Tag Archives: shabbos

Noahides, Talmidei Yeshua, and Shabbos Observance Revisited

On Facebook, I found a link to a YouTube video titled Can a Noahide/Non-Jew Keep Shabbos? and naturally I was intrigued. I should say that I have a pretty good idea how an Orthodox Rabbi would answer that question, but I watched the video anyway.

Afterward, I looked up the source, EmunahChannel.com, and discovered that the Rabbi answering the question on the video is Rav Dror Moshe Cassouto. According to the site’s About page:

Rav Dror Moshe Cassouto brings to us rare honest pure Emuna principals of Rabbi Nachman. Our hope is that our Torah Videos will bring you closer to the Bore Olam (Creator of the Universe) and to serve Him with joy, faith, and trust (Simcha, Emunah and Bitachon).

Learn the real meaning of life, the real purpose in life available to you today! Find Fulfillment, Acceptance, Purpose for your life. Discover the good points in yourself and others, and Finding how to serve God with every aspect of your being: Your mind, Your talents, Your emotions.

Breslov teachings from Rabbi Dror Moshe Cassouto, Jerusalem, Israel. Torah Shiur / Shiurim.

There’s more, but you can click the link I provided above and read all of the content for yourself.

Recently, I wrote a blog post called Not a Noahide, in which I was reminded in the comments section, I probably should have called “More than a Noahide.” I also wrote a companion piece titled Talmidei Yeshua which addresses what we Judaicly-aware Gentiles in Yeshua (Jesus) should call ourselves and what that’s supposed to mean (an ongoing process of self-definition).

They both were inspired by a source that attempts to draw parallels between Noahides and we non-Jewish “Talmidei Yeshua,” or a population that’s more commonly known as Messianic Gentiles.

ShabbatI mentioned the “ongoing process of self-definition” above, but this is also a process of trying to understand the role of the non-Jew in Jewish religious and communal space. A Noahide’s role is well-defined by the various branches of Judaism, but not so the role of the “Talmidei Yeshua” in Messianic Jewish space.

But, unless you’ve already looked at the nearly seven minute video of Rav Cassouto’s response to the question at hand, you probably want to know what he said. Here are my rough notes, which I typed into notepad as I was listening to the Rav speak.

Halachically no. Must violate some portion of shabbat.

Any Gentile who does observe Shabbos must be punished horribly.

Not that they don’t want us to keep shabbos, but it was a gift to Israel from Hashem.

To do so, they must convert to Am Yisrael and the converts are loved in six ways, and born Jews are loved in five.

The purpose of our life is to be humble and me must be humble that we are not Am Yisrael. A Gentile can believe in the One God, but may still not believe that God chose the people of Israel as the chosen nation and they have certain priorities and privleges that other nations don’t have.

We can enjoy shabbos but need to violate Shabbos in a minor way like turning on a light. Not allowed to receive the Shabbos like Am Yisrael. The purpose is to be humble.

Be humble and crown Hashem and to serve Him. Gentiles level of doing this is less than Am Yisrael. If you convert, your level is elevated to Am Yisrael.

Rav Dror Moshe Cassouto
Rav Dror Moshe Cassouto

These are rough notes, so they may seem a tad disjointed. The bottom line is that halachically, Gentiles are not to observe the Shabbat in the manner of Am Yisrael because we are not Am Yisrael. We cannot claim to have fulfilled the mitzvah of Shabbat observance in the manner of the Jews.

However, if we not only acknowledge the existence of the One God but also that He is the God who chose Am Yisrael to be elevated above the nations, then we can appreciate the Shabbat in a similar manner to Am Yisrael, as long as we violate the Shabbat in some sense, such as turning on and off a light switch. Seems simple enough as far as it goes.

To truly be able to observe Shabbos and fulfill the mitzvah, a Gentile must convert to Am Yisarel. The Rav also said that Hashem loves the convert even more than the born Jew, which is interesting.

But I don’t believe Gentile Talmidei Yeshua are only Noahides by another name. I believe we are more. If I didn’t, then I’d have to admit that faith and trust in Yeshua is meaningless. If that were true, why did the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul) approach the Gentile God-Fearers in the synagogues of his day and reveal to them the good news of Rav Yeshua? They were already God-fearers. What would have been the point?

The matter of halachah and Shabbos observance by the Gentile Talmidei Yeshua has been a hotly debated topic in the Messianic blogosphere and many other venues over the years. I’ve commented on this many times, including in Messianic Jewish Shabbat Observance and the Gentile.

I doubt we can draw a direct parallel between Rav Cassouto’s commentary and the various opinions on the same topic in the Messianic realm. It’s difficult to reconcile this with what we read in Isaiah 56, although I’ve certainly tried.

For a variety of reasons I’ve written about at length previously, I don’t particularly keep a Shabbat of any sort. I certainly don’t want to attempt anything that would approach the level of observance of my Jewish spouse, and her’s isn’t what you’d call “Orthodox” (and I’ve been chided by her in the past for trying).

As I write this, she’s preparing to go to shul for Shabbos services, which pleases me.

MessiahI suspect that in Messianic Days, the people of the nations will likely keep some sort of Shabbos, but how that will compare to Jewish observance, I cannot say. In spite of the opinions of many and what they teach, I think the specific details aren’t definitively available.

That said, I suspect that, just as the Acts 15 Jerusalem letter to the ancient Gentile “Talmidei Yeshua” defined a less stringent level of observance than that incumbant upon Am Yisrael, our Shabbat observance, even in the Kingdom of Heaven, will still not be quite the same as that of the Jews.

So perhaps in the present age, we have a bit of latitude as to how we choose to honor Hashem on Shabbos. I know when I say that, I drive certain people nuts. Especially in religious terms, we like to have our lives well-ordered and highly specified. We want the rules and then we want to either obey those rules as Holy edicts from Heaven, or to adapt those rules and then say to ourselves that our adaptation is the Holy edict from Heaven (as opposed to the “man-made rules” of the Rabbis, who we are nonetheless sourcing).

We are more than Noahides, but what we are remains indistinct, at least as an overarching set of standards for we “Talmidei Yeshua.” According to the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul Within Judaism, there may not have been a definitive set of standards and roles, even for our ancient counterparts.

That’s also something that drives people nuts, but we can’t reasonably fill in the gaps in our knowledge with our imagination (although a great deal of theology and doctrine in certain circles does this to one degree or another).

All I’m doing here is attempting an honest (however brief) examination of the topic from the perspective of an “average guy”. Face it. I’m no scholar, leader, teacher, or pundit. I’m just a person trying to figure it all out who happens to write about that journey.

shabbatWhat does that mean to you as the non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ)? Right now, it can mean whatever you want it to mean in terms of your own conscience and your understanding of the message of the Bible.

The Bible is highly biased toward Israel and the Jewish people, so we only have certain portions that directly speak to the nations. Interpreting those correctly, particularly within a Jewish document defining a Jewish context and covenant relationship with Hashem, is no small task.

Neither is our individual relationship with God. We progress one step at a time with the understanding that our movement is not at all linear. We learn by doing.

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Aid the oppressed. Uphold the rights of the orphan. Defend the cause of the widow.

Isaiah 1:17

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What Can Non-Jews Learn From Jewish Shabbos Observance?

Shabbat is a time to re-connect with family and friends, a time to bring sanctity and peace into our lives. But the real secret of Shabbat is that we can bring its gifts into the rest of the week. Here are seven lessons Shabbat can teach us that have the power to transform our weekdays.

-Sara Debbie Gutfreund
“No More Monday Blues”
Aish.com

mondayLike a lot of people who have a traditional Monday through Friday work week, I dislike Mondays. It’s tough readjusting from being able to sleep in and having a more relaxed day on Saturday and Sunday to waking up and driving to work while it’s still dark out. So I was intrigued when I read the title of Gutfreund’s article.

Then when I started reading the content, I was confused. How can you leverage Shabbat, a unique day in the Jewish seven-day week, to do away not only with “Monday blues,” but the frustrations of all of the days of the typical work week?

After all, observant Jews refrain from many activities on Shabbat that they freely partake of the other six days of the week. You can’t have Shabbat for the full seven days, can you?

You can click the link above to read Gutfreund’s short article and see how (or if) she makes her point, but the general idea is to take elements or principles from Shabbat observance and apply them to your day-to-day life (well, Jewish day-to-day life since she’s writing to a Jewish audience).

And while we non-Jews don’t have a specific commandment to observe Shabbat (at least in the manner of Jews, depending on how you interpret certain portions of Scripture), it may not be too much of a stretch to say that some of what Gutfreund’s article suggests might have more universal applications.

First things first: If Shabbat is a time to draw closer to our family and to God, we can still do that during the rest of the week, at least at specific moments. Even if we are too busy (travel for work for example), we can still keep the importance of family and God close to our hearts and realize they are the priority…they are why we are working in the first place, so we can devote our resources to them.

Elevate the physical: This is a rather contra-Christian perspective since the Church emphasizes the Spiritual and tends to minimize the physical. On the other hand, we live in a physical world and everything we need in a material sense, comes from the hand of God. We can choose to recognize the presence and provision of God in everything around us any day of the week.

shabbosShare with others: I suppose this should be a no-brainer and certainly not limited to a single day of the week.

Be in the moment: Pay attention to what’s really important in your environment on a moment-by-moment basis. This is pretty hard to do since, during work, you have responsibilities, some important, but others you just think are important. However, we can still take breaks in our routine to re-connect with the presence of God.

Gratitude: Again, this should be a no-brainer and it goes back to the realization that everything we have at any moment issues from the Almighty. How can we not be grateful daily?

Learning: While an observant Jew may have more time for Torah study during Shabbat, many Jews study on a daily basis, when they first get up, on their lunch hour, or in the evening. Since many Christians also understand the value of daily devotionals, this shouldn’t be difficult for religious non-Jews to grasp.

Unity: Of course Gutfreund means Jewish unity, which, as non-Jews, does not include us, but we can take these principles and apply them to a sense of unity we have with all disciples of Yeshua (Jesus). We can also recognize that we can stand in solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people, and particularly Messianic Jews, since we not only share these general principles with them, but also recognize the living revelation of our Rav and anticipate the return of Moshiach.

Some non-Jews in Messiah choose to observe or guard a Saturday Shabbat in one manner or another. While we, by definition, cannot actually fulfill the mitzvah of observing Shabbos the way a Jewish person can, it is still possible to perform many of the practices associated with Shabbat and allow a measure of rest and reconnection to penetrate our lives as well.

jewish prayer shabbosIf my wife observed Shabbat in a more traditional manner in our home, then I would as well, but as the Jewish member of our marriage, she would need to take the lead. I’m very pleased that on most Saturdays, she goes to shul, even though that’s not something she chooses to share with me. I’ve said before that one of the roles of non-Jews is to assist Jewish people in performing greater levels of observance. If my not sharing her worship with her frees her to have more affiliation with local Jewish community and to draw nearer to Hashem on Shabbos, then perhaps that’s a mitzvah that I, as a non-Jew, can uniquely fulfill.

Recently, the discussion on this blog post focused on methods of deriving mitzvot for non-Jews from the Apostolic Scriptures. I don’t know if we could find a commandment directing Gentiles to facilitate greater Torah observance in Jewish friends and family members, but I’m satisfied that I am performing a duty for my spouse in accordance with Hashem’s wishes for Jews to worship on Shabbos.

She Goes to Synagogue and He Does the Lawn Work

The Jewish people in the land of Egypt had sunk to the lowest possible level of impurity — so much so that it was nearly impossible to distinguish between Jew and gentile. And then, suddenly, Hashem pulled them out from beneath all their impurity, and they were free — ready for a new beginning and spiritual greatness.

One must remember that no matter how far he has sunk, and as hopeless as his situation may seem, he has still not descended to the level of his forefathers in Egypt. His spiritual predicament cannot be worse than theirs. He must remind himself of the Exodus and internalize its meaning. He can then look toward the time when Hashem, in His mercy and in His kindness, will simply lift him up, freeing him from his seemingly hopeless state, and allowing him to begin his spiritual ascent anew.

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” p.43
Thursday’s Commentary on Parashas Acharei
A Daily Dose of Torah

I know I’ve said this before, but I really enjoy studying from the Jewish texts, at least those I’m capable of comprehending. In reading the studies contained in “A Daily Dose of Torah” I find myself again drawn toward Judaism as a method of study, a way of understanding God, and even as a lifestyle. In Judaism, there seems to be such a great richness of tradition and apprehension of faith, trust, and obedience that much of Evangelical Christianity lacks.

I live with a Jew. Actually, right now, I live with three of them, but only my wife is the least bit religious. Only she regularly worships at synagogue on Shabbat, and this is as it should be because, after all, she’s Jewish. It’s a commandment from Sinai given to Israel, and as a Jew, she is part of Israel.

I, on the other hand, have great difficulty being obedient even to those commandments I know unequivocally apply to all people of the nations as well as to the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua. How could I ever hope to attain the level of obedience and devotion expected of a Jew?

No, it’s not that Jewish people are perfectly obedient and devoted, but any Gentile aspiring to any sort of Jewish “lifestyle” might want to take stock of how they’re doing as a Gentile first before having the chutzpah to believe he or she can voluntarily take on board the much greater responsibilities and duties God requires of the Jewish people.

A Jew is born into the covenant whether he or she wants to be or not. They’re not given a choice. Any Gentile considering conversion certainly is making a choice and, like deciding to get married, cannot possibly see the long-term results and consequences of such a monumental decision.

The same goes for Gentiles who remain Gentiles but, through one thought process or another, come to believe they can or should either voluntarily take on board some, most, or all of the Torah mitzvot, or who have decided for themselves that they are (somehow) equally obligated to the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews.

Helping the HomelessReally, are you doing so well at a lesser level of obligation and obedience that you need the additional challenge in your life? Has doing charity, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, abstaining from even the hint of lashon hara (evil speech, gossip, denigrating another human being through words) become so humdrum and boring that you require adopting the higher standards of Torah in order to keep your life from becoming mundane?

When I take stock of my life, day by day, I realize how limited I am and how even those requirements Hashem has placed upon the people of the nations sometimes seem far beyond my abilitites. Why do I think I’d do any better in davening three times a day with a minyan, donning tzitzit, laying tefillin, observing Shabbos, keeping glatt kosher, and many of the other mitzvot of Torah?

He explains that both Shabbos and Mikdash (the Sanctuary) represent a dimension of love between Hashem and His nation, the former in time and the latter in space. On Shabbos, Hashem, as it were, invites every Jew to spend the day in His House, to live in the holiness of Hashem’s embrace and bask in his radiance. The Mikdash, too, represents this loving relationship, as symbolized by the two Cherubim that faced each other in the Sanctuary’s innermost chamber, the kodesh hakodashim.

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.99
Thursday’s Commentary on Parashas Kedoshim
A Daily Dose of Torah

I have to recognize that, while God loves the whole world and while the Gentile disciples of Messiah are also loved and cherished by Hashem, it is Israel who receives a special love and relationship with the Almighty, and without Israel’s “chosenness,” we Gentiles would have no hope at all. Thus, God has given His people Israel, the Jewish people, special gifts as well as special obligations, in this case, Shabbat and the Holy Temple.

It’s not that we Gentile believers won’t have a role or a place in either in future Messianic Days, it’s just that we shouldn’t forget where they came from or to whom they were given.

This date marks the death of Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884), an American-Jewish statesman. Benjamin was the second Jew to serve in the U.S. Senate, representing Louisiana. When another senator accused him of being an “Israelite in Egyptian clothing,” Benjamin, who had married into a prominent Roman Catholic family, replied: “It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amidst the thundering and lightnings of Mount Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain.”

-from “This Day in Jewish History,” Iyar 11
Aish.com

Judah Benjamin’s reply to his fellow senator is as relevant today as when he first spoke those words.

I suppose in some sense, this is why my wife goes to shul on Shabbos and I stay home, mow the yard, and try to fix the broken sprinkler system so that I can water our lawn. It’s not that I’m necessarily forbidden from worshiping with my wife. After all, there are plenty of intermarried couples, both at the Chabad, and at our local Conservative/Reform synagogue. It’s just that it’s more important for her to observe the mitzvot associated with Shabbos than it is for me, because she is a Jew and I’m not.

ShabbatEven if I somehow believed that the Shabbat is also incumbent upon me as a Gentile, the Jewish people kept and preserved the Shabbat for thousands of years, while the ancestors of every non-Jew alive today were worshiping pagan gods, consorting with heathen temple prostitutes, and in some cases, feeding their children to sacrificial fires in obscene fertility rites.

We have no worthiness or honor of our own not did our forefathers. It is only through God’s abundant mercy and kindness that He provided any way at all for the Gentile to even approach His Throne in the most humble and penitent manner.

Let us strive to improve ourselves and to become obedient to those few things God requires of the Gentile disciples. If we can master our yetzer hara and if there are more requirements and more gifts Hashem wishes to assign to us, we will receive them from the hand of Messiah in all due time.

Renewing Her Relationship with Shabbos and Hashem

And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the Lord have consecrated you.

Exodus 31:12-13 (JPS Tanakh)

The Talmud (Shabbos 10b) describes Shabbos as a special gift the Almighty gave to the Jewish people.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from “Observing Shabbos is a sign of your relationship with the Almighty,” p.218
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tisa
Growth Through Torah

My wife is continuing to renew her relationship with Hashem. Today (Shabbos, as I write this), she went to the Chabad for Shabbat services. I couldn’t be more delighted.

Why? Let me explain.

I’ve mentioned before that I believe the duty of non-Jews in Messiah and particularly those of us who identify as Messianic Gentiles, is to support, and if possible, inspire a return to greater Torah observance for Jewish people, and frankly, whether they’re disciples of Yeshua or not.

But without me doing a thing, something remarkable happened this morning. My wife (who is not Messianic in the slightest) went to Shabbat services. As I said above, I couldn’t be more delighted. She’s been lighting the Shabbos candle in our home somewhat intermittently over the past few months, but this is the first time in a long time when I’ve found her all dressed up and heading out the door to go to the Chabad to worship.

Shabbat candlesI’ve tried my hand at personal Shabbat observance and let’s say the results weren’t spectacular. Shabbat observance for anyone requires a great deal of discipline and preparation and really, I think it can only be done when it is fully integrated into your lifestyle. It would probably be best if you grew up in an observant home, but short of that, practicing and striving to observe Shabbos over the course of months, ideally with a knowledgable Jewish person guiding you, would certainly be effective.

But after my own “experiment,” and especially knowing my wife would not support me observing Shabbat (my “honey do” list has certain duties I must perform on Saturday), I decided that if it’s more important for her to observe Shabbat than it is for me, then my observing Shabbat, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t really matter all that much. I think Rabbi Pliskin would probably agree:

The Chofetz Chayim gave two parables to illustrate how Shabbos serves as a sign of the relationship between the Jewish people and the Almighty. When two people are engaged to be married they send each other gifts. Even if difficulties arise between them, as long as they keep the gifts that they received from each other we know they still plan to get married. But if we see that they have returned the gifts, then we know that the relationship between them is over. Similarly, as long as a person observes Shabbos we see that he still has a relationship with the Almighty.

-ibid

Granted, she drove to services and it’s possible she will perform other melachah today, but this is still a powerful leap forward.

The effect of observing the Sabbath properly has another dimension. The Midrash (Shemos 25) states: R’ Levi said, “If the Jews will observe Shabbos properly, even one day, the son of David will arrive (i.e. we will return to Eretz Yisrael).” Why? For it is considered the equivalent of all the mitzvos, as the verse states (Tehillim 95:7): “For He is our God and we are the flock He pastures and the sheep in His charge — even today, if we but heed His call!”

from A Mussar Thought for the Day
Sunday’s commentary on Torah Portion Vayakhel
A Daily Dose of Torah

Yes, this is midrash so we might not be able to take it literally, but I believe there is a certain truth involved in Jews performing the mitzvot with Kavanah, the return of Messiah, and the New Covenant promises of God to Israel, the Jewish people, being realized.

Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, that you may become cleansed; I will cleanse you from all your contamination and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow My decrees and guard My ordinances and fulfill them. You will dwell in the land that I gave to your forefathers; you will be a people to Me, and I will be a God to you.

Ezekiel 36:25-28 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

No, I’m not discounting the Messiah, and I know that no one comes to the Father except through the Son:

I am the bread of life. Anyone who comes to me will not be hungry, and one who believes in me will not thirst again.

John 6:35 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

MessiahI don’t believe that Yeshua-devotion and the New Covenant promises of God to Israel are mutually exclusive. In fact, they are inexorably tied to one another, since Messiah is the mediator of the New Covenant and he came the first time to lay the foundation and to make the first down payment of the New Covenant.

This may be for some of you as was said in the synagogue in Kefar Nachum (John 6:59-60), “This word is difficult. Who is able to hear it?”

