Paul writing

Book Review of Paul within Judaism, “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates”

Jews practicing Judaism in the first century observed the rite of circumcision, so it may seem natural enough to conclude that Paul’s arguments depreciating, when not opposing, circumcision undermine the very idea that Paul should be interpreted as a representative of Judaism. But Paul’s position is much more nuanced than the readings on which the interpretive tradition’s conclusions depend; so too is the practice of the right within Judaism.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the beginning of his essay:
“The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates”
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition)

So begins this rather lengthy article of Dr. Nanos’ on why, contrary to what is typically believed within Christianity today, Paul actually was a very good representative of the Judaism of his day, and why, again contrary to Christian tradition, Paul did support ritual circumcision of Jewish boys on the eighth day of life, though this was not required of non-Jewish boys, even among those families who were devoted disciples of Yeshua (Jesus).

Even if I were just to quote those passages in Nanos’ paper I highlighted as significant, this blog post might become almost as long as the original article. I will try to be brief and also to capture the essential points being made in this fourth submission to the “Paul Within Judaism” book (and yes, I realize it’s been quite some time since I’ve offered a review of this material).

Paul within JudaismIn real estate, the predominant credo is “location, location, location.” In Biblical exegesis, it’s “context, context, context”. Our traditional view of Paul relative to Judaism and circumcision (and most other things) tends to disregard that context, that is, the first century Jewish context in which the Apostle wrote, taught, and lived.

According to Nanos, viewed and read within that context, alongside “similarly qualified statements made by other Jews,” Paul always remained properly observant to the Torah of Moses and upheld circumcision of Jewish males as a continued sign of the Abrahamic covenant between the Jewish people and God.

If Paul opposed circumcision, it was specifically regarding the proselyte ritual to convert a non-Jew to Judaism, as was the tradition of his day (and ours).

I should make clear that, as Nanos writes, Paul did not object to non-Jewish practicing Judaism alongside ethnic Jews and converts, or at least he didn’t object to them behaving “Jewishly” within a Jewish social and community context. This did not require these Gentile disciples to become obligated to the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jewish people. Rather, for the sake of social discourse with their Jewish mentors as well as elevating the non-Jews’ spirituality and moral/ethical behavior to the level Hashem expects of those who were created in His Image, they behaved, as I have just said, “Jewishly,” or in a way that an outside observer might believe is “Jewish”.

Nanos slowly builds his arguments (which are too long to cite in detail here) regarding how we can read Paul and how the Apostle uses the term “circumcision,” “circumcised” (for a Jew), and “foreskinned” (for Gentiles including Gentile Yeshua disciples) to show that Paul supported (male) Jewish disciples being circumcised but not so the Gentile believers. Paul only was against circumcising Gentile Yeshua-disciples and fully supported the circumcision only of Jewish Yeshua disciples along with all other Jewish males.

The gospel’s chronometrical claim creates the basis for Paul’s resistance to circumcision of Christ-following non-Jews. He believes that now they must represent those from the other nations turning to the One God of Israel, and thus, that they must not become Israelites…

Nanos turns to a story related by Josephus, the narrative about the circumcision of the non-Jew Izates, King of Adiabene. Rather than attempt to familiarize you with that story from Nanos’s full rendition, you can find a summary of the life and significant experiences of Izates, specifically his familiarity with and eventual conversion to Judaism, at Wikipedia (not the best of sources, but it will get you started…feel free to Google Izates for more).

In short, Izates, who was a contemporary of Paul, encountered a Jewish advisor named Ananias, who familiarized the young King with Judaism, so much so, that even without converting, Izates took on a number of “Jewish” behaviors and, to a casual observer, could have been mistaken for acting “Jewishly” if not being “Jewish”.

Ancient Rabbi teachingAnother advisor, Eleazar, told Izates that it was improper for him to study Torah without converting. Izates greatly desired to convert, but Ananias believed the King’s subjects would not accept the rule of a Jewish King (how ironic, since one day, the whole world will be ruled by a Jewish King, King Messiah).

Even uncircumcised, that is, as a Gentile, Izates (as well as his mother) were practicing a form of Judaism without being Jewish. And while the advice of Eleazar won out and the King did indeed convert, Nanos makes the point that both Paul and Ananias held quite similar points of view, that it was unnecessary for a non-Jew to convert in order to worship “[sebein; literally , ‘honor,’ ‘respect,’ or ‘fear’] God without circumcision…”

Here’s an important point Nanos made:

…Izates had not yet given up his desire to become circumcised: thus Eleazar “urged him [Izates] to accomplish ‘the work’ [or ‘the rite,’ ton ergon].” Eleazar is a Jew from the Galilee, and likely a Pharisee…

Terms such as “the act,” “deed,” or “work” as we find in Paul’s writings on “the works of the law” (see Galatians 3:2 for example) specifically refer to the Apostle’s disapproval of Gentiles undergoing ritual circumcision for the purpose of conversion in order to be justified before God. Again, Paul’s “works of the law” had nothing to do with forbidding Jewish Yeshua-disciples from being circumcised nor was Paul preaching against Torah observance for the Jewish followers of Messiah.

Nanos quotes Josephus (quoting Eleazar) as outright stating that one must be a Jew in order to be obligated to the commandments of the Torah of Moses. In Eleazar’s case, the only way to resolve the conflict of a non-Jew even voluntarily observing some of the mitzvot was for him to “complete the act,” “rite,” “work” of conversion through circumcision.

Ananias, on the other hand, like Paul, saw devotion to God and observing a life of moral and ethical excellence as a Gentile was Izates’ proper response “apart from becoming a Jew, and thus, apart from becoming under Torah on the same terms as a Jew (a distinction that people of his [Itazes] kingdom are represented as grasping…).”

Nanos dovetails off of Josephus to re-engage Paul, stating:

Moreover, this raises interesting comparisons with Paul’s insistence that faith(fullness) for Christ-following non-Jews requires abstaining from becoming Jews through circumcision, while at the same time insisting that they turn away from cults associated with familial and civic gods, which would be expected to apply to themselves in most Jewish groups…

synagogueSo Paul expected that Gentiles as Gentiles behave “Jewishly” but not become Jewish. However behaving “Jewishly” does not mean they became Jews without a bris and were in any manner obligated to the 613 commandments as were/are the Jewish people, either born or converted.


Such unorthodox behavior creates for them [Yeshua-believing Gentiles] an anomalous identity leading to sociopolitical marginalization, both from Jews, who do not share their chronometrical gospel claim to be neither guests nor proselytes but full members alongside of Jews, and, for different reasons, from their non-Jewish families and neighbors. If even those who become proselytes may be regarded with suspicion as atheists and traitors, then likely all the more threatening would be those who remained non-Jews if they simultaneously claimed the right to abstain from honoring their fellow non-Jewish people’s gods and lords.

I suppose a brief explanation of the term “chronometrical gospel” is in order. As I understand it, the term refers to a time-based event in the overarching salvational plan of God for Israel and the nations, whereby with the first advent of Messiah ben Joseph, Gentiles were granted, for the first time in human history, the opportunity to be equal partakers in the blessings of the New Covenant (Jer. 31, Ezek. 36) without becoming Gerim as was required in the time of Moses, and having the third generation of their offspring being accepted as an Israelites (thus partaking in the Sinai covenant), or in first century (and later) times by undergoing the rite of the proselyte and converting to Judaism.

From the life, death, resurrection, and ascension onward, non-Jews were provided a new and better path by which we can swear fealty to God through the faithfulness of the Jewish Messiah King.

We also see from the above-quoted passage, that Yeshua-believing Gentiles were accepted as social equals and sharers of the New Covenant blessings of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection, not only without being required to first convert, but without the identical obligation to perform the Torah mitzvot, an obligation that remains exclusive to born-Jews and proselytes.

Nanos brings up something especially relevant to the role of the “Messianic Gentile” today, the matter of identity ambiguity. Just like our first century counterparts, we modern Gentiles in Messiah, when within (Messianic) Jewish communal space, are not Jews but are also not allied with our former identities as non-believers. We are expected to take the moral high road, so to speak, and particularly in Jewish space, we say Jewish prayers (although our prayers are sometimes adapted due to us not being Israel), attend prayer services with Jews, attend the Torah service with Jews, eat kosher food when we dine with Jews, cover our heads when davening with Jews, and committing many other acts that look pretty “Jewish,” even though we are not Jews.

identityIn many ways, we are neither fish nor fowl, and the question of just what Messianic Gentile behavior actually is supposed to look like is often a matter of spirited debate.

Changing the discourse about Paul by adding a contextual tag to virtually every statement made about his standing on Jewish matters, such as the circumcision of non-Jews, is a good place to begin for those who are attempting to conceptualize Paul within Judaism…

It would be nice if our Bibles contained such “tags” to make Paul appear more within his own context to those of us reading him thousands of years later in a religious, cultural, and conceptual environment definitely outside of his original context.

Sadly, no such Bible exists (to the best of my knowledge), but Nanos does attempt to give us examples:

In the shortest sense, this could consist of no more than adding the phrase “…for Christ-following non-Jews” to statements made about them in order to avoid universalizing the matter under discussion.


…such as, “for non-Christ-following Jews”

And again…

…by adding “for Christ-following non-Jews who are participating in Jewish communal life”

Or even…

“…who practice Judaism according to the teachings of Paul”

Or even better…

policy changes toward these non-Jews, hence… “for Christ-following non-Jews who practice Judaism according to the chronometrical claim of the gospel proclaimed by Paul and the other apostolic leaders of this Judaism.”

messianic judaism for the nationsYou get the idea. What would have been understood as a matter of course by the original readers of Paul’s epistles almost completely eludes lay-person, clergy, and Christian scholar (or most of them) twenty centuries later in our American churches, seminaries, and universities.

Getting back to the role of the ancient Messianic Gentile who was not expected to observe many/most of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, what God did (and does) expect of them (us)…?

…and Paul regarding what signifies faith(fulness) alone for non-Jews is striking…

Or in more detail:

This reasoning parallels Paul’s argument about Abraham’s becoming circumcised as a “sign” of his faithfulness (based upon Gen. 17:11); yet Abraham for Paul illustrates why faith(fulness) for Christ-following non-Jews is shown [specifically] by their [our] not becoming circumcised (Rom. 3:27-4:25; Gal. 3:1-4:7; passim). Paul insists that these non-Jews represent the children promised to Abraham from the other nations before he was circumcised…

…they [we] must remain non-Jews, that is, must not become members of Israel.

That, in a nutshell, so to speak, is the particular path of the ancient and modern Messianic Gentile. The evidence of our faith is to deliberately not become circumcised, that is, to avoid converting to Judaism, within the Messianic community or otherwise, and to fulfill our destiny as the children from the nations called by His Name, thus fulfilling the promise God made to Abraham about his gaining (faithful) children from the nations…that is, us.

By either converting, or unjustly claiming full obligation to the Torah as if we were converts without a bris, we are making a mockery of God’s promise to Abraham, and denying our own role as non-Jews in Messiah, further throwing God’s prophetic word back in His Face (as it were).

In contrast, Paul argues for faith(fulness) alone exclusive of circumcision as the decisive action for the Christ-following non-Jews he addressed, even though it came at the price of marginalization.

In other words, if you’re a Messianic Gentile and you at least sometimes feel marginalized, both in the Messianic Jewish world and in the Church among more traditional Christians (and I know what that feels like), that’s normal.

The Jewish PaulBut Nanos believes Paul was not seeking to bifurcate faith for the Gentile vs. actions/deeds for the Jews. Both Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith(fulness), but what is required by the faithfulness of the Gentiles does not include an identity transformation by becoming Jews and/or Israel. That identity is reserved and the faithful Jews are assigned obligations and duties not incumbent upon the Gentiles in Messiah.

Or as Nanos puts it…

Paul appeals to principle, not expedience. He defines the principle as faith(fulness) according to what is appropriate for them as non-Jews, which can be different in specific ways from that faith(fulness) might consist of for those who are Jews.


Hopefully, I’ve captured the essence of Nanos’ arguments. He tends to approach his core points from numerous different directions, and adding a great deal of detail that sometimes defies my ability to succinctly review him. Nevertheless, there are two major takeaways from this essay as I see it:

  1. Any statements made by Paul that appear to devalue or require the elimination of Torah observance and circumcision by all Yeshua-believers, when read within Paul’s original first century Jewish context, only apply to his non-Jewish audience, the Yeshua-believing non-Jews in the Messianic ekkelsia.
  2. Any statements made by Paul that appear to require full observance of the Torah commandments and circumcision by all Yeshua-believers, when read within Paul’s original first century Jewish context, only apply to his Jewish audience, the Yeshua believing Jews in the Messianic ekkelsia (although they would also apply to Jews who were not Yeshua-believers since all Jews have Jewish identity, being Israel, and obligation to the Torah of Moses at the core of their being Jews).

I’ll continue with my reviews as time allows.

Note: Edited at Portland International Airport using PDX’s free wifi and free electrical power in their business courtesy room.

36 thoughts on “Book Review of Paul within Judaism, “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates””

  1. These are the topics I’m working through lately too. And, the frequent use of a singular “Judaism” when talking about what Jews believed and did 2000 years ago—even by scholars who acknowledge that “Judaism” was not a monolithic “religion” elsewhere—ensures that the waters remain muddy! J Neusner says “Judaisms” is more accurate, other scholars use similar terms.

    Since Jewish belief and practice was so varied in the 2nd temple era, and there was no “religion” as we think of it today, it’s hard to know what Paul is really saying. As the context of that era becomes clearer, scholars seem to be trying on different scenarios regarding Paul, to see what makes all the pieces fit.

    Some challeng the common understanding that 1) all Jewish groups allowed conversion, and 2) that becoming circumcised made one a “Jew”, as opposed to an accepted circumcised gentile with elevated rights and obligations (from non-circumcised Gentiles) but not “Jews.”

    Christine Hayes calls the idea of a gentile “becoming Jewish” legal fiction. Many Jews never accepted gentile conversion because they didn’t believe it was possible to change their identity; Jews are born (descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and circumcised on the eighth day.

    I believe it is Klowans who argues that Paul is one who doesn’t believe it’s possible for a Gentile to “become a Jew”, however he is also aware that some are telling his Gentiles otherwise.

    One reason this is an issue for me, and there are several, has to do with the book of John and how it has been seen/used as antisemitic with remarks about “the Jews”. Several scholars are pointing out that this should be translated as “Judaeans”, not “Jews”. If that is so, then it seems to me we must think more deeply about the idea of calling converts then, and especially now, “Jews”.

    1. We know, at least from the Apostolic Writings, that the Pharisees converted Gentiles. I agree that we don’t know if all of the Judaisms of that day held a similar position. Since Paul identified as a Pharisee once he became a disciple of Yeshua and apostle to the Gentiles, it’s likely he maintained his original views that conversion was possible but wholly unnecessary, since Gentiles could be “grafted in” to the ekklesia through the faithfulness of Messiah. As Nanos points out, the advent of the New Covenant into the world with the first appearance of Messiah gave Gentiles the ability to come alongside Israel in fulfillment of prophesy. We Gentiles are the children of the nations God promised to Abraham before he was circumcised, before Abraham became the first Hebrew and forerunner of the Jewish people.

      The whole issue of circumcising Gentiles relative to the New Covenant as I see it, is that some Jews in Messiah couldn’t see how Gentiles could benefit from the New Covenant blessings because only Judah and Israel (the Jewish people) are named recipients of that Covenant. Paul’s letters go at great lengths in an attempt to explain how we are included, but it’s a difficult concept to grasp, even during Paul’s lifetime. Some Jews through the only way to bring Gentiles in was to make them members of the covenant by making them Jews. Seems to be a very Pharisaic idea. No wonder the Sadducees objected to Paul so much.

      BTW, are you at the Shavuot conference this year?

      While there were dramatic variations between the various Judaisms of the late second Temple era, Rabbi Carl Kinbar believes that they all had a “core Judaism” in common, a very specific set of practices that all Jews shared. Beyond that, the variances began. In the Judaisms of the modern age, we don’t see any sort of core set of practices, so our Judaisms are even more at odds with each other than what Paul experienced.

  2. This is a very thought provoking post!

    “By either converting, or unjustly claiming full obligation to the Torah as if we were converts without a bris, we are making a mockery of God’s promise to Abraham, and denying our own role as non-Jews in Messiah, further throwing God’s prophetic word back in His Face”

    Yes! Thank you! And, AMEN!

    Especially perplexing to me are Gentiles who disassociate from Christianity because they know the Torah has not been annulled, yet neglect seeing that Ezekiel makes it *blessedly* clear that God will reclaim, redeem, and repair HIS Name and reputation—that has been profaned and besmirched by Jews being outside of the land—by bringing them back in to it, and they will eventually repent and He will cleanse them and cause them to diligently keep His Torah.

    We, dear reader—who is a Gentile believer— have a weighty role to play in this eventual and gorgeous *redemption of the world*, i.e., “Life from the dead” (Rom 11: 1-15) !!

    We have been “chosen” to come alongside the Jews and to partner with God Himself in this eventuality.

    We are those called to love them (Matt 25:31-46), provoke them to zealousness (not jealousness) for their God (Rom 11:11) carry them back to their land (Is 49:22), be fortifiers of their their walls (Is 60:10), and show them who their messiah is (Is 11:10, 42:1, 49:6).

