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Why Do All These Gentiles Want To Go To Synagogue?

Lately, I’ve been making a few comparisons between that group of people referred to as Messianic Gentiles or who I sometimes call Talmidei Yeshua and non-Jews called Noahides, a group that Orthodox Judaism believes to be “righteous Gentiles” based on their adherence to the Seven Laws of Noah (see Genesis 9 for the original source material).

I got an email notification recently from a blog called Cozy Kitchen Chats stating that they had “reblogged” Where Are All The Gentiles Who Are Drawn To The Torah. I always feel honored when another blogger feels my content is worthy of posting on their blogspot, so I went to take a look…

…only to find that not only did the reblog not exist, but that it pointed to a different blog altogether: The Torah Way.

Now I was really curious, but the blog’s About page and the associated profile yielded no useful information.

I did find one blog post that seemed illuminating: Leaving Christianity. My guess is that this blog author reblogged my content without having read it thoroughly and thought it was a pro-Noahide commentary. Once he/she discovered more about me, he/she deleted it and moved on.

This person’s “story” seems similar to the other formerly-Christian Noahides I’ve referenced in other blog posts. They read the Bible, compare it to traditional Christian doctrine, and find a massive disconnect between the promises Hashem made to Israel in the Tanakh (Torah, Nevi’im [Prophets], Ketuvim [Writings]) or what Christians call the “Old Testament,” and what seems to be presented in the Apostolic Scriptures (“New Testament”).

As I’ve said before, people like me attribute the disconnect to a horribly inaccurate interpretation of the Apostolic Scriptures originally crafted by the early “Church Fathers” (and later, expanded upon by other Christian movements including the Reformation) in order to totally remove anything Messianic and Jewish about Rav Yeshua (Jesus) from devotion to him, creating a completely new Gentile-driven religion called “Christianity”.

Noahides, on the other hand, believe that the disconnect is because there is absolutely no validity in any of the content of the “New Testament,” no validity to the belief that Yeshua will return as King Messiah, and that non-Jews have no access to the blessings of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36) whatsoever (which is easy to understand since only the House of Judah and the House of Israel are named participants in the covenant).

leaving churchFrom that point of view, the only “in” for non-Jews with Hashem is through the Noahide Covenant (which is actually made with all living things, not just all human beings).

The unknown author’s blog post begins:

Leaving Christianity was extremely easy, yet most difficult at the same time. It was easy when I would weigh everything upon the Word of My Creator as I used Deuteronomy Chapter 13 as a balance in the scale of TRUTH. Difficult only in losing the community and camaraderie Christianity brings.

As I studied what is properly known as the Torah, (that which is called in vulgarity the “old” Testament). I fell in deep love and fascination with the God of Creation, the God of Sinai, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

There are a number of things here that parallel the history and attitudes of the “Judaicly-aware” folks of which I am one.

The non-Jewish Christian reads the Torah and discovers TRUTH that is not taught in the Church, and in fact, a truth that seems in direct contradiction to what is taught in the Church.

The non-Jewish Christian experiences an attitude of “vulgarity” or some other negative attribution toward the Torah expressed in the Church.

The non-Jewish Christian “falls in love” with the beauty of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings that is unique and precious.

The non-Jewish Christian feels driven to leave the Church and find a “home” elsewhere; some community of Gentiles who can live by more Torah-driven values, at least as much as portions of Torah apply to non-Jews.

However…

This is a lonely place to be, not a believer in Christianity, and not a “Jew” by any known bloodline. What does a believer, devotee and seeker of the God of Israel become? We don’t believe the Seed of Jacob will be replaced with another people, We don’t believe that God’s beautifully designed Laws and Standards are done away with, nor do we believe we are to pretend to be Jewish, yet to quote Rabbi David Katz, we long to be “Jew-ISH.”

This is very close to what New Testament scholar Mark D. Nanos refers to as Acting Jewishly But Not Jewish.

