shabbat candles

How Can Any Gentile Survive Without the Sabbath?

Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: The appointed times of Hashem, that you are to designate as holy convocations; these are My appointed times.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:2

The Sabbath is a special, Divine gift, given to us so we elevate ourselves above the physicality of the days of the workweek. Indeed, the fact that it comes every week is part of its special nature: Who among us has not wondered how the non-Jews can survive without the Sabbath! We must strive to treat the Sabbath with the same delight and anticipation that we do any of the festivals. (emph. mine)

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.140
Tuesday’s commentary for Parashas Emor
A Daily Dose of Torah

That is the $64,000 question, isn’t it. There certainly isn’t one, straightforward reply. The author of the above quoted mussar proposes the question but not the answer. Apparently, there is no Rabbinic response to God’s provision for the Goyim (or lack thereof) relative to Shabbat or any sort of occasion whereby a non-Jew can elevate him or herself and draw nearer to God. Perhaps it’s one of the many reasons why the ancient Gentile disciples of Messiah divorced themselves from the Jewish communities originally created by Paul and founded their (our) own Gentile-based religion called “Christianity”.

Actually, the “Mussar Thought for the Day” does have a response to Gentiles and the Sabbath:

A non-Jew is forbidden to observe the Sabbath; the Torah describes the Sabbath as: “…between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever (Shemos 31:17).”

-ibid, p.141

The Church solved this problem by creating their own weekly Holy Day on Sunday, and until relatively recently in history, treated Sunday in a manner similar to how Jews observe a Saturday Sabbath.

However, the past 50 years or so has seen, particularly in the Western nations, a diluting of Sunday “Sabbath” observance whereby Christians go to church Sunday morning and then go out to lunch just prior to playing a few rounds of golf. The day is only special for the few hours they are in church, and even then, social encounters and conversations can largely be made up of secular material.

I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of Jewish people who only marginally observe a Shabbat or observe it not at all. My daughter goes to work on Saturday and my wife, while she does attend shul in the mornings and into the early afternoon, will resume her regular weekday behaviors upon returning home.

I’m not speaking ill of my spouse, of any other Jew, or for that matter, any Christian. It’s just that how we see the Sabbath and our relation to this day as well as to God is highly variable.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

Is the answer to how a Gentile should, at least in an ideal sense, respond to the Jewish Shabbat to be found in Messianic Judaism? What makes you think that among the various “Messianic Judaisms” currently in existence, there is a unified response?

In his blog post Reading the Bible Realistically, or rather, in the blog post’s comments section, Derek made a few relevant statements when responding to one of his readers:

Your view that God is supremely upset about which day people choose to worship on is very un-Jewish. Shabbat is about rest and is not a prescribed day of worship. This is an error lying at the root of your entire theory. It is also an erroneous view of God, as if one of the great sins has to do with which day of the week people hold worship services on. I strongly encourage you to reexamine your views which come up short in terms of biblical interpretation and which sound a lot more like they are influenced by Ellen G. White than Torah and Gospel.

-from 05/05/2015 at 9:26 am

And…

non-Jews were never commanded to observe Shabbat (Exod 31:13, it is between Israel and God and Romans 10 agrees). And the majority of Christians keep no Sabbath (Sunday is not a Sabbath for most).

-from 05/05/2015 at 9:57 am

As well as…

I do not think any of the Ten Commandments were addressed to non-Jews.

05/05/2015 at 2:56 pm

So although Derek is the Rabbi of a Messianic Jewish congregation which presumably has a significant number of non-Jewish attendees, and also that he has spoken at many Christian churches and similar non-Jewish venues on topics related to Messianic Judaism and its relationship to believing Gentiles, he also seems to hold a point of view quite similar to the Orthodox Jewish authorities. He doesn’t say that Gentiles are forbidden to observe Shabbat, just that, as a Torah commandment, it doesn’t apply to us in the slightest.

Now let’s contrast that with the following:

It is not uncommon to hear people refer to the appointed times as the Jewish festivals. This is true in that God gave His appointed times to the people of Israel. He told the Israelites, “The LORD’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these” (Leviticus 23:2). The Jewish people are the wardens of God’s calendar.

However, God does not refer to them as Jewish festivals. He refers to them as “my appointed times.” They are God’s holy days. Paul asks, “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also” (Romans 3:29). The Bible never offered Gentile Christians any alternative festival days. To say that Gentile believers are not expected to keep God’s appointed times is the same thing as saying that Gentile believers are not supposed to have any holy days or days of worship. Neither the Gospels nor the Epistles grant the Gentile believers their own special festivals.

In the days of the Apostles, both Jewish and Gentile believers observed God’s appointed times together. They met in the synagogues and in the Temple on the Sabbath and festival days to celebrate and observe God’s holy days. When Gentile Christianity left the cradle of Judaism, the Gentile Christians began to neglect the appointed times. The Sabbath day was replaced with Sunday observance. The timing of Passover was changed. The other festivals fell into disuse. Is this what God intended for believers?

-from “The LORD’s Appointed Times”
Commentary on Torah Portion Emor
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

D. Thomas Lancaster
D. Thomas Lancaster

Since this is taken from the Torah Club subdomain of FFOZ, I have to assume it was written (though I could be wrong) by D. Thomas Lancaster, the spiritual leader at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship which touts itself as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations.” Mr. Lancaster is also the primary contributor to FFOZ’s Torah Club content.

I’ve written a fair amount on Gentiles (and particularly me) and their (our/my) relationship with Shabbat, such as in The Shabbat Project for the Gentiles, Messianic Jewish Shabbat Observance and the Gentile, My Shabbat that Wasn’t, and The Shabbat that Was.

The last three blog posts were not only part of my review of Aaron Eby’s book/siddur First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer (also an FFOZ publication) which was written by Eby specifically for a non-Jewish Messianic and Christian audience, but my chronicle outlining my own efforts to truly (or as truly as is possible for me) observe Shabbos using Eby’s book as a guide.

I can’t say I did a very good job of it, but part of that has to do with a lack of practice. One properly observes Shabbat by having many months or years (or a lifetime) of practice observing Shabbat, ideally in the company of people who know what they’re doing.

So we have the Orthodox Jewish perspective that Gentiles are actually forbidden from observing the Shabbat accompanied by astonishment in how we Gentiles manage to survive without it.

Then we have Rabbi Leman’s viewpoint that the Shabbat simply isn’t relevant to non-Jews, even those within the Messianic community, and further, that “Shabbat is about rest and is not a prescribed day of worship.”

We also have FFOZ’s opinion that God is not just a God of the Jews but of the nations as well, and that at least Gentiles are allowed to observe the Moadim, presumably including the Shabbat.

