Shalom all. I hope you had as great a Labor Day weekend as I did. I spent mine at a gigantic Fantasy/Science Fiction Convention called DragonCon. Awesome. There was a lot of over-the-top immorality and pagan/gothic/macabre grossness, but there was also a great deal of imagination and wonder. I went to the Writers’ Track, as I am working on a historical fantasy novel set in ancient Sumeria.
Anyway, all that aside. I wanted to respond to a lengthy comment by Tirzah. She is objecting to and trying to dissuade me from the course I am pursuing in conversion to Messianic Judaism. Let me start by clarifying what I am doing and then respond to some of her arguments. I am not posting her entire comment here as it is too long, but you can read it here.
In a post from July 26, I mentioned that I am in the process of conversion. I am doing this through a Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. I have not abandoned my faith in Yeshua or anything. Nor do I believe that becoming a convert will in some way make me closer to God or get me brownie points. I hope you think better of me than that. I simply feel it is my calling to join together with Israel. Similarly, I am functioning already as and feel a call to be a rabbi in the Messianic Jewish community. I feel it is inappropriate for a Gentile to be a rabbi.
Derek, my whole problem with your stance rests upon one sentence. Let me quote, “I am a Gentile in process of conversion.” I cannot for the life of me understand why you would consider this is even appropriate, much less acceptible. To what would you be converting since Messiah Yeshua is, according to your testimony, already your Savior and Lord? Are you converting to “Judaism?” Let me assure you, as a Jewish woman married to a Conservative Jew; Rabbinc Judaism of today is by it’s very nature contrary to honest faith in Yeshua. Surely NONE of us are attempting to gain any acceptance in that realm?
In this statement there is a good question and a decidedly false statement. The good question is “to what are you converting”. The false statement is “Rabbinic Judaism of today is by its very nature contrary to honesty faith in Yeshua.”
Conversion is about joining the family of Israel, not changing religions. I consider biblical precedents such as Caleb the Kenizzite, yes the famous Caleb of the books of Numbers and Joshua. His family was of Edomite descent, from the line of Kenaz. Yet they joined with Israel, apparently in Egypt, and Caleb became part of the tribe of Judah. I also consider the precedent of Nicolaus the Proselyte in Acts 6, one of the seven leaders chosen by the apostles. Recently I suggested Nicolaus as an example of a convert and they objected, “That was before he knew about Yeshua.” My response was, “Yes, but he did not repudiate his conversion, but was known for it in the early congregation.”
Let me add one more precedent: Timothy. He had a Greek father and a Jewish mother. As far as we know, the modern system of attributing Jewish descent through the mother was not yet in practice. Timothy was regarded as a Gentile and was uncircumcised. Paul had Timothy circumcised, which was an act of conversion.
Tirzah, you say that rabbinic Judaism is contrary to faith in Yeshua. Which part of rabbinic Judaism are you talking about? Do you light candles for the Sabbath? That is rabbinic. Do you begin the Sabbath at sundown? That is rabbinic. Do you fast on Yom Kippur? That is rabbinic. If you care enough about this issue, I’d ask you to read my seven-part series, “Should We Follow the Rabbis?” from the June archives. I understand your objection, but I hope to promote a more positive view of the rabbis. It is easy to assume that since most traditional rabbis reject faith in Yeshua that they are therefore evil or worthless. I think there are major theological problems with assuming that there is no good outside the company of the redeemed. When God made man he said good and he placed his image there. When Paul describes unbelieving Israel in Romans 11, he says there is good there.
Tirzah then said:
do you honestly believe that G-d is calling any of His people these days into some sort of confusion between Biblical faith with modern Jewish cultural expression?
I see no confusion between Jewish life and Yeshua-faith, Tirzah. My suspicion is that your experience in Messianic Judaism has been a bad one. You were probably in a place that was not mature or balanced. I hope that you will see a more mature Messianic Judaism and see the good in it. You went on to suggest that the Holy Days of Leviticus are all fulfilled in Yeshua’s work and no longer literally for us to practice. I do hope you will consider Ezekiel 40-48, Zechariah 14, and other prophetic passages which indicate the Feasts of Israel are very much alive and will be fully restored when the temple is rebuilt.
If I am a white person, I may adopt African American culture, but I will never fully understand what it means to live within the “skin” of an African American, and no matter how much of the culture I adopt, I will never be able to say with straight face that I am an African American. Why? Simply put…because of blood, experience, and family history. How effective would a caucasion person be in the role of head of the NAACP?
Great example except for one thing: Israel is not an ethnicity but a family. That has always been the case. Caleb is an example I have already cited. I might mention that Jews in every place intermarry and come to look like the host culture. Sephardic Jews look North African and Middle Eastern. Ashkenazi Jews look European. Jewishness has never been strictly limited to ethnic descent.
In like manner, how effective is a person who has absolutely NO familial connection to the Jewish people at all (and I’m not talking about faith here) in leading a ministry to the unique needs of Messianic Jews?
You are nothing if not ruthlessly correct in asking this. It is why conversion is so important. I cannot defend my sense of calling to you. I cannot prove to you that it is legitimate at all for me, born a non-Jew, to lead a Messianic congregation. I could point out the leadership of people like Caleb and Nicolaus as precedents. More importantly, I could invite you to Atlanta to worship with us one Shabbat and see if you think I am out of my mind to be doing this.
Jews and Gentiles who believe in Messiah Yeshua have something much more important in common than any cultural expressions, which either could, or should divide us.
Yes we do, but you are missing the point. Your comment assumes that Jewishness is simply a cultural expression. Jewishness is more than a cultural expression. It is a God-given identity, a covenantal obligation, and a crucial part of God’s plan to redeem this world. I know that evangelical Christian theology rarely deals with the nuances of Jewish identity. I wouldn’t expect you, as a Christian Jew, to understand. Perhaps, though, you could be willing to admit that I might just have an argument. Perhaps you could suspect that I am not so foolish as to worship Jewishness as an end in itself.
Torzah went on to cite 1 Corinthians 7:17-24. Opponents of conversion often cite this passage. Yet they overlook something vital: they are not obeying their own interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7. What do I mean? They do not follow the next section, which says:
I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
It seems that Paul’s statement about conversion is not an absolute. Paul was not against marriage (read 1 Cor. 7:28). Neither was he against conversion. There was something going on in Corinth and Paul put a hold on status changes for a while. Quite likely, it was not a time for believers to draw attention to themselves. Please, Tirzah, go back and read 1 Corinthians 7 again and you will see that Paul says the same thing about conversion, slavery, and marriage. It’s not fair to single out conversion because you happen to disagree with it.
Finally, let me say Tirzah, that I hope you and I can be friends in spite of some disagreement. I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. I believe, right or wrong, that I have a calling from God to do what I do. I do hope that you, being married to a religious Jew, can come to appreciate your husband’s tradition. I strongly feel that Yeshua would be at least as comfortable in your husband’s synagogue as in a solid evangelical Christian church. I feel he would be far more comfortable in your husband’s synagogue than in the many word-faith, prosperity, and silly churches that abound in our day. I won’t even mention churches where statues and icons are used in worship in contradiction to God’s express command. Maybe Judaism isn’t the OTHER religion. Maybe Judaism is faith leading up to Yeshua. Maybe Judaism has Yeshua hidden within it, waiting for us to realize and bring all Israel to Messiah. Just maybe.