It is imperative that every Jew know that he is an emissary of the Master of all, charged with the mission – wherever he may be of bringing into reality G‑d’s will and intention in creating the universe, namely, to illuminate the world with the light of Torah and avoda. This is done through performing practical mitzvot and implanting in oneself fine character traits.
Hayom Yom: 7 Adar I
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; free translation by Yitschak Meir Kagan
According to the great medieval Jewish philosopher and legal authority Moses Maimonides, teaching non-Jews to follow the Noahide laws is incumbent on all Jews, a commandment in and of itself. However, most rabbinic authorities rejected Maimonides’ view, and the dominant halakhic (Jewish law) attitude had been that Jews are not required to spread Noahide teachings to non-Jews.
“The Modern Noahide Movement”
by Michael Kress
This blog post was born out of my reading of another “My Jewish Learning” article called The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking to Converts written by Aliza Hausman. I started thinking that if there are “guidelines” for born Jews relating to “Jews by choice,” maybe there are also “guidelines” for Jews relating to Noahides (how that relates to my primary audience will become apparent, so keep reading).
The only reason I’m pursuing this is that there could be some application to the body of (Messianic) Jews relating to (Messianic) Gentiles within their midst.
I put “Messianic” in brackets in the paragraph above because I think the matter has more to do with Jewish and Gentile relationships in general than the peculiarities of that relationship within a Messianic context.
But before I get to that, I want to quote from the Hausman article. Oh, but before even that…
Aliza Hausman is a Latina Orthodox Jewish convert, freelance writer, blogger and educator. Currently working on a memoir, she lives in New York with her husband.
Now to the quote:
There are things I still can’t believe people have said to me. Fresh out of the mikvah, I heard, “But you’re not really Jewish. I mean I’m still more Jewish than you, right?” Oy vey. In the end, all converts want to be accepted as good Jews. We want to fit in. Possibly the reason Jewish tradition goes out of its way to tell you to be kind to us is that there are so many ways you can make us feel left out.
If a non-Jew converts to Judaism, one mechanism to helping them “fit in” is for them to follow Jewish halachah, just like the other Jews in their community. But for Gentiles in Jewish community, it isn’t that simple…
…or is it?
Meet Jim Long. A documentary filmmaker with striking blue eyes, Long recites blessings in Hebrew before eating, peppers his conversation with Hebrew phrases–a “b’ezrat Hashem” (with God’s help) here, a “baruch Hashem” (praise God) there–and keeps a household that is, to the untrained eye, traditionally Orthodox. Only Long is not actually Jewish, nor does he have any plans to convert.
Oh, there’s more:
To Noahides, these seven laws are but a starting point, the foundation on which they’ve built a lifestyle of obligations and voluntary observances. The result is a life every bit as rigorous and all-encompassing as Orthodox Judaism, which guides and structures all aspects of their existence. While others drawn so intensely to Judaism would likely convert, these non-Jews have chosen to remain outside the fold, believing that life as a Noahide is an end in itself, a way to be partners–if not quite equals to the Chosen People–in the divine plan for the world.
Did you catch the key phrase? Let me quote it again.
…these seven laws are but a starting point, the foundation on which they’ve built a lifestyle of obligations and voluntary observances. The result is a life every bit as rigorous and all-encompassing as Orthodox Judaism, which guides and structures all aspects of their existence.
That sounds like it’s saying that it can be acceptable within Jewish community for Noahides to go above and beyond the seven Noahide laws and voluntarily add various observances to their day-to-day existence, resulting in “a life every bit as rigorous and all-encompassing as Orthodox Judaism.”
That’s saying quite a bit, and I don’t think a lot of Jews within Messianic Judaism would feel comfortable if their non-Jewish counterparts started living a life “as rigorous and all-encompassing as” an Orthodox Jew.
Kress echoes other articles I’ve referenced saying that many or most Noahides come from Christianity. He also mentioned that the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, believed it was incumbent upon every Jew to spread the word about the seven Noahide laws or “Sheva Mitzvot” to the non-Jewish world. He thought what would hasten the coming of Messiah was having both Jews and non-Jews doing God’s will.
He may have been alone in that thought as it remains controversial and, to the best of my knowledge, most branches of Judaism adhere to the halachah that Jews have no such obligation to non-Jews.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped the small but growing population of Noahides, but there is one glaring problem:
Despite the passion of committed Noahides, embracing seven laws of basic morality does not a lifestyle make. In some key ways, the Noahide movement is defined more by what it’s not than what it is: Not Jewish, not Christian, without a central organization, and with no clear consensus even on what the faith entails. Even the laws themselves–six out of the seven–are prohibitions. There’s little or no active spiritual life, no prescribed ritual and liturgical life for Noahides. There is, to borrow a phrase, “no there there.”
For many committed Noahides, that’s the biggest challenge the movement faces. Once they’ve given up their prior religious lives, immersed themselves in Jewish learning, perhaps even succeeded in hooking up with a local Jewish community, many Noahides speak of a lingering hole, the lack of an active and defined spiritual and ritual life.
This is exactly my point.
This is exactly the point for any “Messianic Gentile” or “Talmid Yeshua”. Like the Noahide, we do not have a lifestyle that is inherent to our faith. Like the Noahide, we’re not Jewish but we also aren’t traditionally Christian either, though we retain our devotion to Rav Yeshua (Jesus).
Like the Noahide, we have “little or no active spiritual life, no prescribed ritual and liturgical life,” unless we borrow it from Jewish praxis, but that comes with a lot of trap doors.
This is probably why so many in the Hebrew Roots movement are adamant that they are “obligated” to the 613 mitzvot of the Jewish people. They desperately want something that defines them relative to their faith, and they see those of us who believe the “one Law fits all” view is Biblically unsustainable as at least being in error if not actually hostile to the Torah.
I don’t think this is a new problem. In the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle, one or more of the articles it contains stated that the late First Century CE non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua likely suffered from a similar lack of definition.
If that’s correct, then one of the possible motivations for later groups of these ancient non-Jewish Yeshua disciples to split from the Yeshua-believing Jewish movement and manufacture the brand new Gentile-driven religion of Christianity, was the strong desire to be defined by their faith. They had no place in Judaism, so they created a place in a different religion.
Unfortunately, this was maladaptive and ended up being a total disaster as far as Jewish/Gentile relations are concerned. Worse, the Gentiles kicked the Jews out of their own party, so to speak, by radically redefining the Jewish Messiah as the Gentile Christian Savior, and astonishingly requiring Jews to stop being Jewish in order to become devotees of their own King.
Returning to the present, how do modern Noahides solve this dilemma? I quoted part of the answer above.
To fill the void–to transform this notion of Noahide law from a formless set of vague moral guidelines to a spiritually fulfilling lifestyle–Noahides have taken on themselves a host of what are known as “positive commandments,” the rituals and religious activities that infuse traditional Jews’ lives with structure, meaning, and spiritual foundation. These are not an inherent part of the Seven Mitzvot, but rather are voluntary observances to give their lives added spiritual meaning.
As a result, a committed Noahide lives a life of intense study of Jewish texts, not only on the Seven Laws themselves but also on all other aspects of a Jewish lifestyle, to discern which rituals a non-Jew may and may not perform. Theirs also is a life of prayer, which usually includes reading Psalms, composing original prayers, and reciting traditional Jewish liturgy, altered to remove or adapt all mentions of commandedness and chosenness, to make clear that it is only Jews, and not the Noahides, to whom those concepts apply.
They do just what has been suggested. They borrow from Jewish praxis, adapting ritual and custom for their own needs. There are two basic differences involved however. The first is that the practice is adapted from Jewish praxis rather than mirroring it identically. The second is the acknowledgment that said-observance is voluntary rather than obligatory.
Some hang a mezuzah on their doors, others don’t feel it’s appropriate. Ditto with tzitzit, the fringed undergarment worn by traditionally observant men. Shabbat looms large in the life of any traditional Jew, but all Noahides agree that they should not observe the Sabbath in the same strict way as Jews.
Since “observance” is voluntary, it makes sense that there would be variability of practice from one Noahide family to the next. Some might “keep” a form of Shabbos while others don’t. The same thing for mezuzah.
I was more than surprised to find a mention of tzitzit since I was unaware that any Noahide would elect to don a tallit katan.
I can see why some groups of Messianic Gentiles draw a comparison between themselves and Noahides. Not only are our struggles remarkably similar, but Noahides seem to have a leg up on how to successfully address said-struggles:
Many people are working to give structure and clarity to Noahide life. In other words, to give the movement its “there.” Chabad and other rabbis, together with Noahides, are creating a Noahide siddur (prayer book) to standardize prayers, and a liturgy of lifecycle rituals, such as funerals and baby-naming ceremonies. Also in the works is a Noahide Shulhan Arukh, a comprehensive book of law pertaining to non-Jews, which will spell out specifically how Noahides should live, which mitzvot are acceptable for them, and which aren’t. There are also numerous Noahide organizations popping up, aimed at uniting Noahides, providing support, and spreading their teachings.
I couldn’t help but notice that one such project to develop a Noahide Shulchan Aruch didn’t do so well. Perhaps Chabad will be more successful.
We Messianic Gentiles, Talmidei Yeshua, or whatever you want to call us, could probably use the same siddurim and other supportive materials utilized by Noahides, with some adaptation to include our faith in Rav Yeshua who will return as King Messiah, but there’s something missing. I’ll pull it out of the paragraph I just quoted above:
There are also numerous Noahide organizations popping up, aimed at uniting Noahides, providing support, and spreading their teachings.
For Messianic Gentiles, not so much. They/we are too fragmented, our theology, doctrine, and praxis are too variable. Unlike Noahides who, at least in an ideal sense, have Chabad as a Jewish authority upon which to depend, Messianic Gentiles have no central Jewish organization that can help to unite us under a single standard collection of resources.
I suppose this could be a good reason why some Messianic Gentiles leave their faith and either join the ranks of Noahides or convert to Judaism.
Frankly, although people are free to make their own decisions, I don’t think either option is advisable and certainly not necessary. Neither is co-opting the Torah for Gentile use without so much as a by your leave to the Jewish people.
…the Jewish vision for the idealized, messianic future does not call for a world full of Jewish converts…
There are numerous mentions in both the Tanakh and Apostolic Scriptures saying the Messianic future will contain both Israel, that is, the Jewish people within their nation, and the people of the nations of the world, that is, the rest of us.
For prophesy to be fulfilled, there has to be “the rest of us,” there has to be a body of non-Jews who worship Hashem, the God of Israel, and who are devoted to Rav Yeshua as the coming King.
It’s incredibly easy for non-Jews to get lost in the world of Judaism and mistake it for the focus of our faith. I periodically quote my friend Tom who said, Don’t seek Christianity and Don’t seek Judaism, but rather, seek an encounter with the living God.” Although ritual and custom help to define our lifestyle as Talmidei Yeshua, they are just the means by which we practice our faith, they are not the target. God is.
But like converts to Judaism and like Noahides, we just want to fit in and be accepted by our “parent” Jewish community (those of you who have one). However, the way to do that isn’t clearly understood, either by Jews or non-Jews in Messiah-faith. That means there is no one defined reality for our lived experience, at least in the realm of ritual and tradition.
But it’s nice to know we’re not alone.