Leah on Gentiles in MJ

When I read Leah’s comments I felt they deserved to be posted as more than just a comment. Leah has an amazing knowledge of Orthodox interpretation and halakhah. She is very young, grew up in Modern Orthodox Judaism, and retains virtually everything she ever learns (I’m jealous). Between Leah and Carl Kinbar, I certainly have some brilliant friends to go to with questions about halakhah (you should be jealous). I think Leah, like Carl before, makes some fantastic contributions to the discussion.

Hi Derek, it’s really cool to read your blog! Your honest wrestling with identity, inclusion, and leadership within the MJ movement is inspiring and thought-provoking.

I too have been wrestling with the issue of Gentiles in the MJ movement. As a Jew from an Orthodox background, I found that faith in Yeshua helped break the “enmity” (ie prejudice) against Gentiles that I had grown up with. It was exciting when I first tried praying and studying Torah with Christians, eating with them, and inviting them for Shabbat. On the other hand, when I began attending an MJ congregation, it shocked me to discover that one of the cantors and the man who blew the shofar weren’t Jews or that inter-marriage between Jewish and Gentile believers was completely normative. I seriously considered leaving the MJ world then, and had my congregation not been such a rabbinicaly-affirming, liturgically-Jewish place, I probably would have. I have an affectionate feeling for Christians of all stripes, and enjoy visiting various churches, but in an MJ congregation, I want to experience a Jewish service where I can at least fulfil my halachic obligations–like kriyat haTorah and shofar.

However, I also believe that the developing MJ halacha should not become stuck in the rabbinic “apartheid” mentality, (I agree with your word choice). There is something deeply morally unfair about the exclusion of a person from reading the Torah publicly simply based on his or her national origin. And if saying the blessing “asher bachar banu” (”who has elected us”) would be considered inappropriate for a non-Jew, then why not replace it with a different bracha, one that reflects the place of Gentile believers envisioned by the MJ community? As an example, the Reconstructionists have changed the aliya blessing to reflect their theology that Israel is “brought close” to God but not uniquely “elected”; and when a Gentile spouse goes up to the bima for the Bar Mitzva of his child, he recites a blessing in English thanking God for “bringing me into relationship with the Jewish people.” Why couldn’t the MJ world develop such alternative brachot, one for Jews who were “elected” and one for Gentiles who were “grafted in”? Or even better, one bracha for both, that says we were all “elected and called” in Messiah, who is the living expression of Israel’s Torah?

Every area of halacha deserves individual attention when it comes to traditional Jewish/Gentile boundaries and the changes that are appropriate for communities in the Body of Messiah. The main question that should be pondered is the level of hiyyuv (obligation) under halacha that differentiates Jews and Gentiles. There are “Messianic” communities who believe that both Jews and Gentiles become Israel in Messiah and are therefore equally obligated in Torah (the Two-House or Efraimite Movement, and others). Then, there is the majority of Christians and evangelical “Messianic Jews” who believe that neither is obligated in Torah because Messiah has created a new kind of Israel where traditional categories of hiyyuv no longer apply. The kind of Messianic Judaism promoted by Hashiveinu, on the other hand, makes the rabbinic distinction between Jews, who are hayyav (obligated) in Torah, and Gentiles, who are not. That distinction seems to be affirmed by the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. However, both Rabbinic Judaism and the original Messianic Jewish coucil also affirm that certain mitzvot ARE obligatory for Gentiles–like the “sheva mitzvot bnei Noach” (7 Noahide Laws) or the 4 prohibitions in Acts against “food pollutted by idols, sexual immorality, meat of strangled animals, and blood” (Acts 15:20 and 15:29). It would make a lot of sense for the current MJ halachic council to make rulings regarding those mitzvot that should be obligatory for Gentile believers (like the 10 Commandements?), those that should be optional, and those that perhaps should be restricted. That would help clarify their halachic status within the MJ community.

