State Of The ReUnion Essay #2 • The Footprints of Marty Chernoff
“It must be acknowledged as true that those capable of great insight are also capable of the most grievous of errors.” – Descartes
“‘Treason’ doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it ‘treason.'” – John Harrington, Epigrams, IV:5
I. IN THIS ESSAY
Trying to talk about Messianic Judaism after 1970 without talking about Marty Chernoff is like trying to talk about psychology after 1890 without talking about Sigmund Freud. Not everyone agrees with Freud, or even affirms his theories are valid; but no one can deny his impact on his sphere.
In regard to the global Messianic Jewish Movement, Marty Chernoff did one highly impactful thing very, very right – and one highly impactful thing that was in my view terribly, terribly wrong. The thing he did right continues to nourish the Movement, and may just be the landmark positive ideology breakthrough in the entire modern Movement’s history: the thing he did wrong continues up to the present moment to be morally poisoning the entire spiritual sphere to which he devoted his life’s work.
Believing as I do what is summed above to be true – I have a moral obligation to state it. (Ezekiel 33:6)
Once it is offered for consideration, what happens afterwards is God’s affair. I am offering it because it seems to me no one other than Marty’s children are talking about him, and when they do – they reduce him to a monolithic figure, all one substance – a prophet who was the Moses of the modern era. Marty was not all one thing, and the differing aspects of his wide impact need to be discussed dispassionately and understood clearly if Two Testament Judaism is to become more healthy in the coming decades and beyond.
II. MY STANDING TO WRITE
I knew Marty Chernoff personally, and well. I was also trained by him in the clergy vocation.
He was the leader who raised me into teaching ministry in his congregation’s elementary and secondary school, over which he also later put me in charge; and later appointed me to teach adults in the congregation’s Bible Study classes, and then lead that study program. Marty was the first rabbi to ordain me as a spiritual leader and promote me to teaching at national conferences. He invited me often to stay over for days at a time in his family’s home during the last year and a half of his life, and I continued at the invitation of his family to live full time in their home with their mother and two other boarders for the five years that followed Marty’s death. Sitting in the family’s kitchen, I helped his widow write the Hebrew epitaph that would go on his grave monument. When I was readying to marry my wife, Debi – Marty’s son David approached me personally about buying his town-home, which he sold to me privately and thus, his former house became my family’s first home. My wife and I rushed over late at night at David and his wife’s request to baby-sit their daughter in their new home while they went to the hospital for the birth of their second child. Marty’s other son, Joel was my foremost mentor and colleague, with whom I jogged several days a week, spoke on the phone a few times a day, and traveled doing ministry all across the USA and Israel, in word and in music. His former partner was co-producer of my record albums as well as Joel’s. I wrote Marty’s daughter Hope’s wedding song at her request. David’s wife Debbie sang back-up vocals on my duet album and at my wedding. My wife’s bridal shower was hosted in David’s living room. David used one of my songs as his tv show’s theme song. And so on, and so on.
In sum – I was close enough to Marty and his family to know him pretty well.
I am out to deconstruct Marty here – not defame him.
I want Marty to be understood – not disrespected.
Sorry to disappoint his enemies, but I have no personal ax to grind with him. Marty’s children and their doings in the decades following Marty’s passing are a different matter; and I will deal with them later.
As I wrote at the outset, Marty’s family and close adherents treat him since his death as a kind of monolithic figure: a kind of Moses of the modern Messianic Movement – a prophet, having said and done prophetic things; and supposedly having left behind a Joshua to pick up where he left off. He was not this one-substance being.
Marty Chernoff was a man – he had facets.
Some were good – some were neutral or dual – and some were not so positive.
I do not begrudge him his imperfections. I write here because the main negative aspect of his long unanalyzed footprint seems in my view to be crushing people – and it needs attention and repair before it goes along its unexamined and high-impact trajectory goes any further.
Let’s try to understand Marty Chernoff’s major footprints.
I sincerely do not believe our Movement can progress further if his impact is not meaningfully analyzed.
III. WHO WAS MARTY CHERNOFF?
Marty was a Canadian born, “born-again” Jewish Christian for the early part of his spiritual life. He morphed across time into more of a Pentecostal-style Believer and minister, focusing on “the gifts of the Spirit” and the present-tense wonder-workings of God among people, becoming what is best described in one word as a “revivalist.”
