Tag Archives: Talmud

What Does “Torah” Mean To You?

For clarification, by the word “Torah,” I do not just mean the Torah, as in the Five Books of Moses, but to all Jewish religious texts such the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic and halakhic texts, and kabbalistic and hasidic texts.

-Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman
“Why I Learn Torah Daily”
Aish.com

This somewhat dovetails with what I wrote in The Torah Without Judaism, and particularly the brief exchange I had in the comments section of that blog post with reader ProclaimLiberty.

The question for the Messianic and particularly the “Messianic Gentile” or “Talmid Yeshua” is what the word “Torah” means to us.

There’s probably no one answer, since depending on the given disciple, Jewish or Gentile, the perspective is going to vary.

What do I mean by “Torah?”

This is just my personal opinion. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do. But I think it’s a helpful question we should all ask ourselves periodically, rather than just assume that our answer is “the answer.”

From my point of view, “Torah” includes the whole Bible, and by that I mean the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Writings, and the Apostolic Scriptures. However, I also habitually read articles and commentaries found at Aish.com and Chabad.org, mainly to get a Jewish viewpoint on what I’m studying.

Granted, I am doing a lot of mental editing when I read content from those resources, since those sites and their information are written by and for Jews, not Gentiles, particularly not for Christians, and absolutely not for anyone with my unique conceptualization of scripture, Messiah, and Hashem.

christian books
Photo: sharonglasgow.com

I don’t typically read traditional Christian resources, even though they are far more Yeshua (Jesus) focused, because, frankly, I just don’t relate to them. I’ve always had a problem with “Christianese,” even when I first became a believer about twenty years ago.

I do read the occasional Christian-oriented book here and there, but either I don’t get very much out of them, or I actively criticize their content.

There have been other resources I have heavily consumed in the past, and they still guide the majority of my thinking and beliefs, but for a variety of reasons, I’ve chosen not to pursue them further, at least to any significant degree.

I have become aware that a debate somewhat like the one I previously mentioned is occurring at a Hebrew Roots blogspot, and the discussion there is very contentious.

However, the blog owner did provide a link to a brief review of a book by Rabbi Chaim Clorfene called The World of the Ger. You can learn more about it at the blog Soul Mazal.

I know that there are some “Messianic Gentiles” who at least suggest the path of the Noahide is an appropriate journey for them/us as well, and I’ve written on this before.

I think there are some things we might take from that example, but it’s also filled with trap doors and land mines. It’s far too easy for some of us to confuse our faith in Hashem and devotion to our Rav with the practice of Judaism or Noahidism. Hence the fact that we see some non-Jews in our communities as well as in churches leave Yeshua-faith and either join the ranks of the Noahide or convert to (Orthodox) Judaism.

It would almost be better for believing Gentiles to stay in their churches rather than take such a risk.

But then, in my opinion, their perspectives regarding what the Bible really says about Israel, the Jewish people, the redemption of the world, and yes, about Judaism, would remain limited if not misguided.

studyAs with many other questions I bring up, I don’t have a hard and fast answer for you. Interestingly enough, this brings us back to Rabbi Hoffman’s brief essay:

I learn Torah every day because it gives me a cohesive set of answers to all of the ultimate questions.

I suppose, from Rabbi Hoffman’s perspective, it does, but it doesn’t work that way for me. I still have far more questions than I do “ultimate” answers.

But here’s another wrinkle R. Hoffman introduces:

I learn Torah every day because it connects me with the millions of other Jews worldwide who also learn Torah every day.

That works if you are a religious Jew, but not so much for we non-Jews, even Noahides, I suspect. After all, how Torah applies to the Ger is remarkably different from how it applies to the Jew, at least in the details, although keep in mind that I also previously mentioned a private Jewish school in Utah that teaches Jewish values to a student body made up of 75% non-Jews.

And that’s one of the reasons, maybe one of my top reasons, for studying the Torah as I understand it. To seek a common ground where I as a non-Jew can stand and learn who God is and who I am to Him through a Jewish lens.

But I craft that “lens” to fit more my particular “eyesight” requirements, since I’m not a Jew and I consider myself more than a Noahide.

The one advantage I have is that I stand outside of actual, face-to-face Jewish or Christian community. Neither one can have too strong a pull on me, although the Pastor at the church I attended for two years certainly tried as hard as he could to turn me into a good Baptist.

But since, as I’ve admitted, I find Jewish thought more appealing, I suppose if I were constantly exposed to Jewish community of the non-Messianic variety, I’d be putting myself at risk of being influenced to the point of challenging my faith. I don’t know if it would go that far, but why take the chance?

That may be why so many of us are unaffiliated, although there are plenty of other reasons.

Laying TefillinIf I study Torah as I understand it and don’t adopt the praxis of Judaism, I can’t be as strongly influenced to confuse Judaism with my identity and role as God created them for me. I also can’t be accused (as sometimes occurs) of misappropriating the things unique to the covenant relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people, such as Shabbat, Kosher, the prayers, donning a tallit gadol, or laying tefillin.

If you’re Jewish, then I say what’s yours is yours.

If I’m not Jewish and I don’t identify as a traditional Christian, all that’s left, assuming I retain my Yeshua-faith, is a journey to discover who I am uniquely in my relationship with my Rav.

If you confuse that with either Judaism or Christianity, you might already have lost your way.

Advertisements

Should Non-Jews Study the Torah?

“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:19-21 (NASB)

So, should non-Jews who are “Judaicly aware” and seek to honor the centrality of Israel and the primacy of the Jewish people in Messiah study the Torah?

For most of you, the answer probably seems like a no-brainer. After all, the Torah, at least in one sense, is the first five books of the Bible, and Christians study the Bible every day.

On the other hand, should we study the Bible using Jewish, including Messianic Jewish, published materials?

Again, that might seem like a ridiculous question to most of you. After all, there are Messianic Jewish publishing groups that produce a vast amount of Torah study materials aimed right at the non-Jew. At least some of these works are designed to reach traditional Christians in their churches and illuminate them regarding the aforementioned centrality of Israel, and how King Messiah will come first to redeem Israel (and not “the Church”) and through Israel and the Jewish people, the people of the nations of the world.

