Where Do We Go From Here?

jewish-family-lifeQuestion: I need a good book on Judaism. My wife is Jewish and I recently found out that I am, too! We want to raise our kids Jewish. I have read extensively on the subjects of philosophy, religion and psychology. I need something with some real meat, not a yawn intro book.

The Aish Rabbi Replies: The first place to start, of course, is with the all-time bestseller, the Bible. It is not a yawn! I recommend the “Stone Chumash” (artscroll.com), because it will give you a proper Jewish translation plus extensive commentary.

Jewish life is based largely around the calendar year. “The Book of Our Heritage” by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (feldheim.com) is a classic work, featuring a lively and scholarly explanation of all the laws and customs of the Jewish holidays.

An understanding of history is also integral. Rabbi Ken Spiro has written an excellent book filled with facts and anecdotes – “Crash Course in Jewish History” explores the 4,000 years of Jewish existence from Abraham to Zionism, while answering the great questions: Why have the Jewish people been so unique, so impactful, yet so hated and so relentlessly persecuted?

Finally, I suggest you start in earnest by attending a Discovery seminar. It provides an excellent overview of Jewish history, philosophy, and literature. The seminar is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world. For a current schedule, visit http://www.aish.com/dis/

May the Almighty guide you and your family on the path to Jewish fulfillment.

“Home Study”
From the “Ask the Rabbi” archives

Seems pretty straightforward, necessary, and praiseworthy. A gentleman who has recently discovered he is halachically Jewish and who is married to a Jewish wife wants to establish a Jewish family life. While the person in question wasn’t raised in a Jewish household and apparently spent most of his life believing he wasn’t Jewish, the fact that he married a Jewish woman and then recently discovered he is a Jew has had a profound affect on him. He desires to integrate himself into Judaism and ultimately the Jewish community. What could be wrong with that?

Problem (no, not with the guy who wrote “Ask the Rabbi”):

More than a few non-Jewish Christians also express more than a passing curiosity about Judaism and their (our) faith’s “Jewish roots.”

Why is this a problem? Because once you’re drawn to Jewish practices, Jewish philosophy, and Jewish literature, what do you do with that knowledge and those desires?

There are numerous answers, some relatively benign and some highly controversial. I didn’t want this morning’s “meditation” to be controversial but either God or the defective wiring in my brain had other ideas.

Those non-Jews who began in 1960s America to seek the roots of the faith that trusts Rav Yeshua for the redemption of mankind were attracted to the budding MJ movement precisely because it seemed to be seeking the same thing. I sometimes suspect that the resulting fusion between Evangelicalism and MJ has produced the kind of Christian-Jewish religious result they were seeking, though it is currently mislabelled as MJ (while the real essence of MJ has been inhibited because it must pursue more authentic halakhic Jewish praxis that is not suited to non-Jews and is not always appreciated by assimilated American Jews who have lost touch with comprehensive genuine Jewis praxis and perspective). If we could effect the necessary separation that sets MJ free to become itself (i.e., a truly and thoroughly Jewish messianism), while the Jewish Roots of Christianity folks satisfy themselves with the semi-Jewish style of religious praxis developed together with MJs so far, perhaps we would end with a pair of related religions resembling the first-century vision. And if we do it now, maybe we’ll be better prepared for the physical establishment of the messianic kingdom in Jerusalem ‘ere long.

Comment on Shammai, Peter, and Cornelius

two-roads-joinThat’s a very generous and informed perspective from a Jewish point of view, although I don’t doubt that a number of people will disagree with this statement. It necessitates two separate religious paths or conduits in the worship of the God of Israel through the Messiah, one for Jews in the Messiah and one for Christians. Coming alongside does not require any overlap and I know more than a few Jewish believers who would prefer that non-Jewish Christians (or “Messianic Gentiles” as the case may be) not “overlap” into their world at all.

My personal belief is that at some point, most likely in the Messianic age, non-Jews will enter into some parts of a space that was previously reserved for Jewish people in terms of the Shabbat, perhaps some manner of keeping kosher (if for no other reason than to maintain table fellowship with Jews), visiting Jerusalem at least once for Sukkot, and generally attempting to reconcile with Judaism after Christianity’s long separation from its “root faith.”

This isn’t to say that I support Christians attempting to mimic the totality of Jewish identity and lifestyle under the mistaken belief that Paul or James commanded them to, but if what we see in many of Paul’s epistles is any example, the very early Gentile believers (and I’ve said this more than once before) had lived experiences that were far more “Jewish” than what Christians are accustomed to today.

Can we use something of what we see in the apostolic scriptures as a sort of “model” for “trying on” a variant method of worship and observance on a voluntary basis?

Maybe not.

Derek said: If you are not Jewish, but keep Sabbath with the Jewish people, don’t forget you are doing it with Israel, not in place of Israel.

But one day, all will keep Sabbath in the interim age and in the final age, all will be Sabbath. Jews who keep Sabbath now are forerunners, proclaiming by our peculiarity that God is Lord of Time, the bringer of the Time to Come.

James said: I’m sure someone’s going to mention Isaiah 56:1-8 to you at some point, so it might as well be me. I don’t really have a problem with what you’re saying since you aren’t taking that stand that non-Jewish believers are wholly forbidden to observe some sort of Shabbat rest. Certainly those of us who are intermarried would have a tough time avoiding Shabbat if our spouse chose to observe it (or other mitzvot such as kosher food in the home).

It seems clear that in the Messianic age, everyone will be keeping Shabbat and I don’t see why, given the parameters you’ve presented, Gentiles who choose to do so shouldn’t get a head start.

Derek said: Isaiah 56. Two interpretations. (1) This is the Age to Come and reflects what the law for the nations will be then. Many believe this. I prefer: (2) This was about the Persian period (539-334 BCE) when Isaiah 56 was written and was about the situation of Gentiles in Jerusalem at that time.

As to the idea, “Since Sabbath will be universal in the Age to Come, therefore why not keep it now?” let me say a few things. This is a valid choice, not obligation. Those who make this choice are not holier than those who don’t. And the best reason Messianic Gentiles have for doing this is to join with Israel in foreshadowing the Age to Come. It is not to replace Israel’s calling as the forerunners. Gentiles are not commanded to be forerunners in this matter. To choose to do so should go along with a right understanding of Israel’s priestly calling.

James said: I never said I was claiming obligation, Derek.

Derek said: James, I know that because I know you and what you believe. I was giving my perspective on your question for the benefit of all readers. Many would see your words “I don’t see why . . . Gentiles who choose to do so shouldn’t get a head start” as an argument for “I must keep Sabbath as a headstart” or “it is better to keep it now even if we don’t have to.” There are many worthy callings in the world and foreshadowing the world to come by resting in the seventh day is only one of them. Differing ways of holiness are lesser or greater based on deeds of lovingkindness and not based on ritual holiness statutes.

From Derek Leman’s blog post
The Sabbath is Between God and the Jewish People

Shabbat-Made-Easy-paintingSorry for that rather lengthy copy and paste of our conversation, but I wanted to illustrate that even between two people who hold relatively the same perspective on Shabbat, there can still be room for a “dynamic” exchange of viewpoints.

I resigned from the vast, vast majority of anything “Messianic” nearly two years ago when I launched this “morning meditations” blog. I made that decision for a wide variety of reasons that are too lengthy to recount here. However, one such reason was to become part of the solution by ceasing to be part of the problem. If the issue is an objection to Gentile Christians assuming Jewish identity, even superficially, my response was to stop assuming any aspect of Jewish identity. It’s easier to talk with people if they don’t perceive you as a threat.

It’s also why I started publicly identifying myself as a Christian, in order to make my “voice” available to a wider audience. Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots writers and teachers tend to end up speaking to a rather limited audience in most cases. However, some of what we talk about is really important and I believe should be consumed by a wider audience. If I can talk to more people and a broader spectrum of populations, maybe the dialog can be expanded and maybe it will actually do some good for a change.

Anyway, I can hope.

