Tag Archives: One Law

Observing the Letter and the Spirit of the Torah

In one (or more) of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews, he talks about the difference between the “letter of the Law” and the “spirit of the Law”. In traditional Christian teaching, this usually means that “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). In other words, the Law is bad because it promotes a legalistic method of attempting to attain justification before God, while acting in the Spirit of God, that is, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we receive when we confess Christ as Lord, brings life, for only faith and grace can justify, not works. But this is a complete misunderstanding of the text and what the “letter” and the “spirit” really means.

According to Lancaster, the letter is the actual wording and literal meaning of a commandment while the spirit is the principle behind that commandment. Limiting a commandment to its literal meaning not only restricts our understanding of God’s intent for us, but may lead to either abandoning large portions of the Bible as anachronistic or attempting to drag those anachronisms into the 21st century. Let me give you an example from last week’s Torah Portion:

If you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof, so that you will not place blood in your house if a fallen one falls from it.

Deuteronomy 22:8 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Now let’s take a look at the commentary for this verse referenced in the Chumash:

The Torah requires a Jew to erect a fence or other form of barrier around his roof. This commandment applies also to any dangerous situation, such as a swimming pool or a tall stairway (Rambam, Hil. Rotzeach 11:1-5).

This is an excellent example describing the letter and the spirit of the commandment. The literal meaning is to build a fence or barrier around the edge of your roof so that no one on the roof will fall off by accident. It’s your house and your roof, so you’re responsible. Except few of us have flat roofs on our houses (at least in the typical American suburb) that allow people to go up and stand on them, thus risking a fall. However, as the commentary suggests, the spirit, that is, the general principle behind the specific commandment, has a much wider focus. As property owners (if we own a home and the land it is on), we have a responsibility to assess any potential dangers on our property and take steps to improve safety and thus avoid household members and guests incurring injuries due to our carelessness.

The example of a swimming pool for instance, is a good one, since accidental drownings, particularly of children, are not unknown. Many years ago when my family and I lived in Southern California, we had a swimming pool. My children were quite young at the time, and we wanted to make sure they would be safe around the pool. We had a pool cover installed that ran along a motorized track. When the cover was closed, it was impossible (especially for a child) to pull back the cover since it was secured in place by the track, and the only way to remove the cover was to insert a key into a spring-loaded locking mechanism and hold the key in the “on” position as the motor retracted the cover. In this sense, it could be said that my wife and I “fulfilled” this particularly mitzvah in relation to our swimming pool.

But why should you care about all this?

As I was studying Torah Portion Ki Tetzei on Shabbat (yesterday as you read this), it occurred to me that almost all of the commandments and statues listed could be thought of in terms of the letter and the spirit of the Law.

For instance, Deuteronomy 21:10-14 describes how an ancient Israeli soldier should behave toward a beautiful woman he has captured while battling and defeating an enemy population. The history of war tells us that part of what conquerors do is to abuse and rape the women of the enemy. The Torah doesn’t forbid the capture of these women but does issue the rather strange command that one must wait a full month before actually marrying the woman and engaging in sexual relations with her as a wife. In that one month time period, the man cannot touch her, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow and weep for her lost parents. At the end of that time, the soldier can either marry her or set her free, but he must not sell her as a slave. Critics of ancient Israel and the Bible say this is still a horribly barbaric practice, but I think I can see a hidden motive of God’s in these verses. Part of the Chumash commentary states:

According to either interpretation, the purpose of the long delay is so that the captor’s desire will evaporate in the interim and he will set her free.

despairIn other words, God anticipated human lust during a war in which a soldier would impulsively desire to sexually assault or even permanently possess a captive woman. While God does not attempt to directly forbid taking women captive, perhaps because it would have set up far too many of the Israeli soldiers to sin in the passion of the moment, He permits capture but forbids any sexual contact for one month. A month is certainly long enough for such passion to dissipate, particularly when the woman is commanded to set aside certain matters of hygiene and grooming.

In modern military forces of the West, it is illegal for soldiers to rape women in war and it would be unthinkable for a soldier to capture a woman and take her home to be a wife. Arguably, this commandment, like most of those we find in the Torah, would only apply in modern times to the Jewish people, but in the present nation of Israel, we don’t find reports of IDF soldiers capturing women in Gaza and taking them home as potential spouses. So what is the principle behind the literal commandment, or is there one anymore? After all, the practice of capturing women as sex slaves during war has become so abhorrent that it is virtually unthinkable.

Has the spirit of this law, even among non-Jewish nations, triumphed over the letter or has something else happened? Has this law become obsolete because the practice among the armies of civilized nations has become extinct (and I recognize that there are forces among uncivilized and brutal peoples where rape during war is still practiced)? That leads to a rather uncomfortable thought; the thought that there are some portions of the Torah that no longer apply and that may never apply again. Let’s take a more extreme example:

You shall not wear combined fibers, wool and linen together.

Deuteronomy 22:11 (Stone Edition Chumash)

To the best of my knowledge, only Orthodox Jews observe this commandment today. It would be a difficult commandment to observe for most of us given the nature of the clothing typically sold at retail outlets with their mixed natural and artificial fabrics. The Chumash commentary on this verse goes back to Leviticus 19:19 which says in part:

The prohibitions not to cross-breed or to wear mixtures of wool and linen are the quintessential decrees, i.e. commands of the King for which man knows no reasons (Rashi). Ramban clarifies the above point. God surely has reasons, but since man cannot know them, he cannot feel the same satisfaction in performing these decrees that he has when he performs precepts that he feels he understands.

In other words, this class of commandment is to be observed simply because “God said so,” not because (from a human standpoint) it makes any particular sense or seems at all purposeful. There is a literal meaning to this commandment but no apparent underlying principle.

Which brings me to what it is to observe the Torah commandments, particularly for those people who believe it is possible to observe only the literal, Biblical mitzvot of the Torah without any Rabbinic interpretation and binding halachah being involved. As I mentioned, fulfilling the mitzvah of not wearing clothing made of mixed fabrics is something (again, to the best of my knowledge) performed only among Orthodox Jews. And particularly for those non-Jews who feel led in some manner or fashion, to live “Torah-observant” or “Torah-complient” or “Torah-submissive” lifestyles, is it actually possible to do so?

There are three reasons why I think not. The first has to do with the differences between the letter and spirit of the commandments. Most of you, as I said before, don’t have a flat roof on your house so you cannot observe the literal, Biblical commandment. You can only observe this mitzvot if you take the Rabbinic interpretation of its underlying principle into account.

The second has to do with commandments for which we are not likely to ever have the opportunity to fulfill. This goes beyond whether or not we have a flat roof (for instance, the three-story building where I work does have a flat roof where people have access and it does have a barrier to prevent people from falling off), and goes into a realm where, for example, even if we serve in a military organization and find ourselves in battle, it would never even occur to most of us to capture a woman and particularly not to ship her home thousands of miles away with the idea of making her a wife. This may at one time have been an all too common practice during war (at least the initial rape of enemy women) but for American soldiers in the modern era, it’s no longer even on the radar, so to speak. Calvin The third has to do with commands like not wearing mixed fabrics. This is a literal command that can possibly be observed (for after all, Orthodox Jews observe it), and it is a Biblical commandment, so those non-Jews who say they only obey the written or literal Torah can (and by their own value system should) obey it, and yet I know of no one in my past experience among Hebrew Roots and One Law congregations who has ever attempted to observe this mitzvah. So what does all this mean?

As part of my studies last Shabbat, I read the commentaries for the weekly Torah Portion in Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Growth Through Torah. As I was reading, it occurred to me that Rabbi Pliskin, in his commentaries, was indeed describing the principles behind each of the mitzvot he was addressing. R. Pliskin cited numerous Rabbinic teachings in relation to the beautiful woman captured in war (Deut. 21:13-14), some which commented directly on the situation, but most of which extrapolated the various principles behind the literal, Biblical meaning. The following is just one sample:

Rabbi Chayim Zaitchyk commented that we see from here that to really change a trait it takes a thirty day period of intensive work. This is the principle of the month of Elul which is a time for us to focus on our behavior and traits in order to make major improvements on ourselves. -R. Pliskin, p. 435

That particular principle probably doesn’t seem like it should reasonably be extrapolated from the plain meaning of the text, and so most of us (at least if we’re not Orthodox Jews) tend to disregard it. On the other hand, the Jewish people have been the keepers of the commandments of God, including the observance of Shabbat and the knowledge and practice of ethical monotheism, for untold centuries before the rest of the world even heard of a single God. Who is to say that God did not give the leaders and teachers among the Jews, ancient and modern, the authority to study and to derive underlying principles from the surface meaning of the commandments and to integrate those principles into the practice of daily living for their communities?

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:21 (NASB)

This single verse is among the most mysterious and probably the most misunderstood in the entire Bible. For many in the Hebrew Roots movement, it is one of the justifications for believing that the Jewish Apostles intended for the Gentile disciples to not only learn the Torah but to observe the full body of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, even though Peter said “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”

I’ve often said that it is impossible to understand what Jesus taught unless you understand how he understood the Torah, Writings, and Prophets, the Bible that existed in the days of the Apostles. Sending new Gentile disciples of the Master to the synagogue to hear the Torah read and interpreted by the teachers each Shabbat was one way to help them understand the principles and even the nuances behind the literal commandments and teachings. It’s not just the words, but the context, the language, and the world view of the original intended audience. The original intended audience of Jesus were Hebrew/Aramaic speaking Jews living in Israel.

The Gentile disciples came from a number of different nations and cultures, none of which would have given them the educational background and specific mindset of the people to whom Jesus was originally teaching. The Gentiles could only gain that perspective and thus eventually learn what Jesus was really teaching by studying among Jewish teachers, probably for many months to many years, because the teachings of the Bible are heavily embedded in culture and experiential living as well as language, religion, and history.

Now take a bunch of Americans (or whoever you are) two-thousand years removed from all of that. Compared to the Gentile disciples being addressed in Acts 15, we might as well have just arrived from another planet in terms of our ability to grasp what they were asked to study, and it was a challenge even for them. I don’t believe that either then or now, non-Jewish disciples of Jesus were or are expected to emulate the Jewish disciples beyond a certain subset of observances and underlying principles, but it is those underlying principles that may capture the secret to what it is to be a (so-called) “Torah-observant Gentile.”

Going back to building fences on roofs or putting covers over swimming pools, I don’t think anyone, Jewish or Christian, would think it was a bad idea to improve safety conditions on our property and to protect our family and friends from accidental injury. It’s not just a “Jewish thing”. In fact, we have a body of penal and civil laws in the U.S. that speak to just those concerns so it can be said our local and national governments, to one degree or another, mandate or command that we behave as responsible citizens by taking proactive steps to provide a safe environment in our communities.

Ismar Schorsch
Ismar Schorsch

Thus we can say that there is more than meets the eye to the Apostolic decree in regards to the Gentile disciples we find in the Acts 15 letter but it may be more layered and nuanced than the simple assumption that there is only a single expectation for everyone everywhere that is contained in the Torah. Ismar Schorsch, in his 2005 commentary on this past week’s Torah portion, as recorded in Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries (p. 610) and referencing Eshet Hayil (“A Woman of Valor”) based on Proverbs 31:10-31, said:

Words carry more than their surface meanings. To fixate on their literal meanings turns a deep channel into a shallow trough.

Is it possible that some of us in believing and even attempting to practice a literal, Biblical Torah, have turned the “deep channel” of God’s intent for our lives into “a shallow trough?” The rather lengthy title for one of Rabbi Pliskin’s commentaries on Deuteronomy 22:5 which prohibits the wearing of garments meant for the opposite sex is, Each person should feel joy in fulfilling his or her unique role in life. He states (p. 438):

Targum Yonoson states that the garments of a man include tzitzis and tefilin. Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz commented on this that we see the principle that each person has his own mission in life. The same thing that for one person is “holy of holies,” for another person who does a similar thing, but it is not his life’s task, it is an abomination. Each person should feel joy in carrying out his life’s mission and should not try to do things that he was not meant to do.

While R. Pliskin is a Jew writing to other Jews, I think I can reasonably extrapolate an extended principle that applies to non-Jews who feel compelled to take on board a role which is not assigned to us, a Jewish role. I posted a link to a recent “meditation” called Torah and the Christian: An “In-a-Nutshell” Explanation on Google+ and a Jewish person responded:

As a Christian, saved by grace, who happens to have a Jewish heritage, I try to avoid the discussion of what Jews and Gentiles should and should not to do because it has a tendency to lead to division. However, Yeshua already provided the answer, which we would do well to remember: “For he himself is our shalom — he has made us both one and has broken down the m’chitzah which divided us by destroying in his own body the enmity occasioned by the Torah, with its commands set forth in the form of ordinances. He did this in order to create in union with himself from the two groups a single new humanity and thus make shalom, and in order to reconcile to God both in a single body by being executed on a stake as a criminal and thus in himself killing that enmity. Also, when he came, he announced as Good News shalom to you far off and shalom to those nearby, news that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:14-18 CJB).

It’s one of the expected responses from both a traditional Christian and classic Hebrew Roots perspectives, although both groups identify the practices of “one new man” quite differently. It also cites the usual issue of promoting identity specific roles as “causing division,” and my response would be to suggest that a Kohen having a specific role in the Temple did not “cause division” among the different classes of Israelites (apart from the Korach rebellion of course). We simply have our own roles assigned to us by God based, among other things, on who we are in terms of gender, nationality, and covenant connectiveness.

When writing on Deuteronomy 22:7 and 22:10, R. Pliskin crafted commentaries called Even when engaged in a mitzvah be sensitive to the feelings of others and Be careful not to cause others to envy. The underlying principles being expressed here are applicable both to Jewish people observing the mitzvot and Gentiles who think they should do so in the manner the Jews are commanded.

One of the things I must (sorry to say this) criticize J.K. McKee for was a statement he made in his book One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit about the issue of Jewish distinctiveness in the Messianic community of believers. I don’t recall the exact quote, but he made what I consider to be some rather snarky remarks about these Jewish people being exclusivist and even petty in desiring to have their covenant role as Jews recognized and respected.

And yet we see there’s a principle in Torah observance that recognizes distinctiveness of roles and even that a person whose role does not include the performance of particular mitzvot can actually hurt or inflict pain upon others. While we Gentiles may believe Jews are deliberately provoking us to envy because of their status before God, we, for our part, when we claim mitzvot that are not consistent with our role, are being injurious to the very people and nation we claim to love.

TorahSo what’s the answer? I don’t think there’s an easily understood one. I hope I’ve established in this short essay that the Torah is not a simple list of “Dos” and “Don’ts” but rather a highly complex and nuanced collection of lifestyle elements that define a Jew’s obedience to God as the conditions of the Mosaic Covenant. I also hope you can see that understanding how non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah fit into the covenantal landscape, in our case exclusively through the New Covenant blessings as they apply to us, is not an easy task. It wasn’t an easy task when James and the Council of Apostles and Elders issued their binding halachah upon the first Gentile disciples and it certainly isn’t now two-thousand years later.

Pastor Randy, the head Pastor at the church I attend, is in the process of presenting a sermon series on the Ten Commandments and how he believes they apply to Christians today. To do this, he has to dig into various portions of the Torah to lay his foundation, and my Sunday school teacher, who creates lessons based on Pastor’s sermons, is challenged with trying to comprehend how the underlying principles behind the Torah are “Christian”. And that’s where I think the answers for Gentile disciples lie, not in attempting to look and act “Jewish” by donning the outward apparel (tallit, tefillin, kippah) that would make people think we’re Jewish (which seems very much in line with the prohibition for a man to wear woman’s clothing as well as the reverse), but by studying and then practicing the underlying principles behind as many of the mitzvot as make sense for us to approach.

The answer, for me anyway, is not to believe I can obey God by looking like I’m Jewish, but to behave in a manner that applies the principles of the Torah within the context of who I am as a Christian and a Gentile, to live a life of faith, trust, charity, all in obedience, for there are many of us in our various roles and lifestyles, but only one God.

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Torah and the Christian: An “In-a-Nutshell” Explanation

A few days ago, my friend and One Law proponent Pete Rambo posted a blog titled The ‘ger’ was expected to do what??. In his write-up, he summarizes the apparent obligations of the Ger or “resident alien” (sometimes translated and “convert” or “proselyte”) who was dwelling among the ancient Israelite people as we see chronicled in the Torah (Pentateuch or the first five books of the Bible). These passages are used in part to support the belief among One Law Gentiles that all believers in Jesus are obligated to observe the same set of commandments in the Torah that were assigned to the Israelites.

This is by no means the entire rationale or set of evidence supporting this idea, but it is a critical one. Pete and I have been engaged in an ongoing online dialogue between his blog and mine arguing the pros and cons of this position, with Pete obviously taking the “pro” position.

I think it would help before proceeding to expand a little bit on the status of the “Gerim” (plural of Ger), the resident aliens among the ancient Israelites as we see them in the Torah:

In contrast with the foreigner, the ger (גֵּר), the resident alien, lived more or less permanently in his adopted community. Like the Arabic jār, he was “the protected stranger,” who was totally dependent on his patrons for his well-being. As W.R. Smith noted, his status was an extension of that of the guest, whose person was inviolable, though he could not enjoy all the privileges of the native. He, in turn, was expected to be loyal to his protectors (Gen. 21:23) and to be bound by their laws (Num. 15:15–16).

Since all of the landed property belonged to Israelites (cf. Lev. 25:23–24), the gerim were largely day laborers and artisans (Deut. 24: 14–15; cf. 29:10). Both the Book of the Covenant which classed them among those who were dependent (Ex. 23:12) and the Decalogue which referred to them as “your stranger” (gerkha; Ex. 20:10; cf. Deut. 5:14) attest their inferior position in Israelite society. While a few acquired wealth (cf. Lev. 25:47), most of them were poor and were treated as the impoverished natives. Thus, they were permitted to share in the fallen fruit in the vineyard (Lev. 19:10), the edges of the field, and the gleanings of the harvest (Lev. 23:22; see also Poor, Provisions *for). Like the other poor folk they were also granted a share in the tithe of the third year (Deut. 14:29) and the produce of the Sabbatical Year (Lev. 25:6).

With the passage of time, the gerim were assimilated culturally and religiously. Doeg the Edomite, for instance, was a worshiper of YHWH by the time of Saul (I Sam. 21:8), as was Uriah the Hittite in the reign of David (II Sam. 11:11). Hence, the ger, in contrast to the nokhri, was required in many cases to conform to the ritual practices of the native Israelite. Thus, gerim were subject to laws dealing with ritual purification (Num. 19:2–10), incest (Lev. 18:26) and some of the food taboos (Lev. 17:10–16; but cf. Deut. 14:21). They were expected to observe the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14), participate in the religious festivals (Deut. 16:11, 14), and fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29). They were permitted to offer up burnt offerings (Lev. 17:8; 22:18; Num. 15:14ff.) and, if circumcised, even to sacrifice the paschal lamb (Ex. 12:48–49; Num. 9:14). Indeed, they, no less than the Israelites, were expected to be loyal to YHWH (Lev. 20:2; cf. Ezek. 14:5–8).

However, social differences did remain, and some gerim were better received than others. While third generation offspring of Edomites and Egyptians might “be admitted into the congregation of the Lord” (Deut. 23:8–9), Ammonites and Moabites were not to be admitted “even in the tenth generation” (23:4). Furthermore, even while the Holiness Code admonished Israelites not to subject their fellows to slavery (Lev. 25:39), they were specifically permitted to do so to the children of resident aliens (25:45–46). A Hebrew slave belonging to a ger could be redeemed immediately, and if not redeemed served until the Jubilee Year (25:47ff.), but one belonging to an Israelite served until the *Jubilee (25:39ff.). Correspondingly, a Hebrew could serve as a hired or bound laborer (25:40) of an Israelite, but only as a hired laborer of an alien (25:50). Indeed, the humble position of the ger generally was emphasized by the usage of the term in the Holiness Code: e.g., “The land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me” (25:23; cf. 25:35, but see *Proselyte).

-from “Strangers and Gentiles”
Jewish Virtual Library

Sorry for the long block of quoted text, but I wanted to present a cohesive thought. Click on the link I provided above to read all of the article and get a complete picture of how the “Ger” was thought of and functioned in ancient Israelite society.

Apostle Paul preachingGetting back to Pete’s blog, after my first reading of his article, I posted an initial response to each of his points. Later that day, one of my long-time “debating partners” Zion replied to me with his own set of ideas. That started me thinking and reading and today, I responded to him. This blog post is an expansion on that response since I hopefully have crafted an “in-a-nutshell” (more or less) description of why neither the historical Ger nor the Acts 15 apostolic decree supports One Law. In fact, I believe this is a tidy explanation of how the example of the Ger and the apostolic decree create a halachic (legal) precedent stating that Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah (Jesus Christ) were (and are) expected to observe only a subset of what we might think of as Torah commands in the present age and then only if considered to be “residing among Israel.”

The following is my actual response to Zion on Pete’s blog:

Interestingly enough, D. Thomas Lancaster in his Torah Club commentary on Acts 15 actually presents the legal decision made by James and the Council of Apostles and Elders as granting Gentiles “resident alien” status among the nation of Israel based on his understanding of Leviticus 17 and 18.

I reviewed his work about 18 months ago and based in part on Markus Bockmuehl’s book, “Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics,” he believes that non-Jews are saved as non-Jews and, referencing the aforementioned chapters in Leviticus:

In those chapters, the Torah describes the sins of the Canaanites, warns the people of Israel against imitating their ways, and prescribes four prohibitions which both the Israelite and the stranger who dwells among the nation much keep. “These correspond to the four prohibitions of the apostolic decree, in the order in which they occur in the apostolic letter.” [Richard Bauckham, “James and the Jerusalem Church,” in “The Book of Acts In Its Palestinian Setting, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 459]

In his article “The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses” for FFOZ publication Messiah Journal (issue 109/Winter 2012), which I reviewed when it first came out and then again last year, Toby Janicki says about the Acts 15 decree:

At first glance it appears that the Gentiles have very few commandments to deal with, but upon closer examination each of these four prohibitions becomes, in a sense, an overarching category which contains many sub-category commandments. This may be one of the reasons the Apostle James adds the phrase about Moses being read in the Synagogue every Sabbath. The new Gentile believer would need to attend the local synagogue to learn how each of these four prohibitions plays out practically in everyday life.

Referring back to Pete’s list of those things the Ger was either required or encouraged to perform while living among the ancient Israelites (including my initial response to his list), we see this is a subset of the overall commandments issued to the Children of Israel by God through Moses. Based on this subset, we cannot reasonably infer that somehow the Gentile Gerim were obligated to the entire set of mitzvot as were the Israelites, but only those mitzvot where they are specifically mentioned.

Putting this all together, I think the best we can come up with for those of us who identify as “Messianic Gentiles” is that we have some overlap in terms of obligation with Messianic Jews but we do not possess an identical obligation to God with Israel, that is, the Jewish people. By legal precedent, both in specified portions of the Torah and in Acts 15, the Gentiles who are attached to Israel in the present (Old Covenant) age, have been given a lighter “yoke” to bear so that, in Peter’s words (Acts 15:10-11), “why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Peter wasn’t kidding when he called the Torah “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” The history of Israel in the Tanakh is a litany of her failures in obedience and in straying away from God and the Torah and into idolatry. The reason for the establishment of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-40, Ezekiel 36:22-30) is to make it possible for the Jewish people to perfectly obey God’s Torah by writing it on their hearts rather than on external objects, and to give them a new Spirit so each and every Jewish person would have a perfect apprehension of God greater than the prophets of old.

AbrahamThanks to the “seed of Abraham,” that is Messiah or Christ, and God’s promise to Abraham that he would be a “father to many nations” and a “blessing to the nations,” we people of the nations, that is Gentiles, are able to share in the blessings of the New Covenant by also having our sins forgiven and there being no partiality between Gentile and Jew in access to the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection and life in the Messianic Era of peace and tranquility.

But that equality is specific to those blessings, and based on what we know of the Gerim and Acts 15, we do not also share in identical obligations. Blessings yes, obligations, no. There are some duties that will always be exclusive to the Jewish people, just like serving in the Temple is a duty that is specific to the Levitical Priests.

I suppose all this is flying in the face of this morning’s Elul blog post:

Frankly, my plate is full just in keeping up with all I need to learn on my journey of spiritual growth. I don’t have a lot of time to worry about what other Christians or what Jews are or aren’t doing.

If I’m to borrow anything useful from Elul, let me adopt a discipline of repentance, increased prayer, introspection, and seeking to draw nearer to God.

On the other hand, it is a further exploration of who I am and I continually re-examine what I believe and why I study the Bible and worship God as I do. Am I going in the right direction? What can I do to be a better person? Only by asking myself some hard questions (sometimes that means asking others those questions as well) will I find the answers.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Good Shabbos.

Dr. Michael Brown Wasted Tim Hegg’s Time and Mine

I hadn’t intended to, especially since Keith had already done such a good job of it, but I ended up listening to the Line of Fire debate between Dr. Michael Brown and Tim Hegg on Does God Require All Believers to Observe the Torah with the intention of writing a review. Different sources continued to urge me to listen to the podcast and so I finally found myself one evening clicking the link.

I wish I hadn’t but maybe not for the reasons you think. I knew that Dr. Brown often took on controversial subjects in his interviews and debates on his radio show, but I’d forgotten how adversarial and contentious these dialogues could be. Dr. Brown obviously had an agenda from the start and I believe it was a mistake for Mr. Hegg to agree to debate him. After listening to less than thirty minutes of the exchange between them, I decided I never wanted to go within a mile of Dr. Brown or, given the current state of telecommunications, have any sort of direct link to him regardless of our relative geographical locations.

Let me explain.

Keith’s review, which I cited above, is absolutely correct in saying that Mr. Hegg, who is probably the leading proponent of the One Law/One Torah position for Gentile believers, seemed not to be able to communicate his viewpoint in a clear, straightforward manner. I listened to Hegg fumble with answers, not be able to focus on responding to a very specific, direct question, and wander all over the Bible, almost rambling, in an attempt to answer each of Dr. Brown’s queries.

I’ve met Hegg on a number of occasions and have found him to be a generally well-educated, intelligently spoken, knowledgable, organized individual. I don’t agree with his basic interpretation of the Bible, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect where he’s coming from.

However, when on Dr. Brown’s radio show, Hegg seemed totally out of his depth, as if he were a first year theology student suddenly thrown into a debate with the heads of his department and asked to defend doctrinal positions which he barely comprehended. Hegg was a mess.

Tim Hegg
Tim Hegg

To be fair though, it was abundantly clear that Brown was using all of the standard tactics to put Hegg off from the second the show went on the air. Brown defined the parameters of the debate, he asked leading and misleading questions, he verbally painted Hegg in a corner, he talked over him, and repeatedly interrupted him, even when Brown said he would give Hegg full rein to state his position. Invariably, Brown would interrupt Hegg in mid-sentence, saying yet another station break was coming up and that he was only seeking clarification for the sake of his listeners.

I have a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology with fifteen years of post-graduate experience before changing careers and in my current employment, I report directly to the Vice President of Marketing. I know when someone’s trying to pull a fast one and manipulate not only the “interviewee” but the audience.

If I had been Hegg, I would have been deeply frustrated and embarrassed. He never had a chance to have a fair hearing regarding his beliefs. That may have been part of the reason that Hegg seemed so confused. He could never finish a complete thought.

To be fair in the other direction, Hegg, even at the beginning when there wasn’t as much pressure, didn’t seem to know how to form a short, simple, complete answer. I don’t know. Maybe he wasn’t used to a radio interview format. On the other hand (again), while Brown said this was supposed to be a “friendly” conversation rather than a debate, the way Brown went after Hegg was anything but friendly. Brown didn’t seem to be interested in finding out what Hegg believed, he seemed, like many entertainers, to want to produce the maximum drama for his radio audience. I don’t care if he does have the word “doctor” in front of his name.

Conclusion: The debate was a waste of time. Listening to it was a waste of my time and participating in it was a waste of Hegg’s time and probably his peace of mind. Like I said, I don’t agree with Hegg, but I certainly didn’t agree with Brown’s tactics, either. And from what little theological information Brown produced on his end, I had to conclude that he misunderstood the nature of the New Covenant and sadly has a classically Evangelical misunderstanding of what “fulfillment” is actually about (from my point of view).

Nothing in this “interview” changed my mind about Tim Hegg one way or the other but although I’ve had a sort of respect for Dr. Brown over the years based those few things I’ve heard of him, my estimation of the man sank to new depths based on this one hearing of his radio program. I can only imagine that Brown’s audience listens to his show for the same reasons the fans of Rush Limbaugh listen to his.

Rush Limbaugh
Rush Limbaugh

It isn’t about learning or education and it isn’t about trying to get to the truth on the so-called “Line of Fire” show. It’s all for the sake of entertainment and ratings, usually at the expense of the dignity of another human being. If Dr. Brown had bothered to take to heart the teachings of the Rabbis who speak of upholding the dignity of others, even if you believe your opponent is guilty of a terrible error, he probably would have conducted a very different interview. But then, he’d probably be out of a job if what his employer and his listeners want is to embarrass someone week after week. It’s about (metaphorically speaking) drawing first blood.

But the difference between Brown and Limbaugh is that Limbaugh doesn’t claim to serve Jesus Christ, the Savior of humanity, the one who gave his life for the redemption of many, even while we were still enemies. Limbaugh doesn’t claim to be a disciple of the Prince of Peace and the King of the Jews. Dr. Brown says he does.

More’s the pity.

But then again, behaving like a Christian and upholding such ideals wouldn’t make for a good radio show.

Addendum: I suspected that Tim Hegg wouldn’t just walk away from Dr. Brown’s radio show without some sort of subsequent response. Turns out Hegg has a radio show of his own and on the Rob and Caleb Show, presumably because ”several people asked if Tim (could) expand on some of the ideas he was posing but was not able to finish,” Hegg will appear on the Thursday, August 28th program at 2 p.m. (PST) which will be replayed the same day at 6 p.m. (PST) to answer and expand upon what he was trying to say on Brown’s show. I suppose if I were Hegg, I’d do the same thing.

Another Letter from the Outside

I have heard a lot of anti-Israel sentiment from my friends who support the Palestinians. A good client of mine questions the validity of Israel’s existence, saying: “How do you justify inhabiting an already populated land through force? How can you contemplate the horrors of the Holocaust and then inflict such suffering on the Arabs?” Some of these people say they respect Judaism, but question why it is acceptable to “steal” land from a people and keep it yourself.

I am not attacking Israel, just trying to investigate the issue. Do the Jews have a valid claim on Israel? From the times of Abraham and Moses, how many years was the land ours? I could also use some info on the history of U.N. declarations, etc. Thank you.

-A question from the “Ask the Rabbi” column at
Aish.com

I know I said I didn’t want to make this debate the center of my life, but reading the various articles at Aish this morning made a few things line up. I still don’t have the time to read large blocks of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the other prophets to continue to search for substantiation (or lack thereof as some people are trying to convince me) that God gave Israel exclusively to the Jewish people, but I don’t think it would hurt to take a look at how Jewish people see their own connection to the Land.

The question framed above apparently comes from a Jewish person who is having doubts about the Biblical and historical right of Jews to claim Israel as their own nation.

The Aish Rabbi started his reply with:

The Jewish people are not stealing anything. They were granted the Land of Israel by God, as is stated in Genesis 15:7 and 21:12.

In fact, the very first thing that God said to Abraham was: “Go from your land of your birth… to the land that I will show you, and I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:1). When Abraham and Sarah got to Israel, God promised them, “To your descendants have I given this land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River.” In God’s eyes the deal was considered set in stone, which is why He said “I have given this land” in the past tense, as if the thing were already done and impossible to undo. (Genesis 15:18, Rashi)

Of course all this is from the point of view of the “Old Testament” and so Christians often write off Jewish exclusivity to possession of Israel based on later, New Testament scriptures.

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…

Ephesians 3:1-6 (NASB)

lightSpecifically the portions of verses 4 and 5 which say “mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men,” are used to derive the “fact” that Gentile inclusion into Israeli citizenship was not revealed to the prophets of the Tanakh but only to Paul and the “holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit,” thus, by definition, most Christians believe that there was never supposed to be evidence of Gentile inclusion into Israel in the Old Testament.

But continuing with Ephesians 3, let’s see what else Paul has to say:

…to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the ekklesia to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. (emph. mine)

Ephesians 3:6-13 (NASB)

I took the liberty of emphasizing certain words and phrases in the above-quoted scripture (I also changed “Church” to “ekklesia” for clarity) to illustrate what Paul says that our faith in Jesus (Yeshua) makes us “fellow heirs” to. To Israel? It doesn’t say so. It says to the body. The body of what?

…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Romans 12:5

As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

1 Corinthians 12:20

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

1 Corinthians 12:27

So we are fellow heirs and fellow members of the Body of Messiah, fellow partakers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua.

What did he promise, that everyone who believed in him would become citizens of national Israel?

Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…

Acts 16:31

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

2 Peter 1:4

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

John 14:27

This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

1 John 2:25

everybodyThat’s only a partial list but it seems as if we were promised salvation from our sins, to be able to share in his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption, to have all of our needs satisfied, to have peace of mind and heart, and of course, eternal life in the resurrection.

In a comment I read recently, someone rendered part of Ephesians 2:11 as “You who were formerly Gentiles…” as if faith in Jesus changed us from being Gentiles to being, if not Jewish, then citizens of Israel or somehow “naturalized Israelites”. But the New American Standard Bible translates that same verse as:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh…

Biblical Greek comes without punctuation, so depending on the translator, the text can be made to read “you former Gentiles” or “remember that formally you, the Gentiles of the flesh…were at that time separate from Christ.”

In other words, “You Gentiles were formerly separated from Christ but through faith, have been brought near.”

…excluded from the commonwealth of Israel…But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Ephesians 2:12-13

I truncated these verses to emphasize the point of what is being said. Formerly, the pagan Gentiles were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel but in Messiah, we who were formerly far off, have been brought near. Near to what? The commonwealth of Israel and Jesus Christ.

I still have a lot of homework to do, but based on this and my recent reviews (see Part 1 and Part 2) of one of J.K McKee’s books, I’m still not seeing God using Paul to rewrite or negate the older portions of scripture that promise the Land of Israel in perpetuity to the Jewish people. Nor do I think that being “brought near” to the “commonwealth of Israel” equates “being brought into national Israel”.

Our “co-heirness,” so to speak, is in the resurrection and the other New Covenant promises of the forgiveness of sins, having our hearts changed from stone to flesh, having God’s Word written on our hearts so we will not sin, having eternal life in the Messianic Kingdom of peace.

I don’t have a single problem with any of those promises.

Another part of the Aish Rabbi’s response is:

Although Abraham knew that God had given him the land, he nevertheless chose peaceful measures and paid exorbitant amounts for a field in Hebron (Genesis 23:4, Rashi). This became the Jewish holy site, the Tomb of the patriarchs, 4,000 years ago. Similarly, Jacob purchased Shechem (Genesis 33:19), and King David bought Jerusalem (2-Samuel 24:24). Note that Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for more than twice as many centuries as Islam has even existed!

puzzleAs I’ve said, I still have a lot of reading to do, but as I also said, I’m not going to be able to drop everything and pursue this. It’s just that stuff turns up in my field of view and it helps complete part of the puzzle, so I share those puzzle pieces here.

I try to be an honest researcher and yes I do have a bias. Everyone has biases. As stuff comes up, I’ll write more.

In the meantime, if you’ve ever wondered why Israel is considered so special from a Jewish point of view, try reading The Centrality of the Land of Israel.

Also, I’ve explored some of this before in Sampling Ephesians and Stealing a Conversation About Ephesians, Jesus, and Being a Christian.

Writing Letters from Outside of Israel

GOOD MORNING! Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul will be August 26th and 27th. This means that there is one month and counting to Rosh Hashanah (Wednesday evening, September 24th). Many people might ask, “So, what?” or might think, “Thanks for the reminder to buy a brisket!” However, the answer to “So, what?” is that we have one month to prepare for Rosh Hashanah … and Yom Kippur.

Why would one want to prepare for Rosh Hashanah? Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment when the Almighty decides “Life or death, sickness or health, poverty or wealth.” Does it make sense to prepare for a day of judgment? You bet! However, for many it has the same emotional impact as their cardiologist telling them that they need to lose weight to avoid heart attacks and strokes… a wonderful idea between meals!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly,” Commentary on Re’eh 5774
Aish.com

I’m depressed. Well, maybe not depressed but discouraged, or something like that. I’m not really sure what I’m feeling. A bunch of people are trying to convince me that I’m a citizen of Israel and so is every other Christian on Earth.

I have two problems with this. The first is that everything in my intellect, beliefs, and passions tells me it’s wrong. The second is that some of the folks (particularly one of them) are people I respect for their intellectual prowess and spiritual integrity.

I mean, it’s not like it’s a secret that I’m attracted to Jewish learning and study, at least after a fashion (I’m hardly a Talmudic or any other kind of scholar). So why are people hammering away at me (it feels like that) trying to get me to, what in effect for me feels like, commit a home invasion or rip off someone’s birthday present or family heirloom?

I don’t get it.

To me, my interest in Jewish studies and Torah are more like how Rabbi Packouz describes preparing for the High Holy Days:

Why is living in a hurricane zone a benefit? It teaches you a very important lesson: Be real with life! Usually, the weather bureau (N.O.A.A. — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) gives a week’s heads up. You know that in 7 days a Force 3 or 4 or 5 hurricane will hit. You generally know for sure whether it will hit land, you just don’t know whether for sure it will hit YOU until perhaps a day or a few hours before landfall.

What happens during that week? The hardware store sells out all of its plywood (used for covering windows) and batteries. They have to make special shipments from neighboring states! The grocery stores shelves are cleared out or seriously diminished of canned goods and water. People are scrambling to buy generators to provide electricity needed to keep the lights on, fans going and the refrigerator and freezer working. There is a mad dash for last minute preparations because the STORM IS COMING!

What’s the difference between a hurricane and Rosh Hashanah? The hurricane MAY hit your area; Rosh Hashanah DEFINITELY will touch you!

So, if one believes in a God who has set a standard for behavior and observance in the Torah and who will judge us, does it make sense to make some preparations? It would be reasonable to think so.

How can one prepare for the Day of Judgment?

shofar-rosh-hashanahPreparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is like living in Florida and stocking up on needed supplies for the coming hurricane season. Doesn’t seem very “spiritual,” does it? On the other hand, it sounds incredibly practical. It also doesn’t worry about boundaries, barriers, and why I can’t wear the tzitzit behind door number one (game show reference). It “worries” about preparing for an encounter with God.

Why can’t we focus on that too in our little corner of the blogosphere?

How do you prepare for Rosh Hashanah? Rabbi Packouz has ten suggestions:

  1. Take a spiritual accounting. Each day take at least 5 minutes to review your last year — a) your behavior with family, friends, associates and people you’ve interacted with, and b) your level of mitzvah observance.
  2. Attend a class or classes at a synagogue, Aish center, a yeshiva on how to prepare. Read articles on aish.com and listen to world-class speakers on aishaudio.com .
  3. Study the Machzor (Rosh Hashanah prayer book) to know the order of the service and the meaning of the words and prayers. You can buy a copy of the The Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Survival Kit, by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf (possibly available at your local Jewish bookstore or at Amazon.com — about 50 left).
  4. Make sure that you have given enough tzedakah (charity) and have paid your pledges (One is supposed to give 10% of his net income). It says in the Machzor that three things break an evil decree — Teshuva (repentance), Tefilla (prayer) and Tzedakah (charity). Why not maximize your chance for a good decree?
  5. Think of (at least) one person you have wronged or feel badly towards — and correct the situation.
  6. Make a list of your goals for yourself and your family — what you want to work towards and pray for.
  7. Limit your pleasures — the amount of television, movies, music, food — do something different so that you take this preparation time seriously.
  8. Do an extra act of kindness — who needs your help? To whom can you make a difference?
  9. Read a book on character development — anything written by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin would be great!
  10. Ask a friend to tell you what you need to improve. A real friend will tell you … but in a nice way!

Not all of these would apply to me, but then R. Packouz is writing to a Jewish audience, not a Christian with a Messianic twist.

Certainly taking a spiritual accounting makes sense and any person of faith should engage in such an activity. Attending a class relative to Judaism isn’t an option for me unless it’s online such as at Aish Audio. Even then, because the classes are geared to a Jewish audience, there’s a limit to their ability to apply to me.

Study the Machzor? I could. But I won’t be attending Rosh Hashanah services, so if the intent is to familiarize me with said-services, this also doesn’t apply.

I believe in tzedakah but I don’t think how much or how little I give will affect how God judges me, at least all by itself, particularly at a certain time of year. People are hungry every day of the week, so we should try to contribute as often as we can, not just around Rosh Hashanah.

blind-loveIt’s good to right the wrongs we’ve done to others, so I can certainly agree with this one. It’s also good to make goals, to dedicate yourself to becoming a better person and help the family draw closer to God (although in my family, we are so spread out about spiritual perspectives, that we virtually live in our own separate bubbles).

I don’t know that limiting pleasures makes much difference, but every opportunity to act with kindness should be observed.

Read a book? I’m reading all the time, trying to learn more, hoping it’ll make a difference…and Rabbi Pliskin is a wonderful author.

Ask a friend what I need to do to improve? Here we are back at people trying to make me believe that I’m a citizen of Israel again. That’s what I’ve been hearing lately about how I need to improve.

Part of the Rabbi’s commentary on Re’eh states:

One of the indications of the existence and necessity of the Oral Torah — an explanation and clarification (later redacted as the Talmud) of the written Torah (The Five Books of Moses) — comes from verse 12:21 “You will slaughter animals … according to the manner I (God) have prescribed.” Nowhere in the Torah are we instructed in the manner of shechita, ritual slaughter. One might conclude that there was a very sloppy editor. Or — one might conclude that there are additional teachings (the Oral Law/Talmud) clarifying and amplifying the written Word.

There are some people who believe that there is only “Biblical Judaism” and not “Rabbinic Judaism” and that the Bible tells you everything you need to know about observing the mitzvoth.

Except that R. Packouz just demonstrated that it doesn’t. That’s one of the assumptions of some of the people who want me to have citizenship in Israel along with the natural citizens, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…the Jewish people.

My friend Tom sent me a link to a website he said would explain what he’s been trying to tell me. I went there and read through it. I felt like telling the site owner, “1998 called. They want their website back” (I have this “thing” about archaic web design).

Anyway, this is part of what struck me besides having to scan completely from one side of my monitor to another just to read a single sentence:

I am very encouraging to people who want to embrace Jewish tradition, making the lifestyle of Judaism, their own. I offer this personal caution however: as you adopt traditional halacha and make it your own, do not make the traditional halacha a matter of conscience. That is truly your choice. Distinguish between the literal commandment, and the traditional “how to” in walking out that commandment.

Don’t let your fences become walls. Walls that keep out the blessing of a healthy relationship with HaShem, or walls that make your circle of brothers and sisters ever more small.

Like I said, “Biblical” Judaism” vs. “Rabbinic” Judaism. It’s like listening to someone say they love Israel but not Jewish Rabbis, Sages, and Tzadikim. How would the website owner observe the commandment of shechita given that he embraces the “literal commandment” (which is not described at all in the Torah) but not the “traditional ‘how to'”?

How can I reconcile sentences such as:

Jew and Gentile, One in Messiah. We have One King, we are One People, and we have been given One Torah…

…with statements like:

Standing in Prayer with all Israel

How? It doesn’t make sense.

The bottom line is that I’m not going to tell me wife that I have as much right as she does (she’s Jewish) to the Land of Israel and that I intend on davening with a Jewish minyan (because if I’m under the same obligation as observant Jews, I should have the right to become part of a minyan), keeping Glatt Kosher (actually, if my wife made that choice, I’d do so as well because we live together), wearing a kippah and talit katan during my waking hours, and keeping “Biblical” Torah whilst ignoring thousands of years of Jewish interpretation on just how to do that.

Not only would it be bad for family life, I don’t see that being said in the Bible.

I also have no intention of using this as another platform for getting into another “he said/she said” debate over One Law vs. distinctive application of Law. If it comes up again as part of my reading and studying, so be it. I’m certainly going to continue reading and studying. But these debates are not the focus of my life, They can’t be.

They are a spiritual dead-end.

praying-aloneLook at what Rabbi Packouz was paying attention to. He was advising anyone reading his words (well, any Jewish person) to prepare themselves physically and spiritually for the upcoming High Holidays. While not all of us observe those events, it might not be a bad idea to take the portions of his advice that apply more universally to us…to me.

What do all these arguments have to do with a relationship with God? If God, for some strange reason, chooses to give me an inheritance in Israel, I will be totally shocked and probably overjoyed. On the other hand, if He doesn’t (and I hardly expect such a thing), it won’t come as a surprise and frankly, we are all fortunate to get what God gifts us with. I’ll take what He gives me out of His abundant graciousness which includes every day He allows me to live.

You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

Psalm 145:16

What’s wrong with just accepting what God gives us, whatever that may be? Sure, as Rabbi Packouz says, there are plenty of things we all can do, Jew and Gentile alike, to help improve our situation, to learn more, to help others more. These are the things of God. Therefore, these are the things I choose to make important to me.

If I’m putting up fences, then the only thing they keep in or out is me. If I choose to put a fence around Israel to protect her from me, then that’s a choice I make and it affects no one but me. If God chooses to discipline me for that choice, as the Righteous Judge, that’s His right.

But I can’t imagine that He would punish loving and protecting Israel or His Chosen People. If I’m going to err, I’ll err on that side of the debate and let God treat me as He will.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…

1 Corinthians 4:7-9 (NASB)

Addendum: Revisiting a blog post written by Derek Leman over two years ago called We’re Not All the Same. The reader comments along with Derek’s article makes for good reading and reminds me that this argument has been around for awhile and will probably be around when Messiah comes to teach us how to be better disciples.

Another Addendum: Consider this Part 2.

If you love something…

If you want something very, very badly, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.

attributed to Jess Lair (1969)

I can identify with the sense of need for a coherent and authoritative model, especially in these times when so much controversy surrounds these issues. If I were in your shoes, I would be looking for a model, too. Or a congregation that is healthy and embodies the practices and values I believe in so strongly.(Good luck with that – I haven’t found one in my area, either.)

(BTW, over the years I”ve spoken to far to many Messianic Jews who feel disenfranchised in their own formerly Jewish congregations.So both Jew and Gentile are suffering.)

I don’t see any way around the truth that a Jewish community must be built and sustained by Jews.. (This is not an ideological statement: I’d say that same for any other type of community.space.) The catch-22 is that if that community welcomes Gentiles who are looking for Jewish space, it will end up experiencing the same loss of Jewish identity seen elsewhere in the Messianic movement.What do you have then? A community made up mostly of Gentiles who wanted to live in Jewish space.

I don’t see any bad people in this scenario, just some Jews and Gentiles who come face to face with demographic reality: most Jewish believers are in the Church and all it take is a minuscule percentage of Gentile believers to dramatically change the make-up of a Messianic Jewish congregation.

So at this point in time, I don’t see any viable way to build clearly Jewish Messianic communities (which I believe are essential to God’s purposes) that maintain an open door policy for all comers.

-Rabbi Dr. Carl Kinbar
from a blog comment on Morning Meditations

Especially given the dialogs happening on Part 1 and Part 2 of my review of J.K. McKee’s book One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit, Rabbi Kinbar’s comments re-opened a lot of old issues for me that I thought I’d settled.

I’ve gone on record advocating for the absolute necessity of Messianic Jewish community created by Jews and for Jews. But while such communities do exist in Israel, they are rare or even non-existent in the U.S. and other western nations. Even the most “Messianic Jewish” synagogue in the United States is still populated mostly by non-Jews.

I suspect that Dr. Mark Nanos would consider those Gentiles to be acting jewishly but not Jewish, however that is small consolation to people like R. Kinbar who greatly desires to daven in a minyan with other Jews like him in a setting that is both wholly Jewish and wholly Messianic.

Whenever I advocate for that position, someone usually “pushes back” and tells me that other streams of Judaism aren’t nearly so “threatened” by the presence of Gentiles, even self-professed “Messianics”. But in those other synagogues, no one ever questions whether or not it is a Jewish community. Identity issues are secure. For Messianic Jews, the long shadow of Jewish conversion to Christianity (voluntary and otherwise) and being ostracized from Jewish community and family life always looms like the spectre of death. The very presence of a majority (or perhaps even a minority) Gentile population in supposed Messianic Jewish space renders it, if not tumah, then at least much closer to Christian and that much farther away from anything truly Jewish.

I know a lot of (Gentile) people are going to complain because they see such a desire on the part of Messianic Jews as being “exclusive,” “cliquish,” and “exclusionary,” but then again, these critics are viewing the situation based on their own personal and corporate needs and wants rather than the needs of the Jews in community with Messiah.

I’ve always considered the song Me and Jesus to be kind of self-centered, but we Gentiles have been brought up in Christianity (at least in America) to think of our own needs first, rather than what we’d sacrifice for the sake of someone else, especially the needs of the Jewish people. It’s all about “me and Jesus.”

lost-in-the-fogOK, that was pretty unkind, but try for a few minutes to look at things from Carl’s point of view.

All that said, I admit that the first thing I felt in reading Carl’s words was a sense of loss and even a tinge of rejection, though that certainly wasn’t his intent. What anchors me in my church attendance and participation is my ability to communicate with the other side of the aisle, so to speak, to be able to access and consume Jewish and Messianic Jewish resources including relationships with Messianic Jewish (and Gentile) people. But that becomes more difficult if one of your personal ideals is not to interfere with Messianic Jewish community.

My response to Carl was this:

Well, in my particular case, I’m attending a small Baptist church and even if there were an appropriate (Messianic) Jewish congregation in my area that welcomed non-Jews, I would choose not to attend for personal (marital) reasons. Given my current situation, if for some reason, my relationships at church should fall apart, rather than going through the grisly task of “church shopping” all over again, I’d probably just bag it and do my own thing. The religious blogosphere is enough of a minefield without having to experience “live fire” from face-to-face interactions as well. God was gracious in directing me to a church that at least tolerates my “oddness” but I always feel like I’m on the edge of falling out of favor, even though I restrict my personal opinions most of the time.

I guess that means I don’t know how to build Messianic Jewish communities except to stay out of the way.

But staying out of the way sounds particularly lonely and even pathetic.

It also sounds like this query supposedly directed at J.K. McKee and recorded at Frequently Asked Questions: 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (link courtesy of Kineti L’Tziyon):

I am a non-Jewish Messianic Believer, and have been told that my calling as a “Messianic Gentile” is to go back to a church, and not become Torah observant. I am told that I must follow “Paul’s rule,” and that seeking to live more like Yeshua and His Apostles would violate both it and my distinct “calling,” and likely nullify God’s special calling on the Jewish people. I should instead simply help Christians in church, not too interested in their Hebrew Roots, be more favorable to Israel and Jewish issues. Can you please help me?

This is the lead-in for a twenty page paper authored by McKee analyzing the 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 passage in a manner that differs from how it is apparently used by other theologians.

But if you look at R. Kinbar’s comments, my own angst when I feel the loss of relationships with the congregation of Jews in Messiah (or that little portion with whom I’m acquainted), and the cry for help from the supposed questioner at the top of McKee’s paper, there is a common theme: community.

Actually the theme is more “the community I want and need.”

I can’t speak for Carl and I can’t speak for the person posing the question in McKee’s paper, but I can speak for me. I couldn’t sleep the other night and allowed myself to turn the whole issue of community this way and that, upside down and inside out, and for me, the answer is so simple. Worse, it’s an answer I already know, so why was I complaining?

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

-Troy Mitchell

“Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism. Seek an encounter with God.”

-Tom

I found Pastor Jeff Weddle’s blog through one of The Onesimus Files blog posts.

Pastor Weddle opened his blog post with:

If a Holy Spirit indwelt person were stranded on a desert island with nothing but the Bible for ten years, would he come off that island with sound doctrine?

I believe he would.

Church tradition, although a helpful thing at times, is not necessary for sound doctrine.

waitThe gist of his message is all you need for sound doctrine and a relationship with God is the Holy Spirit and your Bible. I imagined myself on the stereotypical deserted tropical island you see in so many comic strips. It’s just a small piece of sand in the middle of a vast ocean. There’s only a single tree in the middle, but somehow I’ve got sufficient food and water and amazingly, a laptop and satellite link to the Internet.

Oh, I’ve also got the Holy Spirit and a Bible.

What would it be like to smash the laptop into a thousand pieces and to completely destroy the satellite link hardware, making it impossible for me to have contact with the rest of the world? It really would be me, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible.

That’s how I felt when Carl suggested effectively making sure Gentiles did not enter Messianic Jewish community space in order to preserve Messianic Jewish community space as Jewish. I felt cut off. I felt isolated. And in spite of what Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann wrote recently, I really did feel “second class”.

It’s funny what your emotions can do to you in spite of your best efforts to maintain an internal balance.

If one of my highly esteemed ideals is to preserve Messianic Jewish community and my presence in said-community inhibits achieving that ideal, then logically my recourse is to remove myself from that community and have nothing to do with it. That doesn’t mean I can’t study on my own, and I suppose (hopefully) it doesn’t mean I can’t have Messianic Jewish friends (although I can understand when some Messianic Jews don’t want to have close association with me), but it does mean there are communities that I must not intrude upon for the sake of Hashem’s plan for His people Israel…

…even if that doesn’t make sense to you.

Some of us are so enamored with Judaism that we violate the principle spoken in the above quoted phrase uttered by Troy. And I’ve been guilty of violating Tom’s maxim:

“Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism. Seek an encounter with God.”

What is my goal? To seek a type of faith community that serves my every need? Did God say this journey of faith was about serving my every need? Did He say it was about serving any of my needs at all?

Look at the life of the Apostle Paul. Did God first and foremost serve Paul’s needs and then Paul got around to serving God and his fellow human beings? Heck no! Paul almost died on numerous occasions and I don’t think anyone would characterize his life after becoming an emissary of Messiah as comfortable. If it were up to Paul, I imagine he’d have stayed in the synagogue studying with the other learned men, praying at the Temple with the other disciples, discussing matters of halachah with the sages, and living the life of an intelligent, contemplative Jew.

But God had other plans for Paul, none of which served Paul’s wants, needs, and desires.

So where do I come off whining that God isn’t serving my needs? God owes me nothing at all and my friends, He owes you nothing as well.

This isn’t to say that God is not gracious and compassionate. This isn’t to say that God does not meet our needs and even our wants. It is to say that He doesn’t have to, and even when He does, He doesn’t have to meet us on our own terms.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:8-11 (NASB)

It’s funny when people like me start complaining about our wants, our needs, and even our rights, we don’t quote from this passage of scripture. I wonder how Mr. McKee would analyze it in light of the person who was questioning him about where he should or wants to have community.

Where do we encounter God, only in places where we feel comfortable? Do we only encounter God when our needs are met? Does God only meet with us when we are allowed to worship whenever we want, wherever we want, and however we want? Does that sound even remotely Biblical or even sane?

encounterWithout a computer and an Internet connection on my mythical deserted island, I would still have food, water, my Bible, and God. Nothing prevents my encounter with God at all and in fact sometimes it’s the Internet that I let get in the way.

Because that’s the goal…to encounter God. He is our greatest need and He should be our greatest want, regardless of our circumstances. Sure, it’s good when we have community with others like us and people we can learn from, and I think community is important, but God places us where He wills. Even Jesus facing the hideous death on the cross in just a few hours, after begging God to take that cup from him said, “Not my will but by yours,” (Luke 22:42).

Who am I to fail to follow my Master’s voice? Not by my will, but yours be done, Father.

If you want something very, very badly, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.

Thanks Carl for reminding me of something I should already know so well. May God open His hand and satisfy your every desire as He does all living things.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 (NASB)

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

Esther 4:14 (NASB)

Addendum: This commentary continues in What Brings Us Near to the Kingdom of God.