But then we enter the “blurry” area of the status of a non-Jew within Jewish religious and community space through the use of Jewish produced (though some of it is written by non-Jews working for Jewish publishers) educational materials.

Let me get something out of the way first. I frequently read and quote from articles at Aish.com and Chabad.org and both of these websites provide information that is exclusively written by and for Jews.

Nevertheless, I find the insights provided by both these organizations to be helpful from time to time, but again, I am not unmindful of the fact that they are not intended to be consumed by a non-Jewish audience, namely me.

So let us return to the above-quoted passage from Acts 15 with which I began this missive. It’s part of the larger “Jerusalem letter,” the legal edict issued by the Council of Leaders and Elders of the Jewish Messianic sect once known as “the Way”. It was meant to be a formal and binding decision of the status of Gentiles within Jewish communal and covenantal space, outlining, albeit briefly and with little detail, a Gentile’s responsibilities within that context.

Over two-and-a-half years ago, I covered the content and my understanding of this legal decision in my multi-part series Return to Jerusalem (you can start at part 1 and click through to part 6 for the details).

Rolling the Torah ScrollOf specific interest for this “meditation” is the rather mysterious meaning of verse 21, which I touched upon in Part 5 of the “Jerusalem” series:

“For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:21

Although generally the Hebrew Roots movement interprets this single verse to mean that Gentiles should study the Torah and obey all of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, it’s not that easy to derive a definite and concrete interpretation from a single sentence.

Let’s consider not the Gentile God-fearers of that day who already were spending much time hearing Torah read and taught in their local synagogues, but the person who is a pagan Greek and who has just heard the good news of redemption though the Jewish Messiah. Many would have absolutely no background or appropriate context to even begin to fathom the teachings of Rav Yeshua or the Jewish apostles and disciples. They’d be clueless.

After all, it was in Lystra, where the population was largely ignorant of Jewish teachings, that Paul was considered to be Hermes and Barnabas Zeus because they did miracles. To counter this, Paul quickly gave the crowd a crash-course in ethical monotheism (see Acts 14:8-18), hoping to get them to see the light, so to speak.

To even begin to understand anything about what Paul was preaching, it was first necessary to have some sort of background in Judaism and the Torah. In fact, we see this example in the proselytes and Gentile God-fearers who heard Paul’s teachings on Messiah in the synagogue at Pisidan Antioch (see Acts 13:13-43).

Further, rather than just take Paul or any other Jewish teacher at his or her word, a knowledge of the scriptures was not only necessary, but vital. The Bereans (Acts 17:10-15) are the classic model of this principle. Of course, verse 10 does say that Paul and Silas went into “the synagogue of the Jews,” however verse 12 states “…many of them [Jews] believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men,” so it appears these prominent Greek women and men were at the synagogue, either studying the scriptures or listening to the Jewish Bereans do so, and thus benefiting from the study of Torah, including coming to faith because of these scriptural proofs.

But as I said above, Christians study the Bible every day, and yet (in my opinion) they do not always employ the correct hermeneutics that would render an interpretation of scripture largely consistent with what Paul intended to teach (or as close as we can get to it some two-thousand years later).

That’s why, like the Greeks in the Berean synagogue, it is not only helpful but necessary to study Torah with more knowledgable teachers who are familiar with a (again, my opinion) Messianic Jewish view of the Bible.

pathsBut Messianic Judaism isn’t a single entity. There are many different streams, and I’m not even including Hebrew Roots when I say this.

In the past, I’ve referenced quite a number of resources that the “Judaicly aware” Gentile may access including the MessianicGentiles.com website, so all you really have to do is search my blog and or click the link I just provided in order to get started.

But what about a non-Jew who has been studying from that perspective for a number of years and wants to dig a little deeper? After all, when an Orthodox Jew speaks of “studying Torah,” he or she is actually meaning “studying Talmud.” Is it permissible for a Gentile to study Talmud? While it’s not illegal, immoral, or even fattening, is there a benefit for us to study Talmud, especially when the sages wrote against Yeshua being Messiah and in some cases, wrote against Yeshua-believers?

The prohibitions against a Gentile studying Talmud (Torah) are from more traditional Jewish sources and not necessarily from any of the Messianic Jewish groups. Still, I found an interesting discussion on the topic in a closed group on Facebook (I can’t post a link both because you have to be invited to join and I don’t have the permission of the participants to do so).

Unless you are already a qualified scholar and have studied Talmud previously with a qualified scholar, you are going to get a very limited understanding from Talmud. Also, unless the tractates being read are speaking to the non-Jew, it’s again a matter of reading material written by Jews for Jews. In other words, even if you are at the educational level to comprehend what you are reading (which usually also requires fluency in Hebrew), the Talmud, for the most part, has nothing to do with you.

Of course, you could say that about the vast majority of the Bible, since most of it was written by Jews for Jews, but going back to the examples I’ve already presented from Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles,” we see that some form of study of the Jewish scriptures is absolutely necessary in order to understand the teachings of Rav Yeshua and of the Apostle Paul and how they apply to we non-Jewish disciples.

So although in-depth study of Talmud for the Gentile may be somewhat up in the air depending on education, circumstances, and communal context, more general study of all of the Jewish scriptures (and even the Apostolic Scriptures should be considered Jewish scriptures, although they include significant mention of Gentile initiates and disciples) seems not only warranted, but absolutely required.

So we’re back at what to do with a Gentile who finds it necessary to learn in a Messianic Jewish context? How is said-Gentile to be integrated, and more importantly, how does that Gentile not get swept up in Jewish practice and identity, but instead is able to establish and maintain an identity of their own, one that does not result in self-denigration or diminished esteem?

That is a question that has been under discussion for years, probably decades, and as far as I can tell, has no current, practical resolution. The emphasis in Messianic Judaism on Judaism, the centrality of Israel, and the primacy of the Jewish people in God’s redemptive plan is good and correct, but it contains the problem of what to actually do with the majority of the world’s population.

praying aloneWhich is why Gentiles need to find a way to study the Bible through a Messianic lens, so to speak, but also find a way to learn how and why we are important and loved by God, too.

I know this must seem like I’m beating the proverbial dead horse, but to the degree that non-Jews do sometimes feel alienated in Messianic Jewish space, to the degree that some factions of Messianic Judaism find it necessary to be a movement by and for Jews, and to the degree that some Gentiles become so confused between the goals of Judaism and the Messianic Kingdom that they choose to abandon Yeshua and convert to (usually Orthodox) Judaism to resolve their dissonance, I think the issue is significant.

Gentiles need to find a way to study the Bible in a manner honoring to the Jewish people and Israel and at the same time, one that renders a message of the value of non-Jews in God’s redemptive plan as well.

Ultimately, we can’t let a movement define who we are to God. We need to study the Bible and find out what we mean to God from Him…if we can.

The Tradition of Rosh Hashanah

And all believe that He is the faithful God.

-from the Machzor

This ninth-century, twofold alphabetical acrostic has been ascribed to Yohanan ha-Cohen, but M. Zulay says that Yannai (ca.550 C.E.) may have been it’s author. Declaring that God holds in His hand the scales of justice, the piyyut affirms that He is merciful even as He fathoms our secret devisings.

-Max Arzt
Chapter 2: “The New Year (Rosh Hashanah), pp 175-6
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement

This morning (as I write this), I listened to part of an audio teaching by Aaron Eby called “The Shofar and the Signs of the Times: A Lesson for Rosh Hashanah” as I commuted to work. Since I can’t take notes and drive at the same time (my wife says that men can’t multitask), I can’t reference large portions of the content, but one thing Aaron said has stayed with me. He said that the Bible teaches us almost nothing about how to celebrate or commemorate Rosh Hashanah, which is more accurately called “Yom Teruah” (which literally means in Hebrew “Day of Loud Noise”). Almost everything we know about celebrating Rosh Hashanah was developed much later by the various Rabbinic sages across Jewish history.

I find this rather telling and even amusing in a way, since most Christians (including Hebrew Roots Christians) tend to believe the Talmud or Oral Traditions are wholly manufactured by people and have nothing to do with the Bible. But while traditional (church going) Christians are highly unlikely to have anything to do with Jewish observance, including the commemoration of Rosh Hashanah, Hebrew Roots devotees this year almost certainly marked the occasion through a form of observance that attempted to mirror that of religious Jews in the synagogue.

The “disconnect” in the behavior of the latter group is that they not only tend to dismiss Rabbinic authority in establishing binding methods of worship, but they rather avidly declare that Hebrew Roots believers follow only the written Torah and not the Oral Law.

And yet, the Rosh Hashanah services many of them attended a few days ago were largely established, not in Biblical times (and remember, the Bible contains few if any instructions on how to commemorate Rosh Hashanah), but by the later Rabbinic Sages.

I’m not trying to start another in a long, long series of arguments relative to Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, but I do want to point out something that I think we all need to “get”.

But the very notion that the whole people [who received the Torah at Mt. Sinai] was the vehicle of divine revelation saved Judaism from an arid, literal biblicism. It gave rise to the belief that the “oral law” is the authentic and living interpretation of the “written law,” so that Revelation came to be regarded as a continuing process. The Rabbis seem to have grasped intuitively an idea akin to the modern concept of historical evolution, when they asserted that at Sinai both the oral and the written laws were revealed.

-ibid, p. 186

Further…

What was implicit in the rabbinic expansion of the concept of revelation must become an explicit principle in our day, when Jewish tradition faces the challenge of new ideas and of discoveries of major proportions. As a viable religion, Judaism must continue to be a vehicle of God’s continuous Revelation to His people, for the voice that Israel heard at Sinai “did not cease” (Onkelos on Deut., 5:19).

-ibid, pp. 186-7

Torah at SinaiOK, that’s not going to sit well with a lot of people. These statements presuppose that either a written Torah was given to the Israelites at Sinai along with an oral set of instructions on how to interpret the written texts, or that God gave an ongoing authority to the Jewish teachers of each generation to make binding interpretations of how to operationalize the written Torah and apply that to the Jewish people. The problem is that for most of Israel’s history, there has been no one apparent standard of interpretation. In the time of the Apostle Paul, for example, there were numerous streams of Judaism in existence, most of which contracted one another.

But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

Acts 23:6-8 (NASB)

But then how can Jewish Rabbis and scholars say they have God-given authority to make binding halachah for the Jewish people when not only more than one standard exists, but these different standards are at odds with each other?

An even bolder extension of the idea of Revelation is implied in the statement that where scholars offer two mutually contradictory opinions on a legal problem or on the interpretation of a biblical verse, both opinions are considered to be “the words of the living God,” since both are equally the result of a reverent search for an understanding of the Torah (Erub. 13b).

-Artz, p. 186

Talmud Study by LamplightI have a tough time wrapping my brain around that one, but it does seem to be accepted in Judaism that the various sages and teachers for each community or stream of Judaism have the right to establish binding standards for their own groups.

This point is disputed, not only in traditional and Hebrew Roots Christianity, but in Messianic Judaism. In the comments section of this blog post which I quoted in part in the body of this article, such a debate between two Jewish men in Messiah is demonstrated.

Carl Kinbar said:

I would like to contend these thoughts, at least in the absolute way you have expressed them. You’ve drawn this from the story of Achnai’s Oven, in which God does miracles to support the opinion of Rabbi Eliezar over the opinion of the majority of rabbis. But they reject not only God’s miracles but his also voice, which declares “the halakhah is according to Rabbi Eliezer. The majority “defeated” Rabbi Eliezer and God by pointing out that the Torah is not in heaven but on earth. God’s opinion doesn’t matter. Then God laughs in delight that “my sons have defeated me.”

