Tag Archives: halakhah

What is Messianic Judaism?

Every society has that which bonds it: A common ancestry and a system of patriarchal lineage. Or a common language or common borders or governing body. Usually, it is a combination of several factors that mold a mass of people into a single whole.

The Jewish people are unique in that they have only a single nucleus—and it is none of the above.

All that bonds us is Torah. Nothing else has proven capable of holding us together for more than a generation or two. Nothing else, other than the same Torah that first forged us as a nation.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Jewish Nucleus”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

When I became a follower of Yeshua, it was not a rejection of the God of Israel, but, on the contrary, a belief that Yeshua was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. I did not stop being a Jew, and did not stop living as a Jew. On the contrary, believing Yeshua to be the Messiah made me want to be more observant of the Torah than before. Believing in Yeshua enhanced my Jewishness rather than lessen it.

Whatever my experience is, it is not a conversion to Christianity. I do not criticize Christian practice, but simply state the fact, that their practices are not my practices, their form of worship is not mine. Whenever I have visited a church, I have felt out of place, like I was in someone else’s living room. Their culture was not my culture, their practices were not my practices. Their understanding of Scripture is not mine. The only conclusion is that their religion is not my religion.

I feel at home in the synagogue, any synagogue. Their practices and beliefs are familiar to me. Their understanding of God and of His love for our people resonate with mine. While traditional synagogues don’t acknowledge Yeshua, nevertheless, He is there. For me, He is the Messiah of Israel.

-Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman
“Messianic Judaism and Christianity: Two Religions With The Same Messiah”
Drschiffman’s Blog

What is Messianic Judaism? Who is a Messianic Jew? These are questions I’m probably not qualified to ask let alone answer, but I have a special interest in the topic for a number of reasons. One important reason is that I’m a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife, so I am keenly aware of the intersection between our two outlooks on faith, the Messiah, and God as it expresses itself in our family life (I also have three Jewish children to add to the mix).

On top of that, most of my “Christian” religious life has been spent worshiping within the context of a One Law congregation (which isn’t really “Messianic Judaism” but I’ll explain that by the by). Within that venue, I gained an appreciation of (if not an actual proficiency in) Jewish religious thought and practice. I find not only many of the mitzvot quite beautiful and meaningful, but the symbolism and conceptualization behind the mitzvot, as the Rabbinic sages have expressed it, to be illuminating of God and oddly enough, my own Christianity.

Additionally, I have enough friends and acquaintances who are Jewish and Messianic and I desire to understand them and their unique experience better. That understanding I believe, will be critical for the Christian church as a whole (if the church can be said to represent a whole) to grasp as the days of the Messiah draw near and he calls His people Israel to return to him along with the nations of the world (“first to the Jew,” however). Without a firm foundation in the “Jewishness of Jesus” and how our world will one day be ruled by a Jewish King descended from the Throne of David, the traditional Christian will become lost and unable to connect to who and what Jesus truly is and what it actually means to be a Gentile disciple of the Messiah.

In addition to the Rabbis I’ve quoted from above, this “meditation” was inspired by a series my friend Judah Gabriel Himango has just started on his own blog called The State of the Messianic Movement. He intends to examine the three overarching groups that exist under the “Messianic” umbrella: Jewish Christianity, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots. This should require a definition of each of these terms and what (and who) they represent.

