Tag Archives: one torah

Diminishing the Moon and Israel

God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars.

Genesis 1:16 (JPS Tanakh)

R. Simeon b. Pazzi pointed out a contradiction [between verses]. One verse says: And God made the two great lights, and immediately the verse continues: The greater light . . . and the lesser light. The moon said unto the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown’? He answered: ‘Go then and make thyself smaller’. ‘Sovereign of the Universe’! cried the moon, ‘Because I have suggested that which is proper must I then make myself smaller’? He replied: ‘Go and thou wilt rule by day and by night’. ‘But what is the value of this’? cried the moon; ‘Of what use is a lamp in broad daylight’? He replied: ‘Go. Israel shall reckon by thee the days and the years’. ‘But it is impossible’, said the moon, ‘to do without the sun for the reckoning of the seasons, as it is written: And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years’. ‘Go. The righteous shall be named after thee as we find, Jacob the Small, Samuel the Small, David the Small’, On seeing that it would not be consoled the Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller’. This is what was meant by R. Simeon b. Lakish when he declared: Why is it that the he-goat offered on the new moon is distinguished in that there is written concerning it unto the Lord? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let this he-goat be an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.

-Tractate Chullin 60b

True, no human being ever heard the above conversation between the Holy One and the moon. We know of it only through our tradition. But we can actually see with our own eyes that very legend applying to that body which has been symbolized by the moon — Knesset Yisrael.

-Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel
Chapter 5: The Moon and Knesset Yisrael, p.25
Translated by Kadish Goldberg
Jews, Judaism, & Genesis: Living in His Image According to the Torah

I read this chapter last Tuesday after I reviewed the latest set of comments on my recent blog post Upon Reading a Rant About “Messianic Jewishism” and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the general themes involved in said-blog post. While I don’t ascribe great credence to the idea that the Moon and God actually had a conversation, I think there’s a principle we can derive from the midrash on the “relationship” between the Moon and “Knesset Yisrael” or the Assembly of Israel. It’s the same principle the sages have derived.

How can Israel be compared to the Moon, the lesser of two “great lights?” Think about the relationship between the Moon and the Sun as compared to the relationship between Israel and God.

An adult sitting at his father’s table is considered a minor; a minor independent of his father’s table is considered an adult.

-from Tractate Kiddushin

yom kippur katanJust as the Moon is always dependent upon the Sun for light, and the Moon’s light would be immediately extinguished should the Sun “hide his face” so to speak, so too would Israel be extinguished should God hide His face from her.

And yet, the diminishing of the Moon is not one that is performed on it from outside but an act which the Moon, upon the command of God, performs upon herself, reducing herself in relation to the Sun and the stars.

The life of the moon is marked by a terrible tragedy. The Holy One, at first glance, seems to unequivocally accept her argument. He fully admits that her claim is reasonable, but as an expression of commendation for her just position, He demands more of her no more and no less than, “Go and diminish yourself.”

-R. Amiel, p.27

Rav Amiel compares this to Rosh Chodesh (festival of the New Moon), for on Erev Rosh Chodesh, “Jews offer prayer and supplication as they do on Yom Ha-kippurim, the Day of Atonement. This is Yom Kippur Kattan service” (ibid p.26). Just as the new or reborn Moon is in a greatly diminished state, so too is the rebirth of Israel (and keep in mind, Rav Amiel wrote this in the 19th century, long before the rebirth of the modern state of Israel).

R. Amiel speaks of the pogroms and other offenses the nations have committed against the Jewish people, and the utter dependence upon the leaders and rulers of the various nations in which “Knesset Yisrael” finds herself in, even for existence. Israel has been exiled, Jerusalem is in ruins, the Temple has been destroyed, the people have been scattered. Hostile churches (historically) have burned her volumes of Talmud, her Torah scrolls, and her synagogues.

However, even as the least among the nations as she currently may be, there is a consolation:

On the one hand, we are the smallest of all the nations, mocked and despised among the nations. On the other hand, we occupy “The Eastern Seat,” the seat of honor.

-ibid, p.28

The Jewish Paul…my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:3-5 (NASB)

Rav. Amiel says something similar:

Israel orders the times for all nations and tongues. All our seasons, such as our “Festival of Freedom,” our “Festival of the Giving of the Torah,” are celebrated by all enlightened nations. In matters of time, we are emulated by all, even though sometimes the imitation is blemished by modifications — for example, the Sunday imitation of the Sabbath day — but it universally acknowledged that the original is ours.

Timewise, we are the most powerful of nations, the deciding factor. “Go and let Israel determine the days and years by you.” The nations’ calendar is based upon the birth date of a certain Jew.

-Amiel, p.28

The Rav, even in the admission of the lowered and diminished state of “Knesset Yisrael,” declares that in her weakness, Israel is great, for the rest of the nations follow her through (imperfect) imitation.

But he goes on:

This is our only consolation. It is, of course, only a partial consolation.

The moon “was not appeased.” Nor is Knesset Yisrael appeased. She thirsts for salvation and redemption, weeping bitterly, “When I remember this, O God, I moan…

-ibid, p.29

And does God not hear the cries of the oppressed and act in their defense?

“Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the LORD; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.”

Psalm 12:5 (NASB)

Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.

Exodus 3:9

…but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.

Jeremiah 26:15

JewishI know people who criticized me and the topic of my other blog post don’t see themselves as in any way oppressing Israel or the Jewish people. They certainly have no deliberate intent to do so. In many ways, they see themselves as doing the opposite, lifting the Jewish people up and joining them by performing the identical mitzvot as an obligation in the merit of Messiah.

You might say to yourself that if God commanded Israel to diminish herself as He did (in midrash) to the Moon, should not Israel and the Jewish people be humble and elevate the Gentile to a higher level than the Jews, offering the Gentiles all of the mitzvot; the mitzvah of Shabbat, of Kashrut, of tzitzit, of tefillin, of the Moadim? Shouldn’t Israel be “fair” and at least share all of her mitzvot? Don’t they all belong to us (Gentiles) now anyway?

Maybe not, and we cannot consider Israel diminished forever, just as the sages have said, “for every descent, there is an ascent.”

Therefore, Heaven forbid that we discontinue the custom of Yom Kippur Kattan. Even in Eretz Yisrael of today, Knesset Yisrael is still compared to the moon. And so it will be until that hoped for time when “The light of the moon will be as bright as the sun, and the light of the sun as the light of the seven days.”

-Amiel, p.30

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

John 8:12

And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Revelation 21:23

Moshiach is the light of Israel and the light of the world. Will he come to diminish Israel or to raise her up as the head of all the nations? As the people of the rest of the nations of the world who are called by Hashem’s Name, are we to continue to diminish Israel in disobedience to the Master? Why wait for his return? We can raise Israel up now by acknowledging her role and her place in the redemptive plan of God. We must do this now, lest we be counted among Israel’s enemies and even as disciples, be diminished ourselves in Messianic days.

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them.Small plant

Zechariah 14:16-17

Admittedly, I’m playing a little fast and loose with my interpretation of that last passage of scripture, but do you really want to take the chance that I am wrong and God will not deliver consequences upon those of us to call ourselves disciples and yet fail to elevate Knesset Yisrael above all the peoples of the Earth?

There will be another “follow up” blog post on this subject tomorrow morning.

When Christians Aren’t Israel

In writing the review, I mentioned that I had gone back to J.K.McKee‘s A Part of Israel? as a resource for scholarly exposition of Scripture related to the place of non-Jews who come to Messiah. You’ll remember I lamented not having reviewed the book… Well, I started reading it again and couldn’t put it down! ‘Nuff said?

He is gracious in doing so, but is clear to demonstrate where there is error in various understandings of what the Kingdom of Israel looks like and who is in it! Example passages would be 30 pages dedicated to the predictably selected Ephesians 2:11-13 passage. He specifically addresses politeia, a Greek word we have looked at before, however, he understandably takes a much more coy approach as to whether non-Jews will have an inheritance in the land.

-Pete Rambo
from portions of his review of
JK McKee’s ‘Are Non-Jewish Believers Really A Part Of Israel?

I normally ignore these sorts of topics since historically in the blogosphere, debating the issues involved in Jewish/Gentile relationships in modern Messianic Judaism and/or the ancient ekklesia of “the Way” have, at best, proven unfruitful, and at worst, hostile and abusive.

But I’ve always had good, civil, and friendly conversations with Pete, including in the comments section on another of his blog posts,. So when I read his review, I was prompted to consider responding. After all, the legal and community status of the ancient Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah King relative to the synagogue, Jewish co-participants, and ultimately national Israel not only have applications in modern Christianity, but ultimately will be realized in the Messianic Kingdom when the New Covenant Age comes toward completion.

I requested a review copy of McKee’s book from the publisher and received a very nice and prompt reply stating that they do not honor such requests. Fair enough, since self-publication does not usually allow for such an option.

When I read Pete’s review last night, I got stuck on a single word: politeia. My commentary rather narrowly focuses on this word and how it is used since I can’t comment more generally on what McKee has written.

The word “politeia” is used in the following passages of scripture:

Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”

Acts 22:28 (NASB)

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

Ephesians 2:12 (NASB)

I’ve bolded the English word corresponding to the Greek word “politeia” which is rendered as “citizenship” in both cases in the NASB translation.

However, this creates a number of questions.

  • Is Paul telling us (or his readers) that non-Jewish members of the Messianic ekklesia are now legally citizens of national Israel by faith in Messiah?
  • If so, then does such citizenship automatically require that the Gentile disciples adhere to, by obligation, the same Torah mitzvot in the same manner as the Jewish disciples/citizens?
  • Can “politeia” be translated in any other way besides “citizenship” and if so, what are the implications for the relationship of Gentiles and Jews belonging to Messiah in relationship to national Israel?

politeiaAs you can see from my source material, depending on the translation and in which part of scripture the word occurs, it can be translated differently. In Acts 22:28 using the KJV translation, it is rendered “freedom,” while in Ephesians 2:12, the NAS, KJV, and INT translations all present the word as “commonwealth”.

In fact, “citizenship” is only one of three major ways to translate”politeia”:

  1. the administration of civil affairs (Xenophon, mem. 3, 9, 15; Aristophanes, Aeschines, Demosthenes (others)).
  2. a state, commonwealth (2 Macc. 4:11 2Macc. 8:17 2Macc. 13:14; Xenophon, Plato, Thucydides (others)): with a genitive of the possessor, τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, spoken of the theocratic or divine commonwealth, Ephesians 2:12.
  3. citizenship, the rights of a citizen (some make this sense the primary one): Acts 22:28 (3Macc. 3:21, 23; Herodotus 9, 34; Xenophon, Hell. 1, 1, 26; 1, 2, 10; (4, 4, 6, etc.); Demosthenes, Polybius, Diodorus, Josephus, others).

I’m not a linguistic scholar, but I’ve known enough of them to understand that any sort of translation from one language to another is much more complicated than saying a particular word in language A always means another particular word in language B, especially when those languages are separated by nearly two-thousand years of history.

I am absolutely not saying McKee is making such a “rookie error,” but I will say that we all read and translate the Bible from a particular perspective, usually one that supports our own biases (everyone has biases, it’s not a dirty word). And yes, it’s easy to read those two verses in the New Testament and conclude that Paul must be making Israeli citizens out of Gentile believers in Jesus.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv

A lot of Evangelical Christians believe we’re “spiritual” citizens of Israel too, and expect to take over physical, national Israel when Jesus comes back. Naturally, Jewish people object to being kicked out of their own Land (even by allegory) and those teachers in Messianic Judaism who I follow do not believe we Gentiles will be moving to Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, or Haifa once Messiah ascends the Davidic throne.

So where does that leave us? What’s the “differential diagnoses?”

If indeed it is the case that in Christ these Gentiles have a portion in [Israel’s covenant membership and national eschatology], i.e. that they are saved as Gentiles, then it suffices to apply to them the same ethical principles that would in any case apply to righteous Gentiles living with the people of Israel, i.e. resident aliens.

-Markus Bockmuehl
“Jewish Law in Gentile Churches:
Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics”
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), 165

While the gerim in the days of Moses were not Israelites as such and did not obtain full membership status in the nation due to lack of tribal affiliation, they did observe a large number (majority? nearly-full obligation?) of the Torah mitzvot in the days of Moses and beyond. The argument of some branches of the Hebrew Roots movement is that the gerim status can be wholly transferred to the Gentile disciples of Jesus and be used to justify Gentile Christian obligation to the full yoke of Torah. Lancaster has spent considerable effort in his commentary to illustrate how James and the Council exempted the Gentiles from the full yoke of Torah because they were not born Jews or converts. Now, he apparently brings in an element in explaining the four prohibitions that could reverse his argument.

-from my blog post Return to Jerusalem, Part 6
based on my reviews of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) Torah Club series Chronicles of the Apostles

Up to JerusalemThe key to all this is in understanding what sort of decision the Council of Apostles and Elders made in Jerusalem about the legal status of Gentiles in “the Way”. The question was brought up (Acts 15:1-2) and after much debate, Paul and his detractors couldn’t make any headway toward a solution, so they took it to a higher authority in Jerusalem. After much deliberation, the Council rendered what amounts to a binding legal decision and issued halachah specific to the communal role and responsibilities of Gentile disciples of the Master. Did they have to undergo the proselyte rite and become wholly obligated to the Torah mitzvot? If not, how could they be included as equal co-participants in Jewish worship and community and yet not be Jewish? How could they be included in covenant?

How do we resolve the matter of the ancient Ger as applied to the late Second Temple Gentile God-fearing disciple? Lancaster doesn’t make that clear, but based on my own reading, particularly of Cohen, the full role of a Ger as it existed in the days of Moses was to allow a non-Israelite to live among the people of God as permanent resident aliens without being able to formally become national citizens due to lack of tribal affiliation. After the Babylonian exile, a tribal basis for Israelite society was lost and affiliation by clan was emphasized. By the time of Jesus, this clan affiliation basis was too lost, and thus the rationale for the status of Ger as it was originally applied no longer was valid. A Gentile in the days of Jesus or later, who wanted to join the community of Israel, in most cases, would convert to Judaism, since becoming a Ger was not an option.

-from my aforementioned blog post

To further cite Shaye J.D. Cohen:

Biblical law frequently refers to the “resident alien” (ger in Hebrew) who is grouped with the widow, the orphan, and the Levite. All of these are landless and powerless, and all are the potential victims of abuse. (An American analogy to the ger is the Chicano (specifically, undocumented alien) farmworker; a European analogy is the Turkish laborer in Germany.) The Bible nowhere states how a ger might ameliorate his status and become equal to the native born, because there was no legal institution by which a foreigner could be absorbed by a tribal society living on its ancestral land. Resident aliens in the cities of pre-Hellenistic Greece fared no better.

But there’s another authoritative source that should be considered:

and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;
and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;
and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

Romans 15:9-12 (NASB)

To which Nanos responds:

Christian gentiles worshiping the One God in the midst of the congregation of Israel — my point exactly! (emph. mine)

-Mark D. Nanos
Chapter 6: Romans 13:1-7: Christian Obedience to Synagogue Authority, pg 326
The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters

Paul is urging the Gentile believers to take note of their position, their role, and their halachic status as “resident aliens” within the midst of corporate Israel, which here is the synagogue context in Rome.

-from my review of Nanos’s book

The Mystery of RomansThe alternative explanation, based Bockmuehl, Cohen, Lancaster, and Nanos, is that the Gentiles were included in the commonwealth of Israel but not as equal national citizens. It would be as if my wife, as a Jew, decided to make aliyah, become an Israeli citizen and live in Israel. As her husband, even though I’m not Jewish, I would be allowed a permanent status as a resident in Israel as well, but I do not have an automatic right to become a citizen, as does my wife, because I am not Jewish.

I would still have most or all of the same rights as Jewish Israelis and I would have most or all of the same obligations as Jewish Israelis, but none of that would make me Jewish, nor would the Chief Rabbis of Israel or any other Jewish religious authority expect me to observe Torah as they proscribe because I’m not Jewish.

I know you’re going to say that’s all secular law (with the exception of the authority of the Chief Rabbis) and has little or nothing to do with how God sees things, but I’m using the above example by way of analogy. When James and the Council issued their decision, it wasn’t some magical, spiritual event, it was a legal ruling on the same order as the authorities among the Pharisees made, and was binding halachah upon the community.

However, there is another citizenship I have and one in which I’m looking forward to living out in the age to come. It’s a status I currently possess since according to at least one interpretation of the New Covenant, I need to start living my life as if the world were already fully under the rule of Messiah, Son of David, as he is seated on his Throne in Jerusalem.

I consider myself a citizen of the worldwide Messianic Kingdom to come and many wonderful blessings come from this status. I will be resurrected from dead flesh and made immortal (assuming I die before Messiah’s return). I will have my sins fully, permanently cleansed from me. I will have the Holy Spirit poured into me to such fullness that I will have an apprehension of God in the same or even greater manner than the prophets of old. I will have my heart of stone turned to a heart of flesh and God will write His Word upon it so that it will be my natural inclination to always obey Him and not return to sin.

And as a Gentile of the nations, I will reside in a country that is a vassal state to national Israel, subservient to Israel which will be the head of all nations, and ultimately I and my nation of residence will be accountable to the King of Israel, Moshiach. I expect that I and everyone else like me will be planning our vacations around the festivals and making regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem to spend time with family and friends and pay homage and honor to our King.

The goyishness of Christianity is a sign of its success, not its failure!

-Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann
“The Problem With Hebrew Roots, or, It’s Good to be a Goy”

Stuart Dauermann
Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann

R. Dauermann makes a compelling argument that Gentiles who attach themselves to the God of Israel are intended by God to remain Gentiles. The prophets of the Tanakh who spoke of the Messianic Age all seemed to share that belief. I’ll only quote two of them:

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”

Isaiah 56:6-7 (NASB)

“In that day

“I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
I will repair its broken walls
and restore its ruins—
and will rebuild it as it used to be,
so that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations that bear my name,”
declares the Lord, who will do these things. (emph. mine)

Amos 9:11-12 (NASB)

And to quote verse 14:

and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. (emph. mine)

which can also be interpreted as:

will restore the fortunes of my people Israel. (emph. mine)

In both of these prophetic examples describing Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Age, it is clear that Gentiles will become attached to the God of Jacob as Gentiles and as citizens of the nations. While Isaiah paints for us a portrait of Gentiles offering sacrifices at the Temple of God (something which was allowed during the time of Herod’s Temple), Amos 9:14 makes a clear distinction between the Gentiles of the nations who “bear my name” and Israel!

It is true that Isaiah describes Gentiles keeping to the covenant, but after all, we will receive blessings because of our Abrahamic faith under the New Covenant, and in Messianic Days, I expect it will be more common for even the citizens of vassal nations to have laws and observances that more closely mirror national Israel’s including Sabbath keeping.

I’m not even saying (with apologies to R. Dauermann) that Gentiles in Messiah shouldn’t observe Sabbath in the present age. I’ve met many who do.

What I am saying is that none of what I see in the Bible, particularly the use of a single Greek word, absolutely mandates that all non-Jewish people who are disciples of Jesus be made into citizens of Israel, either in the present age or in the Messianic future.

God made a covenant with Abraham that was specifically and narrowly passed down to Abraham’s son Isaac (but not to Ishmael or any of Abraham’s subsequent children) and then to Isaac’s son Jacob (but not to Esau) and then to Jacob’s twelve sons who became the heads of the twelve tribes, who became the nation of Israel (but not to any other people group or nations).

That Abraham would also become the father of many nations and that through his seed (singular) Messiah, the nations would be blessed, does not abrogate the part of the covenant that specifically promises Israel only to the direct biological offspring of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.

Having not read his book, I can’t say for sure, but if  McKee comes to a different conclusion in his writing, then in spite of his stated education and scholarship, I’m forced to disagree with him.

I don’t write this against Pete or anyone else who holds to his views of scripture, but rather to illustrate that there are other valid and educated views of the Bible that come to other valid and educated conclusions.

I considered just making a few comments on Pete’s blog but as you see, the response requires a lot of words and it’s easier to write out my thoughts here and then just to share a link to my blog with him (and anyone else who is interested).

Beth Immanuel ShavuotConsidering all of the different viewpoints involved in this sort of discussion, I see the position of One Law/One Torah (OL/OT) as existing at one end of a continuum and what’s been called Bilateral Ecclesiology (BE) positioned at the opposite end. While I obviously am leaning closer to the BE end of the scale, I’m not sitting right on top of it.

Of those congregations I am aware of that I consider authentic Messianic Jewish synagogues, including Beth Immanuel, Tikvat Israel, and Ahavat Zion, they all have a majority membership/attendance of non-Jewish people worshiping the God of Israel and giving honor and glory to Yeshua HaMoshiach (Jesus Christ), with a smaller membership and usually leadership of Jews. In fact, the primary teacher at Beth Immanuel is a Gentile: D. Thomas Lancaster. And yet Beth Immanuel is a Jewish community and worship venue that adheres to specific standards of established halachah.

From my perspective, that’s the current state of Messianic Judaism, or at least those portions I know about in my little corner of the world.

That I don’t consider non-Jewish disciples to be literally citizens of national Israel does not exclude us from many incredible blessings or from association with our Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah. I am quite comfortable inside of my own skin, so to speak, being a person among the nations who is called by His Name. Being married to a Jewish wife, I am content to recognize that she is among her people Israel and I’m dedicated to supporting her, and all other Jewish people I’m associated with, being and becoming closer to the God of Jacob as HIs people Israel through the mitzvot and within their unique community and nation which was established forever by Hashem.

Jesus, Halakhah, and the Evolution of Judaism, Part 4

Her unifying thesis is that modern Jewish thinkers invented the notion that Judaism is a religion in response to the distinctive challenges of European modernity. In the pre-modern period, “it simply was not possible…to conceive Jewish religion, nationality, and what we call culture as distinct from one another.” This was because Jewish communities were corporate entities whose authority over their members was recognized by the state. The community collected taxes, adjudicated civil disputes through rabbinic courts, and enforced halakhic norms by punishing religious deviants through fines, corporal punishments, or excommunication.

-Michah Gottlieb
“Are We All Protestants Now?”
from his review of Leora Batnitzky’s book
How Judaism Became a Religion: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought
at Jewish Review of Books

Why Native American religions, when scholars acknowledge that Native American tribes do not traditionally distinguish between religion and the rest of life?

-William T. Cavanaugh
Chapter 1: “The Anatomy of the Myth”
The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict

When I was reviewing Part 3 of this series, (which inspired a very spirited conversation) I realized that there were actually two overlapping topics involved. The first I’ve already attempted to address, which is whether or not Rabbinic authority is Divinely sanctioned or inspired. The second is implied but you have to be paying attention to see it. Is Judaism a “religion?”

Gottlieb’s review presents Batnitzky’s understanding of “the Protestant conception of religion” this way:

  1. “Religion denotes a sphere of life separate and distinct from all others” such as “politics, morality, science and economics.”
  2. Religion is a “largely private affair, not public.”
  3. Religion is “voluntary and not compulsory.”
  4. Religion is about “personal belief or faith,” which she contrasts with the view that religion is primarily about ritual practice or “performance.”

This very much reminds me of a significant point Cavanaugh made in his book about the problem in defining religion as a separate entity from other social, political, and cultural realms. Prior to the rise of the modern, western culture, it was impossible to separate religion (Christian, Jewish, Islam) from those other entities. More specifically, for the Jewish people historically, being “Jewish” wasn’t just a matter of what you believed but rather, it was an individual’s full, lived, experience and identity, biologically, culturally, ethnically, nationally, and communally.

The fact that Judaism has multiple expressions, both in ancient and modern times doesn’t change this understanding. Each community established and maintained its own local, internal standards across the boundaries of politics, social norms, morality, legality, spirituality, and more. Most likely, before a certain point in human history and development, so did Christianity, at least according to Cavanaugh.

While none of this speaks to the idea that the Rabbinic sages ever had “Divine authority” to establish binding halakhah for their communities, it does address strongly the right of Judaism to define itself biologically, conceptually, ethnically, culturally, educationally, communally, and behaviorally.

In Part 3 of this series, I presented a challenge to the Divine authority of the Rabbis as offered in a paper written by Tim Hegg: What Version of the Mishnah did Paul Read? (PDF). Hegg doesn’t specifically address the Jewish right to self-definition or self-government, but, for the Messianic Jewish believer, he does say that “there is no historical nor biblical case for accepting oral Torah as divinely sanctioned. Nevermind that all that encompasses the Talmud cannot simply be reduced down to the concept of “oral Torah,” as the initial writings of the Talmud (Babylonian and Jerusalem) and their subsequent commentaries, arguments, and judgments cross multiple expressions and sects of Judaism over nearly 2,000 years and are incredibly vast and complex. The question isn’t whether or not ancient oral Law is Mishnah. The question is whether or not the Mishnaic Rabbis have Divine authority to write Mishnah.

But setting aside the Biblical implications and matters of “Divine inspiration” for a moment, let’s take a look at Talmud in a different manner (I’m going to be compressing a lot of history into just a few sentences, so please be forgiving). After the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of most (but not all) Jews from “Palestine,” Jews, as a people, were at dire risk of dissolving and assimilating into the surrounding cultures. The very heart of Judaism up to that point, the Temple in Holy Jerusalem, had been leveled and pillaged. The majority of the Jewish people had once again been exiled; barred from the Land that was the home and lifeblood of every Jew. What most defined Judaism and Jewish people was now gone and within a few generations, everything that history had once recognized as Jewish would follow.

The “salvation” of the Jewish people was that compilation of texts, wisdom, and rulings that we consider the Talmud. No, it was not an immediate “fix” and in fact, it would be centuries before the Talmud would become the central feature in Jewish life.

But it did become that central feature, replacing, in some manner, the Temple and the sacrifices with prayers and charity. Instead of Jews making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover or Sukkot, they fervently beseeched God to bring the Messiah and to restore all that was lost. Judaism was functionally reorganized to exist and in many instances, to thrive, as locally internal communities which both adapted to historical and environmental imperatives and preserved the essence of Judaism, the practice of the Torah and the mitzvot, and the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, both as individual and communal faith.

But as we’ve seen, it was impossible to separate the religion from the people. The definition for everything that was (and is) Jewish was (and is) encapsulated in that expansive collection of tomes known as the Talmud.

No one in their right mind is going to dispute the Jewish right to self-identification and self-definition. No Christian is simply going to walk into a synagogue and start lambasting the Rabbi, the Cantor, and the worshipers for following “man-made traditions” while ignoring the Bible.

However, the world of Messianic Judaism is unique. There are few halalaic Jews currently occupying Messianic Judaism, but their number is growing. Imagine being Jewish in that fully lived, experiential, educational, cultural, communal, ethnic (and so on) manner I previously described. Now imagine that fully lived Jew coming to faith in Jesus (Yeshua) as the one, true Messiah of God. This is not a Jew, like so many in the past, who has converted from Judaism to Christianity, leaving Mishnah and Torah in the dust. This is a Jew who has come to faith in the Jewish Messiah and who sees no dissonance in remaining fully and completely Jewish and acknowledging that the “Maggid of Natzaret” is the prophesied Moshiach.

Why can’t this Jew continue to live out the same Jewish experience he or she always has? Why can’t this person remain a Jew in every sense of the word, including all those words I used above to define a Jew? The Talmud, the historic and ancient Rabbis, the judgments, rulings, experiences, and everything else that is wrapped up in what is Jewish, cannot be separated out and compartmentalized for observant Jews (yes, different Jewish religious traditions do minimize certain aspects of that identity and Jews who are atheists may remove major portions of it altogether). For a Gentile and/or Christian individual or entity to demand that a Jew remove, discount, eliminate, or modify Talmud, halakhah, the mitzvot, and so on would result in removing Judaism from the observant Jew (Messianic or otherwise). What defines Judaism as Judaism would be gone.

Now, why in the world would Christians, including One Law, One Torah, and Hebrew Roots Christians, want to tell a Messianic Jew that, in order to be accepted by them and (in theory) by God, they had to do away with everything that made them Jewish?

If the Gentile Christians in these varied “Hebraic” Christian congregations and movements choose not to employ the Talmud or halakhah into their worship practices or lifestyles, it is probably for the best since they are not Jewish. But it is the height of presumptive arrogance to declare that any Jew who has faith in Yeshua as Messiah must dispense with the Talmud, and thus their Jewish identity, as well.

Whether the Talmud is an expression of the Divine will or not, it is illogical, unreasonable, and perhaps even a little cruel to demand that a Jew stop being a Jew in order to worship the Jewish Messiah. But by requiring that Messianic Jews devalue the Talmud, that’s exactly what many Gentile Christian pundits in the Hebrew Roots space are doing.

I’ve been accused of being overly concerned with the issue of Supersessionism, (I think “supersessionoia” was the term that was coined to describe me) but if you look at the dynamics I’ve been illustrating in this blog post, it seems rather plain that, even unintentionally, certain elements in the Hebrew Roots (One Law, One Torah, Two-house, etc…) movement are suggesting that the “Jewishness” of Jews in the Messianic movement be diminished in order to fulfill a Christian imperative.

My final note for this missive is one of irony. If written Torah, the Christian Bible, and Jesus are the only valid authorities for religious practice and lifestyle in the Hebrew Roots movement (including One Law/One Torah, and so on), then why do all of their groups and congregations follow a modern Jewish synagogue model when they worship? Why do all the men where kippot? Why do all the men wear tallit gadolim with tzitzit that are halalically correct? Why do they daven with modern Jewish siddurim? Why, in less than a week, will they construct their sukkot according to Rabbinically prescribed specifications?

In other words, why are you guys trying so hard to look and act Jewish when you’re not?

How can you disdain the authority of Jewish halakhah and Talmudic practice when virtually every religious act you diligently perform comes from the rulings and decisions of the Talmudic Rabbis?

Part 5 will continue with investigating the concept of “Messianic halakhah” and whether or not any of it apply to non-Jews within the various contexts of Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots.