How does a Christian know what Jesus wants of us? From a traditional Church perspective, the answer is easy. Read the New Testament, that is the Apostolic Scriptures.
So primarily, Christians study the words of Jesus as recorded by four Jewish guys (I’m being way overly simplistic here regarding the source materials of the Gospels) Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the “Acts of the Apostles,” which is mainly about the life of the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, as recorded by the aforementioned, Luke, and a whole bunch of letters generally attributed to the aforementioned Paul.
But arguably, Jesus taught almost exclusively or exclusively to Jewish audiences. The Gospel of Matthew is definitely written to Jews, while Luke’s Gospel may well have been intended for a wider audience. According to some sources, Acts may have been composed as part of Paul’s legal defense when he appeared before Caesar in Rome (as possibly was Luke’s Gospel), and we have to assume that most or all of Paul’s letters were addressing his Gentile students, although he may have had messages for particular Jewish people or communities as well.
Here’s one startling thought that occurred to me. For the most part, we can’t really depend on the actual, quoted words of Jesus or Rav Yeshua as a guide to worship and devotion for the non-Jewish disciple.
Remember, I said that Jesus primarily or exclusively taught Jews about the true interpretation of Torah and performance of the mitzvot. He was a Jewish teacher teaching Jewish students about the Jewish mitzvot. What does that have to do with non-Jews?
In yesterday’s blog post about the Roman Centurion Cornelius, I mentioned that Marc Turnage in his presentation defined circumcision as the dividing line as to whether or not a person is Jewish, and thus, whether or not a person is obligated to the Torah mitzvot.
Of course, it’s not just circumcision, but a bris (brit milah) performed on a male, either on the eighth day of life for a boy born to Jewish parents, or as part of the proselyte rite undergone by a male Gentile converting to Judaism.
So if Jesus is a Jew teaching Torah to Jews and is not presupposing Gentiles reading his recorded words (let alone trying to act them out), we can’t always rely upon a red-letter edition of the Bible to be the Gentile Christian’s sole guide to a life of holiness.
So what can we do?
What did the vast majority of non-Jews in the diaspora do when they heard the good news of Rav Yeshua? For that matter, who did they hear those words from?
As far as the Apostolic Scriptures are concerned, most of the time, they interacted with the man who Yeshua specifically appointed (in Acts 9) to be the special emissary to the Gentiles, the man known as Saul of Tarsus but who most Christians call the Apostle Paul.
Paul had the responsibility of interpreting Jewish teaching so it would apply to non-Jewish lives. That’s no easy task. Well, it might not have been too much of a chore if his audience were Gentile God-fearers who had already spent a lot of time in the synagogue hearing Jewish teachings (see Acts 13:13-43 for example). But he may have fought quite an uphill battle when addressing pagan Gentiles who only knew their own mythology (such as in Acts 14:8-18).
So get this. Paul didn’t teach the Gospel message to the Gentiles in exactly the same way as Jesus taught it to the Jews (which may be why Paul called it “my Gospel” in Romans 2:16, 16:25-27 and in other epistles). Why? Because the Jewish message had to be interpreted and adapted by Paul so it would not only make sense to non-Jewish audiences, but fit their particular legal status in Jewish community. This is really important, since Jews are named subjects of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36) and Gentiles are not!
From that, we have to understand that the “admission” process must be different for Jews than Gentile initiates. Jews are born into the covenants, all of them, whether they want to be or not. Gentiles are born into no covenant with God at all except perhaps the Noahide covenant (Genesis 9). Our entry, so to speak, must be via a different process with different criteria involved.
I often wonder if this is why more traditional Jewish people don’t mind what Jesus taught so much, but most of them absolutely loathe Paul. Paul, when interpreted through traditional Christian and Jewish lenses, seems not to be teaching Judaism at all, but rather, creating a new religion. For modern observant Jews, this makes Paul a traitor to the Jewish people, and an advocate to the elimination of Judaism (and Jews, even in Paul’s day, also believed this of him — see Acts 21 starting at verse 15).
Ironically, many Christians believe the same thing, that Paul threw Judaism under a bus and replaced it with Christianity, but in this case, that’s considered part of God’s plan and not the ultimate insult to God and the Jewish people (more’s the pity).
No, I’m not saying that we non-Jews shouldn’t read the Gospels. We really need to get to know our Rav and what he taught. However, we cannot always assume we can apply each and every lesson he taught to Jews about the Torah to ourselves as non-Jews without some interpretation, anymore than we can assume to apply what and how Moses taught the Torah to the Children of Israel to the Church today.
Although the Apostolic Scriptures record that it was sometimes difficult to teach the Jewish people about the good news of Rav Yeshua, it would have been extremely difficult to get that across to Gentile pagans who lacked a Jewish educational and lived context. That’s why the Apostle to the Gentiles had to be highly educated, multi-lingual and multi-cultural, both a Jew and a Roman citizen. He had to be thoroughly Jewish and yet be able to “talk the talk,” as such, of non-Jewish peoples who lived in a wide variety of religious, cultural, and social venues.
That’s why the job was so hard and required such a unique individual.
But this is (in my opinion) why we modern non-Jewish disciples of the Rav, cannot simply imitate modern Jewish worship practices and performance of the mitzvot and say we understand the teachings of Yeshua and how to respond to them. That’s as erroneous as modern Christians in their churches today saying that Jesus did away with the Law for the Jew and that everyone, including born Jews, must abandon Judaism, Torah, and Talmud and become goyishe Christians in order to be reconciled with God.
So how did Paul interpret Jesus for the Gentile? We may never have a solid answer, but I’m convinced that we’ll never get anywhere near that answer unless we’re willing to ask the question.
Ultimately, it may not be as complex as most folks who are “Judaicly aware” imagine. In fact, it might not be that different from what most traditional Christians do now, apart from a specific attitude toward the centrality of Israel (rather than the Church) in God’s plan of redemption.
