Shul on Shavuot

The Convert and the Disciple: A Shavuot Lesson


I attended synagogue services on the holiday of Shavuot morning, and we spent a half-hour reading the Book of Ruth. Is there any special connection between Ruth and Shavuot?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah and prophetic reading on Yom Tov always relate to a deeper theme of the day.

In this case, Ruth is the ancestor of King David, who was born on Shavuot, and died on Shavuot.

Another reason is because Ruth is the quintessential Jewish convert, and on the very first Shavuot – when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai – each Israelite essentially became a “Jew by Choice.” That’s why the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law use the Sinai experience as a basis for determining the requirements of all future converts:

1) Mikveh – All converts must immerse in a Mikveh (ritual bath), as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:14, 24:8).

2) Milah – Male converts must undergo circumcision, as the Israelites did before leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:48 and Joshua 5:5).

3) Mitzvot – All converts must accept to observe all 613 mitzvot of the Torah, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:3).

Interestingly, the Torah intimates that the souls of eventual converts were also present at Sinai, as the verse says: “I am making [the covenant] both with those here today before the Lord our God, and also with those not here today.” (Deut. 29:13)

From “Ruth and Shavuot”
the Aish Ask the Rabbi column

In my recent review of the Mark Nanos essay “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates” as found in the book Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition), citing Nanos, I commented that the Apostle Paul was very much against the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) converting to Judaism, frankly, because it was unnecessary. In Messiah, Gentiles have an equal communal status with the Jewish disciples, the same indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the same promise of the resurrection.

mikvahThe other major reason that Paul discouraged Gentiles from converting is that it would undermine God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father to many nations. If we all converted to Judaism as a means of accessing a covenant relationship with God, then God’s promise that not just the Jewish people but all peoples would bow to Him, would be null and void. And as I hope you realize, it’s impossible to thwart the plans and promises of Hashem, God of Israel.

So is there any good reason for a Gentile in Messiah to convert to Judaism? There must be, because some few such converts exist (I have no statistics as to exactly how many there are or where they can be found and only personally know of one such person).

I also know that some critics of Messianic Judaism in the Hebrew Roots space believe that the practice of conversion is not presupposed in the Torah and thus is unbiblical, not to be recognized by those Gentiles who believe the Torah applies equally to all, Jew and Gentile alike.

However, as we see above, the Jewish people certainly do believe there is a precedent in the Torah that allows for ritual conversion of Gentiles, bringing them into Israel as (Jewish) children of Abraham.

Neither Christianity nor any branch of Judaism believes that Gentiles must convert to Judaism and indeed, Christianity sees converting non-believers to themselves is the desirable outcome, not becoming a member of the tribes, so to speak.

I also mentioned before that both in the late Second Temple period and today, those of us, that is, non-Jews who have some sort of connection with Judaism in general and Messianic Judaism in particular, often suffer from an identity crisis. More than once, the dissonance of who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do given my rather unique outlook on the Bible, has stirred a great desire in me to “throw in the towel” and stop associating with religious people altogether, both face-to-face and over the web.

It’s not an easy life.

Orthodox JewsSome non-Jews entering Messianic community have shot out the other end, so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism as a way to end that dissonance and secure a religiously and socially acceptable identity within Judaism. To do so however, they had to surrender all fealty to Yeshua as Messiah and King, thus, from Christianity’s point of view, becoming apostates.

I believe, both in ancient and modern times, that God gave the Jewish people the ability to be “gatekeepers” into their realm. Nanos spoke of a “chronometrical gospel”, that is, a time-related good news event or set of events, a good news that entered our world heralding the advent of the New Covenant promises with the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Master, the Messiah.

Prior to Yeshua, there was a mechanism in place whereby Gentiles who were drawn to the God of Israel could undergo a ritual allowing them to join Israel and thereafter be considered indistinguishable from the born Israelite. It was the only real option for such Gentiles, apart from the status of God-Fearers who had no covenant status relative to God (unless you count the Noahide covenant).

The process of conversion seemed to morph over time and was likely different in some manner to the process we see Ruth undergoing to convert to Judaism and become the eventual ancestor to King David and ultimately, Yeshua.

No one should question the authenticity of David’s let alone Yeshua’s Judaism because a convert was their ancestor.

But as I said before, if converting to Judaism were the only way for Gentiles to apprehend the blessings of the New Covenant (let alone Sinai), then as I said above, God’s promise to Abraham would fail.

two pathsSo through Messiah, another avenue was created, one that does not require we convert and become Israel. We are permitted now to come alongside Israel, not being them but being at the same table with them, partaking in the same blessings without being responsible for the same obligations. This makes it possible for the whole world to come to God, to be blessed by God, to attain the companionship of the Holy Spirit of God, and to receive the promise of a life in the world to come, all without conversion and all while remaining fully Gentile citizens of the nations.

In another Aish Ask the Rabbi column, the Rabbi states in part:

Being culturally Jewish, without belief in God, is compared to a cut flower. While it still retains much of its vitality, the flower has been cut off from its source of nutrition, and within a short time will wither and die. The ideals which have kept the Jewish people alive and thriving over the millennia – despite all odds – can only be transmitted with the framework that the Torah provides.

I’ve mentioned in this blog post and several others including this one, that we “Messianic Gentiles” actually have a very specific duty, that of encouraging and supporting Jews in Messiah (any Jew we may encounter, actually) to return to Torah and to more fully observe the mitzvot.

Without Jewish devotion to Torah, as the Aish Rabbi states, what God has preserved in the Jewish people will eventually fade…and without Israel, we Gentiles have no hope, because 100% of the promised blessings we receive God made with Israel, not us!

That’s why Yeshua is the King to the Jews first and only after, the King of the nations of the world. Whether the realization is comfortable or not, Israel is the gatekeeper, it guards all the doors, it holds all the keys, all through God’s covenants with Israel, and all through the person of Israel’s King, King Messiah, Son of David.

There may well be some valid reasons for Gentiles converting to Judaism, but they are all minimized within the Messianic Jewish realm simply because, as Paul pointed out repeatedly, it’s not necessary in order for a Gentile to have an authentic relationship with God. Particularly for the Gentile but also for the Jewish people, the cornerstone, the lynchpin to that relationship is Messiah. He opened the door that let the Gentiles into a full relationship with God, and he brought the very beginnings of what will someday be the completion of God’s New Covenant promises to Israel, and only through Israel, to the world.

aloneWe non-Jews should not dismiss or denigrate converts to Judaism, regardless of which branch they convert into, but we should rest assured that it is not a requirement either. This may be confusing relative to Gentile identity in Messianic community (which is why I suspect such Gentiles either covert to Judaism, return to the Gentile Church, or just give up on religion completely), but what Jews and Gentiles don’t yet understand about the non-Jew’s role and function among Israel, is well understood by God.

If I, as a non-Jew who studies within a Messianic Jewish framework, am never accepted as who I am, either by Gentiles or Jews, I can take comfort that in the privacy of my prayers and studies, I am still accepted by God. I can be a disciple and a Goy. I can be who I am. I don’t have to become someone else or pretend to possess another’s responsibilities to stand in the presence of the Almighty.

Chag Shavuot Sameach!


29 thoughts on “The Convert and the Disciple: A Shavuot Lesson”

  1. This is something close to my heart personally, since I am in the process of conversion myself. I know the reasons people convert or choose not to are as unique as the individuals themselves. But I think a big confusion around Messianic conversion is the issue of relationship with G-d versus the relationship with the Jewish people. Conversion has no bearing on a person’s standing with G-d; the apostles made that abundantly clear. But there are those of us who seek inclusion in the tribe because we’re already so involved in it that we want our peoplehood to be officially recognized. I am married to a Jew; raising Jewish children. I have Jews in my own family tree. It has been a core compulsion of mine to join the tribe for many years, to reattach to my ancestry, to secure the line for future generations. It’s exceedingly difficult (here I speak for myself alone) to raise children in Judaism while feeling like an outsider. For me, that’s why I’m seeking conversion. I think most of the opposition to conversion (as a concept) is assuming people want to do it to be closer to G-d, or more acceptable in some way. I’ve had to test myself and explore all of those issues in my own inner workings. For me personally, conversion really only represents an outward acknowledgement of what I already know to be true about myself inwardly. My past, present and future is inextricably tied to the Jewish people. This is simply the public acknowledgement of that fact.
    I definitely relate to the difficulty of being an “in-betweener,” which is a tension that never really gets resolved for Messianic Jews (or Messianic Gentiles). It is a tough spot to live in.
    I suppose that’s why different people respond to the tension in different ways. Hopefully whichever ways we choose bring us closer to living fully and authentically.
    Shalom, James!