Marty’s hero was Charles G. Finney, the 19th century Christian minister who led huge mass-awakenings all across the eastern United States, emphasizing intercessory prayer and confrontational preaching. Chernoff added as Finney never had, a focus on miracle-getting from God via “laying on of hands,” being “slain in the Spirit” (falling over when being prayed for, per one reading of the scene described in 1Kings 8:11 when the Spirit of God filled the ancient Temple) and other such spiritual phenomena. Ordained originally as a Baptist, Marty across time disconnected from the Baptist stream and its non-phenomenal theology – and also from the social “Christian” label with all its connotations. He raised up a Jewish Two-Testament Congregation in Cincinnati, and later expanded an already-begun group into a second congregation in Philadelphia; and these two synagogues, along with a small cadre of next-generation youth leaders who came from them, formed the base-credential that gave Marty leverage as a more than local leader. He came into prominence in the “Hebrew Christian Alliance of America (HCAA)” in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s – and that was when he had what is, in my view, the greatest positive spiritual impact-moment in his entire life’s work.
IV. MARTY’S GREATEST MOMENT
All good advice on offering critical thought advises to start with something positive. In Marty’s case, that is easy because what he did that was most positive was historically pivotal, as well as hugely impactful.
Marty Chernoff was the first modern American Jewish leader believing in the Two Testaments to see and say clearly that Jewish people holding faith in Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth as Messiah did not remove themselves from Judaism; and he was able to socialize that insight into concrete expression in communities and a national association with international influence. This is, in my view, his singular positive achievement.
In his own words:
“We are not some fourth branch of Judaism. We are Judaism. We are Biblical Judaism.”
These few, compact sentences changed the Western religious landscape forever.
Marty was the first to see and say clearly that Jewish individuals and communities holding faith in the Two Testaments could – and should – identify as endemically Jewish. He believed this Jewish sub-group would be a steadily growing presence across time, and referred to it as “The Great End-Time Jewish Revival” –– an expectation he held based on the forecasts in places like Deuteronomy 30 and Ezekiel 36, which pair Jewish return to our homeland with a great national religious awakening. His wife, Johanna, tended to call this predicted revival “The Two Zionisms: one physical, the other spiritual.” She saw them as one expression of God’s Spirit moving on two frequencies simultaneously. Her teaching presenting this refinement of Marty’s views inspired thousands of young Jewish people – myself among them. As a team, Marty and Johanna were transformative on a level and with a reach no other husband-wife team in the modern era of Two Testament Jewish faith work has come close to matching.
Marty championed his “We Are Judaism” view relentlessly, and was the primary force in the 1970’s for causing the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America (HCAA) in existence since 1915 to change its name to what it is today: “The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America” or “MJAA.”
To appreciate the measure of this achievement, you need to understand the depth of the anti-Jewish imprint of Western Christianity beforehand – especially after the influence of Luther – which had virulently polarized the daughter faith (Christianity) and its (“New”) Testament (name coming from Isaiah 49:8 & Jeremiah 31:31) as representing “grace” antithetical to the parent faith (Judaism) and Testament representing legalistic bondage. At a 1960’s HCAA Conference, a near-brawl broke out when a group of attendees started singing the famed Jewish fellowship song, Hinei Ma Tov based on Psalm 133. Shouts of “Judaizers!” and “Heresy!” filled the room. Fear of falling away from New Testament grace and committing “The Galatians Error” of making conversion to Judaism necessary for “salvation” (being fully atoned for) became rampant at the mere pronunciation of Hebrew words. Things were that bad.
Somehow, Marty Chernoff was able during his tenure as President to get the Alliance to see the need to change it’s stripes, not merely as an public-relations maneuver – but as an expression of a fundamental change in its self-understanding.
There were others across the years who tinkered with this idea in fragmentary form. The book, The Calling, written by one of Chernoff’s disciples, Dr. Robert Winer, is a history of the MJAA in which one can read of the other men and women who laid fragments of the groundwork for what Chernoff was able fully to realize.
So much for lionizing Marty’s positive footprint. May it receive all the honor it deserves.
Now – on to dealing with a dangerous flaw in the “spiritual DNA” Marty left behind for the under-tiers of leadership he trained. If this coding error is not corrected – the entire Movement will be permeated with self-sabotage that automatically morally ruins each succeeding generation. Marty unintentionally changed the primary marker of qualification for being raised into leadership in the Two Testament Jewish world.
V. “FIERCE LOYALTY” – TRAUMA BECOMES DOCTRINE
This section is not hearsay. Marty taught “fierce loyalty” to me directly, person-to-person, while I was living in his home during my training period. He said (Italics below giving Marty’s vocal emphases):
“Bruce, if you are ever in charge of any group or even a congregation, make sure that the people you delegate authority to are fiercely loyal to you. Fierce loyalty is the most important thing about choosing people; they must be fiercely loyal to you, personally, as the leader.”
After I was ordained into the rabbinate, Marty’s son Joel told me once over a cup of coffee in Orlando, Florida – “Bruce, everybody knew you were eventually going to be a rabbi. It was like a no-brainer.” Apparently, Marty knew this about me earlier than most, and was training me on the fly while I lived in his home.
