Tag Archives: MJRC

The Hope of Healing in the Bilateral Ekklesia

I am getting interested in Judaism – reading the Bible, and trying to practice its many laws. But I am having a hard time accepting the Talmud and all its laws. Isn’t it enough just to do what’s written in the Bible?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for writing. This issue has bothered people throughout the ages, and in fact many break-away Jewish groups (Karaites, Sadducees, and even the Christians) did so over this very point.

But it is a huge mistake.

-from the “Ask the Rabbi” column
“Validity of Oral Law: Tefillin Example”

I know I’ve been spending a lot of time writing about how (or sometimes “if”) non-Jews can have a place within social and communal Messianic Judaism, but I think it’s time to return to the Jewish perspective (as best I can perceive it, my not being Jewish) for a bit. Maybe it’s there that we non-Jews can find some illumination if not orientation.

I know a lot of non-Jews (and some Jews) within both Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism have issues with the Oral Law and the wisdom and rulings of the Rabbinic Sages. The argument seems to center around sola scriptura and the sufficiency of scripture vs. recognizing the authority of the Sages to make halachic rulings for their various branches within Judaism, which apparently even Yeshua (Jesus) did.

The Aish Rabbi I quoted above undoubtedly agrees that the Oral Law is “a thing” and that the Jewish Sages were well within their God-given rights to set standards of observance and behavior for the various Jewish communities historically, and said-rulings are still considered authoritative among certain streams of Judaism today (it’s actually a lot more complicated than that, but a full examination of the Talmud and its influence on observant Judaism is well beyond the scope of this blog post).

But how does all that work in Messianic Judaism which, as Derek Leman says, is “a Judaism committed to Yeshua” and “…a Judaism [with the] core purpose…[of] provid[ing] a home for Jewish followers of Yeshua where we may live out our covenantal relationship with God based on the Abrahamic promise, the teaching from Sinai, and the revelation of God which is in Messiah Yeshua”?

Jewish movements such as the ancient Sadducees and the modern Karaites reject Rabbinic authority, so Jewish recognition of such authority isn’t universal. Given that Messianic Judaism is a Judaism that embraces Messiah Yeshua (whose multitude of Gentile members have historically rejected not only Rabbinic authority but Judaism as a valid religious and faith expression), what can we believe about the relationship between Messianic Judaism and Rabbinic halachah?

RabbisI know what you’re thinking. No, I don’t really, but it’s my favorite line of dialog from the old, 1980s TV show Magnum, P.I.. That said, I suspect some of you may be thinking that since historically the Sages have rejected any and all claims of Jesus possibly being the Messiah, and have treated any Jew who came to faith in Christ as an apostate, how could Messianic Judaism embrace, in any sense at all, what the Jewish Rabbis have to say, let alone consider the Talmudic rulings as having authority over the lives of Jewish disciples of Yeshua?

Let’s start with this:

Though the Sages of the rabbinic tradition are legitimate bearers of halakhic authority, they are not the only leaders with such competence. As the embodiment of heavenly Wisdom and the living Torah, Yeshua himself is the ultimate earthly source of halakhic authority. While he acknowledged the authority of some leaders in the wider Jewish community, he also formed his own messianic subcommunity and bestowed upon its designated leaders – the Apostles – the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:16–19; 18:18). In doing so, Yeshua was authorizing the Apostles to regulate the life of the messianic community according to their Master’s interpretation of the Torah and according to the guidance of his Spirit who writes the Torah on the hearts of his disciples (Matthew 28:18–20; John 14:26; Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:2–3).

-from “Halakhic Authority: Halakhic Authority, the Bilateral Ekklesia, and the Wounded Two-Fold Tradition”
Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council

So we know that not only did Yeshua affirm that the Pharisees of his day were the proper heirs, in some sense, of Moses and thus had valid authority to make halachah for their communities, but that he also conferred halachic authority to James and the Jerusalem Council, making their legal decisions binding on the Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master. We see a clear example of the Council issuing a binding legal decision in the form of Gentile status within the ancient Jewish religious stream of “the Way” (Acts 15), which they only could have done through the authority of their Master, their “Rebbe” Yeshua.

Apostle Paul preachingUnfortunately, that chain of Messianic Rabbinic authority was broken early on as ancient Messianic Judaism went underground and finally disappeared for nearly two-thousand years.

