For years, I’ve subscribed to daily updates from the Aish HaTorah Jewish educational website. I know, I’m not Jewish, but I find that the vast majority of their content “resonates” with me better than most traditional Christian commentary.
A few days ago, I came across an interesting question in the Ask the Rabbi column. Actually, it was the answer that was more interesting, but let’s look at the question first:
I’ve been reading Aish.com for years. But the other day someone asked me to describe the principles behind Aish. I must confess that I didn’t know. So what’s the answer?
Here’s the numbered list portion of the Rabbi’s response:
- Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.
- Aish HaTorah defines success as inspiring a commitment to grow Jewishly.
- Every Jew is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. We never know who is a better Jew.
- Every human being is created “In the image of God,” and therefore has infinite potential.
- Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood.
- Torah is wisdom for living, teaching us how to maximize our potential and pleasure in life.
- Our beliefs need to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith.
- Each Jew is responsible one for another, and each is empowered to face the spiritual and physical challenges facing the Jewish people.
- The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world. The Jewish people’s history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.
- The Jewish people are bound together. Our power lies within our unity. Unified, no goal is beyond our reach; splintered, almost no goal is attainable.
Now, Aish HaTorah provides educational content created by Jews for Jews. No part of it (as far as I can find) targets anyone else, including (and probably especially) Christians. Obviously, I’m not blocked from visiting their website, and I could even come up with a valid reason for reading their material given that my wife is Jewish, but does any of this stuff apply directly to us.
When I say “us,” in one sense, I mean all Christians, but more specifically, I’m addressing we “Hebraically-aware” Gentile believers (if you’re Jewish and Messianic, you probably don’t even have to ask this question).
I know there’s quite a bit of disagreement about just how much of the Torah can be applied to we non-Jews who find ourselves attracted to Jewish praxis and thought. I’m not here to “solve” that puzzle. I have a personal answer that works for me, but your mileage may vary. Also, since I don’t belong to a faith community, there’s no higher human standard that can be authoritatively applied to me (though some have tried).
Let’s go over this one step at a time.
1: Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one’s own pace and interest.
Assuming we believe that Christianity in general and Messianic Judaism in specific is the natural and planned extension of everything we’ve read in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible, Old Testament), is it fair to say that we Gentiles practice a form of Judaism (and I’ve addressed this question before)?
Maybe and maybe not. Perhaps the better question is whether or not the philosophy behind this first point can be applied to a Gentile’s spiritual journey with Rav Yeshua?
My guess is that most Christians would say “no.” Why? I think it has something to do with this:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. –James 2:10 (NASB)
Taken out of context, this seems to directly contradict the Aish Rabbi by stating that you have to keep every single commandment in the Torah perfectly, and if you break one law, you’ve broken them all (although a Christian would say we aren’t “under the Law”).
However, putting that verse back into its James 2 context, in my humble opinion, I think it means if you depend solely on your praxis to reconcile you with God, that’s the standard by which you’ll be judged. However, if you depend on faith, and out of that faith, comes your practice, you will receive mercy.
That could probably be said a lot better than I just put it, but it’s a more comfortable fit with the Aish Rabbi’s statement. After all, who among us is perfectly obedient to God all of the time? No one. Except for Rav Yeshua, I don’t believe that even the most devout of Jews has always perfectly performed the mitzvot every single hour of every single day.
In fact, the Bible is replete with statements emphasizing that rote behavior all by itself does not reconcile you with God, but instead Teshuva (repentance) and a contrite heart are needed.
Since even most traditional Christians believe we are all on a “spiritual walk with Jesus,” I think we could safely apply the “our faith isn’t all or nothing” principle to us as well.
2. Aish HaTorah defines success as inspiring a commitment to grow Jewishly.
On the other hand, point two doesn’t seem to have one darn thing to do with us, that is, we non-Jews. We don’t “grow Jewishly” since we’re not Jewish. No way around this one. Of course, success could be defined as inspiring a commitment to grow “Messianically,” but that opens up another can of worms.
3. Every Jew is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. We never know who is a better Jew.
Can we substitute “believer” or “Christian” for Jew? I think we can if we acknowledge that all human beings are created in the image of the Almighty. We already know that God desires all people to be redeemed, not just national and corporate Israel, you I don’t have a problem with believing that people are worthy of respect (though not all of them behave respectfully).
I also agree you’ll never be able to tell who is the “better Christian” just by looking. We all have our inner lives that only God is privy to. No matter how “holy” a person appears, it’s what God sees in their hearts that matters most.
Oh, this introduces a ton of questions about denomination, doctrine, and theology between Christians. For instance, nearly five years ago, John MacArthur held his Strange Fire conference where he and the other speaking Pastors did everything in their power to attack Charismatics. So much for “worthy of respect” (of course, I’ve read how some Orthodox Jews diss Reforms, so this is probably a human trait).
4. Every human being is created “In the image of God,” and therefore has infinite potential.
This is directly linked to item three, and seems to re-enforce it, so yes, we are worthy of respect and have infinite potential because we’re human beings. It’s just a matter of how we choose to apply that potential, and a lot of the time, we don’t do very well.
5. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood.
This one is a bit dicey since, depending on your point of view, a large block of the mitzvot don’t apply to us at all, even acknowledging that without a Temple, Priesthood, and Sanhedrin, there’s a lot of the Torah even Jewish people can’t currently obey.
This answer hinges on whether you believe any of the mitzvot apply to us, and if so, which ones. We’ve had this discussion on my blog many times before, and I doubt that this side of Messiah, we’ll ever come up with the final answer.
Of course, there are some obvious points we can all agree on. If we’ve been believers for very long, we all have a sense of the difference between right and wrong, or righteous behavior vs. sin. What we all puzzle over is the more “ritualistic” aspects of the Torah; wearing tzitzit, donning tefillin, and such. Should we pray in Hebrew or are our native languages good enough (assuming Hebrew isn’t our native language)? Maybe this goes back to point one.
I would agree that obeying God’s will is indeed an opportunity for personal growth, and study is the cornerstone upon which Acts 15:21 stands, so yes, we can study the Bible, not just read it.
6. Torah is wisdom for living, teaching us how to maximize our potential and pleasure in life.
There’s actually a lot of the Torah we can apply to ourselves, or at least the moral and spiritual principles behind the mitzvot, which is another good reason to study them. We may not be commanded to wear tzitzit, but understanding why God commanded Israel to do so, may help us realize what God wants from us as well, which then adds to our potential and pleasure in life.
7. Our beliefs need to be built upon a rational foundation, not a leap of faith.
This is where traditional Christianity and Judaism travel in opposite directions, because the Church emphasizes faith most of the time. It’s not that Christians believe their religion is irrational, and Biblical apologetics is a really big deal, but at the end of the day, the Church is all about having pat answers, not continually struggling with tough questions.
This is one of the reasons I tend to favor a Jewish perspective over a Christian one, because I don’t believe the Bible holds every single answer to our questions about God, Jesus, faith, and the universe. I don’t think God ever expected us to settle down in our pews and get comfortable and cozy. Instead, I believe that we all have a little “Jacob” in us as we struggle with our angels (or is it our demons?). I think we study and pray as part of that struggle, and through that crucible, we grow.
8. Each Jew is responsible one for another, and each is empowered to face the spiritual and physical challenges facing the Jewish people.
Are we our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper? The answer to that seems obvious, but Christianity isn’t the same sort of corporate entity as Judaism. We aren’t a single nation like Israel, we are all the rest of the nations, so we don’t share a unified identity.
Of course, not all Jews are the same, and in fact, just like the rest of us, they can be radically different, one from another. Certainly my wife isn’t like the local Chabad Rebbitzin, and although they’re friends, their personalities and level of observance are light years apart.
But if we see a brother sinning, are we responsible for doing something about it, or should we just turn a blind eye? Again, I think the answer is obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. On the one hand, Jesus did give his “new commandment” in John 13:34 only to his Jewish disciples, but why can’t we apply it to ourselves? Does it hurt to love one another just as we believe our Rav loves us?
9. The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world. The Jewish people’s history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.
Okay, here we have the closest statement so far that the Torah principles actually mean something to the nations, but only if Israel is the light. I’ve said before that as Israel’s “first-born son” (metaphorically speaking), Yeshua is that light, and that he directly commissioned Paul (Rav Shaul) to be his emissary to the people of the nations means he intended for that light to be passed on to the rest of us.
There seems to be a thread that we can trace through different portions of the Bible leading to the conclusion that one of the functions of Messiah is to direct Israel’s light upon the rest of the world, only we must remember it’s Israel’s light. We can only benefit from that illumination, we can never possess it directly.
10. The Jewish people are bound together. Our power lies within our unity. Unified, no goal is beyond our reach; splintered, almost no goal is attainable.
That’s probably true of any group. The unity of the original thirteen colonial states in the U.S. is based on that principle.
Christians talk about “the body of Christ” meaning the corporate unity of all Christians everywhere, even though there seems to be a terrific battle going on between at least certain denominations and churches (although, as we all know, within Messianic Judaism, things are very “messy” as well).
When Messiah returns, one of his responsibilities will be to gather together all of the Jewish people around the globe and return them to Israel, so yes, Jewish unity will finally be achieved. That part is certain.
What about the rest of us?
That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? In my imagination, I believe he will end all of our petty bickering and posturing as well, but I don’t know if that’s particularly mapped out in the Bible. Yes, after all of the wars are over, there will be “peace on Earth,” but will people ever get along? More to the point, will we all agree on matters of spirituality, faith, and praxis?
I don’t know. One of the other things Messiah is supposed to do is interpret Torah correctly. We saw him doing some of that in the Gospels, but will that ever be extended to the rest of humanity? Will we finally know the exact “nuts and bolts” of God’s expectations for us besides the apparent moral and ethical values?
I hope so. It would be nice. But maybe even in Messianic days, we will still be required to struggle. Then again, Jeremiah 31:34 does say that at least Israel and every single Jew, will have an apprehension of God formerly reserved only to Prophets; a full indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 10 shows us that even Gentiles receive the Spirit, so perhaps what the Jewish will know under the New Covenant will be passed along to us as well. Then blogs like this one will be unneeded and I won’t have to ask any more questions.