So, as a Jew, I can imagine myself standing before the majority of rabbis as a believer in Messiah Yeshua. God says, “Carl is right–Yeshua is the Messiah.” But the majority refuses to accept God’s voice and declares me a min (heretic). God then laughs, “My children have defeated me again!” God is pleased with them and displeased with me for rejecting the majority, even though he knows full well that Yeshua is his Messiah.

The identity of Messiah is just the beginning of areas in which the majority would overrule God. They do not recognize the Brit Hadashah and they do not recognize the joyous obligation of Jewish believers in Yeshua to love all our fellow Yeshua believers as Messiah has loved us. Should Jews accept the traditional majority in these matters, too?

Hopefully, one day I will find an opening to express the depth and beauty of my relationship with Torah and rabbinic tradition. For now, I just want to say that accepting the majority’s right to interpret and apply Torah is not absolute and God does not laugh when his voice is ignored.

ProclaimLiberty said:

I understand your contention and I share in your frustration with the unpleasant reality that the leaders of the Jewish people actually have the authority to be WRONG. However, for good or for ill, this is an irrevocable gift of authority, which only increases the responsibility borne by these authorities. I do not say that HaShem holds them guiltless for any divergence from His Torah in applying or interpreting the Torah. The episode of Aknai’s oven only underscores the degree of this awesome legal responsibility. It then becomes our responsibilty as Rav Yeshua’s hasidim to work toward opening the eyes of current authorities to the finer distinctions between the negative elements that previously were inveighed against with some statements, and the positive aspects of ourselves and Rav Yeshua’s approach to Torah.

Chazal reiterates some of Rav Yeshua’s Matt.23 criticism of the Pharisees (or a recognizably faulty subset of them), for example, illustrating that corrections and improvements are possible. I believe that the power lies within us (b’ezrat HaShem) to demonstrate that the modern MJ community is not defined by the characteristics that impelled earlier generations of rabbis to present a rejectionistic front. However, there is still much improvement required of the modern MJ community in the aggregate to support such a demonstration. Thus we should not wish for miraculous signs or voices from heaven to justify us in our appeal to these authorities. Rather, the miraculous signs should be evident in improving our behavior and our demeanor on earth as a community and as individuals, that we should be seen as walking examples of Torah whose positive contribution to the Jewish enterprise cannot be denied as sectarian or separatist.

debateI can’t pretend to have the ability to resolve this apparent dissonance within Messianic Judaism specifically and within larger religious Judaism as a whole, but as I said more recently, an adaptive dynamic to the interpretation of Torah for Jewish communities existing in different geolocations and across time is one of the requirements for the continuation of Judaism and the existence of the Jewish people. Without the ability of different streams of Judaism to be able to continually interpret their own scriptures, there either would be no Judaism at all or one that existed as a complete anachronism within the modern landscape, totally incapable of managing even the simplest elements of 21st Century life.

Interestingly enough, Christianity (and probably any other current religion with ancient origins based on ancient texts) engages in a similar dynamic. Imagine transporting a church leader or elder from some popular Christian community of five-hundred years ago into even the most conservative, Fundamentalist church in modern times. Would this person, even if they shared a common language with the modern believers he was placed among, understand what was going on around him? How would he view the modern attire being worn, especially of the women in the chapel? What would be his feelings about the music, about youth groups, about Sunday school, about all of those early 16th Century Christian practices and traditions he holds dear and true and Biblical that are likely not to be evident at all in any 21st Century church?

Christianity is as adaptive as Judaism. It has to be. If it wasn’t, if it took some ancient standard of practice and behavior and suspended it like a fly in amber, forever isolated, immobile, and ageless, its members most likely couldn’t manage modern life outside the church’s walls at all. The Church, as it were, operates with a sort of historically developmental “oral law” just as Judaism does. Only the “clothing” that process is dressed up in is different.

The Jewish people today could hardly be expected to know how to commemorate Rosh Hashanah and many other events and practices without its history of adaptive interpretation of the mitzvot. Whether an objectively existing Oral Law was given to Moses by God at Sinai, or whether it just became an accepted standard in Judaism that the Rabbis would be considered as having authority assigned them by God to make binding rulings, the effect is the same. Judaism has continued to exist for the past two-thousand years after the destruction of the Temple, the razing of Jerusalem, and the scattering of the Jewish people to the four corners of the Earth, because the Jewish people have allowed themselves the ability to progressively interpret Biblical canon as historic and geographic conditions have changed.

The secret to Rosh Hashanah isn’t in the Bible, it’s in Talmud.

When Israel Asked for a King

“When Jacob came to Egypt, … your fathers cried out to the Lord, and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place. But they forgot the Lord their God; so He delivered them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the king of Moab; and these made war upon them. They cried to the Lord, ‘We are guilty, for we have forsaken the Lord and worshiped the Baalim and the Ashtaroth. Oh, deliver us from our enemies and we will serve You.’ And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Bedan and Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you from the enemies around you; and you dwelt in security. But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was advancing against you, you said to me, ‘No, we must have a king reigning over us’ — though the Lord your God is your King.

“Well, the Lord has set a king over you! Here is the king that you have chosen, that you have asked for.

“If you will revere the Lord, worship Him, and obey Him, and will not flout the Lord’s command, if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, [well and good]. But if you do not obey the Lord and you flout the Lord’s command, the hand of the Lord will strike you as it did your fathers.

1 Samuel 12:8-15 (JPS Tanakh)

A few days ago, I was studying Torah Portion Chukat on Shabbat. After finishing with the parashah, I turned in my Chumash to the Haftarah for Chukat, or so I thought. But instead of reading Judges 11:1-33, I inadvertently turned to the Haftarah for Torah Portion Korach, last week’s reading. You’d think I would have noticed reading the same Haftarah twice in a row but somehow I didn’t. I remarked to myself how interesting it was that we see the rise of the first (human) King over Israel in the Haftarah, and the fall of her greatest prophet and leader in the Torah reading.

Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as He had commanded him. Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” Those are the Waters of Meribah—meaning that the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord—through which He affirmed His sanctity.

Numbers 20:9-13 (JPS Tanakh)

King SaulOf course the connection I made between the two events was the result of a mistake, but it got me to thinking. Although God was to always be King of Israel, He did create a provision, should Israel “reject” Him as King, to place a human being, an Israelite, on the throne of the nation.

If, after you have entered the land that the Lord your God has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, “I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me,” you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the Lord your God. Be sure to set as king over yourself one of your own people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your kinsman.

Deuteronomy 17:14-15 (JPS Tanakh)

But think about it. If Israel had been completely obedient to God in all things, they would never have asked for a man to be set over them as King and God would always have been (and would always be) King of Israel, making it the only fully functional theocracy ever to exist.

But without Saul being set over Israel as King, there would have been no King David, King Solomon, or a dynasty of Kings of the tribe of Judah and of David’s house.

And there would be no King Messiah.

Of course, if Israel had been obedient in all things, I suppose there’d be no need for a Messiah to return the exiled Jews to their Land, to rebuild the Temple, to restore the nation, and to defeat Israel’s enemies, since Israel would never have fallen and God would have always granted her great success, and she would have truly been a light to the nations.

But then what would have happened to Christianity? The Church wouldn’t exist at all. What would have happened to the Gentiles? Without Jesus, how could we be saved?

Interesting question.

I suppose this is where you get to say that God knew Israel would fall and fail and that the world would need a Savior, but what about free will? I mean, free will at least gave Israel a chance at succeeding. They made choices, and they certainly could have chosen to continually accept God as King.

But Christianity doesn’t believe in free will, at least the Calvinists don’t, so Calvinists would say that God programmed everything into the universe before He created it, thus mankind’s destiny was sealed before the creation of Adam and Havah (Eve) and before she ever gave birth to the first human to actually be born of woman.

lightBut in Orthodox Judaism, free will is accepted as the norm, and that humanity has free will in no way abrogates God’s absolute sovereignty over the universe.

So in Judaism, it was quite possible that Israel could have chosen continually to have God as King and not to demand a human King.

But as I asked before, if Israel had been obedient and remained obedient in not requiring a human being to be set as King over them, we would have no line of Israelite Kings, no King of the tribe of Judah and the house of David, which the Bible says the Messiah must come from.

There would have been (and would not be) no Messiah, at least in the body of Jesus Christ as lived, died, and lived in the first century CE. So what would have happened to us, to the Gentiles, if Israel never sinned?

Probably all of those New Covenant prophesies I’ve been talking about the past couple of weeks, such as the following.

Thus says the Lord,
“Preserve justice and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.
“How blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who takes hold of it;
Who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from His people.”
Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord,

“To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the Sabbath and holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:1-8 (NASB)

“For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord.

Isaiah 66:18-21 (NASB)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘It will yet be that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go.” So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”

Zechariah 8:20-23 (NASB)

These are only a few examples of the aforementioned prophecies, but you get the idea. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have applied to the nations of the world coming alongside Israel without the existence of Messiah. We Gentiles would simply do what Israel did, worship Hashem, God of Heaven, praying directly to Him.

Up to JerusalemThe present and the future era of peace would look a lot more like how my friend Gene Shlomovich describes it.

Why is this important? Why am I (seemingly) playing a useless game of “what if”? Events occurred as they occurred, not as I’m supposing them to be. Israel did ask for a man to be placed over them as King, there was a King David who created, by the blessings of God, the Davidic dynasty of Kings of the tribe of Judah, and from whom Messiah, the righteous branch, has emerged.

Thus Christianity was created, separated from Judaism at an “early age,” and took off on a totally divergent course from its original path, the Jewish path.

I’ll give you another “what if”.

Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How many times I have desired to gather your sons like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Listen: your house will be abandoned for you, desolate. For I say to you, from now on you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of HaShem!”

Matthew 23:37-39 (DHE Gospels)

A few years back, a fellow I admire and respect told me that up until the moment when Yeshua (Jesus) said these words, if Israel had repented of her sins, Yeshua would have initiated the Messianic Age right then and there, leading Heavens armies to defeat the Roman occupation and fulfilling all of the New Covenant prophecies, establishing the final Davidic Kingdom in the first century.

For the longest time, I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t imagine how the coming of the Messianic Kingdom nearly two-thousand years ago would work without the Gospel message first being spread throughout the nations of the world, allowing the Gentiles to repent and be saved.

Then, when I was studying on Shabbat, it hit me. There’s nothing in the Bible, the Tanakh (Old Testament) that presupposes Messiah must come once and then come again. That’s why we don’t see a stronger picture of the Messiah in the Torah and the Prophets (although he is certainly there). That’s why it isn’t abundantly obvious to all Jewish people who study the Torah and the Prophets that Jesus is the Messiah and that the Messiah must come twice.

That’s why it isn’t spelled out in the Old Testament that we must believe in the Messiah for our salvation.

This brings disturbing notions into the light, such as the idea that history is variable and could describe any number of different courses and still fulfill the plan of God for Creation. It also means we have a great deal more to do with what happens to us, not just as individuals, but as an entire species, than we’ve been led to believe in Christian theology and doctrine.

ancient_jerusalemI’ve heard it said that if all of Israel, each and every Jew, were to perfectly observe even a single Shabbat together, then the Messiah would come. Of course, I’ve also heard it said that Messiah will not come until Israel and mankind have reached the fullness of rebellion against God, but is it too much to believe that either situation could be true?

Regardless of the different roads through time I’ve suggested, the destination is the same. God will redeem His people, restore His nation Israel, and elevate Israel as sovereign over all of the other (Gentile) nations of the world. That part is a given.

This is the Torah, if a person dies in a tent…

Numbers 19:14

In old age, we continue to seek wisdom and comfort in study. I fondly remember visiting Dr. Louis Finkelstein, the Seminary’s fourth chancellor, in his final years. By then he had long been confined to his apartment by Parkinson’s. Each time, I found him sitting at his dining room table with a folio volume of Talmud open before him. He often quipped that he was grateful to God for letting him go from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. And when he died in his nineties, it was mainly because his infirmities had finally severed him from the elixir of his life. I loved his ever-radiant eyes. He personified for me the conviction of the Mishnah that as students of Torah age, their minds do not unravel. A life of the mind sustains our engagement and growth.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Torah Study — The Bedrock of Judaism,” pg 548, June 30, 2001
Commentary on Torah Portion Chukat
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

The Sages (Brochos 63b) state that the Torah only lasts with those who die over it. This seems very puzzling since the Torah is for living, as it states (Vayikra 18:5), “And you shall live with them (the commandments).”

When doctors told Rabbi Akiva Eger that he might not live much longer if he continued his intensive study of Torah, he replied, “If I study Torah, I may not live much longer; if I discontinue my studies of Torah, I certainly will not live much longer. Doubt must not prevail against certainty!” (Jewish Leaders, p. 111)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Always find time to study Torah,” pp 343, 344
Commentary on Torah Portion Chukat
Growth Through Torah

I think this is one of the blessings of studying the Torah (the whole Bible, really) from my current perspective: being granted the ability to see God peeking out from behind the pages, peering through the spaces between the letters, and carefully revealing little bits and pieces not only of what could have been, but what actually will be.

I’ve asked before when Jesus returns, will we go to church as a way of really asking, when Jesus returns will there even be a church?

My answer, both then and now is “no.” “The Church” as it conceives of itself, especially in Evangelicalism, will not exist because it imagines itself as an entity directly in opposition to prophesy. All New Covenant prophesies describe Israel as the center of God’s vision and purpose in the final age, not a collection of (mostly) Gentiles ruling over the world, or worse, a bunch of (mostly) Gentile “floaty ghosts” (to paraphrase D. Thomas Lancaster) playing harps in an endless worship service in Heaven.

Of all the different ways Israel could have selected to respond to God, they all have a single result. God will restore Israel and consequently, the people of the nations (i.e. Gentile Christians) will come alongside Israel in obedience to God, in response to Israel’s King Messiah, and pay homage as vassal nations to the Sovereign Lord who will sit enthroned in Jerusalem.

The RabbiSelfishly, I look forward to that day, whether I see it in my mortal lifetime or in the resurrection, because I long for the days when a simple Gentile believer like me will have the opportunity to study Mishnah without it raising eyebrows (I wouldn’t even know how to go about it right now), when all of God’s servants will be able to find our lives in a “folio volume of Talmud open” before us. May that day come when King Messiah brings restoration and peace to Israel, and through his nation, peace for us all.

Hitler’s Final Solution, the Oral Torah, and its Meaning to Christianity

These are the statutes and the judgments and the teachings (Toros- plural of Torah) that HASHEM gave between Himself and the Children of Israel at Sinai through the hand of Moshe.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:46

Toros: One (Torah) Written and one (Torah) Oral. This informs that both were given to Moshe at Sinai.

-Rashi

This is a critical and oft underappreciated nugget of information. Not one Mitzvah in the entire Torah is capable of being carried into action given only the parameters provided in the text. There are almost 30,000 details that comprise phylacteries and 5,000 in the ubiquitous mezuzah with little information to guide to their uniform completion. What’s called “killing”? When does life begin? When does it end? What one person calls “family planning” another may legitimately define as “murder!”

The Torah cries out for explanation. There must, by definition, have been a concomitant corpus of information that accompanied the giving of the laws and that is what we call the “Oral Torah”. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch uses the analogy that the Written Torah is like the notes to a scientific lecture. Every jot and squiggle has significance. If properly understood it can awaken the actual lecture. The notes remain useless to someone who has not heard the lecture from the Master. Therefore in the Oral Torah is the sum of the lecture while the Written Torah is merely a shorthand record. Without an Oral Torah that book the whole world holds in such high esteem, the Bible is rendered in-actionable. It becomes a frozen document that cannot be lived. Unfortunately, so many over the ages have become lost due to a failure to appreciate this single point and its significance for our very survival as a people.

When my wife and I were engaged, at the party there was a cousin of hers that has written voluminously about the holocaust. He himself survived, somehow, seven concentration camps. One of the Rabbis encouraged him to speak. He claimed to be unprepared and not a good English speaker. He spoke amazingly well.

-Rabbi Label Lam
“Understand it Very Well” (2007)
Torah.org

Rabbi Lam got my attention when he wrote, ”Not one Mitzvah in the entire Torah is capable of being carried into action given only the parameters provided in the text.” Most of what I hear about the Oral Torah from Evangelical Christians is that it’s all a bunch of made up rules and cannot be considered the valid Word of God. Many in the Christian Hebrew Roots world say the same thing, believing it is possible to observe the mitzvot based on the Written Torah alone.

And yet Rabbi Lam says this is impossible.

Moses received the Torah from [G-d at] 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 judgment. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.

-Pirkei Avot 1:1

Talmudic RabbisOrthodox Judaism generally believes that the Oral Torah was handed down in an unbroken chain as described above. Given the history of Israel’s exiles, that seems difficult to believe.

Even the written Torah was lost for a great deal of time and when it was found (2 Kings 22:8-13), King Josiah ”tore his clothes” because ”great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” If the words of the Torah had been lost even though written, how much more so can it be true that the original Oral Torah given to Moses could have been forgotten?

But that doesn’t mean Oral history didn’t accompany the written Torah in some matter or fashion across the many centuries. The Oral tradition just might not have survived intact from its earliest inception. That is, what Judaism understands to be Oral Torah now may not be entirely traceable back over three-thousand years.

I’ve repeatedly suggested that the “Jerusalem letter” we saw crafted in Acts 15 as a set of instructions for new Gentile disciples of Jesus, had to have been accompanied by oral instructions because the “four essentials” of the letter are so barren. It’s quite possible that the Didache is the documentation of the original oral instructions for the Gentile disciples, so oral information being transmitted across time to explain written instruction isn’t foreign to early Christian tradition.

Just recently, I said I thought later Christian commentary was a refactoring of the original Jewish understanding of the scriptures, and my statements were inspired by comments made by New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado on his blog, including this paragraph:

But I suspect that if Paul were asked whether Jesus was the “second person of the Trinity,” he would likely have responded with a quizzical look, and asked for some explanation of what it meant! Were the patristic texts and creedal statements saying something beyond or distinguishable from what the NT texts say? Certainly. Does that invalidate those later creedal discussions and formulations? Well, if you recognize the necessity of the continuing theological task (of intelligently attempting to articulate Christian faith meaningfully in terms appropriate and understandable in particular times and cultures), then probably you’ll see the classic creedal statements as an appropriate such effort. (emph. mine)

-Hurtado, Jesus, “Pre-existence,” etc: Responding to Questions

Rabbi Label Lam
Rabbi Label Lam

Put all together, we can paint a picture of an Oral set of instructions accompanying the written Torah, perhaps changing over time to respond to the differing demands and requirements of ”particular times and cultures.” If Judaism is guilty of this process, so indeed is Christianity. We just don’t talk about it.

I’m including the rest of the quote from Rabbi Lam’s article because it includes important points from history, and we ignore history at our own peril.

First he looked out at a room filled with newly observant Jews and wondered aloud, “Where do you people come from?” He then quoted the Talmudic principle, “Torah returns to those who have hosted it.” He explained, “If you are sitting here today then it’s probably because you have some great ancestors who were willing to and did give blood to keep this Torah alive.” He went on to talk about my wife’s and his illustrious family tree.

Then he said that had he known he was going to speak he would have brought with him a document he held in his hands that morning that answered a question that had been nagging him for almost four decades. “We all know Hitler’s “final solution” for European Jewry. What was his global scheme? Where was his plan to eliminate the rest of world Jewry?” He then paraphrased what he had learned from that document. Here is a printed transcript with a partial English translation:

“This document transmits a memorandum dispatched by I.A Eckhardt from the chief of the German Occupation Power. It is an order dated October 25, 1940 from das Reichssicherheitshauptamt-the central office of the German Security Forces to the Nazi district governors in occupied Poland, instructing them not to grant exit visas to Ostjuden- Jews from Eastern Europe. The reason behind this order is clearly spelled out: the fear that because of their “Othodoxen einstellung” their orthodoxy, these Ostjuden would provide “die Rabbiner und Talmudleher” – the Rabbis and the teachers of the Talmud, who would create “die geistige Erneuerung” the spiritual regeneration of the Jews in America and throughout the world.”

The Oral Torah is essential for our existence as a people. It is our most vital organ and instrument for survival. Without it we are immediately lost. It makes sense that those who plan our demise understand it very well!

Even the reprehensible Nazis understood the power of the Talmud and Rabbinic rulings and traditions to save the Jewish people, particularly in the face of certain disaster. We see here that beyond the extermination of the six million Jewish victims of the Third Reich, the Nazis had plans to prevent the rest of world Jewry from learning of the so-called “final solution,” for fear that the Jews in America wouldn’t be easy targets if prepared (assuming the Reich was victorious in conquering the world, which, Baruch Hashem, they were not).

Holocaust survivor David Faber
Holocaust survivor David Faber

Oral Torah, which was eventually recorded in writing and then adapted repeatedly as circumstances required, was responsible for Jewish survival during a two-thousand year history where the world was continually trying to destroy them. For this reason alone, we should be thankful for the Jewish adherence to Talmud, but as I’ve already stated, in many ways, Christianity in its various forms including Protestantism, has a parallel set of “oral law” upon which it relies to define Biblical application across the changing historical and cultural landscape.

I only ask that the Evangelical Church “come clean” and admit that we have our own oral traditions that were eventually written down and upon which we continue to depend to define our faith. Just don’t let our traditions diminish the Jewish people and national Israel in any sense, or we might find ourselves “on the wrong side of God.”

Kareth and Messianic Judaism

At the core of the pluralism issue is the debate over whether there’s “More than one way to be a good Jew.” Indeed, there have always been divergent streams of observance – like Chassidic, Sefardic vs. Ashkenazic, and even the Talmudic arguments between the Talmudic academies of Shammai and Hillel.

And yet, historic precedents show that there are limits to pluralism, beyond which a group is schismatic to the point where it is no longer considered Jewish. For example, everyone considers Jews for Jesus as outside of the legitimate Jewish sphere. The disagreement, then, lies in defining exactly what are the acceptable limits of divergence.

-from “Ask the Rabbi”
Aish.com

I’m continuing my email conversation with my Jewish friend as I described in yesterday’s meditation, and this “Ask the Rabbi” column seemed to fit right in. As you just read, there are a whole bunch of divergent streams of Judaism, but how far can you diverge and still be Jewish? According to the Aish Rabbi, being “Jews for Jesus” is going too far.

I should say at this point that “Jews for Jesus” is how most Jews see Messianic Judaism, thus Messianic Judaism isn’t viewed as a “Judaism” at all. One problem is, as a private communication revealed to me just recently, even many staunch Jewish disciples of Messiah aren’t all that observant. For instance, one Messianic Jewish conference (I’m deliberately concealing identifying information for obvious reasons) was scheduled during a major Jewish fast day. At another conference, the conference leaders ate the local hotel (non-Kosher) fare, and the very few Jewish attendees who kept kosher were forced to have catered kosher meals brought in or to drive some distance to a kosher eating establishment. And driving on Shabbat for the Jewish conference organizers and attendees wasn’t considered a big deal at all.

Why do I say all this?

Historically, any Jewish group which denied the basic principles of Jewish tradition – Torah and mitzvah-observance – ultimately ceased to be part of the Jewish people. The Sadducees and the Karites, for instance, refused to accept certain parts of the Oral Law, and soon after broke away completely as part of the Jewish People. The Hellenists, secularists during the Second Temple period, also soon became regarded as no longer “Jewish.” Eventually, these groups vanished completely.

-the Aish Rabbi

One of the big issues that may inhibit halachically, culturally, and religiously observant Jews from recognizing Messianic Judaism as a Judaism is, based on the quote above, the lack of consistent Jewish observance in Messianic Judaism. Except for in a few small corners of the movement (at least from an Orthodox Jewish perspective), Messianic Judaism presents the appearance of being not a Judaism (there are many other issues, such as the deification of Jesus and the supposed worship of a man, but I’m choosing to focus on the matter of community and observance right now).

tallit-prayerIt’s a terrible thing for a Jew to be cut off from his or her people.

For those of you who don’t know, the concept of Kareth or “cutting off” is a consequence of a Jew committing certain offenses, such as having a forbidden sexual relationship or worshiping a deity other than Hashem (known as Avodah Zarah). Messianic author and teacher Derek Leman even wrote an article on the topic a few years back.

Should a Jew in Messianic Judaism feel cut off from larger Judaism? Is that a consequence of being a Messianic Jew? Not according to Rabbi Stuart Dauermann in his article “The Jewish People are Us – Not Them,” which he wrote for the Fall 2013 issue of Messiah Journal (and which I reviewed), however, R. Dauermann admits that this has been a consequence of Messianic Judaism historically due to its associations with Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that once a Jew becomes a disciple of Messiah through the Messianic movement (or by converting to Christianity), they have more in common with Gentile Christians than non-Messianic Jews.

That’s a terrible burden to lay on any Jew’s shoulders.

But does it really have to be that way? Has it always been that way?

Early Christians were the original “Jews for Jesus.” They accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah, but not the eternal, binding nature of the commandments. Initially, these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan. But the turning point came when Paul, realizing that Jews wouldn’t accept the concept of a dead Messiah, opened up membership to non-Jews. At that point, these “Jews” experienced a total severing of Jewish identity.

Now that’s a glaring assumption by the Aish Rabbi. Let’s look at that again:

But the turning point came when Paul, realizing that Jews wouldn’t accept the concept of a dead Messiah, opened up membership to non-Jews. At that point, these “Jews” experienced a total severing of Jewish identity.

Ending MacArthur seriesEvangelical Christianity believes that Paul broke with Jewish identity shortly after he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9) and that the extinguishment of Jewish identity in Messiah was by design. The Aish Rabbi says Paul may not have originally intended to break with Judaism and tradition, but when he couldn’t convince other Jews to “worship a dead Messiah,” Paul switched the object of his proselytizing from Jewish to Gentile populations and cut loose anything Jewish from devotion to Jesus.

No wonder so many Jewish people really hate Paul.

As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath. When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:42-43 (NRSV)

I invite you to read the larger context which is captured in Acts 13:13-52, but basically, after Paul’s discourse in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, on how Jesus was indeed the Messiah, his Jewish audience was extremely eager for him to return next Shabbat to say more. Apparently the issue of a “dead Messiah” wasn’t a problem. The problem was this:

The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul.

Acts 13:44-45 (NRSV)

A certain number of God-fearing Gentiles generally attended this synagogue on a regular basis, so the huge crowds of non-Jews who showed up for the subsequent Shabbat to hear Paul must have been the result of word getting out and large crowds of idol-worshiping pagan Gentiles entering the Jewish community space.

The Jewish PaulSo like I said, the “dead Messiah,” at least in this case, didn’t seem to be the problem, nor, as we know from many of Paul’s other letters as well as the record in Luke’s Acts, did Paul totally abandon his people or Jewish practice in order to invent a new, Law-free, religion exclusively for the Gentiles. As the Aish Rabbi himself stated, the early Jewish disciples ”accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah” and ”these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan.” I do not believe that ”these Jews” denied ”the eternal, binding nature of the commandments” nor that Paul taught Jews to neglect the Torah.

Paul said in his defense, “I have in no way committed an offense against the law of the Jews, or against the temple, or against the emperor.”

Acts 25:8 (NRSV)

Paul continued to deny that he had committed any offense against the Torah or against Roman law for the rest of his life and unless we want to believe he was just lying to try to save his skin (didn’t do him very much good if that was his ploy), then we have to consider that the Aish Rabbi, representing the general Jewish view of Paul, and Evangelical Christianity, are both wrong about the Apostle to the Gentiles.

So we have some history that tells us the very first Jews who belonged to the Messianic stream of Judaism called “the Way” continued to be observant Jews and continued to be considered Jewish by the other branches of Judaism in the late Second Temple period.

But why can’t we have that now? Why can’t Messianic Jews be considered Jewish, even within Messianic Judaism? Why should a Jew in Messianic Judaism be considered cut off from his or her people in larger Judaism?

The Aish Rabbi ends his article this way:

I can’t predict what will happen to the various streams within Judaism today, but I do believe that the best bet for a strong Jewish future is to remain loyal to our faith and traditions.

I promise that the Rabbi was not considering Messianic Judaism in this opinion but I believe we should. What that means, is the Jewish people in Messianic Judaism, in order to ensure a strong Jewish future, must too remain loyal to Jewish faith and traditions. That’s why I wrote the blog post The Necessity of Messianic Jewish Community. That’s exactly why Messianic Jewish community is necessary, important, vital, critical.

There’s a lot more I could say about this, but for the sake of length, I’ll back off for now. It will probably be fuel for another blog post fairly soon. I don’t see this issue going away.

synagogue_arkI know it’s odd for me, a non-Jewish person studying within the context of Messianic Judaism, to be so passionate about Jewish identity for Jews in Messiah. I suppose it all comes back to my own (Jewish) family who aren’t Messianic but who I believe really need to be even better at connecting with Jewish community. There’s a huge danger as each generation passes, of Jewish people simply fading away, not assimilating into Christianity necessarily, but just drifting into secular oblivion.

Within Messianic Judaism, many of the leading Jewish teachers and promoters are themselves intermarried, and if the mothers of their children aren’t Jewish, then neither are their offspring.  If, as I stated above, there is a “crisis” of minimal or inconsistent observance of the mitzvot which further weakens the Jewish nature of Messianic Judaism and thus any connection with larger Jewry, will Jews be found within Messianic Judaism in twenty or thirty years?