Tag Archives: Noahides

How I Won’t Be Observing Yom Kippur

One of my favorite stories is of the house painter who deeply regretted stealing from his clients by diluting the paint, but charging full price. He poured out his heart on Yom Kippur hoping for Divine direction. A booming voice comes down from Heaven and decrees — “Repaint, repaint … and thin no more!” Yom Kippur begins Friday evening, September 29th! (It is the ONLY fast day that is observed on a Shabbos.)

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the anniversary of the day Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai the second set of Ten Commandments. This signified that the Almighty forgave the Jewish people for the transgression of the Golden Calf. For all times this day was decreed to be a day of forgiveness for our mistakes. However, this refers to transgressions against the Almighty. Transgressions against our fellow human being require us to correct our mistakes and seek forgiveness. If one took from another person, it is not enough to regret and ask the Almighty for forgiveness; first, one must return what was taken and ask for forgiveness from the person and then ask for forgiveness from the Almighty.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Aish.com

In general, observant Noahides can (but are not required to) commemorate those Jewish festivals that in some way relate to Gentiles and the overall spiritual missions that G-d assigns for them. There are some of the Jewish festivals that Noahides have more of a connection to, and they can honor these as special days (for example, with prayers and selected Torah reading): for example, Rosh HaShanah (the annual Day of Judgment for all people), and Sukkot (the annual time of judgment for the rainfall that each nation will receive, which is also characterized by the themes of unity and joy).

But you should be aware that these days are not to be commemorated by Noahides in the same way that they are commanded to be fully observed by Jews. For instance, a Noahide should not refrain from normal activities on the Jewish holy days or Sabbath, and should not perform those Jewish commandments that are religious only, and have no practical benefit for Noahides (for example, waiving the four species of plants during the Festival of Sukkot, or fasting on Yom Kippur).

The Jewish festival days of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, Yom Kippur, Purim and Shavuot have little relevance to Noahides, other than as reminders of constantly-relevant general Torah principles.

Taken from “Noahide Holidays” at AskNoah.org

With regard to Yom Kippur, which relates to the relationship between the Jews and G-d, Gentiles should not be concerned that they are lacking in any way in their opportunity at any time for successful repentance. The fact that only Jews were given Yom Kippur, the day that Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments, should only be a positive influence, in that perhaps it may inspire a Gentile to do his or her own needed repentance on any day of the year.

Taken from “Asking G-d to forgive for breaking a Noahide Law: Does this relate to Yom Kippur?”
at AskNoah.org

As you can see I’ve been doing a little bit of reading, particularly with the High Holidays rapidly approaching. There’s no real template for how or if the “Judaically aware” Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua should observe such events. Certainly we are not Jews and we are not Israel (yes, I’m going to be criticized for those statements I suppose), but it’s difficult to ignore such an august occasion, especially when one’s spouse is Jewish (though not particularly observant at present).

I borrowed some information from a Noahide site to gain some perspective, but I’m not convinced the Noahide makes a suitable model for people like me. They don’t take into account the blessings of the New Covenant being conferred upon us due to the merit and faithfulness of our Rav.

Yet what else is there?

I do take some comfort, especially at this time of my life, in the statement that Yom Kippur can be a reminder that I can sincerely repent before Hashem at any time at all (of course, Jewish people can too). I’m also glad the Orthodox Rabbis who administer AskNoah.org recognize that Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot have applications to both Israel and the nations, so in some manner or fashion, we can partake in those observances as well.

As with my last several blog posts here, I continue to state that what you get out of your relationship with the Almighty depends on what you’re looking for.

If you are an observant Jew, it seems that your praxis is well-defined, which is part of what “grinds the gears” of some “Messianic Gentiles,” since our model seems less distinct. Maybe that’s because it’s too easy to mistake form for substance.

I think some of Paul’s letters, particularly Romans, touched on how some Jews (perhaps converts to Judaism who had Yeshua-faith) mistook the mechanics of Torah observance for an actual relationship with Hashem. I’ve seen it in some Messianic and Hebrew Roots groups in the past.

It’s easy to get distracted by praxis unless you have the correct perspective.

If the High Holidays are to mean anything for the rest of us, I think it’s true that they can serve as a reminder that God is accessible to us too. He’s always intended that from the very beginning. We were never meant to be left out in the cold or to be considered “sloppy seconds”.

As time goes on and I attempt to do even such minor things as listen to Christian radio, I realize that I don’t have very much in common with the normative Christian church. However I’d be lying and a fool if I said that I had nothing in common at all.

The church is full of good people, faithful people, people who have repented and continue to sincerely repent and to walk before Hashem. They do much kindness, express compassion in word and deed, are at the forefront helping victims of Harvey and Irma, putting their time, money, and effort where others only put their mouths.

Whether you call yourself a Christian, Messianic, or anything else, that’s what really matters, how you live out your relationship with Hashem through your devotion to Rav Yeshua. That’s what we should take with us into the Holidays. That’s what we should always take with us everyday as we walk with God.

Advertisements

Reviewing the Divine Code: Fundamentals of the Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus 20:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confused yet?

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5, Torah Study for Gentiles was interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You’re Not A Jew, Who Are You?

NoahIt’s the beginning of a new Torah cycle, and even though I haven’t been diligent with my studies lately, I am not unmindful of them either.

I’m recycling some older thoughts but I think they are worth the review. I came across an article from the Ask the Rabbi column at Aish called Who is a Jew?. The answer is pretty straightforward. You’re a Jew if your mother is Jewish or if you convert to Judaism. Period, end of story.

I know not everyone agrees with this definition, but it does fit the Orthodox perspective and generally, it’s one I can agree with.

Because the upcoming Torah portion for this Shabbat is Noach (Noah), Rabbi Kalman Packouz in his Shabbat Shalom Weekly column wrote about the Noahide Laws. I know this can be a controversial subject among those who read this blog, but I’m making a point. Be patient.

According to Rabbi Packouz, and you’ve heard this before, you don’t have to be a Jew to merit a place in the world to come. His article explains that even from the beginning, Hashem always intended to create the Jewish people, give them the Torah, and have them be a light to the world as the nation of Israel.

As for the rest of us, what are we to do with that light? It’s there. It’s shining. Where does it lead those of us, that is, the vast majority of the world’s population who are not Jewish?

R. Packouz’s response is predictable; the 7 Noahide Commandments.

I’ve written at length about them many times before so I won’t repeat myself here. You can search this blog and probably find a lot more information, opinions, and comments on the topic.

However, some folks who call themselves “Messianic Gentiles” have proposed that the Noahide Laws can at least be used as a guide for the halachah which applies to non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua.

I don’t know if that’s true in an absolute sense, but if you have no other path, it gives you a place to start. There are plenty of Jewish sources which are instructive to Noahides, and in fact, when you go over those laws, they aren’t particularly outrageous:

  1. Don’t murder
  2. Don’t steal
  3. Don’t worship false gods
  4. Don’t be sexually immoral
  5. Don’t eat the limb of an animal before it is killed
  6. Don’t curse God
  7. Set up a legal court system and do justice
generic white guy
Image: Cafepress.com

You can get more details by reading R. Packouz’s article or visiting sites such as Noahide.org.

Of course, these laws and the perspective of Jewish authorities found at Aish and elsewhere do not take Rav Yeshua and his teachings into consideration, and again, I’ve written a great deal about factoring in our reconciliation to Hashem through devotion to our Rav and by his merit.

According to the teachings of R. Packouz and particularly Rav Shaul (Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles), God really did presuppose that all of humanity would be reconciled to Him, but that Jews would be Jews and the people of the nations would be the people of the nations.

Why am I writing this and why should you care?

Basically to say what I’ve said before. There’s nothing wrong with not being Jewish. I mean, most of the world isn’t Jewish and we’re still created in the image of the Almighty. We’re given a place in the world to come, the blessings of the resurrection, and even the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as disciples of our Rav.

We can even call Rav Yeshua our Rav and not feel like we’re ripping off the Jewish people.