For myself, I’ve found that my understanding of what “Messianic Judaism” is has morphed over time. I used to think the term was a big “bucket” that contained what I thought of as Messianic Judaism proper, or groups of primarily Jewish people who worship Jesus as Messiah, One Law, which are groups of primarily non-Jews who believe that the Sinai covenant and its conditional statements, the Torah, are applied with perfect equality between Gentile and Jewish believers, and Two-House, which is made up of groups of primarily non-Jews who believe that their attraction to Torah and Judaism means they are “hidden” Jews who are descended from the “Lost Tribes of Israel.” (By necessity, these definitions are brief and do not contain all of the details and nuances to completely describe each group)

It would take too long to explain how and why I changed my paradigm for understanding Messianism, but a large part of the process was watching my wife rediscover her own Jewish identity during the last several years, moving from atheism, to traditional Christianity, to One Law, and then entering the community of Jews locally, first in our combined Reform-Conservative shul, and then finally becoming involved with the Chabad. I can say all that in a single sentence, but the reality of the experience is extremely complex and involved and having lived through my wife’s journey as her Christian husband (often observing but not significantly able to participate), it has been a remarkable and life-changing progression.

The missus and I were sitting at the kitchen table taking about subjects related to this and we landed on the “hot topic” of whether or not she thought Messianic Jews were Jews. Her answer surprised me just a little. She said that non-Jews who converted to Judaism but who did not renounce other religions (including or perhaps especially Christianity) were not Jews. During the last part of the conversion process, the almost-convert is asked if they voluntarily surrender any and all affiliations to any other religions or faith traditions. If they expect to complete the conversion and enter the mikvah, they always answer “yes”. If they answered “yes” but retained a faith in Yeshua (Jesus), then they lied and their conversion is null, as far as she’s concerned. If, for some reason (and I’ve heard unsubstantiated rumors of this occurring occasionally), the officiating Rabbi fails to ask the question and the convert continues to silently harbor a faith in Yeshua, then again, as far as my wife is concerned, the conversion isn’t valid. A non-valid conversion means the person entered and exited the mikvah as a Christian. End of story.

On the other hand, if a halalaic Jew in any way shape or form, came to faith in Jesus and worshiped him as Messiah, as mistaken as my wife thinks that person is, they are still a Jew. It would be like a Jew who practiced Buddhism or some other religious tradition. They’d still be Jewish. Her brother, for instance, is a born-again Christian and as far as I know, he continues to deny that his mother (and my wife’s mother) was Jewish (my mother-in-law passed away many years ago). To look at him, his wife, and his children, they are the perfect picture of a traditional Christian family. The idea of being Jewish just doesn’t compute within him and I’m sure he doesn’t understand why my wife and children consider themselves Jews. Nevertheless, if he should walk into our local Chabad synagogue on any given morning, and the Rabbi was aware of his status, he could still join the minyan for Shacharit prayers.

I’ve said everything above by way of introducing my humble definition of Messianic Judaism.

First of all, as Dr. Schiffman said on his blog, Messianic Judaism isn’t Christianity. Oh, it shares a number of common elements, not the least of which is the same Messiah. Jesus the Christ is the same guy (forgive me if that seems irreverent) as Yeshua HaMashiach. He is the Lord, the Savior, the Jewish Messiah King, who came once to redeem the world and who will come again, in power to redeem and restore Israel and to rule all of humanity.

However, who we are as disciples of the Messiah makes a huge difference. Regardless of how the movement of “Jesus worshipers” was started, first among the Jews and then among the Gentiles, 2,000 years later, Jews and Christians represent two wildly differing cultures and practices. As Dr. Schiffman said, he doesn’t feel comfortable in a church. He doesn’t belong there. His “spiritual home,” if you will, is the synagogue, any synagogue, Messianic or otherwise. I know of at least one other Jewish person who is Messianic and yet attends an Orthodox synagogue. I suspect there are others who quietly worship in their Jewish communities and yet who nurture a deep faith in Yeshua.

What is Messianic Judaism given all of this? In my opinion, it is a Judaism in the same manner as Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and so on. It is an expression of religious and halalaic faith and devotion of Jewish people as they relate to the Torah and God. It is the lifestyle, cultural, ethnic, religious, and halalaic context within which each Jew is Jewish. Most, if not all of the other modern Judaisms will certainly disagree with my opinion as will most Christians and the vast majority of non-Jews who are attached to the Hebrew Roots movement in some manner or fashion. So they’ll disagree.

