Journey of the Ger Toshav: First Step

JourneyTosafos discusses how to understand how Eliezer, the trusted and faithful servant of Avraham Avinu, conducted himself in a questionable manner by letting an omen determine such a critical matter. The Gemara seems to say that he was in violation of the Torah’s law not to rely upon omens (Vayikra 19:26). Tosafos answers that according to one opinion, Eliezer was a Noachide, who was not commanded to avoid this type of conduct. And, according to the view that he was commanded to abide by it, we must say that he actually asked Rivka about her family before making any decisions.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Relying on omens and signs which portend the future”
Chullin 95

And the 126th prohibition is that we are forbidden from feed­ing meat from the Pesach offering to [any non-Jew, even] a ger toshav.

Translated by Rabbi Berel Bell
Sefer Hamitzvot
“A Gentile Eating of the Paschal Offering”
Negative Commandment 126

I’ve been trying to understand the relationship between Jews and Gentiles and how we are connected to God (and perhaps even to each other). This has been a recurring theme in my blogs for well over a year and I suspect I’ll never come to a final conclusion, but something in me refuses to let it go.

Between Christianity and Judaism, we like to think we have our roles all figured out. The Jews have Moses and the Christians have Jesus. Everybody else, well…they’re everybody else. The Jews believe that any non-Jew who adheres to the Seven Laws of Noah (see Genesis 9 for the source) is a “righteous Gentile” or Ger Toshav and merits a place in the world to come. This may well be true of the Gentile, regardless of what other traditions or religious practices the Ger Toshav follows. Christianity believes that a person must become a Christian in order to be saved and that there are no other alternatives (John 14:6).

While the Jewish perspective does not discount a Christian being a righteous Gentile (although worship of Jesus as God may rule that out, since it amounts to idol worship and polytheism), a Christian will absolutely not believe that anyone can come to God the Father except by accepting the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Period.

What surprises me is that, if the Old Testament record clearly points to Jesus as the Messiah, why does Judaism just “miss it?” Israel was the keeper of the Holy Scriptures and the only nation on Earth to worship the One and Unique God thousands of years before the concept of Christianity came into being. While Moses and the Children of Israel were standing before God at Sinai and accepting Him as their God, the ancestors of every Christian on Earth were worshiping pagan idols of wood and stone, and some were passing their own children through the flames of their false gods in (supposed) exchange for a good harvest.

There’s another wrinkle.

While traditional Christianity and Judaism have a more or less clear idea of who they are and what their roles are in relation to God and the Bible, there is a third group, rather small by comparison, but growing, which is called Messianic Judaism (MJ). Even within this group, there are a number of factions which have different and sometimes contradictory beliefs. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but the two primary groups are (for lack of better terms) One Law (OL) and Bilateral Ecclesiology (BE).

(Please keep in mind that these aren’t particularly formal groups, but in order to understand the concepts and positions, I need to assign some sort of labels to said-positions).

One Law is a movement within MJ that is made up primarily of non-Jewish Christians and Jews who come from a Christian background. This group states that Jesus never did away with the Law and that, when Gentiles are grafted into the root of Israel (Romans 11), they too become obligated to the exact same 613 commandments (as opposed to the 7 Noahide Laws) as the Jewish people. A major caveat in OL, is that this “Jewish” lifestyle is minus any directives from the Talmud, which they see as without authority and merely the opinions of men.

Bilateral Ecclesiology, a term coined in Mark Kinzer’s book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People, posits that there are clear boundaries between the obligations and responsibilities of Christian Gentiles and Jews, even those Jews who have come to faith in Jesus (“Yeshua” is used as the preferred Hebrew name of Christ by both groups). BE supporters consider that a non-Jew insisting upon being “obligated” to all of the Torah commandments is blurring if not disintegrating the line between Jews and Gentiles and making meaningless what it is to be a Jew. From their perspective. OL effectively makes Messianic Jews and Christians one indistinct “blob”, where you can’t tell where a Jew leaves off and where a Christian begins.

The debate between the two groups can get rather heated on occasion, as you can see in the comments at Judah Himango’s blog, for example (please note that I’m just using this as an example. I like Judah and this is not a criticism of him or his blog). Here’s a sample of one of the comment’s in question (I like the commenter, too and am quoting him just to illustrate the point, not to be critical):

Where Scriptures makes distinction between men and women, priests, etc. There is no mentions whatsoever for Jew and Gentile distinctions as far as keeping Torah is concerned. Even your beloved “scholars at FFOZ only come up with one, only one verse where they have to twist it in order to sustain their agenda, and you drink the kool-aid….

One Law bases its assumption upon the following:

The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you. –Exodus 12:49

You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God. –Leviticus 24:22

One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether he is a native-born Israelite or an alien. –Numbers 15:29

Mount SinaiMy opinion is that these scriptures are completely irrelevant to the One Law position since the “aliens” being referred to in these verses are non-Jews who attached themselves to the God of Israel, joined with the Israelites as a people, and eventually were absorbed into that population. They started out as Ger Toshav and their ancestors did not retain their non-Jewish identity but essentially “converted” to Judaism. It would be impossible to apply this set of examples to a group of non-Jewish “Messianic” believers today who want to be as equally obligated to the Torah as the Jewish people but all the while, retaining their Gentile identity and only living a partial Jewish lifestyle (one that disregards Talmudic interpretation of the written Torah).

Groups that hold to a “Bilateral Ecclesiology” framework (I don’t think Kinzer ever intended to make a theology out of BE), while maintaining a rather large Gentile Christian following, are led by a core group of Jewish Rabbis (Rabbi as defined within their own context) who support Messianic Judaism for Jews, including a completely Jewish religious lifestyle (Talmud included). They see the Acts 15 letter as the defining pronouncement by James and the Jerusalem Council, those Jews who held the mantle of authority over the “Messianic” movement after the ascension of Christ. The letter clearly defines limits upon the obligation of the Gentile believers in relation to the Torah of Moses. The letter doesn’t completely illustrate those limits, since Jesus taught outside their scope, but nothing in the teachings of Christ specifically commands that Gentiles become wholly absorbed into the Jewish nation.

Further, Paul, in the book of Galatians, goes to great efforts to discourage the Gentile Christians from converting to Judaism, for in converting, the Gentile Christian would then become fully obligated to obey all of the Torah (Galatians 5:3). That would be a crazy statement to make if the Gentile Christians were already fully obligated, as OL suggests. (D. Thomas Lancaster recently wrote The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, in which he illustrates how to understand Paul’s letter as teaching this distinction.)

To recap, traditional Judaism and Christianity both see their roles as very clear within their own groups and in relation to each other. Jews believe the Torah is only for the Jews and Gentiles, including Christians, are not obligated to it and are, in many cases, forbidden to adhere to its instructions. Non-Jews may only come before God when accepting the obligation of the Seven Noahide Laws and becoming Ger Toshav, and there is no need to convert to Judaism. Christians believe that the Law was wholly replaced by the Grace of Christ (for Jews and Gentiles) and that anyone, even a Jew, must convert to Christianity to have right standing before God. The Christian covenant completely replaces the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants in their eyes.

In other words, Jews aren’t trying to co-opt Christians and Christians aren’t trying to co-opt Jews. They are separate communities with few if any bridges across the gap.

Messianic Judaism muddies the waters of that gap considerably and is still trying to define who they are and who Jews and Gentile Christians are in relation to each other, to the Torah, and to God.

But what about the Ger Toshav? I previously addressed the differences between the Noahide and the Christian in a pair of blog posts: The Sons of Noah and Children of God. Nevertheless, I believe that the clues to how Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians are supposed to relate to each other, to the Torah, and to God may be found in the more traditional understanding by Judaism of the Ger Toshav (and I’m deliberately sacrificing sure footing for the sake to my journey in pursuing the Ger Toshav).

What started this line of thinking for me was Rabbi Bell’s translated statement, “…is that we are forbidden from feeding meat from the Pesach offering to [any non-Jew, even] a ger toshav“. It never occurred to me that a Noahide would have had a special status in relation to Passover and the other festivals in the ancient community of Israel, but that was a logical outcome of the “one law for the native and the alien” statements during the forty years of wandering.

Going to GodIn Messianic Judaism, One Law accuses Bilateral Ecclesiology of denying Gentile Messianics (Christians) access to the same benefits of Torah living as the Jews and, by inference, treating Christians as if they/we were any other Gentile group. BE states that Gentile faith in the Jewish Messiah does make a difference, but that difference is largely in the areas of moral and spiritual behavior and does not include Jewish identity markers (wearing tzitzit, laying tefillin, keeping Kosher, observing the Shabbat). Traditional Judaism, while not recognizing a special status among Christian Gentiles relative to other non-Jews, does believe there is a difference in expectation between the general population of the world and those Gentiles who accept the mantle of Ger Toshav.

(Just to be clear, traditional Judaism sees all factions of Messianic Judaism as Christians; “Jews for Jesus”. Traditional Christianity sees Messianic Judaism as a group of Judaizers who are “under the law”. Like I said, the waters are muddy)

Eliezer was considered a Noahide, a righteous Gentile, a Ger Toshav and the most trusted of the household of Abraham. He was empowered to select a bride for Isaac, the son of the promise, who would father Jacob and continue a line that would lead to the patriarchs, the twelve tribes of Israel, and ultimately, the Messiah himself. Yet Maimonides considered even a Ger Toshav as forbidden from eating of the Passover sacrifice. Who is the Ger Toshav and can we take any understanding away from who he is and who we are in Christ, especially as we attempt to relate to our Messianic Jewish brothers?

What does it all mean and can any conclusions be drawn from this rather confused mess? That’s what I’m going to try to find out in my next blog.

For now, I remain a Christian at the gates of the Temple of God.

Part two of this series is The Ger Toshav at Worship.


12 thoughts on “Journey of the Ger Toshav: First Step”

  1. I had to scan this pretty quickly, so i may have missed something, but on my journey with Messiah, I have been led in a slightly different exploration, and I can’t go into every part of it right now. However, the one question this whole article raises for me, is what actually happens when a person (either Jew or Gentile) becomes a “new creation”. “The old things have passed away and all things become new”. How does that fit into this scenario.

    Because it almost reads like both groups are only distinguished by how they follow certain rules and regulations with regard to their religion. Instead, at the heart of Christianity, is the fact that we have been created into a new being; a different kind of being. And inside of this new being you can be a Jew or be a Gentile, but you are still a new being. Now there are people who claim to be Christians who have not become a new being, and there are Jews who have. I would also contend that there are “non-Christians” who have also experienced this new being-ness. But that’s another story that I don’t want to address here.

    But to me, this whole discussion of OL and BE seems to be based on the fact that our relationship is based upon which rules we follow. I don’t think that is the case at all. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to continue this comment. But I’d really like to hear what you have to say in the light of the new creation that we become when we become one with Christ.

  2. You bring up a really good point, Dree. At the core of the discussion between these two factions in MJ is the distinction about who is obligated to follow what rules. The OL faction believes they are obligated to follow the 613 commandments and that it is a sin not to. The BE faction believes only Jews (Messianic and otherwise) are obligated to the full 613 commandments and any Gentiles in the movement who also make the claim are infringing on Jewish identity and the Mosaic covenant.

    What does it mean to be a new creation in Messiah. For one thing, its a new creation that is available to both Jews and Gentiles but does it obliterate the differences between Jews and Gentiles? If so, then Jews will see that position as another way to “get rid of” Jews and convert them all to Christians (which is pretty much what a large part of the Christian church is trying to do). If not, then there is room for covenant differences within the context of the new creation, but Gentiles who support OL will cry foul and say they’re being treated as second-class citizens.

    The “conflict” is centered around who is to be attached to certain rights and responsibilities with a strong thread of potential antisemitism weaved into the conversation’s fabric.

    Christianity “resolves” the conflict by saying Jesus replaced the Law of God with the grace of Christ, but that means replacing Judaism with Christianity. Judaism (traditional) says the Messiah hasn’t come yet and frankly, that makes Christians misguided at best and polytheistic idol worshipers (since they worship a man as God and worship three “Gods”) at worst. Messianic Judaism tries to split the difference and resolve the conflict, but instead, it only compounds the problem.

    I strongly suspect this conundrum won’t be resolved until the Messiah returns and I also believe that when he does resolve it, we’ll all be slapping our foreheads because the answer will be so simple (and one that we all have completely missed). However, I still feel compelled to stir the pot and try to inspire some dialog. In my case, the added motivation is being intermarried, but my heart is truly drawn to Judaism. I don’t know the answers, but I need to ask the questions.

  3. Hi- First I’d like to comment that I don’t think it is clear that the TANAKH says Jesus is The Messiah. If it were so clear, we would not have thousands of years of debate. In fact, I believe he was NOT Messiah Ben David. He hasn’t done the “Messiah stuff”. Messiah Ben Yoseph is a different story. Maybe He will come back as…but until then…it’s a stale mate.
    I also think that until Messianics can take the Oral Torah seriously, there is no conversation.

  4. Hi Tikvah,

    You are correct that it is a matter of opinion but it is also a matter of faith. I can agree that Jesus came first as Messiah Ben Yoseph, the suffering servant, and in my faith, I believe he will return as Messiah ben David, the conquering King. Since traditional Judaism expects there to be only one “instance” or appearance of the Messiah, they state that Jesus cannot be the Messiah because he didn’t do any of the “Messiah stuff” such as defeating Israel’s enemies.

    Actually, there are a significant group within larger Messianic Judaism that really does take the Oral Law, Talmud, and even Kaballah seriously. It is true that they are few and far between, but they exist and I’ve exchanged emails with them.

    Your comments come at an interesting time since just a few hours ago, I had a private conversation with a Jewish gentleman who reminded me of the rather wide gulf that exists between Christianity and Judaism. I’ll reference that conversation in tomorrow’s morning meditation.

  5. There is a lot of precedent in traditional Judaism for two Messiahs. It is strongly implied in the Talmud and the idea probably remained strong well after the Talmudic era. For obvious reasons, anti-missionaries in modern times downplay it.

    First Fruits of Zion and the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council are two Messianic groups that have real respect for Jewish tradition and halakha. They have Rabbinic literature sitting on their bookshelves, and they take its study seriously. They represent a minority within the MJ movement, but I think this could eventually change as One Law views and latent anti-Semitism lose traction in the movement. I know of no Messianic organization that takes Qabalah study seriously, though. I have a hard taking it seriously myself, especially the Lurianic brand. It may have brought many Jews nearer to God, but Judaism as a whole would have been better off without the level of superstition. Qabalah at its best is benign mysticism; at its worst it is medieval sorcery with Judaic pretensions.

  6. James,
    As long as I have been following this type of discussion, for better or worse, I do not recall seeing a coherent presentation of the purpose of the “obligation to Torah” that has been argued to belong to only one people group. Yes, there has been much back and forth about who is obligated to what and why. But my question to all involved is this: to what purpose? For those who proclaim that they alone are the recipients of Torah and that therefore they alone are to be the keepers of Torah, again I ask: to what purpose?
    It would seem that the answer consists of only two possible choices.
    The purpose of Torah observation due to obligation is either “because of salvation” or “for salvation”.
    If it is “because of salvation”, then what is the difference between the salvation of the Jew and the salvation of the non-Jew? Messiah made it quite clear that in that arena there is no difference.
    If it is “for salvation”, then why on earth would our Father in heaven allow one people group to obtain salvation through the keeping of Torah and not another?
    I personally believe that there has been a departure from the foundational truths set out by Messiah Yeshua for all mankind. The obvious and very welcome course adjustment that came by the providence of our Father, releasing many from the vanity of mixed faith and worship, has unfortunately morphed into a movement being defined and changed by the fleshly minds of those who desperately want to be in charge.
    If the “Messianic movement” is becoming nothing more than identity politics, then we have failed ourselves. The discussion needs to move on to the next set of questions. And we all, myself included, need to consider the answers and make the next array of adjustments without endless controversy.
    Helpful to all I would think.


  7. “Identity politics are political arguments that focus upon the self interest and perspectives of self-identified social interest groups . . .” (Wikipedia). Russ has touched on a crucial issue in this discussion. Social groups can only engage in identity politics in a largersocial setting in which they feel their interests and perspectives aren’t respected. I agree that it signifies a failure where Jews in the “Messianic movement” insist on our self interest and perspectives.

    But just what is that failure? IMO, it begins as Messianic Judaism somehow morphs into the Messianic movement, made up predominantly of Gentiles. It is intensified when the majority consider the self interest and perspectives of Jews to be troublesome. But the real failure is when Messianic Jews engage in identity politics in the Messianic movement rather than simply going about our business as Jews.

