Jewish Israelis are deeply divided societally, religiously and politically, and are to a large extent tightly stratified within their particular societal sector a new report by the Pew Research Center has shown.
The survey showed that there is very little inter-marriage between haredi, religious-Zionist, traditional and secular Jews, and little societal interaction between the different sectors as well.
The deep division in Israeli society was highlighted by findings that show that Israeli Jews in general are about as uncomfortable for their children to marry a Muslim as secular Jews are for their child to marry a haredi person and vice versa.
-by Jeremy Sharon | March 8, 2016
“Pew poll: 48 percent of Israeli Jews support transfer or expulsion of Arab Israelis” The Jerusalem Post
I came across this news article in my Facebook feed, and it reminded me of my recent blog post Attached and Yet Unattached which mentions a group of Messianic Jews in Israel who desire to become an integral part of normative (Orthodox) Jewish synagogue life.
The article and Pew poll highlights just how isolated the different parts of Jewish society in Israel are.
Secular Israelis comprise the largest sector, totalling 40% of Israel’s total, population, traditional Israelis are 23%, religious-Zionists 10%, and haredim were 8%, while 14% of the population is Muslim, 2% Christian, and 2% Druze. In total, the Israeli population is 81% Jewish, 19% non-Jewish.
According to the study, 95% of Haredi Jews and 93% of secular Jews have a spouse from the same subgroup, while 85% of religious-Zionist Jews have religious-Zionist spouse.
Traditional Israelis were the only sector to have a somewhat higher rate of intermarriage with other Jewish groups, with approximately 33% of traditional Israelis marrying a religious-Zionist or secular Jew, and 64% of this group marrying within their sector.
In other words, Jews tend to stay socially within their own particular population and rarely have friends or marry outside their groups.
Messianic Judaism isn’t mentioned as a Jewish population group in the article, but I did wonder about that 2% Christian group. Of course, there are normative, non-Jewish Christians in Israel, but, from any other Jewish groups’ perspective, would Jews who are known to be “Messianic” be considered Christian?
My guess is “yes,” and if so, I’m sure that causes dismay among those Messianic Jews to no end.
Which brings us back to the idea of Messianic Jews integrating into Orthodox synagogues and communities as an effort to become living examples to wider Jewish community in Israel (and any place else) that they are us, not them.
But the Jerusalem Post article, if it is at all accurate in representing Israeli Jewish society as it truly is, indicates that this is easier said than done.
Of course, even though these sub-groups of Jewish Israel differ widely from one another and barely associate with one another, on some level, they consider each other Jewish…I think.
It’s difficult for me to tell as an outsider not only to Judaism but to life in Israel.
And all this might be what’s fueling some Messianic Jewish groups in Israel to breach social barriers, so to speak, by associating and folding into Orthodox Jewish community, to be “us,” not “them.”
I wonder how (or if) that’s going to work. On the one hand, if these Messianic Jews are “undercover” and do not reveal their devotion to Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) and their revelation of him as Messiah, and assuming they are observant to the same degree and manner as the communities they join, then they will likely succeed in becoming part of larger religious Judaism.
On the other hand, they will not have a regular relationship with a community that recognizes our Rav and acknowledges the revelation of Yeshua returning as King Messiah to fulfill all of Hashem’s promises to Israel.
When I made the decision (which I’ve done a few times over the past several years) to live without community, I received many kind emails and other communications telling me that it was a risky business standing apart from a Yeshua-believing congregation.
I know after leaving Hebrew Roots some years ago, my “plan A” was to attend Chabad services and/or classes with my Jewish wife.
However, she wasn’t anxious to include her Christian husband in her Jewish religious and social life, and ultimately, that plan went down in flames.
My “plan B,” after much consideration, was to do a sort of Tent of David integration into a small, local Baptist church, even after being warned by a good friend of mine that the effort was doomed to failure as well.
I stayed with the church for two years until the Pastor, frustrated with me “digging in my heels” as he put it, and remaining steadfastly devoted to my perspectives on the Bible, Israel, Messiah, and Hashem as a Messianic Gentile, gave a sermon on misuse of Torah, which included the belief that the Sinai covenant was still fully enforced upon the Jewish people.
But Christian community isn’t Jewish community. Jews belong with other Jews. I don’t know how Messianic Jews are going to fully meld into Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, but I guess they’ll find out. It just seems that if the boundaries between the different sub-groups of Israeli Jews are so rigid, that penetration of said-boundaries is going to be rather difficult.
