"I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah." -- F. F. Bruce (pg. 259)
I think about this all the time. When the New Testament writers talked about the importance of Scripture, they didn't mean Hebrews or John. They meant the Old Testament. And Paul, a Pharisee, had the utmost respect for the Scriptures and would never have presumed to think that anything he wrote (particularly personal letters to friends and specific churches) would be placed in the same category as the Law. Not that i have a problem with taking the NT seriously, but it does feel a little uncomfortable sometimes when someone takes one out-of-context phrase from the NT and uses it to contradict huge chunks of the OT.
". . . I've also never heard a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:8, in which Paul tells Timothy, 'I want men everywhere to pray, lifting holy hands without anger or disrupting' that included a universal dictum that all men everywhere must raise their hands whenever they pray (updated NIV). But I've heard more than I can count on 1 Timothy 2:11, just three verses later, which says, 'A woman should learn in quietness and full submission' that have included universal dictums that all women everywhere must submit to male authority in the church." (pg. 261)
If Paul was writing Scripture that we should obey, then he was writing Scripture we should obey. If he occasionally made suggestions and offered his own opinion and talked about specific situations bound by specific cultures, then he has room to be wrong. We can either pick out the parts of Paul that we like and think are good and ignore the rest, or we can take everything he ever wrote as a direct command from God.
Personally, i think that Paul was smart and had a deep connection to the Holy Spirit and was a human being who was sometimes wrong and even when he was right he may only have been right in a specific context and not in every situation in the world. But i'm a woman, so who the hell knows.
"Some rabbis say that, at birth, we are each tied to God with a string, and that every time we sin, the string breaks. To those who repent of their sins, especially in the days of Rosh Hashana, God sends the angel Gabriel to make knots in the string, so that the humble and contrite are once again close to God. Because each one of us fails, because we all lose our way on the path to righteousness from time to time, our strings are full of knots. But, the rabbis like to say, a string with many knots is shorter than one without knots. So the person with many sins but a humble heart is closer to God."
My boyfriend often cites a spiritual teaching from his mom, in which she compared faith to a rubber band. Sometimes we wander far from God, but when we do, the band is stretched tight, and the farther we wander the more likely we are to be pulled in again. In her metaphor, the connection is never broken, but the ideas are still similar. And i like that Judaism (or at least, some of its rabbis) give room for grace. It's funny, because grace is supposed to be the Christian thing. You know: the OT God was full of wrath and judgement and fire and brimstone, and the NT God loves us and wants to forgive us and have us all live in harmony and love. It looks to me, however, as though God is just a little bit bigger and more complicated than whatever boxes we try to build for Him, and that He always makes room for grace.