As I know Marty’s history from himself and the direct telling of it by others involved, Marty seemed to have been traumatized into his doctrine of “fierce loyalty” by a set of betrayals and harms he is said to have suffered during his time in the Midwest. He and his sons always seemed to me to regard Marty’s “fierce loyalty” doctrine as his having invented something spiritually new; or at the least, had a new clarifying insight into a poorly understood aspect of pragmatic theology. In my view, it was an unhealthy reaction to trauma, allowing him to make what should have been an easily avoidable mistake.
He was, in fact, installing a very old paradigm. It is called, fascism.
“Fascia” is Latin for cluster or bundle. Simply put, fascism is rule by a small cluster of empowered individuals who are either overtly or covertly immune to the normative accountability processes to which the rank and file are subject.
The problem with fierce loyalty as Marty espoused it is that firstly, it is an anti-Biblical concept.
In Scripture, the primary quality of leadership selection is that they be “people of truth, who despise tainted gain.” This qualification is repeated in both Testaments. (Ex. 18:21, 1Tim. 3)
Personal loyalty to the level Marty taught it is not espoused by, nor modeled in Scripture as a primary leadership trait. Even the “heroes who gathered together to make David king in Jerusalem” are seen at various times putting loyalty to truth before loyalty to David – even at risk of their own necks. King David was challenged on military, personal, and ethical decisions – and his people did not on any level simply look the other way in Mafia “goodfella” fashion when Israel’s leaders were caught in wrongdoing. Nathan the Prophet even called him down to his face on murder and adultery.
Fierce personal loyalty is not even modeled within a family: the insane and evil King Saul’s son Jonathan did not follow his father in attempting to murder King David. Loyalty only goes so far. Yeshua of Nazareth warned, “a person’s adversaries can be those of his own household, a father against son, mother against daughter, brother against brother.” Truth comes first.
I have never known anyone more dedicated to following the verified directives of Scripture than was Marty Chernoff. How did a man with such dedication go so far astray?
King Solomon observed in Ecclesiastes that “overmuch oppression can make a leader lose his reason.”
In Cincinnati, Marty Chernoff allegedly nearly lost his congregation to a faction led by one of his closest friends, to whom he had given great access and influence. As the story was told and retold to me, Marty awoke one day to find his congregation nearly stolen and his entire financial and ministerial future threatened. It gave him a heart attack, which was then complicated by a medical mistake in administering too much coumadin blood thinner to him, which almost killed him.
Marty came out of that experience changed.
He thereafter selected people to be closest to him who were often of markedly less-than-stellar ability and acumen – but absolutely loyal (and compliant) to him, personally. From that time forward, Marty spoke increasingly dismissively of “gifts and talents” and began teaching consistently that “God only uses ordinary people, so He gets the glory.” Apparently, he judged that those who betrayed him in Cincinnati had beguiled his congregants with their abilities and charms.
Ignoring the Scriptural commandment in Exodus 18, “choose from among the people able men who revere God, men of truth …” in which even God puts ability to do a job before the spiritual traits of the candidate ––– and the Biblical patterns set by Moses having been an experienced and successful desert-warfare general expert at leading large numbers of people through desert – as well as being a legal expert due to his having been raised in Pharaoh’s family, where his word was law –– and despite Rabbi Saul of Tarsus having been a gifted, educated, highly experienced Jewish legal expert who was assigned by God the task of penning most of the New Testament’s legal polity and theology ––– and countless other Biblical examples of talents married by God to callings ––– Marty collected around himself mostly unremarkable people without the human gifts needed for the tasks they handled, justifying it by quoting Amos 7:14 and pointing to Simon Peter having been a fisherman rather than a theologian, and focusing on Biblical texts like, “the wisdom of God is greater than the wisdom of man.”
While those were truths, they were not definitive truth on point to selecting leaders with responsibilities requiring skill sets.
This personnel selection process often resulted in melt-downs. I recall one I knew of directly, in which tens of thousands of dollars in donations evaporated through innocent-but-inept mishandling by a loyal but amateur office worker who had no accounting expertise. A high leadership post in the MJAA Executive level was given to a dependably loyal rabbi whose close colleagues in the Executive Board knew his marriage was about to fall apart and immoral conduct was involved. A close disciple of the Chernoffs regarded by virtually everyone as a seriously injudicious person was elevated into the MJAA Presidency, to the openly discussed shame of the Members. A Chernoff-loyalist who was recently-discovered finance criminal, false-swearer and proven sadist was put in charge of the IAMCS (Rabbi’s association) finances with David Chernoff’s personal recommendation. These appointees were all people Marty and/or his sons knew were fiercely, personally loyal to him or them, many beholden to them directly for everything they vocationally and socially had –– who would never “betray” him in the manner he felt he was betrayed in Cincinnati.