In theory, I could walk into any church in my community and be immediately welcomed. As long as I kept my big mouth shut or only mouthed the “party line” supported by that particular church as “sound doctrine,” I’d be OK.
Of course, the obvious barriers, besides me keeping my flap shut and not blogging on each and every church experience that rubbed me the wrong way, are not being able to invite people from church over to my house because it would make my wife uncomfortable, attending church at all because (she would never stop me or breathe a word of dissent about me attending) the very act of my going to a church would emphasize that she’s “sleeping with the enemy,” so to speak, and my attending Christmas and especially Easter services, would totally devastate her.
But outside of my home life and my highly specific theology, there are (or should be) no barriers to me attending church and being accepted, at least in my own little corner of Idaho.
For Messianic Jews in Israel, it seems as if they have an especially tough row to hoe, so to speak, again, at least according to the Jerusalem Post news story.
I’ve written plenty about the struggle for we “Messianic Gentiles” in establishing our own roles and responsibilities relative to Messianic Judaism as well as to each other, but we need to be mindful that Messianic Jews also face a very similar challenge in relation to larger Judaism, especially in Israel, but also everywhere else.
Why should devotion to Israel and to Rav Yeshua be mutually exclusive for a Jew? It shouldn’t be, except that nearly twenty centuries of enmity between Christianity and Judaism has made it so.
At the core of the pluralism issue is the debate over whether there’s “More than one way to be a good Jew.” Indeed, there have always been divergent streams of observance – like Chassidic, Sefardic vs. Ashkenazic, and even the Talmudic arguments between the Talmudic academies of Shammai and Hillel.
And yet, historic precedents show that there are limits to pluralism, beyond which a group is schismatic to the point where it is no longer considered Jewish. For example, everyone considers Jews for Jesus as outside of the legitimate Jewish sphere. The disagreement, then, lies in defining exactly what are the acceptable limits of divergence.
I’m continuing my email conversation with my Jewish friend as I described in yesterday’s meditation, and this “Ask the Rabbi” column seemed to fit right in. As you just read, there are a whole bunch of divergent streams of Judaism, but how far can you diverge and still be Jewish? According to the Aish Rabbi, being “Jews for Jesus” is going too far.
I should say at this point that “Jews for Jesus” is how most Jews see Messianic Judaism, thus Messianic Judaism isn’t viewed as a “Judaism” at all. One problem is, as a private communication revealed to me just recently, even many staunch Jewish disciples of Messiah aren’t all that observant. For instance, one Messianic Jewish conference (I’m deliberately concealing identifying information for obvious reasons) was scheduled during a major Jewish fast day. At another conference, the conference leaders ate the local hotel (non-Kosher) fare, and the very few Jewish attendees who kept kosher were forced to have catered kosher meals brought in or to drive some distance to a kosher eating establishment. And driving on Shabbat for the Jewish conference organizers and attendees wasn’t considered a big deal at all.
Why do I say all this?
Historically, any Jewish group which denied the basic principles of Jewish tradition – Torah and mitzvah-observance – ultimately ceased to be part of the Jewish people. The Sadducees and the Karites, for instance, refused to accept certain parts of the Oral Law, and soon after broke away completely as part of the Jewish People. The Hellenists, secularists during the Second Temple period, also soon became regarded as no longer “Jewish.” Eventually, these groups vanished completely.
-the Aish Rabbi
One of the big issues that may inhibit halachically, culturally, and religiously observant Jews from recognizing Messianic Judaism as a Judaism is, based on the quote above, the lack of consistent Jewish observance in Messianic Judaism. Except for in a few small corners of the movement (at least from an Orthodox Jewish perspective), Messianic Judaism presents the appearance of being not a Judaism (there are many other issues, such as the deification of Jesus and the supposed worship of a man, but I’m choosing to focus on the matter of community and observance right now).
It’s a terrible thing for a Jew to be cut off from his or her people.
For those of you who don’t know, the concept of Kareth or “cutting off” is a consequence of a Jew committing certain offenses, such as having a forbidden sexual relationship or worshiping a deity other than Hashem (known as Avodah Zarah). Messianic author and teacher Derek Leman even wrote an article on the topic a few years back.
Should a Jew in Messianic Judaism feel cut off from larger Judaism? Is that a consequence of being a Messianic Jew? Not according to Rabbi Stuart Dauermann in his article “The Jewish People are Us – Not Them,” which he wrote for the Fall 2013 issue of Messiah Journal (and which I reviewed), however, R. Dauermann admits that this has been a consequence of Messianic Judaism historically due to its associations with Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that once a Jew becomes a disciple of Messiah through the Messianic movement (or by converting to Christianity), they have more in common with Gentile Christians than non-Messianic Jews.
That’s a terrible burden to lay on any Jew’s shoulders.
But does it really have to be that way? Has it always been that way?
Early Christians were the original “Jews for Jesus.” They accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah, but not the eternal, binding nature of the commandments. Initially, these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan. But the turning point came when Paul, realizing that Jews wouldn’t accept the concept of a dead Messiah, opened up membership to non-Jews. At that point, these “Jews” experienced a total severing of Jewish identity.
Now that’s a glaring assumption by the Aish Rabbi. Let’s look at that again:
But the turning point came when Paul, realizing that Jews wouldn’t accept the concept of a dead Messiah, opened up membership to non-Jews. At that point, these “Jews” experienced a total severing of Jewish identity.
Evangelical Christianity believes that Paul broke with Jewish identity shortly after he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9) and that the extinguishment of Jewish identity in Messiah was by design. The Aish Rabbi says Paul may not have originally intended to break with Judaism and tradition, but when he couldn’t convince other Jews to “worship a dead Messiah,” Paul switched the object of his proselytizing from Jewish to Gentile populations and cut loose anything Jewish from devotion to Jesus.
No wonder so many Jewish people really hate Paul.
As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath. When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
–Acts 13:42-43 (NRSV)
I invite you to read the larger context which is captured in Acts 13:13-52, but basically, after Paul’s discourse in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, on how Jesus was indeed the Messiah, his Jewish audience was extremely eager for him to return next Shabbat to say more. Apparently the issue of a “dead Messiah” wasn’t a problem. The problem was this:
The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul.
–Acts 13:44-45 (NRSV)
A certain number of God-fearing Gentiles generally attended this synagogue on a regular basis, so the huge crowds of non-Jews who showed up for the subsequent Shabbat to hear Paul must have been the result of word getting out and large crowds of idol-worshiping pagan Gentiles entering the Jewish community space.
So like I said, the “dead Messiah,” at least in this case, didn’t seem to be the problem, nor, as we know from many of Paul’s other letters as well as the record in Luke’s Acts, did Paul totally abandon his people or Jewish practice in order to invent a new, Law-free, religion exclusively for the Gentiles. As the Aish Rabbi himself stated, the early Jewish disciples ”accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah” and ”these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan.” I do not believe that ”these Jews” denied ”the eternal, binding nature of the commandments” nor that Paul taught Jews to neglect the Torah.
Paul said in his defense, “I have in no way committed an offense against the law of the Jews, or against the temple, or against the emperor.”
–Acts 25:8 (NRSV)
Paul continued to deny that he had committed any offense against the Torah or against Roman law for the rest of his life and unless we want to believe he was just lying to try to save his skin (didn’t do him very much good if that was his ploy), then we have to consider that the Aish Rabbi, representing the general Jewish view of Paul, and Evangelical Christianity, are both wrong about the Apostle to the Gentiles.
So we have some history that tells us the very first Jews who belonged to the Messianic stream of Judaism called “the Way” continued to be observant Jews and continued to be considered Jewish by the other branches of Judaism in the late Second Temple period.
But why can’t we have that now? Why can’t Messianic Jews be considered Jewish, even within Messianic Judaism? Why should a Jew in Messianic Judaism be considered cut off from his or her people in larger Judaism?
The Aish Rabbi ends his article this way:
I can’t predict what will happen to the various streams within Judaism today, but I do believe that the best bet for a strong Jewish future is to remain loyal to our faith and traditions.
I promise that the Rabbi was not considering Messianic Judaism in this opinion but I believe we should. What that means, is the Jewish people in Messianic Judaism, in order to ensure a strong Jewish future, must too remain loyal to Jewish faith and traditions. That’s why I wrote the blog post The Necessity of Messianic Jewish Community. That’s exactly why Messianic Jewish community is necessary, important, vital, critical.
There’s a lot more I could say about this, but for the sake of length, I’ll back off for now. It will probably be fuel for another blog post fairly soon. I don’t see this issue going away.
I know it’s odd for me, a non-Jewish person studying within the context of Messianic Judaism, to be so passionate about Jewish identity for Jews in Messiah. I suppose it all comes back to my own (Jewish) family who aren’t Messianic but who I believe really need to be even better at connecting with Jewish community. There’s a huge danger as each generation passes, of Jewish people simply fading away, not assimilating into Christianity necessarily, but just drifting into secular oblivion.
Within Messianic Judaism, many of the leading Jewish teachers and promoters are themselves intermarried, and if the mothers of their children aren’t Jewish, then neither are their offspring. If, as I stated above, there is a “crisis” of minimal or inconsistent observance of the mitzvot which further weakens the Jewish nature of Messianic Judaism and thus any connection with larger Jewry, will Jews be found within Messianic Judaism in twenty or thirty years?
Orthodox Judaism is the approach to religious Judaism which adheres to the interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Tanaim and Amoraim and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim.
Orthodox Judaism is not a unified movement with a single governing body, but many different movements adhering to common principles. All of the Orthodox movements are very similar in their observance and beliefs, differing only in the details that are emphasized. They also differ in their attitudes toward modern culture and the state of Israel. They all share one key feature: a dedication to Torah, both Written and Oral.
Note that the image above and all other images of Jewish people in this blog post are not specifically Messianic Jews. I say this so there will be no mistaken attributions assumed.
There have been some conversations going in the discussion sections of a number of my blog posts. They’re too numerous to reference here, but the general themes have to do with Messianic Jewish community, the role of Gentiles within a Messianic Jewish community space, Bilateral Ecclesiology, and just how “Jewish” Messianic Judaism should be.
Opinions span a broad spectrum as the Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots movements do themselves, but this morning, I read a rather interesting article that got my attention:
The Orthodox Jewish community has a certain mystique.
Whether it’s because we look, act or believe differently, people are intrigued by stories about the Orthodox Jewish community. Media outlets often oblige but whenever I read these stories, they don’t quite resonate with me. They don’t look like the Orthodox community I know. So I’d like to share a few things that happened to me over the last year that give a more accurate insight into the real Orthodox Jewish community.
My wife and I have experienced fertility problems. We thankfully had been blessed with two children but as they grew older we had been trying for some time to have another child to no avail. One day I was speaking with my rabbi about our situation and I conveyed to him that my wife and I wanted to pursue fertility treatments but because of the steep cost, we were having second thoughts. A few days later my rabbi said that he spoke with an anonymous individual with means in the Jewish community who had agreed to sponsor fertility treatment for young Jewish couples if they could not afford it. He would not know who we were and we would not know who he was. He was motivated purely out of a sense of loyalty to the continuity of the Jewish People.
That’s the Orthodox community I know.
“The Orthodox Community I Know” Aish.com
As I read through Mr. Rosenberg’s story about “the Orthodox Community I know,” I was struck by how different this would probably seem to most people who aren’t part of this community, and especially to Christians. Even those Christians who are supportive of the Jewish people and of Israel, don’t always understand (how could they?) Orthodox Judaism in general and the devotion of individual people in Orthodox Judaism to their community, lifestyle, and commitments in specific. And even most Jewish people who are not Orthodox don’t always understand the Orthodox.
Seven years ago, had I encountered the woman I am today, I would have pitied her: long sleeves and an ankle-length skirt in the middle of summer; no driving, writing, talking on the phone or cooking from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday; recently married to a man she’d never touched — not so much as a peck on the cheek — until after the wedding. I’d have cringed and dismissed this woman as a Repressed Religious Nut. Now my pity — or at least a patient smile — is for that self-certain Southern California girl I was at 25.
“What’s a Nice Cosmo Girl Like You Doing With An Orthodox Husband?” Aish.com
See what I mean?
Christians especially see Orthodox Jews as rule-bound, rigid, odd (to say the least), and on a path that will certainly lead them to Hell. After all, no one can be made righteous through their own acts as we see here:
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
–Isaiah 64:6 (NASB)
On that point, Derek Leman recently wrote a blog post called Our Deeds Are Not Filthy Rags which illuminates this matter and adds quite a wrinkle to the traditional Christian interpretation of the Isaiah verse. Also, Jacob Fronczak’s article “Sola Fide” in the latest issue of Messiah Journal deepens the exploration into this important topic.
I’m not trying to create a commentary on the nature of “salvation” and the differences between Christianity and Judaism, I’m just saying that we can’t automatically dismiss how Orthodox Jewish people (or any Jewish community) see their own relationship with God.
My friend Gene Shlomovich made a similar observation today on his blog:
So, the reason G-d chose Israel is because He already loved them and has promised their forefathers that He will take care of them. Does it make Jews somehow better than any other people? Not at all and it’s not the reason behind G-d’s love for Israel. After all, one parent’s child is not inherently better than a child of another parent. Your child is no more deserving of love than someone else’ – she is just yours. G-d loves Israel not because He has some grand plan and purpose for Israel (even though He does) or because Israel will proclaim her G-d and His Torah to all nations (which she certainly will). Neither did G-d set His affections on Israel because, as Christianity claims, “Israel was chosen to give birth to Jesus” and “to give nations the Gospel”, a useful tool that can be discarded once the chief purpose has been accomplished. No, these are all conditional reasons. G-d didn’t set His love on Israel because Israel was somehow capable of earning G-d’s love by her performance. Instead, G-d loves Israel because He loves Israel – that’s all there’s to it.
Depending on which denomination of Christianity you belong to or to which Christian doctrine concerning the Jewish people and Israel you adhere, you may actually believe that God still loves Israel and has future plans for her, but it’s really all about “the Church.” God may still use Israel, but their relationship isn’t what it once was, and God really loves the Church best.
I’m oversimplifying that viewpoint of course. I don’t have time to go into all of the details and you don’t want to read a ten-thousand word blog post.
But look at this:
Nine months later we gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
The excitement began early Friday morning and as the day progressed I started thinking about Shabbat. What would we eat? How would I recite Kiddush? Light candles? I remembered hearing about an organization called Bikkur Cholim which means “visiting the sick.” It’s a volunteer-driven charity that looks after the needs of people in hospital. I called them and within a couple of hours someone came to our hospital room with literally bags of food, grape juice for Kiddush, electric candles to serve as Shabbat candles, even spices for havdallah. The food is free and the person delivering it is a volunteer. In the few moments I had to speak with him I learned that he was just a regular guy — an accountant — who takes off Fridays from work to volunteer for Bikkur Cholim. I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.
That’s the Orthodox community I know.
I’m talking about not just God’s love for Israel, but within the Orthodox Jewish community, one Jew’s love for another as well as the community’s love for one Jewish family.
I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.
That’s the Orthodox Jewish community most of us, particularly in the Church, don’t see.
No, I’m not saying Orthodox Judaism as a practice or a community is perfect. The fact that it contains human beings means it will, by definition, be imperfect, just as any other form of Judaism will be imperfect, just as any of the estimated 41,000 Christian denominations and their members will be imperfect, just as any human community anywhere across time and space was, is, and will be imperfect.
Jews don’t need to be perfect for G-d to be on their side – G-d already loves them as His own people and nothing can ever change it. No doubt, He has disciplined us when we sinned, and He did that many times. However, at the same time, He’s very merciful. He promised that He will not be angry with us forever (Isaiah 57:16). As that Deuteronomy prophecy promised us G-d Himself will “circumcise” the hearts of all Israel after He brings them to the Land. When He does, all Jews will be Torah-observant, to the last one.
The statement that Jews don’t need to be perfect for God to love them, particularly in Orthodox Judaism, might take some Christians by surprise. It is generally thought by some of the Christians I know that Jews believe they have to perform the mitzvot perfectly in order to please God.
Again, I’m steering clear of the whole “salvation” issue, and I’m instead talking about love. Please don’t try to “bust my chops” about Christians being saved and Jewish people not being saved. It’s not what I’m writing about and I won’t approve any comments on the topic.
But what does all this have to do with Messianic Judaism?
It has been argued by many non-Jews affiliated in one way or another with Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots, that the “Jewishness” of Messianic Judaism should be toned down a bit. Those Jewish people in the Messianic movement who advocate for wholly Jewish communities for disciples of Yeshua as Messiah are putting Judaism first and Messiah second. I myself have quoted Troy Mitchell of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship as saying:
“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”
Of course, I usually aim that quote at non-Jews who are so enamored with Jewish practices that they leave faith in Jesus entirely and convert to Judaism, usually Orthodox Judaism. You’d think, given that, I wouldn’t be trying to paint such a rosy picture of Orthodox Judaism here.
But, on the outside looking in, we often criticize things we don’t understand. It’s easy for Christians or just about anyone else to be critical of Orthodox Judaism because we are outsiders. We aren’t like them. We’ve been taught that we should never be like them, and if we tried (by converting or otherwise affiliating with the Jewish community), we would lose our salvation and God’s love.
From an Orthodox Jewish point of view (not that I have that point of view, I just quote articles), God loves Orthodox Jews and, referencing Shimon Rosenberg, Orthodox Jews love each other.
Applied to the Jewish people within the various circles of Messianic Judaism, they are also loved by God and they are also Jews who love each other, both within their specific Jewish communities, and identifying with larger and even worldwide Jewry. That doesn’t mean Yeshua plays second-fiddle to Messianic Judaism anymore than Hashem plays second-fiddle to Orthodox Judaism. From an outsider’s point of view, it seems like an Orthodox Jew’s devotion is to the “rules” first and the will of God second, but as I quoted above:
I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.
The mitzvot, especially those that are performed for the well-being of other people, are done because ”it’s what God wants of us.”
Most non-Jews in Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, and probably not a few Jewish people in those groups believe that it’s unBiblical, racist, and just plain wrong for Jews in Messianic Judaism to desire a community that is primarily or exclusively Jewish. The fact that Gentiles are “grafted-in” to the Jewish community, once called “the Way” and are considered equal co-participants in God’s love make it almost unthinkable that God would still reserve a “specialness” for the Jewish people and that God would not only tolerate but expect that Jews feel a “specialness” for each other.
Gentiles feel excluded by this sentiment among believing Jews. They (we) feel like we are rejected, inferior, second-class citizens, and “back of the bus” riders traveling on the road to the Kingdom.
To counter this, I can see at some point, a Messianic Jewish writer composing and publishing a small article called ”The Messianic Jewish Community I Know,” describing why it is important to have such a Jewish community for Messianic Jews. Granted, the uniqueness of Messianic Judaism when compared to the other Judaisms in our day (or historically), makes it more difficult to operationalize Jewish community within the larger community of disciples of Messiah, and I think we’re still working that out.
But the consequences of failing to support Jewish community within Messianic Judaism can be (and have been) disastrous.
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.
–Romans 11:13-16 (NRSV)
According to Mark Nanos in his classic text The Mystery of Romans, the problem Paul was addressing in his letter were Gentiles who were flaunting their “freedom” (not being obligated to Torah observance to the level of the Jews) to the Messianic and non-Messianic Jewish populations of local synagogues in Rome, acting as a “stumbling block,” especially for the non-believing Jews who, because of Gentile arrogance, were inhibited from considering, let alone accepting, faith in Yeshua.
While the Nanos view would be considered controversial by many Christians, it does explain Paul’s rather harsh rebuke or even threat (Romans 11:21) to the “grafted in” branches. Paul was passionate for his people, the Jewish people, even his opponents, and Paul said he would surrender his own salvation if it would save some of them (Romans 9:3).
Paul never abandoned his people and God never abandoned Israel. We, as non-Jews, may not understand Jewish “choseness” but it exists. We, as non-Jews may not understand the need for Jewish people to have community specifically within a wholly Jewish context, but it exists. I live it out. I live with a Jewish wife. She needs to be a part of our local Jewish community and even though it is sometimes uncomfortable for me, she needs for me to not be a part of that community.
Admittedly, other intermarried couples share synagogue life, even within Orthodox Judaism (look at Chabad), but given my background in Hebrew Roots and my current relationships within different aspects of Messianic Judaism and normative Christianity (and the fact that our little corner of Idaho makes it difficult to be anonymous), it’s best for her that we have a clean line separating me from that part of her life.
I think it’s because I can see that line on a highly personal level and that I’ve gone through the struggle of making it OK for that line to exist and even to be necessary for my Jewish wife, that I can see the necessity for an exclusively Jewish community within the body of Messiah, too.
Humanity, when completely unbound by G-d’s Laws, when unrestrained by fear of Him, when viewing their fellow human beings not as created in G-d’s image but as an unprofitable animals to be destroyed is at its absolute worst. Unshackled from the divine, humanity is driven to satisfy the desires of its lower, animalistic nature. In such a state, human beings have the capacity to do much evil in their rebellion against the Almighty. Since there’s nothing they can do to G-d Himself, evil people can only resort to rejecting, despising and destroying everything that G-d loves and holds dear. This is why, I believe, Jews have suffered so much during the Holocaust and have been an object of hatred everywhere they went and to this very day. Their identification as the people loved and chosen by G-d has made them the perennial target for the worst humanity has to offer.
Gene wrote that in response to the question, ”If G-d is with Jews, why did the Holocaust happen?” Maybe I’m being extreme applying it to the current context, but I believe just because we don’t always understand the relationship God has with the Jewish people and that the Jewish people have with each other, we shouldn’t discount it, either. And as Christians, we absolutely should do nothing to destroy Jewish people and Jewish community. We have been warned.
In Jeremiah 31:3, God said to Israel ”I have loved you with an everlasting love,” and in John 13:34, Jesus gave his Jewish disciples a new commandment to love one another as he loved them. Christians generally apply that “new” commandment to themselves (ourselves), the commandment of self-sacrificial love, but I don’t want to set aside the immediate context in which Jesus uttered these words. He was talking to Jewish disciples within his Jewish community. He knew each and every one of them would suffer and all but John would die in excruciating ways for the sake of Heaven. That’s the kind of love the Jewish Messiah and Rabbi from Nazareth wanted each member of his Jewish community to have for all the other Jewish members.
Again, that doesn’t mean this commandment doesn’t have wider implications, but even Paul, the emissary to the Gentiles went ”first to the Jew” (Romans 1:16 for instance), because the Gospel message, the “good news” of the Kingdom of God, belongs first to the Jew and then also to the rest of the world.
In a comment on one of Derek Leman’s blog posts, I said:
That gets back to the one statement you made among your list of questions: “Maybe what they were impassioned about was the hereafter, the blessed age to come, not so much the Messiah.” In my opinion, the focus really wasn’t so much about the afterlife or eternity, but the restoration of Israel under the Messianic King, who would return the exiles, rebuild the Temple, teach Torah, and bring peace to all the nations of the world, with Israel as the head.
That’s something to be impassioned about in my humble opinion.
It’s not comfortable to belong to a group where certain members are more special than you are, especially if their being special has to do with an inborn trait such as, in this case, being Jewish. There’s no way to acquire being Jewish except through conversion, so we can never attain that particular position of being special. We can never fully belong to that group in a way that is identical to what the members of that group have between each other.
We Christians balk at that, in part, because anyone can become a Christian and Jewish Christians in the church (as opposed to Jews in Messianic Judaism) are just like everyone else, identical in role, function, and identity. That’s actually not a good thing, and I have had more than one Jewish person tell me that Jewish conversion to Christianity is just finishing the Holocaust that Hitler started.
Which is a really good reason why Messianic Jewish communities for Messianic Jews is so important and so necessary.
I have no desire to participate in any attempt to remove Jewish people as a distinctive people and community from the face of the Earth. That would be like wanting to remove the Jewish identities and specialness of my wife and three children, and frankly, I wish they were more observant and more mindful of their distinctiveness as Jews. This isn’t to say that I don’t want them to also embrace Messiah, but that’s out of my hands for lots and lots of reasons. I must trust in God that He loves my wife and children, not just because He loves human beings, but because He loves Jews.
Paul said “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). He also said ”If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy” (Romans 11:16), meaning (I believe) if the first fruits, that is, the first Jews to come to faith in Yeshua are holy, all Jewish people, all the branches, are holy. While the Church struggles with the plain meaning of that text, I find it gives me some strength and assurance that God won’t throw the Jewish people in general and my Jewish family in specific under some cosmic bus just for giggles. I trust the Apostle Paul that he was using those words to caution arrogant Gentile believers in the Jewish synagogues in Rome that the calluses on the Jewish heart for Messiah will one day be made smooth and they will be healed.
In the end, all I have is my faith in God that, for the sake of the Jewish people, my Jewish people, my family, they will also be healed and saved.
In the meantime, I accept that there are some places my wife must go that I cannot and should not follow. And as objectionable and offensive as some members of my readership (and beyond) find the term “bilateral ecclesiology” and the concepts behind it, I ask that you try to see Jewish people and Jewish community requirements from my point of view, even if you can’t see it from theirs.
"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