As a centrist movement, Conservative/Masorti Judaism strives to reconcile ancient ideas with modern understandings. Utilizing this approach, twenty years ago, a group of Temple Emunah members, led by Barbara Palant, began to consider how we could become a more welcoming community—one that embraces interfaith families while still adhering to our time-honored traditions.
Following the Rabbinical Assembly’s practice, Temple Emunah has adopted the phrase “K’rovei Yisrael” to refer to those individuals who are part of our community and part of a Jewish home, though they are not personally Jewish. The term literally means “those who are close to [the people of] Israel.” K’rovei comes from the word “karov,” meaning “close;” krovim means “relatives.” K’rovei Yisrael are distinct from non-Jewish friends and extended family members who might visit our community or our congregation for a Bar Mitzvah or for some other reason. K’rovei Yisrael are also different from non-Jewish relatives of Temple Emunah members who choose not to be involved in our synagogue community.
-Rabbi David Lerner
Welcoming K’rovei Yisrael at Temple Emunah Today
I saw a link to this webpage posted in a closed Facebook group for “Messianic Gentiles”. I don’t recall the actual context involved, but if you look at the content of Temple Emunah’s webpage for “K’rovei Yisrael,” you can see they have rather liberal social and religious tastes, and in this particular instance, are outlining the roles and responsibilities of intermarried non-Jews who are part of their synagogue “family”.
I can see why this would be appealing to a group of Messianic Gentiles, but this only works under certain circumstances, the circumstances outlined in Rabbi Lerner’s brief missive. It only works if you are not only regularly attending a (Messianic) synagogue that is primarily a Jewish space that permits Gentile involvement, but also, that you are married to a Jew.
Of course that second qualification could be adapted such that you are a regular attendee and while not intermarried, have nevertheless bound yourself to Israel through devotion to Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) as the coming Moshiach, and to Hashem, God of Israel.
Rabbi Lerner’s welcome to K’rovei Yisrael is very enthusiastic and encouraging, offering many opportunities for synagogue participation by non-Jewish “family members,” but I wanted to focus on the limitations he presented:
Out of respect for our traditions, K’rovei Yisrael should not participate in rituals with the Torah including:
- Aliyot, opening/closing ark, and performing hagbah or gelilah (lifting or rolling/dressing the Torah).
- Wear tefillin. If K’rovei Yisrael want to learn more about tefillin for educational purposes, they are invited to speak with me.
- Recite any prayer that fulfills the ritual obligation of another person; for example, reciting Kiddush over the wine or another blessing for the community.
- Recite b’rakhot, sign the ketubah as a witness, or read the ketubah as part of the ceremony at a Jewish wedding.
- Hold committee chairmanship or board member positions, or vote at congregational meetings (per policies of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism).
To me, this makes perfect sense. Rabbi Lerner may be offering an extraordinarily generous opportunity for intermarried non-Jews to be part of synagogue community, but at the end of the day, even if you live in a Jewish home as a non-Jew, you’re not Jewish, which means, even if you share devotion to Rav Yeshua with the Jews in your community, there are just certain things that belong to the Jewish people because of their covenant standing with Hashem.
Here’s a little more from R. Lerner’s article:
The areas that become challenging are those where K’rovei Yisrael are symbolically enacting a ritual that signifies their commitment to our tradition, which would not be accurate. For example, when Jews take an Aliyah to the Torah, they are not merely standing at the Torah; they are acting out a drama that reflects their relationship to the Torah. First, they are called up with their Hebrew name, something that K’rovei Yisrael do not have. Second, an Aliyah is ascending to the Torah, accepting the Torah as the binding force for living your life.
R. Lerner speaks more about Jewish tradition, but for me, what he’s describing is the covenant relationship with God that a Jew possesses over the non-Jew.
I’ve written at length about particularly how the New Covenant was made specifically with the House of Judah and the House of Israel, and if we non-Jewish Yeshua-disciples are able to reap some of the blessings from that covenant, it’s not because we are named parties, it is only because Hashem has grace and mercy toward us.
Most of us (non-Jews) who are intermarrieds, if we found ourselves in such a synagogue, out of respect for the Rabbi, out of respect for the Jewish synagogue community, and particularly out of respect for our Jewish spouses, we would be more than happy to accept the limitations along with the opportunities being offered.