Nanos attributed this quality to the First Century C.E. non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua, particularly those who were taught by Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul).

Glasses on Open BibleIt’s funny how, no matter to what degree our individual conclusions differ from one another, when we discover this discrepancy between Christian doctrine and the actual Biblical text, we pour mind, body, and soul into study to discover the “truth,” trusting only in the Spirit of God to lead us to that “truth.”

Therefore, when I would try to calibrate the teaching of Paul to this Master Being’s Commands, Decrees and Standards it was clear to see to whom my loyalty would reside and to Whom I would choose to entrust my very soul. I applied myself to deep study of the Actual Scripture, turning off Television, Cable and Facebook, unplugging from everything and asked from a sincere heart for this God, this Creator to open my eyes to His Truth, no one else’s, to not allow me to go astray, or be misled. I put my faith in Him alone and held strong to the words of Solomon, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.”

But although the process of “leaving Christianity” for a Talmid Yeshua and a Noahide may have some similarities, the results are quite different.

I have to remind myself that one Jewish person taught me that Noahides, along with national Israel and we non-Jews in Messiah, may all have some status before Hashem. After all, Isaiah 56 doesn’t map out exactly how a “foreigner” is to attach himself (or herself) to the Lord (Isaiah 56:3, 6-8).

I admit, this area of thinking is more than a little fuzzy, but I learned some time ago, that the Bible operates at a large number and wide variety of levels, and some of the information encoded within is very tough to reach. I’m convinced that there is data in the Bible that, once our Rav returns and interprets it for us, we will be amazed that we missed it so completely.

But back to the musings of this anonymous Noahide:

I found Laws, Commands and Standards that seem so perfect, so regal, so wise that I envy these special children, these special People that have been chosen to follow them. Yes, I envy these standards. Saddened to think I wasn’t chosen or found special enough to be asked to live by such self-discipline and refined practices.

reading torahAnother strong parallel. A Gentile who longs to observe the mitzvot in the manner of a Jew and who realizes that the mitzvot, for the most part, don’t apply to us (though some non-Jews in the Hebrew Roots movement will strongly disagree).

But to continue quoting:

We, as a small family realized, we are not Jewish, we are not to replace the amazing Jewish People. We do believe that Their God is the ONLY GOD, We believe that His Ways are Rich, Rewarding and Righteous. Even though we as gentiles are not commanded to follow His Laws given to the Children of Jacob, we can clearly see the blessings, health and provision that almost immediately follow implementing them brings.

This is pretty much identical to the thoughts and feelings of a lot of non-Jews who, in some manner or fashion, have become associated with Messianic Judaism.

But this final quote is unique to those non-Jews who feel in order to leave normative Christianity, either for the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots movements or into Noahidism, have to denigrate their former association with the Church:

We have found that seeking His Kingdom, His Will, His Truth, His Words have elevated us way beyond the falsehood Christianity (AKA Baal worship or idolatry).

Yikes. I suppose this person has disconnected not only from Christianity, but from those people in his/her former church who really did live a life of holiness, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and paying homage to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Sometimes going through a “divorce” is painful and that pain can turn into a terrible anger.

This writer says to the blog’s audience, “…you are NOT alone. I will soon post information on resources that are available.”

I’ve taken a look at this blog and there are only two subsequent write-ups present (as of this writing), neither offering further resources for the Noahide or potential Noahide.

This blog writer is correct in saying that the journey of a non-Jew circling the peripheral boundary of Judaism is lonely. We don’t quite fit into anyone’s definition of anything. We do what we do because only the centrality of Israel in God’s overarching plan of redemption makes any sort of sense once taking a holistic view of the Bible.

This is what has resulted in me giving up the identity crisis and concentrating on the core values of what defines a person of God. I don’t have to be concerned about how to enter community, Jewish or otherwise, if my primary connection to my faith is through Hashem.

Man aloneBut as I mentioned here, even Noahides are sometimes (often?) turned away from Orthodox synagogues and Chabad Houses when they show up wanting to learn Torah.

The difficulty of non-Jews gaining access to Jewish teaching, wisdom, and knowledge goes all the way back to Shaul’s/Paul’s Gentile communities in the diaspora. No one in Judaism, regardless of the “flavor,” knows what to do with us, largely because we don’t fit into  any “Jewish-friendly” template within Jewish community.

Well, that’s not entirely true:

Carolyn is Baptist. She always will be. And she comes to my synagogue regularly.

By regularly, I mean she comes to everything. Friday night services, Saturday morning Torah study, holiday celebrations, Adult Ed. Everything. Although she brings her Bible and her faith in Jesus along with her to every synagogue function, she doesn’t come to evangelize. And she’s not interested in converting to Judaism. She’s just interested in what Judaism has to offer.

-Rabbi Rachael Bergman
“Who are the Jewcurious?”
MyJewishLearning.com

This Jewish website is very liberal and so is Rabbi Bergman. I’ve mentioned her before, and she seems incredibly open to non-Jews and even Christians associating with her synagogue, probably because more Gentiles than Jews are attending the classes she teaches:

In my small, coastal Georgia community, 90 percent of the participants in the classes I teach are non-Jewish, whether it is a class in Hebrew, Kabbalah, or Judaism 101. Last fall I taught a class on Israel and had just over 100 attendees every week for six weeks. I took a survey of the 90 or so non-Jewish participants. Each person identified with a particular Christian faith group so there were no “nones.” The majority are currently affiliated with a church which means very few “nons.” This tells me it’s not only unaffiliated seekers who are Jewcurious, it is also the church-going, faithful filling the pews.

synagogueIt seems that there are a lot of non-Jews interested and even fascinated with Judaism. These aren’t just Noahides or people like me, but Christians who have no intention of leaving their churches. Some of the Christians, such as the aforementioned “Carolyn,” attend synagogue on Shabbat and church on Sunday, and in fact, she attends every function the synagogue offers.

Other non-Jews like Carolyn come to synagogue regularly. Some are looking to be closer to Jesus, some come to enhance their understanding and connection to their own faith, and some just come to understand themselves. Something about Judaism provides an access point to spirituality and meaning. Regardless, Carolyn and her cohort take what Judaism has to offer on Friday night and Saturday morning to one of the many churches down the street on Sunday.

A lot of non-Jews are interested in Judaism and believe that in some way, Jewish teaching is meaningful to them, even though they have no intention of actually converting to Judaism.

I don’t know what it means. Maybe this has always been a trend but isn’t often noticed, or maybe (and I think I’ve said this before) God is preparing His remnant from among the nations for Moshiach’s return and the unfolding of his Kingdom here in our world. Maybe it’s important for representatives of the nations, including those who are church-attending Christians, to begin to understand that King Messiah and Israel will be ruling the nations of the earth, not the Church.

The day is coming. We must be ready…no matter who we are.

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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.

Acting Jewishly But Not Jewish, Part 2

First things first. Mark Nanos graciously contacted me to let me know I didn’t quite grasp everything he was saying in his paper ‘Paul’s Non-Jews Do Not Become “Jews,” But Do They Become “Jewish”?: Reading Romans 2:25-29 Within Judaism, Alongside Josephus,’ which I highlighted in Part 1 of this two-part series.

Two clarifications:

  1. While many do hold that the Jews were expelled from Rome in mass or entirely, in the appendix to The Mystery of Romans Nanos explains why that is almost certainly mistaken historically, and not helpful for explaining Romans.
  2. More importantly, Nanos does not argue that Paul was actually criticizing Jews in Rome for being hypocritical; rather, he was using the ideal of Jews not being hypocritical as the backdrop for developing a diatribal character, not a real one or even a real accusation as if it is happening, but what it would be like and how obviously hypocritical if so, that one who would call himself a Jew would seek to teach non-Jews Torah if not also committed to keeping Torah, or to get circumcised if not living as one who is circumcised is, dedicated in heart to doing what one separated to God should do regardless of whatever anyone else does or thinks about him and what he does or does not do. That hypothetical character is used to challenge any incipient pride or temptation to judge or behave hypocritically among the non-Jews he addresses directly by way of this diatribal fiction.

I appreciate Dr. Nanos bringing this to my attention and correcting my misreading of his paper where I thought he was saying that Paul was criticizing the Jews in Rome for hypocrisy (and it should be obvious that I’m leveraging Nanos’s words in the numbered list above).

To quote Lt. Cmdr Data, “It is clear that I have much to learn.”

In reporting my impressions on Nanos’ paper last time, I deliberately left out some significant portions for the sake of space. I’m including them here for further discussion.

There are many striking elements in Josephus’s account about Izates, the king of the Parthian client territory of Adiabene, and his mother, Helena, who were not born Jews and ruled a non-Jewish/non-Judean people (Ant. 20.17-96). The events overlap with Paul’s ministry in the 40s and 50s CE (20.15-17), and include interesting parallels to elements of Paul’s approach to and instructions for non-Jews in the Roman Empire. Several scenes warrant discussion.

-Nanos, p. 13

Nanos relates the story of Izates who prior to being crowned King, was sent to Charax Spasini for his own protection. There, Izates encountered the Jewish merchant Ananias. Ananias had been teaching Jewish traditions and customs to several women in the royal family and Izates also became his student.

Or to quote Nanos:

…who taught several women of the royal family with whom Izates was staying to “worship God [the Deity] according to the Jewish ancestral traditions…” (20.34).

-ibid, p. 14

HelenaIt is doubtful there was a Jewish community or synagogue present in Adiabene and questionable if Izates and the “women of the royal family” were undergoing this training as part of the proselyte rite (at least at this point in the process), nevertheless, we have several Gentiles being taught to worship the God of Israel “according to the Jewish ancestral traditions.” This at least suggests that said-Gentiles were A) worshiping the God of Israel, and B) doing so “jewishly,” that is, employing Jewish traditions and methods in worshiping Hashem.

While it’s tempting to think that the Ananias in question is the same person who the Master sent to Paul to relieve him of his blindness (Acts 9:9-19) and thus believe that Izates and the “royal women” were being taught Judaism within the Messianic faith, there’s no evidence to support such a theory (see First Fruits of Zion’s Torah Club volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles for a further discussion of Izates and Ananias in light of Acts 9).

By an amazing “coincidence,” when Izates returned home to assume the throne after the death of his father, he discovered in his absence, his mother had also been studying Judaism.

…he learned his mother had simultaneously begun to observe certain Jewish customs under the direction of a different Jew, who remains unnamed (20.35-38). Izates is described as becoming aware of Helena’s “rejoicing in the Jews’ customs,” (20.38), referred to also as “their laws/conventions” (20.35).

-ibid

It was at this point that Izates decided to extend his Jewish studies and undergo the proselyte rite, converting to Judaism. Here’s where it gets interesting.

It remains unclear whether Izates supposed heretofore that he had become a Jew, or if he was simply unaware of the distinction between adopting (some) Jewish behavior, most likely adding such behavior to the rest of the customs and cult practices of his people as well as those of the people among whom he was residing, and becoming a Jew. Since the matter of circumcision with its signification of identity transformation does not pertain to Helena, it is also unclear if she is still a non-Jew or is recognized to have become a Jew.

-ibid, p. 15

The Jewish PaulFrom Paul’s point of view relative to his teaching Jewish practices to Gentiles within the context of Messiah worship, the distinction between Jew and non-Jew in Messiah was clearer, at least to him. But from an outside observer’s perspective, would Paul’s disciples have been seen acting any differently than Izates and Helena? How closely can the two cases be compared, particularly when we realize that nothing called “Christianity” existed in those days as a stand-alone religious entity? Paul’s disciples and Izates and Helena as disciples of other Jewish teachers may have had a great deal in common in acting “jewishly” but not being Jewish (maybe).

