This is a series investigating the relationship of Torah to Israel and to non-Jews. I am defending the unpopular view of Judaism, that Torah was given to Israel and certain commands in Torah are Jewish identity markers, not for non-Jews to take over. I am also a proponent of non-Jews coming alongside or joining with Israel in worship. I advocate both distinction and inclusion in MJ.
I expect many to disagree. Growth in theology will never happen, however, if we do not think. Let my people think, I say. Have you held to a certain position for years? Are you convinced that non-Jews in Messiah become “spiritual Jews” and Torah is given now to you as well as to Israel? I want to persuade you otherwise.
Beginning our investigation of the Torah and non-Jews, we turn to God’s command to the father of all the nations, including Israel: Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless. R. Yokhanan said, “Noah was blameless only in his age.” In other words, Noah was only righteous by comparison with his wicked generation. Resh Lakish said, “He was righteous even in his age; how much more would he have been righteous in other ages.” In other words, in a wicked generation it is harder to be righteous, not easier. Ezekiel seemed to take Noah’s righteousness as fact (Ezek. 14:14).
The issue of Noah’s righteousness is important to what I am going to say. God told Noah something was permissible that many in MJ and various Hebrew Roots groups are saying is not permissible.
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. (Genesis 9:3-4).
Consider the simple facts:
1. Noah is the father of the nations.
2. God told Noah it was permissible to eat any animal.
3. Any animal includes pigs, shrimp, lobsters, and hippopotamuses.
Later, God told Israel:
You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:43-44).
Many people assume that:
1. God was changing what he had said in Genesis 9.
2. That pigs, once fine for a righteous man to eat, are now bad for a righteous man to eat.
3. The Torah is a standard of holiness that all followers of Yeshua should attain to, Jew and non-Jew.
Could we possibly consider the idea that God gave Torah to Israel and called for Israel to be unique and different? Could we assume from the context of Torah itself that pig is great for a non-Jew but forbidden for a Jew?
Here are some of the arguments I have heard against this interpretation and my responses:
ARGUMENT: God gave the dietary laws for health reasons.
REBUTTAL: This is the view of people who have not thought carefully. Beef is often unhealthy. Carp, which is kosher, is no cleaner an animal than catfish, which is not kosher. The view of Judaism is that the dietary laws are not primarily about health, but about a command for Israel to be different. I commend the study of Jewish sources on this.
ARGUMENT: Noah only had one pair of each unclean animal on the ark. If he ate them, that animal would be extinct. He must have understood God to mean he could only eat clean animals.
REBUTTAL: God was giving a principle for the future, not necessarily for right at that moment. “All moving things” cannot mean “all moving things except 95% of the animal world which is forbidden to you.”
ARGUMENT: Noah already knew the clean-unclean distinction, as evidenced in the text, so he understood God to mean he would only eat clean animals.
REBUTTAL: The clean-unclean distinction at that point had only to do with sacrificing, not with eating. Again, “all moving things” cannot mean “all moving things except 95% of the animal world which is forbidden to you.”
ARGUMENT: Some animals are inedible, therefore God could not have meant it is acceptable to eat all things.
REBUTTAL: Common sense should rule here. Pigs are edible.
ARGUMENT: Once Yeshua came, it became incumbent on the followers of Yeshua to imitate him in lifestyle. Thus, while pagans may be permitted to eat pig, Yeshua’s followers, Jewish or not, must follow him in abstaining.
REBUTTAL: This argument sounds good. It sounds just like the people who said, in Acts 15, that it is necessary for non-Jews to be circumcised and keep the Torah of Moses. The apostles pointed to Amos 9:12, which says God accepts Gentiles as Gentiles. They ruled that circumcision and Torah-observance (meaning the Jewish identity markers of Torah) are not required for non-Jews. We will dissect Acts 15 later in this series.
ARGUMENT: Eating animals like pigs may have been permissible but not for a person following God.
REBUTTAL: Noah was a righteous man, blameless. God had not problem with a righteous man eating pig or rattlesnake.
Genesis 9:3 is a strong challenge to the Torah-revival movement that would seek to turn non-Jews into Torah-keepers. It will not do to conveniently change phrases in the Bible in order to maintain a failing theology. “All moving things” cannot simply be read as “all moving things that are clean according to Leviticus 11.” There are many moving things but only a few permitted for Israel. The small number of species that are kosher cannot in any sense be deemed all moving things.
Noah, a righteous man, was told eating pig, shrimp, and oyster stew was fine. If some non-Jews want to worship alongside Israel or, like me, join with Israel through conversion, then keeping the dietary law is a fine choice. Let’s not keep it for the wrong reasons or look down on our brothers and sisters from the nations who, in righteousness, enjoy God’s full bounty from the earth.