Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of being a Christian or a Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua, or whatever you want to call me.
My life has taken a downturn recently, specifically since April. I was laid off of my job of eight years, basically because the company and my job description had changed so radically that I was no longer an adequate “fit”.
Then my Dad died abruptly, and it was fortunate that I happened to be visiting my folks at the time to be able to support my Mom.
So far the only job I’ve been able to get is temporary contract work for significantly less than I was previously paid and absolutely no benefits.
I’ve been trying for the past couple of months to get medical insurance through the local version of “Obamacare” (Affordable Care Act) and getting the run around. I received yet another encrypted email from them when I got home from work today that was probably prompted by my zillionth phone call to them this morning. I suspect they are about to reject, for some arcane reason, the document I submitted proving I’ve been without medical coverage since July 1st.
And to add insult to injury, I’m fined by the Federal Government every month I’m not insured, even though I’m trying as hard as I can to purchase coverage.
What does all this have with God, faith, and religion?
It has to do with life and how we live it, and more specifically, how I live it.
I’ll admit that I’m better at the study of the Bible then actually living out its principles. I suspect that my life has been going downhill because God is trying to get my attention. He wants something out of me. He wants me to live a better life, but it’s not that simple.
God doesn’t make deals. He doesn’t say, “If you do this thing for me, I’ll make your life better and you and your wife will get health insurance coverage.”
How do I know this? Because tons and tons and tons of believers of great and wonderful faith live terribly dangerous and difficult lives. Just look at the Apostles. Except for John, they all were executed in one way or another, and even John was thrown into a vat of boiling oil, though amazingly he lived.
That’s been my sticking point. If you trust in God with all your heart and soul, there’s still no promise that you’ll escape pain and suffering. There’s no promise that if I trust God with all my heart and soul, that I’ll be able to provide my wife and myself medical insurance let alone a better income.
I mean God could do that, but obviously He doesn’t have to.
On the other hand, if I ignore what I think God wants me to do (love and trust Him completely), then I can hardly expect He will turn my life around or provide opportunities for me to improve my condition.
No I’m not writing this just to whine (well, maybe just a little). I’m writing this to speak to the question of Gentile praxis in a Messianic world (or at least a Messianic thought and study world since I don’t have that kind of praxis or community).
In the closed Facebook group “Messianic Gentiles,” First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) writer and teacher Toby Janicki has been sharing a number of articles on their particular publication of the Didache, which may or may not have originated with the Apostles or their students. It’s an attempt to answer the question of what is Gentile praxis within (Messianic) Judaism.
I certainly won’t discourage anyone from reading and pursuing that particular model of religious practice, and indeed, I’ve written on the Didache myself.
But it seems to me that all of us have our hands full anyway, not with the rituals of praxis but with day-to-day living.
I mean, how close to or far from God do you feel? How often do you read the Bible? How often do you pray? How often do you pray and don’t feel like you’re just taking to yourself and the four walls? Are you kind to others even when you don’t feel like it? Do you yell at the person who cuts you off when you’re driving to work? Given the terrible things that are happening in Huston thanks to Hurricane Harvey, what have you done to offer aid and assistance? Do you give to others in need in your local community?
A life of faith is no life at all if it isn’t lived, but frankly, living that life isn’t easy.
I’ve been trying to listen to Christian radio again (mainly because there’s no such thing as Messianic Jewish/Gentile radio, at least nothing that is freely available over the airwaves). I’m having a hard time with it.
Air1 at least has more modern pop songs, but it’s also marketing to the younger crowd, and it can be terribly juvenile and even shallow. On the other hand, they have mentioned their concern for the people of Huston, and I learned about Convoy of Hope from them.
I’ve tried listening to a couple of local Christian stations.
I have a tough time with the more traditional Christian songs and hymns. I had the same problem when I was attending church. The people who’ve grown up in the church have a great deal of emotional and nostalgic attachment to those tunes, but to me, they are terribly archaic and boring.
The Christian station where people talk drives me nuts. I guess this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and I was listening to these two Pastors who were fairly gushing over Martin Luther. I can’t stand Martin Luther because of the Anti-Semitism he displayed toward the end of his life. This is on top of these so-called “reformers” not taking their reform back far enough in history so they could re-discover the deep connection Gentile believers have to a Jewish perspective on Hashem and Rav Yeshua.
Those “reformers” just changed things enough to object to some of the greater abuses of the Catholic church as it existed at that time. They kept all the stuff that deleted the Judaism out of an originally Jewish faith, and kept all the stuff that put Gentiles and only Gentiles at the top of the religious food chain.
Yeah, that works for me.
But I’ve got to do something differently, even if it drives me nuts. Frankly, I suspect there are a lot of non-Jewish but Judaically aware believers who are also scrambling to make sense of their/our lives. My point isn’t that the hard part of it all is being “Judaically aware,” the hard part is what’s hard for every Christian in churches and home fellowships all over the place.
The hard part is conforming our lives, our faith, and our actions to the desires of God. The hard part is to be a better person, even when it seems impossible. The hard part is to be a better person, even when God doesn’t promise to do anything for you in return.
This isn’t about where you go when you die, which is the shallow and simple-minded version of the “good news”. This is about who you are and what you do right here and now in this life. This is the “Gospel message” you absolutely won’t hear on Christian radio ever, and a message you won’t hear in many if not most churches.
President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” (and he’d be appalled if he were alive today and could see the nature of the younger generation coming up and what they want).
But what if he asked works in a relationship with God, too?
“Ask not what God can do for you. Ask what you can do for God.”
Really, if responding to that doesn’t take up 100% of your time, I don’t know what will. Frankly, the prospect scares me to death, but at the same time, I can’t fault it, since this is what the Bible speaks of regarding our service to God and our fellow human beings.
I suspect, even if nothing else changes in my life, my response, if I choose to sincerely make true Teshuvah, will occupy every day I have remaining in this life.
Couch-potato Christians: These Christians adapt to the culture by staying silent on the tough culture-and-faith discussions. Typically this group will downplay God’s absolute truths by promoting the illusion that neutrality was Jesus’ preferred method of evangelism.
Cafeteria-style Christians: This group picks and chooses which Scripture passages to live by, opting for the ones that best seem to jive with culture. Typically they focus solely on the “nice” parts of the gospel while simultaneously and intentionally minimizing sin, hell, repentance and transformation.
Convictional Christians: In the face of the culture’s harsh admonitions, these evangelicals refuse to be silent. Mimicking Jesus, they compassionately talk about love and grace while also sharing with their neighbors the need to recognize and turn from sin.
While the author is focused on this crisis in Evangelicalism, it’s not unique to Christianity. One of the long-standing issues in Judaism is assimilation of Jews to either secular culture or conversion to Christianity.
All of these essays are very long and I’ll admit in not reading the entire content of each one.
In general though, the blame for Christians leaving the church or creating churches that are largely secular in their values, as well as for Jews assimilating and either identifying as cultural (but not religious) Jews or at least joining liberal Reform synagogues, is laid squarely at the feet of popular, secular culture, and by that I mean progressive liberalism.
I recently reviewed a book written by the late Andrew Breitbart titled Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World. It was written during the Obama administration and covered how the news media, entertainment industry, and university system have all been co-opted by socialism and liberalism so that they have almost overwhelming control of the national “message” being transmitted today.
But while Breitbart was addressing how Tea Party conservatives could fight back and send a message of their own, I can see parallels between his points and how religious structures in our country, really in western culture, are being impacted in the same way.
The question is, assuming all this is correct, how can Jews and Christians (and I’m including Messianics in this mix) successfully communicate their/our values to the next generation and make it stick?
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.
–Proverbs 22:6 (NASB)
That sounds nice in theory, but is it really successful?
You aren’t her parents anymore, her parents are Axl Rose and Madonna, you can’t compete with that kind of constant bombardment.
-Albert Gibson (played by Tom Arnold)
from the film True Lies (1994)
As our culture increasingly diverges from the values taught in Christianity and Judaism, it sends a powerful message to everyone, including younger people who want to be relevant and not perceived as an enemy or bigot by their larger peer group.
And our modern culture has a much larger and louder public relations department than the family our religious instructors.
So is it hopeless?
I hope not. On the other hand, you’d just about have to keep kids locked in a closet and never let them on the internet, watch TV, listen to the radio, go out to watch movies, or go anywhere and associate with anyone except like-minded religious people.
Only the most conservative and reclusive groups do that kind of thing. In fact, I’ve encountered some progressives that think raising Jewish children as Orthodox and controlling their hair styles, clothing, and educational environment is a form of child abuse (although for some strange reason, they don’t have the same problems with Muslims).
Not only does secularism teach values different from the Church and Synagogue, but they teach that Christian and Jewish values (conservative or traditional ones) are bad, wrong, homophobic, islamophobic, racist, sexist, patriarchal, misogynistic, and so on.
No one wants to be thought of as a bigot, but the message being transmitted is that religious thought and observance is all of those things, and the only way to not be a bigot is to stop being religious (or create a religion that embraces secular progressive values).
I’m sure there are young Christian and Jewish people out there who have adhered to their religious values to one degree or another, but it certainly seems as if we’re trying to repair a ripped artery with chewing gum and scotch tape.
I know there are plenty of pundits who have written about the “culture wars” and what to do about it, but I’m not so sure how successful their solutions are (if they have any).
One problem that I don’t think is being addressed was raised by the Charisma Mag author:
Convictional Christians: In the face of the culture’s harsh admonitions, these evangelicals refuse to be silent. Mimicking Jesus, they compassionately talk about love and grace while also sharing with their neighbors the need to recognize and turn from sin.
The problem is whether their values are truly based in the Bible, or based rather upon conservative Christian interpretation and tradition?
I came across the notion of “teaching correct doctrine” in my previous sojourn in church. I left over two years ago, but my experiences are still vivid in my memory.
The problem might not always be religious vs. secular values, but how religious values are defined and understood.
Messianics, by definition, have come to the conclusion that normative Christianity does not have an entirely correct understanding of the Bible, especially when it comes to the Torah, Israel, and the Jewish people.
I came up with an answer that is a lot more nuanced than “Homosexuality is an abomination,” but still determined that Same-sex sex and marriage is not presupposed anywhere in the Bible.
But I looked, I didn’t just assume.
That might be a big problem younger people are having with religion. Conservative Christians and Jews rely on what they were taught and the explanations they were provided without engaging in an honest investigation into those beliefs.
Instead of just telling some young person “Homosexuality is a sin” or “Eve made Adam sin with the apple,” maybe engaging them and taking them through an investigation as to why these values are adhered to. Further, if a traditional value is discovered to be false (“the Church replaced the Jews in all God’s covenant promises”), adjust or eliminate the value.
While some churches have done this relative to Israel and the Covenants, other Christians have found it necessary to leave the Church and to either join Messianic congregations or, lacking access, finding online venues to nurture their beliefs and values.
But conducting an extensive investigation of scripture to define religious values takes time, effort, and resources, plus the willingness to question your own traditions. Christianity and Judaism might not be willing to do that, since tradition has a tendency to take on a life of its own.
One final point, and this has been said before, is that parents and religious teachers must walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Most younger people will learn more about your values by watching you live them out (or your failure to do so) than anything you’ll ever tell them.
That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but you do have to be consistent. If cultural values lure you in at one level or another, you will probably lose the war for the next generation.
Seems strange, right? No sukkah this year. Let me explain.
My parents are aging and their health is none too good. My wife and I haven’t been able to visit them in a while. A window opened up in our schedules, so we took a long weekend and drove down to their place in Southwestern Utah last Friday. We stayed Saturday and drove back home Sunday.
As most of you reading this probably know, Sukkot began at Sundown last Sunday.
Now we got home at about 2:30 p.m., but I was all in from a nine-hour drive so I didn’t haul out our little sukkah kit and put it together as I usually do.
However, yesterday morning, the missus and I were up at the same time along with our son David, and I asked her if she’d like me to assemble the sukkah when I got home from work.
Her answer kind of surprised me.
She said that I built the sukkah each year because I wanted to, not because she wanted me to.
I distinctly remember one year her thanking me for remembering to put up the sukkah when she forgot.
We never have meals in it and it’s rather small, maybe fitting two or three people max.
In our marriage, she’s the Jewish spouse and I’m the goy. I suppose I could have built it anyway, but something told me that if she didn’t want to observe the mitzvah as a Jew, who am I to do so (and not being Jewish, I can’t really observe the mitzvah anyway)?
I know some of you are going to say there is an application for Gentiles in Sukkot and I agree with you. On the other hand, without the Jewish people, without the Exodus, without the forty years in the desert, there would be no celebration of Sukkot, and none of that has to do with we goyim, even if we are disciples of Rav Yeshua.
So this year, it’s Sukkot, but without a sukkah.
Perhaps it is fitting since I have distanced myself from at least certain elements of Messianic Judaism. But while some Messianic Jews feel it’s important to separate Gentiles from Jewish praxis, they still can’t insist we distance ourselves from Hashem (and I’m not suggesting they are).
On the other hand, Judaism in general believes that the goyim can have a place in the world to come under certain circumstances (although the Noahide Laws don’t quite map to the life of a “Judaically aware” non-Jewish disciple of Yeshua), so while a Jewish celebration such as Sukkot might not be appropriate for us (again, some of you will argue against this), entering the presence of Hashem through the merit of Rav Yeshua is allowed for us.
So for me, at least for this year, the sukkah will have to exist in my imagination and in the future when we will all enter Hashem’s House of Prayer, which is a shelter for all people, Israel and the nations alike.
The title of today’s little missive will probably rub at least some people the wrong way, but hear me out.
Living with a Jewish wife, a non-Messianic Jewish wife, one who shares absolutely no common theology with me, is sometimes quite illuminating. Last week, the oldest son of the local Chabad Rabbi and Rabbitzen had his Bar Mitzvah. Apparently, I’m quite ignorant about all this, since I thought it would be on Shabbos.
Not so (although there was another related event on Shabbos). It was on Thursday. There were a ton of Jews from Crown Heights (Brooklyn) who came for the affair. My wife helped cook tons and tons of kosher meals since Boise is hardly the center of a thriving Jewish community, thus Kosher is hard to come by.
My wife is very protective of her Judaism and her Jewish community. The occasional “Messianic” (Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t really matter to her) who shows up at Chabad kind of rubs her the wrong way. Fortunately, the Bar Mitzvah was by invitation only, so it was unlikely to attract the casually curious or the Messianic who wanted to dive a tad deeper into actual Jewish life.
By the way, one of the people she’s protecting the local Jewish community from is me. I’m never quite sure if my asking something like, “How did the Bar Mitzvah go” will be perceived as genuine interest or as an intrusion (fortunately the former in this case).
Processing all this over the past several days, and doing a lot of detailed lawn work while the missus was at Shabbos services (all day in this case, there was a lot of “hobnobbing” to do), I realized that maybe it’s a good thing I’m not Jewish.
Really, I can’t stand being stuck in a crowd, particularly made up of (mostly) people I don’t know, for a long period of time. If, for some strange reason, my wife had asked me to attend with her, I’d feel like the proverbial fish out of water. I’ve read some books on the Rebbe and the Chabad, but I’m sure I’d fit in at a Chabad Bar Mitzvah about as much as a Pepperoni and Canadian Bacon pizza.
The missus is about as much of an introvert as I am, so when she finally came home from Shabbos services and the subsequent activities around 5 p.m., she was wiped out. I don’t blame her.
I don’t blame her for not including me in her Jewish life, either. The more I’ve disconnected myself from any formal association with Messianic Jewish groups, the more I have begun to realize that maybe I never belonged in the first place. Of course, I belong in a church about as much as a nudist in a nunnery, so I’m not saying that traditional Christianity is an option for me either.
I am saying that a Gentile (well, me anyway) attempting to adopt Jewish practices is kind of like putting a cat in a doghouse. One of these things is not like the other.
My wife showed me a photo of the Bar Mitzvah boy. Wow, what a young face. He was also wearing one of those black fedoras and a black jacket, which seemed strange on a kid that age. But then again, I’m not Chabad or even Jewish. Even if I discovered some long-lost family secret that my mother was Jewish, while halachically, that might make me Jewish, at almost 62 years of age, I would still lack a lifetime of Jewish experience.
In other words, I’d still think and feel like a Goy.
I think it’s OK for me and people like me to not pretend to be someone and something we’re not. It’s OK not to engage in what I’ve heard called “Evangelical Jewish Cosplay”.
I don’t think I have a Jewish soul, and I don’t think I’ve got long, lost Jewish ancestors, and I don’t think I’m a descendent of one of the lost tribes or any of that stuff.
I hang onto my current understanding of the Bible because it’s the one that makes the most sense. That’s why I’m about as welcome in a Christian Bible study group as a quart of Vodka at an AA meeting. Sooner or later, I’m going to say something that will be perceived as a threat.
Just showing up in a traditional Jewish venue would be enough to be looked at askance since I’m a Christian (what my wife calls me, not necessarily how I see myself).
Like I said, it’s easier and better to avoid trying to be something you’re not, especially since you’ll (I’ll) stick out like a clown at a funeral. Oh, for a time I can “blend into” a Church setting, but only until I open my mouth.
