Indeed, surveys show that actual converts to Judaism are far outnumbered by Americans born outside the faith who consider themselves Jewish despite having never formally converted to Judaism. However, even in the most liberal Jewish communities, there is a dividing line that excludes non-Jews. Practically no synagogues allow non-Jews to be called to the Torah (unless they are accompanying a Jewish spouse at their kid’s bar mitzvah). Jews married to non-Jews are barred from admission to rabbinical school. And, of course, non-Jews can’t marry Jews under Conservative or Orthodox auspices.
Most importantly, you can call yourself whatever you want – friend of, member of, parent of. But unless you formally join, you’re no Jew.
-from the article “10 Questions About Jewish Conversions You Want to Know but are Afraid to Ask”
Don’t worry. I’m not considering converting. However, I saw a link to this article on Facebook and was interested about which ten questions one might be afraid to ask.
In my two most recent “meditations,” Are Christians Idol Worshipers and Doing It Right, the conversations kept returning to what Derek Leman might call “the intersection of Judaism and Christianity, Jesus and Torah, temple and atonement.”
But while many or most traditional Christians don’t see much of an intersection between their faith and Judaism, those of us involved, at some level in Messianic Judaism find it unavoidable. In a comment to Gene on Doing It Right, I said in part:
From my point of view (and I could be wrong, of course), you have a ready-made world, a Jewish community, to which you belong and in which roles, identity, and expectations are all clearly defined. It would seem to me that all you have to do is step inside of that community, close the door, and never look back.
I, on the other hand, picture myself fighting my way through the Bible tooth and nail, clawing my way through the collision (Derek calls it an intersection) between the Jewish and Christian aspects of my faith, feeling like the inside of a sandwich being squeezed by two opposing slices of bread.
I could make up a story or a series of stories about the Jews and Gentiles who left Messianic Judaism and entered a more mainstream Judaism or entered (re-entered) the Church.
I could say that the dissonance (remember, I’m making all this up) experienced living in-between various elements of Jewish and Christian faith are very “crazy making” and that in order to reduce or even eliminate the inherit discomfort of being identified as “Messianic,” these individuals chose to escape into a more internally consistent or at least more readily acceptable religious identity.
I’ve heard stories of more than a few non-Jews in Messianic Judaism who (in my opinion) became confused about what to prioritize in a life of faith and mistook function for devotion by converting to Orthodox Judaism. It’s not being Jewish that makes one acceptable to God, since even the Orthodox readily admit that Gentile conversion isn’t the only way, or even the primary way, a Goy may merit life in the world to come and be considered righteous. It’s living a life that is Holy to God by transforming our lives from being focused on ourselves to being focused on service to others and service to God (think Matthew 22:36-40).
Of course, that’s not the only path leading out of Messianic Judaism. For Jews, there’s going to/returning to a more normative Judaism such as Orthodox Judaism, and for the Gentile, there’s going to/returning to normative Christianity. Those groups disagree with each other, but the world generally accepts them as valid religious expressions.
But the world, including the religious world, doesn’t always know what to do with Messianic Judaism. While many of the Jewish people within the movement strive greatly to live authentically Jewish lives, in some cases, indistinguishable from Jews in Reform, Conservative, and even Orthodox Judaism, the really big question (and I’ve brought this up before) is what to do with all the Goyim in Messianic Jewish community space.
Actually, there are two other escape paths, particularly for the Gentile, I haven’t mentioned. Leaving the world of faith entirely and becoming an atheist, and continuing to adhere to faith but leaving all forms of religious community and considering all such community as non-sustainable.
I rarely quote from Christian articles and blogs, but the other day, I did find something written by A.W. Tozer called The Saint Must Walk Alone.
The idea, based on a number of Biblical precedences, is that the person of faith by definition is isolated from the larger culture. Tozer cited a number of the Prophets including Noah, Abraham, and Moses, but while it’s true that, in the end, Noah only had his family as his form of community, and Abraham had to gather people around him in order to construct community, Moses, though effectively isolated from the community of God for the first forty years of his life, found a ready-made body of millions of Israelites once God commanded him to rescue His people Israel.
In the Apostolic Scriptures. Jesus (Yeshua) called apostles and disciples to himself, and after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the apostles and disciples, made many more disciples, both Jewish and Gentile, across the latter part of the First Century CE and beyond.
I’ve said before that people gravitate to groups made up of “their own kind”, that is, others who are like themselves. That’s why in older cities in our nation, you have neighborhoods defined by nationality and ethnicity. Visit New York, Chicago, or San Francisco to see what I mean.
And I believe the same is true of religious people. We all want to hang out with people like us, so we don’t get thrown too many theological curve balls. The secular world is a hard place to live in, so it’s comforting to know you have a place to retreat once in a while where you can truly be yourself and be understood without being judged or maligned (ironically, sort of like being a recovering alcoholic at an AA meeting).
The pain of loneliness arises from the constitution of our nature. God made us for each other. The desire for human companionship is completely natural and right. The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share inner experiences, he is forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way.
Of course, Tozer’s “Saint” is only lonely away from the authentic community of the Church, and while he says that there may be few who have great devotion to Christ in the body of believers, he hasn’t taken into consideration the fact that there could be “Saints” who have no access to fellowship, and any such like-minded communities nearby could be too internally conflicted and even unstable to be viable options.
Ultimately, the person of faith may be isolated and alone not only from society but from other religious people, even those who fundamentally conceptualize their theology in similar way.
The problem for many of these “Messianic Gentiles,” is not that they/we are attracted to God, but we’re attracted to a particular exegetical system that allows us to read the entire Bible (Tanakh and Apostolic Scriptures) as a unified Jewish document that upholds the primacy of national Israel and the Gospel message as one of national and even worldwide redemption rather than a truncated plan addressing salvation on an individual-by-individual basis.
By definition, we find Judaism more attractive than Christianity (I speak of institutions, traditions, and lifestyles here). However, as the VirtualJerusalem.com article I quoted from states, “you can call yourself whatever you want – friend of, member of, parent of. But unless you formally join, you’re no Jew.”
Not that I would try to be, but many others like me can’t separate their identities from Jewish (quasi-Jewish really) identities. In the end, we either find others who accept us as we are in religious community, we change our identity by conversion to find acceptance, we retreat into the Church (abandoning Messianic theology) to find acceptance, or we just retreat and call an end to seeking acceptance and community. In the latter case, acceptance comes from secular community. We’ve thrown our net very wide and through the wide gate, everyone can travel together.
The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful “adjustment” to unregenerate society they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest. The world recognizes them and accepts them for what they are. And this is the saddest thing that can be said about them. They are not lonely, but neither are they saints.
Earlier in his article, Tozer admits that those Christians who say they are never alone because Jesus is always with them, echo a rather hollow message. Remember, he also said man was made for community, and the people of God are made for community with their fellows.
But in the end, all we really have is God. No religious community is perfect, and some of them are downright toxic. There are who knows how many wounded souls who have sought fellowship, but once burned are thereafter “twice shy.”
I’ve been pleased with how discussions have gone on in my two previous blog posts, especially given the rather controversial nature of the topics at hand. After all is said and done, we “odd balls,” many of whom are like me and simply are not made to be in community, or who otherwise have no acceptable peer group at hand, in addition to God, have the Internet. This is the only place we can find each other, through our communication is merely so much binary and electrical chatter across fiber, copper, and wifi.
Since I’ve pulled back from writing so much, I can feel my intellectual and emotional attachment to the “Messianic blogosphere” wane correspondingly. I don’t scour the web looking at other blogs the way I used to. I don’t view each article and quote at Aish.com or Chabad.org as inspiration for yet another “morning meditation.” I no longer even peek out of my home office on Friday evenings to see if my wife is about to light the Shabbos candles. They either are lit or not as she wills.
Right now (Sunday afternoon), she’s at the Chabad helping to prepare for the upcoming Purim celebration. I couldn’t be more pleased. That’s where she belongs, in Jewish community because that’s who she is. Given the enormous barriers she’s had to cross, I’m glad she’s found her way home. Her experience has taught me that my having community doesn’t seem to be part of the reason I exist. If my marriage to a Jewish woman has previously inhibited her from a Jewish life, maybe our union also helps to reveal my purpose in supporting and encouraging her pursuit of that Jewish life.
I believe for the Messianic Gentile, that’s why we are here, not to promote ourselves but to support Jews, both in Messiah and otherwise, to return to devotion to Torah, devotion to Jewish community, and devotion to Hashem.
As a “Messianic Gentile,” if that’s who I am and why I’m here, it’s enough.