My definition of a Messianic Jew is a person who is halachically Jewish and who practices a form of religious Judaism which includes acknowledging the person of Jesus (Yeshua) as the Jewish Messiah King, and who acknowledges the legitimacy of the Gospels, the Letters, and the Apocrypha in what most people call “the New Testament” as valid for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV) This person’s ethnic, cultural, religious, and lifestyle practice should be virtually indistinguishable from any other religious Jew (it would be interesting to find out if various Messianic Jews pattern their halakhah after different sects, such as Orthodox or Reform, but I lack information here). As Dr. Schiffman said, a Messianic Jew practicing Messianic Judaism (sorry if this sounds redundant, but it’s important to be clear on this point) should look and act the same as any other religious Jew from the viewpoint of an outside observer.

The twist is that there aren’t (probably) that many Messianic Jews practicing Messianic Judaism as I’ve just defined those terms. Even in synagogues that are strictly Messianic Jewish, that is, shuls that are governed by a halachically, ethnically, religiously, and culturally Jewish board, Rabbi, Cantor, and so on, the majority of attendees will still be non-Jewish. The type of synagogue practice should again, be indistinguishable from any other synagogue apart from portions of prayers and services that acknowledge Yeshua as the Messiah and the heir to the Davidic throne. Synagogues like this are most likely very rare in the western world. I’ve only attended one in over ten years of being aware of Messianic Judaism, and I only visited there last spring.

So, while it’s understood, from my perspective, that Messianic Jews practice Messianic Judaism, do the non-Jewish attendees also practice Messianic Judaism alongside the attending Jews? The answer to that question is probably the same as asking if I practiced Judaism when (this was years ago) I attended our local Reform-Conservative synagogue with my Jewish wife and our children.

In other words, “no”. I certainly worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and privately in my own heart, acknowledged my Lord and the King of the Jews during the prayers, but I was a Gentile among Jews in a completely Jewish context. From their point of view, the best they probably thought of me was as a righteous Gentile, and it’s not unusual for Noahides to worship alongside Jews (where else would they go?). In fact, I know of many Christians who periodically or (for a few) regularly worship in one of the local synagogues, either because they’re intermarried like me, or they have some other affinity for the Jewish people and for Judaism.

In a sense, whether you worship in a church or a synagogue (assuming you are a believer in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah) depends largely on your sense of personal identity and in which culture you feel more comfortable. This isn’t really unusual. Some Jews feel more comfortable in an Orthodox synagogue than those of the other Jewish sects, and some Christians feel more comfortable in a Lutheran or Baptist church than in a Methodist or Episcopal church. Some of that is theological, but a lot of it is cultural and believe me, different Christian denominations have their own cultures. So why not different Judaisms?

I’m sure my descriptions and definitions are far from complete, but trying to define Judaism in any sense, let alone Messianic Judaism, is a very difficult and involved task. This is really more of an introduction than anything, but as I said, some of the material I’ve been reading lately has been tugging at me and I needed to respond. As always, many people will disagree and many people will become upset, troubled, and even incensed and outraged. I’ve talked recently about how poorly some people tend to respond when another person disagrees with them online.

It’s OK if we don’t agree. Please try not to take it personally. As I live with Jewish people every day, I’m kind of in tune with how they are like me and how they are not like me. I’m just extending that personal awareness into a public arena. Your mileage may vary.

Ha’azinu: Between Heaven and Earth

Why did Moshe address the earth as well as the heavens? And why did Yeshayahu address the heavens as well as the earth? Why did they not confine themselves to speaking to the realm closest to them?

The answer to these questions depends on a fundamental tenet of Judaism: we must relate to both earth and heaven. For material and spiritual reality are meant to be connected, instead of being left as skew lines. Judaism involves drawing down spiritual reality until it meshes with worldly experience (Moshe’s contribution), while elevating worldly experience until a bond with the spiritual is established (Yeshayahu’s contribution). (see Rambam, Commentary to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1), the seventh and eighth of the Thirteen Principles of Faith)

Indeed, the two initiatives can be seen as phases in a sequence. By revealing the Torah, Moshe endowed every individual with the potential to become “close to the heavens.” Yeshayahu developed the connection further, making it possible for a person to experience being “close to heavens” while “close to the earth” involved in the mundane details of material life.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Close To The Heavens”
From the “In the Garden of Torah” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Ha’azinu

This is something like what I’ve been trying to say in my Jesus, Halakhah, and the Evolution of Judaism series. There is a dynamic tension in Judaism between Heaven and earth; between God and man, between the Spiritual ideal and the practicality of performing the mitzvot in the secular world. Heaven never changes, but the world in which we live in changes all the time. As we see from Rabbi Touger’s commentary on this week’s Torah portion, we might very well say that a Jew has one foot anchored in Heaven and the other planted firmly on earth.

The Master said it this way:

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. –John 17:13-19 (ESV)

Just as Jesus was, at that time, in the world but not of the world, this is how he characterized his disciples, who were set apart; sanctified for holy service to God. This is also a good understanding of what I see in Rabbi Touger’s commentary on what the Song of Moses was and is trying to teach the descendents of Jacob and the children of Israel.

And as Christians, this is a lesson we must learn as well.

But it isn’t easy. There’s a very delicate balance going on here. It would be very simple to slip too far one way or the other. If we go too far into the spiritual realm, we might have to leave the world altogether. More often than not though, we would probably just lose our way, walking off of the true path and into realms that involve excessive, arcane spiritual and mystic philosophies that are often mistaken for “mysterious truths” by people who are never satisfied with what God has given them. To go too far in the opposite direction (and this is the mistake most of us make) is to become too much of the world, bending our theologies and philosophies to the demands of a politically correct western culture, and believing that God has not prepared for us His enduring principles and values.

But how do you know if you’re biased too far in one direction or another? How can you tell if you’ve struck the right balance between adhering to eternal truths and adapting your religious practice to the needs of the current generation?

You almost never can tell until you, or someone around you, has gone to one extreme or the other, and then it becomes all too obvious.

How do you steady yourself on the path? That’s not easy, either. But it’s done by surrounding yourself with stable companions in the faith; men and women who are “grounded in the Word” and who have spent much time with God, men and women of prayer, grace, compassion, and acts of charity and kindness. Think of them as there to assist you in the occasional “course correction” that must be made during your journey between birth and God.

Unfortunately, there are always wrong communities that will support and encourage problems:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. –2 Timothy 4:3-5 (ESV)

This is a well used and well-abused set of verses because almost everyone in every type of Christian denomination, sect, and variant believes their group is the only one that possesses “sound teaching” and that everyone else who differs from them have “itching ears.” Indeed, the Messianic Jewish and Gentile Hebrew Roots movements are often characterized in the latter category by the mainstream Christian churches, since the focus on Hebraic and Jewish thought is contrary to what most churches teach.

So what do you do? How can you be so sure of yourself?

The scary answer is that, if you are at all honest with yourself and with God, you can’t be too sure. In fact, a little self-doubt is probably healthy. Taking other people’s criticisms to heart, at least temporarily, lets you look at yourself from a different point of view and ask the question, “what if I’m wrong?” I spent about a year on a different blog asking myself that question in many different ways, and my current perspective on this blog is the result. Just two weeks ago, I admitted I was wrong in response to a critic’s complaint, and I started a journey to investigate what the Bible really says about a Christian’s covenant connection to God.

If you assume that you’re never wrong, then you are almost certain to be walking away from God. I’ve met people like that, both in the blogosphere and face-to-face and believe me, they’re scary.

But what can we do when information overload hits, when the words and the texts and the spiritual pronouncements get to be too much? What do you do when you feel like you are about to fall off the tightrope, or that you are running on the edge of a razor blade, in imminent danger of being sliced to ribbons? As the saying goes, you need to “get back to basics.”

My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You.

Psalms 63:2

One Yom Kippur, after the Maariv (evening) services that ended the 25-hour fast, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev exclaimed, “I am thirsty! I am thirsty!” Quickly someone brought him water, but the Rabbi said, “No! I am thirsty!” Hastily they boiled water and brought him coffee, but again he said, “No! No! I am thirsty!” His attendant then asked, “Just what is it you desire?”

“A tractate Succah (the volume of the Talmud dealing with the laws of the festival of Succos).” They brought the desired volume, and the Rabbi began to study the Talmud with great enthusiasm, ignoring the food and drink that were placed before him.

Only after several hours of intense study did the Rabbi breathe a sigh of relief and break his fast. The approaching festival of Succos with its many commandments – only five days after Yom Kippur – had aroused so intense a craving that it obscured the hunger and thirst of the fast.

It is also related that at the end of Succos and Pesach, festivals during which one does not put on tefillin, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok sat at the window, waiting for the first glimmer of dawn which would allow him to fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin after a respite of eight or nine days.

Today I shall…

try to realize that Torah and mitzvos are the nutrients of my life, so that I crave them just as I do food and water when I am hungry or thirsty.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 11”

The “Torah and mitzvos;” Heaven and earth are the nutrients of life. We crave them like food and water. To extend the metaphor, we need a “balanced diet” to stay healthy. I adopted the name and philosophy for my blog from something written by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman that was based on the letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson:

When you get up in the morning, let the world wait. Defy it a little. First learn something to inspire you. Take a few moments to meditate upon it. And then you may plunge ahead into the darkness, full of light with which to illuminate it.

When you find yourself poised between Heaven and earth, try to balance yourself as much as possible, and then pick up a Bible or perhaps some text produced by a learned sage. Learn one thing that inspires you, that fills you with energy, and prompts you to seize the day…meditate upon it, question it, question your own understanding of it and of yourself for a time. Then start walking forward on your path toward the dawn and let yourself be the light that provides illumination.

I am gratified that this lesson has extended outward a little from my humble blog.

Good Shabbos.

Jesus, Halakhah, and the Evolution of Judaism, Part 5

The RabbiIn addition to Tanakh, we as Messianic Jews have another authoritative source for the making of halakhic decisions: the Apostolic Writings. Yeshua himself did not act primarily as a Posek (Jewish legal authority) issuing halakhic rulings, but rather as a prophetic teacher who illumined the purpose of the Torah and the inner orientation we should have in fulfilling it. Nevertheless, his teaching about the Torah has a direct bearing on how we address particular halakhic questions. As followers of Messiah Yeshua, we look to him as the greatest Rabbi of all, and his example and his instruction are definitive for us in matters of Halakhah as in every other sphere.

In addition, the Book of Acts and the Apostolic Letters provide crucial halakhic
guidance for us in our lives as Messianic Jews. They are especially important in
showing us how the early Jewish believers in Yeshua combined a concern for
Israel’s distinctive calling according to the Torah with a recognition of the new
relationship with God and Israel available to Gentiles in the Messiah. They also
provide guidelines relevant to other areas of Messianic Jewish Halakhah, including
(but not restricted to) areas such as distinctive Messianic rites, household relationships,
and dealing with secular authorities.

-from “Standards of Observance”
Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC)
Section One: Halakhah and Messianic Judaism
1.1 Halakhah: Our Approach (pg. 2)
OurRabbis.org (PDF)

This series isn’t taking the direction that I thought it would. At the end of Part 4, I really thought I’d return to a high-level view of the evolution of Judaism, perhaps lightly going over the development of the Talmud. This would mean doing a bit of reading and probably delaying Part 5 (this part) of the series for a while.

Then, on a whim, I decided to read “Standards of Observance,” which is the MJRC’s treatment of “Messianic Jewish halakhah;” certainly a controversial subject given the responses I’ve been fielding in Part 3 and Part 4. Thus, another “meditation” was born.

As I’m writing this, I haven’t gotten past page 2 of the 39 page MJRC document, but when I read the portion that I quoted above, I got to thinking. I generally consider halakhah to be a matter of how Jewish people operationalize their observance of the 613 mitzvot, which is how contemporary Judaism codifies the commandments to Israel in the Torah. But if “the Book of Acts and the Apostolic Letters provide crucial halakhic guidance for…Messianic Jews,” by definition, it must also provide relevant halakhah for the non-Jewish believing community as well.

This is complicated by two potentially competing positions: the halakhah as it is presented in the New Testament (NT) Gospels, book of Acts, and Epistles, and how the MJRC chooses to conceptualize, organize, and apply that halakhah. Actually, even within the context of the New Testament, how we view the relative authority of this halakhah upon the daily lives of non-Jewish Christians depends on whether or not we see this NT halakhah as fixed, static, pronouncements that were intended to be inflexibly binding on all Christians everywhere across time, or whether at least some of this halakhah was specific to individual congregations, situations, and other contextual factors, and was meant to be adaptive across time, to the point in some cases, of not applying significantly or at all to Christianity in the 21st Century.

I’ll give you an example.

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. –1 Corinthians 11:4-7 (ESV)

Taken literally and in its simplest form, Paul would seem to be saying that when men pray, our heads should not be covered, but when a woman prays, her head must be covered (presumably in a public setting such as communal worship). According to the notes for vv 5-13 at BibleGateway.com, “the Greek word gunē is translated wife in verses that deal with wearing a veil, a sign of being married in first-century culture.” This adds some context to what Paul is saying that we would miss by reading it in English. The head covering that is to be applied to women is specific to their marital status in specific cultures as they existed nearly 2,000  years ago. There are no immediately available notes for why a man’s head must be uncovered, but this would seem to go against the later tradition that men wear kippot when in the synagogue, although, of course, Paul is addressing non-Jewish believers in this case (keep in mind that any blanket declaration of halakhah forbidding men to cover their heads in prayer directly contradicts the modern practice of Gentile men in Messianic, One Law, and Two-House congregations to wear kippot).

My example seems to show us that it is certainly possible and likely that not every single pronouncement of halakhah that flowed from Paul’s pen was supposed to apply generally across all churches everywhere and “everywhen.” That is, we can believe that some “Messianic halakhah” as it applies to non-Jewish believers was never originally intended to be permanent, fixed, static standards of practice religious practice.

Which means we’re going to have an interesting time trying to figure out which portions of the halakhah in the NT continues to have force today and how we are to observe said-halakhah in our local communities in the present age.

I want to make certain that I communicate the following clearly. Whatever definitions that the MJRC has produced relative to “Messianic halakhah” can only apply to Messianic Jews who are members of congregations affiliated with the MJRC. This is certainly in keeping with halakhah in any other Jewish community, regardless of scope, since, for example, how halakhah is applied within the context of Chabad is most likely different from its application within Conservative or Reform Judaism. For all I know, there may be variations within specific local synagogues that are “contained” within the same sect of Judaism.

That means that not only does the MJRC understanding of halakhah not apply to wider Christianity (and you wouldn’t expect it to, since it seems to be written specifically for its Jewish members), but it doesn’t apply to any other organizations of Messianic Judaism and clearly not to any of the groups contained within “Hebrew Roots.”

(Arguably, and I haven’t read the entire MJRC document yet, any halakhah developed by the MJRC would have some sort of impact on the non-Jewish membership of each affiliated congregation, but I don’t know yet what the scope of that impact might be. However, if you are a non-Jewish believer and you choose to attend an MJRC affiliated congregation, you agree to become subject to their authority. Keep in mind that even in the most “Jewish” of Messianic Jewish congregations, the majority of members and perhaps a few folks in leadership, are non-Jews).

The next question is whether or not it is appropriate and desirable for groups of non-Jewish believers to also attempt to organize a sort of “Christian halakhah” from the NT that would apply to churches and Hebrew Roots groups.

I suppose Christians have been doing that ever since the invention of movable type and the first mass printing of the King James Version of the Bible (probably well before, but availability of the Bible prior to that time was severely limited, and the common man had no ready access to the written Word). In other words, developing “Christian halakhah” is an old story for Christianity, they (we) just don’t call it “halakhah.”

Of course, the result is what we see before us…about a billion (I’m grossly exaggerating) different Christian denominations covering the face of the earth, each with their own special take on what the Bible is trying to tell us, at least at the level of fine details of practice. Hebrew Roots organizations are no different, they just re-introduce the word “halakhah” into the mix. Viewed at in this light, it is understandable that the various Gentile expressions of Hebrew Roots including One Law/One Torah and Two-House, either formally or informally establish a set of accepted religious and lifestyle practices based on various parts of the Bible including the New Testament “halakhah.”

However, where it might get a little strange is when/if such Gentile organizations access the larger body of Jewish halakhah that extends well beyond the pages of the NT and into the writings of the Mishnaic Rabbis. While I can understand why organizations that are formed by Messianic Jews as a resource for Messianic Jews and Messianic Jewish congregations would want to delve into the accepted body of Talmudic thought, it’s puzzling why a Gentile would choose to do so. And yet, we see Gentile groups forming “Beit Dins,” wearing tzitzit and laying tefillin in accordance with traditionally accepted Jewish halakhah, and performing other Jewish religious practices that cannot be found in the NT and indeed, practices that weren’t codified (such as wearing kippot) until many centuries after the writers of the NT books and letters had died and their bones had turned to dust.

I made an observation in the previous part of this series that was never answered by any of the relevant parties:

My final note for this missive is one of irony. If written Torah, the Christian Bible, and Jesus are the only valid authorities for religious practice and lifestyle in the Hebrew Roots movement (including One Law/One Torah, and so on), then why do all of their groups and congregations follow a modern Jewish synagogue model when they worship? Why do all the men where kippot? Why do all the men wear tallit gadolim with tzitzit that are halalically correct? Why do they daven with modern Jewish siddurim? Why, in less than a week, will they construct their sukkot according to Rabbinically prescribed specifications?

It is completely understandable why any Christian church or congregation of Gentile believers in Jesus, regardless of their emphasis, should want to carefully study the NT documents and to derive whatever practical knowledge it contains for Christian religious practice in the modern era. On the other hand, it’s rather mysterious what some Hebrew Roots groups believe they will get out of studying the extra-Biblical Rabbinic texts and applying practices and concepts related to a Beit Din, Farbrengen, Ritual purity, Shmita, and so on.

If halakhah has the ability to evolve over time within the Jewish context, we can expect Jewish communities to practice one of the current forms within their local boundaries. The same can be said for Christian religious and lifestyle practice relative to the various Christian churches and denominations. I would never expect a Christian church to borrow significantly or at all from any Jewish halachic source in establishing accepted Christian religious behaviors. Why then, as I’ve asked before, should Gentile Hebrew Roots organizations desire to borrow heavily or almost exclusively from post-Biblical Jewish halachic practices, especially if said-groups only recognize the “written Torah” and New Testament as their only legitimate authoritative documents?

I know all this sounds like I’m trying to pick a fight, but given all of the “resistence” to the Talmud registered by Hebrew Roots people and how they say they don’t consider Talmud as an authoritative guide, the fact that virtually all such groups model their worship practices on modern Jewish synagogue services is truly baffling.

This series continues in the blog post: Messiah in the Jewish Writings, Part 1