This is the mechanism by which the Chernoff work-product drifted across years into flawed, cultic results. Adherence to Scripture was abandoned in favor of “relationship.” Supporting one’s close allies led to appointment even of recently-discovered long-term embezzlers and false-witnesses into high financial office in the MJAA’s clergy subset, the IAMCS. Decay set in and became rampant. It still is rampant.
All this was the opposite of “what I signed up for” – and it was the opposite of why I was first drawn to Marty as a spiritual leader.
When I moved to Philadelphia after college, I thought in Marty I had found a leader who had achieved and modeled balance of spiritual temperance and vibrancy, and personal relationship with judicial equity. He was bent on spiritual reality, but always “testing to make sure” of spiritual happenings, as Scripture commanded. His skepticism in regard to spiritual phenomena was as keen as his faith in them. He was warm and welcoming in a fatherly way, but could be severe and judicial when needed – and forgiving of mistakes. I made a few I’m not proud of – he handled them – and then moved on. I admired that he could do both. However – Marty’s moving on never involved in my presence the Mafia-style abandoning of the ethics of the Scriptures or winking at evil doing. I cannot say the same of all who followed him; but that is for another essay.
As Marty was fond of saying – which I now apply to his own path: “A person can be sincere, and be sincerely wrong.”
I do not doubt Marty was trying sincerely to create a correct synthesis of what he claimed he experienced in Cincinnati.
But – with respect – I believe he was deadly wrong.
“By their fruits you will know them,” Yeshua taught.
The fruit of this specific aspect of Marty’s leadership training has fomented a pattern of fascism in nearly all his close-disciples.
VI. THE FRUIT OF FASCISM AS PRACTICE & POLICY
Due process has nearly disappeared from the Messianic Jewish world – and Marty’s son Joel seems proud of it. He told one Messianic leader who was asking about a matter filed with the MJAA Judiciary for handling that it would not be handled according to the Constitution’s (and Bible’s) commanded protocols. I was told Joel’s exact words were, “Oh, we don’t do things that way any more. We do them ‘by relationship.’”
Joel was describing back-room conversations outside due process and accountability.
The obvious problem with such a process – and why Scripture forbids it – is that inevitably, some people will have closer relationships with the power-brokers than others. Some will be politically or financially more valuable to those in power than others.
“By relationship” makes highly likely the doom of the person with less relationship.
Handling judicial matters “by relationship” is the exact opposite of what Scripture commands. “You shall not know faces in justice. Do all things in absolute non-bias, favoring no one.” Jewish law has understood this concept across the centuries and written it down as, A judge or juror cannot either love or hate any party at the bar of justice; nor can a judge or juror have any personal vested interest in the matter. (Lev. 19, Prov. 24:23, 1Tim. 5:21)
Handling things “by relationship,” when David Chernoff was charged in 1999 with crimes that could have ended his career, the three man panel handling that case was composed of two of David Chernoff’s best friends – and one ambitious former evidence forger who was actually proven during the meeting to have served forged evidence and lied under oath to attempt concealing Joel Chernoff’s high involvement in fomenting the preëmptive case that insulated his brother from facing the charges against him. Of course, David Chernoff’s two best friends did nothing in regard to these massive breaches of believing judicial ethics and false witness commandment committed in their very presence. They protected their friend from the case that could have wrecked his standing; and made sure the finding derailed the less-empowered plaintiff’s already 7-month delayed case against David Chernoff.
This is how “fierce loyalty” skews justice and destroys entire faith communities.
It naturally translates into obstruction of justice and destruction of due process.
The Messianic organizations in North America now function more like Mafia families than faith organizations.
Let me be specific about the above rather sensational sentence.
Rich Nichol, UMJC Executive (when his colleague was caught in perjury, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice) – “What can I say? These are my guys, and I don’t care what they’ve done, I’m with them.” *
* (Who you are “with” is Mafia language, meaning under which Boss you serve, or in which “crew” of “made guys” in which you are a Member. No “Made Guy” is every held accountable for any criminality except breaking the code of the Mafia, itself.)
Joel Chernoff, MJAA General Secretary (when his brother was caught in multiple breaches of ethics and harm doing) – “Want to know how you can make all this trouble go away? Just keep affirming David (Chernoff). No matter what David does, just keep on affirming him.”
Jonathan Bernis, MJAA Exec – “There is no way around David Chernoff in the MJAA. He sees the world in black and white: you are either for him or against him; and if he thinks you are against him, he comes after you this way (backroom character and career assassination outside due process).”
