Shabbat

Subbotniks, Proselytes, and Messianic Gentiles

I was reminded of this once again when I recently came across some articles on the Russian Subbotniks. The Subbotniks were a break-off group from the Russian Orthodox Church. They observed a seventh day and also faithfully observed the laws of Torah. When researching their account, I was not only intrigued by its many similarities to the situation of increasing numbers of Gentiles disciples of the Master returning to the practice of Torah, but I was also struck by some dangerous pitfalls revealed by their story. If we are not careful, we might fall into the same traps. In that regard, the tale of the Subbotniks is as inspiring as it is cautionary.

-Toby Janicki
“The Subbotniks,” pg 49
Messiah Journal Spring 2014 (115) issue

In 1451, Pope Nicholas V issued a decree forbidding all social contact between Christians and Jews. The Church sought to stop Christian converts to Judaism; throughout Europe, those who did so were liable to the death penalty.

This Day in Jewish History
For 24 Adar 5774 – March 26, 2014

To be honest, I’ve been avoiding reading Toby’s article because the title just didn’t “resonate” with me, but now I’m glad I did. Lately, I’ve been writing about the nature of Messianic Judaism for Jewish people and just how Jewish should Jews in Messianic Judaism be. However, as I’m always reminded, there’s the other side of the coin; Gentiles who remain devoted disciples of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and yet who are also attracted to the practice and/or perspective of Judaism on their (our) faith.

But I included the quote about Pope Nicholas V for a reason. When I first read it a day or so ago, I found myself wondering why this Pope found it necessary to forbid contact between Christians and Jews and why there was such a “problem” with Christians converting to Judaism in 15th century Europe? How many Christians were converting anyway, and why? What was the allure?

I suppose the story of the 18th century Subbotniks might contain part of the answer. It seems that periodically in the history of the Church, some sub-group of Gentile believers breaks off from their local, normative expression of Christianity and either converts to Judaism or, without abandoning their faith in Jesus, begins to take on more “Jewish” practices and perspectives.

Luther’s open letter of 1538 condemning Sabbatarian tendencies among Christians in Silesia and Moravia after 1527 is a key work marking the transition toward the anti-Judaic attitudes of the late Luther. Marked by a new severity toward the Jews on Luther’s part, the letter had its origin in Luther’s response to a new Sabbatarianism arising among radical Protestants, which Luther saw as a victory for Jewish legalism over sound evangelical teachings.

-Dr. Lowell H. Zuck
“Luther’s Writing Against Emerging Sabbatarianism”
ConcordiaTheology.org

Apparently, the Reformation didn’t end of the problem of Christian Sabbatarians anymore than Pope Nicholas did.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

I’ve often thought that the authors of the Reformation didn’t take things far enough. Sure, they stood up against the errors and abuses of the Roman Catholic church as it existed in the 16th century, but they didn’t change as much as you might imagine. They still kept the Sunday worship day and continued to adhere to and enforce theologies and doctrines that were anti-Semitic and anti-Judaism, even accusing “the Jews” of attempting to mislead Christians (probably relative to the Shabbat):

I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that these miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them. I would not have believed that a Christian could be duped by the Jews into taking their exile and wretchedness upon himself. However, the devil is the god of the world, and wherever God’s word is absent he has an easy task, not only with the weak but also with the strong. May God help us. Amen.

-quoted from “The Jews & Their Lies” (1543) by
JewishVirtualLibrary.org

I’ve been accused in the past of bashing Luther a little too hard, so I’ll try to be a little less aggressive here, but the history of Christians being attracted to aspects of Judaism doesn’t seem to be an isolated one.

Why? What’s the attraction?

Initially, these former members of the Christian Church continued to view both the Old and New Testaments as divinely inspired, but they believed that nothing in the New Testament abolished the commandments of the Torah, including the laws of kashrut (dietary laws). While still considering themselves disciples of the Master, the Subbotniks wrestled with the traditional Orthodox Church’s teaching on the Trinity, and they developed some of their own thoughts regarding Christology and Yeshua’s role as a prophet and miracle worker. They also squarely rejected icons and frescoes of the Orthodox Church as idolatrous.

-Janicki, pg 50

shabbos1My guess is when my traditionally Christian readers hit the word “Trinity” in the quote above, you may have decided that the Subbotniks were heretics and wrote them off, but hang in there. Also, for the Protestants out there, you may be thinking that the Subbotnik reaction to the “icons and frescoes” of the Orthodox Church may have been appropriate, but they certainly wouldn’t have that sort of issue with Protestant Christianity today. They certainly wouldn’t have left a (for example) Baptist church to take up Sabbath-keeping, would they?

Having spent some number of years in the Hebrew Roots movement (which meant I also exited traditional Church worship and thought), I’ve interacted with many, many people who “left the Church”. They (we) have a lot of reasons for doing so. For me, it was that the Christian Pastors and church members (Sunday School teachers, rank-and-file in the pews) weren’t able to answer all of my questions about the Bible and why Christians do and teach certain things (a Sunday Sabbath, replacement theology). But some people felt much, much worse about Christianity than I ever imagined.

Some people were actually angry at their former churches and their former Pastors. Some people felt lied to. They had discovered, through various processes, that the New Covenant didn’t say what many churches teach, it isn’t a recipe for replacing Israel with the Church in God’s covenant promises, and it isn’t the “swan song” for the Jewish people and Judaism. Many of these people, and some expressions of Hebrew Roots, attempted to follow a path similar to those of the Subbotniks, remaining believers in Jesus (or Yeshua, if you will), but adopting many of the practices of modern Judaism to varying degrees of observance. The logic is that if the fundamental theology and doctrines of Christianity are wrong because they are anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and misrepresent the “Jewishness” of the foundations of “Christian” faith, the true answer to how we Gentiles are to be devoted disciples of Jesus can only be found by seriously revisiting the first century Judaism of “the Way” and building a worship practice and teaching from there. That point of view also accuses the Reformation of not going far enough or perhaps not going far enough back in time as I previously mentioned.

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

As I quoted Toby saying, the example of the Subbotniks and of all the various non-Jewish groups across history who have devoted themselves to Jesus by devoting themselves to Jewish study and practice is inspiring for modern-day Messianic Gentiles like me, but he also said their story is a cautionary tale.

Toby relates that the Subbotniks were persecuted by the Orthodox Church and the government, but it’s fairly unlikely Messianic Gentiles in the western nations would face the same treatment today. The separation of church and state means the U.S. government has no vested interest in enforcing a state religion as such, and how exactly is a Catholic or Evangelical (or any other kind of) church going to persecute us? No, we won’t be persecuted. Some Christians and some Churches are actually curious about Messianics. Up to a certain point, they find it interesting or even a little fascinating to be just a little more “Jewish” as Gentile Christians and to even “allow” a certain level of Jewish practice among Jewish believers.

But when they finally grasp just how people like me think Jewish believers should be completely Jewish, these Christians back off while rapidly raising their “you’re under the Law” shields. Even Christians like me, who don’t have a significant “Jewish” practice but who utilize a Messianic Jewish informational and educational platform in interpreting the Bible, are at best thought of as intelligent but mistaken and at worst as a member of a cult or even a heretic (what do you mean “the Law” wasn’t nailed to the cross with Jesus?).

But Toby’s right. Messianic Gentiles walk a fine line, at least potentially. We must never mistake Jewish perspective or Jewish practice as the object of our faith. The true focus must be Messiah as the “doorway” by which we may approach the Throne of God.

At the same time, the story of the Subbotniks cautions us about potential pitfalls. What began as a life-giving revelation ended in causing the people to deny Yeshua as Messiah — the very one who had brought them to the truth. This story is not just an interesting footnote for the history of religion. Both Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement face the same issues today that the Subbotniks did.

-Janicki, pg 57

I don’t have any numbers to draw from, but anecdotal information suggests more than a few Gentiles in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements have “swung to the other side,” so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism. One of the best arguments “the Church” has to dissuade Gentiles from becoming involved in Jewish practices and studies is the danger of apostasy and conversion. This is as big a problem now as it was five-hundred years ago. The understanding that the Church labors under a set of misunderstandings, some of which go back to the very foundations of (Gentile) Christianity, creates the false impression that Christianity is bad and Judaism is good.

jewish-traditionI’m not denigrating Judaism, but I am saying that, for my part, it is a lens through which I gain a clearer (in my opinion) focus on what the Bible is actually trying to say, and a better view of the original intent of the Bible writers including the ever controversial Apostle Paul. One of the reasons I limit my “Jewish” practice is to avoid falling into the trap that captured the Subbotniks and that pulls many believers out of Yeshua-faith and into conversion to normative Judaism every year (I should say though, that it’s not my only reason).

In my opinion, Messianic Gentiles will continue to struggle with our own “identity” issues, regardless of whether we find ourselves in a Messianic Jewish synagogue or a traditional church. I’ve participated in adding some resources to a website called MessianicGentiles.com, created by Rabbi David Rudolph, in order to assist in building a positive identity for people like me. While I believe that it is vital for Jews in Messianic Judaism to have authentic Jewish community in the movement so as to not be cut off from larger Jewry, just like Messianic Jews, Messianic Gentiles must never forget that the central focus of our faith is not our practice but the Messiah.

If Judaism were the focus, then Jews in Messianic Judaism could find community in any synagogue of any of the other branches of Judaism. And if Judaism were the focus for Gentiles, then our answer would be to convert to some branch of normative Judaism and that would be that.

But then we end up denying the Master, Yeshua…Jesus. Having come this far under difficult circumstances, being dismissed by other Christians, trying to help our families understand why we do what we do, being accused of being “wannabe Jews,” are we to fail now in our faith and apostatize by becoming Jewish proselytes and casting Messiah aside like an old love affair?

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34 thoughts on “Subbotniks, Proselytes, and Messianic Gentiles”

  1. Chin drop: We are following similar paths. The Apostle Paul is greatly misunderstood. Right division isn’t only regarding Jew and Gentile. It is also regarding salvation and blessings, and function. Jurisdiction might be a good way to explain it. In our country there is a struggle over state vs federal rights, Have we got it all figured out? Paul was trying to correct the misunderstanding that salvation could be achieved by fleshly effort/works. But Paul was not doing away with the Law/Torah. It is my understanding that gentiles are to be ambassadors for His Kingdom. Ambassadors have a different role and function than Priests. When I heard Rabbi Richman teach that HaShem created redemption BEFORE he created the world, immediately the Apostle Paul’s words came to mind, “According as he hath chosen us in him BEFORE the foundation of the world….” Ephesians 1:4
    When Paul speaks about the middle wall of partition being broken down, I think he is referring to fellowship. Paul did not take Titus into the Temple and he circumcised Timothy. Am I right?

  2. This isn’t exactly what I was writing about here Cynthia, but I agree that the partition broken down are all the barriers to fellowship between Jewish and Gentile believers. Of course, in the modern Messianic movement, there remains a struggle to define the roles and relationships of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah, but I see Messianic Judaism as still “under construction” even as the “building” is currently in use.

    But what I was really trying to say above, is that there probably always has been a remnant of non-Jewish believers who have been drawn, for various reasons, to a more Jewish practice, and who have rejected the replacement theology and other non-Biblical practices of their local churches. Their struggles are our struggles today. How can be better embrace our Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah and more closely adhere to our roles as Gentiles in a Jewish religious stream and not be inadvertently “sucked in” to focusing more on Judaism than we are in the Messiah?

    It’s an interesting question.

  3. Christianity sorta shoots itself (ourself) in the foot. Like the politician who’s caught in an indescretion, the proper thing to do is to be forthright, honest, and sincerely apologize and move forward with wisdom to correct the problem, not to continue to deny it and vilify the other guy.

    I believe this is why other Christians become so angry and feel let down, and mistakenly assume that the “other guy”, in this case Judaism, is without fault, by default. Of course that’s not the case, but I’d say Christianity’s lack of acknowledging, much less repentance of it’s antiSemitisim, anti-Judaism and downright stupid replacement theology scenarios, leave parishioners wide open for this. It’s tragic, but it continues.

