Nehemia Gordon on the Hebrew Matthew, rabbi, and the Birkat HaMinim

The man who is speaking in the link below in the Jerusalem Channel piece is a Karaite Jew, Nehemia Gordon. While he does not believe JESUS/YESHUA’YAH is the MESSIAH, it looks like he respects HIM as a teacher. He has partnered with Messianics/Christians to help them to understand more about the Old Testament and Hebrew way of the New Testament and seems to be quite the scholar vs being prideful and offended. Reminds me of the Orthodox rabbis who signed the statement in 2015 saying they believe YESHUA is doing the FATHER’S Will by bringing the Gentiles into the fold. Interesting blog piece on him below, very worth reading. It also looks like there is information that he does try to get people to convert to Karaite ways, even though he says he does not. I believe any Messianics/Christians he associates with are praying for him to convert as well. As long as there is no offense, may we all learn the truth and let the chaff and weeds fall to the way side because there are many puzzle pieces to the Bible and layers to it. Nehemiah even says below that when the Messiah comes as King that his name may be Yeshua. I hope and pray for as many as possible to know the TRUE MESSIAH and be saved and not fall to a false one, AMEN!

The link below also contains additional information on other topics then the Gospel of Matthew, specifically on the meaning of the word “rabbi” and why JESUS/YESHUA’YAH said what he did about calling no one “rabbi”. It is quite interesting and I try not to use that word or “father” too for earthly men. I also have studies on my blog about the Hebrew Matthew and recently finished posting the last of one study if anyone wants to check it out.  The Du Tillet Matthew: is it the correct one?

There is also an eye opening paragraph from him on how many Messianics/Christians who recite the Amidah do not realize that the 19th one called the Birkat HaMinim is actually a curse on those who follow YESHUA! It really upset Nehemia that people did not realize what they were saying and doing to themselves. He said he believes GOD wants him to use his knowledge of Hebrew to help others. Please read the whole paragraph bolded in the study below. If anyone who reads this has any different information to share with me please do so. I had also read that something had changed with the Birkat HaMinim so that it was not really a curse anymore but below, Nehemia says that what he saw in the prayer book was still a curse but cleverly disguised.

Karaite Nehemia Gordon on Yeshua   [This is the whole post from the link above]

UPDATE: It appears Gordon is being dishonest when he says, in the letter below, “I do not try to convince people to change their faith”. See Gordon – an anti-missionary?

Nehemia Gordon, perhaps the most prominent Karaite Jew, dispels rumors about his relationship to Yeshua.

Even though Gordon does not believe Yeshua is the Messiah, his statements and approach to Yeshua are honorable! A nice change from the ugly rhetoric and actions of shameful anti-missionaries. He talks openly about Yeshua and Messianic gentiles, and I think you fine blog readers would be interested to read it:

It’s been several months since the publication of my book “A Prayer to Our Father”, which I wrote together with Keith E. Johnson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina. This book explores the Hebrew origins of what is commonly known as the “Lord’s Prayer”. Many of my Jewish brothers and sisters have expressed great concern over the book. Some have even speculated that I have secretly converted to Christianity and am leading others into the Christian faith. Some of my Christian friends have joined in this speculation thinking that perhaps there is a “surprise ending” to the book in which I proclaim my faith in Jesus. On the flip side, some Messianics are spreading the false rumor that I allegedly hold secret meetings during my speaking tours in which I try to convince “believers” to abandon their faith. I hate to disappoint the rumormongers but none of these is true.

I have not converted to Christianity nor do I attempt to convince anyone to change their faith. I suppose the reason for these false speculations is that some people have a hard time understanding why a Jew who does not believe in Jesus would write a book on his teachings unless he has a secret agenda. I thought I explained this rather well in my books but I guess not everyone reads my books. Or perhaps I am not as eloquent as I like to think. So I am writing this to try and set the record straight.

Let me start with my views on Jesus of Nazareth, or as he was known 2000 years ago, “Yeshua”. Over the past few years I have gained a great respect for his teachings, but I have not embraced the Christian faith nor have I become a “Messianic Jew.” I clearly state this in all of my presentations in order to avoid any possible confusion. I am, as I have been for over twenty years, a Karaite Jew, which means I believe the Tanakh (“Old Testament”) to be the perfect word of God. As a Karaite Jew, I await the coming of an anointed King (in Hebrew: “Messiah”) who will be a direct descendant of King David. I have no idea what his name will be and therefore I do not rule out the possibility that his name will be “Yeshua”. Many Jews, and Karaites in particular, may vehemently disagree with me on this last point. All I can say is that when the anointed descendant of David reigns as a flesh and blood king over Israel, as promised in the Scriptures, we will all know his name as an accomplished fact.

So why do I have what one of my sisters – a devout Orthodox Jew – refers to as an “unhealthy interest in Jesus”? It started many years ago, when I came out of Rabbinical Judaism and began researching all of the world’s religions. I was particularly interested in ancient Judaism in all of its forms and this naturally included the teaching ministry of Yeshua of Nazareth. My interest in this subject is not as unusual as my sister might think. Over the past century, Jewish scholars have increasingly carried out research to uncover the Hebrew background and context of the New Testament. One of the greatest of these scholars was Professor David Flusser, himself an Orthodox Jew, who taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I was trained in the study of ancient Jewish texts at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where I earned my Masters Degree in Biblical Studies and I view my own research on the teachings of Yeshua as part of this scholarly tradition.

To give this research some context, a number of years ago I was privileged to have worked with the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written by an ancient Jewish movement called the Essenes. While I believe the Dead Sea Scrolls contain great value, at no time did I ever become an Essene. Furthermore, as a textual scholar researching the scrolls it was not my role to convince anyone whether or not to believe in Essene Judaism. My role as a scholar was to attempt to understand what these ancient documents meant in their original linguistic, historical, and cultural context. This is how I see my role in exploring the Hebrew background of the New Testament. It is not my role as a textual scholar to lead anyone into the Christian faith. Nor is it my role to lead anyone out of the Christian faith. These are issues of personal faith and belief that are beyond the scope of my research. My role as a textual scholar is to understand what Yeshua taught in the linguistic, historical, and cultural context in which he preached. For those who believe in Yeshua I would think this should be of great importance. But it should also be important for non-Christians, as Yeshua was indisputably a pivotal figure in world history who profoundly influenced the development of Western civilization.

In addition to my interest in all forms of ancient Judaism, there is another reason I think it is important for me to share the results of this research, especially with Christians. It relates to an experience I had many years ago in Jerusalem. Living in the Holy City, I meet all kinds of interesting people. One such gentleman was an American tourist who described himself as a “Messianic Gentile”. I had heard of “Messianic Jews” before but did not know what a Messianic Gentile was. He explained that he believed Yeshua to be the Messiah and wanted to live as Yeshua lived. He told me that as a Jew, Yeshua refrained from eating pork and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Although he had no Jewish ancestry that he knew of, he too wanted to live as Yeshua had lived, refraining from pork and going to a synagogue on the Sabbath. At the time I had never met anyone quite like this and was very intrigued. We ended up spending many long hours discussing our respective beliefs and practices. One day he was telling me about the prayers in his congregation back in America and he proudly announced that in his Messianic synagogue they recited the Amidah. When I heard this I was shocked because I knew something he obviously did not know. The Amidah is the standard prayer of Rabbinical Judaism and I grew up as an Orthodox Jew praying this prayer three times a day. The Amidah is also known as the “Eighteen Benedictions” but today actually contains 19 benedictions. The 19th benediction, which my friend obviously did not know about, is called the Birkat HaMinim which means “the Blessing of the Heretics”. Despite its name, it is actually a curse of the so-called “heretics”. Historical sources, most notably the Talmud, inform us that this 19th benediction was added to the Amidah around the year 90 CE in order to prevent those Jews who accepted Yeshua as the Messiah from participating in synagogue services. At the time, the Rabbis did not have the authority to prevent Yeshua’s Jewish followers from attending the synagogues but they reasoned these people would stop coming if a public curse was proclaimed upon them during every prayer service. When this “Messianic Gentile” told me his congregation recited the Amidah during their services I thought surely he meant the Amidah without the Birkat HaMinim. So I asked him to show me his Messianic prayer book and I quickly flipped to the section containing the Amidah. To my horror I found that it indeed contained the Birkat HaMinim. It had been translated in a very clever way to obscure its meaning, but there it was in black and white in both Hebrew and English. I was heartbroken at the thought of an entire group of devout people, who were searching in their own way for Scriptural truth, proclaiming a public curse upon themselves because they did not understand the historical context of their own faith. They wanted to live as Yeshua lived but ended up reciting a prayer created to curse those who believed in Yeshua. I realized then and there that the Almighty had blessed me with an understanding of ancient languages and ancient Jewish texts and I was morally obligated to share that information with anyone who needed it, even if I disagreed with them on important matters of faith.

As a Jew, it is not all that strange for me to interact with people that I disagree with on matters of faith. This is part of the pluralism inherent in Jewish culture in general. There is an old saying that “if you ask two Jews you get three opinions.” This witticism is based on a fundamental principle in Rabbinical Judaism that there are seventy true meanings to every single word in Scripture. The result of this doctrine is that multiple opinions can be tolerated, even when they are diametrically opposed. This approach has imbued Jews with a relatively pluralistic attitude towards matters of belief, especially when these beliefs do not result in any practical expression of ritual observance. This is in sharp contrast to the Christian tradition of breaking fellowship, and indeed in earlier centuries of burning people at the stake, over the subtlest of doctrinal nuances.

As a Karaite, I do not agree with the Rabbinical principle that there are seventy true meanings to everything in Scripture. I believe there is only one true interpretation. However, with the Temple in ruins and the People of Israel in a state of Exile we do not necessarily know what that one true interpretation is. This necessitates a pragmatic pluralism which in some ways is even more tolerant than Rabbinical Judaism. Karaite Jews believe we must do our best to discover the truth but also humble ourselves before God and admit that we can never know for sure “until a priest with Urim and Thummim should appear” (Ezra 2:63). This humility means not judging our brothers for disagreeing on matters of faith, and even on matters of ritual observance, as long as they do their best to discover the Scriptural truth. I am not saying every Jew, nor even every Karaite, always lives up to these ideals but they are nevertheless values deeply rooted in Jewish culture.

Considering that there are, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, over 33,000 denominations, I would have thought Christians to be even more tolerant to differences of faith and practice than Jews. To be sure, this may be true for many Christians. However, I did not realize how alien this pluralistic approach was to some Christians until last year when I was on a speaking tour in the USA. After one of my presentations a man walked up to me and thanked me for the information I had shared. He told me that he had been told by his congregation leader not come to my presentation. The congregation leader had warned him that as someone who does not believe in Jesus I was not “anointed” to speak the truth. The man objected to his congregation leader: “If God could use Balaam’s ass to speak the truth then surely he could use Nehemia”.

I suppose most Jews would be deeply offended at being compared to a female donkey but I was more disturbed by the arrogance of this man’s congregation leader. I was raised with the tradition of the Rabbis who taught: “Who is a wise man? He who learns from every man.” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1). Karaite Jews wholeheartedly embrace this principle, often quoting the words of the 12th century Rabbinical sage Maimonides (Rambam): “Accept the truth from whoever speaks it.” When Maimonides said this he was referring to the mathematical and astronomical knowledge he learned from ancient Greeks sources. He did not dismiss or ignore this knowledge even though it came from pagans because the knowledge was true in its own right. It is important to note that this was not simply “secular” knowledge to Maimonides; it had practical application to the observance of certain biblical commandments.

The original disciples of Yeshua and their heirs understood that truth had value regardless of its source. Evidence of this can be found in the Book of Acts, which quotes the words Gamaliel, a leading Pharisee of the 1st century. Although Gamaliel was not a believer in Yeshua, the Book of Acts considered what he said to be valuable and true in its own right. The notion that a Christian today would categorically deem what Jews have to say as worthless and untrustworthy because of our different beliefs is the zenith of arrogance. I am reminded of the words of Paul of Tarsus (admittedly a Jew) who warned the Gentiles:

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you.”

Romans 11:17-18

I suspect Paul was talking about something that was already happening in his own time: Gentiles were embracing the faith in Yeshua and boasting that they were better than the Jews who did not share their new belief, even though these Jews were the “root” of their faith.

As if this arrogance were not bad enough, shortly after being compared to Balaam’s ass, the specter of anti-Semitism reared its ugly head. I had been invited to speak at a Christian conference when the organizer received a dire warning from a local Christian pastor. The pastor proclaimed that as a “non-believing Jew” I was operating under the control of the “spirit of Antichrist”. When I heard this I thought the pastor meant it metaphorically, but it turns out he meant there was a literal demonic spirit that was influencing my every move. He explained that it was nothing against me personally but all “non-believing Jews” are under the spirit of Antichrist. Boasting against the root is one thing, but this amounts to cursing the root.