(Note: Bernis issued a protective ordination in 1999 to me as the Plaintiff against Chernoff, because Bernis agreed it was a virtual certainty David Chernoff would, in classic fascist manner, counter-attack the whistle-blower by illegally revoking his ordinations to try to weaken his Accuser’s standing – which Chernoff did indeed attempt to do. Bernis knew full well what kind of system Chernoff was running.)
Bernis added: “And let me tell you something: if these guys (the MJAA Exec Committee) put my name onto one more thing I haven’t signed, I’m resigning from the Exec Committee.” (Aghast, I learned Bernis’s signature had been forged (added without his consent or knowledge) not only onto a present document falsely claiming to be unanimous, that was, in fact, not unanimous at all: but it was not the first time it had happened and that Bernis was aware of it.)
This is the Mafia model of fascism. Strong-arming. Forgery and false witness. Anything to protect power-holding and influence. And no wrong doing is by the Bosses or Made Guys is ever brought to account.
If you are “in” the mob – then you can do anything you want to people who are not “in.”
A leader with David Chernoff’s kind of influence, when one of his under-leaders like Joe Finkelstin is caught in massively serious wrong-doing (see below), is commanded by Scripture to “handle the matter in such a way as teaches the other (leaders) to fear God.” (1Tim. 5).
David Chernoff has, through his handling of his under leaders being caught in massively serious sin, sent his acolytes the message, “As long as the person you hurt or rob is less important to me than you, then you are safe.”
It has been ruinous to the entire modern Movement.
It was certainly the ruin of my and my wife’s life of investment in Two Testament Judaism.
In New York in August 1998, at Sel et Poivre Restaurant in Manhattan, David Chernoff told me directly that “Joe (the caught, self-confessed and convicted multi-offense criminal who tried to lie his way out of his mess and blame all its trouble on his victims) is a very, very good man – and you (Finkelstein’s victims, without a single specific charge ever proven against them, and whom Finkelstein and Joel Chernoff both positively affirmed in print) are a ‘division’ maker! Let me tell you something: that thing between you and Joe was a division!” So – in David Chernoff’s fantasy rewrite of history, all the troubles resulting from Finkelstein’s long string of confessed crimes were the fault of – his victims – who created “trouble/division” by seeking through due process and duly-filed charges some remedy for theft, slander, sadism, contract breakages, and false oaths by Finkelstein.
David Chernoff also denied the Confession was accurate, saying “Joe says the the confession isn’t even true anymore” – and when David Chernoff asked Finkelstein why he would confess to a long array of crimes he did not commit, Chernoff alleged Finkestein’s reply was, “I did it just to get Bruce off my back.” But David’s own brother, Joel, proved David Chernoff was lying. Joel, who was the signing official witness to Finkelstein’s confession, sent an email to me stating Finkelstein, on hearing David’s story that Joe “had backed off his confession,” when straight into David Chernoff’s office, and Joel said Finkelstein re-affirmed to David Chernoff his Confession as true and accurate: including its affirmations of Bruce Cohen. Whether Joel made up this story about Joe talking to David – or whether Joe actually did go to David – the result was nil. David Chernoff would not accept nor face that his Assistant Rabbi candidate had committed several years of thefts, lies, false oaths, contract breakages, and sadism.
David’s “backing off” story also obviously does not make sense, which seems to be because he was just making it up as he went along.
If David’s story was true, then automatically Finkelstein as a candidate for Assistant Rabbi was proven by his story to be so dishonest, so fragile, so cowardly, so weak of conviction that he would falsely confess to a long string of career-endangering crimes he didn’t commit, just for relief from pressure in process. Such an admission would, of course, be immediately disqualifying of Finkelstein for promotion to 1Timothy 3 “overseer” (rabbi) office in The Body of Messiah.
Perhaps worse – after Finkelstein had denied when questioned by Joel Chernoff that he had ever disclaimed the Confession, to which Joel Chernoff also testified in print, also admitting David Chernoff “did not want to face” the Confession as true – Joel then wrote, “it is not my (Joel’s) responsibility to make David see something he doesn’t want to see.” Tragically, Joel, in signing Finkelstein’s confession as a witness, had taken on exactly that responsibility. He simply refused to honor his vow.
All of which left Finkelstein free and at large to become a ‘rabbi” – and left Finkelstein’s victims ruined and marginalized by David Chernoff’s displaced blame and personal rage that his candidate having been shown so faulty after David had been going around everywhere telling everyone, “The Holy Spirit (of God) keeps on indicating this is the man (to take Jeff Foreman’s place as Assistant Rabbi at Beth Yeshua).