    1. It’s interesting Kari that as you are moving closer to your personhood among the Jewish people, I’m somewhat distancing myself. Well, it’s not that I was ever incredibly close to Jewish community, but in my case, being married to a non-believing Jewish spouse and since I’m a believer myself, my wife doesn’t think I’d be a very good “fit” at Chabad.

      When our kids were around junior high age, I frequently took them to the local Reform/Conservative shul on Shabbat, but I felt like a total outsider. The only other community context we had was with the little Hebrew Roots group we attended and where we were first introduced to the idea of Messianic Judaism and some of the early materials produced by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). However, as much as they aspired to be, the small One Law congregation wasn’t really “Jewish” at all and it didn’t make a good venue for raising a Jewish family.

      My children are all adults now and charting their own paths. My wife is the one who is more diligently pursuing a life in the Jewish community, and while she shares some of that with me in conversation, because I’m a Christian (albeit a rather atypical one), she’d be embarrassed to include me in any of her community’s activities (that’s not an assumption on my part, she’s pointblank said that to me).

      So for the sake of the general concept of “bilateral ecclesiology,” which seems to be a requirement of many Messianic Jewish congregations, and for the highly local bilateral ecclesiology I live with every day in my home, I’ve put away the vast majority of materials and practices anyone might consider Jewish.

      Oh, I do have a siddur in my nightstand, but right now, the only blessing I say regularly is the Modeh Ani upon awakening, and only because I memorized it in English.

      Yes, I read the Torah portion, Haftarah, Psalms and section of the Gospels (the last being suggested by the aforementioned FFOZ) each week along with some commentaries, and like my wife and daughter, keep Leviticus 11 “kosher-style,” I’m maintaining myself outside the stream of Judaism including Messianic Judaism (apart from writing this blog, of course, and my writing is unaffiliated with any congregation, organization, or group).

      If I’m to find any identity at all or place in the universe, as I said at the end of today’s missive, it will be where ever God may find me, not particularly where any person or group would place or categorize me.

  2. That kind of punches me in the gut on your behalf, James. That’s an incredibly tough spot to be in.

    We have felt very “homeless” during our years here because there is no place for us to call home congregationally. We don’t fit in church, or fully in the local synagogue options, and the Hebrew Roots stuff is not for us, either. But as lonely as that has felt, we do have each other. I’m sorry your path has been so isolating. I definitely believe G-d finds us in those lonely places, and I can understand not wanting to jump inside any of the available boxes given your particulars. I do hope for your sake that you find meaningful connection when and where you can.
    Thanks for the post!

    1. You’re welcome, Kari. Sorry for the “punch in the gut.”

      Actually, our relationship isn’t as contentious as it may sound. We share the vast majority of our lives with each other, but in this one area there is a dividing line where I let her be. I’m not Jewish and she is. She has to be free to explore that lived experience in Jewish community, a place where she needs to keep separate from me. I understand, at least as much as I can not being Jewish.

  3. This was a great read, James. Seems to me like Scripture points out God’s delight in the diversity of those who come to Him through Christ. I don’t think He wants us all to be the same.

  4. “citing Nanos, I commented that the Apostle Paul was very much against the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) converting to Judaism, frankly, because it was unnecessary. In Messiah, Gentiles have an equal communal status with the Jewish disciples, the same indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the same promise of the resurrection.”

    These days I am very conscious of the fact that in reading the Scriptures that they only apply to me, a Gentile, because of Yeshua, and being grafted into the root that is Judaism through Yeshua. Jews were broken off from the root that we might be grafted in. Thus I wonder if, in a spiritual sense, are not already Jews?

  5. Wonderful read. I can relate in ways to the lonesome or aloneness as of right now. I’ve been attending a large church (12th mega church in U.S. actually) and recently the Holy Spirit has been guiding me on this path with the Torah; however, the few messianic churches I’ve visited..I didn’t feel fit or some things were not in order with Yeshua. Enjoying your articles. Can’t wait for more.

  6. I have a view to a nice tree off a corner of the backyard where I live. During the spring and summer, and winter (when there are no leaves on it), it looks like it’s all one subject. In autumn, there’s a grouping of branches that color differently (in timing and hue). I believe that portion of the tree has been grafted on and is nourished by the root (and any part of the presenting trunk that might not be the main planting).

  7. James: ‘(which is why I suspect such Gentiles either covert to Judaism, return to the Gentile Church.’

    Isn’t this what Kinzer and Tent of David are suggesting? Gentiles convert to Messianic Judaism or go back to church?

