writing sefer torah

Observing the Letter and the Spirit of the Torah

In one (or more) of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, he talks about the difference between the “letter of the Law” and the “spirit of the Law”. In traditional Christian teaching, this usually means that “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). In other words, the Law is bad because it promotes a legalistic method of attempting to attain justification before God, while acting in the Spirit of God, that is, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we receive when we confess Christ as Lord, brings life, for only faith and grace can justify, not works. But this is a complete misunderstanding of the text and what the “letter” and the “spirit” really means.

According to Lancaster, the letter is the actual wording and literal meaning of a commandment while the spirit is the principle behind that commandment. Limiting a commandment to its literal meaning not only restricts our understanding of God’s intent for us, but may lead to either abandoning large portions of the Bible as anachronistic or attempting to drag those anachronisms into the 21st century. Let me give you an example from last week’s Torah Portion:

If you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof, so that you will not place blood in your house if a fallen one falls from it.

Deuteronomy 22:8 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Now let’s take a look at the commentary for this verse referenced in the Chumash:

The Torah requires a Jew to erect a fence or other form of barrier around his roof. This commandment applies also to any dangerous situation, such as a swimming pool or a tall stairway (Rambam, Hil. Rotzeach 11:1-5).

This is an excellent example describing the letter and the spirit of the commandment. The literal meaning is to build a fence or barrier around the edge of your roof so that no one on the roof will fall off by accident. It’s your house and your roof, so you’re responsible. Except few of us have flat roofs on our houses (at least in the typical American suburb) that allow people to go up and stand on them, thus risking a fall. However, as the commentary suggests, the spirit, that is, the general principle behind the specific commandment, has a much wider focus. As property owners (if we own a home and the land it is on), we have a responsibility to assess any potential dangers on our property and take steps to improve safety and thus avoid household members and guests incurring injuries due to our carelessness.

The example of a swimming pool for instance, is a good one, since accidental drownings, particularly of children, are not unknown. Many years ago when my family and I lived in Southern California, we had a swimming pool. My children were quite young at the time, and we wanted to make sure they would be safe around the pool. We had a pool cover installed that ran along a motorized track. When the cover was closed, it was impossible (especially for a child) to pull back the cover since it was secured in place by the track, and the only way to remove the cover was to insert a key into a spring-loaded locking mechanism and hold the key in the “on” position as the motor retracted the cover. In this sense, it could be said that my wife and I “fulfilled” this particularly mitzvah in relation to our swimming pool.

But why should you care about all this?

As I was studying Torah Portion Ki Tetzei on Shabbat (yesterday as you read this), it occurred to me that almost all of the commandments and statues listed could be thought of in terms of the letter and the spirit of the Law.

For instance, Deuteronomy 21:10-14 describes how an ancient Israeli soldier should behave toward a beautiful woman he has captured while battling and defeating an enemy population. The history of war tells us that part of what conquerors do is to abuse and rape the women of the enemy. The Torah doesn’t forbid the capture of these women but does issue the rather strange command that one must wait a full month before actually marrying the woman and engaging in sexual relations with her as a wife. In that one month time period, the man cannot touch her, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow and weep for her lost parents. At the end of that time, the soldier can either marry her or set her free, but he must not sell her as a slave. Critics of ancient Israel and the Bible say this is still a horribly barbaric practice, but I think I can see a hidden motive of God’s in these verses. Part of the Chumash commentary states:

According to either interpretation, the purpose of the long delay is so that the captor’s desire will evaporate in the interim and he will set her free.

despairIn other words, God anticipated human lust during a war in which a soldier would impulsively desire to sexually assault or even permanently possess a captive woman. While God does not attempt to directly forbid taking women captive, perhaps because it would have set up far too many of the Israeli soldiers to sin in the passion of the moment, He permits capture but forbids any sexual contact for one month. A month is certainly long enough for such passion to dissipate, particularly when the woman is commanded to set aside certain matters of hygiene and grooming.

In modern military forces of the West, it is illegal for soldiers to rape women in war and it would be unthinkable for a soldier to capture a woman and take her home to be a wife. Arguably, this commandment, like most of those we find in the Torah, would only apply in modern times to the Jewish people, but in the present nation of Israel, we don’t find reports of IDF soldiers capturing women in Gaza and taking them home as potential spouses. So what is the principle behind the literal commandment, or is there one anymore? After all, the practice of capturing women as sex slaves during war has become so abhorrent that it is virtually unthinkable.

Has the spirit of this law, even among non-Jewish nations, triumphed over the letter or has something else happened? Has this law become obsolete because the practice among the armies of civilized nations has become extinct (and I recognize that there are forces among uncivilized and brutal peoples where rape during war is still practiced)? That leads to a rather uncomfortable thought; the thought that there are some portions of the Torah that no longer apply and that may never apply again. Let’s take a more extreme example:

You shall not wear combined fibers, wool and linen together.

Deuteronomy 22:11 (Stone Edition Chumash)

To the best of my knowledge, only Orthodox Jews observe this commandment today. It would be a difficult commandment to observe for most of us given the nature of the clothing typically sold at retail outlets with their mixed natural and artificial fabrics. The Chumash commentary on this verse goes back to Leviticus 19:19 which says in part:

The prohibitions not to cross-breed or to wear mixtures of wool and linen are the quintessential decrees, i.e. commands of the King for which man knows no reasons (Rashi). Ramban clarifies the above point. God surely has reasons, but since man cannot know them, he cannot feel the same satisfaction in performing these decrees that he has when he performs precepts that he feels he understands.

In other words, this class of commandment is to be observed simply because “God said so,” not because (from a human standpoint) it makes any particular sense or seems at all purposeful. There is a literal meaning to this commandment but no apparent underlying principle.

Which brings me to what it is to observe the Torah commandments, particularly for those people who believe it is possible to observe only the literal, Biblical mitzvot of the Torah without any Rabbinic interpretation and binding halachah being involved. As I mentioned, fulfilling the mitzvah of not wearing clothing made of mixed fabrics is something (again, to the best of my knowledge) performed only among Orthodox Jews. And particularly for those non-Jews who feel led in some manner or fashion, to live “Torah-observant” or “Torah-complient” or “Torah-submissive” lifestyles, is it actually possible to do so?

There are three reasons why I think not. The first has to do with the differences between the letter and spirit of the commandments. Most of you, as I said before, don’t have a flat roof on your house so you cannot observe the literal, Biblical commandment. You can only observe this mitzvot if you take the Rabbinic interpretation of its underlying principle into account.

The second has to do with commandments for which we are not likely to ever have the opportunity to fulfill. This goes beyond whether or not we have a flat roof (for instance, the three-story building where I work does have a flat roof where people have access and it does have a barrier to prevent people from falling off), and goes into a realm where, for example, even if we serve in a military organization and find ourselves in battle, it would never even occur to most of us to capture a woman and particularly not to ship her home thousands of miles away with the idea of making her a wife. This may at one time have been an all too common practice during war (at least the initial rape of enemy women) but for American soldiers in the modern era, it’s no longer even on the radar, so to speak. Calvin The third has to do with commands like not wearing mixed fabrics. This is a literal command that can possibly be observed (for after all, Orthodox Jews observe it), and it is a Biblical commandment, so those non-Jews who say they only obey the written or literal Torah can (and by their own value system should) obey it, and yet I know of no one in my past experience among Hebrew Roots and One Law congregations who has ever attempted to observe this mitzvah. So what does all this mean?