David Chernoff appeared to have decided that using his singular influence for killing the names and careers Finkelstein’s victims was better than putting Finkelstein through due process – and admitting he (Chernoff) had misread what “the Holy Spirit” was saying. This is classic “whistle-blower” and “Mafia” conduct. Disappear the whistleblower and the trouble disappears. The bottom of the East River here in Manhattan is littered with the results of this problem-solving process.
Every day Joe Finkelstein has had the title “rabbi” has been stolen – obtained by deeds and cooperation with or knowing permitting of deeds of harm to be done to the victims of his crimes Finkelstein, himself, stated with Joel Chernoff attesting, were not only innocent, but very good, supportive friends and colleagues, and 1Timothy 3-level spiritual leaders.
How could David Chernoff ––– knowing Finkelstein had been caught in all the above, and after first trying to lie his way out and blame his victims, was proven to the extent he confessed all, and David’s own brother Joel signed the confession attesting it was true –––call Joe Finkelstein ” a very, very good man?” In a Mafia, a “good fella” is a fellow member of the fascist core with immunity to accountability. Part your “crew.” One of “your guys.”
The Mafia redefined the word “good” to someone you can rely upon to do in your favor – and especially, to obey omertà, the law of silence.
In the documentary film, The Seven-Five, about the corrupt police precinct in Brooklyn New York that became an organized crime headquarters – the phrase “a good cop” was defined the way the famed movie Goodfellas showed the redefinition of what a “good guy” was in the Mafia. In both places, the word “good” came to mean “fiercely loyal to all his fellow cops or mafiosi.” A guy who could be relied upon to look the other way when his fellow cops or mafiosi – any “made guy” who was in the inner-circle – did anything wrongful in any way.
The Biblical standard voiced directly in Leviticus 5:1 is the exact opposite of omertà.
If a Believer knows anything about a matter of false oath or harm-doing – he or she cannot wait to be called by the authorities to testify: such persons of faith must come forward on their own initiative and tell all they know that relates to the matter. If they do not, the Scriptures say they are as guilty of the harm done as the actual harm-doer.
Good came to mean bad.
“Woe unto those who exchange good for bad, light for darkness.” is what the Scriptures teach us. “Woe” means harm. (Isaiah 5:20)
Marty’s “fierce personal loyalty” precept as the prime qualification for leadership has led to creation of an under-qualified or even directly disqualfied (as was Finkelstein), and therefore dangerous, highly biased layer of leaders holding power in many corners of the Messianic Jewish world. “Leaders” who do not have the first idea how to discharge their responsibilities honorably or correctly. They cover their friends wrongdoings even by harming their innocent victims, and they protect the power holders to whom they are beholden for their offices and positions. Facts on specific cases will be present in upcoming State Of The Reunion essays.
This is all directly forbidden of leaders in Scripture.
“You shall not know faces in judgment.” (Deut. 1:7, 16:19)
Seek out from among yourselves people of truth, who hate tainted gain, and make them leaders of thousands, hundreds, and tens. (Ex. 18:21)
VII. FACING THAT MARTY GOT THIS WRONG
Personal loyalty was never to be the main point: and being “of the truth” (the very language Yeshua of Nazareth used to describe people in actual relationship with him) was the epicenter of all delegation of authority.
Marty Chernoff got this nearly completely wrong.
What chance is there that the two best friends of a high office holder will be able to enact unbiased due process in regard to crimes of which their friend is accused, which might cost him his career?
When the Plaintiff against David Chernoff heard the three-man court would have two of David Chernoff’s self-described “best friends” as judges, he appealed to the head of the MJAA’s Rabbinic association, the IAMCS. That Steering Committee Chairman wrote back to the Plaintiff, enraged at the suggestion Chernoff’s two best friends should be recused (excused from serving as judges), strongly stating that they were “godly men who could achieve sufficient non-bias.”
As to being “godly” – one of the two men was, it turned out, in the midst of an adulterous affair that shortly thereafter wrecked his ministry and destroyed his marriage – at the exact same time he was sitting as a judge in a rabbinic court, torpedoing the duly-filed case of another rabbi against his “best friend,” David Chernoff. This level of compounded folly is not uncommon – because the qualifications for leadership are skewed away from actual acumen, and toward “fierce loyalty” to the status quo.
In a healthy environment, if Marty Chernoff had trained his sons and other under-leaders correctly ––– those two best friends of his son would have recused themselves upon being asked to serve. They would have openly stated, “The Defendant is my best friend: I can’t serve as a judge in a case upon which his entire career depends.” Judicial recusal is one of the standard tools by which civilized and Judeo-Christian justice prevents miscarriage of justice.
We are forbidden to handle judicial matters “by relationship.”
That is fascism.
