Tag Archives: messianic gentiles

Another Look at Torah Principles and the Gentile

Spirit, Torah, and Good NewsFor years, I’ve subscribed to daily updates from the Aish HaTorah Jewish educational website. I know, I’m not Jewish, but I find that the vast majority of their content “resonates” with me better than most traditional Christian commentary.

A few days ago, I came across an interesting question in the Ask the Rabbi column. Actually, it was the answer that was more interesting, but let’s look at the question first:

I’ve been reading Aish.com for years. But the other day someone asked me to describe the principles behind Aish. I must confess that I didn’t know. So what’s the answer?

Here’s the numbered list portion of the Rabbi’s response:

  1. Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.
  2. Aish HaTorah defines success as inspiring a commitment to grow Jewishly.
  3. Every Jew is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. We never know who is a better Jew.
  4. Every human being is created “In the image of God,” and therefore has infinite potential.
  5. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood.
  6. Torah is wisdom for living, teaching us how to maximize our potential and pleasure in life.
  7. Our beliefs need to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith.
  8. Each Jew is responsible one for another, and each is empowered to face the spiritual and physical challenges facing the Jewish people.
  9. The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world. The Jewish people’s history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.
  10. The Jewish people are bound together. Our power lies within our unity. Unified, no goal is beyond our reach; splintered, almost no goal is attainable.

Now, Aish HaTorah provides educational content created by Jews for Jews. No part of it (as far as I can find) targets anyone else, including (and probably especially) Christians. Obviously, I’m not blocked from visiting their website, and I could even come up with a valid reason for reading their material given that my wife is Jewish, but does any of this stuff apply directly to us.

When I say “us,” in one sense, I mean all Christians, but more specifically, I’m addressing we “Hebraically-aware” Gentile believers (if you’re Jewish and Messianic, you probably don’t even have to ask this question).

I know there’s quite a bit of disagreement about just how much of the Torah can be applied to we non-Jews who find ourselves attracted to Jewish praxis and thought. I’m not here to “solve” that puzzle. I have a personal answer that works for me, but your mileage may vary. Also, since I don’t belong to a faith community, there’s no higher human standard that can be authoritatively applied to me (though some have tried).

Let’s go over this one step at a time.

1: Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.

Assuming we believe that Christianity in general and Messianic Judaism in specific is the natural and planned extension of everything we’ve read in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible, Old Testament), is it fair to say that we Gentiles practice a form of Judaism (and I’ve addressed this question before)?

Maybe and maybe not. Perhaps the better question is whether or not the philosophy behind this first point can be applied to a Gentile’s spiritual journey with Rav Yeshua?

My guess is that most Christians would say “no.” Why? I think it has something to do with this:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. –James 2:10 (NASB)

Taken out of context, this seems to directly contradict the Aish Rabbi by stating that you have to keep every single commandment in the Torah perfectly, and if you break one law, you’ve broken them all (although a Christian would say we aren’t “under the Law”).

However, putting that verse back into its James 2 context, in my humble opinion, I think it means if you depend solely on your praxis to reconcile you with God, that’s the standard by which you’ll be judged. However, if you depend on faith, and out of that faith, comes your practice, you will receive mercy.

That could probably be said a lot better than I just put it, but it’s a more comfortable fit with the Aish Rabbi’s statement. After all, who among us is perfectly obedient to God all of the time? No one. Except for Rav Yeshua, I don’t believe that even the most devout of Jews has always perfectly performed the mitzvot every single hour of every single day.

In fact, the Bible is replete with statements emphasizing that rote behavior all by itself does not reconcile you with God, but instead Teshuva (repentance) and a contrite heart are needed.

Since even most traditional Christians believe we are all on a “spiritual walk with Jesus,” I think we could safely apply the “our faith isn’t all or nothing” principle to us as well.

2. Aish HaTorah defines success as inspiring a commitment to grow Jewishly.

On the other hand, point two doesn’t seem to have one darn thing to do with us, that is, we non-Jews. We don’t “grow Jewishly” since we’re not Jewish. No way around this one. Of course, success could be defined as inspiring a commitment to grow “Messianically,” but that opens up another can of worms.

3. Every Jew is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. We never know who is a better Jew.

Can we substitute “believer” or “Christian” for Jew? I think we can if we acknowledge that all human beings are created in the image of the Almighty. We already know that God desires all people to be redeemed, not just national and corporate Israel, you I don’t have a problem with believing that people are worthy of respect (though not all of them behave respectfully).

I also agree you’ll never be able to tell who is the “better Christian” just by looking. We all have our inner lives that only God is privy to. No matter how “holy” a person appears, it’s what God sees in their hearts that matters most.

Oh, this introduces a ton of questions about denomination, doctrine, and theology between Christians. For instance, nearly five years ago, John MacArthur held his Strange Fire conference where he and the other speaking Pastors did everything in their power to attack Charismatics. So much for “worthy of respect” (of course, I’ve read how some Orthodox Jews diss Reforms, so this is probably a human trait).

4. Every human being is created “In the image of God,” and therefore has infinite potential.

This is directly linked to item three, and seems to re-enforce it, so yes, we are worthy of respect and have infinite potential because we’re human beings. It’s just a matter of how we choose to apply that potential, and a lot of the time, we don’t do very well.

5. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood.

This one is a bit dicey since, depending on your point of view, a large block of the mitzvot don’t apply to us at all, even acknowledging that without a Temple, Priesthood, and Sanhedrin, there’s a lot of the Torah even Jewish people can’t currently obey.

This answer hinges on whether you believe any of the mitzvot apply to us, and if so, which ones. We’ve had this discussion on my blog many times before, and I doubt that this side of Messiah, we’ll ever come up with the final answer.

