alone in a boat

Renewing the Lone Messianic Gentile

I came across a brief article on Rabbi Daniel Siegel’s blog called “When the Rebbe Asks: Renewing Ger Toshav,” which apparently is the topic of a soon to be published book. Actually, I found it posted on a closed Facebook group for “Messianic Gentiles”. This is the same group that has historically drawn a parallel between the Ger Toshav (“resident alien” in Jewish community) and the Messianic Gentile. I chronicled their perspective in a number of my blog posts including Not a Noahide (which I was subsequently reminded would better have been called “More than a Noahide”).

Although I no longer fret so much over issues of identity or praxis, there was something that caught my attention:

Reb Zalman favoured the renewal of the Ger Toshav as an alternative to a full conversion where it was clear that the person did not really want to become a fully practicing Jew. He wanted to see an alternative which honoured the person’s desire to be part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length.

This was a response to a problem noted in Judaism. When a Jew is married to a non-Jew, there traditionally has been two responses. The non-Jew converts to Judaism or the Jew ignores any Rabbinic direction and most likely falls away from Jewish community and practice.

An additional problem is noted in terms of the standards for practice that Jewish community holds for the Jewish convert. Often, in the author’s opinion and referencing Reb Zalman, said-observance of the convert is more lax, certainly not up to the standard of the presiding Rabbinic court. One example of this mentioned in the article is:

Some years ago, Reb Zalman challenged what he saw as too much leniency in our conversion process, to the point where he said that if we did not put a tallit kattan on a Jew by choice as he (in this case) emerged from the mikveh, then we had done nothing.

It was suggested that at least some of the converts did not truly desire to follow all of the mitzvot and converted for the sake of their Jewish spouse.

IntermarriageSo is there an alternative?

There is.

Supporting the renewal of the Ger Toshav, a non-Jew who is already married to a Jew, who does not want to follow the mitzvot as a Jew, but who is in full support of their spouse’s involvement in Jewish community and praxis.

How does this apply to the aforementioned comparison between the Ger Toshav and the Messianic Gentile?

Well, in normative Jewish community, a Messianic Gentile would in no way be considered to map to a Ger Toshav. In fact, a union between a Jew and a Messianic Gentile would be viewed as an intermarriage between a Jew and a Christian, something not in any way seen as desirable in Jewish community.

In my own small experience in Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots groups, it is fairly common for Jews and non-Jews to be intermarried. In fact, again in my experience, the sort of Jews attracted to Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots are either secular Jews or Jews who have adopted Christian practice and identity, and yet who also have a desire to reconnect to being a Jew.

The participation for many intermarried couples in Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots then, could be seen as a sort of synthesis between Christian and Jewish values and lifestyle.

Of course, I can’t speak for every intermarried couple involved in those movements, but when I was associated with those communities, that was what I saw.

Turning to my own situation as a non-Jew married to a Jew, in my case, my spouse is affiliated with normative Jewish community, specifically the Chabad and the local combined Reform/Conservative shul. She in no way can be considered as having any sort of association with Yeshua-worshippers or Christians (which is what she considers me).

synagogueSo we come back to the definition of a Ger Toshav as a person who is part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length. Well, that’s not exactly me, since I’m not part of a Jewish community at all. In fact, I’m not currently part of any worship or faith community.

However, as quoted from the Preface of the Ger Toshav book (PDF), am I a member of this “community”?

There, almost the entire Jewish leadership was married to non-Jews whose spouses, in turn, were full contributors to the community’s life and supporters of their spouses’ involvement, yet choosing not to become Jews themselves.

Nope. That would imply that I’m involved in synagogue life with my wife and support her involvement from that platform.

However, combining “at arm’s length” with supporting my spouse’s involvement in Jewish life, I find a definition of myself, and by “arm’s length” I mean I stay away from her Jewish community completely.

This isn’t news to me. It’s just interesting to find this sort of thing recorded in modern Jewish literature.

In Messianic Judaism, you can probably find many non-Jews married to Jews who are part of Jewish community and support their spouse’s full observance of the mitzvot (keeping in mind that depending on which Messianic Jewish community you sample, the level of observance will vary).

As far as my wife’s level of observance, that’s entirely up to her. Frankly, I wish she were more observant, but as she once said to me (and rather pointedly at that), she doesn’t need my permission to be Jewish.

So I keep my nose out of her business in that arena. I also have surrendered anything that even resembles Jewish praxis since she would no doubt see it as “Evangelical Jewish Cosplay”. She even wonders why, outside the home, I still avoid bacon, shrimp, and other trief, which is just about my only remaining concession to my former lifestyle.

generic white guy
Image: Cafepress.com

I’m sure a number of my former associates would be aghast to read those words (or perhaps they wouldn’t), but in some sense they were also the prompt, or part of it anyway.

The missus is my main motivation for the decisions that I’ve made, but I’m also mindful that the Messianic Jewish community in all its forms and associations, continues to struggle with just how to implement Gentile involvement in their Jewish community, keeping in mind that at least in the western nations, most Messianic Jewish communities are made up of mostly non-Jews.

I know the ideal is to create Messianic Jewish community by Jews and for Jews, and I continue to support that ideal, but it is my belief that the dream will not be realized until Messiah returns and draws his people Israel to him.

So where does that lead us?

For those non-Jews out there who adhere to the values and practices of being involved in Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities and who are not intermarried, not a lot. I’m sure your congregation has standards of behavior and practice for the non-Jews among them, so like any member of a congregation, you adhere to those standards or find someplace else to worship.

For non-Jews married to Jews and part of the previously referenced communities, it is likely you and your spouse share the same values and beliefs, and so there is little or no dissonance between you. Only in Messianic Jewish groups with a Jewish praxis approaching Conservative or Orthodox would there be any noticeable distinction between the observance of the Jewish and non-Jewish spouse (again, this is my opinion, your mileage may vary).

For you non-Jews who have community within a Christian setting and your beliefs are not widely accepted by your peers, you have a tough road to travel. I tried that for two years and ultimately got nowhere, though I learned a lot along the way.

If you are married to a more traditionally Christian partner, then what you experience may be similar to my own marital situation. You may share the vast majority of your lives with each other but there will always be a line neither of you may cross. The most important part of you becomes isolated from your marriage.

risk
Image: mirror.co.uk

It’s a very dicey place to live. I know. I live there.

With neither support at home or community, you depend on the Holy Spirit alone to get to through each day while maintaining a relationship with God. If you’re married to a normative Christian, renouncing a Messianic perspective and taking up the mantle of traditional Christianity becomes the temptation.

For folks like me, it’s renouncing Yeshua entirely. Even if I did that, I doubt the missus would accept my adopting the Ger Toshav identity, so I’d still be alone in belief or disbelief as the case may be.

Assuming Hashem has control of all things, I wonder why He would sanction this perpetual walk along a sheer cliff. Or perhaps like the question, “why do bad things happen to good people,” it’s simply a matter of living in a broken world fallen far from God. These events occur because the King has yet to assume his throne in Jerusalem and take up his reign.

So like the rest of humanity living precariously and dancing madly on the edge of a razor blade, I and those like me just have to keep hanging in there.

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9 thoughts on “Renewing the Lone Messianic Gentile”

  1. It is always difficult to follow the beat of your own inward drummer, particularly when you are being fought tooth and nail to not infringe on other people’s religious space, as if they alone have the right to be correct in their religious observance. They don’t, but I understand that in order to have a harmonious marital relationship, it is necessary for someone to bend to the other.

    I am alone, so I do not have to bend more than is necessary to not overtly offend the various Believers that I know. It is a lonely position in some ways, but the longer I remain in my solitary association with the Ruach haKodesh, the less I care how people worship G-d so long as they are not saying “Believe my way, or go away.”

    I have come to believe that I am a Messianic Gentile practicing Messianic Judaism…and that makes me a Ger Toshav when I happen to be within a Jewish community, since I believe there is only one Creator, and that Yeshua is only a part of Him, as indeed are we all, if lesser in righteousness and divine appointment.

    Were I in Israel, I wouldn’t speak too much about being Messianic, except in Messianic Judaistic space, and I have no doubt that I would be welcome in most Synagogues, so long as I am not pushing my belief in who Mashiach is and will be. And since I keep enough of the Torah to be indistinguishable from a great many Jews, I probably would just be considered a proselyte to Judaism…indeed, I might be, if only a proselyte to Messianic Judaism.

    In many cases, I think this becomes a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation for the sake of being a peace keeper. But the moment someone asked me if I were Jewish, I would have to say, “Not yet,” because the various flavors of Judaism are in flux everywhere, just as it should be in the years leading up to the Day of Jacob’s Trouble.

    Fortunately, one can remain as a proselyte to Judaism in general without converting…but not if your spouse doesn’t want you in her Jewish space.

    I do wish that Jews could begin to see that not all Believers in Yeshua are Idolaters, and get more comfortable discussing what is in the Tanakh, the Talmud, and the Zohar about Mashiach. Until they do, we will remain in isolation to a degree in the middle place between Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism.

  2. There actually are some Jews who don’t think all believers in Yeshua are idolaters (it is begun). And that (even when not exactly “Messianic” in our sense but not against Messiah) is where I find most identification in the space between. I appreciate you guys, Questor and James. Echoing you both, not yet indeed (in varied ways). May he come speedily (for all the ways as they may be for anyone, and the ways as they will be for everyone). James, I for one am happy to hear you still avoid bacon, shrimp, and so on (not that it’s any of my business or that I’d be unhappy to hear otherwise, nor that you are obligated or that there’d be a harm); I don’t know what would be cringe-inducing about that.

  3. I don’t know to what degree your essay above represents your wife’s current views rather than merely reflecting former incidents of tension, but what you describe offers an appearance of an active antagonism that would push you away from Judaism, from behavior that is compatible with Jewish observance, or from herself as a practicing Jewish woman. That constitutes an active disrespect and rejection of you as her marriage partner, and of you as a thoughtful, religiously active and aware human being dedicated to serving HaShem (regardless of any disagreements over how you may perceive or approach Him). How dare she, as a Jew, push away a Jewishly-supportive spouse!? Don’t we Jews have enough trouble with unsupportive and antagonistic gentiles without trying to create any more of them? Such behavior is diametrically contrary to Jewish ethics and chasidut. It evokes the spectre of “sinat ‘hinam”.

    A thoughtful rabbi would challenge her on such injudicious words and thoughts and behavior, unless it were his goal to counsel dissolution of the marriage entirely on the grounds that intermarriages are invalid, null and void altogether. However, nothing is to be gained from such a position at your advanced stage of life, since it could not contribute at all toward producing more Jewish children to strengthen the Jewish people and its continuity into the future. Consequently the goal of strengthening the Jewish people as a whole, and individual Jews such as your wife, would be best served by encouraging supportive association rather than by defensive isolation.

    The ger toshav is not a Jew, but is merely a gentile who is willing to live compatibly and peaceably with Jews. Even idolatrous Arabs have filled that role in times past prior to the rise of Islam, such as the one who praised the G-d of Shimon ben-Shetach some 2200 years ago because of the Jew’s honesty. Surely even an honest Christian who is supportive of Jews and who may be guilty of nothing worse than the notion of “shituf” may be deemed eligible as a ger toshav. How much more so a gentile who has repudiated false Christian antagonisms against Jews (such as supersessionism) and who embraces HaShem’s Torah insofar as it may be applied to him?

    Of course, it may be argued that the “ger toshav” label can only be applied to someone who lives in Israel under Jewish sovereignty, and that it is too great a metaphorical stretch to apply it in the galut to a Jewish community that is under secular authorities. But, since much of Jewish life in the galut likewise relies on metaphor to justify its practices as conforming with Torah, perhaps we may grant some validity to the simile.

  4. This made me sit up when I saw it yesterday…at least people are thinking these things out in the open these days. Messianic believers have a better biblical argument for their facts compared to the traditionalists.
    https://kehilanews.com/2016/08/23/is-sharing-the-gospel-different-in-israel/
    And another site which ends on your own note. G-d in His own time will open His own people’s eyes…which I think is coming sooner rather than later.
    http://jewishstudies.eteacherbiblical.com/keys-transitional-chapter-key-one/

  5. @Questor: I suppose if I lived in Israel, I wouldn’t mention it at all. Of course, there are few if any outward signs that I am, this blog being the principle one. My being married to a Jewish wife explains my eating habits. It is true that being neither fish nor fowl is a difficult place to be, but it only seems difficult at times. Most of the time, it’s just another day in the life.

    @Marleen: I suspect that there are very few Jews who don’t see Christians as idol worshippers. As far as being “cringe-inducing,” I meant that I have given up any outward sign of having a “Judaic” style of worship. There are some “Messianic Gentiles” who take that worship (and themselves) very seriously, though I tend to find that more in Hebrew Roots than Messianic Judaism proper.

    @PL: You may be judging my wife a tad too harshly. If she had been raised in a Jewish home and were entirely comfortable as a Jew, things might be different, but she only started associating with Jewish community maybe 10 years or so ago. The Boise area is small and word gets around. Due to my former ties with the Hebrew Roots movement, I’m sure she is afraid I’d embarrass her, so I’m willing to let things lie for the sake of peace.

    @Margareth: I’ll have to take a look at those links when I have a bit more time. Thanks.

  6. Hi, James — I was merely drawing inferences from what you wrote — though after 10 years I might expect her to feel comfortably ensconced within the Jewish community out there in your neck o’ th’ woods, and thus not reacting excessively defensively.

    Regarding Jews who perceive Christians as idolaters: these must be folks who are not familiar with Rambam’s determination of “shituf” some eight centuries ago, and the interpretations of even more recent Jewish poskim. But, regrettably, one of the challenges facing many modern Jews is that their Jewish knowledge falls short of what it ought to be, ethically as well as academically.

  7. Sometimes, people are afraid. Idolatry is a “big one” (matter to be concerned about if you’re not sure where the lines or definitions are). Even in the setting I was referring to, I remember a couple… who would at various times say things that would make me think about their somewhat nervous perspective (which isn’t the general temperament of most of the people) or that would catch me funny. Once was when the husband said, as we were walking to a class, that someone (a stranger somewhere) had said to him she was happy because she’d become a real Christian, not a Catholic. He said, “Catholic seems pretty real to me.” (Quite honestly, it is… both pretty “real” and really Christian per se.) The other time was when some of us were discussing that Buddhism is more of a philosophy that was in reaction to the religion of Hinduism; later, it was turned more into a religion (and in some cases took back on some features of Hinduism). We totally were not discussing Christianity, but the wife brought up the idea of Jesus as God (against it, almost angry). I had to bite my lip so as not to sort of laugh at how startling it was to hear this comparison. You know, it’s often right.

  8. I don’t think this alternative is an option, especially not when the female partner is Jewish, and thus it is to be expected that Jewish children are to be born in the mixed marriage. The Jewish community has the right to demand that the upbringing of these children is fully Jewish. A non-Jewish father can never give that upbringing. How can a father who doesn’t fully observe Jewish Law be role model for these children? It is simply impossible. The construction of “Ger Toshav” only sows confusion.

  9. @Ronald — It’s not the construction or definition of “Ger Toshav” that sows confusion. It is only a description; it does not justify intermarriage. It is not describing an “alternative option”, by which I presume you meant an equivalently valid alternative to conversion. I don’t think that anything of the essay above would disagree with your assertion that a ger toshav is not capable of fulfilling Jewish responsibilities, particularly of the sort you cite.

    That does not, however, prevent a ger toshav from contributing positively to the Jewish enterprise while enjoying benefits obtained by associating within a Jewishly-controlled community. In the case of an existing intermarriage, the notion of the ger toshav may offer a model that enables the non-Jewish partner to accept a supportive role within the family and the Jewish community rather than an isolated one outside of it. It establishes an inclusive cooperative relationship rather than an implicit exclusion, isolation, or even antagonism — for the Jewish partner, as well. It offers a means of coping with intermarriage after-the-fact, even while the community as a whole must continue strongly to discourage intermarriages before they occur — by general education and discussion of the topic, and by specifically pointing out the limitation that you did, which is also reflected in the Torah as an even more severe warning about non-Jewish members of the family turning away the heart of a Jewish child from HaShem and from the Torah-informed ways of His people. The model of the ger toshav mitigates that somewhat by providing a role-model who is supportive and oriented toward the Jewish people and toward Torah-praxis rather than turning away or being turned away.

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