This is a terrific beginner’s Torah study for Messianic newbies. Beyond a short introduction, the entire book consists of a brief study of each parashah (portion) of the annual Torah reading. No matter when you buy the book and start studying the portions for each Shabbat, you can dive right in.
Although advertised as a five-minute study per Torah portion, to me they were about two-and-a-half minutes but then I read fast and, after many years of study, a lot of the material seemed pretty familiar. Darren didn’t pull all of the commentaries from his own knowledge, but rather relied on the published insights of such sages as Rashi, Rambam, Ramban, as well as some Chassidic interpretations. The Bible translation used is the ESV which isn’t my favorite but you can’t have everything.
All in all, as I’ve said, this is a very good beginner’s Torah study guide for the non-Jew in the Messianic community (or Jew who has absolutely no background in Torah study perhaps having spent most of their religious life in the Church) or mainstream Christian to start out with. It’s completely approachable and easily digestible.
Darren also points the reader toward calendars for the current Torah cycle including those that reference the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) as well as the Torah, Prophets, and Writings.
Since Darren stated that he used specific sources for his commentaries, I’d have liked to have seen those sources cited for a number of reasons. First off, there are many opinions in the world of the Jewish sages that have been collected for hundreds or even thousands of years and not all of them agree. In Christianity, disagreement among theological authorities is seen with worry but in Judaism it’s pretty much the norm and dynamic tension is much better tolerated. But for the someone completely new to Torah study, I think it would help to know who said what. Those sorts of brief citations can be commonly found in my copies of the Chumash and Tanakh.
Also, in a published work, there are customary methods of identifying information that is not original but created by another authority. Typically, authors or organizations want to be acknowledged when their material is being used by someone else.
Finally, since this is a beginner’s guide, the reader might want to know where to go next after they’ve progressed beyond what is offered in this resource, so those citations could have been used as road signs pointing ahead, so to speak.
The only other thing I can think of is that Darren, at the very end of his book, could have added a few pages of “where to go next” for more involved Torah study resources, Messianic and otherwise. I know when I get my hands on a hot resource that whets my appetite, I want to start reading a lot of other stuff and I think Darren is well-positioned to offer such guidance to his audience.
My stats say this blog has a little over 900 followers and while that doesn’t put me anywhere in the same neighborhood as TechCrunch, it does mean that at least potentially, a few people out there are visiting and reading my content (and thank you for doing so, especially since I don’t post here nearly as frequently as I have in the past).
In answering a comment on my previous missive, I found myself wondering about the current state of Messianic Judaism (or whatever you want to call it) and whether or not it is growing, shrinking, or just holding steady. That is, how is MJ “trending” in terms of population?
It’s the sort of question I’d love to dig into but I haven’t the faintest idea where to go to find valid numbers. I know there are probably individual Messianic organizations that likely keep track of their numbers, but I can’t think of any one central repository that could tell me if MJ is gaining or losing ground.
Why should I care?
Because I wonder how many people there are out in the world like me.
I once belonged to a private Facebook group made up of Christians who are “unchurched.” The term “unchurched” usually means people who don’t go to church, but in this context it describes Christians who remain in the faith but who no longer attend a formal congregation. Usually they meet in small, home groups because “church” in one way or another, no longer suits their needs.
I left that Facebook group when I saw them using the Bible to somehow justify that large, organized bodies of believers isn’t supported by scripture. Of course, I had to bring in Temple worship, plus the system of synagogues that existed during Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) “earthly ministry” which even Rav Yeshua attended.
I got a lot of blowback and I know how much fun that is from maintaining a presence in the religious blogosphere for so many years, so I dropped that association like an angry rattlesnake.
I have lots and lots of reasons for not being involved in any sort of faith community anymore, some are relative to theology and doctrine and some are personal. One has to do with being intermarried to a Jewish spouse and how my affiliation with organized Christianity (including the Messianic movement) impacts her. No, she’d never say I couldn’t worship as I see fit, but we’ve been married nearly thirty-five years and I can tell how my “praying with the enemy” (metaphorically speaking) affects her.
