Tag Archives: Ruth

Are We Naaman or Ruth?

This may sound like a really stupid question (Are there still Jews and Greeks in Christ?), but I cannot tell you how many people over the years have cited to me one particular text from the only surviving correspondence of the first century Pharisee, Saul Paul. This text relates to the believers in Galatia, who thought that, since they now followed the Jewish Christ, it stood to reason that they should not simply be a part of the Jewish coalition (sojourners with Israel), but they should also adopt all the ancestral customs of the Jews (This is what was meant to convert to Judaism back then). It is to them, in this nuanced and commonly misunderstood letter that the beloved Apostle wrote: “There is neither Jew nor Greek… in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

-Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg
“Are there still Jews and Greeks in Jesus Christ?”
Jewish Studies Blog

I found a link to this article on a closed Facebook page a few days ago and have just gotten around to reading it. It’s short, easily consumable by most folks, and has a very interesting and, to me, relevant perspective.

The Jewish PaulAccording to Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg (who I hear of from time to time, but don’t know a lot about), what we think of as converting to another religion, such as Judaism, today, wasn’t how it worked back when the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul) was actively proclaiming the good news of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) among the Goyim (Gentiles).

Conversions were widely attested in the ancient times. However conversions as they were practiced then, have little in common with conversions as we understand them today. Unlike in ancient times, “religion” today is seen as a category of its own – so someone can be Irish and Jewish, American and Jewish, Russian and Jewish, and so on. Ancient people, however, did not speak of conversion in terms of simply accepting another religion, while staying culturally the same. To them conversion to Judaism meant joining the people of Israel (especially its southern branch, “Judeans”, and hence “Judaism”) and adopting a set of ancestral customs which permeated every area of life. In other words, conversion to Judaism was a ‘package deal’. If one converted, he or she was expected to cut ties with their previous culture in every respect – not just accept a new divinity, but the entire package (God and people).

So in the minds of the Gentile Galatians, to follow the teachings of Rav Yeshua and to worship the God of Israel meant to not only become part if Israel in name, but to totally adopt all of the practices of born-Jews, being observant in every conceivable way. They would stop being citizens of their respective nations, and become Israelites.

ruth
Ruth the Moabitess

This has significant relevance to my previous blog post, The Non-Covenant Relationship with God, and particularly the discussion which (as I write this) is still going on in the comments section beneath. If we non-Jews are not Israel, who are we in terms of our faith and national citizenship, especially to Hashem?

As it turns out, Paul’s letter to the Galatians was intended to correct their mistaken belief that in order to be disciples of Rav Yeshua and devoted servants to the God of Israel, they had to become part of Israel and become Torah observant in exactly the same manner as the Jews.

However, this was only one paradigm of legitimate Gentile dedication to Israel’s God. There was another – I call this the “Naaman” paradigm, to distinguish it from the “Ruth” paradigm.

Notably, he did not say or do as Ruth did. He returned to his country and his own people and continued to worship Israel’s God there. In contrast to Ruth the Moabite, Naaman’s approach was more along the lines of: “Your God will be my God, but my people will still be my people”. Interestingly, in the end he receives from the prophet of God the greatest blessing of all – the blessing of Shalom (2 Kings 5:18-19).

You’re going to have to click the link I provided above to read all of Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg’s article, but he poses the question of whether or not we non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua (and all Christians) are more like Ruth or Naaman. Ruth underwent what we would think of as conversation, not only adopting the ‘religion’ of Judaism, but citizenship in Israel. Remember, in ancient times, one’s religion wasn’t a separate entity from one’s national affiliation or any other aspect of your life.

However, Ruth’s choice wasn’t Naaman’s choice. He acknowledged that only the God of Israel was God, and devoted the rest of his life to honoring Hashem, but he went back to his Land and he did not change his citizenship nor his cultural identity.

Apostolic DecreeFrom Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg’s point of view, the First Century apostles and elders of the Jerusalem Council saw the Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua joining their ranks as Naaman, not Ruth. There was never an expectation that they would obliterate their own nationality and cultural affiliation to become Israel, nor that they would take on a Jew’s obligation of Torah. That’s the whole point of the Jerusalem letter.

…so the apostles decided not to lay upon them any further burden. It seems from Acts 15:21, that it was assumed that Gentile believers would be attending synagogues wherever they lived, and hearing Moses read and presumably also hearing what Judaism taught about living a generally righteous life. In practical terms, observing these 4 laws would potentially enable Gentile believers to fellowship with Jews without offending them and being ostracized by them.

Acts 16:4-5 tells us that Apostle Saul Paul fully endorsed the decision of the “Jerusalem Council” and proclaimed its message with great joy as he traveled from congregation to congregation. Full Torah observance (proselyte conversion to Judaism) was unnecessary for any Gentile who joined the Jewish coalition by following the Jewish Christ. They too (as the Nations) were now first class-citizens in the Kingdom of God.

Look at that. “…now first class-citizens in the Kingdom of God.” First class, not second class.

And finally:

What Apostle Saul Paul meant by the phrase “there is neither Jew nor Greek” had to do, not with cessation of difference, but with cessation of discrimination. There is no discrimination with regard to race, culture, rank, or gender, for all are one in the Jewish Christ. Gentiles will no longer be discriminated against in the Kingdom of Israel’s God. They now will play an equally important rule in God’s redemptive plan. Their faith in the Jewish Christ alone qualifies and justifies them (just as it does the Jews) in every way to be first-class citizens in God’s Kingdom, without relinquishing their important identity as the “Nations of the World”.

kindnessWe don’t need to worry that because our people have no direct covenant relationship with Hashem, we or our nations are illegitimate. We are also important in God’s redemptive plan for the world just as people of our respective nations. Our closeness and “oneness” with Israel is a matter of reconciliation between Israel and the nations, not a fusing of national and covenant identities. As Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg points out in Acts 16:4-5, the Gentile disciples received this news with great joy, not confusion or jealousy. Becoming a disciple of Rav Yeshua, worship of the God of Israel, and citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven were and are available to everyone, making this branch of Judaism the most inclusive of all without the requirement to convert, adopt Israeli citizenship, and full obligation to the Torah of Moses.

Something has become terribly twisted that today we cannot experience that same joy, but must either declare ourselves as replacing the Jews in God’s promises and love, or claiming the Torah for our very own, complaining and fretting when others disagree with these very non-Biblical viewpoints.

I don’t know what else Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg has written or what he teaches in general, but I have to agree with his conclusion that we Gentiles in Messiah are Naaman, not Ruth.

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The Convert and the Disciple: A Shavuot Lesson

Question:

I attended synagogue services on the holiday of Shavuot morning, and we spent a half-hour reading the Book of Ruth. Is there any special connection between Ruth and Shavuot?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah and prophetic reading on Yom Tov always relate to a deeper theme of the day.

In this case, Ruth is the ancestor of King David, who was born on Shavuot, and died on Shavuot.

Another reason is because Ruth is the quintessential Jewish convert, and on the very first Shavuot – when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai – each Israelite essentially became a “Jew by Choice.” That’s why the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law use the Sinai experience as a basis for determining the requirements of all future converts:

1) Mikveh – All converts must immerse in a Mikveh (ritual bath), as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:14, 24:8).

2) Milah – Male converts must undergo circumcision, as the Israelites did before leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:48 and Joshua 5:5).

3) Mitzvot – All converts must accept to observe all 613 mitzvot of the Torah, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:3).

Interestingly, the Torah intimates that the souls of eventual converts were also present at Sinai, as the verse says: “I am making [the covenant] both with those here today before the Lord our God, and also with those not here today.” (Deut. 29:13)

From “Ruth and Shavuot”
the Aish Ask the Rabbi column
Aish.com

In my recent review of the Mark Nanos essay “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates” as found in the book Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition), citing Nanos, I commented that the Apostle Paul was very much against the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) converting to Judaism, frankly, because it was unnecessary. In Messiah, Gentiles have an equal communal status with the Jewish disciples, the same indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the same promise of the resurrection.

mikvahThe other major reason that Paul discouraged Gentiles from converting is that it would undermine God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father to many nations. If we all converted to Judaism as a means of accessing a covenant relationship with God, then God’s promise that not just the Jewish people but all peoples would bow to Him, would be null and void. And as I hope you realize, it’s impossible to thwart the plans and promises of Hashem, God of Israel.

So is there any good reason for a Gentile in Messiah to convert to Judaism? There must be, because some few such converts exist (I have no statistics as to exactly how many there are or where they can be found and only personally know of one such person).

I also know that some critics of Messianic Judaism in the Hebrew Roots space believe that the practice of conversion is not presupposed in the Torah and thus is unbiblical, not to be recognized by those Gentiles who believe the Torah applies equally to all, Jew and Gentile alike.

However, as we see above, the Jewish people certainly do believe there is a precedent in the Torah that allows for ritual conversion of Gentiles, bringing them into Israel as (Jewish) children of Abraham.

Neither Christianity nor any branch of Judaism believes that Gentiles must convert to Judaism and indeed, Christianity sees converting non-believers to themselves is the desirable outcome, not becoming a member of the tribes, so to speak.

I also mentioned before that both in the late Second Temple period and today, those of us, that is, non-Jews who have some sort of connection with Judaism in general and Messianic Judaism in particular, often suffer from an identity crisis. More than once, the dissonance of who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do given my rather unique outlook on the Bible, has stirred a great desire in me to “throw in the towel” and stop associating with religious people altogether, both face-to-face and over the web.

It’s not an easy life.

Orthodox JewsSome non-Jews entering Messianic community have shot out the other end, so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism as a way to end that dissonance and secure a religiously and socially acceptable identity within Judaism. To do so however, they had to surrender all fealty to Yeshua as Messiah and King, thus, from Christianity’s point of view, becoming apostates.

I believe, both in ancient and modern times, that God gave the Jewish people the ability to be “gatekeepers” into their realm. Nanos spoke of a “chronometrical gospel”, that is, a time-related good news event or set of events, a good news that entered our world heralding the advent of the New Covenant promises with the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Master, the Messiah.

Prior to Yeshua, there was a mechanism in place whereby Gentiles who were drawn to the God of Israel could undergo a ritual allowing them to join Israel and thereafter be considered indistinguishable from the born Israelite. It was the only real option for such Gentiles, apart from the status of God-Fearers who had no covenant status relative to God (unless you count the Noahide covenant).

The process of conversion seemed to morph over time and was likely different in some manner to the process we see Ruth undergoing to convert to Judaism and become the eventual ancestor to King David and ultimately, Yeshua.

No one should question the authenticity of David’s let alone Yeshua’s Judaism because a convert was their ancestor.

But as I said before, if converting to Judaism were the only way for Gentiles to apprehend the blessings of the New Covenant (let alone Sinai), then as I said above, God’s promise to Abraham would fail.

two pathsSo through Messiah, another avenue was created, one that does not require we convert and become Israel. We are permitted now to come alongside Israel, not being them but being at the same table with them, partaking in the same blessings without being responsible for the same obligations. This makes it possible for the whole world to come to God, to be blessed by God, to attain the companionship of the Holy Spirit of God, and to receive the promise of a life in the world to come, all without conversion and all while remaining fully Gentile citizens of the nations.

In another Aish Ask the Rabbi column, the Rabbi states in part:

Being culturally Jewish, without belief in God, is compared to a cut flower. While it still retains much of its vitality, the flower has been cut off from its source of nutrition, and within a short time will wither and die. The ideals which have kept the Jewish people alive and thriving over the millennia – despite all odds – can only be transmitted with the framework that the Torah provides.

I’ve mentioned in this blog post and several others including this one, that we “Messianic Gentiles” actually have a very specific duty, that of encouraging and supporting Jews in Messiah (any Jew we may encounter, actually) to return to Torah and to more fully observe the mitzvot.

Without Jewish devotion to Torah, as the Aish Rabbi states, what God has preserved in the Jewish people will eventually fade…and without Israel, we Gentiles have no hope, because 100% of the promised blessings we receive God made with Israel, not us!

That’s why Yeshua is the King to the Jews first and only after, the King of the nations of the world. Whether the realization is comfortable or not, Israel is the gatekeeper, it guards all the doors, it holds all the keys, all through God’s covenants with Israel, and all through the person of Israel’s King, King Messiah, Son of David.

There may well be some valid reasons for Gentiles converting to Judaism, but they are all minimized within the Messianic Jewish realm simply because, as Paul pointed out repeatedly, it’s not necessary in order for a Gentile to have an authentic relationship with God. Particularly for the Gentile but also for the Jewish people, the cornerstone, the lynchpin to that relationship is Messiah. He opened the door that let the Gentiles into a full relationship with God, and he brought the very beginnings of what will someday be the completion of God’s New Covenant promises to Israel, and only through Israel, to the world.

aloneWe non-Jews should not dismiss or denigrate converts to Judaism, regardless of which branch they convert into, but we should rest assured that it is not a requirement either. This may be confusing relative to Gentile identity in Messianic community (which is why I suspect such Gentiles either covert to Judaism, return to the Gentile Church, or just give up on religion completely), but what Jews and Gentiles don’t yet understand about the non-Jew’s role and function among Israel, is well understood by God.

If I, as a non-Jew who studies within a Messianic Jewish framework, am never accepted as who I am, either by Gentiles or Jews, I can take comfort that in the privacy of my prayers and studies, I am still accepted by God. I can be a disciple and a Goy. I can be who I am. I don’t have to become someone else or pretend to possess another’s responsibilities to stand in the presence of the Almighty.

Chag Shavuot Sameach!