    1. @Steve Peterson — You asked a question that you phrased: “Isn’t this what Kinzer and Tent of David are suggesting? Gentiles convert to Messianic Judaism or go back to church?”. Those are not the only choices, and I would suggest that they are not entirely appropriate ones. When you cite Dr.Kinzer, I presume you mean to invoke the notion that he called “bilateral ecclesiology”. Let’s unpack that notion a little. In essence, it recognizes that there are two general categories of people among those who desire to pursue the righteousness that Rav Yeshua made available to them. Those categories exist because of the continuing validity of the covenant that HaShem made with the Jewish people at Mount Sinai some 3500 years ago. That covenant stipulates special responsibilities, for this group of people and their descendants (plus some who would enter that covenant via legal covenantal processes), that do not apply to the rest of humanity and that would continue to make these people distinctive in a number of ways. HaShem’s self-imposed responsibilities to preserve this covenant and its participants across time serve to demonstrate His own reliability and faithfulness, and project a future in which the people of this covenant will be enabled to fulfill its stipulations in an improved manner. Also projected was a future in which the remainder of humanity also would benefit from interaction with the people of this covenant; however, it is not suggested that all of humanity would join as actual participants in the responsibilities of the covenant itself — perhaps because such action would denigrate HaShem’s own promises of faithfulness to preserve that covenant and its boundaries.

      Therefore, gentiles in general are not to try to enter the covenant by joining the Jewish people as Jews (though there will be some exceptional individuals who may be called by HaShem to do so). Instead, they are to align themselves with the people of the covenant, and with many covenantal principles, in order to obtain numerous blessings similar to those pertaining to the covenant. Hence the appropriate question is about how they may pursue this. The primary criteria are repentance and faith, but the methodology of their expression remains to be elaborated.

      So if they are not to become Jews, not even messianic ones, should they attend the synagogues of their fellows-in-faith the Jewish messianists? If any of them should have opportunity to do so, they must be careful not to overwhelm such synagogues with their numbers in a manner that detracts from the primary purpose of those synagogues, which is to aid Jewish messianists to maintain the covenantal civilization. A better alternative would be to form companion assemblies that interact with Jewish communities that include Jews of all kinds (not only disciples of Rav Yeshua). Note that this is not necessarily the same approach as that of upgrading former churches with better ideology, as in the “Tent of David” model. It may well require “starting from scratch” with home fellowships that gather on Shabbat to study and pray and encourage one another, and that commemorate biblical Jewish celebrations of other kinds, in a pattern reminiscent of the Is.56 commendations of “foreigners” who “cling” to the covenant while still retaining their identity as non-Jews — even “eunuchs”, if applicable; though nowadays that is hardly likely except in the most attenuated symbolic form [:)]. Thus may form a social pattern reminiscent of the ancient relationship between the Temple and its satellites the synagogues, whereby home fellowships may be satellites to synagogue communities.

      Now, home fellowships can be challenging to operate, and demanding of time, energy, and other resources. They offer great opportunity, though, for each participant to exercise their G-d-given gifts and talents. But multiple home fellowships may band together to become larger “satellites” comprising larger pools of resources, even to the degree that they must begin to meet in larger facilities and become more “church-like”. Perhaps if they were to overwhelm some existing church demographically with their numbers and their service to that community, with non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua who already possessed an “upgraded ideology”, then the “Tent-of-David” model could work better by simple democratic means to hire better pastors and other church workers, or to convince existing ones to adopt “upgraded ideology”.

      Such upgraded “satellites” would certainly be better equipped and motivated to be supportive of any given Jewish community. And who knows what might develop in the local Jewish community or even in Israel in response to their good behavioral example?

  8. I have a question concerning this that I’m quoting from your opening meditation:

    I also know that some critics of Messianic Judaism in the Hebrew Roots space believe that the practice of conversion is not presupposed in the Torah and thus is unbiblical, not to be recognized by those Gentiles who believe the Torah applies equally to all, Jew and Gentile alike.

    Are said “critics” in the “Hebrew Roots space” — or are the critics you’re referring to here critical of Hebrew Roots “space” [which I guess then you’d be offering as a “one-law” (itself a shorthand reference) synonym] perspective? In other words, is *Messianic Judaism in the Hebrew Roots space* the operative term, or is simply *Messianic Judaism* the term for those under scrutiny?