Regarding the category of “ger”, because the Torah makes seemingly conflicting statements on the issue, the rabbis interpreted that there were two kinds of “ger”: One, the “ger tzedek” (”righteous proselyte”) also called a “Ben Noach” (Noahide); and two, the “ger toshav” (”resident alien”). Derek, you focused on those verses that clearly spoke about a “ger toshav,” a Gentile who had a closeness with Israel, her land, and her God, but not the same level of hiyyuv in mitzvot; while Carl focused on the Torah’s immerging category of “ger tzedek” or full proselyte. I don’t know the history of how these categories actually developed and played out in the life of Ancient Israel and whether the rabbis were right or wrong in the way they read the laws about “gerim” in the Torah. All I know is that their categories make a lot of sense and are fundamental to the way traditional Judaism sees Gentiles. I think these categories would also be helpful for a Messianic Judaism of the Hashiveinu kind. Gentile believers in the MJ communities can be seen as fundamentally “gerei toshav,” and that should give them a status of hiyyuv that is definite and real, but not as stringent as that of born Jews and “gerei tzedek.” The “God-fearer” category is best applicable today to all Christians (and perhaps more broadly, all monotheists), who may come to visit an MJ congregation, but who do not “dwell” among us.

In today’s Jewish world, there are millions of Jews-by-Choice, “gerei tzedek,” who have successfully integrated themselves into the Jewish mainstream. God loves these geirim and we too are commanded to love them and treat them equally (Lev. 19:33-34 and Deut. 10:18-19, etc). There is also a nascent movement of Gentiles who believe in Rabbinic Judaism and see themselves as Noahides. These Noahides often come from Christian backgrounds and are attracted to Rabbinic Judaism for many of the same reasons that Gentile Christians become attracted to Messianic Judaism. Both groups feel that Israel and her God are true and want to “walk in his ways.” They just disagree about whether the New Testament is an authentic continuation of the Tanach and a reliable source of theological and/or historical truth. But fundamentally, both Rabbinic Noahides and Messianic Gentiles are trying to cleave to Israel and Torah so that through them (or through the Messiah who embodies them), they may better cleave to God. I think that we who embrace the Messianic model of truth based on the N. T. writings, are obligated to love Gentile believers dwelling in our midst and encourage their worship and growth in Torah and Messiah, whether they form a majority or minority in their congregations. This can be done without blurring the halachic distinction between them and Jews and, at the same time, without creating an apartheid mentality either, as Isaiah cautions: “Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people…’” (Is. 56:3). In my mind, the best way to do this is to reclaim and fully embrace the status of “ger toshav” or Noahide in a Messianic context.

One positive outcome of redefining Messianic Gentile believers as Messianic Noahides would be to give their children who are raised in the MJ community a clear identity and a paradigm for relating to Messianic Jews and to Gentile Christians. A child of Messianic Noahides would know what mitzvot in the Torah she is expected to keep (to be determined by the halachic council) and what mitzvot are optional, and she would look forward to her Bat Mitzva ceremony when she could be confirmed as a Messianic Noahide. The child would also be taught, of course, that she has no obligation to become a “gera tzedek” (in fact, Paul strongly discouraged this), and that it’s not her level of hiyyuv, but rather her faithfulness to Yeshua, that reflects her status in God’s kingdom. A Jewish child in an MJ congregation would know that his obligations in Torah are more demanding that those of Messianic Noahides, but that both are ultimately under the grace of God in Messiah. When the Messianic Noachide girl and the Messianic Jewish boy would meet and decide to get married, it would be helpful to have clear halachic guidelines about what happens to the status of the family and the children. Here is where Paul’s vision of “one new man out of the two” (Eph. 3:16) can be applied perfectly. The two–Noahide and Jew–become one flesh when they get married, and thus “the Torah of commandemnts and regulations” which forbids intemarriage is abolished. Perhaps at that point, the couple may choose whether they want to raise their children as Noahides or as Jews, or maybe the rule should be always Jews. But at least it wouldn’t be a choice between Torah and no Torah.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts I’ve had on the issue. I wonder what you think.

In Messiah,
Leah

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About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Mark Kinzer, Messianic Jewish, Michael Brown, Theology, Yeshua. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Leah on Gentiles in MJ

  1. Leah says:

    That was totally unexpected, Derek, but thanks for promoting my post! :)

    I do need to correct a MAJOR CARELESS ERROR that I made: In paragraph 5, lines 3-4, I meant to put “Ben Noach” as an equivalent to “ger toshav,” NOT to “ger tzedek.” Duh! This gets clarified in the last line of paragraph 6, and I hope it wasn’t misleading.

