Tag Archives: Orthodox Judaism

Insights from the Author’s Introduction to The Divine Code

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

Included in the Torah, God also repeated and gave to Moses the Seven Commandments for the Children of Noah, along with their explanations and their details.

All the Gentiles of the world were henceforth eternally commanded to accept upon themselves and to fulfill these seven Divine precepts, because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah, and He made known through Moses our teacher that the descendants of Noah had previously been commanded to do them.

-Rabbi Moshe Weiner
from the Author’s Introduction to
The Divine Code, Parts I-IV (Kindle Edition).

Just yesterday I mentioned buying this eBook online. Although I’ve only begun to read it, I found some interesting details I wanted to share.

According to Rabbi Weiner, who periodically references the Rambam, midrash states that on the first day of Adam’s creation, God gave him six of the seven Noahide Laws (although a number of them wouldn’t have made sense to the first man, because, for example, the prohibition against theft requires someone to steal from).

God again gave these laws, this time including the prohibition against eating a limb from a live animal, to Noah (see Genesis 9). However, both of these revelations were private ones, given by God to individuals. In other words, there were no witnesses.

R. Weiner explains that Gentiles were still obligated to obey the seven precepts, but that they yielded limited benefits.

However, when God gave the Torah to Moshe (Moses) at Mount Sinai (and I find it interesting that I’m writing this just days before the Festival of Shavuot), He gave, again according to midrash, both the written and oral Torahs to Moses with the entire nation of Israel standing as witnesses.

The seven Noahide laws were given as part of the Torah, and as part of the Torah, they can never be annulled, deleted, added to, or subtracted from:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

Rav Yeshua (Jesus) affirmed this by his own words (although mainstream Christianity doesn’t necessarily see it that way), which lends some credence to the Jewish idea that we non-Jews are obligated to observe and receive a heightened spiritual benefit from the seven Noahide laws and their detailed explanations as found in the oral Torah. But that assumes Moses really did receive an “oral Torah” at Sinai along with the full contents of the written Torah, and all of that information was passed down in an unbroken line to the present day.

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgement. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.

-Ethics of the Fathers 1:1

Of course if you’re not an Orthodox Jew, you might have a different opinion about all that, but let’s roll with it for the time being.

In his Author’s Introduction, R. Weiner goes on to say:

Jewish Sages and faithful Rabbinical authorities in every generation are commanded to explain the Torah to the rest of the Jewish people. They are also commanded to explain the Noahide commandments to the Gentiles, and to teach them how these seven mitzvot should be fulfilled.

The Rabbi continues his explanation stating that only “accepted Jewish Torah scholars” are authorized to explain the Noahide laws to the Gentiles and no other teachers or authorities should be considered valid.

That would tend to leave out any Christian Pastors or teachers, as well as Jewish teachers who are not accepted as authorities, such as some of those within the Messianic Jewish movement.

The non-profit organization Ask Noah International (ANI) has taken up the mantle of educating the Gentiles, but it’s not something universally embraced by Orthodox Judaism in general (or any other Judaism). I’ve even heard it said once (though I don’t recall the source), that Jews within Messianic Judaism are not obligated to teach the Gentile the ways of righteousness, and that their movement is primarily or exclusively for Jews who have come to faith in Rav Yeshua.

Yet from R. Weiner’s perspective, authorized Jewish Rabbis and scholars are obligated to teach the Gentiles the seven mitzvot and the exact meaning of each one, which is the point of the book I’m reading. From the time of Adam to the giving of the Torah, Gentile observance of the seven laws had some merit attached, but when these laws were given to Moses as part of the Torah along with the explanation for them in the oral Torah, an enhanced spirituality was given to the Gentile by their observance.

When the revelation went from private to public, Gentile obligation and the rewards for doing so, became permanent and eternal.

Of course, exactly how the Gentiles are to observe the mitzvot can only be learned from Jewish scholars who are fluent in the portions of the oral Torah which pertain to those mitzvot. Earlier in this book, it was explained that many or even most Rabbis lack that knowledge and experience, and one of the missions of ANI is to be a resource to them.

R. Weiner quotes Rambam from Laws of Kings 8:11 which states that any Gentile who is pious and carefully observes the seven mitzvot will merit a place in the world to come. He goes on to write:

This is so provided that one accepts them and observes them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moses our teacher…

In a sense, this makes Moses a teacher to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

Remember though, this is only from the author’s brief introduction to the book. I haven’t even started the first chapter yet.

There’s one thing to consider as we go forward. If the seven mitzvot incumbant upon the Gentiles are eternal because they were given to Moses at Sinai and the Torah is eternal, then can we somehow fold them into the Acts 15 ruling of James the Just and the (Messianic) Jerusalem Counsel which gave all Gentiles who are devoted to Rav Yeshua the legal status of “resident aliens” among Israel?

When Israel Conquers the World

Nistell
Rabbi Jacoob Ben Nistell (Times of Israel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something to consider as Pesach (Passover) approaches.

If You Think Being a Messianic Gentile Is Tough, Try Being a Messianic Jew

Jewish Israelis are deeply divided societally, religiously and politically, and are to a large extent tightly stratified within their particular societal sector a new report by the Pew Research Center has shown.

The survey showed that there is very little inter-marriage between haredi, religious-Zionist, traditional and secular Jews, and little societal interaction between the different sectors as well.

The deep division in Israeli society was highlighted by findings that show that Israeli Jews in general are about as uncomfortable for their children to marry a Muslim as secular Jews are for their child to marry a haredi person and vice versa.

-by Jeremy Sharon | March 8, 2016
“Pew poll: 48 percent of Israeli Jews support transfer or expulsion of Arab Israelis”
The Jerusalem Post

israeli jews
DEMONSTRATORS GATHER in Sakhnin, October 13, 2015. (photo credit:JOINT ARAB LIST)

I came across this news article in my Facebook feed, and it reminded me of my recent blog post Attached and Yet Unattached which mentions a group of Messianic Jews in Israel who desire to become an integral part of normative (Orthodox) Jewish synagogue life.

The article and Pew poll highlights just how isolated the different parts of Jewish society in Israel are.

Secular Israelis comprise the largest sector, totalling 40% of Israel’s total, population, traditional Israelis are 23%, religious-Zionists 10%, and haredim were 8%, while 14% of the population is Muslim, 2% Christian, and 2% Druze. In total, the Israeli population is 81% Jewish, 19% non-Jewish.

According to the study, 95% of Haredi Jews and 93% of secular Jews have a spouse from the same subgroup, while 85% of religious-Zionist Jews have religious-Zionist spouse.

Traditional Israelis were the only sector to have a somewhat higher rate of intermarriage with other Jewish groups, with approximately 33% of traditional Israelis marrying a religious-Zionist or secular Jew, and 64% of this group marrying within their sector.

In other words, Jews tend to stay socially within their own particular population and rarely have friends or marry outside their groups.

Messianic Judaism isn’t mentioned as a Jewish population group in the article, but I did wonder about that 2% Christian group. Of course, there are normative, non-Jewish Christians in Israel, but, from any other Jewish groups’ perspective, would Jews who are known to be “Messianic” be considered Christian?

My guess is “yes,” and if so, I’m sure that causes dismay among those Messianic Jews to no end.

Stuart Dauermann
Rabbi Stuart Dauermann

Which brings us back to the idea of Messianic Jews integrating into Orthodox synagogues and communities as an effort to become living examples to wider Jewish community in Israel (and any place else)  that they are us, not them.

But the Jerusalem Post article, if it is at all accurate in representing Israeli Jewish society as it truly is, indicates that this is easier said than done.

Of course, even though these sub-groups of Jewish Israel differ widely from one another and barely associate with one another, on some level, they consider each other Jewish…I think.

