It’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:
Don’t worship false gods
Don’t be sexually immoral
Don’t eat the limb of an animal before it is killed
Don’t curse God
Set up a legal court system and do justice
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.
All 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.
Moshe also does not need me to clarify for him. Nonetheless, I think his point is unexpected and worth considering, in that he is saying that many mitzvot aren’t inherently valuable, they’re only valuable as part of a particular relationship with Hashem. It’s not that he objects or is bothered by non-Jews doing them, he’s saying that in these areas, the differences between Jews and non-Jews are such that these actions are literally meaningless for them.
-Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein
“Do Non-Jews Get Reward for Mitzvot?” Torah Musings
Now before anyone flips out, I want to say that I found a link to this article on Facebook, and that “Torah Musings” is an Orthodox Jewish venue, so please take that perspective into consideration. In fact, their About states in part:
Torah Musings is a window into the Orthodox Jewish intellectual’s world, providing sophisticated but popular textual studies, important news stories and associated commentary from the perspective of an Orthodox Judaism that is intellectually open and halakhically conservative.
Further, the disclaimer at the very bottom of Rabbi Rothstein’s article says:
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
Again, please keep in mind that the contents of this write-up, including the portions quoted here on my blog, are crafted within the conceptual and intellectual confines of Orthodox Judaism and are the educated opinions of R. Rothstein specifically.
So don’t lynch me or hang me in effigy just for reporting something I find interesting and, I believe, relevant.
Almost three months ago, in an effort to distance myself from some of the angst we find in certain corners of Messianic Judaism regarding Gentiles, identity, and mitzvot, I wrote and published What’s Yours is Yours. Really, if a Gentile in Jewish space is a problem, I’ll bow out.
Among other related articles, I also subsequently published Should Non-Jews Study the Torah and I concluded “yes,” with the proviso that studying Torah did not make one automatically obligated to perform each and every possible mitzvah described therein.
But having, to the best of my understanding and ability, examined the Messianic Jewish viewpoints (yes, there are more than one) as well as Hebrew Roots’ and Christianity’s opinions on the topic, how can I resist investigating how this Orthodox Jewish Rabbi answers the question he has asked?
As you can see from the above-quoted paragraph, R. Rothstein, in examining the “original responsum, Iggerot Moshe Orach Chayyim 6;2,” states that Moshe’s opinion would be that while we are not forbidden from performing the mitzvot, because many or most of them are directly linked to the (Sinai) covenant relationship Hashem has with the Jewish people, laying tefillin, wearing tzitzit, or building and living in a sukkah are simply meaningless to us relative to actually fulfilling these mitzvot, because non-Jews, even those living as Noahides, are not part of that covenant.
Is that the final word?
R. Rothstein reviewed the opinions of multiple authorities and they all differ somewhat in how strict they rule in this area.
1. Schepansky had noted that Rambam, in his Mishnah Commentary to Terumot 3;9, explained that even though non-Jews are not obligated in giving terumah, they still get reward for doing so, which is why the terumah they designate qualifies as actual terumah.
2. Moshe labels it one of the exceptions, donations to hekdesh (anything having to do with the Temple) and charity, examples he proves from the Talmudic assumption that Balak is rewarded for his sacrifices and Baba Batra 4a’s view that Nevuchadnezzar’s giving charity was effective. Non-Jews are also rewarded for appropriate speech, as Rashi says on Bereshit 19;39, where Lot’s younger daughter was more circumspect about her son’s paternity. Nevuchadnezzar also gets rewarded for the three steps he takes to hear the word of Hashem.
Those are all examples of non-Jews taking intuitively decent and good actions. When it comes to that which the Torah nonintuitively legislates for Jews, such as Shabbat, holidays, tefillin, tzitzit, sukkah, lulav, shofar, kosher, shatnez and anything like that, R. Moshe reverts to his view that these mitzvot only have value as a Jewish response to Hashem’s command.
This suggests that certain mitzvot might actually have meaning when performed by non-Jews, such as making an offering at or donations to the Temple (which currently does not exist), or other actions that any reasonable person would intuitively understand are morally good or right. On the other hand, those mitzvot that we would not intuitively realize are good, such and laying tefillin or donning a tallit gadol when praying, actions that are specifically associated with the Jewish people and their (Sinai) covenant relationship with Hashem, simply mean nothing to Hashem when we perform them, because we non-Jews stand outside the (Sinai) covenant.
I know pretty much who is going to object to all this, but please remember that these opinions are coming from an Orthodox Jewish source, so you can’t necessarily hang blame either on me or on any authorities existing within Messianic Judaism.
You’ll need to click the link I provided above to get the full gist of what R. Rothstein has composed, but he does cite other authorities who believe a non-Jew may receive a reward for performing mitzvot voluntarily, although this probably doesn’t include the previously mentioned observances specifically associated with Judaism. Some have even suggested that the non-Jew may receive a greater reward, but this is a minority opinion and possibly considered erroneous by the majority of authorities.
The article concludes:
In that sense, R. Moshe is actually being more lenient towards non-Jews, in that in his view they are not missing out on a good. For R. Moshe, a non-Jew who keeps the Noahides is doing all s/he should do, not just all the Torah happened to let him or her know about. It’s not that they are too benighted to know the wonders of our mitzvot, it’s that those mitzvot don’t apply to them, unless and until they decide to convert.
In other words, it is understood that Gentiles may recognize the beauty of all of the mitzvot once we study Torah and become aware of them, however that recognition goes not make us obligated unless we choose to convert to Judaism.
This is more or less what I’d expect given an Orthodox Jewish perspective, and is actually more liberal than I would have previously imagined.
Now the question is, from the viewpoint of disciples of Rav Yeshua and my understanding of our graciously being allowed to partake in some of the blessings of the New Covenant by Hashem’s mercy and through the symbolic sacrifice of our Rav, does this change anything as far as non-Jewish disciples, the mitzvot, and their significance?
That’s the $64,000 question.
And it’s one that A) I’ve answered before, and B), that I don’t intend to hash out again in this blog post.
I am writing this “mediation” and providing links to the source material because I find it fascinating that Orthodox Judaism would even pose the question for serious, scholarly debate. If it’s a question that Orthodox Jewish authorities find necessary to ask, given that they see non-Jews as subject only to the covenant Hashem made with Noah (see Genesis 9), how much more so should it be a question within Messianic Judaism, given that Hashem has allowed even the non-Jew to become a disciple of Yeshua by mercy and grace?
I know this will probably ruffle someone’s feathers, but really, I’m just publishing this as a matter of interest as to how wider Judaism considers a matter that is, from my point of view, highly relevant to non-Jews who are “Judaicly aware” and who are or have been involved in either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities.
Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: The appointed times of Hashem, that you are to designate as holy convocations; these are My appointed times.
–Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:2
The Sabbath is a special, Divine gift, given to us so we elevate ourselves above the physicality of the days of the workweek. Indeed, the fact that it comes every week is part of its special nature: Who among us has not wondered how the non-Jews can survive without the Sabbath! We must strive to treat the Sabbath with the same delight and anticipation that we do any of the festivals. (emph. mine)
That is the $64,000 question, isn’t it. There certainly isn’t one, straightforward reply. The author of the above quoted mussar proposes the question but not the answer. Apparently, there is no Rabbinic response to God’s provision for the Goyim (or lack thereof) relative to Shabbat or any sort of occasion whereby a non-Jew can elevate him or herself and draw nearer to God. Perhaps it’s one of the many reasons why the ancient Gentile disciples of Messiah divorced themselves from the Jewish communities originally created by Paul and founded their (our) own Gentile-based religion called “Christianity”.
Actually, the “Mussar Thought for the Day” does have a response to Gentiles and the Sabbath:
A non-Jew is forbidden to observe the Sabbath; the Torah describes the Sabbath as: “…between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever (Shemos 31:17).”
The Church solved this problem by creating their own weekly Holy Day on Sunday, and until relatively recently in history, treated Sunday in a manner similar to how Jews observe a Saturday Sabbath.