    BTW, Gentiles are not to blame for the “Messianic movement” becoming predominantly Gentile. They simply joined something that was attractive to them. The apparent insensitivity of many Messianic Gentiles to issues related to Jewish identity can be attributed in large part to the fact that they were never given the kind of spiritual formation that would have sensitized them to it. When Messianic Judaism, a movement of Jews, somehow morphed into the “Messianic movement” that is predominantly Gentile, Gentiles could reasonably (though perhaps silently) asked themselves why the minority (Jews) were running the show? And Jews who were interested in preserving Jewish identity had little choice but to engage in identity politics.

    “Little choice”, but not “no choice.” As Russ suggests, “The discussion needs to move on to the next set of questions.” The discussion among Messianic Jews needs to begin with, “How then shall we live?”

  8. This series hit something of a roadblock (see today’s morning meditation) when I discovered that from a traditional Jewish point of view, a Christian cannot be considered a Noahide. It think what I’ve been trying to get at is the difficulty in a Gentile who is a disciple of Jesus and who is attracted to a Jewish lifestyle (for whatever reason) in engaging Judaism on its own terms. A Noahide is a Gentile who engages traditional Judaism in Judaism’s own terms relative to the Seven Noahide Laws, but Messianic Judaism isn’t that clear cut. With Jesus as the equalizing factor between Jew and Gentile in MJ, it becomes difficult if not impossible to determine which group (or if any group) defines the terms of membership in the sense Judaism defines those terms for Noahides.

    I was hoping for some clues as to how to construct fellowship, community, and mutually accepted allowable behaviors in the relationship, but it doesn’t work the same way in the Noahide/Jew relationship as it does in the Gentile/Jew relationship within MJ. Jews associated with the BE perspective desire to be the defining factor for their own process and for Gentiles who want to join, but OL tends to want Gentiles to define their own terms. What we have is sort of a replication of the 1st and 2nd century dynamic in the “Messianic movement” when Jews originally were the majority, but eventually were vastly outnumbered by all of the Gentiles who came to faith in Jesus. The result back then was a schism between Gentile Christianity and Judaism. What may end up happening in the present is a (temporary?) division between Jews and Gentiles in “the movement”, whereby Jews are involved in Messianic Judaism and Gentiles are affiliated with what Derek Leman calls “Judeo-Christian” congregations.

    I don’t really fit into either group, nor would I connect in a traditional church setting (and self-identifying as a Christian, probably not in a traditional synagogue setting either, as I’m just finding out), so being non-affiliated seems to be my only option for the moment. I read recently (though I can’t remember where) that a person who studies Torah without a proper teacher is an ignoramus, no matter how much he may have learned.

  9. Without paying some attention to what G-d says he wants of those that follow in his ways, I think the matter is one of community. If you are in a Jewish district, interacting with Jews of a Messianic belief, it seems important to be able to fellowship with those Jews in the manner they find acceptable. Whether they are One Law or BiLateral, then they can teach what they believe to be right conduct, and a gentile can accept or move on.

    I am not seeking community in that way anymore. I talk about G-d to anyone who will discuss the matter in the frame of mind they can understand, and introduce my varying opinion only if they seem interested, and mostly they do not care about what I do, so long as I am not asking them to change what they do. We talk about what we have in common rather than about what separates us.

    It is more to the point to consider what G-d wants of us, and without delving into the traditions of Judaism, the Bible is reasonably clear about obeying G-d and Yeshua, but the Apostles who presumably had the ability to establish halachah for Gentile Believers in Mashiach limited the conversation to the minimum of Jewish Behavior that would permit fellowship, and get the Gentiles away from idolatrous behavior.

    Presumably the Council at Jerusalem had the Noahide requirements for Gentiles already in their thoughts, and merely added a few crucial matters as a minimum of actual need as a Believer entering into this Messianic Group as a Gentile, but the Jews were running the show, and with the Apostle gone, it went into Christianity. I think keeping the Ten Commandments, inscluding a Saturday Shabbat of rest, keeping the Feasts, and eating Kosher foods covers what is needed for fellowship. The rest for Gentiles becomes a matter of what they think G-d wants of them, as they learn more. And Jews can be as Orthodox as they choose or not, in Yeshua, without beating themselves up to adhere to what is essentially not the New Covenant being established, but the older ways that are becoming new.

    1. The benefit of pursuing an individual relationship with God outside of traditional community, is the flexibility on choosing one’s tradition of praxis, Q.

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