However, as Yeshua-believers, if we find ourselves in a Jewish community of Yeshua-believers, somehow we think that doesn’t matter anymore and we have been elevated to equal covenant status with the Jews. So we want to be called up for an Aliyah, we want to wear a tallit gadol, we want to lay tefillin, we want to be counted as part of a minyan.
It seems that at least some groups believe Yeshua-faith is a license to abrogate the unique and exclusive covenant relationship that Israel and the Jewish people have with Hashem. Is this what our Rav, the once and future King (so to speak), Moshiach, the Jewish Messiah wanted when he called upon Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) to become the special emissary to the Gentiles?
It hardly seems likely, for it represents a gross betrayal of everything God did for Israel by covenant.
Ironically, in some ways, this is exactly the sort of betrayal that both normative Judaism and normative Christianity believe Paul is guilty of. Except, Christians don’t look of it as guilt or betrayal, just replacement, inclusiveness, or whatever you want to call it.
I also recently read another article called How Jewish Christians Became Christians, which is a short summary from Lawrence H. Schiffman’s book From Text to Tradition, A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism .
The split between Judaism and Christianity did not come about simply or quickly. It was a complex process which took some one hundred years, starting from the crucifixion [of Jesus], and which had different causes and effects depending on whether it is looked at from the point of view of Judaism or Christianity. Further, the question of legal status as seen through Roman eyes also had some relationship to the issue.
The article is relatively kind to early “Christianity” as a Jewish movement with an unusually liberal policy regarding Gentile admission. However, it does describe the Christian view of what caused the schism to the massive influx of non-Jews who did not see themselves as part of Jewish community. So…
…the New Testament redactors had clearly decided that they were no longer part of the Jewish people. Therefore, they described Jesus as disputing with all the Jews, not just some, as would be appropriate to an internal Jewish dispute. Once Christians saw Jews as the “other,” it was but a short step to the notion that all Jews were responsible for the rejection of Jesus and, hence, for the failure of his messianic mission to be fulfilled.
This perspective has echoed through nearly twenty-centuries of Church history and fuels much of how Christianity interprets Rav Yeshua’s relationship to his fellow Jews today. And yet, even a casual reading of the Gospels by someone who is not inculcated in Christian exegetical tradition will illustrate…
In the earliest Gospel texts, which picture Jesus as debating issues of Jewish law with the Pharisees, no hostility is observed. The crucifixion is said to have been carried out by the Romans with the support of some (apparently Hellenized) priests.
In other words, the Gospels we have with us today show Rav Yeshua having what Jews would consider perfectly normal and acceptable debates with fellow Jews on matters of halachah. This remains perfectly normal and acceptable behavior within religious Judaism today. It’s a matter of the Jewish “us” arguing with the Jewish “us”, not “us against them”.
Even for we Gentiles who accept that Christian theology and doctrine is based more on traditions that were originally created by those early non-Jewish “Church fathers” who sought to separate their newly created religion from the Jewish scriptural understanding, the Jewish people, and Judaism, it can sometimes be difficult to escape our past. We still sometimes tend to give in to the old habits and attitudes we were taught in our churches.
We still have a tough time understanding that “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28) means that we are all equal in God’s love, in receiving the Holy Spirit, in having a place in the world to come, without it also meaning that there are absolutely no covenant distinctions between the two groups.
However, all of this only becomes a problem at the intersection of Jews and non-Jews in (Messianic) Jewish religious community.
It’s a moot point for those of us not in community, Jewish or otherwise. Also, as I briefly explored in another recent blog post, there seems to be a movement of sorts among Messianic Jews in Israel to become participants in more normative Jewish synagogue life with the goal of being integral members of those communities (to paraphrase PL’s comment on the matter).
While this strengthens the ties between Messianic Jews and the larger Jewish community in the Land, by necessity, Gentiles will not be involved, so again, the points I brought up regarding the aforementioned “intersection” become moot.
And as Rabbi Lerner wrote in his article to K’rovei Yisrael:
The blessings themselves indicate how integral the Torah is in our lives and that we have been given a unique destiny as Jews to live by its ideals, bringing them fully into the world.
I know that many of us, when we became involved in Hebrew Roots or Messianic Judaism, or whatever opened your eyes to the more “Hebraic” nature, not only of the Tanakh (Old Testament), but especially the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament), we became attached and even enamoured with Jewish community, such that we actually had access to, as well as Jewish praxis, ritual, and tradition.
