It is surely a puzzle to most Jewish people than non-Jews would want to embrace a Torah lifestyle. The overwhelming majority of the Jewish community is ambivalent.
I was reminded of this at a recent interfaith wedding. Among the four or five cuisine items at the reception, one was shrimp and another involved prosciutto. Many Jewish people, it seems to me, consider it a badge of honor not to be different. The thinking seems to be: I may be Jewish, but I can assimilate and just be normal like everyone else.
Non-Jews in Messianic Jewish synagogues often approach lifestyle issues like ba’alei teshuvot (recent returnees to Jewish observance, a term for newly religious Jews who are usually more zealous than longtime religious). Meanwhile, Jewish members of Messianic synagogues often are ambivalent about matters of Torah living.
Having established repeatedly here at Messianic Jewish Musings that Torah living is not a requirement for non-Jews, we now consider another question entirely: to what degree is it proper for non-Jews to take hold of a Torah lifestyle by free choice?
Motivations and the Gospel
In considering this question, one place to begin is to clarify a few motivations and to comment on their effect on the question.
(1) Some non-Jews feel inadequate before God without Torah practices (Sabbath, holidays, dietary law, fringes, Jewish prayer, etc.). The extreme of this mindset are those who feel that only Jews/Israelites/Messianics are right with God. God does not accept ordinary people. The additional holiness of Torah practices is required to make someone kosher to God. The Bible calls this a denial of the gospel. Instead of Yeshua, this thinking looks to Torah strictures as a system of merit. The book of Galatians was written against such thinking.
(2) Some non-Jews feel rootless before God without Jewish traditions. There are two types in this category. First are those who have been living in communities with Jewish traditions for some time and cannot imagine giving them up. Second are those newly coming into Messianic Judaism from disappointment with traditionless, flavorless churches. For the first group, I will comment below about the status of those already in relationships with Messianic Jewish communities. As for the second group, see part 3 of this series in which I discuss options for non-Jews who want a more Judeo-Christian approach. Churches need to have more robust traditions. A lot of evangelicalism is as devoid as possible of tradition and ritual. This style of religion leaves many empty. But non-Jews tired of shallow and unintelligent worship need not look to Judaism for a solution.
(3) Many non-Jews are drawn to certain aspects of Torah living because these things are in the Bible. Wanting to be closer to God, to live as God’s people did in the Bible, it is natural for many to keep Shabbat, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot as a return to biblical living. As I will clarify below, I don’t think this impulse is harmful if it is followed by an equally thorough education in the theology of Israel’s election and role in God’s plan.
(4) Finally, many non-Jews are drawn to Jewish people, to the history and meaning of Israel past and future. This is my own story. In the early days, for me, it was not Torah that drew me, but Jewish people, history, and culture. Matzah ball soup was as important, if not more important, to me than the holidays. I loved the land and people of Israel (based on one two-week trip which was formative for me). I loved “Fiddler on the Roof.” I read Jewish history and felt a kinship with this people. That is why I converted and became a part of the Jewish people. I did not feel inadequate as a gentile. I simply identified with the present and future destiny of Jewish people. I had a Jewish soul, as they say.
Re-Education for the Confused
Those who suffer from feelings of inadequacy, who somehow think God’s love is only for the Israelite, for the priestly people, for the Jew, need to be re-educated.
How can you study the Torah and think God only loves those who keep the Sabbath or the dietary law? Do you suppose that God loved Noah? He ate unclean meat (see Gen 9:3). Do you suppose Jethro was loved by God? Do you think Abraham was Jewish?
Those who feel they need Torah to be accepted by God should study Torah. They will find that Paul, in the New Testament, knew what he was talking about. And he said God accepts those who keep Sabbath and those who don’t (Rom 14:5-9). He said that no one should judge non-Jews for not keeping the holidays (Col 2:16-17). He reflected the Torah’s view of itself, as a covenant between Israel and God, not the universal way of God for all mankind.
Judeo-Christian Options for the Enthusiast
In our discussion in Part 3 of this series, the label Judeo-Christian emerged as a wonderful option for enthusiasts of Jewish roots who wish to incorporate some aspects of the Sabbath and holidays into their lives without taking on Jewish identity for themselves. Especially in the comments we talked about ways for Judeo-Christian enthusiasts to find community together through the educational materials of FFOZ (ffoz.org) and the Union of Messianic Believers (http://www.umjc.org/umb-mainmenu-105).
We agreed that, in some cases, starting new churches would be helpful. In other cases, membership in a local church could be supplemented by individual or group study. Fellowship could happen through the UMB, through FFOZ and similar events, and, of course, online.
Much discussion is needed about how Judeo-Christian enthusiasts can maintain a distinction between Jewish and gentile identities. Certain practices and prayers should be reserved as expressions of Jewish identity. How can philo-Semitic Christians practice some elements of Torah living without stepping on Jewish toes? This will be a future subject of attention at Messianic Jewish Musings.
Hesed for the Already-Affiliated
I don’t want to rehash old discussions, but we’ve talked many times here about the fact that Messianic Judaism opened its doors to numerous non-Jews over the years. Many are in community in our synagogues. Many are entwined in the lives of Jewish and non-Jewish synagogue members.
I want to be clear that I am not advocating asking gentiles to leave.
I am in favor of clarifying for newcomers to Messianic Judaism that this movement is about Jewish people expressing faith and devotion to Yeshua. Messianic Judaism is definitely a home for Jewish followers of Yeshua and for intermarrieds.
Are there legitimate reasons non-Jews would want to be part of the Jewish segment of Yeshua’s body? If you are neither Jewish nor married to a Jewish person, is there a meaning to belonging to a Jewish movement for Yeshua?
I do think there are and will be people called to be crossovers. These are people who wish to support Jewish redemption. They may not desire to convert, but they feel their place is in the movement of Yeshua’s renewal of the Jewish people. These people do not complain about being “second-class citizens.” They do not exhibit a desire to be de facto Jews. They are comfortable in their own skin and recognize the unique election of Israel at the same time as recognizing God’s redemption of the nations. They know that God’s relationship with Jews and non-Jews is equally one of love and hesed. They have no feeling of inadequacy because they were not born into the priestly, Chosen People.
They are secure in the equal but distinct calling they have as the righteous from among the nations. They harbor no suspicion that God loves the Jews more. And they still want to be part of Jewish renewal. And they will be willing, as Messianic Judaism develops practices for distinguishing Jewish and non-Jewish members in synagogues, to support distinction.
Conversion and Judaism
Finally, there are those who sense a deep kinship with the Jewish people and a calling from God to belong.
Conversion is something people debate from a New Testament perspective. It is not my purpose to go over the case for conversion here.
Conversion is also something rare and hard to get in Messianic Judaism. In mainstream Judaism, it is not difficult to convert. The desire to be Jewish is respected and with education and under observation, those who apply are accepted.
Messianic Judaism has an insecurity problem. Messianic leaders are afraid to welcome too many converts. It could appear to the larger Jewish community as though we do not take Jewish distinction seriously, that we are a conversion shop.
But I do hope we overcome our insecurity. I do hope we will be willing to show faithfulness to those whom the mainstream Jewish community would welcome as converts were it not for faith in Yeshua.
“Conversion is also something rare and hard to get in Messianic Judaism. In mainstream Judaism, it is not difficult to convert.”
I think that the “not difficult” part is perhaps true for Reform or Conservative movements, i.e. movements were halachic standards are quite lax (to say the least) and many not so sincere or committed converts have few problems getting through the system.
However, I often wonder how would mainstream Judaism (especially the more traditional sections of it) react to having 80% of their congregants in their congregations being non-Jews, with many of those biting at the bit for a chance at conversion? I think that in order to protect the identity of their communities (and some Jewish communities have done just that, historically speaking) they would react by making conversion much more selective, much more stringent and lengthy – or even (at times) unavailable.
Something I have been privy to: one Chabad rabbi that I know has been (as has become apparent to the leaders in Chabad community) giving out too many conversions (I am told that he may have been motivated by other reason$). As a result, his own synagogue as well as other Chabads in the area started filling in with gerim (actually, nearly all of them former “messianics”!) – and the Jews started to leave those synagogues as a result (true story), to the point that the leadership became quiet alarmed. He (and a few other rabbis who were found to be doing the same) has been since completely disallowed from being involved in conversions.
What is Torah? It seems to me that most discussions about Gentiles and Torah use the word “Torah to refer to two very distinct things: “Torah” (as found in the Scriptures) and “Tradition” (Torah as it has developed among Jews for about two millennia. Jewish usage of “Torah” is almost always “Tradition,” unless it specifies biblical Torah. Messianic usage of Torah is almost always unclear and confusing. It seems to me that a lot of the misunderstanding and friction in these discussions arise from this lack of clarity.
Let’s imagine that everyone agreed that the Bible clearly says that God intended Biblical Torah to apply, in all its details, to all people! What, then, is the basis for non-Jews to take on the distinctive characteristics of Jewish Tradition (the vast majority of which developed after Yeshua)? IMO, this question separates theological issues (are Gentiles commanded to keep Torah?) from personal and sociological issues (e.g. those listed in the “Motivations and the Gospel” portion of this post).
There is a related issue: Just how legitimate is it for non-Jews to keep Jewish Tradition when the Tradition itself strenuously objects to it? (This isn’t a conversion issue, but an issue of non-Jews essentially assuming a Jewish identity in their public practices?)
To put it another way, Messianic Jews agree that faith in Yeshua as Messiah is crucial enough to override the objections of Jewish Tradition. On what basis do non-Jews override the objections of Jewish Tradition to their practice of distinctively Jewish Torah-observance?
Case in point is the tallit. Wikipedia has it right: “The Bible does not command wearing of a unique prayer shawl or tallit. Instead, it presumes the people to already use an outer garment of some type to cover themselves and instructs them to add fringes (tzitzit) to the 4 corners of these (Numbers 15:38, Deuteronomy 22:12). These passages do not specify tying particular types or numbers of knots in the fringes. Nor do they specify a gender division between men and women, or between native Israelite/Hebrew people and those assimilated by them.”
Non-Jews may keep the commandment in any number of ways. Why do they sometimes wear the tallit that is designed specifically by and for Jews? What is the specifically biblical basis for them to wear a tallit in its specifically Jewish form (with a particular type and number of knots)? Yes, there are a very few (non-Messianic) synagogues where individual Gentiles are permitted to wear a tallit. But I haven’t yet heard of a single (non-Messianic) synagogue that views this as part of a broader mandate, invitation, or permission for Gentiles to keep a large body of distinctively Jewish Tradition(s).
It would be helpful for ALL references to Torah should be clarified: are we talking about biblical “Torah” or “Jewish Tradition”?
Great comment, Rabbi Carl!
I understand your point. What I do not understand is why do they have leaders within the UMJC who on one hand will not allow Gentiles to wear a Talit, but on the other hand they will proudly conduct a Bat-Mitzva ceremony for a Non-Jewish girl.
Problems like this can only be solved when the UMJC will concentrate on education for their leaders.
And I understand your point as well. As you may know, I am a professional educator and work with MJTI. We may disagree on some things, but we agree that better informed leaders are more likely to make better decisions.
Carl, Thanks. And I will be the first one to admit that the same thing goes for the One-Law communities. maybe we should start an E-BOM, on the value of education?
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Dan, I’ve got a post in the works.
Eagerly awaiting your post.
As someone who has been desiring conversion for quite sometime in an Anti-Rabbinic Messianic community… I have seen two things.
1.) Gentiles are welcome to take on any aspect of Judaism they want, but a Gentile who wants to actually convert and take on all Torah requirements is seen as being “too Rabbinic” and that person’s motives are questioned with an assumption of Yeshua-denial. They are allowed to pick and chose – until the Gentile becomes a serious candidate and then the “Gentiles are not required” card is thrown in.
(Why would they do this? It’s the complete opposite of what should happen.)
2.)If this group (above) did accept some form of Messianic conversion, people who may qualify (let’s say intermarried couples) may be given the green light without much hesitation… whether the Gentile spouse is truly ready or not… just for convince sake. I know quite a few intermarried couples. Some Gentile spouses are quite ready for conversion, IMO. Others are not even close to being ready, and show no internal desire to convert. It would be like giving a Christian license to criticize their Jewish spouse because after all, the born Gentile spouse is Jewish now, so she/ he can attack Judaism as an ‘insider’ instead of being a ‘Christian who just doesn’t understand.’
I agree that, on the one hand, Messianic Judaism needs to provide an approachable, realistic form of conversion. On the other hand, I do worry about ‘opening the gates’ to people who really may not have their heart in it, who do it for convenience sake, and lack a truly “Jewish soul.”
Right now I see many in my area who ‘ride the fence’ enjoying both worlds without taking the responsibility that comes with associating with one group or the other.
I very much appreciated your post. I would like to add another comment along similar lines that I usually make any time such an issue comes up.
The real issue does not seem to be whether non-Jews have “Torah” in Mashiach Yeshua (I’m defining Torah as God’s instruction, blueprint for creation, mechanism of Blessing, written, oral, and Living, i.e…the bradest sense possible). I believe it is clear that, if he is the Living Torah, and all of his followers are in him, etc., etc., etc…Then all followers of Yeshua have relationship with Torah.
The issue is that Torah prescribes specific things to Jews that it does not for non-Jews; certain things are reserved for certain groups/individuals while other things are universal. Anything that is a mark specifically designed to make Jews unique from among other nations does not always fall into the category of “unique from idolators.” The critical thing is determining what is meant to specific to Israel. This is why I am so thankful Derek is engaging this topic.
Acts 15 and 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 are so vital; they point out that it is the intention of God to bring the Nations into new glory, as the Nations. The “Gospel” is that all humanity (Jew and Gentile) can do t’shuvah and have right relationship with God and one another in the fullness of who they are, conformed to the image of Yeshua. I go into a graveyard, my kohen friend does not. My non-Jewish uncle eats pork, I do not. All three of us are being conformed into the image of Mashiach…I offer for our consideration.
>> Do you suppose that God loved Noah? He ate unclean meat (see Gen 9:3)
Derek, it is a stretch to declare so assuredly that Noah ate unclean meat based on Genesis 9:3. If I made such a bold statement on a topic based on my interpretation of one verse you would fault me. You would say, “Where’s the proof? Convince me.”
That verse no more proves that God gave Noah permission to eat rats, bats, and cats any more than Peter’s vision of the sheet proves a change in the dietary law. I understand the verse to mean that the formerly vegetarian world before the Flood would now need to be supplemented with animal flesh because of a changed environment. “You” refers to Noah AND the animal kingdom as now being permitted to eat flesh. The cat can now eat the mouse, etc. Therefore, fear had to be instilled in the formerly tame animal kingdom so that they would perceive danger. In the Millennial Kingdom, it’s back to a vegetarian diet for all, and the wild animals are tame again.
Why were the animals on the ark distinguished as clean and unclean? Why were seven pairs of clean animals taken aboard and only one pair of unclean? If Noah ate those unclean animals before they reproduced, they would be extinct!
This is another example of God revealing His torah (instructions to mankind) before Moses. How to build an altar, proper sacrifices, and distinguishing between clean and unclean were known to Noah and his generation.
What part of “every moving thing that lives shall be food for you” is hard to understand (Gen 9:3)?
Are you saying “every moving thing” means only cows, sheep, goats, chicken, turkeys, geese, ducks, and a few kinds of fish?
You pretend that scripture is your guide. But a preconceived theology is your guide. This proves it.
Are you saying that “every moving thing that lives” means we are free to eat rats, bats, and cats? I think everyone who says the dietary laws do not apply universally should demonstrate their conviction by roasting a mouse and eating it. You say you cannot because you are Jewish? So God gave clean food to Jews only, and told Gentiles to eat putrid, poisonous flesh like hogs? Did you know that Orthodox Jewish families in NYC contracted the dreaded pork tapeworm that caused seizures and left cysts in their brains because their domestic help ate undercooked pork? How kosher is that?! Why would God want Gentiles to eat what is not fit for consumption by human beings?
Neurocysticercosis in an Orthodox Jewish Community in New York City:
Compare Genesis 9:1-3 with Genesis 1:28-30. Same exact pattern is re-stated, only now animal flesh is added to the diet of the creatures on God’s green Earth. Notice in Genesis 9:10 that the covenant is made with the animals as well as Noah and his descendants. Thus, it is not hard for me to understand that “be fruitful and multiply” and “to you it shall be for meat” applies to the animal kingdom as well as the human family. Let’s not be so rigid in our reading of a verse as to not take the rest of the chapter and the rest of the Bible into consideration in understanding what it is saying. To take a portion of Scripture hyper-literally and excessively narrowly is to do as the anti-missionaries do with “God is not a man……” (Nu. 23:19) as proof text to deny the Incarnation. Yet that Scripture in context goes on to say “that he should lie”……..the point being “God is not a liar, like some men.”
More about the pork tapeworm:
It’s not a tumor, it’s a brain worm:
The medical angle of kashrtut may SOUND plausible to you, but it’s without much merit. It really is not used as an explanation in Judaism for WHY G-d gave Jewish people the kashrut laws. Can you explain to me, from a medical point of view, why a bottom-feeding catfish is not kosher, but a bottom-feeding carp is?
BTW, here’s just a small sample of what cows can do to people:
Mad Cow Disease and Humans:
Leptospirosis – transmitted from cattle to humans
(Can cause meningitis, liver damage, renal failure)
Anthrax (transmitted by cows to people):
“I think everyone who says the dietary laws do not apply universally should demonstrate their conviction by roasting a mouse and eating it. ”
Tandi… eating mice is quite common around the world (especially Southeast Asia and Africa). I am sure those folks in some poor countries around the world would love to demonstrate to you how delicious mice can be when you family is starving and can’t afford the luxury of either beef or pork. Yauuuum:
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, The worms play pinochle on your snout. . . .be merry my friend.
The incidence of bad health among Jewish people who do not eat pork is also high.
And pork-eating folk live long healthy lives too.
Arguments that the kosher laws are about health or hygiene have been refuted as long as Jewish tradition has been in writing.
You still are avoiding the meaning of Genesis 9:3. What you could do instead is say, “I can’t believe it; I was sold on this theology that I believed, but I am open to being taught by the Spirit of God and changing.”
There’s nothing wrong with a change when it is toward God and his words. I’ve been wrong about many things and had to repent.
“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.”
I you are still young and moving therefore I know that your “tuches” taste good…LOL!
Are you advocating for us to eat humans?
Thanks for the comments Ben. For the sake of clarification, my point was not that Gentiles have no place in Torah–I agree with your comments–but that in these discussions it isn’t clear what commenters mean by “Torah.” The term is so central to these discussion that leaving it open to misinterpretation opens us up to fruitless and frustrating digressions.
Does “Torah” refer to biblical and/or rabbinic Torah? People may disagree on the application of biblical Torah to Gentiles, but perhaps we can all agree that there is no biblical basis for Gentile keeping whatever distinctly post-Biblical Rabbinic Torah that is specifically demanded only of Jews. I have posted similar comments elsewhere and in the past, but so far no one has even tried to make a biblical case for Gentiles keeping Rabbinic Torah.