Defining Judaism: A Simple Commentary

Talmud StudyWe find on today’s amud that one who is called up to the Torah has to have heard at least three verses—two if three is impractical—for his aliyah to count.

Someone once presented Rav Moshe Feinstein with a very common concern. He asked, “What if someone failed to hear some words of the Torah reading? Did he discharge his obligation if he missed a few? Many great scholars and tzaddikim were very careful and would make up any word missed by joining another minyan during their reading. But perhaps such stories are not because of any halachic obligation. Maybe they are merely a stringency?”

Rav Moshe ruled decisively, “It is obvious that one should not skip even one word of the reading if it is at all possible. Post facto, if one skipped and it was a day where we lain three verses, on the surface it would appear as though one does discharge his obligation. It is not permitted to read less than three verses. Since the person in question did not hear the minimum, he did not discharge his obligation. This is no different than the case of one who was called up to the Torah and they did not lain three verses—he also did not discharge his obligation if he did not hear the minimum number of verses.

Rav Moshe concluded, “If the reading contains more than three verses and he heard three he discharges his obligation with this aliyah, and if he heard another two aliyos he has fulfilled his obligation. Of course, on Shabbos and Yom Tov one has the problem that if he missed a part of the reading he will not merit to finish the public reading of the Torah for that year. However, in such a case one often has no recourse since he cannot have them repeat the reading only for him!”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“The Minimum”
Siman 137, Seif 5-6

Recently Dan Benzvi on his blog Fellow Heirs challenged me to discuss the relationship between the Torah, Oral Law, and the Talmud in his blog post The oral Torah. Authority of God or man. I’m not sure we “solved” anything, but at least we got the opportunity to (again) air our different perspectives on the matter.

Dan really does bring up some good questions, though. Can we believe that everything in the Mishnah and all of the rulings in the Talmud are indeed directly tied to the oral Laws God gave Moses at Sinai (assuming you believe that event actually took place) and that a Jew must obey all of the relevant Rabbinic rulings?

Take a look at the example I posted above from Mishna Berura Yomi Digest. There’s nothing in our written Bible that lends itself to describing the traditional Jewish Torah readings in anywhere near this level of detail. Can we believe that God gave these specific details to Moses? If so, why is there a question here? If not, then where did these questions and answers come from and why are they considered binding in Judaism?

If you’re a (non-Jewish) Christian, this entire discussion is moot. People who aren’t Jewish aren’t considered bound by any of the Rabbinic judgments under any circumstances, so we don’t have to give all this a second thought. But what about if you’re Jewish, and especially if you’re a believer (i.e. a “Christian” or a “Messianic Jew”)? If it’s not in the written Bible we have with us today but rather, in the extended Jewish documented wisdom, does it really matter?

Indeed, the Mishnah contains not a hint about what its authors conceive their work to be. Is it a law code? Is it a schoolbook? Since it makes statements describing what people should and should not do, or rather, do and do not do, we might suppose it is a law code. Since, as we shall see in a moment, it covers topics of both practical and theoretical interest, we might suppose it is a schoolbook. But the Mishnah never expresses a hint about the authors’ intent. The reason is that the authors do what they must to efface all traces not only of individuality but also of their own participation in the formation of the document. So it is not only a letter from utopia to whom it may concern. It also is a letter written by no one person – nor by a committee, either. Nor should we fail to notice, even at the outset, that while the Mishnah clearly addresses Israel, the Jewish people, it is remarkably indifferent to the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Mishnah makes no effort at imitating the Hebrew of the Hebrew Bible, as do the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Mishnah does not attribute its sayings to biblical heroes, prophets or holymen, as do the writings of the pseudepigraphs of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Mishnah does not claim to emerge from a fresh encounter with God through revelation, as is not uncommon in Israelite writings of the preceding four hundred years; the Holy Spirit is not alleged to speak here. So all the devices by which other Israelite writers gain credence for their messages are ignored. Perhaps the authority of the Mishnah was self-evident to its authors. But, self-evident or not, the authors in no way take the trouble to explain their document’s audience why people should conform to the descriptive statements contained in their holy book.

from the introduction to
The Mishnah: A New Translation
by Jacob Neusner

Talmud Study by LamplightThat description of the Mishnah is fairly similar to others I’ve read from various sources such as The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, edited by Charlotte Fonrobert and Martin Jaffee. But given all of that, what can we say about Mishnah, Talmud, and Gemara?

I’m not particularly qualified to respond, not being a scholar in Jewish studies or anything related, but from what I gather, it’s extremely important to Judaism that these texts, opinions, commentaries, and judgments do exist. Here’s why.