There are a lot of non-Jewish people who were dismayed, discouraged, and even insulted when various Jewish and Gentile pundits in Messianic Jewish space (including little ol’ me) basically said, “Back off…some Jewish stuff just doesn’t belong to you.”
If the movement in Israel for Messianic Jews to integrate into normative (Orthodox) Jewish community takes hold, and especially if it becomes the model for Messianic Jewish practice in other nations, including the U.S., then opportunities for non-Jewish participation in Messianic Jewish community dwindle.
This doesn’t particularly affect me. I’ve accepted it in my life, but for others, it may come as quite a blow. Of course, all this is just speculation and at least in the U.S., authentically Jewish Messianic synagogues which service a majority Jewish population are not especially plentiful.
But for me, it again emphasizes that Judaism as such isn’t the primary interface by which we non-Jewish disciples access our Rav or access the God of Israel (though I’m still fond of my “Jewish lens”). This is probably what the early non-Jewish disciples in the Apostle Paul’s day and soon after experienced. You have a religious structure that is uniquely by and for Israel and that affords Israel a covenantal relationship with God, as well as a rich lifestyle of Torah practice, but so much of it doesn’t include the rest of us. How could Judaism possibly be an anchor for us?
The answer, almost two-thousand years ago, was for the Gentiles to leave en masse and to develop a brand new Gentile-focused religion: Christianity. But now, for whatever reasons, many Christians are leaving the Church in pursuit of some aspect of Judaism as they understand it, whether it’s formal conversion, becoming a Noahide, Hebrew Roots, or Messianic Judaism.
But that puts us right back where we came from, so to speak. Christianity, as it has turned out to be, doesn’t accurately understand why the centrality of Israel is so important in God’s redemptive plan for the world, and those of us who have figured it out, leave the Church because of that. But increasingly, there’s less and less room for non-Jews who are attracted to Israel, and who want to attach themselves to Israel and thus to Israel’s God to find a place among Israel, even as “resident aliens,” at least as far as I can tell from my little corner of Idaho.
It would be easier for me, as a Gentile husband to a Jewish wife, to find a role in Jewish community in Rabbi Lerner’s synagogue (assuming my wife attended and desired my participation) than it would be for me to have a role in Messianic Judaism, at least if the goal is for Messianic Judaism to become an increasingly integral part of larger (Orthodox) Judaism and Israel.
On the one hand, that’s where Jews need to be, among other Jews in Jewish community. That’s why I’m delighted that my wife does that, both in our local Reform/Conservative group and with the Chabad. But on the other hand, we Gentiles in Rav Yeshua are facing the same dilemma that we faced in the First Century C.E.
My personal answer is to give up the identity crisis and to develop my relationship with my Rav in isolation (with the help of the Internet, of course). What I say, think, do, and believe in private affects no one, except to the degree that I write about it on this blog. And even then, you can choose to read or not read what I produce. Your decision.
But my answer isn’t everybody’s answer.
I get that Messianic Jews are Jews and I understand, having my wife as a living example, what that means. I also get why some Messianic Gentiles are looking to Noahides as a model for how to define themselves. For both Christianity and Judaism, community is extremely important and it provides a lot of support and encouragement.
But I also understand that the natural consequence of all this is that we non-Jewish Yeshua disciples who will never fit in at a church and who possess this peculiar “Judaically-aware” perspective on the meaning of the Bible, the meaning of Messiah, and the meaning of Hashem’s overarching plan of redemption for Israel, and through Israel, the world, are left with the option of either somehow forming our own communities of “Gentile-focused Messianics” or go it alone.
I’m sure God has an answer to all this, and I don’t doubt that when Messiah physically rules Israel and the nations from his throne in Jerusalem, that he will enact laws and practices to address these questions, but in the present, in order to preserve (Messianic) Jewish identity, community, and unity, the rest of us have to figure out how to do something else by going somewhere else.
I wrote Why Worshiping Alone Matters and Why We Are Never Alone as possible responses to this issue. I hope they can be an answer for you, too.
I don’t know if the following applies, but I’ll include it anyway, just in case:
“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
“Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
–Isaiah 56:6-8 (NASB)