Part 2 in a four-part series. Go to Part 1 before continuing here.
While Christians and Jews rarely get hung up on who is obligated to what under usual circumstances, there is a “middle area” where Christians and Jews meet and sometimes enter into conflict. Of course I’m talking about Messianic Judaism which, in its ideal, is a form of normative Judaism (modern traditional Judaism and the traditional church will disagree with me here) that allows halakhic Jews who have come to faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, to give him honor and to worship God in a wholly religious Jewish context and environment. It could be thought of as a Judaism like other sects of Judaism in the 21st century, but one acknowledging that the Messiah has already come and will come again.
As I said, the rest of normative Judaism in our world completely rejects any suggestion that Jesus could possibly have been (or will be) the Jewish Messiah King and thus (for the most part) rejects all Jews who “believe in Jesus.”
Christianity sometimes struggles with Messianic Judaism as well, since the phrase “under the Law” is virtually a curse word in most churches. “Jewish Christians” who continue to observe the mitzvot are considered to be a slap in the face to Jesus Christ and his bloody, sacrificial death on the cross, which, after all, was supposed to have freed all men from the Law.
OK, not all churches believe in such supersessionist ideas and many churches are slowly progressing forward, but for a large number of “average Christians,” Messianic Judaism is at least a mystery if not an actual affront to their concept of the work of Christ.
Somewhere in the midst of all this is a group of Gentiles who believe in Christ as Lord, Savior, and Messiah, but who disdain not only the church as a whole, but even the name “Christian,” preferring to refer to themselves as “One Law” or “Messianic Gentile” or some other circumlocution.
Last week in Journey to Reconciliation, Part 1 and Part 2, I said that many people who make up the Hebrew Roots/One Law movement became disillusioned with the traditional church and feel that some form of “Judaism” is the key to returning to the true intent of Christ and the “grafting in” of non-Jewish believers into the Hebraic root. However, it becomes amazingly confusing when large groups of Gentile Christians start attempting to absorb and live out Jewish religious customs and identity markers, often without a very good understanding of the underlying traditions, definitions, and methods of operationalization of a Jewish religious lifestyle.
In other words, many One Law practitioners are only “quasi-Jewish” in appearance and otherwise don’t typically conform to actual Jewish religious behaviors. In any event, a group of Christians practicing modern Jewish Halacha is not the same thing as the first pagan goyim abandoning idolatry and starting to worship in a First Century church established by the Apostle Paul.
It gets even more confusing when, confronted with hundreds of years of Jewish Rabbinic judgments, rulings, and education, some Hebrew Roots Christians either decide to toss the Talmud out altogether or reinvent it for their own purposes. However, any attempt to live out even the semblance of a Jewish lifestyle, either without the Talmud or using it in a drastically altered version, is ultimately doomed to failure.
The ability to even understand how to enact the basics of Torah doesn’t exist without some form of interpretation. Whether you choose to believe in the authority of the Rabbis to make halakhic rulings or not, they did establish a standard of Biblical interpretation and behavior that has served to safeguard the Jewish people for the past 20 centuries. Granted, the Rabbis never intended the vast majority of the Talmud to ever apply to non-Jewish people, but once you commit yourself to a Jewish lifestyle, it becomes impossible to avoid significant encounters with the Talmud.
Any Gentile who chooses to pray with a Siddur has encountered the Talmud and probably the Zohar. Any Gentile who dons a tallit gadol has encountered the Talmud. Any Gentile who attempts to “keep kosher” beyond the limits of Leviticus 11 has encountered the Talmud. The Rabbinic Sages and their rulings are so integrated into modern Judaism that for all intents and purposes, they are modern Judaism. You cannot adopt any item or element from modern Jewish religious and worship life without encountering and adopting some aspect or ruling of the Sages.
There’s no such thing as a “Bible-only” Jewish life (there’s no such thing as a “Bible-only” Christian life either, since we too have a rich history of tradition and ritual…we just pretend their is). Any understanding and implementation of the mitzvot at all is heavily interpreted and filtered through hundreds of years of Rabbinic commentary.
I mentioned in another blog post that, while Rabbis discourage non-Jews from taking on Jewish identity customs such as wearing kippot, they also recognize that we non-Jews may want to adopt the underlying intent of those markers. There are some Gentiles who refrain from wearing a kippah outside of an authentic Jewish synagogue setting, but who honor God by covering their heads with a hat or similar article when in public. There’s nothing wrong with that.
The Messianic educational and publishing ministry First Fruits of Zion has written an overwhelming number of books and articles outlining the appropriateness and desirability of Christians keeping significant portions of the Torah, including the correct Halacha involved, so it’s not as if we Gentile believers are cut off from the beauty of wonder of the traditions and prayers. However, it is one thing to be a grafted in branch being nurtured by the “civilized” root, and another thing entirely to say that we now own that root and that it is totally ours to do with as we please.
We cannot throw out the Jewish lifestyle without exterminating the historic link that connects Judaism (and thus any Jewish application to Christianity) back 2,000 years to the days of the Messiah’s earthly existence. We cannot take the Jewish lifestyle and morph it into something that pleases we Christians better without destroying the authenticity and the “Jewishness” of that link. In our ignorance or our arrogance, (or both) we are continuing to do what we did in the darkest days of the history of the church; invalidate and destroy the history of the Jewish people and claim its “first fruits” as belonging only to us.
If anyone in Christianity desires to address some form of “Torah observance,” it hardly makes sense for us to reinvent the wheel by redesigning Halacha. If we want to “keep kosher,” for example, the standards for keeping kosher are well established. We don’t need to “fix” them or rewrite them. How could we do better? Where do we get the authority to try to take Jewish life and “Gentilize it?” If some Christians want to pray with a siddur, then you will have to get used to the idea that most of the prayers were written post-Second Temple, and a significant portion of the content originated with the ancient Jewish Sages.
Actually, I don’t blame “One Law” Christians and even the more moderate “Messianic Gentiles” (a category to which I probably still belong, although I think of myself as “Christian”) for being confused as to what aspects of Torah are allowable and which are considered “forbidden” to Gentiles by the Jewish people.
(I suppose now would be a good time to mention that Judaism can’t actually walk into some Gentile’s home or congregation and say, “You can’t do that. Only we can do that.” If any non-Jews refrain from Jewish dress or practices that uniquely identify the Jewish people, it would have to be out of respect for the Jews and the desire to honor the Jewish forefathers who brought the first Gentiles into faith and discipleship under the Jewish Messiah King. If you choose not to show that type or level of honor, then I guess you’ll do as you please.)
For people who are intermarried and interfaith like me, it’s a little simpler in that, having a Jewish spouse, whatever Jewish practices the Jew in the home performs, the non-Jew is involved. Thus if my wife should choose to light the Shabbos candles and say the blessing, I, as her husband, would be able to enjoy the full flavor of the Shabbat entering our home. Of course, I’ve blogged many times in the past about the conflicts and dissonance that can also be involved in an intermarried home, so in some sense, a husband and wife who are either both Christians or both Jews (or both Messianic Jews) have certain advantages.
In the home, there is no problem for the Christian who loves welcoming in the Shabbat, praying with the Siddur, and even wearing tzitzit and tefillin in prayer since, in privacy, it is between the Christian and God. In public, it becomes more “dicey” as I’ve already mentioned, especially once the Gentile individual or group purposefully adopts Jewish practices and dress and then deliberately alters time-honored Halacha and tradition because they believe they have the “right,” and what the Jewish people have established either doesn’t fit, or isn’t “good enough” somehow.
As I said, this issue is already hopelessly confused, which is one reason why I simply put the brakes on my own “One Law” religious practice, put my tallit, my kippah, and everything else “Jewish” in a box, and hit the “Reset” button. If a Christian has to adopt Jewish practices in order to feel religiously significant, spiritually closer to God, or validated in their faith in Jesus, then something is terribly wrong.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? -Galatians 3:1-6 (ESV)
Some people get so involved in adopting or adapting the “mechanics” of modern Judaism into their lives that they effectively forget that Jesus does matter. In fact, they forget that he matters more than anything because without the Messiah, we Gentiles could never become Christians and as such, enter into a covenant relationship with the God of Abraham.
But if the Torah is not our “keys to Heaven” so to speak, and if focusing on the mitzvot or our own adaptations of Halacha are not the most significant things in our lives, then on what do we base our hope? Where does our treasure lie? Are we always, as Christians, the “little brother” tagging along behind the older and “cooler” Jewish Messianics?
Absolutely not! But if not, then who are we and, in terms of anything “Messianic,” where is our significance, our role, our purpose in God’s Kingdom. We’ll cover that in Part 3.