Another Look at Torah Principles and the Gentile

Spirit, Torah, and Good NewsFor years, I’ve subscribed to daily updates from the Aish HaTorah Jewish educational website. I know, I’m not Jewish, but I find that the vast majority of their content “resonates” with me better than most traditional Christian commentary.

A few days ago, I came across an interesting question in the Ask the Rabbi column. Actually, it was the answer that was more interesting, but let’s look at the question first:

I’ve been reading Aish.com for years. But the other day someone asked me to describe the principles behind Aish. I must confess that I didn’t know. So what’s the answer?

Here’s the numbered list portion of the Rabbi’s response:

  1. Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.
  2. Aish HaTorah defines success as inspiring a commitment to grow Jewishly.
  3. Every Jew is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. We never know who is a better Jew.
  4. Every human being is created “In the image of God,” and therefore has infinite potential.
  5. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood.
  6. Torah is wisdom for living, teaching us how to maximize our potential and pleasure in life.
  7. Our beliefs need to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith.
  8. Each Jew is responsible one for another, and each is empowered to face the spiritual and physical challenges facing the Jewish people.
  9. The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world. The Jewish people’s history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.
  10. The Jewish people are bound together. Our power lies within our unity. Unified, no goal is beyond our reach; splintered, almost no goal is attainable.

Now, Aish HaTorah provides educational content created by Jews for Jews. No part of it (as far as I can find) targets anyone else, including (and probably especially) Christians. Obviously, I’m not blocked from visiting their website, and I could even come up with a valid reason for reading their material given that my wife is Jewish, but does any of this stuff apply directly to us.

When I say “us,” in one sense, I mean all Christians, but more specifically, I’m addressing we “Hebraically-aware” Gentile believers (if you’re Jewish and Messianic, you probably don’t even have to ask this question).

I know there’s quite a bit of disagreement about just how much of the Torah can be applied to we non-Jews who find ourselves attracted to Jewish praxis and thought. I’m not here to “solve” that puzzle. I have a personal answer that works for me, but your mileage may vary. Also, since I don’t belong to a faith community, there’s no higher human standard that can be authoritatively applied to me (though some have tried).

Let’s go over this one step at a time.

1: Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.

Assuming we believe that Christianity in general and Messianic Judaism in specific is the natural and planned extension of everything we’ve read in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible, Old Testament), is it fair to say that we Gentiles practice a form of Judaism (and I’ve addressed this question before)?

Maybe and maybe not. Perhaps the better question is whether or not the philosophy behind this first point can be applied to a Gentile’s spiritual journey with Rav Yeshua?

My guess is that most Christians would say “no.” Why? I think it has something to do with this:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. –James 2:10 (NASB)

Taken out of context, this seems to directly contradict the Aish Rabbi by stating that you have to keep every single commandment in the Torah perfectly, and if you break one law, you’ve broken them all (although a Christian would say we aren’t “under the Law”).

However, putting that verse back into its James 2 context, in my humble opinion, I think it means if you depend solely on your praxis to reconcile you with God, that’s the standard by which you’ll be judged. However, if you depend on faith, and out of that faith, comes your practice, you will receive mercy.

That could probably be said a lot better than I just put it, but it’s a more comfortable fit with the Aish Rabbi’s statement. After all, who among us is perfectly obedient to God all of the time? No one. Except for Rav Yeshua, I don’t believe that even the most devout of Jews has always perfectly performed the mitzvot every single hour of every single day.

In fact, the Bible is replete with statements emphasizing that rote behavior all by itself does not reconcile you with God, but instead Teshuva (repentance) and a contrite heart are needed.

Since even most traditional Christians believe we are all on a “spiritual walk with Jesus,” I think we could safely apply the “our faith isn’t all or nothing” principle to us as well.

2. Aish HaTorah defines success as inspiring a commitment to grow Jewishly.

On the other hand, point two doesn’t seem to have one darn thing to do with us, that is, we non-Jews. We don’t “grow Jewishly” since we’re not Jewish. No way around this one. Of course, success could be defined as inspiring a commitment to grow “Messianically,” but that opens up another can of worms.

3. Every Jew is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. We never know who is a better Jew.

Can we substitute “believer” or “Christian” for Jew? I think we can if we acknowledge that all human beings are created in the image of the Almighty. We already know that God desires all people to be redeemed, not just national and corporate Israel, you I don’t have a problem with believing that people are worthy of respect (though not all of them behave respectfully).

I also agree you’ll never be able to tell who is the “better Christian” just by looking. We all have our inner lives that only God is privy to. No matter how “holy” a person appears, it’s what God sees in their hearts that matters most.

Oh, this introduces a ton of questions about denomination, doctrine, and theology between Christians. For instance, nearly five years ago, John MacArthur held his Strange Fire conference where he and the other speaking Pastors did everything in their power to attack Charismatics. So much for “worthy of respect” (of course, I’ve read how some Orthodox Jews diss Reforms, so this is probably a human trait).

4. Every human being is created “In the image of God,” and therefore has infinite potential.

This is directly linked to item three, and seems to re-enforce it, so yes, we are worthy of respect and have infinite potential because we’re human beings. It’s just a matter of how we choose to apply that potential, and a lot of the time, we don’t do very well.

5. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood.

This one is a bit dicey since, depending on your point of view, a large block of the mitzvot don’t apply to us at all, even acknowledging that without a Temple, Priesthood, and Sanhedrin, there’s a lot of the Torah even Jewish people can’t currently obey.

This answer hinges on whether you believe any of the mitzvot apply to us, and if so, which ones. We’ve had this discussion on my blog many times before, and I doubt that this side of Messiah, we’ll ever come up with the final answer.

Of course, there are some obvious points we can all agree on. If we’ve been believers for very long, we all have a sense of the difference between right and wrong, or righteous behavior vs. sin. What we all puzzle over is the more “ritualistic” aspects of the Torah; wearing tzitzit, donning tefillin, and such. Should we pray in Hebrew or are our native languages good enough (assuming Hebrew isn’t our native language)? Maybe this goes back to point one.

I would agree that obeying God’s will is indeed an opportunity for personal growth, and study is the cornerstone upon which Acts 15:21 stands, so yes, we can study the Bible, not just read it.

6. Torah is wisdom for living, teaching us how to maximize our potential and pleasure in life.

There’s actually a lot of the Torah we can apply to ourselves, or at least the moral and spiritual principles behind the mitzvot, which is another good reason to study them. We may not be commanded to wear tzitzit, but understanding why God commanded Israel to do so, may help us realize what God wants from us as well, which then adds to our potential and pleasure in life.

7. Our beliefs need to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith.

This is where traditional Christianity and Judaism travel in opposite directions, because the Church emphasizes faith most of the time. It’s not that Christians believe their religion is irrational, and Biblical apologetics is a really big deal, but at the end of the day, the Church is all about having pat answers, not continually struggling with tough questions.

This is one of the reasons I tend to favor a Jewish perspective over a Christian one, because I don’t believe the Bible holds every single answer to our questions about God, Jesus, faith, and the universe. I don’t think God ever expected us to settle down in our pews and get comfortable and cozy. Instead, I believe that we all have a little “Jacob” in us as we struggle with our angels (or is it our demons?). I think we study and pray as part of that struggle, and through that crucible, we grow.

8. Each Jew is responsible one for another, and each is empowered to face the spiritual and physical challenges facing the Jewish people.

Are we our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper? The answer to that seems obvious, but Christianity isn’t the same sort of corporate entity as Judaism. We aren’t a single nation like Israel, we are all the rest of the nations, so we don’t share a unified identity.

Of course, not all Jews are the same, and in fact, just like the rest of us, they can be radically different, one from another. Certainly my wife isn’t like the local Chabad Rebbitzin, and although they’re friends, their personalities and level of observance are light years apart.

But if we see a brother sinning, are we responsible for doing something about it, or should we just turn a blind eye? Again, I think the answer is obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. On the one hand, Jesus did give his “new commandment” in John 13:34 only to his Jewish disciples, but why can’t we apply it to ourselves? Does it hurt to love one another just as we believe our Rav loves us?

9. The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world. The Jewish people’s history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.

Okay, here we have the closest statement so far that the Torah principles actually mean something to the nations, but only if Israel is the light. I’ve said before that as Israel’s “first-born son” (metaphorically speaking), Yeshua is that light, and that he directly commissioned Paul (Rav Shaul) to be his emissary to the people of the nations means he intended for that light to be passed on to the rest of us.

There seems to be a thread that we can trace through different portions of the Bible leading to the conclusion that one of the functions of Messiah is to direct Israel’s light upon the rest of the world, only we must remember it’s Israel’s light. We can only benefit from that illumination, we can never possess it directly.

10. The Jewish people are bound together. Our power lies within our unity. Unified, no goal is beyond our reach; splintered, almost no goal is attainable.

That’s probably true of any group. The unity of the original thirteen colonial states in the U.S. is based on that principle.

Christians talk about “the body of Christ” meaning the corporate unity of all Christians everywhere, even though there seems to be a terrific battle going on between at least certain denominations and churches (although, as we all know, within Messianic Judaism, things are very “messy” as well).

When Messiah returns, one of his responsibilities will be to gather together all of the Jewish people around the globe and return them to Israel, so yes, Jewish unity will finally be achieved. That part is certain.

What about the rest of us?

That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? In my imagination, I believe he will end all of our petty bickering and posturing as well, but I don’t know if that’s particularly mapped out in the Bible. Yes, after all of the wars are over, there will be “peace on Earth,” but will people ever get along? More to the point, will we all agree on matters of spirituality, faith, and praxis?

I don’t know. One of the other things Messiah is supposed to do is interpret Torah correctly. We saw him doing some of that in the Gospels, but will that ever be extended to the rest of humanity? Will we finally know the exact “nuts and bolts” of God’s expectations for us besides the apparent moral and ethical values?

I hope so. It would be nice. But maybe even in Messianic days, we will still be required to struggle. Then again, Jeremiah 31:34 does say that at least Israel and every single Jew, will have an apprehension of God formerly reserved only to Prophets; a full indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 10 shows us that even Gentiles receive the Spirit, so perhaps what the Jewish will know under the New Covenant will be passed along to us as well. Then blogs like this one will be unneeded and I won’t have to ask any more questions.

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8 thoughts on “Another Look at Torah Principles and the Gentile”

  1. Interesting ideas, James. I’ve been thinking about that myself, lately. If all believers finally come together under Messianic Judaism, what will the Gentile believers be doing? Tzitzit seems clear enough to me, but how much of what we do will be things like tearing the toilet paper on Friday morning; double sinks; hechsher on all foods even cucumbers (where you can clearly see there are no bugs); tefillin/kippot? Posing questions that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!

  2. You write “When I say “us,” in one sense, I mean all Christians, but more specifically, I’m addressing we “Hebraically-aware” Gentile believers ” though the majority of people who call themselves Christian do not follow the teachings of the Nazarene rabbi Jeshua (Jesus Christ) and have made Jesus into their god, what real Christians can not accept, because we only may have One true God above all gods, and that is the Elohim Hashem Jehovah.

    Today we also may encounter a similar problem in Messianic groups that we do find groups which do not have Jeshua as their Messiah and others who claim to have Jeshua as their Messiah but also as their god. such trintiarian Messianics do not fit the Judaic faith nor real Christianity, though they may be counted to Christendom.

    You are right to find it very messy what we can find in Christendom, those claiming to be part of the Body of Christ as well as in Messianic Judaism.

    Real lovers of the Divine Creator God, should abstain from worldly human doctrine and should keep to Scriptural doctrines. so people should know there have always been real followers of Christ Jesus who do not adhere the false Trinity teachings introduced the 4th century.

    You write” One of the other things Messiah is supposed to do is interpret Torah correctly.” which seem to indicate you doubting Messiah Jeshua did so, but Jeshua very well knew the Torah and lived according it and demanded from his followers also to keep to God His commandments and following Scriptures more than human writings or teachings of man.