Rabbi Derek Leman has been spending the past several weeks on his blog laying out his theological perspective on a Jewish understanding of the Bible including the Apostolic Scriptures, as it describes Hashem’s relationship with the ancient and modern Jewish people. One of the things he said, and I agree with him, is that God didn’t abandon the Jewish people, and switch to the Christian Church at the end of the Biblical narrative. He can be found just as commonly in the Synagogue as in the Church (and having worshiped in a synagogue setting in years past, I can attest that His Presence was there).

So I don’t believe that God has abandoned my Jewish wife anymore than He has abandoned me for being a Christian (or Messianic Gentile if you prefer). I do believe that God expects my wife, as a Jew, to observe the mitzvot, including the Shabbat, since they were given specifically to the Children of Israel (as opposed to all mankind) at Sinai. The existence of a large number of “grafted in” Gentiles does not take away uniquely Jewish obligations and duties to God, and if my being a disciple of Yeshua means anything at all, then it should mean that I will do everything in my power to support and encourage my wife to observe the mitzvot associated with Shabbos.

The first of the zemiros that many people sing on Friday night begins with the words: “Whoever hallows Shabbos as befits it, whoever safeguards Shabbos according to the law [and refrains] from desecrating it, his reward is exceedingly great, in accordance with his deed.”

from A Closer Look at the Siddur
Sunday’s commentary on Torah Portion Vayakhel
A Daily Dose of Torah

So even if she didn’t light the Shabbos candles last night but she davened at shul (today) on Shabbos, then in accordance with her deeds, may Hashem reward her.

Of course, this should only be the beginning:

Rashi comments on this that rest on Shabbos should be a permanent rest and not merely a temporary rest. I heard from Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz the following explanation: A temporary rest means that a person has not really changed his inner traits, but he merely controls them on Shabbos. He still has a bad temper and has a tendency to engage in quarrels, but because of the elevation of Shabbos he has self-discipline and these traits are not manifest. But the ultimate in Shabbos observance is that a person should uproot those negative traits which are contradictory to peace of mind on Shabbos. One needs to uproot such traits as anger and the tendency to quarrel with others. Only then is your rest on Shabbos a complete rest.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from “To have peace of mind on Shabbos you need to have mastery over your traits,” p.220
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tisa
Growth Through Torah

intermarriageI’m choosing to interpret this a bit differently than I think Rashi and Rabbi Pliskin have in mind. I think that when a Jewish person observes some portion of Shabbos but not others, they are achieving a sort of temporary rest. Only when a Jewish person observes all of the aspects of Shabbos do they achieve the permanent rest they find in the complete acceptance of Hashem’s gift to Israel.

I’m keenly aware that my wife very likely sees me as an obstruction to her Shabbos observance since, after all, not only am I not a Jewish husband, I am in fact, a Christian husband, and like most Jews, she sees Christian theology, doctrine, and practice as the antithesis to religious Judaism and Torah observance.

More’s the pity.

I probably embarrassed her this morning, though I didn’t mean to. I spent about an hour and a half at the gym and when I got home covered in sweat, she was just coming out of our bedroom dressed quite nicely. I was startled and although I thought I knew the answer, I asked where she was going.

“Where do you think?” she responded.

I was thrilled she was going to services but she said I was “acting weird about it.” I guess I didn’t get my actual emotions across, but then I know she doesn’t want me to comment too much about her observance or relationship with Jewish community.

In the end, if my staying home and doing chores on Shabbat somehow frees her to go to synagogue, daven with Jewish community, and to observe more of the mitzvot, then I am content to be in that role. This is the role, at least from my tiny viewpoint, that I believe God has assigned me as a Messianic Gentile. The rest is in Hashem’s hands.

My Shabbat That Wasn’t

Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the light of the Sabbath.

-from the Artscroll Sefard Siddur

That’s as far as I got on observing Erev Shabbat or really all of the Shabbat yesterday (as you read this). I dropped my wife and daughter off at the airport very early on Friday morning and thought I had the whole day ahead of me to make Erev Shabbat preparations.

But my plans were already unraveling.

Actually, this all started Thursday afternoon as I was driving home from work. Like an estimated 50 million people worldwide, I suffer from a form of tinnitus or what some people call “ringing in the ears.” For me, it’s always present in my left ear and occasionally I’ll hear intermittent sounds in my right, usually when under stress.

Most of the time, I can ignore it unless it’s very quiet, and even when I’m trying to sleep, it’s more like a form of “white noise” so it doesn’t prevent me from dozing off.

But for some unknown reason on Thursday afternoon, my right ear started perceiving loud and highly distracting sounds, so much so that at their worse, they actually blocked out the tinnitus noise I experience in my left ear.

Any loud noise, especially a sudden noise like a car door slamming, was like having my head shoved in an echo chamber. All sudden sounds had a clanging “metallic” quality that seemed to bounce back and forth inside my skull.

The long and the short of it is that I got a grand total of two to two and a half hours of sleep Thursday night/Friday morning. By the time I took my family to the airport at 5 a.m., my hearing was back to normal (what’s normal for me), but I felt like my brain was packed with boiled inner tubes and rusty railroad spikes. On top of that, there were two tasks that had suddenly come up that had to be resolved on Friday without fail.

Between my inability to concentrate and having to focus (as best I could) on all of the phone calls and appointments related to solving the two issues in question (they’re personal enough for me not to share them online), any time I had to organize Erev Shabbat observance was consumed.

The good news is that everything that needed to get done got done more than an hour before sundown. I have to thank the kind and understanding people involved for going the extra mile and helping me achieve my goals. I was very impressed with the amount of caring that these people extended to someone they had never met before.

The bad news is that by the time that candle lighting came around, I didn’t have anything prepared besides the candles. So I kindled the Shabbat lights, said the blessings, and instead of a hearty meal, challah, and wine, I settled for a couple of tamales and a beer. Actually, they were very good tamales and a very tasty Fat Tire amber ale.

But I learned a few things.

I can’t remember the source and a quick Google search yields no useful results, but I recall reading a Shabbat commentary stating that a particular Rabbi would spend all week preparing for his Shabbat observance. At some point mid-week, when he found a lamb he wanted to roast for the Erev Shabbat meal, he would loudly declare, “This is for Shabbat!” He would do this anytime he acquired something to be used in honor of the Shabbat.

I can see I will need to do the same. OK, not the loud, public declarations, but spending the entire week gathering and preparing for Friday afternoon.

While The Sabbath Table seems like a highly useful resource, I’m going to have to spend more time with it to map the flow of the prayers to my needs, particularly since I’ll be observing Shabbos as an individual, and particularly because I’m not Jewish.

Also, while I have a pretty good idea of the level of observance I will attempt, I will need to “nail down” what I want to do so that I don’t spend my rest fumbling over the prayers and worrying about procedure when I need to be welcoming the Shabbat Queen.

Which brings up an interesting question: my level of observance. I know some people will be thinking that I’m “picking and choosing” the “rules” to Shabbat rather than relying on the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Like it or not, though, there is preparation that goes into Shabbat and there are different standards of observance. I want this to be a joy, not a cumbersome activity, and “loading up” on a series of mitzvot that I don’t understand and have never performed before will just distract me from the actual purpose of my Shabbos Project, which is to honor God and experience some small foretaste of the coming Messianic Kingdom.

shabbatFor the rest of it, I can choose a wine, challah or at least some other acceptable substitute, and particularly plan out meals so I don’t find myself in a situation where I’m without an appropriate meal or snack at any point during the twenty-four plus hours of Shabbos.

I’ve come to think of the mitzvot related to Shabbat not in terms of restrictions and how much I want to be “obligated,” but rather how much I want to be blessed. The less “weekly baggage” I employ, the more of me, my thoughts, feelings, attention, and behavior is turned on this holy day to God.

Much of the Book of Exodus is dedicated to the exquisitely fine details of preparing to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert along with all of the objects to be used, the robes of the priests, and everything else. The lists of activities and materials can seem mind numbing to read through, and I’m sure there have been more than a few people who have struggled with this section of the Torah and couldn’t wait to get past it to more “interesting” stories.

But consider. It takes all of this preparation (this is only a small sample)…

You shall make on the breastpiece chains of twisted cordage work in pure gold. You shall make on the breastpiece two rings of gold, and shall put the two rings on the two ends of the breastpiece. You shall put the two cords of gold on the two rings at the ends of the breastpiece. You shall put the other two ends of the two cords on the two filigree settings, and put them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, at the front of it. You shall make two rings of gold and shall place them on the two ends of the breastpiece, on the edge of it, which is toward the inner side of the ephod. You shall make two rings of gold and put them on the bottom of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, on the front of it close to the place where it is joined, above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. They shall bind the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it will be on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece will not come loose from the ephod.

Exodus 28:22-28 (NASB)

…to get to the “big event:”

He erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Exodus 40:33-38

If all of the details God provided Moses had not been attended to exactly as God had given them, then there would not have been the dwelling of the Divine Presence among the Children of Israel.

In my reading, I came across an interesting detail:

You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.

Exodus 35:3 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

The Tanakh commentary for this verse states:

The Torah can be understood only as it is interpreted by the Oral Law, which God taught to Moses, and which he transmitted to the nation. The Oral Law makes clear that only the creation of a fire and such use of it as cooking and baking are forbidden, but there is no prohibition against enjoying its light and heat. Deviant sects that denied the teachings of the Sages misinterpreted this passage, so they would sit in the dark throughout the Sabbath, just as they sat in spiritual darkness all their lives.

I know a lot of people who will disagree with the above-quoted paragraph, but since the Torah is very limited in telling us exactly how one is to observe the Shabbat, whether you think the Oral Law was given to Moses or it is the compilation of Rabbinic rulings and commentaries about the Shabbat and all the other mitzvot, the fact remains that Judaism, the inheritor of the twelve tribes and of the Torah, has been the keeper of the Shabbat for more than 3500 years. Like it or not, when a non-Jew and a disciple of the Messiah enters into any form of Shabbat observance, we’re entering Jewish worship and ritual space.

praying alonePages 131 to 155 of Aaron Eby’s book First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer contain a minimalist siddur adapted for use by Messianic Gentiles (that would be me). Starting this (Sunday) morning, and at least for the next week, I intend to participate in regular prayer time in a more formal manner than I’ve become accustomed to.

Some years ago, I all but stopped using a siddur in prayer as part of my effort in backing out of Jewish space and honoring my wife who, as a Jew, thought it rather strange that a Christian Goy like me would be doing “Jewish” stuff. However, for the next week, it’ll just be me at home…well, me and God, and I find myself drawn to something I’ve missed.

No, I won’t be donning a tallit and kippah or laying tefillin (and in any event, although Aaron believes under certain circumstances these practices are appropriate for Gentiles, he did not include the applicable blessings for the use of such objects in his book). I’m a Messianic Gentile and am interpreting the will of my Master in this way. I’m not telling you what you have to do or should do. I’m describing what I did last week that didn’t work, and what I’m going to do in the coming week to enter a place that is a brief and precious portrait of the coming age of Messiah, may he reign in power and glory.

Discovering Myself by the Light of Torah

Question:

I came across your site and wow–I really want to become Jewish. My mother was a fairly devout Italian Catholic and my father an Anglican skeptic who never went to church. I was always so confused. But now your site has really turned me on to Judaism, a real coming home for me. What’s my next step?

Response:

Your next step is to become a better person. Develop greater faith in your soul, in your destiny, and in your Maker. Do more good, reach out to more people. Learn more wisdom, apply whatever you learn, and make life worth living.

But you don’t need to become Jewish to do any of that. Plenty of wonderful people doing beautiful things in the world are not Jewish, and G‑d is nonetheless pleased with them.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Should I Convert to Judaism?”
Chabad.org

My wife was reading this in an email newsletter from Chabad last Friday afternoon. As I came home from work, I passed by her and happened to glance at what she was viewing on her computer. I briefly saw the title and was intrigued (since she’s already Jewish and conversion is a non-issue for her). Later on, I looked up the article and read through it.

The full content of what Rabbi Freeman wrote is astonishingly applicable to the debates we see happening between the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots (particularly One Law/One Torah) movements. I recently became aware of an online dialog discussing whether the One Law/One Torah movement should or should not be considered a “Judaism”. Some of the more well-known pundits in that space were saying “no” based on the requirement to distance themselves from the large body of Talmudic authority and rulings (subsequent commentary indicates the opinions being expressed are more complicated, but that has little bearing on what I’m presenting here).

This is in contrast to how First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Founder and President Boaz Michael recently defined Messianic Judaism in his “Director’s Letter” in the Fall 2014 edition of Messiah Journal, p.10:

To me, Messianic Judaism is not just a Jewish-flavored version of Christianity. If I was asked to define Messianic Judaism, I would say, “Messianic Judaism is the practice of Judaism coupled with the realization that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the New Testament is true, and the kingdom is at hand.”

Rabbi Stuart Dauermann in a recent blog post, quoted the first five of The Hashivenu group’s seven core principles, which also defines Messianic Judaism:

  1. Messianic Judaism is a Judaism, and not a cosmetically altered “Jewish-style” version of what is extant in the wider Christian community.
  2. God’s particular relationship with Israel is expressed in the Torah, God’s unique covenant with the Jewish people.
  3. Yeshua is the fullness of Torah.
  4. The Jewish people are “us” not “them.”
  5. The richness of the Rabbinic tradition is a valuable part of our heritage as Jewish people.
Boaz Michael
Boaz Michael

Rather than emphasizing the sufficiency or the primacy of scripture to the exclusion of all other considerations or practices as does One Law/One Torah, Messianic Judaism can be thought of in the manner of the other branches of Judaism in accepting, in addition to the primacy of Torah, all of the history, traditions, customs, wisdom, and interpretations of the great Jewish sages as part of their legacy, heritage, and lived daily experience, and added to all that, “the realization that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the New Testament is true, and the kingdom is at hand.”

In his reply to the non-Jewish writer who was inquiring about conversion to Judaism, Rabbi Freeman continued:

You see, there’s Judaism and there’s Jewishness, and the two are not one and the same. Judaism is wisdom for every person on the planet and beyond. We call it the Torah, meaning “the teaching,” and it’s a divine message to all human beings containing the principles that much of humanity has already accepted as absolute truths. The idea that human life is beyond value is a teaching originating from Torah, as is the related concept that all human beings are created equal. So too, the right of every individual to literacy and education was brought to the world through Torah. And world peace as a value and goal was preached exclusively by the Torah and its prophets thousands of years before it became popular in the rest of the world. And of course, the idea that there is a single, incorporeal Being who creates and sustains all of reality, and is concerned over all that occurs with each individual, thereby giving each person, creature, event and object meaning, purpose and destiny–this is a core teaching upon which everything else rests, and the central teaching of the Torah.

That’s Judaism. Then there is Jewishness. To be Jewish means to belong to an ancient tribe, either by birth or by adoption (a.k.a. conversion).

I invite you to click on link I provided above and read R. Freeman’s entire commentary (it’s not very long). He says some amazing things about the comparison and contrast of Judaism and Jewishness. It seems, on some level, anyone who is responding to God through the basic presentation of the Torah and the awareness presented by Judaism can access God through that template, that is, through the relationship Israel has with God as understood through the Torah, but that “Judaism” isn’t the same as “Jewishness”.

Tribes have rituals. So do Jews. Males of the tribe wear particular items of clothing, such as tzitzit and kippot. Women keep a certain mode of modest dress and married women cover their hair. Men also wrap leather boxes containing parchment scrolls on the heads and arms every morning, while robed in woolen sheets with more of those tzitzit tassels. In our services, we chant ancient Hebrew and read from an ancient scroll. We have holidays that commemorate our tribal memories and establish our identity as a whole. Certain foods are taboo and other food is supervised and declared fit-for-the-tribe. Nope, you can’t get much more ancient-tribal than any of that.

