Well, the dialogue is growing. I can tell from the number of readers I am getting that the relationship of Torah to non-Jews is a subject of interest. So much fuzzy thinking has been propagated on this topic, I don’t blame people for being confused.
When people have a pet doctrine, a common mode for defending that doctrine is to cite only a few verses, the ones in favor of the theory. People repeat certain affirmations like mantras. On this topic, Acts 15:21 gets thrown around a lot as a defense for a Torah-revival amongst non-Jews. I hear lines like, “We are grafted in,” or “we must be imitators of Yeshua,” or “one law for the native and the stranger,” and so on.
Well, knowing what God is teaching is not as simple as throwing out a few affirmations. In many areas, and Torah is especially tricky, the truth is more complex than sound bites.
Getting past assumptions is important to hear God’s voice. “God wouldn’t have different standards for different groups of people,” is just that, an assumption.
After shedding false assumptions, the next crucial step is hearing all sides of God’s truth on a matter. Citing a verse here or there is problematic for that reason. I could do as Christendom has for centuries and quote lines of Paul out of context and make a very convincing case that Torah is obsolete. Let’s not follow that example in defending Torah. Let’s honestly hear what God has to say.
Today’s installment may be the most important in this series. It concerns the Stranger, a.k.a. the Sojourner or Ger.
Exodus 12 is an important chapter for understanding Torah and its relationship to non-Jews. This is the Exodus-from-Egypt chapter. This is the one in which a mixed multitude fled Egypt with Israel.
The mixed multitude, mentioned in Exodus 12:38, is an important topic in and of itself. I have heard many in the Torah-revival movement cite this text as a basis for urging full Torah observance on non-Jews. The argument goes something like this: (1) non-Jews were with Israel at the Exodus, (2) they were with Israel at Sinai, (3) they received the commands along with Israel, (4) thus, Q.E.D., non-Jews are recipients of the Torah along with Jews.
There is a reluctance in the Torah-revival movement to acknowledge a certain truth. It is the truth that best explains what happened to the mixed multitude. I have heard it called THE SEMI-PERMEABLE BOUNDARY OF ISRAEL. That is, Israel is not strictly a genetic family. You can join the family from the outside. The unfortunate word used for this today is CONVERSION. This is unfortunate because it gives the wrong impression that conversion is about changing religions. It is not. It is about a non-Jew becoming a Jew. It is about joining Israel.
This is what Caleb the Kenizzite (an Edomite tribe) did. This is what the mixed multitude did.
How can I say that the mixed multitude joined Israel?
1. Their number are included with Israel in Exodus 12.
2. Later, in the tribal censuses, the numbers match, yet all the people are accounted for and members of Israelite tribes.
3. How did those mixed multitude people get lost in the tribes of Israel? They were considered as native-born and assimilated into the tribes.
There were no non-Jews at Sinai (note: I am using the term Jew in its modern sense for all Jacob’s line–no need to write me as though I am ignorant of the history of the word).
Now we come to the issue of the Sojourner (a.k.a. the Stranger). The Torah recognizes two kinds of non-Jews that Israel will deal with: the Foreigner and the Sojourner (Ger). The foreigner is simply a non-Jew. The Sojourner is a non-Jew who lives with Israel.
As will become apparent in the ensuing discussion, there were two kinds of Sojourner. I think this distinction lies behind the rabbinical categories of the Ger Toshav and the Ger Tzaddik, the Sojourner at the Gate and the Righteous Sojourner.
One kind of Sojourner lived as a citizen of the land. He observed the Sabbath laws and holy days. He worshipped Israel’s God. He did not get circumcised or fully participate. In fact, some holy things were off limits to him. Yet he was a non-Jew living with Jews and partially keeping Torah.
Does this sound familiar? This is the position, I believe, of many non-Jews who are in the MJ movement. They are non-Jews worshipping alongside Israel without becoming Israel. They may not keep dietary law at home. They do not wear a tallis. Yet they fully participate with the community.
The other kind of Sojourner is circumcised. This Sojourner takes on himself and his family the entire Torah. This Sojourner joins with Israel. He may be known his whole life as a Sojourner and not as a Jew. Yet his children marry into Israel and become Jews, full members of the tribes of Israel.
There are many non-Jews like this in MJ also. I am one of them. This is a decision that needs to be made through the accountability of a Beit Din (court of judgment). This is not something that can be an individual decision. There must be witnesses of a circumcision. There must be oversight. I am going through the process with a Messianic Beit Din (see ourrabbis.org).