Some of my fellow Jews reading this are probably thinking: “So why bother, Nehemia! Let the goyim languish in their ignorance.” My answer is that there are countless Christians out there who want to understand their faith in its original historical, cultural, and linguistic context. Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew who spoke Hebrew and lived as a Jew among Jews. It just so happens that God has blessed me with a knowledge of ancient Judaism and ancient Hebrew and I feel compelled to share this information with those with those who need it, even if I disagree with them on important matters of faith. The Torah teaches us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves which means to treat others as we ourselves want to be treated. I know that if I lacked vital knowledge I would want someone who had this knowledge to share it with me. I must, therefore, share the knowledge I have with those who need it. I am not saying I know everything or that I have all the answers. But if God could use a donkey to speak to Balaam perhaps he is using me for some purpose that is beyond my comprehension. I pray that like Balaam’s ass this is a burden I can continue to bear.

-Nehemia Gordon

Yahnatan Lasko • 6 years ago

Nice excerpt, Judah–thanks for sharing. One comment: I believe that recent scholarship has disproven, or at least challenged, the commonplace assertion that the Birkat Haminim was aimed at Yeshua-believing Jews. Since this quote from Gordon must be fairly recent, perhaps it is still in dispute, but my impression was that what was once accepted knowledge about this has been refuted by leading scholarly opinions.

The most recent comment I’ve read supporting this is in John Fischer’s essay “The Place of Jewish Tradition in a Messianic Jewish Lifestyle” from The Enduring Paradox, in which he references Marvin Wilson and quotes noted scholar Geza Vermes:

“In fact, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century most experts tend to regard “Minim” as the rabbinic name for that [Messianic Jewish] community. . . . But although M. Simon has recently shown that Christians were referred to as Minim in the fourth century, the title barely fits the Judeo-Christians of the apostolic and sub-apostolic age.”

Fischer also references R. Kimelman, “Birkat Haminim and the Lack of Evidence for an Anti-Christian Jewish Prayer in Late Antiquity,” Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, Vol. 2, edited by E.P. Sanders.

  • Judah Gabriel Himango • 6 years ago Hi Yahnatan,Thanks for reading the long post and commenting.You’re right, there is some debate about whether the Birkat Haminim prayer was used against Yeshua’s disciples.As a side note, First Fruits of Zion also confronted this issue when building their Messianic Siddur. The acknowledged the uncertainty, but the mere possibility that it was used against Yeshua’s disciples led them to omit it in their Messianic Siddur.
  • Judah Gabriel Himango • 6 years ago One thing to keep in mind is that Gordon, as a Karaite Jew, is against a number of rabbinic traditions to begin with. He may disregard or be ignorant of research suggesting this traditional prayer may not necessarily have been used against Yeshua’s followers.
  • Dan Benzvi • 6 years ago Did anyone hear of the findings in the Cairo Geniza, at Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo Egypt, where among the discoveries they found fargmants of birkat Haminim with the word NOZRIM. (fragment T-S.8.H.24)?

  • Joseph • 6 years ago Refreshing post, nice one 🙂
  • Yahnatan Lasko • 6 years ago Dan:Yes, Fischer actually cites that as further evidence that “minim” didn’t originally include Yeshua-believers.
  •  robyn • 6 years ago Gordon is a very interesting scholar. He has spoken at my congregation and I am actually planning to see him speak this weekend about his book, “A Prayer To Our Father.” He and his co-author Keith Johnson will be presenting.
  • Anonymous • 6 years ago Interesting to me that he apparently studied under David Flusser. I am a big “fan” of Prof. Flusser’s scholarship and work. That respectful attitude he could have clearly picked up from Prof. Flusser. Like Nehemia, Prof. Flusser never “crossed over” but in a sense he considered Yeshua his teacher. Todd

  • J.K. McKee • 6 years ago When I have to confront the teachings of someone, I prefer to always deal with what it is written, not hearsay, and even something that is recorded. I want to deal with something that is documented, not some offhand conversation that gets passed around.Gordon is trying to be a scholar here, this much is certain, but there will always be some skepticism surrounding him and his intentions. One can get to anti-missionary materials far more easily via Karaite Korner than ArtScroll.Gordon’s book Hebrew Yeshua vs. Greek Jesus from 2005 left much to be desired, as it was not at all engaged with contemporary Matthean scholarship (not a single NT Intro was quoted, or even article from a source like Anchor Bible Dictionary.) And, his conclusions on Matthew 23:2-3 are deserving of a detailed exegesis paper.
  • Judah Gabriel Himango • 6 years ago John, I’m glad you chimed in. Are you saying we ought to remain skeptical of Gordon?
  • J.K. McKee • 6 years ago I think we should always remain skeptical of those who teach about Yeshua, but do not acknowledge Him as Savior. This is true of a range of teachers, be they Nehemia Gordon or Bart Ehrman. But skepticism (or even strong skepticism) need not imply hostility.
  • Judah Gabriel Himango • 6 years ago That’s a wise approach.
  • Ovadia • 6 years ago On the complete other end of the spectrum, this reminds me a great deal of Mark Nanos’ approach to Messianic Jews.Ditto Yahnatan on Birkat ha-Minim, I would probably say disproven. The Kimelman article you cited certainly raised a thorough challenge.Judah: Last I heard they included it but with a disclaimer of some sort, but my rumor is probably outdated.John: Do you know if he is the originator of the Matthew 23:3 interpretation that relies on medieval Hebrew translations of Matthew?
  • Dan Benzvi • 6 years ago

