As the sun dips below the horizon on October 24, an estimated one million people worldwide will be participating in this extraordinary initiative.
Paula Abdul and The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik have joined Nobel Prize laureates, international sports stars, a US vice-presidential candidate and Jews of every nationality, ethnicity and level of observance who, in less than a week, will be uniting in 340 cities across the globe for what might just be the most extraordinary Shabbat in Jewish history…
“The Shabbat Project: Making History”
In general, observant Noahides can (but are not required to) commemorate those Jewish festivals that in some way relate to them and their spiritual mission. But you should be aware that these days are not to be commemorated by Noahides in the same way that they are commanded to be fully observed by Jews. For instance, a Noahide should not refrain from normal activities on the Jewish Holy Days or Sabbath, and should not perform those Jewish commandments that are religious only and have no practical benefit for Noahides (for example, waiving the four species of plants during the Festival of Sukkot).
-from “Noahide Holidays”
When I chose the title for today’s “morning meditation,” I considered how it would sound to Jewish people, which led me to AskNoah.org and the traditional Orthodox Jewish response. Almost by accident, I also discovered their interpretation of Jeremiah 31 and the New Covenant which is definitely at odds with my personal understanding (though not that much different).
If I want to think of Gentiles as participating in the Shabbat Project in some sense, should I consider the Orthodox Jewish response?
Frankly, no. Not that I don’t respect their perspective, but they do not include in their interpretation of scripture the Gentile role in receiving the blessings of the New Covenant through our Abrahamic faith.
I am mindful of why the Shabbat Project has been initiated and how the desire of the Jews involved is to unite worldwide Jewry, not worldwide humanity.
In Melbourne, a sociology professor from Monash University has undertaken an in-depth study of the city’s Jewish community to focus efforts, while scores of committees and subcommittees are ensuring the initiative reaches every last Jew in the state of Victoria. An estimated 50% of the 60,000-strong community are expected to take part.
In Buenos Aires, where every single Jewish community organization, school and synagogue in the city has signed up, more than ten thousand people are expected at an enormous Havdallah Unity Concert which has been put together with the help of the Argentinian government, and which will be broadcast on national television.
In Miami, a crack team have perfected a revolutionary recipe for a Thursday night Challah Bake expected to draw thousands, while a local high-school pupil is bringing hundreds of fellow high-school students from across South Florida to Miami Beach for one gargantuan shabbaton, and a local Chabad rabbi has set up a big tent on the premises of his shul, and is offering lavish Shabbat meals for anyone in his zip code pledging to keep that Shabbat.
The article goes on from there and ends thus:
“At this moment in time,” says (South African Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren) Goldstein, “in the aftermath of the Gaza War – and the pressures Jews everywhere have felt in its wake – the international Shabbat Project provides us with a unique, historic opportunity to give birth to a new sense of Jewish unity and Jewish identity. As Jews around the world, we will be doing this together. The power of that shared experience is unimaginable.”
I know in my little corner of the blogosphere, there are those non-Jews who become highly offended at the suggestion that anything Jewish should be left as the sole property of the Jewish people. However, as the non-Jewish husband of a Jewish wife and the father of three Jewish children, I am keenly aware that there are qualities, practices, and a lived history they share as Jews that I do not.
And I’m OK with that. As a husband and father, I understand my responsibility to work and act for the well-being of my family. I can best serve my family by recognizing that as Jews, they need to be part of Jewish community and to live Jewish lives. That doesn’t diminish my role or dilute the connectedness we have as a family and in fact, in certain ways, my attitudes and beliefs about their Jewishness enhances that closeness.
I suppose that might be difficult to understand if you aren’t part of an intermarried family. Oh, being intermarried doesn’t have to involve a Jewish/Gentile couple. You can view many different examples on Susan Katz Miller’s blog On Being Both.
More generically though, anytime you are in a situation where your spouse has a need or requirement in which you cannot participate because of different qualities or characteristics between you and your spouse, and you consider the needs of your spouse above your own by facilitating your spouse in satisfying his/her requirement, that’s what it’s like to be intermarried.
I’m in the initial phases of participating in the Riverton Mussar program. For this week’s middah (measure or portion), I received an email regarding humility which included a bullet point list of suggested practices. One of the items on that list is:
Prefer someone’s needs over yours.
It’s really that simple.
But what about the Shabbat Project for the rest of us, for the Gentile disciples of the Messiah? Did I just talk myself out of participating? Not at all. While I don’t consider myself a Noahide as such, I do take some guidance from the directive that Gentiles are allowed but not commanded to observe the mitzvot that are specifically attributed to the Jewish people.
Frankly, I suspect that most of the non-Jewish readers of this blog keep the Shabbat in some manner or fashion. I further believe it is permitted, particularly as related to acknowledging God as Sovereign Creator of the Universe (see Genesis 2:1-3).
But what can we Messianic Gentiles get out of observing the Shabbat and in some way participating in this global Jewish effort? Solidarity with the Jewish people and with Israel for one. Without attempting to be Israel or to usurp any of the Jewish identity markers or practices, we can observe the Shabbat in acknowledgment of Jewish uniqueness and favor in the eyes of Hashem.
Also, in the days of the Apostle Paul, as he “made souls” among the Gentiles, so to speak, and brought them into discipleship under Yeshua within the context of Jewish tutelage, the Gentiles would have had to mirror some of the behaviors and practices of their mentors. Acts 15:21 seems to function as a directive for the Gentile disciples to attend synagogue on Shabbat to learn Torah, not with the particular idea that they should replicate all of the covenant behaviors that are assigned to the Jewish people, but to gain the contextual framework necessary to understand the teachings of the Master and how they are applied to Gentile lives.
In order to live by the Universal [Noahide] Code, one must study its precepts. An outline is really just a starting point. The various ramifications of the Seven Noahide Commandments are discussed at length. The Sages of Israel taught that study of the Torah’s precepts (including the Universal Code) should be in a spirit of humility and faith. Therefore, Gentiles who believe in the One True G-d and strive to live by the Universal Code should study the details of their seven commandments, as well as other parts of Torah literature relevant to their spiritual needs and responsibilities.
-from “What other righteous traditions were accepted by Noahides after the Flood?”
Again, I’m not saying that Messianic Gentiles (i.e. “Christians”) are Noahides, but there are a few good points included here. For one, like the Seven Noahide Commandments, the “four essentials” included in the Acts 15 Jerusalem Letter can be considered just an outline, a starting point for the novice Gentile disciple. It’s a launching point from which the Gentile begins a life of Torah study for the purpose of understanding and then practicing a life of righteousness and holiness for the non-Jewish disciple.
According to “The Divine Code”, p. 91, by Rabbi Moshe Weiner:
“When a Gentile learns a part of Torah for the purpose of observing a Noahide commandment, he receives a reward, in addition to the reward for observing the Seven Noahide Commandments themselves. And even more so, since his learning Torah about the seven commandments is connected to the particular commandment that it relates to, the learning is a fulfillment of a directive from G-d. Therefore, learning about the Seven Noahide Commandments is called a permissible ‘involvement’ in Torah study, and the reward for this learning and involvement in Torah is great.”
I believe this commentary is basically correct relative to the Messianic Gentile studying Torah. I believe it is a mitzvah and that we receive a reward for striving to discover our purposes within its pages and then living them out. I believe there have been groups of Gentiles who have been attempting to do just that across human history:
I was reminded of this once again when I recently came across some articles on the Russian Subbotniks. The Subbotniks were a break-off group from the Russian Orthodox Church. They observed a seventh day and also faithfully observed the laws of Torah. When researching their account, I was not only intrigued by its many similarities to the situation of increasing numbers of Gentiles disciples of the Master returning to the practice of Torah, but I was also struck by some dangerous pitfalls revealed by their story. If we are not careful, we might fall into the same traps. In that regard, the tale of the Subbotniks is as inspiring as it is cautionary.
“The Subbotniks,” pg 49
Messiah Journal Spring 2014 (115) issue
The story of the Transylvanian Sabbatarians begins with András Eössi, a wealthy Székely landowner. (The Székely are a Hungarian-speaking ethnic group.) Eössi was a Unitarian who, despite his vast wealth, suffered a difficult life. He lost his wife and three sons, and he himself endured a debilitating disease that left him largely incapacitated. Alone in his castle in the village of Saint Elizabeth, Eössi committed himself to studying the Bible. In the course of his studies, he came to many of the same convictions that characterize the Hebrew Roots movement and Torah-observant, Messianic Judaism today. Fueled by the joy of discovery, he began to propagate the observance of the Sabbath, the festivals, the dietary laws and the ongoing validity of the Torah among Christians. In his writings he frequently expressed that his teachings were comprehendible to anyone with plain sense: “It requires not much arguing, quibbling, bickering; farmer’s sense is sufficient to understand it easily and surely,” he wrote. By 1588 he had disseminated his teachings and amassed followers throughout the Székely people.
-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Sabbatarians of Transylvania”
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship
These are only two short examples of a long and rich history of Gentile Sabbath-keepers. I strongly believe they all were responding to some sort of internal imperative that will become a lived reality in the Messianic Kingdom after the resurrection, when the Sabbath will be universal for a humanity devoted to King Messiah and to the God of Heaven and Earth.
In the present age, I don’t believe that Sabbath keeping is mandatory for the Gentile in the manner it is of the Jewish person based on it being a sign of the Sinai Covenant, which God made exclusively with Israel:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you.'”
-Exodus 31:12-14 (NASB)
But since acknowledging the Sabbath is also observed in recognition of God as Creator of the Universe, then I believe it is appropriate for “all flesh” to rest on the seventh day while not attempting to also claim Shabbat for ourselves as a covenant sign.
In humility, faith, and solidarity, we non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish King can pause starting this coming Friday evening and for the next twenty-four hours or so, if not in response to the present age, in the sure knowledge of the age to come when all the nations of the world will be at peace.
Learn more by visiting TheShabbosProject.org.
Addendum: On a personal note, I won’t be joining you. On those Friday evenings when my wife and daughter choose to light the Shabbos candles, I’m usually not aware of it unless I happen to enter the dining area in time to see the event. They don’t consider asking me to participate, most likely because I’m not Jewish, and probably more specifically because I’m a Christian. As I was writing today’s missive, I thought about D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews. According to Lancaster, the readers of this letter had been barred from participating in the Temple rites and isolated from the Priesthood specifically because of their faith in Yeshua as the Messiah. They could again offer sacrifices at the Temple if they renounced their faith in Messiah…
…and they were sorely tempted. The Hebrews letter writer was encouraging them, supporting them, telling them that even if they were denied the performance of the mitzvot associated with the Temple in Jerusalem, they were still fully engaged in the Heavenly Temple through their supernal High Priest Yeshua. So even though participation in the earthly Temple was wonderful and desirable, if they kept their faith and did not renounce Messiah, their reward in the life to come was assured and they always could approach Hashem through the Heavenly Priest and mediator Yeshua.
I can relate. If I weren’t a Christian, if I had lived a different life, if I had never come to a faith in Messiah but assumed the responsibilities of a Noahide or simply had no faith at all, I don’t doubt that it would be a lot more comfortable for the family to include me in their Jewish participation. But given the choice between not being invited to Shabbat and not receiving admittance into the Kingdom, I’ll tolerate the former to gain the latter, for I cannot renounce my Master, my Teacher, and my King.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong in non-Jews observing Shabbat in anticipation of the Great Shabbat in the Messianic Kingdom…I’m just in no position to join you right now. Perhaps someone will save a place for me “at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).