When the MJAA went morally off the rails between 1997-2001 headlong into cover ups including forgery of signatures, publishing false documents to influence non-profit corporation elections and business meetings, massive false witness, and more – the reaction of most of the under-leaders was unquestioning support of the highest tiers of power – to the extent that even ambitious attorneys, who should know better about correct due process, were making openly unequivocal statements of support and exoneration of the accused Executives – without so much as one conversation with the Accusers, or evaluation of even one piece of evidence or testimony. Attorneys were acting this way! People trained in correct legal procedure!
Harvard Law trained attorney Elliot Klayman, in his capacity as UMJC Judiciary Chairman, actually supervised and approved a proceeding in the UMJC in which UMJC Vice President Jamie Cowen, who was accused of perjury and process-tampering on a broad scale, was permitted to “seal” the entire proceedings records from everyone except UMJC Executives. Hard to believe – but true. The Defendant (a non-UMJC rabbi) accusing the UMJC Vice President of massively serious dishonesty and process abuse would be the only party in the trial who would be barred from access to the records afterwards. That non-UMJC Plaintiff was told, under stern tone of rebuke for being bad-spirited if he did not comply, that if he would not sign away his right of access to the results of the trial before the trial even began, there would be no trial. Klayman approved this and supported it when a motion for reconsideration was filed.
That, my friends, is called a “secret trial.” It is fascism in operation.
It is forbidden by all sound due process. It is even more egregious when you consider – barring the Plaintiff from the evidence was done at the request of the Accused UMJC Vice President, and for the specific reason (which he put into print) that he was afraid his words and actions during the trial might be grounds for either a lawsuit against himself, or professional misconduct charges in his vocation (he also was an attorney). Cowen’s accuser had no such concerns, and was happy to have the trial be public, and every word recorded, and all evidence preserved for later scrutiny.
This is all flunking spiritual kindergarten. It is textbook fascism.
It is what Esterhazy and his crew did to Alfred Dreyfus.
“The first to state his case always seems right, until his neighbor cross-examines him.” Proverbs 18:17 – and – “It is not good to be without sufficient knowledge; therefore, a person who decides a matter without fully hearing it, it will become folly and shame to him.” Proverbs 18:13
The people who hasted to globally praise or cover up for the sinning and criminally misbehaving leaders were instantly rewarded with being raised into prominence. People no one ever heard of before in the wider MJAA arena, like a guy named Mike Stepakoff from West Florida, who was pouring out global affirmations of David Chernoff into the MJAA’s Rabbi’s Listserve – were suddenly put high onto conference podia to defend the purity of the Chernoff-arena status quo: people like Stepakoff with almost no personal acquaintance with Defendants were making global and universal statements of their innocence without viewing so much as one piece of Plaintiff evidence or hearing one word of Plaintiff testimony. Attorneys were behaving this way!
It was not “Miller Time” – it was Mafia Time.
It was Marty Chernoff’s “fierce loyalty” policy in action – but certainly not the way he intended. Columnist George Will once wrote, “The problem with the younger generation is often that they have not read the minutes of the last meeting.” Many of the “fierce loyalty” brand of leaders do not have the edcuation, the tools in acumen, the courage, clarity, or character to preside over sound justice processes – things at the core of spiritual leadership office: the things that brought such people into posts of influence were not necessarily things about their levels of acumen: as in Stepakoff’s case, it was flattery to a degree that boggles the mind. I have never, in all my life, seen flatter so vastly and eagerly as Mike Stepakoff did flattering David Chernoff when the 1999 charges against David hit the fan. And he was instantly rewarded in true fascist style, with prominence, In fascism, promoting the status quo gains you prominence. Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in Perestroika about how this was one of the traits of illness that led to the demise of Soviet Communism. A mutual praise-party by the holders of the status quo, or those eager to enter its higher echelons.
And all the lawyers in Marty’s sphere behaved as corruptly: the people who are professionally trained in correct due process! Elliot Klayman aided and supported obstruction of justice and deprivation of rights as detailed elsewhere in this essay. Jeffrey Lowenthal in Philadelphia approved at David Chernoff’s demand the sudden and without-due-process withdrawal of my licenses and ordinations I had earned across fifteen years of service in Congregation Beth Yeshua of Philadelphia – service including my supervision or actual teaching provision of the education of his own children and the B’nai Mitzvahs of two of his them. A lawyer like Lowenthal knows full well that you are never to “take away life, liberty or property (including reputation or good standing) from anyone without due process of law.” Executing punishment before an accused person has even been informed of charges against him or had a chance to reply and face his accusers is pure, undiluted fascism. Lowenthal signed the revocation order against my ordinations knowing full well that no formal charge had ever been made against me, I had never been told of any charge, and I was not given any opportunity to answer the charges or confront any accuser (Prov. 18:17) ––– yet, he signed. That is fascism in operation.