However, the past 50 years or so has seen, particularly in the Western nations, a diluting of Sunday “Sabbath” observance whereby Christians go to church Sunday morning and then go out to lunch just prior to playing a few rounds of golf. The day is only special for the few hours they are in church, and even then, social encounters and conversations can largely be made up of secular material.
I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of Jewish people who only marginally observe a Shabbat or observe it not at all. My daughter goes to work on Saturday and my wife, while she does attend shul in the mornings and into the early afternoon, will resume her regular weekday behaviors upon returning home.
I’m not speaking ill of my spouse, of any other Jew, or for that matter, any Christian. It’s just that how we see the Sabbath and our relation to this day as well as to God is highly variable.
Is the answer to how a Gentile should, at least in an ideal sense, respond to the Jewish Shabbat to be found in Messianic Judaism? What makes you think that among the various “Messianic Judaisms” currently in existence, there is a unified response?
Your view that God is supremely upset about which day people choose to worship on is very un-Jewish. Shabbat is about rest and is not a prescribed day of worship. This is an error lying at the root of your entire theory. It is also an erroneous view of God, as if one of the great sins has to do with which day of the week people hold worship services on. I strongly encourage you to reexamine your views which come up short in terms of biblical interpretation and which sound a lot more like they are influenced by Ellen G. White than Torah and Gospel.
So although Derek is the Rabbi of a Messianic Jewish congregation which presumably has a significant number of non-Jewish attendees, and also that he has spoken at many Christian churches and similar non-Jewish venues on topics related to Messianic Judaism and its relationship to believing Gentiles, he also seems to hold a point of view quite similar to the Orthodox Jewish authorities. He doesn’t say that Gentiles are forbidden to observe Shabbat, just that, as a Torah commandment, it doesn’t apply to us in the slightest.
Now let’s contrast that with the following:
It is not uncommon to hear people refer to the appointed times as the Jewish festivals. This is true in that God gave His appointed times to the people of Israel. He told the Israelites, “The LORD’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these” (Leviticus 23:2). The Jewish people are the wardens of God’s calendar.
However, God does not refer to them as Jewish festivals. He refers to them as “my appointed times.” They are God’s holy days. Paul asks, “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also” (Romans 3:29). The Bible never offered Gentile Christians any alternative festival days. To say that Gentile believers are not expected to keep God’s appointed times is the same thing as saying that Gentile believers are not supposed to have any holy days or days of worship. Neither the Gospels nor the Epistles grant the Gentile believers their own special festivals.
In the days of the Apostles, both Jewish and Gentile believers observed God’s appointed times together. They met in the synagogues and in the Temple on the Sabbath and festival days to celebrate and observe God’s holy days. When Gentile Christianity left the cradle of Judaism, the Gentile Christians began to neglect the appointed times. The Sabbath day was replaced with Sunday observance. The timing of Passover was changed. The other festivals fell into disuse. Is this what God intended for believers?
Since this is taken from the Torah Club subdomain of FFOZ, I have to assume it was written (though I could be wrong) by D. Thomas Lancaster, the spiritual leader at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship which touts itself as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations.” Mr. Lancaster is also the primary contributor to FFOZ’s Torah Club content.
The last three blog posts were not only part of my review of Aaron Eby’s book/siddur First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer (also an FFOZ publication) which was written by Eby specifically for a non-Jewish Messianic and Christian audience, but my chronicle outlining my own efforts to truly (or as truly as is possible for me) observe Shabbos using Eby’s book as a guide.
I can’t say I did a very good job of it, but part of that has to do with a lack of practice. One properly observes Shabbat by having many months or years (or a lifetime) of practice observing Shabbat, ideally in the company of people who know what they’re doing.
So we have the Orthodox Jewish perspective that Gentiles are actually forbidden from observing the Shabbat accompanied by astonishment in how we Gentiles manage to survive without it.
Then we have Rabbi Leman’s viewpoint that the Shabbat simply isn’t relevant to non-Jews, even those within the Messianic community, and further, that “Shabbat is about rest and is not a prescribed day of worship.”
We also have FFOZ’s opinion that God is not just a God of the Jews but of the nations as well, and that at least Gentiles are allowed to observe the Moadim, presumably including the Shabbat.
The previously quoted FFOZ blog post ends with:
It is true that the Apostles never commanded the Gentile believers to keep the appointed times, but neither did they tell them not to. They were silent on the matter. In those days, the idea of not keeping the appointed times simply had not occurred to anyone.
Perhaps if there had been no schism between the Jews and Gentiles nearly twenty centuries ago, the issue would be moot. Halachah would have been developed regarding “Messianic Gentile” observance of Shabbat, the Appointed Festivals, and a great many other things we call “Jewish,” and then the halachah would have been refined over the centuries so that today’s expressions of Messianic Judaism would each have their own traditions and practices defined for Gentile members.
But such is not the case.
However, maybe the issue isn’t all that important, at least on a global scale. The churches have their answer to “The Lord’s Day,” and each Messianic community that includes Gentile members or attendees has their official policies regarding non-Jews and Sabbath.
Ultimately, lacking a clear Biblical directive, each of us has to negotiate his or her relationship with God, and each non-Jew has to decide how he or she (or if he or she) should address the puzzling issue of a Shabbat for the Nations.
I wrote quite recently that if it came down to a choice, it’s more important for Jews to observe Shabbos than for Gentiles. In the microcosm of my family, that’s how it works today (however imperfectly).
Of course there are those who want to have their cake and eat it too, but I’m not convinced you can solve knotty problems such as these by saying “the (Torah) rules are all the same for everyone, end of story,” and this narrative can appear a little unusual from time to time (I like comic books too, but this comparison caught me by surprise).
Even setting aside larger, normative Christianity’s opinion on the matter, authorities within Messianic Judaism let alone the wider realm of Jewish thought differ in how or if Shabbat applies to the Gentile, whether a disciple of the Master or not.
I decided to write this “meditation,” even though it may seem that I’m beating a well and truly dead horse, because of the simple statement I quoted at the top of this blog post:
Who among us has not wondered how the non-Jews can survive without the Sabbath!
So, given all of the benefits of Shabbat observance for the Jewish people, how do the rest of us survive?
Each Sabbath refreshes anew the special bond that Hashem has with His people, and affords every Jew the chance to turn away from the weekday world and bask in the radiance of the Shechinah. Thus, every Sabbath is a festival; but rather than commemorating a single event, it serves to strengthen and nurture the connection between the Jews and their Father in Heaven.
-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.141
Oh, as far as the Shabbat being primarily about rest rather than worship:
It is all too easy to fall into the trap of regarding the Sabbath simply as a day of rest, and to use it only as a chance to catch one’s breath before heading back into the grind of the following week. The folly of this approach, too, is highlighted by the location of the Sabbath among the festivals. Nobody makes the mistake of looking at Pesach or Succos as times of rest! These festivals are clearly identified as times to celebrate the closeness and special care that Hashem has demonstrated toward His people.
So if we accept Derek’s assertion that Shabbat is not specifically a day of worship, we can also say that, at least in Orthodox Judaism, it’s not primarily just a rest day either. Like the Appointed Festivals, it’s a time of celebration, a day to rejoice in drawing nearer to God, at least for the Jewish people.
But among the varying and madding opinions of the relevant pundits, how do we non-Jews survive without a Sabbath or, like our First Century counterparts, the Gentile disciples Paul made in the diaspora, can we too somehow join Jewish community and simply enjoy the blessings of their Shabbat observance even if, as a matter of covenant, it is not also ours?
I know someone is going to bring up Isaiah 56 as “proof” that everyone everywhere is commanded to keep the Shabbat in the current age, but are we to behave like partisans, freedom fighters representing a (sort of) “King in Exile,” obeying the laws he will establish once he returns as if they are already in effect? Remember, in Messianic Days, King Messiah will not only rule over Israel, but the Gentile countries as well, as we will be vassal nations under the authority and protection of Israel’s Monarch. In those days, the will of the Master will be unequivocal.
Today however, Biblical hermeneutics being what it is, there is room for doubt and multiple conflicting learned opinions, and as I said above, that leaves it up to each of us, our conscience, and our relationship with God, to decide how to navigate the rather murky waters of Gentiles and Shabbat. How can we presume to observe it? How can we survive without it?
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman