The Tithe in Ancient Israel, Pt 2

The situation in our day is very different from in the Torah. Judaism acknowledges this, while Protestant Christianity clings to an outdated and untenable system.

Here is what I mean…

As concerns obligation, Judaism acknowledges that the tithe laws of the Torah are partially inapplicable today. The laws as given concern Israel in the land supporting the Temple and priesthood.

But there is no functional priesthood now and no Temple to support.

Thus, Judaism has adapted the second tithe to fulfill the highest ideal of Torah. Whereas in Temple times, the second tithe was for a communal meal in years one, two, four, and five, and set aside for the poor in years three and six, it is now the case that the tithe is to be given to the poor in every year. But what about the seventh year? Since our modern lives involve income in every year, as opposed to the system in agricultural Israel where the seventh year had no harvest, the obligation to give a tithe is every year. Additionally, the shmittah (Sabbath year) and yovel (Jubilee year) legislation assumes the people of Israel living in the land, and they are based on the idea of God blessing the land to miraculously provide for the fallow fields. So any application of the second tithe (for the poor) cannot be combined with a practice of Sabbath years outside of the land.

Thus, in Judaism, the tithe law is applied as giving to the poor at all times and giving between a tenth and a fifth. It is considered an obligation to give a tenth to charity. And charity is prioritized, first to family in need, then to local needs, then to needs in Israel, and last to organizations and charities.

In Protestant Christianity, however, there is a rule that a tithe is given to the local church. This rule, for most denominations, is not written or enforced. Few actually follow the rule.

Protestants are intelligent people. It is not hard to see the difference between a local church and the Temple of Israel, between a pastor and the Levitical priest.

Protestants are intelligent people. It is not hard to see the inequity in the claim that the Law is abolished in contrast to the preaching from the pulpit that one law, at least, is sacrosanct: the law of tithing to the local church. Sermons insisting that the rigorous application of the law from Malachi should be applied in slightly changed form (storehouse now equals the church bank account) fall largely on deaf ears.

Protestants are intelligent people who realize that many of the laws of Torah were given for Israel and not for Gentiles. This is not only good interpretation of the books of Moses, but is in the New Testament too, in Paul’s letters and in Acts 15. How is it that churches make an exception for the tithe law?

Support for the Congregation and Clergy

The actual law that most religious people follow is not a strict application of the tithe re-applied to the church or synagogue.

Rather, it is that we need to support our congregation and clergy. We benefit from having teachers who inspire and motivate us. We benefit from buildings and personnel and all the trapping that make community possible.

One of the weaknesses of alternative forms of community (house churches, cell groups, alternative minyans, havurot) is that they do not provide for several things: serious research and teaching, an enduring tradition, continuity and perpetuity, and more. A group meeting in a home and led by lay-people has the advantage of freedom and spontaneity. But if everyone adopts these alternative forms, theological study will come to a standstill. Religion will devolve into the least common denominator in terms of intelligence and attractiveness to moderns. The sheep will be left with gleanings instead of a rich harvest.

Who hasn’t been part of an informal group where the level of learning was less than satisfying because “everyone here is equal”? So uninformed people come together to discuss a text and everyone leaves just as ignorant as they came.

And as much as we distrust institutions, synagogues and churches are here for the long-haul. Informal groups come and go. If we ignore our urges to worship God for a time, we know the church or synagogue will be there if we ever decide we need them. Will we find the living room liturgy group when we have a need? Will some lay-leader be available when we experience the death of a loved one and want an experience of divine comfort?

In Judaism, the actual rule followed is simple: pay your synagogue dues and give to fundraising programs to keep the community strong.

In Protestant Christianity, the actual rule followed is reflected in the New Testament:

–the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop (1 Cor. 9:10).

–Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

Giving to the congregation is based on need, not on a rule of ten percent. Giving is to keep our community strong and to have the benefits of inspiration, challenge, comfort, faith, friends, and hope.

Should we be afraid that people will give less if they do it out of free-will and in order to keep the blessing of congregational life alive? Not at all. But if in Christian and Messianic Jewish circles we will remove the false guilt of a law that does not exist, we may see people more excited to give now they do not feel like failures from the get-go.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to The Tithe in Ancient Israel, Pt 2

  1. Derek,
    The articles on tithing have been informative and practical. I’m not sure I agree that protestants hang their hat on 1 Corinthians 9:10 and 1 Timothy 5:17-18. In my experience from years ago, Malachi 3:10 was the most often quoted verse when passing the collection plate, followed by passages from Deuteronomy and Genesis 14:20 (with Hebrews 7:5-9) and Genesis 28:22. However, if what you’re saying is that Christians should stop basing their practice on the passages from Deuteronomy and find support from the Apostolic Writings then I would agree. Otherwise, they’re being hypocritical in their claims that the Law of Moses is not to be kept. They want to have it both ways when it suits their purpose.

    I was hoping that you might also comment on the other commands related to giving to the poor, such as the forgotten sheaves, the unharvested corners of the field, the gleanings of the fruit trees and grape vines, and the bringing of first fruits. Adding these on to the tithe could easily bring the percentage of a landowner’s harvest to be given away to more than 30%. Following that practice in our day would be difficult to say the least. The bottom line is that we are stewards of what Hashem owns. Our job is to be very generous in giving away His possessions.

    -David Cook

  2. healthtourist:

    About Protestants and 1 Cor 9 and 1 Tim 5: what I meant was that this is the actual practice of Protestants, regardless of what is proclaimed in sermons. That is, they give based on need, but feel no compulsion to give a minimum of ten percent (actual Protestant giving is more like 3% based on surveys I have seen).

    About firstfruits and gleanings, I want to investigate halacha on the matter. My thought is that these provisions are only valid in the land, which is blessed through obedience, so that those who practice Torah can afford to do what it says because God provides the harvest (a biblical case is Boaz). So, I’d like to look into what later Jewish sources say about firstfruits and gleanings.


  3. Amen, Rabbi Derek.

    How sad is it that I had to go to a Messianic synagogue, where we are alledgedly legalisitic and “under the law,” to hear the person behind the lecturn say, “I am not a Levite, so I can’t command that you give me a tithe”? I have to agree with David that my experience has been that the average pastor will invoke the Torah and toss all of his Grace vs. Law theology out the window when it serves his purposes.

    Re: Informal groups, I see your point that “uninformed people come together to discuss a text and everyone leaves just as ignorant as they came,” but I can’t say that it’s any better in the vast majority of churches and synagogues out there. The fact is that most people are Scripturally lazy. Churches, in order to keep the “tithes” rolling in, cater to these Scripturally lazy individuals. Most pastors are also Scripturally ignorant, when you get down to it. Sad, but true.

    On the other hand, I’ve known some excellent study groups that because of the dedication of their original core grew in the Scriptures and blossomed into good churches and Messianic synagogues.

    I think more is dependent on having at least one individual with some formal training in the Scriptures and on having a dedicated group of students than on having a formal synagogue. After all, isn’t that pretty much the model that our Master (sans formal training, in His case) pursued with His Twelve and Seventy?


  4. Return of Benjamin:

    I hear what you are saying about informal groups (study groups, liturgy groups, etc.).

    But the contrast I am making is between groups who support a leader financially and those who don’t. Groups entirely made up of laypeople are not contributing to theological study, to pastoral care, to perpetuating a faith community for the future. Those who do financially support one or more leaders, expecting them to study and to provide pastoral care, are more forward thinking. So, I am saying that the seemingly innovative movement to lay groups is actually setting us backwards (in Christianity and in Judaism).

    I say this particularly because upcoming generations are disaffected with institutions and can be drawn to informal groups.

    Of course, fossilized, wasteful institutions need to be replaced (or change, but that is harder). So, I am not defending the status quo per se.

    And the other thing younger people can be drawn to is mega-groups (churches and synagogues of epic proportions). I also think this unfortunate, as the larger groups are more inwardly focused, do less deeds of lovingkindness per capita, and so on.

    Small to medium-sized communities with expert clergy and solid pastoral care are what we should all aim for, in my opinion.


  5. samstfleur says:


    Growing up Protestant I have encountered varying interpretation of tithing and its adherence. One of the many arguments suggesting tithing is that it supercedes the law due to Abraham tithing to Melchizedek and Jacob’s vow to tithe. What are your thoughts on that. I would agree that most tithe according to need and not due to it being law abiding. I will say that I think the position one takes on this reveals something about their heart in regards to generosity.

  6. derek4messiah :
    But the contrast I am making is between groups who support a leader financially and those who don’t.

    I’m not sure that works as a distinctive either. Neither I nor Rabbi Gavri’el receive personal financial support from Beth Hamashiach; all financial offerings go to the support of the synagogue building, care for those in need, etc.

    Besides, up until the last century, most rabbis were expected to have income from outside of the synagogue. It was the training and discipleship that made the rabbi, not the source of his income.

    Small to medium-sized communities with expert clergy and solid pastoral care are what we should all aim for, in my opinion.

    That sounds about right in my estimation, though of course the Jewish ideal is that every member of the community who has been Bar Mitzvahed (Bared Mitzvah?) should be able to lead worship, give D’var Torah, and so forth. They should have a trained rabbi if at all possible, of course, but it’s the devoted minyan that makes the synagogue, not the rabbi.


  7. falconress says:

    Such interesting discussion.
    I heartily disagree with your following statement regarding “alternative” groups:
    “Religion will devolve into the least common denominator in terms of intelligence and attractiveness to moderns. The sheep will be left with gleanings instead of a rich harvest.”
    Quite frankly, in my many years of involvement with several types of churches, including a few messianic congregations, the place I feel the MOST “left with the gleanings” is in ANY type of congregation that seems to be stuck on the idea of ONE or a FEW “leader/scholars” and the rest passively being fed, or stuck on the idea of paying for and supporting a “building” so we can look like a “fellowship.” Far and away, ANY time I’ve been able to be part of a smaller fellowship not tied to a certain building, we have been freed to study more and learn from each other better (and better help our community financially and make more efficient use of our giving). I have left years of church services and even some messianic fellowships feeling frustrated and poorly educated because there is not enough space to ask, discuss, explore, dig deeper. His Word never returns void. None of us are born scholars or “rabbis”…we become that as we delve into the Word. I agree that some are more gifted than others…be it in study or in expounding on study. But at least in those smaller groups with interactive discussion and sharing, those that are not as gifted have the opportuntiy to venture out, to begin to share, to learn to study…in my opinion the definition of true discipleship. Those that are more gifted can help, guide, redirect, clarify. Even in “alternative” groups that had their problems, hands down I ALWAYS come away with a feeling of more meaty, satisfying study and personal, practical application of the Word to my life than I usually do walking away from a typical church service…Shabbat, Sunday, OR Wednesday. It’s too passive in that environment. We can’t help but get that way when we “pay” someone to be our “king and priest” (well…or at least “designated scholar”) when we ourselves have been told “study and show yourself a workman approved unto G-d” and we have been made “kings and priests.”

    It seems that Paul worked and expected others to do the same. He also expected groups of believers to help each other, to help out those elders who teach and share and need places to stay or eat when they visit, and to utilize the community’s many gifts to provide what you are calling “pastoral care” (which you didn’t completely define but alluded to). I don’t care who’s got the seminary degree in theology in my fellowship…that person might not be the best choice to comfort the mother who has lost her child or the husband whose wife has left him. Each need for “pastoral care” will have a unique needed response. The “pastor” may or may not be the right response. I agree that it does seem clear, from the 1 Timothy 5:17-18 passage, that AS an elder/teacher’s gifts arise and become apparent, we as a community can see his/her financial need and ministry and support it, doubly if needed as they are “elders” unable to do the same kind of outside work that they did when younger. A key phrase in that 1 Timothy scripture is “the elders who rule well.” That is not something that is designated…that is something that happens naturally (or not!). And yes, I definitely have a cadre of “scholars” that I “go to” when I want to explore a deeper scripural question or need such advice…and only a couple of them are actually “paid pastors.” Most of the best scholars I know are not paid to be so.

    I feel that most of the problems that fellowships encounter all center around a key misunderstanding of scripture with respect to leadership and/or “congregation.” We sinners are all prone to power issues and struggles, ego trips, money dependency and hunger, doctrinal error (and just because your are “trained” doesn’t mean you are safe). It seems that G-d never addresses established “churches/congregations” in fully supportive terms…all the way to the words to the seven churches in the Revelation. The very things you seem to use to advocate them, “serious research and teaching, an enduring tradition, continuity and perpetuity, and more” seem in the message to the seven churches to be their very downfall…unquestioning “followers” have fallen into and institutionalized “traditions” over true understanding and application of G-d’s Word, becasue they have trusted their “educated” elders to properly interpret for them and to be above the sinfulness of the average “layperson.” Oh, so many lost and confused and hurt souls have been born of this phenomenon. And dare I go into all the problems caused by supporting the “institutions” (buildings, staff, landscaping, fru-fru)and not actually supporting the community, the widow and the orphan, each other, and valid ministries. Every dollar spent on the “building” is a dollar not spent on feeding and helping those individuals and minintries in need.
    You mention a couple of times how the young of today are being disillusioned by the institutionalized churches, and how people don’t trust them. People didn’t get this way in a vacuum. This comes from real experience and in my opinion this “coming out” going on is a move of the Ruach HaKodesh and bringing His people back to the ancient paths. Do I think that EVERY “church” in a building under this model of a paid, designated hierarchy is doomed to fail or in error? No. But I do believe the propensity for failure, doctrinal error, and passive, undereducated masses is MUCH MORE LIKELY in that structure, and there is a good reason why people are moving away from it.

    Shalom :)
    B’shem Yeshua

  8. espenseventyr says:

    In my experience sharing, also sharing theology, is much facilitated in house church and keeps it practical and tied to real life because of the possibility of asking questions relating to what we live at the moment. And it keeps people who do not have a natural interest in theology and that are usually more or less asleep during the sermon alert because of that. As long as I have been a believer, 10 years in traditional church or 2-3 years in house church, to get deeper into theological issues it has only been discussing with people battling with the same questions or reading theological books on the issue that has helped me.

  9. Sigh . . . Falconress and Espenseven:

    Neither of you are thinking of the big picture. You are only thinking about how much you enjoy your informal group.

    Here are a few observations:
    (1) You likely did have some bad experiences in institutional churches/synagogues.
    (2) Those synagogues probably did have inadequate leaders who failed to do their job properly.
    (3) The solution is not to have all training in theology, biblical languages, history, and archaeology cease so that engineers, accountants, and small business owners can become the new facilitators of religious community.

    Further, your short-sighted replies to me did not answer my arguments:
    (1) When people come to a point where they want to seek out God in a church or synagogue, how will they find it if all the churches and synagogues are gone? How do the living room study or prayer groups become available to them?
    (2) How will theology, biblical studies, and Jewish-Christian relations continue and expand in a system where the people think democracy is more important than depth?

    After reading both of your comments, I question whether you know what solid theological study or biblical research is. But assuming you do, you probably benefit from reading scholars such as Rashi, or a modern commentator. Kiss those kind of sources goodbye if the religious world follows your not-too-well-thought-out model of untrained leadership.

    The solution is not to abandon networks of churches and synagogues, not to abandon the idea that some people devote their life to study and pastoral care. The solution to bad churches and synagogues is to avoid them, find better ones, and make the ones you care about better places by being involved. And, at a good church or synagogue, the leadership is for the people and not over the people. They do exist. I’m sad you gave up too early.


    • falconress says:

      Shalom Derek,
      I don’t know where you got that I’m only thinking of how much I “enjoy” my group. I’m not sure I know what you mean by “enjoy.”
      I’m simply COMPARING depth of study and levels of practical application and relative individual and corporate effectiveness of the group in the mission of Yeshua, between the “average” smaller house church or alternative grouping and the “average” church or synagogue. To be honest, I really haven’t had that many “bad” church or synagogue experiences, as far as that goes. The reason I’ve left Christian churches is because I fell in love with the Torah. They were great churches, as far as churches go. I’ve mostly changed them over the years simply because I’ve moved so much, for school and work and family and such.
      The only reason I’m even IN a home fellowship right now is because I’ve decided to put my love for G-d’s Torah above the concept of “looking like an established fellowship.” I tried all the best scriptural approaches to solving the problems (as you say, make it a “better place by being involved”) in a messianic fellowship that I actually helped to establish. There was no response, so others have also left and stayed and continued to try and fix it. The fruit is becoming apparent (some bad fruit), but in the meantime I’ve just moved along in my study and fellowship and ministry, joining with others as I should. We’ll see what develops of it.

      As far as all the rest of the points you made in your response, I feel espenseven’s response sums it up. You seem to miss the GREAT WORK OF G-D that is going on in places like s/he describes. There are scholars and leaders and tighter group communities arising, but to say that one must have those things in place already for any deep study or great work of God to be accomplished is limiting G-d and telling Him that He can’t work unless we have some kind of “priest” or “leader” to guide us…when that Cohen is now Yeshua. Yeshua turned me into a biblical scholar. You have no idea. My study library rivals any theological seminary, and my Hebrew is deeper and more fluent than probably most students who graduate with a Doctorate in Theology or Divinity or such. I’m not saying that to brag…I’m saying that Yeshua’s dwelling in my heart has made me one hungry little scholar. I probably could at least have a Bachelor’s or Master’s right now…but I spent years getting those in English and Education. My study is not about getting the title or the “job,” but is about knowing and loving G-d and learning how to walk with Him and share Him with others and do real tikkun olam. I do actually look at the possibility of my “day job” being more in line with that spiritual goal, but that takes time to develop and it is starting to look more possible. Part of the reason I wanted to study Hebrew was motivated by wanting to work in and with Israel, all sparked by Yeshua in my life. I am totally in support of financially supporting people who’ve made their life mission to teach, shepherd, serve, minister, feed, etc., etc., and we DO. I just disagree that it is a PRE-REQUISITE for those things to happen…it happens naturally…or I should say, in a G-d ordained way.

      In no way have I “given up” on good churches or synagogues.


  10. Falconcress:

    Also, you argued that Paul worked and expected others to do the same.

    (1) It is a great idea for religious leaders to have other means of making a living, but it is better when they can earn their living from the work of teaching and pastoral care. I work three jobs, but fortunately for me they are all related to teaching and study of Messianic Judaism and theology.

    (2) You misunderstand Paul completely. He made a living through alternate means, but said that the people ought to support him and other leaders. I cited 1 Cor 9 and 1 Tim 5 as examples of Paul’s teaching that elders who teach should be supported.

    (3) The Christian house-church movement ignores the historical reality that: (a) early Yeshua-followers were in houses because they had little or no choice as semi-illegal movements and (b) that the model for the early Jewish-Yeshua-movement was the synagogue, not the house church.

    (4) Much evil has been done in the name of fundraising, erecting properties for God, and hierarchical systems of religious power. I don’t deny it. But it isn’t always that way, doesn’t have to be that way, and the solution is not to decide that buildings and paid clergy are bad. Expect more. Demand more. Stay away from phony power and stuffed suits. Don’t be so cynical: there are plenty of wonderful synagogue communities and church communities.


  11. Falconcress:

    You said, “Most of the best scholars I know are not paid to be so.”

    Please email me at if you’d like to discuss this. I have encountered this sort of statement many times. It suggests a poor definition of scholar. It suggests falling for teachers and internet personalities who have no accountability, who do not engage a broad variety of viewpoints, who preach narrow views online and with little worry about contradiction, and who lord it over their audience with deceptive and self-gratifying control.

    Let me ask: why would such a person choose to be unpaid? They don’t. They simply do not have the leadership skills to organize a community. They only find followers amongst people who ask too few questions. They are virtually always out of balance, because they define their audience in the most narrow of terms, have not taken the time to read opposing views or broadly survey Christian and Jewish history and theology, and they are dangerous.

    Please do not mention an individual’s name on the blog, but feel free to email me if you’d like to give me an example. I don’t desire to drag anyone’s name through the mud.

    And if you are an “unpaid scholar,” and think I have mischaracterized you, write to me. What do you have to lose? At worst, I am going to try to convince you to read more broadly, represent yourself more humbly, and perhaps to pursue real training and a real career of teaching and pastoral care. You should aspire to these things anyway.


  12. espenseventyr says:

    While I very much enjoy our group, it is not really my main concern (though of course it is important).

    What I find excellent with our house church network is that every believer participates and shares and takes responsibility and we really relate to each other as family. The common denominator in all institutional churches where I have been (Lutheran, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Anglican) is a very passive mindset where the Service is considered more or less as a show (intellectual or emotional depending on the denomination) and people showing their Sunday smiling faces instead of getting involved in their own and other peoples spiritual growth.

    For your questions :

    (1) When people come to a point where they want to seek out God in a church or synagogue, how will they find it if all the churches and synagogues are gone? How do the living room study or prayer groups become available to them?

    For those who feel a need for that, there are already lots of churches in Paris where I live and that is fine, and I can help them connect with that if they wish. But very few, probably none, of my non-Christian or Jewish friends are interested in that.

    (2) How will theology, biblical studies, and Jewish-Christian relations continue and expand in a system where the people think democracy is more important than depth?

    I do not have anything against theology or in depth biblical studies, and people that pursue these things by getting formal training are resources in our community. But in my opinion the problem in Europe is not that people are not exposed to in depth theology (though I might like you to define what you mean with in depth theology), the problem is that they are not exposed to basic theology at all.

    It is not necessarily democracy in our community as in everybody counts the same, the voice of somebody with more experience with the Lord and/or more thelogical knowledge will naturally have more authority (one of the elders in our network is a former pastor and a theologian, and in the process of being trained by a rabbi). The key is to learn to be humble and to be able to learn and take advice from others, especially those who are older and more experienced/knowledgable than me. That is also something that people has not always learned in their own families and that they learn in the community.

    For the really big picture that you say I have lost sight of, to me it is to make Jesus known to everybody. Friends in India frustrated on seeing that Western missions and the Western church model having born so little fruit in terms of disciples decided to try out what they call the Luke 10 model, going out 2 and 2 finding “a person of peace” and talking, praying for him and planting a house church in his house. They started 15 years ago. Today there are between 500 000 and 1 000 000 house churches in this network (they have a hard time counting), the day of Pentecost 2009 they baptised in this network over 300 000 people on one day (scattered in the state of Madhya Pradesh). With so many people you need many leaders quite fast and it is impossible to send them to theological seminary first (which in any case is way too expensive).

    To me the best model seems to train as many low-level leaders as possible (that is what we do in the house church) and for those feeling that they are called to dig more deeply into theological issues than what is possible in their spare time to pursue a theological education and either working as faculty employée, or if the network can afford it, being paid by the network as a resource for several house churches.

  13. espenseven:

    You see, we have different ideas about what Yeshua’s goal on earth is.

    From your answer, it seems to me you would be happy if every person on earth had “personal salvation.” This is the old-school and very reductionistic gospel.

    What I am trying to point you to is this: Yeshua’s goal is a world transformed by faith in God and Messiah, union with God, lives lived in pursuit of justice and mercy, care for the sick and poor, and, in short, making this world like the world to come. Our part is not to complete the task (only God can), but to begin it through teaching and serving.

    Your system works because those poor people will be fine as long as they hear that there was this savior who died so they will have a good afterlife. What depth is required?

    The system I suggest Yeshua proposed requires much more: a teaching and serving body of people equipped by good leaders. They must know what to teach and how to serve. And simplistic gospel movements such as those you prefer are a good start, but how will they get beyond self-centered ideas of “my personal salvation”? Where will people go when they learn that systemic evil in their lives is not so easy to get rid of? What will happen to their faith when they see innocent children die? How will they engage their culture for Yeshua armed with John 3:16 and the Romans road? Are the depths of Torah and New Testament unnecessary? I think not.


  14. Carl says:

    I’m with you on this crucial issue.

    I have over four decades of experience in congregations (in the 100-300 membership range) and small groups (3-25 participants). This is because we moved four times in that period and I was also involved in regional teaching and pastoral work. I’ve noticed that, regardless of size, groups without leaders (or participants) who have engaged in serious scholarship tend to become very idiosyncratic (and often prideful), especially in their interpretation of Scripture. Scholarship will NOT guarantee healthy interpretation and community. But the lack of an in-depth knowledge of broad theological and pastoral issues will pretty much guarantee an oddness, or worse, that group members do not see.

    Why is this? Healthy scholarship involves (or should involve) becoming familiar with the interpretations and pastoral practices of the past as well as the present. So many insights, interpretations, and revelations that surface in groups (of any size) with untrained leaders are just plain wrong, and therefore they’re UNHEALTHY for people. A scholar becomes familiar with interpretations of the past and how such interpretations have stood (or failed) the test of time. They will (or should be) skilled in community practices that lead to health. But groups that are suspicious of scholarship and oblivious to the efforts of previous generations end up at best reinventing wheels or, at worst, going off the deep end.

    BTW, small groups are important for the health of larger congregations for building community, discovering and developing gifts, doing Bible study, etc. If, as I believe, loving and studying the Scriptures is a natural part of loving Yeshua, then one leader or even a team of leaders should not spoon-feed but challenge and equip the congregation. And every person should love God more than enough to learn, to love their community, and to support (financially and otherwise) those who are vocational or avocational leaders.

    But I have not personally encountered a small, unaffiliated group that has encouraged and financially supported serious scholarship. Some must exist (see below). But why would groups that are convinced of their self-sufficiency (on a human level, that is) invest their hard-earned cash to support scholarship they don’t think they need? Maybe that’s what it comes down to, Derek—many believers are dedicated and hard-working students of the Bible but simply don’t think they need the interpretations and debates of the past or the scholarship of the present.

    There is another model, the so-called Independent Minyan movement. “Independent” simply means they aren’t part of a denomination. On the other hand, they are receptive to the traditions of practice and interpretation they have received, while also free to differ from them. Being Jewish, they tend to value religious education more than small Christian groups. They feel their need of it. Members of such groups typically seek such education, and they wouldn’t respect or tolerate leaders who have not been, or do not seek to be, taught by mature men and women of older generations. Mechon Hadar in NYC has a one-year full-time program is specifically geared toward members and leaders of such groups.

  15. falconress:

    In your reply to me above, you illustrate my point perfectly.

    You say you are a “scholar” because you know Hebrew and have a big library of theological books.

    As I said, your system only sounds workable because you dumb down the meaning of scholar.

    Is knowing Hebrew a sign that someone is a scholar? Are all Israelis scholars by definition? All observant Jews who use Hebrew well?

    It is apparent to me that you are confusing studiousness and an ongoing life of Torah learning with scholarship. All Jews are called to Torah study. Some become scholars of note whose work illuminates the rest of the community. In Christianity, it is the same. All are called to know the Bible (and I think a greater emphasis on biblical languages and theology would be good). But some stand out as exceptional and scholars who help the community think and grow.

    Most rabbis and pastors need not be scholars, but readers of scholarship, students of serious theology and practice. That is what I am: not a scholar, but a student of scholars and a systematizer of the results of good scholarship.

    And, perhaps it is because your teachers are untrained internet personalities (no accountability) that you seem blissfully unaware that Torah is not your covenant. It is the covenant of the Jewish people with God. You assume that the Church is wrong not to keep Sabbath and kosher and so you separate yourself. And for what reason? Does Torah have anything to do with Jews, in your opinion? Or are you a de facto “Israelite” because you believe in Yeshua?

    I will grant you that the majority of Christian scholarship of the past on the Torah has been slanted in an unhealthy direction. But you should be aware of more recent Christian theologies which see Torah as needed for Jewish faith in Yeshua.

    You should be aware that the quirky, self-defined Torah observance of the Gentile-Torah movement (One Law) is against the teaching of Torah itself, disrespectful of God’s election of Israel as the covenant people, rife with replacement theology, ignorant of the application of Torah through tradition, and harmful to Jewish-Christian relations.

    You may disagree with me, but is it because you have studied the issues or because you have just assumed, without broader training in the history of Torah theology, that the way of your eccentric movement is right?

    I hope this discussion I am having with you, rather than making you angry (because, I admit, I am being hard on you), will cause you to re-evaluate and take time to back up and consider the broader picture.


  16. espenseventyr says:

    “Yeshua’s goal is a world transformed by faith in God and Messiah, union with God, lives lived in pursuit of justice and mercy, care for the sick and poor, and, in short, making this world like the world to come. Our part is not to complete the task (only God can), but to begin it through teaching and serving.”

    I completely agree with this, I do not understand why you are so set on telling me that I say otherwise. It is not because we do not subscribe to the traditional pastor-model that these things do not become important. On the contrary, compared to the traditional churches I knew, these things are more in the foreground.

    “From your answer, it seems to me you would be happy if every person on earth had “personal salvation.””

    No, that is not what I say but salvation is the entry point for all the rest. I completely agree with what you see as Yeshua’s goal. The self-centered gospel is a Western invention, not an Asian one and exist because of our individualistic culture. The gospel in an Asian context is about redeeming the family and the society, not an individual soul (event though it is important too and a beginning).

    I find you have a very low view of poor people, the things you mention are what they live with all the time. Actually I am quite disgusted by the tone of your response, I hope I misunderstood you.

  17. Espenseven:

    Well, happy to be the one you are disgusted with, I guess.

    Meanwhile, you are simply naive if you think that the gospel is best spread with no knowledge of theology or history. But, you know best, so I will defer to you.

    I guess the work of the Spirit in history counts for nothing. Any “saved” person can get it all by osmosis any time, right?


  18. Ovadia says:


    I think your comments about “alternative forms of community” are more germane to specific kinds of house and cell churches (and Messianic small groups) than they are to havurot / independent minyanim (really the same phenomena in two different generations) in the Jewish world. Maybe this is because the idea of the “pulpit rabbi” as analogue to the Christian minister is a modern innovation, and maybe because Judaism is more accustomed to sustaining its scholarship in institutions outside of the congregation. Just because a community does not have “a Rabbi” does not mean that it does not interface with rabbis, consult rabbis on halachic questions, etc.

    All that being said, I think the Messianic context could use a better-trained, better-supported leadership, and I’m all for your emphasis on scholarship. It’s the most effective treatment for craziness. As per usual, I find myself saying “ditto” to Carl.

  19. wordmachine says:

    My experiences with being in small groups has mostly been successful. Most of the groups I’ve been a part of compliment the synagogue/church services and have been good support networks. They have been a place to talk about sermons, talk with people who are going through some of the same experiences, and to share knowledge. I have a lot of good things to say about them, too much to talk about here.

    • wordmachine says:

      Also, I’ve noticed sometimes that if someone shares something in a large group people are not as compelled to talk with that person about it. They sometimes figure “Well, I don’t know that person so why are they going to care if I care about what they talked about?”. That leaves the person sharing sometimes in a state of doom because of sharing something important that they needed some feedback on, or needed to know if there was anybody else out there going through the same type of situation. If you’re in a small group people sometimes feel more compelled to show their care and concern because they figure the person sharing has trusted them to share with. On the other hand, I’ve also noticed people in small groups who will not share much or anything if they think one person doesn’t want to hear what they have to say, and I’ve seen groups become specific “circles of friends” that won’t allow anybody else into their group or who may think that the group is getting too big. With the “circle of friend” groups you can usually tell ahead of time that the group may be off-limits, so I think that groups just have to be careful not to become these types of groups, and if the group gets too big another group of the same type could probably be formed if it needs to stay small.

  20. rebyosh says:

    Shalom All,

    Interesting a great discussion, Derek.

    Just to add some clarification on the discussion of independent minyanim. Firt of all, the independent minyan movement is not really just “the same phenomena in two different generations.” There are similarities, but the two movements also differ in many ways.

    One particular difference is on the connection to the wider Jewish community. “Idependent” is more only a descriptive of their not being particularly “Conservative,” “Reform,” “Orthodox,” etc. It is more of a “post-denominational” approach.

    However, a few of these very successful minyanim do have rabbinical leadership (full or part-time). A great example is Ikar (in LA). Another example is Kehilat Hadar (in NYC), which at times has rabbinic (or rabbincal students) within its leadership team (although the emphasis is still primarily on being lay-led).

    Kehilat Hadar was one of these early independent minyans which became widely successful, and one of it’s founders, Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, went on to found Mechon Hadar, a support institute for the independent minyan movement, and furthering the idea of an “empowered Judaism.” They have also recently launched Yeshivat Hadar, the first full-time egalitarian yeshiva in North America for training up young leaders within this movement.

    So the independent minyanim movement does not fit nicely into this discussion of informal groups as there are definite formalities to this movement, including rabbinic consultation and leadership, institutional support and conferences, as well as a very strong emphasis on education.

  21. Participation in small groups which are part of the work of a congregation is healthy and is not what I was speaking against. And small groups in and of themselves do good things. But they undermine something which is very needed. And so, they cause harm which is completely unnecessary.


    Thanks for clarifying about independent minyanim and their support of Jewish institutions and learning. That is helpful.

    What I don’t like seeing are all the people who want to have some sort of God-experience or religious experience with no accountability, with no commitment to building a future in Judaism or Christianity, and with no commitment to learning and scholarship to carry us into the future.


  22. A number of years ago I started doing a lot of reading into the Early Church and as such I started reading a lot of books on the House Church movement. At one point I nearly quite the church for a House church but in the end I didn’t. One of the major factors in me not joining them was when I read their main handbook which most House Churches follow religiously, “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola. This book had many good points and things to consider but there where 2 issues that I couldn’t swallow. The first was the virtual non-use of what Christians (me included) call the Old Testament. The only fucus as far as scripture was concerned was the New Testament and even then they saw Pauls letter as only showing House churches how to operate and not about doctrine. This disturbed me a lot. The other issue was over formal learning. They saw no need for it and even condemned people who went to Bible Colleges etc. This for me was a dumbing down. Believers of all shades need meat and not milk like what was being suggested here.

    Now I have no problem with small groups or House groups which meet regulary but this on its own would be a disaster. You need also to be linked in with a Church, Messianic Synagogue where you can get deep teaching as well. Many people point to the house Churches in China or Cuba etc. But people forget that this is their only option and within these house churches there is deep deep teaching even deeper than what you can find in some churches.

    Well this is how I see it. If I am wrong please show me.

  23. falconress says:

    Hmmm…Derek. You are very prone to read far too much into things that people say or, even worse, don’t say. Angry, I am not. Really turned off by your very negative assumptions about people is a better description.

    I have yet to see you actually define what constitutes and actual scholar, and exactly what is the line that delineates that from a non-scholar.

    You made some very presumptuous and sometimes demeaning comments about my level of Hebrew, being “blissfully” ignorant, my library (which it sounds like you assume I don’t actually read or apply), my supposed attachment to “internet personalities” (I don’t know WHERE the heck you came up with THAT!), how we supposedly don’t defer to scholars or dig into deep scholarship of the past (I don’t remember ever saying we don’t depend on great scholarship).

    Your comments about applicability of Torah to gentiles vs Jews gave me some insight into where you seem to be coming from. From what I can see out there in the messianic world, you are very wrong about assumtions you are making there. Wow…replacement theology is what I fight against. And Torah in my life has been a great blessing…revolutionizing my walk and opening Jewish hearts and eyes around me to Yeshua. What part of Psalm 119, Romans 11, and Deuteronomy 30’s do people not understand. Yes, thanks to my Kinsman Redeemer, I am now adopted into the family…and livin’ by the house rules, thank you very much. NOTHING, NO “SCHOLAR,” NOBODY is going to convince me to walk away from Torah or to leave my brothers (the Jews) alone and abandoned in this world. Over my dead body…literally.

    I am done with your blog now. I have lost respect for both your scholarship and your heart to others. You told me to be more humble. Back at ya.


  24. Falconress:

    Well, since you say you are not going to be reading Messianic Jewish Musings anymore, I guess you won’t see this reply.

    You said that I made demeaning comments about your level of Hebrew. Factually incorrect and so I don’t want to let that stand. I said that knowing Hebrew does not make anyone a scholar.

    You said I implied you either have a deficient library or don’t read the books in it. I did not say that. I said reading books does not make you a scholar. I said that you are confusing ongoing study with scholarship. The be a scholar is to be a specialist, versed in the entire field you claim to be a scholar in. I said that I do not regard myself as a scholar, but a student of scholars and a systematizer of their studies and results.

    You came on here to argue against me and I came back at you. Why did you take an argumentative tone if you did not intend to carry out the discussion?

    I suggested that your insight into Torah, Jewish life, and the broader issues of theology was limited. You suggested that no, you were broadly knowledgeable. Why then are you surprised to find out that Jews do not believe the Torah was given to the nations? This is nothing new in Jewish theology or in Messianic Jewish theology. The UMJC and MJAA both have denounced One Law theology (so has FFOZ). It is not Messianic Judaism. It is a Torah movement for Christians (who don’t want to be called Christians).

    If I am your first dose of a Jewish theology of Torah, then I am glad you got a chance to be challenged. Now maturity is defined by how you react to the challenge. You may disagree with me, but if so, you should have good reasons. Otherwise, you should admit you are in over your head, consider learning from a different perspective, and growing. Even if you end up disagreeing, at least by considering the POV of Judaism and Messianic Judaism on the matter you will have stretched your knowledge.


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