And the list goes on.
Marty, for all his positive qualities, could not see that his “new” policy of “fierce personal loyalty” was not new – it was a very old, harmful, Biblically disallowed thing called, fascism.
The MJAA is now a fascist organization disguised as a democracy.
The Constitution and By-Laws, its defining documents, describe it as a democratically elected, nationally representative organization, run according to Scriptural ethics and Roberts Rules of Order.
Is this dichotomy known?
Hear other voices on it than mine.
VIII. WHAT EVERYBODY KNOWS – AND QUIETLY SAYS
In addition to the voices I quoted above, add these:
“No one knows what they’re doing with these charges against David Chernoff. No one has ever held David accountable for anything before. No one knows what to do.” – Rabbi M. Silberling, MJAA Executive Committee
“Well, all of us have been hearing these things about the Chernoffs for years: but no one who charges them ever sticks: they always wear them down and outlast them.” – F.R. Mendel, IMJA Executive, Virginia November 1999
“The IMJA doesn’t have the money or qualified people to handle cases like this (that its Constitution requires be handled), so we’re going to drop it. And – the Movement can’t really afford to lose the Chernoffs or these other people accused with them.” – Paul Liberman, IMJA General Secretary, to Plaintiff against the Chernoffs and the MJAA for aborted due process.
“Why would I waste a beautiful afternoon like this to attend the MJAA Election and Business Meeting? It’s all a joke. It’s always the same people. It’s like musical chairs. All the officers have been picked already. It’s just a waste of time.” – Dennis Abrams, Esq., Attorney at MJAA summer Conference
“These charges against David Chernoff will never be handled: they’ll just go around the world calling (the Plaintiff) a bad person, and nothing will happen.” – R. Kersey, Former personal secretary to Joel Chernoff
“No one will ever handle these charges against David (Chernoff). Want to know why? If they ignore them, they’ll get to have breakfast with Joel Chernoff. They are an unhealthy family system, and our counselors all knew it. We were out. We had actually left – and then we went back, and I let my kids love those people. Going back into the MJAA was the worst decision of my entire life, and I regret it every single day.” – Helene Rosenberg, M.Div
“The elections are rigged. Votes against their selected slate are thrown out: I saw it with my own eyes. They stole a presidential election from a candidate right in front of me. If I had said anything, they would have thrown me out; and you (the Plaintiff against David Chernoff) should not file charges; they will take away your ordination, and while it is only a piece of paper, it’s an important credential, and they will just take it from you in retaliation for the charges.” – Joel Liberman. IAMCS rabbi and present Exec
“I know all these shady dealings you (the Plaintiff against David Chernoff) describe are true; because they did all the exact same things to me.” – Paul Liberman, IMJA General Secretary
There is a famed story about longtime US Senate leader Sam Rayburn, when he met a new congressman. He asked the young man, “Can I count on your loyalty?” The young man is said to have replied, “Sir, you can count on my support when I think you’re right, and my opposition when I think you’re wrong.” Rayburn is said to have put his arm around the young man’s shoulders, and to have said with a grin, “Son – I don’t need your loyalty when I’m right.”
“Fierce personal loyalty to the leader” is not the primary facet of lower-tier leadership selection.
Unconditional approval of the status quo is not “spirituality.” It is sycophancy.
IX. IN CLOSING
Marty unintentionally did his beloved Movement much harm with this particular teaching.
Messianic Judaism does not dishonor Marty Chernoff by severing his errors from his positive legacy, and fixing them.
He did the best he could.
He was just a man.
In regard to teachings of any human, we are told, “Go consult the Torah and the Testimony (of the Prophets). If the one who teaches does not speak in agreement with those confirmed inspired writings, there is no ‘dawn’ (spiritual truth) in what they say.” – Isaiah 8:20 targum.
Marty’s teaching on endemic Jewish identity was spot-on agreement with the Inspired Writings: see Acts 21:18-25; and it is feeding the world-wide Jewish faith community to the present day.
Marty’s teaching on “fierce loyalty” is directly contrary to the teaching of the Inspired Writings.
If Yeshua the Messiah’s close friend and disciple, Simon Peter, could one moment be affirming Yeshua with knowledge “revealed from My Father in Heaven,” and a short time later be giving Yeshua advice so far from God’s heart that Yeshua said to him, “Get yourself behind me, Satan/Adversary! You fix your heart on man’s ideas, not God’s.” – then surely we can accord the late Martin M. Chernoff the leeway to be as human – as right – and as wrong – as Peter could be, and not need at all times to be globally one or the other.
As Forrest Gump so beautifully put it, “Somehow, I think it’s both, happening at the same time.”
Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
18 August 2016