If religious community is important to you, then I hope you’ve got one where you are accepted for the person you are. I hope you fit in.
For those of you who don’t, welcome. That’s my world. That’s the world of a lot of us who hold to an alternate view of the Bible’s overarching message, particularly the actual meaning of the New Covenant. Some of you have found enough fellow “oddballs” within driving distance that you have formed your own groups. That’s good.
But we’re pretty strange ducks, and sometimes there isn’t a significant number of like-minded oddballs around to get together with.
Besides, within our own little sub-group, there are numerous sub-sub-groups who are just different enough to where we’re not going to get along for one reason or another.
And then, there are those folks who are just plain “out there”.
So, if you have ever gotten that feeling that you don’t fit in, no matter how hard you try, maybe you’re trying too hard to belong in the wrong place. Instead of having that make you feel disenfranchised, maybe you should feel grateful.
Thank you God for making me who I am, even if that sort of person isn’t very common, and even if that person isn’t always easy for others to understand. The downside is you don’t have a small Bible study group to go to every Wednesday night (at least not without starting a theological “knife fight”). The upside is you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. All you have to do is be the person you are.
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 TempleEmunah.org
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.
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 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.”
What’s behind the whole concept of the Jews as the Chosen People? Isn’t this idea racist?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
All human beings are God’s people, as it says that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Further, the great prophet Malachi said, “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10) The Talmud likewise points out that one reason the entire human race descends from a single set of parents, Adam and Eve, is so that no one would be able to claim his ancestors are greater than his fellow’s (Sanhedrin 37a). Judaism does not believe there is an inherently superior race of human beings.
I’ve been pondering the ramifications of giving up the identity crisis and becoming more comfortable with who I am. Relative to our relationship with God, there’s only really one thought to consider: you’re either Jewish or you’re not.
The Jewish people, the modern inheritors of the covenants Hashem made with the Children of Israel, are the only named participants in those covenants. For the rest of us, by attaching ourselves to the Jewish Messiah, we attach ourselves to Israel and thus by God’s grace and mercy, we are allowed to benefit from some of the blessings of the New Covenant.
But as the quote from the Aish Rabbi states, if the Jewish people are not inherently superior to the rest of humanity, and if we’re all created in the image of the Almighty, then why are there distinctions between Israel and the people of the nations at all?
Historically, however, the world slipped away from its relationship with God, and eventually the entire world was worshipping idols. Approximately 4,000 years ago, Abraham re-discovered the one God, and chose to accept the challenge of spreading the ideas of monotheism and morality to the world. Through his dedication and willingness to give up everything for God, he was chosen – and his descendants after him – to become the guardians of God’s message.
In other words, Abraham chose God, and thus God chose Abraham.
Abraham then passed this responsibility to his sons Isaac and Jacob. That mission was formalized 3,300 years ago at Mount Sinai, when God put these ideas into a written form (the Torah).
Yes, Israel became the keepers of the Torah of Moses for many, many centuries as well as the only nation on the planet that paid homage to God and obeyed His laws and statutes.
Of course, in that time, there were a number of non-Jews who, seeing the wisdom and beauty of the Torah, attached themselves to Israel and eventually, after the third generation, assimilated completely into Israel, leaving behind their non-Israelite lineage.
But God didn’t desire that humanity either have to convert to Judaism (which is how modern Jews view the ancient assimilation process) or be out of relationship with Him. And while modern religious Jews believe that humankind is born into a relationship with the God of Israel through the Noahide covenant (see Genesis 9 and AskNoah.org), God had a better plan.
That plan was absolutely not to replace Israel and Judaism with Gentile Christianity. That plan was and is for the people of the nations to benefit from God’s ultimate redemption of Israel by redeeming us as well, at least those of us who accept that Moshiach is the mediator of the New Covenant, trust in him and obey God’s commandments as they apply to the Goyim.
We aren’t born into this covenant relationship, but we are grafted in essentially as “alien residents” among Israel (symbolically, since most of us don’t live among the Jewish people in national Israel) so that the barriers that previously separated us from Israel have been resolved.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all Christians and all Jews get along. Quite the opposite in some cases. But it does mean that the Gentiles and Jews who revere Rav Yeshua (Jesus) within the context of the ekklesia (which does not mean “church”), and trust in Hashem to save, are part of a larger Messianic community that will be fully realized upon Moshiach’s return.
I’ve said all this before in one way or another, so why am I repeating myself (yet again) now?
Because (and this is a gross oversimplification) once you learn that the only two identities you can have are “Jewish” and “Other” within the devotees to Israel’s God, there’s not much else to be concerned about.
But like I said, this is a gross oversimplification. People love labels and love to differentiate between groups by those labels and what they think those labels mean.
However, what we call ourselves and what we tell ourselves that means is probably less important than what we actually do about it. Is the non-Jew who says he or she “observes the Shabbat” any more or less loved by God or created in His image than the non-Jew who volunteers at the local food bank, donates clothing to the local homeless shelter, or who spends time with hospitalized friends and relatives because tzedakah (charity) was made part of our obedience to our Rav and thus to God?
Don’t get me wrong, I think the blessing of lighting the Shabbos candles is very beautiful, and so is inviting God into the home to share our rest, but the Shabbat is a unique sign of the Sinai covenant, a covenant Hashem made exclusively with the Children of Israel (and the mixed multitude present who would assimilate into the Israelites within three generations).
Once we acknowledge that we are either Jewish or not and we learn to be OK with that, our identity problems go away for the most part.
I am a (non-Jewish) disciple of my Rav.
Another person might say “I am a (non-Jewish) Christian,” and essentially mean the same thing.
OK, there are differences, but if I obey my Rav by donating to my local homeless shelter and the Christian obeys Jesus by donating canned goods to the local food bank, are we not both being obedient and following his commands? Are we not both being faithful in the same way to the same Master?
Sure, you might say that Christians believe in supersessionism, or deny that the Jewish people are still attached to God through the commandments and the Torah, or that they believe that Jesus “nailed the Law to the cross,” but which of us has a theology and doctrine that is 100% correct from Hashem’s point of view?
Probably no one. And yet with an imperfect understanding of the Bible, our Rav, and our God, we can still do good in His Name. That very likely describes 100% of Christians and observant Jews.
One Christian denomination rails against another spending a lot of time and resources to do so. One branch of religious Judaism rails against another spending a lot of time and resources doing so. And good grief, just look at those of us who live, study, and worship “outside the box,” so to speak. We waste a lot of time arguing about distinctions this and distinctions that.
Isn’t there a better way to use our resources and to obey our Rav?
There is once you let go.
Someone on a closed Facebook group recently asked non-Jewish group members why they became Messianic Gentiles and what was the biggest obstacle they had to overcome in entering into Messianic Jewish community.
I know these are important questions and answering them facilitates a sense of community among those who participate, at least a virtual community since these people (potentially) live all over the world, but in some ways, making that distinction also facilitates the identity crisis.
Who is a Messianic Gentile and what does that mean? What’s a Messianic Gentile’s relationship with Messianic Jewish community and how (or if) do we fit in? There are a bunch of other questions attached to those and there is no one unified answer.
But what if those aren’t the most important questions to ask and asking the right question gives us a better answer?
We are all created in the image of God. The Aish Rabbi said that the Jewish mission is to be a light to the nations. My interpretation is that Rav Yeshua is that light (John 8:12) and by becoming his disciple, we too become lights to the world (Matthew 5:14-16).
Maybe all we really have to answer is the question, “How can I better shine my light onto the world?” That’s a totally inclusive question because it applies to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. Sure, the answer is somewhat different depending on whether you’re Jewish or not, but not as much as you think.
Both the Jew and the Gentile are commanded to do kindness and give charity. Both the Jew and the Gentile pray. Both the Jew and the Gentile give thanks to God for what He provides us from His grace, mercy, and generosity (Psalm 145:16).
I’ve stopped worrying about what to call myself (this is a lot easier for me because I’m not part of a religious community that has a label and expects that label to mean something specifically defining). I suppose there are any number of words that others use to define me. My Jewish wife for instance, considers me a Christian. From her point of view, she’s probably right.
But what about God’s point of view? Maybe the identity He assigned us, the person He created each of us to be, is based less on some theological system of belief and more on what we do about it.
If you behave like the person God created you to be, and strive each day to become a truer realization of that person, who cares what people call you? Who cares what you call yourself? It matters most of all how God sees you and your (our, my) response to Him.
Who am I? What do I call myself? Why, I’m “me”. I’m doing my best to be the person God created me to be. Or like Batman said, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman