Nanos, Paul, and the Consequences of Jewish Identity in Messiah

PaulFor we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Romans 3:28-31

The discovery of the Shema Israel as central to Paul’s theology was a profound moment for me, and has shaped my reading of him ever since. If I was writing a theology of Paul, it would be the center around which all other topics turned. Here we see it employed clearly and in a pivotal point in his argument in Romans for why non-Jewish believers in Christ must remain non-Jews and not become proselytes, and by the implication of his logic, why Jews remain Jews after faith in Christ: “since [if indeed] God is one.” Paul’s language here, and throughout Romans and Galatians, calls to mind the central prayer of Judaism, repeated twice daily, and the last words a pious Jew hopes to pass his or her lips, which begins: “Hear [shema] Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

-Mark D. Nanos
“A Torah Observant Paul?: What Difference Could it Make for Christian/Jewish Relations Today?” (pg 45)
May 9, 2005 (PDF Version Sent – Endnote Formatted)

Since I completed my final summary of the classic Mark Nanos book The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters, I’ve been wondering how Nanos’ research into and perspectives on Paul have progressed. After all, the “Romans” book was published in 1996, almost two decades ago. What’s Nanos been up to since then?

The paper I’m quoting from gives a compressed answer, though it is still almost nine years old. I find the same voice and the same perspectives in the “Torah Observant Paul” paper as I do in “Romans,” with just a hint of additional development. The paper, as a whole, addresses the more “troublesome” passages in Paul’s epistles as they appear to conflict with the life of a Torah-observant Jew in the late Second Temple period. Nanos points out the overwhelming body of Christian scholarship that paints Paul as a traitor to his own people and the “inventor” of Christianity, and seeks to refactor the Biblical record by deliberately viewing Paul as a devout Jew with a life-long devotion to Hashem, the Temple, the Torah, and Judaism.

I’m not going to review the entirety of this lengthy paper right now. I’m focusing only on a small portion of it so I can extend the Nanos commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, gleaning additional insights and sparkling bits of wisdom as they are scattered ahead of me on my path of faith.

In the “Romans” book, Nanos also mentions the Shema as the central element required in understanding the Jewish apostle’s message to the non-Jewish believers in Rome. Built on his commentary on Romans and Galatians, Nanos, in addressing Jewish and Gentile identity in Messiah, believes Paul is not only discouraging Gentiles from converting to Judaism as a means of justification before God, he’s forbidding its as contrary to prophesy and to the “oneness” testified to by the Shema.

Likewise, somewhere halfway between Paul’s time and our own Rashi wrote, to explain the repetition of the Name (Hashem, the Name, a rabbinic circumlocution for YHWH/Lord) in the Shema:

“The Lord who is our God now, but not (yet) the God of the (other) nations, is destined to be the One Lord, as it is said, ‘For then will I give to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent’ (Zeph 3:9). And (likewise) it is said, ‘And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; on that day shall the Lord be One and His name One’ (Zech 14:9).”

Paul’s argument is that the God who now righteouses (sic) Israel is the same God who now righteouses (sic) non-Israelites who turn to Israel’s God in Jesus Christ as the Lord of all the Nations too. He is the one whom both the members of Israel and of the other nations within the Christ-groups choose—like the special one that someone falls in love with like no other, thereafter the only one for themselves. For Paul, if non-Jews in-Christ become Jewish proselytes, and thereby Israelites, they do not bear witness to the arrival of the day when representatives from all of the nations turn from idols to the worship of the One God, but simply to the truth that in the present age Israel represents the righteous ones of God, members of which they become by proselyte conversion. That identity transformation for non-Jews is available apart from the confession of faith in Jesus Christ in most other Jewish groups of the time, which provide for proselyte conversion to join the family of Abraham, of God, within the present age, and await with Israel the hope of the age of reconciliation of the nations, when the wolf (such as is Rome) will lie down with the lamb (Israel), without devouring her.

Nanos, pp 46-7

Mark NanosFor Nanos as well as for Paul, it was not a matter of Gentiles having the option to convert to Judaism within Yeshua-faith, it was strictly forbidden, for prophesy tells of both Jews and Gentiles worshiping alongside each other, Israel expressing devotion to Hashem beside all the other nations (i.e. non-Jewish people) of the Earth, acknowledging that God is One and His Name is One. Even if a Gentile converted, not for the purpose of justification (for only faith justifies) but for some other reason (the desire to take on the full beauty of the Torah, an intermarriage of a Gentile with a Jew), it contradicts God’s Word and intent for both Jewish and non-Jewish humanity.

Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the entire law.

Galatians 5:3

Many seek to phrase the issue of proselyte conversion for non-Jewish Christ-believers from Paul’s point of view thus: Paul sought to communicate that one did not “have to” become a Jew in order to become a Christian, or if a Christian, in order to be a good one, or some such thing. Paul in Galatians, especially 5:2-6, makes it plain that a non-Jewish Christ-believer “cannot” become a proselyte.

-Nanos, pg 30

Cannot? Why not? Or have I already tipped my hand?

However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

1 Corinthians 7:17-20

The point Paul drives home is that regardless of which state one was in when called, their present state requires attending to obedience to God’s commandments—even guarding the interests of these commandments rather than the interests of identity as Jew or non-Jew. The noun (in Greek) can be translated as “keep,” or “obey,” and carries the sense of “guard” or “watch over.” There is no shadow of concern with works-righteousness, but rather, with failure to behave appropriate to the state of Christ-believingness…

Paul’s language here brings up a point that corresponds to several points in the previous discussion of Gal 5:3. In Paul’s propositional arrangement, a Jew — such as he was — remained in-Christ a Jew, and thus obligated to observe Torah. However, a non-Jew in-Christ remained a non-Jew, and thus not obligated to observe Torah on the same terms as a Jew, since not a Torah-person. Nevertheless, a non-Jew was now obligated to turn from slavery to sin to slavery to righteousness, which was defined in terms that embody an essentially Torah-observant life (cf. Rom 6:14-23; 13:8-14; Gal 5:6-6:10), the lifestyle incumbent upon a so-called righteous non-Jew (something of an oxymoron).

Nanos, pp 32-3

The ProphetNanos not only emphasizes that Paul forbids a Gentile in Yeshua faith from converting to Judaism as a contradiction to the prophets, but he sees the co-participation of righteous Jews and Gentiles in Messiah expressed relative to identity issues, with Jews who came to Christ as Jews remaining Jewish with continuing Jewish obligations to Torah observance, and Gentiles who came to Christ as Gentiles not assuming a Jewish obligation to Torah but nevertheless, requiring a behavioral as well as “heart change” relative to lifestyle (probably as defined, at least in part, by the Acts 15 letter to the Gentile believers).

All this certainly reiterates my own opinion that Gentiles coming to faith within the ancient (or modern) Jewish religious stream of “the Way” (or its modern expression, Christianity, including within the such groups as Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism and their variations) that we (Gentiles) are not obligated to the Torah of Moses, at least not in the manner of observant Jews (Messianic or otherwise).

Many ancient prophesies cite how the nations (i.e. non-Jewish people) in Messianic days will take hold of the tzitzit of a Jewish man (Zechariah 8:23) and go up to the Mountain of the God of Jacob (Isaiah 2:3) to worship, because the House of God, the Temple, is a House of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7). In Nanos’ opinion, how did Paul see this, since he was living out the first fruits of those prophesies?

At issue is not that most other Jewish groups would likely disagree with Paul’s proposition that such reconciliation will occur when that day arrives, so that members of other nations do not then join Israel to join with her in worship of the One Creator God of all humankind. Some may believe that day will be accompanied by the conversion of the nations, in the sense of proselyte conversion to Israel; others might await the destruction of those of the other nations as foremost in their hopes. These expectations and others can be gleaned from the Scriptures and other writings of Paul’s time.

But even those who hope for reconciliation with the nations and expect them to remain not-Israel would not agree with Paul that this moment had arrived in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or even just begun to arrive and be witnessed in the life of the communities of believers in that proposition—unless sharing Paul’s faith in Christ. In their groups the distinction and membership that follows from it remains between Gentiles, however welcome as friends and guests, and Jews or Israelites, a category that includes (albeit with some variety among groups) proselytes, those who have turned from idolatry to worship the One God and have completed the rite of conversion signaling that they have joined the people of that God in full membership, so that they are no longer regarded as mere guests.

-Nanos, pg 47

Nanos continues with this point:

I do not agree with the view of many interpreters of Paul—Jewish as well as Christian—that Paul taught the dissolution of differences, that there were no longer Jews and Gentiles in Christ, but a kind of new, third race, as some have phrased it. I grant that he does sometimes write that there is neither this nor that. But it cannot be so. There remain fundamental biological differences between women and men, for example, and the male penis has either been circumcised or remains in its foreskinned state. Recognition of this reality is witnessed in his arguments, including about just this matter, and in his continued employment of this distinction to address and explain the composition of the world from an Israelite-based conceptualization of reality: he does not address anyone as “Christian,” but as Jew or non-Jew, circumcised or foreskinned, and within those categories, as having faith in/of Jesus Christ (Messiah), or not.

-Nanos, pg 48

Reading of the Torah at Beth ImmanuelEqual co-participation in the Messiah did not include obliteration of identity. Jews remained Jews and Gentiles remained Gentiles, with one primary indicator of distinction being relationship with Torah obligation. This did not, in Nanos’ opinion, inherently create class differentiations between Jews and Gentiles. Salvation, justification, intimacy, accessibility to God were all equally within the apprehension of Jewish and non-Jewish Yeshua-believers, but none of this required Jews to abandon Judaism and become Gentiles, nor Gentiles to convert to Judaism (or conversely not convert) and take on the Jewish obligatory observance of the Torah mitzvot.

In fact doing so, in Paul’s opinion (according to Nanos) would be an affront to God and a violation of the ancient prophesies of the Tanakh (Old Testament).

Today’s commentary is a mere subset of the Nanos paper and I hope you click the link to read the full contents of what he wrote. For me, this information is an affirmation of the original intent of God for both the Jewish people and the nations of the world, that He desires all to be reconciled before Him, and that the flow of prophesy from the earliest books of the Bible through the apostolic writings, proceed in a comprehensive, consistent, and additive manner, painting a unified portrait of the people of God moving forward through history, rather than a cosmic “bait-and-switch” whereby God attracts Israel to Himself, and then in the final act of his drama, summarily abandons his bride for a more “youthful” partner, as traditional Christian doctrine demands.

Nanos applies his research to the last part of his paper, suggesting what Christians and Jews can and should take away from this information and how it facilitates modern Christian/Jewish dialogue. Perhaps I’ll address this important issue at some future time. However, I do want to mention one important point:

In a slightly different direction, Michael Wyschogrod suggests that Christians should change the church policy that holds Jews to be no longer Jews upon becoming Christians, so that after baptism they cannot observe Torah, or if they do, that it cannot be respected as an act of faith, so that the difference between Jews and non-Jews in church is erased in the direction of Gentile-only identity. This posture infers that the election of Israel is superseded by that of the church and that the covenant with the Jewish people is regarded to be over. In other words, not urging Jews in Christ to remain Jews betrays disrespect for the place of empirical Israel.

-Nanos, pg 55

Even in churches that generally support the Jewish people and Israel, in expecting the “Jewish Christians” within their own walls to not have a continued obligation to the Torah is, in and of itself, “cryptosupersessionism” (a term I attribute to Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann), which is a tragic consequence of nearly twenty centuries of anti-Jewish theology in the Church.

The irony of all this is that, from Nanos’ perspective (and mine), it may well be discovered that it is the duty of the Church to encourage its Jewish members, who have abandoned Jewish practice and assimilated within Gentile Christianity, to re-engage Judaism and Torah observance as an act of “Christian” faith.


42 thoughts on “Nanos, Paul, and the Consequences of Jewish Identity in Messiah”

  1. I assume you’re asking what I think of non-Jews who convert to Judaism under the auspices of a specific organization within Messianic Judaism? If I were to go by Nanos’ interpretation of Paul, I’d have to be critical of such an action. On the other hand, I don’t know if I can let Nanos define all aspects of modern practice under all expressions of Messianic Judaism.

    I throw the issue out into the blogosphere because it cropped up in Nanos’ paper and it is relevant to Jewish and Gentile identity in the body of Messiah. But it’s one thing to present a theological or doctrinal issue when it rests in theoretical territory, and another thing entirely to face real, living human beings with it in the experience of their lives.

    It’s interesting that on Facebook, you called it an “experiment.” According to one definition of the word, an experiment is:

    A test under controlled conditions that is made to demonstrate a known truth, examine the validity of a hypothesis, or determine the efficacy of something previously untried.

    In that sense, an “experiment” of a non-Jew converting to Judaism within a sub-set organization of overall Messianic Judaism is a journey of discovery rather than (necessarily) a normative practice.

    I didn’t want to bring “names” into this conversation, and I suppose I could have just not approved your comment Drake, since I don’t want to harm anyone through my writings (and I know I’ve been guilty of that before). I’ll go ahead and allow the conversation, but at the first sign that people are feeling burned, I’ll pull the plug and delete it. Recently, the issue of my own humanity, fallibility, and the potential for harm there is in my words has come home to roost.

  2. In light of certain comments on Facebook regarding this blog post, I replied with the following (edited slightly for continuity):

    While I find Nanos’ position compelling and more or less in agreement with my own, I can’t pointblank say there is absolutely no reason for a believing Gentile to convert to (Messianic) Judaism. Some reasons, as I mentioned in my blog post, include an intermarried couple where it would make more practical and halachic sense for both people in the relationship to be Jewish, particularly if they are raising children.

    That said, I wonder if it’s premature to initiate such a practice since such a convert would be unlikely to be accepted by 99.999% of Jews in the world today. Of course, as Michael said (on Facebook), within more “mainstream” Judaism, the Orthodox do not accept the conversions made under Conservative and Reform Judaism, so those Jewish converts in a Reform shul, for example, while accepted by Reforms and by Gentiles as Jewish would still encounter scorn if they attempted to interact with Orthodox Jews as a “righteous convert.”

