There is a lot of confusion about tithing among believers today. Are we required to tithe? Does the Torah obligate us to give 10 percent of our incomes? If so, to whom should we be tithing? At First Fruits of Zion, we get these kinds of questions about tithing all the time. It’s one of the frequently asked questions we see most often.
What About Tithing?
I started reading Toby’s book with the idea of writing a review (which I will soon), but for some reason, I found my thoughts distracted by a topic I periodically visit on my blog: the state of those of us who are called Messianic Gentiles and our relationship with Jews who live halachically Jewish lives in the acknowledgement of the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah.
I suppose it has to do with the rather “dynamic” discussion being conducted in the comments section at the Rosh Pina Project blog in their blog post What Makes a Messianic Congregation Messianic in Israel?.
The following quote from one of the comments made by Rabbi Russ Resnik crystallizes the matter at hand:
As a non-Israeli, I won’t comment on the state of Messianic Judaism there. I represent a group of congregations mostly in the USA, but worldwide as well, working to sustain a genuinely Jewish Messianic Judaism. Here’s how we define it: “The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) envisions Messianic Judaism as a movement of Jewish congregations and groups committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, and renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant. Messianic Jewish groups may also include those from non-Jewish backgrounds who have a confirmed call to participate fully in the life and destiny of the Jewish people. We are committed to embodying this definition in our constituent congregations and in our shared institutions.”
Traditionally in the Church, when we receive a Jewish person who has confessed Jesus as Messiah (in “Christianese” as “Lord and Savior”), we tend to retrofit modern Christian theology, doctrine, and practice into their lives. Even under the most benign circumstances when we “allow” the “Jewish Christian” to continue to voluntarily observe some Jewish practices such as lighting the Shabbat candles and celebrating events such as Chanukah and Passover, we really expect them to become full-fledged, card-carrying “Gentile” Christians and assimilate into our culture.
But that’s not what Rabbi Resnik is talking about and certainly not what blog author Simon Ben David is advocating. To the best I can understand their (the Messianic Judaism described by R. Resnik) position, it would seem that they desire to create an environment of Jewish people living a fully developed religious and cultural Jewish lifestyle integrated with the revelation of Yeshua HaMashiach within Judaism. Devotion to Messiah then becomes a fully lived Jewish experience completely consistent with every other aspect of Jewish life, whether one lives in Israel or any other part of the world.
Given the history of Messianic Judaism during the last thirty to forty years, that’s not going to be an easy task. Modern Messianic Judaism emerged from within Evangelical Christianity and it has been difficult to cast off that cloak and to reinvent itself as a wholly experiential Judaism, particularly with all of “Christiandom” and not a few “Hebrew Christians” perceiving Rabbinic Judaism (is there any other kind) to be alien if not antithetical to Christian theology and doctrine.
I’ve argued in support of exclusive Messianic Jewish community in the past and continue to advocate for its necessity, at least for some groups of Jewish people in Messiah, but that’s obviously a controversial subject. Where there are a number of authentically (in my opinion) Messianic synagogues in the U.S. that also admit Gentile members and attendees, this doesn’t really solve the problem of what it is to create an actual Jewish community and environment that is designed to serve Jews and that preserves Jewish people and Judaism within the Messianic context. It has been argued that admitting even a small minority of Gentiles (apart from intermarried couples) “breaks” the Jewishness of the community.
I could say that this dilemma wasn’t one that Paul worried overly much about, although we see in his Epistle to the Romans that he had a terrific time mediating between Jews and Gentiles within the synagogue, at least if my reflection of Romans 9 is any indication.
But if “Judaically-aware” Gentile believers like me want to honor the necessity of exclusive Jewish community for Messianic Jews, what happens to us?
In reading Toby’s book, one of the points he makes is that none of the Torah commandments related to tithing particularly apply to Gentiles and, in reading how the Apostolic Scriptures, including Paul’s letters to the Gentiles, treat the subject, there’s no clear “smoking gun” that directly impresses Torah mitzvot upon Gentile minds and hearts (you’ll have to wait until I write my book review to see how all that finally worked out).
So even in Jewish community within the ekklesia of Messiah, Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles. There are areas where God does treat both groups impartially, specifically in receiving the Holy Spirit, the promise of the resurrection, and a life in the world to come for the faithful, but in the nuts and bolts of day-to-day living, we are sometimes light-years apart.
I know one of the proposed solutions is for Messianic Jews to maintain exclusively Jewish communities and for “Messianic Gentiles” to maintain exclusively Gentile communities, separate but equal, so to speak. The latter Gentile communities are readily available in just about any part of the world. They’re called churches. But “church” is almost a “dirty word” to many Gentiles who align with the Messianic movement and almost certainly with all or almost all non-Jews within what has been called “Hebrew Roots” or “Jewish Roots” which encompasses sub-groups such as “One Law,” “One Torah,” “Two-House,” and “Sacred Name.”
I’ve defended identifying myself as a Messianic Gentile based on how I conceptualize Bible study and particularly how I operationalize the New Covenant, and it’s that “mindset” that largely separates me from the vast majority of Evangelical (and just about any other kind of) Christians in existence past and present. So while it’s technically correct to call me a “Christian,” I actually don’t see key portions of my faith in the same way as the folks I go to Sunday school with.
One of the things I took away from Toby’s book is that the practice of tithing has become adaptive over time, especially after the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 C.E., and yet tithing has continued. Reading the Didache which Toby also cites, shows us how this particular Torah principle was modified and presented in the teachings of the novice Gentiles training to be disciples into the 2nd century and beyond.
In fact, Toby quoted D.T. Lancaster’s “Torah Club: Unrolling the Scroll” (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2007), p. 598, saying:
The early believers were Torah keepers, and they wanted to continue keeping the commandment…
-Janicki, p. 49
Defining what I think Toby meant by identifying Gentiles as “Torah keepers” is outside the scope of this essay, but suffice it to say that the principles of ethical monotheism enshrined in the Torah were adapted on various levels to apply to the legal status of the Gentiles who were operating as equal co-participants in the Jewish religious and communal space of “the Way”.
We aren’t removed from the principles of “the Law,” and Gentile believers were never to be considered “lawless,” but even nearly two-thousand years ago, integration of Gentiles within a Judaism was problematic at best, and the sociological and historic reality is that the relationship ended in a messy divorce.
So are we (Gentile) Christians or Messianic Gentiles or what the heck are we?
As individuals or Gentile groups of believers, I think we end up having to define ourselves by our theology, doctrine, and preferred associations, but in relation to Messianic Judaism it becomes a bigger issue. I know I’ve opened up this can of worms before and closing it again is never easy. But if you go to the Rosh Pina Project blog, read the blog post in question and particularly some of the more emotionally charged comments, you’ll see there’s another side to the coin besides the Gentile side.
I don’t think it’s selfish, and as I mentioned quite recently, I find it quite necessary for both Jews and Gentiles to recognize the distinctions between our roles and identities in Messiah:
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.
Sorry to “butt heads” with Mr. McKee again, but the quote was required to illustrate my point.
I still don’t have an answer to this conundrum because one doesn’t exist yet. Paul never solved this problem. I think he saw it coming and was helpless to stop it, even though his letter to the Romans was an impassioned plea urging Gentile respect and even submissiveness to the Jewish synagogue authorities for the sake of not being a stumbling block for those Jews still struggling with faith.
Twenty centuries ago, Jewish believers were at least a little hesitant to absorb large numbers of non-Jews, particularly those recently coming out of paganism, without having them undergo the proselyte rite, converting to Judaism, and integrating into Jewish community as Jews. The last two-thousand years or so have given world Jewry many good reasons to be leery of Christianity, both in its emphasis in attempting to remove Jews from Judaism and assimilate them into a wholly Gentile lived identity, and in the perception from other Jews that any Jew who associates with Gentile believers has turned against their people, their heritage, and the Torah and have become aliens and Christians.
Messianic Judaism as a movement is a diamond in the rough, a work in progress, certainly a work of art, but the paint is only partially applied to the canvas and the artist is still considering His brushes and His color palette in anticipation of continuing to create His Masterpiece, which I believe will only be finished with the coming (return) of Messiah Ben David.
But if that makes you Messianic Gentiles uncomfortable, remember that Messianic Jews are in no less an uncertain state as the aforementioned guest blog post by Simon Ben David attests. Standing aside and not debating the wisdom of Jews establishing Jewish communities for the Jews in Messiah may be the best thing we can do as non-Jewish believers to serve the work of the Kingdom. Rather than require that Jews abandon their covenant responsibilities to God by abandoning the Torah or inappropriately “shoehorning” our Gentile selves into those Jewish obligations, the path of charity, kindness, compassion and, if you must think of it as such, self-sacrifice for the sake of your Jewish brothers and sisters in the ekklesia, may in the end be the best way we can serve the redemptive plan of God for Israel and ultimately, for the world.
Oh, I’m including one more thing I think is relevant to the topic:
I have a few Jewish friends who wear kippahs and sometimes when I’m hanging out with them I feel out of place. Even though I am not Jewish, would there be any problem with me wearing a kippah, too?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Well, on one hand, the Pope wears a kippah.
But on the other hand, a non-Jew should not wear a kippah, since that might deceive others into thinking that he is Jewish.
In practice, non-Jews will sometimes wear a kippah while attending a Jewish religious function (many world leaders have been photographed at the Western Wall wearing a kippah), but in general a non-Jew should not wear one, due to the confusion it may cause.
However, since the idea of a kippah is to have the head covered as a reminder of God, you could certainly use some other head covering, like a cap, to serve that purpose.