Hi. My name is Tal Zahav, but of course you knew that from the heading at the top of this page. I have a Masters degree in Physics from Stevens Institute of Technology I was studying at Yeshivat Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem until my wedding on October 29, 2003. (I am currently studying at the Bostoner Hasidic kollel in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood.)
A quick perusal of my site will reveal that I am a devoutly observant Jew. I wasn't always, though
I was brought up as a Reform Jew by my father and my grandmother after my parents separated when I was a child. My given name is Thames Goldman, and I was never given a Hebrew name. In fact, my circumcision was done in the hospital the day I was born, which under Jewish law meant that I had to get a pinprick by a rabbi (this is called a "hatafat dam brit").
As a Reform Jew, I attended synagogue on the High Holy Days and occasionally on Friday nights, but I never really gave much thought to actually studying the Bible (though the thought did occur to me from time to time). Things slowly began to change, however, after I saw "The Ten Commandments" for the first time. It occurred to me after seeing the movie and recalling that my schoolbooks mentioned the Jews' having been enslaved in Egypt that we must have escaped somehow. The popular naturalistic explanations of the parting of the Red Sea, like earthquakes and tides, ascribed way too much good luck to the Jews for my taste, because the Red Sea had to part at exactly the right moment for the Jews to enter, remain parted long enough for the Jews to finish crossing, and close at exactly the right moment to drown the pursuing Egyptians. While there were more aspects of this issue to think about, it was clear to me at that early age that G-d must have parted the Red Sea and that therefore the Ten Commandments (and by extension all of the Hebrew Scriptures) must have been His word. (In much later years, some people suggested to me that perhaps the Jews crossed the sea in boats, or that they went around the sea entirely; but then why was the Exodus regarded as such a great miracle?)
I still wasn't ready to begin an in-depth study of the Bible, however. Spurred on by my childhood curiosity, I began to dabble in the occult. I convinced myself that I had some psychic ability, though not much. I often tried to foretell the future using a deck of playing cards, with varying degrees of success. (My mother recalls how I accurately foretold that an acquaintance of hers would be injured in a car accident, and to this day she insists that I am psychic. Looking back, I think my prediction had to do not so much with ESP as with my knowledge of the acquaintance's drinking problem.) I read a lot of books about ESP, and I noticed that the dates given by famous psychics for the end of the world seemed to cluster around the turn of the millennium. This instilled a desire in me, for the first time, to actually read the Bible and follow it, lest I be caught on the wrong side during the Battle of Armageddon. This desire was heightened when, at the age of 15, I saw it mentioned in one of my ESP books that the coming of Jesus was foretold by the Jewish prophets.
In February 1992 (at age 16), I found a King James translation Bible in the basement of my house, and I began reading it. During my first trip through it, I simply skimmed the summaries that are printed at the beginning of each chapter, seeking to verify or refute the ESP book's contention about Jesus as well as the contention I had read elsewhere that psychic powers are mentioned in the Bible. The King James having been deliberately mistranslated to support Jesus (see related link at the bottom of this article), I was convinced long before I got to the New Testament that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart and wash away my sins. With that, I began nearly six years as a Messianic Jew (Jew for Jesus).
My beliefs differed in many ways from those of the other Messianic Jews (and the other fundamentalist Christians in general) with whom I attended services. Most glaringly, despite my belief in Jesus, I saw no reason to believe that any portion of the New Testament, save the Book of Revelation, was written at G-d's dictation. The Gospel writers never claimed to be anything more than eyewitnesses writing the events down as best they remembered them, and the writers of the Epistles never claimed to be writing anything more than commentaries on Jesus's ministry (except for a couple of things here and there clearly labeled as divinely inspired and distinguished from the rest of the Epistles). In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7, after Paul tells us what G-d has commanded regarding divorce and remarriage, he says, "But the rest say I, not the L-rd", thereby disclaiming divine inspiration, and he proceeds to give his own opinions on marriage. I asked a number of people why the Epistles were included in the New Testament and labelled part of G-d's word, but I couldn't get a straight answer from anybody.
The other main difference I had with almost the entire rest of Christendom was my belief that the Torah (comprising not just the Ten Commandments, but also a number of other laws which Moses wrote down but which were not included on the stone tablets) was still to be observed today. It is almost universally held by Christians that the laws which G-d commanded through Moses were repealed when Jesus died on the cross; I thought this was ludicrous (see related link at the bottom of this page). I would often discuss my views on the Torah with others in my congregation after services were over; my outspokenness occasionally got me reprimanded by the leadership of Beth Israel (the Messianic synagogue I was attending at the time [Garfield, NJ]). The reprimand generally took the form of, "That's not what we believe here, so please stop telling other people that, because it's opposed to what the word of G-d says", when what was really called for was, "You're wrong about the Law of Moses because X, Y, and Z". It got to the point where I wondered how interested these people really were in what the Bible had to say. I was actually surprised when I found out that nearly all Christians believe that the Torah was repealed at Jesus's death, because Jesus's words as recorded in the New Testament seem carefully tailored to keep anyone from ever coming to that conclusion.
I enrolled in Stevens Institute of Technology in 1993, still new to the Christian faith and green as a beanstalk. As the years went by, I became acquainted with a number of different Christian denominations and more heresies than I could shake a stick at. Everywhere I went, what shocked me most was not the existence of doctrines that were patently antithetical to the plain text of the Bible (I must admit that I've caught myself making quite a few doctrinal errors as well), but the tenacity with which people who claim to be Bible-believing will hold on to their beliefs when confronted with Scripture-based arguments which show their beliefs to be false. For the person who believes the Bible to be G-d's word, no issue touched on by Scripture should be a matter of opinion; the Bible says what it says, and you either take it or leave it. The person who seeks to understand G-d's word must be open-minded at all times, lest he/she elevate his/her pet doctrines above what G-d says.
Through all this time, I kept a watchful eye on the Mideast peace negotiations. Yasir Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was ready to stop being a terrorist and negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. I did not trust him to keep the peace once it was finalized, because giving a terrorist self-rule on a large chunk of land is an invitation to the terrorist to use that land as a base from which to stage a massive attack against you. My suspicions about Arafat have since been confirmed more definitively than I ever thought, as he has blatantly disregarded his obligations under the Oslo accords almost since day one.
In the fall of 1996, I began building my homepage on the Stevens Tech network. Initially, I had only an explanation of how the prophecy in Daniel 9 foretold (so I thought) the exact year of Jesus's crucifixion. (It in fact foretells the exact year of Jerusalem's destruction.) My homepage quickly grew into a collection of articles on everything from predestination vs. free will to using astrophysics to prove the existence of G-d. I began participating in discussions on Christian on-line chat rooms and telling others about my page; at last count, it had around 300 or 400 hits. During a discussion on one of the Jewish on-line chat rooms, I met an Orthodox Jew, Mordechai Seidman, and we began corresponding about whether I had the correct interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. He was different from the other Orthodox Jews with whom I had discussed Christianity in that, while most of them tended to get angry at me for even suggesting that Jesus could be the Jewish Messiah, Mordechai was willing to engage me in a prolonged e-mail discussion about the subject. During the discussion, he showed me how Matthew 23:1-3 (New Testament) quotes Jesus endorsing the Oral Law (a set of regulations passed down by word of mouth from Sinai and since codified in the Mishnah and the Gemara) and rabbinic law (laws passed by the Sages and also codified in the Mishnah and the Gemara). He also confronted me with enough problems with the Gospel According to John (and I found enough on my own) that I became convinced that John's gospel was a forgery. After I renounced belief in John's gospel, I found it impossible to prove that Jesus ever called himself G-d (in fact, I have since learned that even John's gospel doesn't claim that he did). Somewhere along the way, Mordechai mentioned Rabbi Tovia Singer's "Let's Get Biblical" tape series, which is a response to arguments often used by missionaries. (My own article on the subject is loosely based on his tape series and also makes a number of points which are not made in the tapes.) Rabbi Singer usually charges money for the tapes, but Mordechai spoke with him about our discussion and convinced him to give me a copy of the tape series for free, provided I didn't lend it out or make copies. I eagerly called Rabbi Singer and ordered the series, figuring that if he was wrong, I would at least know where the anti-missionaries were coming from and would be able to strengthen my arguments in favor of Jesus.
I got my copy in December 1997. I began listening to it that night around two in the morning and stayed up until noon the next day listening to it. To my stunned disbelief, I found Rabbi Singer's arguments to be airtight. I renounced my faith in Jesus, and I deleted the article on my page where I attempted to prove from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. I soon began work on an article to replace it, where I would respond to my own arguments and those of other missionaries. I also made minor changes to the other articles on my page, deleting or changing the references to the New Testament.
In late December 2001, I came to Israel for the first time, through the Birthright Israel program, which gives free 10-day trips to Israel for Jewish college students aged 18 to 26 who have never been on an organized trip to Israel. You can view some of my pictures from Israel here. While I was in Israel, I got the hatafat dam brit mentioned in the second paragraph of this article, thereby rendering my circumcision kosher. I also got to look at a number of different parts of the country, which was key if I was to decide where I wanted to live. I got back to the U.S. in early January 2002, and in February I decided upon the name Tal Zahav. (Tal is a reasonably common Israeli name starting with a "T" sound, like my American first name. Zahav is Hebrew for "gold" and is thus a rough translation of my American last name.) I came back to Israel in June to study at Ohr Somayach, and, as I said, I moved to the Bostoner Hasidic kollel following my wedding. If you have questions or comments about anything, please e-mail me.
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