It is appropriate for Gentile disciples of Yeshua to participate in Jewish prayer. After all, the Temple in Jerusalem is to be called “a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). Yeshua did not come to create a separate religion for Gentiles with different prayers.
Chapter 2: Prayer in Jewish Space, p.33
First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer
I mentioned in my previous blog post My Personal Shabbos Project that I was planning an undertaking for two Sabbaths in November (the first is just a week away as you read this) to actually do my best to authentically observe Shabbos. The family will be away, so I’ll have the ability to construct my observance without offending anyone or intruding on “Jewish space” as a goy.
To that end, I mentioned a couple of resources I’d be studying: The Sabbath Table and Aaron Eby’s aforementioned First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer.
I’ve been looking through Eby’s book and in the second chapter, I came across a section called “Gentiles and Jewish Prayer”. The quote at the top of the page is taken from the first paragraph in that section. It sounds very supportive, encouraging, and inclusive. This is the second paragraph:
Nonetheless, there are issues and boundaries that must be considered when a Gentile chooses to participate in Jewish prayer services. In the same way, the “house of prayer for all peoples” had distinct areas through which men, women, Jews, Gentiles, and priests could enter and different ways in which they could participate.
This was certainly true in the time of Herod’s Temple, and I can imagine, relative to Gentiles, it was also true in the time of Solomon:
Also a gentile who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name’s sake — for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm — and will come and pray toward this Temple — may You hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and act accordingly to all that the gentile calls out to You…
–1 Kings 8:41-43 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
The key phrase for me is “and will come and pray toward this Temple…” I don’t have any command of the Hebrew, so I don’t know really what “toward this Temple” is supposed to indicate. Were the gentiles to stand outside the Temple and pray in its direction? King Solomon doesn’t seem to be saying that gentiles anywhere on earth could just face Jerusalem, because he speaks of gentiles traveling to Israel because of God’s great reputation.
Most Christian English language Bibles use the word “toward” although the International Standard Version says “facing,” and both the Jubilee Bible 2000 and the Douay-Rheims Bible say “in this house” and “in this place” respectively. Put together, I get the definite impression that gentiles weren’t expected to enter any part of the Temple’s grounds when Solomon was King. At least in Herod’s Temple, there was a court of the Gentiles.
About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God…
Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments…
–Acts 10:3, 30 (NASB)
Cornelius the centurion was the quintessential God-fearer. Luke says that he was a “devout” man, indicating some level of Torah observance.
-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Cornelius, the God-Fearer of Caesarea,” p.18
Messiah Magazine, Fall 2014 edition
Clearly in the days of the apostles, the God-fearing Roman Cornelius had taken it upon himself to observe some of the mitzvot including the set times of prayer. Luke places the centurion praying at the ninth hour which corresponds to between two to three p.m., a time in both the ancient and modern worlds when devout Jews pray the Minchah or afternoon prayers. Exactly what and how Cornelius was praying we’ll never know, but his devotion to God and to the Jewish people got the attention of an angel and subsequently the apostle Peter.
So I agree that Gentiles were always meant to participate in the prayers, and both in the days of Solomon and Herod, we have indications that, as Eby says, there were distinctions regarding the placement of Gentiles in Jewish space, specifically the Temple.
I find this promising and more than a little daunting, which is why, even though ideally Shabbat observance is done in community, it is better for me to observe Shabbos alone, and particularly outside of Jewish space. Frankly, for me to have any sort of “thumbprint” placed upon my Sabbath practice, it’s just easier to do so in my own home.
Not that my home isn’t “Jewish space” since I live with a Jewish wife and daughter, but one of the requirements of my project is that I be alone so that, among other things, I don’t (metaphorically speaking) stomp all over their Jewish space with my big, fat feet. I have no desire to appear more “observant” than the Jewish people I live with, Heaven forbid. My role is supposed to be to encourage them to be more Torah observant.
It should be noted that until Peter and his party of Jewish companions entered Cornelius’s home, the centurion’s environment was composed exclusively of gentiles, so whatever Jewish observances he employed were not impinging on Jewish space. Of course God-fearing Gentiles regularly attended synagogue, but I can only imagine that they didn’t simply just “mix in” with the Jewish crowd but instead, had specific seating arrangements.
Eby in his book agrees with Lancaster and believes the “text implies that Cornelius prayed in what seemed to be a Jewish way” (p.33). Further, Eby says:
There is a delicate balance when it comes to the relationship of Gentiles to Jewish prayer. If the prayer of Messianic Gentiles is to be identical to Jewish prayer, it implies that these Gentiles have become Jews or that they fit into the same legal category as Jews. This is a type of replacement theology. On the other hand, if Messianic Gentile prayer is to be completely different from Jewish prayer, it denies the concept that it is through Israel that all nations connect with God.
Next, Eby speaks of “Blessings in Vain” and “Misappropriation of Identity,” both of which the Gentile (me) encounters in many of the blessings in a standard siddur, which, as Eby states, is “written from a first-person Jewish perspective.”
Fortunately, though I’m not terribly familiar with it yet, The Sabbath Table is written in such a way that it guides the Jewish and Gentile disciples along slightly different paths in the traditional liturgy, so the Gentile doesn’t have to “think fast on his/her feet,” so to speak, when reaching a part of the prayers where the reader is identified as Israel.
I remember encountering this issue in my “Hebrew Roots” days and I eventually learned to either avoid certain “problematic” areas of the siddur, or to broadly re-interpret them as meaning I supported Israel and her people rather than I was Israel.
Eby also suggests substituting “us” with “your people Israel” as a plea for Israel rather than as a request from Israel.
I know all this is going to rub some people the wrong way, but prior to the apostolic era, it was relatively rare for Gentiles to be in Jewish space and particularly to keep the Shabbat unless they were in the process of converting to Judaism or represented that equally rare phenomena (in those days) of being a Gentile married to a Jew.
Going back much further and into the time of Moses, any Gentile who wished to become attached to Israel and be considered a “resident alien” was actually obligated to a significant number of the mitzvot, including Shabbat observance, with the understanding that they would become permanent members of the community as Gentiles and that their descendents, starting at the third generation (grandchildren), would be absorbed into an Israelite tribe and clan (probably through intermarriage) and be considered Israelites; their ties to their Gentile ancestors obliterated.
But as Gentile disciples of Yeshua, we are not considered gerim as such (since Israel is no longer tribal), nor God-fearing Noahides, since all the nations of the earth are obligated to the basic laws of Noah, but we benefit from the blessings of the New Covenant, the promise of the resurrection, the giving of the Spirit (see Acts 10), and the life in the world to come.
Paul’s vision, his “gospel” included Gentiles in Jewish social and religious space and he staunchly defended his position, even in the face of James and the Apostolic Council (see Acts 15), and while his vision died with him, it has been reborn in modern Messianic Judaism.
Boaz Michael, President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), defines Messianic Judaism in part by saying:
To me, Messianic Judaism is not just a Jewish-flavored version of Christianity. If I was asked to define Messianic Judaism, I would say, “Messianic Judaism is the practice of Judaism coupled with the realization that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the New Testament is true, and the kingdom is at hand.”
“Defining Messianic Judaism”
from the Director’s Letter, p.10
Messiah Journal, issue 117, Fall 2014
Boaz didn’t mention Gentiles in his definition of Messianic Judaism, but on pages 7 and 8, he states:
In many ways, the Messianic movement seems to be stuck in a rut, unable to resolve its most basic identity questions. Like one of those endless Messianic circle-dances, we are continually circling around the same sets of questions: Jewish identity, effective evangelism strategies, the role of tradition, the role of liturgy…and especially the role of Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement. (emph. mine)
I don’t know if the question of the role of the “Messianic Gentile” in Messianic Judaism is a problem in Messianic Judaism or just my own personal issue. I suppose I’m more sensitive to these matters than most because I’m intermarried, and particularly to a non-Messianic Jew. The divide between me being a Christian and her being Jewish is a well-defined line of demarcation.
Which brings me back to observing Shabbat individually and the “problem” of me being a Gentile and the Shabbat prayers being Jewish.