It’s difficult for me to tell as an outsider not only to Judaism but to life in Israel.

But I do know that Israel’s Chief Rabbis and the Rabbi of the Kotel oppose any government decision to formally recognize Reform Judaism, so it’s possible that Orthodox Jews in the Land (and elsewhere) may not consider Reform Jews as Jews, or at least consider them on the same plane as secular Jews.

And all this might be what’s fueling some Messianic Jewish groups in Israel to breach social barriers, so to speak, by associating and folding into Orthodox Jewish community, to be “us,” not “them.”

I wonder how (or if) that’s going to work. On the one hand, if these Messianic Jews are “undercover” and do not reveal their devotion to Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) and their revelation of him as Messiah, and assuming they are observant to the same degree and manner as the communities they join, then they will likely succeed in becoming part of larger religious Judaism.

On the other hand, they will not have a regular relationship with a community that recognizes our Rav and acknowledges the revelation of Yeshua returning as King Messiah to fulfill all of Hashem’s promises to Israel.

When I made the decision (which I’ve done a few times over the past several years) to live without community, I received many kind emails and other communications telling me that it was a risky business standing apart from a Yeshua-believing congregation.

I know after leaving Hebrew Roots some years ago, my “plan A” was to attend Chabad services and/or classes with my Jewish wife.

However, she wasn’t anxious to include her Christian husband in her Jewish religious and social life, and ultimately, that plan went down in flames.

Tent of DavidMy “plan B,” after much consideration, was to do a sort of Tent of David integration into a small, local Baptist church, even after being warned by a good friend of mine that the effort was doomed to failure as well.

I stayed with the church for two years until the Pastor, frustrated with me “digging in my heels” as he put it, and remaining steadfastly devoted to my perspectives on the Bible, Israel, Messiah, and Hashem as a Messianic Gentile, gave a sermon on misuse of Torah, which included the belief that the Sinai covenant was still fully enforced upon the Jewish people.

That felt like a very personal and public rebuke.

I blogged my disagreement, which came with consequences, and ultimately decided it was in Pastor’s, the church’s, and my best interest for me to apologize and then exit Christian community entirely.

But Christian community isn’t Jewish community. Jews belong with other Jews. I don’t know how Messianic Jews are going to fully meld into Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, but I guess they’ll find out. It just seems that if the boundaries between the different sub-groups of Israeli Jews are so rigid, that penetration of said-boundaries is going to be rather difficult.

In theory, I could walk into any church in my community and be immediately welcomed. As long as I kept my big mouth shut or only mouthed the “party line” supported by that particular church as “sound doctrine,” I’d be OK.

Of course, the obvious barriers, besides me keeping my flap shut and not blogging on each and every church experience that rubbed me the wrong way, are not being able to invite people from church over to my house because it would make my wife uncomfortable, attending church at all because (she would never stop me or breathe a word of dissent about me attending) the very act of my going to a church would emphasize that she’s “sleeping with the enemy,” so to speak, and my attending Christmas and especially Easter services, would totally devastate her.

But outside of my home life and my highly specific theology, there are (or should be) no barriers to me attending church and being accepted, at least in my own little corner of Idaho.

jerusalem at nightFor Messianic Jews in Israel, it seems as if they have an especially tough row to hoe, so to speak, again, at least according to the Jerusalem Post news story.

I’ve written plenty about the struggle for we “Messianic Gentiles” in establishing our own roles and responsibilities relative to Messianic Judaism as well as to each other, but we need to be mindful that Messianic Jews also face a very similar challenge in relation to larger Judaism, especially in Israel, but also everywhere else.

Why should devotion to Israel and to Rav Yeshua be mutually exclusive for a Jew? It shouldn’t be, except that nearly twenty centuries of enmity between Christianity and Judaism has made it so.

A Partnership of Christianity and Orthodox Judaism?

A group of prominent Orthodox rabbis in Israel, the United States and Europe have issued a historic public statement affirming that Christianity is “the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations” and urging Jews and Christians to “work together as partners to address the moral challenges of our era.”

-Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D
“Orthodox Rabbis Issue Groundbreaking Declaration of Affirming ‘Partnership’ with Christianity”
BreitBart.com

Actually, I heard about this a few days ago but according to one Jewish source, this is to be dismissed as a “bunch of interfaith liberal rabbis” attempting to mollify Christians (and Muslims) by (hopefully) having everyone “make nice” wi one another.

I didn’t think anymore about it until I saw the BreitBart.com article on Facebook, however, since BreitBart isn’t known to be unbiased, I thought I’d look for other news sources covering the story.

pope francis
2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea

Apparently, this is associated with something I wrote recently regarding how the Vatican has changed it’s stance on converting Jews. It’s not that the Roman Catholic church has ceased all efforts to share their version of Jesus Christ with Jewish people, it’s simply that they state they no longer have a specific mission to the Jews. They also (apparently) now believe that Jews have a covenant relationship with God without first having to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Messiah.

Anyway, I found a couple of other sources, one being The Times of Israel and the other being Christianity Today.

The Times of Israel story says in part:

In its statement, “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians,” the rabbis who signed the statement “seek to do the will of our Father in Heaven by accepting the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters.”

“It is a groundbreaking statement,” Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn said. “It’s the only statement I know of by an international Orthodox body that talks about the practical and theological relationship with the Roman Catholic church after Nostra Aetate.”

Rabbi Korn, who lives in Teaneck and Jerusalem, was one of the drafters of the statement, which was published by the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, an interfaith center in Israel founded by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Rabbi Korn is the center’s academic director.

Of course, an organization called The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) would have a vested interest in promoting good Jewish-Christian relations, so this statement can’t be a complete surprise.

epelman rosen
Image: Alessandra Tarantino / AP Images / Rabbi Claudio Epelman and Rabbi David Rosen

But just as the Catholic statement previously issued does not represent formal policy of the Vatican, the Christianity Today (CT) story made this observation:

While the Jewish statement is a signpost of improving Jewish-Christian relationships, it shouldn’t be interpreted as a consensus among Jewish rabbis, Orthodox rabbi Yehiel Poupko told CT.

“No major Jewish Halachic (Jewish legal) authority has signed the statement,” he said. “And Jewish thought has, for centuries, emerged not from individuals signing letters but from a long, slow process of scholarship that builds communal consensus. This statement did not do that. In addition, complex theological issues do not readily lend themselves to full expression in short sentences presented in brief public statements.”

In other words, steps are being taken in the right direction (seemingly), but nothing is official. This won’t change things as much as some folks wish it would. However, the CT story added:

But it isn’t meaningless.

“The statement is a very real indication that the Orthodox rabbinate is grappling with how to understand Christianity in an era when Christianity is reaching out to Judaism and has repented of its sins against us,” he said.

The warm relationship between Jews and evangelicals is still in its infancy, Poupko said. “We are feeling our way, and this statement should not be viewed as a consensus, let alone a final statement. Rather, it’s an indication of the theological and intellectual ferment in the Orthodox rabbinate about Christianity.”

Christianity—and Islam, for that matter—are actually Jewish success stories, he said, “because Christianity and Islam use the Torah, and as a consequence, people who would now be pagans have knowledge of and are in relationship with the one God.”

I suppose this goes along with something I quoted yesterday from this source:

By the way, Maimonides states that the popularity of Christianity and Islam is part of God’s plan to spread the ideals of Torah throughout the world. This moves society closer to a perfected state of morality and toward a greater understanding of God. All this is in preparation for the Messianic age.

But as the CT article points out:

Experts told CT that neither statement wipes out the significant theological differences between Christians and Jews.

brickner
David Brickner – Jews for Jesus

Not only that, but as you might imagine, a number of Christian evangelical organizations are rather put out by both the Vatican’s statement and that of (possibly) CJCUC:

Jews for Jesus executive director David Brickner was more forceful, calling the Vatican’s position “egregious.”

And…

Jim Melnick, international coordinator of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE), agreed.

However, the CT article ended with a quote from Jason Poling, a “co-convener of the national Evangelical-Jewish Conversation:”

But the theological divide shouldn’t stop the Jewish-Christian conversation, he said. “Jewish-Christian relations can only be enriched by the participation of colleagues like these Orthodox rabbis who recognize theological pluralism as a phenomenon without embracing it as doctrine.”

Curious, I went to the CJCUC site to read the actual statement. The statement includes seven somewhat lengthy points so I won’t quote them here. You can click the link and read them for yourself, along with a list of the Orthodox Rabbis who signed it (electronically).

The bottom line? I’m not sure there is one, at least nothing particularly dramatic. At best, I’d have to say this is part of the slow evolution the Christian and Jewish worlds are experiencing as we enter into the “birthpangs of the Messiah,” anticipating the events that will lead to war and destruction which will bring Israel to the brink of non-existence before the Messiah returns to bring victory, redemption, restoration, and justice.

Non-Jews and the Mitzvot: A Brief Commentary On One Orthodox Jewish Perspective

Moshe also does not need me to clarify for him. Nonetheless, I think his point is unexpected and worth considering, in that he is saying that many mitzvot aren’t inherently valuable, they’re only valuable as part of a particular relationship with Hashem. It’s not that he objects or is bothered by non-Jews doing them, he’s saying that in these areas, the differences between Jews and non-Jews are such that these actions are literally meaningless for them.

-Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein
“Do Non-Jews Get Reward for Mitzvot?”
Torah Musings

Now before anyone flips out, I want to say that I found a link to this article on Facebook, and that “Torah Musings” is an Orthodox Jewish venue, so please take that perspective into consideration. In fact, their About states in part:

Torah Musings is a window into the Orthodox Jewish intellectual’s world, providing sophisticated but popular textual studies, important news stories and associated commentary from the perspective of an Orthodox Judaism that is intellectually open and halakhically conservative.

rothstein
Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein

Further, the disclaimer at the very bottom of Rabbi Rothstein’s article says:

The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.

Again, please keep in mind that the contents of this write-up, including the portions quoted here on my blog, are crafted within the conceptual and intellectual confines of Orthodox Judaism and are the educated opinions of R. Rothstein specifically.

So don’t lynch me or hang me in effigy just for reporting something I find interesting and, I believe, relevant.

Almost three months ago, in an effort to distance myself from some of the angst we find in certain corners of Messianic Judaism regarding Gentiles, identity, and mitzvot, I wrote and published What’s Yours is Yours. Really, if a Gentile in Jewish space is a problem, I’ll bow out.

Among other related articles, I also subsequently published Should Non-Jews Study the Torah and I concluded “yes,” with the proviso that studying Torah did not make one automatically obligated to perform each and every possible mitzvah described therein.

But having, to the best of my understanding and ability, examined the Messianic Jewish viewpoints (yes, there are more than one) as well as Hebrew Roots’ and Christianity’s opinions on the topic, how can I resist investigating how this Orthodox Jewish Rabbi answers the question he has asked?

As you can see from the above-quoted paragraph, R. Rothstein, in examining the “original responsum, Iggerot Moshe Orach Chayyim 6;2,” states that Moshe’s opinion would be that while we are not forbidden from performing the mitzvot, because many or most of them are directly linked to the (Sinai) covenant relationship Hashem has with the Jewish people, laying tefillin, wearing tzitzit, or building and living in a sukkah are simply meaningless to us relative to actually fulfilling these mitzvot, because non-Jews, even those living as Noahides, are not part of that covenant.

solomon's templeIs that the final word?

R. Rothstein reviewed the opinions of multiple authorities and they all differ somewhat in how strict they rule in this area.