Yet many arrogate this position for themselves, some unwittingly and others with disdain for the idea that Israel is unique in any way. Many, who have not even had a halakhically correct circumcision (I haven’t as yet) consider themselves full recipients of Torah.
I have sympathy for people caught in this position. It is largely the fault of MJ. We should have had conversion and a respectable Rabbinical Council years ago. Many non-Jews in MJ are caught in the void of a system that has been afraid to be Jewish for fear of distancing itself from Christian supporters. Well, we’ve come into our own. It is time for MJ to be Jewish.
Yet I am also pointing the finger at those in the Torah-revival movement, the ones who arrogate Torah-status for themselves and call other Yeshua-followers incomplete if they do not do the same. Exodus 12 is not your friend. Exodus 12 is your enemy. It speaks against you. It is time for you to admit it and throw in the towel. Torah is given to Israel, not the nations. God will not be pleased that: (a) you presumed to take holy things upon yourself and (b) that you made others who were following God according to his will feel inadequate.
I guess now I have to make my point from Exodus 12. If you’re not seeing too much red to read the rest, consider how Exodus 12:43-49 distinguishes Jews and non-Jews in their relation to Torah:
And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. 45 No foreigner or hired servant may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”
1. No foreigner may eat of the Passover. Wait a minute, you say, do you mean non-Jews can’t have a Passover Seder? No, that is not what “eat of the Passover” means. The Passover means the sacred meat of a Passover lamb whose blood has been dashed against God’s altar. The meat is holy. It is for Israel alone to eat.
2. Slaves in Israelite households may eat of it if, and only if, they are circumcised (which means they have joined Israel, a.k.a. converted).
3. A Sojourner, meaning a non-Jew living in the land and worshipping Israel’s God, may not eat of the Passover unless they are circumcised. A Sojourner is not a pagan. A Sojourner is not out of God’s will. A Sojourner may choose to remain uncircumcised and not eat the Passover. God accepts non-Jews as non-Jews and does not put them under the full yoke of Torah.
4. When a Sojourner is circumcised he will be regarded as a native of the land, that is, he joins Israel. He is no longer a non-Jew. His children will be counted among the tribes. They will no longer be called Sojourners.
5. No uncircumcised person may eat of the Passover. Yet many who had medical circumcision and not covenant circumcision arrogate full Torah-status to themselves in MJ.
6. The one law for the native and the stranger/Sojourner DOES NOT mean EQUIVALENCE. It means the laws of justice and holiness apply equally to Jews and non-Jews in God’s holy land. Yet there are distinctions and some Sojourners will not choose to be circumcised or take on the yoke of Torah.
We need to fix some things in MJ. We need for those in the Torah-revival movement to progress into a Torah-based theology and leave their Ephraimite and Hebrew Roots backgrounds. I doubt my words will have much effect, but maybe there will be a few out there willing to question assumptions and take Torah at face value. If you are in a movement that promotes a false view of Torah, perhaps you can advocate change or you can move to a mature Messianic Jewish congregation that practices ACTUAL JUDAISM. I hope you are blessed to have one in your town.
We need to fix the aversion to conversion that lingers in MJ. We have many Sojourners right now who want to join Israel. We need to get caught up with what God is doing.
Most of all, we need to quit thinking that MJ is a movement of non-Jews keeping Torah. MJ is about what God is doing in Israel in these last days. It is not a club for people who think shofars and matzah are cool.
Yes, I know that it is hard to go back to a non-Torah life after you have lived a Torah life. Once you have appreciated such a rich tradition as Messianic Judaism, I know that plain evangelicalism can seem flat (no offense to evangelicals, many of whom might not be drawn to Israel in the way we are).
You, as a non-Jew in the MJ movement, have two choices as I see it:
1. Be a Sojourner in the gates, a God-fearing Gentile, one who worships alongside Israel without joining. We need a blog series someday about what this means practically.
2. Be a Sojourner-Proselyte, one who joins with Israel, through a proper Beit Din. This option is difficult as choices are limited right now. The movement is young and cannot fully staff this venture. But we can hope for someday. In the meantime, you can be in process, learning about Jewish history and life and considering yourself a candidate for conversion.
The best way to be Torah-observant is the believe what Torah says.