    Gentiles—”converts” or not—are simply NOT capable of fulfilling the role of Jews, and Jews are not capable of fulfilling the roles of non-Jews! Just as men who “become” women will never fulfill our role of giving life; the best they can do is to masquerade in another’s identity and deny their own.

    No James, I’m not there not this year.

    1. My dear Ruth (SWJ) — let us not denigrate true Jewish converts who do quite capably fulfill the Jewish role and covenant, not the least of whom was your namesake the Moabitess from whom the Davidic kingdom descended. Now they may not fulfill the roles of Cohen and Levite, at least not unless the Is.66:21 scenario includes HaShem making some special and unprecedented appointments in a time yet to come, but their identity *is* their own (and some rabbinic opinion suggests that they may be reclaiming a heritage and identity lost by a distant ancestor, even if they have no reasonable proof nor basis to suspect as much).

      I do hope that nothing of your reply above was written in frustration over any difficulty in trying to “carry” any of the Jews in your own family “back to the land”, or fortify any walls or provoke any suitable jealousies; nor over any of the places where you’re “not yet there this year” (either at conferences or in Israel). [:)]

      ‘Hag Shavuot Samea’h!

  3. Hi PL,

    Thank you for your response. I assure you that I don’t intend to denigrate anyone, I’m addressing religious constructs and concepts only, as I study and seek to better understand the various issues. 🙂

    First on the list, inconsistencies:

    1) Judaism claims Ruth is a convert. If this were true, I “converted” almost 30 years ago when I chose to accept my husband’s proposal despite the gripping fear of becoming emotionally, spiritually, and legally attached to a Jew. Or, sometime over the past 3 decades of remaining connected to, and seeking the best interests of, my own “Naomi” in spite of constant and emotionally devastating rejection.

    But, funny thing, it doesn’t work like that anymore! Now, according to the same rabbis who will call Ruth a convert/Jew, I’m just garden variety shiksai.e., “abomination”, and my husband is a “bad Jew” for marrying me. Further, no actual marriage even exists between us, according to Orthodox Judaism. No one seems to notice how conveniently inconsistent all of this is.

    2) A Gentile, who has no Jewish blood and isn’t married to a Jew, can convert to the religion called “Judaism” (which makes sense) and supposedly “become a Jew” (which makes no sense. ‘Judaean’?), while a Jew who converts to Catholicism never “becomes Gentile”, even though they may act like one, they never “un-Jew” themselves.


    If one can “become a Jew” then that distinction is no longer what
    God created and hence, no longer special. Mormons insist they are Jews, and you dear PL, are a mere Gentile in their sights. Many others have likewise declared themselves Jews under a number of different “rationales”. Can Jews circumventing God’s definitions make it any more valid?

    E.g., I wonder why it was important for Yeshua to be born of a literal Jew, i.e., descendant of A,I, &J. What would it do to his creds if Mary was a convert? After all, sources love to point out that convert Herod “wasn’t Jewish”.

    All of this seems to rely upon the idea that Jewishness is superior, while non-Jewishness is lowly. The halacha of conversion supports this notion, but I don’t believe scripture does.


    Many Gentiles think God only loves Jews and that they were given an inferior, pointless, and unimportant role. If they properly understood their role, they’d be rolling up their sleeves and getting to work within their own job description, not seeking to fulfill another’s. Perhaps we wouldn’t know of any holocaust.

    It’s equally tragic (imo) for a Jew to dissociate himself from his God-given identity and responsibilities to God as a Jew, as it is for a believing gentile to dissociate himself from his role and responsibilities to God (as mentioned in the earlier post).

    I believe Jews—as defined by God—are a specific group who are dearly loved, vitally important, special, called out, etc. and, having them in my home, I gladly and willingly defer to their needs and requirements, especially since the God I love and worship has knit me together on my mother’s womb and called me out for this very purpose.

    However, a person is either a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or not. And, like gender, it has been defined and assigned by God. Requiring that a gentile pretend they aren’t who God made them to be in order to become “worthy” enough to join the Jewish family is not supported in the Ruth story (she is never called a Jewess, and is always called a Moabitess, even in a book honoring her) the key is that while she was never considered a Jew, her children were, since— true to God’s definition—they were descendants of A,I,&J.

      1. Thanks James,
        I read that post and worry that my issues with this topic conceptually (that admittedly are loaded with 3 decades of pain, frustration, and confusion) are taken to be personal attacks, which they are not. The word “denigrate” has already been used twice in this matter, regarding those who oppose or don’t track with the official version of conversion, and I’m not trying to hurt anyone.

        I remember sitting at the dining room table of a rabbi who was vigorously arguing his religious point with me when he suddenly softened and apologized for being so animated and aggressive/assertive. He said that’s normal to Jews arguing points of Torah. I smiled and said I knew that it was their way, wasn’t al all offended, and am likewise animated and assertive in my “arguing” theological points. I’m reminded that since this can so easily be misunderstood in person, all the more so online.

    1. Warmest greetings, SWJ —

      Somehow, from previous replies, I thought that you were more familiar with the clarifications that I’ll present here in response to your list of issues.

      Ruth is considered a convert in accordance with the standards of her era, which were not as fully developed as those under which Jews operate nowadays. Her conversion is not predicated on her marriages, neither to Mahlon ben-Elimelech, nor to Boaz ben-Salmon. Hence, you did not “convert” 30 years ago, even by Ruth’s outdated standards of 3000 years ago, when you accepted your Jewish husband’s proposal and became “emotionally, spiritually, and legally attached to a Jew”. Ruth’s conversion is reflected in her declaration to Naomi dedicating herself to Naomi’s people and Naomi’s G-d, and acting on that dedication to leave her own people and family entirely.

      Now, Jewish civilization has developed significantly during the past 3000 years, and particularly during the past 2000. In Ruth’s era, Jews were still called Israelites and Hebrews, and only those in the tribe of Judah were “Yehudim”. The term “Jew” would not arise as a general supra-tribal designator until the exile of the people of Israel to Babylon from the territory of the defeated southern kingdom of Judah (along with a remnant of survivors from the formerly decimated northern “kingdom of Israel”). Therefore Ruth was consistently referenced by the name of the place whence she came, thus a “Moabitess”, particularly because her story is entirely couched within a time span during which she was not yet absorbed into the peoplehood of Israel nor into the territorial identity of the land of Israel. It is quite possible that some years later, after having borne children to Boaz and having become a recognized member of the Bethlehemite community, that they stopped calling her “the Moabitess” and called her by some more local designator or by reference to the household of Boaz. We simply don’t know because we have no documentation of her later “sojourn”. The portion of her story that we do have, that identifies her as a Moabitess, is critical to the development of King David’s history and identity, because it specifically challenges a ruling in Torah that prohibits Moabites (at least males) from entering the community of Israel for ten generations (viz.Deut.23:3). Since David was only three generations removed from his “Moabite” great-grandmother, he could have been disqualified as being a valid Jewish king. There is significant rabbinic discussion of this issue (in the midrash Ruth Rabba); and you may also note that final statement at the end of Ruth’s story lists ten generations of Jews from Peretz to David, which would mark out a suitable period subsequent to the ten-generation prohibition.

      There are multiple terms in halakhah for the notion that is called “marriage” in English. Some of them are deemed to be applicable only to marriages between Jews. This is because non-Jews are exempt from certain Jewish responsibilities, and are not capable of fulfilling others. This does not mean that a marriage does not exist, but only that certain characteristics of a Jewish marriage do not exist. One regrettable aspect of such a marriage is that a Jewish man married to a non-Jewish woman cannot produce Jewish children to contribute to the continuation of the Jewish people. Thus the only means to redeem such a situation is if the children convert to Judaism (and it is better if their mother does likewise, in order to ensure their early Jewish training). Halakhic conversion does incorporate the same features of Ruth’s dedication, and similar declarations, though the process is now more thoroughly elaborated and clarified.

      It appears that you fail to understand the nature of Jewish conversion, which is not based on the notion of “joining a religion” (that’s actually a Christian conversion notion). Jewish conversion is a matter of joining a people and their covenant. Native Jews who convert to another religion have denied their responsibilities under that covenant, and they may become cutoff from their people, but they are unable to change the fact that the covenant still applies to them and calls for their return. A gentile convert to Judaism who might similarly later join some other religion merely denies the validity of their conversion, hence the covenant was never really applicable. Thus a convert may be said to face a greater danger than a native Jew, if we view the notion of never having existed at all worse than being cutoff.

      Whatever supercessionistic nonsense Mormons may believe is entirely irrelevant to HaShem’s covenantal definition of the Jewish people whom He chose to be His special possession for a period at least as long as the current heavens and earth shall endure. Part of the G-d-given Jewish covenantal responsibility is to administer the Torah and apply it to Jews throughout our generations across that entire time-span. That includes the rules for joining the Jewish people and taking on our covenantal responsibilities. These rules are valid precisely because of the authority that HaShem vested in the Jewish people, thus they are not “circumventing God’s definitions”.

      While it is true that HaShem chose the descendants of “A, I, & J” with whom to make His covenant(s), He never specified that no others could join the family. One recognized means of doing so in ancient times was via marriage and absorption, though it may be said that only the children were actually assured of their position. Calev ben-Yefunah the Kenizite was considered a chief prince and representative of the tribe of Judah, though he was never quite entirely free of the non-Jewish Kenizite designator inherited from his father. Rabbinically, Calev is considered the convert rather than his father Yefuneh, who must have married into the tribe of Judah. We do, nonetheless, see clear evidence of Calev’s dedication and faith as demonstrated by his actions and declarations in the face of his people. Later, rules for conversion were elaborated that did not depend on tribal identity or marriage to absorb the convert into the covenant and its responsibilities. HaShem never prohibited Jewish authorities from using that authority to develop such means for joining the covenantal family.

      There are some Jewish responsibilities that apply only to descendants of the priestly families, hence they do not apply to other Jews, including converts. This applies similarly to the kingly lineage of the messianic prototype King David. For this reason Rav Yeshua’s Jewish lineage is important. If you want to speculate about how he might have been viewed if Miriam his mother had been a convert, you must consider how that lineage was traced, what flaws it contained, and what compensating affect Miriam’s Jewish lineage provided. However, none of that is relevant to the validity of conversion that “makes a non-Jew become a Jew”.

      You raise the spectre of mischief when you invoke the notion of Jewishness as superior or non-Jewishness as lowly. On the one hand, Torah is quite clear that Jews were not chosen for any superior characteristics, nor does their chosen-ness make them better than any other people. On the other hand, there are many blessings that HaShem grants to Jews by means of that chosen-ness and by His covenant with them. Rav Shaul asked the members of the Roman assemblies “What advantage has the Jew? …”, to which he answered: “Much in every way ….” [Rom.3:1-2], and he continued to enumerate benefits that do render to the Jewish people characteristics that could be deemed superior. By contrast, non-Jews who are estranged from HaShem are in a most unenviable position, “… without hope and without God…” (Eph.2:12). That same passage, however, cites the benefits for those who are brought near to HaShem by means of the Messiah.

      So, whom have we among those who may share the blessings and spiritual nourishment that began with HaShem’s covenants to the progenitors of the Jewish people? We have Jews who are native descendants and Jews who are absorbed into the peoplehood by other legitimate means, and we have non-Jews who have cleansed themselves by means of their faith in the Jewish Messiah and his teachings. Each has their reasons for being what they are, and each has concomitant responsibilities. Rav Shaul was adamant to protect his spiritually-immature gentile charges from various social pressures that pushed them towards improper and unnecessary conversion; and, while the pressures nowadays are different, his warnings are still generally valid and conversion is not justified by any desire to seek a better spiritual “status”. Moreover, it is still true that non-Jews as such are needed to demonstrate that HaShem is G-d over all nations and not merely over a single chosen people. And the precise methodology of such a demonstration to the rest of humanity is still needing to be developed and properly applied.

  4. SWJ – David Stern’s “Jewish New Testament Commentary” does a great job of exegeting the Greek term “Ioudaioi,” which is translated both as Jew & Judean in the NT. His main commentary on the word is found in John 1.

    1. Hi Jim, yes I’ve read this, as well as Steve Mason’s “Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History” (which seems to be the go-to authoritative treatment of categorization) as well as several other publications. This seems to be an issue scholars are dealing with in an attempt to properly understand what is happening in the book of John.

  5. Hi PL, thank you for such a generous response.

    I don’t presume to know it all regarding Judaism, much less the Bible, but I have studied some and interacted with Jewish “authorities” on the topic. I’d like to clear up a few things and then pose a question.

    “Ruth is considered a convert in accordance with the standards of her era

    Yes, I understand, but I don’t believe it clears up the many remaining inconsistencies, but that’s for another time.

    You make a good point about her “conversion” not being based upon either of her marriages. I slipped on that because of all the other Gentile wives of the Biblical heroes — who Judaism likewise insists are converts, even though there are no such claims made in the biblical account. Rather, this seems to be a doctrine created to support a certain naraitive and/or faith claims, the motives of which I won’t speculate upon.

    “It is quite possible that some years later, after having borne children to Boaz and having become a recognized member of the Bethlehemite community, that they stopped calling her “the Moabitess”

    True, but then isn’t it equally possible that they did not? And, if they didn’t, how do we understand what’s happening over and over with Jewish men marrying gentile women with no mention of conversion,
    yet they have Jewish children? In my admittedly simplistic view, God says he covenanted with descendants of A,I, &J, which come in 2 varieties: male and female. There is no mention of or proof of any matrilineal only rule, this comes much later and according to many scholars, was actually introduced and enforced by Roman culture.

    “It appears that you fail to understand the nature of Jewish conversion, which is not based on the notion of “joining a religion” (that’s actually a Christian conversion notion)”

    This is not my own creation. I frequently hear/see Gentiles claiming to be Jews because they have converted to the Jewish religion, albeit usually Reform Judaism. Even gentile “rabbis” who fervently proselytize other Gentiles to create more “Jews.” This makes me CRAZY (sorry for yelling), and I don’t mean to associate your position with theirs, but there is a widespread notion that Jewish identity is merely a religion (i.e., a “Jew” is one who practices [their form of] “Judaism”). Mentioning any ethnic reality, or the fact that God selected and covenanted with descendants of A, I, & J and that actually means something, disgusts them as this is deemed to be racist.

    “He never specified that no others could join the family.[…]via marriage and absorption, though it may be said that only the children were actually assured of their position.

    Yes, my point exactly. Is the gentile half of the marriage ever called a Jew, or Israelite? Yet the children are, as long as one of their parents (usually the dad) is a Jew/Israelite.

    “Calev ben-Yefunah the Kenizite

    Not to go too far afield here, but it seems rather impossible that Caleb was a Kenezite. Anyway, there’s some very good arguments against assuming he was. He seems to be like the NT’s “Luke” in that someone began calling him a non-Jew and it stuck. But again, another time.

    “You raise the spectre of mischief when you invoke the notion of Jewishness as superior or non-Jewishness as lowly

    It’s not my intention to introduce mischief PL. Given that I laid my heart pretty bare in that post, I hope it’s evident that I respect and love the Jewish people, and their God. I realize you don’t know me, but I assure you that my life is dedicated to making Jews as many friends as possible, and shoring them up any way I can, in spite of being excluded, rejected, and at times, denigrated. (And yes, even by Gentiles)

    Which brings up my question, a request for practical advise, which I’ve been trying to acquire for the past [almost] 30 years: What are we to do?

    If I understand what you’ve said correctly, I’m *incapable* of providing my Jewish husband what he needs according to Jewish law, and he is cut off from his people as it stands, and by extension God (again, according to Jewish law), so it would seem under this understanding, we have 3 options. 1) I divorce him so he can enter into a “proper” marriage with a Jewess. 2) I convert and cease to be who God made me to be, and instead “become a Jew” in spite of a) no biblical example to do so (as conversion is defined now) and b) Paul’s imparraitive to remain what I am when I was called. 3) stay as we are, but encourage my husband to stop identifying as a Jew? If you favor #3, how is this to realistically be done, given he only has Jewish relatives?

    1. Well, let’s have another go at it, then, SWJ —

      Regarding Ruth and the standards of her era, I don’t know what you’re perceiving as inconsistencies, but certainly there has been change and development across the centuries to meet the demands of changing conditions of social environment. One of these changes, for example, about a thousand years beyond Ruth’s era, was the increased dependence on the matrilineal Jewish connection rather than the patrilineal tribal identity which was hard to preserve without the genealogical records that had been maintained in the Temple. Thus, while non-converted wives (or informally converted ones) were easily tolerated when tribal identity was paramount in determining a child’s Jewish identity, it became impossible to do so afterward, thus formal conversion of wives also became more significant. This result of the Roman destruction of the Temple was not exactly a matter of Roman culture influencing Jewish culture by introducing new social rules, but rather it was Roman tyranny requiring a survival response from Jewish culture.

      The reason I suggested the likelihood (indeed, virtual certainty) that references to “the Moabitess” ceased at some point later than when the book of Ruth ends, is that her primary identity would have shifted to one of “eshet Boaz” (Boaz’s wife). This is essentially how married female identity worked in that era, somewhat similarly to the modern “geveret ben-Salmon” (Mrs. ben-Salmon). Continuing to call her “the Moabitess” would have been a denial of her marriage and the redemption responsibilities that Boaz had exercised in “acquiring” her. Again, this is a separate matter from her “conversion”.

