A man with a brambly salt-and-pepper beard, a kippah on his head, and circular glasses balanced on his nose stood behind a podium, lecturing on the parasha, the weekly Torah reading, in a southern twang. He was not a rabbi. He wasn’t even Jewish.
In front of him, an audience of about 20 sat in rows, listening attentively. Some wore head wraps and dresses suitable for a wedding, and others looked like they came in off the street. One man boasted neck tattoos and a gauge earring.
I was the only Jew in the room, but everyone else was here to study Torah. I was here to study them.
-Ilana E. Strauss
“The Gentiles Who Act Like Jews”
Given the nature of this blogspot’s audience, many of you may believe that this article is about non-Jews who practice their faith within the context of Messianic Judaism or the Hebrew Roots movement.
They call themselves Righteous Noahides: non-Jews who believe in Orthodox Judaism. According to Jewish theology, there are laws that Jews must obey, the 613 mitzvot, but then there are seven laws for children of Noah—everyone else in the world. They are: Do not deny God; do not blaspheme; do not murder; do not engage in incest, adultery, pederasty, or bestiality; do not steal; do not eat of a live animal; and establish courts.
The group I visited, called Netiv, is a bustling 40-person community located in Humble, Texas—in the United States, Texas is the center of Noahide life. Some members travel over two hours each way, two or three times a week, for classes. They obey the Noahide laws, but they also take the concept further, endeavoring to obey other mitzvot and learn more from Judaism.
If this were a visual, I’d have just done a double-take. A group of forty people, all non-Jews, identifying as Noahides, meeting together regularly and studying the Torah…in Texas?
Up until now, I thought that any Noahide would be found within the context of a Jewish synagogue. Of course, Humble, Texas isn’t a very big place and the closest Orthodox Jew is probably 30 miles away in Houston.
And in reading the (rather lengthy) article, I was astonished to discover that the state of Texas is something of a hot bed for Noahide gatherings. Of all the places, why Texas?
But this movement isn’t limited to the U.S.
Noahidism now encompasses communities around the world, especially in Great Britain, the Philippines, Latin America, Nigeria, Russia, and the United States. According to Rabbi Michael Schulman, who runs Noahide website AskNoah.org, the Philippines may have the most developed community, with well over 1,000 adults and their children living in a collection of agricultural towns. They run Hebrew schools, community meetings, and even a national summit.
But about 40 years ago, Chabad grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson launched a global “Noahide Campaign,” writing and speaking about the need for Righteous Noahide communities, believing Noahide laws would bring about peace and understanding and would hasten the coming of the Messiah. Some non-Jews listened. For example, in 1987, President Reagan signed a proclamation glorifying “the historical tradition of ethical values and principles, which have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws, transmitted through God to Moses on Mount Sinai.”
Here’s something that shouldn’t surprise you too much.
Bryant didn’t always teach Torah; he was a Pentecostal chaplain in the Army during the first Gulf War. He started a small study group in his house that got so large that it moved to a church. Around that time, Bryant began finding inconsistencies in Christian scripture, so he started digging into historical records.
The typical story goes like this: A person starts out Christian. (I’ve yet to meet someone who came to Noahidism from anything else. Bryant said one Muslim girl used to stop by, but her family found out and put a stop to it.) These seekers then find inconsistencies between the scripture and the priest’s or minister’s teachings. They start asking questions their religious leaders can’t answer to their satisfaction, questions like: “Why don’t we keep the Sabbath?” “Why do babies need to be baptized?” “If the Bible says God is one, why do we have a Trinity?”
And so on.
That’s very similar to what draws most of us non-Jews to either Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots. The only real difference is that these “inconsistencies” taught in normative Christianity are seen by Noahides as a problem with the beliefs spawned by the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) rather than a problem with how those scriptures are interpreted by the Church.
In other words (in my opinion), these Noahides have thrown out the baby with the bath water. They have certain issues with Christian doctrine and have determined that not only the doctrine, but the general theology behind it, is totally false and that only normative (in this case, Orthodox) Judaism is a valid expression of the worship of Hashem.
But it’s fascinating the similarities between these Noahides and that group I’ve come to call Talmidei Yeshua.
They obey the Noahide laws, but they also take the concept further, endeavoring to obey other mitzvot and learn more from Judaism.
Some rabbis emphasize that Noahides should not perform any mitzvot designated specifically for Jews; they point to interpretations of Genesis 8:22 that argue it is forbidden for non-Jews to keep Shabbat.
Arilio Navarro understands these concerns, but he doesn’t abide by them.
“There are a lot of blessings that come with Shabbat, and I don’t want to leave them on the table,” he said. “I spent most of my life doing that; I don’t want to do that anymore. I have a Jewish soul.”
All the rabbis and Noahides I talked to agreed that Noahides don’t have an obligation to keep more than the seven laws. But the sort of people who go on a spiritual quest that leads them out of Christianity aren’t the sort who are typically satisfied with that. They want to do more.
Look at the last two sentences:
But the sort of people who go on a spiritual quest that leads them out of Christianity aren’t the sort who are typically satisfied with that. They want to do more.
That describes the drive in many non-Jews in both Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots contexts in terms of their preferred praxis. Even those Gentiles who understand and embrace the “bilateral” relationship between Jewish and Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua tend to take on board more than the seven laws of Noah, and even more than what’s implied in the Acts 15 “Jerusalem letter.”
We all came from a church experience.
We all came to understand that Christian doctrine seemed less than satisfactory in explaining what we were reading in the Bible, particularly about Jews, Judaism, and the Torah.
We all started looking for someone or some group who/that could teach us a more Bible-consistent, Jewish-positive, Israel central interpretation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Apostolic Scriptures.
But there’s one more thing.
And when Noahides show up at Chabad houses or synagogues, saying they want to learn Torah, they’re frequently turned away at the door.
“What about being a light to the nations?” asked Bryant, the Netiv leader. “Where else are they going to learn Torah? At church?”
One thing about Noahides: They really, really want to be accepted by Jews.
If, 40 years ago, Chabad grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson launched a global “Noahide Campaign,” it is baffling that Chabad houses would turn away the very Noahides that campaign created.
And it’s true, all of us, whether Noahide, Talmid Yeshua, or Hebrew Roots follower, in some manner or fashion want to be accepted by the Jews associated with our respective movements.
If you visit the Netiv.net About page, you’ll find:
Currently meeting in Humble Texas, Allen Texas, Fayetteville Arkansas, Central Texas, Calgary Alberta, Canada, soon to be Kingsland Texas, and Nashville Tennessee. Netiv Center for Study of Torah was originally established to serve the greater North Houston area in 2010. It began with a hand full of individuals seeking the treasures of Torah knowledge, who are not connected to Jewish community. Rabbinical adviser Abraham Ben Yaakov graciously guides our communities spiritual learning. The center host [sic] people from all over the greater Houston area for weekly classes and lectures. Check out our photo stream on Facebook.
All people benefit from Torah study. The center is designed specifically for those desiring to study but have limited knowledge of the first books of the Bible. Netiv is an education center for Torah study, providing the student with Torah knowledge from it original sources. The classes are geared toward a non-jewish or non-religious jewish audience. Because we believe in the concept of Universal Torah for all peoples, this community is open to all. We welcome all to participate in the study of the Torah. If you are interested in joining our community we would love to have you visit. The environment is casual and full of joy. Join us in the study of the Word of G-d.
Wow! A Universal Torah? There are no end of surprising parallels between these Noahides and some Gentile folks in either Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots. The desire to go “above and beyond” what is required of non-Jews by Hashem runs deep within those of us who are attracted to a more “Judaic” viewpoint and interpretation of the Bible, and particularly the Torah.
I didn’t find a nice, concise definition for “Universal Torah,” but I think the bio on that site for Rabbi Chaim Richman may be illuminating.
Rabbi Chaim Richman is the director of the international department of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, Israel. He is an internationally respected and sought after lecturer and teacher on the projects and research of the Institute, as well as the Torah and the Temple as it relates to both Jews and non-Jews. His programs feature his vast Torah knowledge and draw from the diverse resources of the Temple Institute.
The phrase, “…as well as the Torah and the Temple as it relates to both Jews and non-Jews” seems to be the nexus of interest for all of the Gentile groups who are drawn to Judaism. For Jews, their relationship to the Torah and the Temple is well-defined, but for the rest of us, not so much.
Oh we think it is, but without a thorough understanding of the relevant material from a Judaic point of view that addresses specific Gentile involvement in Torah and Temple, we are often lost and left to our own efforts to create that understanding.
I sort of see the appeal of certain groups (I found the link to this article in a closed Facebook group for “Messianic Gentiles”) to derive some of their identity from Noahides because there is obviously a lot more material available serving them than there seems to be for us.
No, I’m hardly disdaining those fine individuals and organizations who are providing educational materials for we so-called Talmidei Yeshua, but these Noahides and their Jewish advisors have perspectives on the intersection between Judaism and the Goyim that I haven’t typically found in my own experience and from my usual information sources.
For any non-Jew who is attracted to Jewish praxis as a way of drawing closer to Hashem, we have a few options. I’ve mentioned most of them.
Join a Hebrew Roots group.
Join a Messianic Jewish group.
Join a group of Noahides.
Convert to Judaism.
The article mentions that a number of Netiv attendees would like to convert, but there’s no Orthodox Jewish community nearby to support such a thing. My wife, who is associated with both the local Chabad house and our Conservative/Reform shul here in town says the Chabad Rabbi won’t perform a conversion, first of all because there’s no local Beit Din, but also because there isn’t an Orthodox Jewish community to support a convert.
The Rabbi at the other synagogue has performed both Reform and Conservative conversions, but if like the Noahides I’ve cited from the Tablet article, you are specifically attracted to Orthodox Judaism, that’s not an option, either in Boise, Idaho or in Humble, Texas.
Oh, becoming a Noahide or converting to Judaism both require denying Yeshua (Jesus) as our Rav, Messiah, and King. For most of us, that’s a deal breaker, but obviously, for these Noahides, they were willing to exchange a Christian faith for a “Jewish” one, at least “Jewish” as it applies to Righteous Gentiles.
I’ve previously mentioned that the advantage for Talmidei Yeshua is that we are more than Noahides. Through Hashem’s mercy and grace, and through Rav Yeshua who is the mediator of the New Covenant, we are allowed to have access to many of the New Covenant blessings, the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within us, resurrection in the life to come, and in the Messianic Kingdom, an apprehension of Hashem equal to or greater than the Prophets of old.
Yes, I understand Noahides merit a place in the world to come, at least as understood by the Talmud and the Sages, but I don’t believe that encompasses the other blessings Yeshua-disciples experience:
The Noahide laws, which are derived from passages in the Torah, were enumerated in the Talmud. In the Middle Ages, Maimonides urged their observance on non-Jews, writing, “Anyone who accepts upon himself and carefully observes the Seven Commandments is of the Righteous of the Nations of the World and has a portion in the World to Come.”
But after the Rambam’s proclamation, non-Jewish participation in any sort of Noahide movement was minimal to non-existent, at least up until about 40 years ago or so. Now it seems to be booming, but unless you have your finger on that particular pulse, you’d never know it (I didn’t).
Is the church bleeding members like a ripped artery, and are they flowing into some expression of Jewish theology and praxis more so than at any other time in the past twenty centuries? If so, there must be a reason. Maybe Hashem really is preparing His remnant of the people of the nations for the coming/return of Moshiach.