    Some of this terminology is problematic, it seems. My beloved Messianic congregation didn’t find the words “Hebrew roots” to mean anything other than the basic definition of those words. *Back in my day* 🙂 , the people who thought everybody should do the same thing, and consider themselves better that Jews and better than church, were other specific things: sacred namers, or other, denominational, groups. [Of course, it’s a sad thing that the Name was appropriated so.]

  9. @Marie: God desires no one should perish but that all should come to Him.

    @Questor: This isn’t an either or situation whereby the Gentiles are reconciled to God at the expense of the Jewish people. Far from it. The second of the Epistle to the Romans you mention must not, in my opinion, be considered the eternal fate of the Jewish people, as some Christians imagine. Paul was addressing a local and immediate concern. He also said that, in the long run, all Israel will be saved. This I believe to be true because if it isn’t, then God’s prophesy about the full effect of the New Covenant will have failed.

    When you say …”in a spiritual sense, are not already Jews,” do you mean the grafted in Gentiles? If so, then my answer has to be “no,” we’re not.

    @kohmorebi: Thank you for your kind words. Yes, true Messianic communities are few and far between, which is why many of us, myself included, are often “lone wolves,” standing apart from the larger community of Christian believers. We just don’t fit in, more’s the pity. I know I’ve tried.

    @Marleen: It is true that there’s a built-in diversity in the ekklesia of Messiah, the natural branches and those grafted in, and I agree, the natural and grafted in branches are not identical. They simply dirive nourishment from the same source.

    As far as “Hebrew Roots” and “Messianic Jewish” terminology, it is problematic, since some people use the terms interchangably and others do not.

    In my case, I believe that Hebrew Roots and its sub-groups including One Law (OL) are definitely not Messianic Judaism. In my way of thinking, Messianic Judaism must include Jewish exclusiveness to the Torah of Moses and the Sinai covenant. Hebrew Roots and specifically One Law, believes that “grafted in” means being grafted into the Sinai event, rather than as a consequence of God’s grace and mercy in we non-Jews being included in the blessings of the New Covenant.

    What I was referring to was at least one OL blog where the blog owner and many people commenting there disdain converts to Judaism, both within the Messianic realm and in wider, normative Judaism, because they do not believe there is a biblical basis for the practice. I disagree and apparently so did the Apostle Paul who had no problem at all in his encounters with proselytes. He just didn’t think Gentiles in Messiah were required to convert because they were already included in the blessings of the New Covenant thanks to the faithfulness of Messiah.

    @Steve: I don’t think Gentiles, at least those who are already believers, “convert” to Messianic Judaism, since moving from a traditional Christian viewpoint to one such as I possess is more like a radical move between denominations than an actual conversion from one religion to another.

    As far as what Kinzer is suggesting, I have no idea. You’ll have to ask him. Relative to Tent of David, as I recall, it was written primarily to Christians with a Judaic-viewpoint on the Bible that is pro-Messianic who are already in the local church. The idea was for people already embedded in churches and who were already connected socially to communicate the Tent of David vision to their fellow parishoners. Only a minority audience, like me, might use the TOD model for returning to church after an absence. I understand it’s been successful for some people, though I have heard of no specific examples, but it certainly wasn’t successful for me.

  10. I visited one of the places where people who thought like this gathered (due in part to my not knowing that they thought they were better than Jews). One disappointment is they hadn’t solved anything. Although they had changed seasons of holidays and had more rules to follow than the typical Christian, they had the same arguments about works versus grace. I tried to explain to a guy, who I learned later had involved himself in an affair with another member’s wife, that grace can be defined as doing better things rather than getting away with stuff. Certainly, “getting away with stuff” isn’t the chosen verbiage of one who tries (or those who try) to forward that type of view.

  11. I hadn’t seen your latest post before posting again, James. I agree with you that what is now being called Hebrew Roots is not the same thing as Messianic Judaism. When the words “Hebrew roots” were used decades ago (although I guess the seeds for what has happened were already in existence), the words were not as a reference to a type of group or movement or subcategory; they were simply words in a sentence, like “… Hebrew roots of faith in the Jewish Messiah.” This was to differentiate understanding from the misconception that true faith has to gentilize or ignore Jews and so on (in Christian tradition).

  12. Hi James, nice blog! My five cents worth on conversion which I’ve copied and pasted from the Karaite site because I agree with these sentiments: ///… anyone who 1) is circumcised [males only], 2) accepts the God of Israel [YHWH] as their own God, and 3) accepts the People of Israel as their own people is a full-fledged Jew [Israelite], see Exodus 12,43-49 and Ruth 1,16./// Amen.

  13. I’ve encountered the same OL blog, I believe, and I was sickened by what I saw there in terms of how differences of opinion seemed to justify character assassination. What a shame.

    The truth is there is plenty of blame in every corner of the religious world, though. I find myself tending toward harsher assessments of the ones who disagree with my theology, but in reality, I’ve seen bad behavior even among people I agree with closely theologically. I’ve been the one behaving badly at times, and I completely agree with myself (Lol)! It’s a human problem. It may be more likely that this segment is prone to this sin, that one to that one, but we all err in many ways.

    I suppose my question is “where are the ones doing good and accomplishing much?” Probably better to “divide” along those lines rather than too strictly along theological ones.

    Though when it comes to Jews, it’s highly important to be in Jewish space. Nowhere else can provide the support structure for living out what they’ve been called to do and who they’ve been called to be. I suppose that’s my definition of Messianic Judaism: Jewish space for Jews who follow Yeshua. If it’s not Jewish, it loses the Judaism part of the definition, and if it’s not Messiah-centered, it loses the Messianic part. Without both, you have something else, but not MJ.

  14. @ James, what is your ideal church that you have in mind?
    I myself am a lone wolf and I am thinking to go back to the old church I used to attend and I know I will be facing the same old stuff, which I wouldn’t be much delighted to hear to. But, I mean, I am just trying to see the bright side of the church.. Nonetheless, the loneliness is still there and I just think sense of belonging is definitely hard to acquire as I tried few congregations in Korea. A Messianic congregation in Korea unknowingly, I think, is pursuing One-Law movement, which I find not that suitable to my definition of theology. But then, I guess there wouldn’t be a perfect match for anyone to have the same theology. Anyways, I am trying to go back to old church of mine when everything is solved and settled. Perhaps Messianic Gentilism should emerge so that Gentiles might feel more at home.

    1. For me personally? Probably someplace like Beth Immanuel or Tikvat Israel. I’ve only attended Shavuot services at Beth Immanuel a few times and although I’ve never visited Tikvat Israel, their Rabbi and I periodically exchange emails. Of course, even if either one of those congregations existed in my city, I still probably wouldn’t attend, at least not regularly, in deference to my wife’s feelings on the matter. It’s a complicated situation and one that I don’t believe most people in the Messianic world experiences.

      In an ultimate sense, I suppose the ideal congregation is where ever you feel at home and where the Spirit of God is dwelling.

  15. As to whether or not there is any good reason for a gentile in Yeshua to convert (to be a Jew), there are apparently people who are Jews in many ways [like every way except their mothers’ status and (for instance) the condition of not living in Israel (which is not really a requirement) as a sign] concerning upbringing, genealogy, and so on, but who aren’t recognised as Jews by most/many other Jews — thus, I suppose they are looked at as gentiles. I’m not sure if they should find it necessary or at least helpful to convert according to tradition/halacha. It seems that Timothy was sort of a convert and sort of not (in that he was brought up in the love of the God of Israel by his Jewish parentage).

    As for other kinds of people in the position of not being Jews or acceptable as Jews (in any variety of ways), the culture at the time showed clearly that converting didn’t prove out to produce a proper adherent to the values God had taught through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the children of Israel, the prophets, and so on. It was at times mainly a political move in the province. I have read that the leaders largely looked down on “the people” of the Land. [And, on top of that, as you’ve stated, James, converting to Jew/from gentile wasn’t necessary in order for a person to change in life, accept the Holy Spirit’s cleansing of the soul, and so on — in addition to representing the nations.]

  16. @James — I’d like to probe, for a moment, if you can stand the pain of probing into a personal wound, just what it is that your wife finds embarrassing about the notion that her non-Jewish husband, or you in particular, might join with her in participating in any given Jewish event at your local Chabad center? Is this community encouraging her to deny or regret the decision she made so many years ago to marry a non-Jewish man? Do they, in fact, want her to want to be rid of you? Are they unwilling to cope with the fact of intermarriage by seeking available halakhic means to ameliorate its effects and to embrace the non-Jewish partner? Could her embarrassment actually be a disguised form of guilt about considering treachery toward you of the sort described by the prophet Malachi in Mal.2:16?

    Or is it your own Jewish interest that she may fear could cause you to do or say something disagreeable to her friends, thereby embarrassing her in an adolescent manner that she is in any way connected with you? In what way would your presence or participation deny her any honor or liberty that she feels when you are not present? Would she feel similarly if any of her own children were present? Or could it be that your presence would remind her of her own anti-rational guilt in pushing you and your sweetly and Jewishly reasonable viewpoints away from herself? Is her sense of embarrassment in any degree a reflection of the embarrassment that we will all feel when confronted by HaShem’s Presence to account for our response to His revelations, including our evaluation of Rav Yeshua? How would she describe the cause of her embarrassment in you?

    Feelings of this sort, neither embarrassment nor guilt, should, of course, play no part in the pursuit of either conversion or discipleship, because they would contaminate either one with uncertainties and misgivings that are antithetical to the faithfulness and whole-heartedness that both require. It seems to me that at some point soon both you and your wife must confront the causes of such feelings and resolve them.

  17. @Marleen: You bring up that eternal question of “who is a Jew?” Yes, there are Gentiles who live a “Jewish lifestyle” to one degree or another who are not formally recognized as Jews. Probably one of the most common examples would be a Gentile intermarried to a Jew who participates fully in Jewish community along with his/her spouse.

    As far as the “identity” of Messianic Gentiles and what that all means (or doesn’t mean), I’m reviewing an essay written by for the book Paul Within Judaism called “The Question of Identity: Gentiles as Gentiles–but also Not–in Pauline Communities” which should expand on the complexities of non-Jews operating in Jewish social and religious space. I hope to be finished with it in the next day or so.

    @PL: I don’t believe anyone at Chabad is encouraging my wife to get rid of me or anything like that.

    A little background.

    When we were married, we were both secular and the issue of her being Jewish really didn’t seem like being “intermarried”. After all, her parents were intermarried and her mother didn’t practice any form of religious or for that matter, cultural Judaism at all. My wife only learned she was Jewish as a young adult and she is the only one of five children to embrace that identity in any way.

    Some fifteen years ago or so, through a long process that would take too long to relate, we both converted to Christianity and started going to church. Through another set of circumstances, my wife became acquainted with a local One Law/Hebrew Roots group (we were pretty naive back then) and she was hooked on “Messianic Judaism”. It took me a little longer to warm up to the idea since I was just starting to feel comfortable in my church setting, but I finally followed suit.

    Slowly, my wife started making friends at the local Conservative/Reform synagogue and eventually, her increasing familiarity with Jewish community resulted in her losing her faith in Yeshua. I’m pretty sure the Chabad Rabbi sealed the deal telling her “what Jews believe.”

    Now my little corner of Idaho is small and I know or at least have met most or all of the people involved in Hebrew Roots. A number of these people periodically show up at the two synagogues in town, either to get a more authentically Jewish experience than they can in Hebrew Roots groups, or to occasionally confront the Rabbis about the truth of Yeshua (yeah, some of them can be real pests).

    Anyway, one of the problems is that current and former Hebrew Roots people regularly attend the Conservative/Reform shul, and they sometimes show up at classes at the Chabad. I think my wife is afraid of having her cover blown, so to speak. Also, and she’s told me this, she doesn’t know how to introduce or involve me in her Jewish community, since I’m a Christian (her label for me).

    I think she knows I’m not going to start “preaching Jesus” or otherwise embarrassing her by proselytizing to her Jewish friends, but she really needs to have control of her Jewish communal space.

    She’ll tell me what goes on in worship and her classes, at least the summary version, and she doesn’t have problems with me asking questions, but she’s not about to involve me in that part of her life. If that’s what she needs, I’m not going to stand in her way. If she eventually starts to feel comfortable in including me in some of these activities, that’s fine, too.

    Since she wasn’t raised in a Jewish household, and since she was first a Christian and then a Messianic, I think she doesn’t want that can of worms to be reopened and I can only imagine that at the center of her insecurities, she feels she has something to prove in being Jewish. It may not be entirely rational, but it’s the reality of her world at this point.

  18. Does the statement she was at first Christian and then Messianic refer at all to her time in a “Hebrew Roots” (as opposed to Hebrew roots) setting? Or are you looking to a time when she was a believer in Jesus and interested in her own Jewishness at the same time, though it sounds like you didn’t encounter a Messianic congregation or even small group or any such people?

    But, back to your response to me (rather than to PL, which was interesting, so pardon my diversion): while a “common example” of something you’re talking about is an intermarried person who participates in a household, that is probably somewhat tangential (although certainly very related) to what I was talking about. Yes, I am addressing the question of Who is a Jew? [As per your heading, and the apostolic writings, also who might become.]

    That question can involve many things, even in a fully Jewish setting. Is it religion (thus a person of that religion); genetics; family background; spelling; culture; language? It goes on and on. What also is a part of this (again, in a fully Jewish setting, not one of gentiles being confused or trying to push an agenda) is people right there in the Jewish midst (not Sacred Rooters [I made that up] or Christians or visitors or whatever else) of Jewish descent and background and culture and spelling, and and and…not technically being considered Jews.

    1. Maybe this will be too simplistic, but the Jewish answer to “Who is a Jew?” is: one born of a Jewish mother, or one who has converted to Judaism. There is some disagreement over those born of a Jewish father but a non-Jewish mother. Some denominations recognize those children as Jewish, others do not.

      The best explanation I’ve heard for how to define what Jewishness is is that it is a family or tribe. It’s neither an ethnicity nor strictly a religion. You can be born into the family or adopted in. You can embrace the family values (the religion) or reject them (seen as a tragedy but not something that causes you to not be family). Ethnicities vary in the family because there have been so many adopted members over time. So it’s a large, extended family. You get included by either birth or conversion.

  19. For the sake of clarity and focus on the above subject, I skipped (in this latest post just above) the other aspect of my previous post; that had to do with the specific context of the Roman empire and provinces and political ambition and dishonesty and so forth. I will say this. I don’t remember for sure if it was in this comments section (or if it was rather in another recent one), but I appreciated PL pointing out that there were a number of generations (which could be counted in different possible ways) before a certain gentile nation (Moabites) could be acceptable to Israelites (not necessarily as converts, but involving a convert in Ruth’s case). I can’t say definitively that Edomites were never ever to be acceptable, but if a required time had passed, nevertheless, what would be the point of the time passing if an Edomite so-called convert (actually a person jockeying to get a transfer and position) was Herod? He wasn’t the only one populating Judea — improperly among real Jews.

  20. Just stumbled upon your blog and I have a lot to say but this might not be the appropriate forum to do so. Suffice it to say I understand the feeling of not fitting in as I am a Jewish believer myself. Unbeknownst to me in the background God was working things out. He has called me home to the Catholic church and I have never felt more accepted and loved in my life! It is the completion of Judaism for me and I have found so many other fellow Jews who feel the same way, it’s been the greatest blessing of my life. There’s a great book by Roy Schoeman if you haven’t read it Salvation is from the Jews. Definitely worth the read, and he is also a Jewish Catholic. God bless you and your journey

    1. But, Melissa, how will your children and grandchildren conduct themselves (religiously and culturally)? If they join with gentile Catholics, they reject their identity as Jews and their place among the Jewish people. How will they ever fit in with their people and their heritage? How likely do you think it may be that they will fulfill the responsibility of every Jew to conform with the Torah covenant, to marry another Jew and to produce Jewish children who, like Avraham, will teach their children also to maintain the civilization of the Jewish covenant? How will they face the Jewish Messiah upon his return to restore the Jewish kingdom and reign from Jerusalem?

      I appreciate that you feel accepted and loved. But I must challenge you to come to a better understanding of Judaism (and especially Jewish messianism), because you would not then think of Catholicism as “completing” it. I am aware of the existence of a number of Jews within the Catholic Church (so-called “Hebrew Catholics”), as I am also of Jews within other churches. Nonetheless, as an Israeli Jew, I must encourage you and all of them that “coming home” means something other than entering into the foreign gentile environment of Christian churches. Now, I know nothing of your personal or family situation, so I cannot envision whether there is something about your current sojourn with Catholics that may contribute to your eventual much-to-be-hoped-for return to the people of Israel, to the religion of Israel, to the cultural milieu of Israel, and to the land of Israel. Salvation is not merely something that originated with Jews; and the salvation of the Jewish people will never be complete unless it can include all of us in the four realms of peoplehood that I just listed (among others). Since you yourself are a Jew, this collective salvation depends in part on your own personal participation in it, as well as that of your descendants after you. I do not write this to be harsh or demanding, but rather to challenge you to seek something greater. Sojourn well.

      1. I appreciate the dialogue. And while everyone has given me their opinion on where I should be and what I should be and who I am, there is only one who can tell me that. Jesus led me to the Catholic church so that’s where I am. I don’t yet understand it all but I’m slowly learning that I don’t have to; faith is so much bigger than that. I understand who I am in a way I never have before. My children know who they are. We as a family know where we are. The center of God’s will for my life is where I’ll always be. Love to you brother

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