Of course, there are some obvious points we can all agree on. If we’ve been believers for very long, we all have a sense of the difference between right and wrong, or righteous behavior vs. sin. What we all puzzle over is the more “ritualistic” aspects of the Torah; wearing tzitzit, donning tefillin, and such. Should we pray in Hebrew or are our native languages good enough (assuming Hebrew isn’t our native language)? Maybe this goes back to point one.

I would agree that obeying God’s will is indeed an opportunity for personal growth, and study is the cornerstone upon which Acts 15:21 stands, so yes, we can study the Bible, not just read it.

6. Torah is wisdom for living, teaching us how to maximize our potential and pleasure in life.

There’s actually a lot of the Torah we can apply to ourselves, or at least the moral and spiritual principles behind the mitzvot, which is another good reason to study them. We may not be commanded to wear tzitzit, but understanding why God commanded Israel to do so, may help us realize what God wants from us as well, which then adds to our potential and pleasure in life.

7. Our beliefs need to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith.

This is where traditional Christianity and Judaism travel in opposite directions, because the Church emphasizes faith most of the time. It’s not that Christians believe their religion is irrational, and Biblical apologetics is a really big deal, but at the end of the day, the Church is all about having pat answers, not continually struggling with tough questions.

This is one of the reasons I tend to favor a Jewish perspective over a Christian one, because I don’t believe the Bible holds every single answer to our questions about God, Jesus, faith, and the universe. I don’t think God ever expected us to settle down in our pews and get comfortable and cozy. Instead, I believe that we all have a little “Jacob” in us as we struggle with our angels (or is it our demons?). I think we study and pray as part of that struggle, and through that crucible, we grow.

8. Each Jew is responsible one for another, and each is empowered to face the spiritual and physical challenges facing the Jewish people.

Are we our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper? The answer to that seems obvious, but Christianity isn’t the same sort of corporate entity as Judaism. We aren’t a single nation like Israel, we are all the rest of the nations, so we don’t share a unified identity.

Of course, not all Jews are the same, and in fact, just like the rest of us, they can be radically different, one from another. Certainly my wife isn’t like the local Chabad Rebbitzin, and although they’re friends, their personalities and level of observance are light years apart.

But if we see a brother sinning, are we responsible for doing something about it, or should we just turn a blind eye? Again, I think the answer is obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. On the one hand, Jesus did give his “new commandment” in John 13:34 only to his Jewish disciples, but why can’t we apply it to ourselves? Does it hurt to love one another just as we believe our Rav loves us?

9. The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world. The Jewish people’s history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.

Okay, here we have the closest statement so far that the Torah principles actually mean something to the nations, but only if Israel is the light. I’ve said before that as Israel’s “first-born son” (metaphorically speaking), Yeshua is that light, and that he directly commissioned Paul (Rav Shaul) to be his emissary to the people of the nations means he intended for that light to be passed on to the rest of us.

There seems to be a thread that we can trace through different portions of the Bible leading to the conclusion that one of the functions of Messiah is to direct Israel’s light upon the rest of the world, only we must remember it’s Israel’s light. We can only benefit from that illumination, we can never possess it directly.

10. The Jewish people are bound together. Our power lies within our unity. Unified, no goal is beyond our reach; splintered, almost no goal is attainable.

That’s probably true of any group. The unity of the original thirteen colonial states in the U.S. is based on that principle.

Christians talk about “the body of Christ” meaning the corporate unity of all Christians everywhere, even though there seems to be a terrific battle going on between at least certain denominations and churches (although, as we all know, within Messianic Judaism, things are very “messy” as well).

When Messiah returns, one of his responsibilities will be to gather together all of the Jewish people around the globe and return them to Israel, so yes, Jewish unity will finally be achieved. That part is certain.

What about the rest of us?

That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? In my imagination, I believe he will end all of our petty bickering and posturing as well, but I don’t know if that’s particularly mapped out in the Bible. Yes, after all of the wars are over, there will be “peace on Earth,” but will people ever get along? More to the point, will we all agree on matters of spirituality, faith, and praxis?

I don’t know. One of the other things Messiah is supposed to do is interpret Torah correctly. We saw him doing some of that in the Gospels, but will that ever be extended to the rest of humanity? Will we finally know the exact “nuts and bolts” of God’s expectations for us besides the apparent moral and ethical values?

I hope so. It would be nice. But maybe even in Messianic days, we will still be required to struggle. Then again, Jeremiah 31:34 does say that at least Israel and every single Jew, will have an apprehension of God formerly reserved only to Prophets; a full indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 10 shows us that even Gentiles receive the Spirit, so perhaps what the Jewish will know under the New Covenant will be passed along to us as well. Then blogs like this one will be unneeded and I won’t have to ask any more questions.

Advertisements

Why Christianity Was Invented and What It Means To Me Today

I didn’t think I’d be writing another blog post about Passover this year. After all, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve addressed that theme, particularly relative to being intermarried and being a “Messianic Gentile.” But I had a dream last night that made me look at it from a different direction. Actually, I’ve had this idea running around in my brain for a while now but chose not to express it before.

No, I don’t think my dream was a “prophetic dream” or any such thing. It was probably just my mind processing information.

In my dream, I saw a blog post written by someone whose name many of my readers would recognize (which is why I’m not going to use it) who was criticizing me for being “stuck” in my spiritual development. This person said he wanted to like me but that I needed to move on.

It’s true that I’ve plateaued, but that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m writing this to ask (and then answer) why there’s such a thing as Christianity in the first place?

To the vast majority of church-going Christians, the answer might seem obvious. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) tells his Jewish disciples to go make disciples of all the nations, that is the Goyim; the Gentiles.

Then in Acts 9, Rav Yeshua creates a vision for Paul (Saul or Rav Shaul if you prefer) specifically commissioning him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles, a mission he would pursue diligently for the rest of his life.

I suppose we could even give a lot of the credit to Constantine for manufacturing the Roman Catholic Church and making them a dominant religious structure that continues to affect the entire Christian Church and all of its denominations to this day (the Reformation didn’t change as much as people think and in fact continued to support the many crimes the Church has committed against the Jewish people).

Almost four years ago, largely citing New Testament scholar Magnus Zetterholm, I wrote Zetterholm, Ancient Antioch, and “Honey, I Want A Divorce” describing the cultural and sociological dynamics that likely drove a really big wedge between the ancient Jewish and non-Jewish devotees of Rav Yeshua, effectively sending them on two divergent paths, Judaism and Christianity.

But while normative Jewish devotion to Yeshua waned in the subsequent decades and centuries until it was finally (but not permanently) extinguished, the Gentile Christian Church blossomed or, from some points of view, “grew like a weed.” However, Gentile Christianity, in order to form its own identity, had to totally reinterpret the Bible so that not only were Israel and the Jewish people minimized as the focus of God’s attention, but all of the covenant promises the Almighty made to Israel were “spiritually transferred” to the Christian Church.

However, for those few of us who are “Hebraically aware” Gentile believers, an honest reading of scripture reveals that God didn’t change His mind, lie to Israel about His ultimate intent, or go from plan A to plan B somewhere in the first part of the book of Acts.

Christianity as it has existed for nearly 2,000 years including its modern incarnations, is not the logical and natural expression of the Bible. It’s an invention that was required by the ancient Gentile believers in order to form their own identity and praxis completely separate from the Jewish origins of the faith.

So what? A lot of us know that. It’s old news.

Here’s the deal. It’s happening again today. Well, that’s not exactly true. Let’s say an echo of the original schism is happening again today.

JewishI remain a big supporter of Messianic Jewish community, the active and lived experience of Messianic Jews within normative Judaism. While in Reform, Conservative, and even Orthodox Jewish synagogues, you might find the occasional Gentile (a Jewish member’s spouse for instance or perhaps a non-Jew considering conversation), by and large, the people there are almost all Jews and even if a few goys are present, it’s still a wholly Jewish community. No one questions that for a second.

In a Messianic Jewish synagogue, you are likely to find the majority of members are not Jewish since modern Messianic Judaism has its origins in the Church. However over the last few decades, the movement has evolved such that Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua desire to not have to choose between Jewish identity and praxis and their devotion to their Rav.

That all makes sense. The Jews in Paul’s day who were devoted to Yeshua were pretty much indistinguishable from the Pharisees (that may come as a shock to some people). Paul himself was an observant Jew in the Pharisaic tradition as were Peter, John, Matthew, and all of the other Jewish disciples. Devotion to Rav Yeshua, even after the crucifixion and resurrection, and even after the Acts 15 decree which applied only to the Gentile believers, did not change that fact on any level.

So why should it be any different today?

One argument is that Judaism then isn’t the same thing as Judaism today and that’s very true. However, if you accept, as many Messianic Jews do, the idea that Rabbinic authority allows for the evolution of interpretation of Torah such that Judaism today is the natural and logical extention of true Jewish faith and praxis, then there is some basis for Messianic Jewish praxis closely mirroring Orthodox Jewish praxis.

That statement if full of trap doors for a lot of Gentile Messianic believers and probably some Jewish ones, but let’s roll with it for the time being.

Where does that leave Hebraically aware Gentiles?

If Messianic Judaism necessitates exclusive Messianic Jewish community, we Gentiles are right back where we were before. Trying to find community that best fits our identity and doesn’t tromp all over our Messianic Jewish mentors.

The normative Church isn’t the answer. I tried that and my personal experience ended up being pretty frustrating. Hebraically aware Gentile believers for the most part, are a poor fit in that environment.

Acts 13 famously describes what happens when Gentile presence overwhelms Jewish community. Initially, the Jewish leaders of the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch welcomed Paul’s message of the Good News of Messiah, but the following Shabbat when scores of Gentiles (and not just the usual crew of God Fearers) showed up at the door, they were shocked and outraged. The Gentiles had invaded Jewish community in force, and while not having malicious intent, still threatened a wholly Jewish space by perhaps rewriting Jewish community and praxis to fit their own requirements.

So Paul, his companions, and probably most of the Gentiles were kicked out and the Apostle to the Gentiles fought an uphill battle for Gentile acceptance from that point on until his death.

Sort of the reverse happened in modern times. Historically over the past several decades, Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots spaces were largely composed of Gentiles, often badly imitating Jewish praxis, praying using Hebrew transliteration, reading the Torah portion in English (or in the primary language of their nation), and believing they were “Torah observant” or “Torah compliant” or whatever. Oh, and they absolutely drew a distinction between the written Torah, which they adored (as they understood it), and the oral Torah (Talmud) which they despised as “Man-made.”

Of course, there were always Jews present, but many/most of them had not been raised in observant Jewish families, many/most had been raised in intermarried families, and many/most had been raised in normative Christian families, the Jewish parent being more correctly identified as a “Hebrew Christian”.

But that’s been changing slowly and steadily, at least to the best of my knowledge. Now Messianic Jews (some of them anyway) are embracing what it is to be a Jew on all experiential levels and strongly desire to be among normative, observant, Jewish community.

That’s led some Messianic Jews to make the choice to abandon Rav Yeshua and join the Orthodox community in order to realize their desires. It’s also seen a number of “Messianic Gentiles” also abandon their Rav and convert to Orthodox Judaism. For them, it was either Rav Yeshua (and the Christians) or lived Jewish community.

Yes, Messianic Jews can have their cake and eat it too, and it’s not like they won’t let Gentile Messianic believers visit and worship with them or even grant them some sort of “associate membership.” However, in order to be Jewish community, it has to be primarily or exclusively Jewish, just like a normative Orthodox synagogue.

I think this is why we have the (Gentile) Hebrew Roots and Two-House movements today. Oh, they’ve existed for decades and in fact it could be said that modern Messianic Judaism (for Jews) emerged from them. However, that returns us to the question of what to do with these pesky Hebraically aware Gentiles, and the answer (which is uncomfortable to some) is something you’d have to call “bilateral.” That is separate but equal. Yeah, that’s really uncomfortable and I’m (hopefully) exaggerating to make a point.

In other words, Hebraically aware Gentiles are in the position of having to invent their own communities for the sake of Messianic Jewish exclusivity.

What does any of this have to do with Passover?

I observe Passover (well, without the Temple and Levitical Priesthood, no one really observes Passover) in the traditional manner for one primary reason; my wife is Jewish. If she plans a seder in our home, then I lead the seder as head of household.

Last year, my wife spent Passover with our daughter in California and thus, I did not observe Passover in any way.

If, Heaven forbid, something were to happen to my wife and I were alone, I would not continue to observe Passover.

While there are Gentile applications for the festival, truly the Passover feast is wholly Jewish and describes a uniquely Jewish relationship with the Almighty, even relative to Rav Yeshua. In Messianic Days, when the Temple is rebuilt, the Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua will not be able to eat of the Pascal lamb. We can eat anything else, but not the lamb. Torah is clear on this matter and there is no example whatsoever of a Gentile eating of the lamb (If you think you can point one out, let me know).

But will Gentiles be in Jerusalem at all for Passover?

I’m guessing “yes” (and I’ve been wrong before) but only for one reason.

When Rav Yeshua returns, he is going to straighten out all of our communal and identity conflicts. First of all I think the church is in for a really big shock. Secondly, Yeshua will definitively (I hope) describe the roles and communities fitting for both Jewish and Gentile disciples and then hopefully all of this angst will just go away. If not, then we’ll still have to figure out for ourselves what it is to be servants of the King and so these pain points will continue.

What do to until then?

Some people think that Messianic Judaism as it currently exists is the forerunner of the Messianic Age as it will be.

Maybe and maybe not. I wouldn’t count on it for the simple reason that too many human egos are involved.

I’ve long since decided to withdraw from anything that even remotely resembles Jewish praxis, well, for the most part. It is true that every Saturday morning, I read the Torah and Haftarah portions along with a reading from the Gospels. There are no prayers or ceremony around this act, I simply read them.

Every morning when I wake up, I recite the Modeh Ani in English. That is the extent of my “Jewish” prayers.

The Jewish PaulNo, it’s not that I believe the “Halachah police” are going to kick down my door and bust me for “cultural appropriation.” I just don’t believe it’s right for me to adopt Jewish praxis, especially since my wife, who is Jewish, is pretty sensitive of me, a Christian, doing “Jewish stuff.”

So what to do until Messiah returns? Wait.

That’s all I can do. I can’t see a solution to the conflicts I’ve raised. If Messianic Judaism is Jewish then it is best left to the Jews. Paul had a vision about how to integrate the Gentiles, but his innovation died with him and Yeshua did not assign him a successor, which I find highly interesting. No one, absolutely no one followed Paul’s work. If the Almighty intended for the Gentiles to be integrated into a Jewish faith in our Rav, why did Paul’s work cease? At that point, it absolutely necessitated the Gentiles reinventing their identity into something completely different and new (and scripturally inaccurate).

Perhaps it’s because only Messiah can accomplish so great and difficult a thing.

So I’m waiting for him to do it because I don’t think we can accomplish it on our own.

Living a Life

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of being a Christian or a Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua, or whatever you want to call me.

My life has taken a downturn recently, specifically since April. I was laid off of my job of eight years, basically because the company and my job description had changed so radically that I was no longer an adequate “fit”.

dad
© James Pyles

Then my Dad died abruptly, and it was fortunate that I happened to be visiting my folks at the time to be able to support my Mom.

So far the only job I’ve been able to get is temporary contract work for significantly less than I was previously paid and absolutely no benefits.

I’ve been trying for the past couple of months to get medical insurance through the local version of “Obamacare” (Affordable Care Act) and getting the run around. I received yet another encrypted email from them when I got home from work today that was probably prompted by my zillionth phone call to them this morning. I suspect they are about to reject, for some arcane reason, the document I submitted proving I’ve been without medical coverage since July 1st.

And to add insult to injury, I’m fined by the Federal Government every month I’m not insured, even though I’m trying as hard as I can to purchase coverage.

What does all this have with God, faith, and religion?

It has to do with life and how we live it, and more specifically, how I live it.

I’ll admit that I’m better at the study of the Bible then actually living out its principles. I suspect that my life has been going downhill because God is trying to get my attention. He wants something out of me. He wants me to live a better life, but it’s not that simple.

God doesn’t make deals. He doesn’t say, “If you do this thing for me, I’ll make your life better and you and your wife will get health insurance coverage.”

How do I know this? Because tons and tons and tons of believers of great and wonderful faith live terribly dangerous and difficult lives. Just look at the Apostles. Except for John, they all were executed in one way or another, and even John was thrown into a vat of boiling oil, though amazingly he lived.

That’s been my sticking point. If you trust in God with all your heart and soul, there’s still no promise that you’ll escape pain and suffering. There’s no promise that if I trust God with all my heart and soul, that I’ll be able to provide my wife and myself medical insurance let alone a better income.

I mean God could do that, but obviously He doesn’t have to.

On the other hand, if I ignore what I think God wants me to do (love and trust Him completely), then I can hardly expect He will turn my life around or provide opportunities for me to improve my condition.

No I’m not writing this just to whine (well, maybe just a little). I’m writing this to speak to the question of Gentile praxis in a Messianic world (or at least a Messianic thought and study world since I don’t have that kind of praxis or community).

In the closed Facebook group “Messianic Gentiles,” First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) writer and teacher Toby Janicki has been sharing a number of articles on their particular publication of the Didache, which may or may not have originated with the Apostles or their students. It’s an attempt to answer the question of what is Gentile praxis within (Messianic) Judaism.

I certainly won’t discourage anyone from reading and pursuing that particular model of religious practice, and indeed, I’ve written on the Didache myself.

But it seems to me that all of us have our hands full anyway, not with the rituals of praxis but with day-to-day living.

I mean, how close to or far from God do you feel? How often do you read the Bible? How often do you pray? How often do you pray and don’t feel like you’re just taking to yourself and the four walls? Are you kind to others even when you don’t feel like it? Do you yell at the person who cuts you off when you’re driving to work? Given the terrible things that are happening in Huston thanks to Hurricane Harvey, what have you done to offer aid and assistance? Do you give to others in need in your local community?

huston
David J. Phillip/AP

These aren’t questions I’m asking you, they’re questions I’m asking myself.

A life of faith is no life at all if it isn’t lived, but frankly, living that life isn’t easy.

I’ve been trying to listen to Christian radio again (mainly because there’s no such thing as Messianic Jewish/Gentile radio, at least nothing that is freely available over the airwaves). I’m having a hard time with it.

Air1 at least has more modern pop songs, but it’s also marketing to the younger crowd, and it can be terribly juvenile and even shallow. On the other hand, they have mentioned their concern for the people of Huston, and I learned about Convoy of Hope from them.

I’ve tried listening to a couple of local Christian stations.

I have a tough time with the more traditional Christian songs and hymns. I had the same problem when I was attending church. The people who’ve grown up in the church have a great deal of emotional and nostalgic attachment to those tunes, but to me, they are terribly archaic and boring.

The Christian station where people talk drives me nuts. I guess this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and I was listening to these two Pastors who were fairly gushing over Martin Luther. I can’t stand Martin Luther because of the Anti-Semitism he displayed toward the end of his life. This is on top of these so-called “reformers” not taking their reform back far enough in history so they could re-discover the deep connection Gentile believers have to a Jewish perspective on Hashem and Rav Yeshua.

Those “reformers” just changed things enough to object to some of the greater abuses of the Catholic church as it existed at that time. They kept all the stuff that deleted the Judaism out of an originally Jewish faith, and kept all the stuff that put Gentiles and only Gentiles at the top of the religious food chain.

Yeah, that works for me.

But I’ve got to do something differently, even if it drives me nuts. Frankly, I suspect there are a lot of non-Jewish but Judaically aware believers who are also scrambling to make sense of their/our lives. My point isn’t that the hard part of it all is being “Judaically aware,” the hard part is what’s hard for every Christian in churches and home fellowships all over the place.

The hard part is conforming our lives, our faith, and our actions to the desires of God. The hard part is to be a better person, even when it seems impossible. The hard part is to be a better person, even when God doesn’t promise to do anything for you in return.

This isn’t about where you go when you die, which is the shallow and simple-minded version of the “good news”. This is about who you are and what you do right here and now in this life. This is the “Gospel message” you absolutely won’t hear on Christian radio ever, and a message you won’t hear in many if not most churches.

jfk
President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country” (and he’d be appalled if he were alive today and could see the nature of the younger generation coming up and what they want).

But what if he asked works in a relationship with God, too?

“Ask not what God can do for you. Ask what you can do for God.”

Really, if responding to that doesn’t take up 100% of your time, I don’t know what will. Frankly, the prospect scares me to death, but at the same time, I can’t fault it, since this is what the Bible speaks of regarding our service to God and our fellow human beings.

I suspect, even if nothing else changes in my life, my response, if I choose to sincerely make true Teshuvah, will occupy every day I have remaining in this life.

Reviewing the Divine Code: Fundamentals of the Faith

divine code
Cover for the Divine Code found at Amazon.com

Part I of Rabbi Moshe Weiner’s book The Divine Code, Parts I-IV is called “Fundamentals of the Faith”. It includes:

  • An introduction by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
  • Chapter 1: Awareness of God
  • Chapter 2: Proselytizers and False Prophets
  • Chapter 3: The Prohibition Against Making a New Religion or Adding a Commandment
  • Chapter 4: Liability to Divine and Earthly Punishments
  • Chapter 5: Torah Study for Gentiles
  • Chapter 6: Serving God; Prayer and Grace After Meals
  • Chapter 7: Sacrificial Offerings
  • Chapter 8: Obligatory Moral Conduct
  • Chapter 9: Repentance

I’m sure that even the casual reader can detect which of the above chapter titles are a criticism of or prohibition against Christianity. However, there are a lot of other pieces of information that some of you might find interesting.

In Rabbi Schochet’s introduction, he states that a Gentile who observes the Noahide Laws only because they make sense cannot be considered a Ger Toshav or “Gentile Resident.” Only one who accepts upon themselves these commandments due to the Holiness of God may consider themselves the “pious of the nations of the world.” Otherwise, we’d just be considered “wise people.”

In other words, it’s a matter of intent. According to R. Schochet as well as R. Weiner, it is imperative we recognize that God gave the seven Noahide Laws along with the rest of the Torah (oral and written), at Mount Sinai to Moses.

In chapter 1, the first step for all of us is to develop an awareness of God. This compares to the following (though the book didn’t make this point):

I am the Lord your God Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Exodus 20:2

Just like a Jew, we are commanded to first have an awareness of the existence of God, which then is followed by the prohibition against idolatry. This is both to be an intellectual and emotional ascension.

I found it interesting that the chapter mentioned a truly pious Gentile who is careful to observe the seven laws may settle in Israel, but one who observes them only out of intellectual conviction is forbidden to do so. I wonder if there is a provision made by the Israeli government for Noahides settling in the Land? I would have to guess “no” given my current understanding.

Chapter 2 addresses proselytizers as those who attempt to persuade another to serve an idol. Given other conversations I’ve had on this blog, I can well imagine this includes a Christian attempting to convince a Gentile to believe in Jesus.

From the book’s point of view, anyone who says God sent them to add, remove, or change a commandment from those given to Moses must be considered a false prophet, whether the person is a Jew or Gentile. That one might be aimed even at Jesus or the Apostle Paul as well as everyone who has followed them in the faith.

The same sentiment can be read into chapter 3 which discusses the Prohibition Against Making a New Religion. Of course, it could include any of the other world’s religions, but given the history of Christianity and Islam relative to Israel, and particularly Christianity’s “great commission,” I can well imagine the intent of the author.

This also involves adapting Jewish practice in creating new religious obligations such as creating a sabbath for yourself, regardless of the day of the week (Sunday comes to mind). However, Gentiles are also forbidden from celebrating Jewish holidays, with the exception of having been invited by a Jew to do so, such as a Gentile attending a Passover seder or being offered a meal in a Sukkah by a Jewish host.

Interestingly enough, although Gentile males are not obligated to be circumcised, they may voluntarily do so as a “gift to God.”

We are forbidden, according to the book, to perform any mitzvah that requires the “holiness of a Jew” such as writing a scroll of the Torah or affixing a mezuzah to our doorways. This suggests that Jews have a greater or higher level of holiness than Noahide Gentiles, but I think I’ve read something about that previously.

TorahThat said, a Gentile may perform any of the mitzvot between man and man or man and God “which has a reason and logical benefit for a person or society.” However, without an obvious logical benefit, such observance is forbidden.

This has to do with “logical morality” such as giving to charity and respecting your parents. They aren’t specific to the Noahide Code, but they make moral sense, so it’s not enough to know the seven laws, we must also study and understand basic morality from a Jewish point of view.

As an example, we must honor our parents because it is a general moral principle, but we are forbidden to do so because it’s a commandment from God (since it’s not included in the seven laws).

Confused yet?

Chapter 4 has to do with divine and earthly punishments for violating the seven laws and all their implications.

I found it interesting that the age of accountability is the same for Gentiles as it is for Jews, age thirteen for males and twelve for females. This assumes either a Noahide community to guide these children or parents who are doing so.

There’s a mention of a Noahide’s obligation to develop a court system, but this is obviously a societal obligation rather than an individual one. Also, I don’t know of any court system in any nation that specifically judges violations of the seven Noahide laws.

If there were Noahide communities, and I’ve written about such communities before, perhaps under Rabbinic supervision, they could construct such a “court” for their congregations.

It’s important to note that the book considers it an obligation for Noahide parents to properly educate their children in the seven laws and how to perform them.

Chapter 5, Torah Study for Gentiles was interesting.

The upshot is that Gentiles are obligated to study the portions of the Torah which contain the seven laws with the same level of “delving into the Torah” that a Jew performs when studying Torah and Talmud. A Gentile may also study those portions of the Torah and Talmud which will help them understand how to perform logical moral acts, such as honoring one’s parents.

In fact, it is permissible for a Gentile to read the entire Tanakh, but not with the same level of depth as a Jew, since those commandments are not intended for us. We may also read other Jewish texts such as the Mishneh Torah by Rambam which “presents Torah-law decisions, but not their inner reasons or the details of how the derived rulings were decided…” We may even read on Kabbalah but with the same prohibitions as reading portions of Talmud.

Chapter 6 is particularly intriguing and may even be practical in that it provides suggested blessings and prayers for Gentiles.

There’s always something of a problem with Gentiles using a Jewish siddur in individual prayer or community worship because the language is written for Jews. We are not “Israel,” so how to use a standard siddur has always been a difficulty for Gentile Messianics.

Although, as the book says, prayer, blessings, and praise to God are not specifically required of Gentiles, they are encouraged. Personally, I don’t see how one can obey the commandment to have an awareness of God and not pray to, bless, and praise God.

That said, we are not to use the prayers or methods of worship of idol worshippers, which is probably shorthand for “don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer” or any other Christian-based worship behavior.

We are, however, permitted to praise God using phrases from the Hebrew Bible. The book cites Abraham and Joseph who both lived among non-Hebrews and yet taught them to worship God, so there is a precedent.

As I mentioned above, there are many suggested prayers and blessings adapted for Gentiles, including Grace After Meals, and this is one of the first practical pieces of information in this book that Messianic Gentiles might adapt to their own praxis.

TempleI was a little surprised at Chapter 7, which discusses sacrificial offerings, since the Temple in Jerusalem does not currently exist. However, the book says that while it is permitted for a Noahide to build himself an altar and to sacrifice kosher animals, it’s not encouraged, both because making such an offering means the Gentile would have to be worthy to more closely approach God, and because we would need expert advice from a qualified Rabbi, which in this day and age, might be difficult.

However, we are permitted to study the precepts of making sacrifices on a theoretical level.

Obligatory moral conduct is covered in Chapter 8, which addresses logical moral behavior not specifically addressed in the seven laws. One of the arguments against the Acts 15 “Jerusalem letter” being a guide as to what the Gentile devotee of Yeshua must observe is that the precepts don’t include things like not stealing or not committing murder. It seems, if you take the book’s perspective, we aren’t expected to “check our brains at the door” so to speak.

Acts 15:21 suggests that Gentiles will hear the Torah read in synagogues every Shabbat, so even if we’re not obligated to the same set of commandments as the Jew, the moral principles taught are still useful in guiding us.

The final chapter in Part I is on repentance, and yes, God will accept our sincere efforts in repenting of our sins and forgive us. The Prophet Jonah and the Gentile city of Ninevah are mentioned as an obvious example.

This part of the book seems to act as a summary for everything else that follows, so in a way, I probably only have to read thus far to get a good idea of what else will be taught.

So what do I think? There are a few sections that seem helpful, such as the blessings and prayers presented, but overall, it’s an Orthodox Jew’s view of what makes up a righteous Gentile. Is it practical for Messianic Gentiles? As a whole, probably not, because it assumes that Rav Yeshua is not the true Messiah and it discounts what is written in the Apostolic Scriptures.

Also, although it’s not presented as such, what we’re really talking about is a “Judaically-oriented” Gentile’s relationship within Jewish community, so if you are not part of a (Messianic) Jewish community, it’s doubtful most of what’s presented in this book is going to be useful (unless you really do want to forsake Yeshua and become a Noahide).

While we can make an argument for Noahides based on the “God fearers” we read about in Acts or some of Paul’s letters, we also have read these God fearers were very joyful when they heard the good news of Rav Yeshua, which imparts a greater ability to draw close to the Almighty than afforded a Noahide (in my opinion).

I’m going to read the rest of the book, but it’s pretty much going where I expected it to go.

If I were part of an actual Jewish community in Messiah, and if there were no pre-established model for my role in said-community, I would probably have a discussion with the congregational leadership about a Gentile’s relationship to Jews based on some synthesis of God fearers, the Acts 15 directives, and perhaps portions of Rabbi Weiner’s book.

However, the only Jews I interact with on a daily basis are my wife and children, so it’s not incumbent upon me to adapt my personal praxis for the sake of peace in a congregation.

For those Gentiles in Messiah who are in community with Jews, it’s a lot more complicated.

Insights from the Author’s Introduction to The Divine Code

divine code
Cover for the Divine Code found at Amazon.com

Included in the Torah, God also repeated and gave to Moses the Seven Commandments for the Children of Noah, along with their explanations and their details.

All the Gentiles of the world were henceforth eternally commanded to accept upon themselves and to fulfill these seven Divine precepts, because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah, and He made known through Moses our teacher that the descendants of Noah had previously been commanded to do them.

-Rabbi Moshe Weiner
from the Author’s Introduction to
The Divine Code, Parts I-IV (Kindle Edition).

Just yesterday I mentioned buying this eBook online. Although I’ve only begun to read it, I found some interesting details I wanted to share.

According to Rabbi Weiner, who periodically references the Rambam, midrash states that on the first day of Adam’s creation, God gave him six of the seven Noahide Laws (although a number of them wouldn’t have made sense to the first man, because, for example, the prohibition against theft requires someone to steal from).

God again gave these laws, this time including the prohibition against eating a limb from a live animal, to Noah (see Genesis 9). However, both of these revelations were private ones, given by God to individuals. In other words, there were no witnesses.

R. Weiner explains that Gentiles were still obligated to obey the seven precepts, but that they yielded limited benefits.

However, when God gave the Torah to Moshe (Moses) at Mount Sinai (and I find it interesting that I’m writing this just days before the Festival of Shavuot), He gave, again according to midrash, both the written and oral Torahs to Moses with the entire nation of Israel standing as witnesses.

The seven Noahide laws were given as part of the Torah, and as part of the Torah, they can never be annulled, deleted, added to, or subtracted from:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

Rav Yeshua (Jesus) affirmed this by his own words (although mainstream Christianity doesn’t necessarily see it that way), which lends some credence to the Jewish idea that we non-Jews are obligated to observe and receive a heightened spiritual benefit from the seven Noahide laws and their detailed explanations as found in the oral Torah. But that assumes Moses really did receive an “oral Torah” at Sinai along with the full contents of the written Torah, and all of that information was passed down in an unbroken line to the present day.

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgement. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.

-Ethics of the Fathers 1:1

Of course if you’re not an Orthodox Jew, you might have a different opinion about all that, but let’s roll with it for the time being.

In his Author’s Introduction, R. Weiner goes on to say:

Jewish Sages and faithful Rabbinical authorities in every generation are commanded to explain the Torah to the rest of the Jewish people. They are also commanded to explain the Noahide commandments to the Gentiles, and to teach them how these seven mitzvot should be fulfilled.

The Rabbi continues his explanation stating that only “accepted Jewish Torah scholars” are authorized to explain the Noahide laws to the Gentiles and no other teachers or authorities should be considered valid.

That would tend to leave out any Christian Pastors or teachers, as well as Jewish teachers who are not accepted as authorities, such as some of those within the Messianic Jewish movement.

The non-profit organization Ask Noah International (ANI) has taken up the mantle of educating the Gentiles, but it’s not something universally embraced by Orthodox Judaism in general (or any other Judaism). I’ve even heard it said once (though I don’t recall the source), that Jews within Messianic Judaism are not obligated to teach the Gentile the ways of righteousness, and that their movement is primarily or exclusively for Jews who have come to faith in Rav Yeshua.

Yet from R. Weiner’s perspective, authorized Jewish Rabbis and scholars are obligated to teach the Gentiles the seven mitzvot and the exact meaning of each one, which is the point of the book I’m reading. From the time of Adam to the giving of the Torah, Gentile observance of the seven laws had some merit attached, but when these laws were given to Moses as part of the Torah along with the explanation for them in the oral Torah, an enhanced spirituality was given to the Gentile by their observance.

When the revelation went from private to public, Gentile obligation and the rewards for doing so, became permanent and eternal.

Of course, exactly how the Gentiles are to observe the mitzvot can only be learned from Jewish scholars who are fluent in the portions of the oral Torah which pertain to those mitzvot. Earlier in this book, it was explained that many or even most Rabbis lack that knowledge and experience, and one of the missions of ANI is to be a resource to them.

R. Weiner quotes Rambam from Laws of Kings 8:11 which states that any Gentile who is pious and carefully observes the seven mitzvot will merit a place in the world to come. He goes on to write:

This is so provided that one accepts them and observes them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moses our teacher…

In a sense, this makes Moses a teacher to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

Remember though, this is only from the author’s brief introduction to the book. I haven’t even started the first chapter yet.

There’s one thing to consider as we go forward. If the seven mitzvot incumbant upon the Gentiles are eternal because they were given to Moses at Sinai and the Torah is eternal, then can we somehow fold them into the Acts 15 ruling of James the Just and the (Messianic) Jerusalem Counsel which gave all Gentiles who are devoted to Rav Yeshua the legal status of “resident aliens” among Israel?

Loving Yourself: A High Holidays Primer for Non-Jews

There is a Midrash (a commentary on the Five Books of Moses in the form of a parable) about a successful businessman who meets a former colleague down on his luck. The colleague begs the successful business man for a substantial loan to turn around his circumstances. Eventually, the businessman agrees to a 6 month loan and gives his former colleague the money. At the end of the 6 months, the businessman goes to collect his loan. The former colleague gives him every last penny. However, the businessman notices that the money is the exact same coins he loaned the man. He was furious! “How dare you borrow such a huge amount and not even use it? I gave this to you to better your life!” The man was speechless.

Likewise, the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves, to enhance our souls by doing the mitzvot (613 commandments). It is up to us to sit down before Rosh Hashana and make a list of what we need to correct in our lives between us and our fellow beings, us and God and us and ourselves!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Nitzavimm (Deut. 29:9-30:20)
Aish.com

shofar-rosh-hashanahRosh Hashanah begins Sunday evening, October 2nd, which is only a few days away. This has pretty much zero meaning in normative Christianity and immense meaning in normative Judaism, as well as in Messianic Judaism and some corners of the Hebrew Roots movement.

One of my readers, ProclaimLiberty, who is a Messianic Jew living in Israel, has suggested that Sukkot might serve for Gentile Messianic believers as a better holiday to observe what Jews typically practice during the High Holidays. Perhaps he’s right. Certainly Zechariah 14:16-19 has much to say about this.

In my own circumstance, I don’t plan to commemorate the High Holidays. I don’t doubt my wife will attend synagogue, but for personal reasons, I choose to make those observances within myself.

I hadn’t planned to blog again on this topic. My previous blog post The Month of Elul and the Gentile Christian has gained a lot of traction and the conversation is up to 53 comments as of this writing. But then I saw the quote from Rabbi Packouz’s recent article and was reminded of the “Parable of the Talents” we find in Matthew 25:14-30. I’m certainly not suggesting a direct parallel. Rabbi Packouz would not have considered referencing the Apostolic Scriptures, and the classic Christian interpretation of the parable doesn’t touch upon the above-quoted midrash, but I want to play a game.

Specifically, I want to play a game of pretend. I want to pretend that the parable can have multiple, metaphorical meanings. Let’s just pretend that we can apply the commentary by Rabbi Packouz to the Parable of the Talents and say one of the things God does not want is for us to waste our very lives.

Let’s just say that one of the things that Yeshua wants us to make use of is God’s investment in our own personal value.

In the comments section of my blog post on Elul, it has come up multiple times that Gentiles in God’s economy have less value, perhaps much less value than Jews. I don’t necessarily believe this, but any non-Jew who has been around the Messianic Jewish community long enough can get the impression that, based on the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in all of the covenant promises of God, including the New Covenant, we don’t count for much.

So, to again quote R. Packouz, let’s just pretend that relative to being human, whether we are Jewish or Gentile, “the Almighty gives each of us a soul. He doesn’t want us to return it to Him at the end of our days in the same condition that we received it. He wants us to better ourselves…”

Since the 613 commandments aren’t applicable to us, it becomes a bit if a head-scratcher as to what we are supposed to do to improve ourselves, but that’s only if we aren’t paying attention. Many of the things that Jews do to improve themselves are available to everyone.

tzedakahGive to charity, pray, volunteer your time at a local foodbank, and generally act toward others in a kind manner, even when you have to go out of your way to do it.

It is said that the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40) are to love the Lord your God with all of your resources and to love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments are just big containers that hold lots of other commandments, some having to do with your relationship with God and others with your relationship with human beings.

The point is, God gave each and every one of us our lives and He expects us to do something with those lives. Not just with specific talents or gifts, and not just with money, but with all that we are. Going out, we should be better people than we were when we came into this world.

We Gentiles who are in some manner associated with the Messianic movement or at least the Messianic perspective often complain about our status, as if the Jewish people have it all sewn up. I don’t think that’s the case. I think we get so busy being involved in our own angst, that we can’t see beyond it.

I read an article in the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish called Synagogue Dues: Pay to Pray? The Jewish person asking the question is upset that Jews should have to buy a ticket or a membership to a synagogue in order to enter and pray on the High Holidays. He’s so upset that he’s deliberately boycotting the holidays.

The Aish Rabbi responds in part with this:

I must say, however, I’m surprised by your reaction to this whole situation. Who are you ultimately hurting by boycotting the holidays? Instead of saying: “That blasted synagogue! I’ll teach them a lesson and defile my soul with some bacon!” Why not say: “I’ll start my own synagogue and the policy will be free seating on High Holidays for those who can’t afford tickets.”

It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive. Proactive means making your own reality happen. Reactive is allowing other people’s shortcomings to hurt you. Judaism is a religion of action. So let me know when you start that synagogue. It’ll be my honor to pray with you there!

There may be some difficulty in defining the roles and duties of Gentiles who have chosen to become part of a Messianic Jewish community, but make no mistake, no Messianic Jewish person, no matter what their position or education, can interfere with your relationship with God.

If you feel there’s something about Messianic Judaism or some Messianic Jews that devalues you as a creation of God and a devotee of Yeshua, that may be your problem and not their’s. Even if an individual Messianic Jew (or anyone else) attempted to persuade you that God thinks of you as sloppy left overs compared to Jewish people, that simply is not true.

awareness-of-godA friend of mine is fond of saying, “Do not seek out Christianity, and do not seek out Judaism. Seek out an encounter with the Living God.”

If you’re here, that means God wants you here, and he expects you to fulfill whatever roles and tasks He has assigned you. Your job, our job, all of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, is to seek out what we are supposed to do and then to do it.

I believe the first task is to truly embrace the fact that God loves us and wants us to appreciate that love, not only by loving God but by loving ourselves. How can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we don’t love and value our own existence first?