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. and the subsequent eviction of most of the Jews from the Holy Land, what existed to define Judaism? Prior to this point, it was always the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Even in the times between the Temples of Solomon and Herod, it was the ideal of the Temple and the Torah that, more than anything else, defined Jewish identity in exile. The longing for the Jewish people was always the return to Israel, both as nation and paradigm, and to worship again “as in days of old and as in previous years” (Malachi 3:4).

With the Second Temple reduced to scorched and shattered rubble, and the vast majority of the Jewish people exiled to the diaspora, what was to prevent the eventual assimilation of the Jews into the nations surrounding them and outnumbering them?

Judaism was always about being distinctive, as the scripture says, “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:8 [ESV]). All of the laws we see given to the Israelites in the Torah were designed to impact every area of their lives, serving as national constitution, penal and civil law, business ethics, social mores, and even personal and behavioral guides. In virtually every way, the nation of Israel was to stand out and stand apart from the nations of the world, primarily to lead its inhabitants to a holy life with God, but also to be a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 51:4), leading the world to God by example.

But a huge amount of the Torah laws apply only if you have a Temple, a functional priesthood, a system of courts including the Sanhedrin, and live within the geographic boundaries of the Land God gave in perpetuity to the Jewish people.

The Romans took all of that away, and then subsequent conquerors kept the Land and national self-rule from the Jews for the next 2,000 years.

Why didn’t the Jewish people assimilate and disappear into the pages of history? Many, many other people groups and religious traditions from that time have utterly vanished from our view. Why did the Jews, though extremely small in number, remain a people vitally alive with purpose and function; with faith and identity?

What do you think of when you think of a religious Jew?

The stereotypes some people have are guys in black hats and coats, wearing some sort of string off of their waistline, having large, bushy beards, and bowing over and over again when they pray. Some people think of “Jewish prayer shawls and prayer books” while others think of events such as Passover or Chanukah. Whatever religious stereotypes seem to identify the Jews, the activities are almost always different than any other people group in the world. Jews worship in different places than anyone else, pray differently, pray in a different language than anyone else, wear different clothes (at least sometimes), have different holidays, eat differently, sing differently and…well, you get the idea.

I can hardly say that the Mishnah and Talmud are direct representations of the “Oral Law” that goes back over 3,500 years to Moses and God on Sinai, especially given the description (or lack thereof) of the origins of the Mishnah. What I can say, is that what the Jews have as “people of the book”, are a set of laws and rulings that set them apart from any other nation and group on earth, and that has defined them and kept them and preserved them when everyone else was doing their best to completely annihilate the Jewish people.

No, I’m not denying God’s involvement in the preservation of Judaism and in fact, I’m counting on it. As God went down into Egypt with Jacob (Genesis 46:3-4), so too did He go into the death camps with the Jews during the Holocaust. So too did he go with the Jews into the newly created state of Israel and He is there with them now.

But in a very great way, one of the primary mechanisms that has maintained Judaism as Judaism for the past twenty centuries has been the Talmud. It has now taken on the status of “Holy” among the Jews, especially the Orthodox, and it has many critics, including within more liberal religious and secular Judaism. But without it, would there be a man or woman alive today that we could point to and know he or she is a Jew?

You can love the Talmud or you can hate it, but if you are a Jew, no matter who you are, you cannot dismiss its existence or its role in preserving your existence.

As an afterword, I want to apologize to all of the Jewish people reading this. I’m not trying to pass myself off as some sort of expert (I’m anything but an expert on Judaism) or to co-opt anything belonging to Judaism. I am just presenting the perspective of one Christian writer on why I think the Talmud is not just important, but historically vital for the existence of the Jewish people. Please keep that in mind when or if you decide to comment.

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41 thoughts on “Defining Judaism: A Simple Commentary”

  1. Good article James. If this is all what the Mishnah/Talmud is, I can agree, But we know that this is not the case. Take for example the issue of who is a Jew. The halacha says according to the mother, which contradicts Scriptures (Even MJ disagrees), and yet they instil draconian ruls and regulations according to the whim of the rabbis. On what authority?

  2. Thanks, Dan.

    The whole issue of Jewish identity is amazingly complex in the modern world. Part of what I’m saying when I use the Talmud as a way of defining Judaism, is the actual, lived experience of *being* a religious Jew. It doesn’t mean that someone (say a secular Jew) who doesn’t practice what the Talmud preaches isn’t Jewish, but historically, halachah has provided a model of Jewish behavior, especially in relation to living in the diaspora and to distinguish Jewish behavior from Gentile behavior.

    I pulled a story from the Jerusalem Post called Removing stumbling blocks to Jewish identity, which addresses part of the problem, with the idea of writing a blog around it (I still may). In the past I’ve been critical of the Israeli rabbinate on this matter and agree that things have gone too far, especially in the treatment of converts. On the other hand, I also have to agree that conditions today are not what they were in antiquity, and there is probably no way to use the same standards to define Judaism in the modern world as was used in the day of Moses, or David, or Paul.

    I do take exception however, to any group of non-Jews who play “dress up” with kippot and talitot, pray from siddurim using badly pronounced Hebrew, keep Leviticus 11 “kosher-style”, and read from a Chumash on Saturday, and who believe they are creating an authentic “Judaism”. Maybe they’re “Hebrew Roots” or maybe they’re something else, but I don’t think they are able to re-define themselves as a “Judaism” based on a little understanding of what the Torah says and complete ignorance of and disdain towards the Talmud.

  3. Perhaps those rabbis that declared Jewish identity as maternal had very good reasons? They were not Biblical ignoramuses; on the contrary, they knew the Hebrew Bible as well as anyone.

  4. Andrew, halachah currently defines a Jew as anyone who was born of a Jewish mother, and similar explanations about how that works can be found at JewishAnswers.org and Chabad.org. As you can see when reading the articles, it doesn’t appear as if the Torah figures into the explanation and it seems to involve a very “mystic” connection between God, a woman, and her child.

    I once heard that the “real” explanation had to do with Jewish women who gave birth after being raped by Gentiles (which wasn’t uncommon in the history of the persecuted Jewish people). Since there was no way of knowing if the child’s father were the woman’s Jewish husband or the rapist, a judgment was issued that if the mother was Jewish, the child was Jewish. I have no idea if this is even remotely true or not, but it does give another possible rationale. As you can see from the official explanations, that aspect is not presented.

  5. “I do take exception however, to any group of non-Jews who play “dress up” with kippot and talitot, pray from siddurim using badly pronounced Hebrew, keep Leviticus 11 “kosher-style”, and read from a Chumash on Saturday, and who believe they are creating an authentic “Judaism”. Maybe they’re “Hebrew Roots” or maybe they’re something else, but I don’t think they are able to re-define themselves as a “Judaism” based on a little understanding of what the Torah says and complete ignorance of and disdain towards the Talmud.”

    Don’t blame Hebrew roots for this. Way before HR ever existed MJ let Gentiles come in…But you of course know all this.

  6. “Don’t blame Hebrew roots for this. Way before HR ever existed MJ let Gentiles come in…But you of course know all this.”

    True. This is a lot of what’s driving certain aspects of Messianic Judaism to focus in Jewish identity definitions and markers, which leads to a lot of “spirited” discussion about who should and should not do stuff like wear tzitzit, lay tefillin, be called up for aliyot, and then we’re “off to the races, again” so to speak.

  7. “I do take exception however, to any group of non-Jews who play “dress up” with kippot and talitot, pray from siddurim using badly pronounced Hebrew, keep Leviticus 11 “kosher-style”, and read from a Chumash on Saturday, and who believe they are creating an authentic “Judaism”.”

    You also wrote: “I’m not trying to pass myself off as some sort of expert (I’m anything but an expert on Judaism)”

    If you’re not an expert on Judaism then you don’t know all the teachings of the Rabbis and you don’t understand all of their rationales behind those teachings. So you shouldn’t make fun of those sincere individuals who are returning to G-d and hold the Netzarim Ketuvim up as a higher authority than the teachings of the non-Believing Rabbis.

    Sincerely,

    Peter

  8. Dan,

    I just don’t like to see anyone being made fun of because of their beliefs. I don’t think it’s right to call them little girls who play dress up or to say disparaging things about their approach to kashrut.

    Why attack the people who are drawn to Judaism? Don’t we have better things to do with our time? Judah has suggested soup kitchens, which I think is an awesome idea. Let’s take the energy that goes into saying disparaging things about sincere followers of Yeshua and put it into performing acts of chesed for all the world–all mishpochah. Isn’t that what Yeshua would want us to do?

    Sincerely,

    Peter

  9. By the way, I think Yeshua doesn’t care about “badly pronounced Hebrew” when someone with a sincere heart is trying to approach Him in prayerful obedience. Would a father get mad at his 2 year old daughter for petitioning him in broken English? I can tell you from experience that a father doesn’t get upset but rather he is positively delighted.

    Sincerely,

    Peter

  10. Peter,

    It would be nice if you would answer my question…..You go around bashing other people for they knowledge in Judaism, and at the same time you demonstarate your ignorance…Ever hear of equal weights a nd measures?

  11. Dan,

    Was James bashing himself by saying he is not an expert? No. Am I bashing James by reasoning with him as to why he shouldn’t poke fun at converts? No.

    I like James. I reason with him because I want him to consider the feelings of those who are sincerely trying to learn Hebrew or otherwise engage with Jewish traditions.

    -Peter

  12. Peter, I doubt the early believing community ever called the NT the “Netzarim Ketuvim.” Actually, that canon wasn’t even finalized until centuries after Yeshua ascended. Calling it that is an undue eccentricity, IMO. It’s the Hebrew roots thing of not knowing Hebrew, yet trying to use as much as possible, even when it doesn’t fit. Not making fun of anyone, just trying to work out the kinks.

    Anyway, I for one DO believe that gentiles doing Jewish dress-up with no connection to the normative Jewish community ought to be (lovingly) criticized. Believe me, many of the people involved are throwing on the Jewish ritual trappings for not the most admirable reasons (don’t take this as me saying that gentile Torah-submission is never justified, because I’m not; Beth Immanuel seems to be a wonderful example of a gentile community observing mitzvot while getting the priorities and theology right). Many adopt a highly critical attitude toward established Christianity, even the denomination they left, even if it was very recently. The sooner that correction is heeded, the less problems and pain these immature communities will face in the future. Some of these people may return to good Messianic congregations or even their old churches and really help out Israel in that way.

  13. Andrew,

    I like you. I think we agree more than you realize. And you would probably agree that fellowship amongst Believers is vitally important–even for those on a Jewish path, yes?

    Here’s a hypothetical for you if you’ll permit me:

    If you had a daughter who felt called to follow Torah and she came to you and asked you “Where do you think I should go to learn about Judaism?” What would be your response?

    -Peter

  14. Peter,

    I believe I would refer her to the local rabbi, as that person is virtually guaranteed to be a better source of information on Torah than either a Messianic leader or even a good book. However, I would also tell her that the rabbi would in no way support her belief in Jesus, so it is best to simply avoid that issue and focus on Torah and Jewishness. If she is uncomfortable with that, then an FFOZ book or a Messianic leader. But under no circumstances a Hebrew Roots group that believes they are the true Israel.

  15. Wow! Lots going on here in my absence. First off Peter, I was not making fun of converts to Judaism, but that is not the group you or I are actually talking about. In fact, I don’t believe I was “making fun” of anyone, although I admit my language was a little irreverent. I was addressing specific groups within the One Law framework (not even One Law as a whole) who take it upon themselves to re-invent Judaism in their own image without doing adequate studying or research. For that matter, can a group made up entirely of non-Jews reasonably declare themselves “Jewish” or a “Judaism?” (For the record, I should state that if a person’s great-grandmother or distant cousin was or is Jewish, that does not make the individual with such a relative a Jew according to accepted halacha…Sometimes however, a person in OL who has some possibility of Jewish ancestry tends to leap to unwarranted conclusions)

    Keep in mind that I am a non-Jew who is attracted to Judaism and for quite a number of years, I did worship in a One Law congregation. To this day, the congregation I left is One Law and I am not making fun of them at all. They are people of great faith and honorable character, and I know they struggle to define their role and the nature of their worship (I know because I helped define that struggle). They do not assume they can simply appropriate Judaism from the Jewish people and claim it solely as their own property. Sadly, in my tenure in the realms of One Law, I interacted with many individuals and occasionally, other groups who were way off the deep end as far as Gentiles removing Judaism from the Jews and claiming it for the Gentile OL congregations. It was a disturbing spin of the traditional supersessionist way of thinking.

    I believe there are many non-Jews, such as myself, who are “attracted” to the Jewish way of life for many different reasons. However, even in that “attraction”, I boxed up and put away my tallit gadol and my tefillin some months ago, since I came to the realization that these are more specific to Jewish worship as opposed to a Gentile exploring Judaism. I still pray with a siddur, but significantly limit the blessings I utter so that I do not recite passages that would require I be a Jew.

    I think it’s one thing for a Gentile to be attracted to Judaism and to approach the Jewish lifestyle with proper respect, and another thing entirely to dive headlong into the Jewish swimming pool and, like the “Occupy Wall Street” groups in various cities, claim everything they’re immersed into as “ours” (“Whose Judaism? Our Judaism”).

    But are Gentile OL groups attracted to Judaism, the Torah, or both? I think some people and groups get a little confused. Technically, One Law groups believe that they are grafted in to the Mosaic covenant (although I disagree with this position) rather than being grafted into modern, Talmudic Judaism per se. Yet it can be difficult, if not impossible, to separate the two and that being the case, we get back to your friends who studied at the Chabad and eventualy converted over to them, Peter. For a Gentile Christian who is trying to explore what their faith means relative to a Jewish understanding of God and the scriptures, Judaism can sometimes be a maze which is confusing and baffling and it’s possible to become lost.

    More often than not though, many One Law Gentiles tend to simply toss those parts of Judaism and the Torah they don’t understand (including all of the Mishnah, Talmud, and Gemara) out the window and attempt to emulate only those parts they can agree with and that seem to mesh with how they understand their Christianity (and at its heart, OL theology is more Christian than Jewish).

    The comments of mine you have objected to Peter, were focused on Gentile Christians who believe that the Jews (including many Jews who are Messianic) are doing Judaism and the Torah “wrong” and, in their own imaginations, believe they can do it better. I certainly can’t object to a Gentile being attracted to the beauty they see in Judaism, but if that’s the case, rather than re-creating it in the Gentile image, they should do some serious study in a Jewish synagogue to see if Judaism is what they really imagine it to be. Yes, that means they could be in danger of losing their faith in Jesus, but if their faith is that fragile, they need to become better grounded in Christ before entering into other worlds.

    I’m sorry you found my comments disagreeable. It was not my intention to be offensive. It was however, my intention to point out how some Jews could find offense in a group of Gentiles who probably don’t know any better when they think they’re practicing Jewish worship.

  16. I would like you to take a look at the C.V. for Rabbi Rudolph of Tikvat Israel–a Messianic Congregation in Richmond, VA:

    –Cambridge University: Ph.D. in New Testament

    –M.A. in Biblical Languages (Summa cum laude) Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Greek and German

    –MD Master of Theological Studies (concentration: Messianic Jewish Theology)

    –Bachelor of Theology (B.Th.) (Major: Pastoral Theology)

    There are many brilliant and highly educated Rabbis in the UMJC alone. So why would a local non-Believing Rabbi be your first choice?

    Sincerely,

    Peter

  17. “There are many brilliant and highly educated Rabbis in the UMJC alone. So why would a local non-Believing Rabbi be your first choice?”

    Those look like great credentials. I would definitely go with that over a non-believing Rabbi. However, the UMJC is only a fraction of the Messianic movement, and many cities, if they have a Messianic congregation at all, don’t have such a congregation but one with only ceremonial use of Hebrew and shallow and/or naive grasp of Torah, mostly gentile membership, perhaps with one Jewish “rabbi” who simply hasn’t earned that title. If the question is Torah, and it’s a choice between that and the knowledgeable, seasoned non-believing Rabbi who has known Shema ever since Cheder, I go with the latter.

  18. “More often than not though, many One Law Gentiles tend to simply toss those parts of Judaism and the Torah they don’t understand (including all of the Mishnah, Talmud, and Gemara) out the window and attempt to emulate only those parts they can agree with and that seem to mesh with how they understand their Christianity (and at its heart, OL theology is more Christian than Jewish). ”

    And here lies the great paradox. Isn’t that exactly what BE and DI teaching? That Gentiles should not take on the full yoke of Judaism? Don’t they teach that the Torah is not for Gentiles?

  19. I would like you to take a look at the C.V. for Rabbi Rudolph of Tikvat Israel–a Messianic Congregation in Richmond, VA.

    Peter, I think you meant this comment for Andrew, but I just pointed out that it was not at congregations such as this that my criticism was aimed.

  20. Dan,

    Paul said in Galatians 5:3 that “I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. “ If he was saying that a Gentile disciple of Christ was only obligated to obey the whole law if he converted to Judaism (was circumcised), that would seem to imply that the Gentile disciple of Christ (i.e. “Christian”) was *not* obligated to Torah.

    I’m just finishing my blog for tomorrow morning which, in part, addresses this topic. Please stay tuned.

  21. James, careful with Galatians 5. Paul says he’s talking about people who use circumcision as a means of justification. So his focus is quite narrow.

    –Peter

  22. True, Peter. He’s saying that conversion for the sake of justification denies the sacrifice of Christ and its meaning in our lives. He’s not forbidding conversion out of hand. However, it’s difficult to overlook the statement that anyone who converts comes under the full obligation of the Torah. This is a clear implication that anyone who is not Jewish, by conversion or birth, is not under full obligation to Torah.

  23. James,

    If Paul is referring not to faith-based circumcision but rather works-based circumcision then you MUST factor that into your reading of verse 3:

    “(3) Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”

    Since we know that Paul is addressing the false notion of works-based justification, Paul seems to be exposing the absurdity of works-based justification by forcing his audience to confront the impossible goal of such a system: perfect obedience to “the whole law.”

    And also don’t forget the rules of hermeneutics. You can’t take Paul’s statements in isolation without looking at the rest of the New Testament. You wrote:

    “This is a clear implication that anyone who is not Jewish, by conversion or birth, is not under full obligation to Torah.”

    Compare that “implication” to other passages in the New Testament:

    Rom 2:26 “So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?”