The previously quoted FFOZ blog post ends with:

It is true that the Apostles never commanded the Gentile believers to keep the appointed times, but neither did they tell them not to. They were silent on the matter. In those days, the idea of not keeping the appointed times simply had not occurred to anyone.

pathsPerhaps if there had been no schism between the Jews and Gentiles nearly twenty centuries ago, the issue would be moot. Halachah would have been developed regarding “Messianic Gentile” observance of Shabbat, the Appointed Festivals, and a great many other things we call “Jewish,” and then the halachah would have been refined over the centuries so that today’s expressions of Messianic Judaism would each have their own traditions and practices defined for Gentile members.

But such is not the case.

However, maybe the issue isn’t all that important, at least on a global scale. The churches have their answer to “The Lord’s Day,” and each Messianic community that includes Gentile members or attendees has their official policies regarding non-Jews and Sabbath.

Ultimately, lacking a clear Biblical directive, each of us has to negotiate his or her relationship with God, and each non-Jew has to decide how he or she (or if he or she) should address the puzzling issue of a Shabbat for the Nations.

I wrote quite recently that if it came down to a choice, it’s more important for Jews to observe Shabbos than for Gentiles. In the microcosm of my family, that’s how it works today (however imperfectly).

Of course there are those who want to have their cake and eat it too, but I’m not convinced you can solve knotty problems such as these by saying “the (Torah) rules are all the same for everyone, end of story,” and this narrative can appear a little unusual from time to time (I like comic books too, but this comparison caught me by surprise).

Even setting aside larger, normative Christianity’s opinion on the matter, authorities within Messianic Judaism let alone the wider realm of Jewish thought differ in how or if Shabbat applies to the Gentile, whether a disciple of the Master or not.

I decided to write this “meditation,” even though it may seem that I’m beating a well and truly dead horse, because of the simple statement I quoted at the top of this blog post:

Who among us has not wondered how the non-Jews can survive without the Sabbath!

So, given all of the benefits of Shabbat observance for the Jewish people, how do the rest of us survive?

Each Sabbath refreshes anew the special bond that Hashem has with His people, and affords every Jew the chance to turn away from the weekday world and bask in the radiance of the Shechinah. Thus, every Sabbath is a festival; but rather than commemorating a single event, it serves to strengthen and nurture the connection between the Jews and their Father in Heaven.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.141

Oh, as far as the Shabbat being primarily about rest rather than worship:

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of regarding the Sabbath simply as a day of rest, and to use it only as a chance to catch one’s breath before heading back into the grind of the following week. The folly of this approach, too, is highlighted by the location of the Sabbath among the festivals. Nobody makes the mistake of looking at Pesach or Succos as times of rest! These festivals are clearly identified as times to celebrate the closeness and special care that Hashem has demonstrated toward His people.

-ibid

shabbaton
Aaron Eby

So if we accept Derek’s assertion that Shabbat is not specifically a day of worship, we can also say that, at least in Orthodox Judaism, it’s not primarily just a rest day either. Like the Appointed Festivals, it’s a time of celebration, a day to rejoice in drawing nearer to God, at least for the Jewish people.

But among the varying and madding opinions of the relevant pundits, how do we non-Jews survive without a Sabbath or, like our First Century counterparts, the Gentile disciples Paul made in the diaspora, can we too somehow join Jewish community and simply enjoy the blessings of their Shabbat observance even if, as a matter of covenant, it is not also ours?

I know someone is going to bring up Isaiah 56 as “proof” that everyone everywhere is commanded to keep the Shabbat in the current age, but are we to behave like partisans, freedom fighters representing a (sort of) “King in Exile,” obeying the laws he will establish once he returns as if they are already in effect? Remember, in Messianic Days, King Messiah will not only rule over Israel, but the Gentile countries as well, as we will be vassal nations under the authority and protection of Israel’s Monarch. In those days, the will of the Master will be unequivocal.

Today however, Biblical hermeneutics being what it is, there is room for doubt and multiple conflicting learned opinions, and as I said above, that leaves it up to each of us, our conscience, and our relationship with God, to decide how to navigate the rather murky waters of Gentiles and Shabbat. How can we presume to observe it? How can we survive without it?

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44 thoughts on “How Can Any Gentile Survive Without the Sabbath?”

  1. James:

    Today’s Torah reading is about the mo’adim (festivals, appointed times) and here is some background to my assertion that Sabbath is not about assembling for worship:

    The mo’adim are also called mikra’ei kodesh, which is usually rendered “holy convocations” or “sacred assemblies.” These translations are misleading. The root of mikra’ei is kara, to proclaim or speak out loud. This term could be better rendered “sacred proclamations,” referring perhaps to the practice in the Temple of announcing the onset of Sabbath and festivals with trumpets and ceremony. Not all festivals required assembling (Sabbath did not, for example). Vs. 4 might better be translated, “These are the fixed times of Hashem, the sacred proclamations which you shall proclaim at their fixed times.”

  2. Hi Derek.

    My main point in writing today’s missive is to illustrate that the issue of Gentiles and the Shabbat isn’t settled within Messianic Judaism. Far from it. From a casual observer’s point of view, Messianic Judaism might seem like a single entity, but as you well know, the reality is that there are a number of different, overlapping “Messianic Judaisms,” each with their own viewpoints on, among other things, how/if to integrate Gentiles into the Messianic Jewish community. There’s no one overarching authority making halachah for the Gentiles today as there was in the late Second Temple period (Acts 15, for instance). While there is little disagreement that Jews in Messianic Judaism should, in some sense, observe Shabbat and perform the mitzvot, Gentiles are a wildcard in the deck. We have some idea that Paul advocated for integration of Gentile disciples in Jewish community, but whatever template he used for doing that twenty centuries ago, is no longer available to us, and even if it were, it would likely be anachronistic to make any attempt to apply it to modern Messianic Jewish congregations.

    In the end, as I said in the body of my blog post, each non-Jew must make a decision of conscience as to which of the available “models” (such as FFOZ’s model for Gentile observance of Shabbat) he/she will adhere to.

  3. The Apostles were told by Yeshua to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

    Discipleship means to copy one’s teacher’s ways and teachings. Yeshua kept the Sabbath, and I sincerely doubt that Yeshua ever intended for anyone to not keep Shabbat, Gentiles or not. I feel no need to keep Shabbat as a duty, but as a pleasure, and to honor G-d and Yeshua.

    As for the Orthodox views, why are we paying attention to them and their opinions on how we should worship G-d? Their traditions have kept Judaism alive over many difficult centuries, but since when do Gentiles come under the authority of Orthodox Rabbis? Or Jews that are not Orthodox? Messianic Jews do as they please, being as Orthodox as any Haredi Jew when they choose. Gentiles being told that they may or may not do or not do anything in Scripture by Rabbi’s that don’t acknowledge their relationship with YHVH is ridiculous.

    Gentiles are not commanded to keep the Shabbat by Moses, but neither are they forbidden, and one must always remember how much G-d values remembering the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. I copy Yeshua to the best of my ability, and hope all other Believers will read the Scriptures, and do the same.

  4. It heard the “great commission” statement used to justify a “one law” perspective before, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Yeshua wasn’t teaching his Jewish disciples to be Jewish or the basics of Jewish observance. His central message wasn’t don tzitzit and lay tefillin. It was “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15). Citing Yeshua and then watching how Paul operationalized the “mission” to the Gentiles, we see (in my opinion) that the expectation wasn’t to turn the Gentiles into “Jews without a bris,” but to bring them into Jewish community as social equals and teach them about the coming of the Kingdom of God, the entry of the New Covenant age into our world.

    In those times, the Gentiles in community with the Jewish disciples of the Master would have observed Shabbat to the extent that they could as non-Jews under Roman rule (Jews were exempt from working on Shabbat because the empire recognized Judaism as a formal religion, but Gentiles who were not proselytes, even in the company of Jews, were not absolved of their responsibility to work). They would have eaten what the Jews ate, at least while in the company of Jews, prayed as the Jews prayed, studied as the Jews studied (but at a more elementary level since the Gentiles had not been exposed to Jewish learning in childhood), and to an outside observer, may in some ways have looked Jewish (though they weren’t Jewish, they were just acting “Jewishly”).

    I agree with you when you say that we are not commanded to observe Shabbos but neither, at least from a Messianic perspective, absolutely forbidden. Thus, we have to make a decision as to just what Gentile Shabbat observance looks like and then adhere to that particular pattern of behavior. We don’t have a concrete template to work from, so we’ll have to select one that works for us. Some may select the template represented by Aaron Eby’s book. Other’s may choose alternative practices.

    Why am I quoting Orthodox Jewish sources? Two reasons. The first is that the Jews have been observing Shabbat for the past 2,000 years while (for the most part) Gentile believers have not. I think they have important insights as to Shabbos that we Johnny-come-lately folks can learn from. The second is to illustrate the differences of opinion within Orthodox Judaism/Messianic Judaism regarding Gentile Shabbat observance. The Orthodox represent one end of the scale which states that Gentiles are forbidden to observe Shabbos. On the other end, certain representatives of Messianic Judaism believe that Gentile Shabbat observance is highly desirable and beneficial.

    And even the Orthodox puzzle over how the Gentiles can survive without a Shabbat, thus indicating that Shabbat really is highly desirable and beneficial. However, since they also believe Shabbat is only for Jews, they have no solution to their own question about us.

  5. Interesting post. Just have to note that while gentiles may have been very integrated among Jews in maybe all activities in diaspora, there would have been some things the two didn’t do together when in Jerusalem (particularly with regard to the temple). This wouldn’t be a matter of disagreement between those Jesus-believers in Jerusalem and those not living there. It would be a matter of specific activity. As you know, Paul defended himself against the charge that he was taking gentiles into the temple (whether that was due to eternal law, personal preference, or immediate cultural sensitivities).

  6. @Derek — Let me broaden your Hebrew just a bit: “kara” (present tense “koreh”) can mean a variety of related concepts, depending on context, including proclaim, read, call, call-together (i.e., assemble), and happen. Thus it is *not* misleading in any degree to translate “mikra-im” as “convocations”. These mo’edim are what might be called in the parlance of 1960s America as “happenings”, not merely the subject of proclamations.

  7. The idea of Shabbat comes from eons before Jews were given commandments about it. G-d worked 6 days, and rested on the seventh. Period.

    No worship service, de nada. Just rest. Why is that so difficult for people to get their minds around? If you do a word search on Shabbat, the word most commonly found in the text with it is rest. I don’t think that Gentiles need do any more than this, but Abba wants his Sabbaths remembered, or He wouldn’t have said He ever took one.

    As for One Law, that is only applicable within a community of Jews, which most Gentiles are not in, and then only for fellowship reasons, and to be a part of the community. If a Gentile is within a Jewish environment, a Gentile keeping Shabbat and the Moedim, and keeping the moral and ethical laws would simply make that Gentile righteous in his neighbor’s eyes. In a Gentile community it makes us a little unusual, but no one is playing inquisition these days.

    Either way, one doesn’t have to make a big fuss over it…though I have great fun sounding a shofar at sunset on Fridays, announcing the Sabbath has begun…but I’m in the country, and if I have to listen to the sheep, goats, and donkeys bleating and braying every evening, they can hear my shofar once a week. On the other hand, I don’t light candles or go to a Shul…yet.

    We are responsible only to G-d in regard of the Torah, not to our Local Orthodox Rabbi is what I was saying. In regard to Torah, Gentiles should be minimalists, and simply read the Scriptures for their halacha.

  8. Interesting post, James..

    I don’t think there will be an unified response among the Jewish or the Gentiles about the Gentiles and their ties with the sabbath. I mean, when was the time that our hashfakwa was unified? In a large frame, we may have, however, in halakha-wise, we may never ever will be…
    If there were, we would never be free, would we? So, basically it is as what you have said. Our own preference for the sabbath.

    If I may digress to a different topic, I think the mainstream church is faring well in many ways and would be better off if it do away with the anti-semitism and replacement theology and maybe perhaps think about bridging its way to Messianic Judaism in a very careful and gradual manner. Moreover, identifying and resolving the pitfalls within the two should be complemented as well.

    Oh yeah, James, I would like to pose an interesting question (well, at least from my point of view). Speaking of authority for giving halacha, which congregation or confederation or any assembly or any entity, would be the perfect fit for giving halacha, if this would is necessary? I am not saying there should be a single entity or a person, but I am just curious.

    I notice your everyday missive is really unique as you have a Jewish wife and kids. So much too to think about as you must weigh yours and the Jewish side. Thank you for another interesting topic.

  9. The odd observation, “Q”, is that none of the ancient societies other than the Jews seemed to have “gotten the memo”, during those initial couple of millennia, about resting or stopping on the seventh day (certainly not with any consistency, though some did institute rest days every so often). It is HaShem’s gift of Torah to the Jewish people, which highlights that notion and traces a basis for it back to the creation “eons before”, that is the substance for the Jewish claim that the Shabbat was not given to the nations in general but only to the Jews. Other ancient societies considered it rather an oddity about the Jews. The issue of worship among Jews, of course, was not limited to that day, but only incorporated special features to distinguish and honor that day above others.

    The matter of recourse to orthodox authorities for halakhic interpretation arises, for Rav-Yeshua disciples, from his observations and instructions to his original Jewish ones in Mt.23:2-3. Modern gentile would-be disciples cannot merely “read the scriptures” minimalistically, apart from their historical Jewish background and their post-Pharisaic interpretation, to obtain or develop halakhah suitable to their modern situation. It ain’t quite that simple; and such practices are part of how modern Christians inherited many of the errors that afflict them.

  10. We also have to ask ourselves what constitutes “rest” from God’s perspective. We aren’t really given a lot of specifics in the matter, at least not from the perspective of a non-temple existing, non-agrarian society.We can deduce from the NT that observing the Sabbath day included cessation of ones normal occupation (unless on duty as a priest or Levite) as well as synagogue attendance (which would certainly include corporate worship). Beyond this however there is not much that we can deduce. Personally I think it’s a mistake to think that we can know and implement with certainty what Sabbath observance/praxis should look like.

  11. This is why, Merrill, one needs a working knowledge of Hebrew to understand what the Torah reveals to us about HaShem’s covenantal stipulations on the subject, as well as an appreciation for how the Jewish people as a whole have continued to observe these stipulations throughout three-and-a-half millennia so far. Even the sketchy picture provided in the apostolic writings merely confirms what is known already about Shabbat observance by Jews in that era and subsequently. If those who wish to be Rav Yeshua’s obedient and dedicated disciples would cease to denigrate Jewish praxis as it has been maintained and accommodated to conditions across the generations, there would be no difficulty whatsoever about how to “know and implement with certainty what Sabbath observance/praxis should look like”.

    Synagogue attendance on Shabbat is a red herring that distracts from the definitions of Shabbat mitzvah observance, because synagogue attendance and common traditional prayers are an everyday occurrence in Judaism, just as was Temple praxis. More important is to learn to “lishbot mimlakhah” (cease and desist from certain types of activity). The Pharisees and their successors of ‘Hazal spent a great deal of effort to define and elaborate what types of activity HaShem commanded Jews to refrain from performing on Shabbat. Since these were stipulated in Torah in connection with the ensuring that construction of the Mishkan stopped to honor the Shabbat, the rabbis summarized them in terms of forty categories from which subsequent comparisons could be (and have been) drawn. Even nowadays, as various technologies are applied to products that might be used during Shabbat, their use is evaluated by such comparisons.

    Of course, there is still need to work on the issue of how modern gentiles who wish to conform with Isaiah-56 patterns should approach Shabbat praxis to avoid profaning this day and even honoring its application to Jews. James has repeatedly referred to the Didache for guidance in this regard, and FFOZ is trying to compile and publish suitable liturgical materials. I would suggest that further refinement would be worthwhile, but meanwhile there is much improvement needed among gentile disciples in the aggregate even to reach a level that could use existing materials appropriately. Some similar improvement is needed also among MJs likewise to use existing Jewish materials appropriately. Jews have much less excuse not to do so, because these materials and procedures have been well-defined already for us — we do not need “to re-invent the wheel”, nor to invent an alternative to it as do gentile would-be disciples.

  12. @PL: You said: “If those who wish to be Rav Yeshua’s obedient and dedicated disciples would cease to denigrate Jewish praxis as it has been maintained and accommodated to conditions across the generations, there would be no difficulty whatsoever about how to “know and implement with certainty what Sabbath observance/praxis should look like”.”

    No “denigration” going on here, PL. Again, I have never objected to your version (or the Orthodox MJ version) of Jewish praxis….EVER. I just don’t have the same conviction FOR MYSELF. Each man must give an account of himself to God ALONE (not you or any human governng body).

    What I object to is the judgmentalism that the same “accommodating” stipulations for praxis are INCUMBENTon every single Jew. Is it within YOUR perview to judge who’s being a “disobedient” and/or “non dedicated” disciple of Yeshua? Is it within YOUR domain to put yourself in the place of God?! Yikes…I’d be a little more careful if I were you.

  13. @PL. Shalom! I have a question. When trying to understand Torah, I normally use Strong’s Hebrew dictionary, being a practical, handy and easy to use tool. Since you really know Hebrew, I would like to ask you about the word “mikra-im” which, as you mention in your comments, is often translated as “convocations”. In Strong’s dictionary I find the following:

    מִקְרָא
    miqrâ’
    mik-raw’
    From H7121; something called out, that is, a public meeting (the act, the persons, or the place); also a rehearsal: – assembly, calling, convocation, reading.

    This dictionary says that this word also can be translated as a rehearsal.

    Is it correct to understand that HaShem is also telling us that His mo’edim can be considered as rehearsals to be prepared for future events? Just as theatrical actors and actresses rehearsal many times prior to appearing in the theatrical event itself?

  14. Shavua Tov — My dear Merrill, I was not accusing you of participating in any of the “denigration” of traditional Jewish praxis that occurs in the world. I merely offered a definitive answer to your question about how to “know and implement with certainty what Sabbath observance/praxis should look like”. The assertion that a definition for that exists is not an accusation, nor does it change the fact, which you cited, that each individual will be required to give an account to HaShem for his or her personal conduct and beliefs. Nor am I engaging in any “judgementalism” about who is disobedient or not dedicated, nor pointing fingers in any particular direction. I simply point out that those who *do* wish to be accounted in the obedient and dedicated category have a ready-made definition that they can pursue. You’ve already asserted that you have no complaint against those who do so. Those who do not choose to pursue the existing time-honored definition that guarantees being qualified thus, must seek some alternative justification to be accounted thus. I can defend the existing definition reasonably well, from a variety of sources — I do *not* know on what basis one might try to defend any alternatives that someone might propose.

  15. @alfredo — The idea of a mikra as a rehearsal is a bit colloquial, but not inaccurate. All that we are taught in Torah to do is a kind of preparation or rehearsal for the ‘Olam HaBa, and certainly for the restored Jewish kingdom that will be administered by Messiah ben-David. At the very least, the skills and attitudes we learn from following the Torah’s instructions will be put to fullest use in that kingdom.

  16. Shavua Tov PL. Thanks for your comment, which helps me bring out the joy to practice “right here and now” as a rehearsal for the Olam HaBa!

  17. Thank you for clarifying PL.

    As for your statement:
    “…those who *do* wish to be accounted in the obedient and dedicated category have a ready-made definition that they can pursue…[which] guarantees being qualified thus…”

    The implication you give here is that Jewish believers who don’t strictly follow Orthodox praxis (or in your words “ready-made, time honored definitions”) are less than “obedient and dedicated” disicples of Yeshua. This is what I find troubling, even presumptuous.

  18. @Merrill — As I said, those who seek some alternative definition must find some alternative justification for it which I am unable to supply. I’m not judging them as less obedient or dedicated; I simply don’t see how they can demonstrate it. The problem is similar to Yacov’s observation in Jam.2:18 about demonstrating faith by means of actions. He didn’t say that faith couldn’t be demonstrated without any actions — he merely asserted that *he* would do so *by* his actions (in other words by his Torah obedience). Nonetheless, it does seem to me, logically, that those who dismiss existing Jewish definitions of keeping Shabbat really must give a justification for denying many centuries of Jewish authority based on in-depth examination of HaShem’s inspired scriptures, if they wish to be considered something other than disobedient. That’s not presumption; that’s simple straightforward logic.

