Tag Archives: Gentile

Sukkot Without A Sukkah

Sukkah in the rainSeems 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.

Hmmmm.

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)?

sukkot jerusalem
Sukkot in Jerusalem

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.

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Where Would Noahides Go If There Were No Synagogues?

Messiah’s community is a single community expressed in diverse forms within the Jewish community and among the nations. All are called to a dedicated life of worship, neighborly service, and public testimony to Yeshua. Unity and love throughout the entire community confirm Yeshua’s role, as the One sent by the Father, and God’s purpose in Messiah for Israel and the Nations. (John 17:20-21; Acts 21:20; Gal. 2:7-8)

-from the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) Statement of Faith

I came across this link somewhat at random, and it reminded me of a question I wanted to ask the Internet.

Typically non-Jewish believers in Rav Yeshua (i.e. Christians) become aware of movements such as Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots through a sense of dissatisfaction with the Church, the feeling that something is missing. I remember having that sense early on in my “Christian walk”. My wife, who is Jewish, also felt something was lacking in our church experience, and when we encountered a local Hebrew Roots group (this was many years ago), she was immediately “hooked”.

It took me longer to get onboard, but eventually, as I started learning more, I began to realize that what the Bible actually said about the Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel wasn’t what was being preached and taught in most churches.

two pathsMy wife and I have since journeyed on separate trajectories relative to our faith and I respect her decision. She’s Jewish and she needs to be in Jewish community and to embrace Jewish identity.

My identity is less traditional and I’ve gone through a sometimes convoluted developmental process, finally arriving where I am today (though I don’t think God is finished with me yet).

Someone recently said (Don’t make me regret posting this link, Peter) that “Judaism is a communal faith and not designed to be practiced in isolation.” So is Christianity. The ideal is to find a like-minded community of fellow believers and to “fellowship” with them.

Over the years, I’ve transitioned between numerous communities, starting with a Nazarene church, then a Hebrew Roots/One Law congregation, then to a Bible study/home fellowship, then (eventually) back to Hebrew Roots, and most recently, I attended a Baptist Church for two years (and have since left). There were times in that history when our family was just alone in our faith, and times, including the present, when I am alone as an individual.

No, I’m not revisiting the idea of community for myself. As nearly as I can tell, that door is closed for more reasons than I can list in this brief blog post. However, it did occur to me that there are very few paths to community for someone, particularly a non-Jew, who generally believes in the tenets of faith as described by the UMJC (no, I’m not affiliated with them, and no I’m not specifically advocating for them — they just happen to be a handy example).

Even if there were a Messianic Jewish community in my area, and even if I felt I’d be welcome there, I probably wouldn’t attend out of respect for my wife’s sensitivities on the matter.

But what about other non-Jews who have my point of view?

cross and menorahThere are plenty of Gentile-only Hebrew Roots One Law/One Torah congregations out there of various sizes and configurations. Some have a few Jewish worshipers, but they almost always were not raised in a Jewish home nor had the benefit of growing up in Jewish social and religious community. Those Hebrew Roots groups are also almost always run by non-Jews, although their leaders may wear a tallit and kippah and even call themselves “Rabbi”.

But there are also a number of non-Jews who have a more “Messianic Jewish-like” perspective on the Bible, the centrality of Israel, the primacy of the Jewish Messiah King, and how all that relates to the people of the nations. A view I advocate here on my blog.

If they don’t live within reasonable distance of a Messianic Jewish congregation established and operated by Jews as a Jewish community which graciously also admits non-Jews, where do they go?

It would be like being a traditional Noahide and not having a nearby Jewish synagogue to attend. I know of intermarried couples who attend both our local Chabad and the Conservative/Reform group here in my area, and the non-Jewish spouses are Noahides in Jewish community, not unlike how I think of non-Jews in Messianic Jewish community.

But what if there were a group of Noahides who lived nowhere near a synagogue? What if they weren’t intermarried to Jewish spouses, but through some other process, came to the realization that being a Noahide was what the Bible required of them in order to worship Hashem?

Apply those questions to those of us who are “Judaicly-aware” non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua. Where would such a group of Gentiles go to find worship and community? Could a group of Gentiles band together to practice something analogous to “Messianic Judaism?” What would you call it, “Messianic Gentilism?”

Orthodox JewsI was wondering if those organizations that generally call themselves “Messianic Judaism” (such as the aforementioned UMJC) have established any guidelines for non-Jews who want to come alongside them but who geographically are too far away from a Messianic Jewish congregation to attend. For that matter, that group of Gentiles may not even have a skilled teacher or leader among them. They probably could use a lot of assistance and guidance.

Although the community in ancient Antioch (Acts 13:1; 15:1-2), to the best of my understanding, had both Jewish and non-Jewish members, the Apostle Paul (Rav Sh’aul) also founded many Gentile-only communities, the one described in his epistle to the Galatians being the one that immediately comes to mind. Paul “kept tabs” on these various groups, when he couldn’t visit them, through his correspondence, but the vast majority of the time, for day-to-day operations, they were run by the local members.

What did a Gentile-only “Messianic” community look like in those days? We don’t really know. Probably they looked at least somewhat “Jewish,” if for no other reason than because that was the only communal model available to them.

But this is nearly two-thousand years later and a lot has changed. Yes, ultimately the Gentiles broke away from their Jewish base and invented Gentile-only (unless a Jew wanted to leave Judaism and convert) Christianity, which almost completely rewrote how the Bible was to be understood.

Judaism too has gone through a great deal of development, and what we think of as Rabbinic Judaism today (which, in my opinion, includes at least some Messianic Jewish groups) is not the same as the Judaism(s) practiced during the late Second Temple period.

rainbowSo theoretically, if a collection of “Noahide” Judaicly-aware non-Jews wanted to pursue a community consistent with how we think of Gentiles coming alongside their Messianic Jewish counterparts, is there anything or anyone they could contact to help them? What resources should they consult so they wouldn’t just be “shooting from the hip?”

And no, I’m not thinking of starting such a community here, but I’m thinking that this is an area where others like me in the world are underserved and, left on their own, are perhaps forming groups and fellowships that might be less than optimal. I think they could use some help. I’m just wondering if such help exists and if it is even possible to create viable, sustainable congregations of Gentiles who worship and live consistently with how Messianic Judaism envisions Gentiles in Messiah.

Not Ashamed

Gentiles in Messiah have been transformed by Yeshua’s redeeming work and, as we shall see, are more than just mere Noachides or first-century God-fearers. Those of us from the nations should be proud of who God created us to be. We have an important opportunity to be a light for HaShem and his kingdom that only we can be. Together with our Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah, we must work towards establishing Messiah’s kingdom and the rule of Torah, while at the same time accepting our own unique roles. At the same time, some may wonder whether it matters if a person is called a Jew or a Gentile.

Aren’t we all one new man in Messiah? Doesn’t the Torah say that there shall be one law for both the stranger and the native-born alike? In the next chapter, we will consider the context of those passages that seem to apply the same standard and obligation of Torah law to both Jews and Gentile believers.

-Toby Janicki
from his soon to be released book:
God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel
Chapter 1, pp 24-25

This book just became available from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) but I managed to get my hands on an advance copy last week at the FFOZ Shavuot conference, so I was able to read it several days ago. The first thing I thought of when I finished chapter one was the 1992 Newsboys pop song I’m Not Ashamed (boy, it was good to hear that song again). Of course the song focuses on Christians who are hesitant to share their faith in a world dominated by secular values, but I applied it to how a lot of non-Jews in the Messianic movement seem “ashamed” or “embarrassed” just to be Gentiles in a Jewish religious context. I’ve met more than a few non-Jews in the movement who somehow feel that being a Gentile just isn’t good enough. They seem to think that being Jewish is where the “action” is.

I’ve already written about the absolutely fabulous role that Gentiles play in God’s plan in the redemption of national Israel and the return of the Messiah (see Redeeming the Heart of Israel, Part 1 and Part 2). That means I certainly believe we have no reason whatsoever to be ashamed, embarrassed, or put off about not being Jewish and still worship and honor God in Messianic Judaism. Nevertheless, these emotions are ubiquitous among Gentiles in the various flavors of Messianic Judaism. I suspect this is the motivation, conscious or otherwise, for some Gentiles to be attracted to either the One Law or Two-House theologies (although I know this isn’t true of everyone in those two traditions), each of which require some “equalization” of Jews and Gentiles within Messianic Judaism though a process of homogenization of Jewish and Gentile distinction.

About the only other “cure” (besides just getting past this insecurity and being delighted in who God made you to be) for this condition among some (but far from all) Messianic Gentiles, is to leave the Messianic movement entirely, abandoning faith in the Jewish Messiah King and converting to some other form (usually Orthodox) of Judaism. This is pretty much “throwing out the baby with the bath water” and our movement has been torpedoed (yes, I said “our” since even though I’m a Christian, I can still embrace Jesus as the Jewish Messiah within his correct context) on multiple occasions by people who are struggling with personal faith and identity issues.

I must admit, I can hardly be critical of these folks since more than once I’ve been severely tempted to “throw in the towel” myself, not only in terms of the Messianic perspective, but as far as any faith tradition at all. This life can be miserably hard and lonely and it would be easier to follow the path of least resistance and to either join and blend into a traditional church or just forsake Jesus altogether and enter into the masses of the secular herd.

But I just can’t make myself do it. I can’t make myself walk away. Some incredible drive keeps pulling me back, like an enormous elastic band holding me to the center of God so that I can only run so far away from Him before being snapped back.

The marketing material for Toby’s book wasn’t available from FFOZ when I originally wrote this “meditation,” so my full review won’t appear for the next day or so. I will tell you though, that the direction this book takes dovetails quite nicely with FFOZ’s current and future vision and frankly, it works very well with my vision, too.

Like many Christians who have been involved in the Messianic movement for a while, I’ve gone through the “developmental phase” of almost hating being a Gentile and longing to discover some hidden “crypto-Jewishness” in my genealogy. I never found any, which is fortunate, because if I did, it would have robbed me of the opportunity to discover that God loves Gentile Christians, too and that He has a very specific and incredibly vital role in His plan just for us.

But the most important gift I received over the past week that I want to share with you, is that we don’t have to be ashamed or embarrassed because we’re not Jewish. We don’t have to be jealous of envious of Jews and their unique covenant relationship with God. We have something that is better even than sons and daughters. We have the right to be called God’s sons and daughters. We have the right to be the precious crown jewels among the nations.

I’m not ashamed. You don’t have to be either.

Addendum: I’ve been reminded recently that there are many congregations of non-Jews in Hebrew Roots who are not looking to create their own “Judaism.” Instead, they seek to express their worship and devotion to God in a manner that acknowledges the Jewishness of Jesus. If that’s you and you are perfectly fine being a Gentile Christian in a Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots congregation, then this blog post may not be speaking to you. That’s OK, too.