Tag Archives: messianic judaism

Review of “Halachic Authority in the Life of the Messianic Community”

This leads me to conclude that the Jewish religion has preserved the Jewish people in their long wanderings in the desert of the Gentiles. Some will say that it is not Judaism which has preserved the Jewish people, but God’s grace. They should rest assured. God has indeed preserved the Jewish people, and he has done so by securing them in this “ark” that is called the Jewish religion. The Jewish religion therefore constitutes a revelation of God’s grace towards the Jewish people. This religion, which arose from the smoky ruins of the Temple and which people so love to hate, is the primary instrument through which God has preserved the Jewish people. Because of it, there are Jews in the world today.

-Tsvi Sadan
“Halachic Authority in the Life of the Messianic Community”
Messiah Journal
Issue 109/Winter 2012, pp 16-17

When I saw the title, I thought the topic would be more related to the specific differences between halacha in traditional, Orthodox Judaism and a halacha that could be applied to Jewish, and perhaps in some sense, to non-Jewish disciples of the Master in a Messianic framework. However, Sadan’s excellent article, which was originally delivered as a lecture in Israel on September 5, 2008, addresses something else almost entirely: the religion of the Jews who follow the Messiah.

Let me explain.

There is an impression that the Jews, and especially the Jews who were born, raised, and educated within a traditional religious and cultural Jewish framework, who are part of Messianic Judaism and who are disciples of Yeshua (Jesus), “the Maggid of Nataret,” belong to a different sort of “Judaism” than their brothers in what we refer to as “Rabbinic Judaism.” In fact, many Jews and non-Jews in other branches of the “Messianic” movement, as well as those attached to Hebrew Roots groups, tend to view Rabbinic Judaism, what we consider the Reform, Conservative, and especially Orthodox branches of Judaism, to be separate, distinct, and “lesser” forms of “true” Judaism. They seem to believe that the only fully realized Judaism is represented by a Messianic Judaism that follows Jesus while removing any aspect of halacha and tradition that exceeds the “written Torah.” This form of Messianic Judaism, actually rejects Rabbinic Judaism in the vast majority of its content (except for using the model of the modern synagogue service and the use of tallitot, siddurim, and so forth) especially and including Mishnah, Talmud, and Gemara: the so called leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (see Matthew 16:6 and Mark 8:15).

According to Tsvi Sadan, they are dead wrong. Forgive me. What follows is necessarily lengthy.

To understand the meaning of this “leaven,” which scares the daylights out of some people here, I will take just one verse from an abundance of new Testament verses quoted in those inflammatory letters. In Matthew 16 (the word “hypocrites” does not appear in the standard Greek text used today), Yeshua twice calls his disciples to beware of the “leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (vv. 6, 11). These two admonitions follow the miracles and wonders which he had just performed in the sight of thousands of people. When the Pharisees and the Sadducees approach him to test him (v. 1), Yeshua correctly sees this as impudence of the highest order, and responds accordingly: “[Hypocrites,] do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky but cannot discern the sign of the times?” (v. 3). This means that Yeshua is labeling his opponents hypocrites because of their pretense to see one more sign while in fact all they wanted to do is accuse him.

-Sadan, pg 15

He goes on to say point blank that the “leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” is hypocrisy, not the specifics of Second Temple era halacha and tradition. Sadan confirms that there is no dissonance between Messianic Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism or for that matter, the religious concept of Judaism in any form and Rabbinic Judaism. More plainly put, Rabbinic Judaism is the only Judaism, according to Sadan.

So where does that leave the non-Jews who, in some manner or fashion, are attached to the Messianic and Hebrew Roots worlds? Moreover, where does that leave Christians in relation to their Jewish brothers who also honor Yeshua as Messiah and Lord?

Finally, let me make one point with respect to the Christians living in our midst, because probably there is someone who will distort things and claim that the position I have proposed here leads to hated of the Gentiles. Let me say here that I warmly welcome every Christian – on the condition that he or she does not attempt to impose his or her religion on me. I regard very seriously the behavior of some Christians living in Israel who have the gall to malign the Jews living in the state of Israel merely because they refuse to be evangelicals, Lutherans, or Baptists. God-fearers from all nations are welcome to participate in the Jewish service of God as long as they do not speak against Israel, Torah, and Judaism. I do not agree with the attitude that says that in order to achieve unity with our Gentile brethren, we should remain Jews but reject Judaism. I consider this assertion as nothing less than complete and utter foolishness.

-Sadan pp. 24-25

Laying TefillinSadan continues to strongly make his point for another page and a half, and most assuredly all of it, as I imagine these brief quotes have done, will certainly bring forth the ire of many non-Jews and some Jews in the aforementioned “Messianic” and Hebrew Roots movements, who indeed believe that the Jews who worship the Messiah must abandon Judaism in order to be “completed Jews” (as if a Jew who worships in the manner of his fathers is somehow incomplete).

Sadan’s article does bring up one very interesting point: do Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians belong to two separate and unrelated religions? I have no idea what Sadan thinks, but as far as I can gather from his article, the response seems to be “yes and no.”

It’s “yes” in the sense that everything that Judaism is, including the 613 commandments of the Torah and the entire body of Talmudic judgments, rulings, and traditions, apply only to a Jewish population. Judaism’s ethnic and cultural aspects are completely intertwined with Judaism as a “religion,” so you cannot remove the traditions, without removing what it is that defines a Jew. I’ve said all this before and Sadan’s article does nothing to change my mind.

It’s “no” in the sense that, in spite of the differences in our covenant obligations to God, we share One God and One Messiah, and we are all His creations. We are different branches, but grafted into the same tree. We are Jew and Gentile, but we have equal access to God. We are co-citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven and we all inherit a life in the world to come. And we will all sit at the same table at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11).

I do want to take exception to one statement in the article where it appears Sadan refers to we Christians as “God-fearers”.

God-fearers from all nations are welcome to participate in the Jewish service of God as long as they do not speak against Israel, Torah, and Judaism.

I don’t believe that Christians who have accepted the Messianic covenant upon themselves (as it applies to the nations) are equivalent to the ancient God-fearers or the modern Noahides. God-fearers were non-Jews who came out of pagan worship to recognize the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the One, true, and unique God of the Universe. They quietly worshiped among the Jews in their synagogues and I imagine the God-fearers humbly populating the Court of the Gentiles in Herod’s Temple, listening with awe to the songs of the Priests, and urgently desiring to bring their own sacrifices before the King.

But they had no covenant relationship with God at all. There was adoration and worship, but no access (unless they chose to convert to Judaism). Jesus, the Messiah, appeared in the world and changed all that. He allowed the nations to come close to God, to be adopted, and to be called sons and daughters of the Most High, through the blood of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29). I certainly hope that Sadan hasn’t chosen to “demote” those of us who come along side him as co-members of the Messianic covenant.

If you’re not familiar with some of the related concepts Mark Kinzer describes in his book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People, you may find Sadan’s article shocking and even completely alien to how you’ve imagined Jews being attached to Jesus as their own Messiah. If you are familiar with Kinzer’s book, some of you may still be outraged at what Sadan writes and vehemently disagree with his propositions and his ardent passion in defending his own Judaism.

This issue of Messiah Journal couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Last night, I was having a conversation with Judah Gabriel Himango on his Facebook page about the Shabbat and what the coming of Jesus changed in the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. Judah suggested that because of Jesus, Jews should abandon the traditional Jewish synagogue model of worship and adopt a Shabbat service more along the lines of what’s recorded in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. Here are some of his comments:

Messiah’s arrival was of such great impact, such that the way we live our lives and the way our congregations are modeled must be in light of his coming. Lives and religious services modeled on the understanding that Messiah hasn’t come would be to live as if he never arrived in the first place. The Messianic movement, including the Messianic Judaism subset, should not merely be emulators of Judaism.

How about the stuff in Corinthians 14 for starters? Shouldn’t those things be in Messianic services?

And how about the Psalms, where music and instruments are used to praise the Lord? Shouldn’t those things be in services, both Jewish and Messianic?

I believe people — Jews and gentiles — should change their lives around to what Messiah commanded and what his disciples taught in the Scriptures.

If our lives and our services look exactly like those before Messiah, it’s as if his arrival never happened.

Needless to say, I disagreed.

The RabbiLet me make clear that I like Judah and I’m not angry or upset with him. I’m not picking on him or singling Judah out, but rather, I’m using his words to illustrate what many other disciples of Jesus believe and want to see actually occur. I must disagree with his desire to replace Jewish worship with how he interprets one small portion of the New Testament, as well as with the general suggestion among Christians, that Messianic Jews should remain (somehow) Jews but flush Judaism down the nearest toilet, tossing Rabbis and Talmud under a speeding bus. While I have questions about how Sadan sees Christians vs. God-fearers, I agree with him in most if not all of the rest of his points. I can’t see the Gentiles in the church and in “Messianism” and Hebrew Roots as having any right whatsoever to re-define Judaism in their own image. Of course, they say that it’s not they who are doing the re-defining, but Jesus instead, but I disagree. We’ve seen that there are an abundant number of paths one can take to interpret the New Testament, including doing away with the Law (and the Jews) and replacing it with the Grace of Christ (and the Gentile Christians), and I disagree with that as well (see my article in MJ 109 “Origins of Supersessionism in the Church” for more).

In previous blog posts and blog comments, I’ve tried to make arguments that present many of the same ideas as expressed in Tsvi Sadan’s “Halachic Authority in the Life of the Messianic Community,” but I lack his insights and perspectives as a Jew and frankly, his wonderful talent in writing. Whether you end up agreeing with him or not, I believe that reading this illuminating work will open your eyes to a new and different way of seeing the Jew in relationship to his Messiah within the time-honored and God-granted context of Judaism.

Christmas Trees and Panic Attacks

There are many quaint customs that get passed on from father and mother to son and daughter. Some of these practices are minhag Yisrael which developed for various reasons. Others are firmly based on halachah. Still others are sometimes misapplications of both.

A new school is always an adjustment. Especially if one commutes, it is hard to know just how much food one needs for his grueling day. One commuting student was somewhat hungry and had nothing left from his lunch. A kindly student—an Israeli of Sefardic descent—shared an apple with the new student. To the recipient’s surprise, there was a bit cut away from the apple. “Why is some cut away?” he asked his friend.

“My parents do that to all of the produce which comes through our house,” the boy explained. “It is a way of fulfilling the mitzvah of tithing produce.”

“What, in chutz l’aretz?” wondered the surprised boy.

“That is our custom,” was his friend’s simple reply.

In addition to a snack, the recipient had also received much food for thought.

When he got older he learned the probable source of this custom was a misapplication of a practice during the times of chazal which is not relevant in most places today. In the word of the Beis Yosef, zt”l,: “Since the custom is not to take terumos and maasros in these lands, I do not wish to discuss these halachos at length. Although we find in Bechoros 27—and other places in the Talmud—that they used to take terumos and ma’asros outside of Israel, the Ri, zt”l, explains that this only applies to lands which are close to Eretz Yisrael. Tosafos in Avodah Zarah writes the same, as does the Rambam in the beginning of Hichos Terumah…”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Family Custom?”
Bechoros 27

I read this and immediately thought of the continuing discussions in social media on the pros and cons of celebrating Christmas. These discussions reach the level of a “spiritual panic attack” in some corners of the Messianic world while the topic is all but ignored by the majority of folks in traditional Christianity and Judaism.

I was talking to my wife about traditions the other night and so much in the Judaism is driven by tradition. The interesting part is, there isn’t just one Jewish tradition. For instance, if there is a general ruling applied in the Talmud, but your local Rabbi has a differing opinion, a Jew is obligated to follow their local Rabbi’s ruling. Ashkenazi Jews have a tradition of considering beans and rice as leavened during Passover while Sephardic Jews do not, so if you are Ashkenazi, you are obligated to follow your own tradition (whether you personally agree with it or not) rather than choosing the Sephardic tradition. And as we see from the quotte above, there can even be family traditions within Judaism that are considered binding.

No wonder Judaism is confusing for most non-Jews.

I’m writing this to say that there can be more than one right way to behave as a person of faith and more than one tradition that is correct, depending on who you are and how you are identified. I don’t mean to say that there aren’t wrong things for a person of faith to do, but I am saying that there may be multiple streams of “correctness” or “acceptability”, depending on your traditions. The celebration of Christmas is a tradition. It’s attached to an actual event, the birth of Christ, but there’s nothing about the timing of Christmas or how it is observed, particularly in the modern era, that is really tied in to the birth of a baby boy to a young Jewish couple in first century occupied Israel. It certainly isn’t a celebration that the disciples of Jesus followed, either during his lifetime or after the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. I can’t imagine Paul showing the Gentile disciples in Antioch or Rome how to put up “Christmas” decorations.

But it’s a tradition that, in one fashion or another, the church as been celebrating for a very long time. How it is celebrated as changed over the years and the Christmas that we have now is just a few centuries old. For all those nations where Christmas is celebrated, it is observed with different types of traditions, and some are very different from what we have in America. There are even different ways to celebrate Christmas in different churches in the same city and even between different families who go to the same church.

And then there are corners of the Messianic movement that go absolutely bonkers at this time of year if anyone even breathes the suggestion that celebrating Christmas might be “OK” and not automatically “pagan” and “evil”.

I read a recent commentary on Facebook that was “shared” and originally written by a Messianic teacher I’ve never heard of before (I won’t mention names but the commentary got my attention, though not in a good way). This person compared the Christmas tree to the Tower of Babel, directly applied the prohibitions against idols written in Jeremiah 10 to the Christmas tree, and made an absolute statement that celebrating Christmas leads to (spiritual) death.

Oh my!

One of the reasons I left “the movement” was because of some of the more outrageous teachers that are attracted to “Messianic Judaism”. As in many other religious traditions, there are a number of different branches to “Messianism” and some are more “interesting” (I’m trying to be polite) than others. I have many friends in different branches of the movement, both in person and on the web, and I’m not trying to offend any of them, but I need to try to remind everybody that none of us has the secret keys to the truth and any of us can go off half-cocked given a good enough reason.

It’s OK to disagree with someone’s religious practice and to believe their understanding of the Bible is wrong. However, it is not OK to pass judgment on others to the point where you state unequivocally that those folks with whom you disagree are “going to hell in a handbasket.”

Interestingly enough, my family and I went out to dinner tonight and afterward, we stopped off at a confection shop in the Boise North End called Goody’s. The place was completely decked out for Christmas and while we were waiting for our order to be filled, my son told me there were some things about Christmas that he kind of misses. He lives in his own place and I told him he could decorate it for the holidays if he wanted, but he said it wouldn’t make much sense to do it just for him. He also said that he didn’t doubt he’d celebrate Christmas in the future when he had a family of his own. I was just a little surprised, but he was probably referring to the significant likelihood that he wouldn’t marry a Jew (just how many eligible Jewish young women are there in Boise, anyway?). Michael self-identifies as Jewish and has a spiritual component to his life, but he isn’t particularly religious. It occurred to me that in addition to community traditions and family traditions, sometimes there’s the evolution of the traditions of the individual. Like I keep saying, we all make decisions and we all manage the consequences in one way or another. We all have different ways in which we relate to each other and to God.

We need to keep it together, gang. Faith in God is about listening to and being supportive of others, even if they are different from you. Disagree on principle if you must, but do not condemn, especially if you aren’t that sure of how God views our traditions and particularly when you realize that how we understand the Bible and God may not have absolute fidelity to the original. For tomorrow morning’s “meditation”, I’m posting a blog called “The New Testament is Not in Heaven”. I hope I can further illuminate the role of tradition in our lives for both Christians and Jews, and just how much of what we believe comes from God is actually based on traditions.

Addendum: For more on this topic, go to Kabbalah Christmas and The New Testament is Not in Heaven.


the_womans_serpentWhen people saw the snake, they understood that in order to elicit this transcendent divinity and be healed, they had to transform their own, inner “snake” – their evil inclination – into a force of good…The evil inclination impels us to sin for comfort, pleasure, or excitement. When we convince it that the truest comfort, pleasure, and excitement lie in holiness, it plunges headlong into fulfilling G-d’s purpose on earth, endowing our drive toward divinity with much greater power than it could have had otherwise. Thus, the initially evil inclination becomes the source of merit and goodness. The snake is transformed from the source of death to the agent of life.

From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe;
adapted by Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
“Transforming the Primordial Snake”
[Based on Likutei Sichot vol. 13, pp. 75-77]
Kabbalah Online

It’s widely assumed that Jews do not believe in the doctrine of original sin. The notion that infants are born carrying the burden of Eve’s taking a bite of forbidden fruit is considered one of the main theological distinctions between Jews and Christians. But Alan Cooper, provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, says it’s not that simple.

-Rebecca Spence
“Bible scholar to put Jewish spin on original sin”

On many occasions, my wife has told me that a major difference between Jewish and Christian beliefs is “original sin”. Last summer, I attempted to discuss the Jewish perspective on original sin in a three-part series on this blog, starting with Overcoming Evil. I found that the Jewish presentation of the first “sin” by human beings is remarkably different than that of the church.

The typical Christian perspective is that humankind inherited the initial rebellion of the first human beings, Adam and Eve. As a result, we are all born in a “fallen” state, with the primary desire to do evil. Judaism, by contrast, has a more complex set of beliefs based on the original “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” event. The upshot is that people have an equal capacity for good or evil and that we constantly make choices as to which “inclination” we lean toward. People are neither ultimately good or ultimately evil.

Frankly, even a casual review of human history seems to reveal the nature of the human race as rather dismal, but that’s just my point of view.

The brief interview with Alan Cooper at jweekly.com reveals that the difference in perspective on original sin between Christianity and Judaism may not be based solely on theological understanding.

When Jews nowadays ask themselves what are the basic ideological differences between Judaism and Christianity, one of the most prominent differences that many Jews will cite is the doctrine of original sin, which really gets down to basic anthropology. What is basic human nature according to Jewish teaching and according to Christian teaching, and what are the religious consequences of adopting one view or the other?

There’s two things to note here: the choice of how to view basic human nature, and the choice of theological interpretation of the first act of disobedience by people toward God. For the past 2,000 years, Christianity and Judaism have been defining and redefining their viewpoints in relation to each other and tending to present more what separates them as religions rather than what makes them alike. I spent some time talking about this concept of definition and “otherness” in yesterday’s morning meditation. Judaism seems to have a more “optimistic” perspective on human nature while Christianity comes off as decidedly more pessimistic. Yet, as the Cooper interview reveals, those differences may not be all that clear cut.

There are a couple places in the Talmud where it’s asked, “When did the pollution of the serpent cease?” The very phrase “pollution of the serpent” is surprising, and is probably reflective of what it would mean if Jews were to adopt a Christian premise of human nature.

the-joy-of-torahThe fact that even Cooper calls the phrase “pollution of the serpent” surprising seems to indicate that it’s not a concept that is commonly understood in today’s Judaism. Of course, Cooper also points out that it’s “unfair to characterize a uniform Jewish view on just about any topic. As soon as you start talking about different periods [in history], it’s almost impossible to answer any question unless you specify what Jews, where and when. Essentially, uniformity of Jewish thought is impossible to find.”

I’m sure Cooper didn’t intend to address the idea of “Messianic Judaism” or those Jews who claim a faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah within a wholly Jewish context, but his last comments in the interview are extremely relevant to that group.

Even if we agree with Christians that humankind was born in a state of grace, fell, and now requires divine salvation, where we find that salvation is very different. For Christians, it’s Christ, and for Jews, it’s Torah. The Christians tell the Jews that the law doesn’t save you, and the rabbis say that, in fact, the law is the only thing that can save you. The only antidote to the pollution of the serpent is Torah.

If I go over to the other side and accept Jesus and I’m saved, why would I keep putting on tefillin and observing Shabbat?

This continues to illustrate a major separation point between Christians and Jews and a continuing wedge between Jews who are Messianic and the rest of Jewry. Cooper says that he, and by inference any modern religious Jew, would no longer follow the Torah if they came to believe that they were saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. In contrast, many Jews who live as observant religious Jews and who are disciples of Jesus as Messiah, attempt to integrate the core tenants of Christianity while also accepting the Torah lifestyle, seeing grace and law as coexisting rather than mutually exclusive.

If we look at the doctrine of original sin as one that was created to define a difference between Christians and Jews, the question comes up as to whether “original sin” is even valid. It is scripturally based on Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 and according to Wikipedia (quick and dirty research here), “began to be developed by the 2nd-century Bishop of Lyon Irenaeus in his controversy with the dualist Gnostics.”

Apparently, not all Christians accept the idea of original sin and some believe that there is “nothing inherently sinful about our emotions or bodily pleasures. Sin is a commitment to what pleases us without regard to God’s will.” This fits a little better with how Judaism sees original sin, but it also introduces the idea that both Christian and Jewish theology, and particularly the points where they differ, may be driven by the need for Christianity and Judaism to be different from each other, in order to establish their distinctiveness and their separate paths to salvation and to God.

A significant number of the Gentile Christians who align with the Messianic movement do so because they see the church as apostate and pagan and view Messianic Judaism as more “pure” and much more closely aligned with what Jesus originally taught and the worship practice of first century “Jewish Christianity”. In fact, we see that all of our modern religious interpretations have been somewhat muddied by twenty centuries of religious haggling and jockeying for position by Jews and Christians. Even the traditionally observant Jews in the Messianic movement aren’t so much returning to the past as attempting to forge a Jewish future as adherents to the Messiah, and in doing so, defy Cooper’s assertion that praying with tefillin and observing Shabbat are inconsistent with the behavior, teachings, and grace of Christ.

graceThe “antidote to the pollution of the serpent “ for a Messianic Jew or for any Jew is the Torah, but the Torah, however significant, is not meaningful when isolated from faith in God. That faith is exemplified in Abraham and the seed of Abraham, the Messiah, is the living Torah and the reversal of the poison that struck the heel of man in Genesis 3:15. For the non-Jew who does not have Torah, we can still be grafted into the “antidote” by adopting an Abrahamic faith in the Messiah of the Jews who allows us to be accepted by the same grace and to be nurtured by the same love of God (Galatians 3:28).

As fascinating as I find my studies into religion, it is not what I have learned that sustains my faith. It is God speaking to me in the lonely spaces and the empty regions of my soul, when people continually fail and the poison proceeds to work its way through my veins, that enables me to take another step forward, when everything else in the universe tells me to give up.

First Steps on a Somewhat Familiar Path

How do we maintain a balance between the values of centralized authority and personal autonomy in halachik decision making, particularly for status issues that relate to the global Jewish community such as conversion policies and standards? How do we provide and promote a ‘big tent’ philosophy welcoming Rabbis who share different approaches and philosophies while at the same time maintain boundaries of acceptable halachik and hashkafic (ideological) ideas and behavior? How should the agenda of the Jewish community be set and how should we leverage our limited resources? How can we collaborate and create synergy with leadership of the greater Jewish community without compromising or diluting authentic and authoritative Torah positions and messages?

-Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
04 November 2011
“Let’s be like Avraham and Sarah and change the world one person at a time”

Interesting questions and probably, in some sense, not limited to the world of Modern Orthodox Judaism. When I was reading Rabbi Goldberg’s article, I couldn’t help but think of those congregations of Jews who are asking similar questions within the context and fellowship of worshiping Jesus or Yeshua, recognizing him as the Messiah who has come and will come again. While mainstream Judaism has definite beliefs regarding Jews who acknowledge Jesus in this light, the questions regarding identity and the desire to “collaborate and create synergy with leadership of the greater Jewish community without compromising or diluting authentic and authoritative Torah positions and messages” is very much the same.

These questions are frequently debated in the blogosphere at places such as Yinon Blog, Messianic Jewish Musings, Kineti L’Tziyon, and Daily Minyan, just to name a few. These can be questions that are very difficult for Christians to understand. This is not to say that individual Christian churches and denominations do not struggle with matters of theology and identity in relation to the larger Body of Christ, but that the nature and substance of that struggle is markedly different.

Both mainstream Judaism and mainstream Christianity have a difficult time looking at Jews who accept Jesus as the Messiah as truly Jewish. I know. It’s strange. But as I’ve pointed out in some of my previous blog posts such as The Tannaitic Rabbi, not only does Jesus definitely fit the model of a late Second Temple period itinerant Rabbi, but he is virtually impossible to understand when removed from his ancient Jewish context. In that, those Jews who see him from that perspective, recognize him as Rabbi, Prophet, and Messiah. This would not be very likely (or even possible), should these Jewish believers follow the pattern desired by the church of coming to faith in Jesus, converting to Christianity, and leaving all traces of their Jewish lifestyle, heritage, and identity behind. I could even argue that a Jew must continue being Jewish as a believer in the Jewish Messiah if they are to be true to their faith. In other words, Jews who are “Messianic” must be “Messianic Jews”, and continue to live an ethnically and religiously authentic Jewish lifestyles if they are to be able to grasp the Messiah as the Messiah and not “the Christ”.

In his blog post, Rabbi Goldberg continues:

As we dialogued and debated questions like these and others, I couldn’t help but think about an important statistic that weighs heavily on me. In a world of billions of people, there are only 15 million Jews. Of them, only a small fraction are Orthodox and within Orthodoxy, only a small fraction define themselves as Modern Orthodox.

tallit-prayerIf advancing the goals of Modern Orthodox Judaism in light of its modest Jewish population seems a challenging task to Rabbi Goldberg, how much more of a challenge is establishing and advancing Messianic Judaism, particularly with limited understanding and support from both larger Judaism and larger Christianity? As Rabbi Joshua Brumbach, Senior Rabbi at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue in Beverly Hills, CA recently wrote, there is a rich history of Jews within the last 150 years, particularly noteworthy Rabbis, who all came to faith in the “Tannaitic Rabbi of Nateret” and who continued to live Jewish lives, worship in Jewish synagogues, and in many cases, continued to serve as Rabbis, within their Jewish communities. The Messianic community strives to progress and expand the work of these courageous pioneers in the 21st century. Interestingly enough, Rabbi Goldberg in his encouraging statement regarding Modern Orthodox Judaism, also can be said to map out the territory for the Messianic community of Jews.

If this goal seems unachievable and out of reach, I encourage you to look no further than this week’s parsha and our great patriarch Avraham Avinu and his partner Sarah. They lived in a world saturated with paganism, corruption and selfishness and yet had the courage to articulate and spread the revolutionary message of ethical monotheism. They lived in a world with no mass media, email, social networking, youtube videos, microphones, billboards or newspapers and yet, look at the result of their efforts. Billions of people across the globe believe in one God and the Jewish values of justice, charity and ethical living. Avraham and Sarah likely never dreamt they would earn international fame and acclaim for their efforts. They simply believed they had a magnificent treasure and wanted to share it with others one at a time.

Let’s be like Avraham and Sarah and change the world one person at a time beginning with inspiring ourselves, our family members and those around us.

How are we to understand worshiping Jesus as the ancient Jewish expression of Rabbi and Messiah within the context of modern Jewish worship and halacha? How can the first century Jewish Messiah be seen through the lens of Torah, Talmud, and perhaps even Kabbalah? The answers to these questions are struggling to be born and to take their first breath in the world. They take their first steps, even on a somewhat familiar path, as all new things do, one at a time. The rest of us may not understand, but we can still be there to support and encourage and to hope.

Journey of the Ger Toshav: Failed Connection

Broken connectionThe Gemara rejects this suggestion, because it is Rav himself who said that establishing an omen is only prohibited when it is done as we find with Eliezer, the servant of Avraham. When Eliezer went to find a wife for Yitzchak, he announced that the woman who would offer him and his camels water would be the one who would be the wife for Yitzchak.

Tosafos answers that according to one opinion, Eliezer was a Noachide, who was not commanded to avoid this type of conduct. And, according to the view that he was commanded to abide by it, we must say that he actually asked Rivka about her
family before making any decisions.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Relying on omens and signs which portend the future”
Chillun 95

The non-Jewish cook is called a “kefeilah.” Rashi explains that he is a baker, while the Aruch translates this word to refer to a cook. Toras Chaim explains that according to Rashi, the reason we trust the non-Jew is that we present the question to him innocently, in a general conversation, without his realizing that we are going to be relying on his word for halachic purposes. In this case, we do not think that the non-Jew will intentionally lie, as he is not aware that we are listening to his statement for any practical purpose.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Asking a non-Jew to taste the questionable food”
Chullin 97

(Continuing from yesterday’s Part 2 of the series: The Ger Toshav at Worship)

I read these two Dafs last week while pondering the Ger Toshav question and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles and was struck by the contrasting examples of trusted and non-trusted Gentiles from the Jewish perspective. On the one hand, we have the example of Eliezer’s relationship with Abraham. While we cannot say that Abraham was a “Jew” in the modern sense nor an “Israelite” since Jacob was not yet born and had not fathered the 12 patriarchs, he is considered the Father of Judaism and the first ethical monotheist in the line of the Jewish people.

Eliezer, though not a member of Abraham’s family, was a servant who was so trusted, that Abraham sent him back to Haran, the land of Abraham’s ancestors, to find and bring a wife back for Abraham’s son Isaac (see Genesis 24).

On the other hand, as we see in the Daf for Chullin 97, a Jew may trust a Gentile to advise him on an important manner, in this case the taste of a food item that may or may not be forbidden to the Jew, only as long as the non-Jew does not know that he is helping to decide an issue of halachah. The implication is that if the non-Jew knew how important his opinion was to the Jew, he might deliberately lie to him in order to induce him (and other Jews) to eat something forbidden.

Given the long history of enmity between Jews and Gentiles, I guess I can’t blame the Rabbis for this ruling, but it still stings a little. I would like to think there is a way to bridge the gap between Christians and Jews (Messianic and otherwise), but I can see that a rather long and bloody history is standing in my way. Could this also be the problem between Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish (MJ) community or more specifically, between the One Law (OL) faction of MJ, which is largely Gentile/Christian directed, and the Bilateral Ecclesiology (BE) faction, which is largely directed by a Jewish leadership? Is it a matter of trust, at least in part?

That could very well be. I’ve previously said that OL’s efforts to establish Gentile equality with Jews relative to being obligated to the 613 commandments is interpreted by BE as an incursion into Jewish identity and an attempt (even unintentionally) to obliterate the identity distinctions between Gentile and Jew, effectively rendering Judaism non-existent.

That could be a trust issue (I say that as an understatement).

Frankly, my investigation isn’t taking an encouraging direction. I recently discovered that it is not possible to be a Noahide and a Christian from a traditionally Jewish point of view. I’ve exchanged private communications with a Jewish gentleman (and since they are private, I won’t publish any identifying details) who is well versed about Noahides and he assures me that for many reasons, including the “polytheistic” nature of Christianity and the Jewish belief that Jesus (or at least Paul) was a “false prophet”, anyone self-identifying as a Christian could not be considered as a “righteous Gentile”.

It seems my investigation is stalled. How can I take and adapt any elements or cues regarding the relationship between Gentiles and Jews in the Messianic world from the Noahide/Jew relationship in traditional Judaism when any status of “righteousness” as a Christian is cancelled by my Christianity? That means, from a traditional Jewish point of view, I am viewed as a pagan, polytheistic, idol worshiper. I was rather hoping for more.

SeparatedIf the BE contingent in MJ is drawing its identity largely from mainstream Judaism, then how much of that sentiment is carried over into Jewish/Gentile relationships? It can’t quite be the same because both Jews and Gentiles in MJ confess Jesus (Yeshua, within this context) as the Jewish Messiah and that salvation comes through the “living Word.” The question of monotheism is still a thorny one, but I won’t address it as part of this series. Since “righteousness” of all members of the Messianic world must come from the Messiah, then its Gentile members cannot be faulted for having the same faith in Jesus as the Jewish members.

Extending that into the world in which I live, those Jewish members of MJ/BE must also, at least at a very basic level, accept my faith since we both recognize Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and we both are brought before the throne of God through the sacrifice of Christ.

But saying that, I’m no closer to an answer to this puzzling set of queries now than I was when I first conceived this series. I’m also at a loss as to how to proceed and must admit that the series, barring any further developments, is closed.

With the days of teshuvah almost elapsed and the approach of Yom Kippur coming rapidly upon us, I can only throw myself before the mercy of God and let Him deal with His creations. How disappointed in us He must be.

I wonder when I’ll learn that the barriers are firmly in place, humanity in its different groups, including Jew and Gentile, are established as we are, and divided we will be until God unites us all again at the end of all things.

It’s not all bad. At least I learned that BS”D is the Aramaic phrase “B’Sayata Di’shamaya,” which means “With the help of Heaven.”

Journey of the Ger Toshav: First Step

JourneyTosafos discusses how to understand how Eliezer, the trusted and faithful servant of Avraham Avinu, conducted himself in a questionable manner by letting an omen determine such a critical matter. The Gemara seems to say that he was in violation of the Torah’s law not to rely upon omens (Vayikra 19:26). Tosafos answers that according to one opinion, Eliezer was a Noachide, who was not commanded to avoid this type of conduct. And, according to the view that he was commanded to abide by it, we must say that he actually asked Rivka about her family before making any decisions.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Relying on omens and signs which portend the future”
Chullin 95

And the 126th prohibition is that we are forbidden from feed­ing meat from the Pesach offering to [any non-Jew, even] a ger toshav.

Translated by Rabbi Berel Bell
Sefer Hamitzvot
“A Gentile Eating of the Paschal Offering”
Negative Commandment 126

I’ve been trying to understand the relationship between Jews and Gentiles and how we are connected to God (and perhaps even to each other). This has been a recurring theme in my blogs for well over a year and I suspect I’ll never come to a final conclusion, but something in me refuses to let it go.

Between Christianity and Judaism, we like to think we have our roles all figured out. The Jews have Moses and the Christians have Jesus. Everybody else, well…they’re everybody else. The Jews believe that any non-Jew who adheres to the Seven Laws of Noah (see Genesis 9 for the source) is a “righteous Gentile” or Ger Toshav and merits a place in the world to come. This may well be true of the Gentile, regardless of what other traditions or religious practices the Ger Toshav follows. Christianity believes that a person must become a Christian in order to be saved and that there are no other alternatives (John 14:6).

While the Jewish perspective does not discount a Christian being a righteous Gentile (although worship of Jesus as God may rule that out, since it amounts to idol worship and polytheism), a Christian will absolutely not believe that anyone can come to God the Father except by accepting the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Period.

What surprises me is that, if the Old Testament record clearly points to Jesus as the Messiah, why does Judaism just “miss it?” Israel was the keeper of the Holy Scriptures and the only nation on Earth to worship the One and Unique God thousands of years before the concept of Christianity came into being. While Moses and the Children of Israel were standing before God at Sinai and accepting Him as their God, the ancestors of every Christian on Earth were worshiping pagan idols of wood and stone, and some were passing their own children through the flames of their false gods in (supposed) exchange for a good harvest.

There’s another wrinkle.

While traditional Christianity and Judaism have a more or less clear idea of who they are and what their roles are in relation to God and the Bible, there is a third group, rather small by comparison, but growing, which is called Messianic Judaism (MJ). Even within this group, there are a number of factions which have different and sometimes contradictory beliefs. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but the two primary groups are (for lack of better terms) One Law (OL) and Bilateral Ecclesiology (BE).

(Please keep in mind that these aren’t particularly formal groups, but in order to understand the concepts and positions, I need to assign some sort of labels to said-positions).

One Law is a movement within MJ that is made up primarily of non-Jewish Christians and Jews who come from a Christian background. This group states that Jesus never did away with the Law and that, when Gentiles are grafted into the root of Israel (Romans 11), they too become obligated to the exact same 613 commandments (as opposed to the 7 Noahide Laws) as the Jewish people. A major caveat in OL, is that this “Jewish” lifestyle is minus any directives from the Talmud, which they see as without authority and merely the opinions of men.

Bilateral Ecclesiology, a term coined in Mark Kinzer’s book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People, posits that there are clear boundaries between the obligations and responsibilities of Christian Gentiles and Jews, even those Jews who have come to faith in Jesus (“Yeshua” is used as the preferred Hebrew name of Christ by both groups). BE supporters consider that a non-Jew insisting upon being “obligated” to all of the Torah commandments is blurring if not disintegrating the line between Jews and Gentiles and making meaningless what it is to be a Jew. From their perspective. OL effectively makes Messianic Jews and Christians one indistinct “blob”, where you can’t tell where a Jew leaves off and where a Christian begins.

The debate between the two groups can get rather heated on occasion, as you can see in the comments at Judah Himango’s blog, for example (please note that I’m just using this as an example. I like Judah and this is not a criticism of him or his blog). Here’s a sample of one of the comment’s in question (I like the commenter, too and am quoting him just to illustrate the point, not to be critical):

Where Scriptures makes distinction between men and women, priests, etc. There is no mentions whatsoever for Jew and Gentile distinctions as far as keeping Torah is concerned. Even your beloved “scholars at FFOZ only come up with one, only one verse where they have to twist it in order to sustain their agenda, and you drink the kool-aid….

One Law bases its assumption upon the following:

The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you. –Exodus 12:49

You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God. –Leviticus 24:22

One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether he is a native-born Israelite or an alien. –Numbers 15:29

Mount SinaiMy opinion is that these scriptures are completely irrelevant to the One Law position since the “aliens” being referred to in these verses are non-Jews who attached themselves to the God of Israel, joined with the Israelites as a people, and eventually were absorbed into that population. They started out as Ger Toshav and their ancestors did not retain their non-Jewish identity but essentially “converted” to Judaism. It would be impossible to apply this set of examples to a group of non-Jewish “Messianic” believers today who want to be as equally obligated to the Torah as the Jewish people but all the while, retaining their Gentile identity and only living a partial Jewish lifestyle (one that disregards Talmudic interpretation of the written Torah).

Groups that hold to a “Bilateral Ecclesiology” framework (I don’t think Kinzer ever intended to make a theology out of BE), while maintaining a rather large Gentile Christian following, are led by a core group of Jewish Rabbis (Rabbi as defined within their own context) who support Messianic Judaism for Jews, including a completely Jewish religious lifestyle (Talmud included). They see the Acts 15 letter as the defining pronouncement by James and the Jerusalem Council, those Jews who held the mantle of authority over the “Messianic” movement after the ascension of Christ. The letter clearly defines limits upon the obligation of the Gentile believers in relation to the Torah of Moses. The letter doesn’t completely illustrate those limits, since Jesus taught outside their scope, but nothing in the teachings of Christ specifically commands that Gentiles become wholly absorbed into the Jewish nation.

Further, Paul, in the book of Galatians, goes to great efforts to discourage the Gentile Christians from converting to Judaism, for in converting, the Gentile Christian would then become fully obligated to obey all of the Torah (Galatians 5:3). That would be a crazy statement to make if the Gentile Christians were already fully obligated, as OL suggests. (D. Thomas Lancaster recently wrote The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, in which he illustrates how to understand Paul’s letter as teaching this distinction.)

To recap, traditional Judaism and Christianity both see their roles as very clear within their own groups and in relation to each other. Jews believe the Torah is only for the Jews and Gentiles, including Christians, are not obligated to it and are, in many cases, forbidden to adhere to its instructions. Non-Jews may only come before God when accepting the obligation of the Seven Noahide Laws and becoming Ger Toshav, and there is no need to convert to Judaism. Christians believe that the Law was wholly replaced by the Grace of Christ (for Jews and Gentiles) and that anyone, even a Jew, must convert to Christianity to have right standing before God. The Christian covenant completely replaces the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants in their eyes.

In other words, Jews aren’t trying to co-opt Christians and Christians aren’t trying to co-opt Jews. They are separate communities with few if any bridges across the gap.

Messianic Judaism muddies the waters of that gap considerably and is still trying to define who they are and who Jews and Gentile Christians are in relation to each other, to the Torah, and to God.

But what about the Ger Toshav? I previously addressed the differences between the Noahide and the Christian in a pair of blog posts: The Sons of Noah and Children of God. Nevertheless, I believe that the clues to how Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians are supposed to relate to each other, to the Torah, and to God may be found in the more traditional understanding by Judaism of the Ger Toshav (and I’m deliberately sacrificing sure footing for the sake to my journey in pursuing the Ger Toshav).

What started this line of thinking for me was Rabbi Bell’s translated statement, “…is that we are forbidden from feeding meat from the Pesach offering to [any non-Jew, even] a ger toshav“. It never occurred to me that a Noahide would have had a special status in relation to Passover and the other festivals in the ancient community of Israel, but that was a logical outcome of the “one law for the native and the alien” statements during the forty years of wandering.

Going to GodIn Messianic Judaism, One Law accuses Bilateral Ecclesiology of denying Gentile Messianics (Christians) access to the same benefits of Torah living as the Jews and, by inference, treating Christians as if they/we were any other Gentile group. BE states that Gentile faith in the Jewish Messiah does make a difference, but that difference is largely in the areas of moral and spiritual behavior and does not include Jewish identity markers (wearing tzitzit, laying tefillin, keeping Kosher, observing the Shabbat). Traditional Judaism, while not recognizing a special status among Christian Gentiles relative to other non-Jews, does believe there is a difference in expectation between the general population of the world and those Gentiles who accept the mantle of Ger Toshav.

(Just to be clear, traditional Judaism sees all factions of Messianic Judaism as Christians; “Jews for Jesus”. Traditional Christianity sees Messianic Judaism as a group of Judaizers who are “under the law”. Like I said, the waters are muddy)

Eliezer was considered a Noahide, a righteous Gentile, a Ger Toshav and the most trusted of the household of Abraham. He was empowered to select a bride for Isaac, the son of the promise, who would father Jacob and continue a line that would lead to the patriarchs, the twelve tribes of Israel, and ultimately, the Messiah himself. Yet Maimonides considered even a Ger Toshav as forbidden from eating of the Passover sacrifice. Who is the Ger Toshav and can we take any understanding away from who he is and who we are in Christ, especially as we attempt to relate to our Messianic Jewish brothers?

What does it all mean and can any conclusions be drawn from this rather confused mess? That’s what I’m going to try to find out in my next blog.

For now, I remain a Christian at the gates of the Temple of God.

Part two of this series is The Ger Toshav at Worship.