Soon after, Minister Flores made the decision to convert to Judaism. But he struggled to find a way to tell us, as he didn’t want to tear down Christianity without being able to offer us an alternative. So he kept teaching Torah, but in a way that was as subtle as possible. He gradually peeled away the things that were wrong and got us closer to Torah. Our church started replacing Jesus’ name with Jewish, Hebrew names of God, and the songs became Hebrew songs. We began to incorporate real Jewish traditions into our festivals, and we even got a Torah scroll for the church.
At that point we resembled more of a Jews for Jesus group, in the sense that we were Christians with a lot of Jewish traditions. The difference, of course, was that we were moving in the direction toward authentic Judaism, not the other way around.
“The Torah in Our Church”
Ever since I published Nanos, Paul, and the Consequences of Jewish Identity in Messiah as well as witnessed/participated in the subsequent online discussion, I’ve spent a great deal of time pondering the idea of exactly how the early non-Jewish disciples of the Messiah entered into what was originally a wholly Jewish religious stream. Up to the time of Paul, the only way for a non-Jew to formally enter into any form of religious Judaism was to convert via the proselyte process and become “a Jew by choice,” to use the modern parlance.
In the aforementioned blog post inspired by an article written by New Testament scholar and historian Mark Nanos, one blog commenter asked (tongue-in-cheek):
Then what were gentiles converting to? Christianity?
No, of course not. Christianity, as we understand it today, did not exist when Paul walked the earth. But the Gentiles were not converting to Judaism either…well, not exactly.
Or were they?
No, I’m not suggesting that the early Gentile believers actually converted to Judaism and took on all of the obligations and identity markers of their Jewish mentors, but they did join “the Way” as fully equal co-participants in Yeshua-faith with the Jewish disciples.
But how can you convert to Judaism and not be a Jew?
It gets complicated from here on in, but that’s the mystery we struggle with twenty centuries later as we look through the lens of scripture, history, archeology, and any other tool at our disposal, and try to apprehend not only the intent of Paul and the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem, but of Messiah and God the Father.
That Gentiles were always intended to be reconciled with the Creator and to worship the One God alongside Israel is a foregone conclusion based on many of the Messianic prophesies chronicled in the Tanakh (Old Testament), but exactly how it was to happen is still somewhat hidden in the shadows of time.
The only conclusion I can come to with my present understanding of Paul is that he did “convert” non-Jews into a Jewish religious space, not by the proselyte rites, or as “guests” in the manner of the God-fearers, but into a life within Judaism specifically developed for Gentiles in Messiah, and lived out as non-Jewish co-participants, equal in the blessings of reconciliation, justification, and salvation, but not identical to Jewish participants in identity or responsibility.
Not that the Gentiles didn’t have responsibilities. We can start to see the skeleton of their (our) duties in the apostolic decrees (see Acts 15) and fleshed out just a bit more in many of Paul’s letters.
I wrote a number of detailed reviews of the Nanos book The Mystery of Romans including this one that described a sort of mutual dependency Paul characterized between the believing Gentiles and believing and non-believing Jews in Rome.
For the believing Gentiles, their duties to their Jewish hosts did not end at complying with principles designed to avoid offending Jewish sensitivities and facilitating fellowship, but also included provoking jealousy by showing themselves to be the first fruits of the prophecies of the Tanakh that speak of Gentiles “taking hold” of Jews, and going up to the House of the Lord, the House of Prayer, with the devout Jewish people in order to worship the God of Jacob.
That would mean separating from their former lifestyle, from paganism, and in most cases from family, leaving civic cult practice to honor God within the context of a Jewish worship designed for Gentile identity and legal status, but remaining non-Jews in order to clearly show themselves to be the fulfillment of prophesy rather than proselytes or some form of “pseudo-proselytes”.
In my previous blog post, I characterized Nanos’ opinion on Paul relative to Gentile conversion to Judaism within the framework of “the Way” as being firmly against such a proselyte conversion, but subsequent reading has brought up some questions. It’s very possible Paul was convinced that the Messianic return was only decades away and as such, he felt there just wasn’t time to do anything but spread the gospel message to the rest of the known world as quickly as possible. He may have thought that issues of conversion or even marital status (1 Corinthians 7:8 for example) were of a lesser priority than the imminent return of the Moshiach, so there was no need to develop rulings that would cover the requirements of later generations of Gentile believers.
However, history as shown us that the window for Messiah’s return is a rather lengthy corridor and we still have yet to reach the end. That being said, and keeping a Jewish perspective in mind, since Judaism is adaptive and halachah is continually or at least periodically in a state of development, is the issue of Gentile conversion to Judaism within the modern Messianic Jewish movement something that is, while Paul may not have pre-supposed it, nevertheless completely valid in the present, given the requirements of Jewish and non-Jewish disciples within the context of a Jewish faith in Yeshua the Messiah some two-thousand years down the road?
That question (and it was a long one) might not make sense to Christians who state they observe the “commandments” of the New Testament as a closed canon and an unchangeable decree, but that actually isn’t the case. While Christians sometimes criticize the various modern streams of Judaism for maintaining a quasi-open canon via the Talmudic rulings of the Rabbinic sages, in reality, the Protestant church in all its incarnations, more closely follows a 16th century (and even later) set of interpretations of the New Testament, rather than the original, apostolic understandings and teachings of the people who participated in spreading the good news from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and to the diaspora nations of the first century of the common era.
Both Christianity and Judaism have their own methods of keeping one foot firmly rooted in the Bible and the other one wandering up and down the passageways of time.
This idea of how Paul, James, and the apostles of the council conceptualized the role of Gentiles in their Jewish religious world has profound implications, not only on how we read and understand the New Testament, but how we view the role of the Church today, as well as modern Christian/Jewish relations.
We may have it all wrong when we think of the exact mechanism by which Gentiles entered “the Way,” and that, in a sense, they were not “converted” to Judaism or became citizens of Israel (and thus “Israelites” as opposed to “Jews”), but entered a unique legal status that at once made them equal relative to certain covenantal blessings without being identical, for the sake of fulfilling Messianic promises, to the Jewish people in identity and obligation, but still actually practicing Judaism as a way of life specifically crafted for the Gentiles by legal decree and the will of the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard it said that the short definition of a Jew is one who has rejected idolatry (obviously the long definition contains a lot more details). In that manner, while we can’t count the Gentiles in Messiah as Jews, they (we) are practicing a form of Judaism styled for them (us), at least within the ancient “Way” and in modern Messianic Judaism.
Although Christianity and Judaism (in all their various flavors) have described quite different trajectories across history, it is foolish to imagine that One God and a returning Messiah King will allow such a state to remain as we have constructed it, through it’s within the realm of possibility (considering the beginning verses of Matthew 23), that Messiah may allow a certain amount “halachah” to remain in place based on his giving the apostles the authority to make binding rulings in his name (assuming any of that trickled down to the Christian or Messianic movements of today as we imagine it has in parallel process to the modern, normative Judaisms).
Prophesy states that Messiah will return all of the Jewish exiles to their Land and their place, but it may be that he will also return the Gentile disciples to an understanding of who we are and where our duties lie in relation to the King of Israel, the nation of Israel, and the Jewish people.
I have a lot more reading to do in order to more completely explore this concept, but it’s heading in a direction I’ve been approaching for a while now.