The same web article goes on to say:

The disappearance of a messianic ekklesia within the Jewish people also damaged the halakhic and prophetic capacity of “catholic Israel” – which remains incomplete without the presence of Jewish disciples of Yeshua at its very heart, and without a living connection to the multinational ekklesia which has been joined by the Messiah to Israel as its extension among the Gentiles. Nevertheless, in their many diverse historical expressions and traditions, the Jewish people and their recognized leaders have retained their legitimate halakhic authority, and God continues to operate among them and through them in order to shape their life in accordance with the Torah.

This seems to imply that the MJRC, representing a Judaism devoted to Messiah, also recognizes the historic Jewish leaders and their halachic authority as legitimate, at least in certain areas.

But in the next section of the article, “Halakhic Authority and the MJRC”, we find:

Within the context of the Messianic Jewish movement and its prophetic role, the MJRC sees itself as called to serve a particular halakhic function. The MJRC does not view itself as the only halakhic authority in the Messianic Jewish movement, nor does it claim to be the movement’s highest halakhic authority. It does, however, believe that it has halakhic authority for its own immediate sphere and for those beyond that sphere who look to it for guidance. The MJRC believes that its role is to be a pioneer in the development of a halakhic way of life among Messianic Jews, and thereby to stimulate serious halakhic thinking and practice within the movement as a whole.

Tikvat IsraelSo “yes” to Messianic Jewish halachah, at least for those synagogues and even individuals within the direct sphere of influence and authority of MJRC. I agree that there is no one central authority for all Jews in Messiah, but then again, there’s no one central authority for any of the other Judaisms as well. As one of my readers sometimes says, “Judaism has no Pope.”

Now here’s something interesting:

As is the case for the authority of our movement as a whole, the legitimacy of our claims cannot be determined unequivocally in the present but awaits a divine judgment to be rendered in the course of future events. If our claims are justified over time, then we are an integral part of a process in which the bilateral halakhic authority of the apostolic tradition is being restored, the bilateral ekklesia is being healed, and a corporate Torah-faithful witness to Yeshua is restored to the Jewish people.

This is a very wise statement. There’s no absolute claim of authority but rather a provisional one. While it seems the Rabbis involved in the MJRC are acting in good faith, only Yeshua, upon his return, can lend full legitimacy to MJRC halachic authority and the decisions they make for their communities.

But then again, I suspect that will be true of all the different streams of Judaism, both ancient and modern, as one of the things Messiah is supposed to do is to teach Torah correctly. Since, for most observant Jews, “Torah” includes both the Written and Oral Law as well as the entire compilation of Talmudic literature, Yeshua will likely make many rulings on the decisions arrived at by the legitimate Rabbinic authorities across the ages and what those rulings mean for Jews and even non-Jews in the Kingdom of Heaven.

two pathsHowever, that last quote also spoke of healing the “bilateral ekklesia,” that is, healing the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Messiah, presumably clarifying our relationship and roles regarding one another.

And this is what I’ve been attempting to write about over the past several blog posts.

The MJRC article on halachah concludes:

We cannot know how the bilateral ekklesia would have developed had its Jewish corporate expression survived and thrived. Similarly, we cannot know how Jewish tradition would have developed had the Jewish disciples of Yeshua been accepted and respected by our entire people at an early stage of the development of Halakhah. We do not strive to articulate or re-create what might have been.

However, we cannot avoid engaging in the task of shaping today’s Messianic Jewish practice from the textual sources and other resources available to us today. This task places enormous demands on Messianic Jewish leaders, requiring of us a serious devotion to study, prayer, discussion, and corporate decision-making in a spirit of humility and charity. At the same time, we believe that the resurrected Messiah dwells among us and within us, and we rely upon his ongoing guidance as we seek to carry on his work of raising up the fallen tent of David within the people of Israel (Acts 15:14–18; Amos 9:11–12).

That conclusion isn’t particularly satisfying in terms of mapping out how this healing of the Jewish and Gentile bilateral ekklesia is to come about, but then again, it’s very likely that they just don’t know.

And so it comes back to that same troubling question, what does this all mean for us, the Gentiles in or near Messianic community (I say “in” or “near” even for those of us who do not directly have “Messianic community” but who nevertheless choose to study from that perspective)?

Our Master Yeshua took the loaves and fish. He told the twelve, “Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each” (Luke 9:14). “The Gospel of Mark reports that the people “sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties” on “the green grass” (Mark 6:39-40). “There was much grass in the place” (John 6:10). The green grass confirms that the story occurred in the spring when the slopes of the hills around Lake Galilee are still green. The scene invokes the Psalm of the Good Shepherd: “I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:1-2).

The Master had the people recline as they might do at a formal banquet or Passover Seder meal: “He commanded them all to recline (anaklino, ἀνακλίνω).” The reclining posture suggests the messianic banquet when the righteous will “recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). For those with eyes to see, the miraculous feeding of the multitude was a foretaste of the messianic banquet. Not unlike the miracle of transforming the water to wine, Yeshua offered a preview of the kingdom and God’s miraculous provision.

-from “A Prophetic Picnic”
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

fish and breadI certainly hope the folks at FFOZ don’t mind my lifting this quote from their newsletter, but I find it quite valuable in illustrating that both Jews and Gentiles are invited to the formal banquet in the Messianic Kingdom.

On another one of my blog posts someone commented that he’d like an invitation to join that banquet, to which I replied that we have such an invitation. It was quoted above but I’ll repeat it here for emphasis:

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Matthew 8:11 (NASB)

Of course, the Master was looking at the endgame, so to speak, when all has been accomplished according to prophesy, but what about in the meantime?

That’s the tough part. Like the MJRC article said, if Messianic Rabbinic authority had continued unbroken throughout history, and it stood with the same God-given authority as the other Rabbinic sages and their rulings, things would look very much clearer.

But while the MJRC Rabbis and other organizations within larger Messianic Judaism recognize the need for healing between Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master within (and beyond) Messianic Jewish space, we really are stuck in figuring out what that should look like in the here and now.

But, as ProclaimLiberty related:

I can’t give you a recipe for inviting a personal revelation. The emissary Yacov wrote (Jam.4:8): “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you doubtfully-minded.” However, the most famous revelations depicted in the scriptures were instigated by HaShem. Moshe wasn’t looking for a revelation, as far as we know, when he noticed an odd phenomenon on a desert mountainside, that turned out to be a bush that burned but did not burn up, whence the voice of HaShem began speaking to him. Rav Shaul had other things on his mind until a bright light spooked his horse to throw him before reaching Damascus, whence another revelation ensued. You can find other such examples for yourself. Regrettably, my own example will not likely help either, because I wasn’t looking for revelation when HaShem confronted me one night; and if someone could have warned me in advance what it would entail, I might just have tried very hard to be someplace else rather than to go through that experience. But subsequent experience lets me suspect that those who seek diligently and honestly to enter into the kingdom-of-heaven mindset, meditating on the teachings of Tenakh and on apostolic reflections of them, may just begin to experience similar insight. Who can tell what visions or dreams might ensue.

Sometimes God finds us when we’re not looking for Him. However, it is more likely we’ll recognize that encounter if we invite Him, rather than sit around waiting for His invitation to arrive in our mailbox, so to speak.

Formal halachah for the Gentiles will just have to wait. However, if we turn to Him, He will turn to us.

64 Days and 41,000 Paths to Follow

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:13-20 (ESV)

Solemnly charged not to speak in Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) name, the apostles replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

The Sanhedrin could argue that they were God’s ordained authority on earth, therefore disobedience to them was disobedience to God. It was a difficult contradiction, and one faced by others in Jewish history. Decisions the legislators adopted by majority consensus were also adopted as the ruling in heaven. (see b.Bava Meitza 59a-b)

What does one do when God-ordained institutional authority rules in contradiction with the will of God? The Master had already prepared his disciples for just such a circumstance. He had foreseen the way things would go and had assured His disciples that they would possess “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” and the right to make legal determinations of binding and loosing. (Matthew 16:19) As apostles of Yeshua, the twelve disciples represented the authority of the throne of David. That important legal power gave Simon Peter and the Twelve the right to overrule the Sanhedrin if necessary.

-from Torah Club, , Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
Torah Portion Lech Lecha (“Go Forth”) (pg 78)
Commentary on Acts 2:42-4:31
Produced by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

It’s all fine and well for Jesus to assure “His disciples that they would possess ‘the keys to the kingdom of heaven’ and the right to make legal determinations of binding and loosing,” but what about us? The apostles represented a direct link to the Messiah, since they had been taught by him and the giving of the Holy Spirit to them, in a very public visible and physical demonstration, was only days or weeks old. While the Sanhedrin could attempt to refute and even defy their “Messianic authority,” a good many witnesses in Jerusalem were more than convinced, and correctly so. Not only that, but there could have been no doubt in the minds of Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles, that they were in the right. Thus they had not only the authority, but the confidence and certainty of mind to be able to stand up in defiance of an order of Israel’s authentic and authoritative legal court system.

But how does D. Thomas Lancaster’s commentary on the legal authority of the apostles to defy the legal authority of the Sanhedrin affect us? That is, who holds “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” today?

You might say, “the church,” but which one? How many denominations of the Christian church currently exist?

According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world. This statistic takes into consideration cultural distinctions of denominations in different countries, so there is overlapping of many denominations.

-quoted from “Christianity Today – General Statistics and Facts of Christianity”

Oh my!

That’s a lot of denominations, and they don’t take into account a lot of the more fringy or cult-like groups who also claim some sort of authority to interpret scripture over their flocks in a legal manner.

And then there’s the Internet. As we’ve seen in a seemingly endless stream of religious blogs and their associated comments, there is a plethora of groups and individuals who claim to collectively or personally possess “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” and the right to defy the more established Christian authorities.

I suppose we could split the difference 41,000 (legitimate) ways within the body of Christianity and say that each church possesses a set of keys as applied to their own communities, and that their authority, as it were, is limited to the confines of said-communities, but that’s not really satisfactory. There are not 41,000 Gods and there are not 41,000 Christs, and there are not 41,000 Holy Spirits. God is One. While I believe, to a certain degree, that how the Bible principles are applied may vary and even evolve over the centuries in order to serve the needs of each generation, there is still an objective God; a God unto Himself, the One God with One Mind, and One Spirit, who cannot be subdivided in any manner, even though we may want and even need Him to do so for the sake of our own priorities.

So who inherited the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” or were they simply lost over the course of time?

That’s the problem we are having today. Look at the struggles the “early church” had in Jerusalem. They never became a major power in the Jewish hierarchy. They remained a small Jewish sect operating within the larger collection of valid Judaisms of the late Second Temple period and to some small degree, beyond the destruction of the Temple (but not very much farther). If there was one authentic Messianic (Christian) Jewish authority with the living apostles of Christ among the many Judaisms, when the Jews either surrendered Christianity to the nations or were “kicked out” of the assembly of the Messiah by the Gentiles, what happened to that authentic authority? Was it divided and subdivided, and subdivided again, endlessly across history, like a single-celled organism replicating, evolving, developing to form some vast living mass that is associated but not particularly unified? Is that authority shared among 41,000 living “cells” in what is (loosely) collective Christianity today?

Who currently has the right to make legal decisions that are binding both on earth and in Heaven and to defy all of the others who claim authority over the “Christian church?”

Oh, it gets worse.

It has been taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, (Lit., ‘all the arguments in the world’) but they did not accept them. Said he to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it!’ Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place — others affirm, four hundred cubits. ‘No proof can be brought from a carob-tree,’ they retorted. Again he said to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!’ Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards — ‘No proof can be brought from a stream of water,’ they rejoined. Again he urged: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,’ whereupon the walls inclined to fall. But R. Joshua rebuked them, saying: ‘When scholars are engaged in a halachic dispute, what have ye to interfere?’ Hence they did not fall, in honour of R. Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honour of R. Eliezer; and they are still standing thus inclined. Again he said to them: ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!’ Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: ‘Why do ye dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him!’ But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: ‘It is not in heaven.’ (Deut. 30:12) What did he mean by this? — Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline. (Ex. 23:2 though the story is told in a legendary form, this is a remarkable assertion of the independence of human reasoning)

R. Nathan met Elijah (It was believed that Elijah, who had never died, often appeared to the Rabbis) and asked him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do in that hour? — He laughed [with joy], he replied, saying, ‘My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me.’

Baba Mezi’a 59b

The Torah Club commentary, from which I quoted above, refers to this Talmudic story, and it is believed in observant Judaism, that the right of the Rabbis to interpret and apply halakhah in an authoritative manner derives from this passage as attached to Deuteronomy 30:12 (Stone Edition Chumash):

It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, “Who can ascend to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?”

My Christian reading audience is probably asking why any of this matters, since the Jews do not have authority to interpret scriptures for Christians, and especially not to establish halakhah for us. That’s a good question and you’re right. We don’t expect any of the Talmudic rulings to have any sort of impact, let alone authority, over any of the 41,000 Christian denominations (and their variants, spin-offs, or edge case adaptations) today.

But what about Jews who profess Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah King, not as members of a Christian church, but as disciples of Yeshuah HaMashiach (Jesus the Christ) within a wholly Jewish ethnic, cultural, and halakhic religious and lifestyle context? What about Messianic Judaism?

When G-d intrusted Israel with the Torah, He commanded them to appoint leaders to interpret the Torah and to judge whether or not the people had broken the Torah. Inherent in this process is the development of case law, history, tradition of the Jewish people which establishes the precedence that fleshes out the full meaning and implications of each of the commandments. This body of tradition was created by the Jewish people at the commandment of G-d…The Torah invests the divine authority in the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people (this is in the Deuteronomy ch. 17), where their rulings are called…”a word of Torah”. Any Israelite presumptuous enough to reject the rulings of the judges of Israel was cut off from his people, the same punishment as for someone who rejected the written Torah. How much more presumptuous is it for a gentile to cast off entire body of Jewish tradition and claim the right to act as the judge and definer of the Torah?

-Boaz Michael
President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Speaking at the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) July 2012 conference in Baltimore, Maryland
as quoted by Gene Shlomovich on his blog
Daily Minyan

We see that in some corners of Messianic Judaism (as I define it), there is a serious devotion to the authority of the Jewish people to define themselves as Jews and to determine halakhah for themselves based on the authority of the sages. This rather flies in the face of we non-Jewish Christians but is a particular “thorn in the side” of some of those non-Jews who have either directly (by attending authentic Messianic Jewish congregations) or tangentially (through an affiliation with some form of the Hebrew Roots movement) attached themselves to a (more or less) “Jewish” viewpoint on the New Testament scriptures, Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, and God as the God of Israel.

I’ll tell you right now that I don’t know what all this means and that I don’t have the answers to the questions I’m asking. Because of this, some people accuse me of not knowing if I’m coming or going, and I suppose that is a valid concern from an outside observer’s point of view. On the other hand, there are others who feel exactly the same way about the impact and the consequences of a real, authentic, and transparent life of faith and trust in God as we attempt to grasp the meaning of the Bible across the history of the Jewish people and the world.

The Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (UJRC) has established a written Standards of Observance (PDF) document that is intended to guide its member synagogues in the appropriate halakhic rulings as adapted for Messianic Jews, but it is only one body and cannot possibly represent all Jews who profess Yeshua as Messiah everywhere. It also, by necessity, defines a varying level of halakhic response for the non-Jewish disciples who come under the MJRC’s authority, but again, the scope if such authority is limited. These standards do not solve the problem or answer the questions I’ve been posing in today’s meditation however, but only because, like the multitude of Christian churches that exist today, it can’t, at least not outside its own community. We don’t have a universal legal and theological interpretation of scripture where “one size fits all.”

We long for the coming of Messiah. Christians desperately await the return of the King in all his glory. We have many reasons for doing so but one of the reasons I seek him and his presence is to help me understand who indeed on earth holds the “keys to the kingdom,” if anyone. Many claim to hold them or at least know the path on which to travel to find them. Many would-be “Messiahs,” religious leaders, pundits, and self-taught scholars of one stripe or another, profess to know “the truth.” But who are we to believe except God Himself, but how we understand God through the Bible and even through the Spirit, is split at least 41,000 ways, from a Christian perspective.

How am I to choose among 41,000 paths, and probably more if I factor in my own fascination with Judaism, as applied to my Christian faith? I can’t. I can only choose one of the myriad ways as they stand before me and start walking, trusting that God will not allow me to travel the wrong path, nor select a guide made out of my ego, my biases (at least not too severely), or my weaknesses, but only His Son, and the lamp of the throne of David.

May he and I walk together discovering the truth of his existence and my own. May God grant you this gift as well, for this may be all we can do until Messiah returns to rule in Jerusalem, and reveals clearly the One God and the One Way from His Temple.

Blessed is Hashem from Zion, He Who dwells in Jerusalem. Halleluyah!

Psalm 135:21 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

For from Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.

Micah 4:2 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

64 days from now, on my path, chosen from among 41,000 paths, (and probably more) where will I find myself?