Do we have to obey the Noahide Laws? Well, we probably do if we live generally moral lives. Even if we’d never heard of the Noahide Laws, whether we call ourselves Christians, Messianic Gentiles, or anything else, chances are we don’t murder, steal, worship false gods, or practice sexual immorality. We certainly don’t eat the limbs of a living animal, hopefully don’t curse God, and live in a nation with a system of laws and courts.

In other words, we are likely observing the Noahide Laws whether we know it or not.

What else is there? What else does there have to be?

We know in general that meeting regularly with like-minded believers to build each other up is a good thing. It’s a good thing to pray. It’s a good thing to study the Bible, both in groups and as individuals. It’s a good thing to treat others, even people we don’t like, with kindness and generosity.

Coffee and BibleAll of these principles can be found in the Bible and they don’t apply just to observant Jews.

As we begin another Torah cycle and start another year, it’s good to remember that we don’t have to be Jewish in order to be close to God. However, that knowledge was brought to us in general by the Jewish people, and in specific by our Jewish Rav. After all, he specifically selected one Apostle to bring the good news of Moshiach to the goyim, that is, to the rest of us.

Rejoice.

When Israel Conquers the World

Nistell
Rabbi Jacoob Ben Nistell (Times of Israel)

Taking a glass half-full approach to the extraordinary saga of the “rabbi” who duped a Polish community for years about his Orthodox credentials, but who turned out to have been a Catholic ex-cook, Poland’s chief rabbi noted endearingly Thursday that nobody in Poland would have pretended to be a Jewish religious leader just a few decades ago.

The deception achieved by Ciechanow-born Jacek Niszczota — who passed himself off as Israel-born Rabbi Jacoob Ben Nistell to the satisfaction of the Poznan Jewish community that utilized his volunteer services — is indicative of a growing interest within Poland in its once-large Jewish community, which was almost completely destroyed in the Holocaust, Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said.

“Who, 30 years ago in this country, would have pretended to be a rabbi, to say nothing of 70 years ago?” Schudrich asked.

Schudrich added that he had met Niszczota/Nistell a few times, and always found him to be “very sweet and smiley.” Still, he stressed, it was not good that the man misrepresented himself…

-from “Poland’s chief rabbi finds comfort in saga of Catholic impostor who fooled community”
The Times of Israel

I actually lifted this quote from the Rosh Pina Project (RPP) which was quoting from the “Times,” and as far as I understand it, RPP meant the reference to be a criticism of Messianic Judaism, or at least those portions of the movement (perhaps One Law/Hebrew Roots) that allow non-Jews to function as “Rabbis”.

But I saw something different here. Just as Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich suggested, why would a non-Jew, a Catholic, pretend to be a Rabbi?

The article doesn’t describe Niszczota’s motivation, but I wonder if it’s the same one that, to a much lesser degree, attracts Christians out of their churches and into the Noahide, Messianic Jewish, or One Law/Hebrew Roots movements?

There seems to be something about Judaism that a significant subset of Christians find more attractive than their own faith.

As far as many Noahides are concerned, the disconnect between how the Church interprets the Old and New Testaments results in their rejection of Christianity and Jesus Christ altogether, and pulls them into an Orthodox Jewish understanding of the role of Gentiles in a world created by God.

christian at kotelTo one degree or another, Messianic Gentiles and One Law Gentiles “split the difference,” so to speak, and find a way to integrate the Old Testament (Tanakh) and New Testament (Apostolic Scriptures) within a more “Judaic” framework. The type and degree of Jewish praxis varies quite a bit among these populations, since there’s no one external standard defining who we are and what we’re supposed to do within any sort of “Jewish” community space.

However, I did find another opinion, or rather a link to that opinion, that was posted in a closed Facebook group for Messianic Gentiles:

With children, at least someone was already obligated to foster their growth in Torah and observance. R. Auerbach now extends this idea to non-Jews. Beyond specific Noahide laws, he assumes all non-Jews are obligated to accept the fact that the world was created for the Jewish people [he does not explain further: I think he might have meant only that the Jewish people set the tone for the world, not that we’re the central purpose of existence. To me, that’s the implication of his following comments].

Recognizing Jews’ role in Hashem’s world means recognizing that Torah scholars, and especially a consensus of Torah scholars, are our best way of knowing what Hashem wants us to do. That’s as true for non-Jews as for Jews, so that a decree by Torah scholars should sound to them as if they’ve been told the Will of Hashem.

Technical questions of lo tasur as a Biblical obligation aside, non-Jews have to listen to the Torah leaders of the Jewish people for this reason [that might be only when there’s a formal body of Torah scholars, debating and voting on their decisions]. Such powers should extend to confiscating money and making decrees, as it does for Jews. Although in the non-Jews’ case, they’d be listening out of their own awareness that they are required to, not (again) a formal halachic obligation.

-R. Gidon Rothstein
“Children and Non-Jews’ Personal Obligations”
TorahMusings.com

Granted, this is a minority viewpoint within Orthodox Judaism, but it does exist. It also presupposes Gentile recognition of Rabbinic authority, which must be something of a rarity. I can’t imagine in my wildest fantasies, for example, the Head Pastor of the little Baptist church I used to attend going along with any of the above.

And yet, whether you’re a Noahide or Messianic Gentile in Jewish community, to one degree or another, you are accepting Jewish Rabbinic authority (One Law Gentiles, not so much).

For the Noahide, it’s a foregone conclusion that whether in the synagogue or their own communities of non-Jews, they must accept Rabbinic authority because it is the only thing that defines them.

Who am IFor Messianic Gentiles, it’s a lot more “messy”. First of all, there is no one definition of what it is to be a “Messianic Gentile” among Messianic (or other) Jews. Secondly, a lot of us don’t live anywhere near a Messianic Jewish community (at least an authentic one), so we lack an actual Jewish lived context in which to operate. Finally, depending on who you are and how you understand what “Messianic Judaism” means, your acceptance or rejection of various areas of Jewish authority and Rabbinic legal rulings will flex quite a bit.

There is one final thing to consider. In the Messianic Age, when King Messiah is on his throne in Jerusalem, and the peoples of the world live in nations that are all servants of Israel, we will indeed be under Jewish authority. I don’t know what that will look like relative to Orthodox Judaism, but my guess is that said-Jewish authority will look more Jewish than most Gentiles would be comfortable with, especially more traditional Christians.

Something to consider as Pesach (Passover) approaches.

Are Christians and “Messianic Gentiles” Idolaters According to Judaism?

I’ve come across a very interesting Wiki called WikiNoah.org which bills itself as:

Everything worthwhile to know about the Bnei Noach movement. The Online Encyclopedia about the Noahide movement created by observant Noahides and Jews.

Since I’ve been writing a series of blog posts on a comparison between Noahides and those who call themselves “Messianic Gentiles” (and finding a lot of common ground between the two groups), I decided to take a closer look. The following got my attention:

Within Judaism it is a matter of debate whether all Christians should be considered Noahides.

While Christianity appears to conform to six of the seven Noahide laws, an informal comparison of the Nicene Creed and Noahide Law reveals that three major theological teachings may involve a violation of the Noahide prohibition against idolatry.

  • Equating Jesus with G-d
  • Equating the Holy Spirit with G-d
  • Jesus as Savior (in his proposed capacity as G-d)

However, these theological issues do not fit the classical Jewish definition of idolatry. This has caused disagreement among rabbinic authorities on the question of the permissibility of Christianity for non-Jews. (All authorities forbid Christianity for Jews).

Another consideration would be that even if Christians are considered at least partially observant Noahides, are they Chasidei Umos HaOlam or Chochmei Umos HaOlam? The former are considered to have a share in the world to come because they recognize Noahide Law as being revealed through mosaic (rabbinic) tradition, the latter are not considered to have a share in the world to come because they follow Noahide Law based on intellectual expediency.

In summary, classical idolatry has been clearly defined by Jewish Law. Christianity, however, has been defined as something less. The problem is defining how much less, and for what purposes.

-from Christianity and Noahide Law
WikiNoah.org

rabbis talmud debateI realize I’m treading on somewhat thin ice, so to speak, because this is a single source, and Jewish opinion on any topic rarely is defined by a single source. Nevertheless, this also stands in sharp relief to some Jewish opinions I’ve recently read in the religious blogosphere stating that Christianity is unequivocally idolatrous.

Granted, there are multiple Rabbinic legal opinions on this topic.

Maimonides most definitely considered Christianity “avodah zarah” (loosely translated as “idolatry”), while Rabbenu Tam and his fellow Tosafists did not condemn Christianity as idolatry (all this can be found at the wiki page for the article from which I’m quoting so just click the link above). There are also many other Rabbinic views on Christianity.

For instance Rabbi Moses Rivkes who lived in Lithuania in the 17th century said:

The rabbis of the Talmud meant by the term ‘idolators’ the pagans who lived in their time, who worshipped the stars and the constellations and did not believe in the Exodus from Egypt and in the creation of the world out of nothing. But the nations under whose benevolent shadow we, the Jewish nation, are exiled and are dispersed among them, they do believe in the creation of the world out of nothing and the Exodus from Egypt and in the essentials of faith, and their whole intention is toward the Maker of heaven and earth, as other authorities have said . . . these nations do believe in all of this

Whereas Rabbi Israel Lipschutz (1782-1860) stated:

R. Elazar ben Azaryah said, “If there is no Torah there is no culture [derekh eretz]” – The word “Torah” here cannot be meant literally, since there are many ignorant people who have not learned it, and many pious among the gentiles who do not keep the Torah and yet are ethical and people of culture. Rather, the correct interpretation seems to me to be that every people has its own religion [dat Eloki] which comprises three foundational principles, [a] belief in a revealed Torah, [b] belief in [Divine] reward and punishment, and [c] belief in an afterlife (they disagree merely on the interpretation of these principles). These three principles are what are called here “Torah”.

While citing Rabbi Zevi Yehudah Kook (1891-1982):

Rabbi Zevi Yehudah Kook was a rabbi, leader of the Religious Zionist, Mizrachi movement in Israel, on the other hand resurrects many of the classic anti-Christian polemics with a vigor not seen for centuries. Among them: Christianity should be dismissed as an internal Jewish heresy; G-d the creator clearly cannot be a man; the Jewish G-d is alive whereas the Christian’s is dead. Christianity is the refuse of Israel, in line with the purported ancient Talmudic portrayals of Jesus as boiling in excrement.

Talmudic RabbisI say all this not to make a personal statement of whether or not Christianity is idolatry. I don’t believe it is. What I’m attempting to do is illustrate that the viewpoint on Christianity, whether or not it is idolatry, and if Christians, from a halachic perspective, can be considered Noahides, is highly complex, and there isn’t a uniform Jewish opinion on the matter that “settles” it once and for all.

A nice summary of this thought can be found on another WikiNoah page:

Some rabbis in the Talmud view Christianity as a form of idolatry prohibited not only to Jews, but to gentiles as well. Rabbis with these views did not claim that it was idolatry in the same sense as pagan idolatry in Biblical times, but that it relied on idolatrous forms of worship (i.e. to a Trinity of gods and to statues and saints) (see Hullin, 13b). Other rabbis disagreed, and did not hold it to be idolatry. The dispute continues to this day. (Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance, Oxford Univ. Press, 1961, Ch.10)

Of course, it would stand to reason that Messianic Jews do not view themselves nor the non-Jews in their midst as idolators, since although covenant status and religious praxis differs between Jews and Gentiles within the “Messianic” context, they both possess the same faith in Hashem, God of Israel, and loyalty and fealty to King Messiah.

And citing a 2007 ruling by the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah:

A recent ruling by the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah has ruled that it will not allow people from a Christian background to take the The Noahide Pledge if they believe that Jesus was Messiah. However they state that this is based on procedural and not halachic considerations. They state that another court may accept the Noahide pledge from such a person and it may be completely valid.

So while traditional Christians as well as “Messianic Gentiles,” would not be allowed to take The Noahide Pledge according to the Jerusalem Court, this is not a universal ruling, nor does it represent halachah, but rather legal procedure.

I’m obviously sidestepping Hashem’s point of view on the matter, but I’m not writing this to share what I believe God thinks about us. I just want to illustrate that Jewish opinion on Christians, Messianic Gentiles, and Noahides isn’t a “slam dunk” as some folks might have you believe.

discussion
Image: kishfanclub.info

In Messianic Days, the devoted disciples of Rav Yeshua will be supported and affirmed and all the difficulties we have in comprehending who we are relative to each other and to God will be swept away. I suspect we will all have our eyes opened one way or another. In the meantime, we do what we can to understand ourselves and the people around us, hopefully treating each other as people all made in Hashem’s image, regardless of how we may otherwise disagree.

Some of my blog posts in this series comparing Noahides and Gentiles devoted with our Rav within the context of Messianic Judaism have stimulated interesting discussion, both on this blogspot and on Facebook. I hope today’s “morning meditation” will help continue the conversation.

The Life and Times of the Modern “Messianic Gentile”

It is imperative that every Jew know that he is an emissary of the Master of all, charged with the mission – wherever he may be of bringing into reality G‑d’s will and intention in creating the universe, namely, to illuminate the world with the light of Torah and avoda. This is done through performing practical mitzvot and implanting in oneself fine character traits.

Hayom Yom: 7 Adar I
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; free translation by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

According to the great medieval Jewish philosopher and legal authority Moses Maimonides, teaching non-Jews to follow the Noahide laws is incumbent on all Jews, a commandment in and of itself. However, most rabbinic authorities rejected Maimonides’ view, and the dominant halakhic (Jewish law) attitude had been that Jews are not required to spread Noahide teachings to non-Jews.

“The Modern Noahide Movement”
by Michael Kress
MyJewishLearning.com

This blog post was born out of my reading of another “My Jewish Learning” article called The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking to Converts written by Aliza Hausman. I started thinking that if there are “guidelines” for born Jews relating to “Jews by choice,” maybe there are also “guidelines” for Jews relating to Noahides (how that relates to my primary audience will become apparent, so keep reading).

The only reason I’m pursuing this is that there could be some application to the body of (Messianic) Jews relating to (Messianic) Gentiles within their midst.

I put “Messianic” in brackets in the paragraph above because I think the matter has more to do with Jewish and Gentile relationships in general than the peculiarities of that relationship within a Messianic context.

But before I get to that, I want to quote from the Hausman article. Oh, but before even that…

Aliza Hausman is a Latina Orthodox Jewish convert, freelance writer, blogger and educator. Currently working on a memoir, she lives in New York with her husband.

Now to the quote:

There are things I still can’t believe people have said to me. Fresh out of the mikvah, I heard, “But you’re not really Jewish. I mean I’m still more Jewish than you, right?” Oy vey. In the end, all converts want to be accepted as good Jews. We want to fit in. Possibly the reason Jewish tradition goes out of its way to tell you to be kind to us is that there are so many ways you can make us feel left out.

mikvahIf a non-Jew converts to Judaism, one mechanism to helping them “fit in” is for them to follow Jewish halachah, just like the other Jews in their community. But for Gentiles in Jewish community, it isn’t that simple…

…or is it?

Meet Jim Long. A documentary filmmaker with striking blue eyes, Long recites blessings in Hebrew before eating, peppers his conversation with Hebrew phrases–a “b’ezrat Hashem” (with God’s help) here, a “baruch Hashem” (praise God) there–and keeps a household that is, to the untrained eye, traditionally Orthodox. Only Long is not actually Jewish, nor does he have any plans to convert.

Oh, there’s more:

To Noahides, these seven laws are but a starting point, the foundation on which they’ve built a lifestyle of obligations and voluntary observances. The result is a life every bit as rigorous and all-encompassing as Orthodox Judaism, which guides and structures all aspects of their existence. While others drawn so intensely to Judaism would likely convert, these non-Jews have chosen to remain outside the fold, believing that life as a Noahide is an end in itself, a way to be partners–if not quite equals to the Chosen People–in the divine plan for the world.

Did you catch the key phrase? Let me quote it again.

…these seven laws are but a starting point, the foundation on which they’ve built a lifestyle of obligations and voluntary observances. The result is a life every bit as rigorous and all-encompassing as Orthodox Judaism, which guides and structures all aspects of their existence.

That sounds like it’s saying that it can be acceptable within Jewish community for Noahides to go above and beyond the seven Noahide laws and voluntarily add various observances to their day-to-day existence, resulting in “a life every bit as rigorous and all-encompassing as Orthodox Judaism.”

That’s saying quite a bit, and I don’t think a lot of Jews within Messianic Judaism would feel comfortable if their non-Jewish counterparts started living a life “as rigorous and all-encompassing as” an Orthodox Jew.

Kress echoes other articles I’ve referenced saying that many or most Noahides come from Christianity. He also mentioned that the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, believed it was incumbent upon every Jew to spread the word about the seven Noahide laws or “Sheva Mitzvot” to the non-Jewish world. He thought what would hasten the coming of Messiah was having both Jews and non-Jews doing God’s will.

He may have been alone in that thought as it remains controversial and, to the best of my knowledge, most branches of Judaism adhere to the halachah that Jews have no such obligation to non-Jews.

Who am IOf course, that hasn’t stopped the small but growing population of Noahides, but there is one glaring problem:

Despite the passion of committed Noahides, embracing seven laws of basic morality does not a lifestyle make. In some key ways, the Noahide movement is defined more by what it’s not than what it is: Not Jewish, not Christian, without a central organization, and with no clear consensus even on what the faith entails. Even the laws themselves–six out of the seven–are prohibitions. There’s little or no active spiritual life, no prescribed ritual and liturgical life for Noahides. There is, to borrow a phrase, “no there there.”

For many committed Noahides, that’s the biggest challenge the movement faces. Once they’ve given up their prior religious lives, immersed themselves in Jewish learning, perhaps even succeeded in hooking up with a local Jewish community, many Noahides speak of a lingering hole, the lack of an active and defined spiritual and ritual life.

This is exactly my point.

This is exactly the point for any “Messianic Gentile” or “Talmid Yeshua”. Like the Noahide, we do not have a lifestyle that is inherent to our faith. Like the Noahide, we’re not Jewish but we also aren’t traditionally Christian either, though we retain our devotion to Rav Yeshua (Jesus).

Like the Noahide, we have “little or no active spiritual life, no prescribed ritual and liturgical life,” unless we borrow it from Jewish praxis, but that comes with a lot of trap doors.

This is probably why so many in the Hebrew Roots movement are adamant that they are “obligated” to the 613 mitzvot of the Jewish people. They desperately want something that defines them relative to their faith, and they see those of us who believe the “one Law fits all” view is Biblically unsustainable as at least being in error if not actually hostile to the Torah.

I don’t think this is a new problem. In the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle, one or more of the articles it contains stated that the late First Century CE non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua likely suffered from a similar lack of definition.

If that’s correct, then one of the possible motivations for later groups of these ancient non-Jewish Yeshua disciples to split from the Yeshua-believing Jewish movement and manufacture the brand new Gentile-driven religion of Christianity, was the strong desire to be defined by their faith. They had no place in Judaism, so they created a place in a different religion.

Unfortunately, this was maladaptive and ended up being a total disaster as far as Jewish/Gentile relations are concerned. Worse, the Gentiles kicked the Jews out of their own party, so to speak, by radically redefining the Jewish Messiah as the Gentile Christian Savior, and astonishingly requiring Jews to stop being Jewish in order to become devotees of their own King.

judeo-christianReturning to the present, how do modern Noahides solve this dilemma? I quoted part of the answer above.

To fill the void–to transform this notion of Noahide law from a formless set of vague moral guidelines to a spiritually fulfilling lifestyle–Noahides have taken on themselves a host of what are known as “positive commandments,” the rituals and religious activities that infuse traditional Jews’ lives with structure, meaning, and spiritual foundation. These are not an inherent part of the Seven Mitzvot, but rather are voluntary observances to give their lives added spiritual meaning.

As a result, a committed Noahide lives a life of intense study of Jewish texts, not only on the Seven Laws themselves but also on all other aspects of a Jewish lifestyle, to discern which rituals a non-Jew may and may not perform. Theirs also is a life of prayer, which usually includes reading Psalms, composing original prayers, and reciting traditional Jewish liturgy, altered to remove or adapt all mentions of commandedness and chosenness, to make clear that it is only Jews, and not the Noahides, to whom those concepts apply.

They do just what has been suggested. They borrow from Jewish praxis, adapting ritual and custom for their own needs. There are two basic differences involved however. The first is that the practice is adapted from Jewish praxis rather than mirroring it identically. The second is the acknowledgment that said-observance is voluntary rather than obligatory.

Some hang a mezuzah on their doors, others don’t feel it’s appropriate. Ditto with tzitzit, the fringed undergarment worn by traditionally observant men. Shabbat looms large in the life of any traditional Jew, but all Noahides agree that they should not observe the Sabbath in the same strict way as Jews.

Since “observance” is voluntary, it makes sense that there would be variability of practice from one Noahide family to the next. Some might “keep” a form of Shabbos while others don’t. The same thing for mezuzah.

I was more than surprised to find a mention of tzitzit since I was unaware that any Noahide would elect to don a tallit katan.

I can see why some groups of Messianic Gentiles draw a comparison between themselves and Noahides. Not only are our struggles remarkably similar, but Noahides seem to have a leg up on how to successfully address said-struggles:

Many people are working to give structure and clarity to Noahide life. In other words, to give the movement its “there.” Chabad and other rabbis, together with Noahides, are creating a Noahide siddur (prayer book) to standardize prayers, and a liturgy of lifecycle rituals, such as funerals and baby-naming ceremonies. Also in the works is a Noahide Shulhan Arukh, a comprehensive book of law pertaining to non-Jews, which will spell out specifically how Noahides should live, which mitzvot are acceptable for them, and which aren’t. There are also numerous Noahide organizations popping up, aimed at uniting Noahides, providing support, and spreading their teachings.

I couldn’t help but notice that one such project to develop a Noahide Shulchan Aruch didn’t do so well. Perhaps Chabad will be more successful.

noahide guide We Messianic Gentiles, Talmidei Yeshua, or whatever you want to call us, could probably use the same siddurim and other supportive materials utilized by Noahides, with some adaptation to include our faith in Rav Yeshua who will return as King Messiah, but there’s something missing. I’ll pull it out of the paragraph I just quoted above:

There are also numerous Noahide organizations popping up, aimed at uniting Noahides, providing support, and spreading their teachings.

For Messianic Gentiles, not so much. They/we are too fragmented, our theology, doctrine, and praxis are too variable. Unlike Noahides who, at least in an ideal sense, have Chabad as a Jewish authority upon which to depend, Messianic Gentiles have no central Jewish organization that can help to unite us under a single standard collection of resources.

I suppose this could be a good reason why some Messianic Gentiles leave their faith and either join the ranks of Noahides or convert to Judaism.

Frankly, although people are free to make their own decisions, I don’t think either option is advisable and certainly not necessary. Neither is co-opting the Torah for Gentile use without so much as a by your leave to the Jewish people.

…the Jewish vision for the idealized, messianic future does not call for a world full of Jewish converts…

There are numerous mentions in both the Tanakh and Apostolic Scriptures saying the Messianic future will contain both Israel, that is, the Jewish people within their nation, and the people of the nations of the world, that is, the rest of us.

For prophesy to be fulfilled, there has to be “the rest of us,” there has to be a body of non-Jews who worship Hashem, the God of Israel, and who are devoted to Rav Yeshua as the coming King.

It’s incredibly easy for non-Jews to get lost in the world of Judaism and mistake it for the focus of our faith. I periodically quote my friend Tom who said, Don’t seek Christianity and Don’t seek Judaism, but rather, seek an encounter with the living God.”  Although ritual and custom help to define our lifestyle as Talmidei Yeshua, they are just the means by which we practice our faith, they are not the target. God is.

But like converts to Judaism and like Noahides, we just want to fit in and be accepted by our “parent” Jewish community (those of you who have one). However, the way to do that isn’t clearly understood, either by Jews or non-Jews in Messiah-faith. That means there is no one defined reality for our lived experience, at least in the realm of ritual and tradition.

But it’s nice to know we’re not alone.