I think there are a number of Christians and Christian groups who are feeling the pull of prophesy, but in most cases, such as in the above-quoted article written by Yosef Juarez, there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. Messiah never meant for us to believe that we had to choose between him and our devotion to Jewish people and Israel, rather he desires that we arrive at a proper understanding of our role in relation to Israel and her King, where King and Country are not mutually exclusive as most people believe is true of Jesus and Israel.
While we don’t see entire church groups converting to Judaism en masse very often (as Yosef Juarez describes in his article), we do see Gentile Christians entering into Hebrew Roots congregations and attempting to fulfill their roles (mistakenly in my opinion) by apprehending Jewish identity rather than their (our) own, or even more tragically, Gentiles in Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism leaving Messiah Yeshua behind and converting to one of the modern Judaisms of our day.
There are few things sadder than seeing a Christian begin to develop a sincere love of Israel and the Jewish people and then to allow misunderstanding and a misguided sense of purpose to cause them to completely overshoot the target, missing the point and mistaking the background for the goal.
“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”
It may not be entirely inappropriate to consider, under certain specific circumstances, Gentile conversion to Judaism within a Messianic Jewish venue, but again, in my opinion, this should be a rare occasion. Gentiles will never be able to take their (our) place in God’s Kingdom as the crowning jewels of the nations if we convert or quasi-convert to Judaism in significant numbers. To be “crowning jewels” we must remain among “the nations” or fail prophesy, Messiah, and God.
48 thoughts on “The Consequences of Gentile Identity in Messiah”
About the main question : “Then what were gentiles converting to?” Just trying to imagine the scenario, all gentiles at that time believed in multiple gods and idols. So, I think that “conversion” might have meant to believe in One True God, as it is clearly written in Acts 15:19-21
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
Also you wrote “Messiah may allow a certain amount “halachah” to remain in place”. I don’t think that would be the case, as it is written in Jeremiah 31:33-34
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
Hi again James. When I read what you wrote : “Messiah never meant for us to believe that we had to choose between him and our devotion to Jewish people and Israel,” and also “There are few things sadder than seeing a Christian begin to develop a sincere love of Israel and the Jewish people and then to allow misunderstanding and a misguided sense of purpose to cause them to completely overshoot the target, missing the point and mistaking the background for the goal.”, some idea flashed me instantly.
The thing is that we might have an unclear understanding of the role of Messiah. We might be tempted to choose either Messiah or Israel. Or even further: Choose either Messiah (Yeshua) or God. But reading the scriptures, we could get to the conclusion that Messiah is the King that God has chosen to be the Ruler of the entire world to come, on His behalf. That is what I think Judaism teaches about Messiah.
That very same thing is what the catholic church somehow believes and has been doing for a while in a very distorted way, when a pope is appointed to be the ruler to this world (at least in their minds) on behalf of Jesus and thus on behalf of God. The pope is called the “Vicar of Jesus Christ” (Check Wikipedia or any catholic site for further explanation of the term) only ruling from the Vatican instead of Jerusalem (go figure!).
Also you wrote “Messiah may allow a certain amount “halachah” to remain in place”. I don’t think that would be the case, as it is written in Jeremiah 31:33-34…
I made my statement based on a 2003 paper written by Noel Rabbinowitz called Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse Their Halakhah (PDF). You might also want to view this 30 minute video teaching from First Fruits of Zion called Binding and Loosing. Putting all that together, we get a picture of Messiah granting his disciples the authority to make legal decisions in his name (the most famous of which is recorded in Acts 15). Based on my reading of portions of Mark Nanos’ book The Mystery of Romans (which I highly recommend), it’s quite likely that Paul advocating that the Gentiles in the Jewish synagogues in Rome be obedient to all the authorities, including the non-believing Jewish synagogue leaders. My commentary on this, found in Chapter 6 of the book, can be found in this morning meditation.
In Messianic days, as we see in Jeremiah 31, God will indeed fill us all so full of the Spirit that we will have a knowledge of God greater than even John the Baptist. Our intimacy with God will be unparalleled. I’m not sure what impact that will have on already established halachah, whether it will all be tossed in the trash can or if, as we see in the beginning verses of Matthew 23, God will remember that He granted authority to at least the Jewish apostles if not to other Jewish leaders, to make binding rulings and interpretations of Torah.
I can’t prove it of course. In some branches of Judaism, it’s considered a given that different Rabbinic sages are exercising such authority. Even in the (non-Catholic) Church, interpretations of scripture have been established that have the power of “gospel” though said interpretations are traditions.
It’s an interesting and complex problem, but whatever solution Messiah brings as King, we, his subjects will need to listen, learn, and obey.
Good balance with this article.
James, what a great post. I’m chuckling inside because I wrote a lengthy response/questions (mostly to PL) regarding this topic last night on the other Nanos post you did, and then decided against it. I now will broach a portion of now though.
For me all the craziness comes (and obviously I’ve been in the midst of the same struggles) from calling a convert to Judaism a “Jew”. I cannot find support for this. Example: God says a Jew is a physical descendant of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. Period. But they cannot have descendants without a woman, and many of those women of the Patriarchs and even the mother of Moses’ boys, weren’t Jewish and are never shown converting, or ever being called Jews.
Next some will argue that the Torah hadn’t yet been given. However, we see God preparing to kill Moses for not circumcising his son from a gentile wife (meaning he wasn’t Jewish according to modern Judaism many of which claim came straight from Torah, both written and oral) and doesn’t this seem a bit harsh if he was going to reverse it at Sinai?
Then we have the problem of Ruth. Jews claim she “converted” and “became a Jew”, yet if she did, you wouldn’t know it because not only does the Bible never claim this, but she is always called a Moabites and is never once called a Jew, even after marrying her 2nd Jewish husband! So, if we imagine that she DID convert, then we must acknowledge that at that point “converts” didn’t “become Jewish” rather they stayed in their own God-given identities, honored the way of life of the Jewish community they lived /married into, and their children would then be Jews (if either parent was Jewish). In other-words, perhaps the matrilineal/patrilineal descent issue was moot, and any Jewish parent made one a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, since a descendant can be either male or female. Of course this would clear up so much misunderstanding and craziness, I’m sure it will be dismissed out of hand. 🙂
The last point I’ll make in defense of my above argument is the directive God gave to circumcise all males in the household of a Jew including slaves. Did this act of cutting bestow “Jewishness” ? Some argue yes, and I realize Paul uses the term “the circumcised” interchangeably with being a Jew in the 1st century. However, if that is the case originally, then we must conclude that Ismael and all other sons of Abraham were Jewish, although God clearly says otherwise and distinguishes between them. Wouldn’t that also make the men slaughtered at Shechem by Judah and Simeon Jews? God provides a way to draw near to Israel, and even partake of the lamb at Passover, but I believe He still distinguishes between a Jew and a ger, a sojourner, a resident alien etc. I honestly think calling a convert a “Jew” is the problem and creates all of these problems.
Couldn’t it be that non-Jews were allowed to join the Jewish people but didn’t magically “become Jewish”?
BTW, sorry that post wasn’t edited, I’m multi-tasking! 🙂
@Sojourning: You bring up a lot of good points and off the cuff, I don’t really know how to respond to them all.
One thing that occurs to me though, is that how non-Israelites/non-Jews joined “the people of the covenant” morphed over time. Originally, in the days of Moses and the twelve tribes, for a member of the nations to join Israel, they didn’t really convert as such. How can you convert to a tribe. You ‘converted’ in the sense that you gave up devotion and worship to all other Gods and worshiped the God of Israel only. At that point in time, the only way to do that for anyone was the way described in the Torah. There was no parallel stream as we have post Acts 15.
Now the trick is to remember that the first generation of Goyim who joined themselves to the God of Jacob weren’t considered Israelites. It was only after the third generation of their offspring that the descendants were assimilated into Israel through intermarriage and became affiliated with a tribe.
After the Babylonian exile, tribal and eventually clan affiliations were lost, at least to some degree, and the method of joining Israel from the outside changed. Ruth’s example reminds me of the method I described above. She simply stated that she would behave in accordance with the people of Israel in relation to God (something she apparently hadn’t done while married to her first Jewish husband). She married Boaz, the kinsman redeemer, was a “good Jewish wife” to him, and her grandson was David who would become Israel’s greatest King (so far).
Going way back before this, Abraham, the first Hebrew, was commanded to circumcise all the males in his household, whether they were biologically related to him or not. That seems to indicate that all you have to do to “join the club” (if you are male) is to become circumcised, but remember, this was before Moses, before the tribes, and before the Torah. The process of joining evolved over time as God took a single man, Abraham, and made a nation of him. As the nation become more complex and more specialized, the process seemed to have changed.
By the time we get to Paul, joining Israel had nothing to do with tribal affiliation (although Paul obviously knew he was of the tribe of Benjamin). The key component across all of these different methods of “conversion” was the person in question had to forsake all other gods and to cleave to the God of Israel only, obeying His commandments for Him people. In Paul’s day, you converted to Judaism within a specific religious stream (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essences) much as people convert today within Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, etc.. Judaism.
The ancient Messianic Jewish movement of “the Way” offered a unique method of joining with Israel and fulfilling the various Messianic prophesies of the nations coming alongside Israel to worship One God (see Amos 9:11-12 for example). This was the only method of fulfilling such prophesies within any of the Judaisms that allowed Gentiles to remain Gentiles and yet to participate as equals in the covenant blessings (but not all the covenant responsibilities) with Israel.
This is what Paul wanted to show the Jewish non-believers in Rome when he arrived (he only got there as a prisoner, alas) to provoke them to jealousy that his “ministry” was the only one in all the various Jewish religious streams that was producing the first fruits of those prophesies with Gentiles entering Jewish religious devotion (crafted for the Gentile disciple) in droves.
Since then, Gentile Christianity has reverse causality and believes that the Gentiles are the gatekeepers to the salvation of Jesus, demanding that Jews surrender Judaism in order to enter. This was the exact opposite of the original process Paul established and I believe when Messiah returns, he will set all this right again.
Ah, multitasking. A process my wife continually reminds me that no man can achieve. 😉
“The ancient Messianic Jewish movement of “the Way” offered a unique method of joining with Israel and fulfilling the various Messianic prophesies of the nations coming alongside Israel to worship One God ”
Well, that’s my point James (thanks for making it more concise for me:-) ) that’s is, I don’t think this was “unique” at all, I see it as in line with and compatible with the original directives that God already gave in the first place! Therefore, it would be a corrective, a return to the ancient path God already outlined.
I just don’t see any justification (Biblically) for calling someone who isn’t a physical descendant of A, I, & J a Jew. And you point out it isn’t until the 3rd generation that their children are “Jewish” and that’s a far cry from a convert to Judaism –which I see as open to anyone-being called a Jew.
I meant “unique” relative to the rest of the normative streams of Judaism in the first century. I don’t dispute that this was God’s plan all along.
However, the Ammonites and Moabites weren’t to enter into the congregation of Israel until the tenth generation. So, I am guessing this applies only to men, as it would be assumed that a woman would follow her husband? In the time of Nehemiah the Israelites were told to divorce their Canaanite wives, those who they had been forbidden to marry, and in fact they were to destroy all these peoples, which they failed to do. I suppose it makes sense, that by the third generation, the old ways had been removed and they had taken on the practices of Israel.
We know that circumcision occurred prior to Abraham, so it must have been circumcision + intent = joining the Jewish people. It was the dividing line, as intimacy is the dividing line between unmarried and married. Intimacy doesn’t always = marriage, but intimacy + intent = marriage.
Certain people groups were forbidden to enter Israel because of how they victimized Israel in the past, and others could do so after such and thus number of generations. However, there were plenty of other people from other nations who could become gerim, which was more or less an “alien resident” among Israel, and after the third generation, enter fully into Israel. Who knows how many Jewish people today may have a little ancient Egyptian in their DNA if they could look back far enough?
I understand that today, a person is Jewish if his/her mother is Jewish. Am I correct? On the other hand, if a man is Jewish but marries a non-Jewish woman, what is the status of their children? Are they considered Jewish?
If we could take the Tardis (Dr. Who, time machine) back to first century Israel and visit a synagogue where both Jews and believing Gentiles attended (such as James implied they would in Acts 15:21), I can imagine certain conversations taking place that are somehow out of reach in churches. I think the general give-and-take would have been more liberal and questioning, less dogmatic and certain, at least among the general populace.
For instance, when asked about his faith, as to why he attended synagogue, the Gentile believer would likely have said, at least in my mind, similarly as Ruth said,
“As a Gentile believer in Yeshua miNetzeret I have thrown in my own spiritual destiny with the spiritual destiny of the Jewish people. Their God is now my God; their people my people. If they live, I live; if they die, I die.”
Gentile believers would, in my mind, likely have identified strongly with the Jewish people and, due to this phenomenon of being “drawing in” would gradually assimilate in a most natural, normal manner… eventually becoming “naturalized” as an immigrant is naturalized when they go through the American immigration process. If there was no Christianity in place to co-opt their sympathies, so to speak, gradual acculturation into the norms, folkways, and morays of Yeshua’s people would have been, I think, a normal, healthy process, and supremely attractive to the true believer who desired with all his heart to follow his Redeemer.
If we had the Tardis we could understand how the development of Christianity altered things. But, as you always say, James, Messiah will straighten this all out upon arrival.
Shavu’a Tov l’kulam! — My, but so many comments have passed since erev shabbat!
@alfredo — The Jer.31 passage tells us that HaShem will place His Torah in the minds of His Jewish people, which means that we will know it and understand it; and He will write it onto our hearts, which means that we will feel it and be motivated to do it. Halakhah is the set of instructions and procedures that tell us how to do these things that we now understand and feel motivated to do. Part of knowing and understanding Torah is a familiarity with halakhah, though halakhah is determined by Torah authorities in each generation, such as were the Pharisees in Rav Yeshua’s generation, whose authority he ratified for his own disciples to obey in Matt.23:3.
Therefore the answer to the question about whether the Messiah ben-David would allow a certain amount of halakhah to remain in place is a resounding: “Yes, of course he will!”. Why would anyone think otherwise? Of course, the questions with which James has been wrestling for some time now are about what is the halakhah for non-Jews and how similar is it to Jewish halakhah. This is why he was examining the Didache recently, because it seemed to have been written precisely for the purpose of answering that question for the early non-Jewish disciples. It remains to be seen whether anyone in our own era could produce an updated version of the Didache that anyone would accept, particularly in the current lawless environment in which even many Jewish messianists are not convinced that they should conform to commonly-accepted Jewish halakhah. I don’t know but that it might require an explicit declaration from the Messiah on his throne to convince them to do so.
Your additional question about the current definition of Jewish status may be answered as follows: The child of a Jewish mother is deemed Jewish. The children of a Jewish man who marries a non-Jewish woman are not deemed Jewish. This is the traditional (orthodox) definition. Long ago, when the Temple was in operation and detailed genealogies were kept, Jewish identity could be traced also through the father’s lineage, and non-Jewish mothers were absorbed more or less automatically into the “congregation of Israel”. Much, much longer ago, for example with Moshe Rabbeinu’s sons, whose mother was a Midianite, the sons were deemed part of Israel; though we could say that there was a special dispensation for all those of the mixed multitude that left Egypt having cast their lot with the Jewish people. We might consider it a form of mass conversion (e.g., “all baptized unto Moshe in the cloud and in the sea” per 1Cor.10:2), as a singular event not to be repeated. Nonetheless, in our own era after the Holocaust and a number of preceding persecutions we have a problem to resolve in re-gathering some Jews whose families were disrupted so severely that they do not meet the orthodox definition. For these people the solutions pursued in the current generation are twofold: One is the recognize the Jewish identity of the father or even a grandparent as sufficient to grant Jewish identity to the current generation of offspring. The other is to apply the time-honored practice of conversion, even an abbreviated conversion in some cases. Some or even all of these special solutions may cease to be deemed valid beyond the current generation, since if we can clean up the boundaries of Jewish identity by resolving these historical problems in any given generation, then there should be no further difficulty in reverting to their traditional orthodox definition.
@chaya — Yes, the rabbis applied the ten-generation prohibition against Ammonites and Moabites entering into the congregation of Israel solely to males. You are also correct that circumcision alone was never the sole criterion for entering in. We can see that all of Avraham’s household was circumcised, including Ishmael and a host of others, but only through Yitzhak were Avraham’s Jewish descendants to be called. The other children of Avraham were all sent away to separate them from that heritage. Even some of them, notably Esav’s line, were not deemed to be included in the natural biological Jewish covenantal lineage.
@James — You have mentioned at various times that one cannot convert to a tribe, but this formulation is misleading. You are correct that one does not convert into a tribe, but one can join one; and there are two methods for doing so. One is to marry a member of the tribe and thereby be incorporated into the family and clan structure (which presumes certain changes in personal communal affiliation). The other is to declare one’s allegiance to the tribe before its leader or council of leaders and to perform whatever actions these leaders deem acceptable to validate that declaration (including, in the Jewish case, circumcision). Part of their acceptance would include placing the new member into some suitable framework within the clan, which could include marriage to one of its members at some point.
We do not know exactly how Yephunah the Kenizite accomplished this, but his son Calev was deemed a prince of the tribe of Yehudah. Thus already the second generation of a “convert” was deemed a full member of the tribe, and there was no delay requiring a third generation to ratify the incorporation. We might also note that the essential definition of conversion is a redefinition of personal communal affiliation, hence even the convert himself may be recognized as a full member. This is why, in modern terms, one who has completed a valid process of proselyte conversion is to be called a Jew, and is no longer to be referred to as a convert or to be reminded of that transition (except in vestigial form by the name “ben-Avraham”). You are, of course, correct that there has been some “morphing” of this process of “conversion” over the centuries to define its requirements more precisely.
@Sojourning — see the previous paragraph in response to James for the justification for calling a convert a Jew. Further, we must be careful not to muddy the definitions by trying to distinguish between Jews and some larger inclusive body of “Israelites”. We have more than enough of that difficulty in modern Israel which includes non-Jewish Israeli citizens who are not participants in the religiously-defined “commonwealth of Israel”. This is already a form of joining with Israel without becoming Israeli Jews. But joining in participation WITH Israel does not require Israeli citizenship; nor does it require becoming Jewish to affiliate WITH Israel in denying idolatry and pursuing righteous living. These are pursuits that will fulfill the ancient prophecies.
BTW, the identification of Ruth as a Moabitess was a national designation, much as in a modern context Chinese Jews or Indian Jews might still be referred to as Chinese or Indian, even though their fundamental “nationality” is Jewish. If the book of Ruth had been written in the context of modern Hebrew idiom, she might have been called a “Moabite Jewess”. The reference is not a contradiction of her conversion, which is recognized by her declaration and dedication to Naomi, and subsequently to Boaz.
Thanks PL. Now, another question arise. You say that “the current definition of Jewish status may be answered as follows: The child of a Jewish mother is deemed Jewish.” So, that issue is not treated as “Halakhah” but as a “definition” of Jewish status. Am I correct?
@alfredo — Don’t try to find a distinction between definitions and halakhah, as if they were entirely separable notions. Legally binding definitions are part of the legally binding procedures of halakhah. Halakhah is, in general, “the way of walking” (i.e., in conformity with HaShem’s Torah); and it has many aspects. So, yes, the definition of personal Jewish status is a subject treated by “Halakhah”.
Halakhah, as presently developed, was developed for Jewish conformity with Torah. None of its developers were in any position to expect it to be enforced upon non-Jews, unless these first joined themselves to the Jewish people (in accordance with halakhic procedures, of course). The Acts 15 answer to the mistaken proposal cited in Acts 15:1 is consistent with such a view. Hence, when non-Jews were given a redemption framework in which to approach HaShem rather than the idols that were their previous theological and cultural construct, a new question had to be addressed about whether aspects of existing Jewish halakhah should be applied to this new category of non-Jews or whether a distinctively modified halakhah was needed. The Didache document indicates that a modified version of halakhah was begun to be developed for the non-Jews who were affiliating with the Jewish Messiah (preferably not as a new idol in place of their previous ones, but rather more as a new Moses whose teachings would lead them out of their former enslavement to false gods and unwholesome practices). Rav Shaul’s letters were also constructed as instructive responses to various problems in the non-Jewish assemblies, indicating that he had some sort of halakhah in mind that he deemed applicable to non-Jewish circumstances.
Thanks PL. You say “Halakhah, as presently developed, was developed for Jewish conformity with Torah.” You see, the problem is the following. If this actual Halakhah is correct then something is very wrong.
According to Deu 23:3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD,;even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever.
Thus, if Ruth’s child Obed would not be considered Jewish according to actual Halakhah, then Jesse and king David would be in trouble also. They would be considered Moabite because of Ruth.
So this “changing” Halakhah throughout history seems to be something difficult to understand.
On the other hand, if someone is Jewish because any of his/her parents is Jewish, then is no problem at all.
@alfredo — You must have missed some of the discussion above in which I confirmed for chaya that the ten-generation prohibition against Ammonites and Moabites joining the congregation of Israel was applied to the males of the line only, so Ruth was permitted to join and her son Obed was Jewish, not Moabite. I also responded in the same message to James and to Sojourning that the references to Ruth as the Moabitess were national references to her place of origin and not a contradiction of her conversion and acceptance into the Jewish community.
Interestingly, even if we count generations in terms of prophetic forty-year periods, a period of 10 generations or 400 years following the time when the prohibition was codified would terminate just about during King David’s reign (or maybe Solomon’s). If we were to have counted actual biological generations, which were shorter in those days, the ten-generation prohibition might even have terminated already by Ruth’s time. Nonetheless, Ruth was deemed by the rabbinic authorities to have become Jewish.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything fleshing out a divinely given gentile identity in the entire Bible. Other world religions such as Hinduism and Greco-Roman Paganism do that, each with their holy laws, feasts, times, histories, patriarchs, etc. And in the reckonings of those religions, a gentile therein would be sinning if he failed to observe it. Their founding myths and covenants with their false gods fleshed out their respective divinely-given identities.
Yet, I don’t know many theologians who can say with confidence that a gentile who gives up his national identity is “sinning.” A Mexican who assimilates and stops being Mexican is not reckoned by the G-d of Abraham as “sinning” for doing so.