    Also, in paragraph 7, line 8, I wrote “gera tzedek” for the feminine of “ger” instead of the correct “giyoret tzedek.” Sorry, it was late at night, and I couldn’t remember the correct form.

    One final thought: I propose that congregations that have at least a minyan of Jews, should be considered Messianic Jewish, and those that don’t should be considered Messianic Noahide. There is no reason why an educated Noahide can’t lead a Noahide congregation and even be a rabbi. Did you know that the worldwide (non-Messianic) Noahide movement (www.noahidenations.com) is working with some Orthodox groups in order to receive leadership training and even some kind of “Noahide semicha (ordination)”? There is good reason why the MJTI should consider giving Messianic Noahide semicha along with Messianic Jewish semicha.

    For one thing, you, Derek wouldn’t have to convert to become a rabbi. You could become ordained as a Messianic Noahide rabbi and continue leading your Messianic Noahide congregation. And you could still appropriate as much of Torah and Tradition as you like above the minimum level, without it all crashing down on you as a hiyyuv. Remember what Paul said in his polemic against conversion? “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole Torah” (Gal. 5:3). Are you really sure that you want to become obligated by the whole Torah? And lose your God-given freedom to eat a lobster or live under a roof during Sukkot or own bread during Pesach (or feel at home in a church)? I’m sure you would make a wonderful Messianic Jew, but you would make an equally wonderful Messianic Noahide. Sorry for being blunt, but don’t choose to convert just so you can be called a messianic “rabbi.” Didn’t Yeshua Himself warn us not to become ennamored by the title “rabbi” (Mat. 23:8)? I’m sure you are an incredible leader in your community, but would it make sense to become a Jew when your congregation is not majority Jewish? Sorry if you’ve heard all these arguments before…I don’t want to sound offensive. Let me know what you think.

    Shalom,
    Leah

  2. Leah:

    Thanks for your pointers about Noahide and Jewish congregations. You are giving me a lot of food for thought. I will eventually rewrite my thoughts on Gentiles in MJ taking what you and Carl have shared into account.

    As for my congregation, we do have a minyan (counting women). We are not majority Jewish, however.

    As for my conversion, I hear your concerns. I have considered them all. That is one conversation we did not get to have at conference. I am resolute in the path I have chosen. But I respect you doing your duty to discourage any faulty motivations.

    Derek

  3. Hi Derek and Leah,

    I come from a one law background where Gentiles are obligated to keep the whole Torah. Recently I have changed my stance and have a similar perspective to considering Gentile believers in Yeshua to be like Noahides. I am confused about something though. In Acts 15 it seems like the big revelation about Gentiles was that they don’t have to convert to be acceptable to God (i.e. to be “saved”). They could just be something like a Noahide, leaving idolatry and turning to the one true God.

    I’m confused as to how this is a big revelation though. Doesn’t the Torah imply that a Ger Toshav is acceptable to God even though they have different covenant responsibilities? Perhaps one could explain Paul’s major perspective shift by understanding Acts 26:5 as Paul coming from a Shammaite perspective in which “Gehinom is reserved for the righteous among the Gentiles and the wicked among Israel.” Perhaps Acts 22:23 means when Gamaliel was the Nasi. But Beit Hillel already held the perspective that the righteous among the Gentiles had a share in the world to come, so what is so new about Acts 15?

    I don’t quite understand the connection between the appearance of Messiah (Acts 2) and the Gentile “inclusion”. Can you provide any clarification on this?

    Thanks,
    Justin

  4. Leah says:

    Hi Justin,

    I also had your question when I first learned Acts. One way of viewing it is that the concept of a Noahide or righteous Gentile who inherits olam haba (the world-to-come) did not yet exist in Judaism. The ger in the Torah was viewed strictly as a proselyte. Messiah’s community thus would have been the first to extend olam haba to Gentiles, even before the rabbis considered the issue. (I once tried to present this perspective to an ex-Christian, Noahide friend of mine to convince him to become a Messianic Noahide).

    Alternatively, the idea of a righteous Gentile or Noahide could have been a debated topic, like you pointed out. I don’t know much about the machloket (dispute) between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel on the issue of Gentiles in olam haba. (I would appreciate some sources on that!) But it’s possible that Yeshua’s followers were divided on the issue as well, and the story in Acts comes to persuade those who took the conservative position of exclusion.

