For clarification, by the word “Torah,” I do not just mean the Torah, as in the Five Books of Moses, but to all Jewish religious texts such the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic and halakhic texts, and kabbalistic and hasidic texts.
-Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman
“Why I Learn Torah Daily”
This somewhat dovetails with what I wrote in The Torah Without Judaism, and particularly the brief exchange I had in the comments section of that blog post with reader ProclaimLiberty.
The question for the Messianic and particularly the “Messianic Gentile” or “Talmid Yeshua” is what the word “Torah” means to us.
There’s probably no one answer, since depending on the given disciple, Jewish or Gentile, the perspective is going to vary.
What do I mean by “Torah?”
This is just my personal opinion. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do. But I think it’s a helpful question we should all ask ourselves periodically, rather than just assume that our answer is “the answer.”
From my point of view, “Torah” includes the whole Bible, and by that I mean the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Writings, and the Apostolic Scriptures. However, I also habitually read articles and commentaries found at Aish.com and Chabad.org, mainly to get a Jewish viewpoint on what I’m studying.
Granted, I am doing a lot of mental editing when I read content from those resources, since those sites and their information are written by and for Jews, not Gentiles, particularly not for Christians, and absolutely not for anyone with my unique conceptualization of scripture, Messiah, and Hashem.
I don’t typically read traditional Christian resources, even though they are far more Yeshua (Jesus) focused, because, frankly, I just don’t relate to them. I’ve always had a problem with “Christianese,” even when I first became a believer about twenty years ago.
There have been other resources I have heavily consumed in the past, and they still guide the majority of my thinking and beliefs, but for a variety of reasons, I’ve chosen not to pursue them further, at least to any significant degree.
I know that there are some “Messianic Gentiles” who at least suggest the path of the Noahide is an appropriate journey for them/us as well, and I’ve written on this before.
I think there are some things we might take from that example, but it’s also filled with trap doors and land mines. It’s far too easy for some of us to confuse our faith in Hashem and devotion to our Rav with the practice of Judaism or Noahidism. Hence the fact that we see some non-Jews in our communities as well as in churches leave Yeshua-faith and either join the ranks of the Noahide or convert to (Orthodox) Judaism.
It would almost be better for believing Gentiles to stay in their churches rather than take such a risk.
But then, in my opinion, their perspectives regarding what the Bible really says about Israel, the Jewish people, the redemption of the world, and yes, about Judaism, would remain limited if not misguided.
As with many other questions I bring up, I don’t have a hard and fast answer for you. Interestingly enough, this brings us back to Rabbi Hoffman’s brief essay:
I learn Torah every day because it gives me a cohesive set of answers to all of the ultimate questions.
I suppose, from Rabbi Hoffman’s perspective, it does, but it doesn’t work that way for me. I still have far more questions than I do “ultimate” answers.
But here’s another wrinkle R. Hoffman introduces:
I learn Torah every day because it connects me with the millions of other Jews worldwide who also learn Torah every day.
That works if you are a religious Jew, but not so much for we non-Jews, even Noahides, I suspect. After all, how Torah applies to the Ger is remarkably different from how it applies to the Jew, at least in the details, although keep in mind that I also previously mentioned a private Jewish school in Utah that teaches Jewish values to a student body made up of 75% non-Jews.
And that’s one of the reasons, maybe one of my top reasons, for studying the Torah as I understand it. To seek a common ground where I as a non-Jew can stand and learn who God is and who I am to Him through a Jewish lens.
But I craft that “lens” to fit more my particular “eyesight” requirements, since I’m not a Jew and I consider myself more than a Noahide.
The one advantage I have is that I stand outside of actual, face-to-face Jewish or Christian community. Neither one can have too strong a pull on me, although the Pastor at the church I attended for two years certainly tried as hard as he could to turn me into a good Baptist.
But since, as I’ve admitted, I find Jewish thought more appealing, I suppose if I were constantly exposed to Jewish community of the non-Messianic variety, I’d be putting myself at risk of being influenced to the point of challenging my faith. I don’t know if it would go that far, but why take the chance?
That may be why so many of us are unaffiliated, although there are plenty of other reasons.
If I study Torah as I understand it and don’t adopt the praxis of Judaism, I can’t be as strongly influenced to confuse Judaism with my identity and role as God created them for me. I also can’t be accused (as sometimes occurs) of misappropriating the things unique to the covenant relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people, such as Shabbat, Kosher, the prayers, donning a tallit gadol, or laying tefillin.
If you’re Jewish, then I say what’s yours is yours.
If I’m not Jewish and I don’t identify as a traditional Christian, all that’s left, assuming I retain my Yeshua-faith, is a journey to discover who I am uniquely in my relationship with my Rav.
If you confuse that with either Judaism or Christianity, you might already have lost your way.