    Rom 3:29-31 “29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”

    James, are you aware that all recent Pauline scholarship admits to having fundamentally misunderstood Paul? Check this out:

    “…the publication of E.P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977 launched a new era in the interpretation of Paul. Most immediately and obviously affected was Paul’s teaching on Judaism and the law, as scholars scrambled to relate Paul’s varied teaching on these matters to Sanders’s depiction of second-temple Jewish soteriology (“covenantal nomism”). But so closely entwined is Paul’s teaching on Judaism and the law with his major theological emphases in letters such as Romans and Galatians that the Sanders ‘revolution’ inevitably and quickly spawned a series of fresh readings of those letters and their theological emphases. These new interpretations naturally took many different shapes. But the most plausible and ultimately the most popular of these interpretations has been dubbed “the new perspective.” James Dunn, a leading proponent of this new way of reading Paul, gave the movement its name in a 1983 article, but his ideas were in many ways anticipated by N. T. Wright in a 1978 lecture. These two scholars are the best representatives of the ‘new perspective,’…” pg. 184 from the essay entitled “Israel and the Law in Romans 5-11: Interaction with the New Perspective” by Douglas J. Moo.

    So how then can we say that Paul is “clear” when so many great Christian scholars–very intelligent and learned men–had to recently admit that their fundamental interpretational models on Paul were completely wrong?

    Anyway, I would encourage you to not jump to conclusions on the basis of one passage. Find a way to reconcile the discrepancies that I’ve mentioned and then you can say that you have a solution–only don’t say that it is “clear.”

    By the way, how WOULD you reconcile your reading of Galatians 5 with the verses I mentioned from Romans? Paul seems to think that it is the blood of Yeshua–our Passover Lamb–that initiates one into the covenant—NOT physical circumcision. And the modern scholarship on Paul says that Paul equated covenantal membership with a corresponding obligation to follow Torah:

    “Sanders describes…’covenantal nomism’: the notion that a Jew’s standing before God is secured by God’s election of Israel as his covenant people…and that obedience to the law is the appropriate response to God’s initial act of grace…” pg. 2 from the essay entitled “The ‘New Perspective’ at Twenty-Five” by Stephen Westerholm.

    Sincerely,

    Peter

  24. The same faith doesn’t mean that non-Jewish disciples of Jesus become clones of the Jewish disciples, taking on an entire Jewish identity except for physical circumcision, particularly as far as modern synagogue worship and practice goes.

    For Romans 2:26 what are the “Law’s requirements” the uncircumcised were keeping and was Paul toggling back and forth between physical circumcision (being Jewish) and circumcision of the heart (which could be the faith that Abraham had before the physical circumcision and long before the giving of the Torah)?

    Romans 3:29-31 doesn’t have to speak to Jews and Gentiles keeping the same exact covenants, since God is even the God of those who recognize and keep no covenant at all. God is my God as I am attached to Him through the Messianic covenant with the Gentiles and He’s also the God of the Jews who He took to Himself under the Mosaic covenant at Sinai.

    I can and do take other portions of the Bible into consideration and can still arrive at the same conclusion relative to Gentile obligations to God.

    Of course Paul’s writings have been misunderstood and they’re controvertial among many New Testament scholars today. Traditionally, both Christianity and Judaism see Paul as creating a new religion, Christianity, which nullified Judaism entirely, destroying the Law for both Jew and Christian Gentile and replacing it with grace (supersessionism at its beginning). Generally, One Law and Hebrew Roots movements seem to believe Paul did not create a new religion but was the messenger to the Gentiles, bringing both the grace of Christ and the Law of Moses to the rest of the world. Various factions in more “formal” Messianic Judaism (MJ) believe that the Law of Moses was never abolished by Jesus or Paul for the Jews but that it was never transferred by the “grafting process” to the Gentiles. MJ believes (and keep in mind, all of these descriptions are just brief summaries) that non-Jews have different or at best, overlapping responsibilities to God, but that those responsibilities are not absolutely identical to the Jews.

    As you can see, we can interpret Paul’s words in more than one way, with you reading them as pointing in one direction and my reading them as pointing in a different direction. Who is “right?” Obviously, we each believe we are correct, but what does God have in mind? The answer to that question in absolute terms, isn’t known and perhaps can’t be known until the Messiah returns. Until then, we both will do the best we can to understand and obey the will of God, even if our understanding doesn’t particularly agree in the details.

    Oh, speaking of Galatians, have you read Lancaster’s The Holy Epistle to the Galatians yet? It’s a very interesting read. I wrote a review of it last summer that will tell you more about how I perceived his writing.

  25. James,

    You wrote:

    “Romans 3:29-31 doesn’t have to speak to Jews and Gentiles keeping the same exact covenants…”

    Where are you getting the idea that there are separate covenants for Jews and gentiles?

    Paul says that gentiles are included in Israel and its associated covenants of promise:

    Ephesians 2:
    “12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world….19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household”

    What covenant do you know that offers citizenship in Israel other than the Israeli Covenant that was made through the blood of the passover lamb (and now the Passover Lamb)? Give me one example.

    Sincerely,

    Peter

  26. The Messianic covenant (which apparently you call the “Israeli covenant”) allows we who are not part of the Mosaic covenant to be adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High and to become citizens of the Kingdom through Jesus Christ, but it doesn’t make us inheritors of the Mosaic covenant, which was given to the Hebrews at Sinai. For the Jews, these two covenants operate together, with the latter ratifying the former, but it doesn’t “retrofit” Gentiles back into the Mosaic covenant as far as I’ve been able to discover.

    Granted, this is my personal belief and it flies in the face of traditional Christianity and certainly most Hebrew Roots groups as well, but I see absolutely no picture in the NT of the non-Jewish disciples ever taking on an identity that was completely and functionally identical to their Jewish mentors. Two people can be citizens of the same nation, with the same basic rights and responsibilities, but still not be functionally identical in all details. My favorite example is two Americans, one is a software developer and the other is a police officer. Both have the same rights and responsibilities as American citizens, but the police officer has elevated responsibilities based on his status as a law enforcement officer. Various other citizen subgroups in our nation also have elevated responsibilites including members of the Armed Forces, firefighters, and the like. They are all citizens and equal as such, but the certain subgroups are selected to have greater “yokes”.

    That we Gentile “wild olive shoots” were grafted in with the “civilized branches” of the Jewish people onto a common root does not make all the branches identical nor change the nature and character of the grafted in branches (this is true when actual branches from one tree are literally grafted into another, which is apparently why Paul used the metaphor). For example, if the branches on the natural tree always produce green blooms and I am a branch from a different tree that always produces blue blossoms, even after being grafted into the “green” tree for years, my branch will still continue to produce blue blossoms. The two different types of branches have the same nourishment from the same root, but they still produce two different types of blooms. They are still two related (because of the root) things but are also not the same.

    We Gentiles were separate from Christ and God and our being grafted in allows us citizenship in the Kingdom, but it doesn’t literally make us Jewish and thus partakers of the Mosaic covenant unless we convert.

  27. James,

    You wrote: “Two people can be citizens of the same nation, with the same basic rights and responsibilities, but still not be functionally identical in all details.”

    I’m glad you raise the citizenship metaphor. A citizen is supposed to follow the laws of the country in which he is a citizen, yes?

    Sincerely,

    Peter

  28. Go back to how laws and responsibilities are applied differently based on status, Peter. Citizenship, in this case, allows everyone to merit a place in the world to come and equal access to the love and grace of God for everyone. Also, all citizens are obligated to feed the hungry, visit the sick, clothe the unclothed, and welcome the stranger into their homes, for example.

    However, as I pointed out before, some citizens, on top of everything I just mentioned, have additional laws that apply to them because of their status. A police officer is obligated to become involved in protecting the public during a crime situation even if he or she is off duty. No ordinary citizen has that responsibility. Let’s then use that metaphor to say that a Jew has an obligation to keep a more specific level of holiness than the “average” citizen, such as wearing tzitzit and tefillin in prayer, observing the Shabbat more strictly, and so on.

    These are not laws that are applied to the people of the earth, but only to a subset of people who received the covenant at Sinai and who inherited the Abrahamic covenant over the physical land of Israel. We aren’t those guys, just like most of us aren’t police officers. We have been given stewardship over all the earth and are commanded to love God more than anything and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40), which applies to everyone. The inheritors of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants have to go “above and beyond’ and we get to share the Davidic (Messianic) covenant, which allows we non-Jews to become “naturalized citizens” but doesn’t grant us special status as “police officers”, so to speak.

  29. James,

    “Go back to how laws and responsibilities are applied differently based on status, Peter. Citizenship, in this case, allows everyone to merit a place in the world to come and equal access to the love and grace of God for everyone. Also, all citizens are obligated to feed the hungry, visit the sick, clothe the unclothed, and welcome the stranger into their homes, for example. ”

    You are losing compass here. According to the Rabbis only Jews merit a place in the world to come. Wht do you think they invented the ritual of a proselyte?

  30. That’s not true, Dan. In traditional Judaism, a righteous Gentile also merits a place in the world to come. From a Christian or Messianic point of view, we Gentiles who are “citizens” by virtue of Jesus also merit eternal life.

  31. James,

    Paul uses the word citizen in Ephesians 2. He uses it several times. In the first instance, he uses it to say that gentile Believers are citizens in Israel. But the second time he uses it the word is not merely “citizen” but “fellow citizens.” Paul is not here advocating supersessionism; he is saying something profound however. He is saying that the gentile Believer’s status is not “second class” but rather rather “fellow citizen.” This Greek expression means equal rights. See the following quote:

    “Best (241) defines [politeia] here as ‘the right to be a member of a sociopolitical entity,’ probably due to the phrase’s link to ‘the covenants of promise.'(Calvin, 233; BDAG, 845.2).” pg 38 of Ephesians: A Handbook on the Greek Text by William J. Larkin

    Where else do we see the Israeli version of the Equal Protection Clause? We see it in three instances. We see it in the passages where it says One Law (i.e. the same law) applies to the native-born as well as the convert.