    I can see why Drake (on Facebook) calls it an “experiment” but that’s hardly comforting to Gentile families who have undergone such a conversion and are simply trying to live out their lives as Jews.

  3. With all due respect to Mark Nanos, who is both a fine scholar and (based on a few hours spent with him awhile back) a fine human being, I do not see how Galatians 5:3 forbids conversion. Paul merely says “. . . I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the entire law.” He precedes this with the mysterious “Once again . . .” But when did he say such a thing prior to Gal. 5:3? Certainly not in Gal. 5:2, which reads, “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Messiah will be of no benefit to you.” I suggest that Gal. 5:2 refers to Paul’s argument in Galatians up to that point, especially in ch. 4. Gal. 5:3 refers to something he had spoken to them in person.

    As far as I can tell, “the Law” (Greek: “ho nomos”) is mentioned only once in Galatians 4 (the second half of 4:21). The other occurrences of “nomos” lack the definite article “ho” and should be translated “law.” “Nomos” (law) refers to law as a general phenomenon. “Ho nomos” refers to “the Law (Torah).” Paul’s argument is that neither Jew nor Gentile can be justified by law, whether the Torah or pagan religious law.

    One key verse is 4:9, where Paul asks the Gentiles, “How is it that you TURN BACK AGAIN to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved ALL OVER AGAIN?” He could not be referring to the Torah, since the Gentiles were never involved with it is the first place! No, Jews (the “we in Gal. 4:3) and Gentiles were both enslaved to the SAME “elemental things.” According to Paul’s argument in Galatians, this refers to the slavery that results from trying to create a relationship with God on the basis of religious law.

    This was the deception being promoted by the so-called “Judaizers.” Paul says that the Galatian Gentiles were actually being lured BACK into the same sort of life they had been enslaved to BEFORE receiving Yeshua, only with the external trappings of circumcision and keeping the Torah in place of their previous pagan practices. I understand Gal. 5:2 as a warning that [given their wrong motivation] if they receive circumcision, Messiah will be of no use to them. In Gal. 5:3, he apparently repeats something that have said while he was with them: anyone who receives circumcision [for any reason at all] must keep the [“ho”] whole Torah. In other words, Gal. 5:2 refers specifically to the Galatian Gentiles and their current motivation, while Gal. 5:3 refers to all male Gentiles, regardless of their motives. Ritual circumcision requires keeping the Torah, whether one’s motivating is wrong (in which case Messiah will be of no use to them) or right (in which case Messiah WILL benefit them).

  4. Since Paul states that one who becomes circumcised is then obligated to keep all the mitzvot of torah, perhaps there was a situation where gentiles were being encouraged to become circumcised so they could partake of the feasts and attend the temple, without the understanding that you cannot become a Jew part-way. Perhaps there were some seeking to draw off disciples after themselves, i.e., circumcised gentiles.

    I am not sure what to think about the idea of Messianic conversion, as I don’t know what the purpose would be? To gain greater acceptance within the MJ community? If Messianic Jews are not accepted by the major Jewish camps, then how much more would non-Jewish converts be rejected? The cynic in me sees this as just a method to gain marketshare and $$$$. And if a non-Jew desires this conversion for the purpose of then setting up shop as an authority or selling stuff, I have even more trouble with it. Converts bring their own baggage, often they are either hyper-Judeophiliac or Judeophobic British Israelitish. The people I see, who come as servants to draw our water and cut our wood don’t feel the need to seek recognition or authority for themselves. I only know a few people in this category.

  5. In other words, Gal. 5:2 refers specifically to the Galatian Gentiles and their current motivation, while Gal. 5:3 refers to all male Gentiles, regardless of their motives. Ritual circumcision requires keeping the Torah, whether one’s motivating is wrong (in which case Messiah will be of no use to them) or right (in which case Messiah WILL benefit them).

    OK, I think I followed all of that, but before going on, I should say there are two parallel conversations going on about this topic, the one here and the one of Facebook. In my own defense and to try to make sense out of all the comments, I’m including another statement I made on Facebook:

    The question of Jewish identity has long been a difficult one. My wife and her siblings are Jewish because their mother was Jewish, but only my wife “claims” her Jewish identity. One of my brothers-in-law is a born-again Christian who is totally resistant to the very idea of being Jewish. And yet, as my wife reminds me, her brother, a professed Christian, with the knowledge that his mother is Jewish, could still walk into our local Chabad synagogue on any morning and join the minyan for prayers. Yet, a Gentile family who has converted to Judaism within the context of a Messianic Jewish organization, who live Torah-observant lifestyles, performing the mitzvot with dedication and devotion, would still be seen as goyim if they showed up at the Chabad (if the specifics of their conversion were known) and be politely asked to leave if they insisted they were Jewish.

    We haven’t mentioned what God thinks of all of this. Does He consider Gentiles who have converted within 21st century Messianic Judaism to be Jewish? I don’t know, especially if Nanos in his interpretation of Paul is correct.

    I know in my own case, there are two reasons I wouldn’t convert within Messianic Judaism. The first is that my wife and children would think it was a joke. The second is that I interpret Paul, relevant to my own life as correct. If I’m not sufficient to God as a believing Gentile, then converting to Judaism wouldn’t provide any advantage.

    I’ve always considered Galatians as a whole to be Paul saying to the Gentiles that they did not have to convert to Judaism in order to be justified before God. My understanding of the Judaizers of Galatia was the same at the Jewish people of Acts 15:1-2: they were saying that the only way to be reconciled with God was either to be ethnically Jewish or to convert to Judaism.

    Paul’s argument is that Gentiles can be reconciled with God through faith in the Messiah without conversion to Judaism and mandatory Torah-observance.

    Now Nanos (well, in 2005, actually) introduces the idea that Paul actually discouraged and forbade Gentile conversion, regardless of the reason. Kind of a rigid position, but if it’s true, I could understand where he’s coming from. After all, do we have any examples in the NT that an already believing Gentile converted to Judaism for any reason (and if someone can point out an example I’d be fascinated to read it)?

    I have to admit that a Gentile Christian converting to Judaism bothers me on a personal level (which hardly should affect anyone’s theology). As Paul points out, it really isn’t necessary to convert in order to have a valid and rewarding relationship with God. On the other hand, I’d be lying if I said the thought (conversion) hadn’t occurred to me in the past. My quote above explains why I let that thought fade away along with many other fantasies.

    I know I’ve kicked up a lot of dust on this one and it never occurred to me when I started reading the Nanos article that my review would go in this direction. On the other hand, it is one of the 800 lbs elephants in the room, something we never discuss, so I took the risk of mentioning it online.

    I can’t undo the harm I’ve caused if I’ve made a mistake, but I can still pull the plug on life support if this goes too far.

  6. @Chaya: I can see the attraction of converting to Judaism on a number of levels. Certainly those non-Jews who convert to Judaism in the other branches have their reasons, even as Gentiles who converted to Judaism did in the days of Paul. Almost by definition, any non-Jew involved in some variation of Messianic Judaism is attracted to Jewish practice and study.

  7. It should be obvious that the absolute prohibition of conversion of any non-Jews to Judaism cannot be justified by Rav Shaul’s presentation to the Galatians, since he did, in fact, circumcise Timothy (and did not circumcise Titus). Clearly, he considered that there could exist reasons to justify such action, so circumcision/conversion cannot be considered a theological contradiction. The question, then, is to identify when it may be justified (or even demanded). The Galatians letter identifies when and why it is not to be justified; and Nanos deals, in his “Irony” book, with the social and political pressures that explain why a strong reason to resist conversion was required (particularly in that era).

    Of course, given a different discussion that considers the issue of circumstances that might justify conversion (which has occurred in some degree not long ago in this or another related blog), additional questions must be answered regarding the quality of the conversion process and the people who are accepted into it, which ultimately will affect how widely accepted both may be. We might infer, nonetheless, a general principle that conversions may be justified only to correct some injustice or incompatibility, given another general principle that HaShem has deliberately distinguished Jews from non-Jews and does not intend for that distinction to be erased by wholesale transformation of either into the other.

  8. It should probably be added here that scripture tells us clearly that ten men of the nations and languages will take a hold of the tzitzit of one Jew and say, “We will go with you, for we know the Holy One is with you.” The role of the nations is to take hold; not to put on the tzitzit, claim to be a Jew and seek others to grab hold of your tzitzit, usually for a price. My thoughts is that we do better to seek the bread offered without price.

  9. PL and Chaya, it seems like you are both saying similar things regarding conversion that if allow, it should be allowed somewhat sparingly, as prophecy is clear that there will be both Jews and Gentiles devoted to God in the coming Messianic Age.

  10. I believe a non-Jew would not likely be kicked out of Chabad or any other Jewish group. They would not be allowed to be counted in a minyan, called to aliyah and other practices. Now if they were viewed as “missionaries,” then perhaps there might be a different response.

    Those who convert within other branches most often do so for the purpose of marriage, gaining acceptance by the Jewish family and raising their children Jewish. Yes, there are others who are attracted to Judaism for other reasons, as well as persons who have rediscovered Jewish ancestry, or wish to identify with their known Jewish biological heritage. I see Timothy, of course, not as a gentile, but as Jew who had not been circumcised, likely due to his Greek father’s insistence.

  11. Since various thoughts have been expressed about why Gentiles convert, I’ll add my own, which are based on my involvement in a number of conversions that were conducted under the auspices of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinic Council in the past six or seven years. I will also comment on the conversion process. For those who do not believe in conversion, my comments will be irrelevant (Also, I’m going to avoid getting involved in an argument about the legitimacy of conversion.)

    We share the concerns of those who allow for the legitimacy of conversion but know that many converts may not have the most healthy reasons for wanting to convert. We view conversion as a beautiful, joyous, and yet very serious matter, and so we do not want to be party to superficial or wrongly-motivated conversions.

    We view conversion as more than a religious rite: it expresses a person’s desire to join their life to the life of the Jewish people under the auspices of the Torah. Some are married to a Jew; others are not. Viable candidates have a track record of faithful involvement in a Messianic Jewish congregation with which we are familiar, as well as significant long-term engagement with the larger Jewish community (including synagogue services), where they feel very much at home. They have been practicing a significant portion of the Torah, but usually refrain from things like wearing a tallit because of its close tie to Jewish identity. They are aware (and we impress upon them) that they will not be accepted as Jews by most the larger community, but they are prepared to do everything they can to be a positive force anyway. In a sense, their conversion is a confirmation of a long-standing inner change that they have experienced.

    We do not encourage conversion, since we believe it is the exception, not the rule. We average maybe a half-dozen or more conversions per year and decline about the same number. Candidates have to be recommended by a member of our Council, who will become their sponsor, and interviewed by two other members. If accepted, the process begins. We review their practices to ensure conformity with our stated standards (see, except for practices that are specifically tied to Jewish identity. We probe candidates’ motives continually throughout the process, making it as clear as possible that Jews and Gentiles are of equal value in the sight of God: conversion will not raise their status or increase God’s love for them. We will not convert one partner in a marriage or anyone whose conversion will cause significant disruption in their birth-family relationships. Our process is lengthy (usually at least a year) and requires a lot of learning, writing, and more involvement in the larger Jewish community, all under the auspices of the sponsoring rabbi. Toward the end of the process, they are interviewed again by the rabbis who interviewed them at the beginning. If all has gone well, the conversion is scheduled and performed.

    Blog owner’s note: I only edited this comment to add an active link above.

  12. “I believe a non-Jew would not likely be kicked out of Chabad or any other Jewish group.”

    A friend of mine is invited to daven and wear fringes at a Modern OJ Shul, he just cannot lay tefillin.

  13. This is a topic great confusion. While I respect Nanos for his scholarship there is still background information that is missing imo regarding this subject. This information is pivotal in understanding the point of Paul’s letters.

    For instance in the passages quoted above from 1 Corinthians 7:17-20 and Galatians 5:3, Paul writes:

    “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything…”

    “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole Torah.”

    When reading this I can relate to the anti-missionaries who are confused about how to relate to Paul. Here Paul appears to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. In Galatians, Paul acknowledges that having a Bris requires one to be observant of the Torah but in Corinthians he says a bris is “nothing” but “obeying the mitzvot” is everything. Mah zeh!??

    How could he say this when one of the mitzvot is the bris!

    Bereishis 17:12-14 “And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.”

    In Berieshis we have no subject of Jew and Goy because Avraham was a goy who became the first Jew and what HaShem commanded to be observed as a mitzvah stands forever. From a Rabbinic perspective we have either 1) Paul trying to create his own religion in Y’shua or 2) we are missing a lot of information that plays in the background of these letters. I am inclined to option number two. But my inclination also causes me to get weary looks, why? I tend to tie these subjects to the same subjects in the Talmud.

    In other words many scholars acknowledge Paul as a P’rush (Pharisee) but remove him from his full Rabbinic background and ignore what the Talmud (a witness to his Rabbinic background) has to say regarding these matters. The Talmud tells us that Beis Shammai held the rule of authority during the first century (Bavli, Shabbos 17a, Bavli Pesachim 57a). Beis Shammai did not believe goyim would have a portion in world to come (Bavli, Sanhedrin 105a, Tosefta, Sanhedrin 13, Rashi to Sanhedrin 91b and Isaiah 61, Kesef Mishnah to Melakhim 8:11 and Teshuvah 3:5) unless they were circumcised, and even if they converted they could not be guaranteed salvation (Bavli, Bava Mezia 59b, Midrash Rabbah Genesis 70:5). Beis Shammai’s attitude towards converts resorted from the halakhic differences with Beis Hillel regarding the nature of goyim.

    IMO, I see Paul fighting for the recognition of non-Jews to be included in Am Yisroel but to better understand his point one needs to be familiar with the Rabbinic perspective on this subject. We see in Galatians Paul explains that he rebuked Peter for forsaking table fellowship with “non-Jews.” I have heard from scholars that Peter was eating treif and he changed his act when the P’rushim came into town Jerusalem. For one this approach seeks to undermine the halacha of kashrus and two, this goes against Peter’s observance of kashrus (Acts 10:9-16). A course the vision in Acts was not G-d literally telling Peter to violate kashrus as scholars believe but that the vision was symbolic of goyim which Judaism associated with treif. Thus, when Peter forsook table fellowship with “non-Jews” its not because 1) he was eating treif or 2) it was not so much that they were considered “non-Jews” by the Notzrim but rather “non-Jews” by the Halacha of Shammai. If mainstream Judaism at that time frowned upon a Jew having fellowship with a Non-Jew who was not “Jewish” by Halacha then Peter caved into the pressures of society. This is nothing new of Peter as he did the same thing to Y’shua by denying him three times. With this background information in mind this supports what the Talmud teaches regarding Beis Shammai who had a negative outlook on non-Jewish souls.

    Furthermore, we can ask has the apple fallen from the tree? In other words is there evidence of this type of belief about Jewish and non-Jewish soul in Judaism today? It depends on which Jewish circle you belong to. In Chassidus, the Alter Rebbe explains in Likutei Amarim (Tanya) that the souls of Jews extend from G-d while the souls of goyim extend from the unclean kelipot (dark side). Is this a reason why goyim are forbidden from joining Judaism and does this mean Jews have a higher soul when compared to goyim? The answer is no. Without understanding the background information to the Alter Rebbe which is the Ari and the Gemara a person will misunderstand what the Alter Rebbe is teaching.

    While I have explored this subject many times and have wrote extensive papers on it I must say that we have to be cautious with how we attempt to summarize Paul on this subject because their is certain background information that we need to explore in reaching our conclusion, and as I pointed out above with the two passages of Paul it would appear Paul contradicted the Torah. How could he say a bris is nothing when all that matters is obeying the commandments; yet the bris is a commandment we are commanded to obey!

    This subject imo has never really been touched. The reason why is because for the past 2000 years we have a non-Jewish establishment (Church) trying to run a Jewish mandate. And the sad thing is that no matter how “Jewish” Messianics want to claim they are, they are fundamentally Christian (non-Jewish) in doctrine and deed. I do not wish to offend anybody but “Messianic Judaism” is mostly Christians with kippah’s on.

    Early in the comment section Chaya1957 stated:

    “It should probably be added here that scripture tells us clearly that ten men of the nations and languages will take a hold of the tzitzit of one Jew and say, “We will go with you, for we know the Holy One is with you.” The role of the nations is to take hold; not to put on the tzitzit, claim to be a Jew and seek others to grab hold of your tzitzit, usually for a price. My thoughts is that we do better to seek the bread offered without price.”

    To which the anti-missionary will respond Omein. When Messianic Judaism is 95% gentile then whose tziszis are the gentiles grabbing onto? My point should be clear. If Messianics are in the dark on this subject and don’t know “Judaism” then its not their tziszis (symbolic of Torah-Mitzvot) that the goy will grab onto but rather it will the tziszis of the observant Jew. By being symbolic of Torah-Mizvot it indicates a transformation of the goy in relation to the Jew. The Talmud explains that one of the reasons for exile is to draw gentiles close to G-d by making them converts. Converts in the sense of “violating prophecy” as Nanos would have it? Chas v’shalom! If prophecy entails grabbing onto the tziszis which represents the mitzvot then the Jewish people are a fulfillment of prophecy drawing the nations to the G-d of Yisroel.

    James, I have a question for you. Nanos stated:

    “with Jews who came to Christ as Jews remaining Jewish with continuing Jewish obligations to Torah observance, and Gentiles who came to Christ as Gentiles not assuming a Jewish obligation to Torah”

    Since you seem to agree with much of what Nanos stated how do you feel that since you are married to a Jewish wife this goes against what Nanos is getting at. Judaism teaches Jews should not marry non-Jews (D’varim 7:3) would this not expose your wife for violating the Torah as Jew? I do not bring this up to be rude! Would you not think that if HaShem gave you a Jewish wife to be your beshert then that means He sent you a way to join the Jewish people?

    Some food for thought for an great discussion.

    Kol Tuv

    1. @Michael — I don’t know that you need someone from the “pro-conversion camp” to respond about this passage, but it is worth noting that in it Rav Shaul was also recommending against any changes in personal status, including marriage. Some have inferred that this was a reflection of his view about how quickly the end of days might be arriving and that there would soon be no need for such adjustments. However, his acknowledgement that a slave obtaining his freedom was really a reflection of his truer condition opens the door to our understanding that the advice given herein was motivated by something other than eternal verities. In general, it reflects Rav Shaul’s message that everyone should consider themselves acceptable to HaShem in whatever condition they find themselves, and not seek to change anything but their sinful behavior. Nonetheless, we have seen, after a number of centuries have passed, that circumstances have arisen that justify making certain adjustment to relieve occasional tensions caused by unjust, inaccurate or mismatched assignments of personal status. And certainly we would not discourage becoming married, though there are (brief?) times such as during political upheaval when it might be inadvisable to add the difficulties of this personal adjustment to existing difficulties such as the imminent threat of being captured, killed, or otherwise distracted from the business of becoming a proper husband or wife.

      So, the recommendation in this passage, to remain in whatever condition one was in when one accepted HaShem’s call, is no more absolute than the similar instruction in Galatians that discouraged conversion and identified reasoning by which it would be wrong to pursue it or accept it as a “good news” solution to the political and social pressures that made it difficult in that era to live as a gentile who would not participate in the idolatrous practices that were required of all ordinary non-Jews under the laws of the Roman Empire.

  14. In MJ I am known as the goy who kashered his kitchen. And I mean kashered.

    Hate to think that was a waste… 🙂

  15. @Yehezqel: We’ve not interacted before and even though you wrote a rather lengthy and not always (as far as I can tell) on topic comment, I went ahead and approved it.

    I do not wish to offend anybody but “Messianic Judaism” is mostly Christians with kippah’s on.

    When Messianic Judaism is 95% gentile then whose tziszis are the gentiles grabbing onto?

    I visited your website and read your Mission Statement which says in part:

    We desire to instruct believers both Jewish and non-Jewish in the word of G-d and in the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.

    Also, your FAQ page is titled “Messianic Jewish Questions and Answers.” You seem, based on the quotes above, to have a somewhat low view on Messianic Judaism, and I suppose by inference, the Hebrew Roots movement. That being the case (and please forgive how I’m about to word this), who are you?

    As far as my relationship with my wife relative to whether or not she is a means sent by God to join the Jewish people, the answer is long and complicated and I am not going to chronicle it here. I’ve discussed different aspects of that answer at length in different blog posts over the years and at this time am not going to add to that body of content.

    @Drake: Really? Wow! I’ve said before that I don’t think (and this is probably straying even more off topic than some of the above comments) there’s anything wrong with a non-Jewish person going “above and beyond” by performing some of the mitzvot, such as keeping some form of kosher, observing shabbat, and so forth, it’s just not obligatory. But then again, that isn’t particularly relevant to a discussion on the merits or difficulties with a Gentile converting within modern Messianic Judaism.

  16. Perhaps when Paul said, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing,” he was using these words to refer to Jews and non-Jews, not the act of circumcision itself. He may have been saying that what is most significant is keeping the ways of the Holy One.

    Some of MJ are Christians with a kippa, and then there is HR that feels superior because they believe they have, “left Babylon.” I don’t see the answer as using the 21st century American Orthodox synagogue as the model or antidote. We will walk in his footsteps and he will teach us his ways.

    One caveat I see is that it appears that those few gentiles who are deemed worthy of conversion by the self-proclaimed powers that be are going to be required to exhibit extreme loyalty to the authorities that have let them in. I would assume little independent thought would be allowed, and the conversions would be rescinded in the same way smicha are rescinded in retaliation for open criticism of the party line.

    1. Really, chaya, you presume far too much negative motivation on the part of a rather well-meaning body of rabbis (e.g., MJRC). You seem to equate conversion to Judaism (or perhaps only to its messianic stream) with the production of unthinking automatons. You should know well that automatons cannot be Jews, because intellectual conflict is a necessary component of Torah study. Further, one cannot rescind a conversion unless it can be proven thoroughly that it was conducted under false pretenses or by unqualified personnel. Rav Shaul’s observation meant that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision was a free ticket to HaShem’s good graces; and he qualified the statement by emphasizing the critical significance of mitzvot.

      I think it’s about time you put a damper on your conspiracy theories and your unfounded insinuations about unwarranted financial motivation for doing this or that. If you have evidence of wrongdoing against anyone, bring it and them to a relevant court for judgment; otherwise you can do no good by speaking accusations and insinuations.

      Shabbat Shalom.

  17. Yehezhel wrote, “From a Rabbinic perspective we have either 1) Paul trying to create his own religion in Y’shua or 2) we are missing a lot of information that plays in the background of these letters. I am inclined to option number two. But my inclination also causes me to get weary looks, why? I tend to tie these subjects to the same subjects in the Talmud. | In other words many scholars acknowledge Paul as a P’rush (Pharisee) but remove him from his full Rabbinic background and ignore what the Talmud (a witness to his Rabbinic background) has to say regarding these matters. The Talmud tells us that Beis Shammai held the rule of authority during the first century (Bavli, Shabbos 17a, Bavli Pesachim 57a).”

    Yehezkel, you do not explain why the Talmud, which was finalized in seventh century Babylonian exile, should serve for us (readers of this blog) as an authoritative witness to Paul’s first century background in the Land. There is no provable chain of evidence from one to the other. (Rabbinic sources written closer in time and in the Land make more credible witnesses and shed light on the writings of the Brit Hadashah, yet still very far from first-hand.)

    But, even if the witness of the Talmud were so solid that it could be accepted in a court of law, it does not say anything like “Beis Shammai held the rule of authority during the first century” at Bavli Shabbat 17a (and my old eyes don’t find any mention of Beit Shammai is Bavli Pesachim 57a; could you help me with that?).

    As you know, Bavli Shabbat 17a is part of a length sugya (passage) concerning 18 enactments that were issued on a certain day. Bavli Shabbat 17a records a dispute between Shammai and Hillel, during which Shammai is overly provoked by Hillel’s differing opinion and demands an immediate vote. Hillel is outnumbered and outvoted. and apparently made to sit at Shammai’s feet as if he were a disciple of Shammai. What does the Talmud say? That day “was as grievous to Israel as the day on which the golden calf was made” (Artscroll translation). Why so grievous? Rashi says it is because Hillel was humiliated; Rav Sharira Gaon adds that it is because Hillel’s words were not heeded. This is far from an endorsement of Shammai as holding “the rule of authority.” (It is also recorded in Bavli Eruvin 13b that the halakhah is normally according to Beit Hillel.)

    But I think that there’s an even more fundamental problem with your approach to Paul’s letters: Even if it explained Paul’s background, it does not account for the background of Paul’s readers, who were primarily Gentile. Why would Paul write them letters that require “a full Rabbinic background” to be understood? Even if Paul had taught them Pharisaic Torah, they could not have been anything but novices after the short time he spent with them.

    [I believe that my comment is on subject because it concerns the relevance of the Talmud for this discussion and what the Talmud actually says (and doesn’t say) about Beit Shammai’s authority in Paul’s time.]

  18. Thanks, Proclaim Liberty, for countering unfounded accusations. You and I have crossed swords from time to time, but always with respect. We do not approach truth with party lines but by sharpening one another.

    For the record, we do not ask converts to keep to a party line and we would only rescind a conversion for the reason you explain (and have never done so). As for financial motivation, sponsors receive an honorarium of $100 for working with a candidate for a year. Others involved receive the same amount.

    1. Shavua Tov, Carl — I think the only comment I would offer with regard to your response to Yehezkel is that I view the Talmudic literature that was, as you say, “finalized” in 7th-century Babylon as containing significantly older material that does, in fact, illuminate Rav Shaul’s thinking and the background he would have applied to his responses to the problems of non-Jews, or relating to Jewish interactions with non-Jews, that are addressed in his letters. And we might find something of interest in the Yerushalmi that was finalized in Israel some two centuries earlier than the Bavli. Nonetheless I agree with you that Yehezkel was inferring too much from the passages he cited as indicative of Beit-Shammai’s authority relative to Beit-Hillel’s. The question about how well later Talmudic literature on the notion of conversion reflects earlier viewpoints would seem to require the witness of the DSS material (if any relevant material actually exists); and I’m not immediately inclined to start digging out any material related to conversion that might appear there or in places like Tosefta that are known to be closer to Rav Shaul’s era. It could be a very interesting academic topic for rabbis more closely involved with conversion processes to pursue, though Judaism is not currently presenting a great demand for additional justification of the existing standards and process for conversion. However, additional depth of detail about what should constitute proper conversion seems to me unlikely to address the real reasons for Rav Shaul’s views for or against conversion (which seemed to be more prophetically or perhaps eschatologically influenced).

  19. You’re right on target, PL. Thanks for countering those unfounded judgments. For the record, sponsors receive an honorium of $100 for working with a candidate for a year, which is the maximum that anyone involved in the process receives.

    You may disagree somewhat with my response to Yehezkel, but I’m glad that we have always approached truth by sharpening one another with respect, not by hewing to a party line.

  20. Within Orthodox Judaism in Israel (which evidences much corruption, not unlike biblical times) awful things have occurred, (usually involving women.) For example, a female convert is seen wearing pants, and her conversion is rescinded and then the rabbi claims her marriage to a Jew is invalid. A person’s Orthodox conversion is rescinded because it is discovered that the Orthodox rabbi that performed the conversion has presided at services without a mechitiza (separation between men and women.) One woman who underwent an Orthodox conversion as an adopted child and grew up Jewish all her life is required to undergo a year or more of conversion before she can marry because the rabbinic powers that be find some fault in the synagogue she attended, like mixed kiddush (men and women fellowshipping together following the service.)

    I am not saying the current organization you are discussing charges large amounts of money for conversion, although fraudulent persons have done so, and if you agree to convert a whole congregation even at $100 a piece, you are doing well. It appears to me that those who have set themselves up as authorities in MJ require all the members of their halachic organization to be members of their acronym association, and also remain loyal to the specific political viewpoints (even as they change) of that organization. Whether the convert to be is learning from someone who actually has knowledge or is just a political appointee, I can’t say. The potential convert is in a vulnerable position. My take is that real love for another encourages them to grow closer to the Master and not insert someone in the middle, and to discover their destiny and gifts, wresting with the Holy One and his word for themselves. While none of these “authorities,” would dare claim that I am not a Jew if I disagree with them in even the most egregious manner, the convert is on more shaky ground. If I weren’t Jewish, I probably would not be considered a candidate for conversion because I question everything, rather than accept it.

    As to making charges and seeking a court, these are all as politically correct and rigged as the Orthodox in the first century and today. Christian groups such as, “Peacemakers,” do the same thing. This would certainly occur If someone is a big shot in any camp; the critics are shunned, silenced and shamed (SSS job.) Don’t feel bad; all religious groups are like this. I know that any person who is financially or emotionally dependent upon their lifeline to the religious matrix can never be a true friend, as the friendship lasts only as long as one perceived as loyal to the top of the pecking order and their pronouncements. You don’t seek the leaders of the fox den to enact righteous judgements among their co-foxes. How can there be an honest Bet Din, when their leaders and supporters even seek to shut down any discussion that they deem unfavorable? I do agree that an honest and unbiased Bet Din would be the way to resolve conflicts. I think you are not going to approve this comment, and that is your prerogative, but it also proves my point.

    1. Chaya, you wrote, “if you agree to convert a whole congregation even at $100 a piece, you are doing well. It appears to me that those who have set themselves up as authorities in MJ require all the members of their halachic organization to be members of their acronym association. . .”

      As I described above, we convert very few people and work with them very closely. The idea of converting a congregation would be completely ludicrous. And what “appears” to you to be so is simply false. We are an organization (an acronym association, as you call it) of rabbis and a very small number of associate members who voluntarily associate with one another and everything we do is by member vote.

      You obviously know nothing about us, yet you brazenly accuse us of base motives – financial gain and manipulation (and perhaps lying as well). I don’t know what your motives are, but your words are shameful and not worthy of a disciple of Messiah.

  21. James you said:

    Paul’s argument is that Gentiles can be reconciled with God through faith in the Messiah without conversion to Judaism and mandatory Torah-observance.

    Then what were gentiles converting to? Christianity? 😛

  22. PL said:

    It should be obvious that the absolute prohibition of conversion of any non-Jews to Judaism cannot be justified by Rav Shaul’s presentation to the Galatians, since he did, in fact, circumcise Timothy (and did not circumcise Titus). Clearly, he considered that there could exist reasons to justify such action, so circumcision/conversion cannot be considered a theological contradiction.

    You are assuming that the Proselyte Ritual was enacted upon Timothy, could Paul have circumcised Timothy without the implications of the tradition… In fact, the biggest assumption of all is to give authority to a traditional practice that did not exist in Biblical Judaism and does not exist in Torah. On that foundation alone, we have problems.

    1. Shavua Tov, Zion — And why would you presume anything other than that Rav Shaul the Pharisee of Pharisees would follow prescribed Pharisaic procedure in legitimizing Timothy as the Jew he was properly born to be as the son of a Jewish mother? Technically, you are correct that Timothy was not a proselyte and did not require conversion to Judaism. But the formality of legitimizing a belated circumcision is not so different from that of the completion of proselyte conversion. The real issue was whether justification could exist for circumcising a man to enable him to take a valid place of acceptance within the Jewish community. Pharisaic halakhah permitted it, Rav Yeshua had already authorized Pharisaic halakhah in his instructions to his disciples in Matt.23:3, and Rav Shaul was entirely correct to employ these principles in Timothy’s case. It would likewise be legitimate to employ these principles in any appropriate case, though Rav Shaul clearly indicated to the Galatian assemblies that the pressures they were under did not constitute justification for conversion and that there was a greater benefit for non-Jews to pursue in demonstrating that HaShem had provided means for cleansing and redemption of non-Jewish humanity as well as He had done for Jews. As I stated in a previous response, non-Jews did not (and still do not) need to convert to Judaism by becoming circumcised, in order to forsake their prior idolatry and pursue their redemption with HaShem by changing their behavior rather than their community identity. The reasons that justify legitimate conversion do not include seeking “salvation”, nor seeking acceptance from HaShem, nor seeking to escape the pagan demands of an idolatrous Roman Empire, nor even seeking social acceptance within a Jewish community. Proper motivations for conversion are not so superficial, and are beyond the scope of what may be summarized in a simple post such as this one.

  23. I think this is an issue in itself:

    Carl wrote:
    For those who do not believe in conversion, my comments will be irrelevant (Also, I’m going to avoid getting involved in an argument about the legitimacy of conversion.)

    If you cannot prove the legitimacy of conversion, it really takes a back seat and lacks any real authority, not simply on a community level, such as Judaism not accepting “converts” from Messianic Judaism, but more importantly on a scriptural level, what authority does it have in the eyes of God… if this cannot be dealt with properly, truly “conversion” is irrelevant to everyone.

  24. Then what were gentiles converting to? Christianity? 😛

    Zion, I went ahead and approved all of your comments, although it’s obvious you’re coming in here with an adversarial attitude (this isn’t Peter’s blog, so “bashing” isn’t tolerated, let alone encouraged, here … please see my Comments Policy if you need a refresher on my guidelines). While it is illegal for the government to inhibit your free speech rights, the First Amendment doesn’t apply here. I believe in fair play but have long sense gotten past the idea that I owe people the opportunity to get in each other’s faces just because they can.

    All that said, to answer your question, I’ve explained my position about the legal status of Gentiles in “the Way” vs. the Jewish disciples so I don’t feel I need to repeat myself yet again.

  25. It would seem like $100 in compensation for a year long commitment in the conversion of another person is hardly a profit making proposition as Carl says, Chaya.

    In any event, Shabbat is upon us and I wish you are peace and holiness as we set aside the secular for the spiritual. Peace.

  26. PL said,

    And why would you presume anything other than that Rav Shaul the Pharisee of Pharisees would follow prescribed Pharisaic procedure in legitimizing Timothy as the Jew he was properly born to be as the son of a Jewish mother?

    For starters, In that time period, it is debatable ‘whether or not’ Timothy would have even been considered Jewish. Second, no need to presume, we know the Torah itself does not reference or support the ‘Conversion’ we see referenced in the Apostolic Writings. Third, we see a conflict with Conversion and what it meant in that time period, in Acts 15:1.

    Pharisaic halakhah permitted it, Rav Yeshua had already authorized Pharisaic halakhah in his instructions to his disciples in Matt.23:3

    Acts 15:1, in reference to Pharisaic Halakhah, is seen to be in direct conflict with the Gospel message and with the Torah itself. Thus the Apostles offered another solution, rather than heeding the Halakhic standard.

    I just don’t find your assumptions very convincing.

    1. @Zion — Acts 15:1 is not a reference to halakhah at all; it was an assertion of a mistaken assumption on the part of one faction of Rav Yeshua’s Jewish disciples. This is why it required the authority of the Council headed by Yacov to issue an actual ruling that would serve as halakhah that countered the false assertion. In an earlier post here, Yehezkel cited an opinion attributed to Beit Shammai that goyim, as such, would not have a portion in the world to come, and that even conversion might not be sufficient. This sort of viewpoint (which was not a halakhah) might explain why the opinion cited in Acts 15:1 came to be asserted. However, those who believed the assertion in Acts 15:1 clearly believed that the conversion procedures of that period were valid and necessary. The written Torah of the Pentateuch did not need to address the issue of conversion explicitly, though it incidentally mentions Calev ben Yefunah, whose lineage was Kennizite rather than Israelite, as one of the princes of the tribe of Yehudah. Therefore he (or at least his father Yefunah) clearly represents the existence of a “conversion” process within the people of Israel even before Moshe began writing down the particulars of the Torah covenant. Moshe certainly did not forbid or invalidate any such process; and the later story of Ruth demonstrates a declaration that corresponds with conversion, even though she was already the widow of a Jewish man (indicating that something more than marriage was required for incorporation into the people of Israel). Torah also authorizes the appointment of authorities whose interpretations and applications of Torah would establish valid halakhah for current and subsequent generations of Jews. It was under this precept that Rav Yeshua commanded his disciples to obey the scribes and Pharisees of his era as those who sit in the authority of “Moshe’s seat”. The Acts 15 decision to exempt non-Jews from requirements for conversion, circumcision, and the full yoke of Torah that was a Jewish obligation, did not invalidate or conflict with the process of conversion itself; it merely made it unnecessary as a response to Acts 15:1.

      Previous posts here have addressed the question of possible reasons for which conversion might be appropriate or inappropriate. Further, while most matters in Judaism are debatable, because that is in itself part of the learning process, since it is noted that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were Jewish, though his father was not, clearly Rav Shaul expected that fact to be understood as justification for his circumcision. This is evidence that the principle of Jewish motherhood conferring Jewish identity to her children, that was later codified as halakhah, was already a recognized social principle at least; and quite likely it did already have legal standing in the eyes of the Torah authorities.

  27. Just a heads up, Macher. The way you worded your comment and then throwing in a link to a YouTube video made it look like spam. I had to follow the link to make sure it was legit. Maybe if your intro to the video had been a bit longer. Just sayin’. Thanks.

  28. Since I am not always privy to all the MessyWorld battles, thank heaven, I was surprised to discover something that would be appropriate for our conversation. Some have reported that gentiles are going or encouraged to go to traditional rabbis seeking conversion, and when asked if they believe in Jesus, they say, “no.” They believe they are not lying as they believe in Yeshua, not Jesus, and the Yeshua they believe in does not fit the description of the Christian Jesus.

    I find this shocking and appalling to play these sorts of semantic games. It is almost as bad as some people, who many years ago prior to the Messianic issue being on the radar, just failed to inform their converting rabbis, and “Praise the Lord; he never asked.”

    In response to the attempted shaming; it doesn’t work with me. Remember, I’m Jewish and don’t need to kiss anyone’s tuches. That’s why MJ loves and welcomes gentiles so much and their leaders prefer sweet blonde gentiles with a “Jewish heart,” and a Jewish star around their neck. While I don’t know the whole story, I understand that one of the alphabet organizations has removed smicha from one of their “ordained rabbis,” because he disagreed with one of the big shots. There was no explanation that would have provided legitimate reason for this action.

    I have been around a long time; since Beth Messiah met in Manny Brotman’s basement in 1975, and I was at the historic Messiah ’75 conference when the name was changed from HCAA to MJAA. So, I am aware of much of the politics and corruption that went on, and surely what I know is only the tip of the iceberg. This sort of thing is typical for any organization no matter what its claims to godliness, so it is not like I am picking on MessyWorld. I am just saying they are no better than anyone else, even though they claim to be. I had a long-time family friend who was disturbed at all the politics, corruption and favoritism that took place in her Ph.D program. She said to me, “Well, I guess this sort of thing doesn’t go on in the Messianic community.” Sadly, I had to inform her that she was mistaken, and all the same stuff went on, and perhaps worse because they presented themselves as being above all that and no opportunity for redress or grievance existed. I will admit there wasn’t any, “sleeping her way to the top,” that I was aware of, but just about everything else you can imagine.

    1. Since this discussion hasn’t had a lot of activity for over a month until today, I’m not sure what you’re responding to, Chaya. If it’s Mark Nanos’ video, I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet.

    2. Shalom, Chaya — Since no one is privy to all of what you call the Messyworld battles, nor should they be, I’m not surprised that something should have escaped your notice — though I am curious about where you currently locate yourself that you speak of this world as remotely as you do. Nonetheless I wonder why you should find it so shocking that some non-Jews within the past four decades have exploited a loophole that is not merely a matter of semantics, but is rather one of intention. When a rabbi who is advising a proselyte asks a question about belief in “Jesus”, he is seeking a halakhically-required disavowal of idolatry. It does not matter whether he knows the fine distinctions within Christianity or anything about genuine Jewish messianism focused on Rav Yeshua. All that he is required to verify is the conversion applicant’s intention to eschew idolatry, and sufficient knowledge of Judaism to understand what that means and to enter loyally into the Jewish enterprise. There are, of course, rabbis who falsely assume that anything they may perceive as being associated with “Jesus” falls into the category of the prohibited idolatry; but if a conversion candidate actually understands better than might the rabbi that he or she does not follow the idolatrous worship of a man-god defined by Roman Imperial Christianity 18 centuries ago, then there is nothing wrong with denying it. The rabbi is not required to ask questions about the candidate’s Jewish inclinations, whether they prefer Conservative services or Chabad, or whether they have any messianic leanings toward Chabad’s Schneerson or toward Rabbi Nachman of Bratislav or toward the admor Rav Yeshua ben-Yosef ben-David. Therefore I recommend that you avoid passing judgments upon converts whose dedication to the Jewish people impelled them to answer truthfully only the actual meaning of questions asked without trying to provide detailed and convincing explanations of many irrelevant questions. It was not their responsibility to convince the rabbis of their Beit Din that Rav Yeshua is the Messiah and that some of his non-Jewish disciples should therefore be acceptable conversion candidates. It was only their responsibility to be deemed suitable candidates for allegiance to the Jewish people in accordance with halakhah.

      It is also a very different question to consider the circumstances that justify a non-Jew, who is not required to join the ranks of the circumcised in order to gain heavenly acceptance, joining them nonetheless. For the moment let me merely assert that such justifications do exist in our era; and that the behavior of such converts throughout the years of their lifetime after their conversion is much more important than the reasons for which they did so.

      In addition, I’m surprised that you should assume that the removal of someone’s smicha was occasioned by something as trite as merely disagreeing with some organizational big-shot. Of course there would be no public announcement of justifications for such a severe action. It is halakhically forbidden to shame someone in this manner. It is already more than sufficient to announce the disqualification, which is only justified by the necessity to protect the welfare of the community. And if (‘has v’shalom) there was wrongdoing on the part of some “big shots”, which regrettably is also not unknown among large religious organizations of all sorts, then it must be dealt with in some other forum than the blogosphere rumor mill.

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