Tag Archives: tallit

What Are The Jewish Covenant Signs?


I have a few Jewish friends who wear kippahs and sometimes when I’m hanging out with them I feel out of place. Even though I am not Jewish, would there be any problem with me wearing a kippah, too?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Well, on one hand, the Pope wears a kippah.

But on the other hand, a non-Jew should not wear a kippah, since that might deceive others into thinking that he is Jewish.

In practice, non-Jews will sometimes wear a kippah while attending a Jewish religious function (many world leaders have been photographed at the Western Wall wearing a kippah), but in general a non-Jew should not wear one, due to the confusion it may cause.

However, since the idea of a kippah is to have the head covered as a reminder of God, you could certainly use some other head covering, like a cap, to serve that purpose.

from Ask the Rabbi
“Kippah for a Non-Jew”

At last spring’s First Fruits of Zion Shavuot Conference during a question and answer session, a gentlemen in the audience said that he sometimes will visit churches wearing a kippah and tallit gadol as a “witness” to the Christians of the permanency of the Torah mitzvot. The person in question isn’t Jewish and when asked at church, will admit he is not Jewish but that, in his opinion, the mitzvot pertaining to wearing tzitzit and many others, apply equally to the Christian as to the Jew based on our discipleship under the Jewish Messiah King.

The reaction from the speaker at the event (I can’t recall who was speaking at that particular moment) was that this behavior introduces a great deal of identity confusion if Christians start dressing like Jews just to make a point. Reading the “Ask the Rabbi” topic I quoted above reminded me of that interaction and confirmed that Messianic Judaism and more traditional Judaism share the same perspective on Gentiles wearing Jewish “sign” markers.

I’ve often heard various Jews in the Messianic movement object to Gentiles wearing tzitzit, keeping Shabbat, and (apparently) observing the kashrut laws, as violating the “sign markers” that specifically identify Jewish people and their covenant relationship with God. The “pushback” I’ve read from One Law proponents and some others in the Hebrew Roots movement is that there’s a great deal of confusion about what Torah mitzvot is and isn’t permitted Gentile Christians, so how can anyone be held accountable to what may or may not be permitted?

From a more traditional Jewish perspective, I suppose the matter is more clear-cut, but in terms of the Messianic Jewish view on the matter, things seem a tad more indistinct. Some more “hard-line” folks in Messianic Judaism seem to believe that Gentile Christians should stay in their (our) churches and behave in no way whatsoever that resembles a Jew. Others, such as the fine folks at First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), state that many and even perhaps most of the mitzvot are permitted a Gentile, but the vast majority of them are not actual covenant obligations for us.

Opinions seem to vary widely and that’s where the confusion comes in. If you are a Gentile Christian but are attracted to the beauty and wonder of the Torah mitzvot, and you want to express a high level of respect toward Jews and Judaism, what is allowed and what is not permitted?

My personal response, and out of respect for my Jewish wife, was to put away just about everything, my kippah, my tallit, my tefillin, and to abstain from reciting virtually all of the Hebrew prayers (I still keep a siddur on my nightstand, however).

But if I wanted to explore what a Gentile might be allowed that normally is considered “Jewish,” then where are the boundaries and limits, or are they clearly defined at all?

In my search, (which has been rather brief so far) I actually didn’t find much.

In general, a brit refers to a covenant–a pledge of obligation between two parties which is sometimes accompanied by a token signifying the brit. Historically, there have been three signs that point out the three major covenants between God and people.

The first is Shabbat, which was given to serve as a sign of creation: “The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel” (Exodus 31:16-17).

The second is the rainbow, which was given to symbolize the renewal of mankind after the Noah flood: “God further said, `This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh’ ” (Genesis 9:12-15).

And the last is [circumcision], which was established as the sign signifying the beginning of the Hebrew nation: “Such shall be the cove­nant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:10-11).

Circumcision came to be regarded as the unique sign of our covenant and gradually emerged as a physical symbol of a child’s joining the com­munity of Israel.

-by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld & Sharon M. Strassfeld
“Three Biblical Signs of Covenant”

Really? Just three? Surely that can’t be it.

The Rainbow, circumcision, and Shabbat.

First off, the sign of the Rainbow that God presented to Noah applies to all of humanity, not just the Jewish people so that leaves only two that are specifically Jewish: circumcision, or the brit milah, and Shabbat.

This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. –Genesis 17:10-11 (ESV)

Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”-Exodus 31:16-17 (ESV)

That would seem to leave the field wide open for Gentiles to observe Torah mitzvot that are not signs of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.

But is it really that simple? Of course, not.

As the Aish Rabbi pointed out, even wearing something as simple as a kippah, which is not overtly commanded in the Torah, can create “identity confusion” as far as Jews, Christians, and everyone else are concerned.

Jewish in JerusalemA few “Messianic Gentiles” dress frum but that really isn’t such a problem. It’s more likely to see certain non-Jews wearing tzitzit, either attached to a tallit katan or far more inappropriately, on their belt loops.

I don’t know if it’s a crime, a sin, or just embarrassing to be a Gentile and to deliberately create the impression that you’re Jewish, (even if that’s not your exact intension) but it sure does mess with people’s heads as far as who a Jew is and isn’t.

However, I have to be fair and say that the Messianic Jewish movement doesn’t appear to have a very firm set of standards as far as behaviors that represent “covenant signs” telling non-Jews in the Messianic/Hebrew Roots movement what to avoid (that is, if the non-Jews choose to show respect to Jewish people).

If such standards exist and I’ve just missed them, I’d appreciate it if someone could point me in the right direction. If they don’t exist, maybe it’s time someone got around to addressing this issue. If at least some folks are going to make an issue of Gentiles and Jewish covenant signs, then we should all be able to point our fingers to a set of standards that defines what we’re all talking about.


Cloaked in Light

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zt”l, offered a parable to understand why we do not say hallel on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “This can be compared to a king who loves his children very much. Since they are close to the king they grasp his greatness and can sing his praises as is fitting.

After a while, these children left the king’s palace to a distant place. They went on a long and dark journey. Their expensive garments became soiled and torn. Any remnant of good they had taken from the king’s table was lost and they virtually forgot their noble lineage due to the difficult circumstances they were required to endure. After enduring much difficulty and pain, they returned to the gate of their father the king. Obviously they were filled with shame and at first they were certainly unable to praise the king as is fitting. How could they explain why they had left and strayed to such distant places? It was only after the king graciously forgave them and they were able to remove their soiled garments that they began to return to themselves. After spending some time in the presence of the king, partaking of the delicacies of the palace, they could once again praise the king as is fitting.”

Rav Levi Yitzchak explained, “Each year we are just like those princes. When Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur arrive, we feel so ashamed of our sins that we cannot possibly say hallel—fitting praise for the King. It is only after we are completely cleansed from all sins and have prepared for Sukkos that we can once again praise the King eight days as is fitting.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The King’s Table
Arachin 10

Rema writes that one should attempt to begin reading about something good and finish reading about something good. Mishnah Berurah explains that Rema means that one should begin and end with something good about the Jewish People.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Beginning and ending an aliyah with something good”
Rema Siman 138, Seif 1

The general custom during the traditional Torah readings on Shabbat, is to begin each Aliyah with something positive about the Jews and to end each aliyah in the same manner. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it is one of the reasons the portions of each aliyah are selected as they are. We can learn a general principle of life from this.

I once heard a high school teacher say that whenever he found it necessary to criticize a student, he would take the student to his office to avoid embarrassing him in front of the class, then he would begin the criticism by giving the student a compliment and, after delivering the “painful” portion of the rebuke, would end by delivering another compliment. In this manner, the student would not feel as if his relationship with the teacher was based solely on the child’s failure, and that there were other qualities of the student that the teacher recognized and admired.

In the Daf for Arachin 10, we see that the children of the King started life very well under his guidance but that life took a turn for the worse when they struck out on their own. Returning to their father, they were ashamed to the point of being unable even to praise the King as was his due. However, the King ended this period of failure in the lives of his children with the same goodness as it had begun, by removing the filth from upon them and returning them to a clean state. How like another parable that was told by the Master.

Our lives all begin in innocence at our birth but as is common with human beings, we turn to serve our own interests and to sin against other people and against God. Even people who are born in religious homes and who are raised by devout parents cannot maintain a life of pure innocence, and the “darkness” of our human natures begins to dampen the goodness of the image in which we were created.

BrillianceYet we have a King who is unwilling that we should begin but not end our lives in the same goodness, and like the parable of Rav Levi Yitzchak, all we need to do is return to our Father in humility and with a contrite heart, and He will remove that which is filth from upon our shoulders and clothe us in pure light.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by.

And the angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. –Zechariah 3:1-7

Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You have donned majesty and splendor
cloaked in light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a curtain. –Psalm 104:1-2