Please keep in mind that everything I’ve just written I pretty much composed off the cuff. It’s not the result of an exhaustive review of the Bible and associated scholarly literature. If anything, it’s the result of my imagination and a number of years of reading, writing, listening, and learning. I still think the message has merit.
That’s too bad, because I really wanted to hear something new about Cornelius that would help me in my current investigation as to the status of a Gentile who directly worships and relates to God without necessarily being part of a Jewish communal setting (or a traditional Christian venue, for that matter).
In other words, was Cornelius and his Gentile household chopped liver, even after receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45), or did (does) God consider the Gentiles as having some sort of value in their (our) own right?
Before someone complains that I’m being too “whiney” again, I’ll say straight out that I think a Gentile can have a direct relationship with the God of Israel through faith in and by the merit of Rav Yeshua and his symbolic, atoning sacrifice. Moreover, I think even before Cornelius had his vision which resulted in him sending messengers to the Apostle Peter (Acts 10:3-8), I think God had regard for the Gentile Cornelius. In fact, the wording of verses 1 and 2 as well as the angel’s message from verses 3 onward tell us so.
Cornelius was devoted to God as expressed through his prayers and acts of tzedakah (charity) to the Jewish people, and God responded kindly and valued Cornelius. God was about to do Cornelius and his household a big favor. He was about to have Peter deliver the good news of Rav Yeshua to them.
According to Turnage, in the late second temple period in Roman-occupied Judea and in the diaspora, from a Jewish point of view, there were three types of people:
Jewish, either by birth or conversion
Pagan Gentiles wholly divorced from God
God-fearing or God-worshiping Gentiles who viewed God from the perspective of Abraham and Isaac (but not Jacob)
These God-fearers existed on the fringes of Jewish community, attending synagogue, hearing the Torah read, rejecting (according to Turnage) the pagan Greek and Roman gods, and swearing devotion only to Hashem, God of Israel. However, this was not as far as they could go in approaching God. They were just missing one last piece of the puzzle.
Turnage compares the vision of Cornelius to Peter’s where Peter does an amazing thing. He says “no” to God. Specifically, he tells God he won’t obey the directive to kill and eat unclean or non-kosher animals.
Turnage states what is obvious to me; that the vision was never about food but rather about people, specifically non-Jewish people. This was God’s lesson to Peter that God Himself did not consider the Gentiles unclean or common. He also states this is obvious proof that Peter never saw the death and resurrection of Jesus as somehow ending his status as a Jew and his relationship with the Torah mitzvot. Again, that seems entirely obvious to me but is something of a revelation coming from a more traditional Christian.
God backed this up in the aforementioned Acts 10:45 by showing Peter and his Jewish companions that even the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit, something that was thought only to be available to the Jewish people by covenant promise (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36) up until that moment.
Peter was forced to realize that Gentiles were not common or unclean, that they (we) were indeed, through God’s grace and mercy, and by the merit of Rav Yeshua, also able to access the covenant blessings of God, even though we were not named participants in the New Covenant.
During the legal proceeding to formally establish the status of Gentiles in Jewish community we see in Acts 15, Peter testified to his experience with Cornelius as proof that the Gentiles were not common and unclean, and that God accepted them (us) to the degree that they (we) also can receive the Spirit of God upon hearing the good news of redemption brought about by Rav Yeshua. We who were far off have been brought near or at least nearer (Ephesians 2:13).
Turnage was clear that none of this meant that the Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua, even after receiving the Spirit, were required to observe the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews. We lack the sign of circumcision (for males) that would be required for conversion to a proselyte and that would obligate us to the mitzvot. Cornelius was not circumcised, neither was his household (interestingly enough, unlike the non-Hebrews in Abraham’s household (Genesis 17:27).
In this case, it wasn’t necessary, since God’s plan for worldwide redemption required that both Israel and the rest of the nations of the world were all to be redeemed while maintaining their own national and ethnic identities.
Turnage rightly states that the challenge of the “first century church” (his language, not mine) was not convincing people to believe in Jesus, it wasn’t a theological challenge, but rather, an ethnic and sociological dilemma. How would it be possible to mix both Jews and Gentiles, two groups that are difficult to put together, into Jewish community and covenant life?
Paul was always attempting to solve that puzzle as we read in his many epistles including Romans and Ephesians, but also in 1 Corinthians 7, according to Turnage:
Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
–1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (NASB)
Since Turnage uses circumcision as the dividing line between Jews and even the believing Gentiles, and since that dividing line includes obligation to the mitzvot for the Jews but not for even the believing Gentiles (remember, Cornelius received the Spirit and was not previously or subsequently circumcised), then, based on the brief record we have of the life of the Centurion, we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav have no obligation to the mitzvot either.
I know I’ve said this about a billion times before, but since I’m re-examining my relationship with God as a Gentile, and I just viewed Turnage’s video, I thought I’d mention it again.
We have no information about how Cornelius’s life changed after Acts 10. Perhaps in many ways, it didn’t change much at all, at least from a day-to-day lived experience. He probably still prayed continuously. He probably still did great works of charity for the Jewish people. But additionally, he also probably thanked Hashem for the good news of Messiah, the indwelling of the Spirit, the promise of the resurrection, and a place in the world to come, which indeed, Cornelius lacked before the revelation of Moshiach.
For Turnage, the central focus of being a believer rests back in 1 Corinthians 7:17-20. Are you going to obey God or not?
The question of obedience is an interesting one because Turnage assumes quite casually that to obey God for a Gentile does not require observance of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jewish people.
Just as we are not required (our males) to be circumcised in order to have a life with God, because of not being circumcised, not converting to Judaism (because it’s not required of us), we also do not have to observe the mitzvot that indicate an individual is Jewish.
We don’t know what Cornelius did with his life after the revelation of Rav Yeshua. It would be easier if we did have some record to see how he changed from God-fearer to Messianic disciple.
But I didn’t write this missive to answer the “mystery of the Gentile mitzvot”. I wrote it to establish that through the example of the life of Cornelius, Gentiles are not considered common and unclean to God. Quite the opposite if God allows His Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We Gentiles have a relationship with God just the way we are.
Oh, I could embed the YouTube video of Turnage’s brief presentation directly into this blog post, but I don’t want to take web traffic away from the Jerusalem Perspective site. To view the video, you’ll have to click the link I provided above.
One more thing. I chose the “featured image” at the top of the page because finding something that looks interesting and somehow represents Jewish mystic visions isn’t all that easy.
“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
–Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)
So, should non-Jews who are “Judaicly aware” and seek to honor the centrality of Israel and the primacy of the Jewish people in Messiah study the Torah?
For most of you, the answer probably seems like a no-brainer. After all, the Torah, at least in one sense, is the first five books of the Bible, and Christians study the Bible every day.
On the other hand, should we study the Bible using Jewish, including Messianic Jewish, published materials?
Again, that might seem like a ridiculous question to most of you. After all, there are Messianic Jewish publishing groups that produce a vast amount of Torah study materials aimed right at the non-Jew. At least some of these works are designed to reach traditional Christians in their churches and illuminate them regarding the aforementioned centrality of Israel, and how King Messiah will come first to redeem Israel (and not “the Church”) and through Israel and the Jewish people, the people of the nations of the world.
But then we enter the “blurry” area of the status of a non-Jew within Jewish religious and community space through the use of Jewish produced (though some of it is written by non-Jews working for Jewish publishers) educational materials.
Let me get something out of the way first. I frequently read and quote from articles at Aish.com and Chabad.org and both of these websites provide information that is exclusively written by and for Jews.
Nevertheless, I find the insights provided by both these organizations to be helpful from time to time, but again, I am not unmindful of the fact that they are not intended to be consumed by a non-Jewish audience, namely me.
So let us return to the above-quoted passage from Acts 15 with which I began this missive. It’s part of the larger “Jerusalem letter,” the legal edict issued by the Council of Leaders and Elders of the Jewish Messianic sect once known as “the Way”. It was meant to be a formal and binding decision of the status of Gentiles within Jewish communal and covenantal space, outlining, albeit briefly and with little detail, a Gentile’s responsibilities within that context.
Over two-and-a-half years ago, I covered the content and my understanding of this legal decision in my multi-part series Return to Jerusalem (you can start at part 1 and click through to part 6 for the details).
Of specific interest for this “meditation” is the rather mysterious meaning of verse 21, which I touched upon in Part 5 of the “Jerusalem” series:
“For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Although generally the Hebrew Roots movement interprets this single verse to mean that Gentiles should study the Torah and obey all of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, it’s not that easy to derive a definite and concrete interpretation from a single sentence.
Let’s consider not the Gentile God-fearers of that day who already were spending much time hearing Torah read and taught in their local synagogues, but the person who is a pagan Greek and who has just heard the good news of redemption though the Jewish Messiah. Many would have absolutely no background or appropriate context to even begin to fathom the teachings of Rav Yeshua or the Jewish apostles and disciples. They’d be clueless.
After all, it was in Lystra, where the population was largely ignorant of Jewish teachings, that Paul was considered to be Hermes and Barnabas Zeus because they did miracles. To counter this, Paul quickly gave the crowd a crash-course in ethical monotheism (see Acts 14:8-18), hoping to get them to see the light, so to speak.
To even begin to understand anything about what Paul was preaching, it was first necessary to have some sort of background in Judaism and the Torah. In fact, we see this example in the proselytes and Gentile God-fearers who heard Paul’s teachings on Messiah in the synagogue at Pisidan Antioch (see Acts 13:13-43).
Further, rather than just take Paul or any other Jewish teacher at his or her word, a knowledge of the scriptures was not only necessary, but vital. The Bereans (Acts 17:10-15) are the classic model of this principle. Of course, verse 10 does say that Paul and Silas went into “the synagogue of the Jews,” however verse 12 states “…many of them [Jews] believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men,” so it appears these prominent Greek women and men were at the synagogue, either studying the scriptures or listening to the Jewish Bereans do so, and thus benefiting from the study of Torah, including coming to faith because of these scriptural proofs.
But as I said above, Christians study the Bible every day, and yet (in my opinion) they do not always employ the correct hermeneutics that would render an interpretation of scripture largely consistent with what Paul intended to teach (or as close as we can get to it some two-thousand years later).
That’s why, like the Greeks in the Berean synagogue, it is not only helpful but necessary to study Torah with more knowledgable teachers who are familiar with a (again, my opinion) Messianic Jewish view of the Bible.
But Messianic Judaism isn’t a single entity. There are many different streams, and I’m not even including Hebrew Roots when I say this.
In the past, I’ve referenced quite a number of resources that the “Judaicly aware” Gentile may access including the MessianicGentiles.com website, so all you really have to do is search my blog and or click the link I just provided in order to get started.
But what about a non-Jew who has been studying from that perspective for a number of years and wants to dig a little deeper? After all, when an Orthodox Jew speaks of “studying Torah,” he or she is actually meaning “studying Talmud.” Is it permissible for a Gentile to study Talmud? While it’s not illegal, immoral, or even fattening, is there a benefit for us to study Talmud, especially when the sages wrote against Yeshua being Messiah and in some cases, wrote against Yeshua-believers?
The prohibitions against a Gentile studying Talmud (Torah) are from more traditional Jewish sources and not necessarily from any of the Messianic Jewish groups. Still, I found an interesting discussion on the topic in a closed group on Facebook (I can’t post a link both because you have to be invited to join and I don’t have the permission of the participants to do so).
Unless you are already a qualified scholar and have studied Talmud previously with a qualified scholar, you are going to get a very limited understanding from Talmud. Also, unless the tractates being read are speaking to the non-Jew, it’s again a matter of reading material written by Jews for Jews. In other words, even if you are at the educational level to comprehend what you are reading (which usually also requires fluency in Hebrew), the Talmud, for the most part, has nothing to do with you.
Of course, you could say that about the vast majority of the Bible, since most of it was written by Jews for Jews, but going back to the examples I’ve already presented from Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles,” we see that some form of study of the Jewish scriptures is absolutely necessary in order to understand the teachings of Rav Yeshua and of the Apostle Paul and how they apply to we non-Jewish disciples.
So although in-depth study of Talmud for the Gentile may be somewhat up in the air depending on education, circumstances, and communal context, more general study of all of the Jewish scriptures (and even the Apostolic Scriptures should be considered Jewish scriptures, although they include significant mention of Gentile initiates and disciples) seems not only warranted, but absolutely required.
So we’re back at what to do with a Gentile who finds it necessary to learn in a Messianic Jewish context? How is said-Gentile to be integrated, and more importantly, how does that Gentile not get swept up in Jewish practice and identity, but instead is able to establish and maintain an identity of their own, one that does not result in self-denigration or diminished esteem?
That is a question that has been under discussion for years, probably decades, and as far as I can tell, has no current, practical resolution. The emphasis in Messianic Judaism on Judaism, the centrality of Israel, and the primacy of the Jewish people in God’s redemptive plan is good and correct, but it contains the problem of what to actually do with the majority of the world’s population.
Which is why Gentiles need to find a way to study the Bible through a Messianic lens, so to speak, but also find a way to learn how and why we are important and loved by God, too.
I know this must seem like I’m beating the proverbial dead horse, but to the degree that non-Jews do sometimes feel alienated in Messianic Jewish space, to the degree that some factions of Messianic Judaism find it necessary to be a movement by and for Jews, and to the degree that some Gentiles become so confused between the goals of Judaism and the Messianic Kingdom that they choose to abandon Yeshua and convert to (usually Orthodox) Judaism to resolve their dissonance, I think the issue is significant.
Gentiles need to find a way to study the Bible in a manner honoring to the Jewish people and Israel and at the same time, one that renders a message of the value of non-Jews in God’s redemptive plan as well.
Ultimately, we can’t let a movement define who we are to God. We need to study the Bible and find out what we mean to God from Him…if we can.
Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.
–Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)
That having been said, Sukkot is coming up, and you should probably give some consideration to how much you are willing to pursue practical enactments of the anticipated messianic era in which Zachariah envisioned the requirement for gentiles to celebrate Sukkot and the aspects of it that imply redemption for the nations. The above essay seems to indicate that you’ve pulled away too far, and perhaps that you’ve begun to acknowledge it.
I used to think that in Messianic Days, we so-called “Messianic Gentiles” would all have an open invitation to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot in Jerusalem, basking in the glory of our King and having a terrific time “partying”. However, a slightly more careful reading of the Zechariah passage illustrates that it’s actually a punishment for the people of the nations who all attacked Israel during that final war when God and Israel win.
If the nations that went up against Israel don’t send representatives to Jerusalem for Sukkot, they get no rain that year. It’s not a party, it’s a command performance, an admission of guilt, an act of contrition.
Nevertheless, PL’s above-quoted statement is a strong suggestion that it is appropriate for all we non-Jews to return to God on Sukkot, and I responded by crafting my own little missive stating that it’s a good time for me to return as well. But as I’m about to relate, the connection between Gentiles and Sukkot may not be what we’ve been told it is.
Now that Yom Kippur is over, I feel the beginning of Sukkot rapidly approaching. I am aware of how much stuff I’ll need to dig through in our storage room to get to our wee Sukkah kit, how I’ll need to drag is out of the garage and around the side of the house, so I can put it together on our back patio this coming weekend.
I build a sukkah each year primarily for one reason: my wife is Jewish and as the husband in the family, it’s my job to build stuff, in this case, a sukkah.
So aside from Gentiles being associated with Sukkot as a matter of consequence for having the audacity to go to war against God’s holy people and His most treasured nation, can I, as a non-Jew (albeit one married to a Jew) get anything out of Sukkot beyond the awareness that I’m a Gentile citizen of one of the nations that will (in all likelihood) attack Israel?
The Haftarah for the first day of Sukkot is the prophecy of Zecharya concerning the war of Gog and Magog, which will climax with the final redemption and acknowledgment by the nations that Hashem alone is the King, and that Israel is His people. This realization will be celebrated on Sukkot, for, according to the prophecy, the surviving nations will join the Jewish people every year in celebrating the Sukkot festival. In his prophecy Zecharya declares, “And if the family of Egypt will not ascend and will not come…They will suffer the plague with which Hashem will afflict the nations, because they will not have ascended to celebrate the festival of Sukkot. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that will not ascend to celebrate the festival of Sukkot.”
As interesting as this may sound; it is difficult to imagine that in the future the nations of the world will be obligated to sit in a Sukkah and celebrate together with the Jews, and be punished for it if they don’t!
Bring friends and family into your sukkah. Learn from others and share what you have learned. Build and nurture the connections that you have with others in your life. Feel the embrace of the chain of kindness that redeems so much darkness; be another link in that chain.
And Rabbi Bogomilsky tells us:
The common factor in these two mitzvot is achdut — unity.
That the mitzvah of sukkah represents unity is obvious from the fact that many families may eat together in the same sukkah. In fact, the Gemara (Sukkah 27b) says that, “re’uyim kol Yisrael leisheiv besukkah achat” — “All of Israel are fit to sit in one sukkah” — which means that unlike other mitzvot (e.g. four species) where each one must have his own object, one can build a sukkah and let everyone use it to properly fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah. Thus, sukkah is a mitzvah through which Klal Yisrael becomes united.
Putting all this together, we see a hint of a common connection between Jews and non-Jews all sharing the Sukkot celebration together, sharing meals in Sukkot in Jerusalem, and maybe all over the Land of Israel, symbolizing God’s and Israel’s forgiveness of the people of the nations for our sins against them, and a forging of a bond of togetherness under the reign of King Messiah.
But in the paragraphs from which I’ve quoted so far, they are talking exclusively about Sukkot and the Jewish people. What about the Gentiles?
Rabbi Bogomilsky answers that question.
Zecharya’s reference to the sukkah is an allegory. He does not mean that in Messianic times the gentile will be obligated to eat in the sukkah together with the Jew, and be punished if he does not fulfill the mitzvah. He means that the gentile world will be expected to practice the lesson conveyed by the mitzvot of the festival of Sukkot. They must forsake their striving for selfish gain and replace it with a sense of responsibility and sharing of privileges with all of humanity. Hence, Zecharya’s words, “Lo ya’alu lachog et chag haSukkot” — “They have refused to go up to celebrate the festival of Sukkot” — can be explained to mean that they have refused to elevate themselves spiritually and realize the message that Sukkot teaches humanity.
Oh. Well so much for the idea of togetherness, forgiveness, and unity in Messiah. R. Bogomilsky ends his article on an uplifting note, but it rings hollow after his previous block of text:
Let us hope and pray that, speedily in our times, we merit the revelation of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the “sukkah of David” which has fallen — the Beit Hamikdash — (see Amos, 9:10, Sanhedrin 96b), and then all of mankind will enjoy the ultimate of harmony, peace, and tranquility.
According to this source, there will be harmony and peace between Gentile and Jew, enjoyed by all humanity, but as I wrote the better part of two months ago, that peace, for the Jew, will be in their nation, in Israel, and the people of the nations will enjoy that peace in each of their (our) nations.
No vacations for Gentiles to Jerusalem during Sukkot.
I suppose this is more in line with the traditional Christian view of whether or not believers should celebrate Jewish holidays:
4th century theologian John Chrysostom said, “The festivals of the pitiful and miserable Jews are soon to march upon us one after the other and in quick succession: the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts. There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now.”
Such a strong expression of this view, especially if associated with Anti-Judaism, is not common in the contemporary church. However, it is an exaggeration to claim that Christians in general tend to adopt and adapt Jewish festivals.
-from “Criticism of Christian Observance of Jewish Holidays” Wikipedia
The Book of Zechariah chapter 14 verse 16 speaks of Gentile nations remaining after the “Lord is king over all the earth”: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.” In both Jewish and Christian eschatology, this scripture refers to a time when the Messiah will come to physically rule in Jerusalem. This reference gives confirmation that future Gentiles are required by the Lord to keep at least an additional feast to Passover and Pentecost: the Feast of Tabernacles.
Christian scholars such as Chuck Missler, Mark Davidson, Steve Cioccolanti and Perry Stone argue that the first four feasts have been fulfilled by Christ’s first coming, therefore the final three feasts will also be fulfilled around the time of Christ’s second coming. The Biblical holidays find their meaning in Messiah, and either commemorates what He has done or what He will do. They are therefore eternal holidays for believers.
You can see why I generally don’t turn to Christian sources regarding Gentile participation in Messianic Times.
This Friday evening, we begin to observe the Festival of Sukkot. Of all the sacred seasons that G-d commanded Israel to observe, this festival, also known as the Festival of Tabernacles has the strongest implications for the nations of the world. Even today, vast numbers of Gentiles identify with the holiday of Sukkot, and converge on Jerusalem just to be in the holy city at this time of year. It is as if their heartstrings are pulled by some invisible magnet, the source of which they know not. Some force draws them to connect between Sukkot and the location of the Holy Temple.
In the Written Torah and the Oral Tradition
This is well understood, for it is a connection emphasized by both the written Scriptures and the Oral Tradition. The relationship between the nations and the holiday of Sukkot dates back to ancient times, and arcs through our own period as well…to form a bridge into that future, rectified world that we all yearn and long for, Jew and Gentile alike…the day when “the L-rd and His name will be One” (Zechariah 14:9).
The Sacrifice of Seventy Bulls
During Sukkot in the time of the Holy Temple, a unique sacrifice was offered on the altar…with a unique intention.
In chapter 29 of the book of Numbers, the Bible outlines the sacrifices that are to be offered over the span of the holiday. Counting the number of bulls that are offered over the seven-day period, we find that the total number was seventy. And in chapter 10 of the book of Genesis, there are seventy nations mentioned. These are the primordial nations, sometimes referred to as the “seventy languages,” which represent all humanity. The Talmud (BT Sukkah 55:B) teaches that the seventy bulls that were offered in the Holy Temple served as atonement for the seventy nations of the world. Truly, as the rabbis observed, “if the nations of the world had only known how much they needed the Temple, they would have surrounded it with armed fortresses to protect it” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1, 3).
Here we can already sense that inherent within the very nature of the holiday, an inexorable bond-as expressed through its sacrificial requirements-links it to the earth’s peoples. Sukkot was mandated by the Creator Himself to be a holiday for all the world.
Rabbi Richman does go on to quote from relevant portions of Zechariah, but he stops short of stating that Gentiles would actually be involved in celebrating Sukkot with Jews in Jerusalem. “Jerusalem will dwell in security,” but it doesn’t seem that Jewish sources expect Gentiles to dwell or even sojourn with the Jewish people in Jerusalem on Sukkot, in spite of the fact that in the modern world, many, many Christians visit the Holy City during the holiday of the Festival of Booths.
As I previously mentioned, even given all that I’ve said, at it’s most elementary level, I build a sukkah every year because my wife is Jewish and I’m her husband. Technically, at least according the Jewish sources I’ve cited, I do not now nor will I have in the future, any duty to actually eat, sleep, or otherwise spend any of my time inside the Sukkah for the full duration of the festival or any bit of it.
Additionally, traditional Christian sources would probably agree with that assessment as well, though for different reasons (“Jesus fulfilled,” and so on, and so forth).
What would seem to be incumbent upon the Gentile is to practice peace by “forsaking our striving for selfish gain and replacing it with a sense of responsibility and sharing of privileges with all of humanity.”
But we don’t have to build, eat, and dwell in a sukkah to do that.
However, I have been trying to write about how the believing Gentile, even one “stranded” on a metaphorical deserted island and isolated from Gentile and Jewish community, still has a relationship with God, a relationship that indeed is desired by God.
So let’s have a short look at the sorts of “shelter” Sara Debbie Gutfreund says a Jew can expect to find in a Sukkah.
The shelter of faith
The shelter of gratitude
The shelter of connection
The shelter of authenticity
The shelter of prayer
The shelter of awe
Let’s take the obviously easy points in the list first. I don’t think anyone, Christian or Jew, can say that it is inappropriate for the Gentile turning to God to experience faith, gratitude, and awe, and to respond with prayer.
If you deny the Gentile the ability to have faith in God, you deny God to the Gentile. And experiencing God to any degree should inspire awe in the spiritually aware person, Gentile as well as Jew. Naturally, realizing that God extended His plan for the redemption of Israel even to the nations of the world should be our inspiration for feeling grateful, and to humbly thank and praise Hashem in prayer.
What about connection?
For a Jew, unity and connection is all about being united and connected with other Jews. As we’ve seen above, that’s (apparently) never extended to Gentiles. Ms Gutfreund says that connection is created by bringing “family and friends” into your Sukkah, but presumably, she’s talking about Jewish family and friends (although with more liberal branches of Judaism and certainly if there are intermarried Jewish members of the family, then you might see Gentiles in some Sukkot).
So who do we get connected to? Even if we don’t build our own Sukkot, I suppose we can still unite with like-minded Gentiles at this time of year, celebrating, in our own fashion, our anticipation of the ultimate age of peace and tranquility.
For the Gentile on the metaphorical deserted island, alone with his/her Bible and prayers, there is still the ability to forge a connection with God. We can still invite Him into our house, even if that house is only our heart and being.
Authenticity? Ms. Gutfreund describes this as:
Close the gap between who you are and how you appear to the world around you. Don’t be afraid to change in order to be truly aligned with your authentic values. Use the space of the sukkah to open the space within that wants to be free.
That doesn’t sound specific to Sukkot necessarily. I think we have a standing directive to re-order our lives to be more in line with God, to draw closer to Him, to conform our lives to His desires increasingly across the passage of time.
I can’t tell you, as a non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua (Jesus) whether you should or shouldn’t build a sukkah or to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot one way or another, or to just ignore it completely.
I can’t tell you in absolute terms if or how the people of the nations of the world will be involved in Sukkot in the Messianic Era. I can relate what I understand of the Jewish and Christian traditions on the matter, but I can’t tell you what God has in mind. For all I know (and in spite of Jewish and Christian traditional interpretations), God really will require Gentile representatives from each of the nations that went to war against Israel to go to Jerusalem, pay homage to King Messiah, and celebrate Sukkot by eating and drinking with Jewish people in Sukkot.
And for all I know, God wouldn’t mind Gentile families booking their vacations in Jerusalem during the Sukkot festival just because it would be an incredible way to experience our participation in the reign of peace and justice brought forth by Israel’s King and ours.
Adam trudged past the gates of Eden, his head low, his feet heavy with remorse and pain.
Then he stopped, spun around and exclaimed, “Wait a minute! You had this all planned! You put that fruit there knowing I would eat from it! This is all a plot!”
There was no reply.
Without failure, we can never truly reach into the depths of our souls. Only once we have failed can we return and reach higher and higher without end.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org
I previously said that in examining what the Bible says about how we non-Jews are to relate to God, I’d be staying mainly in the Apostolic Scriptures, since righteous Gentiles in the Tanakh (Old Testament) aren’t specifically oriented to Yeshua (Jesus).
However, since I’m writing this just before the start of Yom Kippur, and given that Adam, the first man, could not be considered Jewish but had a direct relationship with Hashem, I thought I’d write a little about how we Gentiles can fail and then return to God.
According to the above-quoted statement from Rabbi Freeman, God planned for Adam and Havah (Eve) to fail. Well, maybe He did and maybe He didn’t. However, if we believe God knows everything and is not bound by time or causality, then certainly before He “laid the foundations of the Earth,” He knew Adam and Havah would partake of the one thing in Eden that was forbidden to them.
So from Adam’s point of view, maybe it’s true that God “planned” for them to fail.
I can only imagine that, since they had nothing else to compare it to, Adam and Havah rather took their relationship and intimacy with God for granted…that is until it was severely damaged by their fall.
Is God as concerned about the sins of the Gentiles and their potential for repentance as He is for the Jews? A traditional Christian would automatically answer “yes,” but what would a Jew think? My opinion, based on a lot of years of study, tells me that most observant Jews would believe that God is more concerned about the spiritual state of the Jewish people than of Gentiles (and particularly Christians).
But is this true?
In an absolute sense, unless we can read God’s mind, so to speak, we can’t know.
However, we can take an educated guess and Yom Kippur sets the stage for this.
The Book of Jonah is read in the synagogue on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the sacred Day of Atonement. Why, of all books in the Bible, this book this most holy day?
The answer is clear. The major themes of the book are singularly appropriate to the occasion—sin and divine judgment, repentance and divine forgiveness.
What is remarkable is that the work is not at all about Israel. The sinners and penitents and the sympathetic characters are all pagans, while the anti-hero, the one who misunderstands the true nature of the one God, is none other than the Hebrew prophet. He is the one whom God must teach a lesson in compassion.
It’s actually an astonishing revelation when you think about it. Almost without exception, only Jews observe Yom Kippur in any fashion at all, and yet, we see in the reading of the Book of Jonah, that the main objects of God’s concern for repentance, redemption, and reconciliation are a large group of pagan Gentiles. Further, the only Jew involved is reluctant to be an agent of redemption for these Gentiles, so much so that he literally “jumps ship” in attempting to get away from his responsibilities.
The brief article goes on to say:
It is precisely these aspects of this sublime prophetic allegory, and in particular the subthemes of the book, that inform Yom Kippur. These motifs attracted the ancient Jewish sages and led them to select Jonah as one of the day’s two prophetic lectionaries (The other is Isaiah 57:14–58:4). Its universalistic outlook; its definition of sin as predominantly moral sin (The “evil” of Jonah 1:2 is defined as injustice in Jonah 3:8); its teaching of human responsibility and accountability; its apprehension that true repentance is determined by deeds and established by transformation of character (Jonah 3:10), not by the recitation of formulas, however fervent; its emphasis on the infinite preciousness of all living things in the sight of God (Jonah 4:10–11); and, finally, its understanding of God as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness” (Jonah 4:2)—all these noble ideas of the Book of Jonah constitute the fundamentals of Judaism and the quintessence of Yom Kippur.
The “universalistic outlook” to how sin is defined as primarily moral, human responsibility and accountability to God, and how repentance is accessible to everyone through deeds and established by transformation of character.
So for the Gentile as well as the Jew, God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness.”
While the essay’s author Nahum Sarna states that “these noble ideas of the Book of Jonah constitute the fundamentals of Judaism and the quintessence of Yom Kippur,” we also see (apparently) that these “noble ideas” are equally applied to Gentile repentance and reconciliation to God.
As I said some months ago, we aren’t so much chopped liver after all. Although God sent a Jewish prophet (yes, in the Bible, we do find a few non-Jewish prophets) to redeem Gentile Nineveh, God’s primary purpose was to redeem Gentile Nineveh.
And guess what? Everyone, from the King down to the lowliest commoner, mourned, fasted, and repented and were subsequently forgiven by God.
I was explaining to someone at work, a Christian (we were discussing Yom Kippur), how the process of repentance and forgiveness of willful sin was the same in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and in the days of the Temple as it is today. There was no sacrifice for willful sin. Psalm 51 teaches us that how we are to repent hasn’t changed over time.
The Book of Jonah teaches us that a Gentile is of just as much concern to God as a Jew and that He seeks repentance from all.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
–John 3:16 (NASB)
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
–2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)
So non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah can take heart and realize we too have our hope in the God of Israel, because, no matter how special Israel is to God, all people, even the lowliest from the nations, are special to Him (though probably not in the same way as Israel) as well.
One of the unintentional messages I think some non-Jews think they hear from Messianic Judaism is that in Israel’s specialness to God, we non-Jews who are “Judaically aware” are pretty non-special as well. I think that’s why some Gentiles have chosen to leave Messianic Judaism and either transition to Hebrew Roots, which they may see as more egalitarian, or return to Church, which is very much a “pro-Gentile” environment.
It’s also probably one of the reasons some Gentiles who have been involved in Messianic Judaism, have rejected Messiah and converted to (usually) Orthodox Judaism.
However, the non-Jewish believer, whether they are Judaically aware or not (although such awareness gives we Gentiles, in my opinion, a better and more accurate understanding of the Bible), even isolated from community on some metaphorical deserted island, can be comforted by the fact that God wants us to return to Him, too.
In creating the whole of existence, G‑d made forces that reveal Him and forces that oppose Him—He made light and He made darkness.
One who does good brings in more light. One who fails, feeds the darkness.
But the one who fails and then returns transcends that entire scheme. He reaches out directly to the Essential Creator. Beyond darkness and light.
And so, his darkness becomes light.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org
That having been said, Sukkot is coming up, and you should probably give some consideration to how much you are willing to pursue practical enactments of the anticipated messianic era in which Zachariah envisioned the requirement for gentiles to celebrate Sukkot and the aspects of it that imply redemption for the nations. The above essay seems to indicate that you’ve pulled away too far, and perhaps that you’ve begun to acknowledge it.
I heard somewhere (I can’t recall the source thanks to my leaky memory) that if Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can mark a season of repentance and renewal for the Jewish people, then maybe Sukkot serves that purpose for the nations.
No, I’m not attempting to reintroduce myself into Jewish space, but I can’t ignore the (Biblical) fact that God also wants to include the Gentiles in the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, the Messianic Kingdom of redemption of the world. And while we are not nor shall we ever be Israel, there has to be a way to return to God that is appropriate for the non-Jew and that doesn’t involve directly (or maybe even indirectly, if such a thing is possible) using any form of Judaism as the Gentile’s conduit to repentance and reconciliation with God.
But where to begin?
Actually, I did begin and then stopped. I thought about looking at the practices of Yeshua and how he related to the Father as well as what Paul taught the Gentiles of his day, thinking this could provide some sort of baseline for the 21st century non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua.
But while more traditional Christians have no trouble conceptualizing how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the fact remains that the Master almost never interacted with non-Jews and when he did, he wasn’t always civil about it. Yeshua was (and is) a Jewish teacher who gathered a Jewish following in the first century of the common era, in the then Roman-occupied Holy Land. He came, at that place and time, for the lost sheep of Israel, not the lost sheep of the nations.
For the nations, Yeshua never came directly. For us, he sent Paul instead (Acts 9).
So what did Paul teach? The answer to that question would fill a book, probably many books, and many books have been written with Paul as their subject, some complementary (Christian) and some with disdain (Jewish). And almost certainly, the vast majority of those books got Paul and how he related to Jewish people, Judaism, and his Gentile pupils all wrong.
Probably one of the very few books that may have gotten Paul right, or at least come as close as we can given the Apostle lived and died nearly two-thousand years ago, was the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul Within Judaism (and I still owe Mark Nanos a book review on Amazon).
Don’t think that my returning here to write, even occasionally, means that I think myself worthy of being read. It absolutely doesn’t mean I think myself a teacher. But PL is right. In pulling away from the inevitable strife caused by the presence of a non-Jew (and particularly me) in Jewish space, specifically Messianic Jewish space, I’ve also pulled away from paying much attention to God.
At this late date in the Jewish High Holidays, there’s no way I can even beg the forgiveness of all those I’ve upset and offended online and in person, but I’ll take this opportunity to humble myself before all of you anyway.
I’m still covered in “filthy rags” as it were. Still in need of a lot of work. I’ve always known that, but the issues over a busted computer (long story) and various other stressors this weekend have brought that realization to the forefront.
I know now that as flawed and imperfect as I am, what kept me moving forward or at least prevented me from moving backward, was writing this blog. Even as I kept falling on my face time after time, each new blog post was my effort to pull myself back up and keep on running the race (with apologies to the writer of Hebrews 12:1-3).
So I’m telling you that I’m not a better person, at least not better than I was a month, two months, or six months ago. I’ve taken some steps to cull a few of the more negative influences I’ve encountered in the blogosphere and in social media, if for no other reason, than to reduce the level of conflict I experience, but I don’t think I’ve benefited significantly from that as yet.
So where does that leave me?
Non-Jewish disciples of Jesus find their home (this is a generalization, not an absolute statement) in more or less one of two places: Most of them find a home in some sort of Christian church. No surprise there. A significant minority find their home in either an expression of Messianic Judaism or in some version of Hebrew Roots.
None of that helps me.
Well, even if I found myself on a deserted island somewhere thousands of miles from anyone else, there would still be God.
Assuming in a communal and spiritual sense, that’s actually my situation, what’s to be done?
The answer returns me to the Apostle Paul and what he taught. If Jewish avenues of connection aren’t available to me in forging a relationship with God, then Paul certainly must have taught his Gentile students how they could turn to Hashem.
How did they?
Here’s what little I have so far. I put this together a few months ago:
What Did Paul Teach?
What we do/don’t do:
Gentiles weren’t to be circumcised.
Gentiles weren’t to convert to Judaism.
Cornelius prayed at the set times of prayer.
Cornelius gave charity to the Jewish people.
Paul preached that the Gentiles owed charity to the poor of Israel.
Pray for Jerusalem.
Examples 1 Cor 5:11 and 13. Purge evil from among you and no slander or backbiting.
Practice repairing the world a little every day.
Restore Jesus and Paul and their teachings to their original Jewish context.
Teach the centrality of Israel in the restoration of the world.
Who we are:
Gentiles can call Abraham their Father (Rom. 4:11).
[Many of the contributors of the Nanos/Zetterholm volume say that Gentile believers had an “anomalous identity” and “occupied a social and religious no-man’s land”. Gentile identity defies classification.]
Gentile believers are neither proselytes nor God-fearers.
Like converts, we make an exclusive commitment to the God of Israel, but unlike converts, we do not take on Jewish ancestral practices (kosher food, shabbat, circumcision, and so on).
While we retain our native ethnic identities, we no longer worship our native gods.
Paul saw us as part of Abraham’s seed (Gen. 17:4-5, Gal. 3:29, Rom. 4:13-18), and yet Israel is also Abraham’s seed.
Nanos says we are not guests nor proselytes but full members alongside the Jews (members in what…the Kingdom of Heaven probably).
All this is pretty disorganized and needs a lots of fleshing out.
While I’ve missed the boat as far as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are concerned, it’s still not too late to at least get back on the road in time for Sukkot (what most Christians think of as the “Festival of Booths”).
I apologize for involving Jewish online resources, but in a lot of cases, I have no choice since Paul operated on this calendar and, as PL pointed out in the above-quoted statement, even we Gentiles will be operating within such a calendar or observance in Messianic Days.
Previously, I’ve drawn some ire, both in blog comments and via email, by citing or quoting from specific Messianic Jewish resources that were written for a non-Jewish audience in mind, so I’m going to do my best to avoid mentioning them as I chronicle my journey of return.
That’s regrettable, since a lot of how I understand my relationship with God, Paul, Yeshua, and the centrality of Israel (and not the Church) in national Israel’s redemption and the redemption of the world through her, is from those resources.
But one of my goals for this blog (it always has been actually) is to not promote conflict. Sometimes the only way to avoid conflict is to avoid interacting with some people and groups who, unfortunately, I have a tendency to irritate and provoke (and I apologize and ask forgiveness of all those folks too, but even if they forgive me, repentance and forgiveness don’t automatically mean reconciliation…sometimes, you just can’t go home).
I don’t want “morning meditations” to be like so many other blogs in the online religious space that go out of their way to generate conflict, disagreement, and even raw hostility.
I’m not teaching, declaring, or demanding. I’m just sharing my personal and spiritual experiences (such as they are) day by day (or perhaps more periodically).
What did Paul teach his Gentile disciples and how can I apply (if it’s possible) that to my own life? What can I learn from those few other non-Jews, such as Cornelius, who worshiped God outside of Judaism and within their own non-Jewish households?
Since the Jewish Messiah and becoming his disciple (through the teachings of Paul) is at the core of this exploration, I don’t know that any examples of non-Jews we see in the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament) are relevant or even appropriate.
One notable example might be Noah, since he preceded any notion of Judaism and was considered “a righteous man, blameless in his time,” and“Noah walked with God”(Genesis 6:9 NASB).
Noah prayed to God, God spoke with Noah, Noah obeyed God, and Noah sacrificed to God, so what he did (apart from building an Ark and gathering a bunch of animals together) isn’t entirely out of the ballpark.
But for the most part, I’ll be spending my time in the Apostolic Scriptures, hoping some vestige of these ancient trails can point me to my way home as well.
"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