The point is, none of that ritual stuff was ever meant as a universal teaching, except perhaps in a more generalized way…

Now, what I’m saying is not very PC nowadays. We live in a world of hypermobility. Not just because we own our own cars and reserve our own tickets online to go anywhere, anytime–but because we imagine our very identities to be just as mobile as our powerbook. Pick me up and take me anywhere. Today I’m a capitalist entrepreneur, tomorrow an Inuit activist, and the next day a Californian bohemian. And we can mix and match–today, you can be Italian, Nigerian, Chinese and Bostonian all in the same meal. So who is this Freeman character to tell me which tribe I belong to and which not?

To be frank, because this Freeman character considers the hyper-identity scheme to be a scam, a mass delusion and a social illness. You can switch your clothes, your eating habits, your friends, your social demeanor, your perspective on life and maybe you can even switch to a Mac. But G-d decides who you are, and the best you can do is discover it.

It almost seems as if Rabbi Freeman were borrowing his arguments from those I’ve recently heard expressed in Messianic Judaism, but maybe it’s the other way around. If indeed we consider Messianic Judaism as another branch of Judaism alongside the other branches, it stands to reason that how they think of “Judaism” and “Jewishness” should be similar, in this instance, to the Chabad among the other Judaisms.

At the same time, there are also Jewish disciples of Yeshua; their Jewishness remains significant, and it is central to their unique identity. Unity in corporate prayer between Messianic Gentiles and Jews is a beautiful and powerful testimony of Yeshua’s greatness. Such unity can only exist in a setting in which members are aware of their respective roles within the people of God.

-Aaron Eby
“Declaration of Intent for Messianic Gentiles,” p.47
First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer

Stand aloneOne of the “issues” that comes up, and Boaz Michael discusses it in the aforementioned “Director’s Letter” from Messiah Journal, is that Messianic Judaism has some difficulty in identifying the role of the Messianic Gentile within Jewish community. This, as I’ve mentioned before, is also one of my personal challenges, although I am not involved in face-to-face Jewish (or any other kind of) community at present. Still, every time I do “Jewish stuff,” it is prudent of me to be mindful of that community and to at least try to imagine what my role as a Gentile should be.

Gentiles who devote themselves to Yeshua of Nazareth are not only disciples; they are his subjects, and he is their King…

These Gentiles are no longer separated from Messiah or “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenant of promise” (Ephesians 2:12). Instead, they share in the inheritance and the destiny of the whole nation. In keeping with this identity, the God-fearing Messianic Gentile should not hesitate to join the Jewish people in formal prayer.

As Messianic Gentiles engage in these prayers, they must not lose sight of their own important and esteemed position as the crowning jewels of the nations.

-ibid

I previously wrote a two-part review of Mark D. Nanos’ paper ‘Paul’s Non-Jews Do Not Become “Jews,” But Do They Become “Jewish”?: Reading Romans 2:25-29 Within Judaism, Alongside Josephus’ which discussed some of the distinctive differences between “Jews” and “Jewishly” as it might have been perceived by the apostle Paul (and Nanos’ paper is now freely available online at the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting (JJMJS) website).

I received a number of pointed responses based on the controversial nature of the topic, but then, the idea of Gentiles operating in Jewish religious and communal space as equal co-participants tends to get controversial.

If I can take Rabbi Freeman’s commentary and adapt it to the Messianic Jewish and Gentile framework, then it seems, as the Rabbi suggests, that Gentiles are perfectly free to take the higher principles of the Torah as universal, but should reserve those rituals that are specifically “Jewishly” for the “tribal” Jewish people as the Rabbi defines them.

R. Freeman finished his response with the following paragraph.

I believe that what G-d wants from each person is that s/he examine the heritage of his ancestors, discover the truths hidden there and live in accordance with them, knowing that this is what his Creator wants from her/him. The truths are there because all of human society was originally founded upon the laws given to Adam and to Noah, along with those laws that all the children of Noah accepted upon themselves. These truths are found by examining one’s heritage through the light of Torah. The Jewish Tribe are the bearers of that light. But you don’t need to become Jewish to partake of it. Light shines for all who have eyes.

Granted, he isn’t writing with the Messianic Gentile in mind and our status in relation to Israel through our devotion to Messiah Yeshua isn’t the same as a Noahide, but I believe his basic point is essentially the right one. Jews, as tribal members (although Israel isn’t truly tribal in the modern era, they inherit was belongs to the tribes as their descendents), are the original possessors of the Torah including all of the tribal rituals assigned to them by God. The rest of us, once we are drawn to Israel by the light of Torah and the light of Messiah, discover the truth of the Torah by its light from within our own national and ancestral contexts. This is why a Gentile approaching Messianic Jewish prayer does so along a somewhat different trajectory than a Messianic Jew.

Torah platesThis is why my upcoming personal Shabbos Project is traveling a somewhat different path and why I’ve had difficulty in attempting to interpret the path as it applies to me. I’ve come to a sort of peace with it now that Shabbos is approaching and I no longer feel intimidated about having to “get everything right”. The point of the experience is to experience God, not to worry about my level of observance. I’m not going to look anything like an Orthodox Jew nor should I ever try. I want to honor God and enter His presence and with that uppermost in my mind and heart, the rest will take care of itself with a little judicious preparation.

In some ways, I’m facing the Shabbat for the first time and already I’m discovering more about myself and who I am through the Shabbat and the light of Torah, which is the portrait Rabbi Freeman has so aptly painted.