    Matt. 23:1-2;

    Tim Hegg deal with the issue quite well.

    Go to and click on “confronting issues,” find the article: “why is Nehemia Gordon wrong on Matt. 23:1-2.” you will also find Gordon’s response and Tim’s rejoiner.

  • J.K. McKee • 6 years ago I have a feeling that Gordon’s interpretation of the “seat of Moses” is probably a reworked form of a populist teaching, given his associations with Michael Rood. I heard the Matthew 23:2-3 thing floating around nine years ago in passing.I personally think that the logic behind all the discussion is a bit simplistic. In the canonical Greek Matthew Yeshua is no more endorsing blind obedience to every Rabbinic ruling than Paul is urging blind obedience to the government in Romans 13. But, Rood and Gordon have capitalized on people holding to such a rigid interpretation of it.
  • Shiloh • 5 years ago When you have someone like Nehemiah come out to defend our own Jew from the lies of the perpetuators, the followers of the lie will attack from every angle. For they have been blinded from his original teachings. The Karaites are the closest thing we have to Jews following the Torah, just as the historical Yeshua taught for Jews to do. Unfortunatly when the geulah comes, most all will be caught off gaurd, blinded by the lies taught to all.Listen to what he is saying, first Jews and then the others who want to follow this Jew. Why would you assume that if he returned he would teach the NT. If you read it, he rejects the apostates. So be sure you are not one of the apostates. As it is also stated, few will find the way that leads to life. Not the majority to do evil in the sight of our Father.Shiloh,
    Jerusalem, Israel
  • Anonymous • 5 years ago You said “As a Karaite Jew, I await the coming of an anointed King (in Hebrew: “Messiah”) who will be a direct descendant of King David.”Have you considered the laws of inheritance as outlined in BeMidbar/Numbers 26:33, BeMidbar Numbers 27:1-11, and BeMidbar Numbers 36:13?It is said that both Mary (Miriam, daughter of Heli who also had only daughters, the birth mother of Yeshua, and Joseph (Yosef) the husband of Mary though not the biological father of Jesus were both from the tribe of Judah, the house of David. Considering the lineage of Jesus through the earthy fathers ancestory, as listed in Matthew, shows that if Jesus, in fact, was a biological descendant of Joseph, he would be ineligible for the trone due to the sin of Jeconiah (Jer. 22:30). Mary, on the other hand was not a blood relative of Jeconiah. Due to the laws of inheritance, since Heli had only daughters, she would be the heir so long as she married into her same clan, which she did. Therefore, Yeshua was born of the House of David without being a decendant of Jehoachin. You might think, well what about the whole “Spirit overshadowed her
    and Jesus being as God in flesh. God Himself is not someone we can comprehend. God has taken many forms (burning bush, pillar of fire and cloud, wind, Angel of the Lord who Jacob struggled with, etc.) God Himself came in the flesh as the person named Yeshua. Described as the Son He has always been and always will be the incarnated God (as in the angel who struggled with Jacob) but received the earthly name Jesus when born to Mary. Just as you are a Karaite drawn to studying Jesus, I am a gentile drawn by the same God to study Hebraic Roots. It has changed my life. I grew up in mainstream Christianity, which is far from Torah, and yet, as God has led me now lead a Torah observant life while still maintaining my belief that Jesus is the Messiah, God in flesh, just the as the Ruach HaKodesh is God in spirit. I am not one to say “because you don’t believe that Jesus is God you will not inherit the kingdom of heaven” just as a beliver in Jesus who obeys the Law without knowledge of it is also an heir. I consider myself a sojourner among God’s people, part of the whole house of Israel. Shalom.
  • yzwisey3 years ago Nice job Nehemia, I do not understand the quick judgment especially when you are helping others.
  • Phillip • 2 years ago Thank you and God bless you Nehemiah Gordon.
  • Jacqualine Avery • 24 days ago Fantastic Nehemia! Beautiful blog…what a blessing!