But on mornings like this one, I wonder if hope is enough. All of these religious factions and their variants continually butt heads against one another and periodically, I get tired of fighting the turf wars. If you want something, take it. If you think I’m “playing with your toys” and you want them back, here they are. If you want me out of your yard, I’ll go home.

But then, one of the imperatives of some areas of Messianic Judaism is to carry a unique message back into the church. That’s kind of hard to do if there is no dialog between Jewish and non-Jewish believing communities and no overlap in perspectives and practices. I can’t always say what you say without also doing what you do, at least in some minimalist fashion.

Did Paul kick all the God-fearing Gentiles out of the synagogues because they were associating with Jews in a Jewish space on the Jewish Shabbat? Did Peter refuse to enter the home of Cornelius because he was a God-fearing Gentile and Jews were forbidden to enter into Gentile homes? Did James and the Council of Apostles rule that the Gentiles had no share in the Messiah or the world to come and that they should return to their pagan practices rather than turning to God (or did he say that the Gentiles should turn to God, but by way of inventing a totally new religious system totally divorced from Judaism)? For that matter, and to play the other side of the coin, Did James, Paul, or any other apostle absolutely demand that the Gentiles must conform  to the Torah and even (eventually) to become circumcised?

I can see why some Christians might become so exhausted by all of this wrangling that they’d (we’d) just finish the job, retreat into church, and never look at anything Jewish or Hebrew Roots again. You guys all want your various turfs? They’re yours. Have fun.

I know that’s not what the vast majority of believing Jews are saying, but in Messianic Jews defining their exclusive space, is there a space for interaction with Christians? There is going to be another Shavuot conference given by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) and hosted at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin in a few months. There will be Jews and Christians in attendance. There will be some overlap of practice between the two populations. Jews and Christians will be having (kosher) meals together, praying together, listening to teachers together. They’ll be breathing the same air together.

I know that given the real and perceived threats (and some of them are pretty darn real) to Jewish identity specifically within the Messianic Jewish realm, it’s important to make sure there are firm definitions for what is exclusively Jewish about Messianic Judaism as one of the Judaisms in our world, but just once it would be nice to see someone go out of their way and say what believing Jews and Gentiles have in common and on what platform we can both stand.

where-do-we-go-from-hereI believe my basic perspective and the direction from which I’m coming has merit and value. Not that I can’t be wrong and not that I haven’t made mistakes (and I’m sure I’ll make them again), but I think that part of what the Messiah will do when he returns is find a way to bring peace between Jews and Gentiles who are in him. I believe it’s possible to be different and still to co-exist and even to be friends. I believe that when you have something special, you can share it, even though it still belongs to you.

I don’t want to be Jewish. God made the person He wants me to be and I have no right to change that. If I did want to be Jewish, then I’d convert (though that would be problematic since I’d have to surrender my faith in Messiah in the process, which is completely unacceptable). But being married to a Jewish wife, having three Jewish children, and having something of a passion for reading Jewish literature, philosophy, and theological studies, I find myself drawn in a certain direction. If I have violated your “keep off the grass” sign, I’m sorry.

Two-thousand years ago or so, the Gentile believers decided to walk away from their Jewish neighbors. We left their house and taking a few of the “toys” with us, moved in next door and set up a completely different place to live, with a Messiah who didn’t look even remotely Jewish. Now a few of us realize that was a big “oops.” The problem is, even trying to repair the damage that was done is enormously difficult. The rift is huge, the pain runs deep, and the blood still pours out like a river.

I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t want to be an antagonist and I certainly don’t want to claim an identity that I have no right to, but the Jewish pain at the presence of Gentile Christians (including Hebrew Roots) may just be too great for any extension of olive branches to cover. But I keep getting these mixed messages that say “approach,” “retreat,” “approach,” “retreat.”

Where do we go from here? I’ll continue discussing this theme from a different direction in tomorrow’s morning meditation.

10 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here?”

  1. I guess I don’t see disagreements themselves as being a bad thing. I see disagreement as an opportunity to dig in deeper with a brother or sister, and not “declare a turf war” on him or her. Heaven forbid. Just because I disagree with my brother or sister doesn’t mean I cut the familial bonds of love and affection. It just means we’re not at the same place in our understanding. So what? Let’s have a beer and talk about it. Laugh about it even.

    Yet, sadly, this isn’t the case in a lot of streams in Messianic Judaism (*and* Christianity) today — where we see these kinds of battle-lines drawn, threats get made, brethren divide from brethren, brother from sister, etc. It’s sad, and it happens. But *must* it happen? I’ve seen Messianic congregations where a variety of perspectives are permitted, and homogeneity isn’t forced on people, and these congregations thrive. I’ve also seen other congregations where certain differences of opinion on non-central issues are not tolerated.

    Perhaps, in not focusing in the familial bonds that tie us together, we’ve set ourselves up to divide over these issues whenever we disagree. We tend to see those who disagree with us as our enemy, rather than our family member. And that’s a big problem.

  2. James, I can feel your frustration jump through your post! I’m also an intermarried but never went down the “one law” or “two house” route.

    From personal experience and study I feel there are two main issues that perpetuate the problems you articulate.

    1) RT is so pernicious within Christianity that most Christians think/”know” they’ve replaced Jews as the “new Israel.” Even if they’ve never heard the term, they’ve felt the force of it. Once they become more Biblically literate or have in some way been introduced to the MJ paradigm and realize the Torah hasn’t been abolished, nor the Covenant with “God’s People Israel” they panic and think they need to “become a Jew” to matter to God.

    One problem is that’s anachronistic. God has always provided membership to Israel, especially through marriage, which in itself was an act of “conversion” but the person was NEVER labeled a “Jew” (including Ruth). This came MUCH later, after the bible (including the NT) was written. The Jewish people eventually began to insist on a “conversion” that’s not outlined anywhere in the Biblical account for other reasons, probably very obvious ones.

    Nonetheless, these Gentiles drawing near to Israel, and practicing Judaism, were still Gentile,s who legally practiced Judaism. (Their children were of course, Jews, most especially if their Father was a Jew.)
    If these issues were more clearly taught from the Biblical account, rather than mixing and matching Biblical definition/instruction and later traditions that supplanted them (RT had become a tradition too after all) IMO there’d be far less confusion over time.

    This approach also enables the more centered Gentile to practice Judaism and still see their vital importance of being a Gentile which, as you mention, was no accident!

    In the meantime, we can graciously impact our world for truth and trust that it’s God Himself who provides the healing.

    (I know this isn’t a popular opinion regarding conversion, but you can reference Shaye Cohen, JPS Ruth, and D. Rudolph’s Olive Tree Marriage for some support).


  3. Rob, I don’t know that having the exact same discussion, debate, or argument over and over again is particularly productive. I also don’t know that disagreements are an effect of people being at a different points on the same line. The latter suggestion assumes that as a person progresses forward they will start to see and eventually to agree with your point of view. I don’t see Derek (or me for that matter) “progressing forward” and ultimately agreeing with a basic “One Law” perspective.

    The Internet especially it an environment stripped of all but the most basic communications formats. All we have is text and the occasional emoticon to express ideas and emotions. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, the web environment tends to foster a lack of compassion and basic human dignity in how we conduct our transactions. Put all that together and you end up with a really bad interface for having these discussions.

    But it’s also very good for bringing people who otherwise wouldn’t even know about each other into the same (virtual) room. The chances of you and I even meeting let alone having a conversation without the existence of the web and the “blogosphere” are pretty much non-existent.

    My circumstances, even in the tiny, tiny venue of Hebrew Roots/Messianic Judaism, are somewhat unique. I’m intermarried, which isn’t that unusual, but my wife is Jewish and a non-believer. That means I’m pretty sensitive to this whole “Jewish identity” thing. I really don’t think it’s sustainable or practical for a bunch of “Messianic Gentiles” (and certainly not for me) wearing tallitot and tefillin to burst into a room full of Jews and loudly announce, “You can relax now. We’re the same as you.” I can only imagine how the missus would have reacted if I had done such a thing back when I was a “One Law” practitioner. She floated a lot of patience my way back then, and I can appreciate what she must have thought of my “antics.”

    I don’t object to disagreements or theological debates. I hoped I’d made that clear in my blog post, but it’s pretty long, so that particular sentence was probably lost. What I object to is the elevation of these matters to the utmost importance while the Torah that Messiah taught about feeding the poor and loving one another is all but abandoned. For some strange reason, Hebrew Roots Christians seem to think that the height of worshiping God is looking and acting Jewish. Whatever happened to the weightier matters of the Torah? You yourself said on Derek’s blog that this is what the church often does. One of the reasons I went back to church is because I decided I really wanted to take it up a level and actually serve God.

    If I had to make a choice between davening while wearing tzitzit and feeding one starving child, I’d choose the latter. Actually, I’ve already made that choice.

    No one is stopping you from following your conscience, Rob. Regardless of what Derek writes, what I write, or what anyone else writes on their blogs, you can still rest on Shabbat and follow a more or less Jewish lifestyle (I have no idea of the level of your observance and it’s really none of my business). I just disagree that I’m obligated to it or that I must inform my wife that her Judaism became irrelevant because Paul said it did, at least according to one minority theological point of view. That is the inevitable consequence of One Law.

    You seem like a likable and reasonable person and unlike many other One Law practitioners, you don’t seem like you have much of a theological ax to grind. I’m sorry that I’m “dumping” on you, but frankly, I think it’s OK if I don’t worship God the way you do and that I don’t have to look or act Jewish when I’m not.

  4. Ruth, I agree that in an interfaith marriage, a Gentile spouse will likely practice a lot more Judaism because of their Jewish spouse, assuming the Jewish spouse is observant. The Gentile would end up eating kosher, probably resting on Shabbat, probably going to shul, at least sometimes, and if he/she is willing, participating in raising the children as Jewish.

    That said, in the modern world, none of that makes the non-Jewish spouse Jewish unless he/she converts. The process of Gentiles integrating into Israel has evolved over time. In ancient days, the ger would come alongside Israel without becoming Israel since you can’t “convert” into a tribe (and this understanding I did get from reading Cohen). By the time of Yeshua, it was not uncommon for different sects of Judaism to seek out converts from among the Gentiles and the process of Gentile conversion to Judaism continued to develop until it took its current form, relative to the variants in Judaism today (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, etc…)

    But as you say, replacement theology has been the monkey on Christianity’s back for nearly twenty centuries and it’s an ugly scar on our faith. Messianic Judaism faces a tough hurtle. Jews historically have been cut off from their families and their people when they chose to “convert to Christianity.” To avoid that stigma among the other Judaisms, MJ has had to put up an especially strong front in defending their Jewish identity. You don’t find this sort of struggle nearly as much in any of the other Judaisms, but then again, they don’t accept “Jesus” as Messiah. So when any other form of Christianity comes in and shakes up the MJ Jewish identity definition, it provokes a strong pushback.

    Being intermarried to a non-believing Jewish spouse, my life is like that in microcosm and my choice has been to defend her Jewishness against those to would trivialize her. I know it may sound silly, but when looked at from my point of view, it can get to be kind of personal. For most other people, it may just be an interesting religious debate, but being who I am and what I am, I can’t see it in the abstract. My wife being Jewish is a living, breathing, unique experience that can’t simply be appropriated because of how someone decides to interpret the Bible. I don’t think a lot of people get that.

    All that said, and as I told Rob above, nothing in anything I say prevents any non-Jewish person from choosing to worship in a more or less Jewish manner. When I used to go to the Reform synagogue with my wife and kids, I didn’t wear a tallit, but I did wear a kippah and prayed holding a siddur. I heard the Torah read and listened to the discussions afterward. I shared bread with Jews and other Gentiles at oneg. Was I “practicing Judaism?” I don’t know. I was worshiping God and worshiping with my family. That’s what’s most important to me.

  5. “My circumstances, even in the tiny, tiny venue of Hebrew Roots/Messianic Judaism, are somewhat unique. I’m intermarried, which isn’t that unusual, but my wife is Jewish and a non-believer. That means I’m pretty sensitive to this whole “Jewish identity” thing. I really don’t think it’s sustainable or practical for a bunch of “Messianic Gentiles” (and certainly not for me) wearing tallitot and tefillin to burst into a room full of Jews and loudly announce, “You can relax now. We’re the same as you.” I can only imagine how the missus would have reacted if I had done such a thing back when I was a “One Law” practitioner. She floated a lot of patience my way back then, and I can appreciate what she must have thought of my “antics.””

    When I read this, I thought you were describing Derek Leman, am I correct? Because I don’t see a description of “One Law” at least not accurately, maybe you are just grinding a “theological axe”?

  6. Zion, given the context, you should be able to figure out that I was talking about my “antics,” at least in part. I really don’t feel I have the right to mimic Jewish identity, particularly being married to a Jewish wife. When you are visiting synagogue, do you insist upon donning a tallit and being given an aliyah? Probably not. I would say then that you don’t have that particular “theological ax to grind.” Neither do I, especially in the present.

    I also posted another “semi-rant” today after this one and will post yet another one tomorrow. For Thursday’s “morning meditation,” I plan to regain my balance and focus on ways to serve God that have a more universal application.


  7. You said: “I know that given the real and perceived threats (and some of them are pretty darn real) to Jewish identity specifically within the Messianic Jewish realm, it’s important to make sure there are firm definitions for what is exclusively Jewish about Messianic Judaism as one of the Judaisms in our world, but just once it would be nice to see someone go out of their way and say what believing Jews and Gentiles have in common and on what platform we can both stand.”

    James, you said what I have thought MANY times while reading blogs, postings on FB, etc. I have learned (and many of the people I am in fellowship with) that there are very legitimate Jewish distinctions that apply to MJ. We don’t want to try to make ourselves Jewish but we are drawn to our Jewish Messiah and the way of life that He and the early believers practiced in relationship to Torah. Once you learn about the Jewish way of living and practicing your faith it makes you want to keep His commandments out of love for Him. And it sounds like when Yeshua said in Matthew 28:19-20: “And you, go to all the nations. Make disciples; immerse them for the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to keep all that I have commanded you.” that He is saying to teach gentiles to learn to obey Torah as it applies to them.

    But it seems like as we gentiles try to do that it is like walking through a mine field. We hear “don’t go there”, “you can’t do that”, “that really doesn’t apply to gentiles”, etc. And I’m talking about hearing this from the legitimate MJ community, especially some of the leadership and people who have real authority in the movement, not the confusion that seems to be rampant in many of the Hebrew Roots groups.

    I read Derek Leman’s blog before you wrote yours and had this same feeling of what CAN we do as gentiles? I also read Toby Janicki’s blog “God-Fearers: The Universal Shabbat Part 1” and saw your response. I find it interesting that along with you, Derek and Toby are both writing about Shabbat. I was wondering how you see the two of them in relationship to each other? They seem to be coming at the subject from different perspectives.

    This is one reason I really appreciate your blogs James. As you work through some of this stuff I think you help a lot of people like me also work through it. Keep up the good work.

  8. Thanks, Mel. I really appreciate your encouragement. God be willing, we’ll see each other again in a few months at the Shavuot conference in Hudson.


  9. James, you may not have seen my question in what I wrote but do you see Derek and Toby in basic agreement in their approach to Shabbat?

    I would love to be able to see you again at the conference, but at this point I don’t know if I will be able to make it. It depends on what is going on with my wife’s health issues and finances. But I’m still hoping that God will make a way.

  10. I don’t think Derek and Toby agree 100%, but it would probably be better to get the answer straight from them. I think their common ground would be that the non-Jewish believers can observe the Shabbat rest not as Israel but alongside Israel and in anticipation of the Messianic Age.

    I’m not sure I’ll be able to go either. Depends on how one or two details do or don’t line up. My prayers for you and your wife. May God grant mercy and providence to you both.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.