and tried to live as Jews and as disciples of Yeshua in world of religious bigotry and dogma based hate, I think of the great contribution that being a Jewish Disciple of Yeshua has brought to the world. If Uriel Da Costa would be alive hopefully he would have found an honorable place in a Messianic Jewish Congregation. At least I can speak in the name of Netivyah and the Roeh Israel Congregation in Jerusalem, all the Uriel Da Costas of the world would be welcomed and accepted and appreciated in our fellowship. Because we too are committed as Disciples of Yeshua and we too reject the authority of human tradition and out of freedom chose the amount and items of tradition that we want to accept and don’t judge others for the traditions that they chose to practice.
Paul made it very clear in his letter to the Romans chapter 14: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.”
I urge you all to pray for today’s religious communities that we identify with and enjoy that the Lord will deliver us from the spirit of Rabbi Morteira and others who put themselves as judges on things that God did not command and did not demand from us. Pray that we all become much more biblical in both our practices and our attitudes and learn to be inclusive and supportive rather than judgmental and dogmatic.
The construction of our building is going on well. Today is a major Muslim holiday so the workers are not working, but they are beginning to build the second floor already. The builder says that by the middle of January the whole cement and iron frame of the building will be finished and they will start working on the interior of the building. We are still in deep prayer for the rest of the funds that we need in order to finish the building. As for now we are getting every day acts of vandalism that some Orthodox Jews are committing against us and the building. Just today I saw that they have climbed up the scaffolding and destroyed a big poster that we had hanging. Last week we had someone spray paint a cross in green paint and wrote in English “Stop.” They also spray painted all over the front wall with green paint. There were posters all around the city claiming that we are building a giant complex for missionaries to snatch Jewish Souls from children. Our whole building will be barely a total of 600 meter square (approximately 6000 square feet), but they wrote a “giant complex” – that is o.k. all I can say is that I wish it was a giant complex and my the Lord grant us the need and the means to build a giant complex for teaching the Word of God and blessing Israel. Please stand with us in prayer and help us with the means that are needed for this construction.
We have some new material on youtube.com and also on face book at the Netivyah page. Please go and see it. The newest is a clip from a film about the Anussim in Amsterdam that our Brazilian brothers are making. These is just a short promo click and see it and start praying for the restoration of the Anussim back home to Israel:
Please pray for our sick brothers and sisters and the elderly: Ahuva, Ilana, Leah, Sarit, David S., Merav, Udi, Chana S., Marcia, and Tania. In the United States please don’t forget to pray for Ruby and for Liz and Nancy Boisseau, Danah and Noaam our daughter and granddaughter and Horace and June Marcia’s father and mother. In Brazil please pray for Paulo. In Japan please pray for Sadako San, and Shoko San, and Tomoko San, and Daisuke Sensei, and for Toru Kashima San.
Three of us are traveling to the Far East next week, Marcia, and Hannah, and I. We will be traveling to participate in the Asia Messianic Forum and we will have a table with books and material about Netivyah during the forum. We will be also teaching in three countries. The women will teach women and I will teach everyone. We need your prayers for the success and blessing on this trip and specially the protection of our bodies and our spirits. We also need the touch and guidance of the Spirit of God on our teaching and fellowship. We want to inspire and encourage people to commit to the restoration of the church and the restoration of Israel.
Thank you for praying for Jerusalem and thank you for praying for us in Netivyah. We are totally dependent on God’s mercy and grace and on the love of our brethren.
God bless each and every one of you for standing with Israel and standing with us,