It seems Gentiles of the Bible had to abandon the hope of divinely-given identity completely for the hope of salvation.
Ironically, Christianity went on to subsume a myriad of distinct national identities, blobbed them into “Church,” their respective histories and identities were erased, and what survived became optional (you can still keep neutered practices of yore). What was designed to keep Gentiles from assimilating Jews and vice-versa resulted instead with the church absorbing all nations and making them identical to each other. A Scythian Gentile and a Roman Gentile and a Greek Gentile and a Celtic Gentile in the synagogues of the early believers were all alike just “G-d fearers.” All the same as each other, spiritually interchangeable. While Paul seemed to want to protect Israel as unique, the opposite seems true for Gentiles in that as they enter the Kingdom, as they went from plurality to uniformity.
“But Drake. Eastern Orthodox, Black Churches, and Arabic Churches are all distinct.”
“Is it morally required that they be distinct from each other? Are they sinning if not?”
“Then how do we assume such identities are paramount for the Kingdom?”
G-d obviously puts up walls against assimilation between Jews and Gentiles. But as far as Gentiles and other Gentiles, they are pretty much regarded as all the same as each other spiritually.
I hate to, based on my limited knowledge, describe a what I think is “the Divine Personality.” But for a G-d who cherishes identity to the point of guarding it with covenants, it seems out of character that once He preserved it for the Jews, He stops there and says nothing about identity in Christ to the rest of humanity. I genuinely and always wished He would have. Because now, the Protestant reductionist who says that “all we need is prayer and faith” is pretty much the most honest operator on the block.
It’s not jealousy of Jewish people for being Jewish. There’s plenty of that, I’m sure. Rather, G-d-Fearing under Paul defines gentiles by what they are not, paganism attempted (albeit poorly) to define gentiles by what they were. This has not been resolved for 2,000 years, and so I doubt I will see a resolution in our lifetimes.
In the end, I am happy that I am “saved,” but the need to identify with the divine is something that all religions aim to fulfill. Saying “go out and make your identity” does not seem to work either. Suburbanite cultural bankruptcy resulted from generations forgetting the past and doing just that.
PL: ” see the previous paragraph in response to James for the justification for calling a convert a Jew. Further, we must be careful not to muddy the definitions by trying to distinguish between Jews and some larger inclusive body of “Israelites”. We have more than enough of that difficulty in modern Israel which includes non-Jewish Israeli citizens who are not participants in the religiously-defined “commonwealth of Israel”.
I am distinguishing between the Biblical definition of who is a Jew, and what it has morphed into. While I understand the need for the Jewish people to excercise some form of control regarding it, I also believe that one cannot truly change a definition that originates with God, since his creatures are subject to his decrees, not the other way around. (Not to equate the two, but I”ll point out that many people think it’s also possible to redefine sin now, too.) My point is that we never see the Bible call any of the people who supposedly converted, Jews.
“If the book of Ruth had been written in the context of modern Hebrew idiom, she might have been called a “Moabite Jewess”. The reference is not a contradiction of her conversion, which is recognized by her declaration and dedication to Naomi, and subsequently to Boaz.”
Very creative! 🙂
Hi, Sojourning — Technically, there is no “biblical definition” of who is a Jew, because the term did not exist in its current form until after the Babylonian exile. Its definition is no longer limited to members of the tribe of Judah, as once it was (from a biblical textual perspective). It is not even limited only to the citizens of the southern kingdom during the split between the two Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It is not limited to only the later inhabitants of Judea, though English translations of the apostolic writings frequently mis-render a number of specific Greek references to Judeans as if they applied to all Jews everywhere throughout all time. One must examine the context to distinguish the particular from the general. We do not have enough discussion, in the post-exilic portion of Tenakh or in the apostolic writings, of proselytes who have completed their conversion process to say definitively by what term they were identified. The only reference that I can think of appears at the end of the story of Esther, when it says that many of the peoples in the land became Jews (Esther 8:17). That is, in fact, an accurate rendition of the Hebrew phrasing “mityahedim” (“מִתְיַהֲדִים”), meaning literally “becoming for themselves Jews”. The apostolic writings focus on the distinctions between Jews and Greeks (i.e., generic gentiles of the era), they include mention of proselytes that show us that they existed, and they include Rav Shaul’s passing observation to the Galatians (Gal.5:3) that all those who are circumcised are obligated to keep the entire Torah, which would be a specific reference to those who had become circumcised upon completion of the proselyte conversion process (though it would, obviously, include Jews who had been circumcised as infants). Rav Shaul focuses on circumcision as the characteristic feature of conversion in his efforts to dissuade the Galatians from pursuing an unnecessary and inappropriate conversion process, without using either term proselyte or Jew, so he doesn’t offer us any help to know what terminology was currently in use in his era for individual who had completed the conversion process and become absorbed into the Jewish community.
The definitions that may be derived from the Torah about who is a member of the Israelite Torah covenant are, of course, based primarily on family relations descending from Avraham, Yitzhak and Yakov. But we have exceptions like Calev ben Yefunah the Kenizite. And we have the Torah’s definition of authorities who will interpret and apply Torah in each generation with whatever adjustments are deemed proper and consistent with the Torah, much as laws in the USA must be deemed to conform with the fundamental requirements of the Constitution. Hence an exception like Calev provided a precedent for the rabbinic Torah authorities of later generations to accept the incorporation of certain individual non-Jews into the peoplehood of Israel with all the responsibilities and privileges of all other Jews, including identification under the name “Jew”. The definition of a Jew did not morph all by itself; it was adjusted for clarity of definition under divine authority which placed the responsibility for Torah into specifically-authorized Jewish human hands (viz:Deut.30 – “not in heaven”; and parashat Shoftim). Thus I must also caution you that the authority does not belong to you to insist that some biblical interpretation of yours may overrule the authoritative modern Jewish definition of “Jew” (though “modern”, in this case, is more than 20 centuries old).
Alfredo, my understanding is that this designation of who is Jewish is halacha. The halacha of today may not always be the same as the halacha of yesterday. As far as a person (Jewish or not) being required to follow rabbinic halacha, you’d have to decide which rabbinic halacha or whether you decide to give credence the the halacha imposed by graduates of online, unaccredited programs.
Personally, I believe in following the local halacha if I am in someone’s space. So, I will wear a skirt (which I rarely do) and a long-sleeved shirt to a Chabad event, but my daily mommy uniform is usually jeans and tee-shirts. That is why I have attempted to suggest (usually to no avail) that 2-housers not use their rendition of the divine name around Jewish people because they find it offensive, and if you say, “the Jewish people,” instead of, “Judah,” everyone will no what you are talking about and no one will be offended.
@Drake — Obviously, the Tenakh was written for Jews and focuses on Jewish situations. Thus it should not be surprising that it does not flesh out a divinely-inspired definition of non-Jewish identity. That identity is a human identity, because all of the “sons of Adam” are one entity. The divinely-motivated distinctiveness accorded to the Jewish subset of that entity is not contradictory to fundamental human identity, but is rather an assignment. The rest of humanity does not require any such special assignments; and it was rather something of a curse upon humanity for the crime of hubris and attempted usurpation of HaShem’s place that our languages were splintered and we were scattered across the face of the earth, ultimately to give ourselves group names and national identities such as Mexican, Scythian, Roman, Greek, Celtic, etc. There is no innate reason for pride in belonging to any particular subgroup of humans, and one does not need distinctive identity where HaShem has not defined a special assignment such as the role He gave to some of the descendants of Avraham as a promise that all nations would be blessed by them and would bless themselves because of them.
Now, there need not be anything intrinsically wrong with a non-Jewish subgroup identity. But if it is to mean anything it must be a result of some worthwhile characteristic relative to HaShem’s purposes for humanity. Hence a group identity that distinguishes non-pagan-non-idolators from pagan idolators could be a useful thing, at least as a temporary marker until HaShem’s Messiah restores humanity to a better condition that no longer includes pagan idolators and other “persona-non-grata”. Of course, since history cannot be erased, we see in Zecharia’s prophecies about the messianic era that the nations that formerly persecuted Jews will still retain their national identities when they are required to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot in order not to suffer drought in their lands. But I don’t imagine that such distinctive identities will be considered a source of pride, but rather something that might preferably be done without. On the other hand, Egypt and Assyria appear as distinctive entities alongside Israel that seem to have a redeemed status in Is.19:23-25.
Dan Hennessey seemed to present a similar more optimistic suggestion about non-Jews gradually absorbing positive traits from Jewish culture in recognition of all the special effort that HaShem has exerted to make them capable of His special assignment to be a light to the nations so that the resulting singular renewed humanity (i.e., “one new man”) would exhibit the characteristics of HaShem’s redemption.
I feel honored… :P, I think you stated it well though, if gentiles were not in some way joining Judaism, then we must accept two faults, either a new religion was invited for gentiles, or ‘the Way’ was a new religion for both Jews and Gentiles, neither would work. But this also leads to more issues, do we understand gentile relationship to Israel from the Torah or do we understand it from the perspective of a “new religion”, that relying only on the words of Paul as you stated above, I think we have to carefully consider it all, we can’t say that Gentiles do not know their place, simply because Paul did not write enough letters, that would be absurd. Yet this seems to be what you believe, as if gentile’s relationship to the God of Israel is brand new in the Messiah, as if Gentiles could have no affiliation to Israel before. I am not saying Yeshua brought nothing to the table, as I believe He brought more to the table than what was offered ever before(which is fulfilling what was promised earlier in history), but knowing the history, Gentiles throughout Israel’s history, have joined and taken part in mass numbers, the millions of gentiles who stood at Mount Sinai, the 150,000+ in Solomons day, and all the various other times where no census was given… how did they relate, as opposed to today. Well, we no longer see these mass gentile conversions anymore in Judaism, we do however see them in Christianity… Thus were the Apostles introducing a ‘New’ religion or a ‘New’ way, or were they simply upholding the Truth since the beginning?
You make great points, the most solid point is that a ‘Ger’ could not own land, thus a Ger did not become a Native Born, or as we would say today a ‘Jew’. But none of this matters anyways, as James says, it will all be corrected in the future. 😀
Still dark outside this Sunday morning. I see you all have been busy in my absence. This is a lot to respond to and I don’t know exactly when I’ll find the time to craft a detailed reply. I do appreciate you carrying on the conversation with all of your comments. Be back later.
Actually, you’ve got a bigger problem than that, Alfredo. If all of Ruth’s descendants can’t be considered Jewish, including the entire line of King David, then by definition, Messiah can’t be Jewish, which might fit well into some “Christian” conceptualization, but it is a total mess Biblically.
As far as PL’s description of halachah, it is difficult because in Christianity, we are taught that we only rely on the Bible and not on a specific set of interpretations, as such (sola scriptura). That falls apart when you realize that Protestantism really follows, for the most part, a 16th century set of interpretations built on the reformation, and fundamentalist Protestantism follows a set of interpretations that were created barely a century ago. Thus, Christianity has a changing “halachah” as it were, just as Judaism has.
In fact, just as different branches of Judaism follow a somewhat differing set of halachah, so do different denominations of Christianity. This is also true within the different factions of the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism movements.
Getting back to the Jewishness of Messiah, Son of David, he must be Jewish in order to even qualify as Messiah and he must also be of the tribe of Judah and the house of David, thus, we have to believe (somehow) that Ruth “converted” to Judaism in accordance to how Torah was interpreted in her day, in spite of the fact that she was a Moabitess.
@Alfredo: I typed my above comment before seeing PL’s latest missive above. He gives a much more detailed answer to your question about what defines a Jew.
PL said: You have mentioned at various times that one cannot convert to a tribe, but this formulation is misleading. You are correct that one does not convert into a tribe, but one can join one; and there are two methods for doing so. One is to marry a member of the tribe and thereby be incorporated into the family and clan structure (which presumes certain changes in personal communal affiliation).
Thanks for this response, PL. I tend to think of a tribal or clan affilation as something of a “locked box” and on top of that, I overcompensate a bit in some of my comments to defend against “illegal entry” into Israel as some “One Law” and Two-House” proponents believe is proper. I can see how the ancient Gerim in the days of Moses and up to the Babylonian exile could have not only attached themselves to the God of Israel, but to a specific tribe, which through marriage would result in the Ger’s offspring being considered Israelite and a tribal member after the third generation.
All that said, the process that existed then is no longer applicable and as the nature of the Jewish people has developed over time, so has (in my opinion) the halachah relative to Gentile entry into Judaism.
Zion said: I am not saying Yeshua brought nothing to the table, as I believe He brought more to the table than what was offered ever before(which is fulfilling what was promised earlier in history), but knowing the history, Gentiles throughout Israel’s history, have joined and taken part in mass numbers, the millions of gentiles who stood at Mount Sinai, the 150,000+ in Solomons day…
The problem is (and I mentioned this in my response to PL), that the circumstances have radically changed since the days of Moses and Solomon relative to Gentile entry into Israel/Judaism. I mentioned in one of my responses to Alfredo (January 5, 2014 at 8:43 am) that neither Judaism nor Christianity follows a purely Biblical pattern without a set of intervening interpretations. On top of that, for both religious groups and all of their subgroups (including Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism), each interpretation is different, ranging from subtly different to drastically different from their parallel religious branches.
I’m not saying there isn’t absolute truth from God’s point of view, but human beings don’t have God’s point of view. This may be why Yeshua gave the apostles the authority to make binding halachah for the Messianic community (“binding and loosing”), the most famous example being the Acts 15 letter. Some of Paul’s letters could be considered issuing halakhic rulings, not only for the Messianic movement in general, but for specific congregation, tailored to their particular “issues.”
Also, and I’ve mentioned this before, Jesus seems to not only have recognized that the Pharisees had the right and authority to make binding rulings for their community, but he supported the observance of much of that halachah (see Matthew 23:2-4 and the link to Noel Rabbinowitz’s paper on my “Books” page).
Therefore, it is not only reasonable but necessary for halachah to shift in response to changes as the occur for each generation on the long march across history. It’s not something we’re comfortable with in Christianity (and many Hebrew Roots and even Messianic Jewish groups still follow a basic “Christian” template relative to Rabbinics and halachah), but to believe that it’s possible to say “sola scriptura” and believe we have unfiltered access to exactly what 100% of the Bible means and further, that Biblical interpretation was never “ratified” across time, is a denial of history if not reality.
Hi, James — you wrote:
“All that said, the process that existed then is no longer applicable and as the nature of the Jewish people has developed over time, so has (in my opinion) the halachah relative to Gentile entry into Judaism.”
Actually, it seems to me that the later codification of the conversion process is very much like the second method I described for joining a tribe. A proselyte makes a declaration of allegiance before a representative body of leaders, performs actions they deem as acceptable validation of that declaration, and is accepted into the community. Subsequently he or she may begin to form their own family and clan within the “tribe” or they may (more likely) marry into an existing family with its own extended clan relationships. If, perchance, they marry a Jew first and convert afterward, the process still has the same basic requirements, because the marriage does not in itself include all the requisite elements even if it is a step in that direction.
This process is still valid and applicable (along with the rest of Torah’s fine details), and still just as exceptional as it always has been. The only limitation affecting non-Jewish Rav-Yeshua disciples is that which Rav Shaul emphasized, namely, that it is unnecessary and inappropriate for virtually any non-Jews to pursue conversion to Judaism, because there is a job that non-Jews must do as non-Jewish volunteers for learning righteousness, in order to demonstrate that HaShem actually is capable of redeeming non-Jews without first turning them into Jews, and that Rav Yeshua made it possible.
I also mentioned previously some of the criteria that define the exceptions, which effectively constitute the reclaiming of Jewish souls that “lost” their proper familial connection to the Jewish community due to past persecutions. I know this notion of lost Jewish souls (more accurately, lost Jewish connectedness) has been abused, but perhaps we may rely on our rabbinic judges to serve as the gatekeepers of the conversion process by screening out those whose claims to a lost Jewish soul are not valid. Conversion has been necessary for many Russian immigrants to Israel because of inability to trace a tenuous family memory of Jewish lineage (and because of intermarriage). Similarly it has been needed for the restoration of Ethiopian Jewish descendants to modern Jewish identity in Israel. And it likely will be needed for many descendants of Anusim dispersed in Catholic countries (not to neglect the USA) after the expulsions from Spain and Portugal some five centuries ago. We should not deny conversion to these if they have become Rav Yeshua’s disciples during the intervening generations, merely on the basis of Rav Shaul’s instructions to non-Jewish Galatians.
Decided to go to church this morning. I’ll approve any comments made while I’m out when I return.
PL writes: “The only reference that I can think of appears at the end of the story of Esther, when it says that many of the peoples in the land became Jews (Esther 8:17). That is, in fact, an accurate rendition of the Hebrew phrasing “mityahedim” (“מִתְיַהֲדִים”), meaning literally “becoming for themselves Jews”.
I think PL hits on an important point by highlighting the word “mityahedim” (“מִתְיַהֲדִים”), meaning literally “becoming for themselves Jews”. For all those Gentiles who’s hearts have been truly broken by Messiah’s life-giving sacrifice of love, if it weren’t for two thousand years of anti-Jewish teaching, many more might likely have moved into the Torah-centric life that Yeshua emulated. In order to fully imitate their rabbi and HaTzaddik, this would have been the response most satisfying in terms of gratitude. it seems to me. Such as many of us are gradually doing now despite the anti-Jewish teaching. I am grateful that a Messianic rabbi taught a 15-week course at my church in LA some twenty five years ago, or I would likely not have known about this most intimate and authentic way of following my Redeemer.
As for the distinctions formally defining what being a Jew constitutes, PL rightly expresses what I think we Gentiles ought to do: move with all humility as we learn the Torah-centric life and not dabble in biblical interpretations of complex definitions that are best handled by those who are most qualified to do so: those who have taken a lifetime to study what previous Jewish scholars and rabbis have discussed over the centuries.
“The definition of a Jew did not morph all by itself; it was adjusted for clarity of definition under divine authority which placed the responsibility for Torah into specifically-authorized Jewish human hands (viz:Deut.30 – “not in heaven”; and parashat Shoftim). Thus I must also caution you that the authority does not belong to you to insist that some biblical interpretation of yours may overrule the authoritative modern Jewish definition of “Jew” (though “modern”, in this case, is more than 20 centuries old).”
As Yeshua teaches: “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”[Luke 14:10] This is the principle I apply to my own life and my own demeanor as a Gentile who desires to walk as Jesus walked. As Messiah also teaches: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” [Luke 14:11]
@ ProclaimLiberty: It feels unfulfilled. It’s like stripping away everything and replacing it all with nothing.
One of the bitterest aspects of the Church and why so many people I know left for MJ was that message of “be saved, and that’s it.” Spiritual Identity fleshes out WHY you were saved, and anyone who is human wants to go beyond survival and to LIVE. This means answering why you are and who you are.
Then if you study, you find out that the “be saved and that’s it” message is seemingly true for Gentiles, and really all there is, and you cannot escape it.
Messiah now. I want to ask him.
Well, Drake, who could but concur with your plea for Messiah now, because there are many unanswered questions? However, I think you are undervaluing the result of the old Yiddish exhortation: “Be a Mentch!” (translated here into Jewish-English of course). There is a lot to be said for becoming a genuine human being, which is to say one who conforms with HaShem’s hopes, aspirations, and standards for human behavior and the attitudes that drive it. That’s hardly stripping away a national or cultural identity and replacing it with nothing. There does remain a question to be answered about the redemption of culture that goes beyond the redemption of individual humans. But before a culture may be redeemed, it must be analyzed thoroughly to identify how its characteristics may conform or diverge from HaShem’s goals. The Jewish enterprise as a pilot program for human redemption, that includes HaShem’s Torah instructions both for Jews and for humans in general, provides a “light” or a template by which to evaluate other human cultures. Regrettably, such an evaluation is very likely to result in massive stripping away from a culture of features which convey a very different message than HaShem’s best intentions for humanity. On our way back toward the relationship with Him that we experienced in the primordial “Garden” (in the loins of Adam HaRishon), we must unwind a long history of human errors that became embedded in the form of human national cultures and peoplehood characteristics, including beliefs and behaviors. Some cultures likely would lose more features than others as the dross is stripped away. Would there still remain distinguishing subgroup characteristics sufficient to define distinctive cultures that would be worthwhile to preserve, or would what was left need to be combined to form even a single unified culture’s worth of features that were nonetheless distinct from Jewish culture? It may sound trite to say: “Be saved and that’s it!”; but what if there is a great deal of unobvious non-superficial understanding and cultural modification to be absorbed as the notion of “saved” or “redeemed” is unpacked to reveal its underlying details?
PL, thanks for the reply. You said:
“The definition of a Jew did not morph all by itself; it was adjusted for clarity of definition under divine authority which placed the responsibility for Torah into specifically-authorized Jewish human hands (viz:Deut.30 – “not in heaven”; and parashat Shoftim). ”
I do understand that there had to be authorized Jewish humans to determine many things regarding Torah including entrance into the Jewish people, and I did mention that in my first post. (I know it’s getting hard to keep these long posts straight!) I also recognize the need for Jewish people to safeguard and protect Jewish identity, however, I’m a questioner by nature, and a bit of a cynic too. I think James makes a great point about how Christianity and Judaism do not stick to a purely Biblical pattern and so, the question is, how far is it permissible to go (from God’s perspective) in re-defining what He gives distinction to, and clearly defines? (We’re seeing this more and more regarding gender distinctions too) Especially given that He says to neither add to or subtract from the Torah, and to neither veer to the right or left of it? Human definitions can either be in fidelity to God’s definition, or opposed to it.
“Thus I must also caution you that the authority does not belong to you to insist that some biblical interpretation of yours may overrule the authoritative modern Jewish definition of “Jew” (though “modern”, in this case, is more than 20 centuries old).”
I’m surprised you take my questioning this way. I assure you that I’m NOT saying/thinking that at all PL. I’m trying to understand things that are terribly muddied, with implications that I’ve not mentioned here. But noticing the vast difference between who/what is a Jew according to God, and the entrance requirements and particulars of joining the people then, vs what it has become, leaves one with many questions!
Most people I’ve encountered attempt to answer it first by saying who/what is a Jew is the same now as it’s always been (matrilineal descent and conversion) because the Torah (both written and oral) were given to Moses at Sinai and nothing has changed. If one presses, and brings up the many examples of intermarriage, (or the fact that there’s nary one mention of conversion, in any fashion) and how their children were Jewish–which finds no inconsistency with the Torah, but a lot of inconsistency with current halachah–it is met with a second response, which is that the Jewish people have the authority to change these things.
Perhaps if I say it a different way you will understand my point better: I believe the pope has the authority to speak for and shape Roman Catholic practice and doctrine. However, that’s not the same thing as thinking it’s binding upon God.
Hi Dan, you said: “As Yeshua teaches: “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”[Luke 14:10]”
I’m sorry that my questions, and petitions to the Torah’s definitions have come across as if I think I have the right to determine Jewishness for anyone. I promise, I’m not that arrogant! 🙂
Additionally, my questions come from sincere motivation to protect Jewish identity and distinction, not reduce it in any way!
I’ve been trying to make sense of a lot of these things because of the craziness created by RT, as well as the personal lived issues and experiences. These are complex to be sure, and this is apparently not the best place to hash it all out.
Dan said: I am grateful that a Messianic rabbi taught a 15-week course at my church in LA some twenty five years ago, or I would likely not have known about this most intimate and authentic way of following my Redeemer.
Alas, there will always be churches that will never allow such “guest speakers” because the message of a pro-Israel, pro-Jewish, and especially pro-Judaism/pro-Torah Messianic Judaism would seem antithetical to what the church teaches.
PL said: Actually, it seems to me that the later codification of the conversion process is very much like the second method I described for joining a tribe.
Well, I’ve been wrong before. 😛
Drake said: Then if you study, you find out that the “be saved and that’s it” message is seemingly true for Gentiles, and really all there is, and you cannot escape it.
Messiah now. I want to ask him.
That’s one of those questions I think we already have the answer to. Being “saved” is only step 1 in the process. You spend the rest of your life learning about God and what he wants us to do. Anything we can do to serve God in worship and prayer, and anything we can do to serve human beings by acts of kindness and charity, is a good answer, and those activities also prepare the way for the Messiah’s return.
Sojourning said: …the question is, how far is it permissible to go (from God’s perspective) in re-defining what He gives distinction to, and clearly defines?
That’s the $64,000 question and I don’t know how easy it is to answer. The Protestant Church (more conservative denominations, anyway) go with “Sola Scriptura” and that’s the end of it, ignoring that tradition is an important component in how they/we interpret “Scriptura” so it really isn’t “Sola”. I suppose the short answer is that halachah is always valid as long as it doesn’t directly conflict with scripture, but then, the Rabbis (and probably the Pastors) have a way to teasing out the most arcane bits of information from even a single word or letter in Hebrew (or in the case of Pastors, that includes Greek).
The other thing to “bake your noodle” is keeping in mind that two branches of Judaism have somewhat differing halachah on a number of matters, are they both right, both wrong, or one is right and the other is wrong? Could God accept different halachah between different branches of Judaism as both correct as long as it does not contradict Torah?
I don’t know but if the answer is “yes,” then God and the Torah are more multi-faceted than most human beings are willing to accept.
@James, regarding that “multifaceted Torah” — You’re probably aware of the Talmudic description of Torah as having seventy faces. Seventy is one of those numbers that represents multitudes, like, for example, seventy nations in the earth. Thus each one could be said to be able to come up with its own halakhah as its own characteristic interpretation and application of Torah. But we may ask whether all of them are equally valid, or if the purpose of some variations is merely to demonstrate that there exist right ways and wrong ways to interpret Torah? The distinctions between Conservative and Orthodox halakhah raise exactly this sort of question, along with a host of arguments pro and con. And let’s not get started on the halakhah that has been developed so far by the MJRC! At some point, I expect that an authoritative Sanhedrin will be convened in Jerusalem, which will face the monumental task of evaluating such developments in order to issue guidelines for a unified halakhah and characterizations of “minhagim” (i.e., local community customs, for those who don’t recognize the word). I hope it doesn’t have to wait for the messianic era and the Messiah’s direct intervention to successfully integrate the variations!
In “Sojourning’s” defense, while she is a bit “spunky” I’ve never known her to be arrogant or self-serving. In fact, having met her twice now, I have found her to delight in the presence of the Jewish people at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship and to be a stimulating conversationalist. A text-only communications platform isn’t always the best for revealing the nuances of what we’re trying to say. This is a great conversation, but if we were all doing this in the same room together, I don’t doubt it would be fabulous.
“Anything we can do to serve God in worship and prayer, and anything we can do to serve human beings by acts of kindness and charity, is a good answer, and those activities also prepare the way for the Messiah’s return.”
That’s a standing order for Jews and all the billions of humanity alike. That’s not an identity. So no, while it’s important, it’s not part of the answer to the question I was asking.
So will my children in the Messianic Age be bound under covenant to be painters like I was in life?
Burn all the mansions. Concrete spiritual identity is the only reward that matters.
@Drake — What, you’ve never seen a fireproof concrete mansion? [:)] I’m not understanding what burning mansions have to do with spiritual identity, though. And why would your children be obligated to be painters in the messianic kingdom, just because that was your life’s profession at one time? In some human cultures, professions were inherited across generations largely because of a lack of available education options. But I suspect this might be one of the features that could be stripped away from a redeemed culture in the process of its redemption, as a better feature such as widespread educational opportunities replaced it. Certainly one of the positive beneficial features of Jewish culture has been its dedication to education, which is likely the reason why such a disproportionate number of Jews are Nobel prizewinners. On the other hand, maybe painting in the messianic kingdom could make for a nice living, if you could make a steady job of it. [:)]
@Drake: I don’t know if I’m misunderstanding you or not, but as far as identity goes, we are what we do.
@PL: Given my understanding of human nature, I sadly believe it will take direct intervention by Messiah to bring unity and peace. You mentioned to Drake the concept of national as opposed to personal redemption. The only nation in the Bible we see being redeemed as a whole is Israel. All of the nations who go up against Israel in the final war will be obligated to send (you know all this) representatives to Jerusalem every Sukkot. I suspect that will be most of them, including the country in which I live.
@James — On the other hand, Egypt and Assyria appear as distinctive entities alongside Israel that seem to have a redeemed status in Is.19:23-25. I don’t see that as relieving them of the Sukkot responsibilities outlined in Zechariah 14, but it might say something about their attitudes while doing it.
“@Drake: I don’t know if I’m misunderstanding you or not, but as far as identity goes, we are what we do.”
The pagan and the Jew have no choice. They do what they are. That’s identity.
I have to get some food. See you later! 🙂 ShLM.
The pagan and the Jew have no choice. They do what they are. That’s identity.
I get the feeling that we must be on two different wavelengths, Drake. Yes, a Jewish person and a Gentile have distinctions between them relative to covenant but assuming the Gentile is a disciple of Messiah, the Jewish person and the Gentile disciple have a lot in common.
My identity is lived out in choosing to be a disciple and obey my Master and yes, I do have a choice in the matter. A Jewish person has a choice also in whether or not to obey God and perform the mitzvot.
Sometimes I think we stress out too much about our “identity” and don’t spend enough time just living it out.
In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.”
I had a feeling my previous statement was going to come back and bite my in the tail feathers, PL.
Whatever “it” is.
“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”