  4. Even those churches that aren’t anti-Semitic and who support the Jewish right to the Land of Israel still don’t (in my opinion) take it far enough and attempt to correct the problem that the Reformation *didn’t* resolve. They should have tossed out almost all of the traditions created after the Apostolic Era, earnestly re-examined the scriptures, and came to some hard but honest conclusions.

  5. There’s so much fear (as I see it) to look at and engage the scriptures apart from the teachings from the men who espoused the antiSemitism and Jew hatred, the ones who created a route around the Jews in the first place. Certainly not everything these men did was bad, but my thought (plea really) is can we not see the character of God displayed well enough in scripture, and can we not TRUST His character enough to take a breath and allow the Bible to speak for itself?

    I already know the answer: Hell no! That would require us to sit at the feet of Jews and acknowledge that they are our elder brother. We’re a proud bunch…

  6. Too be fair, I think the big problem with most churches isn’t fear or arrogance but just overcoming inertia. It would take a great deal of effort to set aside everything you’ve always been taught was true and allow yourself to examine the scriptures from a (relatively) tradition-free perspective, or at least a viewpoint that isn’t hopelessly dependent on Evangelical Protestant theology.

    When you’ve believed something is true all your life, it never even occurs to most people to question it. When someone outside questions your life long truths, the first thing you think of, as a Christian, is that the questioner must be in a cult, is a heretic, or is just terribly misguided. Again, it never occurs to you to take the alternate point of view seriously and examine it to see if it holds up, not through the Evangelical lens, but taking the Bible on its own terms.

    A few of us have managed to go the distance, but that’s usually because we have kind of strange backgrounds that have allowed us to detach from the “herd mentality” (I know that’s kind of harsh) of the main group.

  7. Lol, so true… Very frustrated at the moment with so many who think our way “in” is at the expense of Israel. That’s Christian “theology” in a nutshell (for most) and the drum they beat over and over.

    They stop reading at the prophets pronounced judgment as if relieved that God got over His love affair with Israel and never seem to keep reading to see that He relents and redeems.

    Today I’m the curmudgeon. 🙂

  8. Very interesting post. I know several people who have gone from Sunday churches, to Sabbath keeping Hebrew Roots, and finally dropped Messiah and become Jews (one is now an Atheist.) All the people that I know that go that route, tout the “we’ve been lied to” attitude. Being in the Hebrew roots movement for many years and watching teachers online. Most of the biggest teacher are teaching that you’ve been lied to anyway. It’s really a common and dangerous teaching based on conspiracy and poor understanding of church history. It’s not surprising when people start taking conspiracy to far, and it evolves into who know what. The idea is planted and grows into distrust and hatred toward anything Christian and in my friends cases Christ (and God). It’s sad, and a byproduct of poor teachers who really have no idea what they are talking about.

    I don’t remember where, but I remember reading about a Orthodox (possibly Catholic) group that were Sabbath keeping Christians that were under the Church/Pope. If I’m remembering right they were in the east, Maybe Bohemia? Anyway somewhere not to near Rome. They were accepted until the church took a hard stance against anything remotely Jewish around the 12th or 13th century. I was trying to find something about it online (as it’s been about 20 years since I read it) but I couldn’t. I don’t have time to search through the mass of “How the catholic church changed the Sabbath” articles to find it right now.

    My point being that, when you search history there were always those who wanted that connection with God’s law, that were Christians, yet not part of Judaism. Some of the Early sect’s were the Nazarenes and Ebonite’s. Which I think one hung around, in one way or another until the 7th or 8th century. It’s sad that we don’t much information about these groups as most of the people writing about them were just writing about heresies. One of the reasons for not much history about them is because if they had a written history of their group or movement, they would have been most likely destroyed by zealous Catholics, Protestants, Pagans, Muslims, or any other competing sect. All of these law keeping movements were seen as Heretical at one point or another by the church, and thus treated like all other non-Christian religions. Even still people all throughout time desire to see God on his terms not mans. Thus the reason why these groups come up. I would say that in history the reason why these groups never lasted the course or didn’t stay around long is because they tend to eliminate themselves from the Christian crowd, and can’t be part of the Jewish crowd because of their belief in Messiah’s divinity, leaving them small, fragmented and alone. This would have been a HUGE setback, having no large community in earlier times. Now with how fragmented Christianity is and with the internet building communities from all over the world, it has life like never before. Even with all the bad teachers out there proclaiming nonsense I’m excited to see where this movement is going and if it will unite a bond between Jews and Gentiles like never before.

  9. It’s true that the Internet has made it possible for people all over the place to know about and communicate who otherwise would never have known about each other.

    It’s unfortunate that a lot of Hebrew Roots people who come to the movement are motivated by feelings of being lied to and seeing conspiracies everywhere. That attitude does nothing but damage the reputation of all Hebrew Roots and Messianic Gentiles and also the Jewish view of Messiah and scripture.

    I try to make my associations with folks who either have gotten beyond that point in their lives or never felt betrayed or upset in the first place. As you said, the Internet has been an enormous help in maintaining ties with people who are hundreds or thousands of miles away from me.

    That said, it’s not the same as having actual, face-to-face community with like-minded people which, depending on where you live, isn’t always easy to come by.

  10. I think James, that perhaps you and Sojourn are really close together concerning “fear. Overcoming inertia takes courage. Fear of change associated with overcoming inertia robs courage. The fear of change is very close in relation to a fear of overcoming inertia, whether it is the change of an alcoholic getting sober or a Christian admitting the truth. Both must admit the truth. Both are afraid to and are moving in destructive directions. Their are vehicles of change for alcoholics. There are vehicles of change for changing careers. Even vehicles of change to switch genders. There are vehicles of change for many social situations, but none that I can think of for Christians desiring the truth. They are like the fish who does not realize it lives in water.

    A “Christians Anonymous” is of no use if no one is willing to accept they have a problem, that their life is unmanageable, the first step of a 12-step program. Ironically, life is all-too-manageable as a Christian, perhaps. At least in America.

    As James relates, like Tostoy’s Ivan Ilyich, examination of one’s life is often delayed until one is forced to examine it by overwhelming circumstances. And very often, as Sojourning mentions, fear and arrogance are both at work in sustaining the chronic condition of denial involved in the self-deception.

    As we almost always admit… we need Messiah and soon. Or perhaps, in lieu of that, a massive Shavuot-like wave of Spirit as in Acts 2. That would work, too. Either way, I fear it’s beyond even the most sincere human effort, at least in any epic sense. And yet, though perplexed, we are not crushed…

  11. James, for some reason I am no longer receiving your new articles in my email, and I checked the past two weeks of spam files – finding other stuff that shouldn’t be there, but not yours. So, I’ve already tried unfollowing and refollowing, but there is no way to re-enter my email. Maybe you could unsub and resub me? I do get replies to comments I’ve made.

    I have read about past Sabbatarian movements, and it appears that they ended up being persecuted by the ruling church in cahoots with government. They were either forced to join the Jewish community, rejoin the church, operate small, hidden groups or disband an disappear. I’ve heard many were killed in the shoah.

    Luther didn’t want to dump the church or re-examine everything for a complete overhaul. It seems he just wanted to eliminate the worst corruption.

    Perhaps this fear and forbidding of anything Jewish is like parents who try to keep their teens from getting involved in sex or drugs. Perhaps this is a bad example. But they create barriers of fear because once “their,” sheep discover the richness and beauty of Jewish practices and wisdom, they might jump ship. If they were so utterly satisfied and fulfilled, they would choose not to look elsewhere and never leave anyway. But Christians do a lot of church changing. In the US, 20% of the population changes their religion at some point in their life, and that doesn’t include moving from one Protestant denom to another. It would be a whole different ballgame if rabbis preached at crusades like Billy Graham, gaining coverts with raised hands or signed cards. Then the church would really be running scared.

  12. Don’t know why that is, Chaya. I briefly looked at the WP Dashboard and I don’t see anything that let’s me look at the list of followers let along add email addresses. I think it’s somewhat in Stats, but I’ll have to investigate more when I have the time.

    You say you’ve read more about past Sabbatarian movements. Can you share your sources? I’m interested in the general topic.

  13. Toby writes: “but I was also struck by some dangerous pitfalls revealed by their story. If we are not careful, we might fall into the same traps. In that regard, the tale of the Subbotniks is as inspiring as it is cautionary,”

    This strikes me as a vivid metaphor of backpacking the Sierra Nevada back in the day; coming upon “dangerous pitfalls” as well as “falling into traps” as one does in the wilderness. But the journey is inspiring as long as one observes the proper cautions.

    When trekking between two places with a compass (the Scriptures) and a map (the greater universe of information, knowledge, and wisdom), it is good to plan a route (mine/ours being increasingly/ mostly Jewish history and commentary) and carry appropriate supplies and provisions. The way is not always straight and easy to navigate. The terrain can be highly “uncooperative.” As when backpacking, navigation is also a matter of patience and calm as you move. To become filled with anxiety along the way can be detrimental to the successful navigation of the journey. And, if we’ve also taken the time to learn to also navigate by the sun (Messiah) as we move through the wilderness, we stand a very good chance of arriving at our destination safely.

    Being in nature informs us of the primitive, simple nature of the universe; it is a vessel of wisdom that speaks its own language in a way of none else, other than Torah, similar to the teaching of Psalm 19 about “the heavens.” Instead of seeing my walk through a lens of black/white “right” and “wrong” I increasingly try to see it through a lens of “safe” and “sound,” leaving the rest to HaShem. When I do this, I see, for instance, a rather “unsettling” sermon by a teacher or pastor, or a strange-seeming kind of “Christian behavior” as just some passing of inclement weather for which I am well-prepared, instead of a cataclysm that is potentially injurious or lethal.

    When in the wilderness, we miss the relative safety and the conveniences of home. When home, we miss the raw, spontaneous beauty of the wilderness and the intimacy that the primitive nature of our movable shelter allows, which both serve to inspire the awareness-raising sense of “healthy insecurity” that being away from home entails.

    Somehow, Messiah will merge all that is wild and beautiful with all that is safe and secure. In the meantime, there will be lots of “bad” weather and “dangerous” pitfalls, both of which should not only be expected, but, seen from a “messianic age” perspective, as being latent sources of wild beauty that will be “tamed” so to speak, set aright, when Messiah returns.

  14. Dan, I think if we could just experience the Bible and God in a wilderness setting with no other influences, we might have a clearer experience, one not cluttered with so much static. But the minute we introduce other people and community or in this case, communities (plural), it’s easy to become diverted. The Subbotniks eventually allowed Jewish influences to distract them from their goal of knowing Messiah. Instead, many converted to Judaism believing that was “the answer” and the object of their devotion.

    That’s the critical difficulty in being a Gentile in a Jewish community setting. Identities blur and there’s a temptation to think of ourselves as a disciple of Judaism rather than a disciple of the Master.

  15. Exactly, James. That’s why I’m grateful for the time I was allowed in my life to go up into the mountains and experience that special segment of earth where wilderness intersects with altitude. The combination of wildness and height removes you from the noise of “civilization” while thrusting you up into the purity of atmosphere at higher altitudes. There is little that is “right or wrong” high up in the wilderness. It is wild and it is free and the rules of morality are suspended or superseded. And yet, there is order. “Moral order” or “common practice” is oxymoronic there, in a way. I carry that into the wild with me, into that parallel world where primitive laws of nature abound.

    Having experienced and pondered all of that, I can revisit it in my mind and apply its principles to my life as a “flat-lander” who lives between “religious” worlds, for lack of a better term. And I’ve personally found that shifting my inner paradigm of thought from “right vs. wrong” to “safe and sound” as it applies to practice, theology, and my walk in general, calms my mind and spirit as it emphasizes “trust” over “performance” and removes me from the sense of conflict that is part and parcel of “interfaith” and “interface” dialogues. It just seems to help me personally. I liken it to finding “Torah” in the earth and sky that surround us, which always somehow manages to agree, affirm, and confirm written Torah.

    I suppose all of this interrelates with my passion for all things Tolkien and Lewis, et al… and George Lucas, too, for that matter. A lover of parallel universes, am I.

  16. I don’t believe there has to be a choice between following the master, and following the intended purpose of the covenant people – not what we see today in its embryonic and sometimes derailed form.

    However, there is theory and then there is practice. When you are under siege, you need to find shelter and succor somewhere. Those who took on Jewish practices suffered the same persecution as Jews, and worse, as they were apostate from their religion of birth.

    I probably don’t have any info about Sabbatarian Christian movements that you don’t have. I just recall reading some articles about their existence in Europe, mostly in Eastern Europe. I assume there were certain leaders who spearheaded this, perhaps pastors and church leaders who came to this conclusion, shared it with their congregation and decided to move together in this direction. The SDA church still exists, although you couldn’t call it torah observant or Jewish in practice.

    I believe the problem will solve itself. How many gentiles will want to wear tzitzit when it makes them a target of violence and persecution. I have been told that it is dangerous to appear Jewish in public (kippah, etc.) in most parts of Europe. A few years ago, Sweden sent out a travel advisory to this effect.

    The human brain cognitively doesn’t like ambiguity and the human social animal tends to run with the herd. I believe it is nothing short of miraculous when we can overcome both influences.

  17. @Dan: I just read an article (yesterday, actually) in the latest issue of Messiah Journal called “Bram” which is an exerpt of some material written by early Messianic Jew Abram (Bram) Poljak (1900 – 1963) (edited by D.T. Lancaster). He (Poljak) said that as a four-year old living in the Ukraine, he equally loved the synagogue, which he attended with his family, and the church, to which the Russian maid took him.

    Granted, he had a long journey between being a four-year old and his adult faith, but his life is a testamony, perhaps not to journey between religions, but to see the Messiah he found in church among the Jews in the synagogue.

    @Chaya: I believe the “problem” will solve itself too, since, as you said, when Jewish people become severely persecuted again world wide, how many Gentiles will want to be associated with the Jewish. This might have been part of the original process in second century CE and beyond relative to the Gentiles in “the Way,” forming their own Gentile religion call Christianity, which became devoid of anything associated with its Jewish forefathers.

    However, the problem will solve itself again when Messiah returns and rights all the wrongs, settles all the disputes, and teaches how Torah is suppose to work out in Jewish and Gentile lives.

  18. Agreed. I read something interesting, where someone posted on FB that the Jewish people are perhaps following the teachings of Yeshua more closely without believing in him personally than those who claim to believe in him. But the world is upside down, isn’t it?

  19. The world is broken. We’re responsible for helping to fix it, but Messiah is the one who’ll need to do the heavy lifting.

  20. That thought has often occurred to me,as well, chaya. I’ve come to learn to accept paradox more easily as not being an anomaly in every case. It’s a normative part of life in a fallen world. Somehow, every paradox will be understood when Messiah comes.

  21. Avodah Zarah 3b: R. Jose says, In time to come idol-worshippers will come and offer themselves as proselytes. But will such be accepted? Has it not been taught that in the days of the Messiah proselytes will not be received; likewise were none received in the days of David or of Solomon? — Well, they will be self-made proselytes, and will place phylacteries on their foreheads and on their arms, fringes in their garments, and a Mezuzah on their doorposts, but when the battle of Gog-Magog will come about they will be asked, ‘For what purpose have you come?’ and they will reply: ‘Against God and His Messiah’ as it is said, Why are the nations in an uproar, and why do the peoples mutter in vain, etc. Then each of the proselytes will throw aside his religious token and get away, as it is said, Let us break their bands asunder…

  22. I reread the article linked, and it sounds like material I read a while back. It seems that torah following gentiles were far more of a threat than Jews, as it seemed they had the ability to spread torah throughout the church. I suspect they were led into truth, but it just wasn’t time.

    I would assume those who went to Turkey joined the Jewish community there?

    We can’t say that most converts were/are insincere and will turn on us given the chance, but there is historical validation for this sort of occurrence.

    The article didn’t explain much about the relationship between Jews and Sabbatarians, or what assistance they were given from rabbis, who they must have received the writings from and some teaching?

    The cycles of acceptance and persecution also seem to be continual.

  23. I wonder if any of the works of this group still exist, although likely most, if not all, of it was destroyed. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the commentaries, the liturgy, the hymns, the teachings? It seems that there were notable scholars among them.

    Interesting that you have the Sabbatarian group SDA, but they don’t seek to incorporate other Jewish/torah practices, and perhaps it is because their prophet had her own set of practices. SDA’s don’t seem to have either animosity towards Jews or any great Judeophilia. Our family dentist when I was growing up was SDA, and I was born in an SDA hospital. Jews don’t have the same discomfort toward SDA’s as they do towards Christians. Perhaps it is because of the shared Sabbath observance, perhaps because this group has never been associated with antisemitism, and perhaps because they are also considered outcasts among Christians. SDA’s don’t have any desire to identify or subsume the identity of Jews/Israel.

    But then you have WCG. Armstrong came out of SDA and made it more attractive and also more controlling. The teaching of British Israelism was a drawing card. It doesn’t seem that the Subbotniks attempted to add themselves to Israel or compete in any way. In addition, it seems the Subbotnik movement was born of serious, honest study and revelation of scripture.

    The HR movement devolved from the breakup of WCG and other Millerite groups, and the narrative was reused by various key individuals for their own purposes – Steven Berkowtiz discusses the history.

    However, I won’t resort to the generic fallacy. History isn’t destiny. Because a source is bad, it doesn’t follow that the sincere seekers that flow out of it are also equally tainted. But we all should be aware of our history, rather than bury it.

  24. Another thought: I was reading Is. 56 – which I think really speaks to the Messianic gentile. A good term would be Ger kadosh (holy foreigner.) See, those of us who are born Jewish didn’t choose this way of life or identity – although we could in this culture choose to abandon it. But those who voluntarily join themselves to the Holy One of Israel, to keep his torah are promised a memorial greater than sons and daughters. So, you are special in your own right, in your own divine promises. You don’t need to demand a share (or demand all) of another’s divine gift when you have your own.

  25. Chaya, I agree that from what I’ve read, these Sabbatarian groups arrived at their conclusions and practices after studying the Bible and not particularly by affiliating with Jewish people or Judaism. It just seems like they wanted to obey God and were willing to risk being put into prison and even being killed to uphold their faith. “Identity” only came into the issue when they attempted to affiliate or otherwise join in with Judaism. That and a weakened view of the primacy of Jesus as Messiah led them into conversion to Judaism (many of them).

    The “danger” to Sabbath-keeping Gentiles isn’t observance, it’s a two-fold problem of developing a low Christology and a high association with Judaism as a religious identity. Now here’s the kicker. That would mean in order to be a Messianic Gentile today and not be drawn into losing faith and converting to Judaism, you’d have to maintain a high view of the primacy of Messiah and a low identification with religious Judaism.

    I wonder how the latter would play out with Messianic Gentiles in Messianic Jewish synagogues, especially those with a degree of observance the same or approaching that of Orthodox Judaism?

  26. In looking at the record of the Subbotniks and the Sabbatarians of Transylvania, there is a danger if there is a low Christology and high identification w/Judaism. Of course, none of those Gentile groups had access to Messianic Jews, and that may well make a difference.

  27. So where do Messianic Jews fit into this high Christology and deciding upon the amount of identification with Judaism?

    I suspect it is not a matter of theology, but of the desire for acceptance within a camp. And if you don’t have a camp of like-minded persons and you don’t wish to stand alone, then you pick the closest camp, making whatever compromises you must?

  28. We tend to treat the religious aspects of our life as a separate element from everything else, but the original reality for the ancient Israelites (and just about everyone else in those days) is that religion, community, family, and all other aspects of living were interwoven. Even today (and I’m speaking as an outsider) I suspect for many Jewish people faith and community aren’t really all that separate. Going back to other recent blog posts I’ve written, I believe some Jews within Messianic Judaism have expressed a desire or even a need for high Jewish affiliation and high Christology.

    Now the trapdoor is the same one faced by Messianic Gentiles, to not make Jewish affiliation so important that high Christology gets thrown under a bus.

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