Ananias strongly discouraged Izates from converting because of how he thought his non-Jewish royal subjects would react to being ruled by a Jew. But while both Ananias and Helena opposed Izates’ conversion, they “did not, however, oppose him observing certain Jewish beliefs and behavior!”

Tweaking that last statement just slightly, could I call Izates a (somewhat) Torah-observant non-Jew? Nanos asks a similar question:

…it is worth pausing to ask whether Helena and Izates at this point represent jewish non-Jews? They are behaving jewishly, and their jewishness is observably different from that of other nobles and their subjects…

Much of the Apostolic Scriptures record the struggle Paul had in integrating Gentile Jesus-believers into Jewish religious and community space as co-equal participants with the Jewish occupants, particularly in defining how unconverted Gentiles could still receive the covenant blessings that were promised by God to Israel alone. And yet in Paul’s conceptualization, he seemingly had a clear vision of who the Gentiles in Christ were relative to Jews in Messiah (and the wider body of Jewish people).

But in the persons of Helena and particularly Izates, we have a greater degree of ambiguity. Was Izates what we would call a God-fearing Gentile, was he a proselyte, or was he something in-between? He was certainly a Gentile (up to the point when he finally converted) who was practicing at least some aspects of Judaism. How far was he allowed to go?

If Paul’s Gentile disciples had a less ambiguous status in terms of Jewish practices and Judaism than Izates, how do we answer the same questions on their behalf? Can we, as Nanos asks regarding Izates and Helena (p. 17), consider them “jewish” Non-Jews who were gathering in Jewish assemblies or synagogues?

I’ve avoided asking the obvious question so far, but how does any of this apply to Gentile Christianity today, particularly to those of us who call ourselves Messianic Gentiles? Twenty centuries ago or close to it, we have a record of many non-Jewish people co-mingling with Jews within Jewish assemblies and communities and being treated as near-equals or equals in social and even covenant standing. The Gentiles were largely, and some probably fully entrenched in Jewish cultural practices. What does that say about Gentiles interacting and worshiping with Jewish Jesus-believers (Messianic Jews) in Jewish community space today?

Goyish is not bad. Goyish is good. It may not be good for Jews, but if you’re a Gentile—goy is good! It is what God made you. ENJOY!!! And realize that salvation has come to the Gentiles as Gentiles. You don’t have to discover your Jewish roots. You should not abandon or disparage the churches from which you came or where you still live, and move, and have your being. You should enrich them through engagement with the Bible, through discovering and expressing your spiritual gifts, and through your whole-hearted participation, but please please please: Don’t despise your roots or imagine that you have to abandon them to find God. God has come to find you and your people just as you are and where you are.

-Dr. Rabbi Stuart Dauermann
“The Problem With Hebrew Roots, or, It’s Good to be a Goy”
Interfaithfulness.org

Up to JerusalemThis might almost be seen as the same view from the opposite end of the telescope. It’s an expression (if I’m reading this right) of how the Gentile Jesus-believers do not have to adopt Jewish cultural traits and practices in order to be faithful Jesus-believers and benefit from the Jewish covenant blessings of salvation, justification, and the resurrection to come.

In Paul’s day, there was no template for integrating faith in the Jewish Messiah within the various Gentile cultures, so it was probably easier to bring the Gentiles into Jewish culture. Paul probably wouldn’t have known how to teach about Messiah and the God of Israel in any other way. But two-thousand years later, Christianity has a rich (and sometimes dark) history and culture of its own. Each church could be said to be its own cultural milieu with its traditions and mores and very little if any of it looks at all Jewish.

Some Gentile believers feel kind of ripped off by the Church, especially when they learn to read the Bible, and particularly the Apostolic Scriptures, as God encountering man within Jewish culture and community. It seems inviting to witness the first Gentile believers being taught by Paul and Barnabas at the “Synagogue of the Way” in Syrian Antioch (see Acts 11).

But can or should a Gentile’s faith in the Jewish Messiah be expressed within a Jewish community and cultural context today? From the above-quoted blog post of R. Dauermann, in answer to a comment, he replies:

Yes, right Chris, learning about the Jewish/Hebrew roots of what CHristians believe is instructive and helpful, but not when a Gentile is erroneously steered in the direction of seeking to establish their *own* alleged Jewish roots as a passport to greater spiritual authenticity. As I said above, “It is true that Christianity at its inception had Jewish roots, but this is not Not NOT and never to be understood as recommending that Christians think they have Jewish roots or that they need to find those roots in order to legitimize themselves and their faith.”

From my point of view, I think there are circumstances when Gentile believers can and even should appropriately express their faith within a Jewish cultural context. In fact, at least in the United States, most authentically Messianic Jewish synagogues contain a significant if not majority population of Gentiles in their membership. Like Izates, there will always be Gentiles who are inexorably drawn to Judaism for whatever reason and they will find their way into Jewish community. Further, there are numerous intermarried couples who would benefit from the Jewish spouse participating in Messianic Jewish community along with the Gentile spouse. This is particularly important if they have Jewish children who need to learn and preserve what it is to be Jewish and to be Messianic.

But I was thinking in church last Sunday about Christians (which I suppose isn’t surprising). What do we do about them?

The first thing to consider is that most Christians are more than overjoyed to be in their churches and couldn’t imagine any other venue for their worship of and devotion to Jesus Christ. From their viewpoint, they neither want nor need to engage Jesus within a Jewish cultural context and doing so would just make them feel uncomfortable if not downright alienated.

But that’s not to say that the Church is perfect nor that they cannot learn from what Messianic Jews and Gentiles teach. I was talking to a young fellow after Sunday school class the other day about Jewish traditions and the benefits they possess. We talked about the set times of prayer and the abundance of blessings a Jew recites on various occasions. I also told him that a Christian does not specifically have to adopt Jewish practices in order to gain the benefits of the values that lie behind the traditions.

ShabbatOn Erev Shabbat for example, it is traditional for Jewish parents to bless their children in a specifically proscribed manner. I told my young friend that he and his wife could also chose to bless their children, but they didn’t have to do it “jewishly”. The values behind Jewish traditions and culture provide context, identity, and meaning to Jewish families, and I think Christians can and sometimes do employ similar practices for the same reasons and can get similar results.

Two-thousand years of history have separated most Christians from even the idea that we could act “jewishly” and for most Christians, it would drive them crazy even to consider the possibility. But if someone like me, who has a few “jewish” ideas to relate to my Christian counterparts, can communicate those concepts in the Church, maybe it will build a bridge between the two worlds.

For those Christians who are drawn to a more “jewish” lifestyle, many of them either come from family and culture that melds into behaving more “jewishly” or they learn to do so through marriage or some other process.

The main takeaway for me is that it’s not a “have to,” that is, I don’t feel compelled by God that I must live “jewishly” and that it’s a sin not to. It may well have been acceptable for Izates and Helena to live “jewishly” and never to convert to Judaism, at least in a formalized manner. Certainly Paul’s Gentile disciples lived “jewishly” probably by default, since there was no other cultural pattern one could employ for a Gentile to live as a disciple of a Jewish teacher.

But that was then, and this is now. While some Gentiles elect to live “jewishly” as an expression of their faith, it doesn’t seem absolutely necessary, at least in the current age. I’ve seen some Christians in the Church observe more of the weightier matters of Torah than I have some Hebrew Roots Gentiles in One Law gatherings.

It isn’t the cultural or religious context that makes the person of faith, it’s the heart. One circumcised heart is worth ten-thousand kippot and tallitot wearing people with uncircumcised hearts (not that you can’t be a kippah and tallit wearing Gentile with a circumcised heart, of course).

To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:33 (NASB)

A friend of mine said it best: Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism. Seek an encounter with God.