Tag Archives: Jewish Roots

Upon Reading a Rant About “Messianic Jewishism”

The Rav (Abraham Kook), zt”l, spoke about Knesset Yisrael as being endowed with two covenants, the covenant of Avot, which relates to the land of Israel, and the covenant of Sinai, which relates to the people of Israel.

-Rabbi Simcha Krauss
National President, Religious Zionists of America
from the Introductory Greetings (p.ix) to
Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel’s English translation of
Jews, Judaism & Genesis: Living in His Image According to the Torah

So far I’m having a blast reading Rav Amiel’s book on Genesis, but that’s not why I’m writing this missive.

I came across something on Facebook written by Rabbi Stuart Dauermann that strongly echoes (though perhaps I am actually the “echo” to Rabbi Dauermann’s “voice” in this case) a topic I’ve written on many times before: the unique role of the Jewish person in Judaism and particularly in Messianic Judaism, a role that cannot be assumed by someone who is not Jewish.

I am going to copy and paste the entire body of text authored by R. Dauermann here, since as far as I know, the only place is exists online is on Facebook and depending on the privacy settings involved, it’s possible not everyone would be able to follow a link to its source. My commentary will follow:

We pause for a rant about what I term “Messianic Jewishism.”

If we ignore Paul’s teaching in Galatians and elsewhere we can get the Bible to say what we want. But no one seems to give a damn about how the privileges God gave to Israel are just being grabbed by others on their own terms, without so much as an “Excuse me.” Paul says this for example, “They are Israelites, and to them **belong** the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them **belong** the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 9:3-5 ESV)

The religion we see developing in some corners of the MJ movement is NOT Messianic judaism because there is NO respect for the priority of the Jewish people in His covenantal purposes for Israel. What we have is a new religion which I call Messianic Jewishism. These are congregations that practice a kind of Judaism-lite, but by design, not really a Judaism, but a community with enough Jewish religious cultural flavoring for everyone in the fellowship to embrace it, enjoy it, practice it. It’s really Protestant Christianity with a tallis, and it is not Messianic JUDAISM but rather Messianic Jewishism. Messianic Judaism requires a deeper adherence to the communal boundaries and covenantal markers *given to* and *reserved for* the Jewish people. As I said, SOME people are grabbing whatever they can on their own terms using these things as they see fit, feeling absolutely entitled on the basis of their questionable interpretations of certain Bible verses, but with NO respect for the Jewish people who have given their blood for thousands of years to protect this patrimony given them by God.

If people wanted to convert, that would be something else. There is a responsible process whereby people can take on the covenantal calling of the Jewish people irrevocably and hook line and sinker. But this does NOT involve the kind of pirating of Jewish treasures which we see all around us, and the strange distortions of Jewish life, all done with a sense of entitlement because the people in question have a BIble verse that “entitles” them. And if you say “What do you think you are doing?” you will be accused of being a bigot and anti-gentile, neither of which is true. One can be pro-Jewish without being anti-gentile.

NO ONE IS SAYING that gentiles can’t touch, handle, taste Jewish things, But there is a conspicous failure to pay due respect to the fact that such are asking to handle Jewish treasures given to the JEWS by God.

I am NOT anti-gentile, but does ANYONE understand what I am saying?

Stuart Dauermann
Rabbi Stuart Dauermann

There were a large number of responses by the time I came across these words and I didn’t have the time to read through more than a smattering, but it seemed that the people commenting generally agreed with and were supportive of R. Dauermann’s statement.

I know that a number of my regular readers (and likely some of those who happen to “surf in”) will object to what Dauermann wrote and will object to my supporting what he wrote. Doubtless, many “proof texts” could be produced in an attempt to refute the idea that Gentiles attempting to observe the entire body of Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews are merely engaging in what has been called Evangelical Jewish Cosplay.

I know a number of you reading this are very sincere, devoted, and dedicated disciples of the Messiah and truly, honestly believe that how you observe your faith is exactly what God not only desires, but demands of you (and by inference, all believing Jews and Gentiles everywhere). I’m sorry, because I know what R. Dauermann wrote and what I’ve written here will doubtless cause you pain as well as result in you feeling insulted and even angry. Certainly you will attempt to defend your beliefs and practices, which I completely understand.

But what if you’re wrong?

A few months back, I wrote a two-part review (which you can read in Part 1 and Part 2 of my article “Acting Jewishly But Not Jewish”) of Mark Nanos’ forthcoming paper, ‘Paul’s Non-Jews Do Not Become “Jews,” But Do They Become “Jewish”?: Reading Romans 2:25-29 Within Judaism, Alongside Josephus.’ The paper suggests that although the First Century CE Gentiles entering the Jewish religious community of “the Way,” while not actually “converting” to Judaism, nevertheless “converted” to a way of life that resulted in them acting “Jewishly”.

I received a certain amount of pushback from some Messianic Jewish people who, like R. Dauermann, sought to shield and protect the unique role and identity of Jews in Messiah. This is obviously a tender subject for many in our little corner of the religious world.

It’s apparent to me by the way Dauermann’s words are crafted (and he even said so himself) that he was “ranting,” so to speak. That is, he was speaking from the heart and quite passionately. I can almost hear a raised voice in the words, “I am NOT anti-gentile, but does ANYONE understand what I am saying?” I think he’s frustrated. I don’t blame him.

But by the same token, what am I to say for those certain numbers of Gentiles out there who choose to believe that God commanded them (you) to don a tallit, lay tefillin, and daven in Hebrew from a siddur? What am I to write about those Gentiles who say they are obligated to observe the 613 commandments of the Torah of Moses, apart from the Rabbinic interpretations and totally committed Jewish lifestyle associated with said-commandments?

The question is, if you choose just how you are supposed to observe these mitzvot, diminishing or disregarding the Jewish praxis involved as interpreted by the Rabbinic Sages over the last two-thousand years or so, is what you’re doing really a “Judaism?”

Probably not, although I suppose that conclusion rests on how you define Judaism.

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

Even for those non-Jews who identify as Messianic Gentiles, who agree with the differentiation of roles between Jews and non-Jews in Messiah and who study and behave accordingly, it is arguable as to whether or not we are actually practicing a “Judaism,” even if we worship and fellowship alongside Messianic Jews in a Messianic Jewish synagogue (such as at Rabbi David Rudolph’s shul Tikvat Israel).

I’ve argued both sides of the issue (such as in Do Christians Practice Judaism? and Practicing Messianic What?) and the debate continues to rage.

In beginning to read Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel’s book, from which I quoted above, I truly realize that he conceptualizes the Torah in general and Genesis (Beresheet) in particular, in a fundamentally different way than I do. Of course, he had the benefit of being born a Jew, being raised in a Jewish community, worshiping the God of his fathers as a Jew, being educated as a Jew, and speaking and writing fluent Hebrew (the book is actually two different versions between the covers, one in English and one in Hebrew) as a Jew.

This, and my many other explorations into various Jewish texts, show me that even though I can read them in English, they were written (at least the more scholarly ones) for Jewish people who conceptualize the Bible and associated interpretations in a very different manner than I do, and there are directions in which these texts travel that my thoughts are incapable of following. As I practice my faith, even though I study from a Messianic perspective, that hardly means I’m practicing any type of Judaism as such.

It stands to reason that I don’t consider myself Jewish or even practicing “Jewishly”.

There is, however, a necessity for me to “touch, handle, [and] taste Jewish things,” as R. Dauermann states, because of the intersection between my Messianic faith and Messianic Judaism as it exists within the overarching ekklesia of Messiah, but as I’ve said many, many times before, unity does not require uniformity. It doesn’t even always require being “separate but equal,” although I have also argued for the necessity of exclusive Messianic Jewish communities, at least for some MJ synagogues.

As Gentiles in Messiah who choose the path of studying the Bible and understanding the covenants from a Messianic point of view (and keeping in mind there probably isn’t any one single “Messianic point of view”), in my way of thinking, recognizing the covenant priority of the Jewish people in God’s redemptive plan for Israel is critical to how we not only see Jewish Messianics, but how we are to understand Gentile Messianics as well.

From a rant of my own written last February, I came down to saying don’t argue, though I realize that will always be taken as “let’s argue” by most humans, since we tend to be contrary by nature. But consider that in the long history of the Christian Church, any Jew who has come to faith in Jesus (Yeshua) as the long-awaited Messiah, has been without fail required to opt out of Yiddishkeit and effectively become a Gentile. Isn’t it understandable that Jews who enter the Messianic ekklesia would desire to rectify the insults and injuries of the past by preserving who they are as Jews?

I must admit that my own journey out of “One Law” was largely (but not exclusively) motivated by watching my Jewish wife’s involvement in Jewish community and my desire to cherish her Yiddisher Neshamah. Nothing quite teaches a Gentile about a Jew’s absolute need to be Jewish, to live Jewish, to be among Jewish community like being married to a Jewish spouse. Being married to the girl with the Jewish Soul has certain advantages that many others involved in “worshiping Jewishly” may lack in abundance.

Yesterday, I published a blog post that was highly critical of Christianity, accusing the early Church of virtually “kidnapping” the Jewish scriptures, particularly the Jewish Apostolic Scriptures, and I am sure I insulted many good Christian men and women in the process. I regret any pain I may have caused, but unfortunately, there was no other way to get my point across in the required manner.

But like it or not, the Church has committed many crimes against the Jewish people and their writings and we do so again by failing to acknowledge Jewish uniqueness in covenant connection with God, whether we call ourselves “Christian,” “Messianic,” or anything else.

I know I can’t cause even one single Gentile person to reconsider their commitment to the Torah as they see it, even as I at one time reconsidered my commitment and subsequently changed my direction. It’s possible that I’m totally unique in that regard, though the Gentiles involved in the educational ministry First Fruits of Zion must have faced a similar circumstance a number of years ago when they shifted their official position from One Law to a Differentiated model. And yet, I know it’s possible because I did it.

Orthodox Jewish manI inaugurated and celebrated that change almost three-and-a-half years ago when I wrote the first post for this blog called Abundant is Your Faithfulness.

Since that time, I’ve had many adventures, went back to church, left church…I’ve thought about giving up blogging and even “religion” a number of times, usually after encountering my own severe limitations as a human being or encountering the darker side of religious people.

We have just passed through the Days of Awe, exited Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and entered a new year. Erev Sukkot begins day after tomorrow at sundown and the year stretches out before us like a road paved in gemstones. Whatever our differences, we share one Messiah and one God. Would it really hurt we Gentiles to extend courtesy and honor to the Jewish people by recognizing that they are indeed unique and set apart by Hashem, their God and ours, as a people and a nation?

Oh, by the way, you won’t be able to engage Rabbi Dauermann by commenting on my blog since it’s quite likely he may not even read my “meditations” and certainly, he has never commented here. You can only “talk” to me.

One last thing. Although I don’t agree with everything Scot McKnight wrote in his article Does Personal Bible Reading Destroy the Church?, he does make a good point about everyone interpreting the Bible willy-nilly to come up with their own conclusions. We can’t all be right.

Addendum: Please keep in mind that there will always be rather negative influences who will read a blog post like this, draw the worst possible conclusions, and then post their opinions somewhere on the web, whether it be in my own comments section (no, not Cindy or Marleen) or on their own blog or website. I regret that I gave them more fuel to add to their “fire” but the only way I could possibly quench such “flaming” sentiments would be for me to cease to exist. Nevertheless, I apologize if my comments here have resulted in provoking anyone to slander (actually in writing, it’s libel) or otherwise making statements unbefitting a disciple of the Master and a child of God.

The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses Revisited

Apostle-Paul-PreachesAt the same time, believers sometimes assume that HaShem’s Torah applies only to Jews and not to Gentile disciples at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the fact that the apostles “loosed” the Gentiles from these sign commandments, for the most part they are bound to the rest of the Torah’s mitzvot. It should be emphasized that Gentiles in Messiah have a status in the people of God and a responsibility to the Torah that far exceeds that of the God-fearer of the ancient synagogue and that of the modern-day Noachide (Son of Noah). Through Yeshua, believing Gentiles have been grafted in to the people of God and become members of the commonwealth of Israel. While membership has its privileges, it also has its obligations.

-by Toby Janicki
“The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses”
Messiah Journal
Issue 109/Winter 2012, pg 45
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

That’s how I started my previous review of Toby’s article eighteen months ago. I mentioned on Friday that I would be “re-reviewing” Toby’s write-up on non-Jewish obligation to the Torah. This is also something of a consequence of my review of Boaz Michael’s “Moses in Matthew” seminar (I didn’t attend the 2011 event, but I did listen to an audio recording on CD). Boaz very aptly presented the Bible, specifically the Gospel of Matthew, as a densely packed document that contains far more information than what a surface reading of the text would suggest.

That’s how I feel about the entire Bible including the Torah, and specifically that’s how I feel about this:

“Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”

Acts 15:24-29 (NASB)

This is generally known as the “Jerusalem Letter” which contains what we call “the Four Prohibitions:”

  1. Things Contaminated by Idols
  2. Sexual Immorality
  3. Things Strangled
  4. Blood

Seems like a pretty anemic list. I won’t go into the whole process of James and the Apostolic Council issuing the halakhic ruling regarding the admission of Gentiles in to the Jewish movement of “the Way.” I already covered that in some detail in my six-part series Return to Jerusalem. I do want to communicate why I think studying the Torah is as vital to Christians as it is to Jewish people.

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:21 (NASB)

This is probably one of the most deeply misunderstood sentences in the entire Bible, especially by those in the Hebrew/Jewish Roots movement. Even I used to believe that this single string of words provided not only permission but the commandment for Gentile believers to learn and observe the Torah of Moses in a manner identical to the Jewish people (nevermind that even observant Jews don’t always agree with each other about how to observe the mitzvot).

Actually, the sentence doesn’t directly say that Gentiles must attend synagogue and learn Torah but it’s heavily implied. Here’s Toby’s explanation for this.

At first glance it appears that the Gentiles have very few commandments to deal with, but upon closer examination each of these four prohibitions becomes, in a sense, an overarching category which contains many sub-category commandments. This may be one of the reasons the Apostle James adds the phrase about Moses being read in the Synagogue every Sabbath. The new Gentile believer would need to attend the local synagogue to learn how each of these four prohibitions plays out practically in everyday life.

-Janicki, pg 46

jews-and-gentilesActually, those Gentiles we call “God-fearers” were already attending the synagogue and were indeed learning Torah. We see an example of such a synagogue of born-Jews, righteous converts, and God-fearing Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch as recorded by Luke in Acts 13:16-52. However, as the Messianic gospel message continued to reverberate outward from Jerusalem and into the furthest corners of the diaspora, an increasing number of pagan Gentiles would hear the message and turn to the Messiah. These pagans, like the men and women we read about in Acts 14:8-18, would have no knowledge of Torah, Judaism, or ethical monotheism, and the message of the good news that makes so much sense to modern Christians (though most get only a truncated version) would likely be completely misunderstood without a basic knowledge of the teachings of Torah to provide context. New Gentile believers, having just recently been worshiping in pagan temples, would not only miss the meaning of the lessons of Jesus, but they would have no idea how to lead a Holy life or why they should even do so.

As far as the Four Prohibitions are concerned, many have suggested that these are just starting points for new Gentile believers, designed to facilitate “table fellowship” with Jews until the Gentiles learned the full extent of the mitzvot and how to become completely observant. Except that describes a Gentile on the fast track to converting to Judaism, not a God-fearer or (recently) former pagan transitioning into becoming a Gentile disciple of the Jewish Messiah.

The “unpacking” of the Four Prohibitions can be compared to the “unpacking” of what is known as the Seven Noahide Laws. These laws, as we understand them today, didn’t exist in Paul’s day (though it is debatable if some version or versions were being circulated even then) but they are derived from Genesis 9 and the covenant God made with Noah:

Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.

“Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.

“As for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.”
Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Genesis 9:3-11 (NASB)

Only seven laws were extracted from the text but again, that number is deceptively small. The link I provided above from auburn.edu/ actually extracts a longer list of laws from each individual prohibition. A total of sixty-seven laws are presented at this particular source and I’ve heard of other sources that have created even longer lists based on the so-called “seven laws.”

The website AskNoah.org is dedicated to providing information and services to modern “Noahides” who worship alongside observant Jews in Orthodox synagogues.

noah-rainbowI don’t say all this to directly compare Noahides with non-Jewish disciples of Messiah. Far from it. I only bring this up to say that, just as the Seven Noahide Laws actually make up a much longer and more complex list of mitzvot, so too, do the Four Prohibitions of Acts 15. That’s Toby’s whole point. He wrote fifteen heavily footnoted pages in a magazine format to just scratch the surface of the meaning of the Jerusalem Letter and to unpack its contents so we could understand that who we are as Christians is so much more than a four bullet point list of “Torah” directives and tons and tons of “grace.”

In January of 2012, I was caught off guard by the article and started wondering if some change in philosophy had come over FFOZ. Boaz graciously commented on my original review to say that nothing had changed in their intent.

On the contrary, from the outset (Messiah Journal 101), we made it clear that the “invitation” and non-obligatory type of language applies only to the specific sign-commandments and markers of Jewish identity: “specifically to aspects of the Torah which comprise Jewish identity: circumcision, dietary standards, festivals, calendar, Sabbath, etc.”

Toby’s article simply continues the process of fleshing out and defining the apostolic position regarding Gentiles and Torah. The only new material here involves the logical application of Acts 15 which is where we have been pointing people all along. Toby already presented some of this material in HaYesod.

A lot of this was just starting to gel after I attended FFOZ’s 2012 Shavuot Conference in Hudson, Wisconsin and it’s been steadily percolating within me for the past fifteen months or so. I realize that just as Boaz said his ministry has progressively been “fleshing out and defining the apostolic position regarding Gentiles and Torah,” this type of steady progression is what I’ve been going through as well, within my thoughts, spiritual development, and self-study.

I’m not writing this to re-review the actual content of Toby’s article, but rather how I am receiving its meaning, comparing the person I was a year-and-a-half ago to who I am now. As I said nearly two weeks ago, I’m Not Who I Was. Hopefully, none of us are. Hopefully, we are all striving to move forward, to learn, to experience, to draw nearer to God by the study of His Word.

Bible scholarship is always moving forward. Like any other type of academic endeavour, research and investigation never stops. Theologians, linguists, historians, archaeologists, and other professionals in their fields continually produce new insights into our understanding of God’s Word and how it is to be applied in our lives. As believers, we have a responsibility to also continue to study, to learn, to strive for a more refined understanding of the available information as guided by the Holy Spirit.

Luke only gives us a summary of the Acts of the Apostles, so while the Bible may be sufficient, that doesn’t mean it’s exquisitely complete. We can’t simply read Acts 15 once and say we understand it. We can’t read our favorite interpretation of the meaning of Acts 15 a month ago, a year ago, or a decade ago, and say we are sticking with that understanding, ignoring newer information that might modify our comprehension in important ways. The original text is unchanging, but how we read and understand it isn’t.

Who am IWho are we in Christ? What was the original intent and impact of the letter sent out to the believing Gentiles by James and the Council of the Apostles? How does that affect our lives as Christians today? What is a Gentile believer’s obligation to Torah? What does “Torah” even mean in our modern lives?

I can’t definitively answer all of those questions for you, but if you start by downloading and reading Toby’s article and continuing to unpack and unfold the text and your understanding of it, I’m hoping and praying you’ll find out. I pray we all discover who we really are in the pages of God’s Word and then live out the lives God intends for us.