One of my favorite stories is of the house painter who deeply regretted stealing from his clients by diluting the paint, but charging full price. He poured out his heart on Yom Kippur hoping for Divine direction. A booming voice comes down from Heaven and decrees — “Repaint, repaint … and thin no more!” Yom Kippur begins Friday evening, September 29th! (It is the ONLY fast day that is observed on a Shabbos.)
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the anniversary of the day Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai the second set of Ten Commandments. This signified that the Almighty forgave the Jewish people for the transgression of the Golden Calf. For all times this day was decreed to be a day of forgiveness for our mistakes. However, this refers to transgressions against the Almighty. Transgressions against our fellow human being require us to correct our mistakes and seek forgiveness. If one took from another person, it is not enough to regret and ask the Almighty for forgiveness; first, one must return what was taken and ask for forgiveness from the person and then ask for forgiveness from the Almighty.
In general, observant Noahides can (but are not required to) commemorate those Jewish festivals that in some way relate to Gentiles and the overall spiritual missions that G-d assigns for them. There are some of the Jewish festivals that Noahides have more of a connection to, and they can honor these as special days (for example, with prayers and selected Torah reading): for example, Rosh HaShanah (the annual Day of Judgment for all people), and Sukkot (the annual time of judgment for the rainfall that each nation will receive, which is also characterized by the themes of unity and joy).
But you should be aware that these days are not to be commemorated by Noahides in the same way that they are commanded to be fully observed by Jews. For instance, a Noahide should not refrain from normal activities on the Jewish holy days or Sabbath, and should not perform those Jewish commandments that are religious only, and have no practical benefit for Noahides (for example, waiving the four species of plants during the Festival of Sukkot, or fasting on Yom Kippur).
The Jewish festival days of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, Yom Kippur, Purim and Shavuot have little relevance to Noahides, other than as reminders of constantly-relevant general Torah principles.
With regard to Yom Kippur, which relates to the relationship between the Jews and G-d, Gentiles should not be concerned that they are lacking in any way in their opportunity at any time for successful repentance. The fact that only Jews were given Yom Kippur, the day that Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments, should only be a positive influence, in that perhaps it may inspire a Gentile to do his or her own needed repentance on any day of the year.
Taken from “Asking G-d to forgive for breaking a Noahide Law: Does this relate to Yom Kippur?”
As you can see I’ve been doing a little bit of reading, particularly with the High Holidays rapidly approaching. There’s no real template for how or if the “Judaically aware” Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua should observe such events. Certainly we are not Jews and we are not Israel (yes, I’m going to be criticized for those statements I suppose), but it’s difficult to ignore such an august occasion, especially when one’s spouse is Jewish (though not particularly observant at present).
I borrowed some information from a Noahide site to gain some perspective, but I’m not convinced the Noahide makes a suitable model for people like me. They don’t take into account the blessings of the New Covenant being conferred upon us due to the merit and faithfulness of our Rav.
Yet what else is there?
I do take some comfort, especially at this time of my life, in the statement that Yom Kippur can be a reminder that I can sincerely repent before Hashem at any time at all (of course, Jewish people can too). I’m also glad the Orthodox Rabbis who administer AskNoah.org recognize that Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot have applications to both Israel and the nations, so in some manner or fashion, we can partake in those observances as well.
As with my last several blog posts here, I continue to state that what you get out of your relationship with the Almighty depends on what you’re looking for.
If you are an observant Jew, it seems that your praxis is well-defined, which is part of what “grinds the gears” of some “Messianic Gentiles,” since our model seems less distinct. Maybe that’s because it’s too easy to mistake form for substance.
I think some of Paul’s letters, particularly Romans, touched on how some Jews (perhaps converts to Judaism who had Yeshua-faith) mistook the mechanics of Torah observance for an actual relationship with Hashem. I’ve seen it in some Messianic and Hebrew Roots groups in the past.
It’s easy to get distracted by praxis unless you have the correct perspective.
If the High Holidays are to mean anything for the rest of us, I think it’s true that they can serve as a reminder that God is accessible to us too. He’s always intended that from the very beginning. We were never meant to be left out in the cold or to be considered “sloppy seconds”.
As time goes on and I attempt to do even such minor things as listen to Christian radio, I realize that I don’t have very much in common with the normative Christian church. However I’d be lying and a fool if I said that I had nothing in common at all.
The church is full of good people, faithful people, people who have repented and continue to sincerely repent and to walk before Hashem. They do much kindness, express compassion in word and deed, are at the forefront helping victims of Harvey and Irma, putting their time, money, and effort where others only put their mouths.
Whether you call yourself a Christian, Messianic, or anything else, that’s what really matters, how you live out your relationship with Hashem through your devotion to Rav Yeshua. That’s what we should take with us into the Holidays. That’s what we should always take with us everyday as we walk with God.
Moshe also does not need me to clarify for him. Nonetheless, I think his point is unexpected and worth considering, in that he is saying that many mitzvot aren’t inherently valuable, they’re only valuable as part of a particular relationship with Hashem. It’s not that he objects or is bothered by non-Jews doing them, he’s saying that in these areas, the differences between Jews and non-Jews are such that these actions are literally meaningless for them.
-Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein
“Do Non-Jews Get Reward for Mitzvot?” Torah Musings
Now before anyone flips out, I want to say that I found a link to this article on Facebook, and that “Torah Musings” is an Orthodox Jewish venue, so please take that perspective into consideration. In fact, their About states in part:
Torah Musings is a window into the Orthodox Jewish intellectual’s world, providing sophisticated but popular textual studies, important news stories and associated commentary from the perspective of an Orthodox Judaism that is intellectually open and halakhically conservative.
Further, the disclaimer at the very bottom of Rabbi Rothstein’s article says:
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
Again, please keep in mind that the contents of this write-up, including the portions quoted here on my blog, are crafted within the conceptual and intellectual confines of Orthodox Judaism and are the educated opinions of R. Rothstein specifically.
So don’t lynch me or hang me in effigy just for reporting something I find interesting and, I believe, relevant.
Almost three months ago, in an effort to distance myself from some of the angst we find in certain corners of Messianic Judaism regarding Gentiles, identity, and mitzvot, I wrote and published What’s Yours is Yours. Really, if a Gentile in Jewish space is a problem, I’ll bow out.
Among other related articles, I also subsequently published Should Non-Jews Study the Torah and I concluded “yes,” with the proviso that studying Torah did not make one automatically obligated to perform each and every possible mitzvah described therein.
But having, to the best of my understanding and ability, examined the Messianic Jewish viewpoints (yes, there are more than one) as well as Hebrew Roots’ and Christianity’s opinions on the topic, how can I resist investigating how this Orthodox Jewish Rabbi answers the question he has asked?
As you can see from the above-quoted paragraph, R. Rothstein, in examining the “original responsum, Iggerot Moshe Orach Chayyim 6;2,” states that Moshe’s opinion would be that while we are not forbidden from performing the mitzvot, because many or most of them are directly linked to the (Sinai) covenant relationship Hashem has with the Jewish people, laying tefillin, wearing tzitzit, or building and living in a sukkah are simply meaningless to us relative to actually fulfilling these mitzvot, because non-Jews, even those living as Noahides, are not part of that covenant.
Is that the final word?
R. Rothstein reviewed the opinions of multiple authorities and they all differ somewhat in how strict they rule in this area.
1. Schepansky had noted that Rambam, in his Mishnah Commentary to Terumot 3;9, explained that even though non-Jews are not obligated in giving terumah, they still get reward for doing so, which is why the terumah they designate qualifies as actual terumah.
2. Moshe labels it one of the exceptions, donations to hekdesh (anything having to do with the Temple) and charity, examples he proves from the Talmudic assumption that Balak is rewarded for his sacrifices and Baba Batra 4a’s view that Nevuchadnezzar’s giving charity was effective. Non-Jews are also rewarded for appropriate speech, as Rashi says on Bereshit 19;39, where Lot’s younger daughter was more circumspect about her son’s paternity. Nevuchadnezzar also gets rewarded for the three steps he takes to hear the word of Hashem.
Those are all examples of non-Jews taking intuitively decent and good actions. When it comes to that which the Torah nonintuitively legislates for Jews, such as Shabbat, holidays, tefillin, tzitzit, sukkah, lulav, shofar, kosher, shatnez and anything like that, R. Moshe reverts to his view that these mitzvot only have value as a Jewish response to Hashem’s command.
This suggests that certain mitzvot might actually have meaning when performed by non-Jews, such as making an offering at or donations to the Temple (which currently does not exist), or other actions that any reasonable person would intuitively understand are morally good or right. On the other hand, those mitzvot that we would not intuitively realize are good, such and laying tefillin or donning a tallit gadol when praying, actions that are specifically associated with the Jewish people and their (Sinai) covenant relationship with Hashem, simply mean nothing to Hashem when we perform them, because we non-Jews stand outside the (Sinai) covenant.
I know pretty much who is going to object to all this, but please remember that these opinions are coming from an Orthodox Jewish source, so you can’t necessarily hang blame either on me or on any authorities existing within Messianic Judaism.
You’ll need to click the link I provided above to get the full gist of what R. Rothstein has composed, but he does cite other authorities who believe a non-Jew may receive a reward for performing mitzvot voluntarily, although this probably doesn’t include the previously mentioned observances specifically associated with Judaism. Some have even suggested that the non-Jew may receive a greater reward, but this is a minority opinion and possibly considered erroneous by the majority of authorities.
The article concludes:
In that sense, R. Moshe is actually being more lenient towards non-Jews, in that in his view they are not missing out on a good. For R. Moshe, a non-Jew who keeps the Noahides is doing all s/he should do, not just all the Torah happened to let him or her know about. It’s not that they are too benighted to know the wonders of our mitzvot, it’s that those mitzvot don’t apply to them, unless and until they decide to convert.
In other words, it is understood that Gentiles may recognize the beauty of all of the mitzvot once we study Torah and become aware of them, however that recognition goes not make us obligated unless we choose to convert to Judaism.
This is more or less what I’d expect given an Orthodox Jewish perspective, and is actually more liberal than I would have previously imagined.
Now the question is, from the viewpoint of disciples of Rav Yeshua and my understanding of our graciously being allowed to partake in some of the blessings of the New Covenant by Hashem’s mercy and through the symbolic sacrifice of our Rav, does this change anything as far as non-Jewish disciples, the mitzvot, and their significance?
That’s the $64,000 question.
And it’s one that A) I’ve answered before, and B), that I don’t intend to hash out again in this blog post.
I am writing this “mediation” and providing links to the source material because I find it fascinating that Orthodox Judaism would even pose the question for serious, scholarly debate. If it’s a question that Orthodox Jewish authorities find necessary to ask, given that they see non-Jews as subject only to the covenant Hashem made with Noah (see Genesis 9), how much more so should it be a question within Messianic Judaism, given that Hashem has allowed even the non-Jew to become a disciple of Yeshua by mercy and grace?
I know this will probably ruffle someone’s feathers, but really, I’m just publishing this as a matter of interest as to how wider Judaism considers a matter that is, from my point of view, highly relevant to non-Jews who are “Judaicly aware” and who are or have been involved in either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities.
Two millennia ago, the block served as one of several Do Not Enter signs in the Second Temple in Jerusalem, delineating a section of the 37-acre complex which was off-limits for the ritually impure — Jews and non-Jews alike. Written in Greek (no Latin versions have survived), they warned: “No foreigner may enter within the balustrade around the sanctuary and the enclosure. Whoever is caught, on himself shall he put blame for the death which will ensue.”
-Ilan Ben Zion
from the article “Ancient Temple Mount ‘warning’ stone is ‘closest thing we have to the Temple’” Times of Israel
I found a link to this article on Facebook and it’s really very interesting. It suggests that Gentiles may have had more access to the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem than was previously believed. I’ll let the article speak for itself, quoting what I think are the most relevant sections, and I encourage you to click the link I provided above and read the entire story yourself.
Contrary to the recent New York Times report, which stated that Herod’s Temple was “surrounded by partition walls that were meant to separate gentiles and Jews,” the warning was meant to protect “not the whole Temple Mount, but the inner sanctuary, the inner courtyard,” Price said. The modern notion “that the entire area is somehow holy is contrary to the original purpose and status of this huge plaza of the Temple Mount.”
Gentiles were not only welcome to ascend the Temple Mount, they were also permitted, if not encouraged, to donate animals for sacrifice. Josephus recounts how Marcus Agrippa, Emperor Augustus’s right hand man, visited Jerusalem shortly after the Temple was built and offered up a hecatomb — 100 bulls — as a sacrifice on the altar. Likewise daily sacrifices paid for by the Roman state were offered up for the welfare of the emperors. Philo records in his Embassy to Gaius that on no fewer than three occasions “we did sacrifice, and we offered up entire hecatombs, the blood of which we poured in a libation upon the altar, and the flesh we did not carry to our homes to make a feast and banquet upon it, as it is the custom of some people to do, but we committed the victims entire to the sacred flame as a burnt offering.”
The article states that Herod may have engineered a more lenient policy about Gentile access to the Temple, with only most holy areas being forbidden, not just to non-Jews but to any Jew not ritually clean.
“It was not ethnic or race as much as [ritual] purity,” Price said. “Jews who were not purified or ritually impure could not pass the soreg either.” Unlike gentiles from across the Roman Empire, Jews were expected to know better than to enter the holy sanctum when impure.
Herod changed that. He wanted to exhibit the grandeur of his compound, the largest temple in the ancient world, but not enrage his Jewish subjects.
“The exclusion of the gentiles, according to the inscription, is a kind of compromise between allowing them into the Temple but still excluding them from the inner temple, which is the properly holy ground,” Orian said.
“Reality necessitates compromise in different aspects of Jewish law,” he said. But “even if they were not viewed as impure, they would still be excluded from the [inner sanctum] of the Temple.”
What Herod changed, at least according to this article’s writer and his source, Matan Orian, a PhD student at Tel Aviv University, was the perception, based on one interpretation of Numbers 18:7, that Gentiles were “intrinsically impure”. This interpretation may be the reason even Rav Yeshua’s (Jesus’) Apostles, including Peter, typically viewed and treated Gentiles as “unclean”.
And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.”
–Acts 10:28 (NASB)
I’d have to guess that Peter may have been operating from the perception that all Gentiles were “intrinsically impure,” and yet, the Almighty showed Peter in a vision that the Gentiles should not be treated as “unholy or unclean.”
Of course, as the article states, this didn’t mean Gentiles, even among the Jewish Yeshua-followers of “the Way,” would have accepted in every area of the Temple, even if they were considered to be clean. There was a point on the Temple grounds where it would have been an outrage if a Gentile were to enter.
When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.
Of course, Jewish understanding of the presence and role of Gentiles on any part of the Temple grounds has changed over time.
Despite the Herodian-era status quo, in which gentiles and Jews mingled atop the Temple Mount, most rabbis today maintain the tradition that the entire complex is holy ground and Jewish entry is forbidden. That ban stems from uncertainty over where precisely the Holy of Holies stood.
The information in this article hints at a greater Gentile involvement in the Herodian Temple than most of us might have imagined, and further suggests that this was manipulated by Herod for political/social reasons, rather than theological insight. Nevertheless, it’s exciting to consider the possibility that in the Messianic Age, non-Jews visiting Jerusalem may also be granted, while not completely free access to the Temple, a greater measure of mobility on the Temple grounds, as well as the opportunity to offer sacrifices via the Aaronic and Levitical Priests.
I don’t have any special insights into all this. I just read the article and it sparked a thought or two. Mainly, I just wanted to share.
When I started writing this missive, I thought the answer had all to do with the Apostle Paul. By the time I finished, I realized I was dead wrong.
Let me explain.
This issue is compounded by two additional assumptions, based on the New Testament book of Romans – written by Paul whose authority is questionable because he never met Jesus.
-Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
“Know How to Answer Christian Missionaries” Aish.com
Articles like this make my heart ache because they are based on the assumption that everyone who has received and accepted the revelation that Rav Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah has an understanding of Jesus that’s exactly the same as Evangelical Christian theology and doctrine.
This is not consistent with many Messianic Jews I’ve met, either in person or over the web. In fact, most of those Jews have more in common with people like Rabbi Kravitz than they do with me.
But I’m not writing this to convince any Jewish person (or Gentile Noahide for that matter) of the validity of Yeshua’s identity and role, past, present, or future.
My current investigation has to do with a Gentile establishing and maintaining a relationship with Hashem outside traditional Christianity and Messianic Jewish community. For the former, this is the case because I’m definitely not a good fit for the Church, and for the latter, because I suspect any involvement on my part in either Christianity or the Messianic movement just drives my (non-Messianic) Jewish wife nuts.
Not that it’s her fault. That’s just the way it is. She’d probably get along famously with the above-quoted Rabbi Kravitz and eat up his responses to missionaries with a spoon.
So given my circumstances, and the circumstances of quite a number of “Judaicly aware” non-Jews who for many different reasons can’t or won’t join in a community, we turn back to the Bible and to God as our only resources.
I was trying to find a condensed list of the various directives that Paul issued to his non-Jewish disciples so I could “cut to the chase,” so to speak, but doing that search online is proving difficult. I keep encountering traditional interpretations of Paul as having done away with the Law and having replaced it with grace and so on.
I could turn to more “Messianic” or “Jewish” friendly commentaries, but many or most of them are quite scholarly and beyond my limited intellectual and educational abilities and experience.
I do point the reader to a source I’ve mentioned quite a bit of late, the Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle. This is a collection of articles written by various researchers who are part of the “new perspective on Paul” movement, those who have chosen to reject the traditional interpretation of the apostle and who have taken a fresh look at his life and writings within the context of first century Judaism.
You get a really different opinion of Paul when you take off your Christian blinders (sorry if that sounds a tad harsh).
I did look up Paul at beliefnet.com and they do seem to state that Paul was Jewish, but unfortunately, they take a more or less traditional point of view on what the apostle taught.
They did say that of all the epistles we have recorded in the Apostolic Scriptures, scholars are sure he was actually the author of:
1 & 2 Corinthians
Even limiting my investigation to those letters, I’m still faced with a lot of challenges. Romans alone is worth a book, actually many books, and is so complex I doubt I’d ever do more than scratch the surface of its meaning.
But maybe I don’t have to start from scratch. After all, in the several years I’m maintained this blogspot, I’ve written many times on Paul. Maybe I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps all I have to do is read what I’ve already written.
Searching “Paul” on my own blog renders 33 pages of search results but I need to narrow it down more to what Rav Shaul specifically said about the Gentiles.
Actually, only the first two pages contain blog posts specifically with “Paul” in the title. It gets a little more generalized after that.
The added problem is typically, any time I wrote about Paul and the Gentile, it was usually in relation to or contrasting the role of Messianic Jew and Judaicly aware Gentile. I produced very little, if anything, about Gentiles as Gentiles. After all, I’ve been a champion (minor league, of course) of the cause of Messianic Jews to be considered Jewish and operating within a Judaism, just the same as other observant Jews in various other religious Jewish streams.
Only of late have I found it necessary to advocate for the Gentiles, and more specifically, me. Only recently have I realized that while it’s a good thing to emphasize Judaism for the Messianic Jew, it has some serious drawbacks for the so-called “Messianic Gentile,” not the least of which is resulting in some non-Jewish believers losing their identity because they’re surrounded by all things Jewish, including siddurim, kippot, Torah services, and tallit gadolim.
While I still believe that a significant role of the Judaicly aware Gentile as well as the more “standard” Christian is in support of Israel and the Jewish people, just as Paul required of his Gentile disciples in ancient times, I also believe there has to be something more for us to hang onto.
Or to borrow and adapt a hashtag from recent social media outbursts, #GentileLivesMatter (by the way, using Google image search to look up “goy” or “goyishe” returns some pretty anti-Semitic graphics).
I wrote a number of detailed reviews of the Nanos book The Mystery of Romans including this one that described a sort of mutual dependency Paul characterized between the believing Gentiles and believing and non-believing Jews in Rome.
You can go to the original blog post to click on the links I embedded into that paragraph, but if part of who we non-Jews are is mutually dependent on Jews in Messiah, that leaves me pretty much up the creek without a paddle.
Of course, that’s citing Nanos and his classic commentary The Mystery of Romans, which describes a rather particular and even unique social context, so there may be more than one way to be a Judaicly aware Gentile and relate to God.
The problem then is how to take all this “Judaic awareness” and manage to pull a Gentile identity out of it that doesn’t depend on (Messianic) Jewish community. Actually, I would think this would be as much a priority for Messianic Jews as it is for me, especially when, as I’ve said in the past, in order for Messianic Jewish community to survive let alone thrive, Messianic Jewish community must be by and for Jews.
To put it another way quoting Rabbi Kravitz’s lengthy article:
The growth of Christian support for Israel has created an illusion that we have nothing to worry about because “they are our best friends.”
It would be a mistake to think the risk has been minimized, especially to Jewish students and young adults, just because missionaries are less visible on street corners and offer much appreciated Christian support for Israel.
Granted, R. Kravitz must paint the Church in the role of adversary if he believes that Christians are dedicated to missionizing young Jews so that they’ll abandon Jewish identity and convert to Goyishe Christianity, but we non-Jews in Messianic Jewish community are also sometimes cast as a danger in said-community because our very presence requires some “watering down” of Jewish praxis and Jewish interaction.
I suspect the same was true in Paul’s day and ultimately, it was this dissonance that resulted in a rather ugly divorce between ancient Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah.
Gentiles resolved the conflict by inventing a new religion: Christianity, and they kicked the Jews out of their own party, so to speak, by refactoring everything Jesus and Paul wrote as anti-Torah, anti-Temple, and anti-Judaism.
That does me no good because I don’t believe all that stuff, that is, I’m not an Evangelical Christian. I need an identity that allows for my current perspective, my pro-centrality of Israel and Torah for the Jews perspective, my King Messiah is the King of Israel and will reign over all the nations from Jerusalem in Messianic Days perspective, and still lets me be me, or the “me” I will be in those days, Hashem be willing.
Think about it.
All Jewish people will live in Israel. It will once again be a totally Jewish nation. As far as I can tell, people from the nations will be able to visit as tourists, but by and large, besides a rare exception or two, we will live in our own countries, which in my case is the United States of America…a United States devoid of Jews, synagogues, tallit gadolim, and all that, because they will only exist among the Jews in Israel.
I don’t know the answer to this one, but I think this is the central question I’m approaching. How will we Gentiles live in our own nations half a world away from Israel and King Yeshua? What will our relationship be to God?
The answer to how we’ll live in the future is the answer to my current puzzle.
As I ponder what I just wrote, I realize that even searching out Paul’s perspective on the Gentiles is a mistake. He was trying to find a way for Jews and Gentiles to co-exist in Jewish community. He never succeeded as far as I can tell. No one has succeeded since then, including in the modern Messianic Jewish movement.
But in the Messianic future, as such, Jews and Gentiles really won’t be co-existing in Jewish communal space. Jewish communal space will be the nation, the physical nation of Israel. We goys will be living every place else except in Israel. Maybe the Kingdom of Heaven will be more “bilateral” than I previously imagined.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
–Romans 11:17-24 (NASB)
I’m writing this “morning meditation” just to preserve something I know I’ll forget if I don’t document it (as I get older, I find that my memory is becoming somewhat “leaky”).
I want to talk about trees.
Actually, I want to talk about one specific tree, an olive tree, the one Paul mentioned in the above-quoted portion of his Holy epistle to the Romans.
What in the world does that tree represent? Some of the common responses are “Israel,” “Judaism” or the “Jewish people,” or maybe “Jesus,” although that last suggestion doesn’t exactly make sense from the Jewish point of view given that the tree has existed for as long as the Jews have existed if they are natural branches.
I discovered (or maybe rediscovered, given the “leakiness” of my memory) a plausible answer, one that is in fact more plausible than any I’ve suggested above.
The first element to understand is that this tree represents all those who share faith in HaShem, who trust Him. Verse 20 is the key that shows the definition of this tree, because unbelief is the mechanism that breaks a branch off of the tree, and faith is the mechanism by which one remains on the tree. At one time, the only branches on that tree were the natural native ones, which is to say Jews. The cultivation of that tree represents the principles of the Torah covenant that inculcated faith into the entire culture of the Jewish people – thus Jews were a people who had been acculturated to the notion of faith or trust. Being broken off of the tree refers to a loss of faith or a rejection of it. Being grafted onto the tree represents acquiring faith (or regaining it if it had been lost or rejected). Wild branches represent non-Jews from cultures that were not acculturated to faith in HaShem. They were not naturally accustomed to it, but they could learn faith by means of the teachings of Rav Yeshua and thus be “grafted” onto the tree of faith to which they were not native, “contrary to nature” (meaning by means of deliberate intervention by a gardener). The sap of the tree must then represent the nourishment of Torah knowledge, perspective, and insight that Jews have cultivated for many centuries to elaborate the meaning of a life of faith. The root of the tree is thus the source of this nourishment, the Torah.
That’s only part of PL’s rather lengthy missive, but it does serve to illustrate that, from his perspective, the Romans 11 tree isn’t Judaism, the Jewish people, or even Israel. The olive tree is a metaphor for faith and trust.
I provided a link above that points directly to PL’s comment so you can read the content in full (or re-read it given the current context). Frankly, I’ve puzzled over the nature of this tree for more hours than I care to think about without coming to a conclusion. I ended up setting the matter aside, figuring the answer would land in my lap eventually.
I think it finally has.
Of course, given the mention of the Torah being the nourishment the tree provides both to the natural (Jewish) and grafted in (Gentile) branches, what’s to prevent someone from concluding that both types of branches are equally obligated to the mitzvot?
PL responses to this in part:
Now, this analogy doesn’t quite answer the questions about Torah observance for non-Jews, though Acts 15 offers a starting point to differentiate between two discipleship types, and perhaps it also explains Rav Shaul’s reference to two different versions of gospel: one addressed to the circumcised, and the other to the uncircumcised (viz:Gal.2:7), neither of which is to be dismissed as merely so much “chopped liver”. [:)] It may be suggested, however, that an acculturation to faith certainly does occur as wild branches reside on the tree and absorb Torah nutrients, and receive treatment from the Gardener (e.g., pruning) comparable to that given the native branches. Moreover, by faith does it become possible to set aside insecurities, so as to enable facing the discomfort of working to distinguish between applications of Torah which apply to everyone (including wild branches) and those which apply only to someone else (i.e., only to the native ones). We can also consider what might be the implications for this analogy in the present era when so many wild branches come from cultures that have been already at least partially accustomed to the notion of faith in G-d, even if that faith has been contaminated with views that are contrary to Torah or Jews or Judaism or related notions.
Acts 15:21 hints at the responsibility for non-Jews to learn Torah, even after it had just been clarified that their legal obligations to specific performance were very limited. Why then to learn? I would suggest that making the distinctions I described in the above paragraph requires a depth of Torah understanding, because even common principles of Torah might result in different praxis for Jews and for non-Jews to obey. For example, I recently was looking closely at the text of Is.56 (vs.2&6) to consider the characteristics of how the “foreigner”, who is being commended by HaShem for clinging to His covenant, actually approaches the Shabbat. He is described only as keeping from profaning it; whereas Jews are elsewhere commanded to actually sanctify it and guard it. This suggests some sort of difference in the specific behaviors associated with it. I’m still grappling with what that may mean, and how gentile obedience and compliance to this may thus differ from what I know as my Jewish responsibilities and praxis. But it does show that what constitutes obedience for one may be disobedience if another tries to do the same rather than what is appropriate to his or her categorical situation.
I know this is really long by Internet standards, but there is a lot of good information to absorb here. I think (my opinion) that PL is describing how complex and nuanced the Gentile’s “grafted-in-ness” is. There’s no easy black-and-white answer as to who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing as non-Jewish disciples, except that it’s not identical to what observant Jews are supposed to be doing.
We have clues, hints, and starting points, but I think it’s up to us to struggle with how we’re going to build our lives on the foundation of the Bible, and particularly how the Apostolic Scriptures present the lives of non-Jews in Messiah.
I just didn’t want to lose track of the very concept of the Romans 11 tree as a metaphor for Faith and Trust. Lack of faith may get a natural branch knocked off the tree temporarily, but it doesn’t turn a Jew into a non-Jew. Nothing can do that. Being grafted into the tree does not turn a Gentile into a Jew. We’ll always be Gentiles. It also doesn’t turn us into Israelites. Only Jews are Israel.
But being grafted in means we’ve come to faith in Hashem, the God of Israel, and we are nourished by the principles of Torah as applied to the Goyim.
I’m not writing this to present an answer or declare some amazing Biblical insight (particularly because the insight isn’t even mine). I’m just putting this here as another piece of the puzzle of our lives in God that may help to fill in the picture.
Oh, one more thing:
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Immediately after writing “if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”, Paul goes into how Israel’s “hardening” is only partial, that is, temporary, and will only last until “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” Then “The Deliverer will come from Zion” and “remove ungodliness from Jacob” so that “all of Israel will be saved.”
This is clearly New Covenant language and, as I’ve said many times before, I believe God will truly redeem all of Israel just as He promised. Paul was telling the Gentiles not to let being “grafted in” go to their (our) heads. The olive tree of faith has belonged to the Jews from the beginning. Any of the natural branches knocked off temporarily for the sake of the Gentiles, for our sake, will all be rejoined to the tree by Messiah. Even in being knocked off, temporarily losing the “faith connection,” it was done for the sake of the nations, so we owe a debt of gratitude, even to those Jews who currently reject the notion that Yeshua could possibly be the Messiah. That’s the majority of Jews across the past twenty centuries. Without their temporary absence from the root (and who is to say how absent they are since they cleave with great faith to Hashem), there would be no room for us.
Any Christian or non-Jew who calls themselves a “Messianic Gentile” or “Messianic whatever” who also disdains non-believing (let alone believing) Jews is guilty of ingratitude, not only to Israel but to God who arranged it all. Remember, the “promises are irrevocable.”
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: The appointed times of Hashem, that you are to designate as holy convocations; these are My appointed times.
–Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:2
The Sabbath is a special, Divine gift, given to us so we elevate ourselves above the physicality of the days of the workweek. Indeed, the fact that it comes every week is part of its special nature: Who among us has not wondered how the non-Jews can survive without the Sabbath! We must strive to treat the Sabbath with the same delight and anticipation that we do any of the festivals. (emph. mine)
That is the $64,000 question, isn’t it. There certainly isn’t one, straightforward reply. The author of the above quoted mussar proposes the question but not the answer. Apparently, there is no Rabbinic response to God’s provision for the Goyim (or lack thereof) relative to Shabbat or any sort of occasion whereby a non-Jew can elevate him or herself and draw nearer to God. Perhaps it’s one of the many reasons why the ancient Gentile disciples of Messiah divorced themselves from the Jewish communities originally created by Paul and founded their (our) own Gentile-based religion called “Christianity”.
Actually, the “Mussar Thought for the Day” does have a response to Gentiles and the Sabbath:
A non-Jew is forbidden to observe the Sabbath; the Torah describes the Sabbath as: “…between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever (Shemos 31:17).”
The Church solved this problem by creating their own weekly Holy Day on Sunday, and until relatively recently in history, treated Sunday in a manner similar to how Jews observe a Saturday Sabbath.
However, the past 50 years or so has seen, particularly in the Western nations, a diluting of Sunday “Sabbath” observance whereby Christians go to church Sunday morning and then go out to lunch just prior to playing a few rounds of golf. The day is only special for the few hours they are in church, and even then, social encounters and conversations can largely be made up of secular material.
I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of Jewish people who only marginally observe a Shabbat or observe it not at all. My daughter goes to work on Saturday and my wife, while she does attend shul in the mornings and into the early afternoon, will resume her regular weekday behaviors upon returning home.
I’m not speaking ill of my spouse, of any other Jew, or for that matter, any Christian. It’s just that how we see the Sabbath and our relation to this day as well as to God is highly variable.
Is the answer to how a Gentile should, at least in an ideal sense, respond to the Jewish Shabbat to be found in Messianic Judaism? What makes you think that among the various “Messianic Judaisms” currently in existence, there is a unified response?
Your view that God is supremely upset about which day people choose to worship on is very un-Jewish. Shabbat is about rest and is not a prescribed day of worship. This is an error lying at the root of your entire theory. It is also an erroneous view of God, as if one of the great sins has to do with which day of the week people hold worship services on. I strongly encourage you to reexamine your views which come up short in terms of biblical interpretation and which sound a lot more like they are influenced by Ellen G. White than Torah and Gospel.
So although Derek is the Rabbi of a Messianic Jewish congregation which presumably has a significant number of non-Jewish attendees, and also that he has spoken at many Christian churches and similar non-Jewish venues on topics related to Messianic Judaism and its relationship to believing Gentiles, he also seems to hold a point of view quite similar to the Orthodox Jewish authorities. He doesn’t say that Gentiles are forbidden to observe Shabbat, just that, as a Torah commandment, it doesn’t apply to us in the slightest.
Now let’s contrast that with the following:
It is not uncommon to hear people refer to the appointed times as the Jewish festivals. This is true in that God gave His appointed times to the people of Israel. He told the Israelites, “The LORD’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these” (Leviticus 23:2). The Jewish people are the wardens of God’s calendar.
However, God does not refer to them as Jewish festivals. He refers to them as “my appointed times.” They are God’s holy days. Paul asks, “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also” (Romans 3:29). The Bible never offered Gentile Christians any alternative festival days. To say that Gentile believers are not expected to keep God’s appointed times is the same thing as saying that Gentile believers are not supposed to have any holy days or days of worship. Neither the Gospels nor the Epistles grant the Gentile believers their own special festivals.
In the days of the Apostles, both Jewish and Gentile believers observed God’s appointed times together. They met in the synagogues and in the Temple on the Sabbath and festival days to celebrate and observe God’s holy days. When Gentile Christianity left the cradle of Judaism, the Gentile Christians began to neglect the appointed times. The Sabbath day was replaced with Sunday observance. The timing of Passover was changed. The other festivals fell into disuse. Is this what God intended for believers?
Since this is taken from the Torah Club subdomain of FFOZ, I have to assume it was written (though I could be wrong) by D. Thomas Lancaster, the spiritual leader at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship which touts itself as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations.” Mr. Lancaster is also the primary contributor to FFOZ’s Torah Club content.
The last three blog posts were not only part of my review of Aaron Eby’s book/siddur First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer (also an FFOZ publication) which was written by Eby specifically for a non-Jewish Messianic and Christian audience, but my chronicle outlining my own efforts to truly (or as truly as is possible for me) observe Shabbos using Eby’s book as a guide.
I can’t say I did a very good job of it, but part of that has to do with a lack of practice. One properly observes Shabbat by having many months or years (or a lifetime) of practice observing Shabbat, ideally in the company of people who know what they’re doing.
So we have the Orthodox Jewish perspective that Gentiles are actually forbidden from observing the Shabbat accompanied by astonishment in how we Gentiles manage to survive without it.
Then we have Rabbi Leman’s viewpoint that the Shabbat simply isn’t relevant to non-Jews, even those within the Messianic community, and further, that “Shabbat is about rest and is not a prescribed day of worship.”
We also have FFOZ’s opinion that God is not just a God of the Jews but of the nations as well, and that at least Gentiles are allowed to observe the Moadim, presumably including the Shabbat.
The previously quoted FFOZ blog post ends with:
It is true that the Apostles never commanded the Gentile believers to keep the appointed times, but neither did they tell them not to. They were silent on the matter. In those days, the idea of not keeping the appointed times simply had not occurred to anyone.
Perhaps if there had been no schism between the Jews and Gentiles nearly twenty centuries ago, the issue would be moot. Halachah would have been developed regarding “Messianic Gentile” observance of Shabbat, the Appointed Festivals, and a great many other things we call “Jewish,” and then the halachah would have been refined over the centuries so that today’s expressions of Messianic Judaism would each have their own traditions and practices defined for Gentile members.
But such is not the case.
However, maybe the issue isn’t all that important, at least on a global scale. The churches have their answer to “The Lord’s Day,” and each Messianic community that includes Gentile members or attendees has their official policies regarding non-Jews and Sabbath.
Ultimately, lacking a clear Biblical directive, each of us has to negotiate his or her relationship with God, and each non-Jew has to decide how he or she (or if he or she) should address the puzzling issue of a Shabbat for the Nations.
I wrote quite recently that if it came down to a choice, it’s more important for Jews to observe Shabbos than for Gentiles. In the microcosm of my family, that’s how it works today (however imperfectly).
Of course there are those who want to have their cake and eat it too, but I’m not convinced you can solve knotty problems such as these by saying “the (Torah) rules are all the same for everyone, end of story,” and this narrative can appear a little unusual from time to time (I like comic books too, but this comparison caught me by surprise).
Even setting aside larger, normative Christianity’s opinion on the matter, authorities within Messianic Judaism let alone the wider realm of Jewish thought differ in how or if Shabbat applies to the Gentile, whether a disciple of the Master or not.
I decided to write this “meditation,” even though it may seem that I’m beating a well and truly dead horse, because of the simple statement I quoted at the top of this blog post:
Who among us has not wondered how the non-Jews can survive without the Sabbath!
So, given all of the benefits of Shabbat observance for the Jewish people, how do the rest of us survive?
Each Sabbath refreshes anew the special bond that Hashem has with His people, and affords every Jew the chance to turn away from the weekday world and bask in the radiance of the Shechinah. Thus, every Sabbath is a festival; but rather than commemorating a single event, it serves to strengthen and nurture the connection between the Jews and their Father in Heaven.
-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.141
Oh, as far as the Shabbat being primarily about rest rather than worship:
It is all too easy to fall into the trap of regarding the Sabbath simply as a day of rest, and to use it only as a chance to catch one’s breath before heading back into the grind of the following week. The folly of this approach, too, is highlighted by the location of the Sabbath among the festivals. Nobody makes the mistake of looking at Pesach or Succos as times of rest! These festivals are clearly identified as times to celebrate the closeness and special care that Hashem has demonstrated toward His people.
So if we accept Derek’s assertion that Shabbat is not specifically a day of worship, we can also say that, at least in Orthodox Judaism, it’s not primarily just a rest day either. Like the Appointed Festivals, it’s a time of celebration, a day to rejoice in drawing nearer to God, at least for the Jewish people.
But among the varying and madding opinions of the relevant pundits, how do we non-Jews survive without a Sabbath or, like our First Century counterparts, the Gentile disciples Paul made in the diaspora, can we too somehow join Jewish community and simply enjoy the blessings of their Shabbat observance even if, as a matter of covenant, it is not also ours?
I know someone is going to bring up Isaiah 56 as “proof” that everyone everywhere is commanded to keep the Shabbat in the current age, but are we to behave like partisans, freedom fighters representing a (sort of) “King in Exile,” obeying the laws he will establish once he returns as if they are already in effect? Remember, in Messianic Days, King Messiah will not only rule over Israel, but the Gentile countries as well, as we will be vassal nations under the authority and protection of Israel’s Monarch. In those days, the will of the Master will be unequivocal.
Today however, Biblical hermeneutics being what it is, there is room for doubt and multiple conflicting learned opinions, and as I said above, that leaves it up to each of us, our conscience, and our relationship with God, to decide how to navigate the rather murky waters of Gentiles and Shabbat. How can we presume to observe it? How can we survive without it?
"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