For example, one line in the traditional after-meal blessing offers thanks to God “for the covenant that [he] sealed in our flesh.” It seems problematic for a Messianic Gentile to say this. But should someone who is not Jewish then say “for the covenant that you have written on our hearts?” To do so would imply that Messianic Jews have only a fleshly covenant, whereas the new covenant that is written on hearts belongs only to Messianic Gentiles, God forbid.
As my long-suffering wife would say, “Oy!”
Eby goes on to say that prayers in a Messianic Jewish synagogue should not be homogenized across the Jewish and Gentile population, and I agree, but that also would introduce a certain amount of “clashing” with one group saying one thing and another saying something completely different at the same time.
I can see the attraction of church only because it is homogenized. Everyone is the same, though I feel sorry for the “Christian Hebrews” in attendance since it is my firm belief that they aren’t “cookie cutter identical” to the Gentile Christian congregation in which they are embedded (I also can see the attraction of a homogenized [Jewish] synagogue environment for Messianic Jews and for the same reasons).
I don’t know how Paul did it. I wish he’d left more detailed instructions.
I remember feeling this sense of dissonance the second time I attended the Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship. Although it advertises itself as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations,” within its walls, I experienced a severe case of identity confusion, probably because at that time, I had returned to regular church attendance and didn’t know if I was “fish or fowl”. How could I totally commit to church and still “feel” like a “Messianic Gentile?”
The dissonance damaged my Shavout experience and a few relationships along with it, much to my regret, and ultimately resulted in me bouncing back out of church since in the end, I didn’t have a single thing in common with the people there, at least in terms of theology and doctrine.
But “shoehorning” my way back into Messianic Judaism hasn’t proven particularly easy, either. When I’m just me, studying alone, praying alone (though I haven’t touched my siddur for months now), it’s just me and God and problems of identity and relationship aren’t a problem. God knows who I am and who I am created to be. I don’t know what He’ll think of all my preparations for Shabbat. Maybe He thinks they’re all foolish. I don’t know. If I’m doing this just for me, then I’m doing it in vain. Shabbat only means something if my intent is to honor God.
But dodging through this minefield of a Gentile and Jewish prayer and a Gentile and Jewish Shabbat observance makes me glad I’m doing all this in the privacy of my own home. If I slip or, Heaven forbid, get a little bit to “liberal” with the prayers, the only person who’ll be offended is God, and I’m hoping He’s more forgiving of me than I am of myself.
The Shabbat is supposed to be a delight. So why do I have a feeling of impending dread?
Actually, here’s part of the answer:
Don’t confuse God’s commandments with the traditions of men. Does God actually want such “extra effort” to do things He has never commanded?
Why was Jesus challenged so many times about what He did on the Sabbath? Was it because He was breaking God’s law? Or was it because His actions contravened the traditions men had ADDED to God’s commandments about the Sabbath?
What did Jesus actually mean by “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.
I just find something ludicrous in the fact that a refrigerator light can cause such concern and is that kind of thing REALLY what the Sabbath is about? Would applying duct tape to the switch (or disconnecting the light some other way) be pleasing to God or would leaving the light to shine displease Him ?
This is a recent comment on another blog post and it highlights one side of the argument. The other side is me trying to be sensitive to Jewish requirements as a non-Jew choosing to observe one or two Sabbaths using the only template I have available: a Jewish template. In trying to navigate the competing priorities of human beings, I’m letting them suck the joy out of what should be a joyous occasion. Really guys, I’m going to be alone so how I choose to observe Shabbos should be between me and God.
If I were in someone else’s house or in someone’s synagogue, I’d follow the requirements of my host, but in any real sense, my “host” will be God. Like I said, I’m following Jewish tradition to some degree because it’s the template I have available to me, and frankly, Jews have been observing the Shabbat for untold centuries before there were any Christians. You’d think we goyim would recognize by now that the Jewish people are the experts on Shabbat.
I probably won’t be perfect in my observance or meet everyone’s expectations, Jewish or Christian, but why should this be any different than anything else I’ve done or written about?
16 thoughts on “Messianic Jewish Shabbat Observance and the Gentile”
@James — I’d like to address your observation: “The Shabbat is supposed to be a delight. So why do I have a feeling of impending dread?” It seems to me that dread suggests a fear of being judged negatively (and therefore harmed in some way) due to someone’s unspecified definition of their expectations which differ from yours. I would suggest a bit less worrying and a bit more delight-filled anticipation. If you want a definition of success, I offer one that includes a sense of freedom, relaxation, quiet, peace, joy, and receptiveness. Focusing on the details will certainly inhibit these attitudes. It’s all well and good to prepare as much as is needed in advance, just as one would do for a party or any other celebration. For this purpose, collecting practical “how-to” suggestions for the neophyte is helpful. But remember: once the party starts, the only thing to do is to enjoy it. If this you can do, you will not need to fear disapproval from HaShem.
I realize you would like your limited opportunities to experiment with Shabbat observance to be the best they can be, and not wasted; but this too is in HaShem’s hands, and learning to let go of controlling responsibilities for one day in a week is good exercise for further occasions of trust. You may find in the experience additional insights that may be applied toward future observance. You face an adventure — you are exploring the implications of Isaiah’s vision for non-Jewish Shabbat pursuance and the territory is not well-defined or familiar. Adventures have their ups and downs, and that is to be expected. But the reward is in the learning; the delight is in the journey.
Again, I may be over simplifying my answer, but is not God’s desire really for us to have a heart for and towards Him? If our efforts to worship Him are clouded by feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety, I think we’ve missed the mark.
As a dad, I envision my young child coming to me with breakfast in bed for Father’s Day or a birthday. The toast is burned. There is more butter and jelly on his fingers than on the toast. The orange juice has spilled into the cereal bowl, and the cold coffee tastes like it has more sugar than coffee. Despite all of this, my son beams with pride as he presents me with the fruit of his labor. I smile with every bite and rave about how wonderful the entire meal is. Do I really care that my child has presented me with a terrible breakfast, or do I delight in the fact that he has served me with so much love in his heart?
At this point in my spiritual walk, I feel like I am going to forever be that child. The difference is that I am acutely aware that I’m doing it wrong, but don’t know exactly what doing it right looks like.
@James, be joyful and beam with childlike pride with the presentation of your gift.
When I chose to observe the 9th of Av fast ( and failed) I ended it by praying the Shema FOR Israel. Truly, being a gentile and raised Baptist, I don’t understand the rigidness in praying. However, I will try to learn from it. As for the Sabbath, many years ago my cousin was becoming Seventh Day Adventist and I began searching for understanding regarding the Sabbath. Man is but flesh and he has to have a day of rest. I think if you ignore that you do so at the risk of shortening your earthly life. When it comes to Israel, it is as a sign between them and G-d and has a much greater significance. There are many Sabbaths for Israel, it is not just a day, but also weeks and years. You know and understand this better than I do. As an ambassador for His Kingdom, I will continually pray for Israel to fulfill their destiny as His kingdom of priests, that His Kingdom may come in our day. Shabbat Shalom!
OK, I guess you’re all right. I’m probably overanalyzing my Shabbat preparations and missing the point. Countdown is commencing. Can’t believe it’s barely a week away.
Thought I’d share this as relevant.
Have fun James, and good Sabbath to you!
Thanks Steve, though I won’t be observing Shabbat until next week.
Toward/facing-Hebrew is literally “to.” Facing in the direction of a temple is/was a sign of respect to that god. Synagogues are built so the congregation is facing the general direction of Jerusalem. Daniel prayed towards Jerusalem. Muslims pray facing Mecca…which means when they pray on the Temple Mount, they prostrate themselves with their backsides toward the Temple area, a sign of disrespect (remember that was one of the issues God had with Israel in Ezekiel). When I pray, I face north-east…that’s the direction of Jerusalem for me.
It does not imply outside; whether one is within the compound or 10,000 miles away, it is proper, if one believes in the God of the Temple, to face the Temple in acknowledgement and respect.
I would also like to add, I find you to be in an unnecessary quandary that is NOT found in the majority of Judaism, Gentiles joining them in worship and prayer. Only two groups follow this thinking: the Haredim and a few Messianic groups. Most Jews reject that thinking, even in Israel. Modern Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues welcome interested goyim as long as you’re not there to make trouble.
As a Baptist pastor, I attended a synagogue for several years. It’s a long story, but the short of it is, I worked on a remodeling project at the synagogue, and, due to my curiosity, was invited to attend. I was welcomed with open arms, invited to take Hebrew class, invited to Torah study, which I gladly participated in. I participated in the full Yom Kippur. They rejoiced that I joined them in fasting. They argued over who would have the honor of paying for my family to join them for Pesach. One evening they were one short of a minyon, the Rabbi and the men approached me and asked if I would honor them in the minyon. I still have many dear friends from that time.
I realize every situation is different, but my thoughts are two-fold: this issue of separation of Jew and ger is not predominantly found in the Jewish world…they enjoy having truly interested goyim with them. Neither is this separation of God, as the NT speaks against such in several places. So, my second thought is you are, in my opinion, being much too careful of crossing boundaries that do not exist in mainstream Judaism. Those Messianic communities following such are in the vein of the closed-off Haredim.
And even in Israel the Haredim are near to losing control over such issues. There’s a movement afoot to invite gerim to immigrate. Their are Israeli rabbis who are openly teaching that Torah is for all believers in the God of Israel. So, I wish you shalom, and pray that your test be short.
Shavua Tov, Ed — I don’t know what shuls you attended, but I’m reasonably certain you were not knowingly counted in a minyan at any Orthodox shul (modern or otherwise). Even Conservatives tend to respect that halakhah, though there are liberal shuls among them that might overlook the requirement that a minyan must consist of ten *Jewish* men. That doesn’t preclude attendance by others; it merely defines the minimum requirement — which is NOT an “ultra-orthodox” requirement observed by haredim only. This is a long-standing halakhah that is not under consideration for any sort of challenge or change; and it has nothing to do with immigration or anyone’s desire to modify its current criteria.
There has never existed any issue of separation between Jew and “ger”, but there has always been a rather natural separation of Jews from goyim (gentiles), because synagogues are designed for Jews and gentiles are merely visiting guests rather than members with full standing. Warm and friendly Jewish hospitality should not be mistaken for an invitation to “join the tribe”.
Here is an Israeli Rabbi speaking to your situation:
Parashas Shelach: The Beginnings of Gerim and Jews: http://youtu.be/yPMoyXAcU10
The Sabbath was created by G-d for Himself before He gave it to anyone else as He completed the creation of all things in this universe, and then relaxed, rested from creating things and enjoyed the seventh day admiring His handiwork.
Remember that we are only supposed to rest, as G-d did, and admire His handiwork, going to Him in celebration of who He is, and what He has done for us. It is a feast day, and an appointed time to get together with G-d and enjoy the day with Him.
Simply prepare well ahead of time, and when sunset falls on Erev Saturday relax into being with Abba for a whole day…not just in prayer and praise and study, but simple conversation with Him, and quiet, peaceful companionship. Shabbat is not a command performance before the King of Glory where everything has to be perfect, or you’ll be hauled off to a dungeon, but an intimate, companionable time sitting across the table from Him, and raising your glass to Him while you revel in all that marvellous time set aside…just to rest, and be with Him.
@Ed: I’d have to say that the jury is still out on the role of Gentiles in Solomon’s Temple, only because we don’t see examples of that role in the Bible or in historical record. Thus, while I can see how Gentiles were to face the Temple (and I’m familiar with the practice of facing Jerusalem when praying), I don’t know what else would have been involved except Solomon’s plea that God heed the prayers of the Gentiles.
In general, there are many good reasons for Gentiles to be invited into the synagogue for worship, but none of those reasons apply to my private Shabbos project for the two coming weekends.
@Questor: I’ve been doing some reading and studying and have come to a sort of peace with my approach to the upcoming Sabbaths over the next two weeks. I’ll post a blog about it on Thursday.
@PL: Many years ago when I was attending the local Reform synagogue, the Rabbi at one point seemed to be inviting me to an aliyah to read the Torah. I was surprised and embarrassed and declined, but in retrospect, I’m *really* surprised. I know there were/are a lot of Gentiles in the synagogue and some serve on the board of directors, but I thought there was a hard line drawn where defining a minyan and being called up for an aliyah was considered. To be fair, Gentiles weren’t considered to be able to participate in a minyan, but Jewish women were, which wouldn’t be true in Orthodox shuls.
@ PL, Shavua tov, shalom. I have no problem stating it was a reform temple leaning conservative. It was much more than their being polite, I can assure you.
The thing about the ger is in defining terms. To many, a ger is a convert to Judaism. Rambam is largely responsible for that. Biblically, gerim were those who joined with Israel, but did not necessarily convert. They have been a part of Israel since Sinai. Torah teaches they are to be treated as brothers.
@Ed — Let me try just a little clarification of the term “ger”, which is commonly translated as “sojourner”. In Hebrew, the verb “to dwell” (as in a given location) is “la-gur”. A “ger”, therefore, was someone who chose to dwell among Israelites. The original application of the term was during our nomadic phases, when such an association with a travelling group was entirely voluntary and usually temporary. It was usually done for entirely practical purposes, allowing the out-group sojourner access to better protection from marauders, access to a broader selection of food choices without having to have brought them with one’s own travelling stores, and the opportunity for intra-group trade, labor exchange, and other “commercial” considerations. In modern parlance, and with just a touch of metaphor, we might borrow a political term to call such a one a “fellow traveler” — including its implications of a shared worldview. At the very least, a “ger” would conform himself to the accepted behavior norms of the group in order not to be rejected from continued association or loss of the benefits listed above. The Torah’s stipulations about fair treatment of “gerim” are thus both kindly and practical. They recognized their out-group status and were not excessively demanding of conformity to in-group requirements, hence there were only a few limitations upon them connected with in-group covenantal requirements, and otherwise they were to be treated like in-group members. In rare circumstances, they could even be absorbed into the “tribe” if they wished to accept full covenantal conformity.
In later Jewish contexts, the term “ger” was qualified by one of two adjectives. There was the “ger toshav”, the “sitting sojourner” (or, perhaps, the sojourner “in-situ”), who merely associated with the Jewish people and lived in Jewish territory. In modern metaphorical terms, these would be gentiles operating religiously in “Jewish space”. The other term is “ger tzedek”, the “righteous sojourner”, who is also conforming with full covenantal requirements as a precursor to actually joining the Jewish people. The qualified “ger tzedek” completes his “sojourn” by passing the judgment of a Jewish court convened for the purpose which can deem him to be a new and fully-Jewish creation. These distinctions are in no way contrary to the biblical status of gerim, but they recognize that some rare gerim become absorbed into the Jewish people while most are merely fellow travelers (at best) and are still to be considered foreigners (i.e., “strangers to the covenant”).
I’m not sure which of these categories you had in mind when you suggested to James that there exists some sort of “middle ground”. Gerim have not actually been “a part of Israel since Sinai”; rather say that Jews have never been entirely isolated from the rest of humanity and there have always been gentiles who associated with us for various reasons (ideally for mutual benefit). When scripture refers to treating them as “brothers”, it is essentially insisting that they be treated as fellow human beings and not as some sub-human underclass — which was a common mistreatment for out-group individuals in ancient times (and it is not unknown in cliquish circles even today). However, this sense of the “Brotherhood of Man” does not erase Jewish covenantal distinctiveness nor treat “gerim” as if they were in all ways identical to Jews. So while the term “ger” does describe a relational condition vis-à-vis the Jewish people, I would not consider it a sufficient basis for an “identity”. Its nuances and overtones of temporality weigh against such an application.
@ James, I apologize. I am reasonably assured you are familiar with what I wrote, but not everyone is. So I gave explanation for the benefit of those who may not be familiar.
The reason I wrote concerning the ger, and my experience was that I have been reading of your struggling with your place and where you fit in. You are not alone. Many, if not most, struggle with a crisis of identity…which is what brought you to start your Torah project. I only wanted to let you know there is a middle ground. Again, my apologies.