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.