      Incidentally, I was not suggesting that you’re the only person who has ever misunderstood the true nature of Jewish conversion; and Reform Jews are much more likely than Orthodox or Conservative ones to think in terms of “religion” rather than “covenant”, having absorbed from their Christian environment this among other mistaken perspectives.

      I hesitate to offer advice into a family situation that I cannot know or investigate personally, but let’s look at the options you suggested. First of all, the matter is not so bleak that your Jewish husband is “cut off from his people” merely for marrying a gentile or for failing to contribute Jewish children to support the continued existence of the Jewish people. He may or may not be cut off for other reasons, possibly even for reasons that may be related to these shortcomings. Now, if you were not actually considered to be married to him — from some legal Jewish perspective, neglecting for the moment any implications from American law — then he would not have to divorce you to take on a Jewish wife or even a Jewish surrogate (not unlike a legal concubine) to produce Jewish children. This might invoke the ancient Torah provisions permitting polygamy under certain strict conditions that guarded the financial and sexual rights of multiple wives. If we do consider American law, then producing Jewish children through a surrogate Jewish woman would seem the only available alternative to divorce and re-marriage. Another expedient would be conversion for the children of a gentile wife.

      But, to continue with consideration of your second option for your own conversion: if you did become a true convert, you would not “cease to be who God made [you] to be”; but rather you would become whom He intended you to be when He planned for your marriage to a Jew (presuming that you do believe that it was His doing to join you two together). You could spend quite some time, then, pondering why He started your life’s path on a detour through the gentile world, when He already knew how matters would progress; but we might call that also a discussion for some other time. The lack of any specific biblical example for your particular mixed marriage situation does not prohibit us from applying the principles of Torah and Jewish jurisprudence to determine an appropriate course of resolution for it. Indeed, Torah requires us to study it thoroughly in order to apply it in every circumstance, no matter how different its conditions may seem from any prior example. Rav Shaul’s “imperative”, for one to remain in the condition they were in when “called”, is one that he, himself, qualifies with at least one exception of a slave taking opportunity to become free, thus fulfilling HaShem’s true intentions for him. His advice for married people to remain so and for unmarried ones likewise to remain so was obviously intended to prevent people from thinking that they had to change everything about their lives merely because “all things had been made new” (viz:2Cor.5:17). If no one in his assemblies ever married, those communities would die out in only a generation or so. And, in fact, we see at least a grudging suggestion from him that younger widows should remarry (1Tim.5:14). We know that he circumcised Timothy, not to convert him but to correct an anomaly in his status. This principle of correcting situations that are not what they ought to be, which corresponds with the Jewish mitzvah of “tikkun ha’olam”, is precisely applicable to the correction of cases like yours, whereby conversion would resolve a number of confusions arising from a mixed marriage.

      Let us now dispense with your third suggested option to encourage your husband to hide his Jewish identity. You’ve already pointed out that this is not a realistic option; and I will add to that the observation that it is contrary to HaShem’s goals in preserving the Jewish people. Hence this counterproductive option is highly inadvisable.

      Now, after thirty years of marriage, the practical question of producing Jewish children by means of a Jewish wife or surrogate is most likely not practical at all. The only practical considerations involve conversion for you and for your children to resolve a family anomaly — for which I’ve offered some justification. Of course, opening up this door does not require anyone to walk through it. And even those who might wish to enter through this particular narrow gate would have quite a bit of soul searching to complete before they could be able to do so properly. Alternatively, you as the Jewishly-supportive gentile wife could continue as you have done, sojourning as a gentile within Jewish space and accustoming and conforming yourself to its demands as best you can. However, this approach may not provide you with a sense of whole-ness, hence you may still face the same challenges that James has been trying continually to discuss in his blog, and that “Messianic Gentiles” (so-called) seek to address.

  6. The children only (and not their mother) can also convert, right? Then they have to decide where (with whom). And a conversion in day-to-day terms continues to be critiqued by many people (often a mother-in-law especially) and might not alleviate the pain at all. What precisely is it that anyone would hope to fix? Obviously, a lot more could be said. One question would be whether a Messianic rabbi can deem a conversion complete or even deem a conversion unnecessary as he (or a group of educated jewish leaders) deems Jewish paternity as sufficient parentage for a Jew. This seems to be SWJ’s (and her husband’s) point of view. I surmise you don’t think their point of view is the point except in the capacity that they could alleviate difficulty. But if the main difficulty is a potentially never-satisfied sector of the population (or one such family member), then nothing (hoped for) may be accomplished.

    On another note, PL, I’m not particularly attached to the word “religion” to reject it or defend it, but I’m trying to understand why you’ve more than once stood up for the word as being about making a vow (and fitting with being Jewish) but then have gone on to say it’s really a Christian word or adherence or connected more with Reform (questionable/questioned) Jews. These are two fairly different matters I’m addressing in one post. I hope that’s not too cumbersome to anyone or inefficiently computing to you.

  7. I typed in “offputting” not “computing” — I guess that didn’t compute with my spellchecker. Now, it tried to do “outputting.”

    1. @Marleen — The etymology of the word “religion” is the Latin word “relegio” meaning a vow, obligation, or bond (possibly even “reverence”) and related to the Latin verb “religare” meaning “to bind”. Since I take that to mean a commitment, I allow for its use in connection with Jewish commitment. However, while Latin was never very popular as a language in which to express Jewish concepts, Roman Imperial Christianity was quite at home in it. I also noted that Reform Judaism was caught up in the mindset of the Christian religious world that surrounded them as they sought to blend into their non-Jewish cultural environments so as to be less of a target for traditional Christian anti-Jewish persecutions; hence their focus being shifted from Jewish covenantal responsibilities to religious cultural assimilation. Does that clarify anything for you?

  8. I absolutely understand that Latin isn’t Jewishly awesome. Kinda wondered why you were standing up for it, but I sure do get that it’s words have meanings, and we can acknowledge this. However, it’s perplexing that you somewhat diligently argued in contradiction to people against the use of the word very recently and have now sort of called someone out for using it. Now, sure, maybe you want to say you don’t like how it’s being used. I don’t think the differences are pronounced enough (if really actually there) to warrant this turnaround; and in this context, to boot. And here’s where I’ll make you really happy, because you’ll be able to claim (wrongly) that I’m against Judaism. You’re acting a bit like Abraham before he learned a few things. Kind of a long time ago; not only that, no excuse. One-two punch: SWJ shouldn’t use the word you’ve been defending (without seeming unworthy or lesser or at the very least like someone assimilated or too fearful of gentiles), and maybe her husband should have gotten a concubine because she can’t do certain stuff in your view since she didn’t convert. So, you’re serious about a Hagar deal. No, it’s different because the hired womb wouldn’t be that race or nationality. The thing is, you’re leaving out the best and most practical of both the old and the new [not Testament, but I can go there too].

    1. I’m not sure, Marleen, what it is you’re trying to say, here, and I have a distinct impression that you’ve misunderstood something I’ve written here or previously. By the way, I’m not criticizing anyone for using any particular language, though I seem to recall someone complaining about “religion” in a manner that suggested to me that some clarification of the word’s meaning could be helpful. Moreover, I have noted (somewhere) that the development of Reform Judaism tended to reflect and incorporate an element from their surrounding Christian cultural environment, which was a focus on the notion of “religion” rather than on the Jewish notion of “covenant”. It’s true that I don’t view that as a positive development, but not because of the meaning of the word nor because of its Latin etymology.

      I don’t understand why you would imagine that I would be happy to claim that you are against Judaism (rightly or wrongly). SWJ posed some questions, and I tried to answer them from a Jewishly-consistent perspective that is a bit “outside the box” of answers she likely received previously on the subject. Note that I wasn’t advocating strongly for any of these possibilities (leaving any evaluation of them up to her), though it should have been easy enough to see which options were more or less feasible or problematic, even if they could be justified legally. The discussion was somewhat academic, though SWJ herself had already suggested an unpleasant option that once really was done in a case of dire circumstances, when Ezra and Nehemyah commanded that Jewish men returning from Babylon must put away (i.e., divorce) their foreign wives (along with their children). I agree that better Jewish solutions have been developed since that time.

  9. I have a friend who converted around the time she was getting married. She has stated that she and her husband got a ketubah, but they never got around to signing it (I can’t imagine* why this would happen). I would hate to think this is a time bomb where her husband figures at some point he might rationalize an additional relationship. When SWJ brought up an unpleasant option, I’m pretty sure she was trusting her dear readers had standards such that they would see the outrageous nature of the suggestion (even more so since she and her husband have children, children they see as Jews while you don’t).

    By the way, even a wife/woman might be able to have a child after “thirty years of marriage.” All the more a husband disregarding the age of the wife, especially if the plan is to get something going on the side or in that non-Jew woman’s face. There has been at least one Jewish woman here to complain about Jewish men marrying gentiles, but I *doubt* the hope is that once a man has married he should act like a jerk or play like he didn’t know what he was doing or isn’t responsible for what he has done in the lives of the woman to whom he made a vow and his real live children. [That’s not to say female jerks don’t exist.]

    I’m glad you agree “better Jewish solutions” have developed (than tossing gentiles and mutual children away, most particularly when SWJ and her children don’t worship foreign gods). Still, you seem to enjoy *trolling* when it comes to topics like these.

    * Well, I can imagine if I try. But I won’t put speculation out here.

    1. *Trolling*, Marleen? I really think you should go back and re-read those discussion entries. You seem to be envisioning a variety of irresponsible behaviors, which is entirely beyond the boundaries that I was addressing. My halakhic interpretations are addressed to those who are responsible and well-meaning, not to those who may wish to do harm.

  10. @PL,

    You made some remarks that I’d like to address.

    “I was not suggesting that you’re the only person who has ever misunderstood the true nature of Jewish conversion…”

    I agree with you that Jewishness is about covenant. My point was the cognitive dissonance experienced with exposure to Gentiles who’ve converted to Reform Judaism and endlessly proselytize other Gentiles while saying “we Jews don’t do this” and “we Jews don’t do that” and recoil at the mention that Jewishness cannot be confined to merely a religion. As I mentioned before, a Jew can convert to Catholocism but he cannot “un-Jew” himself, as many Jews found out during the holocaust when Jewish converts to Christianity were murdered, as were patrilineal Jews, while Gentile converts to Judaism were not on the “hit list.”

    “he would not have to divorce you to take on a Jewish wife or even a Jewish surrogate (not unlike a legal concubine) to produce Jewish children. This might invoke the ancient Torah provisions permitting polygamy under certain strict conditions that guarded the financial and sexual rights of multiple wives. If we do consider American law, then producing Jewish children through a surrogate Jewish woman would seem the only available alternative to divorce and re-marriage.”

    Ahem. Well…I’ll proceed with the assumption that you aren’t cognizant of how hurtful these remarks are, or how they undergird my previous remarks that the halachah of conversion supports the idea that a non-Jew is “unworthy” to join the Jewish family, without changing their status that is, and my questions of if that is even possible.

    Putting aside the notion of telling my hubby to go impregnate a more worthy woman (Jewess) in order to repair the total mess we’ve (supposedly) made, your remarks here remind me of the Lebensborn system: Nazi run “institutions” where SS were obligated to go and impregnate good German women, thereby strengthening the “master race.” It’s resemblance to a whorehouse aside, are you suggesting such “Jewish concubines” exist to correct these “unfortunate” (yet common) “anomalies” of Jewish men ‘hookin’ up’ with Gentile women? Are you thinking something akin to the Mormon “Sister Wives” scenario? (Hmm, perhaps we could even have our own reality show?)

    “if you did become a true convert, you would not “cease to be who God made [you] to be”; but rather you would become whom He intended you to be when He planned for your marriage to a Jew”

    A “proper convert” isn’t supposed to think of or mention their former status, correct? Nor is any Jew allowed to remind the convert of it. I regularly see reform converts complaining about the deep wounds they experience when some “thoughtless Jew” mentions they are converts.
    I don’t understand this.

    Here’s additional problems:
    1) I don’t think God makes mistakes. His purposes are beyond what we can fathom.
    2) Jew/Gentile identities are distinct, just as male/female identitiy is, but I don’t believe that one is inferior to the other.
    3). The Bible is full of examples just like mine.

    “The lack of any specific biblical example for your particular mixed marriage situation does not prohibit us from applying the principles of Torah and Jewish jurisprudence to determine an appropriate course of resolution for it.

    Wait. . .what? What of Moses and his 2 non-Jewish wives? Or Judah who married Shu’a the Canaanite, or Joseph who married Asenath, or Salmon and Rahab, Boaz and Ruth, and so on? (We’re Zilpah and Bilhah Jewish?) Every account lacks any hint of conversion. It was commonplace for Jewish men to marry non-Jewsish, non-converted, gentile women, who all had Jewish children. What of the (frequently ignored) permission to marry gentile captives in Deut 21?

    “Jewish mitzvah of “tikkun ha’olam”, is precisely applicable to the correction of cases like yours, whereby conversion would resolve a number of confusions arising from a mixed marriage.”

    I don’t get it. Conversion would be necessary “correction” based on rabbinic Judaism’s perspectives (and halachah) that intermarraige is forbidden, and that my children aren’t Jewish, despite the biblical precedent that says otherwise. Therefore, the only conversion that would “resolve” anything (on behalf of my husband) would be an Orthodox conversion. To do this, I’d have to lie about my love and devotion to Yeshua the Messiah or give him up, thereby “denying who I am”, especially since the reason I worship the God of Israel is because of Yeshua in the first place! Hence, I don’t see how this as a solution to anything, and it is nevertheless impossible for me to do that.

    God nevertold Jews not to marry non-Jews. Many “good Jews” married foreigners and they’re even in the Messiah’s family, as you’ve mentioned, and Matthew mentions them. God forbade the Israelites from marrying 7 specific gentile people groups, yet permitted them to marry other Gentiles, so long as they didn’t drag their Jewish spouses into idolatry.

    “Continuing to call her “the Moabitess” would have been a denial of her marriage and the redemption responsibilities that Boaz had exercised in “acquiring” her.”

    Finally, a question: As you’ve previously stated, you don’t think Ruth’s “conversion” had anything to do with her previous marriage to Mahlon. So, I wonder, why were there “redemption responsibilities” toward her at all? Said another way, since Orthodox Judaism maintains that no marriage even exists between Jew and gentile why would any Jew be responsible to redeem a gentile who technically wasn’t even married?

    1. I’m sorry, SWJ, if you found hurt in my remarks. I can only encourage you not to allow the notion of “worth” to color your feeling about them. The halakhah that protects Jewish identity is not about worth but about covenantal distinctiveness between peoples and cultures. The only “inferiority” or “superiority” implied is the kind cited by Rav Shaul in Rom.3 when he outlined what were Jewish advantages and responsibilities. I leave it to you to evaluate whether that is actually superiority or merely distinctiveness, particularly when cleansed gentiles actually are redeemed by appropriate adherence to Torah principles and devotion to HaShem.

      You cannot point to biblical examples of intermarriage with gentiles to justify anything about intermarriage nowadays, because the conditions of that period were different from those since the Hurban, and halakhah had to change to accommodate that difference. The past 2000 years have had to apply different standards than the 2000 before that. The process of gradual tribal absorption has had to be replaced with a more intensive conversion process of absorption in order to incorporate an individual into the Jewish covenant and the peoplehood that it defines. Nonetheless, the Torah does, in fact, forbid intermarriage in Deut.7:3-4, the reasoning of which is applicable to more than just the Canaanite tribes delineated in v.1. A great deal is implicit in this precept when it is examined in detail for its implications.

      I cannot help with the problem of bad behavior, ignorance, or thoughtlessness by Reform converts you seem to have encountered, nor with the rabbis who equate rejection of Rav Yeshua with the traditional rejection of idolatry as a requirement for conversion. This is one reason why traditionally observant MJs have established their own “batei din” to authorize conversions where needed. As I replied to Marleen, my halakhic interpretations are addressed to those who are responsible and well-meaning, not to those who may wish to do harm. Covenantal conversions are intended to resolve problems, not to create them.

      Now, about Ruth and redemption responsibilities. The redemption was for the property of Elimelech and his sons. As unflattering as it sounds nowadays to include a woman in that notion, it was actually part of the property transfer responsibility to raise up children who would be legal inheritors of the family property allotment. And again I will re-iterate that the Orthodox definitions of marriage as codified in a later time and under later stringent conditions cannot be invoked with respect to the conditions under which the gentile Ruth and Mahlon, or the converted Ruth and Boaz, operated, for the reasons I cited above about the effect of tribal structure or the lack thereof.

  11. First of all, the matter is not so bleak that your Jewish husband is “cut off from his people” merely for marrying a gentile or for failing to contribute Jewish children to support the continued existence of the Jewish people. He may or may not be cut off for other reasons, possibly even for reasons that may be related to these shortcomings. Now, if you were not actually considered to be married to him — from some legal Jewish perspective, neglecting for the moment any implications from American law — then he would not have to divorce you to take on a Jewish wife or even a Jewish surrogate (not unlike a legal concubine) to produce Jewish children. This might invoke the ancient Torah provisions permitting polygamy….