    The third view point (which I hold now) is that everyone acknowledged the category of ger toshav and God-fearing Gentile (and perhaps the reward they would get in olam haba). For example, the Centurion and Cornelius are specifically praised for their righteousness even before they had any contact with Messiah. However, while socially respected, they would still have been considered “common” and “unclean” and therefore religiously unfit to worship with. The descent of the Ruach on the Gentiles signified to the Apostles that Gentile believers were not just good people whom God would reward in olam haba, but that they were completely EQUAL in God’s eyes to Jewish believers in the HERE and NOW. To avoid ritual impurity, the Gentiles were asked not to eat certain polluted foods; but the main point was that the Acts council rendered them SPIRITUALLY pure and kosher, even though they remained Gentiles. This meant they could worship and eat together with Jews and expect the same gifts of the Ruach and the same promise of resurrection in Messiah without the complications of conversion. That was the “big revelation” back then and remains one even now for people with a rabbinic mindset.

    Finally, the pouring out of the Ruach in Acts 2 was an event that convinced Yeshua’s disciples that they were now entering the Messianic Age of which Prophet Yoel wrote: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people, etc.” Thus it was surprising, but not beyond the limits of the expected, that Gentiles should also recieve the Ruach haKodesh. The inclusion of Gentiles was envisioned as part of the consummation of the Messianic Age. The surprise to the Apostles was that it happened so soon–way before Yeshua was scheduled to return in Glory.

    Marana ta ba’agala u’vizman kariv! (Our Master, come, speedily and soon!)

    Leah

  5. Thanks for the reply Leah.

    I’m sorry for the lack of sources. I really need to get access to a searchable Talmud. Here are some comments to the three proposed ways of viewing the situation.

    1. “The ger in the Torah was viewed strictly as a proselyte.”

    That a class of ger existed in Judaism that wasn’t a full convert is clear from Deuteronomy 14:21, where the ger is allowed to eat neveilah but the native born is not. According to the Talmud (source?), the ger toshav could keep much of the Torah without actually converting. According to Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, based on Arachin 29a, the class of ger toshav (which is different from a Noahide) is no longer accepted when the Yovel is not observed. This seems to be related to Leviticus 25:41 which says a ger toshav slave who is freed is to return to his ancestral territory. In the absense of the Yovel the ancestral territories aren’t allotted properly. I don’t know the details and don’t have access to Arachin to research further.

    2. “The idea of a righteous Gentile or Noahide was a debated topic. Yeshua’s followers were divided on the issue as well, and the story in Acts comes to persuade those who took the conservative position of exclusion.”

    I agree with this. Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel had different perspectives on the ability of a Gentile to be considered righteous, and both of these views are present in the writings of the Apostles. The specific Pharisees who stood up in Acts 15 seemed to hold the Shammai perspective, “they must convert to have a share in the world to come”. The Shammai perspective also seemed prevelent in passages where the people wanted to stone Paul as soon as he mentioned the Gentiles (ref?). On the Hillel side we have the examples of Cornelius and the centurion, as you have mentioned. I still don’t understand the relationship of this Hillel perspective to the appearance of Mashiach.

    3. While a ger toshav / God fearer was accepted, they were considered unclean and common.

    The revelation the Apostles had about Gentiles seems to cover two questions:

    Can a righteous Gentile have a share in the world to come without converting? They answer “Yes”. Converting isn’t necessary.

    Is a righteous Gentile still considered an idolator? This seems to be the thrust of Peter’s vision. The laws of Bishul Akum (cooked foodstuffs of avodat kochavim u’ma’alot) apply when dealing with an idolater. Certain precautions are taken to make sure you don’t drink their wine or eat their meat associated with idolatry.

    “From where do we deduce the prohibition on the wine of idolaters?
    From where Scripture says, ‘Who did eat the fat of their sacrifices and
    drank the wine of their libations.’ Just as their sacrifices are forbidden from
    deriving any benefit, so also is their wine forbidden.” b.Avodah Zarah 29b

    If I’m not mistaken, Judaism today rules that all Gentile’s are idolaters in regard to these rules of food preparation and who can be alone with wine, etc. The Shammai perspective was that all Gentiles are idolaters. Hillel had a more lenient ruling where if they had left idolatry they were no longer considered idolaters and therefore their wine could be consumed, etc. Again the Apostles side with Hillel.

    I really need to get these sources. I posted this anyway, since I want to respond and keep the discussion going. Maybe someone else with a searchable Talmud can contribute the sources.

    So anyway, it still seems to come down to nothing new, but rather rulings siding with Hillel.

    I have more questions about the pouring out of the Spirit and the nations coming to God in the days of Mashiach, but I have to sort them out in my head before I can ask an intelligent question. That’s all for now.

    Justin

  6. See Avodah Zarah 64b for differing opinions on what is required of a ger toshav. Apparently some of the sages thought a ger toshav must keep the 613, minus the prohibition against eating neveilah.

  7. In Response to the above’Goyim in the MJ movement’ I [as a Messianic Jew] think Goyim should full welcomed and encouraged to take up the Torah (which is the central teachings of Ha Mashiach Yeshua and the entire B’rit Ha Chadasha) and a messianic life! After all when the Faithfull met they met in the Beit K’nessetot in the Jewish Communities in Yisra’el aswell as the Diaspora! Remember it was not till after the fall of the Temple that the split between Judaism and Believers in the L-RD took place and the goyim [not all mind you] enforced the anti-messiah statments that resulted in the loss of the “chruchrs” Jewish!
    To all my Goy Brethren SHalom and welcome to the Judaism of Mashiach!

  8. Marc says:

    Boy Leah you elegantly put this in a whole different perspective.

    I once believed that Jews and Gentiles were both equally obligated to Torah. But scripture keeps saying otherwise. Personally speaking and this most likely applies to others… we tend to listen to the spiritual leaders and believe them without letting scripture be the final authority.

    Marc

  9. Tamra says:

    Shalom all,
    Some very interesting points here however without going deep into details, yet simply looking at it through the Ruach Hachodesh and my heart….I am going to give my quick opinion…As a Gentile believer First I will point out in Acts a point that seems to be made was that the gentiles would be taught and learn Torah thus as they matured and grew in knowledge of Torah the desire and ability to follow would/should come naturally.
    Act 15:21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

    I feel only following the Noahide Mitzvah for me personally is taking a step back, not giving myself fully to Adonai. I agree that conversion is not necesary..yet is it wrong…I do not believe so. I believe it is a heart issue…are you trying to be something your not? or is your desire to follow Adonai in all things and truly be echad with the Jewish people. As far as gentiles serving or praying the blessings, etc., If we are grafted in thru Mashiach and become one why would we need to change the blessings? I do think we need to be sure we are honoring Adonai with our lives and living what we are praying. Sometimes I think we get too caught up in religion and not relationship with Adonai and eachother. If we can’t follow the 2 most important commandments we can’t follow the others. Halleluia for Grace because I don’t know anyone who can keep all 613 Mitzvah. I surely can’t!
    Shavua Tov
    Tamra

  10. siseleanor says:

    From my own perspective, I would feel that it is better to permit full conversion than to discourage it to the point of making it almost impossible, but it should surely be undertaken seriously and to the same standards as a thorough and reputable orthodox process. Making sure this is possible and normative when someone will not be gently and carefully dissuaded from taking this difficult course will actually help the whole community. I would imagine it would be difficult for a married couple to raise children with a serious minded attitude to observance if one parent perceived themselves as more obligated than the other.

    It was useful in the community I lived in for many years that the shiurim (classes) in halachah were taken by those converting as well as those who were born Jewish but returning as adult BT’s. (baalei teshuva) What does make a huge difference is being taught by someone who has been ‘Frum For Generations!’. When a teacher is someone who has come from a long family tradition of being observant, there is (hopefully) a natural and life-giving way it is all integrated and ‘worn’ like a familiar piece of clothing, and that is passed on to the beginner. Otherwise there is a danger of a more brittle kind of attitude to observance being taken on, and that can be more difficult to live with and less transmissable to the children in the family. I don’t know if that makes sense. I think Leah’s article is very helpful and clear, and I thank her for it. Although in postmodern Britain, new forms of church are all about not having boundaries and membership etc, I feel it does help to have some in MJ.

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