I am getting interested in Judaism – reading the Bible, and trying to practice its many laws. But I am having a hard time accepting the Talmud and all its laws. Isn’t it enough just to do what’s written in the Bible?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Thank you for writing. This issue has bothered people throughout the ages, and in fact many break-away Jewish groups (Karaites, Sadducees, and even the Christians) did so over this very point.
But it is a huge mistake.
-from the “Ask the Rabbi” column
“Validity of Oral Law: Tefillin Example”
I know I’ve been spending a lot of time writing about how (or sometimes “if”) non-Jews can have a place within social and communal Messianic Judaism, but I think it’s time to return to the Jewish perspective (as best I can perceive it, my not being Jewish) for a bit. Maybe it’s there that we non-Jews can find some illumination if not orientation.
I know a lot of non-Jews (and some Jews) within both Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism have issues with the Oral Law and the wisdom and rulings of the Rabbinic Sages. The argument seems to center around sola scriptura and the sufficiency of scripture vs. recognizing the authority of the Sages to make halachic rulings for their various branches within Judaism, which apparently even Yeshua (Jesus) did.
The Aish Rabbi I quoted above undoubtedly agrees that the Oral Law is “a thing” and that the Jewish Sages were well within their God-given rights to set standards of observance and behavior for the various Jewish communities historically, and said-rulings are still considered authoritative among certain streams of Judaism today (it’s actually a lot more complicated than that, but a full examination of the Talmud and its influence on observant Judaism is well beyond the scope of this blog post).
But how does all that work in Messianic Judaism which, as Derek Leman says, is “a Judaism committed to Yeshua” and “…a Judaism [with the] core purpose…[of] provid[ing] a home for Jewish followers of Yeshua where we may live out our covenantal relationship with God based on the Abrahamic promise, the teaching from Sinai, and the revelation of God which is in Messiah Yeshua”?
Jewish movements such as the ancient Sadducees and the modern Karaites reject Rabbinic authority, so Jewish recognition of such authority isn’t universal. Given that Messianic Judaism is a Judaism that embraces Messiah Yeshua (whose multitude of Gentile members have historically rejected not only Rabbinic authority but Judaism as a valid religious and faith expression), what can we believe about the relationship between Messianic Judaism and Rabbinic halachah?
I know what you’re thinking. No, I don’t really, but it’s my favorite line of dialog from the old, 1980s TV show Magnum, P.I.. That said, I suspect some of you may be thinking that since historically the Sages have rejected any and all claims of Jesus possibly being the Messiah, and have treated any Jew who came to faith in Christ as an apostate, how could Messianic Judaism embrace, in any sense at all, what the Jewish Rabbis have to say, let alone consider the Talmudic rulings as having authority over the lives of Jewish disciples of Yeshua?
Let’s start with this:
Though the Sages of the rabbinic tradition are legitimate bearers of halakhic authority, they are not the only leaders with such competence. As the embodiment of heavenly Wisdom and the living Torah, Yeshua himself is the ultimate earthly source of halakhic authority. While he acknowledged the authority of some leaders in the wider Jewish community, he also formed his own messianic subcommunity and bestowed upon its designated leaders – the Apostles – the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:16–19; 18:18). In doing so, Yeshua was authorizing the Apostles to regulate the life of the messianic community according to their Master’s interpretation of the Torah and according to the guidance of his Spirit who writes the Torah on the hearts of his disciples (Matthew 28:18–20; John 14:26; Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:2–3).
-from “Halakhic Authority: Halakhic Authority, the Bilateral Ekklesia, and the Wounded Two-Fold Tradition”
Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council
So we know that not only did Yeshua affirm that the Pharisees of his day were the proper heirs, in some sense, of Moses and thus had valid authority to make halachah for their communities, but that he also conferred halachic authority to James and the Jerusalem Council, making their legal decisions binding on the Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master. We see a clear example of the Council issuing a binding legal decision in the form of Gentile status within the ancient Jewish religious stream of “the Way” (Acts 15), which they only could have done through the authority of their Master, their “Rebbe” Yeshua.
The same web article goes on to say:
The disappearance of a messianic ekklesia within the Jewish people also damaged the halakhic and prophetic capacity of “catholic Israel” – which remains incomplete without the presence of Jewish disciples of Yeshua at its very heart, and without a living connection to the multinational ekklesia which has been joined by the Messiah to Israel as its extension among the Gentiles. Nevertheless, in their many diverse historical expressions and traditions, the Jewish people and their recognized leaders have retained their legitimate halakhic authority, and God continues to operate among them and through them in order to shape their life in accordance with the Torah.
This seems to imply that the MJRC, representing a Judaism devoted to Messiah, also recognizes the historic Jewish leaders and their halachic authority as legitimate, at least in certain areas.
But in the next section of the article, “Halakhic Authority and the MJRC”, we find:
Within the context of the Messianic Jewish movement and its prophetic role, the MJRC sees itself as called to serve a particular halakhic function. The MJRC does not view itself as the only halakhic authority in the Messianic Jewish movement, nor does it claim to be the movement’s highest halakhic authority. It does, however, believe that it has halakhic authority for its own immediate sphere and for those beyond that sphere who look to it for guidance. The MJRC believes that its role is to be a pioneer in the development of a halakhic way of life among Messianic Jews, and thereby to stimulate serious halakhic thinking and practice within the movement as a whole.
So “yes” to Messianic Jewish halachah, at least for those synagogues and even individuals within the direct sphere of influence and authority of MJRC. I agree that there is no one central authority for all Jews in Messiah, but then again, there’s no one central authority for any of the other Judaisms as well. As one of my readers sometimes says, “Judaism has no Pope.”
Now here’s something interesting:
As is the case for the authority of our movement as a whole, the legitimacy of our claims cannot be determined unequivocally in the present but awaits a divine judgment to be rendered in the course of future events. If our claims are justified over time, then we are an integral part of a process in which the bilateral halakhic authority of the apostolic tradition is being restored, the bilateral ekklesia is being healed, and a corporate Torah-faithful witness to Yeshua is restored to the Jewish people.
This is a very wise statement. There’s no absolute claim of authority but rather a provisional one. While it seems the Rabbis involved in the MJRC are acting in good faith, only Yeshua, upon his return, can lend full legitimacy to MJRC halachic authority and the decisions they make for their communities.
But then again, I suspect that will be true of all the different streams of Judaism, both ancient and modern, as one of the things Messiah is supposed to do is to teach Torah correctly. Since, for most observant Jews, “Torah” includes both the Written and Oral Law as well as the entire compilation of Talmudic literature, Yeshua will likely make many rulings on the decisions arrived at by the legitimate Rabbinic authorities across the ages and what those rulings mean for Jews and even non-Jews in the Kingdom of Heaven.
However, that last quote also spoke of healing the “bilateral ekklesia,” that is, healing the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Messiah, presumably clarifying our relationship and roles regarding one another.
And this is what I’ve been attempting to write about over the past several blog posts.
The MJRC article on halachah concludes:
We cannot know how the bilateral ekklesia would have developed had its Jewish corporate expression survived and thrived. Similarly, we cannot know how Jewish tradition would have developed had the Jewish disciples of Yeshua been accepted and respected by our entire people at an early stage of the development of Halakhah. We do not strive to articulate or re-create what might have been.
However, we cannot avoid engaging in the task of shaping today’s Messianic Jewish practice from the textual sources and other resources available to us today. This task places enormous demands on Messianic Jewish leaders, requiring of us a serious devotion to study, prayer, discussion, and corporate decision-making in a spirit of humility and charity. At the same time, we believe that the resurrected Messiah dwells among us and within us, and we rely upon his ongoing guidance as we seek to carry on his work of raising up the fallen tent of David within the people of Israel (Acts 15:14–18; Amos 9:11–12).
That conclusion isn’t particularly satisfying in terms of mapping out how this healing of the Jewish and Gentile bilateral ekklesia is to come about, but then again, it’s very likely that they just don’t know.
And so it comes back to that same troubling question, what does this all mean for us, the Gentiles in or near Messianic community (I say “in” or “near” even for those of us who do not directly have “Messianic community” but who nevertheless choose to study from that perspective)?
Our Master Yeshua took the loaves and fish. He told the twelve, “Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each” (Luke 9:14). “The Gospel of Mark reports that the people “sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties” on “the green grass” (Mark 6:39-40). “There was much grass in the place” (John 6:10). The green grass confirms that the story occurred in the spring when the slopes of the hills around Lake Galilee are still green. The scene invokes the Psalm of the Good Shepherd: “I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:1-2).
The Master had the people recline as they might do at a formal banquet or Passover Seder meal: “He commanded them all to recline (anaklino, ἀνακλίνω).” The reclining posture suggests the messianic banquet when the righteous will “recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). For those with eyes to see, the miraculous feeding of the multitude was a foretaste of the messianic banquet. Not unlike the miracle of transforming the water to wine, Yeshua offered a preview of the kingdom and God’s miraculous provision.
-from “A Prophetic Picnic”
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
I certainly hope the folks at FFOZ don’t mind my lifting this quote from their newsletter, but I find it quite valuable in illustrating that both Jews and Gentiles are invited to the formal banquet in the Messianic Kingdom.
On another one of my blog posts someone commented that he’d like an invitation to join that banquet, to which I replied that we have such an invitation. It was quoted above but I’ll repeat it here for emphasis:
I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…
–Matthew 8:11 (NASB)
Of course, the Master was looking at the endgame, so to speak, when all has been accomplished according to prophesy, but what about in the meantime?
That’s the tough part. Like the MJRC article said, if Messianic Rabbinic authority had continued unbroken throughout history, and it stood with the same God-given authority as the other Rabbinic sages and their rulings, things would look very much clearer.
But while the MJRC Rabbis and other organizations within larger Messianic Judaism recognize the need for healing between Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master within (and beyond) Messianic Jewish space, we really are stuck in figuring out what that should look like in the here and now.
I can’t give you a recipe for inviting a personal revelation. The emissary Yacov wrote (Jam.4:8): “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you doubtfully-minded.” However, the most famous revelations depicted in the scriptures were instigated by HaShem. Moshe wasn’t looking for a revelation, as far as we know, when he noticed an odd phenomenon on a desert mountainside, that turned out to be a bush that burned but did not burn up, whence the voice of HaShem began speaking to him. Rav Shaul had other things on his mind until a bright light spooked his horse to throw him before reaching Damascus, whence another revelation ensued. You can find other such examples for yourself. Regrettably, my own example will not likely help either, because I wasn’t looking for revelation when HaShem confronted me one night; and if someone could have warned me in advance what it would entail, I might just have tried very hard to be someplace else rather than to go through that experience. But subsequent experience lets me suspect that those who seek diligently and honestly to enter into the kingdom-of-heaven mindset, meditating on the teachings of Tenakh and on apostolic reflections of them, may just begin to experience similar insight. Who can tell what visions or dreams might ensue.
Sometimes God finds us when we’re not looking for Him. However, it is more likely we’ll recognize that encounter if we invite Him, rather than sit around waiting for His invitation to arrive in our mailbox, so to speak.
Formal halachah for the Gentiles will just have to wait. However, if we turn to Him, He will turn to us.