    Sincerely,

    Peter

  32. James You are touching on two points here.

    1)That’s not true, Dan. In traditional Judaism, a righteous Gentile also merits a place in the world to come.”

    Can you find any support for it before the RAMBAM? Sanhedrin says “all Israel have a share in the world to come.” That means that One have to become an israelites in order to merit a place in the world to come.

    2) “From a Christian or Messianic point of view, we Gentiles who are “citizens” by virtue of Jesus also merit eternal life.”

    You are mixing rabbinic rules, whith Christians beliefs, because you cannot support your assertion any other way?

  33. @Dan: Do you mean I’m not a citizen of the Kingdom by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ? If not, where is my hope?

    @Peter: In Galatians 3:28, Paul uses his famous line “neither Jew nor Greek” to apparently obliterate any distinction whatsoever between Jews and non-Jews in the eyes of God. However, he also says “there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Does that mean God (or at least Paul) was canceling any distinctions between gender or class? The last time I looked, men and women were different not only biologically, but under certain circumstances, in role and function. The same goes between different classes based on position and authority (master vs. slave, boss vs. employee, 1% vs. 99%).

    So how are Jews and Gentiles the same as citizens if we are also distinctly different from one another? Your interpretation of scripture obliterates anything that makes a Jew different and distinct under the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants because of the Davidic covenant which, as you describe, would create one indistinct blob of humanity who are as identical to one another in the eyes of God as a collection of clones. “Neither Jew nor Greek.”

    Men and woman are citizens of the same country but they maintain many distinctions and a man wouldn’t assume to be a woman nor vice versa, just because legally they are considered equal. Men cannot give birth and therefore do not have that obligation. That doesn’t make them unequal, just different. Status, such as salaried vs. hourly employees are another example. Both are equal lin the eyes of the law, but their specific employment status (remember, this is all metaphor) means that if an hourly employee works 41 hours, he gets more pay than if he worked his regular 40 hours. For a salaried employee, it makes no difference.

    The metaphors aren’t perfect, but what I’m trying to say is that you can be equal in terms of citizenship but not absolutely identical. A Jewish and non-Jewish disciple in the Messiah may be identical in terms of access to God and in receiving love from God, but that doesn’t mean that non-Jews can or should try to clone themselves into Jewish behavior because of that equality. It’s OK for Jews to be Jewish, to look Jewish, act Jewish, eat Jewish, and pray Jewish. It doesn’t mean non-Jewish “second class citizens” anymore then woman are second class citizens when compared to men. It just makes them different and those differences go to the bone.

  34. James,

    Gender can’t be changed; one’s spiritual status CAN be changed.

    You wrote: “Your interpretation of scripture obliterates anything that makes a Jew different”

    There were more tribes in Israel besides Judah. It didn’t hurt Judah that Benjamin followed Torah. It didn’t hurt Judah or Benjamin that converts followed Torah. That is a very poor argument indeed.

    Here’s how you can win your bilateral argument (I’m trying to help you out here): prove to me that gentile Believers are excluded from citizenship in Israel. Cite evidence.

    MY CHALLENGE TO ALL IN THE MOVEMENT:

    I challenge anyone in the Messianic movement to a respectful public debate on bilateral ecclesiology. I’ll even debate David Rudolph or Mark Kinzer. I’m ready. Are any of you out there? : )

    Cheers,

    Peter

  35. I hate to disappoint you Peter, but my blog may not be as widely read as you might imagine. I’m reasonably sure (though I can’t be positive) that David Rudolph and Mark Kinzer have never even heard of me, let alone visit my blog on a regular basis. You might want to issue your challenge to them in a venue where they are more likely to see it.

    Peter, I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I know that through the Messiah, the Gentiles are sharers in the promises of the Messiah that we will all have eternal life and equal access to God, but that doesn’t literally turn me into a Jewish person, particularly down to the details of identity. Nor does it turn me into any member of any of the twelve tribes, so not only am I not a Jew, I am not an Israelite or a Hebrew. I am a member of the nations and a person created in the image of God. By His grace and mercy, God sent His one and only Son to, among other things, open the opportunity for the nations to also enter into a covenant relationship with our Creator, that the world might be reconciled to Him. Frankly, I’m extremely grateful. I’d rather be the least and most humble servant in Heaven than be exalted anyplace else.

    I am certainly interested in reading whatever debate you may have with Rudolph and Kinzer, assuming they consent to participate. Let me know if they choose to engage you in this endeavor.

  36. James,

    “@Dan: Do you mean I’m not a citizen of the Kingdom by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ? If not, where is my hope?”

    Not according to the rabbis. For them it does not matter what I think.

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