  19. Here’s the problem for me. First I do agree that observation of the Sabbath is a law that God stipulated for all time, just as He stipulated the Seven Feast Laws for all generations. However, here is the problem for me. As I have said before: we do not live in a theocratic society; we do not have an operational temple, many of us are in diaspora, and we are living in an age very different from that of our ancestors in terms of vocation, technology, communication, etc. etc. So how are we to adapt anachronistic Laws to our current situation? This is the 64K question! I realize that the Orthodox have creatively found ways to “adapt” these Laws, but they are still not carried out in the way that would really be true to the letter of the Law because for the time being there is NO way to carry out the letter of the Law. Therefore, as I have observed, the Orthodox sages have developed one way, the Conservative another, the Reform another, and the MJ’s are probably a mix of all of the above. None however in my mind, as it pertains to ceremonial praxis, can be said to be speaking for God as if they have the monopoly on “correctness”. We simply aren’t living in the Temple era. And as such we just have to make due with what we can in order to maintain our calling specifically as Jews. I don’t see that when it comes to ceremonial/outward issues of praxis one way is necessarily superior to another. These are ALL merely adaptations that have developed as we grapple with trying to live and carry out our calling as Jews in this present age.

    This is why I can’t agree with you that the Orthodox adaptations are necessarily more correct than another adaptations of the Sabbath and other ceremonial Laws. The only way to justify Orthodox interpretation of praxis is to have the interpretation that Matt 23:1-3 is giving carte blanch authority to the sages all time and for all ages. I just don’t see this and therefore I can’t agree with it.

    Can I then justify another way to practice the Sabbath and other ceremonial Laws of Torah such as the Conservative view or even the mix of MJ views? Yes, I can justify just about anything. But does my justification make my way more “right” than another’s? No, unless God Himself has put His stamp of approval on it. And right now, unless I am convinced that the way the sages have adapted Torah is the “right way”, then I am not going to commit myself to it. I will listen and learn, but to tell myself that I will submit to a view I am not 100% convinced about is not going to happen. It is not because I don’t wish to be obedient to God, I DO! But I can’t and won’t commit myself to something that I am ambivalent about.

  20. PS: I also don’t see that James’ observation in Jam.2:18 has anything to do with CEREMONIAL praxis whatsoever. The entire passage is talking about the moral obligation to LOVE others and display actions in keeping with this.

  21. well, now, Merrill — You may just have put your metaphorical finger onto some meaningful points of discussion. One of these is what I would call “the ceremonial fallacy”. Just what do think justifies dividing the Torah into ceremonial and moral segments and treating one differently from the other? It is a common fallacy in traditional Christian thought, because of its efforts to dismiss the Torah and yet retain some justification for holding onto some portions of an “old testament” that seem necessary to support statements in the “new testament”. Such a distinction is not at all supported by Rav Yeshua’s teaching, which is that not the least detail of Torah and Prophets will be invalidated as long as heavens and earth endure and everything in them is to be fulfilled. The only support for it is the Acts 15 halakhah that it is not obligatory for gentiles to observe more than the four Noahide-like principles derived from it, and otherwise to learn from it.

    However, for Jews, the entirety of Torah is to be observed — even when conditions of exile require transformation of some of that observance to symbolical forms and render many aspects moot until that exile ends. The genius of our scholars was to continue applying Torah in all manners possible throughout the exile, which has lasted longer than the period preceding the exile back to the giving of that Torah at Sinai. The rabbinical definitions of Jewish praxis throughout the past 20 centuries must be thus considered more normative than the 15 centuries preceding them, and certainly just as authoritative. The modern attempts to adjust halakhah to 20th-century conditions by the American Conservative movement must, then, be weighed rather lightly in the balance of halakhic determinations, and not treated more authoritatively than prior determinations or subsequent modern orthodox determinations. Hence the locus of Jewish authority for determining how Jews should conduct themselves in matters of Torah observance is still just as Rav Yeshua envisioned it in Mt.23. If 20 centuries of survival despite continual frequent efforts to destroy us doesn’t indicate HaShem’s stamp of approval, I don’t what will convince you.

    Now, I don’t whitewash those 20 centuries any more than the preceding 15. Our prophets had meaningful criticisms to present during a long portion of those 15 centuries, and there are also criticisms inherent in the rabbinic deliberations and other writings of the subsequent 20. What I have identified above as HaShem’s “stamp of approval” does not eliminate the requirement for His people to continue to evaluate their performance and that of their designated Torah interpreters. Similarly, Rav Yeshua’s instructions to his disciples in Mt.23 were qualified by his observations of the errors that Torah authorities had made despite the legitimacy of their authority.

    As the second exile comes to its closure we also see deliberations beginning about how to integrate past halakhah with new conditions in our ancient homeland and the possibility that Temple operations may be restored before long. We cannot do so adequately if we dismiss all that has gone before. We have learned many lessons throughout our history with HaShem, and all of them must be evaluated and integrated into our renewed condition. None of them are a-priori to be deemed “anachronistic”, just as the 3500-year-old Torah itself is not anachronistic but is rather eternal in character. But any document and cultural system which has existed for that long a period must be continually re-integrated into the current culture of each succeeding generation, and studied thoroughly to consider how the conditions which demanded some ancient procedures may be compared with current conditions for which those procedures may need to be adapted or modified or may even be not presently applicable. Jewish scholars of one sort or another have been doing this all along. It is still going on to evaluate how new technologies impact specific issues such as traditional Shabbat observance. There is no such thing as a static rigid “letter of the law”. Such a phrase has never represented a proper approach to Torah; but there is, nonetheless, proper and accepted praxis. And even after acceptable alternatives have been determined, it takes time for them to be adopted throughout an entire culture and integrated with existing well-accepted praxis.

    Notice that I have omitted the Reform movement from this discussion. The reason for this is that this modern movement, from its inception in Germany and throughout its import into America, has not addressed itself to halakhah as a means to preserve Torah observance — rather it has been occupied with an assimilationist survival strategy that jettisoned the Torah’s distinctive demands which define our people and our history, submerging them under the notion that if Jews are not distinctively visible then they are less of a target for anti-Semitic attack. As a result, it has become the home for Jews who do not take up the essence of responsibility for maintaining historic Jewish civilization; and thus they cannot serve as any sort of positive example for your questions of Torah authority or Shabbat praxis. Instead, they reflect the anti-authoritative individualistic pick-and-choose mentality that also afflicted much of the early MJ movement and caused it to be accused of deceptive layering of isolated Jewish trappings onto a variation of evangelical Christianity.

    One last notion I’d like to address is reflected in your statement: “I can justify just about anything.” I would reply: “No, you can’t.” You may rationalize, but not always justify. Justification requires a more absolute basis than does rationalization; and, in this case, that is where traditional Jewish history and literature, and long-standing consistency of cultural praxis, must weigh heavily. It seems to me that your remaining question is to determine just why you feel ambivalent about them. What inhibits you from accepting them? What is the nature of your uncertainty or hesitancy? What unpleasantness do you fear might result from embracing them? I’ll grant that there can be a learning curve while adopting unfamiliar behaviors, but that’s merely a temporary inconvenience. One need not take on many changes all at once, but may integrate them gradually, given that an overall goal has been accepted and embraced. No one is demanding any sort of “instant perfection”, though an expectation of “instant everything” seems to be a characteristic American neurosis. Some things are more difficult to do if your surrounding community is unsupportive or actively resists traditional Jewish praxis. However, in this marvelous age of freely-available internet information, helpful hints can be found for answering questions about how to surmount such obstacles. In saying this, of course, I am reflecting practical attitudes from modern Jewish movements such as Conservative Judaism and ‘Hozer B’Tshuvah. But the process of rebuilding Jewish life must begin somewhere, and modern Zionist experience has demonstrated that a decision to embrace the ideal with practical action is the way forward.

  22. @PL: I have just briefly skimmed your reply. (It’s Mother’s Day and I’ve lots to do today). But here is my initial response. 1) There absolutely is a distinction ceremonial law and social law. There may be some shades of overlap, but there is a distinction. The ceremonial laws revolve around the temple cultus. They are prescriptions/proscriptions for approaching God who dwelled tangibly/physically/literally with the Israelites in the Temple/Tabernacle. God’s Shekineh Presence is nothing to be truffled with and required strict adherance in order to protect those within the vicinity of the Temple Mount as well as the Holy Presence. Social Law has to do with human to human relationships. There is a pretty clear distinction between the two. Beyond the “ceremonial” laws we also have the “sign” laws such as Sabbath and circumcision. These are two relavant laws that exist with or without a functioning temple. (It can be debated what role kashrut/tzit tzit, niddah laws, etc play and whether ot not they are “eternally binding laws” for all time, in every circumstance, with or without a temple, inside the Land as well as in diaspora, etc. Personally I believe these are related to the temple laws in protecting the Divine Presence while the Temple is in place.)
    2) Yes one can defend (not merely “rationalize”) other ways of observing
    The “adaptations” of ceremonial law apart from the Orthodox way. As i said before, they are all “adaptations” to one degree or another. Just because one “adaptation” has been around longer than another “adaptation” does not necessarily make it more “right”.

  23. **2) Yes one can defend (not merely “rationalize”) different ways of observing the “adaptations” of ceremonial law apart from the “Orthodox way”. As I said before, they are ALL “adaptations” to one degree or another. Just because one “adaptation” has been around longer than another “adaptation” does not necessarily make it more “right”.

  24. More thoughts:
    Ceremonial Law has to do with man relating to God (man to God relationship)
    Social law has to do with man relating to (man to man relationship).
    ALl are “moral” laws but for differing purposes and different circumstances.
    Within the “ceremonial” catagory are laws specific to Israel as a whole, specific to Priest and Levite, specific to man and woman, specific to the gentile “sojourner”etc. Notice however that ALL the “specifics” have to do in some measure with the PROTECTION of God’s holy Presence and those within His vicinity!! Key notation: WITHIN THE VICINITY.
    Is anyone today, at present, literally IN THE VICINITY of God’s holy Presence/Shekineh/Glory? Answer: NO. (Believers have a “deposit” of His Spirit living in us…but this is different than the outward dwelling Presence of God on the earth centralized on the Temple Mount) Will there be a time in the future when the Presence returns to the Temple Mount? Answer: YES. It is at that future time when the ceremonial laws will again become operational and binding. Now we are in a sort of limbo period. When the “limbo” ends, the so will all discussion of the matter, because ALL will know (as per fulfillment of Jer 31: 34.

  25. So, Merrill, when the Temple is rebuilt and restored to operation, will you feel more willing to conform to the rules that you perceive as associated with it, in order to avoid trifling with HaShem’s Shchinah (i.e., His Presence)? If so, do you think those rules will differ significantly from the Temple rules and procedures recorded in the Mishnah from the days of the second Temple? The reason for supporting traditional halakhah is not merely that it has been around longer, but that it preserves our ancient ways in the most accurate manner available to us. We will need to be familiar with these ancient ways in order to restore them along with the Temple. It’s true that it will be necessary to re-elaborate the purification rituals reflected in summary form in the laws of niddah, but those who observe them now will be more prepared to do so then. Will those who *refuse* to do so *now* be ready and willing to start from scratch *then*, do you think?

    What do you think will become of later-developed alternative “adaptations” when we restore the ancient forms? Upon what should we model our behavior in the meantime, while we are awaiting the restorations that the Messiah ben-David will establish in the messianic era? If we acknowledge him as our king even in the present as we anticipate what he will bring about, should we not seek to conform as closely as possible to the behaviors that once were established and will be re-established, using as much as possible of the ancient knowledge that has been preserved among our people in its traditional exilic form? The likelihood that any given “adaptation” will have any present or future value should be related to the degree in which it aids Jews in accomplishing the Torah’s goals, whether for present morality or for future redemption and restoration.

    I find it interesting that you cite categories of ceremonial, “social” (rather than “moral”), and “sign” commandments. It seems to me that the sign commandments are also social in character, as they define social boundaries and demographics. Kashrut would seem to straddle these categories, because it also distinguishes Jews from the nations as much as it reflects ritual purity (ceremonial) considerations. Certainly one may categorize Torah in various ways. The ten statements that are frequently identified as “ten commandments” are also ten categories by which the laws and principles of Torah may be categorized and elaborated. They also are often grouped as two categories of five each: one applying to human interactions and the other to those between humans and HaShem. Interestingly, this places the honor of parents and of Shabbat in the same group with honoring HaShem and eschewing idolatry. Nonetheless, categories aside, Rav Yeshua made no such distinctions in Mt.5:18-19, and even the “weightier” and “lesser” aspects of Torah cited in Mt.23 were not considered any justification to ignore even the “lesser” aspects. Tzitzit and tefilin would seem to represent all three of your categories, being a sign, representing a social marker for community prayer interaction, representing a moral reminder of Torah responsibilities, and representing a ritual/ceremonial behavior. Hence we must ask ourselves for what purposes do we intend a given system of categorizing Torah? In what ways might these categories help us to observe its precepts? Do any of the categorizations, that some propose, inhibit our observance of Torah in any manner or in any degree (in which case we would do well to declaim such categorizations)? One thing for certain is that there cannot exist a category of commandments that are not “eternally binding” (per Mt.5:18). They may take on different forms of implementation, or become more symbolic than practical, depending on circumstances, but they are no less binding or valid or representative of Jewish responsibility. Even those that must be suspended temporarily are still eternally binding, because they still must impact our study and understanding of Torah, its principles and its precepts, and they must continue to affect our attitudes and perspective as Jews.

  26. OBTW, Merrill — Happy (American) Mother’s Day! [In Israel, mothers are honored on a different day, 30 Sh’vat, which falls sometime during February.]

  27. Thank you PL! 🙂 I just found out that I’m going to be a grandmother (for the first time)!!

  28. First of all it’s not a matter of being “more or less willing”. I am absolutely “willing” to do whatever God desires of me. But at this point I don’t quite see that adhering to a certain groups “creative adaptations” is going to cut it. When Messiah returns and the Millennial Age begins, I have no doubt the Messiah himself will show us the perfect way to approach the Glory that comes with His Presence. Having “head start” possibly may have some merit, but I’m not convinced of it. I don’t think that the “later-developed alternative adaptations” will have much benefit. Yes, I do think many of the ceremonial laws will be reenacted. Some will not, but many will. If you read through the book of Ezekiel (especially chapters 40-48) you can see that there will be certain changes to the laws of praxis regarding the Temple cultus from those that are given in Torah.)

    The only purpose that I can see for maintaining the “ceremonial” laws at this juncture is that they help to preserve the distinction between Jew and Gentile. I believe that there is a mandate to preserve the distinction. However, I don’t believe that the “Orthodox way” is necessarily any more valid than the “Conservative way” or the “Reform way” or the various ways MJs have sought to do this. The point is that whatever “way” one chooses to take is that the distinction between Jew and gentile remains. Unfortunately up until the present, the only distinguishing characteristic between Jew and gentile is that “Jews don’t believe in Jesus”. MJs need to maintain the distinction apart from this. The lie that Jews can’t and don’t believe in Yeshua needs to be countered WHILE maintaining Jewish identity.

    We also have to remember that God is quite capable of ensuring our identity as a people (and indeed PROMISES to) whether or not we adhere to some particular form of “praxis”. We just have to find our individual part in keeping in step with God as we maintain our identity. Like I said previously, my family for at least the past three generations (on both sides) have maintained Jewish identity, not by following Orthodox praxis. They have maintained it by identifying culturally with the Jewish people in it’s various forms. As long as the identity remains, so does the distinction between Jew and gentile. The “how” of maintaining this identity can be defined in different ways. I’m fine with this.

  29. @Marleen, I agree. The ancient “Messianic Gentiles” would have done some of the “Jewish” behaviors of their Jewish teachers and mentors but they wouldn’t have acted identically in all ways or situations.

    @Questor: I make the differentiation between Jews and Gentiles relative to Shabbat because Shabbat observance was specifically a sign of the Sinai covenant God made with Israel. The rest of us aren’t a party to that covenant. There may be some justification for Gentiles observing a Shabbat in some fashion in acknowledgement that Hashem alone created the universe, but we don’t have the same relationship with Shabbat as does Israel, the Jewish people.

    @Chul Hwang: As far as Messianic Judaism goes, there’s no one overarching authority available to issue binding halachah on all Jews and Gentiles in Messiah the way there was in the late Second Temple period when James and the Jerusalem Council held that authority. I’d have to say that each congregation would have to set their own standards that everyone would have to agree upon, which is why you have differing praxis in the various Messianic communities. For that matter, not all churches and not all synagogues have identical standards, either.

    @Alfredo: You’re welcome.

    I just read a blog post written by Derek Leman which states in part:

    We Messianic Jews and Gentiles have more reason to keep God’s fixed times than anyone. We recognize in the times God has given to the Jewish people the meaning of holiness. Labor is forbidden. We are commanded to be still and know. We sanctify the day.

    This seems to indicate, from his perspective, that he believes Jews and Messianic Gentiles are obligated to observe the moadim, including the weekly Shabbat, which differs from me understanding of something he previously wrote. I’ve commented on his blog asking for clarification and am awaiting his reply.

  30. OK. Derek just replied to my query and clarified that he does not think Gentiles are obligated to observe the moadim including Shabbat. He only meant to say that since some of us are part of a Messianic Jewish community, we can “observe” these events in solidarity with said-communities and larger Israel.

  31. @PL…I forgot to address my post yesterday to you as “@PL”
    (Please see my post dated May 10 at 11:38 pm in response to your post at 2:07 pm.)

  32. Thanks for calling this post to my attention, Merrill, because it seems I did not receive my usual email notification for this addition to the discussion. I have a problem with your reduction of Jewish “ceremonial” praxis to solely a purpose of mere distinction between Jews and non-Jews, particularly when you add to it the observation that your family has maintained some form of Jewish identity for three generations, presumably without it. Further, you dismiss Jewish responsibility even for that much by claiming that it is HaShem Who will maintain our identity despite whatever is our form of praxis (or our lack thereof). By your reasoning, there has been no purpose served by the past two millennia of Jewish dedication to the Torah, including or even especially these “ceremonial” behaviors. If Jews had acted on such reasoning, such behaviors would long ago have ceased to exist; and I will further assert that so would Torah knowledge and the Jewish people. Such deliberate ignorance would be a denial of the covenant with HaShem, and He would have been fully justified to let us disappear altogether except for some tiny remnant that would be necessary to testify to His own faithfulness despite our lack thereof.

    What possible meaning could a phrase like “a faithful remnant” hold, if the Jews constituting it were not faithful to covenantal Torah praxis and the knowledge that such praxis embodies and preserves? This aspect is what your reasoning is missing. There are spiritual lessons that are learned by no other means than by incorporating them into the routines of everyday living. These so-called “ceremonial” behaviors are practical reinforcements of mental and moral disciplines. Meditating upon them to develop meaningful kavanah as they are performed repeatedly is a critical learning mechanism. Moreover, it enables us to reach out to touch the experience of our forebears across many, many, generations. It is the quintessential Jewish experience.

    Of course, if you have not had such experience, and if it has been lost to the generations that you know, then I suppose I can’t provide you with an adequate sense of it. You won’t understand what I’m describing, because it has become utterly foreign to you. It is like trying to describe the awesome overwhelming Presence of HaShem to someone who has never experienced anything like it or its sense of consuming fire and utter self-invalidation and indescribable relief when His countenance is lifted in Mercy…. Pardon my lapse into the mystical, but there is much more potential in so-called orthodox praxis than would appear on its surface, and certainly more than you appear to appreciate.

  33. @James — I do agree there wouldn’t have been “identical” behavior.

    I sort of overstated that (although I didn’t use that word). My point was that no matter how similar things could be in diaspora (behaviors in socializing, learning, etc. — obviously not circumcising and some other things — and I think it could be very integrated) the clear fact that Paul denied taking gentiles into the temple (and we hope most people don’t think Paul was a liar or think it’s okay to follow a liar or trickster) shows there wasn’t disagreement between the leaders like James in Jerusalem and the leaders like Paul among diaspora congregations [outside Jerusalem and beyond, outside Israel].

    And whatever we may *think* or say from day to day, I felt a responsibility to clarity also for what Nanos suggests in his writings. Nanos is not an example (as far as I’ve perceived) of someone who continues the investment in believing there was conflict between the likes of James and Paul; or a posited backward bunch of believers headed by James (in Jerusalem, actually Jacob) and a more enlightened movement (according to Paul, Peter’s personal error notwithstanding); or a posited concerted effort on the part of James to begin a split.

  34. I probably made a mistake there. I don’t mean to say outside Jerusalem but inside Israel is diaspora. Just that outside Jerusalem would have been different from inside Jerusalem. And I’m not sure how things were under Rome throughout Israel at the time in terms of specifics. Obviously not great.

  35. Not to say everything was peachy in Jerusalem either, though. That was also Roman jurisdiction, in the eyes of the world.

  36. @PL: It’s not that I am “dismissing Jewish responsibility”, it’s rather that I don’t agree the paradigm for carrying out this responsibility is limited to the domain of what has developed into Orthodox praxis. I also never said that Orthodox praxis was, is, or has been irrelevant in the maintaining of our identity. I am just saying that I don’t think it is the ONLY way that our identity has been or can be maintained. Certainly Orthodox praxis has been a large contributor of maintaining our continuity (especially as seen from a human standpoint) but behind our continuity is God Himself using human means (of whatever variety) to maintain us as a people group. Probably the biggest contributor to our continuity (even more so than Orthodox praxis) has been the relatively low inter-marriage rate over the centuries. In our current generation we do have much intermarriage. However because the modern state of Israel now exists the concern that our race will be assimilated into oblivion is less much less problematic.

    Also, we need to ask what exactly it is that we, as Jewish individuals, are responsible for. You would say that we are responsible to practice Torah as interpreted by the Orthodox. Many Jewish individuals now and in the past don’t (such as my family on both sides for several generations) did not/do not have the same conviction, yet none-the-less maintained their identity as Jews by forming other ways to adapt Jewish specific customs and pass them down. Yes, customs are important for maintaining us as a people group, especially that there is now a high intermarriage rate. However, again, there are more ways than one to maintain these customs.

    The difference between my view and yours is that I see Jewish customs as necessary only in so far as they are necessary to maintain our IDENTITY as Jews, as a witness to the world that the Jewish people exist (and will continue to exist forever as God has declared). You on the other hand see these customs (specifically Orthodox praxis) as OBLIGATORY to the vow at Sinai. And again, I don’t see this, not because I don’t want to see it or that I don’t think the vow is valid. Rather, as I said before, I don’t see how the vow at Sinai (as pertains to the ceremonial laws) can be truly carried out (AS ORIGINALLY INTENDED) without a functioning temple cultus. All these laws revolved around protecting the Shekineh and those who lived in Israel proper where the Shekineh dwelt. Today we have neither Shekineh, nor the temple in which to protect! So really these laws, until the Millennial Age (the Restoration Ezekiel talks about), are in my mind “not applicable” in terms of either spiritual efficaciousness or obligation at this point in time. It’s like trying to say we are obligated to obey the Torah laws regarding slavery even though slavery is no longer an institution. How can one be “faithful” to laws that pertain to something that DOESN’T CURRENTLY EXIST?

    Having said all this, I DO agree that it is NECESSARY to learn/study Torah for many reasons not the least of which are because Torah forms the root of our nation as a people group, forms the root of our faith in Messiah, and also (as regarding ceremonial law) because the temple cultus will be reinstituted in the Millennial Age.

    As far as what the phrase “faith remnant” means, take a look at Hebrews 11. Notice, that none of the “honorable mentions” in chapter 11 say anything in particular about praxis. In fact most of the honorable mentions in this chapter are pre-Sinai personages.

    Here is the bottom line for me. Human beings are responsible for what God has revealed. I have not been given “revelation” either though Scripture or personal revelation that Orthodox praxis is obligatory or incumbent upon me as a Jew. Until God changes my thinking on this or reveals something to me I have not yet seen or understood, I can’t agree that Orthodox praxis is something I must adhere to. And again, I do not object to those such as yourself who have a different conviction. I just don’t want someone else’s conviction dictating to me what my convictions should or shouldn’t be. Fair enough?

  37. Hi, Merrill — Hebrews 11 is not the only reference to consult regarding a faithful remnant. And quite apart from any sense of obligation to the praxis that preserves the historicity of Jewish civilization as such, there is the experiential spiritual or mystical component. I’m not talking about adherence to orthodoxy per se, nor solely for its own sake, nor solely for the sake of Jewish identity. Just as Rav Yeshua’s essential message was that the kingdom of heaven was immediately accessible, so also the Sh’chinah is not entirely absent to those whose eyes are opened (as Bil’am stated it in Num.24:3&4). I put it to you that the package of traditional Jewish behaviors that you associate with “orthodoxy” creates a spiritual environment that serves as a platform from which to ascend in spirit and in truth, even unto the very Presence. Now, that may sound like an excessively charismatic or mystical sort of nonsense. And I don’t suggest undertaking such ascent lightly, because it can be quite dangerous. Most will never do so nor realize it is possible. But I would never wish to see the ability to do so disappear entirely from the Jewish people because too many of us had devalued the commitment to preserve by means of continual practice the techniques which support it. In Mt.5:19, Rav Yeshua addressed the notion of greatness in the kingdom of heaven, which is dependent upon performing and teaching Torah; and in the subsequent verse he noted the requirement for righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees who were widely-recognized for their diligent pursuit of it (regardless of their notable failures to achieve such lofty goals at all times). For me, the “bottom line” is not a focus on the bare minima of Jewish experience, nor on being least in the kingdom of heaven, but rather on what might be called the “top line” of what it is possible to achieve, and the diligent pursuit of greatness therein.

    Now, if I continue writing in this vein, I’ll probably begin to sound like Don Quixote in the musical “Man of La Mancha” singing “To reach the Impossible Star”. [:)] But, as the poet Robert Browning wrote: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

  38. Begging everyone’s pardon — I don’t know what I was thinking — but that song title was “To Reach the Unreachable Star”. The “impossible” line was about dreaming the impossible dream. But you get the idea.

  39. PL: When Balasm experienced the Presence of God, it was not because of anything he conjured (Numbers 24:1), it was because the Spirit of God came upon him (Numbers 24:2) and OVERRODE what he was trying to do through sorcery ,

    I think we need to be very careful about being excessively concerned with the “mystical”. The adversary is a counterfeit and can subtly lead us into dangerous territory.

    I say this with concern, PL.

  40. @Merrill — My purpose in referring to Bil’am was to highlight that his eyes had been opened. I agree that excessive mysticism is dangerous; but so is its opposite error of ignoring the mystical or numinous consequences of Torah observance. My purpose was, again, to assert that there are depths within that observance, the benefits of which are lost upon those who never explore those depths or who dismiss their applicability to the modern practical world.

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