    You say you leave these things up to the evaluation of the individual you were answering. Or she and her family. But we are also discussing things that are larger than one nuclear family. I think it is much better, in more than one way, to invoke the ancient Torah examples of Jewish men as capable to produce Jewish children than to invoke polygamy. Judaism currently does not teach polygamy.

    1. You are correct, Marleen, that modern-day Judaism does not advocate polygamy. In fact, about a thousand years ago an Ashkenazi rabbi declared a ban against any Ashkenazi Jew engaging in polygamy. However, in places like Yemen, where the surrounding culture was Muslim and did practice polygamy, Sefardi/Mizrachi Jews also continued to do so in some measure, because in some cases it was the only way to protect the women involved. When Jews like these were airlifted to modern Israel, they were permitted to retain their polygamous relationships, though their children were not permitted to continue the practice, and, of course, conditions in modern Israel made it entirely unnecessary. The modern Jewish solution to intermarriage problems is the recommendation for conversion — which, if you read my summary of options correctly, was also my recommendation. Conversion is intended nowadays (and for the past 20 centuries) to accomplish what once could be managed during some 15 centuries before that by means of tribal assimilation. At this point in time, the conversion method has had the longer history of methodological approval. The ancient method has not been workable for that long a period, so there is no point in citing it as a means to resolve or justify modern circumstances.

  12. Going back to another topic earlier in this comments section, I do believe there was conversion in Calev’s family. One reason to prefer this traditional understanding is that it seems the alternative is entertaining the idea that Calev promoted, or wasn’t careful to avoid, or allowed a type of incest (in a specific case of a story showing his heroics). But his young “brother” — who married his daughter — was more likely from his larger family background (Kenizites).

  13. There are congregations or sectors of Judaism that do see children of Jewish men to be Jews too, generally provided the children are (each such child is) brought up Jewishly. And it’s not only a Messianic concern, or problem/issue, as I’m sure you know.

    If rabbis can make decisions that change or vary halacha, then why is it only at particular times and then never else or at least not now (which seems to be assumed)? Even if the tribal lineages can’t be or aren’t recorded, that doesn’t preclude a different approach that takes men into consideration pretty much just like women [except, of course, for the aspect that one reason for the change 2000ish years ago was to respond to the occurrence of rape and what happens with the children resulting from it when Jewish women have to deal with it — i.e., men don’t get pregnant].

    That also brings up the idea that we don’t know who the father of a child is like we know who is the mother (although we can now get paternity tests).

    Anyway, women were parts of tribes too, back when tribes were a regular part of daily life. And there are some examples that could be mentioned.

    Granted, some (not all) Jewish congregations who treat or call Jewish children of Jewish men (while not of Jewish women) as Jewish or Jews nevertheless technically acknowledge (maybe not “out loud” such that the children don’t know until young adulthood) that they are not exactly Jews and probably should go through a simple conversion. I’ve read about some group conversions when young Jews go to visit Israel, often in a summer camp.

    Aside from how we take any of this, I do agree a conversion can be a person finding their way home (like you said, even whether or not a provable reason from the past can be presented).

    1. Hi, Marleen — Major changes in halakhah, like matrilineal identity and conversion versus patrilineal identity and tribal absorption, occur only with similarly significant changes in conditions, like the destruction of our Temple, along with a large part of our way of life, and exile from our land. Other than that, halakhah remains pretty consistent, with only minor tweaks to address new technologies and special local conditions. Reform Judaism was not and is not a halakhically defined or driven movement, hence its recognition of patrilineal Jewish identity is not actually authoritative; and MJs do not strengthen their stature within the Jewish community by embracing it as has been done. Reform and other non-halakhic Judaisms have some strength of numbers in the USA, but they endanger the existence of their portion of the Jewish community relative to Israel. Essentially they threaten to make themselves like some of the “lost tribes”, i.e., stranded Jewish communities in remote locations, that have required dedicated rabbinic effort to locate them, determine that they meet some minimal criteria to be called Jewish, and rescue them by returning them to Israel with whatever conversions and training are deemed required to re-integrate them with Jewish civilization.

      Part of the responsibility for trying to update halakhah in any degree is that of determining how to integrate the change with existing precedent and custom, or identifying suitably justifying conditions whereby existing halakhah cannot apply and some modified or alternative form may answer current needs better while retaining consistency with long-standing tradition. Rabbis, particularly individual independent ones, do not change halakhah. Individual rabbis can only affect the custom that is practiced within their local sphere of influence. Rabbinical councils working together on a large multi-community scale may be able to propose, justify, and ratify halakhic adjustments. Such work is beginning to occur within Modern Orthodoxy in Israel, particularly to address the conditions of national Israeli restoration and the amortization of the second exile, but there is still a very large segment of the religious world that is unwilling to ratify these proposals as of yet, and there are some that still resist the recognition of the modern Israeli State as a valid stage of the redemption. Halakhic validation of change occurs slowly, if at all. No one can accomplish it with proclamations or declarations that emerge in an instant. That’s not how Torah authority works.

      Your observation that women were also valid constituents of the ancient tribes, has no bearing on the issue at hand, because their role within those tribes was never the determination of Jewish or tribal identity — unless by means of a form of out-marriage treachery to destroy it by eliminating it from their offspring. However, while their contribution on the positive side could strengthen the quality of Jewish identity by proper training, they did not actually determine the fact of that identity. The shift 2K-years ago in how that identity was to be determined was not solely or simply a paternity issue.

  14. {In fact, we don’t always know who “the mother” is now either just by the obvious optics a situation (child being in womb).}

    1. @Marleen — Actually, the definition of a Jewish child is not a genetic determination, but is rather precisely one of from which womb he or she enters the world. Surrogate eggs hatched in a Jewish womb become Jews, just as some kinds of external surrogacy may do by legal contractural definitions; and then subsequent acculturation becomes the critical determinant (not entirely unlike conversion).

      On a mystical note, one may wonder if eggs from a Jewish mother that were transplanted into, and birthed from, a non-Jewish one may grow up to feel an inexplicable pull from HaShem in a Jewish direction, as a consequence of HaShem going to great lengths to redeem even the most far-flung bits of the Jewish people that have been ripped away in one way or another, in order to be seen as entirely faithful to His part of the ancient covenant. Of course, there remains another unanswered question or two, about when does HaShem implant the human neshamah into a developing fetus and what does He see as the qualifications required for the implantation of an already-prepared Jewish soul into such a body. Might He, for example, refrain from placing a Jewish soul into a zygote from a Jewish mother that is at that time resident in a non-Jewish one who will become the birth mother? Or would that leave Him open to a charge of faithlessness to its genetic origin even though that is only one factor in the Jewish equation (hence He would not do so but would rather exercise the maximum possible faithfulness)?

      Thankfully, such questions of medical intervention into human fertility will probably affect very few Jewish souls between now and the advent of the millennial kingdom. [:)]

  15. Very interesting answer, PL. As for the very first part, I had wondered if that might be the case (based on the similar concept of a separate topic in Judaism that I felt/feel would be too distracting to bring up).

  16. @PL:

    “Nonetheless, the Torah does, in fact, forbid intermarriage in Deut.7:3-4, the reasoning of which is applicable to more than just the Canaanite tribes delineated in v.1. A great deal is implicit in this precept when it is examined in detail for its implications.”

    Believing all intermarriage between gentile and an Israelite/Jew is prohibited based upon a willingness to accept Orthodox Judaisim’s ruling on this matter is one thing, believing Deut 7:3-4 is a reasonable proof text for this dogma – and supposing it is what God is actually saying – is another. This passage clearly and plainly says that certain people groups are forbidden to be taken as wives/husbands for the Israelites. Now, why would He bother to even mention it if it weren’t permitted in other situations? More on that in a moment.

    The reasons are plainly given, if one continues to read: These groups are devoted to “complete destruction” and marrying some of them would obviously contradict and prevent this. v4 gives “why”, v 5 gives the “what”:

    “For he will turn your children away from following me in order to serve other gods. If this happens, the anger of ADONAI will flare up against you, and he will quickly destroy you. (v. 5) No, treat them this way: break down their altars, smash their standing-stones to pieces, cut down their sacred poles and burn up their carved images completely.”

    Note that, as you’ve mentioned several times, things are different now. a) Israel is not “back in the land”, and all that that implies b) they aren’t called to utterly destroy my people c) my husband, coming fresh from his completely Jewish family, was not following his God, at all – like most of his family, and the greater Jewish world, d) his supposedly forbidden shiksa turned him not to idolatry, but back to HaShem his God. e) I had no alters, standing stones, sacred poles, or carved idols for him to smash and destroy.

    Exodus 34 is talking about the same thing and people, and uses much of the same language. It also says the prohibition is of making any covenant with these folks who were “in the land” and/or marrying any of them.

    Why? Well, for one thing:

    14 because you are not to bow down to any other god; since ADONAI-whose very name is Jealous-is a jealous God.”

    The most glaring issue by far is the total neglect in these passages of any caveats in the “total destruction” directive. For example, He doesn’t say: “don’t marry any of them unless you properly ‘convert’ them” (which according to you, would render them fellow Israelites).

    You expand His directives in some ways that aren’t in the record, yet diminish others that clearly state the “Who, where, when, what, and why.” You also appeal to how situations are different now, that Judaism changed as a result. Well, we can do a paternity tests now, and they could not then. Of course, this will not appease the many who demand matrilineal descent only because it’s about punishing Jewish men for not marrying Jewish women.

    Anyway, your response discounts (and, from my perspective, distorts) the numerous biblical examples of Jewish men who marry non-Jewish women and have Jewish children. And, you didn’t address the Deut 21 example I brought up. Shaving a foreigner’s head, clipping her nails, and leaving her alone for a month, was how women “became Jewish” and capable of giving birth to a Jewish child?

    1. Shalom, SWJ — Why do you insist upon repeatedly bringing up biblical patterns that have not been applicable to the relationships that have existed between gentiles and Jews for more than two millennia now? Deut.21 is even farther out of the range of applicability than that (more like three millennia). The rules about a foreign woman captive of warfare have nothing to do with making the woman Jewish, and are only very indirectly correlate-able with her potential absorption into the covenant people. If those rules were ever invoked practically — and we have no clear record that they ever were — their purpose was inhibit Jewish men, under the pressures and tensions that warfare induces, from engaging in the all-too-common practice of war-rape or subsequent disposal of an inconvenient woman by murder or enslavement to a foreigner. They demanded that she not be viewed as a sexually-desirable object to be seized, but rather viewed as a human being who had been ripped away from home and family, who must be given space to grieve her loss for a period of time, and only then re-evaluated under cooler-headed conditions as a potential mate or as a war-prisoner to be freed. If such a woman were, nonetheless, to be absorbed into the tribal structure and “sanctified” such that she became recognized as a Jewish wife and the mother of Jewish children under the covenant, that would represent a legitimized process of absorption. If ever those rules were to be “dusted off” and re-activated under some modern conditions, those conditions would need also to include restoration of the legal tribal framework and genealogical record-keeping that supported that form of process. Paternity and genetic testing alone are not sufficient to justify its revival.

      Remember that the Torah is not simply a compilation of laws, from which one may pick and choose what one might like to apply or to emulate. It is rather a collection of teachings which require study and knowledgeable processing by which to derive appropriate and consistent applications across thousands of years worth of changing conditions. That is why the long-standing processes by which Jewish traditional teaching and praxis have developed, that is nowadays somewhat mistakenly labeled as “Orthodoxy”, represent the authoritatively valid application of Torah for Jews to abide by in the present and by which to relate themselves to their past. That includes former precedents that are currently in abeyance, though some of them might possibly be “dusted off”, re-examined, and re-applied should appropriate conditions ever warrant. The notions of patrilineal Jewish identity, or the rules for foreign women captured in war, do not meet such criteria at present. The long-standing approved and authorized training and absorption processes for converts to enter the covenant of the people of Israel are still the best available means that have been developed for meeting the covenantal demands of Torah relevant to what we’ve been discussing.

      In keeping with the processes of study, analysis, interpretation, derivation, and application, the principles of Deut.7 and Ex.34 extend beyond the specific Canaanite tribes who were banned at one period in our history. The generalized rules against intermarriage are still applicable to inhibit Jewish men and women from forming relationships with persons outside the covenantal framework, who by nature are not equipped or motivated to understand or to foster Jewish covenantal faithfulness. Indeed, history has demonstrated repeatedly their validity, and that non-Jews in general, and Christians in particular, almost invariably turn their Jewish partners away from Judaism and from dedication to the Jewish covenant.

      Now, note that I just included the notion of “almost” in the preceding paragraph. Your case is exceptional in two ways. One, your husband was already estranged from Judaism. Regrettably, that has not been uncommon in Jewish generations since the Holocaust, both in the USA and in Europe. Further, the comforts of a high standard of living for Jews in the USA, along with widespread respect for Jewish accomplishment and some post-Shoah guilt, have enabled and tempted many Jews to assimilate into the general culture rather than to stand dedicated to the scary notion of Jewish distinctiveness. Secondly, gentiles in the USA are not quite the same since the Holocaust, and especially since the rise of the Jesus movement in the 1960s along with consideration of a new perspective raised by the development of the Messianic Jewish movement. Hence there exists a new phenomenon, which you represent, of gentiles who actually have been able to encourage a disaffected Jewish spouse to greater pursuit of Judaism in some degree. These exceptional messianic gentiles, while probably they ought to have conducted their encouragement by means other than intermarriage, have nonetheless placed themselves in a position that invokes an additional challenge. They are no longer in the kind of position that Rav Shaul addressed in discouraging his Galatian readership from converting. Their challenge as intermarried gentile spouses is one of fostering the integrity of Jewish families, to complete their spousal encouragement toward Jewish covenantal dedication and faithfulness by means of their own complete dedication to the Jewish covenant, the integrity of the Jewish people, and their obedience to Israel’s G-d. This is the most accurate reflection of what Ruth declared to Naomi.

      As an aside, Israel really is now “back in the land”; and there is now an even greater responsibility to consider how the Jewish people will best be enabled to respond to covenantal demands, physically as well as metaphorically. Jewish families still living outside the land must consider how their present conditions may affect their offspring and the ability of those offspring and subsequent generations to return to the land. Non-Jews, both those living in Israel and those living outside the land, also must consider how they may best stand alongside the Jewish people and foster their covenantal conformity, and how they may discover and pursue what are their own corresponding spiritual and behavioral responsibilities as redeemed and elevated members of humanity-at-large.

  17. While I didn’t say any change(s) would have to be or likely be sudden, PL, or validated by proclamation or declaration by one rabbi or person, the point is it’s not wrong for rabbis [any sort] to start to notice and return to and adapt certain understandings. And, while it’s reasonable that much would change with the destruction of the temple (and we’ve gone over example(s), obviously “about a thousand years ago” wasn’t at that time. And my understanding is that in the matter of ending polygamy it was largely one guy who had great influence.

    1. @Marleen — That “one guy” wasn’t exercising any great influence to end polygamy. In Ashkenaz communities the practice was already virtually unknown. The declaration in this case actually served a different political purpose, vis-à-vis the Christian establishment that would frequently attempt to discredit Judaism by trotting out some trumped-up charge to present it as “archaic”, outdated, passé, and otherwise no longer valid — or, in this case, as misogynistic and misanthropic. Declaring this ban merely removed one excuse for such accusations. I cited it, however, to confirm that modern Judaism does, in fact, not recommend or permit the practice, except to accommodate temporarily an exceptional sub-cultural circumstance. There are, however, right ways and wrong ways for “rabbis [any sort] to start to notice and return to and adapt certain understandings”. Rabbis who fail to address properly the continuity of our long-standing tradition, in attempting to accommodate some perceived cultural trend, are subject to criticism for trying to do it “the wrong way”.

  18. It is apparent that there are things somehow obvious to some people and not to others. This would be how we get Jewish sperm and egg banks with deposits missing specific labeling that would help insure that people who are too closely related aren’t donors (or whatever else might be a fitting term) or “withdrawers” who’s “material” is going to end up oddly combined (where it shouldn’t naturally).


    The idea of divorce has been brought up repeatedly in this comments section and in the link I’m including. I want to point out that while divorce is a concern, it’s not only divorce itself as a marriage can become a ridiculous nightmare or spectacle while not dissolved (and it’s pretty likely any situation with outside dalliance, which is how I’d characterise taking on a concubine or anything like that, even if it were postulated to be completely clinical on the surface — though at the very least, such fruit is not clinical — would hurt a marriage). Also, and I see (PL) you’ve touched on the subject of hopes for the individual children, women don’t only want to stay married and pretend their spouses respect them or love them. They want, in addition to actually being respected or nurtured, to know that their children are valued and attended to with all care (not fed and tolerated). I know I wouldn’t want my children to be the lower class kids on the block, so to speak… the ones who weren’t sufficient, thus their father justified a concubine (in all likelihood after giving no such indication before the fact that I would have to put up with something like that).

    [Ugh, shades of Roman Catholicism with even the permission when there are no children with the first wife. Yes, I know that’s not the foundation or supposed to be relevant, but it’s gross, rude, and arrogant, unless the woman has backed out on what she indicated before marriage and basically used trickery by misrepresenting that she wanted children and would try to have them.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.