Every once in a blue moon I catch myself missing such congregational meetings, but in the end, the liabilities involved still outweigh the benefits.
How many others who have previously been regularly involved and integrated into some sort of formal Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots group have since dropped away to march to the beat of their own drummer? Believe me, I can see why folks would fall away, either to go back to the normative Church or to attend no congregation at all, but how can we find out about them?
Of course this begs the larger question of the state of Christianity. Is the normative Church shrinking? If so, then maybe a shrinking Messianic movement (though I have no idea if it is shrinking) is understandable in that context.
A quick Google search wasn’t particularly illuminating.
I came across a brief article on Rabbi Daniel Siegel’s blog called “When the Rebbe Asks: Renewing Ger Toshav,” which apparently is the topic of a soon to be published book. Actually, I found it posted on a closed Facebook group for “Messianic Gentiles”. This is the same group that has historically drawn a parallel between the Ger Toshav (“resident alien” in Jewish community) and the Messianic Gentile. I chronicled their perspective in a number of my blog posts including Not a Noahide (which I was subsequently reminded would better have been called “More than a Noahide”).
Although I no longer fret so much over issues of identity or praxis, there was something that caught my attention:
Reb Zalman favoured the renewal of the Ger Toshav as an alternative to a full conversion where it was clear that the person did not really want to become a fully practicing Jew. He wanted to see an alternative which honoured the person’s desire to be part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length.
This was a response to a problem noted in Judaism. When a Jew is married to a non-Jew, there traditionally has been two responses. The non-Jew converts to Judaism or the Jew ignores any Rabbinic direction and most likely falls away from Jewish community and practice.
An additional problem is noted in terms of the standards for practice that Jewish community holds for the Jewish convert. Often, in the author’s opinion and referencing Reb Zalman, said-observance of the convert is more lax, certainly not up to the standard of the presiding Rabbinic court. One example of this mentioned in the article is:
Some years ago, Reb Zalman challenged what he saw as too much leniency in our conversion process, to the point where he said that if we did not put a tallit kattan on a Jew by choice as he (in this case) emerged from the mikveh, then we had done nothing.
It was suggested that at least some of the converts did not truly desire to follow all of the mitzvot and converted for the sake of their Jewish spouse.
So is there an alternative?
Supporting the renewal of the Ger Toshav, a non-Jew who is already married to a Jew, who does not want to follow the mitzvot as a Jew, but who is in full support of their spouse’s involvement in Jewish community and praxis.
How does this apply to the aforementioned comparison between the Ger Toshav and the Messianic Gentile?
Well, in normative Jewish community, a Messianic Gentile would in no way be considered to map to a Ger Toshav. In fact, a union between a Jew and a Messianic Gentile would be viewed as an intermarriage between a Jew and a Christian, something not in any way seen as desirable in Jewish community.
In my own small experience in Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots groups, it is fairly common for Jews and non-Jews to be intermarried. In fact, again in my experience, the sort of Jews attracted to Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots are either secular Jews or Jews who have adopted Christian practice and identity, and yet who also have a desire to reconnect to being a Jew.
The participation for many intermarried couples in Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots then, could be seen as a sort of synthesis between Christian and Jewish values and lifestyle.
Of course, I can’t speak for every intermarried couple involved in those movements, but when I was associated with those communities, that was what I saw.
Turning to my own situation as a non-Jew married to a Jew, in my case, my spouse is affiliated with normative Jewish community, specifically the Chabad and the local combined Reform/Conservative shul. She in no way can be considered as having any sort of association with Yeshua-worshippers or Christians (which is what she considers me).
So we come back to the definition of a Ger Toshav as a person who is part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length. Well, that’s not exactly me, since I’m not part of a Jewish community at all. In fact, I’m not currently part of any worship or faith community.