  3. I do not perceive James over years of reading to doubt that “… Messiah Jeshua did …” properly interpret Torah. I however do perceive you to be associated with Mark Santos — and thus not to believe that Jesus was actually a real person. It is not idolatry to believe a person is a person. This is aside from whether anyone is Trinitarian.

  4. Peace be to all and a good health.
    Hello guys, thou have read some of our information on the revealed whole Covenants Plan of God unto the End Time! And its very clearly written that only those that will submit and will comply and will accomplish to the Will of God and together with those remaining still alive Original Messianic were to be Caught by the Clouds and brought to heaven and to meet the Lord there, read 1Tes. 4:16-17.. And none of any religions of the world is among them. Is this not a good gesture of God to fore warn those that were now expose as a false believers, to check for themselves the truth that is not found in their condemn religion. Although this Covenants Plan procedures was applied personally in the previous Messianic Covenant Period but in a very high spiritual parable fictionize presentation, which is concealed to the world. So, we will simplify elaborate these procedures which is also prophesies to be applied in this our 2nd Advent. And this is the primary guideline moves by those that like to avail to this Last Call Promise Salvation of God is to submit and to comply to Yeshua Messiah’s calling on Jn. 5:28-29, “to come out of their graves or religion!” And the second move (by to be a believer) is must read the NT Gospel or the H. Bible, which they will need in recieving their first spiritual water baptism. But the truth of this water baptism is not to interpret it literally by dipping an individual to the water (or whatever other religion applies) which thou only get nothing! For the Truth of the Water Baptism at the time of Yeshua M. and those apostles is by Hearing, by Listening and by Believing to the ministered gospel made by Yeshua M. and those apostles but after the death of all the apostles comes the compilation of the Holy Bible. But unknown to many, that this Holy Scripture is the one silently execute the complete baptismal system of the Holy Spirit, that also taughts to all the Chosen Israelites TO KNOW the Son’s name and his father’s name read Rev. 14:1-5. And with this facts, the Messianic Covenant Period already took end since last 1993. And also on this fact, thou will know the wrong liturgical order blessing that was applied in the complete baptism of the H. Spirit in Mt. 28:19.. Which only requires to know the Son’s name and his father’s name. Which is the two character name given to identify the origin or source of the H. Spirit. While the truth of the liturgical order written in Mt. 28:19 was all God giving liturgical blessings of his spiritual wisdom knowledge in the form of anointing the chosen prophet. So, there is NO trion god and it is very blasphemous to apply it to our God which is the Compound God of Israel. And all the religions was mistaken in this teachings. And the third moves (by to be a believer) when thou feel the eagerness of reading more the whole H. Bible and constantly searching on the truth of the father, which was not taught specifically by those false religions until thou know his father’s name and finding yourself working out or doing good faith works to others, this will confirm to his/her recieving already the complete baptism of the H. Spirit and to be qualify to this Last Call of God Promise Covenant Salvation and be among to be Caught by the Clouds to enter heaven and meet the Lord there. And from this conclusion, thou will learn that our salvation is by our personal work with Yeshua M. as our mediator to God. So, what we could only advise is TO READ the whole H. Bible especially the NT Gospel which is the sole mediator to God. And remember the heavy crosses
    that Yeshua M. carries throughout his life, that will prove to all that thou could not help other to save but by only helping yourself to save yourself is the big problem of the world they do not know. And also this is the reason why we are not recruiting but it is the Clouds who is observing. Please pass it on.
    May our living lord God Bless us all.

    LOVE : New Jerusalem – Holy City

  5. Hello James,
    Just came upon your post and your blog in the process of finishing a couple of posts on my own blog. One of the problems is Rabbinic Judaism, as opposed to Judaism (or Hebraism) as a whole. By focusing on Halakah (the law), mainly conduct and obedience, Rabbinical Judaism missed the opportunity to address more important religious matters that were significant in the Old Testament: morality, equality, protection of the poor and stranger,..etc. “Judaism beyond the kitchen” as Rabbi David Hartman said. Rabbinic Judaism isolated the Jewish Faith and did not prepare it for the modern world by spending tousands of hours arguing about minutiae.
    Bernard (A Jew myself 🙂

  6. @Christadelphians said:

    You write” One of the other things Messiah is supposed to do is interpret Torah correctly.” which seem to indicate you doubting Messiah Jeshua did so, but Jeshua very well knew the Torah and lived according it and demanded from his followers also to keep to God His commandments and following Scriptures more than human writings or teachings of man.

    Poor choice of words on my part. I certainly do believe Rav Yeshua did correctly interpret the Torah and will do so again.

    As far as your statement regarding “human doctrine vs. Biblical doctrine,” this is a potential minefield, since the Bible is a very interpretable document. There’s a lot more to it than just reading the Bible in English, regardless of which translation you us.

    I used to go to a small Baptist church in my community, and the Pastor, who was intelligent, well-educated, and a nice guy, truly believed that his interpretation represented “sound doctrine” to the exclusion of all else, especially any sort of Hebraic understanding of the Apostolic scriptures. Once a person gets concrete about their doctrine, they can go tragically off course. The trick, naturally, is to continually study and question your assumptions.

    @Bernard Markowicz: Greetings. My personal understanding of the function of Talmud and halakah was that they were survival strategies to preserve Judaism. Without the Temple, the Priesthood, and access to Jerusalem and Israel, the Jewish people could have very easily assimiliated and disappeared thousands of years ago.

    I don’t believe God would have allowed that, but the strategy employed (I’m sure most or all observant Jews would object to my calling Talmud a “strategy”), allowed the Jewish people to have a focus for their praxis and thus enabled them as a people and a faith, to move forward in history.

    Regardless of my opinion on modern Jewish praxis, not being Jewish, and thus not being a covenant member (long story…read my essay, The Non-Covenant Relationship with God), I’m not obligated to the covenant conditions and praxis God provided for Israel, so halakah doesn’t apply to me except perhaps in some rare respects (donning a kippah upon entering a synagogue, for example). Thus, I’m not going to criticize Jews to feel obligated to modern Rabbinic praxis, either within our outside of Messianic Judaism. Also, because my wife is Jewish and not a believer (another long story), although she’s not particularly observant except in certain areas, I’m hesitant on a personal level to engage in that topic.

    I will say that regardless of how your Christian or Jewish faith is shaped and applied, it is my believe that Rav Yeshua will correctly interpret Torah for all of us, Jews and non-Jewish disciples alike, and I don’t believe for a split second that there is a devotee on Earth who has it all “right.” When our Rav corrects us, I hope we all can let go of our favorite sacred cow in grace and obedience.

  7. Yo, Bernie — There is no Judaism without Rabbinic Judaism or without halachah. Halachah is the responsive portion of the conversation with HaShem that begins with His revelation of Torah. ‘Hazal did not ignore matters of morality as elucidated by the prophets of the Tenach. The discussions of Talmud or later Mishneh Torah did not miss any opportunities to address such matters. One really must know how to address the vast body of material in Jewish traditional literature. If some modern Hareidim fail to express or emphasize such matters properly it is a failure to understand the halachah and the literature on which it is based. There may be some truth to the saying that “the devil is in the details”; but one cannot avoid the devil by ignoring “minutiae”. All civilizations operate by laws that constrain behavior. The process of applying laws and rules and precedents cannot ignore the details that may arise in any individual case. Rav Yeshua himself addressed halachah in his discussions with various Pharisaic interlocutors, emphasizing its moral dimensions. Some Jews of recent generations have eschewed “the modern world” that you cite; but it is truer to say that the modern world has been just as hostile to Jews as the medieval world or the ancient world. Halachah is not the cause of that. Commitment to pursue obedience to HaShem is not the cause of that, except, perhaps, in the sense that the world hates the inherent criticism that it is guilty of not doing similarly.

    However, the above essay was examining to what degree non-Jews might do similarly to Jews despite not being constrained by the same covenant — and whether doing similarly also means doing in a different manner from the techniques and customs developed by Jews for Jews.

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