As part of my studies last Shabbat, I read the commentaries for the weekly Torah Portion in Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Growth Through Torah. As I was reading, it occurred to me that Rabbi Pliskin, in his commentaries, was indeed describing the principles behind each of the mitzvot he was addressing. R. Pliskin cited numerous Rabbinic teachings in relation to the beautiful woman captured in war (Deut. 21:13-14), some which commented directly on the situation, but most of which extrapolated the various principles behind the literal, Biblical meaning. The following is just one sample:

Rabbi Chayim Zaitchyk commented that we see from here that to really change a trait it takes a thirty day period of intensive work. This is the principle of the month of Elul which is a time for us to focus on our behavior and traits in order to make major improvements on ourselves. -R. Pliskin, p. 435

That particular principle probably doesn’t seem like it should reasonably be extrapolated from the plain meaning of the text, and so most of us (at least if we’re not Orthodox Jews) tend to disregard it. On the other hand, the Jewish people have been the keepers of the commandments of God, including the observance of Shabbat and the knowledge and practice of ethical monotheism, for untold centuries before the rest of the world even heard of a single God. Who is to say that God did not give the leaders and teachers among the Jews, ancient and modern, the authority to study and to derive underlying principles from the surface meaning of the commandments and to integrate those principles into the practice of daily living for their communities?

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:21 (NASB)

This single verse is among the most mysterious and probably the most misunderstood in the entire Bible. For many in the Hebrew Roots movement, it is one of the justifications for believing that the Jewish Apostles intended for the Gentile disciples to not only learn the Torah but to observe the full body of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, even though Peter said “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”

I’ve often said that it is impossible to understand what Jesus taught unless you understand how he understood the Torah, Writings, and Prophets, the Bible that existed in the days of the Apostles. Sending new Gentile disciples of the Master to the synagogue to hear the Torah read and interpreted by the teachers each Shabbat was one way to help them understand the principles and even the nuances behind the literal commandments and teachings. It’s not just the words, but the context, the language, and the world view of the original intended audience. The original intended audience of Jesus were Hebrew/Aramaic speaking Jews living in Israel.

The Gentile disciples came from a number of different nations and cultures, none of which would have given them the educational background and specific mindset of the people to whom Jesus was originally teaching. The Gentiles could only gain that perspective and thus eventually learn what Jesus was really teaching by studying among Jewish teachers, probably for many months to many years, because the teachings of the Bible are heavily embedded in culture and experiential living as well as language, religion, and history.

Now take a bunch of Americans (or whoever you are) two-thousand years removed from all of that. Compared to the Gentile disciples being addressed in Acts 15, we might as well have just arrived from another planet in terms of our ability to grasp what they were asked to study, and it was a challenge even for them. I don’t believe that either then or now, non-Jewish disciples of Jesus were or are expected to emulate the Jewish disciples beyond a certain subset of observances and underlying principles, but it is those underlying principles that may capture the secret to what it is to be a (so-called) “Torah-observant Gentile.”

Going back to building fences on roofs or putting covers over swimming pools, I don’t think anyone, Jewish or Christian, would think it was a bad idea to improve safety conditions on our property and to protect our family and friends from accidental injury. It’s not just a “Jewish thing”. In fact, we have a body of penal and civil laws in the U.S. that speak to just those concerns so it can be said our local and national governments, to one degree or another, mandate or command that we behave as responsible citizens by taking proactive steps to provide a safe environment in our communities.

Ismar Schorsch
Ismar Schorsch

Thus we can say that there is more than meets the eye to the Apostolic decree in regards to the Gentile disciples we find in the Acts 15 letter but it may be more layered and nuanced than the simple assumption that there is only a single expectation for everyone everywhere that is contained in the Torah. Ismar Schorsch, in his 2005 commentary on this past week’s Torah portion, as recorded in Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries (p. 610) and referencing Eshet Hayil (“A Woman of Valor”) based on Proverbs 31:10-31, said:

Words carry more than their surface meanings. To fixate on their literal meanings turns a deep channel into a shallow trough.

Is it possible that some of us in believing and even attempting to practice a literal, Biblical Torah, have turned the “deep channel” of God’s intent for our lives into “a shallow trough?” The rather lengthy title for one of Rabbi Pliskin’s commentaries on Deuteronomy 22:5 which prohibits the wearing of garments meant for the opposite sex is, Each person should feel joy in fulfilling his or her unique role in life. He states (p. 438):

Targum Yonoson states that the garments of a man include tzitzis and tefilin. Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz commented on this that we see the principle that each person has his own mission in life. The same thing that for one person is “holy of holies,” for another person who does a similar thing, but it is not his life’s task, it is an abomination. Each person should feel joy in carrying out his life’s mission and should not try to do things that he was not meant to do.

While R. Pliskin is a Jew writing to other Jews, I think I can reasonably extrapolate an extended principle that applies to non-Jews who feel compelled to take on board a role which is not assigned to us, a Jewish role. I posted a link to a recent “meditation” called Torah and the Christian: An “In-a-Nutshell” Explanation on Google+ and a Jewish person responded:

As a Christian, saved by grace, who happens to have a Jewish heritage, I try to avoid the discussion of what Jews and Gentiles should and should not to do because it has a tendency to lead to division. However, Yeshua already provided the answer, which we would do well to remember: “For he himself is our shalom — he has made us both one and has broken down the m’chitzah which divided us by destroying in his own body the enmity occasioned by the Torah, with its commands set forth in the form of ordinances. He did this in order to create in union with himself from the two groups a single new humanity and thus make shalom, and in order to reconcile to God both in a single body by being executed on a stake as a criminal and thus in himself killing that enmity. Also, when he came, he announced as Good News shalom to you far off and shalom to those nearby, news that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:14-18 CJB).

It’s one of the expected responses from both a traditional Christian and classic Hebrew Roots perspectives, although both groups identify the practices of “one new man” quite differently. It also cites the usual issue of promoting identity specific roles as “causing division,” and my response would be to suggest that a Kohen having a specific role in the Temple did not “cause division” among the different classes of Israelites (apart from the Korach rebellion of course). We simply have our own roles assigned to us by God based, among other things, on who we are in terms of gender, nationality, and covenant connectiveness.

When writing on Deuteronomy 22:7 and 22:10, R. Pliskin crafted commentaries called Even when engaged in a mitzvah be sensitive to the feelings of others and Be careful not to cause others to envy. The underlying principles being expressed here are applicable both to Jewish people observing the mitzvot and Gentiles who think they should do so in the manner the Jews are commanded.

One of the things I must (sorry to say this) criticize J.K. McKee for was a statement he made in his book One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit about the issue of Jewish distinctiveness in the Messianic community of believers. I don’t recall the exact quote, but he made what I consider to be some rather snarky remarks about these Jewish people being exclusivist and even petty in desiring to have their covenant role as Jews recognized and respected.

And yet we see there’s a principle in Torah observance that recognizes distinctiveness of roles and even that a person whose role does not include the performance of particular mitzvot can actually hurt or inflict pain upon others. While we Gentiles may believe Jews are deliberately provoking us to envy because of their status before God, we, for our part, when we claim mitzvot that are not consistent with our role, are being injurious to the very people and nation we claim to love.

TorahSo what’s the answer? I don’t think there’s an easily understood one. I hope I’ve established in this short essay that the Torah is not a simple list of “Dos” and “Don’ts” but rather a highly complex and nuanced collection of lifestyle elements that define a Jew’s obedience to God as the conditions of the Mosaic Covenant. I also hope you can see that understanding how non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah fit into the covenantal landscape, in our case exclusively through the New Covenant blessings as they apply to us, is not an easy task. It wasn’t an easy task when James and the Council of Apostles and Elders issued their binding halachah upon the first Gentile disciples and it certainly isn’t now two-thousand years later.

Pastor Randy, the head Pastor at the church I attend, is in the process of presenting a sermon series on the Ten Commandments and how he believes they apply to Christians today. To do this, he has to dig into various portions of the Torah to lay his foundation, and my Sunday school teacher, who creates lessons based on Pastor’s sermons, is challenged with trying to comprehend how the underlying principles behind the Torah are “Christian”. And that’s where I think the answers for Gentile disciples lie, not in attempting to look and act “Jewish” by donning the outward apparel (tallit, tefillin, kippah) that would make people think we’re Jewish (which seems very much in line with the prohibition for a man to wear woman’s clothing as well as the reverse), but by studying and then practicing the underlying principles behind as many of the mitzvot as make sense for us to approach.

The answer, for me anyway, is not to believe I can obey God by looking like I’m Jewish, but to behave in a manner that applies the principles of the Torah within the context of who I am as a Christian and a Gentile, to live a life of faith, trust, charity, all in obedience, for there are many of us in our various roles and lifestyles, but only one God.

Advertisements

55 thoughts on “Observing the Letter and the Spirit of the Torah”

  1. While we are not in agreement on some of what you’ve posited, James, I think you know I appreciate much of what you write.

    I did want to point out that in a church I attend, many of the people there thought I was Jewish, not because of any behavior, but because of the knowledge I have (and share) from a Judaic point of view (based on study with FFOZ and others).

    In their mind, because I know these things, I must be Jewish.

  2. I’ve gotten that from some people in the past as well, Ro. It’s so unusual for a Christian to have much knowledge about Judaism, ancient or modern, and apply it to the scriptures (which are all Jewish books anyway) that either people think you’re some sort of Biblical expert or that you must be Jewish. And yet it’s my hope that everyone in the Church will one day study the Bible “Jewishly” and discover that it contains far deeper meaning than they realize.

  3. I wouldn’t discount the modern applicability of the “war bride” principle. After WW2, American military administrations had a real problem restricting “fraternization” between American military personnel and local nationals where they were stationed. Hence there were German war brides, and Japanese war brides, and some British and French as well. After the Korean conflict, there were Korean war brides. After the Vietnam conflict, there was a noticeable increase in Vietnamese brides among service personnel. I don’t know what statistics may show following more recent conflicts in the Mideast. One might well speculate about whether there might have been some benefit all ’round if one requirement before permitting such marriages was an enforced extreme mourning period such as the Torah prescribes.

    On the other hand, modern Jewish orthodoxy does not prohibit all fabric mixtures or blends, particularly with synthetic fabrics. In this case, a more literal interpretation limits the applicability solely to mixing the specified fibers of wool and linen. While we don’t know the actual benefits intended by this prohibition in Torah, it has nonetheless provided a challenge that provides a secondary benefit by forcing us to think very diligently about HaShem’s purposes and to recognize humbly that our understanding always has limits. As an engineer whose training did not specialize in the analysis of fibrous materials, I have only a passing acquaintance with the technology by which one might discover that the two materials in question here are in some ways like the similar pairing of an ox and a donkey under the same yoke. These two animals do not have the same strength (or size or speed), and it would be cruel and unproductive to force them to try to work together. Perhaps the tensile characteristics and strength of these two fibers also make combining them counterproductive. Perhaps, because one is an animal fiber and one a plant fiber they have different coefficients of water absorption or stiffness, or they have different tolerances for laundering, and a garment of such mixed material might be less durable than garments of either material by itself. One may pursue such inferences about garment materials from the adjacent ox/donkey prohibition, but one must nonetheless recognize that no matter how many good reasons one may find to justify such a prohibition one still cannot be certain of discovering the original reason for which it was included in Torah. It could be a physical reason such as I’ve speculated, it could be a reference to spiritual symbolism, it could be a challenge to continue searching for deeper and broader understanding, or it could be some combination of all these possibilities, emphasizing the dual significance of both the letter and the spirit of HaShem’s instructions.

  4. This will seem trivial compared to previous comments, but the way I understand the prohibition on mixing wool and linen is this: like the incense used in the Temple, some things were not for commoners. Some elements of the priest’s garb WERE made of mixed wool and linen (the sash on the waist?). Commoners were not to imitate this.

    But this post raises the large question for me: Do we really want ALL of the Torah to be re instituted? Are we ready to stone adulterers to death and so on…?

  5. @Steve — I believe you will find that the priestly sash and other garments were solely of linen, not mixed of wool and linen. It has nothing to do with being forbidden to “commoners”. But your more general question bears some consideration.

    The Messiah is predicted to rule “with a rod of iron” (i.e., justly and strictly). Since Rav Yeshua emphasized that even the finest details of Torah remain valid as long as the present heavens and earth endure, and the only limitations that render some of it to be in abeyance are only applicable until the Temple and Levitical system is again in operation, then all of it will again be executable during the millennial kingdom. The Messiah will therefore not rule contrary to Torah in any degree. Therefore adulterers had better beware. [:)]

    Now, a lot of us will have been transformed already to incorruptible form, and Torah will have been written onto our hearts, so this really should not be a problem. If, however, there remain any untransformed survivors of the battles that accompany the establishment of the messianic kingdom, they may well find themselves hauled up before the courts to be judged in accordance with the fairness and deliberation that the Torah demands of its judges and magistrates. But the stoning penalties of the Torah are probably applicable only to Jews who are solely responsible for the Torah’s legal requirements. Avrahamic Noahides may be penalized somewhat differently, depending on the circumstances of their case. Since the Jews present in that era would be those who had experienced the first resurrection, and thus had been transformed with Torah written on their hearts, the likelihood of stoning is probably nil. Any Jewish survivors who had not been already transformed by resurrection or rapture would still be subject at some point to the execution of the Jer.31 writing of Torah on the heart, so again the likelihood of any stoning being required is probably nil.

    Does this consideration leave you feeling any better?

  6. I appreciate your posts here, PL, and Steve’s. On the latter topic, which is one that often comes up in this realm of thinking, first and foremost (for people very familiar with the newer testimonies and maybe not so much with the older but more with Christian exposition) it would be necessary that IF there were a case of adultery for which stoning were to be considered, both the woman AND the man should be taken to task (unlike the example we have from the “NT” — although it’s not included in all versions, such as an RSV I have).

    On the topic of fabrics, I know quite a few Reform Jews who do watch what fabrics they buy. The concerns involve linen and wool. They don’t want anything mixed with wool or mixed with linen. I (from the face of things) would not want wool and linen mixed specifically. In the past, I have been more interested in avoiding mixed fabrics in general, thinking there might be more of a principal involved that I don’t fully understand but which could be demonstrated in purely cotton fabric (not mixed with polyester or anything) serving best in summer.

  7. PL said: “While we don’t know the actual benefits intended by this prohibition in Torah…”

    Does there have to be a benefit to men in all of the laws? Could it be that some prohibitions were established merely to test obedience?

    For example, I don’t see the fruit in Eden was forbidden because the fruit itself was harmful. So why do the prohibitions established at Sinai have to relate to benefits to man?

  8. Yes, “O”, all the laws of Torah are for the benefit of humans. They provide no benefit to HaShem unless they succeed in their purpose of training humans to behave in accord with His redeeming principles. The lesson of pure obedience motivated by love is also such a benefit to humans. An arbitrary test of obedience for its own sake is meaningless; and nothing done by HaShem is meaningless. I don’t think that the rule about not eating the fruit forbidden in the Edenic Garden is included among the 613 mitzvot of Torah, because it had long since become a moot issue, impossible to perform, by the time when Torah was given, and because Torah itself is a tool of redemption that compensates for the consequences of the original human failure with respect to that rule. Nonetheless, even that rule offered a challenge of training or exercise to strengthen righteousness, even at a time when redemption was not yet needed. To me that seems quite beneficial.

    As for Steve’s citations of the essentially theoretical forms of execution discussed in late Talmudic times, they certainly do not derive from the written Torah directly, and they do reflect a degree of proto-medieval interpretive perspective. The definition of the method for stoning, for example, does not reflect earlier testimony such as in the apostolic writings of crowd behavior in which individuals picked up stones in a threatening manner, or when Steven was effectively killed by a mob while Rav Shaul held their cloaks.

    Now, this was not an execution in accord with Torah, because none of the jurisprudence or methodology that is documented even in material of the era was performed. But we can infer that it does reflect the expectations of a Jewish mob of that era for how they perceived such punishment would be carried out. Similarly, in the story of the woman accused of adultery, where the Torah principle of bringing both accused partners had been ignored, Rav Yeshua’s response about requiring someone sinless to be first to throw a stone did reflect the Torah’s requirements for high character in the witnesses who would carry out the sentence, and it also highlighted the fact that the accusers had violated Torah in trying to present this accusation and therefore they were not qualified to carry it out.

    So the Talmudic discussions of execution methods which reflect oral Torah in operation also demonstrate for us the process that will update the methodology if there is ever an actual need to carry out an execution of capital punishment in the messianic kingdom. This will be true even if Israel should be so blessed as to be enabled to rebuild the Temple and to restore the Levitical system in our current era before the messianic kingdom can be established. Therefore Steve’s concerns about restoring all of Torah should also be moot, because all its ancient safeguards will also be restored and updated appropriately by a restored Sanhedrin comprising fine, upstanding, well-qualified Jews who pursue Talmudic methods to deliberate and reach consensus about how to apply Torah justly and compassionately to present-day circumstances and to individual court cases for Jews and for non-Jews under Israeli jurisprudence. Of course, it also remains to be seen how the applications of Jewish law may come to affect non-Jewish systems of jurisprudence.

  9. I’m afraid, “O”, that you’ve missed or discounted a fundamental characteristic and precept of Torah, which was presented in parashat Shoftim read a little more than a week ago. It is to be administered by human judges and magistrates who interpret and apply it as needed in each generation. Tradition is not usurping Torah’s authority; it is using the authority granted to it by Torah. Authoritative Jewish interpretation in each generation is the means by which the Torah remains fresh and vibrant. Talmud provides a still snapshot of the process in a particular era (over a limited timespan). The purpose of studying Talmud is to become familiar with the process, in order to be able to apply that process in later eras. In the particular case of proposed methods of execution, the specific methods discussed are not necessarily the methods that would be used in other eras. The principles by which the listed methods were determined to be suitable at one time must be applied to determine suitable methods for another time. This is what it means for Judaism to be “biblical”. This is how Oral Torah reflects and carries the Written Torah.

  10. @PL: I think there’s a difference between a war bride situation and taking a woman captive against her will. As I recall, war brides have a voluntary relationship with the soldier and usually are indigenous allies of the soldier’s army and not from the side of the enemy.

    What you say about mixed fabrics (and mixed animals) is very informative, but within the context of my blog post, I was mainly drawing attention to why non-Jewish believers who desired to be “Torah-observant” probably aren’t.

    As far as your comment about Messiah ruling with a rod of iron and strictly enforcing even the finest details of Torah, I know the above-mentioned “Torah-observant” Gentiles would very likely not consider the more recent Rabbinic rulings regarding mixed fabrics as valid. In my opinion, that mitzvah is unlikely to be applied to Gentiles in any event, but what would the ruling be if a Gentile voluntarily places him/herself under a greater observance of such mitzvot? Would it be analogous to taking a vow?

    Of course, as you say, for resurrected/transformed Gentiles, with the Torah (as it applies to us) written on our hearts or whatever statues Hashem sees fit to inscribe upon us, we will naturally obey those specific mitzvot and in obedience, not attempt to take on what is specifically forbidden to us, so ultimately this sort of discussion will be moot. I wonder if there will be any “wiggle room” for those non-Jews who want to go “above and beyond?”

    @Marleen: It would be interesting to consider how common adultery will be and specifically since it requires two or more witnesses to testify to the act, how common it will be to have two or more people present during the actual act of adultery.

    PL said:

    Therefore Steve’s concerns about restoring all of Torah should also be moot, because all its ancient safeguards will also be restored and updated appropriately by a restored Sanhedrin comprising fine, upstanding, well-qualified Jews who pursue Talmudic methods to deliberate and reach consensus about how to apply Torah justly and compassionately to present-day circumstances and to individual court cases for Jews and for non-Jews under Israeli jurisprudence. Of course, it also remains to be seen how the applications of Jewish law may come to affect non-Jewish systems of jurisprudence.

    This brings me back to something I said, or at least implied, in my blog post about whether or not all of the Torah laws will be restored as they originally were given and practiced. After all, will there be slaves, either Jewish or Gentile, in the Messianic Era? It would seem as you say, that some or many of the laws would have to be updated to fit the circumstances as they will exist at the time when Messiah returns. Even in the present day, I don’t think Torah is observed by anyone in the exact manner as it was thousands of years ago and in the Messianic Era, who’s to say how much more will have changed?

    Back to the Gentiles who desire to observe the Torah in a strictly literal and Biblical sense, I still say that there’s no way to freeze all of the mitzvot exactly as they were the day Moses wrote them in the Torah and then to transplant them and practice them (even adjusting for the current lack of the Temple, Priesthood, and Sanhedrin) in modern times. There’s no way to get around the need to interpret the mitzvot and apply them based on changing circumstances as they are presented in the 21st century.

  11. PL said:
    “Yes, “O”, all the laws of Torah are for the benefit of humans. They provide no benefit to HaShem unless they succeed in their purpose of training humans to behave in accord with His redeeming principles.”

    PL, what I was trying to address in my earlier comment was the human tendency to try to rationalise the law – as if every part of the law is trying to prevent man from engaging in inherently dangerous actions and that God is doing man a favour by telling him not to do certain things that would be harmful. As if God didn’t have His own reasons for including certain things in the law that of themselves would make no difference to mankind.

    It is their inclusion in the law that gives them significance, resulting in either blessing (for obedience) or cursing (for disobedience).

    My example of the forbidden fruit in Eden was clearly NOT to suggest that it was part of the law handed down at Sinai. It was given as an example of a command given by God that was intended as a test of obedience. The prohibition was not given to prevent man from eating poisonous fruit.

  12. PL said: ” It is to be administered by human judges and magistrates who interpret and apply it as needed in each generation.”

    And we know what the human judges and magistrates application led to in approx 30AD.

    And how much validity can there be in the Torah interpretations and applications of “human judges and magistrates” who continued to reject Israel’s Messiah?
    The kind of people to whom Jesus was addressing when He said: “you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. ”

    PL said: “Authoritative Jewish interpretation in each generation is the means by which the Torah remains fresh and vibrant. ”

    Sorry, “the Torah remains fresh and vibrant” because it is God’s word and it is the Spirit of God’s revelation not “Authoritative Jewish interpretation” (or “authoritative” church interpretation) that is needed.

  13. @James: @Marleen: It would be interesting to consider how common adultery will be and specifically since it requires two or more witnesses to testify to the act, how common it will be to have two or more people present during the actual act of adultery.

    Agreed; it’s hard to prove adultery, hard to prove rape, hard to prove incest (and molestation by anyone), hard to prove lying theft (after someone’s word has been trusted), hard to prove a lot of things. While I do hope most if not all people will care, to start with, in the time you’re aiming at, my focus for the subject was that a woman “committing adultery” does so with a male (or was raped by him) or does so with more than one (or is exploited by one or more). That being so, the moral of the story I brought up isn’t that sexual deceivers or usurpers shouldn’t deserve death… but that we don’t know the woman (more easily grabbed and accused and even despised just for being a dang woman) was in fact guilty; those men were “lucky” they weren’t put to death for a false accusation. But in the absence of a lot of justice or clarity, that may have been unfair too. Then again, they might have been involved themselves — enabling or something. But J’shua wasn’t a direct witness to what came before.

    As for @Onesimus, anyone, doesn’t it seem like he’s trying, “in the tradition of” J’shua, to get across that tradition can and has gone too far afield (not that tradition is always wrong)? Shall we lecture J’shua on the topic or terminology?

  14. I think the hardest (and sometimes weirdest) thing to keep is the rule against mixing species in plants or fruits. It can be nearly impossible. And there are modern legal issues (not having to do with Torah) related to the impossibility. And, like, while I am all for — what — I think they’re called heritage seeds or heritage plants, I do eat tangelos and other things that are cross-bred.

  15. Fortunately, when Yehoshua is reigning, His Iron fist will probably be softly gloved, for we know His gentleness and grace to us all. That is not to say that the Torah, as written in Scripture will not be enforced…it is merely that Yehoshua will be the final authority on how each commandment and ordinance is carried out, and what it will mean to Jew and Gentile…and all will be Messianic then, or at least acting like it. To most individuals that are not already attempting to keep it, following Torah in stead of the libertine ways they live in now will be quite a shock. For Believers, and the Incorrupt, it will be the greatest of blessings.

    I sincerely believe that the Torah, even in it’s simplest commands are not easy to carry out without some examination of how to carry each one out best, and according to the circumstances that are present at the time. Even rules and traditions are not enough, though I am sure they help within Judaic culture.

    To me, this is the essence of Grace, not that the Torah is ignored, as it is by most people on the earth, but that it should be carefully considered as the directions for how we are to live, and treat G-d, and one another.

    Non-Jewish Messianic Believers, those of us that are trying to look at the Written Torah outside of cultural constraints, take what advice there is about carrying out the Written Torah, and then attempt to do so in the simplest, Gentile-est way. Being outside the traditions of Judaism, I work with the Ruach haKodesh to keep each commandment

    Most commandments are ageless, but many require the person obeying them to be in Israel, and under a sacrificial system. But the stoning of the adulturer is an sever and complete remedy against the offense of breaking the commandments of G-d as much as it was against spouse, family, and tribe. If caught in the act, due to blatant disregard of the Torah, the crime is due the punishment that would be able to keep a newly bonded community from falling apart.

    I was a victim of blatent adultery and desertion. I divorced my spouse eventually, after mourning the death of the relationship. My spouse remarried the other perpetrator. The damage was extreme to me…but it wasn’t worth death even from my side of the situation. But stamping out evil behaviour from among an orderly, obedient community is why a death penalty was originally given as the penalty for adultery…to let people know just how sacred the marriage bond is, and to keep people focused on maintaining their family and community, and to not cause pain to the other party. And since, in my case, under such a law, as they lived together openly, it was not a case of needing the appropriate witnesses. Were stoning allowed, they might well have been stoned under Judaic Law, but our society has already fallen apart a good deal, aided by the allowance of divorce, and the toleration of disobeying laws of any kind.

    So when obeying a simple if puzzling commandment against weaving linen and wool together, I do it because it is stated as a commandment of G-d. And I take it a bit farther, where it seems to be relevant, just as in ProclaimLiberty’s comment. Flax strands wear very differently than wool, and are comparably fragile to threads of lamb or goats wool. If woven in patterns of stripes, as was common in Ancient Israel, the flax could easily break away over a short time of use, leaving embarassing holes in the garment. There would be little point in weaving the threads together…the difference in fibre would be used for contrasted textures, not general texture, which was fairly rough anyways. At most, weaving light and heavy threads together would lighten a garment a little in the beginning, but be a real problem as the linen fibre broke down, leaving a very loosely woven piece of cloth…immodestly sheer, and not warm when needed. Consequently weaving two different fibres together would be foolish, and wasteful in a time where most people only had a few different garments each.

    It is the same with different seed in the same field…it isn’t about hybridizing seeds naturally…every farmer keeps his best seed for the new year, and crops get better thereby year by year. Not sowing two different types of seeds together is about needing to harvest and pull up two crops that are not ripening at the same time, and thus would hinder each other with competition for nutrients and light; damage one crop by pulling up another, or even if ripening together, would not be able to be winnowed properly. If you recall, the parable where bad seed is sown amongst the good, the bad has to be harvested separately so as not to damage the good seed, and takes a lot of hand picking by the reaper to get the bad seeds out of the way, and thus wastes time and energy. G-d however is willing to do it among people in order to make sure the good seeds are not ripped out pre-maturely.

    The practicality of the commandment was real. Making thread by hand, and weaving the cloth for garments takes the resources of time, the necessary implements and prepared flax strands (Made by pounding the flax stalks until the threads are loose). Spinning by hand linen strands into thread, and wool hairs into wool thread was a time consuming business, not to mention having to pack up and wander at any time at a signal from the Shekinah. Then there was the need to repeatedly make a new camp, and set up one’s loom after packing it all up. Looms are of necessity rather permanent in nature, and bulky, while taking a partially loomed cloth from a loom to break it down and move it was not easy or swift, and likely to ruin the cloth already made.

    Cotton and Polyester, along with a bit of Lycra makes a stronger, more flexible, shape retaining fabric than Cotton alone, and relieves me of the need for ironing much, so I do not take the commandment as stretching to every mix of other fibres in clothes as the mixture is the better for being mixed. Linen by itself is a misery to wear, just as Cotton is, for they wrinkle terribly. If I were to buy a suit made from linen and wool these days, with the two types of thread together, it might make an interesting fabric for a time, but the Linen from flax strands, essentially just cellulose…fragile and lightweight, would fray and dissipate, and make the garment soon less than it was, particularly since wool wears a long time if well taken care of. But I wouldn’t wear such a Linen and Wool garment anyway, simply because there is a commandment against it.

    As ProclaimLiberty and James both said, the commandment should be applied to mixed elements of any kinds, to make sure that they will wear well over time. Where there is a benefit, such as mixing metal rods with concrete to make stronger buildings, and better the outcome, obviously the law does not apply. Adding a stone castle turret to your modern stuccoed ranch house, however, sounds pretty awful, and the commandment against mixing Wool and Linen together definitely applies in that case, if only to keep the builder from looking ridiculous, and bringing shame on the Jewish community, and on the Name of YHVH.

    When the Torah was given to the Israelites, it was purely a matter of obedience first, so that the Israelites could become a cohesive whole…why didn’t matter for every commandment. It became a point of either an Israelite does a certain thing, or they do not, and hence should be penalized, exiled or killed to maintain the community. If they obeyed, they were one people in unison, and blameless under the Torah. If not, they would not be there to spoil things for others.

    My apologies for the intricate explanation.

  16. Yes, “O”, it’s scary that HaShem has placed the administration and interpretation of Torah into the hands of fallible humans. If they do not conform with the Torah’s high standards for character in these judges and magistrates, we can suffer from miscarriages of Justice, we can execute someone like Rav Yeshua unjustly, and we can do all manner of mischief. Nonetheless, Rav Yeshua instructed his disciples to obey the Torah teaching of the Pharisees (Mt.23:2-3) because he acknowledged their proper authority. Rav Yeshua’s accusation, at one moment in history, to a specific assemblage of Jews, that they did not have HaShem’s word abiding within them does not delegitimize the entire system of Torah interpretation and application, neither then nor during the subsequent 20 centuries. Authoritative church interpretation is an oxymoron in this context, because Torah is the expression of the Jewish covenant and can only be administered by Jews and for Jews.

    The age-old Christian accusation against Jews of “rejecting Israel’s Messiah” is entirely misleading, because many if not all of Rav Yeshua’s insights and criticisms are reflected positively in later Talmudic argumentation. Moreover, Christianity has long rejected this Messiah’s explicit teaching about the Torah and its critical importance to experiencing the kingdom of heaven (among other teachings). So we may well ask who has really been rejecting Israel’s Messiah? Again, this is no basis for delegitimizing Jewish authority and responsibility to apply and interpret Torah in each generation.

    The Torah becomes a dead letter if it is not continually revitalized by current application and interpretation by Jewish authorities to make it a living letter within each Jew. It doesn’t matter that HaShem invented it. It is that He gave it to the Jewish people via Moshe and that Jews have lived it throughout our generations that gives it vibrancy. Even our failures serve to demonstrate its validity and vibrancy — which is, perhaps, why the reading of our unpleasant history in the Tenakh is so instructive. And it is in our example that non-Jews can benefit from the lessons of Torah.

  17. Sorry to come over here 2 days later after your conversation.

    I don´t agree with this explanation: “According to Lancaster, the letter is the actual wording and literal meaning of a commandment while the spirit is the principle behind that commandment. Limiting a commandment to its literal meaning not only restricts our understanding of God’s intent for us, but may lead to either abandoning large portions of the Bible as anachronistic or attempting to drag those anachronisms into the 21st century.”

    And of course, neither I do agree with: In traditional Christian teaching, this usually means that “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). In other words, the Law is bad because it promotes a legalistic method of attempting to attain justification before God, while acting in the Spirit of God, that is, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we receive when we confess Christ as Lord, brings life, for only faith and grace can justify, not works.

    If we read the whole passage, and even in the specific verse, we find:
    “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

    So here, Paul is writing about the new covenant… the one which its commandments will be written by the Spirit on our hearts of flesh against the old covenant written in letters on stone… Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezequiel 36:26-27

    In other words, the old covenant failed because men and women could not obey the law, transgressing the commandments, and all sin leads to death… but the new covenant will not fail, because Torah will be written in our hearts by the Spirit, giving us life, Eternal Life.

  18. By the way, I’m not saying that commandments don’t have literal meanings as well as underlying spiritual applications. All I’m saying is that in that particular verse, Paul is not writing about that issue, but about the New Covenant.

  19. Onesimus said:

    PL said: “Authoritative Jewish interpretation in each generation is the means by which the Torah remains fresh and vibrant. ”

    Sorry, “the Torah remains fresh and vibrant” because it is God’s word and it is the Spirit of God’s revelation not “Authoritative Jewish interpretation” (or “authoritative” church interpretation) that is needed.

    Questor said:

    Most commandments are ageless, but many require the person obeying them to be in Israel, and under a sacrificial system.

    The Torah is ageless and all-encompassing in one sense but in another, and this was one of the points I was trying to make in my blog post, it could quickly become anachronistic and irrelevant to modern life if not interpreted for changing circumstances. I attempted to list a number of those circumstances above, such as issues of slavery, the rape of women captured in battle, as well as other commandments that don’t easily translate into our lives in the 21st century. While the matter of Rabbinic interpretations within and across different Jewish communities/branches as well as across history (I once heard a Jewish woman ask her Rabbi why they have so many traditions. Once a tradition is created, it never seems to go away) seems problematic, there has to be some sort of formal process of progressive interpretation of authorities appointed by God so that Jewish community and lifestyle can continually exist across the shifting landscape of time.

    PL said:

    Yes, “O”, it’s scary that HaShem has placed the administration and interpretation of Torah into the hands of fallible humans. If they do not conform with the Torah’s high standards for character in these judges and magistrates, we can suffer from miscarriages of Justice, we can execute someone like Rav Yeshua unjustly, and we can do all manner of mischief. Nonetheless, Rav Yeshua instructed his disciples to obey the Torah teaching of the Pharisees (Mt.23:2-3) because he acknowledged their proper authority. Rav Yeshua’s accusation, at one moment in history, to a specific assemblage of Jews, that they did not have HaShem’s word abiding within them does not delegitimize the entire system of Torah interpretation and application, neither then nor during the subsequent 20 centuries. Authoritative church interpretation is an oxymoron in this context, because Torah is the expression of the Jewish covenant and can only be administered by Jews and for Jews.

    The Torah becomes a dead letter if it is not continually revitalized by current application and interpretation by Jewish authorities to make it a living letter within each Jew. It doesn’t matter that HaShem invented it. It is that He gave it to the Jewish people via Moshe and that Jews have lived it throughout our generations that gives it vibrancy. Even our failures serve to demonstrate its validity and vibrancy — which is, perhaps, why the reading of our unpleasant history in the Tenakh is so instructive. And it is in our example that non-Jews can benefit from the lessons of Torah.

    I have to agree with this, even though it introduces obvious problems given that “HaShem has placed the administration and interpretation of Torah into the hands of fallible humans” because I don’t see any other way to keep the Torah and Jewish lifestyle alive across history. It would be as if we have the United States Constitution but are forbidden to have the Supreme Court interpret it as well as being barred from having Congress issue the occasional amendment. If we couldn’t update our understanding of our national Constitution as time and circumstances progress, we’d have to create an entirely new Constitution every so many years whilst tossing out the previous ones.

    Does anyone really want to rewrite the Torah for the 21st century and toss the one given by God into the waste bin?

    @Alfredo: You make a good point, but the way I read it is that the Old (Sinai) covenant in the letter (that is, written on an external object such as a tablet or scroll) “kills” because it condemns sin and the wages of sin are death. The spirit of the word, that is, when we’re given a new spirit and the word is written on our hearts, gives life, because once the word is written within us, it becomes natural for us not to sin and being sinless and forgiven for all past sins is life everlasting.

  20. Maybe there isn’t any. On the other hand, there may be more than one way to interpret the concept behind the “letter and spirit of the Law”.

  21. Well, it is very clear to me that if the expression “new covenant” is written besides the expressions “letter”, “Spirit” and “law”, then it must be taken into account when trying to interpret “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”

  22. @Questor: My apologies for the intricate explanation.

    I didn’t see your post (or anyone’s thereafter) before my most recent time [with a number of links] posting [other than this post]; thought I had refreshed, but nothing new was coming up (so I thought the one with the links would follow right after what I had last posted).

    Anywy, no need to apologize in my eyes; I found the detail interesting. On a light note, I have found pure linen and pure cotton to be comfortable and cool in summer, but wrinkling is another consideration. One of my favorite shirts wrinkles quite a bit, but my point of view is Oh well. I can wear long sleeves (very light cotton) outside in summer (to not burn). The addition of stretchy stuff to jeans material, though, sure does improve longevity of fabric.

    On a heavy note, current Jewish application of Torah in some circles provides for ways a woman can get a proper divorce (whereas the Torah only speaks of a man telling a woman to “get” (and how it’s wrong to tell her to get and then hope to create further conflict by wanting to claim her back, such as if she’s “married”/married someone else for however long). It is now understood (but not by all) that a woman shouldn’t have to put up with certain things. In tradition, that ranges from the man being smelly (even if it’s due to his job) to emotional, mental, or physical abuse of her on his part. [All that to say there is a place for divorce; not to excuse blatant disregard of marriage.]

  23. @ Marleen — Just a brief clarification: a “get” is a certificate of divorce that a Jewish man is required to give to the Jewish woman he is divorcing. It is not something he “tells” her, as if it meant to “get” out. But you are correct that in Jewish law divorce is final and remarriage of the same couple is not permissible. There are some modern “pre-nuptial” modifications that may be inserted into the “ketuba” marriage agreement that enable a wife to sue in order to force the husband to agree to issue a “get”, though there is no universal agreement to add such modifications.

    One reason for this has been to protect a woman against an abuse of a loophole in Jewish law whereby the husband or his family extorts a large sum of money from the woman for his agreement to issue the “get” (release). Given a lack of pre-nuptial ketuba modification, this sort of bribery/extortion is the only means available to coax a recalcitrant husband to give a “get”, if he is unwilling to listen to advice from his rabbi to do what the Torah demands in circumstances where reconciliation of the relationship cannot be achieved. I also just read recently of a similar abuse of a widow who needed a “halitza” release from a deceased husband’s brother. If I were in a position to propose halakhic legislation (which I am not), I would propose penalties against anyone who attempted to demand money in exchange for such agreements, equal to the amount demanded plus a penalty amount, which would guarantee that no one could profit by such a scheme and would thereby discourage it from ever occurring.

  24. @alfredo — You might want to consider another perspective on “the letter kills…”, as cited in 2Cor.3:6. Consider Rav Shaul’s reminder to the Ephesians in Eph.2:12, regarding their former exclusion from the commonwealth of Israel as strangers to the covenants, and the fact that a solely literal administration of the new covenant that applies only to Jews would not help gentiles at all, leaving them in spiritual death altogether; whereas a spiritual interpretation of new covenant principles can be applied analogously to gentiles, bringing to them a life that they could not have otherwise.

  25. I’m sorry, James.I don’t check email every day. I now have looked, and I did get your email to me. I won’t do a post that way again. I guess you went ahead and approved of it because I sort of explained in my next post (inadvertently answering your email response I’d not seen).

    Thank you for accepting it. A few of the links had to do with the “lead” comment from Steve Petersen (responded to by both me and PL earlier) and Talmud; the earlier half or so. And the latter half was a quick look at addressing some evaluation of cross-breeding vegetation.

  26. PL said: “The age-old Christian accusation against Jews of “rejecting Israel’s Messiah” is entirely misleading, because many if not all of Rav Yeshua’s insights and criticisms are reflected positively in later Talmudic argumentation.”

    So it’s okay to reject the PERSON of Messiah and deny HIM as long as some of his teachings are being “reflected”?
    Sorry PL. You could not be more wrong. It seems to me that the “Judaism” is being revered more than the “Messianic”.

    As the Lord Jesus Himself said: “…the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

  27. @ProclaimLiberty

    If a widow inheritied her husbands estate, could not getting a halitza from her brother-in-law hinder her from administering the estate?

    Also, does Israeli law permit the forced marriage of a widow to her brother-in-law, presuming he is unmarried?

  28. @PL: I already said “By the way, I’m not saying that commandments don’t have literal meanings as well as underlying spiritual applications. All I’m saying is that in that particular verse, Paul is not writing about that issue, but about the New Covenant.” September 9, 2014 at 5:09 am

    On the other hand, I don’t see how someone who performs the literal meaning of a commandment gets “killed” by that letter… and I don’t see how “a spiritual interpretation of new covenant principles can be applied analogously to gentiles, bringing to them a life that they could not have otherwise” can bring salvation to gentiles as you are mentioning, unless I have misunderstood you, but I’m talking here on Eternal Life.

    So I still don’t agree with that specific interpretation of that particular verse.

  29. @Questor — Israeli law regarding marriages and divorces is administered by rabbinical courts, which do not require forced marriage but do require the ceremonial release from it before they will authorize a marriage to a third party. I have not heard about any effect on inheritance, possibly because property law is not administered by these courts but rather by the civil courts.

    @Alfredo — Nothing about the verse specifies who suffers death when “the letter kills”. It need not be the individual who is limiting himself to literal interpretation; it need not be an individual at all. I offered a perspective in which a literal interpretation in general would result in death to the gentile readership to whom the comment was addressed; whereas a spiritual, analogous interpretation enables life for that readership. This meets the requirements of the verse; but it is a more limited application suited to this singular verse that does not produce any sort of generalized principle to suggest that literal interpretations always “kill” and that spiritual interpretations always produce “life”. It avoids making what might well be considered an all-too-common overgeneralization.

    @Onesimus — My point is that no one holds a monopoly on rejecting Israel’s Messiah. Both Christians and Jews may be accused of doing that, merely in different ways. It is not valid to levy such an accusation solely upon Jews or Judaism. As demonstrated in Acts 21, it was not valid in the first century, because of the large numbers of Jews who did accept Rav Yeshua’s message; and it is also not valid to do so in later periods, including our own era.

    If you want to discuss guilt and accusations, there’s plenty to go around. Humans are all too good at being bad.

  30. I really doubt a forced marriage would be allowed, although permission or blessing or recognition for a marriage to someone else (on behalf of the woman) would be the hang up (and a quasi marriage in a practical sense even if not consummated). The fact that it would matter if the brother-in-law is already married or not shows that the cultural law has been updated for learned understanding.

  31. PL, like a coin changing hands is a token remnant of an earlier custom, a “get” seems to reflect earlier habits. And, besides that, when the decision is completely up to the man (as it is with Orthodox Judaism), it’s pretty much him telling her.

  32. Sorry PL, but where do you leave context? In all the cases that we have been sharing in this blog, context is always mentioned as very important to understand a verse. In this particular case, James, you and according to James, also Lancaster, seem to avoid the expression “new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit” that is written just before “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”. And I’m not even mentioning the previous and next verses that keep mentioning “tablets of stones” and “human hearts” which are the same type of words found in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36… if that is not an specific directive toward those verses in the Tanakh, I don’t know what else to think…

  33. Alfredo, it seems that you’ve missed the essence of what I wrote. I was specifically limiting the context to the administration of the new covenant — precisely the context that you emphasized in citing 2Cor.3:6. If Jer.31 is taken too literally, gentiles never enter the picture and cannot receive the spiritual life that it envisions. Only Jews would get any benefit from this new covenant that inscribes Torah on human hearts rather than merely on stone tablets or on animal-skin scrolls. However, if it is applied analogously, as Rav Shaul did in his ministry, then the spirit of it can benefit gentiles also. Thus the spirit gives life where the letter would have killed (leaving gentiles in their own natural state of death apart from the Messiah). I don’t see why you seem to find that so difficult to understand.

  34. @PL: Ok. Let’s see. I have reread your first comment towards me. In that comment you try to establish a direct link between 2 Cor 3:6 and Eph 2:12. I don’t see that direct link at all. And that is why is difficult for me to understand your point.

    To me, the probable links between those two verses (in an overly simplistic manner since I don’t have too much time at hand at this moment to really dig into it) have to go from Eph 2:12, to Romans 9:23-24, to Romans 11:17, and then we can go to Abraham’s promise to bless gentiles and then, only then, we can get to gentiles being incorporated into 2 Cor 3:6, Jer 31 and Eze 36.

    So to me, it is not about spiritual interpretation on 2 Cor 3:6, because if we go that path, then gentile Christians also have a point about calling themselves “Spiritual Israel”. And this particular circumstance is what makes me be somehow against an alternative perspective. But it seems that this is just me. 🙂

  35. @Alfredo — I was not linking the Corinthians and Ephesians passages. I was citing information stated in each to form a logical construct that describes the plight of gentiles and a means by which it can be addressed. Also, I was not advocating a “spiritual” interpretation of the Corinthians passage, nor suggesting that a “spiritual” interpretation of Jer.31 produces a “spiritual Israel” comprising gentiles. I was saying that a non-literal application of Jer.31 is needed to allow gentiles to obtain benefits analogous to Jewish covenantal ones even though they are not members of this covenant.

  36. @PL: Well It’s great that you clear that up because using “spiritual death” and “spiritual interpretation” might send a wrong idea to readers.

  37. I think there are a few ways marital matters (for regular people) can be interpreted considering both Tanakh and the words of J’shua in the gospel accounts. I don’t want to get into absolutely all of them (and am not sure an “all” is clarified, pretty sure it’s not) [and that’s not to ignore or discount how current Jewish tradition and legal working goes]. But I do want to consider the fact there are comparisons between Israel’s relationship to God and marriage (which is not to say all human relationships must be held to said same prime standard).

    One thing I wonder about is God saying he will divorce Israel, yet he will be Israel’s husband. I don’t think it can be attributed to something like the northern kingdom being cut off. It’s more along the lines of God saying he will take Israel back (which is hard to jive with my belief that He never forsakes Israel). But it’s absolutely not about God leaving true Israel behind and taking the Church [again, in my view, non-existent in Apostolic times; nor gentile believers; nor even only all believers in J’shua in Paul’s day or our day or both and up through now].

  38. PL said: “My point is that no one holds a monopoly on rejecting Israel’s Messiah. Both Christians and Jews may be accused of doing that, merely in different ways. It is not valid to levy such an accusation solely upon Jews or Judaism.”

    PL I did not make any accusation that Jews only have rejected Israel’s Messiah. In my earlier comment I was addressing the issue of following or learning from religious teachers who did not accept Jesus. In the context of your post to which I was responding, this referred to Jewish teachers (post resurrection) who continued to deny Jesus.

    Their exposition of scripture and their religious insights would have NO validity in a Messianic (or Christian) context. The same thing applies to many “Christian” teachers who deny essential foundational truths, such as the resurrection of Jesus and recognition that He was more than merely a “good teacher” proclaiming some worthwhile principles that can be adopted while rejecting who He actually is. Their teaching would also have NO validity.

  39. Onesimus, do you mean Jewish leaders/teachers who were alive at the time of J’shua and met him or witnessed him/heard him? And then were still around (“post”) and rejecting him or standing by the act of crucifying him?

  40. I mean Jewish teachers from any era who reject Him.
    There is hope that they will see Him for who He is – the Messiah – but while they continue to reject Him their teaching can have no spiritual value.
    No more than “Christian” teachings that portray Jesus as a great teacher but deny His resurrection.

  41. What you’re missing, “O”, is another scary, challenging notion that appears in Rav Yeshua’s instruction to his disciples to obey the teaching authority of the Pharisees (Mt.23:2-3) despite the need to avoid their behavioral errors and their failures at times to give priority to the Torah’s highest principles or values. One may extract from this instruction the notion that fallible authorities may still exercise their authority properly, and that they are still to be obeyed in all but a few exceptional matters of behaving even better than they demand. Rav Shaul offered a similar observation about being subject to “higher powers” because “they do not bear the sword in vain” (viz: Rom.13), though that advice may have been a bit more practical than principled or philosophical. The authority of the rabbis is like that of the Pharisees, and it is given by the Torah for the benefit of administering Jewish civilization in accord with the needs and exigencies of each generation. You cannot dismiss its validity as you have done.

    When I invoked the notion that not only Jews have offered rejection, I was not addressing only your own complaint, but rather I wanted to point out that the notion itself was flawed and is not a basis to challenge or dismiss the Jewish authority granted by the Torah.

  42. There are Christians who accept his having resurrected or having been resurrected and many more aspects of what Christians are taught to believe and yet may not believe in who he actually is (said condition which might be rejection in a sense even if they don’t know it). In fact, this has gone one for centuries. It is probably worse to believe Jesus is the resurrected king/priest of God’s kingdom who rejects Jews ( has taken a replacement wife). It’s not sufficient to use the word Christ or Messiah and a doctrinal collection or a creed or even to claim to be charismatic, to be those who qualify in value. Christianity and Judaism are both messed up in some ways and both keep some values alive, and Jewish community keeps Jews existing (which is value in itself). I do think each person should read the Bible and study history themselves and not figure current practice is all there is to truth (same goes for anyone Christian so as not to twist your life around the myriad of conflicting and “authoritative” and pressuring crackpot, ignorant advice more committed to favorite topics than to faith and God’s sovereignty).

    Jesus is the Messiah, but we can’t institute all truth or even all Torah. We can study it and know it and do the best we can. That is not the same thing as saying, Woopsie-daisy, I plan to con my neighbor or have an “affair” or manipulate my daughter or kill my wife or neglect my wife or molest my students. We can’t delineate the tribes and land allotments. We can’t institute a theocracy in Israel. We can’t achieve the Kingdom across the planet or from America (obviously, I’m saying some things you know or that I know you agree with). We await Messiah’s return. Meanwhile, there will be people from many walks of life, including Christian and Jewish, who will inexplicably be able to “get” it, to grasp what faith is, what truth is. A rabbi who teaches Torah but murders his wife is obviously far from understanding faith. I actually know someone who converted to Judaism from Catholicism in a congregation where the rabbi later did this, but she didn’t thus reject her decision. And it’s not like full-fledged Christians or pastors are exempt.

  43. PL said:

    “What you’re missing, “O”, is another scary, challenging notion that appears in Rav Yeshua’s instruction to his disciples to obey the teaching authority of the Pharisees (Mt.23:2-3)

    What you are missing PL is that Jesus also said:

    “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
    When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them”

    Those verses are so often misused by replacement theologians to “support” the idea that the Kingdom of God was taken away from the Jews and given to another people (the “church”); but is clearly addressed to the religious leaders of that day who continued to reject Jesus. Their part in God’s Kingdom was removed and given to others – those who actual produce the FRUIT instead of merely words.

    What you are also missing PL is that it was the APOSTLES doctrine that the early church followed (Acts 2) – NOT the doctrine of the priests and Pharisees. And it was the APOSTLES teachings that are recorded in the scriptures after Jesus’ resurrection, not the teachings of the priests and Pharisees or any other authority who didn’t believe in Jesus.

  44. Not surprisingly, “O”, I beg to differ. The tens of thousands of Torah-zealous Rav-Yeshua messianists cited in Acts 21 were all following Rav Yeshua’s Mt.23:2-3 instruction. The apostles’ teaching was not at odds with that Pharisaic authority (despite that it has been so often misinterpreted as such). Their observation in Acts 15 about the availability of Torah teaching (even for non-Jews) each Shabbat likewise did not offer even the slightest criticism against the Pharisees who were the ones doing such teaching.

    It should be somewhat obvious that anyone who does not give appropriate priority to the weightier matters of Torah in addition to its finest details will also not produce the “fruit” associated with the kingdom of heaven. This is certainly implied by Mt.5:19-20. But one must be careful not to confuse the misbehavior of individual Jewish leaders whom Rav Yeshua was warning about what they would thereby miss or lose or fail to represent, with a broad-brush dismissal of generic Pharisaic authority. There is a great deal of Jewish literature written since the times of the Tenakh, including the apostolic writings. The fact that Christendom preserved the apostolic writings and suppressed other Jewish scriptures (sometimes burning them outright) does not elevate the apostles to sole authority in place of the Pharisaic stream. That’s a sociological artifact of Roman imperialism incorporated into traditional post-Nicene Christian attitudes.

    The bottom line that I’m emphasizing is that Jewish leaders who did not, and who presently do not, “believe in Jesus” can and do properly exercise Torah authority; and Rav Yeshua’s disciples are still bound to obey his explicit instruction to respect and obey that authority, just as well as they recognize the caveats and qualifications he expressed about the behavior of some people who may wield that authority.

    There is a deeper rejection of HaShem’s spiritual principles and desirable heavenly-kingdom attitudes hidden behind the superficial symptom of antagonism toward Rav Yeshua’s messianism. The people who do not enter the kingdom of heaven, or from whom that kingdom is taken away, or who may even mistakenly interfere with others’ attempts to enter into the environment of that kingdom, are the people who hold attitudes that are inimical to the perspective of that kingdom. People who are rejectionist and antagonistic toward the values of Torah thereby prevent themselves from entry into such a kingdom. People who consciously and deliberately view Rav Yeshua negatively likewise adopt such attitudes that prevent their entry. But there are others with more neutral views of Rav Yeshua, whose views of Torah values are much more positive, who are not far from the kingdom (e.g., the fellow Rav Yeshua addressed in Mk.12:34). Many Jews may be found nowadays who are in a very similar condition, and some few may be said to appreciate the salvation of HaShem such that they even already experience His kingdom and produce its fruit despite explicit ignorance of Rav Yeshua. When Messiah shall physically reign, such ambiguity will no longer be possible, but at present there is far too little proper understanding about Rav Yeshua to draw such boundaries.

  45. PL, your response is a vivid example of giving men’s traditions too much authority and placing the “Torah” (in reality man’s added commentaries on Torah) above the One from Whom the Torah came and to Whom it points.

    Jesus said: ““I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

    “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practising evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

    <blockquote….the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s