I’m skipping over to chapter 6 in my review and discussion of MMJT (search Richard Harvey to easily find this whole series of posts). Chapter 5 is about various MJ Christological views. We’ve covered a lot of that in discussing the recent Hashivenu Forum. Also, the subject of Yeshua, deity, and Trinity has brought along a few commenters whose views I’m not really interested in engaging with (they reject most of the New Testament, say Yeshua is simply the ultimate Tzaddik, and say they are Messianic). I’d rather move on to other issues, though Harvey’s chapter 6 is likely to bring on controversy and discussion as well.
MAPPING MESSIANIC JEWISH THEOLOGY: A CONSTRUCTIVE APPROACH
Richard Harvey, Paternoster, 2009
Check here to find MMJT on Paternoster and here to find it on amazon. My review of MMJT is merely a summary and a list of some questions raised and not a replacement for owning the book. MMJT is a significant challenge for more work to be done in Messianic Jewish theology as well as a wonderful summary of what has come before. The value of owning this book is first to see the diversity already within the movement and second to imagine the future.
Harvey’s sixth chapter is the first of two about MJ, Torah, and the tradition of Judaism. Chapter six deals more with the theoretical and chapter seven will deal with the practical outworkings of Torah in various segments of MJ.
Torah and MJ: Framing the Issue
Harvey gives a helpful introduction, brief but illuminating, to the meanings and parameters of Torah. It is especially important to consider three normative views of Torah in broader Judaism:
(1) Orthodox: “strict in their observance of the laws of the Pentateuch, which are further expanded, interpreted and applied by rabbinic tradition.”
(2) Conservative: “modify this traditional observance in light of modern thought.”
(3) Reform/Liberal/Reconstructionist: “adopt a humanist and revisionist position that looks to Torah for moral principles and cultural norms, but these may be negotiated and there are few absolutes.”
I find Harvey’s short definitions to be accurate and illuminating. I’d place myself in the middle category, with a Conservative but not Orthodox approach.
Messianic Jews are, for the most part, Torah positive (though Harvey surveys some Torah negative views as well). MJ walks in a tension between the Church which often views Torah observance as legalism and observant Judaism which often assumes that MJ’s do not keep Torah.
A variety of Christian theologies inform the diverse approaches to MJ and Torah. Some MJ groups formed out of Lutheran and Reformed backgrounds or Dispensationalism, and these tend to be Torah negative (Harvey doesn’t exactly make the point this way). Other MJ groups assume something like the New Perspective on Paul (again, Harvey doesn’t say it this way) and are Torah positive. What Harvey does say here, and this is helpful for discussion and reflection, is that Torah is approached in a number of ways by various MJ related groups:
–Torah observance by MJ’s is for the sake of witness to Jewish relatives and friends but is not inherently required.
–Torah observance by MJ’s is for the sake of cultural identification, in order to pass on Jewish identity to the children, but is not inherently required.
–Torah observance by MJ’s is imitation of Yeshua and is dissociated from the authority of Jewish tradition.
–Torah is the “grounds for the life of the covenant people…preserving the witness of Israel to her God.”
It wouldn’t be hard to guess, I fall into the last category, that Torah is the way of life for Israel and that Yeshua and the apostles affirmed Torah and the general thrust of the tradition (though tradition leaves much room for variation, disagreement, and streams of halakha).
Torah Views From Most Negative to Most Positive
For many readers, chapter six will be the most enjoyable read in the whole book. Harvey has done a great service in laying out the spectrum of Torah views in various MJ groups. I will summarize them very briefly here and encourage you to read and engage with all of these ideas.
–”Messiah, Not Moses” — based on Dispensationalism (search this term here on Messianic Jewish Musings to find posts describing Dispensationalism), this view says that Torah is inoperative, a defunct covenant and way of life. Torah may be kept for reasons of witness (Fruchtenbaum is the primary advocate).
–”Jewishness, Not Judaism” –based on Reformed Christian thought, this stream sees Jewish identity as rooted in something other than Torah. Rabbinic Judaism denies Messiah and is a false religion. Everything is now kosher. For cultural identification, some Torah observance is a good thing, but in freedom, not obligation (Baruch Maoz is the primary advocate).
–”Biblical but Not Rabbinic” –an Israeli theology which views Israel separately from Judaism. MJ must not look to rabbinic Judaism, but form its own halakha independently (Gershon Nerel is the primary advocate). Ariel Berkowitz writes a similar view which Harvey curiously lists, IMO, out of its order in the spectrum.
–David Stern –writing in the formative period of MJ, David Stern does not present a coherent and complete approach. He points to Christian scholarship rejecting older ideas about the Law being in some way harmful. He references Oral Torah, says that Yeshua and the apostles revised some traditions of Oral Torah, and is ambiguous about exactly what MJ Torah observance should look like (Stern wrote as a pioneer and broke ground).
–”My Law on Your Heart” –Oral Torah has authority like the civil laws of a nation but must be corrected in cases where Yeshua disagrees (Arye Powlison is the primary advocate).
–”Variety with Guidelines” –applies Dispensationalism to a Torah positive view. Oral Law must be considered with three guidelines: much of it can be used, some can be adapted, some must be discarded. Only moral laws and the sacrificial system are inherently authoritative for today, with sacrifices being subsumed in Messiah’s death. The Mosaic is done away with, but much of it comes back in the New Covenant. Torah observance is based on the idea of a New Torah, mostly but not completely the same as the Old (Louis Goldberg is the primary advocate).
–”New Covenant Halacha” –Dan Juster provides another approach seeking to formulate a New Covenant Torah practice in continuity with the Mosaic, but not identical. The coming of Yeshua and his teaching has rendered some changes in Torah and MJ is to formulate a halacha based on study of every commandment integrated with apostolic teaching. Oral Law is a mixed bag and must be part of the halakhic process, but not as absolute authority. Michael Rudolph developed a Taryag Mitzvot attempting to apply this method.
–”Torah Re-Appropriated” –Michael Schiffman wrote about this in 1990 (I suspect his views are quite different now). He advocates a now-and-not-yet interpretation. Torah is fulfilled, but as the kingdom is not fully here, MJ’s are to live Torah out of freedom, not obligation, in order to demonstrate faithfulness to God and be part of the Jewish community. This view is complex and perhaps not coherent (sorry, Michael, my good friend — I’d love to see your thoughts now after twenty more years of reflection).
–”Yeshua Kept Halacha” –John Fischer represents a school of thought seeing Yeshua maximally in agreement with Pharisaism. Even in the trend in scholarship to see Yeshua as a Jew, Fischer’s position is toward the maximal end of continuity. Fischer is careful to note that Written Torah takes priority over Oral Torah and notes that conflicts do occur and must always favor the Written.
–”Messianic and Conservative Halacha” –Mark Kinzer advocates a Messianic halakha which is in continuity with that of the larger Jewish community. Kinzer emphasizes (in a point sometimes misunderstood, but which if people were honest they would realize is true) that scripture can only be fully interpreted communally and in conversation with a tradition. Israel has a normative tradition with streams and variations, but which MJ halakha must follow. Any conflicts between Yeshua’s teaching and some aspects of Oral Law / normative tradition are handled by the flexibility of the tradition and not by rejecting it. The Torah should be interpreted as it presents itself: as a document intended to be supplemented by the judges of the nation a la Deuteronomy.
It is not difficult to imagine that my own views align with those of Mark Kinzer. I think, however, that Harvey’s categories (which I abridge a little) show us the potential for much variety in MJ approaches to Torah.
How does this list of positions reveal new possibilities to you? Which of these have you considered or lived out? Which have you rejected?
I hope we can have discussion, not arguments (see Ethics of Discussion page, a tab at the top of the blog home page). The issue of Torah and MJ is one which could rightly occupy us in intense discussion for a long time. I’d like to see more MJ’s, Christians, and Jews understand the subtleties of being Yeshua-followers as Jews and this is one of the heart matters of Messianic Jewish faith and practice.