eviction from eden

What’s Yours is Yours

While every Jew is commanded to place a mezuzah on his doorway, the commentaries raise the question of whether a building that is owned in partnership by a Jew and a non-Jew also requires a mezuzah. [Of course, the Jewish partner would have to be the one who fulfills this obligation. Since non-Jews are in no way bound to follow the dictates of the overwhelming majority of the mitzvos of the Torah, no-obligation — financial or otherwise — can be placed on the non-Jewish partner to fulfill this mitzvah.]

Rashba (to Chullin 136a) observes that the answer to this question may be understood from a Gemara in Chullin (135b). The Gemara lists several mitzvos that, when the Torah commands them, it specifies that they must be done with an object that is “yours.” Some of the examples mentioned in the Gemara are obligations of giving terumah (the first portion of the crop) and reishis hageiz (the first shearing) to the Kohen [where the Torah tell us (Devarim 18:4): “The first of your grain, wine, and oil, and the first of the shearing of your flock shall you give to him”]…

…that these mitzvos are commanded only when dealing with an item that is totally yours…A field or animal that is partially owned by someone not obligated in these areas — a non-Jew — is not included in these directives.

-from A Taste of Lomdus
The Shabbos Commentary on Parashas Eikev, p. 60
A Daily Dose of Torah

I’ve had little motivation to write any of these “mediations” lately, but then someone contacted me via email and asked if I knew anything about this person.

If you click the link and read the article “My Long Road Home” authored by Yehudah Ilan (probably not his original name), you’ll discover the story of a person who grew up in a Christian home and after much Bible study, transitioned first into Messianic Judaism, and then shot completely out the other side, finally converting to Orthodox Judaism.

Over the years, I’ve appreciated the educational context Messianic Judaism and various ministries have provided for my elucidation into a better understanding of the Bible than the one I previously possessed. Of late though, many changes have been taking place in my life, and they’ve cast my role within any form of Judaism (and particularly Messianic) into question.

brain hack
Image credit: bebrainfit.com

First and foremost, I have a lot of personal “reinventing” to do, although I’ve come to think of my near-future tasks and goals as “rebooting and hacking”. But a singularly important aspect of how I plan to “hack” my life to make necessary changes and (hopefully) improvements, is what to do about my relationship with God.

While Messianic Judaism as a Judaism has afforded me certain intellectual and spiritual advantages over what I’ve experienced within the Church, I’ve come to realize there’s a difference between learning from within a Jewish perspective (as much as I can apprehend such a perspective, my not being Jewish) and actually having any real involvement “within” Judaism.

As I’ve been told time and again, Messianic Judaism is a movement by and for Jewish people who wish to experience and explore their discipleship under Messiah Yeshua as Jews.

I agree with that statement and support it.

But, and I’ve written about this many times, where does that leave Gentiles?

I’ve written about the answer many times, too. There are any number of Messianic congregations that welcome non-Jews as members, either primary or ancillary, and those non-Jews can have fulfilling roles within such a community.

If you, as a non-Jew, are interested or even fascinated with the benefits offered by a Messianic Jewish worship and learning experience, then I encourage you to seek such communities out, either in the physical sense or online. Just be careful about the doctrine and theology, and what sort of practices some of these groups are calling “Jewish”.

But even becoming involved in an authentic Messianic Jewish community, there’s a catch and a danger. There’s the risk of becoming confused and losing your way.

Since Jesus put on tefillin every day, I started putting on tefillin. Jesus did not eat shellfish, so I stopped eating shellfish. Jesus knew Hebrew and Aramaic, so I learned Hebrew and Aramaic. The more that I studied the New Testament from a historical perspective, especially the elements of the life of Jesus, the more Judaism I began to practice and the more Christianity I began to doubt or reject.

We were living in mid-central Minnesota in the boondocks, with no Jews for miles, and I would walk around town wearing a kippah and tzitzit. We built a kosher sukkah in our back lot and lit a Chanukah menorah in the front window.

coffee and studyLearning from Judaism isn’t the same as being required to practice Judaism.

Being devoted to Yeshua as the first fruits of the resurrection and the arbiter of the New Covenant and coming Messianic Kingdom is not the same as being devoted to the practice of Judaism for the sake of the Messiah being Jewish.

Yes, if you’re Jewish, then your devotion to God is expressed through the practice of Judaism.

But if you’re not Jewish, your devotion to God is to be focused on the coming Kingdom of God and whatever place the nations will have in such a Kingdom.

The recent Republican Presidential candidate debates, the various news stories (scandals) about Hillary Clinton, and many other political and social events are rapidly convincing me that this nation and our planet are not doing well, and they’re not going to get better any time soon.

Politics and political correctness are doing nothing to unite American citizens. In fact, they’re doing the opposite. People in this country are becoming more divided and more polarized every day. Whoever is elected the next President in our nation isn’t going to save us. He or she, in all likelihood, will just continue to travel on a path that will further divide us and result in an increase in hostility of American against American. There’s also our recent participation in events that have increased tension and threats of nuclear war in the Middle East.

There is only one Savior, one Messiah, one King. Our hope is in him, not just the hope for the Jewish people, although that’s his primary mission, but also for the world. Through saving Israel, Messiah will save the whole planet. He will rescue the devoted remnant of Jews and Gentiles, returning the Jews to their land, to Israel, and establishing peace and security for the rest of us as well, and for our nations.

But for that to happen, we, the devoted disciples among the nations, must not confuse Judaism with the worship of God. Judaism belongs to the Jewish people, not to the rest of us.

Some few Gentiles are called, for whatever reasons, to convert to Judaism (and who knows, maybe Yehudah Ilan was one of them), but that is not the path the rest of us are supposed to take.

I said there was a danger in a Gentile operating within Messianic Judaism, the danger of losing your balance. It exists, but I don’t want to overstate my point.

synagogueMany non-Jews have found a safe and secure place within Messianic Judaism and are firm in their identity as a “Messianic Gentile” (for lack of a better term).

But it’s not for everyone. I’ve determined it’s not for me for a few simple reasons. If my wife were Jewish and Messianic, there would be no dissonance in my particular “orientation” and my family would be united with me in how I understand God, Messiah, the Bible, and everything.

But they’re not. My wife is absolutely not Messianic, and she is definitely Jewish. She sees me as a Christian and, for the most part, we don’t speak of religion. When she talks about Judaism and what Jews believe, I don’t comment for the sake of peace in the family.

I’ve learned from difficult experience that for me to actively practice any form of Christianity or Messianic Judaism publicly and in community is not sustainable in my marriage. That’s not my wife’s fault…it’s the result of nearly twenty centuries of Christian-Jewish enmity, with the Jewish people usually getting the short end of the stick.

From her point of view, me going to Church or any sort of “Messianic” group is “sleeping with the enemy” (so to speak). No, she’s never said that, but we’ve been married for over thirty years. I think I know a few things about her by now.

But the other reason I’m pulling back from Messianic Judaism is that it’s just another system. Christianity is a system containing a lot of little subsystems…denominations and such. Judaism is system also containing subsystems, ways of orienting individual members toward God and community. The former system welcomes everyone as long as you comply with the requirements of the system. The latter system welcomes Jews and occasionally non-Jews (depending on which subsystems are involved), but it’s more closed because it’s serving a people and a nation, not just “believers”.

Messianic Judaism requires the non-Jew, at least at the level of the local community, to comply with the requirements of the system, but by definition, the requirements are heavily biased toward who really belongs in that system: Jews.

In quoting from A Taste of Lomdus above, I was hoping to illustrate the sense of belonging that Jews have within Judaism and relative to the Torah, even if Gentiles are somehow involved. In a joint Jewish-Gentile venture, only the Jews are obligated to what belongs to them: the Torah and the mitzvot.

I didn’t quote the part that said if a Jew and non-Jew lived in the same home, the Jew would still be obligated to put up mezuzah, even when a Jew would not be obligated to put up mezuzah if he/she owned an office building or other business with a non-Jew. I guess that means it is appropriate for my wife and I to have mezuzah on the doorposts of our home, not for my sake certainly, but for hers because she’s Jewish and the mitzvah belongs to her.

Becoming confused about what belongs to Jewish people exclusively and what belongs to the rest of us at least occasionally results in non-Jewish people making mistakes such as this one or even this one. You either decide the only solution to understanding the Bible and responding to God is to convert to Judaism or you can choose to deliberately seize Judaism and apply it to a non-Jewish life.

skyI can do neither. However,  there are still parts of the Bible that show God also accepting people of the nations into the coming Kingdom of Heaven (which isn’t Heaven in the sky but the Messianic Kingdom on Earth). We have a place, not as Jews nor as Gentiles practicing Judaism, but as people of the nations, just the way we are.

That’s all I can look forward to as a flawed and erroneous disciple of the Master, but I have a lot of work to do before I can even claim a toehold in that territory.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.

There are some people who sometimes read my blog and who only choose to contact me if I have offended them or, more to the point, if I’ve written something wrong, or something they object to, about their group or organization. I don’t want to harm anyone, but only “pinging” me to object to something isn’t a very good way to maintain a relationship.

Then there are some of you who have been very supportive of me, in spite of my obvious failings as a writer, a disciple, and a human being. Thank you.

There’s a quote attributed to multiple sources including Plato, Philo of Alexandria, Ian MacLaren, and John Watson:

Be Kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

I’d like to think that the appeal of this blog wasn’t that I was perfect (and I know I’m far, far from perfect) or some sort of “Mr Know-It-All.” I think the appeal was because I was and am fighting a hard battle, a battle that others could (and can) relate to, because all of you are fighting a hard battle, too.

In some ways, my task is both amazingly simple and incredibly difficult. The simple part is that all I really need to pay attention to is my relationship with God. That’s as easy as praying. That’s also as easy as reading the Bible and maybe paying a little extra attention to those passages of the Apostolic Scriptures regarding what the Master and Paul (and any others who may have written about it) that discussed what was expected of the non-Jew, both before the return of Messiah and following.

Granted, there’s not a lot of material to work from, but where else do I have to turn?

The hard part is changing on a fundamental level, rebooting the system and hacking my life to become different and more than what it’s been up until now.

meI’ve got a couple of “mediations” that are “in the can,” so to speak. I don’t know if I’ll publish them. I don’t want my writing to distract me from what I need to do, but on the other hand, I wrote them weeks ago.

I’ll think about it. There are just two of them, so they may show up by the by.

I may return here someday and resume or maybe even improve upon what I’ve been trying to do in the past…chronicle one life on a path of faith and trust.

I just need to have a better “me” with which to do that.


37 thoughts on “What’s Yours is Yours”

  1. James it’s as though The Lord has heard not only your heart but many of us who love and know Yeshua the Messiah the One and Only Son of the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and where we are also. Thank you for so faithfully expressing what we believe yet-however, trusting in our Lord Jesus,our Father and His Holy Spirit to work this all out for His glory and our blessing as we trust Him to “lead us in paths of righteousness for His Name Sake”.
    Blessings and Shalom, Praying for you and your family,

  2. Um, James, to borrow from a movie, “We need a bigger boat.” I think there are many of us who identify right where you are. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I think you’re right, Cynthia, which is part of what I said in the body of this blog post. However, knowing what I know about me, I can’t stay right where I am. I need to move forward. I’ve been here too long and I know God expects more of me. Where that ultimately leads, I don’t know, but I have a pretty good idea of what the first few steps should be.

  3. James, so good to see another post to your blog. I have missed it very much, and I’m sure others have, also. You have a lot to say, a lot to share, and I believe it’s beneficial and needed . As you continue your journey, I sincerely hope you won’t abandon the blog. I’ve learned a lot from you, have purchased books at your recommendation, have changed the way I think about certain things due to your influence, and have greatly appreciated so many of your articles, and I’ve read hundreds of them in the short time since discovering it. Praying our Adonai will lead you by His Spirit and work His beautiful work in you. Blessings in Messiah.

    1. That’s quite a commendation, Linda. Thank you. I’m a little daunted though, since I’m just a guy like anyone else. Believe me, I’ve made mistakes.

      Only time and God will tell what happens with his blog, or with anything for that matter.


  4. Hello, James. It’s good to see you back on the post and also good to hear that you are actually going somewhere. I’ve missed your post so much. I mean, a lot… I think the reason why I’ve loved this post so much was because you have so much experience of actually studying and living Judaism out, (though you’ve told the subscribers enough about the mistakes that you’ve made). I think it was your trials and errors which have assisted my spiritual journey and definitely others as well. I think Adonai will absolutely take joy in your passion for Him and for his people. We all falter and fall. But we get up again and carry on. Thank you Hashem and also you for all the things you’ve shared and the things you will continue to share. Love in Hashem!

  5. We all are getting closer to the crossroads in our pathways…it just doesn’t always seem that way. First one is looking for the off-ramp to Judaism, and then one is trying to find some lost path to a Messianic Synagogue, but ends up in a roundabout that doesn’t seem to end as we keep by-passing the off-ramp to the Kingdom.

    I agree that a Messianic Gentile’s pathway does not necessarily lead through Judaism of any type, though I still seek good Rabbi’s weekly for their teaching, and to add more understanding to my life of YHVH and Yeshua. It amazes me how much the Rabbis speak of Yeshua when they do not know it, just as I hear what Isaiah is saying to the Gentiles if we will take hold of the covenant, and honor G-d’s Shabbat. Taking hold of the Covenant is not exactly adopting the Covenant as one’s own when one is a Gentile, because we have a place in the Kingdom as Gentiles.

    Isaiah 25:1-10 (CJB)
    1 Adonai, you are my God. I exalt you, I praise your name. For you have accomplished marvels, [fulfilled] ancient plans faithfully and truly.
    2 For you have made a city a heap of stones, turned a fortified city into rubble, made the foreigners’ fortress a city that will never be rebuilt.
    3 Therefore mighty peoples glorify you, the city of ruthless nations fears you.
    4 For you have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in distress, shelter from the storm, shade from the heat — for the blast from the ruthless was like a storm that could destroy a wall.
    5 Like desert heat, you subdue the foreigners’ uproar; like heat subdued by a cloud’s shadow, the song of the ruthless dies away.
    6 On this mountain Adonai-Tzva’ot will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and superb wines, delicious, rich food and superb, elegant wines.
    7 On this mountain he will destroy the veil which covers the face of all peoples, the veil enshrouding all the nations.
    8 He will swallow up death forever. Adonai Elohim will wipe away the tears from every face, and he will remove from all the earth the disgrace his people suffer. For Adonai has spoken.
    9 On that day they will say, “See! This is our God! We waited for him to save us. This is Adonai; we put our hope in him. We are full of joy, so glad he saved us!”
    10 For on this mountain the hand of Adonai will rest.

