I know I’m probably opening up a big can of worms here, but I’ve read a couple of things online today (yesterday as you read this) that really have me scratching my head (in puzzlement, not because I have an itch).
The first was from the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish.com. Someone asked:
I get upset when I see different Jewish denominations at odds with each other. Why doesn’t everyone just accept everyone else? Or perhaps is there a way to know which of the denominations is the most correct?
I’ll only quote part of the Rabbi’s answer:
Historically, any Jewish group which denied the basic principles of Jewish tradition – Torah and mitzvah-observance – ultimately ceased to be part of the Jewish people. The Sadducees and the Karites, for instance, refused to accept certain parts of the Oral Law, and soon after broke away completely as part of the Jewish People. The Hellenists, secularists during the Second Temple period, also soon became regarded as no longer “Jewish.” Eventually, these groups vanished completely.
Early Christians were the original “Jews for Jesus.” They accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah, but not the eternal, binding nature of the commandments. Initially, these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan. But the turning point came when Paul, realizing that Jews wouldn’t accept the concept of a dead Messiah, opened up membership to non-Jews. At that point, these “Jews” experienced a total severing of Jewish identity.
My understanding of the early Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) puts me at odds with this Rabbi. The Rabbi pre-supposes that Paul “opened up” membership into the First Century CE Jewish religious stream once called “the Way” to the Gentiles because “Jews wouldn’t accept the concept of a dead Messiah.” Except the record in the Apostolic Scriptures shows that Yeshua (Jesus) commanded his apostles to make disciples of the Gentiles (Matthew 28:19-20), and that he later commanded Paul to be an emissary to the Gentiles (Acts 9). The Biblical record also doesn’t present the issue of a “dead” (resurrected) Messiah as one of the objections some synagogues had to Paul’s message.
In fact, based on the following, a great many Jews initially accepted devotion to Messiah:
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.
You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…
I don’t perceive that Paul switched his emphasis of going first to the Jews with the good news of Messiah and then only to the Gentiles (Romans 1:16), nor that he was encouraging Jews to abandon the Torah (as he was falsely accused of). And yet these seem to be common themes that run through most Jewish objections to Yeshua and particularly to Paul.
I do think the Rabbi is somewhat correct in saying that the large influx of Gentiles into the ancient Messianic movement ultimately resulted in a messy Jewish/Gentile schism that did not remove Jewish identity from Jewish Yeshua believers, but did transform the movement into the new Gentile religion of Christianity (which was done by the early Gentile “church fathers,” not by Paul). Jewish participation in Yeshua-devotion as a Judaism subsequently dwindled and finally was extinguished for many centuries.
But the Aish Rabbi said something else that is interesting if not entirely accurate:
Early Christians were the original “Jews for Jesus.” They accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah, but not the eternal, binding nature of the commandments. Initially, these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan.
My opinion based on scripture is that the early Yeshua-believing Jews very much did accept the Divine revelation of the Torah and the eternal and binding nature of the commandments.
There was no dissonance between Jewish identity and performance of the mitzvot and the revelation of the resurrected Messiah.
(I suppose I should say that yet another typical misconception many Jewish people make is equating the specific organization Jews for Jesus with both the ancient and modern Messianic Jewish communities.)
That was pretty much going to be my point for today’s missive, but then I read an article on the Rosh Pina Project’s blog called Rabbi Telushkin: If Jews believed Messiah has come, they wouldn’t keep Torah. The title alone is baffling and I hope I’m reading this wrong, but I truly don’t understand what’s being said here:
Here at RPP, we very much believe that Messianic Jews are free to observe the Torah, or not to, according to their consciences. There is certainly no obligation to keep Torah.
Some Messianic Jews still keep Torah as a “witness” to other Jews. If we keep Torah, the logic goes, Orthodox Jews will realise that it’s okay to be Jewish and believe in Jesus. When it comes to “witness”, however, we think that continued Messianic Jewish Torah observance has the opposite effect.
It sends a mixed message to the Jewish community. According to Judaism, when Messiah comes the Torah is abolished. Messiah’s followers now keep to a new law, not Torah.
So when Jews see us claiming the Messiah has come, but we should still keep the Torah, we are sending a mixed message. We are saying Messiah has come already, but we’ll act as if nothing has changed by continuing to keep Torah.
According to Judaism, when Messiah comes, there is no more Torah.
In order for Messianic Judaism to act consistently with the values of Judaism, Messianic Jews would have to abandon Torah.
The King Messiah and the Sanhedrin will restore the Sabbatical system and the Jubilee (which involve seven-year counts and a fifty-year count), as well as all other Commandments that we are unable to fulfill today. He will uphold and restore complete performance of the commandments and complete obedience to Hashem and His Torah. He will cause all Jews in the entire world to fulfill the Commandments of the Torah, and to uphold and strengthen the one and only true Judaism. Likewise, he will succeed in getting all the nations of the world, everyone alive, to acknowledge and serve the One True G-d, Hashem. This does not mean that they will convert and become Jews. It means that they will keep the Seven Laws that Hashem commanded the children of Noah.
The King Messiah will be extremely learned in Torah and absolutely observant of all the Commandments as taught and explained in the Oral and Written Torah.
The Messiah will not need to perform any miracles to prove who he is. Nor would the miracles be very significant. The Messiah’s purpose is to bring about the return of the Jews from exile, to restore our united practice of the Commandments of the Torah, to raise our conciousness to a high level of fear and love of Hashem, and to reinstate the Jewish kingdom in the Holy Land of Israel as Hashem originally established it under King David. Those are the Messiah’s essential purposes. Even bringing peace and affluence to the world will be only so that the world will be able to peacefully pursue our purpose of serving Hashem through Torah study and prayer — Jews as Jews, and Gentiles as Gentiles. Performing miracles is not particularly meaningful, since the Messiah will be an obviously righteous man, and the Torah commands us to obey the righteous.
What I’m driving at here is that all the miracles in the universe do not make someone Messiah, if he is not righteous. jesus, who contradicted the Torah, could not have been the Messiah, no matter how many miracles they claim he performed. The real Messiah, when he comes, may or may not perform miracles, but he will certainly not contradict the Torah in any way, shape or form.
-from the article “What the Messiah is Supposed to Do”
Sorry about the really long quote, but I wanted to make sure that I got the point across (and to that end, I bolded the word “Torah” above) that the Jewish understanding of Messiah does not require the removal of Torah observance and in fact, Messiah and Torah are inexorably intertwined. The RPP writer is entitled to their opinion, but I really don’t see that such a viewpoint is sustainable based on the Tanakh, Apostolic Scriptures, or Jewish traditions.
Jews, Messianic or otherwise, are required to observe the mitzvot because the mitzvot are eternal. Even the Master is famously quoted as saying so:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
I say all this in support of Jewish Torah observance, whether Messianic, Orthodox, or otherwise. Messianic Jewish observance of the mitzvot isn’t a “witness,” it is obedience based on covenant obligation. The Jewish view of the New Covenant makes this plain.
I’m forced to disagree with both the Aish Rabbi and the RPP author that Jewish devotion to Yeshua results in loss of Jewish identity and abandoning Jewish covenant responsibilities to Hashem (or making Torah observance optional for Jews). Granted, in the long history of Christianity, the Church has required that Jews surrender their identity when coming to faith in Messiah, but all that has changed. Gentile Christianity no longer is the sole keeper of the Keys to the Kingdom, and Jews now have an avenue by which they can reclaim their own King and their own Kingdom and remain Torah observant Jews.
I realize that I’ve most likely really offended a bunch of people by writing and publishing this and certainly that’s not my intention. I am quite aware that opinions differ widely within Messianic Judaism as to just how “Jewish” Jews in Messiah should be. I suppose some would see me as a radical for my belief that Messianic Jews should remain firmly rooted in Jewish identity, Jewish community, and Jewish devotion to Torah and to keeping and guarding the commandments. Yes, I’m speaking of an ideal state of the movement rather than the fractured reality of today’s Messianic Judaism, but I believe there will come a time when all Jews will be drawn back to the Torah by Messiah.
If anything, and I’ve said this just recently, the job of Gentiles in Messiah is to help facilitate Jewish observance of the mitzvot. A Christianity (or Messianic Judaism) that preaches otherwise denies the New Covenant promises God made to Israel.