There, almost the entire Jewish leadership was married to non-Jews whose spouses, in turn, were full contributors to the community’s life and supporters of their spouses’ involvement, yet choosing not to become Jews themselves.
Nope. That would imply that I’m involved in synagogue life with my wife and support her involvement from that platform.
However, combining “at arm’s length” with supporting my spouse’s involvement in Jewish life, I find a definition of myself, and by “arm’s length” I mean I stay away from her Jewish community completely.
This isn’t news to me. It’s just interesting to find this sort of thing recorded in modern Jewish literature.
In Messianic Judaism, you can probably find many non-Jews married to Jews who are part of Jewish community and support their spouse’s full observance of the mitzvot (keeping in mind that depending on which Messianic Jewish community you sample, the level of observance will vary).
As far as my wife’s level of observance, that’s entirely up to her. Frankly, I wish she were more observant, but as she once said to me (and rather pointedly at that), she doesn’t need my permission to be Jewish.
So I keep my nose out of her business in that arena. I also have surrendered anything that even resembles Jewish praxis since she would no doubt see it as “Evangelical Jewish Cosplay”. She even wonders why, outside the home, I still avoid bacon, shrimp, and other trief, which is just about my only remaining concession to my former lifestyle.
I’m sure a number of my former associates would be aghast to read those words (or perhaps they wouldn’t), but in some sense they were also the prompt, or part of it anyway.
The missus is my main motivation for the decisions that I’ve made, but I’m also mindful that the Messianic Jewish community in all its forms and associations, continues to struggle with just how to implement Gentile involvement in their Jewish community, keeping in mind that at least in the western nations, most Messianic Jewish communities are made up of mostly non-Jews.
I know the ideal is to create Messianic Jewish community by Jews and for Jews, and I continue to support that ideal, but it is my belief that the dream will not be realized until Messiah returns and draws his people Israel to him.
So where does that lead us?
For those non-Jews out there who adhere to the values and practices of being involved in Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities and who are not intermarried, not a lot. I’m sure your congregation has standards of behavior and practice for the non-Jews among them, so like any member of a congregation, you adhere to those standards or find someplace else to worship.
For non-Jews married to Jews and part of the previously referenced communities, it is likely you and your spouse share the same values and beliefs, and so there is little or no dissonance between you. Only in Messianic Jewish groups with a Jewish praxis approaching Conservative or Orthodox would there be any noticeable distinction between the observance of the Jewish and non-Jewish spouse (again, this is my opinion, your mileage may vary).
For you non-Jews who have community within a Christian setting and your beliefs are not widely accepted by your peers, you have a tough road to travel. I tried that for two years and ultimately got nowhere, though I learned a lot along the way.
If you are married to a more traditionally Christian partner, then what you experience may be similar to my own marital situation. You may share the vast majority of your lives with each other but there will always be a line neither of you may cross. The most important part of you becomes isolated from your marriage.
It’s a very dicey place to live. I know. I live there.
With neither support at home or community, you depend on the Holy Spirit alone to get to through each day while maintaining a relationship with God. If you’re married to a normative Christian, renouncing a Messianic perspective and taking up the mantle of traditional Christianity becomes the temptation.
For folks like me, it’s renouncing Yeshua entirely. Even if I did that, I doubt the missus would accept my adopting the Ger Toshav identity, so I’d still be alone in belief or disbelief as the case may be.
Assuming Hashem has control of all things, I wonder why He would sanction this perpetual walk along a sheer cliff. Or perhaps like the question, “why do bad things happen to good people,” it’s simply a matter of living in a broken world fallen far from God. These events occur because the King has yet to assume his throne in Jerusalem and take up his reign.
So like the rest of humanity living precariously and dancing madly on the edge of a razor blade, I and those like me just have to keep hanging in there.
Like you, I have found Aish articles really uplifting. It has really made me respectful for the profound wisdom I see in the articles there.
There are people like this I have met on the slopes of mount Kilimanjaro where my mother comes from. Their lives are hard and yet when you make an impromptu visit, their lined faces literally beam with happiness and they make sure they give a prayer of thanks before you are invited to eat and before you go. They put me to quite to shame in their faith and hope and joyfulness of attitude. Maybe the city life is what is destroying me…I do love being up there on the mountain. The missionaries outdid themselves up there.
I trust your day has gone well.
To which I replied:
My day is fine, Margareth. Thank you.
I know you’ve described the hardships of your life, but from my point of view living in southwestern Idaho, it seems incredible to be able to say you met people living on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. It illustrates that no matter who we are or where we live, no matter how far apart we are in terms of geography, nationality, language, and culture, we are all one in the Lord God. Most of us, we believers in the United States, tend to believe our problems and lives here are the only problems and lives. We rarely pull out heads out of the sand to realize how truly diverse are the people of God, how different our experiences, our very lives are from one another. And yet we are all brothers and sisters through our faith in Messiah. May he return soon and in our day.
I’d like to pull this brief transaction from the comments here and make it a blog post all it’s own. This realization, which escapes most of the Church in the west, needs to be pointed out and brought to light. I only wish I could bring these words to every Christian, Hebrew Roots person, and everyone attached to Messianic Judaism in any way, so we could all open our eyes and see that our struggles aren’t the only struggles, and that people of deep faith live all across the face of the Earth. It is God’s world and He will one day come back to live among us, in His Temple in Jerusalem, and the King will once again rule with Justice and Righteousness.
The first time I ever heard of Mt. Kilimanjaro was when I became aware of Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and much to my chagrin, I must admit to never having read it. But Hemingway isn’t the point. What Margareth said is.
I know when she mentioned visiting the people who live on the mountain’s slopes, and saying that’s where her mother comes from, they were simply statements of fact. But for someone like me, someone who is not all that well-travelled, and someone who pays far too much attention than I should to the “first world problems” declared by the news and social media pundits, it brought my own staggering ignorance into stark relief.
It also reminded me of just how ignorant most of us are in the United States of America, and probably many other western nations, to the true, vast expanse of the presence of the people of God in our world, all over the world.
In her brief descriptions of her life in the comments sections of Blessing God in a Dark World and Finding What’s Most Important, she has shown me a world I am completely unfamiliar with. And yet it is also a world where all we people of faith have a common mission and purpose. That mission and purpose is to bring the light of Messiah to others, in whatever we do, no matter who we are, no matter what language(s) we speak, no matter our nationality, history, culture, or personal experiences.
We have our master and teacher, Rav Yeshua, Jesus Christ in common. I know when our Rav walked this Earth, he came “for the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), and yet, he commissioned his disciples to make disciples of all the people of the Earth (Matthew 28:16-20), and assigned Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul, the responsibility of being his special emissary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-18).
To the best of his ability, and given the available modes of transportation of his day, Paul carried out his mission of bringing the good news of the Messiah, both to the Jews and the Gentiles living in the diaspora.
For the past nearly two-thousand years, others have taken up the mantle of the Apostle in bringing the good news to all the people of all the nations of the Earth. A lot of those missionaries have also caused a great deal of harm, destroyed the unique language of culture of many indigenous peoples, tortured, and even murdered people, Jews particularly, who would not convert to goyim Christianity, and committed many other acts that God condemns.
And yet, some remnant of the true intent of what Christians call “the Great Commission” survived. According to Margareth, the evidence of that lives on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro where her mother comes from.
I am amazed and pleased to pull my own head out of the sand and realize that I have something in common with people who live halfway around the world from me, people I’ll never meet, people, quite frankly, whose faith far outshines my own.
On the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the nation of Tanzania, on the continent of Africa, lives a people who have the same Messiah I do. They pray in his name. They greet visitors and travelers in the best tradition of Abraham (Genesis 18:1-8). Maybe the missionaries outdid themselves up on the mountain.
Or maybe the Spirit of God was exceedingly welcomed and has since resided with those humble people. The Church in America could learn a lot from them.
Thanks, Margareth. May God bless you and keep you forever in His Hand.
What does being “contaminated by death,” and a traveling on a “distant road” have to do with us?
These terms point to deeper concepts. A state of disconnection from God is a type of death. A distant road is place where we are far away from who we really are supposed to be. This is something most of us can identify with.
-Kareb Wolfers Rapaport
“Pesach Sheni: The Holiday of Second Chances” Aish.com
Any person of faith who believes Hashem grants us only two chances in life is sadly delusional. As far as my life goes, I can’t count the number of “chances” God has given me (and is still giving me) to pull my head out of that hole in the ground and get back into the game.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it disheartening to blog in the religious space, particularly in the realm Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots.
While I’ve been told repeatedly that my blog speaks for a certain number of people out there, people like me, non-Jews who have discovered that a particularly Jewish interpretation of the scriptures, of the New Covenant, of God’s intent for not only Israel but the rest of humanity, of the meaning and purpose of Messiah, is the best and most accurate way to understand all of that and who we are because of it, what I write doesn’t speak for a much, much larger segment of both Christianity and Judaism.
I’ve received criticisms and complaints, both on my blog and via email, from mainstream religious Jews, from Messianic Jews, from Messianic Gentiles, from mainstream Christians, and just about anyone and everyone who identifies with what we call Hebrew Roots.
Some of these folks are Internet trolls, but many of them are good, kind, well-meaning people who I’ve managed to inadvertently offend in one way or another.
I’ve stopped going to church, in part, because what I believe and who I am is fundamentally incompatible with traditional Christian theology and doctrine (and not being one who tends to keep his mouth shut when asked for an opinion, I became quite a pain in the neck).
I don’t deliberately stick my nose into online and actual mainstream Jewish venues, already knowing what they would think of someone like me (apart from quoting sources such as Aish).
I have increasingly separated myself from a number of Messianic Jewish organizations for similar reasons.
Only God is silent about what I write. I suspect He’s waiting for me to make up my mind about what I’m supposed to be doing.
So you see, I believe that if people were only given two chances, me included, the vast majority of us would already be toast.
According to Karen Wolfers Rapaport’s article:
Pesach Sheni, the holiday of second chances, reminds us that we can always change our steps and return home.
The question for someone like me is where exactly is “home,” at least in the material sense?
Of course Pesach Sheni has little or nothing to do with me since I’m not Jewish. In any event, its applicability in the current Jewish world is stifled by the absence of the Temple and the Priesthood.
The holiday only tangentially speaks to the non-Jewish world that God offers such “second chances” to us, too, and it begs the question, what do I do with the chance I hold in my hands now? What are you going to do with yours?
Taking a glass half-full approach to the extraordinary saga of the “rabbi” who duped a Polish community for years about his Orthodox credentials, but who turned out to have been a Catholic ex-cook, Poland’s chief rabbi noted endearingly Thursday that nobody in Poland would have pretended to be a Jewish religious leader just a few decades ago.
The deception achieved by Ciechanow-born Jacek Niszczota — who passed himself off as Israel-born Rabbi Jacoob Ben Nistell to the satisfaction of the Poznan Jewish community that utilized his volunteer services — is indicative of a growing interest within Poland in its once-large Jewish community, which was almost completely destroyed in the Holocaust, Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said.
“Who, 30 years ago in this country, would have pretended to be a rabbi, to say nothing of 70 years ago?” Schudrich asked.
Schudrich added that he had met Niszczota/Nistell a few times, and always found him to be “very sweet and smiley.” Still, he stressed, it was not good that the man misrepresented himself…
-from “Poland’s chief rabbi finds comfort in saga of Catholic impostor who fooled community” The Times of Israel
I actually lifted this quote from the Rosh Pina Project (RPP) which was quoting from the “Times,” and as far as I understand it, RPP meant the reference to be a criticism of Messianic Judaism, or at least those portions of the movement (perhaps One Law/Hebrew Roots) that allow non-Jews to function as “Rabbis”.
But I saw something different here. Just as Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich suggested, why would a non-Jew, a Catholic, pretend to be a Rabbi?
The article doesn’t describe Niszczota’s motivation, but I wonder if it’s the same one that, to a much lesser degree, attracts Christians out of their churches and into the Noahide, Messianic Jewish, or One Law/Hebrew Roots movements?
There seems to be something about Judaism that a significant subset of Christians find more attractive than their own faith.
As far as many Noahides are concerned, the disconnect between how the Church interprets the Old and New Testaments results in their rejection of Christianity and Jesus Christ altogether, and pulls them into an Orthodox Jewish understanding of the role of Gentiles in a world created by God.
To one degree or another, Messianic Gentiles and One Law Gentiles “split the difference,” so to speak, and find a way to integrate the Old Testament (Tanakh) and New Testament (Apostolic Scriptures) within a more “Judaic” framework. The type and degree of Jewish praxis varies quite a bit among these populations, since there’s no one external standard defining who we are and what we’re supposed to do within any sort of “Jewish” community space.
However, I did find another opinion, or rather a link to that opinion, that was posted in a closed Facebook group for Messianic Gentiles:
With children, at least someone was already obligated to foster their growth in Torah and observance. R. Auerbach now extends this idea to non-Jews. Beyond specific Noahide laws, he assumes all non-Jews are obligated to accept the fact that the world was created for the Jewish people [he does not explain further: I think he might have meant only that the Jewish people set the tone for the world, not that we’re the central purpose of existence. To me, that’s the implication of his following comments].
Recognizing Jews’ role in Hashem’s world means recognizing that Torah scholars, and especially a consensus of Torah scholars, are our best way of knowing what Hashem wants us to do. That’s as true for non-Jews as for Jews, so that a decree by Torah scholars should sound to them as if they’ve been told the Will of Hashem.
Technical questions of lo tasur as a Biblical obligation aside, non-Jews have to listen to the Torah leaders of the Jewish people for this reason [that might be only when there’s a formal body of Torah scholars, debating and voting on their decisions]. Such powers should extend to confiscating money and making decrees, as it does for Jews. Although in the non-Jews’ case, they’d be listening out of their own awareness that they are required to, not (again) a formal halachic obligation.
-R. Gidon Rothstein
“Children and Non-Jews’ Personal Obligations” TorahMusings.com
Granted, this is a minority viewpoint within Orthodox Judaism, but it does exist. It also presupposes Gentile recognition of Rabbinic authority, which must be something of a rarity. I can’t imagine in my wildest fantasies, for example, the Head Pastor of the little Baptist church I used to attend going along with any of the above.
And yet, whether you’re a Noahide or Messianic Gentile in Jewish community, to one degree or another, you are accepting Jewish Rabbinic authority (One Law Gentiles, not so much).
For the Noahide, it’s a foregone conclusion that whether in the synagogue or their own communities of non-Jews, they must accept Rabbinic authority because it is the only thing that defines them.
For Messianic Gentiles, it’s a lot more “messy”. First of all, there is no one definition of what it is to be a “Messianic Gentile” among Messianic (or other) Jews. Secondly, a lot of us don’t live anywhere near a Messianic Jewish community (at least an authentic one), so we lack an actual Jewish lived context in which to operate. Finally, depending on who you are and how you understand what “Messianic Judaism” means, your acceptance or rejection of various areas of Jewish authority and Rabbinic legal rulings will flex quite a bit.
There is one final thing to consider. In the Messianic Age, when King Messiah is on his throne in Jerusalem, and the peoples of the world live in nations that are all servants of Israel, we will indeed be under Jewish authority. I don’t know what that will look like relative to Orthodox Judaism, but my guess is that said-Jewish authority will look more Jewish than most Gentiles would be comfortable with, especially more traditional Christians.
Something to consider as Pesach (Passover) approaches.
"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