1. Schepansky had noted that Rambam, in his Mishnah Commentary to Terumot 3;9, explained that even though non-Jews are not obligated in giving terumah, they still get reward for doing so, which is why the terumah they designate qualifies as actual terumah.

2. Moshe labels it one of the exceptions, donations to hekdesh (anything having to do with the Temple) and charity, examples he proves from the Talmudic assumption that Balak is rewarded for his sacrifices and Baba Batra 4a’s view that Nevuchadnezzar’s giving charity was effective. Non-Jews are also rewarded for appropriate speech, as Rashi says on Bereshit 19;39, where Lot’s younger daughter was more circumspect about her son’s paternity. Nevuchadnezzar also gets rewarded for the three steps he takes to hear the word of Hashem.

Those are all examples of non-Jews taking intuitively decent and good actions. When it comes to that which the Torah nonintuitively legislates for Jews, such as Shabbat, holidays, tefillin, tzitzit, sukkah, lulav, shofar, kosher, shatnez and anything like that, R. Moshe reverts to his view that these mitzvot only have value as a Jewish response to Hashem’s command.

This suggests that certain mitzvot might actually have meaning when performed by non-Jews, such as making an offering at or donations to the Temple (which currently does not exist), or other actions that any reasonable person would intuitively understand are morally good or right. On the other hand, those mitzvot that we would not intuitively realize are good, such and laying tefillin or donning a tallit gadol when praying, actions that are specifically associated with the Jewish people and their (Sinai) covenant relationship with Hashem, simply mean nothing to Hashem when we perform them, because we non-Jews stand outside the (Sinai) covenant.

Orthodox JewsI know pretty much who is going to object to all this, but please remember that these opinions are coming from an Orthodox Jewish source, so you can’t necessarily hang blame either on me or on any authorities existing within Messianic Judaism.

You’ll need to click the link I provided above to get the full gist of what R. Rothstein has composed, but he does cite other authorities who believe a non-Jew may receive a reward for performing mitzvot voluntarily, although this probably doesn’t include the previously mentioned observances specifically associated with Judaism. Some have even suggested that the non-Jew may receive a greater reward, but this is a minority opinion and possibly considered erroneous by the majority of authorities.

The article concludes:

In that sense, R. Moshe is actually being more lenient towards non-Jews, in that in his view they are not missing out on a good. For R. Moshe, a non-Jew who keeps the Noahides is doing all s/he should do, not just all the Torah happened to let him or her know about. It’s not that they are too benighted to know the wonders of our mitzvot, it’s that those mitzvot don’t apply to them, unless and until they decide to convert.

In other words, it is understood that Gentiles may recognize the beauty of all of the mitzvot once we study Torah and become aware of them, however that recognition goes not make us obligated unless we choose to convert to Judaism.

This is more or less what I’d expect given an Orthodox Jewish perspective, and is actually more liberal than I would have previously imagined.

Now the question is, from the viewpoint of disciples of Rav Yeshua and my understanding of our graciously being allowed to partake in some of the blessings of the New Covenant by Hashem’s mercy and through the symbolic sacrifice of our Rav, does this change anything as far as non-Jewish disciples, the mitzvot, and their significance?

That’s the $64,000 question.

And it’s one that A) I’ve answered before, and B), that I don’t intend to hash out again in this blog post.

rainbowI am writing this “mediation” and providing links to the source material because I find it fascinating that Orthodox Judaism would even pose the question for serious, scholarly debate. If it’s a question that Orthodox Jewish authorities find necessary to ask, given that they see non-Jews as subject only to the covenant Hashem made with Noah (see Genesis 9), how much more so should it be a question within Messianic Judaism, given that Hashem has allowed even the non-Jew to become a disciple of Yeshua by mercy and grace?

You can read other articles Rabbi Rothstein has written for Torah Musings as well as at the Orthodox Union (OU) and The Times of Israel to gain greater insights into his perspectives.

I know this will probably ruffle someone’s feathers, but really, I’m just publishing this as a matter of interest as to how wider Judaism considers a matter that is, from my point of view, highly relevant to non-Jews who are “Judaicly aware” and who are or have been involved in either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities.

Is Messianic Judaism Shrinking Because Almost All Other Judaisms are Shrinking?

James (and Chaya) …. what I am seeing today and I already saw that in my messianic days, on the other hand, is another trend, other than than just Gentiles being the majority in MJ places. There are virtually no new Jews coming into the Messianic movement. In my experience as someone who founded and helped run a sizable congregation that was very Jewish in orientation and in a very Jewish area, most of those who did come tended to be older (middle-aged and higher), all intermarried and very assimilated and they tended to migrate from one messianic place to another. There were virtually no young halachially Jewish people around, may be one (and he was mentally unstable and soon went back to the Baptist church no matter how hard we reached out to him). Most of the teens and twenties folks were either 100% Gentile or children of Jewish fathers. Other local messianic congregations nearby were in even worse shape, and I live in a state where there hundreds of thousands of Jews and tons of synagogues of all sorts. I addressed that on my “messianic” blog on numerous occasions. I am also seeing more and more former MJ’s (and messianic Gentiles) leave the messianic movement, in the last 5 years, many returning to Judaism or converting. I attribute it, in part, to much wider availability of information through internet, to aging of the Jewish messianics that are not being replaced by new blood and to the influx of the Gentiles.

-Gene Shlomovich
from his comment on my blog post
Much Ado About the Oral Law

I’m not quoting Gene to put him on the spot (not sure I’d be able to do that anyway) but only because I needed a quote that intimated that Messianic Judaism is neither a Judaism nor a viable religious movement because it contains relatively few halachically Jewish members and most of them are intermarried. Gene also emphasizes that the Jewish leaders are older and that few if any young Jews are joining the movement.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is because of the following:

If you leave out the Orthodox, 71.5% of American Jews marry outside the faith. Only 17% of children of intermarried couples will marry a Jew, and the largest block of American Jews under 40 are the unaffiliated. As Steven Weil, from the Orthodox Union, pointed out, “With a birthrate of only 1.9 children and an astoundingly high intermarriage rate, American Jewry is on a train speeding headlong into self-destruction.”

-Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith
“The Intermarriage Taboo”
Aish.com

It seems that the issues of intermarriage, assimilation, and lack of a younger Jewish membership aren’t exclusive to Messianic Judaism. However, let’s pursue the following:

On the other hand, the Orthodox are thriving. 83% of Orthodox Jews stay Orthodox. The birthrate among Orthodox Jews is significantly higher than most other religious groups (4.1 children per adult). Sarah Bunin Benor, a professor of Jewish studies at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said “Orthodox Jews will eventually likely be the majority of American Jews.” 60% of Jewish children in the New York City area live in Orthodox homes and that number will only increase.

It would seem as if the only group of Jews who are thriving and growing, at least in the U.S., are Orthodox Jews, specifically in the New York City area, which to the best of my knowledge, is one of the largest concentrations of Jewish people in this country.

JewishThat suggests the problem with Messianic Judaism attracting a larger Jewish base population and matters of intermarriage may not entirely be simply because of Yeshua-faith and a large Gentile membership (although those are certainly contributing factors), but also indicative of a much larger problem in western Jewry.

Of course that’s a lot to assume from a single article published on the web, but it does bring up the question of what Orthodox Judaism is doing that all of the other Judaisms (including Messianic) aren’t.

According to a study published by the Pew Research Center as reported by The Jewish Daily Forward:

The study’s numbers suggest that the Orthodox birthrate in the United States is far higher than that of most other religious groups. Pew found that Orthodox Jews averaged 4.1 children per adult, while America’s. general public averages 2.2 children. The Orthodox number is higher than the average for Protestants (2.2) and Catholics (2.4). Hispanic Catholics (3.1) come close, but still fall short.

Certainly a high birthrate is a significant variable but what keeps the younger population within Orthodox Judaism as they become adults and especially as they start families of their own?

“Orthodox life is very, very different than a conventional lifestyle,” said Alexander Rapaport, 35, a father of seven. Rapaport lives in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn’s Boro Park and runs the soup kitchen network Masbia. He described a social structure designed to encourage and support large families — and that structure has apparently succeeded in more than doubling its share of the Jewish population in less than two decades.

That’s more anecdotal rather than hard data, but conservative communities that espouse adherence to traditional values and have strong internal support systems tend to transmit those values across multiple generations with relatively little “mission drift.” You see this especially among Chasidic Jewish groups such as the Chabad.

The price such groups pay, if you want to think of it in those terms, is the inability to “blend in” with the prevalent culture. In other words, such Orthodox Jewish groups do not bow down at the altar of Political Correctness, even the liberal religious variety.

(As an aside, I should point you to an article I recently read called The Challenges of Parenting an Openly Gay Orthodox Teen to illustrate that Orthodox Judaism also has “shades of gray” woven into its fabric. If it matters, the source website Kveller.com is socially and religiously liberal, so their viewpoints will be biased accordingly.)

Which may be why most or all of the other Judaisms are struggling to maintain their unique identity in a multi-generational fashion beyond “bagels and lox,” as Rabbi Coopersmith put it. To further quote the Rabbi’s article:

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, got into a lot of hot water last week, when a copy of a speech she gave to a Florida branch of the Jewish Federation went public. She had to retract her words in order to calm things down.

Her party affiliation is irrelevant here; it’s not hard to imagine a Republican figure issuing a similar retraction. Outside of Orthodox circles you cannot come out and say that intermarriage and assimilation is a problem. It has become a taboo subject. In a not so distant past, stopping intermarriage and assimilation was the rallying cry used to garner support for Jewish outreach initiatives. Federations used the term “Jewish continuity,” to imply that the Jewish people have something of unique value worthy of preserving. Today it is likely you’ll be attacked for bigotry and racism and that rallying cry will more likely push Jews away.

Go to Aish.com to find out what Ms. Schultz uttered that was so terrible, but suffice it to say, it’s not popular in most branches of Judaism, let alone within many Christian groups (in my opinion), and certainly not in the view of American secular egalitarianism, to believe and publicly declare that maintaining the uniqueness of Jewish identity along with cultural and religious Judaism is not only a big deal, but absolutely vital to the continuation of the Jewish people as a people.

And yet, in spite of its apparent shortcomings, including a lack of Jewish membership and including a lack of a young Jewish presence, Messianic Judaism has repeatedly raised a loud and persistent voice requiring and demanding the protection of religious, cultural, and halachic Jewish identity within its communities.

IntermarriageAnd Messianic Judaism has been shot down from all sides for daring to say such a thing, just as was Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the aftermath of her statements at the Democratic National Committee. Ms. Schultz was forced to retract her “offending” words to calm the outrage leveled against her.

It used to be a taboo for Jews to marry outside, but now the taboo in many Jewish places is to dare to criticize intermarriage. More’s the pity (and I say this as an intermarried person).

Can Messianic Judaism afford to do the same as Ms. Schultz did to placate its critics and further risk the survival of Messianic Judaism as a wholly Jewishly-oriented community?

I’m not proposing any answers, but I think it’s important that, according to the data I’ve presented here, Messianic Judaism is suffering a crisis that is very much the same as many other Judaisms apart from the Orthodox.

I’m probably going to regret this, but for this one blog post only, I’m opening up comments. I may close them down just as fast, and I remind everyone that as the blog owner, I’m a benevolent dictator, not the leader of a democracy. Commenting here is a privilege I grant, not a right you possess. Keep that in mind when you keyboard your responsive missives and press the “submit” button.