    Isaiah 56:1-8 (KJV)
    1 Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
    2 Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.
    3 Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
    4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
    5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
    6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
    7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
    8 The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.

    It doesn’t do any good to long for the connection that Jews have with one another…even if we adopt their faith and practices, we are not and will not be Jewish, not even in the Kingdom. Adopted brothers, certainly, but there is no blood bond, and it does make difference, just as marrying in to Judaism is a sacremental bond more telling than a union in Yeshua, because children are born of it, and you are connected thereby.

    Acting Jewishly when one is not a Jew is unnecessary, and sometimes foolish and offensive to actual Jews. It is why my Sabbaths and traditions of the Feasts of G-d are so plain…there is little Jewish flavor to them. even if they are not exactly Christian in nature either. My ways are quiet little ways, with no one to view them, and no need to have them viewed.

    They are my remembrances of YHVH’s stated desires for the people who are the apple of His eye, and performed in hope of what the Kingdom I can imagine will be like when I am really welcome in every synagogue. I too am sitting back, and looking to when the Torah that is written in me will be at the hand and direction of the Master, and no one will need to tell me any more what it is to seek G-d.

    I pray, James, that you will locate your pathway, near to that of your wife’s desires, yet still just your own way to approach G-d. It needn’t be much of anything, just a focus on what G-d would like you to do, and what you would like to do to please G-d…study, pray, remember and rejoice in many ways that Yeshua is our Saviour.

    And occasionally, write and tell us all how you are doing, because we value you, and the places and thoughts that you have led us to.

  6. Hey there James,

    Without being overly simplistic (as we all know this subject is far from being matter-of-fact), I think that for all of us (Jew and Gentile), the real pressing matter, the one thing that is crystal clear, no matter who you are, is the fact that this life was, and is meant to be lived in the service of others through the lens of self sacrificial love.

    I think if we fail to grasp this one thing, we miss the entire point altogether.

    When I read the words of Yeshua, this is the one theme that seems to permeate the text in almost every place you look. Far from being a simplification of the image and person of Messiah, I think it is precisely the love bit that holds everything together, magnifies it, and gives it the deepest perspective of the richness and the beauty of a life lived for G-d. (Mind you, we’re talking about true love here, not Hollywood, or Romantic love; but long suffering, dedicated, sacrificial love).

    Having followed your writing, Derek’s, Peter’s, and the general Messianic blogosphere for a good few years now, I think the one thing that seems to persistently ring true is the overall lack of focus on this main principle. (And we are all guilty as charged).

    For most of us, but especially as Messianic’s (for what should be obvious reasons to everyone who reads this blog), we are obviously prone to be nit-pickers and to scrutinize (especially when it comes to our religious texts). What was the true meaning of Acts 15? Why did Sha’ul circumcise Timothy? If we really triple dissect this or that Greek word, what One Law or Bilateral view of scripture can we attain? And etc, etc… Ad nauseum…

    The tragedy of this being, however well intentioned it might sometimes be; we end up looking far more like the blind guides who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel, rather than our own Master who was ironically rebuking such types for their lack of emphasis on the weightier matters of the law such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. As you always say James, more’s the pity…

    I suppose what I am trying to say here is this; is our dedication and evaluation of our religious texts and their implications for our daily lives an important task? Absolutely. Should it be carried out, and held in high importance, so that we might better understand what the expectation is of us as disciples of the Master? Yes, quite right. Should we allow ourselves to become so caught up within such study and debate that we lose sight, and begin to live to the exclusion of the truly weightier matters of the law, and of life? Resoundingly, and I hope all would agree, no.

    Something tells me that a lot of us Messianic’s (myself included), when standing before the throne of G-d, might well be able to give a very detailed account of the amount of debate and debacle we have exhausted ourselves with throughout our life as concerned the matters of Torah and it’s specific application to our daily living, only to be given a somber, disappointed sigh, as the One of the Throne says, “Sadly, my son, you have missed the entire point.”

    What is the point? Well I think it lies somewhere between feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the infirm, and in general, laying down our lives for one another in sacrificial love. In demonstrating our brotherly affection to all whom we meet, in being kind to those who need our kindness, in seeing humanity for the broken-yet-beautiful thing of which it is, in being humble and lowly, and in serving one another in respect and dignity.

    As Art Katz mentioned, concerning the man (or angel, per Katz) who introduced him to the love of G-d, he, being Katz, was told by his mysterious roadside helper, that “what the world really needs is for men to wash one another’s feet.”

    I’m not saying that the other mitzvot are not important, but generally speaking, I believe that G-d is far more concerned with the condition of our hearts and the content of our character, than He is regarding the length of our tzit-tzit. (This is in no disrespect to that commandment, but rather an illustration).

    For those of us who aren’t even sure if we, as Gentiles, should even be wearing tzit-tzit to begin with, I do think we can find a good amount of comfort and direction here; namely, in holding up the cross as the image of Love, with a capital L, and in emulating that per the way in which we live our lives.

    Self sacrificial, emptying of ourselves for the other, as the way of truth, and life, for all of those who call themselves followers of the Most High G-d.

    My prayers are with you, James, and with all of us who are struggling with what it means to be Messianic, and ultimately, what it means to be a human being. Hang in there.


  7. I was sad to read your post above James — these last few blog posts of yours have really left me with the sense that you’re feeling ‘out of place’ no matter where you go — whether a Messianic or a traditional Christian congregation. And from the outside-looking-in, I can’t help but think that the problem is less the fact that your wife is Jewish yet not a believer, and more the fact that your personal conceptualization of Messianic Judaism is so narrow (“…a movement by and for Jewish people”), that there’s no way you can find a way into it. Maybe it’s finally time to seek out a broader definition of Messianic Judaism — one that is more universal in it’s scope, more inclusive in it’s ecclesiology, and one that paves the way for something that can last generations — not just for Jews, but for non-Jews as well.

    [In my experience, when people don’t feel like they ‘fully belong’ within a particular group, they naturally gravitate either out of that group, or away from the system of beliefs that drew them there in the first place.]

    Truth is, I’m concerned about the trajectory you’re currently on brother. If a Christian congregation doesn’t work for you, and if your definition of Messianic Judaism causes you to attend MJ congregations that leave you feeling “on the outside looking in,” then you’re headed down a dangerous path — a path that leaves you with no congregation, no real way to grow in your walk with God, and makes you *extremely* susceptible to falling away altogether.

    You’re not the only one I’ve seen go down this path — I’ve seen it happen more than once. And I’m praying that if you’re not currently connected to a Yeshua-following congregation, that you adjust whatever needs to be adjusted speedily, and get connected quickly, before things take an even more dangerous turn.

    1. @Rob Roy — If “Messianic Judaism” were not to be defined so narrowly as to be limited to “a movement by and for Jewish people”, then the term “Judaism” would cease to have any meaning. Judaism is not universal; it is particularistic. Gentile Roman Imperialistic Christianity developed its supercessionistic perspective precisely because it pursued the “catholic” notion of universality and denied the Jewish particularism of the scriptures and of Rav Yeshua himself. He meant what he said in Mt.15:24 about being sent only to the lost sheep of the household of Israel. He was fully cognizant of the narrow focus. What became universally available was the benefits of his symbolic sacrificial martyrdom and the implications of his resurrection, along with the notion about the immediacy of the kingdom of heaven. How one conducts oneself in accordance with that kingdom is, nonetheless, conditioned either by membership in the particular household of Israel or by one’s external relationship with members of that household (indicated within the promise to Avraham in Gen.22:18, and cited in Gal.3).

      Consequently I regret that I must sadden you by insisting that the term Messianic Judaism must belong exclusively to us Jews, and that you can’t have it or redefine it to deny our distinctive existence and covenantal responsibilities. You’re welcomed and encouraged to benefit from Jewish teachings preserved within Judaism and elucidated by Messianic Judaism whether you’re Jewish or not, but you need to employ a different label for whatever non-Jewish religious praxis you develop from that gracious benefit; and it is not appropriate merely to copy Jewish praxis nor to appropriate for gentile use the term Judaism. A gentile “Judaism” is a contradiction of terms, even if its praxis evokes symbolism borrowed from Jewish literature and culture. Whether or not your own praxis becomes suitable universally for all gentiles is another question, and the history of Christianity seems to have demonstrated that some diversity is required, even among gentiles, rather than universality.

      @Nate — If our “Love” is to countenance the weightier matters of Torah, we must consider that “Justice” and “Faithfullness” must apply to the restoration of the Jewish people to all that was stolen from them, and their return to faithful obedience if they have strayed from it. It is only “Mercy” that enables them to do so. This is why a blog such as James has been writing has been so beneficial in its attempt to focus on the importance of the religious texts that have been so often misread contrarily to these weighty goals. I don’t think anyone here has been focusing on the length of tzitzit, nor on the tithing of spices as cited in Mt.23:23, but I do think the principle cited there holds true that these things should be remembered without neglecting these weightier matters.

      Moreover, this blog in particular has tried to explore the implications of that Jewish restoration for gentile disciples, and how they may pursue the middot of faithfulness and mercy as middot rather than as mitzvoth. It is rather a pity that James has not had more fellow gentile readers that share his viewpoint and who live nearby, with whom he might fellowship and from whom he might obtain reinforcement and encouragement in his pursuit of such middot.

      @James — I believe that you have, in fact, been serving other people in the capacity of a capable writer and by means of your words in this blog that include wisdom you’ve collected from a number of sources, particularly Jewish ones. While you claim that you’ve got your hands full, it is my hope that HaShem will continue to fill them extraordinarily to achieve His good purposes.

      1. My slow down/stop in writing on this blog is more than me seeking a better way to be of service to God and other people. I need to find a better way to be a better “me”. I know I don’t have to be a perfect person in order to have a journey of faith, and in fact, such a journey is all about not being perfect but traveling the path of spiritual growth. I’ve determined that I need to make not just small, incremental changes, but significant “hacks” in certain areas of my life. As I mentioned above, this is both a simple and complex set of tasks. What I have to do seems straightforward but making life changes is pretty difficult.

        Part of what I need to accomplish is a shift of focus from Judaism to the Kingdom. I’m indebted to Troy Mitchell for pointing this out (not about me, just in general) on more than one occasion.

        Now that I think about it, it seems so obvious, but being “Kingdom-focused” is often masked by the emphasis on Judaism in Messianic Judaism, as least for a non-Jew like me. It’s a matter of studying the Bible from a Jewish perspective that preserves the reality of God’s redemptive plan for Israel and how that’s applied to the redemption of all of the nations through Israel — and, at the same time — remaining rooted in the ethnic and national identity I come from and where I live. In my case, that’s a non-Jewish American living in Southwestern Idaho who happens to be a (rather poor) disciple of a Jewish teacher, redeemer, and King.

        I understand that there are a unique set of difficulties in a Jewish person functioning as a disciple of Rav Yeshua, but there are also difficulties in non-Jewish disciples apprehending the truth of the Gospel in Jewish teachings while not losing our footing or our anchor into who we are.

        If you don’t fit into the church or the synagogue, then you have to create someplace where you do fit. That might not mean any sort of community, congregation, fellowship, or study group. That might mean a way of “fitting” who we are into our relationship with the Master. I know God expects non-Jewish people from non-Jewish nations to bend their knees to Him in worship and obedience, so we do have a future. But we also have a present we need to be dealing with, and I’m trying to build that present and future at the level of the individual: me.

        Once I truly am not only “talking the talk” but actually “walking the walk,” I’ll have more to say when I “talk,” or in this case, write.

  8. @sagacio23: Well trying to go somewhere. Thank you for your kind words. We’ll see what the future brings.

    @Questor: As I said above, I think there’s a great deal to be gained by studying the Bible using a Jewish perspective, especially within Messianic Judaism. I agree that studying inside of a Jewish context doesn’t mean that practicing Judaism, as such, must follow, especially if Jewish practice becomes the focus rather than the Messianic promise and the Glory of God.

    I’ll see if I can stay in touch.

    @Nate: I agree that living in the service of others is a mandate for both Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of the Master, and something particularly valued in both Christianity and Judaism. If I never wrote another word but spent the rest of my days humbly serving other people in whatever capacity God grants me, I’d be a better man for it.

    We are commanded to serve, but I also believe we are commanded to study, for without understanding the Word of God, how can we understand God and what we are to do in His Name?

    In Judaism, it is thought that if a Jew studies the Torah and internalizes its values, that will naturally lead the person to performing the mitzvot and leading a life of piety. That’s the true purpose of study, not to use the Bible to try and “nail” someone on a theological error they’ve (perhaps) made.

    I appreciate your compassion and your prayers, Nate. Thanks

    @Rob: I think I know where you’re leading with this, and I’ve already been down that path. I don’t know that there is such a thing as “Judaism for the Gentile,” at least not a praxis that closely mimics Jewish religious custom and behavior.

    In any event, as I’ve said so many times before, even if the “perfect” congregation were within my reach, I’d have to strongly consider how my attendance would affect my home life. No, my long suffering wife wouldn’t say a word, but I remember the look on her face that one Sunday morning when I walked out the door to attend the only Easter service I will ever attend.

    It is also true that lately I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with a few people within Messianic Judaism, but people shouldn’t be the reason for how one practices or studies, and they certainly shouldn’t determine if one remains faithful to God or not.

    All of which leads me to the conclusion that it is God and the coming Messianic Kingdom I should be focusing on, not necessarily highly specific theologies, doctrines, movements, or movement leaders. In fact, I’ve “unplugged” from a lot/most of them in the various areas of social media I tend to frequent just to quiet the din of religious-speak. To be fair, I’ve also unplugged from some secular and atheist people to get rid of their negativity toward certain religions as well as their attitudes toward various political and social movements.

    Between my job, my extra writing project (which I can’t speak of until it’s near publication…no, nothing religious), my family life, and developing my personal plan of correction, I’ve got my hands full.

    You’re worried I’m going to become an apostate and leave the faith. You aren’t the only one to express that concern over the past several months.

    However, so far at least, it hasn’t happened. No matter where I go and how far from religious community I travel, God is always there with me. I think that’s why I’m not worried about “losing my faith,” because God is the only One who is 100% faithful, in spite of my flaws.

    Thanks and blessings.

  9. James,

    Is it so strange that I would make the “mistake” of “seizing” Judaism when the one I worship, Yeshua, taught and practiced Judaism? In any event, I can’t help it: He created me to love Jews and Judaism with every fiber of my being. Let everyone think me a fool, it makes no difference to me.

    Still, it’s good to hear from you. May you and your family experience the peace and blessings of Yeshua!



    1. @Peter — Of course it is not “strange” or unexplainable that you would make the “mistake” of “seizing” upon Judaism when Rav Yeshua, to whom you have devoted yourself, taught and practiced Judaism. It is, in fact, currently an all-too-common mistake among gentiles who seek a means of becoming more like the rabbi whose teachings they wish to implement in their own lives. The mistake is, to be sure, merely a failure to distinguish between developing the character qualities that he advocated and usurping a religious identity that was developed to aid Jews in particular to develop such character qualities. I say “usurping” because that identity was intended for Jews distinctively, and not for the rest of humanity; though certainly it was and is intended that all of humanity should develop such sterling character.

      It is not a mistake for gentile disciples to love Jews and Judaism, because this is indicated by Isaiah as one of the blessings that gentiles will confer upon Jews as part of their restoration that he foresaw and which is occurring in our own era as the second exile draws to its closure. It is not a mistake for those of the nations to grasp the tzitzit of a representative Jew to request that they may accompany him as he draws near to HaShem. It *is* a mistake for these “foreigners” of the non-Jewish nations to seek to wear the tzitzit themselves, as if the existence of the “Jew”, which they are not, were irrelevant and that they could take his place or even stand alongside him as if they also had become Jews.

      Such a mistake diminishes the distinctive value and responsibility that HaShem has placed upon the Jewish people and upon those who actually take on such responsibilities via formally-authorized conversion to Judaism. Such a mistake also diminishes the value of the “foreigners” who demonstrate that they, despite their foreign-ness, have reached above and beyond the basic requirements that HaShem expects of humanity at large, by affiliating with (or “clinging” to) more advanced notions that HaShem gifted to the Jewish nation as an opportunity to enlighten the others. However, such a mistake can be repented. It can be unlearned. It can be avoided. And a better path can be carved out of the wilderness of confusion, in order to pursue the intended character development.

  10. @James: “Part of what I need to accomplish is a shift of focus from Judaism to the Kingdom.”

    I totally agree.

    Although it’s essential for Jews to engage rabbinic Judaism to access and understand their own family and history, this is not the “story” of non-Jews. While we can benefit from understanding it, we are weighed down with errant paradigms that get in the way.

    For example, most of us think that Christianity descended from ‘Judaism’, including the young man you referenced in your post. This paradigm inevitably leads to non-Jews assuming that a. Gentile identity is 2nd-class/chopped liver, b. Jews are the only ones capable of correct/pure thinking, c. everyone must be/look/act Jewish to legitimately serve and be loved by God.

    ‘Judaism’ in the days of Yeshua was diverse, and different from Rabbinic Judaism that came later. As some point out (although this doesn’t seem to be a popular theme), many/most (?) Jewish groups rejected “conversion” because “becoming a Jew” was simply impossible: God covenanted with the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Sojourning among Jews, even circumcision of non-Jews, did not render them “Jews”. (All of Abraham’s sons and slaves were circumcised)

    This confusion leads Gentiles to wrongly assume they can take on the identity and calling of a Jew — which there is zero biblical support for –and neglect their own God-given grace/purpose/identity. Of course, they must deny Yeshua to do so. How sad.

  11. General Question: Why isn’t conversion an option?

    I’m interested on hearing thoughts on why a person couldn’t convert to Judaism. If we say that a Jewish person is still Jewish and retains their Judaism even if they have faith in Yeshua, then couldn’t a gentile convert to Judaism while also retaining their faith in Yeshua. I know that the non-Messianic Jewish community holds to a “no” answer because they ask converts to reject all the beliefs of their past and that Yeshua has no part in Judaism. However couldn’t there be a Messianic Jewish conversion process (that mimics even an Orthodox type one) just like non-Messianic Judaism does?

    I know not every gentile has this desire. Not even every gentile drawn to Judaism has this desire. However why couldn’t this be an option for those gentile believers who are drawn to Judaism and do have this strong desire?

    1. @JAllen — Rav Shaul made great efforts to ensure that gentile disciples would not be coerced into conversion, and to avoid the “mistakes” I discussed above in response to Peter. However, there is a category that even Rav Shaul made some allowance for, which reflects some ancient aspects of Torah whereby joining the Jewish people was possible; though merely becoming a disciple of Rav Yeshua is not one of the justifications for it. SWJ referred to a modern rabbinic demand for converts to repudiate former beliefs in “Jesus”, thereby supposedly making it impossible for Rav Yeshua disciples to convert to Judaism. This is not entirely accurate, because the actual halakhic demand is to repudiate idolatry. The association of this with “Jesus” is due to the common Christian definition of him as an idolatrous demigod figure who is worshiped as G-d. However, I have known knowledgeable converts who were not required to deny their affiliation with Rav Yeshua, because they were acknowledged not to hold any such idolatrous views. Moreover, there are conversions performed halakhically under MJ rabbinic auspices, which also are able to make this distinction and to receive converts who are disciples of Rav Yeshua that understand his nature properly.

      Therefore, while I assure you that a proper sort of halakhic conversion to Judaism is possible, it is not an option that can be justified merely by a feeling or desire (not even a “strong” one). Someone who desires to convert must demonstrate more than that, and must be discouraged from even trying, to ensure that they understand all of the ramifications, that they are capable of lifelong commitment to the Jewish people, and that they are effectively repairing an anomaly in their situation in accordance with the mitzvah of “tikun ha’olam”. In particular, gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua must understand Rav Shaul’s writings about what are *not* proper reasons for conversion and what are the dangers of misunderstanding both the nature of conversion and the benefits that are already theirs as gentile disciples.

      It is, regrettably, precisely that last notion, of the benefits that Rav Yeshua makes available to gentile disciples, outside the boundaries of the Jewish covenant, which is insufficiently understood. Thus also, religious behaviors that support gentile character development, in accordance with Rav Yeshua’s perspectives on Jewish Torah living, are not well-defined nor understood. Perhaps James will be able to develop deeper insight into these matters as he shifts his focus, as he described it, from Judaism to the kingdom of heaven. Since Rav Yeshua described, for his Jewish audience, the relationship between diligent Torah teaching and Torah observance and greatness in the kingdom of heaven (cif: Mt.5:19-20), and since regular study of Torah under Jewish guidance is apparently expected of gentile disciples per Acts 15:21 — though their observance of it is limited by the halakhic decision presented in that chapter — it seems that a thorough familiarity with the aspects of Torah that do apply to gentiles must be developed in order for gentile disciples (i.e., Avrahamic Noahides) to pursue a non-Judaistic version of greatness in the kingdom. I presume that such study will need to build further upon the foundation of instructions and observations that Rav Shaul offered to the gentile assemblies under his care.

  12. Peter said:

    Is it so strange that I would make the “mistake” of “seizing” Judaism when the one I worship, Yeshua, taught and practiced Judaism? In any event, I can’t help it: He created me to love Jews and Judaism with every fiber of my being. Let everyone think me a fool, it makes no difference to me.

    As the old joke about the Umpire goes, “I calls ’em as I sees ’em.” 😉

    Actually, what you wrote really reminds me of the quote from Yehudah Ilan I inserted into the body of this blog post:

    Since Jesus put on tefillin every day, I started putting on tefillin. Jesus did not eat shellfish, so I stopped eating shellfish. Jesus knew Hebrew and Aramaic, so I learned Hebrew and Aramaic. The more that I studied the New Testament from a historical perspective, especially the elements of the life of Jesus, the more Judaism I began to practice and the more Christianity I began to doubt or reject.

    Do you see where I’m headed with this? Excessive “blurring of the lines,” so to speak results in loss of identity and role. Gentiles have increasing difficulty understanding that the Jewish people are unique and chosen, even from the people of the nations who are called by His Name.

    We stop trying to find out what makes Gentiles in Messiah unique and special to God and ultimately, we lose ourselves in either Judaism or Jewish praxis, neither of which belongs to us.

    To be sure, there’s some overlap. We know (or can reasonably infer) that Cornelius, the Roman Centurion (Acts 10) prayed at the set times of (Jewish) prayer. We don’t know exactly what he prayed, since siddurim didn’t exist in those days, but he did follow the timing of the prayers.

    One of the things I plan to do during my hiatus is to diligently re-read the Apostolic Scriptures to search out those practices of the Master and those taught by Paul and others that are applicable to a Kingdom-focused non-Jewish life.

    Sojourning said:

    This confusion leads Gentiles to wrongly assume they can take on the identity and calling of a Jew — which there is zero biblical support for –and neglect their own God-given grace/purpose/identity. Of course, they must deny Yeshua to do so.

    My point exactly. Too much focus on Judaism and Jewish practice by non-Jews seems to get in the way of devotion to Messiah and the coming Kingdom and, in some cases, may lead the non-Jewish believer to apostate and convert to (usually Orthodox) Judaism, totally denying the Master.

    @JAllen: Conversion in general or me converting in particular? In general, a person converting to Judaism is required to deny all other religious affiliations including (and especially) Christianity or any belief that Jesus (Yeshua) is the Messiah and/or of a Divine nature.

    As far as me personally, I won’t deny the Messiah, therefore conversion is out of the question. Besides, the local Chabad Rabbi won’t perform conversions because there is almost no Jewish community here in Idaho, and although the local Reform/Conservative Rabbi will do conversions, again, it’s a matter of denying Messiah.

    The answer isn’t in converting. If it were, then the prophesies in the Bible about the people of the nations bending their knee to the God of Israel would be moot. The answer is in discovering the role of the non-Jew in the coming Kingdom and then embracing that role and identity.

  13. @James: My topic is conversion in general. My thought is around the definition of Messianic Judaism held by the big groups like MJAA or UMJC that Messianic Judaism is a legitimate Judaism. Therefore converting through Messianic Judaism with a real smicha rabbinic group overseeing it would be a legitimate Jewish conversion no matter what non-Messianic Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox) has to say about it. I think that is what I’m trying to discuss.

    I don’t think that if a small percentage of Yeshua believing gentiles did that (which it probably would be because I think the vast majority of believing gentiles have no desire to convert anyway) would cause the prophesies of the nations, which I believe to be corporate in nature, to be moot. For example Timothy was considered a gentile and had a formal conversion to Judaism. His role and identity changed.

    I think this stuff is worthy to discuss. I just hope there isn’t an error in denying gentiles conversion to Judaism through Messianic Judaism because those peoples’ desires might be so strong that it does take them to Orthodoxy and they ultimately deny Yeshua which is sad.

    1. @JAllen — Allow me to offer a point of clarification about Timothy: his mother and grandmother were Jews. Only his father was Greek. Even at that time there existed the interpretation that was later codified in Mishna to say that any child of a Jewish mother is a Jew, regardless of the father’s origins. Hence Rav Shaul’s circumcision of Timothy was not a conversion nor a change of status or role or identity, but rather it was an acknowledgement and confirmation of an already-existing Jewish status that had been concealed or inhibited because of his non-Jewish father.

      What is it that you wish to discuss about conversion that is not explained in my previous post? Those few rare gentiles who have appropriate justification to seek conversion may obtain it through one or another form of Judaism if they pursue it properly; and gentiles are not erroneously denied conversion to Judaism through MJ. There is, of course, always a concern about who will accept whose conversion as valid within a given community. Why is this a matter of such concern to you, that Rav Shaul’s responsum to the Galatian assemblies not to seek conversion is not for you sufficient?

  14. “Timothy was considered a gentile and had a formal conversion to Judaism. His role and identity changed.”

    From everything I’ve read, this is not true. There is much debate between scholars as to what Paul was doing by having Timmothy circumcised, and his Jewish status since he had a Greek father. Certainly, after all he said forbidding Gentiles to take on circumcision, it would be more than a little hypocritical of Paul to do that with someone considered to be a Gentile.

    I tend to believe that it was not yet an “either/or” proposition re how Jewisness was passed to children at that point, and Shaye Cohen and others don’t know precisely when Jews decided to adopt the Roman way of determining ethnicity, but he believes it was in the 2nd century.

  15. @SWJ & @PL

    I got that about Timothy from a couple of sources, one being Shaye Cohen’s book “The Beginnings of Jewishness”

    [ In the period before the codification of the Mishnah, Timothy would
    have been viewed as a Gentile and that his circumcision represented
    a formal conversion to Judaism. Matrilineal descent, according to
    Cohen, though the normative cri­teria for determining Jewish identity
    today, was not the standard in the time of Rav Shaul and Timothy.

    According to Cohen, evidence for Timothy’s non-Jewish sta­tus prior
    to his circumcision rests on three observations:

    1. The natural reading of the Acts passage (above) where Timothy’s
    non-Jewish father is specifically mentioned as the reason for the B’rit

    2. The fact that in the dozen times the B’rit Chadashah mentions
    Timothy aside from Acts 16: 1-4, “not a single passage implies that he
    was a Jew by birth.” (Cohen, 376).

    3. The fact that the majority of Patristic commentators from the
    earliest days of the Church have viewed Timothy as a Gentile whom
    Paul circumcised.

    Thus, it seems clear that when he performed the B’rit Milah, he was
    performing a conversion.]


    PL Wrote: “Why is this a matter of such concern to you, that Rav Shaul’s responsum to the Galatian assemblies not to seek conversion is not for you sufficient?”

    I am under the understanding that the point of Galatians was to combat an idea/doctrine that was being spread by the group Paul calls “The Influencers”. That idea/doctrine was the same topic of the Acts 15 council: that “a gentile must become legally/halachaly Jewish in order to be saved” Therefore Paul’s whole argument was for gentiles to not seek conversion in order to be saved nor be urged to do so.

    As far as I can tell there is no place where Paul speaks against a gentile who has a solid knowledge of justification, a full understanding of the benefits that are already theirs, and knowing firmly that he/she is saved already without becoming legally/halachaly Jewish. It seems that it should be open to gentiles who have these understandings and still have have a calling to convert albeit with good reason, whether social, marital, spiritual, reparational, etc.

    What would be your thoughts on appropriate justification for gentiles to seek conversion?

  16. There’s still the problem of hypocrisy if Timothy was considered a gentile. Paul has traditionally been read as having “converted” out of Judaism into Christianity and having his name changed to mark the event, which makes him “converting” Timothy to Judaism, which he forbids Gentiles to do, schizophrenic and dishonest. Often 1Cor 9:20-23 is used as his likely rational, but juxtaposing that to Gal 5:2 (and several other examples) makes him “converting” Timothy to Judaism morally and spiritually egregious.

    However, if Timothy—being a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—had been denied circumcision by his Greek father, then Paul was correcting the situation, which reveals a Paul who believed Jews should be/stay Jews, and Gentiles should be/stay Gentiles. This reveals a more consistent and congruent Paul than the Church has portrayed.

    Additionally, there are those scholars who believe that Paul was among those Jews who didn’t think it was possible for a Gentile to “become Jewish”, because Jews are born.

  17. PL said:

    It is, regrettably, precisely that last notion, of the benefits that Rav Yeshua makes available to gentile disciples, outside the boundaries of the Jewish covenant, which is insufficiently understood.

    This is the exact question that “Judaically-aware” non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua must confront (sorry about the “label,” but we don’t have a very well defined identity in Yeshua, which is part of the problem).

    And yet, it is clear that non-Jews, with some exceptions, are to remain non-Jews. Becoming Jewish isn’t the answer and neither is imitating the Jewish covenant duties to God. Once non-Jews surrender those two choices, only then are we free to explore who we really are or are supposed to be.

    @JAllen: Gentile conversion to Messianic Judaism is an option, but it’s not without pitfalls, the largest being non-acceptance by the majority of Jews. While Jewish people may have “opinions” about Messianic Jews, they will accept that MJs are indeed Jewish. My brother-in-law who is a born-again Christian and who denies that his (and my wife’s) mother was Jewish (long story) could still be part of a minyan, as my wife explains it to me.

    But if I, as a non-Jew, were to convert within the context of Messianic Judaism, except in Messianic Jewish circles, I’d still be considered a Goy.

    Both the matter of Timothy’s circumcision and the many nuances of the Epistle to the Galatians are controversial and are hardly settled within the community of New Testament scholarship.

    I just came across an article published online by Aish.com called Judaism in the Eyes of a Non-Jew.

    It seems a young woman living in the Philippines formed a relationship with an Orthodox Jewish person in a “Harry Potter” online fan community, and from that contact, became fascinated, not only with Judaism, but with performing some of the mitzvot, although in a unique manner.

    Right now, she’s not considering converting, but neither does she believe she is “obligated” to the mitzvot she “observes.” But she has discovered that saying many of the blessings and living a life committed to tikkun olam and tzedekah has made her a better person. She has consulted a number of Rabbis and other informed sources and it seems, as long as you don’t go around claiming “the Torah is mine,” most Jews don’t have a problem with non-Jews reciting Modeh Ani, the Bedtime Shema, giving Tedakah and performing acts of chesed.

    Of course, her local Jewish community relates to her as a Noahide and, based on the article, she is not a disciple of Yeshua, the “Messianic” issue doesn’t figure into her praxis or her relationship with Jewish people.

    So “yes,” a non-Jew can benefit from Torah study and practicing some of the mitzvot, however, affiliation with the community of Yeshua disciples and any claim of “owning” the Torah as a non-Jew doesn’t seem to be a part of the package, at least as this one young woman describes her story.

  18. James and Proclaim Liberty,

    No, you don’t understand me at all. But I’ll tell you my story in the hopes that you’ll understand:

    My first inkling that there was a better way of life occurred when my parents introduced me to Zola Levitt. I learned for the first time that there was value in Judaism, beauty in the feasts, etc. Then in college my friend introduced me to David Stern’s “Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel.” And I realized for the first time that not only was there a beauty to Judaism but that the Christian model was deeply flawed, portraying a Jesus who hated the Law, hated Jews, and portrayed Paul as a man who had “recovered” from Judaism.

    Then some years passed. I had “girl trouble.” I realized I needed guidance, that I had no understanding when it came to women. And, having read what Christianity had to offer (which was dismal), I turned to books written by Jewish authors.

    I spent the next few years devouring all the books written about Jewish relationship wisdom. I realized that G-d had blessed this people with wisdom, I was learning things about myself I had never understood before, realized things about my relationship with G-d that I had never understood before.

    I felt like a scientist who had been stymied for years working on an equation who is one day given a simple equation that changes everything. Ah ha! So that’s where I went wrong! Everything clicked.

    Slowly it dawned on me that this way of life provided insight and wisdom not just in this one area of life but in EVERY way of life.

    “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people,” Deut. 4:6

    A light came on in the deepest sense of the expression. This is my story: a Gentile with a darkened understanding who caught a glimpse of the light and was drawn inexorably toward it.

    Make fun of me all you want. Your previous comments in this thread, James and Proclaim Liberty, wounded me considerably to the point I was depressed for several days. But Yeshua gave me the strength this morning to share my story with you.



    1. @Peter — If you think James or I have been in any degree “making fun” of you, you have not understood what has been written here (and I’m sorry if that saddened you). We have each told you that there is an error in your thinking, and that you are not the only gentile who has ever made such an error. Perhaps it consists merely of failing to distinguish between Jewish wisdom or insight and the practice of Judaism. In my previous reply to you, I suggested failure to distinguish between developing character, by means of Jewish advice, and the Jewish praxis that was developed to aid Jews to do so. These represent related aspects of the same fundamental error.

      You didn’t say whether you had ever read CS Lewis or George MacDonald. Both of them offered better Christian insight than JRR Tolkein’s stories, though they were nonetheless working within a Christian model that was flawed by centuries of having been cut off from Jewish insights and cultural examples. It is certainly to be recommended for gentile would-be disciples of Rav Yeshua to deepen their understanding and to clarify their perspective by recognizing the implications of his nature as a genuinely Jewish messianic admor. It is likewise to be recommended, per Acts 15:21, that they learn what Torah teaches from a Jewish perspective. But one thing that they are *not* to do with that depth of understanding and perspective is to act like they are Jews, nor are they to convert to Judaism (also indicated in Acts 15 and in Rav Shaul’s instructions to the Galatians).

      Zola Levitt, to the best of my understanding, reflects an outdated Jewish-Christian perspective that is still infected with a Christian sense of universalism that fails to acknowledge the ongoing validity of Judaism and Jewish particularism. David Stern wrote a number of his earlier works on the cusp of transitioning from such a perspective into one that recognized that such notions as the recovery of Jewish perspective on the Jewish documents known as gospels had somewhat different implications for Jews and for gentiles.

      While the past century has seen a progression of thought on such matters, not everyone’s thinking has progressed along with it nor embraced the paradigm shift from Jewish Christianity to Messianic Judaism and its differential impacts; and even now it is barely beginning to become clear that gentiles are in need of greater guidance toward non-Jewish spiritual maturity, just as Jewish messianists have recognized the need to tap into Jewish resources and embrace the whole of Jewish civilization and community. James’ sojourn during the past few years of writing this blog certainly reflects the effort of at least one gentile to employ Jewish resources to grasp how a gentile should conduct himself in his proper position alongside the Jewish community while trying not to force his way into it nor to impact it adversely. And he has more justification than many to take the “easier” course of converting to Judaism rather than to continue trying to invent another way of walking alongside it.

      Well, I must stop now, because Shabbat is close at hand here in the Judean hills.

      Shabbat Shalom

  19. Here’s what I find interesting. As I was reading all these comments yesterday, two names came to mind – Cornelius, the God-fearing Gentile who was praying during the hours that aligned with the Jewish people in the land of Israel; and Zipporah, Moses’ wife.

    So I Googled Zipporah and came across this article that mentions that not only was she outside of Abraham’s family, but so was Joseph’s wife.

    Also what stood out to me was:
    1- all descendants and slaves – those of Abraham’s house – should be circumcised. So when God was going to kill Moses, Zipporah circumcised her son.
    2- Zipporah joined herself to the people of Jacob at Mt Sinai
    3- From the article “The Jewish nation was formed at the event of Mount Sinai. Before that, they were descendants of a common father, Jacob, along with many who had come to join or had married into their families. Standing at Mount Sinai, they were chosen and appointed a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” They became a people.
    In other words, at that point everyone standing there—including Zipporah, Moses’ wife; including even Moses himself—all became Jewish.

    Since then, if a person wants to join the Jewish people, he or she must undergo that same experience of Mount Sinai—without the fireworks. Meaning: accept the Torah and all its mitzvahs, as is required from a holy people that is meant to be a light to the nations.

    Shouldn’t we, as followers of the Jewish Messiah want to join ourselves to His people? (Notice I said ‘join’ not replace.) Isn’t this what Ruth did? ‘Your people, my people. Your God, my God.’

    As I sat in the Wow Factory yesterday, with my grandkids happily playing, I ran into several Jewish families – boys in kippa and tzitzit, girls in skirts with leggings underneath. I felt I have more in common with them than Christians – who I could not tell apart from anyone else.

    And I realized that I felt I was being kept apart from them, not by a wall built by Orthodox Jews (should I be seeking to follow HaShem) but rather by Messianic Jews who fear I am trying to replace them when my heart’s desire is to completely follow HaShem and become part of His family.

    I am praying this is a situation we can all overcome together.

  20. Peter said:

    Slowly it dawned on me that this way of life provided insight and wisdom not just in this one area of life but in EVERY way of life.

    I certainly didn’t write anything with the intent of hurting your feelings Peter, so I apologize if what I crafted injured you.

    What you wrote above reminds me very much of what Bernice wrote for Aish.com about her experiences with Judaism. I too find much about Jewish praxis beautiful and meaningful. That said, and especially within the contexts of Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, Jewish praxis can sometimes confuse the issue, which is what I saw in Yehudah Ilan’s story and something I’ve personally experienced as well.

    I think the greatest challenge for non-Jews like us is to be able to look through that “Jewish lens” to perceive the Israel-centric truth of the Gospel message and allow that to focus our attention on the Kingdom of God rather than the idea that our praxis must be identical to the covenant observance of the Jewish people.

    Getting back to Bernice, she illustrates how a non-Jew can voluntarily take on board many of the mitzvot without the presumption of obligation, and yet retain a strong non-Jewish identity, even within Jewish community.

    Once we arrive at such a place, it shouldn’t be painful at all. Learning who we are in Messiah and then acting out of that knowledge should be a wonderful thing. It’s just that for years and years, we were told that “One Law fits all,” so to speak, so now we have to unlearn that particular lesson which has only served as a stumbling block for us in our quest to discover the true identity and mission of the non-Jewish people of the nations in Messiah.

    I know we’re going to disagree on all this but it’s not like I’ve kept my opinions on this matter a secret. And I’m certainly not making fun of you, Peter.

    I’ve still got a lot of work to do on myself in many areas and I’m at least trying to avoid pontificating on this blog since I’m no smarter than any of the other bears in the forest.

    If you’re looking for stuff that’s inspirational and uplifting, you might want to read this piece from another one of my blogs. I blog over there because, among other things, it has the benefit of attracting lots of encouraging folks, and issues of exercise and health never seem to start an argument or hurt anyone’s feelings. 😉

    @Ro: The examples of Zipporah, Joseph’s Egyptian wife, and Ruth don’t really apply to us for a couple of reasons. First off, the process of joining with Israel was different in those days. You just started doing what the Israelites did. That didn’t make you Jewish nor an Israelite, but according to covenant, after the third generation, your offspring would be considered Israelite.

    With the advent of Yeshua, we no longer need to go that route. We can come alongside Israel and we and our offspring, generation after generation, can remain non-Jewish people of the nations. Only in this way, can all people be reconciled to God. Before, the only way to do so was to adopt Israelite/Jewish practices and have your offspring be assimilated into Israel.

    We no longer have to do that. We now have a way for the entire world to be redeemed through Israel’s “first born son,” Yeshua.

    Going back to what I told Peter about Bernice above, we have examples of non-Jews who take on some of the mitzvot, not because they have to, but because it makes life better. What’s wrong with tikkun olam and acts of chesed and tzadakah? Nothing. If everyone were more king and generous and worked to repair the broken parts of our world, we would all be better people and the world would be a better place to live.

    PL said:

    Perhaps it consists merely of failing to distinguish between Jewish wisdom or insight and the practice of Judaism.

    I think this is where a lot of non-Jews who are within or otherwise associated with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots get confused. One does not necessarily lead to the other.

  21. “If your observance of the mitzvot is not making you a better, nicer, wiser, more loving and patient individual, and drawing you closer to HaShem … then you’re doing it wrong.”

    -Rabbi Joshua Brumbach

    1. Excellent citation from R. Brumbach, James, but a little off point for the current question of gentiles who should develop the middot to which he referred rather than perform Jewish mitzvot at all. Since non-Jews are not “commanded” to do anything more than the Acts 15 basics, can it be said that they can actually perform any *other* actions as mitzvot? How, then, shall we describe any actions they perform after learning from the example of the mitzvot that are commandments for Jews to perform? We could, I suppose, call such actions “yashirim” (“uprightnesses”); and these should lead toward gentile character development just as mitzvot do for Jews. It seems to me that the pursuit of upright behavior is precisely what Rav Shaul continually advised his gentile readership, and not that they should light candles for Shabbat, nor wear tzitzit, nor a kippah, and certainly not to become circumcised nor convert to Judaism, nor seek to perform Jewish mitzvot, even voluntarily.

    1. And your point, Marleen, was what, exactly? The concept seen in both these verses is that Rav Yeshua was itinerant, not a representative of an organization with fixed and reliable assets and structures. One may extract from this observation hints on several levels. One is that his immediate disciples would need to learn to trust HaShem day-by-day and moment-by-moment (existentially, as it were), and not to rely on things of this world. On another level, Hasidim must by nature recognize that this present world is not really our home, because our real home is in the messianic kingdom, representing the experience of heaven on earth. Gentiles also may be Hasidim, and cultivate this mindset, which is dependent on middot rather than mitzvot (though, of course, the two are not mutually exclusive).

      On the other hand, in this age we all have practical responsibilities. We do not cloister ourselves in some remote retreat (i.e., the equivalent of “holes” and “dens”) to contemplate the kingdom. Instead, we are “out and about” and working to bring it to fruition in whatever degree is possible at any given moment, even in our own times.

  22. My point was that those who insist you better find a place to fit in or “make” yourself fit like a two-inch round peg in a half-inch square hole [this wording not meant to be a perfect or a great illustration but simply a demonstration that not fitting means not fitting] because anyone not picking “a local church” (or pre-approved group) is destined to fail, with hell on their heels is mistaken.

  23. {I referred to …not picking “…local…”

    I wasn’t trying to contrast local with not local.
    I was simply using common language that seeks
    to tell people almost (if not surely) that they’re headed
    for hell if they don’t get in “fellowship” with an organisation.}

    The punctuation that made it through at the end of the sentence in my previous post is deficient, but I think the meaning is clear enough there.

  24. Eh, just noticed not only the punctuation is off. I have to correct my grammar to match it up properly: “…those who insist… ARE mistaken.”

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