Tosafos 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
“Relying on omens and signs which portend the future”
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
“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
My 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.
In 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.