Tag Archives: messianic gentile

On Not Counting the Omer

omer symbol

I keep forgetting about Shavuot. I haven’t been counting the Omer, although in the past, I’ve made a case for non-Jewish Christians doing so.

My lack of “observance” isn’t Messianic Judaism’s fault, it’s mine.

Some time ago, someone in the MJ movement reached out to me privately asking for my participation in something. I asked a few follow-up questions, but as time passed, I never responded.

This pretty much says that if I feel any form of disconnection with my chosen religious framework, it’s because of me.

I suppose I could say “once burned, twice shy,” but that’s not true either. I’m an adult, so I don’t have to let a few bad experiences color my judgment. I’ve had a lot of other good experiences.

Truth be told, I don’t live the sort of life that lends itself to “Messianic community.”

Well, that’s only sort of true. The real truth is that I’ve reached an equilibrium point; a place of balance.

Even more to the point, I wonder how much I have left to say on the topic?

Once upon a time, I believe some people considered me to be the “Messianic Gentile” who asked the questions most other MGs were only thinking. However, maybe there are just so many of those questions lying around, and now all that’s left is to rehash and rehash the same themes, just like how Hollywood keeps remaking the same old tired TV shows and movies.

I know there is a Messianic future where all disciples of Rav Yeshua will be engaged and we will have a direction in which to follow. Then, like now, we will have a choice to make as to how involved we want to be.

Most people, without a lot of discipline and motivation, tend to settle for “lukewarm.” The Bible doesn’t say very good things about being lukewarm.

I can read the Bible and study various tomes, but that doesn’t make me an expert on anything except being me. I have no astute or elegantly intelligent opinions to offer. I occasionally find the insights of certain scholars to be enlightening, but you can read them for yourselves. You don’t need me.

Blogging, and especially religious blogging, is about community. If no one reads your stuff, you are alone. People have read my stuff here, which has been pretty terrific for the most part. However, in my opinion, the most interesting articles I’ve authored have been about community (or the lack thereof), because in the end, we may need God the most, but we need each other, too. That’s why worship is corporate and not just one guy or one gal sitting alone in a room with a Bible.

I’ve noticed a severe drop off in participation from both supporters and detractors over the long months. Part of that is because I had to restrict some people from making comments due to the level of hostility that was being expressed.

However, I think also it may be because a lot of others like me are reaching the same “tipping point” relative to their involvement in “the movement.” After crossing a particular threshold, there’s just nowhere else to go, especially if you are “unevenly yoked” like I am.

It’s sometimes said that “love is a verb.” You don’t really love unless you act upon it and “do unto others.” Faith is a verb, too. It’s not something you sit around cherishing in the abstract. If you want to have a relationship with God, you have to “do” the relationship. Otherwise it dies, or worse, it continues to exist, but gets stale, like that carton of milk in the back of your fridge you’ve been ignoring.

In the end, whether it’s you or me or somebody else, if you want to be more than lukewarm, you either have to turn the heat up or off.

I suppose that’s why a lot of we MGs have historically been upset that we don’t have a ritual system as do observant Jews. Ritual and tradition are things that we do, not just contemplate.

Unlike observant Jews, Gentiles have to get up off of their rear ends and “do” something. We have no ritual unless it’s a personal one, which is fine and dandy.

When I want to stop being lukewarm, I may not end up counting the Omer or building my small, family sukkah, but I will have to do something. The same goes for the rest of humanity. God did what He was and is going to do. The rest is up to us, at least until Messiah returns.

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Renewing the Lone Messianic Gentile

I came across a brief article on Rabbi Daniel Siegel’s blog called “When the Rebbe Asks: Renewing Ger Toshav,” which apparently is the topic of a soon to be published book. Actually, I found it posted on a closed Facebook group for “Messianic Gentiles”. This is the same group that has historically drawn a parallel between the Ger Toshav (“resident alien” in Jewish community) and the Messianic Gentile. I chronicled their perspective in a number of my blog posts including Not a Noahide (which I was subsequently reminded would better have been called “More than a Noahide”).

Although I no longer fret so much over issues of identity or praxis, there was something that caught my attention:

Reb Zalman favoured the renewal of the Ger Toshav as an alternative to a full conversion where it was clear that the person did not really want to become a fully practicing Jew. He wanted to see an alternative which honoured the person’s desire to be part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length.

This was a response to a problem noted in Judaism. When a Jew is married to a non-Jew, there traditionally has been two responses. The non-Jew converts to Judaism or the Jew ignores any Rabbinic direction and most likely falls away from Jewish community and practice.

An additional problem is noted in terms of the standards for practice that Jewish community holds for the Jewish convert. Often, in the author’s opinion and referencing Reb Zalman, said-observance of the convert is more lax, certainly not up to the standard of the presiding Rabbinic court. One example of this mentioned in the article is:

Some years ago, Reb Zalman challenged what he saw as too much leniency in our conversion process, to the point where he said that if we did not put a tallit kattan on a Jew by choice as he (in this case) emerged from the mikveh, then we had done nothing.

It was suggested that at least some of the converts did not truly desire to follow all of the mitzvot and converted for the sake of their Jewish spouse.

IntermarriageSo is there an alternative?

There is.

Supporting the renewal of the Ger Toshav, a non-Jew who is already married to a Jew, who does not want to follow the mitzvot as a Jew, but who is in full support of their spouse’s involvement in Jewish community and praxis.

How does this apply to the aforementioned comparison between the Ger Toshav and the Messianic Gentile?

Well, in normative Jewish community, a Messianic Gentile would in no way be considered to map to a Ger Toshav. In fact, a union between a Jew and a Messianic Gentile would be viewed as an intermarriage between a Jew and a Christian, something not in any way seen as desirable in Jewish community.

In my own small experience in Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots groups, it is fairly common for Jews and non-Jews to be intermarried. In fact, again in my experience, the sort of Jews attracted to Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots are either secular Jews or Jews who have adopted Christian practice and identity, and yet who also have a desire to reconnect to being a Jew.

The participation for many intermarried couples in Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots then, could be seen as a sort of synthesis between Christian and Jewish values and lifestyle.

Of course, I can’t speak for every intermarried couple involved in those movements, but when I was associated with those communities, that was what I saw.

Turning to my own situation as a non-Jew married to a Jew, in my case, my spouse is affiliated with normative Jewish community, specifically the Chabad and the local combined Reform/Conservative shul. She in no way can be considered as having any sort of association with Yeshua-worshippers or Christians (which is what she considers me).

synagogueSo we come back to the definition of a Ger Toshav as a person who is part of a local Jewish community at arm’s length. Well, that’s not exactly me, since I’m not part of a Jewish community at all. In fact, I’m not currently part of any worship or faith community.

However, as quoted from the Preface of the Ger Toshav book (PDF), am I a member of this “community”?

There, almost the entire Jewish leadership was married to non-Jews whose spouses, in turn, were full contributors to the community’s life and supporters of their spouses’ involvement, yet choosing not to become Jews themselves.

Nope. That would imply that I’m involved in synagogue life with my wife and support her involvement from that platform.

However, combining “at arm’s length” with supporting my spouse’s involvement in Jewish life, I find a definition of myself, and by “arm’s length” I mean I stay away from her Jewish community completely.

This isn’t news to me. It’s just interesting to find this sort of thing recorded in modern Jewish literature.

In Messianic Judaism, you can probably find many non-Jews married to Jews who are part of Jewish community and support their spouse’s full observance of the mitzvot (keeping in mind that depending on which Messianic Jewish community you sample, the level of observance will vary).

As far as my wife’s level of observance, that’s entirely up to her. Frankly, I wish she were more observant, but as she once said to me (and rather pointedly at that), she doesn’t need my permission to be Jewish.

So I keep my nose out of her business in that arena. I also have surrendered anything that even resembles Jewish praxis since she would no doubt see it as “Evangelical Jewish Cosplay”. She even wonders why, outside the home, I still avoid bacon, shrimp, and other trief, which is just about my only remaining concession to my former lifestyle.

generic white guy
Image: Cafepress.com

I’m sure a number of my former associates would be aghast to read those words (or perhaps they wouldn’t), but in some sense they were also the prompt, or part of it anyway.

The missus is my main motivation for the decisions that I’ve made, but I’m also mindful that the Messianic Jewish community in all its forms and associations, continues to struggle with just how to implement Gentile involvement in their Jewish community, keeping in mind that at least in the western nations, most Messianic Jewish communities are made up of mostly non-Jews.

I know the ideal is to create Messianic Jewish community by Jews and for Jews, and I continue to support that ideal, but it is my belief that the dream will not be realized until Messiah returns and draws his people Israel to him.

So where does that lead us?

For those non-Jews out there who adhere to the values and practices of being involved in Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities and who are not intermarried, not a lot. I’m sure your congregation has standards of behavior and practice for the non-Jews among them, so like any member of a congregation, you adhere to those standards or find someplace else to worship.

For non-Jews married to Jews and part of the previously referenced communities, it is likely you and your spouse share the same values and beliefs, and so there is little or no dissonance between you. Only in Messianic Jewish groups with a Jewish praxis approaching Conservative or Orthodox would there be any noticeable distinction between the observance of the Jewish and non-Jewish spouse (again, this is my opinion, your mileage may vary).

For you non-Jews who have community within a Christian setting and your beliefs are not widely accepted by your peers, you have a tough road to travel. I tried that for two years and ultimately got nowhere, though I learned a lot along the way.

If you are married to a more traditionally Christian partner, then what you experience may be similar to my own marital situation. You may share the vast majority of your lives with each other but there will always be a line neither of you may cross. The most important part of you becomes isolated from your marriage.

risk
Image: mirror.co.uk

It’s a very dicey place to live. I know. I live there.

With neither support at home or community, you depend on the Holy Spirit alone to get to through each day while maintaining a relationship with God. If you’re married to a normative Christian, renouncing a Messianic perspective and taking up the mantle of traditional Christianity becomes the temptation.

For folks like me, it’s renouncing Yeshua entirely. Even if I did that, I doubt the missus would accept my adopting the Ger Toshav identity, so I’d still be alone in belief or disbelief as the case may be.

Assuming Hashem has control of all things, I wonder why He would sanction this perpetual walk along a sheer cliff. Or perhaps like the question, “why do bad things happen to good people,” it’s simply a matter of living in a broken world fallen far from God. These events occur because the King has yet to assume his throne in Jerusalem and take up his reign.

So like the rest of humanity living precariously and dancing madly on the edge of a razor blade, I and those like me just have to keep hanging in there.

The Life and Times of the Modern “Messianic Gentile”

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
Chabad.org

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
MyJewishLearning.com

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.

mikvahIf 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.

Who am IOf 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.

judeo-christianReturning 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.

noahide guide 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.

What Defines The People of God?

Chosen People Racist?

What’s behind the whole concept of the Jews as the Chosen People? Isn’t this idea racist?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

All human beings are God’s people, as it says that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Further, the great prophet Malachi said, “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10) The Talmud likewise points out that one reason the entire human race descends from a single set of parents, Adam and Eve, is so that no one would be able to claim his ancestors are greater than his fellow’s (Sanhedrin 37a). Judaism does not believe there is an inherently superior race of human beings.

-From the “Ask the Rabbi” column
Aish.com

Yesterday, I posted a blog article called Giving Up the Identity Crisis, which was based on material I reported on in Where Are All The Gentiles Who Are Drawn To The Torah?; a comparison between modern Noahides and their communities, and we “Messianic Gentiles” or, if you prefer, Talmidei Yeshua (Gentile Disciples of Jesus).

I’ve been pondering the ramifications of giving up the identity crisis and becoming more comfortable with who I am. Relative to our relationship with God, there’s only really one thought to consider: you’re either Jewish or you’re not.

new heartThe Jewish people, the modern inheritors of the covenants Hashem made with the Children of Israel, are the only named participants in those covenants. For the rest of us, by attaching ourselves to the Jewish Messiah, we attach ourselves to Israel and thus by God’s grace and mercy, we are allowed to benefit from some of the blessings of the New Covenant.

But as the quote from the Aish Rabbi states, if the Jewish people are not inherently superior to the rest of humanity, and if we’re all created in the image of the Almighty, then why are there distinctions between Israel and the people of the nations at all?

Historically, however, the world slipped away from its relationship with God, and eventually the entire world was worshipping idols. Approximately 4,000 years ago, Abraham re-discovered the one God, and chose to accept the challenge of spreading the ideas of monotheism and morality to the world. Through his dedication and willingness to give up everything for God, he was chosen – and his descendants after him – to become the guardians of God’s message.

In other words, Abraham chose God, and thus God chose Abraham.

Abraham then passed this responsibility to his sons Isaac and Jacob. That mission was formalized 3,300 years ago at Mount Sinai, when God put these ideas into a written form (the Torah).

Oh, that.

Yes, Israel became the keepers of the Torah of Moses for many, many centuries as well as the only nation on the planet that paid homage to God and obeyed His laws and statutes.

the crowdOf course, in that time, there were a number of non-Jews who, seeing the wisdom and beauty of the Torah, attached themselves to Israel and eventually, after the third generation, assimilated completely into Israel, leaving behind their non-Israelite lineage.

But God didn’t desire that humanity either have to convert to Judaism (which is how modern Jews view the ancient assimilation process) or be out of relationship with Him. And while modern religious Jews believe that humankind is born into a relationship with the God of Israel through the Noahide covenant (see Genesis 9 and AskNoah.org), God had a better plan.

That plan was absolutely not to replace Israel and Judaism with Gentile Christianity. That plan was and is for the people of the nations to benefit from God’s ultimate redemption of Israel by redeeming us as well, at least those of us who accept that Moshiach is the mediator of the New Covenant, trust in him and obey God’s commandments as they apply to the Goyim.

We aren’t born into this covenant relationship, but we are grafted in essentially as “alien residents” among Israel (symbolically, since most of us don’t live among the Jewish people in national Israel) so that the barriers that previously separated us from Israel have been resolved.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all Christians and all Jews get along. Quite the opposite in some cases. But it does mean that the Gentiles and Jews who revere Rav Yeshua (Jesus) within the context of the ekklesia (which does not mean “church”), and trust in Hashem to save, are part of a larger Messianic community that will be fully realized upon Moshiach’s return.

I’ve said all this before in one way or another, so why am I repeating myself (yet again) now?

jew and gentile
Martin Luther King Jr. in the front line of the third march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama with Rabbi Joshua Heschel, March 21, 1965

Because (and this is a gross oversimplification) once you learn that the only two identities you can have are “Jewish” and “Other” within the devotees to Israel’s God, there’s not much else to be concerned about.

But like I said, this is a gross oversimplification. People love labels and love to differentiate between groups by those labels and what they think those labels mean.

However, what we call ourselves and what we tell ourselves that means is probably less important than what we actually do about it. Is the non-Jew who says he or she “observes the Shabbat” any more or less loved by God or created in His image than the non-Jew who volunteers at the local food bank, donates clothing to the local homeless shelter, or who spends time with hospitalized friends and relatives because tzedakah (charity) was made part of our obedience to our Rav and thus to God?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the blessing of lighting the Shabbos candles is very beautiful, and so is inviting God into the home to share our rest, but the Shabbat is a unique sign of the Sinai covenant, a covenant Hashem made exclusively with the Children of Israel (and the mixed multitude present who would assimilate into the Israelites within three generations).

Once we acknowledge that we are either Jewish or not and we learn to be OK with that, our identity problems go away for the most part.

I am a (non-Jewish) disciple of my Rav.

Another person might say “I am a (non-Jewish) Christian,” and essentially mean the same thing.

OK, there are differences, but if I obey my Rav by donating to my local homeless shelter and the Christian obeys Jesus by donating canned goods to the local food bank, are we not both being obedient and following his commands? Are we not both being faithful in the same way to the same Master?

churchSure, you might say that Christians believe in supersessionism, or deny that the Jewish people are still attached to God through the commandments and the Torah, or that they believe that Jesus “nailed the Law to the cross,” but which of us has a theology and doctrine that is 100% correct from Hashem’s point of view?

Probably no one. And yet with an imperfect understanding of the Bible, our Rav, and our God, we can still do good in His Name. That very likely describes 100% of Christians and observant Jews.

One Christian denomination rails against another spending a lot of time and resources to do so. One branch of religious Judaism rails against another spending a lot of time and resources doing so. And good grief, just look at those of us who live, study, and worship “outside the box,” so to speak. We waste a lot of time arguing about distinctions this and distinctions that.

Isn’t there a better way to use our resources and to obey our Rav?

There is once you let go.

Someone on a closed Facebook group recently asked non-Jewish group members why they became Messianic Gentiles and what was the biggest obstacle they had to overcome in entering into Messianic Jewish community.

I know these are important questions and answering them facilitates a sense of community among those who participate, at least a virtual community since these people (potentially) live all over the world, but in some ways, making that distinction also facilitates the identity crisis.

Inner lightWho is a Messianic Gentile and what does that mean? What’s a Messianic Gentile’s relationship with Messianic Jewish community and how (or if) do we fit in? There are a bunch of other questions attached to those and there is no one unified answer.

But what if those aren’t the most important questions to ask and asking the right question gives us a better answer?

We are all created in the image of God. The Aish Rabbi said that the Jewish mission is to be a light to the nations. My interpretation is that Rav Yeshua is that light (John 8:12) and by becoming his disciple, we too become lights to the world (Matthew 5:14-16).

Maybe all we really have to answer is the question, “How can I better shine my light onto the world?” That’s a totally inclusive question because it applies to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. Sure, the answer is somewhat different depending on whether you’re Jewish or not, but not as much as you think.

Both the Jew and the Gentile are commanded to do kindness and give charity. Both the Jew and the Gentile pray. Both the Jew and the Gentile give thanks to God for what He provides us from His grace, mercy, and generosity (Psalm 145:16).

I’ve stopped worrying about what to call myself (this is a lot easier for me because I’m not part of a religious community that has a label and expects that label to mean something specifically defining). I suppose there are any number of words that others use to define me. My Jewish wife for instance, considers me a Christian. From her point of view, she’s probably right.

Who am IBut what about God’s point of view? Maybe the identity He assigned us, the person He created each of us to be, is based less on some theological system of belief and more on what we do about it.

If you behave like the person God created you to be, and strive each day to become a truer realization of that person, who cares what people call you? Who cares what you call yourself? It matters most of all how God sees you and your (our, my) response to Him.

Who am I? What do I call myself? Why, I’m “me”. I’m doing my best to be the person God created me to be. Or like Batman said, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

Giving Up the Identity Crisis

“Every human being on earth has a personal relationship with God – whether he knows it or not. The fact that he is alive or that he/she is breathing is God’s expression of love towards that individual. Some people accept it, acknowledge it, reciprocate, but some people don’t. The Jewish people, in addition to this personal relationship, stand in a communal relationship, in a national relationship. The Jewish people stand together as a community in a relationship with God. This is an inter-generational community that has a covenantal relationship with God. When the Torah says ‘you’ it addresses this national communal entity.”

–Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Blumenthal

The other day I wrote a blog post mentioning a community of Noahides in Texas (and elsewhere) called Netiv (Hebrew for “path” or so I’ve been told). I wrote the article to highlight the differences as well as the similarities between these Noahides and those “Judaicly-aware” non-Jews I sometimes call Talmidei Yeshua (which I think is a better name for them/us than “Messianic Gentiles”).

TrustWhile I was on the Netiv website, I had a look around and found a short article written by someone named Ida Blom called Pursuing Righteousness in the Nations.

The quote from Rabbi Blumenthal at the top of today’s “meditation” was taken from the opening words of Ms. Blom’s missive. In the span of a few short paragraphs (most of which I quote below), I discovered more interesting parallels between the world of Noahides and ours.

I quoted the above, to make a clear distinction between individual people (in the nations) and Israel. The individuals in the second group are part of the first group by default, but the reverse is NOT true. Looking at the first group, and focusing on the section of people in the nations who do in fact reciprocate with a deep longing to grow in righteousness and pursue this relationship, let’s focus on the ones who have taken the steps to come closer to the second group, and who desire to learn from them in how to be righteous in God’s eyes in the way that they (Israel) have been instructed by God to be a light unto these nations.

Ah, more distinctions between Israel (the Jewish people and nation) and the people of the nations who have attached themselves to Israel (Isaiah 14:1; Isaiah 56:6). These distinctions are easier to understand in the context Ms. Blom presents because it is clear that the relationship between Israel and the Noahides is distinguished by the effect of different covenants. The whole world is part of the covenant God made with Noah (Genesis 9) but only Israel is a named participant in the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 19-20), or for that matter, the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:27).

Ms. Blom makes the point that the Jewish people are part of humanity, along with the people of the nations, but the people of the nations are not Israel. She goes on to say that we Gentiles look to Israel in order to learn the ways of righteousness. We must have a relationship with Israel to accomplish this.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’

Zechariah 8:23 (NASB)

tzitzitThis verse is well-known among those people like me and it seems to be lived out in the relationship between the aforementioned group of Noahides and their Jewish mentors.

But it is a relationship that is also desired by the Talmidei Yeshua, those non-Jews who choose to learn about Hashem (God), the Bible, and Rav Yeshua (Jesus) through a Judaicly oriented, Israel central lens.

Sometimes that relationship works well and at other times it doesn’t.

Actually, in quoting this article, the relationship between Gentiles and Jews doesn’t always work very well either:

And when Noahides show up at Chabad houses or synagogues, saying they want to learn Torah, they’re frequently turned away at the door.

I suppose after thousands of years of enmity between the nations of the world and the Jewish people, things are bound to remain a bit tense, at least under certain circumstances.

This next part I found to be very telling:

Why do the people in the first group, after coming out of our past religions, almost try to reverse-engineer our relationships with God in our zeal to find some identity? Because nobody but us will understand from experience, how and to what degree and price we have lost any previous identity. We are prepared to let go because of our quest for truth. True, we have to re-learn and unlearn MANY things, but there are some foundations which remain. We want to start with a new, clean slate, but by doing that, we almost throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. We ourselves create the void and then grab onto labels like noahide or ger or alternatively remain in the non-Jewish pool, feeling rudderless.

After leaving our former identity and context within normative Christianity, these Noahides struggle to establish a new identity in somewhat foreign territory and yet sometimes they “remain in the non-Jewish pool, feeling rudderless” to dodge being lost in the “void” while scrambling for a name and a label to call their own.

rudderlessSound familiar?

This is exactly what many non-Jews experience in their attempt to establish a place of belonging within Messianic Judaism, particularly those communities that really do function as a Judaism for Jews first and only afterward, a place for non-Jews to learn and worship as well.

See? We’re not alone. Noahides go through this, too. I suspect the non-Jewish disciples of our Rav that Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) made may have felt like this. Not quite fitting in. Not really understanding all of the prayers, all of the ceremonies and the praxis involved in a Shabbat service.

This is probably one of the reasons it was good with the Jerusalem Council and with the Holy Spirit not to lay the “burden” of all of the 613 commandments upon the shoulders of newly minted Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua (Acts 15:24-29). It was enough for them to learn little by little, from one Shabbat to the next, hearing the Torah of Moses read and taught in the synagogues of the diaspora (Acts 15:21).

However, Ms. Blom has some good news for Noahides, and I believe for us as well:

Let’s forget the labels for a moment and try to ignore our desire for belonging and having an identity. Why work backwards? Don’t we belong already? Think bigger! See God’s hand in your life! He brought you this far! When reading the above quote, we fall perfectly into the first group AND have been drawn by Him to reciprocate. That is a huge blessing! Did we believe in the God of the Bible, the God of Israel? YES. Of course we deviated badly along the way, but did we ever deny His existence? Did we ever deny that He is our Father? NO.

belonging to GodShe believes the way for them/us to solve their/our “identity crisis” is not to worry about identity or belonging. We already belong. Yes, but to what or who?

To God, of course. Blom obviously “dings” Christianity in this paragraph saying that these former Christians had “deviated badly.” On the other hand, even people in the Church do not deny the existence of the Almighty and that He is our Father, the Father to all.

All we needed was a bit of a course correction, so to speak, a clearer vision of the goal we were pursuing.

According to Blom, we were loved by God and He was by our side when we were in our churches, and, again according to her, God is by the side of the Noahides as they have determined a better way of pursuing righteousness for the nations.

That might be a good lesson for we Talmidei Yeshua to learn as well, rather than banging and pounding away at the door of our identity screaming at the top of our proverbial lungs, “Let us in!”

Blom says we’re already in.

The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.

Psalm 145:8

If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.

-Oscar Wilde

Where Would Noahides Go If There Were No Synagogues?

Messiah’s community is a single community expressed in diverse forms within the Jewish community and among the nations. All are called to a dedicated life of worship, neighborly service, and public testimony to Yeshua. Unity and love throughout the entire community confirm Yeshua’s role, as the One sent by the Father, and God’s purpose in Messiah for Israel and the Nations. (John 17:20-21; Acts 21:20; Gal. 2:7-8)

-from the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) Statement of Faith

I came across this link somewhat at random, and it reminded me of a question I wanted to ask the Internet.

Typically non-Jewish believers in Rav Yeshua (i.e. Christians) become aware of movements such as Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots through a sense of dissatisfaction with the Church, the feeling that something is missing. I remember having that sense early on in my “Christian walk”. My wife, who is Jewish, also felt something was lacking in our church experience, and when we encountered a local Hebrew Roots group (this was many years ago), she was immediately “hooked”.

It took me longer to get onboard, but eventually, as I started learning more, I began to realize that what the Bible actually said about the Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel wasn’t what was being preached and taught in most churches.

two pathsMy wife and I have since journeyed on separate trajectories relative to our faith and I respect her decision. She’s Jewish and she needs to be in Jewish community and to embrace Jewish identity.

My identity is less traditional and I’ve gone through a sometimes convoluted developmental process, finally arriving where I am today (though I don’t think God is finished with me yet).

Someone recently said (Don’t make me regret posting this link, Peter) that “Judaism is a communal faith and not designed to be practiced in isolation.” So is Christianity. The ideal is to find a like-minded community of fellow believers and to “fellowship” with them.

Over the years, I’ve transitioned between numerous communities, starting with a Nazarene church, then a Hebrew Roots/One Law congregation, then to a Bible study/home fellowship, then (eventually) back to Hebrew Roots, and most recently, I attended a Baptist Church for two years (and have since left). There were times in that history when our family was just alone in our faith, and times, including the present, when I am alone as an individual.

No, I’m not revisiting the idea of community for myself. As nearly as I can tell, that door is closed for more reasons than I can list in this brief blog post. However, it did occur to me that there are very few paths to community for someone, particularly a non-Jew, who generally believes in the tenets of faith as described by the UMJC (no, I’m not affiliated with them, and no I’m not specifically advocating for them — they just happen to be a handy example).

Even if there were a Messianic Jewish community in my area, and even if I felt I’d be welcome there, I probably wouldn’t attend out of respect for my wife’s sensitivities on the matter.

But what about other non-Jews who have my point of view?

cross and menorahThere are plenty of Gentile-only Hebrew Roots One Law/One Torah congregations out there of various sizes and configurations. Some have a few Jewish worshipers, but they almost always were not raised in a Jewish home nor had the benefit of growing up in Jewish social and religious community. Those Hebrew Roots groups are also almost always run by non-Jews, although their leaders may wear a tallit and kippah and even call themselves “Rabbi”.

But there are also a number of non-Jews who have a more “Messianic Jewish-like” perspective on the Bible, the centrality of Israel, the primacy of the Jewish Messiah King, and how all that relates to the people of the nations. A view I advocate here on my blog.

If they don’t live within reasonable distance of a Messianic Jewish congregation established and operated by Jews as a Jewish community which graciously also admits non-Jews, where do they go?

It would be like being a traditional Noahide and not having a nearby Jewish synagogue to attend. I know of intermarried couples who attend both our local Chabad and the Conservative/Reform group here in my area, and the non-Jewish spouses are Noahides in Jewish community, not unlike how I think of non-Jews in Messianic Jewish community.

But what if there were a group of Noahides who lived nowhere near a synagogue? What if they weren’t intermarried to Jewish spouses, but through some other process, came to the realization that being a Noahide was what the Bible required of them in order to worship Hashem?

Apply those questions to those of us who are “Judaicly-aware” non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua. Where would such a group of Gentiles go to find worship and community? Could a group of Gentiles band together to practice something analogous to “Messianic Judaism?” What would you call it, “Messianic Gentilism?”

Orthodox JewsI was wondering if those organizations that generally call themselves “Messianic Judaism” (such as the aforementioned UMJC) have established any guidelines for non-Jews who want to come alongside them but who geographically are too far away from a Messianic Jewish congregation to attend. For that matter, that group of Gentiles may not even have a skilled teacher or leader among them. They probably could use a lot of assistance and guidance.

Although the community in ancient Antioch (Acts 13:1; 15:1-2), to the best of my understanding, had both Jewish and non-Jewish members, the Apostle Paul (Rav Sh’aul) also founded many Gentile-only communities, the one described in his epistle to the Galatians being the one that immediately comes to mind. Paul “kept tabs” on these various groups, when he couldn’t visit them, through his correspondence, but the vast majority of the time, for day-to-day operations, they were run by the local members.

What did a Gentile-only “Messianic” community look like in those days? We don’t really know. Probably they looked at least somewhat “Jewish,” if for no other reason than because that was the only communal model available to them.

But this is nearly two-thousand years later and a lot has changed. Yes, ultimately the Gentiles broke away from their Jewish base and invented Gentile-only (unless a Jew wanted to leave Judaism and convert) Christianity, which almost completely rewrote how the Bible was to be understood.

Judaism too has gone through a great deal of development, and what we think of as Rabbinic Judaism today (which, in my opinion, includes at least some Messianic Jewish groups) is not the same as the Judaism(s) practiced during the late Second Temple period.

rainbowSo theoretically, if a collection of “Noahide” Judaicly-aware non-Jews wanted to pursue a community consistent with how we think of Gentiles coming alongside their Messianic Jewish counterparts, is there anything or anyone they could contact to help them? What resources should they consult so they wouldn’t just be “shooting from the hip?”

And no, I’m not thinking of starting such a community here, but I’m thinking that this is an area where others like me in the world are underserved and, left on their own, are perhaps forming groups and fellowships that might be less than optimal. I think they could use some help. I’m just wondering if such help exists and if it is even possible to create viable, sustainable congregations of Gentiles who worship and live consistently with how Messianic Judaism envisions Gentiles in Messiah.